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January 28, 2005

Marathon, 2002

marathon.gifThere is an early moment of recognition in Marathon when the heroine of the film, Gretchen (Sara Paul), scans one of the crossword puzzle clues (from a handful of puzzles that she has taken with her on the train) and traces the words "Lamb's pen name", a perennial New York Times crossword entry (Elia) that I somehow managed to keep forgetting during my own obsession with completing these maddening puzzles: Mondays were easy, Fridays were invariably a challenge, and by Sunday, the glyphs would always leave me completely stumped. Perhaps it was this personal identification with the (albeit trivial) past that I found most incisive and truthful about this unassuming but acutely observed film by Iranian expatriate filmmaker, Amir Naderi. At the heart of the film is a chronicle of Gretchen's traditional one-day "marathon" to push the bounds of her endurance and challenge her personal best (a record of 77) - to complete as many compiled crossword puzzles as she can within the span of 24 hours - drawing on the ambient noise of the city to sharpen her focus and acuity. Marathon invites favorable comparison with Chantal Akerman's News from Home in the framing of structural symmetry (particularly subway stations and track infrastructure), anonymous population, and constant bustle of machinery, transportation, and people. Moreover, the voicemail messages from Gretchen's mother (Rebecca Nelson) offering equal measures of support and cautionary advice similarly recall the measured, sentimental estrangement of the mother's recited letters in News from Home: a child's self-imposed isolation that seems reluctant, but necessary, in the process of independence and personal identity (a message conveys her mother's own history of past marathon accomplishments). It is interesting to note that News from Home was also filmed by a then-New York City transplant Akerman, and the detailed observation of the minutiae of the adoptive city by both diasporic filmmakers seem integrally correlated to the process of cultural assimilation. It is this intrinsic particularity that ultimately reveals the underlying truth of the film, not as a trite allegory on deriving creativity from chaos, but as a thoughtful and sincere expression of wonder, distraction, trepidation, and curiosity at an inscrutable and ephemeral soul of a brave new world.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 28, 2005 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes

January 25, 2005

tx-transform, 1998

tx_transform.gifFilm is empirically defined as 24 frames per second. However, if the functional variables were to be transposed such that each frame instead represented 24 seconds of a fixed space (defined by the bounds of the frame) - the shift in perspective would capture a behaviorally dissimilar relational interval - a spatial "snapshot" that illustrates the visual continuum of time rather than a continuum of visible space (as in a photograph). From a fixed angle camera, the transposition would result in rotating objects that conflate into a flat map survey of the entire surface contour of the object (as in satellite mapping), dynamic motion that is revealed perpendicular to the line of sight as static objects disappear within the frame of the visible temporal "space", relative motion that seemingly elongates and compresses along the traversal axis. This referential transposition from distance-time (x-t) (or position-time) to time-distance (t-x) drives the technology behind the surreally fluid, ethereal, metamorphosing images captured in Virgil Widrich and Martin Reinhart's short film, tx-transform. Adapted from British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell's "accessible reference" analogy on Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the illustration posits that if two gunmen walked up to the two ends of a moving train and subsequently fired at the train conductor and the guard (located at the front and rear of the train respectively), a passenger riding in the railcar exactly located in the middle of the train would hear both shots at the same time, while a station master positioned between the two gunmen on the ground would hear the shooting of the guard first. Applying t-x transform at the moment of the assassinations, the resulting effect is one of organic, ghostly otherworldliness that reinforces the relativistic and amorphous relationship between space and time, revealing a curious, existential plasticity that seemingly captures an ephemeral instance that is imperceptible within a conventional, spatial frame: the moment of a soul's physical transcendence.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 25, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes

Copy Shop, 2001

copyshop.gifEach morning, a fastidious and unassuming copy shop owner named Alfred Kager (Johannes Silberschneider) wakes up in his empty apartment and begins to silently perform the empty, familiar rituals of his mundane existence: a brisk facial wash, a cursory survey of pedestrians in the street, a fleeting glimpse of the pretty flower girl (Elisabeth Ebner-Haid) around the corner, the unlocking of his one-man shop to open for business, the power up and paper loading of the photocopiers, the arrangement and operation of the machines for the interminable reproduction of materials. One day, while positioning a document onto the glass, Kager prematurely actuates the photocopier and instead, takes an image of the palm of his hand. The inadvertent reproduction sets off a bizarre series of eerily omniscient, automated photocopied printouts of his daily routine, with each copy seemingly triggering a physical self-reproduction, until the town becomes overrun by his own band of oblivious and baffled doppelgängers. Reminiscent of the infinitely recursive multiplicity of Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Copy Shop is a wry and intelligently crafted exposition on being and identity. Expounding on the images of malleable reality that the filmmaker earlier explored in tx-transform and prefiguring the textured, physical manipulation of tactile objects (specifically, paper) that would subsequently be incorporated in Fast Film, Widrich's thoughtful application of mixed media composition (that integrates film, digital media, and paper) creates an incisive framework for the film's integrally philosophical (and artistic) themes of individuality and sameness, originality and duplication, handcrafting and mass production.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 25, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes

Fast Film, 2003

fast_film.gifExperimental filmmaker Peter Kubelka reinforces the idea that film is a tactile artistic medium that, like all forms of art, not only requires hands-on, physical construction and manipulation by the artist, but also serves as a tangible archive (or archaeological artifact) for communicating and articulating a constantly evolving cultural legacy within a specific timeframe of human history - a social contemporaneity that gives the created work its significance. As modern art serves as both a cumulative expression and a novel reinterpretation of existing art - which, by definition, extends even to the primitive, "found art" of ancient cave paintings - so, too, does the process of creating a film become an expression, integration, and reconstitution of existing and "found art" (and specificially for filmmaking, is an entire history of cinema) that came before it. Kubelka's philosophy is evidently not lost on fellow Austrian filmmaker, Virgil Widrich's intelligently conceived and infectiously inventive experimental short, Fast Film, a clever and delirious tongue-in-cheek homage to cinema through indelible images of film excerpts and personalities that have been transferred or projected onto folded, origami-like, or otherwise manipulated (pasted, punched, crumpled, frayed, or torn) paper. Presenting a simple (and intentionally formulaic) narrative through threaded conventional movie plotlines of romance, damsel in distress, suspense, and human drama - including requisite doses of action through train sequences and airplane dogfights - Widrich pushes the conceptual bounds of artistic integration of found footage by literally composing a film entirely from recycled "old" art and ingeniously transforms it into an a novel, idiosyncratically original, and evocatively expressive work that is simultaneously innovative and visually abstract, yet syntactically intuitive and reverently familiar.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 25, 2005 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes

January 18, 2005

The Man Who Loved Haugesund, 2004

haugesund.gifIn the early 1910s, a hardworking and ambitious textile traveling salesman of Polish Jew ancestry named Moritz Rabinowitz arrived at the insular, Norwegian herring export town of Haugesund and, touched by the townspeople's humble existence and diligent work ethic, decided to settle in the community. Establishing a clothing company near the town port (where sailors from neighboring ports were invariably bound to spot his eye-catching billboard painted on the side of the store building and pay a visit) that incorporated several forward-thinking innovations as mail order, print and mass advertising, quick turnaround, made-to-measure suits, and even an affordable couture line, Rabinowitz soon became one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in Norway (an opening anecdote notes that it was nearly impossible to find anyone in Haugesund who did not have, at one time, an old wooden hanger that bore the name M. Rabinowitz hanging in the closet). Nevertheless, Rabinowitz remained curiously an outsider to the city's social circles. Using his personal finances to conduct a seemingly one-man campaign in the 1930s against the looming danger of spreading Nazism and also to dispel the culturally fostered misconceptions about Jews that contributed to that threat, the outspoken entrepreneur soon became a targeted enemy of the Third Reich and was forced into hiding during the German invasion of Norway.

During the Q&A, filmmaker Jon Haukeland noted that in Norway, 50% of the Jews were lost during the war while in Denmark, nearly 100% were saved, a striking contrast that compelled him to examine the nature of this disparity. Composed of interviews by Rabinowitz's former employees and staff and set against photographs from his personal effects that were stored after his apprehension by the Germans, Haukeland and Tore Vollan's The Man Who Loved Haugesund is a profoundly disturbing examination of the deeply rooted racism that, not only contributed to the death of the personable and dedicated industrialist, but (and most tragically) continues to be endemic in Norwegian culture. Perhaps the most revelatory of this insidiously pervasive sentiment is the well-intentioned employees' own vaguely apologetic (and unconscionably vulgar) insinuation that Rabinowitz had contributed to his own death by continuing to conduct business in absentia through the telephone (which allowed the Nazis to tap his company's lines and determine his location) because of his inextricable love for his thriving business and tireless pursuit of money (implicitly alluding to the racist stereotype, an innuendo that is refuted by another employee who conjectures that he could not allow himself to leave his (married) daughter behind), and an employee's own irreconcilable words as she wistfully and sincerely states that even though the social elite essentially shunned her employer because of his race and unpopular activism, she and the other employees would have loved to have had the charismatic Rabinowitz as a guest in her home, even though none of them had ever apparently made the explicit effort to actually invite him.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 18, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Jewish Film Festival

Permission to Remember, 2003

permission.gifShot on DV, Permission to Remember opens to a shot of a bustling Ukrainian market as a holocaust survivor and expatriate now living in Israel named Moishe begins to recount memories from his childhood, only to be interrupted by an aggressive woman who complains of the "foreigners" who are blocking her way into the market and refuses to step aside to allow them to continue filming, asserting that she is a Ukrainian and does not have to step aside for the foreigners. The episode provides an insightful glimpse into the entrenched prejudice and xenophobia that had contributed to the genocide of over 20,000 Jews in Moishe's native town of Lubmir during World War II (only 80 people survived at the end of the campaign). Incited by news that a (personally) unknown Ukrainian from Lubmir named Stephan Wermchuk has been bestowed the Righteous Among the Nations honor by Israel after having provided for safe passage (apparently, at the age of eight) to 50 Jews with his mother Maria to the Kruk underground resistance during the war (a noble national distinction that also provides for special treatment by the Israeli government such as immigration privileges, free housing, and a monthly stipend), Moishe and other Ukrainian Holocaust survivors embark on a campaign to research Wermchuk's controversial claim, returning to his native land to locate witnesses who can support Wermchuk's testimony and, perhaps indirectly, to confront painful boyhood memories of ostracism, desolation, impotence, and the unimaginable, senseless deaths he witnessed during his years in the Jewish ghetto that have continued to haunt him throughout his life. Documentarian Yael Kipper Zaretzky presents a complex portrait of the collective consciousness of a nation still attempting to reconcile with its complicity in the unconscionable tragedy, and a survivor's surrogate obsession for truth and accountability (and perhaps, implicit vengeance) in its traumatic aftermath and, in the process, creates a compelling exposition on the guilt of survival and the human importance of accurate historic documentation.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 18, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Jewish Film Festival

The Mortal Storm, 1940

mortalstorm.gifDuring a dinner party to celebrate the occasion of Professor Roth's (Frank Morgan) 60th birthday, news of Adolf Hitler's ascension to the position of German chancellor at the Roth home is met with fervent excitement by his stepsons Otto (Robert Stack) and Erich (William T. Orr), and his daughter's suitor Fritz Marberg (Robert Young) who believe that the new leader holds the key to restore the lost greatness of the German nation, and with tempered ambivalence by Professor Roth - a euphemistically called "non-Aryan" intellectual - and his protégé, a veterinary student named Martin Breitner (James Stewart) who disagree with Hitler's policies of racial segregation, unilateralism, and warmongering. From this opening premise, Frank Borzage sets the poignant, defiant, and socially incisive tone for the inevitable tragedy and ruin that befall the Roth family as the remote Alpine town near the Austrian border becomes increasingly seduced by the sense of empowerment and solidarity provided by the Nazi movement...and with it, its oppressively (and destructively) isolationist, xenophobic, and militarist policies. Structured within the melodramatic framework of an ill-fated love affair between Martin and Professor Roth's daughter Freya (Margaret Sullavan), The Mortal Storm is an elegantly realized, penetrating, and chillingly prescient cautionary tale of socially accepted blind obedience, collective mentality, and narrow-minded self-righteousness: an indelible - and continually relevant - portrait of true compassion and human courage in the face of a prevailing, inhuman tide of intolerance and aggression.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 18, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Jewish Film Festival

January 17, 2005

Nina's Tragedies, 2003

ninastragedies.gif On the day of his father's funeral, the curious and meddlesome adolescent Nadav (Aviv Elkabeth) peeps in through the window of the funeral home where the rabbi is making last minute preparations for the burial, a task that involves calling an unreliable, impatient repairman during a torrential rain in order to fix a chronically squeaky gurney wheel. Ordering the technician to remain throughout the services in an attempt to ensure the soundness of his repair work, the somber proceeds from the idiosyncratic point of view of the erratic wheel as it precariously wobbles out of stability and back into its familiar, irritating din. The seemingly surreal, deceptively lyrical opening sequence provides an elegantly conceived framework for filmmaker Savi Gabizon's elegantly modulated tragicomedy. Told from the perspective of young Nadav, the only child of separated parents, the film proceeds in a series of flashbacks as his religious father is asked by the school principal to read passages from his Navi's confiscated journal in order to determine if his son is merely engaging in innocuous, fanciful creative writing or involved in some perverse relationship with an older woman, his impossibly beautiful, recently widowed aunt Nina (Ayelet Zorer). During the post-screening Q&A, Gavizon cited Bertrand Blier as perhaps his greatest influence in becoming a filmmaker, a reference that seems particularly suitable within the context of the fanciful, almost absurdist mundane situations encountered by the characters in the film (which idiosyncratically includes a style obsessed, Jil Sander-clad, promiscuous mother, a reforming peeping tom, a haunted memory involving bedouin pants, and a seemingly nude ghost). Richly constructed, sincerely affirming, and elegantly realized, Nina's Tragedies presents a whimsical, yet incisive and intricately observed view of the cultural fusion innate in contemporary life in Tel Aviv through the ephemeral, universal mystery of adolescence.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 17, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Jewish Film Festival

Tomorrow We Move, 2003

tomorrow.gifIn the film's droll, double entendred opening sequence, a breathless woman, Catherine (Aurore Clément), speaks off camera in dulcet, anxious tone as she provides a series of guiding, seemingly appetent directions against the image of a grand piano craned precariously overhead, culminating with a stray tear that falls from her cheek at the point of pleasant resolution. The introductory, tongue-in-cheek correlation between relocation and sexuality provides an appropriate context to the inconvenient domestic arrangement in the film as the nurturing, vivacious piano teacher has decided to move in with her only child, Charlotte (Sylvie Testud), an insulated (and introspective) pulp novelist of erotic fiction following the death of her husband only to realize that the apartment is too small for their needs and that the only practical solution is to move again. Recalling the effervescent lyricism of Window Shopping and the intrinsic humor of the domestic displacement comedies, Night and Day and A Couch in New York, and fused with the burlesque theatricality of late period Alain Resnais, Tomorrow We Move playfully encapsulates thoughtful, recurring themes within Chantal Akerman's oeuvre: displacement, perpetual migration, artistic isolation, cultural disconnection (in the triggering of indirect, sentimental memories by a fumigated apartment during Charlotte's apartment-hunting trip with the real estate agent Popernick (Jean-Pierre Marielle)), surrogacy, and the identification of the female speaker (in a poignant discovery of the grandmother's diary, a Polish Jew who had perished in Auschwitz). Juxtaposed against the underlying theme that the act of moving represents a figurative death of a relationship (whether through physical separation or change in life circumstances), the film serves as an understated, whimsical, and elegantly realized exposition on the sentiment of rootlessness and perpetual exile.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 17, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Jewish Film Festival

January 13, 2005

The Corridor, 1995

corridor.gifIn a (relatively) climactic episode that occurs near the hour mark of The Corridor, the residents of a working-class tenement in the metropolitan city of Vilnius in Lithuania congregate on the passageway near the common kitchen to socialize with other tenants and, enlivened by the melancholic (often foreign) pop ballads on the radio (and perhaps fueled by a few too many alcoholic beverages), begin to dance aimlessly and uninhibitedly through the animated, dingy, crowded room. It is an image that recalls the delirious, extended sequence shot of the villagers' euphoric (or perhaps somnambulistic) tavern dance in Béla Tarr's contemporary film Sátántangó, an intoxicated display of revelry and reckless abandon that the cruel, troubled girl Estike watches through the window with inscrutable bemusement. Similar to Tarr, Bartas' cinematic view of post-communist Eastern Europe is one of soullessness, moral ambiguity, and profound desolation. Composed of long takes of indirect gazes and oppressively alienated temps morts (where an eclectic assembly of anonymous residents alternately stare out the window, smoke a cigarette, handle their rifle, voyeuristically peep, awkwardly flirt, become inebriated, and even mischievously set on fire laundry that has been hanging on a clothesline), the fragmented, collage-like portraits of the tenants are interstitially connected through the recurring image of the building's dimly lit hallways, a visual metaphor for a culture adrift and in transition - a conduit to an undefined destination. Like Tarr's seminal film, the deliberative and transfixing long takes of The Corridor similarly embody the emergence of a characteristically austere and languidly paced "cinema of waiting" in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet bloc: a figurative reflection of the crippling inertia borne of spiritual bankruptcy and directional uncertainty after years of pervasive government interference. It is this existential limbo of failed, repressive Cold War policies and stalled socio-economic progress that is inevitably captured in the impassive faces of the silent, disconnected residents - a sense of confusion and entrapment amidst the new-found freedom derived from the indirect liberation of defeated abandonment - a demoralized collective psyche foundering in the obsolescence of an elusive and crumbled ideology.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 13, 2005 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes, Sharunas Bartas

January 11, 2005

Few of Us, 1996

few_us.gifIn an intriguing long take static shot of the oppressively barren Siberian frontier, a converted tank (turned off-road passenger utility vehicle) traverses a rugged terrain that seemingly bisects a rural, indigenous village, disappears in a spray of displaced mud as it sinks partially out of frame into a trench, then momentarily re-emerges to continue on its plodding journey, only to become imperceptible from the horizon once again as it descends into a series of depressions on the gravel road. Watching this sequence (and film) again within the added context of having also seen Twentynine Palms, I couldn't help but think that Bruno Dumont must somehow have been influenced by this unstructured and glacially paced, yet lucidly pure, challenging, and entrancingly reductive film by Lithuanian filmmaker Sharunas Bartas, a feature that he developed from his earlier diploma film, Tolofaria on the nomadic, indigenous tribe.

On the surface is the casting of perennial Bartas actress, Yekaterina Golubeva, whose handsome, angular features and enigmatic opacity articulate ennui, despair, and longing in their most elemental form through her abstract, disconnected gaze. Navigating through the barren, alien terrain of the Sayan mountains where Tolofar nomads still lead a primitive, threadbare existence (after she seemingly falls from the sky, having been deposited by a helicopter onto the top of a rock quarry), the adrift young woman takes up shelter at a way station, isolated by language and culture from the daily rituals of the Tolofarians, until an act of violence causes her to leave the village and continue her wandering - figuratively disappearing into the landscape in an exquisite long take that matches the earlier shot of the converted tank laboriously making its way through the trenches of the inhospitable pass. It is this sense of interminable journey through a vast, unknown landscape, coupled by a reinforcing image of (apparent) visual dissolution from that landscape, that seems to particularly coincide with Dumont's expressed intent to create a kind of road movie that "erases" the characters in order to convey tone and sensation solely by the abstract filming of landscape (as he explained in the Q&A for Twentynine Palms). Moreover, Bartas incorporates an unanticipated (and even more shocking) secondary act of unprovoked violence in the film's final sequences, a deflection of narrative trajectory that is similarly incorporated (though with mixed results) in Dumont's film. However, what inevitably makes the maddeningly paced Few of Us, nevertheless, a strangely transfixing and indelible experience is the ethnographic realism that pervades its stark, rigorous imagery - its ability to trace an austere and moribund cultural history through impassive, weather-worn faces, perpetual transience, and silent ritual - to capture the image of lost souls that lay beneath the vacant, anonymous gaze, trapped in a vast wasteland of human desolation.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 11, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes, Sharunas Bartas

January 8, 2005

Sombre, 1998

sombre.gifWhile I'm not at all enraptured by the murky, elliptically fractured, and characteristically amoral transgressive cinema of Philippe Grandrieux, I also cannot help but be drawn to certain aspects of his filmmaking that I find undeniably sublime in the sensorial purity of their realization. One such moment occurs in an early episode in Grandrieux's debut feature film, Sombre: an eerily silent shot of Jean (Marc Barbé) looking away from the camera at a vacant lot (a recurring image of the back of his head that prefigures the psychological ambiguity and enigmatic motivation of Olivier in Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Son) juxtaposed against the crashing waves of a turbulent stream. The seemingly unstable, unfocused image drifts into and out of frame, intermittently revealing the outline of a female form lying violated and lifeless near his feet. Grandrieux's introduction to Jean is also ingeniously conceived - a disorienting tracking shot of a lone automobile on a dark, tortuous road set against the foreboding, ambient, mechanical drone of an engine that cuts to the sound of children screaming as they watch a puppet play at a guignol, where Jean, uncoincidentally, performs as a puppeteer. This introductory image of primal reaction, instinctive terror, manipulative control, and possession compactly (and evocatively) sets the tone for the film's thematically (and visually) dark tale of impossible love as the restless Jean carves a violent path of sexual encounters - and serial murder victims - until a virginal, stranded motorist named Claire (Elina Löwensohn) momentarily offers him a glimpse of the possibility of intimacy and complete love.

As convenient as it would be to be completely dismissive of Grandrieux's provocational cinema, there are certainly traces of visually abstract, but innately cohesive - and emotionally lucid - elements within his style that are difficult to find fault with, particularly in the implementation of complex, raw, and highly textural visual strategies that complement Jean's primal, aberrant psychology. Moreover, there is a discernible process of authorship at work in Sombre that betrays an overarching deliberativeness towards the film's construction, from echoes of Jon Jost's Last Chants for a Slow Dance (and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo) that can be seen in Jean's aimless driving through desolate roads (often to cruise for prostitutes who will unwittingly become his future victims), to Grandrieux's exposition on the blurred delineation between passion and violence - and the psychological rapture that both acts achieve for the antihero - that would be similarly echoed in Claire Denis' subsequent experimental horror film, Trouble Every Day. It is this underlying intelligence that ultimately makes Grandrieux's film a worthwhile, though irresponsible and morally bankrupt experience.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 08, 2005 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes, Philippe Grandrieux

La Vie nouvelle, 2002

vie_nouvelle.gifWhile Sombre embodies the categorization of quasi-allegorical gothic fairytale, La Vie nouvelle can be described as quasi-mythological in its underlying plot. Implementing a slow reveal from darkness to a jittery, contextually ambiguous image that similarly occurs in the opening sequence of Sombre (in this film, of anonymous women's faces staring out into space), the effect is one of abstract dissociation from a real, physical realm and into a subconscious one as a group of transients seemingly emerge from the ruins of a bombed-out, post-apocalyptic wasteland, including a disillusioned American expatriate named Seymour (Zachary Knighton) who willfully parts with his concerned, apprehensive comrades and re-emerges at a seedy nightclub where he is seduced and propositioned by Melania (Anna Mouglalis), a beautiful abducted woman forced to work by her captors as a prostitute at the club's adjoining private rooms (note Boyan's (Zsolt Nagy) allusive manipulation of Melania's movements at a rave party that evokes Jean's vocation as a puppeteer in Sombre). Beguiled by the enigmatic, captive woman and haunted by their brief, truncated encounter, Seymour becomes increasingly obsessed with her. Revisiting his earlier themes of possession and unrequited love, Grandrieux's cold and dour palette in Sombre has been replaced by warm (yet equally dark and somber) hues, and in particular, red, which reinforces the figurative symbolism of the nightclub as a mythological underworld. Grandrieux retains his penchant for sublimely composed, idiosyncratically experimental (yet intrinsically lucid) sequences, most notably in Seymour and Melania's fractured, temporally-altered dream-like nocturnal escape on a motorcycle, and Melania's seeming behavioral transformation from femme fatale to savage beast through negative projection of textural, high-contrast black and white imagery. Diffused tracking shots (often to the point of abstraction), unsteady angles, de-eroticized intimacy, and minimal dialogue pervade the film to create an accomplished and highly elliptical - albeit sordid, thematically ambiguous, and oftentimes bewildering - psychological portrait of primal behavior, violence, despair, and human longing.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 08, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes, Philippe Grandrieux

January 6, 2005

Take My Eyes, 2003

take_eyes.gifA harried woman seemingly on the verge of an emotional breakdown wakes her son, hurriedly packs their belongings and steals away in the middle of the night, arriving at the door of her sister Ana (Candela Peña) still unwittingly dressed in her house slippers. Pilar (Laia Marull) has finally decided to leave her abusive husband Antonio (Luis Tosar), a welcomed news that Ana is all too eager to accommodate by offering a place to stay, returning to the apartment in her place to retrieve forgotten items, and making a personal request to colleagues for her sister's job placement in the museum. However, Pilar's road towards independence is a difficult and uncertain one, complicated by her own lingering, passionate affection for her doting, well-intentioned husband, her son's repeated requests to see his father, her tradition-minded mother's (Rosa María Sardà) incessant reminders on the sanctity of marriage (and tacit "grin and bear it" apologia that the abuse is somehow a normal part of married life), and Antonio's sincere attempts to salvage his marriage by attending anger management counseling. Unable to completely sever her emotional bond with her husband, she offers him yet another chance and moves back home in the hopeful illusion that his commitment to therapy can quell – and ultimately silence – his violent impulses. Take My Eyes is an elegant and incisive social realist portrait of domestic violence and, in particular, its manifestation within an indigenous social culture of accepted masculine aggression (machismo). Bollaín's understated realization results in a taut, voluptuous, and intimate exposition on the nature and psychology of spousal abuse that is neither caricatured to the point of grotesque absurdity (the film concentrates more on the subtle evidences of long-term emotional abuse and implicit behavioral symptoms rather than present familiar narrative conventions of spousal battery under drunken rages) nor dimensionally simplistic in its portrayal of "good" and "evil" actions (and character personalities) to capture the complexity of the issue.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 06, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Ancillary Film Notes