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December 26, 2007

Senses of Cinema End of the Year 'Favorite Film Things' Compilation: 2007


If there's one common theme that continues to surface in these year's selection, it is probably the idea of "ghost people" - living in the periphery, taking refuge in the shadows, abandoned and forgotten in their desolation, or who, in their absence, continue to haunt the imagination of those left behind.

My Top Ten for 2007 (in preferential order):

Alexandra (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2007)
Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (Mamoru Oshii, 2006)
Memories (Jeonju Digital Project) (Harun Farocki, Pedro Costa, Eugène Green, 2007)
Destiny (Zeki Demirkubuz, 2006)
En la ciudad de Sylvia/In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, 2007)
Juventude Em Marcha/Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, 2006)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
Quei loro incontri/These Encounters of Theirs (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 2006)
Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
Paranoid Park (Gus van Zant, 2007)


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Enemies of Happiness (Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem, 2007)
Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, 2007)
La Leyenda del tiempo/The Legend of Time (Isaki Lacuesta, 2006)
Quand j'étais chanteur/The Singer (Xavier Giannoli, 2006)
Sanxia haoren/Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, 2006)
Sehnsucht/Longing (Valeska Grisebach, 2006)
Stellet licht/Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
La Soledad/Solitary Fragments (Jaime Rosales, 2007)
Une vieille maîtresse/The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, 2007)
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Steven Okazaki, 2007)

Posted by acquarello on Dec 26, 2007 | | Comments (20) | Filed under 2007

December 18, 2007

Shortmetraje, 2006-2007

libra.gifLibra, 2006. A beleaguered woman's plea for a two week adjustment elicits both poignancy and unexpected humor in Carlota Coronado's articulate slice-of-life portrait, Libra. As the woman provides an array of reasons from work-related commitments, to personal sacrifices that have already put a strain on her relationships with family and friends, to conflicting schedules with final examinations that, if missed, would not prevent her from graduating as planned, but also create a financial drain on her already limited resources that would likely cause her to abandon her studies altogether, the film's title serves as a wry, double entendre for the heroine's own quest to find balance in her life.

The Happy Man, 2007. The sound of a 24 hour news station broadcast reporting its usual program of international crises and economic downturns provides an insightful foil to Lucina Gil's The Happy Man, a tongue in cheek biography on a self-described "happy man" whose credentials are put to a test by a team of skeptical international researchers. As in Libra, the slice-of-life approach suits the film's structure well, reflecting the film's ideals of enduring love and uncomplicated living.

avant_petalos.gifAvant pétalos grillados, 2007. Idiosyncratically primitive in its surrealism and impenetrable in its fragmented logic, Velasco Broca's equally humorous and baffling Avant pétalos grillados invariably suffers from its decontextualization from its source, a trilogy entitled Echos der Buchrucken. Visually, the film loosely resembles a parodic, rough hewn, desexualized version of Frans Zwartjes's Pentimento in its clinical images of everyday life at a sanatorium (albeit this time, the clinic apparently doubles as a laundry service) crossed with the metamorphic insect people of Tsitsi Dangrembga's Mother's Day.

Said's Journey, 2007. Coke Riobóo cleverly incorporates the lyrical structure and vibrant palette of traditional animation to create a sobering and incisive gothic fairytale in Said's Journey. Chronicling a young Moroccan boy, Said's unexpected adventure across the Strait of Gibraltar to a Spanish fairground, where Said is soon confronted by the reality of his marginalized status as an immigrant and racial minority, Riobóo tersely, but lucidly exposes the myth of assimilation and cultural integration.

traumatology.gifTraumatology, 2007. When the family patriarch suffers a heart attack in the midst of his eldest son's wedding, the entire wedding party invariably follows him to the hospital, where the bride and groom soon express their second thoughts over their impending marriage, two brothers alternately vie for the affections of the maid of honor, and two younger brothers, lamenting their inability to find girlfriends, begin to question their sexuality. Daniel Sánchez Arevalo's Traumatology is a well rendered, character ensemble film that, despite its relatively short duration (22 minutes), manages to capture the complex texture, intimacy, and irrationality of human relationships.

You Can Walk Too. A writer's disposable comment that a worthwhile female composer is about as common as a dog walking on its hind legs serves as a rallying cry for Cristina Lucas's, You Can Walk Too. Assembling shots of hind leg-walking dogs as they make their way through town before proud owners and bemused onlookers, the film is idiosyncratic and pointedly humorous, but at ten minutes, seems belabored and overextended as a droll, protest piece.

Angel's Fire. A worthy companion piece to the first chapter of Javier Corcuera's The Back of the World on a young boy who makes a living by breaking rocks at a quarry in Peru, Marcelo Bukin's Angel's Fire chronicles a day in the life of eight year old Angel who works at a brick factory in Titicaca, Peru to help support his family. Broaching such fundamental human rights issues as child labor, abuse, and exploitation, the film is an articulate and impassioned portrait on the corrosive effects of poverty and marginalization.

Posted by acquarello on Dec 18, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now

Chaotic Ana, 2007

chaotic_ana.gifJulio Medem's Chaotic Ana is an unclassifiable concoction, at once deeply personal and untenably ambitious, alternating between creating a strong statement and indulging in fanciful whimsy. Presented in eleven chapters that count down towards zero in the referential pattern of hypnotic regression, the bohemian artist, Ana (Manuela Vellés), not surprisingly, is first shown in a state of trance on the dance floor of an Ibiza nightclub. Ana's seeming perpetual state of waking dream is subsequently reflected in the images of her sheltered life with her father, Klaus (Matthias Habich), having lived an idyllic existence in a cave overlooking the coast throughout her youth until Justine (Charlotte Rampling), a patron of the arts from Paris, invites her to stay at an artist workshop where, for a few years, she can work in complete creative freedom. Finding immediate community with the workshop's eclectic residents, in particular, a video artist named Linda (Bebe), Ana immediately falls for the subject of Linda's latest installation, an enigmatic, resident artist named Saïd (Nicolas Cazalé). Drawing inspiration from his life in exile, Saïd's primitivist composition creates a violent reaction within Ana's subconscious. Suspecting that Ans's blackout is a psychological fugue that is connected to the resurfacing of traumas suffered during her past lives, Justine and Linda enlist the aid of an American hypnotist, Michael (Asier Newman) who gradually unravels the centuries of cross-cultural testimonies buried within Ana's subconscious, told by young women whose lives were all tragically cut short by the age of 22, that would bear witness to the hidden histories of inhumanity, violence, and oppression. Part loving tribute to his sister, Ana Medem, whose artwork is featured in the film (and who, as the postscript reveals, "left" at the age of 22), and part contemporary indictment of masculine aggression (and in particular, American aggression) that has led to a legacy of warfare, occupation, terrorism, and subjugation, Medem's fractured tale proves to be an unstable alchemy where moments of sobering reflection on the repercussions of a chronically shortsighted US policy are supplanted by two-dimensional caricatures that constantly shift the tone of the film from unflinching realism to bawdy farce (an awkward juxtaposition that proves especially flawed during a pivotal encounter at a Navajo bar, where Medem's trenchant parallel illustration of dispossession and institutional segregation between the Native American reservations in the US and the refugee camps of displaced Saharans in the Middle East - and by extension, the Iraqi occupation that has also resulted in geographic factionalism along ethnic and tribal lines - is undermined by the facile sight gag of a patron's inebriated uncoordination).

Posted by acquarello on Dec 18, 2007 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now

December 17, 2007

Barcelona (A Map), 2007

barcelona_map.gifBased on playwright Lluïsa Cunillé's Barcelona, Map of Shadows, Ventura Pons's richly textured nocturne, Barcelona (A Map) is an intimate and atmospheric rumination on urban architectures and shared spaces as integral projections of anonymous, emotional landscapes. Ostensibly capturing an evening in the life of an elderly couple, Rosa (Núria Espert) and her dying husband, a former opera house stagehand named Ramon (José María Pou) who have decided to evict their tenants in order to have the privacy of the entire house to face the final days of his terminal cancer, the film is an understated and insightful exposition into the nature of alienation, transformation, and passage. Composed of a series of encounters as Ramon and Rosa alternately pay a visit to each of the tenants in order to confirm the eviction during the coming week, the conversations serve as an illuminating reflection of the couple's own sense of irrelevance and isolation. A conversation between Ramon and a French language instructor, Lola (Rosa Maria Sardà) questions the practicality of cultivating proficiency for a culturally exclusive (if not outmoded) foreign language in a society that is increasingly homogenized, indistinct, and assimilated - a separateness that also reflects on the place of Catalan culture within the context of a Spanish national identity (and in particular, within Barcelona's multicultural landscape). The theme of obscurity and frailty is also suggested in the paradoxical image of the couple's only male tenant, a handsome, young security guard named David (Pablo Derqui) who is first seen applying liniment to his leg after a track and field injury as Rosa knocks on his door. Abandoned by his wife and relegated to working graveyard shifts after the shopping malls have closed for the evening, David is also a figurative ghost resident of Barcelona, patrolling in the shadows of deserted public spaces with an unloaded gun. Paradoxically, even the couple's pregnant tenant, a cook named Violeta (María Botto) reflects this anxiety, as the viability of her unborn child becomes clouded by the uncertainty of the father's less-than-ideal genetic legacy (a compromised heritage that is also alluded in Rosa's complicated relationship with her younger brother, Santi (Jordi Bosch)). Within this pervasive sentiment of impotence and obsolescence, the couple's idiosyncratic act of role reversal in the final chapter may be seen as an act of empowerment - a symbolic transfiguration into their own self-created afterlives - where spiritual liberation exists in the anonymity of costumes and interchangeable identities.

Posted by acquarello on Dec 17, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now

Lola, La Película, 2007

lola_pelicula.gifIn the opening sequence of Lola, La Película, young Lola Flores, the daughter of a tavern owner from Jerez, convinces a gypsy flamenco teacher to take her in as a student by performing a lively interpretation of the dance, incorporating an assortment of freestyle twists and turns that causes him to ask her at the conclusion of her routine where she had learned such unorthodox movements, to which she responds that they were made up as she went along, doing as she pleased. In a sense, her willful determination and willingness to flout conventions for the sake of personal expression encapsulates Flores's outlook towards life as well in Miguel Hermoso's reverent, yet unsentimental and well-rendered portrait of the legendary screen and stage artist. Chronicling Flores's career evolution from her public debut at the age of thirteen as an intermission act for a variety show headlined by popular flamenco singer, Manolo Caracol (José Luis García Pérez), to her early vocation as a struggling bailaora for a traveling variety show in the north of Spain during the early days of the Franco regime (an austerity similarly captured in Carlos Saura's ¡Ay Carmela!), to her long-running success in a collaborative musical revue with Caracol, to her South American tour that launched her international career as a film actress and performer, Hermoso captures the trajectory of Flores's career through the sacrifices and personal disappointments encountered along the way in her quest for fame and artistic recognition. Hermoso's demythologized approach to Flores's biography is perhaps best illustrated in rumba guitarist, El Pescaílla's (Alfonso Begara) repeatedly derailed courtship of Flores (played as an adult by Gala Évora), insightfully framing her artistic accomplishments as everyday milestones in an all too human search for unconditional love and acceptance.

Posted by acquarello on Dec 17, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now

December 15, 2007

Solitary Fragments, 2007

soledad.gifBy the time the final, pillow shot of Solitary Fragments unfolds - a congested panorama of dour, monolithic structures, interchangeable, tiled rooftops, and mobile cranes hovering over the cityscape in a perpetual state of construction and demolition - I was convinced that the film would conclude with some sort of postscript dedication to Edward Yang. And while filmmaker Jaime Rosales may have only subconsciously channeled Yang's distanciated images of liminal "city stories" that quietly unfold in the distractive chaos of an anonymous, ever transforming urban landscape (alas, the expected commemoration did not materialize), the film, nevertheless, remains a remarkable and poignant testament to Yang's indelible legacy. Opening to the bucolic image of cattle grazing at a pasture in the rural province in Leon that has been visually bisected by a foregrounding pole, the resulting split-screen becomes a recurring aesthetic that also reflects the film's parallel stories of separation, isolation, loss, and the randomness of fate. Composed of bifurcated, often long shots (usually complementary point of views of adjoining spaces or conversations that are idiosyncratically presented as a series of alternating frontal and perpendicular dialogues) and compartmentalized images (often occluded through in situ obstructions or the secondary framing of doorways and windows), Rosales reinforces the dual imagery through the interweaving stories of recent divorcée Adela (Sonia Almarcha) who, seeking a change from her uneventful life in the country, decides to make a fresh start by moving to Madrid with her infant son, and a widowed grocer, Antonia (Petra Martínez), the mother of Adela's new roommate, Inés (Miriam Correa), who struggles to find a place in her now grown daughters' lives as they work through the distractions in their own lives (including her younger daughter, Nieves's (Nuria Mencía) recent cancer diagnosis and her eldest daughter, Helena's (María Bazán) not too subtle overtures for financial assistance in buying a vacation home). Rosales demonstrates a keen eye for observation and for capturing the quotidian beauty of these seemingly cursory, often inelegant, momentary interruptions of life - the petty arguments, procrastinated plans, quiet sacrifices, acts of compassion, and conciliatory gestures - the insightful "solitary fragments" that capture life at its most intimate and honest expression of struggle, loneliness, and validation.

Posted by acquarello on Dec 15, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now

Contestant, 2007

contestant.gifRodrigo Cortes's first feature, Contestant is something like effervescent, visual prestidigitation, a self-consciously frenetic, hyperactive, insubstantial, flauntingly inconstant, and naïve satire on the perils of modern-day instant wealth, consumerism, applied economics, and state taxation. The film follows the plight of an attractive economics history professor, Martin Circo (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who wins the largest cache of prizes ever awarded at a trivia game show on television, only to realize that he cannot afford to pay the windfall taxes that have been attached to his winnings. Initially seeking a short-term financial remedy by taking out a line of credit from a bank using his winnings as collateral with the idea of paying off the taxes in order to unfreeze his newly acquired assets from the government's lien and enable him to sell them and repay the bank, Martin soon realizes the inescapable financial quagmire that he has been ensnared, when he bank then subsequently seizes his assets as insurance against defaulting on the debt. Cortes deploys a dizzying arsenal of gratuitous, MTV-generation, short attention span, film school 101 clichés (including simulated, Brakhage-styled scratch film sequences, arbitrarily interwoven color and black and white sequences, fluid, birds eye view crane shots, knowing, fourth wall addresses, and repeating slow-motion rain and bath shower scenes that highlight the pixellated texturality of water drops) to distracting, and ultimately uninspired (and even off-putting) effect that distracts from the film's more relevant, critical assessment of indenturing, collusive financial institutions that reinforce social immobility and economic polarization, integral questions on the systemization of poverty and dependency and that was better articulated in Abderrahmane Sissako's spare, yet potent and incisive Bamako.

Posted by acquarello on Dec 15, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now

November 12, 2007

Poetics of Cinema 2 by Raúl Ruiz

ruiz_poetics2.gifEleven years since the publication of Poetics of Cinema Raúl Ruiz continues his articulate, erudite, and insightful rumination in Poetics of Cinema 2, a lithe and infectious, yet densely referential, cross-pollinated exposition on the art and nature of image-making in an age of an overexposed cinema that, in its aesthetic democratization and crass commercialization, has fostered a paradoxical culture that is both sacred and banal, rarefied and dying. Intrinsic in Ruiz's exposition is the autonomy of images, a spectator's mental process of assimilating visual experience by decontextualizing the images from their imposed seriality (by virtue of ordered presentation such as chronology, guided tour - or its contemporary media equivalent, DVD commentaries - or other modes of accompanying narrative). It is this awareness of an assimilated image's contextual independence within the spectator's subconscious - the interactive "art of memory" - that Ruiz underscores the primacy of images over narrative form in the filmmaking process:

Firstly, the images that together make up a film determine what type of narration will structure the film and not the contrary. A film is not made up or composed of a number of shots, but rather it is decomposed by the number of shots; when we see a film of 500 shots, we also see 500 films. Thirdly, a film is valid, aesthetically valid, insofar as the film views the spectator as much as the spectator views the film.

In essence, Ruiz proposes that the independence of images from their respective original sources enables the personal creation and discovery of other "mental realities" - the accidental convergences and patternistic connections within the inexact continuum of a symbiotic, subconscious image registration. Therefore, within this paradigm, the role of the filmmaker becomes one of applying a fixative (as Ruiz suggests), presenting the indelible image - the imago - in a way that reinforces its persistence of memory within the distraction and noise (what Ruiz calls the perepeteias) of the film's overarching composition.

This idea of decontextualized images as organic, autonomous entities resurfaces in the chapter Fascination and Detachment in which Ruiz argues that the art of cinema lies both in its ability to engage the spectator during the course of the film, as well as its ability to form isolated connections and residual imprint - the iconostasis of the image that continues to exist outside of the film - that has been enabled by the ritualization of the transformative encounter:

We mustn't forget that to experience a work of art is not simply letting oneself be fascinated by it, a mere falling in love with it, but rather, it's understanding the process of falling in love. For this, one needs the freedom to move away from the loved object in order to return to it freely. The amorous encounter with the work of art is a practice that can be summarized in the following formula: 'To love renders one intelligent'.

Ruiz describes this existence of an external collective consciousness - a figurative external brain - as being akin to an electromagnetic field or emanated aura that creates a continuity of memory in its fragmentation and reconstitution even in the absence of immediate experience. Conceptually, Ruiz illustrates this sense of a karmic fatedness in a ghostly encounter between the hero and an enigmatic woman named Ivonne in The Lost Domain:

-I know that tonight we'll make love and that soon afterwards I will die, but I know we'll see each other again.

Amazed, the young man asks her:

-"We'll meet after our deaths?"

-"Of course not," she replies. "I don't believe in such things. We'll meet in a different way: you, or another man, will come across another woman, not me, like we have tonight, and they will live the same story, and, in this manner, we, like them, will have met.

This sense of infinite convergence also infuses the amorphous, if impenetrable, dream logic of his earlier film, Love Torn in Dream where inescapable destiny is implied through the eternal recursions and permutations of a set of immutable, iconostatic images that repeatedly play out in a series of parallel wormhole tales.

In examining the existence of images outside of their medium of creation, Ruiz further suggests the interplay of vicinity (the experience of the image) and resonance (the intimacy of the image) in the role of the spectator, an integral convergence between the presentation of information and its assimilation that also forms the basis for what Ruiz calls an actor's "fragmentary work", where each shot scene requires a certain degree of character reframing and re-invention - a locus of particular egocentricities:

Since Stanislavski, character has been constructed as a clock. A Newtonian clock. Later on, within and outside 'the method', the character will cease to be a clock. It's liquefied; evolution, duration, the flow of emotions and its overflowing are privileged. Though Stanislavski's counsel is still valuable and useful. In Stanislavski - and here we return to fragmentations - there is a coexistence of mechanical criteria and vitalist attitudes, privileging impulsion, lows and highs, and dramatization of incoherences.

Within this framework, Ruiz envisions an actor's creation of character as three concentric circles of permeable realities - the projected image (the largest), the self-image (the middle), and the memory of experience (the smallest) - that cumulatively reflect the complexity of character and eschew the staid conventionality of generic, paradigmatic representations: an impossible blankness of character that Ruiz subsequently calls inamible.

This coexistence of interpenetrating realities shaped by both the (super)imposition and intimate resonance of autonomous, living images is perhaps best encapsulated in Ruiz's stated postulate in the concluding chapter, The Face of the Sea (In Place of an Epilogue):

Here is my own theoretical fiction: in the waking dream that is our receiving the film, there is a counterpart; we start projecting another film on the film. I have said to project and that seems apt. Images that leave me and are superimposed on the film itself, such that the double film - as in the double vision of Breton traditions - becomes protean, filled with palpitations, as if breathing.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Film Related Reading

November 5, 2007

Eros Plus Masscre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema by David Desser

erosplusmassacre.gifIn Eros Plus Masscre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema, David Desser examines the creative and revolutionary spirit that defined the 1960s Japanese new wave movement (nuberu bagu) apart from the facile identification and synchronicity associated with the coincidental emergence of the French new wave, and more importantly, refocuses his exposition within the indigenous specificity of Japanese culture in the face of postwar social, economic, and geopolitical transformation. Presenting the emergence of the movement as the fateful intersection between the budgetary realities of declining (and increasingly competitive) commercial film production among the nation's institutional motion picture studios (as a natural consequence of television's popularization as a medium for audiovisual entertainment) that also enabled the creation of more autonomous, independent film production and distribution companies such as the Art Theater Guild, and the modernist influence of the prewar Shingeki "new theater" (a movement patterned after the European Naturalist Theater) that, in its focus on the problems of the individual, served as an effective vehicle for promoting left-wing ideology, Desser underscores the significance of the industry's fostered climate of innovation and (implicitly transgressive) experimentation, not as the creative reinvigoration of a dying studio system, but rather, as a desperate means of luring audiences back to the cinema. Within this context of reflexive, corporate-driven goals of returning to profitability, Desser illustrates not only the highly conducive environment that cultivated the movement, but also foreshadows its inherent unsustainability.

Using the generational classifications outlined in Audie Bock's Japanese Film Directors - Early Masters (Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse), Postwar Humanists (Akira Kurosawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, Kon Ichikawa, Masaki Kobayashi), and New Wave (Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda) - as a basis for tracing the movement from its origins within the studio system through their tenure as assistant directors to established filmmakers (along with noting the natural human tendency to reject a mentor's influence in an artist's development of his own aesthetic), Desser further expounds on Bock's paradigm by presenting the precursive influence of the Shingeki modern theater in the creation of politically rooted, keiko eiga "tendency films" during the 1920s that explored social problems as a means of inciting change, as well as the popularization of the youth-centric taiyozoku (sun tribe) films that iconized the image of a rebellious, disconnected, and self-destructive postwar generation. Framed against the left movement's fervent opposition to the ratification of the bilateral Anpo Security Treaty of 1959 that sought to formally ally Japan with the U.S. in the Cold War against the Soviet Union (and implicitly, marginalize the country's own nascent socialist party), Desser illustrates the integral politicization coupled with the existential angst of youth culture the capture the zeitgeist of the movement.

Beginning with the chapter entitled Ruined Maps, Desser examines the commonality of sociopolitical themes that continually resurface in the films of the Japanese new wave, in this case, dislocated sexual energy as a manifestation of the integral question of Japaneseness. Diverging from the pinku eiga (pink films) genre in their political implication, the transgressive sexuality of Nagisa Oshima (Cruel Story of Youth, The Ceremony, and In the Realm of the Senses), Shohei Imamura (The Pornographers and The Profound Desire of the Gods), Seijun Suzuki, Koji Wakamatsu (Go, Go, The Second Time Virgin), and Matsumoto Toshio (Funeral Parade of Roses) reflect the moral confusion, dysfunction, and repression that intrinsically form the consciousness of Japanese postwar identity. This postmodern anxiety is incisively captured in Hiroshi Teshigahara's adaptations of Kobo Abe's modernist fiction, where the dehumanizing performance of absurd, everyday rituals (The Woman in the Dunes), physical disfigurement and transplantation (The Face of Another), and impersonation and social disengagement (The Man Without a Map) reflect the conscious erasure of identity as a delusive means of amnesic transformation - an potent metaphor for the superficial rehabilitation of national identity through imposed conformity, ideological re-identification, and revisionist history.

Desser similarly examines the essence of Japanese "feminism", or feminisuto, in the essay Insect Women - a cultural particularity that hews closer in spirit to the idealized portrait of sacrificing, indomitable, marginalized women in Kenji Mizoguchi's cinema than to the ideological pursuit of equal rights. Observing the role of sexuality as a means of empowerment and liberation in the films of Shohei Imamura (The Insect Woman and Intentions of Murder), Masahiro Shinoda (Dry Lake, Pale Flower, Banished Orin), and Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba), Desser also cites the work of lesser known filmmakers, Susumu Hani's A Full Life and He and She in the idea of spiritual emancipation through personal choice and self-discovery, and Yoshishige Yoshida's A Story Written with Water and Akitsu Springs where the maternal symbol of water serves as a metaphor for eroticism and idealization.

In the subsequent chapter, Shinjuku Thieves, Desser further expounds on the issue of gender disempowerment by examining the broader issues of ingrained social injustice that has been enabled by the cultural rigidity of monoethnic sameness and codified behavior. The first example involves the systematic discrimination of the burakumin, an archaic feudal caste designation for people whose ancestral occupations were touched by death (such as butchers, leather workers, and undertakers) and whose residences were segregated from the local population through isolated hamlets to avoid contamination. Although abolished during the Meiji Restoration, the stigma of burakumin persist in insidious ways that inhibit social mobility away from these "outcast communities" through such seemingly innocuous tasks as screening job applicants and martial prospects, where background investigations reveal their community (and inferentially, caste) association. Another is the racism and persecution inherent in the treatment of Koreans (and foreigners in general) in Japan, where a tainted history of occupation and enslavement (especially with respect to the forced recruitment of comfort women during the Pacific War) have engendered a cultural arrogance towards their once "conquered" ethnic minorities. It is this reinforcement of dehumanizing stereotypes that Nagisa Oshima incisively confronts in such films as The Diary of Yunbogi, Three Resurrected Drunkards, and Death By Hanging, where society's projection of Korean identity contributes to the corrosive realization of a demoralizing, self-fulfilling prophesy.

Moreover, as Dresser illustrates in Forests of Pressure, beyond the sad universality of racism and socioeconomic marginalization, even more irreconcilable is the intra-ethnic discrimination that is emblematic in the segregation of survivors from two man-made disasters: the hibakusha who survived the atom bomb (a recurring subject in Kaneto Shindo's body of work and in Shohei Imamura's Black Rain), and subsequently, those afflicted with Minamata disease, a neurological condition caused by severe mercury poisoning from industrial pollution. Stigmatized by virtue of arbitrary exposure, their plight not only reflects a social rejection of alterity and imperfection, but more importantly, provides insight into the Japanese postwar psyche by exposing its deeply rooted cultural anxiety over the unreconciled consciousness of its own self-inflicted victimization, whether through unquestioned allegiance that led to a senseless war and international humiliation, or through irresponsible industrial policies in the aggressive pursuit of economic recovery (and profitability) that have led to a large-scale environmental catastrophe. Contrasted against Shinsuke Ogawa's culturally immersive, profoundly committed, and groundbreaking environmental documentaries (most notably, Forest of Pressure and the epic Sanrizuka series), the widely divergent approaches to political filmmaking reflect the disorientation and uncertainty of a people struggling to define its essential postwar identity between the rapidly bifurcating lifelines of tradition and modernization, conformity and humanity, victimization and culpability.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 05, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Film Related Reading

October 14, 2007

Paranoid Park, 2007

paranoid_park.gifThere is a palpable sentiment of trying to capture the ephemeral that runs through Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, a film that further modulates his now familiar aesthetic of melding abstract episodes of hypnotic time drift with the alienated portrait of imploding, angry youth that have characterized his more recent films (beginning with his Béla Tarr epiphany film, Gerry). Based on the young adult novel by Portland author, Blake Nelson, the film follows a cherubic, teenaged skater, Alex's (Gabe Nevins) process of writing a diaristic letter to an unknown recipient (later revealed to be a classmate and casual acquaintance named Macy (Lauren Mc Kinney)) at an overgrown lookout near a desolate sound. Unfolding in often repeating, time altered flashbacks that recount Alex's suppressed, traumatic experience - and moments of pure bliss - surrounding his consuming, but reluctant obsession to visit Paranoid Park (an abandoned industrial site that was transformed into an advanced skate park by homeless, thrill-seeking kids), that are juxtaposed against images of his upended personal life as his separated parents (Grace Carter and John "Smay" Williamson) attempt to reassure him of their undying love and support despite their impending divorce, and his flighty, cheerleader girlfriend, Jennifer (Taylor Momsen) continues to pressure him to have sex, the film is an airy and swooning, if delicate and friable tone piece that strives to give form to an adolescent's subconscious awareness of passage, moral consequence, and impermanence that comes with the process of maturation. In a sense, his parents' vain promise that everything will be the same as before becomes a sobering reinforcement of his own realization of its consequential impossibility after a reckless, life-altering experience. It is within this consciousness of irretrievable time that the impressionistic, swooning slow motion images of skaters riding the concrete waves of Paranoid Park become an intrinsic reflection of Alex's own impressionable psyche - a naïve representation of his own desperate, unarticulated desire to manipulate time and return to an enchanted place of blissful innocence and fanciful imagination.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 14, 2007 | | Comments (7) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

The Last Mistress, 2007

lastmistress.gifThere is a moment in The Last Mistress when the Comtesse d'Artelles (Yolande Moreau), after having played her part in mitigating the scandal surrounding the dashing, but inscrutable rogue, Ryno de Marigny's (Fu'ad Aït Aattou) unresolved romantic entanglement with his long term mistress - and, consequently, enabling his marriage to the Marquise's granddaughter and heir, Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida) - contently looks out of the window of the Marquise de Flers's (Claude Sarraute) seaside estate and observes, "How the sea rises!" It is a line taken directly from the text of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly's titular novel that, delivered by veteran actress Moreau, becomes a double entendre reference to her own directorial debut feature, When the Sea Rises.... In a way, Catherine Breillat's infusion of subtle humor in the film reflects a certain accessible, newfound sensibility to her cinema. Using the metaphor of the brewing sea as a portent for the reappearance of Ryno's former mistress, a Spanish enchantress named La Vellini (Asia Argento) into his life following his marriage (an image that is incisively reinforced by Hermangarde's discovery of La Vellini, dressed in a fisherman's clothes and smoking a cigar) - Breillat diverges from the (explicitly) transgressive elements that have come to define her cinema towards a more implicit and refined, yet still sensual, atmospheric, and deeply romantic tale of fidelity, passion, and obsession. Ostensibly a tale of the penniless Ryno's attempts to win Hermangarde's hand in marriage by convincing the Marquise that his reputation as a reckless womanizer is behind him, the film proceeds in extended flashback as the sprightly Marquise conducts a thorough inquisition, not of his sexual exploits, but of his more problematic history of having conducted a ten year affair (which, as the Marquise appropriately points out, is essentially a marriage) with La Vellini. Framing La Vellini and Ryno's tumultuous relationship within the context of Breillat's recurring explorations on sexual ambiguity (most notably, in Romance and Fat Girl), the androgyny inherent in La Vellini's aggressiveness and Ryno's sensitivity become a reflection, not only of their inherent narcissism as dandyist provocateurs seeking to ingratiate themselves into aristocracy, but also their emotional interdependence and mutual obsession.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 14, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

October 13, 2007

I Just Didn't Do It, 2007

I_Just.gifOn an unassuming morning, a preoccupied young man, Teppei Kaneko (Ryo Kase) irregularly boards an overcrowded train (with the assistance of the station's white gloved, attendant shover) with his briefcase in hand on his way to a job interview and, while in transit, realizes that his jacket had been caught between the closing doors. Pinned to the doors of the train, Teppei instinctively continues to pull his jacket free, much to the irritation of the other passengers, until the train arrives at the station and releases him. On the surface, what appeared to be little more than a minor inconvenience in his morning commute would prove to be the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare when a schoolgirl grabs his sleeve at the platform and publicly accuses him of having groped her inside the train. Interrogated by police officers who immediately advise him to put the matter behind him by accepting the charge (on an apparently common occurrence) and paying a token, punitive fine (an advice subsequently echoed by his unmotivated public defender), Teppei instead refuses to be railroaded into a plea bargain and becomes more determined to prove his innocence in court. Caught in the judicial hypocrisy of having to remain in jail until the trial is underway because of his proclaimed innocence (even as other admitted offenders, having paid their customary fines, are immediately allowed to return home), the naïve Teppei enlists the aid of his mother (Masako Motai), best friend, Tatsuo (Koji Yamamoto, an idealistic defense attorney, Arakawa (Koji Yakusho), and his more skeptical junior colleague, Riko Sudo (Asaka Seto) to accept his long-shot case in the idealistic belief that innocence can triumph over the weight of judicial expediency. Masayuki Suo's I Just Didn't Do It is a taut, painstakingly observed, and incisive procedural on the intricacies of Japan's highly efficient, juryless, one judge criminal justice system. During the Q&A, Suo remarked that the story had been loosely inspired by newspaper headlines of an appellate court's reversal of a conviction handed down by a lower court. For Suo, the media's particular attention in broadcasting such rare acquittals reinforces a public misconception and fosters complacency towards the dispensation and fairness of the justice system. At the heart of his sobering social realist drama is the country's boasted 99.9% conviction rate, a daunting statistic that implicitly assumes a defendant's guilt, despite the founding tenets of blind justice. Framed against Japanese society's inherent cultural conformity, the statistic itself has become a symptom of perverted justice - an egregiously exploited tool for inducing confession, rather than a resulting measure of the system's infallibility.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 13, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

Volto sorpreso al buio (Face Caught in the Dark), 1995

volto_sorpreso.gifOne of the highlights from the 2006 Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar was the first public screening of a Paolo Gioli program in the country, and this year, the festival continues to reinforce Gioli's singular reputation by screening another of his sadly underseen works: the gorgeously ethereal, densely constructed, and mesmerizing Volto sorpreso al buio. Gioli assembles a self-described "impossible film" out of images recovered from found photographic plates from the 1950s (some of which were also used in the composition of his book Sconosciuti), creating imaginary apparitions of mutated, "new identities" out of interchanging fragments of unknown faces from the past. Part found film reconstitution of extracted composite images, and part somber impressionism in the splicing, stitching, overlaying, scratching, lighting, and modulated exposure of the black and white studio portraits into a continuous film reel, Volto sorpreso al buio transcends its seemingly facile constructive premise as the chronicled metamorphosis of a solitary portrait. Rather, in invoking the specter of the titular, suspended "face caught in the dark" as it organically transforms, each gentle sweep of the partial traces of facial features, contours, mannerisms, and expressions becomes a commemorative gesture within a haunted slipstream of passing time, where the ghosts of dissolving, anonymous identities re-assimilate into a collective memory and, for a brief moment, are brought to life again.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 13, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Paolo Gioli, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 11, 2007

Pitcher of Colored Light, 2007

pitcher.gifIn a sense, Robert Beavers's muted, sensual, and reverently observed short film diary, Pitcher of Colored Light may be seen as a companion piece to the climactic, long awaited homecoming sequence in Jonas Mekas's Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (albeit without the reflective commentary) - a personal chronicle that similarly evokes the silent intimacy and unarticulated melancholia of a child, now a grown man, absorbing, lingering, and reveling in the realization of a cherished, recreated memory, yet acutely aware of its impermanence and isolation. Composed of fragmented images that capture the essential minutiae of his aging mother's bucolic environment and the idiosyncrasies of her everyday routines - a treasured, black and white photograph, an eclectic assortment of country kitsch paraphernalia, a favorite chair from which she takes her afternoon naps, a pampered cat, an unused, but pre-decorated formal dining table, a meticulously tended garden - the film reveals an inherent restlessness in Beavers's gaze. Constantly scanning, cutting, and refocusing between objects and their shared spaces, light streams and cast shadows, Beavers creates a sense of perpetual motion within these quotidian images of apparent stasis. Framed against the changing of the seasons, these restless images become an inherent reflection, not of a wide-eyed curiosity, but a reluctant, desperate memorization to preserve a fading, transitory bliss.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 11, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" Reel 2, 2004

Gregory Markopoulos's self-contained excerpt, Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" Reel 2, a fragment from his legendary, 80 hour, twenty-two cycle magnum opus, Eniaios is something of an alchemic composition of disparate, often contrasting images that conflate towards a dense singularity that no longer resembles its elemental forms - a vibrant, enigmatic, and sublime meditation on architectural landscape as both matter and space, saturation and void, where ecstasy exists as both a state of tactile intensity and profound spirituality. A composition in black where slivers of inanimate images occupying no more than a third of the screen at any given time (but made more focal by the framing of the dark margins) intermittently appear in repeating and overlapping arrhythmic cycles, the film is, in a sense, as much about the anticipation of the images as it is about the relation - and transcendent progression - of the images themselves: the light-streamed doorway of a villa that frames a clear blue Mediterranean sky with its deep toned wooden arch, the evocation of the rich colors of the villa in the translucency of a stained glass window, the kaleidoscopic fragmentation of the stain glass that is repeated in the mosaic pattern of Byzantine art, the flatness of Byzantine art that is reflected in the religious iconography of a church's medieval architecture. By limiting the visibility of the images into fleeting, but intense bursts of "activity", Markopoulos redefines the relationship between still life and motion picture, transforming the very nature of the images themselves in such a way that a photograph is no longer an absolute, historical reproduction of geometric and aesthetic details, but an architectural impression in an interactive and vital living consciousness.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 11, 2007 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 10, 2007

Hide, 2007

hide.gifAt first glance, Christoph Girardet and Matthius Müller's terse and ingeniously conceived Hide unfolds with the tactile eroticism and wry humor of Peter Kubelka's irreverent life cycle meditation on "transcendence through product consumption" in Truth and Poetry. Composed of densely atmospheric and highly stylized recycled commercial footage of young, picture perfect models pleasurably applying personal hygiene and cosmetic products in a quick cut montage of disembodied, glistening skins, hairs, hands, and lips, juxtaposed against the sensual application of assorted foams, lotions, waxes, and creams, these carefully constructed, plastic images begin to fade, speckle, crack, distort, and burn with the material deterioration of the celluloid itself, before being reduced to the stark whiteness - and unadulterated purity - of an empty projection. At once idealized and grotesque, the disintegrating images become an integral reflection of the title's double entendre of hide as both an organic surface that inherently decays with time, and the deliberate act of concealing its irreversible plasticity. Using the materiality of film as a surrogate for the materiality of the human body, Girardet and Müller create a droll metaphor for the vain pursuit of consumer-driven eternal youth.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 10, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

Stranger Comes to Town, 2007

stranger_comes_to_town.gifIn Stranger Comes to Town, Jacqueline Goss returns to the themes of alterity and cultural disconnection of How to Fix the World to create an equally charming, humorous, and incisive rumination on the absurdity and moral ramifications of ethnic profiling in a post 9/11, terrorist-conscious society. In one episode, a characteristically neutered Department of Homeland Security footage demonstrating the ease and convenience of non-invasive biometric fingerprint identity verification at a border checkpoint plays out against the testimony of a young woman who recounts her far more intrusive experience of being subjected to an anatomical examination by an official under the security mandate of verifying her gender. Cutting to the image of her identified avatar - a pink-haired, warthog-like creature - the idiosyncratic juxtaposition is both comical and poignant in reflecting the speaker's implicit sense of alienness and arbitrary exclusion as a result of the "procedural" encounter. In another episode, a secular immigrant from a Moslem country is compelled to re-evaluate and reframe his identity - and consequently, alter his behavior - through an imposed, non-existent, but stereotyped cultural profile after 9/11. Composed of anonymous, interwoven, first-person testimonies of travelers - immigrants, naturalized citizens visiting their ancestral homelands, and ordinary tourists - recounting their personal experiences of being targeted for enhanced identity screening at a U.S. border checkpoint that have been juxtaposed against tongue in cheek animated sequences from canned Department of Homeland Security how-to videos and re-purposed, self-assigned avatars and otherworldly landscapes from the World of Warcraft videogame, Stranger Comes to Town is a subtle, but potent indictment of broad stroke, xenophobic policies that have rendered an essential myth the idea of the United States as a country built on tolerance and a paradigm for a cultural melting pot assimilation.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 10, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 9, 2007

Alexandra, 2007

alexandra.gifOne of my favorite films from this year's festival is Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra, a spare, poetic, and understatedly affirming elegy on the spiritual and moral consequences of a corrosive, interminable war. At the heart and soul of the film is the stubborn and indomitable babushka, Alexandra, played by the famed Russian soprano and sprightly octogenarian (and wife of the late pre-eminent cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich), Galina Vishnevskaya, who, as the film begins, has curiously embarked on an ill advised, physically demanding journey of cramped boxcars, all terrain vehicles, and even battle tanks to arrive at a military outpost near a war torn Chechen village. Waking in her barracks "hotel" to the sight of her devoted, Denis (Vasili Shevtsov), a dashing and well respected officer in the Russian army who maintains a busy schedule with short deployments to insurgency hotspots, Alexandra soon grows weary of the inscrutable, yet highly regulated movements and seemingly arbitrary rules that define life within the camp (a frustration that is understatedly reflected in Alexandra's disorienting navigation through a maze of barracks) and undertakes her own journey to find a sense of normalcy in the most mundane of tasks - going to the local market - where she encounters and finds communion with an elderly Chechen refugee named Malika (Raisa Gichaeva), a former teacher who, now in her twilight years, is forced to make a meager living selling sundries at a market stall under the sobering reality of an inhumane existence in the decimated, occupied village. Returning to the metaphoric landscapes of Spiritual Voices and Confession in their evocative images of quotidian ritual and the profound desolation that exists within the remote frontiers of a long forgotten war, Sokurov uses desaturated sepia tones, arid and barren landscapes, primitive living conditions, and battle-scarred architectures to create a metaphor for a wounded humanity struggling to survive against the madness of conditioned barbarity, where solidarity and a lasting peace are achieved, not in the systematic demoralization of a people, but in the fragile community of mundane, yet defiant, ennobled gestures.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

In the City of Sylvia, 2007

Sylvia.gifOne of the most striking aspects of José Luis Guerín's preceding film, En Construcción is the recurring image of cast shadows in motion as a metaphor for the "ghost residents" of El Chino - the migrant laborers, evicted tenants, and even unearthed ancient corpses whose traces of existence and personal histories are gradually being displaced by the gentrification of the port town. In retrospect, the reappearance of these elusive, transient shadows in In the City of Sylvia (this time, as phantasmagoric projections onto the wall of the dreamer's hotel room) also provides the haunted tone of the film as the young traveler (Xavier Lafitte) - an artist and dreamer - returns to the cosmopolitan, medieval city of Strasbourg where, six years earlier, he had met a woman named Sylvie at a bar. For the dreamer, Sylvie is also a ghost, a remembrance of things past that grows sweeter in the abstraction of memory, and all he can do is to attempt to recapture her essence and give form to the ideal by immersing himself in the atmosphere of her city. Spending his waking moments religiously jotting down details and random observations in his sketchbook (a figurative act of historical reconstruction) - the cut of the hair, the curve of the neck, the shape of the mouth - these (appropriately) faceless, impressionistic sketches begin to converge and overlay each other within the faint intersections of their organic, evolving stories in the pages of his notebook (in one episode, a distracted waitress, annotated as "elle", is placed in the milieu of the café's equally interesting patrons and re-annotated as "elles"; in a subsequent episode, the dreamer's quick succession scanning through his notebook suggests flipbook animation, in a sense, making Sylvie come to life) until one day when he spots a young woman (Pilar López de Ayala) who may or may not be Sylvie through the window of the café. As in En Construcción, the seemingly incidental, interstitial sequences of passing shadows become a reflection of a resurfaced, dislocated past - a transformed memory that not only grows more ephemeral with the passage of time but also continues to reinsert its own vitality in the present. In a way, the stories of these ghosts, like the idea of Sylvie, never completely fade away even in their conscious supplanting: their histories retold in the silent architectures (most notably, in a graffiti proclaiming "Laure - Je t'aime" that traces the dreamer's pursuit of Sylvie), passing conversations, recycled artifacts, accidental encounters, and recounted - and often, colored - personal histories chronicled in the animated chapters of an eternal, quixotic quest.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

I'm Not There, 2007

NotThere.gifTodd Haynes's I'm Not There is an audacious and ingeniously conceived, if overlong and diluted free verse composition on the enigma of legendary artist, iconoclast, seeker, and voice of a generation, Bob Dylan. Haynes's idiosyncratic portrait of the artist as a loosely interwoven collage of overlapping incarnations filmed in different stylistic genres that reflect the inhabited personas embodied by Dylan is particularly inspired. Illustrated as a picaresque adventure, Dylan is a charismatic, young drifter with a nebulous (and seemingly troubled) past named Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), whose penchant for outmoded folksongs reflects his old soul. Shot as a grainy, early television broadcast, he metamorphoses into poet, Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) whose writing reflected a sense of indulgent, libertine anarchy. Presented as a 1950s rebellious youth film, he is tortured artist, Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) seeking to maintain the relevance of his music in turbulent times. Framed as a 1970s, "me generation" film, he is an alienated rock star, Robbie (Heath Ledger) struggling between the temptations (and excesses) of celebrity and his failing marriage. Depicted as newsreel footage, he is a misunderstood, chameleon-like personality, Jude (Cate Blanchett), whose creative integrity (and sincerity) comes under attack in the face of his increasing musical and recreational experimentation. And finally, filmed as a western, he is a reclusive outlaw, Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), still haunted by the shadows of his legendary fame. Using parallel personality traits as a means of self-referentially that connects the disparate personas - Woody and Jack's search for salt of the earth authenticity, Arthur and Jude's (implied) sexual ambiguity, Robbie and Jude's disillusionment with fame - Haynes creates an initially cohesive portrait of the artist as a young man that ultimately unravels under the weight of increasingly indulgent and only marginally connected vignettes (most notably, in the inclusion of the uninvolving, hermetic Billy the Kid persona which does little to expound on the Dylan enigma).

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

October 4, 2007

Memories, 2007 (Jeonju Digital Project)

Respite (Harun Farocki)

Harun Farocki's contribution to the 2007 Jeonju International Film Festival Digital Project, Respite, channels the spirit of his magnum opus, Images of the World and the Inscription of War to create a potent and provocative film essay on production, warfare, historical reconstruction, and the role of image-making. A prefacing text on the source of the found film provides the sobering context to the seemingly mundane scene of weary, confused passengers deboarding a train at a desolate station in wartime Europe. Filmed from the German transit camp in occupied Westerbork in the Netherlands, the assorted 16mm footage of "everyday life" at the camp was photographed in 1944 by an inmate, Rudolf Breslauer (who was subsequently deported and killed), under orders from the SS commander, Albert Gemmeker, who, in turn, commissioned the film in order to showcase the productivity of the transit camp (Gemmeker would subsequently testify that he had envisioned the project as a film for tourists) and, implicitly, its integral role in the German war machine as both a raw materials recycling facility and a deportation hub for trains leaving, every Tuesday morning, for the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Sobibor. Composed as a silent essay film, Farocki's use of repeating images that are further emphasized by the spareness of intertitles reflects his expositions on the role of filmmaking as the creation of afterimages. In essence, by working with the artifacts of Breslauer's found film, Farocki's role becomes one, not of image production, but rather, a kind of image archaeology, where reality is sought in the critical observation, juxtaposition, correlation, and interpretation of (absolute) images. In one repeated sequence from Breslauer's sole shot footage of a departing train, a brief close-up of a gaunt and visibly frightened girl is framed, initially within the context of the Germans' penchant for precision and accuracy (in meticulously posting a correction to the accounting of people who had been loaded into a boxcar), then subsequently, in her identification as a ten-year-old Sinti girl named Settela Steinbach that leads to Farocki's theory on Breslauer's apparent rejection of close-ups in subsequent footage. Similarly, the footage of inmates extracting copper wires and fibers from electrical conduit is also repeated in the film, as both a demonstration of worker efficiency, and an allusion to the figurative recycling of human bodies (particularly, in the extraction of "Auschwitz gold" from the teeth of the dead). Alternately exposing inherent half truths (shots of smiling inmates at work and at their leisure omit the underlying reality that their expression is one of relief for their temporary reprieve from the weekly deportation train), unintentional humor (in the Germans' repackaging of the camp as a corporate venture with its own company logo and productivity charts), and overt propaganda (in the repeated, often slow-motion demonstrations of efficient manual labor and the deliberate low profile of Nazis around the camp that provide a false impression of the inmates' relative freedom), the idiosyncratic repetition of images serves, not only to reinforce the afterimage, but also to reframe the image through its differing contexts - through its permutations of assigned meaning.

The Rabbit Hunters (Pedro Costa)

memories.gifPedro Costa's entry, The Rabbit Hunters is a graceful modulation of his short film Tarrafal from the The State of the World omnibus, a series of elliptical encounters shot from the perspective of displaced Fonthainas elder villagers, Ventura, the paternal, old soul drifting through the vestiges of his dying neighborhood in Colossal Youth, and his unemployed and homeless friend, Alfredo (rather than José Alberto's perspective in Tarrafal). At one point in the film, a cook, having offered free meals of leftover soup to Ventura and Alfredo in the back kitchen, proceeds to brush off the dirt and grime from Ventura's clothing to make him look more presentable, and gives him a filial admonition for his careworn, disheveled appearance. "I'm haunted by lots of ghosts", explains Ventura. Similar to Costa's seminal film Casa de Lava, the characters' existential limbo is also a spiritual desolation borne of a haunted, implacable landscape. In The Rabbit Hunters, the repressed environmental memory has been formed by Tarrafal's unspoken history as a concentration camp site once dubbed the "camp of slow death" during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, where political dissidents and anti-colonialists were imprisoned and tortured. In a sense, the prison camp has become the embodiment of a corrosive, suppressed memory that has metastasized and leeched into the landscape, contaminating everyone who has lived on - and off - the land (in one episode, Alfredo recounts having trapped nothing but diseased animals to take home and cook for his meals). Like the long-forgotten prisoners before them, the villagers, too, exist in a state of slow death, discarded by the living and haunted by unreconciled ghosts - an ambiguity that is reflected in Ventura and Alfredo's odd conversations over each other's death experiences. Concluding with a shot of José Alberto's deportation letter that has been affixed to a wall by a pocket knife, the film comes to a metaphoric full circle - illustrating the connection between the trauma of dislocation and institutionalized marginalization.

Correspondences (Eugène Green)

On the surface, the stark brightness inherent in digital film would seem an unusual medium for the tonally incandescent, classical palette of Eugène Green's baroque films. Nevertheless, in hindsight, the union of old and new media (and technology) proves conducive to Green's creative ideology of redefining baroque as a (still) relevant, versatile, timeless, and contemporary art form. In Correspondences, Green returns to his familiar themes of interconnectedness, communion, and transcendent love (most recently illustrated in Green's sublime feature Le Pont des arts) to create a tale of young love in the digital age. Presented as a series of emails read offscreen that are juxtaposed against isolated frontal shots of the anonymous lovers and the (interior) spaces they inhabit, the film also subtly evokes Alain Resnais's baroque, nouveau roman puzzle film Last Year at Marienbad in its interplay of memory and seduction (or more appropriately, memory as seduction). At the heart of the film is the young hero, Virgile's (François Rivière) quest to win the love of Blanche (Delphine Hecquet), a young woman whom he has only seen (and danced with) once at a nightclub. For Virgile, their fates are intertwined, and he must convince her of their shared destiny; for Blanche, there is only the blankness of an unregistered memory, and the guilt of a young man's suicide (in an apparent homage to Jean Eustache). Similar to the Virgil of Dante Alighieri's Inferno, Virgile is the enlightened guide who will lead Blanche through the realm of lost souls and, with the realization of true love, break the bounds of impossibility. From this perspective, Virgile's quest also articulates Green's aesthetic vision in an age of new media - a desire to create texture from the intangible, a contour from the binary.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 04, 2007 | | Comments (10) | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 2, 2007

The Flight of the Red Balloon, 2007

flightredballoon.gifDuring an early conversation in Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Flight of the Red Balloon, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), having only recently met her young son, Simon's (Simon Iteanu) new minder, Song (Fang Song), a student from Beijing who moved to Paris to study film, expresses her gratitude for lending a copy of a short film that she had recently completed, remarking that the film had reminded her profoundly of her own childhood - not in the familiarity of the content itself, but in the sensations, aromas, and memories that were stirred up in the collective association of the disparate images. In a way, Suzanne's experience also conveys the intangible ideal behind Hou's vision for the film, a slender and diaphanous, but accessible and finely rendered homage to Albert Lamorisse's beloved postwar short film, The Red Balloon. Hou filters the child's perspective of Lamorisse's film through the alterity of Song's (and implicitly, Hou's own) gaze: as a foreigner in Paris, as a new member of a chaotic household adjusting to the rhythm of the fractured family's set routines and nuances (and dramas) of unarticulated histories, as a personal filmmaker working through the intersections and divergences between Lamorisse's approach to the children's tale and her own. Similarly, Hou's patient and painstakingly observed vision is inherently a dual natured one, tempered by both his figurative innocence (as a non-native filmmaker shooting an homage to a culturally rooted French film with a child actor) and knowingness as an adult - an implied understanding of life's everyday complications that is also reflected in his heroine's muted, polite (and perhaps resigned) responses of "d'accord". To this end, Hou's disarmingly (but appropriately) facile illustration of the film's inherent duality is elegantly encapsulated in Simon's school trip to the Musée d'Orsay, where a curator's interaction with the children reveals the ambiguities in even a seemingly banal image of a child at play in Félix Vallotton's The Ball. This impossibility of absolute recreation (and consequently, interpretation) is also reflected in the drifting, omnipresent red balloon that Simon spots hovering beyond the glass roof of the museum - in its own way, an evocation - a subjective reality shaped by the estrangement of culture, time, history, and memory.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 02, 2007 | | Comments (7) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

Go Go Tales, 2007

gogotales.gifDuring the Q&A for Go Go Tales, native New Yorker Abel Ferrara indicated that although the film's main setting, Ray Ruby's Paradise Lounge looks like something straight out of the city's seedier sections, the authentically gaudy look of the cabaret was actually inspired by an interchangeable array of fly-by-night strip clubs that used to operate around Union Square and painstakingly reconstructed as one continuous set at the famed Cinecittà Studios in Rome. In hindsight, the association with Cinecittà, the legendary studio that also served as the blank canvas for Federico Fellini's imagined worlds (including such masterworks as La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2), proves conducive to channeling the carnivalesque atmosphere of Fellini's cinema towards Ferrara's own risqué, disorienting, and perversely funny comedy. Framed as a loose, 24 hour chronicle of life at a run down strip club that is anything but paradise, the film follows the chaos surrounding the singular personality that is Ray Ruby, a smarmy, charismatic, Rupert Pupkin-styled club owner, master of ceremonies, perennial dreamer, and self-admitted lottery addict as he struggles to find a way to bring in more customers and keep the club afloat, continues to (re)negotiate with his increasingly disgruntled staff of unpaid exotic dancers (and who, in turn, are constantly being incited to strike by a seductive, new dancer/performance artist from Eastern Europe named Monroe (Asia Argento)), tries to placate his curmudgeonly landlady (Anita Pallenberg) who unexpectedly pays a visit to revoke his tenancy so that she can lease the space to Bed, Bath and Beyond, and argues with his silent partner, younger brother Johnie (Matthew Modine) - the most successful hairdresser in Staten Island - who wants to pull his financial support from Ray's money draining venture. Ferrara's penchant for organic structure, over-the-top imagery, and twisted, if innately humanist, morality especially suit the film's rich ensemble casting and intersecting storylines that provide texture and authenticity to Ferrara's unfiltered commentary on the plight of the poor, often immigrant, working class who take on these humbling, unseemly jobs in the pursuit of the American dream. Using the beleaguered club as a symbol of the staff's own unrealized ambitions (a correlation that is reinforced in the club's hosting of a weekly, after hours talent showcase, mostly catering to family and friends), Ferrara creates a polarizing and blunt, yet astute and unexpectedly compassionate allegory for the inextinguishable creative spirit in all its chaos, volatility, isolation, hope, and exhilaration.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 02, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

September 30, 2007

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, 2007

4months.gifCoincidentally, like Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light, Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film that is also characterized by the element of subverted expectation, but this time, to indelible and bracing effect. Set in Romania during the waning days of Soviet bloc communism under Nikolai Ceaucescu in the late 1980s where abortion had been outlawed as a means of increasing the country's birth rate, the film chronicles a day in the life of Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a pragmatic university student who, as the film begins, has agreed to assist her confused, but determined roommate, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) in obtaining an illegal abortion. But almost immediately, Otilia realizes that her flighty, unreliable roommate has not planned things with appropriate consideration: a hotel room reservation was not confirmed 24 hours before arrival and has been released to accommodate a convention, only a fraction of money needed for expenses has been raised with no money left over for contingencies, Otilia's boyfriend, Adi (Alex Potocean) insists that she attend a family dinner party to celebrate his mother's birthday (Luminita Gheorghiu), a male abortionist bearing the ironic moniker of Bébé (Vlad Ivanov) has been enlisted in lieu of a preferable female one, housekeeping materials that were to be brought in order to clean up and conceal traces of the performed procedure from the hotel room had been left behind, a personal, face-to-face appointment had been carelessly disregarded by Gabita, leading to Bébé's predisposed animosity towards the young women. During the Q&A for the film, Mungiu indicated that while the film is a work of fiction, the underlying story is based on a composite of several experiences (some, far more horrific than the one portrayed in the film) of several people he knew who were of his generation and who also came of age during the Cold War and witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the re-emergence of Romania as a democratic country. In this respect, Mungiu's film is not only an understated allegory for the inviolability of humanity and solidarity in times of profound crisis, but also a personal testament to a forgotten, recent past that has been suppressed from a society's collective consciousness in the wake of profound social transformation. In essence, rather than recreating an interesting, but archaic national artifact, the film remains contemporary and exceedingly relevant, not only in its attempt to exorcise and come to terms with an unreconciled history, but also as a cautionary tale on the preciousness of earned rights and personal freedoms that have been taken far too much for granted in a social climate of expected liberties, political herding, comparative wealth, and cultural apathy.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

Silent Light, 2007

silentlight.gifOn the surface, it's hard to find fault with the execution of Carlos Reygadas's latest film, Silent Light, a timeless tale of love, betrayal, desire, and sacrifice set within a remote (and appropriately atemporal) Mennonite community in rural northern Mexico. Nevertheless, despite an implicitly spiritual context that is suggested by the religious community setting, and drawing loose inspiration on themes from Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet, Reygadas's vision subverts expectation in its portrait of eternal human struggle, not as a path towards transcendence, but rather, as evidence of immanence in the everyday ritual. Reygadas visually encapsulates this sense of quotidian grace in the remarkable, bookending long take of a desolate landscape transforming under the diurnal revolution of an oblate earth - the kind of meticulous, vaguely oneiric, self-contained opening shots that have come to define his cinema - as the sublime image of a transforming, yet eternal nature cuts to the disconnected image of a Mennonite farmer, Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews), and their children in quiet prayer (in a sense, a personal expression of silent grace) before eating their breakfast. In its abrupt visual and tonal shift, the film's oblique segue also suggests the influence of Lisandro Alonso's inverted narrative form in Los Muertos, where the introductory shots of a tactile, corporeal reality gives way to a metaphoric journey of interiority. Moreover, in its cyclical representation of life and death, good and evil, beginning and ending of relationships, Reygadas also channels familiar Bruno Dumont themes and the essentiality of his representational images (most notably, in the framing of landscape and casting of non-actors as physical archetypes) to create a film that is decidedly anti-Dumont. This seemingly conscious subversion of Dumont's aesthetics is perhaps best exemplified by a sequence involving a reckless driver in a red pickup truck who tailgates Johan on a desolate stretch of road before speeding away - an episode that invites immediate association with the ominous encounter of Twentynine Palms. It is this repeating pattern of adoption and subversion of familiar, repurposed images throughout the film that, for all its elegant cinematography and self-awareness of its role as art, ultimately detracts from the singularity of Reygadas's admirable vision, a puzzling strategy for realizing impeccably constructed, personal filmmaking through the filtered reconstitution of borrowed gazes and short hand iconography.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2007 | | Comments (10) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

September 27, 2007

Destiny, 2006

destiny.gifMy final screening in the retrospective is also coincidentally Zeki Demirkubuz's latest feature, Destiny, a brooding and elegantly rendered film that takes on an even richer texture within the context of the creative evolution (and maturation) of his body of work. The story of Destiny proves to be an already familiar one: a shy, but affable rug salesman, Bekir (Ufuk Bayraktar) a son from a wealthy family falls in love with a beautiful, but troubled young woman, Ugur (Vildan Atasever) who, in turn, is in love with an unrepentant neighborhood thug named Zagor. In an attempt to remain close to her jailed lover, Ugur abandons her family in Istanbul and begins her life as a drifter, settling in a town near Zagor's prison where she finds occasional work as a lounge singer (or more appropriately, peddling her sexuality), until circumstances (often, of Zagor's own doing) forces his relocation into another facility, and with it, her own abrupt move to again be near him. And through it all, Bekir, now having lost his job and bankrupted the family business that had been entrusted to him by consenting to financially support Ugur in her impossible pursuit to secure her lover's freedom, obligingly, if reluctantly, follows her to the new town on his own personal journey to nowhere. It is the extended monologue that the middle-aged Bekir would reveal to Yusuf seemingly some twenty years later in Demirkubuz's earlier film, Innocence, the sad autobiography of how he has squandered his life over the past two decades to be near the object of his unrequited love. In a way, the intersection of these stories is also a destiny - Bekir and Ugur's double entendred return to the innocence and purity of first love. However, Demirkubuz's tale is a dislocated purity, one that exists not only in the absolute, but also in the absence of a moral center. In this sense, the couple's shared, yet isolating obsession is the embodiment of a Sisyphean ritual for which, as Albert Camus's essay, The Myth of Sisyphus suggests, the struggle itself is an act of conscious defiance and becomes ennobling. Framed against the atemporality of Bekir and Ugur's quixotic, if self-destructive existence, the absurdity of their resolute, yet elusive eternal quest itself becomes a paradox, where transcendence lies, not in the pursuit of destiny, but in the struggle against it.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 27, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

The Waiting Room, 2004

waitingroom.gifDuring the panel discussion on Turkish cinema, Zeki Demirkubuz cited Friedrich Nietzsche's (paraphrased) statement that the more a person understands the world around him, the more isolated he becomes. This sentiment also seems to form the creative ideal for the fictional director, Ahmet (played by Demirkubuz himself) in the Waiting Room, the final installment of the Tales of Darkness trilogy. In a sense, the film is also a paradigm for Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Distant (and to a lesser degree, Climates in the casting of his real-life wife as his fictionally estranged one) in its exploration of the paradoxical role of the filmmaker as both a neutral spectator and an integrally rooted actor in the inspiration for - as well as the creation of - his art. Representing Demirkubuz's cinema at its most personal, but also at its most abstract, the film is a slice of life portrait of an independent filmmaker struggling to pull together his long harbored ambition of adapting Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment into film (an idea not unlike one Demirkubuz envisions undertaking himself, having previously expressed his desire to make an adaptation of the novel, but not yet having found an actor who coincides with his vision to play the lead role and move forward with the project) against the everyday (and largely intentional) distractions within his personal life. A humorous early encounter with a trapped young burglar, Ferit (Ufuk Bayraktar) who had sprained his ankle while climbing a security wall in an attempt to break into Ahmed's apartment complex - and who is then forced to rely on his intended victim's cooperation to allow him to "escape", hobbling, through the front door - introduces the theme of moral resignation as complicity, a figurative "innocence", that runs through the film. Acquiescing to his wife's demands that he admit to a nonexistent affair (perhaps in order to assuage her own conscience for deciding to leave him), the newly separated (and consequently, emotionally isolated) Ahmed decides to restart the project with his assistant, Serap (Nilüfer Açikalin) after becoming increasingly convinced that Ferit would be ideal in the role of Raskolnikov. But as new emotional attachments and complications again begin to surface in Ahmed's life - including the appearance of Serap's lover, Kerem (Serder Orçin), who confronts him on the suspicion that Serap has confused his aloofness as a sign of seduction - real life once again reasserts itself into his (proposed) fiction and upends the dynamics of his untenable creative process. Ironically, while the film suggests alignment with Abbas Kiarostami's cinema (most notably, in the Koker trilogy) in its observations of interpenetrating realities, the fictional director's creative process implies its antithesis. Rather than a search for beauty by immersing in the mundane reality of everyday life, Ahmed seeks to disengage from the quotidian, to withdraw from its distractions, in order to create fiction (an affectation that is also reflected in his disinterest in finding his cat after her kittens have adopted a box on his balcony as their new home). However, it is this elusiveness of creative isolation - the impossibility of truly inhabiting another artist's work - that would prove to be his epiphany as well, a realization that the information of reality resides in the essence of fiction.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 27, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

September 25, 2007

Fate, 2001

fate.gifThe first installment of Zeki Demirkubuz's Tales of Darkness trilogy (which would subsequently include The Confession and The Waiting Room), Fate is perhaps his most fully realized adoption of themes inspired by his literary influences (and self-acknowledged personal favorite among his films to date), in this case, Albert Camus's widely read, absurdist fiction, The Stranger. Fusing the essentiality of actors' faces that characterize Robert Bresson's cinema with the acute, muted humor of Darezhan Omirbaev (and on occasion, upending it, as in the case of an initially Kaïrat-like innocent encounter at a movie theater that soon escalates into awkward groping), Fate chronicles the strange turn of events in the life of a seductive, accommodating, and enigmatic junior customs clerk named Musa (Serder Orçin) who lives alone with his mother at a low rent apartment in Istabul following her death one day from natural causes. Proceeding to go to work on the (apparent) morning of his mother's death - and even working overtime - despite a nagging suspicion that something was amiss after she stayed in bed without preparing his customary breakfast (as well as failing to heed his well-intentioned coworkers' advice to check in on her at lunch time), his strange behavior would soon fall into scrutiny after he comes to the aid of his neighbor after he runs afoul with his mistress's brothers, and acquiesces to a marriage with his attractive colleague who had been carrying out a clandestine affair with their philandering, married boss. As equally bracing in its moral ambiguity as it is wryly comical in the young antihero's complacent resignation to the misaligning forces of his manipulated (and to a certain extent, self-inflicted) "fate", the film is also a probing cautionary tale of soullessness and the folly of sentimental inertia that is borne of one's complete submission to the will of external forces. It is in this respect that Demirkubuz's dark and unconventional vision remains both culturally specific and universally relevant, a scathing indictment of kismet as a scapegoat for personal accountability, and an accepted pathology to the social malady of urban alienation.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

The Third Page, 1999

thirdpage.gifLike Zeki Demirkubuz's preceding film, Innocence, his equally elegant third feature, The Third Page also opens to a shot of the film's central character, in his case, a struggling bit player named Isa (Ruhi Sari) being questioned in a private room as a broken door continues to prop open. At first, the parallel framing suggests an integral similarity between the two characters: Yusuf, a person who has paid for his crime and now returns to society a figurative innocent, and Isa who continues to proclaim his innocence in vain before a brutal mob boss who continues to beat him over the disappearance of fifty dollars from a job that he had recent carried out for him. Given one day to repay the missing money, Yusuf turns to the studio where is being considered for the role of Raskolnikov for a proposed adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to ask the director for a salary advance and, without success, begins to rifle through the studio offices in his absence to search for a means to raise the money, where he finds a gun stashed in a desk drawer, and resolves to kill himself, only to be interrupted by his landlord who has stopped by to collect back rent. Stricken with physical exhaustion and delirium from his savage beating, Isa's fortunes seems to turn once again when his abusive landlord turns up dead the next morning, perhaps even by his own hand, and his beautiful neighbor, Meryem (Basak Köklükaya), the neglected and long suffering wife of a drunkard whose work as a migrant laborer often sends him away from home for long periods of time, nurses him back to health. Invigorated by his increasing attraction towards the kind and enigmatic Meryem, Isa begins to find some measure of contentment in his small, but recurring role in a soap opera, a happiness that would prove fleeting when Meryem's husband returns home and returns to her reclusive silence. Deriving the title from the designated tabloid section of the Turkish press, Zeki Demirkubuz elegantly retains the pulpy and tawdry nature of the human interest stories relegated to this section of the newspaper, even as he compassionately elevates the untold nature of their marginalized lives and suffering into the timeless, classical form of a Dostoevsky moral dilemma. Juxtaposing Isa and Meryem's seemingly sensationalized, stranger than fiction story against screen test interviews with hungry actors desperate for a part in the latest casting call (including one of Isa who reveals that his dream to play a lead role where he is able to transcend all adversity), Demirkubuz creates a potent and incisive metaphor for all humanity as struggling actors within their own evolving human drama, where personal trajectories are defined as equally by chance as it is conscience, the intricacies of divine fate and convolutions of instinctual, human machination.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

The Confession, 2001

confession.gifOne of the highlights from the Zeki Demirkubuz retrospective for me was the discovery of The Confession, the second installment of his Tales of Darkness trilogy, a taut, minimalist, and deeply moving portrait of the dissolution of a marriage. A pair of mundane, quick greeting calls to the office for public works engineer, Harun (Taner Birsel) made by his wife, Nilgün (Basak Köklükaya) incisively frames the state of their disintegrating marriage, as the empty conversations and extended silences (and implicit reassurances) give way to a sense of anxiety that becomes even more profound when Harun, once again, goes away on business. Returning earlier than planned, Harun's suspicions grow deeper when he overhears his wife place a call to confirm her safe arrival home after apparently having spent the evening away from home. Increasingly convinced of his wife's infidelity, Harun goads her into meeting for a seemingly casual dinner out (and perhaps signaling an implicit pretext of agreeing to her past entreaties for a trial separation) and confronts her with his nagging suspicions, offering to consent to the separation on that condition that she confess her infidelity and confirm her culpability - an attempt to deflect his own sense of displaced guilt that had been sown years earlier following the suicide of his best friend (a death that may have been precipitated by their rivalry over Nilgün's affections). However, as Nilgün steadfastly continues to refuse to acknowledge her guilt and enable her husband's own consuming fears even in the face of escalating physical violence, the possibility for closure over Harun's own harbored wounds and implacable conscience soon proves even more elusive. Demirkubuz's elegant primary compositions of medium shots from a stationary camera, confining interior spaces, and near real-time progression provide an incisive backdrop that mirrors the raw and unflinching intimacy of the film's psychologically dark emotional terrain, creating a haunting metaphor for humanity's Nietszchian eternal struggle between (Apollinian) logic and (Dionysian) passion.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

Innocence, 1997

innocence.gifZeki Demirkubuz's sophomore feature, Innocence represents a marked stylistic departure from the fragmentation and narrative asymmetry of Block-C and converges towards what would prove to be more quintessential recurring elements within his body of work: long takes, painstaking observation of temps mort, stationary camera framing, the inclusion of a hyper-extended dialogue "ellipses" (or in the case of The Third Page, a monologue) that approaches abstraction, the running television as a surrogate for self-imposed isolation, and a temporal ambiguity that projects an epic scope to intrinsically intimate, chamber dramas. Opening to the shot of a recently paroled prisoner, Yusuf (Güven Kiraç), pleading his case before the warden to remain in jail despite having served out his sentence for murder and attempted murder, arguing that he has lost touch with his sole remaining family (the married sister whom he attempted to kill along with her lover, apparently on behalf of his abusive, but weak willed brother-in-law) and does not have the appropriate support system to survive in the outside world without resorting to crime once again, as the official's door repeatedly springs open for no apparent reason, the seeming randomness of the broken door (a recurring image in his films) becomes a metaphor for the ambiguity of his future. A strange and fateful encounter with a couple forcibly removed from the bus reinforces this sense of destiny. Arriving at a rundown boarding house in a rural town to rest for the evening, he comes to the aid of a little girl stricken with fever after her parents fail to turn up for the evening to claim her. Returning the next morning to the boarding house after their mysterious disappearance, the parents turn out to be the detained couple from the bus, a genial, but mercurial drifter named Bekir (Haluk Bilginer) and the elusive object of his affection, a wanton lounge singer, Ugur (Derya Alabora) (perhaps a wink to Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel), who has been traveling across the country for twenty years (with Bekir ingratiating himself into her company) to be near her imprisoned first, "true" love. With little hope for reconciliation with his embittered and suffering sister, Yusuf returns for an indefinite stay at the boarding house and embarks on a friendship with the volatile couple. However, as Bekir and Ugur's relationship continues to be strained by the cumulative toll of their corrosive dysfunction, Yusuf, too, becomes drawn into their seductive, dark world of mutual self-destruction. Evoking the emotional intensity of an Ingmar Bergman chamber film and infused with the idiosyncratic combination of understated humor and soap operatic melodrama (not unlike the television programs that the lodgers watch each evening at the lounge), Innocence is an elegant, remarkably complex, and painstakingly rendered study of destructive obsessions and codependency. But beyond the psychological addiction that defines Bekir and Ugur's interminable journey to nowhere, Demirkubuz's framing of their relationship through the perspective of innocents, initially, through Ugur's deaf mute child, then subsequently, through the well-intentioned (and all too accommodating) Yusuf, Demirkubuz presents an intriguing portrait, not only of a pliable personality, but also the hypocrisy inherent in abusive relationships, where cruelty is rationalized by a sense of helpless, self-entitled victimization.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

September 23, 2007

Block-C, 1994

blockC.gifIn his essay on the film, critic Gözde Anaran insightfully notes that Zeki Demirkubuz had been an inmate of the Block-C penitentiary after the September 12, 1980 coup d'état. This sense of institutionalization also surfaces in the way Demirkubuz frames the middle class, high-rise residential apartment complex that provide the claustrophobic setting for his first film. Something like an unpolished Michelangelo Antonioni film in its interpenetration of alienating landscapes and interior turmoil, Block-C is a flawed, yet seminal film in Demirkubuz's body of work - a complex character study that provides the psychological and visceral paradigm for his subsequent films. Using the rapid development of the Ataköy apartments during the 1980s as a reflection of the country's rapid cultural transformation, Demirkubuz creates a metaphor for the nation's profound moral transformation in the wake of Turkey's post 1980 military coup economic liberalization. Told from the perspective of a bored, middle class housewife, Tulay (whose increasing restlessness is initially revealed through the increasing frequency of her aimless road trips around the city, even during at the height of a storm) whose life begins to gradually unravel after she accidentally walks in on her maid Asli and her lover, the building superintendent's son, Halit one day in an act of intimacy in the apartment, the film also suggests sympathy with the eponymous housewife of Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles in capturing the seemingly liminal perturbations that surface within the heroine's daily routine that ultimately lead to profound consequences. Also worth noting is that during the subsequent panel discussion, Demirkubuz indicated that Honoré de Balzac was one of the novelists whose works he "discovered" as a result of the 1980 military coup, and the integral theme of stairs as a metaphor for social station in Balzac's novel, Père Goriot, may also be seen in the recurring imagery of the staircases and elevators that separate the characters in Block-C (albeit in overturned form as a result of technology, where the higher levels now represent the premium spaces), including a running joke involving a hapless deliveryman who is never allowed entry into the secured building.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 23, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

Notes on the Panel Discussion on Turkish Cinema with Zeki Demirkubuz

demirkubuz.gifThe opening question for filmmaker Zeki Demirkubuz was an offshoot of a topic that had been mentined at an earlier Q&A during one of the screenings for his film, specifically, his thoughts on the fact that Turkey is one of the few countries in the world where the film audience is actually growing. Demirkubuz responded that while mainstream Turkish films had retained a certain level of commercial quality, filmmakers such as Yilmaz Güney had always infused their own personalities into their films. Demirkubuz, however, suggests that the movement towards personal filmmaking in Turkey during the 1990s - of which his films are also a product - were the unexpected byproduct of the dynamics of the September 12, 1980 military coup in Turkey. In essence, the coup shifted the cultural (and consequently, creative) focus from political engagement to personal filmmaking.

On the question of the role of the government in Turkish cinema today, and in particular, the working policy of the ruling party, AKP towards national and independent production films, Demirkubuz indicated that he has not personally encountered any problems with censorship, and that, for the most part, censorship resides more in the realm of public reaction, which affects the commerciality of the film. Ironically, the relationship between the AKP and artists has actually improved with respect to censorship because it has enabled the artistic community access to a broader spectrum of cultural material (in his case, classical and world literature) than was available in Turkey before 1980.

Continuing on the idea of the popularity of cinema in Turkey, noting that the country has a 72% film viewership, Demirkubuz also answers the somewhat rhetorical question of "Is there really a film industry in Turkey?" by remarking that the infrastructure and technical support for all stages of filmmaking and post-production currently exist domestically.

Asked to comment on the spirituality or "religious essence" of his films, particularly in Waiting Room, Demirkubuz prefaces his response by saying that the relationship between the viewer and the screen cannot be explained in metaphysical terms. So, in a sense, the ideology of a film is also something inconcrete and irrational. Rather, cinema is about the projection of the human condition, the "feeling of life". This abstract quality, therefore, suggests a closer affinity to spirituality rather than religion. However, it should also be noted that theology and art also share this kinship in that both pursuits are, in a way, a search for meaning.

Demirkubuz was also asked to address how his filmmaking has changed since his sophomore film, Innocence, which screened in Venice, elevated him to the status of an international filmmaker, to which he responded that he was not motivated by international considerations, but rather, his own integrity, his "ethics". Adding that he has a fundamental belief in the conscience of his audience - that people will instinctually respond if an artist creates something from his core - he subsequently argues that this universality is similar to the continued relevance of novelists such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Honoré de Balzac, Albert Camus, and T.S. Eliot in the ability of their works to transcend geography.

A point was raised that while the trauma of the 1980 coup had energized a "New Cinema" movement in Turkey, the same cultural renaissance cannot be said for other art forms. Demirkubuz's comment on this polarity was based solely on his own experience, specifically, that before 1980, the only Russian author popularly known in Turkey was Maxim Gorky, but after 1980, people discovered the works of Turgenev and Dostoevsky. Demirkubuz parallels this cultural enlightenment to the renaissance of Iranian films following the country's Islamic Revolution - an ironic consequence of profound shifts in prevailing cultural attitudes and ideologies that comes with the trauma of revolution.

Lastly, Demirkubuz remarked that in his filmmaking process, he pays particular attention to the faces of the actors, adding that as his cinema has evolved, he has continued to distill his images further and further, to the point of their reflected interiority. He summarizes this aesthetic ideology by paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche's theory that the more a person understands the world around him, the more isolated he becomes from his surroundings.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 23, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Zeki Demirkubuz

September 20, 2007

Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, 1967

brasilia.gifCommissioned by Italian typewriter manufacturing company Olivetti in 1966 to showcase the construction of Brazil's newly completed modern capital, Brasilia (and who then promptly shelved the completed work, perhaps because of its implicit critical inquiry), Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's exquisitely shot, articulate, and impassioned film, Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, as its name suggests, is a tale of two cities: one, a paradigm for racial and social integration and progressive urban living; the other, an unattainable (and unaffordable) idealized promise land of unlimited employment that can only be reached by boarding congested rural buses or commuting from neighboring shantytowns that have sprouted along the city limits, housing other pioneering migrant laborers who, years earlier, made the same journey in search of similar opportunity. A tour of the city's cross-grid traffic system, described as the intersection of two major axes (that implicitly form an 'X' mark), provides an astute introduction to the city's novel urban design, relegating the placement of cemeteries to the outskirts of the major axes so that funeral processions (and symbolically, death) never cross the city's major intersection. Juxtaposing Brasilia's all modern architecture and meticulous construction of planned communities with interviews of blue collar workers living in makeshift houses, itinerant workers from the provinces who leave their families behind to work in the city's ongoing construction projects, and low level civil service employees who were forced to relocate their often large families into cramped apartments with the centralization of government offices in the new capital, de Andrade reinforces the dichotomy of urbanization and gentrification as intrinsic processes of institutionalized socioeconomic segregation (a theme that also surfaces in José Luis Guerín's En Construcción.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 20, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

Garrincha, Joy of the People, 1962

Garrincha.gifSomething like a kindred spirit to Hiroshi Teshigahara's José Torres in its mundane observations of the dedicated craft and everyday rituals of a champion sportsman, Garrincha, Joy of the People is an affectionately rendered and thoughtful, if somewhat idealized portrait of Manoel Francisco dos Santos, affectionately called "Garrincha", the Brazilian football star considered to be one of the country's greatest players ever, second only to soccer legend (and former team mate), Pelé. Nicknamed Garrincha - "little bird" - for his awkward stance resulting from a birth defect that produced a sideways curvature of his legs, Garrincha is a quintessential working class hero - a native son from the impoverished textile mill town of Pau Grande whose mediocre job performance at the factory was overlooked only because of his ability to lead the local team to victory during weekend competitions. Assembled as a collage of still photographs, newsreel archives from the 1958 and 1962 World Cup tournaments, and present-day documentary footage of Garrincha's modest home life with his wife and daughters in his boyhood town (a house that was given as a gift by local businesses after his performance at the 1958 World Cup finals), the film also serves as a whimsical metaphor for the essence of Brazilian culture, where the everyday drudgery, alienation, and competition inherent in urban existence gives way to the fleeting escapism and solidarity of a national sport - where the erasure of indigenous identity and the pressures of modern civilization in the delusive quest for a post-colonial European ideal is briefly trumped by the idiosyncratic sight of a quirky, superstitious, simple living, native footballer with crooked knees and killer dribbles.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 20, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

September 12, 2007

The Poet of the Castle, 1959

poetofthecastle.gifA companion piece to Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's short film, The Master of Apipucos, The Poet of the Castle is a reverent portrait of beloved Brazilian modernist poet - and de Andrade's godfather - Manuel Bandeira. Plagued by delicate health throughout his lifetime stemming from a childhood bout of tuberculosis, Bandeira's daily ritual intrinsically reflects a resigned awareness of his physical limitations: eating his breakfast while still in his pajamas, placing his typewriter near the side of the bed in order to continue working on his drafts while reclining, paying a visit to the neighborhood drugstore. But this consciousness of fragility his seems to have only served to fuel Bandeira's irrepressible spirit, as his leisurely walks around town invariably turn into free associative, daydreaming excursions into distant places and exotic destinations, episodes of nostalgia, meetings with old friends, and silent appreciation of the female form. As in de Andrade's portrait of sociologist Gilberto Freire, The Poet of the Castle captures the spirit of Bandeiro's poetry as a integral reflection of the poet's acute awareness of his own human frailty and desire.

The NYFF Sidebar, Tropical Analysis: The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade runs from September 29 through October 9, 2007.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

The Priest and the Girl, 1965

priestandgirl.gifMarking Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's first feature film, The Priest and the Girl hews closer to naturalism than modernism in its stark and muted Emile Zola-like tale of a young priest (Paulo José) who has been summoned to a small rural village in Minas Gerais in order to dispense extreme unction for the town's terminally ill priest and assume his parish. A transgression is suggested in the dying priest's utterance of a young woman's name, Mariana (Helena Ignez), the ward of a middle-aged man named Fortunato (Mário Lago), and immediately, the young priest is implicated in guarding the secrets of the insular town. But Mariana's station proves to be even more ambiguous. As intriguingly enigmatic as she is frustratingly willful, her seductive beauty and libertine outlook has proved to be a powerful intoxication for the men in the village, including her own benefactor, who has begun to look towards his ward as if she were his wife, and now implores the young priest to consecrate their already consummated union (a marriage that had once been forbidden by the priest's predecessor), and a suitor named Vitorino (Fauzi Arap) who watches his beloved from an unobstructed view of a nearby cottage. Drawn towards Mariana in the awkward silence of their mutual isolation and a profound sense of despair over his own surfacing emotions, the priest struggles with his desire to turn away from the harsh gaze of the claustrophobic village and consequently, his own flagging spiritual calling. Unfolding as a free verse adaptation of sorts on the themes inspired by the poetry of modernist writer, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the aesthetically atypical The Priest and the Girl, nevertheless, provides a insightful framework into de Andrade's recurring expositions on cultural ingraining, the affectation of landscape, and the elusive nature of desire.

The NYFF Sidebar, Tropical Analysis: The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade runs from September 29 through October 9, 2007.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

The Master of Apipucos, 1959

masterofapipucos.gifOriginally conceived as an installment in a two-panel portrait of prominent Brazilian intellectuals (and family friends), Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's The Master of Apipucos captures a day in the life of author and sociologist, Gilberto Freire whose highly influential book, The Masters and the Slaves examined the unique essence of Brazilian identity through the framework of an instilled racial assimilation and cultural cross-pollination (a theory that would subsequently be known as Brazil's "racial democracy"). Chronicling Freire's idyllic, ordered, and decidedly indulgent life in his secluded, hillside country estate in the town of Apipucos where he tends to his well maintained garden, while away the hours at his well-appointed personal library (one that, not surprisingly, proudly showcases his published works), distractedly eats a light breakfast that has been served upon his wife's command by a house servant, sits in his comfortable leather armchair drinking his favorite liqueur, and savors the cook's aromatic meal preparations in the kitchen, de Andrade insightfully illustrates the insular, privileged, and almost anachronistic environment that surrounds Freire, and in the process, provides a possible glimpse into the creative stimulus that inspired the author's idea of colonial-era plantations as a contemporary social paradigm for racial integration and indigenous identity.

The NYFF Sidebar, Tropical Analysis: The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade runs from September 29 through October 9, 2007.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

Macunaíma, 1969

macunaima.gifIn an early episode of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's delirious, bawdy, idiosyncratically fragmented, and bluntly allegorical film, Macunaíma, the eponymous hero, having been abandoned by his impoverished family in the forest, encounters an ogre who then proceeds to placate the hungry child by feeding him a piece of flesh carved from his own leg - a grotesque gesture that the ogre takes as an implicit acceptance that binds them to a mutual destiny. In hindsight, this correlated image of anthropophagy and implication serves as an appropriate introduction to the recurring themes inherent in de Andrade's cinema. Adapted from author Mario de Andrade's seminal modernista novel, the film also bears the characteristic imprint of the tropicalism movement in its melding of indigenous folktale and carnivalesque satire to create an acerbic commentary on the continued, deep polarization of post-colonial Brazilian society, as manifested through its inequitable treatment of race, sexuality, and privilege. At the heart of this wry self-reflection is the picaresque adventure of the precocious innocent, Macunaíma, the youngest child of a family of jungle dwellers who, upon the death of the family matriarch, sheds his dark skin in an enchanted spring and embarks on a journey to the city with his brothers, where he encounters a brave new world of wealth, empowerment, decadence, and insurgency. Using cannibalism as a metaphor for the evolution of Brazilian culture as a consequence of exploitation in the aftermath of colonialism (of national resources and the subjugation of people), capitalism (of workers in the pursuit of profit), and imperialism (of industrialized countries in their economic domination over underdeveloped nations) - in essence, the dynamic consumption and assimilation of other cultures into the forming of an indigenous, often contradictory national character - de Andrade creates a droll and absurdist tale on urban alienation, essential identity, and the irrepressibility of the human spirit.

The NYFF Sidebar, Tropical Analysis: The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade runs from September 29 through October 9, 2007.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

July 18, 2007

The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968

charge_light.gifFilmed in 1968 at the height of the counterculture movement, as the escalation of the Cold War and a seemingly interminable Vietnam War pervaded the collective consciousness of the entire international community, Tony Richardson's sumptuous, confrontational, and acutely rendered magnum opus, The Charge of the Light Brigade is a scathing indictment, not only of the arrogance and madness of war, but more importantly, of the myopic insularity of class and privilege intrinsic in the monolithic culture of the people behind the powerful institutions who wage these wars. A chronicle of the British involvement - or more appropriately, insinuation - into the Crimean War between Russia and the Ottoman Empire that led to the ill-fated uphill charge of the Light Brigade cavalry against a waiting, well-armed Russian artillery unit in the valley of Balaclava, the film follows the plights of the battle's key historic figures in the lead up to the confrontation and its inevitable aftermath: Lord Raglan (John Gielgud), the elderly, muddle-headed, incompetent commander and field strategist whose career had been defined by his experience in Waterloo and continues to regard each enemy encounter as a form of indirect engagement against France (despite both countries being on the side of the Ottoman Empire in the war); Lord Cardigan (Trevor Howard), the bombastic, cocksure Major-General who commanded the Light Brigade under reluctant orders from his superior, and estranged brother-in-law, Lord Lucan (Harry Andrews); Captain Nolan (David Hemmings), the enigmatic, battle-anxious, cavalry officer who would personally deliver Lord Raglan's fateful orders that would lead to the charge. Beyond the bracing contemporaneity implicit in Richardson's provocative depiction of the mid nineteenth century war on 1960s British society - and, by extension, its worthy invitation for renewed, critical evaluation in the inextricable mire of post 9/11 global politics - what makes the film continually relevant is its uncompromising attack on entrenched, Victorian-era sensibilities of colonialism and political interference (wryly illustrated through woodcut animation sequences that prefigure Monty Python interstitial animation and Raoul Servais' antiwar, social interrogation short film, To Speak or Not to Speak) under inflated, narcissistic ideals of a society's moral role as the world's police against tyranny and aggression, and its divine role as emissaries of (Christian) enlightenment. It is this delusive posture of self-anointed moral superiority and cultural imperialism that is inevitably shattered in the film's ambiguous final sequence, as the architects of the battlefield deflect personal accountability over the tragic blunder against the sight of bloodied, surviving soldiers returning to camp ready to fight again - an image, not of human enlightenment, but of vainglorious, self-perpetuated folly.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 18, 2007 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2007, Woodfall Film Retrospective

Tom Jones, 1963

Tom_Jones.gifA silent film-inspired, quick edit, slapstick prologue punctuated by explicative intertitles and a sprightly harpsichord accompaniment sets the irreverent, whimsical tone for Tony Richardson's freeverse adaptation of Henry Fielding's beloved eighteenth century novel, Tom Jones, transforming the beloved comedy of manners satire as a giddy fusion of burlesque and Keystone Kops epic adventure. Unfolding as a broad, sweeping chronicle of the handsome and roguish Tom Jones' (Albert Finney) remarkable journey from his humble origins as an abandoned infant of nebulous parentage at the home of the good-natured Squire Allworthy (George Devine) and his sister Bridget (Rachel Kempson), to his life of privilege as the ward of the unmarried country gentleman, to his youthful indiscretions with the women around town (as well as along the long and winding road to London), to his tortuous romantic pursuit of the beautiful Sophie (Susannah York), the virginal daughter of the boorish and opportunistic Squire Western (Hugh Griffith), and finally, to the coincidental pursuit of uncovering his true identity, the film eschews the conventional framework of a traditional period piece (or more precisely, a highbrow British production of one) to create a bawdy satire with innovative touches that have stretched the bounds (if not altogether redefined) the possibilities for modern adaptations of classical literature. By idiosyncratic framing Tom Jones' picaresque adventure through an amalgam of traditional film comedy conventions, Richardson creates an inspired duality that paradoxically underscores the film's conventionality even as it subverts it: from the breaking of fourth wall address (and symbolically, the distance to the spectator), to integrating innovative wipe cuts that consciously introduces an element of anachronism (and consequently, reinforces its contemporaneity), to sardonic, tongue in cheek narration (a strategy that anticipates John Hurt's wry commentary in Lars von Trier's Dogville), to self-referential parody (creating an underlying lightness and humor that Michael Winterbottom's subsequently incorporates to good effect in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story).

Posted by acquarello on Jul 18, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Woodfall Film Retrospective

July 17, 2007

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1962

loneliness.gifThe Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner opens to the shot of an expressionless, lone runner named Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay) traversing a long, wooded trail as he explains in inner monologue the thoughts and abstractions that occupy a runner's mind on these vast, empty stretches of road - during these quiet, uninterrupted moments of solitude before the final sprint towards the finish line, far from the sight of the waiting, cheering crowds. A subsequent image of Colin being transported in a secured vehicle along with other high risk, troubled young men to a reformatory school called Ruxton Towers in the remote countryside frames his seemingly philosophical, contemplative observation within the more mundane reality of his court-mandated, borstal rehabilitation (note that compound's forbidden structure reminiscent of both a prison and an impenetrable fortress that a fellow passenger appropriately likens to the sight of the Tower of London). In hindsight, the decontextualized opening image serves as an insightful prefiguration of Colin's own indirection and foundering sense of purpose. Proceeding in flashback, the film chronicles Colin's path towards this desolate country road, as the eldest son of a working class family in northern England who prematurely inherits the responsibilities of the man of the house following the long, lingering death of his terminally ill father (and whose eventual demise may have been hastened by his mother (Avis Bunnage)), as a reluctant witness to the petty squandering of his late father's meager pension by his self-absorbed mother (and who also, in turn, indecorously installs her new beau into their already crowded household soon after her husband's death), as a pining lover searching for stolen moments of intimacy away from the oppressive reminders of his uneventful life and limited opportunities beyond the standing offer to take over his father's employment (and inevitably similar fate) in the mining town. Proving to be the Ruxton's most able sprinter and long distance runner, Colin catches the attention of the school's well-intentioned governor (Michael Redgrave) who is eager to showcase the young man's talent at an upcoming exhibition games tournament against a prestigious prep school as a means of promoting the school's excellence in reforming troubled young men. But as tournament day approaches and Colin becomes increasingly resentful of his newfound role as the obliging poster boy for borstal rehabilitation, his long and lonely trip to the finish line becomes a soul-searching journey into the reclamation of his own identity. A thoughtful and poignant, yet unsentimental adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's 1958 short story, the film is an incisive portrait of the personal struggle between conformity and identity that is inherent in the process of maturity, where youthful idealism and a sense of invulnerability collides with the travails of everyday survival and the realization of human frailty. It is this sobering dichotomy that is inevitably captured in the concluding extended shot of Colin disassembling gas masks at the borstal's vocational recycling workshop - a metaphoric reflection of the implicit paradox of institutional rehabilitation, and more broadly, the world itself in its ritualistic image of salvage and cannibalization - evoking both the fleeting taste of freedom, and its protective suffocation.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 17, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Woodfall Film Retrospective

A Taste of Honey, 1961

tasteofhoney.gifIn some ways, Tony Richardson's adaptation of Shelagh Delaney debut play, A Taste of Honey anticipates the impassive, world-weary gamin of Robert Bresson's Mouchette in the way it captures the awkward desperation and inarticulate longing of its foundering, working class heroes. In an early episode in the film, an overly made up, harried, middle-aged woman, Helen (Dora Bryan), having just returned home after spending a night out on the town, clandestinely scurries out of a basement apartment with her teen-aged daughter, Jo (Rita Tushingham), carrying only a handful of personal items after being unable to make payment on an overdue rent. The incisive image of the fractured family absconding, not only from responsibility, but from home itself inevitably proves to be a metaphoric reflection of the aimless and transitory nature of their empty existences as well. Leading a disaffected life of reluctant, mutual disregard towards her carping, self-absorbed, and absent mother (and who, in turn, criticizes Jo for her insolence, open hostility, and constant provocation over her fading looks and easy virtue), Jo finds comfort in the eager anticipation of her impending graduation, and in the arms of a lonely, gentle natured merchant seaman named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) passing through town. However, the momentary solace would prove fleeting, and when Jimmy's ship sails away and Helen returns home with the unexpected news that she has made plans to head off for a holiday and marry her newly minted lover, Peter (Robert Stephens), Jo seizes the opportunity to escape her mother's stifling resentment and emotional abandonment and set out on a life of her own. Set against the grimy, industrial town of Manchester in northern England, the film also channels the spirit of Michelangelo Antonioni's metaphoric landscapes in its depiction of adrift, "grey souls" that have been dispirited by poverty, emotional abuse, and marginalization. But more importantly, the strength of the film lies in its sensitive portrayal of social outcasts, from Jo's interracial relationship with Jimmy (a social exposition that also subsequently broaches the issue of racial identification in biracial children when Jo rejects a Caucasian training doll as a surrogate baby), to her unplanned pregnancy, and finally, to her profound friendship with a gay student named Geoffrey (Murray Melvin) who offers her (and perhaps, himself) a means of escaping social stigma by proposing marriage.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 17, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, Woodfall Film Retrospective

July 16, 2007

The Entertainer, 1960

entertainer.gifOn the surface, The Entertainer is something of a cross between Charles Chaplin's late period film, Limelight in its evocation of an aging, down and out vaudevillian performer seeking to recapture the glory days of his professional career by putting on one last career-defining show, and a prefiguration of Xavier Giannoli's understatedly rendered The Singer in its nuanced portrait of a struggling, yet uncompromising artist who continues to persevere in his dying, old-fashioned vocation in an age of karaoke and discotheques. But beyond creating a complex character study of aging and obsolescence, filmmaker Tony Richardson and writer (and Woodfall Film Production co-founder) John Osborne present a bracing, uncompromising, and provocative portrait of contemporary British society through the unlikely, archetypal struggling entertainer, Archie Rice (Laurence Olivier) - a self-absorbed, second rate performer, consummate self-promoter, and erstwhile television and radio personality (a dubious billing that several passersby are quick to question at the beginning of the film) whose monomaniacal (and perhaps, quixotic) quest to perform an ambitious production at the largest theater in the seaside town of Morecombe plays out against a disintegrating family life that has been wracked by numerous infidelities, a deteriorating marriage, a son, Mick's (Albert Finney) dangerous deployment to Egypt at a time of increasing crisis in the Middle East, and a daughter, Jean's (Joan Plowright) unexpected return home to consider an emotionally conflicted proposal of marriage (whose acceptance would entail moving away from the family and immigrating to Africa to seek their fortune). The middle-aged son of a highly regarded, retired musical hall entertainer, Billy Rice (Roger Livesey), Archie has forged an entire career by capitalizing on his father's beloved name to obtain financial backing and secure theatrical contract extensions, despite a series of unprofitable productions and ill-advised ventures. Inevitably, when a chance meeting with a supportive, love struck beauty queen (Shirley Anne Field) introduces the possibility of her influential parents' financial support for his latest envisioned project, Archie's extended absences from home soon places Jean in the awkward role of protector and reluctant conspirator, as she attempts to conceal her father's latest infidelity from her increasingly insecure and emotionally fragile stepmother. As in Look Back in Anger, the film serves as a pointed allegory for contemporary British society as a fading, and increasingly irrelevant, empire - a sense of encroaching obsolescence where fortunes (and reputations) are no longer found within the insularity of its own borders, passed from generation to generation, but are to be made elsewhere (note Archie's standing offer to work in Canada that echoes Jean's fiancé's search for opportunities abroad). Framed against a peripheral, yet profoundly transformative international crisis, the metaphoric intersection between Archie's personal life and a country's collective consciousness becomes a reflection of the nation's gradual emergence from the delusion of its distorted self-image - the performance of the familiar, hollow spectacle from a usurped stage before a silent, adoring, imaginary audience.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 16, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Woodfall Film Retrospective

Look Back in Anger, 1958

look_back.gifBased on playwright John Osborne's groundbreaking 1956 play that re-energized London theater with its gritty, unsentimental portrait of the working class and ushered a politically charged, socially conscious literary movement that the critics would collectively dub the "Angry Young Men", Tony Richardson's Look Back in Anger bears all the ugliness and unflinching brutality of a rootless generation struggling to find its identity and sense of place in a profoundly transformed postwar society at the dawn of a receded, British empire. At the heart of this cultural evisceration is Jimmy Porter (Richard Burton), a volatile, underemployed university graduate and struggling jazz musician who makes a living selling candy at an open market stall. Lashing out at his limited opportunity and unrealized ambition through displaced acts of aggression, often directed at his devoted and long suffering wife, Alison (Mary Ure) and his enabling best friend and boarder, Cliff (Gary Raymond) who provides a tempering influence for his escalating abuse but, nevertheless, feel helpless in deflecting his inflicted violence, Jimmy is soon brought to the brink when Alison invites her headstrong friend, an actress named Helena Charles (Claire Bloom) to stay during her appearance at a local theater - an implicit act of defiance that will lead Alison closer to regaining her own identity and self-esteem, even as Helena begins to be seduced by Jimmy's reckless, mercurial charm. Perhaps the most emblematic of the film's integral connection between the turmoil of a fading postwar - and more importantly, post-colonial - British society and its manifestation on the younger generation is illustrated in the market community's blatantly racist treatment of the clothing merchant and recent immigrant, Kapoor (S.P. Kapoor) who, having undersold his competitors (and unfairly denounced by a dissatisfied customer who is unable to identify her actual vendor but insists that he make reparations on behalf of other vendors of his ethnicity), is forced out of business by other merchants who force the revocation of his vending license. Kapoor's racially motivated eviction serves as a metaphor for a class-entrenched British society's uneasy path towards postwar recovery and eroding international status, where deep seated notions of inheritance and entitlement often contradict with the economic realities of decolonization, equal rights, and free market opportunity. It is this symptomatic social disorientation that inevitably aligns Jimmy's impotent rage, not with Kapoor's resigned fate, but with the arbitrary cruelty of the accusers whom Jimmy ironically reproaches - a paradoxical struggle between the ideals of egalitarianism and the frustrated expectation of untenable privilege.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 16, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Woodfall Film Retrospective

June 20, 2007

New Visions: Sundance Documentary Film Program 'Work-in-Progress' Screening

The screening of the New Visions program at this year's HRWIFF marks the inauguration of the series showcasing upcoming documentaries that were made in collaboration with the Sundance Documentary Film Program. The interactive program combines both panel discussion and open forum formats for the discussion of the process of collaborative filmmaking, as well as excerpts from the films themselves (each roughly 20 minutes in duration).

The first film preview is A Jihad for Love, by Parvez Sharma who was accompanied by the film's producer, Sandi Simcha DuBowski, the director of the groundbreaking documentary, Trembling Before G_d that explored homosexuality in the Orthodox and Hasidic Jew communities. The collaboration between Sharma and DuBowski seems particularly suited since A Jihad for Love is a companion piece of sorts to DuBowski's film, an intimately told panorama of the gay experience throughout the broad spectrum of Islamic communities around the world, from conservative societies where homosexuality is outlawed such as Egypt and Iran, to secular Islamic societies such as Turkey (where many gay Iranians seek refuge to avoid persecution), to non-Islamic, free societies such as France and South Africa where, despite the protection of civil liberties, people continue to be persecuted, often from within the Islamic community. One of the main narrative arcs presented in the film is the story of a young Egyptian man, shown with his face obscured, who was prosecuted by the government as part of the "Queen Boat 52" (a group of gay men who were arrested on a floating nightclub in Cairo under assorted charges intended for prostitution) and who, before his retrial, escaped to France to avoid prosecution. After years of secrecy and despite the financial hardship of starting over as an immigrant in foreign land, the young man is ready to embrace his newfound liberation, and allows Sharma to photograph his undisguised face as he enters his new apartment.

new_visions.gifThe second film preview is an equally fascinating and illuminating collaborative personal journey, Project Kashmir by long-time friends Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel who, having grown up in the United States, had never had to confront the minefield of deep seated emotions and cultural biases that define everyday life in the disputed region of Kashmir, where the war for control still rages on, and people, in their profound distrust, have stopped talking to each other. Guided by an anonymous telephone informer who is quick to advise the filmmakers not to take anyone's word at face value (and least of all, the press), Kheshgi and Patel attempt to navigate the treacherous maze of occupation, insurgency, unrest, censorship, and religious animosity, slowly pulled apart by their own increasing identification with the opposing factions of the interminable conflict. As a Hindu in an Indian-occupied land, Patel immediately finds herself in a position of privilege, often afforded access to places and information that Muslims are denied. Meanwhile, Kheshgi, a Muslim, excluded from the community that has openly embraced her colleague, naturally gravitates towards the plight of the persecuted Muslim majority. Barely speaking to each other by the end of the film excerpt, Kheshgi and Patel's experience serves as a powerful example of the dehumanizing toll of systematic oppression and injustice, and the importance of open communication and honest dialogue in the path towards moving forward and reconciliation.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 20, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

Manufactured Landscapes, 2005

manufactured.gifDuring the Q&A for Manufactured Landscapes, filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal indicated that the idea for the film came from photographer Edward Burtynsky's comment that for every building that rises from the ground, there is a corresponding hole somewhere else where the raw materials have been mined for the construction. This idea of an overarching, interconnected, shifting equilibrium that fuels our material consumption echoes throughout Baichwal's organic rumination on the repercussions of globalization. Opening to the extended take, tracking shot of a large appliance factory in China as row upon row of visually undifferentiable materials are fabricated (in a languid traveling shot that bears the imprint of Peter Mettler camerawork, most notably in Gambling, Gods and LSD), assembled, and integrated into larger components before emerging in its immediately recognizable form - the clothes iron - the image of the factory as a metaphor for a closed cycle, seemingly self-fueled microcosmos is reinforced in the subsequent shot of scrap workers sifting through mounds of recycled materials to collect reusable metals for smelting, unearthing a battered triangular metal plate that bears the characteristic steam hole vent pattern of an iron. This theme of closely interrelated cycles of production and consumption is also reflected in a subsequent episode at a ship-breaking yard in Southeast Asia (ironically, a destination that is also featured in Michael Glawogger's ode to the worker at the turn of the century, Workingman's Death) where old commercial freighters that were once used to transport goods throughout the world are themselves recycled, and consequently, re-enter the cycle that feeds the global economy in a different capacity. But perhaps the most emblematic of this self-exploitive cycle of construction through destruction is illustrated in the implementation of Three Gorges Dam project where local residents, soon to be displaced upon completion of the dam, have been hired to demolish the houses that will be submerged by the diverted water - in essence, chipping away towards their own homelessness. This theme of dislocation is subsequently repeated in the story of a defiant elderly resident who refused to be relocated as real estate investors target her community for high-rise development. Inevitably, what emerges from Burtynsky's sublime, yet implicitly ignoble transformed landscapes is an uneasy self-reflection that exposes our own implication in perpetuating these insatiable cycles of consumption and (non)disposal, a reminder that the price of industrialization is not a finite measure, but a fulcrum point in a zero sum ecological balance.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 20, 2007 | | Comments (9) | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

June 19, 2007

Sari's Mother, 2006

sari_mother.gifAs in Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem's Enemies of Happiness, James Longley's Sari's Mother, the edited "fourth fragment" from Iraq in Fragments, is a sobering portrait of the pervasive confusion and uncertainty that continues to define everyday life under postwar occupation, and its unseen toll on the weakest and most vulnerable. In this segment, Longley chronicles the travails of a village mother whose ten year-old son, Sari, contracted AIDS as a child from a blood transfusion, and is now slowly wasting away from the ravages of the incurable disease. Debilitated by chronic lethargy which prevents him from attending school, Sari spends his days bed-ridden, rising only briefly to receive his (seemingly arbitrarily) prescribed injections that must be administered by his mother, unable to find appropriate medical personnel who can perform the regular treatments for her son. The travails in obtaining proper medical care for her child prove even more frustrating at the hospital, where overworked doctors, often determining the latest course of treatment from incomplete medical histories and disorganized paperwork, continue to prescribe regimens that have already proved to be ineffective or induce serious reactions. Evoking Moussa Bathily's Le Certificat d'indigence in its harrowing portrayal of the figurative breakdown of a health care system that has lost its sense of purpose under the weight of procedural (in)efficiency and petty bureaucracy, Sari's Mother is an impassioned and potent reminder that, even in its resigned inevitability, dying with dignity is still a fundamental human right.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 19, 2007 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

Enemies of Happiness, 2007

enemies.gifOne of the clear highlights at this year's festival is the appearance of human rights activist and outspoken political figure, Malalai Joya at the Q&A for Enemies of Happiness, who, until recently, served as one of the few truly democratic voices in an Afghani parliament that is riddled with rampant corruption, collusion, and inaction, where elections were often won through intimidation and bribery by powerful warlords who operated with relative impunity under Hamid Karzai's presidency (and who, in turn, cannot afford to alienate the warlords for fear of destabilizing the country's tenuous unity). The recipient of this year's HRWIFF Nestor Almendros Prize (as well as the Grand Jury World Cinema Prize for Documentary at Sundance Film Festival), Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem's Enemies of Happiness is not only a remarkable portrait of Malalai Joya, but also a bracing and illuminating glimpse into the fragile democracy and uncertain peace that now shape everyday life in Afghanistan. Thrust into the political spotlight in 2003 when stood at the microphone at the Loya Jirga she publicly criticized the inclusion of powerful warlords in the formation of the new government (the very warlords whose strident support of the Taliban regime enabled the decimation of the country) and their subsequent efforts to enact a bill that would provide blanket amnesty for Taliban-era crimes (a gesture that, as Joya subsequently contextualizes, is tantamount to criminals pardoning themselves for their willfully committed atrocities), the genial and articulate Joya has become an unlikely controversial figure in Afghani politics, drawing repeated assassination attempts and barbaric threats of violence (including public officials who have publicly called for her rape and killing during parliamentary assemblies). Chronicling Joya's candidacy in the immediate days before the country's first parliamentary elections in 2005, her daily routine seems less that of a well-honed politician looking to extend her popular reach in her native town of Farah, than a social worker, diplomat, negotiator, and advocate seeking to find seemingly impossible resolutions to the everyday grievances and entrenched cultural injustices that continue to plague Afghanistan's deeply patriarchal and class entrenched society. Despite being compelled to wear a burqa while in transit in order to avoid chance detection by political enemies and scuttling from house to house among supporters each evening to thwart predictable patterns, Joya continues to reach out to the people: a young girl who is being forced into marriage by a local warlord, despite her family's refusal, a woman who is seeking a way out of an abusive marriage, but fears losing custody of her children, a sprightly, elderly woman who pays a visit to express her support for Joya's candidacy, fondly recalling (and irrepressibly demonstrating) her acts of insurgency for the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion. Concluding with Joya's historic victory at the polls to become one of the few women who were elected to the first Afghani parliament, what emerges from Mulvad and Al-Erhayem's incisive gaze is a people devastated by a legacy of repressive history, haunted by its own unreconciled demons, torn apart by petty self-interest, and desperate to find a semblance of hope amid the blinding dust of a beloved country struggling to emerge from the rubble.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 19, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

The Violin, 2005

violin.gifFrancisco Vargas's admirable first feature film, The Violin deceptively starts on a seemingly tangential, wrong note by opening to an underlit, vérité-styled shot of what has become an all too familiar (and arguably gratuitous) image of military atrocities in the face of guerrilla warfare - the arbitrary round-up and brutalization of civilians in an attempt to extract information, the torture of prisoners, the raping of women. But the obscured, bleak, rough hewn images then subsequently - and unexpectedly - give way to the sunlit, distilled beauty of the rural landscape as an elderly farmer and street musician, Don Plutarco (Ángel Tavira), his son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and grandson Lucio (Mario Garibaldi) prepare for their trip to town, hitchhiking for rides in the backs of passing trucks, before making their way to the town square, stopping in the doorways of cafeterias and along main streets to play music and solicit charity. An encounter between Genaro and a cheese peddler at lunch time, and subsequently, between Genaro and an attractive, young hitchhiker, reinforces the atmosphere of implicit secrecy and covert resistance that pervades the film (a bracing reality that is established in the film's confrontational opening sequence) - the exchange of objects and information performed tacitly through casual gestures and passing glances. Returning home to the sight of women, children, and the elderly in flight after the military descended on the village in order to root out insurgents, Genaro attempts to gain access to the occupied village in order to retrieve a supply of ammunition that has been stashed away within their property to no avail, chased away by soldiers who spot his surveillance. But Don Plutarco has another idea for gaining access into the farm. Trading a year's worth of crops for a burro and carrying only his violin, Don Plutarco ingratiates himself into the company of the stern, yet genial captain (Dagoberto Gama) by playing his violin. However, as the insurgency rages on, can the idealistic notion of music as a uniting medium truly coexist with the cruelty of war? Shot in stark, elegantly composed black and white images, The Violin tonally evokes Henri-Georges Cluozot's The Wages of Fear in its creation of tension through the performance of the mundane. In hindsight, it is this atmosphere of disarming nothingness that ultimately reconciles the film's oddly incongruous opening sequence - a sobering reminder that the capacity for inhumanity and instinctual survival resides in everyone: silent, ever-present, unabated, and inextinguishable.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 19, 2007 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

June 18, 2007

Strange Culture, 2007

strangeculture.gifDuring the Q&A for Strange Culture, filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson explained that the unorthodox, mixed format approach to the film evolved organically as a result of the Department of Justice's ongoing prosecution of the film's primary subject, SUNY Buffalo arts professor and experimental artist, Steve Kurtz, that continues to limit his ability to fully participate in the film project by rendering him unable to discuss certain matters associated with the case. Ironically, this imbalancing, oddly structured, interweaving patchwork of real-life footage and actor-improvised sequences, documentation and deconstruction, appropriately complements the film's provocative exploration of the uneasy and disturbing broader social implications that have been raised by the federal government's zealous prosecution of Kurtz and co-defendant, University of Pittsburgh genetics professor, Robert Ferrell. Kurtz's neverending nightmare began on May 11, 2004 with a personal tragedy: the sudden death of his wife and creative collaborator Hope from heart failure. Summoning 911 for help after discovering that his wife had stopped breathing, the police conduct a routine survey of their home and immediately find the collection of Petri dishes, bio-organic cultures, assorted unregulated (and non-hazardous) chemicals, and lab ovens that they had been using to create a bio-themed, interactive installation that had been commissioned by the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, along with an invitation advertisement postcard for their art collective, the Critical Arts Ensemble that had been designed with calligraphic images that appeared to be Arabic writing. Alarmed by the unusual paraphernalia that had been discovered inside the home, the police call in federal agents, seal off the house, and impound Hope's body under suspicion of bioterrorism. However, despite concluding that the suspicious substances were innocuous and not used to build weapons of mass destruction, the government has refused to drop charges and instead, continues to pursue the case against Kurtz and technical adviser, Robert Ferrell, spearheaded in part by assistant district attorney, William Hochul, whose own career was, not surprisingly, fast tracked as a result of his successful prosecution of the Lackawanna Six. Combining elements of documentary, re-enactment, serial comics, and even metafilm, Strange Culture poses the integral question of artistic freedom in an age of aggressive and increasingly emboldened federal government prosecution. At the heart of Kurtz and Ferrell's legal quagmire is the implicit assault on free speech that the case represents, an attempt to intimidate and suppress work deemed critical of government policies (and by extension, policies within its alliances of special interest groups). Having collectively surrendered a measure of individual freedom under a demoralized and vulnerable climate of post 9/11 paranoia and an untenable war on terror, the compounding tragedy of Kurtz and Ferrell's case is a potent and harrowing reminder of the price exacted by our illusive search, not for a sense of security, but for an impossible return to innocence.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 18, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

The Railroad All-Stars, 2006

railroad.gifAlternately humorous and heartbreaking in its candid and unflinching portrait of the exploited lives of low rate prostitutes living in the shantytown of La Línea in Guatemala City (an emblematic place of abject poverty built along the marginal buffer zones of railroad tracks that also evokes Ditsi Carolino's Life on the Tracks), Chema Rodriguez's The Railroad All-Stars affectionately, yet soberingly chronicles the adventures of the close knit community of these sex trade workers (including a nearly blind, elderly, retired prostitute who now earns a meager income selling condoms to the new generation of local prostitutes) who, frustrated by police inaction over crimes committed against their fellow workers, public apathy over their desperate economic plight, and marginalization in the justice system in such traumatic, life-altering cases as child custody, rape, and domestic violence, decide to form a soccer team in the hopes of competing in tournaments covered by the local media in order to increase public awareness and humanize the plight of these anonymous, faceless women and bring attention to the rampant discrimination that is endemic in their profession. Seeking to register in a first-round high school competition under the team name of "Las Estrellas de la línea" - The Railroad All-Stars (a name that accurately, albeit euphemistically, represents their station as prostitutes working "the line", that was chosen to conform to the league's naming conventions) - a local reporter senses the potential of the breaking story and sponsors the team for the tournament, a modern-day Cinderella story that abruptly ends after the first game when the opposing team's parents, enraged by their daughters' exposure to the women, demand their expulsion from the league under trumped up charges of vulgar language (an earlier sequence during the team huddle about continuing to play with dignity and remaining positive, even in the sidelines, refutes the baseless accusation) and assorted health violations stemming from their sordid profession (as several parents express outrage over their children's exposure to HIV and AIDS just from coming into contact with the women during the game). Denied from competing in the league but having captured the public's imagination thanks in part to a sympathetic press that has seized on the human interest story, the women begin receiving invitations for exhibition games from around the country - including an unlikely match-up against a policewomen's team - that will soon take the women on an unexpected cross-country journey into the figurative other side of the tracks of Guatemalan resort towns, cultural centers, luxury hotels, and ancient architectures, a reality far removed from the squalid slums that seems, for an all too brief moment, tantalizingly within their reach. Something of a bracing corollary to Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's Born into Brothels, The Railroad All-Stars is, above all, a thoughtful and poetic tale of self empowerment, as corporate sponsors fall away with the short attention span media coverage (or more appropriately, exploitation) of yesterday's news, and the women inevitably return to the familiar routine of their interrupted lives. It is this sense of spiritual enrichment that is reflected in the elegant image of the elderly peddler staring out the window of her rebuilt home on a quiet morning - a small shack made from wood beams and corrugated metal that had been painstakingly rebuilt by her devoted husband during her absence - a profound desire to linger in these understated moments of fleeting beauty and quotidian grace.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 18, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

June 17, 2007

The City of Photographers, 2006

city_photographers.gifDuring the 1980s, a loose network of politically committed photographers sought to document the atrocities of the Pinochet regime from within the country, establishing a press accredited alliance known as the Association of Independent Photographers (AFI). Capturing the atmosphere of protest and unrest in the streets (most notably, in the daily vigils of women seeking answers for the fate of the desaparecidos, usually husbands and sons who were abducted by government), documenting covert sites of torture and execution, and converging en masse to hot spots of activity in order to effectively chronicle the government's repressive tactics of press intimidation and police brutality as a means of suppressing dissent, their collective body of work inevitably evolved to become the most intimate, highly visible, and incontrovertible testament on the transgressions of the CIA-backed military dictatorship. Often working with members of the foreign press on the distribution of their photographs as a means of drawing attention to the country's struggle, their photographs would become integral to the engagement of international community in exposing the abuses and ultimately discrediting the Pinochet government. But beyond the poignant and reverent tribute to the personal sacrifices and everyday heroism of these dedicated photojournalists and the collective toll of their tireless commitment to document their nation's struggle and raise public awareness for the government's flagrant human rights violations (the filmmaker, Sebastián Moreno Mardones' comments on piecing together second-hand memories of the turbulent period from his father's assembled AFI-era photographs suggests his attempt to insulate his family from the uncertainty of the group's ideological imperative), what makes The City of Photographers particularly contemporary and insightful is revealed in several photojournalists' own ambivalence towards their own increasing complicity in the creation of the images (particularly towards the end of the struggle), often deployed into the pre-arranged sites of social action by the protestors themselves, a duality that reflects their complex role as both observers and embedded insurgents in the resistance, from photographing fellow colleagues' maltreatment and abuse at the hands of police, to a subsequent tragic episode involving the accidental blinding of a child at the hands of the police maltreatments a photographer tells the boy to uncover his face (which he had instinctually covered with his hands at the sight of violence) in order to sensationalize the image of police brutality at the precise moment that an officer swings a baton over the boy's eyes. It is this provocative, self-reflexive inquiry into the implication of the media in the creation and desensitization of violent images that inevitably makes their story continually relevant, a reminder of the need for self-equilibration in maintaining the integrity of the photographers in their complex role as documenters of the sociopolitical reality and stagers of the spectacle.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 17, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch

May 6, 2007

The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast by Maureen Turim

turim_oshima.gifMaureen Turim's The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Images of a Japanese Iconoclast, presents an intelligent, comprehensive, articulate, and illuminating critical evaluation of the filmmaker's subversive, transgressive, confrontational, and provocative body of work. Turim frames the creative and thematic evolution Oshima's films through the biographical and historical context - as a privileged child from a samurai family alternately marked by the untimely death of his highly literate father and coddled upbringing by his overprotective mother, who, like many intellectuals of the postwar generation, were galvanized by Marxism and radicalized by the left movement in the dysfunctional wake of Japan's collective amnesia, cultural re-invention, and profound sociopolitical transformation that symptomatically defined the country's path towards international re-emergence. In particular, Turim makes an astute observation in underscoring the paradox inherent in Oshima's privileged childhood that had shaped his discourses with a sense of authoritative entitlement towards the very entrenched class and social structures that enable his own consciously willful (and transparently contemptuous) unconformity, even as these institutions have become perennial targets of his uncompromisingly acerbic critical inquiries: "So in this view Oshima becomes the rebellious son whose rebellion is nonetheless informed by his inherited sense of power and will to action."

In the chapter, Cruel Stories of Youth and Politics, Turim offers another salient proposition in her correlation of Oshima's representation of social and political dialectic though highly formalized, often theatrical visual strategies - adapted from his critical and ideological engagement with Brechtian and leftist theater (a medium for seeding cultural revolution often associated with Marxist social education campaigns) - with the idiosyncratic disjunctions that define Straub and Huillet's aesthetic:

Camera movement creates a theatricality that is spatial and subject to reframing, a blocking of character interaction that is specifically visual and cinematic ...The element I wish to compare is attention to frame and composition as regards the utterance and dramatic confrontations. In both cases, spoken lines are construed as framed, paced, and composed in a textual order, a semiotic order. The cinema becomes a device for redefining theatrical language.

Curiously, as the focus of Oshima's gaze shifted from subverting genre conventions popularized (and creatively controlled) by the studio system in such Shochiku-produced films as A Town of Love and Hope (shomin geki), Cruel Story of Youth, and The Sun's Burial (taiyo-zoku and yakuza) towards more overtly political films - a more self-reflexive, formally experimental, and culturally interrogative period that started with Night and Fog in Japan - the undercurrent of repressed sexuality that had once been relegated to the periphery, often as commercial commodity that alluded to post-occupation economic austerity or as a symptom of the moral ambiguity and social malaise of disaffected youth in the aftermath of a humiliated empire (as indelibly symbolized by the metaphor of the setting sun in The Sun's Burial), began to integrally surface in Oshima's social interrogations on ideological revolution, sociopolitical engagement, and cultural identity. Examining the role of sexuality and revolution in Oshima's Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (a volatile combination that also figures strongly in Violence at Noon) with respect to contemporary Jean-Luc Godard's own immediately pre-May 68 films (and whose international reputation for innovative filmmaking under the rubric of the French New Wave was often appropriated by the studios to promote Oshima's own iconoclastic approach to cinema), Turim illustrates the filmmakers' aesthetic point of convergence in developing the idea of historical revolt as the displacement of sexual dysfunction:

There is finally much that compares Diary of a Shinjuku Thief to Godard's Masculin-Féminin and La Chinoise, films that in their analytical view of the sixties youth movements are fascinated with the psychosexual dimensions of this discontent. If Oshima is a little close in spirit to the rioters than was Godard before his transformation post-1968 into the production of agitprop films, both directors charted in a postmodern moment is bound to sexual energies and tied to theatrics.

Turim's critical essays on Oshima's films from the late 1960s to the early 1970s that represent the zenith of Oshima's artistic synergy between his sociopolitical acuity and creative innovation (a more oblique film form demanded by studio restrictions stemming from the abruptly pulled distribution of Night and Fog in Japan shortly after it was released in the unfortunate wake of the assassination of Socialist Party President, Asasuna Inejiro) - producing such seminal films as Death by Hanging, Boy, The Man Who Left His Will on Film, and The Ceremony - collectively provide a thorough and insightful analysis on Oshima's now familiar themes of repression resulting from culturally ingrained conformity, deeply rooted xenophobia and racism fostered by the myth of Japan's social monoethnicity, the displacement of desire through violence (a prefigurative theme for Oshima's notorious In the Realm of the Senses), and lastly, scams as a metaphor for economic (and specifically, capitalist) inequity.

A chapter that I found especially insightful is the essay on Max mon amour, a film that Oshima co-authored with legendary, late period Luis Buñuel scenarist, Jean-Claude Carrière that I had always found problematic - and a bit too quintessentially and puzzlingly outré - in its unclassifiably eccentric and unrelenting satirical assault on the stultifying amorality and hypocrisy on bourgeois manneredness. Turim ingeniously places the film within the contemporary argument of popular right wing rhetoric that seeks to denigrate (if not outright demonize) homosexuality by equating it to such social and moral taboos as bestiality and pedophilia under a generalized, overarching classification of aberrant sexuality. Framing Margaret's infidelity through a more abstract desire of an unconventional other, Turim proposes an incisive corollary to her attraction to the chimpanzee, Max, by posing her transgressive compulsion as being akin to that of embarking on a lesbian affair. It is within this intriguing context that the film may be seen, not as a self-indulgent work of a filmmaker in decline, but rather, as an attempt to engage in a relevant, contemporary discourse on the violative intrusion - and politicization - inherent in entrenched social conformity and the perils of imposed moral values. Moreover, through the film's prevailing themes of sexual repression and psychological displacement, Max mon amour provides an integral connection to the evolution of Oshima's late period films, not only with respect to expounding on the surfacing homoeroticism and androgyny of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, but also anticipates the thematic ideas in Gohatto, a film that, at the time of the book's writing, was still in production.

Also worth noting is Turim's illuminating essay, Documents of Guilt and Empire, a comprehensive evaluation of Oshima's documentary films that, in many ways, serve as a complement to the recurring themes and preoccupations of his feature films. In Forgotten Soldiers, Oshima directly confronts the nation's history of racism and imperialism implicit in Death by Hanging and Three Resurrected Drunkards by chronicling a group of ethnic Korean veterans, conscripted by the Japanese during the failed Pacific War campaign, who are denied pensions by the government under the flimsy rationale that Korean immigrants should seek compensation from the South Korean government, despite their residence and service (and sacrifice) to their adopted country. In hindsight, the 1968 documentary, The Pacific War is a logical corollary to Oshima's creative period of revolution and experimentation. Composed of incisively edited propaganda and newsreel found footage, the film traces the trajectory of Japanese history during the early half of the twentieth century through the country's increasing militarism, engagement in the Pacific War, and finally face-saving historical revisionism and trivialization of casualties in the aftermath of the country's defeat, and in the process, reveals not only the elaborate mechanism of blatant lies and hypocrisy used by the government to justify the engagement (and protraction) of war, but also exposes the psychological denial intrinsic in the population's pervasive sense of victimization and collective amnesia. Like Forgotten Soldiers, the tragedy of the Pacific War is combined with the debunking of Japanese monoethnism in The Dead Remain Young, a documentary chronicling the memorial service for the sinking of the Tsushima maru, a boat carrying women, children, and the elderly who ordered evacuated from Okinawa by the Japanese government that came under torpedo attack by a U.S. warship and sank in 1944. By focusing on the mourners' expression of grief, Turim presents Oshima's exposition within the context, not only of the trauma of war, but also the implicit re-assertion of an irrepressible, indigenous cultural identity:

The role of this documentary is directly linked to Oshima's Dear Summer Sister in its focus on Okinawa, particularly on the children of Okinawa. They stand as a kind of double innocence in relation to the Japanese war effort, first as children but also as a conquered people with a different culture and language from the alleged homogeneity of other Japanese islands. That homogeneity breaks down with any closer look at regional, ethnic, and class differences, especially those conditioned by the separateness of an island identity.

Posted by acquarello on May 06, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Film Related Reading

May 2, 2007

Love, the Magician, 1986

love_magician.gifWhile Blood Wedding, the first dance film in what would evolve to be Carlos Saura's flamenco trilogy collaboration with choreographer Antonio Gades, distilled the art of flamenco to the essential movement of bodies and expression of the human voice, and the subsequent installment, Carmen examined the integral, often interpenetrating relationship between reality and performance (albeit, within the structure of a fictional metafilm), the final chapter of the trilogy, Love, the Magician integrates dance with the imaginative possibilities of formal construction in order to illustrate its ingraining into the performance of cultural ritual. The incongruous, oddly clinical, opening sequence establishes the seemingly isolated, self-encapsulated aesthetic that defines the film, as the camera tracks the shot of a large mechanical door that is slowly closing, before panning overhead to the curious sight of a skeletal soundstage - scaffolding, intricate networks of soaring access ladders and intersecting gantries, suspended curtains, translucent partitions, and overhead lighting - before descending to the image of a group of children playing in a rustic village. The sense of enclosure invariably proves to be a reflection of the film's folkloric tale of unrequited love, star-crossed destiny, and mystical haunting as well. The film chronicles the intertwined fates of Carmelo (Gades), his beloved Candela (Cristina Hoyos), and her husband José (Juan Antonio Jiménez), who, as the gypsy tale begins, somberly looks on as the fathers of young Candela and José agree on their children's arranged marriage. Years later, Candela and José fulfill their family's pact, to the resigned melancholy of Carmelo and Lucía (Laura del Sol) a free spirit who still harbors feelings for the rakish José. Relegated to a life of deception and betrayal, the couple's life together is soon tragically cut short when José, having gone out in the evening to meet Lucía, is stabbed to death during an altercation. Haunted by her unresolved relationship with her unfaithful husband, Candela becomes bewitched by his ghost, unable to reconcile with her grief until the ever-devoted Carmelo returns to the village to redeem his beloved from her emotional captivity in the realm of the dead. In its pervasive sense of hermeticism and formal staging, Love, the Magician may be seen as a logical precursor to The Seventh Day (a film that, perhaps not surprisingly, features flamenco songs in its soundtrack) - a cultural immersion into the profound intimacy and dysfunctionality of a close-knit community (in this case, a gypsy village) that also exposes its underlying inbred cruelty. Inevitably, it is this irrepressible sense of spiritual entrapment borne of entrenched insularity that is symbolized by Candela's somnambulistic haunting - an unreconciled struggle to wrest free from the persistence of constructed destiny towards the instinctual trajectory of the human soul.

Posted by acquarello on May 02, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

May 1, 2007

¡Ay, Carmela!, 1990

ay_carmela.gifA prevailing thread that continues to weave through Carlos Saura's aesthetically fluid, articulate, and refreshingly (re)inventive cinema is in his instinctual acuity to capture society's moral landscape - invariably transfiguring and adapting conventional film form in unexpected, often groundbreaking ways that, in their bracing novelty, also becomes a refracted, secondary reflection of their culturally rooted contemporaneity. It is within this creative aesthetic of oblique, yet incisive social observation that Saura's audacious, deceptively whimsical, and excoriating transformation of civil war as grotesque farce in ¡Ay, Carmela! seems especially prescient in its depiction of human frailty, cultural rupture, and the absurdity of war. Adapted from the play by Spanish dramatist, José Sanchís Sinisterra, the film chronicles a few fateful days in the lives of traveling performers (a malleable profession that is also explored in Theo Angelopoulos' The Travelling Players, Carmela (Carmen Maura) and Paulino (Andrés Pajares) who, along with their psychologically traumatized mute apprentice Gustavete (Gabino Diego), perform their bawdy, nostalgically sentimental, and overtly propagandist variety show before a motley (and implicitly grassroots) cadre of partisan fighters along Republican strongholds on the Aragonese front. Seeking to escape the austerity and chaos of life in the front lines, the trio impulsively decides to hit the road and take their act to Valencia - a flight to seemingly greener pastures that is soon derailed when the night obscured and sleep deprived performers awaken the next morning to the sight of Nationalist soldiers who immediately detain them and confiscate their incendiary collection of theatrical props deemed sympathetic to the Republican cause. Resigned to a life in the detention camp as prisoners of war, the performers soon find their collective fate hinging with the favor of a theater director turned Fascist officer, Lt. Ripamonte (Maurizio De Razza) who enlists them to organize a variety show program that will serve as a fitting demonstration of Nationalist ideals and sovereignty. Prefiguring Emir Kusturica's idiosyncratically irreverent film on the breakup of Yugoslavia, Underground, ¡Ay, Carmela! delicately - and eloquently - straddles the precarious, seemingly intransectable bounds between comedy and tragedy, mockery and pathos in its wry, yet poignant depiction of the trauma of national rupture as a darkly comic burlesque. At the root of Saura's sobering, cautionary satire is the sense of reckless, instinctual self-preservation, egoism, and ideological indifference embodied by the all-too-obliging Paulino - an allegorical cultural complacency that has not only led to a self-inflicted fractured nation, but also enabled the institution of a repressive regime under the guise of maintaining order and upholding moral values (note the similar social criticism that characterizes Ritwik Ghatak's impassioned expositions on the moral culpability of the Bengali people for the tragedy of the Partition). It is the unrealized toll of resigned complicity and spiritual inertia that is inevitably reflected in the jarring tonal shift of the film's indelible and haunting denouement - the breaking of silence that paradoxically condemns and liberates the performers, transforming their roles from impotent, peripheral witnesses to the integral moral conscience of a rended and foundering people.

Posted by acquarello on May 01, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 29, 2007

The Stilts, 1984

stilts.gifA somber, despondent, middle-aged university professor and respected playwright named Ángel (Fernando Fernán Gómez) returns to a large, empty country cottage that has been covered and secured for the season, perhaps the first time that he has returned since the untimely death of his wife and children. Restless in his sleep and haunted by the memories of his lost family, Ángel impulsive decides to burn his manuscripts (whose authorship undoubtedly contributed to his estrangement from his family, even in life) - a figurative act of self-erasure that soon escalates to a suicide attempt. Locking himself in the propane tank storage room at the base of the house and opening the valves of all the cylinders, Ángel prepares to light the fatal match as the room fills with gas when he is caught in the act by his new neighbor, a school teacher named Teresa (Laura del Sol) who has coincidentally stopped by to introduce herself and borrow a bottle of wine. Inviting him over to meet her husband, Alberto (Antonio Banderas), an artist and aspiring actor from a traveling performance art troupe called The Stilts (named after their idiosyncratic use of prop stilts in their performances) who stage commissioned, harlequin, experimental street plays to entertain the public, Ángel is immediately captivated by the genial and attentive Teresa, drawn together by the shared intimacy of her respectful silence over his suicide attempt, and Antonio's sincere entreaties to author a script for the troupe for an upcoming children's engagement at a local park. Gradually emerging from his loneliness by a renewed sense of purpose, and deeply touched by their struggling, but seemingly idyllic, bohemian existence, Ángel begins to insinuate himself into the couple's life in an attempt to win Teresa's heart, a seemingly impossible, quixotic quest that drives him further into the darkness of his despair. Revisiting the themes of emotional displacement and projected desire of his earlier films, Peppermint Frappé and Carmen, and evoking the generational disconnection and rootlessness of Deprisa, Deprisa, The Stilts is a dreamlike and surreal, yet pensive, articulate, and understatedly resonant portrait of loss, grief, and healing. Juxtaposing the stilt performers' whimsical, absurdist fantasies with the moribund immediacy of Ángel's melancholy and isolation, the film becomes a lucid parable for the human imperative to reconnect with its own collective soul in the wake of profound tragedy - a metaphoric shedding of aloof and distancing escapist stilts that inevitably becomes a symbol for Ángel's own figurative return to the process of life on earth - a spiritual re-engagement with the travails and rapture of an imperfect, but redemptive but existence.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 29, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

Carmen, 1983

carmen.gifIn an early episode in Carmen, Carlos Saura's second dance film with renowned flamenco artist Antonio Gades (in what would inevitably prove to be the second film of their collaborative Flamenco trilogy), a group of musicians rehearse at a large, open dance studio within earshot of the choreographer, Antonio (Gades) as he struggles to find the proper tempo suitable to adapting the Seguedilla from Bizet's opera for a flamenco performance. Reinterpreting the operatic work from a waltzy, 3/4 timed vocal piece to a sprightly, improvisational bulería, the musicians perform their rendition to the receptive Antonio who, along with his studio partner - and perhaps, erstwhile paramour - Cristina (Cristina Hoyos), begin to re-envision Carmen, not as a French composer's projection of the fiery gypsy seductress - and more broadly, a foreigner's stereotypical notions of Spanish culture - but rather, as an indigenous adaptation of Prosper Mérimée's novel, disconnected from the now iconic flourishes of Bizet's opera. But the process of casting Carmen invariably proves to be a more difficult task. Unable to find his envisioned Carmen from their stock company of highly talented dancers, and having implicitly rejected the idea of lead bailaora Cristina for the role in favor of casting a younger, more intriguingly mercurial performer, Antonio decides to broaden his search by visiting local dance schools, unconsciously setting his sights on an inscrutable student coincidentally named Carmen (Laura del Sol) after making an unconscious impression on him by arriving late to a castanet class. From the onset, Antonio's personal selection of the undisciplined Carmen seems ill conceived. Unable to properly follow Cristina's instruction to articulate gestures and project the necessary intensity demanded by the challenging choreography, Carmen initially seems relegated to return to the mediocre performances that have defined her earlier career as a flamenco side show dancer at a local restaurant that caters to a predominantly tourist clientele. However, as Antonio becomes increasingly consumed with the idea of molding Carmen into both the image of his envisioned, tragic heroine and ideal romantic interest, truth and fiction begin to blur in the intoxicating haze of passion, possession, jealousy, and betrayal. Anticipating the interwoven Pirandellian narratives of Abbas Kiarostami's Koker trilogy (especially the young couple of Through the Olive Trees), Carmen is also an insightful and provocative exposition on the interpenetration between reality and performance. However, in contrast to the theme of elevated humanity through the performance of the quotidian that is inherent in Kiarostami's trilogy, Saura's perspective is integrally rooted to a cultural interrogation on the underlying nature - and perception - of Spanish identity. At the heart of the discourse is Antonio's deliberate attempt to divest the story of Carmen from the cultural caricatures inherent in Bizet's opera (a rejection that is crystallized in the troupe's parodic performance using the opera as a soundtrack for Antonio's birthday party), and consequently, re-infuse the authenticity of native performance. It is interesting to note that through Antonio's deliberate dismantling of cultural myth, Saura incisively defines his character as an implicit embodiment (or more precisely, a de facto authority) of Spanish cultural authenticity. Juxtaposed against his increasing obsession towards his protégée through the unifying narrative of Mérimée's tragic tale, Antonio's integral role is invariably - and paradoxically - both underscored and subverted by his increasingly self-destructive acts of objectification and machismo, and trenchantly exposes the unconscious, dark side of Spanish identity as well.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 29, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 25, 2007

Deprisa, Deprisa, 1981

deprisa_deprisa.gifInasmuch as Hou Hsiao Hsien's Goodbye South Goodbye, Nagisa Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth, and Theo Angelopoulos' The Beekeeper capture the rootlessness of a morally stunted, lost generation that has come of age at a time of profound political and cultural transformation, the reckless, thrill-seeking, young anti-heroes of Carlos Saura's Deprisa, Deprisa also indirectly bear the scars of a life lived in the periphery - paradoxically insulated from the tyranny of institutional rule, but also divorced from the inured resilience engendered by its imposed sense of order. The film opens to the metaphoric image of imposed separation: the perpetration of a car theft by a seemingly experienced hotwirer Meca (Jesús Arias) and designated lookout Pablo (José Antonio Valdelomar) as the two, caught in the act by the owner, roll up the windows and lock the doors to prevent intrusion. Helplessly trapped inside the troublesome vehicle by a mob that has now closed in around them, the pair forces a clear path through the crowd by brandishing a gun, before inevitably making their escape into the street. But the stolen car only proves to be the first step in a more elaborate scheme. Spotting an attractive waitress named Ángela (Berta Socuéllamos) at a local cafeteria, Pablo is immediately captivated by the receptive (and equally restless) young woman, who soon becomes his lover and subsequently, inducts her into their gang after an afternoon of makeshift target shooting (and a reluctant agreement from a third accomplice, Sebas (José María Hervás Roldán) who questions a woman's capacity for ruthlessness). Alternately spending their idle time at discotheques and video arcades, acting on their impulsive whims, and succumbing to the intoxication of drug use, the emboldened quartet begins to stage an ever-escalating series of hold-ups throughout the city, with increasingly lucrative, and inevitably tragic results. Revisiting the recurring themes of machismo and displaced aggression that pervade Saura's oeuvre (and first introduced in his groundbreaking allegory, The Hunt) into a provocative exposition on the legacy of disenfranchisement, violence, and arrested development (a theme that also pervades Cría Cuevos) in contemporary, post-Franco Spain, Deprisa, Deprisa is also a raw and sobering portrait of a generation at an existential crossroads, struggling to find mooring and direction in an uncertain climate of transformative, social revolution, as the nation emerged from the repression of fascism towards the liberalization of democracy. Inevitably, it is this dichotomy that is reflected in the recurring image of passing trains that bisect the horizon - a perennial view from the public housing suburb outside the city where Pablo and Ángela live - a visual bifurcation that illustrates, not only their socioeconomic marginality, but also exposes their irreparable moral fissure.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 25, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 23, 2007

Blood Wedding, 1981

blood_wedding.gifIn a sense, Carlos Saura's first foray into filming classical dance, Blood Wedding, may be seen, not as a stark departure from the immediacy of his narrative films, but rather, as an oblique return to form towards the social interrogations implicit in his earlier work on the fundamental question of Spanish identity - a particularly timely and relevant re-assessment in the aftermath of a contemporary history marked by institutional repression, creative censorship, and historical revisionism. It is within this framework that the selected adaptation of the seminal "rural trilogy" play by Spanish playwright, Federico García Lorca - a writer who was executed by Falangists in the early days of the Civil War and whose work was generally banned throughout Franco's regime - seems particularly suited to this post Franco-era cultural introspection in its dark and tragic tale of passion, betrayal, and revenge. Ushering the beginning of Saura's collaborative work with internationally renowned Flamenco dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades, the film eschews the theatricality and polish of a fully staged performance and instead distills the dance to its elemental art form: the repetition, the preparation, the warm-up, and finally, the uninterrupted dress rehearsal. This sense of quotidian grace is also intimated in an early, seemingly anecdotal episode of the dancers preparing backstage, as Gades describes in self-deprecating manner his youthful aimlessless in moving from one meaningless job to another until a friend suggested that he take up dance - a profoundly life-altering advice that, as he humorously realized in hindsight, had actually been a simple goading by his friend to get into the lucrative profession of cabaret dancing. It is instinctual sense of chance, coincidence, and inscrutable - and inescapable - destiny that inevitably lies at the core of Gades and Saura's adaptation as well - a universal, humanist tale of star-crossed love destroyed by a culture founded on rigid traditions, repression of free will, male aggression, and ritualized violence.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 23, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 22, 2007

Mama Turns 100 Years Old, 1979

mama_100.gifReturning to the dysfunctional family dynamic and generational saga of Anna and the Wolves in its psychological exposition into the root of ingrained human cruelty and repression, Mama Turns 100 Years Old is a wry, eccentric, and provocative, if underformed satire on the latent trauma and moral repercussions of emotional subjugation, manipulation, and corruption. On the eve of the indomitable family matriarch, Mama's (Rafaela Aparicio) centenary, former domestic servant Ana (Geraldine Chaplin), now the happily settled wife of a devoted, bohemian husband named Antonio (Norman Briski), has received a personal invitation from Mama herself to stay as a guest in the secluded family estate and celebrate the festivities - an unexpected request that, as Mama subsequently reveals, stems from the inescapable conviction that her family, goaded in part by her conniving daughter-in-law, Luchi (Charo Soriano) and enabled by her dotty, gullible son, Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez), has been underhandedly plotting to kill her before she reaches the all-important milestone. However, as Ana and Antonio alternately settle into their awkward roles as accommodating guests of absurd, idiosyncratic rituals and bemused observers of a deeply rended (if superficially intact) familial intimacy, the couple, too, inevitably becomes caught up in the corrosive atmosphere of petty infighting, superficial civility, aimless distraction, nebulous alliances, and emotional deception (a figurative entrapment that is visually encapsulated in Anna accidentally stepping into a rabbit trap within the estate grounds). As in Anna and the Wolves, Saura seamlessly interweaves oneiric images (including the addition of excerpts from the preceding film) and elements of magical realism to illustrate the integral correlation between psychological trauma and physical (and behavioral) manifestation. Concluding with the truncated shot of Mama figuratively casting out the scheming relatives from her immediate circle, the surreal parting image becomes that, not of banishment from paradise, but a reluctant liberation from the performance of a grotesque, dehumanizing charade.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 22, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

Elisa, My Love, 1977

elisa_my_love.gifMarking Carlos Saura's first film following the death of Franco in 1975 as Spain emerged from the shadows of fascism towards democracy, Elisa, My Love also represents Saura's creative transition from allusively political to integrally personal filmmaking, resulting in one of his most intimate, captivating, emotionally lucid, and profoundly introspective works on loneliness, aging, passion, reconciliation, and legacy. The film opens to a curiously apparent disjunction: a male narrator recounts an impulsive decision to embark on a haphazardly arranged trip organized by the family from Madrid to the country upon receiving word of their estranged father's deteriorating health and compromised recuperation after a recently undergone surgery - a reluctant journey to a distant parent that had only been made palatable by the idea of spending time away from home, and providing a convenient distraction from ongoing marital troubles with a (presumably male) spouse named Antonio. In hindsight, the assignment of the masculine voice - later illustrated to be the father's, a writer and school teacher named Luis (Fernando Rey) - for what is subsequently revealed to be the unexpressed sentiments of his vulnerable and emotionally fragile daughter, Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) proves to be an incisive trompe l'oeil (or rather, trompe l'oreille) that prefigures the profound, almost instinctual connection between absent father and lost child. Having left his wife (who, uncoincidentally, bears striking physical resemblance to the now adult Elisa) and the family home when Elisa was still a child (Ana Torrent), Luis has broken from his past - not to embark on a new adventure or in search of something better - but to escape its emotional burden, retiring to the country to lead a humble life of solitude writing his autofictional stories from a rented cabin. Encountering a deeply introspective, unfinished, diaristic manuscript among the work-in-progress papers on her father's desk, Elisa is immediately drawn to her father's pensive isolation, and accepts his invitation to spend a few days at the cabin where gradually, past and present, reality and imagination, dream and anxiety converge to give form to Elisa's ephemeral, unarticulated despair over her parents' traumatic separation and her own failing marriage. Saura's perceptive juxtaposition of the dark and cramped cabin against the vast, open fields of the rural landscape (a contrasted visual framing that is also underscored in the bookending long shot of the family automobile traversing the unpaved road that leads to the cabin) proves especially suited to the film's alternating realms of physical and psychological realities - a paradoxical metaphor that encapsulates Elisa's emotional and existential limbo (and perhaps, more broadly, an indirect allusion to the state of post-Franco Spain itself) between captivity and liberation, terminality and perpetuity, death and transfiguration.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 22, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 21, 2007

The Garden of Delights, 1970

garden_delights.gifIn The Garden of Delights, Carlos Saura infuses his now familiar, archetypal elements of financial crisis, physical disability, infirmity, and game hunting that were introduced in his seminal film, The Hunt as subversive, iconic symbols for the rigidity of Francoist corrupted ideology, with a healthy dose of blunt, tongue in cheek - and pointedly allegorical - Buñuelian absurdity to create a perversely wry, acerbic, and trenchant indictment of the bourgeoisie, whose unwavering support of General Franco enabled his ascension to (and retention of) power in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The prefiguring title sequence depicting a derelict, primitive, experimental workshop set to curious, otherworldly sound of a variable shortwave, analog noise provides an idiosyncratically appropriate introduction to the film's surreal fusion of reality, dreams, interpreted recreation, and fleeting memory, creating an atmosphere of deliberate construction that is subsequently reinforced in the establishing sequence of a re-enacted childhood trauma involving a parental scolding that escalates to a trapped encounter with a large, rambunctious pig (note the comical sighting of the farm animal being scuttled through the kitchen that evokes the thwarted, unspecified "entertainment" of Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel). At the heart of the privileged Cano family's cruel and bluntly coercive elaborate staging and grotesque charade is a crude attempt at immersive psychotherapy designed to mentally rehabilitate (or at least shock) the partially paralyzed, amnesic, recovering accident victim and sole family bread winner, Antonio (José Luis López Vázquez), whose faltering memory holds the key, not only to the secreted family fortune, but to his company's - and in turn, his family's - financial viability as well. Recreating transformative encounters and indelible events as a means of re-introducing Antonio to the essential elements of his life - or rather, the family's superficial perception of his life - in what Antonio's father, Don Pedro (Francisco Pierrá) earlier describes as the importance of reinforcing its symbols, what is invariably revealed is the pervasive dysfunction, hypocrisy, and greed inherent in Antonio's empty, coddled, and self-absorbed life. As in The Hunt, Saura obliquely equates the specter of Francoism with social degradation through allegorical contamination, this time, through its most formidable ally: the church. Juxtaposing Antonio's first communion with the advent of the Spanish Revolution (note the incisive cameo of franquista hero, Alfredo Mayo, who played the role of Paco in The Hunt), the priest's sermon, "From a tree with diseased roots, what fruit can we expect?" becomes, not a cautionary tale for the young communicant, but a corrupted prophesy that exposes the church's own complicity and moral paralysis in the institution of Franco's repressive regime.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 21, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 20, 2007

The Hunt, 1966

hunt.gifAnticipating Theo Angelopoulos' The Hunters in its allegorical dissection of a dysfunctional, polarized, contemporary society engendered by the incestuous and repressive, right-wing regime, Carlos Saura's taut and subversive magnum opus, The Hunt is a harrowing and potent exposition into the pervasive moral corruption that has surfaced under a corrosive combination of Franco-era class entrenchment and bourgeois entitlement, and a collective consciousness deeply ingrained by an endemic culture of machismo and violence. A seemingly unassuming hunting excursion on a sweltering, summer day that has been arranged by middle-aged aristocrat, Don José (Ismael Merlo) sets the stage for Saura's fiercely uncompromising indictment of the country's inexorable path towards self-destruction in the wake of its own rigid and inhumane ideology. Hosting a rabbit hunt for his longtime (if largely estranged) friends, the recently divorced Luis (José María Prada) and self-made businessman, Paco (Alfredo Mayo) - former Nationalist soldiers who, coincidentally, once fought the Loyalists during the Civil War in the same parched and desolate terrain that is now their hunting grounds - José's nebulous motivation for arranging such an idyllic outing is intimated through vague, private conversations between business partners José and Luis that allude to their mutual interest in gaining Paco's favor, as well as through conversations between the skeptical Paco and his young brother-in-law and protégé, Enrique (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) who immediately suspect an ulterior, financial motive behind their host's unexpected, generous invitation. Chronicling the quartet's idyllic summer outing as the exhilaration of the free range morning hunt invariably gives way to the restlessness of idle waiting, alcohol consumption, exploration, and target practice as José's dutiful games keeper, Juan (Fernando Sánchez Polack) prepares his pet ferret to enter a rabbit's lair for another round of hunting, Saura's austere and clinical gaze - a visual aesthetic that is also reinforced in the film's high contrast black and white photography - inevitably transforms from the role of social observer to behaviorist as the hunters' own cultivated habits of desperate, economic (and social) self-preservation are refracted through the scampering rabbits' own traumatized (and often, fatally predictable), instinctual behaviors for survival against the confused brutality of the hunt. The implicit correlation between the hunters and the hunted - an integral sameness that alludes to the superficiality of an artificially imposed hierarchical order - is also manifested through Paco's pathological aversion towards the crippled Juan (who may have sustained the injury by stepping into one of the many rabbit traps that riddle the area) that is subsequently echoed in his underlying obsession with a myxomatosis epidemic among the hunted rabbits (an intolerance for weakness that is further reinforced in his presumption that Juan has eaten the infected rabbits). Illustrated though the rampant contagion that has ravaged the rabbit population, Saura paints a provocative and harrowing allegory for the cultural death of post Civil War, Franco-era Spain, not through the imposed violence of systematic extermination, but rather, through the implosive, decadent intoxication of self-inflicted, arbitrary privilege.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 20, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Carlos Saura Retrospective

April 12, 2007

Max and Mona, 2004

Max_Mona.gifDuring the introductory remarks for Max and Mona, filmmaker Teddy Mattera indicated that the inspiration for the film came from two parallel thoughts: a romanticization of death stemming from the traditional belief that the souls of the recently deceased are not able to cross over to the spiritual realm unless their passing has been properly grieved on earth, as well as an autobiographical context over his own family's ancestral heritage as village mourners who were often called upon to assist in funerals (especially for those who left few, if any, surviving relatives). What unexpectedly emerges from this droll and eccentric concoction of interconnected ideas is an idiosyncratically offbeat, charming, if slight comedy that subverts deeply cherished, old-world traditions into a modern-day confidence game - exploiting the resigned certainty of death into a lucrative specialty service of ushering the souls of the all-too-humanly flawed and not-quite-so-virtuous for transcendence into the hereafter. At the heart of the popular (and profitable) enterprise is the naïve, village son and aspiring medical student, Max (Mpho Lovinga), a sensitive young man with a natural ability for turning on the emotional waterworks during funerals... a talent so unparalleled throughout the country that the he has served as the town's official mourner for several years, and who, in gratitude, has been sponsored by the villagers to go to Johannesburg and fulfill his lifelong dream of studying medicine, enabling him to retire from his ancestral trade. However, when Max is forced to spend the evening at the home of his layabout uncle, Norman (Jerry Mofokeng) after arriving late to the university for matriculation (a delay inadvertently caused by an errant sacrificial goat - the titular Mona - that he has agreed to transport for an upcoming wedding), he is soon forced to once again tap into his former career as a professional mourner in order to set things right. Alternating humor and pathos, over-the-top situations and understated moments of connection and humanity, Max and Mona is a good-natured and delightfully unassuming tale of community, familial obligation, and inescapable destiny.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 12, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival

April 11, 2007

NYAFF Short Films: Women of Zimbabwe

Spell My Name, 2005

In the opening sequence of Tawanda Gunda Mupengo's Spell My Name, a self-assured schoolteacher from the city, newly arrived into the village school and appearing immediately out of place in the rural farming community in her sharply tailored dress, encounters an introverted girl under a tree who ignores her request for directions and continues to busily sketch in her notebook. Immediately put off by the girl's apparent disrespect and the relatively primitive conditions of the school, the teacher is quick to articulate her displeasure to the schoolmaster, and requests an immediate transfer to another district - a transfer that will take a month to process. Resigned to the immediate task of fostering the children's education during her abbreviated tenure, the teacher continues to be frustrated by the girl's impenetrable aloofness and increasingly distractive, troubled drawings, often sending her to the schoolmaster's office for discipline, until the girl's desperate, tale-tell gesture betrays the cause of her inarticulable torment. Shot in episodic ellipses that create a distilled, yet essential framework for the evolution of teacher and student's relationship from resigned frustration to profound empathy, Spell My Name is an intelligently conceived cautionary tale on the perils of stereotype, silence, denial, and blind obedience.

At the Water, 2005

zimbabwe_water.gifA collaborative film from the Women Filmmakers of the Zimbabwe Production Skills Workshop, At the Water is an acute and poetic allegory for the often colliding moral dilemma between imposed religion and entrenched superstitions in seemingly progressive, yet still deeply traditional cultures. Opening to the image of a devout Christian woman, Netsai who, as the film begins, accompanies her husband to the main road one morning as he goes off to work and who, along the way, crosses path with an enigmatic stranger dressed in a dark suit only moments before witnessing her husband's sudden death in an automobile accident, the film chronicles Netsai's emotional - and psychological - descent in the aftermath of the tragedy. Withdrawing from the community, Netsai and her young son retreat into a life of insular, if devoted quotidian ritual, until one day when her son vanishes without a trace near the riverbank. Unable to find solace in her faith, she turns to the village spiritual healer, who reveals that the river god exacts an inhuman price in exchange for the child's safe return. Filmed in digital video, the striking, high contrast color palette of At the Water proves ideally suited to the film's overarching themes of testing faith, divine silence, and moral absolutes in a time of spiritual crisis and profound desolation.

Growing Stronger, 2005

Framed as an inspiring and provocative collage on the changing face of HIV and AIDS, Tsitsi Dangarembga's Growing Stronger presents an illuminating (and empowering) profile of two remarkably courageous Zimbabwean women living with HIV from opposite ends of the socioeconomic ladder who defy the stereotypical image of HIV infection and AIDS, and use their first hand experiences with the disease as a forum for public education and awareness. The documentary primarily focuses on well known celebrity, Tendayi Westerhof, a former fashion model and businesswoman (and ex-wife of former Zimbabwean professional football manager, Clemens Westerhof) who, in 2002, broke the commonly held silence among sufferers of HIV and AIDS (whose deaths were often nebulously attributed to secondary, AIDS-related illnesses or simply euphemized as succumbing to death "after a long illness") and publicly disclosed her HIV positive status. Founding the organization, Public Personalities Against AIDS Trust (PPAAT), Westerhof now devotes much of her time to erasing the stigma of the disease, not only through personal projects such as Models against AIDS which seeks to bring awareness to the younger generations, but also through living by example, constantly emphasizing the importance of nutrition, exercise, and regular medical monitoring in her public and personal life. A similar message of healthy living is also articulated by Pamela Kanjenzana, a working class HIV positive woman who comments on her occasional difficulty in obtaining proper nutrition and medication with her limited income, but nevertheless, copes as best as she can, and who, unlike previous generations, is able to see a real future, even living with HIV. It is interesting to note that by focusing on Westerhof over Kanjenzana, the film also reinforces the idea of HIV as an indiscriminate, cross-cultural disease. Ironically, it is through this relative subordination of Kanjenzana's story over Westerhof's that Dangarembga illustrates, not a preferential treatment of celebrity, but rather, the paradoxical collapse of socioeconomic boundaries in the constant threat - and everyday reality - of HIV and AIDS.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 11, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival, Tsitsi Dangarembga

April 10, 2007

Rostov-Luanda, 1997

rostov_luanda.gifSomething of a cross between an autobiographical road trip and a personal essay on the untold, residual legacy of Angola's turbulent twentieth century history as the country continues to struggle to recover from Portuguese colonization and a protracted civil war, Abderrahmane Sissako's Rostov-Luanda is an understated, yet pensive and illuminating rumination on the pervasive state of political and economic (and moral) stagnation that continues to shape the collective psyche of modern day African countries. A well worn, decades old class photograph composed of multi-ethnic students studying abroad in Soviet-era Moscow that has been obtained from a Russian friend provides the indeterminate, organic roadmap for Sissako's cross-country journey into the sublime, yet desolate landscape of postwar Angola. Recalling his shared hopes and youthful idealism for the cultural resurgence of a post-colonial African continent with fellow African student Alfonso Baribanga, Sissako embarks on a trip to his colleague's homeland in the aftermath of a devastating, Cold War-fueled, civil war. Encountering a series of strangers from the country's rich and diverse spectrum of ethnic and economic social strata who collectively define the face of modern Angola, Sissako's informal interviews with local residents inevitably take on the form of personal reflections and human testimonies that illustrate the country's deeply factional (and fractured) contemporary history even as it successfully cultivated a color blind, heterogeneous, assimilated society between Portuguese settlers and indigenous people (enabling a literal cultural interrogation that anticipates Khalo Matabane's own "road movie" approach to capturing the sentimental landscape of post-apartheid South Africa in Story of a Beautiful Country) - a resigned intellectual and former student radical who punctuates the intrinsic irony of her former comrades' patriotism and impassioned politics by noting their emigration from the country (a comment that also alludes to Africa's chronic "brain drain" of highly skilled and well educated workers); a gregarious barfly who watches the world go by peripherally from an outdoor bench near the entrance of Biker's, Luanda's most popular bar and tourist hotspot, having been thrown out for disorderly conduct; an orphan who once preferred to survive in the streets, but is now content to live with his uncle and attend school; a taxi driver who once received a house and automobile from his Portuguese benefactor, then gave away his legacy in the uncertainty of civil war; a mixed race businessman who fled to Portugal during the war and has now returned in order to contribute to its rebuilding; a genial patriarch of a large, extended family who is deeply moved by Sissako's interest in their humble stories, and sees the filmmaker's arrival as a greater sign towards endowing a voice to the marginalized; an elderly couple, originally immigrating from Brazil in order to seek out opportunities in the construction of their town's infrastructure, recounts the painful decision to send their children abroad during the war, and their own determination to remain in their beloved adopted village despite personal risk. But perhaps the most symbolic testimony of the country's resilience is reflected in an elderly woman's humorous account of her friends and family's mistaken belief that, often seen sitting on the front porch of her house, she must have been maimed by a landmine (an all too common scenario that is also depicted in Zézé Gamboa's The Hero) before subverting their expectation and breaking out into her fancy footwork. Far from a defeated, impoverished nation, what inevitably emerges from Sissako's reverent and compassionate gaze is a people ennobled by struggle, determined to rise from the ashes of war and colonialism through tolerance, hard work, resilience, and community.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 10, 2007 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2007, Abderrahmane Sissako, New York African Film Festival

April 9, 2007

NYAFF Short Films: Fanta Régina Nacro

Un Certain Matin, 1991

A farmer named Tiga's seemingly uneventful trip to the woods sets the stage for an unexpected collision between truth and fiction, reality and celluloid, that is illustrated to wry, comic effect in Fanta Régina Nacro's first feature, Un Certain Matin. Setting out one morning from his native village on the Mossi plateau in Burkina Faso to the tranquility of nearby woods in order to build a chair in peace, away from his children's calls for attention and other villagers' solicitations for gardening advice, Tiga's relaxing pastime is soon interrupted by the chaotic sight of a woman crying for help as she is chased through the plains by a machete-wielding man, and who, in the midst of a struggle, appear to reconcile and walk away together. However, when Tiga again encounters the woman frantically running away from her pursuer, his well-intentioned attempt to come to the aid of the damsel in distress leads to unforeseen consequences. During the Q&A for the program, Nacro commented that she had intentionally used an all female crew for the film in order to reinforce the idea that women are capable of working in technical capacities in Burkina Faso's almost exclusively male film industry. In creating an implicit parallel between the fictional metafilm and the reality of the film's production, Nacro subverts the notion of a male-dominated industry into an equally fascinating behind-the-scenes realization of solidarity and empowerment.

Puknini, 1995

The coincidental intersection of a beautiful Senegalese woman's taxicab ride arrival into Ouagadougou, and a happily married professional couple's public display of affection in front of an appliance store display window while shopping for a new washing machine (a seemingly indecorous act that inadvertently causes the traffic to stop) sets the symbolic stage for Nacro's humorous and ironic satire on the seven year itch and the elusive nature of seduction and desire in Puknini. Chronicling Salif 's indiscretions through Isa's increasing suspicions (and curious observations) over her husband's fidelity, Nacro subverts the hackneyed cinematic convention of scandalous confrontation (a thwarted scenario that is suggested in a mob's aggressive behavior towards the woman) and ménage à trios complicity through an anticlimactic encounter, mutual respect, and unexpected solidarity.

Konaté’s Gift, 1998

In Konaté's Gift, a profoundly relevant and contemporary social issue - AIDS awareness - comes in the unexpected form of a traditional, tale-teller styled, lyrical adventure. Upon returning from the city after a visit, Konaté's second wife, Djénéba receives a package from her brother that, as he subsequently explains, is a life-saving gift for her husband: a box of condoms. Arguing that the threat of AIDS is only a myth created by Westerners, and egged on to refuse to succumb to his wife's entreaties by the men of the village who, baffled by the application of the curious object, are convinced that such an alien contraption could only diminish his virility, Konaté refuses to yield to Djénéba's request and instead, makes an out of turn visit to the home of his first wife. Rebuffed by the women in his life, Konaté desperately turns to the village healer. Advised to return to the origin of the object that had caused such personal turmoil and touch the roots of the tree that had borne the strange fruit in order to make peace with it, Konaté embarks on a long and enlightening cross-country journey, where he becomes a first-hand witness to the ravages of ignorance and disease that have rended families and decimated villages. Told with humor and pathos, Nacro's thoughtful, yet humorous modern day fable idiosyncratically channels the effervescent, yet droll spirit of Jamie Uys' The Gods Must Be Crazy in its whimsical tale of human absurdity, and infuses a sobering dose of social realism to create an engaging, yet potent public discourse on AIDS education.

Bintou, 2000

bintou.gifThe age-old struggle between gender roles, rigid (yet inevitably shifting) traditions, and women's liberation plays out as a light-hearted, yet astute domestic comedy in Nacro's Bintou, the 2001 Best Short Film Prize award winner at FESPACO. Unfolding through the eyes of a village housewife, Bintou's efforts as she resolves to start her own business - and persevere against overwhelming odds - despite her husband Abel's petty attempts at sabotaging her fledgling sprouted millet cottage industry (invariably fueled by the villagers' implicit insecurities over their own domestic dispensability) and her mother-in-law's strenuous objections over the rightful place of women in the home, the film is also an insightful universal tale of the everyday cultural struggles between tradition and modernity and the often slippery process of gender equality that characterize contemporary society. At the heart of Bintou's seemingly insurmountable task is her determination to single-handedly raise money for her daughter's education after her husband, a gainfully employed carpenter, decides to only provide school tuition for their two sons. Chronicling Bintou's evolution from desperate mother, to resourceful businesswoman, to reliable marketer, and finally, to inspirational leader, the film is a refreshingly light-handed exposition on community, family, and women's empowerment.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 09, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival

Death of Two Sons, 2006

death_2sons.gifThe coincidental, near parallel deaths of unarmed Guinean immigrant (and innocent victim), Amadou Diallo in the hallway of his apartment building at the hands of over-aggressive police officers in 1999, and American Peace Corps volunteer Jesse Thyne on the treacherous rural roads of Guinea en route back to Diallo's ancestral village, serve as a potent and thought provoking framework for Micah Schaffer's trenchant, impassioned, and deeply moving social interrogation on the nature of economic imperialism, racial privilege, marginalization, and cultural arrogance in Death of Two Sons. Far from the terse, tabloid encapsulation of Diallo's tragically cut short life as a common West African street peddler, the film traces Diallo's often under-emphasized privileged upbringing, globetrotting, and enrollment in some of the finest schools as the son of an international businessman who, rather than stay in Guinea where he would have undoubtedly coasted through a high ranking career and become one of the nation's emerging leaders, went against his family's wishes to instead forge a new life in the U.S., seeing his struggle as building the rudiments of an instilled work ethic that would build character and ensure his future success I his adopted country. Similarly, Jesse Thyne, the adopted son of a California pastor, lived a life of middle-class comfortability, an uneventful upbringing that, as his parents surmise, may have been deeply marked by his childhood experience with abandonment in the early years before his adoption into their family. Unable to find his birth mother, Jesse would later join the Peace Corps, perhaps as a means of embracing all of humanity as his interconnected identity, where he was assigned to work in Diallo's ancestral village as a teacher, often dining with Diallo's extended family, and subsequently, was invited to attend to his funeral. A few months later, as a passenger on a taxi hired to transport several Peace Corps volunteer back to their villages after a holiday outing, Thyne and a fellow volunteer, Justin Bhansali would also perish, this time, at the scene of a high impact vehicle collision. However, as Schaffer incisively captures, what inevitably characterizes the uncanny coincidence of Diallo and Thyne's proximal deaths is not the eerily karmic connection between these two young men who have never met, but rather, the profound disparity in the way that justice was carried out in the aftermath of their deaths. Contrasting the acquittal of the four New York City police officers on all charges - including the lesser included offense of reckless endangerment - with the three year prison sentence handed out by the Guinean court to the taxi driver as punishment for an analogous vehicular offense for speeding (and subsequently led to a nationwide road safety campaign in memory of the Peace Corps victims), the inescapable sentiment of inequitable justice is precisely articulated in a comment by Thyne's father that, while "Jesse's death was a tragedy, Amadou's death was a tragedy and a travesty."

Posted by acquarello on Apr 09, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival

April 8, 2007

Teranga Blues, 2007

teranga.gifMoussa Sene Absa's epic and sprawling urban tale Teranga Blues appropriately opens to the shot of a Senegalese musician, Madiké "Dick" Diop (Lord Alajiman) being escorted by French authorities in handcuffs before a brief, procedural handover with local immigration officials releases him into their custody, and back out to freedom into the streets of Dakar with little more than a 20 Euro note in his pocket. The image of the deported, down and out musician in restraints would prove to be a prescient metaphor for Dick's figurative bondage upon returning to his native land. Reluctant to return home with unrealized dreams of wealth and fame, Dick falls into the nefarious company of a childhood friend, Maxu (Ibrahima Mbaye), an ambitious gangster and low level toadie to a well connected black market arms dealer named Zéka (Zéka La Plaine), who arranges to furnish him with a lavish loan in order to project an image of success for the native son's triumphant homecoming to his mother, Soukèye (Yakhara Deme) and sister, Rokhaya's (Rokhaya Niang) shantytown home. Borrowing heavily from his newfound underworld associates in order to endow his family with the financial means to leave the impoverished village and build a new home in a more affluent community, and persuaded into an unholy alliance with promises to help establish his music career, Dick invariably becomes indebted to the pragmatic and enterprising Zéka who, in turn, sees in Dick's directness and integrity a veritable potential to move up in the ranks as his trusted lieutenant. In its elemental fusion of universal, cautionary tale on the lure of easy money with a compassionate social commentary on the endemic cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement, Teranga Blues transforms from seemingly idiosyncratic amalgam of lyrical romance, carnivalesque (sur)realism, gangster film, slice-of-life portrait, and portentous tragedy into a sincere and impassioned, larger-than-life contemporary urban opera on star-crossed fate and inescapable destiny.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 08, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival

Clouds Over Conakry, 2007

conakry.gifFollowing a lively introductory performance by a traditional African griot, the 14th annual New York African Film Festival officially opened with the film, Clouds Over Conakry from Guinean filmmaker Cheick Fantamady Camara, a selection that seems ideally suited to the festival's commemoration of Africa's 50 years of independence and (indigenous) cinema - a humorous, lyrical, and engaging, yet thoughtful and impassioned cautionary tale on the intractable social dichotomies between tradition and modernity - the personal (and cultural) struggle to find moral balance between upholding indigenous customs and embracing progressive ideals - that continue to shape contemporary African society. At the heart of the conflict is a talented political cartoonist and artist, Bangali, affectionately known as BB (a homonymous nickname that alludes to the film's catalytic cultural collision, an out of wedlock baby) who pseudonymously signs his newspaper with a rudimentary glyph in order to conceal his life's vocation (and passion) from his father, a superstitious, and deeply old fashioned marabout. In love with his mentor and editor's beautiful daughter, Kesso, a web designer who, on a whim, entered the audition for the Miss Guinea pageant and now unexpectedly finds herself competing for the title, BB's hopes for a life together with his beloved Kesso and a professional career as an artist is soon dimmed when his father, having experienced a dream that he believes was guided by the spirit of their village ancestors, decides to bypass his religious, older son's wishes to study abroad and become an imam, and instead, chooses his visibly disinterested younger son, BB, to succeed him in their ancestral vocation. But when his father is summoned by a government official to lead a prayer service on a pre-appointed day and time to help end the city's unseasonable drought - a divine invocation that seems all too conveniently effective - BB begins to question the integrity of the often conflicting advice offered by well-intentioned people around him. Beyond the often explored territory of cultural contradiction, perhaps what makes Clouds Over Conakry particularly insightful is Camara's ability to capture the moral nuances and shades of grey that appropriately - and relevantly - capture the complexity of contemporary existence: the father's infusion of tribal fetishism with Islamic worship is confronted through the older son's orthodox scholarship of the Qur'an, and who, in turn, is confronted with the inhumanity intrinsic in his more fundamentalist views towards the (mis)treatment of women; a woman's reproductive rights paradoxically brings tragedy to both sides of the ideological debate; the idea of a free press is compromised by the editor's self-censorship approach to the reporting (and suppression) of information in order to avoid controversy and maintain the paper's access to influential leaders (and implicitly, uphold the status quo); the separation of church and state is blurred by the political cultivation of alliances with influential spiritual leaders in an attempt to rein in loyal, faith-based voters into their political campaigns.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 08, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival

NYAFF Short Films: Young Rebels

The Train, 2005

A chance encounter between a young student, Giusseppe and a recently paroled ex-convict, Ahmed provides the framework for Brahim Fritah's distilled and muted, yet thoughtful existential allegory on humanity and modern day cultural identity in The Train. Set against the backdrop of a transcontinental train compartment that curiously resembles an apartment living room (perhaps a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre's The End), an unexpected connection develops between the two travelers when the studious Giusseppe offers to read the letters for the illiterate Ahmed, whose wife had continued to send his letters throughout his eight year imprisonment, and one day, had inexplicably stopped. An awkward situation resulting from Giusseppe's seeming inability to read Arabic, coupled by a subsequent embarrassing transaction with the train's café attendant (played by Bamako actress, Aïssa Maïga) when Giuseppe attempts to pay for his order with francs, and a missed train stop perhaps best encapsulate Fritah's understated illustration of the indigenous problems of globalization, homogeneity, and cultural assimilation in the aftermath of colonialism and the borderless, Schengen Zone European Union.

Mama Put, 2006

In an unassuming neighborhood in Angola, an impoverished young family headed by an pious and indomitable widowed mother, already struggling to make ends meet and obtain proper medical attention for her sickly, youngest child, receives an unexpected visit from a band of armed bandits one evening. Placated into letting them go and leaving the children unharmed by cooking a meal for them, the family soon finds itself receiving tacit protection and a share of ill-gotten gains from the robbers who begin to make nightly visits to the apartment for their customary meal, unable to extricate themselves from the burden of harboring the presumptuous fugitives. Ever teetering between compassionate humor and dark satire, Seke Somolu's Mama Put is a thoughtful and infectious exposition on the amorphous nature of obligation, charity, and consequence.

Meokgo and the Stick Fighter, 2006

meokgo.gifTeboho Mahlatsi's sumptuous, atmospheric, and gorgeously shot contribution for the New Crowned Hope festival, Meokgo and the Stick Fighter, recounts the tale of Kgotso, a reclusive rancher, lone wolf stick fighter, and virtuous nomad who wanders the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho. Orphaned since infancy, Kgotso was cared for by a village elder and traditional healer, inheriting her treasured concertina upon her death. Watching over his adopted village, and often coming to the aid of poor, defenseless shepherds who are constantly being terrorized by a roving band of ruthless cattle thieves, Kgotso leads an idyllic pastoral life pursuing the art of combat and music until he encounters a beautiful, enigmatic noble woman who, enchanted by the vibrant melodies of his concertina, begins to haunt his solitude. Mahlatsi's evocative, poetic fable sublimely fuses the rich, ancient traditional of indigenous African tale-telling with the universality of expressionist imagery to create a timeless and transcendent tale of longing, connection, and destiny.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 08, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, New York African Film Festival

March 4, 2007

I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single, 2006

i_do.gifForty-something perfume developer, confirmed bachelor, and henpecked (and only male) sibling in a decidedly female-centric household of six children, Luis Costa (Alain Chabat) - still nursing a wounded heart from his only serious relationship during his twenties (a personal milestone that he nostalgically, but nebulously remembers as his "The Cure phase", indelibly marked by his gothic, Robert Smith-styled, oversized fashion sense, his lover's decision to leave him following an introductory meeting with his disapproving family, and his accidental discovery of his life-long passion when he attempts to recapture her essence by chemically synthesizing her complex scent into a fragrance) - has been officially classified as long overdue for marriage by his well intentioned, but intrusive family (in a motion overwhelmingly passed by the women under the collective resolution brought to the family's "G7" domestic committee). In an attempt to stave off his sisters' aggressive attempts at matchmaking - and who, in turn, have taken the cause of finding a suitable wife for their visibly disinclined brother by flooding the internet - Luis enlists the aid of his best friend and business partner, Pierre-Yves' (Grégoire Oestermann) bohemian sister, Emma (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who, having recently ended a long-term relationship and moved back to France, is eager to prove her financial stability as she settles into a new phase in her life and prepares to petition a Chilean orphan for adoption. Hatching an elaborate scheme to rid the family once and for all of their chronic interference into his romantic life by transforming Emma into the ideal fiancée in order to win the hearts and minds of his sisters and, above all, the family matriarch, Geneviève (Bernadette Lafont), before staging a sudden break-up where he would assume (and eagerly exploit) the role of jilted lover humiliatingly left at the altar, Luis' bright future of meddle-free bachelorhood seems tantalizingly within reach, until he finds himself on the defensive in the chaotic aftermath (and familial wrath) of the aborted wedding against amorphous accusations of unspecified transgressions that undoubtedly caused such a perfect woman to escape his grasp. Evoking the slapstick comedies of Francis Veber in its tortuous, absurd, over-the-top, rapid fire scenarios, Eric Lartigau creates a whimsical, charming, and infectious, if perhaps, characteristically outré romantic farce in I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single. Supported by equally solid performances from veteran actors Chabat (who also conceived the idea for the script) as cosseted man-child and hopeless romantic, Gainsbourg as the world-wise, but vulnerable object of affection, and Lafont as the indomitable, yet overindulging mother prone to histrionics, the film is an enjoyable, well crafted, and irresistible tale on the inexorable - and enviable - travails of love, commitment, and family.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 04, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

The Page Turner, 2006

pageturner.gifFavorably evoking Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie in its taut, slow brewing, and unnerving portrait of dysfunctional class relations, Denis Dercourt's The Page Turner is a distilled, understated, and elegantly realized psychological tale of fragility, revenge, and manipulation. At the heart of Dercourt's dark allegory is a polite, attractive, and meticulous young woman named Mélanie Prouvost (in the astute casting of Déborah François, who played the role of Sonya in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's L'Enfant and embodies the role of Mélanie with the opacity of a Bressonian model in the film), the enigmatic daughter of a provincial butcher (an occupation that also alludes to Chabrol through the film, Le Boucher) who once obsessively practiced to become a professional pianist but, having failed in her entrance audition for a scholarship at prestigious conservatory due to an unforeseen, external distraction, impulsively abandoned the piano and altogether turned away from her musical studies. Now working in a law office as a seasonal intern for a successful attorney, Jean Fouchécourt (Pascal Greggory), Mélanie's diligence and accommodating nature impresses the genial, if abstracted Fouchécourt and inevitably accepts her offer to watch over his son Tristan (Antoine Martynciow) in order for his wife, Ariane (Catherine Frot), a renowned pianist, to singularly concentrate on her rehearsals with her ensemble for an important radio performance that will mark her return to public appearance after an extended hiatus (stemming from a still unsolved hit and run accident). Gradually, Mélanie's impeccable musical training enables her to insinuate herself into Ariane's rehearsals, taking on the seemingly innocuous, but immensely critical role as her sheet music page turner and, consequently, becomes an intimate - and integral - part of her increasingly mercurial performance and eroding psyche. Perhaps the most emblematic aspect of Dercourt's quietly rendered observation of social invisibility and marginalization resides in the catalytic nature of Mélanie's imperceptible, yet palpable toll within the Fouchécourt household, a profound influence that is figuratively embodied through Tristan's goaded, seemingly innocuous accelerated timing of the metronome - a subtle alteration that inevitably exposes the delicate and tenuous dynamic between strength and debilitation, character and mundanity, exaltation and agony.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 04, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

March 3, 2007

Ambitious, 2006

ambitious.gifIn an early episode in Catherine Corsini's dark romantic comedy, Ambitious, a timid, aspiring writer book shop owner named Julien (Eric Caravaca) discreetly, but deliberately, foists his recently finished autofiction manuscript on unsuspecting friend and perennial store patron, Mathieu Séchard (Renan Carteaux), the son of a renowned literary publishing house director in Paris, and immediately becomes wracked with anxiety and insecurity over Mathieu's seeming evasion and prolonged silence regarding his initial impressions of Julien's work, mollified only by his friend's impulsive offer, in passing, to send the manuscript to his father's office. Julien's seemingly amicable, yet intrinsically calculated encounter with Mathieu provides an incisive prelude to the film's overarching themes of exploitation, vanity, and self-absorption, as his reprehensive opportunism is equally matched by the introduction of a mercurial publishing agent named Judith Zahn (Karen Viard) into his life. Delegated with the task of providing feedback on the manuscript's potential for representation, Judith shirks her obligation to review the personal favor submission and, instead, sends an assistant to meet with Julien to tactfully, but decisively reject his work. But Julien soon proves to be a formidable non-client, ingratiating himself into a frazzled and distraught Judith's reluctant company. Newly entrusted into her intimacy, Julien discovers the remarkable contents an entrusted box of souvenirs and personal effects that Judith has inherited from her estranged, late father - a 70s revolutionary who had lived a life of intrigue replete with covert acts of political espionage and assassinations - and decides to surreptitiously embark on a more marketable premise for his next novel, a story based on the mined contents of her father's buried, secret history. Assembling an eccentric cast of morally reprehensible, yet endearing characters - a motley crew that also includes failed thespian, consummate freeloader, and part-time stalker, Julien's former classmate, Simon (Gilles Cohen) - Corsini strikes a delicate balance between humor and pathos, revulsion and affection to create a slight, yet acerbic dysfunctional fairytale of the idiosyncratic intersections of deception, manipulation, betrayal, and desire that define the inscrutable course of neurotic true love.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 03, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

The Singer, 2006

singer.gifEach day, a divorced, middle-aged dance hall chanteur, Alain Moreau (in an elegant performance by Gérard Depardieu), attired in his white satin suit and sporting a provincial, stylishly overgrown haircut with a touch of highlights, sings from his stout repertoire of familiar - yet not too iconic - love songs before an appreciative audience in assorted dance halls, upscale restaurants, and nursing homes throughout Clermont-Ferrand: special places where people with palpable life experiences - too old for the frenetic beat of clubs and discotheques - can come together and, for a brief moment, find connection with each other, their formative histories, their personal memories. It is a humble vocation that suits the endearing and charismatic Alain well with his easygoing, confident manner and refreshingly pragmatic outlook over his role - not as an artist seeking to elevate his performance in search of legacy and stardom - but as an entertainer for hire who must consciously remain attuned to the wishes of his audience to sing competently, yet unobtrusively, the sentimental melodies that will entice them to dance, to linger in the moment, to forget their pain, abandon their inhibitions and take a chance. It is perhaps Alain's remarkable ability to put the audience at ease and break down resistances that propels real estate businessman, Bruno (Mathieu Amalric) to bring his newly hired real estate agent, an attractive, recently separated woman named Marion (Cécile de France) to the dance hall one evening, a manipulative ploy with seeming unintentional consequences when she catches the attention of the charming crooner. Instinctually drawn to each other by a sense of displaced longing and mutual woundedness, Alain enlists Marion's aid in finding a new residence under the pretext of finally moving out of the home that he had shared with his manager and former wife Michèle (Christine Citti). But as Michèle strives to reinvent Alain's flagging career in the face of dwindling bookings, declining health, and the increasing popularity of karaoke, his reinvigorated desire to start his life anew is tempered by the ambivalence of leaving behind the intimacy of his beloved dance halls. Channeling the spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red in its suffusive evocation of longing and synchronicity, Xavier Giannoli's The Singer is an intelligently rendered, understatedly resonant, and refined portrait of the often bifurcating trajectories of existential and emotional intersections. Concluding with the extended long shot of Alain and Marion in desperate and reluctant embrace from the windows of a café, the silent choreography of souls in restless motion becomes a sublime metaphor for their transformative, star-crossed encounter - fragrant in its fleeting intoxication, heartbreaking in its inevitable conclusion, and indelible in its haunting irresolution.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 03, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

February 28, 2007

These Encounters of Theirs, 2006

these_encounters.gifIn its exaggerated formalism, idiosyncratic performance, and extended temps morts, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet's These Encounters of Theirs is a rigorous and subversively irreverent, but thoughtful, sensual, and articulate meditation on the search for enlightenment, the rapture of divine inspiration, the intranscendable distance of gods, and the elusive quest for immortality. Composed of five distinctive, self-encapsulated, two-actor conversations adapted from the last five stories of Cesare Pavese's Dialogues with Leucò, the film presents a series of mythological encounters - siblings (eccentrically facing away from the camera) attempt to come to terms with the ephemeral nature of divine will, a young couple discusses the nature of human fragility that propels its eternal quest for enduring legacy, an older couple (in a sumptuous panning sequence that concludes with a vertical pan of a Garden of Eden-like paradise) wistfully observes the exhilaration of wide-eyed discovery and new sensations, an artist and his muse contemplate the integral friction and trauma intrinsic in the artistic process (an idea that evokes Straub's impassioned, if abstracted monologue in Pedro Costa's Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?), two men - perhaps warriors - reflect on the simple pleasures of human contact. Concluding with a sublime two-axis, panoramic survey of the landscape that terminates with a stationary shot of an electrical power line that visually bisects the earth from the sky, the film converges into a profound, yet instinctual image of human transcendence through humility, mortality, struggle, experience, and creation.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 28, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

Twilight's Last Gleaming, 1977

twilight.gifLoosely adapted from novelist Walter Wager's 1971 thriller, Viper Three, Twilight's Last Gleaming is Robert Aldrich's impassioned and provocative excoriation - and, perhaps implicitly, exorcism - of the American government's administrative Cold War policy that sought to wage a representative, small-scale, protracted ideological war in Vietnam in order to reinforce a "doctrine of credibility" to the (then) Soviet Union and world at large of the country's resolve and willingness to win war at all cost, even if the rules of engagement are reduced to levels of barbarity, untold casualty, mass murder, and human atrocity. Aldrich frames the country's deeply troubled moral conscience through an unlikely pair of world-weary idealists: a former military general and conscientious objector turned escaped convict named Larry Dell (Burt Lancaster) who, in his increasingly criticism of the war and volatile temperament, became a convenient target for government discreditation, and the newly elected president, David Stevens (Charles Durning) who, even in holding office in the aftermath of Vietnam, cannot escape its haunted, unreconciled legacy in his appointment of seasoned cabinet advisors who had weathered the political fallout (and dodged accountability) for the interminable war (Aldrich astutely assembles a cast of veteran actors including Joseph Cotton, Richard Widmark, and Melvyn Douglas to reflect the advisors' status as fossilized relics out of touch with the consequences and social reality of their ideological war game). Recently escaped from a correctional facility where he is serving time on a trumped up murder conviction, Dell enlists the aid of fellow convicts, musclemen Willis (Paul Winfield) and Augie (Burt Young), and trigger-happy safecracker, Hoxey (William Smith) in an elaborate plot to break into the nuclear silo of a military base, commandeer its ICBM missiles, and hold the government - and the world - hostage in exchange for a large sum of money, a safe passage on Air Force One, and above all, the full disclosure of a top secret transcript detailing the former administration's attempts to continue the Vietnam engagement despite already known inevitable consequences and the impossibility of victory as a means of deterrent by proving the country's willingness to use nuclear weapons in the event of an all out war under a policy of mutual assured destruction. In its bracingly contemporary and profoundly relevant exposition on the moral consequences of entrenched ideology and disconnected (and delusive) righteousness, Twilight's Last Gleaming articulates a sincere and elegiac plea for transparency in government and empowerment of the people - a sobering vigil for the restoration of the dignity of political service and the dying ideals of a once great civilization that, in the myopic intoxication of power, has lost its way.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 28, 2007 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

February 27, 2007

Summer 04, 2006

summer04.gifStefan Krohmer's deceptively lyrical Summer 04 chronicles the unexpected, life altering summer vacation of domestic partners Mirjam (Martina Gedeck) and André (Peter Davor), and their teenage son Nils (Lucas Kotaranin) as they attempt to navigate through the murky, uncharted waters of romantic - and emotional - entanglements caused by the introduction of Nils' precocious, 12 year old girlfriend, Livia (Svea Lohde) into their comfortable and predictably routine lives. In retrospect, the idyllic images of weather worn summer cottages, bicycle rides through the country, sun drenched days, outdoor dining, and afternoon sailing excursions would prove to be a deceptive foil to film's the dark, slow brewing tale of dangerous attraction and forbidden desire, as Livia's unorthodox - and uncomfortably libertine - attitude creates an complicated emotional dynamic when, one day, Nils turns over the helm of his father's catamaran (along with his unresisting girlfriend) to an attractive, young American expatriate named Bill (Robert Seeliger) and invites him into their home. Unsettled by Bill's implicit over familiar response to Livia's obliging attention and bound by a sense of responsibility over Livia's entrusted care in her parents' absence, Mirjam seeks to drive a wedge in the budding relationship between the two, an insinuation into their lives that unwittingly exposes the fragile emptiness of her own unfulfilling relationship with the all too complacent and easy going André. Evoking the moral tales of Eric Rohmer in its understated, yet perceptive conversational approach to the inconstant rationalizations and (over) intellectualizations that seek to reconcile (or at least self-justify) the mysteries of the human heart, the film is an acutely observed exposition on the amorphous terrain of human attraction, fidelity, guilt, and longing.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 27, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters, 2006

tachigui.gifAlternately baffling in its unclassifiable lunacy, infectious in its inspired creativity, irresistible in its tongue-in-cheek audacity, and admirable in its visionary integrity, Mamoru Oshii's deliriously off-kilter, rapid fire superlivemation animation feature, Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters presents an epic, cultural and socio-political survey of twentieth century history (and into the early years of the new century) as idiosyncratically told from the underground mythology of fast food grifters: a group of reputed con artists who - through a collective arsenal of intelligence, charisma, ingenuity, brute strength (or rather, appetite), and even sheer incomprehensibility - have managed to make a successful practice out of talking their way out of paying for tachigui fast food meals from assorted shops throughout Japan, and consequently elevated the art of fast food grifting. The first profile is of Moongaze Ginji, a priest-like elder who emerges from the shadows of the thriving black markets shortly after the end of the Pacific War (and the beginning of American occupation) and who, in his evocation of classical landscape in a bowl of noodles, attempts to kindle the nostalgic sentiment of Japan's rich, cultural past. In the 1950s, as the recovering country was experiencing a "post war economic miracle", a new hero(ine) emerges among the grifter mythology in Foxy Croquette O-Gin, an attractive, liberated, modern women who uses her sensuality and cunning intelligence to equally charm and outwit her gullible (and decidedly male) victims. As Japan sought a symbolic international re-emergence by hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Crying Inumaru employs a radically different tactic by playing the role of perennial loser - an incisive strategy that, juxtaposed against the seemingly tangential anecdote of Mothra's release, provides an incisive broader comment on the collective amnesia and propensity towards revisionism inherent in the nation's reinvention and self-portrayal as victims in the terrible aftermath of the Pacific War. Within this context of social and historical intersection, the sensationalized death of grifter Cold Badger Masa in the late 1960s may also be seen, not as an act of random violence, but as a reflective symptom of the country's (if not, the world's) increasing radicalization and social upheaval that was ushered by the rise of the Red Army movement. Culminating with a series of characters that reflect the country's transforming (and decidedly, un-Japanese) culinary palate - Beefbowl Ushigoro, Hamburger Tetsu, Frankfurter Tatsu, Medium Hot Sabu - the film serves as a provocative and trenchant satire on the country's inexorable path towards recovery, modernization, consumerism, global assimilation, and cultural dilution.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 27, 2007 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects, Mamoru Oshii

Longing, 2006

longing.gifAt the heart of Valeska Grisebach's slender, yet meticulously observed slice of life portrait, Longing, is the seemingly ideal marriage of metalworker and volunteer firefighter, Markus (Andreas Müller) and his wife, Ella (Ilka Welz), a chorus singer who, in the film's establishing sequences, casually describes their romantic union as the result, not of love at first sight, but of a friendship that evolved into a latent, but profound intimacy. Separated from each other when Markus travels with his colleagues to a firefighter's convention, the time apart proves especially unbearable for Ella who, in his absence, begins to realize the depth of her affection for her absent husband. Similarly, their separation proves equally difficult for Markus, who, in the haze of intoxication and youthful nostalgia, succumbs to the shy attention of a charming and attractive waitress named Rose (Anett Dornbusch). However, as Markus returns home to Ella and to the familiar routine of his bucolic and uneventful life, the emotional repercussions of his brief affair with Rose proves to be an inescapable reality that he must confront to preserve the integrity of their mutual intimacy. Recalling Barbara Albert's cinema in its episodic, extrapolative, organic narrative and the integral incorporation of zeitgeist pop songs as a generational soundtrack and tongue in cheek, short hand mode of contemporary expression that articulate the contours of interior, emotional landscapes, and infused with Michael Haneke's familiar penchant for illustrating subtle perturbations within quotidian ritual that lead to unforeseen and irreparably transformative consequences, Longing is a distilled, yet thoughtful and sensitively rendered tale of intimacy, betrayal, and elusive nature of desire.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 27, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

February 26, 2007

Ten Skies, 2004

tenskies.gifWhile James Benning's 13 Lakes captures the materiality, self-equilibration, and memory of water, the film's equally rigorous and abstractly hypnotic companion piece, Ten Skies illustrates the mutability, ephermerality, and transience of nature. Shot in Val Verde, California, the film consists of ten minute, stationary shots of ten isolated skyscapes set against the ambient sounds of the unseen (but implied) diverse landscape, as each cloud formation dissipates, morphs, displaces, or is otherwise transformed by its environment: the shifting symmetry of parallel line trails created by the residual plumes from jet engines that have long traversed the airspace, the tincture of orange that suffuses the lower frame from a setting sun, the obscuration and otherworldly discoloration from a distant, raging fire, the rapid movement of billowy clouds to the top of the frame, accelerated by the propulsive, rapid expansion of liberated exhaust fumes from an industrial factory operation, the tranquility of a near static sky momentary interrupted by the intrusion of real and artificial birds in flight (an earlier image of a traversing airplane is visually repeated a shot of a small flock of birds darting across the frame). In illustrating the decontextualization of cloud formations from a fixed point of reference in their insubstantiality and amorphous autonomy, Ten Skies reflects their seeming existence outside of time, creating a contemplative, peaceful, and indelible illustration of environmental fragility and transitory - yet paradoxically eternal - quotidian sublimity.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 26, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

February 25, 2007

13 Lakes, 2004

13lakes.gifComposed of a series of episodic, stationary long takes, each recording an uninterrupted, ten minute shot length and punctuated by an extended, interstitial black screen, James Benning's structuralist film, 13 Lakes is a rigorous and demanding, yet hypnotic and transfixing meditation on diurnal rhythms, climatic changes, and the implications of (irreversible) man-made transformation. The opening image, shot in Jackson Lake, seemingly establishes the composition of the images: the deep, russet colors of a land mass bisects the frame, the skies emerge from the contours of the irregular landscape in the upper frame, occupying the golden mean, the tranquil waters ripple across the lower frame, finely perturbating the reflection of the landscape to create impressionistic, angular, virtual depressions in the water. The subsequent shot of Moosehead Lake overturns the placidity of the preceding installment in its grey tones and overcast skies - the reflection of the land mass now nearly imperceptible in the aqueous stipling of raindrops. A third installment at the Salton Sea then redefines the now familiar spatial (and implicitly hierarchical) tripartite bounds of earth framed by water and sky, as the water body is, itself, bisected into a region of foam and still waters: this curious separation produced by the violent churning of speedboat motors that intermittently, but palpably, dart across the frame - the layer of froth, unable to recover completely before the turbulence of a subsequent speedboat, migrating forward towards a stratified layer of foamy suspension. The introduction of (residual) human imprint also serves to subconsciously shift the perspective of the viewer from a terrestrial - and more importantly, implicitly human-centric focus (the demarcation of the land from water as a point of identification to the position of our own natural habitat) - to the image of humans as intruders and disrupters of an overarching natural order. This inferential breakdown in symbiotic relationship between land and water caused by the human interference is perhaps best exemplified in the wintertime image of Lake Superior, as fragments of broken ice floating in the water restlessly shift in relation to each other, creating a figurative plate tectonics - the abstract rhythm of their dynamic, puzzle-like, cause and effect displacement only momentarily disrupted by a passing freight ship. Converging to an internal symmetry of indigenous ecology (the saline, almost alien whiteness of the Salton Sea, the frozen waters of Lake Superior, the sublime, undistorted landscape reflection of Crater Lake), man-made intrusion (the impressive bascule bridge that spans Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, the sound of a long, lumbering freight train in Lake Okeechobee, the sound of intermittent, sequential gunfire in Crater Lake), sublimated landscape (as in the images of Lake Winnebago and Oneida Lake where the land mass is reduced to near slivers of demarcation in the edges of the bisected frame), the film serves an austere, bracing, and indelible image of symbiotic landscape, the encroachment - and imposition - of civilization, and the fragile process of ecological balance.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 25, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

February 24, 2007

Flanders, 2006

flanders.gifBruno Dumont returns to the desolate pastoral and emotional landscapes of his earlier features L'Humanité and Life of Jesus in Flanders, an austere, tonal, and visceral exposition into the integral nature of violence, sexuality, desire, and instinctual survival. A rugged young farmer, Demester (Samuel Boidin) impassively harvests his dessicated, autumnal fields before finding his neighbor - and unrequited object of affection - Barbe (Adélaïde Leroux) waiting for him in the clearing to take a casual walk in the woods and a diversionary afternoon rendezvous. In a subsequent encounter with mutual acquaintances at a local bar, Barbe seemingly trivializes her relationship with the introverted Demester by casually referring to him as a close, childhood friend before impulsively (and all too easily) submitting to the advances of a bar patron, another conscript named Blondel (Henri Cretel). The stark juxtaposition of Barbe's fickle dismissiveness of her familiar intimacy with her obliging neighbor, and her brief, but intense affair with Blondel exposes the profound gulf that continues to separate Demeter from his beloved who, in his opaque gaze and uncomfortable silence, cannot articulate the depth of his despair over her cavalier treatment of their relationship - supplanting the greyness of their cold, unemotive, and mechanical post-coital embrace with the (alluded) image of unbridled carnality intrinsic in Barbe and Blondel's desperate, needy, and frenzied coupling. Sent far away from their bucolic hometown to wage war in the trenches of a distant land with his unwitting romantic rival, Demester sublimates his wounded heart and sense of betrayal in their mutual struggle for survival against a brutal and faceless enemy. But as the inhumanity and carnage of a seemingly senseless and interminable military campaign continues to take its toll on the psyches of the young soldiers, Demester finds himself struggling to maintain his sanity by holding on to the fragile memories of his distant, unreciprocated, and increasingly impossible love. In capturing the progression of seasons against an unchanging landscape, Flanders may also be seen as something of a corollary to Twentynine Palms (a connection that is also suggested by Dumont's comment on his penchant for the interchangeable placement of the final cut that would dramatically alter the tone of the ending, not unlike the polarizing editing strategy of Twentynine Palms), where the alien and often treacherous contours of the human heart are revealed in the abstraction of gestures and the silence of unarticulated despair.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 24, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

Blame It On Fidel, 2006

blame_fidel.gifIt perhaps comes as no surprise that the astute social observation and political acuity so integral to the wry, infectious, and irresistible whimsical humor of Blame it on Fidel comes from first (non documentary) feature filmmaker Julie Gavras, whose father, Costa Gavras, continues to redefine the bounds of political filmmaking with his distinctive blueprint for crafting articulate and thought-provoking historical docu-fiction. Set in 1970 France, the film opens to the insightful close-up image of cherubic, Catholic school girl, Anna (Nina Kervel) commanding (or rather, demanding) the attention of her dining companions by demonstrating the proper way to peel an orange using only silverware, much to the assorted bemusement - and indifference - of the children in the designated kids' table of a wedding banquet. But beyond Anna's projected confidence in demonstrating her impeccable table manners, the auspicious occasion has already begun to sow the seeds of confusion for the young heroine, as her father, a Spanish expatriate and successful trial attorney named Fernando (Stefano Accorsi) covertly scuttles his sister and niece from Spain following the arrest of Anna's left-leaning uncle for political agitation, moves them in with the family, and invariably becomes galvanized into his own acts social action by his sister's impassioned stories of struggle and resistance. Their unexpected arrival also causes consternation for the family housekeeper, Filomena (Marie-Noëlle Bordeaux), a Cuban exile whose family was brought to ruin and forced to flee the country after Fidel Castro's rise to power, and who now sees the introduction of communists into the de la Mesa household as a harbinger for an inevitably great calamity. Meanwhile, Anna's mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), increasingly dissatisfied with her career as a journalist relegated to writing women's issue fluff pieces for Marie Claire, decides to embark on her own independent research for an exposé on the (then) taboo subject of reproductive rights with unexpected - and life-altering - consequences. In her remarkable perceptivity and even-handed approach towards depicting the repercussions of transformative change and ideological awakening from all facets of social life, Gavras emerges from her father's formidable shadows and into her own luminous spotlight as a conscientious and assured filmmaker, creating a charming and deceptively lighthearted, yet incisive survey of the cultural climate in the immediate aftermath of May 68, when the disappointment of the failed national revolution was seen, not as a death knell signal to the left movement, but as a momentary stumbling towards a still vital - and seemingly within reach - global wave of social revolution, a continued idealistic euphoria that was crystallized by the ground-breaking popular candidacy of socialist Salvador Allende in Chile. Capturing the profound trajectory of young Anna's own domestic struggle to make sense of her parents' newly (re-)awakened militancy through the subtle, yet poetic closing image of Anna, no longer in the center of her own dainty, cultivated - if insular - universe, but rather, among the diverse milieu and controlled chaos of multicultural children playing in the schoolyard, the film is a potent, uncompromisingly intelligent, and refreshing portrait of the enervating confusion and sublime exhilaration of social awakening.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 24, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Rendez-vous with French Cinema

February 21, 2007

Retribution, 2006

retribution.gifKiyoshi Kurosawa's brooding, atmospheric, surreal, and sufficiently creepy, but woefully underformed and uncharacteristically messy horror film, Retribution unfolds with the formulaic familiarity of a haphazardly (and irregularly) sutured career retrospective digest. A rumpled and overworked detective, Yoshioka (Kôji Yakusho) and his partner Miyaji (Tsuyoshi Ihara) are called in to investigate the apparent murder by drowning of an unidentified woman wearing a red dress near a shallow, saltwater depression at a recently completed land fill. However, what appears to be a routine investigation soon takes on a more ominous tone as Yoshioka becomes increasingly consumed by the unusual circumstances surrounding her death. Instinctually finding a trail of clues that curiously tend to implicate him (evoking traces of Doppelgänger) and following a rash of dead end, yet seemingly coincidentally related saltwater drowning deaths where the individual perpetrators appear all too easily caught (an amnesic, viral compulsion that recalls Cure), Yoshioka continues to be haunted by the unreconciled ghost of the woman in red (Riona Hazuki), an implacable torment that may, perhaps, be rooted in the disruption of the ecological balance caused by the city's aggressive land fill construction development and waterway redistribution of Tokyo Bay - a hypothesis that seems to be corroborated by the increasing frequency of concussive, earthquake tremors that plague the area (the profound repercussions of an upended natural order that is also alluded to in Pulse). As in Kurosawa's earlier film Charisma, Retribution channels the spirit of Andrei Tarkovsky's allusive cinema (most notably, Stalker) in its somber exposition into the profound consequences of irresponsible technology, ecological violence, and the integral interconnectedness between psychology and environment. In the end, despite illustrating the pensiveness, playfulness, and intelligence that have characterized Kurosawa's prolific body of work, the motley and arbitrary (and arguably, more fascinating) pieces of the film's irresolvable puzzle are inevitably scattered and relegated to the peripheral for an abrupt turn, accelerated conclusion - summarily abandoned and forgotten like the sunken, derelict postwar buildings that have disappeared from the ever-transforming modern landscape, erased in the ephemerality of collective consciousness.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 21, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

Colossal Youth, 2006

colossalyouth.gifOn a derelict building illuminated by the crepuscular glow of a night sky, assorted pieces of furniture and household goods are intermittently discarded from upper level windows, crashing into the razed ruins below. A woman emerges from the shadows, brandishes a small kitchen knife, and recounts her fragmented tale before disappearing, once again, into the cloak of darkness. A deliberative, grey haired man named Ventura hides behind a structural pilaster protruding from a wall - made all the more monolithic and formidable by the low angle shot - as he abstractedly gazes elsewhere, beyond the frame. From this muted, elliptical, and deceptively facile (and seemingly atemporal) opening composition, Pedro Costa establishes the pervasive sense of disposability, social invisibility, longing, and desolation that would define the contextual framework for the film. For the characters in Colossal Youth, the third installment of Costa's loose triptych of quotidian encounters among a community of Cape Verdean itinerant laborers from the shantytown of Fontaínhas in Portugal, the historical landscape of the Cape Verde islands as barren land, exploited colony, commercial way station, slave port, and leprosaria institution is not a forgotten anecdote, but a suffocating reality that continues to weigh on the collective consciousness of its inhabitants, even in their migration and displacement. Within this immateriality of a haunted, unreconciled burden of past - an imprinted spiritual memory of enslavement, isolation, expendability, impermanence, and social rejection - these transitory, everyday interactions may be seen, not as polite, communal gestures, but rather, as personal testimonies of people living in the ever eroding margins of the visible, struggling to emerge from the liminal before receding into the shadows.

At the nucleus of this rended community from the demolished Fontaínhas slum is Ventura, a laborer forced into retirement by disability who has assumed the role of informal village elder to an assortment of uprooted friends, acquaintances, former colleagues, and extended family (a paternal character that evokes the musician with an inordinately large family (from a series of out of wedlock relationships) in Casa de Lava): a recovering drug addict (and titular character of Costa's earlier film, In Vanda's Room) whose awkward maternal instincts reveal her own stunted maturity, a government housing agent bemused by Ventura's vague and often arbitrary requirements for his new home, a daughter still living in the ruins of Fontaínhas awaiting relocation to public housing, an injured laborer undergoing physical rehabilitation who longs for a less hazardous job in his trained vocation as a goldsmith, a museum guard who scuttles Ventura from a gallery exhibiting Diego Velázquez paintings, his lean and angular physicality momentarily cutting a dark and sinuous figure as majestic and transfixing as the works of art that frame him (note Costa's homage to Straub/Huillet in their strategy for full representation (or proportion) framing of the paintings in Cézanne and A Trip to the Louvre), an illiterate migrant worker who enlists Ventura to write a letter to send home to his beloved. However, as Ventura's role transforms from transcriber to author - or more appropriately, ghostwriter - the love letter increasingly takes on the profound weight of his own longing and sense of despair after his lover's abandonment. Inevitably, the repeated recitation (or perhaps, incantation) of Ventura's work-in-progress, visceral prose in subtly alternating forms throughout the film becomes a reflection of the overarching structure of temps morts that characterize the encounters of Colossal Youth itself - the transfiguration of the corporeal into the ethereal through mundane ritual - in all its awkward composition, disarming humility, and poetic ineloquence.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 21, 2007 | | Comments (9) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

February 19, 2007

Play It As It Lays, 1972

play_it.gifSomething of a prelude to David Lynch's explorations into the dark side of tinsel town (and in particular, the intersecting alternate realities of his sprawling metafilm Inland Empire), Frank Perry's Play It As It Lays is a stark, fragmented, and disjointed, but instinctually cohesive, occasionally luminous (and humorous), and inevitably heartbreaking adaptation of Joan Didion's acclaimed novel on Hollywood starlet, Maria Wyeth's (Tuesday Weld) gradual descent into madness and self-destruction following the dissolution of her marriage to influential filmmaker (and erstwhile Svengali), Carter Lang (Adam Roarke) - an emotional rupture that was perhaps catalyzed by their daughter's commitment to a sanitarium for behavioral problems near the completion of their latest collaboration, a highly controversial autofiction film in which he elicited a raw and soul-baring performance from his increasingly vulnerable and fragile wife by incorporating autobiographical elements culled from her tumultuous and impoverished childhood. The film opens to an angular shot of Maria leisurely walking through the footpath of a meticulously manicured garden, symmetrically - and diminutively - framed by a pair of tall, majestic evergreens. This double entendred image of nature and construction, openness and constriction serves as a recurring metaphor into the unsustainable paradox of Maria's vacuous life of excess and profound isolation - a sense of pervasive estrangement and entrenched hopelessness that she has learned to subsume through a string of meaningless affairs, aimless road trips to nowhere, and intimate philosophical conversations (that inevitably lead to the unarticulated silence of mutual resignation) with Carter's closeted producer, B.Z. (Anthony Perkins), whose transparent double life reflects his own irreconcilable spiritual ambiguity. Evoking the demoralizing ennui of industrialized dehumanization (or, in this case, the manufactured dream world of Hollywood) of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Red Desert fused with the asequential, fractured recursion of inescapable, haunted memories that pervade Alain Resnais' Je t'aime, je t'aime, Play It As It Lays is a caustic, disorienting, and ultimately bracing exposition into the profoundly isolating process of role rejection, the human search for meaning, and self-discovery.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 19, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

Summer Palace, 2006

summerpalace.gifRecalling the resigned regret of Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy (albeit less potent) and Stanley Kwan's Everlasting Regret in its elliptical intersection of personal and (implicitly political) national history, Lou Ye's sprawling epic, Summer Palace is an adept and thoughful, if largely perfunctory and tenuous survey of late twentieth century contemporary history from the parallel perspectives (and bafflingly, the sexual histories) of a group of close knit students - a young woman, Yu Hong (Lei Hao) who leaves her provincial hometown and devoted childhood love to embark on her university studies in Beijing, her friend and informal roommate Li Ti (Ling Hu), and a charismatic student leader named Zhou Wei (Xiaodong Guo) - as the euphoric seeds of youthful idealism, newfound liberation, and social protest were germinating towards the halcyon days of the spring and early summer of 1989 in what would inevitably prove an ideological collision with the government that would culminate with the Tiananmen Square massacre (a violent encounter that is presented in such a sanitized, almost surreal manner of students throwing rocks at a burning vehicle before running away, and a flank of soldiers shooting their rifles into the air). But beyond the historical superficiality inherent in Lou's cursory treatment of contemporary history - a short-hand approach to historical re-enactment that borders on revisionism, undoubtedly fueled in part as a creative appeasement to circumvent government censorship - perhaps the key to the film's estranged and oddly sterile portrait of the toll of profoundly traumatic history on a generation's collective psyche may be seen through its evocation of a humorless (and consequently, less incisive) cultural analogy to Jean Eustache's indelible film, The Mother and the Whore in its bracing, intimate portrait of the aftermath of the failed May 68 revolution, where faithlessness, despiritualization, and the disillusionment of unrealized idealism have been displaced by the oblivion of desensitizing escape, acts of self-erasure, and an inescapable sense of dislocated, perpetual exile.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 19, 2007 | | Comments (9) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects

Exterminating Angels, 2006

exterminatingangels.gifIt's tough to find something redeeming about Jean-Claude Brisseau's Exterminating Angels, a conflated, borderline pornographic, and execrable projection of the female psyche as seen through the murky gaze of a successful, middle-aged filmmaker, François (Frédéric van den Driessche) whose encounter with an actress recounting her sexual fantasy during an interview triggers his own personal and creative journey into capturing the intersection of desire and intimacy. Auditioning a series of actresses to act out their unsimulated moments of pleasure during increasing transgressive public situations and resurrecting them before the camera, François' impenetrability over his unwillingness to cross the line between his role as artist/observer and his implication in the process of his actresses' arousal as emotional manipulator/voyeur inevitably transforms the nature of the dynamic between the filmmaker and his actresses with profound and irreparable consequences for the both the participants and the film itself. Perhaps the key to the film's opacity resides in Brisseau's allusive reference to Luis Buñuel's comedy of manners, The Exterminating Angel - the awkward encounters, polite conversations, and hollow gestures of feigned geniality that demarcate the intranscendable distance between control and vulnerability, manipulation and complicity, attraction and obsession, reality and performance. It is in this surreal illustration of moribund ritual that Brisseau's incorporation of quasi-mythology in the appearance of Delphic guardians- one of whom may have been a former protégé who decided to leaving the profession (Raphaële Godin) - that the film's overindulgent (un)eroticism seems perversely suited in illustrating the filmmaker's ambivalence towards the role of women as nurturers, confidantes, and objects of desire - the transformation of fallen angels into unreconciled muses hovering the earth in search of true, and profoundly cataclysmic, inspiration.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 19, 2007 | | Comments (7) | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects