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September 2007 Archives

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