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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