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January 2008 Archives

January 27, 2008

O Sangue, 1989

osangue.gifPerhaps the most overtly Bressonian of Pedro Costa's body of work (albeit suffused with the brooding shadows of a Jacques Tourneur film), Costa's first feature, O Sangue, nevertheless bears the characteristic imprint of what would prove to be his familiar preoccupations: absent parents, surrogate families, unreconciled ghosts, the trauma and violence of displacement, the ache (and isolation) of longing. The thematic convergence is insightfully revealed in an episode that occurs near the end of the film, when the older brother Vicente (Pedro Hestnes), having been held captive by his father's nefarious associates on New Year's Eve in a half-baked attempt to collect his father's unpaid debt from him, awakens in the darkness of an unfamiliar apartment to the sight of a restless silhouette on the balcony - the shadow cast by his father's mistress (Isabel de Castro) that has been made spectral and incandescent by the transient glow of exploding fireworks and the sweep of wind against translucent curtains (a sense of otherworldliness that also reinforces a captor's earlier idea of conducting a séance in order to contact Vincente's missing father). Costa establishes this sinister atmosphere of sudden, erupted violence in the film's opening sequence: the prefiguring sound of a slammed door and scurrying feet that subsequently reveals a frontal shot of Vicente on a muddy road as he is suddenly slapped by his wayward father while intentionally blocking his path, trying to prevent him for leaving by imploring him to show consideration towards his younger brother Nino (Nuno Ferreira) who has been left home alone in the middle of night in pursuit of him. Cutting to the image of Vicente riding his scooter through the empty streets at twilight, and subsequently, the schoolteacher, Clara's (Inês de Medeiros) realization that a student, Rosa (Sara Breia) has run away from school with Nino, the image of dislocation and fugue also becomes a resurfacing idea, a reflection of the characters' own desire to reinvent and transform in the aftermath of loss that is reflected in Nino's impulsive attempt to rearrange the furniture, and his subsequent request to similarly dress Vicente in his clothing while accompanying him to school after their father's disappearance (a longing for change that is also implied in Clara's selection of a new haircut for Nino). However, when Vicente and Nino's skeptical uncle (Luís Miguel Cintra) pays a visit and finds the brothers home alone on Christmas Eve with Clara, his heavy-handed, if well-intentioned decision to take Nino away from home and form a new family with his fragile son Pedro (Miguel Fernandes) would lead the brothers into their own journeys of self-discovery in their isolated quest to return to their broken home.

It is interesting to note that in illustrating the brothers' (as well as Clara's) subverted attempts at escapism (and figurative erasure) - the persistence of a haunted past (an apparent allusion to Tourneur) that is ingeniously reinforced in the discovery of a body on the lake near the fairgrounds where Vicente and Clara go on a date - Costa introduces the idea of an irrepressible, hidden history that continues to haunt present-day consciousness. Costa expounds on this theme of place as the eternal witness to a deracinated history in evoking Cape Verde's tragic legacy (as leprosarium and slave port) in the moral contamination of the forgotten residents in Casa de Lava, as well as the concentration camps of Tarrafal (in Tarrafal and The Rabbit Hunters) that perpetuate a sense of moribund captivity to a contaminated, dying land. Similarly, the contrast between the abandoned, rural family home and the sterile, anonymous apartment buildings where the brothers are held against their will in O Sangue may be seen as a prefiguration of the Fonthainas diaspora itself, from the transitory sanctuary embodied by dilapidated, condemned spaces (In Vanda's Room), to the soullessness of uprooted communities represented by impersonal, high density, public housing (Colossal Youth). In this respect, Vicente and Nino's instinctual struggle to escape also represents a moral captivity to a traumatic history, an elusive homecoming that paradoxically embodies both liberation and surrender to the will of fate.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 27, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Pedro Costa

January 21, 2008

Umut, 1970

umut.gifPart social realism in its searing depiction of the plight of the underprivileged against the transforming economy of an increasingly modernized Turkey, and part poetic essentialism in its psychological portrait of a desperate man succumbing to the mania of a delusive, blind faith, Yilmaz Güney and Serif Gören's Umut (Hope) captures the precarious atmosphere of a nation at a political and economic crossroads. The cultural climate of transformation and renewal is prefigured in the film's opening montage - an impromptu city symphony created by the early morning rituals of road washing trucks, sidewalk sweepers, street vendors, billboard gazers (not coincidentally, all advertising banking institutions), and waiting taxicabs that play out against a dozing Cabbar (Yilmaz Güney), an uneducated cart driver waiting in the wings of a station for commuters to arrive at the terminal. Immediately, the passengers' selected mode of transportation reveals an intrinsically bifurcated society, as people wearing modern, Western attire make their way towards a row of idling taxis, while people dressed in traditional clothing invariably board horse-drawn carriages lining the front of the station...that is, all except for Cabbar's shabby and woefully old-fashioned cart. Already leading a hardscrabble existence as the family's sole provider - one that includes five children whose financial demands for school expenses and playful whims are often weighed against the more fundamental needs of having enough food to eat and proper health care for an elderly parent - and plagued by compounding debts that have accumulated in the course of establishing (and maintaining) his out of fashion livelihood, his situation takes a further turn for the worse when a roadside accident delivers a tragic, final blow to his already struggling enterprise. Left without a means of earning a living, Cabbar follows the advice of his unemployed friend, Hasan (Tuncel Kurtiz) and seeks guidance from Hüseyin Hodja (Osman Alyanak), a mystical imam and village faith healer who would soon lead him away from his family in search of an elusive, ever-shifting panacea amidst the desolation and rubble of a parched, forgotten land.

In a way, Umut may be seen as an adumbration of Djibril Diop Mambéty's Le Franc in its cautionary tale of an insoluble debt that has metastasized into a vicious circle of delusion and gullibility, and the parasitic dependency created by institutionalized, arbitrary, windfall mechanisms that systematize poverty and disenfranchisement. This moral passivity (and consequently, victimization) is introduced in the establishing images of Cabbar: initially, through an incisive shot that frames a wash truck approaching his cart as he sleeps in the foreground, figuratively washing him away, in his oblivion, from the streets in the automated sweep of modernization; then subsequently, from his repeated requests to check his lottery ticket at a newsstand against the day's winning numbers, unable to read the posted numbers on the newspaper himself. At each instance, Cabbar's daily ritual is presented against undermining acts of intervention that render his apparent self-reliance an illusion. Visually, Güney and Gören reflect this rupture between perception and reality through the jarring juxtaposition of interstitial, highly formalized, chiaroscuro landscape shots (often resembling cutout animation) against rough hewn, neorealistic images of struggle and despair. Moreover, Cabbar's decision to follow Hodja's visions also represents a conscious, if unwitting, disempowerment in lieu of direct action and sociopolitical engagement: a rejection that is also suggested in his recusal from a planned cart driver strike, citing the confiscation of his vehicle. In essence, Cabbar's relegation of destiny into the hands of impotent fate reveals an underlying social schism - a division that is implied in the foreshadowing shot between modernity and tradition at the station - that, in turn, exposes the folly of inaction. Concluding with the image of a blindfolded Cabbar aimlessly turning in circles to divine his fortune, Umut illustrates that despair lies, not in the absence of hope, but in its hollow, inert persistence.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 21, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

January 18, 2008

2008 Film Comment Selects Program Line-up


The 2008 Film Comment Selects program has just been announced. Highlights include the opening night screening of Jacques Rivette's latest film, The Duchess of Langeais, a late night screening of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, the retrospective screenings of Philippe Garrel's J’entends plus la guitare and Trent Harris's Rubin and Ed, a spotlight on Richard Fleischer, and a sampling of Damon Packard's unclassifiable cinema. The closing night will feature Alex Cox's Walker and Searchers 2.0.

George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero)
Thu Feb 14: 10:30pm

The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette)
Fri Feb 15: 6:00pm

The Banishment (Andrei Zvyagintsev)
Mon Feb 18: 6:00pm; Wed Feb 20: 3:00pm; Mon Feb 25: 2:00pm

Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot)
Sun Feb 17: 6:45pm; Thu Feb 21: 3:15pm

Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas)
Fri Feb 15: 9:45pm

Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani)
Mon Feb 18: 9:00pm

Container (Lukas Moodysson)
Tue Feb 26: 2:15pm and 9:15pm

Dark Matter (Chen Shi-zheng)
Wed Feb 27: 8:15pm; Thu Feb 28: 1:00pm

Dust (Hartmut Bitomsky)
Wed Feb 20: 6:15pm

The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
Sat Feb 23: 4:30pm

Ex Drummer (Koen Mortier)
Sat Feb 16: 10:00pm; Tue Feb 19: 3:30pm

Flash Point (Wilson Yip)
Sun Feb 17: 9:00pm; Tue Feb 19: 1:30pm; Fri Feb 22: 4:00pm

Frontière(s) (Xavier Gens)
Fri Feb 22: 9:00pm; Wed Feb 27: 2:15pm

Import Export (Ulrich Seidl)
Sun Feb 17: 1:30pm; Wed Feb 20: 8:15pm

Inside (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo)
Sun Feb 24: 9:00pm; Tue Feb 26: 4:00pm; Wed Feb 27: 6:30pm

Joy Division (Grant Gee)
Sat Feb 16: 7:30pm; Wed Feb 27: 4:30pm

Schindler’s Houses (Heinz Emigholz)
Sun Feb 24: 3:45pm

Wolfsbergen (Nanouk Leopold)
Sat Feb 16: 5:30pm; Mon Feb 18: 4:00pm; Wed Feb 20: 1:00pm

A Wonderful World (Luis Estrada)
Sun Feb 17: 4:15pm; Mon Feb 18: 1:30pm; Fri Feb 22: 1:30pm

J’entends plus la guitare (Philippe Garrel)
Mon Feb. 25: 8:30pm

Rubin and Ed (Trent Harris)
Sat Feb 23: 7:00pm

Mandingo (Richard Fleischer)
Sat Feb 23: 2:00pm

10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer)
Thu Feb 21: 1:00pm; Sun Feb 24: 1:30pm

Reflections of Evil (Damon Packard)
Fri Feb 22: 6:15pm

Damon Packard’s Greatest Hits (Damon Packard)
Sun Feb 24: 6:00pm

Walker (Alex Cox)
Thu Feb 28: 6:30pm

Searchers 2.0 (Alex Cox)
Thu Feb 28: 8:30pm

Posted by acquarello on Jan 18, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

January 15, 2008

Screening Alert: Nicolas Klotz's La Blessure at MoMA

blessure_moma.gifThis is a quick note that Nicolas Klotz's La Blessure will be screening at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as part of the Pierre Chevalier program, The Age of Chevalier. This was my favorite film from 2005, and is one that I continue think about, especially in light of incidents like the Amsterdam airport fire and the civil suit of a deported asylum seeker in 2005. I can't recommend it highly enough. Filmmaker Nicolas Klotz and screenwriter (and author) Elisabeth Perceval will introduce the film.

Screening on February 29, 2008 at 8:15 p.m at MoMA Titus 1.

P.S. Here's the link to the French trailer for the film that Harry Tuttle alerted me to. (Thanks again, HT!)

Posted by acquarello on Jan 15, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes

January 13, 2008

Voyage to Nowhere, 1986

voyage_nowhere.gif"One should remember", reflects a somber, elderly Carlos Galván (José Sacristán) at the beginning of Voyage to Nowhere as he listens to an old recording by popular folk musicians, the Trío Calaveras. Commenting on the melancholic lyrics of denial and abandonment of a shared history in the aftermath of lost love, Carlos, too, seems to betray traces of his own uncertain memory in his tentative identification of the song's title. Alternating between past and present, Carlos recounts his former career as a comedian in the family's road theater variety show in 1950s Spain, a difficult, but beloved vocation that even briefly held the possibility of becoming a family tradition when Carlos's estranged teenaged son, Carlito (Gabino Diego) unexpectedly arrives to stay with him for an extended visit, much to the consternation of Carlos's lover and fellow performer, Juanita (Laura del Sol). But Carlito's introduction into the life of itinerant actors would prove to be far removed from the workings of divine providence. Showing little interest in the flamboyant costumes and spectacle of variety theater (calling their exaggerated performance "ridiculous") in favor of the austerity of neorealism that infused the New Spanish Cinema of the 1950s, Carlito also proves to be unsuited for a career as a stage actor with his awkward poise, poor memorization skills, and self-consciousness over his Galician accent. Faced with an uncertain future of continued government censorship, non-committal, short-term contracts, and last minute cancelled engagements (including one unwittingly sparked by Carlito's flirtation with an impresario's daughter), the troupe's manager, Maldonado (Juan Diego) convinces the actors to follow the advice of an erstwhile rival turned successful filmmaker Solís (Simón Andreu) and capitalize on a film crew's forthcoming location shooting in the village to solicit work as extras in order to make ends meet. However, when family patriarch and veteran stage actor, Don Arturo (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is fired from the set after repeatedly delivering his lines with the conscious theatricality and emotive gestures all too familiar in his old-fashioned craft, the troupe is forced to confront its own continued viability in a livelihood that is quickly becoming a cultural relic in the reality of ever-dwindling audiences, separation, and insolvency.

An elegant prelude and illuminating companion piece to Carlos Saura's ¡Ay Carmela!, Fernando Fernán Gómez's Voyage to Nowhere chronicles the turning fortunes and endemic poverty that had befallen the itinerant, road theater performers during Franco-era Spain, resulting from both strictly enforced censorship within the regime's repressive agenda of instilling a selective national culture, and an out of favor, traditional form of entertainment against the popularity of a vital cinema. Weaving truth and fiction, memory and imagination, personal history and anecdotal transposition, Carlos's rambling memoirs reflect a nation's sense of disorientation and irreconcilable history under the shadow of the Franco regime as the country emerged from its isolation after years of political turmoil from the Civil War and the Second World War with a revisionist - and institutionally imposed - cultural identity. In a sense, the obsolescence of the road theater in the wake of popular, internationally influenced cinema is not only a supplanting of the artisanal with the technological, but also captures the public's sentiment of dislocation and penchant for escapism that, in turn, reflects a broader symptom for the country's social polarization and class stratification engendered by repressive policies of the ruling elite (an inhuman disparity that is also captured in Mario Camus's The Holy Innocents). It is within this incongruent image between the mundane and the exotic, fame and obscurity, that Carlos's imagined screen encounter with the iconic Marilyn Monroe becomes, not the fanciful delusion of an aging, forgotten actor, but the liberation of haunted memory in the equilibrium of time.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 13, 2008 | | Filed under 2008

January 6, 2008

The Adversary, 1972

adversary.gifWhile not as overtly political as contemporary filmmaker Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray's early 1970s films similarly capture the volatile climate of geopolitical unrest, profound social transformation, and domestic crisis stemming from the introduction of Naxalism into an increasingly radicalized Calcutta student movement. In a way, The Adversary represents this fomenting cultural revolution in its bracing idealism and cruel desperation. The film prefigures this atmosphere of destabilization and turbulence in its disorienting opening sequence: a high contrast, monochromatic negative image that follows a group of pall bearers making their way through the hallway and down the stairs of an apartment building, as a newly widowed woman, her face made unrecognizable by the transposition of black and white, laments her uncertain fate in the aftermath of her husband's death. Rapidly tracking towards a lone, seemingly luminescent figure made even more ethereal by the wafting of smoke, the image then reverses to reveal a somber Siddhartha (Dhritiman Chatterjee), the widow's son, standing near the edge of a smoldering funeral pyre. Siddartha's figurative embodiment of the commutation between darkness and light, life and death, individual and doppelgänger becomes a reflection of Calcutta's - and more broadly, the country's - bifurcated, postcolonial society as well.

This intersecting crisis of personal and national identity is initially suggested in Siddartha's encounter with an apprehensive job applicant at a crowded botanical survey recruiting office who frets over the likelihood of the interview being conducted entirely in English. Not surprisingly, the surreal opening sequence would prove to be a harbinger for Siddartha's unusual interview as well - a disjointed, three panel inquisition that would run the gamut from knowledge of civic history (in a question that exposes the country's at times reactionary sentiment towards British rule), to curricular proficiency, to existential purpose. But despite having answered their questions handily, Siddartha finds his hopes for a position within the company extinguished by the panel's reaction to his response over his expressed opinion on the most significant world event within the decade. Responding with the Vietnam War over the far less controversial advent of the moon landing, Siddartha proposes that the continued resistance of everyday Vietnamese people intrinsically reveals humanity's ennobled resilience and capacity for great struggle against insurmountable odds. However, rather than a comment celebrating the indomitability of the human spirit, the panel interprets his response as an indication of Marxist tendencies and a sympathetic approbation of the left movement, and curtly dismisses him from the interview. Spending his days in fruitless pursuit of dwindling job prospects, Siddartha witnesses first-hand the toll of poverty, radicalism, and cultural imperialism on a city in a state of perpetual flux: a matinee newsreel hailing the country's seemingly unreaching economic development under Indira Gandhi as the theater is thrown into chaos by the sound of a detonated terrorist bomb; his unemployed university friends' unapologetic theft of a charity collection can; the rampancy of Western tourism that reveals the country's ingrained, subordinate international status as a result of its colonized history; his sister's increasingly liberated (and consequently, publicly scandalous) behavior since becoming the family's sole breadwinner.

Based on the novel by Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay (who also wrote Days and Nights in the Forest), The Adversary is the second film in Ray's loosely defined Calcutta trilogy that portrayed the experiences of university-educated young men as they seek to establish their professional lives in the midst of social upheaval. From the introductory, dual image of Siddartha, Ray illustrates an upended society that has lost its identity and soul in the face of extremism and economic polarization. Visually, this dehumanization is revealed in the film's opening sequence, where the stark and otherworldly images reflect the often grotesque nature of the country's postcolonial transformation, as the country's emulation of Western paradigms as a means towards modernization and progress has led to an alienating and deeply divided culture of outmoded traditions and exploitive enterprise. Moreover, this image of a rended society is also reflected in the recurrence of fractured families throughout the film, from the death of Siddartha's father, to the rumored affair between Siddartha's sister and her married employer, to his friend's disclosed relationship with a common law wife, and finally, to his former classmate, Keya's (Jayshree Roy) strained relationship with her father following his decision to remarry his mistress after her mother's death. Concluding with a freeze frame of Siddartha on the balcony of a rural hotel in Balurghat, his journey from his beloved city is also a sentimental estrangement, a self-imposed exile from the entropy and dissonance of the city towards the reassuring, familiar cadence of a patient, eternal land.

Posted by acquarello on Jan 06, 2008 | | Comments (12) | Filed under 2008