Call Girl (2007)

“Call Girl” (2007)


about cinema:

several things i thought while and after i saw this. And there is a discussion i feel i need to bring to the table before i comment specifically on this film:

This is a film by a director who doesn’t want to be an author. He has the understanding that authorship killed the European cinema, he even states a date for that, 1963, when Fellini called his 8 1/2 “Fellini’s 8 1/2”. I get the feeling that Vasconcelos faces as snobs the authors who want to become authors. So, he falls for American cinema and rejects the way European cinema, generally speaking, is being developed now and for the last 40 years. I understand many of his concerns and criticisms, i share those same concerns, we need (in Portugal and most of Europe) a cinema industry, films that can pay for themselves and allow other films to be made, and profits to be shared. But i profoundly disagree with the implicit (or not so implicit) notion that ‘commercial’, ‘industrial’ cinema is not opposite to ‘authored’ cinema, to ‘trademarked’ cinema, and i believe that the best commercial films have deeply moving and interesting visual ideas and strong concepts behind, the same kind of ideas behind author movies. So, i disregard the separation between author and industrial creations, and i criticize Vasconcelos as having an attitude as snob regarding authored conceptions of cinema as many snob authors have regarding industrial cinema. Many of the best authors, to my view, were born into cinema producing on immense commercial contexts (Wilder, Ray, Hawks, Welles!), also many started creating in underground contexts and came to produce their important stuff to mainstream audiences (Hitchcock, Lang, Almodóvar, Kubrick, Park), and some of the most interesting filmmakers ever fought the idea of becoming ‘industrial’ and even though some became wide known, came to produce their work relatively free of excessive public exposition (Godard, Antonioni, Medem, Kar Wai). All of these ‘authors’ are people i came to admire, and frankly i think there is much more in common between Kubrick, Welles and Medem than between
Welles or Hawks or Ray.

My conviction until now is simply that we have good and bad cinema, and transversal to these idea (good and bad films) we have those which have a good marketing machinery behind, and get to be widely distributed (films by the American majors, some french Gaumont films, English productions and the uprising Spanish cinema, with its big Sogecine and the growing popularity of Spanish “authors”). So we have great films and crap material being efficiently sold and getting practically
anonymous). The understanding of whether the author tried hard to leave his trademark or instead didn’t intend to do so is, to me, secondary. I mean, isn’t Hitchcock one the most recognizable authors?, can’t we identify one of his films simply by a couple of shots? Is there anyone who sold his films so easily in his time? What is the cinema of Scorcese, Coppola or Spielberg if not big budget author cinema? is Blade Runner more easy to watch than Le mépris? Magnolia than La
ardilla Roja? I saw them, and shared with equal emotion what i understood was the core of each one of them. And by the way, and think the four i mentioned are “author” films. In my commentaries, i always try to submit all the films to the same kind of criteria, i reject the attitude of those who reject films because many people like them as i reject those who dismiss a film because it’s to “intelectual” (i think this may be most used expression these kind of opinion makers use).

I’ve been thinking about this theme for a while now, i made a fair amount of research on Vasconcelos and the way he thinks cinema before i got to watch Call Girl (i have seen most of his previous work), and i respect his vision, but had to state my point, because i think many of what i said above influences the options (good and bad) of the film i’m
about to comment.

the film:

Cinematic orthography

There were very interesting things done here, some things not that common in Portuguese films, but other things i thought to be messy.

Its main flaw might be to try to be many things at the same time. It’s not that it isn’t possible, but it’s not well solved here. So, we have someone honest, but immoral (his weak point), lots of corruption, and some redeeming issues (love?). It might be a film of social impact (Portugal SA made it 4 years ago, with a relative success), in America we might think of films such as ‘Wall Street’, ‘All the president’s men’ or ‘Wag the dog’. Can we link that to a noir driven construction? maybe. ‘Wag the dog’ did it. Here we have the detective, we have a ‘femme’, maybe fatal. Let’s talk about her:

The director (and i suppose the collective will of Portuguese film goers) is trying to define an image to our girl. She has talent, i think, she may have the looks if she’s well used, but she’s got to have a cinematic personality. By now, cinema gave us a full variety of female postures, it’s a matter of choosing what suits her best. I personally don’t think she may be Marylin Monroe, as it was hinted here, even though mixed with the idea of controlling woman as, say, Sharon Stone probably performed it in the beginning of the nineties. But i frankly think she might have been a Hitch’s blond, but as a
brunette (i personally think a Portuguese femme fatal wouldn’t be brunette… this is intuition or preconception, i don’t know). So, by now, i’d model Soraia Chaves after Novak, Hedren and Kelly. She would not suit the Hepburn-Hepburn-Roberts tradition, nor the parallel close shot tradition Falconetti-Karinna. All these women live much on the face, on the smile, on expression. Soraia sticks better, to my view, to the small moves, to the implicit actions, she is more Dietrich than Monroe. But she also has “sex stamped on her face” as Hitchcock might have said. Or maybe she has been misportraited so far in her short career. Vasconcelos compared her to Ava Gardner; it would be interesting to see Ava Gardner stick to her. Let us wait and see.

Back to the plot: we had the noir hints and the social flaws theme. But the game is opened, the mystery is gone, and besides the morality and real intentions of our girl, there’s little more to find out. So the noir, which could work, is gone. As noir, i understand the ability to place the spectator behind the specific vision of a character (here that one might have been Ivo Canelas) and let the spectator know as much as that character but with the feeling that some outer force, god, superior character is moving the strings and pupeteering the whole action, out of our site. The fact that Canelas had in fact a past relation with Soraia Chaves could work perfectly in this logic of superior forces, fate… American cinema is exquisite in the way it handles with these things. In fact, just before i went to the theatre to watch this i had seen Ace in the Hole, by Wilder (a “non”? author) and this is all there: the ambiguity on whether Douglas is writing the story or not, and than who is writing it. A film has to come embedded on these deeper notions in order to fully work. Otherwise it’s limp, incomplete. That’s a lesson one can take from American cinema, and can’t understand how Vasconcelos skipped it (since he wrote the story).
So, from the moment the decision is to let the spectator get to know everything at stake, every move, on and of “stage”, the interest in following this sticks to acting and directing. Here are the strong aspects of the film, which make the whole experience worthwhile. The last expression in Nicolau Breyner’s face is heartbreaking, that ability Breyner had to tell us so much out of a face is something i’ll keep with me wherever i go. The upper angle in that shot helps. And the
whole direction is focused, much more than the storyline or the scriptwriting. The editing is not perfect, but it is competent,
Vasconcelos has a very interesting way to “disapear” in order to bring out his stories and specific scenes (here he truly is what he intends to) so his moves are always subtle, and enough.

So, i believe we needed stronger writing here, to bring all this to another level, the kind of writing of ‘Os imortais’, which was much more clear, focused, and interesting. This one has problems with cinematic orthography, and it kills a good part of the experience

My opinion: 3/5 the acting and directing make up partially for the flaws

This comment on IMDb


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