El embrujo de Shanghai (2002)

“El embrujo de Shanghai” (2002)


Lolita, Quijote . a film within a tendency

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

This is something in the line of what Spanish cinema has been exploring in later years. This means i’m talking about a film with a well thought construction, in terms of narrative, inner references and symbolism. I’ve seen Trueba’s Belle Epoque before this one, and i don’t know the arc his career took the 10 years between that film and this one, but i wonder, even because of other Spanish recent creations, how deep is the influence of Medem’s creations in the Spanish films. His first long form was Vacas in 1992, precisely the year of Belle Epoque, which was completely free of many of the concerns i watched on this film, so i’m inclined to trust that Medem is taking his (deserved) way in influencing Spanish creators (and not only Spanish).

So here we have a narrative basis based on the already seen film within a film. In this case it’s almost literally a film since a story is told parallel to the main action, and we come to find out that story is not true, or at least, it may be displaced and distorted. This canonic structure exists exactly like this in Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, so that one came to me as a direct influence to this one. But it is interesting to understand how the invented parallel reality here leaks (perhaps) to the main storyline. Checking: the woman of Shanghai comes to us viewers represented by the girl’s mother actress; the fictitious story ends with that oriental woman being taken by the father of the girl. Forcat wears an oriental clothing which we see the girl’s father wear in the invented story. May the film Forcat tells talk about the past of the relation of the girl’s parents? i don’t know, but i liked the ambiguity of when should we place the story, or if we should consider it at all (constructed realities, dream realities, invented realities, ambiguous time lines… Medem once more).

Now take the boy. He draws. In the beginning he claims he can’t draw by heart, but than we see he makes his most important drawings by heart (the captain’s and the girl’s portraits). He draws the recently dead captain in a hurry, because he doesn’t want the image to fade away, and he grabs the world by drawing it. The same way he destroys the girl’s portrait to try and forget it.. He draws the world he wants to see, he bends the world through drawing, so he invents the dress, and imagines our Lolita naked.

We also have the old captain, who also invents the world he lives in, through reclusion. We see him the first time coming out of a closet, he creates his own character for himself, with spectacles that colour his world i direct his look. He is Quijote in the way he defines his enemies, and creates his goals. He introduces the boy to our Lolita. This is important.

The girl is closed. She understands the world through the stories she is told. Her world is what goes on in her bedroom. She has defined channels, and is clearly influenced by the “shanghai link” which is stronger because the characters in her life make the effort to link her to it. She lives on the films she is told. So in her case, films influence her life, more than her life influences the films. When Lolita’s innocence is broken down, she ends selling tickets in a cinema theatre, and doesn’t look at the client, the magic is gone. A last notice to the fact that the girl’s father made a living out of distributing cinema projectors, her mother stills lives on exploring a theatre, but the film within the film shows her father falling asleep as he watches a film.

We have another ambiguous film, in finding out what is the true version in the death of Lolita’s lover.

The boy ends the film in a nearly empty film room, crying over the innocence he also lost, and accepting the film that comes to him.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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