Archive for March, 2009

Palermo Shooting (2008)

“Palermo Shooting” (2008)

imagens_de_palermo1fantasporto-20092

IMDb

the german friend

Wenders’ supreme quality as an author, to my view, is that he knows that his films are not so much about what images show, but about images themselves. This is his magic, and his curse. This is why i have a shelter in his films, and why so many increasingly misunderstand them (first reviews on this one show it will go to the same package). Wenders knows this, whenever he is making a film, he is reflecting on the nature of image, and how that affects vision, and how vision affects understanding, and how understanding affects meaning, and essence.

Not few times, he addresses directly the theme, and embeds it in the plot of the film. This is such a case. Film about images. People who are about image. People who become the images they fetch. The very first scene makes it clear. It “frames” (how meaningful this word is with Wenders) a landscape, through a window of a building which is in itself all about framing. A pure volume full of square holes, all of them corresponding to a different frame, depending on moment you look, position, distance to the window. This building reflects the personality of the photographer, it is in itself a succession of frames, a closed capsule interlaced with partial views to the outside.

Than we have a story about creating images. A character photographer who loses his soul because he becomes a faker, he forgets the essence, he no longer searches for a truth in the image, instead he creates his own fake truth. Fake Australian skies reflected on S.Paulo’s windows, that kind of stuff. The introduction of Milla stands for this, as she is photographed ‘artificially’, and than transported to the “true” environment. Than the photographer retires, isolated, to a place he feels to be ‘true’ (a big port, Palermo means).

Now the big things happen in Palermo.

The woman. Her work is to recover images, it is to find the “truth” of images, it is to interpret the vision of somebody else. Those eyes of the painter, starring at the “camera”, what he was seeing is what she wants to see. Check the oppositions, check how that fresco is worked on the film: detail versus global sight, understanding versus loosing the essence, long versus short. Check how the time of an image is understood. The woman takes years working on one image, the photographer produces thousands without understanding a single one.

The Death. It’s not the death, it’s Dennis Hopper, and this matters. To see how Hopper was inserted in this project made the whole thing come clear to me, and it completed a portion of my film life that i now know was incomplete. Hopper is here the designated master framer, the man who observes life, who pulls strings (even though he is only doing his job). He is a superior agent, someone who is beyond and above all that we see. When people look at him, he looks back. He makes the record of all that, we see that, that metaphor of arrows, of “shooting” with a double meaning. So he is framed as much as he is a framer. Now, remember The American Friend. See that film before seeing this one if you can, it may strike you as 2 halves of the same idea, as it stroke me. Check how similar are the characters Hopper performs. There he was also the master framer, the manipulator behind the actions that we had. In fact he was manipulating a “framer” (literaly, a man who created frames for paintings). He used the framer as he provided the main “image”. That film, which i consider essential, was all about the same game of images. Now we have an update, on how times changed (and with it changed deeply our relation to images) and how Wenders himself changed. Dennis Hopper is the connection, and his role is pivotal.

Now, i believe that if you want to establish a successful relation to a creator you have to take his works for what they are. It’s like loving beyond infatuation, like friendship beyond day to day chat. You have to enjoy the qualities and most important, acknowledge the flaws, and you have to live with that. That’s my kind of relation with Wenders. His films in the last 10 years or so have become more and more on the verge of being an intellectual monologue, something you are supposed to sit and listen, and nod affirmatively with you head. That’s something i won’t tolerate with other filmmakers (Stone, Tarantino), but that i’m willing to put up with Wenders, because it matters to me what he has to say. If, like i did, you are able to put up with discursive dialogs, and the sensation that the man beyond the scenes is leading you to believe that he has the Truth, you may let this change your life. I did.

A side quality you might appreciate is how music shapes the environment, regardless of the scenery. Wenders was also great in understanding this, now he does it with the aid of portable music. The music editing is great

My opinion: 5/5

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Aanrijding in Moscou (2008)

“Aanrijding in Moscou” (2008)

moscovo-belgicafantasporto-2009pequeno

Fantasporto 2009

IMDb

unpretentiousness

You can hardly get more unpretentious than what you have here.

It’s elementary clear how this is made, the devices that were used, and the effective it is and this is a good thing, in this case.

Check how the story and the mood is built right from the first scene. A minor traffic accident in a parking lot, that begins an argument. The scene starts as a piece of ordinary life, goes on as a light word-based argument, and finishes in a funny mood. Notice how every word and sentence in this argument is designed to cause an immediate impression without becoming dark or even heavy. That’s the mood of the film. It lives on daily lives, it introduces deviating elements, that usually work out funny (the introduction of the lesbian theme was a great moment, among others)and with this mood evokes a sense of tenderness, what audiences may call “romance”. The fact that the people who conceived this were able to synthesize this so economically and efficiently in one single scene is really impressive. This is one of the most meaningful first scenes i’ve seen.

I place this with 3 recent comedies that among many differences share a common sense of unpretentiousness, something that admits cinema is a piece of entertainment, that things have to be successful and effective in the eye, and through the dialogues, IN the world of the film, without meaning that the film should moralize or search for superior answers to common themes. These films i saw recently are “Juno”, “Little miss Sunshine” and this one. Of the 3, this was the best, to me. It deviates from Hollywood canons even more than the other two, and that may be the reason.

It works for the performances, acting, which were surprisingly direct and grasping. I know very few or nothing about Belgian (or equivalent) acting traditions, but i am guessing (may be wrong) that this is inserted in a longer tradition of acting with fluidity, what some may consider “natural” acting. I wouldn’t dare to mistake this for “real” life, as i suppose many spectators will, but this is a really well shaped cartoon world. Representation, that’s what this is… the guy goes often to Italy, and speaks Italian many times, a language that in some of its golden moments in art is meant to “sound” instead of really “mean”.

Some cityscapes of the small town of Moscow, Belgium, is great. There was a competent eye for the city here as well.

My opinion: 4/5

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Hansel & Gretel (2007)

“Hansel & Gretel” (2007)

hanselfantasporto-20091

IMDb

three children, three threads

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

Another experience in korean recent films. I think South Korea is producing some of the best films we get these days. It feels like there’s some kind of a film school there, which still allows their filmmakers to work freely on the ideas side. The technical and imagery side of this cinema is great, some of the best photography i’ve seen recently comes from korean films.

This one could actually have been something powerful, it was ambitious, but it fails, to me.

Basically it tries to be a mix of three elements: suspense/horror, mapped into children’s drama, mapped into Grimm’s brothers tale.

.it is horror because we have a designated viewer, someone who represents us is the story. His fears are passed onto us, because what happens to him, we feel it ourselves, or are supposed to. We have a house, not specially interesting on the spatial side, except for the attic. That house is explored by the main character, and we explore it with him, and we fear all the way. Yet none of the common things of true horror films occur, and we feel heavy all the way, suspenseful, without being ‘scared’. So it’s half the way between horror and suspense. This proximity to a genre is a vessel in which the other elements are inserted. It’s interesting the safety that the ‘genre’ gives filmmakers. They know they can rely on certain elements that will give audiences several references, that won’t make them feel lost. It may be a trick for lesser filmmakers to secure they make an understandable film, or it may be a safety net that allows them to do something bigger, on the eye, or narrative. This one, i think, was supposed to be on the second case.

.there is a past to those children. Later in the film we come to understand that’s what the thing is all about. They’re family past, the whole thing about them not growing up because of the mistreatments adults gave them is the stuff that feels and gives sense to the narrative. So, we are intended to be given a twist as we fall for the children’s motivations and start facing them as victims instead of devils.

.Hansel & Gretel, the tale, structures loosely the narrative. The horror elements give the mood, establish a genre, the Grimm’s story supports the visual elements, and some plot elements. More important, it is a story, the key to the film. Notice that the main character, our designated protagonist gets free when he burns the story.

So this is all about narrative over layering and mixing narrative threads. We have three lines explore, and three children puppeteers. Get it? The thing is i didn’t connect to the thing, the film is intellectually ambitious, but failed to reach me. I suppose it had a lot to do with pacing and narrative balance. The bits are disconnected, i thing some serious revision and editing and general rhythm would have made miracles here.

The photography is intense and highly competent, though not much in the mood of what we see. Still, it’s a high mark for korean cinema. Lucky those directors, for having such artistic values at their services.

My opinion: 2/5

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Prime Time (2008)

“Prime Time” (2008)

prime-timefantasporto-2009

IMDb

television visual thinking

This is a curious case, in which the fact that film is formally and visually coherent with what it shows makes it a total disaster.

The film is wrapped around a television idea of reality show, which really is real for its contestants. The idea of a show whiches mixes with reality, to the point in which no one in it knows where reality and show begin or end. Above the basic show we see, there is a supposedly moral superiority of using television to make ‘justice’, since every contestant (but one) is hiding bad secrets. Above that level we find out someone (a woman) is controlling the big game, and bending the thing to her own personal game.

It’s a mildly interesting idea, but the whole thing is a disaster. On the story line level, not many things make sense or are interesting enough for us to care. Why the vengeance? So much trouble just because of bad work relations? Why should we care about any of these characters? they are cardboard cartoons, none of them is a real person, even their crimes are clichés.

On the visual side it gets worse. This has the look (and the appeal) of a TV show, cheap, quickly made and uninteresting. That’s where i started this commentary: being faithful to the television poor minds was the idea here, yet it ruins anything interesting this might have.

The space was mildly interesting, how provisional divisions come and go.

My opinion: 1/5

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Haepi-endeu (1999)

“Haepi-endeu” (1999)

happyend

IMDb

rule and exception

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

I am into korean cinema. They have been giving me some of the deepest experiences with recent years cinema. From the current crop of (at least) competent korean filmmakers, we have Wook-Park and Kim Ki-Duk. Both of them have added value to my life with some of their films. Apart from them i found lots of competence and thrill in other films from there.

Now i saw this. It’s impressive, not powerful and life-altering like Oldboy or Bin-jip but still worthy.

Let me remark on how this is built. The film begins and (practically) ends with 2 really exaggerated and intense scenes: it starts with a visceral obsessed sex scene and ends with a brutal killing. Both are enhanced beyond what was need to make a statement and both go a little bit beyond what we would normally tolerate in such scenes. In the middle of these scenes, we are given scenes of common, even dull daily routine. Cooking, nursering, reading, working, eating. Just that. So, the scenes are extreme moments of ordinary lives. It’s what the film is about. The killing is an exaggerated, violent and uncommon reaction to a relatively ordinary situation of adultery. The film visually corresponds to this, so we have a case of great adequation between what we see and what we are told. That is good enough to please me.

This is flawed in the way it purely relies on the effect these scenes should have on you. The risks are minimized to those two scenes and controversy they might (and did) cause. Well, i think the film works relatively well, but the scenes didn’t shock me so much (the last 10 years gave us films like Irreversible). Still, what stays is good experience, because the whole film is about making us numb and unreactive, and than shake us and suddenly wake us up. It’s relatively thin but it works, and most of all, it does it cinematically, it does it in the eye.

The artistic work is great. The cinematography is perfectly aware of colours, saturations, and composition elements. It’s beautiful, and something we see over and over in every korean film, even the worst ones. Visually, korean cinema doesn’t seem to be as depurated and abstract as Japanese imagery, instead it is a pleasant relaxed depiction of beauty, with western concepts and influences and, yet, very rooted in an eastern society. I suppose it corresponds to where South Korea stands culturally these days.

My opinion: 3/5

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Juno (2007)

“Juno” (2007)

juno

IMDb

simplicity

I’ve just commented on Aronofsky/Rourke’s “The Wrestler”. Also, i’ve seen recently a great simple Belgian film, “Moscow, Belgium”. The reason why it matters to connect these 2 films to this “Juno” is one: all of them are what you see, none of them pretends to be more than it is. They are honest, visceral, and straight-forward pieces of cinema. The 3 films caught the sympathy of the audiences (though the Belgian obviously didn’t have the distribution of the other 2). Is this important? Maybe not, or maybe it’s the sign of a tendency. Maybe the audiences are expecting to be more touched and less impressed. To be led to feel, instead of being forced to rationalize. I think that recent years have brought beautiful intellectual developments to cinema, but there is a counter-point necessary to keep films on the entertainment level, to make them invite people to watch them. Something someone like, say, Medem, did a few times. (even though his ambitious Caótica Ana was so misunderstood by the public). This Juno is a non-intellectual, visceral piece of film. It’s simplistic for better and worse. Why it had so much success is, i suppose, because it took heavy themes lightly. It avoided connecting teenager pregnancy to social breakdown, to personal lives limitations. Ellen Paige was a good cast having that in mind, as well as Simmons.

Does a film like this make my day? Does it fully satisfies me? No it doesn’t, i look for more, i want to find more in a film than what there is at first sight. I want to wake up in the middle of the night, wondering about certain things, finding out more about what the director meant with certain things. I want to carry images with me, i want the sensation that i met someone, that a director, or an actor, or a cinematographer showed something of what he has inside. But this is good enough for what it is. It’s unpretentious in the way that it is what we see. It’s intellectually honest because it doesn’t moralize. I sometimes am tired of seeing films that are totally the opposite of what they stand for, films that pretend to encourage free-thinking but themselves are all part of a big mounting-line, all the same, all boring and made following formulas. I admit, and even welcome a film as this one, for it refreshes things. But i hope this doesn’t become a rule. I hope we can still count in the future with the developments of Medem, Iñarritu or Kar-Wai.

But this IS entertaining and honest, and that was its point.

My opinion: 3/5

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