Archive for May, 2009

Great Expectations (1998)

“Great Expectations” (1998)



space narrative

This film was directed by one o the most interesting visual minds we have working today. Cuarón knows how to work space, he knows how to move around, he knows how to find or/and create spaces that he can explore, moving around them, find the best view points. In these matters, he probably inherits Orson Welles’ investigations of the days he mastered space exploration and architecture framing. That’s where Cuarón’s mind is centered, i think. Whereas Wenders explores in a pure way bi dimensional images, where Kubrick molds films around narrative constructions, Cuarón does it with space.

Having said this, this specific film is not where he does it the more intensely. I didn’t watch this when it came out, and now that i’ve seen it i’ve already seen Children of Men and the 3rd Harry Potter. Here he probably was more constrained and had less latitude to work his abilities. Yet there are moments, attached to spaces, which are pure visual pearls. So, work your mind in the scenes of the Lost Paradise house. Watch how that space is built to be explored, how big rooms exist to make it worthy for the camera to dance with the characters. Watch how the stairway which goes down to the fountain of the first kiss is there to allow the camera to follow characters as a pretext to exploit space. These moments in the stairway are specially Wellesian. The other space explored is the Hawke’s studio in New York. The space is clear and not mysterious in the way we read it. In other words, you perceive it with a single frame, it is opened, and its composition is perfectly readable. But it is very interesting, the lighting and scale, and Cuarón uses it perfectly. I’m guessing this space is real, where the Lost Paradise is a set.

These moments, which clearly were the most impressive in the film, to me, hang on a story. Borrowed from Dickens, the story has to do with the story itself. Characters exist are manipulators or manipulated (or both, in the case of Paltrow’s character). It’s a story about who is telling the story. At least in the cinematic construction (not the book’s), characters exist to serve narrative construction, and i personally think that it is more effective, in cinema, that it goes like that. So we have to main narrators, but we are only aware of one, so is Hawke. That’s the trick, it’s clever and it certainly is effective, at least here.

I don’t like Ethan Hawke, i admit. I think he is untalented and, worse, he is arrogant in his performances. This means that he does nothing, but truly believes he is giving us something everlasting. Well, usually i’m put away from such performances (in the line of Freeman, Redford, latest Cruise…) but here, considering what his character does in the story, being manipulated in double, i have to admit he is a perfect cast. Like the actor, the character believes he controls the game, but is in fact being used.  Gwyneth Paltrow is concentrated, intelligent, and it seems to me that she works hard to integrate her characters, but her work is invisible in the final product. And that’s great…

My opinion: 4/5

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2 years

It’s been 2 years since i started the idea of this blog. A year ago i remarked the fact that i never believed i could make this last as long as i had than, specially doing it in 3 languages as i proposed. I’ve been managing to do that, and it makes me happy.

So far i’ve commented on 180 films (99 in the last year). It’s not the number of films that establishes any kind of quality of the comments themselves, but i pleases me aswell that i was able to raise the number, this second year.

Above all, i’ve been using, as i always said, the pretext of commenting films to learn about them, to learn about cinema and, as a consequence, to learn about myself. It is an adventure to be able to really explor films, with no fear, like the majority of people who watch them has. It is an adventure to get in a film, either good or bad, it’s always an experiment in which we find what we take with us, what we are. There are films that change my life when i watch them, and those are the ones i search, even when i don’t find them.

The statistics in wordpress (which unfortunately only show “on site” visits) count at this moment:

7Olhares:___ 27 827 visitas (14 290 this year)

7Eyes: ________6 700 visitas ( 3 989 this year)

7Ojos: _________8 596 visitas ( 4 422 this year)

_________43 123 visitas (22 701 this year)

To be visited gives me strenght to go on, in 3 languages. I always appreciate suggestions, on site, by email, as i have already received. Above all, i believe in the possibility that internet gives to get to know opinions, knowledge, people.

Lisboa de Hoje e de Amanhã (1948)

“Lisboa de Hoje e de Amanhã” (1948)

what now?

This is a terribly meaningful documentary for any Portuguese, certainly more now than when it was made. Placed in the right context, and with you having the right information to support it, may let you conclude terrible frightening things. I think watching now this as well as reflecting in the last 35 years of Portuguese can be more clarifying than any film, documentary, book, or anything made after April 25th and grasping the theme.

This is an example of propaganda documentary. This means we will watch a totally partial point of view, in every line favourable to the regime in question. In this case we watch all kinds of complements to the urban politics of Lisbon, 60 years ago. Basically this plan is the work of a remarkable man, Duarte Pacheco, who was not visionary, because he didn’t predict anything that wasn’t being done in other places, but he had the merit of updating Lisbon’s urban politics – which in those is the same to say that he actually created one. That plan is remarkable, though dated today, specially in the ideas of dwelling in urban contexts, in terms of typology (single and twin family houses in highly urban contexts is dreadful politics today) and social agglomeration (low cost housing, grouping all the disfavoured, also dated politics today). Of course the success and efficiency of the plan depended on Pacheco (who died 5 years before this documentary) having full power to build and destroy, without negotiating with the populations involved. More interesting than anything is the idea of the “urban lung”, materialized in the big Monsanto. Some dwelling projects are quite interesting, namely Alvalade. And of course, the rings that surround the city, is something contemporary and planned with a visionary scale (yes, here it was visionary), even though i think (not sure) not all the plan was completed.

The documentary has one great quality. It actually explains the plan, the idea, on location, on plant, on models. It does not depend of useless conceptual demonstrations, because people in those days didn’t depend on being shown iconic images as we do today. But many of the things we see there and especially most of the things we hear are perfectly laughable, and were already laughable in those days for anyone with a brain. The idea of making “monumental” so no one can be “ashamed” of the capital is ridiculous, as it is ridiculous the pride they take in grouping poor people like cattle by the more uninteresting parts of the city, while “beautiful houses” exist by the water side. Well, maybe we should treasure these commentaries, they are naive and for that less hypocrite than what we hear these days.

A much more sad thing is to think that the documentary is totally centered in an underdeveloped capital of a than terribly underdeveloped country and that the works we see being made to modernize the place were insufficient to make the city have the conditions of other European cities, and worst than that, were the only ones made in that scale in the whole country. So, we have that ugly fascist principle of making one single enterprise stand for the whole country, who slowly died in those days.

But the really sad thing is this: these guys, 60 years ago, had the same speech as the nerds we have today ruling the country. They had the speech of “this was all wrong and now we’re cleaning the country”. Basically, deviating the responsibility for their inability and the little ambition they place in the errors “someone” made in the past. So if they updated what was behind them, and for the last 35 years we’ve been updating what those guys left us, who will update the things we are Not making now? See the sad thing about this? When will we start doing something good, instead of just “making up” for what others have done? What a vicious circle.

My opinion: 4/5

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Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky (1995)

“Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky” (1995)



abstract movement

Wenders amuses himself, and in the way reflects about some general principles of cinema as an art. Several times he has made interesting films that are themselves cinematic objects and reflections on the nature of the cinematic object. His primary concern is the images. Whenever he deepens the complexity of his narratives, he is aiming at highlighting images. Those are the cases of the very recent Palermo Shooting and the remarkable American Friend: images which illustrate a story about images. When he takes out that intelligent narrative, directly sensitive to the medium, we are left with meditations purely based on images. Sometimes they work, sometimes they drag.

Here it half-works, because the project, intentionally, lacks a bigger form other than that of the interview the old Skladanowsky gives. All the black and white bits are built as episodes and inside those episodes we find other episodes (the original Skladanowsky films). Apparently this started as an academic project, so that would explain the lack of a bigger form, as well as the inaptness of some short bits. That does not explain the almost unbearable ending.

But something interested me here. Wenders picks on something left behind almost at the beginning of cinema. Images as abstract motion pictures, detached of narrative. That’s something i think is worth some time exploring, and obviously so did Wenders. So, among all the old remakes of the pioneering films, i was interested in the dance bit. Curiously enough, it is the bit which gets more attention even in the child story of the black and white flashbacks. It is the film that has to be remade. The clothing of the dancers help the effect. It’s remarkable, how it works in the eye. I’ve been spending time watching experiences like that. Besides that, there’s little else to see here. And i found totally misused the contrast between black and white footage and the color bits of the interview, which had an uncomfortable video look which put me off. The b&w was already grainy and looked old, they didn’t need to look for such a contrast to make the point.

My opinion: 3/5

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Contrato (2009)

“Contrato” (2009)



Ethic and Aestethics

It’s hard to feel more sad with a film than what i am with this. I wanted so much that this was at least watchable, but i really wish that it could grasp the dimension of the literature that supports it. This is a terribly blind film, which i won’t forget, for the worst reasons.

Dinis Machado was a remarkable man. A man who lived and, incidentally, wrote. He was intelligent and his writings, besides Molero, always fill the gaps they are supposed to fill. He knew that detective stories, and noir films, are about how you build the story, not about the story itself. We shouldn’t care (and we don’t) about characters in a noir film besides the role they play in the narrative. They are abstract beings, there to serve a purpose, outside of their existence as characters. How happy i am when i read Machado, how well and ironically he knew that it was indifferent that he signed McShade or Donald the Duck. How well he distinguished between the bones and the flesh.

Now, if any other guy was involved in this dreadful project, i wouldn’t mind too much. I am used to the common inability to transport the deepness of certain writers to the medium of cinema, in fact that’s quite a remarkable achievement when it is well done. But it embarrasses me as a viewer to see the remarkable Nicolau Breyner fail totally in this task. He is a man who understands acting in cinema as only a very restrict group of people in Portugal does. He clearly doesn’t understand direction, he clearly doesn’t control the big arch of the narrative dynamic, and the proof is that the very few watchable moments in this mess are centered around tiny pieces of good performances (topped by his own). He builds a place for his own character to show as the neglected mind, a man who had to live on aesthetics to secretly enjoy his own ethics. How close that is to the life of many Portuguese good actors. Not everything is a waste though, and i’m glad that Cláudia Vieira turned out to be nice, without being an actress. She might do well in a good project.

The film is based in a story based in Don Quijote. This book is a monument, Dinis Machado understood it, as well as many generations of writers who rooted their writing on what Cervantes materialized. Borges certainly did and so did Cortázar – despite Machado is more connected to the first, and find him much more close to the second. Anyway, Borges’s ideas of writing about writing (lead to infinite proportions), stories about storytelling are the waters where Machado successfully made his dives. That’s where the memories of this hit-man would fit, that’s the symbolic importance of the antique in this film. It’s not only about a story, it’s about the stories it is about. Think about it. It’s not only the aesthetics of the story that is at question. Fundamentally, this has to do with the ethics and meanings of storytelling. Georgios Thanatos talks about it, it’s one of the only pieces of dialogue which actually contemplates anything that matters in this stew of war sick reminiscences, skin waste and useless killings. How could Nicolau Breyner miss it?

Any Portuguese average spectator will dismiss this commentary as useless, pseudo intellectual and will stand for that position based on the fact that i am evaluating a piece of entertainment as if it was a “serious” piece of film-making. Well, as an advance, before you vote “no” in IMDb, i have to say that i believe there’s no entertainment without hidden serious thinking behind it. Now vote No.

Incidentally, last Octobre i was outside the country and didn’t realize that Dinis Machado passed away in that month. I only found out reading about this film. Double sadness. He was around, now he’s not. This is a sad day in my film watching life.

My opinion: 1/5

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Zigeunerdans af troubaduren (1906)

“Zigeunerdans af troubaduren” (1906)



This is another very old short film, by Peter Elfet, that deals with capturing, through the new medium of “moving images”, pieces of dancing by professional classical dancers.

The major thing that had to be dealt with, at this phase, was the reconversion of the choreography to be doable in front of a camera. That means they had to perform in a very reduced space, compared to a theatre stage, and to perform for a specific point, instead of the other half of a room.

This specific example doesn’t work, the designed set is not cinematic at all, since it reduces the space (although the painted trees aim at enlarging it) and brings a noise to the composition that reduces the importance of the dancer and her movements in it, which would certainly be the main and single purpose of this film.

Watch “Tarantellen af ‘Napoli'” to have something better by the same director, or watch Paul Nadar’s experiences with the same themes if you want to be amazed with these pioneer experiences. To me, this one is disposable.

My opinion: 1/5

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Tarantellen af ‘Napoli’ (1903)

“Tarantellen af ‘Napoli'”  (1903)


the other option

Watching these old tries, the beginning of motion images is always a privilege, These fragile films had to live 100 years to get to me, so no matter what they contain, they are worth keeping as live documents of not so live documented times.

Yet there are fundamental questions one should pose when we watch these films. This was an art in its beginnings, though i suspect many of those pioneers wouldn’t guess they were starting more than a technical revolution. As an art, it had to deal with a relation between a creator, interfaced by his work of art, and an observer. So what were the themes? Nowadays, a vast majority of films start with the notion that it must tell a story. Much of the good things being made today deal with reinventing ways to tell those stories. But this rude primary films usually dealt with other thing: visual movement. Literally, with no other excuse. What i’ve been observing is that cinema was an art inherited and begun by those who were already visual artists or visually concerned technicians. Poets, not novelists. So they searched for themes that were visually adequate to the idea of movement. In that context, dancing was a highly used motive.

This little piece is such a movie. I watched it with another by the same director, as well as a film by Wenders which explores the work of 3 German pioneers, and a collection of films by the remarkable Paul Nadar. All these films share the presence of dancing numbers as the key to visual reaction. The incredible thing is that, although these films have added soundtracks, they all work totally silent, without the help of music. Dance, classic ballet in this case, works in the eye, more than it does with the hear. That’s great.

In this specific number, we don’t have a story apart from the context of the very dance which is of an infatuation between a couple. Instead we have feet, choreography, which is no longer made for a room, instead for a fixed point, and we understand how that affects dancing. That’s the interest of it for me. I suppose if you are a dancer or specially interested in classical ballet you may find here substance for analyzing what has changed in that area in the past century. I saw it for the sheer grace of watching abstract movement, as a living painting, this is not the best example i watched lately, but it’s quite graceful.

Strange to think that the “storytellers” won the battle for what would establish the conventions in the minds of the viewers. Well, strange but understandable. People like to be told stories and common viewers deal poorly with abstractions when they strike them as abstractions instead of disguised abstractions (stories!)

My opinion: 3/5

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