Archive for April, 2010

O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra (2007)

“O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra” (2007)



Start with the book. It was not actually supposed to be assembled as a book, instead being worth following as a silly succession of events, week by week (the film makes that clear) Within that specific. intention, i suppose it was a success, a kind of “war of the worlds” effect, placed in the dumb still romantic bourgeois in Lisbon’s 800’s. It worked because it directly addressed the intellectual dispute between Eça’s progressive group and the older useless romantic elite. And it worked because it fed the lust for scandal of the decadent owners of the money.

But assembled as a book, drags. The writing was way less focused than pretty much anything from both the authors, probably because the texts were produced at journalistic rhythm. The story is poorly balanced, even though i didn’t feel in the book the kind of divergence between both authors as is hinted in the film. So, anything else by Eça or Ramalho is probably better than this book. But we take it for the story that surrounds it.

Than we have this film. It is, as stated by the director and co-writer, not the story of the book, but the story of the story of the book. Book/film, within the film. This is interesting, and i think “mistério…” could not have been made without taking to consideration the larger framing of the book in its context. It’s great fun with that context, it’s useless without it. So, i think the premises to the film is focused and interesting.

But than, to many liberties are taken in the adaptation, and nearly any goes in favour to make the “story of the story” more apt for modern cinematographic imaginations. In many cases they’re just useless. The focus is in enhancing the personal relation between Eça and Ramalho and make that into the fuel to the story evolution. And that’s just soap operish. And the story within, which actually Is like a soap opera in its original intentions is taken so seriously in the film, that we can’t relax and laugh with it as we were supposed to. So what began as a clever exploitation of a unique experience in Portuguese, ended up being a total mess-up. I think why so many productions like this is due to a lack of self-confidence by the people involved. Not believing that the material is good enough to breath on its own, they butcher their own products so than can become more “appealing” to the “audiences”. Well these films usually end up being a joke of themselves, such as this book is a joke on the romantics. And there were interesting clues in the original story about multiplication of points of view: basically there were several characters, that we now know were fictitious, that would tell their own version, or a different part of the story. this would be powerful filmic material, in the right hands.

Also, another problem is how productions like this, in Portugal, are incredibly broken into several pieces without existing a single mind, or small group of minds, that controls the whole thing. In the extras, there is a moment in which someone comments on how they got files from the internet with the soundtrack to try of the film! Such a small scale and there are no personal meetings to ensure things go right. I mean, James Cameron could deliver a relatively unified vision in a production that span dozens of countries, involving countless people who didn’t know each other, but here that is not done with such a small scale film. And of course that affects directly the outcome. So we have several clearly displaced actors, and among them, the countess is the more insultuous. She’s a wax figure, bloodless, even speak-less (she is dubbed so we wouldn’t have Brazilian accent on a Portuguese countess). I suppose that’s also why we have Carmen made into a cuban (?), she who in the story is a Bizet’s Carmen.

Ivo Canelas is not very talented, but he delivers passion. That deserved a better guidance, by someone who would know how to. He needs to cut that methodic crap, and start being more true to himself. That’s the method. But he probably needed something that needer Paixão da Costa nor Vasconcelos can deliver him. Guidance.

My opinion: 3/5

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Brief Encounter (1945)

“Brief Encounter” (1945)


two worlds

where this stands, and from where i see it now, this film seems to be about several displacements, and how we deal with that.

this was 1945, but the canon is still pre-Kane, pre-war. For how it portrays love, and its impossibilities, it belongs with Casablanca, and what came before. The world, and the British, were reinventing themselves, after the war, and this world, of having to choose between passion or conventions was soon to be dead. But the play is from 1937, and was kept pretty much unchanged in what it depicted. So this film is as much in between worlds, in between conceptions of love, of cinema, of social conventions, as Rachmaninoff is a modern mind living in a Romantic world.

To me this is a tragedy wearing a romance’s clothing, but as a film, this one is dated. don’t misunderstand me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Simply new codes were invented, new (or simply different) demands were infused in the audiences. To our modern ability to see, the film is overly staged, the acting is overly dated. But we do have a great female interpretation by Celia Johnson, and that sure is a strong point, because the film depends a great deal on us buying our way into the world as seen by Laura. And we do, at least i did.

But Lean is, or was to become at this point, a great director. I wouldn’t see him going so far as he did if i’d seen this movie when it was new. He relies on the heritage from older days, from expressionism, and from more recent ones, from Toland/Welles and their than recent experimentation with composition and lighting. This cinematographer would shoot The Third Man, and that’s tells us something. Still, and still considering Rachmaninoff, and Lean, i think these two mirror each other in how their work, at its best, builds images, extremely over the top, but incredibly pure and powerful. Landscapes. What Lean would give us, his Arabia, his grand vision that opposes desert to intimacy is not even hinted. Not here, where he still lives in a world of intimacies, of repressed feelings, of unachieved visions, like the visions of Paris and Venice that Laura imagines without ever getting them. Here, in this film, it’s Coward’s vision that overcomes every other vision, that’s what we’re kept with: the critic to hypocrisy, the contrast with the natural and pure flirtation of the “lower” class, the veiled hint of homosexuals in the character of Stephen.

What will stay with me is the smoke and smell, and the refreshment room. This is a film about trains, passing each other, crossing, never ending, random lives submitted to useless moral and an outdated world, that exists no more. mismatching. memories.

My opinion: 3/5

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Agora (2009)

“Agora” (2009)


metaphors, distances, ellipses

The great thing about this film is the choosing of the story, and its context. The shifting of mentalities depicted here and the riotous events, whether historically accurate or not serve as an example of what was going on. Basically the end of an age, that meant the placement of religion at the core of political, social, and cultural powering of society. So, it’s pretty apt that they developed a story around the idea of christians overcoming jews and pagans, yes, but more important, forcing Orestes (the “old school” guy) to play their political game, and wiping out Hypatia, the “last” free thinker (and a woman!).

Those viewers that care about historical “truth”, whatever that is, should mind a few things here: there aren’t enough true facts for us to be able to tell a factual story of the events, and in this film specifically, we shouldn’t take things at their facial value, but to consider them as metaphors for something. Characters stand for what they represent in their context. It’s all a metaphor, including the physical act of destruction of the library. Library, the term, referred to the books back than, to knowledge, no the physical place, and this certainly is understood by the writers here, who nevertheless use the idea of the building being destroyed, but as a metaphor. That building, which is fairly interesting [1] (even if virtual) becomes the central piece of the metaphor, and the richest thing about the construction of this film, for how they play with the idea of distances. It’s as simple as this: first, you have the “Greek school” controlling the library, and everybody else outside. Than christians take over, throw the greeks out, and make the “library” into something close to a church. The remaining Greek thinkers are thrown to the outskirts. And the Agora, center of social discussion, becomes center of riots. Who gets the library gets control, but those events leading to control take place in the Agora. And Hypatia comes to go on with her research outside the city, marginal to the new order.

There is a certain visual interest in the recreation of events, but it seems to me that there was more to the intentions of Amenabar in what concerns the use of the camera than what technology allowed him to do. The movements seem to be more mechanical than he’d probably want, because he wasn’t able to predict the spacial world as much as he wanted.

Than we have Hypatia, and the interesting thing about her is how in her we see something common back than, which was the use of science, logic, and mathematics as a path to God, to the understanding of the universe. Actually this attitude went on through the middle ages in western cultures, disguised with various names (gnosticism, alchemy, esoterism). Physical or metaphorically, this shift towards religious politics certainly has been one of the greatest set backs in western culture.

[1] – The building has a circular hole in the ceiling, and the effect is, i think, a watered version of one of our best buildings, Rome’s Pantheon.

My opinion: 3/5

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The Ghost Writer (2010)

“The Ghost Writer” (2010)


tiny spaces

This film is such a clear vision of its maker, and such clearly recognizable in its form, and storytelling family, that it becomes an instant gem.

Polanski has always been a filmmaker of small spaces, of a certain induced claustrophobia. Induced but always controlled by the director, always carrying our breath in his hands. contrasts. open spaces versus tiny rooms. claustrophobia in both types of space. The beach we see from the window of the house as opposed to the disguised prison where Ewan’s character works (in an island!). This has always been this director’s dish. That’s why his first film was shot on a boat, where the spatial limitations of the boat contrasted the vastness of the sea. Considering those films where he displays this kind of opposition, this one would team up with Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden, or Knife in the water. That’s its family. By the way, the house in this film is quite interesting as architecture for how it frames the landscape (again the open/close opposition) and, as usual with Polanski, that is very well used.

But truly, the power of Polanski’s films comes from his point of view. If the term didn’t have other meanings within cinema’s technical vocabulary, i would say that his camera is always subject. Every shot in any of his films seems to spring from a specific point of view, of someone who is neither in the film, nor among us, nor in between. It comes from the outside and above, it’s a kind of god that looks both to the world of the film as it looks at us, audience. In a Polanski film, the spectator is as unsafe and unprotected as any character in the film. That makes anything he does a natural born noir. Even when the story does not address directly the characteristics of noir, the film visually becomes noir, in Polanski’s eye.

In this case, the story does help that. It is an interesting narrative concerning a pawn, one huge manipulator, and the “detective” who will battle to uncover it all. *spoilers* Incidentally (or not) the casting is pretty apt here, since Mcgreggor is one of the most clever actors working today, so he understood his placement within the narrative (as he always does), and Brosnan is so full of himself that he is manipulated by a director as much as we come to find that his character is being manipulated in the movie. So what we have is a Mcguffin, dealing with some political corruption, that drives us to the ambiguity, which we share with Ewan (noir) and that allows us to trust no one. In the end we are given a rather predictable twist, but it’s all about how we are manipulated before that. The solution at the “beginnings” is a rather tawdry device, but still it is an apt ending, and after all, there are not many new ways to end such a story, is there? And Olivia Williams is an onscreen interesting woman, and makes the trick believable. Let’s hope Polanski, inside or outside his prison (like the house in this film) still manages to deliver us more of his precious in(out)sights.

This is the first film i saw which was released in 2010. What a great way to start a decade in films!

My opinion: 4/5

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The 82nd Annual Academy Awards (2010)

“The 82nd Annual Academy Awards” (2010)


tuning up

Well, the world has changed. So did the people (specially the people). Not being American, i never shared the prime time family moment of watching the Oscars ceremony. I suppose that would have a symbolic impact in the lives of the Americans, at least until a couple decades ago.

Not today. I mean, people still value the prizes. The Oscar is still, like Fellini would put it, the highest prize in the mythology of cinema. People care about the prize, because it is invested of somewhat a mythical proportions. It’s showbiz, and Hollywood has always known much about that, much about illusion. But today the Oscars-prizes, is a thing totally separated from the Oscars-ceremony. The first one still matters, despite its so celebrated unfairness, its so celebrated politics within, its so celebrated consideration that “the bigger the better” and that less risk in films equals higher entertainment and higher box office receipts. That’s what ruled Citizen Kane or Taxi Driver out of the award. But hey, the thing is still hard-wired in the unconscious side of film goers. But not the ceremony. That one fades, increasingly. Television cannot be the only catalyzer of audiences, it just isn’t possible, and the very idea of the gala, the party where famous people get together, with fancy dresses and fake smiles, and deliver and get awards, just isn’t appealing anymore. Not as it used to be. So in a way, these Oscars TV shows do not work for us today for the same reason that, for instance, Elizabethan plays won’t work in the same way: our minds are simply not immediately tuned to it, not anymore. We no longer immediately assume that a couple guys telling some jokes in front of lots of famous actors and directors is amusing. So, Unless the show is exceptionally well conceived, we just won’t connect. That’s why today we only care about The very best Elizabethan plays. The average and bad ones that were entertaining back than, simply aren’t anymore. That’s the thing with this ceremony.

This one was Not exceptionally well done, rather poor actually. So i didn’t connect to it. And taking out the hommages to the living “old” folks, like Gordon Willis, was a mistake. That was one of the best things.

My opinion: 2/5

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Elles (1997)

“Elles” (1997)


performance and rhythm

I don’t know how much in this film was self-aware and how much was going on on the back of the director. Of other experiences i’ve had with this filmmaker’s work, i never saw anything that might make me believe i’d see anything as clever as what we have in this film. However, this film is a good experience, a piece which was cleverly allowed to breath to the rhythm of the female performances.

The casting of the 5 leading female characters is the first great thing about this. All of them are more or less attached to a certain cultural (european) background, and in the world of film, each one became linked to a certain type of character. That is used in the writing of this film, and i would say each role was written bearing in mind specifically each of the ladies we see here. For each role there might be 1 or 2 other acceptable actress options, but no more.

The second good thing is how acting types are allowed to play freely. Each woman dominates her scene, and bends the other (male) characters to her own breath, to her own acting rhythm and style, as much as Maura’s character bends Joaquim d’Almeida to her lifestyle. The story plays accordingly, since all these women are, or fight for being, masters of their own life. So there’s a folding of women trying to live free lives into women’s different acting styles, allowed to run wild. This i think was not intentional, but it certainly works.

Another great thing, that proves my last paragraph, are the scenes in which several of these women interact and, remarkably, the one in which the 5 of them, and only them, act together in Maura’s home, and actually make a film together! I appreciated the self-reference of the thing. These scenes, specially this at Maura’s house, are great because it’s in the Lumet or Altman tradition of capturing the breath of each actress’s performance. They are allowed to breath and each performance is thrown at each other, so the richness of the scene is in how we compare them.

I’d say the general mood intended for the film was fully based on Almodóvar’s film world, thus the Carmen Maura connection. This would be, i think, intentional, and the director looked for it. But he messed that up, and it’s good he did, because if he’d insisted to hard on that, he might have wiped out the other great eventually non intentional stuff. But the writing is great, self-aware and fully supportive to the actresses. That’s why we have two writing devices that enfold the acting nature of this film:-one of the characters is herself a performer, so she is acting an actor. Her performances are vital points for two dramatic developments in the film (her daughter watching her have sex on stage, and her jealousy towards her friend). -Carmen Maura films her friends, making confessions to the camera. So they are ostensibly framed, and placed speaking to the camera, and thus to us. Great devices.

Lisbon is just a postcard here.

My opinion: 4/5, you should watch this

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