Archive for May, 2011

Badlands (1973)

“Badlands” (1973)

IMDb

floating

Taken as it is, if you know absolutely nothing about this film prior to watching, or if you haven’t seen any of the films Malick did after this, i think nevertheless you’ll find here a fine piece of cinema. This is solid within any measure you consider for such a type of film. A kind of anti-film, an expression of mood instead of story, contemplation instead of reflection. The 70′, in the twilight of the 60′ were ideal for this. This is not about changing the world as much as it is about contemplating it, being in it, or deliberately outside it, while acknowledging it, like the characters in this film. That’s why in the 70′ we had the more truly introspective and deep antonionis, we had mood creation even in the underground stuff of Monte Hellman’s cockfighter. And at this point, we had the unknown Malick, whose background is one of philosophy and not of cinema. He is a thinker more than a filmmaker.

Yet he delivered in his few cinema iterations some of the most profound visual experiences ever. Here he sticks to the mood formula, i guess because this is his first film, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t stretch the chances more than he felt he’d control them. So he delivers a recognizable shape of a film, while pouring in it the juices of what he would master, in later years. The genre is fully hardwired in film goers all over the world, it is a classic in American film. But Malick’s intentions are elsewhere. He’s no Coen, never wanted to be. He doesn’t want to pick a genre and subvert it as much as he wanted to disembody the whole picture. That’s why he chose this story, about to characters fully dropped in the nothing, successively killing all the links to a regular recognizable world. The latent madness justifies what Malick does. And what he does is interlace bits, fragments of countless motifs. Parallel narratives which make no sense to the main narrative (if there’s any) other than just being there.

One of the best compliments i can make to a film and a filmmaker is that he or it are able to place us in a specific more or less possible alternative world. That’s the main goal of film. Malick pushes that goal further. We are never in the film. Instead we float around, uncertain about where or when we are, or more fundamentally, what we are, as viewers, what’s our placement in the narrative.

This film is still pretty raw, we see the intentions (now that we’ve seen what he built after this) and there are bits of the film where we get to that state of undetermined wonder. But this is just a sketch. The man was just starting! New World and Thin red line reached really high. And i suspect the Tree of Life might be as big a step as those 2.

Sissy Spacek, what a film girl, what a look, such self-aware innocence. How good a Lolita she might have been, had she played it.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb

Advertisements

A Bela e o Paparazzo (2010)

“A Bela e o Paparazzo”

IMDb

hyde and hyde

It’s a hard thing for a Portuguese to comment on Portuguese films, whether they please him or not. The thing is, Portuguese cinema, no matter on which grounds it walks (in Portugal the question is reduced to films being “commercial” or “artistic”) is always to be consumed internally. There is absolutely no international projection for any Portuguese films. Two authors make their way outside, Pedro Costa and Oliveira, but they are directed to very specific and relatively restricted audiences, and even if they had larger numbers of ticket buyers, that still wouldn’t be mildly enough to carry the rest of the production with them. Part of the problem seems to be in the very equation of the problem. Most of the commentators waste time babbling about how “Portuguese cinema” taken as an organic autonomous being should be made “to sell” to as many people as it can or “to please” the critics who will decide on its qualities. According to this leaderless common sense theory, these 2 aspects are incompatible. For those standing for this, “American cinema” (another pointless expression given the simple vastness of what it refers to) should guide the way.

Why does it matter to reference this while commenting on this film? Because, among many characteristics, its director is someone who spends a lot of time addressing this problem. It’s not a light subject. I believe cinema can truly be a blessed medium to address matters of collective identity, national concerns. What better document to understand how the American and soviet governments tried to bend the minds of the public during the Cold War than their cinema? So of course i am deeply concerned that in Portugal we haven’t been able to sustain a constant narrative of our national themes. Even more that the majority of our films are simply not worth watching.

That’s the other face of the problem. The true thing is not that each director chooses to “be” commercial or to “be” an author. That’s just fireworks to consider it. The real problem, associated with the dreadful distribution devices, is that the films simply aren’t good enough to deserve the attention of a national crowd, less more of an international one. I admit, the Portuguese public is much harsher on a Portuguese film than it is on an American one. In other words, people will be willing to admit certain things in an American film that will promptly dismiss in a Portuguese one. But even if it’s that not fair, it should raise the bar, and produce a reaction on Portuguese filmmakers.

Now we have Vasconcelos. He’s been around for quite a while now. With his effort and his merit, he has been able to shoot throughout the years. Not as much as it would be desirable for a professional director working under a healthy film industry, but he’s had his chances. What legacy does he leave? What qualities has he brought? He imported models, and made them worse by not adapting them, most of the times. His recent work, for the last 12 years, has been to grasp one after another American genre, and deliver it as unchanged as possible. As American as possible. Filmmaking by the numbers. Trying to achieve recognition by doing exactly the same as others did somewhere else. What’s the merit of that? It’s not about where you place yourself within the world of film. It’s about whether you work as a hack or as a genuine creator. You don’t have to be a genius. If you take Hollywood, or the french new wave, 2 dear references for this filmmaker, most of their protagonists are pretty far from being geniuses. Most of them simply adapt to the circumstances, and go with the flow. But competence is necessary, honesty in the adaptations as well.

This film isn’t honest, and thus fails. As a Portuguese, i see nothing here. I’ll admit a similarly targeted film coming from the American market, because i’ll see it as a piece of the puzzle, a bit of its industry. And most of those films, even the worse ones, are still more apt than this one. To do this, to use an always rare chance to do a genuine Portuguese film, no matter how it would be done, and to blow the chance away doing this, that annoys me. That irritates. There is no speech to make up for the pain to watch it. film is more fiction than life, i’ve always stood for that. But in lying about real life, it conveys a larger notion of reality. That was true about the Portuguese comedies of the 30′ and above all the 40′, those films so dear to this author, which references them here, at the beginning of the film, with a character literally watching an old Portuguese classic. While being politically sponsored films, cleverly twisted to become a critic to its own sponsor, those films became the propaganda and its reverse, a fine portrait of the contradictions and tensions of those days. Where is that here? What is the point of entering the contemporary world of stupid soap operas that dominate Portuguese television and dumb people only to produce a film which is as vapid as any of those soaps. To talk about the problems only to become part of the problems, that has been the latest developments of this filmmakers career.

I usually am annoyed when i watch a bad film. Sometimes i amuse myself with parallel things related to the film. But nothing hurts more than to comment like this on a Portuguese film.

My opinion: 1/5

This comment on IMDb

4 years

I mark another aniversary of the blog. Last year, for several reasons which i don’t need to mention here, the rythm of publication has been remarkably lower than in previous years. So far, i’ve commented on 305 films (41 last year).

During this year, i gave up, temporarily, to update the spanish version of the blog. Time issues. I hope i can resume publication in 3 languages in some near future.

WordPress statistics, which contemplate only on site visits state:

7Olhares__________53 154 —– 9 916 last year

7Eyes_____________16 894—- 3 933 last year

7Ojos_____________16 432—- 1 954 last year

As always, i appreciate the visits, i appreciate you read.

Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

“Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec” (2010)

IMDb

diving on a pool

In the same film festival, i watched the 2 newest films of 2 of my favourite french directors working today. Jeunet and Besson have stimulated my cinematic imagination, thus my dreams, with pieces of his previous work. Now, with their newest work, they both took a vacation. It’s relatively worthless from any of the points of view that mattered in what they did before. But in Jeunet’s Micmacs, we’re still left with many of the superficial elements that built his style and made us partially fall in love with his work in the first place: the filtered photography, the use of colours, the insuperable space use, the quirkiness of the world. It was flawed, it was ultimately pointless, even preachy, but its flamboyance made up for the lack of a real content.

Not here. I fear we may have lost Besson as a serious filmmaker. I say more, i think it may have been the cgi that got into his once purely visual way to conceive his shots, that built him a mood, usually used to support a poetic way to see the world, and Besson’s personal obsessions. We had that from an early stage, from Dernier Combat, to the love letter to the ocean which is Atlantis. Léon stands high on my list, for several reasons. Than, in recent years, he’s been working on some animated films, the Arthur series. I’ve tasted the first, and didn’t like it, because the animations are, at most, ordinary by today’s standards, and that fluidity, that flows from the narrative, through the camera, to us, viewers, which has always been the greatest strenght in Besson’s films, was gone. No trace of the man who once was a diver, and took his diving skills to the world of film world.

This Adèle is something that comes after Arthur (or in the middle of it). As a script, as a story, it provided Besson with the same visual possibilities as, say, Fifth Element. Lots of sets, lots of places, action scenes. All pretexts to make the image swing and carry us with it. There seems to be an off-screen obsession with the main actress, and that’s the most valuable element of the film. We see her repeatedly caressed by the camera, that elevates her, empowers her, makes us love her a bit. That’s the good part. But the dinosaurs, the mummies, all that skips Besson’s control, all that is the work of computer experts and, to this moment, it is clear that Besson is still not able to manipulate the animation as he has proved more than twice that he can manipulate the real camera movements. But he seems to be interested in exploring this, beyond his producer’s role. If he succeeds in controlling these tools, we may have something memorable. If he doesn’t, well, than we lost a clever filmmaker. His move now.

My opinion: 2/5

This comment on IMDb