Archive for June, 2011

Once (2006)

“Once” (2006)


not touching

Several interesting comments on this film have already remarked many of the good things you can get from this film. Something to do with the mood of the suggested love story, the power of its simplicity, indeed of the simplicity of the whole production, from acting to sets. The story moves you, because you can relate to it and there are not sophisticated apparent devices nor worn out conventions that these guys use to get to us. So this is ultimately a direct honest film. It’s not real, and while in Linklater’s similar experiments one might wonder whether the film is sprinkling out of real life, here the musical insertions don’t allow you to think so. But this is incredibly direct and honest storytelling, and that’s rare and rewarding.

There are a few things worth noticing beyond that. One has to do with the love relation we see on screen. We know it to be implicit, and never assumed all the way. Different languages. The closest we get to an effective conventional date relation is when the girl assumes her love in Czech, a language the boy doesn’t understand, and which the filmmakers assume the majority of the spectators won’t either. That’s the sublimation of the story, more than any musical number, it’s that moment. On the other end of the stick, we have the boy’s attempt at a one night stand. The good thing is how the two different personalities, cultural differences, and postures, are mirrored in their musical backgrounds, and how that merges on screen. The love is in the music, is in what they come up with, how they work around their artistic differences towards a common end. This is truly a beautiful concept. That’s why it was so important that the facts of the story didn’t stop you to appreciate the beauty of the underlying concept. So powerful that these actors (who actually created the songs!) became lovers off screen, in real life. This is a very good case of an on screen relation: it hasn’t happened yet, we see it coming, we are witnesses to it.

Dublin is a witness as well, it’s a great place to film, one where suitably music is an important wheel in its spiritual routine. The sense of place is strong and well achieved here, despite relatively average production values.

The best films, indeed the best art is that connected to powerful ideas, the kind that runs underneath your skin. This is such a film, if the music was truly powerful instead of merely engaging, this might have proved an explosive experience.

My opinion: 4/5

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The Tree of Life (2011)

“The Tree of Life” (2011)



How do you watch such a film? You’ve got to lower any defenses you have. You’ve got to not allow yourself to try to make a sense out of everything you see. You’ve got to take it all, and let it enter you, just as smoothly as the film enters dinosaurs, cells, planetary evolution, or a simple living room of a troubled family. Make no judgements, consider nothing except the pure experience of being there, wherever the film takes you. Search no explanation, for there was no real rational reason other than intuition for images to be as they are.

Imagine a film about everything, with a remote storyline that talks about every theme, in every possible time of the world.

Imagine a film without a beginning or an ending. Circular meta-narratives, where you can pick up on any spot (i mean any) and you can create whatever inner narrative you want. A sky of images (like the mosaic poster of the film) where you can pick your own choices, and create whatever story you like. Or you can choose to frame the more palpable story visible in the film in whatever fashion you want. Up to you. The challenge is that you have to test the limits of your own imagination to live the film in its full extent. Nothing is predefined. Go wherever you want.

Now imagine all that delivered by someone who spent his entire film life trying to walk around the idea of plain old narrative layering. The absolute master of unrelated narratives, of off-screen details. The man who films hands and corn fields when he wants to say love; Who shoots the universe to build one of the most powerful expressions of intimacy, of mind’s solitude in the film world. Contrast.

I don’t know if this is the best film ever made. It probably is the strongest experience in film world that i got first hand, while it was coming out, new.

What is it? a film inside Sean Penn’s head? a Story framed in the universe? part of it? metaphor for it?

I’ve heard a lot about how this film is a kind of 2001. I don’t think so. Kubrick and Malick are 2 different kinds, 2 different approaches, purposes, different process, and different outcomes. Kubrick bends narratives to a point of perfection. Obsessive. Chess leaked all over filmmaking. Malick is the other end of the stick. Pure visual intuition, enhanced by Malick’s intellectual background. Just because both directors are little fond of public appearances, and because both this and 2001 feature planets, that doesn’t bring the films closer.

In 1963, Cortázar published one of the most important books of the last century, Hopscotch. The title of this comment is related to its original title, in Spanish. I think this film and that book have similar aspirations. Trace your path, you have the chapters, but you have to make an order out of them.

How this is done is in pure mastery of every tool of film conception. Every image counts, each shot was taken care with competence and passion, each frame, each camera move – Lubezki has worked with Malick, Iñarritu, Cuarón. Each collaboration adds a lot to what is being done. He really can read the director’s aspirations, and deliver nothing short of mastery. At this time he has entered enough important projects to be considered one of the best cinematographers ever.The editing is world class. Every cut, whether the space virtual shots or the family scenes, matter to the narrative, whatever that is. What takes this to a whole new level is how, in this film, Malick tops his already incredible leverage of music. Editing has always equally present the visual as well as the sound scapes. Watch it, let it get absorbed.

This film demands an incredible lot from you, as viewer. It demands that you be a different person after watching you, that indeed you may change your generic approach to film- watching, or at least that you accommodate in you a new way to watch films. On a basic level it’s about Malick’s intuitions. On another level, it’s about what you get on screen. But ultimately it’s all about how you place yourself in the universe proposed.

My opinion: 5/5

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La tumba de los muertos vivientes (1983)

“La tumba de los muertos vivientes” (1983)


wormy lawrence

The base premise for nearly any trash film is that, before anything else, it was made in order… to be made. Passion for making a film drives these makers into it. And that can perfectly be the end of the story. The film may pay off in the box office or the public’s appeal, or it can even become an interesting piece of film. But underneath its more superficial layers, there lies always a profound passion for making the film. What else would drive filmmakers and respective cast and crews into making such silliness if not fo the sake of making it?

Franco, d’Amato, Ossorio, work like this. It’s fun to gather a crew to film, so they film. With Franco, we probably get the wildest process. The films are cheap, the photography lame by any measure or time you time, and the story is absurd and skips almost every conventional rule of visual storytelling, sometimes even Kuleshov gets somehow trashed! So if take your conventional film values, taken from Hollywood, from french new wave, from Italian neo- realism, even from jarman or meliès, you’ll feel cheated. That’s not how one’s supposed to watch films. But you take the film as a passionate personal statement from someone who wanted to pick up a camera, than you may use the film as a vehicle to reach to guy behind it. Franco is capable of doing it. If you watch him speak, he’s as derivative and trashy in his speech as in his films. So you’re not seeing some story told by some guy. You’re seeing a kind of meta-selfportrait of the guy. Worth the shot isn’t it?

Having said this, this specific version of Franco’s obsessions is pretty dull, even by his standards. New phase, beginning of the 80’s, i suppose his interests shifted towards less graphical depictions (i think this is the newest film of his i’ve seen!). Two things worth noting:

-how he shoots the very few shots where his lover shows up. One of them has her wearing her panties, sitting on a sand floor while smoking a cigar and teasing two mugs just before being brutalized by the macho German who takes her to a tent. A little later, we cut to the inside of the tent, and have her laying belly down, making an effort to emphasize her butt. There’s enough passion in these scenes to push a little bit further the boundaries of the pin- up object that every woman usually is in his films. that’s nice,

-there’s a filmmaker in the story, a guy who spends little time on screen, i suppose Franco didn’t quite know what he’d make of the character. He tries (until he’s killed) to make the film of the expedition. making a film where someone is making a film, always a nice (and very 70′ though) thing to do;

my opinion: 1/5

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Marquis de Sade: Justine (1969)

“Marquis de Sade: Justine” (1969)


space frigidity

Believe it or not, i chose to see this film after i saw Malick’s Tree of Life. And i did it not because i wanted something completely different, but because i i was looking for some similarly different approach to film. Make no mistakes. Malick’s film changed my life, this is just deliberate and utter trash. But here and there, we have directors filming what they want, away from conventions. Both rely heavily on intuition, in Malick’s case supported by a heavy baggage of study and reflexion, in Franco’s case, supported only by the pure pleasure of filming, or else filming as a living attitude.

Trash films are great, because for a few moments we step outside any convention whatsoever. Sex is a given fact in most of these films, it’s called exploitation, because we are supposed to be “exploring” bodies, and sex as voyeurs. I would argue that i don’t know where that differs from most of our mainstream these days and for a while now, but that’s a different talk. Anyway, what we do have a certain guarantee that, within the production constraints, we’ll see what some guy or a reduced number of people wanted to do. That’s reassuring.

Here we have probably the highest budget of any Franco film, probably that in which he was more constrained, at least in therms of casting. The result is not so visceral, not so crazily hallucinating as some bits of others films can be, but there are some rewarding features:

-self-reflective filmmaking: Kinski’s character writes the story of both sisters as we go along. So we have a filmmaker making a film about a writer (an imprisoned one) who invents 2 parallel narratives about 2 helpless sisters, who are supposed to mirror 2 distinct postures: one is malicious, the other learns to take pleasure out of humiliation. Justine is the one we follow the most;

-in her path along humiliation, intrigue, and all kinds of sexual covet by all kinds of people, Justine walks around a number of sets. Some are forgettable, mere trees in incompetently filmed bushes. Some are just ordinary, some are well chosen places in Barcelona (S.Felipe Neri square is the most seductive of them), and some are Gaudí. This is interesting, because the cinematographers, maybe Franco himself, cared about these sets. Generally speaking, the photography in this film is quite good for what we are used to in these films. In Gaudí’s places, there is the intention to film space (notice the highly denounced use of wide angle lenses in some places, to the point of distorting the limits and focus of the image), and, in the parks’ scenes, to film the promenade along the several arches. Sex and space, that’s a fun and rewarding idea. But Romina Power doesn’t have a clue, and all falls to a walk in the park, utterly unrewarding in its biggest promise.

My opinion: 2/5

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Angst essen Seele auf (1974)

“Angst essen Seele auf” (1974)


mirrors, people, angst

Arguably, or not so much, cinema was the major driving force in the redefining of west Germany soul, for the generation born during or immediately after the war. These folks, who entered the active adult life already in the 60′ had a lot going on on their collective consciousness: The heritage of Nazism, who was not clearly well discussed (or not discussed at all), instead buried deep, of course, and specially for a Bavarian director, like Fassbinder. Guys from his generation were probably the first to address the theme, conveniently forgotten by their parents; The things going on right than, at that moment, the confrontation of Germany with the need of demographic globalization, the pressure of immigration, added to how, in the beginning of the 70′ the traditional Christian conservative society was reacting to the frictions and fractures genuinely opened in the prosperous 60′. Sex, moral, family. Everything shaken and questioned. But more important, and this, i think, is the motto that binds most German artists of this period, the deep questioning about where Germany, the former cultural beacon of Europe would fit now that it meant nothing, and was suspiciously overlooked, even by west Germans. Wenders accepted the ongoing “americanization” of Germany, so much that he supported his film imagination on American films, namely those made by some Germanic immigrants in Hollywood. Fassbinder remained highly German in his approach, and highly attached to a Germanic sense of world, even when trashing every symbol under which he grew.

This is not a light subject, a country lost in its own illusions, unable to believe them anymore, unable to believe the palliative alternative injected in a couple decades, and even worse, unable to forge new believable illusions, is doomed to self-destruction. I understand this, as a Portuguese living today, under vestiges of lost imperial illusions, under a painful sense of collective uselessness. It’s i ironic that i should have got to Fassbinder right now, in a moment when Germany seems to be willing to suppress cultural autonomy in favor of economic control in Europe. Lessons that go unlearned. But we have Fassbinder, and this film is a perfect anguished document of bygone times, and there is something to be learned here.

The man films who he is, at every painful moment. There is a very special head working here, a very disturbed one, and you can see the sense of disappointment, the total lack of hope and faith that passes through his veins. Superficially, this is the story of a relatively impossible love, condemned by society, one that has to overcome prejudice in order to exist. The improbable lovers face friends, family, and society, and than they face themselves and their own doubts. Love apparently triumphs (with an ulcer in the middle). But life is painful in the world of Fassbinder, and happiness is only the less painful option among the misery of existence. Self-destruction seems to be the only valuable way to exist in more than permanent numbness. Apart from the Emmi, who stands straight and correctly, and doesn’t give in, every character in the film, including Ali is bad, or at least terribly weak, unable to face any challenge whatsoever, easily driven away by escapism. What a mirror to Fassbinder’s life, to Fassbinder’s spirit, to his soul.

If you want to find true visual challenges in German cinema of this period, you’ll have to go to Wenders, and Herzog. In Wenders, you’ll also find a kind of mainstream version of how a west German should feel, in an ideal, Adenauer forged Germany. But it is in Fassbinder that you’ll find all the angst, all the fears, all the hopes of post-war Germans, that in a much larger extent, mirror those of the majority of western Europe. This film is a fine piece of that mental puzzle. But it is not great cinema, it does not progress, it is sensitive, even exquisite, but not groundbreaking or sometimes not more that competent. Not this film, at least for this viewer.

The camera lingers around Ali, in these days the real life lover of Fassbinder. It’s him whom the camera caresses, and even if the character is weak, he is the only one whose physical characteristics are explored and enhanced by the film. Fassbinder is a voyeur, check how he frames the 2 moments in which Ali is fully naked. Lovers off-screen transpire into filmmaking. That’s great.

My opinion: 3/5

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