Archive for December, 2011

Meu Tio Matou um Cara (2004)

“Meu Tio Matou um Cara” (2004)

IMDb

description layer

Narrative is the soul of a film, isn’t it? Even when that near evidence is contested by the filmmaker, we seem to want to find a story wherever. Is that hardwired in our imagination? is it a cultural acquisition? It’s meaningless. We do find stories, and that is important if we want to understand where most of our art comes from.

Cinema is, so far, the ultimate narrative medium, the one where the deepest transformations have been invested, in terms of storytelling, narrative invention, etc. That’s because cinema is a conglomerate of other activities, with millenniums of existence, plus the power of moving image, something always wished, but never achieved until cinema appeared (some cave paintings already tried to replicate movement!).

So, if you are serious in seeing films, and understanding the medium, you have to wonder about how the story of storytelling evolved. Some names are fundamental. Others not so much. Jorge Furtado is one of this latest. He’s is relatively unknown outside Brazil, but I do think that anyone should be exposed to his work. He is one of the most clever film writers ever. I mean ever. More than 20 years ago, while still not making features, Furtado created a memorable short piece, Ilha das Flores. There he picked up on something Welles had been doing in the 70′, and thinking about it since the 50′. What has been commonly known as “film-essay” is where Furtado left advertising and entered cinema. And he hasn’t left that world ever since, having written golden pages and pushed the medium a huge leap ahead. That’s how much I admire his work, how much i take him into consideration.

This film is another exercise in narrative layering, narrative stance, and self-reference. All in one. We start with a regular story, here about a supposed murder. This story is already filled of versions, which we get to know as the film develops. The uncle’s version is full of gaps, and we get successive evolutions to the initial statement “I killed a guy”. Than, Furtado centers the film on a character, stranger to this main storyline that we pitched. We hear the inner voice of that character. He’ll be our designated detective, our surrogate on-screen. But that voice never narrates what we see. Instead it comments on what we see, intersecting it and mixing it with outside references, filmic or not. A voice that comments on the main story and its characters. So that’s 2 layers now, one of them purely self-referential. Add to it the story of this narrator character, something to do with teenage (mis)adventures and love stories. Now it’s a third story, a third layer, which will punctually intersect the first one, and even overlap it from a certain moment on. The second layer, that of the inner voice, is all around, soaking the other two and how we watch the film.

**spoilers** The convincing ending (from a cinematic point of view) comes out of the successful overlapping of all the layers, to allow for a funny (from genre’s point of view) conclusion, which is itself highly self-referential: what gives away the whole plot is a set of photographs, who reveal both Kid and Soraia. Those photographs, documenting an event we never actually see except by glimpses, given to us after the conclusion, have an order that matters and tells a story, a 4th narrative layer that concludes the other 2. There’s a funny side play with the photos, that tell a different story when its order is changed, thus helping the uncle to maintain his status as an idiot.

As a film, for what it means, this is pretty superficial, even meaningless. Funny and juicy, but not deep. As cinematic exercise in narrative layering, this is truly powerful, as anything conceived by Furtado.

My opinion: 4/5

Nabbeun namja (2001)

“Nabbeun namja” (2001)

IMDb

torn pages

Some people just get to you. Being close to you, culturally, should help in that process. And sometimes it does. But most of the times, it’s meaningless where the art comes from. Some codes seem to be universal and will reach wherever you come from. I suppose that’s what Jung meant by collective consciousness. Kim Ki Duk changed me with his Bin Jip. In ways that i’m still trying to understand. I know that among many of the most powerful ideas in art, i’m specially fond of the idea of reaching without touching, to touch without contact. To make a climax but emptying the climactic moment. That’s something i’ve experimented in several areas where i try and work, music, architecture, image. It’s a powerful concept, hard to achieve, rewarding if you do. Kim Ki Duk did it in Bin Jip, and for that i’ll see whatever he has to offer.

*major spoilers* I think he was already surrounding that idea that blossomed in Bin Jip when he did this. This is about a despicable character, who falls in love with an normal woman. He bullies her in a clumsy attempt to approach her, and gets rejected. So he kidnaps the girl, takes her to Seul’s underworld, and reduces her to prostitution, out of love. Twisted and quirky, but in the process he becomes a voyeur, and always without touching, he watches her, screwing client after client. It’s a sick dark world the one we have hear, but one which encapsulates the sensitivity of a man who says love without using a dialog. You see, you know you found a true filmmaker, when what you take of the film are visual bits, bits of structures, bits of the pain of others. Based on this, we have a simple fold: we watch the mude thug watching the used girl. We also see him through her eyes. Ultimately we are put off of the film when we become at first as much unaware of the content of the photograph on the beach as the couple. But ultimately we are taken to the last level of the narrative, pushed away from its core.

The idea of the photograph in the sand is sublime. Where does it come from? how was time manipulated to make it be there? how does the moment in which she finds the shredded pieces overlap the moment in which they took the photograph. And than, the idea of the photograph as a mirror, the beautiful shot in which we see it, missing the bit which we know already how will be fulfilled. Cinematography and lighting, as usual, are top.

I will recommend you to go to Bin Jip and skip this unless this filmmaker really means something to you, and you want to understand his drafts and not only his most powerful experiences. But the quirkiness of the world he invents here is just too dark, too twisted to allow me to live in the beautiful, sensitive inner world of Kim Ki Duk. The man has pure talent, and quiet passion, but this is not his best experience.

My opinion: 3/5

They Live by Night (1949)

“They Live by Night” (1949)

IMDb

get outside

There seems to be a unique thing about Ray’s career, in its time and context. He was an interesting director who worked inside the Hollywood system, and indeed obeyed to their rules, give or take, and was able to produce some films that people still remember today, so called classics. Yet something in each one of his films, even the more studio tailored ones, seem to constantly pull the films away from the norm. The man had a visual imagination, and an experimental attitude. Much has been said about how he handled colour, but i think it’s in these black and white first phase films that Ray shines brighter. That’s because black and white film technology was already advanced enough to allow him to do things such as shooting on real locations, while coloured films made his camera work and groundbreaking visual presentations more stiff, less fluid.

This film has very interesting bits. The aerial shots of cars along the road, loose and free. The disembodied camera that appears on some cleverly conceived crane shots, and the general cinematography whenever we are clearly outside the studio. That’s where Ray’s mind was, clearly. Whenever we are on sets, well, plain old classical illumination, which doesn’t even borrow from Toland/Welles, who had by than created a whole new set of light codes. But in the outside shots, he does things that hadn’t been done, some of which do work even today, in terms of our modern ability to understand framing.

So the road trip genre suits perfectly Ray’s intentions. The mere physical description of the sequences made his mind figure what he might get out of it. This isn’t visually as ground breaking as On a dangerous ground, or even Knock on any door, but the guy was just starting.

Other than that, this is melodrama. Characters caught by hard backgrounds, forced to struggle, unable to fight whatever burdens society and their shortcomings as people placed upon them. It’s a very dear theme of Nicholas Ray, the misfits, the outcast, ennobled by how they assume their faults and try to get out of that world, but ultimately pushed down by the weight of their mistakes, and the cruelty of people around them. How Ray formulates this makes it a very American theme in its core, and very unique in its approach. I think no one has ever formulated this bonnie/clyde runaway type like this ever again, less adventurous, but deeper. No wonder Wenders, in his fascination with America, came to admire Ray so much.

Cathy O’Donnell has a great face, her character’s looks evolution is well thought, she shines when her face is allowed to act, which Ray does a lot.

My opinion: 4/5 this is a worthy effort, which you should watch only if you’re interested in Ray’s best works. This will give you insight.

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Money Talks (1997)

“Money Talks” (1997)

IMDb

staged memory

This is another chapter of that kind of trend in comedy/action films: the biracial leading couple. This began with Lethal Weapon. There the comedy balance was divided between Glover and Gibson. But a lot of versions have come after, including the 3rd Die Hard, that thing with Rodman/Van Damme, or this film.

It’s as lame and short sight as any formula, but it worked for while.

It doesn’t anymore, and now while we see this, we wonder how it ever worked. This can only have a mild appeal on 2 levels:

.you saw the films while you were teenager, and so they become part of larger memories of your evolution, and seeing them is a wink at yourself.

.you assume how lame they are, and watch them on that base, as much as you watch a b film, filled with bad sets and laughable story lines, and assume that for the duration of the film.

I did both of the above. But i know there’s nothing here.

There’s actually an attempt to create a competent ending, the idea of a literal stage, where all the characters are brought, and all conflicts resolved, using the multiple possibilities that mise-en-scène allows. But it’s all worked out through a vulgar shootout, and a few body fights with no history.

My opinion: 1/5

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Fatal Attraction (1987)

“Fatal Attraction” (1987)

IMDb

legs crossed

Sometimes a shallow idea like the one here can work. Even if the writing is week, although that will necessarily bar the film of true deepness. But in order to make such a film work, an incredible amount of skill and pure talent in other film dimensions need to be achieved: acting, cinematography, a true sense of pace, rhythm, etc.

We have none here. Douglas does his first Nick Curran, ordinary manipulated puppet, trying to get a grip of the situation, deluded by sex and clever female engineering of events. Glenn Close is certainly committed, even passioned in many bits, but not talented enough to carry the movie like, say, Samantha Morton or Tilda Swinton might have carried it. And well, i don’t think she’s attractive enough to place a happily solidly married man out of the tracks.

Editing, rhythm, pacing, is merely apt, not specially engaged. And that allows us to notice how weak the writing is. Why does she do what she does? Was it the mere “i’m going home” by Douglas that started all the craziness, or awakened it? How about kidnapping their daughter? So she could live his life for a while, yes, and so we could have the tense bit, the “where’s this going” frenzy. But there’s no large form even scratched here, only bits of banality and cliché. It might have had some might when it came out, because the stars where fresh and audiences still believed this worked. But this neither frantic nor tense, neither horror nor suspense. And not even the sexual mood seems to work, the one feature that Adrian Lyne seems to pull from time to time.

So, nothing to see here, at least not today.

My opinion: 1/5

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A Dangerous Method (2011)

“A Dangerous Method” (2011)

IMDb

spanking

This was a very important moment in the history of thinking. Freud was probably over the top on so much things. In some things, I believe he was so wrong that one day we’ll be forced to acknowledge how right he was. Deeply, what he changed was a mental approach. Pure rationality applied to something deemed so esoteric such as dreams. Oh the world changed, Freud made it possible more intensely than anyone else his contemporary. Vienna was the stage for this, what a city it must have been at this point. And than Jung, probably a much more interesting character than Freud, someone who developed fantastic deep, revolutionary concepts. Collective subconsciousness, profound revolutions in how we see ourselves, the opening of whole new possibilities for self-reference. How that changed human self- consciousness, art, literature, everything. Jung staged his own mental revolution in Zurich.

The clash between these 2 personalities is certainly something worth exploring. My opinion is that Jung is actually probably Freud’s best disciple, and that’s precisely why they clashed, ultimately broke up, and ended as rivals.

This clash is what this film is about, seen from Jung’s perspective and centered on sex. So Sabina is our central character, the wheel that spins the world. The mere premise of this, and the fact that Cronenberg was the cinematic mind behind this makes this a juicy promise. But the disappointment is that in recent years, Cronenberg’s new films seem to be the description of his older films. He now talks about what he used to stage, back in the days of Existenz and Crash. Those were truly sex-centered, dreamlike films, the full filled promise that this film is.

This one is a dialog film, that describes the iceberg, even shows us some of its edgier polygons, but does not dive to find out what’s underneath. It establishes the triangle Sabina- Jung-Freud. The 1st and the 2nd are viscerally related, and this connexion enhances the relation between the 2nd and the 3rd, and allows for the relation between the 1st and the 3rd to happen. Some orbital characters happen upon this solid triangle: Otto, and Emma (both palindromes) who are profoundly affected by the emanations of the triangle, but who exist in it to affect it: Otto as Freud’s sexual centered surrogate, Emma to affect how Jung understands his relation with Sabina.

Keira Knightley tries too hard, and has an over the top performance, while Mortensen delivers himself to pure style. Fassbender is the strongest actor in this film. But it’s not the performances that make this film not fully work for me. It’s the Cronenberg edge that’s missing, and i really miss that. Along the way, he seemed to have stopped to make deep films to explore the deepness of the concepts he used to place in his films. Now his films are about films, more that deep filmic experiences themselves. Something like what happened to Herzog.

My opinion: 3/5 check it.

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Melancholia (2011)

“Melancholia” (2011)

IMDb

horse, breasts, collision

There is the idea of film as a collective creation, each creative mind (actor, cinematographer, writer, director…) bringing his own input into the final result, often overseen by a “producer”, the surrogate of an “industry”. Than there’s the author way to do it, where one guy, or a very reduced number of aligned minds create everything that you see. But than there are films which are the face of its maker, inside out, as if you were actually inside his or her mind. That’s where Trier’s films fit in. These experiences can be life-changing, or absolutely dull, depending on the seduction of the mind we’re entering.

I’ve always had a hard relation with Lars von Trier. The man has skill, in the pure visual tools of cinema, framing, editing, timing. He did studied the masters well enough to produce a valid visual experience almost always. He does understand film as a full experience, sound to dialogue, framing to rhythm. And that deserves admiration, it’s so rare to find one filmmaker who really cares about every bit of filmmaking. I was never very much into the Dogma thing. And i don’t think Trier ever made a film that truly obeyed to his own premises. That’s not necessarily bad.

But than he has quirks that are just so vulgar and dull. He is self-absorbed in a way that makes him assume that every minor obsession or phobia that he may have is worth telling, and we are obliged to appreciate. He has this Wagnerian idea of being a master whose eccentricities have to be tolerated in the name of genius he necessarily spreads whenever he turns his camera on. So it’s curious that he tried to integrate Wagner into this film. The bit he chooses is the opening of a truly ground-breaking, life-changing work. And that pretty much exposes Trier’s weaknesses. His greatest strength and what binds this is the bit of genius borrowed from Wagner. It’s pretty interesting that the initial sequence is so related to Malick’s Tree of Life, since it’s clear that one film was probably no influenced by the other. Nice to think where these trends might come from.

But then, the concept is dull. 2 planets colliding, 2 sisters colliding, the world around them falling apart, as collateral damage. The men in those women’s lives are supposed to have important roles, but both are just pawns, and absolutely clueless about what’s happening. Kiefer’s character is even supposed to “know” about stars, but falls very far from truly understanding their magical power, reducing everything to a matter of numbers.

All this located in a special place, isolated yet alive, concrete yet undefined. The sense of place is important, and that is well explored, and underlined by how the horse denies crossing the bridge.

The odd relation between Dunst and her horse also has an assumed sexuality that escapes the understanding of her fiancé. And Dunst’s breasts seem to be on top of Trier’s preoccupations all the way. Check the bride’s dress, check how the camera always lingers towards her cleavage, even when that should be but another element of the set. And check how the music and climax are pointed to the first time we gaze at her, fully naked, bathing in moonlight.

I admit that the whole thing is well framed by the initial and ending sequences. But all the rest is just shallow, and the whole experience ultimately worthless. Even if Trier in all his will to be polemic doesn’t think so.

My opinion: 2/5

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