Archive for the 'Cinema and Architecture' Category

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009)

potter

IMDb

of narrative space

Who saw and keeps seeing the Harry Potter franchising and thinks a little bit about it knows where it is going to (or supposed to). The franchising is unusually long, for films that work a single story-line, even more when the evolution of the age of the characters matters. It started 8 years ago, it will finish its release (we suppose) in 2 years. So a decade with the same characters. But more, a decade with the same viewers. That’s the trick, each film does not attempt to target new audiences, instead it attempts to get the ones who saw the previous films. Of course new publics are welcome, but picking up the regular one (that started in the books) seems to be the main purpose. That’s why every film is ‘darker’ than the previous one, because if the first one was to be seen by someone with, say, 10 years, than the last one should be watchable by someone with 20. It’s a clever idea, and which apparently has allowed all the new films to be bankable despite the long duration of the characters. Also, i suppose, that’s why Chris Columbus got out of the boat after the third one, he has his imagination shifted into targeting children, and “families” in the way. When Columbus got out, they had trouble replacing him, and i think the two previous films are absolute cinematic disasters. The last one, specifically, is a total mess in every respect. Well, Yates must have seen it plenty of times, and made it partially up in this one.

What we have in this new episode better than in the previous two is a certain building of the tension from scene to scene. They understood they don’t have powerful drama in their hands, the books are funny depictions of appealing bits of mythology but rooted in teenage fantasy and adventure, and that can’t be changed. So they wrote the film accordingly to the possibilities they had. It makes it watchable in those terms. Well, the large form is absolutely inexistent. The film is a collection of loose chapters, the thin links the book (i suppose) provide are absent here so the film works as an illustration of certain moments in the story. But generally speaking, each episode is competently made.

But something is really great here. It’s the depiction of space through the election of the framing. What i mean is that space is present, it is used as an important (the most important) bender of dramatic dynamics, meaning that every scene has a life because of how it is framed, In the space. I collect examples of how space is used in cinema and this is a good catch, which does use space in a rare way, through the frame. It’s in the exact positioning of close and far elements (objects, elements of the architecture such as walls or doors) as well as in how characters come up in the space (and where) that the magic happens. This film does it well enough. The true tension of the scenes is in how they are spatially used. As spectators, we are dismissed into believing it is The story, the dialog the characters that make us feel uneasy, or driven away, but it is the space, here bended by the frame.

So now, in the 6 films we have, there are 2 which matters for what they do with space: Cuarón’s Azkaban and this one. Cuarón is someone who ostensibly moves in and through the space, hanging on characters or rootless for the sake of the space itself. This version depends on the staging of space, and finding the meaningful frame (in this case in a space which can and is previously thought up). I personally prefer what Cuarón does, but i really enjoyed this version, and it positively surprised me. (Orson Welles masters both types of space exploration, and can deliver both of them in the same film, changing the mood of space exploration! that is unique).

My opinion: 4/5

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Blindness (2008)

“Blindness” (2008)

blindnesssfantasporto-2009-preview-in

Fantasporto
IMDb

spatial white

At certain points of their lives, many artists feel the need to descend to the abysses of human degradation, of absence of humanity (or radical shifts of values). It’s the catacombs Piranesi brilliantly imagined, it’s Dante’s hell. The basic intent of this kind of journey, i suppose, is not so much to imagine a possible reality where we might live, but to mirror our own reality, the rotten bits of our many times ridiculous existence. Exaggeration is a device artists often use to enhance whatever they try to say. Blindness, the novel, was Saramago’s descent to the catacombs, the darkest piece of writing of a dark ironic pessimist (or an optimist of another kind of humanity). Meirelles, who had previously made to dark films, uses the novel to make his own descent. As a matter of curiosity, he admitted he wanted and failed to adapt the book, and eventually went on to direct Cidade de Deus. The mix of ideas and creative minds is deadly powerful, and the effect really is what’s intended. This is a well crafted representation of a possible hell, of a possible reality, of our actual reality(?).

Before cutting to the film, i should say something. There is a little Brazilian documentary, practically unknown. It’s called “Janela da Alma” (window to the soul, free trans.). It’s about vision, of course, it’s about observing, about what it means to a number of artists to watch, to see. To use the eyes to grab the world, and to express feelings. Among many interesting real people and artists that collaborate, i’ll talk about 2 of them. One is Saramago, who wrote the novel, Blindness. The other one is a blind photographer (forgot the name) who photographs out of intuition, obviously not caring for the final result which he can’t see, but doing photography as a means to get to the world. It’s a terrific concept if you think about that. I recommend you watch that documentary, before or after this film. You may find interesting things in it. In the film there is even a moment when Ruffalo’s character photographs out of “blind’s intuition” as he says…

(possible spoiler)

The dramatic arcs are similar to what we have in Irreversible. We land straight in hell, we get as dark as we can, right from the beginning, and we go up the stairs towards light, as we move on. That’s why in this film we don’t have much of a prelude to what’s going to happen. It’s a powerful device because it doesn’t allow us to be rational, as spectators we feel as much in the dark(white) as someone who suddenly lost his seeing abilities.

Basically, the film becomes a study on how civilization would be without a basic column, the eye sight. “what would happen if…?”. It’s simple and effective device and, because it deals with vision, and the game of taking it out, it’s purely cinematic, literally visual. Meirelles obviously got it, that’s why he wanted to adapt it in the first place. All that happens is the consequence of not seeing. Several things can be taken from here: after the initial chock of loosing vision, people adapt, and create conflicts, hierarchies, new conflicts and new hierarchies, but we are supposed to identify to what we see (and if you have a conscience you will). New groups are formed, new friendships, new “families”.

Meirelles is a highly visual director. In this one, he is much more of a “framer” than in his previous ones, where the skill was in rhythm (editing). Oh, this one has fine pieces of editing, starting at the beginning. But it is much more architectural in its approach. After all, the issue of loosing eyesight and relating to the world is purely spatial. It’s a matter of one’s relation to a world conceived to be seen. Being an architect himself, Meirelles certainly appreciates this better than other directors.

So, the visual game he plays, is space, and colours (b&w). The photography is highly depurated, contrasting when there has to be a contrast, but mainly developed around over exposed almost white pictures, and total darkness, which actually exists for probably 30 seconds in a specific scene, when Julianne Moore looks for food in a basement.

The acting is good, Julianne Moore is at the top of her game in the way she is intense without over exploding, and in how she shows us a surface at the same time she suggests there are other faces to her character. So, she is the leader here, literally in the story, since she’s the only one that can see. All the others play along, except for McKellen who often sounds just arrogant as an actor, the kind that believes actors are what the whole film (and all the films) are about. Strange, given the fact that he was also a screenwriter in this film. Glover’s character was interpreted by Meirelles as an alter-ego of Saramago. His acting is quite good though limited in time, and the off voice has the right tone. An interesting trivia is that when we first see him, he hears the radio, and what he hears is European Portuguese. The off voice Glover gives and that radio detail are what Meirelles uses to tell us that’s his designated narrator, an on screen appearance of Saramago.

Meirelles claims that earlier cuts of the film had a more repulsing effect, where more dark and shocking and that, even by the studio influence, he watered down the final cut. I think he might have hit a little bit harder on that key. It was also what the whole story is about.

My opinion: 4/5 this didn’t change my life but it certainly created a lasting mark on me

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blindnesswy9

Number Seventeen (1932)

“Number Seventeen” (1932)

num17

IMDb

3 visions

If this had been Hitchcock’s last movie, it would only have some historical interest today. But because he went on to direct films such as Rope and Rear Window, this little film (and others) becomes important for us to trace where his curious camera eye began.

I want to check other Hitch’s films from this time, but right now, for my eyes, in this moment he was strongly attached to two existing visual conceptions and wanting to develop his own.

So we have strong contrasts, where shadow draws actions, or objects or even characters and that defines the mood of the action, following German expressionism (that would later support perfectly the narrative construction of the noir films). Hitch is not a genius in this film, but he mastered it quite well. This is present in the first part of the film, in the house.

He also follows Eisenstein, and the train section is a quite good montage. He handles the models quite well, and the editing has a good rhythm and balance. Once again he is competent.

But the great thing in here is in the first half of the film: the camera movement. I bet he chose that house with that stair pit so he could play with what interested him the most. The camera moves and explores space, the scene where the detective (and ourselves) get into the house for the first time is a precocious demonstration of what his ‘Rope phase’ would bring. The first third of the film is basically going up and down the stairs, finding out things, exploring them with the camera.

His ‘McGuffin’ strategy is a mess here, where he still couldn’t make the plot enough simple and effective to make us forget it and concentrate in what he was doing in the eye. It’s confusing, and so complex (so many unnecessary characters!) that it may want to try to invent a meaning for all that. Well, i didn’t care and enjoyed this for the visual manipulation Hitch makes.

This film is broken into pieces (starting with the plot) and divided into cinema tendencies. Every bit is competent enough, but the overall result is quite messy. Well, he was experimenting.

My opinion: 2/5

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Batman Begins (2005)

“Batman Begins” (2005)

batmanbeghinsposter6

IMDb

Getting into the film

Nolan and Bale are two of the director – actor whom i follow with more interest nowadays. Right now they make a good pair, and besides the two renewed Batman films (of which i’v only seen this one), they made the very good Prestige. This, on its own, makes me interested in this project.

It was ambitious, serious, and not totally flawed what was made here. Apparently Nolan really wanted to be part of this, and approached Warner Bro. to get the job. He knew he could bring something to the the superhero film, and probably Batman suited best what he likes to do. It’s a self-made superhero, he’s not created by accident, and in the process of the creation of his mask (which is Batman or Wayne?) there is a quest for an inner self, unlike say, IronMan, who plays science with his body. So, in Nolan’s vision, we need an actor that can act, and we need several cinematic and design devices that work. We have all of them sketched here, though not totally successful. Taking IMDb top 250 films, which as i write puts Dark Knight in 4th place, he probably solved the problems there. But than again, Shawshank Redemption is in number 1.

city: The conception of this has a lot to do with the city itself. There is clearly the intention to create something detached from previous films – “realistic”, in Nolan’s words. So this is modeled after Chicago, something we can recognize, and has a dark cloth falling over it, of decadence, social bankruptcy, corruption. The places are well explored, and used for the cinematic trick i’ll talk about.

A complaint: Gotham City used to be The world, in Batman. We didn’t even feel that there was a world outside it, it was self sufficient, and balanced, as a closed world where all is born. I’m sorry it couldn’t be kept like that.

cinema: Besides the Hollywoodian sequences of Wayne training, Wayne learning, Wayne building costumes, and finding places, there is something great, on the cinematic side. The main plot is played around fighting a “league of Shadows” which tries to spread an hallucinogenic gas for the city. That poison makes people see everything become their worst fears. They loose sense of reality, and start to fraction they’re own vision, and misunderstand/exaggerate what they see. The editing and pace of the film are built in accordance, so in the more active bits, we feel the film as the people of Gotham probably feel what they see. We become active viewers, and that’s great. It was only felt in some pieces, and that’s the flaw. Most of the time is spent on building the Bat’s world, and Wayne’s inner self. I wish we could have more, but i’d choose some of the sequences of this film to watch many more times. Christian Bale is in this ride, he knows what’s happening, and allows it to happen. Great work. This is what cinema is bringing new now and for a while. Making us part of the game.

My opinion: 4/5

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Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

“Das Leben der Anderen” (2006)

IMDb

reasons to be Human

One of the living thinking minds i most admire is George Steiner. He is a man of great intelligence in the way he knows why knowledge is meaningful, and why it is important to Know. Among the many issues that have been a constant concern in his thinking life, one has been with me all the way since Steiner showed it to me: the brutal contradiction between human actions, or how he would put it; how can someone cry over night deeply moved by a Schubert Sonata, and in the next morning coldly order the killing of thousands of people.

This fundamental issue was vivid in my mind all the way, throughout this happily depressing film. There even is a direct reference to this question in it. So the theme here is how the meanings of art, or the simple reference to it can influence a mind trained to not be influenced and mechanically not behave humanly. Minds trained to trust what they’re taught.

The way this is put together is with one of the most subtle cinematic constructions i have (ever?) seen. The focus is on the artists, repressed artists, subjugated by a repressive regime. In the world framed in this film everything moves around them. Those artists are watched, constantly. We watch them, and in that watching we have the company of someone whose job is literally to watch. He starts with cold inhumanity (the first scene establishes that), obsessive watching, which that regime would probably consider simply ‘professional’.

In the way he gets involved with the subject of his watching (artistically modeled lives). Several things underline this: Art bends his mind to the point in which he plays double and starts writing an invented story to protect the real story the play writer is writing; He steals a book from the subject he’s watching, and secretly reads it at home; he asks a prostitute to stay with him longer than the deal would require, basically to be more than sex. Ultimately, he rewrites the ending of the whole story by hiding a forbidden object (a typewriter!) and thus secretly entering and changing the life of the artist.

This is a perfect expression of the dangerous of true commitment to true art, the art which embraces ideas that matter.

The camera is subtle, it moves most of the time, its movement doesn’t call attention, but always add up to the tension, mostly with subtle travelings. And watch the use of space. See how the interior of the apartment is used, how the cinematography carefully captures all the nuances and how they enlarge and diminish the inner space, in accordance with what the characters feel. Than notice how the humanity of that coloured environment is contrasted with the attic where the watcher stands, and even how he abstractly recreates the space below, from the sound of it.

Ulrich Mühe really had a deeply moving and intelligent performance. Very sad that he left us so early, here he really is something to look at, and performs fully in the field that most impresses me: that of subtlety, that kind of acting of great expression out of imperceptible moves. Most of it is in his face, so many times carefully framed.

The aftermath of the thing is when the artist writes a book, supposedly about the story we just saw. As if the film we had just seen was in fact made from the book. I was lucky to watch such a film. what a privilege.

Most of the times, i appreciate a film for its qualities as a vehicle for new/interesting ways to pass a story, or for how its visual quality/presentations gives me themes to dream about. This one works on the both previous aspects, but does it in a theme that matters. That’s so rare.

My opinion: 5/5, watch it if you want to feel more human.

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Uncovered (1994)

“Uncovered” (1994)

IMDb

Kate and Barcelona

This is a worthwhile experience, despite all the many flaws the film has. It’s a weak work in most of the skills you may think of, related to film technique, and film expression:

The acting is childish, this applies to practically every participant. Exception made to Beckinsale, she moves around in a naive boyish manner, but she distills sex, she is that character who concentrates attentions, without being excessively aware of that. She does it well. The rest of the acting is weak. The editing doesn’t help as well. The premises for the montage work in a film such as this one weren’t so hard to follow. They just had to tell physical actions, linear and common. Yet there are transitions, basic continuity problems that aren’t solved, expressions in the faces that change, and so on. The music is also not well placed, it’s a bad soundtrack in its own musical value, but above all in the mood that transmits. The tribal references weren’t needed, and in the kind of story depicted, noir influenced, it would have been nice to have the music link the sets and evolutions in the story line.

But there are three things for which i think this is worth taking a look. One is the narrative structure, how the story moves on. This is based on a novel by Pérez-Reverte, the man who also wrote Ninth Gate. So we have a merging of art and life, the story happening in front of us was “written” or at least determined many years ago, buy an artist, in this case a painter. The first scene is masterful in transmitting this, really it was one of the most economic and meaningful first scenes i saw ever. It basically starts with a closeup of a hand in a painting (a hand as a synonym for power, ability to do things), and the camera moves away from the painting (it moves, it’s not a zoom out)and we get to see the border of the painting fully merged with the “real” environment surrounding it. This illusion of merger works for a few moments after which we get into the environment and momentarily forget the painting. This really works.

Other thing is the use of House Batló, by Gaudi. It’s interesting how the camera (and the editing) lies about the building, to enhance it’s qualities. It’s not a particularly brilliant exploration of the space, but it’s quite competent: what happens is, we get Beckinsale going up the stairs that lead to the first floor, she rings the bell in that first floor. These stairs are beautiful, they curve like the back of an animal, you get the sensation of elevation, instead of going up. Than this is edited and the inner space we get is from inside the attic, which is built with bows that remind an animal spine and bones. Later in the film, we have an outside establishing shot that leads the camera, from the outside, all the way up to the attic. We understand that the character lives in the attic, not in the first floor. This was interesting and showed a specific interest in playing with the house. A side note is that this film is a good opportunity for you to check the great ground floor of the house, which is today polluted by the bars which conduct the tourists, and the tourists themselves, lining up to get in, and filling the sidewalk around. Pity. I have a theory that tourism is literally killing and sucking life out of our best places in the world, but this is another discussion.

Anyway, the touristic gaze can also be seen in the shots that depict the city. Here we also get lies, usually related to the intention of getting the establishing shots. Here i think they messed up. They didn’t have to show all the known places all the time. There are fantastic relatively hidden places in that city that show more of its mood and life than the monuments. One of those places is actually used, the St Antoni market (the protagonist lives in front of it). The place is alive, and they use it well in some scenes. But than they lie about the city, so we have her going from Batló, to Rambla, to the Temple, to the market as if they were close enough to walk to, one after the other, sequenced like i said. It’s a lie, i have nothing against it, but i have against making the postcard taking nothing useful out of it. A good use of common architecture is the one made with Beckinsale’s house, especial its central stairs, and central lifter. The use of Park Guëll is not particularly interest, except for some movement between columns, but that’s it. And in that movement, they inserted some staged flirting between couples. Very poor, very artificial, they didn’t need to do it, the park has an interesting life on its own.

My opinion: 3/5

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Tekon kinkurîto (2006)

“Tekon kinkurîto” (2006)

IMDb

I saw two films here. One i cared about, and another one that made me bore.

the city:

there are strong visual ideas behind the good Japanese animations. This is a feature that has two sources, according to my interpretation: one is very notion of image int art and Japanese culture. Japanese art produces now and for many centuries before images which are as complex as pleasant, they have abstract concepts, but they are visceral in the way they touch the viewer. So, art in Japan (when really good, and really Japanese) has this double component, of being highly intellectual and highly attached to the public it hits, no matter where that public comes from. That’s why it’s been relatively easy the process of turning Japanese culture into an universal matter (at least the ‘image'(s) of the Japanese culture). The thing that amazes me is how quite different Japanese creators from different areas and different forms of expression tend to be highly coherent between them, even if not directly related. The other source comes from a certain form of expression which, once, cinema explored. i’m talking about expressionism, and the direct influence that the German films from the 20’ had in so many creations afterwards. Metropolis might be the most visible face of this influence, but films like Der Golem have today still a strong impact. This film is basically a product of these two (main) influences. We have a city, which is magnificent, coloured but dark (and, as the two main characters, ‘black’ and ‘white’). This city is worth exploring. It’s powerful, and it’s visual. It’s visual in a false two dimensional perspective. That’s because the images are more based in texture, color, and framing, than on 3d distances, point of view or perspective. So it has more of Metropolis than of Blade Runner. But it is false because the Japanese are very strong in reducing the means without loosing content. Which is to say, the deepness is all there, even though the image is apparently flat. So, this is a city worth visiting, and, no doubt, the strongest point in this film.

storyline:

this was, on the other hand, quite disappointing. It made me bored to follow the threads here. Black and White, the film revolves around the connection between them, and we have some other lines to follow around. The old moral gangster, his almost-sun who is forced to kill him, and the superior forces (those who live on the sphere above everything. The concept was quite simple, a kind of ying-yang (as in fact is shown along the story in the shirt of our Black), trying to understand how opposites get attracted (and repulsed) and how the bounding between those opposites creates a ‘perfect’ relation. But there was too much noise. The kind of ‘noisy silence’, ‘dark coloured’ city we had, is totally gone in what concerns narrative devices and storyline. There is only one point of interest, because it’s visual and worked with the possibilities of the medium. The visions of White, which he draws, become often animations, with a totally different expression from the rest, allowing us to take it as something really drawn by hand. Those were powerful moments. But the rest wasn’t pleasing or interesting to follow, and in the final minutes, the whole thing falls apart, precisely when the city is gone of our site, and the whole graphic expression changes into something that doesn’t fit.

My opinion: 3/5, check it for the city…

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