Shorts watched April 2010

Falkenau, The Impossible (1988, Emil Weiss)

Weiss seems to love Sam Fuller, but he’s not on Fuller’s wavelength, unable to have much of a conversation with the man. So this doc (which is an hour long, but I crammed it in the shorts section anyway) admirably fulfills its purpose by screening all of Fuller’s WWII concentration camp cleanup footage while Sam narrates, taking him to the site of the camp in present-day and asking for his thoughts. That would’ve been more than enough, but Weiss leaves us with a one-sided (Sam likes to talk) silly-ass conversation about fictional representation of war, which would’ve been better left out. I’m most of the way through Sam’s autobiography, one of the greatest books I’ll ever read, where Fuller says this doc screened at Cannes and was praised for its straightforwardness.


Cry For Bobo (2001, David Cairns)

Poor and desperate, a man resorts to thievery to get by. He’s caught and imprisoned, then shot to death after escaping, as his wife and kid leave town, trying to start a new life without him. It’d be a miserable little story if the main characters weren’t clowns. Hilarious, reference-heavy, and better than I’d expected – and I had expected greatness. Already watched twice and trying to get Katy to see it (she hates clowns).


The Possibility of Hope (2007, Alfonso Cuarón)

Zizek:
“We no longer live in a world. ‘World’ means when you have a meaningful experience of what reality is which is rooted in your community, in its language, and it is clear that the true most radical impact of global capitalism is that we lack this basic literally ‘world view,’ a meaningful experience of totality. Because of this, today the main mode of politics is fear.”

Naomi Klein:
“More and more we see the progression of this economic model through disasters. So we’re now in a cycle where the economic model itself is so destructive to the planet that the number of disasters is increasing, both financial disasters and natural disasters.”

James Lovelock:
“If you live in the middle of Europe or here in America, things are going to get very bad indeed.”

Of course the “hope” part comes at the very end, as it does with all recent doom-gloom climate-change global-meltdown documentaries, and the hope in this one, despite the film’s title, isn’t all that hopeful. Start preparing now for how badly the future will suck – and it will suck. An Inconvenient Truth supposedly has a credit-time list of ways you can help the planet, Home encourages us to build windmills and go vegan, Wake Up Freak Out says we must act politically, and there’s always the hope during Collapse that the subject is just wrong, or that he’s a crackpot. Not so much here. If I’ve avoided talking about the filmmaking, well it’s basically a radio show with distracting visuals, much of it b-roll from Children of Men.


Night Mayor (2009, Guy Maddin)

Pronounce it similarly to “nightmare.” An inventor, a Bosnian immigrant, harnesses the “music” of the Aurora Borealis and converts it into dreamlike images which are sent across phone lines to his fellow Canadians using his Telemelodium. Even more/cooler junkpile inventions than in the electric chair short, some nudity (not as much as in Glorious or The Little White Cloud That Cried) and some delicious nonsequiturs. Clean narration by the accented inventor and two of his kids, along with excellent string music. At the end, the government shuts down his project, so he turns his attention from the skies to the seas, considers visualising whale songs.


One Minute Racist (2007, Caveh Zahedi)

Sweet three-minute cartoon story about the slippery slope of racism narrated by CZ, who codirected with a couple animators. Story of a student who doesn’t like asians because they’re too uptight and a paranoid library security guard who threatens to confirm the stereotype.


Talking Heads (1980, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
“What is your year of birth?”
“Who are you?”
“What do you most wish for?”
These three questions are asked to a one-year-old, then a two-year-old, and so on. The final answer: “I’m one hundred years old. What do I want? To live longer. Much longer.”

Most people seem to have thought about the questions for a while – possibly while the camera and lighting crew buzzed about their head, since the film looks like a lesson in how to effectively shoot subjects, professional but no-frills, by cinematographers Jacek Petrycki (No End, Camera Buff) and Piotr Kwiatkowski (second camera on the Three Colors). As a result, the answers come out seeming like a beauty pageant. Everyone wants more honesty and fairness, for everybody to just get along. The answers from kids under ten and adults over seventy are the best.


Born Free (2010, Romain Gavras)

I don’t count music videos as “shorts” or things would get too complicated, but then, I don’t really count this as a music video. M.I.A.’s music isn’t far enough up front, and the video (by Costa-Gavras’s son) is twice as long as the song. It’s a little piece wherein red-headed kids are rounded up by violent cops, beaten, shot and made to run through a minefield. Probably trying to make a point about tolerance and freedom, but for messages of tolerance I preferred the climactic speech in Cry For Bobo, also featuring overzealous cops: “First they came for the mimes, then the jugglers, then the bearded ladies. Next time, it were you.”


Hotel Torgo (2004, buncha dudes)

Buncha dudes head for El Paso and interview the last guy who remembers working on Manos: The Hands of Fate. There’s no real point to this, but the guy is very good-natured about it. Learned that Torgo was high all the time, which shouldn’t come as a surprise but somehow still does.

O Sangue (The Blood, 1989, Pedro Costa)

Opens with a medium shot of young Vicente getting slapped, but despite the violence it gives more of a Bela Tarr feeling than of Sam Fuller’s Naked Kiss. “What shall I tell Nino?,” he asks. “That I’m dead,” replies his father, ironic because the father soon will be dead but that’s the one thing Vicente never tells Nino. V drives home in what looks like a motorscooter with a tiny van chassis set atop it, is told by his girlfriend Clara that Nino has gone missing (he’s out playing with friend Rosa). Dark, beautiful black-and-white close-ups of Clara, Rosa and Nino, each shot seeming to be in its own little world, nothing explained until later. I didn’t even follow any of this until watching for the second time.

V and Clara are fighting to be their own independent family with Nino, against the influence of the father (who dies [of illness?] early on), dad’s illegal-business partners who begin stalking Vicente, and an uncle who visits for Christmas then decides to forcibly adopt Nino after discovering Nino’s dad to be missing. What does happen to the father, anyway? He comes home upset, looking for something. Acts sick. One night V rushes to the pharmacy, breaks in and rifles the shelves looking for something before stopping, resigned. The next scene he and Clara are burying dad. Between this movie and Casa de Lava, Costa doesn’t seem interested in connecting the dots between plot points, but more in giving a cinematic experience that doesn’t strictly depend on story. This one comes across as a dream euro-art film: an elliptical black-and-white adaptation of a crime drama with poetry in the dialogue, the kind of movie that no longer existed in 1989, if it ever had.

Costa has an odd way of presenting conflict without building tension in the usual ways, so when Vincente fights the almost-comical gangsters and when Nino is taken by his uncle (Luis Miguel Cintra: big in Oliveira movies, including A Talking Picture), and when a body is discovered floating in the river (accompanied by a wonderous shot, shadows of a crowd upon the water) I never felt like the stakes were very high. The movie is full of close-ups but they’re more picturesque than emotionally intimate – whole story feels distant. I’m not complaining, just curious.

G. Kenny doesn’t think so:

Every single shot in O Sangue is beautiful, incredibly sharp and well-defined, suffused with ache and sensuality. The multi-leveled cinematic references—to Murnau’s Sunrise, to the films of Val Lewton, which Costa will reference even more explicitly in his next feature Casa de Lava, to Antonioni and to Bertolucci and to Bellochio; they’re all here, maybe encyclopedically so, and yet they never feel self-conscious, or decadent.

Whoa, I got a sense of Sunrise but missed all the others. Even the Sunrise reference I wasn’t sure about – I chalked it up to the fact that I’m always thinking of Sunrise. I also thought about Shoot The Piano Player and Thieves After Dark, hoping it wouldn’t end like those movies with somebody shot to death.

The uncle and his wife:

more Kenny:

As a relatively late convert to Costa, I find the picture endlessly fascinating and intriguing. To put it in the vocabulary of a punk rocker, it’s as if he started with Rocket to Russia and worked backwards to The Ramones. If you don’t speak punk rock, here’s what Robert Christgau said about Russia: “Having revealed how much you can take out and still have rock and roll, they now explore how much you can put back in and still have Ramones.” O Sangue can be seen as Costa/cinema with stuff put back in: moving camera, a particular use of music, and so on.

You said it, Mr. Kenny – every shot just sparkles (and the DVD is exceptional). Costa worked with three cinematographers: Acacio de Almeida (Ruiz’s City of Pirates, Treasure Island and That Day), Elso Roque (Oliveira’s Vainglory of Command and Francisca) and Martin Schafer (Wenders’ Lightning Over Water and Kings of the Road). Lead lovers Ines de Medeiros (Lucia in Rivette’s Gang of Four) and Pedro Hestnes (later in Ruiz’s Love Torn in Dream) work well with the careful compositions, posing silently half the time, and bursting into motion when needed.

J. Quandt:

One of those first films that feels like the unleashing of pent-up forces — long nurtured visual ideas, banked homages to favorite films and directors, a romanticism unseen since early Leos CaraxO Sangue was also something of a false start, in the sense that its dreamy, nocturnal tone, conspicuous cinephilia, and showboating camera work did not establish Costa’s true path, which was towards a spare, materialist cinema.

Statements like this make me worry that I might not like Costa’s later acclaimed minimalist works, since I liked O Sangue an awful lot. Jimmy has already warned that Colossal Youth is boring and he couldn’t finish it. I’ll bet he’d like this one, though.

from A. Martin’s booklet essay:

From the very first moments of his first feature Blood, Pedro Costa forces us to see something new and singular in cinema, rather than something generic and familiar. The black-and-white cinematography … pushes far beyond a fashionable effect of high contrast, and into something visionary: whites that burn, blacks that devour. Immediately, faces are disfigured, bodies deformed by this richly oneiric work on light, darkness, shadow and staging. Carl Dreyer in Gertrud gave cinema something that Jacques Rivette (among others) celebrated: bodies that ‘disappear in the splice’, that live and die from shot to shot, thus pursuing a strange half-life in the interstices between reels, scenes, shots, even frames. Costa takes this poetic of light and shade, of appearance and disappearance – the poetic of Dreyer, Murnau, Tourneur – and radicalises it still further. In Blood, there is a constant, trembling tension: when a scene ends, when a door closes, when a back is turned to camera, will the character we are looking at ever return? People disappear in the splices, a sickly father dies between scenes, transforming in an instant from speaking and (barely) breathing body to heavy corpse. Blood is a special first feature – the first features of not-yet auteurs themselves forming a particular cinematic genre, especially in retrospect. Perhaps it was from Huillet and Straub’s Class Relations that Costa learnt the priceless lesson of screen fiction, worthy of Sam Fuller: start the piece instantly, with a gaze, a gesture, a movement, some displacement of air and energy, something dropped like a heavy stone to shatter the calm of pre-fiction equilibrium. To set the motor of the intrigue going – even if that intrigue will be so shadowy, so shrouded in questions that go to the very heart of its status as a depiction of the real.

comments by Philippe Azoury from the DVD extras:

“The project, let’s say, of these three characters, is to escape authority. and for Costa the project of the film, even more ambitious, is to escape from the authority of the narrative, that is, to imagine a mise en scene where each shot claims its own territory, in which each shot forces its own presence…”

“The father, this father that has been gotten rid of, is it his body that is fished out? It’s not impossible. The film is, let’s say, obscure about the question.” And I thought it was the father too, but using the magic of the rewind button I see that the dead man has a thick moustache and Vicente’s dad had none.

Speaking about the constant referencing of other films, he says “the film tells of this way of breaking with one’s inheritance, of finishing with this inheritance once and for all. … the film could be understood as a kind of work of total devastation, an undermining of references, a bit punk, this gesture, in which we once and for all cut things off, but in truth we don’t do anything like that…”

He says Vincente commits patricide, but that’s not true, is it?

The DVD also includes two Jeanne Balibar songs, presumably from Ne Change Rien. She sings “Torture” in English, barely lit with a static camera, then rehearses backstage.

Alain Resnais Shorts

Resnais was making art shorts a decade before the official birth of the French New Wave, building up to his mindblowing first three features by practicing his filmmaking, not just by writing and dreaming. Le Chant du styrene and Toute la memoire du monde are both wonderful, and the latter looks forward to the themes and camera work of Last Year at Marienbad. Finally got my hands on some earlier shorts with subtitles, very exciting.

Van Gogh (1948)

This and Paul Gaugin tell abridged life stories of the artists with imaginative narration, the visuals composed solely of the artists’ works, using camera movement, zooms, fades and a musical cutting rhythm. Both artists lived in Paris but moved away, and worked over the same period of time (in fact, they knew each other).

On Van Gogh: “He was a preacher, but he preached badly. The violence of his faith frightened even the faithful. It was in the process of trying to find a way to express his love for mankind that he discovered himself to be a painter.” The film gets great mileage out of the artist’s descent into madness. Katy points out that the sunflowers lose some of their power captured in a black-and-white film.

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Little about this online, besides that it won an Oscar. Auteurs: “The 1948 piece Van Gogh proved so successful in its original 16 mm form that it was subsequently remade in 35 mm, winning a prize at the Venice Film Festival as well as an Academy Award.” It’s also the earliest listed Resnais film that I’ve ever seen anyone mention, although an article by Rhys Hughes confirms the earlier shorts exist.

E. Wilson in her Resnais book:
“Resnais’s aim is not merely to use Van Gogh’s art as material evidence, substituting paintings for snapshots of the artist’s life; more subtly he uses the paintings to show us the world apparently as Van Gogh saw it, to show us not merely the object world of nineteenth-century Holland and France, but to conjure the subjective images of that world perceived by the artist and captured by him on canvas. Resnais’s investigation in the film is not merely art historical therefore: he seeks already, as he will in his later films, to reveal the work and process of the imagination, the shots of reality that we view, distorted, in our mind’s eye.”

Paul Gaugin (1950)

The opening narration summarizes: “A bank employee and head of family, well-to-do, middle-aged, comfortable, discovers that he has been lying to himself. He wants, indeed he must paint. From that point on, he devotes himself exclusively to painting, and after twenty years of poverty dies alone.”

Starts in 1883, just like the previous film. Instead of poor and insane, Gaugin ends up poor and sick in Tahiti, painting shirtless native women. The commentary on Van Gogh was written by co-producers Robert Hessens and Gaston Diehl, but this one is taken from Gaugin’s own writings. Produced by Pierre Braunberger, who assisted early works by Renoir (Charleston, La Chienne) and Truffaut/Godard, ending up with Terayama Shuji of all the weird people. I wish they’d done a Pierre-Auguste Renoir film in this series.

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Maybe I didn’t like this as much as Van Gogh because I don’t like the artwork as much, didn’t figure out the painter’s style, or maybe because it seems a rerun of the previous film (artist starts painting, gets obsessive, flees the city, goes poor/mad). E. Wilson, the biography author, agrees and spends more pages discussing Guernica (1950) instead. She calls this “a largely pictorial film by contrast,” points out that in Statues he would be “more self-conscious about self/other relations, colonial and post-colonial tensions.”

Statues Also Die (1952)

I’ve watched this before, but without subtitles. It is immensely improved when I understand the commentary – not that the shots and editing are anything short of excellent, but the movie is making all sorts of points about images, history, culture and colonialism which are sort of essential.

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Taipei Story (1985, Edward Yang)

Rare 16mm print from Emory’s own collection. I was wary when the first word onscreen read “Strring,” but the subtitles turned out to be good.

Chin has frizzy hair, large glasses, has been dating round-headed fabric-store worker Lon since high school and they don’t seem very close anymore. Also they wear bad suits in every scene. Chin works assisting Ms. Mei, is getting a raise in her first scene at work, and the company is getting bought out (due to financial ruin from a 10 cm surveying error) in the next.

Her boyfriend Lon seems depressed, trades videotapes of baseball games with his former coach Mr. Lai. Lon’s ex Gwan is getting divorced, and Chin’s coworker Ko, also getting divorced, wants to hang out with Chin. Chin’s dad is inappropriate (and a financial mess, and former abuser), mom is evasive and withdrawn, and sister lives in a graffiti-laden high-rise (prominently scrawled: “Duran take youself”) with other kids. Lon runs into Kim, a cabbie friend with a flake wife and three unattended kids.

As the movie progresses (takes place over a few months), more and more money problems and relationship problems are revealed and intensified, not just from our central couple but everybody. The mood is occasionally lightened with a few jokes or some laughable 80’s fashion but there’s an air of constant unease. Things start to go bad when Lon gets into a bar brawl (to a Michael Jackson song, which may account for the movie’s unavailability on video), then Chin throws him out after he sees his ex, who is visiting from Tokyo.

Chin is being stalked by ex-coworker Ko at this point, and I wish I’d paid more attention to what he looked like, then maybe I’d be sure if he’s the one who stabs Lon to death at the end. Of Yang’s films I’ve only seen this, A Brighter Summer Day and Yi Yi, and each ends with a death. “Once it’s over, forget it. Understand?,” Lon says to the motorcycling assailant, who then follows Lon’s cab until the inevitable confrontation. Movie gets slightly metaphysical there at the end – he has a dying dream sequence reflected in an unplugged television, then it cuts from Lon, smoking, to the smoke above his head – beautifully done. Back to Chin, still unaware of her boyfriend’s fate, who is finally getting her job back, meeting her ex-and-future boss Ms. Mei in an empty, white office building, recalling the empty white apartment the couple was about to rent in the first scene.

Articles online mention visual distancing effects: characters peering through blinds, shots through mirrors, Chin’s ever-present sunglasses, one interaction shown only with shadows on a wall. They also mention Lon’s fantasies of playing baseball when he was younger, which I’d thought would be a bigger deal than it was. From skimming a couple articles I figured he’d be like the insufferable skateboard-head-injury guy in Little Children, but it’s more of a gently aimless pre-middle-aged malaise.

There’s a karaoke bar, but nothing that stands out as much as the karaoke scene in A Brighter Summer Day – better is a dance club where the power goes out in the middle of “Footloose” as Chin sits alone in the corner.

Written by Yang, Hou and T’ien-wen Chu (cowriter of Three Times, among others) and shot by Wei-han Yang, who worked with Yang again on Yi Yi but nothing in between.

Lead actress Chin Tsai married the director, was in a Stanley Kwan movie the following year which sounds pretty good, then nothing else. Hou Hsiao-hsien (Lon) was already a writer/director – his A Time to Live and a Time to Die came out the same year. Nien-Jen Wu (cabbie Kim) and I-Chen Ko (was he the stalker?) were also writer/directors… it’s an accomplished cast.

Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli)

Katy says she’ll do a guest write-up for Gigi, so consider this a placeholder. She liked the filmmaking very much, and I’m sure it was very good (Minnelli can do no wrong) but I was put off by the story.

Young Gigi (Leslie Caron, who was actually 26, so I guess it’s all okay) is being taught by her family how to please men, and super-rich Gaston (Louis Jourdan of Letter from an Unknown Woman, which we watched directly afterwards) is bored with every girl in town except Gigi. At the end he decides that he loves her, much to the delight of her family, including dirty old grandfather Maurice Chavelier (27 years after The Smiling Lieutenant), motherly (but not her mother – Gigi has no parents) Alvarez (Hermione Gingold of The Music Man) and stickler aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans, star of two Hitchcock movies in the 20’s). Won an awful lot of oscars – pretty much everything but acting and special effects.

Battle In Heaven (2006, Carlos Reygadas)

As far as movies about fat, opaque, dull-witted men with menial jobs in alienated cities who eventually turn to crime and suicide, I suppose I liked this better than Crimson Gold, and as far as movies with extended blowjob scenes, I suppose I liked this better than The Brown Bunny. But that’s not to say I liked this all that much. Certainly not in my top films of the decade there, Sight & Sound, but I suppose important critics give bonus points to stuff that can “willfully sabotage narrative tension and dynamism,” while I enjoy movies with more, I don’t know, narrative tension and dynamism?

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Opens with some very nice string music as the camera slowly reveals a girl giving a blowjob, and it looks like video but I can’t tell if that’s just the DVD transfer. Marcos the giant chauffeur picks up Ana the general’s daughter and escorts her to the “boutique” where she is secretly a high-class prostitute. They have awkward sex (her on top him being perfectly still, she jokingly says “calm down Marcos”) while the camera wanders off out the window, slowly takes in the whole courtyard area around the building before returning to the couple. I suppose that sabotaged narrative tension, and it was actually one of my favorite moments so maybe I like that sort of thing.

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Half an hour into the movie, Marcos quietly tells her “the thing is, my wife and I kidnapped a baby, and he died this morning.” Later at home his wife curses him out, saying the girl will talk to the police. So Marcos watches some soccer, takes a family trip (with the family whose baby he kidnapped – talk about awkward), then visits Ana and kills her with a big knife. If he hadn’t planned how to kill her without being caught, and he spoke of turning himself into the police anyway, I can’t see why killing Ana is a good idea except maybe to relieve some sort of sexual tension. Sight & Sound doesn’t know either, admitting the film is “riddled with enigmas.”

An uncharacteristic shot:
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Music at weird times – sweeping strings at the gas station, drum and horns after the sex scene. Sounds start to disappear. We see huge bells being rung in the rain, and we hear the rain but not the bells. There’s some religious business at the end, as Marcos wears a hood and shuffles into a church on his knees, to presumably die from blood loss at some time before the police enter the building.

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Director in interview: “Some people even think that I’m obsessed with awkward sex or fat people.” Says he wants to create the film more through the editing than camerawork… I assume from what little I’ve heard about them that Japon and Silent Light are vice-versa.

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Slant:

With his 2005 flamethrower Battle in Heaven he connects our discomfort viewing graphic sex to a daring critique of a country’s complicity in a man’s frustrated social situation. Reygadas provokes—calmly, not thuggishly—our contempt for his film’s radical aesthetic patterns and explicit sexual nature, suggesting our anxiety with the text’s essential unconventionality is tantamount to racism, bodyism, and anti-artism.

Buy from Amazon:
Battle In Heaven DVD

The Headless Woman (2008, Lucretia Martel)

Ver(onica) hits something then continues on. She checks in and out of a hospital and a hotel, has an affair with a guy she seems to know, visits family, all in a daze, following the leads of others. She gets to work at her dental office and sits in the waiting room by mistake. Finally recovers herself enough to get a few words out, and tells her brother that she hit someone. He flies into cover-up mode, and tries to convince her it was a dog – meanwhile a boy’s body is found in a canal near the accident but the papers are saying he drowned.

The camera stays close with Ver (Maria Onetto, amazing, though beaten out by a Brazilian for best actress at Cannes), as she recovers from her shock more and more, starts acting out her life again. She is surrounded in every scene by symbols and reminders: children, cars, her own car with its dented front, Indians (it was a native whom she hit), her phone (she was reaching for it during the accident), the canal, and water – the one time she breaks down it’s when a sink won’t work. Her trauma is effectively conveyed by the filmmaking without going all Eureka-depressive.

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Martel is pointing to class differences (the killed child isn’t important except when his body inconveniences the city by blocking the canal), but isn’t going out of her way to make Ver a villain – she’s in shock, then confesses, then as she recovers and the event seems more ghostly and unsure, she’s not made out to be a horrible person. I wouldn’t say the viewer is meant to be on her side, exactly, but the filmmaker’s sympathies and intentions are hard to pin down. I have watched a bunch of acclaimed depression flicks in a row with Eureka, Songs from the Second Floor and Battle In Heaven and was afraid this would be another feel-bad mopefest, but I thought it was excellent, and it fit my weary, headachy state without losing interest.

Interesting tidbit from Martel, courtesy Salon:

Today in Argentina there’s a very particular situation because our government is in favor of clarifying things in the past, what happened during the dictatorship [of the 1970s]. But the government is completely blind about current times, what’s going on now. So I thought it was interesting to link that blindness about the past to blindness about the present time. That’s why I made some aesthetic decisions. I chose music from the ’70s, and the men have long hair, sideburns. Everything else is from today, the mobile phones and the cars. … It’s not so much to talk about what happened in the ’70s, or a conflict between that time and this time. The movie as a whole is a process of thinking. For me, that’s what cinema is about.

G. Kenny says that after the accident we see a dog behind her car (the same dog the brother finds when he takes her to investigate). I didn’t realize that because of the DVD’s limitations – assumed that the collapsed figure on the road was a kid. The movie opens with a group of kids playing, and later we learn that one of them, who works at a garden equipment store, has gone missing. So whether we see a dog or a boy behind her car, it’s never explicitly shown whether she hit a person or not. No wonder the movie gets comparisons to Cache.

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I risk over-quoting D. Kasman:

While it initially seems that The Headless Woman is after a conventional art-house expressionism, where Vero’s shock renders her mind dull and out of sync with her environment—soft-focus, tight close-ups with fuzzy, unclear backgrounds, and people melting into shadows and off-camera—this ho-hum alienation gradually reveals itself as something else. As Vero goes about her life, regaining a little bit of her mind, the moral and social threat of the potential crime—did she kill a boy and will she be caught—disperses from a threat of action—one of plot—to a threat of tone, a tactile but unidentifiable sense that an unglimpsed, terrifying world has cracked open, if only with the smallest, subtlest of cracks. Something is wrong, and it is hauntingly wrong, but we are never quite sure what. … That Vero feels guilty is clear, but as we gradually pick up out-of-focus children playing in the background of shots it never becomes apparent whether Vero is being haunted by someone’s death or by a possibility for death everywhere. When she gets back in a car, we do not think about the child she killed; all we can think of is that a child could die again. And then Martel layers, casually, suggestions of insanity and incest in Vero’s family.

Everyone talks about the sound design. Must watch with headphones next time.

Martel again, on the “fear of not having a trace…of not existing” after her hotel and hospital records have disappeared: “This is maybe the most political part of my film. I believe that hiding, not just hiding to protect somebody—it’s not so simple—also entails the idea that you are also hiding a part of yourself. That you are actually erasing a part of yourself. You are creating black holes in your life.”

E. Hynes:

With regal calm beneath a nest of dyed blonde hair (a playful nod to Vertigo), Vero carries her beauty and class with comfort and easy entitlement. She’s a dentist, wife and mother, but considering how long it takes for her co-workers and family to notice her altered state, not a particularly engaged one. … Now that she’s mentally, if only temporarily, compromised, Vero’s husband and cousin (another of Martel’s ambiguously amorous family relations) are eager to take charge and whisk the accident away, as well as whatever autonomy she knew before or since. They deny the truth of her experience but give her a cover. She’s the fainter who’s caught, coddled, and controlled; she’s kept safe, but at a cost. “Nothing happened,” they assure her, and the horror is watching Vero accept the easy, life-negating lie as truth.

Buy from Amazon:
Headless Woman DVD

From a Whisper (2008, Wanuri Kahiu)

Just a couple weeks after we heard about a Kenyan sci-fi short making the festival rounds, there’s a free screening of the same director’s first feature here at the Carter Center. What luck! We didn’t quite get the full experience because the video subtitles were turned off, so we missed the Arabic conversations between lead security guy Abu (Ken Ambani) and his suicide-bomber Somali friend Fareed (Abubakar Mwenda). But they looked thoughtful and intense.

It’s a high-quality picture, with good camerawork, editing, lighting, etc., and good storytelling, jumping back and forth in time without calling attention to itself. Better than most of the Atlanta Film Festival flicks I’ve seen – surprising for such an under-the-radar debut African feature, but I guess it won two major awards at the Pan-African Film Festival just last month and swept the African Academy Awards (I didn’t know there was such a thing). Good soundtrack by Eric Wainaina, a huge music star in Kenya.

The mother of young Tamani (Corrine Onyango) dies in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi, but her important businessman father never tells Tamani, just says mom is missing. So when T. is older and back in town (she keeps getting sent to the States for something or other) she renews the search for her mom, eventually meeting Abu (whose wife is a fan of T.’s red-heart-adorned artwork), who finds out that her mom died in the blast. Tamani is understandably mad at her father for lying, but they work things out.

More interesting than the business between Tamani and her father (especially since the father, presumably played by Godfrey Odhiambo since that’s the only other name listed on IMDB, is the only not-so-good actor of the group) is between her and Abu (in the present) and Abu and Fareed (in flashback). Abu doesn’t display your stereotypical tortured guilt/anger, but talks calmly about missing his friend and trying to forgive him – a tough thing to say to a survivor of the bombing. Abu makes a good point that if he can forgive Fareed then surely Tamani can forgive her dad for never coming clean. Maybe dad made a foolish move, but he was just trying to be protective. Katy liked it, too.

Mother (2009, Bong Joon-ho)

The latest thriller from the director of The Host takes fewer sidetracks and has a more sustained atmosphere, though it lacks some of the monster movie’s more extremely exciting scenes. Just as astoundingly excellent, maybe even better than The Host, which I wasn’t expecting from the plot description.

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Bin Won (of The Brotherhood of War) is the son Do-joon, a slow guy who leans on friend Jin-tae (Ku Jin of A Bittersweet Life), whom Mother tells her son is a bad influence. DJ’s friend and mother have always told him to stand up for himself, to fight anyone who insults him, so when the boys get in trouble attacking a guy who hit DJ with his car (and smashing up the car), JT pins the costly damage on his forgetful friend, who accepts his guilt.

Film Comment on character:

Diminutive yet ferocious, Kim embodies Mother as the ultimate survivor. And she’s surviving for two—her relationship to her son is so symbiotic he’s practically an appendage. Frantic and penniless, Mother uses all of her meager advantages: the perceived innocuousness and near-invisibility of an elderly woman. The delicately handsome Won Bin transforms himself into a credible simpleton just by the way he breathes and by assuming the stunned look of a stoner. Do-joon frustrates everyone, dimly working things out, sometimes years after the fact. Like Mother, he is not quite what he seems. Won barges through the film, conveying the confusion of a stunted child desperate to break free, only not before dinnertime.

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So when JT is accused of murdering a girl, his mother (Hye-ja Kim) knows he didn’t do it, and swings into action. She hides in JT’s closet and retrieves the bloody potential murder weapon, but the cops tell her it’s not blood, it’s lipstick. She confronts the grieving family of the girl at her funeral to explain that her son is innocent. And she follows a long trail to locate the dead girl’s missing cellphone – seems she was a slut with a phone full of men in compromising positions, and everyone wants the phone, but DJ’s mother finds it first and it leads her to the old junk collector, who witnessed the murder, saying her son is guilty.

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She doesn’t take that well, kills the old guy and burns his place, gets home to find that her son is free as the cops have arrested another mentally-challenged guy for the murder (she meets the boy, asks him “Do you have a mother?”). Final scene is exceptional. She’s taking a bus cruise, pulls out her acupuncture needles and sticks one in the secret place that causes you to forget all your worries. Uninhibited dancing ensues, shot all zoomed-in, jittery and backlit, abstract revelry.

Just won best film, actress and writing at the Asian Film Awards, whatever those are. Oh wow, Yatterman and Symbol were nominated for stuff. Sounds like a more fun award show than most. This movie might mark a turning point for me, in a way. It was playing theatrically here (at my least-favorite theater) but I chose to stay home and watch it in HD instead… and I don’t regret it, don’t feel like I missed anything. I had perfect picture quality, control over the show time and environment, and about as large an audience as I would’ve seen at the weekend matinee of a foreign film in Atlanta. Of course it’s rare that a movie would be available in HD at the same time it’s playing in theaters, so perhaps not a choice I’ll be making very often.

Cinema Scope:

Bong has become one of the premiere narrative film artists now working—and while that label does hang a trifle portentously over Bong’s commendably unpretentious head, this only shows how difficult it is to place him. Another small-town murder tale, Mother once again demonstrates Bong’s ability to render violence, sadism, and brutality (even that, most troublingly, of a sexual nature) at once entirely serious and screwball comic without offense.