Mostly wanted to watch this so I’d stop getting it confused with Human Flow, but also it has an interesting description, a killer poster, and four-star reviews from some Respected Critics. Maybe re-reading the writeups before watching would’ve helped, since I didn’t enjoy this at all. Smeared handheld shaky cam indifferently follows people around, then follows someone else – three aimless boys with shitty jobs (at least one has been fired) in three different countries. No lighting either, and I’m wondering why this is even a movie, then something amazing finally happens an hour in, when the camera follows a kid peeing and unexpectedly goes inside an anthill, providing a smooth transition to a new segment along with a memorable visual metaphor.

Won a top prize at Locarno (same section as The Challenge, Destruction Babies, Donald Cried). On letterboxd, Autumn responded to the “fascinating visual scheme,” which I looked for but did not detect, Felipe calls “the image texture a true aesthetic weapon,” which I don’t guess I’m a fan of. Vadim raves about the movie’s originality in Filmmaker, Cinema Scope voted it a film of the year, and after reading Leo Goldsmith’s article, I can finally wrap my stupid head around the reasons for everyone’s formal interest. Glenn Kenny in the Times has a more mixed reaction:

A scene of teenage boys engaging in tentative sex play with one another for a webcam show is presented with sufficient flatness of affect to make a viewer suspect that Mr. Williams is also interested in blurring the lines between verisimilitude and tedium. Just when you think you’ve got the movie pegged, it pulls a daring switch of perspective. While the thrill of that little coup is short-lived, it suggests that Mr. Williams may come up with something more substantial with his next feature.

The novel was a subjective-ish story of frustration and embarrassment, and the movie is a whole different thing – some of the same scenes in the same order, but more mysterious. It’s unusual anymore that I read a book in anticipation of a new movie coming out, so it’s hard to imagine what the viewing experience would’ve been like had I not already known the story. For instance, the three sections of the book are set in different years, clearly stated, where the movie will just cut to the next scene and suddenly Zama’s hairstyle is different and every other character we’d met is gone, replaced with a new cast.

As usual for Martel, the framing is enticingly unusual, but I was not prepared for the shock of saturated color in the last section. Each of her features has had a different cinematographer – Rui Poças is Portuguese, has also shot a bunch of films by Miguel Gomes (Tabu) and João Pedro Rodrigues (The Ornithologist). Almodóvar regular Lola Dueñas is Luciana, whose affair doesn’t go as far as in the book. Zama is Daniel Giménez Cacho, who apparently played the same coroner character in We Are What We Are as he did in Cronos.

After a pretty decent Thursday night at the festival, we plunged right into the deep end on Friday morning with this year’s True Life Fund film, a doc following two cousins who have survived terrible traumas.

I stupidly wondered when their aunt mentioned in the description was going to arrive, not realizing until late that she’s the filmmaker. “Dear diary”… confessions and backstories are staged in uniquely visual ways – one is told to a friend in a lighthouse, one in a theater to an audience, plus the centerpiece long-take of the girls speaking to each other. Ro was kidnapped, beaten and burned, and is recovering from extensive plastic surgery, and Aldana was abused by her dad – both attackers caught and imprisoned with no images of either in the film. But Katy dug up a fascinating fact – the director’s previous film appears to have focused on the abusive dad before his crimes were discovered.

A dead-looking seal on a beach who turns out to be just resting… a crocodile girl… stuttery skype call… gymnastics. The visuals sometimes remind me of LoveTrue, which we saw last year on this same screen. In the final section, the girls are invited from their homes in different parts of Argentina to a performing arts program in Montreal. It’s not clear to me if the Montreal thing is an organized program for dealing with trauma, or if that’s how the girls and their aunt are approaching it, in conjunction with their poetry and stories and crocodile-play. The girls seem smart and open with supportive families – they’re as easy to root for as last year’s family.

The credits say it’s inspired by the opera Bluebeard’s Castle, and the synopsis says it’s about the “physical and spiritual aspects of a cultural recession.” The idle rich in summertime, not at all like La Cienaga.

Lara is the teenager I recognize from film stills:

The lighter-haired girl, not as recognizable from the other still where she’s walking on a second-story deck, gets a job at styrofoam factory. She escapes on a ferry at the end.

Also, there’s an octopus. Set in Buenos Aires, even Cinema Scope called it inscrutable. It’s unlike me to use the exact same images in this post which first drew me to the movie, but they’re still what stands out. The article has some good background and analysis, and this is probably worth rewatching sometime, even if I have nothing to say about it now.

A straightforward journey film. Vargas is released from prison, then rides and walks and canoes to deliver a letter to his friend’s wife and to find his own daughter, slaughtering a goat on-camera along the way.

Final moments alive for this goat:

I’d read that Alonso’s first three features were more realistic than the crazy-looking Jauja (also a journey movie where a solitary man looks for his daughter) and was afraid they’d be a drag to watch, but I needn’t have worried. Wish the DVD had looked better, though.

Quintín on the opening:

Alonso went on location with a cameraman and shot a scene – actually, one long take – of the main character holding a knife in his hand, leaving behind the bodies of his dead brothers: a mysterious, intriguing sequence with sophisticated camera movements and a sense of tragedy. The blood theme was there, as were the dead of the title. It was a highly remarkable, virtuoso shot. And a shot that made money. Shown to foundations, producers, sales agents and TV buyers, this homeopathic sample allowed the movie to be finished.

Maybe I’m just in a mood, but this seems like one of the greatest documentaries ever. In filming eight locations (four sets of antipodes – places on land directly opposite the globe from each other), much fun is had with lenses and camera orientation. The music and sound design is terrific as well as the cinematography, and the movie’s gimmick and structure aside, he is filming absolute magic and wonder. In fact, the antipode concept is only mentioned in some opening titles, and from there it’s just observation of the chosen locations, left to viewer’s imagination and his excellent visual transitions between locales to draw geographic connections.

Won an award at the 2012 True/False Fest. We hope to attend next year, so we’re catching up on some docs we missed.

Filming locations:

Argentina/Shanghai:

I looked up a little about Kossakovsky. He teaches a documentary class – among the rules he presents to students:

– Don’t film if you can live without filming.

– Don’t film if you want to say something – just say it or write it. Film only if you want to show something, or you want people to see something. This concerns both the film as a whole and every single shot within the film.

– Don’t film something you just hate. Don’t film something you just love. Film when you aren’t sure if you hate it or love it. Doubts are crucial for making art. Film when you hate and love at the same time.

– You need your brain both before and after filming, but don’t use your brain during filming. Just film using your instinct and intuition.

– Story is important for documentary, but perception is even more important. Think, first, what the viewers will feel while seeing your shots. Then, form a dramatic structure of your film using the changes to their feelings.

– Documentary is the only art where every esthetical element almost always has ethical aspects and every ethical aspect can be used esthetically. Try to remain human, especially whilst editing your films. Maybe, nice people should not make documentaries.

Hawaii:

New Zealand/Spain:

A movie where nothing happens but with menace everywhere – cutting racism, teens with guns and machetes and driving cars, fistfights, drunkenness, people with bad eyes and extra teeth and covered in cuts, talk of affairs and killer rats.

I’m about a month behind on the movie blog, and this one has stuck with me really well – not the details and specific interactions, but the general atmosphere of doom and stasis, the sense of being stuck, and the one guy José who escaped to Buenos Aires, returns home then can’t seem to leave.

D. Oubiña:

There are too many characters in La Ciénaga (The Swamp, the name Martel gives to her fictionalized version of her hometown), and their relationships remain confusing even after we’ve finally managed to identify their family connections. It is difficult to tell what is central and what is secondary in each image, as the story avoids emphasizing any one situation over another. But that is precisely what is so distinctive about this stunning movie … La Ciénaga is precisely a movie about unproductive pursuits, wasted time, the dissipation of energy, inactivity … the story develops in a sly and calculatedly affecting way. She sets up these disturbing situations, then avoids and ignores the potential damage, as if the eventualities had never existed. But we remain unsettled by the accidents that seemed inevitable, and they stay with us as what could have occurred, or what could still occur at any moment.

There’s a side plot about virgin Mary appearances on the side of a building. Matriarch Mecha (Graciela Borges, in Argentine films since the 1950’s) drunkenly falls and cuts herself up at the beginning. I think Tali (Mercedes Morán, mother in The Holy Girl) is a neighbor or an aunt. Luchi is the boy who falls to his probable death from a ladder at the end.

Been meaning to watch this forever, then picked it on the night after it appeared on someone’s BBC list – someone who voted for Mysteries of Lisbon, Margaret and The New World in his top three, so can be trusted. This won an award in Berlin where it premiered with Fat Girl, Bamboozled, Traffic, Wit and winner Intimacy.

Responsible Lai Yiu-Fai (Wong fave Tony Leung) and impulsive, promiscuous Ho Po-Wing (Ashes of Time star Leslie Cheung) took a trip to Argentina, ran out of money and got stuck there. Now they’re trying to make money to get home, while the pressure of being together so long has destroyed their relationship. Ho disappears for long periods, returning dramatically without warning, while Lai persistently works menial jobs at a nightclub, a kitchen and a slaughterhouse. Lai meets Chang (young Chen Chang, lately The Razor in The Grandmaster) in the kitchen, but Chang isn’t sticking around Buenos Aires long, is on his way around the world (with ITMFL-like mention of a remote place people go to leave their troubles behind). Lai finally gets the money to leave, can’t find Ho so he returns to Hong Kong, where he can’t find Chang either (only finds his family’s restaurant).

Mostly great, eclectic music choices, including my favorite Caetano Veloso song from Talk To Her. But, well, my love for Frank Zappa is eternal, and I complain that his music isn’t played enough, and I appreciate the connection between him and the Turtles song of the film’s ironic title, but “I Have Been In You” did not fit the wistful mood of the city montage after Chang left.

Lai at the waterfall:

Chang at the end of the world:

A sustained mood piece, where nothing really happens and Christopher Doyle’s brilliant cinematography heighten the emotions of everyday life – just like In The Mood For Love. But ITMFL was about the possibility of an ultimately doomed romance, and this one’s about the lingering feelings after romance has ended. It’s a much more bitter movie, and though I enjoyed seeing it in HD for the first time, it doesn’t seem like one to revisit regularly.

M. D’Angelo:

Happy Together features all of the elements that have consistently impressed me in his other pictures: elegantly moody characters; stunning cinematography (courtesy Christopher Doyle, as ever); a loose-limbed narrative that careens from shot to shot without deliberation; a general air of cinema as possibility. All that’s missing is the powerful romantic yearning that suffused Chungking Express, Fallen Angels … and even parts of Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. In its place, to my irritation, is endless squabbling.

“I would destroy myself to take you down with me”

Glenn Ford (this is the anonymous-looking 1940’s Glenn Ford, not the superior 1950’s version from the Fritz Lang movies) is a grifter turned semi-respectable once hired by illegal casino owner George Macready (Paths of Glory, The Big Clock) with the unlikely character name of Ballin Mundson. Buncha noir-lite character development and plot setup ensues, while I’m on seat’s edge waiting for someone – anyone – to ask Gilda if she’s decent, then finally it happens and the movie comes to life.

So I guess Glenn and Gilda dated for years before it all fell apart, and now Glenn’s hiding out in Buenos Aires and his boss goes on vacation and comes back married to Gilda. Because of this movie’s noir reputation I assumed there’d be some femme fatale reveal in which she’s plotting a convoluted revenge scenario, but nope, just a massive movie coincidence – not to say the movie isn’t still convoluted. Glenn and George take turns toying with Gilda and she marries Glenn after George fakes his own death via plane crash. George briefly returns, only to be dispatched by bathroom attendant “Uncle Pio” (actor Steven Geray was Hungarian but hey, any foreigner will do), and we get an anti-Casablanca ending as Glenn belatedly decides he still likes Gilda.

Gilda serenades Uncle Pio:

All this plot is diverting, but Rita Hayworth’s beauty and attitude are the main attraction. I wonder if Gilda’s the only 1940’s female character to marry two men, cheat on both of them repeatedly, and still get a happy ending. Her hit song from the movie “Put the Blame on Mame” (which was pried into the tagline for this movie, confusing those of us who’d never heard the song and thought it a stupid catchphrase) is about a hot-kissin’ hard-dancin’ woman, and Dave Kehr notes it “has been known to provoke impure thoughts”. Maybe Rita even charmed the censors… or maybe they demanded different kinds of changes. Buenos Aires is crowded with corrupt officials, murderous businessmen and sinister Germans – I can’t tell if the fact that nazis and their collaborators hid out in Argentina after WWII was well-known when this film was written. Of course nazis are never mentioned, and in typical Hollywood style, Mundson controls a “tungsten cartel” instead of anything unsavory.

Played the first Cannes Film Festival alongside Brief Encounter, Rome Open City, Notorious, The Lost Weekend and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I mainly knew this film as the inspiration for Laura Harring’s character’s name in Mulholland Dr and the excerpt in Shawshank Redemption. Vidor had recently made the not-as-good Rita movie Cover Girl. Shot by Rudoplh Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Foreign Correspondent), one of his last before retiring.

Devil is a Woman masked carnival:

S. O’Malley:

Gilda is a pawn between two men who seem more interested in each other than her … There’s Ballin’s phallic cane/sword named his “little friend”; at one point, Ballin says, “Wait for me here, Johnny. I’ll need both my little friends tonight” … The ending, with Johnny and Gilda exiting together, is a holdover from the days of the cathartic “The End” of musicals, but it leaves an uneasy impression, similar to the final scene in Notorious. In neither ending does it feel like “love has triumphed.” It’s more like a criminal getaway.