I blocked off late January for Rotterdance, and premiere screening Asako was fantastic, then Belmonte and Rojo were pretty whatever… so I’m looking at the remaining options for the following week… Monos, Happy as Lazzaro… movies I keep hearing are great but don’t look attractive like Private Life and The Souvenir… mass-murder fashion-thing Vox Lux… serious stuff by Loznitsa and Petra Costa… and La Flor is there on the list, the ridiculous outlier which obviously I’m not gonna watch because there isn’t time. So that’s what I watched.

Movie from Argentina, in multiple episodes, with multiple chapters, the whole thing cut into multiple parts which don’t align with the episodes (but do align with the chapters) – it’s complicated. The director helps lighten things up by introducing the project in a prologue, looking into camera without moving his mouth, narrating in voiceover, and drawing his diagram of the film’s structure which landed on the cover of Cinema Scope.


Episode 1

Proper b-movie length at 80 minutes, and shot on low-grade video. The audio sounds dry and dubbed, but looks to be in sync. Scientists receive shipment of an ancient mummy, have to babysit it after hours, but one girl (and a black cat) get mummy-cursed, so a psycho-transference specialist comes to help. “I’ll tell you more about it,” she says, as the movie suddenly cuts to episode 2. A Mac OS 9 skype window proves this movie has been in the works for a long time.

Elisa Carricajo = Marcela, lead scientist who is introduced on an awkward date before hectic work day
Laura Paredes = cool, efficient doctor Lucia
Valeria Correa = dazed, cursed, water-guzzling Yani
Pilar Gamboa = mummy-curse specialist Daniela

Dr. Elisa, Dr. Laura:

Mummy-whisperer Pilar:


Episode 2

Famous singer Victoria reminisces to her hair-streaked assistant Flavia about Vic’s rocky/successful recording career and personal life with lousy singer Ricky. Out of the blue, Flavia is in a scorpion cult with the secret of eternal youth, but cult leader Elisa Carricajo doesn’t seem to trust her. Andrea “Superbangs” Nigro, a rival singer, has a whole speech about storytelling and protagonists (it’s a monologue-heavy episode) and is present in the recording booth during the very good climactic Victoria song (but why? I spaced out for a while).

Singer Victoria = Pilar = mummy-curse specialist Daniela
Assistant/Confidante/Cultist Flavia = Laura = cool doctor Lucia
Superbangs singer Andrea Nigro = Valeria = cursed Yani
Scorpion cult leader = Elisa = lead scientist Marcela

Nigro:


Episode 3

Epic spy drama that starts out fun, tries to pivot to being mournful as everyone appears to be doomed, and takes long sidetracks into backstory. The four lead women are teammates in this one – briefly they were five, until their leader Agent 50 takes out the mole sent by a rival assassin collective led by “Mother.” Both team leaders report to Casterman, a spymaster ordered to kill off his own people. It’s like pulp Oliveira at times – it’s never comedy, but has a delightful heightened quality to it. Multiple narrators of different sexes with different viewpoints, and at one point (not even at an intermission), Llinás stops the episode to show off his storyboards.

Casterman:

Commie-trained mute spy Theresa = Pilar
La Niña, daughter of a legendary soldier = Valeria
La 301, globetrotting assassin = Laura
Agent 50, Ukranian super-spy = Elisa

The promo shot… from L-R: 50, 301, Niña, Dreyfuss, Theresa:

My favorite scene, kidnapped Dreyfuss in the cosmos:


Episode 4

After all that narrative drama, this episode is aggressively messing with us. The actresses play “the actresses,” undistinguished and ignored. Llinás introduces them to new producer Violeta in a studio scene of choreographed arguments, then he ditches his production, taking a mobile crew to film trees in bloom with relaxing string music, stopping frequently to write in his notebook. I think it’s a parody of the pretentious filmmaker who has lost his focus/inspiration.

Halfway through, the focus changes, as paranormal investigator Gatto arrives at the site of a mysterious incident, finding the filmmakers’ car high in a tree, the camera and sound crew raving mad, and Llinás missing, having left behind his journals. Gatto calls the La Flor script notes “a load of crap,” gets mixed up with some residents of a psychiatric colony, and follows the director’s tracks through a series of used book stores, as Llinás searches for an old copy of Casanova with a deleted chapter. This all sounds like nonsense, but it comes together beautifully by the end, after seeming like a waste of time for a good while.

“He never refers to any of them in particular, as if the four were a single thing:”


Episode 5

“In episode five, the girls don’t appear… at the time we thought it was interesting.” I think it’s the same Guy de Maupassant story that Jean Renoir filmed in the 1930’s. A couple of cool dudes with fake mustaches give horse rides to a whitesuit man and his son, when they’re derailed by a couple of picnicking women, who pair off with the mustache men after whitesuit rides away. This is all capped with an air show, and is a lovely diversion after the long previous section.


Episode 6

Heavy organ music and intertitles – the four stars are reunited, but blurred as if shot from behind a dirty screen. Aha, it’s filmed using a camera obscura, a pre-camera device which throws a reverse image through a pinhole. Supposedly the women have escaped from unseen savages and are dodging a giant steampunk insect before returning to their homes. Partially nude and without closeups, they’re finally indistinguishable.

Essential reading: Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot and Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope feature.

This period thriller-thing was an improvement over Belmonte. As with that movie, it’s sometimes hard to tell what it’s adding up to narratively, but it effectively builds atmosphere. Where this is all going must be more apparent to Argentinians of a certain age than it was to me. I did notice that whenever two dudes have a disagreement, one of them ends up disappeared into the desert, which gave me flashbacks to the post-Pinochet doc Nostalgia for the Light.

Darío Grandinetti (from Talk to Her) publicly psychoanalyzes a rude stranger into freaking out and committing suicide. Neighbors call Darío “counselor,” but he’s obviously not a mental health counselor, just a respected lawyer, who is close with government man Vivas who wants to “buy” a house that isn’t on the market because its previous owners disappeared before they could sell (leaving behind bloody handprints, how sloppy), so now the paperwork’s all a mess.

Eventually a famous Chilean detective (Pablo Larraín regular Alfredo Castro, the dog trainer in The Club) will come around asking questions about the suicided man, who turns out to be Vivas’s wife Mabel’s brother. While we wait for the detective plot to kick in, all the sidetrack scenes are intriguing… Mabel freaks out at a museum… a government official welcomes three American cowboys whose performance was postponed by a previous official… Darío’s family attends a slow-mo rodeo and has a great time while an animal is slaughtered to mournful string music… his wife encounters a stranger while peeing in the woods during an eclipse.

The Wives:

The Men:

According to Michael Sicinski, Naishtat is “a highly experimental filmmaker aim[ing] for greater accessibility,” so it’s be interesting to see his earlier features. I remember hearing things in Cinema Scope about El Movimiento. V. Rizov in Filmmaker summarizes Rojo: “A really unpleasant lawyer kills a guy because he can and then commits all kinds of similarly unsavory bullshit. The movie is, nonetheless, very fun…” and Adam Nayman writes more about cynicism and disappearance.

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.