At Locarno 2015, Julio Bressane served on a jury, programmed a section of Brazilian films, and presented his new work Garoto (Kid). I was psyched for this, since I’ve seen Bressane’s name around forever. He has an early feature called Killed the Family and Went to the Movies and a brand new one starring a parrot, a woman and “a large portion of raw meat.”

A young woman (Marjorie Estiano, star of Good Manners) calmly philosophizes in static scenes shot with a video-looking handheld camera. She tells her mute boyfriend a story about a boy who loved killing, then she, um, kisses and performs oral sex on the camera. Later, they go to her friend’s house (Josi Antello of Sentimental Education), where the boy apparently freaks out, killing Josi then running away to wander through the desert accompanied by quiet wild-west sounds and the effect of wind overloading a microphone.

Inspired by a Borges story about Billy the Kid. Struck me as a sort of half-assed Révélateur, every shot held too long in that familiar arthouse fest-film way, but without the technique to keep it interesting. I admit a scene that kept panning to a man softly drumming on a painted board was intriguing – the first time it happened. The lo-fi video look might’ve just been me getting a poor-quality copy online, but the mic problems say maybe that’s not the case… either way, it made me think of LNKarno discovery Jean-Claude Brisseau, especially when he positions the two actresses in front of his bookshelves. On one hand, Brisseau seems 100x more interesting and I should look up more of his films… on the other hand… the new Bressane stars a parrot!

Bressane’s messaging was ahead of its time:

Opens with a woman returning to town to a mixed welcome just in time for a funeral featuring some light hostility – but you can tell from the Star Wars scene wipes that this is picking up where Aquarius left off, and is gonna be a good time. Not TOO good of a time – I was disappointed when the flying saucer a half-hour in just turned out to be a drone… but the drone turned out to be operated by a group of American hunters descending on Bacurau because the mayor has sold out the townspeople as wild game.

The town pulls together pretty quickly, unlike the hunters, who turn on each other whenever things go wrong. You’d think the mayor would know this, but Bacurau features at least two notorious killers, a history of violent revolution, a museum full of vintage defensive weapons, and (I’m not sure how this is related) a love for psychedelic drugs.

When two hunters pause mid-action to fuck, I’m pretty sure it’s a Cannibal Holocaust reference. Movie’s logic has an Udo Kier-shaped hole in it. After insisting that he’s more American than the Americans, he acts like they’re going on a rescue mission for the missing advance couple, then shoots one of his own guys after taking random potshots at main street, then almost kills himself, then whines like a baby at the town mayor, then says something like “we’ve killed more people than you know”, but his group was acting like they just met for this mission, then some “you haven’t heard the last of us” line as he’s being buried alive under the city. Wonder if they didn’t give him a script, and just let him make any decision he chose. I’ve been bummed out lately by some overwritten movies with predictable story arcs, so I’m not sure this is a complaint. Cinema Scope on the movie’s weirdness, not specifically on Udo Kier:

If Bacurau is a genre film, it’s one whose tension relies most on the fact that genre can no longer be relied upon. The unpredictability of these genre shifts is only amplified by the same reversals in tone or perspective already discernible from the beginning, which become increasingly jarring as the film progresses, producing an off-kilter, anything-goes atmosphere that is still careful to stop just short of the incoherent or the arbitrary.

The town doctor is Sônia Braga, lead of Aquarius, and the woman returning to town in the beginning was also in Aquarius playing Sônia’s character in flashbacks. The hunter who gets shot by Udo for calling him a nazi was in Support the Girls. Udo Kier is of course best known for Puppet Master 12: The Littlest Reich.

In a fancy Brazilian apartment building in 2010, young, pregnant, white Dona Ana hires Clara, a woman with no experience or references, as nanny on instinct, because she does this:

The two start sleeping together, but it turns out both women are behind on their rent, Ana’s friends and family don’t speak to her anymore, and she gets cat-eyed and bitey on nights of full moons. Finally a were-baby bursts out of Ana’s belly, killing her, and after weighing her options, Clara grabs it and runs.

The movie has been pretty typically shot, with fine lighting and color even in the dim scenes, but it adds some new flavors around the halfway point. Ana’s were-pregnancy backstory is told with still drawings, the child is probably a CG-enhanced puppet, and as Clara makes her escape, a homeless woman sings a warning song.

The second half jumps to present day, and the main stylistic addition is a CG wolf-boy that’s not quite there. But first, a bunch more plot, as Joel is turning seven, and starts to rebel against his restrictive diet and being chained in a dungeon on nights of full moon. Clara is a busy nurse now, so Joel is alone and the landlady feeds him meat, then things spiral. He sneaks into the mall at night and rips his best friend to shreds, then sneaks off to the school dance and almost kills his girlfriend before mom intervenes with a gun. She again can’t bear to kill him or leave him behind, so the movie ends beautifully with them preparing to take on a mob of angry neighbors together.

I had a flashback to this movie during Parasite:

A Locarno prizewinner, playing alongside Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun and The Wandering Soap Opera and A Skin So Soft, a bizarre lineup. Isabél Zuaa (Clara) has got range, was in last year’s anthology slavery horror The Devil’s Knot. The writer/directors have been working (mostly together) since the 1990’s, with some shorts and one musical comedy horror about gravediggers.

A Tribeca doc we found on netflix. Activists to various degrees – a marine biologist, an environmentalist TV host, and the filmmaker himself – get involved in ethical quandaries while trying to protect the Amazon pink dolphin by bringing media attention to its plight. On-camera confessions and the build-ups to “shocking” revelations feel somewhat like reality TV, and I’m more interested in the larger-scale societal problems barely addressed here (overfishing due to overpopulation, uncontrollable river pollution, government policies destroying livelihoods of entire villages). But it’s an undeniably interesting, twisty story that I’ve been pondering for weeks since watching.

The marine biologist enlists superstar TV host Richard Rasmussen to let the people know that this precious, docile dolphin is being trapped and killed, cut into parts, and used as bait to catch a local catfish that gets exported because it isn’t even healthy enough to be sold within the country. Richard is a fascinating character, honestly passionate about environmental concerns but also a born showman, and sometimes two-faced and underhanded in his methods. He personally enlists a river family to butcher a dolphin so he can get it on camera, then sells them out to publicize the footage, which catches fire in the media and leads to policy changes in the country. It’s easy to pick on Richard’s personality, his potentially illegal/immoral actions, but it’s also guerrilla activism for a purportedly noble cause. “As murky as the waters of the Amazon River itself,” says the official description, ay.

Turned this off halfway through and continued a couple days later, but I thought about abandoning the movie because I knew how it was going to end up, and wasn’t relishing the idea. We’re following Clara (Sonia Braga of Moon Over Parador, Kiss of the Spider Woman) who lives in a nice seaside condo, has lived there forever, full of memories and good records, hanging out with friends and family. But the building has new ownership, and every tenant except Clara has sold and moved out, and the realty company is starting to act funny, and vague threats are being floated by the underhanded old developer Geraldo and his young project head (and grandson) Diego. As vibrant and well-liked a person as she is, Clara is not gonna be able to stand up to a determined developer with a seaside property – we’ve got another Leviathan on our hands. So imagine my surprise.

Flashbacks to 1980, starting with the birthday of an aunt, establishing Clara as a cancer survivor and a Queen fan, back when her husband was alive – now in her sixties minus the husband and one breast, the movie still manages to have plenty of sex scenes. Anyway, she talks to people who work with the development company, gets help from her lifeguard friend Roberval (Irandhir Santos, star of Neighbouring Sounds), digs up a scandal with help from her lawyer, finds the termite nest they’ve planted in her building and brings it, along with the paperwork/evidence, to their office, suddenly reminding me that the Cinema Scope article on this movie was titled “Termite Art.”

Barry Lyndon:

“People like you who took a business course but lack basic human decency, who have no character … no, I mean, you do have character; your character is money. Therefore, honey, you have no character.” It’s like a superhero movie, establishing a lead character on the side of good, gradually introducing her support team, then uniting against evil at the end.

With Roberval in the termite apartments:

Strike Team: niece/lawyer, nephew, brother

R. Koehler:

All of his narrative films, short or long, entail examinations of life in various urban spaces in his beloved coastal city of Recife, in the northern Brazilian state of Pernambuco. These spaces, sometimes simply street corners, sometimes — as in his extraordinary 2012 feature debut, Neighboring Sounds — city blocks, develop into zones of competing sources of power through the course of patiently crafted narratives … Even more than in Neighboring Sounds, Aquarius contains a keen sense of history, and how the fundamental questions of identity and personal physical space can tie together memory and objects, music and the body, and how family itself is a living embodiment of history.

It turns out that it wasn’t watching the movie The Lost City of Z that satisfied me, so much as the quest to watch the movie The Lost City of Z, the confident hope that The Lost City of Z would be a great movie, based on the reviews of my James Gray-obsessed film critics. The movie itself – it’s okay, a quest picture where a determined Charlie Hunnam neglects his family to search repeatedly for Z, stopping only for WWI and to raise funds to return to his quest, eventually aging to the point where his oldest son can join him – then they both disappear forever, having either found their destination or been murdered by cannibals.

D. Kasman:

Fawcett … insists that this city, which he dubs “Zed,” not only exists, but that it represents a corrective to the very society whose recognition and acclaim he had once so passionately sought … Because Gray shows only the barest traces of what his protagonist discovers in the jungle, one is unable to precisely define how Z comes to assume such majestic proportions in Fawcett’s mind. Originating as a self-interested means to escape from the restrictive prejudices of English society, his search for Z increasingly comes to seem like a quixotic attempt to discover a greater, purer form of human dignity…

Rob Pattinson is very good as Hunnam’s loyal co-adventurer, Angus Macfadyen is irritating as an awful man who joins one mission then quits and sues, and barely in the movie are Hunnam wife Sienna Miller (upper-floor temptress of High-Rise) and son Tom Holland (the latest Spider-Man). The forest and the river and the light are all lovely, and I loved a match-cut from colored liquid seeping in a line to a train moving in the same direction… and the final shot of Miller leaving the National Geographic Society having received mixed news about her lost husband and walking out into the jungle.

Gray: “How do you take the classical form and do something with it? The last twenty minutes, something starts to break down in the film.”

N. Bahadur:

Where Lost City of Z becomes truly special for me … is within its final thirty minutes, where he starts to free himself from narratological function and let his formal syntax do the work – it’s a big step for him I think, because I believe it allows him to drive even closer to something idiosyncratic and distinctive – for most of the runtime it is a decent film, with some ok ideas, just like any other film… but suddenly, if just for a few minutes, we enter the realm of a visionary.

A Do The Right Thing setup, introducing the neighbors along a suburban Brazilian street, including young lovers, a stressed-out mom, a petty thief with rich parents. Clodoaldo (Irandhir Santos of Elite Squad 2) appears, setting up a street security force with the backing of the neighors, including an elder Donald Sutherland type (Francisco) who used to run this town. It’s all infused with a sense of slow dread seemingly leading nowhere major but enjoyable on its own, until Clodualdo’s final revelation at Francisco’s house, confronting the colonial sugar-mill owner with his past crimes before the movie ends abruptly in fireworks.

The movie draws its menace from the fences and bars, the security force and barking dogs, tension between neighbors and classes, dreams of hordes of street kids hopping the fences and murdering us all. It also sets you up to identify with Clodoaldo and his group, giving as Cinema Scope points out “the simultaneous sense .. of being inside and outside the community.”

Cinefest played it in the wrong ratio so everyone looked thinner, with some digital glitches – all forgiveable, since they played it at all.

A. Cutler:

The street on which the main action unfolds is his actual street; the apartment of one of the protagonists, the stir-crazy housewife Bia (played by Maeve Jinkings), is his apartment; the dog whose persistent barking drives Bia bonkers is his neighbor’s dog. Many of the film’s incidents, often charged with implicit racial or class tensions, came directly from things he had lived, and its mixing of genres—drama, comedy, action, horror—came from the mind of someone who regards daily life as material for cinema.

Green Vinyl (2004)
Also watched an earlier short by this director, set in the same neighborhood. A montage of still photos, a la La Jetee or Dog’s Dialogue. Mom gives Daughter a box of 45’s, says she must promise to never play the green one. Daughter ONLY plays the green one, keeps doing so even though it kills her mother, one limb at a time, like Monty Python’s black knight (and similarly unconcerned, always with a loving smile). “Freely adapted from a Russian fairy tale” was the only explanation I could find.

Kind of a clunky picture about a lovestruck band leader who takes his group to Brazil and falls for a local firebrand. Lots of time wasted on groany romantic drama between musical numbers, then the nine-minute songs wear out their welcome until I start hoping for the return of the groany drama. It’s saved by the charisma of the band members and some light filmmaking flourishes – over-the-top musical bits with oddball camera placement and silly-ass graphic transitions between every scene – brought to you by Thornton Freeland (directed Brewster’s Millions) and D.P. J. Roy Hunt (who also shot I Walked With a Zombie – someone needs to look into this guy). I don’t remember anymore why we watched this in film class at Tech (following Wings and Things To Come), probably something to do with 1930’s audiences’ love and fascination for new technologies such as the aeroplane (“electric tie rack! rackin’ up electric ties!”).

Something like Ginger Rogers’s 25th film, but Fred Astaire’s first, and it’s remembered for that. Central music number The Carioca was oscar-nominated, but beaten by Astaire & Rogers’ follow-up The Continental from The Gay Divorcee. Both songs are five minutes too long, so I’d like to cast my belated vote for the third nominee, Bing Crosby and Miriam Hopkins’s cross-dressing college gangster comedy She Loves Me Not.

Dolores del Rio was harmless in this, would turn up in Journey Into Fear with Orson Welles a decade later. Less harmless was star bandleader Gene Raymond, our blonde German-looking chunkhead romantic lead. Suppose I might have to see him again in Mr. and Mrs. Smith or If I Had a Million, but mostly he had the courtesy to stay out of the more acclaimed movies of the 30’s. Good-natured gentleman Raul Roulien as Dolores’s family-arranged fiancee failed to make as much of an impression as did Etta Moten (“the first Negro woman to play a dignified role in pictures”) who sang a verse of The Carioca, or Eric Blore (Sullivan’s valet) and Franklin Pangborn (another future Sturges player) as comically uptight hotel managers in the opening scene.

FITZCARRALDO (1982, Werner Herzog)

Klaus Kinski (the year after starring in Terayama Shuji’s Fruits of Passion) acts less crazy than usual as Fitz, though he’s still got that hair. And of course, his crazy actions speak for themselves. Fitz loves opera, especially the singer Caruso, whose records he collects (which places the action somewhere 1905-1915ish) and wants to build an opera house where he lives in Iquitos, Peru, but investors won’t be convinced.

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So Fitz decides to make a fortune as a rubber baron, and build his own damned opera house. Gets his brothel-running girlfriend Claudia Cardinale (over a decade after her heyday in Once Upon a Time in the West, 8 1/2, The Leopard) to front him a steamboat and claims an unharvested plot of riverfront land in the jungle. It’s unharvested because nobody can reach it… it lies upstream from dangerous rapids. But even further upstream, another river veers within half a mile of the river in question, so Fitz plans to sail up THAT (dangerous-native-infested) river, drag his boat onto land across into the other river and harvest his rubber.

Claudia Cardinale:
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Along with a half-blind but navigationally-keen captain, a drunken chef, and a mechanic (Miguel Ángel Fuentes, fresh from playing the mystical indian sidekick in Puma Man) who’s openly spying on Fitz for his competitors, Fitz makes it to the crossing and with the help of hundreds of natives, drags his 30-ton ship over a damned muddy mountain and into the other river. That night, after the drunken celebration party, the natives cut the ship loose as a sacrifice to the rapids, undoing months of work. In a wonderfully bittersweet finale, with what’s left of his capital Fitz hires the opera to come to Iquitos and perform from the ship.

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Shot realistically, naturally taking its time to unfold. Herzog’s/Fitz’s ambition is immeasurable, and so a mere two hours cannot contain it. Movie doesn’t seem long so much as… huge. Actors speak English, dubbed into German and subtitled back into English.

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Hey wow, it was shot by the guy who did Orson Welles: One Man Band, which is the other movie I considered watching tonight. He also shot bunches of Alexander Kluge films.


WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE (1980, Les Blank)

“I’m quite convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking”

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Oh man, this was great… first of all because Werner is my hero, here being smart and funny and provocative, and second because Les keeps it lively with a circus atmosphere, bringing in clips of Herzog movies, The Gold Rush, and a Gates of Heaven outtake. Fitzcarraldo was in pre-production, and Les would follow Werner into that venture, filming…


BURDEN OF DREAMS (1982, Les Blank)

“If I abandoned this project I would be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that.”

One of the most amazing docs I have seen, and essential viewing with Fitzcarraldo. Shows and tells the factors that made that film define “troubled production”, making Terry Gilliam and Francis Ford Coppola look like pansies in comparison. Attacks and intimidation by natives (their camp is burned down, a spear attack injures three), losing both stars of the film (post-Melvin and Howard Jason Robards and pre-Tattoo You Mick Jagger) and the actual pulling of a 30-ton steamship over a mountain by natives doesn’t even cover the whole story.

Burden of Dreams:
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Fitzcarraldo:
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On-set tantrums by a bored Klaus Kinski aren’t in this film (presumably they’re covered in My Best Fiend). This doc itself is wonderfully well-paced and shot, and Les gets choice interviews with Herzog, including his oft-quoted bit about how the jungle birds don’t sing, “they just screech in pain.” Taken as a package, Fitz and Burden are the rare cult films which exceed their reputation.

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From Paul Arthur’s Criterion essay:

When production stalls, as it often does—Herzog claims his film is “cursed,” admitting that “the jungle is winning”—Blank filters in lively scenes of the Campa extras’ quotidian routines: food preparation, clothes washing, the blending of a local alcoholic drink made from yuca plants. It is significant that most activities are “women’s work,” a realm that Herzog’s masculinist vision rarely acknowledges. Later, Blank constructs a touching vision of cross-cultural identification by juxtaposing the sound of a Caruso aria coming from a record player in an earlier shot with loving close-ups of native women, as if they are responding to the beauty of this alien voice. The moment recalls an archetypal collision staged by romantic adventurer Robert Flaherty in Nanook of the North (1922), when the titular Eskimo marvels at a phonograph record (then jokingly decides to bite it). Unlike either Herzog or Flaherty, Blank clearly prefers the rhythms of collective effort, of sensuous community, over Eurocentric ideals of heroic individualism. In essence, he has crafted a film about the interaction of premodern tribal existence with European modernity, epitomized by a movie narrative about the invidious clash of brute nature and a singular ego bent on his own, ultimately delusional, mission of cultural enlightenment.