Maria flees her town and moves into a house in the woods along with two pigs that she transforms into children and names Pedro and Ana. I think they’re hiding from a wolf outside, and after they almost die in a house fire Pedro drinks honey and turns white, and Ana swallows a songbird and gets a golden voice, then Maria is rescued after they try eating her… I dunno, I was too busy marveling at the look of this thing.

Smeary, drippy painting inside a real (model?) house, with doorways and props. But painted scenes will overwhelm doors and props as if they weren’t there, then form free-standing stop-motion models within the room, 2D artworks interacting with 3D objects, the wall art constantly shifting and the models always making and unmaking themselves, styles of the characters changing. Rustling and rubbing sounds accompany all the visual shifting, wires and cellophane hold the models in place, and I think it’s all fluid transitions with no traditional editing.

I’d forgotten about the brief TV-footage framing story, but did wonder why Maria sometimes spoke German. Apparently this is a fairy-tale reference to a notorious German-led cult and Pinochet torture compound, active in Chile for decades.

Cartoon Brew:

During the research process, the filmmakers discovered that the German members of the community used to call their Chilean neighbors ‘schweine’. This led them to conceive of the two children in the story as piglets, and depict their progressive transformation into Aryan humans as an ironic joke aping the community’s racial ideology.

Walker has an interview with the directors, including some amazing production details, and their self-set rules for animation and sound design:

We had a literary script, with the dialogues of the film, a really simple storyboard, basically with one image per scene … Our day-to-day work was to find a way to connect one image with the other … The specific actions of each scene were improvised.

Time and history and fiction intermesh in a greenscreen theater. Don Celso aka Rhododendron is introduced in old age, then he meets Long John Silver in flashback, immediately putting us in classic Ruiz territory.

Somehow, Ruiz’s actors don’t seem as convincing on video. Also, I don’t have a damned clue what’s going on half the time, and a couple weeks afterwards I’ve forgotten everything previously understood. The Boris Nelepo article in Cinema Scope (“the meta-Ruizian film, it unlocks the secret recesses and false compartments of his entire oeuvre”) will have to be revisited before I watch it the next time.

Young Celso hangs out with his buddy, stalks his math teacher to try getting a grade changed. The movie is full of word games and notes on translation, and I don’t have complete faith in my subtitles (they translated the title “la noche de enfrente” as “into the coming night”). In the semi-present, Rolo comes to a boarding house to kill Don Celso, makes out with his own aunt first. And then…

Not to be confused with The Clan or The Tribe or The Wolfpack. Movies need better titles.

My first Pablo Larraín movie, and it’s unusual. Not sure what I was expecting, maybe more Matteo Garrone-style. Has a hazy digital look with odd white balance and sometimes grotesque wide lenses, and tells an odd story about a house of recovery/isolation for problem priests.

Father Matías arrives with an exquisite beard, but has been followed there by Sandokan, whom he used to molest as a boy. Sandokan yells in front of the house until Father Matías walks outside and kills himself.

Newcomer Father Matías:

So Father Garcia is sent from the church to investigate, and probably to shut down the house and scatter its residents. The residents seem less concerned with him than with Sandokan, who is still hanging around town, so they stage a crime to pin on him, murdering their own and their neighbors’ racing dogs. Sandokan gets beaten up by an angry mob, and Father Garcia agrees to leave the house alone if they’ll take care of poor Sandokan.

Investigator Father Garcia:

I didn’t get this ending, really, but liked the actors’ beards and the general muddled atmosphere of the thing. Obviously don’t know what to make of Larraín at this point – need to watch more of his work. I thought he was one of our beloved international festival auteurs (his current Jackie is getting raves) until discovering so many negative reviews of this one. Checking online, I see that Sicinski has turned in a four-paragraph review of the other The Club (“a Master Lock for your steering wheel”) which is confusing the Letterboxd commenters.

Nick Pinkerton:

There are doubtless those who will prefer the smoldering indignity of Spotlight, ever so slightly tinctured for flavor with self-recrimination, to the moral murkiness of The Club … Shot by Larraín’s regular cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, The Club is overlaid with a milky haze … it gives the impression of an all-permeating damp fog, a dramatis personae who are half-ghost, and a setting that is somewhere between the Chilean seaside and Purgatory.

Sandokan:

Looking up cast, Jaime Vadell must’ve played the oldest priest (nobody, including he, can remember his crimes) because he appeared in Ruiz’s Three Sad Tigers back in the 1960’s. Dog-killing ex-nun Sister Monica was Larraín regular Antonia Zegers, and dog trainer Vidal starred in and cowrote Tony Manero.

Quintín:

Larraín prefers to deal in his films with the low and middle classes, whom he strongly despises. If there’s a common thread running through his cinematographic output, it’s that the problem of contemporary Chilean society is not, as usually assumed, that it suffered a dictatorship for almost 20 years, during which time thousands of citizens were murdered, tortured, and disappeared, all kinds of censorship and repression was exerted, and people couldn’t leave their homes at night because of the curfew. No, for Larraín the true problem is that Chileans deserve their fate because they secretly liked to be humiliated and destroyed by the barbarians, as they thought that they were not strong enough to rebel against them.

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:

Roughly in descending order of how much I loved ’em.

World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)

Duh.

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Konstantin Bronzit)

An ode to friendship and space travel. Pretty traditional-looking animation with some fun effects (I loved when the stars turned into falling snow) and a beautiful story. Bronzit has made a bunch of shorts including the oscar-nom Lavatory Lovestory.

Prologue (Richard Williams)

Firstly, holy crap, Richard Williams is still working. Looks like a very good figure-drawing exercise come to life – a single “shot” detailing a violent gladiator fight and the moments before and after.

If I Was God (Cordell Barker)

That’s National Film Board of Canada legend Cordell Barker, of The Cat Came Back and Strange Invaders fame. The animation here does not disappoint, terrific stop-motion, though the story’s just alright: reminiscing of schoolday fantasies.

Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel)

Saw this with The Good Dinosaur.

Bear Story (Gabriel Osorio Vargas)

From Chile – Lonely bear has a complicated mechanical box that tells his life story of being kidnapped and imprisoned by Pinochet’s police zookeepers, losing his family while away – though in the mechanical version his family stays. Not wowed by the animation but I loved the inventiveness of the “mechanics”. Doesn’t Osorio mean “bear river”? Was that bear the director?

The Loneliest Stoplight (Bill Plympton)

Not Plympton’s best work about inanimate objects in love (that’d be The Fan and the Flower), but cute. Patton Oswalt voices a stoplight who’s had some good times but is now mostly forgotten since everyone takes the highway.

The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (bunch of French directors)

Hard to focus with the girl behind me saying “soooo cute!” over and over, but I guess a fox and a mouse take turns saving each other’s lives and become friends. Second animated movie I’ve seen this month casting owls as the villains.

Catch It (bunch of French directors)

A wannabe Ice Age, meerkats vs. a vulture. Every year when this program needs to fill time it throws in something animated by a gang of French people.


These shorts programs are fun, even though World of Tomorrow looked better on my TV than on the movie screen somehow. Watched the 2014 program at The Ross and the 2013 in Atlanta… and I guess the 2006… so I’d have some catching up to do if I got a sudden urge to watch all the oscar-nominated animated shorts ever… not that I’d do a thing like that.

All I knew from Guzmán was The Battle of Chile, which is newsreel documentary with explanatory postscript. I heard this was another doc about Pinochet horrors made forty years later and thought ah, more of the same. But this is something very different: a poetic, visual doc encompassing early man, human history and the cosmos, past and present colliding in beauty and horror.

One of the movie’s subjects, Lautaro Núñez, explains:

The astronomers created an enormous telescope … They are in the present recording a past which they have to reconstruct. They have only minute clues. They are archaeologists like us. … Why are there archaeologists and astronomers in the same place? The answer is simple. Here, the past is more accessible than elsewhere. The translucency of the sky is, for the archaeologists of space, what the dry climate is for us. It facilitates our access to evidence from the past.

Guzmán: “And yet, this country has not yet considered its past. It is held in the grasp of the coup d’etat which seems to immobilise it.”

Guzmán slowly brings the focus from ancient archaeology to more recent, focusing on a group of women who have combed the desert for decades looking for the graves of their relatives who were murdered and disappeared by Pinochet’s men. Then he connects even this to the cosmic, all with beautiful photography.

Astronomer Valentina Rodríguez’s parents are among the dead. “Astronomy has somehow helped me to give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss. I tell myself it’s all part of a cycle… we are all part of a current… like the stars which must die so that other stars can be born… nothing really comes to an end.”

Watched a couple new Marker-related shorts,
and rewatched some older ones in shiny new copies.


Sunday in Peking (1956) in lovely high definition


Letter from Siberia (1957)

Forgot how amazing this one is.
Songs and animation and opera, owl-led advertisements and imaginary newsreels.

“Since you can never tell how a bear will react to a camera, we were offered the protection of an armed policeman. But since we’re much more frightened of policemen than we are of bears, we politely declined.”

The Irkutsk Dam, “sitting on its own reflection like a station in outer space”:


Le Chant du Styrene (1958, Alain Resnais)

Mostly shots of the factory, with few humans.
Forgot about the rhyming voiceover.


Broadway By Light (1958, William Klein)

From Marker’s intro: “Each evening, in the centre of New York, an artificial day rises. Its purpose is to announce spectacles, sell products, and the producers of these adverts would be amazed to know that the most fascinating spectacle, the most precious product made by them, is the very street transformed by their signs.” Klein shoots the lights of Broadway, scored by cartoon-jazz music that matches the editing and light movement. Wonderful, would like to put this and some Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra shorts on an infinite loop in my office. Klein’s first film (I only knew his Mr. Freedom before), edited by Alain Resnais.


A Valparaiso (1963, Joris Ivens) from the 2008 restoration


Junkopia (1981)

Uses the sort of electronically-processed sound he’d be featuring in his next full-length film, Sans Soleil.


Eclipse (1999)

On a day when everyone is looking at a solar eclipse through special glasses, Marker watches the watchers instead. First half has live sound at a hippo sculpture park, then he switches to slow motion and electronic music and goes elsewhere (the zoo? there are owls).


Description of a Memory (2007, Dan Geva)

I didn’t rewatch my terrible-quality copy of Marker’s Description of a Struggle, but instead tried this doc, the second feature-length film I’ve seen this year made in response to a Chris Marker-related film. Geva shows the Marker film and stills to locals, asks about the people who appeared in the original. Reminds me of Marker’s friend Agnes Varda, her periodic returns to previous films through documentaries and shorts and DVD extras. Geva is investigating images and memories a la Marker and Varda, turning out a worthy follow-up to the original feature.

Of the happy kid riding a cart down a hilly street: “British policeman bashed his head with an iron rod. Gone a bit mad since.

“Noah Rosenfeld, who fulfilled his dream to become a chess champion.”


More Marker:
Far From Vietnam is out in HD. The Confession is also out, and includes the Arthur London short. Mémoires pour Simone still lacks subtitles, as do most of the 1969-1970 shorts. Oh, and it looks like new copies of Description of a Struggle and Blue Helmet just came out – will save those for another day.

You expect a new Jodorowsky movie to be bonkers, and I was skeptical because movies this bonkers are usually wannabe-cult empty-headed nonsense. Text descriptions of a boy with a huge-breasted mom whose dialogue is all sung opera-style and a dad who gets surrounded by miners missing limbs all singing their woes would raise a few red flags, but AJ makes it all seem rich and wonderful, then tones down the circus act and pulls off a surprisingly emotional second half.

Explores AJ’s own childhood in 1930’s Chile, the same way Guy Maddin explored his childhood in Brand Upon The Brain and My Winnipeg, keeping emotional truths and memorable details and poetically inventing the rest. Young AJ is followed around by wise old AJ (playing himself as a phantom narrator), and as usual it’s a family affair, with AJ’s son Brontis (the little kid from El Topo!) playing the father (and I’m guessing a real opera singer as the mom).

Jaime is an ex-circus performer (see also: Santa Sangre), volunteer fireman and passionate communist ashamed of his timid, long-haired art-loving son Alejandro. Jaime’s wife (they run a shop together) is obsessed with her dead father, thinks he is reincarnated in her son because of the long hair, which Jaime finally has cut off, causing family disharmony. Jaime tries to man-up his son, giving him painful challenges, while young Alejandro’s other influences are the colorful characters around town.

After the death of his fire chief and a failed attempt to help plague-afflicted slum-dwellers, Jaime regroups and decides to journey to the capital and assassinate tyrant president Ibáñez. First Jaime protects the president from a fellow communist in order to earn a position as the president’s personal horse groom, planning a more insidious revenge. But after poisoning the president’s prize horse according to plan, Jaime can’t murder the man, his hands becoming useless claws, then loses his memory and disappears into the slums, while back home Alejandro’s mom teaches her son a different way to disappear, showing him how not to be noticed to avoid antisemitic discrimination from the locals. Jaime regains his self-worth only to be captured and tortured by nazis on the way home – but he does get home, and the family flees their fucked-up town.

Colorful, beautiful movie that can’t go five minutes without doing something different and amazing, also with judicious use of digital effects. I love a good imaginary history, and after all the family affection (and pain, let’s face it) in this movie, I was shocked to read wikipedia’s cold version of AJ’s childhood. AJ: “My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human.”

P. Bradshaw:

For the first time, Jodorowsky is coming close to telling us how personal evasiveness has governed his film-making style; his flights of fancy are flights of pain, flights from childhood and flights from reality. And now he is using his transformative style to come to terms with and change the past and to confer on his father some of the heroism that he never attained in real life.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

The Dance of Reality works as an exorcism of an era where false and destructive dreams were also the hope for mankind, and when children were educated through abuse by their parents and by society. But Jodorowsky, one of these abused children, finally became as brave as young Alex is told to be in the film: he dares in his film to take on all of those issues, to speak freely about love and sex, fascism and communism and sorrow and pain and happiness, and to make his personal circus travel the world with brilliance.

My 2000th blog post!

“Why sometimes do images begin to tremble?”

From the film:

1967 saw the arrival of a rather peculiar breed of adolescents. They all looked alike. They would immediately recognize each other. They seemed to posses a silent but absolute knowledge of certain issues but to be totally ignorant about others. Their hands were unbelievable skillful at pasting up posters, handing paving stones, spraying on walls short and cryptic messages which stuck in the memory, all the while calling for more hands to pass on the message they’d received but had not completely deciphered. Those fragile hands have left us the mark of their fragility. Once they even wrote it on a banner. “The workers will take the flag of struggle from the fragile hands of the students.” But that was the following year.

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Watched the 3-hour 2008 edit with English narration. There are so many versions of this out there… maybe next time I can watch the 2008 or 1977 French with subtitles.

I thought I’d have more to say about it… three hours’ worth of Chris Marker’s most celebrated film, but I don’t really. Marker is mainly credited as an editor here, arranging others’ footage to show a bigger picture. There’s no wall-to-wall narration, just pops up occasionally. And I’m starting to notice a real sadness beneath many of Marker’s films… the same feeling in Chats Perches is present here. Glad I prepped a little by watching Sixth Side of the Pentagon and Battle of Chile, but I still had to check on wikipedia to see what exactly happened in Bolivia (Che Guevara killed Oct. 1967) and Prague (Jan-Aug 1968, attempted reform of Czech socialism led to 30 years of Soviet military occupation). The movie isn’t here to teach basic history of revolution – assumes you know something already, and since I quit reading The People’s History of the United States before it reached the 1900’s, I do not. Still, was able to follow the movie, thought lots of the footage was excellent, enjoyed watching and learned a little. Some segments have little gems of Marker wit in their editing or narration, but much of it is making connections between different scenes of revolution, both real and wishful, and thinking about what has been achieved, what might have been achieved. Really have to watch again sometime.

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Either this was an early use of the electronic soundtracks that Marker would use in Sans Soleil and beyond, or the sound on my copy of the movie was pretty badly distorted. Or, more likely, both. The sound got worse during part two – there were some sections when I couldn’t make out any of the (English) dialogue.

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Video and audio footage by: Pierre Lhomme (Mother and the Whore, Le Joli Mai, Army of Shadows), Etienne Becker (The Spiral, Le Joli Mai, Malle’s Calcutta), Michele Ray (Latcho Drom), Francois Reichenbach and his crew, Harald & Harrick Maury (The Owl’s Legacy, Day For Night, In the Year of the Pig), Théo Robichet (Band of Outsiders), Pierre Dupouey (Silence… on tourne), Raymond Adam (Jodorowsky’s Tusk), Paul Bourron of the Dziga Vertov Group, Willy Kurant (Far From Vietnam, Masculin-Feminin, Pootie Tang), Peter Kassovitz (Jakob the Liar), Paul Seban (Welles’s The Trial), Michel Fano (Rivette’s The Nun), Fernand Moskovitz (Last Tango in Paris), Yann Le Masson (Je t’aime moi non plus), Mario Marret & Carlos de los Llanos (À bientôt, j’espère), Jimmy Glasberg (Sans Soleil, Shoah), Robert Dianoux (Africa, I Will Fleece You), Jean Boffety (Thieves Like Us, Je t’aime je t’aime, Adieu Philippine), Robert Destanque (Joris Ivens’s The Threatening Sky), Hiroko Govaers (Terayama’s Fruits of Passion), Michel Cenet (Celine and Julie Go Boating), and an excerpt from Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. That is quite a list of collaborators, though you never hear anyone talking about them.

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English voices: Jim Broadbent (Brazil), Cyril Cusack (Fahrenheit 451), Robert Kramer (dir. Ice, Against Oblivion), Alfred Lynch (The Hill), and numerous British 1970’s TV actors.

“You can never tell what you might be filming.”

Quotes and other reactions:

Icarus Films calls it an “epic film-essay on the worldwide political wars of the 60’s and 70’s: Vietnam, Bolivia, May ’68, Prague, Chile, and the fate of the New Left.”

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J. Hoberman: “Marker begins by evoking Battleship Potemkin, and although hardly agitprop, A Grin Without a Cat is in that tradition—a montage film with a mass hero. Unlike Eisenstein, however, Marker isn’t out to invent historical truth so much as to look for it. (The untranslatable French title, Le Fond de l’air est rouge, is a play on words suggesting that revolution was in the air but not on the ground.)”

Paul Arthur: “In its rhythms and editing structures, Grin tries to embody the very shape and textures of historical transformation, rendering the abstraction of change as an amalgam of rapid, plurivocal, uneven, and, at times, contradictory forces aligned in provisional symmetries encompassing past, present and future perspectives.”

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Y. Meranda: “The editing de-emphasizes the narrative structure and instead stresses the poetical interrelationships of the sequences by putting almost all of them out-of-context. … Paralleling the visual editing, the sound editing is more based on poetical considerations than on intellectual ones. … Because there is very little attention paid to the intellectual arguments and because the style goes beyond making statements about a political ideology, A Grin Without a Cat becomes much more than a left wing documentary about the left: It achieves to be a poem about revolting against the system (and not just the political system), the conformity and the order. It suggests that it is an eternal struggle that is supposed to fail (as was in the case of the New Left) most of the times. This universality, achieved by Marker’s distinctive style, is what makes the film great.”

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Excerpts from the Lupton book:

“Marker explicitly pitched the film against what he saw as the historical amnesia surrounding the period promoted by its treatment on television, where ‘one event is swept away by another, living ideals are replaced by cold facts, and it all finally descends into collective oblivion.'”

Movie is partially composed of outtakes from other projects. “Introducing the published script, Marker wrote that he had become curious about all the material that had been left out of militant films in order to obtain an idealogically ‘correct’ image, and now wondered if these abandoned fragments might not yield up the essential matter of history better than the completed films.”

“As a groundbreaking work of visual historiography, Le Fond attempts nothing less than to give cinematic form to the chaotic and contradictory movement of world history during the tumultuous decade that it covers.”

“The reappearance of cats, even in this thoroughly politicized context, is a signal that Chris Marker was beginning to re-emerge from the anonymity of unsigned militant productions and to reintroduce into his work the familiar tokens of his own distinct presence.”

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Chris Marker:

Scenes of the third World War 1967-1977

Some think the third World War will be set off by a nuclear missile. For me, that’s the way it will end. In the meantime, the figures of an intricate game are developing, a game whose de-coding will give historians of the future – if they are still around – a very hard time.

A weird game. Its rules change as the match evolves. To start with, the super powers’ rivalry transforms itself not only into a Holy Alliance of the Rich against the Poor, but also into a selective co-elimination of Revolutionary Vanguards, wherever bombs would endanger sources of raw materials. As well as into the manipulation of these vanguards to pursue goals that are not their own.

During the last ten years, some groups of forces (often more instinctive than organized) have been trying to play the game themselves – even if they knocked over the pieces. Wherever they tried, they failed. Nevertheless, it’s been their being that has the most profoundly transformed politics in our time. This film intends to show some of the steps of this transformation.

More images:

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The Chairman:
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Funeral in Prague:
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Last footage ever shot of Salvador Allende:
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Allende’s daughter, who would commit suicide in 1977:
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Fidel in Russia:
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Enormous cats (no owls):
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Nixon looks on:
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