Before actually watching them, I kept getting the two retirement community movies confused in my head, but Some Kind of Heaven only wishes it could reach the same level of emotion and drama as this one. The cutesy setup is an elderly man hired by a private investigator to check on a woman at a Chilean nursing home and see that she’s been well-treated, and this man’s attempts to become a spy and master his mobile technology. We get his lo-fi daily reports, but the doc film crew is there in the home, watching him and possibly undermining the secret mission. Sergio isn’t a perfect spy either, at one point taking a side mission to retrieve family photos for a resident, pulling them straight out of a folder with his employer’s name on it. This made me wonder if it’s all a ruse to get Sergio accustomed to stay at the nursing home, but no, he has a loving family and goes home at the end. Before he goes, he solves the case: there’s no mistreatment by the home, only by the family members who abandon their elders here then never visit. RIP the poet and the romantic. Opener Andreas Kapsalis was our second solo artist in a row, nice acoustic guitar for a morning screening. He’s a talented, thoughtful player, so I wish he was doing something cooler than covering Pink Floyd’s Money, which we’d already heard at the college bar the night before… unless it was meant as a T/F callback.

At end of the last movie, the family was moving from seaside town Tocopilla to Santiago. Mom still sings all her lines, dad is still violent, but this time young Alejandro is the lead character, discovering art and poetry and breaking away from his parents. Just as the kid’s performance is starting to feel limited, we jump a few years so he can be played by Adan Jodorowsky, the filmmaker’s son and director of Echek, for the rest of the film.

The mix of realistic (and not) effects, JR-style retrofitting of modern buildings, dreamlike sets with visible stagehands rearranging furniture, Orpheus references, random nudity, shock color, head shaving, prankster poets, sad clowns and street parades, with the poetry and deaths and parental issues… it all worked for me.

Shot by Chris Doyle! The first I’ve seen from him since The Limits of Control.

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.