Karamakate in the Amazon is visited by two white men seeking the same herb at different times in his life. As a strong and suspicious young man in 1909 he meets Belgian Theo (Borgman star Jan Bijvoet) who claims he seeks the plant to cure an illness. As a forgetful old man during WWII he meets Evan (Brionne Davis of a recent Wizard of Oz miniseries – IMDB: “ambitious and terrible”), who claims to be a noble scientist but is ultimately seeking materials for military use.
Really beautiful black-and-white jungle/river photography, recreations of native life and its corruption and destruction by so-called Christians. The story about needing to teach the white guys to dream, and the parallel timelines (the latter-day one ending with Karamakate destroying the plant rather than hand it over) were a bit confounding and the heavy symbolism a bit tiresome, but overall I liked it better than Cinema Scope did, and not as much as Reverse Shot did.
Sought this out because Martin is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50. Reminds of the fake 4:3 history of Tabu, but even more artificial, and with more leaves and fronds than Sternberg would’ve thought possible for his Anatahan. Percussive music when needed, never rising higher than the sound of wind.
There’s a family fighting hunger and frigid rain. Little birds (finches?) flutter around as if tossed into frame, landing in a kid’s hair at one point. Americans collect the kid but apparently not out of goodwill, since they start shooting when he runs off.
The subtitles don’t seem trustworthy, and my copy is too muddy and low-res. And I don’t really understand. But the photography is very nice, and different from anything else today. Turns to color for a Germany Year Zero ending. Must rewatch when blu-ray comes out.
Not unlike South American and other Third World writers employing magic realism in their works, Martin harnesses the inherently surreal/fantastical aspects of our folklore in order to mirror the under-emphasized and misrepresented aspects of our culture. Circulated in the deep of the night, circulated during meals, the stories exchanged in the depths of the forest are a kind of nourishment, a defense mechanism that both diverts and fortifies.
D. Kasman (who also mentioned Anatahan):
His minute little saga, which begins with a mother and son in the late 1890s fleeing the American invasion of the Philippines by hiding out in the forest, and ends with the son having a son all his own, still hiding from the encroaching Yanks, is shot in homage to old Hollywood films.
Visually, Martin reflects this process of cultural imperialism in the images of supplanted native identity that bookend the film: from the opening shot of Filipinos in figuratively handed down Spanish clothing .. to the ominous tincture of color suffusing the horizon against a Mount Fuji-esque scenic landscape (reminiscent of scroll work) that augurs the arrival of the Japanese.
A young white woman named France (Mereille Perrier of Boy Meets Girl) hitching rides through Cameroon flashes back to when she was young and Isaach de Bankole used to feed her ants. Her dad (Francois Cluzet of Chabrol’s L’Enfer) was a colonialist governor and Protee (Bankole) their house servant.
Protee and mom:
When dad attends to local and distant affairs, France and mom (Giulia Boschi) and Protee stay home showing each other displays of power and hidden attraction. A nearby missionary is having a difficult time because lions have killed all his farm animals. The house chef pretends to consult his cookbook, but can’t read.
Finally a Big Event: a plane crash-lands nearby and the pilot and passengers stay with the family while getting parts and repairs. Their stay causes all sorts of racial tension. A self-important coffee-grower has a weird relationship with his black housekeeper. One of the white passengers works on the plane with the black locals, eventually starts sleeping and bathing outside, getting on Protee’s nerves. Some of the passengers are more blatantly, vocally racist than the family is used to. Protee is kicked out of the house, plays a weird trick on the little girl where they both end up with their palms burned.
Senses of Cinema: “a semi-autobiographical film that functions as a political allegory examining gender, age and colonial relationships.”
Raised by missionaries into a white colonialist culture, removed from his cultural and racial heritage and emasculated by the domestic duties he performs, Protee is a liminal figure trapped between two cultures. This is clearly signified by the arrival of Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin), a young lapsed priest who lives, eats and showers outside like the native servants. Luc threatens Protee, upsets the fragile equanimity, and induces Aimee’s betrayal of Protee and in turn Protee’s betrayal of France. This moment of betrayal explains the transformation in France’s gaze from the innocence and intensity of a child to the cynical wary gaze of an adult remembering and re-examining a complicated past.
UPDATE DEC. 2008: Wow, check out these stills from the new restoration. DVD box set will be out soon – check http://www.ivens.nl/ for updates.
Directed by Ivens, narration written by Chris Marker, assistant camera by Patricio Guzman. Wow! Not to discount Ivens’s achievement, but this plays just like Marker’s travel documentaries. Definitely belongs with that group in some imaginary DVD box set, hopefully with far improved image quality over the awful version I just watched. I want to say this had better camera work than the Marker docs, but in this state, it is hard to tell.
A decade before the Battle of Chile events would begin, Ivens and crew give us an overview of life in this port city built on a series of steep hills. Focus is on things that affect the residents (like the funicular system) and events they participate in (huge annual fireworks show, a kite flying festival), not the popular tourist sites and historic buildings mentioned on wikipedia. Or maybe Ivens just hired a local tour guide and didn’t check wikipedia before going over there. A humorous tone to the commentary (when appropriate), shots of penguins, seals, pelicans and cats (no owls in town), a fire, some jump-cutting in line for the funicular. One very non-Marker-esque bit when a staged (I assume) bar-fight shatters a mirror and leads to a splash of blood, audio dissonance, a kaleidoscopic shot cutting to a burning pirate flag to introduce a history of colonialism in the state… awesome.
buildings that look like ships:
Wikipedia: The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a staggering blow to Valparaíso, though the city has staged an impressive renaissance in recent years.
Senses of Cinema gives a shout out to Ivens:
… à Valparaiso has regularly been regarded as more of a Marker film than one truly belonging to Ivens. This reading prioritises and favours sound over image – a common mistake even when reading Marker’s wholly “owned” work – and fails to recognise the range and often explicitly lyrical nature of Ivens’ broader filmography.