Flashes back and forth in time, so I didn’t realize the two lead actresses on the poster art are both Julieta: younger Adriana Ugarte and older Emma Suárez (she worked with Julio Medem in the 1990’s).

Julieta hears word of her missing daughter Antía from a mutual friend and abruptly breaks contact with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Talk to Her star Darío Grandinetti, looking exactly the same), moves back into her old apartment building and writes a long letter to Antía explaining past events: meeting Antía’s dad Xoan, his affair with artist Ava (Blancanieves star Inma Cuesta) and their argument just before he died at sea while Antía was at camp. After her daughter disappears, Julieta makes up with Ava, waits and searches for Antía, and anyway there’s more, it’s a complicated movie, but it has a happyish ending and everyone’s just wonderful in it, and it’s particularly nice to see Rossy de Palma again (as a suspicious housekeeper). Didn’t make Cinema Scope’s year-end list, but I liked it more than The Ornithologist. I got a long way to go if I’m gonna be a celebrated art-cinema critic.

Manolo decides to travel from Spain with his loyal donkey Gorrión and hike the Trail of Tears in America. His daughter is supportive, but Manolo has had some health concerns, and it’s hard to find budget transportation for a man and a donkey (and his dog Zafrana). He deals with corporate and government bureaucracy and with a donkey who quietly refuses to cross a bridge for hours on end. It’s a pretty minor story (Manolo doesn’t take the trip) but the filmmaker captures a loving portrait of his uncle Manolo, some Bela Tarr close-ups of the implacable donkey, and a nice windmill shot at the end to justify the title.

Pereira, from an essential interview by Pamela Cohn in Filmmaker:

More than anything, I think that Manolo’s relationship with these animals is what the film is documenting. In other words, I think it’s the most documentary aspect. From the beginning, both Zafrana and Gorrión are almost in every shot, and we always see the three of them together … And they communicate with one another in various ways — man to animal, and also animal to animal. This is a way of understanding friendship or understanding how humans and animals can enrich each other’s lives, opening our own concepts of friendship and spending complex time with non-humans.

First movie watched after election day, which knocked every thought out of my head, so trying to recollect them for this writeup.

Con artist in Spain Frédéric Bourdin claims to be missing person Nicholas Barclay, taking us through how he convinced authorities and even the Barclay family to believe and embrace him, despite being the wrong age and having a French accent. His identity is unambiguous to the movie audience – he’s not Nicholas – so the mystery and tension are in figuring out why everyone is going along with his story and when he’ll be found out. A private investigator finally unmasks him, and raises the suspicion that the family was quick to go along with his story because one of them might have murdered Nicholas.

Adam Cook:

Each new twist and turn in this story of lies and untold truths will leave you aghast at both the audaciousness of the tall tales and the stupidity and willingness of the people that believed them. Documentaries tend to deal in truths but The Imposter deals in lies which means you are never truly trusting of anything that is said. It provides the film with a strange quality as you question each and every new piece of juicy information Layton slowly teases.

M. D’Angelo:

First and foremost, it’s a creative essay about confirmation bias, an “affliction” that, as we see here, spares nobody. Whether through pre-interview instructions or judicious editing (and I honestly don’t care which), Layton cannily tells the entire story in the present tense, never allowing Nicholas’ family to attest to knowledge or emotions they didn’t have at the time, and (more crucially) never permitting them to retroactively explain themselves … My only lingering reservation involves the decision — justifiable, given the film’s modus operandi, but troubling nonetheless — to let Bourdin control his own image right up to the last few minutes, so that the extent to which he’s a pure sociopath winds up feeling like a plot twist.

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:

Dreamy and free-flowing, the story spiraling into mirrors and coincidences, feeling sometimes like a less grim A Very Long Engagement. The story traces back and forth along their lives with kinetic editing and glowing camerawork – pretty much my favorite kind of movie.

Palindromic couple Ana and Otto are destined for each other, seen at different ages. The oldest Ana was 20-year-old Najwa Nimri, of Before Night Falls and Abre Los Ojos – which also featured oldest Otto Fele Martínez (also of Thesis and Bad Education). Writer/director Medem made Sex and Lucia, and last year he had a Salma Hayek movie at TIFF.

Set in a Communist-friendly haunted orphanage towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, but surprisingly, all deaths and horror in the movie come from twisted, selfish young Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega of Abre Los Ojos and Transsiberian) raised at the orphanage and now after its hidden gold, not from ghosts or General Franco’s men. He’s sleeping with one-legged Marisa Peredes (star of The Flower of My Secret) every night (she runs the place with older boyfriend Federico Luppi, the moral vampire in Cronos), stealing keys from her chain to try getting into the safe. When the orphanage is to be abandoned because the war is lost, he loses his shit and blows everything up, killing most of the movie’s characters except young viewer-surrogate Carlos. The ghost of a kid he’d killed the previous year has warned about this (“many of you will die”), but doesn’t try to stop it, only wants to drag Jacinto into the murky depths.

Guillermo’s movie between Mimic and Blade 2, a solid haunted orphanage movie but not as great as I’d heard it would be. Some nice details which are more rich and mysterious than the ghost: an unexploded bomb in the middle of the courtyard, the titular backbone, the orphanage selling aged embalming fluid in town as liquor, gold stored in a hollow leg.

M. Kermode:

It is a film about repression that celebrates, albeit in heartbreaking fashion, the irrepressibility of the innocent human spirit. This duality also underpins Pan’s Labyrinth, a fable about a young girl’s exploration of an underworld. Both films balance political tensions with a feud between fantasy and reality, between the way the world seems and the way it is. And both counterpose the recurrent fairy-tale motif of choice against the specter of fascism — the ultimate lack of choice.

“You have to follow my path even if you don’t understand it.”

Don Quixote thinks he’s a knight, enlists his neighbor as squire. Pancho is sleepy and despondent, Quixote is belligerent, but both are quite slow and seemingly dull-witted. Time goes slowly. Some nice natural-light photography, though.

Shot in part by Eduard Grau (A Single Man, Finisterrae). Mark Peranson apparently made a Serra making-of doc, but it’s about Birdsong despite being named Waiting for Sancho.

M. Peranson:

Honor de Cavalleria is a modernist, materialist, experiential film made with a supreme amount of confidence. It’s one of those films that periodically appears in a hostile, conformist environment – like a UFO landing – and causes viewers and critics to ponder how exactly films operate on spectators. … it is as if we are eavesdropping on the real inspirations for the dreamer Quixote and the earth-bound Sancho as they moseyed across the gorgeous landscape centuries ago, their language less important than the movement of their bodies.

Serra, who has a degree in Hispanic Philology:

We wanted to make a film on idealism. What then was the starting point of such a film? A beautiful novel dealing with that theme, that is to say Don Quixote. … This austere and conceptual atmosphere [of Bresson and Bergman] interested us. Young filmmakers usually have the stereotype of the urban film, current stories, themes dealing with young people. In order to go against that, we insisted on the classic film tradition, different from that of nowadays’ young cinema. We wanted to make a film poles apart from current cinema.

Serra again, on the look: “It’s shot in Mini DV, not HD or any high-end bullshit. … I don’t like the definition to be that high.” He quotes Lisandro Alonso and Blissfully Yours as influences.

A wordless montage of Gaudi architecture and artwork, beautiful and nostalgic of my time in Barcelona. Toru Takemitsu’s usually fine music score got too chiming and ethereal at times. Tiny bit of talking, first a half hour in, then over the climactic Sagrada Familia segment.

First, some Picasso in the square. Facing us: El fris dels Gegants

This is the first thing I always think about when I hear Gaudi’s name:

Sagrada Familia, distant view:

Criterion:

Gaudí’s structures, [Teshigahara] later said, “made me realize that the lines between the arts are insignificant. Gaudí worked beyond the borders of various arts and made me feel that the world in which I was living still left a great many possibilities.”

Wow, we didn’t go here:

The ol’ Parc Guell:

Sagrada Familia, inside view:

The bookend segment implies that the movie will be more fun than it is, opening during “Carnival Week” in Spain with the chief of police telling his men to shoot criminals during the festivities rather than arrest them, so the jail doesn’t overfill. Then straight into a party scene where masked Antonio (Cesar Romero, recently of The Thin Man) glimpses masked Marlene Dietrich. It immediately recalls the similarly-streamer-filled party in Dishonored with a masked Victor McLaglen (who has a much better smile than Cesar does). It’s a great-looking movie, if less gloriously so than the other Sternbergs I’ve been watching. Its best moments recall those earlier films: characters trapped together on a train (Shanghai Express), a man obsessed with Dietrich to his own humiliation and ruin (The Blue Angel) and all the carefully-composed obscured-vision shots. But it doesn’t add much original flavor of its own (besides a good dueling scene), and the middle of the movie drags from its uninteresting story.

Cesar trails Dietrich to her house but can’t get in, so he meets buddy Pasqual (Lionel Atwill, in the To Be Or Not To Be acting troupe) and listens to him talk for the majority of the movie. Pasqual recalls meeting Dietrich on an avalanche-bound train, giving money to her and her mother (Alison Skipworth of the similarly-titled Satan Met a Lady), then watching her escape with another man. This happens again. Then again and again. Then he rapes her, I think. The point of his story is that Cesar needs to stay away from the girl, but all I’m getting is that Pasqual is extremely pathetic. Cesar must’ve gotten that too, because he shows up at her house again. Pasqual sees, challenges him to a duel, then fires into the air, a suicide move. Dietrich pulls a total Casablanca on Cesar, getting travel papers for both of them (from cameo-governor Edward Everett Horton) then hopping off the train.

L-R: Pasqual, Marlene, Cesar:

Guest star E. Everett:

C. Silver:

The film is neither as warm as Morocco nor as accessible as The Blue Angel. If it is perhaps the most perfect film ever made in some ways, its very precision conveys a coldness, a diamond-like hardness; the romanticism of Morocco transformed into cynical introspection and fatalism. If Sternberg is any closer to understanding Dietrich, he is unwilling to solve the puzzle for the audience; the film remains one of the most beautifully realized enigmas in the history of the cinema.

Marlene with a duck in a basket:

from A. Sennwald’s original NY Times review:

The talented director-photographer, in The Devil Is a Woman, makes a cruel and mocking assault upon the romantic sex motif which Hollywood has been gravely celebrating all these years. His success is also his failure. Having composed one of the most sophisticated films ever produced in America, he makes it inevitable that it will be misunderstood and disliked by nine-tenths of the normal motion picture public. . . . a heartless parable of man’s eternal humiliation in the sex struggle. As Don Pasqual dances foolishly at the bidding of the young woman who has him biologically trapped, we begin by laughing with the director at the ludicrous spectacle and end by suspecting that the joke has been a grisly one.