Mar 31, 2011

El Velador

El Velador by young Mexican filmmaker Natalia Almada, is a documentary only in the sense that it is not a fictional film. It narrows down its focus on the reality of drug violence in the northern state of Sinaloa, Mexico by following the daily routine of an impoverished caretaker at a grotesque and rapidly expanding cemetery mostly populated by victims and perpetrators of drug violence. There are no interviews, no talking heads and no solemn voiceover narration. More importantly, Almada refuses to show the morbid violence that is gripping the media in Mexico and terrorizing its citizens. For a narrative thread, she uses the soundtrack of escalating drug-related savagery through radio or TV newscasts reporting the latest decapitations, executions, and kidnappings.
Almada's film is a dreamlike, quietly outraged meditation on the surreal reality of Mexican drug warfare. Thus, it is not for the impatient or literal minded. Her camera records the repetitive every day rituals of the place without the slightest hurry. Her scenes are long and static. She has a keen eye for meaningful images but someone expecting a thrilling ride through the terrible mayhem going on in Mexico may be exasperated by her slow and oblique approach. Her patient, deliberate style is reminiscent of filmmakers like Kiarostami or Apitchapong Weeaseethakul. but there is much to be gleaned from what she observes in this dusty, godforsaken place, where young dead criminals abide in gaudy palaces while poor victims in bare concrete rectangles. As she patiently records the comings and goings of the cemetery, our sense of incredulity and outrage sharpens. At certain points, I felt she was about to fall prey to pretentiousness, but I respect and understand her approach. By eschewing conventional documentary style she makes a strong, thoughtful and artistically mature personal statement.
Almada is attuned to the kind of poetry that can only happen in deeply surreal countries like Mexico. There are endless shots of the caretaker patiently watering dust with a garden hose. Long shots of the skyline of this bizarre city of dead souls, which looks like a midget version of a Mexican colonial town, resting on the outskirts of the city of the living, like a pariah relative. Almada trains her camera on the guy who makes a living selling snacks and coconut water at the cemetery. On the toil of construction workers building by hand the gaudy mausoleums. Tacky enormous plastic posters honor the young men killed. A young, rich widow who drives a white Audi, mops the floor of the condo-like tomb of her dearly departed every day. By refusing to add the cacophony of opinion to the terrible fray that is the war on drugs in Mexico, and to show the horrendous pornography of drug violence, Almada paints a devastating portrait of class inequality and a country gripped by social insanity.
In one exasperating but effective scene, she keeps the camera on the construction workers as she captures the sounds of the horrible wailing of a mourning mother. She sounds totally over the top, a walking Mexican cliche of La Llorona, the wailing woman, with the kind of hammy crying you hear in a telenovela, except that the histrionics are real. Yet Almada either can't (for fear of reprisals) or won't show us the woman. This goes on for a good long while and finally we see her and the funeral group from afar. Generic mourners, suffering. Almada has plenty of empathy for the caretaker and the builders, which she lovingly photographs. She spends time on close ups of cherubic children who play around the graves of their dead fathers. But her impersonal approach restrains her from imbuing her film with too much emotion, which is welcome and bracing. Her empathy for the workers feels genuine, while her detachment as she films the rich widow mopping obsessively, shows a wise restraint, letting the audience decide if they want to judge or pity. And there is sly humor at work too. Mexicans have a chummier relationship with death and the dead than other cultures. At Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, I was visiting a humble cemetery once, and I saw a guy selling popsicles around the graves, jingling the bells of his little cart, and a man in full clown regalia. In this city of dead narcos, the snack vendor makes the rounds by turning on his loudspeakers as high as he can. He apparently knows when burials are scheduled so he's there to sell fresh mangoes, coconuts or chicharrones to the mourners. People bury their untimely dead with impressive wreaths and brass bands. They spend a lot of drug money in lavish gifts to the dead. The caretaker however, lives in a shack with one lightbulb. His bed is made of 4 overturned paint buckets and a slab of plywood, whereas the ridiculous tombs he guards are mini McMansions for the dead. They have doors and windows and second floors. They have terraces and gardens and cupolas. Their absurdity is staggering.
Almada is not interested in personal histories or testimonies, but this doesn't mean that the film is not deeply human. By avoiding contact with the mourners, she makes the audience wonder about these people. How can they live with this reality? How has this nightmare become a normal, daily occurrence in our country? What are the children of Mexico feeling and fearing, playing around premature graves and surrounded by the horrible whispers of endless violence?

Mar 24, 2011

On DVD: Toy Story 3

People think that Pixar can do no wrong. Yet Toy Story 3, a movie that made the cut for Best Picture Oscar last year and that many people put in their ten best lists, is a perfect example of everything I think is wrong with Pixar. Their movies have become such an automated and mechanized formula that they lack real imagination, real charm, and real flights of fancy. For a movie about children and toys, it doesn't have much spontaneous play. Yes, technically it is jawdropping. Sometimes I think they invent sequences just to show off their astonishing prowess with different textures and surfaces. They have, on occasion, beautiful images and inspired sequences here and there, but for the most part, the entire Toy Story franchise has become so calculated, so plotted within an inch of its life, that it can barely breathe. My experience of it was mostly rather annoying and relentless frantic action sparsely peppered by some genuinely funny and lovely moments. It should be the other way around.
The alpha male penchant for mindless running around exhausts me. And I don't believe that kids like it all that much either. There are things a young mind never forgets, for better or for worse. Pinocchio being swallowed by the whale, the disappearance of Bambi's mom (Middle Enchilada was 3 and inconsolable for days), Snow White's witch at the mirror with the apple. These are the stuff of our deepest dreams and fears. Chases and plots are a dime a dozen; instantly forgettable.
The premise of Toy Story 3 is wonderful. What happens to toys when kids grow up? When they are not wanted any more?  I would have liked to have gone on that journey had it been original. But there are a number of things that I suspect conspire against the filmmakers fully delivering a good story about this premise.
It seems that they've all read the screenwriting books that insist that every story is a mythological male quest for the holy grail and that there need to be such and such plot points and turns at such and such minutes. Structure and plot are essential, but these films have been reeking of formula for years. They feel like you are watching the machinery of a clock ticking, not a story.
I find it very interesting that in movies like Wall•E and this one, the very company that makes billions of dollars creating needless licensing tchotchkes that end up in every landfill and polluting every ocean is mightily concerned with the environment  and what do we do with all the stuff we consume and dispose of with such reckless abandon. I used to think this was sheer hipocrisy, but now I think it's closer to some sort of expiation. Not that it is not the height of chutzpah, but at least they seem to be trying to atone for it. I'm not buying it.
Most of the time, whether in Ratatouille, or Up or WallE or Toy Story, they start with a lovely premise that gets hijacked by convoluted plotting. They don't allow themselves to go deeper into their characters' predicaments because there is so much frantic running and rescuing. And the story lines show signs of triteness. The girls always have too much moxie and the guys are always afraid of them (as if). In Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks) is stubbornly obsessed with the idea that the toys can't abandon their owner, even as he's going to college. Andy has a little sister. Why not bequeath the toys to her? That's what every reasonable mom would do. We held on to our toys until they disintegrated. But there would be no movie in this case. I loved the fact that they ended up in a day care and my favorite scene is when they meet all the other toys. That was spectacular and it promised so much giddy fun. But no fun was to be had without a smattering of deeply suspect moralizing. There had to be a bad guy (Ned Beatty, who should have been nominated for his voice performance as Lotso the bear. He was awesome!). Are people in this country ever going to tire from the fight between good and evil? I guess when they do, we will become the French. It turns out that in this case the aforementioned good bear is actually evil but he used to be good until he was abandoned. I'm sure the people at Pixar congratulate themselves on the fact that they think that they are reaching a level of Freudian character complexity never before seen in animation. And it is true, to a certain extent, but it's not fun.
Toy Story 3 has a surprisingly dark vein that felt forced and inordinately cruel at times. Now these poor toys not only lose their owner but are tortured by toddlers (in a charmless and shrill sequence) and then literally put behind bars and then through a garbage truck and a compactor and an incinerator. This is way too much. Screenwriters are taught to torture their characters, but this is a kiddie movie, for crying out loud. We are being taught a lesson I guess about appreciating the bounty of our capitalist society, but I've always balked at being taught lessons by huge corporate conglomerates. The moral complexity is supposed to work for the adults. I think it is belabored and exaggerated. I don't know how it fares with the kids, but I suspect it goes down like bitter medicine. And who wants that? (I need to poll the Mini Enchiladitos).
As this is a massive global entertainment, I assume that for those of us lucky to have owned a Fisher-Price phone and a box full of toys, Toy Story 3 is a stroll down memory lane. For the less fortunate it must be even nicer, because it works as pure fantasy. They are seeing a paradise of toys they will never have.
I am grateful to Pixar for one thing, though. They graciously included a plush Totoro among the new toys, as a nod to the artistry of Hideo Miyazaki. I loved seeing Totoro there. There was not enough of him. Totoro is my friend. But I can't say that about any of the toys in Toy Story. Except for the little martians, I find everybody deeply cutesy and annoying.
Totoro brings me to my last point. I hate that everything today is CGI. I hate that few people are still doing line animation. At the beginning of the Toy Story 3 DVD there is a preview for the restored version of Bambi. Looking at the gorgeous line animation, I miss it so much I want to cry. There is something about line animation that breathes with life, that is porous and liquid and full of feeling.  The Pixar CGI technique is awesome to look at, but for all its wizardry, it feels as hard as plastic and as impenetrable.

Mar 23, 2011

Liz and Me

This is where her life and mine intertwine somehow:

Liz Taylor was in my childhood, even though I didn't see her in a movie until I saw the charming Father Of The Bride as a teen and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf when I already was an adult. My mom used to like her a lot and when I was growing up she'd tell me all the stories about Eddy Pisher (my mom's nickname) and Burton and Cleopatra and how my mom saw National Velvet and Lassie Come Home when she was a kid. She loved her. I think she loved her glamor and her moxie and the fact that even though she was dripping in diamonds and husbands, there was something real and down to earth about her.
I once did a scene from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in acting class. Hell yes. It was so intense, I didn't come off the high of being Martha for like three days. In fact, I recommend it. It is highly therapeutic. But not for the faint of heart.
I think my acting teacher said not to watch the movie. I didn't listen. And I couldn't get Taylor out of my head. After her, pity the fool who tries to step into those shoes. There may be other wonderful actresses who put their own spin on Martha and do a good job; they may even be less over the top. But Taylor's ferocity, her abandon, her fearlessness, is something to see. It is an incredibly generous performance. And it is indelible. So is Burton. He was robbed of the Oscar in that film.
And the two of them together... ay caramba. They were on fire. There is nobody today who is publicly sexy like that.
I too love Richard Burton to death.

Cinema Quotes of the Week: Liz Taylor

What a life! What an obit! Elizabeth Taylor's spectacular obituary, a testament to a life well lived, is today's source of cinema quotes:
"I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you".
As Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky.
Asked why she married so often, she said, in an assumed drawl: “I don’t know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me.”

"Planes, trains, everything stops for Elizabeth Taylor, but the public has no conception of who she is. People who damn her wish to hell they could do what they think she does". Roddy McDowall
“She has wonderful eyes,” he added, “but she has a double chin and an overdeveloped chest, and she’s rather short in the leg.”
Richard Burton

“The public me,” she said, “the one named Elizabeth Taylor, has become a lot of hokum and fabrication — a bunch of drivel — and I find her slightly revolting.”

“The kid has nothing.”
Casting director at Universal Pictures, on a young Elizabeth Taylor.

“She has more chins than a Chinese phone book”. Joan Rivers. Ms. Rivers later apologized to Ms. Taylor through a friend... Ms. Taylor shrugged off the insults, saying they did not “get me where I live.”  (Brava!)
My favorite:
Although the press was not invited to the (Taylor-Fortensky) ceremony, a photographer parachuted in and narrowly missing landing on Gregory Peck.
And last but not least:
Mel Gussow, the principal writer of this article (obit), died in 2005. 

Mar 12, 2011

Jane Eyre

For modern audiences this Victorian tale of romantic woe may be a little frustrating. So the guy is married to a crazy bitch? So what, Jane Eyre? Worst things have happened. Haven't you heard about the pursuit of happiness? Get a life!
In the age of Snooki and the Kardashians, we are very far from the oppressive condition of women in Charlotte Bronte's time, (just as the concept of concealed and repressed sexuality is alien to our age*), but what is eternally appealing about her fantastic yarn are the deeply archetypal, intricate layers to the story of deceptively plain Jane.

Jane Eyre's greatest tragedy is that she is an intelligent, talented woman (an artist!) trapped in a world that doesn't allow women the capacity to think. An orphan, a woman and poor, she is nobody, even if her greatest asset is her mind. In Victorian England, the social hierarchy was almost fetishistic (and a great source of wonderful literature). Love between members of different social classes was taboo (and it still is to an extent. To this day, the rich only marry the rich). Jane is a lowly servant, no matter how refined or educated. Even Mr. Rochester, her employer, has been shackled to misery by the conventions of marriage by money. So there's no chance in hell of love blooming. Taboo is of course, very sexy, so this is a very powerful hook.
Jane Eyre also is an impassioned protest against the established cruelties of the day. The everyday cruelty towards women, but also the cruelty born of the meanspirited "charity" of the clergy and the rich, both oozing contempt for the needy and the weak. 
Both Jane and Rochester are complex and difficult characters, with too much feeling and backstory underneath the straitjackets they need to bear. They are soulmates: endlessly frustrated by society's constraints, and each sporting their own horrid tale of woe. They both have fiery passions underneath which are not the solely the passions of the flesh, but more dangerously, of the spirit. And then there is the whole spooky, Gothic, haunted woman in the attic thread, which hints at the Victorian obsession with repressing the strongest instincts of the soul. What is a more obvious metaphor than madness dwelling in a hidden room in a dreary mansion? We are all vulnerable to madness. And if we lived in the Victorian era with its crazy-making rules, it could be hard to escape its clutches.

Jane Eyre is eternally hypnotic: it's a great, romantic story of love and cruelty and a passionate proto-feminist manifesto. This latest film incarnation alas, feels strangely airless. Many things are right. The mood is dark and gloomy, the costumes and decor feel authentic without calling too much attention to themselves. The music by Dario Marianelli is duly ravishing. The cinematography by Adriano Goldman is lovely. The rich and sparkling dialogues seem very faithful to the source. Everything is careful and correct. But, and I say this with great heaviness of heart, there is a lack of passion, a lack of madness, a lack of fire. Which is to say that, among other things, there is no chemistry between Jane (Mia Wasilowska) and Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Their individual characters feel too constrained, as if director Cary Fukunaga was afraid to let loose and risk going over the top.

A diabolical idea just crossed my mind. Imagine Alejandro González Iñárritu's version of Jane Eyre. He would surely err on the side of mega melodrama, and we could run the risk of getting a campy telenovela with billowing skirts, but it wouldn't lack emotion. The filmmakers of the present version seem to approach the characters and their Victorian environment as if they were looking at a rare and fragile specimen behind glass in the British Museum.
I adore this intelligent story of romantic upheaval so my heart did flutter in places and I enjoyed the movie, but I expected to be ravished. There is too much control for that in this film. Wasilowska is a perfectly good actress. Her eyes betray intelligence and feeling, but she seems too muted. After enduring a horrible childhood, she seems to bear not a hint of a subconscious grudge. Amelia Clarkson, the wondrous young actress who plays Jane as a child is far more alive and fiery. Wasilowska is very good in the scenes when she falls in love for the first time. You can almost feel her heart beating out of her corset, yet she retains her smarts (which is more than one can say about anybody in the throes of a major crush), but she is too obedient.
Rochester is not an easy role either. He is both an alpha male and deeply sensitive, imperious, and like most males, clueless about the female heart. Michael Fassbender seems a bit tentative. He's not doing anything wrong but there is something unconvincing. We all imagine our Janes and Rochesters through the prism of our own experiences. To me his Rochester lacks a tad of bitterness, of cynicism and of turmoil. And a whole lot of mystery. The rest of the cast seems to have been instructed to be as discreet as possible. And some scenes that would benefit from great dramatic flair are blunted either by good taste or lack of daring. For instance, when the existence of Bertha Mason is discovered, the camera focuses first on Jane's reaction. It would have been far more powerful for us to discover Bertha as Jane does, from her point of view.
Can't wait for the next version.

*This movie made me pine for the days when showing as much as a wrist would be considered foreplay. I'm not a prude, or maybe I am, but I do believe that what is suggested, forbidden and concealed is so much sexier than the literal and the explicit. And we live in a revoltingly explicit, vulgar age).

Mar 10, 2011

Review of A Movie I Haven't Seen: Jane Eyre

Readers, the time has come.
I am swooning already. 
In fact, half of me swoons and the other half frets.
The new version of Jane Eyre opens tomorrow and my heart flutters with excitement. I swoon for our new, improved, dark and stormy Mr. Rochester, played by Michael Fassbender (aka Sexiest Man on Earth as per my friend Andy, seconded by moi).
I swoon because the previews look aptly windswept, gloomy and Gothic.
I swoon because fabulous actors like Simon McBurney, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkins are in it. And because Jane (Mia Wasikowska) looks duly and convincingly plain.
(And if Rochester can fall in love with her, then he can fall in love with me).
I fret, alas, because of opening weekend agita. Usually I wait. I wait until Monday and go to a screening before 6 pm with little old ladies who have trouble hearing and their  film buddies who snore. But for this film I cannot possibly do that.
I myself am surprised at my girlish enthusiasm. I surmise it's because this film fills an enormous void: that of the truly romantic, repressed erotic film. In other words, an intelligent, high quality chick flick. Not manipulative, vulgar trash like Eat Pray Love and what passes for movies for women these days. True forbidden love. True feeling. And one of the greatest stories ever written. Again.

Now, wouldn't Fassbender be a glorious Heathcliff? 


Mar 9, 2011

Presunto Culpable/Presumed Guilty

I just saw the harrowing Mexican documentary Presumed Guilty online.
You can watch it, and should watch it here.
If you are in Mexico, buy a ticket and see it at a theater. Bring everybody with you. Every Mexican citizen needs to see this film. And every Mexican citizen needs to demand intelligent and immediate reforms to the legal system.
By following just one case of a man falsely convicted of murder, this film shows that there is absolutely no justice or legality in Mexico. Watch this film and you will feel you are falling into a darkest rabbit hole of byzantine lies. 
Presunto Culpable reminded me of Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line. Every Mexican citizen knows that the legal system in Mexico is something to dread, but until you actually hear the story of one man, see his face, the smug faces of the judge and the prosecutor, until you see the mother, sisters, wife of the accused -- it's out of sight, out of mind. Whoever has money can buy themselves their freedom, those who can't are in jail.
Reforms are planned to introduce the novel concept of presumption of innocence in Mexico by 2016. Right now, the presumption is of guilt. The accused needs to prove his innocence; the accusers need not prove culpability. This is beyond barbaric. The trial process is worse than anything Kafka could have imagined. The prosecutor always wins the cases because the file they prepare with the police is considered incontrovertible evidence. Furthermore, physical evidence is not sought to prove culpability. Witnesses supply testimony. In a land of corrupt cops and judges, you can only imagine what this means. The movie gives some horrifying statistics: something like 95% of the accused are convicted.
One of the reasons why the system has not been scrapped may be that the police are too lazy to do their jobs. Investigating a crime and gathering evidence is hard work, but scouring the streets for people to falsely accuse is a breeze. But I suspect something deeper. Mexicans live in such a corrupt country that their default mode is suspicion and cynicism. They are not used to facts and evidence and questioning. This evil, bizarre system, which has been in place for centuries, is a manifestation of this dark side of the national psyche. Nobody believes anybody. Everybody suspects everybody. Everybody is out to get you.
Watch this film and you may be inclined to feel the same way. Mexicans know full well that they are on their own, because if anything happens to them, whether guilty or innocent, they have no legal recourse. The law is against them either way. A judge is shown beyond a doubt that evidence was fabricated and this does not change his mind. He is either saving face or in cahoots with the cops. Or, he believes in a power stronger than evidence and reason. He believes in distrust.
The movie claims that reforms are planned, but now they include a statute in which people can be held for up to 80 days without any proof of wrongdoing! This is insane.
I guess this is to give time to bad detectives to build cases and malignant bureaucrats to type the reams of capitalized, baroque verbal diarrhea they type to collect their wages. Millions of Mexicans make a living through a monstrous bureaucracy whose last interest is to stop the hundreds of thousands of tons of paperwork it produces.
Beyond the atrocious facts, no mortal can possibly fathom the antiquated, obtuse and florid legal language of the courts. The protagonist of the movie, Toño, is a smart man. At one point he asks the prosecutor (probably currently the most hated bitch in Mexico) to explain to him in language that a normal person can understand, why she considers him guilty, when all the evidence points to the contrary. I think her cynical response is: because it's my job.

Presunto Culpable is the biggest grossing documentary in Mexico (over $3.5 million dollars so far). Recently, it was pulled from theaters since the sole "witness" that testified asked a judge to ban it because he did not consent to being filmed. This is a kid with no education so I imagine someone more crafty told him to step forward and whine. An appellate court reversed the decision. This "witness", who was a minor when the police told him who to accuse, has not been charged with giving false testimony. The actual killer is presumably still at large and the judge and prosecutor who convicted on false evidence still have their jobs. What's more, the detective who planted culpability on an innocent man was promoted for his conduct.
As is usual, the contempt and disrespect of the Mexican government for its citizens is felt not only in the appalling law system, but in the realm of the day to day. There is no courtroom. There are no seats. Like every other government office in Mexico, the courts are a dump. The film claims that many convicts never even get to see their judge. In this case, after an appeal, the accused is brought in behind a narrow cage and he goes through a medieval ritual called a careo, a face off, where he is supposed to interrogate his accusers. The defense lawyer is barely allowed to ask any questions.
For years, the people who live off the maze of the penal-legal system in Mexico have inflicted their chaotic damage happily unimpeded. Nobody films them, nobody demands accountability, nobody even wants to know what goes on in there. But times have changed, and they haven't noticed that Mexican society today is evolving, while they remain mired in dangerously archaic processes and total impunity. They hide beyond massive webs of lies and brazen stubbornness, but it is clear that they are bewildered by the presence of cameras and of questioners. They have never had to explain themselves before.

Mexico should be ashamed of itself. It cannot call itself a modern country. It cannot call itself a functioning civil society as long as the legal system is not reformed. As long as this legal system is in place, it is a dump no better than Libya.
New technologies now allow people to bear witness to and produce evidence of  injustice, whether through a video camera, a cellphone, twitter or facebook. This is what hopefully will bring reform. As we have seen recently in the Arab world and in this powerful documentary, the powers that be are desperately hanging on to their archaic, corrupt systems and they try to suppress information, while citizens are using new tools to demand change. The whole world is watching.

Mar 7, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

This is the film that won this year's Palme D'Or at Cannes.
Like all of extraordinary Thai director Apitchapong Weeraseethakul's movies, Uncle Boonmee it is a strange, transfixing melange of narratives that do not follow the traditional three-act structure that we are used to expect in movies, nor much else. The easiest thing to say about him is that his films are poetic, but that is misleading and simplistic, because their poetry is both flinty and deeply sensitive.
Api (for the sake of brevity) is concerned with the strange and sometimes surreal marriage of modernity and tradition in his country, of spirituality and materialism, and of new and ancient storytelling. He also explores human relationships with spirits, animals and hybrid beings in between. It's hard to describe exactly what he does, (learning that he comes from an experimental film background helps. He applies experimental thinking to traditional narratives, both cinematic and otherwise), but the way he does it is just beautiful, with subtlety and wit, great tenderness and sheer originality. Nothing else looks or feels like his movies. They are deeply symbolic but at the same time surprisingly matter of fact about their own strangeness: a sort of totally deadpan magical realism (I use this term with huge reservations). He is astonishingly unpretentious, given how non-linear his films are.
This is a movie about the dense texture of memory. But it is more about the feeling of it, than about the memories themselves. Uncle Boonmee, a sweet guy who lives in the forest, is dying of kidney failure. He thinks his suffering is the result of karma: he killed a lot of communists and this troubles him. He starts seeing ghosts and strange apparitions from his past. The people sitting next to him see the apparitions too. After the slightest frisson of shock, they all interact as if this was the most natural thing in the world. His dead wife shows up, and so does his long lost son, who is now a ghost monkey, and he tells his story. His creatures look slightly cheesy, but they are still powerful apparitions. For how do you represent the spiritual world on film? Api does it in surprisingly simple ways. And it works. He doesn't need millions of dollars in CGI.  He sometimes uses the same effects pioneered by Georges Meliés, equally beautifully and effectively. He can use a guy that looks like Chewbacca with a dye job and the effect is less comic than it is powerful.
In the middle of the telling of Uncle Boonmee's story, Api cuts to a different story, in another era, where a princess is traveling through the forest and is in love with one of the lackeys that carry her. She is deeply unhappy about her looks and her life, and as she gazes at her reflection in a pond, she gets into a conversation with a catfish. This is the sort of thing that just happens in his movies. You need to surrender to the new story like the woman surrenders to the catfish.
Then the movie goes back to the story of Uncle Boonmee. I hate to even tell you this, as you need to know nothing and let yourself be immersed in its rich, unsettling world and surprised by its gentle wit and wisdom.
I really liked Uncle Boonmee. However, never again shall I have pasta and wine before a dense poetic film. The scenes are long and sometimes static, but if you blink, you might miss something miraculous. As much as I liked it, Uncle Boonmee is not my favorite film of his. That would be Syndromes and a Century and also Anthem, an extraordinary short that encapsulates his style and his mastery of the craft. Apparently, in Thailand before every film screening people have to rise and sing the national anthem and blessings are bestowed on movie theaters and other public places. So he created his own version of the blessing. It's a piece that could easily belong at the video section at MoMa (and it's so much better than some of the stuff that is there already).
Born in 1970, Api is very young to be such a masterful artist. I had the opportunity to approach him, as he was so open and approachable, and told him that we are blessed by his films.

Mar 3, 2011

Cinema Quote of the Week

"Hedy Lamarr, the actress habitually regarded as “that most beautiful woman in Hollywood,” was a rocket scientist on the side, inventing and patenting a torpedo guidance technique she called “frequency hopping,” which thwarted efforts to jam the signals that kept the missiles on track".

From an article in the New York times about actors who actually are rocket scientists, Natalie Portman included