a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

A Few Takeaways from Nomadland

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You can always count on Amazon fulfillment centers as a place to work. Oh, and they’re great places to work!

Spending any screen time with a New Age self-empowerment entrepreneur – even if he appears to be a nice guy* – is on any level a bad excuse for thinking seriously about being homeless and on the road.

Living in a vacant lot in the desert beside a freeway is not so bad if you are in the company of like-minded vagrants. Actually, it’s pretty shitty.

Those roadside communities are all filled with a bunch of communitarians, who are all in it to make life better for everyone. As if.

Make sure you include one nameless person of color in your basically all-white communities.

If you’re white and living in your van, you can always count on your family to get you out of trouble. Because they’re basically rich.

Without social security and working minimum wage jobs, one can easily get from Montana to somewhere in Nevada or California, to South Dakota, to Northern California and back to Montana with gas prices as they are while driving a gas-guzzling mobile home.

If you introduce pooping by the side of the road in the first act, throw in a “humorous” scene about the sizes of plastic buckets one should carry in one’s van for pooping purposes in the second act, and then in the third act, add a gratuitous pooping scene – at least show the viewer what size bucket Frances uses!

Go wandering off into the Badlands from the tour group. You will be found, but you will not advance the plot.

Make sure there’s a scene of meaningful contemplation with a brontosaurus.

Introduce 20-something crusters to make a 60-something drifter feel better about her aimlessness while adding a bit of a sentimental empathetic quality to her character.

Even with a great and very likable actress like Frances McDormand, you should give her a bit of a character arc. She goes nowhere in the great Western US nowhere. And though one might recognize the signifiers of her plight – the true plight of many folks, who are apparently all white, stuck in their later years without homes and on limited incomes – does one really feel for her? Does one learn from her and her story?

There is a myth of the independent western drifter type, all white-line fever, gotta keep on movin’, the road is my home, that has been at the heart of some great American art. Merle Haggard’s songs and some of John Ford’s movies come to mind. Does Nomadland, the movie, build on this tradition, work with it, question it?

No, it doesn’t.

*He’s workin’ it in the way all New Age hustlers work it.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

March 31, 2021 at 2:45 am

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Road Movies

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Le son direct suffit. Pas besoin de musique. – Abbas Fahdel

For several years, the great Iraqi-French film director, Abbas Fahdel, has been posting short videos on his facebook page. Among the many snippets documenting his many cats, there are single take movies shot from his car. Some document places where he has traveled as a feted filmmaker being invited to international film festivals. These “early” works go back to 2016 at least. Simple documents of the filmmaker in motion, the world going by at the speed limit.

Over the last year, as the world was blocked and stifled by the pandemic and movement seemed to have come to a standstill, Fahdel took, and continues to take, little car jaunts through the countryside of Lebanon, where he has lived for several years. These lovely little documents of places, seasons, the road have collectively become a quietly touching and thoughtful salute to the times. Getaways from a more fraught world. Images of moments passed. The car. Moving as metaphor. Hope from the dashboard, looking ahead. Looking to the future.

To see more of Abbas Fahdel’s facebook videos, go to this link – https://www.facebook.com/abbas.fahdel.92/videos

Written by Nicholas Vroman

February 22, 2021 at 10:34 pm

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Taming of the Garden – Paradise Lost

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taming-of-the-garden

Third Apparition

Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.
Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until
Great Birnam wood, to high Dunsinane hill,
Shall come against him.
[Descends]

Macbeth

                                          That will never be.

Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements, good.
Rebellious dead, rise never till the wood
Of Birnam rise; and our high-placed Macbeth
Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath
To time and mortal custom. Yet my heart
Throbs to know one thing. Tell me, if your art
Can tell so much, shall Banquo’s issue ever
Reign in this kingdom
.

Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 1 – William Shakespeare

Macbeth’s hubris against the telling, not so much the fortune, of a potential fate was not so much the key, but the clue to his downfall. His fault lay elsewhere.

Salomé Jashi’s Taming of the Garden does not so much comment on a contemporary Macbeth’s illl-conceived notion of literally moving a forest – perhaps trying to circumvent his own fate as a tragic hero – but it tirelessly shows the details, the insane yet wondrous act, and the sad landscape and community disruption that comes of moving a forest.

As a bit of background, mulit-billionire ex-prime minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, has been sending his henchmen to villages throughout Georgia to dig up and transport trees to his own garden/arboretum, where he is creating his own Olmsted-style nature preserve. However, he’s not just planting trees and letting them grow; he’s excavating centuries-old specimens, several stories-tall wonders and transplanting them into his own private garden, disrupting community, ecology, and his country for this private folly.

Taming of the Garden opens on image of fishermen on the shores of a blue sea. In the vista, something that seems like a very tiny island host a single tree. A series of shots follow showing of smoke drifting through frames of rural and forested landscapes. The film continues with images of people cutting down trees, the fact of human intervention and use of these resources. But soon, these images of somewhat benign natural human exploitation gives way to an intense and detailed unearthing of a majestic tree, reminiscent of the tree at the end of Angeloupolis’ Landscape in the Mist. The tree is perfect.

As the film progresses, the details of digging, thrusting phallic drill rods under its roots, trimming stray beautiful branches show the tajectory of moving this incredible tree. Special roads are built. Trees that might impeed the transport of this tree are cut to the nub. Nothing is explained. It is shown. The essence of cinema. As this task is documented, we meet neighbors, villagers, who have add their two bits. Some are clever or not-so-clever marketers – who speak of how they made great deals on selling their trees. Others complain about what’s going on. Some are boosters of what this will bring to the community. Others grieve at what this is doing to the community. Many complain about Ivanishvili.

The tree is put on a gigantic flat bed, drawn by not one but two semi trucks. It wobbles down the road at an excruciatingly slow pace, bringing down branches of roadside trees, on it’s march to a barge that will float it to its resting place. The images of this tree moving though the landscape look like what Macbeth saw incredulously as the woods of Birnow became animated. It is the sort of thing that Herzog might revel in, the monumental tasks and endeavors that impassioned visionaries undertook. Here though, now, it’s not imaginable to see what sort of vision Ivanishvili has. Jashi makes it clear that it’s dirty, inane, and with the most positive of metaphors, environnmentally destructive, community-killing, and generally insane.

The film ends with the garden/arboretum, a perfect landscape of old growth, flamingos and other waterfowl. The lawn mowers go to work, trimming the grass around the trunks of great trees. When they leave from their trimming duties, the water sprinkles turn on, just the way nature intended when maintaining Paradise.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

February 16, 2021 at 6:10 am

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Lost Souls – Reflections on Lúa vermella / Red Moon Tide

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lua-vermella

A day after viewing Lois Patiño’s Lúa vermella, I decided to revisit John Langford’s 2017 album Four Lost Souls. Langford’s adopted and made-better Americana finally got a little more soulful with his lesser migration from Chicago to Nashville, pushing him out his safe Chicago realm with a small crew of big city collaborators. The album sears with sharp new edges to his songwriting and his obsessions. The songs are haunted by shipwrecks, lost souls, the devil, and ghosts. Which brings me to Lúa vermella.

Patiño continues his obsession with the landscape and passed on stories of the hinterlands of his native Galicia. Suffice it to say that Lúa vermella stands alone as a stunning piece of non-static visual art with references to Millet, Tarkovsky, and Russian constructivism. And there’s a sly nod to fellow filmmaker, Sergio Caballero, whose ragged and unrequited ghosts found their way to the end of the Earth in Galicia on their migration along the Camino de Santiago in his film, Finisterrae. And yes, in Patiño’s film there are shipwrecks, lost souls, not exactly the devil, but a trio of witches and a monster – and a lot of ghosts!

Four Lost Souls… 
Know all the creatures in the sea will still be fishing 
Pull in their nets and drag us down 
In every doorway in the street they have been waiting 
Bait the traps in sparkling night 
Liquid bodies in pale light
Indestructible

Indestructible – Jon Langford

The story that motivates Lúa vermella is about a sailor lost at sea. A sailor who has saved many a life is now gone. The ghosts who remain in essence mourn him. Through this community, questions remain – and remain unanswered. Where is he? Did the monster take him? What are we to do? Patiño illustrates this parable with images of individuals frozen in the landscape. In the village. On the roads. By the seashore. In and around a great concrete dam. Life – or rather death interrupted – remains still. Very still. Only the rumble of the wind, water, and the soundtrack fill the air. Nights and days pass in frozen motion.

Things used to be better things used to be right
Now all I hear is that rumble in the night

All this waste, we’ve done nothing wrong
The desire to please just got too strong

The blade takes an inch the ocean takes a few
There’s one for his knob & the devil gets his due

Waste – Jon Langford

Enter a trio of witches. They do their witchy things, incantations, properly shrouding the ghosts, bringing the lost sailor back to life to fulfill his ultimate destiny – to bring a healing flood and wash the unrequitedness from the immobile souls, finally freeing them to wander. The flood also reveals the monster. Concrete and unexplainable.

For loving or for money
From Shipwreck to shore
To the ends of the earth
There’s a world outside your door
I lay a ghost while you lay the blame
I used to believe everything could be explained
Now it’s lost on me

Mystery – Jon Langford

Listen to Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls at this link.

https://jonlangford.bandcamp.com/album/four-lost-souls

Written by Nicholas Vroman

February 3, 2021 at 4:19 pm

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Ar Condicionado / Air Conditioner

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air-conditioner

The sad thing is when you have no one to carry your coffin” – Zezinha

It’s about a building on Rua Rainha Ginga in the heart of Luanda, Angola. This building holds history, dreams and memories in its very crumbling concrete structure in addition to the many lives of a living community of people who carry their individual and collective memories in their minds, history in their bodies, and dreams deferred.

Over a set of stunning black and white photos of people and place of this rotting gem of urban Angola, the radio announcer reports the news. Air conditioners are falling off buildings all over the nation, killing innocent people, causing havoc. This is how Fradique’s first feature, Air Conditioner opens. His paean to the old run down dirty old town of Luanda – locus of his own upbringing, witness to Angola’s devastating and tragic civil war, a place where stories abound, and he and co-writer/cinematographer Ery Claver have crafted a simple, stunning, and cogent fiction – is gently pulls the viewer in to a wondrous and fragile world and vision of now made magical and moving.

The story is actually pretty simple. The incidences of life-threatening air-born air conditioners gets Zezinha’s (Filomena Manuel) boss’s panties in a bunch. As she goes about her lovingly detailed domestic rituals, the asshole boss complains and cajoles over the phone, which she demurely shuts down with the usual affirmations and agreements that any harried help uses to simply get through the day. The urgency is enough that she gets guard/handyman, Matacedo (José Kiteculo) to deal with the potentially murderous air conditioner. This is where the film takes off, in its own ambling way. We follow Matacedo on his rounds. He’s ostensibly taking the air conditioner to get it repaired, but there are a number of things that sort of get in his way. A checkers game with some friends outside a bar – with the loving details of a weathered concrete-cast public checker board and with and red bottle cap checker pieces). Gotta help and old guy carry his groceries up several flights of steps to his apartment. Hanging out in general. And finally going to the electrical appliance repair shop, which seems to be long-closed and abandoned.  By the next morning, the repair project basically undone, Zezinha and Matacedo go back to the shop, where he pushes open the door. They find Mr. Mino (David Caracol), the eccentric proprietor, who guides them through his quite magical collection of stuff, ultimately explaining what the hell is happening with the rain of air conditioners. To add a spoiler without spoiling things, it’s all about fruit falling, history and memory. And one could suggest it hints at global warming.

As the film reaches its denouement, air conditioners keep raining. Matacedo and Zezinha are still stuck at their shitty jobs. Life and death go on.

Between the amazing cinematography, the smart writing, pitch-perfect direction, incredible casting of professionals and non-professionals, and oh,  did I mention the great soundtrack by Aline Frazão, it’s a been a great way to commence a year of film viewing with some good air conditioning, even here in rainy Olympia.

Air Conditioner sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, researching the cast and crew, the scene in Luanda and lo and behold, what a scene it is. The production was put together by Generation 80,  a company that’s doing great work. Cinematographer/writer Ery Claver has worked with artists and filmmakers, such as Kiluanji Kia Henda, who have incredible international reputations. He also produces a yearly art event in Luanda called Fuckin’ Globo. I want to go! And Aline Frazão is a bit of an international star (sorry for my ignorance) with her own singer-songwriterly stuff. Some links below.

Geracao 80

Aline Frazão

Fuckin Globo – @fuckin_globo

Written by Nicholas Vroman

February 2, 2021 at 5:08 am

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My Mexican Bretzel

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my-mexican-bretzel

“Lies are just another way of telling the truth.” – Paravadin Kanvar Kharjappali

Several years ago, Geoff Spence and I did an event at the Rendezvous Jewel Box theatre, inviting artists and filmmakers to create works that questioned the very use of the exhibition space. Among the many great interpretations of our challenge (including the one artist who, holding a super-8 projector in his hands, projected his film onto the audience) was Elliott Night’s re-interpreting and creating a hilarious fiction around a set of slides she had found at a nearby thrift store.

Nuria Giménez’ My Mexican Bretzel does similar magic with a trove of found footage she inherited from her grandparents. Their life, which seems obsessively documented from the 40s and 60s, gets re-imagined by Giménez with a formal rigor in its sound design; a diaristic fiction (or is it?); a moving story of the nature of the deceits, compromises and effects of a relationship; and a “trick” ending that turns everything on its head in a wonderful and wonderfully perplexing way.

The fiction she creates is built around a bourgeouis couple, Vivian and her husband Leon Barrett. Her diary, presented with written subtitles over silent footage by Leon, describes and illustrates different interpretations of the same events. He, the constant film documenter/visualizer, she, the narrator of her own life – and his. Silent sequences of the pretty incredible old footage push the narrative and conclude with the sounds of animals, trains, planes, and the world at large invading. They are partly metaphor for Leon’s issues with deafness, partly a grounding and relief from the interior world of Vivian.

In addition to all this are the fairly hilarious/serious aphorisms of Vivian’s guru, Paravadin Kanvar Kharjappali as intertitles, commenting on the trajectory of their common, very human tragedy of not finding love and happiness with each other and how their individual alienation drives them to others, but ultimately keeps them together.

By the end, with the story over, a series of intertitles describe the fates of all involved, twisting all that you saw beforehand with new questions about the truth of this entire fiction built on real lives. It’s a beautiful and mind-bending meta-lie that brings the viewer that much closer to the truth.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

January 31, 2021 at 12:41 am

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Girl Crazy (1943)

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In which the meaning of “A snerp is a loogan with a belt in the back, sometimes referred to as a diljo” is revealed.

Girl Crazy may be Norman Taurog’s gayest film. Taurog’s the guy who helmed a fair number of Martin and Lewis films. Their relationship always had a soupcon of homoeroticism, to which Jerry brought a certain kink that confounds the imagination. Taurog also made a pre-code film, Sunny Skies (1930) that had a bit of a boy and boy romantic subplot. And he made Boys Town! But with Girl Crazy – a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland romantic comedy– he pulls out the subliminal stops, flooding the screen with messy mess of men, closet cowboys, hoofing through George and Ira Gershwin-composed set pieces while cisgendered Mickey and Judy navigate the not all that treacherous backwaters of a gay world.

Girl Crazy is not the finest work of any of the talented talents on the marquee. There are a couple of moments, but on the whole, it ain’t a very good movie. But there is a sort of winking knowingness and jokiness that does have its charm.

To make the story short, short young stud, Danny Churchill (Mickey Rooney), is sent packing by his daddy from Yale and sent way out west to Cody College of Mines and Agriculture in Codyville to get him some proper learnin’ away from the lure and temptation of irresistible co-eds. He finds himself at an all-male, all-cowboy college where he meets local postmistress, Ginger Gray (Judy Garland), the least butch of what appear to be the only two females in that neck of the woods. Their testy relationship leads to something moderately heterosexual. But the college finances are on the rocks, so they put on a show – with the Tommy Dorsey Band, no less – to raise some cash and they save the school.

Though the film focuses on Mickey going through the motions of many insufferable gags as he asserts his heterosexuality, Judy steals what little of the show there is with her knowing and unpandering performance. She’s stuck with men all around her, yet not one takes a passing interest in her. There is Henry Lathrop (Robert Strickland), who perfunctorily serves as some sort of suitor, but he’s quickly dispatched by Mickey with the most the most quotable line in the movie. With it, Mickey assert his hipness – and masculinity.

It’s a seemingly nonsensical and clever comeback when Henry complains to college dean Phineas Armour (Guy Kibbee) that Mickey called him a snerp. Phineas asks Mickey to explain. And Mickey snaps, “A snerp is a loogan with a belt in the back, sometimes referred to as a diljo,” with cocky hauteur.

Let’s parse this one out, now that “snerp” has been defined for us. But what’s a snerp? Seems like snerp is a putdown of your average white guy who thinks he’s above it all. Has to be a white guy to be labeled such.

Then it’s off to “loogan” – a mix of loser and hooligan, also a preferred snub expressly for white guys. Sometimes Lithuanians specifically. It’s a bit more reserved for hicks, lower class, and generally unsophisticated menfolk.

The belt in the back may refer to the belted men’s jackets, fashionable and popular in the 20s and 30s, going out of style by the early 40s when a sleeker, less-accesorized style was taking over.

And finally, what Mickey really means after his arcane snub – “diljoe.” Basically the male equivalent of a fag hag. Which not only raises questions about Henry’s manliness, but brings Mickey’s id-feelings out about Judy. He’s attracted to her, but even if she’s surrounded by cowboy homos, why isn’t she doing any of them? And more importantly, why isn’t she doing him?

An earlier set piece, in which the entire student body goes out for a camp out, shows Judy way out on the outs within this manly, but fey, entourage. It’s a novelty number around the song Bidin’ My Time. In this one, Judy, tries to hoof and belt out a tune with a male chorus who are supremely uninterested in her. Her exasperation is palpable. This bevy of cowboys express extreme boredom with her very being and can hardly wait ‘til she’s gone and they can get on with more important matters in their little part of paradise in the wilderness. It’s a scene worthy of Querellish Fassbinder.

And then there’s the final number, I Got Rhythm, where Taurog reworks footage shot by Busby Berkley (original director, fired early in the production). It’s relatively lame, particularly by the standards Berkley would set in films like Footlight Parade or The Gang’s all here. But the penultimate shot is the money shot, where a phalanx of cowboy dancers thrust a phallic cannon into center frame, shooting it off in one final climax. Who could ask for anything more?

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 14, 2020 at 2:35 am

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Oliver Laxe in Navarra

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From August 6-15, 2020, Estudios Melitón an the Navarra International Film Festival hosted a workshop with filmmaker Oliver Laxe, Twenty-five lucky attendees had the opportunity to work with and develop ideas with one of the leaders and most singular voices in the contemporary new wave of Galician filmmakers, who along with the likes of Lois Patiño and Xacio Baño are changing the face of filmmaking in Spain, creating vital new work.

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Zugarramurdi Caves

The workshop took place in the village of Lekaroz, a small Spanish-Basque village about midway between Irun and Pamplona, nestled in a valley near the French border. Nearby sites such as the Zugarramurdi Caves, the Xorroxin Waterfall and Gorramendi Mountain, served as appropriate “mystical” locations for workshop activities, reflecting Laxe’s own cinematic practices.

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Laxe said “It was more a life workshop than training. We tried to propose a life experience and became mirrors of each other. The cinema was an excuse for this. It’s been a learning experience for me to lead and listen to this group. I’ve also felt very cared for and I have learned to sharpen my psychology. I’m very happy with the experience in the valley, I’ve felt at home. The humility of the people, the culture, the value of work … . it’s very similar to Galicia.”

I’m so looking forward to see some of the tangible results of this workshop. Wish I could have been there myself.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 18, 2020 at 10:15 pm

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Best Films of 2019

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5da5b3e44fdd050195f4f199Los Pilares  – Raúl Vallejo, Javier Cástor Moreno, Lucía Touceda and Claudia Negro

The home movies of Antonio García Zarandieta, who obsessively documented his family, his life, and his swimming pool, beautifully put together by the team of Raúl Vallejo, Javier Cástor Moreno, Lucía Touceda, and Claudia Negro, reconstructing a normal tragedy through family celebrations, particularly emphasizing the changing nature celebrating New Year’s Eve. A beautiful testament to how lives change and pass, rivaling Richard Linklater’s Boyhood in scope, depth and pure emotional heft.

PrintThe Souvenir – Johanna Hogg

Johanna Hogg outdoes herself with a moving slice of autobiographical fiction. Or is it fiction? It’s a moviemakers’ movie and a whole lot more, particularly with the thrilling performances of  Honor Swinton Byrne as Hogg’s younger alter ego, adrift, learning that despite privilege, she is more than vulnerable to the things of this world. And Tom Burke as her doomed lover-addict – smart, charming, slimy, and manipulative. There’s physical addiction and emotional addiction. Hogg walks a tightwire, showing the foibles, tragedies and sad moments of transcendence that make The Souvenir such a gift.

Poster

Je te tiens – Sergio Caballero

Riding with that obscure object of desire on a finite yet endless road. Two women, a mother trying to convince her daughter, who’s in the driver’s seat, not to end her life. The landscape, ever changing, ever severe, is a post-modernist hell, fascinating in its terrible kitchiness and beauty. When it’s revealed that the whole set-up seems to be some sort of art installation and performance art monstrosity, the stakes are suddenly higher, though the road still goes nowhere. A dark and deadly humor infuses Sergio Caballero’s great return to the movie-world, where dark things happen.

edgeSG̲aawaay Ḵ’uuna / Edge of the Knife, Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown

They say it’s the first feature film in the Haida language, SGaawaay K’unna not only shines in Canada’s commitment to cinema by first nations, but shows that the stories of indigenous peoples rival and surpass the ur-narratives of the Western world (of which we all are now). Fuck Joseph Campbell and his heroes stories. Here’s a story of hubris and transformation. A narrative built on landscape and tradition. Little abstraction here. Just an epic story that talks of where a culture and a society come from. It’s not made for “Westerners” like me. And that’s a good thing.

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يارا /Yara Abbas Fahdel

Adam and Eve as an ethnographic exploration coming of age first love story. And a requiem to a singular force of history age remembrance in the face and body of Mary Alkady, the last resident of Lebanon’s Qadishi Valley, longtime refuge of the dwindling Maronite Christian community. Abbas Fahdel’s loving rendition of a place caught in time, timeless, and at the end of it’s time defies gentrification. It’s a film of many layers, depths, and huge heart

loneyriversLonely Rivers – Mauro Herce

Mauro Herce’s reworking of outtakes from his brilliant 2015 film, Dead Slow Ahead, shows the crew of an oil tanker adrift in their loneliness. It opens with Elvis crooning the eponymous song, continues with the saddest party in the world in the ship’s industrial galley, and ends with a karaoke version of the song that is completely heartbreaking. The multicultural cast of forgotten lonely rivers are given faces, voices (if not necessarily their very own), and back their humanity.

기생충_포스터기생충 / Parasite – Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho’s opus was the last film I saw in a theater. The black social comedy starts off sitcom-y enough with the rag-tag lumpen family getting their comeuppances on an appropriately stereotypic bourgeois family. The laughs are broad and biting. The first half culminates in the beggars’ banquet where everything shifts. Parasite takes off from the point where Viridiana ends. It goes from the profoundly tragic – the escape of the Kim family looks like a descent into hell – to the profoundly filmicly clever violent, to the profoundly numbing denouement, where signals from the cave may literally denote light, but mostly bring this sad microcosm to stasis.

painandgloryDolor y gloria / Pain and Glory – Pedro Almodóvar

Almodovar, whose brilliant style and filmic practice is one of the true treasures of filmic history, often writes incredibly over-scripted movies. They are the kinds of things, like some of the great writings of modern literature, that you know are brilliant, but become annoyingly turgid slogs. Once done, one sighs, says that was great, and shoves away into the recesses of memory. Not so with Dolor y gloria. The reflections on a life, the creative process, the friends and enemies along the way, and aging are so close to Almodovar’s home, that they sear themselves directly into one’s mind, not to the recesses. And Banderas, who’s generally a likable tio, gives the performance of his lifetime as Almodovar’s alter ego.

IrishmanThe Irishman – Martin Scorsese

Scorscese, with his gangster epics has a general MO. While showing the fetid glamour, the questionable excitement of violence, and the backhanded respect for tradition and honor, has always undercut every romantic notion of the criminal world. It’s ultimately in Scoscese’s camera eye, a pretty fucked-up place. The Irishman is little different. But in this epic, he pulls a bit of revisionist, if probably, true history and makes it nakedly visceral, banal, and totally engaging. He pulls the best of de Niro, restraining him for the first time in one of his films, giving his glowering no-nothingness an edge. Joe Pesci slips into his role like glove. And even Pacino, whose overacting and scene-chewing mars most films he’s been in, is cast perfectly as Jimmy Hoffa.

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Atlantique – Mati Diop

Mati Diop’s overpowering tale of ghosts, the plight of men and women in the world of international capitalism is firmly in the magical realist griot traditions of much of African cinema, but with, finally, a female gaze. And what a gaze it is. There’s the stark, neorealist depiction of the streets of Dakar, coupled with the super symbolic phallus in the making of a building that the unpaid workers – shall we say, modern slaves – must abandon for the sake of making a livelihood in Europe, only to meet their deaths at sea. And then there are the women that remain, the main character, Ada, in her journey to fulfill her love and her life. And then there’s the Atlantic Ocean, the lifeline, the destroyer, the blind force that drives it all.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

January 13, 2020 at 4:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Je Te Tiens

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molina

Some thoughts on a film by Sergio Caballero, with Angela Molina, Virginia Rousse, and Sosaku Miyazaki as the Snowman.

I am riding down the road with that obscure object of desire*. The road goes through landscapes of lapidary tumult, trees snow-flocked to a fare-thee-well, anguished and twisted totems. The landscape – that which is outside the window – is constantly changing, become more frigid and alien. When she speaks she holds her hand over her mouth. She hides her anguish, as best she can, as she attempts to talk down her daughter’s dead-endedness. Where did this come from? The object of desire considers her all-consuming conflict – as any mother would – to save and to bear witness to her responsibility to a woman she brought into this cold world, lost in fear and having a desire to end her life.

Poster

Je te tiens,
Tu me tiens,
Par la barbichette
Le premier
De nous deux
Qui rira
Aura une tapette.

The tapette becomes a vraie gifle. No more children’s games. We are grown up, growing old, and serious now. And we are going nowhere. This only moment of physical violence in the film where a mother strikes her child, hinting at an unspoken history that may have created her daughter’s trauma in the first place.

The landscape changes and changes. Deeper and deeper into a colder and colder artificiality. From the rear window, things recede, yet are always coming forward. An endless loop that ultimately continues in stasis.

And what about the man who appears to be in control? Following far too close, looking out the hand-wiped porthole of his snow-encrusted joke of a car. Standing outside the big box terrarium, where nothing will survive, where a car with a mother and daughter go nowhere, their journey never resolved, physically or emotionally. Where art and artifice suffice to capture their traumas and fears for my voyeuristic pleasure. Where an artist/god/director/snowman controls the horizontal, if not the vertical, crafting an infernal machine to capture that perfect moment of devastating and weirdly thrilling emotion. The voyeur in me can’t help but say, “yes, I understand” and then turn away in shame.

Not even the sea brings release – which is where we end up, me and that obscure object of desire and her daughter. We may see it, surrounding our little universe, but it is always out of reach. It is only a projection. A projection of our mutual desires.

I have you
You have me
By the little goatee.
The first
Of us two
Who laughs
Gets a little slap!

Trailer – Je te tiens from Claudia Mallart Toupy on Vimeo.

Here is a link to Sousaku Miyazaki’s website – http://www.loloysosaku.com/. I am particularly fond of his painting machines.

*That obscure object of desire is Angela Molina, an actress that played a role shared with Carole Boquet as the object in Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire. She has had a long and illustrious career in Spanish cinema.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 12, 2019 at 5:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized