a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for January 2016

Negativland

leave a comment »

NSD01

Pressentimentos, figuras, apariçoes, desenhan, no ar, as suas formas incendidas…
As árvores falam, no ermo, e a noite parece ouvir as árvores…
extáticos vultos montanhosos esculpem a face da distância,
marejada de estrelas.
Há rastos de almas na paisagem…

Teixeira de Pascoaes

Lois Patiño’s films exist less in the realm traditional filmic interventions and more in the tradition of landscape painting and photography. He relies on structuralist methodology – forefronting film and video apparatuses, lenses and filters; unmotivated zooms and/or “still” shots from stationary cameras; manipulation of film and/or digital information through exposure (or under-exposure) and selective manipulation. In short, making the viewer manifestly aware of the ways and means of production. But with his magnificently composed and downright luscious shots, he adds a mysticism and reverie to his films that draw directly from German Romanticism. Countering the anti-human, anti-artist, anti-creative impulses of structuralism, Patiño brings a welcoming – and sometimes counter-intuitive – human element to his filmwork that puts his films within a tradition (think Caspar David Friedrich, Michael Snow, James Benning) that he’s working through with intellectual and filmic rigor.

Noite sem distância (Night Without Distance) begins with a poem by Portuguese modern mystic poet, Teixeira de Pascoaes. It concludes with the line, “There are trails of souls in the landscape.” Here begins Patiño’s document/fiction of a night in the Gerês Mountains that straddle the border of Portugal and Galicia. Historically this a place where the economies of small villages exist because of smuggling. Patiño follows a nocturnal smuggling operation. There is almost no action. There is the sound of wind and water and whispering voices. It is all shown in negative, with stunningly unreal and intense colors. It is profoundly evocative.

NSD02Where’s Waldo?

The first challenge of Noite sem distância is distinguishing the people, the lone hidden smugglers standing stock still, some with rifles, hiding among rocks and trees, keeping their silence, among the landscapes, lightly animated by shivering leaves in the constant wind and the sounds of nighttime noises. A series of shots highlight the players in this silent drama, each in their position for the task at hand. A hushed conversation or two from unmoving figures, break up the night for brief seconds, only to return to stillness. A sheet (a flag?) flapping in the wind, two women nearby, in front of a stone wall signals the border of the village. The village is a asleep apart from a couple of dogs, sheep and men standing, watchful, intent. The action, if that what you can call it moves down to a river, down to the Portugal side, where men wait quietly. Somewhere along the way we see the loot, signifying bags of stuff, hidden in a crevice in some rocks. But in negativland, the bags are clearly visible, glowing with power and value. In a moment, there’s movement. From the river up to the village. Signals are passed from flashlight to flashlight from lookout positions scattered throughout this landscape. In the village, men leave their positions. Mission accomplished. The women push take down the sheet. Back to stillness. A long shot of rock-strewn hillside suddenly becomes animated by figures coming out from their hiding places and moving slowly up the mountain. To black. The blackness of the screen.

NSD03

The landscape hides the living and its ghosts. The night, like in the Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, reveals its mysteries only to those attuned to it, which the negative eye of Patiño’s camera has special privileges. Not only commerce, but history, takes place at night. Patiño’s image of the lives of smugglers is not only romantic, harking back to simpler lives more attuned to nature that those of contemporary city folk, but also lives  mundane, fixed in patterns, clinical. Perhaps another bit of romanticism about the need for those things in contemporary life. Patiño’s very austere post-whatever film hides a bit of a sentimentalist and reveals a lot of a romantic.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

January 13, 2016 at 2:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Year’s Best Films 2015

leave a comment »

I originally made my 2015 10 best list for Senses of the Cinema World Poll, which I sent to them in mid-December. Since then, I saw a couple of other films that rocked my world. So my ten and a half best turned into a dozen +.

I fell down the rabbit hole of el otro cine Español this year – a recent flowering of new cinema talent in Spain. Many of these filmmakers are still struggling to get their films made and seen, but what else is new? La lucha continua. But what an amazing bunch of talent! Five and a half of my favorite films from this year came from this crew. The rest include some amazing docs – Patricio Guzmán’s gloriously moving El botón de nácar, a continued exploration of the national trauma of the Pinochet years and their effect on his homeland; Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ chilling – and dare I say, inspirational – chronicle of Edward Snowden’s release of classified documents; Sean McAllister’s A Syrian Love Story, which gave a human dimension to the tragedy of what’s happening in Syria; and Todo comenzó por el fin, in which Luis Ospina opened up a whole world of cinema history I knew nothing about – Caliwood, the Colombian film movement of the late 70s and 80s centered in Cali. And then there was Boyhood, Rick Linklater’s masterpiece, which didn’t hit the screens in Tokyo until this year.

Auteurs working in Sci Fi seem to be a recurring theme on my list this year. Even Dead Slow Ahead, Bugarach and Timbuktu seemed to show visions of alternative universes. Perhaps this genre is a new form of neo-realism – at least in the hands of folks like  Llansó, de Sosa, Garland and Caballero.

 

 

Crumbs (Miguel Llansó, 2015)

Miguel Llansó’s quirky film came out of left field – a post-apocalyptic journey, shot in Ethiopia, done in Amharic, featuring the most unlikely of heroes (beautifully enacted by Daniel Tadesse). It’s a world of shrines to Michael Jordan, space age Tuetonic Nazi horsemen, an ill-spirited Santa, where the detritus of our civilization becomes the talismans of the future. Beyond that, it’s a world of wonder and surprises, where the connections between people and the world we inhabit is infused with mystery and in the end, love.

 

 

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

Rick Linklater’s  12-year project reaffirms essentially cinema’s main intention – documenting time. Time passing. Lives happening. History. His low drama spectacle catches growing up and growing older in the very faces of his amazing cast.

 

 

Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015)

Alex Garland essay on what makes one human pulls from the essential myths and stories of our collective humanity. From Prometheus to Aristotle to Shakespeare’s Tempest to Walter Benjamin, Ex Machina builds a set of arguments and conundrums that question much of what we know and feel about humanness. As exemplified by the very human Ava, its a brave new world we are entering.

 

 

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)

Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu reminds me of Mosen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar. Both show the absurdity, the duplicity and the horror of what happens when you get power-hungry fundamentalists pushing their insane agendas on the world.  Sissako’s vignettes of lives in these extreme times highlights the chains of tragedies that come of this all too prevalent insanity.

 

 

Sueñan los Androides – Androiden Träumen (Androids Dream, Ion de Sosa, 2015)

Ion de Sosa’s take on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep rivals Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in taking great source material and coming up with a completely different interpretations. de Sosa brings Dick’s vision of the future and grounds it in contemporary reality. The question of what makes us human still is at the film’s heart. But here replicants is us and the so-called human is the monster.

 

 

La distancia (The Distance, Sergio Caballero, 2014) / Ancha es Castilla (Sergio Caballero, 2014)

Sergio Caballero’s La distancia, an odd Tarkovskian vision of a trio of paranormally-powered dwarves doing a Mission Impossible mission, somehow makes perfect sense. Adding a Joseph Bueys-like artist going mad, trapped in a nuclear installation for decades is just a bit of icing on the cake. Anche es Catilla, is an inspired and hilarious short films that goes to the extremes of cine-povera. Animated (if that what you can call it) trash heaps and the most obvious and low-budget of effects are a perfect antidote to CGI-laden crap that passes for cinema these days.

 

 

El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button, Patricio Guzmán, 2015)

Patricio Guzman continues his inspired and inspiring excavation of the tragedy of Pinochet’s destruction of Chilean democracy and life. In El botón de nácar, Guzman connects the tragedy of colonization and the extermination of Chile’s native people to the methodical terror and fascism of the Pinochet regime.

 

 

Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce, 2015)

Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead takes the viewer on a ride on the tanker, Fair Lady, through a certain present and future of the world. Hauntingly beautiful, the film highlights stark, empty places that become a chilling metaphor for the future of humanity – and how that humanity feebly asserts itself against a relentless and unfathomable trajectory.

 

Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, 2014)

The how of how Edward Snowden broke open the depth of the U.S. surveillance state is shown in all it’s planning an improvisation in a real-life thriller reminiscent of 70s era Alan Pakula.

 

 

Bugarach (Sergi Cameron, Ventura Durall, Salvador Sunyer, 2014)

I thought Bugarach was pure fiction until about  3/4 of the way through when I realized it was all true.  The media circus and the mass hysteria that happened there in 2012, when some New Age cultists decided that this little town in southern France would be saved from the upcoming apocalypse is distilled by Sergi Cameron, Ventura Durall and Salvador Sunyer into an amazing portrait of a place and all the characters involved in this strange and wonderous event.

 

 

A Syrian Love Story (Sean McAllister, 2015)

Sean McAllister humanizes the tragedy of contemporary Syria in A Syrian Love Story by focusing on his friends, Amer Douad and Ragda Hassan and how their relationship is torn apart by the tides of history. Their adorable kids take much of the brunt of the goings on, but show amazing resilience.

 

 

Todo comenzó por el fin (It All Started at the End, Luis Ospina, 2015)

Luis Ospina documents Caliwood, a short but important film movement of Columbian cinema. Being a part of the whole thing – the sex, the drugs, the fervor – he has a personal interest in documenting his many amazing and amazingly self-destructive friends who built their own film movement. Todo comenzó por el fin is a bit like Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, but the names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

January 2, 2016 at 5:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized