One Book: L'usage du monde - Nicolas Bouvier, 1963
One Film: L'Atalante - Jean Vigo, 1934
The two year spin of emotional reactions on film, published on Tumblr, comes to a halt now. I started it in April 2016 at a desk, in a public library, in Bourg-le-Valence, France. Now I’m at a desk, in an animation film residence, in Fontevraud, France.
I’ll keep this space to publish personal acts of artistic bravery, so as not to go gentle and so on.
Good news never stops though. For anyone interested in the rushed reactions, the shop is forever moving on my Letterboxd account, a place of communion and love for film. Get over and be my friend!
Revisiting the Amazon after being introduced to it by Herzog’s films is always gripping. The story’s equilibrium and its balanced tone is impressive, as is the raw impact of the photography. Almost surreal to the eyes. A kid will probably look at it and say it’s a fantasy film.
Battles is a silent observation documentary, presented in an absurdist/ironic key about what war leaves behind. Bombs and the fancy high tech facilities to dismantle them, bunkers and the people later incorporating them into their way of living, boot camps later turned into touristic reenactments, and the surreal Russian textile industry that builds inflatable decoy tanks, planes and big rockets. An elegant and captivating effort still lingering after a couple of weeks.
Hard to feel empathy for miners in this age of clean energy activism and it’s even harder to escape the sensation that Dal Profondo / From the Depths asks precisely for this. Presented from the angle of a Italian woman-miner and her reflections on her past and future, Valentina Pedicini’s documentary works when it combines raw image with inventive score and sound design. It lifts above the cloud of dust and dread during a majestic scene when we follow miners into the shower, all while one of them breaks into a shattering version of Nessun Dorma, exploding our hearts with an injection of pure humanity.
Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincerò!
Watching the Chinese chronically absurd Winter Vacation in Romania, makes me reflect on the outcome of the shared imagined reality of Communism, reflected in people’s collective (un)conscience. Its effects feel the same, even worlds apart. Stillness, absence of logic, passivity, dread. Li Hongqi, the director, transcends all these by lifting them to artistic expression, through repetition and concentration of the themes and actions. It still makes a hard experience to watch, in my case.
In Cristi Iftime’s film, Marița is a nickname for an old Dacia, the Romanian national icon, the one in the picture above. Marița is a post-Romanian new wave effort. It borrows the stylistic of the movement: extended one take sequences (I estimate a total of around 30 cuts in the whole film), limited space visual language (depth limited to two planes), the family conflict, the table scene (family gathered around the meal as a beginning point for conflict), the open ending.
A 30-ish year old makes a stop at his father’s house, on the way to see the rest of the family. It’s winter time. The father, separated from the rest of the family and living with a grumpy woman, is a braggadocio, always telling stories about his past love affairs. Almost immediately the film’s script tastes like unbaked bread. Plot points reveal themselves as scaffolding for events to progress: the young man is hitchhiking - it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief to believe that a middle-class-30-yro would do that in the middle of the freezing winter; the father’s girlfriend is so bitchy that the young man and his accompanying friends leave after 10 minutes, triggering the road-trip in the old car. The screws become loose once we get past the 1h mark, when it becomes obvious that the energies opposing are the father’s boasting and the son’s shifting emotions. Or at least they seem to be. Because due to a lack of focus in the construction of the young man’s character and probably to a fear of being too literal on behalf of the director, the story doesn’t play out in any clear way and a certain disconnect between somber tone and the actual lack of gravitas of the dialogues make the air inauthentic. And by saying this I agree that assumed ambiguity is a clear way in itself in cinema.
Anyways, moving pictures are incredibly hard pieces to balance.
A man in his 40s, friend of director Corneliu Porumboiu, has ideas for a new set of rules for the game of football. He thinks the ball doesn’t travel fast enough on the pitch, therefore he envisions an octagonal field, with the team divided in 2 sub-teams of defenders & attackers. He wants to “free the ball”. We see his daily life, working for the State as a bureaucrat. At one point he compares himself to the double lives of Superman / Spiderman, living the drab office existence while later changing into a sports reformer.
But this is not a portrait of the “beautiful nutcase” type, the ordinary yet visionary man. Infinite Football slowly turns into something else. By telling the story of his life’s trials and misses, its hero becomes the unforced metaphor for his countrymen’s destiny in the past 30 years since the fall of communism. He tells the story of an accident that ended any hope for an athletic career, his desire to move to America cut off by 9/11, his enthusiasm for the 2007 Romanian EU ascension cut off by the following economic crisis.
The ending breaks away from subject and pushes the film into the visual poetry. A surreal slow motion travel along a deserted blueish country road acts as a backdrop for the character rumination about the mistakes in translation of the Bible, where Jesus’s supposed “Repent!” advice was written instead of a deeper “Know!” or “Discover!”. I can’t remember the exact term, but the profound yet unaffected way in which this film ends filled my chest with warmth.
Without seeing it, Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry feels a natural companion.
Stalin dies and what unfolds is a British comedy that lives to tell the story. If you squirmed with laughter at the 2009 In the Loop, you’ll find yourself cheering at The Death of Stalin, a film about people locked in place by sweet cowardliness. There’s brilliant cinema intensity in the way Stalin’s entourage tip-toes around the seismic change that is his death. Steve Buscemi is a venomous snake playing Nikita Khrushchev but I’ll personally remember Jeffrey Tambor’s trembling performance (the dude in white) as Stalin’s immediate successor.
Banned in Russia - the measure of its sting.
37 Uses for a Dead Sheep is a documentary that brings to light in a quite entertaining and shallow fashion the seriously-touching migration story of the Kirghiz tribe of the Pamir region, one of many that never made the news. It uses reenactment as a way to engage the Kirghiz community and makes them participate in the shooting of a historical flick that tells their story of fighting the Russians while wandering from the Pamir, to China, to Pakistan and finally to their current home of eastern Turkey. Longing for their lost home, the elderly have fun in counting all the byproducts they could once squeeze out from a dead sheep.
© Bogdan Stamatin 2020