Saturday, October 2, 2010

Portugal takes the prize! VIFF: Day 2

Although I missed two screenings I planned on attending (High Life because of time; 13 Assassins because of, well, mass popularity), Mysteries of Lisbon more than made up for it. My paltry thoughts below don't come close to doing the film justice, but I will hopefully return to it later. (Although 13 Assassins screens one more time, it is up against a 6 hour mainland Chinese film that I may never get a chance to see again. 13 Assassins has been picked up by Magnet and will be released early next year.)

Of Love and Other Demons (2010)
Hilda Hildalgo
Costa Rica/Colombia

I first have to admit only a passive interest in Gabriel García Márquez and that I have never read Of Love and Other Demons. That being said, I can totally understand the draw to adapt Gabo's novels into films. The images of languid Latin exoticism and eroticism make for very cinematic possibilities. Hilda Hildalgo attempts to tap into this, but butted up against Mysteries of Lisbon in my viewing schedule, Of Love and Other Demons feels academic and lifeless despite its beauty. Sierva (otherwise just referred to as "the girl" or "the child") is a first generation white Colombian who is comfortable with the native cultures, flora and fauna. Her parents and other figures of authority, however, have an antagonism toward their place of immigration—a fact that has stained almost every example of European exploration and expansion. Sierva is burdened with an unearthly beauty marked by her long curly red hair and fair complexion. So when she is bitten by a rabid dog, the local Catholic authority deems her possessed and locks her in a cell. The young priest sent to 'fight for her soul' slowly finds himself attracted to the young beauty and must deal with his own demons. Of Love and Demons sets up a perfect triangle of colonial tension between the politicians, the church and the natives. But the passion, such as it is, is too poised even for the the puritanical folks. Of Love and Demons is certainly nice to look at but fails to draw on any emotions.

Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)
Raúl Ruiz

Even though a 4 1/2 hour period drama sounds like a total snoozer, I really couldn't resists fitting this into my schedule given the glowing reports coming from Toronto and knowing that this would probably be my only chance to see it theatrically. I'm glad I did. Mysteries of Lisbon is somehow able sustain narrative drive with subtlety and the good old fashioned art of storytelling. The story spirals out like a kaleidoscope with a cast of characters who are all connected to young João. João is an orphan plagued with not knowing the identity of his mother or his father, but slowly and methodically, Ruiz reveals one character after another that surround him. And with each new character comes a new story and a new mystery—each one more fascinating and richly detailed than the previous (or at least the film creates the level of engagement to make it seem so.) Despite its theatrical historic setting, Mysteries of Lisbon oozes with robust life and earthbound humanity that includes an original score that accentuates, but doesn't overpower, the drama. You hate to see João grow older, because you know that eventually this experience (that magically balances the cerebral with the emotional) must come to an end. Although the ending feels like a sever between film and audience, finality is announced with yet another mystery, this one more metaphysical, resting on the conscience of the viewer. I have no idea about the novel from which this film is adapted, but if it is half as extraordinary as the film, someone should translate it!

Get Out of the Car (2010)
Thom Andersen
preceded by
The Indian Boundary Line (2010)
Thomas Comerford

From a logistical standpoint these two non-narrative shorts seem like perfect companion pieces (and unless my eyes deceived me—also possible—I think they shared some crew members.) Unfortunately Thomas Comerford's meditation on a now-obscured Indian Treaty boundary is overly pedantic and failed to have any of the lyricism of Thom Andersen's work. The Indian Boundary Line is a landscape film that explores the context of a portion of American history that is becoming more and more concealed. Unfortunately it failed to engage me either on an intellectual or visual level and felt about 20 minutes too long. On the flip side, it allowed Andersen's Get Out of the Car to immediately feel more joyful and full of life, even if it is a minor film compared to Los Angeles Plays Itself. Clocking in at just over a half an hour, Get Out of the Car explores the dilapidations and appropriations of signage and murals in the LA area combined with an ingenious mixture of music and narration. And while Andersen's structural film has a point, it still maintains an expressive buoyancy.

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