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Captive (Brillante Mendoza, 2012) June 15, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, French Spring.
8 comments

Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Written by Brillante Mendoza, Patrick Bancarel, Boots Agbayani Pastor, and Arlyn dela Cruz
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Kathy Mulville, Mark Zanetta, Maria Isabel Lopez, Mercedes Cabral, Ronnie Lazaro

There is hardly anything in Captive that puts the Philippines in a positive light, but director Brillante Mendoza makes it clear that he doesn’t give a fuck. Reading his interviews, it is obvious that he chooses to present these ugly situations because no other filmmaker is brave enough to confront them, and as someone positioned in the forefront of Philippine cinema—being the first Filipino to compete in three of the world’s most prestigious film festivals: Cannes, Venice, and Berlin—his voice is certainly one to be reckoned with, a privilege that, regardless of your perception of his work, he has earned through the years. However, being an established international filmmaker entails greater responsibilities, and his inability to fulfill some of them leaves him in a dangerous terrain. Lola poses doubts regarding his opportunistic tendency, but Captive confirms it—in fact it commits the biggest blunder of his career, one that shatters all his good credentials, exposes his sickening imprudence, and makes him deserving of many harsh judgments.

When you watch Captive, you are never drawn to it: it paints a repulsive picture and you accept it as it is. You sit there and allow it to rape you. You won’t have any moment to process its images and understand what they mean because they don’t mean anything else aside from what’s there. The visuals are arresting as much as they are hollow. From start to finish, Mendoza has not considered the possibility of letting go of his shock and awe treatment. Every sequence has to be a spectacle, every scene has to grab your attention, and every turn of event has to add to the chaos. The film is so preoccupied by this sense of entitlement that it actually strangles you, a ploy that disables you to assess its worth. He shows Muslim rebels throwing a box of bibles at the water and hitting a Catholic statue with a gun, but he doesn’t want you to ponder on those. Instead he wants you to notice the parallelism he makes with the presence of wild animals: the snake eating a chick, the bats hanging from the tree branches, the hornets disturbing a funeral, the mythical bird that Isabelle Huppert sees flying around the forest. This goes on for at least two hours. As a viewer, how can you not be offended by this setup?

Amid the uproar provided by the encounters between the military and the insurgents, the movie’s quiet moments stand out the most. There’s that scene where Isabelle eats a cracker and looks distraught, her face sweaty and numb from all the day’s events, trying hard to make sense of everything. The interview with the American couple—Martin and Gracia Burnham?—and Isabelle lights up a number of emotional fuses, connecting realities that have gradually become hazy as the movie progresses. There’s another sequence where Isabelle spends time with one of his captors, a teenager whose early life is exposed to violence. They talk about their personal lives, Isabelle remembering her children in France and the kid, though hesitant at first, eventually opening up his thoughts on his religion. It’s supposed to feel like a gloomy mother-and-child portrait, a taste of water in the desert, only it does the opposite because Mendoza handles the dynamics carelessly. When the boy puts his head on Isabelle’s lap there is some sort of gesture that suggests sexual tension, an awkwardness that may be natural in some cases, but in the movie looks so gross, leaving an incomprehensibly bad aftertaste.

Of course, Mendoza is a clever craftsman. Some of the observations mentioned above do not sink in fully as you watch the film. You stay in your seat until it becomes clear that there is nothing in it that will stop its penchant for sadism. The film may thrive on filth and noise but it is never void of perspective. Sloppily, it unfolds the story and presents several contradictions. You can feel the material push through methodically, with every bit of violence and anger shoved down your throat, as the characters are reduced to lousy caricatures of good and evil. The hostage-takers and hostages stay with you but only as cardboard cutouts: they are victims of misrepresentation, the writers failing to provide them with a sincere emotional side that holds up until the end. Captive is based on true events—the infamous Dos Palmas kidnappings in May 2001, whose duration intersected with the September 11 attacks in the US—but not on true sentiments. Mendoza simplifies the whole Mindanao issue, heedless of its historical and political complexity, and dismisses the nitty-gritty of the armed conflict. Should the producers decide to show this film in Mindanao, it’s like waiting for a bomb to explode and wreak havoc.

Furthermore, it is not a question of faithfulness to the material. It is a matter of presenting a narrative without taking advantage of its multifaceted nature, without subscribing to the ideas that promote aggression based on differences, and without affronting a piece of history that is bigger than whatever the movie is trying to say. Mendoza could have fictionalized the details of the kidnappings and done away with the dates and places, and manage to achieve a much thoughtful view of the situation—one that could have started with an honest admission that he is not above it—but instead he illustrates in depth his insubstantial assessments and conclusions. It is a film that skates on polemics and cacophony, a political movie without a respectable principle, a traveling circus filled with shows that offer cheap thrills. What’s worse than a badly made film is an egotistical movie that cannot hide its posturing, and Mendoza, who has made enough movies to deserve scrutiny from head to toe, is again oblivious to the fact that the personal is always political, that his intentions are clear regardless of his press statements.

Having considered its merits, you may ask: is Captive an experience worth having? Where do you draw the line between its Machiavellian vanity and actual involvement? When do you realize that the discussions it provokes are never really meant to enrich one’s understanding of the war in Mindanao but to emphasize the director’s shady and astigmatic view of it? Arguments will be made and piled on top of one another, but the answers, depending on your sensibilities as a moviegoer, cannot be anything but well defined. You cannot be halfhearted about it. Perhaps even its initial three-hour running time cannot hide its stink. Its trickery is calculated, and it’s acceptable that the urge to throw up is triggered not by the film but by the filmmaking.

Independencia (Raya Martin, 2009) June 18, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, French Spring, Indie Sine, Noypi.
38 comments

independencia

Written by Ramon Sarmiento and Raya Martin
Directed by Raya Martin
Cast: Tetchie Agbayani, Sid Lucero, Alessandra de Rossi, Mika Aguilos

The first thing you notice in Raya Martin’s Independencia is its color. Assuming that before you enter the cinema you see things in their usual hues, your eyes are quick to tell you that betraying them should be the last thing on your mind. The sudden adjustment of your eyes to its palette, as if revolting to the uncommon sight of moving black and white images in the big screen, suspends early judgment, for whatever it is that Martin has yet to prove to make his films “accessible” to “common” moviegoers only becomes relevant to people who consider themselves superior to the films they watch. I am not everyone, so I suppose if I may speak against the few whose bias is cultural, and whose thought balloons argue that if a recent French film is shot in black and white it is art, but if it is a Filipino film it is pretentious, my dear friends, I tell you, modesty is overrated. Let the film argue for itself.

Its color is not only noticeable. It is salient; it leaps out of the screen to claim your attention, to hold you still, as if bringing you to the setting of its narrative despite seeing its artificiality. There is consent, but it is not given sincerely. When one is not paying attention, there are many things that get lost, that are not appreciated, that are preempted by the fact that we are seeing a film that is clearly out of our league, whose world is some place we already left to move on. My first viewing of Independencia had me close my eyes because I could not stand Martin’s images. I was not disinterested; I just felt the need to close my eyes to focus more – – and it actually worked. There is an admirable effort to make the dialogues sound faithful to its time – – that is, during the early part of the century when the Americans took over – – and the stories of its characters bring to mind some childhood tales our friends used to tell us during recess, or legends our grandparents used to tell us to put us to sleep. The sound feels more than what it should be, which like the painted backdrops used throughout the film, aims to mimic the filmmaking trend of its time: the use of studio and the theme of resistance. The disbelief is suspended, but other things are also cut loose.

One clever part of the film is when the narrative is interrupted by a newsreel, the partly tragic and the partly humorous account of a boy with “unquestionable motive” shot dead by a soldier, who supposed that the kid was stealing some fruits in the market. I find the reel particularly amusing, that aside from the fact that Martin uses it to simulate the period when watching movies in theaters also meant reading the papers in between (and contrary to the fact that the news is not particularly amusing), it has also worked for the narrative, allowing us through the pause to follow more clearly the young man’s life as he bounces from his mother’s lap to his wife’s arms. The dream sequences and animation, which are also quirkily used in Indio Nacional, soften its uptight texture and provide humor to its somewhat humorless facade.

Martin is severely criticized in his previous films for his storytelling – – or as some would say, his lack thereof – – his indulgence in non-importance, his narratives that reek of boredom, his stubborn ambition. Independencia proves that he can do well with a plot as thin as a hair strand, a linear story that recalls early cinema, especially when the plot is only used to say other things, to suggest multitude of ideas, to bring to life a universe of histories. He tells the story the way his requirement needs it to be told, but he is still in touch with the style that he is hated for. While last year’s Now Showing really begs for walkouts, Independencia earns its right to be taken seriously, with less diabolic murmurs and more indicative silence (does sleep fall under silence?).

That he has put his four characters in isolation – – each portrayed wondrously by its actors (except my complaint about the kid’s rather incredible tone) – – is both logical and ironic. Our geographical location gives the logical part away, and the thousand islands that constitute our land intensify it even more. The ironic part is that we are also isolated within, that we are trapped in our own isolation, and that we are running away from that thought. Again, the use of color in the end becomes crucial in showing that.

But what becomes significant is not the story but the events that caused them to happen, which I believe Martin has the least concern to tell. In his films he has strived for the heart of subtlety by connecting with the tangled wires of our identity, not by untangling them but by going through them, following the knots till he reaches the end: the understanding. I will not claim liking Martin’s style – – liking it will make it more complicated to explain, and liking it risks more dishonest statements – – but I am surely affected by his films, confounded by their distinct voice, pained by their torturous storytelling, excited by their newness, amazed by their defiance. Independencia, all things considered, cracks open another feeling for me, and that maybe is the guilt in doubting it.

As an audience it is depressing to be hounded by questions instead of answers, that while films may not be entertaining they should at least be modest enough not to pain us emotionally, or confuse us to the point that even the simplest questions like Did you like the film? come out like the most difficult question in the world to answer. In fact in Martin’s case, the question Did you like the film? seems rhetorical, and if one obliges to answer it he will soon realize that another question is required to be answered, like If you didn’t like it because it is not entertaining, I wonder, should films be entertaining to be liked? Things like that. Independencia, like Martin’s previous films, poses questions that are not unanswerable but they are difficult to answer because I think Martin doesn’t know the answers to his questions either, so why bother. Why should I bother? Why should we bother?

And I guess that’s where I see the point of his films, and the reason why he should continue doing them. He stands alone as the hopeful one, the peerless storyteller of Philippine history that forces us to see the image that we refuse to look at, even for a second. We complain that we are always seen as a poor nation, that the films that represent us in foreign festivals are always about poverty, that Kinatay isn’t exactly the proper image of the Philippines that we should project outside. We do not complain about Independencia’s subject because it alleviates our guilt – – our guilt for not caring, our guilt for not letting these things matter – – because it is fed to us that history is important yet we do not really know why. Yet Independencia also shows how poor we are, how malignantly distant we are to our past, and how unrecognizable it is, as if our past is only what our textbooks tell us. If Martin’s films represent the true Filipino, then maybe that’s the reason why we choose to be another, to imbibe the culture of another, to become another. That’s why his films are such agony; it is easier not to recognize their power because they leave us powerless. They are not a source of enjoyment because otherwise we should redefine enjoyment.

Our history, if I may borrow Paul Simon’s words, is like a distant constellation that’s dying in a corner of the sky. Like the young man’s failing eyes as he looks at his home, vaguely making anything out of it, his feet barely moving, leaving him at the mercy of leaves and thunder, it all becomes a matter of recognition, of our memory failing us or us failing our memory. And Martin, if I have not yet expressed my sincere admiration, for taking the road less traveled, has surely made all the difference.

Raya Martin’s Now Showing defies unconditional cinephilia (2008) June 17, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, French Spring, Indie Sine, Noypi.
4 comments

Written and directed by Raya Martin
Cast: Ness Roque, Adriana Agcaoili, Via Antonio

With all due respect to Raya Martin, I must admit, more than the film itself, and more than the screening of Serbis, which was canceled by the ever-imbecile MTRCB the last minute, what intrigues me is how the local audience will respond to Now Showing. It is a personal satisfaction – – to see those people coming in, their eyes gleaming with anticipation, some don’t even know who Martin is, some just walk up to the Cineplex after seeing that the admission is free, like who doesn’t want a free film anyway? (and you’re in Shangri-la, one of the homes of the alta sociedad, where rubbing shoulders is a must), some who are avid followers of Martin ever since Indio Nacional are already talking even before they take their seat, and perhaps some of those nameless egotists who took part in the classic staple of discourse in Oggs Cruz’s post on the film, oh how I would love to see them, are also present – – and just when Martin is starting up his engine and all set to fly to the end of the world, after almost fifteen minutes of desolate images, said people begin to feel cramps on their legs and walk their way out – – generally peaceful and diplomatic, like people who just accepted their fate without any remorse, no hurt feelings, none whatsoever, but there are a few who exited in such grave demeanor – – mouthing words of exasperation, guile, and disappointment – – I can’t help but suppress a smile. From there, what remains interesting is the sight of how many people stayed, those who signed the consent of five-hour dementia, till the end. Whether these people like the film or detest it, there is no way of knowing – – there is no ambush interview outside. But one thing I can surely attest to: the discourse remains in their heads, waiting for an outlet, lingering as they drive their way home or walk the empty streets of the night. In every way possible, I hope there is a way to listen to them – – like analog stereos in a vast desert catching all the signals of humankind’s brain circuits.

The length, if not integral, is necessary. The meandering narrative takes its shape from the audience, moving forth without any sense of direction, just mere fragments of history and memory to remind us of our lack thereof. Halfway through, when there is still enough space to occupy a random observation, I argue that the comparison of Martin to Diaz is uncalled-for, considering the fact that this is the first time that the younger filmmaker has made a film that exceeds the usual two-hour feature length, unlike his older contemporary whose name has become synonymous with epic urban maladies, epic in every sense of the word. What unites them, however, is a sincere, selfless ambition – – as if it’s the lifelong purpose they commit themselves into – – to tell the story of our land, no matter how obscure, how insufficient, how deploring, and how agonizing; and for the sake of telling it, they tell it. Talent is one thing; courage is another. Martin and Diaz – – the forerunners of Philippine contemplative cinema – – deserve to be recognized, more importantly, by their own countrymen; if only our academies would be receptive, their films should be studied in curriculum courses.

Now Showing fatally blows the fuse of commonality. Miscommunication hardly matters in Martin’s vision because despite belonging to a language that is almost as marginal as his characters, he attacks his narrative in such ease that it easily accounts for insensitivity and cruel indulgence – – partly true though – – but if cinematic experience only harbors in the present, then what’s the purpose of memory if not to look back or ahead for a change of heart or a realization that acknowledges its merit? Martin is a difficult filmmaker – – he takes difficult paths, creates difficult characters, writes difficult stories, builds difficult labyrinths – – but he is also a rewarding craftsman – – a poet who knows every line of his poems from memory; he lives ahead of his time, ahead of his own films. Appreciation of his works requires an ocean of patience and understanding, and I, myself, am not even close to fully admit it, because there is a thin line between admiration and pretension to admire it, which manifests itself as an enigma – – quite difficult to figure out if the senses are working well or just the mind doing all the foolery.

Ang Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo (The Island at the End of the World), other than being a relevant documentary, introduces the style in which Martin would be notorious of in the years to come. It is a welcoming alternative – – the pace of a turtle running for his memory in the waves. When I came out of Indio Nacional a year ago, I was perplexed from the relief that it ended because I thought only an earthquake or terrorist attack could bring this film to its closure. Autohystoria is all the same, except that its end explodes in such intensity, it crippled me for days. In this case, Now Showing proves to be the less excruciating among Martin’s feature films, its length notwithstanding, because its pang originates from his insistence to deliver; otherwise everything will just crumble and the intention will lose its grip. Interestingly, the late Jovenal Velasco shares with us in class an insight from Hermann Hesse, something I failed to forget: The source of your pleasure is also the source of your pain. It rings true if you consider Martin’s succession of works.

The first half of Now Showing is brilliant; the second tormenting. The dialogues between Rita’s mother and aunt, the drunkards in the sari-sari store, and, as if reflected by their own delusion, Rita’s friends having their small inuman - – these scenes capture both sides of the coin of the Filipino mind: the absurd and the wise. The sarcasm hits like an arrow left in our heart forever; considering the times we go through these years, it is our humor that saves us from eating our own madness. The execution also has its share of hits and misses. The “Gabi ng Lagim” is the most fully realized segment, partly because of childhood memories; it is hilarious reliving those Friday nights of priceless fear, when we were put to sleep by our mothers while listening to Ben David’s evil laughter amid the thunder and lightning, and Martin knows how badly we want to reminisce those times again so he shoots it in long take and minimal camera movements, so frail I can almost picture Albert Banzon’s veins ripping in his arms. Too bad it robs us the story’s end – – I am even anticipating what will happen to the sacrifice; a touch of cruelty I must say.

The inclusion of clips from Tunay Na Ina is deceptive – – minus the intention, it adds only to the pain, the reckless pain; but then as a cinephile, I should be grateful, for its survival speaks of volumes, volumes of lost time, lost culture, and lost memory.

In its five-hour length, there are a lot of points that I wish to raise, with regard to the film’s effective and ineffective breach of trust, but with my own memory straining to remember the speeding images, or more exactly the speeding thought of images, it is impossible to write further. When a film becomes an experience, it marks a turning point – – something that time and memory can never erase, even god. * * * * *

Flow My Tears, The Robber Said in Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964) December 20, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, French Spring, Literature.
8 comments

Original Title: Bande à part
Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Cast: Anna Karina, Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur
Based on Dolores Hitchens’ Fools’ Gold

Children looking for summaries — don’t go here. If you are really serious about cinema, forget about plot narratives. Forget about coherence and linearity. Forget about beauty and depth. Forget about Roger Ebert and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Forget about reviews and ratings. Forget even about writing. Forget everything — and that’s the reason why Godard continues to fascinate me, for he relentlessly avoids these things — he ranks among the Greek and Roman gods; he is peerless, no one can ever surpass him — he has built a world, a galaxy of works that has changed a landscape — that inimitable greatness that is very much felt a million frames per second. And considering the films he made in the sixties — the atomic bomb he dropped in the history of cinema — he surely has lived up to his name as the landmark filmmaker of the 20th century.

Band of Outsiders was shot after Contempt, Godard’s venture to the CinemaScope which fairly doubles the omnipresent enigma of his style, and surprisingly, he still hasn’t left the mark of his black-and-white effrontery — the audacity which catapulted his name to criticism — with a little help from French New Wave’s most revered cinematographer, Raoul Coutard. Well, ‘little’ here speaks of a grand scale that no pair has ever achieved before, with the possible exception of Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist or, to satisfy my personal pleasure, Wong Kar-wai and Chris Doyle.

In A Woman is A Woman, Alphaville, Pierrot le fou, and My Life to Live, Godard has clearly showed his affection to Anna Karina. He is at the peak of his career, with groundbreaking films that defined a generation, and she is behind him every step of the way, even in real life, as his muse, as his dauntless woman of veneration — as seen in Agnes Varda’s Les Fiancés du Pont Mac Donald. Their pair is unmistakably full of vigor, much like Antonioni and Vitti’s collaboration is full of angst, and indeed the films they made together reflect the grueling ball of energy and passion they had then. But with Band of Outsiders, which hints a close reference to Jules and Jim — but I suppose everyone who has seen both films would agree that they are handled very differently, as if Godard and Truffaut have taken the same material and come up with works which are strikingly beautiful in their own way, a sense of uniqueness that only filmmakers like them could achieve — depicts more of a masterly partnership between Godard and Coutard, and in saying that this film might be the most accessible film he has made owes a lot to Coutard’s unwavering devotion to non-conformity, endlessly thinking of ways to shoot differently, and a genius for having made a name for himself apart from his directors.

It is difficult to discuss a film by Godard without relating it to his other works. Thus if one tries to compare Band of Outsiders with Pierrot le fou or Contempt, it certainly makes sense to claim that this film is better than the two, or just one film stands out among the three. That proves Pauline Kael’s assertion that “it is possible to hate half or two-thirds of what Godard does — or find it incomprehensible — and still be shattered by his brilliance.” And basing it on texture, Band of Outsiders is layered with countless allusions to literature and cinema, from Shakespeare to Kafka, from Billy the Kid to Loopy de Loop, from T. S. Eliot to Rimbaud, from Chaplin’s Immigrant to Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, not to mention a famous ad slogan “Bravo, Mr. Segalot. That’s real furniture!,” and an overflow of homage that only seems to work at his advantage — its entirety feels like a book of knowledge, and Godard eagerly opens the book for us, and we hear him speak, we hear his words of enlightenment and disarray, we listen to his truths and lies, we listen to his phrases of hope and discouragement — and we lend our ears like someone listening to a long-awaited Messiah — in a stream of eloquence.

This is the coolest Godard I’ve seen so far — cooler than Breathless, cooler than Masculine Feminine, cooler than In Praise of Love, which isn’t cool at all — cooler than the snow-capped Fuji, cooler than a red dress, cooler than Tarantino, and cooler than a bunch of thugs butchering each other. The Madison sequence and the world-breaking nine-minute visit inside the Louvre are stupefying — such magical moments full of vibe and energy — and if ever you accuse me of exaggerating then see for yourself. For Godard has not only broken the fourth wall, he smashes all walls; if you can imagine how the Colorado River carves the Grand Canyon for centuries, that’s how I see him — better not miss this quintessential vintage from the world’s greatest living director, and run for your life. * * * *

Middle-class Aneurysm in Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) November 27, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Cine Europa, European Films, French Spring, Musical.
4 comments

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Original Title: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
Directed by Jacques Demy
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon

It’s funny imagining a world where everyone sings what he wants to say, even the most mundane exchange of words, the trivial expressions of sanctitude, or life’s awful miseries. What if we speak our lines to the tune of different musicians every day? Today we have Philip Glass, tomorrow Mozart, the next week Liszt, next month Schubert, and so on; a mad world I foresee but how lovely! Having seen one, for an hour and a half in a setting that spans five war years, it is unmistakably hilarious.

I would lie if I say that I enjoyed this film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is certainly a classic, much to the hype of the supporters of this musical is perpetuating, but its timelessness is arguable. I must admit however that its crowning glory is Catherine Deneuve — her youthful flair that is very much impossible not to notice. Her inimitable career and rise to stardom deserves admiration, considering the overwhelming brilliance she had in her latter films: Repulsion, Belle de Jour, Tristana, The Last Metro, and even up to Dancer in the Dark. In this film, she shines effortlessly and radiates with oozing personality that it would be a sin just to forget her name. In a bleak, cloudless night, she twinkles — and we respond with admiration in return.

Must be the DVD copy in this year’s festival — I am expecting a blast both in my eyes and ears: the stunning credits sequence and Michel Legrand’s enchanting musical accompaniment. After a few minutes, I wish I have seen it at home instead, and if only I have the contact number of the French Embassy I would tell them to lend us the 35mm copy like what the Swedish Embassy did in Fanny and Alexander. But then — I’m calling myself a fool this time — it was them who lent Shangri-la the DVD.

On the other hand, what struck me most is the dialogue, particularly the conversation between Geneviève (Deneuve) and her mother (played by Anne Vernon). So it goes like this:

Madame Emery: Where were you?
Geneviève: With Guy.
Madame Emery: What were you doing?
Geneviève: Mother, he’s leaving. He’ll be away for two years. I can’t live without him. I’ll die.
Madame Emery: Stop crying. Look at me. People only die of love in movies.

Then afterward,

Geneviève: I’m pregnant, Mother.
Madame Emery: Pregnant by Guy? This is horrible! How is it possible?
Geneviève: Well, just like with everybody.
Madame Emery: Don’t joke. This is serious. What are we going to do?
Geneviève: What do you mean?
Madame Emery: What are we going to do with the child?
Geneviève: Raise it.
Madame Emery: What are we going to say?
Geneviève: To whom?
Madame Emery: Our friends, our neighbors!
Geneviève: We have no friends, and you never speak to the neighbors.
Madame Emery: And Roland Cassart is coming to dinner tonight!
Geneviève: You don’t need to tell him.

It was Luis Buñuel who mastered the craft of poking fun at the bourgeoisie — the middle-class who have nothing in their minds but status and how they look, what if I have my hair fixed? do I need to have my nails done? is that make-up you’re using much better than the one I have? and perhaps to them having the same clothes is the most awful thing in the world. Buñuel did it in such supreme jest I would want to be his disciple. In a particular scene, Madame Emery realizes that she has a huge debt to pay and exclaims to Geneviève, My God! We are ruined! What will we do? Should I have my hair done? Whether Demy is consciously attacking the mindset of his mother character — her reactionary behavior to be exact — it is done very subtly as if he condones it, and it adds a remarkable texture to the tenacity of his most popular work. The bourgeois culture exists side by side with criticism, which can be seen in various forms of art not only in cinema, and nevertheless the idea has remained universal — idiocy and idiosyncracy aside — that vested on them is a huge amount of social power and political influence; the only way to show them our remorse, for whatever reason that is, is have them ridiculed — the nastiest way we can — and it deems so effective that contemporary comedies harbor in satire, sarcasm, and predominantly, the jack-ass type of humor, and their audience is responding quite well. Closing this hallucination in accordance with the first sentence, whether it happens by incidence or otherwise, Buñuel directs Deneuve three years after in the tenaciously beautiful, Belle de Jour.

A carnival of love’s elusive nature — the effervescence of romance — rolls in manic fervor one can’t help but laugh on its sheer hilarity. Once you get used to the lines being sung, it’s easy to forget that Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a musical — beyond those solitary hues and falling graffiti, by a thousand miles, this is a comedy. * * *

Bittersweet annihilation in Sam Karmann’s Nickel and Dime (2002) September 18, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Alliance Française, European Films, French Spring.
6 comments

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Original Title: A la petite semaine
Director: Sam Karmann
Cast: Gérard Lanvin, Jacques Gamblin, Clovis Cornillac

Among contemporary works, it is rare to find a film taking its time, having its own pace but not entirely its own world because we can still relate to it, especially if its script is beautifully-written, so poignant I thought I am seeing it for the first time but I am not, and though its trio of characters is underdeveloped and understated, it works really well because Nickel and Dime aims not to show-off but to let us feel the paranoia of living in a corrupt world and enjoying little things in life at the same time (the anomaly of life), and after a while it reminds me that I am in the Philippines, crime pays tremendously, nothing compared to French bureaucracy — like parallel lines, the difference between First World crimes and Third World crimes never meet (a pretentious guy I shook hands with a few weeks ago calls it, “Filipino films are as bad as Tribu, don’t even mention it if we’re talking about City of God“) — I cannot help but admire this film, the same way I admire Ozu’s oeuvre, for simple films are the hardest ones to make, and don’t forget its cunning reference to A Streetcar Named Desire: nostalgia is indeed fatal. * * * *

Luc Besson says Arthur and the Invisibles will be his last movie and I am not surprised (2006) September 3, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, French Spring.
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Originally published in Digital Buryong on June 10, 2007.

Original Title: Arthur et les Minimoys
Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Freddie Highmore, Mia Farrow, Penny Balfour

Coming up with a lazy review is what I plan to do. I hate transitions.

*The first Luc Besson film I ever saw. Not disappointed. With the initial sequences, I thought I shall be seeing a Macaulay Culkin sort of flick. But after a while, it was bursting with eye-popping imagery and stunning animation. My sister bought a VCD of The Fifth Element three years ago. I never paid any attention. Not my type. Now I want to see it. If only Bruce Willis is not there.

*It is tempting to compare Arthur with Pan’s Labyrinth. Both are beautiful works of imagination. Besson prides himself as a filmmaker who works on diverse genres. From thriller, sci-fi, and film noir to children’s story and environmental themes, he manages to widen his audience. I may be familiar with most of his works but I do not have any interest to watch or even buy them. He’s too popular. I would rather devote my time in the less popular. Theo Angelopoulos, Bela Tarr, Ousmane Sembene, anyone? I am an idiot, these directors are also popular in the art circle.

*Even though almost everything is done perfectly, the huge pitfall is its story. It lacks dimension. It would’ve been much better. I wonder what became the problem. Budget? No way. Besson? I doubt it. Producers? No idea. Unlike Pan’s Labyrinth, the conflict is too specific that everyone can relate to it. A kid left by his parents during his birthday. Grannie is there to be with him. It’s his birthday. Blow the candles. Gift from Alfred, his dog. Gift from Grannie. Tears. Grandpa disappeared four years ago. He left a treasure. Evil broker comes. He wants the property. Grandpa is not present to sign the papers and pay the debt. So evil broker forces them to pack their bags after 48 hours. The treasure is the only key. Grandpa is a genius. He left riddles and puzzles so Arthur can find it. Arthur is a clever kid. He embarks in the journey. Minimoys. Great people. So is that story THE problem? Yes, a bit. Films with universal themes are more likely to pull-off its intentions. But of course, that depends on different factors. Actors, story, screenplay, budget, director, DOP, and everything. So what I just mentioned is too subjective that it made no sense. You wasted your time. All apologies.

*Eric Declaro will certainly love this film. But DeClaro loves the West. He hates the idea of turning poverty into an art form. He hates slums and prostituted women as subjects. I change my mind.

*One thing I noticed is that the Minimoys’ noses are flat. Pango. So does that mean that the film’s animators are Asians? No idea. Or like most local TV stations would dig for, is there a Filipino in the team? We love to hear news about our kababayans who are successful in other countries. Brain drain. Great.

*The credits rolled. Karen and I were surprised that Madonna, Snoop Dogg, and even David Bowie provided their voices. They are great singers but they speak differently in the film. Even Robert de Niro is there. Or perhaps we’re just hungry. Nevertheless, that kid who played Arthur is superb. He is graceful. Even better than Haley Joel Osment five or six years ago. Swear. Expect the sequel in 2009 or 2010. That’s according to imdb. Who will direct?

*Pardon my discombobulation. I’m sick and will always be. Que sera, sera. Senteo ergo sum. * * *

I thought I saw Gary Oldman in Michel Hazanavicius’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) September 3, 2007

Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, French Spring.
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Originally published in Digital Buryong on June 8, 2007.

Original Title: OSS 117: Le Caire nid d’espions
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Aure Atika

The 12th French Film Festival kicks off with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, a film that parodies the spy film genre with a satirical reference to the James Bond series. As French Ambassador to the Philippines Gerard Chesnel puts it, OSS 117 is higher, and perhaps better, than 007.

And that sums up almost everything. OSS 117 is far better and wittier than James Bond. And Jean Dujardin is just trailing behind Daniel Craig in terms of muscle flexes.

Although it doesn’t look like it, the film is set in 1955 when Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (agent OSS 117) is investigating about the loss of his co-agent, Jack Jefferson, and a Russian cargo ship in Egypt. The film is based on the series of spy novels written in the 50s and 60s by Jean Bruce, sort of the French Ian Fleming. That explains the setting. The usual bombshells are on their way to lure him, seduce him, and make love with him. There are even Nazis who wanted to kill him. Stunning locations in Cairo and the Suez Canal complement with the overall look of the film — adventurous, edgy, and feels like a Run Lola Run marathon. The story may not be great but at least it’s entertaining. The detective plot blends well with the slapstick as OSS 117 is armed with impeccable wit and sarcasm. Likewise, the story may have retained the womanistic, stereotype Bond but the homoeroticism shown in its flashbacks is OSS 117’s point of difference. Quite ironically, OSS 117’s manic laughs and sexually-induced memories with his friend Jack turned him into a more appealing man — brusquely feminine. Cool.

As OSS 117, Jean Dujardin is charming, rugged, brawny, and exceptionally witty. Dujardin is a delight to watch, not to mention that he is a famous comedian in France. Rough and impatient, he even disrespects Islam. Just because he can’t sleep, he assaults the Muslim who’s asking for prayers through the town speakers. With that character, Dujardin saves the opening night.

Remember that beautiful Nokia N93 commercial with the adorable Gary Oldman? Sadly, the one shown here in local TVs roughly edited a lot of spectacular insights from the original ad.

What are the ingredients to go into making a great movie?

A catchy score. A spectacular location. Dramatic lighting. A compelling dialogue. Love. Conflict. Mystery. Drama. Witty one-liners. Special effects. A chase sequence? Clear direction. An underlying message. Something to shoot it with. And a leading man.

Believe it or not, OSS 117 has all of those — well probably a bit less of those — but it still has all the elements. As the film is a huge hit in France, director Michel Hazanavicius is already shooting the next part of the series: OSS 117 gets sent to Iran. Let’s look forward to that in the 13th FFF. * * *

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