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December 18, 2007

Chaotic Ana, 2007

chaotic_ana.gifJulio Medem's Chaotic Ana is an unclassifiable concoction, at once deeply personal and untenably ambitious, alternating between creating a strong statement and indulging in fanciful whimsy. Presented in eleven chapters that count down towards zero in the referential pattern of hypnotic regression, the bohemian artist, Ana (Manuela Vellés), not surprisingly, is first shown in a state of trance on the dance floor of an Ibiza nightclub. Ana's seeming perpetual state of waking dream is subsequently reflected in the images of her sheltered life with her father, Klaus (Matthias Habich), having lived an idyllic existence in a cave overlooking the coast throughout her youth until Justine (Charlotte Rampling), a patron of the arts from Paris, invites her to stay at an artist workshop where, for a few years, she can work in complete creative freedom. Finding immediate community with the workshop's eclectic residents, in particular, a video artist named Linda (Bebe), Ana immediately falls for the subject of Linda's latest installation, an enigmatic, resident artist named Saïd (Nicolas Cazalé). Drawing inspiration from his life in exile, Saïd's primitivist composition creates a violent reaction within Ana's subconscious. Suspecting that Ans's blackout is a psychological fugue that is connected to the resurfacing of traumas suffered during her past lives, Justine and Linda enlist the aid of an American hypnotist, Michael (Asier Newman) who gradually unravels the centuries of cross-cultural testimonies buried within Ana's subconscious, told by young women whose lives were all tragically cut short by the age of 22, that would bear witness to the hidden histories of inhumanity, violence, and oppression. Part loving tribute to his sister, Ana Medem, whose artwork is featured in the film (and who, as the postscript reveals, "left" at the age of 22), and part contemporary indictment of masculine aggression (and in particular, American aggression) that has led to a legacy of warfare, occupation, terrorism, and subjugation, Medem's fractured tale proves to be an unstable alchemy where moments of sobering reflection on the repercussions of a chronically shortsighted US policy are supplanted by two-dimensional caricatures that constantly shift the tone of the film from unflinching realism to bawdy farce (an awkward juxtaposition that proves especially flawed during a pivotal encounter at a Navajo bar, where Medem's trenchant parallel illustration of dispossession and institutional segregation between the Native American reservations in the US and the refugee camps of displaced Saharans in the Middle East - and by extension, the Iraqi occupation that has also resulted in geographic factionalism along ethnic and tribal lines - is undermined by the facile sight gag of a patron's inebriated uncoordination).

Posted by acquarello on Dec 18, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Spanish Cinema Now


I'm a big fan of Medem's previous work, so I'm disappointed that I couldn't see this. It seems this film falls into the same trap as much of his other work, letting a programmatic idea of what he wants his film to say overwhelm the effectiveness of any actual human transmission of those ideas. Medem is a talented filmmaker, but I wish he would adopt a hefty dose of just letting things happen. I'd like to see him experiment with working in the Wong Kar-wai mode, just shooting unscripted until he finds his movie. That might serve to temper his ideological instincts and force him to look for truth in human beings rather than ideas.

Posted by: Dave on Dec 19, 2007 1:07 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Dave. I think you've hit the nail on the head. Medem definitely has big, lofty ideas that he wants to say about what's going on in the world, and at the same time, there's that personal aspect where he's trying to show that lives cut short still carry a great deal of meaning and that there's such a thing as an eternal consciousness that continues even after death. But I agree with you, it's the cramming of both the square and round pegs into the one round hole that sometimes gets him into trouble.

The Wong Kar-wai mode is a great idea! Medem definitely likes this eternal recursion thing where things have to converge. For instance, in the film, the prelude shows a bird passing by who poops in the eye of a falcon that's just about to be released after him. That image comes back at the end of the film too, and it's a clunky parallel, just to be able to show that the film has come full circle. Anyway, that said, I'm still glad I got to see it. There's a lot of things in the film that are good, or at least, admirable in intention.

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 19, 2007 9:00 AM | Permalink

I hate to use a director's earlier work as an equation or contrast but I must say that the thread of beauty and poetry that marks Medem's work for me (like in Los Amantes del Círculo Polar, Tierra and Lucía y el sexo) was utterly absent in Caótica Ana.

I saw Medem speak before the screening at the London Film Festival this year where he made a few points - his sister's, Ana's, exhibition was about to open in Valencia, and all her family and friends were waiting at the venue when they learnt of her fatal car accident on the way to the exhibition. This is an extremely personal work, not biographical in any way, but a tribute. Medem named his own daughter Ana after his sister. He also spoke about how the audience should not "think or reason" during the film but "watch it with the brain switched off and take the film home", which I found to be an unnecessary piece of defensive clarification. The highlight of the screening for me was his use of an illustration as he urged the audience to give the film a purely emotional response, which went something like this: "At the dinner table sometimes my daughter hands me a piece of bread, which I don't eat but put in the pocket of my coat smiling. At some later time, in the middle of some activity - like shooting my film - I, sub-consciously, find my hand in my coat pocket where I discover the piece of bread...".

Posted by: Mohit Sabharwal on Jan 01, 2008 11:28 PM | Permalink

Hi, Mohit - Heheh, your Medem introduction sounds a bit like Dumont's pre-emptive apologia for Twentynine Palms a few years back during the Rendez-vous with French Cinema series, when he told the audience not to pay attention to the characters because they were just there as a narrative "crutch" for the audience, but to the "sensations" that the images convey. Come to think of it, Caótica Ana embodies a similar kind of messy provocation.

You're right about the very personal nature of this particular film, and I do like the way he's wrestling with this idea of an eternal connectedness, especially when loved ones unexpectedly die young. And maybe, this image of dying young is where he's connecting the idea of the Iraq War with the senseless and tragic loss of lives, but it's exactly that "correspondence" between the personal and the geopolitical that's frustratingly underformed in the film. So whatever instinctual "sensations" come about are very fragmented and detached from their context, and I don't see how something can be emotional without being resonant in this film. And by extension, I don't see how the images can be resonant when they are are near caricatures, as they are in the film.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 02, 2008 9:58 AM | Permalink

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