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September 2009 Archives

September 30, 2009

Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, 2009

eccentricities.gifInasmuch as Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl returns to Manoel de Oliveira's recurring theme of doomed love, the film also embodies Oliveira's preoccupation with subjectivity and modes of representation. On one level is the adaptation of Eça de Queiroz's literary work into a screenplay, retaining a degree of formalism and dramatic structure associated with classical text. On another level is narrative subjectivity, where the story is told as a first-hand (and therefore, implicitly "true") account by Macário (Ricardo Trêpa) to a fellow traveler (Leonor Silveira), but, as a retelling of a past - and traumatic - event, has been shaped by the filters of personal memory. Another is the disjunction between image and reality, as embodied by the elusive object of Macário's desire, Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein), a charming, enigmatic young woman who captures his attention one day from a neighboring window in his office. Facing disinheritance from his uncle and benefactor, Tio Francisco (Diogo Dória) after announcing his plans to marry Luísa, Macário decides to forge his own path and agrees to take on an extended assignment in Cape Verde in the hopes of raising enough money to start a new life with his beloved. However, when Macário becomes unwittingly implicated in his business acquaintance's messy private affairs, his destiny seems once again determined by honor and obligation. With a slender running time of 64 minutes, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl is a compact, richly textured illustration of Oliveira's multivalent approach to storytelling - distilling human desire into its unexpected, essential incarnations to create not only a timeless story of longing and unrequited love, but also a relevant, modern day cautionary tale on materialism and excess.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2009 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2009, New York Film Festival

Sweetgrass, 2009

sweetgrass.gifDuring the Q&A for Sweetgrass, Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor indicated that they had spent three years filming sheepherding through the Beartooth Mountains on what had initially been conceived as a family activity for the summer because of a desire to capture the last time that a pair of ranchers - hailing from the one remaining sheep farm within three adjacent counties in rural Montana - would drive their flock to public lands to graze: a cultural capstone that would end up being deferred for another two summer pastures before the owners finally sold the farm and resettle to a larger, more remote farm near the Canadian border. In hindsight, this sense of romanticism towards capturing a dying way of life shapes the rigorous, painstakingly observed, panoramic form of the film as well. Initially, the film suggests kinship with Nikolaus Geyhalter's Our Daily Bread in its wordless images of farming as mass production, as sheep are herded into the barn at the end of the day, lambs are re-distributed among a group of nursing ewes to maximize nutrition, and ranchers shear rows of sheep with lulling efficiency. However, the film eventually breaks away from the economy of the paradigm as ranch hands, Pat and John set off into the mountains with their flock of sheep for the summer, capturing instead the vastness of the difficult terrain, constant threat of wildlife, physical toll, and boredom that define their everyday lives. Ironically, in the filmmakers' objective to shoot the landscape, sheep, and people with equal parity, what is lost is the sense of diurnal rhythm intrinsic in their ritual, where the passage of time is obscured by an editing strategy that heavily favors daylight over night time shots - the three year excursion unfolding in three days (a blurring of time that contributes to confusing sequences over John's apparent meltdown during a call to his mother and subsequently, while rounding sheep, after having seemingly spent only a day in the wilderness) - revealed only through the growth of new wool on sheep making their way down the mountain at the end of summer.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2009 | | Filed under 2009, New York Film Festival

Les Herbes folles, 2009

herbes_folles.gifRevisiting the shifting perspective, stream of consciousness narrative of Providence, Alain Resnais's Les Herbes folles is a more whimsical variation on the themes of subjective reality and causality. An early image of wild grass poking through cracks in the concrete provides a paradigm for the film's seemingly organic tale of subverted expectation: a middle-aged man with time on his hands, Georges Palet (André Dussollier) recovers a wallet from a parking garage and immediately begins to devise scenarios on how he should approach the owner, a dentist named Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma) to return it. However, when his initial contact proves to be a terse, anticlimactic "thank you" telephone call in the middle of a family gathering - precipitated in part by his wife's (Anne Consigny) suggestion that he bring the wallet to the local police station to arrange the actual return instead of handling it personally - Georges decides to re-initiate contact with the indifferent Marguerite, intrigued by her more adventurous hobby as an aviatrix of restored World War II planes that, in some small way, rekindles childhood memories of his late father. Resnais' playful re-arrangement of Hollywood genres - romance, mystery, adventure (most notably, in reference to Paramount Studio's The Bridges of Toko-Ri) - results in a remarkably fluid, wry, and idiosyncratic exploration of chance, connection, and noble pursuit.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2009 | | Filed under 2009, New York Film Festival