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November 2009 Archives

November 21, 2009

The Overcoat, 1952

overcoat.gifIn an early sequence in Alberto Lattuada's The Overcoat, the mayor (Giulio Stival) relishes the idea of history having to be rewritten as a result of an archaeologist's discovery of ancient artifacts that had been unearthed during the groundbreaking of his commissioned, large-scale urbanization project. Designed to transform the landscape of the town's main square - one that strategically obstructs the view to the impoverished, outlying suburbs - in time for a dignitary's official visit, the project receives overwhelming support from the council despite its steep price tag in the belief that the investment would elevate the city's status on a national level. This idea of exploitive economics and window dressing as a means of gaining respect and dignity also foreshadows the plight of lowly office clerk, De Carmine (Renato Rascel whose reluctant purchase of a handsomely styled, fur-trimmed overcoat from the local tailor (having been unable to convince him to repair his well worn, but still functional overcoat) unexpectedly gains him entry into the rarefied world of high society. Retaining Nikolai Gogol's idiosyncratic fusion of social commentary, wry humor, and gothic tale, Lattuada, nevertheless, diverges from the dreamlike narrative of Gogol's short story, and instead, frames De Carmine's bumbling encounters as a realistic, if satirical, exposition on the arbitrary and superficial nature of privilege and exclusion. Transplanting Gogol's cautionary tale from nineteenth century St. Petersburg to contemporary Italy, Lattuada creates an incisive allegory for the underlying reality of postwar reconstruction and its inequitable human cost under the illusion of collective rebuilding, cultural development, and social progress.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 21, 2009 | | Filed under 2009, Alberto Lattuada, Ancillary Film Notes

November 2, 2009

A Lake, 2008

un_lac.gifWith a Russian cast, minimal French dialogue, and geographically ambiguous setting, Philippe Grandrieux's A Lake (Un Lac), like his multilingual preceding film, La Vie nouvelle, expounds on the notion of a borderless cinema - one that not only dismantles the man-made frontiers between nations and cultures, but also the boundaries between image and sound, material and light, logic and instinct. And like the indeterminate chronology of La Vie nouvelle, A Lake also takes place in a hermetic environment that seems equally primordial and post-apocalyptic, where human interaction is reduced to its essence: a knowing glance, a comforting touch, a frenzied exertion, an anguished cry.

In A Lake, the figurative Garden of Eden is a barren, winter forest shrouded in mist where a lumberjack, Alexi (Dmitry Kubasov) lives in a remote cabin near a lake. Prone to increasingly frequent bouts of epilepsy, Alexi's trips to the woods are as much a necessary ritual for survival as it is a rugged communion with nature, often ending up burrowed by convulsions into the snow until the seizure passes and he is able to walk home. There are other members in the household - a blind mother, Liv (Simona Huelsemann), a returning father, Christian (Vitaly Kishchenko), a younger brother, Johannes (Artur Semay) - but they all remain in the periphery, drifting in an out of his searching gaze, and only his sister and soul mate, Hege (Natalie Rehorova) can penetrate his frustration and despair over a body that continues to betray him. It is a lonely, if reassuring and predictable existence until a stranger, Jurgen (Alexei Solonchev) comes into their lives and, like the felled trees in the forest, momentarily, but irreparably, disturbs their fragile paradise.

Loosely reminiscent of Aleksandr Sokurov's Mother and Son in its invocation of Caspar David Friedrich's gothic landscapes to convey a sense of profound isolation, intimacy, and longing, A Lake, nevertheless, remains very much a Grandrieux film, bearing his singular imagery of synaptic, perturbating camerawork, defocused framing, and liminal compositions that transform everyday movements and rhythms into a frisson of textured, abstract impulses that feed the senses. Eschewing the moral ambiguity and transgressive nature of his earlier films, A Lake also represents an aesthetic shift in Grandrieux's cinema towards the idea of nature as integral character: a transition that is implied in Alexi's recitation of a passage about the unity of the soul between man and beast, as well as his lack of dominion over the ephemeral forces of nature. It is this image of humanity receding into the environment that ultimately creates the visceral poetry of A Lake, capturing the body as landscape in all its gestures and paroxysms, contours and spaces, violence and ecstasy.
First posted on AFI Fest Daily News, 10/01/09.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 02, 2009 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2009, Ancillary Film Notes, Philippe Grandrieux