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November 2007 Archives

November 27, 2007

The Legend of Time, 2006

legend_timeNamed after legendary flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla's groundbreaking record album (which, in turn, was inspired by the works of Andalusian poet, Federico García Lorca), Isaki Lacuesta's The Legend of Time melds the improvised encounters of Johan van der Keuken's ethnographic documentaries with the quotidian intimacy of Mercedes Álvarez's El cielo gira to create a understated, yet meticulously observed meditation on grief, identity, and self-expression. Composed of two, self-contained chapters capture the disparate lives of figurative outsiders from Camarón's ancestral hometown of San Fernando, Cádiz - a gypsy boy, Isra who decides to honor his father's memory by refraining from singing during the family's self-imposed period of mourning, and a young Japanese woman, Makiko who leaves her ailing father behind in order to follow in the footsteps of Camarón and learn cante by immersing herself in the culture - the film is also a lucid and thoughtful essay into the inalterable nature of change, resonance, and connectedness.

In The Voice of Isra, a boy who bears a vague resemblance to a young Camarón with his long, curly hair and charming smile, struggles to come to terms with the subtle, yet profound shifts in his personal life, both as a younger brother who sees his relationship with his elder brother transform from that of playmate to surrogate father figure, man of the house, and, more importantly, disciplinarian (a change in the family dynamic following their father's death that is suggested in the film's poetic introductory sequence, when Isra plays with his brother Cheíto by pretending to bury him in a mound of fake snow), and as a maturing adolescent trying to win the affection of his brother's pretty friend, Saray. Chronicling Isra's maturation through seemingly mundane, yet insightful episodes of sibling rivalry (tersely encapsulated through Cheíto and Isra's arm wrestling contests), self-proving acts (initially, in Cheíto's goading of Isra to spray paint graffiti bearing Saray's name on the side of a tower, then subsequently, in the Japanese expatriate, Joji's feigned rite of passage with a sharp knife), and illustrations of time's passage (the advent of Mardi Gras, Isra's breaking voice, and Saray and Isra carving their measured heights onto a tree), Lacuesta uses the trauma of Isra's deliberately silent, then "lost" voice as a metaphor for the gradual formation of his own identity.

Similarly, Makiko's immigration to Spain in The Voice of Makiko is also one of self-discovery. In an early episode, Makiko, inquiring about referrals for cante instructors at a flamenco dance class that caters to a predominantly Japanese clientele, instead receives a tip from a student for a possible waitressing job at a local Chinese restaurant. This idiosyncratic image of interchangeable, borrowed identities becomes a reflection of Makiko's search for her own identity as well, a quest that is implied in the image of Makiko lip synching to Camarón's performance that opens the film. For Makiko, singing cante becomes inextricably bound to the exhilaration and adventure of immersing in a new culture as it is to a profound sense of guilt, grief, and dislocation (in an unexpectedly intimate scene, Makiko talks to her father from a public phone about her nursing schools studies as she speaks in voiceover of how her father taught her to suppress her display of emotion, a haunting image of imposed distance that grows more poignant during a subsequent, routine telephone call to her father). As in Isra's story, Makiko's identity and transformation emerge from the trauma of (paternal) loss and separation. Framed against the characters' personal stories as cross-cultural reflections of Camarón's inextinguishable spirit, Lacuesta creates an eloquent allegory for the cante itself as the embodiment of an eternal collective consciousness in its weathered, intertwined expression of joy and sadness, beauty and banality.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 27, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Isaki Lacuesta

November 3, 2007

Tarrafal, 2007

tarrafal.gifIn an episode that occurs halfway through Tarrafal, Cape Verdean immigrant José Alberto, having just received his expulsion notice, encounters the elderly, displaced Fonthainas resident Ventura waiting on the side of a dirt road as his friend, Alfredo tries in vain to catch rabbits by thrashing random bushes with a wooden club. In a way, the idea of silent, enduring landscapes as figurative intersections for other unfolding - and often converging - human stories (a recurring theme in José Luis Guerín's cinema as well) may be seen as a metaphor for Pedro Costa's densely layered themes of dislocation and statelessness. As subsequently revealed in The Rabbit Hunters, Alfredo, too, is homeless, resorting to a life in the streets after having been thrown out of the apartment by his wife. In Tarrafal, this converging image of forced - and implicitly traumatic - displacement and exile is established in the opening images of José Alberto's ironic inquiries to his mother over the derelict conditions of their ancestral houses in Cape Verde from his own ramshackle home in the slums. As the conversation morphs from the neglect and inhabitability of their beloved, deserted homes that recalls the reclamation of abandoned ghost houses in In Vanda's Room, to the strange tales of a blood-sucking phantasm who foretells a person's hour of death by surreptitiously leaving letters in the most mundane of hiding places to be subsequently retrieved at the time of their immutable appointment - an impersonal, life-altering communication that alludes to the state's arbitrary dispensation of deportation and eviction notices in modern day Portugal - Costa illustrates a sense of anonymous interchangeability among the transitory, drifting souls of Tarrafal. Visually, this sense of surrogacy and transplantation is reflected in the repeating angular doorway view of José Alberto's house: first, in the solitary image of José Alberto facing away from the camera as he sits on a wooden plank to smoke, then subsequently, in a reframed shot of Ventura and Alfredo seated on the same plank looking out into the neighboring town, commenting on the profound transformation of the once desolate landscape (note Alfredo's humorous misidentification of stray cats as rabbits that further reinforces their seeming interchangeability). Moreover, intrinsic in José Alberto's sad tale of requesting a work release to single-handedly bury his estranged father, and the rabbit hunters' conversation over their mistreatment and death at the hands of authorities is the specter of Tarrafal's unreconciled history as a prison camp where inmates were tortured and relegated to die a slow death. Composed as skewed, frame within frame stationary shots that evoke the acute angles and distanced address of Straub/Huillet, these parallel testimonies of dislocation, separation, entrapment, and fatedness unfold through supplanted images of interchangeable, moribund, drifting ghosts that integrally reflect their own erasure and social invisibility.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 03, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Pedro Costa