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August 2008 Archives

August 31, 2008

The Forsaken Land, 2005

forsaken.gifThe opening sequence of Vimukthi Jayasundara's The Forsaken Land suggests a metaphoric, alien landscape - a land transfigured by the buried scars of a decades-long civil war and the ominous disquiet of a fragile, uncertain peace. A lone militia guard, Anura (Mahendra Perera) patrolling the main road to a remote village, passes his idle hours inspecting the contours of an open field, looking for irregular patches in the topography (perhaps indicating the presence of unmarked, makeshift graves). A disembodied arm juts out from the undulating water, articulated in rigor resembling a prehistoric sea monster surfacing from the lake. The harsh white light from a fluorescent bulb illuminates a dark room, its intensity reflected in the crosscut to a shot of the human eye. A restless woman, Anura's unmarried sister Soma (Kaushalaya Fernando) rises at dawn to bathe using water ported into a barrel in the absence of indoor plumbing, and hears the sound of a tank rolling into a nearby open field to conduct military exercises. In a way, the images capture the desolation of a people existing in a state of suspended animation, harboring the persistent memory of a violent, unreconciled past, and relegated to a life as impotent spectators to the meaningless rituals of everyday life in the isolated village. On the surface, The Forsaken Land suggests Shohei Imamura's Ballad of Narayama in its stark and austere portrait of an inhuman, godless society, where the tainted landscape reflects the nihilism and moral vacuum of disintegrated lives lived in perpetual stasis (as suggested in an episode involving a pregnant villager's apparent suicide by poison ingestion). However, in its abstract naturalism and implicit allusion to the social repercussions of ethnic marginalization, the film also converges towards Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours, where the forest represents a place of menace (the schoolgirl, Batti's [Pumudika Sapurni Peiris] encounter with the night guard, Piyasiri [Hemasiri Liyanage]) and transitory escape (Anura and a soldier's retreat into a trench to smoke). It is within this context of protracted ethnic conflict and disenfranchisement that Piyasiri's recounted children's tale - about an impoverished woman called "Little Bird" who once set out with a cup of rice as dowry to faraway lands in order to find a husband, only to be killed by her prospective husband after a perceived slight and humiliation - may be seen as an allegory for the civil war itself: a marginalized people who has razed its own home in order to assuage its guilt and insecurity, eternally condemned to a karmic cycle of self-inflicted retaliation as victim and transgressor.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 31, 2008 | | Comments (8) | Filed under 2008

August 17, 2008

Four Nights of a Dreamer, 1971

four_nights.gifBased on Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story, White Nights, Robert Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer may also be seen as a paradigm for José Luis Guerín's In the City of Sylvia, capturing the romanticism of longing, the voyeurism inherent in an artist's gaze, and the creation of idealized memory. Like the dreamer in Guerín's film, Jacques (Guillaume des Forêts) is a restless artist searching anonymous, city streets in pursuit of an elusive, ideal woman (the dreamer's journey in In the City of Sylvia is similarly chronicled through enumerated nights spent in his hotel room). For Jacques, the quixotic quest would lead him one night to the Pont Neuf, where a despondent Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) has stepped out onto the ledge to end her life by jumping into the river. Convincing her to climb back just as a patrol car stops to intervene, Jacques takes her hand and walks her home with the promise that he would appear at the same time at the bridge on the following evening. The encounter would mark the first of the dreamer's four nights with the fragile Marthe, bound together by their fateful connection and the melancholy of elusive love - Jacques, in the fleeting pursuit of unattainable women with whom he has fallen in love from a distance (and whose embodied idea becomes the inspiration for his fanciful, tape recorded messages and a series of faceless, work-in-progress portraits scattered in his studio), and Marthe, in the apparent rejection by a lover (Maurice Monnoyer) who did not return to her after studying abroad. Offering to act as an intermediary and deliver a letter to the wayward lover's friends in an attempt to reconcile the couple, Jacques becomes increasingly drawn to Marthe and, in the process, finds his new, unrequited object of desire.

Perhaps the lightest and most idiosyncratic film in Bresson's body of work, Four Nights of a Dreamer nevertheless broaches his recurring themes on the division between the physical and the ephemeral. Within this framework, the film serves as a deconstruction of the romantic myth in all its manifestations and illusions. This idea of artificiality is first explored during Marthe's recounted story of receiving tickets from her then presumptive lover to attend the premiere of a trite potboiler entitled The Bonds of Love that ran the gamut of popular film conventions from extended shoot-outs to the clutching of a beloved's photograph - accompanied by swelling music - in the moments before death. But Jacques coming to Marthe's aid at a bridge is also a familiar scenario - the proverbial rescue of the damsel in distress - a romantic sentiment that is further reinforced by his continued arrangements to meet her on the same bridge as their relationship develops (the bridge itself suggesting a metaphoric point of convergence between these two drifting souls). This sense of contrived romantic destiny is also reflected in Jacques's recorded messages describing his beloved's separation from him for six months that alludes to Persephone's descent into Hades (further elevating the idea of love into the realm of mythology), as well as the musical interludes that seem to coincidentally insert themselves during key moments throughout their brief encounters. In this respect, Bresson reflects on the role of the artist as a creator of images, where the ideal lies in the pursuit of the elusive - in the empty spaces that reveal the essential "gesture which lifts its presence from the object" - the illusion of transcended love.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 17, 2008 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2008

August 13, 2008

New York Film Festival 2008 Line-up

Just a quick note to say that the main program for the 46th New York Film Festival has been announced, and the slate looks quite strong this year. Along with the usual suspects - Jia Zhangke, Hong Sang-soo, Jerzy Skolimowski, Arnaud Desplechin, Steven Soderbergh, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Olivier Assayas, and Wong Kar-wai - I'm also excited to see Darezhan Omirbaev (wow, two Kazakh films!), Brillante Mendoza, and Kelly Reichardt make the line-up. The NYFF runs from Sept. 26 through Oct. 12.

Opening Night
The Class / Entre les murs
Laurent Cantet, France, 2008; 128m

Clint Eastwood, USA, 2008; 140m

Closing Night
The Wrestler
Darren Aronofsky, USA, 2008; 109m

Lola Montès
Max Ophuls, France/West Germany, 1955; 115m

24 City / Er shi si cheng ji
Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong/Japan, 2008; 112m

Antonio Campos, USA, 2008; 122m

Ashes of Time Redux
Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 2008; 93m

Bullet in the Head / Trio en la cabeza
Jaime Rosales, Spain/France, 2008; 85m

Steven Soderbergh, France/Spain, 2008; 268m

Chouga / Shuga
Darezhan Omirbaev, France/Kazakhstan, 2007; 91m

A Christmas Tale / Un conte de Noël
Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2008; 150m

Four Nights with Anna / Cztery noce z Anna
Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland/France, 2008; 87m

Gomorrah / Gomorra
Matteo Garrone, Italy, 2008; 137m

Mike Leigh, UK, 2008; 118m

The Headless Woman / La mujer sin cabeza
Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/France/Italy/Spain, 2008; 87m

Steve McQueen, UK, 2008; 96m

I'm Going to Explode / Voy a explotar
Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, 2008; 103m

Let It Rain / Parlez-moi de la pluie
Agnès Jaoui, France, 2008; 110m

Night and Day / Bam guan nat
Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2008; 144m

The Northern Land / A Corte do Norte
João Botelho, Portugal, 2008; 101m

Brillante Mendoza, Philippines/France, 2008; 90m

Summer Hours / L’heure d’eté
Olivier Assayas, France, 2008; 103m

Tokyo Sonata
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan/Netherlands, 2008; 85m

Tony Manero
Pablo Larrain, Chile/Brazil, 2008; 98m

Sergey Dvortsevoy, Germany/Kazakhstan/Poland/Russia/Switzerland, 2008; 100m

Waltz with Bashir
Ari Folman, Israel/Germany/France, 2008; 90m

Wendy and Lucy
Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2008; 80m

The Windmill Movie
Alexander Olch, USA, 2008; 80m

Posted by acquarello on Aug 13, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Quick Notes