This is my first post covering the films from the São Paulo International Film Festival with films seen between Friday, 23 and Sunday, 25.
Days (Tsai Ming-liang)
Since announcing his “retirement” around the time of Stray Dogs, Tsai Ming-liang free from the needs of pretending to deal with narrative has been concentrating more and more in the physical presence and face of his muse Lee Kang-sheng. Days is in such way a culmination of a decade long increasing austere aesthetic investigation. If how Lee Kang-sheng lives in the world is the motif that dominates Tsai’s cinema for three decades now, the manner if which he captures the tactile physicality of this negotiation is even more radical. When I wrote about the earlier Your Face I mentioned how Tsai’s cinema was getting closer to Abbas Kiarostami and Eduardo Coutinho (filmmakers of existence, of acting as a way of being) and Days only reinforces such an idea Lee’s existence negotiates his presence with the camera all the time. It is curious how the most banal of his everyday moments brings to mind the apocalyptical musicals The Hole and Wayward Clouds almost without trying. The long massage sequence is one of the greatest of Tsai’s career.
The Exit of Trains (Adrian Cioflâncă, Radu Jude)
The Exit of Trains is a new chapter on Radu Jude’s work of historical investigation (here in partnership with Adrian Cioflâncă). Through almost three hours, one follows the testimony of family survivors of victims from a Jewish massacre that happened in 1941 in the Romanian city of Iasi illustrated by images of register. Romanian culpability and the historical amnesia that allows ignore it is a recurring theme on Jude’s cinema. The Exist of Trains is scathing and very well organized, a well-deserved angry film. Unlike a film like Wang Bing’s Cold Souls there’s something arid in the filmmakers approach, in the certainty of the power of the documentation by itself, if it is undeniable, the same goes to the feeling that The Exit of Trains exist above all as a register.
Kill It and Leave This Town (Mariusz Wilczyński)
A very personal exercise in imagining escapes for own traumas by the possibilities of animation. Mariusz Wilczyński imagination exists somewhere between a Federico Fellini sketch book and a Roy Andersson desperate comedy, if even more sour than such a description might suggest. The animation drawing Always keep us involved and Wilczyński creates some very strong moments, even if the film don’t always sustain them with its hit and miss structure. For those who enjoy Eastern European cinema, there’s a lot to appreciate here.
O Livro dos Prazeres (Marcela Lordy)
An adaptation of Clarice Lispector‘s An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures whose major strength is having Simone Spoladore in the main role. Marcela Lordy’s film is very good whatever Spoladore is alone dealing with her difficulties dealing with the world and in those moments the filmmaker and her actress found many good solutions for Lispector’s drama. The movie exists in this constant movement between self-analyzing its existential situation to live it and it is usually at its best when Spoladore acts against herself. If Spoladore’s teacher existence is sometimes imagined in a far too clean and plastered manner (a recurring problem of a certain Brazilian cinema), there’s some very happy moments of observation and Lordy finds more refreshing take than the weight of “literary adaptation of an an important author” might suggest.
Memory House (João Paulo Miranda Maria)
Memory House arrived here with a good deal of praise fro its career in the international film festival circuit, but talking with friends made clear that reception in this Brazilian première was far more cold. A fantastic film with a foot in folklore and another in haunting about the permanence of racismo and exploitation in Brazilian society in general and more specifically the southern region. The references are closer to someone like Apichatpong than a horror film despite the constant paranoid and menace atmosphere. Memory House has one thing going for it the screen presence of Antonio Pitanga (one of Cinema Novo main stars and arguably the biggest Black leading man on 20st century Brazilian film) who didn’t had a major lead in ages and manages a few very strong momentsa as his characters comes to terms with his position. As a Pitanga solo the film has interest. João Paulo Miranda Maria direction is of a systematic control that stifles Pitanga as much as the Southern society that he needs to deal with. The film makes one think about Felipe Bragança work, but kinda goes in the opposite direction, if Bragança deals with a similar universe, film reference points and desire to carnivalize Brazilian society, his films tend to be very loose, while Miranda Maria’s film is of an oppressive academicism that ends by eliminate any power inherent to its material and Pitanga’s performance.
Red Moon Tide (Lois Patiño)
When Armando de Ossorio meets the contemporary semi documental experimental cinema. Part a looj at a Spanish seaside community, part an exercise in imagining its difficulties through the openings of a cinema with taste for the mythic and lovercraftian. It is a pleasure to see Patiño in a register like this one given that his major talent since his early shorts was in suggesting in landscape shots a whole fantastic world, to find the mythic in nature. Red Moon Tide includes some of the more incredible shots of any movie this year. It is not a film for those that expect cinema spaces to remain behaved and isolated, far from that Patiño makes me think as much about Ossorio as Guerin and Red moon Tide is all the better for that.
Shine Your Eyes (Matias Mariani)
This first fictional feature by Matias Mariani was a nice surprise. A film with a strong point of view about São Paulo, with great use of locations, particularly downtown, and an understands about ho identity and comes and goings functions here. It isa film of investigation, identity and erasure with a Nigerian travelling to try to locate his brother who come to study here and disappeared. The mix of searching and disappearing is very well used by Mariani. There’s a good imagination to deal with the situations and the city’s cosmopolitanism. Sometimes it suffers for been to neatly systematized and the opposing the main character’s body against the city oppressive architecture trick loses power after a while, despite some very good cinematography work by Leo Bittencourt. The way Mariani let the propulsive investigative narrative feed the identity one he is truly concerned keeps the film going through the weaker moments.
Siberia (Abel Ferrara)
Like most of the other films Ferrara wrote with psychiatrist Christ Zois, Siberia is predicted on a total immersive subjectivity and a notion of culpability even if his main characters lacks full self-awareness about it. They move along after an original sin (always an abuse of power) that is impossible to separate from the film itself. Siberia physical power makes it stand apart, the world here might be even more literally in the verge of disappearing, but it weights in so much over Dafoe shoulders. Sometimes, particularly early on, the film suggests a post apocalyptical videogame: all running around and physical tasks as things slow down for a “character cut scene” that pretends to add a depth that the action expresses much better. It plays around a lot of same themes as Tommaso, but while the earlier film plays arounds bourgeois acceptance this one goes high on the arthouse abrasiveness (and quite frankly both options are just flip coins from where Ferrara is as artist today). It does stand apart from late Ferrara, by his full embrace of fiction to better express his demons which he hasn’t done to this extant in a very long time. I’m still not ready to call Siberia major Ferrara as a few of the shock effects and dualities come way too easy, but it is certainly another high point of the past 15 years of Ferrara-Dafoe partnerships. Even more than in their other films together, Dafoe seems like a true co-auteur, as the material feels like a compromise between their interests, and so much of physical labor here is predicted on Ferrara giving new challenges for his star and how he reacts to them. As an abrasive journey to end of self, the film certainly has a strong cumulative power.
There is No Evil (Mohammad Rasoulof)
Like his colleague Jafar Panahi, every new film by Mohammad Rasoulof runs the risk of been seeing exclusively from his position of artist silenced by the Iranian government, expressions of resistence that Western audiences were not supposed to receive. Panahi decided since This is not a Film to turn this position in the central theme of his recent films, Rasoulof, a social playwright, dramatizes it. There’s many similarities between the drama notions of Rasoulof and the more famous Asghar Farhadi, the same oppressive tendency with everything feeding the drama machinery. As There is No Evil is made of four short stories of a big subject matter (capital punishment in Iran) everything seems even more enclosed in an echo chamber. The film slowly nullifies its power. If Rasoulof is a better filmmaker than Farhadi it is because he can zero in at some social detail that can exist by themselves and allow the film some breathing moments. Despite the Berlin Golden Bear this is not one of his better films (I imagine the jury was taken by the combination of filmmaker and important subject matter), but there’s some of strong moments even if the tales lose ebergy with time.
The Twentieth Century (Matthew Rankin)
A very uneven film whose humor hardly even Works for me and whose pastiche remains more of a concept. I’ve read many comparisons between Rankin’s film and Guy Maddin’s work and while one can see the influence, when it comes to annoying Canadian auteurs the results seem closer to a Matt Johnson film. If i’m far from a big Maddin fan, there’s Always in his films a few shorts inside the feature of great inventiveness while similar passages on Rankin’s work suggest a sketch TV comedy. All that said, there’s a nightmarish quality here that keeps some interest.
Verlust (Esmir Filho)
Esmir Filho decide to try his hand in the existential drama of the powerful in their isolated tower. As a good São Paulo filmmaker, it is not surprising that Esmir Filho might want to have his day of Walter Hugo Khouri, if a Khouri on his own terms far away from the white man drama that the master made his, but keeping the same anguish. The problem is Esmir Filho is far from a filmmaker of the soul, at best he might be able to suggest the simulacrum of one. He creates a fake abyss, a hollow devoid of anything. Verlust doesn’t even have the conviction to allow its conflicts some consequence. What it remains of curiosity is the presence of veteran singer Marina Lima playing a character very close to herself, which sometimes produces some tension.
War (José Oliveira, Marta Ramos)
It is curious that War is released at the same year as Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, as the films have some things in common starting with strong Samuel Fuller influence and remaining focused in the permanence of colonial wars as observed in their toll on a veteran actor’s body. Of course they also come from very different places be it of budget, their point of views (both as white Europeans and black Americans, and the self-conscious about coming from a colonial metropolis and Americans usual ignorance of same) and even some of its political positions. War is interested above all in using the traumas of Mozambique’s independence war as a dramatic anchor for José Lopes. The actor, who passed earlier this year, is the film’s reason to be, to create new situations and allow him to react to them is Oliveira and Ramos work method. The filmmakers are very successful as far as they manage to create a wide universe of situations and actions and Lopes’ wonderful performance confirms the trust they show on him. War aesthetic Project is also predicted in the distance between those ghosts of colonialism and a desolate and empty contemporary Portuguese landscape and the way it articulates that also brings to mind a late answer to how Miguel Gomes’ Tabu reacts to contemporary Portugal with colonialist nostalgia.