São Paulo International Film Festival – Part 3

Moral Order

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Versão em português

Third part of the festival coverage with films seen between Thursday, 29 and Sunday 1st.

Ana. Sem Titulo (Lucia Murat)
Lucia Murat has been working within variations of this material since her first feature Que Bom Te Ver Viva in 1989. An effort to find a historical perspective for 20th century Latin American left. Among the movies she made in such manner Ana. Sem Título seems to me among the strongest exactly because it moves very well between fiction and documented history so it use art to allow this history to reverberate in the present. It finds very good solutions to tie its investigative work and a desire to take into account both the traumas a legacy of resistance.

Um Dia com Jerusa (Viviane Ferreira)
Two generations off Brazilian Black women sharing the proximities and distances of their histories. A film of mirrors and acknowledgements, much more symbolic than dramatic, but told with a lot of care and some good humor by director Viviane Ferreira. What guarantees the power of Um Dia com Jerusa is the way it balances its allegoric/memorialist character of the drama with the everyday activities of the day promised by the title, keeping an ample scope, but anchoring the action.  Besides, there’s Lea Garcia whose screen presence is meaning by itself and is given many opportunities to shine.

Dinner in America (Adam Rehmeier)
There’s been some time since I saw such a Sundance lab film as this one. It is far from all bad, two great central performances, some good detail and when the humor works it is indeed pretty funny, but everything is contained in a very sterile box. The movement from abrasiveness towards sweetness in particular is such a pre-ordained uninteresting game. It curious how the movie, which is about na anarchist punk singer, speaks so much about revolt, while delivery so little of it.

Fanny Lye Deliver’d (Thomas Clay)
A mix of liberation tale and horror western. A farm controlled with oppressive hand by the conservative husband receives a visit from a “pagan” couple and the inquisitors after them. Drab and violent with a taste for playing up the more grotesque details of daily life in the period while also superimposing a series of signs charged with masculine violence with the drama arc of conscious and freedom of the title character. The mix of austere images with cheap genre thrills work very well. Director Thomas Clay is very conscious about British horror film traditions and makes good use of folk horror (as well as multiple echoes of Witchfinder General) with rethink through a brutalist register. The great cast also helps particular Charles Dance as the husband whose presence also brings to mind Eric Red’s very interesting and Undertow (1996) (co-written by Kathryn Bigelow) in which he played a similar role but here the comedy of male silliness demarking territory is pushed to even bigger extremes.

Genus, Pan (Lav Diaz)
How repetitive is Lav Diaz? It is a recurring question when it comes to contemporary auteurs, every more so in this festival world in which signature is a value of use.  One certainly won’t findo n Lav’s movies much variations of style (outside of the occasional color film or one-off exercises like the sung dialogue of Season of the Devil) and even less of theme or situations, Lav Diaz is a filmmaker with a mission and that is taken account of Philippines fascism. But the question remains. Maybe even more obvious in Genus, Pan because it is a deliberate minor film, its 157 minutes the shortest running time of any of Diaz fictional features since he found himself as an artist with 2002’s Batang West Side. The longer lengths might be the fait divers that serve as a hook for the occasional mainstream article about his cinema, but it is the basis that allow it to exist: all of Diaz films are symbolic treatises about fascism and violence inherent to Filipino history and minds and the usual above 4 hour length serve as a way to give them body and extend them beyond the field of allegory.  Genus, Pan turns a walk in the woods in a symbolic exercise to put this forces in movement, Diaz stages the primary regression and the explosions of cruelty expected, but they exist as illustration without the more refreshing drama of his other movies. It is worth mentioning here as the great Filipino critic Noel Vera pointed out that it is an unusual work with no mention of either Marcos nor Dutarte, Genus, Pan has the scars left by fascism, but it is mostly a far more radical introspective film. If there’s any breathing room is through the recurring shots of empty road it keeps returning to. How to fulfill these spaces? Is there any hope possible? Can Lav Diaz remain faithful to himself and answer that? To find some escape? 

In the Dusk (Sarunas Bartas)
Early on, In the Dusk remains closer to the austere suffering that the Lithuanian filmmaker has long excel at. The emptiness of Lithuanian life in the immediate post WWII offers a more direct historical weight anchoring the formal investigation that Bartas has been exploring in one manner or other for the past three decades. There’s plenty of scenes of perfect lightened faces of men speaking while the atmosphere reinforces the hollowness that takes over everyone. When In the Dusk tries to solve its mix of Family, formation and resistance drama and put it in movement, it arrives at sturdy physical scenes. The final act is among the best things Bartas filmed so far, with weight to every gesture and explosion of violence and one of the better shot actions of the year.

Moral Order (Mario Barroso)
Director Mario Barroso was a cinematographer in many Portuguese cinema classics, mostly in films by João Cesar Monteiro and Manoel de Oliveira. This is his second feature ando ne of the best surprises of the festival. Moral Order brings with it the precision of Portuguese drama, that mix of attention to theatre of things and stripped down staging. A good eye for the villainy of those around the main character, but also for how her transparent passions threaten the social fabric around her. And there’s Maria de Medeiros in one of the greatest performances of the year.

Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi)
In Notturno, Gianfranco Rosi moves his camera to Middle East drama. Two things stand up fast: first his direct cinema approach, with an intelligent editing that organizes the material, but a refuse to offer any kind of context to its images beyond our previous knowledge about the region’s conflicts and refuges. Another is the option for erasing borders and try to imagine the situation with a larger scope. There’s the idea that we are watching a post-colonial disaster that can be traced back to artificial divisions that can be partially track down to wishes of older European colonial powers. On this, for good and bad, one must point that for Rosi’s empathy, Notturno is a deeply European movie whose interest in Arabian drama is intimate linked to what it means for the continent. A força do filme reside muito neste ato de chegar depois e lidar com as consequências dos abalos.

Sisters in the End of the World (Luciana Mazeto, Vinicius Lopes)
Director Luciana Mazeto and Vinicius Lopes project is at first refreshing for recent Brazilian independent cinema in so far as its opening to fiction to take into account the emotional state of its two leads isn’t quite common. The family apocalypse situation (dead mom, absent dad, who still wants to impose his power) finds echo in the idea of the end of the world. On it teen movie terms Sisters in the End of the World finds some strength particularly when the directors manage to benefit of the good rapport between their actresses, but their control of drama is fragile and made worse by their lack of conviction going too much for festival film tricks that dilutes any power the movie has. 

True Mothers (Naomi Kawase)
There’s a notable difference between True Mothers and Naomi Kawase earlier work given that it is adapted from a Japanese best seller. This both reinforces how specific her gaze is and adds a lot of narrative devices that feels very distant from her. A loto f the interest and limitations of True Mothers arrives from that, if there’s far too much plot in its very written 140 minutes (something reinforced by the perception shifts), there’s something in how Kawase’s very essential eye plays against it. She is one of the most direct and devoid of subterfuge filmmakers around and when True Mothers family melodrama works, it disarms and emotional connects. As a fan, I must add that it is very amusing how she finds ways to reinforce her taste for using nature to punctuate feelings in a film in which at first it doesn’t seem to fit.  True Mothers is a family drama whose articulations and feelings (if not so much its focus on motherhood) feel close to Koreeda, it is probably her most accessible film and I can see it becoming an arthouse hit if not exactly adding her new fans among hardcore cinephiles. I must confess Always been confused by the Kawase affair and the amount of hatred she receives particular in the English language world (there’s far worse Cannes favorites and even some pretty good ones never did anything half as good as Shara), if it is true that the promise of her early documentary work and first fictions was never fully delivered, she has far more talent than her detractors give her credit and a very welcome idiosyncratic vision. True Mothers is  very middle of the road as far as her work goes, but it is something no one else could really made and this filmmaking year is better because she did it.

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