Martin is a fortyish physics professor. His mother just died and he is settling in the inherited family home with Jimena, his partner of many years. He is offered a plum job: a tenured professorship at the University. However, he is dissatisfied with the direction his life has taken, unsure about his relationship with Jimena and attracted by the moviemaking scene. He joins a cinema clinic/workshop. Members meet periodically and the objective is to plan a movie from the ground up; not even the subject has been decided. The group is loosely organized, although with some distribution of roles and responsibilities. The discussions are sometimes specific, sometimes rambling and unfocused.
Members are encouraged to come up with happenings in their own lives as possible subjects for the movie. Martin recalls an episode involving his mother, his aunt as a witness and Luz Belmondo, a recognized plastic artist. The episode ends with Martin's mother receiving the (apparently unmotivated) gift of a painting by Belmondo. It turned out to be Belmondo's last, since she disappeared from the art scene shortly after. The group takes up the anecdote and essays different versions. However, information surfaces that the version of the episode Martin remembers is incomplete/untrue and Martin confirms asking her aunt for details. The truth shakes to the core Martin's ideas of her mother and family and throws him in an abyss of confusion,
El último cuadro de Luz Belmondo = The Last Painting of Luz Belmondo is a product of a workshop directed by Alejandro Cozza, Inés Moyano and Rosendo Ruiz, in which a heterogeneous group of people (mostly without movie experience) developed the script and then participated in all aspects of the making of the film. The group was very similar to the one we see on screen and, in a sense, this movie lays bare the movie/by/workshow method used by the directors in this and other successful films like El Deportivo (2015) and Maturitá (2016). There is a hint of Godard in a few places, such as the anding and in scenes where we think we are watching the film but the camera moves and we are actually watching the film-within-the-film. All in all, a fascinating movie.
Scenario: Punto Norte camping ground in Cordoba Province, a pleasant, peaceful forest bordering a river. There are no markings on the ground so that tents can be erected or campers parked in any clearing. There is a nearby lodge, a combination bar/restaurant/hotel with bathroom and shower facilities for the campers. The decorative lights, Christmas tree and Santa Claus doll indicate the festive season. Year's end is high season for vacationers, but there are few campers at Punto Norte. The camping is operated by Amalia, a sixtyish widow (?), son Franco and daughter Carola.
As the movie begins Sofía is asking locals for instructions to drive to the camp. Sofía's family owns the land where Punto Norte sits. She and family used to spend summers at Punto Norte, but ceased to visit the place when she was 13. Sofía's mother has died a few months ago and Sofía brought her mother's testament to settle ownership with Amalia. Sofía is warmly received by Franco (perhaps with romance in mind) but faces a frosty reception from Amalia and Carola, that let her in on a dark secret involving both families that Sofía is supposed to know (but doesn't). That changes her plans for the testament and leads to a plot with touches of Gothic where the idyllic camp becomes a sinister and menacing place. The movie ends with a brazen (and funny) deus ex machina. A radio voice over the last titles informs us of the imminent conversion of the camping grounds into a soulless semi-urban development.
I liked this film. The script is clever, the dialogues are spontaneous and full of colorful colloquial Argentinian Spanish and the direction is fluid and dynamic. It was filmed within the workshop method that directors Alejandro Cozza and Rosendo Ruiz have used in various other movies.
La Tigra = The Tigress is a sleepy little town in Argentina's Chaco Province, 250km from the boundary with Paraguay. It extends for 20 blocks along a main highway and has a population of just a few thousand. The movie opens as Esteban, a local boy now in his twenties is alighting from a truck that he hitchhiked to La Tigra (presumably, there is no bus service). He is visiting after a six year sojourn in Buenos Aires; he left after his parents' breakup. Esteban's ostensible purpose is to reconnect with his father, Cacho, who is a truck driver presently on a journey. Faced with a wait, he stays with his elderly aunt Candelaria. He meets his father's new wife Claudia and his half brothers, pre-teenager Alejandro and Luciano, a baby. He also meets Vero, whom he last saw as a girl and has blossomed into a dazzling, charismatic young woman who is taking the first tentative steps towards her dream, studying medicine.
Life flows evenly and uneventfully in La Tigra. The heat is tolerable in the morning but becomes oppressive by noon and makes the afternoon siesta imperative. Streets are deserted until early evening. The young play soccer. Women do their daily shopping (on credit, as customary on small towns), old ladies gather to play cards and gossip. There is a rock band that caters to the young and Saturday night dances (mostly for the mature but with many young in attendance) where local musicians play folk dance tunes such as the lively chamamé. Tereré is consumed at all times. It is a drink similar to mate, sipped from a gourd with a bombilla (metal straw) but unlike mate it is prepared with cold water. The gourd is passed from person to person as a socializing ritual.
Out of this seemingly trivial, everyday material directors Federico Godfrid and Juan Sasiaín have woven a hauntingly beautiful movie, one that will enthrall you from beginning to end. Acting is first rate, both from professionals (Ezequiel Tronconi, playing Esteban and Guadalupe Docampo, playing Vero) and from the rest of the cast, La Tigra locals that count this movie as their only credit.
The scenario for the first segment: the balnearios = seaside spas on the Atlantic coast of Buenos Aires Province. The movie opens with shots of beaches, first in the 1950s, then in the summer 2000-2001. We watch the vacationers doing the usual; walking in family groups to the beach, finding a suitable place among the crowd, sticking large umbrellas in the sand, lying in sun or shade doing nothing except occasional light reading, entering and leaving the ocean (mostly to wading depth), helping small kids wet their feet, letting the other kids run wild, playing games that involve throwing things. Then we watch the night scene; people parading down brightly lit streets, playing electronic games, meeting other people, looking for dinner places. The ever present narrator narrates with a sort of clinical detachment (and a dry sense of humor) as if we were watching the alien rituals of some mysterious tribe. Near the beaches we see derelict buildings that used to be palaces in the halcyon days of the early 20th century. One of these, a long abandoned hotel, has a sinister history, narrated (and somewhat embellished) in black and white, with many still shots. Finally, we glimpse the towns in winter, largely deserted.
The next segment is on lakeside spas, in particular Miramar, fronting Laguna Mar Chiquita = Lake Small Sea, a vast expanse of water in Cordoba Province. Miramar was a flourishing spa and tourist attraction until it was partially submerged in 1977 by the rising lake's waters.
The third segment is on spas near rivers or artificial lakes created by dams. There are no beaches to speak of: only rocks and concrete forming pools, some of which allow diving and swimming. The scenario is Villa Mercedes, in San Luis Province and the story is centered on a local character, César Zucco, who (at least in his movie version) is a man about town, member of civic societies, master of barbecues and noted cook who dabbles in philosophy, music, poetry and naïf painting, produces monstrous sculptures (actually sheet aluminum cutouts mounted on poles) and has strange, almost mystical ideas about spas.
The film concludes with a young woman having a joyful swim off a deserted beach. Music includes some beautiful numbers by jazz greats Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Crazy credits: the director dedicates his movie to El Gaucho Gil, who may or may not be the same as El Gauchito Gil, a folk hero and saint/healer not recognized by the Vatican but venerated by many in Argentina.
The movie is available for streaming as a whole (4h 5m) or as a miniseries in three parts. Since the running times nearly add up and the parts lack the usual introductory material, it seems it has been split just for the the sake of distribution and the three segments are meant to be seen in one sitting. The film is divided in titled chapters with two very short intermissions and one scene numbered out of sequence.
I am not fond of long movies, among them director Mariano Llinás' later work La Flor (2018). However this film captivated me from the beginning. There are three main stories that don't intersect but take place in the same milieu, that of small-to-medium towns on the great plains of Buenos Aires province (the filming included Tandil, Chascomús and Azul among many other towns). All through the movie a narrator explains (or doesn't) what we see on screen. The feeling is that of listening to a master storyteller that uses a bag of tricks to keep your attention through a long tale. One such trick is teasing you with inessential details about some secondary character. Another, casually throwing a misleading hint (or a whole secondary story) that guides you to a side path leading nowhere. And at times, like a narrator would do, the director/scriptwriter is pulling the viewer's leg. The narration is to the point, witty, frequently funny, full of rich colloquial terms from the Spanish spoken in Argentina. There are inside jokes such as marking the location of a sinister stud farm on a map with a symbol meaning "unsafe, get out fast."
Some features instantly recognizable to every Argentinian are in view. The small town squares with geometrically planted and trimmed trees. The City Hall offices where property and tax records gather dust, its employees managing to navigate the apparent chaos. The Sociedad de Fomento, whose official definition is a "nonprofit civil association aimed at improving housing, infrastructure, alimentation and medical care in its jurisdiction" but also doubling as a social club. The poste restante shelves collecting abandoned letters at local post offices. The epic flooding of the low lying pampas by heavy rain and swollen riivers. The Art Deco/Futurist architecture of Francesco Salamone, who built massive, oversize, towered City Halls for small dusty towns and disquieting entrances to cemeteries and slaughterhouses.
The filming manages a sort of alienation effect where you are often reminded of being just a spectator. Some sequences (like the initial scenes) are seen several times, each time with different information (and narration) so the meaning is different. Other sequences (such as the happening in the grain mill) are filmed including stationary and/or soundless shots approaching the way you would learn about it a newspaper. Cinematography alternates unsteady close ups a la Dogme 95 with long shots where the characters are just specks on the unlimited plains. The soundtrack includes inventive use of noises (sometimes exaggerated, occasionally omitted) with scoring of action scenes bringing to mind Morricone's music for Sergio Leone. All in all the movie is a success where, as in real life stories don't have a neat ending (or we don't get to know it) and we are often distracted and/or misled by digressions.
Margarethe von Trotta began her career in 1970. She was a member of the New German Cinema as an actress and scriptwriter and played minor roles in several of Fassbinder's movies. In 1971 she married Volker Schlöndorff. In 1974 she codirected and cowrote Schlöndorff's The Lost Honor of Catharina Blum. This was a typical Schlöndorff movie with all his defects in view; unsubtle, ponderous, repetitive, at times preachy and pretentious, and delivered a message in black-and-white, large capitals. (there were some positives too). She cowrote and acted in another disappointing Schlöndorff movie, Coup de Grâce (1976). Her first solo movie was The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978), still influenced by Schlöndorff and Fassbinder. She came into her own as director with Sisters or the Balance of Happiness (1979). Von Trotta's world is rather different from (or unrelated to) Schlöndorff's. Motivations are often obscure, characters are known from partial information and feelings (love, gratefulness, the search for fulfillment) combine in unpredictable and sometimes dangerous ways.
The protagonists of this film are Olga (Hanna Schygulla) and Ruth (Angela Winkler). Olga is a successful professor of romantic literature recently separated from her husband Dieter. Her favorite subject seems to be Karoline von Günderrode, one of many highly educated women writers and poets in early 19th century Germany, whose works were automatically underrated and/or neglected as "women's writing". Olga's point: many of these woman had no other way to express themselves than through their husbands, lovers or brothers.
Ruth was a teacher. Traumatized by her artist brother's suicide, she gave up her job and withdrew almost completely from human contact. She paints and has attempted suicide. Her husband Franz is a colleague of Olga and encourages her to befriend Ruth. Dieter, a theater director seems to resent Olga's success and independence, while Franz tries sincerely but clumsily to "protect" Ruth by canceling an exhibit of her paintings arranged by Olga. Although there are good intentions from all sides, the mix explodes into a dramatic ending which, in fact, may be imagined or symbolic. Amusingly, both Dieter and Franz seem to embody negative sides of husband Schlöndorff (whom the director divorced in 1991).
I liked this film. Acting (especially from the principals) is excellent as is Michael Ballhaus' cinematography. Direction fits perfectly the action and writing (by the director) will need your full attention: every dialogue is vital. If there is a message is the lack of support or recognition (if not downright suppression) of women's achievements by male society, as exemplified by Günderrode. This seems to be the subject of many of Von Trotta's movies. She also has explored the other side of the coin; that of women of high achievements in spite of (or against) the rules of male society; Rosa Luxemburg (1985), Hildegard von Bingen (2009), Hannah Arendt.(20012).
Once in a while you watch a movie in fascination just to see how bad it can get. This movie won't disappoint you. Protagonist: Jacques, a sixtyish uncouth, unwashed racist. Misogynist and homophobe whose only contact with other human beings is through nonstop insult and abuse (Brian Cox plays Jacques so well that we cringe every time he is on screen, which is almost all the time). Jacques runs a seedy bar under the rules: (a) No walk-ins. (b) No women. (c) No gays. (d) Abuse the regular customers. Of course we wonder: why a never cleaned (or even swept) local is not overrun with cockroaches/rats? The bar doesn't even have a functioning ladies' room. Where are the health inspectors? How can Jacques pay his rent from a handful of (obviously unwealthy) customers?
Jacques just had his fifth heart attack but seems to be none the worse for wear. He apparently uses a local hospital as a hotel. Who pays his medical bills? Medicare? Medicaid? Hidden fortune? He is a candidate for a heart transplant in spite of being a poster boy for unhealthy living; he chainsmokes and drinks heavily. The second half of the film attempts unsuccessfully to give him some vaguely human traits.
The story: Jacques adopts Lucas, a homeless young man and plans to teach him the ropes to leave the bar to him. "Teach the ropes" means turning Lucas into a heartless automaton by means of constant abuse and painful put-downs. One day beautiful April walks in. She is a flight attendant from France, who can't go home because she is afraid to fly (!!!) (April is played by Isild Le Besco who seems to have wandered in from another set and bravely does what she can with her absurd lines). Conclusion: Lucas marries April, she gets residence papers and disappears; Lucas has a (painfully predictable) fatal accident and his heart is transplanted to Jacques. Last scene: a spry Jacques in a tropical beachfront property being served by a mysterious friend's beautiful wife without a care in the world.
If this film has anything positive is the dialogue, which (at times) is witty. Not always, though; we get plenty of commonplaces like "life is too short for lousy cars" and a dissertation on flatulence. What I found particularly repulsive is the underlying idea that Lucas has been put into this world solely to give Jacques a second chance at his hate-filled life.
The scenario is Medellín and the time the late 1990s. Medellín is in the grip of a shocking wave of violent crime, mostly (but not only) connected with drug traffic. Colombian society is starkly divided between have and have not classes and crime is not limited to the latter; the upper caste, wary of losing its privileges uses the same violent means than others that are just trying to survive.
Pre-adolescent Julian is the scion of a wealthy and politically powerful family and the story is his gradual descent from a somewhat violent youth into a full fledged criminal psychopath. We don't know what makes him tick, or maybe we do; he was involved in a crime in his childhood where the victim was poor, so there was no police investigation. And, the guidance he receives from his family is short on moral principles.
I liked this movie. Clever plot, fluid direction, excellent cinematography and faithful reconstruction of an era full of excesses, violence and unscrupulous get rich schemes. Acting is excellent all around especially from Juan Pablo Urrego, playing Julian. As a bonus, you get to listen to the Spanish spoken in Medellin, full of colorful colloquial terms. (the familiar address is "vos" like in Argentina or Uruguay, not "tu" like in Spain and many Latin American countries). In order to have everything fall into place at the end, you may need to watch the first scene a second time.
The scenario is Dolores, a small town in Buenos Aires Province 220 km southeast of the city of Buenos Aires, and the time is 1975. The victim is Fermín López, a wealthy industrialist and big man in town, in his late fifties, married with one son, Ricardo, and two daughters. The movie opens with a farewell party in the family house for Ricardo, who is traveling to Buenos Aires to join the Navy. The morning after, Fermín is found dead sitting at his desk, a stab wound in the chest. Police investigation elicits a confession that proves to be false, and the rest of the movie deals with the identification of the true culprit by detective Marta Colombo, complicated by the fact that Fermín, a ruthless and unscrupulous man, had plenty of enemies in town. In the course of this inquiry some dark family secrets are unveiled.
This is it. There is not much originality here (there have been dozens of thrillers based on dark family secrets) but the final result is positive. The viewers are offered' the same clues that those in charge of solving the case have, making them active participants in the solution. The movie has excellent production values (acting, direction, cinematography) and keeps you attention from the beginning (there are some rough spots and a little loss of credibility at the end). The film is available under two titles; one is Voces Secretas (Secret Voices), the other Quemar las Naves (Burn the Ships) meaning taking extreme action in a difficult situation in order to foreclose the possibility of going backwards.
Lucio Urtubia Jiménez was born in 1931 in Cascante, a small town in Navarra in the north of Spain. He lived most of his life in Paris. He was a legendary bank robber, not interested in personal enrichment; the proceedings of his heists were used in attempting to bring down Francisco Franco's fascist regime and thereby free Spain.
He was an admirer of the Cuban revolution and other liberation movements and he tried (unsuccessfully) to interest Che Guevara in a scheme to bring down the US economy by circulating counterfeit dollars. He was instrumental in the capture of Klaus Barbie in Bolivia and in helping Black Panthers to flee the USA, which put him on the CIA's crosshairs.
Opinions about Urtubia vary, He rated high among his fellow anti-Franco fighters. One of them, Albert Boadella, whom Urtubia helped escape Spain defined him as "a Quixote tilting not at windmills but at real enemies." Unsurprisingly, the French police took a dim view of him as "a criminal mastermind pulling the strings of an international criminal organization." However, he had many admirers and friends on France such as Albert Camus and André Breton.
His most celebrated exploit was in 1977. With the help of master engravers he forged and circulated 20 million worth of Citibank travellers checks. Initially, Citibank tried to force the French police to make an example of Urtubia. However, the plan was too sophisticated for either the police or Citibank and they were forced to capitulate. Urtubia escaped with a short sentence and a substantial take which he distributed among guerrilla groups. Superficially one could compare Urtubia with Robin Hood, However, the latter only led a showy but ineffectual revolt against a few corrupt lords, while Urtubia dealt a lot more successfully with the real villains.
I liked this movie. It takes some liberties with the facts and the point of view is somewhat naive and hero worshipping; the psychology of the characters is not really touched or developed. But the final result is positive. Excellent acting, direction and cinematography.
Maria, a reserved and taciturn woman in her late twenties or early thirties attends to the wardrobe and does cleaning at a disco in Barcelona. From a phone call to Argentina she learns that her grandfather, her last living relative has just died. She flies to Buenos Aires and from there she takes a bus to her grandfather's place outside the town of Indio Muerto, San Luis Province (the movie was actually shot in Beazley, another San Luis town). A clerk explains her the circumstances of her grandfather's inheritance. She decides not to sell immediately and give a try to life in the wilderness. She confronts the small town's suspicion towards strangers (from Europe to boot) and makes the acquaintance of Tulio, the owner of the town's general store and Juan, an educated gentleman out of place in the middle of the dust of San Luis.
This is it. In the rest of the movie we learn from conversations something about Maria and Juan, in particular what drove María to Spain and Juan to San Luis. As the movie ends, María has postponed her return to Barcelona and is engaged with Juan in a somewhat chimeric project on commercialization of arrope, a syrup made from the fruits of the carob tree, which grows wild everywhere in San Luis.
I liked this movie. Cinematography and acting are good. So is direction although there are some abrupt cuts that contrast with the slow pace of the rest of the film.
The team assembled for the filming of this movie was impressive. Scriptwriter Maria Luisa Bemberg directed and wrote several international hits (Camila 1984, I, the Worst of All 1990). She was slated to direct this film too but died prior to filmation. Cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich worked for many top directors (Costa-Gavras, Louis Malle, Alain Resnais). Nicola Piovani wrote the music for Fellini's last movies. Unfortunately, the result is not what we could expect from such talents. Dialogue is stilted and literary at times, acting has rough spots, cinematography is unremarkable and music (as well as noise) is obtrusive, The ending is somewhat contrived and predictable and the plot has inconsistencies. Disappointing.
The Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente de Cosquín = FICIC (International Festival of Independent Cinema) is held every May since 2011 in Cosquín, a small resort town in Cordoba Province 800km from Buenos Aires. It showcases independent movies from Argentina and other countries, both fiction (feature and short) and documentaries. Unlike in Hollywood, "independent" is understood strictly. Studio films are out; most movies presented have modest or no outside funding, feature nonprofessional actors and are filmed in natural settings (sort of Dogme 95 without dogma). Many of the works, even the ones that receive awards will not have commercial release and some will not even make it to the paid streaming services; for diffusion they depend on other festivals and on posting on You Tube. The works in the Festival are referred to as "author films" (probably inspired by the auteur concept of the New Wave critics/directors).
The film is a series of happenings at the FCIC, some of them connected, some not. With a sort of lighthearted documentary feeling that sometimes evokes other movies/about/movies, such as Truffaut's Day for Night, Wenders' State of Things or Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore. One of this film's motives is: the boundaries between documentary and fiction are difficult to place and this is shown by mixing fictional characters like protagonist Matías and his assistant Mica with real people. The latter are directors, critics, producers and technicians. One is a projectionist of old fashioned 35mm actual film that speaks. Of "feeling the warmth of the images with your hands." Another is an elderly amateur documentary filmmaker who dedicates himself, for love of cinema, to recording the events of each festival since its inception. There are also the characters one expects to find in a festival; hangers on, would be script writers trying to elicit the interest of a producer or director, would be actors doing the same. There are some inside jokes; as one character declares herself an actress we hear the music that accompanies the iconic initial screens of Argentine films shown abroad.
There is a subplot (in the realm of the fantastic) that relates an incoming solar storm with perception of colors. To avoid distortion one must use either good quality big dark glasses or 3D glasses, which explains the title. In the context of this movie this probably means (trough the last scenes) that different people see different realities, each distorted by perception. A fascinating, entertaining film.
Argentine director Rosendo Ruiz has a penchant for showing ordinary people (like us) doing ordinary things. In this film, the ordinary people are students of the Instituto Juan Zorrilla de San Martin, a combination middle/high school in Córdoba Province incorporated into the University of Córdoba. Students developed the script and participated in the film at all levels with the collaboration of teachers, retired teachers, former students and parents. The work was endorsed by several cultural entities, among them the Ministry of Education of Córdoba Province and the University.
Nothing out of the ordinary happens. Teenagers do their things: make and unmake friendships and relationships, dance, use drugs occasionally and complain about the insensitivity of the school's grading system, that ignores that different people learn in different ways. They seem to have an easy relationship with faculty and have frank, sometimes abrasive discussions (an Argentine specialty). They also study, but don's talk much about it lest they are branded as bookworms or nerds. Out of school they sort out their sometimes edgy family relationships.
This being a movie about high school students, it invites comparison, with another of the director's movies, Maturitá (2016). In the latter, students face weighty problems like university choices, toxic relationships, and political awakening. These have no role in this film. All in all the material doesn't seem to be the stuff from which movies are made; however, the director weaves his magic and we are absorbed into the teenagers' lives from beginning to end. A fascinating, unusual movie.
Founded in 1613 by the Jesuit Order, the UNC = Universidad Nacional de Cordoba (National University of Córdoba) is the oldest in Argentina. By the beginning of the twentieth century the University had fallen into an anachronistic pattern not unlike that of some American universities. Its objective became the forming of a ruling elite and its ideology featured racial, colonial and reactionary religious elements. Faculty and administrators were appointed sometimes on merit but also on connections and/or usefulness to the system.
In 1918 there there was a student protest that became an uprising called Reforma Universitaria (University Reform). The objective of the Reforma was to open the University to everybody, not just to the wealthy, have the faculty appointed by merit, eliminate the influence of the Church and democratize the administration. The movement extended to other Argentine universities and resulted in a system of government called "reformism", where faculty and students have decision power and universities are autonomous entities. A fundamental principle was: universities should be free; no tuition or fees. The system extended to other universities and has endured with some modifications until today, although it was temporarily suppressed by various military dictatorships. State universities traditionally take special care of people that have to work for a living (extension courses, quiz sections outside working hours).
The plot: Ángela, 57 years old, is a cook at one of the UNC canteens. Her postponed dream has always been to study acting, which she is doing now. She has difficulties to accommodate her working hours with classes. Her fellow students and her professor are supportive (the latter with reservations) but her boss complains. Her acting class is rehearsing a play that seeks to reintroduce the spirit of the Reform to the new generations.
This film was the result of a workshop. Students from the Departments of Film, TV and Theater of the School of Arts of the UNC participated in the process, from script writing to acting to post-production (as usual. Director Rosendo Ruiz elicits excellent performances from amateurs). It was partly financed by the UNC. It will be of interest to Argentinians, but perhaps there is a lesson for Americans too, at a time where universities created for the public (like the UC system) are only accessible to the wealthy; even state colleges are far from free.
Clubes de Barrio (neighborhood clubs) have a long history and tradition in Argentina. According to a government brochure, the clubs are are "independent non-profit associations, which have spaces for recreation, teaching and sports training." They provide opportunities for socializing, soccer matches and Saturday night dances. The movie is about one of these clubs in Las Palmas, a neighborhood of Córdoba, the capital of Cordoba province 700km from Buenos Aires.
If Las Palmas could be classified, it would probably be as a working class/lower middle class neighborhood. There are no shanties. Most people live in adequate, if modest houses, and there are a few wealthier dwellings and high rises. Crime is a problem, including drug use. The provision of public services (sewers, paving, street lighting) is spotty, and there are open spaces used as garbage dumps. All of this caught my attention since I grew up in a similar neighborhood (Sarandí, in the periphery of Buenos Aires); "my" club was named Luz y Verdad (Light and Truth). At that time, drugs were for the wealthy.
The movie consists of interconnected stories, some comedic, some more dramatic, all iin a lighthearted tone. A young woman must get money to help her brother, in trouble with the law. A hen that brings luck to the neighborhood soccer team is kidnapped and must be recovered. A grandmother fractures her pelvis in a fall and his son and grandson must raise money to pay for her operation. And so on. The movie's view of the Las Palmas dwellers is at the same time cool and compassionate, without a trace of patronizing. We feel as if we are observing casually our own neighbors.
The making of his film was unusual, to say the least.. It is a collective creation that emerged from a workshop named Película Taller 2014 coordinated and directed by Alejandro Cozza, Inés Moyano and Rosendo Ruiz. It lists eight directors and also numerous producers, cinematographers, art directors... to a total of about two dozen people. Many of them are not only behind the camera but have acting roles. The main actors are amateurs, and there is some staginess here and there, but they do a good job, essentially playing themselves and providing freshness to their roles.
The scenario for most of the movie is Dante Alighieri School, a private all-levels school in Córdoba, capital of Córdoba province, 700km northwest of Buenos Aires. In 2014, the school invited director Rosendo Ruiz to hold a film workshop with high school students, teachers and staff as participants and the goal of filming a full fledged film. There were actually two: All the Time in the World (2015) and this movie. The title (Maturità, Maturity) is in Italian; the school offers, according to its brochure ".promotion of the Italian language and culture within the Argentine community, bilingual and bicultural education."
The movie was shot in the framework of the 2015 elections. Amusingly for Argentinians my age, the film opens with a speech (by one of the school's professors) on the difficulty of placing Peronism in the left/center/right spectrum. Founded by President Juan D. Peron during his first tenure as elected President (1946-1955) the Peronist movement has been the arbiter of Argentine politics ever since, even when proscribed as in 1955-1973. It mixes populism and conservatism sometimes in strange ways.
All the Time... was a more fanciful film (three teenagers slacking from their duties and looking for a mythical community). This one is much more austere and down to earth, with almost a documentary feeling. The subject is described perfectly by the title. There is an underlying process of change where schoolchildren become adults. One aspect is political awakening, which motivates the creation of a Student Center where members interact with speakers and become aware of their voting choices (or lack thereof). Students begin to face their post school paths; university, jobs, family... Maturity plays also a role in personal relations; old friendships are reevaluated, relationships are sorted out (such as the romantic involvement of Canu, the protagonist, with her teacher of Art History, many years her senior). And finally, relations with parents are redefined and pared down to the essentials.
This movie bears witness to the success of the workshop. Direction achieves narrative fluidity and cinematography does justice to exteriors and to the sometimes labyrinthine interiors of the school. All actors are nonprofessionals and deliver very good performances; they are spontaneous and seem comfortable in their roles. To some extent, they probably play themselves.
The initial scenario is Dante Alighieri School, a private all-levels school in Córdoba, capital of Cordoba province, 700km from Buenos Aires. The characters are Juancho, his best friend Valen and their common friend Camila. We see students at school doing the usual; making and unmaking friendships and relations, trying to fit in some group or other. We don't see their classes, professors or any authority figure.
Juancho, Valen and Camila decide to embark on a backpacking/camping trip in search of a mysterious community in the wilderness of the province. They shoulder their backpacks, disconnect their cellphones to avoid being tracked and set out. They walk, talk and have a good time away from their duties and families (which we never get to know). They decide to take as a base for their search a summer house obviously familiar to Juancho and Valen; it is winter, so the house sits empty. They have only very vague directions, and the resuming of the quest is postponed time and again. They are approached by a neighbor, Pilar, grandmother of Santi, a boy that was an acquaintance of Valen. This reveals that Valen spent summers there (Pilar uses the feminine gender to address Valen, which connects with other hints). Pilar's stories quicken their interest in the elusive community; her daughter was a member for years. She gives the teenagers road guidance which they take warily, as it differs from the directions they "know."
This is it. There is no plot to speak of. For most of the movie we witness long conversations among the friends, rambling directionless and and unfocused as in real life. The final effect is a voyeuristic view into the life of strangers that I found fascinating. Cinematography does justice to winter landscapes and somber interiors, and music is unobtrusive.
In 2014, the Dante Alighieri School invited director Rosendo Ruiz to hold a film workshop with high school students, teachers and staff as participants and the goal of filming a full-fledged film. This movie is the result. The script was written in collaboration with students. The film is strengthened by the easy, verbal chemistry among the three friends. Acting is good all around, perhaps with some rough edges and a bit of staginess here and there. The story is touching and the ending somewhat unexpected. As a bonus, you get to hear the Spanish spoken in Córdoba province, with an almost musical singsong absent in Buenos Aires speech.
Nico, an Argentinian actor who attained some recognition working in soap operas is trying to find more challenging acting jobs in New York. He survives by doing odd jobs such as babysitting for Andrea, his well-to-do friend from back home. He has an expired visa and shares lodgings with Claire (both are gay). Nico is chasing after some dubious jobs, among them a movie eternally in the preparation stage. Kara, a successful producer lays out clinically his possibilities, or lack thereof. He does not fit in any of the fashionable clichés; he is too fair haired and light skinned to play a Latino and has an accent too thick to "play white." Nico is haunted by a love/hate relationship with his ex-partner Martín, a TV producer who tries to entice Nico to return to Buenos Aires to renew his relation and retake his mediocre career (not even that is certain, though).
This is it. Nothing much happens on screen. The script is clever and deals subtly with problems exiles face, such as the fear of returning home a failure. Being a low income dweller of Manhattan a long time ago I enjoyed such details as Nico picking up used furniture left on the sidewalk for collection. All in all we see real people doing what real people do: talking to each other in sometimes rambling and unfocused ways, acting to unclear motivations, trying to discover what fits them and what of this is attainable. The title, Nadie nos mira, Nobody's Watching probably refers to Nico's frustration at not being noticed in spite of multiple tries.
The Konevsky Monastery, founded in 1393, is a Russian Orthodox monastery in Konevets Island, five kilometers off the western shore of Lake Ladoga. The island, in Russian hands for centuries was claimed and occupied by the newly independent Finland in 1917. The monks were not molested but the Finns fortified the island with gun emplacements and some buildings were expropriated for military use.
The action begins in 1924, after Lenin's death. Finnish-Soviet relations are tense; in particular the Bolsheviks are aware that well placed guns in the Karelian Isthmus could close the sea access to Leningrad. Konovets island is particularly provocative: beside its militarization, it grants shelter to fugitives and deserters from the USSR. Maxim Proshin, a young officer of the Cheka (Soviet secret services) has shown his zeal in ways that make even his subordinates pause. He is given an assignment (a high profile assassination) in the island under a false identity, but as a preliminary he must kill a guide of deserters, which happens to be a child. He then undergoes a deep transformation that religious people would call redemption.
The movie ends a few months before the conclusion of the Second Soviet-Finnish War on September 1944, when the monks are evacuated to Finland proper and the island reverts to the USSR. The Russian title is translated to Angel's Aisle (?). However, it also means Angel's Chapel, which is probably the meaning here. There are connections (the island setting and the theme of repentance) with Pavel Lungin's The Island (2006) although the closest reference point is perhaps Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. As to the movie itself: first rate acting, script that sustains the viewer's attention, fluid direction and cinematography capturing the melancholic landscapes of the north and the somber interiors. A quality film.
By the mid-seventeenth century the Polish Empire's eastern lands included most of today's Lithuania, Belarus and the Ukraine. Polish rule was harsh. Lands were expropriated, their owners reduced to serfdom. The Ukrainian language and the Orthodox Church were suppressed.
Bohdan Zinoviy Mykhaylovych Khmelnytsky was a member of the Ukrainian lesser nobility, a registered Cossack, and a minor official in the Polish administration. He suffered expropriation of some of his lands by a Polish nobleman. Khmelnytsky joined the Zaporozhian Cossacks, a semimilitary community of free men that had settled along the Dnieper River (Zaporozhye means "beyond the rapids"). He was elected as their supreme leader (hetman) and organized a rebellion in combination with the Crimean Tatars. His insurrection was supported by the dissatisfied peasants, townspeople, and clergy of Ukraine, who joined him in a mass uprising, which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Polish lords. He reached the boundaries of Poland proper and took Lwów (now Lviv) in October 1648.
Khmelnytsky made peace with the new Polish King, John II Casimir, the terms agreed in the Compact of Zborów (August 1649). The King, however, did not comply with his side of the treaty so Khmelnytsky renewed the war in 1651. He suffered some military reverses and sought the aid of Alexsey, tsar of Russia (the Pereyaslav Agreement, January 1654). This resulted in direct Russian intervention.
Khmelnytsky is venerated as a hero in today's Ukraine; there are numerous memorials including a grand equestrian statue in Sophia Square, Kiev. There is also a city named after him. However, some Ukrainians have reservations, since his alliance with Russia was the beginning of the centuries-long incorporation of Eastern Ukraine into the Russian Empire. Not surprisingly Russians have a positive view of Khmelnytsky; there is a bridge with his name over the Moskva River in Moscow.
The main reason to watch this movie is visual. The costumes, props and scenery are excellent. All the characters speak in the language they are supposed to speak, Ukrainian, Polish, or Tatar. Acting is good (sometimes tending to the declamatory). Battle senes are stirring. Music includes some haunting Ukrainian folk songs. On the negative side, there is a certain uniformity in the storytelling (no salient points) and the profusion of characters is sometimes difficult to keep track of.
For the a view of the Khmelnytsky uprising from the Polish side, watch Jerzy Hoffman's With Fire and Sword (1999), based on a novel by Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz. There is also a Soviet take, Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1941) by Igor Savchenko.
The uprising was a major military operation in the summer of 1944 to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. It was led by the Polish resistance movement Armia Krajowa, Home Army. The Home Army mistrusted the Soviet Union and launched the insurrection to assert Polish sovereignty in the capital and possibly bring back the Polish government in exile from London before the Red Army reached Warsaw.
The uprising was fought for 36 days with little outside assistance. The Soviet Army had reached the opposite side of the Vistula but was unable or unwilling to assist beyond sending 1,200 Polish commandos across the river. The Germans, beginning to retreat from Warsaw were initially taken by surprise but regrouped and fought the rebels to a complete defeat. 16,000 members of the Resistance were killed along with 200,000 civilians, most of them victims of savage Nazi mass executions. Hitler in person ordered that Warsaw be razed to the ground as an "example".
This film ends on Godzina 'W' or Time 'W', the resistance code name for 5PM, August 1, 1944 which marked the beginning of the uprising. So, the story is on preparations; procurement and distribution of arms, documents and identifications, assembly of platoons and brigades, distribution of tasks. The script is based on a short story by Jerzy Stawinski and on testimony of other participants in the uprising. The abrupt ending without final explanatory screens makes one suspect that this TV movie was conceived as pilot for a series that never was. Acting is very good and direction matter-of-factly, but there are some notable touches, such as the first scenes. Colors are subdued, sometimes approaching sepia, which suits the subject.
This film (unimaginatively titled Gangster Story) is the only one directed by Walter Matthau. It was made with a low budget (a few crew members, their homes as stages). The plot reminds us of films noirs of the forties. Hoodlum Jack Martin robs a small town bank (the stickup itself is original although strains credibility). The holdup displeases not only the local cops (whom Martin tricks and humiliates) but the local mob boss, who resents independent operators in his territory. Partly as a way to hide, Martin hooks up with librarian Carol but later his cover is blown. Carol is played by Carol Grace, who shortly after the movie would marry Matthau and, not surprisingly, the scenes between Jack and Carol are the best of the film, with low key playing and crisp dialogue.
There are flashes of Jim Thompson and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956) here and there, and Matthau's character prefigures Charley Varrick, that he was to play in Don Siegel's 1973 movie. Direction is businesslike but there are some nice touches. One is the beach scene, where it is suggested that Jack and Carol have sex by showing them entering hand in hand in a dark cave. Another notable scene is the ending. Grace plays librarian Carol to perfection;,her dwindling choices and past disappointments leading her to dubious decisions. Walter Matthau was a special kind of actor. He always played himself (down to his crouch and trademark suits a number too large) but always managed to absorb convincingly the personage he was playing into himself. He was later famous (and typecast) as a comedy actor, playing lovable misanthropes and curmudgeons but his movies show that he was an actor of considerable range.
The islands of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), in the Atlantic, 600 km west of the Senegal coast were a Portuguese colony until 1975. As a country, they enjoy the dubious distinction of having more of its citizens living abroad (700,000) than at home (560,000), which reflects the lack of job opportunities. In particular, about 100,000 live in Portugal, most of them eking out a living out of low paying jobs.
The scenario is Cova da Moura, a suburb of Lisbon, whose inhabitants are 75% from Cape Verde. Its houses were constructed by the locals, without the benefit of a permit. It is an urban island without open spaces, with streets of random widths and serious crime problems,
The main character is Vitalina Varela (played by herself), Her husband Joaquim left her (and his homeland) 25 years ago in search of better opportunities. He settled in Cova da Moura, where he built a precarious house, with insufficient light, crumbling walls, leaking roof and untiled floor (he and Vitalina had constructed a cheerful, airy house back home). Vitalina hears no more of him until she is informed that Joaquim has taken ill. She flies to Lisbon but arrives three days after the funeral. She learns about Joaquim's life from various dwellers of the shantytown. She also reconnects with a priest that she knew from the islands.
This is it. Director Pedro Costa tells the tale in a rather peculiar way. The pace is slow, sometimes excruciatingly so. Every shot by cinematographer Leonardo Simões is carefully composed; the lighting is unabashedly artificial and produces chiaroscuro scenes that, of course, remind one of Caravaggio. Crumbling cement walls, squalid interiors and unpaved lanes take a three dimensional quality and a life of their own. We don't see the shantytown as the locals see it but through the eye of a painter. We all "know" that excessively elaborate cinematography may interfere with the tale being told, but the director stands this rule on end. The final result is worth watching, even if only for the visuals.
The scenario for most of the movie is the island of Fogo (Fire), in the southern end of the Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) archipelago. There is an active volcano near the center of the island. Most of the soil is solidified lava, used as material for houses. (which explains the movie's original title, Casa de Lava, House of Lava). The islands, 600 km west of the the Senegalese coast were a Portuguese colony until 1975. They played a role in the European slave trade and their present economy is precariously sustained by tourism and not much else.
As the movie begins, there are shots of an eruption of the volcano in 1954 and closeups of some of the personages to come. Then we jump to a construction site in Lisbon where Leão (Isaach de Bankolé) suffers an accident and ends up in coma in a hospital. Somebody (from his family?) mails an air ticket for him to return to Fogo. Mariana, a nurse, volunteers to assist the unconscious Leão during the trip. Her first impression of Fogo is a dusty, desolate airstrip; the pilots lend some help but seem eager to get away. Mariana manages to get Leão to the local hospital, formerly a leper colony. The hospital is in disarray and has very scant resources. Mariana's first hurdle is to locate Leão's family. Her interchanges with the locals are tense, and her questions are answered with a combination of silence, oblique non sequiturs and back questions and occasionally with violence. Communication is also impeded by their speaking Creole, that Mariana barely understands.
The positives: Acting is good all around. Cinematography is excellent but abuses trick lighting, which gives some scenes an artificial look. The negatives: Some characters are schematic or imperfectly fleshed out, and the pace is too slow. What is the film trying to show, if anything? Perhaps the indifference of Portugal (as any other colonial power) towards its ruthlessly exploited ex-colonies. Perhaps the European hubris that blocks Mariana from understanding the locals. Perhaps Mariana's dissatisfaction with her life in Lisbon that leads her to think of her island sojourn as an adventure. In the end, I was somewhat disappointed.