Each citizen of Jotuomba plays an integral role in village life. Madalena is responsible for baking bread; each morning she stacks her rolls as Antonio prepares the coffee. The two share a ...
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Mary Margaret O'Hara,
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Each citizen of Jotuomba plays an integral role in village life. Madalena is responsible for baking bread; each morning she stacks her rolls as Antonio prepares the coffee. The two share a morning ritual of arguments and insults, followed by an amicable cup of coffee on the bench outside Antonio's shop. At midday the church bells ring, summoning the villagers to mass. In the early evening, they all share a meal together. And so life proceeds in Jotuomba, the days languidly drifting into one another. The only variations seem to be in the weather. One day Rita arrives looking for a place to stay. She came upon the village while traveling through the valley, following the unused railroad tracks. She is a photographer, intent on capturing the village's special allure. Initially reticent, the townsfolk gradually open up to her, sharing their stories and allowing themselves to be photographed. Rita is comfortable with technologies old and new, and Madalena teaches her to knead dough by the ... Written by
It's hard to find distinct words to describe this film so lacking in distinction. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but neither is there anything particularly profound or even aesthetically stark about it. Recently acquired by 'FILM MOVEMENT' in North America, I suppose Murat's HISTORIAS could be best summed up as a 'FILM MOVEMENT' sort of film. 'FILM MOVEMENT' characteristically tends to sell bland international films through its monthly subscription service that might otherwise struggle beyond the festival circuit. HISTORIAS is unfortunately such a film. It is the sort of slow moving, under-written, and blankly directed--but technically functional--film common to the world sidebars of film festivals desperate to pander to marginalized filmmakers, but that will most likely go unnoticed in the real world. The synopsis above is pretty succinct and complete--and that's really all you get. In a rural village in Brazil where the old folks no longer die and the village cemetery has been locked, a young female photographer happens upon them to challenge their tradition of immortality. If the parable seems generic it's because it is. Think Borges-lite, but in place of philosophical complexity and poetic subtly you instead get some armchair existentialism about living and dying and rather ham-fisted poetry and sophomoric metaphors. The use of the photographer character (come to show the geriatrics their world with a NEW EYE...get it?) as a story device is the sort of contrived symbology at work here. You get all the clichéd shots and scenarios you'd expect given the topic (camera chasing girl down corridors of the village's abandoned train...because they're STRANDED in time...get it?, or girl dancing for an entire scene to Franz Ferdinand on her ipod, because she's the YOUNG and vibrant contradiction to the immortals...get it?, etc.). The same conceit is underscored again and again until the film's makers exhaust it (and the audience) and stall at the expected climax to put the oldie immortals (and the film) out of their misery. There just aren't any 'ecstatic truths' in it, as Herzog would say, nor are there any real SCENES or points of interest, just the same juvenile ponderance (i.e. "What if we didn't die?") being cartoonishly and artlessly illustrated over and over without any culminating revelation. It's a rather formulaic and cliché abstraction that you can almost SEE being written in whatever screen writing workshop it was almost certainly born in. The direction is as clumsy and amateurish: the presence of the guiding voice just behind the camera is distractingly evident in most scenes (indeed many of the actors' performances seem like on-camera rehearsals) and the anchored-camera mise- en-scene often has the charmless arrangement common to TV production. There is some nice cinematography of the organically ornate Brazilian landscape and the old locals used (exploited?) for the story are compelling, but they make the film only accidentally interesting. The filmmakers may have made better use of both had they forgone their vain efforts of forcing a trite story upon the place and its people and simply made a sincere documentary instead of a forced narrative. As is, HISTORIAS wastes its very real village and its very real villagers for a story that is not worthy of them. Worth seeing if you want a few peripheral postcard peeks at life in the Brazilian countryside, otherwise not worth the 100 minutes it asks you to trade for it.
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