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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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
My monthly FilmMovement selection arrived today, I put it in the player, and I was blown away. The American title is "Found Memories", which seemed quite appropriate for this mesmerizing film.
It brought back memories of afternoons in the darkroom, playing with high and low contrast paper and double exposures, the weird smell of the photography chemicals in my nostrils, and the low red light. It brought back memories of sitting very quietly behind a door when I was supposed to be in bed, listening to my grandparents tell stories about their youth. It brought back memories of going through boxes of old snapshots found in my grandparents' attic, occasionally stopping to ask "Gramma, what's this?"
Old and new gadgets exist side by side in the film without comment. One camera is a Digital SLR, but the others are pinhole cameras of various construction. Once, the exposure of one of the pinhole cameras is timed with a smart-phone. Recorded music comes from both an old un-amplified gramophone and a pocket digital player with ear-buds and no moving parts.
If there's a constant running through the cinematography, it's abstract patterns and textures: the combination of rust and dust on a decaying mirror, stains and rust on an old bathtub, worn paint, greenery growing through railroad track ballast, ancient clothing with faded printed patterns, heavily weathered wrought iron, abandoned railroad sleeper cars with their regular windows, unexpected angles of light, and paint peeling away to reveal all the different colors the car once was, handmade pottery, an egg being cracked open, a tracery of cracks on an old concrete wall, and on and on. The variations in color are amazing. When there's a wooden kitchen work surface with pottery bowls -some raw and some painted- and baskets and old metal cannisters filled with rough flour and fresh eggs making bread dough, in a faded and stained kitchen that's almost open to the elements, all illuminated by a kerosene lantern, everything is some shade of brown. There must be several hundred different shades of brown, and the film captures them all; point to any area of the screen and try to find that exact color shade again somewhere else, and you can't. Silence and darkness are foregrounded here too, mostly indirectly but once or twice explicitly; six lines of dialog often fills a minute or two of screen time. It was like being in a master photography class, with every scene of the film being one of the example photos.
Often cinematographers have a strong suit: landscapes, or architecture, or people, or... But here everything gets the same exquisite treatment. Just a simple old building, with three openings and a bench outside, the openings painted green and the the walls painted mostly yellow, with a reddish stripe and a brownish stripe, fully occupied the frame and my attention. The lingering, loving, almost caressing closeups of ancient crinkled faces are astounding.
Since the dictum to "hold still" isn't taken very seriously, the results from the pinhole cameras are prints that are sometimes ghostly and often beautiful in unexpected ways. We see those prints being developed and dried, and eventually rummaged through by some of the characters. One would expect those prints to be throw-away props, mocked up to be just good enough to forward the narrative. In fact they're much more. I've seen photographs in museum shows that weren't as good as those prints.
I don't know if the director Julie Murat or the cinematographer Lucio Bonelli should get the main credit here; I suspect though it's the combination, with the whole being more than the sum of the parts.
The premise and narrative are simple -even slight- sort of "Groundhog Day" meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez, something you'd expect to find in a sci-fi treatment rather than a nostalgia treatment. There's not much profound philosophy here. (And I suspect being "old" myself made it easier for me to tune in to the film's wavelength.) If it was just about "getting the point across", it could easily have been done in only thirty minutes. But it's something else, something I can only sorta describe as "visual poetry".
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