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Hija de la laguna (2015)
Landscape splendor, power struggle, violence, faith and cultural heritage all mix in this remarkable documentary about Nélida Ayay Chilón, a young Native American woman who witnesses the imminent disappearance of a lagoon in her land, a water body surrounded by the majestic Andes, as a mining company (with the support of the Peruvian government) threatens to extract the gold below the lake, destroy the ecosystem and the water source of many local peasants, and rob the woman of her land. Once again an audiovisual portrait reaffirms the abuse of Native Americans by those who struggle for power and wealth. The film follows Nélida in her efforts to prevent the destruction, and shows us the conflict with his miner father and the violent reaction of the police force in the streets against protesters, which leaves a balance of five dead. As a sudden and unexpected contrast, director Ernesto Cabellos Damián introduces a Dutch jewelry designer, whose worldview sustains her apparently neutral and depoliticized life style, and who is able to witness the method used to extract the gold used in her creations, and perhaps understand that a decimated nature denies life. As unifying elements, the soundtrack contains the invocations Nélida makes to the water spirits, asking for strength and protection; and the magnificent images, captured by Carlos Sanchez and Jessica Steiner, emphasize the drama and make clear the measure of destruction threatening the calm beauty
Impressive documentary covering the return of French photojournalist Miquel Dewever-Plana to Guatemala, bringing along the final product of his research about the genocide of the Mayan peasants by the army during the country's civil war. The results were a book that compiled photographs and testimonies by the surviving victims, and by the relatives or friends of the dead, and an exhibition of selected laminated photographs, which were hanged between trees, house walls or fences in the open air, in the countryside. But Dewever-Plana avoids the possibility of becoming the star of the film in the "Michael Moore style", and takes a back seat leaving images, people and music express all the drama lived in Guatemala. Adults and children watch the photographs, recognize the victims, and express their thoughts, while we witness the exhumation of common graves and the tour delivering the book going on, and the music by Paulo Alvarado interconnects all the elements. As one old man states, the photojournalist's work is the recovery of the people's memory, and a testimony for future generations of what happened to his, victimized by the army and landowners. The book has been distributed in schools and libraries in Guatemala. Western civilization has focused on the holocaust of the 20th century world wars, putting aside chapters of history which are as dramatic as those events, with the extermination of millions of human lives: the genocide of the Native Americans, since the 15th century. And it still goes on.
A Silenced Poet
How did Pier Paolo Pasolini die? What were the motives behind his assassination? Moreover, who was Pier Paolo Pasolini? The question is more than timely because today he has not only been forgotten by many of those who saw his films or read his writings, but most youngsters do not know who he was. Especially many young males who today paint their lips, wear a skirt and go out carrying an LGBTQ+ banner and do not know the work done before them by generations with a firm stand, a solid ideological discourse and militancy for social issues beyond their sexual orientation, who were perhaps more radical in times of less permissiveness. Pasolini was one of those. Not only was he an open homosexual who protested against Italian politics in the middle of the past century, but a great poet, novelist, filmmaker, essayist and politician, and for some "the greatest Italian intellectual of the 20th century". But he knew too much. He knew what politician did what to whom, what this or that politician was after, who they bribed, who they had killed. So his assassination in 1975 was not the simple story of the middle-aged pederast who picks up a young proletarian hustler, who ends up killing him. As soon as the news was known, intellectuals and a few journalists raised their voices of protest, among them the well-known Oriana Fallaci, author of "Interview with History", who had a love-hate relationship with the poet, who, as she said, invoked violence with his statements. "Pasolini, an Italian Crime" is not a retelling of his life, his intimate dealings or his guilts, to satisfy curious people. It is a legal drama, sometimes somber, sometimes sad, but always moving, an investigative work of dramatic force, with good performances (with a few poignant moments, as the one delivered by Adriana Asti), directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, the award-winning filmmaker who gave us "The Best of Youth". Made in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Pasolini's death, the film is based on the novel "Life of Pasolini" by Enzo Siciliano and it deservedly won the Gold Medal of the President of the Italian Senate at the Venezia Film Festival in 1995. A mature, fine film.
In Altos de Chavón (Dominican Republic) there is a "medieval Italian village" of questionable taste and air of a scale model, which is simultaneously a tourist site, a design school and a "town of artists". It was a project conceived by the Jewish-Austrian millionaire Charles Bluhdorn, owner of Gulf + Western, a corporation which included Paramount Pictures among its companies. Legend has it that he asked Italian Roberto Poppa (some claim that he was a set designer for Paramount, but the official database of Italian cinema only accredits him as costume designer) to conceive the village for his daughter, in the best style of Jewish tycoons in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s, who produced European classics like "Romeo and Juliet", "Anna Karenina," "Tale of Two Cities" or "Camille" with pretensions of distinction, but with accents from New York, Los Angeles and the Mississippi betraying their origins. And since then it has been a long story that continues to this day: productions that try to represent everything European and end up being a parade of cloths, wigs and American accents, in a continuous effort to homogenize everybody's gaze. With stories set in the UK it is easier to reproduce the British English with local actors, but with France, Russia, Italy and Spain, we end up watching transvestisms like "Dangerous Liaisons", "War and Peace", "The Fall of the Roman Empire", "Man of La Mancha", and the like. The strangest thing is that now, in the 21st century, the Europeans are manufacturing these products themselves, and a compelling example is "Tale of Tales" (which is the most appropriate title for this concoction, and not "Il racconto di racconti"), signed no less than by Neapolitan Matteo Garrone, with computer visual effects and American accents from every front, from Mexican Salma Hayek to French Vincent Cassel, with the Italian cast in between. British actors stand out for their obvious mastery of the language (and because, strangely, they legitimize these swapping businesses), with Bebe Cave and Shirley Henderson giving arresting performances. Based on three stories of the fairy tale compilation "The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for the Little Ones" (later known as "Il Pentamerone") by Neapolitan Giambattista Basile (1566- 1632), the film well expresses the baroque style of the accounts (which are no longer for "little ones" but aimed at an adult audience) and, despite the long list of Italian names in all artistic and technician roles, "Tale of Tales" is a film without a defined personality, a pot of delirious crickets of various nationalities and styles of acting, which for two hours (plus eight minutes of credits) entertain us, dazzle us with situations and images (like the Necromancer played by Franco Pistoni) or bore us with so many subplots and CGIs. However, in the end they leave us as if nothing had happened, light years away from the Garrone of "L'imbalsamatore" and "Gomorra".
La Doña Hits the Road!
Romantic melodrama at its best, if you ask me! I still remember the reaction of the international audience who saw this motion picture as part of the homage to Fernández in La Habana Film Festival, half a century after its original release: as the word "Fin" appeared on the screen, people stood up and applauded in a mix of emotion, humor and excitement. Because watching a celebrity as "La Doña" hit the dusty road as a common soldadera, following the officer she loves during Mexican revolution in 1910, is something to cherish, laugh at and applaud. In Cholula, a general falls for the beautiful, haughty daughter of a landowner, engaged to an American, so it is "The Taming of the Shrew" time once again. And believe me, it is a pleasure to watch the duel between Félix and Armendáriz as the Trío Calaveras sings. Ariel Awards for Best Direction, Actress, Cinematography (Gabriel Figueroa), Film Editing, sound and new actor (Eduardo Arozamena). A special Golden Ariel was given to director Fernández.
Cauldron of Blood
A bad movie and a mediocre one coexist under the same title: first, a bland story of a horny French journalist turned tourist promoter, courting a blank Spanish girl, who falls prey of a sadistic bitch; and second, a horror tale involving a blind sculptor and his crazy wife, who kills animals and people with her lover's assistance to provide real bone structures for her husband's 3-D evocations of famous paintings. Characters go back and forth from A to B for 97 endless minutes. Pity is that both Lindfords and Karloff try hard to make any sense of the whole affair. Not a bad idea, but poorly executed, with dreadful music and silly special effects and nightmares. Be warned.
The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook's at Home
"The Babadook" grows on you. I saw it one night, and thought it was just OK. But next morning, reconsidering the tedium I experienced in a few spots which I thought were mere horror film clichés, I realized they really were psycho-plot points, and my appreciation for the movie changed considerably. When we remember those moments as well as a couple of scenes that seem incongruous or unresolved (as when the mother finds a photograph in which the face of her husband has been scratched and, after facing and shouting to her little son, their relation goes from tender to wild and back) , you know that the movie is not only telling you a horror tale (because the Babadook is certainly an entity freely moving in the shadows of the house where the protagonists live, and in their neighbor's home) but also paints a frenetic psychotic portrait, since the beginning when the little boy warns his mother of the intentions of the evil presence. Produced in Australia and directed by Jennifer Kent, many persons find a connection between the movie and Polanski, Tarkovsky and even "Home Alone, but as other reviewers elsewhere do, Andrzej Zulawski's "Possession" and Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" were the two movies I thought of. In both films and "The Babadook" there is a strong connection between horror and the psychological disintegration of the leading characters, which in the end denies all Aristotelian progression and undermine whatever happy ending you may imagine. Essie Davis as the mother and Noah Wiseman as the son (I hope he does not turn into another case of child actor going bananas) are very good, and illustrator Alex Juhasz' concepts of the Babadook and its book are really outstanding. A fine cinematic experience.
Animal Farm (1954)
Well, it took me the long route to realize this animation was conceived as a propaganda film, sponsored by the US Office of Policy Coordination, which was under the direction of the Department of State and Defence and housed by the CIA! I was curious that the film credited a "Joseph Bryan III" as screenwriter, while his name was omitted in many reliable sources, and instead Philip Stapp was credited. I began searching for Bryan and his bio seemed too military-inclined to link his name to a film project... But then I found Tony Shaw's book "Hollywood's Cold War" where he tells the whole story. Bryan was hired by OPC to create the Psychological Warfare Workhop (OPC), an "unorthodox unit, made up almost entirely of Princeton alumni" to devise "unconventional schemes to undermine the solidarity of the emerging Eastern bloc and to sharpen the Americans' anti-communist publicity techniques". How the rights of the book were sold to Louis de Rochemont, how he was connected to the OPC and how this unit financed the film, amount to a fascinating tale of espionage. Then I found out that the whole story is told In Wikipedia, although not with all the details Shaw provides. This story will most probably have little or no effect on your feelings about the movie, but it helps to understand why so many changes were made to Orwell's original and why the list of screenwriters is so long (and possibly longer). As for the directors John Halas and Joy Batchelor it is claimed that they knew nothing about nothing, just as Leni Riefentahl knew nothing about the Nazis. Well, in any case here it is just for the record.
Stolen Face (1952)
Insane melodrama with an over-the-top score by Malcolm Arnold proves to be an engaging experience that will make you smile quite often at its absurd plot twists, and will probably make you laugh out loud a couple of times in rollicking disbelief. The plot is almost a catalog of the obsessions, prejudices, misconceptions of human behavior and popular interpretation of love and science in the mid- 20th century. All treated with a solemn face, they give us a vivid portrait of the time. I am not blaming anybody or being censorial about the movie: I truly enjoyed most of it! Although I was one year old when it was released, watching the film was like opening a little window and remembering many things that were still accepted as true, fine or right when I was a kid. A field day for lovers of self-help manuals, this horrid version of the Pygmalion legend follows a plastic surgeon who has an affair with a pianist and loses her in the same week, and who decides to give her features to an inmate in a British prison with a scarred face. What follows has to be seen (with some very enjoyable screen moments among the seedy characters of London), leading to a self-righteous conclusion that is a letdown, considering that after all the terrible happenings that he was somehow responsible for, the surgeon closes the case with a cynical statement that leaves a sour taste. Still one admires Terence Fisher's skill to keep us fascinated for 69 minutes with another sick, maniac tale, as we grew accustomed to see and hear from him.
The Last Page (1952)
A better than average drama written by Frederick Knott, the author of "Dial M for Murder" and "Wait Until Dark", this shows Terence Fisher expertly handling a story of crime, lust and death during his efficient early phase working for Hammer Films, five years before the big success of "The Curse of Frankenstein". Although the main character is John Harman, the mature manager of a London bookstore (played by Irish actor George Brent), two young actors play more appealing characters who are key components of the plot and feature: Diana Dors and Peter Reynolds. A ravishing blonde beauty at 20, Dors had had a dozen of minor screen roles before being introduced in this production as Ruby Bruce, a sexy worker who turns everything around her upside down after she gets mixed up with Jeff Hart, a seductive ex-con played by Reynolds. Under Jeff's influence Ruby blackmails Harman, next a couple of corpses complicate the proceedings, soon Harman is accused of murder and then his secretary (American actress Marguerite Chapman) helps to solve the mystery, putting her life in danger. Peter Reynolds is fine, but he does not have much to do as the villain with sinister charm. It is Diana Dors who has more room for creating a real character. She was a very good actress, and although comparisons were often made with Marilyn Monroe, on the acting level she surpassed her American colleague: here she convincingly mixes naive wickedness with vulnerability, making the film not only the account of Harman's story but the drama of a confused working girl as well.