Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Os Cafajestes (1962)
The seductive dynamics of truth
New Wave was not about adherence to life, that was the Italian school prior. It was about the radical ruptures in the narrative we considered life, about the breaks to and from cinematic illusion, it was about disillusionment. It's why the other school has faded, it is a relic now, because our taste of reality is dynamic and changes, while New Wave is still vibrant.
This deserves to be discussed among the preeminent New Wave films, it sparkles and cuts through like the best of them.
Brazilian viewers at the time would know that a scandal was brewing around it, it would be the first film to show nudity, there was a trial and a new rating introduced just for it, they would be eager for it; I imagine it as something of a Last Tango for the time. They would then, many of them young and the same age as the characters, turn up for something quite different.
The pre-credit sequence is a tease about the anticipation, a girl is picked up by a guy we later recognize as one of the two leads, taken to his apartment. Then in place of the rolling around under bedsheets, a shot of a mannequin doll, this is what woman is in this world, image, followed by a clock being turned forward, the lie, the illusion, the tinkering with mechanics of narrative, and we skip to post-coitus. The girl is kicked out because it's (supposedly) late, the man laughs behind venetian blinds.
This sets the stage for the story, the same ploy repeated twice. Two playboys one of whom carries a camera have arranged to take a beautiful girl out for a ride on the sand dunes outside Rio. They are mischievous, carefree, cocky, they drive a cool convertible and pop pills; they could be out of Godard. There is a leisurely air of summer, of hanging out in the sun waiting to do stuff. There is we know a seduction planned involving nude pictures for money, a scheme is underway.
This scheme is a cinematic one, a long long anguished flow of the girl, the boys have absconded with her clothes, the girl is chasing after the car in the scorching heat, our eye then circles around her for endless minutes as she writhes nude in the sand and pictures are being taken. Here is your nudity, here what you came to ogle; all through this the girl just so happens to strike sexual poses as if to tease, dare you to find it erotic while her face is a mask of loss and anguish. Magnificent!
Here is disillusionment, the illusion and the break from illusion, one of the most potent examples.
The ploy is repeated once more in the end, again on sand dunes during the night. The girl has hopped back on the car, angry, wounded, but strikes a deal to swap her nudes for another's, repeating the staged seduction; this lovely Latin sensibility I already cherish in Brazilian films, not bogged down and wallowing in hurt and selfpity, it fixes nothing.
And then a second shift as marvelous as the first, ambiguously inversing, now the filmmakers pulling the strings are tangled up in the illusion they create, real feelings pour through, the seduction creates its own reality. One of them has fallen in love, pleads, the other is swept in the passion of the moment. A sex scene takes place but is it staged, real?
Oh the real life we find underneath, as with Shadows and other films from the time can now be seen to be a little staged, the mannerisms and pauses are sometimes theatric, during the night scene a floodlight creates a circular stage of light, those were their means. Anyway they weren't making films for an audience fifty years into the future but right then and there, it must have felt wholly fresh.
See this, all about the dynamic interplay from eye to seduction. Then watch the Italian Swept Away with these dynamics in mind, also about the seductive dynamics of truth.
São Paulo, Sociedade Anônima (1965)
Emptiness of desire
This is a film about a boorish and colorless man, his memoir. It starts with the end, a breakup that he walks away from, the bulk of the film is for us to see what kind of life is broken up, what dissolves, what is carried on.
It is from that time after Antonioni had taken Europe by storm, it uses all the visual arsenal. The camera is vibrant, it captures motion, change, perspective, dilation - a lovely scene takes place during New Years, the night erupts in bright lights as confetti rains from above. It misses the fundamental essence of Antonioni however, that narrative place is so parted to reveal currents of soul.
Along the way we have precious insights into Brazilian life of course. I've been lately on cinematic vacation in Brazil, watching films from there. Most take place in fanciful Rio, this is an exception; industrial Sao Paolo with no oceanfront to send the eye off in relief. It gives a sense of place, time, people, you should see it just to parse these.
Life isn't more drab there, it is compromised, unjust, occasionally just petty. It is drab for the protagonist who colors everything else though, a thankless man, always dissatisfied and tossed about by some desire. He's not without conscience, which prevents him from not minding the compromise, but not mindful either, not settled in his view.
It ends in a poignant way that reveals the emptiness of this man. Disgusted, he abandons everything including son and wife, but life takes that turn of dumb chance that brings you back to what you wanted to avoid. What was he trying to run from? It's all inside him, carried wherenever he goes. Did he ever once cultivate his intentions, his mindfulness for his own self or the women he bedded? Was he ever grateful, appreciative?
It's a well made film but I don't see the modern tragedy, only the waste.
Seas without god in the flow
Okay this is from the time that New Wave was sweeping European festival screens, the time Marxism was sweeping Latin American politics. The French at the time were looking into the intricacies of self, the notations that modern self splinters into, this works on another plane.
It is primarily centered on ritual, it offers a ritualized take of the struggles of life.
There is first the fishing, the joy of collective work. The place is a small fishing community off the coast of Bahia, untouched by modernity, nothing but ocean and palm trees, a place where slaves were unloaded time ago and generations later all that has really changed is they are loaned a ramshackle fishing net by a merchant to go out and fish and only keep some of the fish for themselves.
They have kept the dances, one of them is of course samba, something that must have evolved from slave songs, it bears the call and response format, it sublimates hardship. Samba: gathered in a circle in the open air, old and young take turns entering the circle and doing a small dance, nothing elaborate, sloppy even, purely the joy of airing the body, letting the toil pour itself out from the hips and limbs.
They have kept the magical belief from Africa, santeria, again the dance, the chanted call and response but now a sea goddess may be listening and has to be appeased. There is here a muddled sense that enters the picture, the samba was simple and exhilarating, it meant itself, here we stretch to understand that the natives understand deeper forces to be moving their world.
A narrative is shaped behind and links the rituals, more complicated than at first sight.
A radical who has been to the city and back urges them to throw the bonds of oppression and rebel but he's not the statuesque hero of Soviet films, he's a seething scoundrel who plots murder. He berates their voodoo but only after he has tried it himself and the spell failed. Religion is seen as superstition, a meandering cycle to appease the sea instead of facing the real cause of suffering.
A sense of powerful metaphysics hovers but it only clouds the narrative, the notion is that there are no gods that move here and only the movements of ignorant mind groping with the horizon. Where we try to read metaphor into these flows and sea there's nothing, there is only their belief, their woe and confusion that creates these flows, there's no meaning outside what they are. This is no Stromboli; no Tempestaire; but cinematic space equally reveals inmost self.
Why have this agitated man mouth off the cause and not a more noble representative? Why tangle us and confuse instead of clearly present conflict? Perhaps it's a way of saying that if you hope to awaken people, you'll have to be tangled up in their world, that doing this falls on people as confused and unenlightened; these are the difficulties of sense.
See this as a film about ignorance, ignorance as the loss of self into ritualized perceptions, into emotional turbulence we create, filmed out of sympathy for the oppressed from inside their elliptical world so that we lose the superficial certainty of the cause and message. It works, we leave it muddle-minded.
This filmmaker, Rocha, his political leanings are unmistakable, but he's not complacent like Godard, he does not take easy shots. Even in this early film, he mulls over the difficulties, he leaves unreflective room; the radicalist's plot works but it's at the back of conniving and death. It pays off with more intimate, more personal value in his Terra em Transe.
Garrincha - Alegria do Povo (1963)
Ethnography around a ball
Something thrilled me about the way I came to this little film. I saw it with memories of the Brazilian WC still fresh, the final was a few nights ago. I was planning a cinematic sojourn to Brazil to coincide with the games, in the end I thought best to leave it for after, soak up one experience before traveling back to the other. I will follow this through a series of viewings.
So, a contrast here amazed me. In the recent WC, the games dazzled, the faces, the festivity, the slow-motion of football heroics. It was a good cup. Outside another Brazil simmered and cried out, poor and downtrodden. And then through this film, the link is the same, football, fame, passion, I land in a different time and place.
It follows a superstar of his time in a country obsessed with this thing, he was long before my time but the name was passed on, Garrincha. There is the requisite footage both in the field and out, a few words to the camera about how it feels to be an idol (it's a drag, he says), but that's not the point.
It's not greatly in depth, l suppose that it was a popular film meant to be seen countrywide for the man and his skill after all. There's a run-through the '62 WC win, still fresh then. The skill is there after all these years, a naive skill underpinned by the desire to move, to dance around a ball, to feign and thrust. He would be quickly hacked down by defenders these days.
No, if you see this, it will be as an ethnographic study of place and people. More interesting this to me, that through this man, in the background all around him, we can discern and follow the passions and joys of the people, that Brazilian life is revealed in this way.
In weekdays the superstar relaxes in his small hometown outside Rio, this brings us a step closer, sometimes with a game of football in the local makeshift field, a patch of sunbaked dirt really, which everyone including kids plays together barefoot under the sun. Imagine Messi now risking his multimillion legs in this way.
He had famously crooked legs, a team physician had him wear appendages of some sort - but when back home, he would take these off and go visit his witch doctor for a cure, an old woman. This superstition is later shown to be rampant among players and press, indicative of a broader worldview.
More cool facts are upturned. In his hometown, the local mill owns every house and lets it to the people who most of them work there. A visit to Garrincha's home, gifted to him by the government, gives a picture of what being affluent in Brazil meant at the time; a TV set in the livingroom, and his daughters in polkadot Western dresses dance to the latest Nat King Cole hit on the gramophone. Politicians will come to that home near elections to solicit his name.
And of course the violence in the field, the game as war. There's something about football which cannot be explained any other way, other sports have a faster pace and are at least as athletic. It is more than about release, it is release in the scope that football affords. Brazil is the ideal place to make this clear. A football stadium is comparatively huge, even more so in Brazil, the field is a battlefield, the very structure erected around a ball being kicked invokes the narrative and reaction.
Rio 40 Graus (1955)
Wonderful Latin sensibility
This is pretty exciting stuff. Historically important perhaps, but I'll let the scholar take that up and dust it.
I'm interested in how the cinematic eye is tethered to a world, how space reveals soul, what we call soul. This is Brazilian, it aims to capture ordinary life, ordinary people going about their unvarnished routine around Rio, the routine unmediated by the camera and presented to us 'as it is'.
The ripples of the Italian realist school can be felt, and as with those films the artifice now of course shows. I can tell that it's acted and scripted, that it all ebbs towards story and climax. That most characters are stereotype insertions: the favela orphan, the Copacabana playboy, the lecherous politician that everyone fawns over for a favor.
But through the artifice a fundamental perception shows, it is a wonderful tapestry of life that it weaves. The characters for one must be rooted in real life, they are ways to approach ranges of life. The story is so we can have dilemmas that plagued Brazilians then: marriage, money, status, well-being. This is one reason to see this, as a snapshot of a society.
A more exciting reason to visit however is how the film takes us through that perception of what must have been ordinary problems that either troubled or amused Brazilians.
The film is threaded around and follows many characters over a single day in Rio with the temperature bringing passions to a boil. It quickly jumps from one life to the one next to it, never bogged down. It moves and dances about without undue suffering. Even when the subject is dire poverty, it keeps a generous spirit that recognizes it can wander from it without forgetting. There are difficulties galore, but somehow it works out, the football underdog scores for his team in the last minute; this can be seen as movie artifice but it springs naturally.
Watch this if you can find it, watch it like you would Altman. It will take you through the Copacabana on a scorching morning, take you on a cable car to the statue of Christ, the Maracana in the middle of a packed derby, a favela where there's sickness and poverty. But it will quickly urge you on, life is dance, it is moving on through the day.
It ends with two rivals for the affections of a girl meeting at night in the middle of a samba rehearsal for the next Carnival, it turns out they know each other and embrace, laughing it off. Samba music sweeps us up into the night where a lone mother watches.
The journey to form
For a filmmaker, to make something that works means to create a world and to have it revealed to a viewer, bring it somehow close to us.
The film fails in this, the creation of world.. They wanted it to be modern, vibrant. But merely swapped one set of stale visual norms, the Biblical epic, for another, 'dark' fantasy. It has no awe, nothing, it is all airbrushed. It doesn't take place in a tangible Mesopotamia, they couldn't bother with a single real animal; but we get a protracted battle sequence between bad men and stone giants. It feels choppy and panders.
But let's see something else, about what's revealed and how tethered.
These are abstract notions that trouble us in both life and cinema, good, evil, mercy, redemption, the difficulty and reward is being able to imagine them, having in mind the form they can take in the world, the form is not always apparent in real life, it's why we seek the reflection that will reveal what's standing right behind us; this mirror has to be imagined.
The world here as mentioned is pretty childish, so whatever form the notions take they have to be encased in it.. I won't say it was unavoidable; I imagine how Pasolini would soar in the depiction, it would be primeval, sacred in a way that jolts, see his Medea; see Trier's Medea.
Anyway the story is about one of these abstracts, mercy. This means that first we have to have the sin shoot through us, this is here 'the wickedness of man', inwardly uproot and toss us in waves before we can land on the other end cleansed. At first distant, a father is killed but we flash forward. A sprawling urban civilization is rumored that fouls the earth. They appear at Noah's camp. Noah goes to theirs, more iniquity. All the while cranking it closer and closer to us.
And then through the deluge and the wickedness is not washed away as hoped. Still more cranking, pulling. A mad Noah, and as counterpoint the evil chieftain. It is, Noah reasons, the same wickedness they all carry that has to be swept. The twist? He's no longer the benevolent patriarch from the book, he's the cursed man of Greek plays, maddened by the gods.
Not exceptional, risky I guess only for a certain audience. But it sets up a powerful moment.
You'll know what it is when you see it. I think it all builds up to it, all the cranking and pulling taut is to have this moment. It is so disarmingly simple yet hits deeply, this one bit maybe a few seconds long; Crowe's presence helps, the innocence of newborns, but also the way it comes down to two simple movements; the raising of hand, the ratcheting of still more tension, the coiling that ends humanity, followed by lowering the head, the release, the breath that lets it all out. It sent an invisible knife through this viewer.
This is the form mercy takes, it is in this way that it registers, that we recall it as we leave. But it is encased by all the other stuff, it has no room to resonate and ripple.
Another powerful moment encapsulates just this encasing in form, this is the journeye of the Fallen Angels through space as spectres of pure light, crushing down on earth and being instantly encrusted in molten rock, disfigured in this way.
Aronofksy may have simple ideas and a trivial philosophy, but he's nothing if not effective in his choreography, Black Swan showed both facets, this to a smaller degree.
Wolf Creek 2 (2013)
Proximities of evil: getting too close
The first film came out with Hostel and was lumped together with those films, it had the torture and some of the slasher tropes like cars that won't start, sure. But it was actually from the line of Texas Chainsaw and Halloween (the originals), about a choreography between where the knife is and where the eye. It had a certain elevating purity.
This is all gone here. The same filmmaker returns, the same actor, but the thing is off.
It is a bit like what Texas Chainsaw 2 was to the first years later, a return but lacks the spirit and replaces it with a funhouse show around our knowledge of what chilled the first time around. In true franchise fashion, the villain is the whole attraction, the spotlight's on him, starting with a first scene where he is menaced by idiot cops so that we'll gleefully chuckle at what's coming to them.
The killer, the victim, tethered one to the other so that as the latter runs from him through the outback, drags him along and us through a series of encounters, this is the whole. Some of these mildly work, others are just silly; running over kangaroos with a truck, the bit at the homestead. The idea, I suppose, was to have fun with this loon as he reaches for his prey. In the end, we sit with him for a game of singing and losing fingers, spotlight's on him, his tics and grimaces.
The upside, the only one, is that they didn't give him a backstory, they resisted explaining where he comes from. But this looks like a product at this point and there's all the time for that in the next. It doesn't matter, we still have the first and now on to something else.
The hovering mentor that guides vision
Film, should you choose to see it this way, is a matter of creating intelligence, a life that contemplates the contours of itself and things. Among the most visible cinematic narratives these days follows Nolan's effort to do this. Another follows Malick, a third waits for Lynch to take a break from coffee and TM tours. Three different ways to create consciousness.
Nolan's way is architectural, construct everything ahead of time including whatever surprise, accident, or ambiguity we may find in the film. A writer first, nothing in the story can hide from him, he must pervade every inch of the world he creates. Lynch in Inland Empire, for comparison's sake, would film what he had written that day. A fundamental attribute of intelligence is the ability to picture with clarity, Nolan has this, he is intelligent in this way. More to say in a few months.
But AI research confirms something else that as film viewers we may have suspected in our way; the problem behind AI is not hitting the right computational power, we expect to soon have this when quantum computing finds ways to corral particles into superposition (so far, ultra cold points the way). No, a lot rests with creating emotion as a basis for empathy and self-awareness, which means affective space. In film, this is Malick's turf.
So now we have this film. The first time filmmaker behind it is Nolan's protégé who has worked with him on matters of vision and no doubt grown together with him; it seems the project was even picked for him by Nolan after considering it himself.
The film revolves around a scientific genius of the mechanics of mind and nature. Mortally injured, the decision is made to attempt to merge him with an AI and thus complete his lifelong project of transcending limits. As soon as this happens, he begins to expand through networks, the quest is to know it all so he can (re)construct a better version of it, right down to reversing death. Eventually this intelligence pervades everything, every molecule of air and water.
The filmmaker attempts to resist the influence he is replicating. A bit of it finds its way into the story. There's a girlfriend who helps the mastermind along, assisting the project and making it possible, setting up a crew; by the end questioning him and pulling out. But in the actual fabric, you'll find this more introspective than Nolan, more spatial, less about the story gears and more about the ambiance. It's not as bad as has circulated; it's just a bit loose, loosely dressed without urgency.
But however much he tries to pull away in the shape, he's drawn back in in the worldview he has helped imagine for Nolan. He worries about finishing a story over sustaining flow and metaphor, he brings in US army guns and epic scope, he tries to have the layered mechanics but without real effect. The digital stuff elicits no awe as he probably hoped. He only barely pulls back from a Nolanite twist. In the parting image, the AI has been terminated everywhere except in a small pond where now both the man and woman swim as remaining particles in water; a technician's poetry.
The influence is in the end understood to have been benign; but the people weren't ready. Okay.
The views of rivers, fields, nature, for the 'transcendent' part something tells me will have their counterparts in Interstellar. This guy isn't working there, but they have worked on images for a decade, they must have bounced ideas back and forth while preparing. If this is any guide, the Kubrick will be strong.
What propels the eye to form
As the title says the film is on the painter Bacon, I'm not really familiar, but those who are will likely find it tantalizing. The work itself is omitted, the attempt instead is to paint the artist's struggle using the same welts and fractures as his own work.
All told, I'll take a project like this that paints from the inside and spills color on this side of the eye, over an art gallery appreciation from afar. It grabs on the famous story of his George affair, a pub grunt Bacon took in as a lover, as a canvas for a series of studies on dislocation; the camera blurs, hallucinates, confronts space in the accident of rearrange.
Oh the paintings may be powerful, but the focus here is on the person for whom (both Bacon and George, their difference is that the first has the tools to articulate) it is still an upheaval of mind and not yet something to hang on a gallery. This is the real study here, in place of the paintings, the mind that gives rise to them.
So the overarching question is what kind of self lurks behind these maddening appearances that propel the eye, some fleeting substance perhaps as Bacon muses at one point. More interesting this and as relevant for Bacon as for all of us, after all every life has to struggle with the confusing way things appear to us.
The man is portrayed as tormented hedonist, capricious, scoffing at the mediocre and everyday. He was apparently like this. But if you rest there and like some gallery brochure take it that eccentricity explains genius, you miss what is enlightening about it.
Something nests in our perceptions of things, something that contorts and weaves its fog, a perennial dissatisfaction that is true for all of us and not just Bacon, this would be the fleeting substance, self- consciousness, or consciousness of the self. What others down at the pub drown and numb in conventional routine and pastime, Bacon stares at and this is his basis to make his art, it's this mute horror that he drags screaming from the edges of vision and hurls it with his brush, exorcizing.
The idea is sublimation, which someone told me a while back that I may be missing. Not quite. I get the notion of throwing something out there hoping to carry a bit less of it inside, casting out the demons, but it doesn't cut it, we see it here, Bacon remains selfish and indifferent to another human being in pain, indifferent to more than what pleases a whim now.
It should liberate, because it creates context, puts things in perspective. The process of giving form to feeling makes it an object of consciousness, this is the casting out, it's plucked from the walls of consciousness where it hides and forced to appear before it as its own appearance.
But it makes no difference, so long as this inner pain is still considered 'mine' and 'the truth', instead of merely another fleeting appearance among many. Now this would be context: seeing that this is not 'me' but something that arises in me and subsides, it has no substance beneath it, it's empty, no more mine than my reflection on water belongs to the lake - that's just where it appears.
No, I see here a film about suffering and self, the self that is attached to the pain, Bacon's as well as that of his protégé, the only difference is that Bacon has tools to express himself, his self-absorption acquires form out there, whereas it just drives George to madness. One we celebrate because the work tells us it's shrapnels like these he has plucked from his body, the other is a waste, both suffer.
So watch this, but don't settle for the swirl of confusion. Watch two men, one celebrated as genius, struggle and suffer in the same way to ground themselves in the fabric of appearances. See how the fractures, blurs, dislocations are empty - they have no meaning behind them, outside what they are. The film ends with Bacon in his study unsure if he has dreamed up some part of this or at which point he wakes.
I prefer the myriad contours of internal landscape over the hardships of external, Antonioni over De Sica. I love to engage the illusory tug and pull of urges that creates a softer suffering, gross injustice and hypocrisy out there strike me as sad baggage of how undeveloped we are. And I'm drawn to mull over the endless possibility of film to push the ways we perceive and imagine ourselves, I can muster no passion on the other hand for simply dependable craft hitched on a social cause.
So, I'm only being honest here, this is a solid film, that troubles and sheds light on marginalized lives, that affects in a modest way, but I can feel in me no enthusiasm about it and only a distanced solemnity. It can only be for me a sad reminder of how far back stretches the rear guard of civilization and how unlucky for some people, Dyarbakir in the film, further east these days it's Tikrit and Pakistan. Can we do something beyond a troubled viewing from the comfort of our homes? Is viewing enough? Is a film like this going to be shown to the people who need it most?
The ending is a poignant call about just this: instead of taking up the same gun in turn against a murderer, let his neighbors and people on the street know, circulate the narrative that unmasks.