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Tres Tristes Tigres (1968)
Dogme 95-style anti-Chilean masterpiece
Ruiz's first completed feature won him top prize at Locarno at the age of 28. This is a bleak and blackly humorous vision of a couple of hopeless losers' quotidian attempt to get by over a few days at the edges of Santiago de Chile's inebriated underworld of squalid strip joints and dingy apartments. Nelson Villagra and Shenda Román are both totally credible as an emotionally numb, mumbling brother-pimp-and-sister-whore "team" and Jaime Vadell is also great as Villagra's ambitious, frisky sometime boss. Organised semi-criminality and sweaty repressed frustration pervade the world of the film. Every conversation produces conflict and violence. (The military coup of 1973 is approaching - with unbridled neoliberalism to follow.) Formally, the film has little in common with Ruiz's later European work, but his trademark experimental play with language and music is already in effect. The hand-held b&w cinematography is rough-and-ready yet ambitious for a no-budget indie directorial debut made with the country's only Arriflex: the camera often seems like a spectator in these muscular, evidently meticulously choreographed long takes. The film bears comparison with Cassavetes' SHADOWS (1959) and FACES (1968), Iosseliani's ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A SINGING BLACKBIRD (1970) and even Scorsese's MEAN STREETS (1973). NADIE DIJO NADA (1971) was Ruiz's surreal, bohemian companion piece to TRES TRISTES TIGRES.
Angels One Five (1952)
Angels One point Five out of five
My first negative review on IMDb - prompted by strong disagreement with the positive reviews "Angels One Five" has on here.
I found this to be the worst written British war film I've ever seen - a sophomoric, by-the-numbers "Way to the Stars" rip-off. There's nothing compelling or original about it. The airmen come across as gratingly camp airHEADS. And the film singularly fails to convey either of the portentous bookending Churchill quotations.
For propaganda/entertainment purposes, I'd recommend real classics of the genre like "The First of the Few", "The Way to the Stars", "The Dam Busters" or even so-so flicks like "Reach for the Sky" and "Battle of Britain". A disappointing waste of time and talent which is of historical interest/value only.
Gangster Girls (2008)
Austrian documentary about women in prison
This is nicely made and will hopefully contribute to a change in preconceptions about women in prison. The filmmakers successfully use makeup and theatrical performance to create an empowering space for the "gangster girls" to tell their stories. I felt able to engage with the circumstances and contexts of the crimes the girls had committed but also saw their burgeoning development of agency through collective work in the prison theatre group. If this had been shot like many docs (with the usual banal techniques for hiding participants' identities), I doubt it could have presented the human side of these stories as effectively or as respectfully.
Chilean exiles' revenge
Valeria Sarmiento's first Chilean feature was shot in Santiago over the national holidays in September 2007 and released in cinemas there to some acclaim in October 2008. Raúl Ruiz's episodic, dialogue-driven screenplay marks SECRETOS out as a postdictatorial sequel of sorts to DIALOGOS DE EXILIADOS (1974), but here hand-held digital camera-work (emulating the movement of the cueca, Chile's national dance) and post-exilic acidity give Sarmiento's film an unexpected malaise all of its own. Its play at making Chileans see themselves - and in particular the upper-middle class' complacent stigmatisation of those who left - renders SECRETOS an uncomfortable but rewardingly dark comedy of (t)errors. By all means, wash those dirty clothes at home.
Great film-essay on Chilean national identity
This is the first part of Ruiz's wonderful shot-on-DV film-essay COFRALANDES, CHILEAN RHAPSODY (aka IMPRESSIONS OF CHILE). As with many of his "no-budget" efforts, it inhabits an odd twilit zone of its own where sudden sojourns into the worlds of fiction and documentary begin and end without warning. There is a nominal plot setup involving a Frenchman, a German, an Englishman and a Chilean but, interspersed with Ruiz's trademark absurdist sketches (only some of which he had to devise), we also have talking heads reflecting on Chile's national character, language, literature, landscape and all manner of minutiae of yesteryear. The more you know about Chilean culture, however, the less surreal all this seems – and the more playful, droll and melancholic it becomes. I would recommend Cofralandes ("the land of plenty") to anyone interested in exploring Chilean national identity or the potential of digital video. The director's fans should also see it – for this is definitely Ruiz at his most radical. A possible influence on Godard's FILM SOCIALISME.
Diálogos de exiliados (1975)
Critical, radical masterpiece of the Chilean diaspora
Magisterial, droll low-budget work is the first film Ruiz made in France after fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship - and also the first feature film of the Chilean diaspora. Many in the Chilean exile community rejected the film for its allegedly 'light' handling of heavy subject matter (reactionary race/gender/class attitudes, party-political fundamentalism, torpor and corruption among the exiles); it has a comparable bite and feel to Ousmane Sembène's great political satire XALA (also 1975). Wonderful performances from non-actor exiles abound (particularly impressive as most takes last several minutes) but the standout is Sergio Hernández (who went on to play the lead in Ruiz's final feature, NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET, 2012) as the singer kidnapped by the exiles. Ruiz cited Mizoguchi as an inspiration for his play with spatial uncertainty in Parisian apartments, though anyone familiar with Godard's 2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER... (1967) will notice another master's Brechtian influence. Stylistically the film's rough edges recall Ruiz's NADIE DIJO NADA (1971) and PALOMITA BLANCA (1973) more than the elegant work he went on to craft in France and Portugal over the following decade.