Tuesday, April 25, 2006

some recent viewings

Firstly, I'm sorry for not updating for such a long time. I really want to make more frequent updates but I guess I'm not an ideal blogger, and lately I find myself being distracted by the unlikeliest of things (damn you, Danger Mouse!). Secondly (and this is just stating the obvious), Sigur Rós is simply amazing - live. I finally saw the band live last weekend and it was a spectacularly transporting audio-visual experience that I've been attempting to relive ever since.

Anyway, I haven't been watching many films lately, but it turns out that whatever I have seen have been mostly really good. Like João Pedro Rodrigues' O Fantasma, which silently follows the sexual (mis-)adventures of a nocturnal garbage collector, Sergio (non-professional actor, Ricardo Meneses), after he develops a lustful obsession with a swimmer. The film works up an incredible tension throughout its running time, generated by the long silences, the constant, infinite presence of the night, and mostly through Meneses' (Lee Kang-sheng-meets-Bobby Kendall-type) performance which consists of animalistic movement, violent stares, and a mixture of narcissism and desperation in coming to a defined state of masculinity. As his control over his own obsession crumbles, the film becomes almost surreal, more abstracted as it moves through a giant ellipsis into a Tropical Malady-esque nocturnal ballet where the body is metamorphosed by its desires into something along the borders of the fantastic, something less human and more animal. Except instead of the textures of a Thai jungle, here we have the deserted Lisbon streets and cityscape at night, eroticised to the supernatural.

I have been wanting to see Károly Makk's Love for a long time now, and it somehow got pushed to the backburner after its DVD release last year. Well, I finally saw it and the film more than lives up to its reputation. The narrative is built upon capturing the traces of multiple relationships in the presence of transformative externalities (invisible-but-palpable 'political tyranny' in this case), and how the absence of a man causes two women who love him deeply (his wife and his dying mother) to live a life of constant repetition and compromised pleasures. More than anything, though, the film is about the forward movement of time working towards the preservation of memory: I find Makk's presentation of the mother's memories (a flurry of rapid shots of isolated incidents from her youth) to be incredibly 'somatic' - he comes up with a rush of sensations and movements associated with a bed-ridden woman through the inserted memories, and creates a physical presence (an 'aura', if you will) through extreme close-ups of the objects of aging. Death is inevitable, but with it - in the film's hypnotically arresting and mostly wordless final minutes - there's a returning of the loved one, a rebirth of a relationship, as time slows down to allow two bodies to finally complete one other. There is no end. Just a life-affirming cyclicity.

There is also much to admire in Mario Bava's fascinating Lisa and the Devil, though I think I really need to see this mindbender at least once more. It uses the Möbius-strip approach to storytelling (ala Lost Highway), and posits a ghost who is made to relive the last few moments of her life over and over again by the Devil (played by Telly Savalas, clearly having a ball). Death, decay, and perverse carnality-slash-'morbid romanticism' reign in the mansion of the blind countess (RIP, Alida Valli) where most of the plot unfolds. There are some of Bava's most elegant camera movements on display here, along with the characteristic rapid zooms, the gothic imagery, the incredibly aggressive mise-en-scène - all adding up to a bizarre, hermetic universe which is the playground for the performers.

Finally, there are masterworks like Walerian Borowczyk's La Marge and Ritwik Ghatak's Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, which I cannot do justice to here. Perhaps some time in the future as I see more films by these two directors...


Blogger Ouyang Feng said...

Yes, it's hard to update regularly and I must admit that my laziness doesn't help either.... despite the fact that I continue watching movies like crazy, giving me less and less time for sleeping...
I knew you would like O Fantasma, the second part was the most interesting and made me think of Tropical Malady.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Dipanjan said...

Nice write-up on O Fantasma. It definitely piques my curiosity.

Did you catch Jukti, Takko aar Gappo on a DVD? I am currently reading a Bengali book on Ghatak. There are a couple of funny anecdotes about JTG.

During the premier screening, all of a sudden, there was a large thud in the theatre. Everyone looked around and there was Ghatak, lying on the floor - drunk and senseless. Some of his friends had to carry him away.

Then there is a story about him searching frantically for Sandipan Chattopadhyay, a leading Bengali writer, all over Calcutta. Apparently Sandipan had written a review of JTG where he had said that there had never been a film like JTG in the world film history and never will be. Ghatak was really mad at him because Sandipan had set the expectation so high that viewing the film would have to be underwhelming. Ghatak was a child at heart. Probably no other filmmaker poured so much of himself into his films.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I kept forgetting that I hadn't posted a comment yet--I wanted to say that I have the Bava and the Makk on my extraordinarily long list of films to see, and as for O Fantasma ... what an interesting film, right? I can't wait to see Odete--maybe one day will see a Rodrigues blog-a-thon in place.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Ouyang, it was your mention of Tropical Malady in our email exchange which brought about that comparison - I too couldn't help but make that connection during the second half!

Dipanjan - very interesting anecdotes. Is that Ghatak's biography by his wife that you're reading? I'm not aware of any 'official' DVD releases of Jukti yet, but several of his films are available from Calcuttaweb. I've been eyeing Subarnarekha and Komal Gandhar (along with several Mrinal Sen films available there).

Zach, I'd be interested to know of your thoughts on Love whenever you get to see it. Your recent write-up on O Fantasma (which is truly appreciative of some of the film's mysteries) prompted me to dig out the film from my unwatched pile. Odete sure sounds like it could be something special too.

1:42 PM  

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