some recent viewings
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...