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The Undead (1957)
Very entertaining concoction: in spite of its shaky sets, dresses with zippers and carriages definitely not from the 6th century (if the script is alluding to King Mark of Cornwall), verbose dialogs and a few corny performances, this Roger Corman production has the tone and feeling of a fairy tale, as performed by kids from elementary school with naiveté and spontaneity. The time-travelling premise in the script by Charles Griffith and Mark Hanna is clever and it could have benefited from a bigger budget for revisions, re-writes and higher production values. As it is, I find it funny, charming and even daring, as it somehow aspires to have values similar to literary works written in old times, about death, transcendence and the role of science in the evolution of mankind. It is also another proof of Corman's ability to turn almost anything into a pleasant time for the viewers. Recommended.
Poor Nikolai Gogol... The British empire came to "put order" in the East, eradicating the Ukrainian folk from his masterful long tale "Vij". This is an overlong, convoluted, revisionist version of Gogol's story, reducing the fantasy elements to dumb babble passing for "scientific" explanations of the beliefs and fears of an agrarian, superstitious community in Transylvania during the 18th century. Better watch the 1967 "Vij" or Mario Bava's masterful, free adaptation "La maschera del demonio" (1960).
The Twelfth Night
Hagazussa is the name of the twelfth night before Christmas, in which the spirits roam the Earth, according to Nordic mythology. The word derived in one more of the words used to call women accused of being witches.
The film under this title is an intelligent response to silly infantile stories such as "The VVitch". It is a tale of medieval appearance but that could happen in our times, about a lonely peasant who lives with her baby in a cabin, besieged by villagers who accuse her of being a witch (as they also called her mother, before dying). Small events related to her eroticism, the hatred of her neighbors and the religious fanaticism of the local priest, are linked to bring the story into the realm of tragedy.
Sold as a horror story, it is far from being such. It is more a quiet observation of life in the countryside among humble people, of superstition, religious fundamentalism, prejudice and xenophobia.
However, "Hagazussa" does not reach the level of greatness to which it aspires. It could have been a great movie, without a doubt, if it had been filmed, performed or edited with a little more rhythm. And respect for the free time of the spectators. I admit that people of the coast like me have a different perception of time, pause and forward, from the way people of the highlands perceive them. Each act in the movie is a ritual with only one vestal, with no high priestess or priest, no dance troupe, no drum, only putrefaction, snakes, worms and annoying music. So, in my case, it was an act of resistance to reach the end, although I always perceived in its 102 minutes breaths of genius.
In spite of all, in general this film is preferable to all the repulsive garbage of terror (and not terror) that is made in Los Angeles.
Winner Best Film Award - Hellenic Film Institute
The movie «Xenia» (with the accent on the i, but I will not tell you what it is in the story) is more Aristotelian than other Greek adventures of recent vision, with a "secure structure" built on cause and effect, and it is also more sentimental, more melo-Greekly passionate... And very gay in tone (by courtesy of director Panos Koutras), although no sexual orientation is the core of the plot. It has to do with two brothers born in Crete, children of an Albanian woman who has just died and a Greek man who abandoned them. Suddenly the younger one realizes that his brother and he were not recognized, they have no documents, they are strangers in their own land, so out they go in search of their (s.o.b.) father, while some dreams are sought after and a maturing process leads them to their goals. Excellently played by the two leading actors, Kostas Nikouli and Nikos Gelia, the film combines the harsh realities of xenophobia and privation with beautiful scenes, like a brief night cruise by boat, while the boys sleep on board and on the shore the vessel is escorted by the entities in their fantasies during childhood, a period signed by abuse (David Lynch would applaud) and some surprises like Dido, the rabbit. «Xenia» won the Hellenic Film Academy awards for Best Motion Picture, Direction, Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Editing and Costumes; and the Best Film Award at the festivals of Gijón and Chicago.
Scotty's Secret Story
Gossips about the film people in Los Angeles and their erotic delusions have always occupied the headlines. The sexual activities of people from all social levels at the end reveal: one, that bizarre appetites are everywhere; two, that we are victims of our own puritanism and debauchery; and three, that such news only arouses curiosity and little contributes to our lives. If not, consider what have you learned from the ignoble aspects of the lives of Marilyn, O.J. or Polanski.
The story of Scotty Bowers is film and literature material, without a doubt, and «Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood» proves it. It has become a documentary inspired by his biography «Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Life of the Stars.» All the surviving interviewees who personally knew Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, the Dukes of Windsor or Rock Hudson, confirm the revelations and affirm that Scotty does not lie. No salacious gossip in the style of Kenneth Anger in «Hollywood Babylon», which for a long time was the best-selling gossip book about film people.
At age 90, with most of his clientele already dead, Scotty published his account of sexual services offered to personalities of the L.A. movie industry (and other industries) and left the half-population of the city speechless. For being silly, if you ask me, for still believing in the Oscar, in Walt Disney and E.T. Before the camera, Scotty does not hide anything from his contemporary life, which he shared with singer Lois Bowers, who died in October 2018.
At the beginning of the movie, Scotty seemed an unpleasant person, simply because he calls a spade a spade. Then, I put aside my hypocritical self and let myself be guided by his humor, his strength to move on in 21st century L.A., for his love for Lois and his sincerity. Scotty does not hide anything about himself! From the abuse of his father in the country and the group of priests who used him as a child prostitute when he was growing up in Chicago, going through the interviews he gave to Dr. Alfred Kinsey about the sexual behavior of the average American male (and the orgies that he took him to see "the action" in the front row), until he got his job at a gas station in L.A. where he started connecting his friends with the stars, and he kept his first wife and daughter with his own body. The Hollywood anecdotes do not stop: all the girls he took to Hepburn, the nights spent with an undecided Spencer Tracy, George Cukor's gay parties, the threesomes with Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, his anecdotes of J. Edgar Hoover, Laurence Olivier, Walter Pidgeon, the secrets of the Duchess of Windsor, who held the reins of sexual mischief in their marriage...
The documentary follows the traditional structure of interviews, archival material, music, without forcing the viewer into a judgment about Scotty Bowers. There is no moralism here or pharisee positions. It is a dramatic portrait, perhaps sordid for some, of a man who forgives abuse, but who does not grasp it in all its dimensions. In spite of the humor, the vintage music and the images of the famous, it is a very moving portrait: the memories of family, the evidence of all the pain that he still does not recognize; the exaggerated and unhealthy accumulation of his memorabilia in different houses, the deterioration of his home, Lois's reluctance to know her husband's past, her nights singing in nightclubs while he lovingly watches her...
This is a revealing film, a humane, compassionate and open portrait that, as expected, was ignored by the Oscars, Globes, associations of critics, film-clubs and independent filmmakers.
Horror and Nothing Less
Scare yourself a little. No, it is not a zombie movie. It is more than that. This movie will scare you, no doubt. This movie is for you if you are just looking for a good scare or feel uncomfortable with the unknown (or what awaits you in the next shot). This is a Latin American show of well-digested horror cinema from all over the world, which has legions of fans. Do not take it too hard, or it is you who will be taken by the pale man. If you are looking for a horror movie that has something to do with Argentinian culture (lol), if you want explanations or learn where everything comes from, forget it. Either the budget was too short or it was expressly done like it is (so it seems), so the tale is open for «Aterrados 2». Almost all the central cast is over 45 years old and the elderly ghostbusters handle the mattes with a serious face that conceals the humor, so conviction is not lacking. Apart from that, the movie is also an example of (healthy) economy: about six central actors, three or four main locations and ready, let's shoot the stuff before the American film industry lures Demián Rugna, to see if he revitalizes its present agonizing horror cinema.
Hard to Find Documentary
Documentary about the life of the man who was the most popular actor in the United States for almost two decades, and who hid his homosexuality, with a routine structure very close to a television reportage or one of those "extras" in DVDs and Blu-Rays. However, there is affection in the approach to Rock Hudson's dramatic life, adding reflections on the role models of the 20th century, the cannibalistic film industry of Los Angeles, and the first years of the HIV plague, with prejudices and bad practices of health professionals that Hudson suffered. The film narrative is also helped by the graphic design that plays with gay icons from the 50s to the 70s, from comics, magazines and films of nude bodybuilders to disco singing group Village People; and by some interesting interviews offered by people who knew Hudson, particularly Salome Jens, Yanou Collart, Stockton Briggle and Mark Miller.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Blow of the Hammer Man
«Blow of the Hammer Man» could be a good alternative title for this hyperviolent story about trafficking of adolescents in the upper echelons of power. A few months ago «La danza de las fieras» was released in Panama and it won the first prize at the BannabáFest Human Rights Film Festival. The Mexican film is comprised of six segments, three of which are about the same theme, told with better results and in less time. They also take place in everyday environments, among people that we see in the market, the church or the bank, but never imagine that they lead twisted lives. This approach does not divert attention from a generalized problem in all societies, in which women are the most frequent victims.
In the case of «You Were Never Really Here», the opposite occurs. The hit man who is involved in the trafficking case and tries to save the teenager who has been kidnapped penetrates the world of politicians. In his task, the tormented war veteran, who lives with his senile mother, becomes a sullen and brutal criminal who hammers left and right to cleanse the crime world of ugly people. What a task.
The director Lynne Ramsay, who received so much praise with the family drama «We Have to Talk About Kevin", adapts the homonymous novel by Jonathan Ames and again refills the cracks of the story with fake blood. She also tries to clarify the facts with images of the murderous past of the killer, of his childhood abuse (perhaps sexually molested by his father too); of his participation in war and of the number of people he has killed. At times, the recourse reminded me of the repetitive flashback that was so effective in «Catch-22», whose plot always returns to Snowden's dying body in a bomber plane. With the difference, that in Mike Nichols' film, the reiteration has meaning and reason that shed light on the behavior of Yossarian, the escapist pilot.
Here the retrospective images only add more fuel to the fire, to the already singed figure of the assassin, played by Joaquín Phoenix. When he becomes a kind of Travis Bickle (the protagonist of «Taxi Driver»), in search of his own Lolita, the film does not recovers, not even with the (ridiculous) scene in which the murderer and a dying colleague, lying on the floor of the kitchen, begin to sing. Proceed at personal risk.
«Chevalier» is a Greek work that I receive with gratitude, which surpasses the enthusiasm I felt for «Attenberg», the other film that I know of its director, Athina Rachel Tsangari. Right from its inspired opening, in which, through the sea mist, we see several divers emerge from the water to a deserted beach, Tsangari built in an enigmatic way this tale of dueling men, full of humor and knowledge of male vanity. Little by little, the portrait of six mature men takes form. They have spent a few days, plying the Aegean Sea in a luxurious yacht, diving and practicing sea sports, and they are shortly returning to Athens. During a dinner, the friends have the idea of playing Chevalier, a game to decide who the best of all is. The winner will receive a (Chevalier) ring as his prize. As Tsangari did in «Attenberg», dealing with recognizable characteristics of female psyche and sensuality, in «Chevalier» she successfully displays the competitive spirit of the challenged male, through the different tests and evaluations that they put themselves through, reaching moments in which it is revealed how aggressive, absurd, stodgy, stupid, ridiculous and funny we can become to win a game. «Chevalier» is a beautiful film: it captures the strength and simplicity of its plot with clarity and brightness, in interiors, open spaces and the faces of the small cast, made up of accomplished actors. When I saw the film I thought of Yorgos Lanthimos and I said, "This is what you should be doing, Yorgos". To my surprise, I found out in the credits that the script was co-written by the director and Efthymis Filippou, the same author who wrote my favorite films by Lanthimos, from «Dogtooth» to «The Killing of the Sacred Deer». (In fact, he worked on the script of «Chevalier», after «The Lobster» and before the "Sacred Deer"). It is a pleasure to see a cinema that is so different, to feel airs of peace, other ways of seeing the world, without violence or slaughters to control the world, and I applaud it with joy. Bravo, Athina Rachel Tsangari, for understanding us and being compassionate to us, men.
The Favourite (2018)
Yorgos, please come home!
I have witnessed how the careers of non-American filmmakers who were once nonconformist, critical and rebellious, changed when they received awards from Los Angeles, New York and, to a lesser extent, European film festivals. I am not questioning the awards, for I believe that when someone deserves a prize, it is fair to grant it. The unfortunate thing is that, to guarantee a position in the factory of mainstream cinema, some filmmakers who previously questioned the bad side of "what is established", become submissive and conformist when they receive Oscars, Globes and other awards; others lose the strength of their radical positions, while a few renounce the cultural force that their first films had, which were made in their homelands.
Two illustrative cases are those of Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar and Mexican Alfonso Cuarón. In the first case, although the man from La Mancha preserves the "Spanish cultural brand" that has made his cinema always attractive, his recent films conform to a catalog of common places in melodrama, applauded by a group of moviegoers who never saw his imperfect and corrosive, passionate and exemplary cinema that he made in the 1980s. Then there is Cuarón, the traveler who, from his applauded debut in Mexico jumped to Hollywood, to little princesses, Harry Potter and Dickens, recovering his original cultural stamp each time he returns to Mexico, although «Roma», his 2018 movie, shows him as an orchestrator of an excessively elaborate exercise for the Netflix era. Both men are talented and know their trade, there is no doubt about it, but from «Matador« to «Hable con ella» there is an abyss, similar to that between «Sólo con tu pareja» and «Gravity».
Now the "evil eye" has touched Greek Yorgos Lanthimos. Here the transformation breaks one's heart. He even poses differently for the photos now: from those, in which the daring novice appeared in the projections of «Dogtooth», to those of Yorgos 2019, it has rained a lot. He already directed Kidman, Farrell, Weisz, because he also has talent and know his trade, of course... If in the next installment of the Oscars to 2018 films, I had to choose between Cuarón and Lanthimos for the Best Direction award, I would give the prize to the Athenian.
It is true that «The Favourite» is the kind of costume piece that the British have been making for centuries with their eyes closed. They are perfectly assembled, resplendent and cold, whoever makes them, including Taiwanese Ang Lee. This version, however, is more passionate, Mediterranean and some features of the Lanthimos of «Dogtooth» and «Alps» persist, as postmodern licenses in language, in a few scenes such as dance, and in the use of music. It also has three performers at the peak of the acting profession (Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman) to illustrate this historic portrait of the struggle for power, tinged with eroticism and opportunism. The stories of women in love have always sold a lot. Both men and women lose their composure with an erotic triangle of women, especially when one is Queen Anne of England with her sufferings of gout.
And, yes, concessions to fashion are welcome to develop a career in the West and guarantee a job. But the court intrigues extended for two long hours... and I, at least, could not help thinking "Pity of Yorgos ...!" A fact, in my opinion, very important to take into account: unlike his four previous features ("The Lobster" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer", in addition to the two already mentioned), this was not written by Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou. It is a pity.
Ai Rotoli (2000)
As Carmelo Bene reads a text by writer-translator-policeman Antonio Pizzuto (about an excon called Bibi who works at the Rotoli necropolis in Palermo), long tracking shots show the cemetery, its tombs, stones, photographs, offerings. The story being read contrasts the images, as Bene's voice tells how Bibi is followed by a dog or meets an old man who appeared to be his boss. Pretty good work.
The Beast in the Cellar (1971)
Was director-screenwriter James Kelly a playwright?
I cannot tell. But this motion picture seems like a film adaptation of a stage play, although with very few licenses to leave the main setting: that is, the house with a cellar that contains a beast... or contained, it seems, because right from the beginning whatever was inside is killing soldiers around the countryside, leaving them all bloody (yes, there is enough blood for an early 1970s movie), and more scratched than a phone card.
I enjoyed the proceedings and the chitchat between the two main characters, the Ballantyne sisters, in the first two thirds. But in the third act, Ellie (Beryl Reed) never stops talking about how she loved her father and how her sister Joyce (Flora Robson, by now bedridden) loved their brother Stephen. She confirms what we know since the beginning, that the two sisters locked brother Stephen in the cellar for 30 years. In the meantime, the police, now being alerted by Ellie, looks for the man-beast.
Blond John Hamill (perhaps Britain's most popular male nude model of the 1960-70s) plays a very amiable young corporal who visits the two old ladies with the latest news at least three times a day, and Tessa Wyatt appears too late in the plot as a nurse, but she anyway becomes Hamill's love interest. By then poor Stephen has no hope.
It does not have any right to be so, but somehow the film is enjoyable.
Night Monster (1942)
Enjoyable, tense and well acted but forgotten little horror movie. Bela Lugosi has a secondary role, but he is excellent as Rolf, the evil butler. Add a wicked housekeeper, a loony sister, a frightening disabled host, a yoga teacher, a trio of scientists with a stooge touch, a chauffeur constantly in heat, a writer of cheap thrillers, a typically silly chief of police, and a good looking psychiatrist, and you have an excellent whodunit, even if you know from the beginning who the monster is, that combines elements of Poe's "House of Usher", Du Maurier's "Rebecca", Conan-Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and the short novel "The Undying Monster: A Tale of the Fifth Dimension", by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, produced by Fox also in 1942. . It is a mystery that this amusing script by Clarence Upson Young has not been remade.
In search of José Martí
This historical drama, depicting different phases in the late childhood and youth of the so-called "Apostle of Cuba" José Martí, is most of the time a biopic full of commonplaces often found in this genre, directed by Fernando Pérez, one of the most respected names in Cuban cinema. Narrated in four movements, in the first two ("Bees" and "Arias"), the 9 year old Martí (endearingly played by Damián Rodríguez) is bullied in school by schoolmates and abused by his schoolmaster, while he learns notions of justice and oppression from his father. He discovers the beauties of Mother Nature with an old slave, explores his sexuality and enters into the world of high art in a Havanan theater. The boy also becomes aware of the high price a poor child has to pay for education. In the last two segments ("Birthday" and "Bars"), Daniel Romero plays the adolescent Martí in a more intense but still taciturn manner, as the budding Romantic poet becomes a militant for the liberation of Cuba under Spanish tyranny. As beautifully photographed as it is (by Raúl Pérez Ureta), still the motion picture has no exceptional strokes to lead it to greatness: the dialogues are often trite and the highly regarded actress Broselianda Hernández, as Martí's mother, has to deal with excessively melodramatic scenes (wearing a long black dress that echoes Raquel Revuelta in «Lucía» and «Cecilia»). Pérez knows how to keep us interested all the time, so the experience is never boring; but in my opinion, what saves «José Martí: el ojo del canario» from being a routine biopic is Pérez's fabulation of Martí's early life. It is true that you have to know that there is little information of José Martí's childhood and adolescence, to have a better appreciation of Pérez's script. However, it is the director's free invention of situations, conflicts and inspirations --all based on chronicles of the dramatic times Martí lived and on the poetry he wrote in those years-- that makes the motion picture a respectable and valuable movie experience.
Pájaros de verano (2018)
Below My Expectations...
First, I want to make it clear that I do not agree with some people on «Embrace of the Serpent». For me it is an important and valuable film, regardless of its awards, for the sole merit (if it only had one) of reminding us all people of America the continent, that we have let trample the great contribution of the original cultures of this land: the harmonious coexistence with Nature and the knowledge and benefits that derive from it.
We betrayed that contribution by embracing the Judeo-Christian "ideals" of the West that the "conquerors" brought, like the plague. We embraced the notions of the "white-faced gods" who gave us mirrors in exchange for our gold, and we adhered to the unruled development agenda, and the destruction and ignorance of all the wisdom contained in our original cultures. I do not compromise in this belief and for that, I consider «Embrace of the Serpent» a touchstone of contemporary Latin America cinema.
That said, there is a considerable gap between this film and «Birds of Summer». I do not know what the reason is. Maybe it is the direction shared with the producer Cristina Gallego, unlike other films in which Ciro Guerra had the sole credit. Maybe it is the flat Aristotelian script, less daring than that of «Embrace of the Serpent», with five chapters (or songs) that recount twelve years of increasing violence and death, in which new "white-faced gods" arrived with another agenda (the anticommunist campaigns of the Peace Corps) and language. Perhaps it is the theatricality of a few professional actors contrasting with the freshness of natural actors, or the inevitable intrusion of melodrama, which affects the impact of the tragedy being told.
The drama of the young Wayuu Rapayet (José Acosta) who, to win the hand of Zaida (Natalia Reyes), must raise a fortune to pay the dowry that will benefit the bride's family clan, under the supervision of the energetic matriarch Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), becomes entangled as the history of drug trafficking is settling and dominating the story.
It would be easy to applaud the achievement if we were to see an action film, with tension, death and shooting, and to pry into rites and customs of a culture that resists extinction, largely caused by our indifference and stupidity. However, in «Birds of Summer» coexists another film, which is not historical memory, but is nourished by it; and that is not anthropology, but benefits from the beauty of the Wayuu Nation, its people and manifestations.
In the midst of this search for balance, in my opinion partially achieved, the film navigates. The movie is more complex and ambitious than the easy associations that some people make, like old westerns or the Corleone saga. It is an attempt to entertain, mixing elements of an indigenous culture (which some call "exotic") and the history of Colombia.
In my eyes, the attempt is too much like «mainstream» cinema (like the imitations that Solanas and Getino called "second cinema") and that, in my opinion, we do not need in Latin America.
A Major Work
I once met movie people who were very popular at the time ... Sonia Braga, Richard Gere, Amparo Grisales, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Dominique Sanda, Nikita Mikhalkov, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Treat Williams... However, I never asked them for an interview. I learnt my lesson well when I did with a star (Julie Christie), and the woman kept smiling and repeating "What for, what for?" So I preferred to make friends with those I liked ... Ninón Sevilla, Jorge Rivero, Daisy Granados, Fabio Barreto, Ofelia Medina, Gastón Pauls and other gentle artists.
With Harry Dean Stanton I did not develop a friendship. After sending him the magazine with his interview, I gave the paper in which he wrote down his name, address and telephone number to an autograph collector who had a bookstore in Panama called Argosy, as in «Vertigo». However, meeting Stanton in 1984 was a great experience: the interview became normal conversation and he ended up asking me questions. Not only my sincere admiration for his work made him trust, but I also talked about movies that nobody remembered as Monte Hellman's «Cockfighter», or cult films like «Repo Man». I also praised the dignity of his character in a brief scene in «The Rose» and we even talked about the evident class differences in the spaceship Nostromo, in which he and Yaphet Kotto represented the working class in «Alien». At that time, he was at the top, with the success of «Paris, Texas» in the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival. I have the memory of one of those quality people who are always a pleasure to meet for their calm way of assuming notoriety.
I could not help making this preamble, right after watching «Lucky», the last film Harry Dean Stanton made before he died at age 91 (another movie was released in 2018, but it was shot before). In it, he plays the title role, a nonagenarian war veteran who lives in a village (a mixture of locations in California and Arizona), with a daily routine of yoga exercises, solving crosswords, watching television contests and regular visits to key business (cafeteria, mini-market, bar), and a strange dream every now and then. Until one day when, in perfect health, Lucky collapses and so begins his small journey towards the full awareness of his finitude, his old age and his options.
As in «Gerontophilia», those who best capture the integral dimension of the character and the crisis he faces are we, the old people. We are the invisible kind for the young (a season we all spend at some time), beings that would better do as the Japanese old woman in «The Ballad of Narayama»: pack a little bag and go up the mountain to die of cold. Only sharp young persons will also realize that Lucky is quite clear about the whole scenario. In a crucial scene in the village bar, Lucky finally reveals himself as a sensitive being that, if we had previously thought that he believed not even in his shadow, does have a simple and praiseworthy way to face life and the existence of Humanity.
There are really moving moments in the film, like those in which Stanton plays harmonica tunes; or the sudden moment, on the birthday of the youngest son of his Mexican friend Bibi, when Lucky begins to sing «Volver, volver» in Spanish. There is also a suggestion of well-kept secrets, such as Lucky's sexual orientation, when he reveals a curious fascination for Liberace. The effectiveness of each moment in the film rests on the performances of a cast of first order that includes Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, David Lynch, Yvonne Huff Lee and former teen idol James Darren.
The film, a first work by actor John Carroll Lynch, went unnoticed in North America, as expected. If you have the opportunity to see it by any means, do not do the same. Enjoy it.
In 2013, I read the screenplay of «Violencia», written by Jorge Forero. The producers had submitted it to the Ibermedia program for funding. The text left me a very good impression and I recommended it. Since then, I tried to watch the movie, until now that I have seen Forero's first work on line. The result is up to the expectations created by the script.
In the same way that the Colombian drama is difficult to grasp in all its complexity, to people who do not know the history of the country in depth or do not follow the news, «Violence» is a complex film, despite its structural and narrative simplicity. Forero opted for long observational shots, in which every take is a complete construction of actions, reactions and subtexts, without the costly and laborious profusion of angles and impersonal points of view found in mainstream cinema, because there is no need for them. The human dimension of the drama is basal: lack of freedom, fear of death and the objectification of the human body.
«Violencia» tells the story of three males (Catholics, in the script, united by a similar scapular in their necks, which has been changed to a crucifix in the film, but only worn by the men of stories 1 and 3): a kidnapped man, a "false positive" and a paramilitary. The violence is scarcely explicit, but there is a permanent charge of premonition, like a live wire, ready to give an electrical shock to the unsuspecting. In the first segment, we are almost alone with the kidnapped man (Rodrigo Velez), from the moment he wakes up and performs small survival actions, until he lies down and suffers the hardships of his abduction in the jungle. At every moment of his minimal actions, we perceive the immensity of the drama of a kidnap victim in a war he may not even understand.
The second tale about the immolation of youth is the most moving of the three. It tells the story of a poor urban teenager (David Aldama) who is in love, living in the home of his single mother and looking for employment. In his desperation to have his own income, the boy falls victim of a lethal agreement to provide live bodies of innocent people to members of the Colombian army, who killed them and passed them off as dead guerrillas to obtain promotions and other benefits. The story of the young man opens at the dawn, as he makes love with his girlfriend in the shadows, and somberly concludes in the night, in some remote place of Colombia.
The third story is the most disturbing, because it is told with cold objectivity, the same way its leading character (Nelson Camayo) carries out his daily actions. Like the other stories, it opens at dawn, while the man enjoys a shower after having sex with a woman. Seemingly a common farmer, the man buys materials in a hardware store, buys a snow cone, fuels his old jeep, but when he arrives at a farm and we see a group of uniformed men, his true identity is revealed and the story turns devious: he is not a farmer, but a paramilitary, a torture coach and an expert executioner. And as the story began, so it ends, calm, dispassionate, with his girlfriend in the town plaza, at night, while Leonardo Favio sings «Ella ya me olvidó», the only musical commentary of the movie (and a lesson in scoring for those who stuff their movies with tunes and music cues).
«Violencia» is an experience hard to forget, that evokes the best works of Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso, Amat Escalante and other performers of the un-dramatized cinema of our days. Available through Retina Latina.
Cola de Mono (2018)
"Cola de mono" does have its moments, but it is a not very good little film about two brothers coming to terms with their homosexuality, on Christmas night 1986, in Santiago de Chile, after drinking too much 'cola de mono' (a strong sort of eggnog). Sexy it is, especially in all the scenes where brother Borja appears, very well played by young actor Cristóbal Rodríguez Costabal as the intense, clever and often funny bad apple of what is left of the Díaz family. However, the melodrama went beyond my tolerance level, the more so when credibility was badly affected by an unusual accumulation of secrets, male butts and people with knives, blades and hurting things of all sorts. Other sources list 102 minutes as running time, but I saw this 98 version (with all explicit scenes) and it seemed interminable. Fans of 'queer cinema' would surely rise the rating a bit.
Ciro y yo (2018)
When the documentary filmmaker Miguel Salazar was a young university student, he met Ciro Galindo, a peasant from Natagaima, a town located in the majestic region of Tolima, Colombia. Salazar met him during an exploratory tour. Ciro assigned him one of his sons to be his guide in the zone, but soon after Salazar had to inform Ciro how his son had disappeared when falling into a high, profound and dark waterfall. Thus began a deep friendship and a story that Salazar followed step by step, until finally he decided to register this dramatic account of the life of Ciro Galindo, who for 65 years, since he was a kid, lived affected by poverty and violence from landowners, emerald miners, the guerrillas and finally the lethal alliance between the State and the paramilitaries. Ciro found himself displaced and homeless, with his family decimated, surrounded by misery and desolation. But he never gave up. Up to this day, Ciro is still active to help his people to live with dignity. After a war that has lasted for decades, this is the drama of thousands of families in Colombia today, represented by a brave survivor whose motor was always the hope of finding peace and happiness. Winner of the Best Documentary Award at 2018 La Habana Film Festival.
El Secadero (2018)
A remarkable first work from Cuba
At the conclusion of «El Secadero» I felt the same enthusiasm I experience whenever I see a fine work by a young filmmaker. Directed by Cuban José Luis Aparicio Ferrera, it is an intense drama that unfolds skillfully, with superbly dosed elements of comedy. Behind the humor, there is a painful drama, something real that takes place today anywhere, the kind of dramatic events that bring despair and kills us a little, but forces us to come to life every day.
A few years ago, in my little researches and lucubrations of current Cuban cinema --made at a distance, without experiencing the daily difficulties of the island, including those for making films--, I referred to a "cinema of the debris", to a courageous and valuable cinema, well-documented in the street, in lack and abandonment. «El Secadero» belongs to that lineage, a noble catalog of images, sounds and situations that speak in a stark manner of what is experienced, suffered, enjoyed and loved in Cuba. The story, without betraying its realism, knows how to incorporate dramatic resources of other genres, to enrich it, relax us and increase its impact. In this case, as an integral part of the packaging, but also as a gift from scriptwriters Daniel Delgado Saucedo and Aparicio Ferrera, there is a delightful and refreshing cinephile undercurrent, which often emerges and enhances the pleasure of experiencing the film.
From the first scene in the location called El Secadero, the balance between humor and drama is established. The movie introduces official Fondón (Jorge Molina), a mature agent who tries to seduce a young colleague (Amalia Gaute), during a mission inspired from some film of smugglers. He recounts fragments of films, recites dialogues and pretends to be an officer with 300 men under his command. But she is keen on the mission. Soon a suspicious car arrives and the cards are cast: in this story, several bodies will fall... as in a "film noir", as in a romantic melodrama with a tragic detective background.
The opening duo leads us to the two leading police officers, a kind of comedy double act, an erratic and clumsy couple, determined to fulfill their duty, but with enough time to have a good time and goof off for a while. Mario and Camacho (Eduardo Martínez and Raúl Capote, whose comic vein I did not know) do not get help from the forensic doctor when they find the head of a lieutenant called Padrino (Godfather), or from a pretty street walker on duty (Andrea Doimeadiós) that treats them with disdain, while they follow the trail to a serial killer on the loose. Thieves also do not "respect" them; they steal the officers' bicycles and with them also goes Padrino's severed head.
The succession of characters that (reluctantly) help them to decipher the enigma is worthy of a comic bunch in the Takashi Miike style (played by Manuel Romero, Enmanuel Galbán, Dana Estévez and Pancho García). However, everything leads to tragedy in an underworld that I never saw "in direct" in Cuba, but of which I had news and that I once read well-described in a very good script by Fabien Pisani, with its slums, improvised casinos and corruption; and suggested in the non-filmed script "CubaXtreme" («Señora 22» in its soft-core version), which Adrián García Bogliano and I co-wrote for Jorge Molina to direct.
The audience has to make the connections and deductions, read the social and political comments told without underlining words. We have to take part in the investigation: we have to deduce the implications of the high judicial power and the suggestive metaphor of the "serial killer" that affects the lives of ordinary people, inferred in this magnificent film about widespread corruption in our societies.
In order to create these milieux and atmospheres that go from hilarious to impacting, the harmony of the cast superlatively helped the story. There is no jarring note. The leads are finely calibrated in their highlight scenes, and in their brief interventions, the supporting cast is successful, and veterans are customarily correct, while young Mónica Molinet becomes a pleasant revelation. Actor-filmmaker Jorge Molina deserves a special mention: here he finds a role to his measure and gives us an excellent interpretation, savoring that cinephilia that, in real life, animates his films and his existence.
In the selection of locations and the work of the art director, «El Secadero» reminded me of Ismael Perdomo's drama «Kill, That God Forgives.» Both films share a clever selection of localizations, a distinguished way of recording and illuminating them, which not only create effective and attractive cinematographic spaces (as that mobile shot with lights and mirrors in the background, when the policemen enter the casino), but give Cuban cinema a different and elaborate face, which does not decorate them, but distinguish and enhance the beauty of the surroundings.
With this 28 minute film, José Luis Aparicio Ferrera does a compact, well-assembled work, that always manages to maintain our interest, that smoothly takes us along with the story, entertains us and moves us. A big applause for José Luis, welcome and we want more!
Crying on the Beach
Good cinematography, art direction and choice of songs.
Fermín (Cleo's boyfriend) sets the movie on fire, but he is around too little. He is the Wolf, the Monster, and the Terror of Underdevelopment. He even symbolically kills his own daughter.
Kids are always kids, and so are old people, they steal scenes, etcetera, as the heroic WonderGranny who takes Cleo to the hospital through a street riot.
Premonitions are cinegenic, especially in New Year, in a forest, with a few pines on fire and a Nordic guy (sort of) posing in front of the camera and singing...
There is even an earthquake alert and someone playing Profesor Zovek training a group of martial arts freaks (including Fermín).
As in most Mexican melodramas, everything is solved with a good weep.
But the scene on the beach verges on the ridicule. Caramel coated solidarity (see the poster).
Cleo the servant becomes SuperCleo for a while. Then she is a servant again.
In the end credits, some links are included for good measure, in case you want to join the fight for the rights of women and servants, and for the cause of maids in the USA.
First Man (2018)
Is This Cinema?
Poor Ryan ... I admit that the first time I saw him, he passed me by unnoticed, although not the movie. I have always remembered Craig Gillespie's «Lars and the Real Girl», but now I realized that the man acted so well, that he is diluted in the story, as an integral part of the story of the country boy who falls in love with a doll. It was Nicolas Winding Refn who pointed me to Gosling as if saying, "Look at this Canadian, he's a very good actor." Then we had to put up with his dancing, singing, whining, whistling, directing movies (the most notable "Lost River", if you did not see it, you blinked) and committing sacrilege with «Blade Runner»... That is fame. Ryan Gosling is a face and body for mega-products, as good as Colin Farrell or Tom Hardy. However, did Little Ryan make his homework and read «First Man» script well? It seems he did not, but well... he wanted to be king, he has to throw kisses! You'd better be more cautious than he was, and look the other way. «First Man» is a bad, dull, overlong and propaganda illustration of NASA official reports, that were adorned (with no good results) with technical data, a big dose of Biopic 101, a bit of fairy tale and too much domestic/jingoist melodrama. So the "first moon landing" or whatever that was, ceases to be a polemical issue and becomes a compilation of close-ups of shoes, sand and stairs against dark landscapes: of course, this meant that the filmmakers could not even think of using the controversial film that some people say Stanley Kubrick did. Look, I am going to give you a little advice: better watch Georges Mélies' «Le voyage dans la Lune». It is shorter and more fun. But, of course, Ryan's fans are fools, so we go to see him and we find this mammoth of shuddering metal, stunned sounds, allusions to the Cold War and a 141-minute lament for a lovely child that died in the first 10 minutes. We deserve it for being fools.
Fine First Work
I owe mobility awareness to Fernando Martín Restelli. When I saw his short film «Merodeo» (Wandering) in 2017, I realized that our right to move, to migrate, to go from one point to another of the planet that belongs to all of us, extended to wandering through our cities and streets, through the spaces that give us identity, memory and a sense of belonging. With pleasure, I saw how the jury of the Panama Film Festival on Human Rights awarded him a diploma of honor.
A year later, I saw with satisfaction his first documentary feature, the beautiful film «Construcciones» (Constructions), which, in its skillful elaboration of real events in a frame that evokes fiction, overcomes the limitations of ethnographic cinema and enriches the genre with his proposal. The film can generate a wealth of praise among fellow critics, peppered with adjectives and interpretations. However, I am grateful and thankful for giving me access to both Restelli's personal world, and the protagonists' intimacy, the universe of people displaced by the news, who make that "small history" which becomes immense the moment when it becomes the object of art.
Precisely as he wandered around his city, in his search of identity, Fernando discovered his characters. He did not "give them the word", but shared it with them. Fernando Martín Restelli is not the sole creator, the author and the filmmaker, but the motor, the instigator, the friendly and loving hand that guides them, Pedro, Juan Pablo, Jesica and Lucas. They all show moments of light and life that tacitly talk a lot about the social and the economic, the playful and the mystical, about love, paternity, the challenge to scarcity, and build an audiovisual discourse of the first order.
Pedro is a guard in buildings under construction; Juan Pablo is his little son: they both have primarily each other, and the affection they generate in their relationships. Jesica is a young friend who takes care of the child, and Lucas, her companion who longs for his own home... And there are Kathy's hands, between the caress and the cigarette in the night, while the city sleeps and the hand of man alters the landscape. There are no statements, only true life and perhaps some reconstruction, to reinforce the sense of reality.
In addition to the photographic quality in the handling of light, framing and composition, the skillful way of dramatically structuring the accumulation of images, and the ability to suggest musicality that is perceived without listening, something else pleases me the most: the precise cutting, the correct duration of each shot, the good judgment to let us watch, infer and thus convert the experience into something that transcends the square of light.
Fernando Martín Restelli is not a promise. He is a certainty. Let us give him a great and deserved applause for his first feature.
Slender Man (2018)
Is there a need to overreact, to be so merciless and cruel with this movie, when horror fans constantly glorify and exalt films as half-baked as this? I see no reason why to give «Slender Man» such a low rating and bad comments, as if their lives depended on trashing it. After I saw and read the unfair (and coarse) reactions to Oz Perkins' beautiful and poetic «I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House» in 2017, I do not trust the judgment of horror audiences anymore. It became obvious to me that we have very different definitions of horror and that we like quite different kinds of ways to evoke fear and human magical thinking. «Slender Man» is not even half as good as Perkins' motion picture, but it is efficiently packed, tense and scary. The problems I find about the movie are that its fable is underdeveloped, the profile of its horror source (the Slender Man) is underdone, the plot needed more elaboration and the creators should have gotten rid of some visually effective but dramatically pointless pieces. Just consider the scene when Hallie wanders through the corridors of the hospital where her sister is. It is a succession of gratuitous images to make the movie a bit longer. We have already seen many movies about girlfriends messing with the occult, we have seen the disappearance or killing of those kids dozens of times, and we have heard similar conclusions, told in the grave tone of the final narration, which are as silly as in this one. It is a pity then, because it speaks a lot about American fears, about the roots of terror in American folklore. It would have benefitted from more research and creative scriptwriting. As it is, «Slender Man» only achieved a small part of its purposes, but I am sure that you have seen a lot much worse "pelis" than this.
The Enemy Lives with You
Hugo Santiago Muchnick may be the best-kept secret of Argentinean cinema. It is true that his Argentine filmography is minimal, for he, as Frenchified as he was, ended up self-exiled in Paris and almost his whole work was made in Europe. But there is no doubt that he was a great talent, a true avant-garde artist, even if the label today sounds too outworn. Hugo Santiago is an island in Argentinean cinema, if only for his first feature, the masterful «Invasión».
It is true that writers Adolfo Bioy Casares («La invención de Morel») and Jorge Luis Borges («El aleph») contributed to this and a few others of Santiago's films. It is obvious that their concepts and ideas about art influenced the final works. However, when you see a few frames of «Invasión» you know that you are watching the work of a man of cinema rather than a man of letters. Santiago was a man of moving images and autonomous sounds, who induces us into a fascinating fantasy of revolutionary romanticism, its decadence and reemergence as the Phoenix.
Released in 1969 in the old Teatro Central in the city of Panamá, «Invasión» took us all by surprise. So much so that, until yesterday, when I saw it again, I realized that it had been buried in my memory as something exceptional, but that it also made me unable to evoke it or tell its plot, as maybe Santiago, Borges, Bioy Casares and all the others involved in the movie wanted us to end, under the spell of an old fashioned left-wing cell that executed its plans in secrecy and eliminated all vestiges. Maybe it was because of its detachment as an aesthetic proposal, its innovative narrative or its challenge to realism. Back then, the movie was warmly received at the International Film Festival of Panama. I remember with humor that we arranged an interview with the leading actress Olga Zubarry and, when we were in front of her, we could not say a word! That is how dazzled we were.
First part of an unfinished trilogy about the fictitious city of Aquilea, «Invasión» tells us about the activity of several units of the Aquilean Resistance, although it is not clear who or what they are resisting. All we are told is that such actions are necessary before a possible invasion by unidentified forces. Herrera (Lautaro Murúa) receives orders from the leader of the resistance, Don Porfirio (Juan Carlos Paz), while Irene (Zubarry), Herrera's wife, takes part in actions of the Aquileia youth force, who may or may not be allies of the invaders. As a synthesis of the plot, this synopsis does not give you a complete panorama of the visual and aural effect of the film. You have to see it to perceive its privileged place in the history of Argentinean cinema, beyond the well-known merits of «Dios de lo pague», «El exilio de Gardel (Tangos)», «El aura» or «Relatos salvajes». It does not surprise me at all to read that several critics claim that this is the best Argentinean film of all time.
Before making his first work, Hugo Santiago was Robert Bresson's assistant for seven years, during which he witnessed the emergence of new cinemas in France, Italy, the UK, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In those years, the filmmaker watched the works of the great masters of the time, so it is not strange to see the influence of Antonioni's «Eclisse», Godard's «Alphaville» or Wajda's «Popiól i diament». In Santiago's film there are also echoes of classic Russian literature and even elements from the James Bond series, with fast persecutions and characters' heroic postures. Santiago did not follow the Bressonian practice of using actors as models, but allowed the cast to make true creations of tragic beings, trapped in an oppressive political plot.
Today, 50 years after its creation, what I find more fascinating is the three writers' visionary perception. «Invasión» presciently anticipated what would happen in Argentina during the years of military dictatorship, when terror emerged at home. Here the invaders are equal to the Aquileans, so the worst enemies of the community are people who come from the same community. They may belong to a different social class, have other phenotypes and faces, use different brands of cars or clothes, but in the end they are just the same breed. The traitors to the collective longings are "from home". We also see how (in 1969) the authors described the way the "invaders" tortured the resistance with cattle prod and beat people in stadiums, as it would happen years later.
In statements made to the press, co-author Bioy Casares drew a parallel between Aquileia and Troy, as a city corroded from inside. a city that devoured its children. However, in the resolution of the work, there is hope and a change of forces is promptly executed, in an eternal return to the starting point of the search for truth, as Argentina has been forced to do so many times.
Photographed in black and white with the usual skill and art of another exile, maestro Ricardo Aronovich («Providence», »Le souffle au coeur», »Le bal», «Missing»), the soundtrack is also a unique factor: at the beginning, when listening to steps to the fore and dubbed dialogues in a soundtrack entirely created a posteriori, I said to myself, "What is this? What happened to the sound effects editor?" As the film progressed, I realized that it is the strategy of the composer and sound designer, Edgardo Cantón, in a time when the term "sound design" was not heard of. In addition to precise musical commentaries (and a very good musical number, «Milonga de Manuel Flores», composed by Aníbal Troilo with lyrics by Borges), Cantón made a dense sound string of voices, dialogues and premonitory squawks, overwhelming screams, machinery and crawling feet following one another, sometimes in a completely autonomous fashion, divorced from the image. All the elements were combined in an effective and forceful way until the end.
The experience of «Invasión» was not an isolated postmodern incursion without continuity: on the contrary, Hugo Santiago made several feature films in France, like «Les autres» (1974), co-written with Borges and Bioy Casares; «Écoute voir...» (1979) with Catherine Deneuve; a number of «audiovisual objects», as he himself called a series of works on art and its creators' biographies. Of the planned trilogy, Santiago could only complete «Les trottoirs de Saturne» (1986), with a script by Argentinian writer Juan José Saer, in which a musician from Aquilea is exiled in Paris. By 2009 he had the script for the final entry, «Adiós», written in solitary, but the project was postponed in favor of other projects and in the end Santiago could not make it, as he died on February 27, 2018.