Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Around the World in 5 Films

Around the World in 5 Films

THE TREASURE will complete Calgary Cinematheque’s cinematic journey across 5 continents in just 5 films. All 5 films are part of the Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series which kicked off with the Brazilian film SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY before traveling to North America with Alex Ross Perry’s QUEEN OF EARTH. Africa was the next stop as British director Ben Rivers’ THE SKY TREMBLES AND THE EARTH IS AFRAID AND THE TWO EYES ARE NOT BROTHERS focused on the beautiful and rugged Moroccan landscape. Asia was next as Hong Sang-soo’s RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN touched down in South Korea. Finally, the 2015/16 season will conclude with a European stop as Corneliu Porumboiu’s THE TREASURE takes us on an incredible hunt to uncover some precious Romanian treasure.

The 5 films in the 2015/16 Contemporary World Cinema series contain a mix of films from rising masters and established auteurs. The first film in the series, SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY, marked the feature film debut of André Novais Oliveira who has already established a signature style with just three short films and one feature. This style features a remarkable blending of documentary and fiction. In SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY, André Novais Oliveira acts in the film along with his parents and brother and all four use their real names in the film. However, the four of them are not playing themselves but instead are acting within the framework of fiction. Still, SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY is constructed like a documentary, giving attention to tiny details about life and relationships. The close bond between the family members results in scenes which flow effortlessly allowing audience an intimate look at the characters. The everyday sounds that are allowed to flow in the frames recalls Kleber Mendonça Filho’s NEIGHBORING SOUNDS but André Novais Oliveira has crafted his own unique path by opting to show a different side of Brazil from other Brazilian films. The setting of the film in the suburbs of Belo Horizonte showcases a Brazil that is not seen in cinema along with characters that don’t make an appearance in Brazilian films. Finally, the selection of the lovely music makes SHE COMES BACK ON THURSDAY a beautiful poetic film about life, love, death and everything in between.

The second and third films in the series contained works from Alex Ross Perry and Ben Rivers, two exciting and talented filmmakers who have carved their own place in world cinema with just a handful of features.

Alex Ross Perry has not settled for an easy path in his filmmaking journey and has tried to push the boundaries with his films while staying true to independent filmmaking roots. His previous films don’t prepare one for QUEEN OF EARTH which is far darker than his other works. However, there is a very smart progression compared to his previous two films, in terms of the depiction of relationships and also usage of dialogue. In THE COLOR WHEEL, Perry examined relationships between two siblings, neither of whom appear to have any friends. In LISTEN UP PHILLIP, Perry showed the relationship between two people who are dating. With QUEEN OF EARTH, he looks at a relationship between two friends, something he has not examined before. Also, this film has much less dialogue than his previous movies. THE COLOR WHEEL is a dialogue-driven film while LISTEN UP PHILLIP has plenty of voice over narration which lets viewers listen in to the character’s internal thoughts. However, in QUEEN OF EARTH, the dialogue is limited and audience don’t get to listen to the voices in the characters’ heads. Instead, audience have to understand their state of mind by their expressions and body language. This combined with the film’s score and the cinematography gives the film an intense horror/psychological drama feel.

Ben Rivers’ THE SKY TREMBLES AND THE EARTH IS AFRAID AND THE TWO EYES ARE NOT BROTHERS is a fascinating multi-layered structure that draws inspiration from Paul Bowles’ writing. The structure of the film is a nod to what Bowles managed in A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard where Bowles found a common thread to link 4 completely different stories together. In the SKY TREMBLES, Ben Rivers has constructed a film which links together multiple works including a short story, a short film, some documentary footage and an art installation. All these works are seamlessly stitched together in a linear manner. Rivers has managed this by alternating one aspect of Paul Bowles’ short story A Distant Episode. In the short story, the main character is a professor. In the film, the main character is a film director. This change allows Ben Rivers to find a common thread to link the different elements. This is because at the start of THE SKY TREMBLES, we see the filmmaker Oliver Laxe, scouting for locations in Morocco and attempting to complete a gruelling film shoot. Laxe is a real filmmaker and the scenes we see are actual footage from his upcoming second feature. And then at some point in THE SKY TREMBLES, Oliver Laxe stops shooting his film and steps into Paul Bowles’ story, resulting in a series of remarkable events.

The final two films in the Contemporary World Cinema series are by Hong Sang-soo and Corneliu Porumboiu, two established auteurs who are among the best Contemporary world film directors working right now.

Love and relationships are two common elements found in Hong Sang-soo’s films with food and alcohol being vital to his film’s flow. Characters often gather at a social gathering where lots of food and alcohol is to be found. Alcohol is a key ingredient in his films, particularly the drink of soju which serves as lubricant in allowing the character’s true feelings to be revealed in a natural manner. In his last few films, Hong Sang-soo has used repetition as a powerful device. He has either shown the same event from different perspectives or repeated the same segment with slight variations. All these elements are found in RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN which is divided into 2 films, shown from different perspectives and with slight variations. Each film has its own title with the first film called ‘RIGHT THEN, WRONG NOW’ while the second film is ‘RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN’. The alternate titles and the unfolding of events allow audience to select which film they prefer, and in a way, the audience selection also shows the manner in which they prefer to live their own lives.

Corneliu Porumboiu has directed five feature films, one of them being a documentary, yet all are stellar films that have garnered critical acclaim and multiple awards. Porumboiu announced his arrival on the world stage a decade ago when his feature film debut 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST won 2 awards at Cannes 2006. That debut contained two elements that have become part of his signature usage, history and humour. Porumboiu has found a unique way to examine Romania’s history with a brilliant usage of humour. In Porumboiu’s hands, scenes which contain characters reading from a dictionary, filling forms at a police station or watching TV become riveting scenes which are infused with humour and provide valuable insight into human nature. Porumboiu has been adding layers to his films since his debut and is constantly looking for new ways to expand the frame of cinema. This is highlighted by THE TREASURE which contains his signature elements of humour and examination of Romanian history but is also a twist on a fable, while providing a key commentary on the modern financial crisis. In just a single effortless sequence, Porumboiu shows some individual decisions that were at the core of the financial crisis. However, Corneliu Porumboiu uses that scene to kick-start a sequence of events resulting in an entertaining cinematic experience.

The 5 films of the Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series made their international debut at various film festivals in 2015. All are among some of the best films of 2015 but these films are competing in an ever-decreasing cinematic space. The regular theatrical release schedule in most North American cities continues to be dominated by commercial studio films while independent Canadian and foreign cinema struggles to get screen time. If a city does not have a Film Festival, a Cinematheque or an Arthouse cinema, there will be few chances to see independent and foreign films in a cinema. This is where the Calgary Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series is vital as it showcases some of the best films from around the world, works that would normally be never seen in this city. After just two seasons, the Calgary Cinematheque’s Contemporary World Cinema series has depicted smart works by directors from Brazil, Canada, Iran, Mexico, Philippines, Romania, South Korea, Taiwan, UK and USA. There are many more talented auteurs from around the world to be discovered, some of whom will be featured in next season’s Contemporary World series.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Euro 2016 Films

As part of the Euro 2016 Book + Film Spotlight, the following 11 films were selected.

France: Dheepan (2015, Jacques Audiard)
Belgium: The Brand New Testament (2015, Jaco Van Dormael)
Croatia: The High Sun (2015, Dalibor Matanic)
England: 45 Years (2015, Andrew Haigh)
Germany: Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)
Italy: Lost and Beautiful (2015, Pietro Marcello)
Romania: Aferim! (2015, Radu Jude)
Russia: The Fool (2014, Yuriy Bykov)
Slovakia: Koza (2015, Ivan Ostrochovský)
Sweden: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014, Roy Andersson)
Ukraine: Maidan (2014, Sergey Loznitsa)
It turns out that the films from Belgium and England may not be released prior to the viewing deadline of June 1. Therefore, two substitute films have to be selected as back-ups. In addition, if Loznitsa’s The Event (2015) is available, it will be selected over his 2014 film Maidan.

May 1 is going to be the new deadline for the availability of The Brand New Testament,
45 Years and The Event. If these films are not available by then, then the following 11 film list will be used for the Euro 2016 Film competition.

Projected Starting 11

France: Dheepan (2015, Jacques Audiard)
Belgium: Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
Croatia: The High Sun (2015, Dalibor Matanic)
England: The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015, Ben Rivers)
Germany: Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)
Italy: Lost and Beautiful (2015, Pietro Marcello)
Romania: Aferim! (2015, Radu Jude)
Russia: The Fool (2014, Yuriy Bykov)
Slovakia: Koza (2015, Ivan Ostrochovský)
Sweden: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014, Roy Andersson)
Ukraine: Maidan (2014, Sergey Loznitsa)

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Clean Hands

It is not a surprise to learn that FIFA’s new president is named in the Panama papers. Infantino’s situation regarding awarding contracts in order to sell TV rights at higher profits is similar to what Francesco Rosi’s brilliant 1963 film HANDS OVER THE CITY covered. Rosi’s film showed how in Naples, city council men and private developers were corrupt and worked together to artificially increase the price of land in order to make profit, thereby creating urban sprawl in the process. In the film when the evidence is brought forward about the corruption of the city council, all the council men raise their hands and shout “our hands are clean”. Such scenes will be repeated in upcoming days as the new FIFA members show their clean hands.

On the flip side, N.W Refn’s DRIVE is that rare film where we meet a character who does not hide his dirty hands. When Gosling’s Driver meets Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), Driver does not extend his hand because he has grease on them.

Driver says: “my hands are a little dirty”

To which Bernie replies: "so are mine"

There will be no such honesty forthcoming regarding FIFA/UEFA. In a few days, the whole story will be forgotten. Everyone will be asked to move on while behind closed doors, those men will continue business as usual. Extend one hand, collect money.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Euro 2016 Spotlight

When the Euro 2016 Book + Film Spotlight kicked off in Dec 2015, the goal was to finish watching all the 11 films and finish reading all 15 books by June 1, 2016. As things stand, there are still 2 films left to view but all 15 books have been read, 2 months ahead of schedule.

This is a rare thing where all the books for a spotlight have been read this far ahead of the end date. But unlike the past, this time around I planned a schedule for the book reading and tried to follow it strictly. Since there were some heavyweight book titles, my goal was to leave these 4 books last as I felt these were the ones that required ample time to finish:

Hungary: Sátántangó (László Krasznahorkai, 272 pages)
France: Life A User’s Manual (Georges Perec, 500 pages)
Austria: The Man Without Qualities (Robert Musil, 1130 pages)
Ireland: Ulysses (James Joyce, 704 pages)

It proved to the right call as reading these 4 books took up the most collective time.

To recap, all the 15 books as per country:

Albania: The General of the Dead Army (Ismail Kadare)
Austria: The Man Without Qualities (Robert Musil)
Czech Republic: The Other City (Michal Ajvaz)
France: Life A User’s Manual (Georges Perec), The Prone Gunman (Jean-Patrick Manchette)
Hungary: Sátántangó (László Krasznahorkai)
Iceland: The Blue Fox (Sjón)
Ireland: Ulysses (James Joyce)
Northern Ireland: The International (Glenn Patterson)
Poland: The Elephant (Slawomir Mrozek)
Portugal: The Book of Disquiet (Fernando Pessoa)
Spain: Mazurka for Two Dead Men (Camilo José Cela)
Switzerland: The End of All Men (C.F. Ramuz)
Turkey: The Black Book (Orhan Pamuk)
Wales: A Book of Wales, an Anthology (selected by Meic Stephens)

Top 5 books

It proved to be a rewarding experience to read all 15 books and I truly cherished these titles. The only disappointment ended up being Pamuk's The Black Book and that is likely because I read this book after having read a few of his other titles.

For now, here are my top 5 books, without any comments. Notes and thoughts on the books will be included once the film viewing is complete.

1. Sátántangó (Hungary, László Krasznahorkai)
2. The General of the Dead Army (Albania, Ismail Kadare)
3. The Book of Disquiet (Portugal, Fernando Pessoa)
4. The Man Without Qualities (Austria, Robert Musil)
5. Life A User’s Manual (France, Georges Perec)

Honorable mention: The Other City (Czech Republic, Michal Ajvaz)