Saturday, July 10, 2021

Messi finally wins Copa América

Messi's Copa América win.  Buda Mendes/Getty Images

It was a tournament that felt unnecessary. It was the 4th Copa América in just 6 years, after 2015, 2016 (Special 100th anniversary edition), 2019 and now 2021. Although, the tournament was supposed to be held in 2020 but was moved to 2021 due to the pandemic. If there was any tournament that could have been skipped, it was this one. Then to complicate matters, the number of teams was reduced to just the 10 South American teams as opposed to 12 after Qatar and Australia dropped out in 2020. With 2 less teams, there was a possibility of reducing the games but inexplicably the format of the tournament stayed the same as if there were 12 teams with two groups of 5 teams each playing 4 games to only eliminate just the bottom team from each group. That meant 20 group games in total just to eliminate two teams.

Then there was the problem with the co-hosts. With less than 2 weeks before the tournament was meant to start, co-hosts Colombia were withdrawn due to domestic unrest. Then Argentina were ruled out due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Brazil stepped in to host the tournament even though they were dealing with a massive COVID crisis of their own. The games continued in empty stadiums as fans weren’t allowed. 6000 or so were allowed for the final but all the other games were without fans.

The quality of the games suffered as well due to those extra pointless group games. Still, there were some positive highlights leading to the final that everyone wanted, Brazil vs Argentina. Neymar vs Messi.

1. Peru’s Quarter-final win over Paraguay 4-3 on penalties was one such positive moment after the game ended 3-3 in regulation. That 90 minutes featured a lot of a drama but even more came in the penalty kicks. A Panenka. Multiple penalties blasted over the bar. Penalties saved. And then, the kicks went to sudden death.

2. While Colombia’s Quarter-final with Uruguay was dull after 90 minutes, the penalties were anything but. David Ospina proved the hero by saving two Uruguayan kicks to lead Colombia into the semis.

3. Messi's goals and dribbles get deserved headlines but his assists are equally beautiful. Two of those beautiful assists were on display in Argentina’s Quarter-Final win over Ecuador. Messi’s first assist to Rodrigo was perfectly weighted and second assist to Martínez was art of minimalism. And then Messi scored a beautiful delicate free-kick as well to round off Argentina’s 3-0 win.

4. Colombia’s penalty heroics came crashing down against Argentina in the Semi-Final when Argentine keeper Emiliano Martínez owned the Colombian players in the shoot-out. Martínez  constantly talked to the Colombian players before the kicks, getting in their head. Those Colombian players missed even before Martínez made the saves. The other big story from that Semi was Messi himself. He is used to getting kicked but he fell down awfully after a challenge from Fabra. A close-up showed blood on Messi’s ankle. At that moment, it wasn’t sure if he could carry on. Yet, that is where Messi’s fighting spirit came out. He continued and even took a free-kick from that same bloody foot. He even emphatically smashed a penalty from that same foot. Messi wasn’t going to miss his chance to make the final and then Martínez did the rest.

5. Colombia’s 3-2 win over Peru in the 3rd place game was dramatic too with Colombia getting the winner with mere seconds left on the clock.

On to the final between Brazil and Argentina on July 10, 2021. 

It was a largely uneventful game with more of the action coming from full bloodied tackles and some fights. The game’s only goal came less than midway through the first half.

Ángel Di María did what Gonzalo Higuaín couldn’t do 7 years earlier on this same Maracanã pitch in the 2014 World Cup final. That is lob the ball over the goalie to score a priceless goal.

The emotions at the final whistle said it all. The Argentine players raced over to Messi. You could tell that Messi was overcome with emotions with decades old weight lifted from his shoulder. After losing in 4 tournament finals (2014 World Cup and 3 Copa América finals), Messi finally won his first international tournament. Argentina won their first Copa América in 28 years and are now tied with Uruguay at 15 Copa América wins.

All the attention in the celebration was around Messi. Neymar’s hug with Messi was beautiful and sweet. To round off a perfect night, Messi got the Best Player and Top Scorer Awards as well. He finished the tournament with 4 goals and 5 assists.

The best player in the world finally has an international trophy.

Andre Penner/AP


Sunday, July 04, 2021

I Want Your Tree...your tree also..I want all your trees

Taming the Garden (2021, Georgia/Switzerland, Salomé Jashi)

“A picture is worth a thousand words”. 

In this case, the picture left me speechless but instead raised many questions. Why is a tree in the middle of a body of water? Looking closer, it isn’t fixed but is instead being transported? Why is it uprooted and being transported?

I tried to guess the answer but I wasn’t even close. Some answers arrive thanks to Salomé Jashi’s lovely Taming the Garden but the documentary raises even more questions.

Let’s get back to my original question. 

Why is a tree in the middle of a body of water?

The tree is being transported because Georgia’s former prime minister’s unique hobby is to collect century old trees. This means he gets his men to go around the countryside locating these trees, then uprooting them and figuring out how to transport them to his private garden.

The film shows us without many words the challenging Engineering tasks in carefully taking a tree from the original spot in which it has been there for decades and finding a way to move the tree across land and water.

As for the men doing the job? They don’t ask many questions and are often surprised as well at the job they are doing. What they say are rumours or hearsay. Some even wonder if they should ask any questions. As for the locals, all they can do is stand around with cellphones taking pictures. At least, they can do that and aren’t banned from taking pictures of the displaced trees.

There are no men officially going on the record in Salomé Jashi’s film and certainly the Man himself doesn’t make an appearance. He is in the shadows. Maybe the Man doesn’t exist. Maybe he is a tree himself. We won’t ever find out. 

We get a tiny peek at that secret magical garden itself but that raises even many more questions, starting with the biggest one, WHY?

Sure people collect books, vinyl records, movies, wines, paintings, sculptures, [insert other artifacts]. So why not trees?

What about the environment? What about changing the landscape? What about the logistical and engineering task of transporting the tree? What about the carbon footprint? Of course, greenhouse gases and carbon footprint gets a whole new meaning via moving trees.

Oh, stop with the questions.

You have a tree that I want. I will send my men to take it. And you will quietly observe or film. Ok, no more questions. Leave.

Taming the Garden is only 86 minutes long and it is a film that I didn’t want to end. I loved watching it but I have so many more questions still...

oh, beloved tree, will you ever come back?

Friday, July 02, 2021

Lakbayan to Genus Pan

Genus Pan (2020, Philippines, Lav Diaz)

Genus Pan, Courtesy of Sine Olivia Pilipinas

As with any Lav Diaz film, the running time is often mentioned. Anything between 3-4 hours can be considered a Lav Diaz short film. So imagine the surprise that Lav Diaz’s new film Genus Pan is only 157 minutes long. But I came across an even shorter version of this in 2019. To be more precise, you can call it a 35 minute trailer.

In 2019, I was happy to discover Lakbayan (Journey), an omnibus of shorts directed by three Filipino masters, Lav Diaz, Brilliante Mendoza and Kidlat Tahimik, to mark the centennial anniversary of Philippines’ cinema.

The first segment called “Hugaw" (“Dirt”, directed by Lav Diaz) depicted in luscious black and white is about three coal miners who make the long dangerous journey back home across an unforgiving landscape featuring a sea, mountain and a forest. Along the way, they encounter mystical visions which tests their nerves and sanity.  This 35 minute short is the seed which has grown into the feature film Genus Pan.

The second segment in Lakbayan, Brilliante Mendoza’s “Desfocado” (“Defocused”), tackles topics of corruption and justice by using a real-life story about farmers from Mindanao island who marched over 1000 miles to demand justice for their land. Kidlat Tahimik’s final segment (“Kabunyan’s Journey”) is a touching documentary about his son’s travels in their family camper van across the Philippine countryside.

Genus Pan is available to rent until July 7 via

I am not sure where Lakbayan is available to see via legal means. I had programmed this film back in 2019 and gotten the film directly from the distributor in Philippines.

Roy Andersson 2.5

About Endlessness (2019, Swedish co-production)

10 years ago, I laughed in delight while watching Roy Andersson’s double-bill of Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, The Living (2007). Both films are packed with plenty of deadpan, absurd scenarios, witty observations layered with Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The two films are part of his “Living Trilogy” which was completed by 2014’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Each film, spaced out by 7 years, contains similar style and themes, especially regarding death which hovers over the frame or is walking besides the characters in the first two films. Some characters can be considered as already dead (zombies, ghosts). While the first two films implied death, the third film in the trilogy shows characters dying in the frame. Even though the topic is grim, the playful music and absurd scenarios in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence tends to inject some humour.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

The comedic style of the “Living trilogy” films stands in contrast to Andersson’s earlier films such as A Love Story (1970) which is why I am labeling the “Living Trilogy” as Roy Andersson 2.0. This brings us to his 2019 film About Endlessness which appears to be an epilogue to the “Living Trilogy” but has a more bleaker look due to the grayish palette complete with overcast skies.

The opening sequence stands out as two characters fly over a city in ruins. That is just one of a series of vignettes in the film which doesn’t interleave characters like the “Living Trilogy” did. Instead, some segments are linked together by an unseen female narrator’s voice-over such as “I saw a man…”. There is the expected deadpan, few gags, inclusion of religious elements and attempts to tackle contemporary issues. Although, one of the contemporary segments about honour killing doesn’t have the intended impact and comes across as tone-deaf.

The “Living Trilogy” and About Endlessness were released over a long duration of 19 years. The world changed significantly over these two decades yet Andersson has largely maintained a similar style over this duration with a few tweaks. Unfortunately, I find the last two films weaker in comparison to Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. That could be more due to the high bar by those two earlier films or perhaps my changing perspective.

I am labeling About Endlessness as Roy Andersson 2.5 because it shares elements with the “Living Trilogy” and came out 5 years after the last film in the trilogy (not as per the trilogy’s 7 year gap). Will a future Roy Andersson film move to 3.0 or will it be another 2.x variation? I look forward to finding out.

About Endlessness

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Bruno Dumont 2.0

Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (2018, 4 episode TV Mini-series)

For a change, I started at the beginning. I was fortunate enough to witness Bruno Dumont’s films in order as they circulated on the film festival circuit starting with La vie de Jésus (1997), Humanity (1999), Twentynine Palms (2003). I was shocked, puzzled by what I saw because back then I was still searching for a film vocabulary to comprehend things. I started forming a clearer picture with his next films Flanders (2006) and Hadewijch (2009) and figured I had understood his style and what to expect next. That is why the arrival of Li'l Quinquin (2014) was such a surprize and forced me to recalibrate. 

The 4 part TV series Li'l Quinquin was also presented as a full length feature film which I was lucky enough to watch in a cinema. On purpose, I had read nothing about the film in advance and was able to go through a whole range of emotions while watching the comedic bumbling adventures of Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) as they attempted to solve an inexplainable series of gruesome discoveries. Van der Weyden’s character was certainly a delight and the closest assessment was his character was a cinematic offspring of Jacques Clouseau and Tati’s Mr. Hulot. With Li'l Quinquin, Dumont showed a new side to his filmmaking by taking aspects of French town life depicted in his previous films in a different direction. While the work felt like an auteur’s variation of True Detective, it also seemed to suggest Bruno Dumont 2.0. That belief was strengthened with the arrival of Slack Bay (2016). 

2.0 is firmly enforced by the arrival of Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (2018), another 4 episode TV series that features the same characters from Li'l Quinquin, albeit grown up. The title character from Li’l Quinquin (Alane Delhaye) is now grown up as Coincoin, as are Eve Terrier (Lucy Caron) and Kevin (Julien Bodard). Delightfully, both Bernard Pruvost’s Commandant Van der Weyden and Philippe Jore’s Lieutenant Carpentier characters are back although they don’t appear to have grown any wiser.

This time around, Dumont tries his hand at the sci-fi genre using the similar comedic framework developed by Li'l Quinquin. Van der Weyden is still fumbling his way across the countryside while Carpentier is still driving on two-wheels. 

The duo are woefully unprepared for the arrival of the….aliens. Of course, this being a Bruno Dumont film, the aliens are not what Hollywood has given us but are instead an oozing gooey sludge that can fall from the sky at any given moment.

The mysterious sludge also has some powers that I will not give away but safe to say, it results in plenty of comedic situations akin to slapstick and mistaken identities. There are some other delightful comedic touches such as the broken lights on top of the police car. At the start of the episodes, there is a single unbroken light but after multiple crashes and alien sludge falling from the sky, an additional light is added by Van der Weyden as the story moves along.

By the end of the film, there are 4 broken lights on the passenger side of the police car while the original light is also broken on Carpentier’s side. There are multiple cinematic references as well that serve as wink-wink jokes for those in the know although this time around Carpentier’s name works perfectly for the material as it is just a single letter away from Carpenter (ahem John).

Near the end of the film, Dumont slightly shifts into another genre before closing things out with some music. The song and light-hearted music doesn’t feel like a coincidence because Coincoin is book-ended by Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2017) and Joan of Arc (2019), two unique musicals. The drift to musicals may be Dumont 3.0 although with his upcoming film On a Half Clear Morning (2021), Dumont may go back to 2.0 or perhaps 2.5.