Sunday, 27 December 2009

Kino uber Alles

Films remembered without renewed research, not in the order of importance and not only from 2009:

Inglorious Basterds (2009) dir. Quentin Tarantino

Just two observations over this film, on which you can read practically everywhere else. First, the use of language: Tarantino always has been playing with language, from strange poetry of the trivial, from the gangsta slang in Reservoir Dogs to the woman’s chat in Deathproof. His films are “talked” films par excellence. In Basterds, by various uses of speech, i.e. actually four languages (among which English is one of the least used!), numerous discourses, and the virtuosity of speaking, that sometimes become monstrous (in which obviously the terrifying SS colonel Landa excels), demonstrates that in certain circumstances language can be a lethal weapon, or a measure that is capable of saving life (e.g. the fantastic scene of playing cards in the tavern); nevertheless, chatting may occur a matter of life and death.

Secondly, Tarantino was always a master of depicting the cathartic powers of violence. Here, in this at first glance unacceptable mash-up of a Holocaust movie with a spaghetti western and adventure movie, Tarantino surpasses the efforts of Spielberg in Indiana Jones and more sophisticated fantasies of contemporary art dealing with the Holocaust.

Beeswax (2008) dir. Andrew Bujalski

Latest from this still underappreciated independent filmmaker, which, like his previous films, Funny Ha Ha (2002) and Mutual Appreciation (2005), deals with the ambivalence & inexperience of young adults who find themselves in situations that might well determine the rest of their lives.

Beeswax tells a story of twin sisters, Lauren and Jeannie, both in their late 20s, I suppose, focusing on the latter. It documents few months of their lives, when Lauren seeks work and love in the most unlikely places and Jeannie struggles with managing a quite unattractive, but agreeable second hand store and a former co-partner, who is about to sue her.

As usual we have amateur actors, who are so beautifully directed by Bujalski we don’t even notice it. Jeannie is paralyzed, and the film is utterly straightforward about it without making it an issue. We see her getting in & out of the car, soliciting help from strangers, going to bed with a guy etc.

Dialogue is the best part but already much has been said of Bujalski’s use of language. He’s got a quite rare ability to capture the demurral, hesitation and non-commitment in dialogues that usually concerns the most banal issues.

When Jeannie drives with her on-off boyfriend Merril to a meeting with a friend from whom they want to borrow money for the troublesome business, in a 20 sec exchange Bujalski gives a vision of the couple’s past life together, why they broke up and an idea how they might make their relationship work the next time. Will it be worth it?
The film ends with a sex scene, which ends at the beginning of a foreplay – we can’t really say, whether Merrill and Jeannie will succeed, but they have a slight chance.

Hunger ( 2008) dir. Steve McQueen

I dreamed about seeing this movie long before I was able to actually see it last summer on the festival I worked at. I’m just going to mention few things, since the film remains a truly mind-blowing experience, at some moments approximating to a masterpiece.

First, many months before, I watched all the scenes I could find on the Youtube numerous times. For the one scene only, that is, the 10-minute completely static dialogue scene of Bobby Sands and the priest in the Maze prison, this film would be a masterpiece. But it remains so much more: it combines what is the best in contemporary visual arts with the naturalist tradition of the movies of Irish terrorism, such as In the Name of the Father.

Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands reaches the edges of what is possible in acting, in a good and in a bad sense, but the effect is stirring. The cinematography, monochromatic and static, is brilliant. The way of depicting violence is breathtaking.

As far as the political inclinations go, Hunger remains a positive example of the long discredited engaged cinema. I asked my English friends, did the film cause any new discussion over the Thatcher “legacy” in England; I was told, to my great surprise, that what's been discussed, are mostly only artistic values of the film. Pity.

The Beaches of Agnes (2009) dir. Agnes Varda

I was already writing about Varda on the occasion of presenting her husband's, Jacques Demy, gem of a musical, that is Les Mademoiselles de Rochefort. In this case, forget the “meditation from the legend of Nouvelle Vague over life and death” – it is more another masterful exercise over blurring the boundaries of cinema genres from this great cineaste, that is Agnes Varda. It is a beautiful film, shot by a woman over 80, who clearly is preparing herself for passing away. What she wants to capture is her beloved ones, first of all her husband, that passed away of AIDS years ago, and their mutual life and love within the movies. Most of all, she impresses with self-distance and irony, never aiming at a serious resume, always witty and humble. I love the sequence about her childhood and existence between the fishermen, that made her to do her first movie about her village. And her last film is able to touch really deep and dense matters without ever getting into self indulgence.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) dir. Paul Greengrass

The greatest secret of contemporary cinema is that the real value you can no longer spot in the art house movies. The best moments, of true CINEMATIC value, in many senses, you can get in the most commercial cinema made for the biggest money.

My adventure with the discovery of the astonishing cinematic richnesses of mainstream, high budget cinema, is quite fresh: one can shake off the suffocation of the so called high “kulchur” only when one have been soaking up for enough time with it. I always liked the genre cinema; then there goes the re-evaluation of the pure cinematic values, like editing, sound, cinematography.

In Bourne-Greengrass (director of both Bloody Sunday and Flight 93) edition cinema is again the feast for the senses. It is like in this old story of a bourgeois, who comes to the theatre/cinema/what have you unwilling to make any intellectual effort. Here everything is done for us before we can even think about it. but I’m not saying this in an estimating manner. The editing here is a masterpiece and it’s crucial – the subliminal effects are here in the order of the day. I don’t remember the exact number of cuts, it’s probably few millions or something; and it’s not for nothing. It creates an overwhelming spectacle, a massage for the brain, levitation of the senses.

I’m not even going to mention the plot and to sketch the strangely fascinating-repulsive figure of Bourne himself. Matt Damon proves to be made for this part, being barely watchable apart form this movie. Here he’s a perfect embodiment of a plain men, whom you wouldn’t notice on the street; a perfect embodiment of the forces ruling in the Cold World.

to be continued...

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