Saturday, March 31, 2018

Neruda: Reviews from the 2017 Curaçao Film Festival #ciffr

Sunday, April 9th, 2017, 11:45

Pablo Larraín was the only director to have two films at the festival: Jackie, and this one. Both extraordinary, as different from each other as oil and water, both clear evidence—maybe even more so taken like this, together—of Larraín's exceptional talent for narrative and conceptualization.

If Larraín's name sounds familiar, it might be because his latest production, Una Mujer Fantástica (2017), won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film at this latest edition of the Academy Awards. Or perhaps you saw No back in 2012, which also starred Mexican actor and activist Gael García Bernal.

In Neruda, García Bernal plays the bad guy. Well, sort of; he is the main character (arguably—and they do argue this in the film), in the sense that the film depicts his journey from 'bad' guy (the police inspector chasing Neruda, who's become a fugitive in his native Chile after joining the Communist party) to... well, if I tell you that, I'd be spoiling the entire film for you.

Suffice it to say this: Neruda is as far from Il Postino as one can get. (And, as far as 'poetry' films go, it's an entirely different universe from Paterson.) I don't mean just in the context of filmmaking or cinematography or narrative style—although, yes, there is that. But the Neruda we see in Larraín's production is the politician, the activist, the figurehead for social upheaval, as much as he is The Poet—and in the process of portraying this 'other' side of the man, Larraín's achievement is to give this Poet, a mythical, almost ethereal, creature, a dimension of humanity and reality that makes him—Neruda—all the more indelible as a historical figure. And—perhaps most importantly—translates his poetry into the language it was always meant to speak: the political.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Angélica: Reviews from the 2017 Curaçao Film Festival #ciffr

Saturday, April 8th, 2017, 21:45

Another glorious, glorious portrait on race and the roles women play—by pressure, by tradition, by choice. One of the underlying threads of Angélica, one which touched me deeply, is the mother-daughter relationship. As with Julieta, this is a troubled relationship, further complicated by racial issues (mom is white, daughter is mixed)—but this racial difference, apparently only a surface one, serves to symbolize a deeper divide, one most appropriately blamed on generational gaps, and—coming full circle—on the ways perception of darker skin has evolved (and has yet to evolve).

I believe this is director & screenwriter Marisol Gómez-Mouakad's formal debut, and, yes, there are some bits of production that could be improved on. The budget clearly didn't cover extensive filming in NYC, so the bits set there may seem somewhat raw and unpolished. Some of the post-production could also do with some work; editing and continuity issues, but mostly minor. It's clear, however, that Ms. Gómez-Mouakad is a talent to be watched in coming years. There are many—many—long-time filmmakers who can't come within ten feet of her sensibility and sheer storytelling power.

Above all, this is a story about finding ourselves—our self, the true one, the one that doesn't hinge on approval from the ones we love, or the ones who profess to love us—and about what it takes to be true to it. It is a film about love, too; the romantic variety, and the familial one. It is a film about dreams, the ones we forget, and the ones that somehow find their way back to us.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

American Honey: Reviews from the 2018 Curaçao Film Festival #CIFFR

Saturday, April 8th, 2017, 15:45

This one surprised me. As much as my interest was piqued by the trailer and the summary in the festival booklet, I didn't expect it to be quite so powerful. I think I imagined something of a period piece, a bit of The Breakfast Club meets a millennial's version of Kerouac's On the Road. And... well, yes, it is that. But it's so much more.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

I Am Not Your Negro: Reviews from the 2018 Curaçao Film Festival #CIFFR

Everything you've heard about this film is wrong. Okay, not wrong, just not... enough. There are no words to describe the power here, the tragedy, the desperate reaching for hope in the face of all the futility. This is, quite simply, the greatest documentary you will ever see. It will touch you—change you—in ways you didn't even think possible.

Woven from James Baldwin's unfinished novel, Remember This House, given voice in the sober tones of Samuel L. Jackson, and given flesh and blood by director Raoul Peck's extraordinary talent, this is not just an eloquent portrait of Baldwin or of his own story, but of the story of race in the United States—right up to the present day, and beyond.

The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.

Coming on the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, all the focus on racial injustice for decades and centuries—and happening today, still—this couldn't be a more timely film. 

Although Curaçao is far, far from the racial inequality so prevalent in the U.S., there is still quite a bit of it; in different shapes, in different tones, but still there. (Here.) One of the things that angers me the most is hearing white (or white-ish) people saying, "This whole slavery thing, man—just get over it!" For years I've struggled with a response for that—a response not just appropriate but effective—and I never managed to come up with anything satisfying. Now, finally, I can give them a rather condescending smile and say, "Have you seen I Am Not Your Negro?"

I am not a nigger. I am a man. But if you think I am, it means you need it. And you've got to find out why.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Elle (Paul Verhoeven): Reviews from the Curaçao Film Festival 2017 #CIFFR

Friday, April 7th, 2017, 21:15

Oh, how I hated this one. I should have known; Mr. Verhoeven and I rarely see eye to misogynous, chauvinistic eye. This film is, quite bluntly, about a woman who gets raped and enjoys it. Yes: enjoys it. The rape, in fact, turns her on so much that she deliberately goes after the rapist—not to exact vengeance, mind you (or castrate him, or cut his throat in the middle of the night), but to get raped again. And again.

And the idiot the director has the balls to call it a film about female empowerment. I suppose that, in Mr. Verhoeven's world, the only power women need to aspire to is that of loving their abusers.

The female lead, Isabelle Huppert, won Best Actress at the Golden Globes last year. And well deserved. She managed to translate into reality the twisted, masturbatory fantasies inside the cesspool that must be Verhoeven's head.

Unless you're looking to be profoundly disgusted—as if the world weren't offering enough of that already—do yourself a favor and skip this one.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

El Vigilante (The Night Guard): Reviews from the 2017 Curaçao Film Festival #CIFFR

Friday, April 7th, 2017, 13:30

This was one of the three Mexican films in the festival. I loved it, but several other people I spoke to (including Cor, my partner) found it a bit confusing. I hadn't realized it until they mentioned it: this film is uniquely Mexican in the sense that it portrays our idiosyncracy beautifully—our weird sense of loyalty, our mistrust of authority, our ties to family, our deference to employers—to the point where the plot hinges on it. So, if you're not Mexican, you'll probably walk away scratching your head a bit. But why didn't he just tell the truth from the beginning? Would've solved everything.

That said, as a thriller it has some very powerful moments. The cinematography is masterful, Buñuel-esque, using the construction site, the setting of the story, to full advantage. The acting, even from minor or incidental characters, is natural and fully believable. The film, director Diego Ros's debut, won Best Film in the Los Angeles Film Festival last year, as well as Best Film and Best Actor in the Morelia festival in 2016, so I'm evidently not alone in praising it.

If you like thrillers, especially of the psychological kind, you may want to give this one a try.

(Sorry about the trailer; couldn't find one with English subtitles. But you can perhaps gain a bit of insight of what I meant about the cinematography.)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pop Aye: Reviews from the Curaçao Film Festival 2017 #CIFFR

Thursday, April 6th, 2017, 21:30

Beautiful, beautiful movie. A naiveté that stole my heart and made me cry and cry in spite of the (sort of) positive ending. Or maybe it was the elephant.

No, no it wasn't.

Well, not just the elephant. Yes, I loved that pachyderm, and I loved his story, but the magic of this film resides in the narrative style. There's plenty of humor—fine, subtle, often guileless, humor—guaranteed to make you chuckle (and, if you're feeling particularly susceptible, even laugh out loud). But this is a social statement, a critique on the materialistic lifestyles we've somehow managed to convince ourselves we need. And because it is told in such a guileless way, it underlines even more harshly the redundancy of the goals we live and die by.

This is a feel-good movie. Remember to keep the tissues handy at the end, though.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Casamance: Reviews from the Curaçao Film Festival 2017 #CIFFR

Thursday, April 6th, 2017, 19:00

Some might think it a tad amateurish (I'm not one of them), but even those can't help being swept away by the magic of music and candor that is this film. Documentaries are difficult to make; unpredictable plots, characters that insist on doing their own thing instead of sticking to the script—oh, wait, no script. Documentaries are about truth: real people, real events, heart and soul given flesh. And the music! An exploration into African rhythms, their history and evolution, and their trasmutation into Latin culture and music... This one had us tapping our feet—and looking into trips to Senegal.

It's almost time for the 2018 film festival, and I am far, far behind on the reviews for the 2017 films! So over the next four weeks I'm going to be posting three or four times a week in order to get through them all. They'll be shorter than originally planned, and I do apologize. Yes, it's a time issue, but it's also what I specifically didn't want to happen: I have forgotten a lot about these beautiful, beautiful films. *Sigh*

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