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Love in the time of apocalypse: “El desierto” [2013, Argentina]

It’s good to be back, even if briefly. Having been force-fed a diet of Hollywood over the past few months during my infrequent flights – yes, there must be a worldwide conspiracy to trap people into watching a whole bunch of American ‘family’ films, my interest in film had somewhat begun to wane. Besides, I had other things to attend to during my visits. I’m happy to declare though, that German-born writer-director Christoph Behl has successfully reinforced my interest in film with his brilliant début feature, the romantic drama “El desierto” [Eng. Title: The Desert].

Victoria Almeida, William Prociuk, and Lautaro Delgado from "El desierto" (2013, Argentina)There’s a zombie apocalypse going on, and for all intents and purposes, the only survivors left in town are our three protagonists – Jonathan (William Prociuk), Axel (Lautaro Delgado), and Ana (Victoria Almeida). Holed up in a house with improvised fortifications, the armed trio stave off occasional zombie advances that the audience don’t get to see. Ana records their zombie ‘kills’ by giving each of them a classical Greek name. Soon, she will run out of names to use.

Victoria Almeida from "The Desert" (2013, Argentina)Easygoing Jonathan and organised Ana have been a couple ever since she was rescued by the men during one of their scavenging missions. The trio have agreed to abide by a set of rules and code of conduct that they created, one of which was to record their thoughts and feelings in the privacy of a video room. The recorded tapes were meant to be put away in a sealed trunk, but were nevertheless regularly pried open and seen by the others. “If we had met in another place, in another time, in another story – perhaps we could’ve been together”, Ana confesses to Axel in one of her video diaries. But the intense Axel couldn’t stop coveting her; he watches her from afar and leers at her body when she sleeps in Jonathan’s arms in the bed next to his.

Lautaro Delgado from "El desierto" (2013, Argentina)The protagonists, while protecting themselves from outside harm, will eventually find living together increasingly difficult amid the tensions in their relationship. Axel wants to move out – he tattoos images of flies all over his body, intending to leave when there is no more space left to tattoo. Jonathan doesn’t want Axel to leave even though he is aware of his desire for Ana, and will go to extraordinary lengths to make him stay – whether it is by conceding defeat in board games, or by facilitating Axel to secretly gaze at Ana’s naked body. Things will only get complicated after the boys capture and bring home a ‘live’ zombie as part of a ‘truth or dare’ game…

Victoria Almeida from "The Desert" (2013, Argentina)What is fascinating about this film is its focus on the protagonists’ characterisation – after all, isn’t this supposed to be a ‘genre’ film! Director Behl invests considerable screen time in building his characters using observation and video confessions, and the simmering tension below the surface is revealed through clever camera, and sound – especially the incessant buzzing of flies. This, combined with the searing heat and sterling performances, elevates it to a higher level of film-making.

Victoria Almeida, William Prociuk, and Lautaro Delgado from "The Desert" (2013, Argentina)Importantly, the film raises questions on ideas we take for granted – that humans would do anything and everything to preserve their species. It’s at its subversive best when it persistently shatters the notion that we’d all, given trying circumstances, altruistically do our utmost to maintain the human race. At once raw, claustrophobic, moving, darkly funny, and steamingly sexy, the thought-provoking film challenges us to look at ourselves as we really are, rather than how we’d like to be. There’s a lot going on with several issues left for the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions. It’s possible that the film might even be considered a cinematic masterpiece of sorts in the future – reason enough for it to be Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD [PAL] | Amazon.com DVD [NTSC] | Amazon.com [Instant]

 

The Nudity: Victoria Almeida and Lautaro Delgado
Four scenes feature brief nudity; the first three feature Victoria Almeida where her character is not aware that she is being watched. The final instance is of Lautaro Delgado’s fully tattooed character examining himself in mirror.

Victoria Almeida and Lautaro Delgado nude in "El desierto" aka "The Desert" [2013, Argentina]

Victoria Almeida and Lautaro Delgado from “El desierto” aka “The Desert” [2013, Argentina]

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Posted in Argentina | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A film review: “Las horas muertas” [2013 Mexico]

Every once in a while, even if less frequently then before, a gem emerges from Mexico to remind us of the country’s rich cinematic and cultural legacy that also inspired Latin America. A simple storyline layered in textures, and the rustic charm exhibited through native light and colour mark Aarón Fernández Lesur’s meditative romantic drama “Las horas muertas” [Eng. Title: The Empty Hours] as one such gem worth adoring.

Kristyan Ferrer in Las horas muertasThe film begins with seventeen year old Sebastian (Kristyan Ferrer) being hired by his uncle to manage his seaside motel while he travelled to town for essential medical check-up. It is Sebastian’s summer vacation, and his mum too wants him to be doing something ‘useful’. Sebastian will have to ensure the smooth functioning of his uncle’s establishment by hiring necessary staff, and in their absence even perform their tasks.

Kristyan Ferrer in Las horas muertos aka The Empty Hours“The most important thing in this business”, he heard his uncle say, “is discretion”. Especially so, since most of the clientèle using the motel prefer to conduct their affairs in anonymous privacy. Sebastian understands this well, and seamlessly embraces the requirement. It’s not that Sebastian is even vaguely interested in the goings on at the motel – he’s wise enough not to get himself distracted.

Adriana Paz and Kristyan Ferrer in The Empty Hours aka Las horas muertasUnlike though Miranda (Adriana Paz) – one of the motel’s patrons who regularly hires a room to rendezvous with a married and routinely unpunctual lover. The hours waiting for him give her plenty of time to observe clientèle come and go, and her inquisitiveness draws her to strike a banter with Sebastian. She’s curious about his personal life, and the sordid details of other motel guests’ shenanigans. Sebastian finds her more fascinating instead, even if he’s quite aware of her all too active sex life.

Adriana Paz from The Empty Hours aka Las horas muertasWe get to observe Miranda’s life separately in equal if not greater detail; running her flailing real estate business, having “missed the marriage boat”, content with her apparently non-committal relationships, and going through her own fleeting moments of disillusionment, despair, and longing. It’s an exquisite character-study in the allocated screen-time, and Ms. Paz delivers a nuanced performance in the process.

Adriana Paz and Kristyan Ferrer in Los horas muertosThe film is as much about Miranda as it’s about Sebastian, observed dispassionately from a distance. Yet they succeed in relating to viewers in an intimate manner and we soon start caring for them. Their brief interactions against the backdrop of the melancholic seaside motel, where little else seems to happen, draw us into their world of hope, desire, and individual boredoms, tinged with unsentimental pragmatism. While sex pervades the film’s atmosphere – be it the couples secretively conducting affairs at the motel, or Sebastian developing a crush on Miranda, it doesn’t get bogged down by trying to adhere to any formula. Rather, it organically pursues its characterisation devoid of any moral concerns or overtones. The cinematography is appealing and the editing is crisp when necessary – a well-directed film that must surely be Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.com DVD Link [NTSC] | Amazon.com Instant Video

 

The Nudity: Adriana Paz, Sergio Lasgón, and Kristyan Ferrer
There are two fairly long scenes containing nudity in which the director explores the main characters. They don’t talk about anything particularly deep during the scenes – just post-coital chat; first between Miranda and her married lover, and later between Miranda and Sebastian. We will nevertheless get to know them a lot better.

Adriana Paz, Sergio Lasgón, and Kristyan Ferrer nude in Las horas muertas aka The Empty Hours

Adriana Paz, Sergio Lasgón, and Kristyan Ferrer from the Mexican film
“Las horas muertas” aka “The Empty Hours”.

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Posted in Mexico | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

“Language, isn’t working!” – Adieu au langage [2014, France]

Jean-Luc Godard thinks so, among many other things as he usually does, in his latest cinematic dissection titled “Adieu au langage” [Eng. Title: Goodbye to Language]. If anyone thought the Nouvelle Vague was long dead, they certainly ought to have a word with this man before mouthing their verdict.

A scene from Godard's Adieu au langageEver the path-breaking maverick, Godard’s latest film is proof enough that the octogenarian still has something to say about cinema. While it invests itself in a sociological theme, the film also ‘visually’ questions several unwritten golden rules concerning cinema as a medium. So much so that the very need for words and dialogues (read ‘language’) is often portrayed as being more or less redundant. You can therefore comfortably ignore a good chunk of the dialogues in the film.

Héloise Godet in Adieu au langageGodard had done these before – deliberately cutting off sound during conversations, confusing viewers through sound effects, distorting time and flow with stop-slow motion – effectively challenging audience to de-construct what they hear and see. He now upgrades these ideas to cover present technology and digital media. The film is meant to be watched in 3D, and whilst I didn’t quite oblige, one could pretty much see what he was trying to achieve, because it works to some extent in 2D as well – it draws you out of your comfort zone by distorting shape and form. This is Godard playing with cinema, like a kid breaking a toy apart and putting pieces back together.

Héloise Godet and Kamel Abdeli in Godard's Adieu au langageOf course, he has some serious things to say as well in the process, like highlighting the lack of communication among people in modern relationships – “Soon everyone will need an interpreter, to understand the words coming out of their very own mouth”, opines one of the central characters during a passage of play.

A scene from Godard's Adieu au langageApparently language isn’t needed for love to flourish – Godard even considers it a hindrance, and anecdotally explains how a dog, without any structured language, succeeds in loving its master more than it does itself. Love is what we need, and love doesn’t require language – that’s the message, and as if to drive home the point, Godard ends his film with a dog responding to the babbling voice of an infant…

Godard's Adieu au langage aka Goodbye to Language The audacious film-making is reflected in its choice of shooting equipment and post-processing as well – shot entirely in digital using no less than six different formats and frame rates, scenes are saturated to extreme levels to the extent that they appear at times to be deliberately degraded, which together with the swivelling camera movements, impart a degree of vicarious immediacy by mimicking personal videos made using a camera phone, echoing the narcissistic society that we live in. That much I gathered in my first two viewings, and I suspect there could be more to follow. Even at a short seventy minute runtime, the film is testing – who said Godard was easy! But if you’re looking for something intellectually challenging over the festive period, this film might just do the trick. For them at least, it is certainly Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.fr DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon.fr Blu-ray Link [3D]

 

The Nudity: Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Zoé Bruneau, and Richard Chevallier
We follow two couples going about their breakup over a series of montages, and during the instances when they’re talking but not actually communicating, we see them depicted in the nude. The scenes are also interspersed with found/stock footage of sexual acts, none of which are titillating – unless you can get past those toilet noises. :-)

Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Zoé Bruneau, and Richard Chevallier nude in Adieu au langage aka Goodbye to Language

Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Zoé Bruneau, and Richard Chevallier in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Adieu au langage” aka “Goodbye to Language”,

Seasons Greetings!

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Posted in France, Jean-Luc Godard | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A film review: “Hermosa juventud” [2014 Spain, France]

Jaime Rosales expresses solidarity for young people living in recession-hit Spain through his latest drama, “Hermosa juventud” [Eng. Title: Beautiful Youth]. The film follows the fortunes of a young unemployed couple from Madrid.

Ingrid García Jonsson in Hermosa juventudTwenty two year old Natalia (Ingrid García Jonsson) is the eldest of three children living with their divorced mother Dolores (Inma Nieto). Unemployed, Natalia babysits her little sister while her mother goes to work. Carlos (Carlos Rodríguez), about the same age as Natalia, is also unemployed, but occasionally manages to find work as day-labourer for his best friend’s father, for a pittance. He lives with his invalid mother who requires constant taking care of.

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful YouthCarlos and Natalia have been seeing each other for a couple of years, but have been unable to start a family due to their circumstances. They enjoy each other’s companionship when they get the opportunity, and dream about a wealthy future together, by the sea. They also perform in amateur porn films when they’re in desperate need for cash, and promise each other that that would be their last time.

Ingrid García Jonsson in Hermosa juventudTheir travails increase when Natalia discovers that she’s pregnant. Against her mother’s ‘practical’ advice, Natalia will decide not to terminate her pregnancy. Carlos, hoping to start a van delivery business from a yet-to-earn investment, is apprehensive about becoming a father when he’s least ready, but reluctantly agrees.

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful YouthAfter the child is born, Carlos tries to make things work between him and Natalia. He attempts to obtain compensation for a random physical assault he suffered earlier, but when nothing comes off it, begins to feel the strain, and responsibilities that come with a fledgling family. Natalia, realising that she can neither depend on her mother any longer, nor wait for a change in fortunes for Carlos, leaves her child under her mother’s care and departs for Hamburg, where her friend Trini, having managed to find work lives…

Ingrid García Jonsson in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful YouthShot in the style of a documentary, the film succinctly portrays the personal, social, and economic challenges presented to unemployed youth in a Spain battling its worst economic crisis in several generations, where people often need to relocate, and sometimes compromise values in order to get by. It’s not often that one comes across austere film-making from Spain, but you can rest assured that when you do, they will be refreshing and supremely eloquent. The film was Cannes-awarded for a very good reason; it is yet another exquisitely scripted film from the talented Jaime Morales, and he’s aided by fine performances from all the main actors, particularly the elegant and gifted Ingrid García Jonsson. The cinematography, whilst economical, is fluid and effectively captures the essence of what the director is trying to convey. Needless to say, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

 

The Nudity: Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez
Two scenes in the film feature brief frontal nudity – first when Natalia and Carlos ’do it’ for camera, for a quick buck, and later when Natalia appears in a casting session on her own; each of these scenes were accomplished using a single take. If you follow Spanish and German, you might also appreciate the sleazy humour behind the frank interviews preceding each scene.

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez nude in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful Youth

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez in Jaime Morales’s Spanish film
“Hermosa juventud” aka “Beautiful Youth”.

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Posted in Spain | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments