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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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“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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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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A review: “Pupendo” [2003, Czech Rep.]

Jan Hrebejk’s comedy “Pupendo” takes a wry look at the last days of communist Czechoslovakia by comparing the fortunes of two families who, though ideologically similar, adapt to life under the regime in starkly contrasting ways.

Scene - pupendoBedrich (Bolek Polívka), a successful and respected sculptor prior to the crushing of the Prague Spring, has since been ostracised for his liberal views, and because of his steadfast refusal to enrol in the party and suck-up to the system, effectively jobless, and ekes out a living by reproducing kitsch pottery for a local businessman. His stoic wife Alena (Eva Holubová) and their two boys – one of them deaf, make up a closely-knit family with few disagreements among them.

Scene - PupendoThe other family that we get to follow is of Mila (Jaroslav Dusek), married to Bedrich’s former lover Magda (Vilma Cibulková). Even though he too hates the political system, he complies, and is also a member of the communist party. He’s rewarded by being made headteacher of the school where boys of both the families attend. Mila’s older daughter Pavla is presently Bedrich’s apprentice. Magda, once Bedrich’s student herself, also complies with authorities, and is the head of the Artists Union.

Scene - PupendoWhen a drunk Bedrich brings home a bum that he saw rummaging through bins, Alena isn’t too pleased, and to make her point, offers the stranger Bedrich’s supper. The stranger would turn out to be Alois Fabera (Jirí Pecha), an art historian, fallen on hard times following a divorce. Fabera, already aware of Bedrich’s past works, uses his residual influence in the art establishment to assign him a contract for a mural at the school – one that’s aspirational but also apolitical enough for Bedrich to accept.

Scene - PupendoMagda persuades Bedrich to take up another ‘national’ project as a return favour, and all goes well for a while, until a candid disclosure in a radio interview by Fabera lands them in hot water with the establishment, after which both families’ privileges get curtailed. However, Fabera also succeeds in getting Bedrich noticed by art establishments outside Czechoslovakia, and before long, Bedrich will have foreign admirers arriving at his doorstep…

Scene - PupendoA slice of life as seen by the director during the pre-Velvet Revolution days, the film, much like most Czech films made in the period following communism, presents the picture of an intelligentsia desperately yearning for change. It remains a popular subject for Czechs to this day, and the film duly obliges. But it is also a breezy, well made comedy that directly addresses its audience – one of the reasons for its box office success. While I couldn’t yet make a connection between the film’s title – alluding to a prank game played using a coin, and the film’s context, it is nevertheless entertaining, and Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Vilma Cibulková and Hana Seidlová
In a memorable scene, Magda, who is visiting Bedrich’s to oversee an upcoming sculpture, is in the shower when she hears Bedrich say that he wants to abandon the work. She angrily bursts into the studio and starts arguing with him in the nude. Forty year old Vilma Cibulková was brave enough to do the scene, and it reminded me of another more recent performance by Anne Louise Hassing, also in her forties – it’s so uplifting to watch middle-aged women walk about just as nature intended, in the nude. The second scene is of Mila’s son Matej eyeing a woman sunbathing, only to pleasantly discover that she’s also his teacher from school. The teacher is played by Hana Seidlová.

Vilma Cibulková and Hana Seidlová nude in Pupendo

Vilma Cibulková and Hana Seidlová in “Pupendo” (2003, Czech Republic).

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