Posts Tagged ‘Birdman’

There aren’t many films with the ambition to shoot in one single take (or something close to it). Birdman from last year attempted it, as well as Gaspar Noe’s hallucinatory Enter The Void. If we go further back, we have films like Hitchcock’s Rope, ingeniously framed in just one room, and Angsta cult Austrian thriller seen only through the eyes of a deranged psychopath.

Victoria is the latest addition to this distinctive genre. Set over just one night fateful night in Berlin, young Spanish waitress Victoria (Laia Costa) dances the night away in a smoky, industrial bunker club. We get the first glimpse of her character: she heads to the bar alone and chirpily tries to make conversation with the apathetic barman. Already we see that she has a lust for life and a willingness to trust.

She encounters four drunk young men, ‘proper’ Berliners, foolishly attempting to get into the club. Outside she sees them again, and they offer her a lift in ‘their’ car. Sonne (Frederick Lau) is the cheeky ringleader of the gang, quickly charming Victoria. Alongside him are his raffish mates; Boxer, the skinhead, volatile one, Fub, the goofy, weedy one, and Blinker, the Vincent Gallo lookalike.

Victoria, sensing an opportunity for fun and unpredictability to spark up her somewhat mundane existence, joins them in some minor japes. The local snoozing shopkeeper is relieved of a few German beers, and the group break into a rooftop to while away the night. Back at the coffee shop where she works, Victoria demonstrates her ability on the piano to the dumbstruck Sonne. She is a failed pianist, wanting some freedom and fun after years of study and discipline.

The film takes a ominous turn midway through, but Schipper has established the characters and the atmosphere securely enough for it to feel authentic. There is a current of tense energy running throughout every scene; how much can she trust these guys? What it is that they want? Is there an ulterior motive? The performances are all very good, if a little stereotypical at times. To sustain a level of authenticity over one long take is quite incredible.

The film that it most resembles is the aforementioned Enter The Void. The cinematography, while less floaty and elegant, shines a similarly seedy and effervescent glow on urban nightlife, capturing all the edginess that city life provides. It is a very good Berlin film. Recently we saw a film about the French house scene, Eden, which ultimately felt quite safe and sanitised, but this film doesn’t suffer from the same problem. It is fantastically gripping and almost unbearably tense.

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The jubilant “¡que viva Chile!” producer Patricio Escala shouted as he and director Gabriele Osorio received the Oscar for best animated short film was probably one of this year’s ceremony’s most memorable moments. The two had more than one reason to celebrate: Historia de un Oso (Bear Story) was Chile’s first ever Oscar. Yet Escala and Osorio’s was not the only Latin American country to leave a trace on last Sunday’s ceremony. Colombia made her first appearance before the Academy with Ciro Guerra’s El Abrazo de la Serpiente as best foreign language film nominee, and Mexico won big with the duo Iñárritu-Lubezki, the first now celebrating his second consecutive best director award, the latter his third as best cinematographer.

In some important ways the Oscars seem to have consolidated the spot Latin America cinema has gained over the past few years. The region’s cinema is blossoming, and the world is enjoying and rewarding its growth. A look at the most recent Academy’s decisions is telling: if Emmanuel Lubezki has become one of the Academy’s most successful habitués (and now holds a record as the only cinematographer to have won three times in a row), Mexico has also fathered the best directors of the past three editions: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, 2014) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 2015 and The Revenant, 2016). But Latin America’s successes extend outside the United States too. In 2015 alone the region left an indelible mark across Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Venezuela’s Lorenzo Vigas’s Desde Allá won the Golden Lion at Venice’s 72nd International Film Festival, where Argentinian Pablo Trapero received the Silver Lion for best director for El Clan. At Cannes’s 68th Film Festival, Colombia’s César Acevedo’s was awarded the Caméra d’Or for his La Tierra y la Sombra, and Mexico’s Michel Franco’s Chronic won best screenplay.

While Latin America exports its gems abroad, Colombia is home to a festival which has historically helped developing the region’s cinematic potential. Held yearly in the Caribbean walled-city of Cartagena de Indias, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) is Latin America’s oldest. Founded in 1960, it seeks to promote Ibero-American cinema, hosting the works of directors from Latin America, Portugal and Spain for a five-day movie feast set in Colombia’s coast. An entirely public event (entrance to all movies is free of charge), this year it will be home to some 120,000 viewers and will be screening 154 films, all of them more or less directly touching upon the region’s relationship with its often violent past.

For cinema, in the words of FICCI’s Artistic Director Diana Bustamante, turns into a mechanism that can help deconstruct a people’s history and heal collective traumas. Arguably never in the history of Latin America, and of Colombia in particular (close as it now is to sign a peace treaty and put an end to over 50 years of internal conflict with the leftist FARC guerrilla) has this calling been so urgent. The ten Ibero-American movies that will be screened in this year’s official competition look closely into the region’s past and the suffering caused by the multiple conflicts which have plagued it. From the armed conflict which Colombian Felipe Guerrero talks about in Oscuro Animal to the conflicts of gender and performativity which Gabriel Mascaro and Julio Hernández Cordón deal with in Boi Neon and Te Prometo Anarquía respectively, FICCI 56 aims to show the extent to which cinema can turn a history of violence into an opportunity to reimagine and shape an altogether different future.

From the 2nd until the 7th of March Cartagena’s Film Festival will offer a snapshot of the most recent transformations of Ibero-American cinema. FICCI, for the European as well as Latin American public, will be a unique opportunity to make sense of the renaissance which has brought the region back at the center of world cinema.

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Director Alejandro González Iñárritu made a name for himself with a series of multi-stranded, seriously serious films, most notably Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Biutiful. The Mexican’s latest work is said to be somewhat of a departure, lighter in tone, set around one single location, and with some actual (whisper it) jokes. While on the surface it might seem a new leaf for Iñárritu, look a bit closer and you can see the same traits running through his previous films.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a washed up actor famous for playing a nineties superhero, who is trying to reclaim his reputation with a serious play on Broadway. A fully paid up misanthrope, Riggan spends his days trying to shepherd his failing play into something coherent, all the while having to contend with the hotpot of demanding women in his life. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering addict trying to stabilise herself as his assistant, Lesley (Naomi Watts) is the insecure lead of his production and his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) an unfortunate afterthought in the world of Riggan.

Yet it is Edward Norton as Mike who really rocks the boat. A last minute replacement/saviour, Mike is a sleazy yet talented hotshot who plays by his own rules and threatens to steal Riggan’s show from underneath him. Iñárritu films his cast almost solely in one location, a New York theatre, utilising the claustrophobia and endless corridors to dazzling effect. Shot in a frantic, marauding style by the virtuoso DP Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is edited to appear as one singular take, the camera essentially buzzing off the energy of the actors, much like a John Cassavetes film.

This is the best part of the film; the sheer energy of the film-making and the actors. It has been noted that the extended take can bring about a sense of hypnosis and disorientation in the viewer; recently we have seen the excellent True Detective utilise a breathless 6 minute tracking shot, and Enter The Void had a similarly feverish, dreamlike feel to it. The improvisational feel of the film is emboldened by a raw, jazzy percussion soundtrack, echoing the snappy action on screen. The actors look like they are having a ball as well; Keaton is the hangdog delusional keeping things glued together, but Norton is the real star, turning in one of his best performances in years.

Audiences will leave the cinema feeling dazed alright. The zing of the cinematography, the screwball playfulness of the performances – it is for a large part a real treat. Yet when the dust settles and the last flashes of lightning have dissipated, what are we really left with? This film has four writers on it, a troubling sign, and it shows. The basic concept, of a tired actor trying to reinvent himself, is a tired concept in itself. Meta-narratives have been overdone in recent years and we have a much more interesting, poignant film about theatrical delusions in Synechdoche New York, Charlie Kauffman’s messy tragicomedy.

When we look closer at the characters, not many of them really stand up behind the hubris of the performances. Riggan is essentially a bit of a sexist pig who gets given an unearned penitence at the end. Then we have a whole host of talented actresses pushed to the wayside in order to validate Riggan’s oh-so-tortured existence. Iñárritu, meanwhile, has not really changed so much; he still has a habit of filling his films with wall to wall profundity. Not a scene goes by when a character doesn’t give some kind of overwrought speech about their secret wound. We are, after all, all human beings with feelings. 

So, Birdman. As a piece of film making, as a playground of performance, a real dazzler. Just don’t think about it too much.

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