Posts Tagged ‘cinefile’

In 1963 Roberto Rossellini claimed that cinema was dead. That same year in Cali, Colombia, 14-year-old Luis Ospina got hold of his first camera and began to devote himself to film-making.

Todo Comenzó por el Fin is the story of Ospina’s 45-year-old relationship with cinema. But it is also, and most importantly, the portrait of a generation of movie-lovers and their struggle to fill their youth and city with films.

Jumping back and forth from exclusive footage of their early works, never-ending parties and scenes from a 2010s reunion, Ospina documents his relationship with the beautiful and damned Cali-based cinefiles who fathered Colombia’s 1980s cinematic renaissance: Caliwood.

Ospina is, to date, one of the few surviving icons of that golden era. Together with the late writers-directors-actors Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo, he revolutionised Colombia’s cinema and became a key figure for future generations of film-makers. He contributed to the birth of tropical gothic, a genre that combined the European gothic tradition with the gruesome heritage of Colombia’s colonial past. He edited (and starred in) two of Mayolo’s goth classics: Carne de tu Carne (1983) and La Mansión de Araucaima (1986), and as a documentarist, he coined (and successfully debunked) porno-miseria, the all-encompassing discourse of poverty and violence through which Colombia had been historically framed by fellow directors of the time (for a full exposure of such narratives, see his seminal Agarrando el Pueblo).

Todo Comenzó por el Fin traces a genealogy of Colombian cinema seen from the eyes of those who took part in the sea-changes of the 1980s. We see clips from Mayolo’s behind-the-scenes techniques, we watch Caicedo, Ospina and the rest of the Cali group setting up a cinefile-only commune and the city’s film-club, and we witness the evolution of Colombia’s cinema amidst the drugs-fuelled violence that plagued the country.

Ospina’s latest work is a nostalgic testament of the moveable cinematic feast that swept through 1980s Cali. But it is also a sad memoire of the relationship between its leading characters and death. Caicedo committed suicide at 25, Mayolo succumbed to a life of excesses aged 61, and some thirty years after Caliwood’s belle époque Ospina too had a near death encounter with cancer, which the film documents until its happy ending.

Seen from this angle, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a survivor’s tribute to the ways cinema can offer a possible way out of death. It is, after all, through films that bed-ridden Ospina mocks his passing away, juxtaposing footage of his hospital life with old black-and-white American movies, and through film-making that he does justice to his friends’ memories and his city’s past.

In the words of Caliwood-member and theatre director Sandro Romero Rey, theirs was a band of cinema-lovers and cinema-makers who helped each other to stay alive. After watching Todo Comenzó por el Fin, one realises that staying alive is, for Ospina, inextricably bound with the need to preserve the past intact – a task which only cinema seems able to fulfil.

Premiered at Toronto’s 40th Film Festival in 2015 and winner of FICCI56’s Colombian Cinema Best Director award, Todo Comenzó por el Fin is a cinefile’s touching portrait of an extinct era that will speak to Ospina’s fans as much as non-Colombian cinema-lovers.

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There’s a scene in Panahi’s 2015 Golden Bear winner Taxi when the director meets a young fan looking for stories to film. The youngster asks Panahi which movies he should watch and which books he should read, and Panahi replies that no books that have already been written or movies already directed could ever provide the inspiration the boy is after. “One should look elsewhere”.

And elsewhere, or to be more precise, inside a taxi, is where Panahi stages his latest work. Officially banned by his country’s regime from making films and traveling for at least the next decade after being convicted on propaganda charges in 2010, Panahi must yet again resort to unconventional techniques to direct his thirteenth film. After This is Not a Movie, shot entirely with a home video camera and an iPhone, Panahi acts as a taxi driver and fills his cab with cameras to record his conversations with Tehran’s inhabitants who jump in and out of the car after sharing their thoughts on the country’s state, cinema and life itself.

We do not know whether the passengers are professional actors or whether all scenes are entirely improvised (though the latter is hardly the case). Early in the film a movie-smuggler (arguably one of Taxi’s most interesting characters) asks whether everyone else is just an actor, and reproaches Panahi for not warning him it was all fiction. Panahi, however, says nothing.

This unresolved question and constant jumping in between fiction and reality is, however, a hit-and-miss. There are moments in which it is hard not to see Taxi as a self-referential, self-aggrandizing effort: Panahi magnanimously rejects the money he is offered by his passengers and smiles happily when some of them recognise his face as that of the great movie director.

Where the dynamic does work is when Taxi gives in to his profound cinefile essence and turns into a means to deconstruct Iran’s present. At some fundamental level, Taxi is a love declaration to cinema itself. It is hard for a cinefile not to smile when the movie-smuggler invites a client inside Panahi’s cab and deals with art-house cinema as if it were class A drugs, with Pahani nodding at the names of Kurosawa, Kim Ki-duk and Woody Allen. But there are moments when cinema turns into an explicitly political instrument and the smile turns into a much more chilling sensation, as when Panahi and his passengers clash against the regime’s oppression and its coercive apparatus.

Are these moments improvised too? Panahi does not say, but the doubt here is probably even more powerful than a clear-cut answer. By the end, as the real seemingly merges with fiction and the drama reaches its climax, Taxi turns into a vehement, albeit somehow self-congratulatory, cry against a regime’s totalitarianism.

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