Posts Tagged ‘Cinema’

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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“This film is about my late mother, about that woman who came to Belgium in 1938, fleeing the pogroms and violence of Poland. This woman who has only ever seen the inside of her apartment in Brussels. It’s a film about a changing world my mother doesn’t see”. There are some movies whose poetry and complexity can only be fully appreciated if one knows the history behind them. No Home Movie is one of them.

Chantal Akerman’s mother Natalia had a huge influence on the director’s life and work. She encouraged her daughter not to marry young and supported her passion for film-making ever since a 15-year-old Akerman fell in love with Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou and decided to devote her life to cinema.

No Home Movie is the portrait of this relationship, of the love between a mother and her daughter, which Akerman paints with a compassionate and delicate gaze. The 115 minutes show the life of her elderly mother in her Brussels apartment. It’s a minimalist painting, a still life where the flat turns into a character in its own right. Akerman documents her mother’s gestures and sees herself through her eyes. Very little is said: the conversations flow unscripted as Natalia recalls her daughter’s youth and Chantal asks about her mother’s time during World War II, her escape from Poland and search for a new home.

The camera stands still for most of the film, as if camouflaged in between the furniture, to catch glimpses of the women’s lives and their conversations. There are moments in which chats and actions take place outside the frame, and one feels somewhat constrained, as Akerman turns the viewer and the camera into a single thing and the spectator becomes a silent observer of the drama’s unfolding.

Natalia Akerman’s agoraphobia and her post-Auschwitz anxiety are themes that run through much of Akerman’s oeuvre. At times we hear the director asking her mother to leave the house and go out for a walk. But Natalia almost never does.

Yet the movie opens with the camera looking out towards an arid area, with some trees bending down for the ferocious wind that shakes them. It is not an isolated case. Akerman scatters these outside shots throughout the film: a man sitting on a bench with his back towards the camera, the sight of a desert passing through the window, water splashing against the director’s feet. If Natalia won’t leave her house then it is up to her daughter to show her the beauty and the ordinary life of the outside world. The vast immensity of a desert and the brutal cries of the wind are juxtaposed to the still, almost soundless life of the apartment.

Chantal Akerman committed suicide on October 5 2015, a year and a half after her mother passed away at 86. As Natalia’s health deteriorates the film slowly turns into a daughter’s desperate call for her mother not to leave her, and for her history to survive. No Home Movie is a daughter’s love declaration to her mother, to her memory, and to the invaluable help cinema can offer to the preservation of one’s history and past.

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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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