Posts Tagged ‘death’

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.

Read Full Post »

Four years after his last work, Habemus Papam, Nanni Moretti returns to some of the themes he’d dealt with in his 2001 Palm D’Or winner, The Son’s Room. Only this time at the heart of the drama no longer lies the abrupt loss of a child, but the much slower and equally dramatic passing away of a mother.

Margherita (Margherita Buy) is a director shooting a film on Italy’s unemployment. She must come to terms with an eccentric foreign star (John Turturro), a divorce, an actor-turned-lover (Enrico Ianniello), a teenage daughter (Beatrice Mancini) and an elderly bedridden mother diagnosed with a terminal illness (Giulia Lazzarini).

The meta-filmic component is nothing new to Moretti’s films. A few works ago in Aprile (1998) he had brought to life the story of a director trying to shoot a film on the decay of Italy’s left, whilst grappling with the worries and dilemmas of his forthcoming parenthood. This time, however, film-making is no longer interwoven with the act of giving birth, but with a mother’s forthcoming passing away. Buy is not ready to accept her mother’s illness any more than she seems prepared to fully commit and engage with the movie she is meant to direct. In some fundamental sense, she cannot respond to art the same way she cannot respond to death.

Unlike most of Moretti’s oeuvre, in Mia Madre the 62-year-old Italian director plays a somewhat marginal stage role. Buy wears the outfit Moretti had worn in Aprile, a director struggling to make sense of a film he himself did not fully believe in, and at times seems to mimic Moretti’s own acting repertoire. And it is chiefly around the relationship between Buy and Lazzarini which the movie gravitates, with Moretti, Turturro and the promising Mancini acting as corollaries of the two women’s drama.

If Moretti takes up a minor stage role, however, his touch behind the camera and the script is what makes Mia Madre stand out as a remarkable work. It would have been all too easy to turn the story of a dying woman into a melodramatic and voyeuristic description of her last days, but Moretti does none of that. We know more about Lazzarini’s deteriorating health through her doctor’s reports than through the scenes where Buy and Moretti visit her, for what stands out in these encounters is not so much the old woman’s illness, but the fragility and incapacity of her daughter and son to come to grips with her passing away. We know she will die, eventually, but the camera never voyeuristically indulges in her forthcoming death with the sole purpose of documenting it, and treats it with a profound sense of delicacy and respect.

It is this polite and humane gaze which allows Moretti to establish a great empathy between the viewer and the story, and turns Mia Madre into a film whose energy lingers above the audience longer after the ending credits.

Read Full Post »

The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.

In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?

The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.

It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.

The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: