Polish short cuts

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A young and very sick author in the middle of a writer’s block and married “to a toxic woman whom I have never been in love with”; a recently-graduated doctor dealing with his conservative parents and his homosexual attraction for a teenage thuggish punk; an extreme case of catalepsy on a famous actress who is cheated by her husband.

Three intertwined stories with the common denominator of the fear of breaking with dull and unhappy lives represented by damaging relationships: Robert doesn’t believe in words any more and is afraid of dying because he thinks he will be shown in hell how his life could have been if he had run away soon enough from his wife and her family; Adam postpones the inevitable out-of-the-closet confession while he is trapped in a moral dilemma about his lover’s criminal activities; Róza continues cooking exotic and lightly poisonous meals for a husband who deals with her unconsciousness very pragmatically.

Only traumatic events will be able to make them all wake up from their vital Somnolence.

Mohammad’s summer

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For many people, Iran might mean the Evil Axis, a nuclear danger and Islamic fundamentalism. However, a big multiethnic society of 80 million inhabitants is much more than that. Film director Majid Majidi, in his 1999 prize-awarded The color of paradise, shows a traditional countryside community far from the geostrategic fight for natural resources and regional power. Mohammad is a blind boy of around 10 years old who, during school vacation, must leave his special-education school in Teheran to spend time with his family. The father, a hard-working widower desperate to start a new family, is confronted with the circumstance of having to choose between his son and a prospective new wife, and be ready for redemption. The universal theme of a parent abandoning a child to start a new family, so common in the Japanese cinema (Nobody knows, Kikujiro’s summer) also arrives at the Iranian film scene. Northern Iranian green mountains and customs are depicted poetically by Majidi, who creates the character of an imaginative and sensitive child with the ability of perceiving reality with his ears and his fingertips at deeper layers than “normal” people, a door to the sacred.  At the end of the showing, Madrid’s Centro Persépolis’s manager repeats for us the film director’s words: “To see things clearly, we need to close our eyes”. Maybe that’s what we have to do to get a proper perspective of politics, love, friendship, work and family.

La vie d’Adèle: a lesbian story or just a romance?

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With a format between a film and a documentary, almost Haneke’s style, La vie d’Adèle (the translation into English, Blue is the warmest color, comes from the original graphic novel that director Abdellatif Kechiche got the story from), winner of the Palm d’Or this year at Cannes Film Festival, had a press view last night in Madrid and the premiere is scheduled for this coming Friday. The spontaneous Adèle Exarchopoulos made a joke before the preview at cinema Callao about how eager we were to see her big head in the screen and we’d soon find out what she was talking about: the camera follows the actress in countless close-ups where we can see and feel Adèle crying, smiling, whining, moaning until virtually becoming part of her life. But what Kechiche does even better is to describe characters and situations’ moods, showing scenes such as a tedious primary-school class after an emotional turmoil; non-belonging individuals in garden cocktails with bourgeois-bohemians; or even simple dinners with parents, lies and telling silences.

This film might create some controversy for the explicit sex scenes between two young women, although actually it only intends to show all aspects of a relationship, and sex is an important one in most of them, we can’t deny that, it’s just that we are not used to seeing it in films. In Spain, TV series such as Queer as Folk got its moments of fame a few years ago, although its gay and lesbian sex scenes didn’t go further than a few kisses and long-distance shots of intertwined naked bodies. Here, it comes closer and a bit more realistic, that’s why the film has suffered censorship in different ways, says Kechiche. But in the end, the spectator forgets about homosexuality and becomes involved in the story of a conventional romance, predestined to be troubled for the unbalance of both characters: one of them, Adèle, younger, immature, lower-class, spontaneous and sensitive, looking for protection, willing to become a primary-school teacher; the other one, Emma, strong, self-confident, well-educated and intellectually superior, in her way to become a famous artist.

In short, it’s well-worth seeing the over 3 hours of footage, you get a sensation of really having met the characters and experienced their strong emotions.

Chekhov and a histrionic bear at Centro Ruso

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Even Anton Pavlovich Chekhov’s ‘minor’ plays entertain us and create a place for reflection, in the case of The Bear, around the themes of mourning and gender roles in love. Popova is a young widow who shuts herself away inside her house and reaffirms her intention of remaining ‘dead’ at home for the rest of her life after her husband’s death; seven months have passed and she dreams of military parades with handsome officers courting her. A creditor’s sudden arrival agitates the widow in unexpected and contradictory ways. Smirnov, played at Centro Ruso by a brilliantly histrionic  Germán Estebas from Teatro de Cámara Chejóv, is a rough experienced man, desperate for collecting what he is owed, but he suffers a not so unexpected metamorphoses: from a ‘bear’ (I guess you need to know Russian culture to take it as an insult) to a gallant suitor. The comical scenes implicitly give way to contesting society about mourning widows’ hypocritical old costumes (there are exceptions in literature, of course: Hamlet’s mother only waited one month to marry her brother-in-law), acting against their real desires; very praiseworthy, by the way, Elena Nikonorova-Petrova’s performance in Spanish and her showing of the character’s dissonance of words, acts and thoughts. The superb dialectic discussion between both characters, part of which I reproduce afterwards from Project Gutenberg, leads ‘misogyny’ to encounter a strong Russian ‘poetic creature’ and to become her slave, always in the context of a ‘chivalric’ romantic love structure.

 

 

SMIRNOV. [Teasing her] Silly and rude! I don’t know how to behave before women! Madam, in my time I’ve seen more women than you’ve seen sparrows! Three times I’ve fought duels on account of women. I’ve refused twelve women, and nine have refused me! Yes! There was a time when I played the fool, scented myself, used honeyed words, wore jewellery, made beautiful bows. I used to love, to suffer, to sigh at the moon, to get sour, to thaw, to freeze…. I used to love passionately, madly, every blessed way, devil take me; I used to chatter like a magpie about emancipation, and wasted half my wealth on tender feelings, but now—you must excuse me! You won’t get round me like that now! I’ve had enough! Black eyes, passionate eyes, ruby lips, dimpled cheeks, the moon, whispers, timid breathing—I wouldn’t give a brass farthing for the lot, madam! Present company always excepted, all women, great or little, are insincere, crooked, backbiters, envious, liars to the marrow of their bones, vain, trivial, merciless, unreasonable, and, as far as this is concerned [taps his forehead] excuse my outspokenness, a sparrow can give ten points to any philosopher in petticoats you like to name! You look at one of these poetic creatures: all muslin, an ethereal demi-goddess, you have a million transports of joy, and you look into her soul—and see a common crocodile! [He grips the back of a chair; the chair creaks and breaks] But the most disgusting thing of all is that this crocodile for some reason or other imagines that its chef d’oeuvre, its privilege and monopoly, is its tender feelings. Why, confound it, hang me on that nail feet upwards, if you like, but have you met a woman who can love anybody except a lapdog? When she’s in love, can she do anything but snivel and slobber? While a man is suffering and making sacrifices all her love expresses itself in her playing about with her scarf, and trying to hook him more firmly by the nose. You have the misfortune to be a woman, you know from yourself what is the nature of woman. Tell me truthfully, have you ever seen a woman who was sincere, faithful, and constant? You haven’t! Only freaks and old women are faithful and constant! You’ll meet a cat with a horn or a white woodcock sooner than a constant woman!

POPOVA. Then, according to you, who is faithful and constant in love? Is it the man?

SMIRNOV. Yes, the man!

POPOVA. The man! [Laughs bitterly] Men are faithful and constant in love! What an idea! [With heat] What right have you to talk like that? Men are faithful and constant! Since we are talking about it, I’ll tell you that of all the men I knew and know, the best was my late husband…. I loved him passionately with all my being, as only a young and imaginative woman can love, I gave him my youth, my happiness, my life, my fortune, I breathed in him, I worshipped him as if I were a heathen, and… and what then? This best of men shamelessly deceived me at every step! After his death I found in his desk a whole drawerful of love-letters, and when he was alive—it’s an awful thing to remember!—he used to leave me alone for weeks at a time, and make love to other women and betray me before my very eyes; he wasted my money, and made fun of my feelings…. And, in spite of all that, I loved him and was true to him. And not only that, but, now that he is dead, I am still true and constant to his memory. I have shut myself for ever within these four walls, and will wear these weeds to the very end….

Race, stage and video tapes in Brazilian ‘Miss Julie’

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As in a mirror house and playing with the audience’s senses, Brazilian theater company Vértice de Teatro mixes video and stage, characters and actors. Two sliding screens and a hand video camera depicts and interfere with the story jumping from one diegetic level to another, from video to performance, from Strindberg’s story rewritten for nowadays’ Brazil to the refusal of actors to keep on playing repulsive but cathartic roles for themselves. There are constant interferences of the camera on the stage, and actors saying – [Cut!] or addressing the audience in Spanish and making fun of themselves or crying. And behind all the technical apparatus and the dilemma of which of the video scenes were recorded and which ones were live, we find the racial issue, the story of the white rich girl infatuated with a black servant and perpetuating centuries of bondage, a connection à la brésilienne with the original story by the Swedish playwright, but with an improvised ending.

Japanese Christianity at stake: Nagisa Ôshima’s 天草四郎時貞

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天草四郎時貞 Amakusa Shiro Tokisada (Shiro Amakusa, the Christian rebel) is one of the least Nagisaoshimaesque Nagisa Ôshima’s films. The story’s background is early 17th century’s Kyushu and not the 1960’s streets of a developing Tokyo. The characters represent Christianized peasants and not the sexualized youth of the modern times. But there is one thing in common: the violence, in this case present in the subjugation of farmers by the Tokugawa shogunate and the brutal repression of the recently proselytized Japanese of the South -Francis Xavier had arrived in Kagoshima in 1549 and left the legacy of the monotheistic religion that was gaining adepts little by little. Samurai Shiro Amakusa and his peasants rise up after seeing how their friends are burnt in hay coats (干草の踊り, “the hay dance”), and try desperately to take the castle as a revenge in the name of Jesus Christ. Ôshima’s extreme close-ups and never-ending travelling shots are already in this film, showing strong emotions in the often hieratic Japanese faces. He takes sides for the Christians but also dramatizes their internal discord and their different personal and conflicting motivations, as in a Shakespearian tragedy. An Apocalyptic piece of art, like character Uemonsaku’s paintings of burning buildings and people dying in crosses.

Lorca’s ghost meets Shakespeare at Conde Duque

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Lorca’s death left unfinished his manuscript Comedia sin título and now director Juan Carlos Corazza completes it with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was already part of Lorca’s metatheatrical exercise about the need for a theater that shows the real suffering of the people. With a sober and consequent mise-en-scène but including a cast of 10 actors and actresses, we witness complicity with the audience, informed of the process of both plays through the same actors who are to play one, two, three or four different roles. Galego, Andalusian and Argentinian accents plus repetitions of lines and the prompter’s intervention prevent us to succumb to the conventional catharsis and instead make us take out our critical attitude towards the presented facts. The play is a master class of what Bretchian distancing or Verfremdungseffect means: mixed thematics, alternate use of prose, verse and actors addressing the audience, lights all over the theater, anti-realistic scenography, reflection out loud about the play, use of humor in tragic scenes, inappropriate clothes…everything is suitable to break the theatrical illusion. My favorite actor, versatile Manuel Morón, also in one of the best Spanish movies in the 21st century, Smoking room.

At Residencia de Estudiantes with Ana Miranda

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Tonight at Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes, Brazilian writer Ana Miranda shared with us the secrets of the inspiration for her historical novels, at least the ones related to poets:

She once had a dream where she was climbing a tower’s stairs to find on the top an old woman with a long white braid who told Ana Miranda that she had been Baroque poet Gregório de Matos’ lover; when a few days afterwards she found a book written by a historian about Padre Vieira’s “murder” and Matos’ support, she knew she would write Boca do Inferno in the context of late XVIIth century Salvador de Bahia, which would get her the prestigious Jabuti prize.

Still recovering from a heartbreak, she happened to re-read Gonçalves Dias’ desperate love poems and decided that she would write a novel about the Romantic poet, Dias & dias, Brazilian Academy Prize.

One day she found at a second-hand bookstore the second-edition of the only book of poems by the pre-modernist Augusto dos Anjos and, surprisingly, bought it very cheap; on her way home, a baby bird fell from a tree to the floor in front of her, dying quickly; after burying it, she thought of the similarities between dos Anjos’ short life without the possibility of writing more books and the poor baby bird losing its life ahead: that was the germ of her novel A última quimera, National Library Prize.

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