MISSING 28-year-old Azumi Haruko


A 28-year-old young woman is smoking a cigarette next to a car. The camera follows the direction of the smoke that spreads and disappears in the sky; and by the time the image comes back to the car, Azumi Haruko is gone. I like those beginnings in extrema res, whose details and reasons become puzzle pieces for the audience. アズミ・ハルコ 行方不明 (Azumi Haruko Yukue Fumei, Haruko Azumi is Missing) is one of those films with a chaotic structure of characters and time as in a time-traveler machine, a collage of graffiti conceptual art that tells the story of a few young women fed up with a small-town narrow-minded society that doesn’t let them pursue happiness.

We have the group of high-school girls that raid the night in search of lonely guys to beat them up, as in a clockworkorange-like orgy of counter-violence; the two women, respectively in their late 20’s and 30’s, having to work next to two 昭和 Shôwa-era-thinking middle-age misogynists who insist that women should get married by 30, before they get rotten; a 20-year old girl used and despised by her boyfriend; and a happily-divorced young mother who has tasted the sour dream of a conventional family.

The commodification of art is another of the themes that young director Matsui Daigo introduces in the film: an entrepreneur sees in the missing young woman an opportunity for making money trying to revive a forgotten amusement park in a forgotten town with no future, a town where most young people seem to be フリーター (Furita). Of course, the result is failure, and it seems that the only exit for those women in town is to run away from it. The sooner, the better; the faster, the safer.

How should we take Azumi Haruko Yukue Fumei? As a self-contained fable with no referential or mimetic reading? As a metaphor for mainstream Japanese society in line with Koreeda’s Kuuki Ningyou?

In any case, originally based in the homonymous novel by Yamauchi Mariko, it’s a visual pleasure to watch. And 蒼井優 (Aoi Yû) is great in her role.


Friendship can be a full-time occupation


‘This man has a gift for friendship’, Scott Fitzgerald tells Thomas Wolf in Genius, a movie about Max Perkins, editor at Scribner’s Publishing House in the 20’s and 30’s. This real character helped many writers, including the mentioned two and Hemingway to get their novels published. Usually the ones who end up filling the lists of History of Literature are only the authors, while those thoughtful and intelligent readers that are editors fall into oblivion. Jude Law plays the character of Thomas Wolf, a man who lives to write, but who also makes his life worth of being told, in terms of experiences. He constantly creates real material for his long and poetic novels. Extremely intelligent, drunken, promiscuous, it was his fate to die at 37 out of a myriad of tumors inside his extremely productive brain.

Genius focuses on the relationship between the two men, writer and editor, like father and son, friends, and the hard work of editing a book that is to be readily consumed by readers. An editor can be the genius who makes a writer successful and his work a Bestseller -that’s the Japanese title for the film-, but also the evil who cripples an original masterpiece, as Nicole Kidman, playing Wolf’s lover, holds it against Max. That fight between spontaneous creativity and the constraining structure of normative language is inside each of us every time we grab a pen, we start pressing keys on our computers or we swipe our finger along the cell-phone’s display.

Youth is a condition that gets better with time, but in the meanwhile…



I finally watched Somos tão jovens, a fictional recreation –as if all recreations were not somehow fictional- of Brazilian rock band from the 80s Legião Urbana. The same way we now experience art in a fragmented way because time is now full of distractions and social commitments, as the new technologies never fail to remind us attacking weak and inconstant minds like mine, I started the movie at Guarulhos airport a few months ago. The music that made pular a whole generation and still remains in the imaginary of a youth eager for a Brazilian movida, kept me occupied in the tedious hours of a flight connection. Sometimes we prefer not to go back to those half-seen films until much later when we find ourselves in a better mood to immerse into them, or we keep on seeing pieces, sequences that stay for a while in our change-addicted brains until we decide to check emails, facebook accounts, different hypertexts…, or until the final call for your flight home makes it through your ears.

Young Renato Russo, the real theme of the story, is depicted here as he probably was, a tormented soul living in a conservative society in search of a new crisis that helped him learn who he was and who he wanted to become; it’s like a Lou Reed’s clone –the physical similarities are obvious- without the life and experiences of the New Yorker but with as much genius –by Brazilian standards- as his. The film is not a hagiography of a dead myth; on the contrary, it focuses on the contradictions of an egocentric personality whose not completely self-assumed homosexuality initially causes him great psychological distress. The fiction tries to referentially explain the well-known lyrics with events from his life. As 21st century individuals, we cannot but see the rebellious evolution of that upper-middle Brazilian youth as a pose generating fashion victims, as a more mature and not-punk-any-more Renato throws to his audience when he calls them spoiled brats. It’s the final years of the dictatorship, but their claim for democracy is not a real one, only the imitation of an Anglo-Saxon music style and a naïve rebelliousness; exactly the opposite of the present complains by young lower and “middle” classes than can be seen on the streets in the main Brazilian cities during the World Cup demanding better living conditions and decent public services in the most racially “harmonious” country in the world, as a friend of mine wrongly told me recently.

Youth, divine treasure…



In the early seventies, Manolo Summers premiered his film Adiós, cigüeña, adiós, the metaphor of a young teenager’s pregnancy in pre-transitional Spain, a pseudo-comedy which reflected about the serious theme of the lack of sexual education in the Francoist era and its undesired consequences. It became a box-office success.

Many years have passed and a movie about another couple of teenagers, these two a bit older, has just been released. Jaime Rosales already surprised in 2007 with his second film, a documentary-like fiction, La soledad, about the mean-spirited behavior of family members in the context of the Spanish real state bubble. The same director, shooting straight at our emotions, presents now Hermosa Juventud, a love story that takes place in today’s Madrid with the background of the economic crisis.

Dropouts working sporadically in construction for 10 euros a day, long-term unemployed members of a family having lost their self-confidence, economic problems and an unexpected pregnancy, as a Spanish version of Ken Loach’s. The option of working as porn actors is just an anecdote in the succession of misfortunes that they experience in everyday life. They live in a first-world country, they have a place to sleep and a hot meal but they feel useless. 300 euros each for having sex in front of a camera is not more degrading than their tedious sense of hopelessness, which takes its toll on the couple.

At some point, Germany shows up as a possibility but Rosales’s masterful pessimistic realism won’t let a stereotype remain in the imaginary of so many naïve Spaniards who believe in miracles, whether in Europe, Brazil or China: things are never easy, especially for an uneducated immigrant.

Rosales’s previous use of screen fragmentation and multiple points of view with different cameras, a very unusual and audacious technique, gives place in this case to social media, smartphone applications and the use of their photographs to show the passing of time, as an updated Citizen Kane with new technologies.

One of my favorite Spanish movies from the first decade of this century, Bienvenido a casa, by David Trueba, also deals with the bearing of a baby by a couple in their twenties and the consequences of becoming a parent, this time explicitated by the young man’s colleagues at a magazine’s newsroom, who debate the “nonsense of transmiting to another creature the legacy of our misery”, as Machado de Assis’s puts it into the mouth of his famous character Brás Cubas.




Americans have their Philip Marlowe; Spaniards, Pepe Carvalho; Italians, Salvo Montalbano; Brazilians, Remo Bellini; Mexicans, Héctor Belascoarán Shayne; Japanese, Imanishi; Greeks, Kostas Jaritos; Chileans, Heredia; and Koreans, since 2008’s movie The Chaser, have Jung-Ho, an ex-police officer turned into a pimp investigating the vanishing of three of “his girls”. A psychopath kidnaps prostitutes, kills and buries them in a garden. This is not a spoiler: from almost the beginning of the film, we know the assassin; so do the police and Jung-Ho, and even have him under arrest. They are just looking for the corpses and the last kidnapped call-girl who could still be alive. There is a mixture of extreme violence and melodrama in this Korean action movie, both condiments so appreciated by East-Asian audiences. The aggressive detective swings between his dark side as a professional extortioner and his more caring face taking care of an orphan child. Behind all that is his feeling of guilt for exploiting the young women. But there are no limits –either moral or legal- for him in this politically incorrect movie. In the background of an exciting suspense there is a story of redemption and a mental fight inside Jung-Ho’s ethical consciousness: who is worse, the assassin who dismembers the girls or the pimp who exploits them to death? Doesn’t he see himself in the young psychopath’s behavior?

Other interesting aspects of Korean society are also shown here, such as gender relations, organized crime, the reaction of the police and even politics: everything happening in a gray and impersonal Seoul.

Last night, El crack 2 (1982) was shown on the Spanish TV, and its detective Germán Areta (interpreted by the popular until-then comedian Alfredo Landa but after the two films, the toughest actor in Spanish cinema) shares with Jung-Ho his self-confidence in front of young thugs and his intelligence, although his style is more contained, compared to the Korean detective’s excessive and gratuitous violence. It’s been only 30 years since Garci’s movie but the Madrid that is depicted there as another character, looks centuries old: billiards in Atocha, black and red taxis, Galerias Preciados, old-fashioned apartment houses, panoramic views of a city always changing, including the Gran Via, especially the Gran Via.

“Thanks for sharing”: compulsive behavior and sex-addiction



Most diagnosis manuals of psychopathology consider a mental disease as such when it interferes seriously with the person’s normal life and subjectively causes him/her problems; however, when it comes to sex, there is more controversy in the psychiatric bibles. In the case of the film Thanks for sharing, Neil’s sex-addiction sends him to court for rubbing himself against a woman’s buttocks in New York city’s subway before losing his job in a hospital for filming his female boss’s legs with a hidden camera and getting caught; for not to mention his compulsive masturbation and his lack of ‘conventional’ social life. I guess we can consider that a pretty good life-interfering. Most psychology manuals of behavior modification for addicts also put emphases on prevention and avoidance of tempting stimulus, so in his sex-addict group meetings, this self-cheating character is recommended not to use Internet or even take the subway. I would definitely recommend this guy –if he existed outside of a film- not to go to Japan, where miniskirts and pornography are ubiquitous and where chikan salarymen (痴漢サラリーメン) or even reputed professors also lose their jobs because of groping or mirror-panty-peeping in the subway.

In the movie, there is also the softer case of a successful high executive in his early 40’s, Adam, who finds difficult to establish a healthy relationship (with Gwyneth Paltrow!) after a 5-year soberness from a problematic womanizing behavior and an addictive prostitute-hiring: whatever form of sex reminds him of his previous uncontrolled life and he fears that an intense sexual sensation might trigger his falling again into the abyss of desire. In his case, he even avoids TV and laptops to keep his addiction under control. These characters are not far from real life, affecting even –and especially- famous people: when I knew of David Duchovny’s sex addiction, I realized how much he was himself in the funny TV-series Kalifornication.

It is unavoidable that Thanks for sharing –creatively translated into Spanish as Amor sin Control, no comments- brings to mind the celebrated 1998’s Happiness, a masterpiece showing the uncomfortable North America’s dark side of sexual life. However, this recent one is a bit more optimistic and closer to a Hollywood romantic comedy with funny buddies. Tim Robins, with a magnetic and verisimilar acting as usual, in the role of a failed father and ex-addict, gives the movie a more serious touch and his character puts it this way: “To quit this is like quitting crack with a pipe attached to your body”. Dede, a female minor character, also unable to relate with men without having sex with them, explains her point: “I have sex when I’m sad; or bored; or tired”.

HER: In love with an OS



Evolutionary biologists tend to think of human feelings as a complex and evolved elaboration of animal instincts. Our powerful brains would have given us the possibility of developing cognitive nuances for specific physical and neurological activations shot by hormones; we just create a cultural narrative for those feelings, the same way we do with art, literature, religion…The romantic view of the human being as a semi-god of supernatural inspiration and genius, same as our capacity to love, is erased by neurologists who claim that almost everything in the brain is programmed in our genes somehow well before birth in order to survive to be able procreate. That includes feeling the way we do, even if we believe to be voluntarily in control of our behavior and destiny (see Gazzaniga 1998).

Spike Jonze’s film Her, recently released in Brazil as Ela, deals with a near future when computers’ and cell-phones’ Operative Systems are able to have understand feelings and learn from experience, adopting a specific personality and interacting in a natural way with human beings. His view is an aseptic dystopia where people stop having direct relationships with one another to find in digital mechanisms the solution to their emotional needs. A world with an ubiquitous presence of technology make up for an extremely individualistic society with everybody only interested in talking and not listening, egocentric personality traits recognizable nowadays and often strengthened due to social network websites, etc.

Other films such as Simone (2002) and Splice (2009) had already treated the theme of Pygmalion from a futuristic point of view, but they hadn’t gone so far as Her to go and dig into our deepest and most personal emotions related to loneliness and wish. Samantha, the OS bought by personal-letter writer Theodore, gets adapted to him in no time, creating strong bonds between themselves. An initially unbalanced relationship –she fulfilling all her needs, whether professional, intellectual, emotional or sexual- follows the pattern of a more ordinary one, with both of them alternatively suffering from jealousy and low self-esteem. The OS system wonders what is like to have a physical body, being mortal, grow, fall in love…and tries to compensate it finding another person who will become a corporeal intermediary between her and Theodore, starting a creative mute menage à trois mediated by earpieces controlled by the OS.

In one of the most thoughtful dialogues in the movie, which recalls Kubrick’s 2001, Samantha discusses with Theodore what’s the difference between her feelings and his, since she has been programmed for that the same way nature programmed him. The conversation goes even beyond when she states that every 2 seconds human beings as well as OSs become different entities, emerging the idea of the unstable identity of an individual along time.

Many philosophical and scientific issues to reflect about present in this “romantic” SF film (in the line of Mr. Nobody), with an impeccable and unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix in the leading role and Scarlett Johansson’s voice as intelligent OS Samantha.

Poetic debris in a Brazilian junk room


“When I go to the city, I feel like in a luxury living room. Back in the favela, I am just abandoned furniture in a junk room”: Carolina María de Jesús’ diaries starting in 1955 became a media and literary success when journalist Audálio Dantas “discovered” her in the favela and had her writings published as Quarto de despejo (Junk room) in 1960. For the first time in Brazil, a black favelada was able to produce and sell a poetic text about her daily routines and her dreams. Her diaries and poems with literary intentions and reflections about life and society focused on her endurance to get food for her children and the social relations in the favela.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, a German documentary from 1971 about her life was shown at Instituto Moreira Salles in Gávea, Rio, followed by a conversation between the above Audálio and professor Marisa Lajolo. Were Carolina Maria’s diaries real literature if such concept exist anymore? What was the suspicious reception by the elitist literary society of the time of an outsider’s success if not a reflection of the impermeable Brazilian society condemning class and race to an illiterate junk room? Things have changed in the last 50 years and now the Academia maintains a broader and more including idea of art, but society keeps on seeing moradores de favela as disrupting elements in a personal and desired imaginary of a middle and upper class white Brazil.

What a strange sensation is to attend an 18-minute documentary in German with Portuguese subtitles and real but older and already successful Carolina Maria de Jesús playing the role of herself when picking paper 15 years before from trash cans on the streets of São Paulo. A voice in off reads her diaries; and images of the favela and their dwellers alternate with the late poet’s comments about the changes in her life after the publishing of her books.

Here, some extracts of her writings and an audio:

31 de maio Sábado – O dia que quase fico louca porque preciso arranjar o que comer para sábado e domingo […] Fiz o café, e os pães que eu ganhei também. Puis feijão no fogo. Quando eu lavava o feijão pensava: eu hoje estou parecendo gente bem – vou cozinhar feijão. Parece até um sonho! … Ganhei bananas e mandioca na quitanda da rua Guaporé. Quando eu voltava para a favela, na avenida Cruzeiro do Sul 728 uma senhora pediu-me para eu ir jogar um cachorro morto dentro do Tietê que ela dava-me 5 cruzeiros.

In search of the knack

the knack

Two eccentric young men and one provincial girl driving a wheeled double bed’s frame in 1965’s black and white London under the censorial scrutiny of strolling middle-aging looks and voices. The time of mods and rockers. But what’s indeed the knack and how to get it? It’s Tolen’s aptitudes to flirt with and seduce attractive women in ten minutes while his friend and landlord Colin hasn’t gotten laid for 2 years. But a third tenant, obsessed with bright colors and clear spaces, teaches him how to approach the opposite sex. Games with the camera getting closer and farther, repeating movements and actions with impossible perspectives of Buñuel’s dreams announce a bursting psychedelic and creative British youth in a very particular comic tone.

Sex, Québécois truths and Brazilian love comedies



From misogynistic sex to a politically-correct idea of love in the context of family: Three male friends from Rio de Janeiro in their mid-thirties get together every night in a bar to drink beer and talk about sex, women and their frustrated relationships with them. That’s why the most usual sentence among them is E ai…Comeu? (So…did you get laid?). Fernando’s girlfriend just abandoned him leaving behind only 31 pairs of shoes, and he starts feeling tempted by his attractive neighbor, a 17-year-old college student. Honorio has a routine family life with three children and feels distanced from his wife but he becomes obsessed with the idea that she is being unfaithful to him. Fonsinho is a failed writer and a rich daddy’s son whose relationships with women are always monetary. A comedy with no pretensions that has been adapted from the theater.

Much deeper and more interesting is this 1986’s Québécois movie showed the other day in La 2 Spanish TV about a group of intellectuals and the conversations concerning their sexual life:  Le déclin de l’empire américain, by Denys Arcand. A group of middle-age men and women recall in a festive atmosphere and with an attitude of revival their opinions and frustrations related to love and sex, showing alternatively emotional helplessness and the joy of life.

Child’s pose: Romanian time to fly the nest


Other films have deepened in a parent’s feelings dealing with the death of a son –my favourites are Almodovar’s All about my mother and Nani Moretti’s The son’s room– but this Romanian movie, Child’s pose, by director Calin Peter Netzer and awarded this year with a Golden Bear at Berlin International Film Festival, includes many more things: a depiction of the generalized corruption as a pay-it-forward chain in Romanian society; the gap between the powerful and the lower classes, although they share many more values than they might think; the everlasting but maladjusted bonds between an aging mother and an adult son.

Cornelia lives obsessed with her son, disrupting his personal life and trying to control all aspects of his existence, including his new emotional partner, until she receives a call communicating a car accident in which Barbu is involved. The fragile balance of an apparent bourgeois normality dissipates and, in the fight for her son’s future, all dysfunctional elements of an over-controlling personality end up provoking the unavoidable confrontation with reality.

Almost two hours of a film that takes you inside the characters’ world and plays with your judgment of their ambivalent selves when showing their many moral edges, peevish and praiseworthy at the same time.

Blog at WordPress.com.


Just another WordPress.com site


Literatura, opinión y otros habaneceres, porque habanecer es una perspectiva, un estado de ánimo, un vicio de la memoria