Are you also a Communist old relic?


Somebody said that one’s homeland is where one spends her childhood. In the case of Emilia, Sunt o Babă Comunistă’s main character, it’s her youth, when thanks to Ceaușescu‘s regime, she got a permanent job in a factory and even received an apartment for free. The film, from 2013 and opening the Romanian cinema festival at Cinema Doré in Madrid, depicts life in a provincial town far from Bucharest around 2010, when the ex-dictator’s body is being exhumed to check his DNA. Many years have passed after his fall and execution in 1989, but his name and controversial legacy are still on everyone’s lips, especially for the economic crisis, the exhumation news and a movie that is being filmed in town depicting a frustrated visit of the “First Romanian communist comrade” to the factory. Director Stere Gulea, famous in his country for his movie Morometii, a 1988’s adaptation from a popular novel from between Wars and being shown today in the cinema series, successfully contrasts the conflicting feelings and ideas of Ceaușescu’s supporters with their younger (and not so, like the teacher and seamstress) detractors’. Even Emilia, who still proudly keeps her Communist Party membership card hidden behind a religious image, recalls the nonsensical cult to the personality that the ex-dictator cultivated; images in black and white take us to her past, which is been observed by old Emilia as a black-and-white spectator, same as in another memorable film dealing with the end of the Soviet time in the Balkans, Ulysses’ Gaze, by Theo Angelopoulos. Ceaușescu’s anecdote is just another but related one of the stories narrated in the film, actually showing the daughter’s visit from Canada with her boyfriend, an unavoidable  childish and politically correct North American young man. Alice, played by Ana Ularu, an attractive actress with exotic facial features, is the one in the couple down to earth and strong enough as to face realistically their economic problems. And again, modern-time values are questioned when the crisis in the capitalist West requires help from the remainders of Communism for the former to survive.

P.S.: And surprising the resemblance of the Romanian “baba” actress with a Spaniard, the also actress Concha Cuetos.

Charlton Heston in Cisjordania: 5 broken cameras in the Planet of the Arabs


To watch Chuck Norris in an 80’s B-series movie spitting food at and insulting derogatively the whole Arab and Muslim world produces a mixture of astonishment and embarrassment. It’s one of the 1000 films that director Jaqueline Reem Salloum, American of Palestinian and Syrian descent and resident in New York, has edited to create a short film showing the generalized negative image depicted by Hollywood when it deals with the Arabs. Out of those 1000 films, 12 of them projected positive images, 53 neutral, and the rest, an unquestionable majority, negative images associated with violence and inhumanity. Supported by a metal rock soundtrack whose noise gets confounded with the unavoidable terrorists’ bullets, it is a healthy and sarcastic critical approach to a Western consolidated mirage, understood this concept as “negative and distorted opinions of the Other valuing their culture as inferior”.

The former was the introduction (in the Palestinian film festival in Madrid) to a Palestinian-Israeli documentary about the occupation in a small village, Bil’in, in Cisjordania or West Bank, which shows the human side of a community, removed of their farming lands little by little by means of a wire fence, and the complexity of Israeli politics, where many factions coexist, some of them against the illegal –even by Israeli law standards- occupation of lands by Orthodox Jewish settlers. Emad shows 5 broken cameras, each of which represents a period in his life, distributed between family and the filmed denouncement of the soldiers’ harassment to the activists claiming back their lands. Although the community eventually manages to win the legal fight in court and the fence is finally dismantled, the future of those traditional communities in a growing Israeli population avid for land doesn’t predict a peaceful future. Maybe what is require the sooner the better is an agreed land “divorce”, as Israeli columnist and writer Ari Sahvit puts it, although he doesn’t hide the difficulties of the decision: “If Israel does not retreat from the West Bank, it will be politically and morally doomed, but if it does retreat, it might face an Iranian-backed and Islamic Brotherhood-inspired West Bank regime whose missiles could endanger Israel’s security.”

A cannibal in Granada


A routine and dull life can hide astonishing secrets, as tailor Carlos’, grave and responsible at work, silence and frugal at home, but with his refrigerator full of meat, human meat. The film’s slow cadence and the long sequence shots in contrast with the high tension of the story suit the character’s double life and personality, as in a Takeshi Kitano’s movie; the explanations for his behavior are simple as a child’s: “I wanted them and killed them. That’s what I do: I kill them and eat them”. The director doesn’t want to go deeper and verbalize more of Carlos’ tasty interest in the female flesh, although it’s clear how his cannibalism serves as a substitute for sex, considering the sensual way he spreads spices over the steaks with his fingers, how he smells the dead bodies in the “sacrificial altar” or his face of contained satisfaction when chewing the just-made tenderloin. References to his sexual impotence are suggested all over the film, for his null interactions with the Hitchcokian and receptive twin Rumanian young women, same as the parallel with the Catholic imagery of crucified Christ and the sacrament of Communion, which no doubt he follows too literally.

Literature and film in Anna Karenina


-What an extraordinary example of the possibilities of Cinema!- I think while watching 1967’s Russian Anna Karenina’s adaptation into film.

Leaving aside obvious questions such as ellipsis of secondary stories and deeply philosophical dialogues, this film proves that even only with images, the emotional effect in the watcher can be close to the one in the corresponding novel’s reader. There are three scenes when this is absolutely true: the first society dance, with Kitty feeling anguished and disoriented; the horse race, which almost makes Anna faint; and the final suicide’s setting, Anna throwing herself to railway (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s a well-known old classic). Constant and irregular camera movements, playing with the focus, shot changes, extreme close-ups, transposition of images, the same way Kenneth MacPherson started doing it in 1930 with Borderline.

In this personal movie by Aleksandr Zarji, Tolstoy’s novel’s words are successfully transferred into images and sounds in a harmonic illustration of intermediality.

The invisible collection: from Saxony to Bahia


In 1925, Austrian Stefan Zweig wrote a short story called “The invisible collection. An episode of the Inflation Period in Germany”. Many years later, escaping from Nazism and the War, he would travel to Brazil to write his famous Brazil, land of the future, and to eventually take his own life in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 1942, disenchanted with the human condition.

Initially in the same mood, 2012’s Brazilian film A coleção invisível’s main character, Beto, must deal with a traumatic event in his life and a sense of guilt and impotence. His search for old and valuable drawings in the countryside in Bahia parallels Zweig’s antique dealer narrating the story of a blind collector, the same one Beto struggles to meet. More developed as a character in the film than the short story, improvised art-dealer Beto fights against himself in a spiral of self-destruction; leaving Salvador for Itajuipe, a small village in the cacao lands, will show him things he had never seen before.

Colegas: dreams are well worth a try


Aninha aims to get married to a singer, Márcio wants to fly and Stallone’s desire is to go to the sea. They are Colegas’ protagonists, three dreamers with Down syndrome who run away from their seclusion in a special education institution and drive along Brazilian Santa Catarina state in a stolen convertible to end up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An unpretentious comedy, Colegas is a fresh rehash of many films, movie directors and famous lines: Tarantino, Gone with the Wind, Psicosis, Thelma&Louise, The Matrix…with the esthetics of Delicatessen. In their adventure, they rob convenience stores and bars in fancy dresses with masks and a toy gun, being chased by a couple of pathetic and incompetent cops and considered dangerous criminals by the sensationalist media. The absurdity of the situation seems to deconstruct a society where the ones in charge are not qualified to take care of and rule the most vulnerable ones, who, at the same time, are able to manage quite well by themselves. A narrator’s voice in off helps the audience to appreciate the ironic dissonance between images and speech, provoking laughter and solidarity in a successful atmosphere of magical realism (or absurdism).

Luiz Gonzaga and son, the human side of a Brazilian legend


Gonzaga: De Pai pra filho’s director Breno Silveira explains the process of the casting for the film: he publicized his search for actors in the Northeast and received 5.000 applicants. Narrowing down that figure to people with a physical resemblance to the real Gonzaga and son, who in addition were able to sing and perform, he still had over 50. After subsequent selections, a few of them spent 4 months with him to finally to make the final decision: two years just to find the main actors but which were well worth the wait, seeing the result. This is the story of a father and his son, the former being the greatest and probably the first Brazilian folk musician and performer, whose sertanejo music can still be heard and danced in Rio’s casas de forró, not to mention in the Northeast, where he was from. A movie with very well administered flashbacks of Gonzaga’s youth, alternating music and life events, the most emotive scenes are those confronting both characters, the son already as an adult, and exorcizing a difficult relationship, cooled down from the very beginning because of Gonzaga’s doubts about his paternity.

A busca: a failed Brazilian road movie


Wagner Moura is a young Brazilian actor, internationally famous for his role as captain-colonel Nascimento in Tropa de Elite I and II. Now almost omnipresent in commercial productions in Brazil, in A busca he outdoes himself in his histrionic and egocentric interpretation of Theo, an obsessive father in search of his escaped teenage son, who unbelievably travels across two states riding a horse. The “road movie” shows a picturesque Brazilian countryside in contrast with the cosmopolitan Alfa-type male doctor. He walks favelas, crosses rivers, fights farmers, steals cell-phones from old men suffering from a cardiac condition, joins an open-air alternative music festival, helps a woman have a baby, romance a lolita, is hit by a car and exchanges his rolex for an old motorcycle…to end up finding the kid –the most expressionless young actor I’ve ever seen- and, as expected, making peace with his own father, whom he hadn’t talked to for many years; everything artificially melodramatic and with a disappointing happy ending for all audiences. I was wondering if the movie’s director and scriptwriter, Luciano Moura, was related to the actor somehow –that would have explained many things-, but that’s not the case: director of publicity and awarded 20 years ago for his short-film Os moradores da rua Humboldt, this one is his first long film, a failed one and which -citing an article I randomly found on the Internet- is not worth seeing, not even for Wagner Moura. Director Moura masters the cinematographic techniques but he doesn’t know how to tell a good story, above all because this is not one.

Map of the sounds of Boa Viagem


Noise is the guiding thread in the multitude of stories that O som ao redor uses to depict an upper-middle neighborhood in Recife, Northeastern Brazil. A neighbor’s barking dog drives crazy a sleepless housewife, who figures out how to recover silence: she feeds the animal with a steak filled of sleeping pills, uses a high-frequency sound whistle and even firecrackers. There are also the confusing sounds of voices, cars and electrical appliances added to claustrophobic images of security bars in doors and narrow corridors inside tower buildings. The robbery of car radios on the streets and the fear of the other will cause the opportunistic arrival of security guards, who will secure the streets day and night with blackjacks and walkie-talkies but who will also be the community secrets’ guardians. In this Brazilian movie chosen for competition to the Oscars 2014, we have a pessimistic view of a Brazil far from the touristic postal of social harmony and paradisiacal beaches, more in line with Luiz Ruffato’s’ recent speech at Frankfurt’s Books Fair. Here, neighbors and even family fight each other, beaches are infested with sharks, and racial and social tensions are constantly present. However, not everything is dark in this ensemble movie: the positive contrast is given in the form of a love story, of a young rich man caring for the underdogs, of the former housewife’s creative and comical ways of pleasing herself and of a Brazilian laidback comradeship.

Xingu, three brothers trapped in a life adventure


Back in 2001, I met in Santarém, a small town on the bank of the Amazon river, a young lawyer from São Paulo who had quit his job in the Brazilian megalopolis to settle in the rain-forest. He was divorced and had a son, who spent with him his school vacations. Every week, he went by boat to the indigenous villages in the swampy area to buy and exchange goods with them, so that he could sell them to tourists in the small shop he had set up in town. Seeing last night’s Novocine’s inauguration movie, Xingu, I couldn’t but recall the story of this Paulista lawyer who would become my friend for a few days in a remote spot of the Brazilian North.

In 1943, in the middle of Getúlio Varga’s Estado Novo of maximum intervention of the State in the economy and the exacerbation of nationalism, it was decided to open new lands to the West to develop economically and industrially the country. Rain forests in the Amazonia and especially in the Matto Grosso were the objective. Three educated brothers, the Villas-Bôas (Cláudio, Orlando and Bernardo), joined the expedition as laborers, to end up establishing contact with the Xingu river’s indios. The film is based on real and historical facts, and shows their efforts to protect indios from the “national progress” culminating with the creation of the Indigenous national park in 1961. More interested in the big picture as a hagiography of the protagonists’ epic story, the film doesn’t dig deep enough in the emotional and sexual relationships established by the brothers and the Indians, although it suggests some of the gray areas of the brothers’ Mission.

Polish short cuts


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


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.

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