Monday, May 01, 2006

Have you ever hated a movie enough that you wanted to punch the director in the face?

Battle in Heaven (2005, Carlos Reygadas, seen in theatre)- Yes, the title of the post applies to this movie. I'm normally pretty lenient on movies that are ambitious and are clearly aiming to be original. However, this feels like a parody of Serious World Cinema. Consider that the film contains (a) unsimulated and unerotic sex between people who make the subjects of Francis Bacon paintings look like supermodels, (b) copious religious imagery, (c) overly mannered camera work, and (d) a random act of violence. Now, a good film could be made that uses some of these elements- for example, Bruno Dumont's TWENTYNINE PALMS. But Dumont not only has a gift for framing vivid images but also actually views his characters as people rather than the loaded symbols we see in Reygadas' work. Reygadas suffuses his work with such a sense of suffocating self-importance that it's blatantly obvious that nothing (or no one) is meant to be taken simply at face value. Both in his first film, JAPON, and now here, it's clear that the guy is out to portray the culture clash that takes place in Mexico- one of the most heavyhanded moments in JAPON found his philosophical protagonist drunkenly beating the shit of a cantina boom box for playing popular music, fer chrissakes- and from the first shots of BATTLE IN HEAVEN he's up to his old tricks. The film opens with the middle-aged, corpulent, dark-skinned Marcos being fellated by young light-skinned hottie Ana, and the camera pans down to her face to reveal that she's crying. Um, yeah. This is echoed by the film's final scene, which is either a dying fantasy or a vision of the afterlife in which Marcos and Ana declare their love for each other. I'm not sure which option I hate more. I'm not even sure we can take the idea of love at face value in the final scene, since after all she's still giving him head, hardly a position of equality. Of course, I don't think he's talking about equality after all, but rather the fall of the bourgeoisie and the rise of the underclass. But talk of class warfare seems hollow when it's clear you don't give a shit about either class. This is made abundantly clear by the film's third act, in which Marcos responds to the aforementioned act of violence by embarking on a religious pilgrimage, crawling toward his destination while a fanatic yells out "No more drugs! No more titties!" Was it really Reygadas' goal to portray the Mexican proletariat as a bunch of sheep who are religious zealots at heart? Or wasn't I supposed to take this seriously? I can almost believe this was meant to be a comedy, but Reygadas has a funny way of showing it. Either way, I'm done with this dude. Rating: *.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960, Mikio Naruse, seen in theatre)- my first exposure to Naruse, and quite as pleasant one at that. I was surprised twofold at the outset- not only was the film in black and white 'Scope (one of my cinematic fetishes) but it was a lot more modern in style than I had anticipated for a film about a woman's limited roles in Japanese society. I found the character arc of Keiko (Hideko Takamine), aka Mama-san, an aging bar hostess who is becoming discontented with her station in life, to be fairly compelling, although to my mind she's befallen by at least one too many personal setbacks, which makes the film feel a touch too long. No matter- I'm curious to see more Naruse, although since I missed the rest of the retrospective who knows when that'll happen. Rating: ***.

The Syrian Bride (2004, Eran Riklis, seen in theatre)- a diverting film in two parts- the first half deals with the preparations for a wedding between a woman living in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and a Syrian soap star she's never met, and the second details her difficulties at the border. Political implications aside, the first half is fairly conventional wedding-movie stuff, with the family's conflicts and resentments bubbling to the surface- the son who has been cast out for marrying a Russian, the onetime-revolutionary father who may not be able to attend the wedding for legal reasons, the strong-willed sister whose husband is uneasy about her independence, and so on. I prefer the second half, which reminded me a bit of (the admittedly superior) NO MAN'S LAND, in which the characters were trapped by international diplomacy and politics. Of the cast, Hiam Abbass effortlessly places first as the bride's sister, caring and supportive of everyone in her life but also yearning to break out of her traditional woman's role. Not a great film, but watching it on the same day as BATTLE IN HEAVEN certainly made me appreciate its modest pleasures all the more. Rating: **1/2.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Now I REALLY need to see Battle in Heaven, if only to see if it's worse than Sangre, which was made by Reygadas's AD on the former film.