Sunday, February 18, 2007

Recent Screenings

First, one must read Andy Rector. Pedro Costa's Juventude em marcha / Colossal Youth finally made it to New York--I've waited years to see a film by Costa! What a perplexing, very beautiful film. Maybe I can say more after some more thought. Note, however, that the characters gaze off-screen, like Ford's characters, where they look into history (for lost loves & dreams, and at destruction, at misery, at television screens). There's a beautiful and awkward scene where the "protagonist," Ventura, and one of his daughters sit and describe what they see on the wall across from them.

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There are many exquisite things in Pan's Labyrinth, certainly one of the better mainstream films I have seen from the last few years. (Vague spoilers follow, so reader beware!) Let me voice a quibble first: I am uncomfortable with the use in commercial-left cinema (it also happened to a much worse extent, I thought, in V for Vendetta) whereby the hero(ine) must "prove" herself by flirting with the enemy ideology, i.e., fascism. In Pan's Labyrinth, our dear Ofelia has to listen to the Faun and do as he says. The parallel is drawn between blind obedience to the Faun and the fascist Capitan both; but whereas we come to hate the fascist (in fact we should hate him from the first frame), the Faun's authoritarianism remains curiously unexamined. Ofelia's resistance proves to be the "right choice," but not only is it at great cost, it's also divorced from a larger critique of the Faun's demands for obedience throughout the entire film, not just as a third & final "test" for poor Ofelia. (I'm not too bothered by the fact that this film posits utopia as a supernatural monarchy, which seems like an obviously distant [faerie] enough fictive operation to be harmless.) So I left the theater this evening feeling that, unless I myself am missing something, the film's command of its moral universe is a bit flawed. That's the Bad; there's a lot of Good in Pan's Labyrinth though, too. I like the fact that it kept a certain dialogue with film/cultural history (e.g., Un Chien andalou; The Wizard of Oz; possibly also even the absent-father anti-fascist anger of Fernando Arrabal and his Pan-ic Movement). I love the lush, very saturated photography. I admire the fact that this film makes fascists its villains, and not purely generic ones either--it situates patriarchy, misogyny, warmongering, irrational father-worship, and inhuman "efficiency" upon the specter of fascism, ripe for critique.


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The next few weekends will be big ones for cinema: Rivette's Out 1, probably some Kiarostami (including perhaps the man in person), possibly some Tarr if I can fit any in, new stuff by Oshii & the Straubs, an older one by Aldrich (Twilight's Last Gleaming) ... March, in fact, is a ridiculous month for New York cinephiles, not so much for the rarity of its screenings but for the sheer greatness of its two concurrent director retrospectives (Imamura @ BAM, Kiarostami @ MoMA) and the string of major films showing at the Alliance Francaise.

6 comments:

Andy Rector said...

"must"? you are way too kind to me Zach.
I'm very happy you got a chance to see it. Though it's stupid to talk of key scenes in a film like this (where every person, move, ray of light, and word are key) the scene with Ventura and his daughter and the shadows on the wall may speak to the new housing project (the new future) most directly. A certain obliteration with white walls.

I envy you in NY...

pwf218 said...

Let me echo your praise of Costa's COLOSSAL YOUTH, which I caught on Sunday. It was a slowly accruing, deeply affecting experience for me.

Thanks, as well, to Andy for his valuable posts (and their numerous still frames).

I still have to catch up on some of the notable writing that has been done on the film (Peranson, Anderson, Cahiers, etc), but I have some tentative first reactions. First, given BONES (1997) and some of the critical affirmations that trailed the new film's premiere at Cannes 06, I admit I was expecting something more naturalistic and freeform -- unscripted dialogue, long dead moments (all those Warhol comparisons, references to VANDA'S ROOM's documentary aspect). But what I encountered was a hyperformalized work of composition (not only in the obvious mannerist, pictorialist mise-en-scene and framing), but also in the carefully calibrated pronouncement of the dialogue (the place of Straub/Huillet) -- words given weight, spoken like beautifully balanced invocations. Perhaps only Vanda's less measured storytelling diverges from this anti-naturalism (if we want to keep up this possibly unproductive and crude binary of naturalism-antinaturalism).

Also, I still think a lot more needs to considered and written about the relationship between Costa and his film's subjects -- it's perhaps necessary to defend Costa as giving his impoverished subjects a certain nobility and dignity in his filmmaking style. But as the commentary has played out, I can't help but think this assertion that Costa's "aestheticization of poverty" or "of the poor" functions morally to bring about a compassionate, empathetic ennobalization simply doesn't tell the whole story. This line of argument is very problematic if one looks into any history of the relation between aesthetics/politics. It glosses over nagging complications that I don't think I can fully articulate and do justice to yet. But I want to think about it.

And lastly, I don't know if it has been pointed out in a lot of the English-language coverage (I have to catch up, as I said), but the letter that Ventura recites to Lento six or seven times in slightly varied form derives from a letter (more discursive and wordy, but still poetic) that the French surrealist and Resistance poet Robert Desnos wrote. Desnos's last letters, which were later published and gained a certain measure of fame, were written between mid 1944 and January 1945, once Desnos had been captured and during his internment at a series of Nazi concentration camps. It seems the text in COLOSSAL YOUTH was inspired by a letter Desnos wrote to his lover Youki for her July 31 birthday. "Letter to Youki, 15 July 1944, from Floha camp"). See the links:

http://www.kalin.lm.com/despho8.html
http://www.chronicart.com/mag/mag_article.php3?id=420
http://perso.orange.fr/d-d.natanson/desnos.htm

- Paul Fileri

jim emerson said...

Zack: I hope we'll get a chance to see "Colossal Youth" here in Seattle sometime soon.

As for "Pan's Labyrinth," I felt the way you did until the end. (Spoiler alert, comment readers!) Ofelia is, after all, just a girl. What can "fascism" mean to her? She just knows her mom's new husband is a bad, creepy man. And, yes, she follows the orders of Pan at first -- but can't help disobeying, and paying a price. (The site of the Pale Man biting off the heads of fairies was as shocking to me as a certain eruption of violence in "Cache" last year.)

You're right that there's not much difference between patriarchal fascism and patriarcal monarchy -- but in her imagination one represents her "true father" (king) and one her "false father" (evil stepdad) and those are different kinds of authority figures. What I loved about the ending was that she learns the most difficult lesson, that she may find herself in a situation when she must disobey authority (fascism) to be true to what she knows is right (and become her "true father's" daughter). But look at the price she pays for doing that! She's dying in the very first shot of the film, which is when we hear the story about the princess and the father who waits for her to return to his side. But she's not ascending to a throne, although that may be what she has always imagined. She's bleeding on the ground, about to join him in death.

jim emerson said...

Apologies, Zach. I saw just as I was hitting "publish" that I had misspelled your name! Jeez, you'd think I could at least have the courtesy to get that much right...

Zach Campbell said...

Perhaps more on Mr. Costa later on this blog. (I was just starting to re-read his closed doors talk again, today.)

Thanks for the Desnos heads-up, Paul. As for the aestheticization of poverty--that's a huge problem, and one that should be tackled. I'm going to put it on the agenda for whenever I do bring up this film or Costa again.

Jim, I think you're right, and in terms of the psychology of Ofelia and our understanding of the film . Pan's Labyrinth has constructed this particular sub-matrix of meaning very well! What I simply wondered about is why the film goes to the effort of underscoring the harmfulness of blind obedience (not even specifically fascist obedience: when the doctor tells the captain he's not the sort of man who can obey just to obey), making a point that exists outside of Ofelia's perceptions or her own conceptualization of her experiences, without further extending this already-presented critique to the authority of the supernatural. I'm not saying it had to be made Ofelia's "journey," only that if we were going to have some more 'objective' political points slipped our way, I'd have preferred that PL just "go there." I think it's a minor hitch, an unwisely pulled punch more than a fatal disaster ...

Winstrol said...

Thank you for the recommendation. I will sure watch this film