Monthly Archives: August 2012

  • Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz) Patricio Guzman ( 2010 Chile)

    Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la luz) Patricio Guzman ( 2010 Chile) Viewed Tyneside Cinema 12 08 2012 Ticket: £7.00

    After viewing the film, I still could not immediately understand the significance of the title. What does ‘Nostalgia’ in this title point to?

    Perhaps I missed something that was said, or blinked. There was an acknowledgement in the end credits I think to the person who suggested this phrase, ‘Nostalgia for the light’ (NL) as I thought about the film I began to suspect that it was another instance of Patricio Guzman’s (PG) poetic affectation. Nostalgia implies an idea of a heartfelt sorrowful longing; a sentimentalisation of the past.

    Despite some of its harrowing content, the NL is a sentimentalised vehicle of sorts. PG’s film reads like a carefully crafted documentary assemblage that has been designed to produce a film for international distribution. A typical teleological product. In itself that’s fair enough; but the problems arise when such assemblages are constructed out of parts that don’t work in the way they are meant to. The ingredients assembled to whet the appetite of the documentary commissioners, landscape, science, justice don’t work for each other, perhaps even work against each other and have to be forced into coexistence as a kind of filmic sausage. The cost to NL is to vacuously compromise in the conceit of its structure the main concern of its content: the continuing history of the ‘disappeared’ murdered by Pinochet. The stories of the women who search the dessert for bodies, of the architect who memorised the layout of his prisons to be able to reconstruct them when they had gone are core material whose meaning and impact is lessoned rather heightened by the associational structure of NL.

    The opening twenty minutes of NL introduces the film’s main proposition. The claim that there is some sort of relationship, a conceptual parallelism between the star gazers located in the desert and the women scouring the dessert for remains of the disappeared. The fact that both these activities share the same location, the extraordinary environment of the Atacama dessert, is given weight and signification at a high metaphysical level. In the ponderous opening sequence, mainly characterised by an unremitting voice over of PG, and an interview with an astronomer, we hear the laborious exploration of the self evident where it is revealed that these astronomers, as they measure light and photons emitted by far away stars, are actually looking into the past! If we don’t get the meta lingo, there is even a comment by one of the star gazers that….”…the stars are looking at us” These people are presented as deep thinkers, involved in the deep paradox of time. This sort of mumbo jumbo is supposed the flatter the audience into believing that ‘deep truths’ they have not previously considered, are being revealed. Following this establishing proposition, the mumbo jumbo about ‘time’ is transposed as a metaphysical framework through which we can understand the way in which the past of Pinochet’s Chile, is seen today, by his victims.

    My own feeling was that the audience were being fed a series a specious connections. Connections strong enough to pitch the film, but not strong enough to carry it.

    The Atacama dessert is an extraordinary location, whose physical properties, its size and meterological conditions that favour slow decomposition, thereby give a defining quality to the outlook of the women of the lost generation who search there for bodies and body parts. Other than this, the Atacama dessert filmed by PG, has little connection with the core of these women’s concerns either metaphysical or actual. And the accident of the siting of the world’s most advanced telescopes in the desert is again an accident, a particular that no amount of musing about time can actually connect to the disaster of the General’s years. As contextualised in NL is has little relevance.

    PG attempts to overcome the paucity of the intellectual/moral nexus of NL by overwhelming us with intercut images. Shot like an airbrushed National Geographic Magazine photo-shoot, PG resorts to the techniques of the advert or of propaganda. Hard cut two ideas from two different domains: you get strong association, connections and sales. We see it in adverts all the time, and we should be equally aware when documentary film makers use these techniques to bypass out critical faculties. The editing style used by PG has nothing to do with the intrinsic material arising out of content in the film. Neither the scientists nor the women reference each other in this cross associational way. It is the filmmaker’s pitch. The continual hard straight cuts from dessert to the intricate marvellous machinery of the telescopes; from the searching women to the analytical astronomers. Of course accompanied by synchronised music characterised by a ponderous series of sonorous chord changes.

    I was left with the feeling that a writer like the late JG Ballard would make better and more insightful sense of this encompassing dessert and the worlds that it contains, in particular their essential remoteness from each other. ‘Time’ as a concept in this place has a disconcerting implacability, an indifference to the plight of the women and the camp survivors. The monitors of the scientists suggest that all memory will be filtered down to little blips of electrons on a screen gazed at by educated and cerebral scientists who chart calibrate and record. The scientists in their detachment and sequestered intellectual worlds are as far removed from the emotions of the women as the stars themselves, for they are part of the world that moves on continually endlessly almost at the speed of light.

    If further confirmation were needed that PG’s film was primarily an exercise in the expression of an empty sentimentalised production, the final scene provided evidence for the same. In this scene the two main human strands of the film are brought together in one image. As if in this image, this conjoining of concepts, the film’s proposition can become a theorem. We see two of the women who scour the dessert for their disappeared, sitting on the old telescope, their faces smiling and radiant. They have come to look at the stars; this is the moment they yearned for; to gaze on pure time. (perhaps rather pretending to look at the stars from what I could judge)

    It is like the pack shot in an advert, neatly even if implausibly, two phenomena from different worlds are married into one image. Truth is presented as self evident, the more so if it is not the truth. adrin neatrour

  • Batman – The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan (USA 2012)

    Batman – The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan (USA 2012) Christian Bale; Anne Hathaway; Tom Hardy Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 03 08 2012 Ticket: £7.00

    James Holmes is kinda hot – chelseah’s twitter

    Pun in the sub title of the movie: the Dark Night Rises. As knight closes in on the American Empire only a purging apocalyptic violence remains.

    What does the audience see when they view the movie?

    Better to begin with the film as affect rather than a stream of thoughts that link the movie to the world and the social relations out of which and from which it is projected – both in itself and in its associated epiphenomena of death, represented most immediately by the murders committed by James Holmes (JH).

    The genesis of Christopher Nolan’s (CN) look and style in Batman are the DC comic books fused with the imagery of the computer game. The movie replicates the characteristics of the comic; nothing happens beneath the surfaces. Everything that happens takes place on the surface of the screen: its sets locations and computer generated graphics. We read the movie in images, pictograms to follow what is happening. Likewise nothing is left unsaid: what you get in the speech bubble is all that is said. Everything can be taken at face value. Batman then has a mythic quality in this respect in that the issue of meaning is not intrinsic but rather extrinsic and belongs in the realm of cultural responses.

    Neither in structure nor camerawork nor CGI is there anything of filmic interest, CN defaults to Hollywood’s tried and tested methods culminating in a cross cut finale. Interest devolves onto the internalised specific details of production and what these signify.

    The character of Batman himself is central to the film. It seemed to me that Batman is no longer an alter ego of Bruce Wayne. The Wayne/Batman two hander is not just a simple character switch using tights a mask and a cape. In the movies depiction of Batman, Bruce Wayne is a cripple. A figure rendered powerless and impotent by his evident handicap. Of course he is smart but this makes his crippled state the more frustrating as his body can no longer impose his will on situations.

    The Batman costume has become more than a disguise. It is no longer a tight fitting suit made of a yielding material that follows the contour of body. It has evolved into an exoskeleton, a responsive total body prosthesis enabling Batman to justify himself. The Batman exoskeleton enables his body to impose his will on his enemies. To this extent it has the same quality as the gun, say the gun used by James Holmes, which in US society has become a prosthetic extension of the body. The prosthetic extension of choice for the child that needs to impose the dictates of his frustrated will upon an indifferent world.

    Likewise the machines used by Batman and Catwoman are not actually machines. They too are prostheses. Fantasial creations stemming out of the fusion of comic and game. These devices are objects that are without traditional operational considerations capacities or limitations. They are devices that are responsive extensions of body and mind, seamlessly interfacing human desire and action through the medium of speed. In the age of the drone it is almost as if the power speed and intensity of these machines enables them to accelerate through reflective ethical considerations and to present the spectacle of the destruction they have caused as a logic in itself that is right . Right because it is too late to argue, and there never was time anyway. Military drones the Batmobile the Batbike exist as prostheses to create situations that are by the immediacy of their nature irreversible. The magical moment when the speed of the missile or the machine or the bullet changes everything. The gunman looks down at the dead bodies in the cinema knows that he has done this and things can never be as they were before. And this too is rightful.

    A culture, not just American but world wide, in which there seem to be changes to the psychic processes structuring the way we think. Increasingly action is an ideal that bypasses thought. Action an outcome driven by and governed by internally projected images drawn from the collective resource bank of computer games and movies and given efficacy by speed. Acton precipitated by the rage of the child processed in an adult body unable to escape its deeply internalised infantile needs. Immediate gratification of desire; intolerance of frustration. A culture that encourages fosters and exploits these needs as part of our consumer culture. What we pursue is no longer the collective dream but our own personal nightmares.

    Progress adjusted to the profit motif finally seemed to have come down to the irruption of a host of machine toys for adults who could with their aid, do what they had been forbidden to do as children. (Paul Virilio – Ground Zero)

    As the child has overtaken the adult so the image has overtaken the process of thought. Cut off from any real collective life we revert to a stream of consciousness in which a fantasy life of images is superimposed on our own internalised states of mind. We transform ourselves into the superstar of our own action movie. And since the Hollywood action movie (imitated of course in cinema around the world) specialises in the cathartic playing out of individual redemption by violent murderous closure, then this too is the scenario of choice for numbers of battered bruised psyches, who experience impotence and powerless opposition to the perceived controlling forces that deny them.

    James Holmes another way of being in the movie.

    One feature of the Batman plot is that it is ultimately meaningless. Well almost. The group who take over NYC do so without any overt purpose. There is no purpose to these people only state. We are to understand that they are evil. It is difficult to understand what is happening as anything else other than meaningless destruction for the sake of it. Sense you cannot make of it; all you can accept is the outcome: the destruction of the city as providing its own justification. Right at the end of the film we are given an explanation by the ‘uncovered’ antagonist. All this destruction, and the final detonation of the atomic bomb in the middle of the city is revenge upon you and the way you treated me and continued to enjoy your rich consumer lives as I watched on in fury – but now my revenge is your destruction. This of course to some extent, in personalised parenthesis is a slight echo of a jihadist statement. But more to the point it is the revenge of the child. Mass destruction no longer a function of personal gain, ideology, religion, war, competition but of individual will. The spectacle of destruction is consequent to the rage of the child inside the body of an adult that finds its expression in the speed of imposed death.

    CN’s Batman is characterised by the brutal periodic irruption of meaningless violence throughout his scenario. Meaningless in that the extreme violence is the mechanism for moving action along. But then into the cinema during the film steps James Holmes to perpetrate an action, to overlay the film with another act of violence; meaningful to him but meaningless to the audience who at first simply assumed he was part of the movie. And in a sense Holmes was part of the movie. He’s part of the movie released into the theatre by the same forces that create Batman as an archetypal cultural product. Enabled by gun weaponry prostheses to act out his own personal movie on the biggest screen in the world inside his own head; the child man bearing the fruit of his own frustrated desires. Be that the whole world is destroyed, I am vindicated.

    In the penultimate scene of the movie the camera looks over the destroyed infrstructure of Manhatton. The bridges blown away, huge areas reduced to rubble. A message does ring out: this is what happens when America lowers her guard and puts down her guns…..but the message seems to have overlooked the fact that the terror is now within the grain of America itself and it has sown the individual seeds of its own destruction. adrin neatrour

  • Hors de Loi ( Outside the Law) Rachid Boucharab (Fr 2010)

    Hors de Loi ( Outside the Law) Rachid Boucharab (Fr 2010) Jamil Debbaya, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouailla. Viewed National Film Theatre London: 10 07 2012, Ticket : £ 5.00

    Everything comes out in the wash

    Boucharab’s (RB) concern is to caste Hors de Loi (HL) as a validating vehicle for the Algerian revolution, lending filmic authority to fictive revolutionary archetypes and associative characters. As such it is an exercise that in itself dramatises the inevitable fate of revolutions as the moss of history clings to them, the movement from the polemic and political to the fake melodramatics of the soap opera. HL is more melodrama than political history.

    However it is the principle setting of HL that is its most noteworthy characteristic.

    Although the action moves back and forth between Algeria and Paris, it is Paris that presents as the real location of the film. Not as a background but as a setting of signification. It is this setting that gives RB’s film a contemporary resonance that stands on firmer ground than its claim to either emotion or historical authenticity. HL’s main action does not take place in remote Algiers but in ‘near’ Paris. Interpenetration of peoples is the underlying theme. In HL the war in Algeria is depicted as being played out in its own right, on its own terms, in the capital of France. Algerians were not some far away people. They and their struggle, their goals and aspirations, whether consciously articulated or not, were immediate and present even if hidden away in the bidonville of Nanterre, the late shifts of Renault car factories and shady bars. In Paris, as in the rest of Europe it is the unseen peoples of Africa and Eastern Europe who do the work. Often exploited in neo colonial relationships, if they cannot make themselves heard legitimately, they are close enough to make themselves felt. It is not possible to disconnect the conditions which these people have left, from the conditions in which they live amongst us.

    Other then its close to home setting HL offers nothing in itself as film. It presents as medium through which to plough a chronology that takes its main characters from rural Algeria in 1925 to Paris in 1962. It is a sort of break neck charge through significant dates in Algeria’s anti colonial history. The speed and broken nature of the film’s time line betrays the complexity of events to a narrative device. The device stitching RB’S sprawling material together comprises of the ‘follow’ mechanism: follow the three brothers. Three Algerian brothers are the core of film’s scenario and they are tracked through their relationship both with the forces of the age and their relationship with each other.

    The problem with this mechanism in film is that the end product is usually pure surface: all the energy of the film is expended on stapling together the complexities of the surface relations: history and personal relationships. In this HL calls to mind Lean’s Dr Zhivago a failure in everything other than its good looks and memorable theme tune: otherwise essentially empty. A vacuous statement that was unable to point the viewer further than Jarre’s ‘Lara’s Theme’ , used with indecent frequency to hold together the whole bag of collapsing affects and events.

    We watch events unfold. In this type of structure where outcome is known, there is no tension working through the scenario, working through the deeper grain of the material. Conflict, tactical and strategic and ambiguities are at the core of every political endeavour, but the tensions which they create often only become visible when a different phase of operations commences. RB has tailored his script to avoid real tensions relating to ends and means, tensions involving Islam and the FLN. The script’s set up of the three brother mechanism is exploited to indicate tensions: the opposition of ends and means that arises between two of the brothers Abdulkadir and Messaoud. But the latter’s initial distaste and personal disinclination to use the garrotte as an extrajudicial means of capital punishment is resolved all too easily; as is Said’s (the third brother) resistance to the FLN interfering with his boxing promotion.

    To generate tension, having decided to eschew interpersonal fraternal conflict, RB relies on the tried and tested set piece of action. This revolves about violence and fire fights: the killing of rivals of political factions, the assassination set piece and the attempted military style operation. These events are cathartic male film rituals familiar from war gangster and sci fi genres. The extended use by RB of action sequences particularly in the Paris setting reduces HL to an action genre rather than claiming HL as a significant political interpretent.

    With other possibilities RB makes of his film a series of events, rather than a process, to the detriment of HL which had the potential ini ts setting and in the forces it depicts, to be a different kind of film. adrin neatrour