Archive for the ‘Spanish’ Category

The Dance of Reality poster (1)

Chile / France 2013

Director: Alejandro Jorodowsky

Writer: Alejandro Jorodowsky

Runtime: 130 minutes

A dazzling magical-realist portral of a childhood in 1950s Chile

What a wonderfully original work of imagination is The Dance of Reality! This is the kind of film that makes you realise how rarely the possibilities of cinema are fully grasped. In a recent review of Boyhood I wrote how Richard Linklater was one of America’s most adventurous directors. That is true, but Alejandro Jorodowsky’s magical-realist re-telling of his own childhood, and especially his father’s role in it, makes Boyhood seem positively conservative. In The Dance of Reality Jorodowsky has cast his own (adult) son Brontis as his father Jaime, which must have made for an interesting experience in those scenes where Jaime is urinated upon and undergoes genital torture. The context to the story is that the Jorodowskys are Jews that have settled in Chile sometime after WW2, having fled anti-semitism in their native Ukraine. However, under elected president Colonel Ibanez (who had previously held power following a coup in the 1920s) the country is in economic turmoil, and paterfamilias Jaime plots with his fellow communists to assassinate the president.

Whilst the communists rail against oppression of minorities such as homosexuals, in his private life Jaime cannot bear the thought that his son (Jeremiah Herskovits) – all flowing golden hair and cossetted by his mother – might be viewed as a “faggot”. He tells the boy that he can win his father’s admiration if he is willing to endure pain. This is a prelude to a series of increasingly hard slaps around the face, resulting in a broken tooth. In the subsequent trip to the dentist, at his father’s encouragement, the boy has his treatment without any anaesthetic.

Whereas Jaime is all tough, confrontational, political logic, Alejandro’s mother Sara (Pamela Flores) is the emotional heart of the family, and as if to emphasise this all her lines are delivered in an operatic singing voice. When Alejandro is bullied by drunken sailors at a bar, she tells him that Jews like themselves must learn to become invisible and, to demonstrate this, she removes all her clothes and walks naked, untouched, among the sailors.

When Jaime becomes involved in the plot to assassinate the president, he becomes the central focus of the story, leaving the village and ending up working as a groom for the president’s horse. The plot does not go as planned, and it is from about this point onwards that the film charts the change in Jaime’s character, leading to a resolution in which Sara explains to him his true nature.

Some of the magical elements in The Dance of Reality are clearly politically symbolic, whereas others may have a more personal meaning for Jorodowsky. But even when I was not entirely sure what a particular image meant I was happy just to embrace the cinematic spectacle before me. On paper, the brutality of Jaime in the early scenes, as described above, might sound rather harrowing and, undoubtedly, his behaviour isn’t pleasant. However, for every serious moment there is a comic element lurking just around the corner. Jaime the angry communist is initially portrayed as an absurd figure, getting turned on, for example, by stockinged display legs in his shop and then demanding sex from his wife. In a scene reminiscent of Todd Browning’s Freaks, he gets into an argument with a group of people in the street who are all missing various limbs (victims of mining accidents). However, it is clear that there is goodness lurking within. Despite castigating his son for unnecessary generosity to others, he himself brings water to the sick and destitute. Later, he gives away all his money to pay for a friend’s funeral.

Ultimately, the film conveys a message of understanding and love from son to father. Jorodowsky has spoken of “the dance of reality” as reflecting the particular image that we each have of the world around us, and the realisation that we are all basically the same. As if to emphasise that this account of his childhood and his father is filtered through his own imagination, the director appears as himself in various scenes where he folds his arms protectively around the younger Alejandro.

This is a quite extraordinary film and one which I would thoroughly recommend. The performance by  Brontis Jorodowsky is something to behold and one of the best I have seen this year.

Rating: 10/10

Viewed at the Barbican Cinema as part of the 2014 East End Film Festival #EEFF2014 www.eastendfilmfestival.com

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Mexico 2012

Dir: Raúl Fuentes

100 mins

Watching Everybody’s got somebody…not me I could not help making comparisons with last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both stories concern a young woman, still at school, who becomes romantically involved with an older woman. However, the two films take a very different perspective on their respective relationships. In Blue is the Warmest Colour, the narrative focus is on the younger woman leaving school and her friends behind, and navigating the cultured world of her artist lover. When the relationship goes wrong, her lack of maturity means that she struggles the most to deal with the situation.

Everybody’s got somebody…not me depicts almost the opposite situation.  Andrea Portal plays Alejandra, the beautiful dark-haired publisher who is in a secret relationship with younger blond Maria (Naian Daeva). In the opening scenes we see the two engaged in some passionate night-time fumbling in Alejandra’s car and then, a few hours later, waking up in Alejandra’s apartment.  Here we see the first hint of trouble to come, as Alejandra asks free-spirited Maria not to smoke indoors. Some time later the two women are at a jazz bar, where sensible Alejandra takes some persuading to forget the rules (if indeed they are rules) and to dance in front of the stage. One of the happiest and most tender moments occurs when the two are putting on make-up together and Alejandra shows Maria the best way to do it.

It is not until perhaps a third of the way into the film that we discover how these two women came to meet. This is told in flashback. and in these scenes it becomes apparent that the younger woman is controlling the pace at which the relationship develops. In another reversal of Blue is the Warmest Colour it is the older woman who is asked to navigate the social world of the younger, and fails to do so (to some extent, is unwilling to do so). We see that the cracks in their relationship have existed from the very start. Alejandra’s penchant for quoting philosophy and poetry, initially charming, becomes condescending. Alejandra also seems the more vulnerable of the two. She is prone to jealous outbursts when Maria is speaking on the phone (which, like a typical teenager, she does regularly) and when she encounters friends in person.

In fact, Alejandra emerges as a somewhat ambiguous character. In one scene, we see her waiting for Maria outside of the latter’s school. When Maria emerges, she does not look like the young woman we first saw. With her hair tied back, and wearing a school uniform that includes a check skirt and white knee-length stockings,  she looks very much a girl rather than a woman, and we start to wonder about the nature of Alejandra’s desire. There are shades of Lolita here. At one point another lesbian tells Alejandra that she “loves sweet-talking young girls about Foucault”, which is probably quite close to the truth. However, behind all Alejandra’s jealousy and condescending behaviour, when she is hurt she seems truly hurt. We start to suspect that she always prefers much younger women but, at the same time, can never make a relationship last because she doesn’t know how to exist in their world. In case this all sounds too stereotypically tragic, the ups and downs are played with a deft touch and there are also several very funny moments too.

The performances of both lead actors are quite outstanding and enhanced by strong direction and cinematography. At various points we get close-ups of the women’s faces in which the emotions expressed appear entirely natural and believable. The film is shot in black and white and there is a great visual style throughout. In the opening scene the camera is positioned in the back seat as Alejandra drives through town. We see the back of her head in focus, but all we see outside the window are a series of unfocused lights passing by. There is another contrast with Blue is the Warmest Colour in the lovemaking scenes. In that film, the camera drew back for the love scenes, which lasted for a long time, whereas elsewhere close-ups were predominant. In Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me close-ups are maintained for the love scenes, which are also fairly brief and not explicit. Arguably, this approach seems less voyeuristic; that is certainly my opinion, though no doubt everyone will have their own view.

Elsewhere there seemed to be shades of Wes Anderson in the cinematography. Several scenes involved the use of symmetry, with one character appearing centre frame with other people appearing in identical positions to the left and right. There were also scenes using geometrical arrangements of objects or linear perspective. Perhaps the most striking was a scene in a near-empty cinema. We see the aisles receding into the distance, with one couple positioned on our left near the front, a single individual a row or two back on the right, and Maria and Alejandra embracing passionately in the centre of a row nearer to the back.

According to the programme notes that were provided at the British Film Institute, where this is being shown as part of its Flare (LGBT) season, the film is Raúl Fuentes’ directorial debut for a feature-length movie. That being the case, it surely heralds the arrival of a fine new talent into the world of movies.

Rating: 9/10