Not Coming to a Theater Near You‘s “31 Days of Horror: VIII” is in full swing and I contributed a piece on Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s superb 28 Weeks Later.
I didn’t fall in love with Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited upon its 2007 release, but I certainly admired it after the zany, indulgent ramblings of Life Aquatic. However, revisiting the film this week in preparation for a review of the Criterion Collection’s brilliant Blu-ray disc for Slant Magazine has convinced me of its brilliance. The sublime story of the Whitman brothers is Anderson’s most fully realized examination of siblings in distress, and it gets better with repeat viewings. And the visual transfer is expectedly superb.
Films that sell love and yearning often enable characters to reach a serene, comfortable place alongside the object of their affection, ending with a unified vision of strength and hope. But In the City of Sylvia is an altogether different beast, avoiding exposition, character development, and closure while detailing the fragmented emotional state of an unnamed young man searching for a woman he briefly met six year before. His motives are muddled, if not elusive, and one begins to distrust the very notion of expectation as director Jose Luis Guerin guides this character down a long, voyeuristic quest to re-imagine the past.
In the City of Sylvia fills the frame with the action of everyday life, layering the motion of bodies, the sounds of voices, and the pitches of a city constantly in flux. But this is not a combustible vision of city life, but a slow, meticulous look at a man trying to remember the feelings behind a past moment. As the young man (called El on IMDB) sits at a coffee shop waiting and watching, Guerin invades the space of the other occupants with his camera, lingering on obscured faces, reflections in windows, hands curling hair, lips sipping coffee – the permeation of close-up action. Point of view shifts, and the setting turns into a jazz concert of unexpected occurrences, bursts of dialogue, and pure silence.
When El believes he’s found the titular Sylvia, he follows the woman for what seems like hours. Guerin plays with time and space, shortening gaps, lengthening streets, holding on locales long after the principal players have left the frame. It’s one of the most thrilling chase sequences of all time, and by its finale, the film has once again subverted expectation. We cannot ever fully understand the reasoning behind El’s story, but his pain, and doubt, and creepiness, and heartache, become incredibly personal.
So In the City of Sylvia allows El to wait in peace, hoping to catch a glimpse of a woman who might not even exist in a world full of life but short on immediate connection. The process is illuminating, charting an act of strange devotion words could never describe. Time drifts off course with little need for happy endings or reassurances, using the smallest reminders of nostalgia as breadcrumbs for a character obviously lost in space.
In Carlos Reygadas’ challenging and sublime Silent Light, the stunning beauty of the natural world slowly unearths the turmoil hidden in each character, most notably Johan, a man torn between his wife and lover whose family resides in a desperate Northern Mexico Mennonite community.
Bookended by what may be the greatest fade in and out shots in decades, Reygadas’ story is seeped in symbolism and layered mise-en-scene. But as each long take unfolds and Johan’s stricken decisions begin to weigh on both devoted women, ambiguity overwhelms any simple qualifications or answers, leading down an unexpected path riddled with narrative gaps and visual prose.
Much has been written about Silent Light already and most detractors of the film seem hellbent on calling Reygadas to task for being “opportunistic” in his camera movements and blocking, as if his visual creativity instills a dishonesty, or fabricated artificiality to the proceedings. In fact, Silent Light harbors a deep affection for its conflicted characters despite the “pretty” visuals, and Reygadas goes out of his way to show them as shifting souls coming to grips with emotions at odds with their belief system.
Like Reygadas’ far grittier and disturbing Battle in Heaven, Silent Light reinforces the stark struggle between visceral emotion and faith-based religions. However, Silent Light grapples with a place (physical and psychological) few films do – the contradictory heavens above.
- Screened at the 2009 San Diego Latino Film Festival
It took me a while to confront this film and even longer to muster a reaction. As opposed to the epic and meandering terror composed in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days keeps its scope contained to basically one room of horror (or at least a few).
Cristian Mungiu infuses each long take with unsettling flourishes of character expression and discomfort, making the entire film one long, unsettling look at slow objectification and deep ignorance. Something tells me this film will reveal even more nuances upon further viewings, if I can find the courage to sit through the it again.
Most Mumblecore films drive me nuts with their irritating characters and lackadaisical cinematic style, but there’s an undeniable artistry behind Aaron Katz’s Quiet City which defies easy categorization. The simple narrative trajectory avoids simplicity, relying on the paralleled silence of a city bustling below the surface and two youths eyeing a meaningful connection. Maybe more to follow…
A sublime slice of Southern Americana from John Sayles, a true master of regional storytelling and nuanced ensembles pieces. In Honeydripper, Sayles compliments his usual layered dialogue with an expanding visual dynamic subtly referencing the burning social contexts of the 1950′s.
With the help of cinematographer Dick Pope, Sayles instills a roving sense of the past which haunts each character as they traverse through the sunny stillness of the Arkansas countryside, a place framed by blatant racism and subtle jealousy. While music (both played and imagined) helps structure the rambling story, a shared sense of place connects diverging moments of sadness and joy, highlighting the beauty and necessity of each.