June 19, 2010
THE FALL (dir. Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, 1959)
This rare oddity from neglected Argentine master Leopoldo Torre Nilsson bristles with darkly comedic interludes, subversive outbursts, and perverse displays of childish anarchy. Realized in a shifting vision of sharp contrast black and white photography, “The Fall”immediately tests the limits of discomfort when a beautiful but shy university student named Albertina (Elsa Daniel) rents a room from an invalid woman and her rambunctious four children.
From the very moment Albertina ascends the stairs to the family’s enigmatic domicile in a stunning low angle shot, Torre Nilsson instills a palpable sense of menace into the narrative. The children’s frenetic perspective begins to slowly crawl into Albertina’s subconscious, revealing the insecure core hiding behind her naive exterior. Extreme angles dominate, framing the characters within a constricted and contorted world defined by fear and uncertainty. This warped world of innuendo, trickery, and breaking perception seems to be falling off its axis, leaving a damning critique of adult indifference and selfishness in its wake. Abandonment issues have never been so eerie or unnerving.
THE MUSIC ROOM (dir. Satyajit Ray, 1958)
Restored by Martin Scorsese’s indispensable The Film Foundation, Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece about wealth, arrogance, and artistic exhibition is a measured stunner from start to finish. The story of Biswambhar Roy (Chhabi Biswas), a rich landowner who wields his dwindling power and influence by staging lavish parties, explores the lengths people will go to sustain a crumbling facade. The three musical interludes are both mesmerizing and deeply tragic, indicative of the power earthly possessions have over the weak-willed.
As Ray’s protagonist slowly descends into madness, searing symbolism erodes the very fabric of the man’s existence. His epic domicile, once anchored by the regal Jalsaghar (Music Room), becomes a cracking shell of his former life, a reminder of his need for extravagance and the consequences of such a selfish philosophy. The final scene in the Jalsaghar is a metaphorical powder-keg, dimming the lights one last time on a man consumed by his own desire to be relevant in the eyes of his countrymen.
FAREWELL (dir. Ditteke Mensink, 2010)
The epic journey of British journalist Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, who was the first woman to fly around the world on a commercial airship (a German Zeppelin), is constructed entirely from archival footage from the 1927 trek. Director Ditteke Mensink overlaps voice-over narration recited from Drummond-Hay’s articles and journal entries which she wrote from the Zeppelin.
The film is undeniably majestic, especially in the first 20 minutes when the Zeppelin takes flight for the first time departing New York City. But Farewell becomes greatly limited by its aesthetic structure, relying entirely on the voice of narrator Poppy Elliot which doesn’t always display the necessary depth or humanity the words deserve. When the film should be at it’s most hauntingly lyrical, it’s repetitive imagery and cloying sound effects create a very monotonous feel. Still, there are ample soaring moments where the scope of the journey finally comes into focus and the bittersweet memories of a woman in transition are deeply felt.
THE TILLMAN STORY (dir. Amir Bar-Lev, 2010)
The most conventional documentary I’ve seen so far, and this expose on the tragic death and mythification of Pat Tillman turns out to be the least engaging. Narrated by Josh Brolin, “The Tillman Story” gets consumed by an uneven structure, jumping aimlessly from necessary background on Tillman’s time as pro football player, his decision to enlist with the Army Rangers, and the deep cover up the Army perpetrated after his death by friendly fire.
While the story itself is essential to the modern dilemma of war propaganda and governmental manipulation, the film never achieves a distinctive approach to unwrapping the layers of information and deception. Interviews with The Tillman family, friends, and fellow soldiers are loosely tied by themes of friendship, loyalty, and disappointment, and they never connect into a the damning mosaic the filmmakers obviously desires it to be. But director Amir Bar-Lev has the difficult task of fighting an already futile battle with a now absent Bush administration, who could care less than ever about Tillman the man, son, and husband. The lack of a resolute denouement becomes problematic from a narrative perspective, but it speaks volumes about the stalemate between governmental perception and public reality hounding our country today.