by Brian Barth
Le Quattro Volte, dir. Michaelangelo Frammartino (2011)
When A. O. Scott says that a film “reinvents the very act of perception,” you listen.
Michaelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte (2011), is the most transfixing and profound narrative I have seen in years. The film structures itself around the four modes of transmigration (an ancient model of reincarnation); a soul wanders from man, to animal, to vegetable, to mineral. An old man trades his goats milk for dust swept up in a church in order to delay his death. Eventually he passes, and we follow his process of transmigration. For such a simple story (that has no dialogue whatsoever), it might seem odd to commend the writing, but any filmmaker that can weave a riveting story while forcing the viewer only to watch understands screenwriting in its truest form. The camera does all the talking.
The cinematography is disturbingly objective: think Robert Gardner without the narration. After the first cycle, you actually start to feel like a spirit, witnessing humanity as a species and people as animals. We scan around the old town up in the mountains; Andrea Locatelli’s camera is often perched on top of houses, hills, steeples. We’re not serenely floating as much as hovering, with a nagging feeling of menace; the next second we’re shocked by the most suffocatingly subjective camera–we are buried in the center of a pile of ash, sealed into a stone tomb or built into a wooden conflagration. In the final stage, we are released. We are smoke and ash. We sweep over the forest where his favorite tree was, we brush the field where his goats fed and we snake through his old mountain town.
What this film capitalizes on so successfully is the simple pleasure of watching. Much like the beginning of There Will Be Blood or Wall-E, it’s comforting when a director forces you to watch. It’s an act of confidence: “I know what I’m doing, just let me show you.” Its effect in Le Quattro Volte is that and more. There are only a few things in the film that place us in time; otherwise this story could have happened hundreds of years ago. In the terms of transmigration, it absolutely has. It’s happening all the time.
by Brian Barth
Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2009)
Yesterday was Sunday, September 26, and in my mind, the first fully realized day of fall. As I was riding to the Landmark Theater in Kendall to catch the 1:25 showing of Get Low, I saw that the humble Boston skyline was subdued under the thick cover of clouds. The muted gray seeped into everything, and though the summer smoldered it had lost contrast and color. What better time is there to turn to film, which in itself is just color and contrast? A descending day of white and gray is the perfect world to abandon for another; it is a variable, where nothing is being missed.
Variety broke the news yesterday about Paul Thomas Anderson’s next feature, which it describes as exploring “the need to believe in a higher power.” The film will star frequent Anderson collaborator and now-portlier-than-ever Philip Seymour Hoffman as the founder of a fictitious religious movement in the 1950s. Hoffman’s character, according to Variety, is referred to in the film as “the Master,” (in the sense of a master of ceremonies) which gives me hope that Anderson might delve into the art of stage magic and slight-of-hand trickery–a concept not so foreign to the idea of religion in the twentieth century. Anderson, for those of you who don’t know, is the son of this man. He’s also collaborated with the great Ricky Jay. (more…)
by Adam Hirsch
The ride’s over.
There went the decade, crawling to a slow halt in the station, and now we disembark. This decade had its ups (college, technology) and downs (war, hurricanes)–and the world of film was no exception. Filmmaking went in two directions: Hollywood films ballooned year by year with increasing budgets and frames, culminating with this month’s Avatar, James Cameron’s all-digital $700 million 3D action romp; Independent Cinema moved into inventive territory with uploads to YouTube and low-fi meditations in Neo-neorealism after many Studio Independent Branches that funded indies (for a period, c. 2003-2007) realized that there was no real market where they believed one to be and abandoned the cause. Still, large theater chains carried more independent films than ever before, and distribution for independent films was bigger than ever with the internet and VOD cable television bringing cinema to places it never could have travelled in the past.
We forget that in 1999, DVDs were seen as the luxury alternative to VHS tapes (as Blu-Ray is to DVD now) and the local video rental store was the general access point to the cinematic world. But with this decade came the domination of the disc, and Netflix rose with it along the way. No matter where you live, so long as you have access to the internet and a DVD player, you can watch nearly any film. Think about that.
This decade was the era of the superhero. Television rooted itself in its conception of reality, though gradually began to lose itself to the power of the immediacy of the internet. Just as the remote control killed the traditional nightly television schedule, so did TiVO and iTunes murder watching television on any predetermined schedule at all.
Here’s the Company List for the top films of the Noughties. (more…)