Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, new each Friday.
APPETIZER (Reviews: Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles and Honeyland)
For those who don’t need to have their brain swacked at the mall by Hustlers or It Chapter Two …
Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
Here is an odd movie, one befitting the greatest surreal director, Luis Buñuel. Salvador Simó has made an animated salute to the 1932 making of Buñuel’s once scandalous, now obscure Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread). Using a little budget, after his anarchist friend Ramón Acín won the lottery (Buñuel spent much of it on a Fiat touring car for the filming), Tierra imitated and slightly spoofed the vogue for “ethnographic” documentaries about exotic places. Unemployed after his MGM-paid visit to Hollywood, and stung by falling out with Salvador Dalí after their scandalous Un Chien Andalou and even more subversive L’Age d’Or, Buñuel’s exotic place was in his homeland: Spain’s remote, western Las Hurdes region of medieval poverty and superstition, an outback ripe for the coming of fascism. The main fiesta involved caballeros pulling the heads off live roosters. A key local income was the state stipend for taking in poor orphans (soon multiplied by the Civil War – Franco’s regime would ban Tierra Sin Pan).
The animation is elegantly simple and austere, with only a few flourishes (as in the image above). No need to hype the subject graphically, given the still disturbing clips inserted from Tierra. Simó’s team comes through, as did Buñuel’s little band (which included one assistant on assignment from … Vogue!). Did Buñuel, prompted by the Marian idolatry of villagers, really have erotic dreams of the Virgin as the one cartooned here? His compassion, notably for a sick girl, is shown touchingly. He also “improvised” certain incidents, including a chicken’s exit and probably a mountain goat’s. He was young, angry and whipped along by his muse, and so: a surreal documentary (he was Werner Herzog’s soul father). This is a moving tribute, too close to his spirit and the harsh themes to be just a cinephile valentine. It hops along the gears of creativity with sprightly assurance.
Buñuel is, like surrealism, a past-century sensation, and yet his best movies (El, Viridiana, Los Olvidados, Robinson Crusoe, Nazarin, Tristana, Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour) remain vitally entertaining and almost timeless (for purity of Buñuel read his memoir My Last Sigh). He compared movie-viewing to both hypnosis and rape, and while this moving and even charming postscript film avoids both of those conditions, it invades our imagination compellingly. Turtles and Tierra (which can be found on You Tube) would make quite a double video – those title turtles refer to the archaic stone-shelled houses of the villagers.
We know bees are in trouble. None of us know it like Hatidze Muratova, a rustic beekeeper in Macedonia, north of Greece. In the docu-dramatic Honeyland, the spindly, sunbaked (she could be 40 or 55) Hatidze crops honeycombs of wild or semi-tamed bees. She admires their dense social labor and, ecologically astute, always leaves them at least half the golden honey (sharing her half with her old, fading mother). Honey and no dentistry have left spinster Hatidze’s teeth like a decimated Stonehenge. Directors Tamara Koterska and Ljubomir Stefanov relish her tough spirit, stoical kindness and Ma Joad femininity. At the market down in town she buys modern hair dye – chestnut brown – and says “Everyone likes to look nice, Mom, even me.”
Not nice are new, locust-like neighbors who spill from their big truck. They have nearly feral kids and some skinny cattle. The father is a crude scrounger who ignores Hatidze’s advice, his greed ravaging his hives and even spoiling hers. This is less primal capitalism than a Hobbesian state of semi-nomadic abuse. After helping some of the exploited and bee-stung children, Hatidze steels herself for sheer survival. This curious movie’s best value is the fertile buzz of the hives, the rough Balkan landscape, and hard-scrabble Hatidze staring up at the stars or the contrails of planes: aliens from a less rooted world.
SALAD (A List)
Remarkable Dramatic Movies About Poverty
In order of arrival, with year and director:
The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford 1940), The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio de Sica 1948), The Little Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini 1950), Los Olvidados (Luis Buñuel 1950), The Lower Depths (Akira Kurosawa 1957), Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini 1957), The Exiles (Kent Mackenzie 1961), A Taste of Honey (Tony Richardson 1961), Hunger (Henning Carlsen 1966), Mouchette (Robert Bresson 1967), Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett 1978), Ironweed (Hector Babenco 1987), City of Joy (Roland Joffé 1992), Always Outnumbered Always Outgunned (Michael Apted 1998), Rosetta (Dardenne Bros. 1999), The Pursuit of Happyness (Gabriele Muccino 2006), Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino 2010), Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik 2010).
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson Welles had a yarn for any assistant who came up with multiple excuses for not doing something: “(Austrian Emperor) Franz Joseph is riding in his carriage through this tiny provincial town, plumes and all. The trembling mayor sits next to him and says, ‘Your Imperial Highness, I apologize to you in the profoundest terms for the fact that the bells are not ringing in the steeple. There are three reasons. First, there are no bells in the steeple …’ And Franz Joseph interrupts him with, ‘Please don’t tell me the other two reasons.’ Now, that’s a good answer for every assistant director in the world, working for you in any capacity.” (OW to chum and director Henry Jaglom in My Lunches with Orson.)
ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Who should better dream than a down-and-outer?
After old Howard’s prospecting pitch in the Tampico flophouse in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Fred C. Dobbs “rolls over on his cot, with a sneer: ‘Think I’ll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold getting bigger, and bigger and bigger.’ At daybreak he will wake up inside the dream, hooked, and soon tells Curtin that ‘gold don’t carry any curse with it. It all depends on whether the guy who finds it is the right guy.” The dream becomes, of course, his nightmare. (Quote from the Bogart/Treasure chapter in my book Starlight Rising, available via Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)
DESSERT (An Image)
A fine movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.
After a drinking night, uprooted Native American men head “home” through L.A.’s Bunker Hill tunnel in The Exiles (independent release 1961; director-writer Kent Mackenzie).For previous Noshes, scroll below.