Friday, February 19, 2016

No. 3: Feb. 19, 2016

By David Elliott

A movie menu, retro-rooted but served fresh each Friday.

Sometimes, to feed the critical lobe in the aesthetic brain, you have to step away from the plex-barn tango, the churning mosh pit of puff and grosses. You go to a short run of an adventurous movie that simply rewards. For me, many of those have been foreign, films like The Pool (India), Circo (Mexico), Offside (Iran), Scent of Green Papaya (Vietnam, by way of Paris), Tony Manero (Chile), Le Quattro Volte (Italy), The Deep Blue Sea (Britain). And now Neighboring Sounds from Brazil, the eighth feature film of Kleber Mendonca Filho.

I'd never heard of him, but his Brazilian palette is very rich. If it doesn't have the fervent samba salsa of Black Orpheus or City of God, it is still deft, sure and saturating. The movie's star is the coastal city of Recife, in an old neighborhood being swallowed by new, generic high-rises that lift rents and tensions (the big slabs promise more security, but in an isolating, street-crushing way). Mendonca Dilho is unfaltering in his rhythms. His eye scans wide, nailing each image, and he never over-sells the music. His script deals with numerous uneasy citizens and a new team of security guards, rather "sketchy" guys but, despite some class envy, basically honest.

This propulsive carousel includes the sedation of a neurotic dog; a woman sexually excited by a washing machine; a movie theater in ruins; a little girl who massages Mom with her big feet; a black boy hiding in a tree; a lost tourist; a preening tough who can't live up to his Jackie Brown poster; a nocturnal dream of criminal invasion. Here again is the Brazilian counterpoint of desire and torpor, and a Godfather-ish patriarch who signals a backstory held in reserve for the finish. The satisfactions of this sensual screen-filler are not rigged for plot.

(Meanwhile, back at the Uberplex: If you crave pure idiocy, and the dumbest use of Rome since Alaric's Visigoths plundered the city in 410, your gift is Zoolander 2, the lavish parody of franchise overkill that provides sporadic laughs. If you want some overdue depth on the revived Star Wars mania, read Christian Caryl's lively personal essay "The Force of Nostalgia" in the Feb. 25 New York Review of Books. Among the insights: "Star Wars has become, to a remarkable degree, captive to the geek revolution it spawned back at the end of the 1970s." It was 1977, and I remember thinking "Flash Gordon revisited.")

SALAD (A List)
Here, inspired by the review above, are my Ten Favorite South American Films: Our Lady of the Assassins (Colombia), Black Orpheus (Brazil), Aguirre, Wrath of God (Peru), Me You Them (Brazil), The Motorcycle Diaries (Argentina etc.), Live-in Maid (Argentina), No (Chile), The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina), City of God (Brazil) and Evita (Argentina -- no, not the musical, the documentary). Honorary mention: The Wages of Fear, with the South of France subbing superbly for Venezuela.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
During the dicey days before Citizen Kane's delayed 1941 release (this May 1 is the premiere's 75th anniversary), Citizen Orson, RKO Pictures and Welles attorney Arnold Weissberger faced mounting threat of Hearst retaliation. At one point, "to be certain of scaring off Hearst, one of Weissberger's colleagues suggested threatening (the publisher) with disclosing that, in Mexico, Marion Davies had once covertly given birth to twins." This was not used. As Weissberger told Welles, the crux issue was: "Will a man be allowed in effect to copyright the story of his life?" Answer, despite retaliation: No. (From Barbara Leaming's great, authorized biography, Orson Welles.)

ENTREE (Starlight Rising)
All the key talents of 1984's finest movie came into it vulnerably: "Fault lines girded Paris, Texas. Wim Wenders had married four times. Sam Shepard had left his wife for Jessica Lange. Hunter Carson came from Kit Carson's failed union with Karen Black. Dean Stockwell's second marriage brought two kids, then divorce. Nastassja Kinski had survived her demonic father Klaus and several romances. Roving coyote Harry Dean Stanton never married, yet had one or two offspring he had not (by 1984) seen. Caringly, the gods of art saved Paris,Texas from going down the soap drain." (From the Stanton/Paris,Texas chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, soon to be published by Luminare Press.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it's a distillation.

Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas (United Artists; Wim  Wenders, director; Robby Muller, cinematographer)


  1. Oh dear, my visual on South America has always included the gritty searing images from Wages of Fear...I'm at least glad to know the South of France were it was filmed gave a fair semblance.

  2. As not many viewers had visited the oil outback of Venezuela, Clouzot got away with it. He created a wonderfully desperate town with fabulous local yokels.