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Showing posts with label Jordi Torrent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jordi Torrent. Show all posts

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Subtle resonances with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006) (work in progress)

This is a Festival preview of Incerta glòria (Uncertain Glory) (2017) (for CamFF 2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

16 October

This is a Festival preview (work in progress) of Incerta glòria (Uncertain Glory) (2017) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2017)

It is truly sad that, with a budget estimated (by IMDb (@IMDb)) at €12,000,000, Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti) (2015) gave us – in Toby Jones – a man in love with a flea... (And content, so it goes, to marry his daughter to whomsoever might identify, for what it is, the flea's skin.)

Though IMDb does not estimate the budget for Incerta glòria (Uncertain Glory) (2017), it gives the revenues for the opening weekend (in Spain – 81 screens) as €153,159 : it does not exactly spell out what total return there was on that €12,000,000, but one film had a seven-week shoot, whereas one shot for rather longer, from 15 May to 2 August 2014.

It would be very poor scripting, if it were not obvious that this preview values Incerta glòria much more highly than any figures from box office (or budget) – let alone any notion that Tale of Tales ‘must be’ better, because it has the said Toby Jones, and even Salma Hayek, on its cast. What it did have is a relevant portrayal of monstrosity and / or evil, and what Incerta glòria has is a much more nuanced one – one that even blurs the lines between parable, prophecy and the past (as was conceivably even implied by the very title Tale of Tales).

By contrast (whatever turns Tale of Tales may take to seek to surprise), the attitude that Incerta glòria (2017) adopts is not a binary one, of knowing / choosing good from evil, and with that being that – even though that dichotomy, if not simply on its own, is at the root of Guillermo del Toro's excellent Pan's Labyrinth (2006) : if Ofelia (in Pan's Labyrinth, set in the Spain of 1944) knew for sure how to do it (which is the point of the story), the film locates itself - through her - in opposition to her step-father Captain Vidal and his hunts for the anti-Francoist Maquis. (As with C.S. Lewis and his seven Narnia novels, it is on its supernatural - allegorical – level(s) that is made powerful.)

Not for the first time, Lewis’ all-embracing world of Narnia [in childhood, his brother Warren (‘Warnie’) and he co-created such a world (Boxen)] shows us a character, in Jadis (The White Witch - the name is French for 'formerly' ?), with sociopathic behaviour : Edmund is seduced, by the warmth of her sleigh / furs (all highly sexually suggestive, just as Meret Oppenheim’s famous fur-covered saucer, cup and spoon), but seduced into what ? Into betraying his brother Peter and sisters Susan and Lucy to Jadis… (A connection here to Camera Catalonia from three (?) years ago, with Fill de caín (Son of Cain) (2013) – on (and on the way to) the river afterwards, #UCFF chatted to its director, Jesús Monllaó, about traits of ‘being successful’.)


It is not just because we have a longer treatment, in Incerta glòria, than in the other films of this year’s Camera Catalonia that it is likely to be the most affecting film in the strand, but because it very poignantly treats of the subject of The Spanish Civil War*, which is often near to Catalan hearts.

Left to right : Oriol Pla (as Juli), and Marcel Borràs (Lluís)

Initially, we may be reminded of Pa negre (Black Bread) (2010) for historical re-creation and verisimilitude : a film from the very first time that #CamFF programmer Ramon Lamarca brought Catalan cinema to Cambridge Film Festival, in 2012, and – as one recollects – so popular that a third screening was put on.


A very careful (i.e. non-obvious) use of colour-grading, and the textural quality of the set-design and / or chosen, built location, are just some other reasons to love the look of and enter into the world of this film (and watch it multiple times, to see it unfold differently, with a knowledge of the beginning from the end) ; as with Pa negre, one retains the underlying sense of a filmic presentation, but a very subdued one, which allows one to couple with that of falling more and more deeply into its Weltanschauung : except for films that desire to alienate, this just is a feature that tends to unite the best of cinema.


* So called, at any rate, as we heard from Professor Paul Preston, when he accompanied co-director Jordi Torrent (@nycjordi) for the Q&A after Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015) (subtitled Afroamericanos en la Guerra de España, which #UCFF interpretatively rendered as ‘The part played by Afro-Americans in The Spanish Civil War’, and so not decribed as a ‘civil’ war).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 31 August 2015

Air-brushed from history ?

This is a Festival preview of Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 August

This is a Festival preview of Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015) is subtitled Afroamericanos en la Guerra de España (The part played by Afro-Americans in The Spanish Civil War [NB an interpretative rendering of the title (which is in Spanish) for this blog]).

It is the mark of a well-thought-through documentary that, in little more than an hour, it can not only tell its story, but also although much of what we are told about has happened in the late 1930s, and in Spain have us conclude its significance to where we are now, in the States (amongst many other places), with regard to 'respecting' everyone’s civil rights [dare one say human rights ?], i.e. that euphemism for the fact that such rights are not always respected (?) :

As directors Alfonso Domingo and Jordi Torrent clearly appreciate very well, black-and-white photographs (the visual record mainly takes that form here) can so often, when simply displayed, just somehow invoke disconnection, both from when they were taken, and, as a result, from the lives of those pictured*. On one level, of course, it is a little as if one looks at one’s parents (or grandparents) if lucky enough to have known them without being able to conceive of their having (or ever having had) childish, irrational or lustful desires.

[Not least given that, as fifteen-year-olds, we cannot easily (pleasantly ?) imagine the act that brought us into being], then, on another level, we are at four potential removes, at least, from men such as James Yates (author of From Mississippi to Madrid, and whose life the film partly takes time following) :

(1) He was still a young man at the time of the Spanish Civil War (19361939) [the link is to an article in the Encyclopædia Britannica]

(2) Before going to Spain, and because of being a black man (or some would prefer to say ‘a person of colour’), as well as someone who had stood, in various places of work, for unions to be recognized, Yates had experienced discrimination and persecution

(3) He then took part in a conflict : although Yates was a driver, not a combatant**, the conflict was fierce, and he most certainly saw action in this role (and saw others die, or, in the case of a good friend, Yates only learnt of his death once he had newly arrived in Spain)

(4) When he came back, from a place where he had been treated very differently from at home, his support for what he still believed in had probably hardly begun

By taking steps to make these points clear to us (please see below), this film ensures that there are no hiding-places for what seems, unless checked, to be our human tendency to apathy or lack of compassion, and so it makes better use of monochrome images than did Still the Enemy Within (2014) [a review is still to come...], which had converted some of what it presented to us to 3D : doing so almost became a distraction*** to seeing what participants in the strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had shot (or those very few journalists who troubled to cover the story on the ground) ?

Instead (by using various means), Héroes Invisibles much more imaginatively**** visualizes how the Afro-Americans who fought in the International Brigades (specifically, the Lincoln Brigade) have, in our non-specialist conception, been effectively air-brushed from history (though that phrase is not heard in the film). Which is to say that Torrent and Domingo enlarge our understanding of this supposed civil war (please see below), partly because we probably have not had reason to see black American soldiers, nurses, drivers amongst those who stood against the fascist forces under General Franco.

Actually, that is because we do not usually have ready access to the visual evidence, whereas at least half-a-dozen historians, at various points, make appearances in the film to share what their research has established from the contemporary photographic record, alongside documents, and memoirs and other publications. As to the status of the conflict, one also thinks of Syria, and what Return to Homs (2013) wanted to propose, with the accord of Amnesty International (@amnesty), i.e. the assertion that what was happening in that country, if properly described, did not constitute 'civil war' (as claimed).

(That said, unlike with the calls on Yates' longer-lived (if maybe less-demanding) tenacity, we can see in The Salt of the Earth (2014) [which Torrent (@nycjordi), as well as Mark Cousins (@markcousinsfilm), highly approve], how Sebastião Salgado, a photographer who had been committed to covering events in conflict-zones, found that he could not go on with his photographic reportage after the experience of seeing yet more lives destroyed in the former Yugoslavia and, on a return trip, in Rwanda. (This was after the time that Salgado had spent shooting scenes of struggle in the not unrelated sphere of the effect of global economic pressures on jobs and work.))

In this country, significant energy per se may be devoted to marking anniversaries of VE Day, or the outbreak of World War I, but maybe ‘the establishment’ conveniently neglects recalling when the States and Great Britain stood by as a war was prosecuted, on Spanish soil, and very greatly helped by Hitler’s German forces, and those,
from Italy, of Mussolini. It ended on 1 April 1939, yet only for World War II to break out, and Britain to enter it on 3 September, a bare five months later. Catalan film directors (as well as authors, artists, etc.), have, of course, wanted to oppose such neglect of the memory of what happened (quite apart from any consideration of the gratuitous tactical gain that Axis powers had obtained, by being able to practise the tactics of Blitzkrieg ?).

Focusing on its topic, Héroes Invisibles steers clear of very much national accusation, and also of the complicating issue of factions that arose amongst the different republican / anti-fascist groupings*****. That said, there are other films that have come to Festival Central in preceding years of Camera Catalonia [the link is to 'What is Catalan cinema ?'], such as Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008), which movingly centres on the Italian Air Force’s bombing of Barcelona [an era obliquely alluded to in [ ] Born (2014??)].

One thing that this film does, of course, desire is to challenge our impression of those who fought, if we derive it from the famous novel set during The Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls. The reason is that what Hemingway purported to tell us through the character of Robert Jordan, Héroes Invisibles states, in passing, is highly atypical with regard to the actual composition of the International Brigades. The consequence is that our having had regard to, and believed, a fictionalized account, rather than knowing the facts, has significantly marginalized knowledge of what James Yates
did (and others in his position).

Ernest Hemingway, working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls, at Sun Valley, Idaho, in December 1939 [taken from the Wikipedia® web-page on him : is Hemingway working, or is this another pose (please see below) ?]

Yet, probably more significantly than whether ‘Papa’ Hemingway told truth, or betrayed the nature of the men whom he had met in Spain (as some say, in favour of a portrait of such a man as himself ?), this film informs us, through what happened to Yates, so much about the lives of people who substantially underpinned what is shown taking place in films such as Selma (2014) :

In Spain, welcomed, and treated as equals, but they soon had, as Yates did, unpleasant reminders of the past on their return. Yet they had the continuing courage, vision and fight to want to stake their claim on such better things in the States…


* Likewise, the flickering of a silent film needs a good score, and it is best performed live. Not, though (although it is too often said), to bring it alive / to life, but to ease our way into its world, when, in its own terms, it was made for, and to have, accompaniment. Indeed, such films, after good image-quality and frame-rate had been secured, already do have movement (hence ‘moving / motion picture’, although often styled ‘movie’. (The giving of The Academy Awards ('Oscars®') is decided by The International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [emphasis added] (@TheAcademy)).

The best silent films have arguably and deservedly survived better, and are so much more alive, than many a Cinemascope release in Technicolor®. Yet perfectly posed early silver-nitrate ?? can be gorgeous, but does having a predilection for colour (e.g. even early colour footage of Hitler) cause us to keep our distance ?

** One substituted the word ‘fighter’ with ‘combatant’, because the film shows what a fighter Yates was, and continued to be, for what he believed in.

*** One can only speak as one alive at the time [which, then, benefited watching Generation Right (2015)], whereas other viewers are necessarily too young. However, we all respond with a variety of experiences to cinema (it is almost what cinema is for, to be a malleable medium of the mind and spirit ?), so, for some, 3D-ized photos, rendered almost spectral, would evoke a near-psychotic episode, because of their coupling with the disturbance of the audio [of background voices, making comment too quiet to be wholly audible, too audible to be wholly ignored]...

**** For example, in the documentary Virunga (2014) [which came to Festival Central (@CamPicturehouse) for a Q&A (before its impressive nominations for BAFTAs (@BAFTA) and The Academy Awards (@)], the ‘tick-over’ of a teleprinter was used to help present the pressure of events unfolding because director Orlando von Einsiedel had employed a drama editor (Masahiro Hirakubo).

***** For which, though, we can look to Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (1995), or Catalan director Óscar Aibar’s El bosc (The Forest) (2012), the latter of which screened at Cambridge Film Festival 2013 (#CamFF), during Camera Catalonia [the link is to 'What is Catalan cinema ?'].

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 31 July 2015

Passing the salt : Sharing the vision of Sebastião Salgado

This is a review of The Salt of the Earth (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

31 July

This is a review of The Salt of the Earth (2014)

For The Salt of the Earth (2014) (#TheSaltOfTheEarth : the official web-site is, it was a real pleasure, for a change, to be in Screen 2 at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse (the intermediate size of screen)). Even more so to be able to see Sebastião Salgado’s photographic images, projected on a screen of this size, and appreciate their quality.

A recommendation from Jordi Torrent (@nycjordi) as well as this one from Mark Cousins (@markcousinsfilm) had ensured that one would have to make time to see Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado’s (his son’s) film :

Yet seeing Salgado’s photography (as one can judge that Cousins must partly be saying) was only a fraction of the experience, for, in his gentle words of commentary, in clear, beautiful French, there was a double pleasure for the ear : both to understand what he had seen (and how, with his camera, he had been able to let us see it), and to hear the poetry that was such an element of his description. In fact, it was hardly mere description, which might have added but a little, but an immensely enriching illumination of his artistic vision, which brought us into experiencing his work more deeply :

Whether, with Wenders, leafing through loose prints (or unbound pages from his books of photographic collections), or speaking as they were shown full size on the screen, Salgado feels like a kindly but serious relative, earnestly talking us through the time that he spent with the people whom they show, so that we can relate to them (or, in later work, to broader scenes) : there is compassion in the way in which he helps us understand his work, from the individual histories of those dying* (or dead) in Sahel (19841986) to those Trying their luck in the combined wonder and horror of a Brazilian gold-mine (his first allusion to Dante’s Inferno** ?), in a country where coffins are for rent. (We see a body simply lying at the bottom of a grave.)

One could not have imagined that there would be such power to be had in hearing Salgado as we looked at his photographs, and it is at the centre of what gives the film its strength (alongside voice-overs, of a more explanatory nature, from Wenders and Juliano Salgado), and makes it a living creature : not for the first time, one likens it to the afternoon at CRASSH in Cambridge (@CRASSHlive, The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities), when we had the unknown factor of Murray Perahia, talking The Doric String Quartet (@doric_quartet) through playing the Cavatina of Beeethoven’s Strinq Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 130, and where we found 1 + 4 = > > 5 to be true.

Only a little eerily (because not aiming at the uncanny, but rather causing us to hesitate as to whether we were really seeing this), it is in commenting on the place by the church in Brazil (where, other than coffins being for rent, many items are on sale) that, for the first time, Salgado’s face appeared to emerge from an image : face and image had, of course, been graded as to texture and tone to match, so that he appeared within it, and it was a telling effect sparingly used to show how he had participated in the life that he has photographed.

Likewise, of course, and worthily of a film about Salgado’s photography and life, the cinematography (by Hugo Barbier, and Juliano Selgado) is excellent. Not that (and one would not want it to be) it is mimetic of the former, except as to its quality, if only for this simple reason, which Salgado gives right at the beginning of the film, when he is being observed, sitting at the top of a high point in his native Brazil, looking out, and taking photographs :

The premise (too little realized, and of which he reminds us) that, because especially at this level of artistry one is drawing with light (the exact meaning of the word ‘photography’), a number of photographers, put in front of the same scene, would produce several different ways of picturing it.

At the risk of seeming to say too much more about the how, rather than the what, one must mention Laurent Petitgand’s music, which, as one would expect from such a film, is subtle and is fully assimilated into the work itself : at first, what sounded like cello and quiet pulsing from an electric guitar, and then, when Salgado is with the Yali people of Papua New Guinea (in 2011), there is also a little percussion, and a hint of piano.

Then, at a tender moment***, when father (Sebastião) is leaning on son (Juliano) to be steady to try to get some shots of walruses (as the latter accompanies the former to come closer to his life and work), gentle xylophone****. Throughout, the scoring is absorbed / integrated into the film as a whole (with its employment of aspects of sound-design, with distorted chimes, echo, metallic timbres).

As to Wenders and Salgado, the film begins where the former began knowing about the latter, with the scale of those shots from the gold-mine (one of which was what Wender first saw**), and with Salgado telling us about this place, and us seeing him in Brazil, and then on location in Papua New Guinea, candidly photographing people who, amidst what appears to be their celebration / ceremony, look at images of themselves on the screen of his camera. Using photographic portraits, Wenders takes us through Salgado’s early life, student times*****, move to Paris with Lélia, and their decisive choice for him to leave his background in economics (and a post with The World Bank) and devote himself to professional photography, a career that has brought us significant titles, of which the principal ones are :

[The] Other Americas (19771984)

Sahel : The End of the Road (19841986)

Workers (19861991)

Exodus (Migrations) (19931999)

Genesis (20042013)

At the same time as following, in sequence, the making of these publications (the last two titles belong, respectively, to the second and third lives / planets / movies to which Mark Cousins refers (in his Tweet above)), we have Lélia, supporting Sebastião’s work, and bringing up their sons Juliano and Rodrigo a far cry from the dramatic notion that a recent film wants to bring us of a photographer of world events / situations (an unfavourable memory of which was evoked by some stages of his career : better points of connection can be found in In A Better World (Hævnen) (2010) and [at least in portraying civil war / genocide] Half of a Yellow Sun (2013))) :

Whether telling us about the courtoisie of gorillas, and how they will welcome one (if one respects their terms), or of a dead cicada, being incorporated into a tree, Salgado is always making observation about the world.

However, about mankind (and following Workers (subtitled Archaeology of the Industrial Age)), he says (from seeing what happens in the former (supposedly civilized) Yugoslavia) We are extremely violent : indeed, his final experiences in Rwanda (having seen previously how Hell was taking the place of Paradise) led him to see it as the edge of darkness (and to retire from taking images of this aspect of the world).

(At an earlier time, perhaps, he had been able to take heart, travelling 300 to 400 miles on the back of a truck (from Sahel ?), in two men, friends, who were pretending that it was a Sunday afternoon. Yet, as an economist who could see how governments were starving the people whom he saw, he knew early that their suffering was not un problème de portage.)

In passing, where the film ends has already been alluded to*****. In talking about Salgado’s time with the Yali people, it has likewise been mentioned that they looked at his images (not seeing a sinister taking of their souls), and he later says, about taking a photographic portrait : the subject makes an offer to you, to take a glimpse of that person’s life.

In putting Salgado, talking (or silent, reflecting), on the screen, Wenders breaks with ‘the industry standard’ of how to shoot an interview, and puts him right in the centre of the frame. Salgado is offering us a glimpse of him, and, by being filmed in this setting / lighting******, Wenders / Juliano Salgado and the crew graciously accept his offer.


* Often, we are informed, as a result of cholera, from the massive weakening caused by diarrhoea (and the resultant dehydration) and then being susceptible to other infections.

** And a photograph from where was his first point of connection with Wenders, when he bought a print of it, and then another, which hauntingly hangs over his desk, of a woman (the fourth image on this web-page).

*** One is reminded of some of Sokurov’s films, such as Father and Son (2003) (and Mother and Son (1997)).

**** Later in the film (but chronologically earlier, as it is in Kuwait in 1991), with Salgado’s compulsion to spend time alongside fire-fighters from Calgary and partly, as he tells us, damage his hearing from the sheer sound the volume of the soundtrack, and its presence, are necessarily greater. (Translated, Salgado calls this scene, with around five hundred oil-wells that had been set on fire when Saddam Hussein's forces withdrew, A giant stage, the size of the planet.) Further on, there is glockenspiel, but cello (sometimes with tremolo, and also using echo) is a mainstay of Petitgand's score.

***** We hear what Salgado’s father, calling him Tiao, says about his son when younger, and we see where the family farm is, and what has happened to it, as soil erosion has been caused by farming the land with cattle, leading to a lack of plant-life to hold back the flow of water. (Later, we see the relevance, with the founding of the Instituto Terra, and the planting of more than two million indigenous trees.)

****** In the hide, before father and son drowsily succumb to sleep (and after the polar bear has frightened away the walruses), Salgado says, about the bear on the endless shingle, that it does not make 'a well-framed photo', because there is no action, anything. The set-up for filming Salgado's face precisely makes it a well-framed image, respectful of him : who he is, and what he does.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Redemptive washing

This is a Festival review of La redempció dels peixos (The Redemption of the Fish) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

21 September

This is a Festival review of La redempció dels peixos (The Redemption of the Fish) (2013)

The Redemption of the Fish (La redempció dels peixos) (2013)* had its UK premiere at the Festival to-night. As we learnt afterwards, it was filmed on almost no budget and was really only achievable because director Jordi Torrent (who was with us for a Q&A, along with lead actor Miquel Quer) has friends in Venice, where all the filming took place : avoiding the popular locations, and unbelievably having a three-week shoot in August, it did what was needed, but with a change of wind-direction and temperature that adorned the very final scene.

The film is stunning, not just because Venice is a glorious city, but because Torrent gave it the space to breathe and be itself, without the picture-postcard mentality that others might have brought to making a film there. It does not matter whether one's view is that Venice was the actor at the heart of this film, it fed the action, and the action subsisted so naturally there. I say that, because Venice is one of my loves, but the heart of the film is how it shows contemporary relationships and communication in this centuries-old place.

Quer (Marc) has gone to Venice from Barcelona for reasons that only became apparent with time, and, as he tries to follow a man when he closes a bookshop and leaves, he loses him in the confusion that is this city (and which twice, on a first visit there, caused me to stray into the Naval Dockyards and meet men with guns). (Here, there are hints of Don't Look Now (1973).) They had last seen each other when Marc was nearly two, because Paco, the other man, is his father.

An inner core of others who are connected with Paco peoples Marc's time there, and he comes into association with them, thinking (or maybe wanting to think) that there is a meaningful link between each of them and him. One tells him to look at how The Grand Canal divides the city into two fish, one of which is trying to eat the other - he is reminded that he used to say the opposite, or that he said that the fish represent other things, but he says that the Fish of Science is gobbling up the Fish of Ethics. Beautiful shots of the water, with buildings coming in and out of flux, had prefaced all of this, and, as Venice is La Serenissima and married to the sea, it had been a delight to realize that this unattainable, unmasterable place was our setting.

Saying little more about what happens or why, the film is a cinematic joy for its acting and for how it has been made (all, we were told, with available light, and a light crew of five or six) - Paco seems not to trust Marc or his motives, and maybe we do not like the feeling that Marc is on a mission at the behest of his grandmother and reporting back to her and to his girlfriend, but we grow out of relying on one, and into what brings Marc to find his father.

This represents the present high-point this year, and I hope to make it to the repeat screening at 10.45 a.m. on Sunday 29th September (the closing day of the Festival).


* As an English title, it feels cumbersome, because is the fish what is redeemed, or is it what carries out the redemption ? Maybe that ambiguity is fecund, but I wonder whether something else might do better :

The Fish Swallows Whole, or

Venice the Redeemer

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)