تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

[JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (2015)]

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

חתונה מנייר [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

חתונה מנייר

-PD

Cochochi [2009)

Long ago.

When I went to Spain.

I was amazed to find.

Not everyone speaks Spanish.

Primarily.

In Catalunya, with Barcelona, they speak Catalan.

In the Basque Country, with Bilbao, they speak the fascinating Euskara (or Basque language).

And in Galicia, where clothing giant Inditex (Zara) is located, they speak Galego (or Galician).

[Even Google Translate recognizes Galician now.]

And that’s all in Spain!

But how was I to know this?

Being a boy from Texas.

Well, I did my research…

Let me tell you:  it’s not easy finding a Basque language guide here.

Even in a diverse city such as Austin!

But now I am in San Antonio.

And here we have another Mexican film.

But it’s not in Spanish.

Yes, Mexico is linguistically rich too.

This film is in Tarahumara.

Yes.

That’s a language.

Spoken by about 85,000 people.

AND…it’s one of 63 “national languages” of Mexico!!

Other sources count 69 languages in the country (including Spanish).

Tarahumara is one of four languages in Mexico which fall under the Taracahita branch of Uto-Aztecan languages.

And when you watch this wonderful film (currently available on Netflix in the U.S.), you will see the distinctive, beautiful faces of the child actors who carry on this “Aztec” heritage.

But don’t be confused.

The Uto-Aztecan languages stretch as far north as Idaho (Uto, as in Ute language, as in Utah).

And as far south as El Salvador.

But suffice it to say.

Even Mexicans might be hard-pressed to understand the dialogue of Cochochi.

Thank God for subtitles!

Our film is directed by Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán.

And they do a fantastic job.

The film is sparse.

Quiet.

The child actors evoke the magic of Víctor Erice’s masterpiece El espíritu de la colmena.

And while Cochochi seems to emanate from another planet (kind of like that “Martian” language Basque…[or, for that matter, Welsh]), there are faint glimmers of cinematic quotation here and there.

Perhaps a sudden splash of color…some sunflowers…in an otherwise bleak, earth-tone color palette…à la Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry.

Or even the delicacy of time passing…perhaps what Deleuze meant by the “time-image” all those years ago…but what I instinctively associate with Ingmar Bergman–that eerie silence which characterizes nature in its most remote regions.

The Rarámuri people depicted in this film (our Tarahumara speakers) live (in this case) in the state of Chihuahua.

Northwestern Mexico.

[The Rarámuri people are also found in the states of Durango and Sonora]

Our actors have the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains as their backdrop.

Places like Copper Canyon.

But this is no Bogart film.

Each and every movement and bit of dialogue which our directors elicit from their players is an act of loving capture.

Priceless moments which convey a multitude of new thoughts to those unfamiliar with the Rarámuri people.

Our main actors play themselves in the movie.

Yes, in much the way you would expect Robert Flaherty to make a film.

But keep in mind that the French title of Blue is the Warmest Color is La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2.

As in Adèle Exarchopoulos.

As in, the actress (Exarchopoulos) was playing a character which bore her name:  Adèle.

[at least her first name]

But the stars of our film are two young actors who don’t even have Spanish Wikipedia pages.

Luis Antonio Lerma Torres plays Tony (short for Antonio).

His full name is utilized for that of his character.

Tony is great in this film.

But the real star is Evaristo Corpus Lerma Torres.

Evaristo gives a performance which is unforgettable.

Quiet.  Understated.  Real.

But don’t be fooled…

These two film brothers (real life as well?) need each other.

Their personalities play off one another.

To call this a road film would be slightly inaccurate.

There aren’t really roads here.

At least with paving.

And while there are a couple of rusty pickup trucks which transport members of various communities around…creeping along the dirt roads (gratis, of course)…the real drama involves a horse.

Indeed, there are horses about.

Donkeys.

Sheep.

But this one horse is very important.

Because Tony and Evaristo have “borrowed” it…from their grandfather.

This is really a transcendent story of mercy and love…of patience…and of the brilliance of nature.

Animals are smart.

And miracles can be in the wise words of grandfathers…

Forgiveness.

And wonder.

-PD

Les Misérables: Liberté, liberté chérie [1934)

Tonight, a miracle happened to me.

For a lonely film critic, that can mean only one thing:  love.

And so I thank GOd for a moment of happiness.

No, I am not drunk beyond syntactical awareness.

I am merely thinking of Catherine the Great.

1729-1796.

Russia.

Екатерина Алексеевна.

But then I am also thinking of the Panthéon.

Paris.

First came Mirabeau.

1791.

A mere three years.

And then Voltaire.

Ah!  Now we are getting somewhere!!

Émile Genevois, like Jonathan Donahue, thinks of “Little Rhymes” when he’s alone and scared.

This is the character Gavroche.

Sous les pavés, la plage.

Mai ’68.

And then the beautiful Marat in 1794.

And still Catherine lived.

Charlotte Corday died.  Aged 24.

Back on track with Rousseau.

The barricades.

Rue Saint-Denis.  From the June Rebellion of 1832 to the sex shops of 2016.

Prostitution.

Vive la République!

And then the dream of Catherine the Great (второй) came to an end.

Night falls…

Reality.

Yes, maybe it was Katharine Hepburn instead.

Too pure!

But what I’ve lived my life for.

Dedicated.

Misguided.

Recalibrated.

Sad but honest.

Just a simple car ride.

Like Homayoun Ershadi in طعم گيلاس

There is no putting any punctuation on that.

No catafalque of Lamarque.

Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude.

à son ami Franz Liszt

November Uprising.  1830.  1831.

Poland and Lithuania.

And back to that Russian Empire of Catherine (and Пётр before her).

It’s funny.

In Honegger we might hear shades of Tchaikovsky.

The Arabian Dance we know so well from The Nutcracker Suite.

Coffee.

Divertissement.

Act II (второй).

Tableau III.

It wasn’t a diacritical mark.  It was merely a speck of dirt on the screen.

In the half-light.

With cat eyes.

Pray to goD for another chance to hold the coins of long suffering.

Through the sewers of Paris.

I thank you for that blessing of weight lifted momentarily.

 

-PD

 

 

Ostře sledované vlaky [1966)

There is no precursor for this delicious film.

Closely watched trains…

There is no warning.  No real foreshadowing of what awaits Miloš Hrma.

And I, of course, will not give away the game.

But let me tell you about this watershed moment in cinema.

You could say Czech New Wave.  You could also say Czechoslovak New Wave.

In the case of the auteur in question, Jiří Menzel, it is the former.

The movement was already going by this point.

1966.  Almost the midpoint, if we say 1962-1972.

But none of that matters too much.

What matters is this film.

Closely Watched Trains.  Ostře sledované vlaky.

And so we started with Romania.  A new wave.  A current phenomenon.  Briefly in vogue.  And completely deserving of the praise.

And we made a point to look elsewhere.  To Iran.  Because of Kiarostami.

And now we add a much older New Wave.  It is of particular interest to our first location (Romania).

In globetrotting through movies we hit some odd, beautiful destinations.  Nations.

Czechoslovakia.  No more.  Today.  Czech Republic.  Slovakia.  And Ukraine.

But none of this matters much either.

What matters is Miloš Hrma.  The shy boy.

We know.

Intimately.

Not easy.

If the meek shall inherit the earth (Earth?), then it’s a long time in coming.

I am fond.  Quoting Neil Young.

“Vampire Blues”

“Good times are coming/But they sure coming slow”

Indeed.

That is the situation of Václav Neckář’s character Miloš.

He has the delight of love.  Snow in the air.  Smoke from a steam locomotive.  A cloud of fleeting sparks.

Our heart beats rapidly for cute Jitka Bendová.  And we think of football.  We try to ignore the Bond girl essence of her name.

Because she is one of the most poetic faces in cinema.  No Wikipedia page for her.  At least not in English.

But it is this love between Miloš and Máša which gives us hope.

An adieu from the caboose (football, football).

No doubt Wes Anderson plumbed the depths of Closely Watched Trains while searching for his own cinematic language.

In fact, the beginning of this film is very much like the beginning of every Wes Anderson film.

An exposition of characters.

Some with peg-legs.

An old crazy uncle.

A cow with too many udders.

But the most crucial is the hypnotist.

If there is a precursor to Jiří Menzel (and there must be), then it is Renoir.  Renoir meets Eisenstein.  And sex.

Did I fail to mention?

Closely Watched Trains is a sexual tension which can no longer be crystalized.

And thus history served us well by preserving this document of a different age.

It is a naughty film, but not by today’s standards.

It is sex…as directed by Hitchcock.

And for that it is sexier.  More tense.  Taut.

Consider, for instance, the stamps.  Ooh la la.

If you go ga-ga for Gyllenhaal in Secretary, then you must see the breakthrough moment.  In cinema.

Like the first kiss.  May Irwin.  Thomas Edison.  But actually William Heise.  1896.

Big black maria.  Something/Anything?

Yes, in fact.

First, and most importantly, the telegraphist (as played by Jitka Zelenohorská).  Almost like Chantal Goya in Masculin Féminin, but better.  Same year.  1966.  Maybe Menzel got an idea from Godard.  In any case, Zelenohorská gives one for the ages.  Deliciously naughty.

And lest you run off feeling less-than-substantive edification, it is political as anything.  That’s where Eisenstein comes in.  A brief moment of cinematic intercutting.

And the war.  Like Les Carabiniers.  1963.  The Rossellini inspiration via Godard, perhaps?

But really it is a new cinema.  Czech!  Mind-blowing…

Sex is more erotic with a laugh.  Surreal.  Real.  More real than real.

In a stunning final coup Menzel brought us Naďa Urbánková.

One minute you’re thinking about a girl, another you’ve been rounded up by the state security apparatus.

And then they realize you’re nuts.

And they have pity on you.

Release you into the swaying grass.

And like Chaplin you waltz off into the sunset to fulfill your destiny.

What a film!

-PD

Sauve qui peut /la vie/ [1980)

12 seconds.  5 minutes.  2 fortnights.  a jiffy.

Really, I shouldn’t have to comment on the commodification of time.  Is that not the essence of capitalism?

Into your busy lives cram another blog post.  Another sloppy film review.  A film.

A more professional critic would start by alluding to the copious literature which points to this film as Godard’s return to form.

A strange phrase.  Which form?

Because really, for me, Godard begins here.  The known Godard is Parisian Godard…la nouvelle vague.

The unknown Godard is everything else.  As an American consumer it is rather inconvenient to obtain all but the classic films from our auteur.  After Week-end (1967), the DVDs become exponentially harder to come by.

But, as a rule, I digress.  Liberally.  Often.  Without fail.

This, then, would seem to be Godard emerging from the black forest of political filmmaking and ethical soul-searching to find the inklings of his mature style.

It is not an original thought.  The English-language biographies cover this thoroughly.  The device in question is (for lack of a more exact term) slow-motion.

It is the playful wonder of a man who still has the curiosity of a boy.

Technology changing.  New idiosyncrasies to each bit of gear on the market.

It is the same now.  Stash your camera on the top shelf and soon you will not know how to make films.

Your equipment will be obsolete and your knowledge outdated.

But that is all tertiary (tertiary?) in importance.

To our film.

We have characters; plot.  A walk in the wilderness and Godard (with the indispensable Anne-Marie Miéville) returned to a somewhat recognizable form.  As always, however, the form is highly subverted.  One might even say perverted in this particular instance.  It is a strange beauty.  Incomparable.  A triumph.  A mere glimpse of things to come.

Always playing on archetypes, Godard casts singer Jacques Dutronc as Paul Godard.  There can be little doubt that this character is meant to represent the filmmaker himself.  Every marker is there:  the ubiquitous cigar, the glasses, the mannerisms, the disheveled college professor sartorial ensembles…

The stunning Nathalie Baye plays Denise Rimbaud.  Here is where the ark types.  Arc-en-ciel.  A panorama of wispy clouds.  Yes, Arthur is never far…nor Baudelaire…nor Sartre and Duras.  And Marguerite?  Faust.  Your soul for a job.

Yes, prostitution returns.  The grand Godardian theme.  Isabelle Huppert plays the role of the sex worker Isabelle Rivière.

The setting?  Switzerland.  We see the signs at the station.  Nyon.  Not Lyon, Nyon.  It brings us back to that area we visited in Godard’s second film (though it was banned and thus delayed in release) Le Petit Soldat.

The famous scenes are of Baye on a bicycle–of Dutronc in a classroom before a chalkboard reading “Cain et Abel” and “Film et video.”

Yes, the sexual aspects of this film are heavy.  This perhaps proves that Godard’s return to mainstream filmmaking was not the end of his rebellious period.

Though there is a plot and there are discernible characters, it is not always clear what is going on.  What cannot be disputed is the sadness which Godard brings to light with yet another exposé of whoring.  Likewise, it might be gathered that the filmmaker is commenting on the perception of rural Switzerland as pristine and bucolic.  The perverse element of our film echoes previous erotic episodes of Pasolini and Buñuel.

Finally, one can’t help wondering whether the film in question had a formative effect on the Iranian director Kiarostami.  As in the later Taste of Cherry, Godard has one last trick up his sleeve to end out Sauve qui peut (la vie).

Indeed, Jean-Luc Godard was starting to find his magic touch again with this film…and its traces attested to a talent which was richer and better than ever before.

-PD