Mateo [2014)

Here is a perfect film.

After awhile, you wonder whether such will ever appear again.

To call Mattew (Mateo) Stoneman a white “mariachi” singer is somewhat misleading.

But that’s the gist of it.

The premise.

Of this documentary.

No, this isn’t the Columbian drama Mateo from about the same year.

This is Mateo, the priceless documentary directed by Aaron Naar.

Why perfect?

Why priceless?

Because it is true.

I can attest.

To the life of the musician.

Somewhere…I must have been dreaming…while watching.

But the life of a musician is really not even worth two dollars.

I know.

I know the life of a rubbish-filled room.

Sleeping on some pillows.

Or a mattress on the floor.

Bedbug man comes to spray.

Doesn’t know where to start.

I know the life of playing crap gigs.

All for the big payoff.

To leave a legacy.

I know.

Mr. Stoneman (Mateo) references Scorsese.

That’s rich.  And right.

Talking to the filmmaker.

Do we ever see him?

The man with the movie camera?

I don’t know.

But he more-or-less makes himself invisible in this pungent story.

We get Los Angeles.

Where I should be.

But I chose another path.

And yet, Mateo chose the right one.

For him.

Follow the music.

Not the money.

Follow your heart.

Play and write and sing until your heart gives out.

Until the apple juice and Subway sandwiches finally kill you.

Bukowski described it as dog food.

The life of a writer.

Or musician.

Alpo.

Post office.

But what Mateo does is scrimp and save.

Because he’s addicted to recording.

Or rather, he’s making his masterpiece.

A $350,000 album.

Self-funded.

No record label.

Fuck ’em.

This guy, Mateo, has cojones.

A white man in a brown man’s genre.

But he’s all love.

Love for the music.

And the kicker is Cuba.

Yes, dear friends…

Much of our action happens in Havana.

Over and over and over again…Mateo travels to Cuba.

To record.

It’s real.

Quantegy GP9 tape.

2″

I may be useless to most of the world, but I get this.

Reel after reel after reel.

And so it is mambo.

But so soft and subtle.

Like the bossa nova of 60s Brazil.

But Mateo succeeds in his aspiration.

And so his voice is feathery-light…like Billie Holiday on Lady in Satin.

Because Mateo Stoneman had to pay his dues.

Prison.

A thief.

Almost like François Villon.

Stealing to make music.

To afford to record.

I’ve been there.

Pawned all my best shit.

To make a record.

Nobody heard.

Or cared about.

But finally for me it came down to family.

And we get some of that too.

Matthew (Mateo) Stoneman.

From New Hampshire.

We wonder about Ernest Stoneman.

Virginia.

And we get Ernest Hemingway.

20 years in Cuba.

“Who was he?,” asks the novia.

Dead guy.

Shot himself.

Up in Ketchum.

Next to where Ezra Pound, his champion, was from.

Hailey.

These are the savant details which Stoneman, Mateo can rattle off concerning music.

And I can do the same.

But I had to diversify.

So from cornering the market in shit, I spread my tentacles into manure.

A bit too pithy a metaphor.

But just so you know.

The life of a musician.

One minute up.

Touring Japan.  Or Sweden.

Signing autographs.

Wads of money in your pocket.

Next minute down.

Catching hell from the two-bit valets.

Having to pull out the LA Times.

Look.

This is me, motherfucker.

…it ain’t easy.

Sticking to your guns.

Your dreams.

Through extreme poverty.

Duress.

But Mateo shows you what it takes.

Dream big.

You might be autistic.

You might have crippling anxiety.

You might have existential episodes…depression…woozy disorientation.

“What the fuck am I doing?!?”

So do the best of them/us.

And so if I am counted “in that number”…of saints…like Mateo…then I am happy that I have lived my life bravely and to the last drop of blood and courage.

Ars gratia artis.

But for real!

-PD

The Propaganda Game [2015)

Here is a perfect documentary.

It teeters for a second.

Early.

Because it shows two of the most vile, reprehensible propagandists in the world.

Susan Rice and Barack Obama.

But it lets them speak.

The film lets Rice and Obama make fools of themselves.

[and it doesn’t take these two idiots long]

Then we are immersed in a richness of inquiry which befits the home country of our director.

Spain.

But Álvaro Longoria’s film is about a wholly different place.

North Korea.

I was lucky enough once to visit Mr. Longoria’s hometown of Santander.

Though I was not there long, I found it odd that we (me and my traveling companions) boarded our plane on the runway.

A Boeing 737, I believe it was.

So we are talking about perhaps 200 people.

On a runway in Spain.

With a little control tower.

I must admit.

The operation was not heartening.

But then again, I’ve taken a propeller plane from Sacramento to San Francisco.

The world likes to think of America as filthy rich.

But we still have propeller planes for some of our shorter routes.

Flying over San Francisco Bay in a propeller plane wasn’t exactly my idea of relaxation either.

But so then…what do we think of North Korea?

If we listen to people like Susan Rice and Barack Obama (neither of whom, categorically, can be trusted), then we are to shudder at the thought of the DPRK.

Well, our director Mr. Longoria has given the most fair, measured approach to a very controversial subject.

And his final product (the film) is so much the better for it.

To wit, Mr. Longoria does not presume to think for his viewers.

He lets you decide.

If you are looking for bias in this film, you will have to look pretty hard.

Perhaps, you will reason, Mr. Longoria is a Spanish leftist and therefore he gives North Korea the benefit of the doubt.

On the contrary, one might reason that the director is a very (VERY) savvy propagandist himself…and therefore, his documentary is largely an exercise in reverse psychology.

I must admit.

When I heard the voices of Rice and Obama, my internal monologue of opprobrium almost caused me to lose my lunch.

But I stuck with it.

And I’m so glad I did.

What is at issue in this film, and in the frozen conflict zone of which North Korea is half, is the discipline/technique/art of propaganda.

If you are very dumb (and I doubt you are, as you are reading this illustrious blog), you will believe everything you hear about North Korea.

You will believe CNN.

You will believe Martha Raddatz.

You will believe George Stephanopoulos.

To call these two “presstitutes” is really being too kind.

They make Rice and Obama look like saints.

Those of the Raddatz/Stephanopoulos ilk in the United States journalistic community are really worthless individuals.

Mostly because they have ceased to BE individuals.

They aren’t even drones.

They are more like little Lego pieces of poisonous honeycomb.

Inhuman.

But they’re not alone.

Throw in Diane Sawyer.

Actually (and I’ll throw the lefties a bone), throw in Bill O’Reilly.

All of these journalists are generally less than nothing when it comes to their global contributions.

And so it only makes the case of the DPRK stronger (for better or worse) when such née-individuals (including emasculated presstitutes) insult North Korea.

And so it is very clear that North Korea is the target of an immense amount of propaganda.

HOWEVER,

the DPRK seems itself to be quite prodigious in the art of manipulative communication.

Or, propaganda.

So our director lets the two sides go at it.

It’s almost like two Charlie Brown schoolteachers (Othmars both) having a verbal altercation.

The West:  “Blah blah blah blah HUMAN RIGHTS blah!”

North Korea:  “Blah blah blah blah IMPERIALISTS blah.”

We must credit North Korea with restraint.

The people.

Polite.

Keep in mind, this is a focus on the people.

What kind of people live in North Korea?

[well, Koreans…obviously]

Adults, children…male, female…

And so the cynic will cry “Potemkin village” very early on in this one.

But it is worth watching till the end.

Most intriguing is the figure Alejandro Cao de Benós de Les y Pérez.

Here’s an idealist if ever there was one.

But that’s what we must remember about North Korea.

It is a country of extreme idealism.

Let me frame it with slightly different diction.

It is a country of immense idealism.

[ah…we even got some alliteration there!]

Mr. Cao is, or was, Spanish.

Now he is a North Korean.

He is a spokesman for the DPRK.

As we say here in the West, he’s “all in”.

He digs their chili.

He’s drinking the Kool-Aid.

We want some of whatever he’s smoking.

[you get the picture]

But I must say…

Mr. Cao is an extremely (immensely) articulate individual.

To hear him tell it (and he does so with genuine conviction), North Korea is the last bastion of communism.

China has sold out to market forces (capitalism).

The Soviet Union sold out Stalin (Cao actually makes this claim).

[and, he asserts, China sold out Mao]

Vietnam is now thoroughly capitalist.

[that might be a direct quote]

So does Mr. Cao have a point?

Well, perhaps he does.

But there are doubtless few self-respecting communists [more to this sentence after brackets] who would hold up North Korea as a beacon of socialist governance.

Communist, socialist, Trotskyist…

It all begins to run together for us heathen imperialists.

Ah!

There’s that other buzz word.

Imperialism.

Indeed, if you look at the U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan (which this documentary illustrates as a sort of “ring of fire” [pun intended]), the imperialism charge is not without evidence.

But this is really the quintessence of what Nick Tosches calls “intellectual parlor games”.

Meaning, we could be here all day.

I’m at nearly a thousand words (and so are you, if you’re still with me) and I haven’t even begun to truly scratch the surface of the imbroglio that is the 38th parallel.

North latitude.

Simply put, the U.S. has a vested interest in creating and propagating propaganda about North Korea.

[which does not mean that all of the reportage is made-up…indeed, the best propaganda has a kernel or modicum of truth…sometimes even a heaping spoonful…North Korea certainly does not seem to have the whole “public relations” thing down yet]

And conversely, North Korea has a vested interest in creating and propagating (mostly for internal, domestic purposes) propaganda about the United States and capitalist economies in general.

[and granted…the United States has done some incredibly daft stuff…the likes of which could be spun into a thousand tales of horror for 10,000 years]

What really complicates matters are nuclear weapons.

North Korea, we are told, has twenty (OH MY GOD!  20!!!) nuclear weapons.

The United States has sixty-eight-hundred (6,800) nuclear warheads in various states of readiness.

I hate to sound like Ted Turner (and it’s sad when Mr. Turner becomes a voice of reason), but there seems to be a rather glaring discrepancy there.

Oh!

But one side is responsible (I’ll let you guess) and the other side is reckless (guess again).

Of course, nuclear weapons have never been used in war…except by the United States.

Twice.

And so every society has its propaganda.

I will never feel very good that my country nuked two Japanese cities.

Somewhere between approx. 125,000 and 250,000 Japanese people (at least half of them civilians) were vaporized and/or bombarded with lethal radiation by Fat Man and Little Boy.

I know that the U.S. Department of Defense (then known as the Department of War and Department of the Navy, respectively) isn’t selling Girl Scout cookies.

But Harry S. Truman’s “display” on live targets is a rather hard pill to swallow.

We are supposed to think statistically.

Think of how many lives we saved (by, counterintuitively, squelching perhaps a quarter million OTHER souls).

I guess maybe after six years of war, we were insane.

They say it only takes 100 days.

Of warfare.

Any man (or woman).

No matter how mentally strong.

Literally insane.

Beyond that point.

But we were talking about North Korea…

Mr. Longoria is more of a scientist than me.

Our director, Mr. Longoria.

He meditates on the problem.

He is not rash.

Granted, his access to the “hermit kingdom” compels him to be open-minded (if only for the duration of his stay [and in strictly “apparent” diplomacy]).

It seems evident to me that Álvaro Longoria is a very formidable filmmaker.

I wonder what he would have made of our recent American election?

[when Trump supporters learned to hate Hillary…and Hillary supporters learned to hate Trump]

In retrospect, the United States has just been the battlefield of an immense propaganda war.

The winner (for the time-being) was and is Donald Trump.

But the war was so ugly that things are still not back to “normal” in the USA.

Perhaps they never will be again.

And that is also the lesson of The Propaganda Game.

This substitutes for bullets when you cannot shoot.

When destruction is mutually-assured, colder, icier methods prevail.

Sneaking, surreptitious oozing of lies and falsehoods.

All’s fair in war and love, they say.

And “close enough” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

“They” say that too.

“They” say a lot of things.

Indeed, “they” are the most quotable group around.

Now, if we only knew who “they” were…

-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

Norteado [2009)

This may be the hardest film I’ve ever had to review.

And that’s the beauty of cinema.

Movies can challenge the way we think.

They can show us a perspective we’ve never seen.

This particular masterpiece (and I mean it) comes from my neighbors to the south.

Mexico.

Director Rigoberto Perezcano strikes all the right chords here.

In these days of division, we must humble ourselves before God.

That is my direction to myself.

I must humble myself.

Because there are struggles I cannot realistically imagine.

Could you cross a desert?

Me…I don’t think so.

Humble before God.

It must be the Sonoran Desert.

Harold Torres.

All the way from Oaxaca.

The acting is perfect.

In the bus station.

But things get real in the desert.

The Tijuana moods of Mingus.

Loneliness of Alicia Laguna.

Desperation of Sonia Couoh.

And every day the trabajo of Harold Torres.

La frontera.

Border fence.

Dreams.

But mostly misery.

This could have been a very bad film, but director Perezcano knows exactly when Debussy must enter and exit.

Perhaps he saw Atonement.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because Northless (its title on Netflix) is twice as good as Joe Wright’s 2007 effort.

But don’t underestimate the presence of Luis Cárdenas.

That mustache…

It is really hard to sum up this film.

Perhaps:  if you think you have it bad, walk a mile in Harold Torres’ shoes.

I’m simply at a loss for words.

Never before has a La-Z-Boy made me cry.

And so I salute my neighbors to the south.

Mexico.

May we all prosper with love in each interaction.

May God’s grace and mercy be upon us.

-PD

El Crítico [2013)

Fucking masterpiece.

A fucking masterpiece.

God damn…

It’s not often that a movie strikes me this way.

I had every reason not to even WATCH this film.

The premise was too perfect.

Too good to be true.

In English (and on Netflix in the U.S.), it is listed as The Film Critic.

But we pay our respects to international films even if the template of our website goes haywire in so doing.

El Crítico is an Argentine-Chilean coproduction.

Sounds like a wine, right?

Well, this beats any Malbec I’ve ever tasted.

I cannot say enough good things about this picture!

First things first-Hernán Guerschuny is a goddamned genius.

From the very start of this film we get the Godard whisper…that voiceover which started (si je me souviens bien) circa 1967 with 2 ou 3 Choses que je sais d’elle.

The majority (80%?) of El Crítico is in Spanish, but the remaining 20% (in French) makes all the difference.

We have an Argentine film critic, played masterfully by Rafael Spregelburd, who thinks in French.

We are thus privy to his internal monologue throughout the film.

For anyone who writes about motion pictures, El Crítico is indispensable.

Priceless.

Just right.

[not even a pinch of salt too much]

Dolores Fonzi is really good, but Señor Spregelburd is outstanding.

Spregelburd plays a Godard-obsessed film critic (are you seeing why I like this?) whose fumbling attempts at romance stem from his total immersion in cinema.

Guerschuny deftly interpolates scenes which are “meta-” in the same sense that Cinema Paradiso was essentially a film ABOUT film.

And I am a fan of this approach.

It worked perfectly for the greatest artistic creation in the history of mankind (Histoire(s) du cinéma) and it works exceptionally well for Guerschuny’s film [of which James Monaco and la Nouvelle vague I think would be proud].

Guerschuny, like his main character Tellez [Spregelburd], wants to explode the genre of romcom.

Yes, you heard me right:  romcom.

And it thus places El Crítico in the same tradition as Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste and Godard’s Une Femme est une femme.

But something happens to our protagonist Tellez.

And something, I suspect, is in the heart (!) of director Guerschuny.

This is, in fact, a film about appreciating naïveté.

It is a postmodern idea.

And an idea dear to my heart.

It’s quite simple, really…

I can appreciate Arnold Schoenberg as much as AC/DC.

Abel Gance as much as Napoleon Dynamite.

The idea is that pretentious films (and film reviews) can become just as tiresome as trite, Entertainment Weekly boilerplate.

Does that magazine even still exist?

I don’t know.

It’s an honest question.

In fact, I wasn’t even sure I had the title correct.

It’s supermarket-checkout-lane film criticism.

But it’s not worthless.

Sometimes the most esteemed, erudite film critics become blind to the beauty around them.

They don’t give simple movies a chance.

On the other hand, there are a ton of crappy movies out there today.

But El Crítico is not one of them.

But let me tell you about the secret weapon of the film under consideration:

Telma Crisanti.

Without her, this movie fails.

Not miserably, but the façade falls apart.  And then the superstructure…

Ms. Crisanti plays Ágatha, the 16-year-old niece of our film critic Tellez.

It is she who plants the seed within Tellez’ mind that romantic comedies can be sublime.

But the salient point is this:  the masses are not dumb.

I will stand by Thomas Jefferson on this point till the bitter end.

And so The Film Critic speaks to young and old.  And middle-aged.

It is about miracles.

But it is real.

Simply put, this is the Sistine Chapel of romcoms.

Or, what Michelangelo would have done with the genre.

Simply stunning!

-PD

Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut [1956)

I wanted to write last night, but the Internet fell asleep.

This is one of my favorite films ever.

But I needed to rewatch it.  As I always do.  Every movie.

Real fear.

Real danger.

A long project.

Extracting yourself from the superjail.  The prison planet.

A Man Escaped.  We have it easy in English.

But witness the fullness of the French title.

It speaks to care.  Rope.  Hooks.  Months.  Of planning.

And it all started with a spoon.

Tin nor aluminum will do.  Neither.

We must wait for iron.

Steel?

Iron.  Hardness.

It’s World War II.

Today.  World War III.

And for the CIA, World War IV.

Chemists.  Physicists.  And now mathematicians.

Computer scientists.  Statisticians.

No, that’s post-War.  Japan.

But for now we are locked in a room of our own making.

If we can only get through the door.

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

Which isn’t to say, taps.

We must succeed at this chess game.

Playing against an adversary with few weaknesses.

Multiple layers of defense and surveillance.

Doors and locks and gates and bars.

And silence.

It is the silence which will betray us.

And so, Dr. No, we must slip our shoes off for a little putting practice.

It is a real battle.

CIA vs. FBI.  Refereed by the NSA.

NGA vs. NRO.  Chantilly lace vs. a pretty face.

A girl and a gun.

ASIS vs. DIGO.  Or dingo.

Rich.

ASCAP vs. BM.I

But let me back up to the kebab organization known as SHISH.

Apologies to Belgium.

But it is worth noting SV/SE vs. CSIS/SCRS.

Scissors.  Suckers.  A scissor.

A pair of scissors.

He would need more leverage.  The most overused word in business.

And as meaningless as “innovation”.

What they mean is “interesting”…that’s innovation.

And by false flag, “not what it seems”.

Dear NEADS in Rome (NY) uttered collectively the phrase of Baudrillard’s lifetime:

“Is this real-world or exercise?”

But we have remembered it as simulation.

Going over his escape a million times in his head.

With poor reconnaissance.

Except the dead would-be escapee.

“He’s practically free.”

“No one’s practically free.”

Jessica Lange, incredulous.

But she’s not in this movie.

She’s headed to Roswell.

Named after Yale graduate Roswell Rudd.

A little town in New Mexico.

Out of time.  Mind.

CSE vs. GCHQ.  Or CSEC.

An animal with five eyes has no competition.

Within himself.  The owls are not what they seem.

Fifth wheel.  Hokey pokey.

Valuable antipodes.

And RCMP vs. FBI.  Horses.  Or moose.

Hippopotamus.  POTUS.  Not amused.

DND seems incorrect.

What was Fontaine in for?

And Jost?

DIPOLCAR.  Position.

MSS vs. RSS.  Seems so simple.  Really simple!  And so complex.

Pledged ΚΥΠ.

But the division.

ÚZSI vs. UZI.  Sounds dangerous.

With PET we get to canned milk or breaking wind.

A lovable Lego intelligence agency.

Of one.

Just one?

KaPo vs. capo.  Vs. ligatura.

Hitchcock’s rope vs. Bresson’s rope.

For this is Robert Bresson.  The movie.  Under consideration.

SUPO vs. sumo.

But we really get fired up by DGSE.

And it’s only appropriate.

DGSE vs. BND.

The only war which has ever been fought.

Das Fenster vs. la fenêtre.

The most delicate element of escape.

A crack in the breeze.

SIN vs. voodoo of all sorts.

GRLS.  Girls?  Gorillas?  Scalded ape?

When you need headache relief quick.  Choose BAINTELKAM!

A Buddhist temple with a surrounding population 95% Muslim.

Amazing.  Elton John.

MOIS.  Ooh…  Now we are getting serious.

Putting the me in month.

And of course “the Institute” (moving alphabethically).

Lisping along.

How will you project your escape.  Like Desargues.

And Poncelet.

The movie camera.

Go directly to jail.

Whale song matryoshka.

AISE.  Must be the coolest.  Standard issue Ferraris.  And meals in Modena.

Like Matthew Broderick’s brief moment of cool in Election.

Gid Tanner and his Skillet-Lickers…coming to the Kingdom of Jordan…real soon.

SREL.  Sreally?  That’s SRAL.  Like SalvaDali.

CISEN as sí señor.

Not quite hermeneutics.

FIB vs. SIN.

PST.  Masters of recruitment.

And FOST vs. SIE.

The big daddy ISI vs. ailleurs.

The canal of SENIS.  Central American zipper.

Could have been Lake Nicaragua.

AW 🙂 Georges Sand approaching Chopin with flowers.

He was a woman.  Mr. Sandman.

SIRP vs. usurp.

SVR vs. GRU. [now we’re making some sense]

And DEVGRU vs. GRU.

GIP is priceless.  One letter from perfection.

VOA vs. VOA.

NISA vs. NASA.  And the incomparable skills of PIS.

In joint operations with SENIS.

CITCO vs. Citgo.

Must it be?  It must be.  It MUST be.

And back to our MI6 and DIA and ONI.

These are the thoughts of a man in jail.

Where having a pencil is punishable by firing squad.

And so he builds his hope on escape.

From the mundane.

He is a true soldier.

Though he be stripped of any recognition.

Wisdom is that final step.  On a journey which started with mere data.

 

-PD

El ángel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.  And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.  Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.  And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El ángel exterminador.  This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Buñuel had immense courage to make this film.  And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dalí) was 16 minutes which shook the world:  Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.  Before the stock market crash.  And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.  Think of his collaborator’s La persistència de la memòria.  The same fount of Freudian cess.  From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).  We will always see Dalí as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).  [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Buñuel had the mad genius of Joyce.  In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’Âge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Buñuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:  Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El ángel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Buñuel.  In that sense, El ángel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El ángel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.  It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…  For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El ángel exterminador sets the record straight.  Buñuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.  In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La montaña sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.  Both were, incidentally, shot in Mexico.

Though Buñuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.  Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.  But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD

 

Le Salaire de la peur [1953)

Only appropriate that we would reapproach France during these tense times with this film which is, believe it or not, more full of tension than anything I can recall in Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

Yes, The Wages of Fear by director Henri-Georges Clouzot is unlike anything I have ever seen.  More or less.

A parallel can be made to the Humphrey Bogart film They Drive by Night, but Le Salaire de la peur is of a different caliber altogether.

Believe it or not, Yves Montand actually out-acts Bogart in this here film.

From the bizarre beginnings, we hardly have any clue where this flick is going.

Where are we?  Tegucigalpa?  No, not enough oil.  Venezuela?  Perhaps.

D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous???

Mexico.  A fictional (?) town called Las Piedras. The stones.

Not to be confused with pies (feet).

Indeed, stones play an important part in this film.  And so do feet.

But initially we are disoriented by the Eisenstein-like montage reminiscent of ¡Que viva México!  A small child with a sombrero and no pants playing with cockroaches.

And as the film gets going we notice the multitude of languages.  Spanish, French, German (?), Italian…maybe Dutch?

The Dutchman in question is played by German actor Peter van Eyck (born Götz von Eick).

In fact, I thought for much of the film that I was watching Oskar Werner (much to my chagrin upon consulting the credits).

And so we have a hodgepodge of refugees in this one-horse town of Las Piedras, but the oil industry beckons…on the frontier.  It is a dangerous industry (and becomes infinitesimally more dangerous through the course of this film).

I do believe I have heard Clouzot described as the French Hitchcock.  After seeing this, that makes perfect sense.

Le salaire de la peur is such a pithy, visceral film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a very powerful film which takes aim at corporate callousness.  But the real theme is danger.  Fear.  Anxiety.  The sickness of worry.

It reminds us that we shouldn’t judge our fellow humans too harshly.  We can never know the exact feelings or the exact situation.

One final thought.  Nitroglycerine plays an integral part in this film.

I pray that the Russian soldiers who died yesterday will not have died in vain.  May the leaders of Turkey and the other NATO countries come to their senses in what has been sheer geopolitical insanity along Russia’s border.  What restraint Russia has shown compared to the egregious stunt pulled by Turkey!  As with all actions emanating from the West, I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident was ordered to occur (giving propitious conditions) by a power residing much further west than Ankara.

May courage and wisdom be with the militaries of all nations, the soldiers of which are thrust into the most unenviable positions imaginable.  War for profit has hit its maximum potential.  If there be one true diplomat left on the planet, let him or her please stand up at this crucial time.

Don’t count too much on your simulations.

 

-PD

 

El espíritu de la colmena [1973)

I have wanted to bring my readers this film for some time.

Therefore, it is an honor to review The Spirit of the Beehive for you.

I first saw this film by chance one night on TCM long ago.

I don’t remember the exact chain of events, but it was either right before seeing this or right after seeing this that I found out I was going to Spain (the country of provenance of this film).

The opportunity to visit Spain was a miracle (as have been all my travels).  Never did I think I would see La Sagrada Família.  Never did I dream of seeing the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  These things were too much to dream.  But they happened.

And this film is the quintessence of that miracle experience.

Two little girls.  Ana and Isabel.

The sonic motif throughout this film is the name “Isabel” whispered by her younger sister Ana.

It is an entreaty.  A putting faith in someone.

Please tell me why this, and why that.

Few films have matched the magic of this one.  If you are a fan of Cinema Paradiso, this film will show you where that template originated.

Before the great Giuseppe Tornatore, there was the equally great Víctor Erice (auteur of the film under consideration).

There is a magic here which is akin to Amélie and also Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  It is a naïveté befitting of Erik Satie…a wonderment which is rarely expressed effectively in film.

For more modern viewers, the best parallel might perhaps be Beasts of the Southern Wild (on the soundtrack of which I had the honor to perform with my old band).

And so there you have it.

Bees, bees everywhere.  Like Mercury Rev…”Chasing a Bee Inside a Jar”…and “Syringe Mouth” (‘here you come dripping from the hive’).

The hum.  The drone.  Like a subway screeching through the turns in a New York subway tunnel.  And the honeycomb.  Like DNA.

I should add.  A certain sadness.  Like a tawny port.

It was only fitting that this film was kicked to the curb for me, the poor-man’s Henri Langlois, to find at this particular time.

And so I too whisper the name Isabel.  Isabel with your hair pulled back behind your ears.  Don’t be cruel.

 

-PD

Umberto D. [1952)

Unglamorous stories.

That is what Italy brought us in the post-war years.

And every “new wave” which has followed owes a debt to the masters like De Sica.

Perhaps you know Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves).

Don’t stop there, dear friend.

Because here we have the precursor to Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Sure.  There is some humor in Umberto D.  A very, very dark humor.

As with Moartea domnului Lăzărescu.

But mostly there is beauty.

Sadness.

Reality.

Cinema.

There is the little dog Flike.  Not Flicka, but Flike (rhymes with psych).  Or bike.

Flike.  Like Céline’s cat Bebert.

And then there is the stunning (STUNNING) acting of Carlo Battisti as Umberto.

There are few performances which can equal it.

Ioan Fiscuteanu did it as Lazarescu.

And that’s about it.

Rarefied air…these two actors.

Let me put it another way.  Umberto D. was Ingmar Bergman’s favorite film.  Do you know what I mean?

The director of Smultronstället and Sommaren med Monika.

Picked one film.  And this was it.

Appropriately, this was Carlo Battisti’s only film role ever.

As the star of Umberto D.

He wasn’t an actor.  He was a linguist.

God damn…

It’s just unreal how good this film is!

But we must also give credit to the indispensable Maria-Pia Casilio.

It is through her eyes that we see the ants…formica in Italian.

In English, we think of a hard composite material.  Formica.  A table top.

But a sort of false cognate brings us back to the archetype which Dalí and Buñuel so evocatively exploited in Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  A film.  The famous eyeball which gets “edited”.  And then the ants were back in La persistència de la memòria.  A painting.  Soft clocks.  You know the one.  And the only differences between Spanish and Catalan in this case are the diacritical marks.

But she burns paper.  To chase the ants.  And the stray cat prowls the roof at night soft as a snowflake.  And the grated skylight is her canvas to dream stretched out in her bed.  And nothing is more morose than a contemplative face at the window looking out on a dingy world.

We sense it did not go easily for Italy.  After the war.  Because when you choose the wrong side you will be punished.

And though Germany was divided and Berlin was the most surreal example of this (being wholly within East Germany…like a Teutonic Swaziland–a Lesotho leitmotiv), Italy still suffered.  We see it in Rossellini.  And we see it here.

Neorealism.  A update on the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  A continuation of Zola.  A nod to Dostoyevsky.

Verismo.

The star is an old man.  He is not really a hero.  He doesn’t save the world.  There aren’t explosions.

But (BUT)

he does something most extraordinary.  He survives…for a time.  What a miracle!

Ah!  The miracle of everyday life.  We have survived another year.  Another day!

Do you think there will be a war?

[Shame.  The shame of having to ask for help.  Begging for the first time.]

When your bed is a joke.  Newspapers and dust.  And there is a goddamned hole in your wall.  Perhaps.

A missile.  Or The Landlord’s Game (which became Monopoly).

When you are cold with a fever.  As an elderly person.  All your glamorous days have passed.

And you need your coat just to provide a little more warmth.  On top of the blanket.  To make it through the night.

As long.

As long as this film survives, humanity has a chance.

Really.

-PD