DIR: Pablo Fendrik • WRI: Jeffrey Hatcher • DOP: Julián Apezteguia • ED: Leandro Aste• CAST: Gael García Bernal, Alice Braga, Jorge Sesan
Something, something ‘the duality of man’ and ‘living as one with nature’, also ‘the lone wolf’. Such are the vague narrative threads that compromise Pablo Fendrik’s The Burning. Though filled with intriguing concepts, the film fails to utilise any of them effectively to create an engaging story. Heavy on symbolism yet lacking in depth, Fenrik’s newest flick leaves viewers feeling decidedly unsatisfied.
Gael García Bernal plays a mysterious man who emerges half-naked from the Argentinian rainforest (yada-yada-‘rebirth-of-man’) and subsequently finds himself embroiled in a battle between a humble farming family and the contracted hit-men determined to burn them out of their land. All seems lost when the family is massacred by said armed men and the daughter (Alice Braga) is kidnapped. But corporate greed is no match for the unexplained skills of our nameless hero, whose inherent familiarity with the local landscape gives him a distinct advantage over the gun-wielding land rustlers.
Much like a flame, the plot smoulders before it kindles. Before it flares to a full blaze, however, it sizzles out with a limp climax. Clearly this is a film with something to say, but it’s rather flat tone and strained direction means any message hoping to be conveyed comes across as forced rather than as a natural residue of the plot. The symbolism is also laid on quite thick, leaving no room for the delicious ambiguity that plays with the audiences mind. Subtly, it seems, is not Fendriks strong point. The acting, while reasonably solid, also flounders under the lack of real character development.
The biggest problem this film faces (and that any film could ever face) is that it fails to make the audience care. The juxtaposition between man and nature was a cliché before cinema even began; to explore this concept in a fresh light on screen, a director needs to give the audience more to work with.
DIR: Marc Silver • WRI: Mark Monroe • PRO: Thomas Benski, Gael Garcia Bernal, Lucas Ochoa, Marc Silver • DOP: Marc Silver ED: Martin Singer, James Smith-Rewse • MUS: Leonardo Heiblum, Jacobo Lieberman • CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal
‘In life he was considered invisible, an illegal. Now in death, he is a mystery to be solved.’
Who is Dayani Cristal? These words, tattooed on a dead man in the Arizona desert, are the only clue to his identity, and ask the first question posed to us by Marc Silver and Gael Garcia Bernal’s latest project, but not necessarily the last. Delving into the complex and timely issue of illegal immigration to the United States from South America, and the large number of missing-presumed-dead immigrants who never make it either home or away, this film takes an interesting approach in combining investigative documentary and dramatic retelling. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal’s dramatic recreation of the migrant’s last days and his encounters with others on each step of the same journey are juxtaposed with interviews with those who knew the deceased, shots of American officials on the other side attempting to identify and trace the dead man, and information about the treacherous trek across the border.
This is a fascinating and important story, (if not, sadly, a unique one) and the combination of different forms of storytelling employed here works to varying degrees of success. The basic, forensic detail of examining and tracing the body and the interviews presented with the border authorities and aid workers are compelling and shocking, presenting a troubling view of the American immigration system without ever being over the top. Bernal’s occasional narration complements the unobtrusive nature of Silver’s direction and photography, allowing what is presented on screen to speak for itself and rarely imposing any kind of authoritative, partisan opinion onto the narrative, instead neatly summarising what we have already been shown. This is largely effective: Between statistics on migrant mortality, the painstaking process of tracing undocumented missing persons, and the poignant backstory of the deceased’s life, no further comment is needed – the reality is striking enough.
The presence of Bernal on-screen and his attempts to retrace the steps of the deceased, however, is a curious storytelling decision. While a charming on-screen presence, at ease singing on a train or playing football, these segments lead to some narrative dissonance. Although Bernal encounters migrants at every stage of the journey who tell him about the obstacles to crossing the border and the many dangerous elements at play, this danger is never truly palpable, no matter how many news reports about missing or dead migrants we see him absorb.
There is also a curious spiritual element to this film, bookended with ‘The Migrant’s Prayer,’ an appeal for faithful travellers to a God who also knew the force and necessity of migration. The presence of religious missions at shelters for migrants, peppered along train tracks like ‘secret railway stations,’ as Bernal calls them, is at best a celebration of the goodwill and faith of the church. At worst, however, it waxes a little too lyrically about the difficult situation of these migrants, romanticising poverty with statements like ‘poor people are the spiritual reserve of the world,’ so to then close the film on a spiritual, funereal note is slightly jarring for the wrong reasons.
Immigration between North and South America has been a thorny topic for American cinema, which tends to mask the complexities of this issue by depicting those south of the border as dangerous Mexican drug lords, intent only on pushing their product into the States, from Breaking Bad to Machete Kills. Who is Dayani Cristal? is a welcome counter-narrative to hysterical Hollywood fictions, alongside Diego Quemada-Díez’s recent film The Golden Dream, based on the reported experiences of over 600 migrants from South America about the journey across the border.
Who is Dayani Cristal? is maybe a little over-ambitious in its structure, attempting to combine different modes of storytelling and generic convention to present the case of Dayani Cristal from different angles and perspectives. While it doesn’t fully succeed on all counts, it is an engaging, intelligent and important film, for as we learn, the story of this one man is sadly that of many, many anonymous others as well.
DIR: Pablo Larraín • WRI: Pedro Peirano • PRO: Daniel Marc Dreifuss, Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín • DOP: Sergio Armstrong • ED: Andrea Chignoli • CAST: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers
¡Viva la revolucion 4:3, amigos! After the dissemination of square televisions necessitated filmmakers to adapt aspect ratios of a wider persuasion, good old Academy Ratio is undergoing a minor artistic resurgence. The Artist re-appropriated it as part of its emulation of silent aesthetics, while Miguel Gomes similarly drew on its classical connotations for his nostalgic and intoxicating Tabu. Kelly Reichardt used it to differentiate her bleak, claustrophobic Meek’s Cutoff from any number of epically Cinemascope Westerns. And now we have No, whose director Pablo Larraín (Post Mortem, Tony Manero) uses 4:3 to make his film look like crap.At least it looks crap for a reason! The film is set in Chile in 1988, and tells the story of the television advertising campaign that was waged against dictator Pinochet’s referendum calling for a further extension to his already fifteen year long reign. Larrain uses the relatively primitive television technology of the time – a camera system called U-matic – with good cause. It does not make for the most beautifully cinematic feature film – there is constant ugly artefacting and the exposure basically freaks the hell out when it has to deal with direct sunlight. And yet it works, predominantly because archive footage is near seamlessly integrated with the ‘new’ footage. The film’s strikingly retro visualisation creates a memorable sense of place and time, and the eccentric format is pretty much completely justified. Not that every period film should suddenly start shooting in U-matic, of course.
The visuals may be non-traditional, but the story being told is a pretty straightforward one. Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a composite of several real-life advertising creatives. After being persuaded to help craft the ‘No’ campaign, he decides to focus on a joyful, optimistic campaign to counter the Pinochet’s camp typically unconvincing propaganda. Initially the idea is met with resistance by the ‘Vote No’ camp, who think the campaign is downplaying the atrocities of the Pinochet regime. But it quickly becomes apparent the positivity is resonating, and it isn’t long before the dictator’s minions take a particular interest in the people behind the increasingly popular campaign.
It’s a fascinating history lesson about one of the few incidences where the language of advertising and selling was utilised to achieve a grander goal than the promotion of soft drinks. Bernal’s protagonist is an interesting one, dealing with the personal and social repercussions of his work. The story is told with the right blend of comedy and drama – examining an intriguing mini-revolution while not forgetting to have a bit of fun. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises in the way René’s story plays out, and the film could perhaps have probed the ethical and moral dilemmas of the situation in greater depth (the film does conclude on a satisfactorily bittersweet note). On the whole, though, No is never less than engaging and enjoyable. And those cheesy ‘No’ jingles really are strangely persuasive…
It’s actually somewhat of a shame the film’s unusual presentation and subtitles will relegate this to small releases in arthouse theatres like the IFI. It’s an accessible and entertaining film that would undoubtedly appeal to those who enjoyed the likes of Argo. If you do happen to stumble across it, No is well worth a look as a distinctive way of telling a great story.
DIR: Matt Piedmont • WRI: Andrew Steele • PRO: Emilio Diez Barroso, Jessica Elbaum, Will Ferrell, Darlene Caamano Loquet, Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick • DOP: Ramsey Nickell • ED: David Trachtenberg • DES: Kevin Kavanaugh • Cast: Will Ferrell, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna
In the past decade, film spoofs have all been a bit too obvious – scary movies, superhero movies, disaster movies (which apparently include Juno, go figure). But Will Ferrell has never been one to go for the obvious joke, and his latest, directed by Saturday Night Live alumnus Matt Piedmont, targets a subgenre that much of its audience will not even be aware exists: Spanish-language telenovelas.
Sure there are a handful of gags poking fun at Westerns and grindhouse films (and even hints at Brian de Palma’s Scarface), but Casa de mi Padre really takes its spoof target by the reins and goes with it… possibly to a fault.
Almost entirely in Spanish with subtitles, and with Ferrell showing an impressive ear for the language, Casa de mi Padre is either an inspired attempt to get America’s massive Latin population into cinemas, or a linguistic misfire alienating the comedian’s core, Anglophonic audience. Exactly which of these groups it is targeting remains unclear.
Ferrell stars as Armando, a simple Mexican ranch hand and heir to his father’s lands. As the ranch falls into difficulty, Armando’s handsome, successful brother Raúl (Diego Luna) returns home to save the day. Problems arise when Armando falls for Raúl’s beautiful fiancé Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), and Raúl’s dodgy dealings get the ranch into trouble with local drug baron Onza (Gael García Bernal).
The film milks its melodrama for all it’s worth, with some delightfully over the top performances, but sadly it’s all very predictable. Ferrell’s ad-lib shtick doesn’t translate particularly well, so the film is forced to use cheap visual gags and non sequiturs to earn its laughs. Many of these jokes rely on the low-budget styles of Mexican soap opera; the film is riddled with intentional continuity errors and needlessly cheap special effects. While this does result in the film’s sole superb gag, when the special effects go completely awry, it shows the limitations of the material.
The film’s running gag, that it’s in Spanish, eventually becomes unnoticeable, except when the poor editing causes subtitles to run across cuts and become illegible. There is also a problem with Ferrell’s character, whose competence is so ill-defined that he veers between being a little slow and borderline mentally disabled.
Thankfully the cast are all game, although it’s unfortunate Luna and García Bernal don’t play on their previous roles together – it would have been fun for them to bring to the fore the homoeroticism that lurked under the surface of Y Tu Mamá También. While showing only some promise as an actress, the ravishingly beautiful Genesis Rodriguez makes the sort of first impression that Cameron Diaz made in The Mask; a star is born, no doubt. Fun support is provided by Napoleon Dynamite’s Pedro, Efren Ramirez, and Adrian Martinez as Armando’s ranch hand pals, while fans of Parks & Recreation will be disappointed to see that show’s breakout star Nick Offerman reduced to a grunting drug enforcement agent.
While a few silly musical numbers liven up proceedings (including one frankly bizarre sex scene), the film never lives up to its opening title song, a thrilling Spanish ballad belted over the credits by Christina Aguilera. It’s a very gentle slope downhill from there, but sadly Casa de mi Padre never manages to clamber back up.
Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details) Casa de Mi Padreis released on 8th June 2012
DIR/WRI: Lukas Moodysson • PRO: Lars Jönsson • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Michal Leszczylowsk • DES: Josefin Åsberg • CAST: Gael García Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito, Sophie Nyweide
Leo and Ellen are husband and wife living in a New York City apartment with their seven-year-old daughter Jackie and their live-in maid and carer Gloria. Leo is a businessman for a gaming social network site. Ellen is a surgeon who works long hours. At the beginning of film Leo leaves his family to go on a business trip to Thailand. The Mammoth of the title is the design of a pen given to Leo by his associate on their flight.
Gloria is from the Philippines, where she has two young sons who miss their mother. Her son Salvador calls her regularly on her cell phone telling her that he and her brother want her to come home. Ellen has a treadmill on the roof of the apartment building. In a later scene she uses it in the rain. You can feel her isolation and longing for something less stressful.
As Leo and Ellen are out of the house working, Gloria takes care of Jackie and introduces her to Filipino culture and they discuss Jackie’s favourite subject astronomy. The film amongst other things is about class. Gloria buys a basketball for your son’s birthday. Ellen is jealous and hurt that Jackie wants to spend more time with Gloria when she finally returns home from work. Ellen buys an expensive telescope for Jackie to get her attention. While on his business trip Leo becomes involves with a prostitute named Cookie, whom he respects and gives her money to go home and get some sleep.
Gael García Bernal, one of the stars of Mexican cinema, plays Leo with an air of mystery and subtlety in what he really wants from life. Michelle Williams, of Brokeback Mountain fame is affective as Ellen. There is a shot of Williams’ face where you almost see the pours of her skin. Marife Necesito is perfectly nuanced as Gloria. Sophie Nyweide is charming and well cast as Jackie. Jan Nicdao and Martin Delos Santos deliver fine performances as Gloria’s two sons Manuel and Salvador. Run Srinikornchot gives a good performance as Cookie.
Mammoth is written and directed by Lukas Moodysson from Sweden whose credits include Together and Lilya 4-ever. Mammoth is one of those films that is two hours but feels like two and half hours. There are parts that go on too long.
Mammoth is about parents, their children and the future that they fear for them. Gloria is working in America to support her two sons. Ellen has a stab victim who is young boy, she can’t stop thinking about if was Jackie. Some Swedish critics have accused the film of misogyny. Make up your own mind.
Someone once told me ‘Great character films tell us things we already know but surprise us none the less. Mammoth does not quite have that quality to really surprise us. However, the reality that a mammoth pen and two expensive watches will get you up to five grand in America and only $40 in Thailand is heartbreaking.
Rated 16A (seeIFCO websitefor details)
Mammoth is released on 12th November 2010
DIR/WRI: Carlos Cuarón • PRO: Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo Del Toro, Alejamdro Gonzalez Innaritu, Frida Torresblanco • DOP: Adam Kimmel • ED: Alex Rodríguez • DES: Eugenio Caballero • CAST: Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Francella, Adriana Paz, Jessica Mas.
The first film from the newly-formed Cha Cha Cha Productions, consisting of Mexico’s finest filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu, Rudo y Cursi is a hugely enjoyable warm-hearted genre piece which re-teams the co-writer (Carlos Cuarón) and stars of Y tu mamá también, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.
Though, admittedly, not my greatest area of interest, there is always something very engaging about the sports movie. This film is a shining example of the genre. It tells the story of two poor country brothers, Tato and Beto. Tato dreams of becoming a pop star and Beto dreams of becoming a goalie. However, when Tato gets picked up by random happenstance by a soccer talent scout, Beto is horrified. Tato sees it as an opportunity to become famous and therefore get a record deal. Soon afterwards, Beto is given a shot at being a pro at a different club and they both become soccer sensations. Trials and tribulations ensue and the whole film builds up towards the inevitable climactic game with everything riding on it, brother versus brother.
On some level this is an entertaining rags-to-riches story like all the other ones that have come before it. But there is a deeper level of sentiment at work here that allows the audience to engage fully with these characters and love them and hate them as necessary. The tragedy of simple men being seduced and quickly destroyed by fame is examined here, and to great effect, due to the nicely rounded characters and undeniable chemistry between the two lead actors.
Writer and director Carlos Cuarón does a fantastic job here. There is not a superfluous scene in the piece and the dialogue is not only hilarious but also snappy and natural. The screenplay flows along so nicely that by the time the film ends, you wonder where the two hours went and feel sad to be leaving these characters.
A major problem with the film, particularly as a genre piece, is its lack of actual football footage. Most of the football is off-screen for some reason, perhaps the actors just aren’t very good footballers. This hampers the excitement and the build-up of the third act somewhat. It is a huge pity because with so much invested in the characters; it seems a shame to take the excitement down a peg by not showing the matches. This is, however, merely a tiny problem in an otherwise splendid film.
This is an impossible film to dislike. Devoid of sentimentality yet consistently heart-warming throughout, the lead and supporting characters light up the scenes throughout with subtle quirks and elegant tragedies. As dark as the story can sometimes get, it is never bleak, and always rousing. What more could one want from a summer popcorn movie?