martes, 30 de setiembre de 2008

El reino de este mundo

El reino de este mundo (2005 libro de bolsillo)
por Alejo Carpentier
Venezuela, 1949
ISBN 84-322-1653-4

"Todos sabían que la iguana verde, la mariposa nocturna, el perro desconocido, el alcatraz inverosímil, no eran sino simples disfraces. Dotado del poder de transformarse en animal de pezuña, en ave, pez o insecto, Mackandal visitaba continuamente las haciendas de la llanura para vigilar a sus fieles y saber si todavía confiaban en su regreso. De metamorfosis en metamorfosis, el manco estaba en todas partes, habiendo recobrado su integridad corpórea al vestir trajes de animales. Con alas un día, con agallas al otro, galopando o reptando, se había adueñado del curso de los ríos subterráneos, de las cavernas de la costa, de las copas de los árboles, y reinaba ya sobre la isla entera. Ahora, sus poderes eran ilimitados. Lo mismo podía cubrir una yegua que descansar en el frescor de un aljibe, posarse en las ramas ligeras de un aromo o colarse por el ojo de una cerradura. Los perros no le ladraban; mudaba de sombra según le conviniera. Por obra suya, una negra parió un niño con cara de jabalí. De noche salía aparecerse en los caminos bajo el pelo de un chivo negro con ascuas en los cuernos. Un día daría la señal del gran levantamiento, y los Señores de Allá, encabezados por Damballah, por el Amo de los Caminos y por Ogún de los Hierros, traerían el rayo y el trueno, para desencadenar el ciclón que completaría la obra de los hombres. En esa gran hora --decía Ti Noel-- la sangre de los blancos correría hasta los arroyos, donde los Loas, ebrios de júbilo, la beberían de bruces, hasta llenarse los pulmones". (Carpentier, p. 41)

Un ejemplo temprano de lo que el cubano Carpentier llamó "lo real maravilloso" y de lo que otros más tarde llamarían el realismo mágico, El reino de este mundo es un innegable clásico de la literatura hispanoamericana que todavía hechiza a los lectores. Aunque el protagonista del libro es un esclavo ficticio que se llama Ti Noel, otros "personajes" dentro de la novela son varios hombres y mujeres históricos relacionados con la revolución haitiana a principios del siglo XIX: los rebeldes Mackandal y Bouckman, el "rey negro" Henri Christophe, y la princesa Paulina Bonaparte entre otros. El resultado es una obra que finge imitar las reglas de la novela histórica al mismo tiempo que su autor introduce novedades en la manera de abordar su tema.

Al contar gran parte de la novela desde la perspectiva de los esclavos, Carpentier llama la atención al hecho de que hay una ruptura entre la cosmovisión de los africanos y la de los europeos. Interesantemente, no se trata simplemente de religión, del vudú de los negros contra el cristianismo de los blancos. En lugar de eso, Carpentier sugiere cómo las metamorfosis de Mackandal se pueden leer como dos acercamientos a la historia: en líneas generales, uno influido por el mundo de los espíritus y otro influido por las fuerzas de la razón. Su técnica narrativa emplea ambos acercamientos, describiendo lo real (multiples malos tratos por parte de los revolucionarios después de su victoria contra los blancos) y lo maravilloso (hombres que se convierten en animales, estatuas vivas, etc.) con igual destreza y verosimilitud dentro de la esquema de la novela. Dado el tema, quizás el extraordinario éxito del autor no debe sorprendernos. Como Carpentier nos pregunta en su prólogo (12): "¿Pero qué es la historia de América toda sino una crónica de lo real-maravilloso?"

Alejo Carpentier, el novelista como mago

domingo, 28 de setiembre de 2008

Pickup on South Street

Pickup on South Street (2004 DVD)
Directed by Sam Fuller
USA, 1953
In English

There's nothing like watching a grumpy old man pretend he invented patriotism to put you in the mood for a black and white movie from the Red Scare era, but even people who buy into John McCain's condescending "country first" flagwaving should find something of interest here. In this gritty '53 noir, apolitical pickpocket Skip McCoy (a sneering Richmard Widmark) finds way more than he bargains for after he picks somewhat dimwitted go-between Candy's purse on an NYC subway train--neither one of the characters initially realizing that Candy's intended delivery had featured a strip of microfilm with top secret info being peddled to the communists. When the cops and the feds get involved and the reds realize they're in danger of losing the classified information that they'd paid for, McCoy and Candy (Jean Peters) get sucked into a web of criminal and political intrigue where personal and political loyalties are all up for sale and seemingly everyone's out for themselves.

Fuller does a fine job of keeping the action moving, and a series of excellently-chosen Manhattan location shots gives this 80-minute movie an edgy urban feel akin to a rough draft of the crime films shot there in the '60s and the '70s. The political angle's approached in a fairly crafty way--Fuller himself has stated that Pickup was condemned as pro-Communist by conservatives and anti-Communist by leftists--so don't be surprised if the grandmotherly stool pigeon (Thelma Ritter) turns out to be the most morally-grounded and "likeable" character in the lot. Unfortunately, while Widmark and Peters cause sparks to fly in their scenes together, the relationship that develops between the pickpocket and his victim is the lone plot element that drags things down a bit. All in all, great film, totally entertaining, no partisan pandering...just one cheesy love story short of a masterpiece. (

Richard Widmark strikes a blow for the right with his left!

sábado, 13 de setiembre de 2008


Gomorrah (2007 hardback)
by Roberto Saviano
Italy, 2006
ISBN 978-0-374-16527-7

Questo libro è eccezionale. It's so exceptional, in fact, that I decided to replace the controversial but highly regarded Italian novel I had in mind for this leg of my Orbis Terrarum Challenge travels with this absolutely stunning non-fiction masterpiece aimed at exposing Naples' organized crime scene. Part diligent investigative reporting chronicle/part furious, outraged denunciation of the way business as usual is conducted in the increasingly interconnected global and mob economies, Gomorrah is a work that's almost impossible to put down even when Saviano's only setting up a scene. An example: "I used to go to the port to eat fish. Not that nearness to the sea means anything in terms of the quality of the restaurant. I'd find pumice stones, sand, even boiled seaweed in my food. The clams were fished up and tossed right into the pan. A guarantee of freshness, a Russian roulette of infection" (Saviano, 9).

While this terse, Tacitean prose and a flair for description are typical of Saviano's breathless but decidedly no-bullshit style, an equal reward for readers is that he's somehow at his most fearless and lucid precisely when he's most at risk from the information he's revealing. From stories about bootleg haute couture to the nightmarish details explaining how Italy's hazardous waste winds up in poor people's backyards, Saviano seems to have the inside scoop on practically everything that "the system" is involved with. Want to know what it feels like to be stuck in the middle of a clan war? Read the chapter on the Secondigliano War. Want to know what happens when a doctor tries to assist a victim of mob violence who's been left to die in the streets? Read the anecdote about Saviano's own father, beaten up so badly by associates of the suspected hitmen that he couldn't look anybody in the eye for months afterward. Want to know what it feels like to stay in the cesspool where you grew up when other hometown friends have either joined the camorristi or fled for safer lives far away from the Naples area? Read the sequence where Saviano describes vacationing friends returning home--those who "smile sarcastically at you, wondering whom you have become. They look at you from head to toe, try to size you up, figure out if you are a chiachiello or a bbuono. A failure or a Camorrista" (119).

A working journalist, Saviano is now under police protection because he chose not to become either a Camorrista or a failure. You can read a little more by him below and see the response to Gomorrah by an Italian blogger I like here. In the meantime, I give the book 5/5 stelle (*****) for delivering the writing and the reporting goods with conviction.

"On December 26, 2004, Dario Scherillo, a twenty-six-year-old, is riding his motorcycle when he's shot in the face and chest and left to die in a puddle of his blood, which soaks his shirt completely. An innocent man. But he was from Casavatore, a town that has been chewed up by the conflict. For him there is still silence and incomprehension. No epigraph, no plaque, no remembrance. 'When someone is killed by the Camorra, you never know,' an old man tells me as he crosses himself at the spot where Dario was killed. Not all blood is the same color. Dario's is reddish purple and seems to still be flowing. The piles of sawdust have a hard time absorbing it all. After a bit a car takes advantage of the space and parks on top of the stain. Everything comes to an end. Everything gets covered over. Dario was killed to send a message to the town, a message of flesh sealed in an envelope of blood. As in Bosnia, Algeria, Somalia, as in any confused internal war, when it's hard to understand which side you're on, it's enough to kill your neighbor, a dog, your friend, or your relative. The hint of kinship or physical resemblance is all it takes to become a target. It's enough to walk down a certain street to immediately acquire an identity of lead. What matters is to concentrate as much pain, tragedy, and terror as possible, and the only objective is to show absolute strength, uncontested control, and the impossibility of opposing the real and ruling power. To the point that you get used to thinking the way they do, like those who might take offense at a gesture or a phrase. To save your life, to avoid touching the high-voltage line of revenge, you have to be careful, wary, silent. As I was leaving, as they were taking away Attilio Romanò, I started to understand. To understand why there is not a moment in which my mother does not look at me with anxiety, unable to understand why I don't leave, run away, why I keep living in this hell. I tried to recall how many have fallen, how many have been killed since the day I was born" (118-119).
  • Saviano, Roberto. Gomorrah (translated from the Italian by Virginia Jewiss). New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007.

sábado, 6 de setiembre de 2008

The Best of Youth

La meglio gioventù (2006 DVD)
Directed by Marco Tullio Giordana
Italy, 2003
In Italian with English and Spanish subtitles

Miramax didn't do anybody any favors with its mindless DVD copywriting ("Passion and adventure...under the Italian sun" it tritely says on one side of the cover; "In the award-winning epic tradition of The Godfather and Cold Mountain" it boldly declares with no real meaning on the other), and the misleading cover art that seems designed to pitch this movie as some sort of an Oprah-friendly romantic trifle isn't much of a help either. Still, those who can move beyond the publicity gaffes will be in for a real treat. First aired as a six-hour miniseries on Italian TV before making it to the big screen as a rarely-seen but almost unanimously-acclaimed two-parter, La meglio gioventù is a monumental, sprawling historical drama that follows brothers Matteo and Nicola Carati (Alessio Boni and Luigi Lo Cascio) through almost forty years of life, loves and loss in the bel paese. I don't normally go for the whole family drama-set-amid-the-social-turmoils-of-a-bygone-era sort of thing because those kinds of efforts usually feel so fake, but director Giordana, screenwriters Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli (two-thirds of the ace writing team later responsible for the equally-excellent Mio fratello è figlio unico, still my favorite film seen in the theaters this year), and an absolutely superb ensemble cast do a Giuseppe di Lampedusa-like job of making the intersections between the personal and the political believable. The result is a highly-entertaining and at times even mesmerizing temporal and geographical travelogue through a 1966-2003 Italy of student strikes, Red Brigade threats, and mafia massacres with a lot more lyricism and soul than we have any right to expect in a movie--much less one that originally aired on TV. Outstanding. (

Jasmine Trinca as Giorgia

lunes, 1 de setiembre de 2008

The Ace of Hearts

The Ace of Hearts (2003 DVD)
Dirigida por William Worsley
Estados Unidos, 1921
Silente con intertítulos en inglés y subtítulos in castellano y francés

No hay nada como una poco convincente historia de amor para arruinar una película que por lo demás es muy interesante, pero eso es lo que pasa acá en este temprano thriller silente que presenta al reconocido "hombre de mil caras" Lon Chaney. Chaney tiene el papel principal de un hombre misterioso que se llama Farallone, miembro de una sociedad secreta que se reúne para decidir quien vivirá y quien morirá entre los poderosos y ricos del país. Una vez decidido el víctima, los miembros del grupo escogen un asesino de entre ellos con la ayuda de un juego de naipes: él que recibe el as de corazones se convierte en el asesino, lo que parece ser un honor e un peligro a la vez.

Aunque Chaney interprete su papel con brío (¡cuán carismático es este actor con esas caras de sufrimiento shakespeariano...y a pesar de ese corte de pelo suyo que le da el aspecto de un pterodáctilo!) y la música de Vivek Maddala es otro punto cumbre, el argumento sufre cuando un triángulo de amor se introduce entre Farallone, su rival romántico Forrest (John Bowers), y la hermosa revolucionaria Lilith (Leatrice Joy), todos partidarios del grupo sólo conocido por el nombre de "la Causa". Esta parte de la película pierde la velocidad debida a la multiplicidad de discursos sobre el amor, y lo que era un filme de intriga en potencia se convierte en otra historia de amor trivial. ¡Qué fastidio!

En honor de Herr Graf Ferdinand von Galitzien, mi bloguero preferido en cuanto al mundo del cine mudo, este nitrato de plata obtiene una nota de 2.5 decadentes condes germánicos a escala de 5 decadentes condes germánicos. Gute Nacht!

Además de The Ace of Hearts, los dos DVDs de la Lon Chaney Collection incluyen los largos Laugh, Clown, Laugh y The Unknown y el documental Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces.