miércoles, 30 de abril de 2008

"3 películas documentales uruguayas de Virginia Martínez"

Ácratas/Por esos ojos/Memoria de mujeres (2006 DVD)
Dirigida por Virginia Martínez
Uruguay, 1998-2005
En castellano

A diferencia de las otras películas de la semana que he mencionado hasta este punto, aquí son tres "lecciones de historia" disfrazadas de documentales. Aunque yo diría que el periodismo de Martínez es más interesante que su cinematografía, todas estas obras están bien hechas y todas son dignas de atención por sus temas.
  • Ácratas (2003) es un documental de 73 minutos que tiene que ver con la historia de los "anarquistas expropiadores" en la región rioplatense al principio del siglo XX. Mezclando cine de época con entrevistas con algunos historiadores modernos, hace hincapié en las actividades de hombres como Buenaventura Durutti, Simón Radowitzky ("el santo del anarquismo") y Miguel Arcángel Roscigno. Un encabezamiento antiguo, "Montevideo se ha convertido en una pequeña Chicago", dice casi todo acerca de la violencia de la época.
  • Por esos ojos (1998, co-dirigida por Gonzalo Arijón) es una obra de 62 minutos que cuenta el caso Mariana Zaffaroni. Zaffaroni fue secuestrada en Buenos Aires cuando tenía 18 meses, y sus padres (exiliados de Uruguay por motivos políticos) "desaparecieron" al mismo tiempo (probablemente fueron víctimas de uno de esos "vuelos de la muerte" según el testimonio escalofriante de un testigo acá). Después de una valiosa búsqueda de 16 años, la abuela de la niña, Maria Ester Gatti de Islas, descubrió que su nieta estaba viviendo bajo el nombre de Daniela Romina Furci con el ex-agente de SIDE (Servicio de Información del Estado, un ramo de la policía secreta) responsable del secuestro y con su esposa estéril. Increíblemente, aún después de aprender la verdad sobre su pasado, Zaffaroni decidió quedarse con los criminales y rechazar a su propia abuela de sangre. Un asunto muy pero muy conmovedor.
  • Aunque Memoria de Mujeres (2005, 30 minutos) versa con el Penal Punta de Rieles de Montevideo, una cárcel de presas políticas clausurada en 1985 después de 12 años de la dictadura uruguaya, es el único de los tres documentales que tiene un verdadero fin feliz. Si las memorias de las ex-presas son tristes, uno se da cuenta que su sobrevivencia es una victoria contra las fuerzas de la represión en la misma manera en la cual sus testimonios son una victoria contra el silencio. (http://www.buencine.com.uy/)

sábado, 26 de abril de 2008

Ferdinand von Galitzien, el aristócrata silente teutón por excelencia

Having watched three quality silent films (or, more precisely, two movies and over six and a half hours of Les Vampires) in the last couple of weeks, I guess it's safe to say that el cine mudo has become a bit of an obsession for me of late. The acting, the cinematography, and even the sets are so different from those of today that what might seem utterly primitive to some just seems positively vanguardista to me. True confessions time concluded, please permit me to direct your attention to the man with all those medals in the photo on the right.

Herr Graf Ferdinand von Galitzien, as he calls himself, is the nattily-attired auteur behind a silent movie blog of the same name. While I suspect that our aristocratic bloguero is Galician rather than German, what's more pertinent is that "this German count"--as he so often refers to himself in a charming third person devoid of the usual arrogance that U.S. athletes use when they speak about themselves in the same fashion--has one of the most entertaining and informative film blogs I've yet come across.

Although he usually posts in both English and Spanish, Herr Graf Ferdinand occasionally preferences one over the other or even abandons both to submit something gentlemanly in galego. If his blog is a playful cyber-schloss devoted to the joys of silent film, his reviews are a dangerous moat where "longhaired" people and all things "Frenchified" go to meet their metaphorical maker. For a random sampling of his Lautréamont-like sense of humor (I naturally mean the Uruguayan and not the Frenchified count here, of course), you can read his submissions on early Galician silent films aquí, a French movie ici and an historical epic of Teutonic provenance hier.

And now, if you'll allow me, this fan of the German count must temporarily take his leave to read and write about other "nitratos de plata" elsewhere.

jueves, 24 de abril de 2008

Les Vampires

Les Vampires (2000 DVD)
Directed by Louis Feuillade
France, 1915-1916
Silent with English intertitles

Terrifically-entertaining ten-episode serial from a French filmmaker who's said to have shot something like 700-800 films over the course of a thirty-year career. While essentially a good vs. evil melodrama pitting the Juve-like reporter Phillipe Guèrande against a secret society of Fantômas-like criminals known as Les Vampires, Feuillade's justly celebrated eye for visuals (a rooftop chase here, a hooded criminal's escape through a manhole there) and arch sense of humor (aristocratic soirées are routinely interrupted by things like cannon blasts and knockout gas) lend a provocative proto-surrealist ambiance to the proceedings. Musidora's archvillainness Irma Vep, the badass second-in-command to a series of male "Grand Vampires" with way less charisma and stage presence than her, essentially steals the show, but anyone interested in a well-told tale about black stocking-clad criminals or World War I Paris as seen from the point of view of Molotov cocktail-hurling anarchists should find something to enjoy here. In short, c'est vachement bien! (www.image-entertainment.com)

sábado, 19 de abril de 2008

Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation

Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (2000 paperback)
by John Phillip Santos
USA, 1999
ISBN 0-14-029202-0

"It sometimes seems as if Mexicans are to forgetting what the Jews are to remembering. We have made selective forgetting a sacramental obligation. Leave it all in the past, all that you were, and all that you could not be. There is pain enough in the present to go around. Some memories cannot be abandoned. Let the past reclaim all the rest, forever, and let stories come to their fitting end." (5)

A beautifully-written meditation on the passage of time and the repatriation of cultural memory. While ostensibly a very personal memoir dedicated to unearthing the truth behind the untold story of his grandfather Juan José's apparent suicide in 1939, family history eventually merges with an almost cosmological mysticism here as the San Antonio native Santos' search for answers leads him further and further afield in time and space piecing together the puzzle of his family's "lost history in Mexico" (122). Somewhere along the line, this investigation into his roots and the subsequent reflections upon what his closest relatives gained and lost when they fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution to take up a new life in Texas become linked to universal themes about exile and how we all relate to the past. Like the voladores, whose aerial performances he so admires, Santos' own fearless narrative arc unfolds with both poetic grace and an almost pre-Columbian precision in an elegiac testimonio shot through with magic and realism. A superb achievement. (http://www.penguinputnam.com/)

miércoles, 16 de abril de 2008

La Celestina

La Celestina (2005 DVD)
Dirigida por Gerardo Vera
España, 1996
En español con subtítulos en inglés

No tengo mucho más que decir que esta obra de época, basada en el libro clásico de Fernando de Rojas de 1499, es la peor película en lengua castellana que he visto en los últimos dos o tres años. Soy un fan de Penélope Cruz, pero su actuación aquí es terrible y el chico que interprete el papel de Calisto (Juan Diego Botto) es aún peor. Naturalmente, el guión nos oculta toda la complejidad de la novela. Además, algunas escenas del DVD estadounidense han sido suprimidas por motivos absurdos (en este caso, la desnudez). En resumen, una malísima película. (Studio Latino)

martes, 15 de abril de 2008

Prochainement sur cet écran

Musidora, la reine du cinéma muet, dans le serial Les Vampires (1915-1916) de Louis Feuillade. Ma copie de DVD est enfin arrivée!

viernes, 11 de abril de 2008

Back to History Challenge

Yourcenar: A near-miss or a future substitute?

The previously unknown to me Shannon, formerly of Shannon's Reading Log and now the host of another blog elsewhere, is graciously sponsoring a Back to History Challenge for 2008 which you can read about here. In essence, the challenge is to read 12 history-themed works (non-fiction or historical fiction) this year and to share the reviews with other history geeks. Since there are no entry fees or fines for starting late, I've decided to accept the challenge and start catching up to the others after spotting them a three months' lead. The following is my tentative list of choices to be read:

  • Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Naufragios (review)
  • Fredric L. Cheyette, Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours
  • Georges Duby, Le temps des cathedrales: l'art et la société, 980-1420
  • Elena Poniatowska, La noche de Tlatelolco
  • John Phillip Santos, Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (review)
  • Edwin Williamson, Borges: A Life

Historical Fiction

  • Radwa Ashour, Granada
  • Tomás Eloy Martínez, Santa Evita
  • Juan Goytisolo, La reivindicación de Conde Julian
  • Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard (review)
  • Carme Riera, Dins el darrer blau
  • Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird's Daughter

Definite Maybes (Possible Alternates)

  • Mariano Azuela, Los de abajo [The Underdogs] (review)
  • Roberto Bolaño, Estrella distante [Distant Star] (review)
  • Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw (review)
  • Alejo Carpentier, El reino de este mundo (review)
  • Gabriella De Ferrari, Gringa Latina (review)
  • Francisco Goldman, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? (review)
  • Edwin Mullins, The Pilgrimage to Santiago (review)
  • Andrés Reséndez, A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (review)
  • Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah (review)

miércoles, 9 de abril de 2008


Mouchette (2006 DVD)
Directed by Robert Bresson
France, 1967
In French with English subtitles

I liked this, but I wasn't blown away by it. While Nadine Nortier's Mouchette is one of the most fascinating teen characters I've seen in a while, her performance is so riveting that some of the other aspects of the film paled in comparison for me. I won't go into all the details in case there's anyone else out there who still hasn't seen the movie as yet, but Mouchette is a flat-out pobrecita of a 14-year old stuck in a provincial French backwater and surrounded by familial indifference, violence, and death at every turn. Bresson and Nortier do a masterful job at making you empathize with Mouchette's suffering as a poverty-stricken misfit, and there are individual scenes involving holy water in a church, bumper cars at a village fair, and adults pretending to console Mouchette only as a pretext to pass judgement on her that are visually and emotionally arresting. Yet for all its stylized "reality," the ending just didn't do it for me--feeling more like a narrative cop-out than the logical conclusion to what had come before. A nice intro to Bresson but at least one friend has already assured me that I'll probably end up liking Pickpocket more. (http://www.criterion.com/)

domingo, 6 de abril de 2008

Fantômas, the Genius of Crime

Fantômas (2006 paperpack)
by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre
France, 1911
ISBN 978-0-14-310484-1

I'm a sucker for a lurid cover, and the near-lookalike above (curiously missing my copy's montage illustration of an enormous Eiffel Tower looming over the city of Paris and not so curiously missing the original poster's menacing depiction of a bloodied dagger) was at least 90% responsible for luring me into the world of the notorious Parisian archvillain known as Fantômas. As luck would have it, my lowbrow tastes were rewarded with a highly entertaining thriller that worked despite mixing the implausible (male characters successfully masquerading as females for extended periods of time) with the even more implausible (Fantômas' unerring ability to escape justice by a variety of increasingly dubious ruses). While John Ashberry's introduction is probably spot on in appraising Allain and Souvestre as "two inspired hacks" (viii), I have to admit that their high cliffhangers-per-chapter ratio and that bad mofo Detective Juve (Fantômas' brilliant but humble nemesis) made this thing fly by pretty quickly. All in all, a fun, deliciously trashy read if not quite "the modern Aeneid" that some would have it! (http://www.penguinclassics.com/)

viernes, 4 de abril de 2008

Roberto Bolaño, Blog Superstar

The Millions, a book blog I've been enjoying of late, had a nice post on Roberto Bolaño yesterday in anticipation of the upcoming US publication in translation of his final effort, 2666. I've only read one Bolaño novel in its entirety so far, 1998's Los detectives salvajes, but it was mindblowing enough for me to immediately sink $52.95 into its 1100-page follow-up, 2666, which came out posthumously in 2004 (both put out by Editorial Anagrama in Barcelona). Right now I'm only about halfway through the thing, having taken a couple of pit stops here and there to savor its feverish energy (a Bolaño trademark) and five-books-in-one construction.

I know a book-and-a-half and a couple of short stories aren't much to go on before jumping onto any author's bandwagon, but I'm guessing anybody who's read either Los detectives salvajes or 2666 will understand what the Bolaño fuss is all about. The guy is just great fun to read, and I look forward to moving on to his earlier works when I finish his final one. In the meantime, I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make: I first "discovered" Bolaño the writer as a character in Javier Cercas' Soldados de Salamina (2001) before realizing that he was an actual person (and one that some would consider the greatest Spanish-language novelist in the last 50 years!). How lame is that?

miércoles, 2 de abril de 2008

The Lost Steps

Los pasos perdidos (2007 DVD)
(The Lost Steps)
Dirigida por Manane Rodríguez
Argentina y España, 2001
En español con subtítulos en inglés

Mónica (Irene Visedo) es una argentina de unos veinte años que vive en España con sus padres y sale con un tipo "prudente". Cuando un desconocido (Federico Luppi) viene de Buenos Aires para decir que ella es en realidad su nieta Diana, secuestrada en su niñez durante los años de la dictadura militar, Mónica empieza cuestionar sus propias raíces. La pregunta principal: ¿es posible que su padre no es su padre de verdad sino un secuestrador?

La respuesta, desgraciadamente, es bastante obvio porque esta película no tiene un guión digno de su tema. Mónica, por ejemplo, podría resolver todas sus dudas con una sencilla prueba de sangre. Todo el mundo espia a ella, pero ella no sospecha nada. Además, los personajes se dividen en grupos de buenos y malos. A diferencia de La historia oficial (1985) de Luis Puenzo y/o Cautiva (2003) de Gastón Biraben, dos filmes excelentes sobre temas semejantes, Los pasos perdidos me pareció una obra más mediocre que conmovedora. Decepcionante. (Agua Verde Audio Visual)