Friday, June 18, 2010

De adioses y silencios.

José de Sousa Saramago, mejor conocido como José Saramago, murió hoy despues de una convalescencia que lo había tenido enfermo por mucho tiempo. Recuerdo el primer libro que leí de él: Ensayo sobre la ceguera. Despues de leer aquel libro, leí muchos más. Lo empecé a leer en el verano del 2000, cuando mi madre me vino a visitar despues de que me mudara a los Estados Unidos. Ese libro viajaba en sus maletas, y me lo regaló. Me acuerdo del absoluto silencio de alguna que otra tarde veraniega de la sala de mi tía Lucero en miami cuando lo empecé a leer, y recuerdo el frío invierno del 2000-2001 en NY cuando lo terminé.

Le debo mucho a Saramago en mi vida literaria. El, más que cualquier otro autor, hizo que yo me enamorara de las palabras, de su poder, y de sus falencias. El hizo que me enamorara de novelar fantasias y realidades por igual. De leer y escribir. Que son parte de la misma cosa.

Su último libro, Caín, mucho más corto de a lo que nos tiene acostumbrado, parecía esconder un secreto. Parecían sus últimas palabras. Recuerdo comentarselo a algunos de mis amigos. Sí, no es dificultad alguna augurar que un libro es último, cuando el escritor tiene 87 años. Pero en el caso de Saramago, algo me decía que estaba dejando un último testamento (ya escribiré sobre esto en otra entrada).

¡Saramago! Adios. Buen viaje, si es que hay alguno. Ahora perteneces al reino de los silencios. De las ausencias. Ahora hablarás más que nunca. Y yo seguiré (re)leyendo.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ND/NF: La Pivellina: A story of compassion

This was probably the sweetest movie out of the festival. I didn't watch all the movies in the New Directors/New Films Festival of 2010, but I can probably say that this movie is in fact the sweetest of them all. I said it twice because I want you to notice.
It is the simplest out of all of the movies that I watched, and it plays out in a documentary fashion, which is in fact, the background that Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel bring to the table (In fact, this movie has become much more interesting after watching it and doing a bit of research, and it has to do with this very point). It has a very simple narrative structure that follows the life of an older couple that have a very modest (if not poor and decrepit) ambulant circus which they set up in parks, and parking lots alike, hoping for anyone to come and watch and give them some money. They live in tents and trailer homes with their goats and other animals that are part of the show. The story starts when Patty, the female of the couple, is walking her dog in the park, and finds a toddler girl, probably 2 or 3 years old, left alone in her swing. In the girl's jacket pocket, Patty finds a simple note that just says to take care of her, that she will be back soon for her. So Patty, not knowing what to do, decides to take the girl in, and assumes the copy is from her mother. Tairo, her husband, is not very happy with the situation, and urges Patty to call the cops. Tairo is worried that if the cops are to find out they are keeping a young girl that is not theirs, they will be accused of kidnapping, and because of their particular situation, or "otherness", the cops will not be sympathetic to their cause. I don't think cops are sympathetic to circus gypsies that keep little girls that don't belong to them. But if it were that simple. Patty does not want to call the cops because she hopes that her mother will come back, and she does not want the little girl to be taken away from the little mother, even if in fact, she doesn't know who this person is.
The movie plays out in poor neighborhoods of what appears to be Rome, and it is the simple story of Patty, Tairo and the young teenager (probably 13 or 14) Walter who falls in love in a fraternal fashion with the toddler, and is happy to take care of her, feed her, and keep her close to him to have the girl have a good time. All that Patty, Tairo and Walter are trying to do is to have Asia, the little girl, have a good time, and not be afraid that her mother is not around. Patty hopes that the mother will show at one point or another and claim the girl back. This finally becomes an ambiguous feeling as Patty starts feeling attached to Asia, her delicate smile, and her beautiful presence. Asia is indeed beautiful. I imagine it would be hard to capture the charisma of a three year old in film, and try to make it look as if it is not a film, as if it is in fact reality. Or maybe it's very easy. Maybe toddlers in movies, like Asia, don't know exactly what's going on, and just manage to have absolute fun. But Asia's happiness and sadness are both captured in this film which makes it absolutely beautiful, and devastating at times.
Walter is, by far, the strongest character in the film. He has a mix of naivete, good manners and boyish attitude that cannot but be absolutely natural. He gives a tremendous "performance" and by his young age and devoted care to Asia wins the audience easily. Nothing is more charming than a young boy taking care of a toddler. It's probably an old and stupid stereotype. I accept it. But boys are roudy, and careless and immature. And this boy is that, sure. Plays soccer, has a girlfriend and is mean to her, but also lives by himself in a trailer, cooks his own meals, and manages to care for this little girl in his innocent ways.
This is a poor, circus, gypsy, filthy, and ignorant family that lives in the outskirts of society. Struggling for money, with not even a "proper" home to live in, but they have something that is much more meaningful than any capitalistic consummer gain, whether it is money, a home, good clothes, a good education, a proper bath and a good family, they have compassion, for a stranger like Asia.
What seems very interesting about this film after having watched it, and after having done some research is that this is not the first film that features Patty, Walter and Tairo. The directing couple Covi and Frimmel had already featured these three characters in a DOCUMENTARY called "Babooska" in 2005. Babooska, if I don't remember incorrectly, is a minor character in this movie ("La pivellina"), I believe it is Walter's grandmother that appears from time to time, or maybe, does not appear, and she's just merely mentioned. "Babooska" was a documentary depicting the life of this circus act, and of all of the different aspects of Babooska's life and the lives of those that were close to her.
I don't think "La pivellina" is also a documentary. I believe it is a work of fiction, because of some of its narrative techniques. However, the fact that Patty, Walter and Tairo stop being real people, to play themselves as characters in this new movie is very interesting. I did not want to anticipate a post that I was planning later on where I was going to pull together all of these film reviews that I am doing, but I seem to be needing to give a little heads up by saying something here. This is a tremendous play on the idea of the "other". Patty, Walter and Tairo who function as "others" for society (because of the fact that they do not belong to the consumer-based capitalistic normative), take on the role of a person who is not really an "other" but an integral part of modern society (and probably some ancient societies as well), the "actor" in order to play that role of "otherness" that they originally represented. It's almost as if they stepped out of their own reality in order to see it clearly. And the audience now sees that we are all "others" that don't belong, or partially belong, but at the same time that we are not "others" because perhaps we are all capable of what this family was capable of, even if we don't practice it as much as we should, even when we forget day to day about how easy it is and how helpful it can be to "others". That thing that we are capable of doing is to have compassion for others. Strangers, foreigners, or friends. It's all the same thing anyway.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

ND/NF: I am love: An affair with Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton gives an spectacular performance in this Italian film by the young director Luca Guadagnino. Her Italian is probably not the best, but since she's playing a russian immigrant who married into the family of a textile factory empire, it's probably not very important in any case. This film, as all the others I watched in the 2010 version of ND/NF was a film that had me pondering over it for many an hour (partly the reason why I have not posted about them until now, two months after the festival). I am Love is an outdated sort of film. It's a story of love, deceit, desire and lust. And there are plenty of those. In Hollywood and outside. But perhaps it is much more than that. There are lots of things happening in the background, things that are said, and in my opinion, others equally interesting that are left unsaid.

The Recchi family is all you would expect of an upper class Milano family to be, and to look like. They have an air of entitlement, but they are respectful, mindful of their wealth, sophisticated, chic, and absolutely beautiful. The third generation, Edoardo, Elisabetta and Gianluca, are three young angels. They are stunning and very nice to look at. But they have their share of problems. The story of "Io sono l'amore" revolves around Emma (Tilda Swinton) and the infatuation that she starts developing over one of her son's Edoardo's friends, Antonio, who is an adept chef. Food takes in important role in the movie (Is that supposed to be very italian?, I don't know what to think...). There's cooking food, and enjoying food, and eating it, possibly, becomes a metaphor for consumming the phallus and for knowing that which is not oneself, for bridging boundaries, but it also has a taste of hedonism.

Yes, this family is the epitome of hedonism. They are the burgeoisie. Rich, powerful, sophisticated, the makers of culture. They are the embodiment of what society should be like. Families should be patriarchal, the power passed down from grandfather to fathers and sons (and this actually happens in the movie, when, grandpapa Recchi gives his son Tancredi and Edoardo ownership and control over the family business to continue on the dynasty, with the appropriate speech, of course), women should be pieces of furniture, adequately smart, of course, and beautiful, but they operate in the pheriphery of business, and they don't quite care much for it. Not that I care about business either. But if my family seems to be doing quite well in this whole textile company things, whether man or woman, I'd care to at least make sure that it continues, I suppose.

The only remark where one sees that women actually care to even comment on the business is when, after the company is passed down to Tancredi and Edoardo, Tancredi and his other son Gianluca decide that the company should not longer exist as tradition has perhaps set way and are trying to sell off the company so that it will become some sort of financial conglomerate and make the Recchis richer than ever. The person overseeing the process is a British Sikh, played by Waris Alhuwalia (who I have not seen playing main roles, but seems to me a very decent actor), and I point this out because I think it is very important for the movie that it is a British Sikh, and not anyone else who is assisting them in this financial move. The remark, to go back to the original point here, is made by Elisabetta who after hearing from worried Edoardo about what Tancredi and Gianluca are doing, just says "Well, we'll be even richer than before." Not without its mark of sarcasm. Edoardo loves his company, the legacy which was placed under his care, loves a particular way of life. One of the scenes features him, walking with his wife, around the company that he loves so much, mingling with workers somewhat, but at one point says something just fantastic, "Oh my grandfather used to eat in the cafeteria, with the workers, to make them feel as if he belonged with them." Right. He didn't. It was a charade. Like this whole movie seems. A charade of wealth, of money, of power. A charade about to be broken, dismantled, and a way of life to be exposed.

Two of the instances of the destruction of the burgeoisie way of life, of the idyll depicted in the movie, were already mentioned (Emma's infatuation with Edoardo's friend, and the selling of the textile company). One of the other moments where the perfect, idyllic, adorable milano family breaks apart is when Elisabetta confesses to her mother that she's gay, and is in love with another woman. Emma ends up cheating on her husband, and the infatuation with Antonio leads to a secret relationship between the two. Antonio does not want Edoardo, who has just financed Antonio's new restaurant in the outskirts of Milan, to know about his affair with Emma, and Emma, of course, does not want anyone in her family to know about Antonio.

Something very important to point out, and perhaps the foreshadowing moment for the emplotment of the movie happens when grandpapa Recchi is about to give the speech where he will pass down the company's control to Edoardo and Tancredi. It is the grandfather's birthday and Elisabetta, who had promised some of her artwork as a gift, gives her grandfather a photograph she has taken. Her grandfather does not seem very pleased, and asked her why she didn't paint a picture, and ends up dismissing the photograph and thanking Elisabetta and telling her that she still owes him a painting. Old art against new art.

The climax of the movie develops when Antonio prepares an important dinner at the Recchi Mansion for the Recchi family and Mr. Kubelkian (Ahluwalia), and Antonio makes the family a soup (again, food is very important!) that he has learned to make from Emma, revealing to Edoardo (the only one who catches on) his relationship with Edoardo's mother. Edoardo realizes instantly, looks at his mother and walks away from the table, shocked. Emma runs after him, and tries to speak to him. Edoardo is furious, disappointed, confused. They are speaking right outside the house, near a fountain pool, and in a freak accident, when Edoardo pulls away from his mother, he trips and falls hitting his head on the pool. Edoardo dies in the hospital, leaving behind a pregnant wife. It is not clear what is going on, or why Edoardo reacted exactly the way he did, but there had been a sexual tension built up between the two friends (Edoardo and Antonio), especially in Edoardo's looks toward Antonio, and although it is left unsaid, one can imagine that Edoardo was in love with Antonio. His resilience to let go of the past, let of go of his family's business legacy, becomes his resilience to accept himself, to accept the love that he clearly had for Antonio (Antonio probably loved him too...when Edoardo was getting married, Antonio didn't look too happy).

Perhaps the movie is some sort of analogy for Italian society. Not sure. A society that in the hands of Prime Minister Berlusconi (and AC Milan's owner) has been notorious for its nonacceptance of others, such as foreigners, and for its extreme right wing conservatism. It's perhaps too much to conclude, as my knowledge of Italian politics and culture is very limited. But as an outsider, this is my small commentary.

What's very interesting about this movie is that the relationship with those "others", with that "difference" that ultimately breaks down the Recchi dynasty is not absolutely clear. In one instance, Edoardo's resilience for the financial move (now, you see my point about the British Sikh?) seems to be honorable, Elisabetta's fear of not being accepted by her father and family is expected, and Edoardo's love for Antonio is not even mentioned. So it is not clear if the movie wants to sponsor an acceptance of that which is not tradition, of that which is an "other", of that which is "difference" in the world, or if in fact, is advocating against it. At the end, the movie seems a big parody. A parody of a perfect 20th century rich, traditional, powerful italian family. But it's the 21st century and it's not clear if the movie has a particular stance. And that's what makes the movie fantastic. It keeps its ambiguity and by doing that, shows the difficulty about a postmodern, globalizing, capitalistic, gender and sexually mixed world. There are no clear answers, and the power of tradition is awfully strong.

Emma, after Edoardo's funeral and her confession of her love for Antonio, takes off for her house, packs up (with the help of her loving maid, who cries as she helps her pack) some of her belongings and runs away with all of her family in the living room watching as she goes. She embraces Elisabetta for a last time, who is happy to see her leave, finally free from the Recchis, from herself.