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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

GUILTY SELF-INDULGENCES ON 4/11


Being today is my birthday today, April 11th, I thought I might go to the subject of self-indulgent cinema tastes -- my secret uncensored interests and joys.

On the political front, I my curiosity sways toward films from countries that give me a chance to probe and investigate political cultures other than my own. With the Italian election just completed and Silvio Berlusconi refusing to concede power, I am reminded of the first political films that appealed to me in cinema were by the great Italian auteurs: Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paulo Passolini and Bernardo Bertolucci.

OEDIPUS REX, 8 1/2, THE CONFORMIST, BLOWUP, VIVA L'ITALIA! were Italian realist and political films, I used to program in the cinema club lounge during my university days. While college students today prefer ANIMAL HOUSE and such frat-boy humor as ANCHORMAN, radicalized students in my day flocked in numbers to Eastern European, Russian, and Italian movies condemning fascism and unfettered abuse of government power.

More recently, however, I have been enjoying political film from Brazil. And, while you may have recently seen THE CONSTANT GARDENER, a film enjoyed because my fondness for political firebrands like Tessa (played by Rachel Weisz) I go back to Fernando Meirelles' first film (who directed CONSTANT GARDENER). CITY OF GOD is absolutely amazing and probably the best film of 2002. 

I also enjoyed Seigio Bianchi's CRONICAMENTE INVIAVEL (2002) or the English translation would be CHRONICALLY INFEASIBLE which is both satirically biting and funny. Not since Luis Bunuel's DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (which this film resembles) has a film been more incisive and powerful. 

Another interesting Brazilian political film would be ONIBUS 174 (Bus 174) a gripping documentary by Jose Padilha also from 2002. Padilha chronicals the actual events in 2000 when a street bandit took control of a bus after armed robbery gone bad turns a hostage situation and unfolds into a surreal drama involving the media, police incompetence and desparate victims in a face-to-face conundrum. 

Now, away from the Brazilian front, I also very much enjoyed a Norwegian film called UTOPIA, which I probably shouldn't even mention since it has never been distributed in the U.S. and if difficult to obtain. I had to write to the Producer Ørjan Karlsen and request it under its native language title "Folk flest bor i Kina" or translated MOST PEOPLE LIVE IN CHINA Ørjan didn't at first understand when I asked him for UTOPIA which film I was talking about but then explained the title was changed provisionally to UTOPIA for a potential American distributor who never contracted the movie.

Anyway, UTOPIA or MOST PEOPLE LIVE IN CHINA is a very funny and inventive film constructed in 9 parts (one parable for each political party in Norway), each part describing with humor and self-humility (Norwegians are great at self-humor) the aspirations and lifestyles of its people. The films sections were each written by a different screenwriter within a collective called Oslo Screenwriters Workshop and directed by different directors. Each political allegory was edited and shopped to festivals as film shorts. A few won international prizes. Writer/Director Thomas Robsahm than wrote an interstitial movie to tie all the short films together. And its brilliant.

I am a big champion of UTOPIA or FOLK FLEST BOR I KINA and am sorely disappointed that this inventive drama never received American distribution. I found the film listed on the Norwegian Film Insitute web site (http://www.nfi.no/english) and then contacted Motly's, its distributor. You also have to obtain or own a multi-region capable DVD player because the DVD is not encoded for the U.S. but let's hope the future will break down all these arbitrary and artificial barriers to stories and cultural understanding. Technology and copy protection schemes, at the moment, only seem to throw more barriers and fences up.

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