Friday, June 24, 2011

Jason goes to the Cleveland Cinematheque and sees LE QUATTRO VOLTE and NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT

In my latest trip to Cleveland, I returned to the prime spot for cinephilia, this time for a double feature of films I meant to see but never got around to in the SF Bay Area. Let me once again remind my Cleveland readers that you have a real jewel of film programming right there, and they deserve (and could certainly use) your support.

First up, the nearly dialogue free LE QUATTRO VOLTE. We open on an ash mound, as the workers are making charcoal. The mound is breathing smoke and as the camera enters the mound, the relentless, rhythmic pounding of the workers shovel becomes a heartbeat. You can tell immediately this is going to be a brand new interpretation of life and nature. We see smoke from the charcoal mounds drift over the forests. We see a goatherd take his herd out grazing. We see an ant crawling across his face. We see a baby goat be born. We see (in the funniest scenes, bordering on pure but subtle slapstick) the newborn goats exploring their world and playing with each other. We see the charcoal men's truck lose control and knock over the gate to the goat's pen. We see the tallest tree in the forest cut down and brought to the town square for a festival. And after the festival, we see the tree cut into pieces, taking to the ash mounds, and turned into charcoal.

I'm convinced I only 'got' about half of what was in this film. It's challenging, but a challenge with the immediate reward of seeing the world in a brand new way.

Before the second film started, they ran some trailers including the trailer for LE QUATTRO VOLTE, which I'm declaring essential preparatory viewing for the film. It actually lays out--in words (which aren't used in the actual film)--the thesis of the film. Everyone lives 4 lives: we are minerals (the ash mound), we are plants (the forest and the tree), we are animals (the goats) and we are rational beings (the goatherd) and we must be born and die 4 times in our life. Now that I've seen the trailer, I need to see the film again.

And then the second film was NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT. The Atacama desert of Chile is the driest spot on earth. And because of this, it has attracted astronomers from around the world to its pure, clear, distortion-free sky. I love seeing science romanticized, and astronomy is a great branch to show beautiful, stunning pictures. The astronomers are quick to point out that when they look at light far away they're looking into the past (even sunlight is 8 minutes old when it reaches earth), which gives them something in common with the other scientists who roam the desert--the archaeologists (it also gives a reason for the word "Nostalgia" in the title). The same dry climate that makes the sky so clear also keeps remains wonderfully preserved. And finally there are the searchers for the most recent of histories--the women who search for remains of dissidents who were "disappeared" during Pinochet's reign. It makes the last half of the movie very sad, heart-rending even. And sets up some eerie juxtapositions, like when an old woman wishes that the telescopes can be turned back on the earth and find bones, and then the astronomers excitedly point out the characteristic peak of calcium in a distant star's spectrum. Or when the remains of prehistoric aboriginal residents are better preserved and catalogued than the unidentified remains of the disappeared. The final coda--that a culture without a memory is already dead--is elegantly and poetically expressed, and the film ultimately stands as a thank you note to those who would preserve memory, whether recent, prehistoric, or as far back as the start of the universe.

Total Running Time: 178 minutes
My Total Minutes: 241,024

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