Expectations and disappointments: La última pelicula and Manakamana.
Disappointment was the word of day 3.
Having some expectations for both La última película (dir. Raya Martin and Mark Peranson) and Manakamana (dir. Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez), my choices of the day, I found myself frustrated, hoping each was the film it could have been, the one you almost can see hiding under La última película or diluted on Manakamana.
In the former, a cross between several genres and film formats, the layered structure is more often constrictive and imposed than constructive or meditative, which may as well be the directors’ primary intention. Only when that tower structure breaks and turns into a different direction or makes way to a interlude, we are able to feel some air exhaled from it. In many of those suffocated by intentions scenes (layers of intentions: from characters to actors, directors and all in-between) the paradox in each element’s forceful speech or presence is what makes the scene grows in itself; don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good material to be enjoyed and taken with you from Martin and Peranson’s film. But a scene that grows to the maximum in itself also fades to die and not to link with the others next to it (in this case around, under, over: everywhere). In a story of a director and its crew, attempting to make the last 35mm film, at the Mayan Yucatan, in the time predicted for the end of the world, everything reports to the other, thing or person, what it is not you, what’s outside of you and what you believe yourself to be.
In one of the first scenes, the character of the director (young, american, hip and bourgeois: the whole package; delusional too) wonders about the importance and historic value of a common wall which separate some fields, he talks about it with a local guy, a guide for the crew, who explains him how all of that is mundane (the wall, lots of garbage) and with no interest and then reinforces the cliche calling him “asshole”. What is amazing in this scene is how beautifully both visions are truthful and pathetic: it is true that the “white coloniser” seems to be just conveying exotic and otherness and missing the target of the real sublime (the Mayan ruins) and it’s true that the sublime is now pure backdrop for tourist photos and looks so much like a set (the best set ever, says the character of the director) and it’s true that the origin of that sublime is mundane (ruins of cities and all that is “everyday” about it) so it is true that the wall and the garbage are also as mundane but it is also fatally true that the director is incapable of mundane, thus of capturing it. It’s a scene that resumes what the film could have been – and is, at glimpses – and convey also all that I feel about the film itself.
Manakamana is, again, a more constricted than free film, as at the beginning appears to be. The device of a camera that waits for commuters / pilgrims in a cable car to the Nepalese temple of Manakamana could be a perfect miracle recorder one, examining the people that make the identity of such a specific place and playing with the chance and the incidental within a cohesive grid. But neither the camera waits or that is the result: it feels more like a film in episodes Coffee & Cigarettes even than that long and fluid take that could have feel like – even though as it was shot on film (16mm) it could never really be – and seems to pretend to be. And so, instead of James Benning, waiting for the miracle to happen, we have a series of selected vignettes, chosen, in a very demonstrative way, to be at once diverse and circular, that – as in most of episodic films – are unbalanced in interest and pertinence. Though with a mesmerising cinematography, it feels like a lost chance for something that, in its very beginning, manages to awaken a sense of double experience, of contemplation and integration. The pilgrims faces are still, our vision is limited and the landscape is not very diverse you feel compelled to observe or contemplate but the (disruptive) subjective shot places the spectator in the extra seat and the movement of the cable car make us feel in an integrative and joint experience. All this falls to earth when the structure begins to feel incoherent and arbitrary, and we are left to feel sorry that a great idea reach such a vapid end.