And at the fourth day the light (screen light, that is) shone brighter: Ice Poison, September, The Invisible Life.
My first film of the day happened to be the fabulous and unique Ice Poison. Having seen Burial Clothes, Midi Z’s contribution for the collaborative Letters from the South, two days before and knowing that Ice Poison was somehow connected with it, I was already warming in anticipation and, though expectations are usually the short cut to discontentment I left the room with the feeling of seeing the first really meaningful piece of cinema since day 1.
Ice Poison has the easiest plot to summarise: In a village in Burma, a young man whose father’s small farm is no longer profitable, takes a job as a scooter taxi driver. At the bus station he picks a Burmese woman, coming from China, who soon starts to work as a drug courier and gets him involved as a dealer and a user. They come together, then fall apart.
While suffering from some constraints due to its micro (nano) budget, this piece on solitude and hopelessness never ceases to be an intelligent and sensitive work, with a structure and style that conveys fairly every single idea and reflection that is part of it. It’s a breathing film, a living body where you can feel the perfect blend of creation and observation, of immersion and construction, so it communicates with us, as something that lives by its own. Films should always be creatures freed to live by their own even though essentially connected to its origins and surroundings.
Are the drugs – signifiers with the same value of tea or coffee in that culture, as the director stressed in the following Q&A – the destruction device or what makes them alive? Do we feel they are alive for the first time because of the “ice” or because it brought them together, it made them find someone? Yes to all questions, I believe and that it’s the extension of the world here. Simultaneously complex and restricted.
I will surely unfold on this film later, so keep tuned. I also need to mention the great performances, especially the impressive Wu Ke-Xi and to state the rise of my expectations for Midi Z’s short The Palace on the Sea (June 23).
Then it came September and all its tiring ways of showing its tiring themes. Tiring due to its obviousness, its lack of originality and also the feeling of being presented to something inert. Something sealed, packaged and that doesn’t leave any margin to reflect or even to wonder. Everything is developed to be a vessel for the director’s ideas (or opinions) and you are not allowed to escape them, like a lecture, exactly.
The story of Anna, a lonely – and we get how lonely she is in the first 5 minutes but the film takes on the mission of shoving it inside our eyes till its end – 30-something woman, who has a dog as her only companion and, on the aftermath of the dog’s death, becomes obsessed with a perfect – you guessed, not so perfect – family, whose kids seem as trained as the dog and keep talking on the behalf of an unnecessary chorus – except for one moment when they are kidnapped and sing in the car with Anna, in the best scene of the film. On top of this, lots of misogyny – the man in the family that doesn’t understand poor Anna and neglects his wife in the benefit of his career – and a bland camera work that makes the story as indistinct as you can imagine. It happens in Athens, Greece, but it could happen anywhere in the Western world. Words, objects, streets: all of them generic and gone already.
I finished with the Portuguese The Invisible Life which left me with painful mixed feelings. It’s the director’s return to filmmaking, to create cinema, though from cinema he has never been apart (being a teacher in the Portuguese Film School) and the 28 years of absence are, for both good and bad and all in-between, inextricable from form and content of the film. I have to start with the mention of a very disruptive fact, for the audience, I mean: what I believe to be the very poor quality of the screening copy. As it would happen with any film, it was utterly difficult to pass by it, as you may imagine, but the problem gets pivotal when the film is all built (thematically and formally) on the dialectics of light. Having read some critics (in Portugal, for example) praising the cinematography I can only assume that what I saw was something else.
Trying to see through that, I would say The Invisible Life is a very intimate and fragile movie dealing with the past and its disappearance from the seeing position of that past, placing itself simultaneously back then/there but trying to really understand that there is more beyond it, that there is life and people and objects and words outside the borders of that past – in that way, the ghostly house that the main character Hugo can’t leave and the film itself share the same borders and the same relationship with its surroundings. Well, its surroundings are outside that office window, everyone can see them, and they are as much a precise time as a precise country – the massive refurbishment of the Praça do Comércio, as the last major construction work in the city before the crisis, disclosing the politics that were latent in the film since the beginning.
This aforementioned fragility is often both the strength and the weakness of the film, some things are just shadows and shapes, sometimes to the limit of the performances or even the structure. This inner trip through the memories of a living dead, a man that is not alive in the same sense of the others, has one of the most impressive last shots I’ve seen in years, a freeze-frame shot of a magical ambiguity and a scent of freedom.