American Cup #1 of 2 Semi-Finals Matches: ‘El último tren’ (2002) vs. ‘Espejismo’ (1972)

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‘El último tren’ (2002, Diego Arsuaga) The Last Train

vs.

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Espejismo (1972, Armando Robles Godoy) Mirage

So, the semi-finals begin and only four countries are still on the run for the American Film Cup 2015 judged by me and only me. Today, once again, I’m late in my discourse of these movies (but they were kinda hard to get) and so we continue with two Latin American countries with many discoveries to offer. First off is Uruguay who surprisingly beat Chile in the first match with what has been the best movie I’ve seen in the cup so far, ‘Whisky’ (2003), this time comes with a movie that was among the most popular that have come out of Uruguay in the past decade (well, besides the before mentioned film) and among the most critically lauded, at least from what I gathered from my investigation, so this goes to the semi-finals. Then, along comes Peru and steals what could’ve possibly been a valuable exploration of Bolivian cinema, and with ‘Bajo la piel’ (1996) it completely warranted a deeper understanding of Peruvian cinema, and today we have the next choice by wonderful critic @criticademonica who doubts to tell about her favorite films from Peru, but mentioned a few for me to burn, so, shall we go ahead?

‘El último tren’ is a mopey dopey film about sentiments and second chances that feels as the complete opposite of what Uruguayan cinema could be about after the almost masterpiece that was ‘Whisky’ (2003). It’s a film that seems a lot like Oscar-bait and in a sense it kinda is, as it was chosen to represent the country the year of 2002, and surely, I’ve fallen for this kind of picture before, the one that tries to bring forward not a message but a morale and not a thought but a feeling, and some of those movies are among my favorites ever made, but when the issue here is so blatant, so obnoxious and so bland, I just feel like I have to call this movie out for its bullshit and try to come out on it for what it is: a wasted potential. The film is about a group of retired old Uruguayan railroad workers that are unemployed and nostalgic about the fact that the railroads are slowly getting closed and the machinery that once was one of the most powerful in the world, and a symbol of how far men had gone (that until the rocketship came around) and they are being sold for scrap or even for movie productions in the USA! So, along comes this group of randy old men that come and steal one of the trains and run it on the rails as long as they can so they can get their point across: they don’t want the legacy of this machine to go away. The characters are bland and the stories behind them are just not really interesting, and when a kid comes along with them and helps them with the coal it turns into some kind of really tricky situation regarding if the kid truly wants to be there and about all the crimes that they commit and how they end up at the end. The film even features a post-fadeout credit sequence in which they tell us about the fate of all the characters in the movie and how they all ended fine and dandy even after the danger in which they put all the people and all the crimes that they commit, as the movie tries to justify them via having us care about the trains and their legacy, but they didn’t do that to me, they didn’t explain or make me care about their mission. The only enjoyable moments (and there are many of them, thanks to God) are when the media gets in the way and its power is put forward in a true fashion, as what they truly are, and the influence that they have and the way in which they are influenced by the bigger powers like police, government and rich people. In a way it reminded me a bit of ‘La estrategia del caracol’ (1993), but this is just not as interesting nor any good in terms of the message that it wants to get across, it just wants to be warm and fuzzy and cute and about old people having their revenge or reckoning or whatever and no, no thanks.

6/10

‘Espejismo’ maybe lacks all the elements that would make this movie the masterpiece that it seems from its title (Mirage) and from what it promises, it lacks a lyrical sense of the beautiful images that it has, and thus, in the editing doesn’t amount to any of the potential that they have because of how plainly and simply put they are in the plot of the film. What I’m trying to illustrate is that the version that I saw started and impressed me immediately, it mixed footage shot in different places, it had an overarching sense of despair and helplessness, the sight of the sun on the sand was gorgeous as well as the voiceovers and the actors making questions and statements that kinda made sense in the order that they were happening, I was completely enthralled with the way it was going for a minute and then… it ended. It was the trailer. Then, the film started. I’m not trying to be post-modern and all and say that the trailer is better than the movie, because that’s not the case, but I think that the film would’ve been benefited from having a more experimental approach to its editing, but that doesn’t deny the powerful images that it manages to conjure, as well as the moral quandaries that it posits, but even though the name does facilitate the viewing in terms of what to expect, there’s not that much of a poetic stance, because while the camera work is functional and the cinematography is gorgeous, the editing doesn’t help the film move into a state beyond the one we’re on at the moment. The film chronicles a series of events: a family leaving the empty town in which they live to move to Lima, a small kid inheriting a small property, grapes and wine and workers and abuse, and the sense that much more images are hidden in this film, ready to be discovered and filled with originality. The plot is straightforward when it comes down to the different elements and how they connect to each other, how the creepy priest and teachers have an attraction and preoccupation for the small kid that leaves with his family, and the insane amount of repetitions of dialogue and mysteries that are never fully responded, but at the same time they do bring forward stories and problems. I specially liked the sequence with the workers and the grapes, as they are taught to whistle while they pick them, just so they don’t eat them, but in time they all start to whistle at the same time a song that must have a meaning (maybe its a revolutionary song) and they are forbidden from ever whistling again, having a way to break down the use that the powerful has of the worker hand and the way that it wants to control its thoughts and actions. It’s a movie filled with little moments like that one, and with weird discourses (I specially like how a kid represents sins and heaven to a soccer match… topical!). It’s a movie that might deserve a rewatch as the years come.

8/10

So, without a doubt it means that once again Peru with ‘Espejismo’ (1972) wins and thus advances to the final! ‘El último tren’ (2002) demonstrates, more than any other thing, that maybe the most popular aren’t the best films out there (duh). So, that means that the final will have Peru and… well, let’s find out!

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