What a pairing we have in this first match, don’t we? Well, first of all, welcome one and all to a new edition of Cup America Film Tournament, where I take the matches of the Copa America 2016 that is taking place in the United States and make some dumb film matches with films from the same countries. I don’t do the phase group because I’m not actually insane, but I do the “second round” onwards, following my own results and not the actual results that the Copa América has. So, it’s your classic dumb film tournament but using countries, like in the early Les Auteurs days, but made dumber because the outcome is only my own decision.
So, who chooses the films that represent each country? As mentioned yesterday, critics from all over the world come together and give me their choices. I don’t tell them it’s for this (maybe because it’s a bit embarrasing), and my only question is ‘Give me your top three favorite/best films of your own country’, and I ask them to rank them. So, I use what they consider the best film as the first one to watch and put in these matches, and if they advance, I continue with the second one and then the third one. If the filmography of the countries is good or strong enough, or just if I feel like it, the country might win the whole thing. If not, well… it had a good run. The most important thing is that everyone has fun with this, each and every critic should be proud of their choices and be hopeful and rooting for their countries to win.
So, enough talk about how this will go down and let’s take a look at today’s match: United States vs. Ecuador. Wow. I feared this might happen. We all know the legacy of North American Cinema, as it dominates the world and is the one that most people talk about, so when I asked Danny Bowes (Film School Rejects) for his three favorite films made in the US, trusting his taste, I’d know that he’d give me some titans. In fact, his number one is one of my favorite films of all time (I’ll divulge the full lists when this Cup ends), and since this event is about watching films that I haven’t before, I had to skip to number two, which is the film that we’re seeing battling today, a film that has been on my radar since I started to get interested in film, and that I’m glad I had a reason to finally watch, as it’s considered not only to be one of the best films made in the US, but one of the best films of all time. Wow, what a first film to watch.
Sadly, I don’t have Ecuadorian friends, and I didn’t meet anyone online who’d be willing to share their lists of Ecuadorian Cinema, so I had to (sadly) resolve to popular vote. But this is the only country that I didn’t have a critic for, and I wish that’ll change before the next one, so if you’re a film critic from Ecuador, call me up. So, this film was the one that came up with the most positive votes on a long list, so I decided that it was, for them, the best film from Ecuador. Weirdly, the film is by a director from whom I’ve already seen a film, Sebastián Cordero, who directed the entertaining and watchable ‘Europa Report’ (2013). I was curious to go into Ecuadorian Cinema, but you can’t go against such a reported masterpiece of silent cinema. Or can you? Well, let’s find out, shall we? How thesepieces are written is that I first review a film and then the other one, I give a score for each and if it’s a tie, I’ll choose the winner, but if one score is bigger than the other, well, you probably can guess who won, right? So, let’s get right into it.
So, yeah, ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ (1927) is one of the best films I’ve seen ever. I know I don’t surprise anyone when I say that, but it truly captured my heart and my soul in ways that I couldn’t have possibly imagined. Sure, it won an Oscar, something that most people would shun at today, but this is probably the Best Oscar winning film in history. But, let’s avoid that kind of talk. What makes this film wonderful? Particularly, it’s acute sense of how the work of a film director is fundamental when it comes to telling a story on a film, and how the visuals are the most important element, as they can guide your eyes through the important elements and tell you much more than what the characters could say (you can see how the intertitles disappear with time in this film, slowly fading away into obscurity, as we don’t need them to understand the feelings that are being portrayed). And it’s the feelings that make this film a wonderful one, as they are strong ones at fight here, between the anger, the sadness, the happiness and the pure sentiment of love, maybe it could be accused of being a tad melodramatic, but when they are put together in a way that feels real and not exploitative, they become transcendent, much like the main thing that I want to discuss regarding this film. Surely a lot of people have written about this movie, it’s almost 90 years old, but I still want to tackle an element that I noticed on my own and that I won’t care to check if it’s been done before, but because I want to express it through my own subjectivity. This is a movie where what moves people isn’t what they do, but what they see, what they imagine, as the emotion drives them through that, but everything around them is moving except them, they are being driven around: a bus, a boat, the camera itself. Images are the strongest catalyzer when it comes to what moves the emotions of the characters and what they eventually end up doing: the man imagines that he drowns his wife, he sees the couple getting married at the church, she sees him approaching her in the boat and imagines the worst; it’s all about the power of the eyes and what’s seen and thought, imagined, and never about the actions that they decide. At times it seems as if the couple moves as if standing on a conveyor belt through the vistas that they need to capture with their eyes so their resolutions can be made through the feelings of their hearts… their bodies moving through, always forward, the scenario changes with their imagination, their love moves them, as they seem to be kept still in a never-ending strut, their eyes fixed in each other… It’s a film strongly fixated on the power of the eyes, the visuals and representation, and it might inadvertently be about filmmaking itself and how important is the work of the director: like in the sequence of the wedding picture that they take at the studio, how they seem fascinated by the pictures outside, enough for them to be taken by the idea of portraying themselves, how the photographer almost directs them (he must say the same thing about the beautiful brides to purposefully give the couples that loving reaction that he’s quick to capture in a couple of snaps). Also, for example, the sequence at the barbershop, filled with mirrors in every corner, where nothing can escape no one from being seen, they are both subjected to events and they can only see what is happening around them without having much say: the wife looks at the girl with the cleavage that tries to sell a manicure to his husband, the man that rudely tries to take advantage of the husband’s wife… events in which things are done to them, and they can do little about it, and thus can only react through their eyes and how they observe the situation. Now, I might’ve over-theorized a bit my reaction, but it is a lovely film that entices both the heart and the brain, and, honestly, what else could one ask for what is now one of my new favorite films of all time.
Something sad happened when I was watching ‘Ratas, ratones, rateros’ (1999), directed by who seems to be the talented Ecuadorian director Sebastián Cordero: I lost gradual interest in the story that was being told. It has all the traits that would and can make this one of the most popular films made in this country, as it mixes a slang language used by the youth portrayed in the film, living in the suburbs and confronted with problems that made their lives miserable and more difficult. It tells the story of a young man that finds himself attracted by the swindler side of life, as he commits more and more crimes related to robbery and violence, aided and sometimes encouraged by his cousin, who treats him with enough familiarity for us to understand that he’s just using our protagonist for his own benefit, turning him into a man that can’t seem to see the end of what surrounds him when it comes to the downward spiral that comes from the first crimes that they commit. Surely, this is a strong film in how it confronts some social issues, specially in terms of delinquency and youth, how the use of guns is somewhat glorified by these kids, and what they need to do to make some money, but in the end it is somewhat glorified behavior, even if it’s bleak and detested by the filmmaker. There’s some sort of glamour to the idea of being young and being free enough to think that you own the world, that you can do whatever you want and that there might be no actual consequences to what you do (the absence of any law enforcer in the film is telling, as the only confrontation that they receive is from those that are hurt or victims or robbery, who sometimes respond with the same force, as if even their higher class has only downgraded them to the same level as the criminals), and the film takes advantage of that adrenaline rush that comes from that sensation to make certain sequences “thrilling”. While that is debatable and to me somewhat despicable, it makes the portrayal of events interesting, but at the same time it can’t lift its own images from the classical procedure elements that could come from any other Scorsese mafia knock-off, and the acting is somewhat fake when it comes to performers that have severe non-importance to the plot, and while understandable to certain point, it’s still embarrasing to have such an important subject to talk about and have absolutely no support from the performers. In a way, it’s the same importance that avoids this film to achieve any sort of greatness, as it leaves everything in shades of gray, where the director can’t seem to fully condemn whatever crimes the characters do (as they seem “destined” to do them), nor it decides to give it a proper ending, besides just leaving everything in the worst state possible and not to commit to any proper conclusion that would give a strong opinion on any of the themes that have been touched upon. In one word: disappointing.
As you might’ve guessed, this match goes out to the United States. Ecuador is eliminated. So, that means that the third film mentioned by Danny Bowes continues into the first semi-final. Which film will it be? Which country will it face? Will the United States dominate the slate until the big Final? Tune in to find out!