American Cup #2 of 4 Initial Matches: ‘La muralla verde’ (1970) vs. ‘La gente de la Universal’ (1991)

la-muralla-verde-1970

‘La muralla verde’ (1970, Armando Robles Godoy) The Green Wall

vs.

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‘La gente de la Universal’ (1991, Felipe Aljure) The People at Universal

Welcome again. Here we are with two returning countries to this Cup. In fact, last year Peru went up to the final and was ultimately defeated by Argentina, let’s see how the country fares this time. On the other hand, Colombia was eliminated on the first round, sadly, but also it was one of those countries that I didn’t have a critical representation for, that has changed as this time I’m featuring the favorites of Rodrigo Torrijos, who is the Cultural and Cinema Editor of Rolling Stones Magazine in its Colombian edition, someone with a great knowledge of how criticism works and with a lot of respect for his own national cinema. On the other hand, last year Peru was represented by the critic extraordinaire Mónica Delgado, from the online magazine Desistfilm.com, and this year we changed it up and I’m featuring the wonderful Nicolás Carrasco, who also writes for Desistfilm.com, and also is in charge of programming some festivals locally in his country. They both sent me their lists and here we are, I’m really glad that they both participated in this wonderful endeavor.

I have just a couple of things to say before going into the match, so let’s get them out of the way so we can enjoy the writing, or at least that’s what I hope that you do. In the case of Rodrigo Torrijo’s list, his choice of the first film was one that I had already seen, and wouldn’t you guess, it was the same film that was featured last year as the first representative of Colombia (which earned it nothing, as it was the film that eliminated it from the run), the entertaining but ultimately shallow ‘La estrategia del caracol’ (1993), so I had to go to the second film of the list, which is this Colombian co-production with many countries that I’m about to write about. On the other hand, the Peruvian film that is at the top of Nicolás Carrasco’s list was directed by Armando Robles Godoy, who also directed ‘Espejismo’ (1972), which was featured last year in the Semi-Final match against Uruguay, where it won and went onto the Final. So, let’s see how this match goes this time for these two returning wonderful cinematic countries. Shall we?

***

‘La muralla verde’ in many ways is an improvement on the main element that distracted me from appreciating the film ‘Espejismo’ (1972) from the same director last year, which was the editing, that I thought could’ve benefited from being more experimental. So, apparently, he did actually made a film whose maybe most important element and interesting aspect is its completely extraordinary and experimental way in which it cuts through the events of the film, mixing both the Soviet and the American way of editing, but at the same time doing something completely different, something that I can’t really put my finger on, at least in terms of audiovisual comparisons, because what this reminded me of was of what was at the time (50s-60s) New Latin American Literature, spearheaded by the Argentinian author Julio Cortázar, and I don’t mean that this film itself looks or even remotely sounds like an adaptation of his work, but in terms of how it structures itself, going back and forth in time through the motion of the sentiments that are put on the screen instead of their utility for how the story will be ultimately told. In a way, the style is what saves this film from becoming something less interesting, as it tells the story of a man that, against everything that everyone tells him, wants to settle in the jungle of Peru so it can be colonized, using the government funding and help to bring that idea and life forward to his wife and kid. In some ways, this might seem fodder for an incredibly interesting tale of how successful men can be when they are confronted to the impossible task of survival, or how it could be political in terms of how much struggle seems to go through him so he can take what the government supposedly is handing out, but the movie decides to instead be a tale of mostly quiet moments, the travels, the conversations with friends, the vistas, the small tender (and sometimes violent) moments between father and son. While shot in a beautiful manner, I think most of these moments would’ve lacked any sort of interest if they weren’t handled the way they were in the editing, never showing the faces of people when they’re talking, giving small and quick flashbacks to moments from years ago just to give a small context or image needed for the dialogue spoken to be understood (or for us to understand something different), it is specially curious how whenever in a conversation the noise of the city is mentioned, we are treated with a small two-second clip of the city filled with cars and their horns blasting through. It ends in an emotional climax, but the way that it ends and the context in which it happens kinda nails a political stance that is highly commendable, but at the same time a bit obvious and blunt for the time in which it was made. There’s an indictment of sorts, and I can get it, and I felt the emotions flow through me, but the way it was constructed (aiming for suspense through most of it, instead of poetic-literary, as the editing had been until then) kinda gives the impression that the director was suddenly reminded that something heavy or ‘important’ must happen. It didn’t need it. Or maybe it needed more moments like that. I don’t know. Still, a beautiful film that makes me want to explore Peruvian Cinema more and more.

8/10

‘La gente de la Universal’ is a strange film. It’s kinda alienating in some way, specially and maybe only because of the way it’s shot. Every shot of this film, almost all of the time, is a point of view shot, meaning that what we’re seeing is what someone else is seeing, and in conversations, that means that what we end up seeing is someone else’s face right up in the screen, big and talking to us directly. Jarring, to say the least. I understand when Ozu did it, but he did it in a way that makes us closer to the characters, here it’s more a gimmick than a style, as the camera wildly moves changing perspectives and swinging around, thus breaking the point of view constantly. Also, in Ozu, it was a question of respectability towards the characters, it was done with some distance and thus it wasn’t right in your face, yelling or whatever it is that these characters do for almost two hours. The other thing is that the characters are all despicable, and none of them have any kind of redemption, as they all do the things wrong or the way that they think is right, and it’s never good for anyone except for themselves, and while one might think that the director wants us to care for them, in the end it only serves as some kind of expected punishment that we all know all of them will receive… and while I was glad that they received it, I was left empty, while surprised with the technical elements of the movie, I was left with the idea that maybe all of this was only to see some people suffer. What’s the good in that? I can take the suffering as some sort of statement of something more profound, like in ‘Salò’ (1975), but here it’s just empty formalist virtuoso filmmaking serving the showcasing of shitty people, I guess there’s a market for that kind of thing and I think that’s what in a way makes me dislike so many films showcasing criminals, but in the end I think that there’s some value in the way that it tries to find humor in the situations that portrays in this farce of private detectives that actually don’t do anything well in their line of job, and sure there are many moments that work, but in the end it’s just the jarring editing and shooting style that makes me not like it, and they seem to take literally lessons from film school but applying them to every shot they make, like the editing to the sight line or the way that they move the camera. There’s a couple of good sequences and surely it’s well performed, but in the end I just don’t think it’s a must see.

6/10

Peru advances once again! Let’s see what goes on now. I’m so sad that Colombia had to once again be eliminated in the first round, I’m sure that soon that’ll change, whenever a new Cup is up.

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