5DoP #2 – El ciudadano ilustre (2016)


by Jaime Grijalba.

There must be a reason why this film seemed like a good idea… maybe it was just a pitch, since the idea itself is interesting and intriguing, a Nobel Prize winner from Argentina who lives in Europe, returns for the first time after 40 years to his hometown, a little countryside town where everyone knows everyone and where he based all his literature and characters. But the contempt that a character like the writer has for the town isn’t immediate as one would suppose for a movie like this that aims to make fun of certain things and turn it into a comedy about the differences between the “modern” life and the simpler life in places that are outside of the capital’s grid in any country of the world. In fact, the intentions of the writer are mostly good and most of the time he shows himself as a kind person that’s only slightly uncomfortable by the things that he’s doing or subjected to do in the days that he stays at the town that saw him grow, there is, in part, a touch of sincerity in the tears that he sheds when he watches a poorly-done video that showcases his life, career and family. Even though we’re supposed to laugh at the quality of the video, the shot that follows it is a man crying in remembrance of his family, and that’s incredibly sincere, specially given the notices that I was given early on regarding the film.

Though there is one thing that I was told regarding this movie that turned out to be absolutely true all the way through, its technical aspects. The film feels and looks like any TV pilot that has been made in Latin America, the visual language is basic, and one could look at the seams at any shot that wants to look slightly different in terms of cinematography or shot composition. It feels ugly and fake and completely out of the reach of any film that deserves any sort of respect as serious cinema, and I’m not talking about technical proficiency, but about imagery that works in terms of its visual composition and lighting that make it believe that we’re watching a reality or a made-up reality being filmed, and not that we’re watching a film that is being acted out by the characters and the place where it happens. At times the camera moves, as if the person grabbing it behind had just had a seizure, and that doesn’t help in most shots but to give it the sensation that there was not enough material to work the film with and to edit it, which brings forward the idea that it was made on the cheap, but not in the way that makes you think that more effort went into it, but it falls into the sensation that the film was rushed out of the way to be in time to the Oscars nominations (where this film was not even selected in the first selection, which is a relief).

The film slowly but surely shows its true face as it brings forward the change in the character, where his cynic behavior becomes more and more apparent, and his monologues regarding art, writing and culture become more riddled with a rhetoric and ideology that aligns with a highly conservative view of what the use of it all is. Sure, the writer advocates for complete freedom of the creation, how one can take anything and make it into art itself, but at the same time that kind of negates the point when he says that culture isn’t something that should be protected or that should be subsidized, because it will magically always flourish out of the brightest or most creative minds of the countries. That stand is dangerous and highly fascist in most ways, as cultural improvement only comes hand in hand with the support of a government that allows it to flourish, whatever the means they have, specially in places where said cultural works aren’t completely believed or valued the way they should. This bitter view of the cultural landscape speaks loads about the kind of characters that directed, wrote and produced this film, and how their denounce of certain government practices comes with their “final solution” of exterminating everything and let those who can, do. That kind of effortless shrug at an entire compound of people that care about the reach of cultural works to those that could be benefited the most through it, and the negation of those without the means to do it, to actually do it, irked me in a way that made it impossible for me to understand what came before it. It’s a film that fell flat on its face quickly and I can’t forgive it.



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