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Brody Morelia Diary Three; Prix Jean Vigo Shorts, Gabriel Figueroa, ‘ABC Africa,’ ‘Post Tenebras Lux’

Brody Morelia Diary Three; Prix Jean Vigo Shorts, Gabriel Figueroa, 'ABC Africa,' 'Post Tenebras Lux'

Even with the problems of the digital age –during Morelia I’ve watched digitized films freeze, or computerized subtitles fail to launch – I must say that the few times I’ve seen actual film copies projected here at Morelia, I’ve been shocked by the worn copies, full of scratches and dirt, and indifferent attempts at focusing by projectionists.

The first screening is of three films that won the Prix Jean Vigo, an award for unique and characteristic style, this year: first the short “La Vie Parisienne” by Vincent Diestchy, then the 67-minute “L’age atomique” by Héléna Klotz, and finally Louis Garrel’s “La règle de toi,” in which he also acted. Only Klotz is in attendance, dressed like Britney Spears in the kind of short shorts where you can see the pockets peeking out beneath the cutoff legs, over black tights. Before the films are screened, she tells us that the actors in “l’age atomique” are non-professionals who she found in bars, and that the boy who incarnates her main character had no interest in performing, but agreed to do so when he was drunk. The audience chuckles appreciatively. (Seditiously I think, “but couldn’t he have backed out when he sobered up?”)

“La Vie Parisienne” is about a love triangle that raffles a prize – a “real” kiss from the woman – to the winner of a ping pong match between her professor husband and her charismatic, feckless ex-lover. Apparently in Paris professors of German, for such she is supposed to be, are subject to the same unfortunate plastic surgery tropes as, say, Arielle Dombasle.  The occasional song that breaks out is reminiscent of Christophe Honoré, who frequently features Louis Garrel, director of the second short, “La regle de trois” (“The Rule of Three”). Garrel’s slight story – a quarrelling couple reconciles after a friend attempts suicide after being dumped – benefits from the caliber of its acting: Vincent Macaigne, so good in Guillame Brac’s “Stranded” and “A World Without Women,” recently seen in SF Film Society’s “French Cinema Now”, Golshifteh Farani, and Garrel himself.

Klotz’s film, about a typically hellish and long night of rejection and humiliation at a Parisian disco, grew more interesting when she said, afterwards, that she saw the film as part of a trilogy about youth. Another part would feature the live of young stock traders, “like Theo” (a handsome rich kid who beats up the slight protagonist of “L’age atomique”); the third would be about kids in the Parisian suburbs. She also tells us that she worked with the 2 leads for four months before the 12 days of shooting. I wonder if her lead will act again after “L’age atomique,” so I Google him when I get home and find to my amazement that “L’age atomique” is his third credit, after “Val d’or,” a TV movie, (which Klotz also directed), and a short called “Lord Alfred Savile’s Crime,” which she did not. But maybe she did pick him up in a bar. It’s a good story.

For the next screening, I venture out of the confines of the multiplex to an auditorium in one of the buildings of the Universitad Michuocan de San Nicolas de Hidalgo, a few blocks away.  It’s a long room with a small screen at one end. “Me enamoré de todas perfectamente bien: Gabriel Figueroa” (“I Absolutely Fell in Love With All of Them: Gabriel Figueroa,” 1990), an hour-long documentary about the great Mexican cinematographer, is shown in perfectly dreadful projected DVD, with picture quality as bad as a beat-up old videocassette, an irony that is not lost on me as we squint at grainy, murky footage of what we are told are amazingly photographed sequences. I know Figueroa’s mastery from seeing as many of his films, for Luis Buñuel and John Ford, among others, that I’ve been able to, over the years (not as many as I wish I could, because most of his Mexican films are not easily available) — but it’s not on view here, alas. I do enjoy seeing Figueroa interviewed in his home, and glimpsing on the library shelves behind him “Additional Dialogue” by Dalton Trumbo, “The Hustons,” Lotte Eisner’s “The Haunted Screen,” “Goldwyn” by Scott Berg, and “A Man with a Camera” by Nestor Almendros. There’s also a delightful anecdote about how he counterfeited rain for a scene I John Ford’s “The Fugitive”: using a simple watering can.  Initially reluctant, the gruff director ultimately was delighted with the effect.

Afterwards I stay in the same room to see Alexander Lubecki’s “El Ingenerio,” a two-hour documentary about the third attempt to become President of Mexico by Cuauhténoc Cárdenas Solórzano.  Somehow I don’t manage to connect with its initial scenes of men sitting around a table strategizing, choosing images for posters, and appearing at crowded, chaotic political rallies.  I feel that patience on my part might eventually be rewarded by what I sometimes jokingly call the “cumulative power” of the images and the information they contain (which is more-or-less exactly what a friend tells me a day or so later when I confess that it didn’t grab me), but I’m suddenly restless and leave the theater. 

I return to the Cinepolis multiplex, where I catch the last film of a program of Mexican short documentaries, “El sueno de San Juan,” (“Dream of San Juan”), in which marginalized descendants of the vanishing Mixteco culture try in vain to secure government help to prevent unstable hills from swallowing up their village in a landslide. At 45 minutes, its quiet, repetitive scenes do have the cumulative power that makes its point without belaboring it.

Still on the documentary tip, I spend 40 minutes refreshing my memory of Abbas Kiorastami and Seifollah Samadian’s 2001 documentary “ABC Africa,” which I have vivid memories of from ten years ago. I’m surprised to learn from the introduction that the video footage eventually assembled into the film was initially shot by Samadian and Kiorastami as research; they intended to return and shoot footage on film.  But they were so happy with their images that they stuck with them, resulting in Kiorastami’s first digital work. I could easily stay and watch the entire 84-minute work again, but I leave to go see “Post Tenebras Lux,” which divided audiences at Cannes last year, garnering both boos and some dismissive reviews as well as the prize of Best Director for Carlos Reygadas. 

I’m kept off-balance watching the story of a man and his family – pretty young wife and two adorable tots, played by Reygadas’ own children – living in a striking contemporary house in a remote area where something bad always seems about to happen. The old-fashioned academy aperture (aka 1:33) framing looks great on the big screen, but I’m never quite sure why some scenes are shot with a lens that makes the images blurry around the edges.  The Morelia audience, unlike those in Cannes, applaud wildly at the finish, and there’s a lengthy, warm q-and-a, which I don’t completely follow, because it’s conducted in rapid-fire Spanish. I agree with Morelia’s Director, Daniela Michel, who mentions the film’s “sublime moments” in her remarks.

Nothing I’ve seen today, however, has lifted me to the sublime state that a really satisfying work of art can do. Not that the sublime was not on offer. I was sorely tempted to stick around after “Post Tenebras Lux” to see “Paradise: Love,” again, because I indeed loved it, but it’s going to start well after its scheduled 11 p.m. start time, it’s over two hours long, and that way lies madness.

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