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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Maximalism of screen liberty

Robert Koehler (at the Guadalajara festival) wrote a very interesting article on Lisandro Alonso and the new (minimalist) world cinema. Read the full article at FilmJourney. Here is an excerpt:
A solid survey of recent Argentine films, which starts for me with Lisandro Alonso's La libertad, the film that actually launched a whole new way of making post-narrative films. My Cinema Scope colleague Mark Peranson (...) has noted that La libertad was also one of the first films of its era to break down the division between documentary and fiction. This, more than any other single thing, is what distinguishes the new world cinema, whether it's by Raya Martin, Jim Finn, Pedro Costa or Albert Serra (and others). Alonso didn't start what gets commonly called "New Argentine Cinema" (there were at least two previous "new" periods), but he radicalized it, and offered a new way.

As far as I know (...) La libertad has never screened in Los Angeles. Not a surprise perhaps (it took a while before Alonso's next, Los muertos, made it to Los Angeles). But this means that the most seminal film of the most important film movement of the past seven years hasn't played in the would-be film capital of the world. But its context in Guadalajara is even more important, since La libertad is placed alongside other key films like Martel's La cienaga and Carri's Los rubios as a way of defining what a national film movement actually looks like. The irony is that there's nothing absolutely Argentine about La libertad. Its freedom is a freedom from nationality, time-space, narrative laws, camera laws and the expectations that audiences instinctively impose on themselves. But pay attention to the actual translation of the Spanish title: "Liberty"--a harder, more profound word than "freedom," a word pointing to a greater leap, a commitment to an ideal, an identifier for an equation that even describes its opposition--oppression. Liberty is harder-won. Liberty is that thing that the films that really matter aspire to. This one just has the balls to take it as its own name.

A film about Misael, who cuts trees and shapes them into logs for sale. A film, really, about what Misael does--searching for his trees, wandering, taking a shit, finding, chopping, shaving, napping, stacking, moving them to a distribution point, returning to his base camp labeled "Los errantes," finding an armadillo for dinner, killing it, cutting it up, building a fire for the grill, grilling it, stacking the loose brush from his woodcutting, burning the brush, finishing the grilling, eating the armadillo (the hard shell forms a dish, as the dead tail wags back and forth), looking into the camera as lightning approaches. Active progressive verbs for an active progressive film that moves forward at every moment, considers every moment precious and immediate and the one thing right now--right. now.---that matters and nothing else. There are few films that encompass a world, a state of existence so purely and totally. Many have noted that Alonso's film is one of those ultimate affirmations of Andre Bazin's ideal cinema, the emphatic assertion of the real on screen. It allows the eye to pay absolute attention to what Misael is doing, because what he's doing not only is what counts, but what defines him. So in that sense, you have the essence of character. But there's the matching factor that almost nothing is even close to being "acted." Certainly not "written." La libertad is arranged and choreographed, an attentive contemplation on a human in nature. The big lie, by the way, is that this is ''minimalism." (The same way we hear Apichatpong Weerasethakul described as ''minimalist.") No--this is maximalism, a cinema containing everything needed for its own value and purpose, and that has the effect of growing in the mind, either as the viewer recalls it, or sees it again.

Robert Koehler

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