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Cinemanila 2003: "Habla con Ella," "24 Hour Party People," etc.

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  • Noel Vera
    Comatose women, non-stop parties, and more Noel Vera From August 7 to 13 it s Cinemanila time again, and again the organizers have come up with a whole
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2003
      Comatose women, non-stop parties, and more

      Noel Vera

      From August 7 to 13 it's Cinemanila time again, and again the
      organizers have come up with a whole cornucopia of films to feast
      on, perhaps the best buffet spread of movies in Manila--so pull up
      your chairs, raise your knives and forks, and dig in; you're
      probably not going to get as rich a diet of movies again, at least
      for the rest of the year.

      One of the better films showing will be "Habla con Ella" (Talk To
      Her, 2002), Pedro Almodovar's latest in what's considered the mature
      stage of his filmmaking. The picture traces the story of two men--
      one, Marco (soulful-eyed Dario Grandinetti) is a journalist who
      falls in love with Lydia (strikingly beautiful Rosario Flores), a
      woman bullfighter; the other is Benigno (slyly funny Javier Camara),
      male nurse in charge of Alicia (Leonor Watling), a comatose

      It sounds suspiciously like the setup for a dirty joke; it's
      Almodovar's achievement that the movie doesn't end up an elaboration
      of one. "Habla con Ella" is a funny enough film, beautifully shot
      (by Javier Aguirresarobe); you can see Almodovar's mastery of
      storytelling in the way he weaves between the lives of the two men,
      then with a sudden deft twist tangles their fates in an inextricable
      knot, a daisy chain of ballerina-nurse-journalist-bullfighter with
      the unspoken bond between nurse and journalist somehow taking center

      Flores as Lydia isn't used as much as you'd like her to be, with her
      proud nose a visual rhyme to her proud matador's stance, and Watling
      looks much too healthy for a coma patient of four years (granted
      Benigno's constant loving care could conceivably prevent her from
      developing bedsores, he can't do anything to prevent muscular
      atrophy), but these are minor cavils. I do miss Almodovar's manic
      spark, the love for high camp, cheerful perversity and the odd
      surreal image abundantly on show in earlier works like "Law of
      Desire" or "Matador" (it's a complaint I also have against Woody
      Allen, that he had to tone down and couldn't stay as funny). But
      artists, I suppose, have to grow, to try new directions; at least
      the direction Almodovar took is arguably more interesting than
      Allen's, in that there's a fine line between high camp and high
      drama, black comedy and serious tragedy, and Almodovar, I think, has
      managed to blur that line, almost to the point of nonexistence.

      If fun and energy is what you're looking for though, you can't do
      worse than catch Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People," a
      retelling, of sorts, of the Manchester music scene, from the birth
      of punk--TV journalist and soon-to-be rock impresario Tony Wilson
      (Steve Coogan) witnessing the Sex Pistols in concert before an
      audience of 42 people in the mid-'70s, to the closing of Factory
      Records, Wilson's "record company" (the word he prefers is "artist's
      collective") and of The Hacienda, his ruinously expensive dance club
      (where, he claims, rave culture began) in the early '90s.

      Wilson's statement on rave culture is typical of his hype, which is
      considerable, and the film's claims to authenticity, which at best
      are questionable, but that's part of what makes the film so
      irresistible. Wilson early on says he's "a minor character in this
      picture," a rare bit of modesty that the rest of the picture reveals
      as an out-and-out lie: it's only incidentally about Manchester and
      the music, and all about Factory Records and Tony Wilson.

      Winterbottom and scriptwriter Frank Cotrell Boyce structure the film
      like an extended version of one of Wilson's television pieces, with
      Wilson weaving in and out of the action, providing commentary. They
      paint a vivid portrait of Wilson who is, by turns, philosopher and
      fool, quoting William Blake ("the road to excess leads to the palace
      of wisdom") and receiving blowjobs in the back of a van; when he
      finds himself hosting "Wheel of Fortune" he can't help likening the
      show's spinning setpiece to Boethius' wheel, lifting up the fortunes
      of some the same time it grinds the fortunes of others. Wilson, at
      least in this film (and, I suspect, in his mind), is the classic
      hapless man of circumstance who finds historical significance in
      everything he does, or happens to him--when it's noted that only 42
      people saw the Sex Pistols, he replies that only twelve attended The
      Last Supper. The less people present, the more historical it all is,
      according to Wilson's cockeyed view of the world.

      Michael Winterbottom put chilly grays and a largely unobtrusive
      camera style into his solemnly straightforward adaptation of
      Hardy's "Jude the Obscure" ("Jude"); he set warmly-lit faces and
      flames against an icy winter landscape in his elegiac transposition
      of Hardy's "Mayor of Casterbridge" to early gold-rush America ("The
      Claim"); he used speeded-up photography and brilliant neons to
      give "Wonderland" a lonely, desolate feel. Here he takes a digital
      video camera, largely handheld, in and out of various Manchester
      locations, sprinkling his picture full of jokes, in-jokes, and meta-
      in-jokes that turn around and bite themselves in the ass (at one
      point, when Wilson shows us his wife committing adultery with Howard
      Devoto of The Buzzcocks and Magazine in the men's room, the camera
      swings to the real Howard at the sinks saying "this never happened,
      you know…"). The relatively young British filmmaker (he's 42 years
      old, as of this writing) has been making some of the most
      consistently interesting movies in recent years, every time in a
      radically different visual style; it's exciting to see one of his
      latest work, and just as exciting (if not more so) to anticipate his
      upcoming ones ("In This World," and "Code 46").

      Other recommended Cinemanila films: Alfonso Arau's "Y Tu Mama
      Tambien" (And Your Mother Too) is a funny, sexy ride through modern-
      day Mexico, with two clueless youths and a hot-to-trot housewife in
      an old convertible. Peter Zalenka's "The Buttoners" is a clever
      little Czech film about strange people who steal buttons. Raymond
      Red's "Anino" (Shadow), is his Cannes Palm d'Or-winning short, about
      a photographer lost in the sidestreets of Manila. Shekar
      Kapur's "Bandit Queen" is his sensationalized but nevertheless
      electrifying biopic of Phoolan Devi, India's bandit queen. Chito
      Rono's "Dekada '70" is a big-picture style yet nevertheless well-
      made adaptation of the classic novel by Lualhati Bautista. Hideo
      Nakata's "Ringu" (Ring) is a cleverly atmospheric horror thriller,
      about a videotape that kills you in seven days. Tom Tykwer's "Run
      Lola Run" is a stylishly made extended music-video about a girl
      named Lola who, well, runs to save her boyfriend's life.

      Of special interest are Amir Muhammad's documentary "The Big
      Durian," Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman's "Divine
      Intervention," Lars Von Trier's "Dogville," Francois
      Ozon's "Swimming Pool, and (hopefully) Tikoy Aguiluz's
      latest, "www.xxx.com," a digital-video feature about online

      The festival will have a retrospective on Wong Kar Wai, arguably
      Asia's most highly regarded filmmaker. To be shown are his
      early "Days of Being Wild," partly shot in the
      Philippines; "Chungking Express," perhaps his most charming
      work; "Happy Together," my favorite of his pictures; and his
      latest, "In the Mood for Love."

      The festival will also focus on two Filipino filmmakers, Jeffrey
      Jeturian and Lav Diaz. Jeturian will be represented by "Tuhog"
      (Larger than Life) an entertaining satire on the Filipino softcore
      film industry, and "Pila Balde" (Fetch a Pail of Water), a lovingly
      rendered portrait of squatter people (his best work, I think); Diaz
      will be represented by "Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion" (Criminal of
      Barrio Concepcion), an impressive debut feature that evokes (of all
      things) Dostoevsky, and, hopefully, a documentary on the making of
      his upcoming "Ebolusyon" (Evolution) tentatively titled "9 years
      of 'Ebolusyon.'"

      (Article first printed in Businessworld, August 7, 2003)

      (Comments? Please email noelbotevera@...)
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