Monday, July 31, 2017

A Straightforward Brat - UPDATED 2017

A Jigsaw Flatplan

UPDATE: A few more moments of the film were discovered in the last year or so. Criterion have now included it on their Blu-ray of Good Morning.

Ozu's earliest surviving work — or one of them — fragmentarily extant from 1929 — is a great surrealist work in its concatenation of scenes. The boy (Tomio Aoki, dead in 2004 but whom we can watch in other films by Ozu and by Kon Ichikawa, along with two films by the greatest living Japanese director — Seijun Suzuki's extraordinary Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963] and kantoku's 2001 masterpiece Pistol Opera) gets kidnapped by the John Carradine of Ozu's silent cinema, Tatsuo Saitô. The miscreant's false moustache finds an echo in the bald patches (malnutrition? scalp disease? they regardless rhyme with Aoki's kimono's pattern) of the alopeciac co-conspirator, played by Takeshi Sakamoto. Not-Mabuses, the unashamed pair share residence in a domestic-hovelship of crime, Sakamoto especially making a perfect target or twelve for the suction-cup projectiles launched from Aoki's pistol-toy. Clever gag in the oft-typically-lame Japanese Slapcorn Idiom, which Ozu will nonetheless hew and refine five years on for Aoki's turn in A Tale of Floating Weeds [Ukigusa monogatari, 1934].

Tokkan kozô [A Straightforward Brat] by Yasujirô Ozu, 1929:

Both the first act and the last act (separated across fourteen minutes) represent a forgotten realm, a 'nook' of city, mini-labyrinth probably not much more than five-hundred feet square, a kind of Fontaínhas for the 'passing-by.' It brings to mind reels by Essanay Studios or Max Sennett. The premise of the kidnapping is unknown, and that being such centers the premise back into the realm of kid-age anxiety over kidnapping — 'they kidnap you because they want to kidnap you!' and not because, as one realizes upon growing older, that the shadow-they want you for sexual slavery. Ozu configures the chaste childhood bedtime-ceiling-stare version, — it's a comedy, after all. All the antics find Carradine/Saitô redeposit Aoki at home-base and, soon after, his band of friends chase the kidnapper back down for revenge-pelting. A fascinating, justified early work by the Master of the Seasons.

Tokkan kozô [A Straightforward Brat] by Yasujirô Ozu, 1929:

You should watch it with volume off, or accompanied by "Audrey's Dance" by Angelo Badalamenti.


Previous pieces on Yasujirô Ozu at Cinemasparagus:

A Straightforward Brat [1929]

Friends Fighting Japanese-Style [1929]

Tokyo Chorus [1931]

A Picture-Book for Grown-Ups: I Was Born, But... [1932]

Where Have the Dreams of Youth All Gone? [1932]

Passing Fancy [1933]

A Tale of Floating Weeds [1934]

Kagamijishi [1936]

The Only Son [1936]

There Was a Father [1942]


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Farpões baldios

Entrance Is an Exit (Field-Trip) / Commanding of the Soil


Marta Mateus, the director of this 25-minute long Portuguese film, provides an English prefatory note for Farpões baldios [Barbs Wastelands, 2017], her debut, which reads:

"In the end of the 19th century the peasants in Portugal started a courageous struggle for better work conditions. After generations of starving misery, the Carnation Revolution sowed the promise of an Agrarian Reform. Mostly in the Alentejo region, these rural workers occupied the huge properties where they were once submitted to the power of their Masters. Perhaps the lost seed of other fruits...

It is said in Alentejo, when something is lost, those who are looking should start to walk back to the beginning. We must pray and ask Saint Lucy [Lucia] to clear our vision, so we can see and look better.

The protagonists of this film, resistants of this struggle, many of them illiterate, working since childhood, tell their story to the youngsters of today, in their own words."

The opening shot is an entrance or an exit: A man emerges from a slab of darkness. No arbitrary diction: Mateus posits the void as material. As a monolith. This idea will recur a few times through the rest of the film. The idea is that of the ephemeral against the material — "against" in the sense of both "up against" (leaning against; material) and "versus" (pitted against; ephemeral, relational). The emerging man drags a pitchfork in his wake — the tines claw the clay — the sound is terrible.

"When the light is mine / I felt gravity pull""Feeling Gravitys Pull", R.E.M., 1985

Saint Lucia (Luzia), the light is hers. Patron protectress of eyesight.

Black holes, infinite density: wastelands, barbs. Entryways, portals. An illusion of men emerging. Ghosts. Data. The barn is the citadel. The men are protecting their citadel. "Walk back to the beginning."

The kids are the inhabitants of the forests; they're the tourists of the forest. They cross the border of the old wall and enter the citadel ("the barns"). The two men chase them; they forbid Catarina and the boy to tell of what they saw.

A sylvan community. "Ashes from home will save the world."

"Now we weed. Then the pruning. And we sow the carnations."

In all of this, Mateus's Iberian Lucia. The eyes of the boy who attempts to stare ahead, focusing hard outward, but still kept navigating a crazed contradictory interior.

Sacrilege has been attributed to nearly every saint before her or his beatification. The boy who walks backwards can sight the road behind him.

"Maria, Teresa, Luzia. Three shoots, three flowers, three fruits. A trunk, a treetop, a life. A beam, a table, three chairs. Three days, three tales, a handful of times. Two mules and two oxen, for a tractor. A hundred steps forward, a hundred years back. An empty plate. And a shot in the back."

"The accused ascends to the high throne, the shepherd moves to the deep valley." Mateus moves the aphorism back, so to speak, into the mouths of babes, itself a tradition biblical, Huilletian-Straubian, Godardian, Costan. (Philip Roth, in a later interview, in Talmudic paraphrase: "Let the child speak.") —

The woman gathering brush and wood recounts the story of the snake around her leg, to Catarina: "Squeezing, squeezing," she inserts. The woman: "I was screaming, screaming... That day, half a leg, a pay of hunger." Her companion: "All of this was the Defesa, from the mountain, to here, where the pigsties were." The tale of an uprising. "Out of crying, my mother's eyes cut holes in the ground." They perform upon the kids a blessing of Saint Lucy/Lucia. The sounds of sheep bells. The community gathers, watches.

On that: Patrick Holzapfel's excellent essay, published last month, on Farpões baldios is here. He too senses the back-and-forth, simultaneity, whatever you want to call it, about the history and the present, the void and the open, the paradox that is the wound: he says: "It is a film in which two hearts beat: The first belongs to tenderness, the second to severity. The first belongs to the present, the second to the past. The first belongs to the young, the second to the old. Between those movements lies a shaking that opens a world of concentration." He also says: "One could argue that many shots are seen through the eyes of children or ghosts." He says: "The film looks at the stones and dirt with eyes that want more."

I have nothing theoretical to say about this movie I've watched seven times: the above are my notes mingled with my thoughts, neither closed off. Much of these little images are pointless without the sound: take:

Some of the children board the bus that penetrates the building (same threatening vector as a bar-surface in My Darling Clementine), it pulls away from Alentejo. The citadel, closed Parthenon or what you want it to be, stands silent. Fine. There is a new term they use in American media called "the optics of" something — meaning how it looks, to the media camera. I of course hate this word but I also like how simple it is to flip its letters to its antithesis: "the topics of." I'll leave this piece here then, for topics, optics, close-offs in talking, and rewatches, in anticipation when more see this masterpiece —

— That lets the cast in the titles read their respective names, one by one.

Argumento, realização e montagem: Marta Mateus.