BAFICI, Day 6
By Robert Koehler
Fernando Solanas has appeared at BAFICI with the optimistic culmination of his trilogy of films examining the state of things past and present in Argentina–Dormant Argentina, in which he makes a lengthy, substantial argument that few countries in the Western Hemisphere are better prepared for a technological explosion. He extends the critique he delivered with fierce energy in his La dignidad de los nadies and Memoria del saqueo, that privitization and “neo-liberalism” has robbed Argentina of resources and talent, but that the country’s scientific, technological and labor base provides a strong foundation for a national renaissance. After his two previous, intensely polemical works, the proud futurism of the new film is both a surprise and a tonic. It’s not likely to travel far beyond the borders of the country he’s addressing–though he finishes the film with the hope for a greater “Latin American nation” in the spirit of Bolivar–which is why it was so moving to catch this letter of hope in the place where it matters most….
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More thoughts on the Solanas….It’s always been one of the cinema’s most contradictory and even self-negating qualities that far too much of the time when science is addressed, the movies demonize and transform it into a nemesis. Science fiction, to cite only one corner of cinema, has with few exceptions long indulged in this attitude. One of the pleasures of Solanas’ work in Dormant Argentina is that he has effectively made a film celebrating science and scientific achievement; he views the country’s progress as primarily one propelled by science and research, not politics, which has so often here proved a crushing disappointment–and worse, as Solanas himself has shown repeatedly, a betrayal. Much of what he reveals in Dormant Argentina (a better title, I think, is Potential Argentina) is fairly obscure: He includes, for example, newsreel footage of Argentine rockets that sent monkeys into space; few Argentines, it seems, know about this. Which was Solanas’ entire point.
I was also struck by the fact that Solanas briefly asked Argentines on the street if they thought that their country was rich or poor; without exception, they answered with the latter. Now, as always with documentaries edited to make a particular point, answers in the former vein may have been specifically removed. This response nevertheless contrasts sharply with similar person-on-the-street queries made by Brazilian documentary filmmaker Eryk Rocha (son of Glauber), whose Clandestine Interval I saw at the Guadalajara film festival, which ended just a few days before BAFICI. To Rocha’s identical question, a striking percentage of citizens reply that they believe Brazil is rich–even, in the words of some, “one of the richest countries in the world.” Each film proceeds to show that it’s not a matter of each country’s resource wealth, (Solanas does this with infinitely greater success than Rocha); it’s a matter of who controls the resources. And I left musing over how these matters, so central to two of the largest countries in the Western Hemisphere, are routinely ignored in America, whose concern for Latin America is close to that of an ADD teenager…
After a day of watching Santiago Otheguy’s ever-slightly-Fordian La LeÛn (coming here from Berlin), Heidi Maria Faisst’s concise, much-travelled debuting Danish drama, Liv (or as it’s also known, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), Naomi Kawase’s latest video astonishment, Birth/Mother (aka Tarachime) and a viewing of the extraordinary Raya Martin’s latest feature, Autohystoria (more on this very possibly high masterpiece later), I decided to unwind with what I assumed would be a horror double-bill: A once-only screening of what’s surely one of BAFICI’s most unseen entries, a revival of the rarer-than-rare John Parker film, Dementia (which–and this seems to be a thing today–also has gone under the unfortunate title of Daughter of Horror), capped by a midnight screening Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest, Nightmare Detective.
Horror isn’t what I got; instead, with Dementia, I got a wild, post-Surrealist noir filtered through a peculiar kind of psychological terror by way of Beat hipsters, Be-bop and ruthlessly violent LAPD beat detectives whooping the shit out of anyone they spot. Utterly cracked and supremely modernist (it could be argued that the next most modern films to follow that were filmed in Los Angeles–Parker shot this, his only film, in 1955, the same year as the only film at the time that it could possibly be compared to, Kiss Me Deadly–were Cassavetes’ Shadows, much of which was shot in Los Angeles, and Kent MacKenzie’s The Exiles), Dementia may have admittedly awful voice-over narration (“Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!” the voice screams at a woman who appears trapped in a maze of her own dreams) and rather absurd acting, but it openly embraces and imaginatively synthesizes several influences and makes them into something that can be termed as authentically Underground ’50s.
Welles is all over the film, from magnificent deep-focus compositions and highly sinister expressionist imagery drenched in black shadows, and even actor Bruno VeSota (as a curiously predatory and paternal man of some means) is clearly doing an impersonation of Welles throughout. BuÒuel is also in abundance, maybe most vividly in a stunning image near the end where the heroine opens a bedroom chest drawer, and discovers a fist inside gripping a pendant. Los Angeles’ underground jazz scene is amply on display (don’t ask how the film shifts from a foot chase through downtown streets that reminded me of Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss–also the same year–do we sense a pattern here?–to an extended sequence amidst West Coast Sound hipsters, but it does) and includes a highly elaborate and lengthy score by avant garde composer George Anteil. It adds up to a kind of ultimate film maudit, and, it goes without saying, must be shown at the American Cinematheque toute suite.
I also expected horror from the Tsukamoto, but instead of getting more than I possibly expected from Dementia, Nightmare Detective delivered something far less. I had hoped that it’s concept of an investigator who invades people’s bad, often violent dreams to unravel their issues might make it at least a close cousin to Satoshi Kon’s mind-blowing Paprika. I also hoped for a bit of the old Tsukamoto from Tetsuo days. I was wrong in so many ways (but firmly convinced that Tsukamoto is permanently off my list), and left wondering what festivals, forced to scramble to fill their midnight movies section (mind you, BAFICI is the rare festival that starts screenings at 1 a.m.), are then forced to settle for. Well, actually, the answer is easy: They’re forced to settle for hooey like Nightmare Detective.
(Day 5 entry.)