One of the more rewarding aspects of being a teacher is the lasting relationships one makes with the students. Nowadays, thanks to social media this is really easy. I learned to cultivate these relationships from some of my old teachers, specially Prof. Aaron Nurick, who has been a friend and a mentor since I graduated from Bentley college in 1987!!
It is important not to be “friends” with the students during their studies, but once they graduate, then I will allow Facebook and Instagram connection.
At any rate, one such old student has invited me to a Film Club he has made with some other old students and friends. I am honored to be a part of this!!
We have an agreed on theme for the month, and about 4 films to view on that theme and then we meet on Discord, originally a gamer’s platform, but now a very complete meeting and group site! I prepare a bit of a charcuterie board and some vino and I join the meeting!
Members are as far away as Australia!
It is a pleasure revisiting old classics like Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, or Almodovar’s Volver, but I also get a chance to see films that I would not otherwise see such as Mr. Nobody or Midsommar.
At this point we have done our first meeting on films with non-linear narratives, we are now exploring the use of color and by contrast our next theme is “noir”. I love this group and the club, maybe it should get a name…
After many years of not watching any films, I am slowly catching up on my film viewing. This Christmas break was particularly fruitful in that respect.
When I thought of writing about my recent film experiences, I realized I have actually used this blog for a total of seven posts about the seventh art (my readers love my humor). Antonioyrocinante started in 2011 but my first film post is not until 2015 (which proves my film viewing drought). If you are so inclined, you are welcome to look up my posts on:
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by brilliant ex-Monty Python Terry Gilliam
Wes Anderson’s Castello Cavalcanti (technically an ad for Prada)
Jojo Rabbit, a satire on Nazis
Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley
Wes (Anderson) and Woody (Allen)
My recent “discoveries” have been from some of my favorite auteurs and a new one!
I have been a fan of Alejandro Iñárritu since his 2000 Amores Perros and have not missed any of his films: 21 Grams, Babel, Rudo y Cursi, Biutiful, Birdman and The Revenant.
On the Tarantino front I am lagging a bit, not having seen his last two works The Hateful Eight (2015) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). I did, however, recently view Inglourious Basterds and loved it! What I enjoy about Tarantino is the almost comic book graphic aspect. While Almodovar plays with color to imbue his films with texture and depth, Tarantino uses them to contrast the scene, which tend to be very dramatically framed – like they would be in a comic book. Other films like The 300, Sin City or some of the super hero genre use this comic book approach, but in these cases it is very much a literal use of comic book visuals.
From a narrative perspective Iñárritu tends to use overlapping and intersecting stories, whereas Tarantino bets for a more twisty turny story. Either way, the viewer is in for a roller coaster ride!
One key element all of these directors share – and I did mention it before on my Woody Allen post- is their abilities to squeeze the maximum out of their actors. For example: Tarantino with DiCaprio or Brad Pitt in Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, and Iñárritu with Michael Keaton or Javier Bardem in Birdman and Biutiful.
My recent discovery (although the movie dates back to 2007, sorry) has been Sean Penn as a director. It is not unusual for intelligent, restless actors to get behind the camera, and Penn is no exception. Into the Wild is a straightforward enough story with a proper beginning, middle and ending, but Penn does a great job of telling that story, creating suspense and emotion. Although I have not read Jon Krakauer’s book, Penn does a fine job of telling this story.
I can’t believe that in 182 posts and almost ten years of writing this blog I have never dedicated a post to Pedro Almodóvar (although I have mentioned him a couple of times). Forgive me, and let me change that.
Pedro Almodóvar is indubitably Spain’s best know director. He has won two Oscars (I think that is double what any other Spanish artist has – but don’t believe me 100%), has had a handful of nominations, a bunch of Goyas (Spain’s Oscars), his breakout film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was made into a Broadway musical, etc. etc. But more important than his fame or awards is the quality of his films. You see, Almodóvar has an instantly recognizable way of telling a story -and what stories they are! I believe part of his success lies in how Baroque his narratives are, and how they key right into our psyche. Along the story, Almodóvar layers his personal punctuation marks: a colorful palette, a stylish, kitsch decor, perfect locations, and a cast he squeezes the best out of, some of them repeatedly, like Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas or Carmen Maura. In that respect he is a bit like Woody Allen -another one of my favorites- in that they really get the most out of the actors, and that, I believe, is the sign of a great director. Then there are his quirks: every movie has a signature song that marks it, his brother Agustín always gets a bit part, so you are always on the lookout for that. This, by the way, is something Hitchcock also did -insert himself in his movies, which I think is what inspired Almodóvar. Finally he sprinkles a touch of post modernism and surrealism here and there, just to keep the viewer on edge.
I do not have a single favorite Almodóvar film, I have a few. Both Volver and Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) stand out. Both of these are staples of my Advanced classes, as many of my students will testify. I just watched Almodóvar’s 21st film (which was what prompted me to write this) Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory). It is good, all his films are good, but not the best. So, although it received an Oscar nomination, it was not really up to snuff. I will not divulge any spoilers this time (you are welcome), only to say that it is, or at least it feels, autobiographical.
Most of Almodóvar’s films take place in and around Madrid, with a few of exceptions. Todo sobre mi madre splits between Madrid and Barcelona, Volver, like the name implies takes us to a village in La Mancha not unlike the one Almodóvar is from, La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) takes place in the countryside of Toledo, Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces) takes a turn in the Canary Islands, and a few other exceptions. Madrid is part of the story, it becomes another character. This is something Woody Allen also does with New York, blending it into the narrative.
Also interesting is to see Almodóvar’s evolution as a filmmaker. His first film Pepi, Lucy, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom) coincides with the birth of La Movida which was an artistic/cultural reaction to 40 years of dictatorship. La Movida was a radical pendulum swing for Spain, it was an over the top celebration of freedom, and Almodóvar hits the note with a raw, sexual, low budget film that captures the Zeitgeist of the time. His current films on the other hand have the sleek look of the bottomless budget of a Hollywood darling.
If you are already an Almodóvar fan, tell me your favorite film of his -and why- in the comments. If you are a newbie grab one, any one, of his films and enjoy!
As I write this the planet is in lockdown due to the Coronavirus – Covid 19 pandemic. So, since I am stuck at home, how about some blogging?
One good thing about being back in a big city like Madrid is the ease of going to the cinema. One can walk or easily take public transport to the many movie theaters. Recently (pre-pandemic obvs) I went to see JoJo Rabbit.
Spain has an outstanding film dubbing industry. All movies are very well dubbed. Fortunately, there is always the option of seeing non-Spanish language films in the original language with subtitles, these are called Versión Original. Whenever possible I go to the cinemas that only show VO films.
Without any spoilers, JoJo Rabbit is a film about Third Reich Germany as seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who happens to have a very special secret friend: Adolf Hitler. This film does not fit into any category, it feels like an indie, it is a comedy, a drama, a coming of age, a war movie, etc. Labels do not do this film justice. To give you an idea of the eccentricity of the film, it ends with Bowie’s “Heroes” juxtaposed with this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (The Book of Hours (I, 59):
“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
I’m sure that some might read “Third Reich”, “Adolf Hitler”, “comedy” and automatically call the PC Patrol, just like they did with Borat. But you might miss the point that humor is an excellent tool to open eyes and hearts.
A couple of technical bits about the film: the only “star” is JoJo’s mom, Rosie, Scarlett Johansson. The film is directed by Kiwi Taika Waititi, who was inspired by Christine Leunens’s book Caging Skies which his mom recommended. By the way, Waititi does the role of Hitler -as seen through a ten-year-old boy, and it is hilarious!
As my followers know, I am a big fan of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen, and this film has a bit of both, it is colorful, insightful, and funny.
I could go on and on, but here is the trailer and now go out and see the film. You can thank me in the comments section!!
‘Love is the strongest thing in the world.’ – Rosie
I’m waiting for my Thesis Director to go over my most recent dissertation scribbles, so I take a rare break from writing my dissertation… to write my blog!
Back in the short period between my prospectus (see previous posts) and starting my dissertation, before Christmas, I actually had time to watch a few of films, and I loved them both.
Wes Anderson has been one of my favorites since his Rushmore (1998). I love how he weaves a narrative with all these eccentric, maybe a little bit broken, chipped characters. His latest is The Grand Budapest Hotel, about the concierge (Ralph Fiennes) in an old school grand hotel somewhere in Mitteleuropa. The humor is woven into the narrative, sometimes with a big old slapstick brush, sometimes with a nuanced, detailed, subtle touch, and of course the whole spectrum in between. I have been known – back in the day, to have gotten kicked out of movie theaters for laughing when nobody else laughed, because I caught some tiny wink of humor. Wes Anderson keeps doing that for me time and again. Although nowadays I fortunately do not get kicked out of theaters.
When we were kids I remember spending summers at a place like that, the Gran Hotel Camp de Mar (which is now a gaudy monstrosity). Talk about old school. I even remember when one of the guests died and it was all hush-hush, but not really. So it really struck a chord with me, remembering the grand old dining room, the old furniture, everything.
Within the arc that is the narrative of the story, every detail of every scene is perfect. Every character, every costume, every prop, every line, you name it, it is perfect. Which of course contrasts beautifully with the eccentric, maybe a little bit broken, chipped characters.
Wes Anderson is, of course, building on the shoulders of giants, particularly those of Woody Allen. I did get all caught up on his three latest movies (that is how behind I was on my movie watching): Midnight in Paris (2011), From Rome with Love (2012), and Blue Jasmine (2013).
Cate Blanchett (who was also brilliant in Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004) nails her Jasmine. The film really got me thinking about how we delude ourselves, and how we see people around us that fool themselves to amazing depths and do not want to acknowledge it. From Rome with Love was fun, and I was happy to see Allen reprise Penelope Cruz in this film. But it was Midnight in Paris that I enjoyed the most. The magic of 1920s Paris in the 21st Century, Owen Wilson, who is also in the Grand Hotel Budapest (Adrien Brody is also in both). Maybe it is because I lived in Paris for a summer and inevitably fell in love with the city, maybe because it has one of Woody Allen’s best narratives in a while. Whatever, it was magic.
It has been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Madrid. It has been intense, full of family: my sister was here from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and my niece had her first communion. Being home also means that my way of life is totally different and I also have a physical and temporal distance from the end of the academic year at Carolina.
My way of life is different in that I go from living a fairly monastic life alone, dedicated to reading, to a life full of family and friends. The food is fortunately different and better, the coffee and the wine are far better, and I live in downtown Madrid as opposed to downtown Chapel Hill, which, as much as I love it, is a glorified village. Last Sunday was my niece (and goddaughter’s) first communion, and we had a very nice celebratory lunch with all the family. As I was at the buffet serving myself, a very nice lady in her horseback riding gear (the lunch was at a riding club) introduced herself. She was my ex-wife’s old massage therapist from when we used to live in Madrid ten years ago! It was a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, so I just chuckled to myself and carried on. I have also visited with family, taken my nieces and nephew out to lunch to Alfredo’s Barbacoa, my favorite burger joint. I have had lunch with dear friends and enjoyed some brief escapes around town, including my favorite bar Del Diego, and some favorite book stores.
Although my exams are over, I now have to prepare the prospectus for my thesis, which means… more reading, this time in my specialization area as I formulate the core of my thesis. When I arrived, I already had books waiting for me that I had ordered to be delivered here for the summer, I also had a chance to renew my library card. My library is a bit special as it is the National Library which is only a twenty-minute walk from here. It is the equivalent of the Library of Congress, only older. I have the privilege of walking over every morning and reading original 18th C manuscripts! Speaking of bumping into people, the other day at the library I shared a reading desk with Margaret Greer, a Professor of Golden Age Spanish Lit. at Duke. Unfortunately I was not wearing my Carolina blue, although we did have a nice chat – yes, we whispered. I am excited and looking forward to making some progress on the prospectus front so I can have a rough draft by the end of the summer…
Reviewing my teaching of this past year, (see previous blog post) my dear friend John Jenner: philosopher, connoisseur, MMA fighter, bon vivant, gourmet and gourmand explained it best when he valued my being pushed out of my comfort zone in order to do precisely this, to revisit my teaching. You gotta love friends that tell it like it is!