Sunday, August 14, 2011

Latinbeat: Marimbas From Hell and The Death of Pinochet

It was a wet and rainy day in New York City with the heavy rain causing some subways and trains to be rerouted. I made it in without too much difficulty, but was slow in going and as such missed the packed to the rafters discussion on Central American Cinema Today which was held before the first film of the day.

This was my first trip to the Latinbeat series which Lincoln Center runs every year. Its a look at some of the up and coming films from Central and South America. There are a bunch of really good looking films this year and going into the series this year I bought tickets for four films and I'm trying to get tickets for a few more.

The first film today was Marimbas From Hell. Billed as a docudrama, the film was set in motion when the director wanted to make a documentary about a marimba player named Don Alfonso. However since Alfonso was being blackmailed and feared that the film might make things worse, the documentary was changed at the last minute into a drama. The story and the plot would be improvised and the people from the documentary would just react to the situations.

The plot of the film has Don Alfonso hooking up with Blacko, one of the founding members of the group the Warriors and one of the people who helped popularize heavy metal in the country. The idea is that they will make classically influenced heavy metal. The group they put together to try and accomplish this is called Marimbas From Hell.

This is an odd awkward film. Sadly much of it doesn't really work. There are long static takes where nothing happens and when things move, they do so in fits and starts. There are lots of shot os people doing nothing and if I never see a man pushing a marimba again it will be too soon. You can feel that the film is being made up on the spot,which is good in someways, but it's bad since there are sequences that just sort of sit there, a visit to a doctors office for example. And as for the end... what happened did they run out of film? It doesn't end it stops.

You can tell the film was filmed with a single camera since the action unfolds usually with a single point of view that never changes. The result is a couple of sequences where things are framed all the way to the left or right with the action taking place largely off screen. It's an odd choice and it doesn't really work.

The best sequences in the film are those with Blacko. Here's a guy who has a real personality and back story (He went from Christian, to Satanist, to Evangelical to an off beat Jewish tinged sect. There is a wonderful documentary sequence on his current church). I would love to see a whole film on him.

Our nominal protagonist, Don Alfonso seems to be a nice guy but he is rather boring. There is only so much talk of blackmail and his marimba before your eyes glaze over.

The third lead, a young man with a huffing problem named Chiqilin, seems to be a guy who needs to be in a movie of his own. However as a character in this film he exists only to make things happen and to fill time.

Its an odd film and to be perfectly honest I can't see it getting much play anywhere outside of the festival circuit. I'd love to see the Blacko sequences again but otherwise I don't need to see this film again.

There was a brief Q&A after the film, but it was abbreviated since the pre film discussion went way over time and because there was another film following close behind. (I think the only things I didn't work into the review was that Don Alfonso is alive and well and living in hiding, They also said that the marimba was not stolen and that whole sequence was created for the film.)

The second film today was The Death of Pinochet about how people reacted when Pinochet died.

I think a better title would be Those Lips and That Eye since the film is often filmed in such ultra close up that all we see are lips and an eye. Even in many of the crowd sequences all we are focused on is someones mouth.

Talk about a fetishistic portrayal. Frankly I haven't seen any erotica that is this fixated on one part of the human anatomy. It's frightening.

My notes from the screening go in part: Lips. Mouth, face. Lips, more lips, teeth, cheek, eye. Lips lips, eye. cheek, moustache, eye, whole person.Lips.... It became a game like when you many whole people do we see? It's so distracting that much was of what was said gets lost in the game.

Think about the opening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but go closer so the lips bleed off the screen.

I know some people want to get away from talking heads... but close ups of mouths is going in the wrong direction.

The film, told in a style that screams Errol Morris, concerns the reactions of various people, mostly Pinochet supporters on the day he died. They tell their story and we watch mostly recreations and staged sequences (the ring of flowers) as they say, mostly that Pinochet was great. Only really one person seems against Pinochet the rest rant about what a great man he was.

Sadly it's very one note. We are get what they feel and felt but it doesn't give any insight. Who are these people and why is Pinochet so important to them? There must be more than he gave me a place to sell my flowers... We get platitudes and curses, Pinochet was great and anyone on the left was a homosexual communist Mother---- . Even those speaking against Pinochet really don't say much beyond he was bad.

I understand that the film is only 70 minutes and is dealing with one moment in time, but at the same time the directors could have actually put things into some sort of context.... Claude Lanzmann's Karski Report is about the same length and manages to put all of World War Two in context.

I didn't stay for any Q&A and left before the credits finished rolling. (And I wasn't the only one there were several walk outs during the film)

A miss.

Hopefully my choices will prove better the next time I return to Latinbeat. I have two more films definitely planned and a few more penciled in.

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