Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Best Film I've Seen So Far In 2011

Wow. We're coming up on three months since I last updated this blog. I don't know what to say. It's true this has been a busy time (I got engaged back in January, so there's wedding planning; work has been busy; I'm voluntarily giving up more of my free time in order to be social like a normal person), but I don't think that really accounts for my silence. I've watched a metric shit-ton of movies in the past few months, so it's not like I'm lacking for topics, either. It's just... I either haven't had a lot to say, or haven't been able to effectively express the things I wanted to say. I tried doing a 2010 horror movie roundup in January as I've traditionally done, but then realized I hadn't seen enough new releases to make it worthwhile. I tried to do a general best of 2010 list, got halfway into and realized I had nothing interesting to say about any of the films and quit.

It's weird. Back in December I did two of my favorite posts ever, but it feels like that dried the well. And not in a bad way; I'm still having an intensely gratifying experience watching a lot of great movies, I just don't feel the need to share my opinions as often as I used to. In some ways that feels to me like maybe that means I'm in a healthy, happy place where I'm content keeping my hobby to myself.

On the other hand, I do miss some of the back and forth on here, and I do miss being able to go back and see where my head was at at different points in my life, especially when it comes to movies (although Twitter gives me a micro version of that). Plus, Your Vice is a Horror Movie Marathon and Only I Have the Netflix Queue is insanely fun for me every year, and it would be stupid to have this blog be completely inactive the other 11 months of the year. So here's a short post to keep this baby from dying completely. I'm not really ready to do any full-on critical analysis, so just consider this a brief recommendation of what has been my favorite film so far of 2011. (We'll see if this changes if Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ever makes it to D.C.).

I caught Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte this past Sunday and was completely blown away. It contains no dialogue of substance, and there were no subtitles to translate what little dialogue there was (and no need for subtitles). The film is about an old man, and then about a baby goat, and then a tree, and finally it's about smoke. And what it implies is that all four things are essentially different stages of the same being; whether that connection is meant to literally imply reincarnation, or if the interconnectedness of everything is just metaphorical isn't really of importance to me. Each story flows into the next and into the next in such a beautiful and elegant way that the effect is near-transcendental. (This is high praise coming from an atheist).

This is all told in a serene, deliberate manner that I suspect most folks will find painfully boring. I wouldn't blame them. For those of us who can tune in to what Frammartino is doing, however, the film is hypnotic. It can also be surprisingly (unintentionally?) funny and is deeply harrowing at one point (a scene involving a baby goat getting lost in the woods, which was almost too painful to watch), but it's goals are bigger and more ambitious than that, I think it is attempting to be an almost spiritual experience. If I read some of the imagery correctly, the film's ethos might be something like when people tell you they are "spiritual, but not religious," only a lot less insufferable than that.
There is a lot of masterful visual storytelling involved here; I've already mentioned that the story and its ideas are conveyed without dialogue. There's little of anything resembling a traditional plot. Frammartino does a lot of wonderful things with precise framing, complexly choreographed long takes, and a lot of simple but profound cause-and-effect editing. Already one scene is becoming (justly) famous amongst cinephiles, a long-ass take involving a stubborn sheep dog, his flock, a procession of worshipers reenacting the crucifixion, and a precariously-parked truck, that keeps building and developing in unexpected ways. The staging of the shot is so mind-bogglingly complex yet so perfect that you sit in awe of the entire sequence. (It apparently took something like 21 takes to pull off). It also has the best, most precise acting by a dog you will ever see in your life.

Through style alone, Frammartino elevates the natural and the everyday into something fascinating and profound. (My favorite quote about the film might be AO Scott's "You have never seen anything like this movie, even though what it shows you has been there all along.") For those out there willing to try something new, I can't recommend Le Quattro Volte enough.

As for going forward, I'm hoping to keep updating before the horror movie marathoning in October, at least sporadically, but I need some ideas. Feel free to chime in. Neil Young has a new Archives Series release coming out in a month or so, so I may use that as an excuse to catch up on a few of the additions I made after completing Journey Through the Past last year. And I might do a similar project with another group or artist I'm into (although definitely not one with as huge of a catalog as Neil's), so let me know if you think Warren Zevon, Smashing Pumpkins (and anything Billy Corgan related), or Steely Dan (plus Fagen & Becker's solo albums) might make for a good retrospective. (I also thought about doing Opeth, but I don't think enough folks listen to them to care). This is supposed to be a movie blog, though, so if anybody has any good ideas for movie-related posts, I'd love to hear them.