Saturday, April 7, 2018

Lucrecia Martel's "Zama" & Abbas Kiarostami's "24 Frames" at Northwest Film Forum: Apr 21 - May 3

Much like the set of notable titles from Cannes that arrived stateside in the month of March, April sees a stretch of films from competition in last year's Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Rotterdam. While not a work of narrative cinema, the late, great, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's final visual exercise watches as a series of 24 four and a half minute segments, most of them depicting animals in landscapes, each one slowly developing within a single static framing. Through digital post-production, "The Persistence of Abbas Kiarostami’s Vision in ‘24 Frames’" is obliquely expanded into suggestive live-action tableau. The borders of which acting as very much a literal "frame", with the very first of the images being Pieter Bruegel the Elder's “The Hunters in the Snow”. Watching more like the video installation work of many of his modern art world compatriots, what follows in the ensuing 23 frames of "24 Frames", is Kiarostami's final abstract statement on love, cinema, time, technology, censorship, and how we watch and consider the world. In the way of other expressions of the frame, and it's role in visual art of previous eras, two exceptional period dramas have utilized new technology to realize a striking recreation of 18th Century visual style. Sitting neatly within his filmography, "The Death of Louis XIV" is another of Albert Serra's maneuvering around the traditional narrative locus of his historic figures and settings. Serra has built a filmography of counter-intuitively selecting characters from some of the most iconic of western history, epics and fable. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in "Honor of the Knights", the trek of the three Magi in "Birdsong", Casanova and Count Dracula in "Story of My Death", and strips these high tales of their central events. What remains is a atemporal in-between state of extended middle passages and arching slow journeys across time and space. Often at a great remove from these figures' defining characteristics, and the drama of their established destinations. His most recent, "A Quietly Amazing Portrait of the End of Life" in which Jean-Pierre Léaud depicts the last two weeks of the monarch's life as a "Long Goodbye". While Léaud remains prostate for most of it's length, this painterly, recreation of 18th Century interiors, fashions, social mores, courtly hierarchy and (misguided) medical science, the gravitational pull of Serra's film originates from the "Riveting Performance at Its Heart".

Another painterly exercise in framing events of the 18th Century can be found in "Lucrecia Martel's Return After a Long Journey", with her first new feature film in nine years, following 2008's "Headless Woman". Returning after nearly a decade, to great aclaim at it's premier in Venice and Toronto, her new work can be seen in the light of a resistance to the rationalized time of industrial modernity, sharing a lineage of non-chronological considerations of time, thought and memory found in the works of Marcel Proust, and vitalist philosopher Henri Bergson. As detailed in the pages of Film Comment and Sight & Sound, between the two projects the Argentinian director spent an extended period adapting Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s science-fiction graphic novel "El Eternauta", which ground to a halt when financing fell through. The leap between the time continuum-hopping sci-fi setting of "El Eternauta", and "Zama"'s journey across the landscape of colonial Paraguay might seem in high contrast, but as Martel explains in "Breaking Time’s Arrow: Lucrecia Martel and Zama", both undertakings are adaptations of Argentine source materials from the 1950s that involve an act of temporal projection. Whereas the former imagined a future journey across timelines as a consequence of the extraterrestrial invasion of Earth, "Zama", based on Antonio di Benedetto’s classic 1956 novel of the same name, follows the protracted travails of 18th Century bureaucrat Diego de Zama. Posted to a remote backwater as he lobbies to be returned home and escape the enveloping atmosphere of colonial folly, Zama's desperation grows as his relation to chronology unwinds. Events of past and future intermingle, becoming increasingly hallucinatory, the journey culminating in a state that is as much dream as waking life.