Aleph Recommends: contemplative cinema (when the screen becomes landscape)
These ten films are like moving pictorial works that can help us transcend our everyday reality.
Contemplation could be the most ancient activity to which humankind has gained access. Countless traditions propose this exercise as the primary source of wisdom; a perfectly balanced point between the active and passive principles through which we could understand the essence of things.
The following are ten cinematographic works that exquisitely invite us to contemplation:
Finisterrae (Sergio Caballero, 2010) —Two ghosts, or, rather, two characters disguised as ghosts (covered in sheets with holes through which to see) enter the forest in a unique pilgrimage through the mystic road to Santiago. The overwhelming nature that surrounds them fosters thoughts representative of lifelessness that stand out against the luscious environment. Meanwhile, through the viewer’s gaze, the ghastly figures merge physically into the sacred road.
Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002) – Lost in the desert, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck become vectors who draw horizons and verticals in different infinite lines. Arvo Pärt’s interludes gradually mark the shifting from sunrise to direct sun to sunset. Located in three different countries —as disparate as Argentina, Jordan and the United States—, three different deserts were needed to give life to this metaphysical filmic zone.
Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010) —Everything begins in the oven of a coal producer, in an Italian camp; everything also ends there. The episodes of image and sound, which are almost anti-narrative, could be telling us of how the only cycle that comprises life is a concentric circle whose circumference delimits the illusion formed by mankind´s ideas, and in its center is the absolute truth. The camera remains distant from what happens, although it watches patiently, and the dialogues are completely unessential.
Costa Da Morte (Lois Patiño, 2013) —A series of postcards taken at the edge of the moving sea. In the forefront we listen to a conversation that takes place far away from the camera ––portraits of individuals who speak about the place and the relation it holds with their lives. The title alludes to the Galician coast by the same name, and each scene is a new glance at the seascape, leading the magic of the place to blossom as the film develops.
The Last Time I Saw Macao (Jao Pedro Rodrigues, 2012) —An almost documentary film that captures Macao mainly by night. Film noir is used to guide us through the city keeping some of the narrative tension, which is contrasted with the images. Elements like a missing transsexual named Candy and an off-voice which is the detective who investigates her whereabouts, place us in cinema within cinema. A completely abstract set design that slowly transforms into a series of landscape-portraits, which build a tunnel connecting the West and the East.
The Round Up (Miklós Jankso, 1966) —Is yet another long take exercise carried out by the masterful Jankso, who, on this occasion plays with the horizon merging it with eternity. The military cavalry plot takes us to the majestic open black and white spaces, following the riders to the inner spaces on the foreground of a fortress in the middle of nowhere, which becomes the screen, geometrical and monochromatic spaces. Nature and the manmade structures exchange roles in this film’s drama.
El Cant dels Ocells (Albert Serra, 2008) —Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior’s contemplation while making their pilgrimage through natural surroundings provokes a trance-like experience in us, partly prompted by the length of the planes, the frames and the soundtrack. The religiosity of seeking God’s newborn son leaves traces on its multiple divine manifestations through nature.
The Taste of Cherries (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997) —An Iranian film which sets us as copilots to Mr. Badii, who drives his car through countless locations in real time. In the meanwhile, he traverses dirt and pavement roads finding different individuals with whom to exchange points of view about existence. At times, the copilot’s perspective is cut by another perspective that observes from afar, returning to the vehicle that departs from the panoramic takes that place us in the absolute melancholy of the Arabic country.
Dersu Uzala (Akira Kurosawa, 1975) —A historical gem of the global cinematographic crown, filmed in impressive natural locations in Siberia. Through the friendship of a Russian explorer and a Chinese hunter from a marginal tribe –which is far from linguistic understanding–, we witness a series of human virtues. It seems like a remake of the classic Nanuk (Flaherty, 1922), which appears to include Flaherty in the mis en scéne. Awe striking colors based on the legendary Russian Sovscope 70 mm format.
The Beautiful Troublemaker (Jacques Rivette, 1991) —Young Emmanuelle Béart’s naked body is used as a monumental landscape, which a concentrated Michel Piccoli impresses on his stencil with his skillful paintbrush. In a single invisible stroke, the painter surpasses his middle age crisis and his artistic frustrations.
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