Sunday, 5 December 2010

CINE-CITY 2: MASKA/ LE QUATTRO VOLTE

The mid-section of three posts from this year's Cine-City Film festival

MASKA (MASK)
Dir. Quay brothers, UK/Poland

It’s perhaps the greatest tribute to the Quay brothers that, while their works are so often literary adaptations, it’s almost impossible to picture the written source while watching them. They feel so completely transformed into something visual, by the time they’re done it’s almost like transubstantiation.

Several regular Quay tics were notably absent from this new half-hour short. There was less of their typical depiction of hermetic environments, which often suggest at figures attempting to break free of cabinets which they are just cogs in, puppets flailing at their own strings. Instead another common theme, the questioning of identity, was driven to the foreground in what became an almost Pinnochio-like tale of nature versus nurture. (Certainly, one way to read it would cast the Quays as the central character’s begetter.)

After my enthusing over the Quay retrospective two Cine-Citys back, it should be clear I am something of a convert. However, I did find the editing style employed here elliptical to the point of being flickering. You could see why they’d done this. In a deconstruction of identity, to present the characters through clear-cut held shots might have ‘fixed’ them in our minds when they should stay fluid. But it was perhaps over-done, making events difficult to follow.


LE QUATTRO VOLTE (THE FOUR TIMES)
Dir. Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy

This languorous slice of naturalism has precisely one thing in common with the surrealistic ’Maska’, the very things which make it work make it hard to write about. It’s simply too filmic to translate easily into words...

It’s set in rural Calabria, Southern Italy, with such sparing dialogue they don’t even bother to subtitle it. A crude but roughly accurate tag for it would be the antidote to The American – for the locals here are not a picturesque backdrop but very much the subject. Described in the Cine-City guide as a “quasi-documentary”, it at first looks and feels just like a regular documentary. And in fact it sticks rigidly to that look. Many of the animal scenes must have been shot as they happened, captured rather than scripted. It offers nothing or no-one who might resemble a character, and demonstrates us cycles and processes rather than serving up plotlines.

Yet it soon changes in feel. It’s only ever slightly sliding away from pure realism. Yet that faint taste becomes the thing you chase. While the final section follows the process from tree-felling to charcoal-burning, it also interrupts this chain of events with a surprising detour (which I won’t reveal here). Scenes and images, though simple in themselves, imprint themselves upon your mind.

...but from there a great black hole opens up which this review then falls into, for I was almost entirely unable to catch up with this under-taste, to glean what purpose this film was putting itself to. Instead, I merely sat there and watched it like some novice!

The title suggests the four seasons, which we certainly cycle through. (Though ’The Four Times’ seems to have only three stories.) This review sees in it “the story of one soul that moves through four successive lives.” Cine-City claim it to be “derived from a Pythagorean text identifying man’s nature as mineral, vegetable, animal and rational.” I can just about see how the first works, but not the second. Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much. Perhaps that perplexing quality is just there to pull you along, like Cocteau’s cabinet.

Given this style and subject matter, it is less than likely to get a major multiplex showing. But it is very much worth seeing if you come across the chance...

The only trailers I could find have the voice-over in Italian. Again, I’m not entirely sure that matters all that much...

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