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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: The Seventh Satellite, The Mystery of the Lagoons, Andino Fragments, The Day He Arrives, & More

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: The Seventh Satellite, The Mystery of the Lagoons, Andino Fragments, The Day He Arrives, & More

A prominent Brazilian film critic said that he was most excited for the nine Elia Kazan films screening at this year’s Mostra. I said that the prints should be good, thinking about the complete Elia Kazan retrospective at New York’s Film Forum in 2009, which included beautiful new prints of On the Waterfront and Wild River, and about the fact that Kazan’s widow Frances was attending this year’s festival in person. “Yes,” he said, “I’m sure they’re all on film.”

The remark was surprising, until I considered it. I lived in New York for three years before moving to São Paulo last December, during which time I discovered a number of amazing films I would never have had exposure to otherwise, oftentimes on beautiful 35mm prints. Yet the city also instilled a kind of provincial thinking, leading me to assume that every other large city had the same resources. São Paulo is a wonderful place for filmgoing, with large series or retrospectives happening less than every two months, yet when you go to see an American or European film in repertory it’s often an imported print with French or English subtitles, with additional Portuguese subtitles projected electronically beneath. This was certainly the case with complete retrospectives this year devoted to major filmmakers as various as Claire Denis, Alfred Hitchcock, Luc Moullet, and Béla Tarr; one of the programmers of last year’s massive John Ford series told me he couldn’t find a single Ford print in Brazil.

Of course, the opposite is also true, as I’ve had the chance to see a number of beautiful Cinemateca Brasileira restorations of films by the most famous Brazilian filmmaker, Glauber Rocha, that rarely play Stateside due to rights reasons; additionally, good luck to my American friends in seeing major, amazing Brazilian films like The Red Light Bandit and The Gods and the Dead on film without a passport. One country’s classics are another’s unknowns. Several Brazilian classics will be showing at the Mostra this year in restored prints. Some I’ve seen already, like Rocha’s aggressively anti-colonial Der Leone Have Sept Cabeças (a Brechtian allegory set in Africa that includes song, dance, solemn Africans, and fat laughing white men) and Eduardo Coutinho’s Twenty Years Later (a beautiful juxtaposition of a fictional recreation of a revolutionary’s life alongside documentary interviews with his widow). Others, like Carlos Manga’s 1950s Hollywood parodies Carnival Atlântida and Neither Samson Nor Delilah, I’ll be excited to watch for the first time, and on film.

It’s not enough for a festival to show good films; they have to show them in good prints, with good projection. That’s why I’m additionally excited for the Film Foundation restoration of Visconti’s The Leopard (God’s gift to 35mm), and why I was so disappointed to see Aleksei German and Grigori Aronov’s The Seventh Satellite in an inferior digital transfer. The 1968 Russian film takes place shortly after the Russian Revolution, and focuses on a wide-eyed older man lost in the tide of it; the film is full of aggressive camera sweeps across hallways and corridors, which would probably have been amazing had the image had been larger than a small square in the screen’s center. I agree with something Dave Kehr once wrote, that he believed films should be seen in any condition possible, but I’m also hoping that the Mostra’s other German films and the Sergei Paradjanov films, many of which will have digital projections, will feature better ones.

I had much better luck on the festival’s first full day with digital work projected digitally than with film-to-digital transfers. Atahualpa and Wanadi Lichy’s The Mystery of the Lagoons, Andino Fragments and José Barahona’s The Lost Manuscript are two examples of documentaries that benefit greatly from being shot digitally. In the first case, the digital camera registers mist curling across a Venezuelan lagoon, then follows a man riding a “biblio-mule” across mountains to bring books to kids in rural villages, their reflections glimpsed in water as they race excitedly toward him. The film quickly becomes a series of fairly standard episodes explaining different aspects of small-town life (education, cooking, music-making, death and burial), but even when dull, it’s never unpleasant. Nor is The Lost Manuscript, in which the filmmaker travels to the Brazilian city of Salvador to uncover a manuscript by the Portuguese poet and slaveholder Fradique Mendes; he learns he has to wait three months for it, so he and his camera wander to the island of Boipeba. Along the way the film interviews several fishermen and housewives about their ancestral backgrounds, a busy mixture of African, Indian, and European; the missing manuscript becomes a metaphor for a larger untraceable heritage. Several shots contrasting small people walking in front of giant older churches bring up the contrast between modernity and history. The film’s structure wanders, and the way each interview subject speaks as an expert on Brazilian cultural history feels a little humorless. Yet, the film’s gorgeous records of sunlit cities, seas, and beaches make its greatest impact.

I also saw a digital projection of Hong Sang-soo’s new film, The Day He Arrives, which both the festival catalogue and website list as 35mm. The texture of snow and wind might have been lost in the transfer, but Hong’s clean black-and-white images still registered. As with many of his films, the lead character is a struggling, self-loathing filmmaker that can’t control his liquor; a woman he likes complains that he only comes to see her when drunk, then yells at him after he starts crying. I’ve made the comparison between Hong and Albert Brooks before, and I think it still holds. Both at their best seek awkwardness by any means necessary, often holding a shot as characters make greater and greater fools of themselves; Hong goes even further in this film by obtrusively zooming in on characters at the start of conversations, trapping them with each other. Yet his close attention also allows for pleasant moments, as the misfits make efforts to connect. A man says goodbye to a woman outside her apartment, and lingers outside her door; she, hoping to hold on to something of him, asks for a cigarette; he, in a grand gesture, gives her several; she, excited, says that she’ll smoke them later. Hong shows people at their loneliest; they’re pathetic, but also sweet.

Two South America-set documentaries, a new South Korean fiction, and a Russian classic sounds like a fairly random screening day. Perhaps, but I watched all four without leaving the same multiplex. Unlike other festivals, which host their new attractions in one venue or set of venues and their sidebars in another, the Mostra schedule reads hodgepodge, with films from different categories running together in one venue. The results have been messy so far, but they also increase the chances for discoveries.

The São Paulo International Film Festival runs through November 3rd. Festival information can be found here.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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