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Sans Soleil (#110 of 4)

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: The Last Time I Saw Macao

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>

Between Miguel Gomes’s dialectically structured Tabu and, even more radically, João Pedro Rodrigues’s thoroughly elliptical docudrama, The Last Time I Saw Macao, it would seem that hardlined formal rigor is alive and well in Portugal. Rodrigues, like his universally well-regarded national compatriot Pedro Costa before him, is rapidly establishing himself as one of the country’s most progressive, challenging filmmakers and cultural critics, and his latest effort should further his repute in a manner befitting its obliqueness; it follows its own clearly defined rules so closely that its theoretical appeal is precisely what will turn most audiences off. What one might described as an “observational drama” vaguely reminiscent of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, The Last Time I Saw Macoa distinguishes itself stylistically in two key regards. The first, inspired at least distantly by late-period Bresson, is to isolate both benign and propulsive action—from a conversation on the phone to a murder by the docks—and place it just outside the screen, so that what we see at any given moment is permanently removed from what’s actually happening, if only by a few degrees. And the second is that the protagonist of the story, and our direct surrogate in the environment, is never actually shown; because the camera alternates between explicit point-of-view shots and what are essentially travelogue-style snapshots of Macao, we see what he sees and what surrounds him, but never the man himself (his voiceover narration provides the film’s through line and very often serves an important explanatory as well as expository function).

Far from Home Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that’s vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?

Guy Delisle’s new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It’s about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it’s a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March. Insofar as it’s a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.

"La Jetée"/Sans Soleil: Chris Marker’s Unique Vision Yields an Essential DVD

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“La Jetée”/Sans Soleil: Chris Marker’s Unique Vision Yields an Essential DVD
“La Jetée”/Sans Soleil: Chris Marker’s Unique Vision Yields an Essential DVD

“This is the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood.” So begins Chris Marker’s 1962 elliptical 27-minute time-travel adventure, “La Jetée,” a narrated montage of black-and-white still photographs about a man who leaves his irradiated, post–World War III present and leaps into the past and future, hoping to bring back food and energy that will allow humankind to survive the dark years. He was picked because successful time travel depends on the traveler’s ability to focus on emotionally resonant images—our hero obsesses over memories of a beautiful young woman he glimpsed at an airport on the day that an unidentified stranger was shot dead there by police. When the hero travels into the past, he falls in love with his dream woman; complications, as they say, ensue. If you’ve seen “La Jetée” or Terry Gilliam’s 1996 remake, Twelve Monkeys, you know the film’s final, devastating twist. If not, I won’t spoil it here, except to say that the story ends where it begins and that its plot is a pretext for Marker to examine the impermanence of experience and the fragility—sometimes falsity—of remembered images, the shards we cling to as we journey from abyss to abyss.

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