Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (Tony Manero and Post Mortem) gives us another take on his country’s dark dance with military dictatorship in No, an often lighthearted, sometimes inspirational, but ultimately unsettling feature. The film covers an extraordinary time in 1988 during which the Pinochet regime was shamed by international pressure into holding an election to produce a show of legitimacy. For 27 days leading up to the election, the state-controlled TV station aired 15 minutes a day of free programming for the government and 15 minutes against it. After 15 years of silencing the opposition with torture, death, or sheer terror, the junta was confident that their supporters, the Yes party, would turn out in allegiance, and that their opposition, the No party, would stay home, fearful of retaliation or (rightly) convinced that the vote would be fixed. But they didn’t account for the brave and canny image-shapers, straight out of the advertising world, who would steal the election back from the junta.
Tony Manero (#1–10 of 3)
If there is a thread running through some of this year’s New York Film Festival selections, it is the acceptance of the enigmatic in human beings. Andrei Ujicâ’s documentary The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, for instance, used extensive footage of the notorious Romanian leader not to probe into the man’s inner life, but to subversively present an extended version of his brand of public pageantry over the course of his decades of political prominence. In exploring the international terrorist who took the title’s nom de guerre, Olivier Assayas, in Carlos, focused more on the vast disconnect between the man himself and the rock-star image he cultivated than in necessarily painting a detailed psychological portrait. And on the fiction front, Cristi Puiu, in Aurora, fastidiously observed his main character’s increasingly irrational behavior in a perhaps deliberately failed attempt to get inside the head of a seemingly normal individual who commits four acts of homicide. In each of these films, there is a marked absence of psychological or emotional connection, the implication being that human beings are so complex and multifaceted that the more honest approach to these characters/real-life figures would be to simply recreate a milieu as immaculately as possible, invite the audience to look on and draw its own conclusions.
Thursday was NYFF’s day of South American cinema. The morning brought Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman, the afternoon Pablo Larraín’s Tony Manero. Both are staggering in different ways. Let’s start with the harder one. I’ve never been a fan of Martel—arguably the most prominent Argentinian director this side of the millennium (exactly the kind of description that can drive people crazy, but whatever). Martel is obviously a sophisticated filmmaker, but she alienated me greatly in La Cienaga and The Holy Girl with her shaky-cam—not to be confused with the Michael Mann school of trying to catch gorgeous momentary accidents or the Assayas school of nervous energy, but far more thematically related. Cienaga’s camera is part of the humid irritability, The Holy Girl’s connected with the film’s general interest in touching and not touching bodies, things always being just this close but impossible to connect with. Martel’s cinema is fundamentally one of misdirection and missed connections; all of these things make sense, but they set my teeth on edge. This kind of camera is why it took me a good three or four movies to come around on Olivier Assayas. I’m an idiot.