Raiding the Archives: Milk of Sorrow

Apparently there are going to only three installments of me raiding the archives because I overestimated how much I have actually written. I do have things to catch up on writing about though WOO!

The Milk of Sorrow is simply about a woman who must get a job in order to pay for her mother’s funeral. Or as the tagline puts it “A journey from fear to freedom”. Fausta is a young woman who is consumed by fear to such an extent that the majority of her dialog is either spent with her singing to assuage her discomfort or to speak about death. The rest of Fausta’s movements are her sitting through uncomfortable silence because of her uneasiness with those around her or attempting to communicate something or just anything to a few of those around her.

The movie begins with Fausta’s mother singing to her as she lays on her death bed, after this brief scene, it’s cut to her cousin who whines and begs to her uncle about the fact that she needs the dress to be longer. The uncle constantly replies and phrases the fact that he has no money for any extra clothe. And this is how much of subplot is presented, juxtaposing weddings that attempt to be extravagent while they suffer in abject poverty. There is a sadly ironic scene where there is a fake backdrop positioned so a new couple could take a couple photos to a vacation that they could never afford, and the picture is shot so far out that the majority of background consists of the housing and poverty they live in. Another marriage sequence in movie takes place in a mass wedding where there are roughly two dozen couples who get married en masse in hopes that one couple will win a prize “starter marriage kit” which consists of a new bed, television, rug, and other furnishing.

After her uncle finds out his sister is dead, via Fausta passing out while trying to tell him, he takes her to the hospital. Before finding out the answer her uncle attempts to explain that she has always been a sick child because when she was young she was breastfeed by a fearful woman (friend of her mother’s) in order to not be raped by the terrorists. Her uncle concludes that her behavior her entire life is based on this, calling it the “milk of sorrow”. The doctor stares at him in a moment of confusion before revealing to him why she was there.

Doctor: Did you know your niece had a potato in her vagina?
Uncle Lúcido: No, I didn’t know about that. It must have gotten in there by itself. There’s lots of food at home.

Why did she stick a potato in her vagina? Fear. When she was a child, her mother would constantly tell her stories about the terrible things that either happened to her or other Indigenous women. It can be assumed that somewhere along the line she was told this particularly potato story about a woman who though was not able to escape rape, she was at least able to forego the possibility of becoming pregnant as result of the rape. And with these, is the result of her entire character and little quirks like never wanted to walk by herself. Or constantly walking by the walls in her village, according to her, her brother died as a result of walking in the middle of the road and he became so ill that he was as thin as a skeleton before death.

The rest of the movie takes place as a critique between maybe not the European bourgeious, but certainly Europeans within Peru, and their relation with the Indigenous. Fausta is hired as a maid for a well-to-do European woman who essentially lives in a castle compared not only to Fausta far off home, but directly contrasting against the market place where the poor shop just literal footsteps outside of her home. Fausta is often asked to sing for woman in exchange in payment for her pearls, which become the equivalent of her selling her soul as she is often goaded into singing to get her payment. Unfortunately, she is fired and never paid after the European woman uses he music for her concert. Going so far as to kick her out in the street on the ride back.

A quick sidebar: One thing that I noticed in the film and wasn’t spoken on was the inclusion of all 4 racial factions in Peru. Granted this didn’t have any plot or thematic purposes, but I felt it was a nice subtle reference to the people of Peru and a nice hint at the socio-economic factions that reside. All four of the normally impoverished  groups in Latin America: Black Hispanics, Natives, Hispanics and Europeans. The first three all worked for the Europeans within the mansion set in the middle of the market place.

I know people have a natural aversion to knowing the ending of movies, so I won’t go into it even if I divulged far more of the plot than I wanted to. So I’ll just leave with my favorite second favorite shot in the movie.

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Raiding the archives: How Tasty Was My Little Frenchmen

When I don’t have any topic on hand, I’m going to go back to posts I’ve already written elsewhere and placing them on my blog because the majority of people that visit my blog haven’t read these before so it’s new content for them. Nice to stock up on topics before I take my hiatus.

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman is a Brazilian film set during France’s and Portugal’s early trading with Brazil’s natives. The film is essentially about how a Frenchman gets confused as Portugese because he’s found with Portugese men when this the Tupinambás attack. In actuality the Tupinambás trade with the French, but do not know how to verify whether or not he is French (not understanding the difference between French and Portugese) and the issue isn’t helped by the Frenchmen that trades with the villagers who tells them that the captured Frenchman is indeed Portugese. So he’s giving 8 moons (months) to live in the village until he is cannabalized. Before then though, he is given status as any other villager including a wife.

For those who’ve seen the any movie about or with Native Americans or “tribal” people in general, you’ll be happy to know that there isn’t any noble savage tropes in this movie. Everything is as it was. A few reviews/discussions I’ve read about the movie has described it as a black comedy or satire and using some variation of it being shot like a documentary. I do not believe it resides in either camp. While you might laugh at some cultural misunderstandings between the two, the movie is largely played as a matter of fact between the two cultures about what they do and do not understand about each other.

Also, I can’t say it is shot like a documentary because documentaries are shot in a myriad of ways. The most fitting way to describe it to myself at least would be non-sexual voyeurism. Obviously, voyeurism is defined by the fact that what you’re seeing is sexual in nature, either by the person being watched or intended affect on the watcher. However, nothing is sexual about the movie even though all the indigenous people are naked throughout the film. I would be hard pressed to say I didn’t constantly look onward. Maybe not as a pervert (or maybe so), but because the idea of being constantly naked is alien to me and it never really settled in my mind. Everyone is shaved too which is extremely odd, but all the characters are Europeans and it was filmed in 1971 so it really isn’t surprising from that front.

The movie didn’t strike me in any particular way while watching it, however in one of the extras a professor offered something completely obvious that I had missed. It’s a critique of not only the first encounter of Europeans with Latin America, but also colonialism and neo-colonialism. The Frenchmen was happy enough to be with the Tupinambás. He would go so far as to fashion his hair like the natives as well as partially (un)dress like them. But when speaking to the captive Frenchmen who would only refer to them as “savages” and scoffed at the prospect of giving them gunpowder. He would only trade for triquets like beads or mirrors to the women in exchange for Brazilian wood. Obviously setting forth the chain of events that still continue to this day of trading valuable natural resources for a price worth far less.

As for the ending? He does indeed get eaten. With resistance only insofar as he expected to give because part of the ritual entails that he must attempt an escape. Once captured, he must hurl rocks or fruit at his captures as they prepare to eat him. The Frenchmen doesn’t seem to resign to his fate because with as little as one month left he attempts to make an agreement for gunpowder in exchange for his freedom. This falls on deaf ears because even though the gunpowder is delivered, his freedom is not given. On the otherhand however, he has grown to accept his fate in several ways with him going on completely along with the ritual and attempting to take his wife with him in his brief attempted escape.

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Apollo 18 and Empathy (really short post)

My sister dragged me to see Apollo 18 today because nothing of interest came out this weekend. I was pretty ambivalent towards it considering I’m scarcely a fan of horror films as is and I’m even less of a fan of ‘found footage’ horror films in particular. So I likely wasn’t going to be moved by the film in the slightest regardless of whether the quality was exponentially higher or lower. It doesn’t have the benefit of Blair Witch Project in that it’s incredibly formulaic (based off of the aforementioned formula of BWP) and the ‘weird stuff REALLY does happen in real life’ doesn’t carry over because the setting is so far detached from any human beings day-to-day life. It also doesn’t help that no one is interested in the moon, the Cold War, or anything involving NASA right now either. On the positive side, it did manage to capture the look of the era it attempted to emulate.

I ran over to RottenTomatoes to read critic and fan reactions and they were far more negative towards the film than myself. One thing that stuck out to me was the claim that was brought up was that there wasn’t enough information given on the characters for us to care. This has always struck me as odd. Do you need biographical information on ever human being that you set your eyes beyond before you can extend the gift of empathy upon them? There are many situations in life that individuals don’t have the live experience to do a parallel emotional leap to, but can you not be happy for another’s happiness? Can you not feel their pain? Shouldn’t the only concern be whether or not the character is recognizable as a human?

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Tell me what the title is

Well, there’s a problem with perception here. Filmmakers like Ozu, Naruse, Gosho, Mizoguchi and others have all been held back by the Japanese because they felt these filmmakers were “too Japanese” for Western audiences to comprehend. While a filmmakers like Kurosawa has been called “too western” to be truly Japanese, but he asserts he’s never read a western critic that didn’t insert themes into his work, and he’s as Japanese as any other filmmaker.

Much of this comes down to ideas of the self and the community (‘giro’ and ‘ninjo’ in Japanese). Ozu, though an extremely individual formal style, is seen as celebrating the ideas of the “collective,” while Kurosawa is seen as a total individual.

In fact, filmmakers like Shohei Imamura and Yuzo Kawashima actual argue there is a perceptive Japan, one of quietness and contemplation and simple truths, and a “real” Japan, one of backsliding and betrayal and very human foibles, that they present. They argue that the perceptive Japan, the one the Japanese want to see themselves as, are very friendly to western audiences and explains the success of Ozu and Mizoguchi in foreign markets.

So, the question becomes more, “what do you perceive Japan as?” That must be answered first before we decide who is and isn’t Japanese.

Personally, I feel a great filmmaker presents a reality that is both specific and universal. So, I would argue great Japanese filmmakers are both very Japanese and very worldly (which definitely explains Ozu, Naruse, Gosho as well as Imamura and a bevy of others).

This is from one of my favorite members at Mubi. I quoted his entire comment because it is all brilliant, but the one point I wanted to focus on was the question “What do you perceive Japan as?” This question, and the comment as a whole, can be extended to any foreign cinema. The problem with the question is that we don’t address Japan (or any country really) on Japan’s terms. Rather, we project our own values and beliefs and then interpret whatever we’re discussing about their culture from our vantage point. To be as succinct as I can: That’s hustling backwards. What I find odd is how seldom this point is brought up in film discussion outside of Black Orpheus which is roundly criticized as being a tourist guide through Brazil and joys that poverty brings. My answer to the question would be that my perception of them is meaningless. They know themselves far more than I ever could. They are far more equipped to tell me about themselves than I am able to tell them about who they are.

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Form and Content

I have a variety of interests like everyone else out there. One of the bigger ones is video games. If you’ve been on a video game message board or read anything about gamers online for a decent enough time you know that there is always a gaggle of people exclaiming that ‘gameplay > graphics’. It’s a fair enough point and I can understand why someone would make it. The problem for me comes in though in that no one really talks about gameplay, ever. Gameplay is almost always referred to in the vaguest of terms like whether or not the controls are ‘tight’ or ‘loose’ or how it feels to play in general. Outside of that, gameplay is never actually discussed. You’ll get a bunch of blurbs giving descriptions about what the gameplay is and you’ll also be told about the amount of stuff you can do.

The problem with all of this is simple: You are talking about content not gameplay.  These are two entirely different things, but always get mixed up with one another because gameplay requires a significant degree of knowledge about gaming outside of vague terms and ‘feelings’. The same exact thing happens in film discussion the majority of the time. People focus on the content of the film and masquerade it as the form. The thing that makes this far more bizarre in film versus gaming is that there is an often repeated mantra against the discussion of form over or with content. You’ll be more familiar with it as the phrase ‘style over substance’. My mind has still been unable to comprehend what this means. I mean, I know what it means when people say it; however, that doesn’t mean it makes sense.

Style IS substance. The issue is that film is still largely analyzed firstly, if not solely, as how the narrative and characters operate. I’ve waxed poetic about my issues with this focusing on stories and the ever-so-popular ‘three-dimensional’ character, so I will not revisit that again. I will be the first person to tell you that I am in no way the most learned or educated person when it comes to ‘technical’ aspects of directing, but I’m aware that it’s there. How something is filmed is far more important to me than what story is being conveyed because the moving picture is far more than simply telling a story. One of my favorite books that helped illuminate this for me and happen to discuss one of my favorite movies was ‘French Cinema: A Student’s Guide (http://www.amazon.com/French-Cinema-Students-Phil-Powrie/dp/0340760044/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1312903242&sr=8-5) which did a couple scenes worth of analysis about Betty Blue. If you ever stumble upon it at your library, please read it, it is completely worth it. In the far off (possibly imaginary) future where I write about my aforementioned favorite film, I’ll cite some passages from it considering I have it one my computer.

Jean-Jacques Beineix came to prominence with his first film, Diva (1981), which has been called the first French postmodern film. Beineix’s film style was much criticised, along with Besson’s, during the 1980s, for its apparent superficiality and its tendency to prefer style over message.

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A Man is a Monkey!

Andy Serkis has been getting a fair amount of praise recently for his performance as Caesar in the Planet of the Apes prequel. I haven’t seen it yet, or will it be ever? Predictably so with pretty much every single Serkis CGI performance, there is much discussion about whether or not Serkis deserves the lion’s share of the acclaim/credit for the performance given that he is aided by animators. I side with those who believe he and other actors and actresses should be lauded for their performance, regardless of how it is given as long as it is quality (different discussion for a different day about ‘What is quality acting’). I don’t generally like to argue this because the people who usually side with the animators don’t know anything about what went on. There seems to be this odd assumption permeating underneath the surface of their argument that there is this magic button that the press and PRESTO there’s the final result who see in the movie.

I would like to say that I certainly am not minimizing the role of animators. It takes an incredible amount of work. You know what also takes a lot of work? The costume designers that dress the role players, make up artists that paint the faces/bodies and the dietitians/trainers that get them into the proper shape for the role. They play as large of a role aesthetically that animators do, but they are rarely given an credit unless it’s extremely obvious like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, John Hurt in The Elephant Man or any fantasy or British historical piece. The only time other contributing pieces are mentioning is when is when they are in the most grandiose fashion. It just happens that all performance capture is deemed grandiose.

Another thing that strikes me odd about the opposing side is that they never compare performance captured animation to regular ol’ CGI films. I can see why that comparison would be hard to make in film considering there are few that aren’t performance capture (PC) films that attempt realistic models to compare against in a parallel fashion. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. That’s an extremely hard comparison to justify considering most of the PC films have come out 6+ years since then and it will be considered a weighted comparison. The best example I can think of is actually in video games. Now, if you have time, go to Youtube and look up LA Noire’s facial motion capture and then go look at Mass Effect 3’s facial animation. The latter isn’t particularly bad, but the differences are vast once you’ve seen LA Noire and they’re pretty damn distracting in a ‘this can not be unseen’ type of way.

So with that in mind, for me the debate is pretty much settled in my mind. The actor plays a crucial enough role in the performance where he and she deserves the bulk of the credit. If that wasn’t true, then would we not be seeing studios do the animation by hand instead if they were able to get the exact same quality in animation?

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Ya’Meen?

What do you two look for when reading critiques?

I was originally going to write that question in to the two hosts at Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. I likely still will. Considering I’ve benched another Anime Beyond Miyazaki entry, I decided to answer that question myself. What I look for when reading a critique is the same thing I look for when I read anyone’s anything, and that is their voice. I’m almost 1000% sure that anyone who is reading my blog has passed middle school, so I won’t go through the effort of explaining what that is because I’m sure you’re sure you know what it means. I will be the first one to point at that there is in all likelihood a gantlet of grammatical errors throughout the majority of my posts and that I consistently abuse the use of commas; with all that said however, I do believe that I have at least written in some sort of recognizable voice here.

One of my biggest irritants when reading fellow forum members opinions is if it either reads like A. Some sort of arbitrary checklist that a movie has to meet in order to be good or B. I am reading some sort of encyclopedia. I do not have a problem with the latter if I’m actually, you know, reading an encyclopedia. I just generally don’t see the worth in writing like that because ninety-nine times out of a hundred an actual encyclopedia already exists with the the same information in a more expansive format, the usually copy the worst preconceptions about encyclopedic writing (i.e. dull) and there is usually some haughty  attitude that follows like we should bask in your presence for blessing us with your so beautifully written droning about something you consider obscure.

If I’m asking what’s on your mind tell me how you reacted to it. I don’t really give a damn about the general consensus. If I did, I wouldn’t be asking you. I would be going directly to the source so they could explain themselves. Obviously, using other people/sources as references to how you may or may not have become illuminated on said movie is perfectly fine, however it should not dominate your entire mind-share. Use it as a seasoning or at the very most as an appetizer. Do not use it as a side dish. And Allah forbid you serve me that shit as the main course.

You talk to people to get different perspectives not condescended versions that already exists in far better forms. Tell me how it reflects of your life experiences and your emotions. Some of my favorite responses I’ve read at Mubi have been from various perspectives of women about the movie (500) Days of Summer which opened my eyes to something I would have never considered. My top 2 favorite ones are below.

The message I took from this film was that if a girl repeatedly tells you she’s not interested in a real relationship and only sees you as a friend, you have every right to still be pissed when she doesn’t fall for your basic Nice Guy™ ass. That JGL does such a good job of hiding Tom’s asshole qualities beneath his own natural charisma only makes it worse.

Further proof that your stalker and projection issues can be characterized as “sweet” and “understandable” by audiences if you are white male.

These both stand in an interesting contrast to the male viewers who commented, for both of those that liked it or hated it. The men who enjoyed it viewed it as their life put on screen. The guys who hated it said essentially that it was ‘hipster trash’ and many other euphemisms for that. The first quote is similar to a near constant divide in perception and blame over the film Blue Valentine, where the type of males dividing the aforementioned film always, without fail, go back towards the point that Ryan Gosling’s character was a good guy. Because clearly, being nice is the most important building block of a relationship. Just as certain aspects of white privileged, see the second quote, can make people assuage or even endorse certain traits that would be roundly denounced had the character been of a different race or even less attractive.

Those two quotes are exactly why I love diverging opinions because without them I wouldn’t be able to absorb different perspectives. I wouldn’t ever be challenged because all views would be homogenized. I would constantly be bored because everyone keeps repeating the same thing, except most people write like shit so I’m really just reading heaps and heaps of shit at a certain point. Unfortunately, most critical writers of film fall into varying skills as a writer that all say the same shit because they’re populated by the same people who were fed the same stream of films. I mean there’s a reason that the same 5 European countries, Japan, and America dominate all the critics’ lists. It’s not simply because they’re good or even ‘more good’ it’s because they get a better marketing push. In order to alleviate this problem we should strive for more nuanced, impactful, interesting, and obtuse reactions to films rather than going for the bottleneck strategy of just (keyword) debating how well the film meshes it’s ideas with it’s images.

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