Monday, May 29, 2017

Review - Entranced Earth (1967)

This surreal, sweltering vision of subtropical political purgatory from Glauber Rocha is the most direct work in the Brazilian filmmaker's ecstatic oeuvre. He trades the blasted historical hinterlands of his 1963 breakthrough 'Black God, White Devil' for the fictional coastal republic of Eldorado (a thinly disguised Rio de Janeiro), where idealistic poet Paulo (Jardel Filho) is gripped by dual crises. He can't decide whether he'd better serve the revolutionary cause as an artist or a journalist, and is torn between loyalty to two antithetical candidates seeking power: the vainglorious right-wing Diaz (Paulo Autran), a former mentor backed by foreign interests, and populist upstart Vieira (José Lewgoy), sympathetic to the will of the people but equally susceptible to corruption, or worse, impotence. Entangled in intrigue and finding no simple route to change, he opts for armed resistance, the only recourse left to the artist, or so the director appears to suggest. Spun through Rocha's delirious, dissonant prism, his homeland is more a morally bankrupt Sodom than a golden utopia. As if symptomatic of a pathological hypocrisy that he wishes to expose, practically every image and sound presented seems at odds with its complement; introspective shots of solitary figures in nature are juxtaposed with hysterical crowd scenes, realistic locations give way to gothic set pieces, classical music cues are intercut with machine-gun fire, elegant poetry is laid over frenzied montage. Rocha's indictment of the political morass at home is so relentless and wide-ranging, it's no wonder it was banned by the Brazilian government upon release, and that just a few short years later he'd be directing his incendiary films in exile.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review - Seven Men From Now (1956)

Notable for drawing the unlikely praise of cinema theoreticians like André Bazin and Paul Schrader, Budd Boetticher's lean, low-budget western packs a loftier punch than the average cowboy revenge picture. Randolph Scott stars as the steely Ben Stride, a former sheriff tracking seven bandits who murdered his wife during a gold heist, a turn of events for which the lawman blames himself. Accompanied by a couple seeking passage to California (Gail Russell and Walter Reed) and a criminal-turned-tenuous ally (Lee Marvin, slick as oil and in top form), Stride crosses a treacherous outback en route to his inevitable showdown with the killers, and presumably, his absolution. The film's rarefied appeal can be attributed to its protagonist's atypically internalized conflict - a moral tug-of-war played out beneath the surface, revealed by minute gestures and terse dialogue - as well as the stark staging, which underscores the archetypal struggle of morally fickle men against an unforgiving elemental backdrop. Boetticher and screenwriter Burt Kennedy don't reinvent western tropes as much as sublimate them; dualistic heroes and villains are portrayed as facets of the same character, plot twists evince a cruelly absurd universe at play, the quest for vengeance becomes a pilgrimage to grace. Of course, no amount of transcendental cachet and auteurist angling can replace old-fashioned thrills, but fortunately for the casual filmgoer, there are a few of those too.