Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reaction to "Rodrigo D: No Futuro"

When there's no future / How can there be sin / We're the flowers in the dustbin / We're the poison in your human machine / We're the future, your future
―God Save the Queen, Sex Pistols, 1977
Within the film, Gaviria reappropriates the 1952 Italian neorealist film by Vittorio de Sica. Gaviria applies the same desperation of Umberto D while adding a message different from that of Vittorio de Sica. In the same fashion as Vittorio de Sica, Gaviria used a majority of non-professional actions, but Gaviria really takes it a step further to make a story about the disaffected youth of the Colombian slums, going so far as to use people from those neighborhoods to play the actors within the slum story. The punk mentality concerns itself music with the issue of authenticity. Throughout the film the only sound-scape heard throughout Víctor Gaviria’s Rodrigo D: No Futuro is punk rock music. Gaviria incorporates punk rock into the mix to add another dimension to the Rodrigo D: No Futuro in order to achieve a universality within the message of his story.

Starting with just the title as well as the opening sequence with punk rock playing on top of title cards against a black backdrop. The parallel to de Sica’s film is evident without even beginning the film while the “No Futuro” part must be experienced in the first 30 seconds to understand where Gaviria wants to take the film. By 1990 within the US and the UK, the punk rock movement was already experiencing an acceptance within their places of origin; and by acceptance, it also experienced a blanding. It had gone through many a subtle development to arrive at a place where the mainstream saw it as yet another segmentation of the market to sell to, which meant it was de-fanged. Understanding this temporal context of punk rock, the music played in the opening sequence is definitely seen as not a stylistic choice on part of the director, but a nostalgic reaching back to a purer punk rock (as much as any point of origin can be argued to be the “pure” form). The music’s not pretty. It’s raw. It’s loud. It’s aggressive. It’s expressive and little else. By refraining from the mainstream punk music available to him in the late 1980s, Gaviria must be referencing punk music from its early days.

Once one is given this music history lesson, the combination of “No Future” and raw punk music automatically pays homage to the Sex Pistols, one of the seminal artists in the early days of punk rock. One of their most famous songs (outdated when Rodrigo D was made) God Save the Queen has a chorus that repeats “There’s no future / No future / No future for you” multiple times throughout and finally closes the song. Taking this chorus with the last verse of God Save the Queen quoted at the beginning of this reaction, it’s easy to see parallels between the themes of the film and the nihilism within these quotes. Crime and violence is of no issue to the people within the slums because no one has given them a reason to avoid these destructive habits.
When one thinks of punk, they usually think of anti-establishment rhetoric. The repetition of the lines “Dinero / Problemas / Sistema” at the beginning of the film with Rodrigo D walking through the slum reiterates the structural inequalities experienced by the poor of Colombia. The lyrics sung are all in Spanish, which signifies a Colombia-focused re-appropriation of England’s punk rock to be applicable to Colombian (perhaps, more broadly, even to Latin American) sensibilities. The confrontational aspect of the movie that is anti-establishment is the unglorified/ un-commented upon crime perpetrated by the characters in the film. In trying to break with the past norms, punk music eschewed the perceived excesses of mainstream, and this can be seen in Gaviria’s use of non-professional actors from the streets of Medellín.

To push the punk rock parallels more, in the same in which early punk rock music consisted of basic chords being played by unskilled instrumentalists, Gaviria presents the audience with a pure, stripped down, no bullshit film about what it’s like in the slums of Medellín. The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mentality is taken to an extreme within the punk movement since it manifested itself in pure expression without talent. In the film, the pervasive crime can be seen as a DIY philosophy about economic empowerment. Rodrigo D figures out how to get himself some drumsticks without actually spending the money on them. There is a punk rock band playing wherever they can to be able to express themselves. Further, the message of Rodrigo D is not some subtle, sublime message intended to illuminate some dark corner of the viewer’s intellect, but rather, it is really frank and confrontational. The distance that punk rock sought from the bombast and sentimentality of mainstream is evident in the manner in which Rodrigo D is composed so as to avoid any obfuscation or manipulation by Gaviria.

This is not to say that Gaviria is unskilled instrumentalist, because he still knows how to use the camera to capture this story, nor is he some obtuse observer since he knows how to inject the monotony of the cotidiano into the story to reveal how the slums affects its inhabitants in a deleterious manner as well as force the non-impoverished observer to identify with a more humanized form of their life.

Reaction to "Secuestro Express"

Chavez’ arrival to power created divisiveness within the Venezuela with respect to class differences. The only reason that the divisiveness has been created by Chavez is because he has decided to give voice to the normally voiceless through populist strategies. Having been kidnapped himself, Jonathan Jakubowicz paints a very skewed, polarizing view of Venezuela’s problem with poverty and violence. The beginning of the movie evokes the anti-Chavez position as related to the violence perpetuated during the April 11th attempted coup d’état of President Chavez. I believe Jakubowicz’s social stratification and his personal experience with his own kidnapping have compromised Jakubowicz’s ability to give a cogent message within his story since there are so many differing messages instilled within the film.

Martin is characterized as high maintenance (like a female and, thus by correlation, a homosexual tendency) and as “old money”. From his introduction, he is detached from society, only compounded by his prolific drug use to the point of getting sick in the middle of a public space. To add to the lack of masculinity embodied by Martin, he partakes in sexual intercourse with Marcelo, to the chagrin of Carla and the derision of his secuestradores (Aside: It was mentioned in class that Marcelo’s intercourse with an Afro-Venezuelan cadet is a jibe at Chavez’ sexuality. If that is so, then Martin’s intercourse with Marcelo is equally as abominable, yet possibly with a shred of redemption since he was the more masculine within the exchange.). Further along the story, Martin finds an avenue to flee and abandons his girlfriend to the secuestradores, despite being told that fleeing will only make it worse for her. Despite the fact that Martin is probably the closest identifiable character to Jonathan Jakubowicz, Jakubowicz seems to be condemning Martin in many different types of ways.

In the sequence with Martin walking through the square after fleeing his captors, Martin encounters a gathering where a man dressed as Jesus is re-enacting the Good Friday journey under the weight of the cross. This is a Holy Week tradition in Latin America common among globalized movies to imbue the backdrop with exoticism. Given the popularity of la Plaza Roja to the Chavista faction, Jakubowicz seems to be mixing his signs. There is little reason why the martyr of a class victimized by the masses, seen as running “wild” around the city and supported by the Chavez government, should be associated with a pro-Chavez. This Jesus imagery serves to foreshadow Martin’s re-capture and ultimate death. In the square, Jakubowicz is trying to say that the one who fought against his captors and ran away will meet the same end as Jesus Christ did, having deserved such a sacrificial slot within the metanarrative. Yet, the Plaza’s close attachment to pro-Chavez groups lends itself to a thematic ambiguity within the film.

In the same way in which Jakubowicz splits his symbolism, Jakubowicz used very popular, commercialized actors to sell a movie where the majority of the movie is carried by non-professionals. According to Wikipedia, Jakubowicz it “stars ‘non-stars,’ mostly rappers, who were trained for the role over a period of six weeks.” The hiring non-professionals to play mimics Victor Gaviria’s attempt to truly represent the lower class by giving them the opportunity to voice their discontent. But it only is a poor mimicry of Gaviria’s sincere attempt to reach out since Jakubowicz has no truly redemptive scenes of the kidnappers. The attempts to show them as people of values is cursory and insufficient to give the audience a humanizing view of the desperate kidnappers and the structural problems in Venezuela that led their wanting (read: needing) to kidnap for random. It’s an interesting comment to his motive of deriding the massified public (read: “el monstruo”) he perceives as harmful and dangerous to the continuance of a civil Venezuela.

I believe Jonathan Jakubowicz is sloppy with the symbolism of his insincere reaching out to alien social classes. Albeit that he has an agenda to promote an intra-class awareness (read: terror) among the middle class of Venezuela, Jakubowicz’s coherence within his own film seems to fail. Jakubowicz’s message most evidently is that the nice middle class people need to live their life with temperance and moderation since the outside world is so vicious and perilous.

Reaction to "Memorias del subdesarrollo"

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea en Memorias del subdesarrollo plantea una dialéctica entre la ideales de la revolución comunista cubana y su realización, simbolizado en la discrepancia entre los pensamientos de Sergio y las realidades sociales pasando después del golpe del estado. Al nivel muy superficial, Alea demuestra la desconexión entre la burguesía cubana y las masas con la yuxtaposición de los pensamientos neuróticos auto-reflexivos con imágenes de la revolución. Un ejemplo sencillo está demostrado cuando Sergio dice que nada ha cambiado en la ciudad, pero se ve Habana a través de una perspectiva distorsionada por el telescopio. También esa secuencia tiene el símbolo de su punta de vista siendo de un nivel separado de la de las masas.

Con su tratamiento de la relación entre Sergio tiene con Elena, Alea quiere crear una alegoría entre un país joven y una clase que tiene la capacidad de contaminar la nueva Cuba. Es posible decir que Sergio destruye la pureza de Elena pero otra lectura diría que Elena aprueba su propia profanización. Más al fondo, algo interesante en esa secuencia es el juego y la inocencia que demuestra en no ser consciente de las consecuencias de su propia sexualidad con el movimiento alrededor de el apartamiento de Sergio. Lo que indica esa proposición es la manera en que cada perspectiva subjetiva choque con la persona enfrente de sí. La cámara consigue la perspectiva de Sergio y Elena para simbolizar la culpabilidad de ambos en la interacción destructiva, aquí: la destrucción de la inocencia de Elena. Todo éste trata de proponer que Cuba y su burguesía tiene a responsabilidad de relatarse a y comunicarse con sí mismos.

Sergio states that “underdevelopment is inability to relate things, to accumulate things, and to develop.” There is a connection between the underdevelopment of Cuba’s revolutionary ideology and the two round table discussions Sergio attends, one being the intellectual discussion on underdevelopment and the other being his trial for the false rape of a young, naïve girl. In each, the discourse is equally absurd. At the intellectual roundtable, a bunch of white, (probably) European-trained intellectuals discuss how Americans view all Hispanics, and that they are on equal footing with all other Cubans. Alea gives a contrast between the speaker identifying himself and all Cubans as “criados negros” whilst being serviced by a black servant. Being representatives of the intellectual in Cuba, these people obviously are unable to relate to things in a consistent manner. Another thing just as absurd is the question posited by the American inquiring why the manner in which the intellectuals are debating is not more revolutionary, which is symbolic and intellectually stimulating yet holds no applicability within the actual revolution. The state is symbolized by the judges who hear the case of the rape of Sergio where the rich intellectual is on trial. Camera perspectives are in Sergio’s face and those of the judges where the confrontation between the government and its bourgeoisie is shown. The simple fact that social norms did not accompany a revolution is completely visible as Elena’s parents as well as the judges’ question demonstrate another gap between the ideology and the reality. Another instance where Sergio says but does not do is when he laments his relationship with Elena and states that he thought Elena would be more complex and interesting whilst pulling out “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov. This contrast between sounds and sight give an irony to the sequence that intends to prove Sergio’s sole objective with Elena was to enjoy the carnal pleasures of a young, fertile, mestizo female. His own intellectual pandering forces him to rationalize and insert some loftier ideal into the situation so as to reduce his culpability in taking away Elena’s innocence.

Otro ejemplo de la separación de Sergio con la mayoría de la población cubana occure cuando Sergio visita la casa Hemingway. Hemingway killed himself despite his ivory tower, I assume that Sergio’s time in the house of such a “citizen of the world” parallels Sergio’s class destruction within the Cuban revolution. Alea concluye su pelicula con el hecho de juntar unas imágenes de lo militar de la revolución con secuencias de Sergio pensando en su cama jugando con su encendedor. Aquí Alea quiere concluir que alguien como Sergio no va a tener un lugar en la revolución porque la nueva revolución no sea determinada por un intelectual y la inactividad de la reflexión sino por la hegemonía militar que un gobierno puede exhibir. This is most evidently Alea’s message for the viewer since the juxtaposition of “thinking” versus “doing” is preceded by a single static shot of Sergio’s sink full of some white foam. Sergio slowly washes the foam down the drain until the sink is clean again. Symbolically, this simple scene can only mean that all the concepts (or ideologies) for the revolution will go down the drain as well. All of the neurotic intellectual drivel delivered the entire film amounts to nothing and is destined to go away never to be seen again.