Monday, November 23, 2015

Two at the DFT

This weekend I caught Gueros (2014, Alonso Ruiz Palacios) as well as this year’s Taxi (Jafar Panahi), the two films on tap at the Detroit Film Theatre (DFT), with Taxi also playing next weekend……Gueros intrigued me because it was a take on youthful alienation and something of a nod to the French New Wave. And Taxi, because it’s Iranian and made by perhaps that country’s leading filmmaker and which has generated a lot of publicity during its screenings at numerous art houses this fall……First, Gueros. What you notice first is that this film is in 4:3 aspect ratio so it appears on the screen more like a square than a rectangle, and the fact it’s shot in black and white. No biggie there, it was the subject matter that interested me. The film has been hailed by the critics and yes it certainly does have enough references to the kind of meandering story lines of the New Wave. But I thought the subject matter was barely interesting. The central character Tomas (Sebastian Aguirre) gets kicked out of his home to live with his older university-going brother Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) in Mexico City. Everywhere he goes people remark on his light skin, hence the movie’s name, showing that racism exists, even unintentionally, in every society. Sombra is on strike, against a strike, by fellow university students, who have laid in for a long occupation of their presumably liberal arts campus. I thought this was an interesting aspect of the movie but the director brings no edge to it. Is Sombra politically against the strike or simply indifferent? More the latter. The two characters plus a roommate and a student leader, Ana (Ilse Salas) decide to leave the university’s fractious atmosphere and go on a drive in search of a legendary Mexican pop star, whose voice “once made Bob Dylan cry.” They find him but don’t get the reception they wanted. So what’s the film about? If anything ennui, that politics doesn’t matter, and that life is for filling in any haphazard way you want. It’s these very aspects that induced a bit of ennui in me…..Now to Taxi. The film by the celebrated and persecuted (by the Iranian authorities) Panahi is a rather light slice of life. Panahi plays a taxi driver (picture above) picking up fares around Tehran, with virtually everything filmed from a dashboard camera. The characters are disparate, from a man and woman arguing over the death penalty, to two older women carrying a fish bowl, to a cyclist bleeding from an accident, to a young filmmaker played by the filmmaker’s niece, Hana, who harangues the good-natured Panahi as she goes about making her own school project film. One wonders what all this is supposed to add up to. There’s a reference to the Iranian theocracy’s oppression, as Hana reads the strict guidelines about who should be the good guys and bad guys according to official state policy. It’s not until the end of the movie that we come face to face with the real wall of oppression on a sunlit Tehran day. Altogether, Taxi is a series of whimsical character studies, ending with a surprising and not so pleasant kick in the teeth. 

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