Jul 30, 2007

Interview: Camila Guzmán Urzúa

While The Sugar Courtain (original title El Telón De Azúcar) was released in the U.S., I was lucky to have the opportunity to interview its creator Camila Guzmán Urzúa, thanks to Cinema Tropical. We had a telephone conversation between Paris and New York to talk about... Cuba.

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Pablo Goldbarg: Tell me about the experience of making an autobiographic piece

Camila Guzmán Urzúa: I think it’s common that the first film is a very personal film. Actually, before I wanted to make the film I had an obsession trying to recuperate my childhood’s country. Then, when I decided to make a film about it, I just didn’t find any other way to make it. It was about my life, so it would have been too weird not to talk about myself, because finally I’m part of that experience too. When the subject is maybe further away from your life, or not related in a direct way, you have no need to put you on the film. But to me, it didn’t work in another way. That makes it more difficult, because at the same time you are exposed… it wasn’t easy.

P.G.: You had a challenge working in all the stages of the film. You were the writer, director, editor, cinematographer and producer…

C.G.U.: I didn’t have a choice. All the way through making the film, I always wanted to have a producer and I wanted to have somebody with me on the boat. But it wasn’t the case. I made the film completely independent. That has a lot of advantages, but also disadvantages. At some point I was on my own, just doing it. If I had known what it meant, I’m not sure I would have done it. Once I started, especially after the shooting I just couldn’t give up. The only way to go forward was doing it on my own, in my own computer at home, in my free time. So, I wouldn’t recommend it (laughs). I would definitely have a producer, at least… I hope. At some point an editor is very important. Those were the members of the crew that I missed the most: the producer and the editor. I was lucky enough to finish the film with an editor. I’m sure that helped a lot for the final structure of the film. Because at some point you’re so inside the film, and this one even more because it’s your own story that you lose perspective. Sometimes I had to stop for a few months, and then carry on, and that gives you some perspective with your head out, and then you start again. But it’s never as good as having an editor next to you. At the end of the film I worked three to four weeks with an editor. The film owes a lot to that final editing work.

P.G.: Can you please tell me about the research process to find the whereabouts of your friends in school?

C.G.U.: Almost all the people in my film are my real friends from childhood and teenager years, and I never lost contact with them. When I left Cuba, my mom and my sister were still living there for a while. So, I kept going back for holidays whenever I could, to see family and friends. I was always in touch with them. In 1999 it was the first time I went to Cuba with the idea of making the film. I spent four or five months over there. At that time I reached all the people that I usually see. There was one friend that I did look for her but I couldn’t be in touch with her. Since then I knew who would gonna be in the film, and since then I told them about it, and they liked the idea. They were my friends from life. When you make a documentary you must have people in front of the camera, you need people that express themselves in a right way. People that aren’t worried by the presence of the camera and people that aren’t shy. I had that in mind when I started deciding who would gonna be in the film and who would gonna get involved. I had some friends that were extremely shy and would never be in a film. I kind of chose those that would like to be filmed. I don’t like it (laughs). There was also one friend that was on the project and by the time I started shooting he wasn’t there anymore. And with my friend from Miami, I started filming her sister because she was already gone by the time I went to Cuba.

P.G.: When did you feel the need to make this film?

C.G.U.: It was a weird process, because when I left Cuba I didn’t know if I would come back. I left just before the crisis started. I left my childhood’s country as it was in 1990. I went back in 1991 and things haven’t changed that much. Then I went back in 1994, and I heard about the Special Period before and all that. But it’s never the same when you go there and see it personally. So in that moment was just before the crisis of “Balseros”. It was a very weird period in Habana. I was very, very shocked by the new reality at that time. And it was then when I started to have this kind of need of recuperating the country of my childhood that wasn’t there anymore and had been real. And people were beginning to forget about it, in a way. I always thought that somebody was going to make it. At that time I didn’t know that I was going to direct films. I was studying filmmaking but doing photography, and I didn’t want to direct. Time went by, and in 1999 I decided to make the film, because I realized that Cuba had completely changed. Living outside of Cuba I realized that people didn’t know about it. Everybody was surprised when I used to say that I was happy when I was in Cuba, and I had a happy childhood. For me it was important to keep that in a little box, somewhere in my heart. I had this kind of necessity. My country disappeared, and it was important not to forget it.

P.G.: Do you still think that a new type of society is possible in Cuba or in another country?

C.G.U.: Yes, yes. We lived that life for about twenty years, and it was a pretty good one. Comparing with the rest of the world, in Cuba we grew up in a… (whispers) very unique way. Especially with positive things, I think. I do believe that that society is possible. Then we had always the problem of economy. How we finance such a State. Then things became more complicated. But it’s possible.

P.G.: Was your film shown in Cuba? Tell me about the reactions or possible reactions to the film.

C.G.U.: Not yet, because I’m waiting now for it. We subscribed the film for the Habana International Film Festival for this year 2007. I’m still waiting for the reply. The idea is to have a screening in the festival. About the reactions… I don’t have a clue (laughs). I want it to happen because I’m very curious myself. There are big audience and enormous theaters in Habana.

P.G.: How did you get permits or support to shoot this kind of story in Habana? Did you get in touch with the ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos)?

C.G.U.: The film was supported by EICTV in San Antonio de los Baños (Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV). I was able to have all the authorizations and permits to shoot the film anywhere in Habana. Actually the only “real” permission that I needed was to film in the schools, but the rest of the times when I filmed in different neighborhoods or houses or even in a protest, but nobody ever asked me. I had all the accreditations from the film school, and we were officially authorized. But at the same time I didn’t have to show anything at all in the streets. I didn’t get in touch with the ICAIC because I didn’t have any money or production structure behind me either. I decided to approach first the film school. The ICAIC, as far as I know, and maybe I’m wrong, must co-produce or you must pay a production fee. It’s more complicated, a kind of institutional thing or co-production company and all that stuff that I didn’t have. So, I had a grant here, it was more an associative thing, and not a production company at all. I went to the film school first, they supported me, and I stayed with them.

P.G.: You have a story in your family about exile when you had to leave Chile. Then, in some way you repeat the decision of leaving your home country--this time Cuba--in search of a better condition. Can you please talk about that?

C.G.U.: I never thought about exile when I was living in Cuba. My own exile began after I left Cuba, and never before. But there is no comparison at all between how my parents left Chile, and how my generation left Cuba. There are absolutely no points in common. The experience of leaving Chile was very dramatic and violent. I didn’t have that experience when I started my own exile. I was born in Chile, even though I don’t have a very strong connection with that country. So, I see my parents’ exile and my own exile quite separately.

P.G.: How did you choose the aesthetics and form of your documentary?

C.G.U.: I don’t know. I can’t tell you. When I was in film school two persons influenced me: on one side Frederick Wiseman, the American filmmaker, who started “direct cinema” in the 60’s. On the other side was, Ken Loach, the British filmmaker. Even he make fiction films, his style is very close to documentaries. But I’m not sure if my film follows their styles. They marked me a lot, especially from an ideological and moral point of view. They are such unique and extraordinary figures. But I don’t know… I used to do photography when I was younger. My camera work is much related with intuition, especially in this film. I made it unconsciously, particularly when I was shooting. There was a lot of intuition.

P.G.: Are you working on new projects or ideas in film?

C.G.U.: I have new ideas, but actually I didn’t have the time to write yet. An old filmmaker told me once that good ideas not always make good films… (laughs). So, I prefer to write it before talking about the next one, because I’m not sure yet what is gonna be.

P.G.: Thank you very much. It was a very touching story for me. I was in the Habana Film Festival last year for first time, and I didn’t know about many things of the golden era and your generation, so congratulations with the film.

C.G.U.: Thank you very much.

Related note:

Jul 27, 2007

The Miracle Of Being A Black Hero

When Hercules awakened from a temporary insanity that made him kill his own wife and children, he was shocked and regretted by what he had done. He prayed to the God Apollo for guidance, and he was told to to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years, in punishment for the murders. As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve Labors that they seemed impossible.

In Ricardo Elias’ The 12 Labors (2006, original title Os 12 Trabalhos), 18-year-old Heracles (Sidney Santiago) is just out of the State foundation for the well-being of the minor juvenile, a detention system called Febem. At the beginning we see Heracles’ eyes as he realizes that he must pay the price to be reformed and adapted to the society. We also listen to his thoughts: “Depending on where you were born, your story is already written before it starts”. With a big majority of black population, Febem opposes to the situation in any given classroom in a federal university, where there is a majority of white faces. That’s probably the most important statement in this film: if you are black and poor in Brazil, you will have to go through a daily struggle and suffering almost impossible to avoid.

His cousin Jonas (Flavio Bauraqui) finds him a job as motorcycle courier. In an overpopulated São Paulo with highly congested traffic and more than a quarter million motorcycle delivery boys, Heracles must overcome 12 diligences in a parallel with his Greek demigod. The phenomenon of motor-boys exploded onto São Paulo during the last ten years due to high unemployment. Far away from having impossible tasks to accomplish, Heracles’ risks in this tale are being easily fired, or even worse, to die in a road accident (the statistics show the incredible number of twenty five motor-drivers being injured per day in the city, and at least one of them dying). These labors increase the level of difficulty as Heracles’ existential crisis and uncertain future emerges.

He has also a very interesting sensitivity and power to “fix things in mind”. In a way, he can predict others’ future. This extra-sensorial experiences merge with the 12 labors, which then turn into 12 predictions: a little kid, the pastries girl, the airport passenger, a street vendor, and his own boss are part of stories where his philosophy and personality lead him to self-respect and confidence. Here is where Ricardo Elias also succeeds, where the parallel to Greek mythology emancipates from the film to be transformed not only into a reflection about Brazilian youth in poverty, but also about art and sensitivity as probably the only way to escape from it--beyond sports. Heracles’ imagination and artistic talent may be his salvation. A powerful scene of his comics turned into film suggests it, as it also laments how many of them will remain in anonymity.

With a gorgeous cinematography (Jay Yamashita)--a common currency in today’s Brazilian cinema--, and a vivid music score (André Abujamra), this film won awards in Havana, Recife and Rio de Janeiro Film Festivals, among them Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Score. A tunnel, the death, a beach: The conscious presence of the camera makes Heracles look to us, and invite us to share his dream or fate. By the end of the Labors, Hercules was, without a doubt, Greece's greatest hero. The miracle of being a black hero in Brazil (and in many other countries) seems to be impossible. Only a few will achieve, like Hercules, fame or immortality.

(Written for NYRemezcla)

The 12 Labors (original title Os 12 Trabalhos)
Director: Ricardo Elias
Writers: Claudio Yosida, Ricardo Elias

New York Latino International Film Festival (NYLIFF)
Category: International Features
Year: 2006
Format: 35mm / Brazil
Runtime: 90 min

Friday, July 27 | 1:00 PM
Director’s Guild Theater
110 West 57th Street

Sunday, July 29 | 12:00 PM
Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th Street

Picture by Simone Ezaki

Jul 25, 2007

La Buena Sangre

Una vaca es acuchillada. Mientras escuchamos sus lamentos y un río rojo tiñe el suelo, vemos como su sangre es bebida por un perro y un cerdo, quienes aprovechan el banquete antes que los humanos lo devoren. Más allá de ser moneda corriente en el campo, y comida predilecta de los argentinos, la imágen abre un sin fin de paralelismos y símbolos. Sangra el país, y la herida está abierta. Juan Diego Solanas--hijo del célebre cineasta Fernando ”Pino” Solanas--impacta desde un comienzo en Nordeste (2006) , y anuncia no solo que la historia que veremos es de una naturaleza asombrosa, sino también que el nivel cinematográfico de su primer largometraje parece ser de una madurez artística como la de su padre.

Mientras corren los créditos se escucha una copla seca de Don Atahualpa que provoca tanto como las primeras imágenes. Después sabremos que el cantor es el mismo chofer de la estancia donde se hospedará Hélène (Carole Bouquet), una francesa de 45 años que llega al país en busca de adoptar a un bebé, ya sea por métodos legales o ilegales, aunque en su espíritu bondadoso quiere adoptar un huérfano o un niño abandonado por sus padres. El Nordeste argentino es una de las mecas de la adopción ilegal de Sudamérica.

Caramba que ando de pobre,
de pobre me ando, ¡ay!, muriendo,
de solo verme tan pobre,
yo solo me ando, ¡ay!, queriendo.

fue la única película Argentina en la Selección Oficial del Festival de Cannes 2005. Insólitamente el film se estrenó en Argentina un año más tarde debido a que fue calificado dudosa y polémicamente como “no apto para menores de 16 años”. El autor encontró inaceptable la medida tomada por el ente calificador ya que sin mostrar golpes bajos, apuntó a que la vean jóvenes de entre 14 y 16 años que sufren directamente lo que se ve en su película, asi pueden reflexionar sobre el tema. Solanas decidió entonces levantar el estreno de la película, lo que le costó esperar un enorme tiempo hasta tener disponibilidad de salas.

Sin embargo fue record de espectadores en Francia—donde reside Solanas desde que su padre se exilió de la dictadura militar argentina hace unos treinta años-- para una película argentina: más de 60,000. Haber contado con el apoyo de este país como co-productor—junto a Bélgica y España también—logró que su distribución inicial cuente con 87 copias, lo que es tal vez demasiado para una película extranjera. Ganó premios en Buenos Aires y Estocolmo, incluídos mejor director, mejor cinematografía y mejor actríz. También fue seleccionada en otros festivales de cine como Chicago, Londres, Munich, Edimburgo y Helsinki.

Dicen que las penas matan,
yo digo: No matan, no;
que si las penas mataran,
ya estuviera muerto yo.

El viento y la desolación del hermoso y triste paisaje se unen al lamento de un bandoneón. “El amor es un bicho maldito”, le dice el chofer cantor a Hélène, y una transición a Juana (Aymará Rovera) haciendo el amor con Alberto (Jorge Román) anuncia también que ese romance cómplice no parece tener un final feliz. Hélène conoce a Martín (Ignacio Jimenez), el hijo de Juana, quien es madre soltera. Ambos tienen un futuro poco alentador. Por un lado Martín tiene a un yacaré y una gallina como mejores amigos que los propios chicos de la calle que le dan drogas y lo incitan a usar armas y faltar a la escuela. Juana está en crisis con Alberto (quien está casado con otra mujer), está embarazada sin que él lo sepa, y también ha recibido una orden de desalojo.

Solanas, quien recibió felicitaciones de Unicef por su film, ha investigado durante varios años el tema de las adopciones ilegales con conexión Europa-Argentina. En base a esa investigación, y a todos los encuentros y entrevistas que tuvo durante su viaje al interior del país, Solanas escribió el guión que aunque es ficticio, trata historias y situaciones reales. De una manera no tradicional, el documental se embebe dentro de esta ficción que trasciende, denuncia, hace sentir y pensar. La necesidad de dar un hijo a adopción, el deseo de adoptar, la corrupción e ilegalidad, el descubrimiento de un mundo desconocido sumergido en una urgente marginalidad, el crecimiento de embarazos en adolescentes que no saben como cuidarse, la deserción escolar y el caudillismo provincial (donde unos pocos mandan y la ley local es su socia), son ejes de esta película tan profunda como simple.

De las penas de este mundo,
una tan sólo es verdad;
la pena de cada uno,
que no saben los demás.

Las actuaciones, muy bien dirigidas y basadas en la mágica mezcla de profesionales y amateurs, constituyen un elemento fundamental de la película. Las expresiones, los silencios, y la naturalidad en las reacciones de Rovera (Juana) y Gimenez (Martín) se fusionan con la experiencia de Bouquet (Hélène), Román (Alberto) y el maravilloso Daniel Valenzuela (Enrique), quien impone la ley feudal y se convierte en el terror de Juana. La lenta transformación del conflicto interior de Hélène, el desequilibrio entre la riqueza y la pobreza, y la sensación que ambos mundos pueden llegar a comunicarse positivamente son capturados por la mano experimentada del veterano cinematógrafo Félix Monti y el mismo Juan Solanas, y ambientados por la música autóctona de Dino Saluzzi y Eduardo Makaroff entre los sonidos del campo.

Esta es una historia sin desperdicios ni huecos, con un desenlace tan dramático como poderoso, que deja varias posibilidades abiertas a la imaginación del espectador. Más allá de los temas que interlaza en diferentes capas, la manera particular en que los muestra, y las preguntas que quedan sin respuesta—o que tienen más de una--hay algo bien claro. Así como Sur (1988), de Solanas padre, fue un homenaje a los que—según el mismo Pino--mantuvieron la dignidad y dijeron no a la injusticia, a la opresión, y a la entrega del país, hoy, casi veinte años más tarde, Solanas hijo muestra en Nordeste que el Nordeste Argentino necesita ayuda. Que hay que educar más, discriminar menos, y seguir denunciando. Poder hacerlo con calidad artística es un lujo. La herida sigue abierta, pero también hay sangre que fluye y se regenera. Sinónimo de vida y de esperanza.

Me ven de poncho y ushutas,
muchos se burlan de mí;
por fuera nada parezco,
por dentro, ¡tal vez que sí! *

* Coplas de Bagualas del Valle Calchaquí (Atahualpa Yupanqui)

(Escrito para NYRemezcla)

Nordeste (2006)
Director: Juan Solanas
Writer: Eduardo Berti, Juan Solanas

New York Latino International Film Festival (NYLIFF)
Category: International Features, New York Premiere
Format: 35mm / Argentina - France - Spain - Belgium
Runtime: 104 min

Thursday, July 26 | 6:15 PM
The Imaginasian Theater
239 East 59th Street

Friday, July 27 | 2:00 PM
Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th Street

Jul 23, 2007

De A Dos

El dúo creativo de Andres Leon Becker y Javier Solar en guión y dirección nos presenta su opera prima Mas Que A Nada En El Mundo (2006), flamante ganadora de Mejor Opera Prima Mexicana en el Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara. Más allá de la alegría de obtener este reconocimiento, el equipo de trabajo había confesado estar disconforme por no haber sido incluídos en la sección Iberoamericana, considerando que su película era de una calidad para una sección del festival más importante que la local. Enojo que podría atribuirse al largo tiempo que se tomaron para escribir la historia (del 2001 al 2005, cuando empezaron a rodar), y al cuidado de detalles en la cinematografía (Damian Garcia) y la música (Benny Ibarra & Austin TV).

Ambientada en un tono oscuro y de tensión, esta historia sobre la soledad y los problemas de Emilia (Elizabeth Cervantes) como madre soltera en busca de un nuevo amor está contada desde un punto de vista interesante: el de su hija Alicia (Julia Urbini),  de ocho años. A partir de esta decisión, la historia de ellas pasa a ser más la de Alicia: desde el comienzo de la narración, los planos a su altura, y las vivencias de cada relación casual de su madre mostradas a través de sus expresiones mientras espía al no poder dormirse. La foto favorita de Alicia donde ella y su madre están felices y sonrientes desaparece, y la importancia del buen recuerdo se desvanece momentaneamente para aparecer luego por accidente en manos de su vecino (Juan Carlos Colombo). Diagnosticado con una enfermedad inevitable pasa en soledad los últimos días de su vida, y por algún motivo misterioso se queda con la foto. Este misterio sumado a la creencia de Alicia y una amiguita de la escuela de que su casa esta al acecho de vampiros hace del drama y la lucha cotidiana de Emilia y Alicia una historia de suspenso particular.

Los celos de Alicia por la desatención y la desesperanza del vecino convierten las vacías noches de amor de Emilia en voyeurismo compartido. Las buenas actuaciones (que aunque no descollan son precisas), la textura, el ambiente climatizado por Becker y Solar, y la curiosidad de cómo la misteriosa fábula de vampiros se desenlazará entre amores y desamores nos sumergen en el film. Por momentos existe cierta magia que después parece quedarse a medio camino cuando las escenas se tornan algo repetitivas. El giro esperado se hace rogar; llega bien al final, y asi como lo anuncia el taxista, es algo obvio y cursi, como la canción que lo acompaña. Aunque el desenlace parece estar hecho para la felicidad del público--aunque cada vez los finales tan felices hacen menos felices a la gente-- esta apuesta de primer película del dúo merece ser tenida en cuenta, y dejando algunas falencias de lado, nos presentan elementos para creer que tienen un buen potencial. 

(Escrito para NYRemezcla)

Mas Que A Nada En El Mundo (More Than Anything In The World)
Escrita y Dirigida por: Andrés León Becker, Javier Solar

New York Latino International Film Festival 2007 (NYLIFF)
Category: International Features, New York Premiere
Year: 2006
Formato: 35mm / Mexico
Runtime: 90 min

Thursday, July 26 | 2:15 PM
Sunday, July 29 | 4:00 PM
Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th Street

Jul 16, 2007

Missing Habana

"I wonder why, Habana, I still run away from you, if I know that I'll come back... days goes by and I can't write you, but I can't stop thinking about you either. Your streets still smell revolution. People smile despite all. Talent and passion given off from your paintings provoke me the most beautiful dreams. Here, in El Globo at the Santa Isabel terrace, I try to find a refuge in the open air, with the beautiful bay absorbing me. And while I taste this mojito I understand that nothing is coincidence; I arrived to the most touristic spot in the city to connect myself with my roots over there, far away, where I believe I belong to. Although every day I belong a little more here, a little more there..."

I left Argentina three years ago. Beyond my personal goals, and without comparing my story with any other story of new desired frontiers or exile, it is a fact that I live far away from my beloved land. Any long experience abroad, no matter if it’s good or not, carries some kind of melancholy. When I visited Cuba something happened inside me. Some kind of strange love took over me, as if Habana has some kind of special soul still latent… as if I belong not only to Argentina but also to every Latin American country.

Camila Guzmán Urzúa arrived Cuba in 1973 with her family after his father Patricio Guzmán, a famous documentary filmmaker, left Chile threatened of execution. He used to say that a country without documentaries was like a family without photographs. More than thirty years later she followed her father' steps to make her first documentary. Camila enjoyed her childhood growing up in the golden years after the Cuban revolution. Along with her friends, they were provided by the state with healthcare, a good education, housing, jobs and a few free meals a day. They were part of the generation of pioneers played innocently without leaving aside a proud responsibility: to build up the new Cuba. But the fall of Berlin’s Wall and the Soviet Union around 1990 introduced the well-known “special period” in the country and a path downhill. Camila left Cuba and moved to France. It was a very different journey than her father, but it was probably an equally difficult decision.

In 2005 Camila returned to Cuba to make The Sugar Curtain (2006, original title El Telón de Azúcar). In this documentary with the support of EICTV at San Antonio de los Baños (the legendary film school where Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Greenaway were among other visiting filmmakers), she contrasts the country of her childhood dreams with the present in decline. Between testimonies, photographs, old and new footage, and a meticulous recollection of friends, the film sadly depicts not only an impoverished country but also a whole lost generation now living abroad spread around in many countries. With her own narration she takes the main role and control of the project, also co-producing, co-editing, shooting and of course writing and directing. Such an intimate portrait has her stamp in every stage of the process, and this a fundamental point that it is visible during the whole piece: it isn’t a documentary about the golden era vs. the present from an objective point of view but from Camila’s own experience. Far away from a debate about Cuban history or the exclusive truth, this is a very personal memoir, and that’s one of the most compelling elements.

Nevertheless, this is also a film that couldn’t be possible without all her friends, most of them still in touch with her. They remember the old times with a mix of bitterness and happiness, they talk about Cuba today, they share their anecdotes. They revisit many places; they are present even through calls or videos sent from other countries. Among all they recreate this witness, which is also a lament for the end of that dream. For Camila Guzmán Urzúa a new dream comes true through the realization of this film, and another dream could be realized if she can show her film in the Habana International Film Festival the next December. She still misses Cuba, her sugar curtain. She luckily lived the best part, and unfortunately lived the worst. I also still miss the island, and I was there only two weeks. For many persons it’s about a curtain. For others it’s about sugar. For some people a radical change is urgent. For other, the “Vamos bien” sign (we are going well) near the José Martí International Airport is an example. In any of the sides, the feeling is strong.

"Today more than ever I realized that my crying is not about pity but about happiness; it's also about helplessness: For my dear ones who are not present when I travel and enjoy, when I grow up alone. For all the people still waiting. They are not happy today, probably they won't... ever. When something is chosen, other thing stay further. Nevertheless I still travel, I still choose. I will live you again, dear Habana; mulata posing for me, land exciting me. Today I say goodbye with bitter melancholy, and although this desire brushes agony, I continue traveling, I continue choosing. I am already suffering you, I am already loving you."

(Written for Cinema Tropical)

The Sugar Curtain (El Telón de Azucar)
Writer and Director: Camila Guzmán Urzúa
Spain/Cuba/France, 82 min.
In Spanish with English subtitles

Starts Wednesday July 25, One Week Only!
The Pioneer Theater
155 East 3rd Street (between Avenues A & B)
(212) 591-0434
But tickets now

Jul 9, 2007

The Parable of the Live-In Crisis

In every crisis there is an opportunity. Those who aren't paralyzed by melancholy and fear will take advantage and adapt to new changes. Those who resist changes or ignore them will be condemned to fall to pieces. That's the case of Beba (Norma Aleandro), who in the midst of the Argentine economic and social crisis of 2001, still believes that the best way to face hard times is living like in good times and to show off to maintain status. She can't do anything without her maid Dora (first-time actress Norma Argentina), who with the slow transformation of Live-In Maid (2004, original title Cama Adentro) will become something else than a maid.

Debutant director Jorge Gaggero goes through a few interesting challenges with success. First of all, he puts together an inexperienced actress with probably the most talented in Argentina. It means working in rehearsals and shootings in many different levels of communication. This was reflected in the great performances, especially in Norma Argentina who didn't seem novice. Secondly, he makes the decision to not use a music score at all, taking the film to a simpler and pure character-driven story, which also forces a situation where every aspect of the storyline and script must be precisely executed. Finally, he uses the macro crisis in a subtle way, without turning it into the main character and excuse. Thus, it functions as a background that enriches the micro crisis in the characters and helps the evolution of the women's relationship.

The story turns into a parallel experience where the power relation between Beba and Dora balances, many symbols emerge from this plain tale --at first sight-- and new layers are revealed: the mud mask, the looks in the hairdresser, a mute security camera, a birthday cake and some other special moments make us reflect and get deep into this lesson of life and friendship. Dora cries in a restaurant. Beba, despite all... dances. The outskirts vs. the city,  a difference of classes and a separation that seems like a divorce undress dignity in both of them.

In every crisis there is an opportunity. Imitation and negation comes to an end, and change is a fact--one more time. Sometimes the new stages after adaptation can be dramatic or worse. Sometimes they divulge a very particular way of love. Sometimes they carry prizes in Sundance and Tolousse, a great reception in Argentina, an invitation to screen in the prestigious Film Forum, and an amazing review in The New York Times. Beba and Dora are not the same, and probably Jorge Gaggero, and many of the filmmakers and artists that went through the Argentine crisis neither. The director himself may have learned many lessons from his first feature. The audience too: in an industry exhausted of ideas and multi-millionaire remakes, the best thing that can happen is crisis.
(Written for Cinema Tropical)

Live-In Maid (Cama Adentro)
Director: Jorge Gaggero, Argentina/Spain, 2005, 83 min.
In Spanish with English subtitles

Opens Wednesday, July 18, for two weeks.
Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street
www.filmforum.org  (212) 727-8110
Showtimes: 1pm, 2:45pm, 4:30pm, 6:20pm, 8:10pm & 10pm

*Filmmaker Jorge Gaggero in person! Wed/Thu/Fri Jul 18-20 at the 8:10 shows

Jul 2, 2007


Federico Uribe is a sculptor, painter and artist originally from Colombia, now living and working in Miami Beach. He studied art at "Universidad de los Andes" in Bogotá and then continued studying in New York. Destiny crossed him with a Puma's executive in an airplane, who learned that Uribe's art is based on everyday objects (baby-bottle nipples, plastic forks, coins, cleaning supplies, screws, etc). The shoes manufacturer gave him some samples to see what he could do, and after blowing their minds with some samples they offered him thousands of shoes and shoelaces. I was lucky enough to walk into the Puma Design store in the Meatpacking District, New York, the same day the exhibition was opening. Drinks, great food, a provoking live African rhythm, and the artist himself in the middle of his urban jungle. I forgot about the walls and cement to enter into a new dimension.

This exhibition was first displayed at Art Basel Miami Beach 2006, and then adapted to the Chelsea Art Museum, where it will stay until August 18. Although the Museum itself doesn't want to classify it, they name the Pop Art as a possibility, and an idea of the human impact on the planet. That's where the never-ending paradox lies: the shoes manufacturers hurt the environment, the damaged environment hurts the animals, the artist takes what the manufacturers create to re-create a new environment for the animals, which though it's incredibly beautiful, it has the manufacturer's stamp on each animal.

A month after I was at the exhibition I'm still thinking this interwoven concept-content-aesthetics. Like fire-marks in livestock, the countless Pumas are a conscious reminder that they are part of this exhibition, an invitation to buy and even love (or hate) the brand. But if you stay enough time to open your mind and give yourself to a complete stimulation, you will find above and beyond all Uribe's pure instinct, sensitivity, and vision. Is this really a call of urgency to save the planet? Is this a new sport sponsored by Puma? Is this a master class of installations? Is this a philosophical puzzle beneath the surface? Go deep into this magic jungle and ask yourself. But don't ask Uribe... he is another animal in the jungle. And a very special one.

"Human Nature" by Federico Uribe
Chelsea Museum of Art
56 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011
tel 212.255.0719 
e-mail contact@chelseaartmuseum.org

Open Tuesday through Saturday Noon to 6pm - Thursday Noon to 8pm
Closed Sunday and Monday
$6 adults, $3 students and seniors, free for members and visitors 16 and under