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Film Festivals

I can see the DVD/Blu-ray blurb already: “Rashomon meets Irreversible meets Y Tu Mama Tambien!”  Alas, Alberto Rodriguez’s After never quite reaches the aesthetic or emotional heights of those cinematic touchstones, despite borrowing liberally from their filmic language and tropes. Relying on a chronologically-recursive narrative to make more profound what seems to be, on the surface, a shallow character study of three hard-partying Spaniards, “After” can be seen as both a cautionary tale and fantasy for people on the verge of midlife crises.

“After” also continues a proud Eurofilm tradition of more-or-less average-looking middle-aged guys (Tristan Ulloa and Guillermo Toledo) paired- (or in this case, triod-) up with a younger knockout female lead (Blanca Romero). The gist of this love triangle goes like this, one guy wants the girl, but the girl wants the other guy, who doesn’t know what he wants. We follow their frustrated ménage-a-trois through the especially Spanish ritual of la marcha – drink, drugs, and debauchery till dawn.

Long a staple of coming-of-age films, artsy indie erotica, or R-rated comedies, the crazy club-crawl usually features pretty young things unburdened (albeit temporarily) by the demands of reality or human physiology. What makes “After” seem relatively refreshing is how it shows full-grown adults to be just as capable of (and just as consumed by) making absolute messes of themselves in pursuit of that elusive emotional or chemical high. It also manages to properly dramatize how each shot and snort take a far more evident toll on flesh that’s past its prime, and how the real world never really goes away, even if you can escape or put it on hold for a few hours. There’s a genuine lived-in world-weariness to the film’s tone and spirit that shows it was clearly made by and for real adults, not precocious twenty-somethings just playing at being all decadent and jaded.

Knowing that this film was conceived and written before 2009, one also realizes that it’s a time capsule of a Spain that doesn’t exist anymore, a snapshot of the twilight of a more carefree, confident country, just before the economic mierda hits the abanico.

The film definitely falls into that narrow navel-gazing genre that deals with White People/First World Problems, thus its relevance seems particularly questionable considering Spain’s current fiscal situation and the fact that it’s being shown at a festival in a developing country. But as another film favourably reviewed on this blog had been accused of celebrating “bourgeoisie juvenilia”, and its cinematic worth eventually defended, lack of perceived relevance doesn’t make crises or emotions any less human or sincere. Spanish star Guillermo Toledo, who’s made his mark in more comedic roles, is featured in the film’s most searing story arc. Despite the set-up and character being generally unsympathetic, his portrait of a man hitting emotional rock bottom rings true, and stays with you as the most hauntingly affecting aspect of the film. Heartbreak and disillusionment truly are universal tragedies, no matter the context.

– This film is currently being screened as part of Pelicula, the 11th Spanish Film Festival in Manila. For more information check out: http://www.pelicula.ph

A review by Fabian Mangahas.

Before the start of the film, Olivier Assayas spoke to the audience in the theater. While this film is not autobiographical — he shared — I thought about my mother while making this film. It felt like an   invitation from the director to look at his film with a more personal eye, and to think about our own dear families.

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The movie unfolds simply, but it is a multi-layered exposition, almost documentary, on family memories. The perfect French matriarch — elegant, lovely, warm, intelligent and strong — is the repository of it all. Helene knows everything about the major artistic figure of the family, Paul Berthier. She knows her uncle’s history, his artwork, his network of artist friends, and the provenance and value of all paintings, sculpture, books, furniture, and objects d’art that her uncle collected during his life. They are more than just catalogued or listed in ledgers; they are thoroughly embedded in the daily life of the family’s summer home outsideParis.

And since these objects have been present (or loomed over) the lives of the family for so long, when Helene suddenly passes, it is difficult to decide what to do with them. What should be sold, kept, donated, auctioned? Ultimately, what is of value and who determines what is of value? A lot of the burden seems to fall to the eldest son, Frederic and much of the movie’s development falls from his conversations with his siblings Adrienne and Jeremie, who have effectively left France to make their lives elsewhere in the world.

The film is a little unusual in that none of these trying conversations are particularly heated or emotional. They are always civil, but I give credit to Assayas at how he subtly teases out how each of the children’s lives and values are different from that of Helene’s. At first there seems to be no issue or blame on the final decisions the three siblings come up with, but two powerful characters in the movie give the viewer at least some pause. First is the longtime housekeeper, Eloise, who is the strongest argument for keeping the past together. Second is Frederic’s daughter, who at first seems to disdain the past, but in fact has deep feelings for it. Neither character is part of any decision on what to do with the summer house, but their quiet sadness, particularly Eloise’s, argues if any of this was fair to begin with.

* * *

The movie is a treat, and unfolds rather than progresses towards a conclusion. At approximately 1hr and 40 mins, it is just the right length.

L’Heure d’été (Summer Hours) and other movies by Olivier Assayas are currently showing in the Citi-Rustan’s French Film Festival. The festival runs until June 17, 2012. Admission is free.

I was treated to a wonderful surprise yesterday at the Citi-Rustan’s French Film Festival when a friend and I went to see Olivier Assayas’ L’heure d’été (Summer Hours). Assayas was there to introduce this movie, saying that while the film’s not completely auto-biographical, he was thinking of his mother while making it. He wanted to tap into the grieving process and see what can be passed on and what we can’t. It was truly a sublime movie that dealt with a lot of things — art, posterity, death, loss.

Check out the rest of the film festival. Admission is free.