Cinema

The Depiction of Disability in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (Part Two)

Click here to read part one: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2022/03/05/the-depiction-of-disability-in-almodovars-live-flesh/

Part Two: Carne trémula (Live Flesh)

“I have never evoked Franco’s Spain before. I wrote the prologue for narrative and dramatic reasons but, really, there was also ‘something’ I needed to tell. Twenty years ago, I took my revenge on Franco by not acknowledging his existence, as if he never existed. Today I think I can’t forget that period, which is still relatively recent. That’s why there are two births in the film: the first is a city besieged by fear, and the second in a city full of people and happiness, that has forgotten fear. This optimistic ending in a story that has an obvious air of tragedy is like a breath of fresh air. – Pedro Almodóvar on Carne trémula (Live Flesh) (Duncan 2017)

The Shooting

The opening shot of the film is text declaring a state of emergency in Franco Spain and freedoms of speech, residence, and gathering have been suspended.

We next see text that reads, “Madrid, January of 1970.” A young prostitute named Isabel (Penelope Cruz, in her first collaboration with Almodóvar) gives birth on a public bus to a son she names Victor. Mother and son become minor celebrities, Victor is named an honorary citizen by the mayor of Madrid, and both are granted free lifetime bus passes by the transit company. The day Victor is born, Madrid is like an eerie ghost town, and it is pure chance (Almodóvar explores the motif of chance heavily in this film) that Isabel’s madame (Pilar Bardem, real life mother of Javier Bardem), was able to stop the bus when there was no other traffic or activity on the street.

The film jumps twenty years to 1990 and we see Victor (Liberto Rabal) working as a delivery person for Pizza Hut. Victor has fallen for a woman, Elena (Francesca Neri), with whom he had sex with a week ago in the bathroom stall of a nightclub. Elena conveys to him on the telephone that he has confused sex with love (odd since his mother is a prostitute and he will later reflect on how many “tricks she had to turn” to earn the inheritance she leaves him). Elena, who is hooked on drugs (addiction is an often-recurring motif in Almodóvar’s films), wants nothing to do with Victor, and when he shows up at her apartment, she carelessly waves a gun to scare him away. They get in into a scuffle and a shot is fired, and a neighbor calls the police. No one is affected by this gunshot.

The two police officers who respond, David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (Jose Sancho), are friends and colleagues who are in the middle of their own crisis. Sancho is an abusive drunk and believes that his wife, Clara (Angela Molina, who will later play Cruz’s mother in Almodóvar’s 2009 film, Broken Embraces), is having an affair and suspects David of being her lover. When they arrive at Elena’s building, Sancho wants to storm the apartment while David is more sensible insisting that they follow procedure and call for back up. Sancho, the senior officer, refuses to do this. As Victor is peacefully leaving Elena’s apartment, Sancho storms the door and Victor, in a panic, impulsively picks up the gun and holds Elena hostage.

David tries to calmly defuse the situation and get Victor to drop his gun. Sancho repeatedly exacerbates the situation by threating Victor. David shockingly points his gun towards Sancho’s head and eventually gets Sancho and Victor to put down their guns. Victor lets Elena go free and David instructs her to flee. As Elena passes David, the film goes into slow motion: their eyes meet, and they have an intense moment of mutual attraction. Because David is momentarily distracted by Elena, Sancho lunges for Victor, and as they wrestle for the gun, it fires off.

Prison and Paralympics

The film jumps two years to 1992. Victor is in jail and while in the rec room watches a wheelchair basketball game featuring David who is now paralyzed from the gunshot. David is a star player in the 1992 Paralympics[1] and Elena, who is now his wife, watches, and cheers from the sidelines.

Victor is bitter watching this on television but has made the most of his time in prison, earning a degree via correspondence and exercising body and mind[2]. While Victor is in prison, his mother dies of cancer, but leaves him a house, (in a neighborhood amid what looks like an American style 1950s “slum” clearance program) and a small inheritance.

The film then jumps four years to 1996 and Victor is released from jail. As Victor is walking and relishing in his freedom, he sees a billboard for Champion athletic wear with David soaring in his wheelchair while playing basketball. Victor, under his breath, bitterly says, “Even when you lose, you win.” Two days later Victor visits his mother’s grave. By chance, David and Sancho are there for the funeral of Elena’s father. Victor boldly walks up to Elena and offers his condolences leaving her stunned. Before leaving the cemetery, Victor meets Sancho’s wife Clara (who looks a lot like a 1990’s version of Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate), also by chance, who has arrived late for the funeral. They leave together and she gives him a ride home. Victor and Clara establish a cautious relationship that will later evolve into an affair.  

“Even when you lose, you win.”

Money and Virility

Elena, who comes from a wealthy family, is now off drugs and running an orphanage that houses several children with Down Syndrome. The orphanage is friendly and inviting, but humble. We also see Elena and David in their expansive and expensive apartment equipped with its own basketball court and wheelchair lifts. This stands in stark contrast to the orphanage where we see a scene depicting one of the workers asking for her salary (“I have not been paid in two months”) and her supervisor conveying that they still have not gotten funds from the government. The message here is crystal clear: money makes disability easier.

We next see Elena helping David with a bath. It turns into a sexual encounter, and we see that David is paralyzed from the waist down as he is only able to perform oral sex on Elena. Curiously, just after she climaxes, she chooses that very moment to tell David that Victor was at the cemetery. Was she sexually stimulated by virile Victor?

While David may not be able to sexually perform completely in bed, he is not about to be bested by Victor. After Elena’s revelation, he later barges into Victor’s house and warns him not to go near his wife. Victor challenges him, but David punches him below the belt (in the area where he cannot perform). Before they could get into a real brawl, they momentarily put their differences aside when they both happen to catch and comment on a key moment in a soccer match on television and briefly share a chuckle silently conveying that they could have been friends under different circumstances. David then composes himself and sternly warns Victor to stay away from Elena. Victor then taunts him by dropping to the floor and doing clapping pushups, showing off his sculpted physique.

A visual motif that is seen often in Almodóvar’s films is macro photography, where he focuses the lens very closely on details. For example, in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios(Women on the Verge), we see the inner workings of a film projector; in Todo sobre mi madre(All About My Mother), there is an EKG machine and macro shots of the paper feed; in Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), we see the leading man using a computer that reads to the blind. In Carne trémula(Live Flesh), we see David, after leaving Victor’s house, go to his car, which is specially equipped to be completely driven with his hands (again, money makes disability easier as he does not have to rely on public transportation), and go through the motions of getting into the car and then dismantling his wheelchair. It is a lot of work and a lot of details and Almodóvar makes certain that the audience knows it. David will later convey how he now must constantly look down to make sure that he does not get any dog feces on wheels. After David goes through the ritual of getting into his car, he sees Clara arriving and watches them from a distance. We later see Clara talking with Victor agreeing to teach him how to make love while concurrently showering him with gifts and affection. David begins to regularly spy on them and secretly photographs their rendezvous (a detail Almodóvar missed here was having David use a telephoto lens—instead his lens looks like a wide angle).

Revelations and Truths

Victor starts to volunteer at the orphanage Elena runs. He applies when she is out of the office and the credentials he earned in prison, qualify him for the position. He works well with the children and the staff appreciate this as well as his many other technical skills, such as basic plumbing. When Elena discovers that he is there, she objects but cannot give a sound argument against Victor working there. David continues to follow Victor (both are deft stalkers) and discovers that he works at the orphanage. He confronts Victor again, and Victor denies responsibility for firing the shot that disabled him. Victor then demonstrates how Sancho made him squeeze the trigger because Sancho knew David was having an affair with Clara (Victor found this out during a rendezvous with Clara).

David later conveys to Elena, while they are smoking marijuana[3], what Victor said, admitting that he was indeed having an affair with Clara. Elena is appalled, but still plans to leave the orphanage to get away from Victor. The following day, Victor tells Elena that his original plan of revenge was to become the world’s greatest lover, make passionate love to Elena, and then abandon her. But he changes his mind because he now loves her too much. After this, Victor breaks up with Clara. Distraught, she nearly sets Victor’s home on fire while cooking a meal. The image is quite powerful: Clara is in hell: no more Victor and she is stuck with the abusive Sancho.

Later, while Victor is working the overnight shift at the orphanage, Elena arrives to remove her belongings from the office and offers Victor a night of passion on the condition he never contact her again. Their night of love making is lengthy and in blunt contrast to the earlier hasty scene with Elena and David in the bathtub. As dawn breaks in Madrid, Elena cries realizing she is in love with Victor.

David returns from a trip in Seville that morning and Elena then tells him about her infidelity. She also conveys that she will remain his wife because he needs her more than Victor does. Bogdan and Taylor note that an accepting relationship is one between a person with a deviant attribute and another person, which is of long duration and characterized by closeness and affection and in which the deviant attribute does not have a stigmatizing, or morally discrediting, character. (Bogdan 1987) Elena’s motives for wanting to stay with David are curious. In fact, I wish the film had explored how they came together. We see that moment of intense attraction the night that David was shot, but I have always wondered how their relationship evolved. Does Elena really love David? Or was she with him out of guilt because what happened was a result of her drug use? Bogdan and Taylor noted that typical people who are in caring relationships with people who are different de-emphasize the negative aspects of the person and stress the positive. Elena seemed to be doing this until she learned the truth about David and Clara.

The Fatal Shots

Even though Elena has conveyed that she will stay with David, he is still hell bent on avenging himself against Victor. Meanwhile, Clara has decided to leave Sancho. He confronts her, but she shoots him with his own gun and escapes. David later arrives and helps Sancho clean his bullet wound before showing him the photographs he had been taking of Victor and Clara. We then cut to Clara writing a passionate farewell letter to Victor. As she is writing it, Sancho and David arrive. As Sancho pounds on the door, she details the play by play in the letter she is writing. She finishes and gets up to meet Sancho at the door and they have one final confrontation at gunpoint and fire at each other. Clara is killed and Sancho is wounded. Sancho unable to live without her, kills himself. Here Almodóvar brilliantly recreates the suicide scene in Hitchcock’s Spellbound[4].

The film jumps several months to the Christmas season and in a voiceover, David reads a letter written to Elena from Miami, where he is spending Christmas with friends: he apologizes for the way everything turned out. At the orphanage, we see Victor working on an elaborate Christmas decoration when he is suddenly interrupted by a pregnant Elena who is going into labor. On the way to the hospital, she and Victor get stuck in a traffic jam. Victor reflects on the circumstances of his own birth 26 years earlier and tells his unborn child that the Spanish people no longer live with fear as they did on the day he was born. The film comes full circle and concurrently celebrates Spain’s journey from the repression of Franco to the open society of today (though lately, in 2021, I have seen that as in the United States and Brazil, extreme conservatism in Spain is trying to make a comeback).

Next month we will conclude with parts three and four.

www.edwinroman.com

Works Cited

Antonio, Sánchez Cazorla. 2010. “The Politics of Fear.” In Fear and Progress Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1975, by Sánchez Cazorla Antonio, 18-49. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bogdan, Robert, and Taylor, Steven. 1987. “Toward a Sociology of Acceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance.” Social Policy 34-39.

Del Cura, Mercedes, and José Martínez-Pérez. 2021. ““Childhood, Disability and Vocational Training in Franco’s Spain during the 1950s and Early 1960s.”.” History of Education Review 50 (2): 241–57.

Duncan, Paul. 2017. The Pedro Almodóvar Archives. Köln: Taschen.

I Wanna Grow Blog. 2018. Cuantas plantas de maría puedo tener legalmente en España. July 5. https://www.iwannagrowshop.com/blog/cuantas-plantas-de-maria-puedo-tener-legalmente-en-espana/.

Juridicas, Noticias. 2013. Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2013, de 29 de noviembre, por el que se aprueba el Texto Refundido de la Ley General de derechos de las personas con discapacidad y de su inclusión social. November 29. https://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Privado/517635-rdleg-1-2013-de-29-nov-se-aprueba-el-texto-refundido-de-la-ley-general-de.html#t3c1s1.

Malaga, Sociedad Federada Personas de. n.d. Nuestra Historia. https://sfsm.es/nuestra-historia/.

Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.

McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).

Newtral. 2019. Esto con Franco no pasaba: bulos sobre la dictadura. November 20. https://www.newtral.es/esto-con-franco-no-pasaba-bulos-sobre-la-dictadura/20191120/.

Orgánica, Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y. 2019. Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica. June 12. https://www.cocemfe.es/informate/noticias/18-millones-de-personas-con-movilidad-reducida-dependen-de-la-ayuda-de-terceros-para-salir-de-su-casa-y-100-000-no-salen-nunca/.

Reverte, Jorge M. 2010. “La Lista De Franco Para El Holocausto.” El País, June 20.

Seguin, Christopher Blow & Denis. 2019. The Dictator’s Playbook: Francisco Franco. Directed by Mark Stevenson. Produced by David, Kate Harrison, Michael Rosenfeld, and Matt Boo Brady.

Sotinel, Thomas. 2010. Masters of Cinema: Pedro Almodóvar. Paris: Phaidon Press.

UNESCO, Fundación Mutua de Propietarios. 2018. La accesibilidad de las viviendas en España. Madrid: Fundación Mutua de Propietarios / UNESCO.

United Nations. 2019. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


[1] Disabled sports in Spain have a long history. In 1917 there were sporting events for the deaf. However, because of the unrest in Spanish society during the 1930’s due to the civil war and Franco’s subsequent terror, matters regarding disabled sports were quiet until the 1950s when the Spanish Red Cross organized disabled sports opportunities in the country, that included the first Olimpiadas de la Esperanza (Olympics of Hope) held in Tarragona. Spain competed at its first Paralympic Games in 1968. ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles), in 1986, became the official organization for organizing Spanish representation in international blind sporting competitions. (Malaga n.d.) Here, I considered readings regarding adjustment talk and couldn’t quite get it to jibe because the Spanish language is more straightforward and not as nuanced as English in that the Spanish language has far fewer homonyms than English.

[2] Based on Almodóvar’s depictions of prison, the Spanish penal system appears to embrace humane rehabilitation: one scene in Hable con ella (Talk to Her), a guard notes that they don’t use the word inmate but instead use the word intern.

[3] In Spain, the sale and importation of any quantity of cannabis is a criminal offence, punishable by jail time. The purchase, possession, and consumption of cannabis in a public place constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and confiscation. Consumption and cultivation by adults in a private space is legal, the latter due to a legal vacuum and provided that it is shown to be for one’s own consumption. (I Wanna Grow Blog 2018)

[4] Almodóvar had previously used musical cues from Psycho and Vertigo in Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón and used other Hitchcock motifs in his film as well as professing in interviews his admiration for Hitchcock.

The Depiction of Disability in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (Part One)

Part One: Franco Y Almodóvar

“According to Amnesty International, Spain has the highest numbers of mass graves in the world after Cambodia.” Guy Hedgecoe (Seguin 2019)

One cannot explore the films of Pedro Almodóvar without considering how his art was molded by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. It is also necessary to explore Franco to understand contemporary views of disability as well as Almodóvar’s portrayals.

Coup and Dictatorship

During the 1920s there was significant labor unrest, which was exacerbated by the Great Depression in the 1930s, and these things polarized Spanish citizens. The February 1936 election brought the leftist Popular Front government to power. Extreme-right wing fascists responded in July of 1936 with a coup attempt that eventually fostered a civil war. One side had the conservative Nationalists, led by Franco, who were largely made up of devout Roman Catholics, military leaders, landowners, and businessmen; the other side, were the leftist Republicans, who were largely made up of urban workers, agricultural laborers, and the educated middle class. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco marched across Spain leaving a colossal trail of death, encouraging his army to brutally kill anyone who was leftist. Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, notably captures the death and destruction on the Basque town of the painting’s namesake. After the civil war ended in 1939, Franco remained in power until he died in 1975. (Seguin 2019)

Franco’s reign was marked by sheer terror. The first two decades of Franco’s rule following the civil war saw continued repression and the killing of an unspecified number of political opponents that is estimated to be between 15,000 and 50,000 individuals. (Antonio 2010) Documents were discovered in 2010 showing that he ordered his provincial governors to compile a list of Jews while he negotiated an alliance with the Axis powers to later facilitate efforts to deport and destroy them. Other atrocities committed by his government included kidnapping the babies of leftist women (known as the lost children of Francoism) and having them raised by Catholic families and monasteries. (Reverte 2010)

Economic Policy and Disability

Franco’s economic policy of autarky, envisioned self-sufficiency through the state control of prices and industrial development within an insulated national economy severed from the international market. Labor, considered a fundamental factor for economic development, was given an important position Franco’s political agenda. Projecting a putative Catholic work ethic provided the means by which the regime could exercise its power. The Fuero del Trabajo (Jurisdiction of Labor), taking cues from FDR’s New Deal, operated in Spain as the fundamental legislation that the Franco regime was going use to address the “problem” of disability. (Del Cura 2021)

Industrialization in Spain was a noticeable phase in the historic development of addressing disability. Franco considered disability to be an obstacle to performance of work and had to be included in the general measures directed at regulating and controlling the performance of productivity. Evidence of this can be seen in the steps adopted regarding health and safety in the factories and the recovery of victims of accidents that had occurred at work. Regulations were largely aimed at preventing and addressing disability via workplace accidents. The regulations fostered occupational medicine which reinforced the idea of disability as being congruent with the medical model (The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences, while the social model says that disability is caused by the way society is ordered). It also fostered the idea that the human factor had an important responsibility in the making of accidents and encouraged an image of the victims as being guilty of their invalidity. (Martínez-Pérez 2017)

Interestingly, the most powerful contemporary disability organization in Spain dedicated to a physical disability was formed during the Franco dictatorship. The Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish National Organization of the Blind), or ONCE, was formed after the Spanish Civil War as a way of supporting the wounded and those who became disabled because of the war. Over the years it has become an umbrella-organization for the needs and rights of the physically disabled. (Newtral 2019)

“Jefe del Estado” Franciso Franco

Post Franco Spain and Almodóvar

Spain transitioned to a democracy after Franco’s death in 1975 and the change from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy saw the adoption of a new constitution, reforms, and an influx of younger people into politics and trade unions. Not surprisingly, democracy proved to be a more tolerant for those who had had suffered marginalization and exclusion under the Catholic and machoistic Spanish society of Franco. Censorship was gone and there was a significant increase in the production of literary, musical, and cinematic works. During the 1980s, identities of gender and sexuality that were excluded by Franco, notably women and the LGBTQ community, were celebrated, in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. (Sotinel 2010)

When Almodóvar arrived in Madrid in 1967, Franco was still in power, and, of course, the repression was also cultural. Franco’s rancorous regime had been inimical to the avant-garde movie aesthetics of the 1960’s. However, by the time Almodóvar showed up in Madrid, Franco was in his mid-seventies, and the stranglehold on artistic expression was loosening in the major cities and universities. (Sotinel 2010)

Almodóvar began directing feature films in the late 1970s. He was part of La Movida, a post-Franco counterculture movement, and we can see this time reflected in early films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Average Girls); Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion); and ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! (What Have I Done to Deserve this?) His early films were transgressive, not unlike John Waters’ early work, and featured transgender people, bondage, rape, and a lot of drug use and sex. They often blurred the lines between funny and repulsive as well as high and low art. As Almodóvar’s career continued to progress, his films continued to blur the lines between comedy and drama as well as LGBTQ and straight. In 1985, Almodóvar and his younger brother set up their production company, El Deseo (The Desire). Almodóvar’s films are produced on very humble budgets and creating his own production company allowed him the freedom to shoot scripts chronologically, which is not a common practice. Almodóvar feels that a chronological approach produces more convincing performances. (Duncan 2017) The first film he produced via El Deseo was Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) which was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Almodóvar would win an Oscar and a Golden Globe a decade later for 1999’s Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother). (Sotinel 2010)

Pedro Almodóvar’s films reflect Spanish culture in passionate amatory and quixotic terms through a filter of studied cinematic philosophy: Hitchcock, Fassbinder, and Sirk are the benchmarks for Almodóvar to convey Spanish identity. This is embodied in Carne trémula (Live Flesh), which was loosely adapted from a Ruth Rendell novel (Almodóvar’s first time adapting material) and released in October of 1997. 

Next month, in part two, we will delve into the film.

www.edwinroman.com

Works Cited

Antonio, Sánchez Cazorla. 2010. “The Politics of Fear.” In Fear and Progress Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1975, by Sánchez Cazorla Antonio, 18-49. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bogdan, Robert, and Taylor, Steven. 1987. “Toward a Sociology of Acceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance.” Social Policy 34-39.

Del Cura, Mercedes, and José Martínez-Pérez. 2021. ““Childhood, Disability and Vocational Training in Franco’s Spain during the 1950s and Early 1960s.”.” History of Education Review 50 (2): 241–57.

Duncan, Paul. 2017. The Pedro Almodóvar Archives. Köln: Taschen.

I Wanna Grow Blog. 2018. Cuantas plantas de maría puedo tener legalmente en España. July 5. https://www.iwannagrowshop.com/blog/cuantas-plantas-de-maria-puedo-tener-legalmente-en-espana/.

Juridicas, Noticias. 2013. Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2013, de 29 de noviembre, por el que se aprueba el Texto Refundido de la Ley General de derechos de las personas con discapacidad y de su inclusión social. November 29. https://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Privado/517635-rdleg-1-2013-de-29-nov-se-aprueba-el-texto-refundido-de-la-ley-general-de.html#t3c1s1.

Malaga, Sociedad Federada Personas de. n.d. Nuestra Historia. https://sfsm.es/nuestra-historia/.

Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.

McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).

Newtral. 2019. Esto con Franco no pasaba: bulos sobre la dictadura. November 20. https://www.newtral.es/esto-con-franco-no-pasaba-bulos-sobre-la-dictadura/20191120/.

Orgánica, Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y. 2019. Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica. June 12. https://www.cocemfe.es/informate/noticias/18-millones-de-personas-con-movilidad-reducida-dependen-de-la-ayuda-de-terceros-para-salir-de-su-casa-y-100-000-no-salen-nunca/.

Reverte, Jorge M. 2010. “La Lista De Franco Para El Holocausto.” El País, June 20.

Seguin, Christopher Blow & Denis. 2019. The Dictator’s Playbook: Francisco Franco. Directed by Mark Stevenson. Produced by David, Kate Harrison, Michael Rosenfeld, and Matt Boo Brady.

Sotinel, Thomas. 2010. Masters of Cinema: Pedro Almodóvar. Paris: Phaidon Press.

UNESCO, Fundación Mutua de Propietarios. 2018. La accesibilidad de las viviendas en España. Madrid: Fundación Mutua de Propietarios / UNESCO.

United Nations. 2019. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Film Review: Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé)

“Peut-on vivre d’un souvenir?” (“Can we live on a memory?”)

Last month I began a subscription to the streaming service MUBI. I wish I had done it sooner. MUBI, which was founded in 2007, offers an ever-changing collection of selected films from around the world, introducing one new film every day. MUBI also produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and established filmmakers. This is the third review I have written since subscribing. Recently, I had the absolute joy to watch the 1968 French Film, Wall Engravings.

Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé is the French title) was written and directed by Guy Gilles and tells the story of Jeanne, a young woman reflecting on her relationship with Jean. Jeanne loves Jean deeply, but he only thinks of leaving as he can never truly embrace happiness (the film succinctly explores the couple’s respective psychologies). One day, he leaves and then dies. Jeanne will never know the truth because her father is keeping it a secret because he is worried about her state of mind. In Jean’s absence, she remembers him and confides in her friend Pierre, detailing their stay in Provence. She asks, “Can we live on a memory?” In this film, love is interrupted by departure (death) and explored from an obsessive untangling of the past. The past that is explored is brief and slowly becoming opaque for Jeanne.

The film’s direction and cinematography are nothing short of breathtaking. The scenes shot in black and white are in the present while those in color narrate moments from the past. It embraces still photography and reminds me of a time when we able to contemplate actors and scenery without constant cutting and excessive movement of the camera.

I also want to applaud Macha Méril’s brilliantly understated and restrained performance as Jeanne: she truly comes across as someone deeply hurt trying to keep it together. I found myself later wondering if Jeanne would ever find out about Jean’s death and how she may have reacted to it. I even wondered who Jeanne, an artist, would have become and who she might be in 2022. Did the loss of Jean foster her art? Death, in a way, is an act of living in art (and cinema).

If you have ever had a short, but passionate, love affair that you never got over, you will not want to miss this film.

edwinroman.com

Film Review: Red Moon Tide

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

The concept of pure cinema has roots in silent film, when filmmakers had to tell a story visually without spoken dialogue. Red Moon Tide is indeed pure cinema for the 21st century: it was filmed on a digital camera and does have dialogue, sound, and music but employs it parsimoniously. It is a feast for the eyes. My lone regret is that I did not see it in a movie theater, but via the streaming service Mubi (but I am thankful for that).

The film is set in the Galicia region of Spain and revolves around the disappearance of Rubio, a fisherman who believed a sea monster was responsible for diminished fishing (as opposed to overfishing or pollution) and hunts it down. Rubio is a local legend in his own right, known for recovering the corpses of shipwrecked sailors. In his absence, the town literally comes to a standstill. Most people in this film essentially stand still (except for three witches), while life around them goes on: horses run, birds sing, water trickles and crashes. Rubio’s story is recounted poetically in voiceover by the residents of the Galician village.

“The sky at night is a black sea.

The stars, bright fish.

The moon, a monster.”

“The monster is the sea.

It has been sleeping for centuries.

We are its dream.”

The film gives you a lot of consider, exploring the power of mythology, nature, the illusion of nature being tamed and humanity’s place in a world that will go on whether we are here or not. A recurring motif in the film is a whale shark and it forced me to consider all of the sharks fished out of the water each year, their fins cut off, and then cruelly thrown back into the water to die a truly painful and slow death. Perhaps humans are the real monsters?

“That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.” – Martin Scorsese*

Camille Paglia, in Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, noted in the introduction how the modern eye is constantly exposed to flashing images everywhere via mass media (she wrote that even when one is pumping gasoline, there is often a television screen on top of the pump). Paglia states that we must relearn how to see and find focus: “…The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception—best supplied by the contemplation of art.” I want to applaud the director, Lois Patiño, for fostering pure cinema in a digital world ruled via smartphones by embracing and incorporating elements of still photography. In today’s movie market, too many films are made for those with short attention spans using cutting and camera work does not allow one to consider composition, scenery, and the actors. This film allows you to do all that and more. I feel fulfilled and will always remember this film as a masterpiece in my personal history of cinema. I hope that somehow, someway, this film is released in American theaters. We need less smartphones and more slow looking, focus and the grandeur of the movie screen.

edwinroman.com

* P.S. If you have previously read my blog, you know I also love all things comic books and superheroes, but that is not all I consume. I concurrently love popular culture and high art. They can and should co-exist in your world of entertainment and education.