May 2017 discussion films

Producer’s Film Picks for May 2017
The theme for this month – Bolivian Sunsets: Fading Lights Trilogy

Theatrical release

The Lost City of Z (2017)

TFC25
Written and directed by James Gray.
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland.

“The Lost City of Z cannot compare in intensity with Herzog’s film, with its magisterial delirium. But, in his own way, Gray is as unremittingly obsessed as Herzog. He recognizes that Fawcett’s folly mirrors the magnificent obsession of filmmakers who are driven, however unsuccessfully, to fulfill the furthest reaches of their art.

“Fawcett was sent in 1906 to eastern Bolivia by the Royal Geographical Society in order to map the previously uncharted border with Brazil. Leaving behind his pregnant wife, Nina (a fine Miller), he takes in tow an old Army buddy, Henry Costin (a bearded, almost unrecognizable Pattinson), and sets out on a cartographic mission that inevitably becomes much more than that when Fawcett uncovers ancient pottery shards and other evidence that, he is convinced, point to the existence of an earlier, heretofore unimagined civilization in the Americas.

“The idea that this civilization would predate Britain’s is one of many reasons why his findings are routinely dismissed by the poobahs of the Royal Geographical Society, who, despite their lauding of Fawcett’s heroism, sniff at his lowborn origins. Fawcett and his crew encounter natives in the jungle both hostile and helpful; in one of the film’s stirring mini-set pieces, he leads his men in a chorus of ‘Soldiers of the Queen’ as they, on a raft, are being shot up with arrows. He does this not to assert a moral superiority but, rather, as a gesture of amity.” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

“The compositions are frequently beautiful—he shot on 35mm film—and the soft edges of celluloid smooths the image as if the film itself is a long-lost artifact. The sequences between the South American voyages could have been perfunctory. Nina objects to Percy leaving for years at a time, and their son Jack (Holland) outright resents his absence. But the mannered dialogue has a way of elevating the emotional stakes—each word carries significant heft—and the actors all strike a superb balance between heartbreak and stoic resolve. By the time Percy embarks on his third journey to the Amazon, now bringing Jack with him, the Fawcetts coalesce into something grander than a family. They realize they’re extraordinary, both in fortitude and resolve, and Gray has enough skill to have us share in their desire for glory.” Alan Zilberman, Washington City Paper

“At the same time, the physical toll of exploration and combat is rendered in sweat, gangrenous limbs, and what Herzog himself, speaking of jungle sounds in the documentary Burden of Dreams, called ‘the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder.’ In following a man caught between worlds, Gray’s approach isn’t as contradictory as it sounds. As a British army officer who’s served with distinction in far-flung locales, Major Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) should be more decorated than many of his peers, but as one officer dryly puts it, ‘He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.’ Given the chance to achieve higher rank, Fawcett accepts the perilous assignment of mapping out the border between Bolivia and Brazil, two countries locked in a dispute over rubber resources.” Scott Tobias, NPR

“He didn’t choose to explore the Amazonian jungle, he was sent there to fulfill a mission that was neither of his choosing nor of his preference (he wanted to see combat). He fulfilled his mission dutifully, found his sense of purpose inflamed by the idea—and the slender evidence—of the lost city, and his desire to find it is fuelled by an intense humanistic rationalism. Percy’s devotion to discovering the Lost City of Z doesn’t dance with exotic visions of golden towers but treads with an unusual yet pedestrian sense of decency—he seeks not its glory but its workaday complexity, less El Dorado than an Amazonian Manchester. He’s looking to rediscover the traces of a vanished society in the hope of overturning facile hierarchies and replacing them with respect, honor, and wonder at the achievements of distant peoples in the distant past—a society that, for all its cruelty and ferocity, embodies secrets and experiences that are lost to modernity. (Like The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z features one of the greatest last shots in the recent cinema—and this one captures those contradictions with a majestically imaginative gesture.) The mission involves chaos, turmoil, trouble—but Percy’s vision, his efforts, and his reports are models of poise, purpose, and precision.” Richard Brody, New Yorker

“This is as mysterious as his disappearance. The Lost City of Z is here to remedy that, though it’s not likely to have the impact of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is not an action movie but an adventure of the intellect and of the heart, and it’s not so much about the science of mapmaking and the unraveling of forgotten history as it is about what drove the mapmaker and historian. Filmmaker Gray — who based his script on journalist David Grann’s 2009 book about Fawcett — has moved far away from the New York City that has been the setting for all his previous films, including such marvels as Two Lovers and We Own the Night, but he retains his focus on character over plot, on cause over effect, on the journey rather than the destination.” MaryAnn Johanson

“These elements that ordinarily clash are married together with precision, allowing humanity and nature to co-exist in a dream-like state, even while humanity is at war with itself. The film’s immaculate design and near-mythic approach to its surroundings bring to mind Apocalypse Now, the obvious comparison given each film’s subject matter, but a relevant one as The Lost City of Z plays like a direct, life-affirming response. Not only does it strip away the fantasy element of what we normally associate with adventure films (that’s not a knock on Indiana Jones, merely a return to what came before it), but it posits exploratory obsession as a central tenent of the human condition, as opposed to some sort of affliction.” Siddhant Adlakha

Archival films
Che: Part Two (2008)

TFC26
Written by Peter Buchman and Benjamin A. van der Veen. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Franka Potente, Santiago Cabrera, Demián Bichir, Kahlil Mendez and Rodrigo Santoro.

“Soderbergh’s guerilla-style filmmaking lends a grittiness to Part Two that puts you in the action with Che and his fighters battling government troops in the streets of a city and in the dense jungles of Bolivia. Che’s death is handled in a documentary-like manner that is the expected, and well-known, culmination of Che’s years of fighting oppression. I give it a B.” Robin Clifford

Blackthorn (2011)

TFC27
Written by Miguel Barros. Directed by Mateo Gil.
Starring Sam Shepard, Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier, Dominique McElligott and Padraic Delaney.

“Playing the aging outlaw Butch Cassidy, Sam Shepard is the nominal star of Blackthorn, and he’s fine – grizzled and laconic in the best western tradition. He keeps getting upstaged by the cinematography, though.The movie’s an international coproduction that marks the feature directing debut of Spanish screenwriter Mateo Gil (Open Your Eyes, The Sea Inside); he and director of photography Juan Ruiz Anchía filmed in the high country of Bolivia, and the thin mountain air seems to have seeped into the camera.” Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Screenings:

The Lost City of Z is currently showing at The Grand Cinema.
Che, Part Two will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, May 5 in the Center for Spiritual Living (206 N. J St).
Blackthorn will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, May 12 in the CSL.

The TFC Discussion Night for these three films is Wednesday, May 17 in the CSL.

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