Fernando Frías directs an incredible film full of emotional depth and nuance that exceeds all expectations.
The last time I wrote to you all I was stuck inside a home because the world outside was falling apart, and not much has changed since. I am still very active on the podcast and starting season two of The Cinema Condition soon. This year in film has been filled with a lot of movies but a lot of them were not available to the public, so my year in film has been slow for the most part. Throughout the year I have watched some great films like Bacurau (2020), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), Sound of Metal (2020), and of course Tenet (2020). I was convinced for the most part that nothing would top my then favorite film of the year, Bacurau (2020). I was incredibly wrong.
I’m No Longer Here (2020) or Ya no estoy aquí (2020) looks at the life of Ulises a 17 year old boy who is part of a gang named “Los Terkos” (“The Stubborn”) as he is exiled from his community after a misunderstanding. Ulises then goes to New York City as he lives in Queens and begins to navigate his new life as a foreigner in a new world. This journey is met with discrimination, self doubt, and an identity crisis. It all blends to create my favorite film of the year.
It is so hard to not approach these films as a Latino but especially a Latino who is a son of immigrants. It is also so hard to not approach this film as someone who very much understands the eternal struggle of a Latino who at times does not really understand their identity. At one point I thought I understood the concept of Latinidad but since then I have lost much grasp of it. Ulises is like a lot of the people I grew up around, we were into different music, from some of the worst neighborhoods you did not want to step in, wore different clothes, did our hair differently from what was expected from us, and because of that we were easy targets to be bullied. When we were not bullied we were used as symbols and for others to use for their own gain. We did not fit a mold and we were never supposed to fit that mold.
I did not have the life that Ulises had completely but I knew a lot of people in México who were living there especially in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon in 2010-2013. They were too exiled from their land but instead of street gangs it was their government who pleaded them to come over to the United States because of the government’s incompetency to handle the situation at hand. Life became harder and the land of opportunity they thought they would be introduced to was just not there for them. Once again they were discriminated in this other part of the world for being them.
What Fernando Frías does with all these aspects is create a beautiful but heartbreaking story that is often too real for others. The cinematography is fluid and beautiful especially with its naturalistic lighting. The Kolombiano music included works so well to create the atmosphere and ambiance of what makes Ulises unique and a free spirit. The sense of community is felt throughout the whole film. The dread of being seen as weird and “the other” is heartbreaking. The pain of coming back to your land but seeing that the landscape of its people has been changed forever and it is not the land you were exiled from. Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño gives us a truly nuanced and beautiful performance as Ulises. The non linear aspect of the film works well with the structure especially if you think about it as Ulises remembering his life back then while in Queens. Everything works and it all creates such a beauty that speaks on so many levels.
Ya no estoy aquí (2020) is the official selection from México for the Best International Film category at next year’s Oscars. Watch Ya no estoy aquí (2020) on Netflix.
Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) is a relentless horrific masterpiece that is a mandatory watch to understand the horrors of human ugliness.
Usually, when one experiences a nightmare one at least wakes up from it, they will wake up in a sweat and tormented by what they experienced in their nightmare. If the nightmare was a one-time thing then you will go on with your day unfazed. There are also those nightmares that haunt you forever and you can never forget even if you try to. The atrocities depicted in Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) are a nightmare but they are nightmares that the people of Belarus never woke up from.
Come and See (1985) follows Flyora a young Belarusian boy who joins the Belarusian Partisans in their fight against the Nazis in 1943. Soon after Flyora’s village is exterminated he embarks on a journey that introduces him to the horrors of war. Throughout the film, you see atrocity after atrocity and it all effects and ultimately changes Flyora. From the first time you see Flyora to the last, you are witnessing a completely different person inside and out.
The film is masterfully directed by Elem Klimov, everything from the cinematography to the sound design and score formulates one of the most harrowing pieces of art I have seen since Polytechnique (2009) last year. The atrocities presented on the screen even though they are heavy to sit through are important to watch. I like many people in the United States never learned about these atrocities committed against the Belarusian people. Movies, like Come and See (1985), should be seen by everyone 17 and above in a history classroom setting. We must watch and learn from this part of our history as human beings. It is what we owe to those who had their villages burned down by soldiers who followed a hateful and outright evil ideology.
My life is forever changed after watching this picture, and I do not think I will ever be the same after watching this. I will have the Criterion Collection Blu Ray on my shelf as I wait for a time to rewatch it that may or may not come back. One thing is for sure, Come and See (1985) is truly the greatest war film of all time but not because it is a spectacle or a glamorization of these events. This film shows what we as humans are capable of and is a call for peace while also being evidence of these terrible moments.
Happy Together (1997), is a beautiful and sensual film from Wong Kar-wai that is a special achievement from the incredible director.
There is not a lot of filmmakers that I can say that I fell in love with their work just one movie in. Now having watched Chungking Express (1995) and In The Mood For Love (2000), I can say that Wong Kar-wai has definitely made it to one of my favorite directors of all time. Even though those two films are hard to top it does not take away from this heartbreaking but sensual piece of art. Wong Kar-wai once again shows me that there is something so special to the way he crafts his movies. There is a sort enticing but saddening aspect about Happy Together (1997) that pours out of the screen when you watch it.
The film revolves around a turbulent romance between its protagonists, Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-fai as they live in Buenos Aires, Argentina after moving from Hong Kong. It is filled with beautifully stylized love scenes and stunning chemistry between the two actors. You can totally feel the romance between the two of them, but most importantly you can feel the heartbreak both feel not being able to be there for each other. Both of them even though similar in ways are completely different opposites that attract.
The film combats homophobia, sex work, love, loneliness, obsession, and heartbreak on top of more minor themes. Kar-wai never fails to show the ups and downs of their relationship while creating a stylized piece of art. Everything from the music choices to the coloring choices makes the movie as exquisite as it feels. The picture never fails to depict its characteristics while also aiming to create something different from other romance films.
It is not as great as In The Mood For Love (2000) but it is also not a bad film by any means. I am sure that Wong Kar-wai does not even know what it means to make a bad movie. All three of these movies form him feel special, and they are all filled with something to fall in love with throughout its runtime.
Watch Happy Together (1997) on the Criterion Channel. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.
Satoshi Kon crafts a masterpiece of a film that will not just be remembered in anime but as a piece of cinematic art.
Way back when before the pandemic hit on The Nerd Corps, we covered Millennium Actress (2001) from writer/director, Satoshi Kon. If you listened to the episode you know that I did not find that film anywhere close to being great. I thought it was convoluted and very disorganized in its story structure. Since then I had not watched another film from Kon and I was scared to possibly write this man off after just watching this one film (which you should never do).
Well, Perfect Blue (1997) is incredible from start to finish and never stops gripping at you. The film is constructed through the eyes of our protagonist, Mima Kirigoe, as she retires from her Japanese idol group and pursues her career in acting. We see the good and bad sides of this career as she encounters people obsessed with her and willing to cause her harm. Some of those causing her harm are those exact people within the film industry who are supposed to help her. The nuances of the film are so carefully crafted to create a picture that is so within the style of Kon’s framework.
The film deals with various themes such as obsession, voyeurism, and the harassment of young women within a male-dominated industry. Satoshi Kon perfects the blend of fantasy and reality within the film. Along with excellent writing and direction, the film features an incredible score, exquisite sound design, and profoundly beautiful animation that brings these characters to life. I am sure that this will end up in my top ten at the end of this challenge and in my top five anime films of all time.
Perfect Blue is available to stream on Hoopla through your public library or can be rented on all major movie watching platforms. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.
Edward Yang’s 1986 film is an intricate piece of art that’s nuances and beauties might not be apparent at first but stick with you long after you’ve seen the film.
I have always heard of Taiwanese New Wave Cinema and probably the most notable director in the movement, Edward Yang, but I never decided to actually venture into him or this genre of film. Of course, there is a lot of movies and director in this challenge that I have never watched, but there was something about Edward Yang that was pulling me to him. This film has three groups of people that interact with each other as they maneuver a changing Taiwan not just politically but economically. The world is becoming more and more difficult for the youth to maneuver with globalization and money at its forefront.
To be quite frank, most of the time a movie like this would seem a bit too convoluted to me but that was not the case for The Terrorizers (1986). The message is so clearly there and filled with various nuances. I am sure the more films I watch from Yang, the more I will learn to appreciate this one a bit more. It is beautifully shot and directed with interesting characters who truly feel like a page out of Taiwan at the time with its changing landscape. The film poses this odd feeling of a documentary, as if it is a slice of life film but then returns to its odd story structure. I am hesitant to call this a masterpiece, but I am sure with time there will be more to dissect and analyze. Along with its brilliant writing, directing, and cinematography the film also features fantastic performances that truly give life to these characters Yang writes. My favorite being the novelist wife of the doctor who feels as she is caged by her own life and wants more out of it.
I am sure as time goes by I will learn to appreciate my introduction of Taiwanese New Wave cinema more and even the work of Edward Yang. This is a film that deserves more time to consume and a lot more time to think about. I will say this though, Edward Yang has a way of turning such a small scale story and making it grand. There was never a moment in this film that I did not feel that it did not feel as important as it is, and that is a testament to the filmmaker that is Edward Yang.
Watch The Terrorizers (1985) on Prime Video. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.