Sunday, August 21, 2005

Arts roundup

Dogville remains one of the most riveting pieces of cinema I have ever seen - bare bones, naked, the cinematic equivalent of the Lloyds building's 'truth in architecture'. I'm not sure I fully understood what it was about - I saw the 'she kills them to save them' theme as a parable about humanitarian intervention, but that could just have been me foisting my pre-occupations on the movie. I didn't fully understand it, but I thought it was brilliant. Does that makes sense? (I was also impressed with Nicole Kidman's winning streak - Moulin Rouge, The Hours, Dogville - she was the best thing in Hollywood at the time.) Now we have the sequel, but without Kidman.

Mexican film-maker Carlos Reygadas has a horror of pretence, and of technique in acting, preferring his cast to simply 'be' - hence his decision to use non-professionals. In practical terms, he says, the cast are not told about the story before shooting, far less given the script to read. 'I don't give them any knowledge regarding feelings; I give them spatial and temporal indications, when and where to say things...I tell them to look into the distance and they can do so with their own gaze, expression and feeling. They just are, and they are what they are...' He doesn't like the theatre because of the fact that 'the actors are representing roles'; and he thinks 'most of what we call cinema is not cinema. It's really film theatre...[because] the characters are just technical people representing something.' Sounds strange to me, but Reygadas is placed in the same class as Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Alejandro Gonzalez (Amores Perros), so must be worth watching out for!

While on the subject of Mexico, there is an entire community of bloggers who list, under 'Favourite Films', 'anything with Gael Garcia Bernal'.

Staying with Mexico, the Frida exhibition at the Tate Modern in London is worth a visit. Among the 80 or so works that are on display, I liked the explicitly political works that show her off as a postcolonial artist - a picture of her straddling the border of Mexico and the US, a collage of the US with her empty traditional Mexican dress hanging amidst it all, and another of her sitting in a cafe in Mexico with two faceless men and scenes of tradition and modernity hanging behind her with a portrait of the Mexican revolutionary leader Villa in between. Besides being political, much of the work is very obviously personal - there is much self-portraiture (see Germaine Greer's acerbic essay on this) and there is much pain (something that the Hollywood biopic allowed one to forget because it was so aesthetically beautiful).

Fulfilling a long-cherished dream, the East-West Divan orchestra performs in Ramallah before a packed auditorium ('In the end people were sitting three-deep in the aisles and standing at the sides and the back of the hall, even the great and the good of Ramallah reduced to a perch on the floor.') Founded in 1998 by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, this youth orchestra was intended to give young Arabs and Israelis the chance to work together. Yet it is not a political project and Said is reported to have commented unsentimentally, 'It doesn't pretend to be building bridges and all that hokey stuff. But there it is: a paradigm of coherent and intelligent living together.' I heard them last year and they were fantastic.

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