High Museum of Art: Films

ALAMAR by Linda Dubler

Alamar screens on Friday, September 24 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre.

By Linda Dubler. Interview by David Jenkins.

Alamar means “to the sea” in Spanish, but to those who don’t speak the language, it’s a word that suggests the rhythmic pounding of waves and the incantatory power of a magic spell. The film, made by Pedro González-Rubio, opens our 25th Latin American Film Festival, and is unlike any Mexican movie I’ve seen over the many years I’ve been programming the LAFF.  It’s a hybrid of fiction and documentary, and in its grace, purity, and ravishing beauty, it’s an antidote to the pervasive darkness we find in both life and cinema these days.  
Jorge and Natan in Alamar


Alamar is a love story about the relationship between a father and his young son and their connection to a way of life and a place that seem to be timeless, but are in fact fragile and endangered.  Jorge, who has the profile of an Aztec warrior and the body art of a modern hipster, is calling it quits with his son’s mother, who will be taking Natan with her to live in Rome, Italy. But for a few weeks, Jorge and Natan will spend time together in a fisherman’s shack on the Gulf of Mexico, a place called Banco Chinchorro, which is home to an unspoiled coral reef. Along with an older man who Jorge addresses as “grandfather,” they’ll catch barracuda with nothing but a nylon line, hook, and bait, dive for lobster, sleep in hammocks, and court the attentions of a beautiful white egret that Natan names Blanquita — the only female in their manly company.

How much of Alamar was pre-meditated and how much unfolded in front of the camera? On the screen the film looks organic and completely unstudied.

This interview with the director, which originally appeared in Time Out London, reveals his working process. The young Mexican director explains his dreamy father-son fishing trip movie to David Jenkins.

 Mexican-born director and London Film School graduate Pedro González-Rubio made his debut in 2005 with ‘Toro Negro’, a documentary about a hapless bullfighter. His new film ‘Alamar’, which picked up the top prize at the 2010 Rotterdam film festival, blends elements of documentary and fiction to tell the story of a young boy’s visit to his fisherman father.

 What sort of techniques did you learn at film school that you used in ‘Alamar’?

‘Film school is good. They teach you the basics, the technical aspects of filmmaking. But it doesn’t teach you taste or give you interests. That comes from your own creativity, life and experience. I enjoy finding out about places and people who are not part of my everyday life.’

 Which elements of the film did you write and which were real?

‘I came up with the idea of the trip. I also came up with the story. I didn’t write any dialogue – that’s why there hardly is any. I wanted to portray how the bond between father and son would get stronger and stronger than suddenly, when you least expect it, they get separated. When it came to the earlier scenes, where the boy is packing his bag for the trip, my direction was hands-off. I wouldn’t tell them where to sit or where to stand: they would just do it naturally. I was more like a guide.’

 Can you tell us about the father?

‘Even though it feels like he comes from the area where the film is shot, it’s not true. He comes from a village in the jungle. And he doesn’t fish. The location was very important for me as it’s a very visual film and I believe that a lot can be said with a good image rather than with dialogue. I like to portray the inner qualities of the characters and the location: the innocence of the kid, the purity of the landscape and the expansiveness of nature.’

 Did the presence of your camera affect the performers?

‘Not really. A bit for the father. He was very conscious of us and of his role. But when I focused more on fishing and on the physical activities in the film, he appeared more comfortable.’

 The impression from Europe is that directors from Mexico form an ad hoc community. Did any other directors help out with ‘Alamar’?

‘Yeah, there’s a filmmaker named Elisa Miller. She saw my work-in-progress and she told me what worked and what didn’t. She’s seven years younger than me. She made a film called “Ver Llover”, which won the short film Palme d’Or Award in Cannes in 2008. I think I am drawn much more to this younger generation, those in their mid-twenties. The older generation would ask me, “Where’s the drama? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the structure?” So I have to tell them that it doesn’t have a structure. I’m trying to use a different language to the norm.’

 Did you feel that the final product achieved what you set out to do?

‘Well, I knew that I wanted to let myself go rather than manipulating the elements in the location. I focused more on adapting to their daily routine and from there constructing a movie.’

 Are you working on a new film?

‘Not exactly. I am working on something new, but I think I’m going explore love from a female perspective. These two films have been about male characters. I think the next one has to be female.’

Review: Ballroom (Latin American Film Festival) by Linda Dubler
Ballroom will be screened on Friday, October 30 as part of the Latin American Film Festival.

All the world’s a ballroom in Ballroom, Lais Bodansky’s prize-winning film about a down-at-the-heels dance hall in Sao Paulo whose clientele is a little frayed around the edges, as well. That’s because they’re mostly AARP-ready regulars who gather weekly to see and be seen. In some cases, it’s implied, it’s the only way a few of them have to affirm that, yes, they are still alive.



Now, that sounds tragic and, granted, a sense of imminent mortality underlies this gently bittersweet movie. But there is humor, too, and the sort of plainly human observations we don’t usually see in standard Hollywood fare. Age spots and wrinkled necks aren’t really the point here. They’re a given. I admit it; you’ve seen this before: the ballroom as a microcosm of life. We see the survivors, who take life as it comes (I couldn’t help but note that a LOT of the women asked to dance are blonde).
But Bodansky demonstrates it’s not always easy to swirl your way into changing your life. Among the many mini-dramas we observe:
• an aging lothario who ignores his elegant regular date when a fresh-faced young newcomer (there to help her boyfriend with the music) arrives on the scene.
• a desperate woman who ages visibly each time she’s passed up by a potential partner (she’s as lovely as anyone, so her situation is much more complicated than an easy Ugly Duckling scenario).
• the mysterious minx — is she tragic or powerful — who prowls  the club like a predatory animal, waiting to pounce (or be pounced).
• the poor gentleman dubbed El Skunko, who dances all the time, every time… alone.


The structure is hardly new; we’ve seen it in dozens of pictures, ranging from Saturday Night Fever to Strictly Ballroom. But Ballroom has a quiet confidence, a killer soundtrack and a cast of actors so natural (and talented) you almost forget it’s not a documentary. Add some terrific laughs and a tender heart and to me, that’s entertainment.

Film Festival of India: Greatest Hits by hmablogmaster
August 31, 2009, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Film Series: High, Top Picks | Tags: , , , , , , ,

If  the High’s  Treasures From India’s National Film Development Corporation has you inspired to put together your own festival courtesy of your local or online DVD outlet, consider these selections shown over the past few years in the High’s Film Festival of India. When I checked, all were available on Netflix so they shouldn’t be hard to find.

The Terrorist
Indie director Santosh Sivan (who began his career as a cinematographer) made this penetrating, visually stunning psychological drama about  a young woman in an unnamed guerrilla group who embraces the chance to sacrifice herself for a cause. As timely now as when it was made in 1999, The Terrorist was inspired by the 1991 murder of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.  It’s a movie less interested in politics than in exploring the question, “What kind of person would choose martyrdom and murder?”



Got a couple of hours? Paheli is shorter than many Bollywood extravaganzas, gorgeous to look at, full of folkloric charm, and its songs and dances seem fresh and unformulaic. Plus it features two superstars: Rani Mukherjee as a bride who’s been abandoned, and Shahrukh Khan in the double role as her workaholic husband and a love-struck ghost who assumes her spouse’s identity.

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Thoughts about Hollywood and Satyajit Ray’s The Stranger by Linda Dubler
Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray

In Our Films, Their Films, a collection of his essays published posthumously in 1994, India filmmaker Satyajit Ray wrote about the great French director, Jean Renoir. As part of his tribute, he asked Renoir, who had fled to California from France to escape the Nazis, what was wrong with Hollywood. Renoir named the star system, the endless codes of censorship, and the tendency to regard film as a mass produced commodity as three major factors. He then added that he felt the best movies are created in times of stress:

“Look what the war has done to Italian films. Look at Brief Encounter. I don’t think a great film like that would have been possible without all those air raids London had to suffer. I think what Hollywood needs is a really good bombing.”

Of course, in Hollywood parlance, a bomb has a totally different meaning. But I can see what Renoir is getting at. Hollywood is fat, dumb, and happy — happiest of all during the “high seasons,” summer and the holidays. What would Ray –or Renoir, for that matter– have thought of movies like G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?

Ray’s final film, The Stranger, showing at the High tonight (August 22) in the Hill Auditorium at 8 p.m., doesn’t have a single robot or explosion. It doesn’t have the acuity and passion of his masterpiece trilogy, The World of Apu, either. But the director was ill when he made it. What it does have is Ray’s customary compassion and seemingly effortless technique.

The plot is simple — a variation on the stranger among us. A well-to-do Calcutta housewife named Anila receives a letter from a man claiming to be her uncle who disappeared 35 years ago, when she was a toddler. In it, he asks if he may come and stay with her for a few days. Her husband is immediately suspicious. Uncertain, Anila nonetheless allows Uncle Mitra into their home. He turns out to be a total charmer with extraordinary tales about his world travels. Still, he must deal with a stream of interrogators as family, friends, and neighbors try to find the truth.

What strikes me most about The Stranger is, if you didn’t know Ray was 70 when he made it, you’d mistake it for a young man’s work. The film has a kind of Sixties idealism in its plea for universal brotherhood and fascination with simpler cultures. Anila’s uncle is an exemplar of these attitudes, and they are again embodied in her young son, who is enchanted by the elderly man’s stories about America’s Indians.

That small boy was played by Vikram Bhattacharjee, who is now a 28-year-old research scientist living in Philadelphia, PA. Bhattacharjee’s family moved to the Atlanta suburbs when he was ten, and he’ll be present at the High’s screening to share him reminiscences of working with India’s most acclaimed director.

Eleanor Ringel Cater

A Special Appearance during The Stranger by Linda Dubler

Saturday, August 22 in the Hill Auditorium at 8 p.m.
Meet Vikram Bhattacharjee

Vikram Bhattacharjee, who portrays the charming little boy captivated by the mysterious visitor in Satyajit Ray’s The Stranger, will be our special guest for the August 22nd screening of the film, which is presented as part of Treasures from India’s National Film Development Corporation.

Vikram with Satyajit Ray

Vikram with Satyajit Ray

Vikram  was born in Kolkata and lived there until he was ten, when his family came to Atlanta. About a year and a half before their move, he had the opportunity of a lifetime:  India’s most celebrated director, Satyajit Ray,  personally selected him from a pool of aspiring child actors to play the role of Satyaki in his film.  Vikram spent about six months acting in the production, and was there for the film’s premiere shortly before he left India.

Learn more about The Stranger at High.org >>

In Atlanta ,Vikram adjusted to life in the suburbs, attending school and graduating from Norcross High in 1999.  He went on to the University of Georgia, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 2003. He stayed in the South, attending graduate school at the University of South Carolina where he received a doctoral degree in 2008.

Vikram now makes his home in Philadelphia, PA, where he works as a research scientist. He enjoys exploring the city, spending time with friends, cooking, and reading. His passions include politics and the sports of boxing and football. Though acting is no longer a part of his life, he looks back at the time he spent pretending to be Satyaki as a very fond memory.

Biography  contributed by Ani Agnihotri

In The Garden by Linda Dubler
July 28, 2009, 12:45 pm
Filed under: General, High Museum | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Standing before the shimmering expanse of the largest of Monet’s Water Lily paintings now on view at the High, I’m reminded  — of all things — of Cinemascope, that most immersive of big screen movie formats. It’s true that Monet wanted to create an in-the-round experience with his monumental water lily series, but it’s strange to think of gardens and Scope in the same breath — gardening isn’t really a theme that’s inspired great cinema, epic or otherwise, and the gardener’s greatest asset, unflagging devotion, isn’t a quality that we look for in movie stars.

As a not-entirely-successful tomato grower, I can attest to the fact that the  emotional investment made fighting black spot, root end rot, and gigantic green caterpillars approaches the drama of home renovation, but there’s no digging-in-the-dirt version of Mr. Blanding’s Builds His Dream House or The Money Pit.  The movies are full of hunky male gardeners like Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows, or Marlon Brando in The Nightcomers, a prequel to The Innocents set at a remote English manor (have to admit I haven’t seen it) as well as dotty ladies whose devotion to raising  prize-winning roses makes them objects of fun; the hip counterpart to these genteel matrons is the heroine of Saving Grace, a sweet British widow who turns to raising marijuana after her husband commits suicide.

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The Beaches of Agnes by Linda Dubler
Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda

Just when I thought that I had exhausted every beach-related film theme apart from D-Day, along comes the American release of Agnes Varda’s latest autobiographical film, The Beaches of Agnes. Regulars to the High’s annual spring series French Film Yesterday and Today may remember that we showed Varda’s  similarly personal The Gleaners and I a few years back.

If Beaches doesn’t open commercially in Atlanta (it’s playing now in New York) , I’ll certainly include it in our 2010 edition of FFY&T. But spring is a long way off, so I’ll share a few impressions of the film now.

Though women played a major role as muses to the French New Wave of the 1960s (think Jean Moreau, Anna Karina, and Catherine Deneuve), Agnes Varda was the only female  director in that influential movement. She began her career as a still photographer, taking family photos in a Paris department store to support herself. When she felt the need to add words to her images, she turned to filmmaking.

The elfin Varda, now 81, introduces herself as a someone acting the role of a pleasingly plump old lady, a sly way of letting us know that fantasy and embellishment count as much as documentary truth in her playbook. Standing on the shore with the waves pounding behind her, Varda tells us that she believes that people hold landscapes inside themselves. “If we opened me up we’d find beaches,” she says.  Surrounding her are myriad production assistants, setting up mirrors in the sand. These mirrors capture the water (fluid and changing as memory) and announce the introspective, reflective, and fragmented form that her film will take.
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