The Terence Davies Trilogy (1984)

20 09 2008

Three short films from the great Terence Davies that display the genesis of modern cinema’s most creative and original filmmaker. The first film, Children from 1976, introduces us to Davies’ cinematic alter-ego, Robert Tucker, who struggles under the pressure of a strict private school inhabited with bullies. Quick glimpses of Tucker’s life as a young adult are shown, and they don’t seem to be any better. The next film, Madonna and Child from 1980, presents a new set of emotional struggles for Mr. Tucker. He struggles with his sexuality and his (in)ability to communicate with his surroundings. The final film, Death and Transfiguration, explores the final days of Tucker’s life, while occasionally flashes back to earlier but equally grim moments of life.

The best thing about these three films is that, when stitched together, they do genuinely come off as a single cohesive film. There’s elliptical flashes to the past and to the future in each film, which further blurs any conceptions of what the period is for each individual film. Children mostly depicts its title, children, specifically the childhood of Robert Tucker, but it also features brilliant flashes of the struggles Tucker faces as a young adult. Perhaps all this talk about “struggles” implies that the film is too sentimental or even motivational, but Davies depicts the past with very little fondness. His protagonist never really overcome these struggles, if anything they are all contributing factors to his miserable demise.

Children, to me, is the most curious work included in the “trilogy” as it shows Davies’ rough beginnings. The Davies in this film is not the deeply personal and poetic Davies in The Long Day Closes or Distant Voices, Still Lives. Instead, he is a bit more conventionally minimalistic. Yasujiro Ozu’s influence is stamped over most of Davies’ work, what with the 180 shot/reverse-shots with characters talking into the camera, but this early effort shows a much more cautious (perhaps “mature” even?) attempt at emulating Ozu. The static shots of long hallways and corridors particularly evoke Ozu’s cinematic spirit in a subtle way. Overall though, Children seems more along the lines of Chantal Akerman’s early work, which, in my opinion, is just as nice. There is one small glimpse of Davies’ more poetic sensibility at the very end that reminds one just how masterful Davies is when it comes to musical placement.

The next film, Madonna and Child, is only about half as long, which is definitely beneficial. Considering the consistently bleak tone, it is a bit frustrating to watch a young boy harassed for an extended period of time. Of course, much of the content here is autobiographical so I certainly cannot blame for Davies for being abused so often as a child, but I do think Children could have used a little bit of editing. Here, though, the content is all squeezed together in a tight narrative, perfectly organized by Davies. This is definitely a step in the direction to Distant Voices, Still Lives but probably too emotionally extreme to reach such greatness. In this case, though, Davies has his poetic potential present to combat the perpetual dread of Mr. Tucker. There’s one specifically wonderful sequence in which Tucker calls a tattoo parlor asking if he can get his penis tattooed. The conversation, filled with awkward pauses, is presented over a series of fluid tracking shots of a church.

The final film of the trilogy, Death and Transfiguration, may be the darkest in terms of content, but Davies himself is as confident as ever in the director’s chair. The narrative reverts back to Tucker’s childhood days, which are (seemingly) recounted on his deathbed. There are also glimpses of Tucker’s final moments with his mother, which are called back from the bulkiest part of the previous film. There are a few beautiful and musical moments that bring to mind Davies’ most accomplished work. Overall, this is probably the best film of the trilogy, in a technical sense, but watching an old man die after a miserable life is a difficult thing to get excited about. It is executed beautifully, of course, but considering Davies own relation to the Tucker character, it is a bit bizarre to see him die in such a violent (if honest) way.

La Caza (1966)

20 09 2008

Not at all like Carlos Saura’s much more acclaimed Cria Cuervos, which is fine by me as I never really cared much for that film anyway. Really, the only aspect of that film that I would have liked to see here is the very gentle humanistic approach. Cria Cuervos probably felt a bit too fragile, if anything, but La Caza could have benefited from a similar attention and care for its characters. Instead, it’s a vaguely transgressive Antonioni-esque action film that comes out on the positive side of the scales in spite of the fact that it completely abandones the mature “contemplative” vibe for a laughably violent climax. For the most part, though, this is a very good film, another unrecognized work with a strong Antonioni influence.

A group of old friends, Don José, Paco, and Luis reunite after years of seperation for a day of rabbit hunting. Paco’s son in-law, Enrique, tags along, but even he suspects an alterior motive for being invited. The event’s host, Don José, plans to reunite his closet friends for the purpose of recieving financial aid. Paco is a wealthy self-employed business man, and Luis is fairly pessimistic, recently divorced, and devotes most of his time to literature. Both turn down Don José’s call for help, which infuriates everyone involved. The day progresses, and tensions reach a high point – something is bound to happen.

To call reference to something I recently viewed, this does share a lot in common with Jancsó’s Cantata. The obvious reason being the very apparent Antonioni influence present in both films. Overall, Jancsó comes much closer to making a film more in touch with Antonioni’s thematic interests. Alienation and lonliness are only subtly hinted at in Saura’s film, though it’s worth noting that his interests clearly lie elsewhere. It may be a result of watching a lot of westerns as of late, but the way in which the past of every character plays makes up a bulk of the film’s core definitely reminds me of something Boetticher or Mann would do.

Most of the Antonioni similarities lie in the technical rather than in the thematic. Setting a film in a barren, relatively isolated landscape will almost inherently invite comparisons to L’Avventura but the deliberate pace that Saura uses only deepens the similarities. There is a very unassuming vibe going on for an extended amount of time, that is unfortunately destroyed in the film’s final seconds. Still, the lack of drama within the first hour is particularly impressive. The calm landscapes contrast beautifully with the very intimate and textured close-ups on individuals, which brings to mind Teshigahara’s Women in the Dunes, a film that Saura (almost) visually references towards the end. That definitely made me want to reconsider my opinion of Carlos Saura, even though I’d still say that he ended this film in a rather hokey fashion.