Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Caotica Ana (Chaotic Ana) A Film by Julio Medem

Like a malevolent fart criss-crossing three continents, Julio Medem’s latest opus manages not only to soil a great filmmaker’s reputation, but also cause immense embarrassment to viewers who passionately embrace ‘visionary’ cinema, such as this particular writer.
As I watched Medem’s leading lady make stunted facial expressions, while the soundtrack swelled into a worried, multi-ethnic crescendo, I wondered whether the title of the film, ‘Caotica Ana’ (Chaotic Ana) was given to it after it was finished in a bid to alley the viewers’ concerns regarding the director’s state of mind during its making.
Medem, who is widely recognized to be one of the most significant cinematic voices to come out of Spain in the last two decades, is no stranger to sweeping, fable-like narratives that often revolve around his pertinent obsessions on identity, spirituality and fate.
Here, he pushes these obsessions to front and center, composing his film like a fairy tale about a young, beautiful painter from Ibiza (Manuela Velles in her debut) whose artistic talent is spotted by a mysterious patroness, Justine (Charlote Rampling). Justine invites Ana to Madrid to take part in an artist’s residency that looks almost like a parody of Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’. The emotionally open and pure Ana loses no time in connecting with another sexy resident, the Berber artist Said. Even before she can have her first ‘deep’ orgasm, Ana senses a ‘deep’ connection with Said (including his parents and his country), which invades her consciousness like ghosts from his past or to be more precise, like shaky POV footage from a handycam.
Inexplicably, Ana gets hypnotized by one of Justine’s cronies who insists that she is a reincarnation of an ancient spirit or spirits. The trouble is that the freewheeling spirit has a nasty tendency to die violently when she reaches the age of twenty-two. After Said suddenly (lots of sudden things happen in this film) disappears, Ana becomes increasingly concerned about the possibly grisly fate awaiting her. Thus she makes a desperate attempt to run away from her destiny, which naturally only leads her back to the “where it all started” – an ancient Navajo cave… Once at peace with her omnifarious selves, Ana can finally fulfil her ultimate calling as an indomitable being by throwing a very ‘in-your-face’ challenge to Western Capitalism or American Imperialism or God knows who… This penultimate scene must have been directed by John Waters while Medem was on his lunch break since none of the other explanations quite worked out…
When previously attempting a New Agey marathon such as this, Medem had very wisely confined his horizons to very specific locations (usually the Basque region of Spain) and time-frames, precisely fine-tuning the fragile, incandescent connections between his sexy (here is that word again) protagonists and their doppelgangers/past lives/spiritual mates/etc/, insuring that we were never thrown out of the sweet daze of his beguiling stylistic euphorias by some jarringly crude decision.
It would not be an inflated claim to describe all these previous works such as ‘Vacas’, ‘Red Squirrel’ and ‘Lovers of the Arctic Circle’ as major achievements, with ‘Tierra’ sporting such breathtaking mastery of the medium that it begs to be called a masterpiece. All these films are stylistically and structurally baroque to the extreme, rivalling Veronese in the ultimate skill of narrative and retinal mind-games. But even the ludicrously fanciful narrative coils and knots of ‘Sex and Lucia’ are somehow pinned firmly in place, grounded in the gravitas of the performances and a naturalistic script. And this ‘mortar’ is exactly what is missing from ‘Caotica Ana’. It’s not that Manuela Velles doesn’t try her utmost to render Medem’s thematic obsessions into palpable emotions that the audience can connect with or that Charlotte Rampling doesn’t do her best in order to suppress the urge to laugh hysterically while mouthing some of the clumsiest dialogue in recent memory – they simply aren’t fully invested in their roles and it shows. At one point Medem perhaps forgot that it was Velles who was supposed to be acting, not her breasts.
Hence, I couldn’t help but pine for the majestically effortless presence of the director’s ex-muse – the glorious Emma Suarez, whose mere smile in ‘Red Squirrel’ was enough to make me want to move to the desolate Basque country and grow wine.
By constantly operating on the level of metaphors and robbing his characters of their right to exist as something other than mere ciphers, Medem unstitches his clothing to reveal something utterly naked, blatant and somewhat unhinged. The sight, to say the least, is not pretty. The lack of critical perspective exhibited here usually points to a highly personal, confessional nature of the film and sure enough, Medem dedicates the film to his deceased sister (whose paintings are used in the film) and daughter – both of whom are called Ana. It is almost as if the director has attempted to convince himself of soul’s immortality by creating this cinematic ode to the female spirit. But what should have been poetry ultimately has come out looking like a training video for a fanatical occult society. Naturally, I’m somewhat alarmed that Tom Cruise might have seen this film…  
But of course, the underlying problem is not the philosophy or the thematic concerns of the filmmakers – otherwise Leni Riefenstahl wouldn’t be in the collection of Museum of Modern Art. It always comes down to aesthetic decisions and the execution of the idea. And Medem’s fatal mistake is the foolish attempt to tell this fairy tale in a relatively straight-forward, linear manner resulting in a film with an acute case of mistaken identity. Had the director pushed his hyperboles further and more outward into that dangerous twilight zone populated by filmmakers such as David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowski and Guy Maddin, he just might have gotten away with a Spanish ‘Inland Empire’, which surely isn’t as bad as having a particularly painful case of cinematic diarrhoea.
‘Chaotic Ana’ (in its English translation) is released on DVD courtesy of DV1, who have provided an almost pristine transfer of the film. The 16x9 enhanced, progressive image looks very crisp indeed, only occasionally lacking detail in darker scenes. Since the film was shot on high definition cameras there are no film artifacts to speak of. The subtitles are thankfully removable and very easy to read. There are no worthy extras to speak of. Medem had shot a short film with his daughter Ana prior to embarking on this feature and it would have been nice to see it included.  But this being only the second English-friendly release of the film so far, we’re not complaining (about the DVD that is).
Vigen Galstyan 2009

1 comment:

G. "Buzz" Ware said...

Boy oh boy, you really missed this one. One might say that your 'review' was more gaseous than the film itself!
This was a terrifically textured exploration of the subjugation of the feminine spirit through the ages.
The fim clearly shows that the love between parents and children is usually more powerful than that of lovers! The arc of Ana's Fate that was unwound by Medem was truly amazing and original. The use of the art school friend as a art videographer was a most clever device and very informative for the audience and a compelling use of parallelism. Fabulous film!