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"japón" (2002) - carlos reygadas
posted on 24-Aug-2003 by anton
a remarkable debut by mexican director carlos reygadas, a story that is both strikingly simple and filled with most profound pathos.

one can instantly see the similarities to kiarostami (or perhaps an intentional nod, a homage to the iranian director) - the story of a man seeking peace before the suicide in the remote rural area of mexico is a direct reference to the "taste of cherry," the use of non-professional actors suggests kiarostami's usual blend of fact and fiction (very (deliberately?) obvious in "japón" during meta-cinema moment, when the "actors" address the camera crew filming them).

where kiarostami weaves a delicate thread of interconnecting meanings, playing with the perception and the role of the viewer, reygadas resorts to the primal means, leaving metaphysical interpretations entirely up to the audience faced with the most basic concepts of life, death, time, nature.

the camera assumes a neutral viewpoint, showing the violence and the beauty of everyday life (chubby kids, local drunks, cripples, copulating horses, chiseled faces and ragged skin - there are a number of scenes that are incredibly moving and equally incredibly hard to watch). the film balances between pretentious and profound, somehow managing to find the right tone, equally avoiding overly obvious juxtapositions or indulgence in the "exotica." compared to meditative and subtle kiarostami, "japón" is much more carnal and rough, and yet it attains a sublime quality, a certain purity and innocence, or perhaps a sense of timelessness and distance when things become so simple, so light, with the vibrancy of life contrasting the (unspecified) existential pain of the protagonist.

the camerawork is amazing, these gritty washed-out textures, overexposed and grainy, with blinding light and long panoramic shots of desolate canyons with the background sound of wavering steps and unsure breathing, with close-ups of tattered skin, and of course the final tracking shot - an absolutely fantastic sequence that borders on surreal, set against arvo pärt's "cantus in memory of benjamin britten"; the camera stops abruptly with the last muted note of the composition.

allusions to tarkovsky or kiarostami do not seem to be understudies, but rather conscious references that (just like stylized camerawork and music by shostakovich, bach, and arvo pärt) are built upon, relying on viewer's familiarity with this context. "japón" is most ambitious work, but it rings true because the director is not afraid to take the risks and follow through.

I have recently watched a number of "new age" "world" videos (steve roach or "baraka") - it is interesting to compare their glossy, measured and indulgent "exotica" with brutal and poignant simplicity of "japón."

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