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Brody Morelia Diary Day 1: Discovering Mur Oti, Binoche and Ramirez's 'A Coeur Ouvert'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood November 6, 2012 at 12:15PM

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was calm compared to the one I took from the Berkeley Hills to Oakland – and thence to the San Francisco Airport – once I realized that the e-ticket itinerary I’d printed out that afternoon was not for the Sunday night redeye flight I’d requested, but Saturday night – i.e., three hours hence. And I was not yet packed. And had arranged for a ride 24 hours later. And had never done quite such a stupid thing before. At least, not when it comes to travel.
Kiorastami is tributed at Morelia Film Festival.
Kiorastami is tributed at Morelia Film Festival.

“Cielo Negro” (1951) is a melodrama about a young shopgirl, Emilia, who loves the wrong guy and is driven towards suicide by a series of misfortunes including being fired, losing her mother, and going blind. I’m groggy, off and on, but I’m wide awake during the amazing final sequence, unexpectedly intensified when Emilia is about to throw herself off a dizzyingly high bridge and somebody in the audience cries out – I assume from tension. Afterwards Nick and Gary tell me that the man was having a seizure, which I was rather blessedly unaware of, being enthralled by an almost unbearably long traveling shot of Emilia running away from the bridge. It reminded me, improbably, of the similar shot of the keening woman in Tsing Ming-liang’s “Vive L’Amour.”

As I stay in the theater to see the next Mur Oti film, I see the man being carried out on a stretcher. Gary reassures me that he seems to be conscious and alert. (I’m reminded of the time a man cried out when John Travolta plunged the hypodermic needle into Uma Thurman;s chest in “Pulp Fiction” on the opening night of the New York Fim Festival – it turned out he was having a heart attack.)

“Orgullo” (“Pride”) is introduced as “the first Western shot in Europe." How about all those German silents based on the work of Karl May? But that’s a mere quibble: “Orgullo” is a real discovery, a monumentally-filmed masterpiece with overtones of “The Furies,” “Forty Guns,” “Duel in the Sun,” “Desert Fury,” and many others. Lovers Laura Mendoza and Enrique de Alzaga are kept apart by the long feud between their families, whose huge ranches are separated by a river essential in watering their livestock. A drought and range war interrupts their reconciliation and marriage. Glorious Spanish vistas and sequences of torturous cattle drives (and no CGI) are the backdrop for sincere and compelling melodrama. I’m completely enthralled.

The article in “Sight and Sound” that inspired Daniela Michel to program his films was published only in February of this year.  Reading it revealed why Michel had said that “Orgullo” was the first Western shot in Europe -- puzzling to those of us who remembered German cowboy-and-Indian silents based on the work of Karl May. What Mar Diestro-Dipo had written was that “Orgullo” is “the filmin which Mur Oti single-handedly invented the European [italics mine] Western, preceding the success of Sergio Leone by a full ten years.”

I finish the day with a new French film, “A coeur ouvert,” (literally “With Open Heart,” a reference to the characters’ profession of heart surgeon, but to be released, apparently, as “A Monkey on My Shoulder”), with passionate performances by Juliette Binoche and Edgar Ramirez, by actress-director Marion Laine – not to be confused with her earlier film “A Simple Heart,” starring Sandrine Bonnaire. Binoche and Ramirez play a folie à deux couple who wrestle with his alcoholism and her unexpected and undesired pregnancy.

It’s as engagingly overwrought as the previous film couple’s entanglement, and a fitting end to a stressful day that began almost exactly 24 hours earlier with Mr. Toad’s Mad Ride. I walk hotelwards through the light rain – good movie-going weather.

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, Reviews, Reviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.