Note: For a complete list of my favorite films of 2010, please visit my wholly deficient list over at criticWIRE.
Obligatory Repetitive Introduction
In the past, in lieu of ranking movies and being held hostage by the dissonance between the film release calendar and my own experience of the ebb and flow of filmgoing, I have listed my favorite cinematic experiences of the year. I want to get back to that; as the way in which I get to watch movies and talk about them continues to diversify, as the idea of cinematic experience expands to multiple devices, formats, cities, communities, I think this list is here to stay. The age of the theatrical release calendar is dead for me; we’re living in a new time, where the movies can be found in every area of life, from online conversations to your home entertainment system, the back of a car seat to a projection screen at a restaurant, your phone to a portable tablet. So, I am going back to my old model, probably for good; over the next ten days, I’ll be posting my Top 10 Cinematic Experiences of 2010. Not necessarily films (although sometimes), these are the experiences that defined my year in film culture. Subjectivity alert!
4. Post Mortem At The New York Film Festival
My passionate hatred of pathological self-interest and macho vanity has no greater champion than the Chilean director Pablo Larraín, whose 2008 film Tony Manero set the standard for defining the deep, darkly comic connection between personal narcissism and a culture of political violence. The way in which these two concepts, state violence and a personal, murderous pathology, are mirrored and rhymed in Larraín’s films resonates deeply for me. 2010 featured countless examples; the head-stomping spittle and anger of the Tea Party, the permissive culture surrounding the bullying of young people, the granting of credibility and a platform to the murderer of women’s health care provider, the calls for the extra-judicial murder of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, the public support of state-sponsored torture, and on and on. All of that violence an echo of a societal acquiescence to the violence carried out in the name of the our collective “best interest,” all of it invariably tied to the political self-interest of a powerful few.
Chile itself, with its own 9/11 and history of political violence against its own people, provides a potent example of not only the extremes of these parallels, but of a vibrant cinema that is not afraid to confront the nation’s political legacy head-on. 2010 saw Patricio Guzmán deliver another knock-out documentary on the subject of violence and national identity with his extraordinary Nostalgia For The Light (my review here) and Pablo Larraín delivering a knock-out punch with Post Mortem which, for my money, is one of the most devastating films in recent years. In writing about the movie in September at the New York Film Festival, I said:
“Post Mortem maintains the grainy, 16mm texture of Tony Manero and extends that film’s exploration of the equation between masculine ego and political murder; both Tony and Mario wear their private dreams and fantasies as indifferent accessories to the terrifying upheaval that surrounds them, an extension of the permissive disregard for human life that engulfs the Chilean social order and seems to destroy the possibility for rational engagement. Which is not to say that the indescribable, deeply personal violence that takes place in both films is somehow legitimized by the collapse of democratic values, but more that the character’s violence is nothing more than a pathetic echo of the same totalitarian impulse that ripped the nation apart. Larraín draws his equations with sly staging and pitch back humor, using the frame to constantly diminish Mario’s stature and isolate him in his surroundings (this time, eschewing the handheld, prowling intimacy of Tony Manero for a fixed camera and some beautiful framing), and utilizing the sound design to keep us close to Mario’s experience of being almost completely outside of the history exploding around him; when the army arrives at Nancy’s house, Mario is in his own shower, blissfully unaware of the chaos that rages just outside of the frame. Castro’s Mario is a quiet, otherwise anonymous man who does what he is told and experiences his deepest feelings in a state of private suppression, able to eat a constant stream of shit from his superiors and his circumstances until, broken hearted by a quid pro quo transaction that destroys his romantic idealism, he simply snaps.”
Seeing this film in September, just ahead of the midterm elections, was an electric experience for me. But one moment truly lingers, a truly galvanizing scene at the center of the film when Mario and his colleagues at the mortuary are brought in by the army to perform an autopsy on the deposed President Salvadore Allende, the symbol of democratic reform, lying dead from a gunshot wound to the head. The team sucks it up and does the job, but some line is crossed inside of them, inside of Mario, inside of me. It was one of the most important moments I had at the cinema this year, a reminder that passivity is consent.
Pablo Larraín at The New York Film Festival
A final word on the film, again from September...
“Post Mortem exists at the intersection of personal, professional and political destruction on a grand dramatic scale that seems to be something straight out of a Kafkan nightmare. And so, while small, meagre Mario gets his revenge upon the woman who broke his heart, the machines of war carry on around him, as indifferent to his solitude as he is to their devastation. The silent contract is sanctioned.”