Sunday, September 09, 2012

WILD AND PRECIOUS (2012, Bill Mousoulis, A+15)

WILD AND PRECIOUS (2012, Bill Mousoulis, A+15)

There are many things I like in this film, including:

1.How the film surprises me a little bit about its focus. At the beginning of the film, I thought the film would focus solely on Greece's economic crisis, which I think may or may not be the beginning of the end of the economic and financial world as we know it. The first segment of the film, which touches on Greek crisis, made me assume wrongly that WILD AND PRECIOUS might be a good companion piece of COSMOPOLIS (2012, David Cronenberg, A+30), because both COSMOPOLIS and the news about Greece's economic crisis capture my current fear--the fear of the collapse of the financial world and the capitalist system.

But later on, I'm not sure what is the real theme or the main message of WILD AND PRECIOUS. The film turns to focus on a few aspects in the life of Giulio, an Italian cinematographer working in Greece. At the end of the film, I find that what I'm impressed the most in the film is the various shots of cats and dogs interspersed throughout the film, though this is not at all the main focus or the main message of the film.

2.How the film portrays both the political problem and the personal problem intrigues me a little bit. I have seen only three films by Bill Mousoulis, so I'm not sure what the main characteristics of his films are. But I like the humanistic quality of BLUE NOTES (2006) and WILD AND PRECIOUS very much. Maybe his humanistic tendency is one reason why WILD AND PRECIOUS doesn't focus solely on the economic crisis and doesn't turn out to be as intellectual and political as COSMOPOLIS. WILD AND PRECIOUS doesn't try to analyze the Greek crisis. You can learn much more about the Greek crisis from a newspaper than from this film. But what WILD AND PRECIOUS does very well is to observe what happens in Greece, including things which may not be newsworthy at all, such as  the Riot Dog or daily lives of Greek people. Instead of trying to be the crisis' analyzer, the crisis' participant, the activist or the teacher of the audience, WILD AND PRECIOUS seems to choose to be the observer. And it observes people and characters, both humans and animals, with a tender, nonjudgmental eye.

While COSMOPOLIS makes me feel that the financial world may collapse soon, WILD AND PRECIOUS makes me feel that no matter whether the financial world may collapse or not, our lives are small. However, I don't think this is the main message of WILD AND PRECIOUS, and I don't think the film intentionally wants to make the audience to feel like that. I just want to say that I like both COSMOPOLIS and WILD AND PRECIOUS for different reasons. And I just compare these two films together because COSMOPOLIS is one of my most favorite films of the year, so it becomes my benchmark, and thus I tend to compare other films dealing with financial problems with COSMOPOLIS.

While the main character of COSMOPOLIS sits at the heart of the financial problem/capitalist system and seems not to be a real human being, but an index of a particular state of consciousness or something like that, the main character of WILD AND PRECIOUS is an observer of the economic crisis and seems like a real human being. COSMOPOLIS dissects my fear effectively by presenting us the ridiculousness of our financial world, while WILD AND PRECIOUS makes me stand back a little bit from the crisis and take a look at myself, my other problems, and realize how small my life is.

In conclusion, I think there is no fixed formula about how to balance the political problems and the personal problems in a film. Each filmmaker must find the right balance for each film himself according to the subject matter, the purpose of the film, and the strengths/weaknesses of the filmmaker. I think COSMOPOLIS tends to focus more on the political/social problems, while WILD AND PRECIOUS is more impressive when it deals with the personal problems of the characters. But each of these two films finds the right balance for itself.

3.I also like it that WILD AND PRECIOUS doesn't overdramatize both the political problems and the personal problems in the film. The financial problem of Greece is very worrying, but it is not the job of this film to scare us about that. The film presents us some shots of homeless people and beggars in Greece, and also some scenes of the riots, but these scenes are not overdramatized. The film doesn't exploit the Greek problem at all.

What I like very much is how the film presents the problems of the characters. In a normal mainstream film, we usually see a protagonist facing a big problem and then the protagonist overcoming the big problem in a very dramatic situation. But in WILD AND PRECIOUS, the problems of Giulio are presented in a very realistic, almost non-sentimental, way. He seems to have no big problems in his work. I mean he may have problems in his work, such as how to avoid getting injured while filming the riot, and how to satisfy his employers. But the film doesn't overdramatize these things. Giulio has a problem connecting with his wife and daughter, but the film doesn't try to make us weep for this. His family problems are presented tenderly, but not melodramatically. It is as if the film just presents us a slice of life of Giulio, and in this slice of life, we don't feel too sad or too happy with the characters, and the characters also don't experience an extremely sad, or an extremely happy, or a cathartic situation in this film. This is the opposite of most mainstream films, of which the characters and the audience usually learn a (pseudo) great lesson in life.

4.I also like the character of Irene very much. She seems to be very independent. I'm not sure what she really feels for Giulio. Does she still love him? Does she want to stay with him or not? She seems not to hate her husband, but she also doesn't need her husband to be happy. It is as if she feels okay with or without her husband. I'm not sure if I understand this character or not, but I find this character very intriguing. Does the scene of Irene wandering in the streets imply her loneliness inside? I'm not sure. What I like very much is that she doesn't quarrel with her husband about how he neglects her and their daughter.

5. One of the things I like the most in this film is its digressions from the main plot, such as the one dealing with Tony and his debt-ridden friend, the story about the lost cat Doris, the dying cat, and the Riot Dog. I'm not sure if the subplot about Tony has anything to do with the main theme of the film or not. I also don't know the real meanings of the shots of cats and dogs interspersed throughout the film, but I know that I like them very much, though I'm not sure why.

I think each film presents us how the filmmaker views the world, and when the filmmaker doesn't exclude digressions and stray cats and stray dogs from the film, that also directly or indirectly indicates how he views the world; and this way of viewing the world, when one glances at cats and dogs in the streets from time to time, wondering what these animals might feel or think about, corresponds with my way of viewing the world.

Though I wrote that the film is almost non-sentimental, I have to admit that there's a scene in this film that touches me very much in a very sad way. It's the scene of an old, dying cat. Why does the most touching scene in the film which is partly about the Greek crisis turn out to be the scene about the old cat? I don't know, but I really like it. If the capitalist system that we live in is "a dream", the scene of the old, dying cat somehow presents me a simple truth of life. Everyone must die sooner or later. Everything is temporary, anyway.

6. There are many interesting aspects in WILD AND PRECIOUS, and I think each viewer may find that the aspect that appeals to him/her the most may differ from other viewers. The interesting aspects in this film include how to present a country in crisis in films/TV news programs, and the experience of a person in exile, which may also be inspired by the experience of Bill Mousoulis himself. However, since I have never been abroad (except walking a little bit into Myanmar), the experience of a person in exile in this film is not the thing that touches me the most in this film. What I feel connected with the most in WILD AND PRECIOUS is how Giulio feels torn apart between his work and his family. If he wants to continue working in Greece, he will not have time to spend with his daughter in Italy. What can he do? What should he do? What should he choose? This kind of problems reminds me of my own problems. I also feel torn apart between doing necessary things and doing the things I love. I have to work to earn enough money to buy necessary things, such as food, clothes, shelter, and medicine, and that means I don't have enough time any more to write about films or to watch as many films as I would like to. Ten years ago I had a dream that I could earn a living and still had enough time to write about films. Now I don't have that dream any more. Earning a living is too much difficult and requires too much time from me already. Giulio wants to stay with his daughter, but he can't. I want to have enough time to write about films, but I can't. That's why I feel very connected to this aspect in WILD AND PRECIOUS.

7. WILD AND PRECIOUS cannot be easily compared to any other films at all. Some parts of it remind me a little bit of VIDEOGRAM OF A REVOLUTION (1992, Harun Farocki + Andrei Ujica), especially the part which shows the footage of a riot/demonstration and may look like a home video.

But if I have to screen WILD AND PRECIOUS with another film, I may choose to screen it together with THE ALL-AROUND REDUCED PERSONALITY -- REDUPERS (1978, Helke Sander, West Germany), though these two films are very different. I choose it because I think both films deal with a photographer who has problems dealing with many aspects in his/her life, and both films also present an interesting balance between personal problems and political problems in a film. THE ALL-AROUND REDUCED PERSONALITY -- REDUPERS is a very feminist film, so I think it may act as a counterbalance when it is shown together with WILD AND PRECIOUS. However, I don't mean to say that WILD AND PRECIOUS is anti-feminist. I just think it is interesting to compare and contrast between the representation of a mother who has to raise her kid alone in both films, or something like that.

There's also something in WILD AND PRECIOUS which unintentionally reminds me a little bit of THE FAREWELL -- BERTOLT BRECHT'S LAST SUMMER (2000, Jan Schütte, Germany, A+30). It's the way small moments in life are juxtaposed against the immensity of a political system--the repressive Communist system in THE FAREWELL, the capitalist system in WILD AND PRECIOUS.

This is what Leslie Camhi wrote in Village Voice about THE FAREWELL -- BERTOLT BRECHT'S LAST SUMMER:
" Now that the very state whose existence he toiled for has itself become a phantom, Schütte's film (aided by John Cale's pensive score) focuses on the small moments punctuating a lazy summer afternoon: a lover's embrace, a passing cloud, a poem recited by a schoolchild. They are what remains, it seems to suggest, in a life's final hours, when all ideals and bitterness are gone."

Likewise, I like WILD AND PRECIOUS very much because of the small moments in it, especially the moments of the Riot Dog and various other dogs and cats in the film. These small moments in life are what is precious to me.


celinejulie said...

Actually I think it is very difficult for me to write about films like this. It's difficult to talk about the greatness of a film which is not about its plot, its topics, its issues, or its style, because its greatness is about its representation of life and the complications of human beings or something like that. This kind of greatness is very difficult to "write about." How can you find an exact word to describe an emotion? How can you find an exact word to describe the face of Giulio and Irene in this film? I can't. So as much as I love this film, I have to admit that there are some other things I like in this film, but I can't put it into words. :-)

celinejulie said...

Actually I have to borrow words or phrases from other film critics from time to time when I try to write about films, because it is too difficult for me to invent them by myself. For example, the phrase "index of a particular state of consciousness" that I use to describe COSMOPOLIS here actually comes from the review of THE DEVIL, PROBABLY (1977, Robert Bresson) by Verina Glaessner in Time Out Film Guide. I like COSMOPOLIS very much, though its characters are not "full human beings". I think the characters in COSMOPOLIS represent something very interesting, but I don't know how to describe that "something", so I have to borrow that phrase from the review of THE DEVIL, PROBABLY, though it might not fit perfectly with the characters of COSMOPOLIS. This is an example of the difficulty I face when I try to write about films. And we know that many great films are great, because they don't allow us to reduce them into words easily.

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