Archivo de la categoría: Cultura Pop

Fading to black: Lars Von Trier and gender politics.

As I have mentioned before, I really like to watch movies and TV Shows that are capable of making me feel uncomfortable —and, sometimes, even disturbed—not only for the cringeworthy moments, but for their capacity to confront and transform the paradigms with which I live my life by. Lars Von Trier’s films could perfectly sum up all of this.

I’m sure you have all watched at least one of his movies, and I’m also sure we can all agree on one thing: Lars Von Trier’s movies are nothing but average.

I’m not here to talk you into watching some of the best films of his wide and impressive career (something you should definitely do) or to tell you he is one of the most clever minds that the modern cinema has and will ever have (he really is), but to rather talk about something more relevant, and significant, to the times we’re living in: his gender politics.

If there’s something this director is really good at is portraying accurate depictions of what is like to be a woman in our current society, what her place is and how difficult her relationship with the men around her could be.

Lars Von Trier depicts his women like individuals without a voice, without a place to belong and a body to own. These women are often the caretakers, the ones that are always giving everything without expecting anything back, the ones that put everyone else’s needs before theirs. These women are stripped of any type of agency and decisions of their own and are constantly taken for granted.

Men, on the other hand, are the ones deciding upon women’s lives, decisions and bodies. The ones taking the spaces from them, the ones that are constantly putting women down by being condescending and unapproachable. These are the men that think they deserve everything they want, specially when a woman is involved. It’s no surprise that all of Lars Von Trier’s women end up on the verge.

The director has a keen eye to portray hopeless mothers. These individuals are portrayed as both completely vulnerable and always subjected to the men around them. They are women devoted to look after their children and to keep them safe from the dangers of the world.

Selma (Björk), in Dancer In The Dark, is the embodiment of this. She is an immigrant single mother that lives in the backyard of Bill (David Morse), a well-known policeman of a small town of the U.S who would do anything to please his wife, even if it means to steal money from his tenant.

Selma’s otherness is both the cause of her demise and her reason to be happy. She has no place to live, but the shed of Bill. She’s also going blind and lives with a constant guilt over her son’s possible blindness too. Bill takes advantage of this situation by immediately robbing her and putting her in a difficult position; leaving her with no other solution but to kill him.

Selma’s worst fear is to lose her child, to live in a world where his son’s childhood could be instantly robbed from him only because she has a hereditary illness. Selma’s entire life purpose is to procure her son’s health, even if it costs her her life.

So, when she’s thrown into jail, she’s not only becoming another faceless victim, she is also thrusted into a system unable to defend her. A system led by men,  that has control over her body and her freedom. A corrupt system that eventually ends up killing her and her spirit, without hesitation.

Charlotte Gainsbourg also depicted this type of mother on two Von Trier movies: Antichrist and Melancholia. This two women share the same fear of losing a child that Selma has. The difference between them resides on the story.  The woman named “She” loses her son at the beginning of the former and Claire at the end of the latter.

Both woman also have indifferent husbands who thinks that money and complaisance are the best way to be there for their wives in order to help them go through the difficult times. “He” (Willem Dafoe) is a psychologist reluctant to feel any sort of empathy towards his wife and his mourning process over the death of their child. John (Kiefer Sutherland) , on the other hand, is a scientist already fed up by her wife Claire and her “sentimentalism”.

These two men are completely certain that their wives would, and should, process their feelings the same way they do. They think they know and understand them perfectly well, but, in reality, they are just thinking about themselves. They’re not listening to them. In fact, they constantly find ways to silence them.

Dogville‘s Grace (Nicole Kidman) not only is left without a place to belong or live, but she’s also left without any will to go on with her life the very moment she arrives to the fictional town, named Dogville, looking for a place to hide from the gangsters that are after her. In there, the villagers find bizarre ways to mock her, silence her and arbitrary situations to justify the means of owning her body.

What’s really interesting of this movie is not only the raw depiction of humanity that Von Trier portrays accurately, but also the poignant point of view of a woman that is on the verge. Grace reaches a point were she has nothing left to loose. So, she orders the gangsters that are after her, to kill all the people on the town, even the children.

Yes, Lars Von Trier’s women can be selfless caretakers, but they also are human. And, as human beings, when they feel threatened, they will retaliate. Sadly, these personal rebellions will only appear when a breaking point is reached. Lars Von Trier depicts perfectly the way women are raised nowadays, as mute individuals that will not, and should not, raise their voice against anything.

Notwithstanding, Selma’s spends her last minutes alive by singing a song as an act of rebellion against the system that is in charge of breaking her. Claire finds a way to calm her child minutes before the world’s end as a way of retalliation against her fear of letting him down. In Antichrist, She finds a way to mutilate the genitals of her husband as a way to emancipate and break free from the box He put her into.

But, as we will learn from this movies, acting out will always bring consequences to the women involved. Something that Von Trier perfectly sums up on Nymphomaniac. a film where Joe (another wonderful acting piece by Charlotte Gainsbourg) goes against all that standards that the women before her had to live upon.

Joe is a fearless woman who is trying to understand who she is through sex. She is very confident about her sexuality and very conscious of her body. She refuses other men’s advances whenever she wants to whilst she doesn’t put up with them trying to control her body. She, eventually, will learn that society will not tolerate rogue women prancing around with their moral values.

By the end of the movie, Joe will be punished for her actions and for standing against a society more concerned about her behaving than to actually listen to her. Joe will reach for a gun in order to protect herself against a man (Stellan Skarsgard) who wants to control her body, and we will be left with nothing but a fade to black and an uncertainty around Joe’s life. Like all the other women in real life who are brave enough to stand against the very system who is always trying to break them but they keep disappearing.

La falacia de la mujer protagonista en el cine

Hollywood tiene algo claro: los personajes femeninos empoderados venden. Solo con echarle un vistazo a algunas de las películas exitosas de los últimos años (sobre todo si se trata de franquicias) como The Hunger Games, Mad Max: Fury Road o Rogue One: A Star Wars Story nos podremos dar cuenta de ello.

Tuvieron que pasar muchos años, y diversas peleas dentro y fuera de la industria, para que los estudios comenzaras a ver a las mujeres como algo más que objeto de deseo de los hombres. Ahora es posible encontrar a personajes femeninos que vivan fuera del imaginativo popular y ser protagonistas al mismo tiempo; eso es, sin duda, algo digno de celebrar. Los personajes femeninos pueden -y deben- llevar historias completas en sus hombros sin problema alguno.

Me encantaría argumentar que esto es suficiente para que exista equidad de género y representación femenina suficiente, pero me estaría mintiendo. Es cierto que hemos avanzado mucho, sin embargo, es necesario hacer un especial hincapié y detenernos a pensar en la forma en la que este avance se ha hecho.

Sí, ahora contamos con una mayor representación femenina en las pantallas grandes y sí, ya tenemos mujeres protagonistas dispuestas a llevar historias que antes no eran consideradas dignas de su género.

El problema, en realidad, no radica en la extraordinaria construcción detrás de Katniss Everdeen o de Furiosa, sino en la existencia de otros personajes femeninos que tratan de imitarlas, aprovechando la tendencia actual por representar mujeres fuertes, pero que terminan perdiéndose en esencia.

Ahora tenemos a la muer fuerte, empoderada y con agencia suficiente para mantener una historia donde sus decisiones repercutan directamente en la trama, pero, al mismo tiempo, tenemos a esta misma mujer cuya existencia en la película depende enteramente para validar al personaje masculino (sea protagonista o no) y a sus decisiones.

Aurora, el personaje de Jennifer Lawrence (quién también interpreta a Katniss en The Hunger Games) en Passengers es la representación perfecta de esa idea. Al principio de la película es presentada como una chica independiente, con motivaciones y metas fuertes que la llevan a tomar la decisión de cambiarse de planeta y comenzar su vida de nuevo allá.

Algo que pierde por completo cuando Jim (Chris Pratt) decide despertarla para no estar solo en lo que resta del viaje, es decir, una vida completa. En un momento de la película, Aurora se entera que su despertar no fue accidental, sino a causa de Jim.

En cualquier otra situación de la vida real, una persona común y corriente se sentiría traicionada y herida al enterarse que otra persona literalmente la condena a vivir encerrada. Aurora se enoja, pero al poco tiempo lo perdona e incluso decide olvidar su vida en el nuevo planeta en favor de quedarse con el hombre que ama.

Sus decisiones, antes de conocer al personaje de Chris Pratt, dependen enteramente de ella y de nadie más, pero al momento en que se encuentra con él, comienzan a girar a su alrededor. Todo lo que ella hace es en función de validar a Jim como persona, como ingeniero y como amor de su vida. Aurora termina siendo definida por su relación con Jim y no por sus decisiones.

Lo mismo sucede con el personaje de Maru, intepretado por Karla Souza, en la película mexicana Qué Culpa Tiene El Niño. Maru es una mujer con decisiones propias, ella decide seguir adelante con su embarazo no deseado, no porque Renato (Ricardo Abarca) se lo pida, sino porque ella quiere hacerlo.

El problema radica, más bien, en las acciones que suceden a esta decisión, cuando comienzan a girar en torno a renato y su felicidad, mientras que vemos a Maru pasa de ser protagonista de su historia a espectadora. Para la mitad de la película la narrativa comienza a transformarse sutilmente hasta que llega a un punto en el que  Renato secuestra la decisión inicial de Maru y la hace propia.

Al final, Maru y Renato tienen el bebé y él se corona como el héroe de la historia que mantuvo sus convicciones intactas mientras que Maru se pierde en el fondo, al pasar de ser una portadora de voz y agencia a convertirse en un mero receptáculo de reproducción humana.

La invisibilización de las mujeres en la sociedad -y en consecuencia, en el cine- no es algo nuevo. Por mucho tiempo, incluso en la actualidad, han sido constantemente despojadas de agencia y voz con el afán de tomar papeles dependientes a los demás que les den presencia.

Así, vemos cómo estos dos personajes comienzan su historia portando un nombre y una agencia propia, para terminar al final de la película siendo un dispositivo de validación más, y objetos de sus contrapartes masculinas, “el amor de la vida de Jim” y “la mamá del bebé de Renato”.

Son mujeres a las que se les da agencia, pero no autonomía. Mujeres fuertes que pueden ser protagonistas y llevar la historia principal con facilidad y sin problemas, pero aún necesitan de una presencia masculina a la cual institucionalizar. Mujeres con voz, pero sin credibilidad alguna.

La representación equitativa de género en el cine no significa simplemente tener un personaje femenino que parezca ser fuerte, y que cubra las necesidades básicas de cualquier filme. También significa crear una narrativa acorde a la construcción del personaje, que la valide, e institucionalice, más allá de su aparición.

Lala Land y la cinematografía de un sueño

A estas alturas ya debes estar enterado, querido lector, de la película que ha causado una sensación entre los críticos y las audiencias, Lala Land. Por supuesto que, debido a tanta atención, el filme ha ocasionado puntos de vista muy divisivos, pero yo no estoy aquí para hablar de eso.

No, yo quiero explicarles porqué considero que esta película está hecha por y para soñadores y cómo es que representa esto haciendo uso de una gran variedad de recursos narrativos de diferentes e interesantes magnitudes. Bienvenidos, a la ciudad de las estrellas.

Dejemos esto claro, Lala Land es un musical y, como toda buena pieza audiovisual de este género, involucra una narrativa melódica y elementos fantásticos que permiten a la audiencia sentir empatía por los protagonistas y poder seguir con facilidad la historia que se desenvuelve frente a ellos.

las herramientas narrativas del musical (la música, la lírica, la repetición), en sí, funcionan como una forma alternativa de representar, en el cine y teatro, a los sueños y las fantasías que se desarrollan en el mundo creado por los protagonistas como un medio de escape de la realidad rutinaria que no es melódica, sino estática.

El filme comienza con un momento musical que establece el tono y las bases centrales de la película: una tarde calurosa en Los Ángeles, donde el tráfico y la cotidianidad están a la orden del día, es irrumpida por un grupo de automovilistas que narran (por medio de una melodía, coreografías y atuendos coloridos) una serie de momentos importantes en sus vidas donde recuerdan haber cumplido sus sueños, permitiéndoles ser felices.

Con esta declaración, Lala Land dedica sus casi dos horas de duración a retratar a una pareja con sueños y metas independientes de su relación y cómo, a pesar de las adversidades, los dos hallan formas y modos diferentes para motivarse a alcanzarlos, incluso si una de estas adversidades son ellos mismos.

Gracias al uso de diferentes técnicas cinematográficas, el director logra construir a la perfección el mundo del soñador frustrado. Con cada tropiezo y éxito sucedido, Damien Chazelle logra colocar a la audiencia en la mente de sus personajes elaborando escenas que hablan muchísimo más que el conjunto explícito de diálogos y conversaciones que sus protagonistas, Mia y Sebastián, tienen sobre sus metas a corto y largo plazo.

Cada que uno de su personajes se encuentra en un estado de estaticidad en relación a su vida profesional, el director enmarca sus tomas y asfixia a los involucrados para que el espacio luzca claustrofóbico y apretado, como si no existiera una forma de salir de ahí.

Así, podemos ver cómo Mia es enmarcada entre dos anuncios luminosos mientras se encuentra frustrada después de haber sido rechazada en otra audición, o a Sebastian siendo sofocado por las pequeñas paredes de su departamento mientras su hermana le explica lo complicado que puede resultar su sueño de abrir su propio club de Jazz.

La historia representa a un mundo con adversidades, sí, pero Chazelle también direcciona muchos de sus esfuerzos en asegurar que nada está perdido. Cuando Mia o Sebastian están juntos, platicando de sus futuros, la cámara se coloca estratégicamente detrás de ellos, viendo hacia el cielo, como si fueran parte de la audiencia y el director tratara de colocarnos frente a un futuro prometedor, pero inalcanzable, que podrían tener juntos.

De hecho, muchas de las tomas de Mia y Sebastian juntos son elaboradas para que ellos sean parte de la audiencia y no protagonistas de su historia. Varios momentos son enfocados desde la perspectiva subjetiva del público, a la misma altura de ellos, viendo hacia arriba o hacia el frente.

(SPOILER)

Algo que se invierte cerca del final, cuando la pareja decide terminar su relación y enfocar sus esfuerzos individuales en tratar de alcanzar sus sueños. En ese momento, la cámara los toma desde abajo, colocándolos en el lugar donde antes estaba su mirada, en el cielo estrellado.

Hay una toma en particular, después de la audición de Mia (donde, por cierto, las personas que le hacen la audición se convierten en la audiencia) en la que los dos están sentados en la banca fuera del observatorio y la cámara realiza un contrapicado (es decir, una toma vista desde abajo), dejandólos a ellos a la altura del cielo. Justo en el lugar donde siempre quisieron estar.

(FIN DEL SPOILER)

El protagonismo que toman los planos secuencia (o escenas grabadas en una sola toma) no es mera coincidencia, Lala Land nos recibe con una serie de planos secuencia que no hacen otra cosa que reforzar la idea del camino que los protagonistas tienen que tomar.

Me explico para que un plano secuencia funcione dentro de una narrativa necesita de una innumerable cantidad de ensayos de la misma escena para que no haya ningún error y pueda desarrollarse con la cadencia y ritmo que requiere.

Cuando la cámara sigue a los protagonistas a lo largo de una de estas tomas da entrada a generar empatía y un tipo de camaradería que solo alguien que acompaña a otra persona en su viaje de crecimiento es capaz de entender. Los planos secuencia son, entonces, la ejemplificación narrativa de la historia de Mia y Sebastian.

Si hay algo que debemos reconocerle a Damien Chazelle como director es el esfuerzo y tiempo que le dedica a la representación lógica y cuidadosa de su historia tanto narrativa como cinematográficamente. Dedicación y esfuerzo que imprime de primera mano en los personajes de Mia y Sebastian.

One Remake At A Time

There is no rulebook for a perfect time to premiere a TV show, but, if it were, then the new Netflix series One Day At A Time would’ve ticked all the boxes. In an era where remakes are around the corner, this particular TV show, even though is a remake of the 1975 classic, feels particularly fresh and very aware of the context its living in.

I don’t think that the showrunners, Gloria Calderón Kellet and Mike Royce, would have pictured this particular show as a remedy for the Post-Trump election audience, but it sure feels like it. In this day and time, there’s nothing more radical than a TV show starring a cuban veteran nurse of Afghanistan living in Los Angeles and trying to raise her two kids with the help of her mother, as the life of Penelope Álvarez in One Day At A Time.

Granted, the very idea of the selfless single mother navigating through the challenges of life, has been made countless of times both in movies and TV shows, but, and this is what it makes this serie so profoundly adequate, they have never focused the attention on the challenges of being a woman, specially an immigrant.

Focusing the narrative only on the problems of motherhood without understanding what’s like to be a woman, and on the essence and construction behind a woman’s perspective, has always been an usual problem on stories like this. They have been telling us that motherhood (and especially single motherhood) is something inherent to womanhood, something to suffer about, to embrace as something women must own.

Netflix’s One Day At A Time understands this particular issue and depicts it on a whole new view, by building their characters from scratch. Yes, Penelope is a single mother of two, but in no way the series confines her to portray only that role in her arc. She also is a nurse, a veteran, a divorced woman, a daughter and a single lady looking for love.

Of course that she has problems raising her kids by her own, but what’s really meaningful about this show is that her role as a mother is not the one that is carrying the story along. Her collected experiences as a woman living in the USA are the real focus, motherhood just happens to be one of them.

The same thing happens with the depiction of her mother Lydia and Penelope’s daughter Elena, they are both full and well-rounded characters with their own opinions and agency, trying to understand what does it means to be a woman nowadays. Thus, the more profound and enjoyable episodes are the ones that keeps challenging each and one of their personal opinions with the ones around them, and specially with each other.

Lydia is a catholic woman who migrates to USA in the midst of Castro’s goverment looking for a new place to call home, Elena, on the other hand, is cuban girl born in the United States with a particular interest on social challenge and new ways to improve the world she lives in. They both understand life differently, but because the great love they share, they are capable of grasp their opinions and respect each other.

The show not only finds many ways to give her women a voice, but it also manages to put it front and center with a handful of serious debates, that the characters have in each episode, around women’s rights, sexism, religion, lesbianism and gender pay gap. Make no mistake, giving this women her own voice and agency in no way means that the male roles are overshadowed by them, if anything, it helps them to be portrayed in a happier and more fulfilling light.

One Day At A Time makes an incredible effort to present flawed but caring men, that are usually influenced but not defined by toxic masculinity, capable of having profound discussions about homosexuality, mansplaining and sexism without being subjected or depicted as the villains of the story. Something that, at least in my case, helped me to confront the social perspective around of what’s really like to be a man nowadays.

It feels quite refreshing to find a TV show, with the narrative structure of a sitcom, capable of going to the places that even some serious series hadn’t had the nerve to go. Because in a world full of remakes, the ones that are here to propose instead of playing common patterns are the ones that are more likely to succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

Neon lights: the illumination of adolescence in movies

The loss of inocence and the “Coming of age” stories are one of the most used trope often depicted by Hollywood on the mainstream cinema. It’s not uncommon to find movies that circle around that specific moment on every teen life when they transition from being an innocent child to become an empowered adolescent.

Being such a significant time in someone’s life, this rite of passagehas  a lot of symbolisms embedded right into its core. Symbols that some movies like to represent in numerous ways, like with a loss of virginity, or with a big, introspective and literal journey across the country, or even with a Prom dance. You see, the coming of age is something inevitable and very profitable for Hollywood, and this year wasn’t the exception.

From a handful of movies that premiered in 2016, I think that three of them really stand out from the others: The Neon Demon, Nerve  and The Closet Monster, not only because I consider them to be actually  good or because I’m pretty sure they harnessed excelent narrative techniques to tell their story, but mostly because their deep understanding  on adolescence and the transition through this rite of passage.


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Of course, each one of them treats different and interesting subjects. Whereas The Neon Demon made a strong argument against the beauty culture, Nerve tried to talk about the dangers of technology and Closet Monster stood against homophobia. But they also depicted certain elements of the coming of age very similarily: using neon lights as a narrative and symbolic tool to reference it.

All of three of them have an innocent character living on a bubble as a protagonist. It isn’t until later when they have to face reality when the loss of innocence happens, along with the appearence of perfunctory neon lights on the scene as a part of their environment to aknowledge it.

The Neon Demon presents the perfect epitome of innocence and virginity with Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young model from a small town  navigating through the difficulties and superficialites of Los Angeles. When we first met her, we see a teen struggling to cope with the reality she is living in while trying to accomplish her dream in order to succeed on the beauty bussiness.

Nerve has the incorrupted Vee (Emma Roberts) as its protagonist. An A-grade student looking  for some emotion that can help her to break free from the routine she has put herself into for the last years, trying to be the perfect girl she always imagine would be whilst making an effort to get the attention from the boy she is in love with.

Finally, Closet Monster introduced us to Oscar (Connor Jessup), a guy who has always lived under the shadow of his homophobic dad, that is trying to understand what his role in the world is and where does he fits in it.

They, like every other teen in the world, are looking for meaning  and substance in their lives. The three of them are facing adulthood like fishes out of water: navigating through a sea of emotions and insecurities, but with a lot of curiosity to push them forward.

The Neon Demon is, by far, the most blunt approach to adolescence by using neon lights as a device to understand the coming of age experience. Its director even blatantly compares this blossom in life with a demon transformation. The more Jesse becomes part of this “adult” world, the more demonized her look and her attitude is. She surrounds herself with neon lights with each step she takes ahead.

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Jesse’s first confrontation with her own beliefs -a very innocent ones, I must say- happens when Ruby (Jena Malone), one of the makeup artist she works with, takes her to meet another models to a party. There, she realizes what really she is getting herself into, when the girls start to criticize her. From the very beginning of the movie, she feels overwhelmed but decided to triumph on that city that constantly puts beauty and lust before humanity. Of course, the scene ends with Jesse watching with an offish glare a model show surrounded by neon lights.

But its not until her first runway when she fully embraces her demon-ness . As the industry begins to consume her inner light, she slowly starts to feel that she belongs there. She feels empowered and purposeful to be the best model in town, and she doesn’t care about anything or anyone. This realization comes along with a  beautiful scene where Jesse watchs her reflection looking right at her in fully neon lights.

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Nerve, on the other hand,  approaches to teen angst and insecurity by tackling it with technology obsession. Vee it’s the typical adolescent looking for an adventure and a change of routine. This, of course, appears in form of a daring app that challenge its users to do risky things in change for money and a bunch of memories to gloat over.

Vee’s curiosity comes across like something natural and organic as all her classmates are experiencing the same feelings of excitement of using the app. At the beginning of the movie she is often surrounded by dim lights and obscure environments, but when she’s ready to accept her first challenge, the illumination changes.

As she enters a restaurant to kiss a stranger, the neon lights that decorate the place begin to shine. In fact, each and every one of the dares  that Vee and Ian (Dave Franco) perform, are surrounded by bright neon lights, getting brighter and brighter as the challenges increase their difficulty.

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To Nerve the coming of age means not only to embarce and confront your worst fears, but to live through them and not under the shadow they could cast above your life. Curiosity is, after all, the fire that ignites the neon lights of adolescence.

Closet Monster reflects a lot upon acceptance and sexuality on teenage years. Oscar has always known that something is off in his life, that something’s missing. Living with a homophobic dad and with the awful idea of an absent mom is not easy for him. All of the scenes with his dad are surrounded by opaque illumination that casts a shadow on both of them.

It isn’t until he meets Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) when his surroundings start to change. As Oscar begins to accept his inner thoughts, his character commences to walk through bright places, and when he is finally ready to accept who he is and confess his love to his friend, the neon lights appear in form of party decorations. This type illumination is, after all, the representation of his desires.

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If this odd cinematographic technique has something to teach us, is that, in order to turn on the neon lights that could surround our life, we need to be in contact with oneself and one’s needs. If we want to achieve our goal of moving from childhood to adolescence, we must embrace curiosity to outgrow our self-imposed limits.