"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Saturday, 05 May 2018 08:56

(Or why I didn’t get

Black Panther the first time around…)

Giona A. Nazzaro

Well, who doesn’t like the mighty T’Challa, the wise monarch of Wakanda, and the first African-American superhero in the Marvel Pantheon? You do not need to be a comic-book nerd to have heard about him. His iconic image has spread across all the realms of pop culture and cultural studies alike. Suffice to say that T’Challa is a real superhero, because he’s made of and completely relates to the African-American experience; its contradictions, the still unsolved social rights issues, and its painful historical complexities and atrocities. For some (those who usually do not think that Black Lives Matter…), Black Panther might even be a tad too close to home for comfort. Therefore, also this side of the pond there were many, many expectations about Coogler’s take on Black Panther. Since with his previous work Creed he managed to restore Rocky’s working-class roots, and thus partially return the boxer’s story to the African-American community (Apollo is Rocky’s spiritual father and mentor, something that those who were eager to write off Stallone forgot too easily and too quickly…), there was genuine curiosity about how he would tackle T’Challa’s bourgeois and political contradictions. A monarch, a rebel, a scientist, a millionaire, a reformist who boasts revolutionary credentials (this is why, later on, Marvel needed Luke Cage, hero for hire…). Obviously, there also was a monumental promotional job involved before the release of Black Panther. Not a day went by before the film hit the theatres without some major trade featuring an article about Coogler’s upcoming movie. And yes, there were also the messianic tones rising from the African-American community hailing it weeks before its release as a political, cultural, economic gamechanger. Therefore, when the film was finally on the big screen, a certain degree of disappointment was felt this side of the pond, at least by yours truly, an unabashed fan of the MCU (yes: guilty as charged). Some of us over here did not dare to admit it openly - you do not want to be in the same league with Trump and his ludicrous circus of freaks - but it felt as if the much-heralded celebration of the African-American experience had been transformed in a Disneyland theme park (and after all, Disney owns the MCU…). (The French magazine “Positif” brushed it off exactly in those terms a bit later). Somehow, we felt let down, to the point that even the set pieces felt lacklustre (they are not, of course, not worse than Ant-Man, anyway…). By the way, let’s not forget that, when the Saudis decided to finally lift their ban on cinema, they decided that Black Panther should be the forerunner in their domestic theatres. So, what went wrong with some experiences of the first (obviously European, white, left-wing, etc….) viewing of Black Panther? Simply put, everyone (and their mother…) has their own take on what the African-American experience should be (especially the white guys, especially if European, those that would have voted for Obama the third time…). And this goes a long way in explaining how even the best intentions (especially those…) can go wrong. Ok: you went in the theatre thinking, due to your white privilege, of Amiri Baraka, Max Roach’s We Insist! and Melvin Van Peebles. But what you got was an incredibly tight, sleek P. Daddy tune as if rewritten by Kendrick for Rihanna. Of course, you are caught off guard (wait: are they re-assessing also the legacy of the “other” Panthers as well…?). But it’s only your (our…) fault. Entrepreneurs such a Jay Z. should have taught us that, in a Marxian way, you need to become the master of your own means of productions. Once you do that, you can also effectively control your own image. Black Panther does exactly that. Because form is content. It offers a hypertextual image of the African-American experience that can be easily shared (sampled…) and therefore transmitted as a mythopoeic lemma. That’s exactly why Black Panther is really a ground-breaking and game-changing film. It finally breaks down the cultural barriers between the so called high- and low-brow definitions of African-American experience and culture and manages to create a new standing ground that is larger and complex. Its boundaries extend from the fandom of comic-books to action figures and from hip-hop to pan-African consciousness. The scope of what Black Panther attempts and succeeds to do is so broad that it could fill a Kamasi Washington suite. And there would still be some room left to fill. It basically says that Alice Coltrane and T’Challa belong in the same world because both are expressions of the African diaspora. And that our picture of what “Africa(n)” is needs a complete rethinking. Time’s up. The African-American experience needs to be finally considered as a whole again and not as isolated segments to be used only for academic dissertations. And if this means that Black Panther becomes one of the most gigantic blockbusters in the recent history of Hollywood’s box office smash hits, so be it. There’s still a lot to be done, but this simple and extraordinary fact might finally be a step in the right direction (and maybe it will finally dawn on us too, on the other side of the pond). After all, as Idris Ackamoor would claim, aren’t we all Africans?



Published in SPECIALE Americans

Meteors (Gürcan Keltek)

Monday, 27 November 2017 10:20

Giona A. Nazzaro

The thing itself

Gürcan Keltek’s first feature-length film is an astonishing survey of the possibilities still open and available to those who are working inside the boundaries of cinema. Tackling images and cinema as tools and means to further inquire about the set of rules that film-making is still dealing with, Keltek creates a tremendous visual and sensorial experience that has no equals in contemporary cinema today (with the only exception of Ala Eddine Slim’s work). His visual approach, already clearly refined and fully fleshed out in Fazlamesai (Overtime) – his first short film – evolves further on in Meteorlar (Meteors). Structured in what appears to be a narrative loosely tied by several chapters, there is a deeply resonant web of cosmic audio-visual fabrications. It deals obviously with the Kurdish identity and war, but the film also manages to evoke the so-called documentary elements of a broader context. The film begins and ends with a moon that slowly rises in the night sky. And it is the very same moon that ends it. Inbetween, there are scenes from a mountain hunt, the Kurdish guerrilla, and violent protests against the Turkish military and police as well as the voices of children and an unbelievably breath-taking meteor shower. Thus, Keltek manages to do several things in just one film. He questions the very notions of documentary and militant and politically engaged film-making. Keltek, an extraordinarily accomplished visual film-maker, depicts not only a very specific region (the southeast of Turkey), but produces a consistent mythopoeic universe in which image and sound redefine both the notion of watching and that of the image.

Shot in an elegant, grainy, very low-defined black and white, the image seems to be always on the verge of tearing itself apart of to simply expose its pixels (and it does happen…). Keltek tests the texture of the image as the image itself were a war zone. It is as if Keltek needed to go to war against the image to try re-thinking the possibilities of how to film a war in the current context. So, the unthinkable happens: the film becomes an immense and pulsating cosmic canvas, as if Tangerine Dream where reprocessed by Aphex Twin’s deconstructing approach. This is how Keltek can call upon an entire country and its politics in a precise historical moment and in a brutally, excruciatingly exact way.

Thus, Meteors becomes Turkey itself. No longer a film “about something” but the “thing” itself. Keltek’s keen ability for filming and framing landscapes, volumes, depths, texture and the dialectics of sound and vision, reaches its peak at the sight of Nemrut’s head. Suddenly, we are no longer on the northern border of the Kurdish district but in a completely different time and place. While the grainy images never allow us to forget that we are watching someone who is working (making a film…), the sheer volume of conflicting elements allows Meteors to transcend its own limits. The film becomes a powerful rumination on mankind and the void they are living in, but also a reflection of the endless returning cycle of the seasons of war and grieving.

Out of nowhere though, two snakes dance their mating rituals. It’s a mesmerizing and disturbing image. We cannot tell the two snakes apart.

Gürcan Keltek creates a sensuous and mysterious place of cinematic (im)purity. By accepting in the fabric of his film all those elements that are usually shunned upon, he also questions the notion of economic politics in film-making. Meteors is a new territory on the maps of contemporary cinema. It’s a filmic abstraction that becomes the most accurate depiction of what can still be done with cinema today. A timely and much needed reminder of the necessity of re-thinking the overall context of contemporary filmmaking.

Meteors is already a modern-day classic. A film on which we will look back whenever we will need tools and ideas and images, whenever we need to redefine and re-orient our position.

It’s that rare and precious film.



Giona A. Nazzaro

Published in 08

Giona A. Nazzaro

Published in 07

Giona A. Nazzaro

Published in 06

WAR GAMES 2 - 13 Hours (Michael Bay)

Monday, 11 July 2016 09:45

Giona A. Nazzaro

Published in 05

USA 3 - Ash vs Evil Dead (Sam Raimi)

Monday, 22 February 2016 11:40

Giona A. Nazzaro

Published in 04

Tela brilhadora - O Garoto (Julio Bressane)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015 13:46

A filmmaker at the end of time and space

Giona A. Nazzaro

Boy meets girl at the end of the world. Once again, Julio Bressane stages the beginning of life itself as a stylized and dysfunctional yet mysteriously minnellian dance. O Garoto, element of the collective project Telha brilhadora, that comprises also O prefeito by Bruno Safadi, O espelho by Rodrigo Lima and Origem do mundo by Moa Batsow, is a film that has at its core a mischievous insurgent sexual energy that bristles and sparks relentlessly poetic hybris. Those who are not familiar with Bressane’s work may be puzzled by the minimalistic approach and its reiterative patterns, but it is obvious that O Garoto (The Kid) is just a different kind of educaçao sentimental. The boy and the girl inhabit a world whose only other sign of life is a rhythm pattern that seems to be almost detached from them, even though they watch and listen amused to the silent musician who keeps drumming away. The other element is the camera itself. The sensual geometries of the film try to make this triangle work. The camera wants to make love with the bodies in front of it. But the gaze of the girl and the boy point out toward the wilderness, a barren yet intoxicatingly magnificent landscape. This impossible triangle tries to claim hold of the land. Make it again a land of the living. Or, at least, they try to survive in and on it again. Let’s rewrite the social contract for the very last time. As it happens with Bressane’s recent work, O Garoto also recalls elements and patterns from his previous films. These fragments of memories and echoes from a different time are the tools with which Bressane shapes his vision. His newfound Adam and Eve are the sign of a never ending quest. To regain the world, that is the problem. As in O gigante da America, the film is also an arcane and bewildering reflection on the results of colonialism. O Garoto is definitely Bressane’s song of exile. His Paradise Lost, if you want. Minus the angels and the devils. Minus god. There is no regenerative utopia here. The two are destined to be apart. And even though the girl tries to break the diaphragm that separates her from the boy and the camera and the audience (the most sublime moment of the film), she is on her own as is the boy. Bressane films the end of the world as a reenactment of the origins of cinema: a boy and a girl. One plus one. Where the plus sign is obviously the camera itself. A precise yet restless camera, that roams a never before seen landscape as if it were the ultimate set of the world. A world that still hopes to be filmed, seen, and experienced as such. Bressane thus offers the image of a filmmaker at the end of time and space. Looking for signs of life, Bressane comes up with a sensual dance that manages to rethink the Lumière brothers filmmaking in an utterly innovative way.

Giona A. Nazzaro

Published in 03

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

Sunday, 19 July 2015 10:13


Giona A. Nazzaro

Amidst the totally over-the-top full-blown non-stop action galore, there lies hidden at the core of Fury Road an almost theoretical film about the complexities of the transformations that cinema has gone through in the past few decades. If much is to be applauded in Miller's choice about going analogic in the realm of post post-modern digital action cinema, then maybe his critical discourse and proposition can even more be appreciated. Strip everything away from Fury Road and you are left with an almost abstract film. What once would have been labelled as an "avantgarde" film. First of all, the main character. The film title plays with the notion that it is the very same Mad Max of the first three films. But then, again, and without diving in the fandom conspiracy theories, there's really nothing in the film to substantiate this claim. So: Max is not Max after all. Who is he then? The guy called Max, aptly identified as a "bloodbag" (even though he protests a different identity), is literally the narrative blood that keeps the film flowing. The audience keeps their eyes on him and the film moves. So "that" guy carries the fuel blueprint of the film as precisely as Monica Vitti carried the hyperdynamic stillness of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura on her body and in her gaze. And if the characters in Antonioni's films about alienation and anonimity in modern  European architectural lanscapes didn't have anywhere to go, so does Max. With some differences, though. The urban lanscape has been substituted with a desertic nowhere land which, of course, over the years has become a commonplace and popular symbol of the failure of capitalistic society. But Miller expands on the basic idea with a wonderful ironic footnote. Given that there is no need for another hero, and that after Joyce and Eliot heroes have become something completely different altogether, Miller gives his Max with no name at least two different options: you can go either forward or backward. History has not only repeated itself enough already, it has definitely exhausted itself. So what is left of adventure and action?  Not much. You can go either forward or backward. That is what's left of the great spectacle that once was cinema. Space has become a two-lane road on which you can re-stage the great spectacle of repetition; replay all the former stories that have already been re-told over and over again in different industrial manners. While Antonioni staged the end of the western world as the end of the possibilities given to culture to shape or reshape ways of communicating, Miller, in a very ironical way, creates the "überstage" for the definitive image of what western culture has become as seen through the lenses of that very cinema which imagined itself, in Griffith's work, as an extension of the Dickensian ethos. Fury Road, really, is the swan song, maybe the sublime, while also earnest, parody of all the dead-ends that contemporary cinema has taken.


As Eliot has it in his Nocturne

Blood looks effective on the moonlit ground -

The hero smiles; in my best mode oblique 

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