Friday, October 03, 2008
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 38
In a Nutshell: In college I took a sociology class titled "Deviance and Social Control." If they still teach it at Penn, I strongly recommend it. But anyway, one of the things that came up in that class was the old cliche that "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Our professor didn't buy into that at all, making it clear that the one-eyed man would, essentially, become the ultimate outsider as the blind developed their own coping mechanisms, their own way of life outside of the sighted world. He point? In the land of the blind, it would suck to be a one-eyed man.
That idea is carried through in the new theatrical release "Blindness," Fernando Meirelles' rather dismal adaptation of Jose Saramago well-regarded novel.
"Blindness" is being marketed with imagery that would seem to imply that it's a cross between "Children of Men," "28 Days Later" and "The Miracle Worker." It's a misleading ad campaign, but it's actually brilliant. People are much more likely to see "Blindness" thinking it's some sort of badass zombie flick or political thriller than if they knew the truth of the matter, which is that it's a thuddingly obvious allegory spiked with moments of pretentious artiness and very little actual soul.
A full review after bump...
I place the majority of the blame for "Blindness" at the feet of Meirelles. It isn't that he's an untalented filmmaker. "City of God" was a bracing success and biggest flaws in "The Constant Gardner" were from a surplus of ambition, rather than failures of execution.
For the purposes of "Blindness," though, Meirelles was just a woefully incompatible directing choice. He's a rabble-rouser, a mobilizer, an aggressive advocate. But when your story is allegory, you don't want agitprop and Meirelles' tendency is to spell things out over and over again until they hit home. He's just not the man to do a movie where the characters have names like "Doctor" and "Doctor's Wife."
I mean, I get it. Blindness is a metaphor. Or, rather, it's used as a symbolic catalyst for a general breakdown of society, for all of the disorientation and miscommunication of modern life. And there's absolutely no question that this is a sort of look at civilization in its collapse that works better on the page, where readers can decide exactly how literally they want to interpret both the loss of sight and its results, where readers can decide what, exactly, they want every crumbling aspect of humanity to represent.
The minute things become visualized, the minute a camera gives perspective and a screenwriter (Canadian hyphenate Don McKellar) begins putting words in people's mouths, all subjectivity of interpretation is lost. The meaning is set in stone. And all you're left with is a lecture.
Truly, "Blindness" is made by a very smart filmmaker who seems convinced that moviegoers are very stupid.
And, I hate to say this, the people who most enjoy "Blindness" are likely to be those who are convinced that they're getting something out of it that nobody else is seeing, unaware (or uninterested in seeing) that the intellectual process of finding meaning has been done for them. It's my understanding that the version of the film that screened at Cannes took the over-articulation of meaning one-step further by providing a voice-over courtesy of Danny Glover's character, who was, quite literally, a one-eyed man before blindness left him a sightless one-eyed man, which is just a metaphor on top of a metaphor, I'm sure.
[This, by the way, is why I'm not so sure that I disagree with the blindness advocacy groups protesting the movie. If it actually *played* as subtle allegory as opposed to over-obvious truth, maybe they wouldn't take it so personally.]
In the book, Saramago describes the blindness as being a sea of milky white light. Working with cinematographer Cesar Charlone, Meirelles delivers a visual style that alternates between a sort of washed out alienation and an over-saturated blur. There's little clear rhyme or reason to when Meirelles utilizes his Blind Eye and when he just wants to make the film's generic and claustrophobic locations look like Hell on Earth. He's certainly less-committed to his point-of-view than Julian Schnabel and Janusz Kaminski were on "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Even on that overrated film, the filmmakers were inconsistent in their commitment to the subjective point of view, but they look positively determined compared to the "Blindness" team. I wonder if the editing process diluted some sort of delineated plan on Meirelles' part, because in the final cut, the aesthetic choices feel arbitrary. Many of Meirelles' choices also pushed a Holocaust/Concentration Camp vibe that left me uncomfortable.
As for the actors, the best you can say is that they're all on-board. Their characters are obviously experiences great amounts of misery and I really felt a bit sorry for all of the stars, especially since not a single one of the performers is able to transcend that awkward feeling that comes from watching every person on the screen ACTING in all-caps. They stumble, they shout and they cry. It's a pity they don't spend more of their time getting drunk, because under those circumstances, it might have been like watching an ensemble in which everybody is trying to play Al Pacino's role in "Scent of a Woman."
The "discomfort" the actors are playing appears to be the substitution for character details that prevents us from thinking that everybody is mighty one-dimensional. They aren't one-dimension, you see, because they're all bumping into things in different ways! Because they're just constructs rather than people, we don't understand *why* they're bumping into things in different ways, but we aren't supposed to care about that any more than we're supposed to worry about the fact that very little that Julianne Moore's character does makes sense for the entire movie. She's just another symbol doing the symbolic bidding of the writer and director.
The less savory characters are at least more fruitful for the actors. While Moore plays "sighted and hungry" and Mark Ruffalo plays "blind and hungry," Gael Garcia Bernal and Maury Chaykin get to do "blind and unscrupulous." It's not appealing, but it's interesting. Meanwhile, without his voiceover, there's absolutely no reason for Glover to still be in the movie.
Anyway, I kinda wanted to have this review up a couple days ago. Better to post it now. I think I made my basic points.
Gotta choose a movie to see this weekend...