Tuesday, May 12, 2009

BLINDNESS: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael García Bernal, Alice Braga
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Runtime: 121 min.
Rating: *1/2
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Sci-fi

        Much like Darren Aronofsky, Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) wouldn’t want to cite subtlety as a strong point of his. One always reminds me of the other, it has always been the case, and the reasons aren’t too hard to fathom for both these filmmakers love their films to vomit on the screen with their visual excess. It wouldn’t take more than the initial few minutes for one to realize that here’s a director dealing in an excess of formal indulgence, with a film that is quite ugly to look at. More than that, I’m forced to use a word that I try and use to a minimum – the entire visual style is just plain wrong.
        Now, here’s the deal. The film begins much to the same predicament as the source – Nobel laureate José Saramago’s book of the same name – and it finds a young Asian, probably Japanese, and maybe an executive in a firm, stranded smack in the middle of the afternoon traffic, horns blaring from every which angle. The light’s green. The man has lost his sight. He cries for help. Onlookers, pedestrians mostly, walk across and one of them offers to help him out and take him to his home. He takes him right down to his doorstep, leaves him inside, tries to have a look around the luxurious interiors, at which the man gets alarmed and quite harshly asks him to leave. The Man closes the door, instinctively peeks through the peephole and realizes his folly, er, blindness.
        And cut.
        To his wife walking in, finding a vase broken on the floor, remarking that she isn’t any nurse around. The man is lying on the couch, eyes closed, and his hands bleeding. He must have stuttered his way to the couch, but we don’t know, because this is a film that chooses to cut through this situation. Nothing too wrong about it, if one were only narrating a story from a strictly third-person vantage point, trying to gauge this painful predicament through an objective eye and drawing some kind of intellectual or philosophical observations out of the exercise. Of course, the answer to that would be negative, for Mr. Meirelles is a fundamentally shallow filmmaker when it comes to the depth of his themes. And nor is he trying to present a third-person view of the proceedings, for he drowns every frame of his in white. Absolute milky white. Absolutely ugly milky white, and often blinding us with ultra brightness of images while he cuts his way to next scene and jumps his way through time.
        In cinema, especially in a cinema harboring ambitions of a compassionate tone, the use of time is of paramount significance. One cannot cut through time and shorten the pain without enough reason. Every material needs to have a feel of its time. Cinematic time that is. There’s stuff that audiences see, and there’s stuff that audiences feel and realize at a sensory level. As significant as is the visual atmosphere that many filmmakers take so much pain to get right in letting the audience know what to see, this time that is ignored on so many occasions is one that goes a long way in not just what the audience feels but how they feel what they feel. Not once does Mr. Saramago commit this kind of shorthand in his book, for he uses the length and breadth of his medium to thoughtfully and considerately explore the white blindness that has struck this unnamed cosmopolitan out of nowhere. Mr. Meirelles, on the other hand, is just content to present the events so that all his blind characters are all ready and stacked up in a quarantined zone – a verifiable Noah’s Ark with people of all races thrown against each other – and this is where he intends to unleash upon us his hypothesis on the whole of human nature and the whole history of its evolution into his present civilized form.
        Of course, Mr. Meirelles’ vision isn’t exactly state of the art. Rhetoric seems more like the word. Cruel, used by critics like Mr. Roger Ebert and Mr. Kyle Smith would be another, but I guess that seems a trifle harsh, for to be cruel a filmmaker ought to know what he’s doing. Saramago’s Blindness finds the filmmaker fishing in waters way out of his depth, and with all due respect to him, Mr. Meirelles is simply – let me use the word again – the wrong filmmaker for this subject. I’m not sure here, but I believe he doesn’t have the necessary expertise in the formal elements of cinema to attribute to this kind of a film.
        A little moment in the sequence I have described above throws the herring that this is a highly superfluous exercise, something that doesn’t have any humanistic tone to it, but instead his relying on trickery to try and gain the audience’s attention, and maybe even manipulate it. The Good Samaritan who drives the Asian drops him in front of his house and asks him to stay there for a moment so that he can park the car and come back. For no particular reason the Asian is left in the middle of the road, panic-stricken by the sounds of traffic around. Any film would have had the Asian standing on a curb, but this film chooses to derive thrill, and probably entertainment, out of this little situation, until the Samaritan comes and lays his hand on his shoulder and pulls him from the road. Such moments drain the respect with which you enter the premises of a movie theater to watch a film, and instead rein in disdain.
        Enough with the structural failures I say. Let us talk of the characters, who are played by some of the finest actors working today. There’s Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, We Don’t Live Here Anymore), a great actor in the making, and there’s Gael García Bernal (Babel, Amorres Perros). Then there’s Julianne Moore, one of our more underrated actresses. And Mr. Meirelles puts them through an absolute grind, in ugly situations. There’re rapes, there’re murders. And for what end? That humanity is ugly? That humanity, drenched in the urban world, is cruel and inhuman? That the face of that evil is manifested in our lust for sex and money? What ridiculously juvenile interpretations does Mr. Meirelles draw from the book. Interpretation would be a wrong word here for the filmmaker is basically cutting and packing the book under a couple of hours. You feel pained for these actors, not in the least because you care for their characters but for the honest effort they’re mining out and putting into every frame. Every bit of dialog given to them is crippled, and every bit of relation seems artificial.
        But then, why am I indulging in analyzing this film? Blindness, for all its worth, is an ungainly exercise in cruelty. Much more than that, it is an assault to the senses, especially the eye. Mr. Meirelles obviously hasn’t yet encountered restraint in his life, and I wish to the almighty he does in haste. And may the almighty present him a script that has been written well, and is more up his alley. Otherwise these filmmakers, who might rather be termed illustrators, would keep squandering potentially great films.

5 comments:

!Teq-uila Del Zapata said...

a post after a long time. seems like no release is affecting everyone

Anonymous said...

Anyone declaring themselves to be a "cinema pilgrim" is bound to be utterly ignorant of what they're saying about it. You're inconsistently "knowledgeable" about the book and when your comparisons are actually accurate you complain about the movie having to rush through certain moments. If you are in deed a person of any cinematic intellect then you know perfectly the disadvantages film has compared to the book in regards to length. This film is, for better or worse, is an extremely close adaptation and many of the complaints you have about it are straight from the source (including the first blind man being dropped off in the middle of the road instead of at the curb), which leads me to believe you wouldn't like the novel for any other reason than its award-winning and high brow. Otherwise perhaps you wouldn't ask "for what end?"

man in the iron mask said...

Oh dear Anonymous, if only you would have paid attention to what I say.

And I say it again, and this time in the form of a question –
Why is the need to replicate the book with all its scale and all its characters?

The answer is right here. Much of today’s cinema slavishly adapts the source. You say it right on the money – the difference in the medium. That is precisely the catch. Saramago has explored his medium, and used what it allows. But Meirelles by adapting and summarizing what is on the page is betraying his medium. For a film to be to cinema what a book is to literature, there need to be significant, and I re-iterate significant changes of scale, of characters, of timeline, of perspective.

Consider Christopher Priest’s The Prestige. And look how the Nolan brothers altered the plot and the characters and the perspective to respect and use what the medium can offer.

You know, there are some things that are plain un-filmable. Going about summarizing a book is a rather unimaginative exercise. Great filmmakers never do that. Otherwise what is the difference between a director and an illustrator?


Oh as for the book, please read those first few pages again, and see if you feel there’s an error in continuity. And look at the film, and see how the edits spoil the same. You know, the language of a medium if used improperly can ruin a lot of stuff.

And as for the ignorance part, yeah, well, we are still are scaling the sea, isn’t it? And the darn thing is the shore is still visible.

introspective said...

Blindness is a nice refreshment in the niche of apocalyptic movies. Plot is intriguing, characters are well developed. We see how people can turn into the different persons in special situation.

Kortnee said...

Now, I have not read the book yet- since I just recently discovered the film. This is the way I saw the movie. I found that the film was a success in other ways than just the basic principals of film making (like you have noted, there were strange ways of showing some scenes that didn't work well). Yes, I found some of the more grueling and "ugly" scenes to be a bit redundant, but I fully appreciated the general rawness of the film. Firstly, the literal scenes. The movie (at least, my interpretation) was about the loss of humanity and morality when you take away something as necessary and convenient as sight. The society is alienated and abandoned until they are left to fend for themselves. They only prove to be completely incompetent of coping without seeing, break out into a vicious (and quite pathetic) war. And through all this tragedy, struggle, and horror- we follow a certain group of people who are desperate for survival but their morality overpowers. Through the desperation, a family emerges. What I found most riveting about the movie was a specific scene towards the end. It rains and the streets fill with blind people, everyone sheds their clothes and begins to wash all the filth and the blood, sweat, and dirt from their bodies. Maybe you didn't pick up on the metaphorical significance in this scene, but it was the highlight of the movie- since after this point a there is a profound sense of hope. When you look at the movie's meaning and the message, it's a great success. I loved it for it's hopefulness. Often, film and books in which there are travesties and horrific sequences have the most hope in them. Maybe I'm just looking at it in a weird way, but the film struck something in me and I'm glad it did.