Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sangre (2005)

See, people, this is what we get when we praise Tsai Ming-Liang and we praise Bruno Dumont and we praise Carlos Reygadas. This feature debut by Amat Escalante (who was, among other things, assistant director on Reygadas's Battle in Heaven) aligns itself so closely with the squalid-master-shot aesthetic that is all the rage in certain world-cinema circles that it can't help but invite comparison to the above listed filmmakers; such comparisons can only reveal how hollow Escalante's film is. He has a good eye for composition, but his depiction of one man's empty life has neither the mordant and playful wit of Tsai nor the disturbing tonal mastery of Dumont -- it's just a series of scenes with this cross-eyed dude and his boring marriage and his boring job and his junkie daughter. (Nor does it have the necessary craft of performance from its actors; Escalante can coax a striking image out of a heap of garbage, but he can't get anything out of his amateur actors.) It's so dogged and dull that I wonder if it's not intended as a parody of this arthouse genre, where dead-end lives are represented by dead air and passionless sex between unattracive people is shorthand for artistic truth. I've struggled with my reaction to this film, honestly. Is my disliking this representative of a streak of burgeoning philistinism within my sensibilities? Intellectually, I appreciate what it's doing. I see the alienation, the dead dreams and lost passions, the hopelessness and the sadness. But it does nothing for me. The ending, too, leaves me torn -- while it's interesting in the sense that steers away from the expected violence that often concludes films of this ilk, I think it's reaching for a sense of theological grace that it hasn't earned. Could that be the point, though? Is Escalante implicitly criticizing the wastefulness of the unexamined life by showing us a protagonist who's so wrapped up in his problems and his self-pity that he fails to understand the miraculous thing he's just done? There is part of me that insists that I'm missing something here, even as the rest of me holds my nose and resists the temptation to throw things (quiet desperation never seemed so desperate). Ultimately, I'm going with my gut (since it rarely steers me wrong), and I feel okay calling this a plodding exercise in ennui whose ambition curdles far too quickly into pretension. But feel free to prove me wrong.

Grade: D


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