Foreign May: Day 2 and 3

(Every day in the month of May, Scott and I are watching a foreign film. On May 1st, we watched The Official Story.)

May 2nd: Porco Rosso

Everyone loves Miyazaki and everyone should. His animation if chalk full of charm and adorable children doing adorable things. I was looking through his filmography, trying to decide which ones I might want to revisit for this little marathon, when I discovered I had skipped over this gem. A man is turned into a pig by a spell and then spends his life as a bounty hunter of air-pirates. WHAT??? Awesome!

What I loved about this film was how much Miyazaki left to the imagination. He never explains how Porco is turned into a pig and he never reveals whether he will ever turn back into a man. A lot of foreign films leave endings open to the point of cliche (which was one of the reasons I didn’t love The Official Story), but here the open ending serves to heighten the imagination of what could be. Which seems perfect for a kid who can write her own back story and ending without the nosy interference of an over manipulating filmmaker.

Also, no one animates water quite like Miyazaki. It’s mesmerizing.

May 3rd: How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

We had a hard time constituting just what exactly counts as a foreign film. Can a film that takes place in the U.S. in English ever be considered “foreign”? Do the Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis count? What about American directors that make foreign language films? In the end we decided that no one could be more of a “foreigner” than Werner Herzog.

Which is why his look at middle American culture could have been fascinating. Louis Malle did it in …And the Pursuit of Happiness and Scott and I both went googoogaga over that documentary. But Herzog’s portrayal of a auctioneering competition doesn’t quite do the job. I’m wondering what exactly his purpose for making the film was? With it’s almost real-time footage of each auctioneer in the competition repeating nearly the same lines of dialogue was he trying to point out the intricacies of the art – and thus the people – or the monotony? Or was it merely a look at a craft most people would be unfamiliar with? I’m not sure, but, frankly, it was boring. I’ve never said that about a Herzog film! But this one was. It was boring.

Watch this impersonation instead!

4 Comments

Filed under Movie Marathons, Whitney

4 responses to “Foreign May: Day 2 and 3

  1. I love Herzog, but I’d agree that this film isn’t an especially strong one from him. He seems to have been fascinated by the rapid-fire speech of the auctioneers, and it’s hard not to share his fascination… for a couple of minutes. Then it quickly gets tiresome, and all you can do is be overwhelmed as one auctioneer after another spits out this quick patter. It may not be entirely obvious, since it’s set in the US, but I think this film is in line with Herzog’s not-often-discussed ethnographic strain, the simple, observational films made in exotic places and displaying exotic customs and arts. *Jag Mandir*, his film about an Indian folk art festival, is a prime example, where the appeal is mainly the straightforward presentation of rituals and artforms most people wouldn’t otherwise have any opportunity to experience. In these kinds of films, he seems to be mostly saying, “hey, look at this, isn’t it interesting?” And not coincidentally these tend to be his weakest, least characteristic works.

  2. I’m excited for this month of foreign films- it’s a cool idea. I agree about Miyazaki’s ability to animate water- he loves using it in his films and it’s just always beautiful to see!

    I haven’t seen too many Herzog films, but I am surprised he made a boring documentary about auctions. I guess he just wanted to try something new?

  3. i love fitzcarraldo, but i still say it gets pretty boring at times. like the long part where they’re extracting rubber from trees (or plants or whatever). in some ways, you can see this kind of ethnograph-ing — showing exactly how rubber is produced in the middle of the amazon — except that i get this feeling with herzog movies (both features and docs) that he sees the camera as ruining any kind of actual documentation. i think he says something like this in border of dreams when he mentions that he views the indigenous people used in his movies as actors, even when doing things they normally do.

    i think it’s related to say in grizzly man where some of the people he interviews about treadwell are identified as friend/actor. so even in his documentaries, to some extent, he views the people in the docs as actors,

    • I love that he calls them actors instead of trying to pretend that the way his camera portrays their customs/speech/work is completely true. His calling them “actors” seems to acknowledge that his perspective will influence how they’re seen in the film and, so, they’re really working for him and his purpose.

      Fitzcarraldo was slow in parts, but at least I hadn’t seen all of it before. Auctioneering is something we’re pretty familiar with in America, and so the fascination wears off really quickly.

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