As Summer gets into full swing, I want to share three films that are all must-see indie flicks for your Netflix queue this summer.
I don’t have to qualify how much I love black and white, except to say that for me, it’s the most visually imaginative of all the art forms (high art voice.)
But seriously, I feel like black and white captures something of the soul that color never will.
The first film that I’m presently obsessed with is , a surreal, poignant and comedic Amélie-like journey set in Mexico city, centered around a young man, Tomás, who goes to live with his older brother Sombra and his roommate during the 1999 student protests. The three are steeped in poverty, Sombra suffering from panic attacks. There are no classes, no food and no electricity except when they can convince the girl downstairs to shimmy an electrical chord up a bucket while her mother is at work. Tomás’ contagious obsession with musician Epigmenio Cruz serves as a constant thread that connects every character. Muted moments when Tomás lends his headphones to each person become musical rests amidst the hum of the car engine barreling through Mexico City. The film is a deep trance of comedic, chase scenes, serious political revolt, economic unrest and a touching romance between Sombra and Ana who is torn between her desire to run and her loyalty to her compañeros. Ilse Salas who plays Ana, spearheads the student protests. “These are my brothers,” she tells Sombra, after delivering a riveting speech to the student body which ends in a literal battle between the bourgeois and the worker students. “They hate you,” Sombra pipes back.
For the rest of the film, the group leave reality behind in a tiny car, drink beer and smoke cigarettes and try to find the mythical Cruz. My favorite scene is when the director, Alonso Ruizpalacios jumps into the car, interrupting the entire film with this great speech about how stupid the film and its plot are. The Greek Chorus played out in Spanish. It’s a hilarious moment and very much in the vein of Cine Mexicano, which never takes itself too seriously. This movie cuts like a machete but still manages to be pure magic. And Sombra reminds me of my Dad. Check it out if you want to find out if they ever find Cruz.
The next movie I’m COMPLETELY obsessed with, also in black and white, should have won everything. Seriously, it got a Oscar nomination, but it should have won and it didn’t and that’s just insane to me. A visual masterpiece, Embrace Of The Serpent (El Abrazo De La Serpiente), directed by Ciro Guerra, is two beautiful stories set 30 years apart about Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman who struggles to preserve the rainforest during the 1920 rubber boom.
The film is based loosely on the journals of two scientists, Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes, looking for the sacred “Yakruna” plant or ayahuasca which has drawn huge attention as of late. The film, however, only refers to the plant as Yakruna because the filmmakers felt ayahuasca had become too commercialized. If you want a two hour introduction into the evils of colonialism, however, coupled with a riveting, life-affirming journey that thoroughly exposes the bastardization of the indigenous people via science and religion, Serpent is your film. You’ll also never look at your car tires the same way again. The strong message about the sacredness of nature was the take away for me, as Karamakate implores Schultes to dump his precious trunk of research from the boat to keep the two men buoyed, literally and spiritually. When discussing the symbolism of the film, Guerra noted: “The indigenous people compare it to the way serpents change their skin. It’s a painful process that means you will leave parts of you behind.” And that’s exactly how the film made me feel. Light and dreamy-like. If you long to awaken your warrior spirit, watch this film.
And speaking of warriors, let’s talk Seven Samurai, the film of all films, that inspired countless other films. I don’t think I even remotely grasped the breadth of Akira Kurosawa’s filmmaking skills the first time I saw the Seven Samurai, or even later on with Yojimbo. The transitions, the panning, and those stunning opening shots that are in every scene change in every Star Wars movie, along with the the innocent love scenes, the villager to warrior evolution, the blithe lightness of that evolution pushed up against the dark confluence of the bandits (i.e.storm troopers). It’s not difficult to see where George Lucas drew inspiration from. And I’m definitely on board with J.J. Abrams even if James Cameron isn’t.
But I’m at Seven Samurai intermission. Time to get some popcorn and resume. Have a fun and safe weekend, beautiful ones. Keep breathing. Keep evolving. xo
“You give the wolf your leg and he’ll take your arms too. You cannot bargain with trolls. You reason with them now, give them something, and they will be here in the autumn just the same. Hamlin, Seven Samurai