Friday, September 27, 2013

Gathr Preview Screening: José e Pilar

The original movie scheduled for this time was Operation E, but that fell through over the weekend - from the sound of Gathr's email, it seems as though getting a Blu-ray authored with proper subtitles of this fairly new film just wasn't happening. Given the 2010 copyright on José e Pilar, it kind of looks like they were looking for something that wouldn't cut things particularly close with their substitute.

Fortunately, it's still a pretty nifty movie that was surprisingly engrossing. I spent the day not so much dreading the longish documentary on a foreign author as feeling kind of tired and unsure whether I'd make it to the end, but that never proved to be a problem. It's one of the best-put-together movies of its type I can remember seeing, with very little glancing at the watch but plenty of writing stuff down in the notebook that I might want to remember for the review.

In the end, I didn't wind up using a lot of it, although it makes me curious about how directors choose to add overt structuring to docs like this. José e Pilar has three acts announced with on-screen captions, and puts a lot of dates on-screen. It's kind of a delicate balance, as this movie goes for fly-on-the-wall access with minimal cutting to other people, and each bit of text reminds the audience they're watching a movie rather than just sitting in the room. They do a fine job of creating associations with facts, though, and Mendes has a strong enough grasp on his subjects as characters to get away with it.

José e Pilar

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

The time period covered by José & Pilar aligns, roughly, with the time it took Nobel Prize-winning writer José Saramago to bring his book The Elephant's Journey from concept to release, and that sounds like a fairly dull sort of thing to watch. And it likely would be, if it were entirely comprised of Saramago sitting in front of his laptop, typing. But he and his wife Pilar del Rio aren't the type to let the grass grow under their feet, and director Miguel Gonçalves Mendes never seems to be more than a step or two behind them.

Many coming into the movie will know something about José Saramago: Though he did not write professionally until the age of sixty, he became renowned around the world. His native Portugal, however, reacted poorly to his book The Gospel of Jesus Christ and he had at the time of filming spent recent years on Lanzarote Island (one of the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory). When he's there, he works on his book and also helps to build a library, but an author of Saramago's renown is in demand for appearances all around the world, and he's still healthy enough to do do that sort of travel, despite being 83 years old, as the film starts.

Aside from a little text at the beginning to establish Lanzarote as his home, the film doesn't feed the audience the details on José Saramago's life story until reasonably late in the game, and in that way is able to focus on who he is in the present (well, the film's present; Saramago passed away after it finished shooting in 2008), and he's an interesting set of contradictions: Though his books frequently address spiritual or Biblical topics, he tells of being a life-long atheist; and while his words are often those of a cynical curmudgeon, he finds plenty of joy in small things and pleasantly talks to any visitors to the island who meet him in the library and cannot justify denying fans a moment of his time or an autograph. His face may be set in a permanent frown, but he's got quiet, surprising charisma.

Full review at EFC.

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