Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 23, 2011

I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You

Filed under: Brazil,Film — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

“I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You” is a remarkable film being shown starting tomorrow at one of New York’s most remarkable institutions: Anthology Film Archives. First, some words about the film and then some about the institution.

As soon as I figured out what the film was about, my immediate reaction was to eject the screener from my DVD player. This Brazilian film, co-directed by Karim Ainouz and Marcelo Gomes, has only one character—a 35 year old unnamed and unseen geologist (Irandhir Santos) who is driving around northeastern Brazil in proximity to the site of a new canal that he works on. We see the desolate but beautiful flatlands from his perspective, mostly behind the wheel of a car, while listening to a nearly stream of consciousness voiceover about the people he knows in the region, as well as a woman named Blondie who he has just split up from. I was skeptical that drama could be eked out of what amounts to a single-character screenplay. Thankfully, I was rewarded by one of the more penetrating psychological portraits in a very long time, mixing existential angst with oblique reflections about the impact of environmental change of the kind that is transforming Brazil as radically as China.

In an odd way, the geologist has an affinity for the Brazilian underclass reminiscent of the artist Vik Muniz whose collaboration with the recyclers working in the vast landfill Gramacho elevated them to the same status as the artwork they recreated. Unlike Muniz, however, there’s a psychological gulf between him and the prostitutes, shoemakers and other characters he meets on his peregrinations. They describe their hopes and their fears to him, while he reserves his own for those viewing the film, those privileged to hear his self-doubts and fears.

Much of the film consists of silent vistas of the Brazilian countryside that is about as flat in this region as Texas. Indeed, I had the same sort of forlorn feeling that the geologist had as I used to navigate the back-country roads just beyond Houston in the mid-1970s. Unlike the geologist, I had a sense of solidarity with the socialists I had joined down there, although it was rapidly eroding.

The final scenes in the film consist of the geologist surveying the town that is about to be inundated with water, a necessary result of Brazil’s relentless modernization. He does not render a political judgment on the changes taking place but you cannot be left without a feeling that the changes—that he is in the vanguard of fomenting—leave him as empty as the love affair that has just ended in failure.

Defying conventional expectations of film-making, the directors have found exactly the right venue to present their work.

Anthology Film Archives was founded in 1969 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage. The website described this as “An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form.”

Disposable entertainment, indeed. As I look desperately for a movie in my own neighborhood at the local Cineplex, I often feel as frustrated as trying to find a book to read in an airport magazine stand.

Stan Brakhage died 8 years ago at the age of 70. I saw him present some of his films at Bard College in 1961 and was struck by the audacity of his vision, even if I did not understand the narrative. The experimental film of this period is largely a dead art even though its traces can be seen everywhere, including work such as “I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You”. In an interview with BOMB Magazine, director Karim Aïnouz describes his attitude toward film-making that is very much in the spirit of Stan Brakhage and the other defiantly non-commercial founders of Anthology Film Archives:

TC: You sometimes make short films, as personal exercises leading up to longer work. I saw one of those shorts about a small jail in an arid place and how characters both in and out of the jail relate to that space. Tell me about that creative process.

KA: There is a big contradiction in my relationship to filmmaking. Ultimately film is a means of expression and communication. You do a film so people can see it, and that’s why sometimes I think I’m in the wrong place. I have a really hard time letting my films be public. The film that you mentioned, Happiness Lives Here, was done in 1997 and I never fully finished it. Filmmaking for me relates to writing a diary. It’s a personal expression of what I believe, how I see the world, and how I relate to people. So those short exercises are the part of my filmmaking that I like to keep to myself. I like making feature films for different reasons: communication, working with a crew, making creative partners, and developing a project over time. Filmmaking is so much about the audience and the reception, and yet there’s something very personal about it that I can’t let go of.

Check http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/ for scheduling information on this most interesting work.

2 Comments »

  1. […] image conjured above. If not for Vyer, it would have disappeared into the memory hole. This is what I had to say about it back […]

    Pingback by Vyer Films: the cognoscenti’s Netflix « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — October 16, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

  2. […] image conjured above. If not for Vyer, it would have disappeared into the memory hole. This is what I had to say about it back […]

    Pingback by Vyer Films: the cognoscenti’s Netflix | Socialist Agenda WebzineSocialist Agenda Webzine — October 18, 2012 @ 12:56 am


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