Dos Críticas de Cine: El Club y La Delgada Línea Amarilla
My Spanish is a little rusty so I was thankful for subtitles and will write about them entirely in English from here on out. I saw these two films at the 2016 Portland International Film Festival and I’m choosing to review them within the same article because of their similarities.
The Club is a Chilean film directed by Pablo Larraín (released February, 2016). Four priests are living in a house in exile together aided by one nun who keeps their schedule and essentially runs the household. The quirky bunch of individuals reminds me of The Odd Couple to a certain extent. They all have very quirky and distinct personalities yet manage to get along and even balance each other out. The way in which their past is revealed is not with flashbacks (much appreciated) but through the present with the use of interviews by a fifth priest who has come to town with his background in psychology and attempts to get them to reveal information about themselves that they would rather not reveal. It gave it a very non-linear storytelling feel and made it more interesting as I had to try to piece together the story with everyone else in the audience. We were all waiting for the next clue together. “Darkly comic” does not mean the same to Chilean filmmakers is it does to American filmgoers. Expecting a dark comedy I was startled by the realization that it was really a dark drama with a few pieces of comedy woven in. The cinematography tended to have a softer focus which lent it to a more dreamlike quality and softened the content. Had there been a sharper focus the film may have felt more brutal or disgusting than it did feel. The acting was great – the characters believable and even human when discovering what it was that had exiled them (though one character’s story is never fully revealed)
The Thin Yellow Line is a Mexican film directed by Celso García (released March, 2015). Another film that tricked me into thinking it was more comedic than dramatic but I quickly learned that was not the case. Again, a group of people who somehow balance each other out and learn to get along although they would not be getting along had they not been stuck working for 15 days together painting the yellow stripe between two lanes of traffic on a long stretch of highway. At times you could feel the heat that is roasting (broiling?) them on a hot day as you see their dry lips, the desert surrounding them, the panting dog companion, their sweaty dust-covered garb. Again the acting was great – the characters growth can be measured through the film. It’s not sudden, it’s gradual, but it does happen. As with the previous film these character back stories weren’t told with flashbacks either. It was done through the characters getting to know each other, asking how they came to be at that job, what they did professionally before it, allowing the actors to really perform and show emotion and character.
I had thought both of these films were dark comedies but they turned out to be dramas with a hint of comedy sprinkled in. Because of the subtitles I was reading their dialogue as well as a visually reading the scenes so my hearing was focused on how something was said, the emotion in the words, rather than the words themselves. This also means that I cried during one scene in both films because I was emotionally (subconsciously) engaged. Their endings were neither happy nor sad. They were indeed clear endings. I’ve grown weary of the Hollywood-esque “everyone lives happily ever after” tendency and was shocked by scenes towards the ends of both films yet I appreciated that it was different, more raw, more real. They both ignored flashbacks for a more unique way of revealing the past (okay, I shouldn’t use the term unique because other films have done the same thing, but they are not nearly as common as the flashback has become). There was joy, sadness, pain, anger (dare I say, human emotions?) present in both films. They were enjoyable, I’m glad I saw them, and now I know to bring tissues to foreign films.