Friday, October 24, 2008

Blindness *1/2

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Cast: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover, Gael García Bernal
Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar

"Allegorical poetic films never do work."
- Pauline Kael

In an unnamed city, in an unnamed country, an unnamed man (Iseya) suddenly becomes blind.
His wife (Kimura) rushes him to an ophthalmologist (Ruffalo) who assures him that they will find a cure, or at least an explanation, for whatever caused this.
The following morning the doctor wakes up and realizes he's gone blind as well. During the following days the disease, which becomes known as the "White Sickness", spreads among the population leaving the government no other choice, of course, than to quarantine all the affected and leave them to their own devices until they know how to handle the situation.
Unbeknown to most people is the fact that the doctor's wife (Moore) has inexplicably retained her eyesight and pretends to be blind in order to be with her husband.
She however seems to ignore Erasmus' famous saying and chooses instead to become some sort of slave in what slowly turns into a decaying microcosm.
The blind are left at the mercy of the military who fears becoming infected by the disease and are forced to live in inhuman conditions. Soon a dictatorship is formed in one of the hospital wards, where a man (Bernal) names himself king and takes over food distribution exchanging it for jewelry, money and sexual favors.
As the people adapt to this new life, we are left to wonder what exactly caused it, how will they survive and even more mysterious, what exactly is going on outside the hospital?
Adapted from Nobel Prize winner José Saramago's homonymous novel, "Blindness" is the kind of film that should come with a warning letting us know that allegories and metaphorical laziness are closer than they appear.
Within the pedigree it boasts, it has forgotten that at the core of any artistic experience is the need for identification.
People don't need to agree with art for them to take it as art, what they need is to feel that the author meant to say something and knew how to justify his message.
"Blindness" is so selfconscious of its own didacticism that it forgets to care about itself or the characters in it.
While the idea that anonymity encourages empathy seems to be effective, the problem is that the characters here aren't just missing a backstory, but an identity.
The actors play archetypes instead of characters and they do a bad job because the traits given to them have been so diluted for instant consume that they are left with nothing to work on.
The casting which tries to be all politically correct and United Nations like by having Asian, Hispanic, Black and White characters in the lead roles fails because instead of promoting diversity it encourages racial stereotypes.
Therefore we are left with an exotic Brazilian prostitute (Braga), a wise, weathered black man (Glover in a role that Morgan Freeman could've played in his sleep) and a slightly chauvinistic Asian man (Iseya) all subjugated by the opression of minorities in the hospital scenes and later left to be rescued by the almighty white characters.
Yes, it's true that the people in the film can't see what they all look like, but the audience can and despite cinematographer César Charlone's attempts to emulate the milky blindness of the ill, we remain esentially visual beings and the film's style remains esentially pompous going on humble.
Saramago's book was colloquial and his writing even vulgar to a point, but the way in which his pen spits the words (without even taking the time to punctuate) gave his story an urgency that Meirelle's lethargic interpretation completely misses.
We know all along that at some point of the film something within us is expected to click and make us go "Oh! This isn't so different from the world we're living in", but the moment never comes precisely because not even the director himself seems to have faith in the story he's telling.
It's true that allegories retain an implicit sense of ambiguity, but we must remember that even artistic symbolism springs from a precise sociopolitical and historical context of which this film seems to be unaware.
When referring to the doctor's wife one of the characters expresses how having a "leader with vision" makes them feel safe.
And while the term makes sense during these politically minded times (and almost seems to have been borrowed from some presidential slogan) the same can not be said of Mereilles who takes his film into emotionally drained, intellectually selfindungent roads where it's always the blind leading the blind.


Michael Parsons said...

I was so excited about this movie Jose, and now, after most reviews say the same thing I am disappointed. I loved the novel so much, and you did really care for the central figures and the 'family' they made themselves. If that does not come across in the film then shame on the filmmakers.

Jose said...

I'm sorry to confirm your fears. You know now I can only wonder why is it that the film is such a failure when the novel was so chilling and effective? One could argue that people who've read the book will always be disappointed in some way by the film version, but what about those who don't know Saramago's novel and still see the film as something chaotic, preachy and aimless?

Luis Blasini said...

Jose...Jose...Jose...I saw this film two days ago and just read your review. You know I do not like conflict. You know I abhore causing an uproar. I don't like going against the grain or making waves. That said - I just read this and the first thing that popped in my head: Did he even SEE this movie?
As a fellow filmist you understand firstly it is catagorically impossible - impossible!! (beating fist on desk for imphasis)- to translate a book directly to film. I will not lecture you why because I know you understand the time space problems that implies. As for the actors - I believe they did a fine job - symbolizing the worlds conflicted infected delimma represented in the tiny confines of the ward they were imprisoned. I am not saying the film was not flawed - however, I think it was well exicuted and like your friend, I too was wary to view this film based on the online reviews. However, I took a chance (Okay my choice was this or High School Musical at the time)and enjoyed it very much. So, on this one - I guess we have to agree to disagree.
Until next time - The balcony is closed.

Jose said...

Hehehe I wasn't saying that the film needed to be a translation of the book, I know it's impossible and stupid to do so.
I'm up for any good interpretation of a literary work into a visual art form, but this movie was preposterous.
What I mean is that Mereilles never justifies why he chose to make this film.
And yes Julianne Moore was terrific.

Luis Blasini said...

Okay - we're friends again... Even though you paid to see High School Musical.
Oh - don't know if it's down there yet, but "Quarrantine" will creep the crap right outcha pants! It's simple but effective - though after Blair Witch and Cloverfield the 'whole movie from single camera' routine is wearing thin. See ya at the snack bar!

Jose said...

I did not pay good sir, I watched it on TV.
As for "Quarantine" it's not here yet, but I saw the original from Spain, called "REC", just last week and liked it pretty much 'til the supernatural finale.
I like my mysteries to remain unexplained for the most part, which is why I think nothing has been able to top "Blair Witch" even after a whole decade.