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LAFF: The Films That Got Away

The Silence Before Bach

The ongoing series of outstanding recent films that haven’t yet screened locally, curated by members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (including L.A. Weekly film editor Scott Foundas), continues as an LAFF sidebar with three selections directed (in 2007) by septuagenarians — a Spanish maestro, a Japanese maverick and an Argentinian mystery man who deliver further proof that veteran directors, seemingly immune to the dictates of any marketplace, still make some of the most inventive and exciting films around. Exhibit A is United Red Army, the monumental 100th film by uneven but often visionary provocateur Kôji Wakamatsu, which recountsthe failure of Japan’s ultraleft revolutionaries in three roughly hourlong parts: a rich, docudrama-style re-creation of ’60s student protests turning into armed resistance; a harrowing, claustrophobic middle section in which the radicals retreat for a fatally escalating self-purification process; and a grand action finale of the survivors’ (in)famous last stand in 1972. Wakamatsu was close to the radical movement then, and you can sense his sympathy for these youngsters’ revolutionary ideals, which makes his detached, clear-eyed view of their perversion and self-destruction all the more devastating: The sense of waste is overpowering. The urgency of Wakamatsu’s artistic and personal summation is unmatched, but Exhibit B, The Silence Before Bach, is just as riveting, with its playful yet imposing juxtapositions of sound and image. This idiosyncratic meditation on music and European history is the comeback (after a 17-year hiatus) of Pere Portabella, an important figure of Spanish cinema, who produced (e.g., Buñuel’s Viridiana), then directed political documentaries and, especially, miraculous experimental concoctions. The Silence Before Bach may be his most accessible mosaic, thanks to the diverse performances of Bach music, which ecstatically punctuate Portabella’s tapestry of fact and fiction (and various eras and countries). Off the bat, a robot piano pirouettes to its Bach tune (later, another piano spectacularly crashes into the sea). A subway car is filled with determinedly fiddling cellists. Finally, a screen-filling close-up on the score of “Fecit potentiam,” from the Magnificat, abstractly accompanies the ravishing soundtrack. Music also plays a crucial part in the slightly lesser Exhibit C, Música Nocturna, by Argentina’s hitherto nearly unknown Rafael Filippelli. A precise rendering of scenes from a (worn-out) marriage, often set against a luminous nighttime Buenos Aires, its quiet, intimate revelations nevertheless have their own piercing beauty.

Música Nocturna screens at the Billy Wilder Theater on Sunday, June 21 at 9:45 p.m. The Silence Before Bach screens at the Billy Wilder Theater on Friday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. United Red Army screens at the Landmark, Sun., June 28, 5:30 p.m.


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