Japón (2002)

Screening: Saturday, April 13, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre

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Japón, Carlos Reygadas’ first feature film, was shot on 16 mm Cinescope, which lends the vast landscapes of Hidalgo and the weathered creases of our protagonist’s face their particular texture in this film. As critic J. Hoberman wrote, “More eccentric than overweening, less cosmic than intractable, Japón’s allegorical aspect is almost always subsumed in a material sense of the film as object. This movie feels arduously made and newly exhumed, having the aspect ratio and warm, bleached tinge of a vintage spaghetti western.”

A.O. Scott waxed poetic along the same aesthetic lines: “If Japón is unapologetically abstract, preferring metaphysics to narrative, it is also bracingly, even abrasively sensual. The director seems to want to push through the barriers that separate sight from the other senses: even on screen the washed-out, metallic light seems to have a temperature and a taste. When clouds shadow the landscape, you sense a change in humidity as well as luminosity. The spiraling camera movements suggest an intension not just to show you the whole world but to plunge you into the midst of it. Mr. Reygadas wants you to feel the roughness of the stones, the chill of the rain and–especially–the passage of time.”

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As with all of Reygadas’ films, however, the grandiosity of the cinematic image and the awe-inspiring grace of the natural world find an ugly counterpoint in human frailty, suffering, cruelty, and carnal desire. Our protagonist has left Mexico City in search of his final resting place and the gumption to go through with his suicide. He beats a trail of existential dread through the glorious mountains of central Mexico, and the awakening of his brute sexuality threatens to corrupt the peace and compassion of others. But Ascen, the elderly widow who takes him in, meets all his dark indulgences and self-serious ponderings with the openheartedness and levelheadedness of the most saintly of humans. Indeed, it is through her that Japón offers up its great compromise between nature and the flesh, as the boundlessness of her humanity comes to be nothing short of divine.

For tickets to the Saturday, April 13th screening of Japón, click HERE.

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