This must’ve been one of the most diversified opening weekend in years, as we saw the premiere of “Blindness” and “Mamma Mia” last friday. I’ll be reviewing “Mamma Mia” in the next post, but this one will be all about Fernando Meirelles “Blindness”.
Starring a multinational cast, incluidng hollywood’s big starts Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Danny Glover, and also recent latin stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Brazil’s very own Alice Braga. This Brazil-Canada-Japan co-production, was the opening movie for the last Cannes Festival, received with (understandable) mixed reviews.
I never read the original book “Ensaio sobre Cegueira” from Portuguese Nobel prize winner José Saramago, which was originally published back in 1996, but people who read it, says that Meirelles rarely strays away from the source material, and created quite a faithful adaptation.
A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant “white blindness”. Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created “society of the blind” quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hording the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is however one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble. Their voyage is fraught with danger, yet their survival and ultimate redemption reflect the tenacity and depth of the human spirit.
This is a really good movie, but it must’ve been one of the hardest movies I ever had to watch in recent years. If you’ve watched Meirelles other movies, be it “Cidade de Deus” or “The Constant Gardner”, you can find a certain common signature, that is very much present in “Blindness”. All the grittiness of the narrative and the way he shoots it, it taken almost to the limit, it never becomes gore, but it’s something that is really hard to take in. It was so strong that it almost made me want to leave the movie midway through it, and that lingering feeling do stay for a while. If you can take all the gore from those many horro-gore movies from recent years, we know you have the stomach to take the punch, but the human scar goes further. Its nonetheless a violent movie, in a lot of senses. And the way it’s lighted with a lot of white background, making things really hard to see is constant for most of the duration of the picture.
I can understand people who weren’t able to take it, but if you can stick with it only a few minutes longer, the conclusion is somewhat satisfying. No it doesn’t explain at all the source, the how and why the blindness happened, not even try to answer why Moore’s character is the only one we see being immune to it. And I think that was never intended by this tale.
Is it another cautionary tale for how man is destroying the planet, yadda yadda yadda? It can be taken as a possible interpretation for the movie, but in a much lesser level. “Cegueira” is a lot more about human condition; about the essence of what is commonly called “humanity”; is about how society try to rebuild, try to re-organize in midst of almost absolyte chaos.
New York, Vancouver, São Paulo
The movies primary photography was done in 3 cities: São Paulo (Brazil), Montevideo (Uruguay) and Toronto (Canada). Just like the characters being basically nameless archetypes, you’re not supposed to recognize the city. It’s never specified in which country or city it takes place. But for São Paulo, natives is really hard not to recognize most of the location, which are not only recognizable, but are from places that I really go by on a daily basis. Now I get it, how strong this can be on the screen, like how Sex and the City is deeply linked New York City, or how funny must be to see Vancouver as the fake whaterver city for every other US movie out there.
For some reason, as the credits were rolling I was reminded of one the major flops from this summer, M Night Shyamallan’s “The Happening”. It made me think, that if Fox didn’t sell it that much as a supposedly horror movie, and if he did shoot a few things differently, it might have worked better. Of course, they would never be able to try to sell it to the large public, to get the big numbers they never got. But maybe they would have gotten a more satisfying result by selling it differently targeting another public. Shyamallan eastern influences were completely gone in “The Happening”, which will really be one of the biggest jokes from the movie season of Summer 2008, which would have been a intersting opportunity to show us something to reflect upon.
Unlike the latter, I expect whoever watches “Blindness” (Ensaio sobre Cegueira) until it’s very end, to be challenged to think, to reflect about the issues that the movie tries to very widely show us.