Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 38

40 May 10 -May 16, 2017 Sakamoto himself in The Last Emperor The Perfect Soundtrack VILLAGE VOICE.com The Quad honors Ryuichi Sakamoto’s perfectly tailored movie scores W BY BILGE EBIRI tiche: His music for Pedro Almodóvar’s High Heels (1991) is the noirest noir that ever noired. His traipsing boleros and Ver-tigo homages in Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale (2002) are unforgettable. (Also in-cluded in this retro is a rare 35mm screen-ing of Volker Schlöndorff ’s 1990 The Handmaid’s Tale , a first go at adapting Margaret At-Forbidden wood’s seminal novel.) Colors: Ryuichi But I’d argue that Saka-Sakamoto Sakamoto an Oscar), the sim-moto’s best work came in at the Movies ple, childlike melodies of the collaboration with Ber-May 12–15, early scenes speak to the in-Quad Cinema nardo Bertolucci. An op-ternalized life of the protago-era fanatic, the director nist, who was crowned often had lush, unabash-emperor of China at the age of two and edly melodramatic scores in his earlier lived in seclusion in the Forbidden City pictures (think back to Georges through his teenage years. When the Delerue’s rhapsodic melodies for The monarch Pu Yi (played by John Lone) fi-Conformist , Ennio Morricone’s sweep-nally leaves his palace and confronts the ing marches for 1900 , or Gato Barbieri’s outside world, Sakamoto comes rushing crashing jazz crescendos in Last Tango in with an orchestral blast of ominous in Paris ). He clearly connected with yet strangely stirring strings. The film Sakamoto’s ability to mix the lyrical and and its score are a meditation on the the ethereal, to nestle brisk composi-majesty and menace of power. Every tions within stretches of melancholy note of triumph for Pu Yi hastens his ambience. downfall and damnation. In 1987’s The Last Emperor (the score Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (1990) for which, composed in collaboration might represent Sakamoto’s greatest with David Byrne and Cong Su, won hen The Revenant got twelve Oscar nominations a couple of years ago, I was struck by the fact that Ale-jandro González Iñárritu’s film wasn’t nominated for best score, the one cate-gory it deserved to win. The mournful, ethereal music of Ryuichi Sakamoto was everything Iñárritu’s overbaked pseudo-western wasn’t — understated, evocative, and ultimately rousing. The Revenant isn’t screening in the Quad Cinema’s short tribute to the Japa-nese composer, but some of Sakamoto’s greatest work is. A classically trained pia-nist and ethnomusicologist, he had already achieved international fame as a member of the pioneering Japanese synthpop trio Yellow Magic Orchestra when director Nagisa Oshima hired him to star in and score the 1983 P.O.W. drama Merry Christ-mas, Mr. Lawrence . His music for the film is at times playful, even bordering on pop — particularly in the catchy main theme — and at times discombobulating, almost atonal. The seesawing mood makes an ideal match for Oshima’s heated, surreal tale of obsession and torment. Scoring diverse films, Sakamoto has re-vealed himself as surprisingly good at pas-Photofest work yet. Set in North Africa in the years after WWII, this adaptation of Paul Bowles’s cult novel strikes yet another balance — this time between the sensual and the existential. As husband-and-wife American travelers, John Malkovich and Debra Winger (both excellent) are se-duced by the rapturous beauty of the Sa-hara’s silky dunes. And yet the desert’s fearsome grandeur also forces them to confront their own mortality. To match their journey, Sakamoto creates a circular theme that always returns to the same few minor notes, even amid vast, droning soundscapes. The effect is that of a slow-burn, existential nightmare built out of moments of great lyricism. It’s about as perfect a match between movie and soundtrack as I can imagine. This Boy’s Life Elián is a time capsule of bad behavior T BY REN JENDER he documentary Elián posits the story of five-year-old Elián González, rescued off the coast of Florida in 1999 after attempting to leave Cuba with his mother (who drowned) — along with its aftermath — as the birth of the 24-hour news cycle. But what’s most striking here is how the story, in vintage clips, suggests reality TV. We watch strangers cry and faint as they carry signs and chant for Elián to stay in the U.S. González’s cousin Marisleysis, who cared for the boy during his time in Mi-ami, launches into an on-camera tirade against the boy’s father, Juan Miguel González, who wanted Elián back with him in Cuba. The Elián of the old footage ap-pears dazed. No one close to the boy seemed to understand that a five-year-old who had just lost his mother and nearly died himself might need his father and some therapy more than relentless publicity and trips to Disney World. The film shows some of what the news reports missed. The people the right-wing Cuban-American commu-nity in Miami painted as villains seem frailer than I remembered: Even when she clasps her hands, Attorney Gen-eral Janet Reno can’t stop the tremors from the Parkinson’s disease that would kill her. And Fidel Castro is more like an ailing, argumentative, long-winded grandfather than an all-powerful nemesis. We see “fisherman” (actually a housecleaner) Donato Dalrymple, who “rescued” Elián (Dalrymple’s cousin was the one who got the boy out of the water), in close proximity and the U.S. during the Obama admin-to the González family, trying to become istration. But the main characters are something like the first reality TV star. resolute. Marisleysis says she won’t go ( Survivor would debut in May of 2000.) to Cuba (unrestricted travel from the In one shot he says his name and then U.S. was restored in 2016) to visit Elián eagerly asks reporters, “You want me to because to do so would be a “betrayal” spell it?” Dalrymple did achieve a kind to his mother, a woman she never met of fame: In the Pulitzer Prize–winning or communicated with. The now photo of the raid on the González house-twenty-three-year-old Elián tells us hold, he was the one holding the boy. he’s not religious but if The film assumes a famil-he were, he would wor-iarity with the story most ship Fidel Castro. won’t have, leaving out crucial Elián The story continues details: Marisleysis (twenty-Directed by Tim Ross and Ross to elicit strong emotion: one at the time) strongly im-McDonnell After a Tribeca screen-plied to reporters that the Gravitas Ventures ing, two women argued González household had guns Opens May 12, Cinema Village loudly about whether and would use them to keep Elián should have Elián. So the government stayed. Meanwhile sending heavily armed agents Elián, still a celebrity in Cuba, might for the raid seems more like common pursue a political career there. We see sense than a Big Brother scenario. the resilience of the adult Elián when The same Cuban-American organiza-he takes a swim near a Cuban beach: tions that had protested softened after After all he’s endured, he’s not afraid the raid to become part of the process of the water. that improved relations between Cuba

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