Editor's Note: The
Notebook is the North American home for Locarno Film Festival Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian's blog. Chatrian has been writing thoughtful blog entries in Italian on Locarno's website since he took over as Director in late 2012, and now you can find the English translations here on the
Notebook as they're published. The Locarno Film Festival will be taking place August 5th to 15th.
“We are the product of an incredible cultural and racial mix. And the more we accept this, the stronger we are; the more we refute it, the weaker we are. We still have to learn to live together in America.”
Michael Cimino made this statement to Cahiers du Cinéma in 1996, when Sunchaser, his last film to date, was about to be released. Some twenty years later his words still resonate in their accuracy. This applies far beyond that particular (underrated) film, which turned the desperate flight of a terminally ill individual into a mystical ascension. The flight from civilization on which Blue and the doctor who accompanies him embark is not a rejection of society but a rite of passage. Everything else needs to be blotted out in order to take a different look at the same everyday things. Drawing a parallel between hip-hop music and the legacy of Indian culture, between the rhythms and visions that these two forms of expression bring with them, Sunchaser seeks a new way to represent that nation which Cimino has always viewed with both love and disenchantment. The same feeling informs his first film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, another road-movie, sui generis, whose very title bears the stamp of an Indian past.
The immense lucidity with which Cimino has read American culture and society makes his work one of the most impressive important representations of that country. Viewed as a whole – and it is possible to do so because it comes down to only 7 feature films which, regardless of their production vicissitudes, audience successes and critical re-evaluation, are every one of them a unique experience – like one of those series of late 15th century painters that take the breath away as much for their precision of detail as for the complexity of the way they work together. Every character is a different hue in the national body; Cimino reads their histories, seeking to make of them something more than an individual story.
In the late 15th century the relationship between the Story (commissioned) and the stories (created) is the pretext that allows the “painter” to bring out what interests him most; one of the focal points of Cimino's filmmaking is found in the relationship between men and the landscape they inhabit. This man who could have been an architect, who seems totally uninterested in the volume and line of buildings, sees natural spaces as a theater in which a twofold action develops, one that is passive, whose observing gaze frames, or rather, creates a landscape; and one that is active, shown as a specific action, able to dissect the space. In Cimino's films space as nature and space as story bear witness to one another.
As occurs in the work of the classical film storytellers – I am thinking of John Ford and Raoul Walsh, to name just two of the greatest landscape creators – and as with Cimino, the action becomes epic because of this daunting duel between man and his environment, between man and history. It is probably in Heaven’s Gate that we find the purest expression of this feeling. Even when characters are gathered in a more enclosed space, the space appears bigger than them, and while the cutting links faces and bodies, as in the famous 'Ella's waltz' scene, this does not lessen the feeling of an unequal match. As if the embrace of the music, played and danced by the men, could not continue beyond that particular sequence. The theme of the frontier as a site of confrontation with an extreme dimension looms large behind the door and leads man to confront his condition, which is to be alone.
Cimino's characters are all, in their own ways, solitary beings, seeking friendship and its possible offshoots, – conflict, betrayal, coupledom – as a kind of remedy. They laboriously build relationships which fate will inevitably destroy. The starting point is that of an error already made, that weighs on every action, thought and gesture. This sense of tragedy is conveyed in the best moments with a lacerating poetic subtlety, in a manner not so dissimilar from what happens in the films of Sam Peckinpah, another of the greats featured in the forthcoming edition of the Locarno Festival.