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Venice 2011. A Fistful of Cinema

Cinephilia is put to the ultimate test in Amir Naderi's terrific film from Japan, _Cut_.
Cut

The Orizzonti program should not have begun with Amir Naderi’s Japanese film, Cut; it is a film to end a festival with, or place in the middle, when fatigue and doubt and cine-questioning has set in.

It is, above all, a work of revitalization, a film about frustration and dead-ends but made with and about dedication despite this, no matter what, and so it rises.  It is a cinephile film—that is, both about a cinephile and filled with references to conventionally canonical cinema—but a doubting one; it is a yakuza film, but a nihilistic one.  Its hero is a filmmaker (Hidetoshi Nishijima) frustrated from the lack of film-going and film-art in the world, unable to make films himself, left to yell pathetic pleas and cine-proclimations to an indifferent Tokyo and stage intimate public film screenings at his rooftop apartment.  The first part of the film is his wallpaper of movie stills, street proclamations, runs from the law, screening introductions.  There is frustration and passion, but his life and this story seem a dead end.

A beautiful, melancholy reveal then transitions the cinephile film to the yakuza one when local henchmen tell our hero his yakuza brother has been killed, and that his debt to the group, loans taken to fund his own failed filmmaking, is owed.

Unable to make make films or earn money through films, our cineaste fixes himself on an effort of self-sacrifice—burdened by the death of a brother and the death of cinema, he sells punches to local yakuza to atone for sins cinematic, public, private, personal and familial. The cineaste leads a lonely life of cinephilia, with friendships forged only through the beatings, with the only family a memory of murder. From now on, the yakuza film transforms into a cinephile-yakuza film, where each action by one side informs the other, the brutal beating process an analog to a suffering artist, clan leaders as producers, sympathetic, impassive observers as the intelligent, immobile audiences.  Everything flows into the punches—abstraction and physicality, artistic creation, economics, failures and triumphs.

The climax comes in a countdown to the canon and a gesture of self-destruction—the filmmaker undertakes to sell one hundred punches for a hundred beautiful movies, cuing a long sequence of brutality and famous but far from radical titles flashing on the screen.  As naive as his efforts seem, they cannot but be moving—in their simplicity, their directness and their intentions, but especially in the crucial decision to make Cut’s repetitive final act as much about a gut-wrenching despondency for where movies are now as something smaller, private, off-screen—a gesture of personal life, a brother whose body and sacrifices are never seen but have been displaced to the sad eyes of the hoods’ bar girl and the bruised abs and bloody, puffed face of the brutalized filmmaker.

This might sound terrifically destructive for a film that gives one energy and passion at its developments, and especially at its ending.  But it's because Cut acknowledges limitations in the same movement it honors passion and dedication.  It rightly sees its cineaste with equal parts utter, regretful sadness and a heartfelt empathy and admiration.  By seeing its hero and his dilemma with an understanding of its flaws, the film leaves one with nothing but hope and potential.

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Sounds really fascinating, like a cocktail of the narrative tendencies of his 70s iranian work like Tanga mixed with the stylistic tendencies of repetition and thematic focus of parallels in the principles/qualities/limitations/abilities of film of his later stuff like Sound Barrier and Marathon. Great article, very excited for it.

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