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Night and the Cities

Using ancient nickelodeon footage as his most futuristic element, Negroponte playfully varies speed and reverses motion; his most whimsical conceit is to provide W.I.S.O.R. with an echoey, metallic stream of consciousness. Gendered male and increasingly phallic, this eight-foot-long, bullet-shaped probe dreams of Dirty Harry and boastfully calls himself "Robo Welder." Although it sometimes seems that W.I.S.O.R. is a promo for Honeybee, the fact of a movie about heroic engineers is nearly as novel as their robot. The contentious all-male crew who build W.I.S.O.R. are given to their own stray metaphysical and political rants: "Optimism is a catastrophe waiting to happen." Indeed. W.I.S.O.R. remains a theoretical construct, having not yet been put to work beneath our streets.


Twice the size of New York, the Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo is portrayed in Cesar Paes's infectious city symphony Saudade do Futuro as a fact of nature. There's no particular history of São Paulo here, just an impressionistic immersion in its crowds and street life. Work is intercut with frequent performances. A sequence set in a tambourine factory segues to a hypnotic example of indigenous rap, with rival troubadours known as repentistas alternately dissing each other in improvised rhyme to the rapid-fire beats of their respective tambourines.

Paes's city is populated by cops, cabbies, artists, and traffic managers. There's a jaw-dropping image of near-naked male and female angels, along with a single Hare Krishna, soliciting drivers stuck in one of the city's monstrous traffic jams. But mainly, Paes is concerned with the music. In addition to hanging with street performers, Saudade do Futuro spends considerable time in the local juke joints, watching folks dance the ferro—a hyper samba shuffle cum booty shake. The raw, impassioned, squeeze-box-based sound seems to synthesize fado and zydeco.

Although Saudade do Futuro scarcely hints at the horrific social conditions, the film is not without ambivalence. Nearly everyone who speaks to the camera is from somewhere else. The concept of saudade—a feeling of sweet regret or homesickness—recurs throughout their songs. The filmmaker gives it an additional sci-fi twist in his title, which seems to translate as "the nostalgia of the future."


Shadows that cast shadows: from Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Photo: Viz/Tidepoint
Shadows that cast shadows: from Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Details

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura
Written by Mamoru Oshii
Viz/Tidepoint
Cinema Village
Opens June 22

W.I.S.O.R.
Directed by Michel Negroponte
Written by Gabriel Morgan
Artistic License
Screening Room
June 22 through 28

Saudade do Futuro
Directed by Cesar Paes
Film Forum
June 20 through June 26

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Speaking of people's music (and animated cartoons), D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, and Nick Doob's performance documentary Down From the Mountain still has a couple days to run at the Screening Room. Basically recording a live Nashville concert of music from the ferociously popular O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, the movie features Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, and others. The presentation is boilerplate, but in restoring voice to artist, Down From the Mountain dispels the often grotesque illusions created by the flagrant lip-synching in the Coen brothers' movie.

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