City of No-God

Posted in Books, Movies by NAN on 2009/01/21

Julianne Moore as The Doctor's Wife, the only one who could see, in Blindness (2008)

“I’m so happy to watch this film as I was when I wrote the book,” Jose Saramago murmurs to Fernando Meirelles as the movie credits roll, then Meirelles proceeds to kiss the old Nobel Laureate author on the forehead. It’s literal—the author is not dead and, with much luck, it looks like the director pleased him. That doesn’t mean, though, that I would rate his movie 5/5 as I would the novel. As much as it had very captivating effects, I have a problem with it as a movie.

I was really excited when I heard about this production—so excited that I was reading Meirelles’ production notes in Portuguese through the wonky Babelfish translator. Use a Saramago novel, let Meirelles do it, put Julianne Moore in a set with Gael Garcia Bernal, and expect me to rave in anticipation. Given this indulgent combination, you could also expect a seriously biased judgment from me but, somehow, I’m a little disappointed. Well, just a little.

I loved the visceral cinematography, its use of overlapping images through glass reflection, its play with extreme exposure analogous to the story’s white blindness, its seemingly uncertain control on focus. I loved the daring casting, how the first blind man and his wife became a Japanese couple, how the prostitute in sunglasses became a Latina, how the wise old guy with the eyepatch became a black man, and how the evil king became a boy with a gun. I loved how Meirelles gracefully transitioned from the warmth of City of God into this cold, nameless, God-less city.

The problem , for me, is that it still largely tries to be the novel. Suddenly, Danny Glover bursts into these cheesy narrations which were fitting in the book but really jarring with the cinematic atmosphere. It’s like they forgot that those lines sounded great in Portuguese, in which the book was originally written, but not in spoken English. Spontaneously, the women discover cleansing rituals. Also, isn’t it weird that the characters never bothered asking each other’s names? Although understandable in the novel, it’s a lapse in the reality of the movie.

So is it a bad film? Not really. I just happen to think that the best adaptation takes the new work as far as possible so there’s little point of comparison which usually ruins the new thing. Forgiving those trivialities, I’m still very happy with most of it—how the prison orgy was handled, how the actors easily lent themselves to onscreen despair, how the little details were chosen—tart/ tiramisu, video in blind quarantine, land and air traffic failures. I honestly felt like my vision was blurring too.


One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Seeing Blankers « HYPERGRAPHIC said, on 2009/11/22 at 9:55 PM

    […] K Le Guin on Jose Saramago’s Seeing, which I recently finished after swapping it with Blindness eons ago, the same woman (Julianne Moore above in Fernando Meirelles’ movie adaptation) who […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: