Monday, October 1, 2012

On the Edge: "Japon" (2003)

An unnamed man travels into the Mexican wilderness to end his life, and finds much more in this sometimes slow, sometimes shocking film.

Alejandro Ferretis is a middle aged artist with a limp and a cane who begins traveling from Mexico City. He is headed to a canyon in order to kill himself, carrying a pistol in his meager possessions. In a small village he learns there are no hotels but he can stay with an old widow named Ascen (Magdalena Flores), who lives in a remote hut on the rim of the canyon. Ascen insists she is too old to serve the man, and he sleeps in a stone barn, waiting for the right day to die. Soon, Ascen is helping the artist out, awakening some basic needs in the man. When Ascen's ne'er-do-well nephew Juan Luis (Martin Serrano) decides to take down the barn for the stones, the artist sexually propositions Ascen, and she accepts.

The film, written and directed by Carlos Reygadas, is a bleak but moving look at the lives of two lonely people. Ferretis (who was murdered this past March, according to IMDB) is very good as the artist, a giant mystery in the film. We never get to know too much about him or his suicidal motives, but the pain he wears on his face is genuine. Magdalene Flores is also good as the old woman, taking in this man and eventually giving up her home out of a sense of duty, as if she has no say in how she runs her life. Her nude sex scene with Ferretis is rather shocking, especially in this day and age, and there is nothing funny about it. If you thought Sigourney Weaver or Diane Keaton or Judi Dench should be congratulated for appearing in the buff in recent films, with almost eighty year old Flores, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Carlos Reygadas plays with his audience's mind, at one point blurring the line between cinema and reality. His use of widescreen is impressive. I cannot tell you why the film is titled "Japan," or why the artist is never named, or why the old woman, a devout Catholic, decides to sleep with him. It is as if Reygadas has let these characters act out their most basic instincts and need for calm and serenity (an idea discussed more than once), and the characters had free will over their actions from there.

"Japon" is another daring entry in a new emerging Latin cinema, an artsy film that fascinates the viewer with its ability to hit raw nerve after raw nerve, but without getting brazen about it. Like I said, it is slow, but rewarding, and has a final sequence you will not soon forget. (* * * *) out of five stars.