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‘The Tsugua Diaries’: A pandemic-era masterpiece

 Admittedly, I found myself a watcher of pandemic escapism shows and movies, the most prominent example being “Emily in Paris.” Watching “The Tsuagua Diaries” illustrated just how a director can draw inspiration from something so unprecedented — the pandemic — and use it to create a masterpiece.

The movie beautifully explores Portuguese culture. The cinematography gives us a peek into the luscious landscape of the Portuguese countryside, from gorgeous garden scenery to consistent shots of over-ripe fruit. The soundscape was rich with 70s hits and the vibrant and musical Portuguese tongue. I found myself peeking into a culture that I hadn’t seen before for an hour and 42 minutes. Watching films outside of one’s culture allows us to see past the stereotypes that have been given to them.

The film simultaneously provides insight into Portuguese culture and rejects the format of standard American box-office movies. Our films follow a predictable formula, created by executives who cater to our interests. As a result, American cinematography is less than stellar in most cases. The quality of the film suffers.

“The Tsugua Diaries” showed that there are still movie-makers that focus on capturing a story rather than curating it to a mass market. This film is a breath of fresh air in contrast to what we are seeing in the mass market. They created a universe of a movie inside a movie that showed the reality of endemic era filming. The premise was Carloto (Carloto Cotta) decides to go surfing and unintentionally puts the production at risk.

It leads to the decision to construct a house for butterflies. The construction of the butterfly house is how the tensions between characters to come through. The behavior of Carloto is criticized throughout the movie arguably because of the choice he made.

One of the highlights of this on-screen dynamic is surprisingly humorous. Carloto is the flirting in the garden when his co-worker rudely interrupts him and calls him out for wearing socks. The two debate over the clear value of the socks with Carloto writing them off as not a big deal. This is hardly one of the first moments to come to mind when I think about humorous moments. The masterful use of little quips that almost fly over your head is something exceptionally well-done in this movie.

The last scene also provides an exceptional flashback to when they arrived on set and the discussion of the COVID protocols. The supervisor is wearing an N-95 mask and face shield but is wearing an outfit that looks like a garbage collector uniform. He gets into a heated argument over organizing breakfast for the crew. Someone failed to request the milk he wanted for breakfast. He questions everyone else and says that no one answered the email required for the order. It is revealed that everyone else responded except him. This scene deals with the realities of pandemic-era struggles but does so in a light-hearted way.

The highlight of the film was the fact that the characters went by their real names. The fact that the actors weren’t playing characters heightens the sense of realism and connection between the audience and the actors. The behind-the-scenes moments also added a layer of authenticity.

The spirit of Maureen Fazendeiro, writer of “The Tsugua Diaries,” was clearly shown in the film. We saw the inner workings of film production rather than the unreal depictions that are the norm in modern cinema. “The Tsugua Diaries” instills a feeling of love and admiration for the films that lean into real culture.       

Title: “The Tsugua Diaries”

Starring: Crista Alfaiate, Carloto Cotta, Joao Nunes Monteiro  

Directors: Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes 

If you like: “La Strada”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Rose at randrowich01@saintmarys.edu

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‘We have but this one short life’: ‘Fire of Love’ sizzles at DPAC

When the unnatural destruction of France during World War II subsided, Katia and Maurice Krafft stepped out of the flames. Although they would not meet for another two decades, the couple experienced a mutual childhood ignition — the love of volcanoes sparked that within them. 

Brilliantly juxtaposing the unnatural flames of human war with grandiose lava flows and bubbling cauldrons of hot mud, “Fire of Love,” National Geographic’s most complete exploration of the human condition, intersperses gorgeous graphic explanations of geological phenomena with films made by the Kraffts during their adventures. My mouth gaped in awe for 90 minutes straight. The film’s stars are also its creators: Maurice and Katia were world-renowned volcanologists and humble yet incredible filmmakers. 

Often stepping too close to the lava and constantly dreaming about riding his canoe down a lava flow, Maurice, alongside his film camera, is the visionary, capturing dreams for the world to see. Between the more serious topics covered in Sara Dosa’s documentary, Maurice’s “dad jokes” add a comedic lightness that made the viewing experience less overwhelmingly intense and much more fun. 

Katia, less than half Maurice’s size, is the true genius, capturing precise stills of the red, yellow and gray mountains that draw the couple ever closer. Although Maurice jokes that the couple often “erupts” at each other, their love is evident. 

Even as they both note that television appearances, books and films are nothing but the easiest way to pay the bills when they would rather be near the fire, the Kraffts’ filmmaking truly blurs the line between art and science. Utilizing a Wes Anderson-esque God’s Eye perspective, Maurice and Katia zoom out to show geologic scale and zoom in to show their volcanologist instruments at work. 

The documentary, however, does not delve too deeply into the science. As a history major, I was satisfied with the narrator’s calm explanation of plate tectonics and the beautiful visuals that went along with it. But “Fire of Love” is a romance through and through. Simultaneously, it captures Maurice and Katia’s love for each other and their mutual love for the Earth. Possibly disappointing the scientists, though, volcanology methods remain a mystery to me even after two watches.

And when the Kraffts are not there to capture an eruption, director Sara Dosa does an even better job of demonstrating volcanic scale. Katia and Maurice are stuck in France when Mt. St. Helens erupts in 1980, so they could provide no footage, but Dosa compiles a beautiful and horrifying collage: a journalist abandons their camera in a nearby village as ash hurls towards it; a hiker 50 kilometers away photographs an ash cloud that obscures their entire field of vision; and a villager hundreds of kilometers further witnesses the mushroom cloud that ensues mere minutes after eruption. 

Witnessing those images in turn, I couldn’t help but gape. In all honesty, the images are beautiful, but I felt almost guilty experiencing awe at such a destructive event. Dosa soon brought me back to reality. For how awe-inspiring the documentary is, it is not naively romantic.

Katia and Maurice are not religious, nor are they fond of humanity as a natural force. If it were possible to eat rocks, they may never come down from the volcano back into society. 

“We have but this one short life before we return to the ground,” they say. But Katia and Maurice are not nihilistic nor egoistic. When Nevado del Ruiz erupts in Columbia and kills 25,000 people, they spring into action, creating films and action plans to inspire evacuation efforts in other volcano zones. This time, governments listen to the volcanologists, saving thousands of future lives. 

Of course, Katia and Maurice know that their short life will come to an end, and it soon does. In the 1991 Japanese Mt. Unzen eruption, the lovers return to the ground next to each other, buried under a flow of lava, forever enshrined in the flames that created them. However cliché it may seem, I stepped out of DPAC feeling more grounded, more willing to search.

Title: “Fire of Love”

Starring: Maurice and Katia Krafft

Director: Sara Dosa

If you like: “The Alpinist,” “Free Solo,” “Moonrise Kingdom”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Mark Valenzuela

Contact Mark at mvalenz3@nd.edu

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‘Guess why I smile a lot. Uh, cause it’s worth it.’

Propelled seemingly by some mechanism inside its rubber body, a tennis ball rolls, turns and erratically bounces down the stairs, eventually coming to rest near the couch. 

The ball is a little tattered, as if it has been rolled down these stairs many times before and the viewer is simply looking in on a daily habit, a moment of ordinary life. 

But then, a disembodied voice calls out over the silence and jars us to a different place entirely. The voice belongs to Dean Fleischer-Camp, director both actual and fictional, and the ball to Marcello “Marcel,” an animate shell that wears, yes, tiny tan and pink sneakers.

Fleischer-Camp’s unorthodox stop motion mockumentary, released this year by independent film juggernaut A24, is a favorite of audiences and critics alike for its wholesome simplicity and unique take on life, community and the meaning of family. 

The first thing that struck me about “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” was its ability to subvert the ordinary and familiar into a world equally imposing and magical. Fleischer-Camp’s perspective offers the human world: Airbnbs, YouTube, even a glimpse of Los Angeles’s Elysian Park. But telling the story only through a 5’10 lens would ignore the other world entirely, the universe existing only between sock drawer and apricot tree, colander and hot dog bun. Through the eyes of little Marcel, a slice of bread becomes a place to sleep, a stand mixer part of an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine and a shaggy dog a dangerous predator indeed. This construction builds Marcel’s more real-life issues — namely his lost family and aging grandmother — into monoliths of themselves, large for a human but insurmountable for an animate shell clad in tiny pink sneakers. 

I did feel some dissonance around halfway through “Marcel.” After all, it is a film about a shell with one googly eye and a high-pitched voice (done by the illustrious Jenny Slate, by the way). Marcel’s YouTube fame is punctuated by slightly obnoxious current trends — TikTok dances and the like — and around the point during which he scrolls through comment sections, I began to wonder what the creators of the movie were thinking, spending years and dollars on a film that seemed largely pointless. I shuffled that thought away and re-immersed myself in the film, searching for some point of relevance that would make the watch worthwhile.

Not long later, I found it. Marcel’s grandmother Connie, voiced by another icon, Isabella Rosselini, reads Philip Larkin’s poem “The Trees” in the background of Marcel’s interview with 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl: “The trees are coming into leaf/ Like something almost being said;/ The recent buds relax and spread,/ Their greenness is a kind of grief./ Is it that they are born again…/ Yet still the unresting castles thresh/ In fullgrown thickness every May./ Last year is dead, they seem to say,/ Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”

All of a sudden, I understood. It was all relevant: sock drawer, apricot tree, colander, hot dog bun, bread slice, stand mixer, shaggy dog and tiny tan and pink sneakers. See, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, in the same vein as “Paddington 2from 2017 and even St. Exupéry’s novella “The Little Prince,” is a study in how we can wrestle with grown-up concepts in a landscape of childlike wonder and beauty. What’s compelling about “Marcel” is how it is both silly and incredible. A film about an animate shell becomes a testament to the act of storytelling itself, drawing us into this delightful little world and then flinging us back out again like tattered tennis balls on suburban staircases, ready, like Marcel himself, to begin afresh, afresh, afresh. 

Title: “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Starring: Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp, Isabella Rosselini

Director(s): Dean Fleischer-Camp

If you like: “Paddington 2,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5