SFIFF 2011: Oscar Godoy’s “Ulysses” – Review and Showtimes

After finishing watching Ulysses, I was perplexed as to what to think, or how to feel about it.  It kept me thinking – among my thoughts were about the conditions of immigrants in my country; how I did not want to eat beef for some time; and then how much this reminded me of the compassionate way that Upton Sinclair treated immigrant workers in “The Jungle”.  The similarities between the book and the film are numerous (immigrants, slaughterhouse, cheap/uncertain labour, etc.), but they do part frequently and in such ways as to make the film be granted its own unique place.

The film starts abruptly enough: the first shot, first sequence, is of the man, which we soon learn to be the main character, lying on the sidewalk, facing us, his head in a pool of blood.  He gets up, shocked, and walks away.  The next scene is in an ambulance, and then a hospital bed.  Throughout it, we never really learn what happened, or who caused this; we gain an idea, but the idea only leads to confuse us more as to the man’s backstory.  The main character seems unwilling to remember much of his backstory or past; his only connection to it is his mother, who he talks to occasionally.  Then, when he speaks to other characters, he occasionally lies, leading us to be unsure as to his reliability for exposition.

The only time he is blatantly honest is one of the most unique aspects of the film, and is the sign of its overall theme, I think.  Whenever he is confronted with his marital status, or his (ex-wife? deceased ex-wife?) is mentioned, he freezes up.  He cannot speak, cannot move.  He seems to not be thinking whatsoever.  He recedes into the shell of his mind much like a turtle does when threatened by some danger.  This shows the largest amount of his person, and shows, along with his lying (and the fact that he cannot enjoy sex anymore), that he is running away from his life in Peru by moving to Chile, but he cannot escape his mind.  We see, with extreme (extreme is not an understatement in this case) subtlety and almost no exposition a complicated psychological situation.

In this sense, Ulysses is a masterwork of depth and complexity in minimalism and stark realism.  We never hear ominous music in the background, there are no camera tricks or illusions.  We are placed in his world just as suddenly as we are removed from it.  The cinematography was quite nice, but there was a warning on my version stating “before color correction”, so I am not sure how this would alter things; I didn’t notice anything that needed correction.  Overall a great film, and one which will alienate people as adequately as Antonioni (who else can I throw into this review? Sorry Señor Godoy, I’ll stop).  It is a remarkable and unique film, and I’d suggest seeing it.

Showtimes for Ulysses:

TUE Apr 26 – 4:00pm (Kabuki)

MON May 2 – 6:45pm (Kabuki)

WED May 4 – 6:30pm (PFA – Berkeley)

(Click here to purchase tickets)

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