Maborosi (1995) [BluRay] [720p] [YTS.AM]

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I was fortunate to see Maborosi on a large screen at the Joslyn Art Museum. The venue was appropriate, for this film stands as one of the great achievements of the cinema. Indeed, I will go out on a long limb and argue that it deserves comparison to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Passion of St. Joan of Arc. Light, shadow, angle: in my experience these two films apply the most basic elements of cinematography in a most remarkable and brilliant fashion.

Maborosi opens with an astonishing shot, as the viewer looks up from one end of an arching bridge to see a young child following an old woman. The shot is meticulously framed by light posts, giving the impression of a picture on canvas. The camera remains still while the two actors proceed through the scene. The director’s brilliant eye for placing everything “just right” immediately catches one’s attention. It is a virtuoso shot; and then one’s amazement grows as scene after scene continues with no drop off in the careful, artful composition of each image. After awhile, the viewer may become conscious of the camera: it does not move. As each scene commences, the activity occurs within a new, steady frame. I think that the camera moves during a scene only three times in the film, and then only in side-to-side pans. However, I was so enthralled with the film I may easily have overlooked some motion.

The story, concerning a young women’s travail in overcoming the grief of her suicided husband, plays out quietly and slowly. The actors speak sparingly, and emotions are primarily portrayed through facial and bodily expression. The impact is large and plumbs depths. If a film like this were made in Hollywood–an utterly absurd idea–I’m sure the characters would be babbling on at each other. Maborosi explores the virtues of silence, patience, and careful attention: behaviors which are not widely cultivated in contemporary cinema, or in contemporary society for that matter.

Maborosi is a film to captivate those who want to see cinema which strives to be more than mere entertainment. It is in every sense an “art film,” but in my mind it stands as one of those very rare films which emphasize the artful without a hint of the self-conscious and annoying artsy. A monumental achievement.

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