Monday, October 31, 2011
Alice in the Kitchen
by Hasan Altaf
One of the reviews of the 2010 film Reflections of a Blender (directed by André Klotzel from a script by José Antônio de Souza), in O Estado de São Paulo, describes it as "not a realistic film, but one that takes place in a real world in which poetic license is necessary for the development of the story." My reading is slightly and perhaps only semantically different - to me, Reflections is entirely a realistic film (one interpretation would suggest that it is simply a story told by an unreliable, possibly crazy narrator) in which one small link to reality has been severed.
The poetic license, the severed link in question: The blender of the title (not all blenders, certainly not all appliances or objects) can think, reflect and talk to its owner. In every other respect, the movie is completely realistic - it takes place in a world exactly like ours, down to the way a man annoys his wife by slurping his soup. There is something particularly unsettling - I think the technical world might be "uncanny" - about seeing our own world become just slightly unmoored; it's as if the ties that hold us down are being cut, one by one, leaving us just enough time to make sense of the process.
Reflections of a Blender is not particularly unsettling, at least not in its conceit. It's very much a comedy, and the word that actually came to mind for its technique was "whimsy." Talking animals, animate objects: Whimsy of this sort is a tempting technique, but also difficult to pull off; one false movie and you end up with Aishwarya Rai in The Mistress of Spices, begging her chilies to talk to her. As a technique, it is also probably less complicated in movies for children (anything Pixar), or in action films, where the robot's conversational abilities are less troubling than the robot's attempt to take over the world. In otherwise realistic movies intended for adults, whimsy of the kind embodied by an introspective blender might easily become "cute," too precious to have any real effect. Klotzel balances the cuteness of the talking blender (voiced by Selton Mello) with darkness, an overall twistedness that pulls in the other direction.
The (human) protagonist of the film, for example, is the blender's mistress and friend, Dona Elvira (Ana Lúcia Torre). In her old age, she decides she needs to make a little extra money to supplement her husband's income as a night watchman. She does not, however, turn to crocheting, painting watercolors, baking cookies, or even her former career as a smoothie-maker. She takes up instead her childhood hobby: Taxidermy. One day her husband lays a package on her lap, and she unwraps it to reveal a dead white rabbit. She is as thrilled as a child. (The rabbit, which was cute when alive, when stuffed comes out utterly demonic. Dona Elvira's house fills up with these things; her mailman even brings her the corpse of his mother's cat.)
It's hard to talk about this movie without giving away the entirety of the plot, but in the end the plot is fairly predictable - the fun is in the twists and turns, the execution. Reflections plays on our expectations, not showing all its cards until close to the end. We don't get firm ground, or even a (human) character to identify with. The policemen who investigate the disappearance of Dona Elvira's husband are either bureaucratic stuffed shirts, or so over-the-top that we cannot take them seriously. The mailman and Dona Elvira's neighbor, even a particular nurse at the hospital, are also perfectly warped. They're normal enough to be recognizable, but just a bit too bizarre for us to trust them.
In the end, the character I identified with most was the blender. He is charming, funny-sad, and interesting - exactly what one looks for in a friend. He is also, by definition, an outsider, who acquires consciousness by accident and has to learn to understand and make sense of the world around him. The blender's loneliness, his pushiness and push-over-ness, his "quest" all seem completely human: We've all been in that situation. In this comedy, and the blender is the straight man.
Reflections of a Blender is, at one level, just good entertainment - the theater, when I saw it, was packed, and the audience laughed and cringed in all the right places (sometimes both together). I think the movie succeeds because it walks so perfectly the line between "whimsy" and "uncanny," between harmless preciousness and out-and-out weirdness. The two might be like opposite ends of a spectrum, mirror images, essentially the same technique but employed for completely different ends. It's a tightrope act, of sorts, and it might be a fairly good reflection of life in general - of the bizarreness of day-to-day life, which can veer from the comic to the tragic and back again.
In a sense we are all like this blender; we wake up one day to a world that has its own rules, and we spend our time trying to make sense of them, to figure out our place in a system that operates according to its own absurd, inexorable logic. And that it is a blender is fitting, too: Everything (seriously, everything) is chopped up by those blades, in the end; even the toughest bits of bone can be pureed to smoothness and then poured down the drain.
Posted by Hasan Altaf at 12:20 AM | Permalink