Alessandro selected an adrenalizing short to get us going in C’était un rendez-vous, by director Claude Lelouch.


The title translates more or less to “It was an appointment”, and assuming it were, Lelouch was in quite a hurry.  With a gyroscopically-stabilized camera mounted to the front of his Mercedes (not a motorcycle as I assumed from the maneuvers in the film), Lelouch sped off with one reel of film (about 10 minutes) in a dizzying race through the central business district of Paris.  Tearing down one-way streets, avoiding the early-morning garbage trucks (no, seriously, there must have been five or six), frightening the pigeons and passersby, reaching speeds of 120 mph at times, and most of all ripping through red lights like a deuteranope, Lelouch finally reaches his destination, where he emerges from the car to meet a young woman in a park.  Hey, it’s reality.  It’s Cinéma Verité.  Lelouch was apparently arrested for reckless driving after the film was first screened, but that’s all part of the appeal.  Lelouch claimed at the time to have hired an unnamed Formula One driver to run the course, but the official DVD site asserts he drove the car himself.  It would have been nice to know the streets of Paris while watching the film — the car goes past the Arc de Triomphe (which I recognized) and the Louvre (which I didn’t) and who knows what other Parisian landmarks.  The Eiffel Tower?  I don’t recall seeing it.  Notre Dame?  From ground level I’m not sure I would recognize it.  For a film with no real plot and no dialogue, it’s about as good as it gets.

The feature presentation was Cabeza de Vaca (directed by Nicolás Echevarría), which follows the wanderings of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the treasurer of the doomed Narvaez expedition to Florida, as told in his memoir Naufragios.  In 1528 the expedition was shipwrecked, and the story picks up there, with two makeshift rafts in night waters.  After the Captain’s raft deserts them (because it has oarsmen) Cabeza de Vaca’s raft eventually finds land.  Unfortunately for them, this land is thick with natives, and they find some of their comrades from the other raft dead.


One arrow-laden ambush later and they are all taken captive (at least, those few that survive).  Cabeza de Vaca (right above) is sold into slavery (to an armless midget witch doctor — I’m not making this up), and for all intents and purposes the dialogue portion of the film ends.  In some ways, this is appropriate because certainly Cabeza de Vaca had no understanding, at least at first, of the language spoken by his captors.  But without even a narration from Cabeza de Vaca the plot becomes a bit difficult to follow.  At any rate, after the witch doctor uses a voodoo-style enchantment to wound a man’s eye, they are called upon to heal him.  Surprisingly, it is Cabeza de Vaca, not the witch doctor, who accomplishes the task. (How?  Was he trained by the witch doctor?  Was the whole thing a ruse?  Did he just get lucky?  Did he attribute his healing powers to the christian God?  We have no idea.)  But after this successful healing, Cabeza de Vaca apparently earns his freedom, and he heads west in the knowledge that somewhere in Mexico there are Spaniards.  Again, a bit of narration might have beeen nice here in way of explanation.

Goodbye, Mr. Armless Midget Witch Doctor!

Goodbye, Mr. Armless Midget Witch Doctor!

Eventually, Cow Head Cabeza de Vaca finds some of his lost shipmates.  The timing is bad, though, because they are about to be sacrificed by their captors, along with some natives from a rival tribe.  Cabeza de Vaca joins the party somewhat unwillingly, is treated to the death of his ship’s Captain (and by the Captain’s behavior in the two times we see him, no big loss), and is rescued along with three shipmates.  Fortunately (no, really, fortunately) a prince of the rival tribe was wounded by an arrow, and Cabeza de Vaca, using not magic but commonsense medical technique, extracts the arrowhead from the prince’s chest thereby saving his life.  He also gives him a pretty good full-body wash in some stanky river water…thaaaaat’s going to get infected.  No matter, because the prince survives, Cabeza de Vaca is given the opportunity to have some nookie with a hot babe, and he and his shipmates are accepted into the tribe.  Soon thereafter, Cabeza de Vaca revives a dead girl, this time apparently by magic (he sweeps his hands over her body and pulls a crystalline stone out of the air — again a wee bit of narration might have helped) and he becomes the healer for the tribe.

Despite having some newfound friends, Cabeza de Vaca never stops hoping to return to Spain, so when he is called upon to heal (or more likely, raise from the dead) some natives who turn out to have been killed by — dun dun DUNN — Spanish musket balls, he uses his shamanistic powers of pretending-to-be-doomed-by-a-malicious-spirit-or-something to get the tribe to abandon him and his three remaining shipmates.  They seek out and find the Spaniards, and somehow eight years have passed since the shipwreck.  It really didn’t seem that long.

The movie ends on a super-positive note, as the Spaniards capture and kill his buddy the prince, and then enslave the local native population over Cabeza de Vaca’s protests.


All in all, I felt the film was a mixed bag.  The scenery and costuming were great, the DVD transfer was sketchy at best.  The plot was fine, but really needed to be fleshed out and some narration (and additional subtitles — there was plenty of Spanish I could half catch that wasn’t subtitled) would have gone a long way toward increasing the comprehensibility of the movie.  The impression I was left with was somewhat like what you would get if somebody handed you a random 15 pages of A Christmas Carol.  In the end you’d be able to piece together most of the plot, but with simple things left completely unexplained.  (Wait, why is this Ebenezer Scrooge guy getting such appalling treatment from these ghosts?)  So I think it had a long way to go to be a great film.  Doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth watching.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s