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November 15, 2009

SDFF 2009- Black Box

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Caja Negra
Ariel Gordon - 2009
Cinema Maquina

One indication that Ariel Gordon got things right in Black Box is when people walk out due to the intensity of a scene. In this case, the main character, a professional assassin, is holding a gun near the head of a potential victim, a man blackmailed into doing a hit on behalf of the assassin, and more importantly, for the people the assassin works for, a secret organization of Mexico's real movers and shakers.

Black Box is part satire, part thriller, about corruption in Mexico, and about a character named Emiliano. The film begins with low tech animation, cut up images mostly, establishing Emiliano's history, and how he rose from poverty to be groomed as a politician on behalf of the cabal, his fall when an indiscretion with a faculty wife ended his academic life, and his rise as a person who officially did not exist. Not only does Emiliano perform killings on behalf of his benefactors, but he found ways of having other people do his dirty work.

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A good chunk of the film is made up of purported surveillance videos, of Emiliano and one of his victims, Juan. What works against that premise is that there is way too much cutting, and far too many angles to be believable as footage shot from multiple cameras. Compare this with Bong Joon-ho's darkly funny Influenza, with scenes composed to be played out with a single, fixed camera, showing a both a better understanding of what real surveillance footage looks like as well as who to use those limitations in the service of the narrative.

Black Box is Gordon's first feature after making a handful of shorts, one which played at Cannes. In an interview mostly centered around one of his short films, Gordon states, "Cinema makes it possible for people to live a human experience that would be inaccessible to them in reality." Black Box has some intriguing ideas that might have been, ahem, executed better. Considering Gordon's propensity for ruffling feathers, it could well be interesting to see what he can do next.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 15, 2009 12:58 AM