#55. Limite (1931)

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Tried to figure it out, failed.

While watching Limite I filled the front and back of a college-ruled page with notes but as I look over those notes now, settling down to write the essay, I see that they don’t say very much and that what I was clearly trying to do was impose meaning on an experimental movie that was very beautiful, with one of the loveliest and most hypnotic film scores I’ve ever heard, but that otherwise just confused the hell out of me. Presuming that the Editors who put this List together have selected the movies with very good reason, I find that even forty minutes into a movie like Limite — which just isn’t for me — I’m still working really hard to not just understand it but to enjoy it. Like it’ll prove something about my intelligence if I can say it was worthwhile. And there definitely is some stuff to appreciate. Beautiful photography (is this the first time a camera goes 360 degrees around a character?), beautiful music, the edginess of a gay romance. Amazing mood and tone. But otherwise I really disliked it and think it might be the most boring movie from the List so far after maybe Napoleon and The Great White Silence.

But why then do I try so hard to enjoy a movie like Limite, which is artsy and Brazilian, but then with a movie like October, or The Phantom of the Opera, I’m comfortable to just sink lower in my seat after a half hour of boredom and stop taking notes because I’ve decided that there’s nothing too crucial?

When it comes to movies like Eisenstein’s insufferable trilogy of Leninist propaganda (of which October is the conclusion) I think that part of my dismissal has to do with politics. That it feels more like a treatise or a commercial than like a work of art — a sentiment that, now that I’m putting it down on paper, reveals to me that I seem to think art has to be about emotion, what my college self would’ve unflinchingly called the Human Condition, and that politics can’t factor into that. But aren’t politics a part of the human experience? Why not hold an artist’s handling of themes like democracy and socialism in the same regard as their handling of themes like failure and grief?

But I’m writing this essay a couple weeks after seeing the movie and, looking back, I’m pleased with myself for having put so much effort into understanding Limite. I’m skimming through the movie again too on FilmStruck and it just seems like a montage of people walking for several minutes at a time. I read an essay about the film on Criterion and the author, Fabio Andrade, pieces together a plot out of these images and yeah, it makes total sense, but I’m left to just marvel at Andrade’s ability to decipher a narrative from all this. And yeah I see the influences he points out, stuff like Eisenstein’s montage work and also the Murnau desire to make film totally imagistic, distinct from other sorts of storytelling. I see it, now that it’s pointed out to me. I see the value.

For the life of me, though, I just can’t find it.

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