Blu-ray Review- Astral City: A Spiritual Journey

Film Review


Astral City: A Spiritual Journey tells the story of André Luiz (Renato Prieto), a doctor, as he journeys from life to Umbral, a kind of purgatory, and the afterlife in Nosso Lar, where he ultimately has to adjust to his death and prepare for eventual reincarnation.

With this film being a Brazilian production and my being dual citizen of the United States and Brazil, my interest in this film would be fairly clear. It’s a film I actually saw a small piece of on cable in Brazil but never saw all of. Furthermore, I knew it was a big production but was not aware its being based on the word of Chico Xavier, a world renowned medium/spiritualist.

However, pre-existing knowledge of Xavier’s work or philosophies are unnecessary to follow and appreciate this film. Much of the film is introducing these concepts in a narrative way, and it does communicate in a manner apart from religion so the dogmatic, preaching inclinations of the film are kept to a minimum. As the protagonist does learn the workings of this new plain of existence and see his prior life more clearly the initial conflict is resolved and must be replaced. This does cause some issues with the stakes as the conflicted character needs to be a secondary one from that point forward. Yet it is intriguing and well-produced enough to still be engaging even though it does bloat and drag in its latter half.

Astral City (2006, Strand Releasing)

The cinematography, like many elements of this film, has to communicate quite a few environs and implement numerous techniques to do so. It travels from a gilded past to a dark underworld and a bright heavenly plain with equal aplomb in all, which is a credit to Ueli Steiger.

The effects considering the initial production date of the film are fair. As with any film that has much effects work in it the results are hit-and-miss, but the effect desired is usually very well conveyed.

Departmentally the costume and make-up teams are perhaps the most interesting to see. In a film such as this it is clear to see the interplay of the work done by each to create a cohesive whole.

Another aspect that can often be overlooked in a film that features a copious amount of visual effects is the production design. It can be overlooked entirely. The use of locations, sets and effects mesh very well throughout the whole generating numerous emblematic locations that enrapture the eye.

The certain lack of undulation in the emotional fever chart of this film makes it tough sledding for the actors and the results inconsistent, but there are flashes that make it passable.

While at times it functioned more as an exercise in departmental appreciation, and a source of pride for Brazil ramping up things on the technical, the film does manage to hold interest throughout. While I’m not enamored with the translated title it does make it likely that this film will find the most receptive audience for this film. The film does manage to be somewhat more than a philosophical treatise, but does not transcend its ethereal trappings as sufficiently as it could have.

6/10

Bonus Features

Astral City (2006, Strand Releasing)

The trailer of the film in question is the bare minimum a Blu-ray or DVD can offer as a special feature. It can be even more interesting to view the trailer in hindsight. This way you can more closely examine the link between art and marketing and how the story is conveyed to sell to an audience.

In this film it’s interesting to see how the film was geared toward the American arthouse crowd rather as it is a Brazilian film. It does accurately convey the stakes of the story and the production aspect.

Other Trailers

Astral City (2006, Strand Releasing)

One thing that can be interesting to access later (and not before you sit down to watch the main feature) is the additional trailers. This way you can potentially discover new titles. This disc contains: The Way He Looks and The Amazing Catfish, which I have seen. There are two I am not familiar with Symphony of Summits and Lilting.

Making of

Astral City (2006, Strand Releasing)

The making of is usually one of the meatier bonus features you’ll find. On this disc that is certainly the case it runs 22 minutes, it was likely used as promotion on Brazilian television based on that running time.

If there was a Brazilian film that would have the need for such a featurette this would be it. When it was made it was one of if not the biggest production budgets for a Brazilian film. Super-productions are usually reserved for television in Brazil and it’s interesting to get a glimpse into how this production came together. Yes, some help was brought in from abroad where it was clearly needed (most notably with the Ueli Steiger, Director of Photography and SFX company) but as the interviews go around the horn to all production heads you’ll find most of them are nationals.

While the look at all aspects is a bit cursory it is great to see some of the journey of this story from Chico Xavier’s book to the big screen: from taking disparate locales and elements, to creating the visuals both in principal photography and in post.

As many films are its journey to the screen was long but seemingly worthwhile. This do offers a good look at what it was like on set from Werner Schünemann post-wrap speech to the National philharmonic recording Philip Glass’ brilliant score (another coup for the nation’s cinema this film is responsible for).

Oftentimes when watching a film it can be hard to tell how that film fits into the national landscape of the cinema represented. While there is some salesmanship in this doc it does give you a sense of context to that, which is valuable for the uninitiated.

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61 Days of Halloween: Dracula (1931 – Philip Glass Score)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Dracula (1931) Philip Glass Score

My reaction to my first viewing of Dracula was slightly more favorable than that of my first viewing of Freaks. I’ve seen this version at least twice, and I enjoy Browning’s work (and will look into more) but have yet to find the transcendence that others have in some of his titles.

Being a completist I seriously considered re-watching the original cut of the film before watching one with a newly orchestrated score by the genius that is Philip Glass. I decided to pass on yet another viewing and it was a decision that was almost instantly validated. I remember many of the beats precisely. I was able to finish many lines of dialogue, mainly Lugosi’s, and that’s because it’s memorable not just because all the lines have a very deliberate reading.

So I didn’t feel I was missing anything by comparison. One thing that I found peculiar, which is not uncommon in early talkies, is that the soundtrack is fairly quiet. People wanted to hear dialogue and the now-primitive-seeming sound-design. It seemed a few years would pass before scores would swell anew. And, that’s a bit difficult to adjust to in a horror film. Some, like The Birds, work especially without music; others need it.

Granted the scoring in a horror film can be looked at as invoking Pavlovian response (this music is eerie therefore you are scared) but it’s very much a part of the fabric of horror cinema, and a sight better than jump-scaring an audience to death.

The score laid over this version is not only brilliantly cyclical and quasi-monotonous as is Glass’ signature but the spotting, the decisions about where music would be overlaid is extraordinarily precise and inspired. It absolutely elevates the film to new heights because it’s done with a tasteful understanding of what kind of score would befit a film such as this.

This is as opposed to something like the Moroder version of Metropolis, which sought to put an ’80s interpretation of futuristic music on the film. The music, while good in isolation, is now dated and doesn’t jibe properly with the film.

There’s a fine line between artistic restoration and musical graffiti; Glass’ work at the service of Dracula is the former and Moroder’s production of Metropolis is the latter.