Monday, April 13, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Cambio de suerte (dir. Jorge Ramirez Rivera, 2008)

Of all the many films I have seen that were influenced by Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, this is the best. Other movies that the film-makers might have seen and profited by are Goran Paskaljevic's Cabaret Balkan and Mike Figgis's Timecode. In any case, I mainly list the comparisons in order to give potential viewers a sense of where the film is cinematically situated. This is a brilliant piece of work in its own right.

Cambio de suerte (Change of Luck or, according to the DVD case, Lucky Bastards) follows the intersecting adventures of about a dozen lowlife characters in the streets of a Mexico City neighborhood in one evening. If you are easily put off by nasty characters, don't watch this! - I had to remind myself that I was safe, that the scuzziness I was seeing couldn't leak through to my side of the screen.

We return to many events from different points of view that reveal unexpected dimensions to what we thought we had already digested - particularly in the case of an episode of sexual violence that bookends the film. Director Jorge Ramirez Rivera plays with politically incorrect material in a way that some might find offensive, but can actually be defended as philosophical. So I'm glad he took that risk.

I would love to see the film-makers' minute-by-minute chart of the characters' locations and movements! It all works out with an impressive hair's-breadth precision.

Cambio de suerte is available on DVD with English subtitles, but I might have missed seeing it if a friend hadn't loaned it to me, because the DVD case says that the film is in 1.33:1 full-screen, which would have put me off buying it. The case is in error. The film is correctly offered in all its 2.35:1 glory.

I hope that I have encouraged some of you to find this film and give it a chance. I watch a lot of movies, and I was really grabbed by Cambio de suerte.

POSTSCRIPT: I am fond, some might say inordinately fond, of what Alissa Quart dubbed "Hyperlink Cinema" (Roger Ebert immediately picked up on the coinage). The use of the word "hyperlink" might seem to indicate that this is a specifically contemporary form, and it is true that in the wake of Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino, it has become increasingly popular; but the form has literary antecedents which are plenty old (and which I also love). Charles Dickens' Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are spectacular examples of criss-crossed narratives with character lists pushing close to one hundred in each case. Honore de Balzac's entire novel series La Comedie humaine and William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County cycle, with minor characters in one book returning as major characters in another, are also exemplary hyperlink narratives.

Hyperlink narratives are typically closely allied to urbanism, "the mysteries of the city" (although the Faulkner example shows that they are not required to be). One of Dickens' central insights was that the actions of any single person in a city can inadvertently affect the lives of many others whom they may not know, and that these lines of force are no respecter of socio-economic and class boundaries - Dickens' London is completely porous. Nowadays, in films such as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel and Fernando Meirelles' 360, this sort of "butterfly effect" extends to the whole globe.

Cabaret Balkan, a macabre tour through the streets of Belgrade circa 1995, seems a particularly apt comparison to Cambio de suerte because of the nihilistic yet outrageously funny tone the two films share. When I first saw Paskaljevic's film in the theater, I was so gobsmacked by the combination of utter bleakness and high-energy jokiness that I had to return to watch it again the following night.

What Cambio de suerte has in common with the underrated Timecode is that "hair's-breadth precision" I mentioned. The screen in Timecode is split into four quadrants with simultaneous action going on in each, and this was not constructed in the editing room but is actually how the film was shot, with multiple camera crews starting and ending on their marks. It's one of the more enthralling experimental films I've seen, and the DVD release had the added perks of allowing the viewer to decide which quadrant's sound feed to bring forward, and to watch an entirely different complete take of the 90-minute film (there were 15 takes in all).

The "Trivia" section for Timecode at the IMDB notes that "The film was written on music paper, exactly like a string quartet. Each bar line representing a minute." It seems to me that it must have taken something similar for Jorge Ramirez Rivera to get Cambio de suerte to work.

Cambio de Suerte / Lucky Bastards

Cabaret Balkan



  1. As someone who likes TIMECODE a lot, this definitely sounds like something to try...and after a few telenovelas, the utter lack of sympathetic characters won't be too great a choque.

    1. I saw "Timecode" on its initial release in a large, almost empty theater in Las Vegas (of all places) - I think there were three of us in the whole place. I had a similar experience in Vegas when I went to see James Toback's "Black and White," another film that I love, around that same time. I guess you could say that my tastes don't align with those of the mass audience! - and in Las Vegas, there is virtually no minority cineaste audience. It is odd that "Timecode" or "Black and White" even opened there. But I enjoy the memory of watching those films in big theaters, almost to myself.