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Friday, 27 December 2013

Cordones (2012)

Director: Bob Marquis
Stars: Kaleena Newman and Stephanie Mello
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
An odd but enjoyable silent short from Arizona Filmmaker of the Year Bob Marquis, Cordones wins out as a fun, fluffy piece about individual freedom but I have a feeling it aimed at being a lot more than that and didn't quite hit the mark. Like the story, the title has a double meaning. Most obviously, 'cordones' is Spanish for 'shoelaces', props which are populated throughout the film in such an emphatic way that they become MacGuffins; they keep most of the characters in work at a factory which manufactures the things but they also become the spark for those who want an escape to find it. We're never quite sure what part of the process these workers are responsible for, but they're clearly menial labourers, which reminds of the other meaning of the title, that of 'cordones industrial', a sort of union that challenged the Chilean government to adopt workers rights. Certainly this factory is a bleak place, where workers are dressed in drab grey and given numbers for names. It looks like the opposite of fun.

And, against expectations, fun is where this goes. It may all be set up as an authoritarian nightmare of a workplace, more of a prison with its unspeaking workers watched carefully by Kane Black, who patrols their table like a hawk, but everyone's a willing prisoner, it seems. Kaleena Newman, the engaging lead character who goes by the name of Siete (or 'Seven'), is one of these. She labours under mind numbing tedium by day, but then drives home in her cute yellow mini as if she's as free as a bird. Careful editing and use of repetition suggests to us that she does nothing except shower, work and sleep, but the sun is notably out as she drives home, so perhaps her routine is self imposed. When one of her colleagues, Cuatro (or 'Four') exhibits signs of imagination, painting a pair of aglets red, she's not taken out back and shot or hauled off to a gulag, she's just fired. She sets up a stall to sell her own laces by the side of the road and, in so doing, acts like a beacon for Siete to wonder about her own future.

Newman is endearing enough, even without the benefit of speech, for this to raise a smile and applaud her escape from boredom, but the substance is fleeting. There isn't enough for us to ever be sure what Cuatro escapes from or what she achieves: is this a contrast between conformity and imagination, the confines of a sweatshop and the freedom of the open air, being a number in a faceless corporation and being your own boss? The last film Bob Marquis directed from a Jessica Marquis script was a lot clearer in its intentions: Awesome Guy: A New Identity had a very similar story, about a man who left behind a set of societal expectations and became his own man. Maybe this is merely the female equivalent with Newman taking the Mario Guzman role. If so, she does great with producer Stephanie Mello also worth watching in the smaller role of Cuatro. The men aren't given much to do here, with talented actors like Black and Michael Hanelin tasked only to be part of the status quo. Maybe it's just one for the girls.

I should add, after my review, that context may be a key factor here. Cordones was an entry into the IFP Phoenix Masterpiece Challenge in January, 2012, to round up the 2011 challenge year. It won a number of awards, including third place overall, behind Winding Road and The Fall, as well as Best Actress for Kaleena Newman and Best Editor for Bob Marquis. Masterpiece is all about interpreting a piece of art at the Phoenix Art Museum and Marquis chose a piece from the children's area that highlighted seven key elements of self-expression. I'm not sure what they are but they're apparently all depicted as symbols within this film. Certainly there's self-expression in what Cuatro, and eventually Siete, does, with smiles only showing up when that happens. This suggests that Cordones is all about imagination fighting it out with conformity, with the setting merely being an intriguing one that suggests at a lot more than just a setting without actually providing it.

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