The Lay of the Land: Geography in ‘Melancholia,’ ‘The Descendants,’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Anatolia’

A little while into Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkey’s entry for last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, the small police caravan stops at what the murderer thinks is the location of his victim’s buried body. It’s very late, maybe two o’clock in the morning. The murderer and a few of the police officers walk down the hill by the road and disappear into the night. The rest of the group stays by the cars. They talk some, then the doctor walks off to relieve himself. He wanders over a hill or two and comes to a little valley next to some rocks sticking out of the hillside. I think it’s also raining, or threatening to. He starts his business and after a few seconds of stillness there’s a flash of lightning, revealing the distinct shape of a face in the rocks next to him—a face made of the rocks. The doctor starts, or maybe I remember that because I did. In a movie built on moments of quiet resonance, this was the one that stuck with me.

Image 1. The face in the rocks, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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The Mediascape Q&A: Chon Noriega, Professor, Cinema and Media Studies

The Mediascape Q&A is a series of interviews designed to explore the work of UCLA faculty and graduate students beyond the classroom.


Dr. Chon Noriega

Matthias Stork: Since I have not yet had the pleasure to take a class with you, Professor Noriega, could you briefly explain what it is exactly that you do in the department? And additionally, could you illuminate some of your past and current research projects?

Chon Noriega: OK. I’ve been a faculty member in the Cinema and Media Studies program for 20 years now. And for the last 10 years I’ve also been directing the Chicano Studies Research Center, which currently accounts for about half of my time, primarily on the teaching side. I am still a full-time faculty member, in terms of service, in terms of student advising. But on the teaching side, it’s been reduced, although in 2011-12 I agreed to do a startup on our Colloquium. So, I taught five courses that year, and three of them were the Colloquium. The idea for the Colloquium was to create an intellectual commons where the faculty and the graduate students could come together to learn about new research by students, faculty in the program, faculty across the campus, and visiting scholars. But it was also designed as a forum for town halls to discuss programmatic issues related to the M.A. or the Ph.D. curriculum. I’m in the process of assessing this experiment right now, to understand whether we actually accomplished what we set out to do and how it could continue. In terms of my teaching, I try to balance it between doing core courses in the program and then the electives on the graduate side. In the past I’ve also taught undergraduate courses. The one I really like is “The History of African, Asian, and Latin American Cinema.” And I think, with the exception of Teshome Gabriel, I’ve been one of the few people that actually teaches all three regions rather than emphasizing just one of them. Continue reading “The Mediascape Q&A: Chon Noriega, Professor, Cinema and Media Studies” »

Two Perspectives on Andrea Arnold’s ‘Wuthering Heights’

Andrea Arnold’s wonderful 2011 adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel begins its one-week engagement at the Nuart Theatre today.


Tree branches batting against a window. Clouds gathering for rain. A boy leaning in to smell a girl’s hair. The rhythm of horseback riding. Children running through a field. A fleeting gaze of desire. These are all shots that stuck with me throughout and after Wuthering Heights. This has less to do with the aesthetic pleasure of their construction—of which there is plenty—than how director/cowriter Andrea Arnold and her filmmaking team stir our various senses in the narrative. I find myself incredibly drawn to the film’s employment of the camera, its ability to capture beauty in the landscapes as well as complexities in the characters.

Wuthering Heights is probably the best adaptation you’ll see all year. I’m not saying that because it follows every facet of Brontë’s novel to a T; if that’s what you expect out of an adaptation, you’re probably better off waiting for a three-part film of a 300-page novel (oh wait, that’s The Hobbit.). Rather, it’s a fully cinematic evocation, one that runs so deep you’re likely to forget it was a book in the first place. Eschewing all literary pretenses so tantamount to most films adapted from esteemed novels—for instance, voiceover narration and static, lush cinematography—this Wuthering Heights is muted, subjective, and painful.

The phrase “overwhelmingly sensual” entered the conversation I had about the film with a group of colleagues after a special advance screening at Westwood’s Billy Wilder Theater last weekend. This unmistakable sensual quality emerges through the camera, and I cannot help but continue to try and explore how the cinematography accomplishes this. Atmosphere is carefully considered: landscape shots and production design alternately invoke richness and sparseness. It is just as easy to feel in awe of the fog rolling over the impossibly green hills as it is to feel struck by the creakiness and claustrophobia of the country home. The camera often travels with the characters in a given scene, but it cuts in to focus on intimate details. The slow pace of the film, which builds carefully across scenes and acts, creates a feeling of being absorbed in both the characters’ perspectives and the beauty surrounding them.

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