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segunda-feira, 18 de julho de 2016

Steven Spielberg creates a landscape of astonishments in The BFG - review

As the creator of some of the most iconic children’s films ever made, Steven Spielberg more or less dreamt up an entire visual language for childlike wonder. When you see beams of blue-white light pouring through mist, for instance, you know you’re in a Spielberg film. It’s the only kind of light in cinema that deepens mystery rather than dispelling it – a will-o’-the-wisp that draws you forward, away from the safe path and deeper into the dream.

That’s one reason Spielberg and Roald Dahl’s classic children’s bookThe BFG are such a neat fit: the director and his lead character are basically kindred spirits. The Big Friendly Giant, played here with twinkling mastery by Mark Rylance, bottles dreams and puffs them into children’s heads at night: Spielberg, meanwhile, was inspired to make Close Encounters of the Third Kind by memories of watching a meteor shower with his father, and based E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on an imaginary friend he created to cope with his parents’ divorce. 
The giant knows his dream-spreading can’t make up for the horrific actions of his child-chomping kin – a neuftet of soaring horrors with names like Fleshlumpeater and Meatdripper. But as he tells Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill), a young orphaned girl who catches him at work one night and whom he sprits off to Giant Country: “It be as good as I can do.”
Spielberg’s adaptation of Dahl’s novel also be about as good as cinema can do these days. It’s a weighty technical accomplishment – the extraordinary detailed motion-capture technology alone, which stretches Rylance’s human performance to giant-sized proportions, is river-straddling bounds beyond anything you’ve seen before. (His hands look warm and weathered, and his eyes – there’s no other way to put it – just shine with life.)

But as the film plays, the technology itself just melts away. You’re watching a girl and a giant explore a landscape of astonishments – and while the note-perfect script, written by the late Melissa Matheson (who also scripted E.T.), treats Dahl’s words with radiant respect, it also subtly reworks them to make the story cinematic to its soul. With its velvety, butter-icing colours, spiritual sensitivity to geography and landscape, and swirls of romantic mysticism, The BFG feels very much like Spielberg’s Powell and Pressburger film – it’s a picture that could have only been made now, but feels rooted in the past.
It’s fair to say that not much actually happens in The BFG. In fact, it’s one of the film’s greatest strengths. The leanness of Dahl’s original storytelling means Sophie is in Giant Country within about 10 minutes. Then there’s her first encounter with the giant, a dream-bottling expedition, a couple of confrontations with the evil giants (the ringleader of whom is winningly brought to life by a London-accented, malice-dripping Jemaine Clement), and an extraordinary final act involving an encounter with the Queen herself (Penelope Wilton, beautifully underplaying) at Buckingham Palace. And that’s about it.
That lack of narrative busyness allows Spielberg and his cast to immerse us in the film’s gloriously realised world, while also feeling their way to the very corners of its central relationship. Sophie and the BFG’s partnership almost plays like a platonic romance, deepening and becoming more moving with every passing minute. As Sophie, 11-year-old Barnhill is an ideal Dahlian heroine: valiant and smart, with a thick stubborn streak and a face that glimmers with amazement. 
Steven Spielberg, Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance attend the premiere of The BFG in Los Angeles
Steven Spielberg, Ruby Barnhill and Mark Rylance attend the premiere of The BFG in Los Angeles CREDIT: REUTERS
Rylance, meanwhile, is as good a fit for the film as Spielberg: his BFG could almost be the distant ancestor of his indelible forest-dwelling troublemaker Johnny “Rooster” Byron in the Jez Butterworth play Jerusalem. The BFG’s claims to have heard “faraway music coming from the stars in the sky” and “the footsteps of a ladybird as she goes walking across a leaf” have a strange spiritual kinship with Rooster’s own wild confabulations.
He boasts of owning a drum made from the earring of a giant who built Stonehenge, and later summons up the “drunken devil’s army” of Cormoran, Jack-of-Green, Jack-in-Irons, Thunderell, Buri, Blunderbore and others whose names wouldn’t have been out of place in Dahl’s book, or Spielberg’s film.
During some of Rylance’s heart-swellingly beautiful monologues here, the BFG almost feels like Jerusalem for children – and it’s worth pointing out that children are categorically Spielberg’s target audience, with no postmodern smirking or side-gags in sight. Fart jokes, on the other hand, are here in joyous abundance, and cinema in 2016 will have to work hard to come up with an image more delightful than three royal corgis passing wind in raspy unison after a swig of the BFG’s Frobscottle.
The film’s mysterious opening image – a slow crane shot that tracks down from the Houses of Parliament towards the Thames – feels oddly aimless on a first encounter, but by the film’s end, its significance is crisp and clear. There’s more magic in this world than we can possibly know.

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