Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Volta à Terra (Return to Earth)

VOLTA À TERRA (Return to Earth)            B+                  
aka:  Be(Longing)
Portugal  (78 mi)  2014  d:  João Pedro Plácido         Official site                                        

Co-written, shot, and directed by João Pedro Plácido, a Lisbon-born director raised by his maternal grandparents who began shooting music videos at the age of 19, attending film school in both Lisbon and Germany, as he is fluent in five languages.  Most of his previous work has been as a documentary cinematographer, where this is his first venture as a director.   Perhaps as a tribute to his grandparents, who are originally from the region explored in northern Portugal, the life depicted hasn’t changed much through the centuries, with farmers raising cattle and living off the land, where rising early and capturing the ritual of their daily routines comprises the majority of this somewhat slight work.  By exploring the four seasons in the remote village of Uz, in many respects it treads on similar territory as Michelangelo Frammartino’s wordless Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times) (2010), where the cycle of life feels unchanged since Biblical times.  In modern day Portugal, most have left these rural havens to seek work in the cities, leaving the arduous work to the large families that actually have the manpower to perform all the necessary chores, where a good deal of the film is witnessing family members out in the fields plowing or harvesting their crops, offering a communal feel to their lives that resembles Dovzhenko’s EARTH (1930), especially the jovial talk that they provide, continually teasing one another, making jokes at someone else’s expense, all in good fun, where the older family members continually ridicule the laziness of youth, as they have it so much easier than previous generations.  What’s remarkable are scenes where workers toiling at their backbreaking farm work break out into song at a moment’s notice, perhaps playing to the camera, but it happens with regularity, with the men often choosing saucy songs, like the kind sailors might sing at sea.  In fact, there’s a good deal of profanity expressed, usually when something doesn’t go as it should, but they use it as comic relief, where there’s a surprising amount of humor involved in just getting through each day.  One might attribute this to being a close-knit family, where they meet regularly over meals, where joking with one another is what comprises the dinner conversation.

Most of the film focuses upon Daniel (Daniel Xavier Pereira), at twenty-one, one of the youngest members to pull his own weight out in the fields, who dropped out of school in the 9th grade to help work on his family farm, where we see him at the crack of dawn, with fog still lingering in the air, as he lets the cattle out of their stables and leads them down a rocky pathway, up a few stairs, and out into the rolling hills where they can graze all day on fresh grass.  Calling each by name, swearing profusely when they ignore him, he is a modern day shepherd that spends his days tending to a prime herd of cattle while lost to his own dreams and ambition.  The film offers a mix of rural solidarity within a strong family unit that must work together to survive, but also moments of solitude, where the presence of the land is paramount.  Daniel jokes about an aging bull that finds it more difficult to procreate, claiming it needs some Viagra while being teased relentlessly about how he needs to offer a helping hand.  Part of what attracts the filmmaker’s interest is the eccentricities of the elders, who develop their own habits, where one interestingly walks to one of the town’s celebratory festivities with a scythe still in his hand.  One of the more amusing scenes features Daniel attempting to communicate with a young French boy, where they seem to do nicely by speaking only their own languages, where the young kid is not in the least persuaded to learn Portuguese.  While there are scenes of gathering wheat, tying them into stalks, there are also sheep that are individually sheared by hand, while a gigantic pig is butchered into various sized cuts of meat, where nothing seems to go to waste.  As they work, pulling a stalled tractor out of the mud, people from town can be seen standing around the road shooting pictures of them, where a centuries-old tradition collides with the modern era, as if farmers have become an endangered species.   It appears the village was founded about 700 or 800 years ago, but the population has dwindled recently, with a current population of under 100 residents, where one farmer can be heard lamenting, “Those that work the most, earn the least.”    

The film is surprisingly more upbeat than one might think, filled with jovial moments, none more electrifying than the annual village festival, where Daniel encounters an attractive former classmate (Daniela Barrosa) now living in a neighboring town, where they hang out together, walking in a candle-lit church procession, each carrying their own candle, where Daniel can’t remember the words to the songs, as it’s been so long since he’s been to mass.  She reminds him that it’s like riding a bike, sarcastically telling him “You’re the man, Daniel” when he remains clueless, continuing into the church service where he noticeably sings off-key.  But he’s cool with it, even if she’s embarrassed, where there is music and dancing afterwards, with old people sitting on the sidelines gossiping, followed by an extremely loud fireworks display.  He, of course, hears about it from his family the next day, where he constantly takes a ribbing from his elders who are curious if he feels strongly enough to run off with her to live in her town.  Suffice it to say, Daniel is happy where he is, where he’s in line to inherit a sizeable piece of the farm, and he obviously enjoys the way of life that he’s grown accustomed to.  As he takes the cattle out into the fields the next day, he pulls out a cellphone and calls his sweetheart, but she has no real interest in becoming a farm girl, leaving him to wonder about what might have been.  Realizing potential wives are scarce, Daniel tries to save face by indicating he might have to seek a bride over the Internet, perhaps from China or Brazil.  But as the summer winds fade, the season’s change, where a female cow gives birth, where the stable is full of young calves, offering hope for the future as the winter snow settles in.  While ostensibly a documentary on the unchanging landscape in a constantly changing world, it’s also a coming-of-age story rooted in family traditions while also being influenced by the luxuries and temptations swirling all around from a more contemporary urban life. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Chicago Regional Finals

Richardson, Syracuse rally for spot in Final Four ...  Jay Cohen from The Washington Times, March 27, 2016

Richardson, Syracuse rally for spot in Final Four

CHICAGO (AP) -- Malachi Richardson and Syracuse scrapped and fought their way from the bubble to the Final Four.

Richardson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half, and Syracuse extended its improbable run with a 68-62 victory over top-seeded Virginia on Sunday.

The Orange were among the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament after a rough closing stretch, but slipped in as a 10 seed before storming to its first Final Four since 2013 and No. 6 overall. It comes at the end of a challenging season for coach Jim Boeheim, who was suspended for nine games as the result of an NCAA investigation.

“It was a whole team effort and these guys really deserve it,” Boeheim said. “We beat a great basketball team. I’ve never been prouder in all my 40 years as coach of a basketball team as I am of this team tonight.”

Syracuse (23-13), which trailed by 16 at the start of the second half, becomes the first 10 seed to make it to the Final Four and just the fourth double-digit seed to accomplish the feat. It’s the lowest seeded team to reach the national semifinals since VCU in 2011, according to STATS.

Michael Gbinije and freshman Tyler Lydon each scored 11 points for the Orange, who will face the winner of the East Regional final between North Carolina and Notre Dame on Saturday in Houston. Tyler Roberson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

“We worked so hard,” Gbinije said. “We’ve been through a lot.”

London Perrantes scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half for Virginia (29-8), which blew a 16-point lead in the second half. Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC player of the year, had 12 points on 2-of-14 shooting in the final game of his Cavaliers career.

Syracuse trailed 54-39 before it ripped off 25 of the next 29 points, including 15 in a row. And Richardson led the way, often taking the ball right at Brogdon.

Richardson’s driving layup made it 59-58 Orange with 5:47 remaining for their first lead since early in the first half. After Perrantes missed a long 3, Richardson connected from deep and smiled as he ran up the court while making circles around his eyes with his hands.

“I started slow, I had a couple of bad turnovers and Coach got on me at halftime,” Richardson said. “I knew I had to pick it up for my teammates. We were down, and I just wanted to come back and we did it.”

The confident freshman, who scored 21 points in Syracuse’s first-round win against Dayton, added another layup for his seventh straight point before Anthony Gill stopped Virginia's drought with a basket inside.

The Cavaliers had a chance to tie in the final seconds after Gbinije went 1 for 2 at the line. But Devon Hall missed a 3-point attempt and Lydon and DaJuan Coleman combined for three free throws to close it out for the Orange.

Syracuse also trailed in the regional semifinal against Gonzaga, erasing a nine-point deficit in the final 6 1/2 minutes.

Virginia, which beat Syracuse 73-65 on Jan. 24, shot 35.7 percent in the second half. Gill and Mike Tobey finished with 10 points apiece.

Richardson went 6 for 16 from the field and 8 for 9 at the line. The 6-foot-6 forward, who was voted the most outstanding player of the region, also had seven rebounds.

“This is a dream come true for me,” he said.

Bouncing back from a jittery start, Virginia grabbed control with a 19-2 run in the first half. Perrantes sparked the turnaround with two straight 3-pointers and Darius Thompson finished it off with a circus layup on the break, making it 21-10 with 6:33 left and drawing an “ooohhh” from the crowd of 20,155.

Despite a memorable play from Lydon -- the freshman lost his left shoe and threw it off to the side before draining a 3 -- the Orange shot 30.8 percent from the field in the first half and trailed 35-21 at the break.


Syracuse: Led by Roberson, the Orange won the rebounding battle, 36-34. ... Syracuse also made the Final Four in 1975, 1987, 1996 and 2003.

Virginia: The Cavaliers had won three in a row against the Orange. ... The Cavaliers committed 13 turnovers.


Syracuse dropped both of its games against North Carolina this season, losing 84-73 on Jan. 9 and 75-70 on Feb. 29.

Jim Boeheim, against all odds, finds his finest hour as Syracuse stampedes Final Four

CHICAGO — Is this Jim Boeheim’s finest hour? The longtime Syracuse coach buried a fist in his cheek while trying to explain what transpired at the United Center in the Midwest Regional final Sunday.

“I’ve never been prouder in all my 40 years of a basketball team than I am of this one,” Boeheim said on the TBS telecast a few minutes earlier about the best comeback in his time at Houston.

This was supposed to be Boeheim’s punishment, the year where he sat out for nine ACC games after vacating 108 coaching victories before the season started, the result of an NCAA investigation that meant a postseason ban last year. This wasn’t even supposed to be possible. Syracuse limped into the NCAA Tournament on the bubble before reeling off consecutive victories against Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga.

Then, in one last unbelievable stroke, the Orange rallied from 16 points down to beat Virginia 68-62 to advance to the Final Four. Boeheim turned off the zone, turned up the press and got a superhuman effort from Malachi Richardson in the second half to reach his fifth — and maybe finest — Final Four.

“You can be in a great situation or you can be in an awful situation, and you can still get -- you can still overcome that awful situation,” Boeheim said. “It didn’t look like we would be able to tonight, but these guys just -- they made hard plays. It’s hard to press Virginia. It’s really hard.
“They made plays that were -- that you would think from a basketball perspective could not be made,” he continued. “They made them. They deserve all the credit in the world.”

So does Boeheim. Consider this: Syracuse’s previous Final Four teams under Boeheim had a combined record of 120-31, a winning percentage of .795. The 1986-87 team had Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman. The 1995-96 team had John Wallace. The national title team in 2002-03 had Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick. The 2012-13 featured Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche.

This year’s team entered the Final Four with a record that’s a half-game better than Syracuse’s last NIT team in 2007-08. This year’s team joins VCU, George Mason and LSU as the only double-digit seeds to make the Final Four.

This is the most improbable story to come out of the NCAA Tournament in years. The ultimate college basketball blue blood-turned-Cinderella that will represent the strongest conference in college basketball in Houston next week.

Like any run, Syracuse picked up a few breaks. It didn’t hurt that Michigan State lost in the first round. It didn’t hurt that Gonzaga collapsed in the final three minutes. It didn’t hurt that Virginia followed two days later.

But give the Orange credit. This team dominated the second half against Virginia, with Richardson leading the way. The players who were kept out of the tournament last season are now the team playing with the most emotion in the tournament.

That’s the emotion of Richardson flipping on the 3-point goggles after drilling the game-changing shot. That’s Cooney hugging Richardson in the final seconds. That’s one of college basketball’s proudest programs that was put through the wringer, then answered by giving the rest of the tournament field one big, “How do you like me now?”

“To go 0-4 to start in the ACC, I’m not sure of the history how many teams have done that and come -- I don’t think anybody has ever gone to the Final Four that started 0-4 in the league, any league,” Boeheim said. “I just think they deserve a lot of credit, and they should speak to what they felt about the whole year.”

Again, same goes for Boeheim accomplished against all odds. No wonder he is so proud of this team. This is the school he’s given everything to, only to have some of it taken away, only to get it back as a double-digit seed when he almost didn’t make the dance in the first place.
Nothing could be finer right now.