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Archive for the ‘FOREIGN LANGUAGE WITH SUBTITLES:’ Category

Ida

14 Dec

Ida – directed Pawel Pawlikowski. Drama. 82 minutes Black And White 2013.
★★★★★
The Story: Her niece pays a visit to an aunt she never knew she had, and the niece, a novitiate, and the aunt, a hedonist, embark on a search into the dynamic past of both of them.
~
Boy, here’s a film you won’t want to see: Black And White, Polish and in Polish, about a nun, and the grim aftermath of WWII. Yet it seems to have five stars tattooed above and to have won the Oscar For The Best Foreign Film Of 2013.

Why would I pluck this off the library shelf if I had never even heard of it? Don’t answer. Because the answer is: because you and I are both in luck.

People die when no one’s looking. And they live when no one’s looking. We all know that. This seems to be the square in which Pawlikowski frames his actors – lives seen beneath monstrous skies they do not notice.

It is perfectly acted by Agata Trzebuchowska as Ida, the novitiate. Hundreds of actresses were auditioned. She was discovered at a café table, a rank amateur, and thus began a film star career.

The aunt is played by Agata Kulesza, an actress of deep experience and every wile.

These two explore the places and persons of the past, as they travel through Poland in search of the core of the mystery encompassing both of them.

You will regret not a minute seeing this film. And having said that: you might regret every minute not yet seeing it.

 

Yojimbo

23 Jul

Yojimbo – directed by Akira Kurosawa. Samurai Action. 110 minutes Black And White 1961.
★★★★★
The Story: A yojimbo, or strong-arm for-hire, exploits his employers in a small town at war with itself.
~
It is the perfect war movie: at the end, no one is left standing. The town is turned into debris and cadavers. The only ones alive are two old guys, the coffin maker and the barkeep. And the God of War, who movies on to the next battlefield.

Greed, lust, envy fuel the feud that drives the townsfolk to take sides. Commercial control starts it all. When it’s over, the only artist in town, a drummer, emerges beating his drum blindly and murders the last survivor, an act from which he reappears covered with blood and drumless. For, you see, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, the wife of Mars, does not survive war propaganda.

Toshiro Mifune plays the God of War, as a disreputable samurai of no renown who wanders into the embattled village. Once there, he sees his job as a strategy that everyone in town shall destroy everyone else, without his having to do the fighting. From the Olympian distance of a high tower or through the crack in a wall, he observes the mayhem he causes.

But he betrays his method by coming to Earth and saving the life of a young woman, her young husband, and their little boy. For this error he is beaten almost to death.

Finding recuperation in a temple, as a God should, he returns to the village and wreaks death all about, and leaves.

It is a film whose story is organized with a minimum of exposition and a maximum of movement. Mifune has scarcely a line to speak. But he is the focus of the mystery of what the outcome will be and how it will be. We wait. Suspense is our treat.

Mifune plays the character as an individual with a sense of humor unusual for a Mars figure. He does not present his warrior as a Gary Cooper character, but as a rapscallion who will lie, cheat, and steal to forward his plot and to assess its players. Resolute without being an absolutist, we never know what to expect as his fate, any more than we know what trick he will come up with to salt the wound of the next surprise. Clint Eastwood would take this story and this character and invest it throughout his career with gutter ethics. Mifune does not have to reach for that. His sense of humor is his six shooter.

Mifune and Kurosawa made 16 films. Is this the best? From the first twitch of his itchy shoulders to the last, Mifune is captured by the great camera of Kazuo Miyagawa and by Kurosawa’s ruthless sense of effects. The actors astonish. The guts of art have been equaled but never been surpassed.

 

Army Of Shadows

11 Jun

Army of Shadows – directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Spy Drama. 2 hours 25 minutes Color 1970/2009.
★★★★★
The Story: Hairbreadth escapes dog the ground commanders of the Maquis, the French Resistance in WWII.
~
Impeccable.

As I left the theater I heard someone surprisedly say, “The picture never shows what those in The Resistance actually do.” What is also true, however, is that the result of whatever they did was of high danger to the occupying Germans who pursued them ruthlessly and to the death for it.

It is also surprisingly true that virtually all of those shown as leaders of the French Resistance are middle aged-people you would never take to be important spies and renegades at all. This inspires bafflement. Where is young Harrison Ford? Where is ever-young Tom Cruise?

And an additional advantage is that the actors who play them are unknown to one –at least to an ignoramus like me. I’d never seen Paul Meurisse, Lino Ventura, Claude Mann, Christian Barbier, Paul Crauchet. That means that one has no preconception as to how the story of their characters will develop or end and no idea what to expect from them as one watches. They are perfect strangers one experiences for the first time and finds one’s way into.

In France, each of them was a prized star, as was Simone Signoret (a German/Polish/Jewish/French actor who during The War took her mother’s name, Signoret, to survive deportation). Signoret plays Mathilde, the mastermind on the ground, a great woman, although in real life the wife of just some shopkeeper. Signoret’s visage with its huge, wide-spaced eyes and flexible mouth is one of the most striking of movie faces, and here it is used in various disguises – the rich widow, the head nurse, the dull housefrau, the blowsy tart, as Mathilde wends her way through enemy lines. Signoret often played grande or petite coccottes. Where are her grande amoreuses; where her Léa de Lonvals of yesteryear?

All these unknowns add mystery, surprise, and wonder to watching this film, which depicts extreme actions but focusses on the responses of the characters to those actions and is executed with rare acuteness, economy, and choice.

Melville was a participator in The Resistance. It was a perilous calling. And his great first film, The Silence Of The Sea is a stunning account of the resistance on the ground. See it. See this too. Army Of Shadows is a rare treat. Miss it under peril of the scowl of the Cinema Gestapo!

 

Neruda

20 Jan

Neruda – directed by Pablo Lorain. Biopic. 107 minutes Color 2017

★★★★★

The Story: A poet/politician balks authority and, because his poems are so loved and recited by the people, a bounty is put on his head and he must evade capture by the stupid detective set to accomplish it.

~

It is a chase film, 90% of which takes place indoors.

The riches of this arise from our expectations of a chase film being defied by what satisfies them even more.

A bouquet of relationships is slowly unveiled by the film, as each character reveals himself to be the immortal creation of the other. The detective, for instance, whom the poet Neruda has brought into necessary life, has already given himself a name and an ancestry. So each individual is also a creation of himself.

This is not some South American mental toy, but a dramatic force, and the structural principal of this film which consists in repeatedly surprising us.

Surprise is several things but it is seldom satisfying. But here surprise is. Who is the hero? The celebrity poet or the measly detective?

Both actors, Luis Gnecco and Gael Garcia Bernal give slants and lights to a script of charm and originality. They are supported by two great female performances in that of the wife, Mercedes Morán, who understands Neruda thoroughly and blames him for nothing. And by the radiant work of a transvestite entertainer in a bordello, whose defense of Neruda to the police makes everything about the popularity of his work simple, stirring, and plain.

If the film is near you and you happen to know any grown-ups, be swift to buy a ticket, for where I go, Friday and Saturday were sold out.

This is a good one not to miss. You already know to see Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea. Listing this next to them makes it authentic.

 

Departures

02 Nov

Departures – directed by Tojiro Takita. Dramedy. 130 minutes Color 2006.

★★★★★

The Story: A young married man answers an employment ad and finds himself involved in a career of which no one in his family or nation approves.

~

I start this review by telling you that this film won the 2006 Oscar for The Best Foreign Film to captivate you into leaping into ordering it from your library or Netflix or Amazon or Santa Claus.

I have this terrible habit of criticizing films. Of course, one does this because one is addicted to the word “Halleluiah!” One wants to tell the glad tidings and bear the good news. It’s a foolish habit. But such a film as this makes it imperative to my soul, and I forgive myself for it – and for everything else besides.

This film was originally designed by the actor who plays the leading role, and he certainly is a great star. He has all the eccentricity and immediacy of a great star. And the looks. No film company wanted to make it. He held out. When it was made, everyone on Earth went to it.

Masahiro Matoki plays opposite the most charming actress in the world, Ryoko Hirosue, she who adores him, fosters him, and puts her foot down hard on his when she finds out what he does for a living.

Kimiko Yo plays the Gal Friday of the firm, and she has been around several blocks, you can tell. The formidable Tsutomu Yamazaki is the boss of both of them, never predicable, always rigorous. A great actor at work.

The film is shot in a plain manner that makes things surprising when they appear before one.

The direction devotes itself to a simplicity which encourages the comedy into our eyes without blistering them.

I don’t want to talk much about this film, except to say it is engrossing, expressive, different, and dear. I don’t describe it because to do so would be to betray its surprises and preempt its beauty and its fun. Let’s just say it’s just what film is for! I know you will enjoy it as much as I did. That’s my rash hope. But then hope is always rash, is it not?

I say no more. Except watch it. Watch it. Watch it.

 

 

Band Of Outsiders

31 Oct

Band Of Outsiders – directed by Jean Luc Goddard. Drama. 95 minutes Black And White 1964.

★★★

The Story: Two young men induce a pretty schoolgirl to help them rob her home.

~

These three are so young they seem fraudulent. A handsome man with nothing more in his mind than the ragged top of his tiny convertible. Another man not even young looking, brutally confident. A pretty schoolgirl brainless with excitement to be hanging around with these types. And sexual attraction indulged in as twere an allergy.

These are three souls whose minds are penniless, whose characters absent. They think they are in an American movie and all go to an English class in which they pay attention to nothing save one another.

This is Goddard, and this is French cinema at its greatest pitch of artificiality – l’ homage. In it, we are asked to pay attention to three people so bored with life they will rob any rich old man who passes by, as though Godard imagined this were an entertainment. And as though the monosyllables of Humphrey Bogart constituted a style worth of mimicry as a philosophical foundation for life.

The glassy stare of French cinema epitomizes itself with this noughts and crosses of vapid emotional gesticulation. Odile’s breasts moved under her sweater we are told. What else should they be doing?

Both these men toss a coin to see who gets the girl. The girl wants the tough guy with the droopy eyelids. But no one wants anything very much. To further alienate us the entire film is accompanied by a voice over of the screenwriter talking as though their doings were a long-over and significant nostalgia.

Is there to be a sweet memory here? Not so far. The only reason in seducing the girl is to get their hands on a great deal of cash stashed in a cupboard in the young lady’s household.

While their flirtation takes place, their English teacher recites Romeo And Juliet for them to translate, but their own energy is mercilessly banal and passionless.

The mean one meets up with a meaningless fistfight with his male relatives, a family of petty thieves living off hope for the takings. The romantic one pines.

What these two males have to do with one another is as mystifying as the mystery the mean one claims to see in the schoolgirl’s face. By what is she hypnotized in them? Certainly not in the trite plan they have to rob her landlord.

She remains a pretty, young schoolgirl. They remain two cheap crooks who probably would not get way with shoplifting a candy-bar. Franz, the romantic one, quotes Jack London, as tough London were a significant American artist. Bad B movies are their beau ideal. A la Funnyface they manage a footrace through the Louvre zipping by masterpieces, observing none. They improvise a perfectly rehearsed dance in a café as though they were Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, and Phil Silvers. In short, they fool around cinematically. So what? The tough guy screws her. So what? She takes off her stockings. They see her white thighs. So what? They enter the house masked in her stockings. They wander about. They gag the girl. The robbery is so without suspense its reality is preposterous. The landlord’s door is locked. They trundle out a ladder in broad daylight to fumble up an entrance.

The manner of the acting is naturalistic. The execution of the story is realistic. The two modes don’t fadge, so the effect of the film is like hitting a pillow. The men beat one another up and give the girl significant looks which intend nothing. The robbery is told as a lethargy trying to happen. When they get to the cabinet the money is gone. They gag the lady of the house and stuff her in a wardrobe where she dies, of what? Of So What?

The mean one and his uncle shoot it out long-windedly, as in a Western; the mean one dies extravagantly, just as he has been miming from Westerns two reels earlier. Worn out with sorrow and fatigue, the romantic one and the girl take off for South America – with what money, pray tell?

The director thinks he has directed a piece of pulp. Pulp is fiction exhausted once read and soon to be trash. It is not that which is exhausted and trash before reading.

For all his love of Hitchcock, doesn’t Goddard know that sexual energy between people is a fabrication of editing? Does he realize that existentialism and American movies are at cross-purposes? American pulp is energized by the vitality of a promised land. For all it excellence, France is not a promised land, nor is its language the lingua franca of it, and therefore its attempt at pulp is flaccid.

French film ends always with a sleepy philosophical coda about life sadly unmet. For existentialism is a pose, a pose rigid with inanition. False as a tableau. It’s first words are, “So what?” So are its last.

 

Our Little Sister

16 Aug

Our Little Sister ­ directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Family Drama. 128 minutes Color 2016.

★★★★★

The Story: Three young bachelor sisters live alone in the big house of their grandmother, and, when they invite their teenage younger half-sister in, all their lives change.

~

Cartoons, action adventure films, films of violence, fantasy, science fiction, horror, chick flicks, drug films, Nicolas Cage films do not find me populating their crowded audiences.

Because they have no content.

So, it is with glowing relief I watch this story unfold. The three sisters do not carry side arms. They do not engage in midnight abortions. Their sexual arrangements are clear, understood, and peripheral.

What they present is a modern and unusual drama of family life whose content is their home, their city, Kamakura, their past, their prospects. Two of them bicker. One drinks a little and engages with worthless boyfriends. Another is a head hospital nurse moving into care of the aged, and taken for granted by her married boyfriend. The youngster proves to be a super soccer player and hops on bike ride with teammate through a paradise of cherry blossoms. The sisters make wine from a family plum tree. They laugh. They learn. What has become of their mother?

Why these ingredients have content is simple. The content of those listed above is theatrical and virtuosoistic and therefore vacuous. The content of Our Little Sister is human, realistic, and clumsy, therefore dramatic. You can actually be present with it as a fellow human being. Their conflicts are perfectly understandable and sympathetic as Japanese and perfectly understandable and sympathetic as our own.

The film was awarded the Best Japanese Film Of The Year, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Sets, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actresses, Best Newcomer, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Lighting, Best Cinemaphotography, Best Musical Score.

The cast is incontestable.

The movie is true.

It sticks to your ribs.

Go.

 

Wild Tales

13 May

Wild Tales – written and directed by Damiàn Szifron. Black Comedy. 122 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: Six tales of vengeance.

~

Wild Tales is an anthology of the most sumptuous violence one has ever witnessed this side of Catastrophe. But actually it’s funny.

It’s funny because it is a black satire in the form of six screwball comedies on vengeance in human affairs.

You have never seen such a record of complete all-out vendettas. In this film, though, revenge is not a dish served cold. It is bubbling hot. It steams and sizzles and boils over.

The first story is …no, I won’t tell you. It takes place in an airplane among a load of unwitting voyagers.

The second story is …no, I won’t tell you. It takes place in a roadside joint where the man you love to hate turns up for chow.

The third story is … no, I won’t tell you. But it takes place on the superhighway of road rage.

The fourth story is … no, I won’t tell you. But it will satisfy every fury you ever felt over a parking ticket.

The fifth story is …. no, I won’t tell you. But it glees you with comeuppance for every lawyer who ever fleeced you.

The sixth story is … no, I won’t tell you. But it quite restores reality to the rites of the wedding day.

I say no more. I am mum.

I do have to say that these pieces are perfectly cast and played, and the director who forged them deserves olés all around.

If you like this film, good. Tell someone. Tell every terrorist you know. It may laugh them out of it.

If you don’t like it, it’s not because I said you should go. You didn’t ask me, and if you had, I’d once more have said, “No, I won’t tell you.”

 
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Posted in BLACK COMEDY, FILMED IN ARGENTINA WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

 

The Two Of Us

18 Jun

The Two Of Us – directed by Claude Berri. Family Film. 87 minutes Black And White 1967.

★★★★★

The Story: In occupied Paris, a little Jewish boy endangers his family’s safety by his antics and must be farmed out to a rural family whose grandfather is virulently anti-semetic.

~

It’s hard to say anything more about this enchanting film. One doesn’t want to give away any of the events, for to preview any one of them would be to spoil the surprise of it.

One can say that the great Michel Simon, that beautiful actor and beautiful human and beautiful man won well deserved awards for this performance. It’s a flower in his buttonhole.

And the youngster is a grand master of impishness and cleverness. If you don’t love him, you don’t love anything, and you must stand in the corner until you do.

I would love to tell you how he was discovered, but that is the right of the director, who narrates it in the Extra Features. It is Berri’s first feature, and a little masterpiece.

I call it a family film, because it is about a family. Indeed it is about the real meaning of the word “family,” and let me know if you don’t think so.

It illustrates the truth of art that the cutting of a gem is entirely dependent on what is left out.

Enjoy yourself. See it in company. It’ll make a family of the whole bunch of you.

 

 

 

The Wind Rises

07 Apr

The Wind Rises – created by Hayao Miyazaki. Animated BioDrama. 126 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

The Story: From the time he was a boy, Jiro Horikoshi desired to design airplanes, and after a long apprentice and during a long romance, he eventually designed the Mitsubishi  A5M and then the Zero.

~

Well, this renowned animator takes us along by the allure of his cells and scenes, as we wait for the next and the next, each one as satisfying and striking and telling as the one we have just seen. What’s next? What’s to come?

It is the biography of a rather naïve male, who never gives up his quest, and in that quest has no obstacles except the material ones of an industry starting from nothing and with nothing. Cloth planes, no design foundation, the want of proper engineering.

Miyazaki show us is all the angles and the experiences of a young man who, like David Copperfield, is the blank outline in which we may place ourselves to endure the drama, the waiting, and the love affair.

He gives his Japanese hero and heroine curly hair and large round eyes, so they never quite look Japanese. They are faceless creatures, and we recognize Jiro mainly because his white suits are often tinted lavender. He would be vapid, save that he is defined by what he does, and so we enter into him, not as a character, but as a role enacting a story.

But the startling crowd scenes, the remarkable air shots, the crazy planes invented around him give me enough entertainment to beguile me along. I do not feel a thing is missing. Indeed, I have never seen such intricate splendor.

The vast politesse of the Japanese is demonstrated for me also. Because the film is animated, I can witness this aspect of Jiro and the Japanese character and cultural style. I can see the good of the bowing, the waiting, the respect, the formality. I can see the human usefulness of it.

I recommend this film as an uncommon pleasure.

 

 

 

Salò

14 Jan

Salò – directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Drama. 116 minutes, Color 1975.

★★★

The Story: A group of teenagers are forced into sex school by a coterie of autocrats.

If this is denounced as pornographic, it is enduring a terrible because irrelevant wrong. For no one has a good time at all in sex here. Everyone is either too mean or too horrified to feel or even pretend any pleasure. So, taken at its face value as pro-church and anti-pleasure – since any natural and easy pleasure that seeps in is punished morbidly – one must assume that Salò is about something else.

Watching it, my notion was that it is about sexual addiction, that is to say the imperious, internal compulsion that forces one to have sex rather than by normal inclination. For everyone is strong-armed into it here. All the young players are between 14 and 18 years old, and they are first kidnapped and then roughed into various sexual congress. But it’s never any fun and always unlovely, for, as it is based on a work of De Sade, it is, perforce, sadistic. The only beauty is that provided by a pianist who accompanies their lectures in degradation by playing Chopin. The exit of this pianist from the proceedings is typical of the director’s rigorous anhedonic message.

So, in terms of the actual material, Salò would seem to be The Allegory Of Rough Trade, which was Pasolini’s fancy and by which he soon was soon slain.

You have to go to the Extra Features to learn that the film was meant to be an allegory of neo-capitalism, the fascism of consumerism. There we learn that we are all being put under the trance of pleasant things. Pasolini himself tells us so. But you may be sure that when a director tells you what he intended to be in a film that he has failed to include that intention in it.

For no pleasant things are in the film itself. Or I should say, there are certain pleasant things, but they have nothing to do with neo-capitalism. We have such pleasant things as the nude bodies of the children who act in it, a bouquet of inviolable adolescents. And we have the sets, which are more interesting than the events which take place in them, for they are often big spare rooms decorated with elaborate old wallpaper. Pasolini has a classic eye for the formality of spectacle. And Pasolini’s set-ups and the arrangements of the personnel in them reveal a fine old-fashioned enjoyment of ritual. All these are pleasures to be sure. But sexual pleasure?

Pasolini himself says that power is anarchic, since it can do what it wants. And he’s right, and this is cogently illustrated by the rites of anarchy we see before us here. For fascism, dictatorship, absolutism, fundamentalism must have tremendous regimentation in which to do as it pleases. Too bad that, having achieved that level of power, doing what one pleases results in no pleasure whatsoever. The only two young people who slip out and take sexual pleasure are slaughtered.

What is it like seeing Salò? There are virtually no closeups, the camera seldom moves, and there is no focal character, only groups. Individual personalities do emerge, because Pasolini likes humans and is shy of them, both of which make him a good voyeur, so he is able to capture persons at true and characteristic moments. But that still leaves Pasolini as a bigot – the commercial classes being his detestation – since he sets them up as The Corrupt Against The Innocent – but bigotry is bigotry no matter what class you hate, and especially, as always is the case, you are fervently partial to your own notion of virtue in doing so.

Besides there is a technical problem with his Allegory, for you cannot have an allegory without a focal dupe. You cannot have a Duessa without a Red Cross Knight, a principal innocent. When in Allegory, even aimed at groups, a single person must carry us through it, as through a supermarket of abuse and temptation. For it is we, the reader, we the audience, who must pass through it with that dupe and therefore wake up to the trance of vice we are permitting ourselves to repose in. Here we witness a crowd from a distance beyond Pasolini’s own distance to it.

So the allegory is lost. But it is lost mainly because a sexual arena leads one to look for sex. It’s the crude but natural thing to do. Setting up A School For Orgy is such a bind on the imagination that the message about consumerism is somewhere over there off-campus. Yes, one is offered bread and circuses, if only in the shape of a starved clown and a crust, but still they are offered in the Circus Maximus of sex. In it, one cannot simultaneously overhear too well a homily from Saint Peter’s down the street. A different internal mob attends.

It has been elaborately re-released in a two-disc box, the second disc of which containing professors talking to professors about what professors talk to professors about. All this keeps professors in business professing, but has little to do with the actual picture, Salò, about which they are endeavoring to make a case. Although there are interesting inclusions by actual participants, such as actors, designer, original writer, and Pasolini, who is handsome, rather dear, very masculine, and genuinely reserved. A booklet of essays includes itself. I have not read it.

And why shall I read it? To prove myself wrong in all that I have said here. For why on earth would anyone read anything at all, save to be seriously disabused? For perhaps I too am lost in the vicious pleasure of consumerism. And what would it be that I consume so hungrily?

Why films, of course. Which is why I watched Salò, just as Pasolini asked me to, wanted me to, and why he made it for me to consume to begin with.

 

Matador

21 Sep

Matador – written and directed by Pedro Almovódar. Murder Melodrama. A guilt stricken young man tracks down the real murderers. 110 minutes, Color 1986.

★★★★★

The insane religiously obsessed mother we are to see in The Law Of Desire impels the same actor, Antonio Banderas, to different sexual insanities. His only problem is that he is not guilty of anything, but wishes he were, because it would mean he was a sexual being, which is the one thing his mother decries anthem-like in her every day sermons to him. So he confesses to crimes he has not committed.

The interesting thing is that he is also clairvoyant, so he actually knows where the real bodies are buried. Trouble is he faints at the sight of blood, so he couldn’t have killed a soul.

All this is a comic substrata like something out of a Preston Sturges comedy, while the main and particular story deals with the addiction to slaughter – or slaughter as sex – a compulsion shared with Banderas’ lawyer and with the retired Matador played with utter conviction by Nacho Martinez. They love killing people, and they mate over it. So one is not quite sure whether one is watching grand opera or grand guignol.

Everyone is wonderful – as is usually the case in Almodóvar films. Banderas plays the youth quite simply, so one does not really have to worry about his Mother-Church mother and whether he will recover from her. We are glad to know the mother will never recover, that is all.

There is a crazy Duel In The Sun death at the end which is quite enjoyable, and as is sometimes the case with Almovódar, one feels King Vidor is more in charge than Almodóvar is, but that does not matter.

What matters is all those poster paint colors which countermand everything we see, thank goodness, and give the uplift which turns melodrama into satire in a wink. We are so grateful for Almodóvar for this. He is a tonic for our times.

 

The Law Of Desire

17 Sep

The Law Of Desire – written and directed by Pablo Almodóvar. Melodrama. 102 minutes Color 1987.

★★★★★ 

The Story: A beautiful young man becomes disastrously obsessed with a film director.

The link between satire and melodrama has not been this close since the heyday of Dickens. They are really two sides of the same coin. And one of the links here is the notorious color scheme that Almodóvar employs to nest this tale and that brings to one’s eye a humor of disposition which is very hard not to be influenced by. You want to giggle.

If any problem exists in this film, or any other film of Almovódar that wishes us to take it seriously, it is that he has such a big heart that everybody is forgiven for everything in advance. This film comes before the discovery of Penélope Cruz, who embodies all these traits in her nature: big heartedness, drama, and the color scheme. So, while his films are wonderful to watch and be entertained by, we are foolish to ask ourselves to be deeply moved by them. This does not mean they are trivial or to be scanted; not at all; they must be seen, like the mobiles of Alexander Calder, lest we deprive ourselves of an important delight. You wouldn’t spurn Mozart because he is light-minded, would you? Or the films of Lubitsch because he is fun?

This story deals mainly with homosexuality and transsexuality, and is Almovódar’s first film so to do. The parallel plot involves Carmen Maura who was once the director’s brother and is now his sister. And the transsexual Bibí Andersen (not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman’s Bibi Andersson) plays the aunt. All this is very nice and disturbs, just as it is meant to do, our customarily acceptance of things.

The director is played with admirable restraint by Eusebio Poncela, and it is a pleasure to see him engage in passionate kissing scenes with men, for that is just the way men kiss one another when they are at it. His is essentially the Almovódar stand-in role, as you find in Broken Embraces, the man whose calling is more important than his love relations.

Antonio Banderas plays the mad youth. It is very nice to see him with his clothes off, for he is a fine figure of a male, and it makes his insane lust for the director real. And he also kisses back real good. But what’s interesting about Banderas’ performance is that he is playing someone insane as though they were not insane. What the actor does is to excuse nothing. He has that ghastly, religiously-crazed, prude mother to motivate him, and Almovódar needs give us no more than that. The story does the job for him.

What Almovódar does give us is a mountain slide of a finale, with plot heaped upon exposition scene as Pelion on Ossa. It is more rich desserts than we can digest at a sitting. But he does meet all the responsibilities of the genres of melodrama and satire, which he clearly loves, just as he loves nutso love-lust s in Duel In The Sun with its wedding of sex and slaughter as praise for life lived fully in a way that no one really cares to do outside of a movie, including Almovódar. What’s the moral of the opera?

There is no sacrifice one does not make for love – children, gender, life, sex itself. If it aint necessarily so, well then, that’s one reason we go to a movie to begin with, isn’t it?

 

The Grandmaster

11 Sep

The Grandmaster – written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. Drama. Two master martial artists are drawn to one another, though they are both sworn to duel. 130 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

See it by all means in a theatre now. For is a film of such resplendent beauty, subtlety, and distinction that you must sit back in the dark of a vast hall and let it play itself out hugely before your amazed eyes. You mustn’t wait until it comes into your mere parlor.

It is not a story about athleticism or about martial art, but about character and martial artists. Their dances are performed to music, and are shown in flashes, not of bodies bashing one another, but of slices of hands, scraps of wrists, flourishes of robes and fur. You would not want to see the actual moves. What you do want to see is the result of them. A body crashing through a window. You do not want to see technique. What you do want to see is the half smile of the executant.

What you want to see is beauty, and this you see in every frame, every face, every costume, every setting, and in every delivery of them to your astonished and gratified eyes. Beauty stirs in the puddles and the reflections of the gates in the puddles, in the waiting snow on the bough in the battle in the blizzard. And why should you see this? Why is this being offered? Because inherent in it is the dignity and discipline inherent in life lived – not necessarily this Chinese way – but inherent in life lived in many ways.

To establish that dignity and that openness, we are given as The Grand Master the face of Tony Leung, one of the most beautiful faces ever to bless the screen. And the face of Zhang Ziyi, whose mouth enchants as once enchanted the mouth of Janice Rule. You cannot but be lost in the beauty of these two faces, for their beauty expands and vibrates into a latitude which only movie faces of this beauty can do, and we are given plenty of opportunity to dwell upon them, for they are filmed close-up, still, often, and well.

Beauty has no moral. It is an arena to itself. Go. Bathe in it. You owe it to yourself. I say you do. I say you deserve it and you have always deserved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Embraces

04 Sep

Broken Embraces – written and directed by Pedro Alomodóvar. Drama. A film director changes his profession after becoming blinded and losing the love of his life. 128 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★★

This is badly titled, isn’t it? Coitus Interruptus would be closer, but the Spanish language has a striking coloration than English cannot translate.

Anyhow the embraces are plural, which coitus interruptus is not. For there are two embraces cracked by the blinding of the director, both of them the loves of his life, one being with the flabbergastering Penélope Cruz and the other with his calling as a director.

The effect of all of this on himself and those around him – his Gal Friday and her son – is momentous. And I’m not going to talk about any of that, for I never tell the story of a film to you, for I will not betray you. I trust your susceptibility to what I have to say to make clear those values I can speak of without undermining your surprise and the human need in you for participation in the deep deed of narration. The story is not mine to tell. It is the director’s to tell it, and yours to open yourself to it, which in this case I urge thoroughly to do. You need, as I do, to be told a story. But you need, as I do, to be told it by the right person. Not I, but Almodóvar is that person.

I can point out the coloration spread before us by the director, particularly marked, wouldn’t you say, in the story of a man who is blind.

I can also mention how the loss of the sight – no, I won’t point that out at all. You will know it for yourself when you see it before you.

Do so. For who is it that does not make a point of seeing any new movie of Pedro Almodóvar? Is there such a ninny breathing God’s air? Don’t you want to be in kindergarten again, playing with poster paints on those big sheets of paper? Don’t you want to hear tales of love and loyalty and princesses lodged in ogre’s castles? Have you no passion? Have you no waking dreams? Have you never seen Penélope Cruz in her home territory even once and not yearned to revisit her there once again?

Almodóvar treats Cruz’s first appearance before the director, Lluis Homar, as Charles Vidor treats Rita Hayworth’s before Glenn Ford in Gilda – as a never-to-be-banished bedazzlement, a sudden looking up at him from amidst the double bed of her fabulous hair – certainly a resource of her talent and beauty and interest – like Anna Magnani’s hair or Clark Gable’s – one of things that hold us to the screen.

The film is beautifully acted and cast, with one exception, which is that of the leading role of the gal Friday. The part is not a tragic role, but a romantic role, that of a woman holding patience in place for many years. We need to see much less of her feeling than of her precious hoarding of it.

Here we are in the house of full scale melodrama, with all of Almodóvar’s variety of humor, to appreciate which, make sure to watch the extra features for one of the funniest actor monologues you will ever have the privileged of witnessing. Go to, my friends, go to. See it and be seen by it.

 

The Last Metro

29 Jul

The Last Metro –­– directed by Francois Truffaut. Backstage WW II Drama. A Paris theatre company holds together during the German occupation. 131 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★

The presence of Catherine Deneuve in any film whatever guarantees attention to it, just as her presence in it guarantees attention to herself. She is a woman with no sex appeal save that she seems to have none; males are captivated by the challenge of their own bafflement, apparently.  And, even with persons she is making out with, she evinces no sexual interest or energy towards anyone else. She is neither attractive nor attracted. So it is no wonder that Gérard Depardieu has no eyes for her.

She is thought of as beautiful, a claim discounted by that chin. And perhaps it is her consistently soigné manner and her consistently marvelous yellow hair and that she is consistently photographed as though she were beautiful that leads to the general belief that she is so.

But, of course, I do not find her so, and that is because, as a dramatic actress she lacks fire, she lacks temperament; she gives so little to her craft it creates a detriment, a hollow, which also adds to her so-called attraction, I suppose, but it doesn’t interest me, and I have no respect for it. She seems inert, a sphinx without a secret.

That is, until I saw her in Hôtel des Amériques, which she made with the great actor Patrick Dewaere, and in which she plays broad comedy and is screamingly funny. She is, in fact, a brilliant light comedienne miscast in a career of dramatic roles, such as this one. Sad.

The movie itself is quite entertaining, because of its photography, general production, crispness in the telling, and Truffaut’s eye for subordinate characters, which, given that this is a theatre company, means we are confronted with some unusual types.

But, while the story is well told, it is not well written, for such reasons as that a romance between Depardieu and Deneuve is tagged on at the end and arises out of nothing we have witnessed. And also because neither she nor Depardieu have real passion either for the theatre as a calling or as a business. As with her relations to her Jewish husband, she is doing her duty.

The film also is in lush color, which certainly suits Deneuve’s makeup and complexion, just as it suited Betty Grable’s, but it defies the gritty black-and-white truth of World War II in starving, domineered, occupied Paris. Both she and Depardieu play characters that seem to have no personal necessity save to play the parts in the movie in which we are seeing them. The film holds one almost to the end, which is a tribute to its power to entertain, if not to explore. In France it received all the major awards. Which is natural, since it congratulates the faith, fidelity, and fortitude of the French during trying times. And who can gainsay it. Will they survive? That is the tension. The answer? They will.

 

My Mother’s Smile

25 Jun

My Mother’s Smile –– directed by Marco Bellocchio. Drama A renown painter faces the prospect of his dead mother being made a saint by the Vatican. 105 minutes Color 2002.

★★★★★

This remarkable drama perhaps depends upon its performance by any one of the principal actors, but the entire film really seems to gather its value together under the dark black hair of the beautiful child who is the six year old son of the main character. He is the one worth saving from the grotesque farrago of sanctification. But each character is played without remorse.

The aunt of the father desires the sanctification to gain social status, and her arguments are convincing. So are those of the pious cardinal in charge of the process and two of the painter’s three brothers. So really are the plans of the reprobate miraculously cured by her.

The question raised is how are we to be loved for what we are. And how are we to know that unless we stand our ground, right or wrong. So the artist is challenged and humiliated by a haughty nobleman who at the point of death reduces him in his manhood and humanity. And he is also offered the fair distraction of a beautiful young woman of mysterious provenance. Whose side, if any side, is she on?

But it is the third brother whose seal of approval is besought with insane resolve by all but the artist. For this third brother is insane and has also killed the mother.

This is a fascinating and usual picture, highly watchable and highly engrossing. And a great demonstration of the power of film to deal with immense moral issues without ever having to preach to do so.

 

 

 

 

 

Lust, Caution

28 May

Lust, Caution – directed by Ang Lee. Spy Drama. In the Japanese occupation of Japan a group of students become resistance workers determined to assassinate a high ranking collaborator. 157 minutes Color 2007.
★★★★★
After making Brokeback Mountain, the angel director Ang Lee returned to China to film this account of the late 30s occupation of Hong Kong and Shanghai. He avows it was to honor the history of the period, which was his parents’ time, and which would he feared be lost if some record of it was not made. But the movie is far more than ancestor worship.

As with all his films (The Life of Pi, et al.), it is an exposure of human nature under huge pressure, danger, and duress. I am loath to recount even the beginning of this story, because each episode is precious and unusual.

Rather let me speak for a minute about the cast, which, along with Joan Chen, boasts the highest ranking Chinese actors of our day.

Wang Leehom, the international Asian singer superstar, plays the young leader of the troupe. A beautiful young man, he captures the intensity of the boy, including his fatal lack of humor linked to a sexual restraint such as to make of them a plot device in and of themselves.

The great Chinese superstar Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays the collaborationist magistrate who is the target of the troupe. You would suppose you would respond to him as a villain. But the intensity, pain, love, perspicacity, fear, cruelty, and desire he evinces forbids any such condemnation as the full human being arises before our eyes.

The power and delicacy and sensuality of his playing take the story to excruciations of lust and fear – to a point almost inhuman where neither of them obtain. And with him rides Wei Tang as the femme fatale of the troupe, out to seduce and betray him. She is an entrancing female, subtle, lovely to behold, true, believable, and interesting in and of herself.

I say no more. I have said too much.

It is beautifully filmed by Rodrigo Prieto and has an infallible sense of period.

I saw it on DVD, which offers an uncensored version, It seems to me that the film would make no sense without the full bore sex scenes. Or at least insufficient sense. After all, the film is not a candy apple.

Highly recommended for grown-up viewing.

 

Kagemusha — The Shadow Warrior

16 Mar

Kagemusha – directed by Akira Kurosawa. 16th Century Japanese Warlords find themselves deceived by the greatest of them being replaced by a hobo impostor. 180 minutes Color 1980.

★★★★★

Of course it could be said that it is too long, for the same reason that any film is too long, because the last part of it is full of detail which by now we, as the audience, telling the tale as we go, alongside Kurosawa, take as understood.

And, it could be said that the film was never meant to be viewed on a home screen but on a huge wide movie theatre screen, where I first saw it. What this means is that the power of the great troop and battle scenes is lost because they were designed as spectacle.

Of course that is not to say that the rest of the film is not spectacle. For it is. The interiors are all staged as spectacle, even when there is only one person present, even those scenes close-to, although Kirosawa here is not involved in close-ups, but in groups, or in a single player playing out his role full body. The staging of every scene is highly theatrical, perfectly organized, with nothing left to chance for our mistrust to fix upon.

And then there is the playing, which is Japanese in its style, not Noh, of which we are given a stunning sample, but cinema-Noh, which means a minimum of movement combined with the greatest intensity of content. The Noh actor, virtually static on stage, uses his voice for this; his craft is the craft of intonation. But in a movie, the actors must do most of it with their bodies and in such a way as that each movement will tell the tale required to be told, and no more. Unlike stage Noh, where the words themselves have a studied constant operatic force, in the film the actor speaks more physically than verbally. So, the movie is told as a feat of physical narration. An actor executes the necessary telling movement and immediately shuts down, and the story is told.

This is good for a fairy tale, which is what this is.

Once upon a time, there was a family, a great warrior grandfather and his devoted twin brother, the two sons of the warrior, and his four year old grandson. The most feared warrior in all Japan is this warrior, and his purpose is to protect his clan.

He is ruthless and valuable, and to protect his own life, his twin brother has played his double. However, the brother finds this role vexatious to his spirit and one day shows his brother a bum who looks like them both. An impostor is needed to give the head-brother the mysterious power of ubiquity, but this man is a wandering thief, a low-life, a vulgar ne’er do well. The two brothers train this thief to become the second impostor, a shadow warrior, which is what the title means. Or does it?

Does it not perhaps mean, when he dies, the warrior whom the peasant impersonates? Is he not the ghost warrior? Is not the person imitated the ghost?

As I sit here writing this, I do not know whether all three parts are played by the same actor. It would seem impossible, since the cantankerous and flaky thief and the warrior are so different in temperament, for the warrior brother is a mountain of immovable resolve, cunning, and wisdom. Nonetheless, this what the thief eventually becomes. How is it possible?

Everyone who reads this blog regularly knows that sometimes I like the history of movies and actors, but that I am not interested in theoretical or hypothetical or philosophical or sociological matters as regards movies and the entertainment of acting. But if I were, I might say that this film would be Kurosawa’s tribute, on the grandest possible scale, to the genius of acting and its craft.

For here we have an histrionic and cinematic masterwork about creating an histrionic and cinematic masterwork. It is the backstage story of all time.

Everything about the movie is stupendous. The costumes are stupendous, the battle arrays are stupendous, the volume of extras is stupendous. This is in order to stupefy us. And if we are in our right minds, we will be so, for the long, tense layout of each scene is of a pace important to impress. We must be silent, we must be respectful, we must bow down before this narrative style or the story will not register in us. We must wait out the tension in the room. That is our job. That is our story-telling. Around a campfire, the counselor begins a ghost story. We  allow ourselves to be riveted. There is no human alternative.

What is the moral of this story?

The moral arises in us as we watch, for it is the same that arises in the bum learning to becoming a shadow warrior – devotion to the master’s mastery, one-and-the-same thing, the master and the mastery – devotion to the warrior-master, which the shadow-warrior learns, and by an inevitable osmosis becomes; devotion to the mastery of the master, and devotion to being told the telling itself. All: one and the same thing.

One-and-the-same thing.

One-and-the-same thing.

 

Amour

27 Jan

Amour – directed by Michael Haneke. Drama. A married couple in their 80s end their time together when the wife suffers a stroke and slowly declines as the husband devotedly cares for her. 127 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
If you sit back, if you’re capable of sitting back, you will find yourself in the privileged position of watching a life-and-death process you never imagined you would witness. The direction and filming of this story is so close to its home that one does not seem to be intruding at all, much less watching a film.

The story is very simple. They are retired musicians. They have made their contribution, and when illness overtakes the wife, one of her pupils, a successful concert pianist comes to pay his grateful respects. That tells you everything you need to know about their lives before their present trial. Their daughter comes; she also is a musician; she is on tour; her views of how to handle matters are desperate and understandable – but there is nothing to be done that is not being done well.

All this sounds uneventful, and so it is in a way, because while the death sentence of life hangs in the wings, ordinary life goes on as well. The newspaper is read, the tea is made. But also the patient must be bathed. The diaper must be changed. The straw must be applied to the lips. The husband takes on these tasks. He performs them simply and well.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trantignant. I am almost loathe to mention the names of the two actors who plays these two old persons, because they seem to not be acting but simply enacting. The film seems not to be staged, but to unfold in large chapters before my eyes and mine alone. The two characters are often shown, not dead on but at an angle as though I were eavesdropping right there over their shoulder. It doesn’t seem like a film, so much as a record. It left me speechless.

The film is in line for a 2013 Oscar as The Best Foreign film and The Best Film. Emmanuelle Riva is nominated for Best Actress. Michael Haneke for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. You owe it to yourself.

 

Rashomon

03 Feb

Rashomon – Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Drama. Four participants in a violent criminal deed, each tell it from their particular point of view. 88 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once you leave the theatre. I remember when it first appeared. It was, with the early films of Vittorio De Sica and S. Ray, the opening stroke of the introduction of international film to American audiences. They all were startling, indifferent to Hollywood style, profound, gutsy, and beautiful, none more so than Kurosawa. The acting style was Japanese in that it was intense, raw, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized, and firmly and deeply lodged in voice production; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. How he got the part is extraordinary: a friend of Kurosawa told him to come to the stodgy institute’s auditions because someone was tearing the place apart; Kurosawa came and saw that one of the greatest actors in he world, although completely unknown, was before him. He inveigled the institute to accept Mifune. Watch him: he’s the fastest actor in human response ever to appear in film. He can turn on a yen.  There is no one like him for contained anger but Brando. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the sets completely imprisoned. Does it hold up? Masterpieces do. This time round all these years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.

 

 

 

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring

28 Sep

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring – Directed by Ki-duk Kim. Drama. 95 minutes Color 2004.

* * * * *

Under the vigilant eyes of Old Monk (Yeong-su Oh), Child Monk (Jong-ho Kim) learns a hard lesson about the nature of sorrow when his childish games turn cruel in a story that’s divided into five segments, with each season representing a stage in a man’s life. This exquisitely filmed drama is entirely set on and around a tree-lined lake, where a tiny Buddhist monastery floats on a raft amidst a breathtaking landscape. What a lovely piece. It does a body good to see a story told in this manner. And it did my body good too. For it commands attention at the same time as it embodies peace, stillness, and the range of human truth that therein prevails. Treat yourself. Watch it.

With: Yeong-su Oh, Ki-duk Kim, Young-min Kim, Jae-kyeong Seo, Yeo-jin Ha, Jong-ho Kim, Jung-young Kim, Dae-han Ji, Min Choi, Ji-a Park, Min-Young Song

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In A Better World

14 Sep

In A Better World — directed by Susanne Bier. Family drama. Treating bullies is the theme, and two eleven year old boys take matters into their hands, as does the father of one of them, a doctor in Africa. 118 minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

One thing I love about doing this job is discovering the number of wonderful actors there are in the world. Of course, “a wonderful actor” also means the actor is also cast in the right role. Mikael Persbrandt is particularly interesting in the part of the Doctors Without Borders surgeon working in desert desolate Africa sewing up the stomachs of pregnant women a local warlord has been cutting up on a bet as to the gender of the child within. Back home in Denmark his estranged wife lives with his 11-year-old son as he enters a new school and makes friends with a brilliant, hate-ridden boy. The two boys enter into a fearful partnership in fearsome locales, for both boys are bullied badly. One of them is capable of murder, and he is right. The bully in Africa and the bully at home, and the bully in the acts designed to wreck the bully – these are themes which fascinate. But the film lets us in to the inner and secret workings of all these males, and each one of them is perfectly cast. Without William Johnk Juels Nielsen as Chris, the hater, the film is unthinkable. He’s an actor who sticks to his guns playing a character who will not give up. You want to kill him yourself. Markus Rygaard as Elias, his dupe, you want to shake into consciousness, but the young actor makes the character’s acts perfectly understandable. Trine Dyrholm as his mother won many acting awards in this role. But Mikael Persbrandt is the moral pivot of the film. He chooses his moment and it’s not the moment you thought it would be. His face is a field of subtle and selective response. He is always surprising; he is always right. And he suits the director’s bent to a T, for the taste for the director lies towards emotion, but emotion refrained, except when it is revealed as a defect of character. Then it is given full vent. In A Better World is a beautifully written and filmed and won many awards, including the US and Italian Golden Globe Awards and the Oscar of 2011 as the Best Foreign Film of the year. See it.

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Intervista

25 Aug

Intervista – Directed by Federico Fellini. Back Soundstage Movie Comedy. The comic story of shooting a film by Felinni about the first time Felinni came to a movie set when he was young. 102 minutes Color 1987.

* * * * *

Fellini is the Alexander Calder of film. Enchanting. Surprising. Fun. Here he gives us a film about how humans delight in what is made-up, artificial, fabricated. Not just but also in being those things. In being what is created, devised, imagined. In making themselves into those things. Not made up just by themselves but by someone else as well. Not just alone but as a group. And how they will endure folly, delay, uncertainty, rejection, and having their whole parade rained on in order that they have this privilege of concoction. Sacred and Exalted. Thrilling. Unifying. Hilarious. Natural. And forgiving.

And so we have one of the greatest and most unusual statements of human soul-reality ever made. And made how? Without ever coming out and saying so. It’s all done with a lot of people talking, shouting, carrying on, in the midst of every distraction and vituperation. And in all of this a story emerges which is coherent and which is told solely in film terms, in the rubric of film. Not just in narrative and entrancement but in felt content.

Emerging into this as though from the sky we have Marcello Mastroianni as a seedy magician. The crew all traipse in little cars to the villa of whom? She won’t let them in. She doesn’t believe it’s Felinni. When she does she sets her dogs on them. Anita Ekberg in orange towels. And this glorious Vercingetorix continues to appear in towels as though she had never quite dried off from that fountain all those years ago. Her reunion here takes my breath away, not because I am sentimental about the famous scene but because she and Mastroianni are 25 years older and look it and are beautiful and it’s just wonderful.

It’s a beautifully shaped picture. Like Singing In The Rain, it is a picture about pictures about pictures. Our happiness with fraud. Our envy of the freedom it confers. About the human energy it releases and the curious democracy which is its milieu and profound and delightful artifact.

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La Notte

13 Aug

La Notte – Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Drama. A couple married for some years accompany one another in three places during one 12-hour period in Rome. 115 minutes Black and White. 1961.

* * * *

Movies that start with two people getting out of a car and walking up to a door make my heart sink. It means the director is desperately in want of imagination for the merest resources in establishing a locale. What if the movie had opened on the face of the dying hospital patient? What if one of them had be in the room already? Anything but a car stopping, parking, people getting out, going up to a door. And the film suffers from just such a want of imagination. The couple wander through the boredom of their marriage and their company with one another, rich, heedless, unfeeling. Marcello Mastroianni and Jean Moreau – two more watery, affectless actors could not have been cast in these roles. They are not “bad” actors, but they are actors devoid of temperament, and so are the characters they play, and I would have found it tiresome to accompany them, but that things unfold: from the hospital, they separate, and the wife wanders through the slums of her newly-wed days (although somehow she has got a lot of money), and he is drawn in to have sex with a certifiable nut. She seems to be a mere adjunct of her marriage, which is all the more apparent when they go together to a publication party for him, and then to the shindig of a billionaire, with a lot of folks drifting through the luxe. The billionaire wanted what he’s got, but he wanted it when he was twenty. He forgot he would be old by the time he got it. His 18 year-old daughter is played by Monica Viti, a wonderful actress, whose bones Mastroianni tries to jump, but you sense he doesn’t have the juice, nor does his wife for a bloke who drives off with her for a hot screw. The party scenes are marvelous, as is the depiction of the inert ennui at the heart of every marriage. And the film ends with a scene on the billionaire’s golf course, with Marcello lying on top of Jean and trying to make it with her, while she keeps saying to tell her that he no longer loves her. It’s a great scene; it must be a famous one.  But don’t tell me all the world is like this.  No, only that small slice of caviar pizza that Antonioni knows only, though sometimes he sure does know how to serve it well.

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12

09 Aug

12 – Directed by Nikita Mikhailkov. Courtroom Drama. A bored Russian jury is sequestered to find a culprit guilty who is obviously guilty. Color

* * * * *

Reginald Rose wrote the 1957 TV and screenplay, and the renowned director Nikita Mikhailkov has rewritten it cogently for modern Russia; he also acts the foreman’s part. It is brilliantly performed in the great Russian comic manner of each actor assuming a defining quirk. In that style, you don’t get better acting than this; although it appears to have nothing to do with Method acting, it is, in fact, Stanislavsky system incarnate; you can find it or have already seen it in Michael Chekhov’s performance in Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Instead of a jury room, the story is spread out in an old polluted school gymnasium, and there we have the difficulty which the film poses of confining its points to local Russian matters, just as the acting also does. The war in Chechnya is laced in, as is a series of backstories which sound like they were improvised by the actors themselves, for they do not always serve the purpose they are intended for, which is as emotionally logical turning points in the verdict of each jury member. So it is hard to translate the Russianness of it into universal terms. However the film remains just as exciting as the original, because excitement is built into it. We know the young man will get off, because that is the only direction for the story to go when it opens. And the various directions the story now takes as it reaches that conclusion are thrilling and daring and dangerous. The question isn’t the conclusion; the question is the tension generated in achieving it. The film was nominated for an Oscar, and did not win. One of the greatest films ever made, Burnt By The Sun, also by this director, did win the best foreign film Oscar, however, and that film is the best place to begin to explore this director’s rich and varied work. But this one will not disappoint your pleasure either. It possesses what American films now seem to lack, great imagination in the creating of dialogue to create characters, great imagination in the actor’s execution of roles, and great breadth of imagination in the direction of actors in the telling of a story.

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Oblomov

09 Aug

Oblomov – Directed by Nikita Mikhailkov. Tragi-Comedy. A young eligible Russian aristocrat just won’t get out of bed. 142 minutes Color. 1979.

* * * * *

It contains the most heart-rending love scene ever put on film. Oh yes, it does. It’s a film version of the famed Russian novel about a fat Hamlet who won’t take action, or even take the action of contemplating taking action. Oblomov is a character I began by finding infuriating and ended up finding endearing. Mikhailkov is the director of Burnt By The Sun and other masterpieces of typically Russian stories and characters. Unlike Tarkovsky whose work has universal subjects, Mikhailkov brings you Russians of all stripes and conditions. Odd, funny quirky and with great particularity of Russian place and manner and costume and detail. Oh, well, I rattle on. This piece is beautifully acted; its scenes are perfectly poised in terms of camera and point of view. And my heart broke, and I loved it. Oscar nominated, of course. Sometimes hard to endure because the comedy and the tragedy is that we are all Oblomov.

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Slave Of Love

09 Aug

Slave Of Love – Written and Directed by Nikita Mikhailkov. High Farce. A silent film company in the 20s goes on location with a nitwit star and learns something from her. Color 1976.

* * * * *

Singing in Rain set in the Russian Revolution. A marvelous piece, acted and directed to perfection. It is not a propaganda, but quite the contrary, I wonder how they got it produced at all, it is so daring. It’s a sound picture in color set during the making of a schlock silent picture with an airhead superstar actress. If you are interested in acting styles, here is a perfect example of Russian character work for comedy, wrought to extremes of amusement for us — the sort of acting Chekov wrote for: the man who always has a crick in his neck, the actor who always giggles when he exits, the tubby who secretly tries pull-ups between desserts. You’ll see. The amazing finale is treated like an action sequence from a silent film, and it works like gangbusters. Real life is not so far from a picture show after all. Enjoy it.

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Rififi

03 Aug

Rififi – Written and Directed by Jules Dassin. Heist Thriller. A quartet of experts sets to lift 250 million dollars of gems from a jewelry store. 122 minutes Black and White 1955.

*****

A full half hour at the dead center of this masterpiece is given over to the silent execution of the caper, a passage that has never been preceded, equaled, or surpassed in film.  It was made for $200,000, a penny. Expense forbad the use of Jean Gabin, say, in the lead, and so they hired actors virtually unknown to the public, which suits the material right down to the ground. For we have Jean Servais, with his huge, sad, John McIntyre eyes, in the part, and he is riveting. They all are. What the actors lacked in experience, the crew made up for in brilliance, An A- class cinema-photographer, Phillip Agostini, filmed it, an A-class editor, Robert Dwyer, cut it, and the music is by Georges Auric. What luck! Dassin, a lovable man if there ever was one, had been exiled as one of the Hollywood 10. And in an interview in the Bonus Material he talks about those times and the making of this film. It’s all fascinating. And it is the greatest film of its kind ever made.

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Full Speed

25 May

Full Speed –– Directed by Gael Morel. Youth Drama. A cluster of friends works out their relations to one another and their futures. 85 minutes Color 1998.

* * *

I don’t want to see another film about homosexuality which ends in death. Why is that the recipe? Certainly all the actors are attractive, although the director does not seem to have much grasp of the actor’s medium, for the dialogue never passes beyond mechanical recitation. This tends to thin and monotonize the characters, and reduce the weight of the drama to plot and spectacle of which there is plenty. But why is death the outcome for homosexuality? Death and misery. Humiliation and degradation. Always the same. Or. Or, if the love affair works out, it is worked out on strictly bourgeois lines: marriage, picket fence, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. I’m tired of baloney sandwiches for lunch and death.

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…Spring

16 May

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring. Directed by Ki-duk Kim. Coming of Age Drama.  Tutored by an old monk, a young boy stationed at a monastery on a lake learns his life lessons told through five seasons of a man’s life. 95 minutes Color 2004.

* * * * *

What a lovely piece. It does a body good to see film used in this manner. And it did my body good too. For it commands attention at the same time as it embodies peace, stillness, and the range of human truth that therein prevails. It is set in a tiny Buddhist monastery floating on a raft in a fabulous landscape and waterscape. Treat yourself. Be there. Watch it.

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An Affair Of Love [Une liaison pornographique]

15 May

An Affair Of Love [Une liaison pornographique]– Directed by Frederic Fonteyne. Romance. Two strangers arrange to engage in anonymous pornographic sex, and then proceed to engage in the consequences. 1999 Color 78 minutes.

* * * * *

The charm of these two characters stands-in for the scenes between the sheets which mercifully are never shown. The only time we go there displays a mild and playful reversal of roles leading to a recess of activity. What is important is that in each of them what is released by the other is this very playfulness, a childlikeness. The entire story is told out of the bedroom. The entire story is told in terms of their unfolding freedom in showing themselves to one another. They become so happy with one another that they even believe they can read one another’s minds. The pornographic paradise each desires can only be played out in cinematic terms by their having fun in a cafe. It’s exactly right. Which is to say, the pornographic paradise does exist, but in film it can only be fully shown outside the bed. In actual pornography, no consummate historical attraction ever exists between the participants, only the mechanical momentary attraction. In real pornography, the sex may be intense but it is always gotten up for the occasion, like a child at Halloween. In real pornography no one is ever embarrassed. But in An Affair Of Love, embarrassment is the first order of business. And then paradise leads to paradise, and the picture is the record of the founding of those paradises. A worthwhile entertainment in exploration.

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La Ronde – Ophuls

14 May

La Ronde – Directed by Max Ophuls. Satire. Eleven stories of French lust promiscuating until they circle around and meet up once more. 93 minutes Black and White 1950.

* * * * *

By the merest chance I saw this picture immediately after The Marriage Circle, a silent of Ernst Lubitsch. Both films have the same title and the same temperament of approach to the material, which is seriously humorous. They both deal with promiscuity, which in the French version is carried out and in the American version, of course, is not carried out. In both versions the women are the sensitive ones and the men the fools. The treatment is quite different, but the idea that lust is important is held up to the deracinating light of a wise smile. Ophuls’ movie is based on a play of Schnitzler which caused a riot, and a scandal, and an outrage, for it illustrated how sexual disease is transmitted. Ophuls’ version knows nothing of this. His version uses the word, l’amour, but it has nothing whatever to do with love; lust is the subject. 11 congresses link arms, but each one is told by the camera so luminously that nothing particular is actually illuminated. The sheen both allures and monotonizes the material. But we do have the wonderful décor, the fabulous lighting, and Ophuls’ terrific dolly shots which give us a barrier through which to peep at the principles. His placement of actors in motion, his symmetry, his fancifulness, his artifice and artificiality – all serve his turn. He has many superstars in this film, but the real superstar is his camera. His camera is the actor, the strong one, who reveals the forgivable nothing of l’amour. His cast is brilliant, particularly when you realize that some of the women playing teenagers are completely convincing although well into their thirties. Gerard Philipe is perhaps the best, as a chocolate soldier count in full regalia, entering the dressing room of a renowned comedienne and looking about sensitively at a setting which he judges to be far from noble. What a perfect decision for an actor to make. Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, and the magnificent Danielle Darrieux are wonderful. I saw this film when it first came out. I thought I was going to a dirty picture that would tell me something about sexual attraction, and I left feeling poisoned by it. Now I can see the truth of it. Which is that sexual attraction is simply a movie camera: it glamorizes, it luminizes what it lights on, and leaves it impenitently when the light moves on. This for me now is the masterful truth of this film.

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La Ronde – Vadim

12 May

La Ronde – Directed by Roger Vadim. Sex Drama. From one on to the next to the next and the next. 110 minutes Color 1964.

* * * * *

A version of the Arthur Schnitzler play once filmed by Max Ophuls who brings into the material a satirical voice personified by Anton Walbook’s intercessions. Here there is no satire and no interruptions; Vadim’s approach is straight on. What’s similar is that in both films the females are sympathetic humans and the males are the idiots, just wanting to get their jollies. Once sex is over, the men want no further history; once sex is over the women want history to begin. As in Ophuls’ the men rush to the women’s slaughter; the women submit winsomely, as though regretting the loss of the fairy tale they believed love to be. One great difference is that Vadim’s script omits the use of the word l’amour to the degree Ophuls employed it, so we have the grace to know the story is about flat out sexual seduction, and we have the joy to see that the seducers are all mostly female, no matter how the males may posture. Two beautiful males, Jean-Claude Brialy and Jean Sorel open and close the picture, neither one having to play any his aces to take the queens. But the females still are more wonderful than the males, just as they are in Ophuls’. On the other hand, Vadim’s also omits Ophuls’ great interest in camera style. Ophuls’ film is about the beauty of film; Vadim’s is about the beauty of women. An interesting advantage Vadim’s has is that the omission of Walbrook’s recesses gives the screenwriter a chance to expand on certain characters and certain scenes, and, since the screenwriter is no less than Jean Anouilh the most fully developed character is the playwright. Jane Fonda plays the part Danielle Darrieux took, and our Jane does very well in the part. Vadim was a handsome and sexy man, and Fonda married him. His interview in the Extras is fascinating. And her interview about him might be said to contain more wisdom than the film itself.

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Saturn In Opposition

07 May

Saturn in Opposition – directed by Ferzan Ozpetek. Drama. A family of family and friends entangles and disentangles like roots in the earth. 110 minutes Color 2007.

* * * * *

I should think that anyone whose prejudices have ever posed themselves against homosexuality would want to see this film.  For if a prejudice ever existed internally in one, it will always remain lodged there like a boulder under water. It’s just natural. Changes of attitude and behavior are to be lauded, and they are vital to the ethos of culture and democracy and civil society, and no law is moral which upholds bigotry. But this film places the matter right in the lap of the viewer, and it is a tonic. As I watched I stepped back at one point and asked myself the question: Why is this a good movie, and I could not answer it, although the evidence was before my eyes. It’s beautifully directed by the same director who brought us the well-known His Secret Life.  It brings us Pierfrancesco Favino (“brother” to Javier Barden) and Margharita Buy, but the cast is an ensemble, as is the customary case with this director’s pieces. I recommending this film without telling you a thing about it, except that everything about it is excellent. There is nothing else I can do, and you will know why that is as you watch it.

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Going Places

13 Mar

Going Places — directed by Bertrand Blier – Crime comedy. Two drifters go on a crime spree. 118 minutes color 1974

* * * *

Only 4 stars because I wished it had ended sooner, Of course it is beautifully made by Blier and photographed perfectly. Being a picaresque tale it is episodic and being written by the director no episode is suitable for scrapping. No American actor would ever have assumed the roles taken by Patrick deWaere and Gerard Depardeau. In Parts unequalled for nastiness, even Sean Penn, a most unlikable actor, would not have touched this material. But these two actors go into it full bore. There is a good deal of really bad treatment of females, but these two are such crummy two bit thieves to make a case of misogyny against them would be pettifogging. Besides, misogyny is a word too grand for their conduct. Nor does one take to them in time. They are marvelous actors at the first pitch of their youthful brilliance. They had acted together often before on the stage in Paris, so they fit well into one another’s energy. Jeanne Moreau brings her tiny form into the picture and takes over the men for a time. But it is Miou Miou who carries the film. Her appearance and reappearance in it brings us along to see where she will arrive. A youthful Isabelle Huppert makes a striking appearance as a frisky teenager. This picture is carried forward by a ghastly wit, but it is wit, and so it is not to be dismissed, hard watching though some of it may be. And of course, de Waere was one of the greatest actors ever to live.

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Beautiful Boxer

18 Feb

Beautiful Boxer – directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham – drama of a Thai renowned kick-boxer determined to become a female. 118 minutes color 2005.

* * * * *

Anyone across whose mind has passed the notion of altering their gender from male to female will have experienced in large or in little what this story dramatizes as a whole and will feel fascination and sympathy with it. Nong Toom, an effeminate teenager, enters the grueling and violent world of kickboxing to fee a sex change. His first goal is to help his disabled parents, but he is so skilled he becomes a national treasure – particularly when he starts wearing girl-makeup in the ring. The scenes of boxing are remarkable, the training is horrendous, the environment the same as for boxing anywhere, lousy. The film is brilliantly mounted and told by the director/writer; the editing and music and photography are stunning. And the brutal bullying, shame, and confusion are exactly no different from what any of us have received for the same natural quandary the world over, from the time we humans were children to the time we are old. So frightening is the situation — perhaps nothing is more frightening in life than to be derided for the body one has to survive inside of within one’s present incarnation — that one can only respect the strength of character Nong Toom’s determination shows in going through with his desire to be the beauty he sees in females. The boxer and his/her story are famous in Thailand, and Nong Toom is played by a champion current Thai kick-boxer, Asanee Suwan. What the film demonstrates more clearly than any Rocky movie can do is that the fight against gender-preference oppression requires a masculinity of a force greater than the force of homophobia by far, and that nothing less will do.

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Biutiful

14 Feb

Biutiful – directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Drama. A dying blackmarketeer must provide for his children. 148 minutes Color 2010.

* * * * *

To honor his ancestors before he becomes one, is the basis and main inner action of this man’s story. It is framed by a passing on of ancestral respect, and its main central action is the deed of fatherhood. That deed, or deeds, have family and social repercussions, as he tries to do right by those he has adopted. These include the Chinese laborers smuggled into Spain, as he finds work for them, and the wife of a deported co-worker. In many ways he is a middleman in a variety of areas of life, taking care of his drug-trafficker cohorts and their families, as well as his own wife from whom he has left to protect his children. She is a bipolar prostitute, beautifully played by Maricel Álvarez. The entire film is well cast and beautifully acted. And the director has a passport to levels of society and places of Barcelona which make the film ring true at every point. The world the main character, Uxbal, moves through is lively, debauched and horrifyingly poor and perilous, but the director has written a story on the screen that demonstrates a mentoring instrument in Uxbal, and by token, in us all, that transcends and survives the worst that society can impose, the grimmest flatness, the cheapest thrill, the intrusive world of the vile cell-phone. There are some bafflements present. For instance, there might be asked the question: does the director equate homosexuality with the lowest corruption? Does the decay on the ceiling mean heaven is lost to us all? Does the appearance of someone on that ceiling mean something? Does the caretaker of the children abandon them? These things are unclear, but what is clear is the fathering instinct in Javier Barden, who is very beautiful, of course, and beautiful to watch play this saint in the gutter strive to save his two children after he is gone. Visually the story is alert to the camera, and the camera does its narrative job masterfully. All one needs to see to know that the mother of those two children will never be able to take care of them is a single short profile shot of Maricel Álvarex exhaling a cigarette. It is one of the great moments in all film.

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Mango Yellow

12 Feb

Mango Yellow – directed by Claudio Assis – Human Comedy. Lives intertwine among the working poor in the city of Recife in Brazil. 103 minutes Color 2003

* * * * *

What makes a great film? Variety, veracity, vitality. Is that enough? It’s enough for this film. And it makes clear why films of the working classes and the local classes give satisfaction like no other. The reason is that these are stories about people inside of whom something can happen. And this is everything. Upper class stories — Antonioni is a great example — give us stories in whose characters nothing can occur. But the poor people in Mango Yellow are in a daily duel for survival, and their aliveness is vivid and present and in peril. Even the waitress who owns the Avenida Bar and who is sick to death of its routine of insults, whose song is the song of the sameness of day-after-day, is afire with her protest. Dunga, the There’s-No-Stopping-A-Determined Queen, commands our respect and care as he flares and flounces and yet makes everything work, but his love life. Strange Isaac driving his yellow Mercedes and passed out in a decrepit boardinghouse, The Texas Hotel, still goes roaring after the debauchery he seeks. The butcher, Wellington, hacking with an ax at cadavers in the slaughterhouse weeps with contrition and confusion at his infidelity toward his evangelical and chilly wife. And so it goes. Mango Yellow is one of the great Lower Depths movies.  Brilliantly filmed by Walter Carvalho, scored by Jorge Du Peixe and Lucio Maia, designed and costumed by Renata Penheiro, written by Hilton Lacerda, the director Claudio Assis has brought together a remarkable community of talent to give life to this remarkable community.

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Bathhouse

04 Feb
 

The King Of Masks

04 Feb

The King Of Masks – Directed by Tian-Ming=Wu– Comedy Drama. An old street performer and master of quick-change masks, wants to pass on his skill, but can only do so with a male heir. 101 minutes Color 1999.

* * * * *

Many many folks praise this piece, and it is understandable. It has everything except an unhappy ending. It has an interesting master actor Zhu Xuas who plays the old man and a charming child actor who plays a hand opposite him. It gives us a simple and important tale about calling. It hands us brilliant renditions of China of the 30s with  buildings and people wonderful to look at. It imparts a story that grips one through every turn; a piece indeed of Dickensan richness and complexity and coincidence. And it reveals the ancient and inexplicable art of  quick change masks. Amazing. One wants these characters to win through and who knows whether they will? An Idyll. A tale for all time. And also a serious movie that can be watched by all, including children, with great attention and recognition, six and over, I would say. Don’t miss it.

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The Two Of Us

25 Jan

The Two Of Us (or The Old Man And The Boy) — directed by Claude Berri – Human Comedy. For everyone’s safety, a ten year old mischief-maker is fostered out by his parents. He finds himself in a farmhouse with a most peculiar old man, a mischief-maker himself. 87 minutes, black and white, 1967.

* * * * *

One of the greatest films ever made, Grandpa And The Boy, or The Two Of Us or Le viel homme et l’enfant, derives its greatness from one element only: its balance. You find this same quality in Jean Renoir’s great films, particularly The Rules Of The Game, and in perhaps every great film ever made. All sides are presented as fully as they can be under the circumstances of the material, and then acted to the full by both the old man and the youngster, and, although the director is fully and passionately engaged, no bias is suggested. The material in this case is one of the key relationships of life, which is the relation of a boy to a grandparent, in this case, a foster-grandfather. The story of how it came to be made, how the director found the little boy, Alain Cohen,  mischievously hiding behind the school curtains in the hall where he had been sent for misbehaving, and the relationship of him with Michel Simon, the old man is recounted in the Extras, which are a must, also. But what the director, Berri, caught, in this his first full length picture, is the priceless love and appreciation between a human being who is just entering life and a human being soon to leave it. The body of the film takes place in the French Countryside during WWII where the little boy has been sent for his safety. The peril of discovery fuels the tension, but the physical beauty of the ten year-old boy and the quite different physical beauty of the old man meld perfectly, and so do their personalities and vitality and hearts, and this is where our pleasure in the story really lies. Michel Simon, the old man, was one of the great actors ever to appear in film. If you have never seen him before, see him here. And let the whole family join in, too, for a real movie-going treat.

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The Overture

04 Jan

The Overture – directed by Itthi-sunthorn Wichailak – a drama recounting the career of a fable Thai musician, through the conflicts caused by him radical style and his fears of public competition — 103 minutes color 2005.

* * * * *

Rocky with xylophones!  The film is set in Thailand, where the playing of the rand-ek rises to national bouts, along the lines of the Rose Bowl. In this case, the Rose bowl is the imperial court, where the most accomplished players come to fence. They are the pets and patronees of the princes of the realm, much as our football games are the patronees of brewers. I only realized at the end that the old man was the same person as the child, the boy, and the young man, and that there were two parallel stories afoot. But this was probably due to me, rather than to the director who tells the story carefully and honorably and entertainingly. Apart from the tension of the competitions, the picture shows a world of Thai life, the homes, canals, slums, farms, palaces, and people. I loved seeing all this. It also does depict, loosely it admits, the story of the Babe Ruth of rand-ek xylophone players, the Lionel Hampton of his day, Luang Prodit Pairoh who was a daring innovator on the rand-ek, and whose daring we see still in place when the Japanese interlope Thailand in the 30s. Be careful watching this: you may come to love the rand-ek. This is a film the family will enjoy together –– at least those old enough to read the subtitles, which are as excellent as the film itself.

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Day Of Wrath

13 Nov

Day Of Wrath –– Carl Dryer –– a young bride, a young son in law, an old preacher husband –– 1943 black and white.

* * * * *

Another version of Desire Under The Elms, aka Phaedra, aka Hippolytus, and so forth. In this version we have a powerful puritanical early 17th Century village minister and his good looking young wife and grown son back from college. Watch out! Here the chorus is supplied by the old minister’s mean even older mother very ably played by Sigrid Neiiendaman. As in The Passion of Joan Of Arc, Dryer offers up immolation as the fear point of it all. And that immediately gets the ball rolling, as a stout old lady is condemned, tracked down, tortured, tried, and burned to death as a witch by the corrupt minister. A very great actress plays this part, Anna Svierkkier, and it is delightful to realize that an artist of completely modern temperament, skill, talent, and urge was already an old woman in Denmark; I thought we’d have to wait for Geraldine Page and Kim Stanley for the naturalness of this level of approach. Dryer’s layout in the piece is curious, as all the men suffer the torments of the damned and are weakened by it, while all the women are completely without conscience or guilt of any kind, and are strengthened by it. The Day Of Wrath when it comes sure aint going to bother these dames. Made in Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1944, the Teutonic (puritanical) brutality is shrouded in the severe ruffs of the age of Rembrandt. But what we are drawn to here is Dryer’s various story-telling manias, the long, long tracking shot, the devastating close-up, the molded lighting, the leisure he afford his actors and the tale, the dire solemnity of treatment, and the sense you are watching a silent picture when you are not. Do not, I say do not, lest you suffer That Wrath When The Day Comes, buy a bag of popcorn to eat this one by.

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La Vie Promise

08 Nov

La Vie Promise –– directed by Olivier Dahan –– drama of a prostitute and her estranged daughter on the lam –– 93 minutes 2002

* * * *

This is a beautifully cast and directed piece – though neither well photographed nor well edited. However, the content of the story is strong, convincing, well worked out, true, and inspiring. At the center of it is the character played by Isabelle Huppert, an actress of incomparable femininity, who understands herself as a woman and an actress on screen to the full. Her performance, and the performances of all the actors, adhere to the French school, which spurns virtuosoism and big effects, for un-actorish stillness and smallness of detail. Remember, when watching it, that French wines tend to be dry. The result is a sense of reality completely at odds with the TV-acting so frequently to be seen nowadays, a skirting of emotionalism that in terms of expected histrionics might seem unreal, but in terms of the material and the story at hand is realism incarnate.  It’s an acquired taste; you have to get used to it a bit. Huppert embodies this school, and she is in all ways wonderful. I won’t even describe the scenes where she achieves great things, because I don’t want to give anything away. She is touching, and so is everyone in it, and so is the picture. The subtitles are good –– and , since the dialogue is leisurely, they are easy to read. This is not a run-of-the-mill piece.

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Hereafter

27 Oct

Hereafter –– directed by Clint Eastwood –– a suspense drama, as three people, with three different relationships to the afterlife, work out their destinies. –– color 2010.

* * * * *

The story completes itself with that Dickensian coincidence of plot which it is always so gratifying to encounter, is it not? Nothing could be more true to life, as Dickens himself well knew, than coincidence. Indeed one of our trio is a Dickens fan, and this very passion is what eventually draws the trio together under one roof. Matt Damon plays him, and he is an actor so solid in his craft that his work appears simple, but it is not with a trick of emotion that he holds a film together, but rather with his ability to play fear of his own destiny, a talent that has held him before our willing eyes from the start of his career. Against this ground of being, everything plays off, with a mysterious quiet vitality. Frankie and George McClaren play the twins, and they are simply wonderful from beginning to end. Speaking of the beginning, it starts with the most spectacular sequence I have ever seen in a film. I shall say nothing more. Because of it alone, don’t miss this film. As with all Eastwood’s films, the narrative works when dialogue is on camera, but the passage work and narrative liaisons are flaccid. Here, for instance, when we move to Paris he shows the Eiffel Tower, then a medium shot of  a French building, then one of the lady; when in London, we get London Bridge, and so forth; when Matt Damon at work, Eastwood gives us the C & H Sugar factory in Crockett, then the interior, then Damon talking to a co-worker. These “strong” establishing shots are weak because disconsonnant with the paradox of the material. For a while now, this director has told stories that don’t involve revolvers, an assortment sometimes badly cast, as in the case of Angelina Jolie, and here, in the instance of the woman playing opposite Damon at the beginning. She giggles all the while and makes faces; she has come from the Situation Comedy School Of  TV Acting, and you really wish to push her into a ditch. Damon is manfully alive opposite her. In any case, we have Cécile de France, perfectly cast as the French TV anchor woman. The whole subject of the afterlife is treated warmly, respectfully, and interestingly. The playing of the boy and of Damon and of de France has the power of great emotional economy. This is not paranormal or supernatural material by the way. No, it’s quite real, and quite fine. See it. A film for grown-ups.

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Roshamon

25 Oct

Roshamon –– directed by Akira Kurosawa –– murder mystery in which four versions of the event are related by those who were there, none of those versions agreeing. 88 minutes black and white 1960.

* * * * *

You will never forget it. And you will wonder what you really saw once it is over, for it never is over. When it was first shown, it entered into the consciousness of the world like scripture. I remember when it first appeared. The acting style was Japanese in one sense of the word in that it was intense, gutsy, highly emotional, contained, melodramatic, stylized; one had never seen humans like this before in a picture and never had one seen anyone oriental as the focus of a serious film. It opened up Asian film to the West. Toshiro Mifune was first seen by U.S. audiences in this picture, playing with bold, sudden, unaccountable strokes. The woodland scenes are completely free, the scenes on the two sets completely imprisoned. This time round all these 50 years later, I watch the commentary, and I recommend it highly; the critic is a master of his craft; he knows the picture in its 450 scenes, by heart. See it with your friends. If ever a film was a community experience, it is this one.

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Belle de Jour

11 Oct

Belle de Jour — directed by Luis Bunuel — a good looking young newly wed declines to have sex with her handsome husband but loves to do so as a whore with every slob who drops by — 100 minutes color — 1967.

* * * *

I seems Bunuel does not know anything about sex. The idea that this movie is really supposed to be about something else — society, the church, the price of vegetables in Paris — is silly. It seems he made the film with no sense of its subject matter, which has to do with the effect on a young woman of having been molested as a girl. In fact, all we are supposed to believe is that she would not have sex with her hubby but really and only wants to have it with the crumbs who turn up in a house whose madame hires her for afternoon tricks. Deneuve plays the lady with her chilling upper-eyelids in their usual position, and the problem with that is the problem of her entire career, built on playing just such manikins when, in fact, she was a light comedienne of great ability. We are supposed to believe she does not care about sex, but her hair is arranged to a fair-thee-well and her eyelashes precede her into a room by three weeks. Deneuve may be one or two things, but, unlike, as with Grace Kelly whom she so resembles, none of them is “fun”. The film is not mysterious, it is not ambiguous, it is not even a masterpiece of prevarication, and who cares if it were any of these things. The style is flat, routine, uninflected. The dialogue is pulp. The erotic scenes are puerile. But the actors in it are so good they lend the piece a quality of seriousness and craft that almost makes one take it seriously. These include Jean Sorel as a husband so sexy, young, good looking, and kind it defies probability that she should decline his advances. Michael Piccoli plays the friend who has her number. And Genevieve Page is superb as the smart lesbian madam who teaches Deneuve the ropes. Sometimes Bunuel actually makes a picture; at other times he makes a picture about a picture. This may be one of the second sort — aloof, political, biased, and prim.

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