2012: Film Diary

 

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)

Looking back at my film diary for 2012: I managed to watch 384 films, that is more than an average of one film per day, not bad, could have been more. Beside films, read many books, watched every single football game of FC Barcelona, they are nothing short of watching a piece of Art in motion, but that is another story.

Here are my picks for the best films of 2012, from what I have seen so far:

Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012) Put Tabu beside Carax’ Holy Motors as two self-conscious film in meditation on the art of cinema, equally beautiful and poetic  F.W Murnau’s Tabu, Gomes’ Tabu is the story of two films; one sound, one silent. The first part of the film is the sound one, titled, Lost Paradise, almost a Pedro Costa take on the modern day Lisbon, or even better;  Pedro Costa’s imagery and de Olivera’s subtle acting, in which Portuguese Colonialism is a past memory that no one talk about, but the legacy is still present in the old grumpy Aurora, she still prefer to refer to her black maid as a “Witch”, and still talk about witchcraft. But to make up for old grumpy Aurora, you got  the silent Miss.Pilar; you don’t find characters like her in many films nowadays, she is so gentle, so simple, caring for others is her top priority, even if those others are thousands of miles away, she cry for no reason but for feeling for others, she pray every night before she goes to sleep, always for others and not herself. The second part of the films is the silent one, the most poetic, and the most beautiful, simply titled, Paradise; The times is the days of Portuguese Colonialism in Africa, the style of the film is that of silent cinema; no dialogue, the music of the soundtracks is a perfect silent film accommodation, those long dissolve from one shot into another, silent acting, no title cards, the only sound are the narrative of Gian Luca, minimalist  experimental use of sound, beautiful, lyrical black and white imagery, long tracking shots. Miguel Gomes is a poet of filmmaker, every word of Gian Luca describing his youth is in prose; the story of young and beautiful Aurora, in a  tragic love affair, from strangers, to lovers, to the story of two lovers on the run, then distance tragic lovers, in which two lover’s only communication now is lover letters; “If I curse the day I met you, it’s because it was followed by the one when we separated”, pure imagination is at work here, it is not circumstances, but the desire for a tragic ending that make the two lover separate forever, “And despite this love, never buried or defeated, I decided not to look for her”, Gian Luca Ventura is a coward of a characters, he neither can get what he desire, nor get away from it, he live in a times of indecision, as for young Aurora, she live, but with regrets, ” I have to exist, because the life I carry demands so”. Beautiful film.

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) In his book, Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud write about the three thing that mankind never could escape from; The interaction with the society we live in, the interaction with other people, and our bodies, that is; sickness, old age and death. Amour is the story of  sickness, old age and death, the inescapable facts of life, and the interaction with each other, we rarely see the outside world, the only time we do, is when the husband and wife interact with other people from that outside world, we are stuck in a little apartment, with two people, two old people, the only thing they have is to reflect upon the past and the outside world via books, newspaper and radio (they don’t even have TV), but let us put aside Freud and the story of Amour, rather, let us talk about the style that make this film a meditating watch. If you look at the early silent films of the great Yasujiro Ozu, you will find it very stylish, many scenes in which the camera move, high angle, low angles shot, formal style of filmmaking that we rarely associate with Ozu, and if you look at early and middle Haneke, you find them also very stylish, especially 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, but with Amour, he is becoming almost  perfect in taking his style to the simplest, back into a formal style of filmmaking, almost to the silent era. Such style is needed for a film that take place inside a closed space of an apartment. Shooting in interior is always a challenge, for giving the limited space, the director does not have enough choice to maneuver the actor around or the camera, that is why the limit use of space is always a challenge for a good Mise en scène; Hanaek solve is brilliantly, going back to the style of Ozu, by using the furniture, doorways, the walls and the characters to block and change the size of the shot within one camera setup; the two old coupe walk into the house, the camera is setup to a two cowboy medium shot, as they go to hang their cloth, away from the camera, the shot become a two long full shot, even when the characters leave the space, he does not cut, but hold the shot. As for camera movement, the camera follow the behind characters in the corridor when in search of something, or to build up suspense, a little pans, a tilt,  to adjust the character’s position and framing, or to change the shot size, the same camera movement is repeated multiple times, giving an overall unity to the style in the film. At times, as the character leave the space, the camera stay, it is the off-screen sound that tell the viewer the present of the character within the frame. Most of the time, we observe the wife through the subject POV of the husband, almost a Hitchockaian use of the shots; we see the husband, he looks, shot of what he see, back to his reaction, at times, his POV shot become an objective of an establishing shot, as he walk into the frame. Perhaps simpler in style, is the coverage shot; when the dialogue is not interesting, Hanake hold the establishing shot for a long time; when it is interesting; after  the establishing shot, he cut to two over-the-shoulder shots, back and forth, when it is emotional, it is back and forth medium close up shot of each, couldn’t get simpler, but formal in style than that. You even have the pillow shots of Ozu, not as glamors, nor as poetic; still life shots of the interior of the apartment as transition from one sequence into another. As for the wide shots, there are very few, but when there is one, the space is used like a theatrical stage, characters spread out in one layer, the only time there is depth within the frame is when a character move toward or away from the camera, almost back to the early day of silent filmmaking, with one different; you got dialogue, sound effect and music in Amour, masterful.

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012) After more than a decade since his last feature film, Carax is back stronger than ever. Take a limousine ride around Paris with Monsieur Oscar on the back seat and Ciline driving, Carax’s a modern day Alphaville take on memory and reflection of cinema, watch it on the big screen, it is not made for TV or Computer screens, and if one has a strong memory of cinema, one will appreciate the genius of the film more. Carax’s most personal film to date is his love poem to cinema, to the past and the future of cinema, the beautiful past, and the future in which cinema become a CGI factory, but he does not reject the future, he only reflect upon it beauty; it is more glamorize to show the the technique of CGI than hiding it, but the emotion can’t be registered truthfully, the actor muse use stylized gestures and movement of the body, Denis Lavant’s dance in the room bring back memory of the ending of another film on the memory of cinema, Clair Denis’ Beau travail. Holy Motors is a combination of short films, each a tribute to a different cinema, it has one thing that many today’s film lack, less dialogue and more visual, cinema that once were cinema. Carax’s memory of cinema reflect upon copying of imagery and characters; the old man from the end of 2001, the factories from Ozu, roads of future from Solaris, Godzilla, the hair from Psycho, sound from Alphaville, Resnai’s Last Years at Marianbad, Rivett’es Umerbela of Chernburg, Hollywood’s musical, perhaps no other is as clear as Edith Scob at the end of the film becoming Christiane again, she is at home once again as if in Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, putting the mask on, “I’m coming home”. The one other film that I could think of with its structure being the memory of cinema is Pedro Costa’s O Sangue. Even the acting in each sequence is in line with cinema’s progress; the Monsieur Merde sequence is pure expressionism, re-carnation of Jekyll and Hyde, Nosferatu, a mix of King Kong and Hunchback of Noter Dame, Lon Chaney alive again, heavy orchestra of silent music on top of it, you even got the iris closing in on the details, Monsieur Merde’s behavior lack logic, like a silent character, he knocks down a blind man out of dozen who sees. What is more classical than a woman lightening a cigarette for a man and vise-verse, the old cliché of Hollywood, the beauty light it for the beast, Monsieur Merde break down cultural perception of what is normal, to him it is normal of a having Hijab fashion show. The file in the car that tell Monsieur Oscar his next assignment is a movie script, the car is like a transition from one sequence into another, moving in time, to the past, to the future, in which even the graves, even when one is dead, one express, “Visit my Website”, the address on the stones. The film open with an audience being hypnotized, they are watching a film, cinema as a hypnotizer, the man is born out of a projector room. You even have an intermission in the middle of the film, Even music is present within its historical content, masterful build up of instrumental music from the basic. Characters are re-creation of a creation, they take over each other’s personality, the murder scene; the murder take over the identity of the victim and vise versa. When the director ask Monsieur Oscar if he still enjoy his job, that of acting, “I’m asking, because some of us think you have looked a bit tired recently. Some don’t believe what they are watching recently” Oscar answers, “I miss the cameras. They used to be heavier than us, then they became smaller than our heads, no you can’t see them at all. So sometimes I too find it hard to believe in it all”, as cinema used to be visual, nowadays they only need microphones than cameras. The director ask again, “Isn’t this nostalgia a bit sentimental?”, It is indeed, if one truly love what cinema once where, one can’t help feeling nostalgic in reflecting upon it. Denis Lavant is a great actor, he act with his body, his eyes, with gestures only, a twisting in the eyes, a move of the shoulder, a perfect classic actor, very few of them around nowadays. He is perfect as Monsieur Oscar, an actor stuck on the screen, each day is a new one but its actions is one that is rehearsed, each night a different house become his home, different characters his wife, lovers, children, friends and enemies, be it real, surreal, abstract, or even plain pure fantasy, he is a man with 11 lives and counting, he is cinema’s creation and nothing more, the most beautiful and deceptive of a manipulative in emotions of all arts. A Masterpiece.

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012)

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012)

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012) Ah, the good old love melodrama of the 50s is back with a touch of Davies; the overexposed lightbulb, the rainy pavement, the flashbacks, the good oldies pop music playing on the background and those characters with those lines that are only possible in the realm of the fictions, that can become laughable if it were not at the hand of masters like Sirk, Fassbinder and in the case of The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies. Marvelous, in class with the classic melodramas.

In Another Country (Sang-soo Hong, 2012)

In Another Country (Sang-soo Hong, 2012)

In Another Country (Sang-soo Hong, 2012) There is an honesty in examining relationships in Sang-soo Hong’s film, that very few filmmakers manages to achieve, like Eric Rohmer, he is a distance observer, never forcing himself as a director in manipulating character’s behavior, same is true with the dialogues, it flows out of the character’s mouth and not a written script, improvisation is the trick, like his use of zoom in and out, he examine these relationship, be it a husband to a wife, or total strangers to each with little details, combined with a improvisation in the dialogue, and the acting, that is almost as gestural as in a Tati film, it create comic scenes in which the adults behave like children, even their cruel behaviors are funny, they live in a world of behaving, one person can have multiple identity from once scene into another, that is why Anne (Isabelle Huppert) play different role with each character and within each scene, at times cruel, at time gentle, it is no surprise that she play different role in the film, repeating of the same scenes and characters, but each time differently; she is an actor first, playing a role in “please be my friend” game, as she is chased by two men, she is running away from both, but respectfully, then she is a rich wife, having an affair, playing “follow the leader”, that is, in her imagination, the third one, is a combination of the two, the quite one and the imaginative one, that is where the best scene occurs; Anne having a rhetorical and dialectical conversation with a monk that define what the film is all about. Priceless.

Caesar Must Die aka Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, 2012)

Caesar Must Die aka Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, 2012)

Caesar Must Die aka Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, 2012) Shakespeare and Cinema are very fond of each other, but it takes great courage for a a filmmaker to renew and adopt Shakespeare to fit the time, so it is with Caesar Must Die, one of the best adaptation of any Shakespearian play that I have seen in a long time, with its simplicity in use of sets, non-professional actors and realism that put to shame the over-the-top and glamorous Hollywood and Kenneth Branagh’s recent adaptation of Shakespeare. The intertwining of documentary, fiction and a play within a play in not something new, but to have it done in a real prison with real inmate, that is something special. The black and white cinematography, the interior of the prison, the raw faces, the amateur performance, it all give a realism in brutality to the film that fit best Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar, it give it a truth that one rarely find in a play, as the performance on the stage became as real as the one on the screen.

The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012)

The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012)

The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012) Loach’s cinema can be cruel, but comically cruel, his masterpiece, Kes, is a tragedy in comedy with not a so happy ending, The Angels’ Share is also a tragedy in comedy but with a happy ending, something that Loach rarely does in his films. When in 2011, during the UK youth riot, the debate raged on, on both side, some condemning the young “thugs”, others defending the “dissatisfied youth”, but none wanted to understand these youth, but Loach understand them, and The Angels’ Share is an examination of the inner-city youths, be it a group of young Glaswegian, the story could have been in London or any other town in any other place, they live in a world in which they struggle to find a decent place to sleep, but a world, in which the price of a bottle of whiskey can go as high a £100,000, in a world in which social appearance and character’s one’s past mistake can hunt one forever.

The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, 2012)The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, 2012) I once showed Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker to a friend, after watching it, she said, “The film has a beautiful cinematography, but nothing happens it it”, well, first we have to define what “nothing is”, if three people walking is “something” and it is not “nothing”, then Stalker got something, for it got lots of walking in it, same is true for The Loneliest Planet, it got lots of walking, it got something. To my knowledge, this is Julia Loktev’s second feature film, and my first encounter with her cinema. The Loneliest Planet is similar to Stalker, take out the poetry and the philosophy of Tarkovksy and you got a cheap imitation of the film, not only does the guide person is similar in look to the Stalker, but also is the landscape, the style of the film, the camera moving around, chasing the characters, like a magnet, dragging them along, the whispers, the silence, the music, it is all there,  in Stalker, the three take a trip into a world of the unknown Zone, each searching for something, they each have a past, look forward to the future, in The Loneliest Planet, the three are searching for nothing, as they travel the Caucasus mountains, we don’t know about their past, nor their future, the only time that future is mentioned is when the guide talk about his desire to have a “four wheel car”, or when asking the girl which country she has not traveled too, but just as Stalker is a grandeur symphony, The Loneliest Planet is a piece of chamber music, each scene is like an instrument, it stand out, but without the other instrument, it lack a definite sound, it take to finishing the film to get a whole prospect of the beauty of it.

Great ones from 2011, that I watched in 2012:

Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011)

Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011)

Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011) There are many film adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, the best that I had seen had always been F.W Murnau’s Faust, for it is a fantasy adaptation with no desire to be realistic or true to the book. Sokurov’s Faust is equal in power to that of Murnau, it is a film that only a philosopher of a poet could make it, as complex in nature as Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Sokurov create a world that on the surface seems like a realistic portrayal of the world of Faust, but underneath, it is a metaphor for Faust’s inner dilemmas, so what you end up seeing on the screen, is a world of two, always in conflict with each other, that of the reality and that of the poetic, the outer illusion of what you see, and the inner conflict within it, the battle instead of good and evil become that of the inner and the outer realization of a metaphorical world within Faust, it is a majestic and hypnotizing watch.

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011)

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011)

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011) Zvyagintsev tell a story like a novelist, if he had been born centuries earlier, before the age of cinema, he could have a masterful novelist, perhaps equal in psychology to Doestvosky and in detail to Turgenev. As much as the critics in the West tried their best to make a political film out of Elena, or to describe the world of the film as existing only in the streets of Moscow, it is not so, the streets, the characters and the houses could have been in any modern city of any country in today’s world, Zvyagintsev never been a political filmmaker, rather, his films are an examination of characters in relationship with each others, on the outside pretending to be something, but deep down, they are in turmoil; in The Return, is an examination of a Father’s inner turmoil relationship with his two sons, in The Banishment, a husband to a wife. In Elena, the inner turmoil of the wife is not only psychologically driven by her world being inferior to that of her husband, for she comes from a proletariat class compared to her rich husband, but there is also a mysterious motive of love in her, the love for her children and also the hatred for her husband’s daughter that drive her to commit murder. It is a murder that arises from inner motive hidden inside her, she is not Raskolnikov, she has never imagined, nor planned to murder, it arises from a moment of passion, a split second decision that she think is an act of righteousness. We never truly understand the protagonist in Elena, she remain a mystery, psychologically, we only understand her through her little actions; cleaning the room, cooking, watching TV, shopping, walking, taking a train, it is these little action that show her characters, same is true for the Father in The Return, and the husband in The Banishment, they are mysterious characters that we get a short glimpse of in the cinema cinema of Zvyagintsev, a world with its look dominated by the colors of blue, yellow and white, beautiful cinema. Masterpiece.

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011)

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011)

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011) I have to make a confession; I cried at the end of Le Havre, the miracles of a wife being resurrected, a cheery tree blooming in mid winter is Kaurismaki’s optimistic vision of the cinematic possibility of a miracle, if Chaplin has made a film today, it would had been Le Havre, for the heart and the deep rooted sentimentality of the film is pure Chaplin, one good deed from one person can have a profound impact on others, and that is why, the ending of Le Havre is as powerful as that of City Light, we as the viewer are faced with truth that is hard to accept, but we know it is possible, the most optimistic work of Kaurismaki do date.

The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)

The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)

The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011) Two years ago, Belcourt Theatre in Nashville showed 35mm print of Tarr’s Satantango, more than six hours in length, it was shown in two part with a break for lunch between, it was a great experience in watching one of the best  film of the 90s. As for The Turin Horse, I had if for more than a year, a Digital copy of the film, but I did not watch it , for I waited for a the blue-ray version of the film to appear, because it is a sin to watch Tarr film in a low quality version, or on a computer screen, you miss the beauty of it. The Turin Horse is supposedly Tarr’s last film, and no, it is not a story about Nietzsche, and neither it is it of a horse, like the big whale in Werckmeister Harmonies, the horse is only a character that our main characters evolve around it, almost like a pivot, it is the story of a Father and the Daughter, but more than anything, The Turin Horse is an examination of little details that made life once life, little action define the Father and the Daughter; cutting of the wood, building the fire, cooking the potato, washing the cloth, removing the skin of the hot potato, eating the potato, drying up the cloth, getting water from the well, getting dressed, getting undressed, loading a cart, and unloading it, feeding the horse, etc. There is also the action of doing nothing, just sitting and staring, it is a beautiful artificial world that only cinema can produce, and Tarr is bold about it; it is windy, everything in the frame move by the wind, but the trees on the background are not moving, artificial, those long tracking shot that seem to be pushing the character away from us, yet, always following them, beautiful black and white cinematography, the wide room that is a cinematic stage, every prop in it place to utmost detail, like Dryer’s composition, very clean. There is purity in the look of the film, either black, or white, with a light shade of gray. Everything has weight of equal significant in a Tarr film; a character walking, talking, doing something, doing nothing, his face to us, his back to us, a room full of characters or an empty room, a leaf flying amid the wind, it is all equally giving the same time and space on the screen, he is not as a perfectionist as Hitchcock when telling a story, he is rather imperfect of storyteller, but such a lack of perfection in the narrative make his films ever more a meditative watch that leave you with lasting impression, just as Hitchcock always let the viewer knows as much as the characters in the film or even more, when characters look, we see what they are looking at, or a times, we see things that the character never see, we are ahead of them, Tarr does the opposite, we never know what the characters know, let alone know more than them, when they look, they stare, but we never know what they are staring at, we have to guess it, but they are both master filmmakers, because they use the tool of the trade to the extreme edge, in doing so, they reach perfection. What emotion the characters lack in the film is made up for it by the music of Vig Mihaly, almost a silent film orchestral music accommodating the film. As for the dialogue, there are few, for the Father and Daughter in the film live by action and not dialogue, when a visitor talk about the philosophical edge of doom, after a long talk, the Father simply tells him, “Come on, that is rubbish”, words mean nothing to them, only action.  Tarr should have been making film in the 50s and 60s, in the days when the giants of cinema made their best, he belong with them, with; Bresson, Bunuel, Ozu, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ford, Hawks, Welles, Ray, Dreyer, Antonioni, etc. Tarr’s last film, his farewell to cinema is a beautiful one, and he shall be missed.

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da aka Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da aka Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da aka Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) Everything in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is hidden, the emotion of the characters are not what they are shown to us through their lengthy dialogue, rather, it is underneath, Ceylan like Tarkovsky, show us that emotion silently through the use of his camera. Like a symphony, the silence is the emotion, the film is divided almost mathematically in various bets of silence, silence in which the camera take on a life of its on as it observe, search, shows the hidden emotion, and it is for the viewer to find. Like Chekhov’s main characters in his stories, the main characters in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia keep their essential emotion to themselves, they are the heart of the film, the Prosecutor and the Doctor. You may call Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as Ceylan’s epic film, more than 2 hour and a half in length, it is a combination of everything that Ceylan had shown in us the past, the landscapes of Kiarostami that dominate Climates, the many tributes to Tarkovsky as in Clouds of May and Kasaba, the Doestovsky’s psychological attitude of the characters in Uzak and Üç Maymun, take all that and add the dark territory of Yilmaz Guney to Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and you have not just a Ceylan’s masterful take on the crime/detective genre, but also, his first epic film. Masterful.

Drive (Nicholas Winding, 2011)

Drive (Nicholas Winding, 2011)

Drive (Nicholas Winding, 2011) What makes Drive such a thrilling watch comes down to its smart combination of genres and styles, characters right out of American cinema of 70s, story of a loner out of European cinema of 60s, a musical soundtrack of 80, mix it with the stylish influence of Wong Kar Wai, combine all that with a tragic Greek play rather than a story, and in Drive you get a thrilling watch, despite the few flows in the film in which the violent is stretched to the limit, it is one to watch.

Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011)

Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011)


Another Earth
(Mike Cahill, 2011) Well, now you know what it is like to mash together Stanley Kubrick and Krzysztof Kieslowski, you get Another Earth, with its psychological power to grab the viewer into a tale of guilt and redemption mashed into a science-fiction genre with masterfully staged scenes that are equal in power to 2001: A Space odyssey, it has been a while that a film could move a viewer into the edge of wonder watching a scene so powerful and other worldly as the first contact scene between this Earth with Earth 2 in Another Earth, equally powerful to that of Hal 9000 in 2001. For a small budget film, produced, directed, acted, edited and shot with only a handful staff, it is a truly a wonder film to watch, emotionally powerful as it is intellectually manipulative that put to shame a million time a big-budget film like Melancholia. Another Earth is not to be missed.

Meeks Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

Meeks Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)

Meeks Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011) It has been more than a decade that I had seen a Western so fresh, new and revisionist as Meeks Cutoff. One has to go back to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), as the last great western. A genre never die, but a great film in a genre should always reinvent itself, and it takes Reichardt to do so. With a story-line that mix between Wellman’s Yellow Sky and Ford’s Wagon Masters, Reichardt add a new dimension to the story, that of knowing, asking questions at every turn, just like the history of the West, with its dark tragic past, its brutal treatment of the Native, the guilt of that history that is that nothing short of genocidal, always hidden, rarely questioned with it’s muddy historical accuracy, the film almost become a mediation into that history, a road taken with no end in sight, and the only vision is that of a Native Indian, in which we are unable to communicate, yet it lead us into that unknown territory.

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) Margaret is a film about guilt, the inability to face one’s guilt, one of the basic emotion of human, and the opening credit of the film set the tone for it; Tarrega’s lyrical music, Recuerdos de la Alhambra set to the slow motion of a crowd walking the street of NY, the camera is in search of a protagonist, one among the crowd, we find our protagonist, not on the street, but in a classroom, Lisa, a teenager becoming an adult, like all other teenager in the film, she is emotionally in turmoil, unstable, a snub, always arguing for the opposite view just for the sake of arguing, she love debating, love letting other people down, she have a prejudice and limited view of others, even racist when it comes to her view of Arabs and Muslims, she doesn’t like Californian, telling her father, “I don’t go for the Californian type”, as if all the Californian were the same, she even hate Opera, because she “don’t like that kind of singing”, she generalize everything, but she know nothing, she call people “strident” without knowing what the word itself means, if someone is kind to her, she think they want something from her, but if someone ignore her, she is attracted to them, she exchange the boy who is in love with her for a guy for a one night stand, she calculate all her moves, yet always end up in the wrong, a simple search for a cowboy hat bring ever lasting grief not upon herself only, but countless others, she become a different person. The bus incident is the heart of the film, everything in the film evolve around it, that is why it is shot so realistically compare to the the artificiality of other scenes, poor woman, she has been hit by a bus, at first she think she is dead, she is in shock, but when she realize she is dying, she does not want to go, it is hard to portray death, or the moment of dying, that is why the dialogue is so important between the woman dying and Lisa, it get the viewer’s empathy for the two of them, the only time that the viewer sympathize with Lisa, for seeing one dying in front of you is more shocking than hearing about it, when it is a stranger, it is less emotional, as one hear daily of many victims of war, famines, car crashes, murder, etc,  they are a mere number, but when face to face, they are human being, and not just a number, that is why others have a hard time relating to the incident as Lisa does, for grief is personal and comes from one experiencing it, she has a hard time herself dealing with it, because she has never cared for anybody or anything truthfully,  and those few caring emotional moment with the woman become a paradox for her, her action to erase that guilt for the rest of the film make it even hard for the viewer to sympathize with her, she becomes more of a despicable of a character, because she can’t face the reality in herself, she always pretending, full of fakery, but others see through her, and when they do, all she has to show, is anger, because she is incapable of loving, her mother is no better than her, she is an exact copy, she care more about the first day opening of her play than her daughter’s emotional turmoil, both selfish, caring only for oneself, and her father is another snob, every time he call her, he ask her about “the boyfriend situation”, dysfunctional family at its best, they are cold and heartless, and New York is also cold in the film, distance, and emotionless. The guilt of Lisa is what drive the film, because she was the cause of a death, that guilt make her to lie, not in order to save the driver from punishment, but as a small token of redemption for herself, but its no redemption as she find out, and being a snob, she want to find something to pass the guilt to, for she can’t face the reality within herself, of being guilty, of the inner punishment, she goes as far as to ask the driver to share her guilt equally if not more to lessen her burden, when she fails, she wash one guilt with another one, by wanting to punish the driver, to make him suffer her guilt, to take her responsibility,  that is her inner struggle that clashes with outer world, of being guilty and wanting to escape from it, she is annoying not only to everyone in the film, but also to the viewer. Lisa, she is evil, just as nobody in the film want to understand her, so it is with the viewer, she is one character that the viewer love to hate, one of the most despicable character of recent films, and when she lose, her breakdown of confessing to the guilt become a triumph for the viewer; watching the guilty pleasure of her downfall, as more guilt is added to what she suffers from already, at the end, it is the music of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman that closes the film, again the camera searches, this time on the stage, its camera searches among the crowd again, but it easily find Lisa, she is sitting there, she has become one of the crowd.

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011) You may call Young Adult a modern day take on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Quixote is a middle aged woman, Mavis Gary, Panza being a former high school friend of her, now on crutches, and Dulcinea del Toboso is her former high school boyfriend whom she now chasing.  Mavis pretend to be a successful writer, when not busy writing stories for teenagers, she is watching TV, and the television is always on some reality show on teenagers, she still live in a world of of her high school days, but her friends, and her former town passed that stage many years ago, she take a journey back to her town, to get her former boyfriend back.  One of the best  scene in the film is when she driving around the town, looking for a decent place to eat dinner, as she looks, it gets worse, all she sees is KenTacoHut; KCF, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, and her face drops more into a dreary mood, shaking her head in disbelief.  She was once popular in her little town, in her high school, now living far away, in Minneapolis, she seem to belief that she is leading a fast life in a big city, think of others who are leading a normal life in her former small town as boring, she is a snob, or pretend to be one, she is all appearance, leading an empty life, even if she is a failure, she pretend otherwise, she is always faking it, never could face reality, even when in a bar, she pretend to be busy with her cellphone, typing gibberish, but deep inside, she wishes to be in their shoes. To her love is like in the movies, like The Graduate, she still listen to oldies music, she write for teenagers, she is still a teenager lost in the body and mind of a middle aged woman, so it is no wonder that she can’t expect the fact that the guy she was once in love with in high school is married now and has a child,  worse, she can’t imagine he would love his child and his wife, for she think, everyone is selfish like herself, she still think he is meant to be for her, as she shout, “Love conquers all”. She get ready for her date with the guy, put on her best dress, does her hair, manicure, massage, like a first date, but the guy live in a different world, after so many years, meeting again, he invite her to meet in a sport bar, he walk into the bar wearing his home dress, unshaven, sleepy, yet, she still want him, she talk to him romantically, repeat the same sentences she hear from teenager in the street. She star spying on him and his family life, with his old body from high school, both perfect as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; she is a Quixote who is always fantasizing, but Panza alway bring her back to reality, but despite being such a snob and liar, toward the end, like Quixote, you  can’t help feeling sorry for her, as her fantasy world become the cruel reality she has been running away from all her life, but as it turn out, her fantasy world might just as well be equal if not better than the reality of the people that live in at her small town pretending to be happy.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin feels like watching an experimental music video; from orchestral, to bluegrass, country, folks, pop, chorus, classic, rock, classic rock, to the great Lonnie Donegan and Buddy Holly,to Zen, back to bluegrass, with the most memorable of all the tracks being; Washington Phillip’ Mother’s Last Word To Her Son. Coming from Lynne Ramsay, a former photographer, the images in films are still photographs in motion, making the film a combination a dozen or so bits and pieces of experimental filmmaking; with tomatoes and red color being the pivot between the shots, be it tomatoes, catchup, Campbell tomato soup, or egg and tomato omelet, no kidding. It is a bizarre film on a dysfunctional family seemingly leading a normal life. The story of a woman that hate being a mother so much, that she prefer the sound of a drilling machine to that of her baby son crying, Kevin and her Mother seem to be competing as to which one of them is the most despised person in the film, like mother, like son. An arty version of The Omen in the examination of a hate relationship between a Mother and a Son, even the society, the people surrounding the two seem more abnormal than the two, but Kevin, spoiled brat, stand up above the rest, he has to be one of the most despicable character of recent films, yet, after committing the atrocities, he comes out into the spotlight, like a rock star, a decent portrayal of a society in love with violent.

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) Alexander Payne set out in The Descendants to make a film about a character who is in a coma, suffering, yet, she is the one that causes the most pain upon the others, making her the most unattractive character in the film. Unlike the many heavy handed sentimental films about the same subject, common to the genre, at the end of The Descendants, Payne arrives at creating one of the most sentimental film of the last few years, for the characters are real three dimensional figures, they all have their faults, cruelty and inner most darkest desires, shown in the most cruelest and humors ways, that reminds one of the cinema of Fellini, but at the end, when the sentimentality arrives, they do care, and we do care, and it is those sincere moments of showing of caring produce an emotional ending to a dark film of a comedy, and we, as viewer, feel it, even if its a short glimpse.

Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011)

Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011)

Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) There is a short story by Anton Chekhov titled The Duel; in which the the main character in the story is in a relationship with a woman whom he care deeply about, but despise her even more, while eating lunch, he suddenly notice the way she is eating the food, he is displeased by her “white open neck and the little curls at the back of her head”, and a sudden hatred in despise arise him, at that second he recall Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “And he remembered that when Anna Karenina got tired of her husband, what she disliked most of all was his ears, and thought: ‘How true it is, how true!’”, and a feeling of contempt in him lead him to sympathize with those who kill their mistress, but he does not go that far, but Bernie does, poor Bernie; a man who everyone love, everyone want to be with, one that seem to be only capable of loving others before oneself, but end up with the one person (Shirley MacLaine is brilliant in the role of the cold, old, rich widow) who is incapable of love, and a split second  is enough for Bernie to act violently; that split second is seeing her chewing the food more that is take to be chewed at lunch table, that is the officially story of the film that everyone in the town love to tell; but can a man like that really exist?, or was he really a monster of an actor that managed to fool a small town and also fool the viewer, as the prosecutor puts it , “There is no doubt in my mind Bernie Tiede is a calculating evil actor”. The genius of the film is the script, the mashing of the holy and the absurd, when a character talk seriously, suddenly a punch line underline the seriousness in the dialogue, when Bernie is been integrated, he confess to the crime “I shot poor Mrs. Nugent four times. With the armadillo gun”, the Sheriff asks, “Then what?”, “Well, then the Lord called her Home”, or when one of her old lady friend try to disclaim the rumors that Bernie might have been a “queer”, because he wore sandals all the time, and he was not married; “Our Lord and Savior always wore sandals and he never married. And he had 12 disciples, and I don`t think any of them ever married. And you never heard anybody in the New Testament say that they was a bunch of queers”, but the genius of Linklater is to take the documentary genre and twist it to a degree that is still manipulative, not to to a degree of a mockumentary, but a fictional take on a narrative story of a  film that uses all the manipulative tool of a documentary; the direct interview, the  juxtaposition in imagery, newsreel tradition, take on mondo films, mixing of the experiential strand and the interview strand, to create a masterful film of a black comedy, with genuine realistic characters of a fictional creation. I lived in the South and I could pinpoint many of the character in the film as some that I have one encountered, and I couldn’t help but murmur to myself, “How true it is, how true!”

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Cinematic ocean is so deep that as you dive to it, you come upon gem after gem, here the precious gems that I discovered (re-discovered) the past year:

The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925)

The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925)

The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925) I vividly recall the first time I watched The Big Parade; I checked the film out of the library, it was an old VHS tape, and from the first frame of the film to the last, I was glowed to the screen, for two hours, I did not move from my place, and when the scene came along of John Gilbert in the trenches captures the German soldier, he has already wounded him, for the first time he sees the face of his enemy, he want to kill him to revenge his friends, but he realize he is just a man like himself, and this realization only lead him to more contempt; he light a cigarette to the dying German solider, all the time, pushing his head back forth as if telling him, “You are just like me, why is that? Why should I kill you?”, as I watched that long take of the two of them in the trench, one dying at the hand of other, neither knowing why, nor on how to behave. I could not help repeating to myself loudly, “What a scene, what a genius Vidor is, what genius filmmaking”, and when the end scene came along; the son return, with one leg missing, the poor mother, old and gray, as they embrace each other, flashback over the scene of the son as little child taking his first step, I could not help being moved to the edge of tears, such beauty, honesty and truth in a film is hard to find in today’s cinema, and those battles scenes, even today, more than 80 years later, they are still among the most beautifully choreographed battles scenes ever to have been captured on the screen, they are like symphonies, beat by beat, they build up into a harmonic climax. Genius film.

By the Law aka Po zakonu (Lev Kuleshov, 1926)

By the Law aka Po zakonu (Lev Kuleshov, 1926)

By the Law aka Po zakonu (Lev Kuleshov, 1926) As a kid, I was madly in love with the world of Jack London, in cold winter nights, I used to read his works under a lamp or a candle light, what a great feeling it was, I must have read White Fang at least three times. The world of Jack London is exotic, but it is cold, not just the snowy landscape, but also the inner soul of his characters, he was not a writer who could write about the inner demons of his characters in such prose as Doestovsky or Turgenev, instead, he wrote naturalistically, using the landscape and the natural forces as a reflection of that souls, human struggle for survival against not only extreme natural forces, but also one another, even if escaping the law of society, man cannot escape the law of other men in condemnation, as it is in his short story, The Unexpected, in which By the Law is based upon. Even in the remote landscape of Yukon, human condemn others in the name of law and religion, in the hand of Kuleshov, Jack London’s story became a psychological struggle within the soul of three characters, the extreme natural forces in the background only awaken the demon in them more, into a point of becoming unbearable to tolerate one another, even there, Queen Victoria condemn men to death, the law of the jungle seem more tolerant than that of humanity, just under an hour in length, By the Law is among the best of silent Kuleshov.

The Holy Mountain (Leni Riefenstahl, 1926)

The Holy Mountain (Leni Riefenstahl, 1926)

The Holy Mountain (Leni Riefenstahl, 1926) All praise to Leni Riefenstahl as a film director, but what a lousy actor and a dancer she is in The Holy Mountain. What she lack in acting and dancing in the film is taken care of by the beautiful and lyrical cinematography in the film, what a beautiful film. The story of the sea, the mountain, the snow, add to them a triangular love affair and man’s conflict and harmony with nature. Cinema by nature is a medium that once took its inspiration at birth from theater, the horizontal space is what most directors like to photograph and stage their mes-en scene, but in The Holy Mountain, Riefenstahl does the opposite, everything seem to be photographed and composed vertically, even the depth staging is vertically stages, Riefenstahl goes to the extreme as to mask the frame into vertical lines, that is what give the unique beauty to the film. Not to be missed.

Show People (King Vidor, 1928

Show People (King Vidor, 1928

Show People (King Vidor, 1928) A King is a King, and King Vidor is King of a giant of silent cinema, and Show People is a masterful examination of the dream factory of the silent Hollywood, made by a man who himself had made some of the best silent film of the era, it is no surprise that the film came out in a year that the talkie began to end the golden age of silent cinema, the glamour of the dream factory is there, but it also a cautious tale of what success might bring upon those who dream it, Vidor knew all about it; from a young company clerk he became one of Hollywood’s most successful director of the silent era, in between he worked as a comedy script writer, then short director of dramatic works, and then an independent producer and director, then taking up his long career at MGM. Show People is an honest film in comedy made by a man who knew all the trick of the trade, all the stars appear in this little charming film, even the great Charlie Chaplin want to have a signature of the leading lady, as he declare, “I like collecting signatures!”, she does not recognize him without his cane and his little mustache, “Who was that little man?” she asks, “That was Charlie Chaplin”, she fades. More than 84 years, it still make us laugh louder than ever and put to shame such mediocre of a lousy film as Michel Hazanvicius’s The Artist that suppose to depict the silent era, give me the genius of Vidor anyway over the counterfeiter Hazanvicius.

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929)

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929)

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929) I’m scratching my head and still thinking if I have ever seen any bad film from Ernst Lubitsch so far? and the answer is, no. The man is so good, he can even make the dead laugh beyond their graves. Among his early sound film, The Love Parade is a part musical and a part nothing, but giveaway film, full of jokes that has nothing to do with the film, almost a Tashlin before there ever was a Tashlin. Take the cross-eyed joke, such masterful touch that only Lubitsch could come upon as making it nothing short of a charming touch, despite its cruelty. The battle of the sexes rages on, this time, with the throne at stake, the throne? that means nothing to the charming Maurice Chevalier, when he says “Nao”, he means, “Nao”, and no Queen can change that “Nao”. Priceless.

Abraham Lincoln (D.W Griffith, 1930)

Abraham Lincoln (D.W Griffith, 1930)

Abraham Lincoln (D.W Griffith, 1930) D.W Griffith, that genius of silent cinema, is also a genius of sound cinema, and his small epic take on Abraham Lincoln is a testament to that, it was his first talkie, the sound is used only to signify the important of dialogue in moving the plot forward, other than that, turn the sound off, and you get a perfect silent picture without inner titles. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln is not the story of a towering figure, rather, it is a small lyrical take on a man from his birth to his death, in between; we are with young Abe as he get his first fight, cut woods for others, we see him fall in love madly with Ann Rutledge, his tragic separation from her, from the young lawyer whom everyone look down on to becoming a president in which everyone take him for a dreamer, to his assassination at the hand of Booth. Walter Huston is brilliant in the role of Lincoln, even if it take heavy makeup and fake boots to make him older and taller. Great One.

Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, 1932)

Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, 1932)

Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, 1932) Me and My Gal has to be listed as one of the best sound film of 1932, for its use of multiple narrative, giveaway scenes, and the use of sound to minimum. What start as a day in the life of Sergeant Danny (Spencer Tracy), going around shipyard docks and doing best not to do anything, a slacker who become a hero at the end of the film, and in between, he marries the girl of his life. Notable scenes include a long high angle two take of a monolog between Danny and his girl as they talk about a film that the saw; “I saw a swell picture last night, the name was, was, the Strange something…Strange in the Tubes”, “Oh, I know, I saw that, that is the one where the actor say one thing and a minute later they say out loud what they really think”, “Yeah”. Well my friend, as they are talking on the couch, they say one thing to each other, and in a voice over monolog they say something else to the audience, one of the best love scenes in irony of early sound cinema, everything in the film work that way, the characters say one things, but they mean another thing, at times, the image is at odd with the sound, a wonderful film to watch.

Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934)

Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934)

Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934) In the heart of Flaherty’s cinema is the never ending battle between Men and Nature, the Men might win a battle or two; as Nanook build his igloo in the middle of a snowy storm in Nanook of the North, and the Man of Aran might peddle away into safety in a story sea, but in the end, it is alway Nature that win the war, and the last shots of Man of Aran, the foaming sea leaping into the sky is a testament to that, Nature never lose. So it is with Flaherty, there are more shot of the waves hitting the cost of Aran than than of the three main characters combined, such beautiful imagery. The human are there for the sake of the narrative only, yes, it is improvised, montage is used to create a narrative, for Documentary filmmaking in its nature is as selective if not more abstract than fictional filmmaking, for what is montage than selecting one footage over another? In order to tell the truth, one must re-create that truth, that is why, Man of Aran is a truthful film, true, re-told in a documentary form, and how beautifully it is told, Flaherty was the first, and the greatest among the docu filmmakers, always going back to him.

Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935)

Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935)

Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935) She ask Sylvia, “But were you a girl dressed as a boy? or, are you a boy dressed as a girl?”, and the artist answer back, “Sylvester is Sylvia!”. Katharine Hepburn perhaps gives her best performance, a role that fit her best, masculine-feminine. In the first act she play the role of a ruffian boy, then on the second act, she is the most gentle girl, madly in love, the, in the third act, she is back to the role of the boy, only this time, she has her gentle spirit. The film was a financial disaster upon its release, maybe the public were not ready for such fast paces, genre masquerading, and changing roles of the characters, as everyone act in the film more than one role, each times, not only deceiving the viewer, but also other characters in the film. It is a good one, and the public were wrong as they have been many times.

The Wedding Night (King Vidor, 1935)

The Wedding Night (King Vidor, 1935)

The Wedding Night (King Vidor, 1935) This is what I miss most about cinema today; the innocent and beautiful characters, the likes of Gary Cooper at the end of The Wedding Night, as he is looking out of the window, imagine Sonya appearing, then disappearing in a simple dissolve, a smile appear, then his eyes full of tears, he looks to the ground, as Vidor fade out to the black with the swollen music, the emotion reach its peak, the image no longer able to sustain its power, that is why the black screen and the music is enough to make the viewer image the emotional state of Cooper, it is Vidor making a sound film, but staying true to his silent cinema. Among simplest and most touching of Vidor’s film, a forgotten masterpiece.

Tsuma Yo Bara No Yo Ni aka Wife! Be Like a Rose!

Tsuma Yo Bara No Yo Ni aka Wife! Be Like a Rose!

Tsuma Yo Bara No Yo Ni aka Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Mikio Naruse, 1935) Wife! Be Like a Rose! reads like a Chekhov play, so tender, simple, and beautiful little story about simple people unable to compromise the one person they love all, that of a Father, for as his former wife puts is, “Each heart is different”. Indeed, each heart is different from that of the others in Wife! Be Like a Rose!; the story of girl in search for his father, her selfish search lead her to the realization that others happiness does not always depend on our perception of happiness, and sometimes others are unable to express their love through word, so they do it through action, among the many little touching scenes in the film is the scene in which our heroine realize her father does care for her, as he buy her “tangerine and chocolate” at the train station, “Until then I hadn’t felt much affection for him, but such a small thing suddenly made me feel I wanted to keep him near”, only then does she realize his love. The misunderstanding of the daughter is the same as that of the viewer, throughout the film we judge the characters, some as victims and some as villains, only to realize at the end of the film, how wrong we were of out judgment. Among the early best of Naruse’s film on the family relationship, a repeating theme in his cinema. Great one.

Lo Squadrone Bianco aka The White Squadron (Augusto Genina, 1936)

Lo Squadrone Bianco aka The White Squadron (Augusto Genina, 1936)

Lo Squadrone Bianco aka The White Squadron (Augusto Genina, 1936) I couldn’t help but applaud Lieutenant Mario decision at the end of Lo Squadrone Bianco, as he tell the girl, Cristiana, that once refused his love that “Mario doesn’t exist anymore, Cristiana, he’s left there, under the sands, farewell, Cristiana my place is here”, next shot, we see Cristiana, full of regrets, driving away in the back of a truck, eyes full of tears, as she look back at the empty roads, nothing to see but deserts. Winner of Mussolini’s Cup, the highest cinematic price in Fascist Italy, Lo Squadrone Bianco is the story of a young lover, after been rejected by the women he loves, he decide to join the Italian colonial legion in Libya, chasing rebels in the heat of the desert. I was surprised that rarely does the film ride into the Propaganda territory, instead, the film become a story for survival in a doomed land, a great discovery.

Show Boat (James Whale, 1936)

Show Boat (James Whale, 1936)

Show Boat (James Whale, 1936) Show Boat is a perfect example of the musical genre that once ruled the screen; a world of believing in suspension of disbelief of the innocent; A man is walking by a boat, well, he is walking and singing with fully orchestrated music accompanying him, he meet a beautiful girl on the boat, sing for her, and he fall in love with her, they are adults, but sing to each other like teenagers in love, and we buy it. Show Boat is a story of two film; the musical numbers of  Oscar Hammerstein, with its stereotype portrayal of the African American and the South in general, the second film is a comedy from  James Whale, the man behind some of 30s darkest comedies; The Old Dark House, and the horror comedy, The Bride Of Frankenstein, it is this touch of Whale that make the film such a charming watch, with his counter contribution to the music and dance of the African-American, taking it out of the stage into the screen. One of the best and hilarious scene in the film is the reenactment of the way of acting on the stage in the old days, priceless.

Der Herrscher aka The Sovereign (Veit Harlan, 1937)

Der Herrscher aka The Sovereign (Veit Harlan, 1937)

Der Herrscher aka The Sovereign (Veit Harlan, 1937) Before R.W Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, there was this little masterpiece made in Nazi Germany by the great Veit Harlan, Der Herrscher, a story of love between an old man and a young girl, deemed as forbidden not by prejudice of society as it is the case of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, but by the greed and envy of knowing that their Father’s vast fortunes will get into the hand of a stranger, the father is a man who rule over 20000 workers, rule over a steel factory, but unable to rule his children, it is materialistic and selfish desire that make the children turn against their father, and in turn, the father to vanish them, in a masterful climatic scene he shout to them, denouncing them “My wife has given birth to dogs, cats, foxes, wolves, for decades they have run around in my house in human shape and have licked my hands and feet, and suddenly they tore me to pieces with their teeth”, all that he deemed in life as to be loved by him turns out to be nothing but an illusion, the only thing remain for him is to return into what he deems as his life’s only achievement; he goes back to his factory, to the machines to find a companion, “One should have machines as companions, machines are decent creatures”. Masterpiece.

Sans Lendemain aka Without Tomorrow (Max Ophuls, 1939)

Sans Lendemain aka Without Tomorrow (Max Ophuls, 1939)

Sans Lendemain aka Without Tomorrow (Max Ophuls, 1939) The women in Ophuls film always hide more than they show, not only from other characters in the film, but also from the viewer, they are complex creatures that we never seem to understand, that is why at the end of an Ophuls film, we are left with a feeling of wanting more, of wanting to be more with the characters, take the ending of Sans Lendemain; the widow of a mother, Evelyn, out of pride or out of self pity or out of sacrificed love had just said goodbye to her former lover and her only son, she roam the streets of Paris quietly, meditating on suicide, when her friend tries to comfort her, and alas, even to save her by calling the ship that her lover and son is traveling on, the line fail to connect, but when it does, she is nowhere to be seen, we want to know what happened to her, but Ophuls refuses to let us know, all we have is still life shots of half empty glass, a fogy street, the phone waiting to be answered, back to the fogy streets with only the sound of the friend heard at a distance shouting desperately, “Evelyn, Evelyn”, but Evelyn is nowhere to be seen. Masterful.

Ohm Kruger (Hans Steinhoff, 1941)

Ohm Kruger (Hans Steinhoff, 1941)

Ohm Kruger (Hans Steinhoff, 1941) Emil Jannings is brilliant in the role of Paul Kruger, the first president of the South African Republic and a rebel of the Boer resistance against the British colonial power during the Second Boer War. He lead his nation into a rebellion against the British, only to lose a battle that from the start is that of a lost cause, as the British ruthless military power, (estimated that more than 150,000 civilian died in British Concentration Camps) with funds from the businessman, Cecil Rhodes crush the rebellion and therefore making way for the riches of gold and diamonds of Africa, especially the lucrative Witwatersrand gold mines to flood the European market, even today, Cecil Rhodes’s legacy in monopoly of the trade is still as powerful as the days of the Second Boer War (De Beers companies control close to %50 of world’s Diamonds). For a propaganda film coming out of a Nazi Germany, there has to be a strong leader in the film, calling to arm and mobilization, at times ranting to the extreme, as is the case of Emil Jannings, brilliantly copying Hitler’s manner of speech, but the film also to a degree is historically accurate, take out the cheap anti-English propaganda, and in Ohm Kruger, you got an epic film to watch.

The 47 Ronin: Parts 1 & 2 (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941-1942)

The 47 Ronin: Parts 1 & 2 (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941-1942)

The 47 Ronin: Parts 1 & 2 (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941-1942) Ah, what a masterpiece in complexity Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin is, made the same year as Citizen Kane, but on the other side of the world. Mizoguchi make the best use of what made the films of Welles, Ford and Wyler great in that period; long takes, depth of filed and camera movement, more than 70 years later, few films has managed to surpass the mastery of Mizoguchi technique of making such complex scenes to such simplicity. It is true, the story has a twist element of war time propaganda to it, with loyalty and honor to one’s superior put above reason, but that does not take away from the greatness and timelessness of this masterpiece, it is one for ages.

Hideko the Bus Conductor aka Hideko no shasho-san (Mikio Naruse, 1941)

Hideko the Bus Conductor aka Hideko no shasho-san (Mikio Naruse, 1941)

Hideko the Bus Conductor aka Hideko no shasho-san (Mikio Naruse, 1941) Just as Setsuko Hara is associated with Ozu, so it is that Hideko Takamine is associated with Naruse, she appeared in 17 of Naruse’s films, and it is hard not to fall in love with her in Hideko the Bus Conductor; such gentle character, so pure, so innocents, in a cheerful film coming out of a Japan that was fighting a brutal war. We are taken in a bus journey, in the rural Japan, in a lazy town, a broken bus that carry few passenger, the times are bad, the bus it is about to go out of business, can’t compete against strong competitor. The bus is a symbol of everything that is innocent, indeed, all the characters riding the bus are simple people; farmers, school children, and peasants, the two people running the bus are the simplest, a driver who get passionate listening to description of the road by our bus conductor, the beautiful, Hideko, always smiling. They lead a simple life, there passions are simple; to make their passengers happy. They live a world of their own, in that of the innocent and goodness, only such world is not possible to last forever, that ironic ending of the film, Naruse give us the info that our characters does not know, the their ride is the last one on the bus, as the owner sell the bus in his office, cut, to the bus ride, the beautiful smile on the happy face of Hideko Takamine is cut to a wide shot of the bus despairing from our view, away from the camera, as it leave behind dust in the mid air, such world is no longer possible. Under one hour in length, Hideko the Bus Conductor is a small masterpiece from the great Naruse.

Hellzapoppin (Henry Potter, 1941)

Hellzapoppin (Henry Potter, 1941)

Hellzapoppin (Henry Potter, 1941) Put Hellzapoppin beside Citzen Kane as two of the most innovative film of the 1941, as a matter of fact, there is a brilliant scene in Hellzapoppin, in which we see the Rosebud sledge on the background as one of the character passes by it, looking at it, then “I thought they burned that”. A complex film in every aspect just as Citizen Kane is, but what is so brilliant about Hellzapoppin is the fact that the film is created right in front of our eyes, as a viewer, we become part of creating the film, even if that means, multiples times characters talk to the viewer as we are a part of the film, breaking a barrier that was a taboo at the time in the art of filmmaking, for the viewer might lose the suspension of belief, for a Hollywood film from 1941, Hellzapoppin is fresh as the day it was made, for it takes everything lightly, and nothing it what it seem to be, a film about filmmaking in the most satiric, comical and silliest way, it is hilarious.

The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941)

The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941) “He has everything, I have nothing. I just realized, I’m a happy man, he is not” so declare James Cagney toward the end of The Strawberry Blonde, he has the chance to take revenge of the man he most hate, but he decide not too, because he got the Woman that he love most, and the other guy does not. Walsh directed The Strawberry Blonde the same year as he did High Sierra, two film a part from each other in their theme and style, for as High Sierra is an early example of noir/gangster film, The Strawberry Blonde is an innocent story of love, rather too innocent even by 1941′s standard, but it is an honest, masterful depiction of the low middle-class ethnically inhabitants of NY, and Cagney give a wonderful performance as the pretending to be a tough guy who always end up with the blues.

Malombra (Mario Soldati, 1942)

Malombra (Mario Soldati, 1942)

Malombra (Mario Soldati, 1942) Antonio Fogazzar’s novel has been made many times into film, but none of them surpasses Soldati’s adaptation of Malombra. Isa Miranda is brilliant as the young woman who think she is the incarnation of one of her ancestor, Cecilia, the victim of a jalousie husband who had locked her up in a castle to die, she take the role of her to revenge, whereupon, she bring catastrophes upon everyone. I don’t know if Soldati had seen Hitchock’s Rebecca, but the Hitchock’s film seem to have an influence on Malombra; from the use of the castle to the twisting of the plot, to the use of lighting in creating an atmosphere of horror with architecture and space alone. The best thing about Malombra, it leave you wondering to wither there ever was a Cecilia, if there was, did she came back to hunt? Silly question it might be, but the film never answer, it is for you to decide. Among the best of what I had seen of pre Italian neo-realism, I’m sure there are more to discover.

I Married A Witch (Rene Clair, 1942)


I Married A Witch (Rene Clair, 1942)

I Married A Witch (Rene Clair, 1942) Love might be stronger than Witchcraft, but it truly take a wizard like Clair to make such a masterpiece of a dark humor into a comedy full of magical touches that leave you rolling around in the floor from laughter. The story of a witch (the beautiful Veronica Lake) with a look that could steal any man’s heart, she come back from the unknown to revenge his accusers, only to take the love potion mistakenly and end up falling in love with him, as her drunken father does his best to ruin the love affair. Masterful.

María Candelaria aka Portrait of Maria (Emillo Fernandez, 1944)

María Candelaria aka Portrait of Maria (Emillo Fernandez, 1944)

María Candelaria aka Portrait of Maria (Emillo Fernandez, 1944) Emillo Fernandez, he is a forgotten director, today, he is rather remembered as an actor in Peckinpah and Huston’s films,  but also for being the model for the statue of Oscar that is handed out to many each year in Hollywood, but he was also a good director. Before Bunuel landed in Mexico to make his masterpieces, Fernandez had already made a good film, María Candelaria, with the help of  Gabriel Figueroa’s beautiful cinematography, the film is as beautiful as any of those he shot for Bunuel. Maria Candelaria, she is beautiful, she is sensitive, she belong to nature, surrounded by flowers, she sell flower, she is innocent, as the painter who narrate her describe her best, “That’s the way natives are, their virtue hasn’t been touched, by money or civilization”, but there is till hatred and pride, and people despise her, not just because of her beauty, but because her mother once was a streetwalker, and in a small traditional community, it is a curse to have a mother like that, and she suffers for it,  despite an artificial sentimentality to the story, the film is an honest and truthful depiction of the indigenous population in Mexico, it is one to watch.

The Clock (Vincente Minnelli, 1945)The Clock (Vincente Minnelli, 1945) Incredible little film that touches the heart. Before there was Before Sunrise, there was Minnell’s take on two stranger meeting by chance and falling in love, but for an audience in 1945, the only resolution for such story had to be marriage, but even that at the hand of Minnelle become a masterful sketch in humor as the clock tick and the time passes, such precious time for two stranger, to know each other more, as the Milk Man put it, “You can find out about somebody in a minute as by knowing him a lifetime”, in The Clock, 90 minute is enough to know two person, two people in a big city, as Minnelli’s always moving camera capture them among the crowd. Chances are what determines the meeting of the two, just as in life, it is chance the determine the plot of The Clock, little incident lead to another, always in a logical coherence, Minnelli at his best

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945)

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945)

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945) We are all familiar with the sad rainy window scenes in films; Shot from outside the window, the character gaze into outside world, with rain falling down on the window, it suppose to be a classic scene of sadness, but at the hand of Kazan, it become a symbol of a little girl innocent being washed away, a little girl who is grownup and must face the reality of the world. There is an innocent childish naivety on life in Betty Smith’s semi autobiographical and best-selling first novel, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and that innocent transmit into the film. Kazan’s first film is a direct transition from the theater to cinema, shot on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot, the film is a theatrical staging, with deep staging camera work to give it a cinematic look. The story of coming of age of a little girl in the poverty stricken Brooklyn tenement of the early 1900s, become the story of a drunken unemployed singer of a father, Johnny Nolan, and his relationship with his daughter, full of charm, and always happy on the outside, the poor man is unable to take the role of a father, rather he become more of a friend to the the girl. The film has its tenders moments, even tear chokers (Francie getting the flower from his Pop at the end), the world that is shown is cruel, but seeing from the eyes of a little girl, it is also innocent and poetic. A decent first film from a man who would make many great films later in his career.

The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1945)

The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1945)

The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1945) Take a trip back to a time in which Animation films were as artistic as any live action ones, unlike today’s 3D and CGI over the top imagery, The Three Caballeros is a masterful demonstration in combination of animation and live action imagery into perfect harmony, all hand drawn, the imagery is vividly colorful, with no narrative of a plot, the film become nothing short of a trip into the fantasy land of the imagination rich in music and imagery, perverse in its nature depicting Latin America, but also culturally rich, one of most abstract and beautifully composed musical of a film. Disney’s real forgotten treasure, take a trip with Donald Duck, Joe Carioca and Panchito, you won’t regret it.

Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946)

Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946)

Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946) After Dragonwyck, a year later Mankiewicz memorized the audience with The Ghost and Mrs Muir with his touch of lyricism, but already with Dragonwyck, Mankiewicz demonstrate the genius of what is to come. This time, the innocent woman (Gene Tierney) is not married to a ghost, but rather, to a Patron (Vincent Price) with superiority complex, even in marriage, his superiority take the form of demeaning a son from his wife just as he demand the farmers to lower their hats in his present, the Patron might not be a ghost, but he sure is from another planet, as he lock himself up in a tower, getting highs all day, explaining his dilemma, first by answering his wife’s question as to what he is doing on the tower? “I live”, says the Patron, “I will not live by ordinary standard, I will not run with the pack, I will not be chained into a routine of living which is same with others, I will not look to the ground and move in the ground with the rest, as long as there are those mountain tops and clouds, limitless space”, then he stare at his wife, “I’m sure you are still unable to understand”, poor woman, she does best to say it, “I want to try if you help me”. But she never does understand him nor do we as the audience, for the Patron is a complex character on the screen, a genius creation of Mankiewicz, even as he is taking his last breath, his last words are those of commanding, “That is right, take off your hats in the present of the Patron”. Well my friend, you better take off you hat to this masterpiece, it deserve it.

Spring Awakens aka Haru no mezame (Mikio Naruse, 1947)


Spring Awakens aka Haru no mezame (Mikio Naruse, 1947)

Spring Awakens aka Haru no mezame (Mikio Naruse, 1947) Among the most honest film on that sensitive period of a person’s life; taking that step from childhood into adolescence, a transition that is more of a tragedy than a normal biological development in a person’s life in a small town of the rural Japan. Three young girls and three young boys, all curious about the change that is taking place, they ask around, unaware of the sexual knowledge, they itch for love, but they do not know why. Spring Awakens is an innocent film on the lives of teenagers, it is no longer possible for cinema to make such innocent film, for a young girl to ask her mother where babies come from, or the inability of the parents to communicate directly with their children on the possibility of adolescence. Left alone, they have to a find out a meaning for themselves, not an easy task, at times they feel like criminal and a victim of a change that it taken place. Lyrical, innocent and beautiful film, in Spring Awakens, Naruse uses nature to reflect the character’s emotional development; the beautiful white clouds, the sunny days, the windy afternoons, to the rainy and darkly stormy afternoon as the film reaches its climax.

Michurin (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1948)

Michurin (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1948)

Michurin (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1948) In 2007, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine created a beautiful and unique DVD collection entitled Oleksander Dovzhenko: The Cinematographic Legacy, composed of all Dovzhenko’s film, the project was supposed to be in limited edition of one thousand copies, but only a dozen of it were ever printed, and don’t ask me how, but I managed to get a copy of it, it is the gem in my DVD collection, and whenever I feel the urge to appreciate this gem, I gently pull out one of the DVD and watch the gorgeous restoration of the films. Michurin is a film on the life of the Russian biologist Ivan Michurin, who’s small garden later became the pride of Soviet experimental biology, getting praised by both Lenin and Stalin. It has been said that the film was “corrected” for ideological purity when it was on scripting stage, and the end result does reflect that, it got its moments of propaganda, including lasting praise for both Lenin and Stalin from old Michurin. But coming from a poet of a filmmaker, Michurin is a gorgeous colorful film, an inner examination of a man who is obsessed with concurring nature or at least purifying it, as one of the Bourgeois puts it, discussing a man who never leaves his garden as, “Some mixture of Tolstoy, Kropotkin and Darwin”, shot beautifully in vivid colors that is the signature of the Soviet film of the time, including some masterful time-lapping photography, more than 18 years after making his most poetic and lyrical film, Earth, once again, Dovzhenko proves that he is the master poet of cinema, expect some beautiful lyrical imagery. Wonderful film.

Stranitsy zhizni aka Pages of Life (Boris Barnet, 1948)


Stranitsy zhizni aka Pages of Life (Boris Barnet, 1948)

Stranitsy zhizni aka Pages of Life (Boris Barnet, 1948) Meet comrade Nina Petrovna Ermakova, a young girl from the countryside who start as a worker in a shipyard in the first year of Stalin’s five year plan, in the span of 16 years, she learn to read and write, become a successful engineer, marries, lose her husband and everything they build in the shipyard during WWII, only, for her to start rebuilding everything form scratch, as she proudly stand in front of a large poster of Stalin, addressing thousands of men working under her, “Dear friends, life is beautiful! How many difficult minutes, How much loss. But we surpassed it all. And we’ll surpass other obstacles if necessary!”, there is your comrade Nina, full of life and joy, after 16 years working, losing everything she had, she still believe, your typical women in a Barnet film, they don’t ask for respect from men, they gain it, take away the propaganda, and you got in Pages of Life a wonderful small film from a master.

Beyond The Forest (King Vidor, 1949)

Beyond The Forest (King Vidor, 1949)

Beyond The Forest (King Vidor, 1949) “But I’m not just any woman, I’m Rosa Moline”, so talk to herself Bette Davis as she walk in the rainy night of Chicago, and she is right, she is Rosa Maline, an unhappy wife of a Doctor living in a small town, all her desire is to be free again and marry a rich man, who would buy her mink coats and take her out into the fast life of Chicago, murder is nothing in her plan to achieve that freedom. There is no boundary between what is good and what is bad in Beyond The Forest, that is according to Rosa Moline, she murder and she laugh about it, she kill her own child, and is happy about it, as for her Doctor husband (Joseph Cotten), he is too much of a patient man with her, somewhat unrealistic of a character, but we buy it, and it is his silence against her misdemeanors that drive her to commit more acts of violence. You can’t help feel sorry for Rosa Moline at the end of the film, as she lay dead by the rail tracks, the train is leaving for Chicago, she is not on it, she herself is the executioner of her own dreams that drive her into the doom. Vidor at his best.

Devil’s Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950)

Devil’s Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950)

Devil’s Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950) Throughout its history, mankind collectively has committed many crimes in the name of civilization, but rarely does any of it match the atrocity and genocide committed in the so called the “New World”, the founding of a land by wiping out its entire populations, that of the Native. It is no wonder that Mann titled his film, Devil’s Doorway, for its indeed the doorway of the devil as one man take another’s land and property, deny its basic rights, and murder him in the name of the law. The antagonist in the film is a lawyer, represent a law that according to the Marshal of the town, “Treat an Indian less than a Dog”, and the protector of the law is an army that once our Indian hero, Lance Cool (Robert Taylor) served in, the same army take away his land and submit his people into reservation camps, the way of the civilization is the law, and according to the law, as his lawyer puts it, “Under the law, you are not classed as an American citizen”, “What am I?”, the poor guy ask, “You are a ward of the government”. One of the first western that portray the Native as a victim to the expansion of the homesteaders and the expansionist policy to the West, even if that victim is a former army office and a rich landowner, we still sympathize with him, despite the ending, that seem to work both way, as our hero salute the army, his last line; “We’re all gone”, fall down dead. John’s Alton’s cinematography, especially day for night scenes is a must watch.

Arrière-saison aka Backward Season (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1950)

Arrière-saison aka Backward Season (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1950)

Arrière-saison aka Backward Season (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1950) A restless woman looking out the window, her husband cutting down trees in the forest, their dog run around in a circle, images that open and closes Arrière-saison, three simple character in a simple short film that speak in images only, pure visual experience, the cinema of Kirsanoff. Priceless.

People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951)

People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951)

People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951) Cary Grant talk so much in People Will Talk that you think the title should have been Gary Grant Will Talk. The story of a doctor and his manservant, wither he is or he is not? at the hand of Mankiewicz becomes not a suspense story of relationship, for the title from the beginning of the film give it all away, but rather it become a wonderful film of one man’s believe in humanity, in one’s gentleness toward others, doing good so that one hand will now know what the other has done, bringing envy of and misunderstanding of many upon him. A wonderful and relaxing watch, charming, one wishes it never to end.

When Worlds Collide (Rudolph Mate, 1951)

When Worlds Collide (Rudolph Mate, 1951)

When Worlds Collide (Rudolph Mate, 1951) Hooray for humanity, even if there is only 45 of them left to start a new day of life in the new planet of Zyra. Mate’s When Worlds Collide is among the first dooms day films and still is among the most original, there is no hero steeping up to save earth, rather, at the end, humanity become nothing but the old story of Dog eat Dog as the few struggle to take off to the new planet, many happy to leave the old one behind as it is destroyed amid flames of fire. One that never get old, classic watch.

Shonen-ki aka Boyhood (Keisuke Kinoshita,, 1951)

Shonen-ki aka Boyhood (Keisuke Kinoshita,, 1951)

Shonen-ki aka Boyhood (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1951) What can you say about Keisuke Kinoshita? The man can bring to the edge of tear with a single frame, just like Ozu and Naruse, but the different between Keisuke Kinoshita and them is that a family relationship is effected by what shape society, in Boyhood, the son is lost between a country, in which every one beat the drums of war, and his family, his father who is a pacifist and his mother who must try to keep his son’s faith in both humanity and his Father, a relationship is tested by a constant struggle between what is seem to be, and what is not, at the end, it is the Father who triumph, it is the family over the country, love for humanity over hate and revenge, on the way, a boy reaches boyhood. A masterpiece from master made during the Japanese Cinema’s Golden Era.

Dancing Girl aka Maihime (Mikio Naruse, 1951)

Dancing Girl aka Maihime (Mikio Naruse, 1951)

Dancing Girl aka Maihime (Mikio Naruse, 1951) “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, so said the great Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, a description fit best for Naruse’s Dancing Girl. Based on a novel by Yasunari Kawabata’s, with a script written by Kaneto Shindo, the story of a family on the edge of a volcanic eruption, for the wife loved, and still love another man, with two children, she lead an unhappy life with her husband, she had an affair that everyone knows about, but has managed to live with it for the last 20 years. Such illusion is no longer possible, as our heroine has to make a choice, being a Mother, a Wife, or a Lover. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake has been used so many times in cinema, so many, that is has become a cliché, but it at the hand of Naruse, in the last 3 minute of Dancing Girl, the camera take place of the composer, as the curtain come down in a finally that leave all things as to where they stand as the beginning of the film, again, the Mother has to sacrifice for the sake of the happiness of the children; she is frozen in the garden, eyes full of tears, the husband loom like a towering figure at a distance, as the camera track up to a high-angle two wide shot, they are now both like statues, distance from each others, ta ta ta, taaaaa, fade out to THE END, as the music spill into the black screen, marvelous.

Saikaku ichidai onna aka The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952)

Saikaku ichidai onna aka The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952)

Saikaku ichidai onna aka The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952) It takes two hours for Mizoguchi to tell the story of Oharu, because Mizoguchi is the master of long takes that drag on into eternity, yet, he always manages to get the emotional impact he desires in the viewer, at times, without using a single dialogue, the long tracking shots, the beautiful hight angle panning, just watch the last 6 minute of The Life of Oharu, that six minute is all you need to fall in love with the beauty of his cinema, such masterful use of the camera, the music, the composition that always has three layers; from the foreground, to the middle to the background, like a painter, Mizoguchi carefully arrange his subjects with the camera being his paint brush. In Mizoguchi’s cinema, you alway find a woman character who suffers, sacrifice and always end up a tragic figure, but Oharu has to be the ultimate victim among all of Mizoguchi’s characters, the fall decline and fall of Oharu is the most tragic; from a daughter, to an innocent girl in love, to a courtesan of a lord, to a wife, to a nun, to a prostitute and finally to a beggar, she is a victim of a society that is dominated by feudalism, class different and hierarchy, in which a woman’s role in society is that of being admired as a tool of pleasure by men. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Mizoguchi a feminist director as many has done, but he cared deeply about women’s suffrage, and women in his films always end up in the path of tragedy, in a world full of cruelty, being innocent and being guilty is equally damning, as they flow amid the tide of the time rules by society and not one’s will and action. A masterpiece from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema.

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (Douglas Sirk, 1952)

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (Douglas Sirk, 1952)

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (Douglas Sirk, 1952) We all know how masterful Sirk is at making melodrama, but I was surprised to see that the master could also do a bit of a comedy and musical, combine them with melodrama in a sentimental story. For what is Has Anybody Seen My Gal but a colorful and lyrical version of a Capara film? It is colorful for its beautiful use of the Technicolor, and it is lyrical for its masterful use of the seasons, Sirk loves to shoot the snowy white winter landscape and the yellow greenish fall, with the fallen leaves almost orang in color. Beside being the first collaboration between Sirk and Hudson, the film was also the first appearance of the young James Dean on the silver screen, he appear on the screen for no more than 15 second, but he leave a yawning of a lasting impression. The little story about a little family in an all little American town in which the appearance of money destroy that is little about them, Sirk’s take on the Americana, light, funny, not as dark or melodramatic as his later films, it is a beautiful one from the heart, and what a beautiful watch.

Kiss Me Kate (George Sidney, 1953)

Kiss Me Kate (George Sidney, 1953)

Kiss Me Kate (George Sidney, 1953) By its nature, the musical genre closest to a theatrical play when it come to cinema, for what challenge more an audience in suspension of belief than a character bursting into song out of nowhere, as the music come in with a chorus on the background, and, they start moving the hips. George Sidney’s Kiss Me Kate is one of the many musical with its plot intertwined with a stage play, it work on four different layers in suspension of belief; you have a film called Kiss Me Kate, within the film there is a play called Kiss Me Kate, within that play is an adaptation of another play called The Taming of the Shrew (I don’t have to tell you whose play that is!), and finally, as a viewer, you become the fourth stage into combing the other three into viewing of a film, that is why, for many viewer, Kiss Me Kate seem like a confused film, but I guarantee you it is not, it is a brilliant watch, and one of the best musicals ever made, and ironically, the film came out the same year as another favorite musical of mine, Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, a film that also work on four layers, for like Kiss Me Kate, it is a film about the theatricality of cinema. Put on your tapping shoe, and have a ago at Kiss Me Kate, you will be rewarded

Another Sky (Gavin Lambert, 1954)

Another Sky (Gavin Lambert, 1954)

Another Sky (Gavin Lambert, 1954) A collaborator in many of Nicholas Ray’s script, Gavin Lamber’s own creation, Another Sky is nothing short of a masterpiece, on the surface, it look like a mash between a David Lean film mixed with an Olmi one and lost in the spiritual territory of Dryer, underneath; a story of a doomed love, taking Rose intro the Desert in search for something that she knows clearly that it won’t be found, yet she keep searching for it, that thing is called “love”. A unique film unlike any others.

Toi kumo aka Tattered Wings (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1955)

Toi kumo aka Tattered Wings (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1955)

Toi kumo aka Tattered Wings (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1955) Poor Keizo, you can’t help but feel heartbroken for him, for he can’t get over the only women he ever loved, the shy and beautiful, Fuyuko (Hideko Takamine) . From the first frame of the film, that of a train approaching the camera, as Keizo come home after a long absent, to the last frame of it, a pan from a train leaving to a the cover of a poem book that once Keizo borrowed from Fuyuko. You not only feel heartbroken for Keizo, but also for Fuyuko, because the two are still madly in love with each other, but just as is Keizo is a free man, Fuyuko is a widow with a daughter to be take care off, the dilemma for her is not only of leaving her little daughter, but also the opinion of a population of a town in which everyone seem to know everyone’s else private affair. My favorite Kinoshita film has always been You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthermum; the story of an old man who goes back to visit his village after many years, and on the way, he reflect on the tragic love that he once had, all he could is reflect upon the past, but in Tattered Wing, reflection is not enough, Keizo has a second chance to get the woman he loved, and still is in love with, but not for once, not even when at the end of the film, Fuyuko get the ticket to get on the train and leave with Keizo to Tokyo, not for a second, we, as a viewer get convinced that the two lover will end up together, for all the odds are against them, and Fuyuko is not a woman with free will, as she put is, “I live in the present, but you still dream in the past”, too a realistic to a dreamer, that is the difference between Fuyuko and Keizo. Setsuko Hara might be the greatest of the Japanese actress in the Golden Age era, but in Hideko Takamine, one can’t help but praise the one actress that had the ability to compete with Hara, for like her, when she is on the screen, one can’t help but look at her, she steal the screen. Great film from the golden age of the Japanese cinema.

House Of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller, 1955)

House Of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller, 1955)

House Of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller, 1955) Robert Ryan is slowly climbing up to become my favorite American actor of the classic cinema, his subtle acting, his minimalist gestures, his calm and then explosive outburst are all made for him in Fuller’s House Of Bamboo, as a psychotic villain of a gangster living in Tokyo and Robert Stack is equally brilliant as an army investigator on an inside mission to track him down. It is tender film in style, but savage and brutal in content, such tendency with the camera, subtle movement to adjust; a little pan or a tilt, then, a long track side-angle, backward or forward. Watch how the characters walk, such grace, they turn, deliver a line, then walk of, each walking pace is calculated to register a movement in emotion. After killing his friend for thinking he was the snitch, watch how Ryan walk back into his house; the camera is a setup in a high side-angle, Ryan walk in screen left, the windows at first block him, until he come into the two third of the right of the frame, then we notice him fully, his head is down, he is dragging his feet, he pause, still looking into the ground, as the servant inform him that he got a visitor, he is listening, but also thinking, he raises his head, “Who?”, he is full of stillness, both hand in a gesture of a fist, when he get no name, he look screen right, take out his hat in a swift, hand it to the servant, then walk toward the camera, as he walk, the camera dolly up, now it is a high-angle, track up and backward, then a swift move to the right, as Ryan closes the door of the room on the right, the camera tricked us, for now, it track back, and dolly down to a two shot, by now we see who the visitor is, it is his inside man, he has come to tell him who the snitch is. That is how masterfully Fuller uses his camera to register little detail as a character’s walking and gesture into an emotional impact, the film is full of it, full of brilliant moments like that, beautiful, tender, raw, and savage. That is the cinema of Sam Fuller.

Stranger on Horseback (Jacques Tourneur, 1955)

Stranger on Horseback (Jacques Tourneur, 1955)

Stranger on Horseback (Jacques Tourneur, 1955) The same year that Tourneur made his best Western, Wichita, he also made Stranger on Horseback, the story take place in the newly conquered frontier of the West, as powerful landlords once conquered the land, now ruled it according to their pleasure, that of the gun, a newly appointed Judge is determined to bring law and order to the place, that Judge is no other than Joel McCrea, as he ride into the town, reading a book. “A United State circuit Judge needed three things to bring justice to this country; a law book, a horse, and a gun. The further West he got, the less he needed the book”, what follow is one man’s attempt to face an established law based on dog eat dog, at the end, he seem to triumph in bringing justice in one case, but he must use violent in order to do so, he win only after the Landlord decide not to fight anymore a a losing battle not worth fighting for, it is his mercy that save the Judge. Just over an hour in length, the film flow beautifully like a small fable

Ludwig II- Glanz und Ende eines Königs aka Mad Emperor- Ludwig II (Helmut Kautner, 1955)


Ludwig II- Glanz und Ende eines Königs aka Mad Emperor- Ludwig II (Helmut Kautner, 1955)

Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende eines Königs aka Mad Emperor: Ludwig II (Helmut Kautner, 1955) Kautner’s Ludwig II got everything, the music from the operas of Richard Wagner, even Wagner himself is in the film, it has a love story, power struggle, war, romantic and lyrical scenery, brilliant Technicolor cinematography, and it even got Klaus Kinski playing the role of Otto, Ludwig’s schizophrenic brother, a role best fit for him. Beautiful film, with O. W. Fischer playing the role of the romantic king brilliantly, toward the end, he become almost the mirror of Nikolai Cherkasov’s role of Ivan in Eisenstein’s in Ivan the Terrible. Masterful film.

Calle Mayor aka Main Street (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1956)

Calle Mayor aka Main Street (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1956)

Calle Mayor aka Main Street (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1956) My second film from Bardem, after Death of a Cyclist, and I have to say, Calle Mayor is a masterpiece in psychological suspense. The story of a fallen women become a mediation on the nature of men’s cruelty, the realization of the truth in one’s inner personality as it clashes with that of the culture, the acceptance of such suffering and inability to escape it. Without being too political, any viewer who is familiar with the history of Franco’s Spain, might easily find the similarity of the small providential town and Spain, everyone seem to know everyone else’s little secret, they all behave like one another, or pretend to do, multiple exposure to religious and military imagery, not to mention, the inability of anyone to confess the truth, as the truth seem to harm more than heal. And Betsy Blair, what a performance, even as her voice is dubbed, her facial performance is all needed, the flicker in her eyes, only she could convince a viewer of that innocent look of being in love at the age of 36, yet behaving like a young girl of 16, she is brilliant, and she make the film brilliant with her.

Sudden Rain (Mikio Naruse, 1956)

Sudden Rain (Mikio Naruse, 1956)

Sudden Rain (Mikio Naruse, 1956) I remember vividly the moments after I watched my first Naruse, Sound of the Mountain, made only two years before Sudden Rain, I was so overwhelmed with emotion at the ending, that I had to re-watch again and again the scene, to know what had made me so overwhelmed, it was two reasons; the mastery of Naruse at building the hidden emotion of the suffering wife to such a peak, when at the end, it is reached, it leave you devastated in expressing such sympathy with her, for hiding emotion is more powerful than showing it, the second reason had to be the great Setsuko Hara, she is so brilliant at playing the suffering wife in both Sound of the Mountain and Sudden Rain, at hiding her emotion, she suffers so much silently, that you have no choice but to feel for her, to empathize with this character whom always at the end breakdown in tears, that is the magic of Setsuko Hara, you never know what her next emotion is, she hide more than she show, she is the moral of every woman that any man would want, yet, in Sudden Rain, her civil servant husband is too busy looking at her neighbor’s wife, worrying about his financial situation and his stomach to notice such a gem, a great film from two of the greatest, two from the golden era of the Japanese cinema, one of them is still alive, the great Setsuko Hara.

The Girl Can’t Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956)

The Girl Can’t Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956)

The Girl Can’t Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956) I have to tell you the truth, I was fooled when The Girl Can’t Help It starting playing, the screen was boxed, and I though my TV set was all wrong, as I was trying to fix it, came along Edmund OBrien, telling us that we are about to see a motion picture in the “grandeur of Cinemascope”, and only then does he push the frame into the sides as the life like color of Deluxe come in also, nice trick from Tashlin. Expect a journey into the world of of Rockabilly and early Rock, one of early film to make use of pop music of the time and use it to the best of the film. For a comedy, you got to have a main character suffer much, he got to be below the common man, and you got the ugliest leading man of Hollywood playing the leading role, Edmund OBrien, and he always manage to get the hottest lady in the film, the bombshell, Jayne Mansfield. And expect to have your Tashlin jokes, clashing the beauty and the beast into one, as it is toward the end of the film; one of the most beautiful love song set to close-up of the most unattractive couples listening to it, hilarious and mocking take of the youth of the day and the music, that of the Rock, in which anybody can write a rock song and get into the top of the chart,, “One rock, two rock, three rocks, four rocks. Big Rocks, Small Rocks, Short Rocks, Talk Rocks”, hilarious in a world of make believe that is no longer possible. Genius.

H-8 (Nikola Tanhofer, 1958)

H-8 (Nikola Tanhofer, 1958)

H-8 (Nikola Tanhofer, 1958) It was Alfred Hitchock who once differed between Suspense and Surprise; Showing a ticking bomb in a car that is about to explode in a designated time is Suspense, but not showing the bomb, the ticking of the clock, just showing the explosion to the audience, that is Surprise. So it is with Nikola Tanhofer’s H-8, a well crafted little film in suspect from former Yugoslavia, the part of today’s Croatia. What start as two men narrating a sporting game, soon become the suspenseful story of a deadly crash between a bus and a truck, at first, the victims are just numbers, but as we begin to know them, each one unique in character, the suspense become a guess game as to “Who is taking what seat in the bus?”, for we are told which passenger in which seat is among the victims, and we wait impatiently to find out. Great one.

Il tempo si e fermato aka Time Stood Still (Ermanno Olmi, 1959)

Il tempo si e fermato aka Time Stood Still (Ermanno Olmi, 1959)

Il tempo si e fermato aka Time Stood Still (Ermanno Olmi, 1959) Ah, Olmi, how much I love your early cinema, for your started like a genius of an artist, knowing his art best, for you started simple, all great artist achieve simplicity at the end, but you reached that simplicity in cinema from beginning, for rarely cinema is capable of achieving such simplicity in story and character as in Il tempo si e fermato, indeed time does stand still for Olmi, as he does what he is best at; showing every day life on the screen to such perfection that you get glued watching a man preparing a dinner, even if you had already seen the same action being repeated twice before. There are only three characters in Il tempo si e fermato; one of them last for 5 minute, the other two are the heart of the film, two men, one old and one young, living on a snowy mountain, watching over a dam frozen until summer. What does their lives consists off? Nothing, they sleep, wake up, eat breakfast, maybe ski a little, then eat lunch, eat dinner, play checkers, read a book, prepare their bed, and sleep. That is what Il tempo si e fermato is, only, thought these little action, we are shown two characters and the development of their relationship; from distance and cold observer, to two friend helping each other, for “no man is an island”, as the saying goes. Like Bresson, Olmi’s characters are so real, so genuine, that when the film is over, you keep thinking about them, what ever happened to them? That is why, you never want an Olmi film to end, it is so full of life, so simple, and so beautiful.

The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959- 1961)

The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959- 1961)

The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959- 1961) I had a chance to watch Kobayashi’s The Human Condition Trilogy over a period of one night, a few years ago, I had a chance to watch all three film that make the trilogy in span of three week, in the form of low quality VHS, all three, No Greater Love (1959), The Road to Eternity (1960) and A Soldier’s Prayer (1961). Made in span of three years, one rarely notices the span of time passed between each film, it flows beautifully, unless watched all three together, one misses the real power of the film; the hero’s change from a young naive innocent humanist early in the film to a monster at the end of it; the humans are that monster in time of war, only evil triumph, the bad one win, the good one lose, and as saying goes, “in the land of the blinds, one must cover one’s eyes”, so it goes in times of wars, no matter how hard our hero try to do goodness, one is not enough to change a world full of cruelty, and in the face of institutions made to suppress, one is helpless. Epic filmmaking at its best.

Seryozha aka A Summer to Remember (Georgi Daneliya & Igor Talankin, 1960)

Seryozha aka A Summer to Remember (Georgi Daneliya & Igor Talankin, 1960)

Seryozha aka A Summer to Remember (Georgi Daneliya & Igor Talankin, 1960) Charming little film about the beautiful time in one’s life; that of childhood. A summer in the life of little Serge, from meeting his new father in a beautiful summer day to the end in which separation from his Mother, Father and little Brother become too tragic to bear in the snowy wintter, in between, Seryozha is a film constructed around little sequences of seeing the world from the eyes of a little child; getting his first bicycle ride, his first bad behaviors, meeting his uncle and shouting at him, “You are a fool”, seeing the birth of a little calve, experiencing of the outside world in a little seashell that is brought to them by a ship captain, being separates from his best friends, getting ready for his first day in school, his first and long walk in the corridors into his classrooms, his first envy arose by the birth of his little brother, the dark notion of wishing one’s death in order to punish others, and the moment of realization of knowing the separation from loved one, of growing into the world of the adults, nostalgic and beautiful little film.

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961) Once I was asked a question, “Karzan, what film would you want to live in?”, “I’ll sell my soul to be in the films of Boris Barnet!”, and I still do, because his films are beautiful, they are visual poems, poetic emotions captured in time, once you finish a Barnet film, you feel a tearful joy of experiencing the highest form of art that cinema can ever achieve; that of communicating a truthful emotion that everyone can relate too, once cinema was beautiful, as Alyonka is beautiful; Take a road trip with a handful of characters on the back of an old truck in the vast landscapes of Soviet’s steppe, they each has a story to tell, the pivot to each one’s story is little Alyonka, they all tell simple stories about love, friendship, birth, death, suffering, joy, in a one word, about emotions. It is shot like a colorful silent film, take each frame, it is a postcard made of gold, you laugh and you cry with them, you become their friends, and like all friends, when you are separated from them at the end, you feel nostalgic to the joyful time that you once spent together, and you wonder at their next journey, that is how real characters are in a Barnet film, and in Alyonka, everyone is beautiful, everyone is full of charm, full of grace, even little characters that appear on the screen for a few seconds leave lasting impression; the nurse, the waiter, the little boy of the steppe, the old man, the shepherd, they all smile, full of life, even in time of tragedy, they are still full of life, if only life were as beautiful as the cinema of Boris Barnet, the most Chekhovian among the Soviet filmmakers; such beauty of life in Alyonka comes from a man, who four years later would commit suicide at the age of 63. Another masterpiece from a master, what a joy to watch.

Adieu Philippine (Jacques Rozier, 1962)

Adieu Philippine (Jacques Rozier, 1962)

Adieu Philippine (Jacques Rozier, 1962) Ah, the French New Wave, more than 5 decades later, it is still refreshing to watch a French New Wave film than a dozen recent films combined. Everything is so innocent, as if the birth of cinema were not in the late 1800s, but rather, the early 1956s. With its loose plot, giveaway moment, raw cinematography, improvisation, and that wonderful breaking of the third walls, those marvelous scenes when the characters stare at you, from beyond the silver screen, they gesture to you as if you are part of their world, and they of ours, the cinema that should have ended all cinemas. Adieu Philippine is an essential example of the French New Wave watch, a nostalgic one to watch, and that ending, shot at a distance, we are kept in the cold and far away from the characters, yet, it leave you in the edge of tears. Masterful.

Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963)

Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963)

Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963) What a brilliant little noble film Ladybug Ladybug is, an absolute masterpiece of amateurish filmmaking, what seem to be a shattered film that is symbolic, amateurish, simple, lyrical, and small, turns little by little into a masterpiece of showing rather than telling. The essence of the film is the collective fear of individuals that is part of the American culture with its politically media frenzy campaigns of manipulating the public, what is so brilliant about Ladybug Ladybug is that we see the fear from the POV of children that are more aware of a world full of madness run by the adults, the fear of an all out nuclear attack slowly show the true characters and morality of the collective madness of a society that few left to think independently on their own, only the children seem to understand the madness, for the adults, they don’t question, they only fear. Ladybug Ladybug is a timeless masterpiece that hold more truth to today’s war and fear mongering state of the public attitude in US as it was true during the nuclear phobia of the 60s. Timeless.

Les veuves de 15 ans aka The Fifteen Year Old Widows (Jean Rouch, 1964)

Les veuves de 15 ans aka The Fifteen Year Old Widows (Jean Rouch, 1964)

Les veuves de 15 ans aka The Fifteen Year Old Widows (Jean Rouch, 1964) It Just take under half an hour for Rouch’s fictional take on the boring lives and ” commentary on teenagers in Paris in 1964″, more than 48 years later, the lives of today’s teenagers in any materialist country is no different, for the exception they had better taste in music and the arts and dressed better than today’s teenagers. Half the film is one person asking a question, and the other answering, always in search for some meaning a life that is fast, but empty. “Why do you come here then?”, “Cause we don’t have anything else to do”. “Are you happy Veronique?”, “No, but I don’t have time to be unhappy”. “Do you like sex?”, “I did once… but I don’t remember who it was with anymore”. “So why do you keep doing it?”, “To be like everyone else”. “Do you know what the definition of liberty is?”, “Everything is possible, nothing is compulsory. And like that, all alone, you’ve invented liberty”. “What do you want to do later on?”, “Later on I’ll be like everyone else: I’ll be unhappy”. “Do you believe in love?”, “Love… I’d like to believe in it but it’s nasty”. “Family? Do you believe it can still exist?”, “No, I don’t believe it. Family is good for life in the country, but in today’s cities it isn’t possible”. Still, it got a little hope in the end; “Do you think that I can be happy?”, “I think it’s very difficult”, “Even if it’s very difficult, even if I’ve only got one chance in a million, I accept the risk.” Masterful little film.

Chimes At Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

Chimes At Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

Chimes At Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965) Welles is not known for directing action sequences, but just watch the 10 minute battle scene in Chimes At Midnight and you will be amazed at the mastery of Welles in creating one of the most memorable battle scenes in any films, The Battle of Shrewsbury, raw, realistic, ugly, brutal and full of humor, as the men battle it out, our hero, Falstaff (played by no other than Welles himself) run from one bushes into another, a coward of a realistic that want to get all the glory, but a genius who knows that the battle is nothing short of a children game, so why not behave like a spoiled child. The story of a friendship betrayed, Welles takes the best from multiple Shakespeare plays with the character, Falstaff at the center of the film, he boats about everything from nothingness, but you can’t help loving the man, for he spoke the truth in the most abstract ways, he is the most theatrical characters among Shakespeare’s plays, and it is not wonder Welles take on the role with a fake nose, for Chimes At Midnight is nothing short of a masterfully crafted cinematic film of capturing a theatrical play, Welles does not shy away from being theatrical, he pushes it to the limit. The Battle of Shrewsbury sequences is one for the ages.

Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks, 1965)

Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks, 1965)

Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks, 1965) Hawk’s Red Line 7000 open with a frozen image of a racing car in flame and it closes with another frozen image of a racing car in flame, and in between, Red Line 7000 is packed with explosive emotional roller-coaster in the lives of fast driven men as they exchange places on the race and off the race, that is, with the women. Life and the game become a reflection of one another, be it in the clubs or in the racing arena, the battle is to be faster than the man you are leveled with, among the best and early film that tackle the professionals naivety of rivalry in sport, never miss a Hawk film.

The Rounders (Burt Kennedy, 1965)

The Rounders (Burt Kennedy, 1965)

The Rounders (Burt Kennedy, 1965) Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford played in many great western, but rarely to such hilarious end as in Kennedy’s The Rounders, despite having a well crafted script, you many call The Rounders, the closes among the Western that has the spirt of its time, that of the French New Wave, with its giveaway moments, characterization and little incidents above the plot, the story of the friendship between two man and a crazy horse, is nothing short of being among the most charming Western ever put on the screen, with Fonda and Ford stealing the show, not to mention the short glimpse of the young Warren Oates. A Peckinpah without the violent, there is even a tribute to Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country. A film about two aging cowboy living in a lost a time.

Young Cassidy (Ford-Cardiff, 1965)

Young Cassidy (Ford-Cardiff, 1965)

Young Cassidy (Ford-Cardiff, 1965) The title said a “John Ford Film”, but the directing credit goes Jack Cardiff, and the film, a wonderful adaptation of Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey’s biographical book, Mirror in My House. The now forgotten Sean O’Casey, who once W.B.Yeats labeled him as “Irish Doestovsky”, and in 1930, Hitchock adopted his play, Juno and Paycock into a film. Don’t look for the famed Sean O’Casey in the film, for it is about young Cassidy before, during and shortly after the establishment of the Irish Free State, living in Dublin, in poverty, self educated, working by day, reading and writing by night, he loses everything in life that he loves, only to triumph in his art, a tragic figure he is. It is not hard to tell which scenes in the film belong to Ford and which to Cariff, to name one for each; the sequence of the dying mother is pure Fordian, the visual image speak there, the all sacrificing loving mother, her last act in life was for her son. The worker’s riot sequence has to belong to Cardiff, for Ford never uses such bold violence nor bold montage. Rod Taylor give a brilliant performance, he is as explosive in rage as he is in gentleness. Beautiful, lyrical and nostalgic, cinema as it used to be.

A Falecida aka The Deceased (Leon Hirszman, 1965)

A Falecida aka The Deceased (Leon Hirszman, 1965)

A Falecida aka The Deceased (Leon Hirszman, 1965) Based on a Nelson Rodrigues story, Leon Hirszman’s A Falecida is another dark film from Brazilian Cinema Novo, that dig deep into the nihilistic of the human psyche in which the wife only care for having an expensive funeral as she is on the edge of dying physically, emotionally, she is already dead, as for the husband, impatiently waiting for the Vasco to play Fluminense, and to see his darling Ademir to score, he is more devastated in hearing about Ademir’s injury than his wife’s sickness, he is rather be at the game than at his wife’s funeral, that is why, that ironic ending is so symbolic; is the poor man crying amide the crowd because his wife has past away or is it because Ademir is not playing? You decide. Timeless film from Brazilian Cinema Novo.

Trans-Europ-Express (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1966)

Trans-Europ-Express (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1966)

Trans-Europ-Express (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1966) Robbe-Grillet’s timeless masterpiece, Trans-Europ-Express, is a film in the process of deconstruction of constructing a narrative film in which past, present, and future are all divided equally on the screen, it is not the first nor the last film of the kind, the first is perhaps no other than Alain Resnais’s L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Robbe-Grillet worked on the film as a screenwriter and dialogist), in Trans-Europ-Express, the narrative is written in a process of seeing what is unknown of becoming known, sound a little abstract, but it is very simple; you are watching a film being made into a film, as characters take both a fictional and a realistic role, you may call the dilemma of poor Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is that of being lost in a fictional film not knowing the logical order of time and space, he has no psychological depth, his mind belong to the viewer, he act as the storyteller wishes him to act, he is confronting and running away from the camera, trying to escape the space and time he is put in, but like a little puppet, he is on a string, played with by Robbe-Grillet, we are constantly remained that not only we are watching a film, but we are in the process of deconstructing of constructing a narrative film based on distortions and contradictions, nothing appear to be what they are, nor anything is what what it seems to be, in Trans-Europ-Express it is even possible for the dead to rise, to stare at us and laugh, “Kids, you been watching a film and nothing else”. Timeless.

War and Peace (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1967)

War and Peace (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1967)

War and Peace (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1967) I remember the first time I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I felt in love with the book, so majestic, I felt that I was not reading a book, but rather living it, lived the moments, I felt in love with Natasha just as André does when he listen to her on the balcony, I cried like Natasha when André dies, felt the cloud and the sky as Andre lay on the ground with Napolen looking down on him, “What a beautiful Death”. I felt it, because Tolstoy is God among the all the writers, he is the greatest of them all, and War and Peace is the greatest Novel ever written. So put yourself in the shoes of poor Bondarchuk, how can you make a great film out of the greatest novel ever written? He does it by pulling all the tricks off the the cinematic book, everything that is cinema is capable off, Bondarchuk does it in War and Peace, take the camera, it take the form of all being and none-being, it become a rock, a tree, the sun, the moon, the grass, the rivers, it is everything, among the countless memorable passages in War and Peace is after the hunt, when the Wolf is captured, Tolstoy take us into the mind of that poor Wolf as it observe the madness around, Bondarchuk even capture that moment in the film beautifully as the camera take the POV of the Wolf. Lush, beautiful and pure majestic, a great film from a great novel.

La prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini, 1967)

La prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini, 1967)

La prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini, 1967) The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is Rossellini’s first colorful dive into historical films about historical figures that would set his future filmmaking, and it is by far, his best among the many he would make later for Television, and it must be said, although not sure, but the film must have had some influence on Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, not just the slow pace, the realistic and accuracy, the long shots, but even the use of classical music in the film and small details giving to everyday life in the time of the Sun King. The film open with the decline and later death of Cadrinal Richelieu and the rise of Louis XIV, the young king soon portray himself as an absolute ruler over the aristocracy, he might be called the Sun King, but in Rossellini’s film, he is a man no different from others deep down, even if he eat his lunch in a court with hundreds watching his every move, in the end, he is in his room, undressing, with a book in his hand, trying to make out the meaning of it, in La Rochefoucauld’s maxim, “Neither the sun nor death can be gazed upon fixedly”, you might be Louis XIV, but you are just another human. Masterful.

Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967)

Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967)

Edipo re aka Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967) I always thought that Sophocles wrote King Oedipus to prove his ultimate thought; man was controlled by destiny and not free will, and perhaps, the best examination of that though can be found in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s small masterpiece, Oedipus Rex, a modern take on a post-modern tragic hero, poor Oedipus, he does his best to let his will decide his fate, only to realize in the end, that destiny masters his will, blinded by his own dagger, he shouts to the darkness; “Thus I will no loner see the evil I have suffered and done. In the dark, I will not see what should not be seen. I will not recognize those I wanted to recognize. I should have severed also my ears. To seal up in myself, in my unhappy body. To see and hear nothing again. It is sweet to have the mind outside evil. Impure things must be kept silent, not spoken of, not testified to; Silence!” The next shot; we find the blind Oedipus in the modern day Rome, as he play his flute, he can not, and will not see anymore, he become silence with only music as his companion, he finally has found a way in escaping his destiny, in silence and music.

The Man Without A Map (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1968)

The Man Without A Map (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1968)

The Man Without A Map (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1968) The radical Teshigahara of the 60s couldn’t get more radical than this; take Philip Marlow and mash him with Antonion’s Blow-up and you get The Man Without A Map, it is indeed a magnificent films without a map, unlike many detective film, instead of the detective being observer, he get observed, by no other than the camera, no other than the viewer, the film has some of the greatest psychedelic framing ever put on the screen, the camera seem to be high, it is indeed. What you get in The Man Without A Map is nothing, but that is its greatest, you are taking to ride to the nowhere, in which nothing is what it seem to be, everything happened on their own, the only logic is that of searching in the land of the nowhere. A forgotten masterpiece.

Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968)

Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968)

Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968) You may call the whole cinema of Alain Resnais as a time machine, in which the image is essentially exist independent from time and space, so it is no wonder that the whole plot of Je t’aime, je t’aime is about a man in search of his past, not his whole past, but rather, a single moment of it, yet, he never seem to capture it, for the past, the present, and the future only exist within one dimension at a time, in attempting to capture all three, one end up in a chase of capturing time itself, but time has no master, but in Je t’aime, je t’aime, cinema captures times, as past, present and future become one, a testimony to an art form that no other can match. Alain Resnais knew it, that is why, his films has captured time itself, in them staying forever young, never getting old. Masterpiece from a master.

Horus, Prince Of The Sun (Isao Takahata, 1968)

Horus, Prince Of The Sun (Isao Takahata, 1968)

Horus, Prince Of The Sun (Isao Takahata, 1968) Among the first collaboration between Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Horus is a landmark animation film from Japan, the one that will set the standard for the rest to follow. With its lyrical and beautiful scene design by Miyazaki, a story that seem to be out of Goethe’s Faust, as the battle of the good vs evil rage on (clear scene reference to Murnau’s Faust is present throughout the film), with a mix of Greek Myth, Russian and Japanese folk song as the chorus sing along. Horus, Prince Of The Sun is a fresh masterpiece today as the day it was made. Simply, beautiful.

Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, 1969)

Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, 1969)

Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, 1969) “The Whole World is Watching. The Whole World is Watching”, so echo the sound of the protester over the final scene of Medium Cool, as one camera’s lens zoom into another lens of a camera, that seconds before captured a car crash as an observer. You may call Medium Cool as a film on observation, observed by us the viewer through the lens of a camera, it is about Wexler capturing the moments as they happen, rarely ever attempting to change it. A film on a culture obsessed with observation of violence in both media and real life, it is no wonder that it end with the riot at the Democratic Convention, tanks vs demonstrators. A film that lack narrative must capture moments in observation for it to make the viewer sequence the emotional impact, or rather reflect upon lack of emotion. Medium Cool may seem like a confused film about a confused period of the American culture, it lack narrative, but it make up for by slicing the film into various sequence, each work independent from each other, can be viewed apart from each other, but, combined, it is the best indirect observation of American in late 60s, it is an experimental film made by a man obsessed more with the camera as a tool of capturing reality than telling a narrative fictional tale, that is why, the best scenes in the film are that of documentary nature. We remember Haskell Wexler for his beautiful use of natural light, as a genius cinematographer (think of Days of Heaven), but I tell you this, he was a damn good filmmaker also, and his shortcoming was working in a system that valued fictional filmmaking above all others, and it is no wonder he only managed to make only one film, but a good one.

Rio Lobo (Howard Hawks, 1970)

Rio Lobo (Howard Hawks, 1970)

Rio Lobo (Howard Hawks, 1970) By the time Hawks made Rio Lobo, he had already achieved immortality as that of a master filmmaker, for over 40 years, making one masterpiece after another, so it was no wonder that the master take his craft to the limit of simplicity in Rio Lobo, and the in process, making one of the most charming and lazy Western ever made, it is a wonderful watch, the film drag on so smoothly that by the time it is over, you rarely notice that you have been watching a film for the last two hour, almost a Western meet a Screwball Comedy, with characters driving the film rather than the plot, and they don’t act, they just talk, scenes that seem to have been improvised on the set, just like the opening credit of a hand playing a Guitar, Hawks take us like a string and play with us anyway he pleases, from laughters to share horror of cruelty, and always, he is playing on that middle note, never swinging a note to either side, a master craftsman is always a master, and Hawks has always been a master filmmaker.

Uomini Contro (Francesco Rosi, 1970)

Uomini Contro (Francesco Rosi, 1970)

Uomini Contro (Francesco Rosi, 1970) In war, everything that is innocent must perish, so it is in Rosi’s Uomini Contro, among one of most realistic anti-war film, set during the trench battles of WWI, with the enemy not being the Austrian, but rather the bureaucracy in the chain of command in the Italian army, as one General is capable of sending thousands of men into their death, the line between tragedy and comedy is drawn to the perfection, the tragedy is so great, that is become comical at times, with the genius behind the film being no other than the great screenwriter, Toni Guerra, I can’t think of any other writing such ironic scenes, that is between sanity and insanity to such tragic scale that is become comical, as is the scenes with the brutal General Leone sending men to death out of nothing but curiosity. Great one.

Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes, 1971)

Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes, 1971)

Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes, 1971) Minnie and Moskowitz, two loners, in love with Bogart’s film, living in a world that despite them, yet, they want to be loved, to be romantically in love, yet, always end up fighting, then, peace again, for a short time, back fighting again. They are like two children, they never show what they feel, always hiding their emotion, then again, at times they burst open all their desires and feeling, only to hide it again. You may call Cassavetes’ cinema, his films, as a long chain of examination of human relationship, his characters are always desperate for something, they think they know what they want, but when they get it, they feel betrayed by their emotion, that emotion that shift from tenderness into madness in a split second, that is why, every character in a Cassavetes film is a true character, they are not mere fictional creation on the screen, they are real, you feel them, you relate to them, and you know them, then when the film is over, you think about them. That is the genius of Cassavetes, he create a realism that is hard not to relate too, to believe in. Minnie Moore always wear dark glasses, even at night, why? To hide her eyes, because in her eyes is where her emotion is, and she never want you to see it, but you feel it. On the other hand, Seymour Moskowitz is a showman, he want to be seen, to be known, to be observed, but when things get tough, he run away, he does not wear dark glasses to hide his emotion, he either run away, or become violent. They are two people outsider of what society call ‘normal human”, but they are not rebels either, they want to belong, but they have hard time belonging, they are characters of out the beautiful cinema of John Cassavetes.

The Adventures Of Cheburashka (Roman Kachanov, 1971-1983)

The Adventures Of Cheburashka (Roman Kachanov, 1971-1983)

The Adventures Of Cheburashka (Roman Kachanov, 1971-1983) No other stop-motion animation can top Kachanov’s The Adventures Of Cheburashka with its masterly of technique, form and a heart warming story. The cute little Cheburashka and the wise always forgiven crocodile, Gena, are two eternal characters, it is hard for one not to fall in love with them. Almost a recreation of Chaplin, with sentimentally that are as heart warming as any Chaplin film, the comedy comes from little incidents that are beyond charming. The first scene of the first episode set the tone; little Cheburashka is founded when a grocer open an orange box, poor Cheburashka, thinking he is from a country called “Orange”, and those nostalgic songs, once you heard them, you never forget them.

Sbatti il mostro in Prima Pagina aka Slap the Monster on the Front Page (Marco Bellocchio, 1972)

Sbatti il mostro in Prima Pagina aka Slap the Monster on the Front Page (Marco Bellocchio, 1972)

Sbatti il mostro in Prima Pagina aka Slap the Monster on the Front Page (Marco Bellocchio, 1972) Bellocchio’s film all deal with the dark side of the human psyche lost in the political spectrum, Sbatti il mostro in Prima Pagina is Bellocchio condemnation of the press, that monster that only uplhold what is best fit to sell, to manipulate the public’s opinion with simple propaganda, turning which ever side it best fit, as the manipulative publisher (Gian Maria Volonte) put it best, “We have to be a Protagonist and not just an observer”, only that, the press is the antagonist, the mass is the herd, the innocent are the guilty, the guilty are innocent, even the editor himself is a pawn at the hand of a capitalist owner, making him sing his tunes. Another masterful film from 70s Italy, a thrilling murder mystery with political twist to it that best describe the turmoil of Italy in the 70s.

Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini, 1972)


Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini, 1972)

Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini, 1972) Blair Pascal, the man whom every student remember for the theory of probabilities is just a simple human in Rossellini’s minimalist portrayal of the man who tried once to prove the existence of God by waging at a gambling table, unlike the many glamorized portrayal of of historical figures that Hollywood love to make, in Rossellin’s film, everything is shown to its smallest and realistic detail, as if, a time machine had taking him back to capture the life and death of Blaise Pascal, among memorable scenes included; a somber and masterfully directed death scene in the end of the film, truly brilliant.

Chung Kuo – Cina (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1972)

Chung Kuo – Cina (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1972)

Chung Kuo – Cina (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1972) After his triumph, the master of the art cinema of the 60s, in early 70s, Antonioni took a break to make this wonderful documentary for TV on China after the Cultural Revolution, it is about China in 1972, but also about historical China, its culture and people, above all, it is a film about the common people and their daily lives, as Antonioni’s camera zoom into faces trying to register an emotion. Slow in pace, more than 3 hours in length, not a single minute of boredom, for its is a colorful and a beautiful documentary, that neither judge nor condemn, it only shows, not to be missed.

The Visitors (Elia Kazan, 1972)

The Visitors (Elia Kazan, 1972)

The Visitors (Elia Kazan, 1972) When immoral institutions allow men to act immoral toward others, then, all men are targets. War is immoral, and the men fighting immoral wars become immoral, no matter how hard one try, few of the immoral can become moral, for they lack reason in thinking, acting and behaving. Made during the peak of the Vietnam war, Kazan’s The Visitors is a look at the home front during war time, everything in the film is dreary, a dreary mood, building up to a violent climax, and Kazan’s style help, shaky camera, use of zoom, close framing, naturalistic use of light, and parallel cutting to two different action simultaneously. The war might be at a distance, but the home front is equality violent, even the sport they watch on TV seem to reflect that violent. When the stillness comes before the storm, when the peace lady dance a waltz with the solider, you know it won’t last long, for the two playing the same game won’t play by the same rule, “Lady you are nut, you think you can change the rules in the middle?”. Two different world on a collusion, each going a separate way, with only one thing in common, that of not knowing why. Written by a son, directed by a father aware of the My Lai massacre. Kazan’s The Visitors and Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, two film made in span of a year, reflect not only at the violent nature of a society, but also viewer’s observation of that violence, “It only happen on the screen”, but it happen outside of the screen more often. Kazan’s film fit best with the rest of the many masterpieces of 70s American cinema.

La Maman et la putain (Jean Eustache, 1973)

La Maman et la putain (Jean Eustache, 1973)

La Maman et la putain (Jean Eustache, 1973) Jut like a Bresson film, no matter how many time you watch La Maman et la putain, you always end up taking the characters in the film for real people, did Alexander marry her at the end? You ask yourself, knowing clearly that Alexander is no other than Jean-Pierre Leaud, in his best performance of any film. La Maman et la putain is among those films that I worship, I adore, I love, and like those other ones, I get back to watching it at least once a year, each time, discovering something new, for it is full of life. You may call it a tale of two film, the first one is all about Alexander talking and talking, then talking and talking to others, he get to like to the talking so much, that he start looking at the camera and talking to us, the second tale of the film is that of him listening, he listen, and listen, he listen s as others talk, yes, it get to a point, that he just stare at us listening. If you ever wanted to watch a film that is true to life, so full of quotation that it become a textbook to quote from, then watch La Maman et la putain, for it is a film to be quoted.

The Gambler (Karl Ruiz, 1974)

The Gambler (Karl Ruiz, 1974)

The Gambler (Karl Ruiz, 1974) The brain behind The Gambler is the script by James Toback, more of an adaptation of two masterwork by Doestovsky, The Gambler and Notes from Underground, no man knew more about a Gambler’s obsessions with winning and gambling addiction than Doestovsky, he was a master gambler himself, writing some of his masterpiece just to pay off his debts, the tribute is clear in the film, with quotation and poster of the master hanging all over James Cann’s rooms. The obsession of a true gambler is not just to win, but also, the risk of losing, the higher the risk, the bigger the thrill. Another forgotten one from 70s.

Mandingo (Richard Fleischer, 1975)

Mandingo (Richard Fleischer, 1975)

Mandingo (Richard Fleischer, 1975) More than 25 years later, Mandingo is still as provocative as the day it was made, and it is a film that is only possible to have been made in the 70s. It is hard to imagine a big studio with big stars would make such film, with its true portrayal of slavery, rarely does it ask for sympathy from the viewer, rather, it tells it as it is, human psychology in the face of a brutal system, in which a man is valued as a mere commodity. Among the forgotten masterpieces of the 70s American cinema.

Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975)

Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975)

Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975) One thing is for sure in a Hal Ashby film, everyone speed up at a stop sign. On the surface, Shampoo seem like a simple comedy, but underneath, it is as complex as Renoir’s Rules of the Games. Just notice the droopy face of Nixon on the background, the films almost has a perfect duration running with the election campaign of Nixon, George’s downfall comes at the exact time when Nixon make his winning speech, and to Ashby, the counter-culture revolution seem to have managed to jump another decade, with its hero a hairdresser of a playboy, almost a perfect comic of a tragic hero, as the women always seem to get the best of him, too many is too few as the few become scare. Ashby’s touch is all over the place, with its rapid twist of dark humor that leave you laughing amid the twist of the never ending plots.

Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975)

Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975)

Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975) The 17th century social reform and writer, Gerrard Winstanley is more of a mashing figure of Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau and Karl Marx, with his call for the equal sharing and distribution of land, rejection of organized religion, rejection of commodity and money, gaining one’s bread by one’s plowing of the land, and living on earth’s natural resources, creating self-sufficient farming community with his flowers know as the Diggers, despite hard condition and daily attacks by the land owners. To its time, Gerrard Winstanley might have been viewed as an anarchist, but that is nothing compared to some of his followers that include a group that seem to be out of 60′s radical hippie movement, with their rejection of all morality and call for free love, something that make poor Gerrard Winstanley a mere anarchist compare to them. With its historical accuracy, documentary filmmaking that fit best the style of Peter Watkins films, Winstanley is a small masterpiece that put to shame the stylish and big budgets Hollywood production of the time, a film with a big heart.

Galileo (Joseph Losey, 1976)

Galileo (Joseph Losey, 1976)

Galileo (Joseph Losey, 1976) I remember the first time I read Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo, I was a kid, and to me the plot of that play was the suspense of wither Galileo would be burned on the stick or not? It was year’s later when I re-read the play in English did I really understood the real plot of the film; how far can a man go to stand for what he believe in? or rather, What is the price to pay for the truth? Just as in the play, in Losey’s film, it is the viewer who decide wither Galileo’s recantation was a failure in character or a wise manipulative decision of a scientist’s responsibility to society, to let the truth out, no matter how late. In the film, Losey is more on the side of Galileo, as in the play, Brecht was more the side of the reader. Losey bring the best out of the play, it is a Brechtian film from a Brecht film, involving the viewer in the watch, as we see Galileo , like a little child, playing with the stars, the great one, always in search for where his next meal would come from, for he love eating, “I get my best ideas over a good meal and a bottle of wine”, so said the wise master. Watching Galileo, brought back all memory of first reading Brecht’s, such a wonderful read it was, and what a wonderful film to watch.

Obsession (Brian DePalma, 1976)

Obsession (Brian DePalma, 1976)

Obsession (Brian DePalma, 1976) If you want to watch a masterpiece, then watch Hitchcock’s Vertigo, then if you want to watch a remake of Vertigo with a thrilling twist, then watch DePalma’s Obsession, a remake so similar than at times you seem to be watching Vertigo complete with Bernard Herman’s score. What makes Vertigo much better film than Obsession is not just mere mastery of Hitchcock’s genius as filmmaker, but Vertigo is made up of two half world, combined into one, the first half we see a realistic world and on the second we seem the creation of that reality through a neurotic mind, as in Obsession, the film start from beginning with the character living in that world which a creation of a neurotic mind in search of lost times in the realistic world. In Obsession, DePalma shows his obsession with the world of Hitchcock, with multiple homage to the master.

Cadaveri eccellenti (Francesco Rosi, 1976)

Cadaveri eccellenti (Francesco Rosi, 1976)

Cadaveri eccellenti (Francesco Rosi, 1976) “So, the people will never know the truth?”, “Truth is not always revolutionary”. It is always a delight to discover a masterpieces that influenced the other, as in the case of Rosi’s Cadaveri eccellenti, a masterpiece of politically intervening thriller that has a definite influences on both, Coppela’s The Conversation and Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, in both form and style. The story of a respected detective, played silently and brilliantly by Lino Ventura who end up being the main player of in a surrealist game, Cadavre Exquis, not knowing that he is a pawn of a game with unknown result. The film open with rotten corpses hidden in a basement away from the masses, and end among the statues of the past, in museum shown as the official history, a metaphor for all that is rotten in the official version of the truth as the Stat hold, the official version is known, but the truth remain hidden. A masterpiece, so far, my favorite of Rosi.

Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977)

Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977)

Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977) Oh, Sam Peckinpah, you mad genius, for only you, you only, truly understood man’s nature; of that violent animal, always on the path of destruction, so, it is only befitting that one master quote another, as Peckinpah quote Brecht, from The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, in the last credit of Cross of Iron, “Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again”, even the quoting of Brecht seems like a big nihilist joke from Peckinpah, just as Cross of Iron is a big nihilist joke on war, it is such a savage and mad film, that one can’t help laughing with Steiner, as stills of the real victims of wars appear on the screen, we are laughing at the madness that produce such imagery. What can one say about one of the greatest anti-war masterpiece in the history of cinema? Can one just talk about the cruel landscape? The treachery of war, the bureaucracy of life reflected in the army, as Captain put it, “in civilian as well as in military life, the distinction is made between people”, even in the army, the class struggle must go on. The film might as well have been about Vietnam, for Peckinpah felt passionately about a brutal war raging for no reason other than imperial domination, the saying goes that Peckinpah sent many telegram to Nixon, asking him to investigate the real reason for the war, “Your country and mine needs a strong and direct line to truth. Otherwise we are without honor of ourselves and with the world.” It is ironic that many who criticize Peckinpah’s film at the time for its violence, rarely stood up for the atrocities committed by the American forces in Vietnam, that is what drove Peckinpah’s film to become more violent over time, more sarcastic, and cynical. When a group of animal rights advocate made school children write to him, complaining about a scene in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) in which Billy shoot the heads off live chickens, Peckinpah wrote back to them, explaining how the chicken was saved from a slaughter house, giving more days to live, when killed, was giving to a poor farmer for his dinner, and referring to My Lai massacre in Vietnam, “I am delighted to hear from young people who have a conscience because there is a lot in life to be concerned about. I suggest you ask your teacher to tell you about My Lai and what Lt. Calley did to a 2 1/2 year old child in Vietnam. Explain to her that, although this man committed one of the most terrible crimes, he is coming out on probation after only a few years in jail”, the 2 1/2 year old child was shot on the back with another 347 unarmed Vietnamese men, women, and children by the American forces, an event, even today, very few know about, as the media did then, and now, its best to hide it. Sam Peckinpah, never hide, he shows and Cross of Iron is a complex film that work on many levels, Peckinpah is master at manipulating the viewer into his trickery; you see images, you hear sounds, you hear music, you think, you are manipulated, all three working independently of one another, the end credit is a brilliant example; juxtaposing innocent children song, stills of war atrocities, Brecht’s quotation, and Steiner’s sarcastic laughter, a cynical master, that mad Peckinpah was, and poetry in violence his cinema was.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Isao Takahata, 1976)

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Isao Takahata, 1976)

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Isao Takahata, 1978) Ah, Marco, how much I love you, you were the hero of my childhood. The little Marco who leave Genoa, travel all the way from Italy to the most remote part of Argentina in search of her mother, still my favorite animi serious, and Marco still my hero. I loved him so much when I was little, that I cut my hair to his style, I even would try to imitate his talk, the little boy, who always wanted the benefit of others before that of himself. 52 episodes of pure Gold, a nostalgia to watch with childhood memory still intact. Love it beyond love.

Pretty Baby (Luis Malle, 1978)

Pretty Baby (Luis Malle, 1978)

Pretty Baby (Luis Malle, 1978) Unlike any other films about the coming of age , Pretty Baby is not about losing innocent, but rather the opposite, of having no innocent but forcing to gain some as Violet is about to reach adulthood, you may call it an anti-coming of age film, for the aging process seem to be reversing as we progress in the film. Looking back to it more than 30 years later, the film is still provocative the day it was made, if the film were to be made today, the chances of its getting a wide theatrical release is very slime not to mention the controversy it might it cause leading to many Studios not even trying to get near it. That last freeze frame of the film is very similar to Truffaute’s 400 Blows, but its meaning is quite the opposite, as in 400 Blows, Doniel is lost, looking into the camera not knowing where to turn, in Pretty Baby, Violet seem to know the full potentiality of herself, she is not lost, she know where she is going, or does she? Each viewer would have to answer that question in their own way

Future Boy Conan (Hayao Miyazaki, 1978)

Future Boy Conan (Hayao Miyazaki, 1978)

Future Boy Conan (Hayao Miyazaki, 1978) The 26 episode of the animation series, Future Boy Conan was the first work as a director of Hayao Miyazaki, and it was my first encounter with his wonderful world, only back then, as a child watching the series on TV, I did no know who Hayao Miyazaki, yet I felt in love with Conan, watching now the original version over a period three days, it bring back all the childhood memories that I once experienced. Future Boy Conan could be called the root of all Miyazaki’s later works. Growing up as as a child, I was exposed to the animi series of the two masters, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, they were my first love for a world that still is dear to me, that of the animation.

Bye Bye Monkey (Marco Ferreri, 1978)

Bye Bye Monkey (Marco Ferreri, 1978)

Bye Bye Monkey (Marco Ferreri, 1978) Gérard Depardieuis Lafayette, he is a modern man, his attachment is to a bicycle and a whistle, that is until he get attached to King Kong’s orphaned baby son. Marcello Mastroianni is Luigi , the old type of man, who want attachment from women and positions, everyone is insane in a world full of insanity and weirdness with Ferreri’s surreal imagery dominating the film.

Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Francesco Rosi, 1979)

Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Francesco Rosi, 1979)

Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Francesco Rosi, 1979) Rosi’s Cristo si è fermato a Eboli is based on the true story of Carlo Levi, among the giants of the 20th century Italian writers. Carlo Levi’s exile to a small poverty stricken town in Southern Italy soon become one man’s meditation and observation of the believes, superstitions, culture, the struggle, sicken and poverty daily lives of the inhabitant of a town, as Mussolini was about to invade Northern Africa. Slow paced, the film is another masterful depiction of the literary works and indeed the creators of those works, Carlo Levi. Masterful.

Lupin III – The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)

Lupin III – The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)

Lupin III – The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979) Miyazaki, you are the god among all the animators, the master of them all. Who else can create a character like Lupin, a thief with a Golden heart, without making it too predictable in his actions? a story that is an animation version of a Hitchcok film , with an action thriller add to it, a story that is politically intriguing; a small kingdom with loyalty run a counterfeiting dynasty, with Interpol, UN, the Soviet and the American all knowing about it, but, only Lupin can crack the case. Magnificent.

Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (Emir Kusturica, 1981)

Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (Emir Kusturica, 1981)

Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (Emir Kusturica, 1981) Kusturica’s coming of age story has all the signature of his later style; the irony in dark humor with a touch of sentimentality, the best sequence in the film generalize the whole cinema of Kusturica: The Father is on his death bed as the son read to him the future planing of cultivating the Indian Ocean to fed 145 Billion people by the moving of the earth’s axis, which make the distance of the earth farther from Sun, therefor, less gravity, as men becomes Titans, living an age between 1 to 3 thousands of years, by the time the son finishes his reading, the poor Father is dead, that is your irony in dark humor. Then comes the sentimental scene, as the poor Father is laid on the ground, facing Mecca, the family praying over him, come in the uncle, “What are you doing? He was a Communist”. That is Kusturica, his first feature film, perhaps was his best.

Gauche the Cellist (Isao Takahata, 1982)

Gauche the Cellist (Isao Takahata, 1982)

Gauche the Cellist (Isao Takahata, 1982) Based on a short story by Kenji Miyazawa, Takahata’s Gauche the Cellist is about a young man’s search into finding the meaning of his art and taking it to the perfection, after an angry rejection of what truly his art his, he find out toward the end that the inspiration for music does not just comes from him, but rather, it comes from all and for all, including nature, animals and indeed, the universe itself, with lyrical imagery put into animation, add the classical music to it, in Gauche the Cellist you have a lyrical masterpiece in animation.

El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983)

El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983)

El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983) Erice is a painter of a poet, he tell a story by painting images with natural lights, add the poetry by using gestures for acting, every frame is like a little postcard, that is, a moving imagery of a postcard. Based on Adelaida García Morales’ short novella, El Sur is the story of a little girl, Estrella, wanting to discover the mysterious world of her Father, that of his past. Distance and cold, the Father rarely speak, he seem to be living in a world of the past, there is a mysterious lover that once he had, who conquered his mind, as he write her name and draw her image, as a young man, he once participated in the Spanish civil war, fought against Franco, was imprisoned, left his homeland in the south forever, he had a father in the south whom he dislike, one day, his Mother visit him, to the delight of little Estrella, but they leave the next day. The world of El Sur is that of hiding emotion, the characters hide more than they tell, the last dinner scene in the restaurant between father and daughter is a perfect example of Erice’s world; Both pretend to be happy, they talk about different subjects, they pretend to understand each other, but their faces, their gestures suggest otherwise, and when Estrella leave her father, sitting alone, at a distance, we know, that it is the last time she will see her, and she does tell us so in the voiceover, “Could I have done more for him than I did at that moment? I always ask myself that. Because that was the last time I ever spoke to him”, next scene; the sun is setting, the camera pan down the river to reveal her father, laying dead, a gun beside him. The film was suppose to have a sequel, in which little Estrella, now a teenager, travel to the south to find the her Father’s mysteries lover, but the producer did not let Erice make the sequel, a pity, because the ending of the film promise an equally beautiful followup of a film. Masterpiece of Spanish Cinema.

Ososhiki aka The Funeral (Juzo Itami, 1984)

Ososhiki aka The Funeral (Juzo Itami, 1984)

Ososhiki aka The Funeral (Juzo Itami, 1984) There is a thin line separating the boundary between the world of tragedy and that of comedy, that of laughters, and that of tears, only few masters can walk on that line, and in doing so, they create a world full of sentimentality, Juzo Itami is among the masters of that world, and from what I have seem from him so far, The Funeral is by far his best, in it, he reach his perfection. Four days in the life of a family as they attend a funeral, or rather, everything you want to know about Japanese funeral but where afraid to ask. The battle between tradition and modernity, customs and behavior, pretending and being, feeling and reacting, all take the form of a drama that slowly shift into a dark comedy, only to end up as a masterpiece on the inability to deal with our inner most emotions. Itami never let one emotion conquer the other, rather, in the span of a spilt second, he take you to one world, then back into the other. That short appearance Chishy Ryu, brought back all the nostalgic memory of Ozu. Masterful.

Hamlet Goes Business (Aki Kaurismaki, 1987)

Hamlet Goes Business (Aki Kaurismaki, 1987)

Hamlet Goes Business (Aki Kaurismaki, 1987) What does Shakespeare, Kaurismaki, a rubber dock, folk music, and the music score from Battleship Potemkin all have in common? They have the film, Hamlet Goes Business, among the most genius modern day adoption of Shakespeare’s immortal play, at the hand of Kaurismaki, Hamlet is a modern day industrialist who plot the murder of his father, then plot the revenge on his uncle in order to take over the business. Dark humored, the film is on the edge of pure insanity, with Hamlet doing his best to compose two line in a lover letter to Ophelia, working out, listening to the blues, reading comic books, and not to forget, buying ice cream for Ophelia. Timeless film from a timeless master.

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990)

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990)

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990) Danny Glover is great as a small time Mephistopheles, on  visit to an old family friend, turning their world upside down, doing his best with charm to lurk the men into gambling and crime, and to lure the women into leaving them, but he fail miserably thanks to a towering figure of the mother in the family. The only other film that I have seem from Burnett is Killer of Sheep, among one of the best American Independent film of the 70s, To Sleep with Anger is also a great one, an honest film examining in the lives of a middle class African American family that one rarely seen on the screen, characters out of real world and not just a mere fictional creation on the screen, but what make the film so brilliant, is the careful mixing of Glover’s dark humor in treachery to the sentimental portrayal of the mother in a battle of Good vs Evil, the good triumph at the end, a charming little film that was a flop when it was released, it is pity, because it is a great one.

El sol del membrillo aka Quince Tree of the Sun (Víctor Erice, 1992)

El sol del membrillo aka Quince Tree of the Sun (Víctor Erice, 1992)

El sol del membrillo aka Quince Tree of the Sun (Víctor Erice, 1992) Made in the same time as Kiarostami’s Close-up, El sol del membrillo is a unique masterpiece of realism lost in the territories of fiction, just as Close-up, we are taking into world that is created right in front of us, in an attempt to capture the process of re-creating reality in the form of fiction, within this form of documentary, Erice, like Kiarostami, create a world of fiction that is more truthful than what we consider to be reality. Just as Antonio López García fails to capture the true essences of the the eponymous quince tree, for once, he fail to create that realism that he is so famous for, Erice delivers in creating his world, that of achieving true artist re-creation of reality. Truly, one of the best of the 90s, one to be hold.

Center Stage aka Actress (Stanley Kwan, 1992

Center Stage aka Actress (Stanley Kwan, 1992

Center Stage aka Actress (Stanley Kwan, 1992) How masterful of a complex film Actress is? Take the following: Maggie Cheung play Maggie Cheung in the film, Maggie Cheung play Ruan Lingyu in the film, Maggie Cheung pretend to play Ruan Lingyu in the film, Maggie Cheung play the fictional role of Ruan Lingyu playing a fictional role in her film, then Ruan Lingyu play Ruan Lingyu. What is shown to us, is a documentary world that is lost in a fictional one, we see Stanley Kwan trying to put together the puzzle of a life of Ruan Lingyu, then we see him direct a fictional film on the life of Ruan Lingyu, we see a world that is dead but alive in the same time, a legend becoming a fact, but a fact that has already become a legend. The best scene that could describe the mastery of creating Cinema, make believe, breaking the third barrier, and as a viewer going for it: A close up of Ruan Lingyu dead, we are in the fictional world, but then, we realize she is breathing, as she become Maggie Cheung playing Ruan Lingyu, back to the real world, then a wide shot of Stanley Kwan shouting cut and telling Maggie Cheung to take a deep breath for the next take, in a fictional world that is a documentary sold to be fiction, then, back to the take on Maggie Cheung as she take the deep breath, the word, “action”, and once again Maggie Cheung become Ruan Lingyu, dead in her coffin, back to the the fictional world, “OK”, Ruan Lingyu, become Maggie Cheung again, but wait, it is not over yet, the shot is cut to; a still of the real Ruan Lingyu, dead on her coffin. The mastery of Actress, in which, everything is cinema, and nothing is. Masterful.

The Last Bolshevik aka Le tombeau d’Alexandre (Chris Marker, 1992)

The Last Bolshevik aka Le tombeau d’Alexandre (Chris Marker, 1992)

The Last Bolshevik aka Le tombeau d’Alexandre (Chris Marker, 1992) Nostalgic, lyrical, poetic, raw and cynical, few word to describe Marker’s masterful essays on the giant Dinosaurs of the early Soviet cinema, composed as letter to Alexandre Medvedkine, as he reflect on Eisenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin, and the history of the Soviet Union in span of two hour of tour de force, let the image speak.

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993) I had always thought that Scorsese’s best period lasted up to The King of Comedy, but boy I was wrong, the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is among his best, and to make one of his best, he takes from the best, from Hitchock’s Vertigo, from Ophul’s Letter to Unknown Women and Lola Montez, and above all, from Visconti’s Senso. One might criticize the heavy handed style, the third-person narration, or the over the top use of props in the film, but at the end, you are left with greatness, the overwhelming emotional power of the film sweep you away back into an age of innocence, an age of two person and their a tragic love affair, Daniel Day-Lewi’s performance is timeless, feel the poor guy’s pain, as unattainable love slowly destroy him.

Three Businessmen (Alex Cox, 1999)

Three Businessmen (Alex Cox, 1999)

Three Businessmen (Alex Cox, 1999) Among the most minor work of Cox, Three Businessmen is an absolute timeless masterpiece in minimalism, the most Bunuelian of all Cox’s film, with its use of surreal narrative, leaving only time on the screen as the space become an expandable tablet that draw from the audience’s inner knowledge in adding meaning to the narrative, the film take place all over the world, mainly in Liverpool, as the narrative then shift to Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo and finally to the Western deserts of the States, for a causal viewer, all seem to take place in Liverpool, as the time shift from one later afternoon toward the next morning, two businessmen, later, plus the third one, discuss nothing, yet, it end up being an interesting watch of reflecting on a time and place passing by, at the current state of the world facing a new millennium, notice the concert poster all over the place.

Telets aka Taurus (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2001)

Telets aka Taurus (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2001)


Telets
aka Taurus (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2001) You see the great Lenin suffer like a common man, he is in more of a moral pain than a physical one in his last few days as he is dying, and he knows it, yet, his dilemma of a revolution left behind without him to carry it, is not as server as his dilemma of calculating two numbers, he is in hallucination, a film that uses images and sound reflecting that moral hallucination, after seeing Stalin, Lenin ask at the dinner table, “Who was that Man?”, he already forgotten who Stalin was, for even before is death, Stalin had already him in his hand, with his dark mustache, he tip-tope around the house, looking for his revolutionary pal, to advice him against the plots of “Trotsky”, but it is not politic that is at the center of Telets, but a man’s last few days in life, one by the name of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the man who shook the world once.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica, 2010)

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica, 2010)

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica, 2010) I had a Romanian friend who used to look back nostalgically and profoundly at the teims growing up in Romania under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, in The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, we see a sleepy world with one man in the center of it, he oversight everything, from constructing mega-buildings to baking the right bread as he drive around Romania in his cheap old model car, the extreme state controlled socialism that Romania once lived under Nicolae Ceausescu compared to the privatization and destruction of state run industries after the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu made my friend to look back melancholily at the times of long gone. Among the best documentary that I have seen in recent time, in which the image speak itself, home made video and newsreel footage portray a man the way he was, neither judge nor condemn, it is for you to decide who Nicolae Ceausescu was. Not to be missed

O Estranho Caso de Angelica aka The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, 2010)

O Estranho Caso de Angelica aka The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, 2010)

O Estranho Caso de Angelica aka The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, 2010) What can one say of de Oliveira, the only great Dinosaur left from silent cinema who still make films, only praise can be bestowed upon the man, de Oliveira made The Strange Case of Angelica when he was 102 years old, just imagine that, but it never shows, it is a film coming from a heart of a young man. The story of a photographer, Isaac, by appearance and look, he look like young  de Oliveira, it might as well be a metaphor of himself, he is interested in the old days, the old fashion way of doing things; in the digital age, he still uses film camera, dress like a man out of 40s, always wearing a fedora hat, his room has no TV nor radio, he even talk the old ways, he prefer manual labor to that of the machinery, capturing images of donkey over car, he belong to world not that of today. Above all, he is in love with images, we see everything from his POV, he look, we see, it is the love of the image, of seeing. Even the staging is old fashioned, theatrical staging, everyone has position in the frame, they move, they stop, the camera never move in the real world, but in that of the imagination, if fly, even the special effect is old fashioned, out of silent cinema, at times, the photographers’ camera becomes de Oliveira’s camera, capturing the same imagery; one still, one moving. Poor Isaac, his real world collapses as he enter the world of the hallucinations, that of moving imagery, even when shooting the still photos, he does it in a succession, so when viewed, they create an illusion of movement. As for interacting with other people, he is a loner, people seem boring to him; when walking into a room full of people, the only thing he notice is a vase with a flower, that is the strange case of Isaac.

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Here is the the rest of the Diary:

                          January, 2012

Cry Of The City (Robert Siodmak, 1948)

Cry Of The City (Robert Siodmak, 1948)

Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet, 1988) The last line of Running on Empty is heart braking not because it is a line coming from an ex-anarchist Father on the run telling his son to cools it, but because it is coming from a man who has to compromise his principles in order for his Son to become something that he once despised; “No, go out there and make a difference. Your mother and I tried. Don’t let anyone tell you any different”

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (Robert Siodmak, 1945) No matter how crafted a film might be, when a few scene toward the end tell the viewer that what they had seen so far has been nothing but an imagination of a pre-planned murder and the film end with a happy ending, then, as a viewer, you think you have being taking for a ride. That is the case of The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, a well crafted noir about Harry who can’t escape the hand of her jealous/psychopathic sister, as she does everything to keep him, the Freudian plot of the film soon lead to a murder being committed, only to have a happy ending scene, telling us that it was all an imaginative murder, that scene alone ruined the whole film.

Another Sky (Gavin Lambert, 1954) A collaborator in many of Nicholas Ray’s script, Gavin Lamber’s own creation, Another Sky is nothing short of a masterpiece, on the surface, it look like a mash between a David Lean film mixed with an Olmi one and lost in the spiritual territory of Dryer, underneath; a story of a doomed love, taking Rose intro the Desert in search for something that she knows clearly that it won’t be found, yet she keep searching for it, that thing is called “love”. A unique film unlike any others.

Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Francesco Rosi, 1979) Rosi’s Cristo si è fermato a Eboli is based on the true story of Carlo Levi, among the giants of the 20th century Italian writers. Carlo Levi’s exile to a small poverty stricken town in Southern Italy soon become one man’s meditation and observation of the believes, superstitions, culture, the struggle, sicken and poverty daily lives of the inhabitant of a town, as Mussolini was about to invade Northern Africa. Slow paced, the film is another masterful depiction of the literary works and indeed the creators of those works, Carlo Levi. Masterful.

Tales of Ordinary Madness (Marco Ferreri, 1971) Some great art got dangerous style, it is all about style, and Tales of Ordinary Madness got that style, as you take an adventure with Ben Gazzara into the dark landscapes of Charles Bukowski, into a world of madness, nihilism, into the darkest imagination of an alcoholic writer seeking pleasure out of the ordinary, a rebellion against everything, but above all, a rebellion against the intellectualism of the academic: “You need a Doctor not a publisher”, he said, “Fu*k you, I said”, that was the end of that”.

The Strawberry Blonde (Raoul Walsh, 1941) “He has everything, I have nothing. I just realized, I’m a happy man, he is not” so declare James Cagney toward the end of The Strawberry Blonde, he has the chance to take revenge of the man he most hate, but he decide not too, because he got the Woman that he love most, and the other guy does not. Walsh directed The Strawberry Blonde the same year as he did High Sierra, two film a part from each other in their theme and style, for as High Sierra is an early example of noir/gangster film, The Strawberry Blonde is an innocent story of love, rather too innocent even by 1941′s standard, but it is an honest, masterful depiction of the low middle-class ethnically inhabitants of NY, and Cagney give a wonderful performance as the pretending to be a tough guy who always end up with the blues.

Vanya on 42nd Street (Louis Malle, 1994) If you have not read Checkhov’s Uncle Vanya, then don’t watch Vanya on 42nd Street, for you wouldn’t make the tail out of the head of the film. If you have read Uncle Vanya, then again, don’t watch Vanya on 42nd Street for you will be disappointed at Mamet and Malle’s butchery of the play; neither it is a film nor a play, and Malle’s attempt to combine the two only make the actors pretending to be actors pretending to be in a play, which leave you wondering at how worst can they get at pretending to be? A bad film.

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da aka Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) Everything in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is hidden, the emotion of the characters are not what they are shown to us through their lengthy dialogue, rather, it is underneath, Ceylan like Tarkovsky, show us that emotion silently through the use of his camera. Like a symphony, the silence is the emotion, the film is divided almost mathematically in various bets of silence, silence in which the camera take on a life of its on as it observe, search, shows the hidden emotion, and it is for the viewer to find. Like Chekhov’s main characters in his stories, the main characters in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia keep their essential emotion to themselves, they are the heart of the film, the Prosecutor and the Doctor. You may call Once Upon a Time in Anatolia as Ceylan’s epic film, more than 2 hour and a half in length, it is a combination of everything that Ceylan had shown in us the past, the landscapes of Kiarostami that dominate Climates, the many tributes to Tarkovsky as in Clouds of May and Kasaba, the Doestovsky’s psychological attitude of the characters in Uzak and Üç Maymun, take all that and add the dark territory of Yilmaz Guney to Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and you have not just a Ceylan’s masterful take on the crime/detective genre, but also, his first epic film. Masterful.

La Cagna (Marco Ferreri, 1972) You may call La Cagna as Ferreri’s answer to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, but instead of Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday playing the leading role with their search of survival, we have Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve as the as the only two soula resident on an island which is only minutes away from civilization as they land ashore at times to shop around. Based on Ennio Flajano’s novel, Melampus, Mastroianni’s male fantasy and power comes to the realization as Deneuve land on the island; first jealous of his love for his Dog (Melampus), as she kill the Dog, Deneuve soon realize that in order to make Mastroianni love her is for her to replace the Dog, that is when the master/servant relationship start, as Mastroianni’s male fantasy of domination take over the film.

The Cell (Tarsem Singh, 2000) Here is a confused film from Tarsem, half a detective film in the now so predictable/overrated style of Silence of The Lamb of a detective in search of a kidnapped victim under the ruthless mercy of a serial killer mash it with mumbo jumbo of dated psychological analysis of the criminal mind, mash it also with cheesy surrealistic/horror imagery, and then mash all three with Jennifer Lopez who seem to be in the film only for Tarsem to show her bosoms and boobs, add all that together, and you have in The Cell as one of the worst films of 2000. Tarsem tries too hard to claim to the viewer that he is making an artist film, epic fail.

Horus, Prince Of The Sun (Isao Takahata, 1968) Among the first collaboration between Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Horus is a landmark animation film from Japan, the one that will set the standard for the rest to follow. With its lyrical and beautiful scene design by Miyazaki, a story that seem to be out of Goethe’s Faust, as the battle of the good vs evil rage on (clear scene reference to Murnau’s Faust is present throughout the film), with a mix of Greek Myth, Russian and Japanese folk song as the chorus sing along. Horus, Prince Of The Sun is a fresh masterpiece today as the day it was made. Simply, beautiful.

Gauche the Cellist (Isao Takahata, 1982) Based on a short story by Kenji Miyazawa, Takahata’s Gauche the Cellist is about a young man’s search into finding the meaning of his art and taking it to the perfection, after an angry rejection of what truly his art his, he find out toward the end that the inspiration for music does not just comes from him, but rather, it comes from all and for all, including nature, animals and indeed, the universe itself, with lyrical imagery put into animation, add the classical music to it, in Gauche the Cellist you have a lyrical masterpiece in animation.

Pennies From Heaven (Herbert Ross, 1981) When it came out, Pennies From Heaven was a flop, maybe one reason for that flop was the annoying acting of Steven Martin, for once the audience seem to have it their wishes come true as he is about to be hanged only for Ross to rescue him back and give the film a happy ending. Despite the film mimicking some great musical numbers, the rapid change of mood in the story from comedy into the dark territories of human psyche is hard at times for the audience to just sit and watch as Ross throw in musical numbers in between. Just mimicking is not enough, still, worth watching.

The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011) Clooney should stick to his bad acting instead of trying his luck with Directing, for there is nothing cinematic in The Ides of March, it could have made a good TV film for HBO, it is indeed seem like it was made for TV with Clooney’s past experience as a TV actor in ER must have helped him to make the film such a lengthy boring piece of work. Getting bored with it, I started counting the over-the-shoulders shot in the film as part of the coverage, it occupies close to 80 % of the film, with two characters facing each other in lengthy and insignificant dialogues. Boring.

Cry Of The City (Robert Siodmak, 1948) Put Cry of the City beside The Killers as two of the best noir films of Robert Siodmak, despite a pro-copper ending of the film in which a character change in the little Tony seem to be rushed to such a conclusion, Cry Of The City stand out as one of those early noir film that seem to depict a multi ethnic city seem from the eyes of two opposite forces; the man on the run and the copper, this time in NY’s Little Italy, both men coming from the same background but ending up playing the cat and mouse game as they became part of a system that demand punishment more than understanding. A good example of the noir film of Sidomak, in which everyone is a suspect, every scene is full of suspense and the world is sad, lonely and dangerous, watch out for it.

February, 2012

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)

Habemus Papam (Nanni Moretti, 2011) From what I have seen from Nanni Moretti so far, Habemus Papam is not just his latest film, but it is also his worst to date. Confused and choppy at times, the film fall apart midway through as it becomes the tale of the Pope and the Psychoanalysis with nothing in between to connect the two. One to forget.

Tinker Tailer Solider Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011) Style and nothing more, just as Let The Right One In was, with a narrative that Alfredson does its best to make it as complex as he can with fast editing, fast paced action and multiple story line, not to mention the cheesy mes-en scenes that seem right out of a TV show with characters, cars foreground and background objects coming and out of the frame just to give it a style for the sake of the camera movement, all becoming so repetitious one after another. Boring.

The King and Four Queens (Raoul Walsh, 1956) Clark Gable start as an adventurer in search of the riches when he comes upon a ranch, with the rumor going around that it got hidden gold in it, he takes the role of a playboy trying to have it with all four women, who might know where the gold is, dated, slow paced and nothing interesting happens. Not the best of Walsh.

Jarinko Chie aka Chie the Brat (Isao Takahata, 1981) Takahata’s Chie the Brat is very similar to his later film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, in which both film has a loose narrative with more concentration on small incidents that always lead up to a hilarious climax, not to forget that both film are full of dysfunctional families and characters, hilarious sketches in Chie the Brat include; a Cat who is on a mission to avenge his father’s missing ball, that is his missing ball (if you know what I mean) in an all out Western Cat showdown.

Panda Go Panda (Isao Takahata, 1972) Two of Japan’s greatest animators get together in Panda Go Panda, directed by Isao Takahata with scene setting/script and story by Hayao Miyazaki, the film is a testament to the two’s genius in both influencing each other and their own later films, the story of Panda Go Panda would later be taken into perfection by Miyazaki in My Neighbor Totoro, not to forget the many influence of style and themes in both Takahata and Miyazaki’s later films; take the flood scene in Ponyo, it is right out of Panda Go Panda. A simple story taken into perfection by two imaginative minds as they take you into the land of imagination. Perfect.

The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström, 1921) It could be argued how much of an influence The Phantom Carriage must have had on Bergman while making The Seventh Seal, one thing is clear, this film and the cinema of Victor Sjöström had a definite influence on Bergman’s cinema, take the opening scenes of Cries and Whispers, it is right out of the opening sequence of The Phantom Carriage. The story of guilt and redemption, told in the style of Dickens’s Christmas Carol, in a style that make use of special effect to its perfection, with an ending that is right out of a D.W. Griffith film, all combined, makes a classic of silent cinema to watch.

Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011) I don’t hide it; among all the filmmakers alive today whom the critic label as a filmmaker who make art films, I despise Lars Von Trier the most and the only reasons I watch his films is to renew my despise or rather hatred for his style of filmmaking, one that is fake, manipulative and has nothing to say or offer. I remember about 6 month ago, on my way from Barcelona back home, in a transit in Istanbul, I met a girl from Brazil who turned out also to be a young filmmaker, the talk between us was about the most memorable film of 2011, I told her how much I admired Tree of Life, she said that she badly wanted to see Melancholia, for she has heard so much about it, I told her that I would probably watch the film knowing that it is a “piece of manipulative shit as Antichrist was”, I was right, for is it nothing but a “piece of manipulative shit as Antichrist was”, but, more in mainstream Hollywood style this time, despite a friend’s remark to me that “Melancholia was an anti-Hollywood film”, it is anything but anti-anything, for it is nothing to be anything. On the side note, Charlotte Gainsbourg is not just bad actress, she is the worst to be pretending to be an actress with her murmuring and mouth twisting gestures, the one moments of the film that I enjoyed much was when she along the rest got blown away by the planet Melancholia, but two hour late, for the film should have ended the second it started with that cheesy stylish opening. I hate this film beyond hatred, hate is so much that even hatred itself is too kind of a word to describe it.

Take Shelter (Jeff Nicholas, 2011) When I first saw Jeff Nicholas’s Shotgun Stories back in 2007, I wrote the following, “A modern Greek tragedy, among the best and refreshing American film that I had seen for a long time. Jeff Nicholas is a name to be remembered”, I know now that I could have been wrong, for Jeff Nicholas is a name to be forgotten, as in Take Shelter he has gone Hollywood mainstream, making a stylish film that is more in the horror genre than a doomsday futuristic scenario, more of a cheap remake of Nicholas Ray’s masterpiece, Bigger than Life, this time with a lunatic father who is on the edge because of his prophetic prediction that a big storm would end the world, with dream sequences that get repeated over and over again to a point that it becomes meaningless and a laughable watch, as the ending is a good example of that. A disappointing film.

Drive (Nicholas Winding, 2011) What makes Drive such a thrilling watch comes down to its smart combination of genres and styles, characters right out of American cinema of 70s, story of a loner out of European cinema of 60s, a musical soundtrack of 80, mix it with the stylish influence of Wong Kar Wai, combine all that with a tragic Greek play rather than a story, and in Drive you get a thrilling watch, despite the few flows that it got at times with the violent stretched to the limit, it one to watch.

Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011) Well, now you know what it is like to mash together Stanley Kubrick and Krzysztof Kieslowski, you get Another Earth, with its psychological power to grab the viewer into a tale of guilt and redemption mashed into a science-fiction genre with masterfully staged scenes that are equal in power to 2001: A Space odyssey, it has been a while that a film could move a viewer into the edge of wonder watching a scene so powerful and other worldly as the first contact scene between this Earth with Earth 2 in Another Earth, equally powerful to that of Hal 9000 in 2001. For a small budget film, produced, directed, acted, edited and shot with only a handful staff, it is a truly a wonder film to watch, emotionally powerful as it is intellectually manipulative that put to shame a million time a big-budget film like Melancholia. Another Earth is not to be missed.

Hellzapoppin (Henry Potter, 1941) Put Hellzapoppin beside Citzen Kane as two of the most innovative film of the 1941, as a matter of fact, there is a brilliant scene in Hellzapoppin, in which we see the Rosebud sledge on the background as one of the character passes by it, looking at it, then “I thought they burned that”. A complex film in every aspect just as Citizen Kane is, but what is so brilliant about Hellzapoppin is the fact that the film is created right in front of our eyes, as a viewer, we become part of creating the film, even if that means, multiples times characters talk to the viewer as we are a part of the film, breaking a barrier that was a taboo at the time in the art of filmmaking, for the viewer might lose the suspension of belief, for a Hollywood film from 1941, Hellzapoppin is fresh as the day it was made, for it takes everything lightly, and nothing it what it seem to be, a film about filmmaking in the most satiric, comical and silliest way, it is hilarious.

Pretty Baby (Luis Malle, 1978) Unlike any other films about the coming of age , Pretty Baby is not about losing innocent, but rather the opposite, of having no innocent but forcing to gain some as Violet is about to reach adulthood, you may call it an anti-coming of age film, for the aging process seem to be reversing as we progress in the film. Looking back to it more than 30 years later, the film is still provocative the day it was made, if the film were to be made today, the chances of its getting a wide theatrical release is very slime not to mention the controversy it might it cause leading to many Studios not even trying to get near it. That last freeze frame of the film is very similar to Truffaute’s 400 Blows, but its meaning is quite the opposite, as in 400 Blows, Doniel is lost, looking into the camera not knowing where to turn, in Pretty Baby, Violet seem to know the full potentiality of herself, she is not lost, she know where she is going, or does she? Each viewer would have to answer that question in their own way.

Routine Pleasures (Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1986) As I was watching Routine Pleasures with a friend, saying in the midway of the film, “What the f*ck is he saying?”, referring to Jean-Pierre Gorin’s narration, mumbling with his lazy english pronunciation about his self pettiness, for he had made a film about a group of men building toy models of real trains. Routine Pleasures could have been a pleasure to watch, but instead, it turn out to be an egoistic film from Gorin about himself, and on the way throwing in many useless comment by and about Manny Farber, no high expectation from a film as its confused dedication to Chuck Jones and Gustave Flaubert.

Ladybug Ladybug (Frank Perry, 1963) What a brilliant little noble film Ladybug Ladybug is, an absolute masterpiece of amateurish filmmaking, what seem to be a shattered film that is symbolic, amateurish, simple, lyrical, and small, turns little by little into a masterpiece of showing rather than telling. The essence of the film is the collective fear of individuals that is part of the American culture with its politically media frenzy campaigns of manipulating the public, what is so brilliant about Ladybug Ladybug is that we see the fear from the POV of children that are more aware of a world full of madness run by the adults, the fear of an all out nuclear attack slowly show the true characters and morality of the collective madness of a society that few left to think independently on their own, only the children seem to understand the madness, for the adults, they don’t question, they only fear. Ladybug Ladybug is a timeless masterpiece that hold more truth to today’s war and fear mongering state of the public attitude in US as it was true during the nuclear phobia of the 60s. Timeless.

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968) It is impossible to imagine The Swimmer without Burt Lancaster, he steal the shows as he should. It seems that Frank Perry must have been in love with him, to have him run and swim around a country wearing a only swimming short, what seem to be a story of a family man who once was a lover man, soon turns out to be none of them, rather, it is his imagination that we are seeing, and when our reality and his imagination soon turns into the reality of the film, we become as desperate and feel cheated as Lancaster feel in the end of the film; knocking on a closed door that will never open. See Burt Lancaster act unlike any other films he ever acted in.

The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (Andre Delvaux, 1965) Such a bad imitation of a film The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short is, worse than the title suggest. The story of a teacher in love with his student, mashed into it characters from Gogol and Kafka with a style out of Dryer, none of them fit each other, as the film get more depressing by seconds, ending up falling flat on its face. Date beyond dating.

Ms.45 (Abel Ferrara, 1981) Call it “Male fantasy fulfillment on reverse”, a pre-sequel to the bloody shoot out of men by a suppressed woman on a vengeance and terrible film of Kill Bill, violent, predictable, and plain stupid, with 80s music, disgusting characters all over the place, you wish it to end as soon as the film start, but it drag on with same useless violent being repeated over and over, it is so bad, it becomes laughable to watch.

China Girl (Abel Ferrara, 1987) Another big flap from Ferrara and Nicholas St.John, this time a cheesy gang war between Italian and Chinese as the story of the Italian Romeo and Chinese Juliet unfold despite the two gang’s disprove of such love, you know the rest. Ferrara’s early films all seem to be one flop after another, it is surprising that he could make a masterpiece like Bad Lieutenant a few years later.

Mainline (Mohsen Abdolvahab, 2006) Another one of those trying too hard to make an artistic film, pushing hard on emotion, style, story and even the music, an epic fail,it try hard to communicate nothing. Surprised to see Rakhshan Bani-Etemad involved with such bad film, not to mention the washed out poor cinematography of the film by another known name, that of the great Mahmoud Kalari.

Woman of the Lake (Yoshishige Yoshida, 1966) Cheap imitation of European art films of the 60s is the result of Woman of the Lake, trying to be stylish at the same time to tell a suspense story of a stalker chasing a woman, with cheesy predictable suspense scenes. Dated.

A Man Disappears (Shohei Imamura, ) Lengthy Dou-fiction film from Imamura, as he try to mix in every aspect of filmmaking in style, narrative and technical use of the tools of filmmaking, it slowly turn into a lecture to the audience of look, what I can do, as you slowly lose interest in the story. Lengthy and boring.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Volker Schlondorff, ) A lousy film made from a lousy feminist novel by Margaret Atwod. Even the script from Harlod Pinter could not save the film, with of its portrayal of a future society in America run by Christian Conservative, the only victim being the Women, the future prediction of the Conservative taking power might be true, but the only victim of such society being only Women if far fetches, not to mention the all Hollywood happy ending.

Samurai Assassin (Kihachi Okamoto, 1965) Close to two hour in length, you only need to watch the first and last 5 minute of the film to get the whole plot and story, the rest is more of news broadcast or a rumor show of who is who in the Shogun neighborhood, as a group of ronin plan to assassinate an Elder, only to end with a bloody and gory sword fight in a stylish fake snow that is anything but snow or fake, totally artificial.

La classe operaia va in paradiso (Elio Petri, 1971) Gian Maria Volonte is explosive in The Working Class Goes to Heaven, Elio Petri’s Das Capital and Communist Manifesto to cinema, with Ennio Morricone’s rhythmic music on the background and Gian Maria Volonte brilliant performance as Lulu, a worker on the edge of madness, as he battle it out with all; the cruel condition in work, the unions, radical left and the nagging condition at home, everything seem to crumble upon him, add that to losing a finger and losing his mind slowly. The story of a proletarian who want to be an outcast, and when become one, he realize that he is just another proletarian, a mere worker trying hard to adjust to his work that slowly drive him to madness, the film leave us in the fog as to Lulu’s destiny, he start from zero, trying to go up, but always sliding, and ending up at zero again.

  March, 2012

Mister Freedom (William Klein, 1969)

Mister Freedom (William Klein, 1969)

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993) I had always thought that Scorsese’s best period lasted up to The King of Comedy, but boy I was wrong, the adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is among his best, and to make one of his best, he takes from the best, from Hitchock’s Vertigo, from Ophul’s Letter to Unknown Women and Lola Montez, and above all, from Visconti’s Senso. One might criticize the heavy handed style, the third-person narration, or the over the top use of props in the film, but at the end, you are left with greatness, the overwhelming emotional power of the film sweep you away back into an age of innocence, an age of two person and their a tragic love affair, Daniel Day-Lewi’s performance is timeless, feel the poor guy’s pain, as unattainable love slowly destroy him.

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011) I have to make a confession; I cried at the end of Le Havre, the miracles of a wife being resurrected, a cheery tree blooming in mid winter is Kaurismaki’s optimistic vision of the cinematic possibility of a miracle, if Chaplin has made a film today, it would had been Le Havre, for the heart and the deep rooted sentimentality of the film is pure Chaplin, one good deed from one person can have a profound impact on others, and that is why, the ending of Le Havre is as powerful as that of City Light, we as the viewer are faced with truth that is hard to accept, but we know it is possible, the most optimistic work of Kaurismaki do date,

Valkoinen peura aka The White Reindeer (Erik Blomberg, 1952) It is always a treat to discover unknown films, take The White Reindeer from Finland, the story of a jealous women bewitched into becoming a Reindeer in order to lure men only to murder them, with its folk narrative, white snowy landscapes, herds of reindeers roaming the frame, an influence of Soviet cinema and an Egor Stravinsky like score, the film is worth watching, but heavy use of the music becomes annoying to a point that one wonder if one is not at a Stravinsky concert rather than watching a film.

Flame of My Love (Mizoguchi, Sakai and Okada, 1949) Underlined in all his films, Mizoguchi always tackled the issue of women suffrage on a personal level, but in Flame of My Love, that suffering take a form of feminism, political and social struggle intertwined with the rise of the Liberal Party to power in 19th century Japan, that is where it fall flat, it becomes almost a propaganda film, and instead of only Mizoguchi, the film seem to have been directed by a feminist, with two co-directors, not his best film, not even getting close to it.

Sleep Furiously (Gideon Koppel, 2008) A distance documentary about the life of a small village in Wales, with its inhabitant made up majority of elderly people, the slow and decaying lives, culture and language on the fall in this slow and decaying film, it drags on with many themes being repeated over and over. Worth giving it a try, but patience is needed to watch it.

Les baisers de secours (Philippe Garrel, 1989) The reason that Garrel will always be under the shadows of the other great of the French New Waves, the likes of Godard, Truffaute, Chabrol, Marker, etc, is because he tries too hard to be two thing at the same time; artistic and personal, and he does it in such a stylish manners that he fails miserably as it is the case in Les baisers de secours; the dilemma of a marriage on the edge of breakdown might be personal to him, but to an audience it is just another story on the screen, and Garrel fail to convince us of such dilemma, rather, it becomes a stylish egoistic film with characters that suppose to be real, but are as fake as scarecrows, with nothing flowing in them.

Kuroi Kawa aka Black River (Masaki Kobayashi, 1957) In Black River, all the crimes and injustice take place in and around an American military base, indeed, everything that is bad seem to be American or influenced by American culture in the film, a love story on one side, on the other more of an adaptation of Maxim Gorkey’s The Lower Depth, the film has three protagonist, each at fault in their own away, with a dozen supporting characters that seem to come from the lowest of the lowest depth of Japanese’ society, with a Jazzy score, stylish almost to noir use of camera and light, the film could still be considered in the classic era of the Japanese era, but a step close to the New Wave just around the corner.

Marusa No Onna aka A Taxing Woman (Juzo Itami, 1987) Itami must have heard The Beatles song, I’m the Taxman, and have decided to make this comic masterpiece of a film, but instead of a Taxman, you got a Taxwoman, who even taxes the air you breath, hilarious and outrages at times, with a jazzy 80s score, the film becomes the cat and mouse chase of two people, each representing two side of the argument, collecting taxes and avoiding it, both using their outmost ruthlessness, to such an extreme, that is become the stuff that comedy is made off. Priceless.

Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) What a piece of trash, Hugo is. To Scorsese, it seems that 3D filmmaking is only to show the power of 3D, as he put the style above everything; %90 of the film is made up of camera tracking on subject, characters moving toward camera, or subject passing in a vertical line to the camera, that is the basic element of 3D filmmaking. Scorsese should have learnt from Hitchock’s Dial M for Murder, instead of making a stylish junk that Hugo is, not only putting to shame the history of cinema told as children tale, but also, the city of Paris, all polished and romanticized. The man who once knew how to direct an actor in giving a performance, is now reduced in caring more about style than to get a genuine performance out of his characters, one thing is for sure, Scorsese can’t direct children, he is no Kiarostami, children are incapable of expressing emotion like adults, but Scorsese trying to get a Dinero performance out of poor Hugo, epic fail.

J.Edgar (Clint Eastwood, 2011) Yes, it got its flaws, but Eastwood’s J.Edgar is among the few films of recent years that truly shows the state of madness taking over the States now as it did under the rules of Hoover, known as the most powerful man in American for more than 40 years, Hoover had all the Presidents, Senators, Congressmen and the politicians in his pocket, ruthless, cruel, and nothing short of a lunatic, and Eastwood does capture that irony of the man pretty well in J.Edgar. Although not a fan of stylish fictional characterization of a biographical films of real life characters, and despite it flaws, one of them the heavy make up, over top acting of DiCapiro, the over the top romanticize relationship of Hoover and Tolson, to a point of laughter, yet the film hold up as unique body of work, an entertaining watch. To know the real thug that Hoover was, checkout Emile de Antonio’s masterpieces, Mr. Hoover and I.

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011) Get ready to watch 90 minute of pure boredom, based on the overrated play by the overrated playwright, Yasmina Reza, the play/film take place inside a house with two couples battling one another and each other, then the battle of the sexes, with dialogues and characters that become repetitious and plain stupid at times, they all seem like little puppets at the hand of Reza, twisting and turning them, radical shift of emotion and characters that only an egoistic mind would write, all is seen (especially the two Man) from a feminist view, two tough masculine men and two emotionally unstable women, and how about the use of sound, with supposedly audience watching the play as we hear a giggle or a laughter on the soundtrack from time to time, a bad play made into a bad film, made to be skipped.

Immortals (Tarsem Singh, 2011) “Fight against Evil never end”, so it seem to be the message of Immortals, but who is the evil? the film seem to confuse itself, as both side of the fight are evil in there own way, yet it glorify one side and ignore the other, becoming nothing short of a fascist film in its call to arm to defend, this time, the Gods. The Greek mythology is not as black and white as the battle between good and evil, rather, it is as complex as human psychology, with the Gods being the mirror of both good and evil, and humans a reflection of that mirror, but Singh seem to see Greek mythology as nothing but a showcasing of wars, violent and masculinity. Disappointment.

A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) Ridicules is the word to describe A Dangerous Method, or a psychoanalyst soap opera, full of historical inaccuracy and an attempt from Cronenberg to sell a lie to the public in form of a fiction in order to re-write the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud in a from of Sabina Spielrein, more of blackmailer than a lover of Jung as the film suggest. It is not based on a true story, rather a true lie. The biggest laugh of the film is the portrayal of Sigmund Freud by Viggo Mortensen, more of a gangster than a psychoanalysis, as he puff his cigars away. Rather than watching this film, to know about Jung and Freud, better read their books, especially Jung’s Man and His Symbols, and save an hour and half of your time wasting, watching A Dangerous Method, you won’t learn anything about Freud, Jung nor psychoanalysis.

Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975) The 17th century social reform and writer, Gerrard Winstanley is more of a mashing figure of Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau and Karl Marx, with his call for the equal sharing and distribution of land, rejection of organized religion, rejection of commodity and money, gaining one’s bread by one’s plowing of the land, and living on earth’s natural resources, creating self-sufficient farming community with his flowers know as the Diggers, despite hard condition and daily attacks by the land owners. To its time, Gerrard Winstanley might have been viewed as an anarchist, but that is nothing compared to some of his followers that include a group that seem to be out of 60′s radical hippie movement, with their rejection of all morality and call for free love, something that make poor Gerrard Winstanley a mere anarchist compare to them. With its historical accuracy, documentary filmmaking that fit best the style of Peter Watkins films, Winstanley is a small masterpiece that put to shame the stylish and big budgets Hollywood production of the time, a film with a big heart.

The Artist (Michel Hazanvicius, 2011) What a piece of trashy film, The Artist is, a counterfeits of a trash Michel Hazanvicius is, he steal from the best of the best, copy them, and sell it to the public as his own. Take the story of A Star is Born, the music of the sound era (not to mention Bernard Herman’s score for Vertigo), the style of silent filmmaking with a fake new style of acting that is anything but acting, put all that aside, think if the dog, poor little puppy, it seem to pop up everywhere in the scenes, and the public love Dogs, and you got in The Artist a film that is even put the word film itself to disgust to be related to such a trash, yet, thanks to a media, a trash award like Oscars that has become, and the ignorant of the public and critic’s unfamiliarity with the Silent Era, we are told, that The Artist is a courage films to come out more 80 years after the death of silent cinema, but the film has all ingredient of a blockbuster film, and everything that shine is not Gold, neither is The Artist a courageous film nor true silent film, rather, it is a deceive, trashy, and out right counterfeit film, and Michel Hazanvicius is no directors, rather copy cat machine, who steal shamefully without giving the praise to the original creators when praising is due. One of the worst film that I has seen in a while.

Dr. Akagi (Shohei Imamura, 1998) It seem that the only sane person in Japan during the end of WWII is Dr. Akagi, as everyone else in the film seem to steal, rope, corrupt and kill, yet, Dr. Akagi seem not to be bothered by any of that as he goes from one house searching to find a way to cure hepatitis, repeating scenes of his his visit, over and over, make the film boring beyond boring and ridicules beyond ridicules, as the end scene seem to suggest. Not the best from Imamura.

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) Alexander Payne set out in The Descendants to make a film about a character who is in the coma, suffering, yet, is the one that causes the most pain upon the other, making her the most unattractive character in the film. Unlike the many heavy handed sentimental films about the same subject, common to the genre, at the end result in The Descendants, Payne arrives at creating one of the most sentimental film of the last few years, for the characters are real three dimensional figures, they all have their faults, cruelty and inner most darkest desires, shown in the most cruelest and humors ways, that reminds one of the cinema of Fellini, but at the end, the sentimentality arrives, they do care, and it is those sincere moments of showing that caring that produce such sentimental result, and we as viewer, feel it, even if its for short glimpse. Good one.

The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2012) If Jack London were to see The Grey, he would shout at screen for taking his stories and making a crap out of them, what start as a survival story, soon turn into a one diminutional study of characters that are nothing but creation of a mind that seem to put forward dialogue and plot above everything else, with Liam Neeson half crazy and half super-hero, he battle it out with a pack of wolves, leading a group astray into nowhere, characters, freezing to death, with pack of wolf around, yet they argue about faith, believing in God or not, suddenly we find our self in a philosophy class rather than Alaska. For better film on surviving the cold, watch Kalatozov’s The Letter Never Sent, and read Jack London’s The Law of Life, and forget about The Grey, it is nothing.

Johnny Apollo (Henry Hathaway, 1940) It is funny to see how some Classic Hollywood films, looking back to it now, take the viewer for a ride, with its one dimensional characters and stories, so hard to accept even as piece of entertainment. Take Johnny Apollo, a film that condemn first a crooked banker/father, his son soon to be a gangster, only for the redemption element to come in, ending with a big bang of jazz score with all happy and smiling. Only in Hollywood such silliness and permit to make such bad films are allowed.

Obsession (Brian DePalma, 1976) If you want to watch a masterpiece, then watch Hitchcock’s Vertigo, then if you want to watch a remake of Vertigo with a thrilling twist, then watch DePalma’s Obsession, a remake so similar than at times you seem to be watching Vertigo complete with Bernard Herman’s score. What makes Vertigo much better film than Obsession is not just mere mastery of Hitchcock’s genius as filmmaker, but Vertigo is made up of two half world, combined into one, the first half we see a realistic world and on the second we seem the creation of that reality through a neurotic mind, as in Obsession, the film start from beginning with the character living in that world which a creation of a neurotic mind in search of lost times in the realistic world. In Obsession, DePalma shows his obsession with the world of Hitchcock, with multiple homage to the master.

Sum Call It Luw (James B. Harris, 1973) How did I came upon watching this trash? I don’t know, and I wish I had not, nothing in it is worth watching, poor script, poor acting, poor direction, and too many poor improvisation.

Meeks Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011) It has been more than a decade that I had seen a Western so fresh, new and revisionist as Meeks Cutoff. One has to go back to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), as the last great western. A genre never die, but a great film in a genre should always reinvent itself, and it takes Reichardt to do so. With a story-line that mix between Wellman’s Yellow Sky and Ford’s Wagon Masters, Reichardt add a new dimension to the story, that of knowing, asking questions at every turn, just like the history of the West, with its dark tragic past, its brutal treatment of the Native, the guilt of that history that is that nothing short of genocidal, always hidden, rarely questioned with it’s muddy historical accuracy, the film almost become a mediation into that history, a road taken with no end in sight, and the only vision is that of a Native Indian, in which we are unable to communicate, yet it lead us into that unknown territory. A Masterpiece

Adieu Philippine (Jacques Rozier, 1962) Ah, the French New Wave, more than 5 decades later, it is still refreshing to watch a French New Wave film than a dozen recent films combined. Everything is so innocent, as if the birth of cinema were not in the late 1800s, but rather, the early 1956s. With its loose plot, giveaway moment, raw cinematography, improvisation, and that wonderful breaking of the third walls, those marvelous scenes when the characters stare at you, from beyond the silver screen, they gesture to you as if you are part of their world, and they of ours, the cinema that should have ended all cinemas. Adieu Philippine is an essential example of the French New Wave watch, a nostalgic one to watch, and that ending, shot at a distance, we are kept in the cold and far away from the characters, yet, it leave you in the edge of tears. Masterful.

Mister Freedom (William Klein, 1969) Mister Freedom is your Captain America, representing America’s imperialism and capitalism, just replace the cold war against the Red Soviet and Red China with the illusionist War on Terror, and you have Klein’s Mister Freedom fitting perfectly to today’s world as the same imperialism and capitalism continue, but with a new face. With its satire of super-hero comic book characters, mix of hyperrealism from Godard’s Alphaville, noir detective films, Bunuelian surrealism and documentary footage, the film take a different shape at every turn, great one.

Into The Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011) Herzog’s cinema always challenge the viewer into taking a journey to the dark psyche of the human mind, in Into The Abyss, it is the world of the violent crimes, seeing from the perspective of the victims, the criminals on the death rows and the executioners, the films seem lengthy and amateurish in style, but that the is intention of Herzog, more of a chamber music than a symphony of a documentary, worth watching.

A Song Is Born (Howard Hawks, 1948) Billy Wilder’s story is a modern retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarf, but instead of Snow White, a bomb shell of a night club singer take charges of the lives of seven musical professors who locked themselves up unaware of the coming of Jazz age. Much inferior to Ball of Fire, it is worth watching for its unique use of music as a metaphor to the characters, not to mention the lesson on the history of Jazz to be learned, hilarious.

Korotkie vstrechi (Kira Muratova, 1967) A story of a triangular love affair unlike any others, told in flash back, with a patch of a narrative, the story of a country girl who become a maid in a house only to find out that she once was in love with the man of the house, the only problem is, he is a geologist and always away, so the wife and the maid both meditate on the the times with him, he is always shown in flashback, with objects being the tool that trigger the memory, the men all seem from the POV of the women, rather naive, distance and cold, strange creatures they are in the film. Worth Watching.

War and Peace (Sergey Bondarchuk, 1967) I remember the first time I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I felt in love with the book, so majestic, I felt that I was not reading a book, but rather living it, lived the moments, I felt in love with Natasha just as André does when he listen to her on the balcony, I cried like Natasha when André dies, felt the cloud and the sky as Andre lay on the ground with Napolen looking down on him, “What a beautiful Death”. I felt it, because Tolstoy is God among the all the writers, he is the greatest of them all, and War and Peace is the greatest Novel ever written. So put yourself in the shoes of poor Bondarchuk, how can you make a great film out of the greatest novel ever written? He does it by pulling all the tricks off the the cinematic book, everything that is cinema is capable off, Bondarchuk does it in War and Peace, take the camera, it take the form of all being and none-being, it become a rock, a tree, the sun, the moon, the grass, the rivers, it is everything, among the countless memorable passages in War and Peace is after the hunt, when the Wolf is captured, Tolstoy take us into the mind of that poor Wolf as it observe the madness around, Bondarchuk even capture that moment in the film beautifully as the camera take the POV of the Wolf. Lush, beautiful and pure majestic, a great film from a great novel.

Ageman: Tales of a Golden Geisha (Juzo Itami, 1990) Nothing is taboo with Itami, as he make fun right and left in Ageman, with its hilarious plot of a Golden Geisha who bring luck to any man who posses her, she become the luck of many men, to get what they want, only in return, to put her aside at the end, but with her golden heart, she never seem to learn from her mistake and always end up where she started, even when the story turn tragic, it become more hilarious. Never miss an Itami film.

It Happened Here (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1965) Brownlow’s first film is a mess, amateurish, it shows clearly his naivety to filmmaking, with many ideological mumbo jumbo, what if Germany had occupied England? It never happened, and it if it had happened, it would had not been like It Happened Here, for nothing happen in there.

Hollywood (Kevin Brownlow and David Gill) Over 11 hours in length, Brownlow and Gill’s story of Hollywood in the silent era is a must watch for any film lover, magnificent in scale, it is an astonishing achievement and a testament to the greatest time of cinema at its pursuit; when the image spoke alone, the silent era, a must see.

Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011) There are many film adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, the best that I had seen had always been F.W Murnau’s Faust, for it is a fantasy adaptation with no desire to be realistic or true to the book. Sokurov’s Faust is equal in power to that of Murnau, it is a film that only a philosopher of a poet could make it, as complex in nature as Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Sokurov create a world that on the surface seems like a realistic portrayal of the world of Faust, but underneath, it is a metaphor for Faust’s inner dilemmas, so what you end up seeing on the screen, is a world of two, always in conflict with each other, that of the reality and that of the poetic, the outer illusion of what you see, and the inner conflict within it, the battle instead of good and evil become that of the inner and the outer realization of a metaphorical world within Faust, it is a majestic and hypnotizing watch.

April, 2012

Il momento della verita (Francesco Rosi, 1965)

Il momento della verita (Francesco Rosi, 1965)

La Maman et la putain (Jean Eustache, 1973) Jut like a Bresson film, no matter how many time you watch La Maman et la putain, you always end up taking the characters in the film for real people, did Alexander marry her at the end? You ask yourself, knowing clearly that Alexander is no other than Jean-Pierre Leaud, in his best performance of any film. La Maman et la putain is among those films that I worship, I adore, I love, and like those other ones, I get back to watching it at least once a year, each time, discovering something new, for it is full of life. You may call it a tale of two film, the first one is all about Alexander talking and talking, then talking and talking to others, he get to like to the talking so much, that he start looking at the camera and talking to us, the second tale of the film is that of him listening, he listen, and listen, he listen s as others talk, yes, it get to a point, that he just stare at us listening. If you ever wanted to watch a film that is true to life, so full of quotation that it become a textbook to quote from, then watch La Maman et la putain, for it is a film to be quoted.

The Drugstore aka La pharmacie N 3 Shanghai (Joris Iven, 1976) Intriguing look at the effect of Mao’s Cultural Revolution on China, seeing through the daily task of a small pharmacy in Shanghai. Rich in imagery and characters, the documentary take a life of its own as it search and find characters in a city of 11 million, self-sufficient in its production and consumptions, the film is a testament to Maoism at work, not to be missed.

Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Love nature, don’t destroy nature, or else, Pom Poko will get you. Takahata never seem to amaze, he can take the viewer into the edge of tears by creating such nostalgic and magical moment, that you seem to be lost in it. Take the ending of Pom Poko, the love for nature that is long gone, a wishful look at humanity that once lived in harmony with nature, it leave the viewer cheering for the little raccoons against humans. The power of animation that live action film never will catch up too is the power to tell story thought the use of metamorphosis of characters, the instant change in shape, emotion and appearance is animation’s greatest tool, and Takahata use it to the limit magically, just watch the night parade Pom Poko, you will be dazzled, that is a guarantee.

Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995) It is hard to imagine that the man who once made of the best anime of my childhood, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, is the same man who made Ghost in the Shell, a brilliant re-carnation of Chris Marker’s La jetée, in which past, present, future, is one, reality, phantasy, hallucination become memories of a mind that lack any recollection, a future world, in which all is dim, individuals that all are one, a world with one aim, to create a network of one, the ghosts in the shells are nothing short of reflection of long forgotten individuals. Beautiful.

Lupin III – The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1979) Miyazaki, you are the god among all the animators, the master of them all. Who else can create a character like Lupin, a thief with a Golden heart, without making it too predictable in his actions? a story that is an animation version of a Hitchcok film , with an action thriller add to it, a story that is politically intriguing; a small kingdom with loyalty run a counterfeiting dynasty, with Interpol, UN, the Soviet and the American all knowing about it, but, only Lupin can crack the case. Magnificent.

Ružové sny aka Pink Dreams (Dušan Hanák, 1976) A light heart of a story in forbidden love between a young boy and a Roma girl, set in a small town of Slovakia, in which everyone seem to know other’s little secret, prejudice of the town on both side of the race, the love story goes on, charming, nostalgic, and funny in that style of the Eastern European comedy, in which tragedy of daily life become an inspiration for the comedy, a must watch.

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012) Ah, the good old love melodrama of the 50s is back with a touch of Davies; the overexposed lightbulb, the rainy pavement, the flashbacks, the good oldies pop music playing on the background and those characters with those lines that are only possible in the realm of the fictions, that can become laughable if it were not at the hand of masters like Sirk, Fassbinder and in the case of The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies. Marvelous, in class with the classic melodramas.

The Man Without A Map (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1968) The radical Teshigahara of the 60s couldn’t get more radical than this; take Philip Marlow and mash him with Antonion’s Blow-up and you get The Man Without A Map, it is indeed a magnificent films without a map, unlike many detective film, instead of the detective being observer, he get observed, by no other than the camera, no other than the viewer, the film has some of the greatest psychedelic framing ever put on the screen, the camera seem to be high, it is indeed. What you get in The Man Without A Map is nothing, but that is its greatest, you are taking to ride to the nowhere, in which nothing is what it seem to be, everything happened on their own, the only logic is that of searching in the land of the nowhere. A forgotten masterpiece.

Future Boy Conan (Hayao Miyazaki, 1978) The 26 episode of the animation series, Future Boy Conan was the first work as a director of Hayao Miyazaki, and it was my first encounter with his wonderful world, only back then, as a child watching the series on TV, I did no know who Hayao Miyazaki, yet I felt in love with Conan, watching now the original version over a period three days, it bring back all the childhood memories that I once experienced. Future Boy Conan could be called the root of all Miyazaki’s later works. Growing up as as a child, I was exposed to the animi series of the two masters, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, they were my first love for a world that still is dear to me, that of the animation.

El sol del membrillo aka Quince Tree of the Sun (Víctor Erice, 1992) Made in the same time as Kiarostami’s Close-up, El sol del membrillo is a unique masterpiece of realism lost in the territories of fiction, just as Close-up, we are taking into world that is created right in front of us, in an attempt to capture the process of re-creating reality in the form of fiction, within this form of documentary, Erice, like Kiarostami, create a world of fiction that is more truthful than what we consider to be reality. Just as Antonio López García fails to capture the true essences of the the eponymous quince tree, for once, he fail to create that realism that he is so famous for, Erice delivers in creating his world, that of achieving true artist re-creation of reality. Truly, one of the best of the 90s, one to be hold.

Zazie Dans Le Metro (Louis Malle, 1960) Well, put the cinema of Chaplin, Keaton, Tashlin, Tati and Loony Toones on crack and you get, you guess it right, Zazie Dans Le Metro lost among the French New Waves, entertaining, refreshing, but, dated, with its use of gags and effects to the limit, for its time, refreshing, but today, it has been used so much, it seem dated. Still, its a French New Wave film, made a time in which everything was permitted, rules were made to be broken.

Der Verlorene (Peter Lorre, 1951) Peter Lorre is a doctor turned into the German version of Jack the Ripper, only to take a fake identity in a Polish town as he reflect thought flashbacks to crimes committed, half a noir, half a tribute of Fritz Lang, it is a decent try for the only work of Peter Lorre as a director, he is cooler than ever, his forehead twisted as he smoke his cigarettes, leaning sideway, with one eye closed. The coolest killer you will ever see on the screen.

Cadaveri eccellenti (Francesco Rosi, 1976) “So, the people will never know the truth?”, “Truth is not always revolutionary”. It is always a delight to discover a masterpieces that influenced the other, as in the case of Rosi’s Cadaveri eccellenti, a masterpiece of politically intervening thriller that has a definite influences on both, Coppela’s The Conversation and Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog, in both form and style. The story of a respected detective, played silently and brilliantly by Lino Ventura who end up being the main player of in a surrealist game, Cadavre Exquis, not knowing that he is a pawn of a game with unknown result. The film open with rotten corpses hidden in a basement away from the masses, and end among the statues of the past, in museum shown as the official history, a metaphor for all that is rotten in the official version of the truth as the Stat hold, the official version is known, but the truth remain hidden. A masterpiece, so far, my favorite of Rosi.

Uomini Contro (Francesco Rosi, 1970) In war, everything that is innocent must perish, so it is in Rosi’s Uomini Contro, among one of most realistic anti-war film, set during the trench battles of WWI, with the enemy not being the Austrian, but rather the bureaucracy in the chain of command in the Italian army, as one General is capable of sending thousands of men into their death, the line between tragedy and comedy is drawn to the perfection, the tragedy is so great, that is become comical at times, with the genius behind the film being no other than the great screenwriter, Toni Guerra, I can’t think of any other writing such ironic scenes, that is between sanity and insanity to such tragic scale that is become comical, as is the scenes with the brutal General Leone sending men to death out of nothing but curiosity. Great one.

The Man Without a Star (King Vidor, 1955) Compared to Duels in the Sun, Vidor’s The Man Without a Star seem like small B film, but it is one with a heart, as the story of the old West become the battle of taking the land, setting up the new boundaries, and man’s biggest enemy is shaped in the form of barbed wires, as grass become scare, like the rest of Vidor’s Western, both side are at fault, and a character has no choice but to side with one in order to survive the battle of the barbed wires, but not for long, as the hero ride away in the end, alone. Worth Watching.

Lightning Strikes Twice (King Vidor, 1951) Call it a noir film with a murder mystery set in the old west. Similar in plot to Vidor’s Ruby Gentry, the story of an innocent girl from the east who fall in love with an ex-convict accused of murdering his wife, once on the death row only to be proven innocent by a hang jury, with a women deciding his fate that turn out to be a jealous lover, who goes to the extreme to have him, played marvelously by no other than Mercedes McCambridge. Vidor’s subtle direction glue you to screen to the end. Vidor, the man who was truly a King, take on the noir genre and does it perfectly.

This Must Be the Place (Paolo Sorrentino, 2011) What a trashy film, it is hard to imagine the same man who had made Le Conseguenze Dell’amore is the same one making This Must Be the Place, with Seam Pen and the rest making an ass out of themselves as Sorrentino does his best to save the poor script by stylizing the film with his camera moving up and down, left and right, set to the loud music. Skip it, one of the worst of 2011.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Isao Takahata, 1978) Ah, Marco, how much I love you, you were the hero of my childhood. The little Marco who leave Genoa, travel all the way from Italy to the most remote part of Argentina in search of her mother, still my favorite animi serious, and Marco still my hero. I loved him so much when I was little, that I cut my hair to his style, I even would try to imitate his talk, the little boy, who always wanted the benefit of others before that of himself. 52 episodes of pure Gold, a nostalgia to watch with childhood memory still intact. Love it beyond love.

Jaguar (Jean Rouch, 1967) One of the reason that Jean Rouch’s documentary works never get old, always as fresh as the days they were made, is the fact that they are simple stories about simple people told in a form that is more of a doc-fiction, but unlike today’s many manipulative documentary, Rouch always aim for the simplicity even when manipulating the audience, in the case of Jaguar, a film is formed through the use of of voice-over, rather charming and humors, set around four men; a farmer, a fisherman, a shepherd and a playboy, almost a folk talk lost in modernity, they live their lives in a small remote villages in Niger, aiming to travel to the golden coast of Ghana, perhaps to find a job, only to end where they started after a long journey, in the process, we witness everything, from colonization to modernization to traditionalism, all with a hilarious voice-overs from the characters, not a second of boredom, that is the beautiful world of Jean Rouch.

Inquietude aka Anxiety (Manoel de Oliveira, 1998) Three stories adopted to the screen, each with a unique touch. The first one, pure theatrical; a story about immortality, with the characters being a Father and a Son. The second one, pure Dryer; everything is calculated to outmost perfection, a story about love, rather impossibility of love, with the character being a prostitute and a dreamy writer. The third one, pure fantasy; a folk story about solitude. All three, with a touch of Oliveira is made into an imitative watch, about the inability to capture what one desires most.

Parole et utopie (Manoel de Oliveira, 2000) Oliveira’s attempt to retell the story of the 17th century Jesuit priest, Antonio Vieira, might not be an entertaining watch, but it is defiantly one worth watching, based on actual historical events, and relying mostly on personal letters, sermons and judicial account, the film take a form of a subtle narration, with mes-en scene that are exact duplicate of period painting, to utmost details. The character of Antonio Vieira is played by three different actors, and we see the radical change; from the passionate youth, to the skeptical middle aged scholar, to the pessimist old man who is let down at the end by the same Church that he dedicate his life too.

Ill Met By Moonlight (Powel & Pressburger, 1957) Such a bad film, it is so dated, there is nothing is left of it, but to call it a war propaganda film, only it was made 22 years after the war. The ridicules portrayal of the German army as little children who are fooled by bunch of amateurs who spend their time drinking, joking and singing, and on the sideline fighting a guerilla war. Powel and Pressburger might have made many masterpieces, but they sure also made some lousy ones.

Mandingo (Richard Fleischer, 1975) More than 25 years later, Mandingo is still as provocative as the day it was made, and it is a film that is only possible to have been made in the 70s. It is hard to imagine a big studio with big stars would make such film, with its true portrayal of slavery, rarely does it ask for sympathy from the viewer, rather, it tells it as it is, human psychology in the face of a brutal system, in which a man is valued as a mere commodity. Among the forgotten masterpieces of the 70s American cinema.

Il momento della verita (Francesco Rosi, 1965) I remember when I was in Barcelona, we passed by a small stadium and I asked the driver of the taxi what it was? With a sad voice, he told me that it was a place where they fight bulls, and then explained that in a month time the last bullfighting will take place, for the Catalan parliament had voiced to ban bullfighting. He was sad, because he told me that to him bullfighting was an art, and indeed it is an art, as it is shown in Rosi’s The Moment of Truth, the beauty and ugly side of bullfighting, in which passion take over sanity. You may call it, the most Kuleshovian of all Rosi’s film, as montage is the center block of the film, Rosi had always the genius to make the most out of documentary footage into fictional one, to create a narrative fitting best the imagery, as it is the prove in Il momento della verita, the story of a torero, the rise and fall of a tragic hero, almost a Greek tragedy.

The Gambler (Karl Ruiz, 1974) The brain behind The Gambler is the script by James Toback, more of an adaptation of two masterwork by Doestovsky, The Gambler and Notes from Underground, no man knew more about a Gambler’s obsessions with winning and gambling addiction than Doestovsky, he was a master gambler himself, writing some of his masterpiece just to pay off his debts, the tribute is clear in the film, with quotation and poster of the master hanging all over James Cann’s rooms. The obsession of a true gambler is not just to win, but also, the risk of losing, the higher the risk, the bigger the thrill. Another forgotten one from 70s.

Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011) Such a bad film, an example of Soderbergh at his worst, it seem that Haywire was made to show case an international tourist guide into various cities, with a tough girl chasing down bad men, rapid editing, fast paced dialogue, back and forth that make no sense, as Soderbergh try his old trick of putting together multiple narrative that is anything but narrative, skip it, one of the worst of 2011.

Air Mail (John Ford, 1932) A minor early sound film from John Ford, the story of a group of pilots on a mission to deliver mail, only to end up delivering the mail, but not themselves. Not the John Ford as we know him, he is yet to achieve his best.

Man on a Tightrope (Elia Kazan, 1953) Utterly disgusting piece of anti-red propaganda, part of the shameful period in Kazan’s career, a year after his testimonies in the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the man who had made a masterpiece a year earlier, made Viva Zapata, and a year later makes One the Waterfront, has to squeeze Man on a Tightrope, perhaps not to be blacklisted like many other leftist filmmakers of the time, but Man on a Tightrope goes against everything that Kazan stood for in both Viva Zapata and One the Waterfront, a complete reverse, one he must have wanted to forget about, utter propaganda, and the worst from Kazan.

May, 2012

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Vincente Minnelli, 1962)

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Vincente Minnelli, 1962)

Un Americano a Roma (Steno, 1954) Un Americano a Roma is a wonderful watch, in the tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte, Alberto Sordi play a passionate Italian living in Rome, the only problem is, he want to live in America, so he take over his phantasy as he become Gene Kelly one minute and the next he is Kirk Douglas trying to advertise a new version of Ace in the Hole, this time a man’s leg is stuck under a car, as he call for media, the BBC, CCD, DDT, the Ice-cream man, the carousel, wow, what an ace in the hole, simply hilarious film, no other word to describe it.

Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (Uli Edel, 1981) You only have to watch the first and last three minute of Christiane F to know the whole plot of the film, 5 minute of monologue that is all needed, for the rest of the film is noting but scenes of teenagers using drug, getting high, looking for drug, with some scenes of Edel showing how bad it is to get high, then bak again to teenagers using drug, getting high, looking for drug, repetitious into boredom from a boring film.

The Underworld Story (Cy Endfield, 1950) Great noir film. It seem that Endfield had a pre-notion that he will end up blacklisted like the Dan Duryea character in The Underworld Story, for only three years later he did get blacklisted by McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, with the press and the media manipulating and swinging the public opinion according to which way the wind blew. Another master brush from a man who knew best the manipulation of the truth in the American media, you might say that the film has a cheesy ending; as a corrupt journalist wouldn’t make such a radical moral change of becoming the good guy, but he never does become moral, it is rather his last attempt to get most of what he had always wanted to get, that is financial gain. Endfield would follow a year later with his best, The Sound of Fury.

Ticket of No Return (Ulrike Ottinger, 1979) Ticket of No Return is an example of everything that is wrong with a film trying hard to be intellectual at the same time making fun of an intellectual and a consumer society, with statistic scenes and bizarre charcuteries, not to mention the film’s hard try to keep the viewer at a distance by avoiding of creating anything that could labeled as a narrative, no logical coherence of activity, rather it try hard to be the opposite of both, and in trying, fall flat, demand your ticket to be returned, for the film is anything but a film.

Bye Bye Monkey (Marco Ferreri, 1978) Gérard Depardieuis Lafayette, he is a modern man, his attachment is to a bicycle and a whistle, that is until he get attached to King Kong’s orphaned baby son. Marcello Mastroianni is Luigi , the old type of man, who want attachment from women and positions, everyone is insane in a world full of insanity and weirdness with Ferreri’s surreal imagery dominating the film.

House of Tolerance (Bertrand Bonello, 2011) There have been many bad films about brothel, none of them is as bad as House of Tolerance, a historical flop, with its one demential portrayal of women as a victim of men’s pleasure, in return, they perform what is asked of them for the sake of paying their debts to the same house they work for, all the characters are emotionally dead in the film, it might as well have been a two hour of a funeral ceremony.

Chi è senza peccato aka He Who is Without Sin (Raffaello Matarazzo, 1952) While Rossellini, Visconti and DeSica took the world by storm in the late 40s and early 50s with Italian neorealism, at the same time, there was Matarazzo, making some of the cheesiest melodrama of the time, and Chi è senza peccato is a good example of other Italian cinema that had popular following among the crowd, looking back to it now, it is dated, old and mentioned only as a footnote of a film, but it is always worth watching the other side of the coin, even if it is a rusty one.

Proibito rubare aka Guagilo (Luigi Comencini, 1948) Comencini’s Proibito rubare will always be in the shadow of DeSica’s Shoeshine, for the later realistically show lives of children working on the street, desperate in a world dominated by careless adults, and their only way out of the poverty is a door to jail. In Proibito rubare, that world is cruel, but Comencini’s take is a comical one, with Adolfo Celi playing the role of Don Pietro, a missionary priest, while on his way to a mission to Africa end up in Naples with his suitcase stolen, after a cat and mouth chase, he end up discovering the poverty of the ghettos and decide that the children need his help more than his missionary duty, what follow is a hilarious take on Don Pietro trying to save the children, and when the savior comes at last, it comes in the shape of a dozen stolen watches, of course, without Don Pietro knowing about it. Worth Watching, the film got heart.

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011) What a waste of 100 minute of time watching Shame, a dilemma of a man not capable of controlling his desire became nothing short of a laughable joke, how bad the film is? Very, very, very bad, that is how bad it is, very cheap. Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender two of the most overrated director/actor working today.

A Country Doctor (Koji Yamamura, 2007) Interesting short animi take on Kafka’s A Country Doctor, rather too stylish at times, with a take on horror imagery rather than surreal.

Malombra (Mario Soldati, 1942) Antonio Fogazzar’s novel has been made many times into film, but none of them surpasses Soldati’s adaptation of Malombra. Isa Miranda is brilliant as the young woman who think she is the incarnation of one of her ancestor, Cecilia, the victim of a jalousie husband who had locked her up in a castle to die, she take the role of her to revenge, whereupon, she bring catastrophes upon everyone. I don’t know if Soldati had seen Hitchock’s Rebecca, but the Hitchock’s film seem to have an influence on Malombra; from the use of the castle to the twisting of the plot, to the use of lighting in creating an atmosphere of horror with architecture and space alone. The best thing about Malombra, it leave you wondering to wither there ever was a Cecilia, if there was, did she came back to hunt? Silly question it might be, but the film never answer, it is for you to decide. Among the best of what I had seen of pre Italian neo-realism, I’m sure there are more to discover.

The 47 Ronin: Parts 1 & 2 (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941-1942) Ah, what a masterpiece in complexity Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin is, made the same year as Citizen Kane, but on the other side of the world. Mizoguchi make the best use of what made the films of Welles, Ford and Wyler great in that period; long takes, depth of filed and camera movement, more than 70 years later, few films has managed to surpass the mastery of Mizoguchi technique of making such complex scenes to such simplicity. It is true, the story has a twist element of war time propaganda to it, with loyalty and honor to one’s superior put above reason, but that does not take away from the greatness and timelessness of this masterpiece, it is one for ages.

Ososhiki aka The Funeral (Juzo Itami, 1984) There is a thin line separating the boundary between the world of tragedy and that of comedy, that of laughters, and that of tears, only few masters can walk on that line, and in doing so, they create a world full of sentimentality, Juzo Itami is among the masters of that world, and from what I have seem from him so far, The Funeral is by far his best, in it, he reach his perfection. Four days in the life of a family as they attend a funeral, or rather, everything you want to know about Japanese funeral but where afraid to ask. The battle between tradition and modernity, customs and behavior, pretending and being, feeling and reacting, all take the form of a drama that slowly shift into a dark comedy, only to end up as a masterpiece on the inability to deal with our inner most emotions. Itami never let one emotion conquer the other, rather, in the span of a spilt second, he take you to one world, then back into the other. That short appearance Chishy Ryu, brought back all the nostalgic memory of Ozu. Masterful.

The Adventures Of Cheburashka (Roman Kachanov, 1971-1983) No other stop-motion animation can top Kachanov’s The Adventures Of Cheburashka with its masterly of technique, form and a heart warming story. The cute little Cheburashka and the wise always forgiven crocodile, Gena, are two eternal characters, it is hard for one not to fall in love with them. Almost a recreation of Chaplin, with sentimentally that are as heart warming as any Chaplin film, the comedy comes from little incidents that are beyond charming. The first scene of the first episode set the tone; little Cheburashka is founded when a grocer open an orange box, poor Cheburashka, thinking he is from a country called “Orange”, and those nostalgic songs, once you heard them, you never forget them.

Le dernier tournant (Pierre Chenal, 1939) Le dernier tournant is the first adaptation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, but looking at Tay Garnett ‘s version of the same novel, Le dernier tournant is way down the steps, with Fernand Gravey playing an older, loonier version of Frank Chambers, Michel Simon flop the character of Nick Papadakis more of a comic one than a tragic, and then there is Corinne Luchaire, anyone can play Cora, and be better femme fatal than her, she is all glamour and nothing more.

Calle Mayor aka Main Street (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1956) My second film from Bardem, after Death of a Cyclist, and I have to say, Calle Mayor is a masterpiece in psychological suspense. The story of a fallen women become a mediation on the nature of men’s cruelty, the realization of the truth in one’s inner personality as it clashes with that of the culture, the acceptance of such suffering and inability to escape it. Without being too political, any viewer who is familiar with the history of Franco’s Spain, might easily find the similarity of the small providential town and Spain, everyone seem to know everyone else’s little secret, they all behave like one another, or pretend to do, multiple exposure to religious and military imagery, not to mention, the inability of anyone to confess the truth, as the truth seem to harm more than heal. And Betsy Blair, what a performance, even as her voice is dubbed, her facial performance is all needed, the flicker in her eyes, only she could convince a viewer of that innocent look of being in love at the age of 36, yet behaving like a young girl of 16, she is brilliant, and she make the film brilliant with her.

Center Stage aka Actress (Stanley Kwan, 1992) How masterful of a complex film Actress is? Take the following: Maggie Cheung play Maggie Cheung in the film, Maggie Cheung play Ruan Lingyu in the film, Maggie Cheung pretend to play Ruan Lingyu in the film, Maggie Cheung play the fictional role of Ruan Lingyu playing a fictional role in her film, then Ruan Lingyu play Ruan Lingyu. What is shown to us, is a documentary world that is lost in a fictional one, we see Stanley Kwan trying to put together the puzzle of a life of Ruan Lingyu, then we see him direct a fictional film on the life of Ruan Lingyu, we see a world that is dead but alive in the same time, a legend becoming a fact, but a fact that has already become a legend. The best scene that could describe the mastery of creating Cinema, make believe, breaking the third barrier, and as a viewer going for it: A close up of Ruan Lingyu dead, we are in the fictional world, but then, we realize she is breathing, as she become Maggie Cheung playing Ruan Lingyu, back to the real world, then a wide shot of Stanley Kwan shouting cut and telling Maggie Cheung to take a deep breath for the next take, in a fictional world that is a documentary sold to be fiction, then, back to the take on Maggie Cheung as she take the deep breath, the word, “action”, and once again Maggie Cheung become Ruan Lingyu, dead in her coffin, back to the the fictional world, “OK”, Ruan Lingyu, become Maggie Cheung again, but wait, it is not over yet, the shot is cut to; a still of the real Ruan Lingyu, dead on her coffin. The mastery of Actress, in which, everything is cinema, and nothing is. Masterful.

The Honey Pot (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1967) Ben Jonson’s Volpone with a few modern twist, with an adaptation of Mankiewicz based on Fredric Knott’s play based on Sterling’s novel, the twisting of the plot even fool the wisest, although all the element are there, yet, the resolution always fool the outcome, another entertaining suspense in humor from Mankiewicz, as the play game become a dark comedy in murder, Sleuth will topple The Honey Pot only a five years later.

Los chicos (Marco Ferreri, 1959) Los chicos is the story of four friend, always complaining, bored with life in their neighborhood in Madrid, to pass the boredom, each find a passion in live, only one in the end seem to find what he was looking for, to the rest, the film open with them sitting and watching the rain, and it end with then sitting and watching the rain. An early one from Ferreri, very different from his late radical film, but one thing in common; nothing seem to be happening in the film. Good one.

Riso Amaro (Giuseppe De Santis, 1949) The argument can go on, wither Riso Amaro belong to the category of Neo-realism films or not? My take; it does not belong to the Neo-realism movement, for its use of well known actors, artificial plot, heavy use of style, symbolism, and above all, the rapid shift in the psychology of the characters, with everything being on the side of good vs evil, a take on the world, that Neo-realism rejected. What is good about Riso Amaro, it never shy away from mixing genres and styles to tell its story, that is why, it is a film on its own, it could have been made a decade before or a decade later.

Solomon and Sheba (King Vidor, 1959) Solomon and Sheba is remembered most for ending the career of the great King Vidor, the man who once made The Crowd, a film about simple people, his last film is a sensual retelling of the biblical story of Solomon and Sheba, a forgotten epic among the historical films of the 50s, at the hand of Vidor, the film become a sensual love story with ironic even laughable twists, but that is what make it so different from the rest of the historical films of the time as Gina Lollobrigida woo not just Solomon but every man that catches her eyes with her sensual performance, and that golden mirror effect at the final battle, mind blowing. Worth Watching.

Cloak and Dagger (Fritz Lang, 1946) An American scientist (Gary Copper) is recruited by the Government to travel to Switzerland and then to Italy to find info on the Italian and German attempt in creating an atomic bomb, despite his hatred for the bomb, he is convinced that it is better for them to have it than the Nazi, and he does everything in his power to stop them, including committing his first murder in a sequence that is shot in brilliantly, with almost slow motion use of violent, suspenseful mastery from Lang. The irony of the film is a scientist working on the bomb trying to connivence another not to work on the bomb but as he put it, “science for humanity”. Any film from Lang is always welcomed.

Sbatti il mostro in Prima Pagina aka Slap the Monster on the Front Page (Marco Bellocchio, 1972) Bellocchio’s film all deal with the dark side of the human psyche lost in the political spectrum, Sbatti il mostro in Prima Pagina is Bellocchio condemnation of the press, that monster that only uplhold what is best fit to sell, to manipulate the public’s opinion with simple propaganda, turning which ever side it best fit, as the manipulative publisher (Gian Maria Volonte) put it best, “We have to be a Protagonist and not just an observer”, only that, the press is the antagonist, the mass is the herd, the innocent are the guilty, the guilty are innocent, even the editor himself is a pawn at the hand of a capitalist owner, making him sing his tunes. Another masterful film from 70s Italy, a thrilling murder mystery with political twist to it that best describe the turmoil of Italy in the 70s.

Summer Storm (Douglas Sirk, 1944) Based on Chekhov’s only novel, The Shooting Party, at the hand of Sirk, Summer Storm becomes a melodrama of a forgotten love, with George Sander playing the role of the Judge and Everett Horton in the part of the Coun. Sirk take a license by updating the story to after the Revolution of 1917, with the story being told in flash back to the pre-revolution days, and a different ending that is almost a redemption of the Judge’s character, something Chekhov will never do. But, Chekhov and Sirk is a treat not to be missed, they fit perfectly together.

The Fugitive (John Ford, 1946) Henry Fonda ride a donkey into town, but this time not as Abraham Lincoln, but a Priest on the run, what follow is a 12 minute of orgy of pure spiritualism, so bold and stylish that is become nothing short of laughable irony on religion ritual, based on a novel by Graham Green, The Fugitive drift into a propaganda on christian missionary, with a cross in almost every frame, for the real stuff, watch Bunuel’s masterpiece, Nazarin.

Shockproof (Douglas Sirk, 1949) Yes, you better believe it, the script is by Sam Fuller and the direction is Douglas Sirk in Shockproof, mashing up of a tough macho guy with melodrama master, the end result is a noir film; a femme fatal on parol for a murder, she end up falling madly in love with her parol officer, on the sideline is her former lover, a gambler with a golden heart. It has been said that the ending of Fuller was by far more ironic and darker, but it was changed by the studio to make a happy ending possible, the Fuller one was more melodramatic, with the parol officer shooting it out with the cops at the end, he become the criminal the he tries to make the other not to be, the realization of a love that is limited by society, in this case, a cop and criminal, turn to criminal and criminal.

Tobacco Road (John Ford, 1941) It is odd to think that only a year earlier, Ford had made Grapes of Wrath, showing the struggle of the poor class, yet a year later comes Tobacco Road, with its stereotypical portrayal of the hillbillies, portrait of charcuteries living in poverty only made to laugh at, all the desires they seem to have is to fill their bellies, lust, and kick each other around, they are made to laugh at, despite that, toward the end, there are brief moment when Ford recreate few sceneries from Grapes of Wrath, as the old couple are kicked out of their house, with gray sky and the sun setting, they get their decency back as a human being, rather than to laugh at, we feel in sympathy with them.

Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935) She ask Sylvia, “But were you a girl dressed as a boy? or, are you a boy dressed as a girl?”, and the artist answer back, “Sylvester is Sylvia!”. Katharine Hepburn perhaps gives her best performance, a role that fit her best, masculine-feminine. In the first act she play the role of a ruffian boy, then on the second act, she is the most gentle girl, madly in love, the, in the third act, she is back to the role of the boy, only this time, she has her gentle spirit. The film was a financial disaster upon its release, maybe the public were not ready for such fast paces, genre masquerading, and changing roles of the characters, as everyone act in the film more than one role, each times, not only deceiving the viewer, but also other characters in the film. It is a good one, and the public were wrong as they have been many times.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Vincente Minnelli, 1962) One cousin shout to the other, in the last line of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, “My God, Julio, have you done this?”, as the bombs fall on both of them. Based on a Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s novel, updated to that of the WWII, the film follow the live of two family from Argentina as each cousin end up on the opposite side, one a general in the Nazi army, the other on the resistance, but being on the upper class, they always find more in common with each other than the opposite, but that also comes to and end, as the war machine swallow the family into battling each other, the film was a financial disaster upon its release. It was Renoir in Grand Illusion that declared, “The world is divided horizontally by similarities, not vertically by frontiers”, but even that horizontal line breaks at one point, as it does in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Long Gray Line (John Ford, 1955) From Old West to West Point, Ford had always managed to mash the glamour and glory of military life into his film yet never lose the touch to telling the story of simple people with significant attachment to his old Irish background, take The Long Gray Line, after watching it, one might call the film of propaganda of an advertisement and glorification of military life; submitting to order, dying for one’s country without asking questions and romanticizing the notion of military duty, it is all there, but beneath that, the film tell the story of a simple man, an Irish émigré, who, from a being dishwasher become sword master at West Point, his personal story is told almost entirely within the contest of West Point, it is a charming film, with some of Ford’s grander touch, the first meeting between Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara is priceless.

The Letter (Manoel de Oliveira, 1999) Based on the novel by Madame de Lafayette, The Princess of Cleves, 17th century France become today’s France, and Pedro Abrunhosa is a modern day Prince of a rock star. The essence of the novel is there: Two man die for her, as she is in love with the third one, never the less, she could only find her redemption by giving up all the worldly desire rather than finding out what the true love is, Mme de Clève’s dilemma is the inability to face consequence of love, she rather live in a fantasy of being madly in love and not unite with the man she is madly in love with, when you can’t face it, run from it. Minimalism at its best.

The Last Bolshevik aka Le tombeau d’Alexandre (Chris Marker, 1992) Nostalgic, lyrical, poetic, raw and cynical, few word to describe Marker’s masterful essays on the giant Dinosaurs of the early Soviet cinema, composed as letter to Alexandre Medvedkine, as he reflect on Eisenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin, and the history of the Soviet Union in span of two hour of tour de force, let the image speak.

The Clock (Vincente Minnelli, 1945) Incredible little film that touches the heart. Before there was Before Sunrise, there was Minnell’s take on two stranger meeting by chance and falling in love, but for an audience in 1945, the only resolution for such story had to be marriage, but even that at the hand of Minnelle become a masterful sketch in humor as the clock tick and the time passes, such precious time for two stranger, to know each other more, as the Milk Man put it, “You can find out about somebody in a minute as by knowing him a lifetime”, in The Clock, 90 minute is enough to know two person, two people in a big city, as Minnelli’s always moving camera capture them among the crowd. Chances are what determines the meeting of the two, just as in life, it is chance the determine the plot of The Clock, little incident lead to another, always in a logical coherence, Minnelli at his best.

Little Buddha (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1993) The story of Buddha, everyone knows it, but at the hand of Bertolucci, the essence of it is shown, that is what is best about the film, those golden moment in the life of Siddhartha, that magical sequence of Siddhartha discovering the sickness, old age and death, executed brilliantly by Bertolucci. As for the modern tale of the Little Buddha, the film could have been without it, it is a story of two film, one great, one not so great, but you can’t separate the two.

Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1981) The title giveaway the whole plot of the film, a ridiculous man is fooled by his son that he is being kidnapped to get him out of 1 Billion lire for his comrades, but the man is such a fool, at the end of the film, he “prefer not knowing”, a film that set out as a mystery soon turn into a predictable film with characters that hide more that reveal, it is no wonder at the end, we are left with nothing to wonder about, as the mystery is solved half way through the film.

Sergei Eisenstein – Lesson montage (V.Chubisov) One of the best analysis of Eisenstein’s concept of montage I have ever seen, from dialectic, to metric, to intellectual montage, it is all explained with visual imagery, not to be missed.

Der Kaiser von Kalifornien aka The Emperor of California (Luis Trenker, 1936) The story of John Sutter, the Germna/Swiss emerge who was behind the founding of Sacramento and the discovery of Gold in California, ironically, he himself dies a poor man. His life become a rare western film, coming from Nazi Germany, that is also an irony, for unlike many American Western of the time, Der Kaiser von Kalifornien portray the Native Indian not as savages, but rather with sympathy, also, notable for genuine location photography of California

Sudden Rain (Mikio Naruse, 1956) I remember vividly the moments after I watched my first Naruse, Sound of the Mountain, made only two years before Sudden Rain, I was so overwhelmed with emotion at the ending, that I had to re-watch again and again the scene, to know what had made me so overwhelmed, it was two reasons; the mastery of Naruse at building the hidden emotion of the suffering wife to such a peak, when at the end, it is reached, it leave you devastated in expressing such sympathy with her, for hiding emotion is more powerful than showing it, the second reason had to be the great Setsuko Hara, she is so brilliant at playing the suffering wife in both Sound of the Mountain and Sudden Rain, at hiding her emotion, she suffers so much silently, that you have no choice but to feel for her, to empathize with this character whom always at the end breakdown in tears, that is the magic of Setsuko Hara, you never know what her next emotion is, she hide more than she show, she is the moral of every woman that any man would want, yet, in Sudden Rain, her civil servant husband is too busy looking at her neighbor’s wife, worrying about his financial situation and his stomach to notice such a gem, a great film from two of the greatest, two from the golden era of the Japanese cinema, one of them is still alive, the great Setsuko Hara.

Le Golem (Julien Duvivier, 1936) It is no secret that the son can be better than the Father, and the Student than the teacher, as Jacques was better than Julien. Mixing romance, comedy and horror with the story of Golem has never been as bad as in Duvivier’s Le Golem, even the rabbi got a girl waiting for him, very few horror scene, the long waited awaking of Golem is no match for that of Frankenstein, skip it.

Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (Emir Kusturica, 1981) Kusturica’s coming of age story has all the signature of his later style; the irony in dark humor with a touch of sentimentality, the best sequence in the film generalize the whole cinema of Kusturica: The Father is on his death bed as the son read to him the future planing of cultivating the Indian Ocean to fed 145 Billion people by the moving of the earth’s axis, which make the distance of the earth farther from Sun, therefor, less gravity, as men becomes Titans, living an age between 1 to 3 thousands of years, by the time the son finishes his reading, the poor Father is dead, that is your irony in dark humor. Then comes the sentimental scene, as the poor Father is laid on the ground, facing Mecca, the family praying over him, come in the uncle, “What are you doing? He was a Communist”. That is Kusturica, his first feature film, perhaps was his best.

Plunging On Alone: Monte Hellman’s Life In A Day (Paul Joyce, 1986) Intriguing and interesting look at Monte Hellman, in one and one conversation.

Suspicion – Four O’Clock (TV Episode) (Alfred Hitchcock, 1957) What could be more Hitchockian than a clock ticking on a bomb that is about to goes off? Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich and made for TV, Hitchcock’s Four O’Clock has a very similar structure to that of his earlier TV episode, Breakdown for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, one of my favorite of Hitchock’s TV works, Joseph Cotton gets into a car accident during a drive, into a comma, completely paralyzed, everyone think he is dead, taking to the to the morgue, all we have is his inner monologue as he try to save himself from death. In Four O’Clock, it is the bomb that is about to go off, and the moral of the story, “Don’t dig holes for others, you might fall in it yourself”.

Arrière-saison aka Backward Season (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1950) A restless woman looking out the window, her husband cutting down trees in the forest, their dog run around in a circle, images that open and closes Arrière-saison, three simple character in a simple short film that speak in images only, pure visual experience, the cinema of Kirsanoff. Priceless.

Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende eines Königs aka Mad Emperor: Ludwig II (Helmut Kautner, 1955) Kautner’s Ludwig II got everything, the music from the operas of Richard Wagner, even Wagner himself is in the film, it has a love story, power struggle, war, romantic and lyrical scenery, brilliant Technicolor cinematography, and it even got Klaus Kinski playing the role of Otto, Ludwig’s schizophrenic brother, a role best fit for him. Beautiful film, with O. W. Fischer playing the role of the romantic king brilliantly, toward the end, he become almost the mirror of Nikolai Cherkasov’s role of Ivan in Eisenstein’s in Ivan the Terrible. Masterful film.

Himmel ohne Sterne aka Sky Without Stars (Helmut Kautner, 1955) In the end of Kautner’s Himmel ohne Sterne, dog eat dog, my friend, as the East and West German patrol officers unleash their fury into the no man land that separate East from West Germany. Forget about your Hollywood spy story that depict the border war, and watch this film, among the first and most honest depiction of the post-war Germany, in which the same bureaucrat that once worked under Hitler now occupy the office under the American and the Soviets, the East kill the boy, and the West kill the girl, the two who are lost in a no man’s land. Kautner’s film has stood the time, for it’s story is about simple people caught in a situation much bigger than themselves, and they can’t escape it, the bad guys are not in the film, they are the force the we never see, two superpower in a struggle that spill over into two people’s live, with only one end, that of a tragedy, but even then, the tragedy must continue, as the last shot of the film brilliantly show the pessimism of Kautner’s vision of the future of the border war: The camera track up to the show the tiny figure of the little boy lost in the border, it keep tracking up, then, fade to black. Timeless.

The Thief (Russell Rouse, 1952) I happen to watch The Thief with a friend, after 5 minute, the phone ring. then 10 minute, the phone ring, then 20 minute, the phone keep ringing, not a single dialogue, restless, my friend shouted, “Is somebody gonna say some shit?”, that is about the only suspense in the entire film, you are waiting for somebody to open their mouth and say something. Call it an experimental noir, or a dumb noir, both work. It is an interesting watch, a sound film with no dialogue, but that does not make it a visual film, for playing hide and seek, theatrical miming instead of acting, and avoiding dialogue for the sake of a style make the audience aware of the technique, distancing them from the story, which is a dull one. For the real pure visual experience, watch Murnau’s The Last Laugh, that is the real deal.

The Last Warning (Paul Leni, 1929) Mixing horror, detective mystery and comedy is always a thrill to watch, even if it is a silent one. Leni’s The Last Warning must have been an inspiration for Whale’s The Old Dark House, one of the best of the genre, a group of people in a hunted house, spooky and hilarious at the same time.

Zemestan (Rafi Pitts, 2006) When a film try hard to have a form, a style and yes, even a narrative, buy trying hard, it fall flat, as is the case in Zemestan, even the music and songs of Shajarian could not save the film from being one dimensional.

Distant Drums (Raoul Walsh, 1951) By the time the drum beating cavalry arrive to the rescue, there is nothing to rescue, for Gary Copper has taken care of the business by knifing the Chief of the Seminole. Just as you think you have seen enough negative and racial depiction of the Native Indian in American films, you keep running to them again and again, Walsh’s Distant Drums is no different, in reality it took many decades for the American to bent the knee of the Seminole tripe, one of the Native tripe that resistance the American expansion to the Florida territory with brilliant guerilla tactical warfare, but in the Distant Drums, it only take Gary Copper and a small unite of outcasts to defeat them, only in a film such fairy tale is possible.

Shonen-ki aka Boyhood (Keisuke Kinoshita,, 1951) What can you say about Keisuke Kinoshita? The man can bring to the edge of tear with a single frame, just like Ozu and Naruse, but the different between Keisuke Kinoshita and them is that a family relationship is effected by what shape society, in Boyhood, the son is lost between a country, in which every one beat the drums of war, and his family, his father who is a pacifist and his mother who must try to keep his son’s faith in both humanity and his Father, a relationship is tested by a constant struggle between what is seem to be, and what is not, at the end, it is the Father who triumph, it is the family over the country, love for humanity over hate and revenge, on the way, a boy reaches boyhood. A masterpiece from master made during the Japanese Cinema’s Golden Era.

13 Ghosts (William Castle, 1960) Suspense and Horror are best used when targeting the viewer’s imagination of the mind and not just the eyes, that is what is wrong with Castle’s 13 Ghosts, before any suspense happen, it tell the viewer to put the 3D glasses on, kinda silly, as the Ghosts are red filtered against a blue background, wearing the blue glass make the red layer appear and vice-versa, that is all the fun in the film, at time hilarious to watch, knowing how silly a film can get.

Invisible Invaders (Edward L. Cahn, 1959) I had not enjoyed watching a dumb marvelous film since Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, and it is no surprise for Invisible Invaders was an inspiration for Plan 9 from Outer Space. A film reaches a cult state when the filmmaker knowingly make a dumb film, that is what so good about watching Invisible Invaders, everything in it is dumb, it take an old scientist only an hour and half to make the ultimate weapon that defeat the “living dead” and save humanity from “A Dictatorship of the Universe” of the dead alien. A film couldn’t get more dumber, such an enjoyable and hilarious watch, cinema can be fun without being artistic.

Fireworks Over the Sea (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1952) A Father (Chishy Ryu) struggle to save his fishing business and her daughter from an arranged marriages in a melodrama that has everything; firework, ship crews turned to gangsters, characters each with a grief, triangular love affair, with one giving up for the sake of the other, and in between, many train rides, fight and argument, not an essential Kinoshita, but one worth watching.

Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975) One thing is for sure in a Hal Ashby film, everyone speed up at a stop sign. On the surface, Shampoo seem like a simple comedy, but underneath, it is as complex as Renoir’s Rules of the Games. Just notice the droopy face of Nixon on the background, the films almost has a perfect duration running with the election campaign of Nixon, George’s downfall comes at the exact time when Nixon make his winning speech, and to Ashby, the counter-culture revolution seem to have managed to jump another decade, with its hero a hairdresser of a playboy, almost a perfect comic of a tragic hero, as the women always seem to get the best of him, too many is too few as the few become scare. Ashby’s touch is all over the place, with its rapid twist of dark humor that leave you laughing amid the twist of the never ending plots.

Walk on the Wild Side (Edward Dmytryk, 1962) Without an argument, the best thing about Walk on the Wild Side has to be the opening title sequence by Saul Bass, the rest, a noir film that is past the noir age, rather, a drama about sexually suppressed woman (Barbara Stanwyck) who lock up another woman against her will, there are many of those films in the 60s, and Walk on the Wild Side is no different.

June, 2012

Sometimes A Great Notion (Paul Newman, 1971)

Sometimes A Great Notion (Paul Newman, 1971)

WATCHED EVERY MATCH OF EURO 2012 – CHEERING FOR BARCELONA PLAYERS IN THE SPAIN TEAM

King of Kings (Nicholas Ray, 1961) Has there been any other director that manages to use the Technicolor and the Wide Screen scope to such perfection as Nicolas Ray? There have been, but rarely any of them match the mastery of Ray, Bigger than Life and Savage Innocent are two testament of his genius, but also King of Kings, such a gorgeous film to watch. There have been countless films on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, none surpass Pasolini’s The Gospel According of St. Mathew, but the one that has the most influence of the films that followed has to be Ray’s King of Kings with one exception, Ray does his best to add element of conflict to the film, there are even lines from Shakespeare in the film, avoiding the supernatural and miracles, rather, more concentrating on the man himself. Watch the film even if for only the mastery of Ray’s use of Widescreen and Color if for nothing else, it is worth it.

The Wedding Night (King Vidor, 1935) This is what I miss most about cinema today; the innocent and beautiful characters, the likes of Gary Cooper at the end of The Wedding Night, as he is looking out of the window, imagine Sonya appearing, then disappearing in a simple dissolve, a smile appear, then his eyes full of tears, he looks to the ground, as Vidor fade out to the black with the swollen music, the emotion reach its peak, the image no longer able to sustain its power, that is why the black screen and the music is enough to make the viewer image the emotional state of Cooper, it is Vidor making a sound film, but staying true to his silent cinema. Among simplest and most touching of Vidor’s film, a forgotten masterpiece.

Northwest Passage (King Vidor, 1940) Another one of those period adventure film of a group of men on a rough mission to massacre the Native Indian, in the name of the King this time, as the story take place in the colonial America, the irony of the film is Spencer Tracy’s act of revenge on the “the Injuns”, for burning down the white villages and massacring them, yet, we never see a violent act from the Indian, rather, the climax of the film is the White rangers burning down an Indian village and shooting them down in cold blood, as Tracy put it, “let the French have roast Indian”. Vidor’s irony? One things is for sure, it is a lousy film, with Tracy making speeches one after another, and the men just keep following him, as he makes more speeches.

The Rounders (Burt Kennedy, 1965) Henry Fonda and Glenn Ford played in many great western, but rarely to such hilarious end as in Kennedy’s The Rounders, despite having a well crafted script, you many call The Rounders, the closes among the Western that has the spirt of its time, that of the French New Wave, with its giveaway moments, characterization and little incidents above the plot, the story of the friendship between two man and a crazy horse, is nothing short of being among the most charming Western ever put on the screen, with Fonda and Ford stealing the show, not to mention the short glimpse of the young Warren Oates. A Peckinpah without the violent, there is even a tribute to Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country. A film about two aging cowboy living in a lost a time.

Cynara (King Vidor, 1932) When the Sound Era came, word and word came to the screen, cinema became a dull theatrical show, and plays and plays where adopted to the screen, many directors adopted to the theatrically of the new form, but there were those, who managed to compromise, adopt the theatrically of the play but also give it a touch of cinematic style, Vidor’s Cynara is an example, there are those theatrical moment in the film that drag on to the eternity, but there are also the cinematic moment, the moving of the camera, the complex tracking that Vidor once mastered in his silent films, that is one reason that Cynara is a film worth watching, aged, but not like many of the same period.

The Stranger’s Return (King Vidor, 1933) If for anything, watch Vidor’s The Stranger’s Return for the acting of Lionel Barrymore and Miriam Hopkins, it is incredible how much overacting they do, yet, they are both the heart of the film, they get away with it, for it is part of their acting to overact, not many made the transition from silent era to the sound, as Vidor, and Barrymore so brilliantly did, they fitted the new era perfectly, The Stranger’s Return is a testament to that. The grumpy old man that Barrymore portray must have been in someway an inspiration for Capra to offer him the role he is most remembered for now, that of Henry Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Carmen’s Pure Love (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1952) Not it is not Bizet’s Carmen, although Kinoshita uses Bizet’s music to the limit of boredom, the music is by far the least problem in the film, the dark comedy is anything but funny, and the technical use of the camera make the film a disaster to watch. Bringing attention to the technique of filming can work to the advantage of the film when handed masterfully; Eisenstein, Vertov, Hitchcock and Godard are masters at that for it become part of the style in film, but when it is used just for the sake of making the viewer aware of the technique, then it fall flat, as it is the case of the many titling of the camera to an angle of 20 degree in Carmen’s Pure Love, the repetitions of it, not only make you dizzy, but it serve no purpose to the film’s narrative, that is why, Carmen’s Pure Love is an epic fail from Kinoshita.

Teresa Venerdì aka Do You Like Women? (Vittorio DeSica, 1941) An early DeSica might not be a heart wrenching neo-realism of a film, but it is DeSica’s heart warming little screwball comedy, with young DeSica playing the leading role himself, that of a playboy Doctor who end up finding a true love and paying off his debts all thanks to an orphan girl by the name of Teresa Venerdì, who manage by reciting some marvelous lines from some marvelous plays to save him from ruins, any DeSica is welcomed, for they are priceless watch.

Tomorrow Is Another Day (Felix E. Feist, 1951) For some, tomorrow is just a another normal day, for others on the run from the law, but tomorrow is not another day, as is the case of Bill Clark (Steve Cochran), on the run from a crime that he did no commit, but always living in fear of being locked up again after spending 18 years of his life in jail, with him, is the femme fatal turned into a good wife, Cathy (Ruth Roman), and like many studio controlled noir of the time, the film has to have a happy ending, with everything cleared, expect for the poor murdered man, who had confessed that he was at fault for being murdered, not the best example of noir, but one worth watching.

Conflict (Curtis Bernhardt, 1945) Love of one who can’t love back can drive a mad crazy, make him a loner, a solitude of a person, and it also can drive him to murder, as it is in Conflict. The young lover put is best, “She wanted me to be her friend, that is the only girl I’ll never has as my friend, it is amazing how much I love her. I love her so much it is unbelievable that she doesn’t love me”. It has been a while since I watched Bogart, such perfection in acting, all gestures, the coolest smoker, and sharpest in delivering lines, there was one Bogart and shall never be another one, so goes the saying. I have no knowledge if Hitchock had seen Conflict, for the plot of a returning dead woman to the live of the man, leaving clues all around sound familiar to Vertigo, with one different, in Vertigo, Stewart was in love with the woman, in Conflict, Bogart murdered the woman, and after the first clue, to the viewer it becomes clear who is behind it. Watch it is for the sake of nothing but Bogart smoking, he is cool.

Onna no sono aka Garden of Woman (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1954) While Ozu was making Tokyo Story, Kurosawa making Seven Samurai, and Mizoguchi making Ugetsu, you had Kinoshita making Garden of Woman, more of a lefties/feminist propaganda film that tackle the the issue of tradition vs modernity as a metaphor to Japan on its present days. The many Kinoshita films that I have so far seen, seem to have the similar line of narrative; that of am oppressed woman being taken advantage of by her family, society, tradition and institutions, in the case of Garden of Woman, a bureaucratic school system that put discipline above freedom, and a family, that put arranged marriage above love. Worth Watching.

Betrayed (Costa-Gavras, 1988) Gavras understood America better than many political filmmaker in America itself, with his European background, he had always managed to make films, that to a certain point equally show both side of the conflict, as in Betrayed . The radical American militant right is not only shown as gun loving, racist and violent white men trying to overthrow the government, but also as victims of a system that produce such species, so its no wonder, that the agent become a tool to both the FBI and the militant to carry on their share of the spoil, both are corrupt as the limits allow, with the victim, well, being the next generation that group hating more.

Hamlet Goes Business (Aki Kaurismaki, 1987) What does Shakespeare, Kaurismaki, a rubber dock, folk music, and the music score from Battleship Potemkin all have in common? They have the film, Hamlet Goes Business, among the most genius modern day adoption of Shakespeare’s immortal play, at the hand of Kaurismaki, Hamlet is a modern day industrialist who plot the murder of his father, then plot the revenge on his uncle in order to take over the business. Dark humored, the film is on the edge of pure insanity, with Hamlet doing his best to compose two line in a lover letter to Ophelia, working out, listening to the blues, reading comic books, and not to forget, buying ice cream for Ophelia. Timeless film from a timeless master.

Uomo dalla croce, L’ aka The Man with the Cross (Roberto Rossellini, 1943) The irony of Rossellini, a self declared marxist who made a fascist propaganda film in The Man with the Cross, then turned 360 around to make an anti-fascist film only two years later. For those who are similar with the cinema of Rossellini, watching this film comes as a shock more than a surprise. A war film that must have made the Fascist very proud, as it portray the Italian army occupying Soviet Union as Christian liberators on a mission to save the Russian in, to quote, “A Holy War against those without God, in defense of their country and in order to bring the light of truth and justice even to the land of the enemy” I bet Rossellini must have tried hard to erase this film from his memory, for it is, a big disappointment.

Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968) You may call the whole cinema of Alain Resnais as a time machine, in which the image is essentially exist independent from time and space, so it is no wonder that the whole plot of Je t’aime, je t’aime is about a man in search of his past, not his whole past, but rather, a single moment of it, yet, he never seem to capture it, for the past, the present, and the future only exist within one dimension at a time, in attempting to capture all three, one end up in a chase of capturing time itself, but time has no master, but in Je t’aime, je t’aime, cinema captures times, as past, present and future become one, a testimony to an art form that no other can match. Alain Resnais knew it, that is why, his films has captured time itself, in them staying forever young, never getting old. Masterpiece from a master.

Straight to Hell (Alex Cox, 1987) A homage to Spaghetti Westerns from Cox, with a lose script, cast of musicians turned into actors, dark humor and violent, it is a film that is made in hell, and for any Alex Cox fan, it is a must watch.

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012) Last time I laughed this much at the stupidity of a film was watching Roland Emmerich’s 2012, oh boy, what took mankind thousands of years searching to answer, and yet to answer, the questions of “Why are we here?” and “Who created us?”, it take only two hour for Ridley Scott to try his luck at answering, with his Hollywood blockbuster hit sold as an art film, your typical all race and color stereotype characters, cheap imitation of Hall 2000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, this time a human robot who recite Peter O’Toole from Lawrence of Arabia, your typical Scott hero character, that of the fearless woman, this time carrying a cross yet trying to find the extra-terrestrials who created us, as in the end of the film, riding a grass cutter, she goes on searching for her creators, but before her final departure, the Black dude, the Asian dude, and that Latino dude must all sacrifice themselves in a heroic mission to save mankind from destruction. Of course, there has to be the little monster from Alien making an appearance again, but with a little twist, the little creator first appear not out of John Hurt’s stomach, but in a cave, as it make its first killing, only later, does it come out of our hero’s stomach, growing in size, later saving her life. Watch it, if only to laugh out loud at the stupidity and uselessness of the blockbuster films of the year, 2012.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica, 2010) I had a Romanian friend who used to look back nostalgically and profoundly at the teims growing up in Romania under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, in The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, we see a sleepy world with one man in the center of it, he oversight everything, from constructing mega-buildings to baking the right bread as he drive around Romania in his cheap old model car, the extreme state controlled socialism that Romania once lived under Nicolae Ceausescu compared to the privatization and destruction of state run industries after the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu made my friend to look back melancholily at the times of long gone. Among the best documentary that I have seen in recent time, in which the image speak itself, home made video and newsreel footage portray a man the way he was, neither judge nor condemn, it is for you to decide who Nicolae Ceausescu was. Not to be missed.

Three Businessmen (Alex Cox, 1999) Among the most minor work of Cox, Three Businessmen is an absolute timeless masterpiece in minimalism, the most Bunuelian of all Cox’s film, with its use of surreal narrative, leaving only time on the screen as the space become an expandable tablet that draw from the audience’s inner knowledge in adding meaning to the narrative, the film take place all over the world, mainly in Liverpool, as the narrative then shift to Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo and finally to the Western deserts of the States, for a causal viewer, all seem to take place in Liverpool, as the time shift from one later afternoon toward the next morning, two businessmen, later, plus the third one, discuss nothing, yet, it end up being an interesting watch of reflecting on a time and place passing by, at the current state of the world facing a new millennium, notice the concert poster all over the place.

True Crime (Clint Eastwood, 1999) Watching Clint Eastwood’s films, the guy always get away at manipulating me as an audience, and feeling good about it, take the ending of True Crime, there is really no suspense in knowing that the innocent man is about to be injected, Eastwood’s use of parallel action of suspense and comedy make you aware that the film have a happy ending, otherwise, Eastwood would not get away with it, but I doubt it, even if the film ended tragedy, Eastwood would have gotten away with it, being the real hero of the film. The parallel action in the end might be a reference to the greatest parallel suspense scene in the history of cinema, that of the ending in Griffith’s Intolerance, are they gonna make it or not? A question that you keep asking also in True Crime.

Thunder on the Hill (Douglas Sirk, 1951) Poor sister Mary (Claudette Colbert), she is caught between serving God, obeying, and at the time disobeying the Church and the State as she tries to save a woman from being hanged for a murder she is innocent of. Played brilliantly to the maximum of gentleness by Claudette Colbert, and at the hand of the great Sirk, Thunder on the Hill twist from a suspense film into a love melodrama with two deadly edges; each man goes to the limit to save the woman they love, and Sister Mary must fight both the Law and the Church in order to reach for the truth. Sirk at his best as always.

Sometimes A Great Notion (Paul Newman, 1971) Like Marlon Brando who directed only one film in his life, One Eyed Jack. Newman also directed only one, Sometimes A Great Notion. For a first time director, both films are masterpieces, each on their own unique way. And both were ignored by critics at the time of their release because they did not fit the mood of the time, for One Eyed Jack came out during the revisionist time for the Western and Sometimes A Great Notion at a time in which pro-union films were the norm. The film reflect the ending of a time in which individual tyranny over the many seem to be shifting to that of the few over the many, from one man into one cooperation, those who goes against it, must either be cruel, have a rock for a heart, or plain hard headed, and the three Stampers are all of the above.

The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1978) Call The Shout as Skolimowski’s experiment with horror, or the mashing of Peckinpah’s Straw Dog and Roeg’s Walkabout. Set in a remote village in England, the story of a stranger in an insane asylum claiming to have lived among the aborigines of Australia for 18 years and therefore managed to conquer the ability in the shout of death. Told in flashback, the film test the audience’s ability to distinguish between what is and what is not. A unique horror film, in which the mind of what to come is the where horror take place.

Vers Le Sud (Laurent Cantet, 2005) Three elderly woman from US, Germany and France on vacation in Haiti sharing the same Haitian gigolo soon come into conflict with in each other in Vers Le Sud, with character monologues and location shooting, the film soon drag into the unknown territory close to that of boredom, among the weakest work from Cantet.

Rojo y Negro aka Red and Black (Carlos Arévalo, 1942) One always has to accept a propaganda film from Spain under Franco and fascism, made after his brutal suppression of the Republican, to a degree in which a loyal communist at the end of the film turn his gun on his comrades, after discovering his childhood friend was executed for treason, that is also where the irony of the film is, as he passes by a poster declaring, “No to Death Penalty”, right beside a shooting field, sometime even in propaganda films, one can find some ironic truth.

La strategia del ragno (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) You may call it an altered versions of Hamlet meet The Man who Shot Liberty Valance without any suspense; a son on a mission to revenge a glorified fake father, but, from the first few minutes of the film we already know what Bertolucci is trying to get at, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”, and so it goes with La strategia del ragno, in between, many mumbo jumbos from Bertolucci, making one wish the film to end as soon as it start. Skip it.

The Mill and the Cross (Lech Mjewski, 2011) What a stupid and utter nonsense of a concept; to try and create a narrative in a painting with such boldness that only show the plain naivety and stupidity of a director like Mjewski. Painting is Painting and Cinema is Cinema, only through poetry can one capture both, rather than watching this crap, watch Tarkvosky’s Mother and Son, that is where painting become cinema.

Avanti (Billy Wilder, 1972) Never get tired of watching a Wilder film, keep going back to them, each time discovering something new in humor. My third viewing of Avanti, and more to come for sure. Brilliant as always.

Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Julio Medem, 1999) Yes, life can be a mystery, full of coincidence, chances, connectors and illogical at times, but not to such a degree as it is in Lovers of the Arctic Circle, for the repeating of a coincidence more than once take out the element of surprise and rather become a tool for the director to push the audience to the limit, an artificial limit that many won’t accept, and end up saying, “Yeah right, this only happen in a film”, and indeed, the artificial realty created in Lovers of the Arctic Circle is hard be accepted as even a genuine fictional story telling, rather a mashing of too much in too little of a time.

When Worlds Collide (Rudolph Mate, 1951) Hooray for humanity, even if there is only 45 of them left to start a new day of life in the new planet of Zyra. Mate’s When Worlds Collide is among the first dooms day films and still is among the most original, there is no hero steeping up to save earth, rather, at the end, humanity become nothing but the old story of Dog eat Dog as the few struggle to take off to the new planet, many happy to leave the old one behind as it is destroyed amid flames of fire. One that never get old, classic watch.

I Married A Witch (Rene Clair, 1942) Love might be stronger than Witchcraft, but it truly take a wizard like Clair to make such a masterpiece of a dark humor into a comedy full of magical touches that leave you rolling around in the floor from laughter. The story of a witch (the beautiful Veronica Lake) with a look that could steal any man’s heart, she come back from the unknown to revenge his accusers, only to take the love potion mistakenly and end up falling in love with him, as her drunken father does his best to ruin the love affair. Masterful.

Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto aka Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri, 1970) Gian Maria Volontè give yet another powerful performance of a neurosis on the edge of the cliff, that of madness. It is no wonder that Petri quote from Kafka at the end of the film, for the whole film is a Kafkaesque experience, in which a man who is above suspicion has to prove his innocent to himself knowing very well he is guilty, the law of the state even manages to make the conscience decide upon what is required from it, a higher-level authority that man has created for himself in order to suppress him, repression is the only form of law that is a true guardian of the law, so it is with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Two years later, Bellocchio would make Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina and two years after that, it is the turn of Rosi’s take on the law in Cadaveri eccellenti.

July, 2012

China Gate (Samuel Fuller, 1957)

China Gate (Samuel Fuller, 1957)

Second Chance (Rudolph Mate, 1953) Terrible noir film in color, a predictable story that could have taken only 10 minute to tell, but it drag on for more than 70 minutes, the one good thing about it the overacting performance of Jack Palance, his reactions shots, with his twisting nerves over his face is a priceless watch.

My Gun is Quick (Phil Victor, 1957) His gun might be quick, but he is always a few step behind the real criminal, a cheap version of novel, with Mike Hammer more of a playboy going around opening doors for ladies than the tough Mickey Spillane’s macho private private eye in Aldrich’s masterpiece, Kiss Me Deadly.

People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951) Cary Grant talk so much in People Will Talk that you think the title should have been Gary Grant Will Talk. The story of a doctor and his manservant, wither he is or he is not? at the hand of Mankiewicz becomes not a suspense story of relationship, for the title from the beginning of the film give it all away, but rather it become a wonderful film of one man’s believe in humanity, in one’s gentleness toward others, doing good so that one hand will now know what the other has done, bringing envy of and misunderstanding of many upon him. A wonderful and relaxing watch, charming, one wishes it never to end.

Going My Way (Leo McCarey, 1944) McCarey’s biggest hit is also his biggest flop, the title might as well have been, The Sinning Priest, rather than Going My Way, with Bing Crosby, singing all the time, he seem to work miracle as everyone listen to him, bring them upon goodness. Few years later, McCarey would make his masterpiece, Good Sam, the cruel world as it is, with one man doing his best to be good in it, give me Good Sam and take away Going My Way.

The Jungle Book (Zoltan Korda, 1942) Korda’s The Jungle Book gives little justice to Rudyard Kipling’s novel, skipping the best part of the novel, that of Mowgli growing up among the wolves, rather, the film start as a exotic National Geographic promo and end up as an adventure film, in the middle, it has some colorful effect, worth watching if it is only for the great Sabu.

Battle Cry (Raoul Walsh, 1955) You think 10 years after WWII, a war film could have been more balanced toward depicting the war, or rather, the recruits and their lives during the war, but in Walsh’s Battle Cry, it is all about the Marines and their girls, in between, too many talking from too many characters, each with a dilemma relating to their women. There is off course the predictable buffoon character in the gang, only there to be made fun off, the hard one, the sensitive type, the playboy, etc. Which make Battle Cry a predictable film from the first second to the end, and it keep dragging on and on and on to the eternity in boredom. Dated.

Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946) After Dragonwyck, a year later Mankiewicz memorized the audience with The Ghost and Mrs Muir with his touch of lyricism, but already with Dragonwyck, Mankiewicz demonstrate the genius of what is to come. This time, the innocent woman (Gene Tierney) is not married to a ghost, but rather, to a Patron (Vincent Price) with superiority complex, even in marriage, his superiority take the form of demeaning a son from his wife just as he demand the farmers to lower their hats in his present, the Patron might not be a ghost, but he sure is from another planet, as he lock himself up in a tower, getting highs all day, explaining his dilemma, first by answering his wife’s question as to what he is doing on the tower? “I live”, says the Patron, “I will not live by ordinary standard, I will not run with the pack, I will not be chained into a routine of living which is same with others, I will not look to the ground and move in the ground with the rest, as long as there are those mountain tops and clouds, limitless space”, then he stare at his wife, “I’m sure you are still unable to understand”, poor woman, she does best to say it, “I want to try if you help me”. But she never does understand him nor do we as the audience, for the Patron is a complex character on the screen, a genius creation of Mankiewicz, even as he is taking his last breath, his last words are those of commanding, “That is right, take off your hats in the present of the Patron”. Well my friend, you better take off you hat to this masterpiece, it deserve it.

Adventure Malgache (Alfred Hitchcock, 1944) Not your typical Hitchcock, made as a short propaganda film to raise the morals of the French resistance during the end of WWII, Adventure Malgache drag on , a predictable story, told in a flashback with few of Hitchcock’s touches, but any Hitchock is better than no Hitchcock.

China Gate (Samuel Fuller, 1957) A man’s love for a woman is tested not against bombs, planes and a dangerous mission during wartime but rather against himself, his prejudice toward his son for being born Chinese looking rather than Caucasian, battle of wills within oneself, China Gate is Fuller’s early tackle on Vietnam, years before it become the ticking bomb of a decade long war, despite the film dragging toward the side of propaganda, China Gate is a raw war film that only the likes of Fuller could make.

Merrills Marauder (Samuel Fuller, 1962) Fuller take on a doomed American military mission to take a Japanese base in Burma during WWII, becomes a cheaper version of The Big Red One, with the touches of the real Fuller present powerfully in the film, take the village scene in which the tough Soldiers, after traveling half of Burma, in the roughest of territories is broken down into tears by an Old Woman and a child offering him a bowl of rice, touching and moving scenes that is the emotional heart of the films, action packed, it is a rough Fuller that is shown in Merrills Marauder.

Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) They used to make epic films with a heart. Considered to be the most expensive Hollywood film ever made, Cleopatra is worth every cent of the money, that is, the Cleopatra of Mankiewicz. It is been said, that when Mankiewicz came into the picture, the film was behind the schedule and he had no choice but to write at night and shoot during daytime in a rush to finish the film. The film is a Mankiewicz film, he steal the show from both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, takes an epic story and make a sensual love film out of it, with dialogues that put Mankiewicz in line with the great Shakespeare, great one to watch.

Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951) It has become almost a tradition for me to watch Wilder’s Ace in the Hole at least once a year, and each time, in the process, discovering something new about this masterful film, a testament about manipulative media, true today as the day it was made. A gem.

Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that Gone With the Wind has been written and said about enough for many cinephile to despise it as a bandwagon ride, but truth to be said, it is still a wonderful watch, even if it is a cheesy one, but how can one not get tempted to repeat Rhett Butler’s final line to Scarlett O’Hara, in his laughable southern accent, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, then, put his hat on his head as he is walking out of the door, that line is enough to watch Gone With the Wind, even if it takes three hours later to reach it.

Union Station (Rudolp Mate, 1950) How cool is William Holden when he keep saying, “It is not Willie, it is William”, or his look of share horror as he see the man whom he has been chasing run over by a herd of cattle, the man is a true showmanship of the coolest. A raising of an eyebrow is enough to get his point across, or a move of his hand, a turning of his head, and his charming smile that always end up seducing the poor girls. Mate’s Union Station might not be his masterful D.O.A, but it is truly a crafted noir film, with the majority of the scenes taking place in no other place other than Union Station.

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929) I’m scratching my head and still thinking if I have ever seen any bad film from Ernst Lubitsch so far? and the answer is, no. The man is so good, he can even make the dead laugh beyond their graves. Among his early sound film, The Love Parade is a part musical and a part nothing, but giveaway film, full of jokes that has nothing to do with the film, almost a Tashlin before there ever was a Tashlin. Take the cross-eyed joke, such masterful touch that only Lubitsch could come upon as making it nothing short of a charming touch, despite its cruelty. The battle of the sexes rages on, this time, with the throne at stake, the throne? that means nothing to the charming Maurice Chevalier, when he says “Nao”, he means, “Nao”, and no Queen can change that “Nao”. Priceless.

Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960) I’m always have my weak point of watching some films over and over that I once enjoyed as a child, and Spartacus is among them. This time, it must have been my fifth or sixth viewing of the film, and I always end up shouting, “I’m Spartacus”, the moment that all the slaves decide to take on the identify of the first true of rebel of man’s first class revolution, a heroic film that befit an icon in the footnote of history, but Kubrick take care of lifting him up to face the headliner, the likes of Jules Caesar and Crassus, played brilliantly by no other than the brilliant, Laurence Olivier.

The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953) Never get tired of watching Lang’s masterpiece, The Big Heat. Among the best of Lang’s American films, with Glen Ford giving his best performance as the grieving widower on a personal revenge mission, poor guy, he has to battle both the law and those outside the law, perfection is the word.

The Meaning of Life (Monty Pythons, 1983) Yeah, I do have weakness for silly films, and especially for Monty Pythons gags, the restaurant scene and the Universe Song are priceless watch, not to mention the Zulu attack and the missing leg.

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) My favorite Western and by far one of my favorite film of all time, I must have watched a dozen or more times Ray’s Johnny Guitar, to a point that many of the memorable lines in the film is stamped to my brain, rarely a film has so many poetic dialogue in, “The name is Guitar, Johnny Guitar”, the love scenes between Hayden and Crawford, “Tell me you love me as I love you”, she answer back, “I love you as you love me”, “Tell me that you have missed me as I have missed you”, “I have missed you as you have missed me”, or the attack and the counter-attack in the dialogues, “How many men have you forgotten?”, “As many Women you forgotten”. I once was asked by a friend that if I had a choice to take 10 films with me to an Island, what were those 10 film be?, without hesitation, I named the 10 films, among them, Johnny Guitar, for it is a film that one always get to back it, to watch its beauty and its charm, it is cinema and nothing more.

The True Story of Jesse James (Nicholas Ray, 1956) If you ever get a chance to watch Ray’s The True Story of Jesse James, watch it just for one reason; how masterfully Ray uses the widescreen technology, that reason alone is enough to get back to watching the film time over time, the train robbery scene is among the most crafted use of space ever. What set out as an all out action film, soon become the story of a rise and downfall of a man whom still his name resonate as a rebel with a cause.

Rio Lobo (Howard Hawks, 1970) By the time Hawks made Rio Lobo, he had already achieved immortality as that of a master filmmaker, for over 40 years, making one masterpiece after another, so it was no wonder that the master take his craft to the limit of simplicity in Rio Lobo, and the in process, making one of the most charming and lazy Western ever made, it is a wonderful watch, the film drag on so smoothly that by the time it is over, you rarely notice that you have been watching a film for the last two hour, almost a Western meet a Screwball Comedy, with characters driving the film rather than the plot, and they don’t act, they just talk, scenes that seem to have been improvised on the set, just like the opening credit of a hand playing a Guitar, Hawks take us like a string and play with us anyway he pleases, from laughters to share horror of cruelty, and always, he is playing on that middle note, never swinging a note to either side, a master craftsman is always a master, and Hawks has always been a master filmmaker.

Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks, 1965) Hawk’s Red Line 7000 open with a frozen image of a racing car in flame and it closes with another frozen image of a racing car in flame, and in between, Red Line 7000 is packed with explosive emotional roller-coaster in the lives of fast driven men as they exchange places on the race and off the race, that is, with the women. Life and the game become a reflection of one another, be it in the clubs or in the racing arena, the battle is to be faster than the man you are leveled with, among the best and early film that tackle the professionals naivety of rivalry in sport, never miss a Hawk film.

Attack! (Robert Aldrich, 1956) It was six years ago that I first watched Alderich’s Attack!, and watching it again, it is still as fresh and provocative as the first time that I watched it. Jack Palance gives perhaps his best preface as Lieutenant Costa on a mission of revenge not to take out a Kraut, but rathe his own Captain, a coward whom by a single command risk the lives of a platoon, among the best war films to portray the bureaucracy of a system on a killing mission.

All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950) Again, I was in the mood for Mankiewicz, watching All About Eve if only for the smart script of Mankiewicz, the image of ever manipulative Eve that I always had now seems like nothing but a victim of a system that only glamorize success, glamorizing the reaching to the top, even if that mean, sacrificing others on the way, and becoming a victim of the success. Classic one.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1960) There is a minimalism of style with Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that remind me of Dryer’s Gertrude, the first 5 minute of the opening of the film is a classic example of Ford’s subtle pace in creating emotion, the scarf on Vera Miles as it dance in the wind, or James Stewart’s walking into the room where the coffin of Wayne is, so subtle, all that is broken into a fury of madness as the film take us back in a flashback into the time of Liberty Valance, everything that seem to symbolize the expansion of the old West; taking the law into one’s hand by the fury of the gun. “”When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. A master at its peak making a masterpiece.

August, 2012

The Day of the Outlaw (André De Toth, 1959)


The Day of the Outlaw (André De Toth, 1959)

Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini, 1972) Blair Pascal, the man whom every student remember for the theory of probabilities is just a simple human in Rossellini’s minimalist portrayal of the man who tried once to prove the existence of God by waging at a gambling table, unlike the many glamorized portrayal of of historical figures that Hollywood love to make, in Rossellin’s film, everything is shown to its smallest and realistic detail, as if, a time machine had taking him back to capture the life and death of Blaise Pascal, among memorable scenes included; a somber and masterfully directed death scene in the end of the film, truly brilliant.

La prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini, 1967) The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is Rossellini’s first colorful dive into historical films about historical figures that would set his future filmmaking, and it is by far, his best among the many he would make later for Television, and it must be said, although not sure, but the film must have had some influence on Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, not just the slow pace, the realistic and accuracy, the long shots, but even the use of classical music in the film and small details giving to everyday life in the time of the Sun King. The film open with the decline and later death of Cadrinal Richelieu and the rise of Louis XIV, the young king soon portray himself as an absolute ruler over the aristocracy, he might be called the Sun King, but in Rossellini’s film, he is a man no different from others deep down, even if he eat his lunch in a court with hundreds watching his every move, in the end, he is in his room, undressing, with a book in his hand, trying to make out the meaning of it, in La Rochefoucauld’s maxim, “Neither the sun nor death can be gazed upon fixedly”, you might be Louis XIV, but you are just another human. Masterful.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) I doubt it there will ever be another Capra, taking his bold steps. His films always seem to be about an average Joe who end up making a moral decision and always triumph, sound like a cheesy plot, but at the hand of Capra, the plot got life, you can’t help but get moved watching a Capra film, even if deep down you know some of it is nothing short of naive and rather cheap propaganda of a moralist, but that naivety could apply to the characters in the film, as it is with Mr. Smith, all his world come down crushing down as his naivety become reality, but, he never give up, that might have been possible in 1939, but in a world of today, in which only pessimism seem to triumph, the world of Capra is no longer possible, that is why, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a masterpiece stuck in its time, never the less, a masterpiece to be looked upon now and then.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1947) Before watching it again, I always had a profound memory of remembering that lyrical score of Bernard Hermann for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, for I watched the film for the first time seven years ago, and now looking back to it again, I could not help but consider the genius of Mankiewicz as being the soul ruler of the film, truly, a forgotten great director, as Godard once said about him, “Joseph Mankiewicz, one of the most brilliant of American directors. I have no hesitation in placing him on the same level of importance as that held by Alberto Moravia of European literature”, he was right, true master filmmaker.

Letter to Three Wives (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949) One thing is for sure with Mankiewicz, he love flashbacks and voiceovers. He love it so much, that even, the one character that is the heart of Letter to Three Wives is not even shown, all we know about her is through her seductive voice, as she narrate for us, the puzzling question, “Who’s husband did she run away with?”, after watching it now for the third time, I’m still not sure if she did run away with any of them, or did she run away with all three of them? I doubt it even if Mankiewicz knew himself the end result of the puzzle, but that is the beauty of the film, the mystery of the husbands soon become the examination of relationship between three wives and three husbands, and that is what is at the heart of all Mankiewicz’s film, and examining of a relationship.

The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950) I went back again to watch Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle after reading James Agee’s glories review of the film, and it was a treat watching it, what came to light this time is Huston’s masterful use of his camera, almost two third of the film is shot with low-angle setup, at times the camera so close to a characters’ face, that a landscape seem to appear on the screen, the story, the plot, and even the characters, later is used by Kubirck in The Killing, Dassin in Rififi and Melville in Bob le Flambeur. Among the best of noir.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) The first time I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I admired the film, now, watching it again, it felt flat, rather outdated in style and form, but the story, Jack Finney’s classic science fiction is a perfect reflection of the American society in the 50s, and that might been have one reason I regarded the film to such a high degree. Worth Watching.

The Day of the Outlaw (André De Toth, 1959) DeToth’s The Day of the Outlaw, his last western is by far his second best film (Play Dirty being the best), almost a revisionist of a western, and among one of my favorite. Robert Ryan and Jack Bruhn might seem like two force of equal opposite, the good against the bad, battling it out in a small town in the middle of a snowy nowhere, but at the end, they are both two faces of the same coin, both capable of committing good and evil acts, with one twist; one become a hero, and the other, well, the other the becomes a villain. Subtle, slow, with a cinematography in pure white, The Day of the Outlaw is to be watched again and again.

Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941) I remember once I was in an argument with a friend over the power of cinema in shaping the public opinion, and in the end, we came to the conclusion that cinema has the power to move people emotionally, but rarely does it have the power to shape their opinion, but then, by effecting one’s emotion, cinema can shape one’s opinion, and we both agreed that Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels is a perfect example of that. Sullivan, a famed Hollywood comedy director one day decide to go out into the world, and to live the lives of the poor, as to get and inspiration for his next realistic film, as he put it, “I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man! I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity! “, and maybe “With a little sex in it.” In the end of his journey, he realize that a poor man prefer to watch a Mickey Mouse and a Pluto cartoon than a story about his own misery. Classic.

The Fearmakers (Jacques Tourneur, 1958) A year before making The Fearmakers, Jacques Tourneur put fear into the heart of many with his masterfully crafted horror film, The Night of the Demon, in it, from the first frame, he introduced us to the true fearmaker, that of death. A year later, in The Fearmakers, the monster is no devil nor death, but it is men dressed in suits, sitting behind desks, working in shaping and swinging public opinion, the Public Relation, a modern use for word of manipulations. Ahead of its time in predicting what is to come.

What Price Glory (John Ford, 1952) Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stalling’s cheesy, orgy of a pacifist play in comedy with a touch of tragedy is turned into a cheesy, orgy of a pacifist film in comedy with a touch of Ford, with James Cagney playing Captain Flagg, as he command his troops into the trenches now, and battle it with his old friendly enemy, Sergeant Quirt over the sweet Frenchi gal, it drag on into eternity, and for that, it is worth watching.

The Meanest Men In The West (Charles S. Dubin and Samuel Fuller, 1967) I still can figure out how the name of Sam Fuller is in the credit for The Meanest Men In The West? for by the name, I was fooled into watching one of the worst compilation of patched footages made into a film ever, call it, a Youtub video before there was a Youtube. Made of patched compilation of footage from the TV show of The Virginian, the film try hard to tell a story, but I doubt ever anybody could figure out what the hell the story is about? Patched footage in the compilation that I managed to recognize include; The bank robbery and the chase scenes from Nicholas Ray’s The True Story of Jesse James, including the famous dive into the river, and DeToth’s The Stranger Wore a Gun, in which the scene of Lee Marvin shooting down a man is edited twice into two different place, killing two man with one shot. Terrible is too kind of a word to describe The Meanest Men In The West.

High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952) I wouldn’t call Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon as the first revisionist of a Western, but it is on top of that list, for what is more revisionist than to have your leading man in a Western as a coward? For that is what Gary Copper is in High Noon, he want to be a dead hero rather than face the fact that he is a coward, can a man not have the right to be afraid to die? All his best friend prefer to be a living coward rather than a dead hero, so why not poor Gary Copper? The iconic camera tracking up and back just before the final showdown show his loneliness, a man alone, and what a showdown, nothing glamorous about it, no fancy shoot out, rather, cold blooded murders. High Noon is a Zinnemann Western, far apart from others, it is no wonder that Ford and Hawk hated the film, for in their films, friends dies for each other and do not forsake one another, nor do they sing, “Do not forsaken me my Friend”, for there won’t be any forsaken.

The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) It is not exaggerating to say that every year I watch at least one time, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, it is a priceless watch, among the greatest revisionist of a Western, and the last of the great Western to come out of Hollywood. Once, after watching the film, Howard Hawks declared, “By the time a man hit the ground in The Wild Bunch, in my films, I kill a dozen in that span of time”, master Hawks was right, for with The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah took montage of the holy violent into a new dimension, that of realism, that epic shoot out at the end is what cinema is capable of, manipulating time in space to create a mood that of holiness in killing, yet, condemning it at the same time, it is important to show in order to inform, a statement from a man who was concerned about a society deep rotted in violence, for in 1969, America was already stretching its imperialist muscles in Vietnam, the massacre in the end, might as well be that of My Lai massacre in Vietnam. With a cast of the giants of classic Hollywood stars; Holden, Borgnine, and the newcomer, Oates, The Wild Bunch is to be hold, a glorious one.

Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford, 1939) Among all the historical period film that Ford made about the America, Young Mr. Lincoln is the most innocent of them all, and that is one reason that I keep going back to this film. For, you see Lincoln, not as the great leader who freed the slaves, nor the one who fought a bloody civil war and triumphed, but rather, you see a young man full of compassion, who knows how to manipulate both the system and the people in order to get the best out of both, so young, so full of dream, self taught, riding on a Donkey, and greeting every man that passes his way with a smile, you can’t help loving the man, the young man who loses the girl he loves most at such a tinder age, losing his Mother as a child, growing up without a Father, yet, never losing faith, that is the Lincoln that Ford saw, and Henry Fonda was the man made for such a role. Priceless watch.

Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Ray’s most famous film and one the iconized James Dean and the word “Rebel Without a Cause”. Many have written and said about Rebel Without a Cause, praising Ray’s first try into adopting into the windscreen in CinemaScope, who can forget Dean’s red jacket? One of the most popular image of last century, Jim Stark, the first rebel of modern cinema. Modern day youth, full of nihilism outside, yet inside, as innocent as little children. I have lost count of how many times I have watched this film, many times.

Captain Lightfoot (Douglas Sirk, 1955) Oh, boy. One thing is for sure, Sirk and Hudson this time fail, epic fail. A period adventure/drama, the story of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, with Hudson trying best to have an Irish accent, but midway through delivering his sentences, he change back to his American accents, there is no melodrama here, not even a drama, interesting watch, but an epic fail.

A Man for All Seasons (Fred Zinnemann, 1966) If you ever watch A Man for All Seasons, watch it if only for the sake of Paul Scofield’s performance in his portrayal of St. Thomas More. Just watch him how cool he is at hiding his emotion throughout the film, he underact rather than overact until the last 10 minute of the film, that is when the raging volcano erupt, and what an eruption. No to mention, the overweight Orson Welles mumbling his way into the film, with a fake nose. Sometime truth can be twisted in order to make one escape a doomed destiny, no matter how manipulative one can be, in the end, the truth will hunt you down, that is my friend is the story of A Man for All Seasons, you can’t have it both way.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) In The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock is boldest in mashing up suspense and comedy so masterfully that one only realize which one is which after multiple viewing, take the scene when Jimmy Stewart goes to find Chapel, the scene is build up to extreme in suspense, subjective and objective shots, observing and reaction of Stewart as he slowly walk into the shop, and slowly the dialogue shift from that of inquiring into that of comedy, with a climax fight of Stewart’s hand been bitten by a stuffed lion, throughout The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock repeat the same scheme; suspense, comedy and suspense, the humor add more spice to the suspense; for what is more suspenseful and at the times funny than a cymbalist’s only job, to make a single sound, a sound that is the climax of the film. That genius Hitchcock, he was as humors, as suspenseful.

Edipo re aka Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967) I always thought that Sophocles wrote King Oedipus to prove his ultimate thought; man was controlled by destiny and not free will, and perhaps, the best examination of that though can be found in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s small masterpiece, Oedipus Rex, a modern take on a post-modern tragic hero, poor Oedipus, he does his best to let his will decide his fate, only to realize in the end, that destiny masters his will, blinded by his own dagger, he shouts to the darkness; “Thus I will no loner see the evil I have suffered and done. In the dark, I will not see what should not be seen. I will not recognize those I wanted to recognize. I should have severed also my ears. To seal up in myself, in my unhappy body. To see and hear nothing again. It is sweet to have the mind outside evil. Impure things must be kept silent, not spoken of, not testified to; Silence!” The next shot; we find the blind Oedipus in the modern day Rome, as he play his flute, he can not, and will not see anymore, he become silence with only music as his companion, he finally has found a way in escaping his destiny, in silence and music.

Telets aka Taurus (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2001) You see the great Lenin suffer like a common man, he is in more of a moral pain than a physical one in his last few days as he is dying, and he knows it, yet, his dilemma of a revolution left behind without him to carry it, is not as server as his dilemma of calculating two numbers, he is in hallucination, a film that uses images and sound reflecting that moral hallucination, after seeing Stalin, Lenin ask at the dinner table, “Who was that Man?”, he already forgotten who Stalin was, for even before is death, Stalin had already him in his hand, with his dark mustache, he tip-tope around the house, looking for his revolutionary pal, to advice him against the plots of “Trotsky”, but it is not politic that is at the center of Telets, but a man’s last few days in life, one by the name of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the man who shook the world once.

Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959) I used to dislike majority of the big budget epic historical films coming out of Hollywood, due mainly for the big spending, the exotic location and scenery, but mostly due to its historical inaccuracy, but recently I found myself going back to these historical films, and to my surprise, I enjoy watching them, Wyler’s Ben-Hur is an example, despite Charlton Heston’s over the top acting and the religious orgy in the film, I enjoyed watching it again after so many years seeing it for the first time, there are many epic scenes just as there many tender ones, take the scene of the Ben-Hur’s Mother and Sister retuning to the decayed house, beautifully shot by Wyler, always in the wide shot, even the close-ups are made into two medium close-up, always keeping the audience at the right distance, yet, he manages to get across the right emotional impact.

Wind Across The Everglades (Nicholas Ray, 1958) A battle between two souls rage on in Wind Across The Everglades, one man against another, both against Nature, a battle between Good and Evil, only, they are two faces on opposite side of a the same coin, filmed on location in Everglades National Park, it is a beauty to watch. It seem that Ray’s heart is in the wildness rather than in Civilization, as times over times, we get back into the swamps of the Everglades. Shot lyrically, the last frontier of nature battling it out against the new conquerers. My fourth time watching the film.

Viva Zapata! (Elia Kazan, 1952) Viva Zapata was Yilmaz Guney’s favorite film, and it was my first encounter with the cinema of Elia Kazan. I remember the first time I watched the film, when that last shot of Zapata’s horse, now in the wilderness, fade into black, the first thing I said to myself was, “The film must have had an influence on Yashar Kemal also”, for those of you who do not know Yashar Kemal, he is a Turkish write who wrote Ince Memed (Memed, My Hawk), as a kid I was in love with the book and still is, the story of Memed is close to that of Zapata, no matter how hard they both try to do justice, at the end, injustice always triumph, one evil is replaced by another, both are peasants who lead a rebellion, both are worshiped by the crowd, both become legends, yet, always, deep down in the heart, they are still children. They are characters born from the traditional storytelling of folklore and fairy tales.

Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) Now and then, when I’m in a sad mood, I watch a Wilder film, and tonight, it was the turn of Some Like it Hot, a film that is about cross dressing, about two guys dressed as girls, then they pretend to be girls, they join a band of girl musician, travel to Florida, or, I forget to tell you, they are running away from the Mafia, one of them dress like a Captain again (Tony Curtis), you see, because she, I mean he who is now she, had fallen in love with a girl in the band, the beautiful Marilyn Monroe, well, she, I mean he seduces her to fall in love with him, while his friend (Jack Lemmon), now she, is seduced by a rich old man, and she, I mean he try to get his money, but she is he, all the time, the Mafia are looking for the two. Do you see how confusing the plot is? It is masterfully confusing, but, your laughters is guaranteed. A classic watch.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1932) I was in the mood to watch Dr. Mabuse again tonight. Much have been said that Lang’s Dr. Mabuse was about the Nazi Germany, as true as that statement is, the film is also about Lang’s experiment with sound cinema, for what is Dr. Mabuse but a sound? We never see him, we only hear him, and when our curiosity is finally fulfilled, we see the face of the sound behind the curtain, what do we see? We see a megaphone, a little machine, and we feel tricked at first, but then realize how well crafted trick it was by Lang, he uses the new technology of sound to trick us into using our ears in creating images, rather than just our eyes being the observing machine of images. Sound equally create images in our mind in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, at the hands of Lang, cinema make a masterful transition from silent into sound.

1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1960) If The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was about the art of hearing, then 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is a film on the art of seeing, rather, on the art of observing, for what is the film made off? A serious of incidents that happens to characters, all seeing by us, the viewer, but also, by the characters themselves. Each character spy on the other, they are being observed by technical means (spy camera) by Dr. Mabuse, we, as the viewer, are the all observing eyes, we observe all, even Dr. Mabuse. What you get, is observation in three different layers; normal natural observation, mechanical one, and one that is manipulative, for in the end, we as the viewer, also get manipulated by no other than the filmmaker and the camera that we trust to be our eyes, that is the masterful tricks of Lang; he manages to manipulate the viewer in multiple layers. 1000 Eyes of Lang is at work, at times lending some of them to the viewer in the process of observing. Among Lang’s forgotten works, but a masterful one.

September, 2012

Il mestiere delle armi aka The Profession of Arms (Ermanno Olmi, 2001)

Il mestiere delle armi aka The Profession of Arms (Ermanno Olmi, 2001)

Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965) I used to be in love with Lean’s Doctor Zhivago the first time I watched the film, I watched it again and again, to a point that I memorized most of the line in the film, recorded the editing sequence of some scenes into my memory, take the first flashback to Mongolia; the long shot of the funeral, close-up of young Zhivago, the falling leaves, etc . I even bought the record for the film, the lyrical music of Maurice Jarre, re-read Pasternak’s novel. Beautifully photographed, masterfully staged, and yes, cheesy at times, but it got everything that make a film an epic one, and who can make an epic film better than Lean? There are so many epic scenes in the film, so lyrical, take the snow, so clean, the seasons, each with a color, each reflecting the lovers’ emotion. One of the first film that made me fall in love cinema, as years went by, I discovered the auteur cinema, I thought less and less of Doctor Zhivago, but now, many years later, watching it again, it brought back all the emotion that I once had watching the film fo, watching it again on a journey, in a windy night in hotel room in Amman, Jordan. Among the great epics of cinema.

Galileo (Joseph Losey, 1976) I remember the first time I read Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo, I was a kid, and to me the plot of that play was the suspense of wither Galileo would be burned on the stick or not? It was year’s later when I re-read the play in English did I really understood the real plot of the film; how far can a man go to stand for what he believe in? or rather, What is the price to pay for the truth? Just as in the play, in Losey’s film, it is the viewer who decide wither Galileo’s recantation was a failure in character or a wise manipulative decision of a scientist’s responsibility to society, to let the truth out, no matter how late. In the film, Losey is more on the side of Galileo, as in the play, Brecht was more the side of the reader. Losey bring the best out of the play, it is a Brechtian film from a Brecht film, involving the viewer in the watch, as we see Galileo , like a little child, playing with the stars, the great one, always in search for where his next meal would come from, for he love eating, “I get my best ideas over a good meal and a bottle of wine”, so said the wise master. Watching Galileo, brought back all memory of first reading Brecht’s, such a wonderful read it was, and what a wonderful film to watch.

Escape from Fort Bravo (John Sturges, 1953) The Yank and the Confederate put a side their difference for once to shoot up the Indian in this minor Sturges, more of imitation of a cavalry film made by Ford, with the rescue in the end coming just in time, and the two lover meet a happy ending, it is predicable, but if only for those landscaper shots from Sturges, the film is worth watching.

The Savage Innocents (Nicholas Ray, 1960) The Savage Innocents a film to be treasure for eternity, a moral tale on modern age, told in by Ray for an audience with imagination, the story of Inuk, an Eskimo hunter who end up learning in the curliest way the moral of the modern world, take a bow to a master at his peak, to images of epic proportion and a story in simplicity, one to fall in love with. My fifth time watching the film, as always, beautiful.

Chung Kuo – Cina (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1972) After his triumph, the master of the art cinema of the 60s, in early 70s, Antonioni took a break to make this wonderful documentary for TV on China after the Cultural Revolution, it is about China in 1972, but also about historical China, its culture and people, above all, it is a film about the common people and their daily lives, as Antonioni’s camera zoom into faces trying to register an emotion. Slow in pace, more than 3 hours in length, not a single minute of boredom, for its is a colorful and a beautiful documentary, that neither judge nor condemn, it only shows, not to be missed.

7 Women (John Ford, 1966) Shot completely on studio set, Ford’s 7 Women is a forgotten film, rarely mentioned even by many Ford’s admire. Based on Norah Lofts’ play, Chinese Final, it is an odd film from Ford; its leading character being a woman, and not just a woman, but Ann Bancroft, strong in will, free in spirit, pessimist, yet, all sacrificing for others, as the battle rages on between her and a the head of a Christian mission, all so pure and innocent, but in the end, each show its true colors, as death invade the mission. Negative stereotype of the Chinese is to be expected, other than that, and the repetition of the same scenery to a point of being theatrical, the film is worth watching.

Proces de Jeanne D’Arc (Robert Bresson, 1962) Just over on hour in length, Bresson’s Proces de Jeanne D’Arc is a complete opposite in style of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, but as equally masterful, with a narrative of the film drawn from many historical documents, a realistic narrative but a subtle style, that of Bresson, letting the seconds drag on into minutes, as characters gaze into the each without any emotion, they whisper rather than talk, and hide more than they show, a cold film, let a light by burning fire in the end, that of Joan, with the subtle sound of the burning wood, and the white smoke, then the music come in, for a few second, pure Bresson.

Man of Aran (Robert Flaherty, 1934) in thhe heart of Flaherty’s cinema is the never ending battle between Men and Nature, the Men might win a battle or two; as Nanook build his igloo in the middle of a snowy storm in Nanook of the North, and the Man of Aran might peddle away into safety in a story sea, but in the end, it is alway Nature that win the war, and the last shots of Man of Aran, the foaming sea leaping into the sky is a testament to that, Nature never lose. So it is with Flaherty, there are more shot of the waves hitting the cost of Aran than than of the three main characters combined, such beautiful imagery. The human are there for the sake of the narrative only, yes, it is improvised, montage is used to create a narrative, for Documentary filmmaking in its nature is as selective if not more abstract than fictional filmmaking, for what is montage than selecting one footage over another? In order to tell the truth, one must re-create that truth, that is why, Man of Aran is a truthful film, true, re-told in a documentary form, and how beautifully it is told, Flaherty was the first, and the greatest among the docu filmmakers, always going back to him.

licka och hyacinter aka Girl with Hyacinths (Hasse Ekman, 1950) I never expected the twist at the end of Girl with Hyacinths, a brave one for 1950, but then, Swedish cinema was way ahead of its Hollywood counterpart in dealing with issues deemed to be taboos. The story of a lonely girl in a doomed love affair who end up committing suicide is told in a flashback, almost Citizen Kane style, as various characters reflect upon their times with the lonely girl, the whole plot of the film is in finding not why did she committee suicide? but rather, who was she madly in love with that drove her to do so? That mysteries, Alex, turn out to be what not many expect to be. The Swedes seem to love to tell stories in flashback, just think of Bargeman’s cinema. Ekman also great at using the technique. Worth Watching.

The Holy Mountain (Leni Riefenstahl, 1926) All praise to Leni Riefenstahl as a film director, but what a lousy actor and a dancer she is in The Holy Mountain. What she lack in acting and dancing in the film is taken care of by the beautiful and lyrical cinematography in the film, what a beautiful film. The story of the sea, the mountain, the snow, add to them a triangular love affair and man’s conflict and harmony with nature. Cinema by nature is a medium that once took its inspiration at birth from theater, the horizontal space is what most directors like to photograph and stage their mes-en scene, but in The Holy Mountain, Riefenstahl does the opposite, everything seem to be photographed and composed vertically, even the depth staging is vertically stages, Riefenstahl goes to the extreme as to mask the frame into vertical lines, that is what give the unique beauty to the film. Not to be missed.

Toi kumo aka Tattered Wings (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1955) Poor Keizo, you can’t help but feel heartbroken for him, for he can’t get over the only women he ever loved, the shy and beautiful, Fuyuko (Hideko Takamine) . From the first frame of the film, that of a train approaching the camera, as Keizo come home after a long absent, to the last frame of it, a pan from a train leaving to a the cover of a poem book that once Keizo borrowed from Fuyuko. You not only feel heartbroken for Keizo, but also for Fuyuko, because the two are still madly in love with each other, but just as is Keizo is a free man, Fuyuko is a widow with a daughter to be take care off, the dilemma for her is not only of leaving her little daughter, but also the opinion of a population of a town in which everyone seem to know everyone’s else private affair. My favorite Kinoshita film has always been You Were Like a Wild Chrysanthermum; the story of an old man who goes back to visit his village after many years, and on the way, he reflect on the tragic love that he once had, all he could is reflect upon the past, but in Tattered Wing, reflection is not enough, Keizo has a second chance to get the woman he loved, and still is in love with, but not for once, not even when at the end of the film, Fuyuko get the ticket to get on the train and leave with Keizo to Tokyo, not for a second, we, as a viewer get convinced that the two lover will end up together, for all the odds are against them, and Fuyuko is not a woman with free will, as she put is, “I live in the present, but you still dream in the past”, too a realistic to a dreamer, that is the difference between Fuyuko and Keizo. Setsuko Hara might be the greatest of the Japanese actress in the Golden Age era, but in Hideko Takamine, one can’t help but praise the one actress that had the ability to compete with Hara, for like her, when she is on the screen, one can’t help but look at her, she steal the screen. Great film from the golden age of the Japanese cinema.

Kono ten no niji aka The Eternal Rainbow (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1958) “Toward the heavens, it send out smoke in seven colors”, the IT is for Yawata Steel Works, one of the largest steel mill in Japan, what Kinoshita forget to mention is that many of those smoke are poisonous and they are not only sent out to the heavens, but also to the surrounding apartment complex that host the workers. Made as a fictional film, The Eternal Rainbow is more of an advertisement in glorification for Yawata Steel Company, all throughout the film, Kinoshita reminds us how great of an achievement the steel works are, and the how proud the workers are of their jobs, yet, the narrative never match the image, gloomy and broken down apartment are shown with a voice over, “Modern and beautiful apartment”, or, a city is show with smoke covering the sky, refereed to as “The Eternal Rainbow”, as for the narrative of the film, choppy with three different stories put together and in between, the glorification of Yawata Steel Company, among the worst film of Kinoshita that I had seen, if not the worst.

Lo Squadrone Bianco aka The White Squadron (Augusto Genina, 1936) I couldn’t help but applaud Lieutenant Mario decision at the end of Lo Squadrone Bianco, as he tell the girl, Cristiana, that once refused his love that “Mario doesn’t exist anymore, Cristiana, he’s left there, under the sands, farewell, Cristiana my place is here”, next shot, we see Cristiana, full of regrets, driving away in the back of a truck, eyes full of tears, as she look back at the empty roads, nothing to see but deserts. Winner of Mussolini’s Cup, the highest cinematic price in Fascist Italy, Lo Squadrone Bianco is the story of a young lover, after been rejected by the women he loves, he decide to join the Italian colonial legion in Libya, chasing rebels in the heat of the desert. I was surprised that rarely does the film ride into the Propaganda territory, instead, the film become a story for survival in a doomed land, a great discovery.

The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959- 1961) I had a chance to watch Kobayashi’s The Human Condition Trilogy over a period of one night, a few years ago, I had a chance to watch all three film that make the trilogy in span of three week, in the form of low quality VHS, all three, No Greater Love (1959), The Road to Eternity (1960) and A Soldier’s Prayer (1961). Made in span of three years, one rarely notices the span of time passed between each film, it flows beautifully, unless watched all three together, one misses the real power of the film; the hero’s change from a young naive innocent humanist early in the film to a monster at the end of it; the humans are that monster in time of war, only evil triumph, the bad one win, the good one lose, and as saying goes, “in the land of the blinds, one must cover one’s eyes”, so it goes in times of wars, no matter how hard our hero try to do goodness, one is not enough to change a world full of cruelty, and in the face of institutions made to suppress, one is helpless. Epic filmmaking at its best.

The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1973) One might not think of Ashby’s film as a visual tour deforce of a watch, he does not speak with the image, rather, his films are a sequence of little stories, little incidents about little characters and their relationship, he depend on dialogue, acting and well written script to involve the viewer in the film. Saying all that, one can’t help recalling iconic imagery when one think of Ashby, take The Last Detail, one little scene in the film always moved me emotionally; the scene of the three of them trying to meet the kid’s mother, they wait outside in the snowy doorsteps, Jack Nicholson open the door to the house, their POV; a dissolute room, beer bottles everywhere, trash, out of place furniture, back to the shot of the three of them, no emotion. That is all we need to know what the poor kid’s mother is like, one single shot, less than 10 second in duration, the image speak for itself. Ashby’s cinema might not be a visual tour deforce, for he keep to minimum the power of the image, and to maximum the power of the characters; three confused men, never knowing what they want in life, every time they do something, they end up questing it; could have been better, or should have done something else. Yet, they keep going in life, for they only live for the moment, knowing very well, that moment will pass. The last shot of the film; Nicholson and Young walking away from the camera, in a crooked road, the shot is held until they make a turn, lost from over view, they are cold, hand in their pockets, they seem to be running away rather than walking, in a hurry, on the double. The nihilist Ashby, always hiding more than showing, yet, always leaving you longing to know his character more, brilliant 70s American cinema, no longer is.

Popioly aka The Ashes (Andrzej Wajda, 1965) Over three hours in length, at first, The Ashes seem like a confused film, with its narrative surrounding the Napoleonic campaign, seeing from the eyes of Polish officers and civilians, the film slowly take shape into becoming a story of men on the edge of madness, they only know one language; that of war and destruction, they live everything behind for the sake of glory, and no matter how many time they are let down, yet, they keep going back. Many are idealistic at first, then, as they become pessimistic, they realize they have nothing to live for anymore, back to destruction in the name of freedom, or in the name of the great emperor, Napoleon, they are blinded by a mass hysteria, so, it is no wonder that the film end with our hero, lost in the vast snowy battle fields of Russia, blinded by the snow, he does not see the emperor passing by, leaving his destroyed army behind, yet, thinking, perhaps thinking about his next campaign. Wajda’s The Ashes owes a great deal to Soviet cinema in style, it is raw, far from epic Hollywood film of the period. The horror of war and the stupidity of the men fighting it, I might as well be talking about today.

Gideon of Scotland Yard (John Ford, 1958) A lousy inspector track down lousy criminals in one of the lousiest film from John Ford. There are many dumb and unattractive creation of inspectors in both literature and films, but put Gideon on top of them all, what is the day in the life of Inspector Gideon? The man wake up each morning to an all happy British family, eat his eggs, pouched, well, some of the egg, anyway, because he is in a hurry to serve the public, can’t finish it, drive his daughter to school, and within span of one day, more by chance than his wise cracking, he manages to solve three different crimes. Always in time to solve the crimes, but unable to attend to dinner in the evening with his family, poor chap, busy serving the public. A film full of charcuteries, not funny as it intend to be, one made to be skipped.

House Of Bamboo (Samuel Fuller, 1955) Robert Ryan is slowly climbing up to become my favorite American actor of the classic cinema, his subtle acting, his minimalist gestures, his calm and then explosive outburst are all made for him in Fuller’s House Of Bamboo, as a psychotic villain of a gangster living in Tokyo and Robert Stack is equally brilliant as an army investigator on an inside mission to track him down. It is tender film in style, but savage and brutal in content, such tendency with the camera, subtle movement to adjust; a little pan or a tilt, then, a long track side-angle, backward or forward. Watch how the characters walk, such grace, they turn, deliver a line, then walk of, each walking pace is calculated to register a movement in emotion. After killing his friend for thinking he was the snitch, watch how Ryan walk back into his house; the camera is a setup in a high side-angle, Ryan walk in screen left, the windows at first block him, until he come into the two third of the right of the frame, then we notice him fully, his head is down, he is dragging his feet, he pause, still looking into the ground, as the servant inform him that he got a visitor, he is listening, but also thinking, he raises his head, “Who?”, he is full of stillness, both hand in a gesture of a fist, when he get no name, he look screen right, take out his hat in a swift, hand it to the servant, then walk toward the camera, as he walk, the camera dolly up, now it is a high-angle, track up and backward, then a swift move to the right, as Ryan closes the door of the room on the right, the camera tricked us, for now, it track back, and dolly down to a two shot, by now we see who the visitor is, it is his inside man, he has come to tell him who the snitch is. That is how masterfully Fuller uses his camera to register little detail as a character’s walking and gesture into an emotional impact, the film is full of it, full of brilliant moments like that, beautiful, tender, raw, and savage. That is the cinema of Sam Fuller.

Le Couperet (Costa-Gavras, 2005) By its nature of being competitive, Capitalism always lead to rivalry, leading to competition and therefore into a process of elimination of the weak by the strong, you may call it a the survival of the fittest in the a process of kill or be killed, that is the story of Le Couperet; a white collar worker, out of work, in search for work, in order to get the top position, he must eliminate all his competitor, there it begins, his killing list, you may call it a re-make of Family Business (1986), but with one twist, the only one doing the business of crime is the Father, everyone deem him as a poor unemployed chap in search for work. More than a statement on the ruthlessness of modern day capitalism, Le Couperet is a examination of violence in form of entertainment of modern day, everything in the film is either about money, glamor, or violence, and just as the people are fine with that, we, as the viewer take pleasure in watching it, for every killing in the film is not a brutal watch, but rather a watch in guilty pleasure, and as the film progresses, the more the guilt take the form of a pleasure, and Gavras brilliantly show that in the action of the Father, but what goes around, comes around. A must watch.

The Boy Who Turned Yellow (Michael Powell, 1972) Watch The Boy Who Turned Yellow, for the film was the last collaboration between Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The story of a little boy, a day dreamer, who sleep during class time and end up dreaming a marvelous dream; Traveling in the subway, for no reason, he turns yellow, we don’t know why, that is until he meet Nick, an extra-terrestrial who manage to travel through electric signal, especially through TV, there the adventure began that end up with a climax in the Tower of London, the boy is on a mission of rescuing his little pet, that of a mouse . Don’t look for glamour that signify the cinema of Powell & Pressburger, it is a little film from two giant filmmaker at the end of their career, and the film shows. It is an innocent film, but one that is worth watching. If you learn nothing, you will learn one thing; extra-terrestrials are fans of Norwich City in the English Premiere League.

Il mestiere delle armi aka The Profession of Arms (Ermanno Olmi, 2001) Life and death of Giovanni De’ Medici, a brave captain leading a group of soldiers in the war of Charles V against the Pope, in the first half of the 16th century at the hand of Olmi become a film about the new technology of killing, mainly that of the artillery. In Olmi’s film, time stops, past, present and future is one, detailed to maximum in realism, the film is a poetic one just as it is a historical one in accuracy, it will be better for the viewer to have a proper knowledge of the historical fact before viewing the film, for many incidents and characters are right out of the history books. Everyone is victim in The Profession of Arms, they are victims to the tools of slaughters that they themselves created. A must watch for Olmi fans.

Minnie and Moskowitz (John Cassavetes, 1971) Minnie and Moskowitz, two loners, in love with Bogart’s film, living in a world that despite them, yet, they want to be loved, to be romantically in love, yet, always end up fighting, then, peace again, for a short time, back fighting again. They are like two children, they never show what they feel, always hiding their emotion, then again, at times they burst open all their desires and feeling, only to hide it again. You may call Cassavetes’ cinema, his films, as a long chain of examination of human relationship, his characters are always desperate for something, they think they know what they want, but when they get it, they feel betrayed by their emotion, that emotion that shift from tenderness into madness in a split second, that is why, every character in a Cassavetes film is a true character, they are not mere fictional creation on the screen, they are real, you feel them, you relate to them, and you know them, then when the film is over, you think about them. That is the genius of Cassavetes, he create a realism that is hard not to relate too, to believe in. Minnie Moore always wear dark glasses, even at night, why? To hide her eyes, because in her eyes is where her emotion is, and she never want you to see it, but you feel it. On the other hand, Seymour Moskowitz is a showman, he want to be seen, to be known, to be observed, but when things get tough, he run away, he does not wear dark glasses to hide his emotion, he either run away, or become violent. They are two people outsider of what society call ‘normal human”, but they are not rebels either, they want to belong, but they have hard time belonging, they are characters of out the beautiful cinema of John Cassavetes.

The Battle Of The River Plate (Powell & Pressburger, 1956) You can’t help but cheer for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee to sink as many British cargo ships as possible watching The Battle Of The River Plate, that is how bad the film is, poor Admiral Graf Spee, chased by three British warships at the cost of Montevideo, Uruguay, yet, he get the best out of the three. What you learn coming out of watching The Battle Of The River Plate, is that in the sea, they celebrate Christmas in mid-December, you also learn the language for commanding and communications orders, for the film is nothing but a list in addressing, of “Yes, sir”, and “Yes, Captain”. You may as well see a kindergarten play depicting the horror of war to get more of a realistic viewing than watching The Battle Of The River Plate, humbug, location shooting mixed with poor stage recreation is another, humbug, not to mention the climatic ending, shot like a baseball match, exactly, with commentator’s voice in the background.

The Road to Glory (Howard Hawks, 1936) As much as I’m fan of Hawks, I’m that much not a fan of glorification of wars, creating heros, sacrificing, and patriotic speeches, which The Road to Glory comes to an end with. On the credit of co-script writer is William Faulkner, and the few great moments in the film must have been written by him; the love scenes, the Father and Son relationship and the mined trenches. There are some well executed battle scenes, included is the use of documentary footage, well blended into the film. What is a let down is the patriotic drumbeat, the men who are alway ready to die. But, saying all that, any collaboration between Hawks and Faulkner is a must watch.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) Never been a fan of Wes Anderson (well maybe just The Fantastic Mr. Fox), to me, his cinema is nothing but a child’s fantasy trying to understand the world of the grownup, the children behave like adults, and the adults behave like children. Anderson keeps repeating himself in style; the long tracking shots on already staged scenes, track back to reveal info on scenes, the pan that make the screen look like a 3D image box, the slow motion dive into MTV music video, the over the stop use of music, the still camera set-up and character’s gaze to it, or the all knowing character, popping up in front of the screen and telling the viewers scientific and informal info, and no character act in a Wes Anderson film, they just recite lines from a script, they are flat, no psychology, all they do is talk in words, and do I have to mention the many stolen scenes from other films? For what is the first half of the film but a re-telling of Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou; the two lovers on the run, into the wilderness, as they quote from books, listen to music, and philosophize. Even if they do it in a state park, or quote children stories, and philosophize on how to spit. Skip it.

Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977) Oh, Sam Peckinpah, you mad genius, for only you, you only, truly understood man’s nature; of that violent animal, always on the path of destruction, so, it is only befitting that one master quote another, as Peckinpah quote Brecht, from The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, in the last credit of Cross of Iron, “Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again”, even the quoting of Brecht seems like a big nihilist joke from Peckinpah, just as Cross of Iron is a big nihilist joke on war, it is such a savage and mad film, that one can’t help laughing with Steiner, as stills of the real victims of wars appear on the screen, we are laughing at the madness that produce such imagery. What can one say about one of the greatest anti-war masterpiece in the history of cinema? Can one just talk about the cruel landscape? The treachery of war, the bureaucracy of life reflected in the army, as Captain put it, “in civilian as well as in military life, the distinction is made between people”, even in the army, the class struggle must go on. The film might as well have been about Vietnam, for Peckinpah felt passionately about a brutal war raging for no reason other than imperial domination, the saying goes that Peckinpah sent many telegram to Nixon, asking him to investigate the real reason for the war, “Your country and mine needs a strong and direct line to truth. Otherwise we are without honor of ourselves and with the world.” It is ironic that many who criticize Peckinpah’s film at the time for its violence, rarely stood up for the atrocities committed by the American forces in Vietnam, that is what drove Peckinpah’s film to become more violent over time, more sarcastic, and cynical. When a group of animal rights advocate made school children write to him, complaining about a scene in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) in which Billy shoot the heads off live chickens, Peckinpah wrote back to them, explaining how the chicken was saved from a slaughter house, giving more days to live, when killed, was giving to a poor farmer for his dinner, and referring to My Lai massacre in Vietnam, “I am delighted to hear from young people who have a conscience because there is a lot in life to be concerned about. I suggest you ask your teacher to tell you about My Lai and what Lt. Calley did to a 2 1/2 year old child in Vietnam. Explain to her that, although this man committed one of the most terrible crimes, he is coming out on probation after only a few years in jail”, the 2 1/2 year old child was shot on the back with another 347 unarmed Vietnamese men, women, and children by the American forces, an event, even today, very few know about, as the media did then, and now, its best to hide it. Sam Peckinpah, never hide, he shows and Cross of Iron is a complex film that work on many levels, Peckinpah is master at manipulating the viewer into his trickery; you see images, you hear sounds, you hear music, you think, you are manipulated, all three working independently of one another, the end credit is a brilliant example; juxtaposing innocent children song, stills of war atrocities, Brecht’s quotation, and Steiner’s sarcastic laughter, a cynical master, that mad Peckinpah was, and poetry in violence his cinema was.

October 2012:

Ginza Cosmetics aka Ginza gesho (Mikio Naruse, 1951)


Ginza Cosmetics aka Ginza gesho (Mikio Naruse, 1951)

Has Anybody Seen My Gal (Douglas Sirk, 1952) We all know how masterful Sirk is at making melodrama, but I was surprised to see that the master could also do a bit of a comedy and musical, combine them with melodrama in a sentimental story. For what is Has Anybody Seen My Gal but a colorful and lyrical version of a Capara film? It is colorful for its beautiful use of the Technicolor, and it is lyrical for its masterful use of the seasons, Sirk loves to shoot the snowy white winter landscape and the yellow greenish fall, with the fallen leaves almost orangish in color. Beside being the first collaboration between Sirk and Hudson, the film was also the first appearance of the young James Dean on the silver screen, he appear on the screen for no more than 15 second, but he leave a yawning of a lasting impression. The little story about a little family in an all little American town in which the appearance of money destroy that is little about them, Sirk’s take on the Americana, light hearted, funny, not as dark or melodramatic as his later films, it is a beautiful one from the heart, and what a beautiful watch.

Kiss Me Kate (George Sidney, 1953) By its nature, the musical genre closest to a theatrical play when it come to cinema, for what challenge more an audience in suspension of belief than a character bursting into song out of nowhere, as the music come in with a chorus on the background, and, they start moving the hips. George Sidney’s Kiss Me Kate is one of the many musical with its plot intertwined with a stage play, it work on four different layers in suspension of belief; you have a film called Kiss Me Kate, within the film there is a play called Kiss Me Kate, within that play is an adaptation of another play called The Taming of the Shrew (I don’t have to tell you whose play that is!), and finally, as a viewer, you become the fourth stage into combing the other three into viewing of a film, that is why, for many viewer, Kiss Me Kate seem like a confused film, but I guarantee you it is not, it is a brilliant watch, and one of the best musicals ever made, and ironically, the film came out the same year as another favorite musical of mine, Minnelli’s The Band Wagon, a film that also work on four layers, for like Kiss Me Kate, it is a film about the theatricality of cinema. Put on your tapping shoe, and have a ago at Kiss Me Kate, you will be rewarded.

Rembrandt’s J’accuse (Peter Greenway, 2008) I bet you if Rembrandt to see Rembrandt’s J’accuse, he will accuse Peter Greenway in the court of law for libels, for not knowing anything of what Rembrandt intended to say in his marvelous painting, The Night Watchmen. I have read and seen many critics using the art of dedication to explain a work of art of an artist not present anymore to answer back, but I have rarely heard such mambos jumbos as what Peter Greenway was saying in Rembrandt’s J’accuse, the whole ideas behind his 31 little points of dedication is ridicules for; if poor Rembrandt tried to accuse them, let us call them, them, of a murder by visual means of a painting in The Night Watchmen, why didn’t they just destroy the paining alongside poor Rembrandt, for they had the painting in their position all the time? It is a question that Greenway never ask, but he ask many other stupid questions. I guess they didn’t destroy the painting so that Greenway make such a stupid, silly and ridicules film, just to name a few deduction points on Rembrandt’s J’accuse.

Me and My Gal (Raoul Walsh, 1932) Me and My Gal has to be listed as one of the best sound film of 1932, for its use of multiple narrative, giveaway scenes, and the use of sound to minimum. What start as a day in the life of Sergeant Danny (Spencer Tracy), going around shipyard docks and doing best not to do anything, a slacker who become a hero at the end of the film, and in between, he marries the girl of his life. Notable scenes include a long high angle two take of a monolog between Danny and his girl as they talk about a film that the saw; “I saw a swell picture last night, the name was, was, the Strange something…Strange in the Tubes”, “Oh, I know, I saw that, that is the one where the actor say one thing and a minute later they say out loud what they really think”, “Yeah”. Well my friend, as they are talking on the couch, they say one thing to each other, and in a voice over monolog they say something else to the audience, one of the best love scenes in irony of early sound cinema, everything in the film work that way, the characters say one things, but they mean another thing, at times, the image is at odd with the sound, a wonderful film to watch.

Young Cassidy (Ford-Cardiff, 1965) The title said a “John Ford Film”, but the directing credit goes Jack Cardiff, and the film, a wonderful adaptation of Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey’s biographical book, Mirror in My House. The now forgotten Sean O’Casey, who once W.B.Yeats labeled him as “Irish Doestovsky”, and in 1930, Hitchock adopted his play, Juno and Paycock into a film. Don’t look for the famed Sean O’Casey in the film, for it is about young Cassidy before, during and shortly after the establishment of the Irish Free State, living in Dublin, in poverty, self educated, working by day, reading and writing by night, he loses everything in life that he loves, only to triumph in his art, a tragic figure he is. It is not hard to tell which scenes in the film belong to Ford and which to Cariff, to name one for each; the sequence of the dying mother is pure Fordian, the visual image speak there, the all sacrificing loving mother, her last act in life was for her son. The worker’s riot sequence has to belong to Cardiff, for Ford never uses such bold violence nor bold montage. Rod Taylor give a brilliant performance, he is as explosive in rage as he is in gentleness. Beautiful, lyrical and nostalgic, cinema as it used to be.

Savages (Oliver Stone, 2012) When a film is full of characters, despised by the viewer, and we are told to sympathize with them, the result is an epic failure of empathy, but when it happens twice, as it does at the end of Savages, then the result is that of despise. There are many things wrong with Savages; the voice-over, the naive look at at love in the land of the brutes, one diminution characters, and the acting, everyone over act, but the only one that succeed in getting away with it is Benicio Del Toro, if you ever watch Savages, watch it for his acting, for it is the only thing worth watching. Oliver Stone had always been a political filmmaker, he could have made a good documentary on the drug war than a film about a triangular love affair lost amide the drug wars, with and end what many already knows; CIA and its stooges run the drug war, the rest are little pawns in a game of chess, tipping one side or another, depending on the politic of the game. Nothing new.

Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler, 1969) “The Whole World is Watching. The Whole World is Watching”, so echo the sound of the protester over the final scene of Medium Cool, as one camera’s lens zoom into another lens of a camera, that seconds before captured a car crash as an observer. You may call Medium Cool as a film on observation, observed by us the viewer through the lens of a camera, it is about Wexler capturing the moments as they happen, rarely ever attempting to change it. A film on a culture obsessed with observation of violence in both media and real life, it is no wonder that it end with the riot at the Democratic Convention, tanks vs demonstrators. A film that lack narrative must capture moments in observation for it to make the viewer sequence the emotional impact, or rather reflect upon lack of emotion. Medium Cool may seem like a confused film about a confused period of the American culture, it lack narrative, but it make up for by slicing the film into various sequence, each work independent from each other, can be viewed apart from each other, but, combined, it is the best indirect observation of American in late 60s, it is an experimental film made by a man obsessed more with the camera as a tool of capturing reality than telling a narrative fictional tale, that is why, the best scenes in the film are that of documentary nature. We remember Haskell Wexler for his beautiful use of natural light, as a genius cinematographer (think of Days of Heaven), but I tell you this, he was a damn good filmmaker also, and his shortcoming was working in a system that valued fictional filmmaking above all others, and it is no wonder he only managed to make only one film, but a good one.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945) We are all familiar with the sad rainy window scenes in films; Shot from outside the window, the character gaze into outside world, with rain falling down on the window, it suppose to be a classic scene of sadness, but at the hand of Kazan, it become a symbol of a little girl innocent being washed away, a little girl who is grownup and must face the reality of the world. There is an innocent childish naivety on life in Betty Smith’s semi autobiographical and best-selling first novel, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and that innocent transmit into the film. Kazan’s first film is a direct transition from the theater to cinema, shot on the Twentieth Century-Fox lot, the film is a theatrical staging, with deep staging camera work to give it a cinematic look. The story of coming of age of a little girl in the poverty stricken Brooklyn tenement of the early 1900s, become the story of a drunken unemployed singer of a father, Johnny Nolan, and his relationship with his daughter, full of charm, and always happy on the outside, the poor man is unable to take the role of a father, rather he become more of a friend to the the girl. The film has its tenders moments, even tear chokers (Francie getting the flower from his Pop at the end), the world that is shown is cruel, but seeing from the eyes of a little girl, it is also innocent and poetic. A decent first film from a man who would make many great films later in his career.

The Rising of the Moon (John Ford, 1957) Two lousy short stories (yes, one of them is from Frank O’Conner) is made into a lousy film about Ireland that suppose to tell stories in the daily life of the Irish people, only, each character is a charcuterie, flat one diminution, on the screen only to be laughed at, with heavy makeup, flat staging, The Rising of the Moon has to be among the most theatrical of all Ford’s film, even the landscape is flat, but Ford saves himself in the last half hour of the film, with adaptation of Lady Gregory’s play by the same title, that old Irish spirit of resistance that Ford loved to dramatize is perfect to end the film on a higher note.

Medea (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969) Euripides’ play, Medea at the hand of Pasolini is not a play, but a cinematic adaptation of a play in experiment, that of image and music above all, with dialogue substituted for gesture. Shot in Göreme Open Air Museum in Turkey, with many amateurs in the leading roles, Pasolini distance himself from the lyrical approach to to the play, there are no Greek architecture in the film, not even the music is Greek, folk music is used from Japan to Persia, but not that of the Greeks. Everything is raw in the film, the landscape, the faces, the weather, the violence. You have to know Euripides’ Medea in order to understand Pasolini’s Medea, but then again, who has not heard the tragic story of Jason, Creon, Absyrtus and his Father, all doomed by the treachery of Medea; the first Femme fatale.

The Visitors (Elia Kazan, 1972) When immoral institutions allow men to act immoral toward others, then, all men are targets. War is immoral, and the men fighting immoral wars become immoral, no matter how hard one try, few of the immoral can become moral, for they lack reason in thinking, acting and behaving. Made during the peak of the Vietnam war, Kazan’s The Visitors is a look at the home front during war time, everything in the film is dreary, a dreary mood, building up to a violent climax, and Kazan’s style help, shaky camera, use of zoom, close framing, naturalistic use of light, and parallel cutting to two different action simultaneously. The war might be at a distance, but the home front is equality violent, even the sport they watch on TV seem to reflect that violent. When the stillness comes before the storm, when the peace lady dance a waltz with the solider, you know it won’t last long, for the two playing the same game won’t play by the same rule, “Lady you are nut, you think you can change the rules in the middle?”. Two different world on a collusion, each going a separate way, with only one thing in common, that of not knowing why. Written by a son, directed by a father aware of the My Lai massacre. Kazan’s The Visitors and Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, two film made in span of a year, reflect not only at the violent nature of a society, but also viewer’s observation of that violence, “It only happen on the screen”, but it happen outside of the screen more often. Kazan’s film fit best with the rest of the many masterpieces of 70s American cinema.

The Outlaw (Howard Hughes, 1943) Not for a second do I believe that The Outlaw was directed by Howard Hughes, but the credit on the films said so, when a man got enough money to build his own airplane, the largest one in the world, I guess he got the money to put his name on any film he wishes to be his. Today, The Outlaw is mostly remembered for Jane Russell’s sensual performance, but there is nothing really that sensual in her performance, it is Gregg Toland’s brilliant cinematography that make is so, those tracking shot toward her, almost swallowing her into the screen. The one good thing about The Outlaw is Walter Huston’s take on Doc Halliday, charming devil he is. Poor, Patt Garrett, he is played around by both the Kid and Doc, and that ending, I have to give that to Howard Hughes, he wished to to have had an ending like that of the Kid, presumed dead by many, only to ride away with his gal, living his live away from the public’s view. Worth Watching.

Il tempo si e fermato aka Time Stood Still (Ermanno Olmi, 1959) Ah, Olmi, how much I love your early cinema, for your started like a genius of an artist, knowing his art best, for you started simple, all great artist achieve simplicity at the end, but you reached that simplicity in cinema from beginning, for rarely cinema is capable of achieving such simplicity in story and character as in Il tempo si e fermato, indeed time does stand still for Olmi, as he does what he is best at; showing every day life on the screen to such perfection that you get glued watching a man preparing a dinner, even if you had already seen the same action being repeated twice before. There are only three characters in Il tempo si e fermato; one of them last for 5 minute, the other two are the heart of the film, two men, one old and one young, living on a snowy mountain, watching over a dam frozen until summer. What does their lives consists off? Nothing, they sleep, wake up, eat breakfast, maybe ski a little, then eat lunch, eat dinner, play checkers, read a book, prepare their bed, and sleep. That is what Il tempo si e fermato is, only, thought these little action, we are shown two characters and the development of their relationship; from distance and cold observer, to two friend helping each other, for “no man is an island”, as the saying goes. Like Bresson, Olmi’s characters are so real, so genuine, that when the film is over, you keep thinking about them, what ever happened to them? That is why, you never want an Olmi film to end, it is so full of life, so simple, and so beautiful.

Sign of the Pagan (Douglas Sirk, 1954) What an orgy of religious fanfare Sign of the Pagan is of a film. Jack Palance is brilliant at griming, showing his white teeth amid a dark make up, playing the role of Attila the Hun. He is the only good thing in the film, and one can’t help wishing him to wipe out the new Roman Empire displaying arrogance of religion violence, hilarious scene include a meeting of Pop Leo and Attila the Hun. Full of inaccuracy, among the most bizarre work of Sirk.

Tsuma Yo Bara No Yo Ni aka Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Mikio Naruse, 1935) Wife! Be Like a Rose! reads like a Chekhov play, so tender, simple, and beautiful little story about simple people unable to compromise the one person they love all, that of a Father, for as his former wife puts is, “Each heart is different”. Indeed, each heart is different from that of the others in Wife! Be Like a Rose!; the story of girl in search for his father, her selfish search lead her to the realization that others happiness does not always depend on our perception of happiness, and sometimes others are unable to express their love through word, so they do it through action, among the many little touching scenes in the film is the scene in which our heroine realize her father does care for her, as he buy her “tangerine and chocolate” at the train station, “Until then I hadn’t felt much affection for him, but such a small thing suddenly made me feel I wanted to keep him near”, only then does she realize his love. The misunderstanding of the daughter is the same as that of the viewer, throughout the film we judge the characters, some as victims and some as villains, only to realize at the end of the film, how wrong we were of out judgment. Among the early best of Naruse’s film on the family relationship, a repeating theme in his cinema. Great one.

Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts (Mikio Naruse, 1935) The story of three sisters, two of them samisen street musician, and the third one, the youngest, being a dancer, all three forced by their mother to earn their daily meal. Innovative in its use of sound, with flashbacks (even flashback within flashback), voice-over and music used in a multi-story narrative. Camera movements is impressive, the many track in, and deep staging remind one Mizoguchi’ Sisters of the Gion, a film that also deal with working girls, only, Mizoguchi went as far as making the two sisters geisha. Unlike Sisters of the Gion, in Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts, the men are not that bad, at least a few of them, as the sisters find love in a world that class different, poverty, and vanity seem to become an obstacle standing on the way. Three sisters, caring for each other, only for circumstances to separate them apart.

Tochuken Kumoemon aka Man of the House (Mikio Naruse, 1936) Based on the live of Kumoemon Tochuken, a famed rōkyoku recitalist in Meiji Japan, and one of the first recording star in Japan, the story of his relationship with his son and wife, and the many Geisha he gets in trouble with, as the newspapers hunt him down for rumors of his misdemeanors to print, almost the story of a rock star on the edge before there was a rock star. Fast paced narrative, flashy camera movements, and undesirable character in the leading roles make the film unworthy of the the style of Naruse that we are familiar with.

Kafuku I & II aka Learn from Experience, Parts I and II (Mikio Naruse, 1937) It is common to to have stories on arranged marriages with the vicim being that of a woman lost between her true love and her future husband to be in an arraigned marriage, so it is with Naruse’s Kafuku I & II, the victim is also a woman, but the man is the one who is forced to choose between the two. It take two film for Naruse to tell the story of Kafuku, with the first part concentrating on our hero’s decision between the two woman, and end with a planned revenge by our heroine, now carrying his baby. The second part is about our heroine reconciling first with the woman that our hero chose over her, she forgive and forget her, with no trace of jealousy, even too happy to let them have her baby, an ending that is more questionable than possible. Rarely does one questions the believability of characters in a Naruse film, but in Kafuku, there are some questions to be asked. Worth viewing for any Naruse fan, but far from his best works.

Hideko the Bus Conductor aka Hideko no shasho-san (Mikio Naruse, 1941) Just as Setsuko Hara is associated with Ozu, so it is that Hideko Takamine is associated with Naruse, she appeared in 17 of Naruse’s films, and it is hard not to fall in love with her in Hideko the Bus Conductor; such gentle character, so pure, so innocents, in a cheerful film coming out of a Japan that was fighting a brutal war. We are taken in a bus journey, in the rural Japan, in a lazy town, a broken bus that carry few passenger, the times are bad, the bus it is about to go out of business, can’t compete against strong competitor. The bus is a symbol of everything that is innocent, indeed, all the characters riding the bus are simple people; farmers, school children, and peasants, the two people running the bus are the simplest, a driver who get passionate listening to description of the road by our bus conductor, the beautiful, Hideko, always smiling. They lead a simple life, there passions are simple; to make their passengers happy. They live a world of their own, in that of the innocent and goodness, only such world is not possible to last forever, that ironic ending of the film, Naruse give us the info that our characters does not know, the their ride is the last one on the bus, as the owner sell the bus in his office, cut, to the bus ride, the beautiful smile on the happy face of Hideko Takamine is cut to a wide shot of the bus despairing from our view, away from the camera, as it leave behind dust in the mid air, such world is no longer possible. Under one hour in length, Hideko the Bus Conductor is a small masterpiece from the great Naruse.

Five Men in the Circus aka Sakasu gonin-gumi (Mikio Naruse, 1935) There are five men, the circus, and many love affair that goes nowhere. Everyone seem to be a failure in Five Men in the Circus, yet, they keep going, dreaming their little dreams. Even in the circus, the family relationship take the center stage, as father and daughter become strangers to each other, then reconcile. There are few touches of humors, here and there, but Naruse never could be a filmmaker that could sustain comedy throughout a film, indeed, the jokes are not funny. Early use of sound is also a little exaggerated, bring attention to itself.

The Whole Family Works aka Hataraku ikka (Mikio Naruse, 1939) A working class family is in the center of Naruse’s The Whole Family Works; five brothers and a little sister, they must all put their ambitions aside for now, as they work in order to support the family. I wouldn’t call the film as one of a social realism, but it goes toward that direction, almost a neo-realism. Being a Naruse film, the relationship among the family members are more essential than a plot or a theme in a film, indeed the relationship between the father and his oldest son, Kiichi, is in the heart of the film, one must sacrifice for the other, which one is it gonna be? For in the world of poverty, not everyone’s dream can come true. The realism in the film is in little details of each character’s action; be it eating a rice ball, getting dressed, taking a walk across the street, or looking at oneself in the mirror, they are little pieces and bits of action that give great significant to the characters and an overall realism to the film. A great one.

Avalanche aka Nadare (Mikio Naruse, 1937) Does one’s happiness depend on that of others? A question that divide father and son, son and wife, and the son and his lover in Avalanche, one of Naruse’s early examination of unhappy marriage, with the wife as the victim, the wise father in-law who is lost between the son and his daughter in-law, and the lover who has to decide between her own happiness and that of the others. Like many Naruse of 30s, Avalanche is just over one hour in length, it only has four major characters, with extra roles as minors in between. I wouldn’t call it Naruse’s most philosophical film, but the characters does lots of preaching to each other and in monologs to themselves, there are dozen or more scenes of monologues, as the screen goes half black, as if a curtain is coming down on a stage.

A Woman’s Sorrows aka Nyonin aishu (Mikio Naruse, 1937) In A Woman’s Sorrows, you have the essential portrayal of a wife in the cinema of Naruse; the all sacrificing wife, not appreciated by her husband, enduring her suffering patiently until there is no more patience left in her. What is most cruel in A Woman’s Sorrows is the fact that on one in the family appreciate her sacrifice, being a traditionalist and a conservative, at first, she take the role of the obedience wife all too happily, only for her to decide to leave behind a belief that no longer function in a society in which more women prefer independent, love over arrange marriage, and self dependency.

The Actress and the Poet aka Joyu to shijin (Mikio Naruse, 1935) Most theatrical among Narus’e film, The Actress and the Poet is an examination of marriage in light comedy, mostly shot indoors, it rely heavily on the script. Instead of the suffering wife who’s work in not appreciated, we have the husband doing the house work, being bossed around by the wife, there are few comical scenes that signify Narue’s silent cinema. Takako Irie start as the role of the wife, she was the leading start in many early Narue, a role that Hideko Takamine would take on later.

Spring Awakens aka Haru no mezame (Mikio Naruse, 1947) Among the most honest film on that sensitive period of a person’s life; taking that step from childhood into adolescence, a transition that is more of a tragedy than a normal biological development in a person’s life in a small town of the rural Japan. Three young girls and three young boys, all curious about the change that is taking place, they ask around, unaware of the sexual knowledge, they itch for love, but they do not know why. Spring Awakens is an innocent film on the lives of teenagers, it is no longer possible for cinema to make such innocent film, for a young girl to ask her mother where babies come from, or the inability of the parents to communicate directly with their children on the possibility of adolescence. Left alone, they have to a find out a meaning for themselves, not an easy task, at times they feel like criminal and a victim of a change that it taken place. Lyrical, innocent and beautiful film, in Spring Awakens, Naruse uses nature to reflect the character’s emotional development; the beautiful white clouds, the sunny days, the windy afternoons, to the rainy and darkly stormy afternoon as the film reaches its climax.

Caesar Must Die aka Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, 2012) Shakespeare and Cinema are very fond of each other, but it takes great courage for a a filmmaker to renew and adopt Shakespeare to fit the time, so it is with Caesar Must Die, one of the best adaptation of any Shakespearian play that I have seen in a long time, with its simplicity in use of sets, non-professional actors and realism that put to shame the over-the-top and glamorous Hollywood and Kenneth Branagh’s recent adaptation of Shakespeare. The intertwining of documentary, fiction and a play within a play in not something new, but to have it done in a real prison with real inmate, that is something special. The black and white cinematography, the interior of the prison, the raw faces, the amateur performance, it all give a realism in brutality to the film that fit best Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar, it give it a truth that one rarely find in a play, as the performance on the stage became as real as the one on the screen.

Ginza Cosmetics aka Ginza gesho (Mikio Naruse, 1951) The story of an aging geisha, in the famed Ginza district of Tokyo, serving customers and trying best to spent time with her little son, on the sideline, she searches for love, and does her best to get a loan for the place she work for. Not the first nor last of Naruse’s film on the live of a single woman, that of a hostess, his best will come a decade later with When a Woman Ascends the Stairs.

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012) Argo is no difference from many Western media outlet, with its portrait of grieving crowds of the Middle East, as out of control mobs on path of destruction. We always have to sympathize with the American as if they were the victim and not the cause of the long decades of suffering of the Iranian people under the Shah and its brutal secrete service backed and put there by the American, you reap what you sow. The Iranian hostage crisis is not different to what took place recently around the Muslim world, the attack on many American embassy, the people’s grief is so strong at the American long imperial policy in the region, that their only expression is through rage and violence, the film only show the violence but fail to show the grief of the population. To have the hero of the film as a CIA operative is to add injury to the insult, the same CIA who overthrow many democratic government in the region to replace them by dictators like the Shah. In Argo, it seem that every time an employee from state department open their mouth, and F word is for sure to come out, more like State of Profanity than State Department. The historical accuracy of the film is all wrong, interviews of Khomaini, speeches by Carter and the student’s spokesperson all shown to have happened at the same time, in reality, they happened month after each other. After the revolution of 79, Iran was in a democratic transition, still more westernized than many of its neighbors, yet the film show the country as conservatives and backward, a police state, everyone seem to be already wearing the hijab, not true, the law to wear hijab for all Iranian women came many year after the revolution. Like Hurt Locker, in which all Iraqi were shown as hostile and a threat, so it is with Argo, all Iranian seem to be griming, full of hate, hostile, fundamentalist and barbaric. As to the fact that the lives of the hostages were at stake, that were never true, the lives of those in the embassy were not at stake let alone those hiding in Canadian ambassador’s house, they were held as a bargain. As for the locations, anyone who has been Istanbul would recognize the grand Bazaar and not for a second would take it for Tehran, same is true for the other location shootings. More of a film about Hollywood than Iran hostage crisis, once again, it shows how of a poor state Hollywood is in when it come to the reality of the Middle East, always one dimensional, leaning to what Western’s viewers love to see in their evening news. At t time where the American’s fever is high for another war, that on Iran, Argo is nothing short of a right-wing, pro-American propaganda of a film, it is terrible and misleading.

The Angry Street aka Ikari no machi (Mikio Naruse, 1950) The Angry Street might as well be a metaphor for the post-war Japan, with its pessimistic theme, it is among the darkest film of Naruse. It is hard to find an evil character in a Naruse film, for first you have to define what evil is, but if evil consist of one’s selfishness in caring only for one’s happiness on behalf of that of others, then the character of Sudo is evil, the handsome gigolo who live upon women as victims in the night clubs and dance floors of Ginza district of Tokyo, he is among the darkest characters in Narue’s cinema. It seem that in the post-war Japan, half the population are victims and the other half leach upon them, the students in the university are either black marketers or making a decent living by selling in the street, the ones doing the black marketing seem to live the life of riches, even if at the end, they have to pay a price. It is poverty that drive the people to commit such acts, but when it is no longer poverty, it is ambition of vanity that drive Sudo into promising to continue upon his acts. The end of The Angry Street seem to be hopeful, but it is not; as Sudo’s co-conspirator and best friend find redemption, promising to save Sudo, but two is needed to play the game, and you wonder if Sudo will ever take back the right path, I doubt it.

Okuni and Gohei aka Okuni to Gohei (Mikio Naruse, 1952) It is not so common to see Samurais in a Naruse film, but in Okuni to Gohei, loyalty, honor and traditional value is at stake as a widow take on a mission with his current lover, to avenge the killing of her husband by the hand of her former lover. There are no choreographed action sword fights like those of Kurosawa, nor any brave Samurais facing death, rather, the Samurais are cowards, trying to comprise away out of a duel, “No, I don’t want to die”, they keep saying, and the question that keep repeating is, “Is that the way of the Samurai?”, indeed, running away from a duel is no way of Samurai. The most melodramatic among Naruse’s film, Okuni to Gohei is a strange one.

Dancing Girl aka Maihime (Mikio Naruse, 1951) “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, so said the great Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, a description fit best for Naruse’s Dancing Girl. Based on a novel by Yasunari Kawabata’s, with a script written by Kaneto Shindo, the story of a family on the edge of a volcanic eruption, for the wife loved, and still love another man, with two children, she lead an unhappy life with her husband, she had an affair that everyone knows about, but has managed to live with it for the last 20 years. Such illusion is no longer possible, as our heroine has to make a choice, being a Mother, a Wife, or a Lover. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake has been used so many times in cinema, so many, that is has become a cliché, but it at the hand of Naruse, in the last 3 minute of Dancing Girl, the camera take place of the composer, as the curtain come down in a finally that leave all things as to where they stand as the beginning of the film, again, the Mother has to sacrifice for the sake of the happiness of the children; she is frozen in the garden, eyes full of tears, the husband loom like a towering figure at a distance, as the camera track up to a high-angle two wide shot, they are now both like statues, distance from each others, ta ta ta, taaaaa, fade out to THE END, as the music spill into the black screen, marvelous.

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012) The more I watch recent films coming out of Hollywood, the more I realize that if the American cinema is not dead, then it is already dying. Killing Them Softly is a perfect example of cinema on its deathbed, a showcasing of recycled styles, call it a cheap sequel in imitation of Goodfellas, this time with a cameo by Tony Soprano as he F— his way into the film, tough characters that end up begging for mercy, tough long dialogues with forced humors, cheap violence, over the top use of pop music, the slow motion, do I have to mention the 2008 economic crisis on the background with every radios and every TVs broadcasting Bush and Obama’s mumbo jumbos, a showoff of style that has been shown many time. Killing Them Softly is already dated and a dead film, do it a favor, and let it rest.

November, 2012:

Sans Lendemain aka Without Tomorrow (Max Ophuls, 1939)

Sans Lendemain aka Without Tomorrow (Max Ophuls, 1939)

Lightning aka Inazuma (Mikio Naruse, 1952) The most dysfunctional family in all of Narue’s film is in Lightning, a mother with three Daughter and a Son from three different husbands, two of the daughters seem to be only chasing men and fortunes, and the third one, well, the third one is the daughter with the golden heart, and its played by no other than the great Hideko Takamine, ten years after her role in Hideko the Bus Conductor, here she is again playing a bus guide, but this time, we rarely travel with her on the bus, rather, we see her witness patiently all the travesty in a dysfunctional family, only by leaving the family behind, finding solitude in a countryside does she seem to find happiness, “You can’t be happy just waiting to be happy” her mother tell her in the climax of the film, she answer back, “So What? You can at least try. You live without hope”, the mother might be living without a hope, but not the daughter, she hope, and she is determinate to find that happiness. A great one from Naruse, as always.

Husband and Wife aka Fufu (Mikio Naruse, 1953) The ending of Husband and Wife might be a cheerful one, as the Husband decide to keep the child, but despite that, the two of them, their back to the camera, walk away into the windy and cold afternoon. An examination of relationship amid poverty, as the husband become jealous of a wife, as she seem to make everyone happy but him. The husband (Ken Uehara) is unable to express any kind of gentleness, love or compassion toward his poor wife, yet, he take out his co-workers to dinners and cinema, that is fine with him, but when his wife is invited for a dinner by his friend, he get jealous, even in jealously he is unable to express his anger. That is why, at the end of the film, when he put his arm around her, we question such gentle gesture, is that a start of a change? I doubt it, for in a Naruse film, the end is like a wheel, spinning back to the beginning.

Wife aka Tsuma (Mikio Naruse, 1953) “What is it to be a Woman or to be a Wife?” asks the confused Wife at the end of Naruse’s Wife, and don’t expect to get an answer, for there are more questions asked than answered. The film open with two separate monologs, one from the wife and the other from the husband, both unsatisfied with a marriage than has lasted 10 years, and the film ends with two separate monologs, one from the wife and the other from the husband, gain, both unsatisfied with a marriage than has lasted 10 years, but in between, the husband fall in love again, with a widow, but the wife won’t let him go. Unlike other Naruse films, in which we mainly empathize with the suffering wife, in Wife, the one character that get most of our sympathy is the Widow who fall in love with the husband, the wife seem to push too hard to keep a life that only unhappiness is the result, but she has no other choice. The character of the husband is played by no other than Ken Uehara, he was a favorite of Naruse playing the quite husband, his acting is that of silent cinema; at times, his reaction is almost a perfect copy of Stan Laurel, all about his silent reactions, prefect.

Ohm Kruger (Hans Steinhoff, 1941) Emil Jannings is brilliant in the role of Paul Kruger, the first president of the South African Republic and a rebel of the Boer resistance against the British colonial power during the Second Boer War. He lead his nation into a rebellion against the British, only to lose a battle that from the start is that of a lost cause, as the British ruthless military power, (estimated that more than 150,000 civilian died in British Concentration Camps) with funds from the businessman, Cecil Rhodes crush the rebellion and therefore making way for the riches of gold and diamonds of Africa, especially the lucrative Witwatersrand gold mines to flood the European market, even today, Cecil Rhodes’s legacy in monopoly of the trade is still as powerful as the days of the Second Boer War (De Beers companies control close to %50 of world’s Diamonds). For a propaganda film coming out of a Nazi Germany, there has to be a strong leader in the film, calling to arm and mobilization, at times ranting to the extreme, as is the case of Emil Jannings, brilliantly copying Hitler’s manner of speech, but the film also to a degree is historically accurate, take out the cheap anti-English propaganda, and in Ohm Kruger, you got an epic film to watch.

Secret Beyond The Door (Fritz Lang, 1948) The Room is the mind, the Door represent the unconscious, and the Secret is that unconscious element that is suppressed in the mind of our protagonist, Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave); a childhood incident of being locked in a room alone that has stayed in his unconscious, drive him to commit murder. The most Freudian of all Lang’s film, Secret Beyond The Door is a trip into the unconsciousness of a mind that is incapable of a continues love toward a woman, with the fear of losing one’s independent, erotic and danger walk side by side. It is no wonder that Mark is a room collector, indeed, he collect rooms that once a murder were committed in, with all its furniture and props of the murder, the furniture and the room itself become characters to be feared in the film, all the fear in the film is inside the house, outside seem to be peaceful, it is the home that death is awaiting, it is Lang’s twist on the noir genre. Masterful use of Voice-over and Stanley Cortez’s chiaroscuro cinematography highlight the film.

Devil’s Doorway (Anthony Mann, 1950) Throughout its history, mankind collectively has committed many crimes in the name of civilization, but rarely does any of it match the atrocity and genocide committed in the so called the “New World”, the founding of a land by wiping out its entire populations, that of the Native. It is no wonder that Mann titled his film, Devil’s Doorway, for its indeed the doorway of the devil as one man take another’s land and property, deny its basic rights, and murder him in the name of the law. The antagonist in the film is a lawyer, represent a law that according to the Marshal of the town, “Treat an Indian less than a Dog”, and the protector of the law is an army that once our Indian hero, Lance Cool (Robert Taylor) served in, the same army take away his land and submit his people into reservation camps, the way of the civilization is the law, and according to the law, as his lawyer puts it, “Under the law, you are not classed as an American citizen”, “What am I?”, the poor guy ask, “You are a ward of the government”. One of the first western that portray the Native as a victim to the expansion of the homesteaders and the expansionist policy to the West, even if that victim is a former army office and a rich landowner, we still sympathize with him, despite the ending, that seem to work both way, as our hero salute the army, his last line; “We’re all gone”, fall down dead. John’s Alton’s cinematography, especially day for night scenes is a must watch.

Beyond The Forest (King Vidor, 1949) “But I’m not just any woman, I’m Rosa Moline”, so talk to herself Bette Davis as she walk in the rainy night of Chicago, and she is right, she is Rosa Maline, an unhappy wife of a Doctor living in a small town, all her desire is to be free again and marry a rich man, who would buy her mink coats and take her out into the fast life of Chicago, murder is nothing in her plan to achieve that freedom. There is no boundary between what is good and what is bad in Beyond The Forest, that is according to Rosa Moline, she murder and she laugh about it, she kill her own child, and is happy about it, as for her Doctor husband (Joseph Cotten), he is too much of a patient man with her, somewhat unrealistic of a character, but we buy it, and it is his silence against her misdemeanors that drive her to commit more acts of violence. You can’t help feel sorry for Rosa Moline at the end of the film, as she lay dead by the rail tracks, the train is leaving for Chicago, she is not on it, she herself is the executioner of her own dreams that drive her into the doom. Vidor at his best.

Our Daily Bread (King Vidor, 1934) During the Great Depression in America, in the mid 1930s, Hollywood produced some of the most best Musical and Comedies of the ra, and the masses loved it, they lived amid poverty, but they wanted to laugh and see glamour on the screen, but one filmmaker, one humanist of a filmmaker by the name of King Vidor wanted to make a film about common people struggling to get a pice of their daily bread, “I didn’t want to be a complete prostitute to making money for the Studios”, “This story talked about utilizing the land for subtenant and that appealed to me very much”. He had already made a film about the common man, The Crowd (1928), he went to the head of the Studios telling them how he wanted to make a film about “Going to the land, living the basic”, no one was interested in producing such film, “I took it to MGM, to Thalberg, they liked the idea, but, they were afraid of it. They were afraid it was too much down to earth for a big studio, they were atone to other type of things”, “The only thing to do was make it myself”, so, Vidor had no choice but to mortgage his house, with the money he produced his most personal film and released with the help of his friend, Charle Chaplin through United Artists. If we look for the idle and the teaching of Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau and Gerrard Winstanley in cinema, you don’t have to look further than Our Daily Bread; the message is simple, humanity can only live in eternal peace and property when it goes back to the land, get ride of money as an exchange commodity, call for the equal sharing and distribution of land, rejection of organized religion and government, rejection of commodity and money, gaining one’s bread by one’s plowing of the land, living on earth’s natural resources, creating self-sufficient farming community. Our Daily Bread opens with a scene of a landowner evicting the newly weeded couple, John and Mary Sims, they have only two days to get the money to pay rent, or else, leave the house. By chance, the meet an old uncle in which guide them to go back to an old farm once he had, “The bank don’t want it, neither do I”, “I guess beggars can’t be choosers” so declare John, and they start living the land. But the problem is, they don’t know anything about the land, about farming, irrigation, crops, etc. The idea comes to John that if they could gather as many people like them, each with a trade, they could build a collective cooperative community, “Where money is not so important, you help me, I help you, great idea, yea”. So begin the recruitment, each with a trade, they help each other build houses, all together farm the land. It is not easy going with community at first, for they lack commodity, they struggle, to a point that John loses all interest in leading them, as the rain stop, severe drought threaten to kill the crops, at last minute, John get an idea of digging a ditch of two miles long to divert water from a creek to irrigate the crops, that is the last 10 minute of Our Daily Bread, cinematic miracle on the screen; Vidor uses the sound like music, that of digging the ground like a chorus, they work days and nights without a rest, little children, the women, the old people, with their bare hand dig the ground, a triumph of what is good in humanity, such pure joy of triumph on the faces, of self-sufficiency and working collectively, is no wonder that Vidor himself shout, with a smile, “Let her go” when the digging is finished, and that water flow, when it move, digging up the ground, feeding the crops, that is when cinema speak in language of miracle, as the men chases alongside of the water, side by side, man and nature working together and against each other, one man has to lay in the ground like a piece of clay to stop the water from diverting, they run alongside side it with joy, one of cinema’s most abstract action chase, the realism of such little detail as the water wetting the ground is more powerful of imagery than all the CGI effect of today’s cinema combined, such pure joy of the farmers, their wife and children dancing in the muddy ground, their happiness is that of hard working, of earning one’s bread by the sweat of one’s own brow. Vidor had high hopes for humanity, he was an optimist making the most optimistic film of the 30s, in a time in which only poverty ruled a nation, he was a humanist of a filmmaker, Our Daily Bread and The Crowd is a testament to that, the good of humanity in action.

Leila Khaled Hijacker (Lina Makbul, 2006) “Your Terrorist is my Freedom Fighter”, so goes the saying, and that hold truth to the case of Leila Khaled and the Palestinian Struggle against the brutal occupation of their land by Israel. She represent resistance, has a cult hero statues among the Palestinian but in the West, they label her as terrorist. Interesting documentary, but one diminutional in content and amateurish in style.

Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012) I couldn’t help but laugh at the stupidity of Lawless, it takes everything of appearance and manner from Gangster films and copy it into a film that drag on into boredom, with no end in sight, you got caricatures rather than characters; the tough one smoking big cigars, the nerves ones chewing tobacco and spiting it out, they look tough by appearance, walking in threatening manner, shaking their head in disapproval, nodding in agreement, dialogues that is feed into the mouth of one dimensional caricatures of figures, simple coverage of Mise en scène, flat cinematography, in one word; terrible. A terrible film among many coming out of a Hollywood on its deathbed.

Sleep, My Love (Douglas Sirk, 1948) There is an obsession in many film of the 40s; the wife being a victim of a plot by the husband of making her convince that she is a loony, just to name a few; Suspicions, My Name Is Julia Ross, Experiment Perilous, Gaslight. The plot is same in Sirk’s Sleep, My Love, the husband must get ride of the wife in order to have it easy with his mistress, he uses psychoanalysis to hypnosis her as her mistress hypnosis her with her killer charms, but there is always that stranger that come to the rescue in the last second, not the best of Sirk’s take on the Noir.

Stranger on Horseback (Jacques Tourneur, 1955) The same year that Tourneur made his best Western, Wichita, he also made Stranger on Horseback, the story take place in the newly conquered frontier of the West, as powerful landlords once conquered the land, now ruled it according to their pleasure, that of the gun, a newly appointed Judge is determined to bring law and order to the place, that Judge is no other than Joel McCrea, as he ride into the town, reading a book. “A United State circuit Judge needed three things to bring justice to this country; a law book, a horse, and a gun. The further West he got, the less he needed the book”, what follow is one man’s attempt to face an established law based on dog eat dog, at the end, he seem to triumph in bringing justice in one case, but he must use violent in order to do so, he win only after the Landlord decide not to fight anymore a a losing battle not worth fighting for, it is his mercy that save the Judge. Just over an hour in length, the film flow beautifully like a small fable.

Anne of the Indies (Jacques Tourneur, 1951) Meet Captain Providence (Jean Peters), that is a she, a vicious pirate that burn alive British sailors, but got a heart of gold when it comes to a young French sailor whom she fall in love with, only to find out that she has been deceived, there is also Black Beard on the sideline, entertaining watch, even if Jean Peter’s attempt to be masculine fall flat under her makeup.

Battle Hymn (Douglas Sirk, 1957) What a lousy piece of propaganda of any orgy in religious and war imagery of a film Battle Hymn is, the title itself giveaway the ideology of the film; in the time of battle one must glorify it with religious hymns, the first image tells you that you are watching a piece of propaganda, for the film is introduced by General Earle Partridge, commander of the US Fifth Air Force in the Korean War, preaching about glory of bombing. The story of Colonel Dean Hess (Rock Hudson), or Killer Hess as his friend like to call him, a man full of contradiction; killing little children one day and saving them the next, who once, during WWII bombarded an orphanage in Germany killing 37 children, Killer Hess turns into religion to save his damned soul, becoming a preacher, but when his country call him again to serve, this time in a war for the sake of his country’s imperialist expansion, that of Korea, he decide to do it again, to kill in order to get ride of his guilt, and whenever he is in doubts the he might be in the wrong, that killing others is wrong, there is always religion coming to the rescue, everyone telling him the same, be it a colored man, who insure him that the book said “No spare shall fall to the earth unless he first give his nod”, in another word, “You may have killed 37 children, but it wasn’t your fault, God intended for that to happen”, then there is the Old Korean preachers, turned Christian, who also comfort him that there is nothing wrong with wars and killing others, “In order to Save, at times we must Destroy, and the destruction create new life”. But all that is nothing compare to the shameful and grotesque ending; Hundreds of Korean children, all orphaned by the war, sing “Glory Hallelujah” to Killer Hess, dressed in his military uniform, looking down on them, as the music join in with the chorus, grotesque piece of propaganda, Battle Hymn has to be Sirk’s worst film .

The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925) I vividly recall the first time I watched The Big Parade; I checked the film out of the library, it was an old VHS tape, and from the first frame of the film to the last, I was glowed to the screen, for two hours, I did not move from my place, and when the scene came along of John Gilbert in the trenches captures the German soldier, he has already wounded him, for the first time he sees the face of his enemy, he want to kill him to revenge his friends, but he realize he is just a man like himself, and this realization only lead him to more contempt; he light a cigarette to the dying German solider, all the time, pushing his head back forth as if telling him, “You are just like me, why is that? Why should I kill you?”, as I watched that long take of the two of them in the trench, one dying at the hand of other, neither knowing why, nor on how to behave. I could not help repeating to myself loudly, “What a scene, what a genius Vidor is, what genius filmmaking”, and when the end scene came along; the son return, with one leg missing, the poor mother, old and gray, as they embrace each other, flashback over the scene of the son as little child taking his first step, I could not help being moved to the edge of tears, such beauty, honesty and truth in a film is hard to find in today’s cinema, and those battles scenes, even today, more than 80 years later, they are still among the most beautifully choreographed battles scenes ever to have been captured on the screen, they are like symphonies, beat by beat, they build up into a harmonic climax. Genius film.

The Girl Can’t Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956) I have to tell you the truth, I was fooled when The Girl Can’t Help It starting playing, the screen was boxed, and I though my TV set was all wrong, as I was trying to fix it, came along Edmund OBrien, telling us that we are about to see a motion picture in the “grandeur of Cinemascope”, and only then does he push the frame into the sides as the life like color of Deluxe come in also, nice trick from Tashlin. Expect a journey into the world of of Rockabilly and early Rock, one of early film to make use of pop music of the time and use it to the best of the film. For a comedy, you got to have a main character suffer much, he got to be below the common man, and you got the ugliest leading man of Hollywood playing the leading role, Edmund OBrien, and he always manage to get the hottest lady in the film, the bombshell, Jayne Mansfield. And expect to have your Tashlin jokes, clashing the beauty and the beast into one, as it is toward the end of the film; one of the most beautiful love song set to close-up of the most unattractive couples listening to it, hilarious and mocking take of the youth of the day and the music, that of the Rock, in which anybody can write a rock song and get into the top of the chart,, “One rock, two rock, three rocks, four rocks. Big Rocks, Small Rocks, Short Rocks, Talk Rocks”, hilarious in a world of make believe that is no longer possible. Genius.

Mechta aka Dream (Mikhail Romm, 1943) When a film is full of miserable characters that are full of hypocrisy, they get no sympathy from the viewer, and when a sudden changes in the end take place within them, that only make it worse for the viewer, as it get annoyed beyond the limit. Set in Ukraine, in Mechta, everyone dream about having a job at a factory, or to put it another way, it seem that building factories could solve the psychological inner demons of everyone, when it is not possible, they dream about leaving to the land of the dreamland, that is, Soviet Union, bold in its propaganda, plastic in it style, shot in studio set, and theatrical acting, the film is one to be forgotten, as it is dated beyond dating.

Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954) Lang’s take on Zola’s novel is neither a good adaptation of the novel, nor does it match Renoir’s La Bête humaine. Just as Zola looked for stark realism in his novel, Lang seek to make a stylish noir out of it, with the combination of the ultimate femme fatal (Gloria Grahame), and no, she does not get her face burned by hot coffee (The Big Heat), but poor girl, she get her share of beating in the film, then there is the guy (Glenn Ford) who fall for her tricks, only for his conscience to rescue him in the end, made into a noir melodrama, but there are those brilliant suspenseful and masterfully crafted scenes from Lang, the murder scene in the train is among the best in the film. Worth Watching.

Hitler’s Madman (Douglas Sirk, 1943) There are countless propaganda films from 40s, the call to arm drum beat films, but rarely does any of them match the bold artistry of glorifying killing as it is in Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman; despite the poor script, the acting, the interior Studio sets sinking under dry ice smoke to make it look like Czechoslovakia with all kind of plastic trees laying around, the over the top melodrama of the love story, the flat characters, the lack of logic in the actions, more of a C picture, still, there are some marvelous thing about the film, John Carradine is brilliantly evil in the role of Reinhard Heydrich, the last 10 minute of the film is perhaps the most violent depiction of the atrocities committed in WWII; as the village of Lidice is burned to the ground, bombed into nonexistence, the dead rises from the grave, directly addressing the audience a call to arm, to kill blindly, as the last one puts it, griming with hate, looking at the viewer, “Before you think what is best for your country, keep your country free from the foe you hate, catch him, catch him, do not wait”, on the background a chorus is glorifying the message, an orgy of religious and war propaganda in imagery and sound.

Chimes At Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965) Welles is not known for directing action sequences, but just watch the 10 minute battle scene in Chimes At Midnight and you will be amazed at the mastery of Welles in creating one of the most memorable battle scenes in any films, The Battle of Shrewsbury, raw, realistic, ugly, brutal and full of humor, as the men battle it out, our hero, Falstaff (played by no other than Welles himself) run from one bushes into another, a coward of a realistic that want to get all the glory, but a genius who knows that the battle is nothing short of a children game, so why not behave like a spoiled child. The story of a friendship betrayed, Welles takes the best from multiple Shakespeare plays with the character, Falstaff at the center of the film, he boats about everything from nothingness, but you can’t help loving the man, for he spoke the truth in the most abstract ways, he is the most theatrical characters among Shakespeare’s plays, and it is not wonder Welles take on the role with a fake nose, for Chimes At Midnight is nothing short of a masterfully crafted cinematic film of capturing a theatrical play, Welles does not shy away from being theatrical, he pushes it to the limit. The Battle of Shrewsbury sequences is one for the ages.

The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1945) Take a trip back to a time in which Animation films were as artistic as any live action ones, unlike today’s 3D and CGI over the top imagery, The Three Caballeros is a masterful demonstration in combination of animation and live action imagery into perfect harmony, all hand drawn, the imagery is vividly colorful, with no narrative of a plot, the film become nothing short of a trip into the fantasy land of the imagination rich in music and imagery, perverse in its nature depicting Latin America, but also culturally rich, one of most abstract and beautifully composed musical of a film. Disney’s real forgotten treasure, take a trip with Donald Duck, Joe Carioca and Panchito, you won’t regret it.

By the Law aka Po zakonu (Lev Kuleshov, 1926) As a kid, I was madly in love with the world of Jack London, in cold winter nights, I used to read his works under a lamp or a candle light, what a great feeling it was, I must have read White Fang at least three times. The world of Jack London is exotic, but it is cold, not just the snowy landscape, but also the inner soul of his characters, he was not a writer who could write about the inner demons of his characters in such prose as Doestovsky or Turgenev, instead, he wrote naturalistically, using the landscape and the natural forces as a reflection of that souls, human struggle for survival against not only extreme natural forces, but also one another, even if escaping the law of society, man cannot escape the law of other men in condemnation, as it is in his short story, The Unexpected, in which By the Law is based upon. Even in the remote landscape of Yukon, human condemn others in the name of law and religion, in the hand of Kuleshov, Jack London’s story became a psychological struggle within the soul of three characters, the extreme natural forces in the background only awaken the demon in them more, into a point of becoming unbearable to tolerate one another, even there, Queen Victoria condemn men to death, the law of the jungle seem more tolerant than that of humanity, just under an hour in length, By the Law is among the best of silent Kuleshov.

The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) Favorite film of the Pope and Catholic Church (just kidding), The Devil is the story of Urbain Grandier, a 17th-century Roman Catholic priest burned for his treacheries, at the hand of Ken Russell becomes the story of sexually repressed group of nuns and satisfied Grandier, banned in many countries at the time of its release for its controversial takes on the Church, religion and you name it, watching The Devils nowadays is nothing short of watching a perverts take on religion, power, lust, and sexually repressed nuns, Russell must have had something against the nuns to be so harsh on them, and Vanessa Redgrave role as a deformed of a neurotic Sister is as absurd of a sadists as one can get, Oliver Reed’s over the top acting is nothing short of a lesson in the art of shouting taken for that of acting, the people of the city are burning him at the stake, they laugh at him, mock him, as he is sizzling in the fire, yet, he is shouting to them “Don’t look at me, look at your City! If your city is destroyed, your freedom is destroyed also. If you want to be a free man, fight them or become their slaves”, and what is the answer of the people? They are drinking their wine, laughing and mocking him ever more louder.

Sans Lendemain aka Without Tomorrow (Max Ophuls, 1939) The women in Ophuls film always hide more than they show, not only from other characters in the film, but also from the viewer, they are complex creatures that we never seem to understand, that is why at the end of an Ophuls film, we are left with a feeling of wanting more, of wanting to be more with the characters, take the ending of Sans Lendemain; the widow of a mother, Evelyn, out of pride or out of self pity or out of sacrificed love had just said goodbye to her former lover and her only son, she roam the streets of Paris quietly, meditating on suicide, when her friend tries to comfort her, and alas, even to save her by calling the ship that her lover and son is traveling on, the line fail to connect, but when it does, she is nowhere to be seen, we want to know what happened to her, but Ophuls refuses to let us know, all we have is still life shots of half empty glass, a fogy street, the phone waiting to be answered, back to the fogy streets with only the sound of the friend heard at a distance shouting desperately, “Evelyn, Evelyn”, but Evelyn is nowhere to be seen. Masterful.

Propaganda Film: A North Korean documentary on Western Propaganda (2012) Available on Youtube and many other Internet outlet freely, you may call Propaganda as the first great compilation of a documentary made up entirely of recycled web footage, titled as Propaganda Film: A North Korean documentary on Western Propaganda, and uploaded on Youtube by a user, claiming that he only translated the documentary after getting a DVD from “a man and a woman who claimed to be North Korean defectors. They presented me with a DVD that recently came into their possession and asked me to translate it”, it is obvious the film was not made in North Korea, but by unknown creator, but even if it is made in North Korea (not), it is still one of best documentary that I had seen on recent times, ironically and sarcastically so truthful that it hurt, an examination on the nature of Propaganda used by Governments and Medias, brilliant and hilarious examination of the truth, not to be missed.

Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011) Killer Joe should be called a Tracy Letts film and not a William Friedkin film, for it is a long obsessive play forced into a cruel comedy of a film, everyone in the film is either a foul-mouthed character or one that take it from a foul-mouthed character, the obsession of Letts with dark humored violent get to a point that it become a cliché of another copy of the trashy violent in Tarantino films, too many of them around nowadays, cheaply made, there has been many dysfunctional families in recent American films, but the family in Killer Joe top them all, you would expect such film from a director who once commented, “If I wasn’t a director, I might have become a serial killer”, he is right, he might as well have been a better serial killer than a film director, for he is a lousy one.

Death and the Compass (Alex Cox, 1992) Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, La muerte y la brújula is made into a magical realism of a film at the hand of Cox that knows no boundaries between the imagination and reality, just as the world of Borges lack any logical coherence so it is with Cox’s Death and the Compass, even the over hyped style best fit the raw cruelty of the fantasy world of Borges, the obsession with cult religions, mysticism, hoaxes and mathematic in the character of Erik Lonnrot (Peter Boyle) best fit not only Borges himself, but also Alex Cox, not as great of a film as El Patrullero, but a good one, worth watching.

The Palestinians (Johan van der Keuken, 1975) Johan van der Keuken short documentary is shot in its entirety in Southern Lebanon, with the use of archival footage on the history of the taken of the land of the Palestinian by Israel, not only does the film examine the Palestinian struggle, but also the class different in Lebanon, then, the capital of Western flooding of finance to the Arab countries, Keuken almost had pre-vision of the coming Lebanon Civil War, being a leftist filmmaker, it is no surprise for Keuken to take a Marxist analysis of the Palestinian struggle for their rights, theirs is nothing short of a class struggle within the wider Arab world, the poor Palestinian refugees were always despised by their richer Arab hosts and their own rich landowners and capitalist who at first welcomed the flooding of the Jews into Palestine as they benefitted from selling lands to them and pilling up interest on the poor Palestinian farmers, but gradually the newly arrived richer Jews landowners drove out not only the poor Palestinian farmers but the rich one too, just as the poor Shia farmers in Lebanon were suppressed by their counter Sunni and Christians who lived more of a westernized oriented life and controlled the finance of the country with oil moneys flooding in from the Arab Gulf Countries, but these poor Shias farmers managed to take up arms and create a class revolution even if it meant it take the from of a religious right organization like Hizbullah, but they manages to librate their land from Israeli occupation and create a resistance that continue to this day, refused to leave their land and become refugees like the Palestinians, as Keuken puts it; Class different and national identity is more important among the Arabs than their sympathy for the Palestinian people, more than 37 years later, Keuken’s documentary is as truthful as ever.

December, 2012

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)


Michurin
(Alexander Dovzhenko, 1948) In 2007, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine created a beautiful and unique DVD collection entitled Oleksander Dovzhenko: The Cinematographic Legacy, composed of all Dovzhenko’s film, the project was supposed to be in limited edition of one thousand copies, but only a dozen of it were ever printed, and don’t ask me how, but I managed to get a copy of it, it is the gem in my DVD collection, and whenever I feel the urge to appreciate this gem, I gently pull out one of the DVD and watch the gorgeous restoration of the films. Michurin is a film on the life of the Russian biologist Ivan Michurin, who’s small garden later became the pride of Soviet experimental biology, getting praised by both Lenin and Stalin. It has been said that the film was “corrected” for ideological purity when it was on scripting stage, and the end result does reflect that, it got its moments of propaganda, including lasting praise for both Lenin and Stalin from old Michurin. But coming from a poet of a filmmaker, Michurin is a gorgeous colorful film, an inner examination of a man who is obsessed with concurring nature or at least purifying it, as one of the Bourgeois puts it, discussing a man who never leaves his garden as, “Some mixture of Tolstoy, Kropotkin and Darwin”, shot beautifully in vivid colors that is the signature of the Soviet film of the time, including some masterful time-lapping photography, more than 18 years after making his most poetic and lyrical film, Earth, once again, Dovzhenko proves that he is the master poet of cinema, expect some beautiful lyrical imagery. Wonderful film.

Farewell, America aka Proshchay, Amerika! (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1951) It is hard to imagine that a poet like Dovzhenko would make a film shot entirely inside studio sets, not a single outdoor shot, no clouds, no soil, no trees, no flowers, but that is the case in Farewell, America, the last of an unfinished film from Dovzhenko, the film was never finished because Stalin personally ordered it to be stopped, what is left is a reassembling of the surviving footage. Based on The Truth about US Diplomats, written an American writer Annabel Bukar, it is propaganda film that exposes the actions and propaganda of US Embassy staff in Moscow during the early days of Cold War, a bold and rather sarcastic attack on not only the staff at the embassy, who love to drink whisky, listen to pop music, spy upon the Soviets and each other, and write propaganda pieces on the Soviets. Among the first films to mention the the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the red scare of the 50s.

Big Deal on Madonna Street aka I soliti ignoti (Mario Monicelli, 1958) Can a parody of any film get better than Big Deal on Madonna Street? Maybe, but Big Deal on Madonna Street is a unique masterpiece of parody of a heist film, but with one big difference; just as in other films the criminals get away with the goods or end up in the hole, in Big Deal on Madonna Street, they all get home safety, with their stomach full of pastas. Hilarious scenes all over the film, masterfully crafted script with many jokes flying all around the place; Old Capannelle eating baby food or searching for Mario, asking the kids in the neighborhood, “Do you know Mario who lives around here?”, “There are a thousand Marios around here”, “I know, but this one is a thief”, “There are still a thousand around here”, priceless.

Saikaku ichidai onna aka The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1952) It takes two hours for Mizoguchi to tell the story of Oharu, because Mizoguchi is the master of long takes that drag on into eternity, yet, he always manages to get the emotional impact he desires in the viewer, at times, without using a single dialogue, the long tracking shots, the beautiful hight angle panning, just watch the last 6 minute of The Life of Oharu, that six minute is all you need to fall in love with the beauty of his cinema, such masterful use of the camera, the music, the composition that always has three layers; from the foreground, to the middle to the background, like a painter, Mizoguchi carefully arrange his subjects with the camera being his paint brush. In Mizoguchi’s cinema, you alway find a woman character who suffers, sacrifice and always end up a tragic figure, but Oharu has to be the ultimate victim among all of Mizoguchi’s characters, the fall decline and fall of Oharu is the most tragic; from a daughter, to an innocent girl in love, to a courtesan of a lord, to a wife, to a nun, to a prostitute and finally to a beggar, she is a victim of a society that is dominated by feudalism, class different and hierarchy, in which a woman’s role in society is that of being admired as a tool of pleasure by men. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Mizoguchi a feminist director as many has done, but he cared deeply about women’s suffrage, and women in his films always end up in the path of tragedy, in a world full of cruelty, being innocent and being guilty is equally damning, as they flow amid the tide of the time rules by society and not one’s will and action. A masterpiece from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema.

Stranitsy zhizni aka Pages of Life (Boris Barnet, 1948) Meet comrade Nina Petrovna Ermakova, a young girl from the countryside who start as a worker in a shipyard in the first year of Stalin’s five year plan, in the span of 16 years, she learn to read and write, become a successful engineer, marries, lose her husband and everything they build in the shipyard during WWII, only, for her to start rebuilding everything form scratch, as she proudly stand in front of a large poster of Stalin, addressing thousands of men working under her, “Dear friends, life is beautiful! How many difficult minutes, How much loss. But we surpassed it all. And we’ll surpass other obstacles if necessary!”, there is your comrade Nina, full of life and joy, after 16 years working, losing everything she had, she still believe, your typical women in a Barnet film, they don’t ask for respect from men, they gain it, take away the propaganda, and you got in Pages of Life a wonderful small film from a master.

On Our Merry Way (Vidor, Fenton, Juston, Stevens, 1948) Some heavyweight Directors and Actors stroll the stage in On Our Merry Way, four different short stories linked by a theme of a husband deceiving his wife of being what he is not, the multi-episode flashback to each story involve some of the biggest shots of Hollywood, just to name a few; James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Fred MacMurray, and the great but always underrated Burgess Meredith, brilliant actor he is. Although predictable, but a well crafted script with a light touch in humor saves it, the film is a charming watch.

Easy Living (Jacques Tourneur, 1949) One thing I can’t stand watching in sport is American Football, same is true of watching a film about American football. Easy Living might be called a sport film or a film about the dopey husband who find out at the end of the film that his wife has been cheating on him, as he fail miserably in both his career and marriage life, a surprise film from Tourneur, there is also the noisy Lucille Ball and her annoying jokes in codes, couldn’t get more annoyer than this.

Der Herrscher aka The Sovereign (Veit Harlan, 1937) Before R.W Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, there was this little masterpiece made in Nazi Germany by the great Veit Harlan, Der Herrscher, a story of love between an old man and a young girl, deemed as forbidden not by prejudice of society as it is the case of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, but by the greed and envy of knowing that their Father’s vast fortunes will get into the hand of a stranger, the father is a man who rule over 20000 workers, rule over a steel factory, but unable to rule his children, it is materialistic and selfish desire that make the children turn against their father, and in turn, the father to vanish them, in a masterful climatic scene he shout to them, denouncing them “My wife has given birth to dogs, cats, foxes, wolves, for decades they have run around in my house in human shape and have licked my hands and feet, and suddenly they tore me to pieces with their teeth”, all that he deemed in life as to be loved by him turns out to be nothing but an illusion, the only thing remain for him is to return into what he deems as his life’s only achievement; he goes back to his factory, to the machines to find a companion, “One should have machines as companions, machines are decent creatures”. Masterpiece.

Dancing in the Dust (Asghar Farhadi,) Is Farhadi’s first dive into cinema as a director is a masterpiece of a film? No, is it even a good a film? No, is it a bad film? No, but close to it. Then what is it? It is a decent film made by a filmmaker who has too much to say in to short span of time, all that in him, what is to come in his later films is in the core of Dancing in the Dust; it is hard to sustain a relationship between a man and a woman when the outer world clashes with that of the inner. A young man is in love with a young girl, they marry, they love each other, but that is not enough when prejudice of the society kick in, there comes the painful separation. The young man meet an older man by chance in a remote desert, he is an older version of him, a woman has driven the man to become a snake hunter, a loner, he smoke opium with the snakes, catch them and sell them, at first he is hostile to the young man, but desperation on both side make them friend if only for a short time, that is, thanks to a snake and a missing finger. What start as a drama, turn into a cat and mouth chase, then a western, and end up where it started, in between, metaphors and much symbolism, amateurish use of the camera, acting, editing, sound and music. Dancing in the Dust is a film from a confused filmmaker in search of a style, it will take another film, a few years later to find it, in Fireworks Wednesday (2006). A must watch for any lover of Farhadi’s cinema.

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012) After more than a decade since his last feature film, Carax is back stronger than ever. Take a limousine ride around paris with Monsieur Oscar on the back seat and Ciline driving, Carax’s a modern day Alphaville take on memory and reflection of cinema, watch it on the big screen, it is not made for TV or Computer screens, and if one has a strong memory of cinema, one will appreciate the genius of the film more. Carax’s most personal film to date is his love poem to cinema, to the past and the future of cinema, the beautiful past, and the future in which cinema become a CGI factory, but he does not reject the future, he only reflect upon it beauty; it is more glamorize to show the the technique of CGI than hiding it, but the emotion can’t be registered truthfully, the actor muse use stylized gestures and movement of the body, Denis Lavant’s dance in the room bring back memory of the ending of another film on the memory of cinema, Clair Denis’ Beau travail. Holy Motors is a combination of short films, each a tribute to a different cinema, it has one thing that many today’s film lack, less dialogue and more visual, cinema that once were cinema. Carax’s memory of cinema reflect upon copying of imagery and characters; the old man from the end of 2001, the factories from Ozu, roads of future from Solaris, Godzilla, the hair from Psycho, sound from Alphaville, Resnai’s Last Years at Marianbad, Rivett’es Umerbela of Chernburg, Hollywood’s musical, perhaps no other is as clear as Edith Scob at the end of the film becoming Christiane again, she is at home once again as if in Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, putting the mask on, “I’m coming home”. The one other film that I could think of with its structure being the memory of cinema is Pedro Costa’s O Sangue. Even the acting in each sequence is in line with cinema’s progress; the Monsieur Merde sequence is pure expressionism, re-carnation of Jekyll and Hyde, Nosferatu, a mix of King Kong and Hunchback of Noter Dame, Lon Chaney alive again, heavy orchestra of silent music on top of it, you even got the iris closing in on the details, Monsieur Merde’s behavior lack logic, like a silent character, he knocsk down a blind man out of dozen who sees. What is more classical than a woman lightening a cigarette for a man and vise versa, the old cliché of Hollywood, the beauty light it for the beast, Monsieur Merde break down cultural perception of what is normal, to him it is normal of a having Hijab fashion show. The file in the car that tell Monsieur Oscar his next assignment is a movie script, the car is like a transition from one sequence into another, moving in time, to the past, to the future, in which even the graves, even when one is dead, one express, “Visit my Website”, the address on the stones. The film open with an audience being hypnotized, they are watching a film, cinema as a hypnotizer, the man is born out of a projector room. You even have an intermission in the middle of the film, Even music is present within its historical content, masterful build up of instrumental music from the basic. Characters are re-creation of a creation, they take over each other’s personality, the murder scene; the murder take over the identity of the victim and vise versa. When the director ask Monsieur Oscar if he still enjoy his job, that of acting, “I’m asking, because some of us think you have looked a bit tired recently. Some don’t believe what they are watching recently” Oscar answers, “I miss the cameras. They used to be heavier than us, then they became smaller than our heads, no you can’t see them at all. So sometimes I too find it hard to believe in it all”, as cinema used to be visual, nowadays they only need microphones than cameras. The director ask again, “Isn’t this nostalgia a bit sentimental?”, It is indeed, if one truly love what cinema once where, one can’t help feeling nostalgic in reflecting upon it. Denis Lavant is a great actor, he act with his body, his eyes, with gestures only, a twisting in the eyes, a move of the shoulder, a perfect classic actor, very few of them around nowadays. He is perfect as Monsieur Oscar, an actor stuck on the screen, each day is a new one but its actions is one that is rehearsed, each night a different house become his home, different characters his wife, lovers, children, friends and enemies, be it real, surreal, abstract, or even plain pure fantasy, he is a man with 11 lives and counting, he is cinema’s creation and nothing more, the most beautiful and deceptive of a manipulative in emotions of all arts. A Masterpiece.

Trans-Europ-Express (Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1966) Robbe-Grillet’s timeless masterpiece, Trans-Europ-Express, is a film in the process of deconstruction of constructing a narrative film in which past, present, and future are all divided equally on the screen, it is not the first nor the last film of the kind, the first is perhaps no other than Alain Resnais’s L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Robbe-Grillet worked on the film as a screenwriter and dialogist), in Trans-Europ-Express, the narrative is written in a process of seeing what is unknown of becoming known, sound a little abstract, but it is very simple; you are watching a film being made into a film, as characters take both a fictional and a realistic role, you may call the dilemma of poor Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is that of being lost in a fictional film not knowing the logical order of time and space, he has no psychological depth, his mind belong to the viewer, he act as the storyteller wishes him to act, he is confronting and running away from the camera, trying to escape the space and time he is put in, but like a little puppet, he is on a string, played with by Robbe-Grillet, we are constantly remained that not only we are watching a film, but we are in the process of deconstructing of constructing a narrative film based on distortions and contradictions, nothing appear to be what they are, nor anything is what what it seems to be, in Trans-Europ-Express it is even possible for the dead to rise, to stare at us and laugh, “Kids, you been watching a film and nothing else”. Timeless.

Seryozha aka A Summer to Remember (Georgi Daneliya & Igor Talankin, 1960) Charming little film about the beautiful time in one’s life; that of childhood. A summer in the life of little Serge, from meeting his new father in a beautiful summer day to the end in which separation from his Mother, Father and little Brother become too tragic to bear in the snowy wintter, in between, Seryozha is a film constructed around little sequences of seeing the world from the eyes of a little child; getting his first bicycle ride, his first bad behaviors, meeting his uncle and shouting at him, “You are a fool”, seeing the birth of a little calve, experiencing of the outside world in a little seashell that is brought to them by a ship captain, being separates from his best friends, getting ready for his first day in school, his first and long walk in the corridors into his classrooms, his first envy arose by the birth of his little brother, the dark notion of wishing one’s death in order to punish others, and the moment of realization of knowing the separation from loved one, of growing into the world of the adults, nostalgic and beautiful little film.

Musuko no seishun aka My Sons’ Youth (Masaki Kobayashi, 1952) Kobayashi’s first film, My Sons’ Youth, is neither a short film nor a feature film, rather, a mix of both. Based on Fusao Hayashi’s novel, the film is more charcuterie of youth’s first love rather than an honest depiction of youth, in which the radical change of character’s mood lack any psychological depth, for better film on first love and that sensitive time of boyhood, watch Kinoshit’a Boyhood.

Jakten aka The Chasers (Erik Lochen, 1959) Sometime an ending to a film can spoil the whole experience of watching that particular film as is the case of The Chasers; what start as a stylish orgy of multiple flashback/flashforward of a story concerning two friends, Bjorn and Knut, who are madly in love with Guri, now the wife of the firs one, become the story of “Guess who is getting killed?”, for the unknown narrator of the film tell us from the beginning of the film over the shot of a coffin, “It was simply two men, a woman and a shooting accident”, next, we are with the three, as each uses monolog not only to express one’s inner thoughts but that of others too, at times, the monologs and flashback intertwines as if all three can read each other’s thoughts, and when the resolution arrive, we are back to zero, into a bedroom of Guri, who has been dreaming two third of the film, rather, a cinematic dream that is only possible in Erik Lochen’s cinema, an ending that take the viewer for a fool to be manipulated, not many will buy it, never the less, worth watching.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012) You think mainstream Hollywood was on its deathbed, how about the so called “American Independent Cinema”?, it has already taken its last breath, for what is Beasts of the Southern Wild but a film dead before it was even born? Zeitlin by imitating Malick does not make him a Malik, rather an amateurish copier that show the worst in him; Overuse of shaky handheld camera, poor cinematography with its overexposed and underexposed shots, crooked compositions, rapid editing that is anything but editing; for just combining two shots to tell a story does not mean editing, or it does to Zeitlin?, add over the top use of music to rescue the scenes only show his amateurish take on filmmaking, that a film can be rescued on the post-production stage. How about the heroine of the film; a little girl roaming around with her underwear, her narration become unbearable with its philosophical mumbo jumbos that is feed to her, or her own plain ridicules monologs; “If Daddy don’t come back soon, it is will time for me to eat my pants!”. Same is true for the acting, not just in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but many other cheap independent American films in which twisting of the mouth or griming suppose to show anger, or turning the head and back in disproval, shouting and raving when mad, etc. Save yourself the time and skip it.

H-8 (Nikola Tanhofer, 1958) It was Alfred Hitchock who once differed between Suspense and Surprise; Showing a ticking bomb in a car that is about to explode in a designated time is Suspense, but not showing the bomb, the ticking of the clock, just showing the explosion to the audience, that is Surprise. So it is with Nikola Tanhofer’s H-8, a well crafted little film in suspect from former Yugoslavia, the part of today’s Croatia. What start as two men narrating a sporting game, soon become the suspenseful story of a deadly crash between a bus and a truck, at first, the victims are just numbers, but as we begin to know them, each one unique in character, the suspense become a guess game as to “Who is taking what seat in the bus?”, for we are told which passenger in which seat is among the victims, and we wait impatiently to find out. Great one.

La Masseria Delle Allodole aka The Lark Farm (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, 2007) Taviani brother’s take on the Armenian Genocide is based on Antonia Arslan’s novel, in which both the Armenian the good Turks become the victim of one of 20th century’s worst atrocities. All the raw emotion and realism that once Taviani brothers were so good at capturing on the screen is present, but more stylized, especially the violent, dark and brutal, but poetic. What realism it lack on the surface is made up by the tragic story that is both heart wrenching and compassionate. Worth Watching.

Abraham Lincoln (D.W Griffith, 1930) D.W Griffith, that genius of silent cinema, is also a genius of sound cinema, and his small epic take on Abraham Lincoln is a testament to that, it was his first talkie, the sound is used only to signify the important of dialogue in moving the plot forward, other than that, turn the sound off, and you get a perfect silent picture without inner titles. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln is not the story of a towering figure, rather, it is a small lyrical take on a man from his birth to his death, in between; we are with young Abe as he get his first fight, cut woods for others, we see him fall in love madly with Ann Rutledge, his tragic separation from her, from the young lawyer whom everyone look down on to becoming a president in which everyone take him for a dreamer, to his assassination at the hand of Booth. Walter Huston is brilliant in the role of Lincoln, even if it take heavy makeup and fake boots to make him older and taller. Great One.

Les Maitres fous (Jean Rouch, 1956) Rouch captures some of the most disturbing imagery in Les Maitres fous, thanks to his handheld shaky camera and the use of zoom lens. Reality and imagination edge into a disturbing limit in a small village outside of Accra, amide the ritual of a sect by the name of Hauka, in which imagination and tradition leave behind what is taken as normal in the so called “Civilization”. Controversial at its release, for an audience that take cinema as an entertainment, after watching Les Maitres fous, one might take on a stereotype of the characters, but a smart viewer, with an insight into anthropology will have a different take on the film. Worth Watching for any Rouch fan.

Les veuves de 15 ans aka The Fifteen Year Old Widows (Jean Rouch, 1964) It Just take under half an hour for Rouch’s fictional take on the boring lives and ” commentary on teenagers in Paris in 1964″, more than 48 years later, the lives of today’s teenagers in any materialist country is no different, for the exception they had better taste in music and the arts and dressed better than today’s teenagers. Half the film is one person asking a question, and the other answering, always in search for some meaning a life that is fast, but empty. “Why do you come here then?”, “Cause we don’t have anything else to do”. “Are you happy Veronique?”, “No, but I don’t have time to be unhappy”. “Do you like sex?”, “I did once… but I don’t remember who it was with anymore”. “So why do you keep doing it?”, “To be like everyone else”. “Do you know what the definition of liberty is?”, “Everything is possible, nothing is compulsory. And like that, all alone, you’ve invented liberty”. “What do you want to do later on?”, “Later on I’ll be like everyone else: I’ll be unhappy”. “Do you believe in love?”, “Love… I’d like to believe in it but it’s nasty”. “Family? Do you believe it can still exist?”, “No, I don’t believe it. Family is good for life in the country, but in today’s cities it isn’t possible”. Still, it got a little hope in the end; “Do you think that I can be happy?”, “I think it’s very difficult”, “Even if it’s very difficult, even if I’ve only got one chance in a million, I accept the risk.” Masterful little film.

Show People (King Vidor, 1928) A King is a King, and King Vidor is King of a giant of silent cinema, and Show People is a masterful examination of the dream factory of the silent Hollywood, made by a man who himself had made some of the best silent film of the era, it is no surprise that the film came out in a year that the talkie began to end the golden age of silent cinema, the glamour of the dream factory is there, but it also a cautious tale of what success might bring upon those who dream it, Vidor knew all about it; from a young company clerk he became one of Hollywood’s most successful director of the silent era, in between he worked as a comedy script writer, then short director of dramatic works, and then an independent producer and director, then taking up his long career at MGM. Show People is an honest film in comedy made by a man who knew all the trick of the trade, all the stars appear in this little charming film, even the great Charlie Chaplin want to have a signature of the leading lady, as he declare, “I like collecting signatures!”, she does not recognize him without his cane and his little mustache, “Who was that little man?” she asks, “That was Charlie Chaplin”, she fades. More than 84 years, it still make us laugh louder than ever and put to shame such mediocre of a lousy film as Michel Hazanvicius’s The Artist that suppose to depict the silent era, give me the genius of Vidor anyway over the counterfeiter Hazanvicius.

Landscape Suicide (James Benning, 1987) Documentaries can be a work of art, when it slowly build up the realistic approach to the subject, so it is with Landscape Suicide, Benning’s small examination of little America, two murders, two suspect recount their crime, that is, psychologically, they are so truthful in their descriptions of the crimes that ones mistake them for the real criminals, but they are actors reenacting verbally the crime. Landscape Suicide is tale of two style of filmmaking, it is made for a smart viewer, for a distance viewer, one that uses both the eye and the ear to view the film, and let the imagination pictures the rest. Not to be missed.

The Last Broadcast (Stefan Avalos Lance Weiler, 1998) What a lousy piece of trash of a film The Last Broadcast is; selling a fiction for documentary need at least a little authenticity in characters for the viewer to believe in; putting a few amateurs and friends and changing their identities into different characters is not authentic, but rather plain manipulative that show the amateur of the filmmaker, terrible film.

Among The Living (Stuart Heisler, 1941) Another noir/horror film that questions the mob attitude, another ending, in which the mob chases the innocent man to be lynched, only to be saved at the last seconds. What is present is also the Freudian psychoanalysis behind the plot of the film; A young boy is so obsessed with his Father’s violent behavior toward his Mother, that he loses him mind, being locked up for 25 years in a basement, when he comes back to live among the living, his only respond to every situation with violent behaviors, Albert Dekker gives a powerful performance of a twin brother, one on the limit of insanity and the other on the edge of it. Worth Watching.

Fiorile (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, 1993) How does it go? Facts are Facts, Legends are Legends, Facts are Legends, and Legends are Facts, it goes all four ways in Fiorile, Taviani brother’s retelling of a folk tale, spanning the history of Italy from Napoleonic wars to the age of the Fascist, retold from the perspective of a the last line in the family of Benedetti or as the peasants call them, the “Maledetti” family. There are few moments in the film that remind us of earlier Taviani’s historical film; the execution scene in the countryside is a perfect example, out of The Night of the Shooting Stars. Worth Watching.

Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961) Once I was asked a question, “Karzan, what film would you want to live in?”, “I’ll sell my soul to be in the films of Boris Barnet!”, and I still do, because his films are beautiful, they are visual poems, poetic emotions captured in time, once you finish a Barnet film, you feel a tearful joy of experiencing the highest form of art that cinema can ever achieve; that of communicating a truthful emotion that everyone can relate too, once cinema was beautiful, as Alyonka is beautiful; Take a road trip with a handful of characters on the back of an old truck in the vast landscapes of Soviet’s steppe, they each has a story to tell, the pivot to each one’s story is little Alyonka, they all tell simple stories about love, friendship, birth, death, suffering, joy, in a one word, about emotions. It is shot like a colorful silent film, take each frame, it is a postcard made of gold, you laugh and you cry with them, you become their friends, and like all friends, when you are separated from them at the end, you feel nostalgic to the joyful time that you once spent together, and you wonder at their next journey, that is how real characters are in a Barnet film, and in Alyonka, everyone is beautiful, everyone is full of charm, full of grace, even little characters that appear on the screen for a few seconds leave lasting impression; the nurse, the waiter, the little boy of the steppe, the old man, the shepherd, they all smile, full of life, even in time of tragedy, they are still full of life, if only life were as beautiful as the cinema of Boris Barnet, the most Chekhovian among the Soviet filmmakers; such beauty of life in Alyonka comes from a man, who four years later would commit suicide at the age of 63. Another masterpiece from a master, what a joy to watch.

Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011) A film can be plastic and good, but it has to be predictable, with three diminutional characters, but not like Michael, flat, lifeless, trying hard to be provocative by taking the viewer to the territory of the dark psyche, holding the shots too long for the sake of creating a style, making plastic faces that lack any emotion in characters that suppose to register an emotion, a film that drag on for half an hour, could have easily been a 10 minute film, a bad film by every standard.

Tempest (Paul Mazursky, 1982) William Shakespeare’s The Tempest becomes Paul Mazursky’s Tempest, John Cassavetes is a modern day Prospero, no he is no Duke of Milan, but a New York architect who escape form his wife (yes, the real wife, Gena Rowlands) to a Greek island, taking with her, little Miranda, it is the wife in Mazursky’s film that want to rescue her little daughter. Mazursky’s take on the play best fit a take on modern Shakespeare; it is a comedy on the edge of tragedy that end up an ending in the style of commedia dell’arte; in between, there are many greats jokes and giveaway moments, it is worth watching, if for anything, for Cassavetes and Rowlands.

Rouge (Stanley Kwan, 1987) Don’t expect to watch a good film like Center Stage, but rather a ghost story on a time machine; the story of Master 12, a playboy roaming opium dens of the old Hong Kong, fall in love with a concubine, they commit double suicide, promising each other to meet in Hell (for real), but they never do meet in hell, rather, they are back in the Hong Kong of 80s, publishing advertisement in newspapers in hope of fining each other, skip it.

A Falecida aka The Deceased (Leon Hirszman, 1965) Based on a Nelson Rodrigues story, Leon Hirszman’s A Falecida is another dark film from Brazilian Cinema Novo, that dig deep into the nihilistic of the human psyche in which the wife only care for having an expensive funeral as she is on the edge of dying physically, emotionally, she is already dead, as for the husband, impatiently waiting for the Vasco to play Fluminense, and to see his darling Ademir to score, he is more devastated in hearing about Ademir’s injury than his wife’s sickness, he is rather be at the game than at his wife’s funeral, that is why, that ironic ending is so symbolic; is the poor man crying amide the crowd because his wife has past away or is it because Ademir is not playing? You decide. Timeless film from Brazilian Cinema Novo.

Sambizanga (Sarah Maldoror, 1973) An amateurish, but a decent attempt in making a revolutionary film on the Angolan War of Independence from Portuguese colonial domination; the film follow a young revolutionaries prison ordeal and his wife’s long search for him, Maldoror does her best to make an imitation of Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, using handheld camera, non professional actors, on location shooting, mixing documentary footage to that of fiction, and Soviet montage, but Sambizanga is no The Battle of Algiers, it lack a mind behind the film, no unity in form nor style.

El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983) Erice is a painter of a poet, he tell a story by painting images with natural lights, add the poetry by using gestures for acting, every frame is like a little postcard, that is, a moving imagery of a postcard. Based on Adelaida García Morales’ short novella, El Sur is the story of a little girl, Estrella, wanting to discover the mysterious world of her Father, that of his past. Distance and cold, the Father rarely speak, he seem to be living in a world of the past, there is a mysterious lover that once he had, who conquered his mind, as he write her name and draw her image, as a young man, he once participated in the Spanish civil war, fought against Franco, was imprisoned, left his homeland in the south forever, he had a father in the south whom he dislike, one day, his Mother visit him, to the delight of little Estrella, but they leave the next day. The world of El Sur is that of hiding emotion, the characters hide more than they tell, the last dinner scene in the restaurant between father and daughter is a perfect example of Erice’s world; Both pretend to be happy, they talk about different subjects, they pretend to understand each other, but their faces, their gestures suggest otherwise, and when Estrella leave her father, sitting alone, at a distance, we know, that it is the last time she will see her, and she does tell us so in the voiceover, “Could I have done more for him than I did at that moment? I always ask myself that. Because that was the last time I ever spoke to him”, next scene; the sun is setting, the camera pan down the river to reveal her father, laying dead, a gun beside him. The film was suppose to have a sequel, in which little Estrella, now a teenager, travel to the south to find the her Father’s mysteries lover, but the producer did not let Erice make the sequel, a pity, because the ending of the film promise an equally beautiful followup of a film. Masterpiece of Spanish Cinema.

L’Amico di famiglia (Paolo Sorrentino, 2006) Beauty and the Beast meets The Merchants of Venice, Sorrentino’s followup to Le conseguenze dell’amore is neither as stylish nor a thrilling watch; the story of a small time money leander who end up backstabbed by the only two people whom he trust, rather an ironic twisting to a man who reject everything that is normal, but take to anything that is abnormal. Unlike Le conseguenze dell’amore and Il Divo, in which the protagonists were silent men, with actions more than words, in L’Amico di famiglia, the protagonist is a talking machine, at times, Sorrentino’s obsession with the moving camera became unbearable to watch, not to mention his overuse of music. Worth Watching.

Le professeur Taranne (Raul Ruiz, 1987) Based on Arthur Adamov’s one act play, Le Professeur Taranne, Ruiz’s take on the play is a combination of the bizarre and the absurd. Professor Taranne lecturers on the rules of stretching once’ arm into space to that of the expanding Universe, as he become quite, as it hypnotized, on a trance, or in a comma, what follows is not a journey into the world of dreams nor the subconscious world, rather, into the world of the absurd, in which nothing make sense, no logic, different characters taking over Taranne’s personality, complete disorder of imagery, sound, language, and mese en scens, a world that only Ruiz could understand.

Belarmino (Fernando Lopes, 1964) Professional boxer and “could have been” boxer are great subjects for documentaries, not only do they have an interesting face that the camera love, but they also have many tales to tell as it is the case of Belarmino Fragoso; an ex-champion of Portugal, now out and down, once a shoes shiner boy, now making a living by hand coloring black and white photos, Belarmino is an interesting but tragic figure, his behavior, gestures, walking and language remind one of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, maybe he copied Brando, great use of juxtaposition in imagery and sound, an interesting watch from Portuguese Cinema Novo.

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012) Godard once described Steven Spielberg best, as “Making prostitution out of cinema”, the opening scene of Lincoln set up the whole tone of what is to come of that cinema; more of a Greco-Roman wrestling match than a bloody battle fought on muddy grounds is the first shot of the film, next, Lincoln listen soldiers, more like a high school boys reciting the Gettysburg Address by heart than a soldiers fighting one of the bloodiest battle of the civil war, even an illiterate Negro (throughout the film, that word is repeated over and over again) can recite the Gettysburg Address, Spielberg put in everything that one learn in High School about the man, Lincoln, I doubt it anyone memorized the whole Gettysburg Address during the time it was made, decades later historian would make the speech as one of Lincoln’s most memorable, even when refereeing to the casualties of the war, he is reading from High School history books, as Lincoln declare “600,000 lives lost”, but Speilberg never cared for the truth and authenticity in history, just as Schindler’s List is a commercial money making orgy of a blockbuster on the Holocaust, his whole cinema is based on a big lie. Lincoln’s real dilemma wasn’t the passing of the 13th amendment, the Emancipation Proclamation, to abolish slavery as the film love to tell, it was one of his dilemmas, but not the ‘dilemma”, rather, his dilemma was to win the civil war and keep the union intact, the passing of the 13th amendment was a way of recruiting more black into the army of the North as the Union were losing more casualties than the Confederates, it was a political move from Lincoln, if he was as obsessed with freeing the slaves as the film suggest, then he could have done it on the early days of the Civil War, and not more than four years late. Daniel Day-Lewi’s performance is also a fake one; Too young to play old Lincoln and his fake southern accent is hard to believe. The whole film seem like long meetings between Lincoln and others, perhaps reflecting the real life Spielberg’s time of meeting with CEOs and executives, slow paced, it drag on into the boredom of eternity, with an ending that seem to be a live broadcasting of C-SPAN from 1862. For better take on Lincoln, the man and not the idea, checkout D.W Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln and Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln.

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011) Zvyagintsev tell a story like a novelist, if he had been born centuries earlier, before the age of cinema, he could have a masterful novelist, perhaps equal in psychology to Doestvosky and in detail to Turgenev. As much as the critics in the West tried their best to make a political film out of Elena, or to describe the world of the film as existing only in the streets of Moscow, it is not so, the streets, the characters and the houses could have been in any modern city of any country in today’s world, Zvyagintsev never been a political filmmaker, rather, his films are an examination of characters in relationship with each others, on the outside pretending to be something, but deep down, they are in turmoil; in The Return, is an examination of a Father’s inner turmoil relationship with his two sons, in The Banishment, a husband to a wife. In Elena, the inner turmoil of the wife is not only psychologically driven by her world being inferior to that of her husband, for she comes from a proletariat class compared to her rich husband, but there is also a mysterious motive of love in her, the love for her children and also the hatred for her husband’s daughter that drive her to commit murder. It is a murder that arises from inner motive hidden inside her, she is not Raskolnikov, she has never imagined, nor planned to murder, it arises from a moment of passion, a spilt second decision that she think is an act of righteousness. We never truly understand the protagonist in Elena, she remain a mystery, psychologically, we only understand her through her little actions; cleaning the room, cooking, watching TV, shopping, walking, taking a train, it is these little action that show her characters, same is true for the Father in The Return, and the husband in The Banishment, they are mysterious characters that we get a short glimpse of in the cinema cinema of Zvyagintsev, a world with its look dominated by the colors of blue, yellow and white, beautiful cinema. Masterpiece.

The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012) Loach’s cinema can be cruel, but comically cruel, his masterpiece, Kes, is a tragedy in comedy with not a so happy ending, The Angels’ Share is also a tragedy in comedy but with a happy ending, something that Loach rarely does in his films. When in 2011, during the UK youth riot, the debate raged on, on both side, some condemning the young “thugs”, others defending the “dissatisfied youth”, but none wanted to understand these youth, but Loach understand them, and The Angels’ Share is an examination of the inner-city youths, be it a group of young Glaswegian, the story could have been in London or any other town in any other place, they live in a world in which they struggle to find a decent place to sleep, but a world, in which the price of a bottle of whisky can go as high a £100,000, in a world in which social appearance and character’s one’s past mistake can hunt one forever. Brilliant.

Yunbogi no nikki aka Diary of Yunbogi (Nagisa Oshima, 1965) One does not always connect the cinema of Nagisa Oshima to that of sentimentally, but in Diary of Yunbogi, one does, as boldly Oshima ask the viewer’s sympathy for little Yi Yunbogi, a 10 years old Korean boy, his story is of one orphan amid 50,000 left behind from the Korean War, as they roam the streets of Koreas; as beggars, gum peddler, shoeshiner, paperboya, in search of their illusionary lost fathers and mothers. Just under half an hour in length, the film is made up of only still photography, with narration from unknown narrator and little Yunbogi, background use of sound and music give it a life, a genuine copy in style and form of Chris Marker’s La jetee.

Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) There is a short story by Anton Chekhov titled The Duel; in which the the main character in the story is in a relationship with a woman whom he care deeply about, but despise her even more, while eating lunch, he suddenly notice the way she is eating the food, he is displeased by her “white open neck and the little curls at the back of her head”, and a sudden hatred in despise arise him, at that second he recall Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “And he remembered that when Anna Karenina got tired of her husband, what she disliked most of all was his ears, and thought: ‘How true it is, how true!’”, and a feeling of contempt in him lead him to sympathize with those who kill their mistress, but he does not go that far, but Bernie does, poor Bernie; a man who everyone love, everyone want to be with, one that seem to be only capable of loving others before oneself, but end up with the one person (Shirley MacLaine is brilliant in the role of the cold, old, rich widow) who is incapable of love, and a split second  is enough for Bernie to act violently; that spilt second is seeing her chewing the food more that is take to be chewed at lunch table, that is the officially story of the film that everyone in the town love to tell; but can a man like that really exist?, or was he really a monster of an actor that managed to fool a small town and also fool the viewer, as the prosecutor puts it , “There is no doubt in my mind Bernie Tiede is a calculating evil actor”. The genius of the film is the script, the mashing of the holy and the absurd, when a character talk seriously, suddenly a punch line underline the seriousness in the dialogue, when Bernie is been integrated, he confess to the crime “I shot poor Mrs. Nugent four times. With the armadillo gun”, the Sheriff asks, “Then what?”, “Well, then the Lord called her Home”, or when one of her old lady friend try to disclaim the rumors that Bernie might have been a “queer”, because he wore sandals all the time, and he was not married; “Our Lord and Savior always wore sandals and he never married. And he had 12 disciples, and I don`t think any of them ever married. And you never heard anybody in the New Testament say that they was a bunch of queers”, but the genius of Linklater is to take the documentary genre and twist it to a degree that is still manipulative, not to to a degree of a mockumentary, but a fictional take on a narrative story of a  film that uses all the manipulative tool of a documentary; the direct interview, the  juxtaposition in imagery, newsreel tradition, take on mondo films, mixing of the experiential strand and the interview strand, to create a masterful film of a black comedy, with genuine realistic characters of a fictional creation. I lived in the South and I could pinpoint many of the character in the film as some that I have one encountered, and I couldn’t help but murmur to myself, “How true it is, how true!”.

The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, 2012) I once showed Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker to a friend, after watching it, she said, “The film has a beautiful cinematography, but nothing happens it it”, well, first we have to define what “nothing is”, if three people walking is “something” and it is not “nothing”, then Stalker got something, for it got lots of walking in it, same is true for The Loneliest Planet, it got lots of walking, it got something. To my knowledge, this is Julia Loktev’s second feature film, and my first encounter with her cinema. The Loneliest Planet is similar to Stalker, take out the poetry and the philosophy of Tarkovksy and you got a cheap imitation of the film, not only does the guide person is similar in look to the Stalker, but also is the landscape, the style of the film, the camera moving around, chasing the characters, like a magnet, dragging them along, the whispers, the silence, the music, it is all there,  in Stalker, the three take a trip into a world of the unknown Zone, each searching for something, they each have a past, look forward to the future, in The Loneliest Planet, the three are searching for nothing, as they travel the Caucasus mountains, we don’t know about their past, nor their future, the only time that future is mentioned is when the guide talk about his desire to have a “four wheel car”, or when asking the girl which country she has not traveled too, but just as Stalker is a grandeur symphony, The Loneliest Planet is a piece of chamber music, each scene is like an instrument, it stand out, but without the other instrument, it lack a definite sound, it take to finishing the film to get a whole prospect of the beauty of it.

Barbara (Christian Petzold, 2012) It seem that every German film made nowadays about the old East Germany under the Soviet rule must have some repeating signatures to it; no one live a normal life, everyone is suspicious of others, empty and lifeless places, at every corner a secrete police is lurking, no one smile, everyone grim, very few cars on the street, you never see children playing nor lovers walking the roads, towns that are empty of people, or they pass at a distance without looking, everyone look threatening, it seem that all that life conceit of in the old East Germany is one spying on another, everyone is either trying best to escape, to commit suicide, or just live a boring life. In case of Barbara, it is worse; she live in a colony of condemned Doctors who at one time or another made a mistake, she seem to be enemy number one of the state, although she is harmless, but the secret police keep checking on her, yet, she always seem to find away to get around them, but she live in constant fear, but the question is, what is she fearing? Can her life be worse than it is, living in a condemned colony, in a place that even the map refuse to recognize. There is one scene that I have to mention, for its misinformation; as Babara picks up a book, Ivan Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches, her friend narrate to her, one of Turgenev’s short story in the book, The District Doctor,  the Doctor in the film narrate the story horribly, he talk about how the District Doctor, after having lost his patience, whom he madly fall in love with “He returns to his wife and children”, complete nonsense, for in the story, the District Doctor has no wife nor any children when he is with the sick patience, only after her death, he get married, many years later after that little incident, let Turgenev speak for him; “Since then, you know, I have had time to enter into lawful wedlock, as they say. . . . Oh … I took a merchant’s daughter”, sorry Petzold, you are no Turgenev, nor even a cheap imitator. Barbara is another bashing film on the old East Germany under Communism, nothing new, they come nowadays cheaply.

Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) In his book, Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud write about the three thing that mankind never could escape from; The interaction with the society we live in, the interaction with other people, and our bodies, that is; sickness, old age and death. Amour is the story of  sickness, old age and death, the inescapable facts of life, and the interaction with each other, we rarely see the outside world, the only time we do, is when the husband and wife interact with other people from that outside world, we are stuck in a little apartment, with two people, two old people, the only thing they have is to reflect upon the past and the outside world via books, newspaper and radio (they don’t even have TV), but let us put aside Freud and the story of Amour, rather, let us talk about the style that make this film a meditating watch. If you look at the early silent films of the great Yasujiro Ozu, you will find it very stylish, many scenes in which the camera move, high angle, low angles shot, formal style of filmmaking that we rarely associate with Ozu, and if you look at early and middle Haneke, you find them also very stylish, especially 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, but with Amour, he is becoming almost  perfect in taking his style to the simplest, back into a formal style of filmmaking, almost to the silent era. Such style is needed for a film that take place inside a closed space of an apartment. Shooting in interior is always a challenge, for giving the limited space, the director does not have enough choice to maneuver the actor around or the camera, that is why the limit use of space is always a challenge for a good Mise en scène; Hanaek solve is brilliantly, going back to the style of Ozu, by using the furniture, doorways, the walls and the characters to block and change the size of the shot within one camera setup; the two old coupe walk into the house, the camera is setup to a two cowboy medium shot, as they go to hang their cloth, away from the camera, the shot become a two long full shot, even when the characters leave the space, he does not cut, but hold the shot. As for camera movement, the camera follow the behind characters in the corridor when in search of something, or to build up suspense, a little pans, a tilt,  to adjust the character’s position and framing, or to change the shot size, the same camera movement is repeated multiple times, giving an overall unity to the style in the film. At times, as the character leave the space, the camera stay, it is the offscreen sound that tell the viewer the present of the character within the frame. Most of the time, we observe the wife through the subject POV of the husband, almost a Hitchockaian use of the shots; we see the husband, he looks, shot of what he see, back to his reaction, at times, his POV shot become an objective of an establishing shot, as he walk into the frame. Perhaps simpler in style, is the coverage shot; when the dialogue is not interesting, Hanake hold the establishing shot for a long time; when it is interesting; after  the establishing shot, he cut to two over-the-shoulder shots, back and forth, when it is emotional, it is back and forth medium close up shot of each, couldn’t get simpler, but formal in style than that. You even have the pillow shots of Ozu, not as glamours, nor as poetic; still life shots of the interior of the apartment as transition from one sequence into another. As for the wide shots, there are very few, but when there is one, the space is used like a theatrical stage, characters spread out in one layer, the only time there is depth within the frame is when a character move toward or away from the camera, almost back to the early day of silent filmmaking, with one different; you got dialogue, sound effect and music in Amour, masterful.

O Estranho Caso de Angelica aka The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, 2010) What can one say of de Oliveira, the only great Dinosaur left from silent cinema who still make films, only praise can be bestowed upon the man, de Oliveira made The Strange Case of Angelica when he was 102 years old, just imagine that, but it never shows, it is a film coming from a heart of a young man. The story of a photographer, Isaac, by appearance and look, he look like young  de Oliveira, it might as well be a metaphor of himself, he is interested in the old days, the old fashion way of doing things; in the digital age, he still uses film camera, dress like a man out of 40s, always wearing a fedora hat, his room has no TV nor radio, he even talk the old ways, he prefer manual labor to that of the machinery, capturing images of donkey over car, he belong to world not that of today. Above all, he is in love with images, we see everything from his POV, he look, we see, it is the love of the image, of seeing. Even the staging is old fashioned, theatrical staging, everyone has position in the frame, they move, they stop, the camera never move in the real world, but in that of the imagination, if fly, even the special effect is old fashioned, out of silent cinema, at times, the photographers’ camera becomes de Oliveira’s camera, capturing the same imagery; one still, one moving. Poor Isaac, his real world collapses as he enter the world of the hallucinations, that of moving imagery, even when shooting the still photos, he does it in a succession, so when viewed, they create an illusion of movement. As for interacting with other people, he is a loner, people seem boring to him; when walking into a room full of people, the only thing he notice is a vase with a flower, that is the strange case of Isaac.

In Another Country (Sang-soo Hong, 2012) There is an honesty in examining relationships in Sang-soo Hong’s film, that very few filmmakers manages to achieve, like Eric Rohmer, he is a distance observer, never forcing himself as a director in manipulating character’s behavior, same is true with the dialogues, it flows out of the character’s mouth and not a written script, improvisation is the trick, like his use of zoom in and out, he examine these relationship, be it a husband to a wife, or total strangers to each with little details, combined with a improvisation in the dialogue, and the acting, that is almost as gestural as in a Tati film, it create comic scenes in which the adults behave like children, even their cruel behaviors are funny, they live in a world of behaving, one person can have multiple identity from once scene into another, that is why Anne (Isabelle Huppert) play different role with each character and within each scene, at times cruel, at time gentle, it is no surprise that she play different role in the film, repeating of the same scenes and characters, but each time differently; she is an actor first, playing a role in “please be my friend” game, as she is chased by two men, she is running away from both, but respectfully, then she is a rich wife, having an affair, playing “follow the leader”, that is, in her imagination, the third one, is a combination of the two, the quite one and the imaginative one, that is where the best scene occurs; Anne having a rhetorical and dialectical conversation with a monk that define what the film is all about. Priceless.

Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012) Put Tabu beside Carax’ Holy Motors as two self-conscious film in meditation on the art of cinema, equally beautiful and poetic  F.W Murnau’s Tabu, Gomes’ Tabu is the story of two films; one sound, one silent. The first part of the film is the sound one, titled, Lost Paradise, almost a Pedro Costa take on the modern day Lisbon, or even better;  Pedro Costa’s imagery and de Olivera’s subtle acting, in which Portuguese Colonialism is a past memory that no one talk about, but the legacy is still present in the old grumpy Aurora, she still prefer to refer to her black maid as a “Witch”, and still talk about witchcraft. But to make up for old grumpy Aurora, you got  the silent Miss.Pilar; you don’t find characters like her in many films nowadays, she is so gentle, so simple, caring for others is her top priority, even if those others are thousands of miles away, she cry for no reason but for feeling for others, she pray every night before she goes to sleep, always for others and not herself. The second part of the films is the silent one, the most poetic, and the most beautiful, simply titled, Paradise; The times is the days of Portuguese Colonialism in Africa, the style of the film is that of silent cinema; no dialogue, the music of the soundtracks is a perfect silent film accommodation, those long dissolve from one shot into another, silent acting, no title cards, the only sound are the narrative of Gian Luca, minimalist  experimental use of sound, beautiful, lyrical black and white imagery, long tracking shots. Miguel Gomes is a poet of filmmaker, every word of Gian Luca describing his youth is in prose; the story of young and beautiful Aurora, in a  tragic love affair, from strangers, to lovers, to the story of two lovers on the run, then distance tragic lovers, in which two lover’s only communication now is lover letters; “If I curse the day I met you, it’s because it was followed by the one when we separated”, pure imagination is at work here, it is not circumstances, but the desire for a tragic ending that make the two lover separate forever, “And despite this love, never buried or defeated, I decided not to look for her”, Gian Luca Ventura is a coward of a characters, he neither can get what he desire, nor get away from it, he live in a times of indecision, as for young Aurora, she live, but with regrets, ” I have to exist, because the life I carry demands so”. Beautiful film.

Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012) It seem that Cronenberg couldn’t find a actor other than teenager’s idol, Robert Pattinson, playing the role of a crooked businessman, ranting about making it to the top, terrible actor, terrible acting, delivering lines out of  a script that is more plastic than his acting, always with punch lines of a dark humor at the end of it, fancy lines and details about business procedures that only make the film like a long long business meeting inside a fancy limousine that drag on to eternity, there are many secondly characters that are only there to be put down by Robert Pattinson, there is also a poet, she ride taxis wearing bikinis, for real, has knowledge of high culture equal to that of a teenager, bad, terrible, horrible film.

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011) You may call Young Adult a modern day take on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Quixote is a middle aged woman, Mavis Gary, Panza being a former high school friend of her, now on crutches, and Dulcinea del Toboso is her former high school boyfriend whom she now chasing.  Mavis pretend to be a successful writer, when not busy writing stories for teenagers, she is watching TV, and the television is always on some reality show on teenagers, she still live in a world of of her high school days, but her friends, and her former town passed that stage many years ago, she take a journey back to her town, to get her former boyfriend back.  One of the best  scene in the film is when she driving around the town, looking for a decent place to eat dinner, as she looks, it gets worse, all she sees is KenTacoHut; KCF, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, and her face drops more into a dreary mood, shaking her head in disbelief.  She was once popular in her little town, in her high school, now living far away, in Minneapolis, she seem to belief that she is leading a fast life in a big city, think of others who are leading a normal life in her former small town as boring, she is a snob, or pretend to be one, she is all appearance, leading an empty life, even if she is a failure, she pretend otherwise, she is always faking it, never could face reality, even when in a bar, she pretend to be busy with her cellphone, typing gibberish, but deep inside, she wishes to be in their shoes. To her love is like in the movies, like The Graduate, she still listen to oldies music, she write for teenagers, she is still a teenager lost in the body and mind of a middle aged woman, so it is no wonder that she can’t expect the fact that the guy she was once in love with in high school is married now and has a child,  worse, she can’t imagine he would love his child and his wife, for she think, everyone is selfish like herself, she still think he is meant to be for her, as she shout, “Love conquers all”. She get ready for her date with the guy, put on her best dress, does her hair, manicure, massage, like a first date, but the guy live in a different world, after so many years, meeting again, he invite her to meet in a sport bar, he walk into the bar wearing his home dress, unshaven, sleepy, yet, she still want him, she talk to him romantically, repeat the same sentences she hear from teenager in the street. She star spying on him and his family life, with his old body from high school, both perfect as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; she is a Quixote who is always fantasizing, but Panza alway bring her back to reality, but despite being such a snob and liar, toward the end, like Quixote, you  can’t help feeling sorry for her, as her fantasy world become the cruel reality she has been running away from all her life, but as it turn out, her fantasy world might just as well be equal if not better than the reality of the people that live in at her small town pretending to be happy.

On the Road (Walter Salles, 2012) I remember when I first started reading in English, one of the first book that I read was a Penguin version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, it was an intermediate version in which the novel is dumbed down to bits and pieces, despite many scenes missing, I enjoyed reading one of the best book from the Beat Generation, more than half a century later, Kerouac’s writing still held more truth than ever, because it was written from experience and not imagination, from inner truth of someone who had lived, and wrote about a life lived. Sal, he is always going, but he is not going anywhere, he is just going, trying to escape the present emptiness, because he is in love with the old world, he toast when he drink to “To the good, old, dead, demented men we love”, and rebellious Dean add, “And to the West”, there begin the all American journey of the two. Salles beautifully capture that journey of the many roads across all Americana, with the cinematic license to change as he desire Kerouac’s text, that journey of youth, those few precious times that goes by so fast, never to return, be it full of turmoil or be it full of beauty, he gives Kerouac and his world the justice of capturing it to utmost smallest details, always to the point and nothing more, in the abnormal world of youth rebellion, in living fast and dying young.

The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011) Two years ago, Belcourt Theatre in Nashville showed 35mm print of Tarr’s Satantango, more than six hours in length, it was shown in two part with a break for lunch between, it was a great experience in watching one of the best  film of the 90s. As for The Turin Horse, I had if for more than a year, a Digital copy of the film, but I did not watch it , for I waited for a the blue-ray version of the film to appear, because it is a sin to watch Tarr film in a low quality version, or on a computer screen, you miss the beauty of it. The Turin Horse is supposedly Tarr’s last film, and no, it is not a story about Nietzsche, and neither it is it of a horse, like the big whale in Werckmeister Harmonies, the horse is only a character that our main characters evolve around it, almost like a pivot, it is the story of a Father and the Daughter, but more than anything, The Turin Horse is an examination of little details that made life once life, little action define the Father and the Daughter; cutting of the wood, building the fire, cooking the potato, washing the cloth, removing the skin of the hot potato, eating the potato, drying up the cloth, getting water from the well, getting dressed, getting undressed, loading a cart, and unloading it, feeding the horse, etc. There is also the action of doing nothing, just sitting and staring, it is a beautiful artificial world that only cinema can produce, and Tarr is bold about it; it is windy, everything in the frame move by the wind, but the trees on the background are not moving, artificial, those long tracking shot that seem to be pushing the character away from us, yet, always following them, beautiful black and white cinematography, the wide room that is a cinematic stage, every prop in it place to utmost detail, like Dryer’s composition, very clean. There is purity in the look of the film, either black, or white, with a light shade of gray. Everything has weight of equal significant in a Tarr film; a character walking, talking, doing something, doing nothing, his face to us, his back to us, a room full of characters or an empty room, a leaf flying amid the wind, it is all equally giving the same time and space on the screen, he is not as a perfectionist as Hitchcock when telling a story, he is rather imperfect of storyteller, but such a lack of perfection in the narrative make his films ever more a meditative watch that leave you with lasting impression, just as Hitchcock always let the viewer knows as much as the characters in the film or even more, when characters look, we see what they are looking at, or a times, we see things that the character never see, we are ahead of them, Tarr does the opposite, we never know what the characters know, let alone know more than them, when they look, they stare, but we never know what they are staring at, we have to guess it, but they are both master filmmakers, because they use the tool of the trade to the extreme edge, in doing so, they reach perfection. What emotion the characters lack in the film is made up for it by the music of Vig Mihaly, almost a silent film orchestral music accommodating the film. As for the dialogue, there are few, for the Father and Daughter in the film live by action and not dialogue, when a visitor talk about the philosophical edge of doom, after a long talk, the Father simply tells him, “Come on, that is rubbish”, words mean nothing to them, only action. Tarr should have been making film in the 50s and 60s, in the days when the giants of cinema made their best, he belong with them, with; Bresson, Bunuel, Ozu, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ford, Hawks, Welles, Ray, Dreyer, Antonioni, etc. Tarr’s last film, his farewell to cinema is a beautiful one, and he shall be missed.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin feels like watching an experimental music video; from orchestral, to bluegrass, country, folks, pop, chorus, classic, rock, classic rock, to the great Lonnie Donegan and Buddy Holly,to Zen, back to bluegrass, with the most memorable of all the tracks being; Washington Phillip’ Mother’s Last Word To Her Son. Coming from Lynne Ramsay, a former photographer, the images in films are still photographs in motion, making the film a combination a dozen or so bits and pieces of experimental filmmaking; with tomatoes and red color being the pivot between the shots, be it tomatoes, catchup, Campbell tomato soup, or egg and tomato omelet, no kidding. It is a bizarre film on a dysfunctional family seemingly leading a normal life. The story of a woman that hate being a mother so much, that she prefer the sound of a drilling machine to that of her baby son crying, Kevin and her Mother seem to be competing as to which one of them is the most despised person in the film, like mother, like son. An arty version of The Omen in the examination of a hate relationship between a Mother and a Son, even the society, the people surrounding the two seem more abnormal than the two, but Kevin, spoiled brat, stand up above the rest, he has to be one of the most despicable character of recent films, yet, after committing the atrocities, he comes out into the spotlight, like a rock star, a decent portrayal of a society in love with violent.

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990) Danny Glover is great as a small time Mephistopheles, on  visit to an old family friend, turning their world upside down, doing his best with charm to lurk the men into gambling and crime, and to lure the women into leaving them, but he fail miserably thanks to a towering figure of the mother in the family. The only other film that I have seem from Burnett is Killer of Sheep, among one of the best American Independent film of the 70s, To Sleep with Anger is also a great one, an honest film examining in the lives of a middle class African American family that one rarely seen on the screen, characters out of real world and not just a mere fictional creation on the screen, but what make the film so brilliant, is the careful mixing of Glover’s dark humor in treachery to the sentimental portrayal of the mother in a battle of Good vs Evil, the good triumph at the end, a charming little film that was a flop when it was released, it is pity, because it is a great one.

Show Boat (James Whale, 1936) Show Boat is a perfect example of the musical genre that once ruled the screen; a world of believing in suspension of disbelief of the innocent; A man is walking by a boat, well, he is walking and singing with fully orchestrated music accompanying him, he meet a beautiful girl on the boat, sing for her, and he fall in love with her, they are adults, but sing to each other like teenagers in love, and we buy it. Show Boat is a story of two film; the musical numbers of  Oscar Hammerstein, with its stereotype portrayal of the African American and the South in general, the second film is a comedy from  James Whale, the man behind some of 30s darkest comedies; The Old Dark House, and the horror comedy, The Bride Of Frankenstein, it is this touch of Whale that make the film such a charming watch, with his counter contribution to the music and dance of the African-American, taking it out of the stage into the screen. One of the best and hilarious scene in the film is the reenactment of the way of acting on the stage in the old days, priceless.

O Padre e a Moca aka The Priest and the Girl (Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1966) The Brazilian Cinema Novo was influenced by two major movement that came before it; Italian neo-realism and the French New Wave, with its use of camera, use of natural light, non-actors, real location, etc, but it also had its own signature theme; The dive into the dark side of the human psyche, showing a small world of few characters, through examining their relationship, be it in a big city or a remote place as the small village in O Padre e a Moca, the characters always find themselves pushed to the limit by their surrounding and their own inner turmoil, in O Padre e a Moca, it is sin, guilt, forbidden love, redemption of a priest falling in love with a girl, but he fall in love with a wrong girl, the mistress of  Senior Honorato, a capitalist who run the village, everyone own him money, he control the diamond trade, the labor, and everything that come and leave the village, even the food, the liquors, the trade, everyone in the town bow down to him and his mistress, Mariana, she is the only young woman in the village, and everyone is attracted to her, even the priest, “She is a saint sent by the Devil”, the only sane person in the village, beside the priest with the will to say the truth and challenge Senior Honorato is an insane man, the pharmacist or the village idiot, but just as he admit to be in love with the girl, the priest refuse  believe that he is also in love with her, and when he does, his first tick is to run away with her, it become the story of a runway priest and his lover, as they travel in an isolated landscape, she fall in love with him ever more, but he despise her, declaring, “I look at you and I don’t feel anything, except anger”, he is tormented, because he can’t face the reality of falling in love.

Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman, 2011) Characters in a Stillman film live by dialogues, if they don’t talk, they die, they live by talking, mostly nonsense talking, that is, intellectual nonsense, as hard as  Stillman try to make the dialogue funny, I had a hard time laughing at the stupidity in the dialogue, the guy is saying “I’m fine”, the girl answer, “That’s a terrible expression, ‘Fine’ , ‘I’m fine’ Something smug about it”, it is not funny, it is stupid, and the film is stupid, because the characters in it behave like stupid brats, talk stupid, and the film is nothing but character’s walking, talking, sitting, talking, always intellectual mumbo-jumbos, even the children talk like intellectuals, to make it worse, a sudden burst into singing end the film, annoying watch, just as my talking about the film is annoying.

María Candelaria aka Portrait of Maria (Emillo Fernandez, 1944) Emillo Fernandez, he is a forgotten director, today, he is rather remembered as an actor in Peckinpah and Huston’s films,  but also for being the model for the statue of Oscar that is handed out to many each year in Hollywood, but he was also a good director. Before Bunuel landed in Mexico to make his masterpieces, Fernandez had already made a good film, María Candelaria, with the help of  Gabriel Figueroa’s beautiful cinematography, the film is as beautiful as any of those he shot for Bunuel. Maria Candelaria, she is beautiful, she is sensitive, she belong to nature, surrounded by flowers, she sell flower, she is innocent, as the painter who narrate her describe her best, “That’s the way natives are, their virtue hasn’t been touched, by money or civilization”, but there is till hatred and pride, and people despise her, not just because of her beauty, but because her mother once was a streetwalker, and in a small traditional community, it is a curse to have a mother like that, and she suffers for it,  despite an artificial sentimentality to the story, the film is an honest and truthful depiction of the indigenous population in Mexico, it is one to watch.

Submarine Patrol (John Ford, 1938) Ford’s masterpiece on the life at sea would come two years later with The Long Voyage Home; an examination of friendship and longing to the real amid life on the sea, in Submarine Patrol, the life is there, but with a mix of humor, a love story, and the navy, the story of a rich playboy becoming a successful mechanic in the navy, on the way he learn discipline, and find his true love, in which the call of duty time and time keep him away from his love. Worth Watching.

Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) Margaret is a film about guilt, the inability to face one’s guilt, one of the basic emotion of human, and the opening credit of the film set the tone for it; Tarrega’s lyrical music, Recuerdos de la Alhambra set to the slow motion of a crowd walking the street of NY, the camera is in search of a protagonist, one among the crowd, we find our protagonist, not on the street, but in a classroom, Lisa, a teenager becoming an adult, like all other teenager in the film, she is emotionally in turmoil, unstable, a snub, always arguing for the opposite view just for the sake of arguing, she love debating, love letting other people down, she have a prejudice and limited view of others, even racist when it comes to her view of Arabs and Muslims, she doesn’t like Californian, telling her father, “I don’t go for the Californian type”, as if all the Californian were the same, she even hate Opera, because she “don’t like that kind of singing”, she generalize everything, but she know nothing, she call people “strident” without knowing what the word itself means, if someone is kind to her, she think they want something from her, but if someone ignore her, she is attracted to them, she exchange the boy who is in love with her for a guy for a one night stand, she calculate all her moves, yet always end up in the wrong, a simple search for a cowboy hat bring ever lasting grief not upon herself only, but countless others, she become a different person. The bus incident is the heart of the film, everything in the film evolve around it, that is why it is shot so realistically compare to the the artificiality of other scenes, poor woman, she has been hit by a bus, at first she think she is dead, she is in shock, but when she realize she is dying, she does not want to go, it is hard to portray death, or the moment of dying, that is why the dialogue is so important between the woman dying and Lisa, it get the viewer’s empathy for the two of them, the only time that the viewer sympathize with Lisa, for seeing one dying in front of you is more shocking than hearing about it, when it is a stranger, it is less emotional, as one hear daily of many victims of war, famines, car crashes, murder, etc,  they are a mere number, but when face to face, they are human being, and not just a number, that is why others have a hard time relating to the incident as Lisa does, for grief is personal and comes from one experiencing it, she has a hard time herself dealing with it, because she has never cared for anybody or anything truthfully,  and those few caring emotional moment with the woman become a paradox for her, her action to erase that guilt for the rest of the film make it even hard for the viewer to sympathize with her, she becomes more of a despicable of a character, because she can’t face the reality in herself, she always pretending, full of fakery, but others see through her, and when they do, all she has to show, is anger, because she is incapable of loving, her mother is no better than her, she is an exact copy, she care more about the first day opening of her play than her daughter’s emotional turmoil, both selfish, caring only for oneself, and her father is another snob, every time he call her, he ask her about “the boyfriend situation”, dysfunctional family at its best, they are cold and heartless, and New York is also cold in the film, distance, and emotionless. The guilt of Lisa is what drive the film, because she was the cause of a death, that guilt make her to lie, not in order to save the driver from punishment, but as a small token of redemption for herself, but its no redemption as she find out, and being a snob, she want to find something to pass the guilt to, for she can’t face the reality within herself, of being guilty, of the inner punishment, she goes as far as to ask the driver to share her guilt equally if not more to lessen her burden, when she fails, she wash one guilt with another one, by wanting to punish the driver, to make him suffer her guilt, to take her responsibility,  that is her inner struggle that clashes with outer world, of being guilty and wanting to escape from it, she is annoying not only to everyone in the film, but also to the viewer. Lisa, she is evil, just as nobody in the film want to understand her, so it is with the viewer, she is one character that the viewer love to hate, one of the most despicable character of recent films, and when she lose, her breakdown of confessing to the guilt become a triumph for the viewer; watching the guilty pleasure of her downfall, as more guilt is added to what she suffers from already, at the end, it is the music of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman that closes the film, again the camera searches, this time on the stage, its camera searches among the crowd again, but it easily find Lisa, she is sitting there, she has become one of the crowd.

About Karzan Kardozi

Just another cinephile writing about Life and nothing more......
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23 Responses to 2012: Film Diary

  1. Denis says:

    Great list, I’m gonna have many films on list to watch for the next few month. Thanks a million :)

  2. Jon says:

    Dear Karzan, Thanks for this wonderful list. I’m writing from Germany, I have written to your e-mail and hope you will get back to me; Can you give me a clue as to where did you get many of the films, many are not on DVD in Germany, especially Der Herrscher by Veit Harlan. My e-mail is: aderadaera@yahoo.com.

  3. Alysia says:

    As always, great post from my friend Karzan :)
    Miss You

    • Miss you too, Alysia. Hope all is well with you.

      • T. Everard says:

        Elena overook Stalker to become my all-favourite film this year, probably for sometime to come. Turgenev?…Dostoevski… Zvagintsev reminds me of no-one so much as Chekhov.
        I confess I hated* Drive, perhaps I’m a prude at heart but the gratutious gory violence and nudity often simply seemed to be there for the sake of gory violence and nudity.
        Do you think there is a limit to how much/intense sex & violence a director can portray on film before it becomes aesthetically unjustifiable or just pointless?
        I think I know what Tolstoy has to say about it, but what do think?

        • I agree with you about the violent in Drive, it is stretched to the limit at times. But there are two different way of portraying violent in cinema; there are those who glorify it for the sake of entertainment, an example is Tarantino, violent in his films is just for the sake of violent, part of the entertainment for the viewer to enjoy and laugh at, I remember a few years ago I watched Kill Bill in a theater, and when the chopping of the head scene came on, everyone was laughing at such cruel brutality, that is fake. But, there is the other way of portraying violent for being meaningless, it is part of the logic of the characters, cultures and the institutions, to make he viewer aware of the absurdity of such actions, the great Sam Peckinpah is an example, that is poetic violent.
          Tolstoy despised the first portrayal use of violent, but not the second one, even in his later works, there are some violent scenes that are depicted; the most notable is in his play, The Power of Darkness, the scene in which Nikita murders his little born baby, sitting on him until he is crushed, all the time, the viewer hear the little baby’s cry, it is one of the most violent scene in the history of literate.

  4. I read and read and read in your diaries. Your critiques are wonderful. they are art, of themselves. Even in your little blurbs, I escaped for a little while. Thank you.—-Granny Bear

    • Thanks for the complement, Granny Bear, hope my critiques would help you pick some of the films to watch.

      • Indeed they did, and shall, again. Thank you. Not so many Russian (older ones) flims, among your preferences? Or perhaps I just missed them? Also very readable, and enlightening,were your narratives. Thank you, again.—–Granny Bear

        • If you mean old Russian film, as Soviet film, I have dedicated the first three month of this year to only Soviet Film; I’m discovering and re-discovering many great ones, discovering one masterpiece after another.

          • How fortunate, FOR ME, to have enountered your blog, just now!
            Now I am going to see if I can find some of the flicks you described, on line, in a form that I can stream, so that I may watch. When I was younger there was no time, nor means, to watch movies, except now and again, usually on a college campus. Who knew that the restrictions of getting older, and access to technology, would also allow the new freedom to to enjoy what used to be termed “leisure activities”. Of the movies that I have seen, I like very much, your descriptions. So I am guessing that I will appreciate the movies you recommend similarly. This saves me much wasted time, aquiring a movie and starting to watch it, only to find it inferior. Thank you for all that you have done.—–Granny Bear

  5. That was a lot of work for you. I haven’t seen many of these…but will. Thank you! ~Sherry~

  6. Flo me la says:

    Stalker is a weird, kind of wonderful and unpleasant film. I don’t know if I would like a similar film without the poetry and weirdness…

  7. You are a great writer, I was amazed

  8. Paula says:

    What a fabulous post! I admire your dedication Karzan. I’ve just seen “Young Adult” following your recommendation and I loved it :) Thank you. I will try to see more from your list. My best, Paula.

    • You are welcome, Paula. When it comes to Art, it is only befitting that one share one’s appreciation of originality in Art with others. I’m sure you will enjoy other films from the list.

  9. Paula says:

    I know you gave a poor review to “Carnage”, but I am glad I have found it on your list and saw it, because I really like it as most of Polanski’s films.

    • Sometime as a viewer, even before watching a film, we have a prejudice against it, ever before watching Carnage, I was convinced that I would not like it, or rather, wanted to convince myself not to like the film, the reason is not because of Polanski, but because of Yasmina Reza, I never liked her plays, always thought her characters were a creation a sick imagination of an egotistic person, with no truth to them. I grow up reading Russian Literature, my imagination is used to the characters in the stories of Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Doestovsky, Chekhov, etc, they are characters rich with inner psychological depth, never sure of themselves nor in their actions, always in doubts, they are humans, unlike the characters in the world of Yasmina Reza; one-dimensional, so full of themselves, each one seem to know the meaning of truth, and when challenged, their only way out is violent or sick humor.

      • Paula says:

        Thank you for your reply Karzan… I find the characters in the film very convincing… but it is only me. I really think it is a good film. Maybe I am used to seeing characters like this in my every day life?!

  10. sixpillarstopersia says:

    WOW! I have to a couple of hours aside to look at this properly.

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