Saturday, 31 December 2011

Elizabeth Cervantes & Joana Rañé in "Volverás" [Spain, Mexico 2002]

I'll finish the year with Antonio Chavarrías' thriller, "Volverás" [Eng. Title: You'll be Back]. While it is an engaging film that keeps your attention through, it will leave you a bit deflated towards the end. It is nevertheless, Recommended Viewing.

Amazon DVD Link

Ignasio is an aspiring architect - hoping to join his father's firm one day, and has been offered a scholarship to further his studies in America. He invites girlfriend Claudia to come along but she's undecided, weary of being dependent upon him. Ignasio bumps into elder brother Carlos whom he hadn't seen in a few years. Carlos is now a washed up and down-on-luck gambler who just doesn't know how to quit, and his Mexican girlfriend Marta is increasingly getting frustrated with him. The dynamic between Carlos and Ignasio is firmly established, as we see the elder brother had always enjoyed pushing Ignasio towards danger since childhood. The younger sibling meekly does whatever he's asked to do, so he win his brother's approval. Carlos is now in great debt with people hunting for him, and he decides to drag Ignasio too along the precipice.

Compilation: Elizabeth Cervantes and Joana Rañé

Elizabeth Cervantes & Joana Rane in Volveras

Scene Guide:
  • Claudia joins boyfriend Ignasio in bed reluctantly at first, but soon becomes more enthusuastic. Claudia is played by Joana Rañé. Shame she hasn't made that many films, but sure is worth checking out.
  • Ignasio meets Marta when he comes looking for his brother. One day Carlos passes out after a crazy night, and Marta vents her sexual frustration with Ignasio. Marta is played by Mexican beauty Elizabeth Cervantes.


Friday, 30 December 2011

Valeria Golino in "Storia d'Amore" [1986 Italy]

The title of veteran director Francesco Maselli's drama "Storia d'Amore" [Eng. Title: A Tale of Love] could mislead you into believing it to be one of those mushy romances - it ain't. There may be a bit of romancing going on, but the film's more than that.

It is first and foremost a social drama, centred around nineteen year old Bruna living in a poor neighbourhood of suburban Rome, she'd been working as a cleaning lady from the age of thirteen to support her family. Considerable screen time is allocated to portray her daily chores that start before dawn, every single day. But she's resourceful, and seemingly in command of her life. She first meets Sergio and falls in love, and lets him move in with her family, thanks to her egalitarian working class father. But when she meets Mario, Bruna falls in love and had to end the relationship with Sergio. She also moves out of home to live independently with her new lover. While it all seems tranquil on the outside, we could pick up clues of angst attributable to her drudgery, which starts taking its toll...

The film reminds me of another social drama from a famous director in the early seventies, also set among the shanties of Rome (a bit more grim however), but the name eludes me as I write this - I'll come back. But interestingly the film's treatment is atypical of Italian cinema. Almost Argentinian in style - it flows fluidly between drama and melodrama, giving us little hint as to what to expect. Shot in full frame with some interesting urban cinematography, the film retains your attention even during the most mundane of scenes, thanks to one gorgeous Valeria Golino who plays Bruna - this was only her second film as a lead character - the first, "Piccoli Fuochi" is in my wish list but I doubt it was ever released on DVD. Her performance belies her twenty years. Utterly captivating in all her scenes, Sig.ra Golino enchants and endears us from the word go. It's baffling to see her appear in some nonsensical films like Hot Shots afterwards - she must have caught the Hollywood bug. Despite this film being unique and unconventional, it is made extra special due to Valeria Golino. Needless to say, Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Compilation: Valeria Golino
I'm so glad they finally brought this film out on DVD. This is a young, devoid of make-up, and totally natural looking, incantevole Valeria Golino. One can also see the director has paid attention to detail with her 'working class' fingernails..! :)

Valeria Golino in Storia d'Amore

Scene Guide:
  • Bruna getting in and out of bed - bellissima..!
  • Her friendship with fellow commuter Sergio develops into love, and pretty soon he moves in to her home.
  • No nudity - but interesting! Sergio introduces Bruna to his mom, whom he still considers attractive. He invites Bruna to feel her legs to find out for herself. The mother is played by Gabriella Giorgelli.
  • It's break-up time - Bruna admits she couldn't help thinking about Mario - the lad who's just taken up work at the local cafe. They cry in each others arms.
  • Bruna has moved in with Mario at a squat. He serves her breakfast in bed. I guess October nights in Rome could still be warm enough to allow sleeping in the nude.
  • A mini montage of some other interesting scenes of Valeria Golino who plays Bruna, with the film's soundtrack.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Iwona Bielska & Grazyna Dylag in "Na Srebrnym Globie" [1976-1987 Poland]

Andrzej Zulawski had to halt production on his sci-fi epic, "Na Srebrnym Globie" [Eng. Title: On the Silver Globe] due to objection from Polish authorities - they had also destroyed the sets and any material they could lay their hands on. The film never actually got completed - but was nevertheless released a decade later in 1987, as winds of change swept across the Eastern Block. The screenplay for roughly a fifth of the film had never been filmed, which is instead narrated by Zulawski himself using some roving outdoor footage of modern-day Poland.

A group of humans crash-land at a habitable planet they were heading for, and some of the crew die in the process. The survivors - three men and a woman, with no way of communicating with their space stations let alone harbouring thoughts of returning to earth, decide to stay put and foster their own new civilisation. They take turns bearing children through the lone woman to increase the population, but notice the newly born age significantly faster than themselves, and within a matter of years, they had already fathered several generations, which hints at widespread incest. The children are puzzled as to why their parents don't die - and begin to perceive them as Gods, and a new religion is formed, later to even branch out into several sects.
Despite the fact that the 'elders' never acknowledge their 'divinity', they could do very little to persuade and change the course of events. Some later day humans also arrive at the planet and find a tribal population, and learn that some women are captured and forced to interbreed with a conquering bird-like species who communicate telepathically. The 'Sherns' treat humans as inferior, and the half-breeds called Morques are used as drones to attack humans and kidnap more women.

Based on a novel written by Zulawski's own uncle some sixty years earlier, it explores in anthropological detail a different take on human evolution, religion, and civilisation itself. It is a film of its time, and in many ways resonates with the works of directors like Alejandro Jodorowsky and Federico Fellini, more so the former in its audacity and confrontational nature. Unfortunately the English subtitles are sometimes confusing and you'd have to rewind to try and make sense of some of the dialogues. But while there are instances of genuine insight, some of the ramblings appear to be of someone totally confused. But whatever it is, it is a magnificent piece of visual art - particular care had been taken with the cinematography and lighting to project this 'alien' world. This is not a low-budget production - a lot of effort had been put into the production design, make-up, and art direction - for e.g., even the fire in the planet is deemed to be of a different colour - and why not. The film is also a visual feast with highly stylised characters, stunning scenery, and the magnificent costumes which would have done a Fellini or Jodorowsky proud.

Most of the scenes have been put together with surviving footage, what they could keep away from the government's hands - they had to be stashed away in studio staff and lab technician's homes. As a result of this some scenes have jump cuts, sometimes with just a single word of dialogue in a segment patched with another to make a coherent sentence. And it is partly because of its incompleteness that the message it carries is far more potent than it may be otherwise. The film has been lovingly restored for posterity in the Zulawski box-set, from which the below compilation was made. For lovers of independent cinema, this will be an excellent addition to their library. Needless to say, Recommended Viewing..!
Amazon Box-Set Link

Compilation: Iwona Bielska and Grazyna Dylag
The Gothic-style scenes are dark but rich in detail - the caps and graphic actually don't do the video quality enough justice.

Iwona Bielska and Grazyna Dylag in Na Srebrnym Globie

Scene Guide:
  • Martha, one of the survivors after her spacecraft crash-lands, is given the responsibility to procreate. Martha is played by Polish actress Iwona Bielska.
  • Many years later, the High Priest's daughter Ihezal submits to a visiting astronaut - she perceives him as a messiah who'd arrive, as foreseen in their scriptures. Ihezal is played by Grazyna Dylag.
  • Some additional surreal scenes of Ihezal, first where a ritualistic orgy is in progress, and later with the earthling-lover who she deifies. Towards the end we see her with one of the bird-like aliens.


Monday, 26 December 2011

Marisol Centeno & co in "La Última Mirada" [2006 Mexico]

Mexican writer, director and producer Patricia Arriaga-Jordán made her feature film debut in the romantic drama, "La Última Mirada" [Eng. Title: the Last Gaze]. This may be a simple albeit charming little number for a debut, but it also has something rather interesting to say.

The film explores the idea of learning to cope with impending loss using two people of diverse backgrounds - their stories run in parallel until the penultimate scene when they meet. Homero, a successful painter discovers one day that he's suffering from a rare form of luminous blindness - he had already lost the ability to distinguish the colour green, and it was only a matter of time before he will fail to sense the colours blue and finally red. He struggles to come to terms with this inevitability. Meanwhile, young Mei is a maid working at a brothel at a neighbouring town - her mother was a prostitute there before abandoning Mei in order to elope with a truck driver. One day, when an important client is expected at the brothel, the star attraction disappears, and the brothel's madame persuades Mei to step in to the oldest profession.

While it is decently directed and ably acted by the main cast, what sets this film apart is the characterisation and screenplay. A fair amount of time is spent in developing the characters and their motives - time well spent. But judging purely from my DVD, I feel the cinematography and lighting could perhaps have been more imaginative because it is so crucial to the film's theme. The sound track is however well put together without unwanted distractions. The actress who plays Mei, Marisol Centeno, gives an excellent performance as a young girl beginning to make sense of adulthood. Overall, this is a well made above average cinema, and therefore, Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link (some good bargains going)

Compilation: Alexa Damián, Marisol Centeno, Mónica del Carmen, and others

Alexa Damian, Marisol Centeno, and Monica del Carmen in La Ultima mirada

Scene Guide:
  • It is apparent Ikerne is a lot more than Homero's model. He invites her to one of his shows later that evening. Ikerne is played by the rather dishy Alexa Damián.
  • In the scene, Homero is unintentionally being ironic while extolling the virtue of a professional working relationship between an artist and his model.
  • Jubilant girls from the brothel flash at a passing train. The minx in the middle is To To, played by Mónica del Carmen. The other girls are played by Montserrat de León, Patricia Niguera, Rebeca Patiño, and Gabriela Zamora.
  • No nudity but interesting. Young maid Mei tries on her madame's clothing - the madame discovers and gives them to Mei as a present. Mei is played by bambi-eyed preciosa Marisol Centeno.
  • Homero visits a brothel where his taxi driver had arranged a 'Chinese' girl for a princely sum. The girl who was supposed to service him had disappeared and little Mei is arm-twisted into standing in for the missing one. This is a moving scene where Homero paints her body red all over - the only colour he could see. Mei, apprehensive at first, is gently woken up to her own sexuality just as Homero establishes his nobler intentions, which is to see a beautiful woman one last time before he goes totally blind.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

Adriana Ugarte & co in "Lo Contrario al Amor" [2011 Spain]

The Spanish comedy "Lo Contrario al Amor" [Eng. Title: The Opposite of Love] appears to be Vicente Villanueva's full-length feature debut. While he gives a decent account of himself as a director, the film has nothing too profound to say. It works if you're looking for light entertainment, and has good technical merits at least as far as cinematography and editing are concerned. The performances are also average, but that shouldn't be a problem as muy linda y guapa Adriana Ugarte is there in every other scene to keep our attention - she's one fine young lady alright.

Merce and Raúl are an on and off couple who seem to have genuine feelings for each other, but are wary of committing to a relationship due to their own little hangups. Several themes centred around young metrosexuals are touched upon, but nothing's explored in depth. Due to which, the film becomes tedious at times. Some of the characters are there simply to fill the time.

Compilation: Adriana Ugarte, Marta Hazas, and Loreto Fajardo

Adriana Ugarte, Marta Hazas, and Loreto Fajardo in Lo Contrario al Amor

Scene Guide:
  • Merce, played by Adriana Ugarte has a dream involving a threesome with two firemen who rescued her from an elevator. A third fireman pops up to throw a damper on proceedings.
  • Silvia, a Friday night lay for one of the narcissistic firemen is pissed off after noticing him admiring his own ass rather than hers - perhaps she should have given the audience an opportunity to see and appreciate her instead. Silvia is played by Marta Hazas.
  • No nudity - A 'Miss Ass with Cream' pageant in Benidorm (where else!), and Carmen María is the winner. Her skimpy bikini presents an opportunity for a nipple slip, thanks to a deleted scene from the DVD extras - inserted as a separate file. Carmen is played by Loreto Fajardo.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Monica Bellucci in Gaspar Noé's "Irréversible" [2002 France]

Sometimes I feel watching Gaspar Noé films is akin to paying someone to get yourself slapped. That is certainly the case with the shocking drama "Irréversible" [Eng. Title: Irreversible]. To describe the film as provocative would indeed be an understatement. If his earlier feature "Seul Contre Tous" shook you up, "Irréversible" will hit you with a sledgehammer. M. Noé had declared himself the moral conscience of world cinema.

But contrary to some misconceptions, this film is not about violence - sexual or otherwise. So what is it about? At its heart, the film questions rationale behind the deep-seated human instinct for revenge and the desire for retribution. Because the consequences of our actions, whether intended or not, would be irreversible. Some of the most violent imagery ever put to film has actually been used to convey a deeply pacifist message. Noé's hatred of violence is crying out for everyone to see in the very manner in which these scenes are filmed. Not only does the screenplay run in reverse to show the effects of one's actions before they're committed, there's also a conscious albeit futile effort in every scene to stop certain things from happening. No matter how you see it, this is superlative scripting. There's a whole 'bloody' lot to soak from the film, which makes it necessary to watch it more than once, unpleasant scenes notwithstanding.

Some telling passages of play occur during conversations in the train and later at the discotheque that not only sheds light on the three main characters - Alex, Marcus, and Pierre, but also on the precarious nature of their relationship - at least two of them shouldn't stay friends. Marcus and Pierre have been friends for years. Alex and Marcus are a couple, but before that she was in a relationship with Pierre for four years. Pierre still loves Alex and finds it difficult to move on, Alex is aware of this but cruelly flirts with him, only to later ask him not to torture himself by harbouring feelings for her. They're at a party organised by Pierre's friends. After getting fed up with Marcus for making a fool of himself following drugs and alcohol, Alex leaves, alone. At a subway road crossing, she's randomly attacked by a gay thug in one of the most horrific rape scenes captured in cinema. But this is just the beginning of an orgy of violence that ensues.

Granted, one wouldn't normally place Monica Bellucci who plays Alex in the same acting pedestal as, say a Meryl Streep. But in terms of physicality she's up there among the very best actresses in the industry. Every now and again, she pulls out all stops to deliver some of the most harrowing scenes, like in the all-female lynching scene from Giuseppe Tornatore's "Malèna". She surpasses that here to the extent that during the shoot, her battered face apparently even made her co-star, co-producer and future husband Vincent Cassel (who plays Marcus) cry on set.

Right from the titles to the end credits, there is so much to write about this gem of a film. Gaspar Noé's sense of humour is also amply evident on several occasions - like his choice and style of typography for the credits. The film also starts interestingly with the butcher from "Seul Contre Tous" making a shocking confession from his flat. The camera then pans downstairs to show men pouring out of 'Rectum', the infamous gay bar where some more violent scenes are played out. Apart from scripting and directing the film, M. Noé also handles the cinematography and editing, both thoroughly disorientating. Add to this the unnerving sound mix, and you now have a dizzying unpleasant ride ahead - unpleasant acts to witness, profound truths to unravel, and our incomplete evolution as human beings to reflect on. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Compilation: Monica Bellucci
Taken from some of the more humane scenes from the film.

Monica Bellucci in Irreversible

Scene Guide:
  • A long post-coital scene where we get to know more about the relationship between Alex and Marcus as they make their plans for the evening's party organised by Pierre, their friend, but who was once also Alex's partner. Alex is of course played by the legendary Italian bombshell Monica Bellucci.
  • Alex discovers she's pregnant.
  • At the party, Alex tries to keep Pierre company as Marcus flirts with the other girls. She soon gets fed up and leaves, setting off a chain of events.

Scene: Monica Bellucci
This is the infamous rape scene that no one in their right mind would watch for pleasure. Download at your own discretion. And I'm also not going to glorify this scene with any custom graphics.

Monica Bellucci in Irreversible - the Rape


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Michela Cescon & Vanessa Incontrada in "Tutte le Donne della mia Vita" [2007 Italy]

Simona Izzo's film "Tutte le Donne della mia Vita" [Eng. Trans: All the Women in my life] is a bitter-sweet comedy about Davide, a forty-something star-chef reminiscing his life while recovering from a heart attack following a medication overdose. As the title hints, his recollections are mainly about the various women in his life, with some of whom he'd had affairs simultaneously. He's regretful of some of the decisions he'd made at the time and the hurt he'd caused.

The light treatment of the film's subject is meant for a wry look at love, indecision, and its consequences without using a moralistic tone - it acknowledges the fact that people view and deal with things differently. Having said that, I wasn't exactly enthused during the early part of the film as the characters were almost clichés, but gradually got into it as the film progressed, and liked the way it ends leaving a door open for certain possibilities. On the whole, an okay film with decent cinematography, locales, and competent acting from the cast, Spanish beauty Vanessa Incontrada's freckles merely being the icing on the cake. DVD Link

Compilation: Michela Cescon, Vanessa Incontrada,
Jane Alexander,
and Elena Bouryka
Some of the scenes include only brief instances of nudity, with tit/nipple slips or see through/transparent garments, but they're blog-related nevertheless, and interesting.

Michela Cescon, Vanessa Incontrada, Jane Alexander, and Elena Bouryka in Tutte le donne della mia vita

Scene Guide:
  • Davide introduces Stefania to his culinary expertise in post-coital bliss. The following morning Stefania is beside herself as she wanders around the beach after one of her customary panic attacks claiming she has bipolar disorder. Michela Cescon, playing Stefania shows she can do comedy, and also displays some of her charms in this film but I'll post one of her earlier films later, which shows her in different light altogether (pardon my intended pun).
  • The thought of the Monica suckling her child fills Davide with deep regret at the lost opportunity - he came close to marrying her, she who bore his child. She came into the picture when Davide was already seeing Stefania. But Stefania soon will be relegated to a predominantly telephone relationship. In this scene, she calls Davide even though she's aware he's living with Monica. Monica is played by sultry Spanish siren, the gorgeously freckled Vanessa Incontrada. A special almond milk for the mother and baby coming up...
  • Hell breaks loose when Monica discovers evidence of Davide's ongoing physical liaisons with Stefania.
  • Single again, Davide had been fooling around with Laura, the wife of his restaurant owner boss. In the scene she jumps into his bed with some good news - he'd just won a second Michelin star. Of course, he'll soon be fired after his boss discovers he'd been cuckolded. Laura is played by Jane Alexander.
  • Davide visits Stefania unannounced in the hope of rekindling their past 'romance', even preparing breakfast before entering her room in the hope of springing a pleasant surprise - only to find her with Eros, her toy boy. He doesn't flinch one bit..! :)
  • Davide returns after ten years to the island where he used to live with Monica, and notices that little Diletta, a friend's daughter, is now all grown up and brimming with youth. She becomes his muse, and later also rescues him when he collapses while scuba diving. Diletta is played by the delightful Elena Bouryka.
  • A bonus mini compilation of tit and nipple-slips from Michela Cescon.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Karme Málaga & Ariadna Cabrol in "Las Películas de mi Padre" [2007 Spain]

Augusto Martínez Torres made the pseudo-autobiographical drama "Las Películas de mi Padre" [Orig. Title: Les pel·lícules del meu pare, Eng. Trans: The Films of my Father] as a contemplation of his own earlier work as a producer and director of short films. Using facts from his life and mixing it liberally with some imaginary characters, director Torres gives his interpretation using an interesting vantage point.

In the film, director Torres is already dead, and his (fictional) daughter, in the process of assimilating his original film negatives, becomes intrigued by his work and wants to know more about her father. She meets some of his erstwhile friends and colleagues and pieces together a side of her father she was not aware of. In the process, she begins to question her own life choices and human relationships, notably her boyfriend Fabrizio, and a new female friend she meets at the film institute while exploring some her dad's films.

Catalan cinema is no stranger to wacky ideas, and this film certainly lives up to its fore-bearers. The film is part fiction and part documentary, and I'm not sure how much of what his friends and actresses say about Torres is spontaneous and how much his own reflections, but it is an interesting exercise nevertheless. But what we also get to see is an intimate portrait of his fictional daughter, played by 'belleza natural' Karme Málaga - you watch her from so close that you could almost smell her - full of youth and sensuality, she transfixes you throughout the film. While the film may have its interesting ideas and technical merits, notably the excellent cinematography and a soundtrack pulsating with African rhythms, Karme Málaga is reason enough to own this DVD. Needless to say, Recommended Viewing..!

Until this film, I hadn't seen any of Torres' work save a segment in the 1980 film, "Cuentos Eróticos". Just as well, the DVD comes with a couple of Torres' short films, which is actually very helpful in following the main film, and also understanding the reasons behind the rather voyeuristic portrayal of his 'daughter' in the main film. But beware the DVD doesn't include subtitles and as far as I know, this is the only edition released.

DVD Order Link

Compilation: Karme Málaga - "Missing Dad"
This is a reappraisal of a film I reviewed over two years ago, but the compilations have been re-cut for the blog from my original DVD.

Karme Malaga in Las Peliculas de mi Padre

Scene Guide:
  • We're introduced to a weeping daughter by the window, right at the film's beginning. We must be grateful beautiful Karme Málaga isn't a shy creature.
  • Ablutions, contemplations, and a happy reunion with a childhood friend, rescued from her dad's paraphernalia.
  • Trying on a dress her dad bought her mum years ago - very fetching.
  • Drunk boyfriend Fabrizio teases her for not wearing knickers at home - and she's not the least pleased by his remark.
  • She nevertheless makes up with Fabrizio the following morning in the bathroom.
  • Angry at her shirt being ripped off - she admonishes Fabrizio during a lovemaking session.
  • Patching things up later in the bath...
  • Poor Fabrizio is at the receiving end again.

Compilation: Karme Málaga and Ariadna Cabrol - "Exploring a new Friendship"

Karme Malaga and Ariadna Cabrol in Las Peliculas de mi Padre

Scene Guide:
  • The first third of the compilation has no nudity but is an interesting sapphic courting ritual worth watching. Ariadna Cabrol, a student at the film institute, shows interest in Karme Málaga who's come there to check out some of her dad's old films. Karme responds..!
  • Karme gets invited to Ariadna's room, and things take their course in this erotic lesbian scene. It is actually beautiful to watch two people showing genuine affection for one another. Let's hope Catalan cutie Ariadna isn't one of those starving themselves to stay in shape - a bit more flesh on the bone wouldn't do any harm, quite contrary.
  • When Fabrizio pleads Karme to accompany him to Italy, she's not sure if she could continue with Ariadna any longer.
  • A couple of brief scenes of Marisa Lull - who starred as a child in torres' early experimental films (she plays herself). Karme decides to learn more about her.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Scenes from "Reservedekk" BR1080 [2011 Norway]

Digressing slightly from full-length features, I'm kinda glad to have stumbled upon Kenny Wang's wacky short film, "Reservedekk" [Eng. title: Spare Tyres]. It is billed as a horror film, but is probably better seen as an irreverent comedy.

A guy driving through the country had to stop by the road after a tyre lands a flat. It was apparently caused by a psychopath who'd laid a spike strip to snare drivers with number plates that are not local, approaching them later as a passing mechanic and offering to help fix their car. Before he turns up, our hero opens the boot to reveal a tied-up girl in place of the spare tyre. We'll learn soon enough that they're actually a couple, a maniacal one at that too, playing out one of their twisted fantasies. The psychopath will realise rather belatedly that the couple he tried to ensnare are psychopaths themselves. Oh well - all's well that ends well, at least for the couple, I guess..!

The twenty minute film is experimental, original, cool, and also strangely sexy in places. The cinematography is actually pretty good with some awesome comic-strip style camera angles, even if the editing at times appear to have been rushed through. The special effects too are a work in progress. But I liked the crazy idea for the film anyway, and its groovy soundtrack. The actors don't take themselves seriously and even the director casts himself as the 'hero'.  Watch the film if you can - you could do a lot worse with twenty minutes of your life.

Despite the fact that it is more funny rather than scary, I cut out several gory bits, leaving you to enjoy the cute and sexy girl almost unhindered. ;)


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Nina Hoss in "Das Herz ist ein Dunkler Wald" [2007 Germany]

We now have 'Medea' told from a woman's point of view - as if the original wasn't feminist-enough already!

Multi-talented Nicolette Krebitz is an actress, writer, director, cinematographer, singer and a composer as well (running out of breath here). Her 2007 drama "Das Herz ist ein Dunkler Wald" [Eng. Title: The Heart is a Dark Forest] is pretty much a ladies' affair - right from the story to the direction, cinematography and the editing, women claim the credits. And it shows too, admirably.

Marie's idyllic existence comes crashing down when she accidentally discovers that Thomas, her husband of several years has been having an affair - almost running a parallel family behind her back. Upon discovery at his mistress' home, Thomas tells Marie nonchalantly that he will be coming home to talk about this the following day as he has a performance later that evening. The film follows Marie's anguish during the course of the day as she desperately tries to make sense of what this bombshell of a discovery meant. To say she feels let down after all these years of marriage would of course be an understatement. Her two beautiful children are too young to understand why their mum is moody, and try to cheer her up any way they can. Marie finally decides to confront Thomas at the concert later that evening itself as she simply couldn't wait until the following day. Just as well, because as dawn breaks, Marie had already reached a particular state of mind...

The film is surprisingly well written and directed - it respects the audience intelligence most of the time, and the performance by all the main actors are very good, especially the intense portrayal of Marie by Nina Hoss. The cinematography and editing are both exceptional and the sound engineering also spot-on. My DVD came with an interesting making of where Ms. Krebitz explains her reasons behind the casting and adaptation. It also includes interviews by all the main cast. Needless to say, Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link (good deal going here at the moment)

Compilation: Nina Hoss
The first minute or so doesn't include nudity but it helps explain the dramatic scene afterwards that has no dialogue. Jonathan, a guest at the party where Thomas is performing has had his eyes on Marie all evening. By the time he catches up with her by the lake, Marie had reached a stage where she simply doesn't care about anything any more. But even then, she's pleased to learn she's still desired, despite being a mother of two, and they make love. The rest of the scene unfolds at day break after Jonathan leaves naked by the lake.

We watch speechless as Marie takes what must be a rather cold swim early in the morning before riding a bus home, in the nude, dripping wet. She picks up a gun from the gardener who'd just shot himself - he'd had a rough night too after discovering his wife's affair.

Nina Hoss in Das Herz ist ein Dunkler Wald


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Arcelia Ramírez & Francesca Guillén in "Así es la Vida" [2000 Mexico]

Arturo Ripstein reinvented Mexican melodrama for the digital age with his film "Así es la Vida" [Eng. Title: Such is Life]. It is also a modern retelling of the Roman tragedy by Seneca 'Medea', which itself is based on the even ancient Greek myth of Medea and Jason. Ripstein's version might not have managed to reach the poetic heights of Pier Paolo Pasolini's earlier interpretation, but it is still a very well made film, uniquely Mexican in flavour and application.

Julia's world is shattered when husband Nicolás, a second rate boxer, abandons her and their two children for the landlord's teenage daughter Raquel. Her situation worsens to utter despair when the landlord nicknamed 'the Pig' (la Marrana) gives her an eviction notice, so that she could never pose a threat to his daughter who is about to marry Nicolás. She decides to seek retribution in the most shocking manner, "this will ensure he too experiences the utter loss I feel". Nicolás is portrayed as a spineless git, espousing machismo in a sexual sense, but lacking in integrity and all other equally 'masculine' faculties - we don't see the heroic Jason in this film, just the wronged Medea.


The film is set in a cramped tenement block somewhere in Mexico city, which was one of the reasons for Sr. Ripstein opting to shoot it on DV as opposed to film. He also states in the interview (among the DVD extras) the opportunity this presented to combine and experiment with different media - like when the presence of the Mariachi in Julia's living room appears to distract the newsreader in the television set. In some scenes the Mariachi appear directly on TV, singing their songs to highlight a relevant scene - just as in old theatre, only with added technology.

There are other hilarious techniques employed like the director/camera actually interfering in the scene itself, some of which work well. The weakest point of the entire film however has to be the final scene where the brevity of the calamitous situation is lost due to some poor shot selection and the acting by the Nicolás character. But the actress playing Julia, Arcelia Ramírez gives an excellent interpretation of her character. I thoroughly enjoyed the screenplay and soundtrack - this is one of the best Arturo Ripstein films I've seen to date, and therefore, Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Compilation: Francesca Guillén and Arcelia Ramírez

Francesca Guillén and Arcelia Ramírez in "Así es la Vida"

Scene Guide:
  • The director and audience are the voyeurs peeping into 'virginal' Raquel's room - to the extent that after noticing us, she even shoo's the director and cameraman (and us) away! Ironically Nicolás, makes his promises of enduring love to Raquel whilst watching a home video of himself with wife Julia. Raquel is played by young Francesca Guillén.
  • A flashback to happier times when Nicolás professed his love for Julia. It merges into another scene where Nicolás is justifying himself for wanting to take custody of their children. The scene appears to be a recreation of their first sexual encounter. Julia of course is played by the talented and beautiful actress Arcelia Ramírez.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Giulia Bellucci in "La Polinesia è Sotto Casa" [2010 Italy]

Young directors Andrea Goroni and Saverio Smeriglio (who also wrote the story) made their film debut in the comedy, "La Polinesia è sotto casa" [Eng. Trans: Polynesia on my doorstep]. It may not be one of the most profound films made, but considering this is their first feature, and also the fact that most of the cast and crew are also just making their debut, it strives to be sincere.

Stefano seems to have it all - nice job, car, yada yada yada... but realises his life is soulless and decides to make a radical change, which apart from other things involve breaking his engagement to Nadine, a wealthy young woman of French origin, and renewing his passion for surfing - yes, of the water sport variety - a couple of young surfers he meets in order to acquire their property act as the catalyst. So new life - here we come. But wait, there's one person from his old life that he wants to bring along too - Matilde. Will he succeed..?

DVD Order Link

Scene: Giulia Bellucci
There's actually very little nudity here - this is more of a 'hello' to newcomer Giulia Bellucci who plays Nadine. In this scene, Stefano tries to rekindle his relationship with Nadine by inviting her on a holiday - they had of late grown increasingly further apart.

Giulia Bellucci in La Polinesia e Sotto Casa


Friday, 9 December 2011

Amanda Plummer & Saskia Reeves in "Butterfly Kiss" [1995 UK]

Michael Winterbottom is in brilliant form in this 1995 neo-noir, "Butterfly Kiss" - about two Lancastrian women of contrasting character who meet and discover a harmony of sorts between them. But the hardboiled 'road-movie' is anything but easy-viewing - it is far too realistic for that, thanks to the exceptionally dark characterisation, and the extraordinary performances by its chief protagonists, Eunice (Eu) and Miriam (Mi).

Eunice, psychotic, unkempt, wearing chains around her body as some kind of penitence, scores through highway petrol stations looking for one 'Judith', and meets lonely soul Miriam, an attendant at one of the stores. It becomes obvious they're an odd couple - as much as Eunice is selfish and mean, Miriam is generous and kind, but they hit it off. By the time Miriam discovers Eunice has killed someone, she'd already fallen in love. She takes it upon herself to stick around with Eunice, and "make her into a good person".

Mr. Winterbottom purposely avoids revealing Eunice's past as that might seek to justify her despicable deeds - the objective of the film would be lost. It is clear however that Eunice is tortured by her past, and desperately wants to end it all - killing people because she feels angry, abandoned - by the world, and by God itself. Miriam on the other hand wants to be the one to 'rescue' Eunice, but gets infected with Eunice's bloody mindedness instead. It is interesting to note that all events in the film are shown as a recollection by Miriam, from a detached perspective, talking to the camera. It was ingenious of the director to have shot Miriam's narration in black and white - this could either be Miriam giving testimony to authorities, or a cinematic depiction of Miriam reflecting on her own conscience - he lets us interpret it our own way. But there's a telling comment from Miriam to the camera when she talks about Eunice, "'s like the things she did, everyone wants to do them really... the difference is that she did it, you know... she wasn't scared."

Contrary to some perceptions, the film is not about lesbian love - that's merely coincidental - it is more about love and loss. Exceedingly well constructed with stunning albeit bleak cinematography, it is supported by an intelligent script, and an aptly chosen sound track mix that include the likes of Cranberries and Bjork. The screenplay and direction is flawless, and the actresses playing Eunice and Miriam - Amanda Pummer and Saskia Reeves respectively, fascinating. The American Ms. Plummer in particular gives a master-class in acting. This is also one of Michael Winterbottom's finest films, and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link (a good deal still going)

Compilation: Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves
Made from the best blog-related scenes, but I've also included some additional footage which you may also find interesting.

Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves in Butterfly Kiss

Scene Guide:
  • Miriam invites a homeless Eunice to her home, who quotes the Bible as she introduces herself to a shocked Miriam and her grandma.
  • The only erotic scene in the film where Eunice gives Miriam her first experience of sexual intimacy.
  • The following morning, Eunice shoots off with an unfortunate van driver, who gets unwittingly drawn into her web. Some extra footage.
  • Miriam catches up with Eunice and they get into their next victim's car - a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Eunice entices him with the prospect of a threesome, and they end up in a hotel room. Unpleasant scene towards the end.
  • Eunice asks Miriam to release her from her chains. Free at last.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Alejandra Grepi & co in "La Leyenda de la Doncella" [1994 Spain]

Juan Pinzás' fantasy thriller "La Leyenda de la Doncella" [Eng. Title: The Hornet] is set in a remote village in the Galician region of Spain, somewhere around the early part of the twentieth century when superstition was rife and village folk practised witchcraft, among other things.

The title alludes to dead people returning as hornets to their respective relatives' homes. Along with human sacrifices and love potions, this is a bizarre tale of two poor families treated more or less as slaves by their landlord, and his eventual comeuppance. The story is treated like a folk legend passed through generations, with tales within the tale, and as with many legends, containing portions that go into lurid detail. For me at least, this makes the story more authentic, as is likely to be told and retold at different stages. It is a fascinating story nevertheless, but could have been better without some sporadic continuity errors. It is still a decently made and interesting film. I remember paying a little fortune for this rare DVD a few years ago - now I don't even see it advertised. If you can find it, Recommended Viewing.

Compilation: Alejandra Grepi, Gloria Muñoz, Marcela Walerstein, and Anabel Alonso
The scenes were enhanced from my grainy letterboxed DVD, and the end result is marginally better.

Alejandra Grepi, Anabel Alonso, Gloria Muñoz and Marcela Walerstein in La Leyenda da la Doncella

Scene Guide:
  • Marcela is a chambermaid in Don Rosendo's mansion. Even though she's married, Marcela strives to please her landlord. She strips and awaits Rosendo's groping hands while her husband waits outside. Marcela is played by veteran actress Alejandra Grepi. She hasn't appeared in feature films for a while, but for those who wish to see a different Alejandra Grepi, several years younger, I have a Greek film on DVD which I hope to review afresh at a later date.
  • No nudity - Florinda is Rosendo's sister-in-law, and Rosendo doesn't seem to respect his own brother. Florinda is played by another veteran actress, Anabel Alonso. You'll see more of her here when I get to post an Almodovar film later on.
  • Claudina is the resident milkmaid. Rosendo, the nasty piece of work that he is, wouldn't let her as well work in peace in this unpleasant scene. Claudina is played by Gloria Muñoz. She puts up with him so that he would stay away from her daughter Rosalia.
  • Meanwhile young Rosalia is in love - in this scene, they sneak into the bedroom while their master's family and guests party downstairs. When they're disturbed they escape through the window, helped by a deaf-mute man - the so called village idiot, but who perhaps knows more than all the others. One of the party guests, a priest thinks it is the wine that's making him see things when he notices the naked couple climbing down the window. Rosalia is played by Marcela Walerstein.
  • No nudity - Rosendo rapes Rosalia in yet another unpleasant scene, an act for which he'd pay the ultimate price.
  • But for Rosalia, life goes on, she frolics with her beau in the woods, Adam and Eve style. A reality check happens when two Civil Guards on the look-out for a murderer bump into them.


Monday, 5 December 2011

Jannike Kruse in "En Ganske Snill Mann" [2010 Norway BR720]

I've only recently started to explore the work of award winning Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland. His simple yet beautiful film, "En Ganske Snill Mann" [Eng. Title: A Somewhat Gentle Man] is an exceptionally well written and directed work. It's great to see Scandinavian films retain their tradition of understated elegance despite a recent upsurge in action-oriented stuff from this part of the world.

This is a heart-warming drama of a middle-aged ex-convict trying what he could to settle into society after serving twelve years for murder. While the plot is not exactly new, the treatment, particularly the screenplay and characterisation is quite unique. You don't have idealised characters here - these are way too common people, not particularly attractive either, which enable us to pay closer attention to their humanity. High in irony, awkward moments, and dry humour, the film doesn't aim to say anything particularly deep apart from telling a story with heart and purpose. Special mention has to be made to Stellan Skarsgård who plays the protagonist Ulrik - a classy performance from a fine actor. This is a film you will never regret watching. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Scene: Jannike Kruse
In the only nude scene in the film, Ulrike is invited for dinner and later to bed by Merete, a colleague from work. Merete is played by Jannike Kruse.

Jannike Kruse in En Ganske Snill Mann Jannike Kruse in En Ganske Snill Mann Jannike Kruse in En Ganske Snill Mann Jannike Kruse in En Ganske Snill Mann


Saturday, 3 December 2011

Javiera Díaz de Valdés, Sigrid Alegría & co in "Sexo con Amor" [2003 Chile]

The fine Chilean actor-comedian Boris Quercia wrote and made his directorial feature film debut in "Sexo con Amor" [Eng. Title: Sex with Love]. Despite the subject (or because of it), it was a huge box-office hit in his otherwise conservative country.

It is as the title obviously suggests, about relationships and sexual mores seen from a Chilean point of view. But I couldn't help thinking it was perhaps trying too hard to stay within 'mainstream' acceptance - possibly not to offend catholic sensibilities. It turns out not be a cross examination of its society as such, merely stating various reasons for marital breakdown and holding a moral tone whilst perusing comedy liberally. Talking of which, the film is quite funny in places, and the performances of the actors as well as the script make some of the scenes positively hilarious. It may also be that as a foreigner, I could have missed out on some of the local nuances, but even without the intimate knowledge they're funny. The film weaves a story by using parents of some school children as subjects - their love lives, infidelities, and relationship issues. The performances by most of the key actors are very good even if they come from a largely TV background. The soundtrack is also pleasant, and the bevy of beautiful ladies are an added bonus. Needless to say, Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Link
This is a different edition to my DVD, so can't say if it is better or worse than my Region-1,4 copy. But this is the best priced item I could find at the time of posting. Mine however came with a 'Making of', some ubiquitous trailers, and a music video from the group 'Pettinellis' who did the title track (I've included it in the archive below).

Compilation 1: Sigrid Alegría, Catalina Guerra, Carolina Oliva, and Berta Lasala

Sigrid Alegría, Catalina Guerra, Carolina Oliva, and Berta Lasala in Sexo con Amor

Scene Guide:
  • School teacher Luisa is having an affair with Jorge, the dad of one of her pupils. After some unsatisfactory groping at a restaurant, they book a hotel room that appears to have a golden carousel en-suite. Whatever, their post-coital ride is cut-short when Luisa tells him she's pregnant - and that he's the father, apparently her fiancé always uses condoms. Luisa is played by 'chica-hermosa' Sigrid Alegría.
  • Luisa with her fiancé. He's obviously not aware she's pregnant as he diligently puts on a condom, which understandably puts off the naughty Luisa.
  • Álvaro is married, but fools around with any women who catch his eye. One of them Angélica, recently got dumped after becoming too clingy. She calls him after taking a cocktail of pills. Catalina Guerra, who plays Angélica, offers a brief tit-slip as she turns over.
  • Brief nudity, but quite sexy - it's Álvaro again, this time with a colleague at office, Eli. All goes well, until he gets distracted by a phone call and leaves poor Eli high and dry. He suspects his wife of having an affair with her best friend from work, and uses a contact to find the person's name. After knowing the name, he now wants to locate his address. Eli is played by 'mamacita-caliente' Carolina Oliva.
  • Another brief tit-slip as Álvaro seems unstoppable - this time with one of his wife's female friends from work, Patricia, asking her if he knows the guy. The visibly peeved Patricia is played by Berta Lasala.


Compilation 2: María Izquierdo and Javiera Díaz de Valdés

María Izquierdo and Javiera Díaz de Valdés in Sexo con Amor

Scene Guide:
  • This is also the funniest section of the film, that played by director Quercia himself, and María Izquierdo - both excellent actors, as husband-wife duo Emilio and Maca. Emilio hasn't had any 'action' for a while as wife Maca finds it extremely painful. She heeds a friend's advice and takes a warm bath when Emilio enters. She tries to cheer him up with some playing, but the desperate guy couldn't control himself. She tells him off for jumping into the bath wearing shoes, and asks him to mind her newly waxed floor on his way out.
  • No nudity, but funny - of Maca with a gynaecologist - he tells her what we could all figure out after watching the scene, that there's nothing really wrong with her vagina.
  • Niece Susan arrives from France on holiday. Emilio is surprised to see she'd grown into a stunning young woman - she'd had a crush on him as a teenager. Made from at least five 'very visual' scenes that requires little description. We see young Susan has matured into one delightful prick-tease of a lady. Susan is played by 'chilenita-guapa' Javiera Díaz de Valdés - she may not be a great actress, but manages to corrupt us all the same with that playful smile and dare I say, cute but perky bosoms..! ;-)