Friday, 28 December 2012

Mathilda May in "LIfeforce" [1985 United Kingdom]

Of course, this isn't news and it has nothing to do with the recently completed Mayan 'Baktun' - only MGM's 1980's attempt at adopting for film a sci-fi novel named The Space Vampires. While Tobe Hooper's offering, fresh from Poltergeist had to be taken with a large rock of salt, the film has nevertheless gained cult status and over the years inspired the likes of Species and others.

While it has some quaint touches and big names involved in its production, the film will most definitely be remembered for a nineteen year old French starlet making her film debut - the wholesome and breathtaking Mathilda May. At least they got that part of the casting right, although I'd have preferred to have seen Peter Cushing instead of Patrick Stewart as the director of the insane asylum. At least you get an idea of what we're talking about here - a sci-fi horror flick with vampires and zombies to boot.

A joint team of British and American astronauts aboard the space shuttle Churchill encounter an organic 150-mile long alien spacecraft as they approach to explore Haley's comet (their mission). Instead of minding their business, the crew venture into the craft and decide to kidnap three naked human-like aliens held in a state of suspended animation, one of which is the delectably well preserved Mathilda May. A burnt-out Churchill makes it back to earth's orbit sans the astronauts, but the three aliens still remain in rude albeit suspended health. They will be transported to earth, and eventually London thanks to the Americans' spare shuttle Columbia. It will eventually dawn on Whitehall that what they have in their hands is a full-blown alien invasion in the form of a naked woman spreading a contagion of vampiric tendencies among the populace of London by first converting them into zombies. Its up to a surviving American astronaut and a SAS officer to save London (and the world, naturally), which they do in true 1980's fashion.

Like I said, the film has to be taken with more than a pinch of salt, but if you get over the daftness of the plot and its dated special effects, there's some entertainment to be had, and of course, the well proportioned Mathilda May to feast your eyes on.


Amazon DVD Link
This is a bare-bones letterboxed DVD (PAL) with only the film's trailer counting among the extras. Heck - what more can you expect for the silly money it's selling for.


The Nudity: Mathilda May, and briefly Peter Firth
Most of the nudity happens at the beginning of the film, perhaps giving the impression that there is more nudity than there actually is. The film is also ridiculously coy with regard to male nudity even if there are twice the number of males among the invading aliens. And Mathilda May appears in full frontal glory for barely a few seconds. The rest is down to some clever editing that gives the impression that she's nude for the most part of the film.

Mathilda May in Lifeforce


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Scenes from "Viaje Redondo" [2009 Mexico]

Gerardo Tort's drama "Viaje Redondo" [Eng. Title: Round Trip] is another good looking 'road movie' from Mexico. I knew nothing about the film nor the director before I got to watch, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Two young women set off on separate journeys - Lucía, travelling by bus wants to make a fresh start far away from her native town, while Fernanda is driving on her own - she's about to be married in a few days but is now not sure if her present fiancé is the right one. They bump into each other at a service station while queueing for the toilet, and they end up arguing when Fernanda believes her wallet had been stolen. Soon Lucía finds herself stranded when her bus leaves without her, and an apologetic Fernanda (after realising she'd left the wallet in the car) offers to give Lucía a lift, since the next bus is not due for a while. Little did they know that they'll end up together for days, in the middle of nowhere after Fernanda's car breaks down. The girls are from contrasting backgrounds - Fernanda is wealthy, independent, into new-age stuff, and has choices in her life, where as hairdresser Lucía comes from an impoverished background with limited options, in addition to being a single mum. But circumstances force them to get along with each another, and appreciate the other even if neither would want to swap places.

This is a simple film, well written, decently directed, and ably performed by the two main actresses. The key to the film clicking is the on-screen chemistry between Teresa Ruiz and Cassandra Ciangherotti who play Lucía and Fernanda respectively. The film's soundtrack is also quite pleasant with its choice of Cumbia tracks. It is altogether an enjoyable film, and therefore, Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Cassandra Ciangherotti and Teresa Ruiz
There are two scenes of nudity; the second is the longest, involving Cassandra Ciangherotti and Teresa Ruiz - both cute actresses, playing Fernanda and Lucía respectively.

Cassandra Ciangherotti and Teresa Ruiz in Viaje Redondo

Scene Guide:
  • A flashback scene to highlight Fernanda's unsatisfactory sex life. Played by a cute Cassandra Ciangherotti who I'd seen only in her debut film until now.
  • This is a long scene of Fernanda and Lucía bonding while staying in a hotel room. Lucía is played by the talented and pretty Teresa Ruiz. Fernanda encourages Lucía to loosen up, but is also attracted to her. A reluctant Lucía initially fears Fernanda might be lesbian, but is told not to worry! Happy Christmas! :)

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Eleonora Giorgi in "Disposta a Tutto" [1977 Italy]


It is that time of the year - to let your hair down and 'go with the flow' at office parties and so on. Of course, parties are not what they used to be like in the good ol' days; understandable, when people are weary and worried about being laid off come new year. To cheer ourselves up a bit, let's look back at the golden era of Italian beauties in cinema - the erotic 70's - one that has never been and will probably never be paralleled anywhere again. Seldom have so many stunning actresses worked in cinema at any given time, all of them ready and willing to drop their knickers for camera, on demand. Agostina Belli, Ornella Muti, Laura Antonelli, Leonora Fani, Eleonora Giorgi, Gloria Guida, Jenny Tamburi - I'm only beginning to scratch the surface here - the list goes on...

What's more - given a chance, these beauties could even act. Take Eleonora Giorgi for instance - it is plain to see that she thoroughly loves acting, even if her roles never quite got around to taxing the thespian in her apart from the cursory Dario Argento-scream or the drop-of-a-hat lip-pouting. She does pout her lips very well though! Shame this definitive feminine sexual signal can only be seen flashed by drag queens and burlesque artists these days. No wonder young men are one confused lot!

Eleonora Gorgeous nevertheless pouts her lips salubriously in Giorgio Stegani's "Disposta a Tutto" [Eng. Title: Ready for Anything], a film whose negatives should otherwise have been safely recycled, for the storyline itself is a hotchpotch of random films from the era - it's as if the film makers decided to insert whatever themes and motifs that caught their attention. I will not bother with a synopsis as that would mean giving the film more credit than it is due. However, Ms. Giorgi makes her lip-pouting presence keenly felt throughout the film, sometimes in various stages of undress, and it is only for her that this film is even worth a look-in. DVD Link
I've had this DVD in its shrink-wrap for several years, and in a way I'm kinda glad to have finally unwrapped it. The Nocturno DVD is a good quality remastered transfer, even if the colours are a bit inconsistent in some scenes - they were probably previously chopped-off bits that found their way into the DVD. There's however no English subtitles in it, so if you're after the story rather than Ms. Giorgi, you'd better brush up on your Italian first.


The Nudity: Eleonora Giorgi and others
Rest assured the film features Eleonora Giorgi's various charms in frequent full-frontal glory - she plays Anna, a teenage stenography-student having an affair with Marco (Bekim Fehmiu), a clueless married man with a vaguely misogynist attitude.

Eleonora Giorgi in Disposta a Tutto

Scene Guide:
  • Anna tries to prove that she's willing to do 'anything' for her beloved philandering Marco, including some crude breast augmentation, mercifully stopped midway.
  • Followed by some 'symbolic' rose bush embracing and mud smearing (the scene that prompted me into purchasing the DVD in the first place).
  • Anna and Marco making love
  • Marco asks Anna to prostitute herself to prove her love (for him), and in the scene she narrates an incident with a bloke in the car. When he demands to see how much she was paid, he discovers that she's made the story up after recognising the bill she shows - it was the one he gave her not too long ago, with his bank cashier's initials on it.
  • Anna hints on a commitment and perhaps a baby. Marco listens to her with disinterest, but keeps playing with her pubic hair (Oh I love the 70's)
  • Anna's nosy neighbour and cousin interrupts their argument by knocking on the door and asking to borrow some sugar.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Scenes from Ulrich Seidl's Paradies: Liebe 2012

There's something about Austrian directors and their fetishistic delight in dissecting human nature - to tear open layers of our civilised behaviour and scoop out the primeval muck. I'm clearly referring to Ulrich Seidl and his more celebrated compatriot Michael Haneke here. Both are renowned for their uncompromising observations, but unlike Haneke who uses nuanced language, Seidl can be quite in-your-face, unflinchingly gazing at his characters' (and our) every discomfort, twitch, and grimace. "Paradies: Liebe" [Eng. Title: Paradise: Love] is the first in Ulrich Seidl's ambitious trilogy focusing on the concept of paradise; the others being Paradise: Faith (out this Christmas), and Paradise: Hope (2013).

Teresa, a single Austrian mother approaching fifty, arrives in Kenya on vacation. We are soon privy to the fact that one of the main attractions there for overweight middle-aged ladies like Teresa are the young native men loitering near the resort, at first trying to sell them needless trinkets, but something altogether more tempting should the tourists wish, all for a price that isn't as straightforward as back home. Egged-on by her Austrian friends, Teresa embarks on her own quest for 'paradise', which for her is 'unconditional love' - something that she couldn't find in her own country. But while we may be forgiven for thinking that she's exploiting the natives, the men who court her have different ideas - and there will be a symbiosis of sorts in their mutual exploitation.

Provocative as ever, Seidl challenges his viewers with various motifs that not only confound stereotypes, but also explores the dynamics of trade-offs in our quest for happiness. The idea that people who don't conform to archetypal standards of beauty are still sexual beings and will go to great lengths for find fulfilment is illustrated frankly, albeit with a thick air of poignancy. He forces the viewer to accept their imperfections in the same way the protagonist has, and tellingly, starts the film with a long scene where Teresa is enthusiastically supervising a group of adults with downs syndrome at a play area in Vienna. Teresa on more than once occasion admits as such that she is way past her prime, but that doesn't stop her from seeking whatever is missing in her life.

Technically, the film is as accomplished as his previous films like Hundstage and Import/Export. The cinematography is distinctly shot in the style of a documentary - chronicling events rather than intruding. The film also features prolonged scenes of explicit nudity, both male and female, and they're not of the titillating kind - more of the embarrassingly frank. Margarete Tiesel gives it her all with total conviction playing the lead character of Teresa. Most of the scenes in the film were shot without a script, and hence the dialogues are candid, helped by the fact that Ms. Tiesel's male co-stars are locals who're non-actors. This is another gem of a film from Ulrich Seidl, and I can't wait to see the remaining part of his trilogy. Highly Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Margarete Tiesel, Inge Maux, Peter Kazungu, and others
As noted above, the film features several frank and explicit scenes of nudity and sex from both female and male actors, even more so the latter.

Margarete Tiesel and others in Paradies: Liebe

Monday, 17 December 2012

Miriam Kantorková in "Romance pro Kridlovku" [1966 Czechoslovakia]

Otakar Vávra is widely considered the father of Czech cinema, with a career spanning the best part of the twentieth century and a bit, including some of the most turbulent years in the country's history. But his most famous work is his 1966 drama "Romance pro kridlovku" [Eng. Title: Romance for Bugle], a  liberal period in Czechoslovakia that also led to the Prague Spring. The film is based on an epic poem by Frantisek Hrubin, who also worked on the screenplay.

Most of the film is told through flashback as Vojta, a middle aged teacher back in his village after many years, recognises a bugler at the bar. They get talking until he enquires about Terina, a fairground girl with whom he'd fallen deeply in love as a youth during school holidays many decades ago. The film takes us back to that summer, their romance in between his duties tending to an ailing grandfather, and his persistent rivalry with the bugler for Terina's affections.


The film is a charming, bitter-sweet romance told with an air of nostalgia while also reminding us of their reality, including class divisions. Beautifully shot with some amazing visuals, it is one of those films that stick with you long after you've put the DVD away. Needless to say, this black and white gem is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Miriam Kantorková
There is a special scene where Tonka, a slightly older local lass, beckons Vojta to the spot in the river where she's bathing. After trying not to notice her at first, the boy gives in, and leaves his grandfather to join Tonka for some fun and frolic. The woman is played by a voluptuous Miriam Kantorková.

Miriam Kantorková and Vera Crháková in Romance pro Kridlovku


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta in "Tabu" [2012 Portugal]

Rest assured, a lot of us will get to hear about one Miguel Gomes in coming years - an impressive and insightful young director from Portugal. I say so, despite having seen only the latest of his three features to date, "Tabu".

Distinctly separated into two parts, the first part "Paradise Lost" relates to Pilar, a middle aged woman in contemporary Lisbon (played by Teresa Madruga) worrying about failing mental health of her eccentric neighbour, the elderly Aurora (Laura Soveral). Aurora is already cared for by Santa (Isabel Cardoso), a black woman who she despicably keeps addressing as a witch. When Aurora's health deteriorates further and is admitted to hospital, she requests Pilar to find a person she had never heard mentioned before, a certain Gian Luca Ventura. But Pilar could locate and bring him along only to Aurora's funeral, after which Ventura (played by Henrique Espirito Santo) opens up to his story from fifty-odd years ago in colonial Africa, voiced over by the director sans dialogues in the second part, titled "Paradise".
We witness Ventura's (Carloto Cotta) passionate affair with a young but already married Aurora (Ana Moreira) in the foothills of Mount Tabu, Mozambique. To complicate matters, Aurora is already pregnant through her husband. But not only do they throw caution to the wind in pursuit of their affair, they also fall in love, and even attempt to elope. But the affair had to end abruptly, despite their mutual love. They will neither see nor hear from each other after that day...

That's the outward love story. Hidden within this pure and simple screenplay are nevertheless allegorical layers that are political, social, and philosophical, which intimately relates to Portugal and its colonial history itself. You may want to catch some of this in Gomes' own words from an interview HERE. The cinematography by Rui Poças is magnificent, and what's more, it is gloriously captured in good-ol' black and white film (how wonderful to watch the Kodak MPF logo roll past in a new film's credits), and in full frame too. Both the parts are yet distinctive in their various moods and I suspect, even film stock used; while the first part adds an air of melancholy with its dark grey tones, the second is markedly overexposed to recreate a youthful, 'sunnier' part of the protagonists' lives. The screenplay is very effective, and the script for the African segment was written directly while editing the shot footage. The film has virtues I haven't even touched upon, like the main cast's totally brilliant performances, perhaps the aforementioned interview with the director is worth checking out. Needless to say, this superb little gem is definitely Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link



The Nudity: Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta
There's just a single instance of nudity from Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta during a sex scene, playing the characters of young Aurora and Ventura respectively.

Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta are impressive as forbidden lovers in Tabu


Monday, 10 December 2012

Marina de Van & others in "Sitcom" [1998 France]

François Ozon is no stranger when it comes to pushing the envelope, and watching his comedy "Sitcom" on TV for the very first time had me cringing in my seat. This is black comedy of the darkest kind where nothing is taboo - the shock is in the way in which it is depicted with utter glee.

François Ozon:
He belongs to an exclusive group of equally talented and successful directors working in French cinema today. His films have a definitive style and are generally known for their satirical wit, sexual themes, and grotesque characterisations. Despite their art cinema credentials, his films do well commercially. I hope to write more about him as I review some of his other films here, including some shorts made early in his career.

A model upper-crust family in suburban Paris - father, mother, a grown up daughter, and son. It all starts when dad brings home a pet rat as present for the family. Mum hates it straightaway, but the kids don't mind. Things however begin to change for everyone who comes in close contact with the rat. The son announces that he's now a homosexual, and starts inviting strangers into his room for God knows what. He also begins an affair with the maid's husband who had also been bitten by the rat. The daughter decides to throw herself out of the window; she survives but is now paralysed waist-down. She also appears to have acquired a taste for sadomasochism, and the poor boyfriend will now be her frequent slave. The mother, distraught at her son's change of sexual preference decides to 'cure' his homosexuality by showing him what he's missing, and the siblings talk about trying it out with their father next. At a retreat, it dawns on the mother that the root cause of all the problems in the family is the rat, and instructs the dad to get rid of it. Well, he does, but with unforeseen consequences...

The farcical comedy is only François Ozon's second feature film, but his genius for naughtiness clearly shows through with the outrageous satire of familial values that he manages to create - the rat is merely thrown in as a red herring. But this film is above all, a comedy, a twisted and at times kinky one at that. It has none of the seriousness that Pier Paolo Pasolini attached to an earlier classic Teorama - both these films have themes in common. The bright interiors and shiny people poke fun at American-style TV sitcom culture, the dialogues are replete with base humour delivered in the most straight-faced manner, and the performance by all the main cast is truly impressive, particularly Évelyne Dandry who plays the mother, and a young Marina de Van who plays the daughter. Rest assured, we'll see a lot more from this talented director and actress in the blog. Needless to say, this hysterical black comedy is Highly Recommended 'Adult' Viewing..! DVD Link


The Nudity: Marina de Van, Lucia Sanchez, and Adrien de Van
There is only brief nudity shown in passing scenes, but it is more than made up for in the jaw-dropping events they actually depict.

Marina de Van, Lucia Sanchez, Évelyne Dandry, and Adrien de Van in Sitcom

Scene Guide:
  • The daughter and boyfriend do not seem to care that the mother is present. The daughter is played by a young and dishy Marina de Van, and her hunk of a boyfriend by Stéphane Rideau.
  • Borderline scene of the pet rat getting to know the daughter a bit too intimately. :)
  • The maid seems to want the daughter's boyfriend too, and offers to give him a 'Spanish' treat, which is promptly captured on Polaroid by the angry daughter. That's a prosthetic penis, if you're in doubt. The saucy maid is played by Lucia Sanchez.
  • Mummy wants to 'cure' the son of homosexuality through a bit of 'love'. The son is shocked but doesn't seem to mind. The mother is played by Évelyne Dandry.
  • Siblings in the bath together- she enquires how it felt with mum, he seemed to think it wasn't too bad. She then suggests if she should try the same with their dad as well. The son is played by Marina's real-life brother, Adrien de Van.
  • Trust me, this scene is not a spoiler - the dad fondles an apparently inanimate maid.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Nutsa Kukhianidze and Amaliya Mordvinova in "27 Missing Kisses" [2000 Georgia, UK, Germany, France]

Who wouldn't feel nostalgic watching films about adolescent romances! Director Nana Givievna Dzhordzhadze (credited as Nana Djordjadze) obliges with a drama about a coming-of-age summertime romance set in Soviet-era Georgia, "27 Dakarguli Kotsna" [Eng. Title: 27 Missing Kisses]. The film is also poetic, in a Shakespearian way.

Mickey reminisces his summer of '73 when a girl his own age, fourteen, arrives at his home-town after traversing a live artillery range and ducking close-landing shells. Sibylla had come to spend summer with her aunt, and Mickey instantly falls in love with her. But he's up against a formidable love-rival in the form of his dad, forty one, widower, astronomer, ladies-man, and local heartthrob - Sibylla has had a crush on his father Alexander the moment she set eyes on him. She'd also stepped into a town that's already a cauldron of passion, with every other married man and woman having running affairs of some kind. And there's particular competition among womenfolk for Alexander's affections, one that he's only too willing to share, except for Sibylla whom he diligently sets aside for son Mickey. Nevertheless, rough winds do shake the young ones, and Mickey's allowance of hundred kisses over the summer with Sibylla will fall twenty seven short...

The film strives to be light-hearted and it succeeds most of the time, but there are elements, typical of Eastern European cinema, that constantly threaten to veer this towards darker territory - one of them being Sibylla's exceptional maturity for her age, yet earning for her dead father, and her fascination for someone much older than her. One is also not sure if the rampant promiscuity among the townsfolk (and even among their dead grandparents) is meant as a critique or merely a comedic device. It has several off-beat characterisations too, like the sailor towing his tugboat through town looking for a new sea in which to sail - his sea had apparently disappeared. The film as a whole is richly sensual, poetic, and charming. A sixteen year old Nutsa Kukhianidze (credited as Nuza Kukhianidze) plays Sibylla, her character's disarming candour coupled with her cute looks steal our heart from the outset. Other likeable characters such as Shalva Iashvili who plays young Mickey, and Amaliya Mordvinova who plays the promiscuous Veronica keep us engaged and entertained. Recommended Viewing.

Amazon DVD Link

The Nudity: Nutsa Kukhianidze and Amaliya Mordvinova
As can be expected from such a storyline, the film features several noteworthy scenes of nudity from Nutsa Kukhianidze who plays Sibylla and Amaliya Mordvinova who plays Veronica, a woman having flings with practically every man in town right under the nose of her jealous but inept husband.

Nutsa Kukhianidze and Amaliya Mordvinova in 27 Stolen Kisses

Scene Guide:
  • A newly arrived Sibylla bathing at her aunt's - she permits young Mickey the pleasure of looking at princess Sibylla from behind the curtain, while being washed by aunt. Sibylla is played by the incredibly cute and pretty Nutsa Kukhianidze.
  • No nudity - a sleepless Sibylla goes into the night looking for Mickey's dad Alexander, wearing a barely concealing nightdress.
  • No nudity - Veronica rehearses for a ballet performance - played by sultry redhead Amaliya Mordvinova.
  • Sibylla confesses her love to Alexander, upon which a jealous Mickey chases her into the bathroom demanding an explanation, and in the process causing her white top to get all wet. She unbuttons her shirt to dry them faster, and duly catches the eye of Alexander and one of the women.
  • As one can see, everyone wants to get their hands on Veronica, even when she's with her husband and mother at a cinema. They'd all gathered to watch the current erotic sensation "Emmanuelle".
  • Sibylla gives a show of her own from behind the screen after the audience leave. :-)
  • Veronica with one of her exceptionally endowed admirers. Later she gets punished by her mum while the drunk husband sits and watches.
  • No nudity - Mickey adding to his tally of kisses while Sibylla plucks away leeches he'd stuck on himself. She admits she should be the one that requires leeching.
  • Veronica entices Alexander into a corner of the woods during a picnic...
  • No nudity - Sibylla wants Alexander only for herself - she gets told off after interrupting one of his sexual encounters.
  • More tedious Tom and Jerry-like antics as Veronica's husband catches her with another man (again), and tries vainly to blow them apart.
  • Sibylla sneaks into Alexander's bed, hoping to win him over by sacrificing her virginity, and she gets told off yet again. Mickey catches her on her way out of his dad's room.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Dolores Fonzi in "El Campo" [2011 Argentina]

Hernán Belón makes his feature film debut through "El Campo" [Eng. Title: In the Open], an understated drama concerning a couples' commitment to their marriage in contemporary Argentina.

City couple Santiago and Elisa move to the countryside with their toddler Mathilda - the move was Santiago's cherished dream. They are in love, and Elisa readily agrees to Santiago's proposal of relocation. But while Santiago is enjoying the transition and enthusiastically adapting to life in the country, the change in environment takes Elisa out of her comfort zone, which will challenge their hitherto solid relationship...

The austere, simple but elegant film is largely a character study of two individuals, their marriage, and family. It is also about communication and adaptation for the sake of a larger good. I'm not sure to what extent director Belón's efforts in creating a seemingly spooky or alien atmosphere really helps the narrative, but Dolores Fonzi and Leonardo Sbaraglia look good together in the film, and it is their chemistry and refined performance as Elisa and Santiago respectively that propels the drama. It is for that reason that this is Recommended Viewing.


The Nudity: Dolores Fonzi and Leonardo Sbaraglia
They're brief scenes that happen during some sex scenes - nothing explicit, but passionate all the same.

Dolores Fonzi and Leonardo Sbaraglia in El Campo


Sunday, 25 November 2012

"Dillinger is Dead", but Alienation, Never as Alive [1969 Italy]

Marco Ferreri, the beguiling and provocative anarchist of Italian cinema, is also one of the most original and philosophical film makers that his country has ever produced. He could be defined as a direct legacy to Italian Neorealism. While his works, like contemporaries Antonioni, Pasolini, and Fellini, are loaded with social satire and commentary, Ferreri was undoubtedly the more aggressive of the lot in challenging the status quo, be it left wing or right wing politics, modernism or traditionalism, and orthodoxy or secularism - his films will pick on practically anyone and everyone, using absurd, outrageous, and often morbid humour. Having said that, it was Ferreri's fascination for Antonioni's work that got him into film making. He was a producer before becoming a director - even helping produce Antonioni's first feature film. Of course, Ferreri is a genius in his own right and has left us a great body of unforgettable work that the world of cinema would be much poorer without. His most famous and notorious film is nevertheless "La Grande Bouffe", but I'll touch on that at a later time.

Among the various things I admire in Marco Ferreri is his extraordinary flair when it came to set detail - little things, like props, design and lighting, his compositions, and the way in which he uses them. They become embedded within the film's memory, and return to haunt you every time you remember it. Take for instance one such prop that makes an ominous appearance in what many like me consider to be Ferreri's finest masterpiece, "Dillinger è Morto" [Eng. Title: Dillinger is Dead], which will also be the first of a life-long collaboration with one of the greatest actors in European cinema, Michel Piccoli.

Glauco is an industrial designer, but has fallen out of love for his profession designing gas masks for a high-tech company. He returns home late one evening, only to be invited by a cold dinner on the table and a sleepy wife who wants to be left alone. Sleepless and bored, Glauco cooks for himself a gourmet meal, and starts to rummage in his cellar, until he discovers to his delight a rusty pistol wrapped up in an old issue of Chicago Times Tribune. "Clear up Dillinger Mystery", the headline shrieks. He proceeds to clean and also restore the gun to working order, most of which is filmed in real-time. He even playfully paints it red and applies white polka dots. In between, he goes upstairs to seduce live-in maid Sabine. But the gun, brought back to life, has only one purpose - to be used. And used it shall be in the most illogical of circumstances...

To describe the film as steeped in symbolism with different layers of interpretation is stating the obvious. What will not be obvious for many younger viewers however is the political climate under which the film was made. The year of 1968 is looked upon by some in Europe as a year of revolution - marked by numerous protests involving youth, workers, and poltical activists of various hues, for different reasons. This film is Ferreri's own expression of disillusionment and anger at the manner in which the world subsequently  returned to status-quo. It talks of its disillusionment without as much as uttering a word - there is very little dialogue in the film as we watch, transfixed, an insomniac keeping himself busy through the night with a child-like demeanour, and indulging in violence with hardly any emotion or hesitation - it's a message nothing short of a war-cry. But, this is also a film that is made with oodles of wit and charm, and some of the scenes are positively hilarious. It is the most lively cinematic interpretation of disillusionment and alienation that I could think of. The title, as you may have guessed, not only alludes to the death of the eponymous criminal in the old newspaper article, but also of Glauco's machismo.

As for the meticulous production itself, this is Ferreri at his very best. His decision to cast Michel Piccoli in the lead character role, and who appears in almost every frame of the film, must surely be a master stroke - Piccoli is brilliant throughout and never disappoints. I feel the character he plays here may have even inspired a later film, Themroc. Of the two ladies in the film, Annie Girardot was already a renowned actress in France - she plays the banal housemaid Sabine, while the sleepy wife is played by a little known Anita Pallenberg - we'll nevertheless see more of her in a Nicolas Roeg film that would come out the following year (Performance), which I too shall revisit pretty soon. The soundtrack is thoughtfully put together by Ferreri-regular Teo Usuelli. This, combined with the masterful editing completes Ferreri's vision in making what is arguably his finest film. Needless to say, this classic is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


Amazon NTSC DVD Link

About the Criterion DVD:
This is a gem of a release from Criterion, for it not only contains a beautifully restored print of the film, but also some priceless extras like interviews with Michel Piccoli, and the insightful film historian Adriano Aprà. There is also an essay booklet accompanying the DVD. Another reason to own this DVD is the sumptuous cover art - I don't normally write about these, but this one is exceptionally well designed and worthy of mention.


The Nudity: Anita Pallenberg, Annie Girardot, and Carla Petrillo
The film features some elegant nudity, tame by today's standards, but sensuous all the same. They are also naughty and funny.

Anita Pallenberg and Annie Girardot in Dillinger è Morto

Scene Guide:
  • Ginette is too tired and wants to let her be for the night. She asks hubby Glauco for  sleeping pills and her hot water bottle. Dozy Ginette is played by a yet-to-be-widely-known Annete Pallenberg.
  • A bored Glauco passes by live-in maid Sabine's room to catch her dancing in a bodystocking to her favourite Dino pop-tune. Sabine is played by veteran French actress Annie Girardot. Nice..! :-)
  • A brief montage of home camera footage captured by Glauco features a sexy woman, a family friend and possible mistress of Glauco (it is not made clear in the film), and I presume the mysterious lady is played by Carla Petrillo.
  • Glauco, bored still, goes back to his room to play with his (aherm!) pet snake, and sleeping wife Ginette.
  • A frustrated Glauco bribes Sabine for some action, but after some 'sweet moments', she too is feeling tired! :-)


Friday, 23 November 2012

Juana Acosta and others in "A Golpes" [2005 Spain]

I haven't seen other films by Juan Vicente Córdoba, but if any of them were in the same league as his 2005 drama, "A Golpes" [Eng. Title: By Force], I wouldn't be surprised. This is about suburban gangs - male and female, trying to raise themselves out of poverty through crime, with an aim to use its proceeds to chase their respective dreams.

I'll spare you the storyline - let's say it is a drama centred around five young women - friends, their love lives, their squabbles, and one of the women's quest for boxing glory. Assorted characters are inserted along the way to propel their story, and everyone's fate is sorted out quite neatly and predictably towards the end.

I watched this film again, hoping to find something worthwhile to write about for my second review, but apart from the performance of Natalia Verbeke who plays aspiring boxer María 'Coco' Gómez, there is very little that could keep me involved in the film, and even the smattering of nudity and sex scenes fail to raise this above mediocrity. This, I'm afraid is one of those rather forgettable films occasionally churned out from Spain.

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Natalia Verbeke, Daniel Guzmán, Juana Acosta, Bárbara Pérez de Lema, Susana Martin, and María Reyes Arias

Natalia Verbeke, Daniel Guzmán, Juana Acosta, Bárbara Pérez de Lema, Susana Martin, and María Reyes Arias in A Golpes

Scene Guide:
  • There is no nudity from Natalia Verbeke save a brief distant upskirt, but she gives a decent enough performance and it would be a shame not to include her in the compilation. Here, her character María cuddles-up to one-time boyfriend and fellow boxer Fran in the car before he embarks on a ram-raid - all in a day's work.
  • With police hot on his heels, Fran persuades María's friend to pretend she's his lover. But Juanita seems to resist Fran's moves only briefly. Once the police leave, they decide to 'jump in' for a full-on sex session. Fran is played by a hands-on Daniel Guzmán, and Juanita, by a rather enthusiastic Juana Acosta.
  • Fran and Juanita move into his parent's house. Here, she tries to persuade him to find them a place of their own.
  • Fran's younger brother is shaping up as a gangster already - he wants to try out some curb-crawling girls (or even transsexuals) after being promised a blow-job. The girls are played by Bárbara Pérez de Lema, and Susana Martin. Sorry - not sure which one has her tits out though.
  • Lola, one among the five all-girl friends, starts dating María's coach Mariano. Lola is played by María Reyes Arias.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Nellie Benner in "Vlees" [2010 Netherlands]

From what I've seen so far, films by Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth are largely hit-and-miss, and experimental. Their more recent film however, the suggestively titled "Vlees" [Eng. Title: Meat] makes a sincere attempt to work with a structured screenplay, and sets up a very original drama if one can care to pay close attention to it.

Made up of two halves and told in parallel narrative, we follow two middle-aged characters - a butcher, and a police detective, with strikingly similar features (played by the same actor Titus Muizelaar). While the detective wants to end his relationship with girlfriend Sonja, the married butcher is seen trying to seduce nubile shop assistant Roxy, while his wife Tinie, also an employee, openly has sexual relations with the shop's owner - both the protagonists are going through a crisis of some sort. The butcher is found dead one morning, and the suspicion falls on Roxy, who was the last one seen with him the night before - yes, the butcher succeeds in his seduction efforts in one of the memorable scenes of the film. Roxy's case isn't helped by the fact that she and her erstwhile boyfriend are also part of a militant group against the killing of animals. And she has a habit of capturing things on her video camera, like prying on the butcher.

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a psychological drama about revenge, guilt, and redemption. To be honest, it required more than a viewing for me to make sense of the numerous seemingly pointless scenes and plot devices. This is partly because some of the scenes are purely imagined, portraying a character's frame of mind, and not all of them use conventional cinematic language to separate reality from fantasy. I won't bother analysing them here, but it will help if you consider certain facts. The butcher's state of mind - his passive reaction in seeing his wife routinely taken upstairs for sex by their boss. And for all the promise of giving Roxy the orgasm of her life, the sex that the butcher ends up having with her is hurried, unimaginative, and totally selfish. Why does the detective cut his hair to make himself look like the dead butcher. What does Roxy see in the butcher that keeps her approaching him despite his tasteless remarks. Her relationship with her Turkish boyfriend appears one-sided. She willingly accompanies boys at the night club in almost total abandon. She also doesn't seem to care too much about her alleged beliefs vis-à-vis animal cruelty, eating a live bug as breakfast in one scene. And not least the detective who is told that he's been taken off the case and investigated for manslaughter.

To summarise, there's a lot going on in the film that paints a more complex picture than a sordid murder mystery or a study in sexual depravity. It may contain several unpleasant scenes like urination, rape, and close-ups of raw meat and naked human flesh, but it is a surprisingly original story that can be interpreted in different ways. The performances by the main cast are very good, particularly Titus Muizelaar who plays both the butcher and the detective. And the incredibly beautiful Nellie Benner as the passive, sensual, and wanton Roxy makes her altogether vulnerable character disturbingly erotic. With competent cinematography, writing, and editing, this film is well produced, and a very worthy exercise on the whole - Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link
English Subtitle


The Nudity:
As the title would suggest, the film features intermittent scenes of nudity, acts of sex, and sexual fetish throughout. Mercifully, it is made bearable by the extremely easy on the eye Nellie Benners, who plays the character of Roxy. Titus Muizelaar as the butcher/detective also appears in the nude - quite bold of him to do so, and there is some brief nudity from Wilma Bakker who plays the butcher's wife Tinie.

Wilma Bakker and Nellie Benner in Vlees aka Meat

Scene Guide:
  • Husband and wife intimacy during work - the butcher is invited into the meat vault by wife Tinie, which is watched and filmed by shop assistant Roxy. The butcher is played by Titus Muizelaar, and Tinie by Wilma Bakker.
  • No nudity - but a very interesting scene - of the butcher 'seducing' Roxy in the coarsest manner imaginable (if you really need to know, much of the talk is about his skill in getting little girls wet), but rather than avoiding him, she keeps getting in his way, almost wanting to hear his unromantic words - theirs is a different relationship for sure. Roxy is played by the gorgeous Nellie Benner. She appears more mature and sensual here than her earlier outing with the same directors in Crepuscule, I have the DVD for that film as well, and will write about it on another occasion.
  • After a party, Roxy follows the butcher into the showers, and we're witness to some grotesque, non-erotic sex between the two. This is followed by Roxy urinating on the butcher while filming him. It doesn't appear as though he expected her to do that, but he takes the second shower with passivity regardless..! :)
  • After this encounter, Roxy heads to a night club where she's predictably approached by a group of guys who take her on a car ride. Disturbingly, these scenes of groping must be the most titillating in the entire film - partly because we see Roxy more or less enjoying all the attention. She is braless and knickerless, and doesn't seem too eager to protect her modesty either.
  • It culminates in an 'ambiguous' rape scene after the guys pin Roxy to the ground and spread her legs.
  • A brief scene of Roxy in the bath...
  • Roxy filming her sleeping boyfriend. He wakes up and proceeds to have rough sex with her after some tender words. When she later asks him if he loves her, he doesn't respond. The scene is truncated as I found some parts unnecessary.
  • The detective (with a new haircut, but very little else) lies on top of the crime scene markings to slash himself while Roxy watches. I won't give away too much information - merely pointing out that this an imagined scene.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Juliana Schalch and Sophia Reis in "Os 3" [2011 Brazil]

Nando Olival's drama, "Os 3" [Eng. Title: We Three] tries to unravel the world of reality TV by creating an interesting pretext - of three university friends inventing a way to stay together after their studies have completed.

Newly joined undergraduates Cazé, Rafael, and Camila connect during a party, and decide to live as flatmates from then on at Cazé's apartment. They soon become firm friends, doing everything together - and even being referred to as 'those three' at college. Although Camila had suggested at the beginning that their friendship should remain strictly platonic, she ends up sleeping with Cazé, which is resented by Rafael - for he too loves Camila. But he continues to live with them. They present a concept for an online reality show as part of their course work, where inmates would be asked to use branded goods, which in turn could be interactively purchased by its viewers. An inspired faculty member suggests the three should do the show themselves, for a fee. They accept, because it gives them the opportunity to continue to live together rather than dispersing after their university course finishes. They are encouraged by producers to invent drama in order to make the show more engaging, but as the ratings sky rocket, the task of playing to the cameras a farcical 'love triangle' becomes mixed up with their own true feelings for one another. It soon becomes evident that their relationship will not be the same if one among the three is removed from the equation.

This is an interesting concept, but I couldn't help feeling that love triangles have been dealt with in European cinema even more boldly and effectively (starting from Truffaut's Jules et Jim, to Cordier's more complex Douches Froides). I believe Olival may have watered down their human drama to suit Brazilian sensibilities, but in the process may have sacrificed its sincerity. There are additional characters thrown into the triumvirate's midst that doesn't go anywhere either. I loved the soundtrack, the characterisation isn't too bad, but I haven't been exactly bowled over by the cinematography and shot selection. On the whole, it is an average drama, for an average audience.

DVD Purchase Link


The Nudity: Juliana Schalch and Sophia Reis
The film features brief scenes of nudity from Juliana Schalch who plays Camila, and Sophia Reis who plays Camila's 'visiting' cousin Barbara. There is no male nudity.

Juliana Schalch and Sophia Reis in Os 3

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity - After moving into Cazé's apartment, Camila makes a rule that they shouldn't have sexual relations with one another whilst living together. Camila is played by Juliana Schalch.
  • No nudity - cameras plugged in throughout the flat, the three have been asked to participate in a show that they initially conceived. A spontaneous party becomes a hit with viewers, as it creates the impression of them in a triangular love-relationship.
  • Rafael gets out of the 'threesome' bed every night after the lights go out. Away from prying cameras, in the stairway, he's invited for sex by Camila's visiting cousin Barbara, played by Sophia Reis.
  • Camila has an argument with Cazé and moves into Rafael's hotel room (he'd already left the apartment). And things happen between the two...


Monday, 12 November 2012

Carla Crespo and Julia Martínez Rubio in "Castro" [2009 Argentina]

Film professor Alejo Moguillansky is among the more interesting contemporary directors making films in Argentina today. His frenetic drama "Castro" appears to be an exercise in slapstick nihilism with its protagonist caught in an existential trap.

Castro has separated from wife Rebeca - he's now in love with Celia, but his idea of turning a new page in life doesn't seem to be happening, because he is being chased by his past, literally, in the form of his wife, and two men, one of whom is her new lover Willie, and the other, specifically hired to track down Castro. A good portion of the film is consumed in this palpably ineffectual chase through the streets and trains of Buenos Aires. Celia loves Castro, but she also wants him to find himself a job. And that's his biggest problem, because he feels it's his idleness that is allowing them to stay as a couple. "I have you, my head, and my body. If I get a job, one or more of the three would disappear". He adds, "to earn a living, is to waste one's life". But he does find a job, or more accurately, a job finds him. One which seemingly involves a lot more purposeless 'running'. As only expected, Castro quits the job in disgust during the final minutes of the film, whose climatic finale will also leave us perplexed.

Perhaps, a more descriptive title for the film could have been "Corre, Castro, corre". Castro is metaphorically running away from things that most of us find necessary in order to live 'normal' lives, because he thinks that would be an ignorance-filled, catatonic existence. Loosely based on Irish author Samuel Beckett's satirical novel "Murphy", the film is set in a frantic environment, and we see people running even when there is really no need. Apart from its philosophical intentions, the film also appears to be an ode to the silent era, with its hurried pace and snappy editing, the highly visual gags, and even the piano accompaniment. But the film doesn't really take itself seriously - its treatment is largely comedic - satire delivered through slapstick and deadpan. I get the impression that this film has been made for its own sake, it's about the joy of film-making itself. Whether you're left pondering about its message, or simply taking it at face value, this is an enjoyable film to watch despite its bleak outlook, it is Recommended Viewing..!

The Nudity: Carla Crespo and Julia Martínez Rubio
There are a few brief scenes in the film involving nudity, one of which is a good example of what we now call 'sexposition'. In this witty scene, Rebeca enquires Willie, her new lover, whereabouts of husband Castro, and his girlfriend Celia, insisting he answer her questions without stopping from what he was doing, i.e., ass-licking, and it is plain to see the intended pun on Rebeca's temperament. Domineering and quick-fire Rebeca is well played by Carla Crespo. There is also brief nudity in a bathtub from Julia Martínez Rubio who plays the character of Castro's girlfriend Celia.

Carla Crespo and Julia Martínez Rubio in Castro


Friday, 9 November 2012

Laura Birn, Amanda Pilke, and others in “Vuosaari” [2012 Finland]

Of the few Finnish films I've had the opportunity to see, director Aku Louhimies' name appears twice. His multi-strand drama "Vuosaari" [Eng. Title: Naked Harbour] is certainly the better of the two (the one I'm comparing with is his earlier Levottomat).

Set in and around Helsinki, the film unravels several parallel but unconnected stories - the common feature being its focus on relationships within each respective environment. We follow a druggie-couple, hoping against odds to make a fresh start, a doting single father and his son, a precocious teenager desperate to become famous, the son of an immigrant single mum who suffers bullying in school, a wealthy family's failing marriage and the husband's extramarital affair, a young boy aching for love from his indifferent mother and finding companionship through his pet dog, and a terminally ill mother and her child coming to terms with what lies ahead (the most moving story among all).

The film doesn't analyse these relationships as much as observe them sympathetically. Some are melodramatic, while the others are quite dispassionate. The stunning winter-wonderland backdrop acts as a stark contrast to the despair, foreboding, and misery of the characters' lives. This peculiarity also appears to be a very Finnish facet from what little I know about the country and their cinema - you sometimes wonder whether it's the cold climate that does this to them. And this is not even a depressing film - it resolves several stories in a rather upbeat fashion, and there is plenty of love and humour in the film too! In any case, what struck me about the film more than anything else is the exceptional performances by ALL the main cast, young and old. This after all reflects on the quality of the screenplay, shot selection, editing and importantly, the direction. The other positive in the film is its breathtaking cinematography, aided of course by the marvellous landscape and some good set design. Despite the convenient and sloppy ending to one or two of these stories, I thoroughly enjoyed the film for its most part, and it is for that reason that this is Recommended Viewing!

Amazon Blu-ray Link | Amazon DVD Link



The Nudity:
Laura Birn, Amanda Pilke, Matleena Kuusniemi, Pekka Strang, Lenna Kuurmaa, Mikko Kouki, and Teemo Heino
As suggested by this list, a good chunk of the adult main cast, male and female, appear nude in the film, but they're all brief, relevant, and incidental.

Laura Birn, Amanda Pilke, Matleena Kuusniemi, Pekka Strang, and Lenna Kuurmaa in Vuosaari

Scene Guide:
  • As Make frets over finding cash to pay off a loan shark, fiancée Iiris suggests they have some fun instead. They both appear to be drug addicts.
  • Fun over, and when Make reiterates his love for Iiris, she asks him not to be clingy. Iiris is played by sultry Laura Birn.
  • "It's payback time", so says the loan shark-thug as he accosts Make after the deadline, and Iiris intervenes by suggesting a different way to deal with the situation. Make could only watch in dismay as his fiancée performs fellatio on the thug.
  • No nudity - sixteen year old Milla is desperate to become famous. After some unsuccessful auditions, she decides to build herself a seductive portfolio!
  • Milla befriends a photographer at one of her auditions, and makes it plain to him that she'll be willing to do 'anything' to become famous. This inevitably leads to her first porn shoot, despite him making clear what this would entail. Milla is determined all the same, her reasoning - "One should try everything, right?" Milla is played by the rather cute Amanda Pike.
  • Sara and husband Lauri haven't made love in ages - their marriage is rapidly falling apart. Sara finds out about his affair with their young maid Viivi, and confronts him one evening by not only inviting Viivi for dinner, but also sauna afterwards. The painful episode is filled with irony and humour, as Sara, superbly played by Matleena Kuusniemi, relishes putting her husband through several awkward moments, only to end up with pie on her face. Stone-faced Lauri is played by Pekka Strang, and Viivi by the pretty and sexy Lenna Kuurmaa.
  • Father and son bonding - hitherto domineering father Pertti finally opens up to his own insecurities with son Teemu in the sauna. Pertti is played by Mikko Kouki, and Teemu but Teemu Heino.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Seven fine directors, and "7 Days in Havana" [2012 Spain, France]

"7 Días en La Habana" [Eng. Title: 7 Days in Havana] was one of my most anticipated films of the year, primarily because it contains segments from two of my favourite directors, Julio Medem and Gaspar Noé. And even though I had pre-ordered the DVD, I couldn't help 'previewing' some of the segments, thanks to one of this site's members lorispersempre - he had managed to obtain a copy from Russia where it was released much before the rest of Europe, and had been kind enough to share them with me. Despite the sneak-view, I couldn't help opening my DVD as soon as it had arrived.

If a favourite feature film director makes a short, one could be disappointed watching it for the first time - I'm sure many people will agree with me on that. Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Nicolas Roeg have all disappointed me at some point, only for me to change my opinion after repeat viewings. I guess it is because we've got so accustomed to the pace, depth, and tone in their feature films, and expect a similar level of intensity in whatever they do, in effect, expecting to see something a full-length film would convey in a short film. I was half expecting to be disappointed this time too, and nearly was - before I discovered some of the other directors whose work I've never had a chance to see before, and also got to watch my favourite directors for a second time.

Seven directors were asked to come up with their own vision of life in a day in the Cuban capital - six of them are renowned, one of the six has hired another renowned director to star in his film, one of the six is a Cuban, and the seventh director I've only known so far as an actor. Interestingly many seem to have collaborated at some level in putting together their material, weaving in common characteristics. The most obvious thread running through all the segments is of course, Havana, and its mesmerising music. We get different perspectives of life in Havana, both as a foreigner, and a local.


Monday: El Yuma - Benicio Del Toro
It was a surprise to see Benicio Del Toro directing, I've only known him as an actor in various American and Spanish films. His segment is interesting, funny, and impressive nonetheless, even if it may have a mainstream Hollywood feel about it, especially in its shot selections. Teddy, a freshly arrived American film student on what appears to be an exchange program with the Cuban equivalent (the Cuban film institute - Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV - is by the way one of the more respected film schools in Latin America), spends an eventful day with his cab driver. It is a mild comedy focusing on the city culture, quirks, and language barriers.

Tuesday: Jam Session - Pablo Trapero
Pablo Trapero, one of the most promising Argentinian directors, casts Serbian director Emir Kusturica as himself, visiting Havana to receive an award at a film festival. This is a beautiful heart-warming segment, where Kusturica develops a close friendship with his chauffeur and gifted part-time trumpeter Alexander Abreu during his stay. This segment is also the richest in music - Cuban jazz lovers will be in for a treat. Me loved it!

Wednesday: La Tentación de Cecilia - Julio Medem
Maestro Medem develops a brief but heady romance between a visiting Spanish talent scout named Leonardo and local star-struck singer Cecilia. She's split between affections for her long term boyfriend José - an unsuccessful baseball player, and her new 'temptation' that is Leonardo, and Spain. The segment ends with her opting to remain in Cuba. While it is beautifully filmed and edited, as can be expected from Medem, I was surprised by the stereotypical characterisation, due to which, I'm sorry to say, it fails to rise beyond the ordinary - nice, but nothing special. Cecilia is played by a real-life singer, the talented and beautiful Melvis Estévez.

Thursday: Diary of a Beginner - Elia Suleiman
Elia Sulieman appears as himself in this segment, trying to arrange an interview with the President through his embassy. Placing himself clearly as an outsider, he makes some interesting observations which are at times philosophical, and at times moving, but quite witty and engaging all the same, despite the absence of any significant dialogue. This is also my favourite segment of the lot, because it is exceptionally well edited and presented.

Friday: Ritual - Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé likes to go where others don't, and he doesn't disappoint, as he looks past modern Cuba, into its peoples' African roots. The premise for 'the ritual' is set when a family's precocious and modernised daughter crosses their threshold of acceptability, by having sexual relations with a female friend. It shows a family that is, against the tide, trying to hold on to values that their modern religion cannot safeguard. Noé builds up this premise to unleash his full range of stylistic features - saturated colours, quivering light effects, throbbing sound effects - all to convey the protagonist's inquisitiveness, confusion, disorientation, and fear. The casting is particularly brilliant, and we can all see Noé is still a graphic designer at heart - some of the portrait-shots are worthy of framing. And one really doesn't need to be a fan to enjoy this segment.

Saturday: Dulce Amargo (Bitter-sweet) - Juan Carlos Tabío
This is the only segment seen through the eyes of Cuban sensitivity and sense of humour - Tabío being the only local director in the film. We look at a day in the life of the parents of Cecilia (from the Medem segment). She pays a visit to bid her family farewell, and we won't know the reason until the end. Veteran Cuban actors Jorge Perugorría and Mirtha Ibarra play her parents. Most of their day is spent trying to deliver a cake for a local ceremony, against a backdrop of power-cuts, shortage of ingredients, and time. A slice of life in the capital lovingly seen from a Cuban perspective.

Sunday: La Fuente (The Fountain) - Laurent Cantet
French director Laurent Cantet's segment almost continues from the previous segment, focusing on where the cake is heading, and the reason for their fiesta. An elderly lady summons all her neighbours to convey a vision she had of the Virgin Mary asking her to organise a ceremony, which would involve some major painting and decorating, including construction of a mini fountain right in the middle of her living room. The segment primarily focuses on the community spirit, and how they pool together resources to get things done.


In summary, "7 Days in Havana" is a wonderfully eclectic collection of short films that observes life in Havana, both as a foreigner, and a native. Music is an important ingredient in all the segments. All seven are colourful, imaginative, and a joy to watch. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Melvis Estévez, Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, and Dunia Matos Hernández
The first instance is of Melvis Estévez who appears as Cecilia in Julio Medem's segment. Ms. Estévez, a gifted singer, also performs her songs here. There are some brief scenes of nudity, first whilst having a shower, and later at home with her boyfriend. There is also nudity from Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, she plays the precocious teenager in Gaspar Noé's segment, and partial nudity from Dunia Matos Hernández who plays the female friend of Ms. Herrera.

Claudia Muñiz, Melvis Estévez, Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, and Dunia Matos Hernández in 7 Días en La Habana

Scene Guide:
  • The scene from Benicio Del Toro's segment has no nudity, but is interesting nevertheless. Young American Teddy is invited for lunch by a cab driver and his mother. When he is momentarily left alone while they performed errands, local prostitute Norka enters the house and propositions a bewildered Teddy. The cab driver's mum catches her red-handed. Norka is played by Claudia Muñiz.
  • In Julio Medem's segment, Cecilia is invited to his hotel room by visiting Spanish talent scout Leonardo, who is also clearly infatuated with her. Cecilia accepts, and asks if she could take a shower first. She overhears a conversation Leonardo has with his partner-friend on the phone, bragging about his success in bringing Cecilia into his room, and promptly leaves. Cecilia is played by Melvis Estévez.
  • Cecilia catches boyfriend José just when he's leaving for an important game. Despite his request not to tempt him before a game, she does.
  • Gaspar Noé's segment starts with young people having a reggaeton party by the beach, during which 'the girl' is hit upon by a female friend. The girl's parents discover them together in bed. The girl is played by pretty Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, and her female friend by Dunia Matos Hernández.
  • The 'ritual', where a shaman exorcises 'evil thoughts' from the girl under the watchful eyes of her parents...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Scenes from Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" [1966 USSR]

I venture into Russian cinema in the blog with a mixture of awe and trepidation, for as fascinating it was watching whatever little I have so far on good ol' Channel 4, and more recently on DVD, I have to admit that I hold only a rudimentary understanding about its people, culture, complex history, and therefore cinema. For very obvious reasons we in this cosy island (and probably across the pond too) tend to see Russia only through twentieth century eyes, which I suppose is about as objective as blind men describing an elephant.

Since my introduction to Russian cinema began with the great Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrey Tarkovskiy) - Solaris being my first Russian film experience, and also since his work is the one I'm most acquainted with (which isn't many in any case), I shall start writing about Russian cinema using the same director, from one of his most acclaimed classics, "Andrey Rublyov" [DVD Title: The Passion of Andrei].

Loosely based on the life of fifteenth century muralist and iconographer Andrey Rublyov aka Andrei Rublev, the film is more about the historical events of the time that could have affected the painter-monk and his work, both at a physical and metaphysical level. Neatly divided into seven chapters, each save the epilogue depicts an influential episode in Rublyov's life and spiritual journey. We follow Rublyov from his youth at a monastery to his apprenticeship with Theophanes the Greek, their frequent disagreements, Rublyov's encounter with pagans, his own confrontation with Byzantine beliefs, his sense of guilt, and his unexpected enlightenment through the son of a bell-maker - my favourite chapter in the film. All these events take place against the backdrop of Tatar invasions against the Rus, which would eventually set-forth in motion the birth pangs of a Tsarist Russia.

The epic film takes its time fleshing out a plethora of characters that mark the landscape for Rublyov's thoughts, and his art. Through the three hours and twenty five minutes (Criterion DVD), we experience breathtaking imagery ranging from the positively enchanting, to the outright brutal. We see the magic in the dew on shivering leaves of a tree, we see a happy horse rolling in the meadow, and we see twilight pagan gaiety in mist-shrouded woods by a river, made from the primary ingredients of Tarkovsky's cinematic palette - wind, water, fire, and light. We also see marauding horsemen take down an entire town, desecrate churches, slit throats, burn cattle, rape women, slay horses, and pour molten metal from crucifixes through a tied-down priest's throat. We also experience the exhilaration of triumph against odds, of the humble teaching the learned, and of a new beginning amidst the chaos. Most of the scenes we see are shot through a series of intricately orchestrated long takes. There are numerous instances of political and religious symbolisms exquisitely woven into the film narrative. This is Andrei Tarkovsky not only gatecrashing into the auteur club of the Antonioni's, Bergman's, Kurosawa's, and Wajda's, but also laying siege to the grandiose castle of the Cecil B DeMille's and David Lean's. To summarise, for anyone who loves film, this is a visual feast of the very highest order, and therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..!

The thirstyrabbit rave that you may gladly skip:
Scroll through the IMDB comments and you'll come across more than a few who consider "Andrei Rublev" to be the greatest motion picture ever made. I cannot possibly make that claim, perhaps having seen a few more films than many of them. But then again, this is as subjective as the blind men analogy used above - what touches someone profoundly may fail to move the person next to him - that's the way the cookie crumbles. Many great directors, including Ingmar Bergman have paid glowing tributes to Tarkovsky's work, so there is nothing more I could possibly add to glorify his undoubted genius. But if you ask me which DVD I will instinctively pick from my shelf for an absorbing evening of cinema, it will not be a Tarkovsky, certainly not Andrei Rublev! Ironic, because the reason for my decision will have been the film's very virtue - its pursuit of total perfection. Now ordinary mortals can strive for perfection, the most they're likely to achieve is an improvement to what they would otherwise. It's an extra pat on the back, "good job, ol' boy" - the perks, there's certainly no harm in that. But the more closer they get to 'perfection', the further they'll recede from their 'humanity'. Tarkovsky in my eyes personifies cinematic perfection more closely than any director I'm aware of, and that is scary, because total 'perfection' is essentially egotistical and ultimately dangerous. I for one, would much rather watch 'imperfect' films - warts and all, as long as their intentions are genuine..!


About the DVD:
There are numerous versions of this relentlessly butchered film, ranging from 2hr 25mts to 3hr 25mts. Mine is the director's cut Criterion release, which is the longest presently available. But there's also a recently remastered blu-ray release that comes close at 3hr 3mts (from which this compilation was made). The quality in the blu-ray is significantly superior in all ways to my letterboxed NTSC Criterion DVD, but I hate the cuts in the blu-ray which make parts of the film incoherent. They cut out some gruesomely realistic scenes involving animals, and a few seconds of male and female nudity, but they importantly also broke Tarkovsky's narrative in places, which is terrible. Besides, the Criterion release also includes a commentary in English that some may find handy. I'd therefore, at least for now, recommend the longer Criterion NTSC version.

Amazon Criterion DVD Link


The Nudity:
There's a chapter titled "The Feast" that deals with Andrey Rublyov's encounter with a group of naked pagans celebrating their festival of love. One of the prime characters in the episode is Marfa, a medieval equivalent of a hippy who questions a fascinated but uptight Rublyov about the meaning of 'love'. There's an obvious parable between these two characters and the Biblical Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Rublyov is also symbolically 'crucified' during the scene, and the following morning, Marfa evades capture by Christian soldiers by jumping into the river. Marfa is played by Nelly Snegina.

Nelly Snegina in Andrei Rublov



Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Elizabeth Cervantes nude in "Fuera del Cielo" [2006 Mexico]

Javier Patrón's first feature-length film "Fuera del Cielo" [Eng. Title: Beyond the Sky] is a gritty crime thriller set amidst the bad streets of Mexico City where we follow two parallel stories - one of two brothers down on their luck, and the other of a senator's relationship with his chronically ill daughter. You guessed it - it is a bleak film with very little respite or humour, and if you've seen it before, you're unlikely to rush to watch it again anytime soon. My DVD too had been gathering dust on the shelf for some time before this post...

Malboro and younger brother Cucú reunite when the elder brother returns after serving time. Cucú is training to become a professional boxer, but is also a petty criminal, and has a lot of anger stacked inside him. Malboro wants him to turn a new leaf, but he has issues of his own, not least learning to deal with his arch enemy - Rojas, a corrupt cop who not only put him behind bars for five years, but also married Sara, the woman Malboro had planned to elope with. Malboro still loves Sara and wants her back, but she fears she may once again be left to fend for herself alone with teenage daughter Elisa, and is reluctant to commit anything. Rojas catches wind of Malboro's release, and wants to find an excuse to put him away for good. An opportunity presents itself when Cucu, Malboro and their uncle lock the senator in the boot after stealing his car, with an excuse to celebrate Cucú's birthday in style. Rojas will catch up with Malboro, but not before he'd decided to stop running away from him...

Working with an impressive cast such as Damián Alcázar (Rojas), Demián Bichir (Malboro), Isela Vega (Malboro's mother), Dolores Heredia (Sara), and the talented Armando Hernández (Cucú) and Martha Higareda (Elisa), director Javier Patrón succeeds in showing us a part of Mexican life in all its mucky detail, even though it is at times judgemental and to an extent clichéd. The weakest part of the screenplay however has to be the film's climax - we're left with too many questions and few answers. I don't disapprove of the ending as such, but there hasn't been an adequate build-up to it. In summary, while the film may not exactly be easy viewing, it is a promising debut for Javier Patrón who makes a sincere effort in keeping it real. Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity:
Dolores Heredia, Armando Hernández, Demián Bichir, Martha Higareda, and Elizabeth Cervantes
Dolores Heredia, Armando Hernández, Demián Bichir, Martha Higareda, and Elizabeth Cervantes in Fuera del Cielo

Scene Guide:
  • When Malboro drops by Sara's house after five years, he gets a taste of her feistiness. This is also one of the better performed and memorable scenes in the film despite there being no nudity. Dolores Heredia plays the character of Sara.
  • Brothers bonding at the showers - Cucú, played by Armando Hernández, tells elder brother Malboro, played by Demián Bichir that he now has a new girlfriend named Rebeca and proceeds to show him how he feels about her..! :)
  • Elisa trying on her mum's pantyhose and acting all grown-up in front of the mirror. The cute Martha Higareda doesn't get nude in the film, but manages to give the audience some intermittent upskirts. She is quite convincing as the precocious Elisa.
  • Cucú takes Malboro to the strip club where Rebeca works - it appears the couple had had a tiff recently, but manage to make up at her dressing room. Rebeca later joins Cucú to celebrate his birthday.
  • Lovebirds Cucú and Rebeca couldn't keep their hands off each other in the car, and Elisa, inquisitive teeanger that she is, steals some glances of them making out, upon which Rebeca decides to have some 'privacy' outside.
  • Elisa and Malboro get talking about sex when they end up alone in the car, and Malboro inexplicably offers to pass some of his 'wisdom' to Elisa, the teenage daughter of the woman he's in love with, by masturbating her..!


Friday, 26 October 2012

Sylvia Kristel from Chabrol's underrated "Alice" [1977 France]

I would have liked this post to have been an elaborate tribute to one of the most remarkable personalities in European cinema, but will have to settle for paying my respects through an underrated gem from Claude Chabrol, "Alice ou la dernière fugue" [Eng. Title: Alice or the Last Escapade]. I hesitate to address Sylvia Kristel merely as a Dutch actress - she was a phenomenon, only comparable, perhaps, to someone like Marilyn Monroe in terms of being the object of near universal adulation and infatuation of her era. She was also influential in spawning a whole 'industry' on the back of her success - every "Emmanuelle" has strived to recreate the elegance and mystery of the character created by Sylvia Kristel. Emmanuelle was Ms. Kristel's gift to male youth of the 70's, one for which they would forever be grateful. Her recent passing may have been quite untimely, but she can rest assured of the indelible legacy she had left behind - changing men's perception of female sensuality, and furthering feminist goals. Dear Emmanuelle - may you rest in peace..!

Form is temporary, but class is permanent - I think it was a sports writer who said that. But I think it holds true to creative endeavours as well. Claude Chabrol was going through a bit of a crisis during the seventies - he was working on different genres but not exactly going places. Because people wanted him to do films he'd hitherto been famous for - murder mysteries. Several elegant pieces made during the period weren't well received, and "Alice" was one among them. While the film may not be his masterpiece, this modern adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is nevertheless a well conceived gem that oozes class. Sylvia Kristel also may not have been the most gifted of actresses, but as the eponymous Alice, she gives her character an air of mystery and a determination that makes this film tick. Alice here is no longer the innocent and curious type, but a worldly-wise modern woman wanting to make a fresh start after a failed marriage.

The story starts with Alice breaking-up with her husband one night and setting off in pouring rain. A shattered windscreen forces her to seek shelter at a nearby manor, where she's invited to stay for the night by its owner Henri and his butler. The following morning, she wakes up to find no one at the house, but her car has been fixed and breakfast laid at the table. But when she tries to leave, she couldn't find the gates through which she entered last night, and since then every attempt at leaving would bring her back to the same manor, making her realise that she's an unwilling participant in someone's wicked game.

Chabrol recreates an atmosphere of unease and impending fate surprisingly through light images and stunning colour - the stills will bely the horror fantasy that it is, yet every scene will be tinged with anguish. There's an enormous amount of meaningful detail in the imagery if you're willing to indulge yourself. Right from the snail on the windshield, to the reading room, and Alice's red dress (what an elegant dress by the way!), it is a feast for the eyes. The music and cinematography ably assist the tone of the film, and despite the fact that this is one of Chabrol's more unusual works, he has once again showcased his sheer mastery of cinema as a medium. Fittingly he had dedicated this film in memory of Fritz Lang. "Alice" is definitely a Chabrol classic, desperately in need of rediscovery, and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link


The Nudity: Sylvia Kristel
There is a scene in the film when Alice first notices that she is being watched, when she is about to get into the bath. Sylvia Kristel briefly displays her physical charms in all its stunning glory in this scene. She hears a voice when she's about to get into the bath, realising for the first time that she is being watched. My DVD is letterboxed and I don't think it has ever been mastered in true anamorphic widescreen. So I took the liberty of enhancing this special scene to 720p.

Sylvia Kristel in Alice ou la dernière fugue