Monday, 30 April 2012

Emmanuelle Béart in "Histoire de Marie et Julien" [2003 France, Italy]

Jacques Rivette is definitely one of the influential directors of the Nouvelle Vague, even if he's probably lesser known than the likes of Godard and Chabrol outside of France. His style is telling a story through observation - you get to know the characters through a series of vignettes performing seemingly mundane and sometimes repetitive tasks. Consequently his films tend to be long, sometimes stretching into several hours, and demands a greater attention span from its audience. Dreams and visions are one of his frequently explored themes. I wouldn't call his style experimental, but one can say with certainty that he will spare little time for those less informed.

But he is also a fine example of how great directors themselves draw inspiration from others, in his case from all over the world including Hollywood greats such as Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock. Like Rohmer and Roeg, he didn't start making feature films until after many years in the industry, and had worked under legends like Renoir and Becker before venturing out on his own.

I'll start Rivette's filmography here with one of his later films, the fantasy drama "Histoire de Marie et Julien" [Eng. Title: The Story of Marie and Julien], one that was also in gestation for close to three decades. In an insightful interview among the DVD extras, he describes the extent to which his lead actors influenced not only the screenplay, but the script as well - his original plan had Leslie Caron and Albert Finney play the lead roles, but took on a different shape when Emmanuelle Béart and Jerzy Radziwilowicz were finally cast for the production. Ms. Béart too explains her input into the characterisation. While it is a fine film that rewards one with patience, this isn't actually my favourite Rivette. This is also one for Emmanuelle Béart completists. But if you're a die-hard Rivette enthusiast, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Recommended Amazon DVD Link
This was taken from my Artificial Eye "French Collection" box-set 4, focussing on Emmanuelle Béart. While it also includes Rivette and Béart's previous collaboration "La Belle Noiseuse", you must bear in mind that it is the abridged version - half the length of its original four hour run-time, but also the version I most enjoyed.

If revenants speaking in Gaelic are your thing, this is pretty much up your alley. Julien, a middle aged clocksmith keeps dreaming about a woman he met a while ago, Marie - she was with a boyfriend at the time. But Marie has died since and suddenly reappears to embark on a sensual relationship with Julien. For all intents and purposes, she's real, save the tiny detail that she can't or won't shed a tear nor bleed when cut, even if she could obtain physical orgasm in full flow. An ideal scenario, a man might think - an attractive woman who doesn't complain (cry) nor need taking care of (cottonwoolled), but one readily available for sexual pleasure. Until this pesky little thing called 'love' creeps in. And when Julien learns the fate of the 'real' Marie, one or the other has to crossover to the other side to stay together. Who will it be - Julien, or Marie? Only time will tell...

Compilation: Emmanuelle Béart

Emmanuelle Béart in Histoire de Marie et Julien

Scene Guide:
  • Marie is always the one with the initiative, and Julien the willing participant. Marie is played by an intense Emmanuelle Béart.
  • There's not much nudity here - just a long conversation piece where they describe together a sensual dream. So I left the subtitles on for this scene to save time describing.
  • More sensual dream-sharing between Marie and Julien, seemingly somewhere from the Celtic period.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Sandra Hüller in "Über uns das All" [2011, Germany]

Young German director Jan Schomburg's mystery drama, "Über uns das All" [Eng. title: Above us Only Sky] is a surprisingly delightful piece of cinema. Surprising because I've never heard of the director - I picked it up only because it was well received at the Berlin International Film Festival last year. This is definitely one of the better films I've seen released lately - and I see a whole lot more than I bother to write about here.

I won't throw you spoilers, but here's the gist. The film starts with a tantalising reference to Shakespeare's ageless sonnet about love and marriage (Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds) as Martha conducts an English lesson for her class. She has a husband, and is in love. But her whole world, carefully constructed over years comes crashing down after his unexpected death. Who was he? Why was he feigning a life that's not his? Martha tries to piece together various clues to come to terms with her loss, so that she could start bereaving for the person she was in love with. During the course of her search, she will meet a professor who will enlighten elements of the same sonnet she'd been teaching her pupils...

It is refreshing to see this topic discussed during these days of convenient marriages, prenuptial agreements, and express divorces. While the film isn't remotely preachy or moralistic, it certainly tries to define what is true love. The characterisation required to generate the required drama is spot on, and aided by competent screenplay, we're kept glued till the end. The cinematography is exquisite, and the performance of Sandra Hüller who plays Martha certainly lifts the film to a higher level, in a very German way. Composed, precise, and detailed, this is as German as films come, and for that reason, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Compilation: Sandra Hüller

Sandra Hüller in Über uns das All

Scene Guide:
  • Sweet nothings between husband and wife Martha as they make plans to move to the south of France. Martha is played by an engagingly charismatic Sandra Hüller.
  • Martha comes looking for her sleepless husband - she wonders why he's so perplexed - he'll after all be alone in Marseilles only for a week before she joins him.
  • After her husband's death, Martha meets Alex, a History professor, and on a whim, invites him home. But her forthrightness puts Alex off - he suggests they don't have sex that night, having sensed she's not happy, and possibly even drunk. A peeved Martha gestures him to leave.
  • They meet again on a more formal date, and everybody is happy..!
  • A brief scene I decided to include in the end which I think is beautifully done.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Blanca Lewin in "Bombal" [2012 Chile]

Chilean director Marcelo Ferrari made his recent drama "Bombal" based on the love life of acclaimed feminist author María Luisa Bombal. I cannot verify how much of the film is based on real events, but what it does manage to recreate is the extreme state of depression she was in even while writing successful books at the time, most of which delve into eroticism from a feminine point of view. Her works were well received all over Latin America, but was frowned upon within some circles in native Chile. Most of the film is told through flash-backs from Bombal's point of view.

The film is set sometime during the nineteen forties when María Luisa Bombal moved back to Chile with husband Jorge Larco. They have an open relationship - while he is gay, she is having an affair with a divorced Eulogio Sánchez. Hopelessly in love with Eulogio, Bombal descends into a state of depression when her feelings go in-reciprocated. After a failed suicide attempt, she goes as far as publicly shooting Eulogio who is now engaged to another woman. He survives, but at least it brings some kind of closure to that chapter in her history.

While the film has an interesting story to tell, the script/screenplay doesn't do it enough justice. The characterisation, particularly of the male characters is uni-dimensional and could have been developed further, and it isn't helped by the actors' pedestrian performances either. Blanca Lewin however is the exception as she brings her professionalism to fore, more or less compensating for the other main characters. The sound track is fine, but the scope of the cinematography and editing seems to have been restricted perhaps due to budgetary constraints. It had the potential to be as powerful a drama as Bellocchio's "Vincere", but as it stands, remains just about an above average film. The bare-bones DVD is available through the below link.

Bazuca DVD Link

Compilation: Blanca Lewin

Blanca Lewin as Bombal

Scene Guide:
  • A flash-back as Bombal reminisces happier times with lover Eulogio. The titular role is played by the beautiful as ever Blanca Lewin. In this scene, she wants them to be openly lovers rather than continue their secret rendezvous. He tells her this isn't the right time as he still has some unfinished business from a recently ended marriage.
  • At a party attended with husband Larco, Bombal watches him having sex with a younger man (uncredited), and vents her frustration by calling at Eulogio's for the night.
  • Larco asks Bombal to pose for him. He advices her to stop seeing Eulogio as it is obvious he doesn't love her as much as she does. She tells her husband that Eulogio had already left her to be with another woman, and that she misses him terribly.
  • A drunk Bombal picks up a younger man at a bar for a one night stand.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barbara Brylska & Krystyna Mikolajewska in "Faraon" [1966 Poland]

Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Oscar-nominated epic "Faraon" [Eng. title: Pharaoh] is a rare and also interesting interpretation of ancient history and politics from communist Poland. It has the grandeur of a Cecile B. DeMille film, but rather than merely glossing over history, it is far more ambitious in its scope by turning into an allegorical study.

In fact, Egyptology had progressed so much since 1966 that we have little option but to look at events in the film from a fictional viewpoint. That however doesn't mean no effort had been made to make it look and feel authentic - far from it, a lot of detail had gone into the production design and watching the film is like browsing through the leaves of some lavish coffee table book. For instance they even rebuilt a royal river boat based on drawings from the fourth millennium BC, one that appears in just a single scene. Beyond the visual splendour though, there are passages of play where we see exquisite cinema as the director translates his vision into film, one that could not only relate to a modern world audience through their own historical experiences, but also Poland's own until recent turbulent history. The cinematography is sumptuous, the screenplay flawless, but the direction particularly raises its game during important passages of play. The costumes are of acceptable if not exceptional standard, although my opinion must've been made after Pasolini's "Medea" still fresh in mind. But this is a fine film nevertheless, and therefore Recommended Viewing. DVD Link (comes with Spanish and Polish audio)
English Subtitles

The film charts the demise of a ruling dynasty in ancient Egypt - one that Ramesses XIII inherits. By this time, the kingdom effectively is run by priests overseeing the various ministries, with the Pharaoh more of a ceremonial figurehead than someone who could wield real power. The kingdom's coffers are empty and all the wealth are controlled by priests. With a restive population, a rebellious mercenary army, and the ever-powerful Assyrians breathing down their neck, an ambitious but immature Ramesses tries to wrest control over his kingdom's assets and wage war on Assyria instead of finding a peaceful alternative. His actions, paved with good intentions as it might be, is nevertheless misguided. It creates more adversaries than allies, not least with the overbearing priesthood. Any attempt to change the status quo is futile, Ramesses will soon learn.

Compilation: Krystyna Mikolajewska and Barbara Brylska
There's only brief nudity in the film - it is too conservative a film for that, but parts of it are also positively sensual, the reason for my post.

Barbara Brylska and Krystyna Mikolajewska in Faraon

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity save a nipple-slip in the scene where Ramesses first notices young and beautiful Sara, and instantly decides to take her with him despite knowing she's Jewish. Sara is played by a pretty Krystyna Mikolajewska.
  • Ramesses is persuaded to visit a temple by people willing to finance his planned campaign against Assyria, one overseen by Phoenician priestess Kama. Despite having to remain pure and virginal, she'd been instructed to seduce the future Pharaoh - all in the name of her fellow countrymen who are about to be invaded by Assyria. If this is how priestesses were clothed, how could one possibly expect men to look at them with faith in their eyes I wonder. I'm not surprised their religion is dead..! :)
  • Sara, now mother of Ramesses' child, pleads him to get rid of Kama (she's aware of his new mistress) in view of her ulterior motives. But Ramesses is just too proud to even worry about it.
  • When he visits Kama the next time, she rejects his gift and persuades him instead to throw Sara out because she'd given his son a Jewish first name, and therefore can't be a future Pharaoh. Kama by the way is played by a young and sensual Barbara Brylska.
  • I see Egyptians also invented the thong, worn rather fetchingly by Kama the priestess. Having seen off her adversary Sara, we're now made aware of her secret affair with Lycon, a Greek immigrant who looks a spitting image of Ramesses. This is followed by an orgy scene where Kama dances and entertains copulating guests.
  • Things don't go her way forever though - she soon finds herself caged by an all-knowing ministerial priesthood.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Blanca Lewin & Gonzalo Valenzuela in "En la Cama" [2005 Chile]

Talented young director Matías Bize impressed audience with his debut full-length feature ("Sábado, una Película en Tiempo Real" - I'll write about it in a separate post, only hinting for the moment that the entire film was done with a single take). He cast the same lead actress (Blanca Lewin) in his 2005 drama, "En la Cama" [Eng. Title: In Bed], setting out to prove another point - that a full length film can be made (unlike a Andy Warhol), engagingly and illuminatingly from within the confines of one room. Okay, there is an additional scene in the film shot with a different set, but most of the happenings are in the one room, between two characters in a bed. The best part of it all is - it doesn't look remotely experimental. The subject is as mainstream as it gets, just as the characters. What makes the film tick is its excellent script and screenplay.

Beautifully conceived, it doesn't set out to say anything particularly profound, but reveals through dialogue the intricacies of relationships in an insightful manner. The storyline essentially is about a young man and woman, strangers, having a one-night stand after a party. Obviously sex was what in their mind, but one can't possibly keep doing it non-stop without having a break now and again. As wonderful though the sex scenes are to watch, it is during the interludes between removing and putting on condoms that the drama truly takes place. Two strangers attracted to each other in a motel room that's neither's territory, and a whole sleepless night to contend with - surely they have to talk to each other at some point. And they do, if awkwardly at first, about mundane little things like films, comic heroes etc., until they get comfortable enough to talk about their past experiences and relationships. And through the unfolding night, we see their histories unravel, we see them face up to each other naked, unprotected - as human nature intended. And theirs is not that much different to our own...

I'd reviewed this film years ago, but this is a reappraisal for the blog, and also to refresh my memory. This remarkable film is the result of a neat little concept which also didn't go unnoticed by a certain Julio Medem who acknowledged its inspiration for one of his own films. A film made with just two characters in a confined room - should work, just as your own relationship with a cherished one could within the privacy of a bedroom. It requires a fine script to pull it off, which this film does, ably assisted by some sleek cinematography and direction. The only two actors in the film - Blanca Lewin and Gonzalo Valenzuela give a fine performance and generate convincing chemistry between them on screen, although Blanca Lewin pretty much remains the star of the show. The editing may have been a touch overdone, but that's only me nit-picking - it is a fine film as it stands. Needless to say, for those who like to watch cerebral films that are also a visual treat, especially if it is from a magnetic Blanca Lewin, this is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

About the DVD:
This DVD is from a different era. While it has some interesting extras and unseen (deleted) footage, it is also asking to be remastered. It is letterboxed widescreen, made with older TV sets in mind. I'm afraid we'll have to put up with it until technology catches up.

Compilation: Blanca Lewin and Gonzalo Valenzuela
The blog needs to evolve, and I too am breaking new ground here with this post - which is to highlight nudity from both female and male actors in the scenes featured. These are early days, and I hope I could do justice to both sexes. Except for the quality in this compilation - as hinted above, the DVD is not as good as it could be, and its heavy interlacing means there's really no point in me trying to enhance the scenes at all. But they're not entirely revolting either. The film by the way has many more scenes than I could possibly insert, and there are also blog theme-related deleted scenes that appear among the DVD extras, but can't be included here - it is already too long.

Blanca Lewin and Gonzalo Valenzuela in En la Cama

Scene Guide:
  • A man and a woman take a room at a motel for a one-night stand, not even knowing their names. Daniela and Bruno won't know what to call each other until they've already had sex. They're played by a captivating Blanca Lewin and handsome Gonzalo Valenzuela respectively.
  • One of several enjoyable bed-wrestling/pillow fight scenes from the film.
  • They start talking about films and continue their conversation in the jacuzzi, Bruno encouraging Daniela to think up a story for her film. Followed by a steamy and realistic sex scene - Lewin and Valenzuela strike up a chemistry that's actually quite convincing. It is also beautifully shot.
  • It's 4 AM - too late for this and too early for that, they need to think of something to do. Bruno is 'recharging his batteries', so Daniela offers to help - cue for a Bollywood-style song and dance routine courtesy of a radio - niceee..!
  • As things stand, Bruno still needs time to recuperate, and they get chatting, about faking orgasms, and women's urge to shop (or their reason thereof)
  • The uncomfortable silence after sharing each others' deep-held secrets leads to some much needed passionate lovemaking. Another virtue of this film is that each love scene is spontaneous and unique, perfectly tuned to the couple's perceived state of mind. You don't see the same thing shown repetitively. This time, Daniela's almost perfect orgasm is ruined when Bruno inadvertently calls out his ex-girlfriend's name during climax. :D

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Micaela Ramazzotti & Francesca Inaudi in "Questione di Cuore" [2009 Italy]

Francesca Archibugi's drama, "Questione di Cuore" [Eng. Title: A Question of the Heart] is a breezy comedy about friendship and mortality. As entertaining and well-written the script is, what sticks in my mind though are the charming images of common-man's Rome where the film is set - a city and its people that I'd always loved visiting, and where I want to go again now.

Angelo, a car mechanic and Alberto, a film script-writer meet as inpatients at a hospital ward - both had suffered a heart attack. They strike up an unlikely but close friendship during their stay, sharing each others dreams and fears. While Alberto recovers early, it isn't the case with Angelo whose weaker heart is attributed to heredity. Angelo had worked hard to provide for his family - his mother, wife Rossana and their two kids, with one more on the way. He worries about leaving his wife an unhappy widow, and desperately tries to make arrangements in view of his impending death. There is also a joking comparison by Alberto to the Odyssey during a passage of play after Angelo tries awkwardly to make his friend Rossana's suitor. To the film's credit, it doesn't descend into farce or cheesy melodrama - it ends in the most apt manner.

Ms. Archibugi has made a typical but way above average mainstream film here - and although I have seen only one other film of hers to date (Lezioni di Volo), I do like her style of film making. They are usually packed with a constellation of well known stars, more so in this film where additional cine personalities have walk-ins as themselves, Alberto being the well known script-writer. Actors playing the main characters - Kim Rossi Stuart as Angelo, Antonio Albanese as Alberto, and Micaela Ramazzotti who plays Angelo's wife Rossana give a fine account of themselves, as does Francesca Inaudi who plays Alberto's estranged girlfriend Carla, although hers is possibly the least developed character among all. Nevertheless, for an entertaining and thoughtful piece of cinema, this one is Recommended Viewing.

Amazon DVD Link

Compilation: Micaela Ramazzotti, Francesca Inaudi, and Leila Virzí
There is only brief nudity in the film - the main reason for my post is to write something about a title which I think is less well known outside Italy.

Micaela Ramazotti, Francesca Inaudi, and Leila Virzí in Questione di Cuore

Scene Guide:
  • Rossana trying on maternity underwear that Alberto had presented earlier. A pregnant Micaela Ramazzotti give's a good performance as Rossana.
  • Alberto reminiscing a fond memory of his time with Carla, played by beautiful Francesca Inaudi. Mr. Albanese though could use the services of a chiropodist.
  • Now this one, is nice..! Alberto, a northerner, explains to Angelo why he prefers living in Rome, quoting an incident from a warm summer night many moons ago. The woman by the window is played by Leila Virzí. Rome personified, if you ask me..! :)


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Ana Risueño in "Impulsos" [2002 Spain]

Miguel Alcantud wrote and made a promising directorial debut through the thriller, "Impulsos" [Eng. Title: Impulses]. I'm surprised he hasn't made many more since then - this is one intelligent film made with innovative production ideas and techniques. Just because it doesn't offer anything conclusive or show anything sensational wouldn't make it any less a thriller. The film should be approached like a short story or an essay even - these are events happening at a given time and space. It is non-judgemental. And it doesn't explain why the characters behave the way they do - that is left for the audience to do as they see fit. Not everything in life is cut-and-dried, and the same goes here too.

Sara is in mourning, and she is also obsessed with unfinished work after a pact with her former partner. But she couldn't get to do it, and one day notices Jaime at a Madrid tube station - pushing a waiting passenger to his death in front of an approaching train. Killing random people impulsively is a bit of a hobby for Jaime - it could be a man, woman, or even animal - it is this randomness that has also helped him keep away from police radar. Sara blackmails Jaime into doing her a favour in return for not reporting to the police after claiming to have visual evidence from her handheld camera. But through their various interactions henceforth, we see a strange dynamic developing between them.

The film reminds me of Pedro Almodóvar's "Matador", where too the two main characters are obsessed with death, but while they both take pleasure in killing, here it is only Jaime who likes to do the killing. Where as the couple's dynamic is kinky and sexual in "Matador", there is a deeper level of understanding and 'trust', for want of a better word, developing between Sara and Jaime. Partly why I love this film is that this dynamic isn't artificially fed to us - it is organic and can only be seen upon reflection - Alcantud has made this film for an intelligent audience. The restrained performance by actors playing the main characters, Ana Risueño as Sara and Daniel Freire (Lucía y el Sexo) as Jaime work well for the film. As does the fine cinematography and clever editing that has a style of its own. Worthy of mention too is the rather cool jazz soundtrack (I think the band is JJJJJ Productions, but those in the know can correct me if I'm mistaken) - they are also shown performing in some scenes. My advice is, don't listen to the IMDB ratings - this is definitely Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Compilation: Ana Risueño, Ruth Puebla, and Michaela Brizova

Ana Risueño, Ruth Puebla, and Michaela Brizova in Impulsos

Scene Guide:
  • While Sara picks up one of her listless dates at a bar, Jaime picks up a girl from the same place to do what he 'impulsively' loves doing. Sara is played by Ana Risueño, and the Jaime's lady for the night by Ruth Puebla.
  • Sara in the bathtub, this is a visual scene requiring no explanation.
  • Sara and Jaime communicate through webcam. One evening he wakes her up to show what he had been doing with a prostitute he brought home recently. The woman is played by Michaela Brizova.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Johanna ter Steege & co in "Tirza" [2010 Netherlands]

Any meaningful synopsis of Rudolf van den Berg's engaging thriller "Tirza" is likely to be spoiler-ridden. So I'll try to keep it brief. The subject of the film is disconcerting in that it treads across a minefield of themes such as child prostitution and incest. But it is cleverly constructed to bring out a whole range of emotional responses from the audience, who are coerced into rooting for the flawed protagonist Jörgen right from the beginning, as a doting father, a wronged husband and lonely soul, and later as a hopelessly confused man. He goes to Namibia searching for his favourite daughter Tirza. Once there, a child prostitute Kaisa befriends and persuades Jörgen to take her with him in his quest. This is what the film is all about - a quest, a soul-search, an exploration of love, and loss. Kaisa is beautifully portrayed by adorable little Keitumetse Matlabo, and she compliments the intensity of Gijs Scholten van Aschat who plays Jörgen with her soothing presence. Her oft-spoken line in impeccable grammar school English, "Would you like some company, Sir" even now wrings quite disturbingly.

It is however a very well made film in all respects. The direction and editing see to it that we get to experience Jörgen's disorientation in full measure. The cinematography is masterful and yet quite subtle. The sound track is haunting. All in all, this is a surprisingly powerful film that one might not forget in a hurry, even if desired - you heard it, this is not for everyone's taste. But if you like to be challenged, and forced to look at things you'd much rather not, this is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link
(not the one I have, but one with the best deal going for the moment)

Johanna ter Steege, Abbey Hoes, Sylvia Hoeks, and Titia Hoogendoorn

Johanna ter Steege, Abbey Hoes, Sylvia Hoeks, and Titia Hoogendoorn in Tirza

Scene Guide:
  • Jörgen's ex-wife Alma is portrayed at the beginning as a domineering bitch - she drops by his home now and again to enquire about their daughters Ibi and Tirza. In this scene, when Jörgen proclaims to have conquered his desire for women, she tries to disprove him. Alma is portrayed by Johanna ter Steege - a fine actress still looking great at fifty.
  • Further humiliation for Jörgen - this time from his own kid - a flashback of him catching oldest daughter Ibi - still in her teens, knickers down with their forty-something tenant. He drags her home but the rebellious brat wants to go back to her lover's flat - apparently to pick up her panties! Ibi is played by a sixteen year old Abbey Hoes. Phew..!
  • No nudity - Tirza, the youngest daughter is also Jörgen's favourite. She wants to prove her dad that she's now a young woman. But he tells her she will always be his little girl. Tirza is played by Sylvia Hoeks, much older than the character she plays.
  • Flashback again - Jörgen with ex-wife Alma - cue for more humiliation. Alma walks off during the middle of their session complaining that he doesn't turn her on, and that she finds his grunts annoying. But it appears the abhorrence is mutual - fine couple this..!
  • Tirza catches her dad with weird classmate Ester at a party. Ester is shown more or less encouraging Jörgen by letting him know what she's up to - 'caressing' herself alone in the shed. Played by Titia Hoogendoorn.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Evangelina Sosa, Leticia Huijara, others in "La Ley de Herodes" [1999 Mexico]

Luis Estrada broke new ground when he made the brilliant Mexican classic, "La Ley de Herodes" [Eng. title: Herod's Law]. It is also one of my favourite Mexican mainstream films of all time. While most Latin Americans (and certainly from many developing countries) will find this a wry depiction of their own reality, as a self-centred foreigner, I unashamedly rejoice in the film's simplicity, craftsmanship, and hilarious sense of humour - it is pure old-fashioned cinema, and political satire at its very best.

Every aspect of this film production has been well thought and executed. Starting from the art direction and set design - I doubt if it could ever be bettered, or even needs to be. We are transported to that god-forsaken mid-twentieth century pueblo so convincingly that you could almost smell the air the characters breathe. The cinematography adds a period feel with its use of duotones, and while they tend to be generally overused elsewhere, it works exceedingly well here. I hate repeating myself, but the direction (and editing), for want of a better word is simply brilliant in the way Estrada has timed every take to its perfection, every scene flows naturally, and you don't miss a thing that he's trying to tell us. The humour is not just in the gags (as funny as they are), but also in the way the scenes are shot - you'll know what I mean when you watch it for yourself. On top of this, the actors are in their element - one couldn't think of a choice better than Damián Alcázar for the main role, and even the minor characters are played exceptionally well, notably Isela Vega and the reliable Pedro Armendáriz Jr. This film should be seen by the widest audience possible, particularly in countries where law sides with the privileged and lucky few. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Juan Vargas, a practical nobody save his long standing membership with the ruling party, is thrust the Mayorship of an obscure and troubled village - the previous Mayor was lynched by its village folk, and expendable that he is, supposed to be a temporary replacement until the forthcoming elections. But Vargas tries to take the job seriously, and that is when he realises that the only way he could get things done is by bending the rules. When he asks the governor for more funds, he is thrown a copy of the constitution and a pistol. With this, he is asked to maintain law and order and generate funds for his beleaguered municipality. And boy does he succeed...

Evangelina Sosa, Yari Lorenzo, Lucía Muñoz, and Leticia Huijara
I made this from the same letterboxed NTSC DVD as recommended above. I've had this for a while and don't know if the new ones are any better. The quality here is only so-so but acceptable nevertheless.

Evangelina Sosa, Yari Lorenzo, Lucía Muñoz, and Leticia Huijara in La Ley de Herodes

Scene Guide:
  • Perla, Esmeralda, and Rocio work at the village brothel which new Mayor Vargas is trying to shut down. He'll soon learn the benefits of following the 'Live and let live' method. Played by Evangelina Sosa, Yari Lorenzo, and Lucía Muñoz respectively.
  • Back at home, wife Gloria is proud to see Vargas doing 'so well' in his new job, and decides to join him in the bath. The annoyed guest overhearing their conversation is an American than Vargas befriends (Alex Cox) - Vargas will tell the village that the American is an engineer brought to help build village infrastructure. Gloria is played by the easy-on-the-eye Leticia Huijara. Vargas the 'lucky dog' - indeed..! ;)


Monday, 9 April 2012

Victoria Abril & Maribel Verdú in "Amantes" [1991 Spain]

Having been fortunate to have gone through most of Vicente Aranda's filmography, I can safely opine that this veteran director loves women and has great respect for their role in Spanish society. The ubiquitously named 1991 drama "Amantes" [Eng. Title: Lovers] is a typical example. I think it is one of his more deeper films which will be totally lost on anyone watching it casually. As I did when it was aired on TV many years ago. It is a film for mature adults, which I wasn't. But some of the images are strong and unforgettable whether you understand the film or not.

Based on a true story, the film depicts a torrid love triangle that ended in murder during mid-fifties Spain. Paco is discharged from Army and moves in as a tenant of widow Luisa. He is lazy, ignorant, weak, and opportunistic - in sharp contrast to his apparent good looks which women are drawn to. He is engaged to pure-at-heart, virginal, and sincere Trini, who works hard as a housemaid to earn a living and save for a rainy day. His frustrations with her refusal for physical intimacy before marriage draws him to the older, experienced and still attractive Luisa, who's been around the block a few times. Trini, aware of his relationship with his landlady, tries to win him back. But Luisa's sexual prowess and seductive appeal completely clouds Paco's sense of vision and reason, and his inability to distinguish the good things going for him is graphically illustrated for all to see.

Paco, Luisa, and Trini - extreme caricatures in themselves, are drawn with the purpose of showing the contrasting ways in which characters can pursue a common interest - which is essentially about trying to live happily ever after. The characterisation is equivalent to having a strong cup of coffee in order to stay awake - to understand if not appreciate why people behave the way they do. What makes this film special is the convincing portrayal of the characters by the main actors. Both, Victoria Abril who plays Luisa, and Maribel Verdú who plays Trini give exceptional award-winning performances, and this is also the only film to date that won Vicente Aranda a Goya. It obviously isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for the open-minded, definitely refreshing, and Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Compilation: Victoria Abril and Maribel Verdú
There's only brief female nudity in the film - it focuses primarily on what the women see and like in Paco (played by a young and handsome Jorge Sanz), and obviously it is not his wit, charm, or charisma. The scenes are nevertheless erotic, and relevant to the blog. This is from an old letterboxed edition DVD that I've had for a while.

Victoria Abril and Maribel Verdu in Amantes

Scene Guide:
  • Luisa explores Paco like a new land she'd just conquered. Luisa is played by sirena española Victoria Abril.
  • Luisa imparts her worldly knowledge on willing pupil Paco - apparently there 'is' something called the male 'g-spot'. This scene will certainly stay with you for a while, whether you like it or not! ;)
  • Treni visits Paco after making sure his landlady had left. Determined to win him back, she sets aside morals and offers herself readily in an unceremonious fashion. Aranda questions the inherent value of virginity itself in this scene. Treni is well played by a young, beautiful, and sexy Maribel Verdú.


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Elsa Pataky and others in "Máncora" BR720 [2008 Peru, Spain]

This is a rare re-review in this blog. Having recently re-watched Ricardo de Montreuil's Peruvian drama, "Máncora", I realise my earlier assessment was perhaps a bit harsh. And it is only fair that I give it a more balanced review again. Oh well - who said rabbits always get it right the first time! :)

Given the risqué nature of the film's storyline, far from messing things up, I think the director had done a commendable job in treading delicately on the subject - the film would have been an altogether different product in the wrong hands. While the story pushes the boundaries of conventional morality, not least that of deeply conservative Peruvian society, it doesn't delve on their portrayal for more than is needed. I can see that the screenplay and direction have also been inspired by the style and tone used in the Mexican classic "Y tu mamá también" - it is treated like a road movie for a period of time, and similarly show characters intellectually 'growing-up' as the film progresses. This is nevertheless a much lighter film, which may well been the reason why I was initially put-off. It is a film intended for an informed albeit younger mainstream audience, and it achieves its purpose of injecting positivity into cynical youth without sounding preachy. The film is also aided by its tourist-brochure-like sparkling cinematography - the locations in and around Mancora where it was mostly shot are actually quite stunning, as is the vibrant soundtrack. I'm pleased to say - this is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link
(Value for money as it also includes a delightful Puerto Rican comedy "Maldeamores")

Twenty one year old Santiago is shattered after his father commits suicide. His half sister Ximena from New York makes a surprise visit with hubby Iñigo to console him. After they learn he's heading for Máncora, a quaint fishing village north of the country where Santi and Ximena spent childhood holidays, they too decide to tag along. Ximena, whose marriage to Iñigo is getting rocky, spends more time with half-brother Santiago, and they venture into uncharted territory - technically at least, they're committing incest. And it doesn't take long for Iñego to find out either. All three party, get stoned and get laid in chaotic fashion - Iñego tries to get even with Ximena by not only having a fling with a bar-girl, but also asking Ximena to join them for a threesome. Santiago fools around with some local girls but harbours feelings for Ximena that are not essentially brotherly. Things seemingly heading in a downward spiral are rescued by a combination of events, even if the way the film ends sounds tad fanciful.

Elsa Pataky, Ángela Alegria Velásquez, Anahí de Cárdenas, and Liz Gallardo

Elsa Pataky, Ángela Alegria Velásquez, Anahí de Cárdenas, and Liz Gallardo in "Máncora".

Scene Guide:
  • Ximena changes into underwear in Santiago's presence and mockingly tells him off for looking at her. Ximena is played by the utterly delectable Elsa Pataky. But alas, a brief flash of Ms. Pataky's buttocks is all we get to see nudity-wise in the film.
  • After smoking a joint at the beach, Ximena decides to get wet (no pun intended), and Santiago follows, both soon end up rolling in the sand, making love.
  • At a party, naughty local rich girl Ana Maria, played by Anahí de Cárdenas, and her girlfriend La Cachi, played by spicy Ángela Alegria Velásquez invite Santiago to join them for a game of 'Squash'. I think I could get used to that sport...
  • The best is saved for the last - this is of game Liz Gallardo who plays the barmaid that Iñego prepositions, having some carefree fun - she's however disappointed his wife Ximena had refused to join them for a threesome.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Lola Créton in "Un Amour de Jeunesse" [2011 France, Germany]

Actress-turned director Mia Hansen-Løve's romantic drama, "Un Amour de Jeunesse" [Eng. Title: Goodbye First Love] is a subdued affair, almost Scandinavian in style. The film is ambitious in scope even if it is aimed at a predominantly young-adult audience - one can see Ms. Hansen-Løve's sincere effort to stay clear from stereotypical film-making. It may have a nostalgic air about it, but she'd made sure it doesn't go over-the-top with customary trappings like cheesy music and sentimentalism - in fact music is sparingly used throughout the film, natural sound in their relevant environment is used wherever possible, and what little music we hear, is thoughtfully chosen. I think Ms. Hansen-Løve is talented with great potential, one which could perhaps be realised fully with a more serious subject, and I'd be looking forward to see what she does next.

It's a simple story elegantly told. Camille and Sebastian are childhood sweethearts - their first love, and by their mid-teens they're also sexually active. When Sebastian decides to travel South America to 'find' himself, fifteen year old Camille reluctantly accepts the inevitable separation. After he leaves, she misses him terribly, only managing to get by through his letters. But they gradually become less frequent and the letters stop altogether, and when he doesn't return to Paris after his travels Camille gets depressed and nearly commits suicide. She wouldn't get into another relationship for five years, until she falls in love and moves in with her university professor, soon to become one of his employees as a budding architect. Sebastian returns to Paris and meets Camille after more years, and when they do, we see Camille's feelings towards him still hasn't changed, and they end up meeting in secret, knowing well their affair will only be short-lived, until they're really ready for each other's love...

The film has a few things going for it - its excellent cinematography, good editing, decent music, and not least the young actress playing Camille - Lola Créton is absolutely charming in her role and keeps our attention through her natural looking performance and grace - a fine casting choice. Recommended Viewing. DVD Link
English Subtitles

Compilation: Lola Créton
Made from two scenes, the first is of Camille and Sebastian when they're young, before he leaves her. The second is when they meet many years later and have an encounter at a hotel room. Camille is played by the beautiful and enchanting Lola Créton - it is rumoured she was barely eighteen when she did the film.

Lola Creton in Un Amour de Jeunesse


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Agostina Belli & co in "Profumo di Donna" [1974 Italy]

Any record of Italian cinema is incomplete without the inclusion of one director named Dino Risi. He was one of the most important and prolific contributors to Italian mainstream cinema, and more specifically to that uniquely Italian genre called Commedia All'italiana.

While I can't claim to have gone through his entire filmography, I think I've seen enough Risi's works to make some observations. His early style of film making was reminiscent of Antonioni, particularly in terms of composition and lighting. His actors are often top-draw artistes of the day, and one of the reasons for his commercial success. Many times his films have brilliant starts, but occasionally they get unnecessarily convoluted and finish in a hurry. I've heard a celebrated director once say that the ending is the most creatively challenging part of making any film, and that's what separates a great director from the rest. But what I would be grateful to Risi for is the moments of sheer magic that appear in some of his scenes - they're so perfect that I doubt they could be shot in a better way, and whether or not we remember the film's storyline, that single magical scene will be etched in your memory for ever, even if they may have little to the main plot. Like the beautiful romantic scene in the moonlit cobbled streets of Rome in "Un amore a Roma". Or like in his 1974 masterpiece "Profumo di Donna" [Eng. Title: Scent of a Woman], later to be remade in Hollywood with an Oscar-winning performance from Al Pacino.

I'm not getting carried away when I say Risi's original is far superior in every way to the US remake. The original has a lot of depth, excellent screenplay and characterisation, subtle humour, equal or perhaps even a better performance from the lead actor Vittorio Gassman (he won at Cannes and also got a David for this film), and a scintillating soundtrack. On the whole, it is a marvellous example of Italian cinema at its best. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
English Subtitles

Fausto, a retired army officer, blinded in an accident, is travelling from Turin to Naples, and as part of his perks is assigned young cadet Giovanni aka Ciccio as his escort for the journey. They will pass through Genoa and Rome to allow Fausto perform some errands along the way. He is after all making his final visit before planning to kill himself - he and another blind colleague have made a secret pact - to end their existence of misery and others' pity. During those five days, Ciccio will learn a lot about Fausto, having been initially put-off by his outwardly brash and exuberant behaviour. Ciccio will also have matured beyond his age by then, as he begins to understand the value of dignity and self respect through his middle aged travelling companion. Even more so after meeting the beautiful Sara, who is deeply in love with Fausto, her deceased father's former colleague. But Fausto persistently discourages her intentions, not even letting her have a private moment with him. He doesn't want to be loved for the sake of pity. But Sara is determined to win his love...

Dino Risi's magic:
I last watched this film many years ago, but the scene that stood in my mind every time the film's name is mentioned, is not even a pivotal scene. Upon reflection, I think it is the timing of its insertion and the graceful way it has been filmed that shows what Risi is capable of producing - a memorable moment of magic. They're in Genoa, and while Fausto uses the services of a prostitute, Ciccio hangs out in the terrace where the prostitute's daughter is playing, shielded from her mother's chosen profession. Later in the scene, after a generous tip from a satisfied Fausto, the prostitute offers Ciccio some of her time for free, which he politely refuses. On a different note, this will unfortunately also be the actor playing Ciccio, Alessandro Mommo's last work, loosing his life in a motor accident shortly after completing this film.

Agostina Belli, Marisa Volonnino, Elena Veronese, and Stefania Spugnini
There is only brief nudity in the film, but they're a joy to watch, not least for the drop-dead gorgeous Agostina Belli in the prime of her youth. And considering one could count on top of the head at least a dozen such outstanding beauties working in Italian cinema simultaneously, men of that era must have had a 'nightmare' even constructing their little fantasies..! :D

Agostina Belli and others in Profumo di donna

Scene Guide:
  • Fausto and Ciccio at a nightclub in Rome catered by topless waitresses. Don't you just love the seventies..!
  • No nudity - this is more of an excuse to see the stunning Agostina Belli in daylight as her character Sara tries to catch Fausto alone, but after noticing her presence he immediately summons Ciccio to come and sit with them.
  • The girls - Ines, Michelina, and Candida are changing into their bikini to go swimming when Fausto barges in taking advantage of his condition and liberally gropes them, who are a flirty bunch of tease in any case. Bespectacled Candida is Sara's younger sister while the others are her friends. Ines, Michelina and Candida are played by Marisa Volonnino, Elena Veronese, and Stefania Spugnini respectively.
  • Sara, who'd been hiding all the while is 'spotted' by Fausto who could 'sense' the scent of a woman (hence the title). But once he realises who it is, Fausto shows his mean streak by asking Ciccio to come in and see. A furious Sara leaves in a hurry.
  • No nudity but further groping by Fausto at a dinner where he 'spots' the girls by feeling their buttocks..! :)