Wednesday, 30 May 2012

María Nela Sinisterra & Cristina Brondo in "Penumbra" [2011 Argentina]

Young directors Adrián García Bogliano and Ramiro García Bogliano specialise in horror flicks, and since I'm not a fan of that genre, I'll keep this brief - their latest effort "Penumbra" (half-light) is way more interesting than their only other film I'd seen to date (Sudor Frío). It also reaches a higher level in technical sophistication, alongside the performances by actors playing the main characters.

Margarita, an ambitious young lawyer from Barcelona is trying to let out a family property down in Buenos Aires, where she also spends some time working in her firm's Argentinian branch. She meets a man who she assumes is the letting agent at the premises, and goes about negotiating a deal. It so happens that there's a total eclipse that day - a day that also doesn't go quite as planned for poor Margarita. A combination of factors including a degree of oversight and professional arrogance contributes to that. Soon we'll see Margarita trapped in her own flat and praying to be let out...

A good part of the film is dedicated in developing the characterisation which works exceedingly well, particularly that of the protagonist Margarita played by the cute and talented Cristina Brondo. The film is laced with humour and irony - and Ms. Brondo does a great job in delivering the tone that bring them to the fore. The film also has a surprising twist towards the end that will leave us wondering as to what'll happen next. I actually enjoyed watching this neat little film - Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Rental

Compilation: María Nela Sinisterra and Cristina Brondo
There is only a single scene in the film concerning nudity - that of a pretty Colombian girl who becomes an unwitting victim upon answering a job vacancy. The girl is played by María Nela Sinisterra. I've however also included a brief scene of Cristina Brondo for mention, simply because she's just so cute..! :)

María Nela Sinisterra and Cristina Brondo in Penumbra


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ambra Angiolini & co in "Immaturi - Il Viaggio" BR720 [2012 Italy]

This will be brief..!

Following on the commercial success of "Immaturi", Medusa decided to use Paolo Genovese again for a sequel "Immaturi - Il Viaggio" [Eng. Trans: Immature - the Vacation]. This is what they mean by a 'tried and tested formula' - oh well, cinemas need to be filled these days I guess..!

Friends from last year's reunion decide to get together again for a vacation in Greece. The beautiful people from last year meet up with more beautiful people for some clichéd gags, pointless hi-jinx - yada yada, hire a Greek villa - yada yada, someone's diagnosed with breast cancer - yada yada, someone gets pregnant - yada yada, boy gets girl - yada, one of the bored friends kills time shoplifting - yada, gets her friends in trouble one day - yada, and they still remain firm friends towards the end, yada... (you get the idea!)

My only motivation for checking this film was the lovely Luisa Ranieri - she is of course as resplendent as ever, but as a bonus managed to catch a brief glimpse of Ambra Angiolini partially in the nude - as far as I can remember she has never done any film nudity (you can correct me if I'm wrong), but she has this something extra that can drive men crazy (for me any way). There you go - that's all the positives in this 'film'..!

Compilation: Ambra Angiolini, Francesca Valtorta, and Rosío Muñoz Morales
Ambra Angiolini, Francesca Valtorta, and Rosío Muñoz Morales in Immaturi - Il Viaggio
The sequel "Immaturi - Il Viaggio" is a typical feel-good film with beautiful people doing silly things, and includes the likes of Ambra Angiolini, Francesca Valtorta, and Rosío Muñoz Morales.
Scene Guide:
  • Francesca is all dressed-down for a special date with boyfriend Ivano the night before she goes away for her reunion - but two of her friends, dumped by their girlfriends turn up at her place earlier than planned. Francesca is played by a 'driving-me-crazy' Ambra Angiolini.
  • No nudity - Pietro with his pick-up Gloria (or is it the other way around), played by Francesca Valtorta.
  • No nudity - Spanish fly Anna buzzes around a hitherto faithfully married Giorgio - he had arrived in Greece a day before his pregnant wife could join him. She challenges him to resist her temptation. I don't know the Charlize Theron scene she's alluding to - perhaps someone could enlighten. Played by an easy-on-the-eye Rosío Muñoz Morales.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Mariangela Melato in "Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'Agosto" [1974 Italy]

It's about time I started the filmography of Lina Wertmüller, one of Italy's finest female directors, the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for directing, and a fabulous exponent in the tradition of Commedia all'italiana - the bitter-sweet comedies from an era one could broadly call the second golden age of Italian cinema where social/political satire is infused into a tragicomic plot to drive home a message.

"Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'Agosto" [Eng. Title: Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August, aka Swept Away] is the third in a set of films from the period that saw Ms. Wertmüller collaborate with Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato, each film dealing with the clash of capitalist and communist ideals in the changing political landscape of Italy of the time (the other two being "Film d'amore e d'anarchia" and "Mimì metallurgico ferito nell'onore"). All three are different films, but it is this one that won worldwide acclaim and even went on to be considered as a landmark in cinema. All three films are brilliant in their own unique way, even if we can retrospectively see the final one as a natural progression for themes explored in the earlier two films. One may also notice that Ms. Wertmüller has a quirky way of naming her films - most of her early films have unusually long titles. Wertmüller is famous for often fusing (triumphantly) two of her favourite subjects - sex with politics (and occasionally religion) to tell a story, and in the process has often prompted debate by pushing the envelope and justifying it by forcing us to look at it from different angles.

Raffaella Lanzetti, her rich industrialist hubby and friends from the north hire a yacht for a vacation in the Mediterranean. Apart from their sunbathing rituals and swimming, their topic of conversation often veers towards politics and how their class have to put up with the incompetent left-wing peasants in getting Italy to work. Overhearing their conversations and frothing at his mouth is deck hand Gennarino, an ardent communist. This doesn't go unnoticed by the bitchy Raffaella who revels in taunting him further on every occasion, be it the 'overcooked' pasta or reheated coffee.
One day after having overslept, Raffaella insists on being taken to a nearby beach for a swim despite warnings from the crew. Gennarino's objections are overruled and asked to take her on a dinghy, which develops engine trouble half way. After a night at sea, they eventually drift towards a deserted island.
Once there, Raffaella continues to pass orders to Gennarino, insulting him whenever she could. After one insult too many, he snaps, trades back some choice insults and splits off on his own. The power equation changes when Raffaella realises she needs him to survive in the island, and offers to compromise. But Gennarino is brought up 'the old way', one where women are subservient to men and waited upon. He demands the same from Raffaella, often smacking her around. After the initial culture shock and some vain resistance, Raffaella relents and even ends up washing his underpants. Gennarino's treatment of Raffaella begins to border on the misogynistic when he starts treating her as a slave - on one occasion even demanding her to take off her clothes. He nearly rapes her after catching up with a defiant Raffaella, but stops short by telling her that he would never impregnate a woman unless she offers herself willingly 'filled of passion'. That day nevertheless arrives, when Raffaella falls in love with his primal nature, and completely surrenders herself.
They begin to live a romantic dream, until one day a rescue boat arrives near their island. Despite Raffaella asking Gennarino not to send them any signal, he does, out of his own machismo, and also to test how much she loves him. But once they are rescued, it becomes plainly obvious that Raffaella, despite her genuine feelings for Gennarino is never going to forego her worldly comforts for a life in the wilderness...

About the film:
While much has been written about the film, many criticising the open depiction of violence against women, one must point out that the couple's relationship should be seen not at face value, but allegorically against a backdrop of the clash between left and right wing politics (whole governments changed every few months during this period), and the north-south divide in a country more starker than others - some of the words used by northerners to insult a southerner include 'Turk', 'Abyssinian', even 'Negro'. What also shocks some is that for a comedy, it reinforces stereotypes by making them too convincing, with accusations that Wertmüller has pandered to a predominantly male fantasy. Which couldn't be further from the truth, because she critiques both the protagonists in equal measure, even more so man's inability to adapt fast enough to a changing world. She is equally critical of the blind faith in communist ideologies among its followers - one mustn't separate the sexual tensions from the politics contained within the film. Performance wise, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato scorch the screen in scenes that have by now become legend, even if Giannini is outrageously over the top in some scenes. Technically, the stunning cinematography by Ennio Guarnieri and team capture Sardinia at its sunniest best (even if it was apparently cold during many days of the shoot), and the editing is coherent and smooth despite using a multitude of short takes. And eroticism being of the mind, you'll know why this will also make an excellent 'date' film. This gem of a film is therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

About the DVD:
I recommend the above DVD for those who can follow Italian, because it contains a fascinating set of interviews from Lina Wertmüller and Mariangela Melato. They talk about the making of the film, the concept, the famous on-screen 'chemistry' between Ms. Melato and Giannini, and Wertmüller's desire to even make a sequel to this film! They jointly criticise Guy Ritchie and Madonna's more recent remake of the same, and cite possible reasons for it not being so successful. It is also a pleasure to see how Ms. Melato has aged gracefully over the years whilst retaining all her charm and sharp wit.

Compilation: Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini
There are only brief instances of nudity in the film, but it is more than compensated for by some of the most memorable erotic sequences captured in cinema. I've used some scattered edits that should make an ideal taster for those who like cerebrally sensual films. I won't bother explaining every scene captured - a lot of them are visual enough for non-Italian speakers. Except the last scene which requires a bit of explaining - because she loves him so much, Raffaella 'begs' Gennarino to deflower her where her virginity is still intact - by sodomising her :). What makes this scene extra special is the knowledge of a upper class woman pleading in her posh accent to an ignorant man who doesn't even know what the word 'sodomise' means - she had to guide him without resorting to the more 'common' terminology! Bitchy Raffaella is played by a classy Mariangela Melato in the prime of her youth, and the wild Gennerino by a handsome Giancarlo Giannini.

Mariangela Melato in Travolti da un insolito destino nell'azzurro mare d'agosto


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Elena Roger & Denise Groesman in "Un Amor" [2011 Argentina]

I've seen only one other film from promising director Paula Hernández (Herencia), and notice that her latest film, the ubiquitously named "Un Amor" [Eng. Title: One Love] is just as romantic, if slightly on the bitter-sweet side. As the other film, this one is also about people returning decades later to connect with their past.

Bruno and Lalo, teenagers, are close friends in small town Victoria and one day notice a new face in their neighbourhood - fifteen year old Lisa. They become friends, and soon the precocious Lisa is drawn towards Lalo, the oldest of the three. Lalo however is a serious lad and doesn't want to just have a sexual fling with her - he's quite content using prostitutes for that- he instead hopes to marry her one day. Bruno, while interested in Lisa himself, doesn't make any move on his own due to loyalty to his friend. Lisa leaves one day when her parents decide to move to Brazil, and all three go their separate ways. Thirty years pass and Lisa, arriving on business, decides to catch up with her old Argentinian friends. Would this be a happy reunion, for we will see some truths finally come out in the open...

This is a simple yet beautiful film thanks to an intelligent script and restrained performances from the main actors. While it isn't as intense as her earlier "Herencia", Ms. Hernández makes some fine observations on middle age and lost dreams. While it doesn't say anything particularly profound, the sensitive narrative gives us an insight into these people's lives. It is aided by some competent cinematography and editing. The film is Recommended Viewing.

Compilation: Denisa Groesman and Elena Roger
There are only brief instances of nudity in the film as part of the narrative.

Denise Groesman and Elena Roger in Un Amor

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity - friends mucking about by the lake, after which Bruno looks at Lalo with surprise when he suggests wanting to marry Lisa, she had after all felt up Bruno's crotch only minutes earlier. The younger Lisa is played by Denise Groesman.
  • After an argument between Lalo and Lisa, Bruno visits Lisa to console her but things happen (naughty Lisa is guilt-ridden later). Young Bruno is played by Alan Daicz.
  • Lalo comes looking for Lisa, with a flashback of their last meeting when he presents her a family trinket and professes his love.
  • Years later, Lisa and Lalo catch up, and it appears they still have feelings for each other despite Lalo's balding hair and worn look. The older Lisa is played by Elena Roger, and Lalo by Luis Ziembrowski.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Ana de la Reguera in "Así del Precipicio" [2006 Mexico]

María Teresa Suarez Maceiras wrote and made her directorial feature film debut (as Teresa Suarez) in the Mexican drama, "Así del Precipicio" [Eng. Title: At the Edge of the Abyss]. For a debut, it was certainly a bold film, considering it was addressing an audience a world apart from her film's subject - one that's probably better suited to a Madrid than a Mexico City. It concerns a tiny percentage of the upper class who make up the young and beautiful - the über-cool metrosexuals who have choices in life but don't know what to do with them.

It's about three young women, friends - the beautiful Lucía who works in advertising as an art director, a devil-may-care Carmen, an artist without commissions and who fancies a guy she can't have because he's gay, and Hanna, recently separated from her wealthy but mollycoddled husband. Together they share an apartment and we follow their fortunes as each one of them go through a crisis of sorts in trying to get to grips with their world. Lucía is hopelessly in love with two-timer Mathías, and vents her frustrations through drugs and alcohol which only lands her in further trouble. Carmen comes in possession of a stash of cocaine which will make her life more complicated than it already is. Hanna fares better than the rest - in fact her 'crisis' if anything relates to discovering her sexual orientation as she gets increasingly drawn towards a wealthy female customer at the jewellery store where she works. The other two, Lucía and Carmen, reach the edge of their own abyss, and the film explores how they deal with it.

When I watched this for the first time several years ago, I wasn't particularly impressed as it pretty much resembled a mushy TV melodrama. Even now I feel the screenplay could have been better, and things were perhaps dumbed down to reach a hitherto new audience. But despite its defects, at least we're saved a sermon - it is merely observing a people who at least in Mexico are rarely seen or heard. Some found the scenes of sex and liberal use of recreational drugs shocking, but I think there have been far more shocking films from Mexico itself, both in terms of sex scenes and drug abuse than this one. In fact one of the problems with this film is that it hasn't delved into the issues deep enough to make us understand the protagonists' plight fully, and possibly root for them. We're never really shown the 'precipice', merely expected to imagine it by protagonists' reactions.

This is nevertheless a sincere effort from Ms. Suarez as director - one can see she has some interesting ideas, and one hopes they'll be better realised in forthcoming projects. She even coaxed two of the most beautiful and promising of actresses from Mexico to star in the film - Ana de la Reguera and the more sparingly used Martha Higareda. Ms. Reguera allegedly regrets working in the film, but I don't really see any logical reason for it, unless there were creative differences or disputes of some kind. As for the acting, some give a pretty good account of themselves, notably Ms. Reguera who plays Lucía, and Gabriela Platas who plays Carmen. Technically however, I felt that the editing, direction, and the performances were always playing catch-up to overcome shortcomings of the screenplay, never always succeeding. But there are far worse films even from established directors than this one, and with an unforgettable scene that kick-starts the film, it is definitely worth the price of a ticket, or DVD. Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link
(Great value for money)

About the Lionsgate DVD:
While I dearly wish it was an anamorphic transfer - this is letterboxed-widescreen - it isn't altogether as bad as in some other editions. This was in fact my second purchase, the previous one wasn't any better, but at least this edition includes an interesting short film made earlier by Ms. Suarez called "Tú Mataste a Tarantino" [Eng. Trans: You Killed Tarantino]. And therefore a better value purchase.

Main Compilation: Ana de la Reguera
The DVD quality may only be average, but the opening scene in this film is anything but! That's why I decided to enhance it as much as I could.
Here's a snapshot from the original DVD (left), and my enhanced version (right):

It took me well over a day to fiddle around and put them together - admittedly nothing can be enhanced beyond a particular point, and while mine isn't quite the 'ideal' quality, it may yet be among the better ones out there. Let us know what you think anyway. :)

Ana de la Reguera from Asi del Precipicio

Scene Guide:
  • Teresa Suarez does a Bigas Luna here by juxtaposing an infant with an all grown-up Lucía. For Lucía, it is the matador Mathías who's now her reward - her craving. In this sensational nude scene - the reason why it occupies pride of place in my Latin American tribute, we see an unusual bedroom 'Pasodoble' performed by Lucía and Mathías - only Lucía prefers being the bull rather than the matador's cape. Lucía is played by the gorgeous Ana de la Reguera and Mathías by a handsome Alejandro Nones. We can tell that the director particularly loves the body of Ms. Reguera, in an artistic sense of course!
  • He leaves her wanting more - Lucía lets him know the consequences.
  • Lucía lands in big trouble the following day after too much drugs and alcohol - she decides to quit the habit, taking a leaf from a magazine, as it were.
  • But she couldn't forget Mathías, and 'melts' every time she meets up with him.
  • This is supposed to be of Lucía hitting a new low - when she wakes up half-naked next to a stranger. (Did I miss something? :-( )
  • Later in the bath...

Compilation 2: Anna Ciocchetti and Ingrid Martz
This one hasn't been enhanced.

Anna Ciocchetti and Ingrid Martz in Asi del Precipicio

Scene Guide:
  • Hanna fantasises about an older customer Sandra from work. Hanna is played by Ingrid Mortz and the wealthy customer Sandra is Anna Ciocchetti.
  • It appears the feeling is mutual and Hanna and Sandra end up becoming a couple.

Bonus Compilation: Patricia Llaca
From the short, "Tú Mataste a Tarantino" [Eng. Trans: You Killed Tarantino]. Tarantino by the way is the name of the cute little mutt who kicks the bucket after chewing a pouch containing cocaine, while his master was busy with his mistress Cicilia. Wife Diana returns from one of her female empowerment yoga-like sessions to see her favourite pet missing...
While I hope Ms. Suarez finds male actors who can also act apart from looking good, her female actresses do a decent enough job here, notably the dusky Mexican beauty Patricia Llaca (La Habitación Azul) who plays Cecilia.

Patricia Llaca in Tu Mataste a Tarantino


Friday, 18 May 2012

Suzanna Hamilton in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" [1984 UK]

I have seen only three films of BAFTA winning director Michael Radford, of which his 1984 adaptation of George Orwell's "1984" is undoubtedly the best. I've yet to see his more acclaimed "Il Postino" though, and my opinion might yet change after viewing it.

"Nineteen Eight-Four" however is one of the more faithful adaptations of a novel I've ever seen - even if a few chapters and events are skimmed past (understandable), it vividly captures the tone, atmosphere and message of the novel in all its muck and glory, just the way you imagined it while reading the book. I believe that's partly because Radford doesn't treat the work as science fiction even if ironically that's the way Orwell intended. The screenplay and production design portrays this more as a political satire set during a proto-cold war period - i.e., just after the second world war, with its then technology and know-how - the time when Orwell actually wrote this novel. The casting of the main characters couldn't have been any better - the choice of John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton, and Richard Burton (this was his final film) incredibly fit their respective characters to a dot. The cinematography and lighting is imaginatively thought out with some interesting camera angles and colours to capture the utter despair and foreboding. Add to that, we have an atmospheric soundtrack by Dominic Muldowney (and Eurythmics) that give the film added gravitas. As a literary interpretation and a piece of cinema, this is an unqualified triumph for Michael Radford and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Storyline: (For those who've yet to read the book)
After a third (atomic) World War, the world map changes radically - now made up of three authoritarian superstates, Oceania (of which Britain and the Americas are part), Eurasia (continental Europe and Russia), and the more recently formed Eastasia (China, India and others). The story takes place in Oceania, ruled by the mysterious 'Big Brother' (BB), where Winston is a civil servant in the Records department of 'Minitrue' (Ministry of Truth - among other things it monitors and decides what gets published, and in what form). He meets Julia, from the 'Porno Section' of the Fiction Department during one of their daily collective 'Hate' gatherings, falls in love, and embarks on a secretive affair. Or so he thought - for he should have known, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!

By the way, George Orwell's "1984" is essential reading for everyone, no matter what their political leaning. It is also well written, thought provoking, and compelling, tinged with the sense of encroaching horror. If you haven't read it yet, it's about time you did!

Compilation: Shirley Stelfox and Suzanna Hamilton
There is a practical and symbolic necessity for nudity in this film, Julia and Winston are often shown together in the nude - clothed, they are nothing but comrades in the machinery called Oceania.

Shirley Stelfox and Suzanna Hamilton in Nineteen Eight-Four

Scene Guide:
  • Winston had just started writing a diary in secret, and reminisces an encounter with a prostitute in the 'proletarian' quarter. Winston is excellently portrayed by John Hurt and the prostitute is played by Shirley Stelfox.
  • One of Winston's visions of the dark haired girl he recently met - Julia. True to the novel, she sheds her clothing as she approaches, including the red sash which is a sign of someone who belongs to the Anti-Sex League, meaning - they're celibate. Julia is convincingly played by Suzanna Hamilton - I'm still amazed how well she fits the description in Orwell's book.
  • Julia and Winston's first 'date' in the woods, away from Big Brother's watchful eyes...
  • Winston rents a room in the proletarian quarter for their rendezvous.
  • Winston is ridden with guilt concerning his mother - here he has a recurrent dream while in bed with Julia.
  • Good things can't last for ever. ‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head..!’

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Déborah François and others in "My Queen Karo" [2009 Belgium, Netherlands]

I believe coming-of-age must be a favourite subject for Dutch-Belgian director Dorothée Van Den Berghe - this is the second film of hers that I've seen delving into it. "My Queen Karo" is a delicate study of a young girl adjusting to life in an unconventional environment.

the film is set in the early seventies when nine year old Karo and her bohemian parents Dalia and Raven move into a squatter's commune in Amsterdam. Within no time, Raven gets involved with Alice, a left-wing activist who already has a partner and two children, and he invites her to move into the commune. Obviously Dalia isn't too happy with the arrangement but there's little she could do to change Raven's mind. She reluctantly accepts the ménage à trois by sharing Raven with Alice. Just as her parents come to terms with the new life they'd chosen, Karo finds herself adjusting to new realities. This is the heart of the film, as she sees her parent's relationship change beyond what she'd have ideally preferred, and must find her own way to be happy. She still loves her parents, and although she is glad to have found new friends in Alice's children - Daniel and Tara, swimming will become her passion, one she will pursue with rigour to distract herself from a less than ideal lifestyle.

While similar topics may have been discussed in film before, what makes this different is the careful and sensitive screenplay. It doesn't divert too much of our attention away from young Karo - this film isn't about her parents and their heartbreaks, but of Karo displaying a maturity beyond her years to adapt to the surroundings. All the principal actors give a fine performance, particularly pleasing is that of the adorable Anna Franziska Jaeger who plays Karo. The cinematography is appealing, as is the soundtrack, and I even loved the title credits. There are also instances of child nudity in the film, but it is deftly handled - there's nothing here that 'balanced' individuals should be unduly concerned about. This is pretty much a mainstream film that needs a wider audience than it does. And that is why, this is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Déborah François, Maria Kraakman, Matthias Schoenaerts, Anna Franziska Jaeger, Cezanne Q Cuypers, and Samuel du Chatinier

Déborah François, Maria Kraakman, and Matthias Schoenaerts in My Queen Karo

Scene Guide:
  • Young Karo and her hedgehog pal Iglo adjusting to life in a commune. Karo is played by the wonderful Anna Franziska Jaeger.
  • When Raven openly takes on Alice as his lover, a distraught Dalia contemplates throwing herself off the building. Karo intervenes. Dalia is played by the delightful Déborah François, Raven by a handsome Matthias Schoenaerts, and Alice by a very nineteen-seventies looking Maria Kraakman.
  • Dalia tries to get some attention from Raven by trying on a dress she'd just made. When she asks for some help with her dress, Raven refuses to play along.
  • With Raven spending a lot of his time with Alice, Dalia decides the only way she could be with him is by joining them. A threesome ensues. Karo watches the drama with mixed feelings of curiosity and disappointment.
  • Alice and Raven go on a holiday along with Karo and Alice's children Tara and Daniel, played by Cezanne Q Cuypers, and Samuel du Chatinier respectively.
  • Upon their return, Raven is annoyed noticing Dalia had installed a new partition, effectively separating herself from the rest.
  • Raven and Alice making love not too far away from the children, and Alice's kids jump into the bed to play with her. Karo doesn't.
  • When the landlord switches off their water supply, Alice, Raven, and the kids help themselves to a much needed shower at Karo's swimming pool.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Teresa Madruga in "Dans la Ville Blanche" [1983 France, Portugal]

Some people talk of European cinema as if it is some kind of a monolith, or a method of film-making in itself. While it certainly isn't, there is something in the cinema made here that is unique to the region, one that will find itself out of place anywhere else - its essence. Good film makers the world over who have sought inspiration from European classics know where to draw the line - one beyond which they'll end up looking pretentious or even irrelevant. Even among Europe's finest film makers, you will find they tend to relate mostly to their own native audience. But if I have to pick one film maker who can transcend regions and find himself at home anywhere in Europe when it comes to cinema, it will have to be the Swiss-born Alain Tanner.

Like in his 1983 classic, "Dans la Ville Blanche" [Eng. Title: In the White City] - I was actually in a dilemma where to even file it in the blog - here we have a Swiss director making a French film about a German (Swiss) sailor living in Portugal. I have seen only a handful of Tanner's films to date - they're not particularly easy to get hold of, but among those this one remains my favourite, pipping his earlier and more widely known gem, "Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l'an 2000 ".

Paul, a German-Swiss sailor deserts ship upon reaching Lisbon - just like that. He walks around the city filming with his 8mm camera and sends the footage to his wife back home. In all his communications with his wife, he is honest, sometimes painfully so. Especially after he meets and falls in love with local waitress Rosa at the hotel where he's staying. Paul doesn't want to work, resolve whatever problems he has with his wife - it is obvious they still care about each other, or even settle down with the cute Rosa who only wants to see some kind of commitment from him. Paul has decided to take a vacation from everyday life itself, without quite becoming a hermit.

The storyline however tells us nothing of what's in store for us. This is an intimate journey of a man in a state of crisis. We don't know what he is looking for - by all probability he himself doesn't. And neither is he particularly worried about it as he takes every minute as it comes. It is this vacuous 'walkabout' in an alien city with its fading charm, much like himself, that keeps us transfixed to the screen. It is a film about alienation as much as it is about a man's hidden desire to do something 'worthwhile'. Way ahead of its time - it looks at a Europe without frontiers, and contemplates a human condition that is thoroughly modern and relevant today. In the process, we're left these haunting images of a Lisbon probably never seen before nor will ever be - the grainy 8mm stock used in these scenes give a nostalgic feel and abstract quality that so befits the film's theme. Add to that we have a breathtaking jazz soundtrack by Jean-Luc Barbier, used sparingly but to magnificent effect. One could relate to Paul the protagonist, played by a very different looking Bruno Ganz (Der Himmel über Berlin - Wings of Desire). As also with the plain but beautiful waitress Rosa, played by leading Portuguese actress Teresa Madruga. I also loved the way Tanner forces you to get to grips with his pace to show us his world, his vision. If action-packed films are your thing, this one isn't your cup of tea, but for those with curiosity and patience, this is as rewarding as films get. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link
English Subtitles

Compilation: Teresa Madruga
This film is a whole lot more than these brief nude scenes. The main purpose of the post is to write something about one of the most memorable films I've ever seen and also kick start Alain Tanner's filmography. This was taken from my letterboxed DVD - I haven't checked the more recent Alain Tanner collection box-set, but as far as I'm aware this film hasn't been digitally remastered. It is nevertheless a decent transfer as it stands.

Teresa Madruga in Dans la Ville Blanche

Scene Guide:
  • Rosa the waitress invites Paul to her apartment to spend some time together after work. Rosa is played by a young and beautiful Teresa Madruga, and Paul by Swiss actor of repute Bruno Ganz.
  • Continued...
  • This time Rosa sneaks into his hotel room during work.
  • Paul had only recently been mugged and robbed of all his cash. Penniless, hungry, all he could think of is making a 'romantic' film with Rosa.
  • No nudity but relevant scene as Rosa realises she's in love with a person who's still a stranger to her in many respects.
  • Highlight of the compilation - some of the 8mm footage shot by Paul - magical!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Elena Anaya in "Alatriste" [2006 Spain] 1080p

Agustín Díaz Yanes has the distinction of having directed one of the most expensive films ever made in Spain, "Alatriste". Based on a series of popular novels about the exploits of a seventeenth century soldier and mercenary - El Capitán Alatriste, it is a swashbuckling epic spanning some four decades of one of the most eventful periods in Spanish history, one that also saw its world superpower status seriously challenged by upstarts like England and France.

I haven't read any of the original novels, so my storyline is based purely on what one sees in the film. Almost episodic, the film starts with Alatriste as a soldier under King Philip IV involved in quelling a revolt in the restive Flanders (Dutch) region. When one of his comrades dies during battle, Alatriste promises to take care of his young son Íñigo. Alatriste soon becomes prominent enough to get noticed in royal circles, and is commissioned odd and sometimes unofficial assignments to do their dirty work. Romance is part of the film's offering too - between Íñigo and the Queen's lady in waiting Angélica, and Alatriste's own affair with actress María de Castro, upon whom the King himself had set his eyes on. María de Castro is probably the most tragic character in the film as she will spend her last days at a syphilis hospital, and Angélica will also change her mind about eloping with Iñigo after realising she has the opportunity to become a countess - practical lady. There are several more battles and intrigues than I'd care to write about - let's just say it is action packed from beginning till the end.

The film aims to appeal to an international audience by casting Scandinavian-American Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) in the titular role. It is also around two and a half hours long - not enough to fit in five novels and do justice to the original work, but that's what it tries, and fails. People who're not aware of the original stories will find the film an information overload. With regard to the production, I'm still not convinced about the film's supposed technical merits save the exquisite costume design, and even that job is made easier by focusing on too few types of characters - soldiers, nobles, and slaves - I don't remember seeing a single peasant or trader in the entire film. I'm afraid every other aspect is only trying to compare itself to production levels of Tirante el Blanco, a film that also came out the same year. I found the cinematography, set design, and lighting spending too much effort trying to look like a sombre Velázquez or early Goya composition instead of making us feel and breathe the late medieval air. Apart from the boat scene with the slave rowers, there's little else that impressed me in cinematic terms.

May be my opinion is clouded after watching recent ground-breaking productions like The Game of Thrones, may be because I'm not generally a sucker for historical epics unless it is researched and seen through the eyes of a Pasolini, or may be I'm just plain annoyed that having watched too many things happen on-screen, precious little has indeed registered. This film has failed to impress me. Among the performances, the best is that of Ariadna Gil who plays the actress María de Castro caught between the affections of Alatriste and the King. Elena Anaya also is a joy to watch even if there's nothing too challenging for her to do here. This post is more of an excuse to write about a brief minute-long nude scene shot with all the coyness of late imperial catholic Spain - that of Angélica being persuaded by Íñigo to elope with him and get married. Angélica is played by an angelic Elena Anaya.

Elena Anaya in Alatriste

Amazon Blu-ray Link
English Subtitles


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mina Orfanou in "Strella" [2009 Greece]

I've had the DVD of this Panos H. Koutras drama, "Strella" [Eng. Title: A Woman's Way] for well over a year now. It is also one of the most poignant and radical films I'd seen during the time, one that I'd been itching to post but whose time has probably only just about arrived...

It's films like these that make European cinema every once in a while so unique and revolutionary. In terms of story and screenplay, it certainly covers new ground by tackling a subject that's taboo in most cultures with great sensitivity and care. And it is also refreshing to see a film like this made not in the traditional heartland of European cinema like France, Germany, or Italy, but a largely conservative Greece. No wonder it raised a few eyebrows there when it was released. This post is also a coming-of-age of sorts for the blog - while I'd discussed films dealing with transsexual themes before, this is the first one that doesn't involve a female actress playing the part - this is as kosher as they come!

It is a challenging task to write a storyline for this without giving too much away - there's nothing like discovering this strange story by yourself as the film progresses, experiencing its shocking twists and turns, and then reflecting back on what you just saw to realise how well the film has actually been conceived. But I shall try. ;)
Yiorgos arrives at Athens after serving a fourteen year sentence for murder. Along with the world outside, he too has 'adapted', but had lost contact with the only member of his family, his son who was nine before he was sent to prison. Through directory enquiries, he goes around cancelling out every person in town who has his son's name to try and locate him. Meanwhile he meets Strella (a nickname for the name 'Stella' mixed with the word 'Trella' which means madness), a transsexual prostitute at his hotel, falls in love, and pretty soon moves in with her. When he eventually meets his son, the reunion will be quite beyond what anyone would have hoped for. Yiorgos will yet again have to adapt and learn to find peace and love under altered circumstances...

More than anything else, this challenging but deeply moving film is about exploring how broad a brush could be used to describe 'love'. How important is paternal love, and what is it that a child expects the most from his father. There are some lines from the film that will make you see things in different light, they will be challenging, but are also magical and deeply touching. The film is very well done, and it may come as a surprise to some that the extraordinary performance by the transsexual actress playing Strella, Mina Orfanou had never acted in film before. Perhaps for women like her, acting on film must only be an extension of their everyday lives, thinking and living like someone they weren't born as. Notwithstanding her undoubted skills, what makes her character in the film that spectacular however is the fine direction and careful editing, one that you'll appreciate when you watch it for the second time with full knowledge of the story. Not unlike Almodóvar and Fassbinder before him, Koutras has treated a subject concerning a people who are typically stereotyped and used as fodder for jokes with dignity, focusing on their rarely shown humanity and inner beauty. This gem of a film will only go unappreciated by the narrow minded and frivolous. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
English Subtitles

Compilation: Mina Orfanou and Yannis Kokiasmenos
I've kept the graphics relatively low-key as it may otherwise be misleading. Those who can follow Greek may encounter some major spoilers here. I also hope people read the full post before deciding on watching it..! :)

Mina Orfanou and Yannis Kokiasmenos in Strella

Scene Guide:
  • While staying at a motel, Yiorgos gets invited by prostitute Strella, for a drink in her room. He realises that she's different from other women but nevertheless decides to goes 'all' the way. Strella is played by a beautiful Mina Orfanou, and Yiorgos by Yannis Kokiasmenos.
  • The director scores some creative points by showing Yiorgos' recurrent dream of a squirrel - we'll discover its significance later in the film. Meanwhile Strella wakes up to see Yiorgos sleeping naked next to her, but she had to leave in a hurry.
  • No nudity, but nevertheless an interesting pass of play where Strella asks Yiorgos what is it that he likes about her the most.
  • This is magical scene - romantic, erotic but also touching - when Yiorgos surprises Strella by fixing a lantern that wouldn't work until then. When Strella approaches to thank him, he asks her to take off the towel.
  • An argument ensues while Strella prepares to leave to see a customer. Yiorgos wants her to stop pursuing her trade. She refuses. The conversation is outrageous but I can't describe it as it contains important plot give-aways.


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Michela Cescon in "Primo Amore" [2004 Italy]

It's about time I started the filmography here of one of the more talented young directors from Italy today - Matteo Garrone. Of late I'd been spoilt for choice in picking which Italian film to write about - a surprising number of titles have accumulated in my collection and it doesn't help if the ones you've pencilled for the next post turns out to be a poorly mastered or censored version. But this one isn't, Garrone's 2004 drama had been sitting in my shelf for at least a year and I'm glad I could finally write about his exceedingly well made neo-noire, "Primo Amore" [Eng. Title: First Love], which was also well received along the European film circuit. I'd been exploring Matteo Gerrone's works since first watching this film, and rest assured I'll also be writing about some of his other remarkable ones here soon.

Essentially it is a story about obsession. Vittorio, a goldsmith running a family business meets Sonia, a shop assistant and part time artists' model on a blind date. While Sonia is pleased with what she sees in him, Vittorio makes little effort to mask his disappointment - because when she told him before they met that she was a slim woman, he had built up an image of her that was fifteen kilos fewer than what he sees. Nevertheless, since she'd come all the way to meet him, they decide to sit and chat for a coffee during which he gets more interested in her, and before long he begins to like her for her charm and character. But that's only half of what he wanted - she has an ideal mind, but not an ideal body. "It's always the same," he tells his exasperated psychiatrist. "You either find an ideal body and not the mind, or you find the ideal mind but not the body." Thus goes his logic - if she loves him enough, with his help, she should be able to obtain the ideal body he expects. He will then have his perfect partner and they could live happily ever after. He had embarked upon going down a dangerous precipice, dragging Sonia along with him.
Sonia on the other hand, is a delightful young lady with a positive attitude, content with life and happy about herself. After meeting Vittorio however, it starts to change - and while there is a part of her that wants to act and live according to her self will, it is increasingly overwhelmed by the other part which will do anything to please Vittorio. Just as he gets increasingly obsessed with 'moulding' Sonia into how he thinks she should be, completely oblivious to the harm he's causing. It has become his very purpose in life, even ignoring his livelihood, the inherited business. There are some additional layers to the screenplay seen through Vittorio's trade as a goldsmith - he specialises in making intricate jewellery with the least amount of gold, contrary to proven business sense, and also Sonia's profession as a 'model' - one he could 'mould', etc.

I was about to pen my own built up opinion of how I saw the film, but had to change my mind upon watching director Gerrone's interview that came with the DVD extras. Rarely have I spent so much time writing a review, and part of me wishes I hadn't seen the interview before making the post - ah! for ignorance! Now I could only advise the viewer to take the film for what it is - one that's exploring a theme that's fairly popular in cinema and novels these days - of the human instinct to change their partner into what they want them to be. Vitaliano Trevisan who plays the male lead was initially drafted to write the screenplay. It was his voice and tone that led Gerrone to cast him in the film as well - his neutral delivery even during scenes of tension adds a menacing quality to the character. The screenplay itself evolved alongside the production, so what we see is not something pre-conceived, but organic - inconclusive, and with an open ending. I know many don't like that, but that is one of the features that I loved in this film, this teasing of the audience a la Julio Medem.

Apart from the direction and screenplay, what impressed me were the stylish yet non-distracting cinematography and lighting, the natural, convincing, and uninhibited performance by lead actress Michela Cescon - she actually shed ten kilos during the making of this film to give her character more authenticity, and the beautiful soundtrack by Banda Osiris which also won a David and a Silver Berlin Bear in Italy and Germany respectively. I'd label this film Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
English Subtitles

Compilation: Michela Cescon
There are several more blog-related scenes that I haven't covered here, including some from the DVD extras with scenes shown from a different angle, but this should give you a good enough idea of what to expect from this remarkable film.

Michela Cescon in Primo Amore

Scene Guide:
  • After their first date, Vittorio pays an unexpected visit to the art school where Sonia models. She greets him with just her smile. Sonia is impressively portrayed by the charming and enthusiastic Michela Cescon, a fine actress who was also nominated for a David through this film.
  • Later that night...
  • They have now moved in together, and Vittorio's desire for her to loose weight makes her more self-conscious of her body and she starts to compare herself with others, taking treatments to become more slender than she already is.
  • A well made scene to show Sonia's urge to gauge other people's opinion about her changing body - in this case the students at the art class, as she examines their drawings after the sitting.
  • Even while Sonia is happy at the progress she's making with her weight loss, Vittorio casts a sceptical eye.
  • A telling scene at a clothes store where Vittorio overrides what Sonia wants to wear for what he thinks she should wear. She could contain herself no more.
  • Later at night in the bath...
  • I've taken care not to give spoilers away in this long but edited scene - a furious Vittorio throws all the garments he bought her into the furnace leaving a naked Sonia petrified and ashamed. He chucks all the food he had hidden away from her, asking her to do as she pleases. When she pleads him to allow her to leave instead, he says that simply wouldn't be an option any more!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Mariana Anghileri in "Aballay, el Hombre sin Miedo" [2010 Argentina, Spain]

Fernando Spiner's drama, "Aballay, el Hombre sin Miedo" [Eng. Title: Aballay, the Man without Fear] is a western, Argentinian style. It is no doubt inspired by films from Spaghetti-western greats such as Sergio Leone in terms of cinematography, editing, and perhaps even the soundtrack, but the story and screenplay itself is gritty in a very Latin American way as it focuses on the Argentinian cult of 'Gaucho', which I admit learning about only through watching this film. It is nevertheless conventional story-telling and should be easy to follow even for a foreign audience. It is impressively made with well-rounded characterisation - except possibly the hero character Julián (Nazareno Casero) who I think may have been miscast. But it is a fine little film as it stands that needs to be seen by a wider audience and therefore, Recommended Viewing!

Set some time during the beginning of the twentieth century, the film starts with a young Julián bearing witness to the grisly murder of his father and his entire stagecoach party while crossing the desert - they're ambushed by a gang of Gauchos, led by Aballay. He notices the boy hiding, but allows him to live by not telling his other gang members.

Ten years on, a Julián in his youth retraces the fateful path to arrive at a middle-of-nowhere desert outpost called La Malaría, seeking revenge. He stays put in village belle Juana's house to search the region for his father's assassins, a region that is now under the thumb of a different gaucho named "El Muerto" - he used to be Aballay's deputy. Meanwhile Julián falls in love with Juana despite knowing that El Muerto wants her for himself. El Muerto proposes to Juana at a local fiesta in the most shocking fashion, by branding her buttocks with his initials. Julián, who tries to stop him is beaten and strung to the ground for the vultures to feed on - looks like this is the favourite method of executing enemies. Juana escapes from El Muerto's clutches to free Julián and takes him to a reclusive local saint known for his healing powers.

As it happens, the saint, Julián's saviour turns out to be Aballay himself - he had given up violence soon after the murder of Julián's father, and had also taken a vow to never descend from his horse. This poses an inconvenient dilemma for young Julián...

Compilation: Mariana Anghileri
The only nude scene in the film is when Juana frees herself from El Muerto to rescue Julián, who had earlier tried in vain to stop her from being branded. Mariana Anghileri (credited as Moro Anghileri) gives a powerful and convincing performance as Juana.

Mariana Anghileri in Aballay, el Hombre sin Miedo