Saturday, 30 June 2012

Magdalena Kronschläger & Anna Rot in “Tag und Nacht” [2010 Austria]

Whether it is about students funding their education or young women consciously making a lifestyle choice, storylines dealing with prostitution never seem to go out of fashion – on contraire, they’re only becoming more popular. Perhaps they should now be classified as a sub-genre in itself! :)

Talented Austrian writer-director Sabine Derflinger's "Tag und Nacht" however explores this cliché-ridden topic a bit further than others, through its emphasis on characterisation rather than merely focusing on protagonists' circumstances or unpleasant experiences. Nothing too dramatic happens to the characters, and neither are their clients and pimps depicted as monsters. She achieves this by forcing through her protagonists a series of dilemmas, and watching them respond.

University friends Lea and Hanna, on a whim (well - a toss of coin), decide to try out prostitution as opposed to waiting tables to make some money on the side. We're led to believe Lea to be the adventurous one, with Hanna being the more circumspect. But as they settle down in their chosen profession, we get to see a different side to each of them, one that fleshes out their characters into individuals charting their respective lives, aided by their own morals and ethics.

In retrospect, "Tag und Nacht" (Day and Night) is an apt title for this film - apart from merely being the name of the escort agency that Hanna and Lea work for, it is also indicative of their character, and choices they make. The film is also beautifully made with some fine cinematography, editing, and sincere performances from all the main cast. Anna Rot in particular is exceptional and convincing as Lea, and apart from being gorgeous, she also reminds me of a young Maribel Verdú. As for Ms. Derflinger, she's done a fine job yet again, but I couldn't help noticing the screenplay being a tad inconsistent in one or two places - some references have loose ends that make little sense and are perhaps unnecessary even. It also makes me wonder whether the DVD I have is indeed the director's approved cut - IMDB states that this film is 101 minutes long, but the main film in my DVD was only 97 minutes without taking into account any extras. Unless IMDB has got it wrong (which it does sometimes), this may well be a truncated version. Despite this, and having seen only one other film from this director to date (Vollgas), I quite look forward to exploring more of Ms. Derflinger's work. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Nicoletta Prokes, Martina Spitzer, Wolfgang S. Zechmayer, Magdalena Kronschläger, Anna Rot, Thomas Declaude, and Martin Brambach
The nudity in the film, while abundant, are perhaps unavoidable for such a storyline. It also includes at least one instance of explicit male nudity. I've nevertheless kept the graphics relatively low-key.

Nicoletta Prokes, Martina Spitzer, Magdalena Kronschläger, and Anna Rot in "Tag und Nacht"

Scene Guide:
  • A new staff member's portfolio being taken by the owner of the escort agency. Played by Nicoletta Prokes.
  • Sissi may be the owner's wife, but she's also one of the escorts. Here she's switched by her client midway with an inexperienced but diligent Hanna. Sissi, the client, and blonde Hanna are played by Martina Spitzer, Wolfgang S. Zechmayer, and the beautiful Magdalena Kronschläger respectively.
  • Lea meets a friend from back home at a party unexpectedly, and they catch up afterwards. Lea is well played by the stunning Anna Rot.
  • Lea visits an older client with some advanced sexual tastes. The client is played by Thomas Declaude.
  • Lea brings along Hanna for an appointment with businessman-client Kai, obviously for a threesome. This is a long but visual scene that require little guidance. Client Kai is played by Martin Brambach.
  • A beautifully shot underwater scene of Lea with Hanna.
  • No nudity, but interesting scene of Hanna satisfying one of her fetishistic customers, to show the audience her willingness to go the extra mile where necessary.
  • Lea and Hanna are asked to visit a client at what appears to be a swinger's club.
  • Hanna had gotten close to university friend Harald, who begins to love her. But after learning what she does for a living, he confronts Hanna by booking her through the agency in this tense scene.
  • Having drowned her sorrows in alcohol and drugs, Hanna is in no state to entertain a 'special guest' of the agency.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Malena Solda in “Juntos para Siempre” [2010 Argentina]

Screenwriter Pablo Solarz makes an impressive directorial feature film debut through the bitter-sweet comedy drama, "Juntos para Siempre" [Eng. Title: Forever Together]. Tinged with typical Argentinian irony, it is also mildly self-indulgent, but nevertheless very enjoyable with some hilarious moments thrown in.

Javier is so engrossed in the screenplay he's writing that he ignores girlfriend Lucía's cry for attention. Which inevitably leads to her seeking attention elsewhere. Guilt-ridden, she informs Javier that she had sex with their neighbour, but Javier takes it without batting an eyelid, and enquires instead whether she feels better after having confessed. He tries to console her by saying it is quite common these days, and that she shouldn't be unduly worried, as long as it doesn't become a habit. Frustrated, she leaves him, asking him to go and see a psychotherapist instead. In a bid to get Lucía back, Javier even follows her advice. But when therapy gets him nowhere, he starts seeing his dentist's slightly dim but curvy daughter Laura, and pretty soon they start living together, closing the door for any possible rapprochement with Lucía. Laura meanwhile, ever the tolerant, allows Javier all the liberties, whether he is in one of his 'thinking' modes, or even when he frequently addresses her as Lucía. And running parallel to Javier's story is the harrowing film screenplay he's creating - and the parallel also extends to his protagonist's mindset...

This is a well-written and neatly executed film with some fine performances all around - it is intelligent, funny, but also sad - and the film is certain to stick with you for a while. Recommended Viewing!

eBay DVD Link

Scene: Malena Solda and Florencia Peña
A flashback to happier times when Javier was courting Lucía - he had met her while looking for an apartment - she was the estate agent. In this scene they enact a sexier version of their first meeting. Lucía is played by the talented and beautiful actress Malena Solda. Followed by present reality, with Laura in bed - he asks her to pretend she's asleep while he does his thing. Laura is played by popular TV actress Florencia Peña.

Malena Solda and Florencia Peña in Juntos para siempre


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Scenes from Thomas Vinterberg's "Festen" [1998 Denmark, Sweden]

Thomas Vinterberg is among the brilliant young directors to emerge from Europe over the past decade, and by some pleasant coincidence, I'm starting his filmography with a film where he isn't even formally credited - "Festen" [Eng. Title: The Celebration], is a fine example in Dogme 95, a film movement that I'm also gradually but surely warming up to...

A family gathers to celebrate the father's sixtieth birthday. One family member is however missing for the first time, after her recent suicide. Her twin brother Christian has been entrusted with toasting to her memory by saying a few words, and he had come prepared with two sets of speeches - one written on a yellow piece of paper, and the other on green. He offers the choice to the father, and after he picks the green one, proceeds to read a speech that reveals a truth that's nothing short of cataclysmic. So shocking was the revelation that the gathered family members refuse to believe it and pretend to take it as a joke. And this is where the drama begins - because Christian has his work cut out to get everyone to come to terms with it and acknowledge it openly. Only then will his burden ease, only then will he be able to pick up the pieces and move on...

What struck me after watching the film was its marvellous screenplay- a situation that would conventionally call for a melodrama is astonishingly shaped into a gripping thriller. As for the characterisation, it is so wholesome that we would get to know every family member as if we've known them for years, and this will not all be down to the script - it is thanks to some thoughtful cinematography and superb performances by the main cast. A film concept like this requires a lot of thought, observation, and reflection. It might sound a touch odd, but simplicity is one of the hardest things to achieve. This film may have its tiny imperfections, but it is still beautiful - and they only add to its charm. In the process it stirs up a beehive by holding a mirror to a society in denial. The family portrayed could be from anywhere - traditional or modern, wealthy or otherwise, and from any part of the 'civilised' world - we all do have our prejudices, ostrich syndromes, and superficiality, and this film reminds us of that. Needless to say, this is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link (a good deal going here)

Compilation: Helle Dolleris and Trine Dyrholm
This post is actually more of an excuse to write something about this remarkable film rather than showcasing any notable nude scenes. But here it is anyway - events here happen early in the film as guests settle down in their respective designated quarters of the family-run hotel. First is of Michael, played by Vinterberg-regular Thomas Bo Larsen, very dependent on his incredibly tolerant wife Mette, played by Helle Dolleris. This is followed by a brief scene of Pia, played by Trine Dyrholm, waitress for the occasion but nevertheless well acquainted with the family. She fancies Christian, but his mind is unfortunately preoccupied with other things...

Helle Dolleris and Trine Dyrholm in Festen Thomas Vinterberg's excellent drama "Festen" also features some brief scenes of nudity thanks to Helle Dolleris and Trine Dyrholm in the early part of the film.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Scenes from Alejandro Jodorowsky's "Fando y Lis" [1968 Mexico]

Any worthwhile discussion about nudity in cinema is simply incomplete without mention of a certain Alejandro Jodorowsky, mystic guru of the absurd - with a capital 'A'..!

About the great man:
It'll be a challenge to keep this brief, but I shall try - born in Chile and established in Mexico, Sr. Jodorowsky has dabbled into pretty much anything one might call art or craft - be it puppetry, mime, illustration, painting, literature, or theatre, he's dipped his brush and left lasting imprints on everything that had aroused his curiosity. Even if it was his cinema that opened him up to a worldwide (and devout) audience. Founder of the so-called 'Panic' movement (after the mythical Greek Pan) as a reaction to surrealism that was becoming in his words 'petit bourgeois', it aims to express itself in an uninhibited free form by using whatever motifs at disposal. Subsequently his works can either be seen as unadulterated genius in full flow, or an absurd exercise. The latter is also true, but the absurdity is methodical, like in a dream, like a trance, borne through knowledge and logic. But his work is anything but heavy - there are no profound truths to reveal that you may not already know, and contrary to what some believe, it is also not surrealism. Inquisitive, playful, and mischievous even - it is merely an unabashed expression through various motifs, sometimes symbolic. You don't watch a Jodorowsky for its technical merits, but if you allow, it will take you on a trippy journey beyond all kinds of 'isms'. Alejandro Jodorowsky is part of a special group of people I'd dearly love to have a chat with, but for now I'll contend with discussing his films, starting with his first full-length feature, "Fando y Lis" [Eng. Title: Fando and Lis].

After the world as we know is bombed to rubble, Fando takes his paraplegic fiancée Lis on a journey to 'Tar', supposedly the only city to have survived unscathed - to cure her, and possibly start life afresh. But neither knows how to get there despite setting out enthusiastically on their journey. They meet different characters along the way, sometimes asking for direction, but none seems to know for sure. Where is this 'Tar' - is it really somewhere you need to travel to find? Is it actually a place or a state of being? Whatever the case, can they ever get there..?

About the film:
Based on a play by the same name and originally penned by his long-term associate, the equally great Fernando Arrabal (The Guernica Tree), Jodorowsky adapted it freely to infuse some of his own themes into his project - I won't go into those details, you can gather all his thoughts in his revealing commentary that comes with the DVD. Personally, I can look at the film from two viewpoints - as a post-apocalyptic version of The Pilgrim's Progress, or as a story about man and woman, inseparable - possibly an Adam and Eve trying to make sense of life after loosing innocence. Either way, it's a mystical film with the odd bit of visual outrage thrown in. Though tame by today's standards, the film's festival premiere in Acapulco actually caused a furore with people out to lynch Jodorowsky - he escaped with his life that day. The eventual theatrical release also caused a riot. As an exercise in cinema, it is raw and uncultivated, but you'll nevertheless see inspirations drawn from it in Fellini's "Satyricon" (1969), Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point" (1970), and even more recently in Medem's "Lucía y el Sexo" (2001) - not too bad for a 'crazy' Latin American's debut feature, don't you think. As a post-surrealist response and symbolic allegory, as crude as it might be, it is an important film that expanded cinematic horizons, and for that reason, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

About the DVD:
Mine is from the Anchor Bay box-set. It comes with 4 DVDs (4 of his films and a feature-length documentary), and 2 audio sound track CDs. The problem is they needlessly have a Region 1 lock on it, but if you know how to work around it, great value for money.
Amazon Box-set Link

Compilation: Valerie Jodorowsky and Diana Mariscal
Visually the weakest transfer of the lot - the film is letterboxed widescreen, it however comes with an interesting commentary from Jodorowsky himself.

Valerie Jodorowsky and Diana Mariscal in Fando y Lis

Scene Guide:
  • Fando is 'seduced' by some glitzy types amidst the town ruins - oblivious to the destruction they'd helped cause. The woman beckoning Fando is played by Valerie Jodorowsky, the director's then girlfriend and future wife (they're divorced now). In the DVD, you'll also be able to follow some of his cheeky comments about the scene.
  • Fando and Lis meet a decadent priest and a pregnant woman on their way (symbolising mother Earth). Strangely, the priest is played by an actress, one of several quirky (or perverse) casting decisions by the director.
  • Fando and Lis encounter people wallowing in mud signifying their material existence and lethargy. Jodorowsky had wanted to film them entirely in the nude, but couldn't as he had government observers looking over him on set. :)
  • Wild but beautiful scene of Fando and a fully mobile Lis during a fantasy where they paint their names over each other. Lis is played by the cute looking (but rather bold for her time) Diana Mariscal.
  • Fando's treatment of Lis swings from love to hate frequently, and these swings become increasingly extreme as the film progresses. In this long sadomasochistic scene, Fando humiliates Lis by calling in strangers to ogle and grope her. But when he tells them that she's his fiancée, they leave in disgust.
  • This is the end, or is it perhaps a new beginning..?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Kristin Scott Thomas in “Un Été Inoubliable” [1994 Romania, France]

The sojourn into eastern European cinema continues with a film from renowned Romanian director Lucian Pintilie, the Franco-Romanian production, "Un Été Inoubliable" [Romanian Title: O Vara de Neuitat, English Title: An Unforgettable Summer].

Multifaceted Pintilie started making films in communist Romania, but moved to France in order to pursue his career until the 1989 Romanian Revolution. But even while in France, he often interpreted Romanian literature and its culture in his work. Noted for his stark yet lyrical depictions while examining themes relating to his region, its culture, politics, and conflicts, Pintilie, considered among the world's leading film makers, had his career interrupted several times, mostly due to censorship from communist authorities. Having seen a handful of his films, I have begun to thoroughly enjoy discovering his filmography. Rest assured, we will be discussing more of his films here too.

About the film:
For those like me who are not well acquainted with eastern Europe in general, there are several informative nuggets in this film that will give a pretty good picture of the region's recent history, and it also makes connections to tumultuous happenings in neighbouring Yugoslavia during the time of the film's production. Pintilie himself admits to have been inspired by events next door to explore the screenplay from a balkanisation perspective - the symptoms and causes. He also establishes through subtle means his appreciation of communism as an inherently good idea badly executed by people. We even have brilliant satire of hypocrisy in high places, and widespread xenophobia getting in the way of realising a Greater Romania that they're trying to create.

Petre Dumitriu, a respected Army captain, and his charming wife and mother of three Marie-Thérèse attend a ball organised in honour of the prince, who also happens to be the Army's Chief of Staff. Marie-Thérèse has aristocratic roots too - she's a niece of the royal family, and her father belonged to the Magyar (Hungarian) aristocracy, the fact her maternal relatives openly resent. After noticing the prince openly making advances on his wife (which Marie-Thérèse politely spurns), Petre is furious but helpless in standing up to a superior. He asks to be transferred to a different location, and the prince, out of spite assigns him to a garrison in a restive and godforsaken border outpost. While disappointed initially at the Spartan living conditions, Petre, Marie-Thérèse, their beautiful children, and their nanny decide to make the best out of a bad situation. The optimist in Marie-Thérèse almost succeeds against odds to establish themselves in the new environment by befriending local Bulgarians and keeping everyone's spirits up. But when some soldiers are killed in an ambush by militants, the inept army headquarters must find a scapegoat, and the locals tending to Marie-Thérèse's salad garden are targeted for extra-judicial execution, one that Petre objects to knowing pretty well he could loose his job, and he does. And there is someone always at hand to replace Petre, but despite this Marie-Thérèse tries to save her gardeners' lives...

This is not a light film by any means - as engrossing as it was, it was also uneasy to watch, and in a way I was a bit relieved when it ended. The screenplay is very well structured, the art direction is magnificent, and the cinematography shines in places - notably the frantic opening scene which give us a horseback saddle-seated view. Well performed by all the main actors, British-born Kristin Scott Thomas sparkles as the stoic heroine Marie-Thérèse von Debretzy, a noble woman who tries in vain to stop bloodshed around her. Needless to say, this film is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Compilation: Beatha Fülop and Kristin Scott Thomas
Made from two scenes - the first is of Erji, a Hungarian (and communist) prostitute who moons at the prince and gathered crowd, and is promptly ordered to be 'removed'. The funny part however is, for all their holier-than-though attitude, everyone seems to remember her by name, without even looking at the owner's face! Feisty Erji is played by Beatha Fülop. The second is a famous nude scene of Marie-Thérèse bathing with her children in very little privacy, and soldiers moving about, some stopping by to stare. Petre himself finds it hard keeping his hands off his wife, but it appears not everyone is pleased to see them either. Marie-Thérèse is played by the BAFTA-winning, beautiful, and intelligent British-born actress Kristin Scott Thomas. Now that's, a rose..! ;)

Beatha Fülop and Kristin Scott Thomas in Un Été Inoubliable


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Leonor Watling in "Lo Mejor de Eva" [2011 Spain]

I'm not very familiar with the work of Mariano Barroso, having seen only one of his films before this, and his latest thriller "Lo Mejor de Eva" [Eng. title: Dark Impulse], although stylish, is not quite in the same league as the earlier film (Éxtasis).

Eva is a dedicated and forthright prosecutor at a Madrid court, and her latest case relates to the murder of a stripper. While the suspect is in custody she is desperate for some hard evidence and witnesses, and the suspect - a powerful man, is intent on digging up some dirt from Eva's past to force her to compromise her integrity. Enter Rocco, a gigolo and friend of the murdered girl, who offers to help in Eva's prosecution. By a turn of events, Rocco gets much closer to Eva than anyone else could imagine, and it now appears he holds the key to unravelling Eva's past...

While there are some strong performances from the lead actors - Leonor Watling as Eva, Miguel Ángel Silvestre as Rocco, and the talented Adriana Ugarte as Eva's sister Marta, my biggest problem with this film is that it lacks credibility, with the screenplay being the main culprit. The cinematography is decent, but nothing special. On the whole, this is an average film that'll struggle to stay in memory after the credits roll.

Compilation: Leonor Watling, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, and Nathalie Poza

Leonor Watling, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, and Nathalie Poza in Lo mejor de Eva

Scene Guide:
  • Rocco makes his move, and Eva finds it hard to resist. Eva is played by the magnificent Leonor Watling, and Rocco by an athletic Miguel Ángel Silvestre, who kinda reminds you of the Italian actor Raoul Bova.
  • This time they spend the night together...
  • Rocco gets down and dirty with Eva - her posterior by the way is body-doubled by a largely unsung and anonymous Tharna Tirado Güido.
  • Berta, one of the key witnesses for the case is found murdered in the bath - Berta is played by Nathalie Poza (Malas Temporadas).

Ornella Muti in "La Ragazza di Trieste" [1982 Italy]

Pasquale Festa Campanile was a successful director, even if he is renowned foremost as a writer, having worked with the likes of Dino Risi and Luchino Visconti on some major projects. His 1982 drama, "La Ragazza di Trieste" [Eng. Title: The Girl from Trieste] is also a moving story adapted from his own novel, appreciated to the extent that elements of the plot have been liberally borrowed worldwide in several films since.

Illustrator Dino watches an attractive young woman rescued at the beach in Trieste. Since she seems to have misplaced her clothes, he offers her his blanket, on condition that she return it after use. As instructed, the woman - Nicole, turns up at Dino's house to return the blanket - only that's the only robe she's wearing. With such a forthright signal, things take their course, and they embark upon a relationship. It turns out dear Nicole is a needy character - even exposing herself in public if she feels necessary to get 'noticed'. But there's an air of mystery surrounding her that Dino feels compelled to unravel, which will soon become his obsession. We will learn through the course of the film that Nicole is actually a mentally ill patient undergoing therapy for borderline schizophrenia. By the time this is revealed though, Dino had already fallen headlong in love with her, and with the help of the psychiatrist hopes to cure her through his love and commitment, but would those really be enough to bring Nicole back to normalcy...

While the protagonists - Ornella Muti as Nicole, and Ben Gazzara as Dino give a credible enough performance - this being their second film together, and the screenplay is also well thought out, I couldn't help feeling the direction needed to be a bit bolder to tell an unconventional love story that includes such an extreme character as Nicole. While totally agreeing with the casting choice, I feel Ms. Muti was ridiculously underused - both in terms of emotions and physicality. The camera and lighting is quite conservative, as is the signature sound track (it actually gets a bit annoying after a while) - I couldn't help thinking this is a great story what would have sparkled in the hands of a Ingmar Bergman or Marco Ferreri. While this certainly isn't my first choice film for introducing the incomparable Ornella Muti to the site, it remains the very reason I even purchased the DVD. And for Ms. Muti's sake alone, this is Recommended Viewing.

Amazon DVD Link

About the recommended DVD:
This is not the DVD I have but I'd rather recommend this because of these reasons - I'm certain mine isn't digitally remastered - it is obviously put together from various source material - you also have sudden changes in saturation, and even the sound pitch alters intermittently. Besides, the scenes between Ornella Muti and Ben Gazzara were originally shot in English, and later dubbed into Italian. So you might as well go for a UK version than the Italian-dubbed offering.

Compilation: Ornella Muti, Ben Gazzara, and Mimsy Farmer
Most of the scenes are in English so you should be able to follow without too much effort.

Ornella Muti, Ben Gazzara, and Mimsy Farmer in La Ragazza di Trieste

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity - Nicole is 'rescued' from the sea, and gets noticed by Dino who later offers his blanket so she could get off her wet costume. Nicole is played by the gorgeous Ornella Muti in the prime of her youth.
  • Nicole drops by Dino's to return the blanket, wearing little else, and things happen!
  • No nudity - after seeing Dino with another woman, Nicole gets jealous and craves for some attention of her own, and decides to expose herself knicker-less in a Piazza. I presume it's not as uncommon for attractive women to expose themselves this way as one might think..! :)
  • Nicole has the habit of writing about her escapades in a diary, which the girls at her sanatorium get to read, and a nasty welcoming party lay in wait...
  • After Dino learns of Nicole's illness, he decides to leave town so she doesn't come looking for him during therapy, and takes his ex-girlfriend Valeria along. Valeria and Dino are played by the American Mimsy Farmer and Ben Gazzara respectively.
  • Best of the lot - Nicole is now engaged to Dino when they travel to Paris. But after Nicole begins to doubt he may have been talking to a woman on the phone secretly, she switches to her 'attention-seeking' mode, and the lucky hotel steward gets an eyeful (and quite possibly a sleepless night too) :)
  • Nicole's hallucinations start getting worse...
  • She shaves off her hair after misinterpreting Dino's earlier remark - he had told her she had beautiful long hair, but she thought he was complaining about the long hair. When a shocked Dino tells her off, she switches to 'attention-seeking' mode again.
  • Nicole returns to sea from whence she came...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Reymonde Amsalem in "Lebanon" [2009 Israel, France, Germany]

Israeli director Samuel Moz used his personal experiences as soldier during the First Lebanon War to make the drama "Lebanon", a Franco-German-Israeli co-production. For a feature-film debut, this wasn't a bad effort at all, quite commendable as a matter of fact, and it deservedly won accolades at the Venice Film Festival that year. An honest attempt at portraying the general nastiness of war, it stops short of passing any judgement as to whether war is good, bad, or even a necessary evil.

It's the first day of war, and a solitary tank along with a small company of troops are despatched to 'clean up' a town already laid waste from an air raid. It is supposedly a walk in the park, but the tank crew have very little experience, particularly gunner Shmulik who has never fired in combat before, and is initiated into warfare in the most brutal way possible by facing up to his moral and ethical compulsions. Unfortunately for the greenhorn tank crew, things doesn't go according to plan, and they end up in hostile territory with no means of support, pray a couple of shady phalanges (Lebanese Christian rebels) to usher them to safety. Barring a couple of scenes, the entire film is shot from inside a tank, trying to give us a first-hand account of what it is like to man that cold and anonymous war machine with a seemingly indestructible exterior. "It's the man that's made of steel. The tank is only a piece of Iron", says a slogan in the tank cabin, which pretty much sums up what the story is trying to convey. The claustrophobic atmosphere and a series of unfortunate events strain crew discipline to the limit - will they 'steel' themselves to survive the ordeal, because if they don't, they are in danger of collapsing from within...

Technically the film is quite competent, and I especially liked the sound design that adds to the dramatic impact, whether it is the clanking of metals or the eerie robotic noise while manoeuvring the viewfinder. While some have slammed its lack of attention to detail, and questionable credibility, I don't think it really matters because the point of the film is not to relate historical events or tell a story surrounding its protagonists. It is to portray one of the dimensions of conflict - the ethical, and that it does admirably no matter what other people may think or nitpick over. This dimension should be experienced by everyone, and it is for that reason that this film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
(a good deal going here)

Compilation: Reymonde Amsalem
This is a harrowing scene and must be seen in context. When a Lebanese Christian family including a five year old child is taken hostage by two insurgents, the commander orders Shmulik to blast the place regardless. After he does, the mother emerges from the debris as the lone survivor, and in her disoriented state is screaming for the whereabouts of her child, one the tank crew will soon learn has already been found dead. Around this time the mother's dress accidentally catches fire and the commander standing nearby tears it off, leaving her violated and ashamed, the same way as any invaded people. The scene ends disturbingly with her haunting gaze into the viewfinder/camera. The mother is very well portrayed by Reymonde Amsalem (listed as Reymond Amsalem in IMDB).

Reymonde Amsalem in Lebanon


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Bien de Moor and others in "Code Blue" [Netherlands, Denmark 2011]

Talented Polish writer and director Urszula Antoniak impresses again in her second full-length feature, "Code Blue". It's an intense examination of loneliness and intimacy in the scale of Michael Haneke's "La Pianiste". I'm sure Ms. Antoniak would be pleased with that comparison because she made the film with a fraction of that budget and without a certain Isabelle Huppert, not to mention the class and experience of Haneke himself. The screenplay may be simpler, and the characters and surroundings working class, but her gritty film isn't any less accomplished.

Middle aged Marian is a dedicated nurse at a geriatric ward, offering solace and affection to elderly patients probably living out their final days. But being independent, single, and also lonely, she craves for some intimacy of her own. Her after work hours are invariably occupied with routine rituals, and in front of the TV, until she notices a neighbour living in her block of flats. She becomes vaguely infatuated, and he, an object of her fantasy. One night they're both witness to a rape in the nearby marshes. From that moment on, Marian's carefully-wrapped fantasy figure will develop cracks, from which will not only emerge the true nature of the mysterious neighbour, but also her own feelings of guilt, and her desperate longing to be loved...

This is a painful and relentlessly unforgiving character study that we would rather not face up to, but should. But despite the harsh scrutiny by the director, there is great sympathy (empathy even) for the protagonist, her human needs and condition. As a psychological character study it triumphs, and is aided by some minimalistic cinematography, meticulous direction, and a sincere and heartfelt performance from Belgian actress Bien de Moor who plays Marian. Painful and shocking as it may be to watch, Antoniak's 'adult' endeavour is definitely Recommended Viewing..! Blu-ray Link

Compilation: Bien de Moor, Lone Rosenquist, and Lars Eidinger
Some of the scenes are positively shocking and explicit. Not recommended for juveniles.

Bien de Moor, Lone Rosenquist, and Lars Eidinger in Code Blue

Scene Guide:
  • Marian had been following her neighbour Konrad of late, and while watching one of the DVD's he'd just returned at a local library, decides to paint her door red. Unfortunately, I can't understand the significance of this scene. Marian is played by Bien de Moor.
  • Marian and Konrad witness a rape in the neighbourhood. The victim is played by Lone Rosenquist, and German actor Lars Eidinger gives a restrained performance as the neighbour Konrad.
  • The following morning, Marian decides to do something rather despicable, after collecting the condom thrown away by one of the rapists..!
  • After an incident at the hospital...
  • Marian and Konrad get introduced more formally at a party, after which she invites him to her flat. When Konrad decides to leave, she begs him to stay. This leads to an excruciating but riveting pass of play where both the characters are examined, warts and all. The dialogues are mostly in English, so you should be able to follow. The long scene contains some explicit and violent imagery.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Tania Robledo & co in "El Garabato" [2008 Mexico]

One must appreciate Adolfo Martínez Solares for his resourcefulness - notwithstanding his credentials as writer and director, he produces his own films and even manages to rope in heavyweights like José Alonso and María Rojo (La Tarea, Esmeralda de Noche Vienes) to act in them, along with a generous smattering of some of the prettiest local starlets. For e.g., the cast credits for his 2008 crime drama, "El Garabato" lists the likes of Tania Robledo, Patricia Llaca, María Aura, Andrea García, and Mariana Ávila to name a few. That was enough to persuade me to buy the DVD (now we don't want anyone else to know that! :)) even if it was only gathering dust on my shelf for the past two years.

I'll be wasting my time with this - let's say it is about gangsters, sorry - politicians, corrupt police officers, molls, honey-traps, and you guessed it - journalists. And of course an innocent courier who gets caught in a mess because the person he was delivering to gets killed just before he arrives. To cut to the chase, innocent bloke is declared 'innocent', patches up with fiancée and starts living happily ever after.

This is like having the occasional greasy heart-clogging deep-fried meal - it's alright once in a while though (damn tasty too..!) :)

But if you want to gorge yourself silly, here's the DVD Link - however don't expect a high quality transfer - this one was definitely stamped with older television sets in mind.
Amazon DVD Link

Tania Robledo, María Aura, Andrea García, and Mariana Ávila
As hinted above, the DVD isn't of the greatest quality, and even my DVD player was unable to disguise some of the banding and interlacing. I couldn't bother spending too much time on it in any case - I had to compromise on some of the bust-level portrait shots - just don't look at their eyes too much - there are other interesting things to see anyway!

Tania Robledo, María Aura, Andrea García, and Mariana Ávila in El Garabato

Scene Guide:
  • Rodolfo spying on the neighbour's swimming pool, put to good use by a rather carefree Frida. Delectable Tania Robledo plays Frida.
  • Well what do you know - dreams can come true even for our Rodolfo! :)
  • A prison 'Conjugal' visit, paid by pistol-trigger smuggler Rebeca. The bad old dog is played by José Alonso, and Rebeca by María Aura, still looking the same since Y tú Mama Tambien.
  • No nudity, but saucy scene as a eager Carolina makes retirement plans with her boss Daniel Buendia. Bejewelled Carolina is played by a sparkling Andrea García.
  • The best of the lot - of Rodolfo's sojourn with fiancée María Luisa. Played by a rather cute and well proportioned Mariana Ávila. I kinda loved the song too even if it sticks in your lips for longer than it perhaps should.
I could easily 'kill' a Godard now..! ;)


Monday, 4 June 2012

Scenes from Emir Kusturica's "Underground" [1995 Yugoslavia, France, Germany]

I'll start exploring Serbian cinema with a film from one of its famous directors, Emir Kusturica (Arizona Dream). His 1995 war drama "Underground" was critically acclaimed at Cannes and elsewhere, perhaps losing out on other major awards due to the political situation in erstwhile Yugoslavia. I admit I'm still a novice concerning his filmography, but hope to fill the gap as I get more acquainted with his body of work.

"Underground" however stands out with its unique storyline - uniquely placed because it couldn't possibly be applied to too many countries other than Yugoslavia. Here was a nation that had constantly changed hands and names like few in Europe, sometimes with each generation (Kusturica himself quotes in the DVD interview that each generation in his own family lived in a country with a different name). The drama spans five decades, from the second World War to the breakup of Yugoslavia, and is a tale of sex, arms trade, and more importantly deceit - both between people and by its political leaders. While it casts an astonishingly cynical view on this regard, there is also ample humanity even during the film's darker moments - it is a sincere plea by a director for the world to cast aside their negative opinion of a people, despite their apparently frequent preoccupation with war.

Blacky and Marko are best friends, communist party workers, and crooks involved in racketeering and anything else that can fetch them a fast buck. Blacky has a mistress named Natalija, a leading stage actress, one that Marko secretly covets. When Belgrade gets bombed by Germany, Marko arranges for a group of party men and their families to take refuge in a large underground bunker, including the injured Blacky. He also gets them to manufacture weapons to supply the partisans fighting the Nazis. Marko becomes the only person to sneak in and out of the bunker to conduct this trade and bring in food and supplies for those inside. He uses Blacky's isolation to persuade Natalija to live with him in the luxury villa right on top of the bunker. But when the war ends, he doesn't pass on the news to those underground, letting them think that their country is still at war. He also manages to convince Blacky that Marshal Tito himself had asked him to lie low for a while, for the 'final push'. Years pass - until an accident forces inmates to wander outside, but for them, it appears the war is still on...

This film was in my Amazon Wishlist for quite a while, which was placed purely based on its reputation - I had to wait for my DVD before I could watch it for the first time. The film starts off as a comedy reminiscent of a Fellini (one could find several comparisons in theme and treatment), but becomes sinister with thinly veiled humour as the film progresses. But it is the final half hour of the film where it becomes exquisitely poetic, rich in metaphors, in the style of a Bergman or Tarkovsky. I know it is silly of me to split a work into pieces for analysis, but since my knowledge of Balkan culture in general (with the exception of Greece) is still at its infancy, I have to find other reference points. Apart from the direction, meticulous production design and art direction, I was also impressed with the soundtrack and the performances by its main cast. This is an intense, lively, and memorable piece of art, and I'm actually glad to have kick-started Eastern European cinema with this film. Needless to say, it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Compilation: Ljiljana Jovanovic and Mirjana Jokovic
There is only a single nude scene in the entire film - a funny one at the very beginning when Marko spends a night with a prostitute only to be interrupted by the Germans. The prostitute is played by Ljiljana Jovanovic. I've also inserted a brief scene of a slightly older Marko with Natalija. Natalija is played by a sweet looking Mirjana Jokovic.

Ljiljana Jovanovic and Mirjana Jokovic in Underground


Friday, 1 June 2012

Emmanuelle Béart in "Les Égarés" [2003 France]

For all its originality and haunting imagery, the wartime drama "Les Égarés" [Eng. Title: Strayed] from André Téchiné remains one of his most underrated films. Much like a summer storm - it is idyllic one moment and nasty another, we won't know how the film is going to end until the last few frames. From a Louis Malle style pace, it swings to the other extreme where events are rushed through, but they will nevertheless linger in your mind long after - there is a clear intention in the seeming chaos.

Set in 1940 when France is invaded by Germany, we watch newly widowed Odile and her two young children Philippe and Cathy in a slow-moving convoy of refugees heading south. They are in their own motorcar, and hoping they're on the road to safety - until they get strafed by a German plane (this is a very well shot scene). Out of nowhere a youth with sheared-off hair appears and ushers them to safety in the woods just as their car is blown apart. After a night's sleep in the open "like animals", the youth, Yvan discovers an abandoned villa and takes the family to live there. He also forages from a nearby abandoned village and hunts rabbits to provide food for the family, in the process becoming the de facto man of the house. Odile and the children cope remarkably well, considering their grief, loss and displacement, and a strange tranquil descends upon the house when the world outside is in utter chaos. During this time Yvan also clumsily proposes to Odile. But there's a feeling of unease that this tranquillity couldn't last for ever, and it doesn't. Their first 'threat' comes in the form of two French soldiers returning from the war, who decide to stay in the villa for the night. Yvan, fearing that they've come to capture him, refuses to return home. We are now provided a hint about the mysterious Yvan, is he escaping from law? But Odile handles the soldiers deftly on her own, and just when they'd seen them off, another threat arrives, after France had fallen to Germany...

I cannot quite praise this accomplished film enough - right from the direction and cinematography to the performances by the main cast - Emmanuelle Béart is particularly magnificent as the complex and charming Odile, and a young Gaspard Ulliel impresses as the impetuous yet resourceful and well-intentioned Yvan. This film is without doubt a classic, and Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link

Compilation: Emmanuel Béart and Gaspard Ulliel

Emmanuelle Béart and Gaspard Ulliel in Les Égarés

Scene Guide:
  • Odile is in the bath after they've turned squatters in an abandoned villa. Odile is played by the talented and beautiful Emmanuelle Béart.
  • This is a remarkable sex scene where a lot is revealed implicitly. When Odile and Yvan have sex for the first time, it is in the open - their sexual tension had been building up over a period, which is all let loose when the unwelcome guests - a couple of retreating French soldiers, decide to leave. Not only will we learn Yvan has never seen a woman naked before, but also this is not his first sexual intercourse either - after he asks Odile permission for taking her from behind, the way he's used to! :)
Off-topic: After one more Ms. Béart film review, it will be time for the blog's very own Emmanuelle Béart tribute compilation. ;)