Monday, 30 July 2012

Rona Hartner & Romain Duris in "Gadjo Dilo" [1997 Romania, France]

Films by French director Tony Gatlif are known for its exploration of themes relating to gypsy culture, often also delving into their musical heritage. Understandable, considering he's of Gypsy descent himself, but his films additionally give us a fresh insight into Romani peoples and their way of life, which will certainly differ from common perceptions.

His musical and romantic drama, "Gadjo Dilo" [Eng. Title: The Crazy Stranger] was actually well received and it also won a César for its music. When I watched it for the first time however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that apart from the music which is indeed mesmerising, the film is also very well written and directed, with engaging performances even by some of the cast members who're not professional actors.

Young Stéphane travels around Romania in search of a singer he only knows by the name of Nora Luca, along with a cassette of one her songs that his dad in France had recorded years before his death. His wanderings take him to a small town where he meets Izidor, an eccentric but charming Roma at the time mourning the arrest of his teenage son. He takes Stéphane to his Roma village because he had nowhere to stay, but the following morning is frowned upon by village folk because of Stéphane's's travel-weary attire and vagabond-look. But Izidor insists on keeping the "Gadjo" at his home, and promises them that he'll teach him their ways and language. The funny thing is, neither can understand each other at first, and Stéphane assumes Izidor had promised to take him to meet Nora Luca one day, the singer he's after. He stays put in the village and learns their language with some effort, and the people also begin to accept him gradually, including Sabina, a young woman who lived with her husband in Belgium before leaving him - she hates French speaking people, and had refused to help translate his words when he first arrived. But in time, she'll grow fond of Stéphane. He will also understand the Roma way of life, sometimes through tragic events that happen around him...

The film is a wild and sensual journey into an exotic culture, and Tony Gatlif offers us a slice of Romani life with a slightly different emphasis from Emir Kasturica's "Dom sa Vesanje" (Time of the Gypsies). At times hilarious - what with the language barrier and culture clash settings, it is also moving and I was particularly impressed with the actor playing Izidor (Izidor Serban). The lead actors also perform very well - Romain Duris is charming as the adventurous young Stéphane, and Sabina is turned into a lively and sensual Roma woman thanks to the beautiful Romanian actress Rona Hartner. Recommended Viewing..!

About the DVD:
I'd normally not recommend a DVD with hard-coded subtitles, least of all if it also happens to be in French. But having bought two versions of this film, it is this "2-Disc Prestige Edition" that I recommend on this occasion - the single disc edition with optional English and French subtitles is simply not worth its current price. At 113 minutes, the Prestige edition is also fifteen minutes longer than the standard edition.

But more importantly it is the 2nd DVD in the 2-Disc edition that makes this altogether special, as it includes a unique 82 minute concert arranged and directed by Tony Gatlif featuring Gypsy musical traditions and influences from different countries, and prominently featured amongst them is Flamenco. Called "Vertiges du Flamenco à la Transe", if you've seen and enjoyed any of Carlos Saura's meticulously choreographed Flamenco theme-based films (Bodas de Sangre, Flamenco), you will enjoy this even better because of its sheer spontaneity and raw energy - these men and women are passion incarnate with sparks flying all over the place, and this is no exaggeration. The music is fabulously rich and intoxicating to the extent that I wished the concert was at least twice as long.

Screenshot from the magical 2nd disc featuring the concert:

Compilation: Rona Hartner and Romain Duris

Rona Hartner and Romain Duris in Gadjo Dilo

Scene Guide:
  • Young French traveller Stéphane becomes the butt of kid's pranks in the village, and when he tries to help Sabina in the woods, he gets bitten first, and as if that wasn't insulting enough, also mooned at. :)
  • Sabina and a friend bathing inside a hut. The kids pull a prank once again by dragging Stéphane in. Feisty Sabina is played by a beautiful and flower-scented Rona Hartner. I couldn't determine the name of the actress playing her friend - those who can identify her please let us know.
  • Sabina and Stéphane - no nudity in this scene, but very interesting nevertheless if you can follow what they're saying to each other (I've left the subtitles in). It's clear they've started getting along rather well.
  • Things take their course in this beautiful and sensual scene, when Sabina draws Stéphane to a spot by the river - apparently the exact place where she was given birth to. Stéphane is played by a handsome and then up-and-coming Romain Duris.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Katrin Cartlidge in Mike Leigh's "Naked" [1993 UK]

On the eve of the London Olympics, and walking amidst the sea of union flags, nervous commuters, and hysterical BBC presenters who've by now pitched tent in every corner of town, it is not difficult to come across a noticeable outpouring of exuberance around you, quite unusual for 'normal' British behaviour. Don't get me wrong, actually, I'm one of those really glad to have the games here, and would even love to see F1-racing through Charring Cross Road. Of course, I don't really need to commute for work, nor do I physically need to visit the area to trade, much like some of those planning the event. I'm grateful as it is that they didn't pack us all out of town like they did in Beijing. Besides, where there is chaos, there's also chance of having some fun, and I have decided to embrace this chaos. Why else do you think the British are renowned for their sense of humour!

Works by British director Mike Leigh manifest this cherished sense of humour, he is after all one of Britain's finest and inquiring film makers working today. His brilliant nihilistic drama "Naked" set a new standard for Danny Boyle and others to follow, in its depiction of gritty realism infused with sharp wit and a healthy dose of social satire.

It is actually not that relevant but here it is anyway - unemployed Mancunian Johnny arrives at ex-girlfriend Louise's shared flat in London after getting himself into trouble back home. Johnny is introduced to her outrageous 'wicky-wacky' flat mate Sophie, and before long they hit if off. The following day however, he's had enough of both the women and walks off into the night - his walkabout will take him past some unforgettable characters and situations among the remnants of Thatcherite Britain. He momentarily crawls back to Louise and Sophie's flat after being beaten black and blue by some local thugs, and gets to meet their well-off landlord Jeremy who'd dropped by ostensibly to collect 'rent arrears'. Throughout the film, we'll see a constant comparison of these two characters - not quite dissimilar in the way they treat women, but while one's is out of arrogance, the other's is out of alienation, and it is the alienated Johnny who we will feel empathy for.

Watching this film is like opening the manhole of a blocked-up sewer - it will hit you with a blast even if you're aware of what to expect. And I mean it in the best possible way, because it ultimately has a cleansing effect. It is ugly, bitter, and at times unpleasant, but it is also incredibly moving and a keenly observed study of relationships using humour. It is cinema, pure and beautiful. David Thewlis who plays Johnny is sensational, delivering a complex character with all its flaws and vulnerabilities quite magnificently. Lesley Sharp as Louise revels in the understated irony of her character, and Katrin Cartlidge who plays Sophie is the perfect foil to Thewlis' bitter rantings. It is a shame that Ms. Cartlidge, a talented and gifted actress passed away at such an early age. As for Mr. Thewlis, remarkable as he is in this film, he is at times upstaged by Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) who plays a frantic Scot that Johnny befriends during his walk across the city. Some of the scenes will stick with you for a while, and some scenes you will love to watch them again. A fine director's masterpiece, Mike Leigh's "Naked" is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link


Katrin Cartlidge, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Berrington, and Deborah MacLaren

Katrin Cartlidge, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Berrington, and Deborah MacLaren in Naked

Scene Guide:
  • Sophie and Johnny decide to have some fun, excellently portrayed by Katrin Cartlidge and David Thewlis respectively - some witty lines also included.
  • After Jeremy is put down by his date at a restaurant, the frustrated man takes home eager waitress Giselle. I somehow don't think she'll remember him fondly after that evening. Giselle is played by Elizabeth Barrington, and Jeremy by Greg Cruttwell - he tries to be as menacing as a Malcolm McDowell, but alas he also has the weakest of lines in the film.
  • A long scene of Johnny with a mature beautiful woman he first noticed by a window. It isn't dialogue-heavy, but is still one of the most moving scenes in the film. The woman is played by Deborah MacLaren.
  • This scene between landlord Jeremy and Sophie is unpleasant and made all the more shocking by Sophie's feeble response to what just happened to her. Louise, in many ways the film's conscience, is finally made aware of the facts.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Valeria Golino in "Il Sole Nero" [2007 Italy]

"Il Sole Nero" [Eng. Title: Black Sun] is the only film I've seen so far from much awarded Polish Director Krzysztof Zanussi, so am ill-equipped to write anything about his filmography for the moment. I'll therefore restrict myself to writing about this Italian film for its own sake.

Agata and Manfredi are a newly married Sicilian couple. Manfredi is younger by close to ten years, but they're both in love. And Agata is already planning for a child, but Manfredi prefers having her all to himself for some more time before becoming a family. When Manfredi is murdered, Agata's behaviour undergoes a change that worries her psychologist and authorities investigating the murder. Her love for Manfredi turns into something approaching religious faith - she sometimes has visions of him beside her and even talks to him. But she hasn't altogether taken leave of her senses either - she wants to find the murderer and ask him why he did it, before she could decide her destiny...

This is a strange film - it's an attempted neo-noire with elements of melodrama thrown in. I think it is the melodramatic elements that spoil the film, particularly the ending, which could have been a bit more imaginative. But technically this film is well made - notably in its production design. The radiant cinematography and lighting uses warm colours in keeping with the film's concept. As for the screenplay and characterisation however, it lacks depth, and some of the casting choices don't help matters. The gorgeous Valeria Golino nevertheless gives a sincere performance, and it is purely for her that I would  recommend this film. I'd like to believe that Mr. Zanussi had done better films, and I look forward to exploring more of his work. DVD Link


Compilation: Valeria Golino and Lorenzo Balducci
Most of these scenes happen at the very beginning of the film, almost in succession. Newly married Agate and Manfredi are practically in the nude in all these post and pre-coital scenes, and I believe the director was trying to establish their intense level of passion and intimacy through these scenes in order to justify Agata's behaviour later on. They're nude even while on the balcony where they're likely to be seen from neighbouring windows, one of which unfortunately belongs to malcontent drug-addict Salvo. The couple talk about their love for each other, Agata compares him to an archangel, and she wants them to have a child, one that a twenty year old Manfredi is understandably not too keen on. Agata is played by the lovely Valeria Golino, and Manfredi by Lorenzo Balducci. In the final scene Agata is by the bath after a rendezvous with Manfredi's killer, symbolically cleansing wherever he touched her.

Valeria Golino and Lorenzo Balducci in Il Sole Nero


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Liv Ullmann in "Skammen" [1968 Sweden]

The late sixties were momentous times in Europe and the world over, and Ingmar Bergman had a message to tell. He needed to tell us of our collective shame - the shame in the way people are governed, wars waged supposedly on their behalf, and the shame of common peoples' lives devastated by careless decisions made behind those closed doors of power. Do we have to live in such a society, Bergman pertinently asks through his achingly beautiful film, "Skammen" [Eng. Title: Shame].

Vietnam was just one of the theatres of wars waged around the world at the time the film was made, and apart from the blissfully ignorant (who unfortunately number many), few held any real hope for a peacefully coexisting world. Dehumanising images were regularly beamed across TV sets and splashed on magazines, and Bergman was desperate to tell us how these essentially meaningless wars impact ordinary people. With this premise, Bergman creates a complex clockwork of events and characters whose mechanisation will guide the protagonists' behaviour, likening them to the hands of a clock - unable to change their destiny on their own. But this film is sadly even more relevant today, because we continue to repeat mistakes we'd hitherto sworn to reject, as though mutual destruction has become ingrained in our genes and we can't help ourselves killing each other.

Jan and Eva Rosenberg are musicians who've retreated to an island after the orchestra they were working with dissolved. There's been a war raging for over four years, and Jan and Eva have even forgotten what the war was all about. But then it suddenly arrives at their very own doorstep. Jan, an idealist, is self-centred and timid by nature, totally indisposed to confrontation of any type. Eva on the other hand, despite being deeply troubled by what's happening around her, is dedicated to her husband, and dearly likes to mother a child, one that Jan isn't too keen on. But she is also the one with initiative - the leader of the family. One day their farm is captured by the advancing 'enemy', who will then interview the couple and manipulate their words in order to make them sound as though they're sympathetic to their cause. But soon the enemy is forced to retreat, and the local generals look upon the couple as possible collaborators, and they're only saved from concentration camp by the intervention of their local Mayor. But the couple will realise the price for his kindness, after he starts frequenting their home with the aim of winning Eva's favour. Their plight and the film's message could be summed up in Eva's prophetic words to Jan during a scene, "Jan, Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It is not my dream but somebody else's that I have to participate in. What would happen when the one who dreamt us wakes up and feels ashamed..?"

About the film:
Bergman made this film with a very tight budget, but it hardly shows. It may not have the grand scenes of a "Saving Private Ryan", but the horrors of war and its psychological impact on people is illustrated quite magnificently nevertheless - it may be intensely bleak, but that shouldn't put anyone off watching this gem of a film - it is cinema of the finest kind. With the superlative cinematography by Bergman-regular Sven Nykvist and sharp editing by Ulla Ryghe, not to mention the fine performances by his regular actors - Max von Sydow as Jan, Liv Ullmann as Eva, and Gunnar Björnstrand as the Mayor/Colonel, Ingmar Bergman has created another masterpiece that he should be anything but ashamed of. This beautifully crafted film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


Amazon DVD Link

About the DVD:
This NTSC DVD is my recommended version, as it is a great transfer in its original aspect ratio, and is loaded with extras such as a Bergman featurette titled "Search for Humanity", an on-camera interview with Liv Ullmann, and an audio commentary in English by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais.


Liv Ullmann:
One of the most beautiful and elegant actresses in cinema, Liv Ullmann is as talented as she is insightful in the manner in which she delves into her character. Ms. Ullmann also considers this film to be her personal favourite among all her cine projects with Bergman, partly because the film tackles a subject dear to her - her dislike of war. She was also a spokesperson for UNESCO and had travelled to most of the world's hot-spots to propagate her message. In personal life, she was also partner to Ingmar Bergman when this film was made, and through whom she even bore a child. She holds Bergman in the highest esteem, and likewise I too hope to discuss more of her films in this blog.


Scene: Liv Ullmann
This happens at the very beginning of the film where the audience are introduced to Jan and Eva. Jan, a difficult and unsympathetic character is very well portrayed by Max von Sydow, and Eva is played by the magnificent and stunning Liv Ullmann. And she is stunning as ever even today!

Liv Ullmann in Skammen


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Petra Schmidt-Schaller in "Sommer in Orange" [2011 Germany]

Marcus Hausham Rosenmüller's "Sommer in Orange" [Eng. Title: My Life in Orange] is a breezy little comedy of clashing cultures.

Set in the early eighties, the film is about a commune of the Bhagwan Rajneesh cult establishing itself in an idyllic Bavarian village right in the Christian heartland of Germany. It depicts a traditional community coming to terms with the newly arrived 'devil worshippers', and their various attempts to have them removed until both of them learn the art of coexistence.

Young Lili and little brother Fabian join mum Amrita and her fellow cult members at a villa recently bequeathed to Amrita's boyfriend Siddharta. They decide to set-up a commune there much to the dismay of old-fashioned locals, who look upon them with suspicion. But importantly for Lili, she finds it hard being accepted by local kids for who she is, despite her desire to belong. She goes to various lengths, foregoing her orange cult-robes in order to blend in. Neither does her self-centred mother Amrita's 'spiritual' obsession help Lili, who will begin feeling embarrassed about even belonging to the commune. You have drama towards the end when Lila, out of anger wrongly implicates the commune of several crimes including sympathising with the RAF, but she will receive guidance from a rather unexpected quarter that will help smooth some of the cracks that have appeared in the commune, and infuse back some good 'energy'.

This is a delightful comedy that consistently stays clear of clichés and observes the clash of cultures and their idiosyncrasies without taking them too seriously. The kids playing Lili (Amber Bongard) and Fabian (Bela Baumann) are a treat to watch, they're the ones who make the film tick. Technically the film is very well made, but like most mainstream films, don't expect anything too deep. It is nevertheless an above average comedy that's Recommended Viewing! DVD Link


Compilation: Petra Schmidt-Schaller, Wiebke Puls, Daniela Holtz,
Georg Friedrich,
and Brigitte Hobmeier

Petra Schmidt-Schaller and Brigitte Hobmeier in Sommer in Orange

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity but an interesting scene of Amrita being the enthusiastic mum making the children breakfast. Amrita is played by a pretty Petra Schmidt-Schaller.
  • Some fleeting flashes from girls at the commune enjoying the rain - Wiebke Puls and Daniela Holtz feature in it apart from Petra Schmidt-Schaller.
  • The neighbour and local Mayor gets an eyeful of Amrita as she momentarily turns into a garden nymph. His kids enjoy the view too.
  • This is a hilarious scene, but I'm sure Siddharta will find it hard to see the funny side. He works  Amrita up to orgasm, only to hear her say that she could now 'feel' the 'energy' of Prem Banana (Bramana) - a visiting cult member from US who's no doubt after Amrita's very own 'energy'. A furious Siddharta, played by Georg Friedrich, picks a row with Amrita in the garden as Lili watches their drama. :D
  • Another crazy scene of cult members freeing themselves off their negative energy - Prem Bramana winds up a hysterical Amrita while the others join in. The redhead is Leela, played by Brigitte Hobmeier.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Antonia Zegers in "Post Mortem" [2010 Chile]

I've only recently discovered young Chilean director Pablo Larrain, but can readily see he is set for greater things. He breaks away from the typical Latin American mould to fluidly incorporate stylistic elements from other cinema particularly from northern Europe, and his visuals and pace could very well be mistaken for a Michael Haneke or Thomas Winterberg were it not for his films' explicitly political and Chilean subject matter.

Larrain's excellent drama "Post Mortem" is set against Chile's most momentous and infamous event in its recent history, the 1973 coup d'état that overthrew an elected left-wing government and eventually brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. Cleverly using that backdrop to highlight an apolitical protagonists' silent despair, it observes how desperate people act and react to certain circumstances.

Mario is a middle-aged civil servant, a recorder at a government hospital morgue. He is also a singleton with old fashioned beliefs, and spurns advances from a female colleague because he believes she is sleeping around. But for all his high morals, he couldn't help falling in love with neighbour Nancy, a thirty-something performer at a burlesque club, despite knowing she already has a boyfriend, and perhaps several other men whom she may need to please in order to get by. But Nancy, an anorexic and having issues of her own, is non-committal and only willing to offer him the occasional sexual relief. Her father is a member of the communist party, and her house frequently becomes a political meeting place among colleagues. But when the military stage a coup, Nancy's father and brother are taken away, and she ends up living in a disused store room at the back of her house. Mario brings her food and a radio. But soon, Mario will be recording Nancy's autopsy...

One of the notable aspects of the film is its cinematography which has a distinct dogme 95 feel about it, unusual frame aspect notwithstanding. But it works brilliantly here, especially during the long penultimate scene where we don't get to see a face - just the act of furniture being piled on top of each other. The film is slow but adequately paced, and the only music I remember is during the end credits. The performances by main actors, Alfredo Castro who plays Mario, and Antonia Zegers who plays Nancy are suitably subdued for the tone of the film. It may be mildly amusing in some scenes you wouldn't expect, but is nevertheless an unsettling film that convey's the message quite eloquently - Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link


Compilation: Antonia Zegers
The film features some brief nudity from Antonia Zegers who plays the character of Nancy. First is during an autopsy where Mario records the coroner's findings. Later, in a flashback scene of Mario and Nancy having a cry together before some detached sex.

Antonia Zegers nude in Post Mortem


Friday, 13 July 2012

Gianella Neyra in "Polvo Enamorado" [2003 Peru]

"Polvo Enamorado" appears to have been Peruvian director Luis Barrios' only feature film. Since I haven't seen any of his TV dramas, this film is my only point of comparison.

Natalia who had wanted to live in the convent is for some reason given away in marriage to Matías, mayor of a fishing village, on condition that they don't partake in sexual congress. But middle-aged Matías couldn't help desiring her sexually, and he drugs her every night to achieve meaningless intimacy as some consolation. And it appears that his son from a previous marriage, Percy also fancies Natalia, but doesn't make any moves due to respect for his father. Matías is actively involved in protecting the interest of his citizens, and in the process incurs the wrath of a large fishing company using trawlers. Meanwhile, new priest Santiago arrives to take over church services, and Natalia finds herself being irresistibly attracted to him. She soon foregoes any intention of joining the convent and instead seduces Santiago to embark on a secret affair. After one of their indiscreet moments is witnessed by Percy, he wastes no time in reporting the incident to his father, which sets off a chain of events...

While part of the storyline is reminiscent of a more famous Mexican film (Il Crimen del Padre Amaro), it unfortunately doesn't reach anywhere near that film in terms of direction and cinematography - it is filmed pretty much like a TV melodrama and doesn't aspire to achieve anything cinematic. And I hate to admit - the only reason I purchased this DVD was for the depiction of a sex scene quite rare for conservative Peru - between Gianella Neyra and Paul Vega. I'm afraid there is little else here to write about. But here's the DVD link for those interested: DVD Link


Compilation: Gianella Neyra

Gianella Neyra in Polvo Enamorado

Scene Guide:
  • Matías is only able to look at wife Natalia naked when she's unconscious. Natalia is played by Gianella Neyra.
  • As it happens, he gets found out one day, much to his wife's dismay.
  • Natalia connects with newly arrived priest Santiago and despite his initial reluctance, they embark on a secret affair.
  • They will soon be caught in the act by Natalia's husband Matías...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Nadia Mourouzi in Theo Angelopoulos' "O Melissokomos" [1986 Greece]

Theodoros Angelopoulos will forever be considered among the greatest directors in world cinema. And his delightful cornucopia of work has influenced many a contemporary alongside the younger directors, in the same manner in which he too drew influences from other works whilst always retaining his own vision.

His films often explore politics, particularly recent Greek history, but also the human condition eloquently which in a way is quite reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni, and what drew me to his films in the first place. It has been a pleasure discovering (and re-discovering) some of his works since, and I'm glad to have finally had a chance to write something about this exceptional director, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year in a freak accident. His art is of course immortal, inspiring future film makers and audiences alike, and an exploration of cinema is simply incomplete without his films.

I shall start his filmography from a slightly lesser known but nevertheless accomplished drama, "O Melissokomos" [Eng. Title: The Beekeeper]. The second in Angelopoulos' Trilogy of Silence, it is a journey into emptiness, and despair. Each of the films in this trilogy is magnificent and poetic, even though it was the final of the trilogy ("Topio stin Omichli" - "Landscape in the Mist") that collected the most awards. The trilogy must be visited in their order, but make sure you have a box of tissues handy by the time you get to the unabashedly emotional final film. Angelopoulos has a trademark style of his own - his signature scenes are meticulously timed long takes, with great attention to their relevance to the characterisation and screenplay.

It is a momentous day for middle-aged Spyros - his daughter's getting married, and is moving out to start her new life. He too has handed in his resignation at the school where he teaches, and has also decided to separate from his wife of many years. He will henceforth pursue his hobby of bee-keeping, a hitherto family profession, and embarks on his charted course with his van full of bees, chasing spring blossoms. On the way, a young girl hitches a ride in his van whom he drops off at the nearest junction, but she keeps bumping into him again at various stages of his journey - a distraction he'd have preferred not to have. Her youth and carefree abandon couldn't be a greater contrast to his present frame of mind, and the more she throws herself at him, the more he pushes her away. But she nevertheless manages to get into his mind, and will cause Spyros to do things he'd never normally think of. Their journey together will come to an end at a disused cinema, where lot will be revealed about what it means to be in Spyros' shoes...

To say this is one of the most beautiful films you'll ever see is clichéd, and possibly an understatement. It does everything that good cinema can in the most simple terms, and more. The direction, screenplay, cinematography, editing, and acting (this is Marcello Mastroianni in top form) shine throughout the film. Angelopoulos works magic again with a tight-knit team who know exactly what he wants, and deliver in no small measure in the case of Eleni Karaindrou's hauntingly melancholic soundtrack. Needless to say, this gem of a film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
(I couldn't locate the box-set that includes the complete Trilogy of Silence - will update this when I come across one)

Compilation: Nadia Mourouzi

Nadia Mourouzi in O Melissokomos

Scene Guide:
  • When the girl asks Spyros if she could stay with him for the night, he reluctantly agrees. She wastes no time in making herself quite comfortable at his expense, even bringing in a lover for the night. An uncomfortable Spyros is aptly played by one of Europe's superstars Marcello Mastroianni, and the girl by Greek actress and Angelopoulos regular, Nadia Mourouzi.
  • A pass of play at a disused cinema of a friend where they take shelter - the girl is practically nude throughout their stay, and the undercurrent in the later part of this long scene is not only sexual, but also psychological - Spyros 'becomes' interested in making love to her only when she pleads him to let her go - nothing about her interested him until he realises she's leaving. Now, does the girl also know that..?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Nadir Caselli in "Posti in Piedi in Paradiso" [2012 Italy]

Comedy is usually the pain killer for hard times, and Carlo Verdone offers some commercial relief through "Posti in piedi in paradiso" [Eng. Title: A Flat for Three].

By some coincidence, Ulisse and Fulvio end up sharing a flat with the estate agent who showed them the property, Domenico. With a dip in all the three middle-aged divorcees' fortunes, also exacerbated by the economic downturn, they strike an unlikely friendship in order to get by. They stutter and make some poor decisions, but all ends well in this rather tame comedy, even if it is generally well written. The Italian title alludes to too many people attempting to mend their ways in order to find a place in an already crowded heaven - Ulisse, Fulvio, and Domenico being three among them.

A typical Verdone, it is packed with big stars like Pierfrancesco Favino and Micaela Ramazzotti, and Carlo Verdone also makes an appearance as Ulisse. This may be a well-made and above average comedy, but is still only Easy Viewing..! Blu-ray Link

Compilation: Giulia Greco and Nadir Caselli
There's just a brief nude scene in the film which I'd generally pass by, but this is of the cute young actress Nadir Caselli who plays Gaia, an up-and-coming TV starlet. She befriends gossip columnist Fulvio, and wishes to thank him for setting up an audition with a famous film director. Before that we have a non-nude but funny scene of Marika, the daughter of flatmate Domenico. She comes looking for dad to ask for some extra cash for her rhinoplasty. Ulisse and Fulvio have a laugh at her expense - played by Giulia Greco.

Giulia Greco and Nadir Caselli in Posti in piedi in paradiso


Saturday, 7 July 2012

Aurore Broutin in Dumont's "Hors Satan" [2011 France]

Bruno Dumont's reflections on the esoteric continues with another beautifully crafted film, "Hors Satan" [DVD Eng. Title: Out Satan].

A village loner, almost a vagabond, lives and sleeps in the marshes. The ranger wants him out of the land, but some in the village however seek his help because of his miraculous healing powers. A girl befriends him, offers food, and follows him like a disciple on his frequent spiritual ramblings. She wants to be his girlfriend, but he insists on a purely platonic relationship. But while his actions are largely benevolent, at times they're also vindictive on people who he thinks have wronged...

Bruno Dumont tries to show us that there is perhaps no clearly defined border separating Good from Evil, that this border may at best be semi-permeable - each side absorbing elements from the other as needed. Or they may also be relative even. Throughout the film, the protagonist's behaviour varies from being merciful and caring, to menacing and evil - separated through periods of stillness that also allow the audience to contemplate. Dumont's earlier films used to be overly slow at times, with takes that stretch into several minutes when very little happens (like in La vie de Jésus and L'humanité). This film however is paced just about right, and alongside its lush cinematography, also vaguely reminiscent of an early Antonioni - the difference of course is the emphasis - here it is on the spiritual rather than the philosophical. But the most extraordinary feature of the film has to be its sound engineering, or lack of it. Dumont didn't have a dedicated sound editor for this film, and most of it is captured as a single channel. It therefore has no music in the soundtrack, and the dialogues are also sparse. What we hear mostly are the sounds from nature, significantly aiding our contemplations through the film. This is nevertheless another magnificent film from the French auteur - Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link

Compilation: Alexandra Lemâtre and Aurore Broutin
There's only a single scene of nudity in the film but I've used another earlier scene as a point for comparison. The first is of the girl, well played by Alexandra Lemâtre, seemingly gratifying herself in the bedroom after the man she wants to be with leaves in a hurry after eating the food she served. The second is a backpacker, who tags along with the man, and also invites him for sex. The sex scene that ensues however is close to revolting as the man performs the act as if it is some kind of healing, or exorcism even - in the process giving her an orgasm she perhaps won't forget in a hurry. It could also be seen as the devil incarnate performing its deed a la Paul Naschy in "El Caminante". The backpacker is played by Aurore Broutin. And I really don't want to know what that white stuff is..!

Alexandra Lemâtre and Aurore Broutin in Hors Satan


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Isabelle Huppert & co in Godard's "Sauve qui Peut (la vie)" [1980 France]

After spending the best part of the 1970's 'in research' as he puts it, Jean-Luc Godard returns to cinema emphatically with "Sauve qui Peut (la vie)" [Eng. Title: Slow Motion], an extraordinary dish nevertheless served with recognisable ingredients used in "Vivre sa Vie" and "2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle", but also flavoured with politics, sociology, the customary cynicism, and topped with an extra dash of mordant humour. But this film is more than that - Godard philosophises and experiments with theories on art and film - an exercise that re-establishes his undiminished love for the medium that is cinema, and a tacit withdrawal of his earlier claim that cinema was dead!

About the film:
The French title roughly translates as 'Everyone for himself', which may pretty much be what the film portrays, but it is the English title (Slow Motion) that gives a hint of his experimentation here. The technique used in the film isn't exactly slow-motion as used by François Truffaut quite beautifully in "Jules et Jim" - it is more like stop-motion (he calls it 'décompositions') used in some strategic moments of the film. Godard says that he was attracted to the idea of trying to find a different 'rhythm' with which to make cinema represent life, rather than the conventional 24 frames per second which we're used to. He reminds us that during the silent era where there were technical limitations, it was possible to depict events using different rhythms, and the audience readily accepted it, helped of course by actors who understood and achieved different rhythms through their very performances. On the film's concept, I'll quote his own words (translated of course): "...the idea I had for this film was that of a character who comes back, or is seen by others as coming back, and yet his return is a departure from somewhere. It's a problem that young people must experience - those moments when one has to not only find oneself, but also know where one wants to be in order to make a new start."

Yep, there is one - Godard works with a narrative for a change. It is about three characters with very different outlooks, as observed through three chapters - The Imaginary, Fear, and Commerce. A fourth chapter, Music, connects these characters together along with the film's theme music. Paul Godard, a film director and one of the three main characters, evades the amorous advances of a hotel bellboy to return to his flat, to realise that his girlfriend Denise had just left him - she'd quit her job in Television, and arrives at a village hoping to find some work at a local printing press. Denise is the second main character. The third is prostitute Isabelle, who goes about her business by confronting day-to-day challenges and embracing various opportunities. The chapters are essentially non-linear vignettes of these three characters interacting with people they know or encounter.

Intensely engaging, the film is also outrageously shocking in places, like the seemingly casual conversation Paul has with his football coach-friend, or the middle-aged client who wants Isabelle to pretend she's his daughter, and the 'orgy' she later participates in with a businessman, his male secretary, and another prostitute. But there are also some memorable film moments like when Paul leaps over the table to wrestle with Denise, the ensuing stop-motion accompanied by theme music, and the final scene of Paul's young daughter and his ex-wife walking away from the camera. The performances by the three main actors is excellent - Jacques Dutronc as Paul is convincing, Isabelle Huppert as Isabelle is incredible to say the least, and the exquisite Nathalie Baye shines as Denise - a role for which she even won a César - her first of many. The cinematography, editing, and soundtrack aptly compliment the film's theme. Needless to say, this is a superb Godard, and Highly Recommended Viewing..! Box-set Link
This is the only sensible way to add to your Godard Collection. The Gaumont box-set comes with no less than nine films chosen from different stages of his career, includes generous extras, and fills gaps left by some of the more famous UK/US sets.

Isabelle Huppert:
It's taken a while but I'm glad to have finally started the filmography here of one of the most talented actresses ever to have appeared on screen - the magnificent Isabelle Huppert. Renowned for the challenging roles she often takes on, through her films she has made many an ordinary director look good, and fine directors great. There is very little I could possibly add to what has already not been written about this shining gem in the jewel of European cinema. It is however reassuring to see her still active in films these days, and I look forward to writing more about her work in this blog.

Catherine Freiburghaus, Anna Baldaccini, Isabelle Huppert,
and Nicole Jacquet

Catherine Freiburghaus, Anna Baldaccini, Isabelle Huppert, and Nicole Jacquet in Suave qui Peut la vie
Scene Guide:
  • Denise is shown around the farm she's temporarily staying in, and the farm girl, played by Catherine Freiburghaus, interrupts the tour by demonstrating one of the things she quite likes when it comes to feeding the cows - a good lick between chores. :-D
  • Prostitute Isabelle's sister comes visiting - she's in need of some cash, and wants to explore the option of turning some tricks of her own to make the money. Isabelle inspects the 'goods' she has on offer, and reminds her of what she should be ready to do in order to be successful. I've left their 'frank' conversation intact for those who can follow French. The sister is played by Anna Baldaccini.
  • Isabelle with a middle-aged client multi-tasking his work with pleasure. Isabelle is of course played by the beautiful and talented Isabelle Huppert.
  • It's all in a day's work - this is of Isabelle with client no: 2. An outrageously silly scene, she's expected to participate in an orgy with the proprietor, his male secretary, and a waiting prostitute Nicole. The extended scene is ridiculously funny as the client 'directs' how each of them should play their part in his fantasy. The poor Nicole who takes all their verbal abuse but gets on with it is played by Nicole Jacquet.