Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Marina Anna Eich & Julia Jaschke in "Die Wahrheit der Lüge" [2011 Germany]

After the wacky and outrageous Engel mit schmutzigen Flügeln, Roland Reber returns to his pet theme of forcing people into unnatural surroundings and watching them respond. His eagerly anticipated "Die Wahrheit der Lüge" [Eng. Title: The Truth of Lie] could be seen as an extension of 'The Big Game' played out in The Dark Side of Our Inner Space.

Two women - 'the Courageous' and 'the Hesitant' are hired by 'the Writer' (who we never see write a single word) as part of his research into the limits of human tolerance beyond which their spirits would break. He sets about by imprisoning them in a disused factory and subjecting them to various forms of torture. The project is funded by an uncompromising publisher who is keen to see some worthwhile 'results', and she is ready to do whatever it takes to reach its purpose...

I have two main points of criticism for this film. Unlike Reber's earlier works, the protagonist here is a male - the Writer. And for it to work, the characterisation must not only be well defined than the male characters in his other films, he must also be adequately obsessed with his quest to the point of making him appear almost menacing to his subjects. Unless Reber intended to explore the women's secretly held desire to be 'controlled' by someone, which I doubt, this film requires the Writer to propel the drama, and Christoph Baumman, as likeable a chap as he is, unfortunately doesn't cut the mustard. The other let-down is the lighting and needlessly wide camera angles which are at odds with the claustrophobic atmosphere the film is supposed to recreate, at least for the first half of the film. Was it because they got carried away with the awesome set - I don't know, but it certainly doesn't add to the narrative. It may work for theatre, not so for cinema. It also isn't helped by the fact that this film was shot in HD - the level of detail presented makes the incongruence all the more jarring.

There are however several fascinating topics that the film tries to explore - are we really in control when we think we are, is there a truth lurking behind a lie, can people endure unpleasant experiences for longer if they are made aware of when it will end, etc. But the idea of getting willing subjects to reach 'the peak' - the limit beyond which they would break down, promises more than it actually delivers, as the attention gets diverted to the 'big game' planned by the protagonist's publisher. True - if an advanced state of depravity needs to be explored thoroughly, Reber may have to go all the way and take the film into the horror genre like Pascal Laugier's Martyrs.  That's ironic - because unlike that horror film, the actresses in The Truth of Lie actually go through some testing procedures for real, whether it is waterboarding, getting locked up in confined cages, or being restrained to spanking benches - Roland Reber certainly is one of the few directors in cinema to seriously peruse BDSM practices as part of their narrative these days. It is therefore reasonable to assume that one cannot possibly expect any more from these actresses than what they've already delivered, because they experience it themselves. The 'court' scene towards the end is a crucial part of the film, where the Publisher takes on the role of judge, jury, and executioner - it is well performed, but perhaps I may have lost some of its nuance through the translated subtitles.

To summarise, this is another experimental project by Roland Reber, and he succeeds once again in stirring mixed emotions among critics and viewers alike. While I may disagree with several aspects of this film, nothing could take away its sincere attempt to push the boundaries as Reber had always done. And for that in itself, Long Live Independent Cinema..!

WTP International certainly know how to make films with limited budgets - just as well because they're resolutely self-financed. Not only was this film produced in record time, to its immense credit it also utilises its resources quite creatively. Newcomer to WTP Julia Jaschke gives a sincere performance as the Hesitant, while the lovely Marina Anna Eich takes on her least glamourous role to date as the Courageous - she gives it her all with total conviction. However, I couldn't help feeling she was perhaps underutilised, even if a touch overexposed - the film features prolonged scenes of nudity even by Reber's standards, particularly from Ms. Eich, even if none of them are particularly pleasant. The 'Making of' snippets indicate they were actually nude in several more scenes that didn't make the final cut. We also get to see a different side to Antje Nikola Mönning - while she played the capricious Lucy in Angels with Dirty Wings,  here she's the cold and calculating Publisher, but every bit as outrageous.  Ms. Mönning also dons the mantle of Assistant director apart from sharing production duties alongside other members of the WTP 'gang' - Roland Reber, Marina Anna Eich, and Patricia Koch (who by the way really ought to be in front of the camera as well).

Compilation: Marina Anna Eich and Julia Jaschke
Taken from portions of blog-related scenes - they're actually significantly longer in the film. The disc (both DVD and blu-ray) also includes several deleted scenes, an alternative ending, the making of, and some festival interviews.

Marina Anna Eich and Julia Jaschke in Die Wahrheit der Lüge

Scene Guide:
  • The newly hired subjects - the Courageous and the Hesitant, are asked to change into their prison uniform - they've after all agreed to become the Writer's slaves for the next five days. Played by Marina Anna Eich and Julia Jaschke respectively.
  • The sessions begin - a series of scenes where the Writer gets to work on each of his subjects individually to try and break them down. The Hesitant appears to be the more fragile of the two.
  • The five days pass, and they're still held prisoner - and the Publisher, played by the inimitable Antje Nikola Mönning explains to the subjects that the rules of engagement have changed. For their own survival, they're henceforth ordered to obey the Writer's every command.
  • The Writer with the Courageous on a crucifix. He asks her to frankly admit what she thinks of him, claiming that only those who tell the truth could be trusted. She tells him that he is a pervert and an a*shole, who just enjoys torturing women. He replies that there is perhaps a hidden truth behind her words.
  • A long conversation about 'Love' between the Writer and the Hesitant held in a cage, and for a moment the film almost veers off on a tangent.
  • Puppetry - the Writer's style - and his way of humiliating his subjects..!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Dusan Makavejev's chaotic masterpiece "Ljubavni Slucaj" [1967 Yugoslavia]

When you think of flawed geniuses in cinema, you tend to remember and love them precisely because of those flaws. The flaws obviously are not in their undoubted technical or artistic skills - more like their thought processes, and their attention span, or lack of. Dusan Makavejev is a prime example. While Fellini and Godard have a method to their madness - their seemingly irrelevant motifs and symbolisms will come back to haunt you, sometimes after you leave the theatre, Makavejev will leave you perplexed, pouring out motifs in his films as though he simply couldn't bear to store them any longer - his chaotic mind's exploding with ideas!

Take his rather conveniently titled drama "Ljubavni Slucaj, ili Tragedija Sluzbenice P.T.T" for example [Eng. Title: Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator]. The ambiguity of what he's trying to say shows through in the title itself. Of course, the film can be watched purely as a passionate love story as one half of the title, or a murder mystery as the other half suggests, but that'll still together make up only half the film. The rest of what we're shown, fascinating as it is to watch and listen to, is at best thinly allegorical, and more likely a product of some bizarre sense of humour. I mean, what has the reproductive cycle of rats (and henceforth the dangers they pose to mankind) got to do with a love affair, or Adam and Eve got to do with an illicit encounter - he's either gotten ahead of himself, or the man's plainly pulling our leg. But rather than making us annoyed, we merely end up remarking wryly, "oh well, here he goes again..."

Over the years I've come to expect this as part of standard Makavejev fare - my introduction to his films was fortunately and unfortunately through one of his later works, "Sweet Movie", which kind of threw me straight in the deep-end of his twisted mind. That was the misfortune - it took me a long while to revisit the film and try to understand what it meant. The fortunate part, is that as I went through his back films, I could chart the metamorphosis of this restless mind. "Love Affair or..." was only his second full-length feature, and 'Makavejev' characteristics have already become fairly well defined. If I were to recommend anyone Dusan Makavejev, I'd ask them to start from his first feature film, "Covek Nije Tica" - an impressive debut, and then work upwards. While the Love Affair may have some rough edges and, to put it mildly - rather eccentric edits, it nevertheless is a very interesting film that gives us a fascinating snapshot of 1960's (and Marshal Tito's) Belgrade, and its peoples' aspirations at the time. The cinematography is quaintly grainy and the stridently martial/revolutionary soundtrack will become part of Makavejev's signature in his later films. Some people may consider "WR: Mysteries of the Organism" as his best work, but for me, this early work from Dusan Makavejev's chaotic mind is his actual masterpiece, and Highly Recommended Viewing..! Eclipse Series Box-set
This is a lovingly restored Critereon NTSC box-set that showcases his first two full-length feature films and a documentary - my recommended choice.


Compilation: Eva Ras
All the scenes, save one, are of Izabela, a Hungarian-born telephone switchboard operator and her burgeoning love-relationship with Ahmed, a Turkish-born Sanitation Inspector - we're talking cosmopolitan Belgrade here! Izabela is played by a youthful and pretty looking Eva Ras, and her nude scenes, even though tame by today's standards, misleadingly caused it to be marketed as a sex film when it was first released.

Eva Ras in Ljubavni Slucaj ili Tragedija Sluzbenice P.T.T


Monday, 27 August 2012

Lena Stolze in "Das schreckliche Mädchen" [1990 W.Germany]

I haven't had the opportunity to see the other works of Michael Verhoeven, but his 1990 comedy drama, "Das schreckliche Mädchen" [Eng. Title: The Nasty Girl], co-produced with his wife and actress Senta Berger, won BAFTA award for the best film not in English language, and was also nominated for that year's Oscars.

The title is actually a bit misleading - Sonja, the protagonist is among the sweetest of girls at a quaint Bavarian town researching its past for an inter-school essay, but unexpectedly stumbles upon dark secrets concerning some of its respected citizens during Nazi rule. The town's establishment has gone into collective denial and refuses to cooperate with Sonja in giving her access to incriminating documents. But Sonja wouldn't let sleeping dogs lie and investigates further, even going as far as to suing the town for withholding information...

The film is narrated by Sonja through different stages of her young life - the black and white scenes obviously from her childhood. Sonja through the years is played for the most part by Lena Stolze, and quite impeccably too, with the help of some interesting make-up, camera angles and lighting effects. One of the charms of the film is the manner in which Sonja's narrative brings to the fore those little embellishments young people typically add to facts that would make them appear even more heroic than they already are. The other is the simple, almost theatrical set design - it actually works in the film's favour quite magnificently. It is by and large a breezy comedy full of old-fashioned mannerisms, gently poking fun at the townsfolk resolutely set in their ways. Recommended Viewing. DVD Link
English Subtitles
This is my recommended version - the one they sell in with English subtitles is an awful transfer.


Compilation: Lena Stolze and Monika Baumgartner

[caption id="attachment_6439" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Monika Baumgartner and Lena Stolze in Das schreckliche Mädchen Lena Stolze gives a delightful performance as the protagonist in Michael verhoeven's BAFTA winning comedy drama, "Das schreckliche Mädchen" aka The Nasty Girl.[/caption]

Scene Guide:
  • Little Sonja and her parents lived in her uncle's monastery for a while, and she recounts how her mother was an object of fascination for the seminary boys also living there. The mother is played by Monika Baumgartner.
  • The rest are various brief scenes of the delightful Lena Stolze who plays Sonja.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Martina Gusman in "Elefante Blanco" [2012 Argentina]

Argentinian Pablo Trapero, among the more talented young directors working in Latin America today, is renowned for his originality, cinematic eye, and uncompromising film making. From what I've seen so far, his screenplay and depictions are gritty, his topics  typically political and social, often critiquing the establishment and law enforcement agencies. I also couldn't help noticing influences from early Italian neorealists like Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini. But his films are nevertheless more sentimental in a very Latin American manner.

I'll start with his latest film, "Elefante Blanco" [Eng. Title: White Elephant], set amidst the slums of present day Buenos Aires, giving us a vivid snapshot of its persistent gang culture, drugs, and the establishment's antipathy towards its dwellers. This may not be Trapero's finest film - that I'll post at a later date - but it is certainly well made, and among the better Argentinian films I have seen this year. Recommended Viewing.

DVD Order Link

Ailing priest Julián (Ricardo Darín) who works in the slum and oversees a reconstruction project invites Belgian friend and fellow-priest Nicolás (Jérémie Renier) to join him, and hopefully also become his replacement. Through his stay, an altogether human Nicolás, ridden with guilt from his past, learns the hard way a lesson in drawing the line between compassion and 'interference'. The white elephant - the construction project that they're trying to complete is the background against which events unfold...

Compilation: Martina Gusman
Man of the cloth Nicolás, despite his oath couldn't help being drawn towards Luciana, a social worker passionately involved with the slum. In the only nude scene in the film, he visits Luciana late one evening, and things take their course. Luciana is played by a talented actress who also happens to be director Trapero's wife - Martina Gusman. She matches Ricardo Darín's intensity effortlessly throughout the film.

Martina Gusman in Elefante Blanco


Friday, 17 August 2012

Camila Pitanga in "Eu Receberia as Piores Notícias dos seus Lindos Lábios" [2011 Brazil]

Beto Brant is a highly respected and awarded director from Brazil, and for his film, "Eu Receberia as Piores Notícias dos seus Lindos Lábios" [Eng. Title: I'd Receive the Worst News from your Beautiful Lips], he teamed up with another promising director Renato Ciasca - this is their second feature-length film collaboration. Having seen just this film from them, I'm now sufficiently curious to want to discover their earlier works.

Set in a small town in Pará in the heart of the Amazon, Cauby makes a living as a photographer. Soon he'll befriend pastor Ernani's attractive wife Lavínia and embark on an affair - a good portion of the film is dedicated to their passionate relationship. We will also learn of Lavínia's baggage from her past - how she met her husband, her continuing love for him, and his supportive role. But when rumours of her affair with Cauby circulate, the conservative community do not look at it kindly, leading to tragedy, and their lives will never be the same afterwards...

Firstly, this film is peculiar in that it made me feel like a foreigner looking at it from the outside. Despite the fact that they're indeed foreign to me in reality, I couldn't help feeling a disconnect with the locals even at a human level. I suspect this might just as well be what the directors want us to feel - that we alongside the protagonists are nothing but foreigners in an ancient, altogether different Brazil. Where anyone from outside their town is considered a foreigner. Even the cinematography seems to offer this clue - its use of saturated colours and filters in some scenes make the landscape look almost alien. But having said that, visible beneath the protective layer is also the unmistakeable magic and sensuality of the land. As is the relationship between Cauby and Lavínia, respectively played by Gustavo Machado and the breathtakingly beautiful Camila Pitanga - her convincing performance is a revelation. Her filmography points to a predominantly TV actress - a talented TV actress she must be. The screenplay is decent enough, even though I couldn't help wondering if portions of it may have ended up on the cutting room floor - a common problem when films tell a story like this one. The star of the film, of course along with the enchanting Ms. Pitanga however has to be the exquisite soundtrack - thoroughly invigorating and one that I instantly fell in love with. Needless to say, this film is Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link


A milestone for this blogger:
With this post, I'd finally taken the plunge, possibly unaware of its depth, into Portuguese cinema. I'd been hoping to ease-in with films that I'm already well aware of, but this one was simply irresistible. I hope it wasn't a hasty move as there are several masters I haven't even touched so far in the blog - Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini only being the more obvious ones..!


Livea Amazonas, Gustavo Machado, Zecarlos Machado, and Camila Pitanga

Camila Pitanga and Livea Amazonas in Eu Receberia as Piores Notícias dos seus Lindos Lábios

Scene Guide:
  • Not for the first time has a Brazilian film started with a nude scene - we're led to assume this is a beautiful indigenous model posing for Cauby, and the model is played by Livea Amazonas.
  • No nudity, but a fascinating first-time photo-shoot with Lavínia. Lavínia is played by the gorgeous Camila Pitanga.
  • It leads to a love-making scene between Lavínia and Cauby, played by a handsome  Gustavo Machado.
  • Lavínia and Cauby have an 'Indian' body-painting party in this beautiful scene.
  • Cauby admiring some of the images he'd taken of Lavínia.
  • Long scene, cut short - Lavínia gives Cauby a present on condition that he breaks it open only when he is utterly desperate. He later enquires about her husband, and wonders how he's like 'in bed'. She replies with a cryptic, "it's different"...
  • A flashback scene of Lavínia with future husband Ernani - she narrates a terrible episode from her childhood, the time she lost her virginity to her mother's boyfriend.
  • Ernani and Lavínia become lovers. Ernani is played by Zecarlos Machado.
  • A scene, possibly a flashback, of Lavínia and Cauby by the river.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Valentina Lodovini in "La Giusta Distanza" [2007 Italy]

Carlo Mazzacurati's drama "La Giusta Distanza" [Eng. Title: The Right Distance] was a pleasant surprise - I'd not seen any of this director's work before, and wasn't expecting a lot from what I feared to be one more of those patronising multi-ethnic romances strewn with customary Italian clichés, but I was glad to be proved wrong.

We are eased into the film like a gentle comedy, as we are introduced to the main characters and their less hurried lifestyle in the tiny northern Italian town by a river delta. It however changes complexion as the film progresses, taking the air of a mystery drama towards the end. The beautiful cinematography, thoughtful editing, and sure-footed direction ensure we get to see the best coming out of his cast - notably Giovanni Capovilla who makes his film-debut playing the young protagonist Giovanni, the beautiful and charismatic Valentina Lodovini playing Mara - the other primary character around whom the film revolves, and Ahmed Hefiane who plays Hassan - Mara's love interest. But the star of the film is definitely the excellent screenplay that shifts the film's tempo seamlessly despite various twists and turns. This film isn't just an out-and-out mystery thriller along the lines of El secreto de sus ojos, but takes on several additional themes without getting itself bogged-down. The title of the film refers to the adequate distance a journalist must keep from his/her subject, and making allowances, only where necessary. Likewise, the director too has certainly maintained 'the right distance' with his subject to give us a fair but non-judgemental snapshot of provincial Italian society. I'm surprised that this film hasn't won many more awards, and isn't as widely known than some of its lesser contemporaries. This is an extremely well made mainstream drama that oozes elegance, and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link


Mara arrives as a temporary teacher at the town's primary school, a town where everyone is known to each other. Her arrival inadvertently causes a stir among the town-folks' hitherto tranquil lives, not least the honest and hard working immigrant car mechanic Hassan. Tragedy befalls, and 'justice' is also meted out, but young resident Giovanni - an enterprising and budding journalist, will pursue the 'real' truth regardless...


Compilation: Valentina Lodovini
Hassan is infatuated with Mara - played by the beautiful and talented Valentina Lodovini. He stalks her from the very day she arrives. She isn't too pleased after learning about it, but will soon end up dating him. They fall apart after she rejects his proposal for marriage, and Mara also decides to end her tenure earlier than planned. She nevertheless wishes to part under amicable terms and visits Hassan to patch things up...

Valentina Lodovini in La Giusta Distanza


Saturday, 11 August 2012

Reflections on Jacques Rivette's "La Belle Noiseuse" [1991 France]

Jacques Rivette is one of the very few nouvelle vague directors who is impossible to pigeon-hole - he has consistently experimented with cinema using different genres, techniques, and narratives, embodying the true spirit of French New Wave itself.

At first glance, his epic four-hour "La Belle Noiseuse" appears to follow an artist's journey through the course of a painting. Which it nevertheless does, in exquisite detail. It explores artist Frenhofer's quest for capturing the essence of his subject - 'La belle noiseuse' loosely translates as 'the beautiful troublemaker', alluding to a late medieval French courtesan who was coined the aforementioned epithet. A quest that also cannot be carried out alone - the artist needs to discover it through his model, and hence a journey that they should together undertake. The film also delves into the artist's frame of mind, his dilemmas, and moral compulsions - he is after all also justifying a purpose, after his agent persuades him to restart a painting that he'd already given up ten years earlier. The last time he pursued it with his wife as model, in his words, "it was either the painting or my marriage - I chose the latter". He hasn't painted since.

The chosen model, Marriane, girlfriend of a young artist and admirer of Frenhofer, agrees to pose for the resumed project reluctantly at first, but her indignant and cocooned self is subsequently forced open through her sittings for Frenhofer. And along with her inhibitions, Marriane also begins to shed her earlier preconceived notions and denials - she begins to feel liberated, which will inevitably also influence decisions in her personal life henceforth. Frenhofer will also conceive through Marriane his 'La belle noiseuse', and it will turn out to be an image that no one expected, nor even wanted to see...

Frenhofer rigorously working through his drawings - as fascinating as it is to watch, does get a bit tedious after a while, and Marriane's contortionist poses in the nude also lose its novelty rather quickly. If a film had meandered along for four hours by emphasising repetitively what has already been implied before, just to tell a story, one might be forgiven for considering it pretentious. But thankfully, that is not Rivette's main goal in the film. Rivette himself is the artist here and like Frenhofer, is going through several raw sketches of his own to understand his subject, which is also the same as Frenhofer's. It is Rivette using film as his sketchbook and canvas. In just the same way that Frenhofer's final creation is not of great interest to him save the creative journey itself (even the audience don't get to see the finished painting), what Rivette had captured through acres of film is less important to him than the film making process itself. That doesn't mean he didn't really care what he shot - far from it, every shot is thoughtfully chosen, every nuance captured with Rivette's customary attention to detail, and every actor (including the cat) make a perfectly orchestrated entrance. Rivette might just as well be the film's Frenhofer squeezing the soul out of his models, forcing them to strike testing poses, and pushing them as much as he's pushing himself. A clue to his intentions is in the way he keeps reminding us that we are watching something that is being 'filmed'! Not only do we often watch from a viewpoint that doesn't belong to any of the protagonists, we even get to see parts of the filming equipment from time to time, and also some visibly apparent improvisations with dialogue - we are watching the film 'being made'.

This is where the "shorter" version of the film released a year later, "La belle Noiseuse - Divertimento" requires mentioning. When I suggested above that Rivette has used film as his sketchbook and canvas, it wasn't my being spoilt for choice between two words for completing a sentence as sometimes is the case - if "La Belle Noiseuse" is the sketchbook, Rivette's "La Belle Noiseuse - Divertimento" is his finished canvas. In the latter, not only do we see the seemingly repetitive elements/strokes removed, it also incorporates the most ideal film compositions for advancing the narrative, the best takes in terms of acting, and the ideal marriage of visuals and dialogues, all coming together to give us a more 'complete' cinema experience. A typical example is in the passage of play relating to Frenhofer's usage of the earlier unfinished painting as canvas for the new painting - while the earlier work's defacement is shown explicitly and also argued over in depth by his wife in the longer version, the shorter version gets the same message across using the argument alone with barely a hint of the unfinished painting's defacement.

In terms of performance, Michel Piccoli as Frenhofer is the artist himself - to the effect that when I first viewed this film some fifteen years ago, I thought Mr. Piccoli was an accomplished painter himself. An artist's restlessness and self-centred quest for the unknown is vividly brought to life by one of the finest actors in French cinema. This was also the first of many collaborations between an up-and-coming Emmanuelle Béart and Jacques Rivette - one that will stand the test of time. Ms. Béart fits into her character like a glove, and brings forth the vulnerability and confusion of her character hitherto hidden beneath her tough exterior with aplomb.

Among the films of Jacques Rivette that I've had the pleasure to see, this may not be my absolute favourite - that'll be my next Rivette, but "La belle noiseuse" still has its unique charms and is worthy of mention in his remarkable body of work. Borrowing the analogy of films to artworks and how masterpieces are looked at in general, while the longer version (with transitional sketches) is for the connoisseur, the shorter version (finished and framed canvas) is for the enthusiast. We have a choice - both may be the same film, but are distinctive nevertheless, and Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link (Longer version)
This is a beautiful Artificial Eye 3-Disc release with one whole disc dedicated to interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

Amazon DVD Link (Abridged version)
Again from Artificial Eye, this excellent 3-Disc box-set titled The French Collection Volume 4 - Emmanuelle Béart features two other brilliant films of Ms. Béart - Les Témoins, and Histoire de Marie et Julien, both already reviewed in the blog. Three classics from two great directors - now that's value for money.


Compilation: Emmanuelle Béart and Michel Piccoli
Enhanced to 720p, this special film is certainly worth the effort, me thinks.

Emmanuelle Béart in La belle noiseuse

Scene Guide:
  • Marianne isn't too pleased to learn that her boyfriend had already agreed on her behalf to pose for veteran artist Frenhofer's forthcoming masterpiece. Marianne is magnificently played by the beautiful and expressive Emmanuelle Béart.
  • Marianne's first nervous session with Frenhofer, played by one of Europe's finest actors, Michel Piccoli.
  • A sampler-collage taken from different scenes to give an indication of the growing trust and bond between artist and model.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Gael García Bernal & Fele Martínez in Almodóvar's "La Mala Educación" [2004 Spain]

While it is women who tend to be the primary character in Pedro Almodóvar films - his 2004 drama "La Mala Educación" [Eng. Title: Bad Education] is a notable exception. Hardly any woman feature in this film, and even the one who does - a wardrobe assistant played by Leonor Watling - has barely any lines.

It would be quite difficult to write any meaningful storyline for the film without giving away this intricate plot - so I shall not bother. All I'd say is that it is about two childhood friends-turned lovers whom we'll follow at various intervals from the 1960's onwards, and it is an observation of how their 'education' unwittingly mark their very different lives, as it also does the brother of one of them.

While the film and to an extent the setting resemble and resonate politically to Louis Malle's "Au Revoir les Enfants", this one is altogether dark and unforgiving - a neo-noir that'll jolt you with unexpected twists and turns after giving you the false impression of a straightforward plot. In fact, false-impressions and false-hope make up a good part of this film within a film. Even if subdued in terms of its flamboyance, there are numerous touches that are unmistakably 'Almodóvar' - in the characterisation, screenplay and its glorious irreverence. The film negotiates with ease difficult topics such as paedophilia, rape, and misuse of religious power and trust, and tells us an immensely passionate tale of love, hope, and betrayal - the only difference is that the characters here are gay. And boy what a difference that is, especially if you have Gael García Bernal and Fele Martínez thrown into the main character roles. Until this film, I have to admit that my opinion of Bernal as an actor wasn't too high - I felt he was just another pretty Latin American boy. But he emphatically proves me wrong here - whether it is thanks to Almodóvar I won't know, but I'm pretty sure Mr. Bernal will forever be grateful for having this film included in his CV. And Felix Martínez who plays the other main character also gives a fine albeit subdued performance. Even though they don't quite strike up a chemistry as lovers, it's nevertheless how it should be in the overall scheme of things. As with any successful Almodóvar, the cinematography is vibrant and the soundtrack exquisite. I'd rate it equally alongside his later films such as "Todo sobre mi madre" and "Volver". Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Box-set Collection
This great value-for-money 4-DVD box set comes with three other recent Pedro Almodóvar films - Volver, Todo sobre mi madre, and Hable con Ella.


Compilation: Gael García Bernal, Alberto Ferreiro, and Fele Martínez
This one doesn't require a description and can be viewed for its own sake. It also saves me the bother of going into unnecessary detail. The first scene is of Gael García Bernal as Zahara with biker boy Alberto Ferreiro. Followed by Gael García Bernal as Ángel, and Fele Martínez as Enrique, by the swimming pool.

Gael García Bernal, Alberto Ferreiro, and Fele Martínez in La Mala Educacion


Sunday, 5 August 2012

Marilyn Solaya & Mirta Ibarra in "Fresa y Chocolate" [1994, Cuba]

Tomás Gutiérrez Alea is Cuba's best known and most respected director, and although I've seen only three films of his to date, I shall start his filmography with one of his last, "Fresa y Chocolate" [Eng. Title: Strawberry and Chocolate], a comedy drama that among other things critiques the Cuban establishment's intolerance towards homosexuality.

Set in contemporary Havana, we are introduced to young David, a loyal communist and university student, in love with Vivian. But he'll soon learn about her opportunism when she dumps him and gets married to a much well-off man. One day, David is hit on by Diego, a slightly older, exuberant, and openly gay intellectual and activist. He cunningly convinces the heterosexual and suspicious David to accompany him to his flat with the pretext of handing over some photographs of him with another woman. When David mentions the incident to his party-worker friend, he's asked to get back in touch with Diego to gather information on any subversive activities he may be up to. He approaches Diego who has by now already fallen in love with him, and agrees to be his friend provided it is purely platonic and they never discuss sex, and Diego agrees. But before long, David will discover in Diego not only a true friend, but also a wider knowledge of the world, and more importantly, love...

One may call this an intellectual coming-of-age film - about growing up and learning to live by one's principles. It is also a film about friendship, unrequited love, and tolerance for people who have a different point of view, or sexual orientation - the title alludes to different tastes and preferences. The film's purpose is not to discover anything profound but merely hammer home the aforementioned message in the most straightforward way. In that, it succeeds emphatically. It is very approachable and should be seen by all as it is extremely genial, touching, and even quite funny at times, especially during the scenes in which Diego tries desperately to win David's heart. Diego is interestingly played by Jorge Perugorría - more widely known for his rather macho roles as in "Bámbola" and "Doña Bárbara", and David is played quite convincingly by Vladimr Cruz - he brings forth the right amount of naivety and bewilderment that his character goes through which makes him endearing. An ageing Tomás Gutiérrez Alea worked with his regular co-director Juan Carlos Tabío on this project again, and manages to prove that he could still deliver memorable films. Definitely also worthy of mention is the fabulous choice of music by José María Vitier that's positively enchanting. This may not be Alea's finest work even from whatever I've seen, but is nevertheless Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link


Compilation: Marilyn Solaya, Vladimir Cruz, and Mirta Ibarra
There is only brief nudity - the post is more of an excuse to write something about this Oscar-nominated film - Cuba's first, than showcase any impressive nude scenes.

Marilyn Solaya, Vladimir Cruz, and Mirta Ibarra in Fresa y Chocolate

Scene Guide:
  • In this mildly amusing scene, David takes girlfriend Vivian to a seedy hotel for which he promptly gets ticked off. She complains that he only has sex in his mind, and David tries to assure her that he truly loves her, and in desperation swears that he'd henceforth have sex with her only after marriage, and that too at a luxury hotel (which unfortunately never happens). Vivian is played by a pretty Marilyn Solaya, and David by Vladimir Cruz. After hearing noises from the room next door, David couldn't resist peeking at the busy middle aged couple. Shame that the actress in this scene isn't included in the film credits.
  • Diego, unable to bear looking at a forlorn David (after the married Vivian passes by to bid final farewell), asks his neighbour and friend Nancy to lift David's spirits. But the experienced Nancy has plans of her own and plays wisely to the extent that David ends up falling in love with her. Nancy is played by Mirta Ibarra.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Claudia Gerini and others in "Com'è bello far l'amore" [2012 Italy]

It is entirely possible that Fausto Brizzi's comedy "Com'è bello far l'amore" [Eng. Title: Love is in the Air] was intended as a comic relief for Italians concerned with the Eurozone crisis. Whatever the case, at least the film seems to have done well for itself at the box office. Perhaps recycling old stuff has this power to induce some sort of nostalgia for 'happier' times, regardless of us being able to see gags coming from a mile away.

Andrea and Giulia - married for twenty years, notice excitement in their sex life waning, and enlist the help of Giulia's best friend and pornstar 'Max' for some advise. Genial chap that he is, Max obliges in the way only pornstars could, and goes further by also imparting some worldly wisdom to their teenage son that'll help him succeed in his mating rituals. All's well that ends well..!

This may be one of Brizzi's lesser works, but that doesn't stop him from taking a pot-shot at 'art' cinema, praising it for fulfilling a social need by injecting a desire among couples to have sex. The gag that follows might have had its origins in a pub-conversation, but is nevertheless mildly entertaining. The rest of the film however is outrageously clichéd and includes some rather cheesy tunes, save the rather pleasant title track by the legendary Patty Pravo - for long a thirstyrabbit favourite. DVD Link
(2-disc DVD - one is a 3D version - just in case...)


Claudia Gerini, Francesca Girardi, Valentina dal Chiele, Yohana Allen, Giorgia Wurth, and others, and includes bits from extended and deleted scenes among DVD extras

Claudia Gerini and others in Com'e bello far l'amore

Scene Guide:
  • Perhaps this was what the Lumière brothers first made before deciding to show the world the iconic approaching train footage instead, Max opines. The cousin that they're attributed to have filmed bathing however remains uncredited.
  • Hollywood pornstar Max during a shoot with Mindy. It really hurts to watch Filippo Timi play Max (oh well, the rent probably). But that certainly isn't the case with Francesca Girardi who plays Mindy.
  • Giulia records herself with hubby Andrea in bed - she wants to get Max's opinion on their 1:30 minute lovemaking. The gag unbearably stretches further when Andrea pulls his laptop from them and rushes to his business presentation, unmindful of what they'll be seeing. However, at least one of them seems impressed and asks for the phone number of the girl with the fine 'ass'. The girl - Giulia, is played by Claudia Gerini. Unfortunately whatever nudity we see from her is as projected on screen.
  • Max was directing his version of 'Messalina' when Andrea interrupts the shoot. Uncredited nudes follow.
  • Andrea and Giulia watch one of Max's 'plumber' classics - Mrs. Flower is played by Valentina dal Chiele, and her rather well-tanned sister Jodie, by Yohana Allen.
  • A brief scene of Max with fellow pornstar and occasional girlfriend Vanessa, played by Giorgia Wurth.
  • Max invites Andrea and Giulia to one of his 'parties' and are asked to forget for the evening that they're married - you get the idea. For a home-maker housewife, Giulia makes a quite impressive stripper, one that even hubby Andrea couldn't believe. You can follow the rest...
  • Andrea loses sight of Giulia momentarily and goes looking for her in the 'Vasca dell'amore' (bath of love). Uncredited nudes.
  • Not finding her there, Max suggests he should forget about Giulia and instead have some fun with an anonymous stranger in the 'Dark Room'.
  • You guessed it - Giulia has also been asked to do the same and blah, awesome sex, blah, couldn't believe, blah, infra red security camera, blah, happy ending, blah, blah...