Sunday, 30 September 2012

Delphine Seyrig in Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

The 1975 Franco-Belgian film "Jeanne Dielman", or "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" to be precise, saw a young lady of twenty five with little formal qualification in film introduce a totally new vocabulary into cinema. Chantal Anne Akerman had arrived. The three and a half hours of seemingly repetitive footage of mundane domestic chores will provoke, inquire, and make you examine the nature of human relationships and the fundamentals of modern society if you can sit through the first hour..!

Jeanne Dielman is your typical nondescript woman living in a similarly nondescript apartment, in a nondescript neighbourhood of Brussels - there is nothing particularly distinguishing about Jeanne save the fact that she's somewhere in her late thirties, widowed, and has a school-going teenage son. To make ends meet  (and fill a vacant timeslot during her 'active' day), she services a small clientèle of gentlemen at an appointed hour. When Jeanne's carefully constructed daily life of 'ritualised' schedules is disrupted, she realises that she couldn't function 'normally' any more. And she desperately tries to stop her life spiralling out of control...

There is indeed very little there is to say about the storyline - the film may be over three hours long, but it covers only three days of Jeanne's life. The length of the film however seems necessary considering the profound messages contained there in. I suspect even Ms. Akerman might not have articulated all of them fully when the film was made. Besides, the plaudits she won had placed her in an unenviable situation so early in a career of having to emulate if not better what she'd already accomplished through this film.

The film talks to me in different levels nevertheless. It could be seen as a in-your-face feminist statement, showing what the other half of humankind are up to while men work to 'bring home the bread'. It could be seen as a portrait of a society in transition and the pressures it places on families. But there are additional levels if you care to dig deep - it is about our hidden fear of the unknown, and a desire to stick to known ways than having to deal with change. The predictability and clockwork precision of her chores and their outcomes allowed Jeanne to stay in control - everything is where they should be in the household, she knows exactly in what state of repair each item is in, and when they need to be replaced. Frighteningly, she's also the 'perfect' housewife one could wish for, who might just as well have managed without the prostitution bit had her husband still be alive. Jeanne's part-time occupation in itself can be seen as a metaphor of sorts in the film. Even more so, when you are privy to the fact that it was her first experience of orgasm, with a client, that actually throws her routine off-balance. Apart from highlighting the importance of the sexual event itself, Ms. Akerman can also be seen as indirectly blaming men's preoccupation with sex for women's woes. Ouch..!

Production wise, this film is nothing short of brilliant, despite most of the crew being women - a rarity in those days. The thoughtful cinematography and framing, the sparse but extremely intelligent script, the boldness with which mundane events are depicted in real-time, which while not only having you transfixed, will force you to feel empathy for the character. Delphine Seyrig who plays the main character of Jeanne Dielman was not only a big star at the time, she was also a favourite among various auteur directors. Ms. Akerman's reason for casting Ms. Dielman in the film becomes obvious as the film progresses - someone like Ms. Dielman could never be imagined making up the bed or cleaning the kitchen after use. By casting someone as charismatic and recognisable as her, Ms. Akerman wants the 'unseen' part of a woman's work to be 'seen'. And Ms. Dielman certainly doesn't disappoint. By whatever yardstick you wish to use, this film is provocative, insightful, and will ask you probing questions - exactly what great art always does. This film is an exquisite piece of art, it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


Amazon Criterion 2-DVD Link [NTSC]

About the DVD:
Criterion has done a wonderful job with this set by including a second dual-layered disc full of amazing extras. They include interviews with Ms. Akerman about this film, a short film about her work, an Akerman interview with her mother, and also Chantal Akerman's first film, a short called, "Saute ma ville" starring herself. She will act in some of her other films too, which I'll touch upon in another post. The 2nd disc will make you notice what a charming and adorable person she is, and her infectious child-like enthusiasm for film even after all these years suggests she hasn't grown-out of film yet. This is certainly my recommended DVD-set.


Compilation: Delphine Seyrig
In the only nude scene in the film, we have a 3-minute long take of Delphine Seyrig washing herself in the bath. Only the top half of her is visible, but it is nevertheless one of those very rare nude film appearances for Ms. Seyrig.


Friday, 28 September 2012

A tribute to Emmanuelle Béart

Autumn's already flooding-in after a rather indifferent English summer. Here's something to hopefully cheer things up a bit - a video tribute to prolific actress and one of the most recognisable faces from France, the beautiful and talented Emmanuelle Béart.

One couldn't fit in Ms. Béart's entire filmography in a tribute for very obvious reasons, but at least some of the ones used are memorable, it covers a decent span of her career.
Here's a little guide to films and their directors from which the scenes were taken:

  • Ça commence par la fin - (husband) Michaël Cohen
  • La Répétition - Catherine Corsini
  • Les Égarés - André Téchiné
  • Histoire de Marie et Julien - Jacques Rivette
  • Manon des Sources - Claude Berri

  • La Belle Noiseuse - Jacques Rivette
The Soundtrack is one I'd fallen in love with ever since I saw the François Truffaut classic "Jules et Jim" some twenty years ago. Legendary Jeanne Moreau herself sang the utterly charming "Le tourbillon de la vie", which by the way also encapsulates that entire film. Odd choice, perhaps, but what better way to serenade a gorgeous and talented actress than by another exemplary actress. Inspired me nevertheless... :)

Download Links:
Mirror 1 | Mirror 2 | Mirror 3
(unpack with Winrar)


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Of buffaloes and earwigs in Guillermo Arriaga’s “El Búfalo de la Noche”

Director, and acclaimed writer of films like Amores Perros and Babel, Oscar nominated Guillermo Arriaga penned and co-produced the mexican drama "El Búfalo de la Noche" [Eng. Title: The Night Buffalo] based on his own novel. Jorge Hernandez Aldana made his directorial feature-film debut with this, and bore the brunt of all the criticism - few people had kind words to say about this film. However, while I can see where they were coming from, I really don't think it deserves the lampooning it received.

Gregorio, after a long struggle against mental illness, decides to end it all by killing himself. But not before discovering that the two people he trusted most - Tania, the love of his life, and Manuel, his best friend, have been having a sexual affair behind his back. After the final time he returns from his hitherto frequent asylum stays - Gregorio seems to reconcile with Manuel, despite knowing they can no longer remain best friends. Before dying, Gregorio leaves a little box to Manuel - filled with letters, photographs, assorted memorabilia, and 'secret messages' apparently taken from pop-lyrics. And the more Manuel is intrigued by them and tries to unravel the meaning of messages it contained, the more he begins to manifest symptoms of Gregorio's 'illness' that will start spiralling his life out of control. His deterioration is shown interspersed with non-linear flashbacks that will paint a not-so-pretty picture of two selfish individuals - Manuel and Tania. It is probable that Gregorio's illness may have even been exacerbated by the couples' unscrupulous behaviour. But we'll learn that the box he leaves behind is in effect part of an elaborate plan to seek their comeuppance...

Writer Arriaga states that the film is a story about madness, of love, of a sense of being lost, of guilt, and the realisation of consequences for ones' actions. Since I haven't read the novel myself, I'd have to go by what others have written about it upon publication, and from what I hear, it appears to have been faithfully adapted to screen, including its excruciatingly zigzagged storyline. I'm all for non-linear storylines - they're just how people remember their past - even if the person reminiscing them, unlike the audience, have the added advantage of having lived it and more. It is regardless a proven way to engage an audience, by letting them to put the pieces together like a puzzle. And a clever director like Nicolas Roeg will feed you just the right choice of pieces to keep you engaged and focused till the end.

My three misgivings about the film are, the order and choice of pieces (flashback sequences) fed to the viewer, the cinematography, and as a result of both, the characterisation. Some of the flashbacks are not directly relevant to the preceding scene nor will be recalled later like in a Greenaway or Medem, they've been inserted randomly to fill-in some blanks. The camera positions and angles do more to confuse and disorient than dramatise events - the techniques used work well for certain situations, but it is a touch overdone here. The director coerces us into hating the main characters by refusing to reveal any semblance of positivity in them, and subsequently all we feel is an indifference to everyone in the film. My overriding thought was that the actors themselves didn't know their characters well to do it justice. This is despite a decent enough performance by Diego Luna (as Manuel), and promising feature-film debuts by Liz Gallardo (Tania), and Irene Azuela (Margarita - Gregorio's sister).

The film features explicit nudity, with plenty of coital and post-coital scenes, some of which certainly don't contribute to the narrative. A case in point is the character of Rebeca, played by another debutant Camila Sodi - as lovely as she is to watch, her sex scene unfortunately does nothing for the film - her character could have just as well been explained away through a single spoken sentence. There is also suggestion of unsimulated sex in one or two scenes, but I'm not able to verify this conclusively. To summarise the film, it sincerely tries to emulate the standards of Michael Haneke, it is resolutely non-mainstream - laying its characters bare in more ways than one, it seriously attempts to explore some of the least appealing characteristics of human nature. It may not have had the finest of production values, but it certainly doesn't deserve panning. At least for its noble intentions, the film is Recommended Viewing.

Amazon DVD Link

About the DVD:
The DVD I have chosen to review is in full-frame - there is nevertheless also a widescreen version. I prefer this one however - the widescreen version, while showing insignificantly more detail to the left and right, has parts cropped at the top and bottom. And you and I know that's actually a no-no! :)


Liz Gallardo, Diego Luna, Irene Azuela, Emilio Echevarría, and Camila Sodi
I've taken the liberty of enhancing it to 720p, and apart from the occasional interlacing artefacts in the highlight areas, I think it has turned out alright. Let's know what you think - here’s a snapshot from the original DVD (left), and my enhanced version (right):

From the original DVD Enhanced to HD frame size

Liz Gallardo, Diego Luna, Irene Azuela, Emilio Echevarría, and Camila Sodi in El búfalo de la noche

Scene Guide:
  • Motel room 803 has always been the rendezvous-point for Manuel and Tania, behind the back of the former's best friend and the latter's boyfriend - Gregorio. He has since become privy to their affair and ended his relationship with both of them. In this scene Manuel wakes up a naked Tania to tell her that he'd just met Gregorio, recently released from mental asylum. "Did he enquire about me", she asks. "No", he replies. There's a flashback from their youth as Manuel jealously watches Gregorio and Tania together. Playing Manuel is Diego Luna, handsome if on the skinny side, and Liz Gallardo gives a natural and uninhibited performance as Tania.
  • A further flashback to Manuel and Tania's first sexual contact. Tania was already seeing Gregorio at the time, but we're told that she's managed to keep her hymen intact thus far. She also gives Manuel an unusual souvenir later.
  • After Gregorio dies, Manuel takes his sister Margarita on a car-ride. They have occasionally been having sex over the years. On this instance, it appears nothing much is happening, not for Margarita's lack of effort though - she's now got to deal with the fact that he loves Tania more than her. Margarita is played very well by the promising actress Irene Azuela. My DVD came with no extras, and there is no way to ascertain whether the sex act she performs is simulated or not. All I can say is, this scene can also be done using convincing props and lighting.
  • We get an eyeful of both Diego Luna and Liz Gallardo in this post-coital scene in room 803. I've not included their earlier love-making scene. This I think is also the most beautifully filmed of scenes. And the full-frame really helps..! ;)
  • Damn the earwig! Gregorio thinks his imagined insect is now starting to eat him from the inside! He pushes Tania away in another flashback scene before sulking to the bathroom - he fears he might hurt Tania otherwise. Gregorio is played by Emilio Echevarría, who has performed better. Very hard indeed - especially for a male, to act in the nude.
  • As cute and pretty Camila Sodi is, this is also the least necessary scene in the film, playing Rebeca - she too seems to be seeing Manuel on the sly. Manuel visits Rebeca after watching her boyfriend leave, asks her to disrobe and hangs in there for more, but she refuses sex this time, and tells him that she won't be seeing him again, because she loves him too much..!
  • Manuel does something rather despicable at the zoo after getting mad at Tania, who he suspects of hiding things from him. She visits room 803 and throws herself at him. She also seems to have a rather primal way of declaring her territorial rights, which is nevertheless convincingly filmed despite there being no direct evidence ( :) ).



Saturday, 15 September 2012

Béatrice Dalle in Bellocchio's "La Visione del Sabba" [1988 Italy]

The nineteen eighties saw several important film makers experimenting with narrative styles - mostly by infusing poetic license into them - and Marco Bellocchio was part of the bandwagon. Because of his propensity to mix reality with fantasy, some of his films have often been misinterpreted as being surreal. His drama, "La Visione del Sabba" [Eng. Title: The Sabbath] is certainly in that category as he explores medieval sorcery and mental illness through a modern perspective.

Young psychiatrist Davide arrives at a Tuscan town to assess Maddalena, a woman accused of murdering a hunter. But Maddalena opines it was done in 'self-defence' - despite admitting to seducing the hunter in the first place. She felt it necessary to eliminate him after realising he's not the one she'd been waiting for 350 years with whom to loose her virginity. While local officials don't take her seriously, Davide not only believes her fascinating story, but also falls in love, even though he's already married. Cristina, his beautiful wife tries to reason with him, but to no avail. Davide gets lost in a world of dreams and hallucinations where he sees Maddalena as a witch being prosecuted and even surviving the inquisitors - in other words, he himself is bewitched.

The film tries to explore the way men through the ages - broadly speaking of course, have fallen under the spell of charismatic women, and uses the premise of Maddalena's 'sorcery' to make some interesting comparisons. But alas, it fails to utilise its runtime to explore this convincingly enough, even though Bellochio had at his disposal all the necessary ingredients. Béatrice Dalle is indeed an inspired casting choice - like a top predator in the wild, she emanates an aura of mystery, magnetism and approaching danger, which fits in so well with her character of Maddalena. The cinematography and lighting, as in all Bellocchio films, is of the highest order - some of the scene compositions are lit so beautifully as to recreate a Caravaggio, and contrasts with the interesting choice of music by Bellocchio-regular Carlo Crivelli. We also have some fine theatre through the remarkable choreography in some set-pieces, and the performances by the main actors are all of a decent standard, including that of the beautiful Corinne Touzet, another French actress in the film. And yet, I'm afraid to say that this film is clearly a case of style over substance, only manageable to watch because of the incomparable Ms. Dalle. It is nevertheless an extremely sensual drama with a visibly erotic undercurrent, and it is for that reason that this would be Recommended Viewing! DVD Link


Compilation: Béatrice Dalle, Corinne Touzet, Helena Coste, Bianca Pesce, and others
I haven't included some other blog-related scenes as they're either too long, or a variation of what's already there. Rest assured there are many other scenes of nudity in the film, which as a whole is positively sensual.

Béatrice Dalle, Corinne Touzet, Helena Coste, and Bianca Pesce and others in La Visione del Sabba

Scene Guide:
  • An imagined scene of medieval inquisitors proving to themselves that Maddalena is indeed a witch, watched by Davide as one of the novices. Béatrice Dalle, never the shy type, exudes the right mix of danger and eroticism in playing the character of Maddalena.
  • Davide is waken up from his dream by a nurse - there's an emergency with a patient named Maria. The naked patient they pass through is played by Helena Coste. Unfortunately I can't identify the actress playing Maria, but we can nevertheless see that Davide likes to use some rather unconventional methods to calm his agitated (and apparently horny) patients! :)
  • Cristina having a telephone banter with family after a shower while husband Davide as always starts sees things - like Maddalena looking at him from the inquisitors' cage. Cristina is played by the lovely and beautifully proportioned Corinne Touzet, an actress I've been totally unaware of until this film.
  • No nudity - Cristina is observant enough to notice Davide's fixation with his new patient Maddalena - he's seeing her everywhere now even if she's actually tucked away in a cell awaiting trial...
  • Cristina tries to reason with Davide later that night, who must be totally blinded through Maddalena's sorcery to see what he's letting pass. Corinne Touzet - wow!
  • The 'witches' sabbath' - thanks to Davide's vivid imagination. This is an excellent piece of theatre, and there are more instances of nudity in this long scene than shown here. The blonde nymphet he covets is played by Bianca Pesce - a fine dancer too from what we can see - part of an extended erotic scene.
  • Maddalena takes a dip in a lake some of you may remember from a segment from Eros which was Antonioni's final film (Regina Nemni and estranged hubby watching two nude woman bathing). Cut-to another inquisition-led exercise to prove she's a witch. Commendable of her to have managed to stay a 'virgin' for all these centuries despite all the naked man-handling..!
  • Virgin in late 20th century, she ain't - Davide sees to that..!
  • No nudity - just a memorable visual from the film - Maddalena appears to have even exhausted her inquisitors..!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Marina Anna Eich - a thirstyrabbit interview

For someone regarded as one of Germany's most beautiful actresses, Marina Anna Eich isn't as widely known outside her home country as she perhaps should. She works predominantly in independent films, and apart from her acting talents, she is a producer at maverick director Roland Reber's film company, WTP International, and also its PR Manager, in charge of production and marketing. In an exclusive interview with this blog, Ms. Eich shares some of her thoughts on her latest film "Die Wahrheit der Lüge(The Truth of Lie), her work, and attitude to life.


An interview with Marina Anna Eich

Marina Ann Eich
Photograph © Catherina Hess


Let me congratulate you on another fine performance Marina. You had a nasty accident just before this film's production. I do hope the finger is now fully healed and well-set. It must have however been quite uncomfortable during the shoot - did this hamper you in any way?

My accident was in April 2011. The shooting began in August. The healing went very fine and while acting I almost didn’t notice that I was handicapped with a shorter finger. Fortunately there was not much pain to distract me. I was lucky as it could have been much worse.


"The Truth of Lie" - an intriguing title. How did you see this film as an artist?

All our films have different levels. For me, this movie can be interpreted in many ways. For example: Both of the prisoners stand for two human opposites. The publisher symbolizes destiny, who is testing all of them, intervening with advice in a tough and ruthless but supporting way, and holding the reins. The author is a mix and stands between both of them, as a kind of mediator who wants to help the two prisoners in a special way, e.g. learning to see behind words, telling the truth. But he too is being tested by destiny.
The film also is about being inconsiderate and not thinking about consequences. The women are acting without considering the consequences as they simply agree to the experiment without thinking of the outcome. The writer is inconsiderate as he neither has prepared himself, nor the experiment: he doesn't know what “reaching the top” actually means. Only the publisher isn't inconsiderate. There are some more levels but we want the viewers to find out for themselves and interpret in their way. Even I myself haven’t seen all the levels that exists in the film.


I could find similarities - at least in the usage of BDSM elements, between this film and Reber's earlier "The Dark Side of Our Inner Space", one in which you again were closely involved. Not many films delve into the world of BDSM - at least not since the 1970's in any case. Is this a key area of interest for WTP, or perhaps a prudent approach to fill an existing void?

I wouldn’t say it is our key area. All our films tell different stories, but surely deal with the big questions of humanity. It depends on the story and subjects we want to tell. Yes, Sexuality is one of the fields which we showed in “24/7 the Passion of Life” and “Angels with dirty wings”. As for me I don’t think about BDSM elements in “The Truth of Lie”. Especially the torture scenes - they're more an attempt of the author to bring the two women over their limits, to make them feel helpless, to disrobe them mentally and physically. It is not a mutual agreement (really dealing with the person and action they do together, as you can find in the BDSM-scene).


This film also depicts practices like water-boarding, a taboo after Guantanamo. Do these scenes have a political subtext?

All WTP films are team work. Roland considers all involved as artists who define their role themselves. He leaves a lot of space for us to bring in our own ideas. Not just the actors, all other aspects like camera, light, set-design, etc., as well. This creates a great atmosphere during the whole film process and everyone see themselves as a big part of the film.
As for the torture scenes it was up to the actors to make ideas and to develop them. Lots of them are archetypal symbols, they show primal fears. Especially the water-boarding scene, which was my personal borderline experience. Because of the gag reflex one psychologically gets the impression of drowning immediately, in no more than a few seconds. I wouldn’t have thought that the fear of death would come so quickly. Now I can understand why this kind of torture leads to the desired result in less than a minute.


Unlike WTP's earlier projects, this film is centred around a male protagonist, even if it is to offer a critique. Was the characterisation and screenplay preconceived or did it evolve during the film's production?

The first idea was to take the story of an earlier theatre play by Roland. Roland, Mira, Antje, Christoph and I sat down together and made some brainstorming. Everyone added their ideas which Roland wrote afterwards into the final script. So only the basic storyline of the play - a man holding two women hostage, remained. During the shoot, additional ideas came (some spontaneous) which we incorporated into the film.


I couldn't help noticing the unusually long scenes of nudity in the final cut, particularly from yourself. Is it because you are now more comfortable acting with your body than before, was it because you were more at ease with the crew, or was it all purely Ms. Gittner's editorial decision?

As far as nudity is concerned I have always been comfortable with nude scenes. For me nudity is something very natural. It all depends on the reason for a nude scene. Both of the imprisoned women live through different tortures, naked, so that the author, he feels, could lead them to the top. But nudity is not related to sexuality here. In “The Truth of Lie” for me it is a symbol of purity, an expression of clarity. Being tortured naked is more mortifying, one feels even more helpless.
As far as the cutting is concerned it is the creativity of Mira. She is completely free in the editing process. From time to time the inner circle of WTP (Roland, Mira, Antje and me) sit together to watch the film's development, making proposals here and there, but the composition of music (which is an important element in our films), the rhythm of the film and the length of the scenes is Mira's creation.


Playing a victim and the protagonist's subject, this is also your most serious and least glamorous role to date. Do you see yourself as an actress ready to take on even more challenging character-roles?

Every role has something special within. And I am very happy that in each of our films I have played different characters. This role was indeed my most challenging one. The character is very calm and steady and tries to act in a considered way, in a very difficult situation, of which the outcome is uncertain and which could end up in death at any time. A character which isn’t at all corresponding to mine. In such a life threatening situation I would rather slip into hysteria. I am very curious as to which character I will perform in our next film.


Tell us a bit about audience reactions to the film during the recent festivals.

After having premiered at the renowned “International Hof Film Festival”, we accompanied “The Truth of Lie” through Germany on our Cinema Tour. The reactions were differing and we had very interesting discussions.
For some it was very cruel (one lady even said why it had to be necessary that the film only consists of torture scenes – but if you count those scenes you’ll be surprised how few they were compared to the whole film). Some said the film is quite tame and they would have liked it crueler. Many people thanked us for giving them something to think about their life. Another spectator compared the cellar to his head, the two women and the author inside, the chains symbolising the chains of society, family…


Are you currently working on any new projects? What can we next expect from the WTP stable?

We have many subjects we would like to make a film about, but which of these will be the next is not clear yet. This much is certain - next year there will be a new WTP film.


Is there a message you'd like to convey to your adoring fans in this blog (trust me - there are a few)?

I am happy to hear that our films get attention through your blog.

People see several messages through our films, so if you enjoy them please recommend them. I would also like to quote from our film “24/7 the Passion of Life”: “Society likes to have standardised people. They obey more easily. But can emotions be standardised? Who puts forward these norms? Who standardises us? Who is living our life? Most people just exist, but they are not the living. Live YOUR life!”
I also like the following sentence: "If you want to change something in your life don’t just talk about it, do something about it."



Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Nihilism and anarchy in Nikos Nikolaidis’ “Glykia Symmoria” [1983 Greece]

Exploring Nikos Nikolaidis can be a bit of a challenge, because not only are his films not widely available - even the ones that are turn up without English subtitles, they're also not properly remastered. One will have to use some imagination to guess what it must've felt like watching them in the cinema when they were first released. I suspect they would've been as visually sumptuous as a Marco Ferreri at his best - Nikolaidis is a man obsessed with his lighting and composition, and it shows even through these poor transfers presently available. His 1983 film "Glykia Symmoria" [Eng. Title: Sweet Bunch], for example.

Argyris and Marina have come to live with Sofia, a prostitute and girlfriend of their now dead friend, in a home replete with randomly stolen bric-a-brac - we're given a hint of their possible political activism in the past, but they're now just a shadow from their past - nothing more than petty thieves scrounging from society. One of their friends, Andreas, joins them after being released from prison, and Marina gets hooked on to him, until his chance meeting with porn actress Rosa. Rosa not only latches onto Andreas, but also moves in with the trio, much to the girls' irritation. However, to win their trust and become accepted by the group, Rosa masterminds a plan to wipe clean the safe of a wealthy client of hers. The trio invite disaster upon themselves through their callous attitudes, and when it arrives, their lives, even if momentarily, will suddenly find a purpose...

Nikolaidis may have made the film a good few years before his better-known Singapore Sling, but it is not that far off in its nihilistic outlook and its portrayal of damaged and anarchic characters. This is however the more conventional of the two - more like a crime caper than a film-noir. The film also has a wicked sense of humour even during its darkest moments. The deliciously kitsch set design parodies elements from various genre-films of the time, both Hollywood and European, and the beautiful but totally incongruous soundtrack adds to the irony of the protagonists' circumstances - of dreams gone sour, of ideals replaced with cynicism, of their reluctance to acknowledge true feelings, and their unwillingness to 'conform'. While it is a shame that this film isn't as widely known as some of its western contemporaries, it is one that nevertheless adds to the rich vocabulary of cinema, and is simply crying out to be rediscovered. Needless to say, this obscure gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


Compilation: Despina Tomazani, Dora Masklavanou, Lenia Polycrati, and others

Despina Tomazani, Dora Masklavanou, Lenia Polycrati, and others in Glykia Symmoria

Scene Guide:
  • An introduction to the routines of the film's main characters - Sofia getting ready to go to work - played by Despina Tomazani, followed by Argyris in bed with his one-night stand (actress unknown), Marina getting all enthusiastic about Andreas - no nudity but interesting nevertheless, and Sofia picking up a girl at a party. Marina is played by the delightful Dora Masklavanou.
  • Argyris picks up some souvenirs from Peggy and Katia after a night of partying. Afraid I don't know the actress' names - any help in identifying them would be welcome.
  • Andreas is forced into starring in a porn-film - Argyris owes the producer some money, and needs to compensate for the delay in repaying his debts, but since he's not up for it on the day, he cajoles his friend to stand-in. I don't know the name of the gum-chewing cellist, but the star of shoot - Rosa, is played by Lenia Polycrati.
  • This is what Sofia does for a living... :)
  • Marina comes home to find a strange girl with Andreas - Rosa has made herself more than comfortable at their home!
  • Despite being thrown out, Rosa bribes her way back into the house.
  • Sofia invites Marina along to one of her appointments - and they 'nail' a customer.
  • Rosa entertaining a rich client while the trio clean his safe - Rosa's attire may have probably been inspired by the voodoo doll character (Ely Galleani) in Corrado Farina's "Baba Yaga", but the delectable Lenia Polycrati as Rosa makes this scene her own.
  • The trio return home to find Rosa in a terrible state - she had been molested by some intruders. Revenge is now on the cards...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Psychedelia and coincidence explored in "Paraísos Artificiais" [2012 Brazil]

Director Marcos Prado makes his feature film debut through "Paraísos Artificiais" [Eng. Title: Artificial Paradises], a story set amidst the rave scene and a group of young people embracing eclectic new age ideals. We follow their fortunes over a period of six years.

Most of the film's events are told through flashback as Nando, released after serving time for drug trafficking, reminisces his past, including one Érika, a DJ he'd incidentally met in Amsterdam four years ago. Or so he thinks, for Érika seems to remember him from earlier. Who knows what a string of coincidences could lead to...

One of the noteworthy features of the film is the way it tries to connect events and circumstances by boldly jumping through time-lines. The treatment is typically European, and the cyclical style of linking events, including the tone used reminds us of Julio Medem's classics such as Los Amantes del Circulo Polar and Lucía y el Sexo. As does the stunning cinematography by Lula Carvalho, which nevertheless is made all the more easier with the use of 'star' locations - the spectacular Brazilian scenes are a particular delight that doesn't require any psychedelic drugs to appreciate. There are, as hinted, several instances of casual drug-use and abuse strewn throughout the film - I don't know if this is considered 'normal' behaviour among those circles, having never had the opportunity nor inclination to participate in raves - I'll just have to take Prado's word for it. The film doesn't rely too much on individual performances to carry the narrative - the camera work, edits and the impressive sound track gets the necessary message across. There are nevertheless a number of beautiful people making an appearance, both male and female, not least the lovely Nathalia Dill who plays Érika, and pretty Lívia de Bueno who plays her friend and lover Lara. Altogether, this is a pleasant film, very well made, and more importantly, it is an impressive feature debut by Marcos Prado Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link


Compilation: Nathalia Dill and Lívia de Bueno
This is just a sampler as there are additional instances of nudity in the film.

Nathalia Dill and Lívia de Bueno in Paraísos Artificiais

Scene Guide:
  • Nando, played by Luca Bianchi, reminisces some of his happier moments with Érika, a successful DJ that he'd met during a visit to Amsterdam. Érika is played rather well by the lovely Nathalia Dill. I've re-hashed things a bit here to make more sense.
  • Awesome scene, very well done, with some 'Peyote' magic! The music is taken from the groovy track "Daydream" by Ash Ra Tempel - I'm gonna look for their album now! Érika and Lara partake an 'entheogenic' mushroom given by a friend and go on a transcendental walkabout while waiting for their bus to be repaired. Possibly the most memorable scene from the film. Blonde Lara is played by Lívia de Bueno.
  • Érika and Lara are a lot more than mere friends, as this scene shows.
  • This is supposed to be a treat to celebrate Érika's successful performance as DJ at the rave - to share someone with the person they loved most. They choose Nando for their threesome, only for Lara to start feeling unwell soon after...

Monday, 3 September 2012

Bigas Luna critiques Spanish machismo in "Huevos de Oro" [1993 Spain]

Whether or not we like the early works of Catalan director Bigas Luna, one thing we have to give him credit for is his determination to never pussy-foot around what he's trying to say. There is no polite-talk, no 'birds and bees' euphemisms - he just drives home the message in a no uncertain manner, even crudely if necessary. His 1993 drama "Huevos de Oro" [Eng. Title: Golden Balls] may not be as testosterone-laden as his earlier film, Jamón Jamón, but is nevertheless all to do with 'balls'!

Benito González is our man with the 'golden balls' - he's a hilariously drawn caricature of your everyday Spanish stud. He dreams of becoming a property tycoon, building a high-rise tower with swimming pools and topless bars, owning gold Rolex watches, and trophy women ideally weighing less than 47KG (apparently because of the way he 'moves'). To complete the picture, dear Benito also loves to sing along to cheesy tunes. I could't help thinking I've seen at least a handful like him in my local pub on Friday nights - okay they might not particularly pick a Julio Iglesias song, a Tom Jones perhaps. After army service, he returns to mainland Spain to get working on his dream. He befriends a banker and marries his lovely and cultured daughter Marta (45 KG) to get his 'González Tower' started, whilst retaining girlfriend Claudita (52 KG) whom he occasionally uses to close deals with clients and partners. Marta soon catches whiff of Benito's ongoing affair with Claudia and even ends up striking an unlikely friendship with her. The three of them live happily together until tragedy strikes and his fortunes are turned to the worse in the most spectacular fashion. Dumped by his wife, Benito will soon find himself in Miami, forced to share the waitress he brought along - Ana (don't ask a woman her weight), with his gardener. Talk about a full circle..!

I simply can't see Luna pulling this off without the astonishing talents of Javier Bardem who plays Benito - Bardem surely must share a fair chunk of the credit for Benito's characterisation. The film is intentionally over-the-top, and meant to talk to people quite unlike Benito, which I'm sure it does splendidly - right from the choice of locations (Melilla in the Spanish territory of Africa, Benidorm in Spain, and Miami in the US of A), to the language used, and not least the focus on the construction industry (the bubble that has come to haunt Spain today), Luna has crossed all the t's and dotted the i's with panache. This may not be a cerebral film, but he has admirably pulled no punches in critiquing Spanish machismo, and for that reason, it is Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link
My recommended DVD from the transfers currently available


Compilation: Elisa Tovati, Maribel Verdú, Maria de Medeiros, and Raquel Bianca
Some additional scenes from the film have not been included - just an editorial choice.

Elisa Tovati, Maribel Verdú, Maria de Medeiros, and Raquel Bianca in Huevos de Oro

Scene Guide:
  • Benito had 'fallen in love' with Rita (47 KG) - a waitress at a bar in Melilla, but who obviously seems to be drawn more towards his pal despite being promised a personal bath and bidet if she accompanies him back to mainland Spain. Rita is played by a curvy Elisa Tovati, and the pal's woman by Stella Condorelli.
  • After returning his hometown (alone), Benito meets and is drawn towards Claudia, even if she's a few pounds above his 'ideal' woman. This is a long scene where Benito also asks her to sleep with his banker in order to get a loan approved. Maribel Verdú is fabulous, witty and sexy as ever as she plays the part of Claudia. If you can follow the dialogues, you'll see the scene is actually quite funny.
  • Benito weds Marta - daughter of his banker, she's played by the lovely doe-eyed Maria de Medeiros. Culturally refined Marta couldn't believe she'd married and even fallen in love with a bloke like him - but does it surprise anybody else..!
  • Marta's discovery of Benito's affair with Claudia, followed by their outrageously forcible introduction by Benito, and an unexpected chemistry between the two women that results in a ménage à trois - this is possibly the most erotic scene in the film. What's it about two women kissing that turn men on so much - I haven't figured it out yet, and no sociologist or anthropologist has given me a satisfactory explanation so far!
  • Marta has had enough with Benito after he brings in a trollop from a bar - Ana (she wouldn't reveal her weight) is played by Raquel Blanca.