Sunday, 25 November 2012

"Dillinger is Dead", but Alienation, Never as Alive [1969 Italy]

Marco Ferreri, the beguiling and provocative anarchist of Italian cinema, is also one of the most original and philosophical film makers that his country has ever produced. He could be defined as a direct legacy to Italian Neorealism. While his works, like contemporaries Antonioni, Pasolini, and Fellini, are loaded with social satire and commentary, Ferreri was undoubtedly the more aggressive of the lot in challenging the status quo, be it left wing or right wing politics, modernism or traditionalism, and orthodoxy or secularism - his films will pick on practically anyone and everyone, using absurd, outrageous, and often morbid humour. Having said that, it was Ferreri's fascination for Antonioni's work that got him into film making. He was a producer before becoming a director - even helping produce Antonioni's first feature film. Of course, Ferreri is a genius in his own right and has left us a great body of unforgettable work that the world of cinema would be much poorer without. His most famous and notorious film is nevertheless "La Grande Bouffe", but I'll touch on that at a later time.

Among the various things I admire in Marco Ferreri is his extraordinary flair when it came to set detail - little things, like props, design and lighting, his compositions, and the way in which he uses them. They become embedded within the film's memory, and return to haunt you every time you remember it. Take for instance one such prop that makes an ominous appearance in what many like me consider to be Ferreri's finest masterpiece, "Dillinger è Morto" [Eng. Title: Dillinger is Dead], which will also be the first of a life-long collaboration with one of the greatest actors in European cinema, Michel Piccoli.

Glauco is an industrial designer, but has fallen out of love for his profession designing gas masks for a high-tech company. He returns home late one evening, only to be invited by a cold dinner on the table and a sleepy wife who wants to be left alone. Sleepless and bored, Glauco cooks for himself a gourmet meal, and starts to rummage in his cellar, until he discovers to his delight a rusty pistol wrapped up in an old issue of Chicago Times Tribune. "Clear up Dillinger Mystery", the headline shrieks. He proceeds to clean and also restore the gun to working order, most of which is filmed in real-time. He even playfully paints it red and applies white polka dots. In between, he goes upstairs to seduce live-in maid Sabine. But the gun, brought back to life, has only one purpose - to be used. And used it shall be in the most illogical of circumstances...

To describe the film as steeped in symbolism with different layers of interpretation is stating the obvious. What will not be obvious for many younger viewers however is the political climate under which the film was made. The year of 1968 is looked upon by some in Europe as a year of revolution - marked by numerous protests involving youth, workers, and poltical activists of various hues, for different reasons. This film is Ferreri's own expression of disillusionment and anger at the manner in which the world subsequently  returned to status-quo. It talks of its disillusionment without as much as uttering a word - there is very little dialogue in the film as we watch, transfixed, an insomniac keeping himself busy through the night with a child-like demeanour, and indulging in violence with hardly any emotion or hesitation - it's a message nothing short of a war-cry. But, this is also a film that is made with oodles of wit and charm, and some of the scenes are positively hilarious. It is the most lively cinematic interpretation of disillusionment and alienation that I could think of. The title, as you may have guessed, not only alludes to the death of the eponymous criminal in the old newspaper article, but also of Glauco's machismo.

As for the meticulous production itself, this is Ferreri at his very best. His decision to cast Michel Piccoli in the lead character role, and who appears in almost every frame of the film, must surely be a master stroke - Piccoli is brilliant throughout and never disappoints. I feel the character he plays here may have even inspired a later film, Themroc. Of the two ladies in the film, Annie Girardot was already a renowned actress in France - she plays the banal housemaid Sabine, while the sleepy wife is played by a little known Anita Pallenberg - we'll nevertheless see more of her in a Nicolas Roeg film that would come out the following year (Performance), which I too shall revisit pretty soon. The soundtrack is thoughtfully put together by Ferreri-regular Teo Usuelli. This, combined with the masterful editing completes Ferreri's vision in making what is arguably his finest film. Needless to say, this classic is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


Amazon NTSC DVD Link

About the Criterion DVD:
This is a gem of a release from Criterion, for it not only contains a beautifully restored print of the film, but also some priceless extras like interviews with Michel Piccoli, and the insightful film historian Adriano Aprà. There is also an essay booklet accompanying the DVD. Another reason to own this DVD is the sumptuous cover art - I don't normally write about these, but this one is exceptionally well designed and worthy of mention.


The Nudity: Anita Pallenberg, Annie Girardot, and Carla Petrillo
The film features some elegant nudity, tame by today's standards, but sensuous all the same. They are also naughty and funny.

Anita Pallenberg and Annie Girardot in Dillinger è Morto

Scene Guide:
  • Ginette is too tired and wants to let her be for the night. She asks hubby Glauco for  sleeping pills and her hot water bottle. Dozy Ginette is played by a yet-to-be-widely-known Annete Pallenberg.
  • A bored Glauco passes by live-in maid Sabine's room to catch her dancing in a bodystocking to her favourite Dino pop-tune. Sabine is played by veteran French actress Annie Girardot. Nice..! :-)
  • A brief montage of home camera footage captured by Glauco features a sexy woman, a family friend and possible mistress of Glauco (it is not made clear in the film), and I presume the mysterious lady is played by Carla Petrillo.
  • Glauco, bored still, goes back to his room to play with his (aherm!) pet snake, and sleeping wife Ginette.
  • A frustrated Glauco bribes Sabine for some action, but after some 'sweet moments', she too is feeling tired! :-)


Friday, 23 November 2012

Juana Acosta and others in "A Golpes" [2005 Spain]

I haven't seen other films by Juan Vicente Córdoba, but if any of them were in the same league as his 2005 drama, "A Golpes" [Eng. Title: By Force], I wouldn't be surprised. This is about suburban gangs - male and female, trying to raise themselves out of poverty through crime, with an aim to use its proceeds to chase their respective dreams.

I'll spare you the storyline - let's say it is a drama centred around five young women - friends, their love lives, their squabbles, and one of the women's quest for boxing glory. Assorted characters are inserted along the way to propel their story, and everyone's fate is sorted out quite neatly and predictably towards the end.

I watched this film again, hoping to find something worthwhile to write about for my second review, but apart from the performance of Natalia Verbeke who plays aspiring boxer María 'Coco' Gómez, there is very little that could keep me involved in the film, and even the smattering of nudity and sex scenes fail to raise this above mediocrity. This, I'm afraid is one of those rather forgettable films occasionally churned out from Spain.

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Natalia Verbeke, Daniel Guzmán, Juana Acosta, Bárbara Pérez de Lema, Susana Martin, and María Reyes Arias

Natalia Verbeke, Daniel Guzmán, Juana Acosta, Bárbara Pérez de Lema, Susana Martin, and María Reyes Arias in A Golpes

Scene Guide:
  • There is no nudity from Natalia Verbeke save a brief distant upskirt, but she gives a decent enough performance and it would be a shame not to include her in the compilation. Here, her character María cuddles-up to one-time boyfriend and fellow boxer Fran in the car before he embarks on a ram-raid - all in a day's work.
  • With police hot on his heels, Fran persuades María's friend to pretend she's his lover. But Juanita seems to resist Fran's moves only briefly. Once the police leave, they decide to 'jump in' for a full-on sex session. Fran is played by a hands-on Daniel Guzmán, and Juanita, by a rather enthusiastic Juana Acosta.
  • Fran and Juanita move into his parent's house. Here, she tries to persuade him to find them a place of their own.
  • Fran's younger brother is shaping up as a gangster already - he wants to try out some curb-crawling girls (or even transsexuals) after being promised a blow-job. The girls are played by Bárbara Pérez de Lema, and Susana Martin. Sorry - not sure which one has her tits out though.
  • Lola, one among the five all-girl friends, starts dating María's coach Mariano. Lola is played by María Reyes Arias.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Nellie Benner in "Vlees" [2010 Netherlands]

From what I've seen so far, films by Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth are largely hit-and-miss, and experimental. Their more recent film however, the suggestively titled "Vlees" [Eng. Title: Meat] makes a sincere attempt to work with a structured screenplay, and sets up a very original drama if one can care to pay close attention to it.

Made up of two halves and told in parallel narrative, we follow two middle-aged characters - a butcher, and a police detective, with strikingly similar features (played by the same actor Titus Muizelaar). While the detective wants to end his relationship with girlfriend Sonja, the married butcher is seen trying to seduce nubile shop assistant Roxy, while his wife Tinie, also an employee, openly has sexual relations with the shop's owner - both the protagonists are going through a crisis of some sort. The butcher is found dead one morning, and the suspicion falls on Roxy, who was the last one seen with him the night before - yes, the butcher succeeds in his seduction efforts in one of the memorable scenes of the film. Roxy's case isn't helped by the fact that she and her erstwhile boyfriend are also part of a militant group against the killing of animals. And she has a habit of capturing things on her video camera, like prying on the butcher.

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a psychological drama about revenge, guilt, and redemption. To be honest, it required more than a viewing for me to make sense of the numerous seemingly pointless scenes and plot devices. This is partly because some of the scenes are purely imagined, portraying a character's frame of mind, and not all of them use conventional cinematic language to separate reality from fantasy. I won't bother analysing them here, but it will help if you consider certain facts. The butcher's state of mind - his passive reaction in seeing his wife routinely taken upstairs for sex by their boss. And for all the promise of giving Roxy the orgasm of her life, the sex that the butcher ends up having with her is hurried, unimaginative, and totally selfish. Why does the detective cut his hair to make himself look like the dead butcher. What does Roxy see in the butcher that keeps her approaching him despite his tasteless remarks. Her relationship with her Turkish boyfriend appears one-sided. She willingly accompanies boys at the night club in almost total abandon. She also doesn't seem to care too much about her alleged beliefs vis-à-vis animal cruelty, eating a live bug as breakfast in one scene. And not least the detective who is told that he's been taken off the case and investigated for manslaughter.

To summarise, there's a lot going on in the film that paints a more complex picture than a sordid murder mystery or a study in sexual depravity. It may contain several unpleasant scenes like urination, rape, and close-ups of raw meat and naked human flesh, but it is a surprisingly original story that can be interpreted in different ways. The performances by the main cast are very good, particularly Titus Muizelaar who plays both the butcher and the detective. And the incredibly beautiful Nellie Benner as the passive, sensual, and wanton Roxy makes her altogether vulnerable character disturbingly erotic. With competent cinematography, writing, and editing, this film is well produced, and a very worthy exercise on the whole - Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link
English Subtitle


The Nudity:
As the title would suggest, the film features intermittent scenes of nudity, acts of sex, and sexual fetish throughout. Mercifully, it is made bearable by the extremely easy on the eye Nellie Benners, who plays the character of Roxy. Titus Muizelaar as the butcher/detective also appears in the nude - quite bold of him to do so, and there is some brief nudity from Wilma Bakker who plays the butcher's wife Tinie.

Wilma Bakker and Nellie Benner in Vlees aka Meat

Scene Guide:
  • Husband and wife intimacy during work - the butcher is invited into the meat vault by wife Tinie, which is watched and filmed by shop assistant Roxy. The butcher is played by Titus Muizelaar, and Tinie by Wilma Bakker.
  • No nudity - but a very interesting scene - of the butcher 'seducing' Roxy in the coarsest manner imaginable (if you really need to know, much of the talk is about his skill in getting little girls wet), but rather than avoiding him, she keeps getting in his way, almost wanting to hear his unromantic words - theirs is a different relationship for sure. Roxy is played by the gorgeous Nellie Benner. She appears more mature and sensual here than her earlier outing with the same directors in Crepuscule, I have the DVD for that film as well, and will write about it on another occasion.
  • After a party, Roxy follows the butcher into the showers, and we're witness to some grotesque, non-erotic sex between the two. This is followed by Roxy urinating on the butcher while filming him. It doesn't appear as though he expected her to do that, but he takes the second shower with passivity regardless..! :)
  • After this encounter, Roxy heads to a night club where she's predictably approached by a group of guys who take her on a car ride. Disturbingly, these scenes of groping must be the most titillating in the entire film - partly because we see Roxy more or less enjoying all the attention. She is braless and knickerless, and doesn't seem too eager to protect her modesty either.
  • It culminates in an 'ambiguous' rape scene after the guys pin Roxy to the ground and spread her legs.
  • A brief scene of Roxy in the bath...
  • Roxy filming her sleeping boyfriend. He wakes up and proceeds to have rough sex with her after some tender words. When she later asks him if he loves her, he doesn't respond. The scene is truncated as I found some parts unnecessary.
  • The detective (with a new haircut, but very little else) lies on top of the crime scene markings to slash himself while Roxy watches. I won't give away too much information - merely pointing out that this an imagined scene.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Juliana Schalch and Sophia Reis in "Os 3" [2011 Brazil]

Nando Olival's drama, "Os 3" [Eng. Title: We Three] tries to unravel the world of reality TV by creating an interesting pretext - of three university friends inventing a way to stay together after their studies have completed.

Newly joined undergraduates Cazé, Rafael, and Camila connect during a party, and decide to live as flatmates from then on at Cazé's apartment. They soon become firm friends, doing everything together - and even being referred to as 'those three' at college. Although Camila had suggested at the beginning that their friendship should remain strictly platonic, she ends up sleeping with Cazé, which is resented by Rafael - for he too loves Camila. But he continues to live with them. They present a concept for an online reality show as part of their course work, where inmates would be asked to use branded goods, which in turn could be interactively purchased by its viewers. An inspired faculty member suggests the three should do the show themselves, for a fee. They accept, because it gives them the opportunity to continue to live together rather than dispersing after their university course finishes. They are encouraged by producers to invent drama in order to make the show more engaging, but as the ratings sky rocket, the task of playing to the cameras a farcical 'love triangle' becomes mixed up with their own true feelings for one another. It soon becomes evident that their relationship will not be the same if one among the three is removed from the equation.

This is an interesting concept, but I couldn't help feeling that love triangles have been dealt with in European cinema even more boldly and effectively (starting from Truffaut's Jules et Jim, to Cordier's more complex Douches Froides). I believe Olival may have watered down their human drama to suit Brazilian sensibilities, but in the process may have sacrificed its sincerity. There are additional characters thrown into the triumvirate's midst that doesn't go anywhere either. I loved the soundtrack, the characterisation isn't too bad, but I haven't been exactly bowled over by the cinematography and shot selection. On the whole, it is an average drama, for an average audience.

DVD Purchase Link


The Nudity: Juliana Schalch and Sophia Reis
The film features brief scenes of nudity from Juliana Schalch who plays Camila, and Sophia Reis who plays Camila's 'visiting' cousin Barbara. There is no male nudity.

Juliana Schalch and Sophia Reis in Os 3

Scene Guide:
  • No nudity - After moving into Cazé's apartment, Camila makes a rule that they shouldn't have sexual relations with one another whilst living together. Camila is played by Juliana Schalch.
  • No nudity - cameras plugged in throughout the flat, the three have been asked to participate in a show that they initially conceived. A spontaneous party becomes a hit with viewers, as it creates the impression of them in a triangular love-relationship.
  • Rafael gets out of the 'threesome' bed every night after the lights go out. Away from prying cameras, in the stairway, he's invited for sex by Camila's visiting cousin Barbara, played by Sophia Reis.
  • Camila has an argument with Cazé and moves into Rafael's hotel room (he'd already left the apartment). And things happen between the two...


Monday, 12 November 2012

Carla Crespo and Julia Martínez Rubio in "Castro" [2009 Argentina]

Film professor Alejo Moguillansky is among the more interesting contemporary directors making films in Argentina today. His frenetic drama "Castro" appears to be an exercise in slapstick nihilism with its protagonist caught in an existential trap.

Castro has separated from wife Rebeca - he's now in love with Celia, but his idea of turning a new page in life doesn't seem to be happening, because he is being chased by his past, literally, in the form of his wife, and two men, one of whom is her new lover Willie, and the other, specifically hired to track down Castro. A good portion of the film is consumed in this palpably ineffectual chase through the streets and trains of Buenos Aires. Celia loves Castro, but she also wants him to find himself a job. And that's his biggest problem, because he feels it's his idleness that is allowing them to stay as a couple. "I have you, my head, and my body. If I get a job, one or more of the three would disappear". He adds, "to earn a living, is to waste one's life". But he does find a job, or more accurately, a job finds him. One which seemingly involves a lot more purposeless 'running'. As only expected, Castro quits the job in disgust during the final minutes of the film, whose climatic finale will also leave us perplexed.

Perhaps, a more descriptive title for the film could have been "Corre, Castro, corre". Castro is metaphorically running away from things that most of us find necessary in order to live 'normal' lives, because he thinks that would be an ignorance-filled, catatonic existence. Loosely based on Irish author Samuel Beckett's satirical novel "Murphy", the film is set in a frantic environment, and we see people running even when there is really no need. Apart from its philosophical intentions, the film also appears to be an ode to the silent era, with its hurried pace and snappy editing, the highly visual gags, and even the piano accompaniment. But the film doesn't really take itself seriously - its treatment is largely comedic - satire delivered through slapstick and deadpan. I get the impression that this film has been made for its own sake, it's about the joy of film-making itself. Whether you're left pondering about its message, or simply taking it at face value, this is an enjoyable film to watch despite its bleak outlook, it is Recommended Viewing..!

The Nudity: Carla Crespo and Julia Martínez Rubio
There are a few brief scenes in the film involving nudity, one of which is a good example of what we now call 'sexposition'. In this witty scene, Rebeca enquires Willie, her new lover, whereabouts of husband Castro, and his girlfriend Celia, insisting he answer her questions without stopping from what he was doing, i.e., ass-licking, and it is plain to see the intended pun on Rebeca's temperament. Domineering and quick-fire Rebeca is well played by Carla Crespo. There is also brief nudity in a bathtub from Julia Martínez Rubio who plays the character of Castro's girlfriend Celia.

Carla Crespo and Julia Martínez Rubio in Castro


Friday, 9 November 2012

Laura Birn, Amanda Pilke, and others in “Vuosaari” [2012 Finland]

Of the few Finnish films I've had the opportunity to see, director Aku Louhimies' name appears twice. His multi-strand drama "Vuosaari" [Eng. Title: Naked Harbour] is certainly the better of the two (the one I'm comparing with is his earlier Levottomat).

Set in and around Helsinki, the film unravels several parallel but unconnected stories - the common feature being its focus on relationships within each respective environment. We follow a druggie-couple, hoping against odds to make a fresh start, a doting single father and his son, a precocious teenager desperate to become famous, the son of an immigrant single mum who suffers bullying in school, a wealthy family's failing marriage and the husband's extramarital affair, a young boy aching for love from his indifferent mother and finding companionship through his pet dog, and a terminally ill mother and her child coming to terms with what lies ahead (the most moving story among all).

The film doesn't analyse these relationships as much as observe them sympathetically. Some are melodramatic, while the others are quite dispassionate. The stunning winter-wonderland backdrop acts as a stark contrast to the despair, foreboding, and misery of the characters' lives. This peculiarity also appears to be a very Finnish facet from what little I know about the country and their cinema - you sometimes wonder whether it's the cold climate that does this to them. And this is not even a depressing film - it resolves several stories in a rather upbeat fashion, and there is plenty of love and humour in the film too! In any case, what struck me about the film more than anything else is the exceptional performances by ALL the main cast, young and old. This after all reflects on the quality of the screenplay, shot selection, editing and importantly, the direction. The other positive in the film is its breathtaking cinematography, aided of course by the marvellous landscape and some good set design. Despite the convenient and sloppy ending to one or two of these stories, I thoroughly enjoyed the film for its most part, and it is for that reason that this is Recommended Viewing!

Amazon Blu-ray Link | Amazon DVD Link



The Nudity:
Laura Birn, Amanda Pilke, Matleena Kuusniemi, Pekka Strang, Lenna Kuurmaa, Mikko Kouki, and Teemo Heino
As suggested by this list, a good chunk of the adult main cast, male and female, appear nude in the film, but they're all brief, relevant, and incidental.

Laura Birn, Amanda Pilke, Matleena Kuusniemi, Pekka Strang, and Lenna Kuurmaa in Vuosaari

Scene Guide:
  • As Make frets over finding cash to pay off a loan shark, fiancée Iiris suggests they have some fun instead. They both appear to be drug addicts.
  • Fun over, and when Make reiterates his love for Iiris, she asks him not to be clingy. Iiris is played by sultry Laura Birn.
  • "It's payback time", so says the loan shark-thug as he accosts Make after the deadline, and Iiris intervenes by suggesting a different way to deal with the situation. Make could only watch in dismay as his fiancée performs fellatio on the thug.
  • No nudity - sixteen year old Milla is desperate to become famous. After some unsuccessful auditions, she decides to build herself a seductive portfolio!
  • Milla befriends a photographer at one of her auditions, and makes it plain to him that she'll be willing to do 'anything' to become famous. This inevitably leads to her first porn shoot, despite him making clear what this would entail. Milla is determined all the same, her reasoning - "One should try everything, right?" Milla is played by the rather cute Amanda Pike.
  • Sara and husband Lauri haven't made love in ages - their marriage is rapidly falling apart. Sara finds out about his affair with their young maid Viivi, and confronts him one evening by not only inviting Viivi for dinner, but also sauna afterwards. The painful episode is filled with irony and humour, as Sara, superbly played by Matleena Kuusniemi, relishes putting her husband through several awkward moments, only to end up with pie on her face. Stone-faced Lauri is played by Pekka Strang, and Viivi by the pretty and sexy Lenna Kuurmaa.
  • Father and son bonding - hitherto domineering father Pertti finally opens up to his own insecurities with son Teemu in the sauna. Pertti is played by Mikko Kouki, and Teemu but Teemu Heino.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Seven fine directors, and "7 Days in Havana" [2012 Spain, France]

"7 Días en La Habana" [Eng. Title: 7 Days in Havana] was one of my most anticipated films of the year, primarily because it contains segments from two of my favourite directors, Julio Medem and Gaspar Noé. And even though I had pre-ordered the DVD, I couldn't help 'previewing' some of the segments, thanks to one of this site's members lorispersempre - he had managed to obtain a copy from Russia where it was released much before the rest of Europe, and had been kind enough to share them with me. Despite the sneak-view, I couldn't help opening my DVD as soon as it had arrived.

If a favourite feature film director makes a short, one could be disappointed watching it for the first time - I'm sure many people will agree with me on that. Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Nicolas Roeg have all disappointed me at some point, only for me to change my opinion after repeat viewings. I guess it is because we've got so accustomed to the pace, depth, and tone in their feature films, and expect a similar level of intensity in whatever they do, in effect, expecting to see something a full-length film would convey in a short film. I was half expecting to be disappointed this time too, and nearly was - before I discovered some of the other directors whose work I've never had a chance to see before, and also got to watch my favourite directors for a second time.

Seven directors were asked to come up with their own vision of life in a day in the Cuban capital - six of them are renowned, one of the six has hired another renowned director to star in his film, one of the six is a Cuban, and the seventh director I've only known so far as an actor. Interestingly many seem to have collaborated at some level in putting together their material, weaving in common characteristics. The most obvious thread running through all the segments is of course, Havana, and its mesmerising music. We get different perspectives of life in Havana, both as a foreigner, and a local.


Monday: El Yuma - Benicio Del Toro
It was a surprise to see Benicio Del Toro directing, I've only known him as an actor in various American and Spanish films. His segment is interesting, funny, and impressive nonetheless, even if it may have a mainstream Hollywood feel about it, especially in its shot selections. Teddy, a freshly arrived American film student on what appears to be an exchange program with the Cuban equivalent (the Cuban film institute - Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV - is by the way one of the more respected film schools in Latin America), spends an eventful day with his cab driver. It is a mild comedy focusing on the city culture, quirks, and language barriers.

Tuesday: Jam Session - Pablo Trapero
Pablo Trapero, one of the most promising Argentinian directors, casts Serbian director Emir Kusturica as himself, visiting Havana to receive an award at a film festival. This is a beautiful heart-warming segment, where Kusturica develops a close friendship with his chauffeur and gifted part-time trumpeter Alexander Abreu during his stay. This segment is also the richest in music - Cuban jazz lovers will be in for a treat. Me loved it!

Wednesday: La Tentación de Cecilia - Julio Medem
Maestro Medem develops a brief but heady romance between a visiting Spanish talent scout named Leonardo and local star-struck singer Cecilia. She's split between affections for her long term boyfriend José - an unsuccessful baseball player, and her new 'temptation' that is Leonardo, and Spain. The segment ends with her opting to remain in Cuba. While it is beautifully filmed and edited, as can be expected from Medem, I was surprised by the stereotypical characterisation, due to which, I'm sorry to say, it fails to rise beyond the ordinary - nice, but nothing special. Cecilia is played by a real-life singer, the talented and beautiful Melvis Estévez.

Thursday: Diary of a Beginner - Elia Suleiman
Elia Sulieman appears as himself in this segment, trying to arrange an interview with the President through his embassy. Placing himself clearly as an outsider, he makes some interesting observations which are at times philosophical, and at times moving, but quite witty and engaging all the same, despite the absence of any significant dialogue. This is also my favourite segment of the lot, because it is exceptionally well edited and presented.

Friday: Ritual - Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé likes to go where others don't, and he doesn't disappoint, as he looks past modern Cuba, into its peoples' African roots. The premise for 'the ritual' is set when a family's precocious and modernised daughter crosses their threshold of acceptability, by having sexual relations with a female friend. It shows a family that is, against the tide, trying to hold on to values that their modern religion cannot safeguard. Noé builds up this premise to unleash his full range of stylistic features - saturated colours, quivering light effects, throbbing sound effects - all to convey the protagonist's inquisitiveness, confusion, disorientation, and fear. The casting is particularly brilliant, and we can all see Noé is still a graphic designer at heart - some of the portrait-shots are worthy of framing. And one really doesn't need to be a fan to enjoy this segment.

Saturday: Dulce Amargo (Bitter-sweet) - Juan Carlos Tabío
This is the only segment seen through the eyes of Cuban sensitivity and sense of humour - Tabío being the only local director in the film. We look at a day in the life of the parents of Cecilia (from the Medem segment). She pays a visit to bid her family farewell, and we won't know the reason until the end. Veteran Cuban actors Jorge Perugorría and Mirtha Ibarra play her parents. Most of their day is spent trying to deliver a cake for a local ceremony, against a backdrop of power-cuts, shortage of ingredients, and time. A slice of life in the capital lovingly seen from a Cuban perspective.

Sunday: La Fuente (The Fountain) - Laurent Cantet
French director Laurent Cantet's segment almost continues from the previous segment, focusing on where the cake is heading, and the reason for their fiesta. An elderly lady summons all her neighbours to convey a vision she had of the Virgin Mary asking her to organise a ceremony, which would involve some major painting and decorating, including construction of a mini fountain right in the middle of her living room. The segment primarily focuses on the community spirit, and how they pool together resources to get things done.


In summary, "7 Days in Havana" is a wonderfully eclectic collection of short films that observes life in Havana, both as a foreigner, and a native. Music is an important ingredient in all the segments. All seven are colourful, imaginative, and a joy to watch. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Melvis Estévez, Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, and Dunia Matos Hernández
The first instance is of Melvis Estévez who appears as Cecilia in Julio Medem's segment. Ms. Estévez, a gifted singer, also performs her songs here. There are some brief scenes of nudity, first whilst having a shower, and later at home with her boyfriend. There is also nudity from Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, she plays the precocious teenager in Gaspar Noé's segment, and partial nudity from Dunia Matos Hernández who plays the female friend of Ms. Herrera.

Claudia Muñiz, Melvis Estévez, Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, and Dunia Matos Hernández in 7 Días en La Habana

Scene Guide:
  • The scene from Benicio Del Toro's segment has no nudity, but is interesting nevertheless. Young American Teddy is invited for lunch by a cab driver and his mother. When he is momentarily left alone while they performed errands, local prostitute Norka enters the house and propositions a bewildered Teddy. The cab driver's mum catches her red-handed. Norka is played by Claudia Muñiz.
  • In Julio Medem's segment, Cecilia is invited to his hotel room by visiting Spanish talent scout Leonardo, who is also clearly infatuated with her. Cecilia accepts, and asks if she could take a shower first. She overhears a conversation Leonardo has with his partner-friend on the phone, bragging about his success in bringing Cecilia into his room, and promptly leaves. Cecilia is played by Melvis Estévez.
  • Cecilia catches boyfriend José just when he's leaving for an important game. Despite his request not to tempt him before a game, she does.
  • Gaspar Noé's segment starts with young people having a reggaeton party by the beach, during which 'the girl' is hit upon by a female friend. The girl's parents discover them together in bed. The girl is played by pretty Cristella de la Caridad Herrera, and her female friend by Dunia Matos Hernández.
  • The 'ritual', where a shaman exorcises 'evil thoughts' from the girl under the watchful eyes of her parents...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Scenes from Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev" [1966 USSR]

I venture into Russian cinema in the blog with a mixture of awe and trepidation, for as fascinating it was watching whatever little I have so far on good ol' Channel 4, and more recently on DVD, I have to admit that I hold only a rudimentary understanding about its people, culture, complex history, and therefore cinema. For very obvious reasons we in this cosy island (and probably across the pond too) tend to see Russia only through twentieth century eyes, which I suppose is about as objective as blind men describing an elephant.

Since my introduction to Russian cinema began with the great Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrey Tarkovskiy) - Solaris being my first Russian film experience, and also since his work is the one I'm most acquainted with (which isn't many in any case), I shall start writing about Russian cinema using the same director, from one of his most acclaimed classics, "Andrey Rublyov" [DVD Title: The Passion of Andrei].

Loosely based on the life of fifteenth century muralist and iconographer Andrey Rublyov aka Andrei Rublev, the film is more about the historical events of the time that could have affected the painter-monk and his work, both at a physical and metaphysical level. Neatly divided into seven chapters, each save the epilogue depicts an influential episode in Rublyov's life and spiritual journey. We follow Rublyov from his youth at a monastery to his apprenticeship with Theophanes the Greek, their frequent disagreements, Rublyov's encounter with pagans, his own confrontation with Byzantine beliefs, his sense of guilt, and his unexpected enlightenment through the son of a bell-maker - my favourite chapter in the film. All these events take place against the backdrop of Tatar invasions against the Rus, which would eventually set-forth in motion the birth pangs of a Tsarist Russia.

The epic film takes its time fleshing out a plethora of characters that mark the landscape for Rublyov's thoughts, and his art. Through the three hours and twenty five minutes (Criterion DVD), we experience breathtaking imagery ranging from the positively enchanting, to the outright brutal. We see the magic in the dew on shivering leaves of a tree, we see a happy horse rolling in the meadow, and we see twilight pagan gaiety in mist-shrouded woods by a river, made from the primary ingredients of Tarkovsky's cinematic palette - wind, water, fire, and light. We also see marauding horsemen take down an entire town, desecrate churches, slit throats, burn cattle, rape women, slay horses, and pour molten metal from crucifixes through a tied-down priest's throat. We also experience the exhilaration of triumph against odds, of the humble teaching the learned, and of a new beginning amidst the chaos. Most of the scenes we see are shot through a series of intricately orchestrated long takes. There are numerous instances of political and religious symbolisms exquisitely woven into the film narrative. This is Andrei Tarkovsky not only gatecrashing into the auteur club of the Antonioni's, Bergman's, Kurosawa's, and Wajda's, but also laying siege to the grandiose castle of the Cecil B DeMille's and David Lean's. To summarise, for anyone who loves film, this is a visual feast of the very highest order, and therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..!

The thirstyrabbit rave that you may gladly skip:
Scroll through the IMDB comments and you'll come across more than a few who consider "Andrei Rublev" to be the greatest motion picture ever made. I cannot possibly make that claim, perhaps having seen a few more films than many of them. But then again, this is as subjective as the blind men analogy used above - what touches someone profoundly may fail to move the person next to him - that's the way the cookie crumbles. Many great directors, including Ingmar Bergman have paid glowing tributes to Tarkovsky's work, so there is nothing more I could possibly add to glorify his undoubted genius. But if you ask me which DVD I will instinctively pick from my shelf for an absorbing evening of cinema, it will not be a Tarkovsky, certainly not Andrei Rublev! Ironic, because the reason for my decision will have been the film's very virtue - its pursuit of total perfection. Now ordinary mortals can strive for perfection, the most they're likely to achieve is an improvement to what they would otherwise. It's an extra pat on the back, "good job, ol' boy" - the perks, there's certainly no harm in that. But the more closer they get to 'perfection', the further they'll recede from their 'humanity'. Tarkovsky in my eyes personifies cinematic perfection more closely than any director I'm aware of, and that is scary, because total 'perfection' is essentially egotistical and ultimately dangerous. I for one, would much rather watch 'imperfect' films - warts and all, as long as their intentions are genuine..!


About the DVD:
There are numerous versions of this relentlessly butchered film, ranging from 2hr 25mts to 3hr 25mts. Mine is the director's cut Criterion release, which is the longest presently available. But there's also a recently remastered blu-ray release that comes close at 3hr 3mts (from which this compilation was made). The quality in the blu-ray is significantly superior in all ways to my letterboxed NTSC Criterion DVD, but I hate the cuts in the blu-ray which make parts of the film incoherent. They cut out some gruesomely realistic scenes involving animals, and a few seconds of male and female nudity, but they importantly also broke Tarkovsky's narrative in places, which is terrible. Besides, the Criterion release also includes a commentary in English that some may find handy. I'd therefore, at least for now, recommend the longer Criterion NTSC version.

Amazon Criterion DVD Link


The Nudity:
There's a chapter titled "The Feast" that deals with Andrey Rublyov's encounter with a group of naked pagans celebrating their festival of love. One of the prime characters in the episode is Marfa, a medieval equivalent of a hippy who questions a fascinated but uptight Rublyov about the meaning of 'love'. There's an obvious parable between these two characters and the Biblical Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Rublyov is also symbolically 'crucified' during the scene, and the following morning, Marfa evades capture by Christian soldiers by jumping into the river. Marfa is played by Nelly Snegina.

Nelly Snegina in Andrei Rublov