Sunday, 29 December 2013

Chance and destiny during an economic crisis: "An..." [2012 Greece]

Christoforos Papakaliatis makes an assured directorial début with the romantic drama "An..." [Eng. Title: What If...] - a film that'd also become a personal project, with him in a starring role and also writing its screenplay. Set against the backdrop of the current economic crisis, it looks at the ensuing strains placed on a young couple's relationship.

Film director Dimitris (Christoforos Papakaliatis) is a happy singleton living with his aptly named dog Lonesome in the shadow of the Acropolis - the old quarter of Athens. The film explores in parallel two different outcomes following his encounter with young architect Christina (Marina Kalogirou) after slightly altering the course of an event.

Papakaliatis allows us to observe the couple's altered fortunes in tandem by drawing inspiration from a Hollywood hit (Sliding Doors), and also paying homage to a home-grown classic from the sixties, in utilising its aged protagonists 'in character' as part of the film's narrative. It works well in cinematic terms, as much as it succeeds in pulling at its native audience's heartstrings. While the cinematography is professional, it is the choice of locations that would most likely appeal to the foreign audience. Performances by the lead characters may not be particularly special, but they're extremely easy on the eye, and alongside the cute German Shepherd thrown into the cast, it is apparent that the director has strived to ensure its commercial success by dotting the i's and crossing the t's. This might well be aimed at a 'mainstream' audience, but it certainly isn't tacky or clichéd - it is sincere as much as it wants to entertain - it is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Marina Kalogirou and Christoforos Papakaliatis
There's just a single scene of nudity in the film - with a gorgeous-as-ever Marina Kalogirou and the director-protagonist Christoforos Papakaliatis, in a sex scene inter-cut with their characters frolicking on the streets of Athens. Nice! :-)

Marina Kalogirou and Christoforos Papakaliatis nude in An... aka If Only...


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Life and friendship: "Career Girls" [1997 UK]

Mike Leigh's deceptively titled "Career Girls" might lull you into believing it to be easy viewing, with a sweet and fairly simple mainstream plot, but this ridiculously overlooked film has more layers than your average puff pastry.

Granted, there are some contrived moments and a bit of overacting here and there, but they greatly help us in exploring the relationship between central characters Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) and Annie (Lynda Steadman) - former room mates from college six years ago. Having settled reasonably into their professional lives, they meet again over a weekend in London, and their past story is retold using intermittent flashbacks. When Annie first met Hannah in answer to an ad calling for a room mate with g.s.o.h, little did she know that she'd really need one - Hannah was a tense young woman with a lot of pent-up rage, whose searing - almost abrasive quick-witted remarks would put people off from even approaching her. Annie herself was hopelessly insecure, with a constant twitch and a crusty dermatitis-afflicted skin covering half her face. Ever submissive, her head slanted away from people in desperation to avoid eye contact. And yet, they stuck it out for four years in their grungy apartment on top of the Chinese takeaway.

Gone now are Annie's twitches - a lot more self assured, she's also devoid of any signs of her past skin affliction. Sharply dressed Hannah too is a pleasant departure from her younger unkempt self. A whole lot more calmer, she's also mindful of other people's feelings these days. But their reunion starts off rather awkwardly, with forced small talk and uneasy silences in between. The chillness in the air departs after Annie accompanies Hannah on an adventure across town with the ruse to view properties for sale. They meet characters from their past who sometimes even fail to recognise them, and as much as they bring back memories, they will also distinguish people who've made it from those who fell by the wayside. It becomes clear that while Hannah and Annie may have not kept in touch all these years, they'd invariably influenced each other without them noticing - and that they'll always share a unique bond - a deep trust, and acceptance of each other as they are, that neither time nor distance will diminish. In meeting up, they had just strengthened that valuable and life-affirming bond...

As with any Mike Leigh film, it's not the message, but the route it takes to be delivered that matters. The characterisation is what makes this film so special, and the sensational performance by late Katrin Cartlidge as Hannah, and the endearing portrayal of Annie by Lynda Steadman (making her film-début) combine to make this an engrossing character study on people and friendship. The dialogues, replete with highly inventive and sharp-witted one-liners, may not leave us in fits of giggles, but will help us swallow some bitter truths, and appreciate what we've so far achieved despite falling short of our own expectations. This reflective and woefully underrated Mike Leigh classic is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Katrin Cartlidge
The few seconds of a topless Katrin Cartlidge gives me an excuse to write about the film. Not often have I wished a film had lasted a bit longer - this one did, engaging us even if nothing much happens in it. The aforementioned scene occurs after Hannah has sex with a lazy, skirt-chasing, and obviously handsome Adrian (Joe Tucker) - one that Annie too fancies.

Katrin Cartlidge naked in Mike Leigh's Career Girls


Thursday, 26 December 2013

A review: "Zift" [2008 Bulgaria]

Javor Gardev's début feature "Zift" is a widescreen homage to the American film noir. It is about a recently released prisoner hounded by his partner in crime from twenty years earlier for the missing portion of the loot.

Set sometime during the 1960's, Lev aka Moth (Zahary Baharov, credited as Zachary Baharov), is released from prison for good behaviour after having served twenty years. He took the fall for a murder he didn't commit, so as to extricate his pregnant girlfriend Ada aka Mantis (Tanya Ilieva) for her involvement in a burglary. She was one of his two accomplices - the other being Slug (Vladimir Penev), the killer. No sooner is Moth released from prison, he is picked up by two army types and carried to a basement cell at the public baths, to be interrogated and tortured by erstwhile pal and accomplice Slug, who'd since become a state official after the 1944 communist coup. Slug is after a diamond that went missing during the burglary that ended in murder, and Moth's incarceration.

The story is told through non-linear flashbacks, and the only way we recognise the period the scene is set in (aside from Moth's hair, or the lack thereof) is by the film stock used - 35 mm for the sixties, grainy 16 mm for the nineteen forties, and even grainier 8 mm stock for the period before that. The film liberally borrows elements from well known classics of film-noir (and neo-noir). The main thread of the plot nods to Rudolph Maté's "D.O.A.", which sees Moth being poisoned by Slug - he will die within two days unless offered an antidote that only Slug possesses. Ada is now a cabaret singer going by the name of Gilda, and the scene where Moth catches up with his old flame reminds us of Rita Hayworth in the original "Gilda". The graveyard scene and the protagonist's nihilistic characterisation itself seems to have been inspired by Nikos Nikolaidis' Singapore Sling.

The crisp black and white cinematography is appealing, and the camera angles suggest a storyboard drawn from classic comic strips. The film is entertaining in the way it takes a wry look at Bulgaria before and during communism, with the help of eccentric characters who've been imbued with barfly wisdom and a penchant for gutter-humour. It also obsesses over its title ('Zift' refers to the Arabic term for Asphalt but also means 'chewing gum', and 'shit' in Bulgarian slang - all three meanings are referenced). As Ada aka Mantis, Tanya Ilieva looks the mysterious femme fatale, with a tattoo of a praying mantis on her belly that hints of her predatory nature.

Moth is decorated with tattoos too, which beg questions about the film's attempt at authenticity - one would think body art couldn't possibly be the raging fashion during the 1940's unless you were either a gypsy, sailor, or a jailbird. Similar doubts linger about the costumes, which appear rather chic for a working class couple. Even though the film is well made, it lacks a purpose other than as an ode to the genre - it is a film made by a film-noir fan, as opposed to it being an actual film-noir. But if you fancy watching hard-boiled characters utter clichés using voice-overs, in widescreen, this might be for you.

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Zahary Baharov, Tanya Ilieva, Rositsa Dicheva, and many others
Zahary Baharov is Bulgaria's answer to Vin Diesel, and if hunks are your thing you'll find plenty to admire in his tattooed nakedness. At the other end is Tanya Ilieva appearing nude in a couple of scenes, the first of which is a steamy sex session between Ada and Moth, inter-cut with a praying mantis copulation, towards the end of which the female devours the male's head. Rositsa Dicheva is the only other 'credited' nude - she's the girl in the bathtub as Moth literally flies past her during a frantic glass-eyeball chasing sequence in an all-female spa, after escaping from Slug's torture chamber.

Zahary Baharov, Tanya Ilieva, and Rositsa Dicheva nude in Zift



Sunday, 22 December 2013

A review: "Heli" [2013 Mexico]

Amat Escalante is no stranger to controversy. One of the bad boys of the Mexican New Wave, his films, alongside that of close friend Carlos Reygadas (who incidentally is also often his producer), provoke and shock audiences through searing observations of human behaviour that's more closely associated with the likes of Michael Haneke and Bruno Dumont. But it's the uncompromising visual audacity, and the common - often banal nature of his subjects that set his films apart. The unexpected brutality evidenced in his earlier works such like Sangre (2005) and Los Bastardos (2008) would ruffle even the jaded of viewers.

Escalante's latest offering "Heli", is a contemporary drug-war drama set somewhere in northern Mexico. Heli (Armando Espitia) is a young lad living with a family consisting of his father, twelve year old sister Estella (Andrea Vergara), young wife Sabrina (Linda González), and their six-month old baby. Working for a nearby car assembly plant, Heli is by no means rich, but he gets by, and his family is also generally happy. School-going Estella is in love with seventeen year old special forces cadet Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacio). And it is Beto's poor judgement on one occasion that'll turn the family's world into hell. In hoping to finance his elopement with Estella, Beto steals a significant amount of police-confiscated cocaine and hides it in the water tank on top of Heli's house. Upon discovering it, Heli impulsively destroys the stash because he felt that was the right thing to do. But how wrong was he..!

It would trigger a chain of horrific events, part of which will also make up the film's opening sequence, when we see a gagged and beaten up Beto being lynched from a footbridge. There is an extended torture scene that precedes it - shown halfway into the film, where Beto and Heli are strung in the living room of a family home and first beaten with what looks like a cricket bat (didn't know they play cricket in Mexico). The kids, interrupted from their Wii, join in by taking turns with the bat while being watched with mild disapproval from the kitchen by their mother. After the beatings, Beto's genitals are dowsed in petrol and set alight. The banal domesticity of the surroundings and the casual savagery presented within it is what makes the scene all the more shocking.

Heli is however spared a similar fate - he is allowed to limp back home, but his nightmare has hardly ended - his sister too had been picked up but has not yet returned. He looses his job, and his relationship with Sabrina hits rough weather. Added to his misery is the corruption among the police investigating his father's murder and Estella's kidnapping - with one of them, a supposedly sympathetic female detective, even demanding sexual favours from him. His wife and child were lucky to have been out of town on that fateful day, and the scene when Sabrina returns home with the baby to find it ransacked with a trail of blood on the floor, is one of the very few scenes where Escalante shows any sympathy towards his audience - the scene is also classically shot.

Otherwise, the film is relentlessly unforgiving, and even though the end leaves us with a ray of hope for the family that we've come to care about, it is a damning indictment of a country fighting for its soul, with a corrupt establishment in collusion with drug cartels. While this may just be one aspect of Mexican life, confined to certain parts of the country, the director nevertheless raises some probing questions about the state of affairs, and asks why 'normal' life should remain a bit of a lottery for some people who're not even involved in the drugs trade. Escalante won the best director's award at Cannes, and the film was also nominated for Palme d'Or. It is also Mexico's official entry for the forthcoming Academy Awards. Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Linda González, Reina Torres, and Armando Espitia
As Sabrina, Linda González is briefly nude during a shower scene, and in two sex scenes that follow, one of which also involves nudity from Armando Espitia as protagonist Heli. Reina Torres plays police detective Maribel, who in a scene seeks sexual favours from Heli in a none too subtle way.

Linda González, Reina Torres, and Armando Espitia nude in Heli


Friday, 20 December 2013

A review: "Ådalen 31" [1969 Sweden]

Bo Widerberg's social drama "Ådalen 31" [Eng. Title: Adalen Riots] concerns itself with a working class family during a tragic 1931 strike in the industrial town of Ådalen. The strike spread nationwide and was a turning point in Swedish politics that eventually gave birth to a welfare state.

Objecting mill owners' suggestion to accept a pay cut, the town's entire workforce decide to strike in unison. The film starts on a bright summer's morning - only, the men won't be going to their factories, and children won't go to school. They'd already been without work and income for several weeks, and there is an air of despondence among the folk that vividly contrasts the town's lush surroundings. Father of the household Harald (Roland Hedlund) is seen telling off his two sons for engaging in a mock fight - he reminds them that they'll only get hungry and want to eat more. Mother Karin (Kerstin Tidelius) is more concerned about their shirt buttons dropping off during the fight. As Kjell (Peter Schildt) and younger brother Martin (Martin Widerberg) stop the fight, the circumstances of their household, and workers like them, become firmly established.

When mill owners hire scabs to try and ship an order to America, enraged townsfolk intervene using violence. The owners arm-twist local authorities into bringing in the army so that business could be conducted without disruption. Kjell and mill owner's daughter Anna's (Marie De Geer) class-defying romance and its repercussions will also be overshadowed by events that follow. During a demonstration, townsfolk marching towards the mill are warned by the army that live ammunition will be used if they didn't stop. The message goes unregistered amidst the blaring band music, and in the confusion, five people get killed, among them Harald. As the new 'man' of the household, Kjell must now take the initiative and prepare his family for life without their beloved father...

The event helped bring down the conservative government and ushered in ground breaking social reforms in Sweden. The film, whilst portraying facts with a tinge of romantic idealism, goes further by examining both the desirable and undesirable attributes of the ruling and the ruled. "We must read... get knowledge - we'll need it when we gain power", reminds Kjell to a defiant strike worker in one scene, which also sums up Widerberg's message in the film. Made immediately after his acclaimed "Elvira Madigan" (an unashamedly beautiful tearjerker if there was one), Widerberg imbues some of its melancholy into the film, albeit in a more restrained fashion. Even if Widerberg had consistently critiqued Bergman throughout his career, there is an unconscious Bergman-influence in his characters' sensibilities that foreigners like us have come to associate as quintessentially Swedish. The film's cinematography is way ahead of its time, and the scenario is breathtaking. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon 2xDVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Elisabet Wallin
Lighter moments of the film are taken up by Kjell's budding romance with rich girl Anna, and his friend Nisse's (Jonas Bergström) fumbling attempts at seducing girls in his working class neighbourhood. There's nudity in a scene where Nisse 'successfully' hypnotises and disrobes his latest subject (Elisabet Wallin), only to be interrupted and asked to rejoin the band that's fronting the workers' procession. The girl has obviously not fallen under his spell - she's just as curious as him and only pretends so. :)

Marie De Geer and Elisabet Wallin nude in Adalen 31


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A review: "Aimee & Jaguar" [1999 Germany]

Max Färberböck's dramatic wartime romance "Aimee & Jaguar" is based on a true love affair that happened between a married mother of four and a young Jewish woman in Nazi Germany.

Lily (Juliane Köhler) was a darling of the Nazi establishment, mothering four children through her soldier-husband fighting in the Eastern front. But that doesn't stop her from having affairs with officers still stationed in Berlin - after all, she enjoys being the object of men's attention and admiration. And then she meets Felice (Maria Schrader) through her children's babysitter Ilse (Johanna Wokalek), also a close friend and lover of Felice. Vivacious and almost openly gay Felice becomes fixated with Lily - nine years older, from the moment she lay her eyes on her, and will go to extraordinary lengths to invent reasons to meet with, socialise, and seduce Lily, even sparking jealousy from her other female lovers. Felice belongs to that bohemian fringe of Berlin that had managed to survive even during Nazi Germany. But Felice also leads a double life - she works for a pro-establishment newspaper, but is also involved with the underground resistance by stealing secret documents and helping many Jews escape Berlin. Despite her Jewishness and political beliefs, she couldn't avoid falling in love with Lily.

Lily, taken aback initially by a woman's amorous advances, succumbs nevertheless to Felice's love letters and magnetic charm without the inkling that she's Jewish. They embark on a passionate affair - Lily will take on the name of Aimée, and Felice will call herself Jaguar in all their secret letters and rendezvous. But Felice's frequent disappearances, mostly on underground errands, will begin to bother Lily, until she confronts her one day. Felice's admission of her Jewishness and involvement with the resistance will only draw them both closer. They'll vigorously pursue their love affair by living every day as if it were their last, amidst all the bombardment and the ever loudening footsteps of the Gestapo homing in on Felice.

Until this film, lesbianism in Nazi Germany was confined to a twisted universe largely inhabited by the likes of Jesus Franco and Don Edmonds. In truth, gays and lesbians were put to death when discovered. But homosexuality not only existed in secret, but also thrived, as Aimee and Jaguar's story bears testament. Told through flashback, the film captures with historical accuracy a part of wartime Berlin not often shown - it's glittering night life that strived to keep pace with New York and London despite the Allied bombings. The authenticity also extends to the fine sound engineering that recreates the blasts, raid-sirens and falling bombshells - there's precious little in the way of visual effects, but the sound and editing more than make up for the lack of jaw-dropping visuals.


The Performances:
Maria Schrader and Julian Köhler project an intensity not often seen in films with lesbian interest, and are refreshing and beautiful to watch. Of special mention is Ms. Köhler in the scene where her character lets go of her inhibitions and embraces her homosexuality for the first time. When Felice tried to kiss Lily on an earlier occasion, she threw a tantrum and slapped her. But Lily couldn't dismiss and forget what happened, and her change of heart along with the air of anticipation is palpable the next time Felice visits her. There's nothing explicit in the scene, but it is intense all the same.

In the scene, we see Lily overwhelmed, by emotions she'd never experienced with a man before. She is afraid. She seeks the protection of Felice, who responds with a reassuring embrace. The duo not only deserved the many awards that came their way, but also won a seal of approval from the real Lily, who was 89 when the film came out. Here's a very informative article that quotes Lily's own version of events following their affair, in a Guardian article. Needless to say, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [Movie Card - PAL] | English subtitles


The Nudity: Maria Schrader, Juliane Köhler, Johanna Wokalek, Elisabeth Degen, and Heike Makatsch
There's brief nudity at the beginning from Maria Schrader (Felice), Johanna Wokalek (Ilse), Elisabeth Degen (Lotte), and Heike Makatsch (Klärchen) - they're friends who make some extra money by posing nude for photos meant to cheer soldiers on the front line. There's nudity in two sex scenes, from Maria Schrader and Julian Köhler.

Maria Schrader, Juliane Köhler, Johanna Wokalek, Elisabeth Degen, and Heike Makatsch nude in Aimee & Jaguar


Sunday, 15 December 2013

A brief review: "Detyam do 16..." [2010 Russia]

Andrei Kavun's "Detyam do 16..." [Children below 16] is a romantic drama set in modern Russia. On this occasion, the review is going to be brief because the film is aimed at a local audience of a certain age, and any analysis here will be bytes wasted.

Cyril (Dmitriy Kubasov) and Max (Pavel Priluchnyy) are close buddies and they hook up with Leia (Anna Starshenbaum) and Dasha (Lyanka Gryu) respectively. Only, Cyril had his eyes set on Dasha even before Max had met her - he was just too shy to ask her out. Max and Dasha get married and are unhappy - it turns out that Dasha too had secretly been in love with Cyril. They start an affair that Max will soon come to know. The couple get divorced, and Cyril dumps Leia to live with Dasha. After a few years Leia returns to Moscow as a successful designer, and Cyril starts having feelings for her again...

I've seen the plot in sixty nine other films - with better drama, if I might add. My only reason for watching this one is the delectable and wholesome Anna Starshenbaum, and in particular a nude scene involving lots of paint. It doesn't disappoint, and neither do her other scenes since she's a decent actress too. I can't say a lot about the others, nor the film's technical features - actually I can - they're quite pedestrian.

The Nudity: Anna Starshenbaum, Dmitriy Kubasov, and Lyanka Gryu
Lovely Anna Starshenbaum appears nude in four scenes including the body painting one, in which Dmitry Kunasov also appears nude. Lyanka Gryu may well have used a body-double in the brief side nudity that we see in one of her sex scenes - the shot is cut before the camera could pan to her face.

Anna Starshenbaum, Dmitriy Kubasov, and Lyanka Gryu nude in Detyam do 16...


Friday, 13 December 2013

A review of Sergio Citti's "Vipera" [2000 Italy]

Sergio Citti is mostly remembered as a writer, for his collaboration with many Italian greats such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ettore Scola. But he was also a gifted, if slightly underrated director, with a style noticeably influenced by the above two directors, particularly visible in one of his last films, "Vipera" [Eng. Title: Viper].

Set in 1940's and 50's Sicily (Paternò), we follow the fortunes of Rosetta from the time she's twelve (Larissa Volpentesta) and living with her drunken father Leone (Harvey Keitel) - he'd turned to alcohol to forget Rosetta's mother, Vipera (Elide Melli), after she ran away with a fascist some time ago. Little Rosetta's fortunes turn for the worse when she's raped and made pregnant by another former fascist (Giancarlo Giannini), and Leone also dies after falling from his bicycle. She's sent to live in a convent until the age of twenty one, and her newborn child will cruelly be adopted out by her visiting mother.

By the time she's let out of the convent, Rosetta is a young woman (Annalisa Schettino). She goes in search of her mother, hoping to find her baby there. Instead she finds a Vipera even more delusional than before, believing she's still the item that she once was. Rosetta's son isn't to be found - Vipera, a former dancer, had been nicknamed a whore by many back in the village, but that's giving whores a bad name. She had abandoned Rosetta's baby altogether and gives no explanation for her actions. When Rosetta decides to leave, Vipera completely looses her mind and throws herself naked on the street spread-eagled, in pouring rain, calling on every man in town to take her. Rosetta keeps walking...

The storyline may sound dreary and heartbreaking - it actually is for a good two-thirds of the film, and Citti is relentlessly unapologetic and ruthless in the way he handles his subject, showing the misery and hopelessness for what it used to be. But then again, it ends in the most fortuitous manner, with a touch of poetic flair even, when Rosetta not only finds her lost son but also witness her late father's dream become real. One of the film's features is its rich contrast - the pure and trusting father-daughter relationship against the opportunistic village folk (and the rapist), the wicked mother against the kind whores who take pity on Rosetta, and Rosetta's innocence as a child against the strong willed person that the world had turned her into.

Another feature is the rich detail of Sicilian life from the period, from its ceremonies like communion and street parades, to people's ignorance and religious superstitions. The film may neither have award-winning performances, nor a proper reason for having Harvey Keitel in it, but it is well-conceived and thoroughly satisfying cinema nevertheless, largely because of the fine storytelling, detail, and thoughtful direction - reason enough to declare that it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Elide Melli
Two scenes of Elide Melli feature nudity - the first is when her character forces Rosetta to feel her breasts to prove that she's still 'young' and desirable. The second is when she literally invites every man in town to have sex with her, by lying naked on the street, and in pouring rain - we don't see that every day, do we..!

Larissa Volpentesta and Elide Melli nude in Sergio Citti's Vipera


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A film review: "Gloria" [2013 Chile]

"Gloria" is one more cinematic gem crafted in Chile this year that was written, directed, and co-produced by talented young film-maker Sebastián Lelio (also co-produced by Pablo Larrain).

The film is about its titular heroine Gloria (Paulina García), an independent woman in her late fifties who'd been divorced for a while and has two grown-up children living on their own. Lonely at times, more so because the children are also fiercely independent and do not want her involved in their personal lives, Gloria has to leave messages on their phone reminding them to call her. But rather than brood and complain, Gloria's approach to life is altogether upbeat - she goes out in the evenings, even if by herself, to dance and socialise with people, and seek companionship with men of her age. She may be past her youth and best looks, but she's a woman determinedly lapping up life to the best of her abilities, and enjoying every moment of it as they happen.

But Gloria is also not someone trying to rebel against old age, nor is she seeking anything other than conventional love - her musical tastes, mostly pop songs from yesteryears, vividly convey her aspirations. She'll find a man of her liking in Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) - slightly older but divorced for just a year, with a still dependent ex wife and needy grown up daughters. The two embark on a passionate love affair, but it will become clearer by the day that whilst passion can kick-start a relationship, maintaining and building upon it by making compromises here and there is an altogether different matter...

The film's message is social rather than political. It is about a generation that doesn't believe that sex and passion should end at a certain age, wrinkles notwithstanding, and that it is perfectly acceptable to express one's sensuality and seek sexual intimacy during any stage of their lives. It is aptly conveyed through piercing visual commentary and a surprisingly mature characterisation that belies the director's young age. The middle-aged couple portrayed could be the viewer's father or mother, or themselves even - the dilemmas and issues that the characters go through would relate universally.

The film is made all the more remarkable thanks to extraordinary performances, particularly by Paulina García who even won a Silver Bear at this year's Berlinale, and her totally frank and brave sex scenes with Sergio Hernández - they're as honest and real as they could get - full of sensuality and immediacy. García, appearing in almost every frame, is the heart and soul of the film, and she carries her character so naturally that you don't see an actress but a very real woman. Her interpretation of Gloria, in nuance and style, is the female equivalent to Toni Servillo's Jep Gambardella in their quest for la dolce vita - together they should also share the honours for this year's finest performances in film. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Paulina García and Sergio Hernández
There are four scenes in the film that feature nudity from Paulina García - three of which are also highly sensual sex scenes that break new ground in the way mature sexuality is depicted in mainstream cinema without compromising its integrity.

Paulina García and Sergio Hernández nude in Gloria


Monday, 9 December 2013

A review: "Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu" [2008 Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina]

I'd been spending time improving on my Balkan history of late, which was one of the reasons I was drawn to Srdjan Dragojevic's wartime drama "Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu" [Eng. Title: St. George Shoots the Dragon]. The fact that this was set against the backdrop of the very event that triggered the First World War - the assassination in Sarajevo of heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the prospect of seeing things from a slightly different perspective was reason enough for me to pick up the DVD.

Returning from the 1912 war against the Turks are two Bosnian-Serb soldiers from the same village - George (Lazar Ristovski), and Gavrilo (Milutin Milosevic). Katarina (Natasa Janjic) - the girlfriend of Gavrilo, is at the railway station to receive him with a garland that she had personally made, but it is turned down by her lover. When asked why, Gavrilo shows her his amputated arm and tells her that he is not good enough for her any more, and urges her to offer the garland to George instead. Two years later, George has become a Sergeant and is married to Katarina, while Gavrilo - no longer in the army, makes a living with his brothers by smuggling goods across the border with Austro-Hungary. He is married to a simple woman named Jelena (Milena Predic).

Both former lovers are however not in love with their respective spouses, and they continue to meet clandestinely. George is aware of their ongoing affair, but dithers in asserting his authority, partly because of his respect for Gavrilo as a war hero, but mainly because he is unselfishly in love with Katarina and wants her to be happy in whatever way she can. The outbreak of World War One will throw the uneasy love triangle into turmoil. We even get to see Gavrilo's namesake - a student, hitching a ride with the smugglers to cross the border on a secret mission to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. After he succeeds and Austria declares war on Serbia, the village and its inhabitants will be the first in firing line, for the great war to follow...

Since the war is merely a backdrop for the protagonists' doomed love affairs, it is their personal drama that is played out to the full. But the drama is unsatisfactory and we're left with mixed feelings about the film which, while well made, suffers from a mediocre screenplay - we don't fully grasp the intentions and motivations for all the actions of Gavrilo (the lover) - his character is either performed poorly or not developed fully. Added to the intermittently bad subtitle synchronisation and/or translation in my DVD, the narrative gets lost to a foreign audience. But those from the former Yugoslavia might perhaps understand and appreciate the film a bit better.

DVD Order Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Natasa Janjic
There is brief nudity from pretty Natasa Janjic in two scenes - first when her character Katarina mockingly proves to husband George that the nude in one of her paintings is indeed a self portrait. The second is of Katarina and Gavrilo making love in the boat, watched by and commented from distance by his brothers.

Natasa Janjic nude in Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu aka St. George Shoots the Dragon


Friday, 6 December 2013

A review: "Spies & Glistrup" [2013 Denmark]

Cristoffer Boe (of Reconstruction fame) originally wanted to dramatise the life of late airline tycoon Simon Spies, but upon discovering the extraordinary friendship he also had with lawyer-turned-politician Mogens Glistrup, Boe decided to make a film about their relationship instead through "Spies & Glistrup" [Eng. Title: Sex, Drugs & Taxation].

Based on and inspired by true events, this is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two larger-than-life public figures from the swinging sixties - both of them radical and perverse in their different ways. Simon (Pilou Asbæk), owner of a budget holiday travel company, is playboy extraordinaire who's also soaked in drugs-culture. Mogens (Nicolas Bro - a regular in Boe's films) is a corporate tax lawyer and family man, but with a distinctly libertarian streak - he wants to abolish taxes and the entire state system that it funds. Driven by his anarchic vision, Mogens employs his knowledge of tax law to mastermind takeovers on behalf of Simon, and exploits loopholes that won't require Simon's company to pay tax. Simon meanwhile, succeeds in making his name and company popular by exploiting his own addiction to sex, by organising stunts in public, and calling in tabloid press photographers to watch him have sex with a number of willing prostitutes, assembly line-style, and grading their vaginas based on his findings. The shrewd family-minded Mogens and a fiendishly whore-mongering Simon will compliment their skills in making Simon a billionaire airlines magnate.

Having achieved what he wanted, Simon retreats to a Mediterranean island to experiment with LSD, transcendental meditation, and of course - plenty of sex, with his retinue of 'morgenbolledamer' (morning fuck/bun ladies). But for Mogens, it's only the beginning - he wants to abolish the tax system altogether, and goes public with the fact that he had been helping companies avoid paying tax. This will draw the attention of the judiciary, that will stir old rivalries, test friendships, strain family relationships, and induce betrayals. While being investigated for tax evasion, Mogens will start a political party of his own and will also become member of parliament, even if that wouldn't protect him from being prosecuted. Simon Spies and Mogens Glistrup are but a product of their times - each hoping to start a revolution of their own. And they almost succeed...

The film is magnificently crafted despite its straightforward narrative. Cristoffer Boe's sharp direction combined with his collaboration with screenwriter Simon Pasternak has produced an engaging film with a depth in characterisation. It is not only rich in detail, but also entertaining. The protagonists' unbelievably outrageous behaviour shocks as much as it induces laughter - whether it is flashing an erect penis to pacify a gorilla, calling the very idea of tax and government immoral, or interviewing prospective brides by stripping them naked and even trying them out for sex. It is even more shocking when we learn that these are broadly based on actual events. Pilou Asbæk and Nicolas Bro vividly bring to life the outlandish characters that they play. We are endeared to their characters despite their maniacal qualities. Boe succeeds in pushing the boundaries on what can be acceptably shown to a mainstream audience - there is drama, comedy, irony, and also explicit nudity - it is imprudent, but tawdry it ain't. It is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link [PAL] | Blu-ray Order Link


The Nudity: Pilou Asbæk, Sarahsita Lassen, Pia Lund, Camilla Lehmann, and many more
Pilou Asbæk is spectacular, to put it mildly, as he struts around as the libidinous Simon Spies, the dirty middle-aged man (he's only thirty one by the way). As for the women, there are too many of them appearing in the nude, so I'm restricting the names to those who also have speaking parts. Sarahsita Lassen is Lillian, one of the girls Simon singles out for praise after an assembly-line sex session. Pia Lund is Dorte, one of the many applicants interviewed by Simon in trying to choose a future wife - his male assistants join in the inspection too. Camilla Lehmann plays Inger, a cute blond who briefly becomes Simon's live-in girlfriend - she apparently also makes the best pickles in Copenhagen. She's seen wearing only an apron in a kitchen scene, followed by a post-coital tender moment in bed with Simon, when she's completely in the nude.

Pilou Asbæk, Sarahsita Lassen, Pia Lund, Camilla Lehmann and others nude in Spies & Glistrup aka Sex, Drugs & Taxation


Thursday, 5 December 2013

A brief review: "Cão Sem Dono" [2007 Brazil]

Beto Brant can be quite frustrating indeed - like the Italian director Dino Risi in some respects, there are moments in his films that can be utterly magical, but also moments when the screenplay meanders aimlessly and the characterisation gets clouded with unnecessary details. Co-directed by Renato Ciasca, his drama "Cão Sem Dono" [Eng. Title: Stray Dog] aims to be a study of disillusionment and alienation among urban youth, but strays off course for too long while failing to make the detour any interesting.

Unemployed Ciro (Júlio Andrade) is going through depression, and also seems to be suffering from an unknown illness. He wants to be a writer, but settles for the occasional translation work that he could get. His companion is a stray dog he'd picked up from the streets, and his only friend is a janitor whose paintings he's fascinated with. Into his dull life will arrive the young and vivacious Marcela (Tainá Müller) - an aspiring model hoping to make it in Barcelona. It's hard to gather what Marcela sees in Ciro, but she loves him passionately even if he hardly reciprocates with the same intensity - sometimes we get the impression that he'd have preferred her not falling in love with him. This will change when Marcela leaves him to receive treatment for a dangerous form of cancer that he never knew she had. Whilst living alone and fixing his parents' property, he descends into alcoholism after failing to locate Marcela's whereabouts. Upon overdosing on one occasion, his parents arrive on time for rescue, and take him back to live with them. Ciro recovers, and begins to learn living like a proper grown up...

This film could easily have been made a whole lot more better - there is after all something there to explore, but while there is the odd glimpse of Beto Brant's undoubted ability, it is far too sporadic to be of any interest. Many scenes are faded off even before they come to a logical end - it may have been intentional, but it ends up resembling flashes of memory from someone who had lost interest in it halfway and moves on to something else. Ciro is also not the most inspiring character I'd met in a film, and the only thing we look forward to is for his scene to end. I guess even fine directors are entitled to the occasional dud, if only to cleanse their system of mediocrity that tend to accumulate after success.

DVD Order Link
(It's a bizarre, single-layered 2-DVD set - all that the second DVD contains is a MP4 version for mobile devices and the Making-Of documentary)


The Nudity: Tainá Müller and Júlio Andrade
One thing Beto Brant has to be applauded for is his uncanny ability to unearth stunning leading ladies for his films. Gorgeous Tainá Müller makes her début here, and also bags a couple of awards for a very commendable performance. She appears nude alongside Andrade in three scenes, one of which is also surprisingly 'hands-on' - you'll know what I mean when you see it.

Tainá Müller and Júlio Andrade nude in Cão Sem Dono


Friday, 29 November 2013

A review: Late Marriage aka Hatuna Meuheret [2001 Israel, France]

Writer-director Dover Koshashvili's impressive début feature, "Mariage tardif" [Orig. Title: Hatuna Meuheret, Eng. Title: Late Marriage] is a bitter-sweet satirical comedy that doesn't flinch in laying bare the consequences of staunchly held traditional values colliding with modern aspirations within an Israeli family. Shot in Hebrew and Georgian, the film's vague relevance for this site can only be justified through its co-production by France.

Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), a thirty one year old bachelor is forced to make a choice between the two women he loves - Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a thirty three year old divorcee and single mother, and his mum Lili (Lili Koshashvili - the director's own mother), who is vehemently opposed to their union. In Lili's eyes, Judith had lost her right to become part of her family by failing to meet some critical requisites - her son's wife should be younger than him, she should never have been married before, and preferably still be a virgin, let alone be a mother to a child through someone else. Zaza is still studying - doing a doctorate at a Tel Aviv university, and utterly reliant on his parents' stipend. Aware of the obvious benefits of keeping them in good humour, at least until he finishes his studies, Zaza accompanies them to meet various 'approved' matches, without the slightest intention of picking one.

While Judith is all too aware of Zaza's dependence on his parents, the challenge of maintaining their relationship will be made shockingly clear when his parents, after discovering their affair, visit and threaten her with physical harm not only in front of her child, but an embarrassed Zaza as well. Despite his righteous protests, the damage has been done - his untenable position has been glaringly exposed. Now it all depends on how he responds, and how Judith interprets his response...

The above plot, which in itself isn't any different from many family-driven melodramas in the middle east and beyond, nevertheless is radically different through its treatment - the bywords are logic and realism. In closed communities like the one portrayed, family honour and prestige are more important than personal choices and fulfilment - defended using violence if necessary. Koshashvili treads a fine line here - he doesn't dismiss the traditional way outright, but makes an impassioned plea for a better understanding of a more cosmopolitan generation with slightly different moral values.

The insightful characterisation, possibly drawn from Koshashvili 's personal experiences, will resonate with audiences beyond the community it represents - even if they may be exaggerated versions of people we may know, they're not caricatures drawn to merely induce laughs or scorns. One of the pivotal sequences in the film is an extremely intimate sex scene between Zaza and Judith which establishes the closeness of their relationship - it is disarmingly honest, and as far as can be from pornography or conventional film erotica. The scene reminds us of our own selves, and enable us to connect with the protagonists at a very personal level. The camera captures every nuance and detail of the couple's interactions, who are completely comfortable being naked in each other's presence. The same honesty is also shown when portraying the ruthlessness of Zaza's parents in separating what they take for a mismatched couple. But they're not unidimensional as to be neatly categorised as good or evil - they also care for their son and truly believe that they're doing him a favour for which he'll one day only thank them.

Ronit Elkabetz is sensational as the fiery and intelligent Judith - not only is she a great actress, she's a knock-out babe too, made plain despite the rather mediocre image transfer in my New Yorker NTSC DVD. The film questions aspects of age old traditions that are incompatible with modern living using irony and wit. Unlike Monsoon Wedding, a film that came out the same year and also delves into arranged marriages, Late Marriage casts an altogether critical view on the subject. The final scenes, including the conversation between a drunk Zaza and his father in the toilet, are outrageous and merciless in its satire. It is a film that everyone in, or about to enter a long term relationship, should see - Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles
(I haven't seen this recent DVD edition, but I suspect the quality should be way better than my older NTSC copy)


The Nudity: Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi
There's just a single scene in the film that contains nudity, but it is long, and important to the narrative, when Zaza spends a night in Judith's apartment. They talk, have sex, pause, joke, and start again - made using takes lasting over a minute each, it is one of the more realistic portrayals in film, of sex within a normal relationship. They don't go about the business like porn stars, they don't 'perform' like actors in many other films, they just do it like us, and talk nothings into each other's ear like we do, and it establishes their closeness and affection admirably. It's a scene also made special through genuine chemistry between Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi. People who moan about nudity in films should particularly watch this scene in its entirety. If they're honest with themselves, they'll realise that the scene, filmed in any other way, will never come as close to revealing the depth of the couple's relationship.

Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi nude in the sex scene from Mariage tardif aka Hatuna Meuheret aka Late Marriage


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A review: "La condanna" [1991 Italy]

Marco Bellocchio throws the cat among the pigeons in his courtroom drama "La condanna" [Eng. Title: The Conviction] by pitting the legal interpretation of consensual sex against the dynamics of sexual politics.

"Does the female expect the male to take the initiative and prepare her for sex?" "At what point does an act of sex become rape even when there is no violence involved?" "Is it necessary to surrender oneself to the moment in order to enjoy sex?" Just when we thought these age-old questions have already been put to rest, Bellocchio raises them again in his inimitable style in the above film, and while the topic and its tone look visibly dated from the time when it was made, the reason I'm writing about it is because it's a clever piece of filmmaking where the director elegantly suffuses realism with symbolism. He builds up his arguments using the following premise:

During a visit to the Castello Farnese museum, art student Sandra gets separated from her colleagues, and finds herself locked-in for the night after going in search of her lost house-keys. After assuming that she has the place all to herself for the night, she'll be surprised and disturbed when a middle-aged man appears from the darkened corridors. Lorenzo (Vittorio Mezzogiorno, father of the actress Giovanna) is a sophisticated and well-informed architect, but his approach to Sandra is overbearingly sexual, and his advances, Sandra will find either unwilling or unable to resist. They have sex several times between their arty conversations and each time, it is Lorenzo who stokes Sandra's desire for sex, without using force or violence. They both appear to enjoy their unexpected union, and Lorenzo is even convinced that she had experienced orgasm.

But they will soon face each other in court, after Sandra accuses him of sexual assault. Apparently Lorenzo had the keys to the museum all the time, and if he had wanted to, they could have either avoided the uneasy sexual encounter, or together exercised free will in their choice to have sex. But he chooses not to inform Sandra about the keys until the following morning - he felt there was no need to divulge information that was not asked for. Lorenzo makes a spirited defence of his noble intentions using arguments that cannot be supported with evidence, but will nevertheless provide food for thought for the jury and audience.

Prosecuting the case is Giovanni (Andrzej Seweryn), himself having issues with girlfriend Monica (Grazyna Szapolowska) when it comes to sex - she's unhappy with his non-spontaneity, and similarly equates his sexual foreplay to rape, in his desire to control and choreograph proceedings. A dilemma is presented when Giovanni tries to do the right thing according to law but is confronted, at home and through an encounter elsewhere, by factors that paint a more complex picture in sexual relationships, that can be theorised but not scientifically explained.

There are few directors like Bellocchio who can eloquently put forward a controversial viewpoint without resorting to sensationalism. In the film, he appears to be in total control of each frame captured, and every nuance from the characters. The pivotal 'rape' scene is done using a single take, and shown from a detached perspective, where there is no dialogue, and the only attempt at narrative are the characters' exaggerated body movements - like in performance art, leaving the audience to interpret as they see it. The editing is seamless and almost invisible when they happen, and the cinematography is a treat. Despite the fine performances from all the main cast, Polish actress and Krzysztof Kieslowski-regular Grazyna Szapolowska's easily stands out from the rest. Controversial, challenging, and intriguing as ever, this is also a thought-provoking film from Marco Bellocchio that's Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles


The Nudity: Claire Nebout, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Grazyna Szapolowska, Andrzej Seweryn, and Maria Sneider
There are brief flashes of nudity from Claire Nebout in the aforementioned scene that gives the film its purpose - Sandra and Lorenzo indulge in sex while staying clothed for the most part - it is a single six minute long take. This is followed by another extended scene where Sandra reclines in a nude pose reminiscent of Goya's La maja desnuda. There is rear nudity from Vittorio Mezzogiorno as his character describes Sandra as a work of art waiting to be given life (in a monologue that'll draw comparison of his forthcoming act of rape to a child being born, whereby a picturesque but static beauty such as her will finally breathe 'emotion' and attain purpose). There is also nudity from Andrzej Seweryn and Grazyna Szapolowska during a post-coital scene. There's fleeting nudity from Maria Sneider (not Maria Schneider as IMDB and everyone else seem to claim), as a peasant woman drinking water from a spring.

Claire Nebout, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Grazyna Szapolowska, Andrzej Seweryn, and Maria Sneider nude in La condanna aka The Conviction


Sunday, 24 November 2013

A review: "I Ypografi" [2011 Greece]

Stelios Haralambopoulos' romantic mystery-melodrama "I Ypografi" [Eng. Title: The Signature] is one of those hard-to-categorise films that's also extremely difficult to write about without giving away the plot - the reason why this review is also going to be brief. Set in the art world, the moving love story is a murder mystery kept alive until the end.

Anna (Alexia Kaltsiki) is an art historian organising a retrospective of famous artist Maria Dimou (Maria Protopappa) who's no longer alive, and contacts a living close friend of hers - an old and ailing graphic artist named Angelos (Georges Corraface) to gather further details on Maria's life and work. Circumstances surrounding Maria's death have been shrouded in mystery, and Anna would like to glean as much information as possible from the person who had known her intimately since the late sixties. By coincidence, she discovers that Angelos has kept far more works of Maria than initially thought, and does a bit of sleuthing with authorities for more information on Angelos and Maria's relationship. It will transpire that the two were deeply in love even after they had supposedly split, and Angelos has been privy to every work that Maria had ever produced during her lifetime. It will also pose a moral dilemma for Anna in deciding to exhibit the hitherto unseen works of Maria...

Haralambopoulos shifts tone between a tragic love story and murder mystery using intermittent flashbacks that transition almost seamlessly - confusing if the viewer isn't alert. There is also plenty of detail that'll be overlooked if one doesn't pay attention. The performances of all the main cast are competent despite a suspect screenplay and/or poor subtitle translation - one is required to apply imagination to capture some of its nuances. Despite these minor misgivings, it is a moving and tragic love story surrounding a mystery that will retain audience interest until the very end. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Maria Protopappa and Georges Corraface
Maria Protopappa appears nude in three scenes, and George Corraface in one. The first is of Angelos finishing the painting of a Maria sleeping in the nude - she's very impressed and demands to see the rest of his work. The second is a sensual love-making scene between the two as they improvise with available ingredients in the kitchen, including honey. The third is of Angelos and Maria celebrating a successful show which they hope will be their last - Angelos paints on Maria's face, and they get intimate for a while.

Maria Protopappa and Georges Corraface nude in I Ypografi aka The Signature.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Gaby Hoffmann in "Crystal Fairy" [2013 Chile]

Sebastián Silva's English language feature "Crystal Fiary" [Full Title: Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, and 2012] is a character study of two American tourists in Chile with very different outlooks. I had seen only one other film from the director and was quite impressed by it (Nana), and was naturally curious to watch this, also because it's co-produced by Pablo Larrain, another promising Chilean filmmaker.

Jamie (Michael Cera), an American tourist visiting Chile with the main purpose of getting stoned with mescaline cooked from a local cactus plant named San Pedro, attends a house party with Chilean friends Champa, Lel, and Pilo (played by director Silva's own brothers - Juan Andrés, José Miguel and Agustín). He invites a young woman dancing wildly there, a fellow American named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann, the little girl from Field of Dreams and daughter of actress Viva - an Andy Warhol regular), to join them on a trip that he and his friends are about to undertake the following day, which is to find and procure the fabled cactus. Jamie regrets inviting her the next day and silently hopes that she had forgotten about his offer. But she doesn't, and calls to inform him that she's on her way to join them at the planned meeting point. Jamie suggests they ignore and leave her waiting, but Champa disagrees and they collect her on their way.

Boorish Jamie couldn't be any more different from the free-spirited Crystal, and the film spends considerable runtime developing their respective characters admirably. While Jamie comes across as a complete prat - he is selfish, uptight, and insensitive with scant regard for others, Crystal Fairy is the colourfully eccentric, imposing and yet well-meaning new-age hippie type, carefree in both mind and body. She also takes pride in the new nickname they'd given her - Crystal Hairy, after casually walking naked on the boys after a shower. The three brothers are the normal ones among the group, bemused and entertained by their guests' peculiarities for the most part, and occasionally telling off Jamie for his barely concealed animosity towards Crystal Fairy.

The final stage of the film is set on a beach, after they (Jamie) manage to steal a slice of cactus from a local woman's garden. The hallucinogen is extracted by cooking the cactus, and all barring the youngest sibling partake the drug and have a trippy time. When Jamie gets nastier than usual with Crystal, she leaves the group and wanders off alone for a psychedelic adventure of her own, and momentarily also gets lost. It is her disappearance that'll allow Jamie to reflect and realise how mean he'd been to her. A reconciliation and opening-up of sorts happens when they all reunite...

The film is an interesting character study of two contrasting individuals that many of us may have come across in our own experiences. The three brothers are nothing more than a reference point of 'normality' for the two protagonists. Well directed for a large part, my only problem with the film is the final few minutes, which was either unnecessary, or could have been executed differently - Jamie's change of heart is unconvincing, and some of Crystal Fairy's secret past needn't have been dragged into the picture.

It is nevertheless very well performed by the two main actors. I have never seen Michael Cera's work before, but he makes us truly hate his character here, not by merely acting cruel, but by letting his character believe in his own thoughts and actions - people like Jamie tend to believe that they're nice and always on the right. Gaby Hoffmann on the other hand, is a total blast, completely becoming the bohemian chick that she must've been used to seeing while growing up in the Hotel Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. It is refreshing to see such talents like her still available for independent cinema in USA.

Gaby Hoffmann

Apparently they even partook mescaline in the film for real, and the trippy sequences were them in their stoned state according to an interview in The New York Observer. In the article, she also confides in her naturally-hairy appearance ("working a 70's vibe", as an enchanting Hollywood star also recently admitted). In any case, this film certainly emanates a friendly vibe that can be enjoyed by anyone used to something other than present-day Hollywood, and is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Gaby Hoffmann
Ms. Hoffmann appears nude in at least three scenes - two of which include full frontal nudity and are also fairly long (don't see that often these days, do we!). The first of the two is also the funniest, when her character emerges after a shower to engage in conversation and drink, stark naked, with four gob-smacked guys in the room. The second is Crystal Fairy's separate trippy self-discovery/adventure amidst rocks and scattered shells (and a dead rabbit that simply wouldn't be revived :-( ). She later forgets where she left her clothes and walks back in the nude, until a passing archaeologist restores her modesty. That's a weird chick having a weird trip alright! Incredibly sweet nevertheless..!

Gaby Hoffmann totally nude in  Crystal Fairy


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Glasnost-borne satire: Gorod Zero

Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka in Karen Shakhnazarov's surreal dark comedy "Gorod Zero" [Eng. Title: City Zero] - a biting satire on a Soviet system resolutely chained to inertia and bureaucracy against the blowing winds of change.

The film begins with Aleksei (Leonid Filatov) - a Moscow factory representative, arriving at a station in a remote town for meeting the chief (Armen Dzhigarkhanyan) of an air conditioner manufacturing unit. Right from the time he needed to re-apply for a visitor permit, things don't go according to plan for Alexei. He enters the office to find the chief's young and pretty secretary sitting behind a typewriter, stark naked, and going about her business in the most normal manner, whilst staff walking past her barely take notice. During the meeting with the chief, Aleksei states that he had already sent in relevant instructions for changes required to products that they're buying. When the chief tries to summon the chief engineer to discuss the issue, he's informed that the engineer had died eight months ago, and that they don't have a replacement yet.

With the meeting rescheduled for two weeks later, Aleksei decides to stop at a restaurant for dinner before taking the train back to Moscow. But after the meal he's offered a dessert that he hadn't ordered, which upon inspection would reveal a cake made in the shape of his own head. When he refuses the offering, the waiter pleads him to accept lest he break the chef's heart - he'd after all made it especially for him. As Aleksei turns to leave without partaking the dessert, he hears a gunshot and looks back, to see the chef collapsing to the floor holding a gun on one hand, and clutching his blood-stained chest on the other.

This is just the start of a very long day for Aleksei, who will henceforth find it impossible to leave or escape town, and will be called in for questioning by the police officer investigating the chef's apparent suicide. The railway station won't sell rail tickets, and roads from town will lead to dead-ends. Every character he meets from then on, will one way or the other thwart his attempts at escape. Before long, Aleksei will find himself lost and confused in a world gone crazy around him.

Shakhnazarov revels in critiquing opposing factions within the Soviet system - those wanting change and those that don't - using Aleksei's Kafkaesque nightmare and the absurd goings on. The film is as much a symbol of the new openness of the late eighties in erstwhile USSR as it is a sign of things to come, where regional nationalism sits uneasily alongside a collective identity, where bureaucracy bridled with inefficiency is the ignored elephant in the room, and where systematic propaganda makes it impossible to separate fact from fiction. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [NTSC] | DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles


The Nudity: Yelena Arzhanik
Yelena Arzhanik plays the naked secretary with a perfectly straight face while ushering Aleksei to the chief's office. The scene is hilarious, more so after we see the chief becoming aware of her nakedness only through Aleksei, but who regardless sets it aside and resumes talking business.

Yelena Arzhanik nude in Gorod Zero aka City Zero


Sunday, 17 November 2013

The rebirth of classic-giallo: "Tulpa" [2012 Italy]

Pop-musician and film-maker Federico Zampaglione has succeeded in making a full-blooded giallo in the classic tradition of Fulci and Argento with his latest horror-thriller, "Tulpa - Perdizioni mortali" [Eng. Title: Tulpa] - it comes complete with the Fedora hat and trench coat-clad masked killer, not to mention the trademark black leather gloves. But that isn't the only reference the film makes to the genre.

Set in contemporary Italy, Lisa (Claudia Gerini) is a successful businesswoman at a leading financial corporation run by Roccaforte (Michele Placido). Having no time for a normal social life, she unwinds by frequenting a private sex club themed and named after a Tibetan mystic tradition called 'Tulpa'. Each time, after partaking a special concoction from mysterious resident 'guru' Kiran (Nuot Arquint), bisexual Lisa engages in sex with randomly chosen club members, presumably with the aim of reaching a higher state of consciousness or orgasm through her libido.

But her 'tranquil' life will turn a bit stressful after a scandal erupts in the newspapers about the company she works for. At about the same time, Lisa also discovers that someone, either out of spite or disapproval of her lifestyle, is going around viciously murdering the people she had sex with in Tulpa. She will even break a club rule by contacting and warning one of its members. Suspicion falls on everyone associated with the club and her backstabbing work colleagues. Her only friend and bookshop assistant Joanna (Michela Cescon), offers her support. But the body count continue to mount and it is only a matter of time before Lisa too will be forced to confront the killer...

In typical giallo fashion, the film undergoes twists and turns with the intention of keeping audience guessing. The atmosphere in the film is quite remarkable, and the killer too - true to gialli, uses the most elaborate and outlandish methods to do the deed (some ideas are even original). Worth mentioning is a scene where the victim is firmly tied to a carousal before it's switched on, and with every round, the victim's face will be forced to make contact with a strategically positioned coil of barbed wire. The film contains dialogues that were shot originally in English using Italian actors, and dubbed back into Italian later (as during the golden era of giallo, when they really tried hard to reach an American audience). Also, some of the dialogues were amended during post-production - not uncommon either. This film is neither a homage nor a nostalgic look-back at the Italian giallo - it's the genuine article, and for fans of this genre, it obviously has to be Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Claudia Gerini and Crisula Stafida
Claudia Gerini who's also the director's wife in real-life, is as stunning as ever, and more than adequately fills the role of Lisa - a high-powered woman with strong sexual appetite. She appears nude in a couple of sex scenes, and also briefly in bed. Crisula Stafida appears nude during the sex scene with Ms. Gerini, and later on in the shower.

Claudia Gerini, Crisula Stafida, and Barbara Lisa Silva naked in Tulpa - Perdizioni mortali


Friday, 15 November 2013

A brief review: "El lado oscuro del corazón 2" [Argentina, Spain 2001]

Eliseo Subiela follows-up on the romantic drama he made a decade earlier with a sequel - "El lado oscuro del corazón 2" [Eng. Title: The Dark Side of the Heart 2]. He catches up with the same protagonist after ten years - Oliverio (played by a same, ten year older Darío Grandinetti), searching yet again for a woman who can 'fly', after the one he had who did - Ana (Sandra Ballesteros), takes flight literally to live with her daughter in Spain.

Frustrated at not finding a 'bird' - he could only manage 'amphibians' (Florencia Sabatella) and 'glow-worms' (Carolina Peleritti), Oliverio decides to go looking for Ana in Spain, and catches up with her in Barcelona. They're glad to have found each other, but alas, couldn't get off the ground when it mattered. Apparently they'd been looking back at their relationship rather than forward, 'Time' - in the form of a biker dressed in black reminds him. Oliverio will see the poster of trapeze artist Alejandra (Ariadna Gil) in flight, and falls madly in love. He pursues her through the country and eventually catches up in Sitges with the help of Time's free ride.

Over these years, 'Death' (Nacha Guevara) hasn't given up chasing Oliverio either, relentlessly following him wherever he goes. Since he can't shake her off, he takes her in his stride and even starts treating her as a friend. After meeting a pretty but suicidal Alejandra, Oliverio will discover that the trapeze artist too is stalked by her own bolero-serenading 'Death' (Manuel Bandera). Oliverio has his work cut-out - he'll have figure out a way of cheating his and Alejandra's 'Death', but for that he needs to first win the heart of Alejandra - no easy task under the circumstances...

Subiela continues his esoteric meanderings from the earlier instalment with his typical poetic license to tell yet another love story, elegantly and in a feel-good manner. Non-pretentious while also trying to be artistic, it may be commercial heart-warming cinema, Argentinian-style - but it is still way better than what Hollywood churns out these days. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]
Mine is an anamorphic PAL version that's not in stock at the time of posting.


The Nudity: Florencia Sabatella, Carolina Peleritti, Sandra Ballesteros, and Ariadna Gil
For some reason, the first two names above are spelt differently in IMDB. In any case, the actresses appear briefly nude during their respective scenes as two of Oliverio's exotic catches. Sandra Ballesteros even manages to look sexier than she did ten years earlier during a nude scene, and beautiful Ariadna Gil also appears briefly nude in one scene. There is also a voluptuous actress (uncredited) appearing in Oliverio's dream, after he fails to 'perform' in bed on one occasion.

Florencia Sabatella, Carolina Peleritti, Sandra Ballesteros, and Ariadna Gil nude in El lado oscuro del corazón 2


Saturday, 9 November 2013

A brief review: "Záhrada" [1995 Slovakia]

Made in a newly born Slovakia, Martin Sulík's charming comedy drama "Záhrada" [Eng. Title: The Garden] nods to the Czechoslovak New Wave in no uncertain regard - particularly in its depiction of 'surreal' realism, often seen in works by Vera Chytilová and Juraj Jakubisko, where elements from folklore, mysticism, and religion are freely infused into a narrative otherwise rooted in realism.

It's the story of tailor's son Jakub (Roman Luknár) who's about to start a new job as school teacher. Whiling away in his father's (Marián Labuda) apartment, Jakub has little to occupy himself with before starting work, except fool around with married woman Tereza (Jana Svandová) who happens to be one of his father's valued customers. Promptly ticked off after the father catches him in the act with Tereza (the scene is quite funny), Jakub is despatched to the country, to fix and sell his grandfather's property - a garden with a farmhouse, falling apart since it has not been occupied for a while. That is where he'll meet Helena (Zuzana Sulajová), a beautiful young teenager with magical powers. He'll also be visited by other strange characters, like the shepherd who calls himself Saint Benedict, a bully who'll succeed in exchanging his broken down banger for Jakub's perfectly working car. 'Itchy' Tereza arrives to take him back, but the most frequent visitor will be Helena herself - turning up occasionally with welts all over her legs and back, allegedly caused by her mother. He falls in love with Helena, and will soon have to choose between returning to the city to build a career, and living in the farmhouse with the angelic Helena...

Wonderfully quirky films like these manage to transport you to a different world with their own logic and order. They cannot be analysed any more deeply than a well-written fairy tale. But the film is essentially about love, forgiveness, sacrifice, turning a new leaf, and celebrating life itself. Shot with warm colours, the cinematography is very appealing, and for a comedy, the director has admirably completed his scenes with the least number of shots. They look spontaneous and natural, thanks also to good support from the main cast. Alongside Tuvalu, it is probably the most enchanting film reviewed in the blog to date, and certainly, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Jana Svandová, Roman Luknár, and Zuzana Sulajová
Jana Svandová was in her late forties when she played Tereza in the film, and her role is that of a seductress, spending most of her screen time trying to wrap Jakub around her little finger. There are two scenes of hers in the nude, and the one where they're caught red handed by Jakub's dad is both sexy and funny. Roman Laknár briely appears nude while emerging from a bath. Zuzana Sulajová - she reminds us of a young Ornella Muti, was only seventeen when the film came out. Her nude scene is but a brief flash while changing before getting into bed . The extended scene (unmastered) shows a little bit more of her, because of it being in full-frame - the main film is in widescreen.

Zuzana Sulajová and Zuzana Berkyová nude in Záhrada aka The Garden


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A brief review: "Intimnye mesta" [2013 Russia]

Writer-directors Alexey Chupov and Natasha Merkulova's début feature "Intimnye mesta" [Eng. Title: Intimate Parts] is an amusing observation of the sexual mores and fetishes among a group of urban Russians.

Principal character Ivan (Yuriy Kolokolnikov) - a photographer, is preparing to stage an exhibition of his work in Moscow. His theme - genitals - male and female, in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. His secretary Sveta (Olesya Sudzilovskaya), and Girl-Friday Sayana (Dinara Yankovskaya) are also his lovers, and he shares his time equally between the two. But he also takes on additional sundry lovers when he feels like it, and on one occasion also has a threesome with two sisters. Among his friends are Alexey (Nikita Tarasov) who's lost sexual interest in wife Olga (Ksenia Katalymova), Sergey (played by director Chupov himself) who doesn't want wife Eva (Ekaterina Scheglova) to get pregnant - we'll learn about his closeted homosexuality later, and Boris (Timur Badalbeili), a shrink who Alexey and Sergey also consult from time to time.

Eva discovers she's pregnant but keeps it a secret, and finds herself drawn towards a magician-acquaintance of Sergey's (he too is attracted to the magician). Alexey, hoping to stay faithful to his wife despite loosing interest in her, decides not to look at attractive women again - only at 'ugly' ones instead (his words), but soon finds himself attracted to the latter kind. He even romances and beds Albina (Anastasia Kholodniakova) without any feeling of 'guilt'. Boris meanwhile has his own peculiar fetish which we will see. A top official at the local censor/morality board - Lyudmila (Yuliya Aug) has branded Ivan's work pornographic and pulls out all stops to get his show banned. Well - she too has an stuttering relationship with a battery-operated 'lover'. Her frustrations will eventually force her to seek out one of her staff members - her official driver..! :-)

For a début, both directors give a decent account of themselves. The cinematography is good, and their filming style holds plenty of promise. The characterisation is perhaps one of the film's weaker points, but it's more or less compensated for in the other departments. The comedy drama is quirky, entertaining, and Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Yuriy Kolokolnikov, Aleksandra Ponomareva, Ekaterina Osotova, Ekaterina Scheglova, Nelli Blinova, Olesya Sudzilovskaya, Dinara Yankovskaya, and others
There are brief but intermittent scenes of male and female nudity in the film. Most of the cast members get naked at some point, but their scenes are not intended to titillate. Among them, the ones with substantial roles to play include Yuriy Kolokolnikov, Yuliya Aug, Ekaterina Scheglova, Olesya Sudzilovskaya, and Dinara Yankovskaya.


Montage 1:

Aleksandra Ponomareva, Ekaterina Osotova, Ekaterina Scheglova, Nelli Blinova, Olesya Sudzilovskaya, Dinara Yankovskaya, and others nude in Intimnye_mesta aka Intimate Parts


Montage 2:

Anastasia Kholodniakova, Yuliya Aug, Pavel Yulku, and others nude in "Intimnye mesta" aka "Intimate Parts".