Saturday, 26 January 2013

Chulpan Khamatova in Tuvalu [1999 Germany]

Veit Helmer made quite a splash with his directorial debut "Tuvalu" - because he was actually delivering a love letter to cinema itself.

Set in a crumbling grand old bathhouse on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, youngest son Anton works as an apprentice to his father-owner. There are hardly customers these days, and even those who arrive are too poor to afford the baths, often paying with buttons for entry. But Anton goes out of his way to make his blind father believe that the bathhouse is continuing to do roaring trade. The scheming eldest son Gregor however, is keen to bring it down in order to sell the land for redevelopment. Anton had also been letting homeless people use the baths as a refuge, and it is through them that he meets young Eva and her down-on-luck sailor-dad, after they get evicted from their own dilapidated property. The heart of the bathhouse is an enormous vintage boiler-pump made by 'Imperial', the same manufacturer for the motors used in the non-seaworthy tugboat that Eva's father owns. If only she could find a replacement part for the motor, Eva, along her father, could set off to Tuvalu (to which the film title alludes). Meanwhile Anton had fallen in love with Eva, and it appears the feeling is initially mutual, until Eva's father unexpectedly dies. Eva mistakenly blames Anton for his death, and inadvertently ends up helping Gregor sabotage the bathhouse. Will Anton overcome his agoraphobia to seek and convince Eva of his noble intentions and reiterate his true feelings for her - only time will tell...

This beautiful gem has so many talking points that I'm lost as to where to begin. For a start, the film is stunningly captured in black and white film, and painstakingly tinted in different tones to capture the mood of the scene and location. The sound track is stunning, and barely two dozen mono-syllable (but universally common) words are actually spoken - it is, for all intents and purposes, a silent film. It pays homage to silent-cinema by liberally borrowing some of the iconic motifs from its classics. The pulse of the film however is strongly reminiscent of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's French classic "Delicatessen", even if it is nowhere as dark a plot. With its decaying walls imposing a feel of fading grandeur, its wall and floor tiles incessantly falling off one by one with each rain, Helmer had used a melancholic backdrop against which the most charming of romances between Anton and Eva unfolds.

The film, while not surreal as some tend to think, is allegorical, and almost every scene of the film can be seen and interpreted from a different angle, thanks also to its lack of any discernible dialogues. What is apparent however, is its unabashed celebration of cinema itself. Some of the images will stick with you long after you put the DVD away - including a magnificent underwater scene where Eva (played by the adorable Chulpan Khamatova) is seen playing with her pet goldfish, in the nude. There is brilliant slapstick comedy from Denis Lavant and Terence Gillespie who play Anton and Gregor respectively, a silly romance, and nightmarish drama, all paying homage to one or the other landmark moment from silent cinema. Needless to say, this rare and beautifully-formed gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link


The Nudity: Chulpan Khamatova
There are two scenes that feature nudity from the cute Chulpan Khamatova - the first, at the showers, is charming and funny, while the second is not only charming, but also beautiful, as Eva plays with her pet goldfish in a bowl, inside a swimming pool.

Chulpan Khamatova in Tuvalu


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and others in "Celos" 1999 Spain

Vicente Aranda has never been known to mince words, at least as far as his films were concerned - he relishes exposing dirt from under the carpet, and his drama "Celos" [Eng. Title: Jealousy] is no different - Spanish jealousy (particularly male) is almost a cliché in my neck of the woods, even if it's not particularly a hot topic in Spain.

It all starts when truck driver Antonio discovers an old photograph of Carmen embracing a handsome young man, and wonders if they were once lovers - he's after all about to marry her in a few days. However, despite Carmen's insistence to the contrary, Antonio couldn't let it lie, and goes to extraordinary lengths to determine the man's identity and history. The more he digs the past, stranger the facts emerge, that will threaten his relationship with Carmen and their marriage. Through his obsession, he develops a one-sided relationship with a man he'd never even met, built on half-truths fed by friends - both his and Carmen's. It is now apparent to him that in order to return to normalcy, he'll need to 'erase' from his mind José - the stranger in the photograph, one way or another...

This is my second review of the film, but it merely reinforces the fact that Sr. Aranda needn't particularly worry about it sparking jealousy from other film makers - this is nowhere near the standard of his earlier classics. The biggest problem with the film is its screenplay, which fails to articulate the complex set of emotions and circumstances that leads to jealousy. Antonio's reactions outrageously take leave of common sense, and all his repetitive episodes, without giving tangible reasons for his obsession, only make us loath him. As does the character we're supposed to feel empathy with - Carmen - she desperately tries to convince Antonio of his sexual prowess by exaggerating her orgasms, ostensibly to make him feel less insecure, but it has the opposite effect. The only noteworthy aspect of the film is the performance by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón playing Carmen, who despite her character's limitations, manages to keep us seated. But there are far better films out there that have delved into jealousy - Chabrol's Une Partie de Plaisir is just one example. This film however, is for Vicente Aranda completists only.

Amazon DVD Link
English Subtitle


The Nudity: Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Daniel Giménez Cacho, and Itziar Miranda
As can be expected from Vicente Aranda, this film also features sex and nudity, but alas, they still fail to raise it beyond the mediocre.

Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Daniel Giménez Cacho, and Itziar Miranda in Celos


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Lucia Cara in Lina Wertmüller's "Ninfa Plebea" 1996 Italy

Lina Wertmüller adapts a traditional novel to create the edgy romantic drama "Ninfa Plebea" [Eng. Title: The Nymph]. Set in an impoverished Neapolitan village during wartime Italy, this Cinderella tale of a young girl finding love and advancing her social status is also one of Wertmüller's more crowd-pleasing efforts.

Pretty Miluzza is blossoming into adulthood, and begins to attract attention from everyone in the village - male and female, young and old. A good chunk of the film is devoted to the random groping of her by all and sundry, which she will put up with an air of innocence - she is after all still a child inside her fast changing body. Meanwhile her carefree mother Nunziata takes on lovers right from under her husband's nose - he doesn't particularly approve of the goings on, but still puts up with it out of love - and she loves him back for that. The granddad is philosophical, and everyone is happy, until family members die one after the other, leaving Miluzza an orphan. Thankfully, just as the predators close in on Miluzza, so does the war, and along with it comes her knight in khakis - a wounded young Italian soldier evading advancing Germans. Miluzza nurses Pietro (played by a dashingly handsome Raoul Bova) back to health, and the rest, you can guess...

The story may be straightforward, but Wertmüller, as ever, doesn't give us an easy ride as she taunts us (the males especially) by showing her protagonist as sexually desirable and available, but still a child deep down. Some scenes, like Miluzza tending to the local priest's privately located sores, his implied arousal, and the girl's reaction, are borderline, and would have evoked consternation had it not been a female director filming it. Having said that, these are only explicitly implied - not illustrated, and the priest's reaction mercifully doesn't overstep his oath. Performance-wise, while Stefania Sandrelli gives a fine account of her character as the sexually wanton but caring mother Nunziata, and debutant Lucia Cara competently portrays the adolescent Miluzza, the rest of the cast are fairly wooden in their performances, relying too much on dialogues to carry their character - it doesn't necessarily bring the production down - only fails to make it any more memorable. This may not be a Wertmüller classic, but it is nevertheless marginally entertaining..!

Amazon DVD Link


The Nudity: Lucia Cara and Stefania Sandrelli
The film contains a few scenes of nudity from Lucia Cara who plays the teenage protagonist Miluzza, and brief nudity from Stefania Sandrelli who plays mother Nunziata.

Mucia Cara and Stefania Sandrelli Ninfa Plebea


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Scenes from "A Febre do Rato" [2011 Brazil]

Cláudio Assis is no stranger to controversy - his previous two films, Amarelo Manga and Baixio das Bestas shocked film-goers with its in-your-face imagery and outrageous characterisation. While his latest offering doesn't exactly fall short in its frankness, "A Febre do Rato" [Eng. Title: Rat Fever] is an altogether more celebratory film.

Zizo, a radical and anarchist poet living in a marginal quarter of Recife in the north eastern state of Pernambuco, distributes his social angst-filled thoughts through a publication named Febre do Rato, and spews poetry to anyone who'd listen. Dazed in stupor and having a penchant for older women, Zizo is happy young man with a loyal following among his unconventional friends, until he meets Eneida, a beautiful young woman who inspires but also frustrates him, for her reluctance to agree to sex, even though she's comfortable having fun with others. It becomes apparent that her love for him is more than physical, and his, close to devotional. We also observe the antics of his friends, and how they all form part of the fabric of the city. The film's climax culminates in the centre of the city on independence day, when Zizo performs a demonstration that's stopped by police.

The film is essentially an ode to the city of Recife itself ("a kiss in the mouth", as the director puts it); to liberty, freedom of expression, and inclusiveness. What makes this film a winner is the positive message and heartfelt performances by all the cast and crew, and I mean 'all'. Every one had laid their trust on Assis by giving themselves to the project. Irandhir Santos gives a convincing performance as Zizo, and is ably matched by the rest of the main cast in the film. Besides, almost everyone also appear in the nude at some point, including the veterans. The DVD extras state that they also had a problem with the local police while shooting some public scenes, which was thankfully resolved in an amicable manner.

The black and white cinematography is noteworthy with some impressive tracking shots made from unusual angles, but nothing here is embellished or tarted up. And yet it is fresh and full of vitality - with fine screenplay and characterisation, we learn to love them despite their flaws. The film is also aided by a funky and seductive soundtrack. To add a touch of authenticity, the verses used in the film is from a popular local poet who himself goes by the name of Zizo, also appearing in a cameo. Assis will no doubt have gained wider acceptance through this film, strong imagery notwithstanding. This may be a naughty rat, but it is charming in its own way - Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Purchase Link


The Nudity: Maria Gladys, Mariana Nunes, Victor Araújo, Hugo Gila, Juliano Cazarré, Nanda Costa, Irandhir Santos, Conceição Camaroti, and Tânia Granussi
Well - let's say most of the main cast appear nude at some point in the film.

Maria Gladys, Mariana Nunes, Victor Araújo, Hugo Gila, Juliano Cazarré, Nanda Costa, and Irandhir Santos in A Febre do Rato


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Scenes from “El Lenguaje del Tiempo” [2011 Chile]

Prior to this, I'd seen only one film by Sebastián Araya Serrano - Azul y Blanco, a football-gang themed romance that didn't particularly win me over. However, his experimental film "El Lenguaje del Tiempo" [Eng. Title: The Language of Time] is different, even if I'm yet to become a new fan of Serrano, at least upon first viewing.

Set for its most part in the living room of an apartment, it is an encounter between a man and a woman with a history, seen from different perspectives, or realities. For starters, the man couldn't recollect who she is, but that doesn't stop her from trying to help him out. The psychological drama tries to explore characters through the man's reactions and behaviour after taking away his memory, to perhaps establish the extent to which memories and reference points drive one's identity and character. Thrown amongst the couple are another man, possibly a lover (his or her's), and an adolescent girl- characters that could even be seen as manifestations of the couples' alter ego. At least this much, I gather, is the film's concept, but whether the deconstruction has been successful as a cinematic experiment is open to debate.

Serrano has used a theatrical style to explore his subject, but there are too many aspects of the film that don't work towards the objective. Perhaps it might have worked better as avant garde theatre if spacial references were also removed, focusing purely on the characters and situations - I'm not too sure. There is also not enough in the film to warrant a full-length feature - several scenes are redundant, merely stressing the obvious, and with no discerning contribution from the actor playing the protagonist (Elvis Fuentes) to beef up the characterisation - he appears more like a clueless actor instead of a puzzled and frustrated protagonist, there is perhaps a case for shortening its runtime. I can sympathise with the director's ambition with the film, but it unfortunately doesn't translate into captivating cinema, more like an exercise in tedium. However, it's only fair we get to hear what Serrano is trying to say, and those interested may follow the below link that gives his interpretation of the film project.

Official Website Link


The Nudity: María Jesús Fuentes
There are two scenes in the film that features brief nudity from newcomer María Jesús Fuentes, a young actress who plays the adolescent neighbour, first seen eagerly seducing the protagonist, and later being raped on the street by the other man. There is also some accidental nudity from Tamara Acosta who plays The Woman.

María Jesús Fuentes and Tamara Acosta in El Lenguaje del Tiempo


Saturday, 5 January 2013

Grazyna Szapolowska in "Bez Konca" [1985 Poland]

By the time Krzysztof Kieslowski completed "Bez Konca" [Eng. Title: No End], he was already highly respected among arthouse circles, but his first overtly political film wasn't particularly well received back home. Understandable - considering that Poland was under martial law at the time, busy trying to put down a pesky trade union movement called Solidarity [Solidarnosc].

The storyline isn't quite as important to the film, because its message is clearly what it shows without any comments - namely the quest for love and freedom. It is however conveyed through two parallel story structures - one concerns Urszula, the bereaving widow of a young lawyer. The second, the trial of a Solidarity activist, who was supposed to be defended by Urszula's husband, but whose case Urszula refers to her husband's mentor Labrador, an ageing lawyer who will take it up as his last case before retirement. Urszula's grief for her deceased husband Antek intensifies by the day as she realises she loves him more than she even thought she did, and tries various methods to overcome her loss through work, casual sex, and even hypnosis. Antek's ghost lingers in the forefront of all events happening in the film - it is from his viewpoint that we will see events unfold, bleakly, darkly...

If only Kieslowski had anticipated the part Solidarity will play in the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc, including the Soviet Union, perhaps he might have penned a slightly different script. But as it stands, this unforgiving film will remain one of his bleakest. Masterfully shot and with a haunting signature track, the angst-filled atmosphere is palpable even during its most tender moments, particularly in scenes between Urszula and her young son - it is editing at its superlative best. There is something achingly beautiful about the film despite it requiring more than one viewing for me to tie in some loose ends, especially the trial's outcome which is greeted with a sense of shame by the defendant and family despite his discharge. I shall no doubt be picking up hitherto missed nuances upon further viewings. Grazyna Szapolowska gives a fine performance as grief-struck widow Urszula, and it is her magnetic presence that will stay with you even after the credits roll. This is not only one of Kieslowski's most important works, it is also a film that captures Poland at an important moment in its history - it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [NTSC]
This is a beautiful edition with interesting interviews from Kieslowski's long-term cinematographer Jacek Petrycki and lead actress Grazyna Szapolowska. It also includes Kieslowski's first documentary "Office" made in 1966 as a film student.


The Nudity: Grazyna Szapolowska
The film contains two scenes of nudity, both from the beautiful Grazyna Szapolowska who plays Urszula's character. The first is a love scene with an American who mistakes her for a prostitute, and the second is of her alone in bed, reminiscing her deceased husband.
Grazyna Szapolowska in Bez Konca




Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The idea of togetherness tested in "Tillsammans" [2000 Sweden]

Multifaceted Lukas Moodysson represents a new generation of talented Swedish directors who have been successfully making their voices heard among mainstream audiences, and with an increasingly global appeal. His films often explore evolving societies by pitting idealism against pragmatic necessities, whether it is within a family environment, a community, or as an individual. I will be writing more about him over the days while exploring his impressive filmography.

Moodysson's second feature film "Tillsammans" [Eng. Title: Together] set in the 1970's, explores relationships in an altered environment. After their parents break up after a nasty fight, little Eva and Stefan join mum Elisabeth in moving into maternal uncle Göran's commune. They suddenly find themselves in an unconventional 'family' of disparate new-age-type left wingers aiming for a life of communal togetherness and open relationships. Frowned upon by neighbours and poked fun at school, the children struggle to fit-in, or even make sense of Göran's 'porridge' ideology - namely that individual oat grains find a greater purpose in their lives by being mashed and cooked together, thereby offering nourishment, a sense of well-being, and "becoming something beautiful". But they soldier along regardless and make new friends, who also are alienated from their own environment. However, after their arrival, everyone around them will sooner or later be making some changes to their existing lifestyles and attitude...

Moodyson uses various food-related metaphors to illustrate and compare loneliness against togetherness, which is as relevant today as the period the film is set in. By challenging us to see 'beauty' in the gooey and utterly unappealing porridge, he is poking fun at the communal way of living, which is just as stifling and unappealing on a practical basis - many in the commune shouldn't even be together, whether it is a constantly bickering divorced couple, or the promiscuity-craving wife of Göran. The film also illustrates how the interests of the individual do not necessarily coincide with the collective idea of the commune - as when the children are allowed themselves hot dog treats in a strictly vegetarian house. The film tackles several other topics successfully using comedy, such as sexual experimentation and their resulting tensions, familial conflicts and their resolution, the difference between tolerance and recklessness, and so on.

The star of the film certainly has to be the excellent screenplay and characterisation - consolidating both the all round fine performances and the superior technical aspects of the production. Lukas Moodysson has created a glowingly warm film that not only appeals to a mainstream audience, but also showcases its artistic credentials admirably - "Tillsammans" is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Jessica Liedberg, Ola Rapace, and Anja Lundkvist
The nude scenes happen during some of the more hilarious moments within the film. The first is during a genital showmanship in the kitchen between former married couple - newly lesbian Anna and a cynical Lasse, played by Jessica Liedberg and Ola Rapace (future husband of Noomi) respectively. Anja Lundkvist plays Lena, Göran's recklessly promiscuous wife - she appears nude in two scenes, first with an excuse to console radical house mate Erik, leaving her husband to listen to her lovemaking, and later adding insult to injury by confessing to him that she'd just had her very first orgasm. She appears briefly nude in a second scene as a drunk Lena trying to seduce a young neighbourhood boy who's in love with little Eva.

Jessica Liedberg, Ola Rapace, and Anja Lundkvist in Tillsammans