Saturday, 30 March 2013

Ratcatcher [1999 United Kingdom, France]

Scottish director Lynne Ramsay made an outstanding feature-film debut through the social drama "Ratcatcher". The film won numerous awards including a BAFTA for the most promising newcomer, but Ms. Ramsay was merely following a long tradition of British social realism that dates at least as far back as Charles Dickens, alongside some other fine film makers working today such as Ken Loach, Danny Boyle, and Mike Leigh.

Set in a mid-seventies Glaswegian council estate during a dustmen strike, we watch children kill their time either playing in the nearby polluted canal, bullying whoever they could, or hunting for rats among the piles of garbage that lay unattended for weeks. One day, twelve year old Ryan (Thomas McTaggart) and neighbour James (William Eadie) get into a play-fight by the canal, and Ryan drowns. Young James will find it difficult to cope with the event, reflected through his behaviour towards his parents and sisters henceforth. But despite their frictions, the one thing everyone in his family root and pray for, is to be allotted a council flat in a modern housing estate that's taking shape in the outskirts of the city - everyone wants to escape the squalor of their living conditions. James tags along the older boys who periodically take turns abusing local girl Margaret Anne (Leanne Mullen), a bespectacled girl desperate to be accepted among the group. Even though she's slightly older than him, James strikes up a rapport with her, and possibly even falls in love. He becomes friends with another neighbour, the slightly eccentric Kenny (John Miller), and their friendship is one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak film. The army is finally brought in to clear the rubbish, and some lucky families also begin moving out of the estate, but will there be a similar redemption for James and family...

The film may be a comment on the depravity in inner city council estates, but it also has additional layers. It is a commentary on the politics of the period the film was set against. The promised better life wasn't within reach of everyone, and their fate are likened to that of the lucky-draw through which newer apartments are allotted to families in the film. It is also a beautiful observation of children growing up in less than ideal surroundings, and it is refreshing too because it is from a woman's viewpoint.

Behind the grime and the slum-like surroundings, we see not only people's little flaws, but their spirit and kindness too - nothing is black and white as it may appear from afar, and this is where the film triumphs. The characterisation and dialogues are remarkably thoughtful and well conceived for a young director making her feature-film debut. It must have been daunting for Ms. Ramsay to live up to the huge expectations after its critical success, but to her credit and our joy, has continued to make several insightful and unique films since. I couldn't help sharing a brief scene as imagined by James, when Kenny releases his pet mouse Snowball in the direction of the moon by tying it to a balloon. The scene lightens the sombre mood during an otherwise important passage of play...

[stream flv= img= embed=false share=false width=640 height=360 dock=true controlbar=over bandwidth=high autostart=false /]

Performance-wise, all the main cast are universally convincing, despite the fact that several of them are not professional actors. Like young Kenny (John Miller), one of my favourite characters in the film who lightens up proceedings with some dry but unintentional humour. Ms. Ramsay's daughter performs in the film too, as James' little sister Anne Marie. This is a British film classic, it is 'real', and Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]
This Criterion DVD is my recommendation, not only for its transfer, but the extras, including the director's engaging interview, and her three short films made earlier.


The Nudity: Leanne Mullen
There is candid scene in which James joins Margaret Anne in the bath after grooming her hair, a scene that's also discussed by the director during the DVD interview.

Leanne Mullen in Ratcatcher


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Todo es Silencio [2012 Spain]

I haven't seen that many films by Spanish director José Luis Cuerda, and therefore not best placed to offer any useful criticism of his work. But I can safely claim that his latest film "Todo es silencio" [Eng. Title: All is Silence], is nowhere as accomplished as the only other film of his that I've seen to date (El bosque animado).

Set in a Galician seaside town, it is a crime drama whose timeline is made of two distinct parts placed twenty years apart. In 1969, childhood friends Fins, Brinco, and Leda discover that their idyllic town is riddled with crime after stumbling upon a hidden cache of smuggled goods belonging to local kingpin Mariscal (Juan Diego). Fins and Leda kinda love each other but Fins leaves town after his fisherman-father dies in an accident. Twenty years on, he returns to his native town not as much to connect with his roots, but to investigate the crime ring run by the very same Mariscal, who by now has progressed into arms and drug trafficking. Things have changed among his friends too - Fins (Quim Gutiérrez), now working for the Spanish equivalent of the FBI, finds himself confronted with the fact that his childhood friends Brinco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and Leda (Celia Freijeiro) are now not only married to each other, but also on the payroll of Mariscal. The rest of the film is essentially about Fins trying to come to terms with ground realities, and hoping to bring Mariscal to book.

I'll keep the critical review brief because there are hardly any positives to write about this film. Its screenplay is mediocre, and the characterisation not only lacks depth but is replete with clichés to the extent that I even half expected the villain (Mariscal) to break into an evil laugh any time. They invariably affect other aspects of the film, and instead of the promised firecracker of a drama, we end up gazing at a silent dud..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Paula Semikozova, Rubén Prieto, Celia Freijeiro, and Andrea Mulhova
Brief nude scenes include one where children watch a nudist couple by the beach. There is an unintended flash from lead actress Celia Freijeiro who plays Leda, and more female nudity when Brinco takes a prostitute to bed.

Paula Semikozova, Rubén Prieto, Celia Freijeiro, and Andrea Mulhova in Todo es silencio


Monday, 25 March 2013

Selling dreams of stardom to masses - L'uomo delle stelle [1995 Italy]

After Cinema Paradiso - one the greatest films ever made about the magic of cinema - Giuseppe Tornatore not only returns to the topic and his beloved Sicily in the achingly beautiful drama "L’uomo delle stele" [Eng. Title: The Star Maker], he also extends the canvas of the film substantially with insightful observations of a society in the 1940s, emerging from poverty and war. Delicately entwined within its framework is also a poignant love story.

Mainland Italian Joe Morelli travels the Sicilian countryside offering to conduct screen tests for a fee, and encourages everyone to have a shot at stardom. Unaware that he is a fraudster, people from all walks of life pay up for a chance to make it in films, and in the process pour open their hearts and trust to the camera that they dare not to anyone else. But Morelli isn't the least interested in what they have to say. He is unwilling to get engaged with locals beyond the monetary transaction they entail, even if some of their candid thoughts are crying out to be heard. He simply refuses to ‘see’.

This is until he meets Beata, a young orphan girl from the convent who attends a screen test, and falls in love with him despite his discouragement. Unfortunately, by the time he begins to love her in return, his past misdemeanours catch up with him, and after a series of misfortunes, ends up serving time. Released after two years, a defeated and world-weary Morelli goes in search of Beata, to hopefully try and rebuild his life…

Tornatore has constructed the film in the uniquely Italian tradition of Commedia all’italiana where humour is infused into the narrative to deliver a social message, and The Star Maker is replete with messages; about cinema, dreams, corruption and exploitation, love, and above all, Sicily itself. The film is his love letter to a region and its people that he obviously holds dear - one he will revisit on numerous other occasions in his illustrious filmography. The Star Maker is nevertheless resolutely non-sentimental, refusing to indulge in any kind of idealism and rhetoric. There are no wise voices like that of Philippe Noiret in Cinema Paradiso, no redemption for the protagonist, and no conveniently resolved endings.

What it does, however, is lovingly capture a Sicily trying to dust off the ravages of war and find utterance, like the protagonist himself after his misfortune, or like the shell-shocked Spanish civil war veteran in one of the brilliant passages of play when he finally speaks to the camera rather than another human being after many years of silence – a scene movingly portrayed by Leopoldo Trieste. It also shows a Sicily on the cusp of change, where Morelli’s presence unwittingly becomes a catalyst by allowing people to dream, and to act - for better or for worse. The film is essentially a morality tale, and it also compares Morelli’s unscrupulous livelihood of exploiting people and their dreams to the commercialisation of cinema itself.

While there may be similarities between The Star Maker and Cinema Paradiso in terms of capturing cinema’s magic and its impact on ordinary people’s lives during post-war Sicily, the focus is invariably different. If Cinema Paradiso is more personal and draws on Tornatore’s own childhood, The Star Maker is altogether ambitious by attempting a sociological snapshot of Sicily when Italian cinema was its most glorious - the peak of Italian Neorealism during which there was a trend of using non-actors in its social dramas, a trend that also inspired budding master filmmakers around the world, from Ingmar Bergman to Satyajit Ray. Yet, not too long ago, Italy used to be seduced by star-studded extravaganzas from Hollywood, and the allure of stardom had already become embedded in its people’s psyche.

The irony is amusingly illustrated through Morelli’s preferred choice of dialogues for the screen tests – Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler interpretations from the American Civil War epic Gone with the Wind. That the locals give wildly offbeat renditions of the demanded dialogue, and in some cases cannot remember the lines altogether, and proceed to talk about themselves instead, shows the effect neorealism itself was beginning to make on ordinary people – for they too could now dream of being ‘discovered’ by the likes of Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio De Sica. And Morelli’s van, plastered with star photographs and film paraphernalia, becomes their own vehicle to stardom, as is illustrated when Beata actually attempts to stowaway by hiding in it.

Sergio Castallitto is magnificent as the protagonist Joe Morelli in bringing forth his character’s humanity, who connects with the local people despite the motives, who refuses to take advantage of a star struck teenager, even if she has the propensity to shed clothes in order to win favours – as someone who tries to be ‘good’ despite his indifferent profession. The film is also stacked with technical and artistic merit; the breathtaking cinematography by Dante Spinotti with its intricate tracking shots, the painstaking lighting and choice of locations, the exquisite production design by Francesco Bonzi, the haunting soundtrack by Tornatore-regular Ennio Morricone, the imaginative editing, and not least Tornatore’s directorial eye. Short listed for Oscar and numerous other awards, this is a film that oozes class, and its reputation is richly deserved.

A morality tale, but also an affecting portrait of a post-war Sicily undergoing change, Italian auteur Giuseppe Tornatore follows up on the brilliant Cinema Paradiso with another equally captivating drama showcasing his love for cinema and the country he hails from. This is a must-see for anyone who loves pure cinema and expects European filmmaking at its finest.


One of the wonders of the invention of cinema, is that for the first time in human history, ordinary people could dare to dream of achieving stardom. A gifted few achieve fame as painters, poets, playwrights, or scientists. But whether they're talented or not, rich or poor, and handsome or ordinary, cinema gives them all an opportunity to become recognisable celebrities overnight - all that's required was for them to be 'discovered'.

In a sense egalitarian, but quite fickle in real terms, the true nature of cinema - both as a medium and an industry, is captured quite magnificently by Tornatore in L'uomo delle stelle - it is a screenplay and characterisation of the highest calibre. Sometimes, I'm glad that the director takes his time between projects - perhaps it is because of this that every one of his films turn out to be such remarkable masterpieces, full of insight and technical brilliance. This is a favourite gem from one of my favourite directors - needless to say, it is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]
Optional English Subtitles


The Nudity: Clelia Rondinella and Tiziana Lodato
The film also features some memorable nude scenes, notably by a young Tiziana Lodato who plays Beata - when she tries to make some quick cash to pay for Joe's screen test, and when trying to bribe Joe into taking her with him, and finally when she loses her virginity to Joe. There is also nudity from Clelia Rondinella, who plays a mother offering to trade favours with Joe for her daughter's screen test.

Clelia Rondinella and Tiziana Lodato in L'uomo delle stelle


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Identifying one's Morality and Sin, "Joven y alocada" [2012 Chile]

Young Chilean director Marialy Riva spars with religion and ingrained attitudes towards sex in her country through the drama "Joven y alocada" [Eng. Title: Young and Wild].

Narrated through a precocious teenager's astonishingly detailed blog entries, we follow the sexual and spiritual exploits of seventeen year old Daniela (Alicia Rodríguez), daughter of well-to-do evangelical parents in urban Chile. Daniela's mother (Aline Küppenheim) watches over her zealously to prevent any hanky-panky, but Daniela, in deference to her innocent looks, has been sexually active from a very early age, and of late has even been experimenting with threesomes. After one indiscretion too many, she's dismissed from school, and the furious mother punitively takes away Daniela's privileges and forces her to intern at an evangelical TV station, hoping that'll keep her off the thought of sex. However, Daniela will get to meet a colleague Tomás (Felipe Pinto), and will embark on a tentative relationship, which will grudgingly be accepted by her mother, thanks to intervention by Daniela's terminally ill aunt (Ingrid Isensee). Daniela also makes friends with Antonia (María Gracia Omegna) - the niece of the TV station's owner, and before long, they become lovers. There is high drama when Tomás and the mother learn about Daniela's lesbian affair through the very blog she's maintaining. And in between all this, Daniela will want to get formally baptised...

The film highlights the hypocrisy among the older generation who force-feed youngsters with religious dogma to further their own agenda. In trying to depict the damage done to youngsters' self esteem and their own spiritual growth, it criticises a church system that hasn't succeeded in making itself relevant to the modern world. Heavy stuff - all this, but I couldn't help feeling that Ms. Riva may have taken on more than can be accomplished given the scope of the screenplay, which is unravelled mostly through Daniela, whose level of insight is no greater than your average teenager. Because it is hard for someone like me to see this from a Chilean or Latin American perspective, I'll have to take it the way I see it. And this is it - if the film is aiming to address the grown-ups, I'd be surprised if it succeeded at all - themes in the film have been tackled forcefully and even more convincingly before by European directors such Maurice Pialat.

The film also aims to explore an adolescent trying to make sense of her hormonal urges, but it doesn't get down and dirty a la Catherine Breillat, relying instead on the temerity of the protagonist's frankness in her voice-over narration. There is also a problem with the characterisation, which as is so often the case, reflected through mediocre performances. Perhaps I might have missed a nuance or two in the translation or the Chilean accent, but that shouldn't have impacted the film as heavily as this does. However, I'll have to give the benefit of the doubt to Ms. Riva for making an honest attempt at a rather ambitious undertaking. Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Alicia Luz Rodríguez with María Gracia Omegna, and Felipe Pinto
There are several instances of nudity and depiction of sexual acts in the film - mostly tame, apart from some stylised stock footage used that show explicit sex. Alicia Rodríguez, María Gracia Omegna, and Felipe Pinto appear nude during some of the scenes.

Alicia Rodríguez, María Gracia Omegna, and Felipe Pinto in


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Amparo Muñoz in “Mamá cumple 100 años” [1979 Spain]

Few can claim to have helped showcase Flamenco - the quintessentially Spanish music and dance form, to a global audience as successfully as Carlos Saura. One of Spain's favourite directors (and mine too), Sr. Saura is a traditionalist - liberally perusing various cultural motifs and art forms to tell a story, as has always been the case for centuries before cinema. But his films nevertheless, even the literary adaptations, are often social allegories - made necessary thanks to prevailing politics and restrictions. He also has a passion for performance arts seldom seen in cinema, plainly evident while watching an entire narrative flowing like a stage play, musical ballet, or a workshop even. He will however be most remembered outside of Spain for his famed Flamenco Trilogy (comprising the magnificent Bodas de Sangre, the BAFTA-winning Carmen, and the fascinating portrait of gypsy culture in El Amor Brujo).

His Oscar-nominated comedy drama "Mamá cumple 100 años" [Eng. Title: Mama Turns 100] cleverly borrows characters from an earlier film (Ana y los Lobos) and continues with their story as if it were some kind of sequel, but presents a different message altogether through allegory. It was made during the Destape years - a loose Spanish equivalent to the Soviet Glasnost - a period preceding and following dictator Franco's death.

Englishwoman Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) is invited for a party by a family she worked for several years ago - she was their children's nanny. The children are young ladies now, and the family matriarch (Rafaela Aparicio), on the eve of her centenary, wants to make sure everyone who matter to her are also present. In particular, her trusted Ana, who's now married to Antonio (Norman Briski). Ana had insisted he accompany her, and they arrive to see the family as dysfunctional as ever - the eldest son is now dead, the second son Juan has left his wife Luchy (Charo Soriano) to live with someone younger, and their children whom Ana took care of - Natalia (Amparo Muñoz), Carlota (Angeles Torres), and Victoria (Elisa Nandi) have grown up. The matriarch also seems to share some kind of telepathic bond with Ana and her third son, the still unmarried Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez). It is probably through her special powers that the matriarch catches whiff of a plot by her children to kill her, for the estate that's worth millions. The matriarch doesn't want the property to be sold to developers, and seeks Ana's help in thwarting the murder attempt on her hundredth birthday...

The matriarch stands as an allegory for Spain's age old cultural values and traditions, and her children represent the vain, squandering, rebellious, and lost youth, and I suspect - also the restive regions in Spain that are threatening to secede. Ana is the friendly outsider who has problems of her own to contend with. There are no doubt additional nuances that those brought up in Spain will be able to readily identify with, but even for us outsiders, there is enough to keep our minds occupied in this satire shaped in the form of a gentle comedy. The performances are universally delightful, but a special mention is in order for the beautiful, incredibly talented, but as always ridiculously overlooked Geraldine Chaplin - a true European artiste in every sense of the word, whom Sr. Saura directs impeccably well. Needless to say, this Carlos Saura gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Amparo Muñoz
There may only be brief flashes of nudity in the film, but it is more than compensated for when it happens to be the utterly gorgeous former Miss Spain and Miss Universe Amparo Muñoz. Her recent passing might be woefully untimely and unjust, but this is a great film to remember her by. She appears nude in two scenes - first when the all-grown up Natalia seduces Ana's husband Antonio with some wholly unnecessary 'Maui Wowie', and later while trying on one of her mum's risqué costumes for the birthday party.

Amparo Muñoz in Mamá cumple 100 años


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Reflections on Portuguese History - 'Non', ou A Vã Glória de Mandar [1990 Portugal]

Apart from being the most revered director in Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira must surely also be the granddad among all veterans - he started making films in 1931, and is still going strong at the time of writing. That's one heck of a career in anyone's book, but in a way, he's merely catching up with lost time - there are sporadic gaps in his filmography due to several factors. A centenarian now, Oliveira is as keen as ever - based on the half a dozen films of his that I've seen to date, his more recent films are just as insightful, educative, and demanding of the audience as his earlier pieces. This is quite remarkable, considering that he belongs to the old school of auteur cinema, and like Michelangelo Antonioni and Theo Angleloloulos, influenced strongly by documentary style of film making. But unlike the illustrious names, Oliveira directs actors in typically mainstream fashion - partly due to the fact that his films are expected to bring in audiences if he is to get further projects. He is also not a fan of hand-held stuff or the constantly moving camera - he relies largely on the editing instead to convey any drama.

Oliveira was in his 90's when he made 'Non', ou A Vã Glória de Mandar [Eng. Title: 'No', or the Vain Glory of Command]. As fine a film it is, it is not his best work - for that there are numerous others to choose from - but it is one of the rarest of occasions where he uses nudity in film - and therefore, the blog's most relevant.

The film is told through conversations between an army lieutenant and members of his platoon, set during the last days of colonialism in Africa. A history professor before being drafted into the army, the lieutenant interprets events from their history philosophically, and formulates his theory on their legacy to the world, in terms of civilisation. The narrative threads Portugal's history through its triumphs and tribulations in order to make sense of what it contributed to the world, what it stands for, and the events take place against a backdrop of African guerillas closing in on them. For those interested in Portuguese history, this film is certainly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity:
In the only nude scene in the film (and possibly in any Oliveira film), we see an interpretation of a verse from Portugal's most famous poet, Luís de Camões, eulogising Vasco da Gama's epic voyage that reopened European trade routes to India. They land in an island, and are welcomed with open arms by Venus herself and the resident nymphs. Teresa Menezes plays Venus, but it is the largely uncredited actresses playing the nymphs, who appear in the nude.

Teresa Menezes and others in Non, ou A Vã Glória de Mandar


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Scenes from "Divá Bára" [1949 Czechoslovakia]

Vladimir Cech's quaint little drama from 1949, "Divá Bára" [Eng. Trans: Wild Bara], is for those who love a good ol' fashioned 'black and white' romance now and again. Not the kind that'll well your eyes with tears though - it's just another jolly-good romp in classic Tarzan-and-Jane fashion.

Set around the nineteenth century, the straight-as-an-arrow linear narrative starts with baby Bára (short, for Barbara) born on a stormy night to a shepherd's wife. Her mother's unfortunate death during the delivery marks Bára as an ill omen by the village folk, and some will go as far as to branding her a future witch. The film fast-forwards to a youthful and all grown-up Bára (Vlasta Fialová) who, as if to add fuel to rumours, attracts plenty of attention from young lads in the village for her beauty, athleticism, and boldness - "wild Bára", they called her. And doting mothers went the extra mile to make sure their sons don't fall under her spell. Except the village priest and his niece Eliska, who take Bára under their wing, supporting her in whatever way they can. A handsome ranger falls in love with Bára, which she reciprocates. One day, she gets into trouble among some villagers, after she gets caught while playing a prank - by pretending to be a ghost, in order to dissuade a rich suitor of her friend Eliska from asking her hand. Eliska, after all, is in love with someone about her own age in the city, and had asked for Bára's help in stymieing his marriage proposal. Angry villagers lock her up in the local mortuary which accidentally catches fire, soon getting out of control. The heroic ranger arrives on horseback to rescue Bára in timely fashion, and together they walk away into the sunset.

A film like this should obviously be judged for its entertainment value alone. But it is rather well made, considering its age, and the cinema of the time - it even captures some stunning views of the Czech countryside in the process. There is a quaint air of innocence about the film, which I presume must have been wholeheartedly welcomed at the time - after all, people in the region were living through hell only a few years earlier. At least for the novelty, the film is Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]
Divá Bára English Subtitles - 25 fps
[I compiled it especially for the above DVD as it only comes with Czech subtitles]


The Nudity: Vlasta Fialová
In the only nude scene of the film, Vlasta Fialová, who made her debut playing Bára, has a dip in the lake while lads from the village spy on her. One of them tries to take advantage when she emerges, but instead ends in the water himself.

Vlasta Fialová in Divá Bára


Saturday, 9 March 2013

Catherine Deneuve in "Belle de jour" [1967 France, Italy]

Let's open the great Luis Buñuel's filmography with one of his more recognisable works, "Belle de Jour". His first film in colour is also regarded by many as among the best films of all time. Buñuel's most commercially successful film, apart from being considered as one of the finest cinematic celebrations of 1960's French chic, also created an international star in Catherine Deneuve, who will henceforth be recognised internationally as a French icon.

Luis Buñuel
One of cinema's most influential figures, the celebrated director from Spain extended the scope of film as an art form, through his use of surrealism and devious satire. In jest and in intent, he was a moralist, but that didn't prevent him from raising a few eyebrows among the establishment, whether it was in Spain, Mexico, or France - countries where he'd worked in. As a film maker, Buñuel didn't belong to any exclusive club - he was unique - a radical thinker who didn't mind taking on taboo subjects, and a revolutionary who never let his emotions get the better of him through his work. His 1929 directorial debut, co-written with college-pal Salvador Dali was an experimental short called Un Chien Andalou. It may have caused a sensation, but his allegiance henceforth was to a predominantly mainstream audience. The films that I've seen so far are all incomparable gems, but my personal favourites remain the ones made during the 50's and early 60's, mostly from Mexico, when he dabbled with neorealism. Many a director - great and small, have tried to mimic or even upstage his work, with little success - not possible I guess, unless you've lived his life, shared his thoughts, and been as single-minded in pursuing a vision as he has.

The film opens with a couple - Pierre (Jean Sorel) and Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve) travelling in a horse-drawn carriage against a baroque backdrop. They get into an argument, and the carriage stops. Pierre orders Séverine to get out. When she refuses, he asks his drivers to take her down by force, tie her to a tree, and flog her with a horsewhip. To finish things off, Pierre instructs them to rape her. Her cries of pain and ecstasy is interrupted by a scene in a modern Parisian apartment, where Pierre and Séverine are switching off for the night, into separate beds. The earlier scene was just one of Séverine masochistic fantasies. All this, when the couple have yet to consummate their one-year marriage. She begs him to remain patient as before, and he relents.

Séverine's reason for her reluctance to have sex with her husband is established through passing scenes from her childhood, where she appears to be molested by an older man, possibly someone she trusted. She sees herself as impure, and her sophistication and regal demeanour couldn't quite mask the shame of her past, and she seeks sexual gratification through daydreams of abuse and humiliation, in which Pierre,  her handsome, doting, and noble husband becomes the chief tormentor.

After a casual conversation with Pierre's best friend Henri Husson (the redoubtable Michel Piccoli), Séverine will soon discover an outlet for her masochistic desires, at an upmarket brothel run by Madame Anaïs (Geneviève Page). Insisting on working only during the afternoons when Pierre is at work, Séverine is coined the sobriquet Belle de jour (Beauty of the day), and after some initial hesitation, the prim and proper housewife will begin to experience and enjoy her forbidden desires, while making sure to return home on time to welcome a blissfully unaware Pierre with a beaming smile.

Séverine's afternoon rendezvous works fine for every one, until she encounters a client - a thug and crook named Marcel (Pierre Clémenti). He falls madly in love with her, which develops into full-blown jealousy upon learning that she's married. It will inevitably lead to a confrontation between Marcel and Pierre, but the film finishes with an ending that will leave it open for various interpretations by the viewer...

The erotic drama (adapted from Joseph Kessel's novel) is loaded with dashes of Buñuel's trademark sarcasm and signature surreal imagery. Whilst pretending to tell us something, he stops short, and teases us into filling in the blanks on our own. Is the whole thing just a fantasy, or did they really happen? And does it even matter? Perplexing, to say the least, but that's what keeps you remembering this film time and again, of course, alongside the tasteful eroticism, the gorgeous people, the humour, and the film's overall class. The performances by the main cast is riveting, and while Michel Piccoli is brilliant in his understated style, it is Catherine Deneuve at her most beautiful who is undoubtedly the star. Luis Buñuel revels in the new medium just as much as he'd mastered black and white. For additional reading on the film, there's a fine essay from Melissa Anderson in the Criterion site which I'd heartily recommend. Needless to say, this later-day gem from Buñuel is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Catherine Deneuve
There is no explicit nudity in any of the scenes despite the film's subject delving into the protagonist's unconventional sex desires. Inspired by this film, lesser directors have treated similar themes very differently over the years, including a generation of pornographers. The nude scenes in this film may appear tame by today's standards, but it is the prospect of someone of Catherine Deneuve's class (Séverine) being within reach of ordinary men (clientèle) that makes these special.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Slaying personal demons in the wilderness - "Zero Kelvin" [1995 Norway, Sweden]

Norwegians (and Scandinavians) are unique indeed - shaped by their rugged land and climate, they'd learned to thrive in places many would only consider 'extreme'. But it is also apparent that they're equally curious and contemplative about everything under the sun. I was struck by this while reading a recent news article about a Norwegian prime-time TV programme, that telecast a fireplace with burning firewood for eight straight hours. Part of an even longer programme dedicated entirely to firewood, the show was a success, with twenty percent of the country tuning-in at some point to comment, if anything, on the way in which the wood was stacked (bark-side up, or down). Apart from establishing the fact that Norwegians clearly have something cultural going on in relation to firewood, it shows that television doesn't necessarily have to be sensational in order to entertain. It also proves that Norwegians have a unique connection with trees, nature, and the outdoors...

Hans Petter Moland takes us outdoor too - this time, to the frozen Arctic wilderness, and throws his two squabbling protagonists inside a claustrophobic cabin, just to watch what happens. "Kjærlighetens Kjøtere" [Eng. Title: Zero Kelvin] is a psychological thriller-drama that pits diametrically opposite characters against each other, forcing them to survive by their wits in the middle of nowhere.

Set in the 1920's, young Oslo poet Larsen (Gard B. Eidsvold) joins a fur trading company and decides to spend a year in Greenland as a trapper. He'd hoped his fiancée Gertrude (Camilla Martens) would wait for his return, but she wastes no time in cancelling their engagement even before he sets sail. Larsen will live and work with supervisor and fellow-trapper Randbek (Stellan Skarsgård), and scientist Holm (Bjørn Sundquist) upon reaching Greenland. The foul-mouthed and ill-tempered Randbek, at first glance, comes across as the diametric opposite of Larsen - an easy-going and idealistic lad immersed in noble pursuits. Their personalities will inevitably clash, made more daunting by having to live alongside each other in a desolate cabin amidst the icy wilderness. Holm will leave them in disgust when their feud threatens to spiral out of control - deciding to take his chances with the bitter Arctic winter instead. With no one there to keep their tempers in check any more, Larsen and Randbek are now forced to watch their backs at all times in their tinderbox of a cabin. It's only a matter of time before it will become a battle for survival...

Larsen and Randbek - different as day and night, are but both sides of the same coin. There was a time when Randbek too had ideals and dreams - wanting to become a 'gentleman', like Larsen. Not any more. As bitter, spiteful, and cynical as Randbek might be these days, there'll still an element of truth in his rantings, hinting at a once ideal life that's completely turned sour. Larsen realises that, but is all the more determined not to turn into one himself. For that, he'll need to slay his own personal demons - whether it is about his ideas on morality, love, or forgiveness. This will be a coming-of-age that won't go unnoticed on Gertrude if she bumps into him the next time - and perhaps, may even elicit a different response if he proposed to her again.

Through this film, Moland has created a beautifully crafted allegorical gem in the pretext of a young idealist's Arctic adventure. The artful cinematography and direction portray a majestic landscape presiding philosophically over yet another age-old battle between good and evil, resident in every human. This is more than just an Arctic adventure - and like staring into burning firewood, a personal experience that is as much mystical as it is reflective. With a riveting performance from all the main cast, notably a superb Stellan Skarsgård, this is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Camilla Martens, Stellan Skarsgård, Gard Eidsvold, and Bjørn Sundquist
There is a single nude scene from Camilla Martens while her character spends time with Larsen before he sets out on his journey. There is also nudity from Stellan Skarsgård, Gard Eidsvold, and Bjørn Sundquist in a scene where they try to rid themselves of lice.

Camilla Martens, Stellan Skarsgård, Gard Eidsvold, and Bjørn Sundquist in Zero Kelvin