Friday, 28 June 2013

Isabelle Huppert in "La dentellière" [1977 France, Switzerland]

Sometimes, it requires a painter to appreciate beauty, says Swiss director Claude Goretta, and writer Pascal Lainé, upon whose novel the film, "La dentellière" [Eng. Title: The Lacemaker] is based. Even the title alludes to Johannes Vermeer's famous painting.

Beatrice aka Pomme (Isabelle Huppert) is eighteen, lives with her mum, and works as an apprentice at a Parisian hair salon. She is pretty, but also too modest to flaunt her good looks. She's kind, and keen to help others, unlike her older colleague at work, the attention-seeking Marylène (Florence Giorgetti). Pomme and Marylène go on a vacation to a seaside town in Normandy, and that's when Pomme, having been momentarily abandoned by Marylène, meets François (Yves Beneyton), a philosophy student from a rich family, also on vacation.

François is fascinated by Pomme's simplicity, her looks, but particularly her virtue (he even asks her on one occasion if she was a virgin, a fact she acknowledges), and after initiating her to sex, believes he loves her, and invites her to live with him in his Paris. Pretty soon however, he notices that there's very little in common between them - intellect or interests, and begins to resent her sweet (compliant, and devoid of opinion) nature, and becomes increasingly embarrassed about having her as his girlfriend. He suggests they go their separate ways, and a heartbroken Pomme neither resists nor tries to reason with him - she meekly accepts his decision and moves out.

But depression will take its toll on Pomme's health, which will see her end up in a sanatorium. When he hears about her mental illness, François visits her with trepidation and also a sense of guilt, but during their conversation, Pomme startles him by claiming that she's actually quite happy these days, and that she also travels on holiday to Greek islands, often having flings with various men. The closing shot is of Pomme casting an enigmatic gaze towards the camera, like one of Vermeer's famous paintings.

The events described above are mostly from François' perspective. Pomme's view, on the other hand, could indeed be different - Pomme may not be as dull as François thinks she is - in fact she comes across as far more observant, having 'lived' life, unlike François, merely reading about it from a sheltered environment. She doesn't argue or raise an opinion, not to withdraw herself from engaging with François and his friends, but perhaps because her accumulated wisdom had taught her that there might after all never be a single truth to pursue with conviction. Who then, is the more enlightened of the two.

The film is not just a melodrama resting on the incompatibility of different social classes, but also about people's preconceptions, and limited tolerance, or willingness to look beyond the surface. Pomme's viewpoint as opined above, isn't something that I conjured up - it is Ms. Huppert's own interpretation of her character, explained in an interview to a magazine after the film's initial release. Small wonder that her performance was so widely hailed that it also earned her a BAFTA award. I'm convinced that it is Isabelle Huppert's individual performance that makes this film as good as it is. Needless to say, it is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]
English Subtitles


The Nudity: Florence Giorgetti and Isabelle Huppert
Claude Goretta isn't particularly known for using nudity in his films, but this one is a pleasant exception, and Ms. Huppert in particular, is at her youthful best.

Florence Giorgetti and Isabelle Huppert nude in La dentellière


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Nudity in "Abel" [1986 Netherlands]

Alex van Warmerdam wrote, starred, and also made his directorial film début in what many consider to be a modern Dutch classic, "Abel". It is also one of the most hilarious comedies I've seen from Holland - slapstick at times, and totally deadpan on other occasions, but absurd and funny all the same. I'd been following his more recent works with interest even before I got to watch this film, and as it turns out, this is now one of my favourite Warmerdem films.

The storyline revolves around Abel (Alex van Warmerdam), a thirty one year old agoraphobic still living with his parents - he hasn't ventured outside the house in over ten years. His father Victor (Henri Garcin) is ashamed of him, while his mother Duif (Olga Zuiderhoek) over-compensates with her henpecking. After a psychologist tells them that the problem is not their son but their own attitude towards him, Victor decides it would be a good idea to get him to socialise with women, and brings home a female colleague (Loes Luca) from the amateur theatre he's involved in. It turns into a disaster, and after Victor finds out that Abel and mum had secretly bought a TV - hitherto banned in the household, he blows his lid off and chucks Abel out of the house. Enter Zus (Annet Malherbe), a stripper with a heart of gold, who pities and falls in love with penniless Abel and takes him with her. Further hysterics ensue when Zus ends her affair with Victor, and he finds out that his love rival none other than his own son...

This is one delightfully twisted and absurd comedy with exaggerated characterisation and situations. The cinematography also has a nostalgic appeal. It is aided by fine performances, notably by Henri Garci who plays Victor, the direction, and in no small measure by the gorgeously voluptuous Annet Malherbe who plays the sexy temptress Zus - little surprise that she's also director Warmerdem's partner in real-life. This memorable and ridiculously funny film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Box-Set [PAL]
This is a good value box-set that include no less than 9 films - all classics, from Alex van Warmerdem - my Recommended choice.

The Nudity: Annet Malherbe
The sensual and beautiful Annet Malherbe appears teasingly nude in a few scenes, mostly while performing her come-hither routine at a peep-show booth where she works. There is also some unintentional nudity in a scene when her character tries to elicit a sexual response from Abel.

Annet Malherbe nude in Abel


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Catherine Spaak & Florinda Bolkan in "Una ragazza piuttosto complicata" [1969 Italy]

Damiano Damiani was one of the most prominent and prolific Italian directors during the 60's and 70's, and his early crime and political dramas were, if not revolutionary, certainly ground-breaking for its time. His erotic/psychological thriller "Una ragazza piuttosto complicata" [Eng. Title: A Rather Complicated Girl] was made during the height of his powers with major stars of the time - Jean Sorel, and Catherine Spaak, and was also Florinda Bolkan's second feature film.

The film starts with Alberto (Jean Sorel) inadvertently overhearing an erotic conversation over the telephone between two women - Claudia, and Greta. Fascinated, he imagines Claudia - the one describing her breasts and doing most of the talking, in several different ways, until he manages to track her down, to reveal to us the real Claudia (Catherine Spaak), a flirtatious brunette and mod, complete with Vespa. Claudia and Alberto hit it off from the word-go, but it's all platonic until he begins to fall in love, and later obsess over her. As it happens, Claudia already has a boyfriend - Pietro (Gigi Proietti), but maintains her right to see anyone else if she so desires. The woman on the other end of the overheard conversation - Greta, turns out to be Claudia's stepmother (Florinda Bolkan). They were lovers once, and Claudia feels rejected now after Greta ends their affair and decides to get married again. But is all what it seems, or is this a vicious game by Claudia, sending subliminal signals to entrap Alberto as part of an elaborate plot..?

While this is by no means Damiani's finest work, it is a decently-executed thriller, and more than anything else, will be remembered for its kitsch 1960's décor, groovy soundtrack, and the fashion of its time. I nevertheless bought this DVD specifically for the elegant and classy Florinda Bolkan, and while she only appears during the later half of the film, there is plenty of teasing eye-candy to keep us interested until then, from the lovely Catherine Spaak. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]

The Nudity: Catherine Spaak, Florinda Bolkan, and others
Most of the nudity is from unknown actresses, with brief, and very brief nudity from the lovely French-born cutie - Catherine Spaak, and an elegant Florinda Bolkan respectively. The first scene, with anonymous actresses, is the longest in terms of nudity, followed by brief instances, including an outdoor location, from Catherine Spaak. Florinda Bolkan's nude scene, if anything, is tantalisingly fleeting.

Catherine Spaak, Florinda Bolkan, and others nude in Una ragazza piuttosto complicata


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Hani Furstenberg in "The Loneliest planet" [2011 USA, Germany]

No too often do you find a single moment defining a film's purpose. And when that happens, the filmmaker better make sure that he/she got the timing right, lest the message is lost on the audience. American director Julia Loktev's second feature film "The Loneliest Planet" uses less than two seconds to justify its 108-minute run-time - blink, and you might just miss it. But she pulls it off very well through the carefully calibrated rhythm and nuance of her thrilling drama.

Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) - engaged to be married, are trekking through the Caucasus mountains in Georgia - it is apparent that they're very much in love, and are seasoned travellers to remote parts of the world, getting by with fewer creature comforts. Leading the couple is local mountain guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze - a mountain guide in real life too), an engaging personality who informs and entertains them along the way. This pretty much summarises the film, and whatever else we experience are a result of the director positioning her characters in relation to themselves and the landscape. Little is spoken amongst the three, but enough is conveyed, through long takes reminiscent of Angelopoulos' The Travelling Players, and the keen - almost voyeuristic observation of the camera.

The slow pace of the film is disturbed momentarily, almost exactly halfway, through a swift, almost instinctive gesture from one of the characters that'll contrast the mood and subtext of the two halves. If I have to be pedantic, there's 3-4 minutes of excess film used immediately after this point - time Ms. Loktev uses to underscore the pivotal moment, possibly to help viewers unaccustomed to the film's tempo and subtlety. Otherwise, this is a magnificent film with everything going for it - the screenplay, the performances, the cinematography, and certainly Ms. Loktev's direction, which lends it authenticity by being almost subversively honest, while mentioning the unmentionable aspects of human nature and relationships. Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]

The Nudity: Hani Furstenberg
Hani Furstenberg appears nude on two occasions - first, while trying to keep warm in the bathroom while waiting for Bernal to fetch some hot water, and later when Bernal accompanies her outside the tent at night.

Hani Furstenberg nude in The Loneliest Planet


Friday, 21 June 2013

Olga Ponizova in "Grekh. Istoriya Strasti" [1993 Russia]

Viktor Sergeyev's melodrama "Grekh. Istoriya Strasti" [Eng. Title: Sin. A Story of Passion] is about a love affair between a monk and a young carefree woman.

The film is told in flashback, after a German TV crew descend upon a Russian women-only convent, to investigate a sensational murder in Hamburg involving an ex-monk and a prostitute. We'll learn that the prostitute, Nina (Olga Ponizova), lives in the convent after being acquitted for the murder of Seryozha (Aleksandr Abdulov), the son of a wealthy family, and who until recently was a monk of the Russian orthodox church.

Nina, a carefree and earthy girl, first met Seryozha at a bus station in the middle of the night, and after seeing a group of thugs beat him up, comes to his rescue. She also madly falls in love with Seryozha, to the extent that she would even offer sex to a passing motorist in return for a lift back home with the wounded Seryozha. But Seryozha has a dark past - he'd been a bad boy, having also ratted on friends after an incident with a girl. His friends are out to get him, and his father had tucked him away at a convent to keep him away from danger. When the father learns about Nina, he sends Seryozha off to Jerusalem to keep him away from her. Nina follows him there too, after 'selling' herself at an auction for some travel money. They become lovers and travel to Hamburg, and when they run out of money, Nina takes to prostitution. Seryozha resents this, but nevertheless makes no effort of his own to change matters. Things get to head one evening and Seryozha shoots Nina, upon which she takes his gun and kills him in return...

It's an interesting premise - exploring moral values from a physical and spiritual perspective. But unfortunately, this isn't a serious study, and everything is played out in a simplistic manner. Life isn't like that, and there are several shades between the black and white morality that this film tries to represent. What it lacks in characterisation, it has tried to make up for in creating a foreboding atmosphere, but never quite succeeds. While the cinematography is well done, the soundtrack is clichéd, bordering on the cheesy. The locations have an appeal, but the only thing that keeps us vaguely engaged through the 108 minutes is the expressive face of Olga Ponizova - too bad nothing much comes out of it either. But I might sit to watch this drama only for her - there are other serious films for a more challenging discourse on the subject of morality.

The Nudity: Olga Ponizova
There are several instances of partial and frontal nudity from pretty Olga Ponizova, the most memorable of which is a seaside love scene that runs for over three minutes.

Olga Ponizova nude in the Russian drama Grekh. Istoriya Strasti


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Irma Brown and others nude in "O Som au Redor" [2012 Brazil]

Every once in a while, a young film maker turns up with that special film to reassure us all that cinema is indeed in rude health. Like Kleber Mendonça Filho, who's just made a remarkable directorial début with his thought-provoking drama, "O Som ao Redor" [Eng. Title: Neighbouring Sounds].

Filho's film becomes all the more special when you get to watch its spectacular evolution from an earlier short, titled Eletrodoméstica (included among the DVD extras). A lot of fresh ideas have been inserted into the feature-length film, not just in expanding on a theme, which he does very well, but also in terms of extrapolating it with additional new concepts which makes the film surprisingly deep. It is however, something for the viewer to explore and interpret on their own.

Set in a middle class suburb of Recife, the film is presented as a tableau of observations, combining together to form an elaborate landscape of a present day Brazilian society that's also haunted by aspects of its recent past. As a foreign viewer, you're also struck by the level of their preoccupation with security; menacing window grills en-cage pretty much every dwelling and its occupants, layers of locked doors fortify precious souls living inside, as private sentinels keep watch over their street - it's an unnatural atmosphere of claustrophobia enforced on a neighbourhood in what is essentially a city open to the skies, and light. These are the aspiring middle classes, Filho tells us, full of grace, but insecure from the outside, and inside.

There's an accompanying story too for each of the characters observed - the grandson of a property magnate who wants to quit his family occupation and free himself from carrying the cross for his forefathers, a mother of two, frustrated and stressed out by her neighbour's dog, a recently contracted security guard who's in the neighbourhood for a different purpose altogether, and not least the ageing property magnate himself who's also owner of a sugar mill. Each have their side of the story aired, which in many ways resemble a sincere confession.

The film gives the feel of watching a documentary, it was also director Filho's intention as he explains in his commentary. But this is also riveting cinema of the highest order - engaging, and at times quite thrilling. From the magnificent cinematography to the thoughtful editing, the profound sound design to the cool soundtrack, this film is produced to exacting detail, but it wouldn't have been made possible without Filho's impeccable direction and realistic performances from the main cast. Needless to say, this gem of a film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

The Nudity: Irma Brown, Gustavo Jahn, Maeve Jinkings, and Clebia Sousa

Irma Brown, Gustavo Jahn, Maeve Jinkings, and Clebia Sousa nude in O Som au Redor


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Hanna Schygulla in Liebe ist kälter als der Tod

Rainer Werner Fassbinder made his feature-film début through the crime drama "Liebe ist kälter als der Tod" [Eng. Title: Love is Colder Than Death]. It's an endearing ode to the French New Wave, Hollywood Film Noire, and Italian Spaghetti Westerns. It was also the beginning of a life long collaboration in feature films with his muse - the talented and fabulous Hanna Schygulla.

A romantic crime thriller with a straightforward plot, the film cynically depicts the fate of a low-life couple living in Munich; Franz (RW Fassbinder) is a pimp, in frequent brush with the law, and Joanna (Hanna Schygulla) - his girlfriend, and a prostitute herself. They're in love. Franz is paid a visit by Bruno (Ulli Lommel), a thug that he befriended while being interrogated by 'the syndicate', where he had spurned their demand to work for them - he'd rather be his own boss. Unbeknown to him, Bruno had agreed to work for the syndicate, and his visit is to influence Franz, through friendly persuasion, into carrying out the syndicate's orders. It's a task that Bruno finds only too easy to accomplish - Franz has been so accommodating as to even allow Bruno to share his girlfriend during his stay. Joanna however, isn't particularly bowled over by Bruno, an affront that'll lead him to secretly plot her death. But Joanna hatches a cunning plan of her own to save herself and her beloved Franz...

There's ample evidence in the film of Fassbinder's influences from other great directors, notably Godard, Chabrol, and perhaps even Antonioni. There is also a hint of his past background in theatre, especially in the indoor scenes. The set design is as minimalist as can be - some scenes have nothing but an empty room and a chair, and on at least a couple of occasions, you have the cast acting out in front of a plain wall. As Spartan as it may appear, the film succeeds nevertheless in depicting the alienation of the protagonists, a theme which Fassbinder would refine in his later films. While there are aspects of film-noire in the screenplay, the cinematography is anything but, preferring instead the formal compositions of a Bergman melodrama, beautifully executed. The film gives notice to the world of a new master in the making. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]
Amazon Fassbinder Box-set 1969-1972 [PAL]
(My preferred choice, as the set includes no less than 9 disks from his early films)

The Nudity: Hanna Schygulla
The beautiful and über-classy Hanna Schygulla may not have had the opportunity to showcase her famed versatility as an actress that much, but appears nude in at least three scenes, including one where she's seen mending a blouse that she'd just been wearing - she later answers the door topless when a client comes visiting.

Hanna Schygulla nude in Liebe ist kälter als der Tod


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Celeste Cid in "El amigo alemán" [2012 Germany, Argentina]

Jeanine Meerapfel's "El amigo Alemán" [English Title: The German Friend] is a romantic drama centred around the daughter of German émigrés, and set against the backdrop of some turbulent decades of Argentina's recent history.

Young Sulamit's Jewish parents are concerned about her growing friendship with their neighbour Friedrich, also from Germany, owing to his father's secret Nazi-past. But despite their objections, Sulamit (Celeste Cid) and Friedrich (Max Riemelt) will fall in love. When Friedrich learns about his father, he disowns him and travels to Germany, hoping to unearth his father's misdeeds. Sulamit follows him shortly after, but is disappointed to see that Friedrich had become a prominent member of a left wing student group, affording little time for their relationship to grow. When Argentina comes under dictatorship, Friedrich travels home to join the insurgents, and is promptly taken prisoner by authorities after a bungled operation. Sulamit had tried to move on with life, but realises that she couldn't love anyone the way she does Friedrich, and waits...

The film is reasonably well-made, and even though there have been several memorable films made about the dictatorship years, what sets this apart is the Jewish émigré angle - and their point of view.


The Nudity: Celeste Cid and Max Riemelt
There is brief nudity from Celeste Cid and Max Riemelt in a couple of scenes, and one more of Sulamit when she befriends German lecturer Michael (Benjamin Sadler).

Celeste Cid and Max Riemelt nude in El amigo alemá


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Marika Lagercrantz in "Lust och fägring stor" [1995 Sweden, Denmark]

Coming of age is a bankable subject for cinema, and even mediocre productions tend to fare well at the box office. But just occasionally, a film comes along to delve deeper than the customary hormonal overflows and infatuations. Bo Widerberg, a film critic turned master filmmaker, takes the genre to a different level with his Academy Award nominated drama, "Lust och fägring stor" [Eng. Title: All Things Fair].

It's war-time Sweden, and fifteen year old Stig (Johan Widerberg) is a keen student at school and dutiful son to a working class family in Malmö. Apart from the household chores, he also helps his family by working at the local cinema after school. When Viola (Marika Lagercrantz) arrives from Stockholm to take charge as his new class teacher, Stig finds himself attracted to her elegance and charm, despite also being aware that she's more than twice his age, and is already married. Viola too likes the attention she's getting from a handsome young man, and before long they embark on a passionate affair, due to which he becomes a regular visitor to her house, and even befriends her melancholic husband Kjell (Tomas von Brömssen). Stig will grow increasingly uneasy with the illicit arrangement due to various factors, and tries to build more 'normal' relationships, with his beloved soldier-brother Sigge (Björn Kjellman), and his slightly younger neighbour Lisbet (Karin Huldt). Viola isn't too pleased with the changes in Stig, and it becomes clear that there is only one way for their relationship to go - downwards...

This was not only Bo Widerberg's last film, it was also one of his personal films, drawing some of the events from his own childhood. He even cast his young son Johan to play the lead. The film not only explores sexuality, but also the nature of lust, friendship, family values, moral dilemmas, war, and above all else, love - not as such the teenager's crush on his teacher, but a husband's unconditional love for his wife. Widerberg had studiously avoided being compared to his country's more illustrious film maker, but Bergman's influence can nevertheless be felt, particularly in the details and formal compositions. But Widerberg comes into his own in the manner in which he portrays his characters during different stages of the film.

The film's cinematography and production design is exquisite, as is the classical soundtrack, but special mention should be made for the performances of the main actors, particularly that of Tomas von Brömssen who plays Kjell, the drunk husband of Viola. "All Things Fair" could so easily have degenerated into a torrid exploitation film in the hands of an ordinary director, but in Widerberg's hands, has turned into something altogether sublime. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Marika Lagercrantz, Johan Widerberg, and Karin Huldt
While there are several instances of nudity in the film, none of them are gratuitous, and they're mostly relevant in telling the story.

Marika Lagercrantz, Johan Widerberg, and Karin Huldt nude in Lust och fägring stor


Friday, 14 June 2013

In a world without love - "Mala" [2013 Argentina]

s a screenwriter and director, Adrián Caetano has made some fine and memorable films in Argentina, but his latest crime-fantasy drama "Mala" [Eng. Title: Evil Woman] is likely to be remembered more as an oddity...

It begins with the words, "Once upon a time, in a world without love..." and proceeds to tell the story of a professional female assassin - Rosario, who caters to a clientèle made exclusively of scorned housewives. A paraplegic divorcee (Ana Celentano) hires Rosario to 'slowly' kill her former rancher-husband Rodrigo (Rafael Ferro), now happily married to a younger, prettier woman, and about to become a father. Rosario joins the ranch as a vet to try and get closer to Rodrigo, before the storyline veers off at a tangent...

I'd tried to make sense of the incoherent film but have since given up. For a start, we have no less than four different actresses playing the assassin Rosario - Liz Solari, Florencia Raggi, María Dupláa, and Brenda Gandini. I'm all for surrealism, but this isn't Caetano following on the footsteps of Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire. It isn't even tongue-in-cheek humour, but perhaps intended to signify the psychosis of both the Ana Celentano character and her former husband Rodrigo. But I doubt the director has pulled it off satisfactorily, due to factors like patchy performances, average cinematography, and more specifically the unconvincing screenplay. I wouldn't want to go into detailed analysis as I could be here all day; suffice to say that this is certainly not the best work from this otherwise fine director. I'd however heartily recommend his earlier films like Bolivia and Pizza, birra, faso...


The Nudity: María Duplaa and Florencia Raggi
There is brief nudity during a shower scene of Rosario where you have a braces-clad María Dupláa turn into a super-athletic Florencia Raggi. The film also features implied sex scenes like masturbation and female-on-male rape.

María Duplaa, Florencia Raggi and Ana Celentano in Mala

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Sexual repression and defiance in post-revolution Hungary - Egymásra nézve [1982]

Among Eastern European directors, Hungarian Károly Makk has been a favourite in western film festivals over the years, for his elegantly subdued direction, and the haunting atmospheric images that he uses to reflect the politics and circumstances of his characters. His drama "Egymásra nézve" [Eng. Title: Another Way] is set against the backdrop of a recently crushed 1956 Revolution, and concerns a lesbian affair between colleagues at a Budapest-based news magazine.

The film starts with the discovery of the body of Eva (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak) in the woods - she had been shot in the head. Meanwhile, at a hospital, Livia (Grazyna Szopolowska) is recuperating after a near-fatal injury - we're told that she'll never be able to walk again.

The film rewinds to a year earlier, and we see Eva, arriving for her new job as an investigative journalist at a news magazine. She will share her office with Livia, an attractive, married young woman, who also works for the publication. Eva had made no secret of the fact that she is lesbian, and has been attracted to Livia the moment she set eyes on her. Livia likes Eva too - she admires Eva's skill, intellect, and integrity, but is hesitant to reciprocate Eva's desires - understandable, considering that Livia has a lot to loose, and that's not only her marriage. But they do fall in love, and before long, Livia decides to end the marriage and tells husband Donci (Péter Andorai) about her affair. Unable to accept the separation, he shoots Livia in the bath.

The husband is taken into custody, and a bitter Livia will reject Eva too, who by now has already got herself fired from her job for refusing to alter some facts from an article she'd recently written. While travelling through the countryside during the night, she's hailed by border guards from a distance and asked to stop, but is shot when she fails to do so.

Based on a novel by Erzsébet Galgóczi, this was the first film in communist Eastern Europe to openly deal with homosexuality, so one can guess the controversy the film must have courted during its release. Makk makes a succinct, but nuanced comment on the after effects that the brutally put-down revolution has continued to cast on its people. I find the Palme d'Or nominated film - both in terms of artistry and technical merit, to be just as accomplished as the finest from the French New Wave. Needless to say, this slightly obscure little gem from a director of repute is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]



The Nudity: Grazyna Szapolowska and Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak
There are three scenes of nudity from the beautiful and young Grazyna Szapolowska who plays Livia, and one of these is a lesbian scene with Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak (as Jadwiga Jankowska), who plays Eva.

Grazyna Szapolowska and Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak in Egymásra nézve aka Another Way


Monday, 10 June 2013

Greisy Mena in "La vida precoz y breve de Sabina Rivas" [2012 Mexico]

Mexican filmmakers never seem to grow tired of their country's infamous gangs - Luis Mandoki's crime drama "La vida precoz y breve de Sabina Rivas" [Eng. Trans: The Precocious and Brief Life of Sabina Rivas] is set in towns bordering Mexico and Guatemala, where a young Honduran girl with dreams of becoming a pop star after making it to the United states gets caught up in a vicious circle of exploitation, and slavery.

Sabina Rivas (Greisy Mena) has stars in her eyes, and a local club in the border town offers her the opportunity to perform before an audience. The only catch is that she will need to take her kit off while singing. She nevertheless agrees, and for her services, is given a manufactured Mexican passport by the club's owner Doña Lita (Angelina Peláez). But at the border, she attracts attention from immigration officials - Burrona (Joaquín Cosio), and Patrick (Nick Chinlund) - an American. After Patrick has his way with her, she's allowed to return back to club Tijuanita, and Doña Lita. Jovany (Fernando Moreno), a Honduran migrant too, fresh from being initiated into one of the prominent gangs operating in the area, sees Sabina perform at the club and tries to approach her. We'll learn that they know each other very well, and are both running away from a common dark past. But their individual circumstances don't allow them to get back together, and Burrano and Patrick continue to make Sabina's life a misery...

The film has connotations of an earlier Mexican classic named Sin Nombre in as far as the protagonists' nationality and migratory path is concerned, but this is a different beast altogether, especially with its incestuous undertones and bleak outlook. It is nevertheless well made, and I was particularly impressed by the film's sound design. The performances by the main cast are also sincere, and Greisy Mena as Sabina gives it her all. The film appear at times to be slow-moving, but it certainly pays dividends in terms of the characterisation. Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Greisy Mena and others
The film inevitably features several instances of nudity from the titular character Sabina Rivas, unflinchingly played by Greisy Mena. Additional supporting cast also appear topless in a couple of scenes.

Greisy Mena nude in La vida precoz y breve de Sabina Rivas


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Lali Espinet, tragic heroine of the 'S' years: "El Pico" 1 & 2 [Spain 1983, 1984]

Those were heady days in Spain - the late 70's and early 80's - the economy was booming, the country was busy catching up on lost time, and newly won liberties were enthusiastically celebrated, which allowed hitherto hidden film-talents to blossom. In parallel to the 'mainstream' scene that included directors like Victor Erice, Eloy de la Iglesia, Pedro Almodóvar, and Fernando Trueba, a different category of films emerged - the Spanish equivalent for the European soft-core cinema of the era - they were simply called Classified 'S'.

Lali Espinet:
The beautiful young actress Lali Espinet, better known by her industry name, Andrea Albani, was one of the leading starlets in classified 'S' films. And since I won't be writing about any of those films here, I'll give a brief summary of a couple of mainstream films that Ms. Espinet appeared in; films where the character she portrays also echoed her own addiction to drugs in real-life. "El Pico 2" was the last film she made before her untimely death ten years later (rumoured, due to complications from AIDS).

Eloy de la Iglesia:
The two films, both "El Pico" and "El Pico 2" were directed by Eloy de la Iglesia, a strident gay director who was known for his neo-realist style social commentaries, often centred around urban youth living on the fringes of society. While Spain was booming, he chose to focus on those who were left out, living under the bridge, struggling to make it - the delinquents, the homosexuals, the thieves and misfits. Misuse of drugs, religion, and politics often feature prominently in his films. Like the characters in El Pico, Iglesia too went through a long period of drug addiction, but he did manage to kick the habit towards the end of his life. The same could not be said of the lead actor in these two films - José Luis Manzano died at only twenty eight, due to a suspected drug overdose.


El Pico [1983]

Eloy de la Iglesia's 1983 film "El Pico" [Eng. Title: The Needle] may not be as accomplished as some of his earlier films, but it did rather well commercially despite its grim depiction of drug abuse among the middle classes of the city of Bilbao. Paco (José Luis Manzano) - son of a Commander of the Civil Guard (Jose Manuel Cervino), and Urko (Javier Garcia) - son of a ruling party senator (Luis Iriondo) are close college friends, and together, hang out with young Argentinian prostitute Betty (Lali Espinet) for drugs and sex. To feed his habit, Paco used to make money by prostituting himself, but has since moved on to selling drugs through the city's main dealer. He wants to become his own boss though, a move that'll land the boys in trouble. Paco and Urko's respective dads will also learn of their addiction and try what they can, in their own limited capacity, to support and cure them, to no avail. Paco and Urko end up killing the main dealer in order to rob his stash, and Urko dies of an overdose, leaving Paco with the prospect of being incarcerated by his own father. Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Lali Espinet, Jose Luis Manzano, and Javier Garcia
Contains three scenes of nudity - the first is when Paco's father takes him to a brothel for initiating him into adulthood after he turns eighteen, unaware of the fact that the prostitute that Paco chooses is not exactly a new acquaintance - Betty is already Paco's drug and sex buddy. The second scene involves a threesome among Paco, Urko, and Betty. The third is when Betty entices Paco back into drugs after he'd been 'clean' for a few months.

Lali Espinet, Jose Luis Manzano, and Javier Garcia in El Pico (1983)


El Pico 2 [1984]

The story begins from where it was left in the previous film. We see Paco serving time after his involvement in the drug dealer's murder is established by a journalist. In prison, he befriends an inmate nicknamed El Lehendakari (Jaume Valls) and they keep in touch even after Paco's release. Paco's dad takes him to Madrid, and hopefully away from destructive influences. But Betty too had moved to Madrid to ply her trade, and the two reconnect. When Lehendakari gets out of prison, the three decide to take up armed robbery as profession. Tragedy ensues, and towards the end of the film, Paco's life will have come full-circle - it is he who's now the main drug dealer, becoming an informant for the Police, and playing a dangerous game all over again...


The Nudity: Lali Espinet, Jose Luis Manzano, and Juame Valles

Lali Espinet, Jose Luis Manzano, and Juame Valles in El Pico 2 (1984)


Friday, 7 June 2013

Isabella Ferrari and others in "E la chiamano estate" [2012 Italy]

After a promising start to his career with films like La spettatore, Paolo Franchi decides to confront (and confound) audience and critics alike with his latest drama "E la chiamano estate" [Eng. Title: And They Call It Summer]. And not in a good way, I'm afraid to say...

The story concerns Dino (Jean-Marc Barr) and Anna (Isabella Ferrari) - a forty-something couple who are presumably deeply in love but have yet to make sexual congress, thanks largely to Dino. Not that he's suffering from any kind of dysfunction - far from it - he appears to have an above-average libido, and some advanced sexual tastes too. He's all right frequenting prostitutes and swingers-clubs, but wouldn't make love to Anna. He implores her to take a lover, and even goes to extraordinary lengths to track down Anna's former boyfriends (many of whom are now married), begging them to have sex with her, with his blessing. Anna meanwhile, almost masochistically, convinces herself that Dino loves her so deeply that he couldn't even contemplate penetrative sex.

The film is liberally sprinkled with imagery of sex and tries its darnedest to shock the audience. Now, I don't usually have a problem with that, provided they propel the screenplay. But unfortunately, Franchi seems to have lost himself along the way, and what we see is the visual equivalent of listening to someone repeat himself. I'm fine if the director thinks Dino's behaviour doesn't need to be justified, but there must at least be a purpose behind making the film. We are instead given some unconvincing reason for Dino's actions, and the non-existent characterisation leads us to not so much care about any of the protagonists. Even the presence of seasoned actors fail to redeem it, and coupled with mediocre technical features, the film has turned into a bit of a disaster.

Even Jean-Marc Barr suggests during an interview among the DVD extras, that the film is likely to fare better on DVD rather than the cinemas. Well, perhaps it'll gain cult-status down the line as Italian films often do, but then again, I wouldn't count on it, as this is one of the most atypical Italian films I'd seen of late. I have to admit that my only reason for watching the film was Isabella Ferrari. She doesn't disappoint - in fact, this is one of her more daring appearances in film, and perhaps that'll be the only reason one would want to have it in their collection. DVD Link [PAL]

The Nudity: Isabella Ferrari, Caterina Valente, Eva Riccobono, Jean-Marc Barr, Filippo Nigro, Christian Burruano, and others
As suggested above, the film is replete with intermittent scenes of nudity and sex, some of which are explicit by today's standards. Isabella Ferrari in particular hits the charts following her notorious performance in the 2008 film Caos Calmo. ;)

Isabella Ferrari, Caterina Valente, Eva Riccobono, Jean-Marc Barr, Filippo Nigro, Christian Burruano, nude in E la chiamano estate


Thursday, 6 June 2013

An ode to a baroque artist: "Tous les matins du monde" [1991 France]

To do full justice to Alain Corneau's beautiful masterpiece "Tous les matins du monde" [Eng. Title: All the Mornings of the World] would require a deeper understanding of classical music than I possess, but that still couldn't stop me from writing about it. Because this film will get to even the most untrained of ears through its sheer visual brilliance, and captivating performances from some of French cinema's finest.

Set in the seventeenth century, the film gives a fictional account of two of the famous musicians of their age - the renowned viola player Monsieur de Sainte Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and his erstwhile student and court musician Marin Marais (Guillaume, and later, Gérard Depardieu). It begins with a middle-aged Marais, suddenly overcome by remorse, pauses his lesson to recount his youth, and explains to his aristocratic students the essence of music, and with it the story of the person who taught him all he knew - Sainte Colombe.

We follow Sainte Colombe's story from the night his beloved wife dies while he's away performing at someone else's deathbed. Inconsolable, he retreats into his secluded cottage, almost ignoring his two young daughters. Madeleine (Anne Brochet), the eldest of the two, grows up to become an accomplished musician in her own right, and it is then that a young Marais, son of a shoemaker, approaches Sainte Colombe pleading to be taken as his pupil. He agrees after recognising Marais' natural ability, but they fall apart over Marais' desire for fame and fortune. Madeleine offers to teach Marais all that she knows without her father's knowledge, and soon they become lovers.

Having gained his knowledge, Marais joins the king's court as a royal musician, and stops visiting her. Unable to come to terms with their separation, Madeleine's health deteriorates, and as years pass by, descends into a long period of illness. Middle-aged, she requests the presence of the now famous Marais at her bedside to play for one last time the music he composed for her when they were still in love. He agrees, hoping to use the occasion to also obtain the manuscripts of Sainte Colombe during the visit, but instead, has to retreat in shame after playing for Madeleine. She dies shortly after, heartbroken. Marais and Sainte Colombe eventually make peace in one of the memorable passages of play, when Marais approaches Sainte Colombe with the humility of a student that he once was...

This sweetly painful melodrama is 'decorated', as if to compete with the flamboyance of the baroque period it represents, with spectacular performances by the three main cast - Jean-Pierre Marielle, Anne Brochet, and Gérard Depardieu. Together with the excellent production design and the cinematography, they lift this film to stratospheric heights rarely seen in biographical dramas. It rightfully won a clutch of César awards the following year, and without a doubt, is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Box-set [PAL]
This is an excellent value-for-money 4-DVD box set of an eclectic array of films featuring Gérard Depardieu - the collection from which this film was reviewed.

The Nudity: Anne Brochet and Guillaume Depardieu
There are four scenes of nudity in the film - when a young Marais walks past a bathing Madeleine, when they connect and fall in love, when Marais decides to leave, and finally when an older Marais visits Madeleine for one last time.

Anne Brochet and Guillaume Depardieu nude in Tous les matins du monde


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Ennui of an upwardly mobile woman - "Era uma vez eu, Verônica" [2012 Brazil]

Marcelo Gomes is another talented writer-director from the north of Brazil, and while I'm still discovering his filmography, his latest film, "Era uma vez eu, Verônica" [Eng. Title: Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica] showcases his credentials as a serious film maker in no uncertain manner. As the title suggests, his latest film is about a crisis of identity of the protagonist.

Essentially a series of intimate portraits of the protagonist - the film delves into the mind of a recently graduated and upwardly mobile young woman who'd just taken up job as a psychiatrist at a government hospital. For a daughter of a retired bank-employee, she has certainly moved up a notch in the social order. But while people in her shoes would be looking forward to a successful and promising future, Veronica (Hermila Guedes) is indifferent, even a touch disappointed at her achievements, whether with her career or her relationships. Even while remaining socially active, the only person she could relate to or even care about is her ailing father (W.J. Solha). A hopeless romantic, Veronica spurns offers of a deeper relationship from would-be suitors, preferring non-committal sexual encounters instead. Instead of trying to tell what becomes of Veronica, the film however examines her actions, without passing any judgements.

It is irrelevant whether or not Veronica 'discovers' herself in the end, or succeeds in her endeavours; it is the journey that matters, and Gomes establishes her existential crisis quite succinctly here. We could feel it in her indifference to Gustavo's (João Miguel) assertions of love, her empathy towards patients, as if to share with them her own anxieties, and not least in her own words as spoken to a tape recorder. She even feigns a relationship with Gustavo in order to please her ailing father, but who also knows her daughter only too well. "I, Veronica, the patient... uncertain about life, like everybody else", we hear her speaking to her audio diary.

A notable aspect of the film is its sumptuous cinematography - the early scenes of Veronica commuting through the city must have been inspired by Antonioni's existential masterpiece Il deserto rosso, with its imaginative use of architecture and abstract compositions. The rule books are thrown out the window, and we get to see and feel from the protagonist's viewpoint - the touch, the fleeting warmth, the coldness, the alienation and the internal angst. The film is also aided by its beautiful soundtrack and convincing performances by Ms. Guedes and Mr. Solha who play the daughter-father duo. With this film, Mr. Gomes has certainly whetted my appetite to explore his filmography, and if his earlier films turn out to be anything like this, we should be in for a treat. Needless to say, this meditative piece of cinema is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Purchase Link

The Nudity: Hermila Guedes, João Miguel, and others
The film is bookended with hedonistic scenes at a beach with various young men and women frolicking in gay abandon alongside Veronica and Gustavo in the nude. There are also additional inserts of scenes of a sexual nature intermittently throughout the film, and includes public nudity.

Hermila Guedes, João Miguel, and others nude in Era Uma Vez Eu, Verônica