Saturday, 31 August 2013

A review: "Volevo solo dormirle addosso" [2004 Italy]

Eugenio Cappuccio's film "Volevo solo dormirle addosso" is billed as a comedy, but as with many Italian comedies, attempts to be more than that by commenting on modern city life - both personal and professional.

Marco (Giorgio Pasotti), a personnel manager at a multinational firm, will face the challenge of his career when management assigns him the task of reducing staff numbers at his office by twenty five in less than two months. He'll be rewarded if he succeeds, with a big bonus, company benefits, and a higher salary. But he'll be shown the door if he falls short. This may not be such a big deal in the UK or the US, but issuing redundancy notices is not that easy in Italy. The only way for Marco to meet the target, given the deadline, is to somehow persuade staff to resign voluntarily and accept the package offered. The task is made more complicated when he learns that the present severance package is much less that what was offered earlier.

A hitherto popular Marco will inadvertently cause resentment and deflate staff morale. Immersed in work, his personal life suffers too, due to the reluctance to take his almost-casual relationship with Laura (Cristiana Capotondi) to the next level. As the deadline approaches, Marco is made acutely aware of the limits to his persuasive powers, and realises that meeting the target will be an uphill task unless he's prepared, in his dealings, to step over the proverbial red line...

The film aspires to the ideals of commedia all'italiana, but the tone is unfortunately a bit flat and rather commercial. Yet it vaguely relates to the present state of the economy in Europe. It may have its little flaws, but is not unbearable to watch either.

DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Cristiana Capotondi, Giorgio Pasotti, and Faju
The brief nudity that occur during and after the sex scenes - necessary to make a connection with the film's title, perhaps could have been shot more imaginatively. The first is during Marco's hurried session with Laura. In a later scene, Laura discovers him continuing his work in the bathroom (almost misleading the viewer). Marco also has a fling with Angelique (Faju), an African dancer at a nightclub, that culminates in sex.

Cristiana Capotondi, Giorgio Pasotti, and Faju nude in Volevo solo dormirle addosso


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Fernando E. Solanas' Argentinian film, "Sur" [1988]

Fernando E. Solanas is one of the most important film makers to emerge from Latin America. His works - both feature films and documentaries, primarily concern politics, with a specific interest in showcasing a uniquely South American identity. On this regard, he even penned a manifesto called "Toward a Third Cinema", which was enthusiastically adopted by several film makers. His 1988 drama "Sur" [Eng. Title: The South] is as Argentinian a film can get - blending metaphors with political and social satire, and set against an atmospheric backdrop to the accompaniment of hauntingly brooding tango. The film's title, while directly pointing to the southern (poorer) part of Buenos Airés, also refers to a redevelopment project, and also South America as a whole.

The film is essentially about political prisoner Floreal's (Miguel Ángel Solá) return journey home, following the fall of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Upon arrival, he changes his mind at the doorstep, and instead takes a walk through the city in the dead of night accompanied by ghosts from the past, while wife Rosi (Susú Pecoraro) lay awake, anxious and worried. She's aware of his release and had only just returned home after waiting for him the whole day at the prison door. Floreal's walkabout will inform us of their story with the aid of flashbacks tinged with nostalgia, and the odd ghostly re-enactment.

A lot is going on in Floreal's mind that causes the detour - his was an idyllic family life prior to arrest. Ironically, he was neither interested in unionism nor politics, but ended in prison after the one instance he made a statement of solidarity with staff, by participating in a strike over the extra-judicial killing of a colleague. Moved around from prison to prison over the five years of his incarceration, Rosi had to go to extraordinary lengths to keep tab and visit him, simply glad that he's still alive, unlike the many who disappear altogether. There's another reason for Floreal's hesitance to reunite with Rosi whom he nevertheless loves dearly, but is revealed much later into the film.

The ghost of the dead colleague - 'El Negro' (Lito Cruz) accompanies Floreal as he wanders the streets, recounting events from the past alongside some friendly banter. The film, apart from attacking the dictatorship, satirises politics and bureaucracy, like in the passage of play where two friends try to influence a cousin working in the ministry into getting Floreal released, but whose offices are being fumigated during the visit.

Regardless of its lighter moments, the overbearing air of the film is one of melancholy and foreboding, and the atmospheric cinematography alongside the tango of Astor Piazzolla (sung by Roberto Goyeneche who also plays Rosi's dad) lifts the film experience to something akin to experiencing a bad dream. Solanas these days is a politician and even holds active office, but his films still remain a yardstick for measuring visual poetry in Latin American cinema. Among these, Sur remains my absolute favourite, and hence Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Susú Pecoraro, Inés Molina, and Gabriela Toscano
The film often highlights the soothing nature of nostalgia, and the nude scenes form part of it, with Susú Pecoraro featuring on a number of occasions. Apart from these, a scene also recollects a fleeting but passionate affair between Floreal and María (Inés Molina), when they were hiding from authorities. There's also a brief instance of Rosi's sister Blondi (Gabriela Toscano) flashing at her boyfriend.

Susú Pecoraro, Inés Molina, and Gabriela Toscano nude in Sur aka The South


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A review: "Bezalom" [1980 Hungary]

István Szabó announced his filmmaking genius to a wider world with the emotionally intense and atmospheric wartime drama "Bezalom" [Eng. Title: Confidence]. The title in this instance refers to 'trust', as in confiding in someone. The film was the first of his five Academy Award nominations for the Best Foreign Language Film category - he will win it in his next film Mephisto, but more on that in a later post.

The film takes place towards the fag-end of World War II, during the Nazi occupation of Hungary and the home-grown resistance movement. We follow Kata (Ildikó Bánsági), a young wife and mother, leaving a cinema. She's whisked away by a stranger who insists that she doesn't go home, informing that her husband is in danger too, due to his involvement in the resistance. To protect herself, she is asked to change her identity by pretending to be the wife of János (Péter Andorai), another resistance member - also married, and live with him in an old couple's house as refugees from a nearby region.

János cannot trust others fully even if they belong to the resistance, and he has his own reasons for that. But there is nevertheless an ever-present danger of being discovered, or being reported to authorities by snooping neighbours. Whilst living in the same room - almost as prisoners, Kata and János will inevitably draw close, and soon start seeking comfort in each others arms, both emotionally, and sexually. They also declare their love for each other during passionate embraces, only for János to return to his suspicious and withdrawn self the following morning. However, after they'd become lovers, the air of mistrust had taken on a different hue, arising over doubts of their mutual loyalty and faithfulness. They're conducting an affair knowing that they're already married, but the question whether they love their respective legitimate partners still, or perhaps even more so than each other, simply refuses to go away.

Their predicament is put to the test when Kata is sent a message to visit a secret location, to discover that her love-sick husband is waiting for her there. She stays with him for the night, and upon her return, hesitant about informing János of the rendezvous. When the Allies take the city, a decision has to be taken about their short but intense love affair. But as events transpire, that might not even be necessary...

The film admirably builds an atmosphere of coldness and mistrust through its stunning cinematography, aided also through exceptional performances from the two leads. The desolate streets of wartime Budapest shouldn't have been difficult to recreate for the film though, as it was also made during another repressive period - this time under communist rule. And since there was a message much closer to home, Szabó had to be careful in not giving the authorities more excuse to mutilate or even ban his work. Partly because of this, the film is circumspect in its depiction of nudity, covering the sex scenes mostly through a montage of stylised close-ups. But it also works very well here, in the way it illustrates the characters' intimacy under stressful conditions. The intense yet beautiful film deserves a wider audience than it'd had for most of its existence, and thanks to Second Run's excellent DVD release recently, is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Ildikó Bánsági
There is very little nudity in the film, but whatever there is very well done, and a beautiful Ildikó Bánsági dazzles against a predominantly grey canvass. There is also genuine chemistry between the lead actors that make their scenes enjoyable to watch.

Ildikó Bánsági nude in  Bizalom aka Confidence


Monday, 26 August 2013

A review, and nude-report in "Frauensee" [2012 Germany]

Zoltan Paul's neat little romantic drama "Frauensee" [aka Woman's Lake] looks at a lesbian relationship against the idyllic backdrop of the Brandenburg lakes.

Commercial fisher Rosa (Nele Rosetz) and property developer Kirsten (Therese Hämer) have been lovers for over a year. It is late summer, and a young couple - Evi (Lea Draeger) and Olivia (Constanze Waechter), turn up at the lakes for a camping holiday. Before long, they befriend Rosa. They're invited to stay in Kirsten's lakeside bungalow, because most of the area is a national park. But their arrival will also become a catalyst that shakes Rosa and Kirsten's hitherto tranquil relationship. After seeing Evi and Olivia in a long-term relationship, Rosa starts to resent Kirsten's unwillingness to take theirs beyond being mere lovers, and considers leaving. It is also not helped by Evi's constant flirtation with Rosa that begins to threaten both the couple's relationships. Whether they can reconcile their differences and carry on - only time will tell...

I was pleased to have picked up this film, because I wasn't in a mood for something particularly deep, nor stupefyingly silly. The fact that it happens to be a lesbian drama is entirely incidental - it could be any kind of couple in a similar situation, and the screenplay doesn't delve into their sexual orientation beyond a particular point. The minimal cast perform reasonably well, and the entire film was apparently wrapped up in two weeks of intense shooting, a commendable feat - trust the Germans for their efficiency. The film resolutely avoids turning into an erotic drama, and the sex scenes are minimal and fleeting. But it is sexy - particularly the scenes which show Evi flirting with Rosa. This will make an ideal date film whether you're straight or gay. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Nele Rosetz, Therese Hämer, Lea Draeger, and Constanze Waechter
Rosa and Kirsten take up most of the nude-footage, and the younger girls are fleetingly nude only once. There is also a skinny-dipping scene which, while not in the same league as a Walkabout, is still worth watching, especially since it shows a mature woman (Therese Hämer) for a change.

Nele Rosetz, Therese Hämer, Lea Draeger, and Constanze Waechter nude in Frauensee aka Woman's Lake


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Chantal Akerman continues her semi-autobiographical journey as filmmaker that started with her 'New York' set of films, followed by Je, tu, il, elle, where she played the lead herself, to "Les rendez-vous d'Anna" [Eng. Title: The Meetings of Anna], with Aurore Clément starring as a young film director of a similar age to Akerman.

In a sense, Les rendez-vous d'Anna is the culmination of a journey undertaken by Akerman, both creatively and personally - her themes on living in a foreign environment, the sense of displacement it creates, and her study in isolation or self-inflicted loneliness, as response to traditional expectations that are no longer relevant (in Je, tu, il, elle) find resonance here too.

Anna, a Belgian filmmaker living in Paris, is in a German town promoting a film, and her return journey over the next two days will take her past Cologne and Brussels. Preferring the anonymity of hotel accommodation to friends' and relatives', Anna's dealings with people she meets portray a hesitance to engage beyond the necessary, whether it is with strangers for one-night stands, or old family acquaintances who want to get in touch.

During her various meetings, Anna is largely a listener, barely responding as people pour their hearts out, and her persona seems to particularly attract the talkative-types. She appears content enough, and believes she knows what she wants, never having the need to talk about herself - we get to know Anna only through the way others respond to her. The only time she opens up in person is during a bedtime chat with her mother in a hotel room, when she confesses to being in love with an Italian woman, but who has since been elusive to get hold of over phone during her journey.

When Anna arrives in Paris, she's picked up by ex-lover Daniel (Jean-Pierre Cassel), and they end up in a hotel room. After he falls ill, Anna, out of character, even attempts to comfort him. The film ends with Anna alone in her flat, listening to messages left on her answering machine. She's home..!

The film is reminiscent of some of Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders' works, in the way space and architecture is exploited to observe characters from a detached perspective. There is a lot going on in the film that surprised me retrospectively too, after reading Darren Hughes' essay. For an appreciation of the film's technical merits, you should find the insightful and well-studied piece quite helpful.

But aficionados aside, this film also affects and moves the casual viewer with its straightforward narrative and thoughtful direction, and I'm sure that is what Akerman also wanted to achieve. Those additional layers, people can discover in their own time, thanks to DVD technology. Talking of which, the collection released by Criterion in its Eclipse series is definitely the one I'd recommend, as it includes her New York films along with Je, tu, il, elle, which connects Akerman's theme and creative process very aptly. Among her early films, Chantal Akerman's Les rendez-vous d'Anna remains my absolute favourite, and is therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Criterion 3-DVD Collection [NTSC]


The Nudity: Aurore Clément and Jean-Pierre Cassel
The film is also a nude-scene classic. Beautiful Aurore Clément gives an ethereal performance as the titular character Anna, and appears nude during four lengthy sequences. Most of them are formal compositions - non-erotic but sensual nevertheless. There is also brief nudity from Jean-Pierre Cassel who plays Daniel, a businessman and Anna's former lover that she turns to.

Aurore Clément nude in Les rendez-vous d'Anna


Friday, 23 August 2013

A brief review of Werner Schroeter's "Nuit de chien" [2008 Germany, Portugal, France]

Werner Schroeter was an important director of the Neuer Deutscher Film (New German Cinema). He was also an influence on R W Fassbinder, who considered him an artistic equal. It is easy to see why - they both shared a background in theatre, and created stylised melodramas that consciously took on an operatic tone. More so Schroeter, who could revel in the camp by eschewing realism altogether.

Since I'm still in the process of discovering his early filmography, I'll start with his last film, "Nuit de chien" [Eng. Title: This Night]. I had trouble categorising it in the post because here was a French film, made by a German director, produced in Portugal, and based on a novel by a Latin American (Juan Carlos Onetti - Para esta noche). In any case, from whatever I've seen of Schroeter, this is one of his rare straightforward narrative-driven films, a literary adaptation that even retains Spanish character names and ambient music, and therefore a good place to start in discovering his work.

Ossorio, a surgeon-turned-lieutenant, returns to Santa Maria, hoping of reunite with wife Carla, and together, leave the country. It is being invaded by an enemy and there is a Cholera pandemic, and as if war and pestilence weren't enough, a turf war has broken out between opposing ruling factions in the city - the winners will get to join the government that the invading enemy forms. It is everyone for himself, and old friendships can no longer be trusted. He arrives to find that his wife had vanished only moments earlier - there's a cigarette still alight on the ashtray. Have the secret police taken her? Ossario's search for Carla takes him on a night-time odyssey of the burning city, where people he meet get tortured, killed, or both, by one or the other faction...

The novel is a political allegory written in the 1940's, partly drawn from Greek myths, and Schroeter updates it to more modern times. Since I hadn't read the novel (I'm about to now), I wasn't expecting too much, but was pleasantly surprised to find it so riveting, despite the linguistic and cultural gap between the original source and the German-French reinterpretation.

The tone of the film is set, with a lingering opening shot of Titian's final masterpiece Flaying of Marsyas, and the ambivalent brutality doesn't abate till the end. But far from trivialising violence, Schroeter's film attempts to provoke a human response against the senselessness of it all. However, for reasons unknown, it is not nearly as biting as it would have been from the same director a few years ago. It is still a well-made film, and should help people ease their way into Schroeter's world. Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]
Amazon Book Link [English]


The Nudity: Amira Casar, Elsa Zylberstein, and Pascal Greggory
Amira Casar plays Irène, mistress of the ousted dictator now in hiding. She's rounded up by a rebel commander for brutal interrogation, and is partially nude after what must have been a terrible time with the torturers. There is accidental nudity when Agnès (Pascale Schiller) is roughed up by one of the guards. The intentional nudity takes place during a sex scene, also the lightest moment in an otherwise bleak film, between the protagonist Ossorio (Pascal Greggory) and Maria de Souza, a friend of his wife, played by Elsa Zylberstein. They're interrupted by an indignant young girl - the former dictator's daughter, that Ossorio is supposed to be looking after.

Amira Casar, Elsa Zylberstein, and Pascal Greggory nude in Nuit de chien


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

"Attenberg" [2010 Greece] - a brief review

Multifaceted Athina Rachel Tsangari belongs to a unique group of talented artists who apparently enjoy working on each other's film projects in different capacities. Her 2010 film "Attenberg" has an actor who was the director of the acclaimed "Dogtooth" (Giorgos Lanthimos) - a film in which Tsangari was the associate producer. She is also a writer, editor, and cinematographer, and has even appeared in front of the camera on occasion. Her film's title refers to a character's mispronunciation of the famed wildlife documentary filmmaker and presenter Sir David Attenborough.

Marina (Ariane Labed) is twenty three, living with her widowed dad Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) in a monotonous factory-township that he originally helped build. For Marina, peculiar circumstances have prevented her from maturing normally like other women of her age. She has never kissed a man, nor experienced the joy of sex, even if she is aware, in theory, of the sexual act in itself and the mating rituals involved - she simply hasn't felt the desire to meet and socialise people at a sexual-level. Marina's life-lessons have been gathered mainly in the process of watching wildlife documentaries, and the occasional advice and coaching from her only friend Bella (Evangelia Randou), who works at a nearby canteen and gets to meet men more often.

Spyros is also terminally ill, and a lot of the father and daughter's time together is spent on visits to the clinic. Spyros is a worried man - he cares about Marina and dearly wishes she were better prepared for life after him. "I leave you in the hands of a new century without having taught you anything", he bemoans. Marina, for her part, is determined to prove to her dad that she can survive on her own, and meet and have a boyfriend before his passing. She sets her eyes on a newly joined engineer whom she had been ferrying to and from work in her taxi, and they manage to start a tentative relationship. It will require patience, perseverance, and understanding on each other's part before she could loose her virginity...

Tsangari's film is an intense observation of a father and daughter's 'natural' relationship, explored in their isolation and mutual self-confinement. Spyros hasn't married since his wife died, and he is now bedridden, while Marina doesn't want to move away from a setting and landscape she's quite familiar with - she prefers the town's conformity and uniformity to anything else. It is the private and deeply moving exchanges between the daughter and ailing father that propel their characters and the film.

We sense that Marina should after all be able to make it on her own - she is intelligent, inquisitive, and always keen to learn. This is made obvious through her love-hate relationship with Bella, a childhood friend, from whom she tries to sponge off as much 'worldly' advice as she can, including wet French-kissing lessons, to try out with the engineer later.


Physical theatre:
Marina and Bella's coaching or favour-seeking sessions are often followed or preceded by their eccentric and amusing contests that could give Monty Python's 'Ministry of Silly Walks' a run for their money - the trained dancers that they both obviously are, Ariane Labed and Evangelia Randou add a new dimension to the characters through their physical theatre that only they could achieve.

The film, while being totally frank and open about everything under the sun, never sets out to provoke or shock its audience - the matter-of-fact narrative is allowed to play itself logically, and it doesn't linger on aspects of the characters' behaviour or idiosyncrasies for longer than necessary. The performance by all in the small cast is convincing, and the cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis is beautiful, alongside his preference for long takes with minimal camera movement. This is an original, moving, and thoroughly satisfying film that is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Ariane Labed, Evangelia Randou, and Giorgos Lanthimos
There are at least six scenes of nudity, and most of these feature the rather good-looking Ariane Labed. While all of these relate to Marina's sexual exploration, there is only one that is effectively a sex scene, between Ms. Labed and Mr. Lanthimos.

Ariane Labed, Evangelia Randou, and Giorgos Lanthimos nude in Attenberg


Sunday, 18 August 2013

A 2013 Tribute to Italian Mainstream Cinema


For a country whose cinema has been the most written about in this site, it's odd that there's never been a tribute, and so I've finally managed to post one for Italian mainstream cinema.

Streaming Video


To download a higher resolution version and with better sound, use one of the links below:
Download Mirror 1 | Download Mirror 2


The Music:
A reason for the delay was in choosing an inspiring music track that suitably illustrated Italian cinema's unique qualities. But before I'm accused of musical ignorance (or arrogance even), let me explain that the difficulty is not so much in picking a tune, but in choosing one that compared with, or even bettered what I had already used many years ago for a similar tribute. Yet to find a comparable one at the time of this post, I've used the same track that inspired me the first time - Patty Pravo's remarkable adaptation of a famous Spanish song sung by the beautiful Silvano Mangano's character in the 1951 film classic, "Anna" (El negro zumbon). As enchanting as Flo Sandon's rendition in "Anna" was (by the way, a clip from the song in that film also appears in Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso), Patty Pravo takes to it to an entirely different level, with only two stanzas of lyrics, and in Italian.

If you like the track, here's the link for Patty Pravo's album:
Amazon 'Grande Patty' Album

For me, Patty Pravo's version, titled "Il Negro Zumbon" exquisitely encapsulates the entertainment aspect of cinema - the spectacle, the carnival, and the drama - there's so much conveyed through the music, and what's more, it is also superbly composed. This track made me fall in love with Patty Pravo, and it looks like I still am, having listened to it several times during the making of this technically demanding compilation..!

I hope you enjoy this too - nineteen films have been referenced in the compilation, and apart from two, the rest have already been reviewed in my main site at the time of posting.


Note: As with all tribute posts in the site, this one is also public. Enjoy, comment, and feel free to 'like', tweet, or spread the word across in any way you can among friends. There's nothing vulgar in the video - it's just a celebration of Italian cinema and the female form. :)


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Frozen blog...

Apologies if there haven't been any updates here over the past month or so.

My blog was frozen by Google because someone (or some mechanism) suspected I could be 'spamming'. Apparently publishing one's own content is also considered spam, if it is simultaneously published elsewhere..!

Any way, after my request to reconsider their decision, it looks like the powers that be have concluded that I'm not spamming after all and have unlocked the blog (at least for now). So I should be able to keep the site updated from here on. For content published during the blockage time, feel free to visit my main site: