Monday, 30 September 2013

A review: “El muerto y ser feliz” [2012 Spain, Argentina]

Javier Rebollo's brilliantly quirky road-movie "El muerto y ser feliz" [Eng. Title: The Dead Man and Being Happy] looks at the last days of a dying Spaniard in Argentina.

Santos (José Sacristán) - a hit man in his seventies who'd recently been diagnosed for incurable cancer, decides to hit the road in his trusted old banger rather than lie in the ward waiting for death, or the occasional mercy hand-job from a pretty nurse (Valeria Alonso). He buys morphine from the nurse to numb his pain, collects money from a client for a killing assignment, and bids goodbye to Alejandra (Lisa Caligaris) after sharing the night with her - a woman young enough to be his daughter (or probably also is, considering she's his former girlfriend's daughter).

Setting off on the highway without quite finishing the job he'd been paid to do, Santos is, in a way, hoping to bribe death itself by sparing a life that he was supposed to take. It is at a petrol station when he first meets forty-year old Érika (Roxana Blanco), who jumps into the back seat of his car to evade a lover she'd just broken up with. It doesn't take long for the two to strike up a trusting platonic relationship, who will together explore an off-season Pampas away from the beaten path, passing through and staying in remote hamlets, and sharing each other's company whilst encountering different people and stray dogs along the way, until they stumble into Érika's native town. By then their friendship has become more than just platonic, but Santos knows that he needs to undertake the final leg of his journey on his own, and sets off alone on the road once again...

With this film, my faith and love for Spanish cinema has been restored! Probably the best new Spanish film I'd seen in the last two years, it's a loving tribute to everything seventies, particularly crime cinema, and has an air of irreverence as seen during Godard's French New Wave. It is raw and savage in places, but retains a nobility despite its rough edges and minor flaws - much like Santos, and the stray dogs that we encounter.

The film is also underscored with a running voice-over narration by the script writer and director, which while appearing a bit incongruous at first, offers a distinctively wry perspective on event on-screen, that'll engage the viewer further than what a formal drama otherwise would. Alongside veteran José Sacristán's Goya-awarded performance, the narration and sound-design are the secret ingredients that makes this film special. Don't believe the IMDB ratings which is once again way off the mark - this little gem is truly worth uncovering and is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Lisa Caligaris, Paula Viel, José Sacristán, and Roxana Blanco
The film contains only brief nudity, but is enough reason for me to write about it. Roxana Blanco, while miserly in her display, nevertheless proves to be the owner a beautiful and majestic rack - one can understand Santos' begging her to show them, and would've settled for just one of them in view. The audience too get to see only one, while Santos will be rewarded with a full view, and more.

Valeria Alonso sexy, and Roxana Blanco, Lisa Caligaris, and Paula Viel nude in El muerto y ser feliz aka The Dead Man and Being Happy


Saturday, 28 September 2013

A brief review: "Requiem pro panenku" [1991 Czechoslovakia]

Actor-director Filip Renc's "Requiem pro panenku" [Requiem for a Maiden] is based on true events that happened in 1984, when a troubled fourteen year old girl was interned in the wrong institution - she should have gone into social care following abuse at home, but instead ended up in a mental asylum.

Marika (Anna Geislerová) alerts the mostly female staff of the administrative mistake but few will take her seriously, while some are clearly reluctant to see her leave - the place was more or less a prison, where patients are frequently abused, and occasionally killed due to medication overdose. Marika, not helped by her own assertiveness and rebellious behaviour, becomes their target, and a women among them will also become sexually obsessed with her. Marika's attempts at directly contacting authorities lands her in further trouble, and when she escapes, is captured and brought back to endure further misery. Out of desperation, she sets fire to the hospital that will also kill some inmates. The film fast-forwards to a few years later (after Marika had served time in prison for arson) to show her walking amongst the ruins of the once-infamous asylum.

I was reminded of this film after reading a recent news report of a Russian mental institution that was gutted by fire that also killed several inmates. It appears that in most countries, old practices in state-run facilities - of ignoring warning signs and papering the failings, truly die hard. In the Czech incident, three staff members were punished for professional misconduct, as was Marika, but the people who wrongly placed her in the asylum got off scot-free. As for the film, apart from the retelling of a horrendous incident, the most noteworthy aspect is the actress playing the lead character - it saw the staring début of Anna Geislerová who was only fourteen at the time of production. She will go on to become a major actress over the years, also working with award-winning directors such as Jan Sverák and Jan Svankmajer. One of the last films made in the old Czechoslovakia, the gritty and melodramatic drama can also be appreciated for its historic credentials. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] (No subtitles)


The Nudity: Anna Geislerová
Anna Geislerová appears briefly nude in several scenes, and while it is interesting to see how little she'd changed over the years, the scenes themselves are not particularly pleasant to watch.

Teenage Anna Geislerová nude in Requiem pro panenku aka Requiem for a Maiden


Friday, 27 September 2013

A review of the Swedish film, "Vi" [2013 Sweden]

Mani Maserrat's daring second feature, "Vi" [Eng. Title: Us] takes an intimate look at the disintegration of a passionate but tragic relationship. The violence and destruction is not as much physical as it is psychological.

Krister and newly arrived Ida teach at the same school. They meet, fall in love, and decide to move in together. Ida has had little time to get to know Krister - his outlook and charm, brimming with confidence, was enough to win her heart. What starts off as a romantic dream when they start living together will become a nightmare, after Kirster turns out to be a domineering control-freak. The tragedy and what the film's about, is the time it takes Ida to realise it herself - blinded by love, and dreams of raising a family. Even when Linda - her colleague, confidant, and voice of the audience, sees their relationship for what it is and warns her, Ida fails to see anything wrong with Kirster. She doesn't notice that he treats her like a child when he's not making love, finds fault in everything she does, and forces her to apologise for simply being herself.

The film makes psychological observations on the nature of confidence and self-esteem through an honest attempt at articulating the fact that they are never constant - that they waver and shift depending on circumstances, underscored during various stages of Ida and Kirster's doomed love affair. They should never have met, for any kind of relationship between them - platonic or otherwise, would have only been controlling. As events unfold, they end up playing out a sado-masochistic game without being aware, or even remotely wanting to. The audience too will watch in pain Ida's deterioration into something close to a mental wreck - unable to differentiate between reality and the imagined.

The end is fitting, but the only flaw with the film is in the characterisation, in the way it forces us into building a contempt for Kirster from the very beginning, eventually given vent on our behalf by Linda, after she confronts him during one of the more emotionally charged passages of play. Yet I'd have preferred to have seen Kirster, not as a monstrous caricature, but a more 'normal' person, allowing the audience to engage - after all, you don't require a disturbed individual for ruining a relationship. All the three main actors give a fine performance - which shouldn't be surprising, considering that this is made in Sweden. Gustaf Skarsgård lives up to his more famous father's reputation, while Anna Åström makes a promising début in the role of a protagonist. What is surprising however, is the frank depiction of sex scenes that'd probably be more at home in Dutch rather than Swedish cinema. They're quite realistic, and the cinematography is also appealing. The film will repel audiences at some point due to individual reasons, but if you stick with it, it'll allow you to reflect on certain things we often take for granted when it comes to human behaviour. Highly Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Anna Åström and Gustaf Skarsgård
The film features several long scenes in which either or both of the protagonists are shown in the nude. There is also a sex scene of a fairly explicit nature, but it is there for a reason that'll become obvious towards the end.

Anna Åström and Gustaf Skarsgård nude and having sex in the Swedish film Vi.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

"Alacrán enamorado" [2013 Spain] - a review

Santiago Zannou's "Alacrán enamorado" [Eng. Title: Scorpion in Love] is an action-packed and star-studded romantic drama based on Carlos Bardem's novel of the same name.

Julián 'Scorpion' López (Álex González) and best friend Luis (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) belong to a violent neo-Nazi gang whose ideologue is a right-wing 'thinker' named Solís (Javier Bardem). The duo enrol in a boxing gym for obvious reasons, but Julián, from a troubled working class family, nevertheless possesses basic human qualities like loyalty and a sense of fair play. Combined with the world-view and discipline imparted by coach Carlomonte (Carlos Bardem) and assistant Pedro (Hovik Keuchkerian), Julián turns a new leaf and gradually distances himself from the gang's activities. He also falls in love with beautiful dark-skinned Alyssa (Judith Diakhate), a staff member at the gym. But the gang want him back and will go to lengths to persuade, and even threaten with consequences if he doesn't break his relationship with Alyssa, and on one occasion will also follow and brutally assault her in an alleyway. But they only help to make the couple's love stronger, and Julián will take the matter up directly with Solís himself...

The film is reasonably well made, and it sure helps to have the likes of Javier Bardem around to enhance the production's quality. He gives as fine and authentic a performance as he always does, even if it is unusual to find him in a restrained, low-key role for a change. The rest of the cast, including lead actors Álex González and the gorgeous Judith Diakhate interpret their characters convincingly. I've seen Ms. Diakhate in one other film before (The Night of the Sunflowers) and her performance in that film was memorable too. For her talent, she ought to be doing more films than she is at the moment.

Which brings me to one of my pet gripes with mainland European film industry, and particularly Spain - they've been absorbing different ethnic groups for decades, but it seems that they still need to justify casting actors of a different race in a main role. More often than not, there's a racial undercurrent in films they appear in - a positive message it might be, but patronising nonetheless. I understand my point of view may not be universally acclaimed during the present economic climate, but it requires pointing out. Despite my minor misgiving, the simplistic plot, and the slightly overdone post-production, the film is worth watching for those in a mood for easy viewing.

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Judith Diakhate and Álex González
There are two fairly long scenes with Judith Diakhate and Álex González that show sex and nudity - more of the former, because the scenes are dimly lit and the actors appear almost as silhouettes, but it is also plain to see that they're completely nude for the most part. There's a blu-ray version out at the time of my posting, but I doubt if that'll show any further detail than my DVD.

Judith Diakhate and Álex González completely nude in Alacrán enamorado aka Scorpion in Love


Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Franco-Portuguese history drama "Linhas de Wellington" [Eng. Title: Lines of Wellington] is based on events surrounding the Peninsular War of the Napoleonic era, when British forces under Wellington helped Portugal defend its territory against invading French forces. When the film's original director Raul Ruiz passed away during production in 2011, the job was taken over by his widow and long-time film collaborator Valeria Sarmiento - an editor and noted film director in her own right.

Rather than focusing on the war and the renowned Lines of Wellington itself, the film looks at the invasion's impact on troops and particularly the ordinary folk at the time - the disruption to their normal lives and the hardship caused through displacement and plunder, to highlight the fact that the horror of war will always stay the same as it ever was, no matter how many the protocols and treaties are signed.

The multilingual film, running close to two and half hours, has epic credentials and follows the fortunes of several characters as they make their way south towards Lisbon. The characters include troops bearing various colours, and also citizens - rich and poor. It is also star-studded, with big names such as John Malkovich (as Wellington), Marisa Paredes, Michel Piccoli, Catherine Denevue, and Isabelle Huppert making an appearance, alongside local stars such as Nuno Lopes and Carloto Cotta.

But with all its artistic and technical credentials, it would perhaps have better suited a TV series than a full-length feature (there was also a TV series in addition to the film). The main characters - and there are over a dozen of them, are almost equal in their importance to a narrative that can easily be trimmed into little episodes. The screenplay is therefore the film's main drawback because it takes a while for us to get acquainted with its characters that sometimes, is a bit too late. Which is a shame, because many of these characters have beautiful stories that deserve to be explored on their own. Like Dona Filipa (Marisa Paredes), Vicente de Almeida (Filipe Vargas), and his idiot-muse (João Arrais). Having said that, and despite it being aimed at a native audience, the film is also informative with captivating drama in patches, and has a good cast appearing in a decent production, which makes it Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Soraia Chaves, Victória Guerra, and Joana de Verona
Local beauties Soraia Chaves and Victória Guerra appear nude in separate scenes as prostitute Martírio and precocious middle class teenager Clarissa respectively. There is also brief nudity from Joana de Verona who plays the rebel Brites, whose character in a shocking scene, gets raped by French soldiers after her crying baby is killed by being thrown against a wall.

Soraia Chaves and Victória Guerra frontally nude in Linhas de Wellington aka Lines of Wellington


Thursday, 19 September 2013

A review: Maurice Pialat's "À nos amours" [1983 France]

Maurice Pialat was a master at peeling away layers of human respectability in order to shed light on the vagaries of heart and mind. But unlike Michael Haneke or Ulrich Seidl - present day directors with a similar gift and disposition, Pialat's film language is altogether raw, immediate, and unrehearsed - it's an extravagant offshoot of cinema vérité, where realism is accentuated with intense melodrama.

His teenage ennui-themed "À nos amours" [Eng. Title: To Our Romance] also saw the début of the remarkable and beautiful Sandrine Bonnaire. At sixteen, she plays the protagonist of a same age, undergoing changes not only owing to hormones, but also turbulence in a barely functional family. Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) is an intelligent girl with an independent streak. Despite being raised in a strict family with old-fashioned values, she is sexually active and unable to stay loyal to anyone, often having casual encounters with strangers and friends alike. A tipping point arrives when her workaholic dad (played by Maurice Pialat himself) decides to leave home. With a psychotic mother (Evelyne Ker) going through depression, the underachieving elder brother Robert (Dominique Besnehard) takes charge of the household, and forces Suzanne to comply with rules that disallow late nights and casual affairs. The physical abuse heaped on her by the mother-son duo only increases her promiscuity, and her hatred towards them.

What Suzanne is seeking, through her various encounters, is the person who had meant to her the most - her dad - probably the only person she'd ever truly loved, and whose approval she craves. In the process, she impulsively rejects a boy who was in love with her, and marries another in order to conform to family custom (who loves her too, by the way). We'll know later that Suzanne had stayed in touch with her father all the time, and they were the only two in the family who actually communicated, and accepted each other despite their differences. He will also be the one who sees off Suzanne at the airport when she leaves her husband to fly to California...

The storyline suggests gloom and misery, but that's beside the point as far as Pialat is concerned. His intention is not to make his audience feel good but to reflect on the human condition and the manufactured values in society. He achieves that through captivating cinema, offering deep insight into reasons for people's choices and actions. With a minimal script, significant moments within the film have been improvised by bringing the actors out of their comfort zone and forcing them to react using their own natural instincts, while still staying in character. The recommended 2-DVD Eureka set features some excellent extras, including an insightful interview with Sandrine Bonnaire - conducted a few months after Maurice Pialat's death, screen tests conducted before the shoot, and also an exhaustive interview with the great man himself. I consider this Pialat's finest film and worthy of the awarded César - it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon 2-DVD Link [PAL] (Recommended)


The Nudity: Sandrine Bonnaire and Pierre-Loup Rajot
Pialat was extremely protective of Ms. Bonnaire during the shoot, obviously because of her age, due to which sex is not depicted in the film despite her character's promiscuity - the scenes happen either before or after sex. But the situation also offered the director greater scope to examine the motive for her character's actions, and the resulting reactions. Pierre-Loup Rajot appears as one of her lovers (Bernard), and his scenes are the only ones that feature male nudity.

Sandrine Bonnaire and Pierre-Loup Rajot nude in À nos amours aka To Our Romance


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A review: Nieulotne [2013 Poland, Spain]

Jacek Borcuch's spaced out romantic drama, "Nieulotne" [Eng. Title: Lasting], a Polish-Spanish co-production, is about two young people meeting and falling in love, and having their relationship tested during a crisis.

Michal (Jakub Gierszal) and Karina (Magdalena Berus), two Polish students working in Spain during their summer break, meet and fall in love. Michal also enjoys diving, and spends some of his spare time in lakes around the farm. During a visit, he has an altercation with a local guy and in a fit of rage, kills him. Repenting immediately afterwards, he tries to revive him, but to no avail. A distraught Michal doesn't tell this to anyone, and returns to Poland. After Karina also returns from Spain, they'll both have something important to tell when they see each other. But after listening to Michal's incident, Karina runs away in shock, never wanting to speak to him again. Both struggle to come to terms with the tragedy and the loss of innocence, but they nevertheless need to confront issues and get their priorities straight in order to move on...

The film boasts some appealing outdoor cinematography, particularly in the scenes set in Spain, and also has a decent sound design with a catchy soundtrack. The direction is pretty good, even if the pace would have probably suited a story involving a slightly older couple. The lead actors have chemistry and perform well, and are helped along with some thoughtful editing. Recommended Viewing..!

eBay DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Magdalena Berus and Jakub Gierszal
There are two sex scenes involving nudity, mostly of Magdalena Berus, while Jakub Gierszal also briefly appears nude in a separate scene. They're both beautiful but I couldn't help feeling that together, they resemble siblings rather than lovers, and that's despite the obvious chemistry.

Magdalena Berus and Jakub Gierszal nude in Nieulotne


Monday, 16 September 2013

"Kuutamolla" [2002 Finland] - A review

Aku Louhimies' chick-flick "Kuutamolla" [Eng. Title: Lovers and Leavers] looks at a Scandinavian version of Bridget Jones - slender and reserved, who hopes to meet and fall in love with the man of her dreams.

Iiris (Minna Haapkylä), reluctant to socialise, spends most of her free time watching films, and often quotes dialogues from them while conversing with the few friends she has. They try to hook her up with various people, and the one she likes and quickly falls in love with is a young and good looking film-maker named Marko (Peter Franzén). But he tires of her just as quickly and dumps a distraught Iiris unceremoniously, forcing friends to come to her aid. One of them is Laura (Laura Malmivaara), a mother of two married to Sami (Matti Ristinen). But Laura's history prior to Sami will unexpectedly catch up on her, and in the spur of the moment, abandons Sami and children to rendezvous with a former Argentinian lover. Iiris and Sami draw comfort in each other's arms and embark on an affair, until Laura returns just as suddenly as she fled, to claim back her family. Marko, having made a successful feature film début, becomes aware of Iiris' affair with Sami and now wants her back, even proposing marriage and inviting her to live in the US with him. She readily agrees, but on the way to the airport, changes her mind...

There's little meaningful criticism I could offer on this Hollywood-styled mainstream fare apart from stating my inability to enthuse on Iiris' character and story - I would have preferred to have followed Laura's story instead, which certainly offered greater drama and intrigue. Even the cut-away portions of Laura's affair that found its way into the deleted scenes section of the DVD didn't shed enough light on her story. The rest of the film is just about average - not terrible, but nothing special either. But knowing that the film wasn't particularly aimed at me - I'm tempted to recommend it to a female audience, perhaps in their twenties and thirties - I may be off the mark here, but then again we all carry our stereotypes with us, don't we..! ;)

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Heikki Vihinen, Minna Haapkylä, Matti Ristinen, and Peter Franzén
There is intermittent male nudity (ladies - take note), and Minna Haapkylä is the only female actor seen in the nude, frontal on a couple of occasions.

Minna Haapkylä, Matti Ristinen, and Peter Franzén nude in  Kuutamolla aka Lovers and Leavers


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Jirí Menzel's "Skrivánci na niti" [1969 Czechoslovakia]

Jirí Menzel was an important part of the Czechoslovak New Wave - a film movement during the 1960's when a handful of its directors made remarkable observations on society and culture through compelling cinema, and with an openness rarely noticed in the Eastern Bloc. Often drawn from literature, the films were funded by the government and therefore need to have a formal narrative and message, but they were also liberal in the use of satire and wit, influenced to some degree by Italian neorealism. Their artistic freedom and finesse made them popular fare in international film festivals and were often also nominated for Academy Awards, with Menzel bagging the prize himself for best foreign feature through his 1966 "Closely Watched Trains".

I'll start his filmography with a film that he made in 1968 and finished the following year, "Skrivánci na niti" [Eng. Title: Larks on a String], because it was also the year of the Prague Spring, when Czechoslovakia briefly experimented in socialism "with a human face" before being invaded and brutally crushed by Brezhnev's Soviet Union. Larks on a String touches a raw nerve in its depiction of an incompetent and morally corrupt political system that hampered prosperity and well-being. Promptly banned upon completion, Menzel was also prevented from making films for five years, and his passport was confiscated so that he couldn't even make films abroad. The film was not released until the fall of communism thirty years later.

Based on a collection of short stories by Bohumil Hrabal - a frequent Menzel collaborator, the film makes a spirited critique of a system using a labour camp set in a scrapyard as metaphor, by highlighting the futility of trying to refashion a new people out of the bourgeois - that they will never become better than what they already were, and that it will only end up creating another new albeit embarrassingly incompetent bunch of bourgeois from the working classes.

Set in the early fifties, we see a 'cultural revolution' in action, where a group of disparate but 'bourgeois' dissidents are serving time in a labour camp before they could be re-integrated into society - they range from a philosopher, public prosecutor, saxophonist, and a cook, to even a barber. On the other side of the camp are the female inmates - bourgeois too, separated by a wooden fence. Vivacious and flirty, the women make the men's lives bearable through exchange of glances from a distance, and the occasional brushing of hands during errands, while the guards aren't watching. The cook Pavel (Václav Neckár) and Jitka (Jitka Zelenohorská) strike up a beautiful romance in the process, and even get officially married upon Pavel's release, albeit through a surrogate bride - because Jitka has a few more months to serve. But due to turn of events, they'll have to wait for a while before their marriage is consummated...

What the film represents is not only the exuberant nature of the Czech people and their desire for individual freedoms, but also a system that hampers them from serving the state productively, and its hypocrisy in creating new elites while eliminating the earlier ones. The film's whimsical tone prevents us from dismissing the system and the guards altogether, who are shown as merely doing what they're expected to do while silently reflecting on the farcical nature of their duties. There may be nothing insidious in the film's tone, but the message is nevertheless incendiary, striking at the very heart of the system. Despite that, the film is a humanist, affectionate, and life-affirming ode to its people, and more importantly - a snapshot of the expectations and aspirations of the Prague Spring, which makes it Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Jitka Zelenohorská and others
The excuse for me writing about this film is a brief scene where male inmates gather for their 'cinema' of the evening - peeping through the fence as women change into their night robes. Jitka knows that they're being watched, and waves towards them after the 'show' finishes. There is also a hilarious scene involving a functionary and a policeman volunteering to improve local hygiene - they seem to be more keen in helping wash pretty young girls than the elderly they're supposed to be taking care of.

Jitka Zelenohorská and others nude in Skrivánci na niti aka Larks on a String


Thursday, 12 September 2013

A review: "Volver a morir" [2011 Colombia]

Miguel Urrutia's directorial début "Volver a morir" [Eng. Title: Wake Up and Die] is a horror-thriller centred on a woman having a 'Groundhog Day' type experience, with which she learns to survive a maniac after many failed attempts.

Camila wakes up in a ruffled bed next to a man she doesn't recognise. She remembers having a drink at a bar while waiting for female friends who don't turn up. Finding herself in the stranger's bedroom - his name is Dario, she fears she might have been drugged and brought here, and becomes more suspicious after noticing the bedroom door locked. Dario however smooth-talks his way into convincing Camila for another session of sex, during which he strangles and kills her, only for her to wake up next to him again. This goes on for a number of times until she eventually learns how to avoid getting killed.

Granted that there is merit in the plot - and even if I'm not the greatest fan of the genre, I can see its potential. But the film unfortunately makes a hash of it with not only a nondescript screenplay, but also poor direction and messy post-production - it's not as if they didn't make an effort, but perhaps too much. Quite probably, it's the poor production, particularly the shoddy camera work and lazy lighting that prompted the overcooking. Neither a horror nor an erotic thriller, it is possibly my worst film viewing experience of the year (so far), and I hope the director had dusted himself and carried on regardless of this mishap. But for those who usually don't give a hoot for my opinion, here's the DVD link to the 'uncut' version. DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Andrea Montenegro and Luis Fernando Bohórquez
If I have to dig deep to find a reason to recommend the film - it would be the prospect of watching Andrea Montenegro in the buff, and she obliges by staying nude or barely covered for most of the film's runtime. But I'm afraid you'd yet be disappointed, as we never actually catch a satisfactory glimpse of the 40-something Peruvian-born bombshell, even though she's isn't exactly the shy type in front of camera. Fernando Bohórquez doesn't have as many nude duties, but he's shown full-frontal in a scene that doesn't even require it - possibly to keep the other section of the crowd engaged, I suppose.

Andrea Montenegro and Luis Fernando Bohorquez nude in Volver a morir aka Wake Up and Die


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A review: “W sypialni” [2012 Poland]

Tomasz Wasilewski's directorial début, "W sypialni" [Eng. Title: In the Bedroom] is a minimalist drama about a middle aged woman in crisis.

Edyta (Katarzyna Herman) has left home, and upon arriving in Warsaw, spends most of her time in her car - driving around the city, and sometimes sleeping in it. With little or no means, she feeds clandestinely off supermarket shelves, and meets up with men through the internet in order to take advantage of their unsuspecting hospitality, by helping herself after drugging them, to food, shower, and whatever there is, but making sure to leave before they wake up. She meets Patryk (Tomasz Tyndyk) on one such 'date', but leaves in hurry after an argument, forgetting her handbag in the process. She returns reluctantly the following day to ask for it. Patryk not only returns the bag, but also invites her to join him for breakfast, and a tentative relationship - platonic at first, develops between the two. However Edyta could not, or would not want to take things to the next level for reasons that'll initially baffle Patryk. He'll learn to accept her decision nevertheless, but not before letting her know of his feelings for her...

For a feature film with a runtime of 72 minutes, it is a bit short and I fear, perhaps too short for its own good. There is no questioning the film's technical and artistic merits - impressive as it is for someone making their début. But the austere tone and narrative requires more fleshing out of the protagonist's character in order to resonate with the general audience - it is perhaps a bit too subtle for its own good, even if I personally didn't have a problem understanding Edyta's motivations or state of mind.

There are two scenes that strenuously draw attention to her disposition. In the first, she calls home but doesn't utter a word, but the person at the other end - her husband, recognises who it is, and begs her to return. The second is when she's in a young woman's house, enquiring about her child's father, to which the woman replies that he's already married to another woman. We know that Edyta hasn't left home to fulfil a hedonistic impulse, nor is she in a desperate need to seek comfort in someone else's arms - she has traditional morals, and even with the man she gets close to - Patrick, her reactions are mostly maternal. But a little more detail would have enhanced the film further. My main concern is the English title, which is not really what the film is about. But it is a promising début by the Polish film maker, and Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Purchase Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Katarzyna Herman and Tomasz Tyndyk
The film opens with Edyta undressing in front of the mirror to have a bath - and I dare say Katarzyna Herman sure does have an impressive pair of legs for someone in her forties. There is also nudity from Tomasz Tyndyk emerging from water, even if an excited Edyta is too embarrassed to be seen admiring him. :)

Katarzyna Herman and Tomasz Tyndyk nude in W sypialni


Sunday, 8 September 2013

A brief review: "3096 Tage" [2013 Germany]

Sherry Hormann delicately handles the harrowing true story of Natascha Kampusch - the Austrian schoolgirl who was abducted when she was ten and held captive for eight years by Wolfgang Priklopil. The film "3096 Tage" [Eng. Title: 3096 Days] is partly inspired by Ms. Kampusch's book of the same name, in reference to the number of days she was held in the cellar of a suburban home by an unemployed mother-obsessed loner.

Many of us would have followed the story as it unfolded a few years ago following Ms. Kampusch's escape. While some of her statements, suggesting that she'd forgiven Priklopil for his crime, will raise a few eyebrows, they nevertheless provide food for thought and encourage us to look for answers that may not necessarily be the most natural, or convenient even. The director clearly understands this issue, and has tread a thin line in balancing Natascha's abnormal state of mind and the way she viewed Priklopil at the time, with how a normal individual would recognise him - for the monster that he is. I won't be going into details of the story as it has been widely reported already. But for those interested, here's some press-cuttings taken from Ms. Kampusch's own website:

The Guardian | Daily Mail | Magazine Book Review

The film resolutely stays clear of sensationalising these events because the story itself is true, and no further embellishment, apart from a tone of authenticity, is required to depict the terrible story. Both the lead actors - British actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes who plays Natascha Kampusch, and Danish actor Thure Lindhardt who plays Wolfgang Priklopil lend that authenticity to their respective roles. More so Ms. Campbell-Hughes, who shed a lot of weight in order to prepare herself both physically and mentally for the part, and her transformation from a healthy thirty year old woman to an emaciated fourteen year old is nothing short of spectacular, disturbingly so.

However, some of the more devastating moments in the film happen around the younger Natascha, played by Amelia Pidgeon. Particularly touching is the scene where the lonely girl plays in the dark cellar with imaginary characters she'd created using a cardigan and the dress she wore when she was abducted. It is Natascha seeking a semblance of normalcy even during dire straits, that elevates the film to the level of a tribute to the human spirit. The set design had painstakingly recreated the house where Natascha was originally held (one that she currently owns), and the cinematography aptly conveys the claustrophobic atmosphere of her captivity. IMDB, as usual, has woefully underrated the film, but me thinks it is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Priklopil starved Natascha and kept her naked most of the time, which renders nudity a necessity in the film. But, far from objectifying Ms. Campbell-Hughes, the nakedness is painful to watch, as it only succeeds in highlighting her character's utter vulnerability.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes nackt im 3096 Tage


Friday, 6 September 2013

The secret to immortality: "Ci vediamo domani" [2013 Italy]

Agreed - Andrea Zaccariello's gentle comedy "Ci vediamo domani" [Eng. Trans: See you tomorrow] was never intended to be anything more than that, but I suspect he might have missed an opportunity here. Because the film touches on issues that are topical and worthy of discourse, but like most mainstream films, shies away by taking the easiest option and forces a happy ending that was not at all necessary.

It makes a valid observation concerning the present generation, who tend to get into debt rather easily thanks to the present culture of indulgence, and look for an even easier way out when problems mount, often relying on an earlier generation who had worked a lot harder through their lives. Marcello (Enrico Brignano), already separated from second wife Flavia (Francesca Inaudi), falls on hard times as business fails and creditors knock on his door. Yet he spends money buying scratch-card raffle tickets in the hope of his luck turning. His six year old daughter is disappointed in him too - she often communicates in writing, signing off with the drawing of a worm eating an apple.

After overhearing a conversation that only businesses that deal with food and death tend to remain viable during an economic downturn, Marcello comes up with the idea of opening a funeral parlour. Wanting to become successful in quick-time, he'll open one in an area where old people outnumber others. He finds out in a news article that most of the people in the quaint village of Pietrafrisca are old-age pensioners, and sets up shop there after persuading his grandmother to mortgage her property. Only, he hadn't bothered to read the article in full. He'll learn soon enough though, that the last time someone died in the village was way back in 1972, and it was in the news only because of the unusual longevity of its residents. The secret, according to them, is the phrase with which they bid goodbye every time, "Ci vediamo domani" (see you tomorrow), and the hope it represented - that they'll still be around the following day to see other...

The heart-warming premise is exploited mainly for comedic reasons, even though some soul-searching moments are occasionally involved. Unfortunately it also gets sloppy with its plot midway, and doesn't for moment hesitate in its casual racial-stereotyping of characters. Either way, this frittata isn't exactly ready-to-eat, requiring a pinch of salt to make it palatable... DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Corrine Jiga
In a brief scene, round about the time when the film starts to loose its focus, an immigrant from Romania (Dracula country - and you can see the gag coming) calling herself Maria (Corinne Jiga), finds her way into Marcello's coffin-bed by pretending to have been abandoned after her husband's imprisonment.

Corrine Jiga nude in Ci vediamo domani


About chance and destiny: "Przypadek" [1987 Poland]

Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterful "Przypadek" [Eng. Title: Blind Chance] makes a philosophical and metaphysical argument for the part random chance can play in shaping a man's destiny. It adds an additional layer to the commonly used expression "if only..." by showing the viewer three versions of a person's life, after altering the outcome of one event he's involved in. You may have come across a similar premise in another film, but Blind Chance is not only one of the earliest such examples, it is also one of the most eloquent, well-crafted, and thought provoking discourses articulated on the theme using the language of cinema - one that truly pushes the boundaries and enhances the scope of what talking pictures can achieve.

We see central character Witek's life and fortunes drastically change, based on three different scenarios arising out of his attempt to catch a train - when he succeeds to board the train after giving it a chase, when he doesn't succeed despite the chase and gets into a fight with the station guard instead, and finally when he misses the train again, but bumps into a female friend from his medical college. Witek, with the same morals, idealism, and sensitivity, becomes a different person in each scenario - he joins the system and the communist party in the first, he turns to religion and underground politics in the second, and he leads a comfortable and conventional family life after eschewing politics altogether in the third scenario.

The events can either be interpreted as Witek's flashbacks, imagined events that are yet to take place, or vignettes of premonitions even, but all three scenarios will lead him to fly to Paris, in which he will never succeed due to different factors. Kieslowski, while not readily drawing conclusions on the idea of fate, clearly ponders à la Buñuel in Le fantôme de la liberté, whether we are truly at liberty to chart our own destiny. He wills his protagonist to believe in his choice, and is ultimately as disappointed as Witek to learn otherwise. I suspect that it is this explosive - disillusioned message, that forced Polish censors to prevent its release. Made in 1981, it didn't see the light of day until 1987.

But the film also delves into metaphysical elements of life and death. Events come full-circle after each scenario, through the airport (presumably the final destination), only to start again from where it began. Chance and destiny will become a recurring theme in Kieslowski's work from here on, reverberating in future films such as Krótki film o zabijaniu, and La Double Vie de Véronique. Boguslaw Linda gives an excellent interpretation of the anguished Witek, and his engaging presence contributes in no small measure to the film's accessibility. The masterpiece from Kieslowski is a must-see for any fan of pure cinema, and Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon DVD Link [NTSC] - Recommended


The Nudity: Boguslawa Pawelec and Monika Gozdzik
There are five scenes containing nudity - the first two are from the first scenario during which Witek has a relationship with underground political activist Czuszka - played by Boguslawa Pawelec. The rest are from the third scenario, when Witek falls in love and marries fellow student Olga - played by Monika Gozdzik.

Boguslawa Pawelec and Monika Gozdzik nude in Przypadek aka Blind Chance


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The story of a prostitute: "Bruna Surfistinha" [2011 Brazil]

Brazilian attitudes towards sex is one of the more enigmatic aspects of their culture, where traditional Roman Catholic values sit side-by-side with an apparently uninhibited and tolerant sexuality. Marcus Baldini's directorial début is the biopic "Bruna Surfistinha" [Eng. Title: Little Surfer Girl], based on a book (The Scorpion's Sweet Venom) by Raquel Pacheco aka Bruna Surfistinha - a prostitute who earned fame and notoriety after her sensational blog became one of the most followed in all of Brazil. Ms. Pacheco makes a guest appearance in the film as well, as a restaurant hostess greeting her character's namesake with a client.

The film charts the chosen journey of teenage Raquel (Deborah Secco) from a respectable middle class family to the world of prostitution. It begins with her leaving home and joining a brothel. She'll soon progress into an independent high-class call girl (or program girl, as they're called). She will maintain a blog recounting her sexual exploits, also using it to rate her clients' performance in bed. The blog will gain popularity and she'll be invited to appear on national television that'll make her a celebrity of sorts. But fame will also cause her downfall, after her drug abuse chases away prime customers, leading to a downward spiral that'll draw her towards the gutters before emerging back from the brink.

Since the film is drawn from real events, it is not for me to reason why Raquel aka Bruna chose to do what she did, nor is there a need for her actions to be justified compellingly. Her transformation started from a desire to become independent, and prove to herself that she could make it on her own. After a disgruntled classmate publishes compromising pictures he'd secretly taken of her, she runs away from home to join a brothel, as if it were her only career option. She starts a blog intending to talk about herself, not quite expecting to become a household name in the process.

But as far as the film-making is concerned, I do have a problem with the casting choice for the protagonist Raquel. Deborah Secca, while she's attractive and performs rather well in the film, is perhaps older for the part she plays, and her early scenes as a teenager require some convincing. Besides, there is this vexed question about the sheer number of films made these days on women choosing to become prostitutes. Whether they're shown earning their way through college, feeding a family, or simply seeking pleasure, these films, right from Belle de jour to whatever comes next, seem to do rather well commercially. I wonder if it is to do with men's eternal fascination for a soul-mate who could be their whore in bed, or perhaps a reflection of women's own desire to be able to exercise their free will when it comes to sex.

For what it is, the film, whilst having its various light and dark moments, retains the tone of someone pursuing a glamorous or even covet-worthy profession. It has scenes of a sexual nature right until the final few minutes. But the film is also aimed at a mainstream audience - for the most part suggesting rather than portraying details of the goings on. The sound track is good, but as far as the direction and cinematography is concerned, I had the feeling of watching a TV film rather than a feature film.

DVD Order Link [NTSC] | Blu-ray Order Link
The Scorpion's Sweet Venom: Amazon Book Link


The Nudity: Deborah Secco and others
Ms. Secco appears intermittently nude throughout the film alongside various male partners, and in some scenes, seen completely nude.

Deborah Secco nude in Bruna Surfistinha aka Little Surfer Girl