Friday, 29 November 2013

A review: Late Marriage aka Hatuna Meuheret [2001 Israel, France]

Writer-director Dover Koshashvili's impressive début feature, "Mariage tardif" [Orig. Title: Hatuna Meuheret, Eng. Title: Late Marriage] is a bitter-sweet satirical comedy that doesn't flinch in laying bare the consequences of staunchly held traditional values colliding with modern aspirations within an Israeli family. Shot in Hebrew and Georgian, the film's vague relevance for this site can only be justified through its co-production by France.

Zaza (Lior Ashkenazi), a thirty one year old bachelor is forced to make a choice between the two women he loves - Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a thirty three year old divorcee and single mother, and his mum Lili (Lili Koshashvili - the director's own mother), who is vehemently opposed to their union. In Lili's eyes, Judith had lost her right to become part of her family by failing to meet some critical requisites - her son's wife should be younger than him, she should never have been married before, and preferably still be a virgin, let alone be a mother to a child through someone else. Zaza is still studying - doing a doctorate at a Tel Aviv university, and utterly reliant on his parents' stipend. Aware of the obvious benefits of keeping them in good humour, at least until he finishes his studies, Zaza accompanies them to meet various 'approved' matches, without the slightest intention of picking one.

While Judith is all too aware of Zaza's dependence on his parents, the challenge of maintaining their relationship will be made shockingly clear when his parents, after discovering their affair, visit and threaten her with physical harm not only in front of her child, but an embarrassed Zaza as well. Despite his righteous protests, the damage has been done - his untenable position has been glaringly exposed. Now it all depends on how he responds, and how Judith interprets his response...

The above plot, which in itself isn't any different from many family-driven melodramas in the middle east and beyond, nevertheless is radically different through its treatment - the bywords are logic and realism. In closed communities like the one portrayed, family honour and prestige are more important than personal choices and fulfilment - defended using violence if necessary. Koshashvili treads a fine line here - he doesn't dismiss the traditional way outright, but makes an impassioned plea for a better understanding of a more cosmopolitan generation with slightly different moral values.

The insightful characterisation, possibly drawn from Koshashvili 's personal experiences, will resonate with audiences beyond the community it represents - even if they may be exaggerated versions of people we may know, they're not caricatures drawn to merely induce laughs or scorns. One of the pivotal sequences in the film is an extremely intimate sex scene between Zaza and Judith which establishes the closeness of their relationship - it is disarmingly honest, and as far as can be from pornography or conventional film erotica. The scene reminds us of our own selves, and enable us to connect with the protagonists at a very personal level. The camera captures every nuance and detail of the couple's interactions, who are completely comfortable being naked in each other's presence. The same honesty is also shown when portraying the ruthlessness of Zaza's parents in separating what they take for a mismatched couple. But they're not unidimensional as to be neatly categorised as good or evil - they also care for their son and truly believe that they're doing him a favour for which he'll one day only thank them.

Ronit Elkabetz is sensational as the fiery and intelligent Judith - not only is she a great actress, she's a knock-out babe too, made plain despite the rather mediocre image transfer in my New Yorker NTSC DVD. The film questions aspects of age old traditions that are incompatible with modern living using irony and wit. Unlike Monsoon Wedding, a film that came out the same year and also delves into arranged marriages, Late Marriage casts an altogether critical view on the subject. The final scenes, including the conversation between a drunk Zaza and his father in the toilet, are outrageous and merciless in its satire. It is a film that everyone in, or about to enter a long term relationship, should see - Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles
(I haven't seen this recent DVD edition, but I suspect the quality should be way better than my older NTSC copy)


The Nudity: Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi
There's just a single scene in the film that contains nudity, but it is long, and important to the narrative, when Zaza spends a night in Judith's apartment. They talk, have sex, pause, joke, and start again - made using takes lasting over a minute each, it is one of the more realistic portrayals in film, of sex within a normal relationship. They don't go about the business like porn stars, they don't 'perform' like actors in many other films, they just do it like us, and talk nothings into each other's ear like we do, and it establishes their closeness and affection admirably. It's a scene also made special through genuine chemistry between Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi. People who moan about nudity in films should particularly watch this scene in its entirety. If they're honest with themselves, they'll realise that the scene, filmed in any other way, will never come as close to revealing the depth of the couple's relationship.

Ronit Elkabetz and Lior Ashkenazi nude in the sex scene from Mariage tardif aka Hatuna Meuheret aka Late Marriage


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A review: "La condanna" [1991 Italy]

Marco Bellocchio throws the cat among the pigeons in his courtroom drama "La condanna" [Eng. Title: The Conviction] by pitting the legal interpretation of consensual sex against the dynamics of sexual politics.

"Does the female expect the male to take the initiative and prepare her for sex?" "At what point does an act of sex become rape even when there is no violence involved?" "Is it necessary to surrender oneself to the moment in order to enjoy sex?" Just when we thought these age-old questions have already been put to rest, Bellocchio raises them again in his inimitable style in the above film, and while the topic and its tone look visibly dated from the time when it was made, the reason I'm writing about it is because it's a clever piece of filmmaking where the director elegantly suffuses realism with symbolism. He builds up his arguments using the following premise:

During a visit to the Castello Farnese museum, art student Sandra gets separated from her colleagues, and finds herself locked-in for the night after going in search of her lost house-keys. After assuming that she has the place all to herself for the night, she'll be surprised and disturbed when a middle-aged man appears from the darkened corridors. Lorenzo (Vittorio Mezzogiorno, father of the actress Giovanna) is a sophisticated and well-informed architect, but his approach to Sandra is overbearingly sexual, and his advances, Sandra will find either unwilling or unable to resist. They have sex several times between their arty conversations and each time, it is Lorenzo who stokes Sandra's desire for sex, without using force or violence. They both appear to enjoy their unexpected union, and Lorenzo is even convinced that she had experienced orgasm.

But they will soon face each other in court, after Sandra accuses him of sexual assault. Apparently Lorenzo had the keys to the museum all the time, and if he had wanted to, they could have either avoided the uneasy sexual encounter, or together exercised free will in their choice to have sex. But he chooses not to inform Sandra about the keys until the following morning - he felt there was no need to divulge information that was not asked for. Lorenzo makes a spirited defence of his noble intentions using arguments that cannot be supported with evidence, but will nevertheless provide food for thought for the jury and audience.

Prosecuting the case is Giovanni (Andrzej Seweryn), himself having issues with girlfriend Monica (Grazyna Szapolowska) when it comes to sex - she's unhappy with his non-spontaneity, and similarly equates his sexual foreplay to rape, in his desire to control and choreograph proceedings. A dilemma is presented when Giovanni tries to do the right thing according to law but is confronted, at home and through an encounter elsewhere, by factors that paint a more complex picture in sexual relationships, that can be theorised but not scientifically explained.

There are few directors like Bellocchio who can eloquently put forward a controversial viewpoint without resorting to sensationalism. In the film, he appears to be in total control of each frame captured, and every nuance from the characters. The pivotal 'rape' scene is done using a single take, and shown from a detached perspective, where there is no dialogue, and the only attempt at narrative are the characters' exaggerated body movements - like in performance art, leaving the audience to interpret as they see it. The editing is seamless and almost invisible when they happen, and the cinematography is a treat. Despite the fine performances from all the main cast, Polish actress and Krzysztof Kieslowski-regular Grazyna Szapolowska's easily stands out from the rest. Controversial, challenging, and intriguing as ever, this is also a thought-provoking film from Marco Bellocchio that's Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles


The Nudity: Claire Nebout, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Grazyna Szapolowska, Andrzej Seweryn, and Maria Sneider
There are brief flashes of nudity from Claire Nebout in the aforementioned scene that gives the film its purpose - Sandra and Lorenzo indulge in sex while staying clothed for the most part - it is a single six minute long take. This is followed by another extended scene where Sandra reclines in a nude pose reminiscent of Goya's La maja desnuda. There is rear nudity from Vittorio Mezzogiorno as his character describes Sandra as a work of art waiting to be given life (in a monologue that'll draw comparison of his forthcoming act of rape to a child being born, whereby a picturesque but static beauty such as her will finally breathe 'emotion' and attain purpose). There is also nudity from Andrzej Seweryn and Grazyna Szapolowska during a post-coital scene. There's fleeting nudity from Maria Sneider (not Maria Schneider as IMDB and everyone else seem to claim), as a peasant woman drinking water from a spring.

Claire Nebout, Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Grazyna Szapolowska, Andrzej Seweryn, and Maria Sneider nude in La condanna aka The Conviction


Sunday, 24 November 2013

A review: "I Ypografi" [2011 Greece]

Stelios Haralambopoulos' romantic mystery-melodrama "I Ypografi" [Eng. Title: The Signature] is one of those hard-to-categorise films that's also extremely difficult to write about without giving away the plot - the reason why this review is also going to be brief. Set in the art world, the moving love story is a murder mystery kept alive until the end.

Anna (Alexia Kaltsiki) is an art historian organising a retrospective of famous artist Maria Dimou (Maria Protopappa) who's no longer alive, and contacts a living close friend of hers - an old and ailing graphic artist named Angelos (Georges Corraface) to gather further details on Maria's life and work. Circumstances surrounding Maria's death have been shrouded in mystery, and Anna would like to glean as much information as possible from the person who had known her intimately since the late sixties. By coincidence, she discovers that Angelos has kept far more works of Maria than initially thought, and does a bit of sleuthing with authorities for more information on Angelos and Maria's relationship. It will transpire that the two were deeply in love even after they had supposedly split, and Angelos has been privy to every work that Maria had ever produced during her lifetime. It will also pose a moral dilemma for Anna in deciding to exhibit the hitherto unseen works of Maria...

Haralambopoulos shifts tone between a tragic love story and murder mystery using intermittent flashbacks that transition almost seamlessly - confusing if the viewer isn't alert. There is also plenty of detail that'll be overlooked if one doesn't pay attention. The performances of all the main cast are competent despite a suspect screenplay and/or poor subtitle translation - one is required to apply imagination to capture some of its nuances. Despite these minor misgivings, it is a moving and tragic love story surrounding a mystery that will retain audience interest until the very end. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Maria Protopappa and Georges Corraface
Maria Protopappa appears nude in three scenes, and George Corraface in one. The first is of Angelos finishing the painting of a Maria sleeping in the nude - she's very impressed and demands to see the rest of his work. The second is a sensual love-making scene between the two as they improvise with available ingredients in the kitchen, including honey. The third is of Angelos and Maria celebrating a successful show which they hope will be their last - Angelos paints on Maria's face, and they get intimate for a while.

Maria Protopappa and Georges Corraface nude in I Ypografi aka The Signature.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Gaby Hoffmann in "Crystal Fairy" [2013 Chile]

Sebastián Silva's English language feature "Crystal Fiary" [Full Title: Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus, and 2012] is a character study of two American tourists in Chile with very different outlooks. I had seen only one other film from the director and was quite impressed by it (Nana), and was naturally curious to watch this, also because it's co-produced by Pablo Larrain, another promising Chilean filmmaker.

Jamie (Michael Cera), an American tourist visiting Chile with the main purpose of getting stoned with mescaline cooked from a local cactus plant named San Pedro, attends a house party with Chilean friends Champa, Lel, and Pilo (played by director Silva's own brothers - Juan Andrés, José Miguel and Agustín). He invites a young woman dancing wildly there, a fellow American named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann, the little girl from Field of Dreams and daughter of actress Viva - an Andy Warhol regular), to join them on a trip that he and his friends are about to undertake the following day, which is to find and procure the fabled cactus. Jamie regrets inviting her the next day and silently hopes that she had forgotten about his offer. But she doesn't, and calls to inform him that she's on her way to join them at the planned meeting point. Jamie suggests they ignore and leave her waiting, but Champa disagrees and they collect her on their way.

Boorish Jamie couldn't be any more different from the free-spirited Crystal, and the film spends considerable runtime developing their respective characters admirably. While Jamie comes across as a complete prat - he is selfish, uptight, and insensitive with scant regard for others, Crystal Fairy is the colourfully eccentric, imposing and yet well-meaning new-age hippie type, carefree in both mind and body. She also takes pride in the new nickname they'd given her - Crystal Hairy, after casually walking naked on the boys after a shower. The three brothers are the normal ones among the group, bemused and entertained by their guests' peculiarities for the most part, and occasionally telling off Jamie for his barely concealed animosity towards Crystal Fairy.

The final stage of the film is set on a beach, after they (Jamie) manage to steal a slice of cactus from a local woman's garden. The hallucinogen is extracted by cooking the cactus, and all barring the youngest sibling partake the drug and have a trippy time. When Jamie gets nastier than usual with Crystal, she leaves the group and wanders off alone for a psychedelic adventure of her own, and momentarily also gets lost. It is her disappearance that'll allow Jamie to reflect and realise how mean he'd been to her. A reconciliation and opening-up of sorts happens when they all reunite...

The film is an interesting character study of two contrasting individuals that many of us may have come across in our own experiences. The three brothers are nothing more than a reference point of 'normality' for the two protagonists. Well directed for a large part, my only problem with the film is the final few minutes, which was either unnecessary, or could have been executed differently - Jamie's change of heart is unconvincing, and some of Crystal Fairy's secret past needn't have been dragged into the picture.

It is nevertheless very well performed by the two main actors. I have never seen Michael Cera's work before, but he makes us truly hate his character here, not by merely acting cruel, but by letting his character believe in his own thoughts and actions - people like Jamie tend to believe that they're nice and always on the right. Gaby Hoffmann on the other hand, is a total blast, completely becoming the bohemian chick that she must've been used to seeing while growing up in the Hotel Chelsea neighbourhood of New York. It is refreshing to see such talents like her still available for independent cinema in USA.

Gaby Hoffmann

Apparently they even partook mescaline in the film for real, and the trippy sequences were them in their stoned state according to an interview in The New York Observer. In the article, she also confides in her naturally-hairy appearance ("working a 70's vibe", as an enchanting Hollywood star also recently admitted). In any case, this film certainly emanates a friendly vibe that can be enjoyed by anyone used to something other than present-day Hollywood, and is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Gaby Hoffmann
Ms. Hoffmann appears nude in at least three scenes - two of which include full frontal nudity and are also fairly long (don't see that often these days, do we!). The first of the two is also the funniest, when her character emerges after a shower to engage in conversation and drink, stark naked, with four gob-smacked guys in the room. The second is Crystal Fairy's separate trippy self-discovery/adventure amidst rocks and scattered shells (and a dead rabbit that simply wouldn't be revived :-( ). She later forgets where she left her clothes and walks back in the nude, until a passing archaeologist restores her modesty. That's a weird chick having a weird trip alright! Incredibly sweet nevertheless..!

Gaby Hoffmann totally nude in  Crystal Fairy


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Glasnost-borne satire: Gorod Zero

Alice in Wonderland meets Franz Kafka in Karen Shakhnazarov's surreal dark comedy "Gorod Zero" [Eng. Title: City Zero] - a biting satire on a Soviet system resolutely chained to inertia and bureaucracy against the blowing winds of change.

The film begins with Aleksei (Leonid Filatov) - a Moscow factory representative, arriving at a station in a remote town for meeting the chief (Armen Dzhigarkhanyan) of an air conditioner manufacturing unit. Right from the time he needed to re-apply for a visitor permit, things don't go according to plan for Alexei. He enters the office to find the chief's young and pretty secretary sitting behind a typewriter, stark naked, and going about her business in the most normal manner, whilst staff walking past her barely take notice. During the meeting with the chief, Aleksei states that he had already sent in relevant instructions for changes required to products that they're buying. When the chief tries to summon the chief engineer to discuss the issue, he's informed that the engineer had died eight months ago, and that they don't have a replacement yet.

With the meeting rescheduled for two weeks later, Aleksei decides to stop at a restaurant for dinner before taking the train back to Moscow. But after the meal he's offered a dessert that he hadn't ordered, which upon inspection would reveal a cake made in the shape of his own head. When he refuses the offering, the waiter pleads him to accept lest he break the chef's heart - he'd after all made it especially for him. As Aleksei turns to leave without partaking the dessert, he hears a gunshot and looks back, to see the chef collapsing to the floor holding a gun on one hand, and clutching his blood-stained chest on the other.

This is just the start of a very long day for Aleksei, who will henceforth find it impossible to leave or escape town, and will be called in for questioning by the police officer investigating the chef's apparent suicide. The railway station won't sell rail tickets, and roads from town will lead to dead-ends. Every character he meets from then on, will one way or the other thwart his attempts at escape. Before long, Aleksei will find himself lost and confused in a world gone crazy around him.

Shakhnazarov revels in critiquing opposing factions within the Soviet system - those wanting change and those that don't - using Aleksei's Kafkaesque nightmare and the absurd goings on. The film is as much a symbol of the new openness of the late eighties in erstwhile USSR as it is a sign of things to come, where regional nationalism sits uneasily alongside a collective identity, where bureaucracy bridled with inefficiency is the ignored elephant in the room, and where systematic propaganda makes it impossible to separate fact from fiction. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [NTSC] | DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles


The Nudity: Yelena Arzhanik
Yelena Arzhanik plays the naked secretary with a perfectly straight face while ushering Aleksei to the chief's office. The scene is hilarious, more so after we see the chief becoming aware of her nakedness only through Aleksei, but who regardless sets it aside and resumes talking business.

Yelena Arzhanik nude in Gorod Zero aka City Zero


Sunday, 17 November 2013

The rebirth of classic-giallo: "Tulpa" [2012 Italy]

Pop-musician and film-maker Federico Zampaglione has succeeded in making a full-blooded giallo in the classic tradition of Fulci and Argento with his latest horror-thriller, "Tulpa - Perdizioni mortali" [Eng. Title: Tulpa] - it comes complete with the Fedora hat and trench coat-clad masked killer, not to mention the trademark black leather gloves. But that isn't the only reference the film makes to the genre.

Set in contemporary Italy, Lisa (Claudia Gerini) is a successful businesswoman at a leading financial corporation run by Roccaforte (Michele Placido). Having no time for a normal social life, she unwinds by frequenting a private sex club themed and named after a Tibetan mystic tradition called 'Tulpa'. Each time, after partaking a special concoction from mysterious resident 'guru' Kiran (Nuot Arquint), bisexual Lisa engages in sex with randomly chosen club members, presumably with the aim of reaching a higher state of consciousness or orgasm through her libido.

But her 'tranquil' life will turn a bit stressful after a scandal erupts in the newspapers about the company she works for. At about the same time, Lisa also discovers that someone, either out of spite or disapproval of her lifestyle, is going around viciously murdering the people she had sex with in Tulpa. She will even break a club rule by contacting and warning one of its members. Suspicion falls on everyone associated with the club and her backstabbing work colleagues. Her only friend and bookshop assistant Joanna (Michela Cescon), offers her support. But the body count continue to mount and it is only a matter of time before Lisa too will be forced to confront the killer...

In typical giallo fashion, the film undergoes twists and turns with the intention of keeping audience guessing. The atmosphere in the film is quite remarkable, and the killer too - true to gialli, uses the most elaborate and outlandish methods to do the deed (some ideas are even original). Worth mentioning is a scene where the victim is firmly tied to a carousal before it's switched on, and with every round, the victim's face will be forced to make contact with a strategically positioned coil of barbed wire. The film contains dialogues that were shot originally in English using Italian actors, and dubbed back into Italian later (as during the golden era of giallo, when they really tried hard to reach an American audience). Also, some of the dialogues were amended during post-production - not uncommon either. This film is neither a homage nor a nostalgic look-back at the Italian giallo - it's the genuine article, and for fans of this genre, it obviously has to be Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Claudia Gerini and Crisula Stafida
Claudia Gerini who's also the director's wife in real-life, is as stunning as ever, and more than adequately fills the role of Lisa - a high-powered woman with strong sexual appetite. She appears nude in a couple of sex scenes, and also briefly in bed. Crisula Stafida appears nude during the sex scene with Ms. Gerini, and later on in the shower.

Claudia Gerini, Crisula Stafida, and Barbara Lisa Silva naked in Tulpa - Perdizioni mortali


Friday, 15 November 2013

A brief review: "El lado oscuro del corazón 2" [Argentina, Spain 2001]

Eliseo Subiela follows-up on the romantic drama he made a decade earlier with a sequel - "El lado oscuro del corazón 2" [Eng. Title: The Dark Side of the Heart 2]. He catches up with the same protagonist after ten years - Oliverio (played by a same, ten year older Darío Grandinetti), searching yet again for a woman who can 'fly', after the one he had who did - Ana (Sandra Ballesteros), takes flight literally to live with her daughter in Spain.

Frustrated at not finding a 'bird' - he could only manage 'amphibians' (Florencia Sabatella) and 'glow-worms' (Carolina Peleritti), Oliverio decides to go looking for Ana in Spain, and catches up with her in Barcelona. They're glad to have found each other, but alas, couldn't get off the ground when it mattered. Apparently they'd been looking back at their relationship rather than forward, 'Time' - in the form of a biker dressed in black reminds him. Oliverio will see the poster of trapeze artist Alejandra (Ariadna Gil) in flight, and falls madly in love. He pursues her through the country and eventually catches up in Sitges with the help of Time's free ride.

Over these years, 'Death' (Nacha Guevara) hasn't given up chasing Oliverio either, relentlessly following him wherever he goes. Since he can't shake her off, he takes her in his stride and even starts treating her as a friend. After meeting a pretty but suicidal Alejandra, Oliverio will discover that the trapeze artist too is stalked by her own bolero-serenading 'Death' (Manuel Bandera). Oliverio has his work cut-out - he'll have figure out a way of cheating his and Alejandra's 'Death', but for that he needs to first win the heart of Alejandra - no easy task under the circumstances...

Subiela continues his esoteric meanderings from the earlier instalment with his typical poetic license to tell yet another love story, elegantly and in a feel-good manner. Non-pretentious while also trying to be artistic, it may be commercial heart-warming cinema, Argentinian-style - but it is still way better than what Hollywood churns out these days. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]
Mine is an anamorphic PAL version that's not in stock at the time of posting.


The Nudity: Florencia Sabatella, Carolina Peleritti, Sandra Ballesteros, and Ariadna Gil
For some reason, the first two names above are spelt differently in IMDB. In any case, the actresses appear briefly nude during their respective scenes as two of Oliverio's exotic catches. Sandra Ballesteros even manages to look sexier than she did ten years earlier during a nude scene, and beautiful Ariadna Gil also appears briefly nude in one scene. There is also a voluptuous actress (uncredited) appearing in Oliverio's dream, after he fails to 'perform' in bed on one occasion.

Florencia Sabatella, Carolina Peleritti, Sandra Ballesteros, and Ariadna Gil nude in El lado oscuro del corazón 2


Saturday, 9 November 2013

A brief review: "Záhrada" [1995 Slovakia]

Made in a newly born Slovakia, Martin Sulík's charming comedy drama "Záhrada" [Eng. Title: The Garden] nods to the Czechoslovak New Wave in no uncertain regard - particularly in its depiction of 'surreal' realism, often seen in works by Vera Chytilová and Juraj Jakubisko, where elements from folklore, mysticism, and religion are freely infused into a narrative otherwise rooted in realism.

It's the story of tailor's son Jakub (Roman Luknár) who's about to start a new job as school teacher. Whiling away in his father's (Marián Labuda) apartment, Jakub has little to occupy himself with before starting work, except fool around with married woman Tereza (Jana Svandová) who happens to be one of his father's valued customers. Promptly ticked off after the father catches him in the act with Tereza (the scene is quite funny), Jakub is despatched to the country, to fix and sell his grandfather's property - a garden with a farmhouse, falling apart since it has not been occupied for a while. That is where he'll meet Helena (Zuzana Sulajová), a beautiful young teenager with magical powers. He'll also be visited by other strange characters, like the shepherd who calls himself Saint Benedict, a bully who'll succeed in exchanging his broken down banger for Jakub's perfectly working car. 'Itchy' Tereza arrives to take him back, but the most frequent visitor will be Helena herself - turning up occasionally with welts all over her legs and back, allegedly caused by her mother. He falls in love with Helena, and will soon have to choose between returning to the city to build a career, and living in the farmhouse with the angelic Helena...

Wonderfully quirky films like these manage to transport you to a different world with their own logic and order. They cannot be analysed any more deeply than a well-written fairy tale. But the film is essentially about love, forgiveness, sacrifice, turning a new leaf, and celebrating life itself. Shot with warm colours, the cinematography is very appealing, and for a comedy, the director has admirably completed his scenes with the least number of shots. They look spontaneous and natural, thanks also to good support from the main cast. Alongside Tuvalu, it is probably the most enchanting film reviewed in the blog to date, and certainly, Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Jana Svandová, Roman Luknár, and Zuzana Sulajová
Jana Svandová was in her late forties when she played Tereza in the film, and her role is that of a seductress, spending most of her screen time trying to wrap Jakub around her little finger. There are two scenes of hers in the nude, and the one where they're caught red handed by Jakub's dad is both sexy and funny. Roman Laknár briely appears nude while emerging from a bath. Zuzana Sulajová - she reminds us of a young Ornella Muti, was only seventeen when the film came out. Her nude scene is but a brief flash while changing before getting into bed . The extended scene (unmastered) shows a little bit more of her, because of it being in full-frame - the main film is in widescreen.

Zuzana Sulajová and Zuzana Berkyová nude in Záhrada aka The Garden


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A brief review: "Intimnye mesta" [2013 Russia]

Writer-directors Alexey Chupov and Natasha Merkulova's début feature "Intimnye mesta" [Eng. Title: Intimate Parts] is an amusing observation of the sexual mores and fetishes among a group of urban Russians.

Principal character Ivan (Yuriy Kolokolnikov) - a photographer, is preparing to stage an exhibition of his work in Moscow. His theme - genitals - male and female, in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. His secretary Sveta (Olesya Sudzilovskaya), and Girl-Friday Sayana (Dinara Yankovskaya) are also his lovers, and he shares his time equally between the two. But he also takes on additional sundry lovers when he feels like it, and on one occasion also has a threesome with two sisters. Among his friends are Alexey (Nikita Tarasov) who's lost sexual interest in wife Olga (Ksenia Katalymova), Sergey (played by director Chupov himself) who doesn't want wife Eva (Ekaterina Scheglova) to get pregnant - we'll learn about his closeted homosexuality later, and Boris (Timur Badalbeili), a shrink who Alexey and Sergey also consult from time to time.

Eva discovers she's pregnant but keeps it a secret, and finds herself drawn towards a magician-acquaintance of Sergey's (he too is attracted to the magician). Alexey, hoping to stay faithful to his wife despite loosing interest in her, decides not to look at attractive women again - only at 'ugly' ones instead (his words), but soon finds himself attracted to the latter kind. He even romances and beds Albina (Anastasia Kholodniakova) without any feeling of 'guilt'. Boris meanwhile has his own peculiar fetish which we will see. A top official at the local censor/morality board - Lyudmila (Yuliya Aug) has branded Ivan's work pornographic and pulls out all stops to get his show banned. Well - she too has an stuttering relationship with a battery-operated 'lover'. Her frustrations will eventually force her to seek out one of her staff members - her official driver..! :-)

For a début, both directors give a decent account of themselves. The cinematography is good, and their filming style holds plenty of promise. The characterisation is perhaps one of the film's weaker points, but it's more or less compensated for in the other departments. The comedy drama is quirky, entertaining, and Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Yuriy Kolokolnikov, Aleksandra Ponomareva, Ekaterina Osotova, Ekaterina Scheglova, Nelli Blinova, Olesya Sudzilovskaya, Dinara Yankovskaya, and others
There are brief but intermittent scenes of male and female nudity in the film. Most of the cast members get naked at some point, but their scenes are not intended to titillate. Among them, the ones with substantial roles to play include Yuriy Kolokolnikov, Yuliya Aug, Ekaterina Scheglova, Olesya Sudzilovskaya, and Dinara Yankovskaya.


Montage 1:

Aleksandra Ponomareva, Ekaterina Osotova, Ekaterina Scheglova, Nelli Blinova, Olesya Sudzilovskaya, Dinara Yankovskaya, and others nude in Intimnye_mesta aka Intimate Parts


Montage 2:

Anastasia Kholodniakova, Yuliya Aug, Pavel Yulku, and others nude in "Intimnye mesta" aka "Intimate Parts".


Sunday, 3 November 2013

'La Dolce Vita' brought up-to-date: "La Grande Bellezza" [2013 Italy]

The post's title appears misleading, but it's not entirely off the mark. Director Paolo Sorrentino may not have set-out to reinterpret a Fellini masterpiece through his "La grande bellezza" [Eng. Title: The Great Beauty], but there are striking similarities between the two that won't go unnoticed. Sorrentino's vast and intricate mosaic - of Life, Rome, and her people, is perhaps the more melancholic of the two, partly due to the central character Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) being a magazine columnist in his mid sixties, and more mature than La Dolce Vita's Marcello.

Jep, single, is part of the Roman elite; moving among the movers and shakers of the eternal city, and ageing rather reluctantly along with his circle of vain friends - male and female, sinners and cardinals. Wiser than them, he revels in mocking their little insecurities - wealth and privilege notwithstanding, and undeniably basks in their company - he needs them as a ego-fix as much as they rely on his wisdom. He parties through life with feigned enthusiasm, only too ready to admit the shallowness of it all. We learn through the course of the film, that the reason he hadn't written a book since his critically acclaimed novel forty years earlier, was because he hadn't found anything worthwhile to write about - something inspiring and of great beauty (hence the title). And when he eventually learns how to find it, he will also be ready to start writing again...

It is the second half of the film that sets it apart - the first half mainly shows him in his physical and social environment, it will shape into an emotional journey of discovery with metaphysical and philosophical overtones - of people he never knew existed, of feelings he'd never seen in others, and himself. The message is deep, but also accessible to average viewers - at least there is nothing cryptic or bizarre as you'd see in a Fellini work. But there are also meaningful references made in almost every scene, due to which one would want to revisit the film more than once.

The film's technical aspects are a joy to behold, from the cinematography with its exquisite tracking camera, to the extravagant and eclectic music - so effective in places that they don't need dialogues or virtuoso performances to explain what's going on. But the performances are exceptional too, with a special mention for Carlo Verdone who displays a versatility I don't remember seeing - he plays Jep's close friend and colleague Romano, and Sabrina Ferilli in an understated role as Ramona, the daughter of one of Jep's friends. Toni Servillo, a class act on any day and a Sorrentino regular, makes the character of Jep all his own. But if I choose to remember anything about the film years from now, it'll likely be the haunting original music by Lele Marchitelli, and the long final tracking shot as the credits start rolling - the camera meanders through a stretch of the river Tiber, crossing under arched bridges and giving us a memorable view, of a Rome waking up to what promises to be another glorious summer's day. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon 2-DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Sabrina Ferilli, Isabella Ferrari, Anita Kravos, Galatea Ranzi, Giulia Di Quilio, and Annaluisa Capasa
The film has brief scenes of nudity from the above actresses, but the most notable ones are from Anita Kravos (as a performance artist), Galatea Ranzi (as Jep's friend Stefania), and Sabrina Ferilli performing a striptease, shown mostly in silhouette - for someone approaching fifty, she's got a fine figure, me thinks.

Sabrina Ferilli, Isabella Ferrari, Anita Kravos, Galatea Ranzi, Giulia Di Quilio, and Annaluisa Capasa nude in La Grande Bellezza aka The Great Beauty


Friday, 1 November 2013

Smell the coffee: "O Cheiro do Ralo" [2006 Brazil]

"God created the world, but it was man who created comfort, and also garbage - to keep idle people busy..." This is an excerpt translated from the conversation between Lourenço and Lourenço in a scene that vividly captures the film's biting satire. Lourenço is our protagonist, portrayed brilliantly by Selton Mello, and his namesake is the writer himself, upon whose novel director Heitor Dhalia's "O Cheiro do Ralo" [Eng. Title: Drained] is based. The original title literally translates as 'The smell from the drain', which is more to-the-point than the vagueness the official English title carries.

Dhalia has managed to weave an intricate metaphor for modern society with the help of an outwardly superficial tale of an alienated man obsessing over two things - the impressive ass of a beautiful restaurant waitress (Paula Braun), and the stench emanating from a blocked toilet sink in his office. Both issues are within his grasp of addressing - the woman herself is keen on dating him, and a plumber is also willing to fix his sink. Paradoxically, he refuses the offers - in relation to the waitress and her imensa bunda, he prefers to own rather than "marry" her ass, and in relation to the blocked sink, he believes the plumber is trying to fleece him, and nonchalantly remarks that he'll pay the quoted fee only if the plumber also eats whatever is clogging his sink.

As outrageously unpleasant a man Lourenço is, he is also someone who's completely lost in a world - this world - of false values, exploitation, and the craze for power, and where truly worthy things are treated as garbage and vice versa. It is also underscored in Lourenço's dealings as a pawnbroker - buying valuable and sentimental memorabilia from desperate people at a fraction of their actual worth, whilst paying exorbitantly for ridiculously mundane items for the perceived pleasure he might derive from it. One such item is a glass eyeball that Lourenço proudly carries around with him - it's a metaphor in itself, which director Dhalia uses to help explain his protagonist's distorted vision of what's good and not. The satirical film pulls no punches in criticising present values and morals that'll resonate with not just Brazilian, but any modern audience.

There may also be a symbolic correlation between Lourenço's twin obsessions - an object desired and worshipped when seen from outside (a beautiful ass), and its intended natural function that people tend to selectively blank out (alongside the maintenance of a sink-hole associated with the function). Not too pleasant to watch at times, the film is nevertheless thought provoking, and asks its intended adult audience to reflect upon themselves through Lourenço's identity and human crisis. It is thanks to Dhalia's fine screenplay and direction, Selton Mello's remarkable rendition of his character as at once charming and utterly despicable, and the committed performances from the main cast, notably Silvia Lourenço who plays an impoverished junkie, that this minuscule-budgeted gem of a film is as beautiful and moving as it is provocative. Laced with dark humour, irony, sarcasm and dry wit, a casual viewer might dismiss the film as just another tasteless comedy, but they're missing the point. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Paula Braun, Sílvia Lourenço, and Lorena Lobato
There are four scenes involving nudity, two of which feature Silvia Lourenço - in the first Lourenço propositions her character to strip for cash that she desperately needs, and in the second, she strips even when Lourenço asks her not to, because he'd just given away all his money. She vents her frustration by complaining to people outside that he molested her, and upon seeing her with no clothes on, they take her for her word and go after Lourenço. The DVD includes some additional cuttings of the second Sílvia Lourenço scene in the 'Making of' documentary. Paula Braun plays the waitress, and in a scene eventually agrees to show Lourenço her ass for money - she would have offered herself willingly, but Lourenço is either unwilling or incapable of getting involved emotionally, and insists on 'buying' himself the right to see her naked. Pretty Lorena Lobato plays a married woman who drops by to do some trade with Lourenço, and is offered wads of cash to strip for him in a scene that's also the kinkiest of the lot, where we're cynically shown a respectable housewife transform into a slut using required incentives.

Paula Braun, Sílvia Lourenço, and Lorena Lobato nude in O Cheiro do Ralo aka Drained