Sunday, 29 December 2013

Chance and destiny during an economic crisis: "An..." [2012 Greece]

Christoforos Papakaliatis makes an assured directorial début with the romantic drama "An..." [Eng. Title: What If...] - a film that'd also become a personal project, with him in a starring role and also writing its screenplay. Set against the backdrop of the current economic crisis, it looks at the ensuing strains placed on a young couple's relationship.

Film director Dimitris (Christoforos Papakaliatis) is a happy singleton living with his aptly named dog Lonesome in the shadow of the Acropolis - the old quarter of Athens. The film explores in parallel two different outcomes following his encounter with young architect Christina (Marina Kalogirou) after slightly altering the course of an event.

Papakaliatis allows us to observe the couple's altered fortunes in tandem by drawing inspiration from a Hollywood hit (Sliding Doors), and also paying homage to a home-grown classic from the sixties, in utilising its aged protagonists 'in character' as part of the film's narrative. It works well in cinematic terms, as much as it succeeds in pulling at its native audience's heartstrings. While the cinematography is professional, it is the choice of locations that would most likely appeal to the foreign audience. Performances by the lead characters may not be particularly special, but they're extremely easy on the eye, and alongside the cute German Shepherd thrown into the cast, it is apparent that the director has strived to ensure its commercial success by dotting the i's and crossing the t's. This might well be aimed at a 'mainstream' audience, but it certainly isn't tacky or clichéd - it is sincere as much as it wants to entertain - it is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Marina Kalogirou and Christoforos Papakaliatis
There's just a single scene of nudity in the film - with a gorgeous-as-ever Marina Kalogirou and the director-protagonist Christoforos Papakaliatis, in a sex scene inter-cut with their characters frolicking on the streets of Athens. Nice! :-)

Marina Kalogirou and Christoforos Papakaliatis nude in An... aka If Only...


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Life and friendship: "Career Girls" [1997 UK]

Mike Leigh's deceptively titled "Career Girls" might lull you into believing it to be easy viewing, with a sweet and fairly simple mainstream plot, but this ridiculously overlooked film has more layers than your average puff pastry.

Granted, there are some contrived moments and a bit of overacting here and there, but they greatly help us in exploring the relationship between central characters Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) and Annie (Lynda Steadman) - former room mates from college six years ago. Having settled reasonably into their professional lives, they meet again over a weekend in London, and their past story is retold using intermittent flashbacks. When Annie first met Hannah in answer to an ad calling for a room mate with g.s.o.h, little did she know that she'd really need one - Hannah was a tense young woman with a lot of pent-up rage, whose searing - almost abrasive quick-witted remarks would put people off from even approaching her. Annie herself was hopelessly insecure, with a constant twitch and a crusty dermatitis-afflicted skin covering half her face. Ever submissive, her head slanted away from people in desperation to avoid eye contact. And yet, they stuck it out for four years in their grungy apartment on top of the Chinese takeaway.

Gone now are Annie's twitches - a lot more self assured, she's also devoid of any signs of her past skin affliction. Sharply dressed Hannah too is a pleasant departure from her younger unkempt self. A whole lot more calmer, she's also mindful of other people's feelings these days. But their reunion starts off rather awkwardly, with forced small talk and uneasy silences in between. The chillness in the air departs after Annie accompanies Hannah on an adventure across town with the ruse to view properties for sale. They meet characters from their past who sometimes even fail to recognise them, and as much as they bring back memories, they will also distinguish people who've made it from those who fell by the wayside. It becomes clear that while Hannah and Annie may have not kept in touch all these years, they'd invariably influenced each other without them noticing - and that they'll always share a unique bond - a deep trust, and acceptance of each other as they are, that neither time nor distance will diminish. In meeting up, they had just strengthened that valuable and life-affirming bond...

As with any Mike Leigh film, it's not the message, but the route it takes to be delivered that matters. The characterisation is what makes this film so special, and the sensational performance by late Katrin Cartlidge as Hannah, and the endearing portrayal of Annie by Lynda Steadman (making her film-début) combine to make this an engrossing character study on people and friendship. The dialogues, replete with highly inventive and sharp-witted one-liners, may not leave us in fits of giggles, but will help us swallow some bitter truths, and appreciate what we've so far achieved despite falling short of our own expectations. This reflective and woefully underrated Mike Leigh classic is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Katrin Cartlidge
The few seconds of a topless Katrin Cartlidge gives me an excuse to write about the film. Not often have I wished a film had lasted a bit longer - this one did, engaging us even if nothing much happens in it. The aforementioned scene occurs after Hannah has sex with a lazy, skirt-chasing, and obviously handsome Adrian (Joe Tucker) - one that Annie too fancies.

Katrin Cartlidge naked in Mike Leigh's Career Girls


Thursday, 26 December 2013

A review: "Zift" [2008 Bulgaria]

Javor Gardev's début feature "Zift" is a widescreen homage to the American film noir. It is about a recently released prisoner hounded by his partner in crime from twenty years earlier for the missing portion of the loot.

Set sometime during the 1960's, Lev aka Moth (Zahary Baharov, credited as Zachary Baharov), is released from prison for good behaviour after having served twenty years. He took the fall for a murder he didn't commit, so as to extricate his pregnant girlfriend Ada aka Mantis (Tanya Ilieva) for her involvement in a burglary. She was one of his two accomplices - the other being Slug (Vladimir Penev), the killer. No sooner is Moth released from prison, he is picked up by two army types and carried to a basement cell at the public baths, to be interrogated and tortured by erstwhile pal and accomplice Slug, who'd since become a state official after the 1944 communist coup. Slug is after a diamond that went missing during the burglary that ended in murder, and Moth's incarceration.

The story is told through non-linear flashbacks, and the only way we recognise the period the scene is set in (aside from Moth's hair, or the lack thereof) is by the film stock used - 35 mm for the sixties, grainy 16 mm for the nineteen forties, and even grainier 8 mm stock for the period before that. The film liberally borrows elements from well known classics of film-noir (and neo-noir). The main thread of the plot nods to Rudolph Maté's "D.O.A.", which sees Moth being poisoned by Slug - he will die within two days unless offered an antidote that only Slug possesses. Ada is now a cabaret singer going by the name of Gilda, and the scene where Moth catches up with his old flame reminds us of Rita Hayworth in the original "Gilda". The graveyard scene and the protagonist's nihilistic characterisation itself seems to have been inspired by Nikos Nikolaidis' Singapore Sling.

The crisp black and white cinematography is appealing, and the camera angles suggest a storyboard drawn from classic comic strips. The film is entertaining in the way it takes a wry look at Bulgaria before and during communism, with the help of eccentric characters who've been imbued with barfly wisdom and a penchant for gutter-humour. It also obsesses over its title ('Zift' refers to the Arabic term for Asphalt but also means 'chewing gum', and 'shit' in Bulgarian slang - all three meanings are referenced). As Ada aka Mantis, Tanya Ilieva looks the mysterious femme fatale, with a tattoo of a praying mantis on her belly that hints of her predatory nature.

Moth is decorated with tattoos too, which beg questions about the film's attempt at authenticity - one would think body art couldn't possibly be the raging fashion during the 1940's unless you were either a gypsy, sailor, or a jailbird. Similar doubts linger about the costumes, which appear rather chic for a working class couple. Even though the film is well made, it lacks a purpose other than as an ode to the genre - it is a film made by a film-noir fan, as opposed to it being an actual film-noir. But if you fancy watching hard-boiled characters utter clichés using voice-overs, in widescreen, this might be for you.

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Zahary Baharov, Tanya Ilieva, Rositsa Dicheva, and many others
Zahary Baharov is Bulgaria's answer to Vin Diesel, and if hunks are your thing you'll find plenty to admire in his tattooed nakedness. At the other end is Tanya Ilieva appearing nude in a couple of scenes, the first of which is a steamy sex session between Ada and Moth, inter-cut with a praying mantis copulation, towards the end of which the female devours the male's head. Rositsa Dicheva is the only other 'credited' nude - she's the girl in the bathtub as Moth literally flies past her during a frantic glass-eyeball chasing sequence in an all-female spa, after escaping from Slug's torture chamber.

Zahary Baharov, Tanya Ilieva, and Rositsa Dicheva nude in Zift



Sunday, 22 December 2013

A review: "Heli" [2013 Mexico]

Amat Escalante is no stranger to controversy. One of the bad boys of the Mexican New Wave, his films, alongside that of close friend Carlos Reygadas (who incidentally is also often his producer), provoke and shock audiences through searing observations of human behaviour that's more closely associated with the likes of Michael Haneke and Bruno Dumont. But it's the uncompromising visual audacity, and the common - often banal nature of his subjects that set his films apart. The unexpected brutality evidenced in his earlier works such like Sangre (2005) and Los Bastardos (2008) would ruffle even the jaded of viewers.

Escalante's latest offering "Heli", is a contemporary drug-war drama set somewhere in northern Mexico. Heli (Armando Espitia) is a young lad living with a family consisting of his father, twelve year old sister Estella (Andrea Vergara), young wife Sabrina (Linda González), and their six-month old baby. Working for a nearby car assembly plant, Heli is by no means rich, but he gets by, and his family is also generally happy. School-going Estella is in love with seventeen year old special forces cadet Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacio). And it is Beto's poor judgement on one occasion that'll turn the family's world into hell. In hoping to finance his elopement with Estella, Beto steals a significant amount of police-confiscated cocaine and hides it in the water tank on top of Heli's house. Upon discovering it, Heli impulsively destroys the stash because he felt that was the right thing to do. But how wrong was he..!

It would trigger a chain of horrific events, part of which will also make up the film's opening sequence, when we see a gagged and beaten up Beto being lynched from a footbridge. There is an extended torture scene that precedes it - shown halfway into the film, where Beto and Heli are strung in the living room of a family home and first beaten with what looks like a cricket bat (didn't know they play cricket in Mexico). The kids, interrupted from their Wii, join in by taking turns with the bat while being watched with mild disapproval from the kitchen by their mother. After the beatings, Beto's genitals are dowsed in petrol and set alight. The banal domesticity of the surroundings and the casual savagery presented within it is what makes the scene all the more shocking.

Heli is however spared a similar fate - he is allowed to limp back home, but his nightmare has hardly ended - his sister too had been picked up but has not yet returned. He looses his job, and his relationship with Sabrina hits rough weather. Added to his misery is the corruption among the police investigating his father's murder and Estella's kidnapping - with one of them, a supposedly sympathetic female detective, even demanding sexual favours from him. His wife and child were lucky to have been out of town on that fateful day, and the scene when Sabrina returns home with the baby to find it ransacked with a trail of blood on the floor, is one of the very few scenes where Escalante shows any sympathy towards his audience - the scene is also classically shot.

Otherwise, the film is relentlessly unforgiving, and even though the end leaves us with a ray of hope for the family that we've come to care about, it is a damning indictment of a country fighting for its soul, with a corrupt establishment in collusion with drug cartels. While this may just be one aspect of Mexican life, confined to certain parts of the country, the director nevertheless raises some probing questions about the state of affairs, and asks why 'normal' life should remain a bit of a lottery for some people who're not even involved in the drugs trade. Escalante won the best director's award at Cannes, and the film was also nominated for Palme d'Or. It is also Mexico's official entry for the forthcoming Academy Awards. Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Linda González, Reina Torres, and Armando Espitia
As Sabrina, Linda González is briefly nude during a shower scene, and in two sex scenes that follow, one of which also involves nudity from Armando Espitia as protagonist Heli. Reina Torres plays police detective Maribel, who in a scene seeks sexual favours from Heli in a none too subtle way.

Linda González, Reina Torres, and Armando Espitia nude in Heli


Friday, 20 December 2013

A review: "Ådalen 31" [1969 Sweden]

Bo Widerberg's social drama "Ådalen 31" [Eng. Title: Adalen Riots] concerns itself with a working class family during a tragic 1931 strike in the industrial town of Ådalen. The strike spread nationwide and was a turning point in Swedish politics that eventually gave birth to a welfare state.

Objecting mill owners' suggestion to accept a pay cut, the town's entire workforce decide to strike in unison. The film starts on a bright summer's morning - only, the men won't be going to their factories, and children won't go to school. They'd already been without work and income for several weeks, and there is an air of despondence among the folk that vividly contrasts the town's lush surroundings. Father of the household Harald (Roland Hedlund) is seen telling off his two sons for engaging in a mock fight - he reminds them that they'll only get hungry and want to eat more. Mother Karin (Kerstin Tidelius) is more concerned about their shirt buttons dropping off during the fight. As Kjell (Peter Schildt) and younger brother Martin (Martin Widerberg) stop the fight, the circumstances of their household, and workers like them, become firmly established.

When mill owners hire scabs to try and ship an order to America, enraged townsfolk intervene using violence. The owners arm-twist local authorities into bringing in the army so that business could be conducted without disruption. Kjell and mill owner's daughter Anna's (Marie De Geer) class-defying romance and its repercussions will also be overshadowed by events that follow. During a demonstration, townsfolk marching towards the mill are warned by the army that live ammunition will be used if they didn't stop. The message goes unregistered amidst the blaring band music, and in the confusion, five people get killed, among them Harald. As the new 'man' of the household, Kjell must now take the initiative and prepare his family for life without their beloved father...

The event helped bring down the conservative government and ushered in ground breaking social reforms in Sweden. The film, whilst portraying facts with a tinge of romantic idealism, goes further by examining both the desirable and undesirable attributes of the ruling and the ruled. "We must read... get knowledge - we'll need it when we gain power", reminds Kjell to a defiant strike worker in one scene, which also sums up Widerberg's message in the film. Made immediately after his acclaimed "Elvira Madigan" (an unashamedly beautiful tearjerker if there was one), Widerberg imbues some of its melancholy into the film, albeit in a more restrained fashion. Even if Widerberg had consistently critiqued Bergman throughout his career, there is an unconscious Bergman-influence in his characters' sensibilities that foreigners like us have come to associate as quintessentially Swedish. The film's cinematography is way ahead of its time, and the scenario is breathtaking. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon 2xDVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Elisabet Wallin
Lighter moments of the film are taken up by Kjell's budding romance with rich girl Anna, and his friend Nisse's (Jonas Bergström) fumbling attempts at seducing girls in his working class neighbourhood. There's nudity in a scene where Nisse 'successfully' hypnotises and disrobes his latest subject (Elisabet Wallin), only to be interrupted and asked to rejoin the band that's fronting the workers' procession. The girl has obviously not fallen under his spell - she's just as curious as him and only pretends so. :)

Marie De Geer and Elisabet Wallin nude in Adalen 31


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A review: "Aimee & Jaguar" [1999 Germany]

Max Färberböck's dramatic wartime romance "Aimee & Jaguar" is based on a true love affair that happened between a married mother of four and a young Jewish woman in Nazi Germany.

Lily (Juliane Köhler) was a darling of the Nazi establishment, mothering four children through her soldier-husband fighting in the Eastern front. But that doesn't stop her from having affairs with officers still stationed in Berlin - after all, she enjoys being the object of men's attention and admiration. And then she meets Felice (Maria Schrader) through her children's babysitter Ilse (Johanna Wokalek), also a close friend and lover of Felice. Vivacious and almost openly gay Felice becomes fixated with Lily - nine years older, from the moment she lay her eyes on her, and will go to extraordinary lengths to invent reasons to meet with, socialise, and seduce Lily, even sparking jealousy from her other female lovers. Felice belongs to that bohemian fringe of Berlin that had managed to survive even during Nazi Germany. But Felice also leads a double life - she works for a pro-establishment newspaper, but is also involved with the underground resistance by stealing secret documents and helping many Jews escape Berlin. Despite her Jewishness and political beliefs, she couldn't avoid falling in love with Lily.

Lily, taken aback initially by a woman's amorous advances, succumbs nevertheless to Felice's love letters and magnetic charm without the inkling that she's Jewish. They embark on a passionate affair - Lily will take on the name of Aimée, and Felice will call herself Jaguar in all their secret letters and rendezvous. But Felice's frequent disappearances, mostly on underground errands, will begin to bother Lily, until she confronts her one day. Felice's admission of her Jewishness and involvement with the resistance will only draw them both closer. They'll vigorously pursue their love affair by living every day as if it were their last, amidst all the bombardment and the ever loudening footsteps of the Gestapo homing in on Felice.

Until this film, lesbianism in Nazi Germany was confined to a twisted universe largely inhabited by the likes of Jesus Franco and Don Edmonds. In truth, gays and lesbians were put to death when discovered. But homosexuality not only existed in secret, but also thrived, as Aimee and Jaguar's story bears testament. Told through flashback, the film captures with historical accuracy a part of wartime Berlin not often shown - it's glittering night life that strived to keep pace with New York and London despite the Allied bombings. The authenticity also extends to the fine sound engineering that recreates the blasts, raid-sirens and falling bombshells - there's precious little in the way of visual effects, but the sound and editing more than make up for the lack of jaw-dropping visuals.


The Performances:
Maria Schrader and Julian Köhler project an intensity not often seen in films with lesbian interest, and are refreshing and beautiful to watch. Of special mention is Ms. Köhler in the scene where her character lets go of her inhibitions and embraces her homosexuality for the first time. When Felice tried to kiss Lily on an earlier occasion, she threw a tantrum and slapped her. But Lily couldn't dismiss and forget what happened, and her change of heart along with the air of anticipation is palpable the next time Felice visits her. There's nothing explicit in the scene, but it is intense all the same.

In the scene, we see Lily overwhelmed, by emotions she'd never experienced with a man before. She is afraid. She seeks the protection of Felice, who responds with a reassuring embrace. The duo not only deserved the many awards that came their way, but also won a seal of approval from the real Lily, who was 89 when the film came out. Here's a very informative article that quotes Lily's own version of events following their affair, in a Guardian article. Needless to say, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [Movie Card - PAL] | English subtitles


The Nudity: Maria Schrader, Juliane Köhler, Johanna Wokalek, Elisabeth Degen, and Heike Makatsch
There's brief nudity at the beginning from Maria Schrader (Felice), Johanna Wokalek (Ilse), Elisabeth Degen (Lotte), and Heike Makatsch (Klärchen) - they're friends who make some extra money by posing nude for photos meant to cheer soldiers on the front line. There's nudity in two sex scenes, from Maria Schrader and Julian Köhler.

Maria Schrader, Juliane Köhler, Johanna Wokalek, Elisabeth Degen, and Heike Makatsch nude in Aimee & Jaguar


Sunday, 15 December 2013

A brief review: "Detyam do 16..." [2010 Russia]

Andrei Kavun's "Detyam do 16..." [Children below 16] is a romantic drama set in modern Russia. On this occasion, the review is going to be brief because the film is aimed at a local audience of a certain age, and any analysis here will be bytes wasted.

Cyril (Dmitriy Kubasov) and Max (Pavel Priluchnyy) are close buddies and they hook up with Leia (Anna Starshenbaum) and Dasha (Lyanka Gryu) respectively. Only, Cyril had his eyes set on Dasha even before Max had met her - he was just too shy to ask her out. Max and Dasha get married and are unhappy - it turns out that Dasha too had secretly been in love with Cyril. They start an affair that Max will soon come to know. The couple get divorced, and Cyril dumps Leia to live with Dasha. After a few years Leia returns to Moscow as a successful designer, and Cyril starts having feelings for her again...

I've seen the plot in sixty nine other films - with better drama, if I might add. My only reason for watching this one is the delectable and wholesome Anna Starshenbaum, and in particular a nude scene involving lots of paint. It doesn't disappoint, and neither do her other scenes since she's a decent actress too. I can't say a lot about the others, nor the film's technical features - actually I can - they're quite pedestrian.

The Nudity: Anna Starshenbaum, Dmitriy Kubasov, and Lyanka Gryu
Lovely Anna Starshenbaum appears nude in four scenes including the body painting one, in which Dmitry Kunasov also appears nude. Lyanka Gryu may well have used a body-double in the brief side nudity that we see in one of her sex scenes - the shot is cut before the camera could pan to her face.

Anna Starshenbaum, Dmitriy Kubasov, and Lyanka Gryu nude in Detyam do 16...


Friday, 13 December 2013

A review of Sergio Citti's "Vipera" [2000 Italy]

Sergio Citti is mostly remembered as a writer, for his collaboration with many Italian greats such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ettore Scola. But he was also a gifted, if slightly underrated director, with a style noticeably influenced by the above two directors, particularly visible in one of his last films, "Vipera" [Eng. Title: Viper].

Set in 1940's and 50's Sicily (Paternò), we follow the fortunes of Rosetta from the time she's twelve (Larissa Volpentesta) and living with her drunken father Leone (Harvey Keitel) - he'd turned to alcohol to forget Rosetta's mother, Vipera (Elide Melli), after she ran away with a fascist some time ago. Little Rosetta's fortunes turn for the worse when she's raped and made pregnant by another former fascist (Giancarlo Giannini), and Leone also dies after falling from his bicycle. She's sent to live in a convent until the age of twenty one, and her newborn child will cruelly be adopted out by her visiting mother.

By the time she's let out of the convent, Rosetta is a young woman (Annalisa Schettino). She goes in search of her mother, hoping to find her baby there. Instead she finds a Vipera even more delusional than before, believing she's still the item that she once was. Rosetta's son isn't to be found - Vipera, a former dancer, had been nicknamed a whore by many back in the village, but that's giving whores a bad name. She had abandoned Rosetta's baby altogether and gives no explanation for her actions. When Rosetta decides to leave, Vipera completely looses her mind and throws herself naked on the street spread-eagled, in pouring rain, calling on every man in town to take her. Rosetta keeps walking...

The storyline may sound dreary and heartbreaking - it actually is for a good two-thirds of the film, and Citti is relentlessly unapologetic and ruthless in the way he handles his subject, showing the misery and hopelessness for what it used to be. But then again, it ends in the most fortuitous manner, with a touch of poetic flair even, when Rosetta not only finds her lost son but also witness her late father's dream become real. One of the film's features is its rich contrast - the pure and trusting father-daughter relationship against the opportunistic village folk (and the rapist), the wicked mother against the kind whores who take pity on Rosetta, and Rosetta's innocence as a child against the strong willed person that the world had turned her into.

Another feature is the rich detail of Sicilian life from the period, from its ceremonies like communion and street parades, to people's ignorance and religious superstitions. The film may neither have award-winning performances, nor a proper reason for having Harvey Keitel in it, but it is well-conceived and thoroughly satisfying cinema nevertheless, largely because of the fine storytelling, detail, and thoughtful direction - reason enough to declare that it is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Elide Melli
Two scenes of Elide Melli feature nudity - the first is when her character forces Rosetta to feel her breasts to prove that she's still 'young' and desirable. The second is when she literally invites every man in town to have sex with her, by lying naked on the street, and in pouring rain - we don't see that every day, do we..!

Larissa Volpentesta and Elide Melli nude in Sergio Citti's Vipera


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A film review: "Gloria" [2013 Chile]

"Gloria" is one more cinematic gem crafted in Chile this year that was written, directed, and co-produced by talented young film-maker Sebastián Lelio (also co-produced by Pablo Larrain).

The film is about its titular heroine Gloria (Paulina García), an independent woman in her late fifties who'd been divorced for a while and has two grown-up children living on their own. Lonely at times, more so because the children are also fiercely independent and do not want her involved in their personal lives, Gloria has to leave messages on their phone reminding them to call her. But rather than brood and complain, Gloria's approach to life is altogether upbeat - she goes out in the evenings, even if by herself, to dance and socialise with people, and seek companionship with men of her age. She may be past her youth and best looks, but she's a woman determinedly lapping up life to the best of her abilities, and enjoying every moment of it as they happen.

But Gloria is also not someone trying to rebel against old age, nor is she seeking anything other than conventional love - her musical tastes, mostly pop songs from yesteryears, vividly convey her aspirations. She'll find a man of her liking in Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) - slightly older but divorced for just a year, with a still dependent ex wife and needy grown up daughters. The two embark on a passionate love affair, but it will become clearer by the day that whilst passion can kick-start a relationship, maintaining and building upon it by making compromises here and there is an altogether different matter...

The film's message is social rather than political. It is about a generation that doesn't believe that sex and passion should end at a certain age, wrinkles notwithstanding, and that it is perfectly acceptable to express one's sensuality and seek sexual intimacy during any stage of their lives. It is aptly conveyed through piercing visual commentary and a surprisingly mature characterisation that belies the director's young age. The middle-aged couple portrayed could be the viewer's father or mother, or themselves even - the dilemmas and issues that the characters go through would relate universally.

The film is made all the more remarkable thanks to extraordinary performances, particularly by Paulina García who even won a Silver Bear at this year's Berlinale, and her totally frank and brave sex scenes with Sergio Hernández - they're as honest and real as they could get - full of sensuality and immediacy. García, appearing in almost every frame, is the heart and soul of the film, and she carries her character so naturally that you don't see an actress but a very real woman. Her interpretation of Gloria, in nuance and style, is the female equivalent to Toni Servillo's Jep Gambardella in their quest for la dolce vita - together they should also share the honours for this year's finest performances in film. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Paulina García and Sergio Hernández
There are four scenes in the film that feature nudity from Paulina García - three of which are also highly sensual sex scenes that break new ground in the way mature sexuality is depicted in mainstream cinema without compromising its integrity.

Paulina García and Sergio Hernández nude in Gloria


Monday, 9 December 2013

A review: "Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu" [2008 Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina]

I'd been spending time improving on my Balkan history of late, which was one of the reasons I was drawn to Srdjan Dragojevic's wartime drama "Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu" [Eng. Title: St. George Shoots the Dragon]. The fact that this was set against the backdrop of the very event that triggered the First World War - the assassination in Sarajevo of heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the prospect of seeing things from a slightly different perspective was reason enough for me to pick up the DVD.

Returning from the 1912 war against the Turks are two Bosnian-Serb soldiers from the same village - George (Lazar Ristovski), and Gavrilo (Milutin Milosevic). Katarina (Natasa Janjic) - the girlfriend of Gavrilo, is at the railway station to receive him with a garland that she had personally made, but it is turned down by her lover. When asked why, Gavrilo shows her his amputated arm and tells her that he is not good enough for her any more, and urges her to offer the garland to George instead. Two years later, George has become a Sergeant and is married to Katarina, while Gavrilo - no longer in the army, makes a living with his brothers by smuggling goods across the border with Austro-Hungary. He is married to a simple woman named Jelena (Milena Predic).

Both former lovers are however not in love with their respective spouses, and they continue to meet clandestinely. George is aware of their ongoing affair, but dithers in asserting his authority, partly because of his respect for Gavrilo as a war hero, but mainly because he is unselfishly in love with Katarina and wants her to be happy in whatever way she can. The outbreak of World War One will throw the uneasy love triangle into turmoil. We even get to see Gavrilo's namesake - a student, hitching a ride with the smugglers to cross the border on a secret mission to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. After he succeeds and Austria declares war on Serbia, the village and its inhabitants will be the first in firing line, for the great war to follow...

Since the war is merely a backdrop for the protagonists' doomed love affairs, it is their personal drama that is played out to the full. But the drama is unsatisfactory and we're left with mixed feelings about the film which, while well made, suffers from a mediocre screenplay - we don't fully grasp the intentions and motivations for all the actions of Gavrilo (the lover) - his character is either performed poorly or not developed fully. Added to the intermittently bad subtitle synchronisation and/or translation in my DVD, the narrative gets lost to a foreign audience. But those from the former Yugoslavia might perhaps understand and appreciate the film a bit better.

DVD Order Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Natasa Janjic
There is brief nudity from pretty Natasa Janjic in two scenes - first when her character Katarina mockingly proves to husband George that the nude in one of her paintings is indeed a self portrait. The second is of Katarina and Gavrilo making love in the boat, watched by and commented from distance by his brothers.

Natasa Janjic nude in Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu aka St. George Shoots the Dragon


Friday, 6 December 2013

A review: "Spies & Glistrup" [2013 Denmark]

Cristoffer Boe (of Reconstruction fame) originally wanted to dramatise the life of late airline tycoon Simon Spies, but upon discovering the extraordinary friendship he also had with lawyer-turned-politician Mogens Glistrup, Boe decided to make a film about their relationship instead through "Spies & Glistrup" [Eng. Title: Sex, Drugs & Taxation].

Based on and inspired by true events, this is the tale of an unlikely friendship between two larger-than-life public figures from the swinging sixties - both of them radical and perverse in their different ways. Simon (Pilou Asbæk), owner of a budget holiday travel company, is playboy extraordinaire who's also soaked in drugs-culture. Mogens (Nicolas Bro - a regular in Boe's films) is a corporate tax lawyer and family man, but with a distinctly libertarian streak - he wants to abolish taxes and the entire state system that it funds. Driven by his anarchic vision, Mogens employs his knowledge of tax law to mastermind takeovers on behalf of Simon, and exploits loopholes that won't require Simon's company to pay tax. Simon meanwhile, succeeds in making his name and company popular by exploiting his own addiction to sex, by organising stunts in public, and calling in tabloid press photographers to watch him have sex with a number of willing prostitutes, assembly line-style, and grading their vaginas based on his findings. The shrewd family-minded Mogens and a fiendishly whore-mongering Simon will compliment their skills in making Simon a billionaire airlines magnate.

Having achieved what he wanted, Simon retreats to a Mediterranean island to experiment with LSD, transcendental meditation, and of course - plenty of sex, with his retinue of 'morgenbolledamer' (morning fuck/bun ladies). But for Mogens, it's only the beginning - he wants to abolish the tax system altogether, and goes public with the fact that he had been helping companies avoid paying tax. This will draw the attention of the judiciary, that will stir old rivalries, test friendships, strain family relationships, and induce betrayals. While being investigated for tax evasion, Mogens will start a political party of his own and will also become member of parliament, even if that wouldn't protect him from being prosecuted. Simon Spies and Mogens Glistrup are but a product of their times - each hoping to start a revolution of their own. And they almost succeed...

The film is magnificently crafted despite its straightforward narrative. Cristoffer Boe's sharp direction combined with his collaboration with screenwriter Simon Pasternak has produced an engaging film with a depth in characterisation. It is not only rich in detail, but also entertaining. The protagonists' unbelievably outrageous behaviour shocks as much as it induces laughter - whether it is flashing an erect penis to pacify a gorilla, calling the very idea of tax and government immoral, or interviewing prospective brides by stripping them naked and even trying them out for sex. It is even more shocking when we learn that these are broadly based on actual events. Pilou Asbæk and Nicolas Bro vividly bring to life the outlandish characters that they play. We are endeared to their characters despite their maniacal qualities. Boe succeeds in pushing the boundaries on what can be acceptably shown to a mainstream audience - there is drama, comedy, irony, and also explicit nudity - it is imprudent, but tawdry it ain't. It is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

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


The Nudity: Pilou Asbæk, Sarahsita Lassen, Pia Lund, Camilla Lehmann, and many more
Pilou Asbæk is spectacular, to put it mildly, as he struts around as the libidinous Simon Spies, the dirty middle-aged man (he's only thirty one by the way). As for the women, there are too many of them appearing in the nude, so I'm restricting the names to those who also have speaking parts. Sarahsita Lassen is Lillian, one of the girls Simon singles out for praise after an assembly-line sex session. Pia Lund is Dorte, one of the many applicants interviewed by Simon in trying to choose a future wife - his male assistants join in the inspection too. Camilla Lehmann plays Inger, a cute blond who briefly becomes Simon's live-in girlfriend - she apparently also makes the best pickles in Copenhagen. She's seen wearing only an apron in a kitchen scene, followed by a post-coital tender moment in bed with Simon, when she's completely in the nude.

Pilou Asbæk, Sarahsita Lassen, Pia Lund, Camilla Lehmann and others nude in Spies & Glistrup aka Sex, Drugs & Taxation


Thursday, 5 December 2013

A brief review: "Cão Sem Dono" [2007 Brazil]

Beto Brant can be quite frustrating indeed - like the Italian director Dino Risi in some respects, there are moments in his films that can be utterly magical, but also moments when the screenplay meanders aimlessly and the characterisation gets clouded with unnecessary details. Co-directed by Renato Ciasca, his drama "Cão Sem Dono" [Eng. Title: Stray Dog] aims to be a study of disillusionment and alienation among urban youth, but strays off course for too long while failing to make the detour any interesting.

Unemployed Ciro (Júlio Andrade) is going through depression, and also seems to be suffering from an unknown illness. He wants to be a writer, but settles for the occasional translation work that he could get. His companion is a stray dog he'd picked up from the streets, and his only friend is a janitor whose paintings he's fascinated with. Into his dull life will arrive the young and vivacious Marcela (Tainá Müller) - an aspiring model hoping to make it in Barcelona. It's hard to gather what Marcela sees in Ciro, but she loves him passionately even if he hardly reciprocates with the same intensity - sometimes we get the impression that he'd have preferred her not falling in love with him. This will change when Marcela leaves him to receive treatment for a dangerous form of cancer that he never knew she had. Whilst living alone and fixing his parents' property, he descends into alcoholism after failing to locate Marcela's whereabouts. Upon overdosing on one occasion, his parents arrive on time for rescue, and take him back to live with them. Ciro recovers, and begins to learn living like a proper grown up...

This film could easily have been made a whole lot more better - there is after all something there to explore, but while there is the odd glimpse of Beto Brant's undoubted ability, it is far too sporadic to be of any interest. Many scenes are faded off even before they come to a logical end - it may have been intentional, but it ends up resembling flashes of memory from someone who had lost interest in it halfway and moves on to something else. Ciro is also not the most inspiring character I'd met in a film, and the only thing we look forward to is for his scene to end. I guess even fine directors are entitled to the occasional dud, if only to cleanse their system of mediocrity that tend to accumulate after success.

DVD Order Link
(It's a bizarre, single-layered 2-DVD set - all that the second DVD contains is a MP4 version for mobile devices and the Making-Of documentary)


The Nudity: Tainá Müller and Júlio Andrade
One thing Beto Brant has to be applauded for is his uncanny ability to unearth stunning leading ladies for his films. Gorgeous Tainá Müller makes her début here, and also bags a couple of awards for a very commendable performance. She appears nude alongside Andrade in three scenes, one of which is also surprisingly 'hands-on' - you'll know what I mean when you see it.

Tainá Müller and Júlio Andrade nude in Cão Sem Dono