Saturday, 27 December 2014

"Language, isn't working!" - Adieu au langage [2014, France]

Jean-Luc Godard thinks so, among many other things as he usually does, in his latest cinematic dissection titled "Adieu au langage" [Eng. Title: Goodbye to Language]. If anyone thought the Nouvelle Vague was long dead, they certainly ought to have a word with this man before mouthing their verdict.

A scene from Godard's Adieu au langage Héloise Godet in Adieu au langage
Héloise Godet and Kamel Abdeli in Godard's Adieu au langage A scene from Godard's Adieu au langage

Ever the path-breaking maverick, Godard's latest film is proof enough that the octogenarian still has something to say about cinema. While it invests itself in a sociological theme, the film also 'visually' questions several unwritten golden rules concerning cinema as a medium. So much so that the very need for words and dialogues (read 'language') is often portrayed as being more or less redundant. You can therefore comfortably ignore a good chunk of the dialogues in the film.

Godard had done these before - deliberately cutting off sound during conversations, confusing viewers through sound effects, distorting time and flow with stop-slow motion - effectively challenging audience to de-construct what they hear and see. He now upgrades these ideas to cover present technology and digital media. The film is meant to be watched in 3D, and whilst I didn't quite oblige, one could pretty much see what he was trying to achieve, because it works to some extent in 2D as well - it draws you out of your comfort zone by distorting shape and form. This is Godard playing with cinema, like a kid breaking a toy apart and putting pieces back together.

Of course, he has some serious things to say as well in the process, like highlighting the lack of communication among people in modern relationships - "Soon everyone will need an interpreter, to understand the words coming out of their very own mouth", opines one of the central characters during a passage of play.

Apparently language isn't needed for love to flourish - Godard even considers it a hindrance, and anecdotally explains how a dog, without any structured language, succeeds in loving its master more than it does itself. Love is what we need, and love doesn't require language - that's the message, and as if to drive home the point, Godard ends his film with a dog responding to the babbling voice of an infant...

The audacious film-making is reflected in its choice of shooting equipment and post-processing as well - shot entirely in digital using no less than six different formats and frame rates, scenes are saturated to extreme levels to the extent that they appear at times to be deliberately degraded, which together with the swivelling camera movements, impart a degree of vicarious immediacy by mimicking personal videos made using a camera phone, echoing the narcissistic society that we live in. That much I gathered in my first two viewings, and I suspect there could be more to follow. Even at a short seventy minute runtime, the film is testing - who said Godard was easy! But if you're looking for something intellectually challenging over the festive period, this film might just do the trick. For them at least, it is certainly Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | Blu-ray Link [3D]


The Nudity: Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Zoé Bruneau, and Richard Chevallier
We follow two couples going about their breakup over a series of montages, and during the instances when they're talking but not actually communicating, we see them depicted in the nude. The scenes are also interspersed with found/stock footage of sexual acts, none of which are titillating - unless you can get past those toilet noises. :-)

Héloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli, Zoé Bruneau, and Richard Chevallier nude in Adieu au langage aka Goodbye to Language

Seasons Greetings!


Friday, 28 November 2014

A film review: "Hermosas juventud" [2014 Spain, France]

Jaime Rosales expresses solidarity for young people living in recession-hit Spain through his latest drama, "Hermosa juventud" [Eng. Title: Beautiful Youth]. The film follows the fortunes of a young unemployed couple from Madrid.

Ingrid García Jonsson in Hermosa juventud Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful Youth
Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful Youth Ingrid García Jonsson in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful Youth

Twenty two year old Natalia (Ingrid García Jonsson) is the eldest of three children living with their divorced mother Dolores (Inma Nieto). Unemployed, Natalia babysits her little sister while her mother goes to work. Carlos (Carlos Rodríguez), about the same age as Natalia, is also unemployed, but occasionally manages to find work as day-labourer for his best friend's father, for a pittance. He lives with his invalid mother who requires constant taking care of.

Carlos and Natalia have been seeing each other for a couple of years, but have been unable to start a family due to their circumstances. They enjoy each other's companionship when they get the opportunity, and dream about a wealthy future together, by the sea. They also perform in amateur porn films when they're in desperate need for cash, and promise each other that that would be their last time.

Their travails increase when Natalia discovers that she's pregnant. Against her mother's 'practical' advice, Natalia will decide not to terminate her pregnancy. Carlos, hoping to start a van delivery business from a yet-to-earn investment, is apprehensive about becoming a father when he's least ready, but reluctantly agrees.

After the child is born, Carlos tries to make things work between him and Natalia. He attempts to obtain compensation for a random physical assault he suffered earlier, but when nothing comes off it, begins to feel the strain, and responsibilities that come with a fledgling family. Natalia, realising that she can neither depend on her mother any longer, nor wait for a change in fortunes for Carlos, leaves her child under her mother's care and departs for Hamburg, where her friend Trini, having managed to find work lives...

Shot in the style of a documentary, the film succinctly portrays the personal, social, and economic challenges presented to unemployed youth in a Spain battling its worst economic crisis in several generations, where people often need to relocate, and sometimes compromise values in order to get by. It's not often that one comes across austere film-making from Spain, but you can rest assured that when you do, they will be refreshing and supremely eloquent. The film was Cannes-awarded for a very good reason; it is yet another exquisitely scripted film from the talented Jaime Morales, and he's aided by fine performances from all the main actors, particularly the elegant and gifted Ingrid García Jonsson. The cinematography, whilst economical, is fluid and effectively captures the essence of what the director is trying to convey. Needless to say, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez
Two scenes in the film feature brief frontal nudity - first when Natalia and Carlos 'do it' for camera, for a quick buck, and later when Natalia appears in a casting session on her own; each of these scenes were accomplished using a single take. If you follow Spanish and German, you might also appreciate the sleazy humour behind the frank interviews preceding each scene.

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez nude in Hermosa juventud aka Beautiful Youth


Thursday, 20 November 2014

A review: "Pupendo" [2003, Czech Rep.]

Jan Hrebejk's comedy "Pupendo" takes a wry look at the last days of communist Czechoslovakia by comparing the fortunes of two families who, though ideologically similar, adapt to life under the regime in starkly contrasting ways.

Scene - Pupendo Scene - Pupendo
Scene - Pupendo Scene - Pupendo

Bedrich (Bolek Polívka), a successful and respected sculptor prior to the crushing of the Prague Spring, has since been ostracised for his liberal views, and because of his steadfast refusal to enrol in the party and suck-up to the system, effectively jobless, and ekes out a living by reproducing kitsch pottery for a local businessman. His stoic wife Alena (Eva Holubová) and their two boys - one of them deaf, make up a closely-knit family with few disagreements among them.

The other family that we get to follow is of Mila (Jaroslav Dusek), married to Bedrich's former lover Magda (Vilma Cibulková). Even though he too hates the political system, he complies, and is also a member of the communist party. He's rewarded by being made headteacher of the school where boys of both the families attend. Mila's older daughter Pavla is presently Bedrich's apprentice. Magda, once Bedrich's student herself, also complies with authorities, and is the head of the Artists Union.

When a drunk Bedrich brings home a bum that he saw rummaging through bins, Alena isn't too pleased, and to make her point, offers the stranger Bedrich's supper. The stranger would turn out to be Alois Fabera (Jirí Pecha), an art historian, fallen on hard times following a divorce. Fabera, already aware of Bedrich's past works, uses his residual influence in the art establishment to assign him a contract for a mural at the school - one that's aspirational but also apolitical enough for Bedrich to accept.

Magda persuades Bedrich to take up another 'national' project as a return favour, and all goes well for a while, until a candid disclosure in a radio interview by Fabera lands them in hot water with the establishment, after which both families' privileges get curtailed. However, Fabera also succeeds in getting Bedrich noticed by art establishments outside Czechoslovakia, and before long, Bedrich will have foreign admirers arriving at his doorstep...

A slice of life as seen by the director during the pre-Velvet Revolution days, the film, much like most Czech films made in the period following communism, presents the picture of an intelligentsia desperately yearning for change. It remains a popular subject for Czechs to this day, and the film duly obliges. But it is also a breezy, well made comedy that directly addresses its audience - one of the reasons for its box office success. While I couldn't yet make a connection between the film's title - alluding to a prank game played using a coin, and the film's context, it is nevertheless entertaining, and Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Vilma Cibulková and Hana Seidlová
In a memorable scene, Magda, who is visiting Bedrich's to oversee an upcoming sculpture, is in the shower when she hears Bedrich say that he wants to abandon the work. She angrily bursts into the studio and starts arguing with him in the nude. Forty year old Vilma Cibulková was brave enough to do the scene, and it reminded me of another more recent performance by Anne Louise Hassing, also in her forties - it's so uplifting to watch middle-aged women walk about just as nature intended, in the nude. The second scene is of Mila's son Matej eyeing a woman sunbathing, only to pleasantly discover that she's also his teacher from school. The teacher is played by Hana Seidlová.

Vilma Cibulková and Hana Seidlová nude in Pupendo


Friday, 7 November 2014

A film review: "Gato negro" [2014 Argentina]

Gastón Gallo's directorial début "Gato negro" [Eng. Title: The Black Cat] is about a man's dogged determination to break away from poverty and become a success story, and the price he'll end up paying in the process.

A scene from Gato negro (2014) A scene from Gato negro (2014)
Luciano Cáceres in Gato negro (2014 Argentina) Luciano Cáceres and Leticia Brédice in Gato negro (2014)
Luciano Cáceres in "Gato negro" (2014)

We follow Tito Pereya from the time he's a frustrated young boy growing up amidst sugarcane plantations and sugar mills in provincial Argentina of the nineteen fifties - where "nothing much happens". With a stressed-out mother and an absent father, the only person he can connect with is his older brother Claudio, who'll also be his best friend. But Tito is restless and raring to leave the village for good.

He'll get that opportunity when his mother takes him to Buenos Aires where she'd just taken up job as a domestic servant. But to his dismay, she enrols him in a convent and leaves hastily, promising to visit him during the weekends, which she never did. An angry Tito refuses to fit in the convent and runs away with another boy. Together they survive doing odd-jobs in a different town, until he gets bored and returns home.

As a young man, he leaves for the city one more time, and takes up the only job he could get, as janitor in a garment factory. Determinedly, he works his way up, and before long will start his own business in import and export. His enterprise becomes successful by circumventing law on occasions, aided by his uncanny ability to charm, befriend and bribe the powers that be, whether civil or military.

Apart from seeking success, Tito wants to be seen to be successful too. He builds his family and also makes peace with his estranged mother, a gesture which by then has become little more than symbolic. He surrounds himself with wealth and worldly comforts to get noticed and acknowledged by friend and foe alike, which will invariably also spark jealousy in some circles...

While there's nothing really unique about the film's storyline - a tried and tested formula used the world over in various degrees of deviation, it's a decent enough directorial début. Argentinians might relate to the film more readily than others due to its passing historical and cultural references. They have also made a serious effort at trying to accurately recreate various periods that the story spans. The performance of Luciano Cáceres in the lead role is pretty good, but the remaining cast fail to rise above the ordinary. Nevertheless, the film is entertaining and Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Leticia Brédice
She plays the love interest who'll later become the wife of Tito Pereya, her character was probably inserted into the storyline as an afterthought with very little time for development. She appears briefly nude during her first make-out session with Tito in the office warehouse.

Leticia Brédice nude in the film Gato negro aka The Black Cat (2014)


Thursday, 30 October 2014

A film review: "Time of Darkness" [1991, Russia]

Occasionally we bump into a film only when looking for something else. An exploration into early post-Soviet Russian cinema led me to Vladimir Alenikov's medieval drama "Time of Darkness" [Russian Title: Fiofaniya, risuyushchaya smert], made originally in English. Produced by an American company, and even starring George Segal, it was also a general indicator of the US-Russia bonhomie at the time.

Tamara Tana and George Segal, 'Time of Darkness' A scene from Fiofaniya aka Time of Darkness (Russia 1991)
Tamara Tana as Fiofaniya in Time of Darkness (1991 Russia) George Segal in Time of Darkness (1991 Russia)

The low-budgeted film is set in eleventh century Russia, a period when many rural communities still practised their old pagan faiths, and newly arrived Christian missionaries were trying to convert them (which they achieved, but pagan ideas such as witchcraft and babkas (spiritual healers) are still fairly popular today). A spate of crimes erupt in a remote village after a summer festival, and young women newly converted to Christianity begin to get killed. While village chief Grigory (George Segal) attributes these attacks to a werewolf living in the woods, Fiofaniya (Tamara Tana), the healer-woman, after examining their bodies, believes that they were raped and killed by someone in the village.

Fiofaniya also has the ability to have 'visions'. It will help her piece together events leading up to the murder, but she wont be able identify the killer itself because he'd donned a carnival mask, like many other men in the village, during each attack. The heady mix of superstition, myth, and religion will make any effort at solving the crimes impossible, until Fiofaniya stumbles across a clue that'll lead her to the killer. She'll soon face mortal danger herself; with villagers fearing that she might be a witch, and the killer inciting the crowd to lock her inside the house and set it ablaze, almost replicating the fate that befell her own mother at a different village...

Its historical setting and the pagan-Christian conflict may be vaguely reminiscent of Andrei Rublev, but this is certainly not a Tarkovsky - and to its credit, it doesn't even pretend to be one. This is just a good ole American B-movie, more accurately, a Russian attempt at making one, that has every right to share the same shelf as the Conan epics in your friendly neighbourhood VHS library. The director has later gone on to do more memorable work, but this film is all comic strip-style material with a dodgy screenplay, B-movie style.

And yet, it couldn't help itself trying to be artistic at times, in a minimalist sort of way. Given its budget, it has managed to recreate authentic-looking sets and especially the corpses, but I have reason to believe that they might have also killed or maimed a real wolf while making the film, possibly for added authenticity. Either that, or it must've been a surprisingly clever piece of filmmaking for its time. Nevertheless what kept me engaged, were the bevy of undeniably beautiful actresses appearing in the film, and often in various stages of undress. These may or may not be the right reason for watching the film, but the extra spice certainly enhances the exotic storyline and lends it historical legitimacy (although I'm not sure about the extent to which Slavic pagans practised witch-burning). DVD Link [PAL]
There is a much cheaper DVD available as well, but it is German dubbed. I also can't attest to the DVD's quality because mine is an older non-remastered NTSC edition, not available in Amazon at the time of posting.


The Nudity: Tatyana Novik, Tamara Tana, Mariya Korolyova, Zoya Simonova, & others
The film features nudity in a variety of public spaces; when people conduct medieval fertility rituals,  bathe in the lake, are pursued through woods, and also features a Lady Godiva-style stride through the village, sans the horse.

Tamara Tana, Tatyana Novik, Mariya Korolyova, Zoya Simonova and others nude in Time of Darkness, aka Fiofaniya, risuyushchaya smert


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

User-generated entertainment: "Steekspel" [2012 Netherlands]

Having had his break after Zwartboek, Paul Verhoeven eases back into film-making mode with "Steekspel" [Eng. Title: Tricked], by using it as a 'creative-battery-recharging' project. It's a moderate success because, despite its meagre fifty minutes, the pint-sized featurette manages to package a coherent narrative with several twists and turns.

Ricky Koole and Peter Blok in Steekspel (Tricked). Ricky Koole and Peter Blok in Steekspel (Tricked)
Peter Blok in Steekspel Ricky Koole and Peter Blok in Steekspel (Tricked).

It is Remco's (Peter Blok) fiftieth birthday and his dutiful wife Ineke (Ricky Koole) has meticulously organised a party at their home. However, an unexpected visitor comes calling - his former mistress Nadja (Sallie Harmsen), with a very visible baby bump, which raise eyebrows all around and sets tongues wagging in hushed tones. After all, his affair was known to everyone, including his grown-up children and Ineke herself. It sets the tone for a series of soap-operatic events that'll follow.

Remco had been a serial philanderer all through his marriage, which Ineke had only been too aware of. She tacitly tolerated his numerous affairs because they never last for a long period, and he invariably also returns home every night. However, she couldn't tolerate Remco being the father of Nadja's child, and has threatened to leave him if it turned out to be the case.

That is however what Nadja will claim to Remco in private - that he is the father, and his business associates will use this pretext to blackmail him into selling the company in which he and Ineke have a stake. To complicate matters, he's also having an ongoing affair with his daughter Lieke's (Carolien Spoor) best friend Merel (Gaite Jensen), whom his son Tobias (Robert de Hoog) also fancies...

Kim van Kooten penned the first few pages of this topsy-turvy script before it was put up online, for crowd-sourcing input from public for the remainder of the film. Nearly 700 scripts were received, and van Kooten and Verhoeven sifted through a shortlist to pick and choose elements that gelled with the initial pages for completing the film. As a result, three other writers also appear in the film's credits. The unusual project has apparently been one arduous exercise, and is highlighted in an accompanying documentary titled "Paul's Experience", where Verhoeven talks about the creative process and how it was a unique cinematic project - a glorified 'Making-of' if you will, which is presented alongside the film.

If employing too many 'cooks' could've easily ended up as mishmash in the wrong hands, Verhoeven uses it to his advantage by accommodating the additional twists and turns in the plot whilst retaining their connection. Besides, shooting each scene in succession, with the actors and even he not knowing what happens next, make them all the more credible, and encourages audience engagement. While the overall tone of the film is that of a typical 'mainstream' TV sitcom, it nevertheless entertains as much as it intrigues the viewer. We see Verhoeven make a film after a hiatus, and that at least is reason enough to watch it - Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Gaite Jansen
By Paul Verhoeven's own standards, the nudity in this film is relatively mild, consisting of two scenes that feature a cute and topless Gaite Jansen - her character is the object of interest for father-son duo Remco and Tobias. In the first scene Merel flashes her breasts for Tobias's camera, telling him that he could now jack-off without having to photoshop her face to someone else's. The second is when Remco and Merel jump into bed while discussing the reappearance of Nadja. But I wonder - among all of them who submitted script for the film, didn't anyone even consider for a moment that Tobias might perhaps be interested in something more than Jansen's modest little titties, alluring as they may be! Blimey, did I just complain there?! :-)

Scenes of a nude Gaite Jansen in Paul Verhoeven's Steekspel aka Tricked


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Jodorowsky's self-therapy: "La danza de la realidad" [2013 Chile, France]

After nearly a quarter of a century, Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Swiss Army Knife among provocative artists, conjures up a deeply personal film by adapting portions from his recently published autobiography. "La danza de la Realidad" [Eng. Title: The Dance of Reality] is also a family affair, with his wife and sons also chipping in for the project. His son Brontis, who many will remember as El Topo's little son, plays Jodorwsky's father Jaime, and his character is pretty much the main focus of discussion in the film.

Brontis Jodorowsky in El danza de la realidad Jeremias Herskovits in La danza de la realidad
Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, and Jeremias Herskovits in The Dance of Reality Brontis Jodorowsky, Pamela Flores, and Jeremias Herskovits in La danza de la realidad

An autobiography with a difference, the film isn't strictly a literal interpretation of events from childhood, but does contain factual details within a larger Jodorowskian canvas. It shows the early years of Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) growing up as a shy, white Jewish boy in the Chilean coastal town of Tocopilla. Giving insights into how he perceived the world around him back then and particularly his relationship with his parents, the now older Jodorowsky, as himself, enters scenes intermittently to comment on proceedings and mentor his younger self through his growing-up pains.

The film, while making several knowing references to his earlier work, is presented as a fairy tale - like a nostalgic look-back, Amarcord-style. But that's where comparisons with Fellini end; because this one is a different kettle of fish altogether - almost every scene is a visual attack on your senses - it's a wild fantasia, ranging from the lyrical to the exquisitely profane. As anyone who'd seen his earlier works should know, Jodorowsky doesn't pull back anything if he's out to make a point. He will use any means at his disposal to load it with layers of mystic metaphors and other hippie-delights. You see police throwing protesting limbless miners to the back of a truck, circus clowns bullying a child, a hunchback woman die for love, a buxom mother show her son how to go unnoticed by others in public - in the nude, and a loving wife healing her husband by urinating on his plague-infested body.

Here's just one example of the many metaphor-laden scenes we get to see - after a stone that little Alejandro throws in anger at the sea unexpectedly results in thousands of fish getting stranded and perishing on shore, seagulls appear from nowhere to feast upon the sudden glut, and Jodorowsky muses, "I felt confused: should I suffer the anguish of the sardines, or should I delight in the joy of the seagulls...". Jodorowsky's mother Sara (Chilean soprano Pamela Flores) sings in the film instead of talking - while the reason was because it was his mother's long-held wish to become an opera singer, and he was merely trying to fulfil her ambition symbolically, it is even more moving if you interpret it as the mother's voice in itself sounding as music to young Alejandro's ears.

A therapy:

The film has a personal mission too. Jodorowsky, heavily involved in his psychomagic, in effect workshops his film project into an elaborate therapy session, with family, to come to terms with a difficult past. He'd mentioned (separately) that he was traumatised in childhood by an overbearing father who expected him to be as manly as he was, one who he opines was also a hypocrite in facing up to his own ideology. Through the film, Jodorowsky not only highlights his father's flaws, but also enables him to redeem himself and regain his humanity towards the end, which of course, didn't happen in reality. Children in town back then made fun of him because he was white, and circumcised. He was often harassed by people because he was a (relatively) rich Jewish boy, and effeminate looking with his long blond hair, which was nurtured by his mother to remind her of her own father. It's because of these reasons that the film was also shot in the very place he lived - in a Tocopilla that's barely changed over the years. But since his childhood home was destroyed by fire, he built one again to resemble the original home for this film. He also repainted all the run-down homes in the vicinity to recreate his childhood landscape, in order to put to rest his demons. The film set, and everything that went with it, was gifted back to the town after the shoot.

The film isn't a straightforward work of fiction or even a strictly fictionalised biography - the thoughts in the film aren't that of Jodorowsky as a child growing up in the 1930's, but that of an octogenarian looking back at it using present intellect. And since everything is seen from a vastly different viewpoint, there is no point in poring over its historical accuracy, let alone delving into the narrative. Regardless, it is engaging and life-affirming in its own unique way. The performance from actors playing the mother-father duo and the son, particularly Brontis Jodorowsky, is brave and 'real' to say the least. Jodorowsky's other son Adan handles the soundtrack and music with panache. The film was also the result of a reunion of sorts between Jodorowsky and his co-producer Michel Seydoux - they'd stayed apart after a doomed 70's project (Dune, the one that never got made but nevertheless inspired sci-fi cinema the world over). However, it is an altogether personal film and should not be compared like-for-like to Jodorowsky's earlier works, and certainly, Highly Recommended Viewing..! Blue-ray & DVD Purchase Link


The Nudity: Pamela Flores and Brontis Jodorowsky
Brontis Jodorowsky throws himself into his character headlong, and opera singer Pamela Flores - much respected and loved in her home country, doesn't hold back either, which also reflects in the eye-raising frankness of their respective nude scenes. Wholesome Flores barely flinches while singing in the nude, and Brontis is as at ease with his naked self as he was, as a child in El Topo. There are at least four scenes featuring frontal nudity, male and female.

Pamela Flores and Brontis Jodorowsky nude in La danza de la realidad aka The Dance of Reality


Saturday, 4 October 2014

Disrupting harmony: "O Lobo atrás da Porta" [2013 Brazil]

Director Fernando Coimbra's promising feature-film début "O Lobo atrás da Porta" [Eng. Title: Wolf at the Door] starts as a suspense-thriller but pretty quickly veers off into a drama. Set against the backdrop of down-town Rio de Janeiro, the suspense associated with the kidnapping of a child is relatively short-lived, the film thereafter delves into the motive behind the kidnapper's actions.

O Lobo atrás da Porta - 2013, Brazil Milhem Cortaz and Antonio Saboia in O Lobo atrás da Porta
Leandra Leal in O Lobo atrás da Porta Leandra Leal in O Lobo atrás da Porta

Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) arrives to pick her child from the nursery as usual, but the surprised staff member reminds her that it was she who called earlier to allow her friend Sheila to collect the kid, since she was unwell and wont be able to make it.

When the police interview staff members, it becomes clear that whoever impersonated Sylvia's friend was well known to the child, because she instinctively ran towards her for a hug. But Sylvia doesn't even have a friend named Sheila, and husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) is brought in for questioning. As soon as he learns of his daughter's kidnapping, he blames it on Rosa (Leandra Leal), the woman he'd been having an affair with over the past year.

As the detective questions Rosa, she initially denies any involvement in the kidnapping and comes up with a different version of events on that day. When grilled further, she admits that it was she who kidnapped the child, and opens her back story and her affair with Bernardo. It touches on how they met, and how she was misled into believing that he was not married. She also mentions his physical abuse for befriending Sylvia, how she had an abortion forced upon her, and Bernardo's general unpleasantness...

The drama is a pretty good first effort by Coimbra - one can see stylistic influences from the likes of Bruno Dumont and Carlos Reygadas from his long, almost static camera takes, and frequent use of close-ups. It is just as well that he had the right actors to help, particularly Leandra Leal who handles the sharp contradictions within her film-character with aplomb - at one moment she's the vulnerable, suffering, and innocent girl, and in the next she's a doggedly determined woman with a strong appetite for sex. The camera work is good, but I couldn't help feeling that the grungy-industrial soundtrack might have been overdone a bit. My main problem with the film however, is its unmistakeable moral overtones. The 'wolf' in the title refers to disruption in a family's harmony - as in this case, by the extramarital affair - the clear message being that infidelity is wrong, and abortion is cruel. Having said that, Coimbra does exceptionally well in holding the viewer's curiosity for the most part of proceedings, and also manages to insert an unexpected twist in the plot towards the end - a promising début that's Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Leandra Leal
There are two instances of brief nudity from Leandra Leal playing Rosa, the second of which is a bit longer. There is also a brief backside flash from Fabiula Nascimento who plays Sylvia, while getting out of bed.

Leandra Leal nude in O Lobo atrás da Porta


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Early Brigitte Bardot: A tribute

Brigitte Bardot has just turned 80 today (28th September), and as a birthday tribute to one of the iconic film personalities of the twentieth century, I want to briefly highlight some of her early filmography that's relevant to this blog, in order of preference. Three of the four featured here are not only remarkable films in their own right, but they also showcase her versatility as an actress and her persona as the quintessential sex symbol. They offer a window into what it must feel like to be a Brigitte Bardot - forever being selectively judged by the world with regard to her character, morals, and beauty. They give a fascinating insight into Bardot the person herself. Another thing common with the three films, and a hidden agenda behind the choice, is Brigitte Bardot dancing the cha-cha-cha..!

1. "La vérité" [1960, France, Italy]

When we talk of Henri-Georges Clouzot as director, we're talking about 'classic' French cinema, of the pre Nouvelle Vague era. His absorbing courtroom drama "La Vérité" [Eng. Title: The Truth] literally places Brigitte Bardot on the dock and questions her morality and candid sensuality.

Brigitte Bardot in La Vérité Brigitte Bardot in La Vérité
Brigitte Bardot in La Vérité Brigitte Bardot in La Vérité

Accused of murdering her former lover, Dominique's (Brigitte Bardot) past is laid bare in an open court and mercilessly examined by a prosecuting lawyer. In claiming that Gilbert's (Sami Frey) murder had everything to do with his recent engagement to her sister Annie (Marie-José Nat), the lawyer attempts to paint Dominique as an evil-minded, selfish woman with loose morals and few scruples.

Free-spirited Dominique, after several procrastinations and a suicide-attempt, is allowed by parents to move to Paris and live with his music student-sister. Education doesn't interest her, but the city and its youth culture does, and so Dominique wastes little time in getting acquainted with young men congregating in a latin café. She moves out of her sister's apartment and lives alongside her new friends, sometimes having sex with them.

Dominique expresses her sexual freedom through various casual encounters, and while initially shocked by her frankness and appetite for sex, Gilbert, Annie's friend from college, will find her fascinating, and he'll soon also become obsessed with her. He must have her, and to this end he pursues her despite knowing that she finds him boring at times. He will declare his love for her even after being told that she was with another guy only moments earlier. His perseverance will pay off, and Dominique too will begin to fall in love with him.

Having 'scored' finally, Gilbert tries to take control of her life - teach her culture, good taste in music, and so on, but Dominique, despite some futile attempts, will find it hard to reconcile her love for him with her own needs, and often ends up being unfaithful to him. They inevitably break-up, and Dominique, suddenly left homeless and jobless after her flatmate leaves to the US, takes up prostitution to survive. She's still in love with Gilbert, but he'd by now settled for a career in music, and the virginal Annie...

The drama makes a passionate plea for a woman's right to live the way she wants to and not be judged, and also questions men's desire to control them. Dominique had unwittingly become a victim of her own strengths - her beauty and sensuality, by being hounded by men seeking her as a trophy to behold and a free spirit to subdue, while all she ever wanted was the freedom to be her own self, and be loved. But the world refuses to see it that way - according to them, she's a loose woman who must be taught lessons on how to behave in a 'respectable' society. Brigitte Bardot's finest on-screen performance is made all the more poignant due to the uncanny resemblance of her celebrity-image to that of her character. Directed impeccably by Clouzot, the film blends neo-realism with a dash of glamour. The film is naturally Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot and Barbara Sommers
Three scenes feature brief nudity from a calendar-perfect Brigitte Bardot, one of these is a fine example of a beautiful nude derrière dancing the cha-cha-cha. In a memorable scene which would've given young men sleepless nights at the time, she performs the same while lying in bed with nothing but a white sheet covering her naked body. It begs the question - why are such (dancing nude) scenes so rare to see nowadays..?

Brigitte Bardot nude in La vérité aka The Truth


2. "En cas de malheur" [1958, France, Italy]

Claude Autant-Lara is yet another legendary name in classic French cinema. He presided over both the formative and innovative years of his country's film industry, and has always been a versatile and highly gifted director. His stirring romantic melodrama "En cas de malheur" [Eng. Title: In Case of Adversity (UK), Love Is My Profession (USA)] is again crime-of-passion-themed, and stars a fabulously beautiful Brigitte Bardot alongside superstar Jean Gabin, a combination that in no small way also helped making the film's controversial subject more palatable.

Jean Gabin and Brigitte Bardot in En cas de malheur Jean Gabin and Brigitte Bardot in En cas de malheur Brigitte Bardot and Franco Interlenghi in En cas de malheur

The film begins with a bungled robbery at a jeweller's by prostitutes Yvette (Brigitte Bardot) and Noémie (Annick Allières) - the jeweller's wife is seriously injured during their getaway. Yvette approaches renowned lawyer André (Jean Gabin) and begs him to defend her, and because she couldn't afford the fee for his services, offers in return her own, in exchange.

A married and hitherto faithful André helps her out of pity and even gets her acquitted, but is smitten by her beauty nevertheless. Yvette will become his willing mistress, with full-knowledge of his tolerant and remarkably perceptive wife, He will even buy an apartment to house her in, and allows her to live as she pleased with no questions asked, provided she spares some time for him in return. He doesn't expect her to be faithful, but demands that she henceforth stop prostituting herself, sell drugs, or get drunk.

Their arrangement works for a while, until Yvette's boyfriend Mazzetti (Franco Interlenghi) enters her life again. There is after all only so much that an ever-busy and middle-aged André can offer her in terms of excitement, and Yvette and Mazzetti quickly catch up with the times they were apart. But Mazzetti, prone to bouts of violent temper, will want to have Yvette all to himself, and would go to extraordinary lengths to pull her away from André's influence. Yvette, whilst trying to escape his tyrannical ways, will nevertheless be drawn back to him, with devastating consequences...

Well written, and exceptionally performed by all the main actors, particularly Jean Gabin, the film oozes class and wit - it is not as well known as Bardot's other films, but it is a hidden gem waiting to be rediscovered. You won't be disappointed and the film is definitely Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot
Two brief scenes feature nudity from Brigitte Bardot - even by her own yardstick of beauty, this film significantly raises the bar - she is 'the' quintessential femme fatale, and 'the' celestial creature. What I meant to say is - she couldn't possibly have been more stunning than she's in this film. The lighting, the angles, and the composition lends her a charisma that would've forced you to forgive her even if she were to commit the gravest of crimes. Forget about nudity - watching her clothed is sensational enough..!

Brigitte Bardot nude in En cas de malheur

3. "Et Dieu... créa la femme" [1956, France, Italy]

Brigitte Bardot was his wife and also the first-billed star in Roger Vadim's torrid romance drama "Et Dieu... créa la femme" [Eng. Title: ...And God Created Woman]. The Eastmancolor spectacular would've been far less sympathetic to Brigiite Bardot's character, had it not been for her convincing and persuasive performance.

Curt Jürgens and Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu... créa la femme Jean-Louis Trintignant and Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu... créa la femme aka ...And God Created Woman
Brigitte Bardot and Christian Marquand in Et Dieu... créa la femme aka And God Created WOman Brigitte Bardot in Et Dieu... créa la femme aka And God Created Woman

Juliete (Brigitte Bardot), an eighteen year old orphan living with her foster parents in a fishing village (pre-tourism St. Tropez), is self-absorbed and already sexually active, much to her mother's disapproval. Middle-aged businessman Eric (Curd Jürgens) is just one of the many men who covet her. But she'd set her eyes elsewhere, on the hunky  Antoine. However, Antoine only wants to bed her and doesn't quite consider her as girlfriend-material. He leaves her stranded at the bus stop after promising to take her away with him.

Juliete now has just one choice - she could either go back to her orphanage after her foster parents complained to authorities about her bringing their house into disrepute, or she could avoid it by finding herself a man to marry. Antoine's younger brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who had always fancied her, steps in with an offer of marriage, and despite the priest's explicit advice against it, they tie the knot.

Michel allows her to remain the free spirit that she was because he accepts and loves her the way she is, and Juliete too responds by loving him in return. But when Antoine returns back to the village to manage their newly merged shipyard, things become complicated, and Juliete begins to lust after him once again. Despite her being his sister-in-law, Antoine wastes no opportunity in having his way with her, and to make matters worse, also tells his mother and brother what he did to her.

The film became controversial because Vadim had used Juliete's promiscuity to directly challenge the culture of philandering and misogyny among men. Juliete's desire to live the way she wants is also a bold feminist statement for its time - years before the sexual revolution took off. At least in the raw physical manner of its presentation, it is a ground-breaking film - and it is to Ms. Bardot's credit that her not-so-endearing screen character is elevated to a crusader demanding equal sexual space to that of men. She may be the epitome of sensuality - her sexual appetite only matched by her indulgence and selfishness, but she also has a positive side; her kindness towards animals, and her genuine regret of loosing judgement for a fleeting moment of sexual pleasure. The drama reaches a crescendo with a Bardot dancing cha-cha-cha in seemingly gay abandon for a rehearsing Cuban jazz band as an exasperated Michel helplessly watches; the long scene's worth the ticket value in itself. But the film unfortunately does also compromise some of its integrity towards the end, either with an eye on the box office, or for placating the censors. A sign of its times - I guess, but it is still, Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot
The film features two brief flashes of nudity from Brigitte Bardot - and for the first time in colour. There's also one scene featuring concealed nudity when her character emerges from the sea, soaked to the bone and determined to 'have' Antoine.

Brigitte Bardot nude in Et Dieu... créa la femme


4. Manina, la fille sans voiles [1952, France]

Willy Rozier's listless romance "Manina, la fille sans voiles" [Eng. Title: The Lighthouse-Keeper's Daughter (UK), The Girl in the Bikini (USA)] is the most underwhelming film of the four listed here. The only reason for it featuring in my list is because it is also the first instance of film nudity from Brigitte Bardot, in what was also among her very first films.


Brigitte Bardot in Manina, la fille sans voiles Brigitte Bardot in Manina, la fille sans voiles aka The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter Brigitte Bardot in Manina, la fille sans voiles aka The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter

Manina (Brigitte Bardot), who lives in a lighthouse with her parents in a desolate Corsican island, is befriended by diving enthusiast and Parisian college student Gérard (Howard Vernon). He discovers an ancient artefact in the seabed which he'll later learn to have probably belonged in part to a legendary sunken treasure. He goes back after five years and tries to locate the rest of the bounty with the help of a cigarette smuggler, and falls for a now all grown up and mostly bikini-clad Manina. He finds the treasure and loses it to the smuggler, but all ends well because he'd at the least had an adventure and got himself a pretty girl.

It is a poorly directed film with some surprisingly mediocre acting, choppy editing, and a monotonous mandolin incessantly twanging away in the background (and some crunching noises that shouldn't have been there in the first place). But Bardot, all of eighteen, is at her adorable innocent best here - her face is yet that of a child, and there wouldn't have been any hint of sensuality were it not for her fully grown breasts. It's safe to assume that the only reason the film ever made it to DVD was Brigitte Bardot. She displays her budding talents with whatever little scope she's offered, and that includes her sweet singing voice getting an airing.

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Brigitte Bardot
My DVD is an NTSC edition, and as far as I'm aware, there is only brief partial nudity in the film when a sunbathing Manina is disturbed by the bad guy. It must've yet caused a sensation because nudity in any form was quite uncommon those days.

Brigitte Bardot nude in Manina, la fille sans voiles aka The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter