Thursday, 30 January 2014

"199 recetas para ser feliz" - [2008 Chile, Spain]

After a commendable début (Los debutantes), writer-director Andrés Waissbluth has surprisingly made only one other feature at the time of posting - an offbeat threesome romance among Chilean immigrants in Barcelona. It's a shame he hasn't made more, considering the directors out there peddling their trade with lesser talent and yet making an occasional success of it.

"199 recetas para ser feliz" [Eng. Title: 199 Tips to be Happy] begins with an interesting premise. During an unusually hot summer in Barcelona, Helena (Tamara Garea) and husband Tomás (Pablo Macaya) have just been informed of the death of Helena's brother Milo back in Chile, but they're unable to attend the funeral due to an emergency. One day and out of the blue, Milo's erstwhile girlfriend Sandra (Andrea García-Huidobro) - whom they'd never met before, comes knocking at their door. The couple welcome Sandra to stay with them until she sorts herself out, but the unexpected union will bring to fore latent feelings and insecurities in the couple's lives.

Helena strikes an immediate rapport with Sandra in wanting to cherish her beloved brother's memory through her, and perhaps in hoping to find remnants of him in the girl he loved, but more importantly to bereave and come to terms with his death. Tomás is unhappy with his job marketing books for a publishing firm. He isn't sure what he wants to do next, and has withdrawn into a shell that even Helena finds hard to get through. Whilst promoting his friend's latest book (the same as the film's title), Tomás finds in Sandra a welcome if dangerous distraction from his job - he spends his days following her through galleries and alleyways of Barcelona, observing from distance her casual flings, and soon starts to fancy her. Meanwhile Helena's affection for Sandra also develops into sexual desire, which she'll begin to openly display even in Tomás' presence.

But Sandra - far from being a passive recipient of the couple's attentions, actually provokes and encourages their lustful feelings, and through their embraces, hopes to find what she'd earlier found in Milo. The film, while reminiscent of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema in the way a stranger's entry into a household upsets its balance, doesn't go deep enough in articulating the emotional aspect of the love triangle. It is slow-moving in places because of this failure - there is good screenplay but inadequate characterisation. Due to this, the provocative ending too has a hollow ring to it, but it could've turned out better with a bit more effort from the cast.

DVD Order Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Tamara Garea, Andrea García-Huidobro, Alana Vandeweghe, and Pablo Macaya
The film justifiably carries with it an erotically-charged undercurrent, also echoed in the heat and sweat of the summer, and helped by a fan that frequently keeps breaking down. Tamara Garea, as Helena, wears minimal clothing throughout the film and also poses nude for an art class in two scenes. Apart from a couple of beach sequences, Andrea García-Huidobro - playing Sandra, and the object of the couple's desires, appears nude during three sex scenes; with a casual lover at a cheap hotel, in a lesbian encounter with Helena, and later during a ménage à trois with Helena and Tomás, which also shows Pablo Macaya briefly in the nude. Alana Vandeweghe plays a nude model sitting in one of the art classes that Sandra attends.

Tamara Garea, Andrea García-Huidobro, and Pablo Macaya nude in 199 recetas para ser feliz


Friday, 24 January 2014

A review: "Anni felici" [2013 Italy]

Directors like Daniele Luchetti thrive in delving into nostalgia, and his semi-autobiographical "Anni felici" [Eng. Title Those Happy Years] looks back at his family while growing up amidst the crazy 70's art scene.


Guido (Kim Rossi Stuart) is a restless sculptor and art teacher craving for notoriety and recognition in Rome's art world, and yearns for praise from his often critical mother. He hopes that his success would help him provide for wife Serena (Micaela Ramazzotti) and kids Dario (Samuel Garofalo) and Paolo (Niccolò Calvagna). For Serena however, art doesn't hold any particular interest - all she wants, is for Guido to get more involved in their relationship. When an art installation of his draws scathing reviews from critics, a distraught and confused Guido disappears from family for a while. Simultaneously, Serena and kids join art boutique owner Elke on a 'feminist' holiday to a beach in France. Time away from husband and new acquaintances - especially her intense bonding with an openly lesbian Elke, will open up Serena's mind to things she hadn't considered in the past, including understanding what she wants in life...


Narrated by an adult Dario, the film is a rose-tinted look at his growing up years in what would later become a turning point for him and the family as he once knew it. It was also when he'd begun to understand complexities in relationships, and appreciate his family for all its shortcomings. Dario's words, "Without a doubt, they were happy years, too bad none of us realised it then!", nevertheless reveal a tacit acknowledgement that memories will always paint a rosier picture of events than it truly did.

The film functions well as a narrative-led character study. It is aided by strong performances, notably by the fine portrayal of Serena's character by Micaela Ramazzotti, the supporting presence of Martina Gedeck, and Samuel Garofalo and Niccolò Calvagna as the couple's precocious and thoroughly engaging kids. The cinematography evokes the feeling of nostalgia, and while the film might not be as richly layered as Luchetti's earlier drama that also drew from personal life - Mio fratello è figlio unico, it is nevertheless engrossing with an intelligent screenplay. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Micaela Ramazzotti, Martina Gedeck, Kim Rossi Stuart, Angelique Cavallari, Silvia d'Amico, and others
There is intermittent nudity earlier in the film, from various models either posing or performing in the nude for Guido - from Angelique Cavallari, Silvia d'Amico, Maria Teresa Capasso, Giulia Anchisi, and Benedetta Cesqui. Micaela Ramazzotti herself appears nude at an art installation in broad view of a gallery. She later appears nude alongside Martina Gedeck (credited as Martina Friederike Gedeck) when they go swimming in the sea. Additional topless and fully nude women appear at the feminist resort where Serena spends the summer along with her kids.

Micaela Ramazzotti, Martina Gedeck, Kim Rossi Stuart, Angelique Cavallari, Silvia d'Amico, and others nude in Anni felici aka Those Happy Years


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A brief review: "Rouge amargo" [2012 Argentina]

Gustavo Cova's crime thriller "Rouge amargo" [Eng. Title: Bitter Red Lips] treads a path well-worn by others trying to emulate Hollywood, but falls way short of being spoken in the same length as 'Jason Bourne'.

A candidate running for Congress is murdered in a hotel room when he's with favourite prostitute Cyntia (Mariela Vitale, credited as 'Emme'). The hit-man tries to get rid of Cyntia too but is prevented by Julián (Luciano Cáceres) after she escapes from the room in the nude and asks for his help. An alleged ex-convict, Julián, along with Cyntia will become 'natural' suspects for the police after the hit-man escapes from the scene. Could the candidate be killed for political reasons? Thrown into their midst is an investigative journalist and the officer trying to apprehend the suspects to solve his case...

There are several problems with this film, right from the screenplay to the numerous holes in the plot, not to mention totally irrational decisions that some of the characters make, that stretches credibility. The performances are passable but the direction falters at crucial junctures in the film. The unnecessarily shaky camera work and ridiculous editing put me off right from the start, and unnoticed half decent performances go wasted in the process. It's a shame that Emme (Mariela Vitale) - a talented actress from films such as Eva y Lola and El niño pez finds herself associated with this rather mediocre production. Short-sighted 'genre' films such as these tend to be forgotten very quickly, and raise the question whether they really need to be made in the first place.


The Nudity: Emme (Mariela Vitale)
The actress briefly appears nude in a few scenes - first in a hotel corridor in the midst of a full-blown battle between Julián and the hit-man. Later, Julán and her character have sex in a scene as poorly executed as the rest of the film. Finally, we're shown a few frames of topless nudity from Emme in a shower scene, inter-cut with flashbacks.

Mariela Vitale aka Emme nude in Rouge amargo


Monday, 20 January 2014

A review: "Amarelo Manga" [2002 Brazil]

Cláudio Assis makes a stirring feature-film début with his brilliant observational drama "Amarelo Manga" [Eng. Title: Mango Yellow]. It's about a section of the populace from his home town Recife, which he follows during the course of a day.

"The human being is just stomach and sex", mutters a jobless priest to himself as he makes his way past a dilapidated church in a run-down quarter of Recife - a quarter seething with despair, anger, and lust. It's a part of the city that has yet to learn how to dream, and respond to something other than its base instincts. As the day runs its course, we witness events that will flare up emotions amongst its inhabitants, leading to unforeseen consequences. It has happened before, and is bound to happen again because, no matter how frustrated they're towards the end of each day, nothing will change - circumstances have condemned them to wallow in their own biological and sexual excesses.

Fiery bar owner Lígia (Leona Cavalli) is bitter about time passing her by without the prospect of finding love, time she often spends fighting off lecherous advances from seedy middle aged clients. Hell breaks loose after the modest and ardently evangelical Kika (Dira Paes) catches butcher-husband Wellington (Chico Díaz) having sex with Daisy (Magdale Alves) - Kika will become in her own words, "dead from inside". Flamboyantly gay Dunga (Matheus Nachtergaele) - a cook at the gloriously derelict Texas Hotel, fancies Wellington, and will go to lengths in trying to rid competition from the two women already in the butcher's life. Aurora (Conceição Camaroti), an acute asthmatic, spends most of her time with an oxygen mask, worrying about death. And finally we have Isaac (Jonas Bloch), an unpleasant German with a totally weird fetish - he'll spend a frustrating day trying to bed, or dream of bedding the explosive Lígia.

Assis' outrageously colourful characters, to which every cast member gave their all in fleshing out, are as riveting as they're jarring. Particularly Matheus Nachtergaele (of City of God fame), who completely takes over his character that more or less holds the film together. Another feature of this film is its exceptional cinematography. Aided by the deft and fluid camera work of Assis-regular Walter Carvalho and sharp editing of Paulo Sacramento, Assis uses every opportunity to give us an unforgettable and revealing montage of the city of Recife and its characters. Also of mention is the eclectic soundtrack, heady and intoxicating in equal measure. The film is a landmark in modern Brazilian cinema and is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


About the DVD:
The one sold in Amazon at the time of posting is of poor quality and doesn't do the film justice. Apart from it having hard-coded subtitles, the letterboxed DVD has poor colour transfer and is also blurry. I had sold mine and have since bought one directly from Brazil. It's a pain ordering one from there but I'd still recommend it - even if it doesn't contain any extras, the DVD comes with two options - full frame and anamorphic widescreen, both of which are significantly better in quality than the one sold by Amazon.

Recommended DVD Link | Instant Video


The Nudity: Leona Cavalli, Dira Paes, Conceição Camaroti, and Jonas Bloch
Apart from two other nude scenes, there's an 'in-your-face' vaginal shot of Leona Cavalli when her character flashes confrontationally at Isaac in the bar, in broad view of customers. Conceição Camaroti's character is shown masturbating with her gas mask on one occasion. Apart from a shower scene, Dira Paes (some may remember her from The Emerald Forest) appears nude alongside Jonas Bloch in a steamy sex scene culminating in a stinging sensation for one of them, thanks to a hairbrush. Ms. Paes' character had only just chewed off part of a ear belonging to the woman having an affair with her husband, when she's approached by Isaac. Unforgettable..! :-)

Leona Cavalli, Dira Paes, Conceição Camaroti, and Jonas Bloch nude in Amarelo Manga aka Mango Yellow


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

María Nela Sinisterra in "Solo para dos" [2013 Argentina]

Roberto Santiago's "Solo para dos" [Eng. Title: Only for Two] is a run-of-the-mill mainstream comedy set in a tropical island.

Valentina (Martina Gusman) decides to separate from husband of ten years Gonzalo (Santi Millán). They run a holiday resort for couples, and Gonzalo finds it hard to come to terms with the separation, not least because it'd make for bad PR for their business. Newly married Mitch (Nicolás Cabré) arrives at the resort alone after his wife dumps him on their honeymoon. The friction in Valentina and Gonzalo's relationship will manifest itself in all kinds of pairings between the three, and will also include Tania (María Nela Sinisterra) - an employee at the resort...


The Nudity: María Nela Sinisterra
My only reason for this post is a couple of topless scenes of pretty María Nela Sinisterra - first with Gonzalo, and later with Mitch.

María Nela Sinisterra nude in Solo para dos



Sunday, 12 January 2014

Being second is no fun: "Nic smiesznego" [1995 Poland]

Marek Koterski's drama "Nic smiesznego" [Eng. Title: Nothing Funny] is a droll observation of an unhappy film director's life and fortunes. His professional and personal failure - largely of his own making, is illustrated through various comedic episodes with a touch of irony and barely concealed bitterness.

"I've always come 2nd", bemoans Adam Miauczynski (a recurring character in Koterski's films, played here by Cezary Pazura), from a mortuary trolley - our hero is already dead before he takes us on a walk through his memory lane. Whether being subservient to his elder brother since childhood, putting up with a rotten marriage, or struggling to make it in his chosen profession, Adam's life has been replete with disappointments despite all his efforts to overcome them.

His hilariously unsuccessful attempts to change his fortunes are tinged with melancholy - of a person desperately seeking love and recognition, but hopelessly out of depth in a post-feminist and post-communist Poland. He spends all his life searching for his 'Malgorzata' - his ideal woman, but in his pursuit, he'll loose sight of wood from the trees, and will ironically fail to recognise his 'Malgorzata' even after bumping into one.

Outwardly, the film is a comedy of manners and bumbling goofs with its fair share of slapstick moments - not always well-executed, but it works because it's more than just a comedy. Cezary Pazura's characterisation of Adam isn't that different from Selton Mello's Lourenço (from the Brazilian drama O Cheiro do Ralo), in the way they grapple with their existential ennui. In addition, there are nuances in the film that foreign viewers may fail to pick up on - particularly relating to its history, but will nevertheless find resonance in a Polish audience. A worthwhile film that's Recommended Viewing..!

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


The Nudity: Agnieszka Buczek, Katarzyna Gajdarska, Ewa Grabarczyk, Malgorzata Werner, and Joanna Jedrejek
Female characters are entirely incidental in a film's plot mainly focusing on the protagonist. Five of them appear in the nude during their respective encounters with Adam - all of them comedic.

Agnieszka Buczek, Katarzyna Gajdarska, Ewa Grabarczyk, Malgorzata Werner, and Joanna Jedrejek nude in Nic smiesznego


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A review: "Goltzius and the Pelican Company" [2012 UK, Netherlands]

After Nigtwatching, Peter Greenaway pays his next homage to Dutch masters with "Goltzius and the Pelican Company" - a semi-biographical account from the life of sixteenth century engraver-printmaker Hendrik Goltzius, recalled ten years after his business trip to Italy with employees and their spouses. At the time, he was seeking funds to expand his Pelican Company using new material and equipment.

Goltzius (Ramsey Nasr) appraises the local Margrave (F. Murray Abraham) of his business plans, and persuades him to invest in his company which will go on to publish exclusive illustrated copies of biblical tales that focused 'on the sensual'. The powerful Margrave (military governor of a region) - a self-professed libertarian who espouses free-speech, and famous for holding court in the library whilst taking a shit at the same time, replies that he would be interested if some conditions are met. One of his demands is to be entertained by Goltzius and company for six nights, with material that touches on sexual taboos from the Old Testament. They strike a deal.

Goltzius and his company re-enact six taboo topics; the original sin (Adam and Eve), incest (between Lot and his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), adultery (David and Bathsheba), paedophilia (Joseph and Pharaoh Potiphar's wife), treachery (Samson and Delilah), and necrophilia (John the Baptist and Salomé, unwittingly taken from the New Testament). Not only do the graphic nature of their performances cause uproar among religious representatives in Margrave's palace, they'll also expose Margrave's own hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. Some company members get caged, while some suffer an even worse fate. Having to contend with the Margrave's short fuse and his lecherous advances on the company women, Goltzius will have to work hard to keep his wits about him - crucial, if he is to leave the palace alive, let alone obtain any of the promised funds...

The film has all the hallmarks of a typical Peter Greenaway - both in content and style, and contain enough references to his earlier work that'll keep fans busy making connections. It pushes the envelope on taste without sacrificing creative vision, and even when there are moments when it could so easily have descended into sensationalism, it pulls back from the brink. But this is also one of his more light-hearted films, playful even, in appraising the industriousness of Hendrik Goltzius with a dash of Dutch humour. Even the wicked Margrave is funny when he isn't killing or ordering someone arrested.

The screenplay is straightforward for those used to Greenaway's films, but even otherwise, things will fall into place eventually - all one needs is patience. One of the more stylised sections of the film is the enactment of Genesis (Adam and Eve) using body-painted performers, and words-in-type floating across the screen. The different visual treatment separates it from the rest of the film, and stands out for no discernible reason. The international cast - well known within their respective shores, add to the exoticism of the period portrayed.

The set design and wide camera angles evoke the sense of watching a stage play on screen - the film was shot mostly inside what appears to be a disused shipyard. But there is also great detail where it's needed - the costumes are sumptuous and authentic, and the cinematography has all the lushness associated with Greenaway's films. I might not have been particularly bowled over by the sound design, but the film is nevertheless put together with great care under the British auteur's watch. It is Recommended Viewing, and for users of this site in particular, Highly Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Anne Louise Hassing, Kate Moran, Halina Reijn, Maaike Neuville, Flavio Parenti, Lars Eidinger, Giulio Berruti, and others
There's often been nudity in Peter Greenaway's films, but never as extensively as in this film. Sex scenes are relatively rare for Greenaway, and even when there is, it is often shown before or after sex, but the sex scene here is almost explicit. However, there are four outstanding scenes for which this film will become a 'nude-scene classic'.

With regard to the actors' partial or complete lack of pubic hair, one can only speculate on the reasons - well, here's mine; it's either to reduce any pornographic appeal by making the actors' genitals appear less conspicuous, or it is to remain faithful to paintings and engravings from the period, which generally don't feature pubic hair.

Halina Reijn and Lars Eidinger nude in Goltzius and the Pelican Company


Whatever the case, it must have been uncharted territory for at least some of the actors, but good on them - they manage to pull their scenes off without any noticeable fuss.

Kate Moran and Giulio Berruti nude in Goltzius and the Pelican Company


Lars Eidinger must have been totally at ease with his nudity for him to brandish an impressive erection, and maintain it for a good part of a scene.

Lars Eidinger and Maaike Neuville nude and having sex in Peter Greenaway's Goltzius and the Pelican Company


Anne Louise Hassing struts on stage in front of an audience wearing nothing but a collar while delivering her comedy - and I can't think of any film actress - past or present - who could possibly pull it off with as much panache. Simply spectacular..!

Anne Louise Hassing and Flavio Parenti nude in Goltzius and the Pelican Company


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Born free: "La puta y la Ballena" [2004 Spain, Argentina]

Wishing you all a Happy 2014!

I chose Oscar nominated director (La historia oficial, 1985) Luis Puenzo's drama "La puta ya la Ballena" [Eng. Title: The Whore and the Whale] as my first post for 2014, not only for its artistic credentials, but also because it begins with a new year celebration, in a train. The Spanish-Argentinian co-production was perhaps a touch unfortunate to have missed out on awards since it was released during a year of equally great Spanish and Latin American films. To make things worse, the title too was considered controversial by some at the time of release - how else can one explain the Region-1 DVD bearing the title "La Pu y la Ballena"..!

The film narrates two parallel storylines taking place several decades apart. The first story concerns a married Spanish writer (Vera - Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) researching an Argentinian photographer (Emilio - Leonardo Sbaraglia), who participated and died during the Spanish Civil War - she'd been asked to write the copy for an illustrated book featuring Emilio's photographs by her publisher-friend (Jordi - Pep Munné), and is also given supporting material such as un-posted letters and found footage. The assignment takes her to Argentina where she's suddenly diagnosed for breast cancer that requires immediate mastectomy. Vera's illness will prompt her to re-evaluate her marriage, relationships, and also force her to confront her own mortality.

The second story, and the more poignant of the two, concerns the person Emilio's letters were addressed to - his lover Lola (Mercè Llorens), a Spanish Chorus Girl who accompanied her troupe to perform in Argentina, who nevertheless stayed behind after falling in love with Emilio. After all, with her father killed whilst fighting for the Reds, there was nothing for her in Spain to go back to. But Emilio doesn't know how to deal with Lola's free-spiritedness, and abandons her cruelly in a remote corner of Patagonia - he sells her to a blind tango composer (Suárez - Miguel Ángel Solá), to work in his inn that also doubled-up as a brothel. Racked by guilt, Emilio returns to Suárez in order to try and 'buy-back' Lola, or what's left of her, but she had by then already become a shell of her former self - not as much wasted in consequence of her unforeseen prostitute-duties - she's in fact loved and cared for by both Suárez and his mistress Matilde (Belén Blanco), but because of the betrayal by the person she once truly loved, in her own free-spirited way, and not least being treated as a commodity to be traded with...

Both the stories intertwine and connect through the course of the film, and that is where the screenplay scores triumphantly, and devastatingly. There's a whale that appears during both the timelines and that's the reason for its inclusion in the title - the cow beaches and is rescued at the same location on both the occasions. The whale becomes a metaphor for freedom for both the women who encounter it seventy years apart. The film is supported by a superb cast - I can't single anyone out - they're all equally good, and is assisted by breathtaking cinematography, immaculate set design, and authentic period costumes, and lovingly serenaded by an aching tango. By the end, the film will leave you emotionally drained, yet yearning for some more beautiful pain, epitomised by the urge to refrain from conversation with anyone after the credits start rolling.

If you like Julio Medem's films, you'll simply love this one - needless to say, this underrated gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]
Not my ideal choice, but this is the best priced one at the time of posting - the PAL edition is ridiculously expensive. The film would look sumptuous if it ever makes it to Blu-ray.


The Nudity: Mercè Llorens, Natalia Otero, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, and Belén Blanco
The film features extensive female nudity for at least a quarter of the film's runtime. It is also a nude scene classic - two of which are legendary, featuring gorgeous Catalan goddess Mercè Llorens and the exquisite Aitana Sánchez-Gijón - both excellent actresses. Natalia Otero plays a prostitute admonished for sleeping in the wrong bed, and Belén Blanco plays Matilde - Suárez's mistress, and also Lola's lover.

Mercè Llorens, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Belén Blanco, and Natalia Otero nude in La puta y la Ballena