Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A review: "See You in Hell, My Darling" [1999, Greece]

Vicky Harris and Valeria Christodoulidou in See You in Hell, My Darling

Nikos Nikolaidis made "Tha se do stin Kolasi, agapi mou" [Eng. Title: See You in Hell, My Darling] following Singapore Sling. It may have been filmed in colour, with a different storyline, but it nevertheless shares similarities in style and content with its more notorious antecedent.

It is indeed 'style' that the film is preoccupied with, since there is very little in the way of narrative. It literally starts and ends with a bang, and the characters' exuberance and their frequent resort to 'calendar-girl' poses are more akin to an erotic workshop on acting and choreography than a serious attempt at drama. But the film is not nearly as explicit as Singapore Sling, as Nikolaidis is content in merely teasing his audience, and make us imagine a whole lot more than what's actually shown.

The film is about sex, betrayal, vengeance, and an estranged intimate friendship between two women in their thirties, Elsa (Vicky Harris) and the visiting Vera (Valeria Christodoulidou), and their connection to a dead man floating in the swimming pool - Elsa's husband. Their love-hate relationship, sometimes tender, but often painful and masochistic, is played out over the course of the film, with Elsa revelling in inflicting the pain, and passive Vera being willing recipient.

Like in a recurring bad dream, we watch instances of Elsa lacing Vera's whisky with drugs, that may or may not be the cause of Vera's bouts of vomiting. It is obvious that Elsa has a grievance against her childhood friend and lover, since she discovered a tape of Vera having sex with her (now dead) husband, on their wedding day.

Characters are killed and resurrected again in the film, to the extent that we're no longer certain if the person floating face-down in the pool is dead or 'undead'. As often as the women jostle with his corpse in spectacular fashion, we see the man also bear witness to goings-on inside the house. On one occasion, he even rapes Vera.

Irrespective of whether you get what the film is trying (or not trying really) to say, it is a mesmerising piece of cinema made in Nikolaidis' trademark style, which could be surmised as a distinct mixture of Fellini and Chabrol, with a dash of Greenaway, and perhaps a hint of Borowczyk. The core ingredient however, is Nikolaidis' own fertile imagination. He's ably assisted by the two main actresses, but most of the praise should be reserved for the quick-fire editing of Giorgos Triandafyllou, that succeeds in keeping the audience captivated. At least for the editing and the performances, the film is Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link [PAL]
This is an attentively restored version with colour and contrast close to the way the film was originally intended. My only complaint is that it is letterboxed and not anamorphic.


The Nudity: Vicky Harris and Valeria Christodoulidou
While the actresses are clearly nude in many scenes, most of what we get to see is concealed, and the nudity is largely implied, especially from Ms. Harris who, unlike in The Zero Years, wears a pasty in many of her scenes. But the film is nonetheless erotic and 'sexy' (and regular readers of the blog would know that I don't throw away such remarks randomly). Rest assured, you won't be disappointed.

Vicky Harris and Valeria Christodoulidou nude in See You in Hell, My Darling


Saturday, 22 March 2014

A brief review: "The Stalker" [2013 Italy]

A scene from The Stalker - 2013, Italy

Giorgio Amato's "The Stalker", centred around an abusive protagonist separated from his wife and child, is meant as a study in pathological jealousy and possessiveness. But it also aims to be a crime thriller, which it achieves with mixed results.

Lucio (Victor Alfieri), a guard working for a security van firm, has recently separated from wife Nadia (Cosetta Turco) and daughter Adele (Alessia Moore). Unwilling to accept reality, he continues to obsess over Nadia by stalking her, and hopes to reunite with a wife he'd walked all over during his physically abusive relationship.

He captures Nadia's activities on camera at work, home, and even when with a lover. He breaks into her home - sometimes when she's not around, to look for clues to her flings, and sometimes when she's asleep - to rape her after knocking her out with a sedative.

Despite his deeply flawed character, Lucio also appears to genuinely love his daughter, and when the court grants custody of the child to Nadia, entitling him only to supervised visits, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Robbing from his employer and kidnapping Adele are only part of his elaborate plan...

The film has a plot, but unfortunately fails while trying to overreach itself - it takes its eye off character development when it turns into a crime drama. It might have worked with a better script and strong performances, but due to the lack of both, combined with the mediocre camera work (hand-held camera even when there is no need, and poor shot selection for a thriller), it struggles to hold our interest. Perhaps Amato's directorial skills are still a work in progress - it would be interesting to see what he comes up with next. DVD Link [PAL]
(no English subtitles - only Italian for the hard of hearing)


The Nudity: Elèna Tchepeleva
There's brief nudity from Elèna Tchepeleva who plays prostitute Rita. When Lucio's friend offers Rita as a treat for his birthday, Lucio nearly strangles her while having sex.

Elèna Tchepeleva nude in The Stalker 2013, Italy


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

In pursuit of happiness: "White Night Wedding" [2008 Iceland]

Acclaimed director Baltasar Kormákur's 2008 bright comedy-drama "Brúðguminn" [Eng. Title: White Night Wedding] is set in the charming albeit remote island of Flatey, in northern Iceland.

A scene from White Night Wedding (Iceland)
The film starts with Jon (Hilmir Snær Guðnason), a middle-aged professor of literature, rehearsing in church for his wedding the following day. He's marrying Thora (Laufey Elíasdóttir), a former student less than half his age. However, Thora's mother Sisi (Ólafía Hrönn Jónsdóttir) isn't too pleased about the couple's union, not only because of their age difference, but also because Jon had borrowed substantial money from her to invest in a dubious golf course project.

A scene from White Night Wedding (Iceland)
When his pal Sjonni (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) arrives from the mainland to be his best man, they reminisce over younger years, and Anna (Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir) - Jon's first wife, whose recent suicide can partially be apportioned to her discovery of Jon's affair with Thora. During the course of the white (northern summer) night, the friends get drunk, and while Sjonni passes out, Jon, overcome by guilt and remorse over Anna's passing, ponders over himself, and the personal choices that have led him to the threshold of yet another marriage.

A scene from White Night Wedding (Iceland)
Having spent the morning by Anna's grave, Jon arrives late for the wedding ceremony. Pulling Thora aside, he asks to call off the wedding. While a dismayed Thora insists that the wedding should go ahead, she receives unexpected support from her parents who were initially opposed to their union, thanks to events the night before that alters the dynamics of Jon's relationship with his in-laws to be.

A scene from White Night Wedding (Iceland)
The film will bewilder audience from the outset, thanks to Kormákur's clever deception through screenplay that seamlessly blends the past and the present, like when Jon is seen practising wedding vows with Thora whilst Anna waited for him at home. He does this to not only illuminate us with Jon and Anna's back-story, but also establish Jon's introspection and confused state of mind, to make a deeper, philosophical observation on the human condition itself, in Jon's quest for 'happiness'.

A scene from White Night Wedding (Iceland)
In introducing us to a postcard-pretty town with quirky characters and their hilarious shenanigans, Kormákur lulls you into the false comfort of a typical mainstream comedy, only to leave you with plenty of food for thought as the credits start rolling. If a film left you thinking about it after it has ended, it was a film well worth making. If the film had also challenged your established opinions in the process, like this one, it must be Highly Recommended Viewing..!

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


The Nudity: Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir, Laufey Elíasdóttir, and Hilmir Snær Guðnason
Two flashback scenes in the film feature nudity from actors whose names are a struggle to pronounce - the first is after Anna lays a trail of seaweed leading to the bedroom, and pounces upon Jon when he arrives home. She urges him to make love to her outdoors during the white night. When he asks to be excused on that occasion, she rushes outside and jumps on a bicycle to head to the town centre. She's bottomless and momentarily topless during this time. The second scene is when Jon and Thora are discovered having sex in the bush by Anna. Those who have a thing for freckles would love this.

Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir, Laufey Elíasdóttir, and Hilmir Snær Guðnason nude in Baltasar Kormákur's "Brúðguminn" aka "White Night Wedding".


Thursday, 13 March 2014

A review: "Hotel Atlântico" [2009 Brazil]

Júlio Andrade in Hotel Atlântico
I ordered the DVD of Suzana Amaral's most recent film "Hotel Atlântico" based on my experience watching her first film, the extraordinary A Hora da Estrela. It didn't disappoint. Would you believe - the octogenarian has made only three feature films to date, and was already in her fifties when she made her directorial début!

Lorena Lobato and Júlio Andrade in Hotel Atlântico
Hotel Atlântico starts with an out of work actor Alberto (Júlio Andrade) booking himself into the eponymous hotel. The following day, on a whim, he boards a bus heading south. He has no luggage, and his blank gaze give us the impression of someone trying to leave behind his past. He strikes up conversation with an attractive female passenger - a divorced Polish archaeologist (Lorena Lobato), who tells him her story. But the following morning he wakes up to find her dead in her seat. Not wanting to get involved, Alberto gets off at the next stop without raising an alarm.

Júlio Andrade, Marcia Martin, and  Gero Camilo in Hotel Atlântico
After an episode where he escapes with his life from a couple of hit men, Alberto stumbles into a village and takes refuge in the local church, thanks to a kind sexton (Gero Camilo) and his maid. But restless, he moves on to another town, where he's run over by a vehicle and had to have one of his legs amputated. The doctor, running for Mayor in the local elections, uses Alberto's celebrity status as an opportunity for PR, just as his daughter Diana hopes to seek fame through her association with him.

Júlio Andrade, Mariana Ximenes, and Joao Miguel in Hotel Atlântico
The person not trying to benefit from Alberto's misfortune is the nurse Sebastião (João Miguel), whose only dream is to get away from town and see the sea - he'd so far only seen it on TV. Alberto asks if he could join him. The two will soon leave the hospital and set out towards the coast...

A scene from Hotel Atlântico
Alberto's Kafkaesque adventure, laced with absurd humour, is also tinged with an air of melancholy. The puzzling final scene will either stupefy you or make profound sense, depending on the extent to which you relate to the main character. Even after the credits start rolling, we won't really know much about Alberto, nor the reason for his torment whilst every other character he encounters remained an open book. But we think and feel for him all the same. We're also constantly reminded of death during the course of the film - characters we get to know suddenly die on him, and sometimes Alberto himself is faced with unforeseen danger.

Júlio Andrade and Joao Miguel in Hotel Atlântico
Amaral doesn't feel it important for the audience to know Alberto inside and out, the reason behind his wanderings and his indifference to the world around him. She's more interested in his journey and invites us to join in too. The resulting film is quirky, offbeat, but nevertheless engrossing, as we watch people, places, and absurd goings-on shown with a mixture of irony and humour.

Suzana Amaral's relatively thin filmography is a mystery, but going by this film, and the 'making of' documentary included in the DVD (thankfully, with subtitles), she has a keen directorial eye, and her command over the medium - both in terms of idea and technique, is evident everywhere - she really ought to be making more feature films. Even if it is set in Brazil, Hotel Atlântico has a universal appeal that's as relevant and contemporary as her powerful début feature A Hora da Estrela - Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Mariana Ximenes
There is brief nudity in a scene when Diana (Mariana Ximenes) tries to have her way with an Alberto still recovering after an amputation, in the hospital's chapel.

Mariana Ximenes nude in the film Hotel Atlântico


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Miklós Jancsó's "Red Psalm" (1972 Hungary) - a film review

Miklós Jancsó was among the few gifted Eastern European directors to ever gain fame and recognition on the other side of the iron curtain. His best works unfortunately came about during the height of the Cold War, where his vast skills and cinematic innovations were lavished on films that were for all intents and purposes, little more than propaganda-pieces. He did present differing viewpoints however, but his own convictions always overshadowed the rest. Even when he did manage to make films outside Hungary, they retained their political tone, espousing a socialist message that sometimes also leaned towards anarchy and libertarianism.

I begin his filmography with the spectacular Cannes-awarded "Még kér a nép" [Eng. Title: Red Psalm] with an eye on events happening in neighbouring Ukraine at the time of writing. Jancsó had a different agenda - presenting socialism as an idea that's still relevant to a younger generation, post Prague 1968. What we see in the film is the cinematic equivalent of a lofty Diego Rivera mural, replete with fervent peasants joining hands to demand their fair share from landowners, and rifle-wielding soldiers deployed to forcefully put down their revolt.

Set in 1898 and performed like a stylised ballet, the film borrows passages from The Bible and gives it a 'red' twist. Eulogising women, local tradition, and folklore, it highlights the exploitation of masses by the elite and also depicts the Church as part of the problem. When peasants kill one of their oppressors, the army is called in, and despite some of them refusing to shoot unarmed peasants, they do get massacred.

More than its message, the reason this film is special is because of the way in which it was made. The revolt and the resulting reaction are shown poetically, rather than literally. The film is entirely made in the open, comprising of no more than twenty eight intricately executed shots. The director narrates events simultaneously happening on his grand outdoor canvas by zooming into one section of the landscape and following a piece of action there before panning to another - he conducts the cast and crew with astonishing and seamless precision.

An impressive accomplishment in itself, Jancsó will even better these choreographed action sequences in his next feature Szerelmem, Elektra (Electra, My Love). Some of his earlier films are masterpieces in their own right - and I'll be writing about them as well, but Red Psalm (alongside Electra) is unique in its assured adaptation of an archaic vocabulary that has had its origins in cave art, namely murals, and in the process it succeeds in expanding the scope of cinema itself. At least for this reason, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Ilona Gurnik, Erzsi Cserhalmi, Éva Spányik etc.
In one lengthy scene, three young peasant girls are encouraged to strip naked in order to dissuade soldiers from slaughtering them. In another scene, dancing and cheering men help brides into a bath tub. There is also unintentional nudity from Andrea Drahota when she leans forward to support a fiddler who'd just been shot.

Ilona Gurnik, Erzsi Cserhalmi, Éva Spányik, and others in Miklós Jancsó's Red Psalm


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A review: "Todas las mujeres" [2013 Spain]

Mariano Burroso's taut drama "Todas las mujeres" [Eng. Title: All the Women] is a character-study of its protagonist Nacho (Eduard Fernández), made through his interactions with the women in his life over the course of a single day. Originally made as a six-part series for TV, Burroso has condensed its material for the big-screen and presents the film as a riveting conversation-piece instead.

Michelle Jenner and Eduard Fernández, in "Todas las mujeres".

Nacho, a vet working in his father-in-law's farm, had tried to smuggle five stud-bulls into Portugal after stealing them from the farm as part of an elopement-strategy conjured up by his twenty year old intern and lover Ona (Michelle Jenner). But things fail to go as planned after the truck transporting the bulls overturns following an accident, killing two of them. The driver and his mate are already in police custody, and it's perhaps only a matter of time before the trail leads to Nacho, whose wife Laura (Lucía Quintana) incidentally, had also left him following a separate row the same morning.

Eduard Fernández and María Morales in "Todas las mujeres"

After sending Ona away to look for their Portuguese contact, Nacho gets in touch with ex-girlfriend Marga (María Morales), now a lawyer, and after explaining what happened, proposes that she deliver a letter essentially blackmailing his father-in-law. Whilst agreeing to act as his lawyer, she refuses to perform anything illegal. Their conversation will also reveal a bit of their back-story, and her hurt following their unceremonious break-up.

Petra Martínez and Eduard Fernández in "Todas las mujeres".

Marga suggests that he confess to his father-in-law and compensate him for the loss. Nacho has no money of his own, and is forced to go begging to his mother (Petra Martínez), with whom he's had a frosty relationship. Their almost-formal meeting will unveil Nacho's immaturity, and his continued dependence on her even as an adult.

Marta Larralde in Todas las mujeres

Unable to draw the courage to face up to his father-in-law, Nacho calls on Carmen (Marta Larralde), his wife's sister with whom he gets along well, to act as conduit. Apart from advising him not to give compensation money to her dad, who she believes exploited Nacho all these years by paying him far less than the previous vet, they also end up having sex.

Nathalie Poza in "Todas las mujeres"

By the time we reach the heart of the film, Nacho's character has already been established as an immature, impulsive, tactless, and selfish person who deserves little sympathy. Typically getting ahead of himself and assuming he'd one day have to face trial, he calls on the services of psychologist Andrea (Nathalie Poza) and asks her to declare him to have suffered temporary insanity, to help justify his crime. Their ensuing talk is eventful, witty, and absorbing thanks to Andrea's common sense observations, sprouted in a manner that a clouded Nacho would begin to see and understand.

The film's strength may lie in its engaging screenplay, but it is also well supported by its main cast, particularly Nathalie Poza and Marta Larralde (Eduard Fernández, while good, was perhaps doing too much than needed with his character). Having almost lost interest in Spanish cinema after a spate of mediocre works recently, the film turned out to be a pleasant exception, and for this reason, it is Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Marta Larralde
Unlike some of her other films, lovely Marta Larralde gets to play a character with some depth in this film. She's also naked in film for longer than I'd seen before, appearing nude in a sex and the following post-coital scene, during which her character suggests Nacho not to pay her father any compensation for stealing his livestock.

Marta Larralde nude in Todas las mujeres


Saturday, 1 March 2014

A review: "Une flamme dans mon coeur" [1987 Switzerland, France]

Alain Tanner makes a concerted attempt at re-interpreting feminist ideals with his intense and controversial drama "Une flamme dans mon coeur" [Eng. Title: A Flame in My Heart]. However, over the film's course, he drops the topic and reverts to what he does best - coaxing his protagonist on a philosophical walkabout.


Myriam Mézières with Azize Kabouche in Une flamme dans mon coeur
Mercedes (Myriam Mézières) is a gifted theatre actress who can embody the character she's playing on stage, intensely and unselfconsciously - characteristics that have also permeated into her personal life and relationships, some of which are destructive even. Like her obsessive and domineering boyfriend Johnny (Azize Kabouche) - his all-or-nothing approach is the kind of stress that women would rather do without, but invariably end up courting. Mercedes had tried to end their relationship several times but he still manages to get into her bed every night, thanks to his overbearing ways that she also finds irresistible.


Myriam Mezieres and Benoit Regent in Une flamme dans mon coeur
After finally shaking him off by taking refuge in a hotel room, Mercedes goes into town intent on finding herself a new boyfriend, and fancying a guy travelling in a train, she follows him. Pierre (Benoît Régent), a journalist, who is too shy to take the initiative even after receiving the right signals, will become Mercedes' chosen prey. He is the opposite of Johnny in many respects - educated, employed, courteous, logical, and who like in his chosen profession, prefers to look at things from the outside - without getting involved in proceedings. Unlike Mercedes though, who likes to immerse herself in everything that she does - as she puts it, "be in the centre where it burns".


Myriam Mézières in Une flamme dans mon coeur
After a brief romance, Mercedes moves into Pierre's apartment. But she will soon be laid out bare for all to see - figuratively as well as literally, when Pierre had to go away on a foreign assignment for two weeks. Her sense of loneliness will reveal an inability to function normally without someone wanting her. Reluctantly turning up for work, she'll be fired for inexplicably forgetting her lines during rehearsal. Slumped to a couch, she will lie there for several days, naked and unkempt, subsisting on cornflakes and watching TV even after broadcast had ended. Mercedes had always enjoyed having orgasms during sex - and Pierre, the subservient partner in their relationship, had once remarked that he'd never come across a woman who pursued pleasure with as much passion as she did. But in truth, Mercedes misses being owned, used, and abused, and her orgasm through masturbation will only reveal her shame, and hidden masochism.


Myriam Mezieres and Benoit Regent in Une flamme dans mon coeur
Upon his return, Pierre is dismayed to find a naked and untidy Mercedes in a flat littered with empty cereal boxes. He'd been trying to call her all these days, and notices that the telephone wire had been snipped as well. Without a job to go to, he wonders what she's going to do. But Mercedes had already found a new job that Pierre will only be appalled to discover later, when he spots her performing suggestively with her big stuffed chimpanzee toy at a fairground booth, totally naked. When he confronts her afterwards, her repost will reveal a woman with political acumen despite her apparent lack of interest in political articles that Pierre writes for newspapers. She tells him that what she's doing now is the same as what she was doing while performing Racine's 'Berenice' on stage - essentially selling dreams, and she feels that the lower classes are entitled to their dreams too.


Myriam Mézières in Une flamme dans mon coeur
The film's focus shifts when Mercedes joins Pierre on his next assignment - Tanner is no longer interested in the couple's politics, and the audience themselves had noticed the pair's mismatch. By taking her out of her natural surroundings and turning her into a foreigner, Mercedes is allowed to completely disengage from herself and feel the alienation both from within and outside - a territory that Tanner is only too familiar exploring. He might not have given himself enough screen time on this occasion for allegory and philosophical musing - the script was after all co-written by Myriam Mézières herself, but he revels in his protagonist's total isolation all the same.


Myriam Mézières in Une flamme dans mon coeur
This might not be Tanner's finest work, but it has its virtues. Not least is Ms. Mézières' intense and lay-it-all-bare performance - she disintegrates right in front of the camera as we watch her character loose inhibition and identity. She is frequently naked and in at least one scene, the sex is real, even if not pornographic - when she masturbates in front of television. Shot in 16 mm, and captured in grainy black and white by Acácio de Almeida who also worked with Tanner on 'In the White City', the cinematography imbues the film with an abstract dream-like quality by utilising strong contrast - some frames are so exquisite that prints from them could easily find a place in a gallery.


The Striptease: This is the famous (or infamous) striptease scene where Ms. Mézières dances with a stuffed chimpanzee. Apart from showcasing her talents in burlesque, the scene is used to make a political statement, unlike imitations of this scene in films that came after. A typical example is the opening scene in Aurelio Grimaldi's "La donna lupo", which not only copied the music, but mimics the black and white style too, with the main difference being the prop that the dancer plays with - a stuffed panda in place of the stuffed chimp. The scene is recreated to portray a teenager's wet dream. Loredana Cannata certainly is a beautiful and talented actress, but she certainly hasn't the attitude of a Myriam Mézières, and nor is the film anywhere as accomplished as Tanner's, and as for the cinematography, let's not even go there!


Compare the two:
'Une flamme dans mon coeur' and 'La donna lupo'

Myriam Mézières Loredana Cannata
Myriam Mézières Loredana Cannata
Myriam Mézières Loredana Cannata


The DVD:
My DVD is not digitally remastered, but still looks great, even if it only comes with German subtitles. The unusual and rare film is certainly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Myriam Mézières, Azize Kabouche, and Benoît Régent
The film has adult themes and features frequent scenes with nudity, mostly of Myriam Mézières, including one that is also fairly explicit.

Myriam Mézières, Azize Kabouche, and Benoît Régent in Alain Tanner's "Une flamme dans mon coeur" aka "A Flame in My Heart".