Friday, 27 June 2014

"Mujeres infieles" [2004 Chile]: "Orgasm is a fundamental human right!"

So declares psychologist Eva Soler (María Izquierdo) during a TV talk show in Rodrigo Ortuzar Lynch's début feature "Mujeres infieles" [Eng. Title: Unfaithful Women]. Her statement is aimed at furthering the film's intentions, which is to open up a mainstream discussion on why 62.5% of Chilean women, according to a recent study, are unfaithful to their partner.

María Izquierdo in Mujeres Infieles María José Prieto and Cristián Campos in Mujeres Infieles
Daniel Alcaíno in Mujeres Infieles Viviana Rodríguez and Benjamin Vicuña in Mujeres Infieles
Remigio Remedy and Gabriela Aguilera in Mujeres Infieles Sigrid Alegria and Lucía Jiménez in Mujeres Infieles

Whilst Eva Soler is the film's voice of reason, it is the characters that interact with her at various levels who build the loosely interconnected comedy drama. By juggling timelines and filling in details when needed, the film keeps us engaged and entertained for the most part.

The film begins with Cecilia (María José Prieto), the host of the aforementioned talk show, telling her husband over phone that she's having a late 'production meeting', only to enter a hotel suite with her lover Alberto (Cristián Campos), also her boss. Their conversations will reveal the dynamics of their relationship.

A terrible accident occurs in their suite that night, which will draw Cecilia's colleague and rival Mario (Daniel Alcaíno) to the scene of the tragedy whilst reporting live for TV with camera and crew. While Cecilia survives with minor injuries, she's left to face the music alone on her way to recovery, from husband and the wider public.

We watch a parallel story unfold in the affairs of Cecilia's confidante Carola (Viviana Rodríguez). She'd been secretly having sexual relations with her grown-up stepson Cristián (Benjamín Vicuña). They're in love, but don't know how to break it to the person who'll be the most concerned about it, husband Alvaro (Mateo Iribarren).

Indifference from clichéd stereotype of a husband Pedro (Remigio Remedy) will encourage Virginia's (Gabriela Aguilera) to develop sexual fantasies involving a hunky gardener, that'll also usher in her very first orgasm. After a chat with her psychologist (Eva Soler), she'll learn to live out her orgasmic fantasies whilst remaining 'faithful' to Pedro, using a 'responsive' sex toy that happily never watches football.

Cristina (Sifrid Alegria), a friend of Virginia, first meets Spanish-return Roberta (Lucia Jiménez) at the airport and is instantly smitten by her charm and sexual charisma, leading her to experiment with something she'd never considered before. Thrown amongst these characters are a pair of sleazy detectives whose antics are mainly there to make the film's taboo topic more palatable to a mainstream audience.

The film, whilst hinting at a changing society, stops short of making any in-depth analysis - it's essentially nuggets of wisdom that's sugar-coated with layers of entertainment. But you won't be disappointed if like me, it's mainly the sugar rush that you were after. DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Viviana Rodríguez, Benjamín Vicuña, María José Prieto, and Cristián Campos
The highlight is the 'smoking' hotel sex scene that also features frontal nudity from the delectable María José Prieto and a rather athletic Cristián Campos - Cecilia undresses whilst delivering a weather report loaded with double endentre, while Alberto pays dearly for a bad habit afterwards (sorry about the mild spoiler, guys). There is also a long-ish but rather awkward sex scene between Viviana Rodríguez and Benjamín Vicuña (the latter - bless him, can't act if his next meal depended on it).

Viviana Rodríguez, Benjamín Vicuña, María José Prieto, and Cristián Campos nude in Mujeres infieles


Sunday, 22 June 2014

A review: "Le chant des mariées" [2008 France, Tunisia]

In her second film, "Le chant des mariées" [Eng. Title: The Wedding Song], writer-director Karin Albou elaborates on themes that she'd also explored earlier in her début feature (La petite Jérusalem) - about love, friendship, and the communal flux between Jewish and Muslim communities.

Scene from Le chant des mariées Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, in Le chant des mariées
Lizzie Brocheré and Karin Albou in Le chant des mariées Lizzie Brocheré and Olympe Borval in Le chant des mariées
Lizzie Brocheré and Simon Abkarian in Le chant des mariées Lizzie Brocheré and Olympe Borval in Le chant des mariées

Set in Nazi-occupied Tunis during the height of the second World War, against the backdrop of Allied air raids, and Nazi propaganda aimed at dismantling amity between the Jewish and majority-Muslim communities who've hitherto coexisted in peace for centuries, the film focuses on the special friendship between two teenagers - Muslim Naur (Olympe Borval) and Jewish-French Myriam (Lizzi Brocheré) - neighbours since childhood, and whose homes even shared a common courtyard.

Naur is engaged to her unemployed cousin Khaled (Najib Oudghiri), but their wedding will only be allowed to go ahead after he finds himself a job. It is partly due to this reason, and partly for also having been taken in by Nazi assurances that they'd give Tunisia its freedom once the French and Jews are eliminated from the country, that Khaled starts working for the Nazis.

Myriam lives with her widowed mother Tita (played by director Karin Albou herself), who makes a living as a seamstress. When all Jews in the country are instructed to pay a hefty fine for the destruction caused by the Allied bombing raids, poverty-stricken Tita urges Myriam to marry the rich doctor Raul (Simon Abkarian), so that he could help the family pay the demanded ransom. But Myriam doesn't want to marry him because he's much older than her.

As the Nazi pogrom against the Jews in Tunisia, as elsewhere, intensifies, Khaled forbids Naur from continuing her friendship with Myriam citing her own safety, and strains develop in the already complex relationship between Naur and Myriam, especially since their friendship is repeatedly tested due to matters beyond their control. But as events dictate, this will also be the time when they will require each other's emotional support the most...

While the film's central theme is friendship and loyalty, it also touches on war, intricacies in relationships, cultural idiosyncrasies, religious restrictions, and a woman's place within different communities - all seen from a woman's point of view. It transports us to a world that's seldom seen by men; into the women's section of hammams (bathhouses), women's engagement parties, and their other rituals associated with matrimony, while giving us an intimate glimpse of the extraordinary friendship and bonding between the young protagonists.

The rich tones, rustic textures, and exquisite close-ups give the film a sensual quality that is as exotic as it is feminine. Exceptionally well-performed by Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval and all the ensemble cast, and alluringly captured by cinematographer Laurent Brunet, Albou's simple-looking yet intricate film succeeds in articulating a feminist interpretation of war, and the prevailing communal, social, and sexual politics in an engaging manner. The film is naturally Highly Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, Najib Oudghiri, and others
Most of the film's nude scenes - and there are many - are non-erotic; whether it is the casual and matter-of-fact nudity in the female bathhouse, or the surprisingly frank depiction, in close-up, of the waxing of a vagina - as part of preparing the bride the 'Oriental' way - it is shown with an admixture of brute force and tenderness. No body-doubles were used for the scene, and the sight of beautiful Lizzie Brocheré (as Myriam) personally undergoing the pubic hair removal procedure could even make a few queasy. She appears nude in additional scenes. Olympe Borval, apart from the one in the bathhouse, is seen partially nude during two sex scenes. Director Karin Albou, who plays Myriam's mum in the film, also appears nude during a hammam scene.

Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, Najib Oudghiri, and others nude in Le chant des mariées aka the Wedding Song


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A review: "Presentimientos" [2013 Spain]


Marta Etura and Eduardo Noriega in Presentimientos Marta Etura and Eduardo Noriega in Presentimientos
Marta Etura in Presentimientos Marta Etura in Presentimientos

Santiago Tabernero's feature "Presentimientos" [Eng. Title: Inside Love], based on an award winning Clara Sánchez novel, analyses emotional crises that sometime afflict stable relationships within marriage. The film uses three timelines - two of which are parallel, in trying to explain complexities arising out of varying expectations, by people in love.

The spark in the once loving relationship of Félix (Eduardo Noriega) and Julia (Marta Etura) has dissipated of late, more so since the birth of their young child Tito. Félix makes arrangements for the family to spend a week away at a holiday resort, in the hope of re-injecting new vigour into their otherwise staid and increasingly loveless relationship.

But soon after arriving at the resort, Julia gets lost in town while performing an errand, and her belongings - her handbag with cash, credit cards, identity papers and mobile phone, stolen, when she gets out of her car to investigate a crashing noise she'd just heard through the pouring rain. The following day, police inform Félix that Julia was involved in a car accident and had been taken to hospital, and is presently in a state of coma.

Just as we see a devastated Félix trying to come to terms with the calamity, we see the comatose Julia's mind living a parallel reality of her own - having run out of petrol, lost, penniless, and parked by the seaside, she waits for daybreak to locate a telephone.

But her repeated attempts at locating her family will reach a dead-end, and to complicate matters, she ends up having a fling with Marcus (Alfonso Bassave), a womaniser whom she first meets in a bar - he offers to buy her car, and takes her for the night to a house that he falsely claims to be his, but even after knowing who he really is, Julia will find it difficult to shake him off...

Apart from actual events, and Julia's parallel existence populated by apparently random characters she'd encountered or known in the past, the film also inserts into the narrative flashbacks from Félix's perspective, to piece together a profile of their relationship-crisis. It all sounds fascinating on paper, because there are numerous points for exploring each of their actions psycho-analytically. The resulting screen-interpretation also has solid grounds for it to have been a success, and yet it fails due to a number of reasons.

For a start - it's the screenplay, co-penned by Mr. Noriega himself. The various timelines are shuffled together at whim, rather than purpose - the narrative appears to have been cobbled up in haste without relevant connecting points. It might have been the intention to selectively drip-feed information to the audience, but it ends up being anticlimactic towards the end. Secondly, the director might have wanted the film to play out like a mystery thriller, a la Mulholland Drive, and also as a psycho-romantic drama like Hable con ella, but it falls short on detail whilst scoring high on pretentiousness, in the manner in which conflicting realities collude mainly to confuse the viewer.

The film is not actually terrible, because it has its wonderful talking points - the cinematography, editing, and sound design are of a quality that you'd expect from a high-end production, and the performances are professional, particularly that of Marta Etura who interprets her character with undeniable conviction and nuance - they all join forces in presenting a film that certainly looks attractive to look at, but alas, it isn't nearly a Lynch or an Almodóvar. Perhaps it was too ambitious a film that could've best been left to lay where it was - on paper. DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Marta Etura, Alfonso Bassave, and Silvia Tortosa
There is brief nudity from Marta Etura in a couple of scenes, one of which also briefly features Alfonso Bassave. The pleasant surprise however, was the concealed-nudity of Silvia Tortosa - of the good 'ol destape years. Playing the madame of a high-class brothel in the film, Ms. Tortosa's in her sixties but boy, hasn't she aged rather well!

Marta Etura, Alfonso Bassave, and Silvia Tortosa nude in Presentimientos


Friday, 13 June 2014

A review: "Te rongyos élet" [1984 Hungary]

Péter Bacsó's comedy drama "Te rongyos élet" [Eng. Title: Oh, Bloody Life!] casts a critical eye on the exploitation-in-kind, of aristocrats and the rich elite in Stalinist Hungary during the early fifties - many of them were forcibly evicted from properties and sent off to work in farms and factories, as labourers.

Dorottya Udvaros in Te rongyos élet Zoltan Bezeredy in Te rongyos élet
Dorottya Udvaros and László Szacsvay in Te rongyos élet Dorottya Udvaros in Te rongyos élet
Dorottya Udvaros in Te rongyos élet

Lucy (Dorottya Udvaros), recently divorced from her aristocrat-husband, makes a living in Budapest as a stage actress. Authorities come calling, to tell her that she had been ordered to live and work in a farming village henceforth as part of her 're-education' and re-induction into society. Despite professing her working class upbringing, and attempts to explain her marital status, they give her one hour to pack her essentials and arrive at the train station.

Upon reaching their destination, Lucy and other former aristocrats deported along with her, are assigned various roles by local police captain Matura (Zoltán Bezerédy). They'll live among peasants, and earn their wages through manual labour. Even though she misses the stage, and home comforts that she'd grown accustomed to, Lucy soldiers along with grace and humility.

Her inherent charm and winning ways will draw the attentions of József (László Szacsvay) - local teacher and party secretary, and Matura himself, which she'll deftly manage to help make her stay slightly more bearable. After noticing her talents, József begs her to participate in a local production aimed at bringing art to the proletariat, which she accepts. They get close and he even proposes marriage.

But after a freak accident, Lucy is taken to Matura's mansion, ostensibly for questioning, during which he attempts to rape her. It is thwarted when government agents barge into the room, only to arrest and take her away. Lucy's worst fears are finally allayed when she's asked to put on some make-up, and start exercising her vocal scales - after all, she's about to perform for the first time before a VIP-audience, even if that meant having to work with former colleagues who barely offered solidarity during her hour of need...

In many ways, this is typical 'mainstream' fare emanating from a 'liberal' corner of the Eastern Block - the leash that tied Hungary to Soviet ideals grew longer with every passing year following the 1956 crackdown, and this film was made only a few years before the iron curtain was finally torn open. It has a simple plot, carrying a social message that doesn't ruffle too many feathers. It has comedy, drama, song, and dance - and nothing nearly as subversive or dark as what the Czechs used to come up with. But it is also exceptionally well performed, particularly by the gorgeous main actress Dorottya Udvaros, who reminds you of 60's Hollywood siren Stella Stevens in her prime, or a redhead version of her if you like. Besides, Ms. Udvaros also sings in her own voice, even while in the nude. At least for her stunning presence, and the comedy, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Order Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Dorottya Udvaros and Zoltán Bezerédy
Of the three scenes that feature nudity, the third is the longest and most memorable, when both the actors perform without any inhibition. It is also quite funny - after picking up Lucy from a police cell where she'd been locked up for overstaying in the city, Capt. Matura brings her to his mansion, and invites her to use his luxurious bath. He had once wanted to be an opera singer, and enthused after watching Lucy sing in the bath, opens up to his secret passion. But when he readies himself to jump in bed with her afterwards, she springs a surprise on him. The first nude scene happens when authorities come knocking on her door when Lucy is 'practising lines' with her director, the second is when Lucy catches Matura ogling her from the village's church tower.

Dorottya Udvaros and Zoltán Bezerédy nude in Te rongyos élet aka Oh Bloody Life


Friday, 6 June 2014

Victims of war - "In Tranzit" [2008 UK, Russia]

Tom Roberts made his feature film début with the post-war romantic drama "In Tranzit", a UK-Russian co-production starring an international cast that included recognisable names such as John Malkovich, Thomas Kretschmann, and Vera Farmiga. The story is apparently based on true events that happened during the winter of 1946.

A scene from In Tranzit John Malkovich in "In Tranzit"
Vera Farmiga and Thomas Kretschmann in "In Tranzit" Vera Farmiga and Thomas Kretschmann in "In Tranzit"

A rag-tag group of German prisoners of war are brought to a Soviet transit camp in Leningrad run by female guards, many of whom have incidentally had their family members slaughtered earlier by the Nazi army. The women understandably display some hostility towards their prisoners.

Apart from resident doctor Natalia (Vera Farmiga) and the young cook Zina (Natalie Press), who see them as human beings. But Colonel Pavlov (John Malkovich), overseeing the operation, had also entrusted Natalia with the task of identifying SS guards mingling with assumed names among regular soldiers, in order to prosecute them for their war crimes. In return for her cooperation, Natalia is allowed to keep and look after her shell-shocked and disoriented soldier-husband Andrei (Evgeniy Mironov), rather than sending him off to a 'correction facility'.

Among the prisoners are Max (Thomas Kretschmann), and his former student Klaus (Daniel Brühl), and it is Max that Natalia particularly warms up to - a fact that also doesn't go unnoticed by Klaus. He persuades Max to take advantage of her fondness and also tries to convince him to disclose some SS men within the group to her, so that they could have a much more easier time there, but Max doesn't agree to the scheme.

A tentative but doomed romance blossoms between Max and Natalia, and they end up having a one-night stand after a ball held for prisoners and local women. They'll soon need to separate, after an amnesty and repatriation of prisoners of war is agreed between Soviet Union and the Allies.

The film, shot with a documentary-eye, aims to cast a compassionate glimpse into the healing process between enemies after a devastating war. The beautiful cinematography is reminiscent of watching an István Szabó film, and performances by all the main cast are flawless. What it suffers from though, and part of the reason for the film's relative obscurity, is the indifferent screenplay (and script) - the actors are expected to accomplish a lot with minimal material, and it shows in the way it is edited. Some goings on are not explained properly, for e.g., why would a group of women come chasing prisoners after a few dances at the ball - are they so easy that they could ignore the atrocities committed by them during the war, that also led to their husbands and sons getting killed? The film may have its virtues, but unfortunately fails to capitalise on them - it could have been infinitely better.

Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Vera Farmiga and Natalie Press
In a scene, Natalie Press, as Zina, is humiliated by Pavlov, when he forces her to strip in front of everyone, upon overhearing her joking with one of the prisoners. The other instance is during a moving sex scene between characters played by Vera Farmiga and Thomas Kretschmann.

Vera Farmiga and Natalie Press nude in "In Tranzit"


Sunday, 1 June 2014

A review: "My Sister my Love" [1966 Sweden]


Vilgot Sjöman was no stranger to controversy even before his ground-breaking films "I am Curious [Blue, and Yellow]". Made a year earlier, "Syskonbädd 1782" [Eng. Title: My Sister My Love] - a costume melodrama set in the seventeenth century and dealing with sibling-incest within an aristocratic family, was only slightly overshadowed by one of his mentor's classics released around the same time (Bergman's magnificent Persona). The film has nevertheless stood the test of time - a true cinematic gem in its own right notwithstanding its controversial subject matter.

Per Oscarsson and Bibi Andersson in Syskonbädd 1782 Jarle Kulle and Bibi Andersson in Syskonbädd 1782
Tina Hedström and Per Oscarsson in Syskonbädd 1782 Bibi Andersson and Per Oscarsson in Syskonbädd 1782

The film begins with Jacob (Per Oscarsson) returning home after four years in Europe, to his only living relative, little sister Charlotte (Bibi Andersson) - he'd just been made her guardian following their father's recent passing. Their reunion will highlight the extraordinary closeness between the two, and establish the fact that they'd missed each other's company these years.

Charlotte reveals to Jacob that owing to his absence, she had to learn to live without him, and had started courting a wealthy baron named Carl Ulrik Alsmeden (Jarl Kulle). Even though she isn't in love with the baron, she asks Jacob for his approval of her wedding. He reluctantly agrees.

But when Jacob starts flirting with young Ebba (Tina Hedström) - a Count's niece, Charlotte will furiously object. The siblings' secretive rendezvous and their pleas - whether it is Jacob asking Charlotte to call off the wedding, or Charlotte proposing that they elope and start life elsewhere as an anonymous couple, will put to rest any doubts concerning their love for each other extending beyond a normal brother-sister relationship.

It all comes to a head when Charlotte becomes pregnant through Jacob, and a desperately in love Carl - unconcerned about who the father of the child could be, offers to become its father after they get married. But Charlotte and Jacob's dark past will return to haunt them, with unforeseen circumstances...

Forbidden love, guilt, and punishment are the overriding themes pursued in this melodrama, using the subtext of incest - not just between the protagonists, but also some supporting characters. It's a bothersome topic, because incest in real-life is almost always exploitative and very rarely consensual. A film with a topic like this could pretty easily descend into bawdy farce, but to Sjöman's credit, he tightly controls proceedings by focusing on the psychological and moral implications rather than the prurient aspect. The final scene of the film is utterly unforgettable - a scenario I don't remember seeing in cinema elsewhere.

Besides, we're talking about the sixties here - before the so-called 'porn revolution' - Sjöman had a headache with the censors as it was - it's not nearly as subtle as a Bergman, and any further dilution of the drama would have prevented its release altogether. Having said that, at least they talked about these matters then - almost inconceivable during these 'PC', neo-conservative days. Bibi Andersson - a Bergman regular, coincidentally worked in his Persona too, and was BAFTA-nominated for both. This is a seriously underrated film that requires re-evaluating, and is therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | English Subtitles


The Nudity: Bibi Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Ulla Lyttkens, and O. Paivonen
There is brief nudity from Bibi Andersson during her character's sex scene with Carl. As for Per Oscarsson, this may even be the first instance of a male actor appearing frontally nude in a mainstream film. In the scene, two other actresses also appear in the nude - Ulla Lyttkens, and O. Paivonen, as tavern girls that Jacob had hired for the night. The scene might remind you of something from the Wild West!

Bibi Andersson, Per Oscarsson, Ulla Lyttkens, and O. Paivonen nude in Syskonbädd 1782 aka My Sister My Love