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)