Monday, 28 March 2016

A film review: "El Clan" [2015 Argentina]

Pablo Trapero's films have always been gutsy and raw on the outside, with just the right amount of melancholy to reflect on the complexities of human nature within. His recent drama, "El Clan" [Eng. Title: The Clan] is loosely based on the true story of the Puccio family in Eighties Argentina.

A scene from "El Clan" (2015) Peter Lanzani in "El Clan" (2015)
Guillermo Francella in "El Clan" (2015) Guillermo Francella and others in "El Clan" (2015)

It was the time immediately after the end to dictatorship in Argentina, when Arquímedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella), a retired intelligence officer of the former military junta, ran a lucrative kidnapping-for-ransom enterprise from his own home situated in an affluent neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. To the outside world, he was a stoic and hardworking surfing paraphernalia store owner and a proud family man, with a devoted wife (Lili Popovich), two daughters and three sons.

His was, for all intents and purposes, a model Argentinian family, inspiring a scarred nation trying to emerge from a troubled past. The eldest son, Alejandro (Peter Lanzani), was also a talented rugby player. But behind closed doors, the entire family was privy and sometimes even complicit in Arquímedes's chilling venture, during which kidnapped victims were held and tortured in a room upstairs. Without raising any concerns, perhaps because of their inability to do so, they took turns carrying meals upstairs and tried to drown out the screams by playing loud music. For the wife, it was perhaps just like any other business - a means to support the family.

Arquímedes always seemed to be in control; his calm demeanour convincingly masking the menacing ruthlessness with which he went about his work. After collecting the ransom money, the victims were killed in cold blood and their bodies disposed off. It's as if he never wanted to stop what he was doing during the military regime. And he had people protecting him - erstwhile colleagues, still working in the establishment. His house of cards will nevertheless come crashing down when the rules of the game change following a change in circumstances...

Trapero had made yet another gripping thriller with panache and is ably assisted by the main actors, particularly Guillermo Francella who plays Arquímedes Puccio, the head of the Clan, with great conviction. With impressive cinematography and crisp editing, the film oozes class. However, if I have to nitpick, I find that the screenplay had failed to answer some important questions concerning the motive behind Arquímedes's crimes, the backstory for authorities initially turning a blind eye towards them, and also why his family, with otherwise impeccable values, would tolerate what was going on.

For Argentinians perhaps, the story of the Puccio family is legend, and they may not need help with these questions, but as a foreigner, a few puzzles remain after watching the film. Thankfully, Trapero had set about discussing something more than just the story, like moral dilemmas, family loyalties, and such - so there is value in the film despite the screenplay shortcomings. The film won a Goya for best Iberoamerican motion picture, and a Silver Lion at Venice for best direction - well deserved, and reasons enough to make it Highly Recommended Viewing..! Link [DVD + Blu-ray]


The Nudity: Stefanía Koessl
There's very brief nudity from Stefanía Koessl who play's Alejandro's (entirely innocent) love interest, Mónica. They make out in the car in this darkly lit scene, and her screams of pleasure is inter-cut with screams of a different kind from the Puccio household.

Stefanía Koessl in Pablo Trapero's "El Clan" (2015)


Thursday, 24 March 2016

A film review: "Le mouton enragé" [1974 France]

Michel Deville had been a pleasant mainstream alternative to the typically highbrow intellectualism of the Nouvelle Vague exponents when it came to cinema during the sixties and seventies; his storytelling was conventional, and on the other end of the scale, his humour and satire was gentler in comparison to the likes of Bertrand Blier. His comedy "Le mouton enragé" [Eng. Title: Love at the Top] came out around the same time as Blier's more notorious "Les valseuses", and while both of them were a satire on modern society, the former is distinctly more 'humane', notwithstanding the killing of some of its main characters during the course of the film.

Jane Birkin in "Le mouton enragé" Jean-Pierre Cassel and Jean-Louis Trintignant in "Le mouton enragé"
Romy Schneider and Jean-Louis Trintignant in "Le mouton enragé" Jean-Louis Trintignant and Jane Birkin in "Le mouton enragé"

The film begins with a normally shy bank clerk Nicolas (Jean-Louis Trintignant) unexpectedly chatting up a young woman by the river - he'd never done that before, only to discover on his date the next day that she's a prostitute. But determined to score nevertheless, he forces the woman, Marie-Paule (Jane Birkin), into feigning genuine sexual interest in him. He even decides not to pay her after having sex!

Despite that, Marie-Paule strangely takes to the guy and soon enough, they become friends, and partners in crime when it came to cynical manipulation of wealthy victims in their quest for social mobility, thanks to the urging and scheming of his disenchanted best friend Claude (Jean-Pierre Cassel). Claude, unlucky in love, and too bad a writer to get his work published, feels he has finally struck upon new material for a new book, proving that one could transform an average achiever such as Nicolas into a success story, both in terms of seducing women and gaining social status.

After convincing Nicolas to quit his bank job, Claude assigns him the task of seducing Roberte (Romy Schneider), the beautiful and lonely young wife of an ageing academic. Following Nicolas' successful conquest, the unsuspecting Roberte falls truly in love with him, and will grow increasingly reckless in hiding her affair from her husband. In the process, new contacts open up for the ever non-committal Nicolas, to network and exploit.

Nicolas ignores Claude's advise to move on from Marie-Paule, and instead uses her as bait to build links with a well-connected businessman. She willingly obliges, and before long, she marries him and becomes heiress to his fortune, whilst carrying on her fun and games with Nicolas in secret. Together, they ruthlessly work their way to the top of the social ladder and respectability, whilst paying scant attention to their conscience...

Deville wryly pokes fun at a selfish society where success is unscrupulously pursued, and even with best of intentions, morality is set aside during the process. The film is hurriedly paced giving little time for self-reflection, and much like Blier's "Le valseuses" and Chabrol's "Les innocents aux mains sales", doesn't flinch in showing us the shameless side of modern society. Even if it looks a bit dated now, the film is reasonably well-made, and  Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Jane Birkin, Romy Schneider, Betty Berr, Florinda Bolkan, and Christine Boisson
The main reason to feature the film here is the relatively short but memorable, almost iconic, nude scenes featuring an adolescent looking Jane Birkin. Romy Schneider, despite only brief nudity in her scenes, is at her most beautiful, and an elegant Florinda Bolkan dazzles, even if she gets nude only for the exclusive eyes of Jean-Louis Trintignant in a scene. There is also a short nude streak from a very young (and uncredited) Christine Boisson to watch out for.

Jane Birkin, Romy Schneider, Betty Berr, Florinda Bolkan, and Christine Boisson nude in the French comedy, "Le mouton enragé"


Saturday, 19 March 2016

Positivity can be infectious: "ma ma" [2015 Spain]

After Room in Rome. it has taken five years for the redoubtable Julio Medem to come up with a new full-length feature, and while it has a simple and more straightforward narrative when compared to his earlier works, "ma ma" still has his style and tone stamped all over it. It is also the first time he gets to work with Spanish icon Penélope Cruz, with whom he also co-produced the film.

Penélope Cruz in "ma ma" Penélope Cruz and Luis Tosar in "ma ma"
Penélope Cruz in "ma ma" Penélope Cruz in "ma ma"

Recently made unemployed and also recently separated mother Magda (Penélope Cruz) visits her gynaecologist Julián (Asier Etxeandia) for a routine checkup, only to discover that she requires a mastectomy in addition to chemotherapy after being diagnosed for breast cancer. "You won't even leave me my nipple as a keepsake?", she pleads with Julián in what for her is essentially the latest salvo in a quick succession of life-altering events.

The one bright spot in Magda's life remains Dani (Teo Planell), her twelve year old son whose footballing skills don't go unnoticed by Arturo (Luis Tosar), a Real Madrid scout. Returning from the hospital, she bumps into him at the stadium where Dino is playing, but just as they begin to strike up a conversation, Arturo receives a call that his daughter had just died and his wife left in coma following a road accident. Despite having a bad day of her own, Magda takes pity at his plight and helps him to the hospital where his wife is admitted.

Their friendship grows, and following her operation and his wife's passing, become a couple. Magda and Dino move into his home. But before long, the new found tranquility is shattered once again when she receives devastating news from a deeply upset and caring Julián during a subsequent checkup, which would lead her to take the most momentous decision in her life, on her own terms...

Unlike most conventional couplings, Magda and Arturo's love doesn't start during happier times with sexual attraction being the driver - they become soulmates long before they become lovers, even though they hold very different outlooks; whilst Arturo is inspired by faith, Magda is inspired by life itself, and doggedly pursues and spreads 'happiness' no matter what it throws at her - a positivity that accommodates and spreads to everyone who she comes in contact with.

This is Medem's unique world; fed by streams of positive energy and goodwill in life's undulating landscape of highs and lows. His world is determinedly curious, devoid of cynicism, and seeks to find order or a pattern amongst seemingly chaotic events. Whilst he revelled in showing us such symmetry in earlier works such as Sex and Lucia and Lover of the Arctic Circle, in "ma ma" he restricts himself to just a single such visual metaphor, with the character 'Natasha'. The cinematography might be relatively subdued owing to the subject matter, but the film nevertheless retains all the sumptuousness one can expect from a Julio Medem, not to mention fine performances from the main cast. Apart from one plot detail which perhaps could've been explained sufficiently from an ethical point of view, this couples-film ticks the right boxes and reaffirms Julio Medem as my favourite Spanish director working today. Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Penélope Cruz
There is brief topless nudity in a couple of scenes where Penélope Cruz's character is either examining herself or being examined by the doctor.

Penélope Cruz nude in "ma ma" (2015)


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Futura X-tra bold - Gaspar Noé's "LOVE" [2015 France, Belgium]


Gaspar Noe's 'LOVE' (2015)

"My biggest dream in life is to make a movie that truly depicts sentimental sexuality. Why - why haven't we seen this in cinema yet!", exclaims Murphy. Having made his mark as an uncompromising filmmaker who worked on exceptionally difficult themes such as in "I Stand Alone" and "Irreversible", it is apparent that through yet another extra bold no-nonsense experiment, this time X-rated, Gaspar Noé had finally managed to make his and his main character Murphy's dream come true in "LOVE".

Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock from Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock from Gaspar Noe's 'Love'
Karl Glusman from Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Aomi Muyock from Gaspar Noe's 'Love'

At first glance, 'Love' might seem an uncharacteristic title for a Gaspar Noé film, especially since all of his films so far have been centred around love, often to the point of obsession. Was he perhaps a bit too conscious of the fact that the film could otherwise be mistaken for 'porn' - and let's face it, there will always be many who will call it so, no matter how many convincing arguments to the contrary are put forward, or was it a sincere attempt at exploring the fact that through all the ages, sex had very often played a dominant part in early stages of a love relationship?

Loving couples, especially the young ones have sex, and if situations permit, focus considerable energies towards the endeavour than those who aren't. If a film decides not to depict the sexual aspect of a couple's relationship, it is perhaps because it has other things to say. But if the focus of a film is love itself, there is a valid reason to show scenes of a sexual nature. There is far more sex depicted in "Love" than in other mainstream films, to the extent that they soon loose their novelty value and we get immersed in the narrative. But what crucially sets it apart from most other 'love' films, is that the actors here are doing it for real (von Trier, who once took Dogme to new heights, should respectfully take note, despite the fact that Noé and Dogme are as distinguishable as apples and oranges).


A simple storyline by Noé's standards, the film focuses on the highs and lows of an intense relationship between aspiring filmmaker Murphy (Karl Glusman) and budding artist Electra (Aomi Muyock), while they were in college. The film starts with Murphy, now living with Omi (Klara Kristin) and father to a child, receiving a voicemail from Electra's mum worried about her daughter's whereabouts. This kick starts a back story, mostly told through flashback in a nonlinear but nonetheless comprehensible fashion, of Murphy's passionate and deeply affecting love affair with Electra. We learn about the way Omi entered their lives, and how the couple parted ways.

Despite the uncharted territory, Noé's trademark is stamped all over the film. There are subtle references to some of his earlier work, whether through props, characters, or locations - Noé also appears in a couple of scenes as Electra's ex boyfriend. In terms of performances, the actors are bold and sincere to their characters, and to go all the way - I mean, a l l   t h e   w a y, right to the 'finish' in the numerous sex scenes, requires something of a pioneering spirit. Apart from their performances, it is perhaps also due to the actors' physical intimacy that their characters come 'alive'. Having said that, the weakest among the three protagonists has to be that of Glusman's due to his unmistakeable Hollywood-style delivery which unfortunately takes away from his otherwise impressive performance.

Visually, the film is as sumptuous as any Gaspar Noé film - there is a great deal of attention to lighting, detail and the cinematography in general (the quivering lights and disorientating sounds are thankfully kept to a minimum), even if the viewer might be hard pressed to appreciate the need for shooting the film in 3D, apart from a single, albeit memorable shot. One of the coolest tricks Noé uses in the film is the insertion of blank frames between and sometimes even during the scenes, much like mimicking the way our own memory darts from one detail to the next when remembering the past. It is a great feeling to see that Gaspar Noé, having already achieved what most filmmakers can only dream of in a lifetime, still hasn't lost any of the edgy and brutal forthrightness for which he's infamous; he has once again shown the middle finger to critics and the unwritten rules of the film making establishment. Bravo!, and Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [NTSC] | Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-Ray Link [2D & 3D]
About the DVD: Strangely, the Artificial Eye DVD sold at Amazon is actually NTSC, even though it is advertised as PAL. I had to buy a second, PAL version from, which by the way also featured an interview with Gaspar Noé and some extended (deleted) scenes, not included in the AE release.


The Nudity: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Déborah Revy, Stella Rocha, and others
The film features explicit scenes of sex and nudity, but whether it is pornographic in nature is a matter of individual opinion. For me, it doesn't qualify as porn simply because no extraneous efforts were made to focus exclusively on anatomical details during sex acts, whether in shot selection or lighting; we just happen to watch them fucking. The highlight for heterosexual men will most likely include the threesome featuring Glusman, Muyock, and Kristin - the only thing missing from a typical 'mainstream' porn sequence here is the girls simultaneously giving head to the guy until he finishes - oh, but then the film could get classified as 'porno', right? Perhaps..! :-)

Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, Déborah Revy, Stella Rocha, and others nude in Gaspar Noe's 'LOVE'