Tuesday, 12 July 2016
If Vicente Aranda's groundbreaking exploration of sexual identity in "Cambio de sexo" made destape (a Spanish 'Glasnost' of sorts during and after Dictator Franco's final years, when censorship was relaxed) purposeful, his next feature, "La muchacha de las bragas de oro" [Eng. Title: Girl with the Golden Panties] with a nuanced articulation of the need for women's individual freedoms, made destape almost respectable. Films associated with this period were normally seen as little more than skin-flicks keener in disrobing rather than understanding women, not that either of these were entirely a bad thing, of course. It will, ironically, also propel the star of both the films, Victoria Abril, into becoming a household name and international sex symbol for well over a decade.
The film is set in Barcelona, where Luis (Lautaro Murúa), a retired member of the previous Franco regime, is writing his memoirs in the splendid isolation of his spacious villa, with a dog and housekeeper as his only company. He isn't overly perturbed when his niece Mariana (Victoria Abril) arrives with her photographer friend Elmir (Perla Vonasek) - Mariana after all, is here only to write an article about his forthcoming autobiography for a magazine she works in, and also to help out in typing his manuscript.
But it does turn Luis's life inside out, because with her visit, his real past - not the one he'd been concocting in his memoirs, returns to haunt him and his conscience. Mariana, who wears no undergarments save the body-painted gold panties that Elmir meticulously paints on her person, is a wild and carefree young woman, openly indulging in drugs and taking lovers from both sexes as she pleases. Before long, Luis also discovers that Elmir is actually a woman, and that she and Mariana are lovers. For a former Falangist, he displays remarkable restraint even when Elmir brazenly gropes Mariana in his presence.
Years ago, Luis used to love and date Mariana's mother, Mari (Raquel Evans), before a mix-up in a darkened room forced him to marry Mari's sister Soledad (Isabel Mestres) instead. Mari also went on to marry his best friend José María (Josep M. Lana), but not before a one-night stand with Luis. After pealing away the layers of lies he had hidden behind, Mariana finds the vulnerable Luis desirable, and even succeeds in seducing him. But a secret about Mariana's real father will come out in the open when an older Mari (Hilda Vera) visits Luis to check up on her daughter. But will the truth really matter to Luis or Mariana any longer..?
The story, based on an award winning novel by fellow Catalan author Juan Marsé, touches upon hitherto taboo topics such as lesbianism and incest, and questions the validity of a conventional family unit in the modern age. They were shocking subjects for their time, and Aranda always excelled in shocking his audience (sometimes I wonder if this is also a Catalan quirk). In the technical department, there is a marked departure for the better from his earlier films despite the tight budget, and the soundtrack is also appealing. The film can be considered a milestone for Vicente Aranda, emerging from a genre-film maker into a mainstream dramatist, and for Victoria Abril, from a talented actress with tomboyish looks to a sex symbol of the eighties; at twenty years old, Ms. Abril was in the prime of her youth in this film. At least for these reasons, the film should be of interest for both the fans and those interested in Spanish culture, even more so after it has been released on Blu-ray.
Amazon Blu-ray Link
The Nudity: Victoria Abril, Perla Vonasek, and Raquel Evans
Victoria Abril's Mariana comes out as a hedonistic, naturist and exhibitionist, and perhaps appears nude onscreen for longer than in any other film in her illustrious filmography - obviously all good reasons to cheer about. Perla Vonasek plays the bisexual and frequently whistle-blowing Elmir/Elmira. South American beauty and destape-queen Raquel Evans appears only briefly nude on a couple of occasions in Mariana's fertile imagination when Luis opens up about his past.
Friday, 8 July 2016
After a gap of nearly eight years, Hector Babenco makes a full-length feature with a personal film "My Hindu Friend" [Bra. Title: Meu Amigo Hindu]. Confessing that this was something that he always wanted to make but never got around to, Babenco's film isn't biographical, but certainly draws some material from personal life. In his own words, "What you are about to watch is a story that happened to me and I present it in the way I know best." Cinematic, it certainly is.
Diego (Willem Dafoe), a successful film writer-director, had been living with cancer for a number of years, and during this time, had also met and been living with Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido). When his doctor suggests that he requires a bone marrow transplant in the US, and also warns him of the low probability of his survival, he proposes and weds Livia.
His brother reluctantly agrees to be the donor, but Diego's surgery and its subsequent complications make his road to recovery harder; laying sedated during the day and having after-hour visitations from Death himself (Selton Mello), along with his suspender belt and stockings clad sidekick and wife. Their casual conversations, interspersed with games of chess, are among the more refreshing and amusing parts of the film.
Diego does however, manage to strike a new friendship with someone living - a young Hindu boy and fellow patient (Rio Adlakha), with whom he shares his stories and dreams. After returning home following his recovery, Diego realises that his marriage with Livia is nevertheless finished, with the illness being just one of the contributing factors. With an almost wiped-clean slate, Diego meets Sofia (Bárbara Paz), an actress and ardent fan of his work. Perhaps, there might now be a new story waiting to be written on it...
Babenco's film makes frequent nods to the golden age of Hollywood, and in a way, is an ode to cinema itself. It's a story about cheating death, a story about rebirth. Portions of the film, particularly those relating to Death, is reminiscent of a film by another Argentinian-born director Eliseo Subiela. Having said that, Mello and Dafoe take it to a far higher, engaging level. While the fact of Brazilian characters conversing in English takes a little bit of getting used to, the script is nevertheless coherent and mindfully avoids using local idioms that might not work quite so well in translation. Different in tone and intensity to his better known works such as Pixote and Carandiru, Babenco's latest film comes out as something deeply personal, and the cast and crew appear to have done a commendable job in bringing it to life. Recommended Viewing..!
DVD Purchase Link (NTSC)
The Nudity: Ana Clara Fischer, Ondina Clais Castilho, Vera Barreto Leite, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Clara Choveaux, and Bárbara Paz
- Ana Clara Fischer appears briefly nude playing a woman that Diego follows one day, hears her chant Buddhist mantras, and they end up having sex (naturally!).
- Ondina Clais Castilho plays an understandably elderly Mrs Death.
- Vera Barreto Leite flashes her breasts during Diego's after-wedding party.
- Maria Fernanda Cândido, as Livia, is briefly shown nude in the bathroom, and after Diego had seen her masturbating.
- Clara Choveaux plays a woman thrown out of a club and, surprisingly, has a no-holds-barred encounter with Diego. Finding him unable to satisfy her, she settles for something battery-powered - it's an explicit scene verging on hardcore.
- Actress and possible future director Bárbara Paz plays Sofia and gives a delightful interpretation, almost in the nude, of a Gene Kelly from the golden era of Hollywood musicals. It's made all the more endearing in that she starts the dance, as if to give us a hint, much earlier than the music kicks in. There is also a brief performance on stage, a sex scene, and a conversation in the nude preceding this memorable scene.
Tuesday, 5 July 2016
Aleksey Uchitel's action-packed adventure drama "Kray" [Eng. Title: the Edge] is set in a Siberian labour camp (gulag) immediately after the end of the Second World War.
Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov) - a decorated War hero, is sent to work as a locomotive mechanic in the labour camp, despite carrying symptoms associated with PTSD, like frequent blackouts. He wasn't supposed to operate those metal beasts either, but in the unusually lenient camp where safety regulations are nothing more than recommendations that can be set aside due to necessity, Ignat manages to do just that.
The greater (and more interesting) part of the film is about Ignat's resourcefulness in not only reviving and taking possession of an abandoned old locomotive, but also retrieving it through a "little bit broken" bridge so that it could be put back in use. He is helped along the way by feisty young German Elza (Anjorka Strechel), who'd made the locomotive her home for a number of years. She'd been hiding in the island to escape the clutches of a murdering sergeant, and locked out from the outside world, wasn't even aware that there was a war. Nor was she aware that all Germans in Russia were henceforth seen as the enemy.
Friction arises when Ignat brings Elza to live in the camp, especially with inmate and young mother Sofiya (Yuliya Peresild) who'd been sharing her bed with him. Local jealousies come to a head when Ignat defends Elza against the open hostility shown towards her, that they soon had to leave, but not before an eventful locomotive chase to rescue Elza from the deranged sergeant Major Fishman (Sergey Garmash), who recognised her as the girl who escaped years ago.
Despite the film's apparently mainstream appeal, it is technically well produced with appealing cinematography, set design and sound engineering. It gives us a vivid account of ordinary life inside a gulag and its internal economy. But for a foreign audience, the stars will naturally be the plain yet magnificent Soviet-era steam locomotives bellowing across the snowy landscape. Rail enthusiast or not, the audience will easily find the film entertaining. Recommended Viewing!
Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL]
The Nudity: Yuliya Peresild, Anjorka Strechel, and others
Apart from a sex scene with Sofiya and Ignat, there is a bathing scene where Sofiya gets into an argument with Elza and things get a bit physical.