Saturday, 13 May 2017

Using failures as stepping stones: "Nome Próprio" [2007 Brazil]

Murilo Salles co-opted author Clara Averbuck's alter ego Camila from her groundbreaking novel (Máquina de Pinball) for his drama "Nome Próprio" [Eng. Title: Camila Jam].




Leandra Leal in "Camila Jam" (2007 Brazil) Leandra Leal in "Camila Jam" (Brazil, 2007)
Leandra Leal in "Camila Jam" (2007, Brazil) Leandra Leal in "Nome Próprio" (2007, Brazil)




Set in São Paulo, the film begins with Camila (Leandra Leal) being kicked out of the apartment by boyfriend Felipe (Juliano Cazarré) following a flaming row between them - apparently she'd 'cheated' on him and he wants her out of his life. Camila's shame, outrage, and vulnerability is underscored by the added detail of her also being completely naked when the eviction happens.

Camila wants to be a writer, and whilst waiting for her inspiration, keeps herself engaged socially by maintaining a blog where she'd also built up a following. After a friend in whose apartment she found shelter vacates and leaves unexpectedly, one of her blog fans comes to her rescue and offers her a place a stay.

But Camila also doesn't want to be just any writer - she craves for poetry and intensity in everything she does, and she seeks them wherever she can, regardless of the people she might hurt, or despite unfailingly getting hurt herself. Her resourcefulness and chutzpah allows her to dust herself off after every little calamity and and keep chasing that elusive something she's looking for. As she herself admits, "Sometimes they break my legs, they kick me in the face, and they stomp on my fingers. I survive. I'm scarred too, but I make the most of each and every one of my scars."

Leandra Leal makes the film special by her unforgettable no-holds-barred portrayal of Camila as an intense and worryingly unsatisfied woman. And of course, the credit for that can justifiably be shared with the director too for helping Ms. Leal bring this character out of her. Watching the film after nearly a decade and with a bit more 'mature' eyes certainly helped me discover nuances I had missed earlier. I'm aware of some films from elsewhere that touches on similar topics, but the intensity seen in this film is certainly unique. Needless to say, this little gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Purchase Link [NTSC]

 

The Nudity: Leandra Leal, Rosanne Mulholland, Ricardo Garcia, and Gustavo Machado
Leandra Leal appears nude in a number of scenes, most of which are also long and intense. Rosanne Mulholland plays Camila's best friend Paula and appears nude in a post-coital scene with Leandra Leal. Ricardo Garcia and Gustavo Machado appear briefly nude during their scenes with Camila. The film also features one of the more 'intriguing' sex scenes not often seen in mainstream cinema. A drunk Camila taunts, teases, rejects, and challenges an equally drunk Rodrigo (Ricardo Garcia) in a scene that oscillates between rape and seduction for over 8½ minutes - a scene that I'd also love to discuss with readers in the comments section.

Leandra Leal, Rosanne Mulholland, Ricardo Garcia, and Gustavo Machado in "Nome Próprio" aka "Camila Jam" (2007, Brazil)

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Sunday, 30 April 2017

A review: "A Casa" [1997, Lithuania, France]

Sarunas Bartas:

Sarunas Bartas
As one of Lithuania's foremost auteurs, Sarunas Bartas is known for his poetic, brooding, and contemplative cinema that allow themselves to be interpreted variously based on individual experiences. If some critics are eager to brand his work pretentious and self-indulgent, it is perhaps because the films might appear opaque to casual viewers. While his films feature no formal narrative and no directly expressed opinions, one could yet detect meaningful undercurrents if they're willing to immerse themselves in his slowly-meandering stream of visuals. By 'slow', we're talking Béla Tarr and Theo Angelopoulos 'slow'. His visuals themselves; be it the grandest of Tarkovskian outdoors, the decaying rooms, or the sympathetic wrinkles on a sun-beaten face, are nevertheless stunningly captured in all their glory and fans of cinematography will find it very hard to not like his work.

 
 
 

"The House" (1997)



The House (1997) "The House" (1997)
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi from "The House" (1997) "A Casa" (The House), 1997





In a way, "The House" (Orig. Title: A Casa) makes a departure from Sarunas Bartas's earlier films in that it is un-apologetically allegorical. It is also less 'accessible' than his earlier films because it relates more closely to local history. The fact that there are very few words spoken in the film also encourages us to over analyse every scene and look for clues. It works better if we don't.

The film begins with a view of a mansion that had certainly seen better days, and a male voice is heard reading from what could be a page from a diary. He opens up to his mother on things he had always wanted to talk about, but never managed to during his previous visits. He confesses to having imaginary conversations with her and receiving her (imagined) replies, the way it used to be during his childhood. We're taken indoors where a disheveled young man (Francisco Nascimento) wakes up in a room surrounded by fluttering decorated pigeons, and that's just a couple of minutes into our two-hour film.

As he goes through each room, we witness groups of people and animals who don't originally belong in the household seeking refuge there, about which the protagonist isn't too perturbed. We see a lonely woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) unresponsive to calls for attention by a different man next door, but instead entertains herself by enacting her backstory using finger-puppets.

We see an elderly couple join others for dinner but go back upstairs their separate ways. We see a room filled with naked children, and one with naked women caressing our protagonist. And before the revelation that happens at the very end, we see fireworks around a decorated tree in one of the rooms, with half naked men and women going around it in costume, while fireworks are also let off over the frozen lake outside...

Bartas's personal film engages us with little other than sumptuous visuals until the very end, but it leaves us engaged more vigorously after the final credits start rolling. While the eponymous house most definitely signifies Lithuania itself, we are left to our own devices to freely interpret who the 'mother' is and what everything else represent. Whether one sees this as cinema at its very best or at its most pretentious, it is certainly worthy of a challenge and an opinion. And who knows, if approached with the right frame, one might also find it illuminating. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.fr DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Egle Kuckaite, Greta Sapkaite, and others
As the review indicates, there are several instances of nudity from younger residents in the house featuring children and teenage girls. The individual scenes feature Egle Kuckaite attending dinner in the nude, and Greta Sapkaite observing herself in the mirror. She appears again in the scene where the protagonist is caressed by several young women.

Egle Kuckaite, Greta Sapkaite, and others from the Sarunas Bartas film, "A Casa" aka "The House", 1997, Lithuania.

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Monday, 24 April 2017

An interview with João Paulo Simões on "Morning Interim: Illicit Diagrams" [2017 Portugal]

Ever the experimenter, João Paulo Simões loves to play with form and narrative in his films, and his ongoing anthology, "Morning Interim" is one such exercise that has generated interest from not only the art crowd, but also fellow artists in Portugal. His collaboration with veteran Portuguese actress Monica Calle in his second episode "Illicit Diagrams" was intriguing as well as fascinating. When I approached Simões for an interview, he was only too happy to share his thoughts.

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An interview with João Paulo Simões




"Morning Interim" - could you tell us how you came up with the concept?

Morning Interim was originally conceived at around 2007 as part of a trilogy, of which "Antlers of Reason" (2006) was the first. But despite its encouraging reception, the project remained in financing limbo and other commissioned work began to get prioritised. I still wanted to revisit specific strands from "Antlers of Reason", as it began to open up a greater scope for exploring something bigger and deeper, and to delve into a more frightening mystery. As an episodic series, I felt I could now recreate ritualised reflections of equally personal scenarios.



Who is recording the ThalusCam? Will we get to see the people behind it?

The name is in reference to the fictional antlered god of pagan worship, Thalus. It's been conceived, in the series, as a voyeuristic device that punctuates the stripped bare narrative. But it will be revealed as an underground analogue network that hijacks digital signals. A bit like the old days taking revenge on the impersonal nature of this world we all now inhabit. Yes, we will get to see who and what is behind it. Sort of half-the-way through the series: Episode 5, to be more specific.



You'd managed to rope in Monica Calle - still amazing after all these years in cinema, for the second episode of "Morning Interim". Do you hope to feature similar high-profile actors in the remaining series?

There are a handful of roles to be cast still and I always want, first and foremost, to give the right role to the right person.
Yet, as a film buff, I do like to bring in a sense of heritage that an actor's previous work immediately conveys. We have Anulka Dziubinska (from the 1974 exploitation classic, "Vampyres") on board. I'm currently in talks with Emmanuelle Escourrou (of "Baby Blood" fame) whom I directed in the pilot episode of "Where Her Dreams End" (a 2011 series that never got picked). And I just re-opened negotiations with an actress from Walerian Borowczyk's "La Bête", which was a huge influence on "Antlers of Reason".



How did you convince Monica Calle to get involved in the film? What was her initial reaction?

I believe Monica watched a behind-the-scenes video, at first, in which actress/co-producer Luisa Torregrosa describes the creative process. Only then did she watch the first episode. She told me she was very taken by the minimalism; by how it all comes across so unmediated and singular. But what impressed her most was actually how the intimacy was handled.



Was Monica Calle comfortable in participating in the explicit sex scenes, and was she concerned if it might affect her already significant mainstream film career?

She only went as far as to express how raw and therefore exposing the scenes were. But once she committed and mutual trust was in place, there was never any issue. You have to put the Portuguese avant-garde approach into perspective here. Despite (or precisely because of) its conservative Catholicism, creative individuals do tend to navigate incredibly daring waters. Monica's stage output is probably the boldest being made in Portugal. And still, despite its experimental, visceral or explicit nature, she wins mainstream awards. For years, many often wondered when the two of us would work together. It has finally happened.



Most of the sex scenes depict sexual acts in elaborate detail, but they're nevertheless ritualised rather than spontaneous. Was this a technical limitation, or are you trying to say something through this?

The ritualisation is not just deliberate, but crucial. The idea has always been to elevate such moments to mating rituals. Something purer, more animal and natural (hence the explicitness), but that rarely happens away from the cold gaze of the hidden cameras of the ThalusCam network. Going back to your second question, the key here is the "recording". The notion that private moments in time are crystalised, mirrored and juxtaposed - with an ulterior motive.



Though this site focuses predominantly on nudity as it appears in the integral version of films, the scenes themselves often enter into the sexual realm, as if it is almost inevitable. Is it because directors are merely trying to keep up with society, or are filmmakers themselves setting the agenda?

That's a very interesting point. And I think it ties in with the way in which progressively more honest and therefore explicit depictions of sexuality have been incorporated into both independent and mainstream Cinema.
My perspective is that the art form has matured sufficiently now. As far as "setting the agenda" goes, I really think that every film that is made is a reflection of the times in which it was produced, but I do believe that films also shape the cultural discourse. They feed off each other.



Are people more obsessed and worried about sex these days than at any time in human history?

There's a growing appetite for depictions of sexuality, for sure. The level of obsession is up to the individual and I reckon the impulse to gaze is as old as the human race itself, but there is a greater thirst for seeing images that reveal more and more. Again, it's the digital age we live in. The immediate accessibility of explicit content generates a taste for it. You have to feed "the retina of the mind's eye", to borrow a phrase coined by Cronenberg.



What can we look forward to in the third episode?

Episode 3 will bring back the horror element to the foreground. Luisa Torregrosa's Mystery Woman will return and Nature will also take a big part. It's entitled "Re-Enactments" for a reason. The notion of actors playing a role within a role is part of the deconstructive quality that I intend to bring to the form, to the narrative and to the actual rituals.



How has your crowdsourcing progressed so far, and how many episodes have you lined up for the Morning Interim series? Have you considered making the series into a full-length feature?

The idea to turn the project into a series was a means to rescue it. The pilot episode was enabled and partially funded by Spain's Torregrosa Producciones, but we didn't know where to go from that point - despite being immensely proud of it. We're well aware of the experimental, abstract quality of the project and wanted to preserve that by all means.
It soon became apparent that the slow-burning narrative needed to span eight episodes, which makes it even trickier to fund. But, we're getting there - very gradually.
Frontier Media established The Vault of Alternative Cinema, as a means to centralise access to current and previous output. The approach has been to have the pay-per-view of the existing episodes (along with access to other films available to stream or buy on DVD) exclusively fund the production of the series. This does slow down the process, but, in an odd way, suits the unfolding of the mystery. Online patronage has also started contributing monthly to production costs. We hope that the support grows in time, so we can shorten the waiting period between episodes for fans of Morning Interim.



Streaming Link for Film | Become a Patron





The Nudity: Monica Calle, João Paulo Simões, and Erica Rodrigues
The film depicts variously interpreted scenes featuring explicit sex and nudity. Apart from Monica Calle and Erica Rodrigues who play a case worker (therapist) and cleaner (maid) respectively, the director himself appears in a starring role in the scenes concerned. Recommended Viewing..!

Monica Calle, João Paulo Simões, and Erica Rodrigues from the film, "Morning Interim: Illicit Diagrams" (2017, Portugal).

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Saturday, 22 April 2017

A brief film review: “A Costa dos Murmúrios” [2004 Portugal]

Margarida Cardoso's maiden feature "A Costa dos Murmúrios" [Eng. Title: The Murmuring Coast] uses the backdrop of Portugal's early struggles at holding on to its empire in Africa, to study a couple's relationship that begins full of promise but falters as they get to know each other better.




Beatriz Batarda and Filipe Duarte in "A Costa dos Murmúrios" (2004) Monica Calle, Filipe Duarte, and Adriano Luz in "A Costa dos Murmúrios" (2004)
Monica Calle and Beatriz Batarda in "A Costa dos Murmúrios" (2004), Portugal; Beatriz Batarda in "A Costa dos Murmúrios" (2004, Portugal)




Set in the early sixties, we see a newly wed Evita (Beatriz Batarda) arrive at 'picturesque' Mozambique to join her husaband Luis (Filipe Duarte), a mathematician-turned colonel serving in the Portuguese Army. As she adjusts to the tropical climate, she notices that Luis had lost all the passion he once had for mathematics.

She's nevertheless made to feel at home by Luis's captain Jaime (Adriano Luz) and his wife Helena (Monica Calle). Evita also notices that Luis looks up to Jaime and often makes an extra effort to please his superior. This becomes disturbingly evident during a hunting safari where Luis tries to outdo Jaime in 'exercising his fingers' against a hapless wildlife using a Kalashnikov rifle.

But a more sinister side to their camaraderie, and by extension Portugal's colonial policies, are revealed when Evita spends more time with Helena after their respective husbands go away on an army operation. The brutality against natives, it seems, is just another symptom of attitudes that they've willingly adopted from a bygone era where chauvinism and patriarchy is the norm, and duelling and honour killings, par for the course. A modern and liberated Evita struggles to come to terms with their world...

Cardoso uses a subject close to her heart - Portuguese colonialism in Africa, and through a documentary-eye, places her protagonist as a helpless bystander witnessing events from a distance - with the gathering clouds of resistance outside as much a reflection of her tumult within. It is an ambitious film, but it also succeeds to a large extent with its soul-searching. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Beatriz Batarda and Monica Calle
The film features some nudity, with Beatriz Batarda in a scene vaguely reminiscent of Kristin Scott Thomas from "The English Patient". Monica Calle is briefly nude while emerging from the bath, and is later seen disrobed and left lying on the floor.

Beatriz Batarda and Monica Calle from Margarida Cardoso's drama, "A Costa dos Murmúrios" aka "The Murmuring Coast" (2004, Portugal)

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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A brief review: "Lejos de mar" [2015 Spain]

Imanol Uribe has frequently dealt with the subject of ETA and Basque nationalism in his films before - understandably so, since he also hails from the region. His latest thriller "Lejos del mar" [Eng. Title: Far from the Sea] too is no different and is set against a similar premise.




Elena Anaya in "Lejos del mar" (2015, Spain) Elena Anaya and Eduard Fernández in "Lejos del mar" (2015, Spain)
José Luis García Pérez and Elena Anaya in "Lejos del mar" (2015, Spain) Elena Anaya and Eduard Fernández in "Lejos del mar" (2015)




The film begins with former ETA separatist Santi (Eduard Fernández) arriving in Almería to meet a friend - he'd just been released after serving twenty two years for murdering a military officer in the presence of his eight year old daughter. The daughter, Marina (Elena Anaya), is now a doctor at the same hospital where Santi's friend is undergoing treatment. Marina faints after recognising him, and Santi, not knowing that she's the girl who saw him murder her father, carries her back into the hospital.

After recovering from her shock, Marina drops her son at her mother's house in Madrid, picks up her father's handgun and shoots Santi when she catches him alone on the beach. Having fled the scene, Marina returns to the beach after some deliberation to see Santi still breathing, but unconscious. She drags him back into his cabin to treat him for his wounds, and nurses him back to health.

When Marina's journalist husband Andrés (José Luis García Pérez) is informed of Santi's release from prison and his arrival in Almería, he tries to track him down since he is also aware of Marina's tragedy. When he informs Marina about Santi's release, her ambivalent reaction disappoints him a little, but he nevertheless notices a change in her general attitude, and coupled with the increasing frequency of her 'night shifts', begins to suspect that she might be having an affair...

Uribe has dealt with the pathology of hate in some of his earlier films, but this one is slightly different in exploring issues bordering on Stockholm Syndrome, and it also directly addresses reconciliation, which could be a painful process. Obviously, Elena Anaya had the most challenging part in the film, but she performs impeccably as ever. While it is a low-budget thriller, it is still well made and some shot selections are an interesting departure from Uribe's earlier films, particularly the long shot of Anaya's character dragging a heavy and motionless Santi back into the cabin. We're also shown an Almería completely devoid of its ubiquitous tourist-brochure glamour (or Spaghetti Western dustiness) - it might just as well be some bleak seaside in northern Spain. The taut thriller is certainly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Elena Anaya and Verónika Moral
Elana Anaya is nude when she emerges from the sea, and Verónika Moral, who play's Santi's sister, is also briefly nude when she goes skinny dipping. There's also a brief sex scene featuring Elena Anaya.

Elena Anaya from the Spanish thriller, "Lejos del mar" aka "Far from the Sea" (2015)

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Sunday, 16 April 2017

A brief film review: "Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen" [2016 Austria, Luxembourg]

Dieter Berner's biopic of one of Austria's most famous expressionists, "Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen" [Eng. Title: Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden] gives a different take on the great artist's relationship with his sister Gertrude (Gerti), long-term lover and muse Walburga (Wally), and wife till their early death Edith.




Noah Saavedra in "Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen" (2016) Maresi Riegner and Noah Saavedra in "Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden" (2016)
Maresi Riegner and Noah Saavedra in "Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen" (2016) Larissa Breidbach in "Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen" (2016)
Valerie Pachner and Noah Saavedra in "Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen" (2016) "Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden" (2016)





The film begins during the last days of Egon Schiele (Noah Saavedra) - when his sister Gerti (Maresi Riegner) visits his apartment with rations. She sees him slumped on a chair facing a pregnant and dying Edith (Marie Jung) in bed - both had been struck by the Spanish Flu epidemic. He was drawing Edith even then, before passing out due to fatigue.

Egon's backstory is recollected through Gerti as she attends to her dying brother amidst the chaos and shortages during the final stages of the First World War. She recounts the days when she became Egon's first nude model at the age of sixteen, and also the unconventional surroundings in which the orphaned siblings grew into adulthood.

Through his bohemian friends, Egon is introduced to cabaret artist Moa (Larissa Breidbach), his first professional model who will also initiate him to sex. Gerti was part of the same circle of friends, and much to the chagrin of her brother who's also her legal guardian, falls in love with one of the boys in the group. The siblings fall out briefly, but strong bonds reunite them time and again.

When Egon's mentor and fellow artist Gustav Klimt (Cornelius Obonya) introduces him to model Wally (Valerie Pachner), they soon end up living together, and it is during this phase that Egon also gets into trouble with law following an allegation of abduction of an underage girl. While he's acquitted of that charge, the judge brands his art pornographic, and imprisons him for making his works accessible to children. Wally stays by his side during the entire ordeal, but leaves him heartbroken when Egon decides to marry a neighbour from across the street...

Berner's meticulously crafted film gives a sympathetic take on Egon Schiele's life and exonerates him from allegations of incest and paedophilia. The famous artwork from which the film's title is taken also makes an appearance in a moving scene, when it is first exhibited by Schiele in Vienna. The cinematography, while ambitious at times, is pleasing nevertheless and the overall production is of a high quality. The performance of Valerie Pachner as Wally is particularly memorable. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link
Machine-Translated PAL Subtitle

 

The Nudity: Maresi Riegner, Larissa Breidbach, Valerie Pachner, Noah Saavedra, and others
The film features several instances of posed artistic nudity from Maresi Reigner and Larissa Breidbach. There are also two brief sex scenes featuring them separately. Valerie Pachner and Noah Saavedra appear nude together in one scene, and there are some extras who also appear nude during assorted cabaret scenes.

Maresi Riegner, Larissa Breidbach, Valerie Pachner, and Noah Saavedra from the Austrian film, "Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden" (2016).

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Monday, 10 April 2017

A brief film review: "Suntan" [2016 Greece, Germany]

The Greek drama by Argyris Papadimitropoulos - "Suntan", has been labelled as a coming of middle-age story, but I think this could apply to a larger male population as well under certain circumstances.

Set in the beach resort island of Antiparos, the film begins with a forty-something Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) arriving off-season to take up his new job as the local doctor. In a community whose economic activity is almost entirely centred around the few months of summer, Kostis encounters a friendly and leisurely populace who do the best to make him feel at home.




Makis Papadimitriou in Suntan (2016) Elli Tringou and Milou Van Groesen in Suntan (2016)
Elli Tringou and Makis Papadimitriou in Suntan (2016) Makis Papadimitriou in Suntan (2016, Greece)




Kostis nevertheless negotiates those quiet winter months with a degree of comfort, having used to living by his own all these years. He had never married and of late had already given up even trying to look for a relationship. However, the following summer would change his life to an extent he wouldn't have imagined when he first set foot on the island.

When young and flirty Anna (Elli Tringou) barges into his surgery with her mates after falling off a bike, she gives him a 'thank you' kiss and invites him to join them one of these days at the beach. Kostis, partly due to his infatuation for Anna, and partly envious of their lifestyle, goes looking for them one afternoon and also manages to get acquainted with the free-spirited (and free-loving) naturist group of five that includes men and women.

Problems begin after Anna agrees and makes love to Kostis on one occasion - he falls headlong in love with her afterwards. Anna wasn't expecting this, and understandably freaks out after he demands an explanation for going away with her friends for the weekend without informing him. She tries to set the record straight and make him understand that she hadn't intended to start a relationship with anyone, but by then the boat had already set sail and Kostis's delusions have taken over the better of him...

The film is a brutal and frank interpretation of not just an instance of unrequited love, but also the generation gap and contrasting worldviews that result from certain outdated attitudes towards women and sexual relationships. It also serves as a warning against misreading social situations that they might come to regret later. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Elli Tringou, Hara Kotsali, Marcus Collen, Milou Van Groesen, Syllas Tzoumerkas, Makis Papadimitriou, and others
Since many scenes are set in a beach where nudity is the norm, there are many instances of nudity, but more so from Elli Tringou whose character is always seen nude while on the beach.

Scenes of Elli Tringou, Hara Kotsali, Marcus Collen, Milou Van Groesen, and Makis Papadimitriou in the Greek drama, "Suntan" (2016).

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Saturday, 1 April 2017

"Le jeu avec le feu" [1975 France, Italy]

 




Alain Robbe-Grillet:

Alain Robbe-Grillet

It has taken a while to bring up Alain Robbe-Grillet's filmography despite his obvious candidature for this site, simply because one would also need a passing knowledge of his important literary legacy that subsequently spawned his film career to do it any justice. Called the Nouveau Roman (New Novel), his avant-gardist literary works are said to have redefined the scope of modern novels not just in France, but all over the world.

By the time he penned his first film script for Alain Resnais's Nouvelle Vague masterpiece "Last Year at Marienbad", he was already a celebrated writer. Resnais's, and to some extent Antonioni's influence can readily be seen in Robbe-Grillet's first film as writer-director, "L'Immortelle", but his subsequent films began to take on a distinct identity of their own. Whatever Robbe-Grillet did in film, Jean Rollin and Jesus Franco stylistically appropriated, or at the very least drew considerable inspiration from. In return, Robbe-Grillet parodied their work along with those of mainstream stalwarts such as Claude Chabrol and Mario Bava to the extent that his later films came to be seen as a parody of parodies.

Despite all that, Alain Robbe-Grillet's core concern in all his films remained unchanged right from 'Marienbad' - it is about deconstructing the role memory plays for both his characters and the audience - whether playing a part, reading a novel or watching a film. Events are often obsessively repeated - even from the same character's point of view, not only leading to the same outcome with a different nuance, but sometimes also to variable outcomes - in short, we cannot take anything we see on screen for granted - avant-garde, for sure.

 


"Le jeu avec le feu" (1975)

Anicée Alvina in Alain Robbe-Grillet's "Playing With Fire" (Le jeu avec le feu) 1975. Philippe Noiret in "Le jeu avec le feu" (1975)
Anicée Alvina and others in "Le jeu avec le feu" (1975). Joëlle Coeur and Jean-Louis Trintignant in "Le jeu avec le feu" (1975)




Alain Robbe-Grillet's mid-career comedy "Le jeu avec le feu" [Eng. Title: Playing With Fire] can politely be described as an intensely self-aware parody. I prefer to call it a piss-take of Italian gialli. What you see in the film is not necessarily the truth, and characters are also not what they claim to be. To add to the chaos, actors return to play different characters during its run-time - perhaps this is a Freudian examination, perhaps it is reminding us that everything, like the film, is make-believe, or perhaps the characters themselves are two-faced.

The film begins with banker Georges de Saxe (Philippe Noiret) receiving a demand for ransom from a couple of visiting baddies for something they haven't achieved yet - they're yet to kidnap the banker's precious daughter Carolina (Anicée Alvina), who's still safely ensconced in her room upstairs.

In order to protect her, Georges hires detective Frantz (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who'd been telegraphed to the audience in advance as working for the kidnappers. Frantz suggests housing Carolina for her own protection at a place the kidnappers would least bother to look - a high-class brothel run by Erica von Eigher (Martine Jouot). He introduces the place to an innocent Carolina as some kind of a 'clinic' for women suffering from 'exhaustion'.

We can easily see where this plot is heading from here, but then again, we may not. Whatever the case, it wouldn't matter. For most of its duration, the film is an unbridled indulgence in fantasised masochism, a pastime Robbe-Grillet had never hidden or apologised for throughout his personal life. We see thugs bundle away in public view young maidens from night clubs, morning jogs, and even from wedding ceremonies. As Carolina strolls through doors in Erica's mansion to discover torrid happenings à la Alice in Wonderland, the film teases the audience through Carolina's implied and faux sexual awakening. It gets ridiculous towards the end to such an extent that a character even complains to camera that the typist girl had messed up the film's script sequence..!

What is noteworthy however is the straight face with which some of the biggest stars in French cinema play their respective mixed-up roles - they surely relished their outing here. The set designs and shot compositions are done with the greatest care and attention to detail that for a moment, you might think you're watching a Visconti or Bergman. I'm sure the highbrow art circles weren't particularly amused when they had to write about it, but perhaps that's what also endears me to this film. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.fr 9 DVD Box-set [PAL]
Contains the complete directorial filmography of Alain Robbe-Grillet in restored print - a bargain any way you look at it.

 

The Nudity: Anicée Alvina, Christine Boisson, Nathalie Zeiger, Joëlle Coeur, Sylvia Kristel, and Maranha
Considering the abundance of female nudity in the film, I felt it appropriate to categorise them into three sections dealing with abductions, exploitation, and Anicée Alvina.

 

1) G.I.M.P (Girls in merciless peril)
Even though I'm not the greatest fan of the above film phenomenon, the absurd situations against which they happen in this particular film make the scenes, well - almost charming. Featuring Nathalie Zeiger (girl chased by a dog in the park), Joëlle Coeur (bride), Sylvia Kristel (girl in night club), and Maranha (night club singer), the star of this section is undoubtedly a nineteen year old, alluring, and randomly 'manhandled' Christine Boisson who's initially whisked off by hoodlums when she's about to board a train. She's not too happy when they decide to release her after realising that her parents were having financial difficulties. She's particularly peeved at having to leave the mansion a virgin and even threatens to return with her school friends to trash the place. :-)

Christine Boisson, Nathalie Zeiger, Joëlle Coeur, Sylvia Kristel, and Maranha in "Le jeu avec le feu" (Playing with Fire) 1975, France.

 

2) Sadomasochism
Okay, that's applying it with a very broad brush, but the import is the same. Featuring Christine Boisson, Nathalie Zeiger, Sylvia Kristel, and Maranha, this is about Carolina's walk through Erica's 'clinic' where abductees are subjected to all sorts of humiliation, with an instance of Nathalie Zeiger's character also bordering on bestiality. Christine Boisson's character is forced to play Desdemona (well, that can be harrowing) against Philippe Noiret's shoe polished Othello. There are also implied references to necrophilia and cannibalism.

Christine Boisson, Nathalie Zeiger, Sylvia Kristel, and Maranha in "Le jeu avec le feu" (Playing with Fire) 1975, France.

 

3) Anicée Alvina
It's a shame that this Iranian French beauty passed on too early for her age, but she'd left behind, thanks in no small measure to Alain Robbe-Grillet, some memorable scenes at her youthful best. Even though she doesn't feature in any sexual scenes, some are disconcerting nevertheless, in that her character is groped by the father on more than one occasion. In one scene, he (as some other character) bathes and puts her to sleep as one would a child. Her character is 'punished' later on by the same 'father-like' figure for trying to escape from the mansion.

Anicée Alvina in Alain Robbe-Grillet's "Playing with Fire" (Le jeu avec le feu), 1975 France

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Thursday, 16 March 2017

It's in the blood: "Sangue del mio sangue" [2015 Italy]

Marco Bellocchio returns with his kin to give us two hauntingly connected tales from different times in his drama "Sangue del mio Sangue" [Eng. Title: Blood of My Blood].




Lidiya Liberman in "Sangue del mio sangue" (2015 Italy) Alberto Cracco and Pier Giorgio Bellocchio in "Sangue del mio sangue" (2015 Italy)
Roberto Herlitzka in "Sangue del mio sangue" (2015 Italy) Pier Girogio Bellocchio and Roberto Herlitzka in "Sangue del mio sangue" (2015 Italy)





The first half of the film is set in a cloistered convent in seventeenth century Bobbio. Young nun Benedetta (Lidiya Liberman) is accused of 'bewitching' a promising priest, who commits suicide upon discovery of their affair. To redeem his honour so that his remains could be reburied in a proper cemetery, Benedetta needs to 'confess' worshipping the devil - his brother and man of arms Federico (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) is told by the priest conducting the hearing.

Upon witnessing the horrors heaped upon Benedetta in the name of cleansing her spirit, Federico, who had already fallen under the spell of her beauty, is torn between allegiance to his brother and his own desire for Benedetta. The inquisition is also witnessed by a mysterious cardinal (Roberto Herlitzka).

The second half of the film moves to present day Bobbio, where the convent, now a disused prison, is about to be sold to a Russian tycoon. Unbeknownst to them, a frail old Count Basta (Roberto Herlitzka) resides in it, and only ever ventures out in the night. His canines are now causing him pain and he has long given up sucking illegal immigrants' blood. Having 'disappeared' from public life nine years ago, his existence is accidentally discovered by tax inspector, estate agent, and con-man Federico (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio).

It transpires that Count Basta still calls the shots in town when it mattered, thanks to his masonic group of fellow vampires, who continue to run the town's important affairs in one form or another. He nevertheless needs to stop his lair from being sold and sets out in the night to personally deal with the issue...

By juxtaposing characters across seemingly different tales, Bellocchio is obviously drawing parallels by suggesting that the 'dark' ages hasn't quite ended after all. Just as religion overwhelmingly influenced people's lives during the medieval ages, the affluent and people in authority in today's world too treat the general populace as children and dictate how they should live their lives. Both the tales reach a satisfactory ending during the final moments of the film, which features fine performances and is also ably supported by its atmospheric cinematography - especially the 'gothic' first half. There may be some loose ends like the Perletti sisters and the madman, but we get the film's message all the same. Of particular interest would be the authentic looking inquisition which Bellocchio had already worked on in an earlier film (La visione del sabba). Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.it DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon.it Bluray Link

 

The Nudity: Lidiya Liberman
In a brief scene, Benedetta emerges in the nude.

Lidiya Liverman in Marco Bellocchio's "Saangue del mio sangue" (Blood of My Blood), 2015, Italy.

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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Playing the waiting game: "Tarde para la ira" [2016 Spain]

Seasoned actor Raúl Arévalo makes a surprisingly impressive directorial debut in the revenge thriller, "Tarde para la ira" [Eng. Title: The Fury of a Patient Man].




Antonio de la Torre in "Tarde para la ira" (2016, Spain) A scene from "Tarde para la ira" (2016, Spain)
Antonio de la Torre and Luis Callejo in "Tarde para la ira" (2016, Spain) Antonio de la Torre in "Tarde para la ira" (2016 Spain)





The film begins with Curro (the brilliant Luis Callejo) driving the getaway car following a robbery - he gets knocked down by a police car and is arrested following a chase. He's the only one in the gang who gets caught, and since the robbery ends in the murder of one of the victims and permanent life support of another, Curro ends up serving eight years. The film fast forwards to the day of his release, and his girlfriend Ana (Ruth Díaz) turns up to receive him.

Ana, during these years, has also been having an affair with José (Antonio de la Torre), a mysterious but sociable customer who frequents her cafe and joins her partner-brother Juanjo (Raúl Jiménez) for poker. An irascible Curro joins them upon his return and violently confronts José following a game. To pacify a worried Ana, José invites her and her five year old son to spend a weekend at his vacant country house - he hadn't used it since his fiance's murder during a robbery eight years ago.

José returns to Madrid and calls Curro using Ana's mobile phone. With his not-so-subtle message conveyed in the subtlest manner, José asks Curro for some 'cooperation' so that Ana and his son could be returned home safely. The rest of the film works like a road movie as José and Curro piece together clues in determining the whereabouts of the other members of the gang - the actual murderers, because they had stopped keeping in touch with Curro following his incarceration...

I watched the film on a whim, without any clue about the plot (thankfully so, for I'm not the greatest fan of the genre), but the first minute was enough to have me transfixed. The director doesn't put a foot wrong from the word 'go' with great screenplay, timing, and shot selection. Aided with the judicious use of Steadycam and some masterful cinematography, not least the ultra realistic performances from the ensemble cast, it is small wonder that the film bagged a handful of Goya Awards this year. If more thrillers were as good as this, they'll surely win a new fan in me - Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Ruth Díaz
The reason for this post is obviously not for the nudity, which by the way is fleeting when it happens; whether during Ana's conjugal visit in prison, a post-coital chat between Ana and José, or when Curro realises that all's not well with matters concerning Ana. Ruth Díaz gives an impeccable performance as Ana.

Ruth Díaz from the Spanish thriller, "Tarde para la ira" aka "The Fury of a Patient Man" (2016).

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