Two interwoven stories. The first is a biography of anarchist Sakae Osugi which follows his relationship with three women in the 1920s. The second centers around two 1960s' students researching Osugi's theories.
A spontaneous romance blooms between Kawamura, a professor touring Europe, and Naoko, a married woman living in Paris, scarred by the Nagasaki atomic bombings. The two protagonists travel around Europe trying to find themselves.
An engineer's wife returns home with a lost teenager. A man posing as her dad tries to get her back, causing the engineer to recall his youth as a revolutionary, obscured by dreamlike disruptions of time and space, fantasy and reality.
Flame and Women (why is it called that?), aka Impasse, aka Flames of Feelings is the fourth out of six anti-melodramas Yoshishige Yoshida directed in the late '60s in cooperation with his wife/actress Mariko Okada. Each of these films tackles a variety of subjects, but each one also has a central theme to them.
A Story Written with Water (1965) is about Oedipal complex.
Woman of the Lake (1966) centers around voyeurism.
The Affair (1967) is mainly about frigidity.
Flame and Women (1967) is about artificial insemination.
Affair in the Snow (1968) tries to find the middle ground between passionate sex and platonic love.
Farewell to the Summer Light (1968) concerns national mentality.
I found Flame and Women to be the weakest one out of six, but also the strangest due to the massive surrealistic elements which seem to evoke Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1960s films. It's a story about a childless married couple. The husband is sterile and arranges for the wife to receive an artificial insemination. The wife is against it because that would mean it wouldn't be the husband's child. She instead gets passionate about the kid's biological father and recalls an episode from her past when she was raped by a tractor driver, who possibly comes back to haunt her. There's also another couple they're friends with; this time the wife is sterile and she dreams of having a baby. She's also a bird enthusiast with tapes of recorded natural sounds and a cage of ravens in her backyard. She's easily the most entertaining character, but doesn't get much screen time because of the flunctuating narrative which seems to go wherever it wants to.
To say the narrative is disjointed and non-linear is an understatement. The past and the present intermingle so much that at first, you aren't really sure what's supposed to be a flashback and what isn't, and so you have to get accustomed to the movie's pace fast. The plot is interrupted by dream sequences, some of which involve endangered children and forbidden passions.
The message of the film seems to be that children are getting more and more alienated and neglected by their parents, who reduce them to commodities. It's a depiction of families who've cut some emotional connections which the children need so much. The movie opens with the first couple talking about the child (this scene is shown in a baby's eye view) and closes with the same couple teaching their son how to distinguish his parents from trees, leaves, birds, the sun, etc.
Of course the movie is superb on a technical scale. I mean, this is Yoshida we're talking about. The indoor architecture in which the characters often lose each other, the usage of 360° camera spins to accompany the tense mood, the gorgeous B&W photography of the forest, it's all there. I'm not a big fan of the vocal main theme, but in some scenes it fits okay. Also, I like the romance scenes where our view of the characters is obstructed by a lamp, or the bird cage. Some sequences' purpose I'm not even sure of, such as the inexplicable scene where the characters wander around the harbour.
But really, Flame and Women is not as good as Yoshida's other anti- melodramas. While it has an interesting message, it occasionally borders on heavy boredom and there is lots of filler material. If you've enjoyed his other anti-melodramas, I'd still recommend you to check this one out, if not just for completion's sake. And Mariko Okada.
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