Andrew Garfield, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, and five others received their first-ever acting nominations for 2017. While these actors are new to the Academy Awards, you may recognize them from their earlier work.
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Even before watching L'ASSOLUTO NATURALE (HE AND SHE), you know it's an experimental film since none of the characters have any names assigned. An extremely offbeat movie for Italian maestro Mauro Bolognini, it rests firmly and I daresay permanently in obscurity, but is worth watching if you are interested in experimental cinema.
This does not fit into any convenient genre, hence has no modern-day audience (see: gialli, horror, sex, gore, police action, or Spaghetti westerns for current Italian fandom). What we have is a mysterious romance involving an uninhibited woman and a dour photographer, shot in strange interiors and abstract sports-car-on-the-highway to nowhere exteriors from Antonioni land.
I bought the classic Morricone soundtrack LP nearly 40 years ago, played it endlessly and finally got to see the movie just recently. Among its pleasures is the spotlighting of Sylva Koscina (even delivering full frontal nudity), an unappreciated icon of Italian cinema who has appeared in dozens of classics dating all the way back to Pietro Germi's THE RAILROAD MAN. What a thrill to see her dominating a movie, the way the Lorens, Lollobrigidas, Manganos, Magnanis, Gastonis and later the Antonellis, Sandrellis, Grandis and Belluccis were permitted to on a regular basis. Hiding behind oversize dark glasses (and often little else), she is a terrific presence here.
Not so is producer/star Laurence Harvey. I'm a Harvey fan, especially of his early '50s Lewis Gilbert films, his breakthrough at the end of that decade in EXPRESSO BONGO (probably his finest work), and of course his crazy cannibal finale WELCOME TO ARROW BEACH. But he miscast himself here -all wrong for the part. As the guy pursuing Koscina, he should have cast one of the many James Dean imitators of the era (Zalman King, Michael Parks, Jordan Christopher, Christopher Jones), any of whom would have been perfect, looking sexy & brooding. Instead, Harvey at age 40 looks decades older, and is thoroughly unromantic with his sunken cheeks and scruffy facial hair.
Though most of the film is relatively abstract, their are horrific/surreal elements, including a rape that may or may not have happened, an odd sequence guest starring Isa Miranda (supporting cast has little to do in this basically two-hander format) with Harvey confronted by old people, and even a cryptic discussion of Baron Munchhausen. Coincidentally, it's the kind of film that would not be out of place programmed alongside a Terry Gilliam opus.
The Morricone score hypnotically knits it all together -you can't go wrong hunting down to see at last one of the rare films of his (GIORDANO BRUNO, MADDALENA, OCEANA) known only by its music.
For Bolognini fans, this is not a fabulous costume drama nor one of his brilliant '50s neo-Realist Pasolini adaptations, but is worth completing. I also recommend his much-maligned late softcore masterpiece LA VENEXIANA -if you can see that beauty in 35MM.
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