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Really this is rather good
I wasn't expecting much from this. The first scene seems very hammy and I thought it was not going to get much better. However, this soon became a very interesting ensemble piece that reminded me a little of "Carícies". The action takes place in two bathrooms, and there are a number of relationships and infidelities taking place. But this is more than your typical farce; it's actually quite clever and rather dark. The film also boasts a good soundtrack and some surprising moments. The acting is top- notch (once you get the first scene over and done with) and the script is fun. A very original story - stick with it, you will be rewarded. A perfect example of a film that you need to watch throughout and not give up after the first fifteen minutes.
Bizarre and highly original Greek black comedy
This is an odd film. To start with, we are confused as to what is going on. However, after a while, it all becomes fairly clear: Papa and Mama have, in "The Village" style, been 'protecting' their offspring from the outside world, by telling them that they cannot leave their house until their "dogtooth" has fallen out and grown back again (ie never, since there is no such tooth). If they leave they will immediately be devoured by man's biggest enemy, cats. Far-fetched? You'd think so, but a look at the news over the past couple of years - the Fritzl case, the "Sheffield" Fritzl, the Mongelli case in Turin - and this film could not have come out at a better time for director Lanthimos.
What about the film? Is it any good? Well, the concept is excellent and very relevant, we have established that. The acting at times is a bit weird and stilted but then you realise why they talk in this strange way. The occasional moments of violence are brilliantly filmed, so much so that you feel that the daughter, to refer to one scene, is really being hit hard over the head. The framing seems a bit odd - some out-of-focus shots, lots of missing heads, makes it seem a bit amateurish. In fact, at times it is almost as though Lanthimos is trying to make a Greek Dogme 95 film. This is a minor gripe though, and on the whole I enjoyed this film (as did many people in the well-attended Greenwich Picturehouse in South London last night). And, bizarrely, occasionally very very funny. The ending won't be to everybody's taste but, on the train afterwards, I struggled to think of a better ending. All in all, the film has awakened my appetite to Lanthimos's work and I will certainly try to seek out his two previous films, "Kinetta" and "O kalyteros mou filos".
I see that "Dogtooth" has been sent to the Academy as Greece's representative for next year's Oscars. Well, I can't see it winning, but I certainly can see it making the final five. I keep my fingers crossed.
A mini-masterpiece of social realism
Filmed, like all of Tarr's work, in black & white this gem of a movie, to our western eyes, looks as though it were filmed in the 50s at the very latest, but this is in fact Hungary in 1981, and shot on a shoestring budget. The film is about a relationship, about a couple scraping by, living in hard times, with two kids to feed. But whilst this is beginning to sound a bit like a Magyar "Cathy Come Home", stop right there! In Loach's film, Cathy and Reg are very much in love, but it it circumstances beyond their control that drive a wedge through them. In "Panelkapcsolat", it is themselves.
Whilst it is clear that they do love one another - or she loves him, at least - neither husband Robi nor his wife (whose name, I believe, we are never given) can blame anyone other than themselves for their lot. He is beginning to see the value of what he regards as "socialism" over communism, but has more time for his friends and his work colleagues than for his wife. Greed is a factor that appears in many of Tarr's movies, even his latest ("The Man from London"). However, Robi's wife, whilst certainly not greedy, is not faultless herself, as she cannot see - until it is too late - that her constant nagging is driving them apart. Or is it too late? One of the interesting techniques of this movie is that Tarr plays around with the chronology. We see the couple arguing, we see them enjoying (albeit for a short while) a tender moment at their 9th wedding anniversary, we see them argue again, we see them in bed. If we assume that the film is filmed chronologically, then it's a happy ending - of sorts (he still gets his way with the Minimat 65). It could quite plausibly be meant to be chronological, after all, we see Robi 'leave' his wife at the start of the film, and we see him leave again - presumably for Romania - in the film's dénouement. At first, we think that the second departure scene is the same as the first, but there are differences in dialogue, which makes one think that perhaps he has left - and returned - many times, hence the final scene is after he has returned - the next day, perhaps.
However, I am fairly sure that we are not meant to take this film chronologically. The film jumps backwards and forwards all over the place, and the final scene in the back of the truck is from happier days, perhaps from when they first moved in together. But Robi's stubbornness in not going for the automatic washing-machine, which his wife would have preferred, shows that their marital journey ahead will be as bumpy as the road they are travelling on in back of the truck.
Cleverly, the viewer is therefore free to turn this wonderful piece of celluloid into whatever he or she wants. I cannot imagine anyone not being completely mesmerised by this film. That Tarr can produce masterpieces of any length, from a relatively short film like this one, to the 7 and a half hour long "Sátántangó", shows that he is a very special director indeed. He is brilliant at capturing moments that others would not even notice. One such moment is halfway through the film, where Robi drunkenly sings the theme to the Godfather and a Hungarian version of "Autumn Leaves", we think (hope!) that he is directing the words to his wife, but end up being quite mistaken. As the camera pans between wife, husband, and musician, we realise that we are watching something quite special indeed.
Let us hope that, now that Tarr has finally finished "The Man from London" after so many years, that he will make more films more regularly, and not leave us on our own for so many years.
Mesto na zemle (2001)
Excellent film - hard to watch sometimes but essential
This is a very powerful film. Admittedly parts of it are hard to watch, but it is an outstanding piece. In a nutshell, it is about a hippie commune that has been set up by someone who believes that the best way to help the homeless and often deranged cripples in Moscow is by offering them sexual love. I did not realise (because of the black and white, and the fact I watched this film before looking up to see when it was made) that this film was shot recently in Moscow, using real homeless people in their real situations. I assumed, because of the black and white, and the whole hippie commune idea, that this was the 70s. Shockingly, this includes his real-life footage of the current situation of the marginalised in Moscow, and that upset me to the core. Obviously some of the characters are actors (or, rather, are acting), but many are simply being shot in their everyday surroundings. Let's hope that some good comes out of films such as these, in the same way that Cathy Come Home helped change the situation for many in the UK all those years ago.... Is Aristakisyan Russia's new and very own Ken Loach? We shall have to wait and see.
Une vraie jeune fille (1976)
Catherine Breillat is an amazing storyteller and director. This is her directorial debut, and we see many topics that will crop up often in her later films - boarding schools (Bilitis), young underage girls on summer holiday wanting to lose their virginity (A ma soeur), underage sex in general (A ma soeur, 36 fillette) anally inserted objects (Anatomie de l'enfer)...
I am a fan of Breillat's work, because she is groundbreaking. She does not shy away from risqué material, on the contrary, she courts it. And she makes it terribly sexy as well. Whilst not as good as some of her later stuff, this is excellent storytelling and succeeds where "Bilitis" fails dismally. Perhaps because Breillat was not behind the cameras in "Bilitis", the whole film was very unbelievable. "Une vraie jeune fille" on the other hand is completely believable - even her fantasy of 'Jim' ripping up an earthworm and placing the still wriggling pieces onto her vagina is entirely believable. This is partly thanks to outstanding acting by Charlotte Alexandra in the title role, but also thanks to tasteful direction. Only another woman could enter Alice's psyche in such a deep and meaningful manner. Hats off to Breillat, surely one of the greatest living directors of films not in the English language at this moment in time. Merci beaucoup!
Too Late Blues (1961)
Desperately deserving of a decent DVD release
This is a very good jazz film, bringing the whole era to life, thanks to some superb acting by Bobby Darin (thank you thank you Montgomery Clift for backing out at the last minute) and the stunning Stella Stevens (why was she not a major star?). It certainly is not "the best jazz film ever" as some critics have said - "Round Midnight" and "Bird" are infinitely better films. But it's a quirky one, nonetheless. Darin plays jazz pianist and bandleader Ghost Wakefield (was that not also a make of aeroplane?), who is highly idealistic and loves a mellow, instrumental type of jazz. He falls for floozy Jess Polanski (Stevens) and ends up having to decide whether to continue to play on bandstands to empty parks (save for the birds), and old people's homes and orphanages, or compromise his type of jazz and play instead a more commercial type blues. He clearly makes the wrong decision. The hardest thing about this film for me was that I actually prefer the blues-type jazz he was shunning, as will probably most of the audience of this film, but that is irrelevant to our enjoyment of this film: "Too Late Blues" is a film about a stubborn man who is always "too late", because of his abject stubbornness. But there's more to his character than that: he cuts a rather pathetic and therefore lifelike character throughout, but ultimately his stubbornness is so infuriating that we cannot help but sympathise with the other bandmembers, and Jess, more than with the hero (Ghost). Is this a failure in this film? Perhaps it is. Which is why I cannot agree that it is the best jazz film ever. It is certainly a good one, though; although there could certainly have been a little more music in it. And certainly more of Stella Stevens's singing - if indeed that is her voice ("Girls! Girls! Girls!" is normally credited with being the first film in which Stella Stevens sings, which was the following year....) "Too Late Blues" deserves a decent DVD release ASAP - perhaps with a Stella Stevens commentary. Hope you're reading this, Paramount!
W.R. - Misterije organizma (1971)
You Have Been Warned: this is not pleasant
This is too disjointed to be enjoyable - even if you know a bit about William Reich. One story is a fictional account about a Yugoslavian woman who falls in love with a Russian ice skater, and is at least well filmed and interesting, but you can easily get lost in the surrealism. The other "stories" are factual: interviews with people from Reich's hometown, Jackie Curtis talking about his first gay sexual encounters, the editor of Screw magazine getting his penis cast, Tuli Kupferberg prancing around with a machine gun, and the most interesting parts: various doctors talking about Reich's orgone therapies, and the effect of orgasms on various patients. Oh, and we get to see one of the few remaining orgone accumulator and we even get some short snippets of a cloudburster - unfortunately that is not explained to the audience so you either know it's a cloudburster or you don't. Three things inherently wrong with this film - the attempts to be clever with the juxtapositioning renders the film quite incomprehensible; the white subtitles over an often white background means much of the footage cannot be understood (unless you speak Russian or Serbian) and, quite importantly, one image is so graphically disturbing that I will have difficulty dealing with it: we see a poor prisoner being given electroshock treatment by the Nazis. It's horrible, absolutely horrible, and whilst it's important that we know of the atrocities that happened in WWII and before, I would rather have been mentally ready for it. The scene is thrust on you suddenly, and it is extremely disturbing. Beware before watching this film, and decide whether you are really ready for a completely incomprehensible mind***k... with some nasty nightmarish scenes thrown in for luck. This is certainly not family viewing. You have been warned.
Tierische Liebe (1996)
A bizarre documentary - but not Seidl's best
"Hundstage" is a masterpiece. This however is not. None of the characters (apart from perhaps the swingers) are particularly nice, but one thing is for sure: as with "Hundstage", these people are really quite bizarre. And there's loads of them.
Most of the characters appear either to be in a troubled relationship, or have recently come out of one. You have the austrochavs with the ferret, two old queens with a violent dog, the swingers (perhaps the most normal and happy relationship in the film), the former sexpot who reminisces over her love letters, a beggar with a rabbit, and a few more other examples from the underbelly of Austrian civilisation - as far from the tearooms of Vienna that we could possibly get. As a documentary, it certainly shows there is this side to Austria that Mozart could never have contemplated, and for that we thank Seidl yet again. But the whole thing could have been executed, well, snappier. There are some very tedious long scenes that are begging for the editor's scissors.
The one thing keeping us watching is probably our own morbid fascination with bestiality. Some of these characters come so close - particularly the sexpot - that we are sure that at one moment or another we will be grossed out by some in-your-face bit of footage that we really didn't want to see. But thankfully this never actually happens (well, not on-camera in any case, although we know for sure that it is going to happen in at least two of the segments). In fact, the only sex we see is human, a tasteful shag between the two swingers who, as I said, are probably the most "normal" and likable characters in the film. And they do not appear to be as over-the-top about their pets as the other characters are: preferring instead to devote time to one another, and to their extramarital but consensual affairs.
Could Seidl in fact be making a point here? That if you love your pets too much, you are clearly unhinged? Or is he saying that by failing to have fulfilling relationships (with humans) we are in fact caging ourselves, turning ourselves into pets, making the real pets to only ones we can relate to (and the swingers in this case being the ones who are doing something more fulfilling with their lives, by experimenting sexually with other humans and with themselves rather than on their animals)? Or is just a documentary about Austrian losers and their pets? Who knows. It's not a great film, and it gets a little tedious in the middle, but it's not the worst I've seen either.
Love Me Deadly (1973)
Far better than expected
To be honest, when one reads the synopsis of this film one expects the worst. Surprisingly, this is an engaging and frank study both of necrophilia and of a daughter's inability to let go of the past.
Helped along by a very professional sounding theme tune (sung by Kit Fuller), and a lively score echoing films of much more mainstream cinema, this is a shocking film that will make you think for a long time afterwards. Unfortunately, the good acting and imaginative story is let down by some chronically bad editing - particularly when we are suddenly introduced to the character of Alex - but this aside, you should find much more to enjoy about this movie than you will find to dislike about it.
"Love Me Deadly" is to necrophilia what "Max Mon Amour" is to bestiality: one of the last taboos to be tackled in an grown-up fashion, but which can be appreciated by an audience without needing to visit a seedy sex-shop; where story comes first, and titillation is far down the line.
Kinky Boots (2005)
This will be the biggest British movie in years
I have just come back from a special screening of this film in Soho, London, which was followed by a Q&A Session with the cast and crew. The premiere is tomorrow and it's released on Friday. This is a wonderful film. I can't stress this enough. Not only will this be bigger than Billy Elliot and The Full Monty put together, it is surely a certain Oscar for Chiwetel Ejiofor as drag queen Lola.
It is a superb feelgood family film, based loosely on a true story. A shoe factory in Northampton is facing financial difficulties. When the son of the proprietor inherits the business, he sees a niche in the market to design special high-heeled boots for male drag queens. To help him he enlists drag queen Lola, played sublimely by Chiwetel Ejiofor, one of my favourite actors.
This is a wonderful movie, and you leave the cinema in a cloud of euphoria. It appeals to everyone (certificate 12A): it is certainly mainstream and should definitely conquer America. This is one of the funniest British films in years and I can't stress this enough. The acting and casting is spot on, the story is brilliant, and the choreography is excellent. Well done!