Reviews written by registered user
|14 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
LO SGUARDO DI MICHELANGELO is a short glimpse of Antonioni, who was
confined to a wheelchair after his stroke but, "through the magic of
movies," is seen walking again in a visit to Michelangelo's statue of
Moses at the Church of St Peter in Chains, Rome.
Right from the opening shot, exquisitely lit and framed, it's clear that Antonioni is in complete control of this film and that the experience will be haunting you all the way home (and for a great deal of time afterward). The film's hushed and delicate construction is stunning, and the entire audience sat in their seats silently and in total awe, fearful that any sound or movement would cause the entire film to crumble.
Antonioni begins with an intricate study of the sculpture, examining it in painstaking detail while with his unmatchable composition he creates his own work of art out of it. Moses' gaze is examined and juxtaposed with Antonioni's own frail visage and it is difficult to tell whose gaze is more tortured or more beautiful.
At one point special attention is given to the crevices in the statue, the black shadows and negative space in the folds of Moses' robe and the place where his arms meet his sides. Then Antonioni begins gently caressing the sculpture, and as his hand turns toward the light we see the crevices, the negative space of the wrinkles in his palms, and we see that he has become a part of the work of art. It is a harrowing reminder of the mortality of the artist in light of the immortality of his work.
At the end of the film some vocal music from Palestrina arrives, heavenly but distant. It seems to beckon Antonioni from outside and he slowly leaves Moses and walks into the blue light coming from outside the building. The final shot is incomparably beautiful. I can describe what it is, technically - there's nothing particularly special about a wide shot of a man walking out of a church - but I can't think of any way to describe in words how precisely and assuredly it is shot. Like every other frame of the film, it is as beautiful an image as I have ever seen in the cinema, or in any visual art.
A man in a happy marriage with two kids begins an affair, sincerely
feeling he has enough love for both women and that neither one will be
loved less. To start with, it's absolutely beautiful to look at. Varda
always seems to know exactly what to do with the image, where to put
the camera, which direction to move, when to cut, what color to fade
to; everything is absolutely perfect.
Moreover, the film is completely fascinating first because Varda deals with her subject with a rare honesty and forgiveness. Not a single character is unlikeable. Even if you see error in the husband's thinking, it is clear he believes with all of his heart that he truly can love both of these women at once and you sympathize with his sincerity. The wife is easy to care for, a good mother and very devoted, and the mistress is not someone you feel compelled to hate, either. She's not out to break up this marriage and she seems to really need this love.
And what makes the film endlessly interesting is in how ambiguous Varda is about her own feelings. She never leads you to pick a side, never encourages you to see one specific viewpoint or leave the film feeling a particular way about what happened. While the music (Mozart is used throughout most of the film) in the last 15 minutes would seem to suggest anger at the way things have turned out, you can also look at the early stages of the film and see the image of the idyllic family with pastoral music as too perfect a presentation, one that is not entirely believable. Varda even hints at this herself; after we've watched about five minutes of this family picnicking in the woods, she cuts almost immediately to nearly the same image in a TV advertisement, suggesting that a marriage that happy only exists in commercials to begin with.
A French chef (a great performance by Pierre Richard) goes to Georgia at the turn of the 20th century to look for new tastes. He meets a woman, they fall in love, he opens a restaurant, and then the Russian Revolution spills into the country. This story is told in flashback as a modern-day art dealer preparing a Pirosmani exhibition reads about his family's past. A CHEF IN LOVE is the only Georgian film ever nominated for an Oscar, and it's easy to see why. It has sumptuous photography (by one of the best Georgian cinematographers, Giorgi Beridze) and the sort of historical love story they seem to go to pieces over, yet it also plays everything very safely and forces some notion of "exoticism" on itself while sticking to a plot that feels right at home in the Hollywood cookie factory. I liked it more than the other Djordjadze film I've seen, 27 MISSING KISSES, but I found something curiously hollow about the presentation. I also thought the flashback structure was pretty useless, except to introduce a dramatic third-act revelation that anyone who has ever seen a movie will be able to predict within the first five minutes of the film. Still, with so much great footage of Georgia and all the wonderful music and food (this movie made me extremely hungry) and the addition of Richard's great work, I find it difficult to dislike, and I don't think it should be avoided, especially when it's probably easier to find in the USA than any other Georgian film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's like Bergman and Kurosawa went to Georgia and decided to do
Shakespeare together in the mountains. I've seen this film several
times and there's much I still haven't grasped. It's not an
intellectual problem, but a cultural one...VEDREBA seems so deeply
embedded in Georgian history that it's nearly impossible for an
outsider to find a way in.
The film is based entirely on the poetry of Vazha Pshavela, and I believe every line of "dialogue" is lifted directly from his poems. From what I can gather, the "story" concerns a soldier who, after feeling guilty about killing an enemy, becomes an outcast from whatever group he belongs to, then has visitations from both God and the devil who give him visions of the future (or perhaps one possible future). A full understanding of the film would seem to require knowledge of all the different groups of people living in the mountains of ancient Georgia, as well as a basic grasp of several various rituals. For instance, I have no idea what the significance of the main character beheading another man's bull was, nor do I understand why, when said bull-owner calls for the lead to be killed, several other people began extinguishing candles in bowls of sheep's blood.
But despite my perpetual lack of complete understanding, the opinion I'm leaning towards is that this is a long-overlooked masterpiece. The performances simply erupt with power, and the poetry, even from what I'm sure is a far-less-than-ideal translation, is amazing. (And if you ever get a hold of it, I recommend turning the subtitles off for at least one viewing -- the sound and rhythm of the words are absolutely mesmerizing, even if you have no idea what they mean.) And Abuladze's work is so strange -- every shot is terribly interesting, especially when he plays around with focus.
Yes, this is indeed a great and powerful film. It continues to perplex me, but after watching it I feel as if I've read an epic poem, and I want to study it as such. I think it absolutely deserves that sort of continued attention.
The film's title has several translations in English: THE PLEA, THE PRAYER, THE ENTREATY, THE SUPPLICATION...I even read one article where it was referred to as THE ENCOUNTER. I am not sure what the Russian title, MOLBA, really means, but a Georgian friend informs me that the Georgian title, VEDREBA, implies a specific type of prayer in which something is begged of God. "Deep spiritual begging" was the simplest way she described it. In this case, the warrior (and the poet -- they are one and the same in this film) is asking God to give him a sense of purpose again, some sign that there is good in the world worth fighting for. This is at least the message I have gleaned from the film.
BLUE MOUNTAINS, OR AN IMPROBABLE STORY ("Why two titles?") is an absurdist tale in which a novelist takes his latest manuscript to his familiar publishing house, only to have it pushed aside, lost, damaged, stolen, or simply ignored again and again as the employees go about their meaningless, repetitive work. Things start out fairly normal and get gradually stranger as the story continues. As film satires go it's not quite as cunning as Bunuel's best work (which it seems it could have been influenced by) but it's still a funny, sharp and brutally honest jab at the crumbling Soviet government and bureaucratic ineptness in all its forms. Ramaz Giorgobiani's expressionless lead performance is an interesting and eventually necessary realist counterpoint to the often wild and intentionally bloated performances of the bureaucrats. The aforementioned Bunuel is an obvious cinematic connection, as is Fellini's ORCHESTRA REHEARSAL, but as I was watching it I kept thinking this is what might happen if Preston Sturges filmed a Kafka story. Well worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kim Ki-duk makes beautiful films. This is undeniable. There is subtle
grace and silent majesty in the way he sets up scenes and slowly
constructs them into a whole. His characters always seem to occupy a
slightly otherworldly plane of existence that gives them an almost
mystical charm. 3-IRON is no exception. Unfortunately I felt this
particular film had some fundamental problems with its story and its
I'm afraid I can't discuss my problems with this film without spoilers, and this is where they start. Though Kim has a talent for hypnosis and I was easily drawn in by this film simply by the way it was shot, it lost me decidedly after Tae-suk accidentally kills a woman with his stray golf ball. While he seems suitably upset about it at the time, by the next scene all is well, he has taken no responsibility for his mistake, and the incident seems to have had no effect whatsoever on his character.
Tae-suk seems intended to be a spiritually and morally superior being, but by the time he got to prison (on a separate false charge) I thought he was rather arrogant and childish, like a mute version of Trelane (from the "Star Trek" episode "The Squire of Gothos"). Maybe it's the fact that he looks so much like a model that his smile seems showy and insincere. Maybe it's the fact that his passive, non-violent resistance, which the audience is meant to respect, is canceled out by the violent, vengeful power he wields with the golf club (and his irresponsibility in wielding it). Maybe it's the fact that he is merely playing games the entire time, and so there is nothing to convince us he is in love with Sun-hwa rather than simply amused by her. And it doesn't help that there's so little to grasp onto in Sun-hwa. All we know about her is that her husband beats her, which frankly makes it rather disturbing that she is finally convinced to go with the protagonist only after he has displayed a greater talent for violence than her husband did. There's little indication either Kim or his protagonist view Sun-hwa any differently than they view that sad little puppy they find in the home of the man who died of lung cancer.
Sydney Rome is an American traveling in Italy who flees to a private villa after being attacked by some really inept rapists. Within the estate she meets a bunch of crazy people, including former pimp Marcello Mastroianni in what has to be the craziest, most outlandishly go-for-broke performance of his career. Comparisons to Alice in Wonderland (always mentioned in conjunction with this film) are a huge stretch, I think. There's an innocent girl in a strange place surrounded by crazy people, but that's about the extent of the parallels. At best it's like Lewis Carroll reinterpreted by a horny high schooler who still giggles when he hears the word "breast." Nevertheless, for the first half hour or so I thought this was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen. Unfortunately it climaxed with Mastroianni crawling around in a tiger hide making meowing noises (whereupon Rome starts "taming" him with the whip). After that the film never really recovers the energy it started out with and viewers are left with little to do but wonder how Rome will be humiliated next (first her shirt is ripped, then stolen, then she walks around wearing a napkin until she finds another shirt, but then her pants are stolen, finally she loses the shirt, etc). I love unadulterated nonsense (SCHIZOPOLIS, FORBIDDEN ZONE, THE BED SITTING ROOM) but aside from a couple of choice moments this film's particular pointlessness was lazy and uninspired.
Most of the story's most significant events are entirely unseen;
Angelopoulos seems to be less interested in events than in their
aftermath. What we see is not conflict, not love, and not loss, but
rather the effects of these things on the people in the story. It's
almost like watching only the scenes that would be cut out of a
Hollywood epic; all the "fat" that would normally be trimmed to create
a lean story is on display here without any of what would be considered
the "meat." The result is something less thrilling but altogether more
resonant. Things take a long time to occur not just within scenes but
within the viewer's mind as well. I didn't start to really feel for any
of these people until about an hour into the film, but at that point I
suddenly found myself completely hooked.
I was particularly amazed by my reaction to Eleni, played by Alexandra Aidini. For much of the movie she is given little to do but cry and her performance is seemingly rather weak. But by the end of the film I felt deeply connected with her plight and I felt tied to every emotional upheaval she encountered. Her performance likewise became extremely powerful, and unless Angelopoulos shot this film in sequence I have to assume it was engineered that way somehow. Perhaps it's simply that Angelopoulos spends so much time distancing the audience from the drama that when he finally goes in for a close-up (figuratively -- in literal terms there's nothing tighter than a medium shot here) the emotion just smacks you in the face.
Beyond the characters, the film is amazing simply for its visual audacity, the way every long shot is planned to the minutest detail a la Bela Tarr, and they only become more staggering as time wears on. The story also feels ancient; despite taking place (mostly) in the 1940's, you sense a profound connection to the heritage of its characters and their history, such that moments which in other cases might seem like melodramatic clichés (the unraveling of Eleni's scarf, for instance) instead feel like deeply rooted folk symbolism.
In STIKLO SALIS (the title was translated in the print I saw as A LAND
OF GLASS) a woman lives with her husband, young daughter and newborn
son in an isolated house surrounded by an icy, wintry landscape. She's
suffering from rather severe postpartum depression. Her husband
disregards it like a headache, and her gynecologist takes advantage of
her need for connection by starting an affair with her. Things happen,
but not in such a way that they constitute a conventional story; yet
it's also not really episodic. A moody, oppressive, disengaged, and
rather cold atmosphere permeates the short but slow-paced story, and as
the heroine's condition worsens she becomes a less and less reliable
The photography is also strange and beautiful. For most of the first half of the film every indoor setting is bathed in a thick blue light while characters are almost always lit in bright orange. Later other colors are introduced in what appear to be very significant ways, but I would have to see the film again to decipher their possible meanings. The sound mix is also meticulously crafted; every effect is absolutely vital to the way the film comes across, and a lush, solemn, and at times almost mystical score really completes the package. All in all A LAND OF GLASS is quietly astonishing.
CHEMI BEBIA (MY GRANDMOTHER) is a Georgian avant-garde slapstick silent comedy that was banned in the Soviet Union for almost 50 years. And it's pretty easy to see why. Whereas later Georgian filmmakers became rather adept at slipping political criticism under the noses of the Soviet censors, this film ends with a completely unambiguous rallying call for the death of bureaucrats. Lots of the creative techniques one associates with early Soviet cinema are on display here, but they are filtered through a sieve of early American slapstick and used mostly (and most successfully) for comedy. Imagine Harold Lloyd starring in Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL and you'll start to get an idea of what MY GRANDMOTHER is like. It's hilarious, and historically it's interesting to watch in that it's just as politically obvious as any other early Soviet film, but in an entirely different way.
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