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Unser täglich Brot (2005)
"Our Daily Bread" is definitely not for the jaded -old or young- viewers who take everything for granted, including the meal in front of their noses. An amazing display of technology for the benefit of the few, its cold, meticulous, detached approach to European food industries in long takes and in unusual environments, above or under ground, has an impressive effect: for some it means nausea, for others awareness of the ill distribution of the wealths of the world, that in the end belong to you and I. A remarkable, sober work, that avoids the traps of other documentary artists, as Michael Moore's omnipresence, Philip Glass' redundant notes or Werner Herzog's pseudo-guru comments.
The documentary "Rats" would be excellent if not for its creators' mania for manipulative music and sound effects of horror films. They are out of place in a work with scientific pretensions. The images and information provided by this production of Discovery Channel are already powerful as to dispense with that unnecessary sonic frippery. The research made in different places of the United States, India, Cambodia and the United Kingdom leads to eloquent and sometimes overwhelming sequences that show how the plague is assumed in the world, from extermination with poisons to worship of the rats as sacred beings, passing through the consumption of the rodents as tasty gourmet dishes and their dog-like hunt as if they were foxes. In the last sequence what struck me was that Indian rats revered in a temple were thin and vegetarian-looking... But in spite of the foreign elements added to the sound track it is a good work that deserves to be seen. Recommended.
Casque d'or (1952)
A Tragic Love Affair
A beautiful film, "Casque d'Or" refuses to be cataloged as a tale at the edge of melodrama and opts for tragedy in a poetic tone rarely expressed with so much visual richness and verbal economy. The story is set during the "belle époque," between prostitutes and "Apaches" (name given to marginal Parisians in late 19th century and early 20th century), based on a real case occurred in 1902, a love triangle between a streetwalker and two ruffians, played by a radiant Simone Signoret as the prostitute Marie (nicknamed "Casque d'Or" for her blonde mane), Serge Reggiani as the carpenter she falls in love with, and Claude Dauphin as a ruthless ruler of pimps and wine dealer. The story evolves with violent effusions and moments of intense lyricism, expressed through beautiful black & white images and characterizations where gestures and glances shine with precision - especially Simone Signoret's eyes, as when she says goodbye to her future lover in a ballroom next to the river. Jacques Becker turned it into a masterpiece, so by the late 1950s he was not targeted by the attacks of the "nouvelle vague" rebels (Chabrol, Truffaut, Godard et al). It is good to remember that these young men, although they made good films, quite often made unfair judgments of the cinema of old masters, as Carné, Clouzot or Duvivier... because they wanted to make cinema and the industry did not give them entrance. I do not know if Carné, Clouzot or Duvivier, who made "cinéma de papa" (pejorative term coined by Truffaut) had any fault, but some of the films that were rejected are far from being despicable productions. In any case, Becker did two more great works, "Hands Off the Loot" in 1954 with Jean Gabin and Dora Doll, and in 1960 his last film, "The Hole" (Le trou), a classic drama about a jailbreak. "Casque d'Or" is absolutely recommended.
Weekend Pass (1961)
Interesting data about a forgotten production: "Produced by Paul von Shcreiber, directed by John Howard and starring Jane Wald and von Schreiber, it is the bittersweet story of a shy, lonely sailor's weekend leave in Los Angeles, and the various people he encounters, particularly during the moonlight hours. 'Weekend Pass' has been compared in sensitivity of acting and direction to the films of John Cassavetes; and in each case the films were produced by top Hollywood actors and technicians during their off hours, in an effort to make something spontaneous and meaningful that couldn't be produced under major studio conditions". (Source: Creative Film Society catalog, 1972) Tom Lisanti, Jane Wald's biographer, writes: "The film, clocking in at less than an hour, played the Los Feliz Theater in Los Angeles for one week in late December 1961 to be eligible for Academy Award nominations. Alas, none were earned. The featurette did pop up in LA again in September. Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times called it, «less savage than 'The Savage Eye' and praiseworthy as straight-forward cinematic storytelling»."
My Sin (1931)
While collaborating for a catalog on international films that have something to do with Panama (including those that they are partially or totally set here, others that were filmed totally or partially here, or those in which the country is simply mentioned or shown for some relevant reason in the plot), I came across this 1931 film, made prior to the implementation of the Hays Code, and therefore having more freedom to tell a story of sexual corruption and decay, starring the controversial great actress Tallulah Bankhead. It did not take me long to locate the movie and to see what Tallulah's sin was. Based on Frederick J. Jackson's play "His Past", a third of the story takes place in the capital city of the Republic of Panama. Tallulah is Carlotta, a singer- hostess in a most cheerful and lively bar that seems to be located on 12th Street of the Santa Ana neighborhood. Besieged by her ruffian husband, Carlotta kills the fool with two shots, is detained and accused, but in her trial she is defended by Fredric March (at his most handsome), an American heavy-drinking lawyer, who wanders through the seedy joints of the outskirts of Panama City, but manages to have her declared innocent. The verdict radically changes the perspective from which they both see their lives, and when she migrates to New York and he goes to Mexico positive changes occur. The rest of the film is a romantic melodrama about the difference of classes and the past passing the bill. Not a big deal, but a Paramount A product, made by George Abbott, a true New York theater legend who lived 108 years, in which he directed dozens of plays, won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer prize, and wrote, among many others, «Pajama Game», «Damn Yankees!» and »A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.» He did not directed many films, concentrated more on his stage activity, which may explain why he frequently shot the scenes in long shots, with few close-ups, from a script that mainly consists of long scenes of conversations. In short, «My Sin» is a curiosity, with a lively first section, evoking the Panama night life enlivened by Cuban melodies by Gonzalo Roig, Nilo Meléndez and Ernesto Lecuona.
Han matado a Tongolele (1948)
"Han matado a Tongolele" is a rare incursion by director Roberto Gavaldón into the world of cabarets. He guarantees a general good execution, with notable "mise en camera" of the musical numbers, filmed with above average grace, based on a winding crime story by Ramón Obón, the creator of ingenious plots of Mexican horror films, such as the classic "El vampiro" and "Misterios de ultratumba". It is a story of jealousy, passion and death in a variety theater, in which Tongolele has bedazzled the entire male cast: a young journalist (David Silva), a Chinese magician (Seki Sano), the stage director (Julian de Meriche) and an ex-lover (Manuel Arvide), as well as the theater manager (José Baviera) for economic reasons. Except for the future groom, everyone hates the idea of losing the star one way or another, when she announces her plan to marry Silva. However, the weakest point in the whole thing is precisely Tongolele, a beautiful North American who made a career in Mexico as an exotic dancer, but whose limited histrionic capacity shows when she interacts (with a slight accent) with her co-protagonists. Besides her numbers are rather bland. They say comparisons are odious, but there is a fact that cannot be hid: Tongolele's dance is a repetitive pelvic movement that pales in front of the wiggle of her colleagues Ninón Sevilla, Meche Barba, Rosa Carmina or Maria Antonieta Pons, who literally tore down the house whenever they heard the beat of congas and bongos. Apart from this, add a loose leopard, a jealous Chinese wife (Concepción Lee) and a drug addict chorus girl (Lilia Prado) and her twin sister, and you can spend a little over one hour of music, mystery and melodrama, but little else.
Sota, caballo y rey (1944)
Music, bullets and romance
"Sota caballo y rey" was the last film that Canadian writer Robert Quigley directed in Mexico, after which he concentrated on script writing until 1960. Although this production does not have the coherence of the script he co-wrote for "Rosauro Castro" nor of his first movie, "Cielito lindo", both collaborations with Roberto Gavaldón, the rural theme persists, as well as the violence of weapons, land tenure and control of ruthless powerful men. The film is focused on the histrionic capacity of Domingo Soler in his roles as two twin brothers, one a rancher and the other an actor and playwright, who both fight against Carlos López Moctezuma who plays the man that controls a town outside of modernity, and who answers with death sentences to the opposition of Soler and singer Luis Aguilar. The story, however, fluctuates between musical comedy and romantic melodrama, sub-genres that merge and finally impose themselves over the intense drama of corruption, with dances and routines of Meche Barba and Agustín Isunza and comic relief provided by El Chicote, plus the romantic interludes of Aguilar and Susana Cora, who also have their respective turns to sing. Composer Rosalío Ramírez never cared about the drama and his score is a collection of feisty, galloping cues. The acting weight rests on Soler and Moctezuma, because the others have little space to develop characters and Aguilar falls short in his dramatic scenes. However, being his first star role, I suppose the film helped to consolidate him as a leading man-singer of rancheras. Watching "Sota caballo y rey" will make you no harm, but neither will it be a nutrient for your cultural background.
Yo fui violada (1976)
Story of Joints and Rapists
Erotic melodrama directed by Rafael Portillo, creator of the Mexican cult horror trilogy of "The Aztec Mummy", it was scripted by Oscar García Dulzaides, who produced several films with sexy titles like "The Fever of Desire" and "The Naked Skin", made before "I Was Raped", whose only saving grace is a very good (anonymous) jazz score. You have to see it to believe it: the plot involves revenge, castration at gunpoint, horny hippies, Gothic lesbians and strange sexual rites, led by muscular Afro-descendant Lincoln McLeod, as some kind of high priest of pleasure in the city of Panamá. Armando Silvestre, once the young and handsome hunk of Emilio Fernández's classic "La red," stars as a rapist and member of Lincoln's club of pot-smoking hippies, who stalks Leticia Perdigón, a well-to-do adolescent, without knowing that she is the daughter he procreated when he raped Martha Elena Cervantes, who, you figure it out, 16 years later works as a prostitute in Blanquita Casanova's brothel, lives in a little mansion in the city, and is the daughter of Anita Villalaz, who was then the "Dame of Panamanian theater". The young girl likes to smoke a joint every now and then, slaps Dona Anita and hangs around with pretty for nothing Ricardo Cortés, who enters a crisis typical of a heroin maniac when he does not smoke his daily joint. On top of that, Ricardo was the one who started the girl in the consumption of the "holy grass" and for that reason a tremendous drama unfolds, ruled, of course, by aberrant disinformation about the cannabis, that one better takes it all as a joke, especially in the bizarre scene in which Martha Elena forces Leticia to smoke a marijuana cigarette and then declares her a "unregenerate professional." Filled with moralistic speeches, the plot justifies corruption and extortion, gratuitous sex scenes and female nudity, while Silvestre sports red underpants in his most "daring" scene. Hard to find, it is worth a look as a good example of bad cinema that deserves cult following.
Made with production difficulties that would have discouraged a weak soul, "Caballos" finally made it to the arranged appointment with its audience. The final product is undoubtedly aimed at a small number of spectators, since it is a work that, although it can be seen and understood by anyone, is hermetic as its source, as the universe that engendered it, which is the exclusive property of Fabián Suárez, the director. The cinema of poet and playwright Fabián, like his verses and dramas, expresses a particular tessitura in which his perception of the (Cuban) environment merges with influences from diverse sources and cultures, the memories and the icons of an intellectual and emotional load that he knows better than anyone else.
The anecdote as told by me from a reductionist and even prosaic perspective- is known by almost all adults, whose adhesions and judgments will play a key role in the appreciation of the film, which, precisely because of its closed nature, allows a very wide margin for personal interpretations. We have all met an ambiguous, ambitious young male, here a photographer (Alejandro Halley), who once loved or was seduced by a virulent and ritualistic homosexual, here in the twilight of his appeal (Pablo Guevara), who is defined -as character- by possessions that the young people around him could inherit. The drama is completed with a young, black fashion girl (Linnett Hernández) that seems like a mirror of the photographer and who replaces him with a mature French tourist; and with a Havana boy, a mulatto survivor of the street (Milton García), apparently a musician whose survival has depended on his sexuality.
Fabián Suárez describes the drama with coldness, against glossy surfaces (with the usual excellence of cinematographer Javier Labrador Deulofeu), in which the emotional connection between the photographer and the dying are almost absent, intermittent, denying empathy with the audience. That privilege is granted to the model and the musician, who live every day of their lives with more authenticity and freshness. To the interaction between the main four and the secondary characters, add Fabián's obsessions and hidden references, from Patti Smith's "horses", the ghost of Robert Mapplethorpe and many others that I do not know. I believe that when the filmmaker closes his catalog of cultural references of beauty and gives us his own inner beauty, so rich and valuable, the dialogue with the audience will be broader and more varied.
However, the film flows with appropriate rhythm for 97 minutes and I believe it is because of the cast's work, a small group of actors who complemented each other. Alejandro Halley is distantly correct, while Milton García serves as a counterpoint with earthly strength. Both actors establish a balance of their registers, as the two focuses of attraction of the dying homosexual, played by Pablo Guevara with declamatory impulses that reinforce his fragility, make him inscrutable and arouse emotional estrangement in us viewers. Linnett Hernández has little to do, with a character whose blackness seems more emblematic in its Cuban context, than a key element of the drama.
At the end, I suppose, I just suppose, that "Horses" is a film with its own, unclassifiable genre, a sort of "fabiansuaresque drama" that in time, as it goes around life, screening rooms, projections, and events, will find and increase its audience. We do not always have the opportunity to talk about the cinema of someone we know, but it we must be said that "Caballos" was a work that Fabián Suárez had to execute according to an inescapable programmatic design.
Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (1927)
In Praise of Fritz Rasp
Georg Wilhelm Pabst (or GW Pabst, born in 1885) was one of the great German filmmakers during the silent period. He established his name with his first film, the drama of greed "The Treasure" (1923), but with the third one, "The Joyless Street" (1925) he revealed himself as a major forces of the "New Objectivity", beyond the distortions of expressionism, touching the social problems of Germany, between the two great wars. He continued with "Mysteries of a Soul" (1926) and "The Love of Jeanne Ney" (1927), whose recent vision motivates these notes; then gave a masterstroke with "Pandora's Box" (1929), which led Louise Brooks to immortality, and when sound came, in 1930 he released the antiwar drama" Frontline 1918 ", which was banned by the Nazis, made the film version of "The 3-Penny Opera" (1931) by Brecht and Weil, followed by a drama of Franco-German solidarity, "Camaraderie" (1931); an incursion into fantastic cinema with "L'Atlantide" (1932), and his own reading of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" (1933). Although he did not stop working and made more films of value, Pabst saw his career affected by the rise of the Nazis, when he had to move between Berlin, Paris, Hollywood and Vienna, where he died in 1967.
The romantic account of "The Love of Jeanne Ney" goes from Ukraine to France, following the daughter of a French diplomat who is in love with a Bolshevik. The couple reunites in Paris after several vicissitudes. The characters include Jeanne's uncle, owner of a research firm, his blind daughter (Brigitte Helm, the Maria of "Metropolis"), a North American millionaire who has lost a invaluable diamond, and a Russian informer who sells to the highest bidder. There are moments of great visual force, as the scene in which the blind girl discovers the corpse of her father; and the initial scenes of the Russian revolution.
However, the reason that motivates me to write about the film is, above all, extraordinary actor Fritz Rasp (1891-1976), as the ruthless snitch, fearsome as none. Rasp is an icon of the Teutonic villain: from the first time I saw him as the overwhelming "Thin Man" in Lang's "Metropolis," serving the owner of the city, every time I see him in another film, his characters are not to be trusted and his presence is intimidating: as the colonel in "Spies" and as "The Man" in "The Woman in the Moon", both by Lang, or as the Jew J.J. Peachum, "King of the Beggars", in Pabst's "The 3-Penny Opera". In "The Love of Jeanne Ney" Rasp builds the disgusting character of Khalibiev, an informant who fingers the Bolsheviks in Ukraine, and in Paris not only does he stalk Jeanne and her lover, but uses Jeanne's young blind cousin to concrete his evil plans.
As Pabst, Rasp also continued working during the Nazi period, although not acting with the frequency of the past. He had a long career, that included playing the lead in a film of the "new cinema" of West Germany, "Lina Braake" (1975), which was his last appearance in cinema.