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Un novio para mi mujer (2008)
Romantic?Comedy drama that was biggest hit of 2008 in Argentina
Slow-paced by American Standards romantic comedy has its charms. Plot is basic. Man is married. Man no longer feels happy in marriage. Man wants out. Man finds a man to woo his wife away. Thus the English translation, A boyfriend for my wife. Surprisingly low key since the title professes to offer buffoonery but instead gives you a Tootsie style of comedy. Actors play it low-key and very real and one will be forgiven if they forget that they are watching a comedy considering the lead actress is so good at playing a bitch. In fact, without her performance, the movie would not work. We've seen this movie before. It offers no shockers but a sweet ending that is well-handled and a screenplay that is not forced even though you know the beats a makes it a pleasurable diversion. This continues a good tradition of Argentine cinema and its obsession with honesty and reality over extravagant fiction/unreality in terms of tone, direction and staging of scenes.
Women in Prison Movie Dardenne Brothers style
The women in prison genre is often associated with cat-calling girl-fights and the guilty pleasure to the audience of women talking dirty and acting, actions supposed to be the purview of Tarzan aping men. Trapero's Leonera offers something else, an inquisition into how a life behind bars can change the human psyche and create a bond between a child and a mother. Echoing the early movies of the French New Wave that placed the gyneco-issues front and center and the point of view objectivity of the Dardenne Brothers, it is a worthy addition to what can be called the post-modern woman's picture. What is it like to give birth to your child behind bars? To have your child taken away, the rejoinder and enjoinder are all explored. With a wonderful performance by Martina Gusman, it is another worthy canon to 21st Century Argentine cinema.
La vie sur terre (1998)
Africa at the end of the millennium
An observational treatise on the contrast in existence of a village in Mali versus Paris in a way and a comment on the failure of African governments to care for its citizens. slice of movie La vie sur terre captures the last day of the last century in the rustic community of Sokolo. Documentary style observations with poetic narration and voice overs, it paints a delicate existence that may or not be hopeless. Beautifully shot on high def video but a bit slight in point of view, its slim running time makes a convenient mood piece. A promising work that exposes the talent of the director. Some might criticize it as an NGO movie or CNN Africa but its not really harsh but does express the director's opinion that hope is leaving Africa. I respectfully disagree.
Camp de Thiaroye (1988)
Sembene takes us to the battlefield
Camp de Thiaroye by Senegalese Director is a war movie without a war. Set on an army post in Senegal towards the final days of WWII, it follows a regiment of the French West African Armed Forces who have returned from a tour of duty in Europe. The story is an allegory for the resistance movement to colonialism that sprung up after the war and led to the end of colonialism. Often bloody, it captures the relationship between American soldiers stationed in Dakar, French commanding officers and the French West Africans while touching on issues of racism, inferiority complex and black on black relationships. Never one to lead the audience, Sembene takes his time staging scenes often with beautiful framing that eats up the edges of the screen. It may leisure and some scenes are didactic but it never wavers in its utmost honesty and its eventual humanism resulting from a cataclysmic ending that is both gripping that echoes the refrain that maybe we are all crazy. It is one of the better movies of this master of cinema and in this reviewer's opinion, a 10/10.
This is partially a response to the above review by Irene Schneider. Mandabi is the second feature length film of Senegalese born director Usmán Sembén. he was also a well respected writer and The Money Order (English translation) is an adaptation of his own book. Capturing the corruption eminent in post colonial Africa by following a proud man who tries to cash a money order sent by a relative working in Paris, France. This newly arrived money turns all those around him, including the lead character into to be kindly a pack of wolves, determined to pick him for all he's got. Except he hasn't even cashed the money order yet. Slow and observant with a charming rhythmic score that engulfs the viewer, it watches a society slowly eating itself because of poverty and selfishness and no one is spared in Usmán Sembén's lament against greed and avarice. A beautifully recapped montage saves what might have been a slightly didactic if not hopeful ending. To note, as opposed to the above comment, there is nothing simple about the movie and it is as prescient today as back then and is no history lesson. To be enjoyed by all those who enjoy the movies of Satyajit Ray because the film making style is very similar to his. ** Use of Usmán Sembén as opposed to Ousmane Sembene is because the director is credited as that in the movie and it seems to be the correct rendition of the name.
Lake Tahoe (2008)
Dull treatise on death and how we deal with it
Seen at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe is the director's second feature and follow-up to the acclaimed Duck season which also played at AFI Film Fest.
Again, the director follows the lives of children left alone by adults and left to their own means. The movie opens with a crash of a car and the journey the lead character takes in trying to mend this quaint auto is our incision into his life.
Wide shots are used to create distance. Intimacy is hard to find and long fade to blacks obscure the action in this roman a clef. Curiously short of real drama by the director's choice, it deprives the audience of any real drama.
It plays like a series of vignettes of which include chasing a dog, babysitting a child, a visit to the movie theater and sex; all to show the characters way of dealing with pain. But is is the audience who is really in pain in this slow, boring and ultimately unsatisfying expose on death in a family.
The comedy that was effective in Duck Season pontificates scenes that it should not. The lack of focus in camera set-ups contributes to the blandness. A life time TV movie that is way too long and ultimately insulting because it deceives the viewer that it is up to way more when it really isn't.
Evening things up requires giving up a piece of you
As seen at the AFI Film Festival, Revanche is a tight thriller that is at a the same time a mood piece and a human moral drama. Austrian's official submission for the foreign language category in the 2009 Academy Awards is likely to this reviewer to get the nomination. Following the lives of two couples, a prostitute and a thug, a cop and his wife; tragic circumstances converge their lives when a bank robbery goes awry. Featuring a stand out performance by Tommy Lee Jones look-alike Johannes Krisch as the thug Alex, the man creates tension when out of frame, in the nick of shadows and in front of the camera. His character of Alex is a tortured soul that the audience is never sure off; his intentions or actions are hidden behind a mask of serenity. Not satisfied with being a replica of Jones, he also gives a very Tommy Lee Jones no-frills turn that keeps the movie afloat. Director Gotz Spielman creates tension using sound and extremely detailed camera set-ups. Not show-offy in anyway but including two long one take shots, he also uses his DP to infuse the screen with pale and desaturated color tones for nights scenes and natural lighting for daylight scenes, all used to provide a flat élan on the screen. It effectively supports the vibe of these revenge melodrama. What could be hammy in another director's hands becomes poetry in his. The sound of the ax smashing a block of wood never seemed more intimate. When a director uses it in such a way that the viewer feels inside the innards of a man's soul, you know the director knows his stuff. Intricate and detailed, it is consummate from top to bottom. If there is any qualms with the movie, it is in the character of Robert the cop played by Andreas Lust. His character arc is supposed to mirror Alex but he never earns the audience's sympathy the way Alex does; yet his story is geared toward such a response. The character is slightly underwritten and the actor never engages the character the way Johannes does. Playing against our expectations to create an ending reminiscent of Greek tragedy, it is a worthy movie experience and the best movie I've seen in 2008 along with Mike Leigh's Happy go lucky.
Les rendez-vous de Paris (1995)
Rohmer does Paris in three mini vignettes
What is love? and can you explain it. Using three meetings at different locations , Rohmer creates a parable on the intricate and surprising nature of love. The first story about a rendezvous at seven is the best. Insidious in its nature, it plants the seeds of doubt that blossom into the tale of two women and two men, each seeking and expecting divergent results. Filled with coincidences, all three tales are, it presents the surprises we don't see coming.
The second story which is kind of dull or more demanding depending on taste, follows a couple meeting up in many public locations. The female character is afraid to meet in private despite the urgings of her male lover and when she does make the leap, the consequences will forever change the relationship.
The goat of the pack is the final vignette, a story titled after a Picasso painting that features prominently in story. Again the obvious is pushed aside for the unexpected and there is a certain breezy, plush ending to the proceedings that seems to jar with what has become.
A comedy in three parts, there is a chorus group that is interspersed and opens each story. Cherubic in nature, the songs present certain adages on the nature of love and life.
A mixture of his moral tales with his comedies and proverb series, it is the lesser of each but sub-par Rohmer is still superior to most filmmakers. His low frills style of film making which a previous reviewer called cheap tells him how little he knows about the edict of the French New wave, the only die-hard adherent remained Rohmer, his rules, a quantifier closer to the Dogma'95 tradition of cinema. It is cinema of the heart at its finest.
Még kér a nép (1972)
How does one go about describing this movie? Odd? Bela Tarr before Bela Tarr. Boring. Without a doubt. Definitely not for the mainstream cinema goer but is it also for the art house lover? Only a hard-core alternative cinema can love this movie. But can you appreciate it? sure. Roving cameras. Complex rhythms and sudden breakouts into song and dance, yet there is nothing musical about it. It is first and foremost a mood piece. To understand it, you really need to know the background of the opus.
This might be considered a spoiler.
"According to film critic, Raymond Durgnat, the movie is based on a series of psalms, thus the title, and prayers written circa 1890. They are of a socialist nature echoing such biblical models as the Lord's Prayer."
END OF SPOILER
Knowing the background, the movie makes sense as a series of short stories, each ending with the same thematic resolution. A socialist parable for chaotic times. It was the seventies after all. Using a kind of folk narrative medium, kind of like performing in the village square for the elders, it possesses an African or European medieval story telling technique. Hard to follow, except as a tale of the lower classes versus the aristocracy and tyranny, it is something short of a dictum for revolution. Refusing to explain itself, it comes across as live theater packed with heavy symbolism. There is blood and lots of it. Gun shots and death. Camaderie, community, resistance, nakedness of the soul and death. Rambling in circles, at times, it is laughable; sprinkled with unusual sound edits, curious performances and image synching. But it is all controlled by the invincible hand of Jancso who orchestrates the mise-en-scene like a virtuoso marionettist. Tricky, intricate camera movements supposedly done in 28 shots make up the movie. It is a ballet of zoom lenses curious camera set-ups and resistance to the basic nature of its medium. Neither here or there on the engrossing meter scale, it does present experimental cinema and a different film vocabulary. Championed by some wayward critics over the years, it did win the best director at the Cannes film festival. So that is what you get. Limited story, confusing actions and narrative arc in a stop and go fashion but camera tricks comparable to the best of Fellini.
PS. I saw the movie on the big screen but the projectionist framed it to look like a big TV screen. It looked odd. I have no idea if this was the original framing.
Hai tan de yi tian (1983)
Taiwanese new wave cinema
the late Edward Yang is considered one of Taiwan's best directors. My first and only experience with Mr. Yang before this movie was Yiyi, his last movie which I much enjoyed. When this moved was being shown at the Los Angeles museum I had to check it out. A story about the lives of two women, it is ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying. It is also too long at a whooping 166 minutes. It mistakes narrative for storytelling and No, they are not the same thing. Narrative is dialogue and action which occur in a story; storytelling takes the narrative along to move the story. Stillness versus action. Caught in a trap, it meanders and it becomes to difficult to decipher what the movie is really about. Taiwanese culture on women it seems like but I can't be sure, the failure of the modern marriage, missed dreams, you don't get what you want but what you need; coming of age' all of this or none of this. Following a business man and his wife over several years, it offers no answers and worse no story. That said, he is no hack and dazzles momentarily with little bursts here and there of pure nouveau camera movement and sharp framing with claustrophobic use of music. Wide lensing is impressive to look at but never adds up to much. The best part or unusual part of the movie is the red herring set up that isn't really a red herring but sets the audience up expectations the movie does not deliver to my satisfaction. It feels like a French New wave picture; one of those Godard or Malle pictures that emphasized women as the leads but likes the heart. For all its ambitions, it is stilted, bridled and clouded behind its fog. It's a movie only the director can understand because he seems to close to it, he misses the necessary long hand which is needed to convey the story and reduces it to a shorthand that is misunderstood. Despite all of my negative connotations (more my trying to come to terms with this opus)it is a worthy effort from the director who made the great family drama Yiyi.