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Bittere Ernte (1985)
Some reflections on how badly this film has been served, stemming from my surprise I had never heard of it, when I was looking for the work of Agnieszka Holland. The DVD from CCC Filmkunst, 1984, bears only the English title "Angry Harvest," and no indication that it should be originally "Bittere Ernte," a Harvest not "angry," but "grievous," "spoilt" too like the apples dumped out so that sack can be used for a darker purpose. Or I suppose one could think of Julia Ward Howe's Divinity "trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored," but it never has come to that. The perpetrators of great wrong sit comfortable. We know that the Holocaust cannot be represented in art forms. With the perpetrators too we would destroy the screen. That's why it's odd that Roger Ebert, listed among Critics of this film and usually so generous in his sympathy, should have condemned the movie for not showing enough devastation. The film does something else with Arendt's insight into "the banality of evil." After Sunday mass occupying German soldiers chat with local girls. Property can be acquired in a way that is "perfectly legal" once one knows it was expropriated from a Jew "who probably won't be back to claim it." And thus to Leo Wolny, who is such a nice man and will bring you potatoes if you are out and soothe your fever. This is something different from what the box calls "a compelling story of love and desire." It is about a man and his peers who are "bitterböse," "fiercely evil."
A better version
The reviews here can be modified by the Blu-ray version of 26 May 2015 by Blue Underground in the USA with the title "Man, Pride and Vengeance" that matches the original "L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta." The movie is clearly and credited as based on Prosper Mérimée's "Carmen." The second half of the movie is realized in the style of Italian Westerns, but to attach it to a Django would be to raise the actor, Franco Nero, above the plot.
The box for the DVD does almost claim too much in saying that the film was "lensed" by Vittorio Storaro. He was the camera operator, and Camillo Bazzoni, brother of the director, was the cinematographer. There are lively travelling shots of running and horseback, lucid fight scenes, and desolate landscapes.
A problem it seems to me is dewy teen-aged Tina Aumont as Carmen. The character is a woman who could have a Klaus Kinski type as a husband. Who could have played her? Sophia Loren? But her agent wouldn't have let her. Aumont's mother, Maria Montez? Vanessa Redgrave.
Opening Night (1977)
Over the Top
Over the top works of art can't be objectively judged. You ever crave it or you are sated. But if you want it, there's "Opening Night." If you start with a character holding a cigarette in her mouth, trying to take a drink from a flask, and hoisting shopping bags, and the actress has a mouth like Lauren Bacall, you are already at the edge of the roof. The movie that invited the characters to "fasten their seat belts" was already a calmer affair. Another comparison is "The Clouds of Sils Maria," where Juliette Binoche also plays an actress who likes to take a drink, may fly to extremes, but also controls it in the interests of a script or a public event. For Gena Rowlands in "Opening Night" there's no escape from a camera very close up, her character crashing. The ending, however, is like a satyr play at the end of an afternoon of tragedy.
Imbarco a mezzanotte (1952)
The Italian title, Imbarco a mezzanotte / Shipping Out at Midnight, suggests a plot moving increasingly into the noir. Right at the beginning one learns that the character called the Stranger is unwanted in a town he has been shoved into off a boat and that he is expected to get back out of quick and pay for the privilege. Early on, we learn he has a good gun that he wants to sell. "On the Prowl" says the English title, and we might imagine a character shady from the start. But there is a noble error in casting, having Paul Muni as the actor--Pasteur, Jaurez, beacon of progressive aspiration. He limps, he shambles, bad things may happen, but we have no way of supposing this character is bad. As the film shambles toward a conclusion, yes (spoiler if you like) there is the dangerous involvement of a child. It could be like Hemingway's stories of a somewhat older Nick Adams faced with criminals. But for Muni's Stranger it is out of character.
Meanwhile, this is a brilliantly filmed take on Italian Neorealism in a town still ruined from wartime bombing.
Dark Blood (2012)
Scenes are well made, the desert looks great, characters peer at the horizon well in the tradition of westerns, there are set designer extravaganzas. The story doesn't suffer from missing scenes; that speeds it up. What the story does suffer from is a disconnect of its elements. Buffy and Harry are a splendidly unlikeable squabbling city couple, actors to boot, stranded in the desert, which sets them up for a story in which they are humbled in the presence of some grounding element (the way Katharine Hepburn succumbs to Humphrey Bogart). That should be the solitary personage designated simply, condescendingly "Boy." But the couple doesn't let go into Boy's world. They fail to see that Boy's life and his environment have been damaged irreparably by nuclear testing; they fail to be grateful for Boy's kindness. In other words, they fail to see what a complex and powerful character River Phoenix is playing. If the viewer does, Buffy and Harry should, or they are hopelessly, tragically disconnected. Boy, look out for the culture these people come from, who aren't being shown much of your culture.
Robert Young vs. Waters and Wilson
This would be OK as a wartime musical, praying that ships get back to the harbours of Home. But Robert Young's character in infuriating. The gags, the pratfalls aren't funny, or they require the mindset of the Three Stooges. This is supposed to be an investigative reporter? Classy Jeanette MacDonald is supposed to fall for this goofball? But what saves the movie, as other have noted, is Ethel Waters. Sure, she's dressed as a maid until she gets to do a stage number. And Dooley Wilson, who watches that number, is dressed as an "A-rab." And of course there's nobody else they can pair up with. But they steal the show, and inspire even MacDonald to move her hips for a moment. Not Robert Young's character, still out of it.
Rope of Sand (1949)
Telling the story
I rate this movie pretty highly and then I wonder, were Hollywood movies in the late 40s generally this good, in which case I'll have to see a lot more. "Rope of Sand" is so well made--the story clicks along, every shot is perfectly placed and serves the story, both day and night scenes in a desert are grandly photographed. The interiors are more elaborate than one might imagine, but Edith Head's costumes for Ms. Calvet guarantee that her character is irresistibly sexy. The cast has been gathered from across Europe and beyond--OK, some of them more difficult to follow than others--the supremely skilled actor, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre doing his elegant lowlife, Marais and Miranda singing in a nightclub. And of course young Burt Lancaster, both beautiful and doing the turns of his character. Credit then too to Paul Henreid, holding his own in a fight scene with Lancaster. And there's even a willingness to define South Africa by its racism, from the opening scene of a Black man being chased by converging trucks in the desert. I won't underline an inference about political economy.
A Good Story
This is a provisional comment on "Mold/Küf," since I'm not much of an expert on the Turkish arts, and I cannot explain the title. But a word about the notion that the film is slow, even at just 94 minutes. Compare Ceylan's "Once upon a Time in Anatolia" at 150 minutes. Aydin's film has a very good story, as if from classic Russian fictiona friend suggests Gorkyand the film narrates the story the best way. The protagonist is fixed on an indeterminate quest, in which he is like characters in the works of Orhan Pamuk, for whom the fundamental Turkish way of being is melancholy. He is a square-shouldered aging man. He does not easily leave a room, so a cut cannot come too early. If he is being interrogated for the umpteenth time by a new police inspector, there's no reason for the camera to swing around while he explains his life he feels is fate, while there is a slight change in the camera angle when he falls into an internal monologue. At the beginning of the movie he does break into a trot, and elsewhere he acts forcefully. More often there is stasis, and that's the nub of the story.
Die Verrufenen (1925)
What kind of sympathy?
I've seen this movie in a print from Blackhawk Films as "Slums of Berlin" with English inter-titles. These titles certainly don't help to create sympathy, with repeated use of the word "clod" for more than one character, reinforced with a claim to a dictionary definition in which a Clod is earth and without soul. The movie claims to be realistic, authentic extras. If they are "verrufen," they are either 'in disrepute' or 'notorious'--pity them or hold your nose. Lots of shots of smeared children. But the protagonist, with a craggy face of handsome style, comes into good clothing since he was always the right sort, and the more delicate women recognize that. He's on his way to the proprietary class, while the lower orders "revert to type." There is by now and one might hope back then a bad attitude towards its subject. Yet that gives this film some historical interest. One does find a predecessor of Brecht's Mr. Peacham of "The Threepenny Opera," who runs a workshop that pays its day labourers in gin, and the protagonist fixes a machine more plausibly than he might for Fritz Lang. Camera placement is even more static because of too frequent inter-titles.
Notre paradis (2011)
Find a Motive
A kind of soap or soap-and-splash opera, with well played moments (like at the beginning Jean-Christophe Bouvet flamboyantly enjoying his vinyl record). Maybe engaged by moments of soft porn, the movie doesn't step back to consider its characters, let alone have them think themselves about what they are doing. Since it involves murder, there's a problem. The title may want to suggest that the central characters are Rimbaud and Verlaine, but the artificial paradise here is a pill at bedtime. The younger, Angelo, is there to be dressed or undressed, and gives no indication he knows or doesn't care what his partner is up to. Stéphane Rideau (the elder Vassili), with a hint of gut, can't be an éphèbe anymore, but he seems to know his business as a prostitute and what roles he can now play, so it is very hard to know why he isn't able to deal with older clients. The child, young Vassili (a genetic conundrum the name), does have a better sense of the plights he is in than anyone else.