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Nanni Moretti is the Woody Allen of Italian cinema.
Just as Woody Allen would have dealt with Jewish subjects, Moretti is concerned with what makes the world of papacy tick in the Vatican and looks at the subject from a psychoanalyst's point of view and as a citizen of the neighboring city of Rome.
It is not surprising that Moretti himself plays the cheeky role of the best psychoanalyst in Italy, who has separated from his wife (who in her turn thinks she is a better psychoanalyst than her husband and is having an affair outside her marriage with yet another psychoanalyst). Even her two kids seem to be psychoanalysts in the making. Even one of the Cardinals is surviving with the help of an incredibly potent anti- depressant, an indirect swipe at the mental condition of some of the Cardinals!
The Pope-elect suffers from an inferiority complex that his sister was chosen as an actress in a play when he so desperately wanted to act in the play himself (a mirror image of the squabbling kids of the lady psychoanalyst in her car). Decades later he identifies himself as an actor going through a mental crisis.
Moretti means well. Moretti is interesting even when he attempts to point out quite correctly the myriad psychoanalytical situations that populate the Bible. There is visual psychoanalytic comedy, too, when Jerzy Stuhr's character receives a call from the Pope-elect and involuntarily stands up in respect as though his boss, the Pope, were standing in front of him.
While Moretti succeeds in getting amazing and credible performances from Michel Piccoli and Jerzy Stuhr (who are anyway great performers), Moretti is out of his depth in portraying a bunch Cardinals as pathetic, low-IQ human beings who sulk in front of a psychoanalyst. While there may be a few among the Cardinals who fit that bill, the majority of them are well-read, intelligent, above-average individuals who might be dogged in their views but all the same are quite capable of resisting the wiles of a psychoanalyst.
The best aside in the film for me was Moretti's comment that "gas" for your kitchen and heating is cheaper in the Vatican than in Rome and that you can get many goods including medicines there that you cannot get in Rome.
Moretti is good at being able to bring out his views without offending anyone but he, despite his best intentions, unfortunately never can be considered as one of the best directors in Italy. But he can take comfort that he made Mr Piccoli give a superb performance in his own film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am not a great fan of Neil Jordan; yet this work showed patches of
brilliance. Of course, Beverly D'Angelo was interestingly utilized for
the main role with well-thought out body language between mother and
son (Niall Byrne), vs woman and a young boy-old-enough to be her son,
vs a young boy's infatuation for a woman who seems to like him,
especially when she is is the only attractive woman in the village
populated more by nuns than single women with some modicum of elegance.
Considering that Jordan had himself written the script, the film is interesting when one considers the sub-plot of the boy's girl friend taming a "wild" circus employee into a human being, and later utilizing the symbolic freeing of wild animals. However ridiculous it appears in the film), it shows certain intelligent approach to the subject. Despite the interesting saxophone pieces played on screen, the film showed moments of highs in acting, screenplay and direction only to be followed by an inexplicable sudden drop in quality of film-making. Was Jordan under pressure from the studios/producers?
It would appear that Jordan wanted to say more than he did but held back. Topics of incest have floored top directors--Fred Zinnemann's last film "Five Days One Summer" was an exception.
It would have been interesting if D'Angelo's character had been developed further to show her interest in the boy without knowing that it was her son--to bring out the latent Oedipus complex in the tale. But Jordan's script reveals the facts to the mother early in the movie and what follows borders on brilliance. while never really achieving it.
I am a great admirer of directors/scriptwriters who understand
religious works before they make films that refer to religion (e.g.,
Kieslowsky, Tarkovsky, Mallick, Reygadas, Bunuel, Bergman, Dreyer,
etc.). Jodorowsky, in this film, proved that he neither knew Christian
scriptures nor Buddhist philosophy. The only detail that showed some
scholarship was the discussion on the Jewish name Marah.
Jodorowsky was trying to be very erudite in calling sections of the film (a) genesis (b) the prophets (c) the psalms and (d) the apocalypse. While the first and the last section have some remote connection to the Bible, the screenplay proves Jodorowsky's total lack of knowledge to either parody or discuss the similarities with the narratives of his screenplay. What did Jodowsky's psalms have that related to/or referred even obliquely to the Psalms of David?
His knowledge of the Oriental scriptures is equally muddled--one savant seems to be fascinated with Egyptology, building pyramids with sticks and having a man with no arms carrying another without any feet.
Some have called the work surrealist--it would be that only if Jodorowsky had showed a glimpse of scholarship beyond the etymology of Marah. Even blood splattered walls do not look authentic, nor do visuals of pigs rushing out of an empty place of worship.
This is immature cinema--Hollywood's "Freaks" was far superior in content and so was Bunuel's surrealist works that criticized organized religion.
One of the quaintest yet uplifting films that I have come across is the
Mexican movie "Aurora Boreal." It might sound a strange name for a
Mexican film. Aurora borealis, the correct Latin term, describes one of
the celestial sights the main protagonist wishes to see before he dies.
It is a celestial phenomenon seen in the Arctic Circle on certain
nights. I too share that wish with the protagonist. Those who have
witnessed it say that is one of the finest sights man can ever see on
Why is the film quaint? The subject of the film is of a young boy who loves to carry a camcorder and knows how to use it with extreme dexterity. Yet this talented boy wants to commit suicide. The film's narration by the young person begins with he words "If you are watching this movie, you know that I am already dead ." Logically, the viewer finds two possibilities-either the protagonist is indeed dead or he is fooling the viewer. You have to wait to the end to figure out the truth.
A considerable part of the film deals with the "suicide" obsessed youngster asking all and sundry what others thought of suicide and why he should not commit suicide. And he records all the comments on his camcorder. Strangely no one tells him why he should not kill himselfa fact he records on the camcorder.
What a stupid morbid subject, I say to myself. But something in the film keeps you tied down to your seatyou resist your own impulses to leave. The filmmaker suggests slowly to the viewer gently in small doses of information that there is more to this film. Why on earth would a young intelligent kid, who evidently knows how to handle a camcorder in so many exciting ways than I for one would ever be able, have a death/suicide wish? And it's not that he has no buddieshe has a few.
The second part of the film reveals the real reason why the protagonist wants to snuff out his life. He has a sibling semi-paralyzed for life due to his own negligence years ago. All his family recognizes that he was to blame.
The film has an unusual ability to retain the interest of the viewer right up to the final seconds of the film while a morbid tale gradually transforms into an exciting and positive story. By the end of the film, you congratulate yourself for not making that attempt to escape through the exit door of the movie hall and for staying on right up to the end of the movie.
The film gradually reveals the motive that leads a 14-year old to behave in this manner in a most engaging manner. The director, writer, and editor of the film, 26 year old Sergio Tovar Velarde making his debut feature film, was amply rewarded when it won the best film in competition award at the Guadaljara film festival of 2008.
It is not often that you come across a movie that has as its lead
actor, the very writer of the novel on which the film is based. Laurent
Cantet's intriguing film "The Class" has in its lead role of the class
teacher, the novelist and co-screenplay-writer Francois Begaudeau.
That's only the first surprise the film pulls on the viewer.
If you went to into the film theater without knowing much about the film you are likely to think you are watching a documentary. That's the second surpriseit is not a documentary.
The film is apparently a semi-autobiographical story of the novelist and lead actor Begaudeau. Begaudeau himself was primarily a school teacher before he morphed his own life into a novelist, journalist, and an actor. But wait a moment. Even director Cantet's parents were teachers. Therefore, it is not surprising that the intimate knowledge of the teaching and the film-making processes get married seamlessly within the film and this contributed substantially to the film being honored as the first French film to win the Golden Palm at Cannes in 21 years!
Cantet allows the viewer to study the process of educating a fresh class of bubbly and street-smart adolescent kids in a Paris suburban school. Classroom education today in many parts of the world has evolved from the dictatorial British format where the learned teacher lectures and the student imbibes what he sees and hears. Today, teaching in progressive schools is more democratic, where the teacher allows student participation, where the student is encouraged to talk and become an integral part of the education process, contributing knowingly or unknowingly and "democratically" to the education of other students in the class just as much as the teacher. It is not without intent that one of the bright Internet-savvy kids in the film brings up the subject of Plato's "Republic" into discussion, but then the intelligent viewer is forced to recall that teaching for Aristotle's own students centuries ago was democratic and peripatetic. Begaudeau the teacher is flummoxed and that's precisely what Cantet the director of the film stresses to the viewerthe very quality and process of imparting knowledge today is dissected. Plato wanted a philosopher king to provide for the common good. He also believed democracy would just lead to mob rule, which is basically an oligarchy. Cantet appears to ask the viewer if the teacher is the Platonic philosopher king. Aristotle studied under Plato and disagreed with Plato on almost fundamentally everything. Cantet's film introduces parallels of bright adolescent kids being educated in the classroom as Aristotle would have been in Plato's class. Begaudeau teaches his students often like Plato would while adopting the peripatetic approach of Aristotle's own teaching style though confined within the four walls of the class.
The film is demanding of the viewer. The film is definitely not everyone's cup of tea.
To a casual film goer, the movie would resemble a live recording of a high-school class of boys and girls with a teacher probing the minds of his students, made up of different backgrounds, races, religions and representing various continents. There are tense moments, hilarious repartees, behind the scene meetings of teachers evaluating students, parent teacher meetings and even stocktaking of a "year gone by" in the school. The film's content can disappoint some viewers looking for conventional action, sex or heavy intrigue.
Cantet's approach to cinema is far removed from the typical Hollywood film. Yet Cantet and the screenplay writing team that included Begaudeau urge the viewer to zoom-out his/her mind from the microscopic events taking place within the confines of the four walls of class--the ethnic tensions, the psychological warfare and the social criticism--as they are equally likely to take place in the wider world outside the class, beyond the school, even beyond France. That is the beguiling aspect of Cantet's film.
The innovation apart, what is extraordinary in this film? One, the film clearly indicates the classroom has evolved from the classroom of "To Sir, with Love," or "Dead Poet's Society." Today, teaching adolescents is no longer a simple task. Students are well-aware of current social and political issues, thanks to the Internet and related technology. Teachers need to be aware of several bits of information and trivia to be on top of their class. Second, "The Class" progresses to reveal manipulative student behavior towards their teachers that British cinema revealed decades earlier to us. British films, such as "Absolution" (1978, with Richard Burton) and "Term of Trial" (1962, with Laurence Olivier) are vivid examples. Unlike the two entertaining British movies, all the action in Cantet's "The Class" is restricted to two school rooms-the actual classroom and another room where teachers interact among themselves or with parents. Third, the film grapples with the question of the broader issues of equality within a classroom, a school and elsewhere in society. Fourth, the film is about current issues of integration of different cultures that perhaps confront Europe, Canada, and Australia more than it does in the USA. Africans and Asians are now citizens of France but do they get understood by the majority? A student Suleyman says in the film: "I have nothing to say about me because no one knows me but me."
How many teachers allow for two-way communication in a class? The film presents a growing challenge for educators of today. Can we go back to the days of Aristotle or do we prefer to learn under the teacher who "dictates"? Are we providing the turf for democracy or for dictatorships to emerge in society from the lowly classroom? This is a sensitive film meant for film-goers expecting more than frothy entertainment. The two final shots, somewhat similar, of the film graphically (and silently) capture the entire case of the film that preceded those shots. That was truly remarkable.
The opening sequence of films often indicates the quality of cinema
that follows. Writers and journalists are aware that they need to grab
the attention of the reader at the outset, not later, if they have to
win longer-term attention. In Laurent Salgues' debut feature film
Dreams of dust, the opening sequence will remain an amazing one-one
that sets the tone for what would eventually follow.
The opening shot is of the rural, dusty, semi-arid Burkina Faso, a West African country on the fringes of the massive Saharan desert, an area known to many as the Sahel. The viewer doesn't see anyone for a while. Not even animals seem to inhabit the horizon. In the foreground, the viewer sees mounds of dust, like anthills. Suddenly you see, dust-covered humans emerge from holes in the ground, like rats emerging from their holes. These are prospectors digging in archaic mine-shafts (now apparently banned in Burkina Faso) for gold in a god-forsaken part of Africa. That opening shot reminds you of a choreographed musicalonly there is no music, only silence broken by the sounds of workers' tools. The workers are emerging after toiling underground for several hours constantly at the risk of being buried alive with no one to rescue them if the mine ever caves in. They would leave behind widows and fatherless children, if that were ever to happen.
"Dreams of dust" is an important film on Africa. First, it exhibits the vigor and competence of a talented French director making a debut feature film armed with his very own script that evolved from an initial idea of a documentary on the lives of these gold miners hunting for gold under unusual circumstances. Second, it is a film made by a European on a real sub-Saharan African subject in a real location. The film is able to raise the cinematic content to a level above mere actions and words (say, compared to the recent award-winning Chadean film "Daratt" or Dry Season) as it gradually transforms into a metaphysical cinematic essay on the continent's people, their dreams, their despair, and their infrequent quests for a deeper meaning of their trials and tribulations and an eventual resolution of personal loss in this transient life. Third, it is a film that does not end with the typical hero and heroine riding out into the setting sun, but instead offers an end that would evoke feelings in the viewer's mind that are similar to those while viewing the end of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: a Space Odyssey," although the visuals in the two films couldn't be more starkly dissimilar. Fourth, it underscores the dignity and integrity of the sensitive and pensive African, rarely captured on film or in literature that transcends physical strength. Finally, it attempts to poetically bring on screen the King-Arthur-like quest of a Holy Grail at the end of the film leaving an open end for the viewer and filmmaker alike, alluding to the literal meaning of the word "Sahel," which in Arabic means "the shore" as the hero symbolically, as in a mirage, walks into the desert.
The film is a story of a male Nigerien (from Niger, not Nigeria) gold prospector seeking to make a fortune in gold in the neighboring country Burkina Faso. He is an intriguing individual, tall, strong, and an honest worker. He is also a "man with a past". The film does not reveal much about him; only that he was once a farmer, was married and had a daughter. He is evidently a person with heroic qualities that separate him from his co-workers. He does get attracted to a local attractive woman and her girl child, who naturally remind him of his own family. While several strands of the film are incredibly close to stories that made Westerns and Hollywood films so successful at the box office, Salgues deals with the subject in a way Hollywood would never attempt to shape, by injecting dignity and detachment in the principal character to the world around him. Towards the final half hour of the film, the story evolves from a mere "sweat-and-blood" tale of an expatriate into a metaphysical, psychological tale of a man seeking redemption from some sad events in his past. The film makes the viewer to ponder over the common dream of the African immigrant to acquire wealth. Here the African immigrant is not in USA or in Europe but in a neighboring Sahelian country. Here is a fascinating tale of a farmer with money in his pocket opting to become a voluntary slave in a tough environment, quite confident that he will eventually get to his pot of gold. The gold mine could suggest a metaphoric transit point in a long personal journey in the life of a thinking individual, if not the average African immigrant.
There are social pointers in the film that a viewer is not likely to miss. The fatherless girl plays with a doll but interestingly the face of the doll is blackened. The tyrannical boss of the mine is eventually replaced by a hardworking miner who is more understanding to the workers-perhaps suggesting the waves of change taking place on the continent. However, the title of the film reiterates the intent of the director/writer Salgues. Would the dreams of the African really lead to gold or would it lead to dust? The optimistic film shows both taking place, to different individuals, in different ways.
Directed, written, acted (playing the lead role of Mouloud) and
co-edited by Amor Hakkar, The yellow house will win hearts anywhere. It
is humanistic, deceptively simple and uplifting. Having seen the
French/Arabic/Berber language film, the viewer will leave with one
thought--there is goodness in all of us, whether Algerian or a citizen
of any other nation. It is rare to encounter such movies when violence,
evil, and bitterness pervade most films being made these days. Some
viewers tend to disparage "feel-good" films because they tend to be
escapist, but here is an example where realism rarely goes out of
This Algerian film is apparently the second feature film of the director, who studied in France. The story/screenplay written by Hakkar is simple: a poor Algerian agrarian family, who survives by growing and selling potatoes and vegetables, deals with grief following the untimely death of the eldest son in an accident. The filming appears simple too: no flashy editing distracts the viewer, camera angles are unobtrusive, and the viewer's sensibilities are soothed by the delightful strains of evocative oudh (a string instrument) music. The oudh player Faycal Salhi, who provided the music for the film, was present at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) 2008 to collect, on behalf of the Algerian director, the deserving Special Jury Award. The movie had earlier won the top award at the Valencia film festival, the best actor award at the Osian (New Delhi) festival, three awards at the Locarno festival, the Special Jury Prize at the Carthage festival, among other honors it received elsewhere.
Sociologically, the film criticizes the lack of electricity in some villages of the oil rich country and yet commends the quick remedial, intervention when lapses are brought to notice of the government. The film is not about economic injustice or government apathy; even though these real issues are present in the backdrop. In the forefront of this wonderful film are issues that are more universal: strong family bonds between husband and wife, between father and children, dead and alive.
The first half of the film deals with the impact of untimely death of the farmer's eldest son in an accident while serving in the police force and the father's journey to Batna to identify and collect the mortal remains. The second half deals with the husband's quixotic but dogged plan to bring the shattered life of his wife to normalcy with the help of a video recording made by his son before his death.
The film underlines everything that is positive about the Muslim world in a charming way that is not didactic. Policemen, who have never met the farmer before, help the man by providing him with a hazard light as he travels in the night on a three-wheeled farm tractor without headlights to bring his son's body home. Taxi drivers go out of the way to help him locate addresses in the city. An official at the morgue, instead of taking the farmer to task for "stealing" his son's body circumventing official procedures, takes the trouble to catch up with him on the highway and hands him the signed legal papers approving the release of the dead body. A pharmacist is asked by the farmer for some medicine to cure his wife's depression from the tragedy, and the well-meaning pharmacist, who has heard of a cure (painting the walls of his house yellow) shares this information with the farmer.
Ordinary individuals, who could easily have been indifferent to a poor man, go out of the way to lend a helping hand to man coping with grief. Would such good deeds happen in real life, one could well ask. My answer would be that human bonding when we recognize another person's grief or loss is quite extraordinary. What is remarkable about this film is the contribution of one man Omar Hakkar who acts, directs and edits a delightful film that does not criticize at any point what is wrong in society and yet presents a realistic canvas of Berbers in Algeria. The farmer might appear simple and poorly educated, but the film is intelligently crafted killing several birds with one stone. There is criticism of the economic disparity in the film but it is latent. The film also silently underlines the important supportive roles of young girls in a Muslim family, rarely underlined in Arab films.
Hakkar's film is one of the finest films to emerge from North Africa in recent years almost comparable to Mohamed Asli's lovely Moroccan film In Casablanca, angels don't fly, also on the Berber community made in 2004. Hakkar has not just proved his mettle as a director but also as an interesting screenplay writer, who is capable of merging tragedy with low-key visual humor that never goes overboard. Hakkar's dignified performance in the main role seems contagiousevery other character in the film rises above petty minds to lend him a helping hand. The film's screenplay underlines the need for all of us to tackle grief with courage and adopt a positive outlook at life's continuity in all weathers. It is a film that reiterates that one can attain the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow through dogged persistence in life, while being gentle and considerate to others.
Three Monkeys proved to me that Turkish cinema can rub shoulders with
the very best in contemporary cinema.
It has a certain maturity and mastery of the medium even if it follows the patterns of Tarkovsky, Terrence Mallick and Zvyagintsev, with its ability to externalize the internal feelings of individuals and catapult those feelings in context with the well-chosen exteriorssometimes natural environments and sometimes man-made structures. It's a film that makes the capability of a director and art director stand out even to a village idiot viewing cinema.
The title of the film does refer to the proverbial three monkeys; one who refuses to hear, one who refuses to see, and one who refuses to speak. It is an interesting contemporary tale revolving around three adults that make up a Turkish urban nuclear family. The husband drives the car of a politician to make a living, the wife works in a kitchen of a large establishment, and their adult son is a student dreaming of owning a car. It is a tale that could take place in Turkey or any other part of the world suggesting that tales of individual angst fall within some external matrix that a viewer can either glimpse or reject as a cosmic play of dice.
The three "monkeys" are a husband, wife and son living a cohesive, stable life. A fourth character is a typical creepy politician whose actions disrupt the tranquil life of the cohesive trio by a chain of lies, deceit, lust and avariceall brought about by the ripple effect of an external request. Here is a tale of three essentially good people who become entwined in actions that threaten to break up their happy but mundane middle-class lives.
What is the external request that leads to the domino effect on the family? The politician falls asleep while driving a sedan and knocks down an unknown person on a remote road and the incident is noticed by a passing car. To preserve his political chances at the soon-to-be-held elections, he requests his regular driver to take the rap and go to prison for the crime he did not commit, while the politician promises to continue paying his salary and provide a large sum at the completion of his jail term. The first "monkey" gets hooked to the suggested plan that he hears.
The son dreams of a family car that could be acquired with an advance on the politician's final payment to his father and goads his mother to meet the politician with the request. And you soon have two other "monkeys" trapped by their own innocent actions that spiral into grievous crimes because they choose not to see, hear or speak. Interestingly, each of the three is essentially a well-meaning, ethical individual. However, the external request of a politician to the head of the family of the trio opens up vistas for three good persons to choose a deviant path they might not have chosen otherwise.
The filmmakers go on to suggest that the pattern could spillover to upset another sedate life of a good man at the end. Those affected do not seem to learn from history. The cosmic tale carries on like a Shakespearean or Tolstoyan tragedy, even as dark clouds gather over the magical landscape on the coasts of the Marmara Sea (Black Sea) captured with the digital magic of Gokhan Tiryaki (the cinematographer of Ceylan's Climates as well). Are we individuals truly in control of what happens to us in life? This is the implicit question the film asks of the viewer. Do events in our life force us take paths we never would have taken otherwise? Do we learn from our mistakes or prefer to make bigger mistakes like a "monkey"? Ironically, the film itself is a product of another familybut this one is incredibly talented. The husband and wife team of Nuri Bilge Ceylan (director, editor, and writer of Three Monkeys, and actor of his earlier films Distant and Climates) and Ebru Ceylan (writer and art director of Three Monkeys, actor of Distant and Climates and an award-winning short-filmmaker) team up with Ercan Kesal (actor in Three Monkeys, playing the politician in the movie) to write up this interesting film.
The story is only a small part of the film's broad enjoyment spectrum. Take the art direction-the building in which the trio live looks imposing at the start of the movie. Only towards the end of the movie as the lives of the individuals fall apart you see the building has an imposing front but is actually a poor tenement with a fabulous view. The railroad becomes a flight path to freedom from the drudgery of the house, but tenants of the house need to cross physical (symbolic) barriers to reach the station. Interestingly, the head (and face) of the son poking out of the train form the poster of the film a shot that is repeated with differing expressions as the film progresses.
In this film, the husband-wife team of the Ceylans stays behind the camera. They introduce a TV actor Hatice Aslan who plays Hacer, the mother/wife role in the film. The performance is nothing short of spectacular. The sudden action of kicking up of her shoes while sitting and breaking into smiles of freedom is unforgettable; the true implications of the scene revealed to the viewer only much later.
Turkish cinema has thrown up great filmmakers. Yilmaz Guney was my favorite Turkish filmmaker from that country. Now I have added Ceylan (and his talented wife) to that list. Guney took up subjects that mirrored politics and got into trouble for that. Ceylan appears to be apolitical except for his dark universal swipe at politicians as a tribe. Or is he?
François Truffaut is often considered to be one of the finest French
directors of cinema as he along with Godard and Chabrol are credited
with French New Wave. Shoot the Piano Player is arguably one of his
finest works. There are two basic ways to approach Truffaut's
cinemahis choice of subjects and the way he dealt with those subjects.
Truffaut had a gift for spotting interesting literature in pulp fictionthat too from distant landsand turning them into remarkable works of cinema. Shoot the Piano Player was based on an American novel called "Down There" by David Goodis. (Others include Cornell Woolrich's novels that were the basis of the Truffaut films Mississippi Mermaid and The Bride wore Black and another of Ray Bradbury that metamorphosed into the Truffaut film Fahrenheit 451). This gift of spotting gems from pulp fiction actually helped the struggling authors. After the success of the film Shoot the Piano Player, the noir fiction writer's book "Down There" was republished as Shoot the Piano Player, a rare example of how cinema affects literature in a positive way.
Truffaut grew up relishing Hollywood noir films of the Forties and Fiftiesfilms in black and white, cigarette smoking heroes with dark personal histories, with a penchant for wry humor often winning their personal wars at the end of the film. Truffaut transposed the ingredients of American noir film into a French setting in Shoot the Piano Player. The dour-faced Charles Aznavour replaced the typical cigarette smoking, tough-talking Humphrey Bogart of the Hollywood with goons ("heavies"), brawls, deaths, investigating cops and lonely good-looking women thrown in good measure to spice-up the viewer's appetite.
What did Truffaut find attractive in Goodis' work? The wonderful line from Goodis' novel "What you did yesterday stays with you today" essentially captures the essence of many Truffaut films (right up to his later films such as The Woman Next Door). Truffaut was probably attracted to the theme of loyalty that pervades the Goodis story: loyalty to one's family (the four odd brothers sticking together), loyalty to wife/husband in true love, and loyalty to the café even when owners and colleagues change. There is nothing American or French about itit is universal. My guess is that Truffaut found the sudden rise and downfall of an individual at the peak of success that the Greeks called "hubris" appealing. Goodis provided Truffaut with three types of women: one that would go to any extent to prove her love for her husband (Therese), one that would seek out the ideal mate for her with a resolute purpose (Lena), and finally one sees a mate that provides friendship, physical and moral (Clarisse). After spotting the interesting story, Truffaut the director paints the story with humor and pathos. When a goon says a blatant lie and swears on his mother's life that it is truethe quaint Truffaut, with typical French humor, shows his mother collapsing and dying, even though the woman has no role to speak of in the story. When a bad café owner, Plynie, is discussed in conversation, three separate telescopic images of the character are shown simultaneously. Finally Plynie correctly surmises that the piano playing hero Charlie is "scared", the hero is initially stumped, reflects on the charge and then admits "I am scared."
The film's contribution from Truffaut and cameraman Raoul Coutard cannot be downplayed. The camera zooming in on Charlie's attempts to hold the hands of Lena provides humor and a moving intimacy with a character that few directors have achieved. Finally the closing shot of the piano player playing the instrument staring at the camera, underlines the signature of Truffaut analyzing characters in his film dispassionately (He repeats this again as the closing shot of his later film The Story of Adele H). Truffaut and Coutard achieve a rare technique, inviting the viewer to analyze characters during the film's run time. The silent gaze of Charlie partly hidden sitting behind a small piano at the camera captures the essence of the entire film, "What you did yesterday stays with you today." The tortoise hides in his shell. Here the shell is the piano. Even a talented and good person is caged by external circumstances, basically because he is scared of facing a larger reality.
Many consider the film to be near flawless cinema, but here's a film where a windshield of a car splashed by milk becomes sparkling clean a few moments later defying logic! Many critics consider Shoot the Piano Player to be basically Truffaut's work but it is truly a product of a great teamTruffaut, Goodis, Coutard and Aznavour, each contributing to the film's appeal. For me, The Story of Adele H. is definitely Truffaut's most powerful work.
Árpád Bogdán's debut film seduces you with stylized visuals and an
intensity that gives you an insight into the director's mind. His
profound knowledge of the subject is evident throughout a film that is
bereft of sex and violence. There is a poetic feel to the images that
include a horse running wild on the streets of Budapest before it is
caught and led into a horse trailer. The sequence is an eerie symbolic
reminder of earlier visuals in the film of the young boy fleeing from
parents/elders being arrested by police with the mother figure urging
the child to run before he himself is caught and taken to an orphanage,
psychologically scarred. And later, having seen the film, I was not
surprised to discover on the Internet that this interesting film on
institutionalized orphans has been made by a man who himself lived with
a foster family until 14 and never enjoyed regular schooling. And yet
he is a poet and a painter to boot! Happy New Life seduces you as
visual poem would, revealing some emotions and submerging others for
the interested viewer to discover. Not surprisingly, much of it is
The importance of a debut film is often increased when the screenplay is written by the director himself/herself. Young Bogdán has predictably written the screenplay himself. He does not need anyone else to write out the screenplay. The story is of an orphan who grew up in a state-run orphanage, who having grown up leaves the state-run foster-care to earn a living and raise a family. Family life is a simple gift most of us enjoy, but has eluded the protagonist in the film, save for some fleeting memories of childhood. Only four women enjoy fleeting screen time in the film, a woman in a poster advertising a perfume who comes alive in a dream sequence, an old woman who is a foster mother of an orphan girl, images of a lost mother, and finally the young orphan girl who is missing her real mother. If you look at the choice of womanhood presented , all life stages are covered. Yet there is no obvious man-woman relationship as in other regular films--because the growth of the young man is stunted by events. Yet the film presents "empty" dining spaces in a factory and fetal-curled positions that describe loneliness of the protagonist. Happy New Life would be close to a silent film. But with poets like Bogdan, long conversations are excess baggage to avoid.
Before the film begins, there is a preface from the director of the large numbers of young Hungarian "orphans" under state care who when grown up are thrown up to enter society as equals and build their own families. The protagonist wants to know his past. He stumbles on something from documents in an envelope handed over by a benevolent warden. The viewers of the film later see him shredding the envelope and its contents. The warden noting that the information has only had a negative effect on the young man regrets his decision but invites his past ward to visit his new rural home. The film would appear to be despondent one because the director opts to leave the real issues partly hidden for the viewer to ferret out.
Happy New Life forced me to recall another debut film tackling existential, social and moral questionsClaude Chabrol's Le beau Serge (1958), arguably his finest work that kicked off the new cinema movement in France. In that film, too, one of the two buddies, François shouts at Serge "You're like animals, as though you had no reason for living." Responds Serge: "We haven't. How could we? The earth's like granite; they can barely scrape a living. They work because they've no choice." In Happy New Life, too, the young orphan does not really see a "reason for living" when he comes out of orphanages, especially if he knows who he really is. Director Árpád Bogdán has stated in an interview that even if the film presents a despondent view, unlike the film's story he has personally looked at life positively by creating movies, drawing paintings, and writing poems. One hopes that this minor Manfred Salzgeber award winning film at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival propels the director to make even better cinema than this one.
Many questions would irk the alert viewer after viewing the film. Is the film merely on loneliness of orphans? Aren't there sufficient messages in the film about gypsy families in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, though the term "gypsy" is never mentioned? The young director has admitted his interest in romology (the study of gypsies, their language and sociology). Bulgarian director, Milena Andanova, recently made an interesting but less stylized film Monkeys in Winter (2006) dwelling on the emerging topic for filmmakers in Europe just as some American filmmakers such as Abraham Polonsky tried to provide the American Indian's viewpoint in a revisionist western Tell them Willie Boy is Here (1969). Just as the issues relating to American Indians are rarely discussed in USA, the gypsies of Europe found their issues swept under the carpet by each country and regime.
The two cinematographers who worked on the film Happy New Life include Gábor Szabó, a young Hungarian cameraman chosen by Vilmos Zsigmond, to film his own first film as a director--The Long Shadow (1992). It is unusual that two cinematographers share the credits for Happy New Life, Mark Gyori (film editor as well on this film) with Szabo as the second. Did Bogdán and Szabo fall out? Hungarian filmmakers have mesmerized me, particularly Zoltan Fabri, Istvan Szabo and to some extent Miklos Jancsoso much so that as a young film critic I traveled across continents from New Delhi to Budapest to interview two of them in 1982. Fabri would have been pleased with the work of young Bogdán, if he were alive today.
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