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|73 reviews in total|
The fact that this film ever got made is a marvel. Some of the biggest stars
of European cinema got together with Zurlini to make this one-of-a-kind film
about boredom and existential despair. The profound emptiness lurking within
every man as he tries to cope with an absurd existence and which always
looks for an escape through some distraction or mindlessness (such as war,
pointless work, perversion, etc.)rather than face the frightful prospect of
coming to terms with itself IS the subject of this film and NO COMPROMISE
WHATSOEVER is made to please the audience.
The pace of the film is slow and methodical, deliberately making the audience become as bored and uncomfortable as the protagonists. However, if you know this or sense it, you are no longer bored but aware of the film's intentions and fascinated. When the finale comes to bring together all that went before, the understaed effect is overwhelming. One shot in particular, that of the Tartars suddenly appearing over the hills way out in the distance is so fantastic that it becomes etched in your mind forever. The story is about a military officer (Jacques Perrin) sent to a fort somewhere in the middle of a god-for-saken desert where the endless similarity of the days nearly drive him nuts to the point where he comes to hope for a war or attack of some kind to change things. He's hoping for anything that'll distract him from feeling the emptiness inside and can't find it. The plot is the laboratory experiment by which Zurlini expounds his view of the eternal isolation of man from man and the essential absurdity of existence. Some of the most bizzarely fascinating location photography is featured but the tone of the film is intentionally 'dry' and 'non-poetic' (unlike the very poetic way his previous film "The Professor" starring Alain Delon was made, for instance)and most of the stars (except for Von Sydow and Trintignant) have relatively small roles. Trintignant is pretty hilarious in his role as the fort's doctor.
Overall, "Desert of the Tartars" is a not-too-successful (its impact is nowhere near the level achieved by Antonioni's "The Passenger", for instance) but still thoroughly fascinating experiment in uncompromising dramatic cinema.
This somewhat mediocre and meandering melodramatic film by Zurlini features Claudia Cardinale at her most exquisitely beautiful in every shot and what shots! Beautiful long takes that allow you to concentrate on whatever you want. Tino Santoni is a hell of cinematographer, whoever he was, a total master. If the script had been a little bit better the film might've ended up transcending into a superpoetic realm like Zurlini's awesome technicolor 1962 film "Family Diary"; as it is, it's very much a failure in an overall sense but still pretty good as probably the ultimate ode to one of the most beautiful actresses in cinematic history.
After being quite impressed by the near-masterpiece comedy Zurlini made in 1954 "The Girls of San Frediano," I was very much disappointed by "Violent Summer," an overly melodramatic soap-opera made 5 years later. Too bad Zurlini couldn't restrain himself from the melodramatic overstatements that ruin the film because the cinematography couldn't be better and the young Trintignant's performance is pretty amazing.
It's hard to believe that this semi-precursor of the ultra-popular, silly "Look Who's Talking" films of Amy Heckerling was directed by the same man who made the cannibals-at-war classic "Fires On the Plain." The title of the film says it all. It's about the trials and tribulations of a young Japanese couple as they try to maintain an even-tempred good humor while raising a two year old son, first in an apartment and then in a traditional Japanese house. It's also a film about the way Taro, their doll-like two year old boy, sees things. The generation gap that was the subject of so many Japanese films of the '50s and '60s is also well represented when Taro's mom gets her mother-in-law involved in raising the child and she tries to assert her own ways of doing things in a somewhat slyly condescending way. Of course, all this would be nothing but facile cuteness if it wasn't for Ichikawa's superb visual sense and poetic way of telling the story. Every shot in the film is gorgeous in itself, but it's the understated sophistication and wry humor with which they're edited that makes the film special. A good way to know if a film has 'poetic' potential is to watch it twice to see if it's even better the second time around; most films aren't. The third time you watch "Being Two Isn't Easy" you'll realize that it's like a transcendent piece of music, it flows so right and so dreamlike that it seems to contain everything in the world within its simple storyline; it just keeps pulling you deeper into its beautifully realized cinematic economy. It may be a little too cute for some people, but for me Ichikawa's ode to babies and parents is basically as timeless and inexhaustible a visual poem, albeit on a much smaller scale, as his famous film of the Tokyo Olympiad.
Phew! What a beautiful film! I'd rank this as one of the most awe-inspiringly composed and photographed color films of all time. You've never seen Mastroianni, until you've seen him in this film, walking around like an iconic black ghost in the darkly hued existentialist-to-the-nth-degree technicolor universe of post-war Italy created by Zurlini and legendary DP Giussepe Rottuno. What a stroke of genius to contrast the bleakest and most depressing of subjects possible with the most fantastically poetic and gorgeous technicolor cinematography this side of `Black Narcissus.' This is one of Rottuno's finest works ever: full of absolutely breathtaking deeper than deep blacks and colors that seem to have sprouted from some otherworldly weathered, neo-realist hallucination. And what timeless subtly paced, unerringly poetic, intelligent and completely uncompromising direction by Zurlini, the forgotten genius of Italian cinema, whose style in this film can be roughly described as a unique melange of neo-realism, Antonioni, Michael Powell, Jacques Becker, early Pasolini and early Bertolucci. It's easy to imagine how easily this story of a tubercular writer grieving the death of his younger brother through a series of flashbacks could've turned into not much more than a melodramatic tearjerker; yet in Zurlini's hands and through the incredible, tour-de-force performance of Marcello Mastroiani in the lead role, the Marxist-proleteriat-plight-of-the-poor sentimentality at the film's core transcends itself and becomes a deeply affecting, painful and ultimately cathartic meditation on death, despair, and the possibilities of redemption in the direst of circumstances.
Zurlini's first film is already his first superlative-worthy masterpiece, a fantastically perceptive neo-realist comedy beautifully shot by the legendary Gianni di Venanzo in superpoetic, perfectly contrasted, deep-focus, state of the art mid-'50s black and white. It depicts the wiles and seduction techniques of a working class Don Juan named Bob (after Robert Taylor) as he goes around trying to make full use of his attractiveness to women, attempting to balance unscrupulous behavior and a need for freedom with cultural pressures and a relatively soft heart. Needless to say, he ends up biting a little more than he can chew on and farce makes its entrance, Italian style. There aren't many films that keep a smile on your face from beginning to end simply because there's no need to cut through some thick hypocritical B.S. to get to the essentials, the 'truths,' a film universally valid about almost every observation that it makes--Zurlini's "Girls of San Frediano" is one of them. Zurlini's art is based on his own poetic variation on the moral imperatives of neo-realism, firmly rooted in the significance he gives to ambiguous reality above any film-editing that pins things down to one interpretation, the way 99.9% of Hollywood films and European Cinema-of-Quality films were made, always telling you exactly what to think, in case you happened to have any doubts. `The Girls of San Frediano'manages to be accessible and amusing to almost anyone without sacrifcing wit in the process. The cultured wit of Zurlini turns the film into a psychological study of human vanity in action worthy of Rohmer, Bunuel, and Fellini, captured in all its essentials and held up for examination, interpretation, and true enlightenment.
The Hollywood films from the '30s and '40s that are celebrated are often much inferior to the many clever forgotten and unpretentious films. "Dr. Clitterhouse" is twice as good as the two Fritz Lang pictures Robinson made, ten times better than Howard Hawks's silly, static "BAll of Fire" and 20 times better than CApra's pretentious 'black comedy' "Arsenic and Old Lace." It's fascinating not just because of the intricate, psychological, talk-heavy, crime-caper script written by John Huston and two others, but because Robinson, in his 'up' 'hyperactive' mode is beyond fascinating to watch. He plays a psychologist writing a thesis on criminality who goes undercover with a bunch of thieves led by Bogart, helping them rob better by planning their heists, while he studies them. Like Gable, Muni, Garfield, Cagney, and the Bogart of the post-Maltese-Falcon years, Robinson, when he's in 'gangsta' or 'noir' mode, is one of those immortal characters that given half a chance, a decent script and passable direction always transcends and makes a film watchable. Given Orson Welles or Billy Wilder, he ends up in masterpieces. If you like this film also check out "Tampico" and "Unholy Partners," two other forgotten Edward G.Robinson classics.
Toback was mentioned by Football great Jim Brown in his book "Out of Bounds" as a Harvard educated man who could seduce any woman anywhere, the consummate 'Pick-up artist' as it were. Yet he seems to have a weird and quite complicated white man's complex about 'black sexual mystique.' Most of this movie is extremely interesting precisely because you can sense Toback's intense fascination with the aspects of Black Culture that have a magnetic pull for young whites and especially pretty young white females. In "Black and White" he investigates the unexplored and seemingly mysterious reasons why Hip-Hop culture is so popular among middle-class whites and the attraction that that sometimes criminal-underworld-and-gang-affiliated musical culture has for these kids who've grown up in sheltered surroundings. The documentary style acting communicates more truths in one scene that any 10 typical HOllywood movies. The realities of black/white relations are neither ignored nor trivialized nor made too much of a big deal out of like in Spike Lee's movies. Unfortunately the highly intelligent character played by Claudia Schiffer betraying her boyfriend who has put his complete trust in her, is completely implausible and ruins the film. As if this weren't enough there is the further absurdity of the upper middle class white kid agreeing to do a hit for his black gangster mentor, without giving the issue a single second thought. If it weren't for these two catastrophic implausibilities this would be a great film; as it is, it is flawed, ridiculous, and yet quite valuable, funny, and entertaining.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the late '70s Schrader used to make films almost as great as Scorsese's.
"Blue Collar" and "Hardcore" are both fantastically realistic and ambiguous,
simultaneously horrifying and funny. So, what happened? Except for Nick
Nolte's performance (which as good as it was, is easily topped by George C.
Scott's amazing one here), nothing in Schrader's recent "Affliction" is
anywhere near the level of "Hardcore," which ususally gets only a
ridiculouly low 2 stars from critics.
The great thing about "Hardcore" is that it doesn't cheat on reality by having stereotypical characters or idiotic "Magnolia-like" cynical cartoons running around like aliens from another planet pretending to be portraying people on this one. Scott's character is often made to look so absurd, walking around preaching rigid Calvinist ethics to hookers, you can't help but sympathize for his girl having run away. Even making a living in cheap porno films can be seen as preferable to having to put up with a father like Scott. When Scott beats up "Jism Jim" in the shower for having unknowingly made a hateful remark about his daughter's sexual hunger and wildness when performing fellatio, you can't help but feel the real reason for Scott's anger. Scott erupts so volcanically because he can't imagine his 'pure' daughter being so "staved" for sexual attention that she'd be willing to go that wild for a degenerate like "Jism Jim." It's reality that hits him in the face like a cold slap; the fact of his having repressed his daughter all these years into a 'nice girl' and of her having had secret desires that had gone unsatisfied or without even a hope of being satisfied under the repressed conditions which she lived. Nevertheless, the ending is definitely NOT a happy one as some people suggest; it is a highly ambiguous one. After telling her father that she wasn't forced to do what she did, and that she did it because she chose and wanted to do it, she nevertheless decides that the sleazy, dangerous world she's caught up in is not where she'd like to find her happiness, and goes back with her father FOR THE TIME BEING. This does not mean that she's decided to go back to what she was before, but that she's intelligent enough to know that she has to strike a balance between the two extremes. So, in a sense, it is a happy ending, if you can imagine that from now on her father will let her live a freer life, and that she'll be able to assert herself and be independent. However, that is anything but certain, and she might end up having to run away again. But if George C. Scott has learned anything in his misadventures in the world of low-rent porn and prostitution, it is to be less judgemental and more sympathetic to people and will have to strike a balance himself. In the end he has come to care enough for 'fallen people,' to want to also help the hooker Nicky, who helped him find his daughter, but for whom it seems to be too late.
An unbelievably great film made a year before Visconti's "Ossessione" which is often wrongly considered the first official neo-realist film. It's a bit melodramatic in parts but filled with scene after scene of immortal, poignant truths not only about the way a child sees adults but the way everyone sees everyone else in reality and in the 'real world' where purity of soul and honesty matters and is always heroic, where as Pascal wrote, man's greatness is so obvious it can even be deduced from his wretchedness. This extremely fleeting 'real world' is never fixed but nevertheless always there in some essence or another waiting to be discovered and 'captured' underneath a thousand and one veils. Neo-realism provided techniques for snaring those elusive essences better. And these techniques have endured to this day, where the sons of the sons of neo-realist films from all around the world are instantly recognized as valuable and given acclaim (most recently a slew of impressive films from Iranian directors). Even if De Sica hadn't gone on to make "Shoeshine," "Bicycle Thief," and "Umberto D" he already had enough in this one little film to earn respect as one of the supreme artists of the 20th century.
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