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Haunting and Dreamy vision of 19th Cent. Russia
9 October 2003
I viewed this film in 1994, and feel like I can remember nearly every frame. It is a film I recommend with reservations: I was enthralled, but Cineplex film-goers weaned on THX and kinetic editing may find this Opus about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Sokurov has created an almost wordless visual poem ... compelling, watery dream-like images, with subliminal sounds of half-heard conversations and rushing water leaking in. Orthogonal camera distortion, murky still images, matted backgrounds and miniatures create a world that taps heavily from the universal race consciousness: a heavy dose of deja vu will set in as you "remember" images that nearly every citizen of the western world has experienced in universal dreams and nightmares.

WHISPERING PAGES is based on "images" from 19th Century Russian novels. A scrap of plot, with nameless characters, involves a Dostoyevski-esque tragic hero who's evidently murdered an old woman to collect on her estate. A waif-like heroine, reduced to prostitution, is so ethereal that you suspect she may be a figment of his imagination.

The 77 minutes pass quite slowly, with some camera pans (e.g. from the top to the bottom of a statue) taking nearly five minutes. It's not a bore, though. The alert viewer will catch occasional freezes into a still shot, and a watery drifting in and out of color. The film is a brilliant textbook on camera technique; required viewing for any serious students of world cinema. Your appreciation will increase if you're also a fan of German Silent films. Many of the overhead shots of murky urban miniatures bear a startling resemblance to the workers quarters in METROPOLIS. At times the camera lens is so distorted that the crooked alleyways resemble the twisted sets of CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI. A bureaucrat who administers red-tape surrounding the old woman's estate is identical to the police clerks in CALIGARI. All that's missing are the elevated desks and chairs. Long shots of the hero, in supplication in his cell-like apartment, chill the blood as much as the infamous camera shot receding from the tragic Emil Jannings in THE LAST LAUGH.

WHISPERING PAGES, though, is far from being a silent film; the use of sound is brilliant. Through the film, there is the constant sound of water; running through pipes, rushing by opaque windows, dripping. You can almost "hear" the omnipresent vapors. In a chalky image of birds hovering above the river's surface, we hear the heart-like beat of wings.

The lead actor, Alexander Cherednik, is lanky, and very Christ-like in appearance. Unless you notice that his fingers have mysteriously elongated, several encounters with a distortion lens during his scenes may escape your notice. This film has many searing visual images, that match the greatest moments of German Silent Cinema; for instance, when Cherednik awakens under the monstrous statue of a lioness and sucks on her teat. Camera pointed at ceiling, with severely distorted lenses makes a four-story stairwell appear like something from a medieval miniature; we see nameless characters climbing over the rail, and plunging, in slow motion, into an abyss. Doors open onto plunging shafts. Exterior shots of tenements on the river reveal ladders and stairs that end in mid-air. Much of the imagery is nightmarishly unforgettable.

Experiencing the film is a bit like being in a convincing seance, summoning up images from a the world of the dead. You feel like a time traveler, drifting, ghost-like, in the netherworlds of Russian poverty sometime around the 1830s or 1840s. You'll derive an almost voyeuristic thrill in picking up snatches of conversation that you weren't intended to hear.

If this type of film or subject matter interests you at all, I encourage you to alter your calendar to accommodate it's rare showings. Like the watery, ghost-like images it contains, sadly, this film won't see the light of day for long in our channel-surfing world. Ironically, unlike most current popular films, which evaporate from your memory by the time you get to the parking lot. WHISPERING PAGES leaves indelible images floating before you vision upon waking the next day.
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Careful (1992)
Brilliant Homage to vintage cinema
9 October 2003
The USA Film Festival described this as Twin Peaks directed by Erich von Stroheim. Not a bad description. It's an uproarious satire, in the vein of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN ... but the film often so beautifully duplicates the material it parodies that your breath is taken away. It's a little like reading a hysterical comic book, and finding original paintings by old masters salted throughout!

This brilliant Canadian film heavily borrows from the high-camp expressionism of German silent films and early talkies, especially the "mountain" films of Leni Riefenstahl. Anyone who's read FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER will recognize dozens of scenes in this film as near carbons of stills from the book. Perhaps more than any other films before or since, German silent cinema created compelling images that tap into universal race consciousness, portraying grainy, moving archetypal images all of us vaguely recognize from dreams or nightmares. Because of this, CAREFUL will often take your breath away with unexpected moments of quiet majesty and beauty. But there are plenty of laughs in between, (with "sick," 70's style National Lampoon-like humor). If you've never laughed at seeing an eye poked out, leave political correctness at the door and give this film a whirl!

The soundtrack if often deliberately scratchy or muffled, and in several scenes easter-egg like colors are used that resemble the early two-strip technicolor process. Ominous title cards are used to introduce scenes. This bizarre film is salted with unexpected dialogue like this: BOY: "My, aren't you the frisky one today." GIRL: "Even the reindeer are such, when Spring is coming!"

Enough of the aesthetics, what is the film supposedly about? The action takes place in the 19th century alpine village of Tolzbad, that is so precariously poised under constant threat of avalanche that villagers have learned to communicate only in whispers. Animals have had their vocal chords removed, and gramophones have lambs wool stuffed in the horn. Villagers keep time to the "sound" of silent instruments at a "concert." There are handful of soundproof ice caves where the villagers can frolic and shout, letting out their pent up, pagan passions. The film is clearly a biblical parable about repression. Jackie Burroughs does a brilliant bit part as the puritanical teacher, who closely resembles the Cloris Leachman role in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

All of the characters display a surface naivete; actresses speak in the perky, breathless voices reminiscent of badly dubbed post-war European B films; "strapping" young sons still wear short pants'd school uniforms. The film quickly descends below the surface to show the village as a cauldron of incestuous flirtations, violent retaliation and explosive "family secrets." The plot follows an arc of forbidden loves and passions, leading to retribution on a biblical scale. What may appear to the modern audience as "cheap" special effects are actually loving recreations of how ghosts and visions were portrayed in silent and early talking German films. Many of the images are unforgettable, like the "trolley" cars pulled by oxen, or the mine workers wearing crowns of flickering candles. Uncoated lenses and back lit hair make some closeups resemble images from early Garbo or Dietrich films.

CAREFUL warrants multiple viewings. Watch it with a friend; this is definitely a film you'll want to dissect over several capuccinos.
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10/10
Still potent, 40 years later
26 December 2002
A remarkable film with an astonishing capacity to touch your heart and open your mind. A refreshingly original story that doesn't lapse into exploiting potentially "adult" themes.

Hardy Kruger succeeds in taking you with his character into his child like view of the world (caused by shell shock in Indochine). Patricia Gozzi is a rare child actress whose performance is completely free of the usual self-conscious effort found in recent films. Entire cast is strong.

The black and white cinematography is amongst the best I've ever seen. The camera seems remarkably aware of textures and temperatures. Some images are reminiscent of Ansel Adams' silver gelatin prints. Don't miss any opportunity to see this rare gem of a film. The characters, stories and images will follow you for a long, long time. It will make you wish that Director Serge Bourguignon had a much longer filmography.
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10/10
Gritty showcase for Tyrone's talent
10 September 2002
According to several film biographies, Nightmare Alley was Tyrone Power's personal favorite, among all of his performances. It's easy to see why. If you haven't taken Tyrone Power's acting ability seriously before, watch this one. The Jules Furthman script gives Ty a lot to sink his teeth into, and the material is fairly true to the Novel by Wm. Lindsay Gresham. Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker provide strong supporting performances.

This is classic film noir that runs the full arc from a Carnival setting to the wood paneled walls of a corrupt psychiatrist's private suite. Tyrone Power uses his good looks to advantage in portraying a very believable con man. Perhaps Power's greatest accomplishment is in keeping enough humanity in his character to make you care for "Stan Carlisle" and wish his inevitable downfall were unavoidable. Edmund Goulding, (who directed Power in "The Razor's Edge" the previous year), has a lot to work with and makes the most of it.

Sadly, this film is not currently available for viewing due to some squabble over film rights between the producer's heirs and Fox. Hopefully it will be aired somewhere (the Fox Movie Channel?) or hit VHS and DVD in the near future, so more film afficionados can appreciate this rare gem of high budget film noir.

Note: some viewers feel that the film's ending is flawed (e.g. "how could that ever happen to Tyrone Power?") but it is true to the novel it is based on. However you feel about the ending, the film is absorbing and highly entertaining. Don't miss this one if when it finally surfaces.
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Jane Eyre (1943)
9/10
Entertaining and engaging adaption of a gothic classic
22 August 2001
A thoroughly engaging adaption of the brooding classic, this film rises above the turgid tone often imposed on other classics brought to the screen. Joan Fontaine turns in a brilliantly deceptively understated performance, and Orson Welles restrains from the scenery chewing that marred some of his own projects; there is surprising chemistry between them. At times, Welles is a downright "sexy" leading man! The script (credited to John Houseman and Aldous Huxley) captures the right "tone" of Victorian cruelty and repression.

Under Robert Stevenson's direction Fontaine/Welles seem to capture the essence of two abused outsiders resisting their attraction for one another, trying to adhere to convention. A strong supporting cast. There are brief though memorable appearances by Agnes Moorehead, Elizabeth Taylor and Peggy Ann Garner as "young" Jane.

George Barnes' camera captures appropriately stark images of Ross Dowd and Thomas Little's sets. Charlotte Bronte's grim novel is well suited to the excellent B/W, cinematography: a memorable scene early in the film has young Jane being punished by being forced to stand on a stool that is nearly in the center of a fan of shadows cast by the stair railing, It is almost reminiscent of expressionist German films of the Weimar years.

The film manages to entertain as well as inform. Purists may object to the last 3 lines of the film which hint at a slightly happier denouement than the book offered. In spite of that, Jane Eyre is still a nearly flawless film.
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10/10
Even better than Cinema Paradiso!
20 August 2001
IN A NUTSHELL: A film that will stick with you for a long time; it brilliantly portrays the miracle of rebirth that can happen when the elderly and young are thrown together, and left to their own devices to create a real "family." I saw this film at the 1993 San Francisco film festival.

Set in that brief golden bubble of time, between the fall of Communism in Yugoslavia, and the outbreak of ethnic bloodshed, the movie was made almost entirely in Belgrade (now in Serbia). A beautiful portrait of the breakdown of one family, and the miraculous creation of a new one. Director Goran Paskaljevic chose 12-year Nikola Sarkovic from over 800 boys. Their teamwork brought one of the most compelling performances by a child actor to the screen. The film was completed in Aug 92, only days before the escalation of the bloody civil war in Serbia that made on-site location work for *any* films impossible. If this film ever finds distribution, you can NOT afford to miss it.

Nikola plays a gritty young capitalist-wanna be. He has far more sense and maturity with money than either of his parents, (his self-obsessed mother, Ina Gogalova, or philandering father, Miki Manojlovic). While his father dreams unrealistically of building a home based on income from being a wedding musician, Nikola dreams of getting a pop corn machine at the race track, so his family can make "real" money. The boy has gradually assumed many of his parent's adult responsibilities. He helps relieve his mother, by caring for her elderly charges, and even surreptitiously prompts his father with the right things to say to overcome serious marital rifts based on the father's philandering.

After his father gets a promotion in a music academy, with strings attached, Nikola steps in to center stage to hold things together. He must care for the three elderly charges his mother runs errands for (she's in Bulgaria> seeking a quack cure for the ailing sister) *and* he must take on two new charges, relatives of his father's boss. Nikola has already grown close to Señor Julio Popovitch (brilliantly portrayed by former Yugo mega pop singer, Mija Aleksic.) Nikola finds a deep friendship with the spunky old Tango singer who refuses to "give in," even though he's virtually bed-ridden.

[In the director's talk after the screening, Paskaljevic revealed that the ailing Aleksic hadn't been able to work for 7 years. He was only allowed to work for two to three hours a day, with his doctor in attendance. With Life imitating Art, this wonderful performer grew stronger and stronger as the film progressed, and his doctor's new "prescription" was for Aleksic to make more films!]

With the company of a dog he's inherited from a recently deceased "client," the pragmatic Nikola decides to simultaneously baby sit all of his elderly charges by bringing them together in a friendship club. Therein the magic of this film begins; like parched flowers in a spring rain, these wonderful old people "bloom" through friendship, romance, and a new-found sense of purpose. The gift of Goran Paskaljevic's direction prevents this from turning into sappy, sentimental sop like SMALL CHANGE. In a sense, each of Nikola's charges finds their own "tango," or dance of life. The film follows a path pitted with the very cul 'd sacs and dead ends that await any of us cursed with living long enough to become a "bother" to our adult children.

Much of the film's freshness comes from a deft script and Zarkovic's no-nonsense portrayal of the determined twelve-year-old. Far from being the lovable "artful dodger" type of moppet most of us were weaned on in countless Disney films, this is a pint-sized "adult" with a mission. He'll stop at nothing to build a stable financial base for his family. Like many work-a-holic adults, he's become so enmeshed in enabling others, that he's forgotten how to care for his own needs. Only briefly, near the end of the film, when we see Nikola frolicking nude on a Montenegro beach under the loving, watchful eyes of his elderly `tango singer' friend, do we see him act freely and fully as a child. While his "real" family crumbles around> him, he unknowingly brings together an enduring extended family. Warning: TANGO ARGENTINO has one of the most devasting, loving endings you will have ever seen. (I saw it 8 years ago).
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