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A dinosaur in Cuba
"Comandante" has all the virtues (and defects) one could expect from Oliver Stone: great editing, a bigger-than-life protagonist, and a close, albeit superficial, look at the political myths of the 60s and 70s: Kennedy, Nixon, Kruschev, Che Guevara --they are all here, plus Castro himself, of course. Stone is not a professional journalist, and at some points, one wonders about the depth of his research on Castro's darkest side. On the other hand, he does ask some tough questions. Castro provides some answers, too, which you may believe or not, and only in very few occasions does he elude a straight reply. But then again, isn't that what most politicians would do (e.g. Bill Clinton commenting on his "relationship" with Monica Lewinsky)? And at some points, Castro's insights prove revealing and even illuminating. All in all, "Comandante" is a good documentary, as it sheds some light on a most interesting and troubled period of our history. I hardly think Castro's portrait in the film is 100% positive: he is too complex a character to emerge as a saintly figure, especially for a 100-minute documentary. I see him as some sort of political dinosaur who has managed to survive in his Caribbean time-capsule. If you liked "Jurassic Park", you'll probably enjoy "Comandante".
Il gattopardo (1963)
An aristocrat of cinema
"Il Gattopardo" is a towering masterpiece, one of those films which one must see to complete one's visual education. Burt Lancaster's performance has an intensity and an understated quality he never achieved again. Forget his OTT performance in "Elmer Gantry": it was here, in "Il Gattopardo" where he showed what he was REALLY capable of. He plays Prince Salina, and he is truly princely. But if he is the prince of the screen for the whole length of the movie, there is a princess next to him: Claudia Cardinale, whose name should be changed to Carnale or perhaps Boccato di Cardinale -simply exquisite! Visconti was an aristocrat, and he lent to the subject of this film, the inevitable decadence of the aristocratic class and the rise of the bourgeoisie, an elegiac tone, but without forgetting his sense of humor and some touches of comedy. And the sheer beauty of it all: the famous party sequence has been imitated again and again (e.g., in Scorsese's "Age of Innocence"), but no pupil has managed to outshine the master. The cinematography is simply gorgeous (Visconti, a Lombard, was obviously seduced by the shining light of Sicily). And Nino Rota's score is a tour de force, which can only be compared to his scores for Fellini or for "The Godfather", parts 1 & 2 -and believe me, I think I like "Il Gattopardo" even better. And talking about "The Godfather", the influence of "Il Gattopardo" is clearly visible. So, if you are among those that voted for Coppola's Shakespearian work to be among the top 10 in the IMDB list, please, do check "Il Gattopardo" and help it make it to the top 10, too. It certainly deserves it.
Olmi is one of Europe's last Old Masters in the art of film making. He is usually regarded as a belated neo-realist, but after you've seen "The Legend of the Holy Drinker", you will realize the label simply does not stick. This is a film about spirituality, about communion, one of the most deeply religious movies ever, whose only rivals might be Dreyer's "Ordet" or Bergman's rather pretentious "faith trilogy" ("Through a Glass Darkly", "Winter Light" and "The Silence"). However, you will not find Scandinavian mists or angst in Catholic Olmi's adaptation of the beautiful novella written, oddly enough, by a great Jewish novelist, Joseph Roth. Wine is a metaphor for life, and Paris is a metaphor for our urban world. In this symbolic universe, it takes a great actor to give flesh and blood to the character of Andreas, the holy drinker, a beggar endowed with an amazing sense of dignity. Rutger Hauer was the man for the job: this was his best performance: he was never better, and, to judge from the course his career has taken, I fear he will never be better than in this film. It is not a thriller, but it is thrilling. It takes its own leisurely pace, but goes very far, very deep indeed into the human soul. After so many insipid or unpalatable cinematic concoctions, treat yourself to this film: it truly is vintage stuff.
A well-rounded masterpiece
A script with a wonderful structure; an outstanding team of actresses; the most creative sound track I've heard since God knows when(I'm not talking about the music: this is a film you've got to listen to, not just watch); a masterful use of off-screen shots; the best opening sequence I've seen this year: a long shot in the tradition of "Touch of Evil" or "The Player"... Daring and thought-provoking in its contents as well as in its form, you may not find it absolutely perfect, but "The Circle" surely fits my definition of a masterpiece.