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Poulet aux prunes (2011)
Style vs Heart 1-0
By not betraying her own personal style and the comic source, evident in its graphic and contrived aesthetic, this film work from Marjane Satrapi doesn't' exploit his full poetic potential, as it chokes the plot in an exercise in style which enchants the eye more than the heart, in a series of surrealistic digressions, flashbacks and flash-forwards (the futures of protagonist's children), by looking for poetic effects instead of true poetry. Nevertheless, the ending, practically silent, explains and forgives the limits and the excesses of a film built on form and on a cinematographic "cinéphile" quoter mannerism, and finally gets to the craved emotion. Ironic, melancholic and visionary mix, with more care for narration and less for stylish frippery it would have been a great hymn to life: as it is now, it did it in half. Paraphrasing the character of the music master: good technique with no heart doesn't make great music.
The Unknown (1927)
One of the greatest silent films ever
Little, simple and synthetic, but astonishing and great for its content, "The Unknown" is one of the zeniths of silent cinema, a bright and flooring horror mélo, grotesque and devastating, absolutely mad and unpredictable in its overturns, monstrosities and controversies. Here circus is a metaphor of world, where everything is art-made, hallucinated, petty, and the sane people are the real monsters, more than dwarfs and mutilated ones. Helped by the alienated and masochistic performance by legendary Lon Chaney, made up as a real mutilated man, Browning made a work of pure cinema, which strikes over the visual surface, in the depth of subconscious, in a state of delirium and horror which looks like dream, and it's indeed the purest, more secret and perverse side of human mind. His ability to manipulate pictures and psychologies makes this film a compendium about destructive vortex of human passions, and about the thin lines which separate the opposites: human and beastly, true and fake, sane and insane, hate and love, which mix up all together and estrange points of views in a confused turmoil, which lasts even after the mocking and tragic ending.
**** out of 5
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
The same old American indie film, nothing new
Debut film for thirty-years old Benh Zeitlin, quite overrated if we look the number of awards and the absurd 4 nominations, is the same indie film à l'americaine: enjoyable, striking, fake poetic, shaky and neurotic, engaged in ecology and in giving a new (?) look on the world, through the eyes of a child and an isolated world, decayed but not as much as so-called civil one. Unavoidably everybody could like it, it's useless to discuss director's visual talent and not-actors' naturalistic performances, but a great movie, as it pretends to be, should also say something new. The research of a lost mother (read: Mother Nature, God, etc.), the character of authoritative father, the naïf joy of childhood, the wonders of uncontaminated nature, threatened by catastrophe and by technology, the lyrical power of music, the evocative images, it's all Terrence Malick's cup of tea, all born by "The Tree Of Life" yes, a film that really changed cinema rules for ever, with an illuminated and moving prayer to life. And then: Kusturica and his gypsies, the refuse of civility of "The Village", austere and lonely lifestyle of Kim Ki-Duk's "The Isle"
list of references is very long. In Zeitlin's film lyrical meets dull and go along with, because in such an approximate plot, often ambiguous (who are the giant boars and what they want?), the rhythm, of course, is up and down. Surely it tells a wild America about which nobody ever talks, but basic moral in the mushy ending is that the father teaches to his child to be "king", that nature has to be dominated, that outside of their home everybody's bad, that she hasn't to cry, but to be strong, always, and stronger than others. Pure Yankee philosophy, in the most conservative film of the year, never mind "Lincoln".
Un homme et une femme (1966)
Prototype/Stereotype of French cinema/love
Anne (Anouk Aimée) and rally pilot Jean-Louis (jean-Louis Trintignant) meet in Dauville, in Northern France, where their respective children study in boarding school: both widows, they guess to start a relationship, but their past could be an obstacle.
Putting aside the programmatic banality of the mushy plot, "Un homme, une femme" is a very interesting film for the way it's written, then filmed, as the image of memory substitutes word, music denies dialog and oppresses the picture (the famous and frivolous theme by Francis Lai), the sudden editing, the freshness of a style that, by color or b&w print, hand camera or frenetic cuts, has been academic as prototype/stereotype of French cinema, and even, years later, a sample for commercials. Style, of course, isn't enough to make happier a schmaltzy and predictable story where death, as love, is just anecdote , but Lelouch has done a good job creating a nice compendium of pictures, music, sounds, faces, and drawing a love mythology kisses, hugs, doubts, thoughts, stations, trains, telegrams, phone calls, car rides, hotel rooms, dilemmas and confusions which is banal, gratuitous, partial, but incisive and well kept in rhythm.
*** out of 5
Just a bridge between two masterpieces
Differently from previous "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance", Park Chan-wook's iper-realistic and brutal aesthetics here becomes dynamic and puzzled, as its violence gets more spectacular than estranged, so more involved in entertainment than in reflection: in this sense it's an achieved film for the way it manipulates, even with a great dodge, the attention of the audience who never gives up in the suspense crescendo, plot twists, flashbacks, all mixed by sapient editing just to get us curious and intrigued. Anyway the extreme violence becomes pathetic, really excessive if not justified, self-satisfied in sadistic incursions in bad taste and in a mannerism end to itself, surely of great impact for the ability of director to shock and wonder, but not always necessary. After all the narrative machine, cerebral, confused, studied like a glove with that modern and Hollywood-a-like attitude to plot twist and ambiguity, doesn't betray the comics' source with frame shots and parallel chronological structure, but even with a certain, overblown absurdity which often cuts off of the film, visually sensational, a kind of honesty. Chased by apocalyptic music, macabre game of incest and blackmails, punishments and tortures, violence against himself, against next in line, against animals (the protagonist eat a living octopus), has some inventive flash, it's cathartic as Greek tragedy source (Sophocles' "Oedipus the King"), but even if the passionate audience sews the wires of the story and characters, gets order in the chaos and fins solutions to the enigma, something is still missing, something unachieved and unobserved: an authentic verisimilitude for this delirium, which goes over the equilibrium between Dionysian and Apollonian , giving up to this last one and to a muddled work of mind. By the way, it's a great actor performance for Choi-Min Sik, in a still significant artwork from a certain Asiatic cinema, and from an extraordinary director. In his trilogy, this film in the middle is the less deep and the funniest one, the one in which he dared the most in terms of style and provocation, but even the most commercial and mainstream, in Tarantino pulp era.
Il gaucho (1964)
An unknown pearl of Italian comedy
Leaded by boor p.r. Marco Ravicchio (Vittorio Gassman), an Italian cinematographic crew goes to Buenos Aires to join a film festival. Housed by rich engineer Marucchelli (Amedeo Nazzari), nostalgic expatriated and braggart, everybody lives the dream of a better life in Argentina, and even Marco, between a love court and a small con, has the delusion to stay there for ever, until he meets his old friend Stefano(Nino Manfredi), emigrant who didn't get fortune at all.
Underrated jewel of Italian comedy, a bitter, cynical, bad film on Italian faces in Argentinean promised land, land of sadness and disillusions: these are the faces of an Italy which is petty, upstart, boor, vain, eccentric, buffoon, folkloristic, hypocrite, frivolous, but even human, always in the middle between pathetic and ridiculous. The script is of a pungent intelligence, actors are exceptional and histrionic: we laugh with heart, but with a bitter fond of guilt.
***½ out of 5
The Triumph Of Cinema - 10/10
Silent, black and white, expressionist, virtuoso in his classically vintage mise en scene, "Blancanieves" is a triumph of real cinema and invention, folk culture and Iberian poetry, a post-modern masterpiece in which the aesthetic of silent cinema with its quotes and its expressive forms, the single power of pictures and musical score it's not only an end, as it has been for the contemporary and more exalted "The Artist" (in which retro style was justified by the homage to old Hollywood), but a mean, a perfect mean, to tell a story: the usual one, by Grimm's brothers tiredly taken to screens so many times in so different ways, but here completely twisted, tipped over, in a Gothic, Spanish and extravagant version where Snow White and seven dwarfs are toreros, the set is Seville between '10s and '20s, and the usual Disney fable hearts and flowers go to hell in benefit of a dark tonality, a black humor and a grotesque taste which unchains an unstoppable series of stylistic, comical, poetic inventions, unpredictable as sensational. Under the aegis of a deep patriotic identity, "Blancanieves" has the rhythm of a corrida, the passion of a flamenco, the blood of the arena, the twists of circus and the weight of jealousy, of love duel, which is heart and root of Spanish romanticism. It's a modern "Carmen" with Oedipus complex, tuned with "guitara" and castanets, and painted with the oldest cinema aesthetic, close-ups, gags, depth of field, lights and darks of great silent cinema, here in its maximal expression, without any self-satisfaction at all. It's not a divertissement, and not a simple homage, not a pastiche: it's like a film should be, simple, dry, moving, as cinema in its beginning. Cinephile mannerism of Pablo Berger doesn't make lose the film in a style exercise, but helps to tell a black fairy tale, out of time, revolutionary and anarchic, which couldn't be represented some way else. A bond of immediate emotion and narrative synthesis, which discovers in the arena a theater of all life sensation range: laugh, crying, show, anguish, childhood lightness and horrid adults' cruelty, the weight of past and memories, ghosts and returns, a little antique world in which good and evil, hate and love, jealousy and solidarity, clash and overturn in front of an enraptured, manipulated audience who asks for more, who wants to be thrilled, who gets touched, who has fun, and in the end asks grace for the bull. And, on the very last scene, cries for masterpiece!
Los amantes pasajeros (2013)
A good minor Almodòvar
Twenty five years after "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios", Almodòvar comes back to comedy, without losing that bad, kitsch, classic, self-quoting, ironical and pop taste which contaminates his work. Surely is a minor film in his filmography, less brilliant and less important than his 80's comedies, about which this script offers nostalgic sparks, but it's absolutely enjoyable, light, and with some exhilarating moment (gay stewards singing in playback "I'm So Excited" by Pointer Sisters is a pearl). And whether if it's true that narrative structure and meaning are missing, on the other hand the sequence of gags, paradoxical situations and various digressions is funny and still surprises for its excessive but not vulgar way to talk about sexuality, as always extreme or doubtful in his characters, played by old and new glories of Spanish cinema.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
An American modern tragedy
An American modern tragedy, built in three acts, each one marked by a protagonist and a variation on the theme of justice, with the unavoidable final resolution, cathartic and merciful, crossed in the middle by the all-round and anti-manicheist character of policeman (and then attorney) Avery Cross, mirror of a ferociously ambitious humanity, but still born in a world of values which is lost, and which lost him. In this world without fathers, in which the absorbing 140 minutes of film runs fast, as in Shakespeare's plays father's guilt falls on their sons, and the confront between transversal generations and justices leaves more than a doubt about which could be or not a perfect education: sons of nobody, of the old democratic guard (Avery's father), of adoptive substitutive fathers (Jason's black father), of dead defamed men or exalted heroes, the truth is in the middle and it loses itself. The narrative construction, treble like in a play, leaves the protagonist aside after about 40 minutes, like Hitchcock's MacGuffin in "Psyco", and focuses on the consequences of a simple bloody gesture which, as in life, are lethal, vital, forever: policeman Avery's coming up in the scene clears up the plot, and opens to the third film in the film, the most convincing and touching, in which choices of the past become the self-destructive, vulgar, tragic, vindictive present of two opposite boys, socially different, united by drugs, fighting for a past which doesn't belong to them but by whom they depend. In this narrative game, which proudly escapes from overblown effects of flashback (just a family picture appears as a memento and moment of life), tragedy drifts in a rhythm which doses the furor and sculpts with file psychologically surprising characters. In the clockwork orange which is nowadays American society, that real ugly dirty bad one which indie cinema knows and must tell, executed and archived violence comes back like a boomerang, death doesn't redeem, so that who executes violence and who is subjected to it are the usual ones, winners or losers in the same microcosm, genetically destined to glory or to scaffold. So it doesn't wonder that in this époque without moral or justice values, a time of ecstasy in all senses, ambition is the only reason to live, sons of great men and sons of outlaws which fight in the name of a single past act, glorious for Sunday hero (as in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance") and ignominious for Sunday delinquent: the act of violence makes and dismantles families and people, but the world is a tricked championship, and always the same win, lords of power and money. Or almost, perhaps, because the formidable author Derek Cianfrance mixes cards, asks the audience participation, sympathy and benefit of doubt, because nothing is what it seems. Emotion is assured not only by a deep script and a neurotic direction, which is masterful in the actions scenes as in most intimate ones (to remember, the title long take with Luke walking to the death wheel, the hand camera at the character's shoulders, dolly from high on the routes), but also by excellent and moving actors: gelid, serious, alienated, Ryan Gosling is surely the best actor of this decade, but the great surprise is Bradley Cooper, which, optimal if not better in dramatic register, remembers his education at Actor's Studio. This film is a gem in the art of storytelling, happily commented by a very punctual and eclectic music choice, unique in its way to describe, turn over, criticize nowadays corrupt society, with a graceful, tender, cruel, merciful, cold touch, all in one. Extraordinary.
Chinjeolhan geumjassi (2005)
Third chapter of the trilogy, it's a kind of summa which moderates the cruel and aesthetic violence of the previous "Oldboy" for a greater maturity and a deeper humanity, symmetrical and opposite to "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance", with whom shares the concept of sympathy both in the title and in the plot. Revenge is not private anymore, it's collective, with the moving expedient from Agatha Christie's "Murder on Orient Express" of the victims' relatives who knife one by one the body of the monster. The theme of stolen and raped childhood, already in previous films by Chan-wook, is the motor for a human, necessary revenge, in which violence, if less bloody and spectacular, is even more tragic and liberating just because out of sight and suggested, never self satisfied. By refusing pathos, but not emotion, it's a painful film about guilt and atonement, pity and purity, which its splendid protagonist, Mary and Christ in the same time, incarnates for her jail-house friends (in dark humor full flashbacks) and for the victims caused by the fury of the insusceptible professor Baek, which ending line, when he is become the victim of his victims in the abandoned school, just like Peter Lorre in the warehouse in "M", is the real key of the film and its last meaning. There's no perfect person in the world: in fact, even the afflicted parents who obviously want blood and life from who stolen it to their children, they meet in the end for a miserable dinner just to have back the ransom they gave to the monster. Pity is linked to justice, it's ambiguous and never universal: as in Fritz Lang, accused and accusers are both in the same quagmire. For Lady Vengeance, guilty and conscious of searching peace by violence, the only possible atonement is to put her face deeply in a white cake, in an ending full of meaning, covered by snow and beautiful score. In this puzzle of revenges and secrets, crossed and parallel stories, blackmails and kidnappings, real or fake guilts, there is even the theme of video and mass media, like and more than "Oldboy": Geum-ja which repeats the act of the murder in front of a crowd of keen reporters and Geum-ja who shows to the parents of the victims the harrowing tapes of the torture suffered by their children state the power and the danger of video, and the thin perversion of voyeurism. So, it's just what Park Chan-wook does with his baroque and refined direction at the expense or benefit of the audience, at complete ecstatic mercy of images.