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La grande bellezza (2013)
Italian existential masterpiece riding the collapse of Rome -and the West
It was a few weeks ago, within the first few seconds of the trailers I had understood it was a movie by one of the two greatest Italian directors of our time Paolo Sorrentino, the other being Nanni Moretti. A few seconds later I have thought this could be a movie on Il Divo's most memorable scene for me, the party and the dance of Toni Servino's character and I was very happy Sorrentino elaborated on that. And few seconds later Fellini came to my mind, 8 1/2 that is, long before the trailer ended.
So I was very eager to go see this movie. And it turned out even better than I had anticipated.
If one should think of Fellini, The Grande Belazza would be more of a Dolce Vita whose characters has run its course, like Rome itself, rather than 8 1/2. It is more international and more political but certainly not enough for our times.
Such beautiful imagery, such great acting and directing. The movie flows and shines before our eyes like the Mediterranean under the sun.
Sorrentino revisited his favorite theme of life, death and love many years after the Consequence del L'amore but surpassed it. He is working with Toni Servino again along with other aging artists to great effect.
Existentialism has its dose of cynicism and possibly being aware of this he criticizes himself as artists picking on things rather than feeling about them, as in Ramona tidbit in a conversation scene.
There are many metaphors such as legend of Sysiphos, but striking is the scene which reveals who is the worker in Italy! Sorrentino unlike Fellini portrays hypocrisy of the Western middle class side by side that of its wealthy rulers.
It shows Vatican as a sideshow to capitalism like Habemus Papam of Moretti but that side story is overly long though appropriate in the bigger theme of life, death and love.
Europeans almost never take on capitalism directly like Michael Moore does and too covert is too coward, hence cynical. Including Camus. Life is too much fun for the Mediterranean Europeans to ask for freedom. So the director leaves us with ambivalent feelings, a choice of either enjoying the absurdity and emptiness of life and or asking rigorous questions on capitalism and the West.
A masterpiece on artistic terms rather than the philosophical!
Jeune & jolie (2013)
Trier'ish Haneke salute with Ozon touch, Bunuel inspired !
The movie creates ambivalent thoughts and feelings on many levels, on historic perspective, on the political grounds covered in sexual atmosphere prevalent in the West with case in point France, on the use of stereotypes and quality of storytelling.
Not much has changed in the West since Bunuel's Belle Du Jour. Its fallen capitalist system and the inevitable alienation and hypocrisy that shows itself in multiple facets of society including sexuality. I would add Ozon's own fixation on gay themes even in heterosexual films as an another result. In fact he makes as a director exactly what he criticizes in his film subject, so another level of Western hypocrisy.
So pretty Marine Vocht is! Well cast, well played. Her character asexual most of the time, a naive girl that sometimes grows up.
There is a slight directing fallout in the collage of sex scenes which falls flat, at times the movie just touches barely some of the themes and stays superficial.
Haneke's Cache corridors in the hotel were perfect! Immediately recognizable, Cache being one of the best European movies of all time.
Moral and sexual hypocrisy of the middle class is shown well a la Trier but much softer. Softer than Habla con Ella from Almodovar too.
Stereotyping of the German or the seemingly Middle Eastern guy had some truth in it and showing them side by side with French men was the right thing to do, showing the materialism transcending borders.
Psychologically the film explores known but important themes of narcissism, loneliness, alienation, vulnerability, an epidemic in the capitalist West. And on prostitution it was an interesting take with Charlotte Rampling's character and again did stay superficial since it ignores the system at the base.
It was great to see the girl being sorry for death of the guy rather than her prostitution. That violence and in general death gets a pass in the media and society while sexual escapades are always frowned upon.
All in all, it was good to see this film.
Schaste moe (2010)
Leads nowhere but to propaganda
This film opens with a compelling scene involving a trucker in the countryside. It then follows on with the camera placed in front of the truck picking snapshots of people and their daily struggles along the road. More importantly we see a population subsisting in moral darkness. There is even a scene or two reminiscent of a Haneke wannabe.
Unfortunately the director plunges in this moral darkness he himself has created by revisiting history. When the film comes back to present day it falters and when it does that a second time in the rural home of a teacher it never comes back. The film loses any direction and becomes a collage of arbitrary violence. And most unfortunately this part is way longer then the rest of the movie! The director who apparently aims to lay the blame of current Ukrainian problems into Soviet era does not even stop short of a Nazi praise in the character of a teacher who blatantly hints God loving Nazis could have created a better Ukraine. This is where the film will find its place in history as a showcase of the rise of the extreme right in Europe! This is where free speech cunningly turns into hate speech and the propaganda goes totally out of control.
Mind blowing for sure if that was the intention of the director! This film can be watched as a case study.
Sawan baan na (2009)
A riveting visual treatise on Thai peasants' struggles under capitalism
Stunningly beautiful nature becomes peasants' nightmare in this dramatic film depicting struggling peasants under a capitalistic pyramid scheme. The realism of the story is so palpable that I thought I was watching a documentary. Yet, the movie is a fluidly flowing drama that analyzes dynamic relations between the characters.
The story is also global like capitalism itself, wherever you live, it is very likely that a similar story happens in your country.
The landlord of a small field buys a car on credit while the peasants who work his field struggle with heavy debts to banks. Feudalism lives in 21st century at all levels, from the farm workers all the way up to the bankers.
We also get to know a retired teacher who has bought a small land with his life savings and practices organic farming and living. He lives next to the rice paddy workers who work on the rice paddy with ancient methods.
Is the teacher's way of life too utopian to support crowded rural families? The peasants are in dire straits to pay back the banks in hurry, they are always on the edge, considering going to Bangkok for manual labor jobs. Under this constant threat that the banks impose, can these workers afford to go as slowly as retired teacher? The movie depicts many aspects of capitalism and how it turns people into slaves and how problems in the fields propagate to the city.
Beautiful sceneries and gripping drama make this film a must see.
Holding on to Jah (2011)
Jamaica's Sad Story
This is a very nice documentary that shows the historical, political and social background of Reggae music. It is wonderful analysis of the link between the art and the history of a nation. And this analysis may hold true for many other people around the world as well.
The title of my comment may seem contradictory as reggae is optimistic and cheery. How such a nice, groovy, easygoing music be the expression of hopelessness, poverty, centuries old oppression first by slavery then by the Western oligarchs and their local henchmen one might ask. Fado, Portugal's folk music, is the music of the slumps and slaves and by contrast it is touchy.
The answer may be that Reggae is only a few decades old. Jamaicans have invented the music when Cristian religion and pot had taken a hold in the country. There is a learned and accepted hopelessness that emanates from all the musicians in the documentary. The only thing they have is their music, and they have chosen to project their wish for happiness onto the music.
The movie is a testimony to ancient Greek philosophers: Who is more optimist, the person who has lost all hope and laughs at the misery of the people every day, or the pessimist who worries and cries for that misery? In short, religion, music and opium is stronger than religion alone.
Samson and Delilah (2009)
Dramatic and realistic beginning of the movie leads to religious optimism and unrealistic hope.
The film is shot efficiently with powerful scenes conveying strong emotions and important story lines in concise forms. The actors play well and convey the story successfully.
However the story itself is not good, a religious optimism which is unrealistic and borders on propaganda. Any unfounded optimism makes people apathetic and guides people into accepting injustice and hope for miracles to happen. Only realities, however unpalatable force people to look for solutions to problems. Economic problems can be solved by economic systems, not religions.
Los abrazos rotos (2009)
Never too late to look at a painful past and do the right thing
In warm saturated colors and touches of French film noir, Almodovar shows one tragic yet optimistic tale of a blind screenwriter/director who falls in love with his leading actress.
When the end credits began to roll, I was still in the movie not wanting out. Almost childishly unrealistic pure passionate love is attacked by jealous evil passion.
Almodovar being one of the greatest directors of our time always shows love in the most difficult or impossible situations and gets away with it, whether in Todo sobre mi Madre or his masterpiece Habla con Ella.There is no other director who can depict love in such unusual circumstances. He makes the viewer swim in a sea of conflicting emotions while love always trumps any morality. This time it is not moral vs. love, it is unconditional love vs. evil passion and jealous love.
In most of his films there is a character who seems to deal with his own homosexuality, this one is no exception. I believe somehow Almodovar does this as a therapy to find out the roots of his own homosexuality, such as anger towards a mean and despotic father. There was also a misogynistic feel in one sex scene. Still, this is a small side issue. The movie depicts love between a man and a woman.
Los abrazos rotos is distinct from his other movies in that Almodovar deals with social conditions of his characters are forced to do things for money when the government cannot fulfill its duty to its citizens. The businessman owns a big business and is in bed with the same government that denies adequate health care to its citizens. In the film that the blind director makes, the way to riches is through selling drugs.
The movie works on a personal level but may equally be valid at a social level. Extreme tragedies can force us to be blind as it might be too painful to look at reality. We would like to view events as accidents. And we may be forced to change our identity to accommodate changes. However, it is never too late to look at our past and to right any wrongs we can, even when we cannot bring back what we have lost.
Loooking at the past also means looking at the great directors of the past too as this film is about film-making as well.
This movie may not have a perfect script but it certainly works on many levels. It is plain gorgeous, just like bare breasted Penelope Cruz.
Three generations through one broken love story
Master of broken love stories, Theo Angelopoulos, presents us the story of the last 60 years, the struggle between the absoluteness of love and the sadness of life.
Three generations move from one place to another like leaves in the winds of immense political changes while we witness the parallels between their personal lives and those social changes in lyrical imagery.
The two different paths taken by lovers who have fled Greece after the defeat of the Greek leftists by the American and British led Royalist army forms the basis of the film. Spyros goes to the US and Eleni to the Soviet Union. Spryos' attempt to take Eleni out of the Soviet Union ends dramatically. Eleni is sent to Siberia and Sypros to jail. They are then separated for decades but finally get together in the US. Their love child has become a movie director whose sole purpose in life is his career in the West while their granddaughter has to live the teenage life of divorced parents, lost in a life with no purpose.
These social changes accompany political changes, somehow West starts resembling East. Siberian gulag security has now become Western airport security while the Russian secret police did turn into Berlin police. On this gloomy background Angelopoulos is not too pessimistic, there is a glimmer of hope, the only generation that can save the Gen Xers from their selfish Baby boomer parents are their grandparents.
Overall, a wonderful movie by one the greatest directors of our time, not only packed with strong historic and political content but also beautiful poetry with many dramatic scenes, one especially standing out. And while Piccoli is good, Bruno Ganz offers a great performance.
Nefes: Vatan Sagolsun (2009)
War movie based on true stories and very realistically shot!
The film opens with a military helicopter flying over rocky mountains to a remote outpost in southeastern Turkey. The terrain is extremely rough and the soldiers manning the hilltop post are isolated from other units. The land is treacherous but the Kurdish terrorists crossing the border from Iraq are more so.
Military service in Turkey is compulsory much like a draft in the US, so the soldiers are mostly young people right out of college or high school, with a variety of professions and interests. Their duty is to protect their country against a sinister enemy. In their isolation they miss their wives, girlfriends and moms.
The local terrorist leader hiding in the mountains frequently interrupts the outpost commander's conversation over the wireless network and threatens to attack the base. The commander has a vendetta against the terrorist who has killed his friend, a fellow soldier. The fact that the soldiers have to guard the base at all times while the terrorists can attack at their choosing creates a tense drama.
This movie is a must-see for anyone looking for human drama in war and incredibly realistic gunfight scenes. But the movie's main legacy is accurate portrayal of the determination of the Turkish army and the Turkish people to protect Turkey founded by Ataturk.
Nurturing Fascism Somewhere in Black and White Germany
During the course of the year before WWI, a series of tragic and suspicious looking incidents take place in a small farming village somewhere in black and white Germany. The culprit or the culprits behind the crime wave will not be too easy to find.
The doctor, the priest, the baron and the teacher who also narrates the film form the elite of the village. We get to know each one of them and a few other villagers along with children of this village, calm on the surface but deeply tormented by an undercurrent of brutality, envy, malice and apathy.
The children's natural path to maturity is blocked by strict religious morality, cruelly enforced by the priest, thereby inhibiting their personal observation of the world around them. The priest feeds children with guilt and sexual repression instead of love and punishes even their most innocent mistakes. Certainly this environment will make it easy for them to not only accept but seek ruthless authority later in life.
As might be expected, love in this town is restrained and uneasy, while incest and affairs are overlooked by villagers. The Baron employs half of the village in his farm, yet almost no one seems to be against feudalism, nor rise up against the accidents that happen in the workplace. Social justice is a stranger to town, yet villagers are entrenched in apathy.
If adults do not face up the truth, however this truth might be against their convictions, rise up and take charge, then who will? And according to whose morality? Isn't fascism with racism, in short Nazism, misdirected popular anger and an easy response to deep injustices within a society ? Haneke observes mostly psychological, educational and religious roots of Nazism while leaving economic aspects mostly in the background.
Visuals of the film are very solid. The symmetry in the shots and the tidiness of the houses, even of those belonging to the poor farmers hint at the discipline and rigor Germans are well known for. Acting is top notch by the whole cast, especially children's faces beam just like in Bergman films. Directing was superb.
Haneke uses a village and a narrator similar in essence to Lars Von Trier's Dogville, still these two movies are clearly different.
Das Weisse Band has also some similarities to Cache, but just one notch less satisfying than his masterpiece which had a slightly more intriguing and fulfilling story. This movie is made more accessible by Haneke with his choice of more obvious tips, where sometimes characters talk directly about the situation. But in a time and age when people are battling too many problems and drug themselves with TV and easy payoffs who could blame Haneke?
Given the current global economic conditions and the fanaticism running high across all three major religions, this is a must-see movie for anyone caring about the future of our global village to avoid a Le Temps du Loup type of ending!