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Neco z Alenky (1987)
My favourite screen adaptation of Carroll's classic novel, because it's so different from the cute dreamy candy-coloured wonderland which Alice is usually visiting. I still haven't read the source material; I probably think I've become too old for it by now, but that's just a stupid excuse. Or maybe because I know the story inside and out (as depicted by Disney and other overly optimistic offerers). That's why I was so positively surprised by Svankmajer's dark and eerie version, far from what I would have expected even when I read the filmmaker's name. Svankmajer does make strange little films, from what I know and saw so far, sometimes even quite whacky stuff. This film is no exception, but it has an uniquely morbid atmosphere due to the fascinating stop-motion animation and the unsettling sound effects. There's no conventional dialog which is reduced to a minimum and mostly recited by Alice herself from a third person perspective with the attachment "...says the white rabbit" et al. This technique doesn't allow us to feel with and for Alice and to delve into her fate; it rather makes us aware that we are merely within a tale. There's no way we can get lost in the intellectual world of six-year-old Alice; she remains to be a self-contained, pretty incommunicative little girl that's just trying to get out of this nightmare (without being ignorant to oddities that constantly pass her way out), and we are just observers of her dream. It's a film made not for everyone for sure; as a squeamish romantic or a lover of the more optimistic versions, you'd probably hate it. I, for one, am all in for a morbid, decayed, rotten cinematic vision, especially when it hits a children's classic and completely turns it upside down.
Faces of Earth
Great film if you just want to let loose your mind and abandon all other thoughts. As expected, the wealth of the images to a wonderful score is nothing less than fantastic, this time closer to people's faces while they're working their asses off, struggling with dirt, dust and garbage or just staring right into the camera, often a little uncertain, sometimes with proudness, but never with pride and always quite affecting. Alle these worn out, contemplative Third World faces we see in close-up or in half distance show the mortality and vigour, the pettiness and dignity of mankind at the same time - that's the underlying beauty of this overwhelmingly ugly world. There's one particular image that I've kept till today: in a reoccurring scene taking place somewhere in the Middle East, Reggio focuses his lenses at a little girl in tears and dust clouds steering a racing horse cart over a bumpy road always in danger to fall over while, which seems to be, her father lies next to her on the box, unable to move and seemingly wasted. She is obviously in pain and desperation and yet masterfully manages her difficult situation (to drive her drunken father home?), probably not for the first time. Quite powerful.
La jetée (1962)
Moments to Last a Lifetime
A masterpiece of the highest order. If there's anything like perfection, this short film would be the epitome of it, at least in the cinematic sense. Marker's only fictional story in his career is told not through moving pictures, but stills that are sorted and superimposed. It is a necessary stylisation to give the film this unique power and enchantment that it has. It's a science-fiction story after all, and its documentary look, through-composed as a sequence of snapshots in a figurative photo album, makes it much more reliable.
Another thing: when the protagonist remembers a photograph that he has seen in his youth, we, the viewers, are facing a similar puzzle of pictures. La jetée leaves us forming a formulated, living universe, similar to the protagonist who defines his whole purpose in life out of one single impression. He lives and feels only through the knowledge of this important picture which has such an enormous, spectacular effect on his puerile soul, so that he even develops the ability to travel through time and space to liven up his memories and make that one photograph tangible for him. So, with the plot in mind, there's absolutely no other choice to tell the story than in this way. And this way is peerlessly productive and effective, formally poetic, reflexive and a perfect dream.
There's especially one particular moment, that I'm sure will go along with me for the rest of my life: when the beloved girl seems to blink her eye at us (me?) and exposes a smile. Marker uses only frozen single pictures of her, but in this very shot he shares a deeply moving, genuine, vibrant moment of happiness and affection with us in an ultimate profession of love to the art of film and love itself. It is probably one of the greatest, most emotional moments in the history of cinema. Art to be meant to last forever. (10/10)
Les misérables (1934)
From Book to Screen
Hugo's novel is my bible. I remember, while I was reading the books in the course of over one year (in small portions mostly, but not rarely I had to sacrifice an entire night), one of the three volumes has been always in a striking distance to me: near my pillow, riding pillion, on my school desk or in my backpack on trips and sleep-overs. Simply put, the story was my home for that one year, Jean Valjean one of my closest friends and Cosette my own child. That's now about 10 years ago and I still return to it every once in a while, pick randomly chapters to read and still am drawn to Hugo's uniquely beautiful and powerful language (i.e. the chapter where he describes the battle of Waterloo is probably the single best piece of literature I've ever read). So, although, I love the book so much, I never dared to touch any screen adaptation, and there are plenty out there, because I did not want to ruin my imaginations of Les misérables I had in my mind for more than 10 years now. I finally did last week and what can I say? Actually, I don't want to spout too much, to run into danger to talk things to death, but it's an amazing, amazing experience when you see those pictures that were engraved in your head for a long time, now alive, in front of your eyes instead of behind. Of course, a book is, I guess, always more stimulating than its adaptation (are there actually any examples to disprove?), and Bernard's is no exception. In fact, this one is as close to the essence of literature as the medium can get. Everything that can be great about movies comes together here, and in the end, Les misérables is the first film I immediately felt home (which is mostly due to the previous history I have with the story), and when a filmmaker achieves exactly this with his very own methods, like a writer does with his/hers, the outcome is nothing less than, yes, cinematic perfection.
En passion (1969)
Landscapes of the Soul
I think, En passion is indeed not a perfect film, but who likes perfection? In fact, I think, up to now, it belongs in Bergman's top 10 and is a great addition to the issues argued in Vargtimmen, Skammen and Rite. All these characters here are not really authentic, but one: Verner, the old man suspected by the villagers on that island to be the animal abuser, and therefore excruciated. Everyone else, including Andreas, Anna and the couple they are friends with, are people who call for problems, get entrapped by them and catapult themselves into an almost-catastrophe. It's interesting that Verner, writes to Andreas, who seems to be the worst of all, i.e. most un-authentic, a suicide note, saying: "I can't look into anyone's eyes anymore", is, to my understanding, the key to the film - self-made problems contrasted with problems created externally. Given Verner's suicide, driven by slander and torture, Andreas' and Anna's issues in their relationship fade, normally, but then an axe gets involved, a stable burns down and a horse runs off, ablazed, kindled by the real animal tormentor who still is on the loose. An inferno.
What I like most about this film, though, is its situational context: the island. I can't think of another Bergman film where the environment plays a bigger role than here. All figures are moving in a lost, iced vastness, in defoliated, sparse woods, get stuck in morass and dirt. Animals get brutally tortured and killed, wood gets chopped, wagons bog down in mud. The forlornness and menace of the people in nature is wonderfully captured by Nykvist, mostly in long, high-angle or panoramic shots and is an intriguing contrast to the interior (of the cottages, where the talking, cheating and fighting takes place) - inside there lurks the psychic, outside there's the physical death. That is a great imagery. However, I'm not satisfied with these interview snippets which I think is a nice idea (such as Bergman's verbal directions in the off in Vargtimmen), but it's executed quite poorly.
9 Songs (2004)
Intimacies, Iced Landscapes and Rock'n'Roll
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in a rather softly erotic, entirely undramatic love story of two people who are brought together by coincidence and whose lives part after a short, intense time. It's explicit, upfront, even radical in its depiction, but never speculative - a typical Winterbottom film. What I like best about it is the interplay of the intimate bed scenes with the Antarctic footage and the (rousing) recordings of the concerts. It perfectly forges links from the physical, romantic joie de vrie to spirituality and human surroundings. Not recommended to the prudes, but to everyone else who enjoys cinema at its most intimate.
Away from Her (2006)
This is what I'd call "mature" film-making and it's almost hard to believe that a, at that time, 26-27 year old director could create such a meditative, sensitive study on age, transience of human mind, on language and its loss. Polley surely has sublime powers of observation; the main characters are perfectly cast. The pace of the film is remarkable as well - it gives enough time allowing us viewers to tenderly see into an intimate and threatened togetherness without getting caught in tragedy. A tiny drop of bitterness: whereas the main protagonists are perfectly illuminated, the secondary characters are too stereotyped - the detached retirement home manager, the lovely nurse, the lunatic inmate, the pierced emo-teenie-girl that makes friend with the elderly man and probably one or two more.
Efter brylluppet (2006)
Waiting for the Grim Reaper
Obviously an experiment in sociology of coincidences, accidents, death, family flexibility, demand of individual security and personal luck. Bier's film starts as a common controversy between restrained idealism (excellently represented by Mads Mikkelsen) and the mephistoic-friendly super-capitalism which seems to confirm the squalor of our modern profit-oriented society and then, in the second part, escalates to the personal tragedy of doomed Jörgen (performed with an impressive physical presence by Rolf Lassagard) who uses his wealth to secure his family and whose parvenuish manner shows true desperation. There are some extreme-extremely emotional moments, such as the last scene of Jörgen and his wife in the bedroom (it felt like a dagger slowly piercing through my chest) or Anna's heartbreaking reaction to Jörgen's confession. Now, when I think about it, it's a perfect companion to the film above.
Lady in the Water (2006)
OK, I have to take up the cudgels for this film and for Shyamalan in general. I was never a fan or even close to, but I think Shyamalan is a man on a constant search and with a deep yearning for a better world. I really do. This film, taking it pure and simple is beautiful and gentle and whimsical just like one of these ALMOST perfect pop songs, where you can't help it, but love them. So, as with these songs I'm not going to respond with the nastiness of a cynic (or worse: of a critic ;) ) to Syamalan's Lady in the Water, but have to engage into the story which, as always in the director's oeuvre, combines everyday life with supernaturalness and shows an array of different characters who are all searching for the meaning in their own lives and/or already haver lost any courage and optimism. It's of course no psychologically elaborated masterpiece à la Bergman, and yet, it isn't bad either, as the majority thinks it is. Shot by Wong-long-time colleague and virtuoso Christopher Doyle, the film abstains from the usual, "unbelievable" twist at the end and rather tells a modern fairy tale (the idea to this movie arose when Shyamalan read his kids a bedtime story this is a loose adaptation of that story) with charmed, broken characters, who finally find a purpose in life and at least change their present résumé through rescue at the end (this is no spoiler, of course we have a happy end here). "The times they are a-changin'", as the band A Whispering In The Noise properly puts it with their Bob Dylan cover during the closing credits.
Lancelot du Lac (1974)
Zombies in Armour
According to George A. Romero, Bresson has made only zombie films, and this one indeed suggests this conclusion. Inspired by Cocteau's Les chevaliers de la table ronde, the director created an absolutely unspectacular, scanty, masterful historical scenery which ultimately destroys all romantic imaginations of knighthood. Lancelot and his colleagues strut around stoically, preferably full-armoured, with a lowered visor and even when the helmet's off, there's not one emotion to read on the knights' faces which blink towards a world that is doomed to failure, a world that has lost its pivot because of guilt, doubts, a growing consciousness which calls itself into question. There's only one long shot in the entire film which stimulates the viewer in thinking beyond the pictures into a spiritual dimension which always has been Bresson's intention and theme. Lancelot is an impressively consequent, utterly economically told film that raises the big questions of life, love, faith, loyalty, honour and treason.