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Czech and Slovak Cinema: http://www.imdb.com/list/7Fxr9DriTes/
Persian Cinema: http://www.imdb.com/list/O_W_YAxSHQk/
Feature films in my movie library: http://www.imdb.com/list/oLOclwJ7ijQ/
Surreal Cinema: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls006574276/
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Kocár do Vídne (1966)
A road movie the communists didn't want you to see
During the opening shot of Karel Kachyňa's Carriage to Vienna, you can imagine what is to come. Wheels are heard rolling down a dirt road through a lush evergreen forest, inspiring thoughts of a splendidly adorned horse-drawn carriage making its way to the so-called City of Music, pride of Austria. Inside the coach, the fair and delicate daughter of an esteemed nobleman anticipates a rendezvous with a certain handsome gentleman. A lady in waiting attends to the necessary primping, ensuring that everything is just exactly perfect.
Baroque orchestral music emanates from deep within the woods, and a mystical fog hovers between the trees. Magic is in the air. An amazing night awaits: opera at Theater an der Wien, coffee and cakes at a quiet garden café, and an appearance at an exclusive ball in the Ceremonial Hall of Hofburg Palace, where the waltzes of Strauss and Brahms will have them dancing until dawn. La-di-da. Isn't life grand? Then you wake up from your daydream and realize that Carriage to Vienna is a dark, rough, gritty war drama, not some syrupy romantic fantasy suitable for a 15 Kleenex bon-bon fest. The carriage is little more than a cart, certainly not something in which anyone would want to show up at a ball. Tall trees block the sun, creating a gloomy world where the fog is not magical but ominous, opera is out of the question, and few eyes can see what happens along the shadowy road. Also, as it turns out, the cakes are a lie.
Krista, the leading lady, is no foofy princess type, but a tough Czech chick who is furious and quite willing to take it out on Hans and Günter, a pair of soldiers who picked the wrong day to mess with her. Had they known what kind of week she had been having, they may have chosen a different cartjack victim, likely resulting in them having an easier trip, though perhaps with a less capable driver. Their failure to make a well-informed decision means Hans and Günter are in for a hell of a ride, and there won't even be coffee to adjust anyone's attitude.
Back in the day, some government folks decided that nobody should watch Carriage to Vienna something about non-compliance with party propaganda guidelines, so they shut down production before shooting was complete. Co-writer Jan Procházka demonstrated the advantage of being well connected by obtaining permission for the movie to be finished, only for it to be shown once in 1966 and then banned until the communist government was booted out of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Fortunately, the film was well preserved while locked away, and now we can watch it in relatively high quality, commie propaganda guidelines be damned.
Overlooking Ore Carts
If only there was an Academy Award for Best Use of Ore Carts, Béla Tarr would be the proud owner of an Oscar for Damnation. There is simply no other film whose depiction of ore carts holds a candle to Tarr's masterful portrayal of dozens of carts suspended on a cable, traversing the landscape and incessantly gazing down upon a small Hungarian town.
Some industry insiders say the Academy may have been convinced to create the award had the mining community rallied behind the film. But at the time, Hungarian miners thought it was more important to jump on the "revolt against the Soviets" bandwagon than to lobby for increased recognition of the mining implements so long unappreciated by the Hollywood establishment.
Naysayers claim the Academy would not have given in to public pressure, citing the animal welfare community's failed campaign in support of a proposed Oscar for Best Performance by Stray Dogs, which experts agree would have been easily won by Damnation and its motley pack of canines.
However, it is generally believed that this was not a reflection of an aversion to expanded award offerings, but a result of the powers that be buying into the notion that because Hungary was a communist country when Damnation was filmed, the dogs featured in the film were not unwanted strays, but the people's dogs, owned and loved by millions, and therefore not sufficiently disadvantaged to merit special honors.
Other proposed awards that garnered significant grass roots support include Oscars for Most Atmospheric Droning, Best Poorly Synched Music, and Original Use of Indoor Campfire, as well as a Guinness Record for Most Rain Per Minute Filmed, none of which ultimately came to be.
But of all the awards not awarded, the Oscar for Best Use of Ore Carts is the one that will stand out in people's minds when they inevitably recall the ever-vigilant unsung heroes of one of the wettest land-based films ever made. If that makes Damnation sound like an uncommon sort of movie living in its own cinematic world that most filmmakers never visit, that's because it is, and that's a good thing.
The Significance of Split Seconds
What difference does a fraction of a second make? In baseball, it's the difference between a home run and strike three.
In the Olympics, it's the difference between a gold medal and 10th place.
In the movie Blind Chance, it's the difference of a lifetime.
An example of expert craftsmanship by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Blind Chance affords us the rare opportunity to see how a blip in time, a mere split second, can profoundly affect a person's current situation, and the path their life will take from that moment forward.
While the significance of sliced seconds is shown, we get to enjoy some quality time with the communist party, the anti-communist underground, some lovely ladies sans attire, and a mob of disgruntled drug addicts. We are also treated to one or more Slinkies going down stairs alone or in pairs. Indeed, it's quite a blend of characters, motives, and ideologies. However, it is not the point of the film to take sides, make moral statements, or ponder idealistic philosophies. The point is merely to illustrate its premise.
Let there be no doubt that the premise is more than adequately served. From top to bottom, beginning to end, Blind Chance is a fantastic film, an entertaining drama that encourages thought, while not being overbearing.
Just be sure to pay close attention, because a fraction of a second can also be the difference between understanding this film and missing the point entirely.
Léon Morin, prêtre (1961)
Church Chat With Substance
For someone seeking a movie that approaches faith, spirituality, and doubt in an intelligent, respectful manner, without pushing any particular agenda, Jean-Pierre Melville's Léon Morin, Priest may well be an excellent choice. It is a thinking film that does not tell anyone what to think, a wry film that does not take its subject lightly, and a contentious film that does not devolve into belligerence.
Perhaps you are weary of watching incendiary exposés in which smug non-believers do their best to make fools of people who are devout but not particularly articulate, quick witted, or well educated. It could be that you are interested in religious discussions that offer more than joking, mocking, and self-righteous phonies trying to out-Jesus one another in the name of social status.
Maybe you find no appeal in films that feature religion as little more than a means of identifying who to blow up, or perchance you have had enough of seeing reasonable questions about religious dogma summarily cast aside as blasphemy by a bunch of mindless sheep* that would not know their savior from a hole in the ground.
These are all cases that bode well for Léon Morin, Priest being a good movie to watch, because it is nothing like Religulous, Bruce Almighty, or Saved!
Instead, Léon Morin, Priest is a tale with a lot of smart dialogue between a young priest and an avowed atheist, several scenes depicting the occupation of France during World War II, some appropriate humor to keep things from getting too heavy, and a few romantic elements that won't even make grandma blush. Well OK, she might blush once or twice, but that is about it, and really, it's good for her.
* As it turns out, Melville was fresh out of mindless sheep when he made this film. Speculation remains unconfirmed as to whether or not this is due to his alleged reliance upon the virtually unknown Monty Python Sheep Shoppe, which, despite claims to the contrary, appears not to stock any variety of sheep.
La belle noiseuse (1991)
What Americans fear when someone suggests foreign films
La Belle Noiseuse is exactly what Americans fear when someone suggests that we watch foreign films. When we are hanging out with our friends, enjoying a few rounds of Bud Light and pontificating about the boring European films we've never seen, this is the movie we are imagining.
That's right, folks, I'm talking about four hours of French people drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes while a frustrated painter tries to get his groove back by making rough sketches of a model and pondering the willful personality of a painting that doesn't exist.
As if that wasn't bad enough, there are dozens of shots of a beautiful naked woman being manually contorted, like Gumby, while not having sex. It is morally reprehensible for a movie to show so much nakedness yet so little nookie. In exchange for taking the risk of our children accidentally seeing this and turning into nudists, or something equally horrific (cappuccino-sipping art house snobs), we deserve the highest possible return.
Unfortunately, most of La Belle Noiseuse takes place in one location. That's just not how a movie is supposed to be. If we want to look at the same house for hours, we can do that without renting movies. We like The Shining, 12 Angry Men, and Phone Booth, but those are American movies for mass consumption, not French "hipster chow" for snotty college students. If we are going to put up with watching foreigners doing artsy stuff, we should at least get a decent tour.
So if you want to spend all day watching the same thing happening over and over again in the same place, with occasional dramatic interruptions, then suit yourself. But as far as I am concerned well, now that I think about it, that sounds a lot like NASCAR. Maybe it's not such a bad movie after all.
(NOTE: Let not the sarcasm be lost.)