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|16 reviews in total|
In 1890 medical doctor Anton Chekhov writes short stories in newspapers to sustain his parents, three brothers and sister. Discovered by publishers and consequently Leo Tolstoy, he finds success by receiving the Pushkin Prize. His publishers urge him to write novels and plays. However, when one brother dies of tuberculosis, he decides to travel to Sakhalin and meet its convicts who are subjected to terrible conditions. René Féret's final film plays out like one of his main subject's own scripts: it's a gentle, nuanced, above all subtle portrait (performed superbly by Nicolas Giraud) of a man who is "incapable to love" yet has an intense affair with a married woman and cares more for his fellowman than for himself. Assisted throughout by his sister Macha (Masha) and loved by his brothers, he unobtrusively becomes one of the world's most revered authors. This film should be made compulsory viewing to anyone daring to direct one of his major plays. In a remarkable scene he sits quietly in an auditorium watching a rehearsal of 'The Seagull'. Afterwards he gathers the cast round a table and without ranting and raving or raging, he tells them: "You are killing my characters. You want to show the audience what good actors you are. And how funny or dramatic you can be." Life - as seen through the eyes of Anton Chekhov, and the director of this loving, beautiful tribute - is a symbiosis of comedy and tragedy. The two are interminably linked. It's neither broad farce nor Greek catastrophe. Life is laughter hiding the lump in the throat and teary eyes. AND: life or comedy is never merely an unbroken string of coarse words.
Another reviewer writes this off as a common Afrikaans movie of the
1970s and also attacks the script. The latter is in fact French
playwright Robert Thomas's rather famous 8 Femmes which Francois Ozon
many years later turned into almost a musical under its original title.
The reviewer also refers to seven women but there are in fact eight.
Among Robert Thomas's most well-known plays count La Perruche et le Poulet (in Afrikaans as Babbelkous en Bruidegom); the play which Alfred Hitchcock bought but never filmed (although several other versions were made): Trap for a Lonely Man (also in Afrikaans as Lokval vir 'n Man Alleen); and of course Huit Femmes.
Franz Marx directed a number of movies in die 1970s and 1980s and also made some serious art films for television such as Die Buitestaander (The Outsider) and 'n Lug Vol Helder Wolke (A Sky full of Clear Clouds) based on the novel by Karel Schoeman before he launched Afrikaans's most famous soapie Egoli.
In Netnou Hoor Die Kinders (careful, the children might hear) Marx used eight of the most famous and adept Afrikaans stage actresses and he exploited both the staginess of the play and the stagecraft of the actresses. Sometimes the characters are way over the top, which is exactly what is needed to create both comedic moments and suspense. There is hardly anything common about the setting, the costumes, the script and especially the language (no vulgarities or coarse words) but double entendres abound. Nearly every line of dialogue is yet another twist in the tale and sting in the tail.
Although it certainly won't be regarded as either a classic or art, it still has great entertainment value, even more so for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced this bevy of actresses on the stage. They showed impeccable timing and in their continual one-upmanship never lost the tongue-in-cheek touch. And Marx directed with a deft hand.
Channel 437 on DStv (South Africa) is the French channel TV5 aimed at
French speaking African countries during the day with soaps and
information programmes, In the evening and during the night it
broadcasts programmes from France itself. Not exclusively so, but in
general. It also offers news and weather forecasts.
Late evening Tuesday and Thursday and sometimes also Wednesday and then more or less at 02:00 Sunday mornings the channel offers full-length feature films, both classic and modern with English subtitles. I PVR these so I can watch them at leisure Last Wednesday the channel offered Le secret de l'infant-fourmi (The secret of the ant-children). Based on current events and facts (and a real incident) it recounts Cecile visiting her lover Didier in Benin where he has been working for a couple of years. He lives in the Bariba region. She takes his car to go to a waterfall, gets lost and is almost accosted by a woman begging her (in what is to her unintelligible Bariba) to take her baby. The mother disappears into the bush.
Cecile decides to adopt the baby, calls him Lancelot and after some legal wrangling and opposition from Didier and severe warnings from the local people, she returns to France taking her son with her. Everyone believes that the baby is a sorcerer and evil, because he cut an upper tooth first. A sure sign of sorcery.
Long story short. When he is seven he develops serious psychological problems. Moreover he is the only black child in his class and he is derided. Cecile decides to take him back to Benin to find his parents. Not to hand him back, but for him to make peace with his heritage.
Only now does she learn with how much superstition babies that are born prematurely or have an upper tooth first or other 'abnormalities' are regarded. These children have to be 'repaired'. Cecile realises that repaired implies being killed. Murdered. The police and the political leaders are all involved. Lancelot's biological parents are traced but then he is kidnapped and they know he will be killed.
Only about ten minutes or so before the end of the film the horrific meaning and secret of the title - infant-fourmi (ant-children) - is revealed.... Absolutely horrific and it's still happening.
This is not a Hi-Def, glossy movie. It obviously didn't have a major budget. But it is hard-hitting and sincere and as realistic as a documentary. A low-profile film that deserves to be seen.
The European characters are played by actors, the rest of the cast are Benin people, but to protect the children no Bariba child was used. They're all from other regions.
The secret of the ant-children..... How much I learn, how little I know
How proud am I, how thrilled and moved and excited.
In 1969 Ken Russell - whose works ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous - gave the world his somewhat flawed, but unmistakable masterpiece WOMEN IN LOVE based on the D H Lawrence novel. (The latter remains one of my favourite authors.) The one and only Alan Bates together with Glenda Jackson, Jenny Linden, Oliver Reed, Eleonor Bron and many others brought the characters to unforgettable celluloid life.
Now, forty two years on BBC4 has produced a two part series of the same novel, mixed with themes and scenes from its prequel THE RAINBOW. Although it might be said that it would be hard to equal the Russell version, William Ivory delivers a sterling script and Miranda Bowen's direction never falters. It is, in short, as good as the original and it steers clear of ever mimicking or mocking it. Russell's work viewed the sisters Gudrun and Ursula from a male perspective. Lawrence had enough feminine wiles and qualities to truly understand his female characters and in Bowen's version this is obvious. Unlike Glenda Jackson's powerhouse and almost butch Gudrun, Rosamund Pike delivers a cunning vixen, a very feminine near nymphomaniac artist and Rachael Stirling is a stronger, more present, less demure Ursula than Jenny Linden.
The film's sequences differ from Russell's work and where essential scenes have to be repeated, they offer an entirely different insight into both character and situation. For instance here the famous nude wrestling scene between Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich features much later, is less erotic, not in front of a winter fire but on the beach in bright sunshine and therefore is more plausible and motivated. By now the two friends have strained their relationship to such an extent that they have to confront each other. Incidentally,this version doesn't shy away from Rupert's suppressed gay tendencies. There is no sign of the chilling Alpine snow scenes where the two couples 'split'. Here we have the scorching South African desert with heat so visible it has to affect and effect the characters. And gone is the final discussion between Rupert and Ursula where he declares: "Having you, I can live all my life without anybody else, any other sheer intimacy. But to make it complete, really happy, I wanted eternal union with a man too: another kind of love," With her reply:"I don't believe it. It's an obstinacy, a theory, a perversity." This has already been portrayed and would be superfluous. The film's end is almost abrupt and unexpected and has great impact.
According to sources the BBC Four production was shot entirely on location in South Africa. If so, the art director, set designers and dressers etc should be doubly congratulated for depicting the English Midlands during the early 1920s.
The reason for my pride and excitement, however, is how the local (South African) actors not only hold their own, but well-nigh outshine their British colleagues in some scenes (more about this later). I can't mention them all, but Tamia Visagie (Winifred), James Alexander (Roddice), Natasha Loring (German girl) and Michelle Maxwell (her aunt) all deliver gems. The stalwart and immensely versatile Jeremy Crutchley turns Gudrun's mentor/lover Robert (entirely overlooked by Larry Kramer & Ken Russell) into both desirable and detestable flesh. Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots creates a Samantha who is far more than the sum-total of her beautiful face and exquisite boobs; she is not merely whore but the full-blooded woman in body and mind both Brangwen sisters ache to be. As the somewhat ambiguous and mysterious Wolfgang Loerke (portrayed by Vladek Sheybal in 1969 as a vicious, scheming queer) Grant Swanby once again shows why he is one of my favourite actors. His Loerke is less obvious, less blatant - a subtle seduction of Gudrun's senses and sensibilities. And then there is Susan Danford who in 90 seconds looks like a young Geraldine Chaplin (if not for her voice I wouldn't have recognised her) but demolishes Gudrun as Robert's wife surrounded by their four or five children. She does what Jack Nicholson did to Robert de Niro in The Last Tycoon: in one short scene she totally overshadows Rosamund Pike. It's not scene stealing. It is inevitable and essential. And leaves an indelible memory.
All these actors are of course thoroughbreds on stage. When oh when oh when are we coming up with a local script and a director to do cinematic justice to so much acting talent? And there are many more out there (or should I say out here?) We have a wealth of good, great and brilliant actors. And an abundance of stories. .
I saw this in 1979 and still remember some scenes vividly. Viveka Lindfors. What a 'fors' to be reckoned with! Alex Rocco superb. Michael Ontkean never better. And then Amy Irving. What an underrated underused actress. Such versatility and nuance. Loved her in Yentl. Adored her in this. Her dance sequences are unforgettable. Words are superfluous about a movie where one voice is the monotone of a deaf person, yet filled with so much light and shade and transition it leaves an indelible memory. Moreover, the subtle use of music adds to a general feel of compassion and insight. Both scriptwriter and director, as well as the photographer and composer deserve accolades. Nothing superfluous, nothing pretentious, simply damn good storytelling with great and touching performances.
André Flédérick's direction of Notre-Dame de Paris does the
choreography by evergreen Roland Petit every bit of justice. This is an
exquisite work relying heavily on classical ballet but shading it with
so much contemporary moves that it sparkles and shines and finally
moves the viewer to tears. Based on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of
Notre-Dame, it retells the story of Quasimodo and Esméralda in graphic
scenes. It has a character and an overall look which is quite unique.
The opening in front of the famous Notre-Dame is perhaps the most colourful I've ever seen in ballet (or any other form of stage work for that matter.) Costume's were designed by none other than Yves Saint Laurent and what starts off with virtually all the colours of the rainbow, moves through the ballet to threatening shades of red and onto sombre, mournful black attire.
Quasimodo, danced to perfection by Nicolas Le Riche, suddenly appears amongst the frolicking dancers in a beige outfit reminiscent of sandstone. Here is a Quasimodo with no prosthesis to represent a hunch. By only squaring his right arm and spreading his fingers he completes the picture and is utterly believable. Quite a dish of a man, his facial expressions assist him in portraying a misshapen, hapless and misunderstood being. This is his story and although Esméralda gets top billing, his applause at the end is by far the most deafening and rightfully so. He portrays pain and joy with equal dexterity in pirouette and jeté, twists and turns and large soulful eyes. His frustration combined with anger about the deformity is heart-rending.
As Esméralda Isabelle Guérin also fully rises to the occasion. She is sensuous, sexy yet sensitive. The back leg extension is something to behold. I have never seen a ballerina slide en pointe and she does it twice with breathtaking accuracy. The way she reveals various facets of Esméralda's character in partnering Laurent Hilaire (as the lecherous, treacherous priest Frollo) or Manuel Legris (as her lover Phoebus) is a lesson to many an actress. Wonderful! Both Hilaire (with superb elevation) and Legris are excellent although the latter might lack the physical stature to be fully convincing as the idealised romantic hero. Their dancing, however, is of the quality one expects from the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris. (Note the exceptional choreography for Phoebus in making love...) This also applies to the corps de ballet. Even the wildest abandon is portrayed with precision and discipline.
David Garforth conducts the orchestra with a deft hand. Not many conductors understand the art of supporting dancers rather than becoming the main feature. He does both score and dance justice.
The score was written especially for the work by Maurice Jarre (yes him of the soundtracks of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and countless others and father of Jean-Michel) with not a chord sounding like his film music. The main pas de deux for Quasimodo and Esméralda is tender and sweeping and the choreography and execution unforgettable.
Throughout the novel Victor Hugo mentions the architecture of the Notre-Dame and René Allio's decor needs a special mention. Attention was paid to minute detail and authenticity throughout. Scenes range from the exterior to the bell-tower (Quasimodo trying to stop the bell from ringing is utterly shattering).
This production is available on DVD in high definition and widescreen and belongs on every ballet/dance fan's shelf. BRAVO!
Young, and very dashing, conductor Vladimir Jurowski concludes his
interview in the DVD's bonus material with: "But it's not an opera." He
is right. If one is a stickler for recipes, Rachmaninoff's The Miserly
Knight will be a disappointment. Even a disaster. There is no chorus.
There is no female singer only five male characters. There are no
memorable tunes. And thank goodness no recitatives either. The
viewer/listener has to wrestle a one hour body of masculine and
muscular music. The only moments you are allowed any relief are in the
brief breaks between scenes. The ArtHaus DVD, by the way, is of the
highest quality with genuine surround sound and high definition
Director Annabel Arden - who staged this relatively unknown work at the Glyndebourne Festival together with Puccini's Gianni Schicci in a programme called 'Avarice and Greed' - presents an equally brawny portrayal of miserliness causing misery. She even fills the orchestral interludes with strong visual material. An aerialist (depicting feminine wiles) and film images are used to flesh out the story.
Sergei Leiferkus, as the baron hoarding his fortunes, is unbelievable. Being a baritone, he has to tackle this part which is too low for a baritone and too high for a bass with every fibre in his being. He has an uninterrupted solo of twenty five minutes and he sustains this in what appears to be an effortless way. Tour de force is such a cliché but what other expression suffices? Perhaps he is the only singer in the world who can take on the role at the moment. One is left breathless by his performance AND on his behalf.
Richard Berkeley-Steele, with a shock of red hair, as Albert his hapless son is equally convincing and so are the sly servant, the glib money-lender and the smug but shrewd duke. And the aerialist lends exactly the right touches of surrealism and symbolism to the production. It is difficult to define the period in which it's set, but the work was composed in 1903-05 and premiered in 1906 so the money-lender's watch is conspicuously modern. The costumes and set(s) however are spot on.
Don't expect the Rachmaninoff of the Second Piano Concerto. Or any of his other compositions. He did not treat the original Pushkin text as holier than holy (like most Russian composers did).To him music and lyrics were of equal importance. In fact sometimes the music outweighs the lyrics. Which makes the work quite unique and brings about a full emotional experience. Add to this the visual elements of the production, the quality of voice and acting plus Jurowksi and the orchestra's excellence and it is exceptional. Bravo! And bravo for staging the work. "But it is not an opera..."
Sergei Prokofiev's opera version of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping novel (which originally appeared in serialised form in a newspaper)lends exactly the right balance of lyricism, drama and tragedy to the subject. Here are no separate arias a la Italian Opera, linked with endless recitatives. The music is a continuous line of instrument and voice changing with every scene and its context. The production gives the music and libretto its full due. It's lavish in its simplicity and vice versa. From the opening scene with Natasha and her cousin in the bedroom and the count eavesdropping outside, to opulent ball room dances and grim personal confrontations, it runs like a river in flood to the inevitability of war. Sung in the original Russian, with a number of Russian singers in the lead roles, it unfolds like the novel in chapters that are page turners. Obviously the entire novel cannot be reproduced, but score, libretto and production do it full justice. The singing is of the highest standard with Nathan Gunn and Olga Gouriakova as the star-crossed lovers excelling vocally and in acting. Vasilli Gerello as Napoleon shines, but then so do Robert Brubaker, Anatoli Koucherga and the rest of the cast. Not to forget the chorus and dancers. Hats off as well to conductor and chorus master Staging the opera is problematic as there are quite a number of soloists involved and to make the war scenes realistic virtually hundreds of chorus members are required. The set designs assist Stage Director Francesca Zambello in creating a panorama of death and destruction. So do the costumes and lighting. This is highly recommended for lovers of serious music and those who prefer Deutsche Oper (with the exception of that Night Music composer) and Russian Opera to the frills and shrills of the Italian oeuvre.
A good little film, with good acting and lots of suspense, but unfortunately it ends rather abruptly and almost unresolved. Not that issues in life itself are always resolved, but here it seems as if the writer was unsure of what to do with his characters. Had it been the female inspector's moral dilemma, the film as it stands might be the reality that she has to live with, but it's the ex-cop and the heart-surgeon who's stories are really important. Perhaps the POV should shift in which case it will be more satisfactory. Nevertheless, it's not a wasted hour or so with David Suchet proving he can be hard as nails and not only the charming Hercule Poirot. Jenny Agutter suits her character to a T and both Adrian Dunbar and Nadia-Cameron Blakely are very convincing. Max Brown is the surprise package. And the stately home is to die for...
Why no-one has as yet commented on this production - which has been
available on video for quite some time and is now on DVD - is beyond
me. Liza Minnelli is one of a rare kind and whereas the restored "Liza
with a Z" has earned accolades and raves, her (several years later)
performance at RCMH deserves exactly the same. She falls into that
category of belt singers which is hard to define or describe. Belonging
to the same club would be Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Bette
Midler and of course Liza's mother, the mother of them all, Judy
Garland. Perhaps one can add Edith Piaf whose renditions of some of her
chansons are quite torchy or belting. And always pitch perfect. All of
these ladies are not afraid of singing ugly when a song and its
contents beg for it. And then the next moment producing the sweetest,
At RCMH Liza is a breathtaking bundle of energy, delivering song after song after song and dance after dance in a non-stop ever varying fashion. Here she doesn't use the sexy male troupe as back-up singers and dancers, but to reveal more would be a spoiler. Suffice to say that Ms Minnelli is not threatened by 'competition' or other voices.
The show contains a great tribute to her father Vincente with superb photographic material. Intimate moments are achieved with a Charles Aznavour song amongst others which leaves one in tears.
The second act then builds to a heart-stopping climax with a tap sequence based on the "Stepping Out" production which starred Liza with Julie Harris and Shelly Winters. And then we move to the standard, yet freshly delivered, Cabaret and a finale to top all finales. Whereas Streisand in my eyes (or ears for that matter) is the god(dess) chanteuse, Minnelli is the indisputable queen of ballad/belt song and dance. Female singers coming after them can only aspire to these ladies' greatness. As Harold Robbins says in his comment on "My name is Barbra": 'sorry Celine, only in your dreams!' Another DVD is available featuring the concert of Charles Aznavour and Liza Minnelli in Paris. Quite a gem. And here she sings some of her well-known songs, including Liza with a Z in French!! However, I don't find any mention of it on IMDb. Nevertheless, if you find it difficult to obtain, buy yourself the Liza Minnelli Live from RCMH. It can hardly be improved on. Brava, Liza, brava! The voice is perfect, the renditions flawless, the dancing immaculate - watch the tribute to Bob Fosse and weep or jump for joy - and the orchestra great. They even join in the singing, but again, I won't spoil your fun. Discover this for yourself immediately.
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