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- learning foreign languages (I speak English, German, Czech and a little Italian. I dream to learn French and Spanish),
- travelling (I have visited most European countries and the Middle East),
The celebrities I like are:
- James Caviezel,
- Peter O'Toole,
- Sian Phillips,
- Maggie Smith,
- Judi Dench,
- William Hurt,
- Valentina Cortese,
- Monica Bellucci
- Brendan Gleeson
- Kevin Costner
- Gerard Depardieu
- Helen Mirren
- Russel Crowe
- Bruno Ganz
- Juliane Kohler
- Vanessa Redgrave
- Sean Bean
- Derek Jacobi
The late celebrities I like are:
- Greta Garbo,
- Romy Schneider,
- Giulietta Masina,
- Anna Magnani,
- John Gilbert,
- Richard Harris,
- Richard Basehart,
- Marcello Mastroianni,
- Alec Guinness,
- Annie Rosar,
- Anthony Quinn,
- Clarke Gable,
- Vivien Leigh,
- Claudette Colbert,
- Ingrid Bergman.
My favorite directors are:
- Franco Zeffirelli,
- Federico Fellini,
- Roberto Rossellini,
- Luchino Visconti
- Vittorio De Sica,
- Michelangelo Antonioni (here Italians rule!)
- Ridley Scott,
- Kevin Reynolds,
- Robert Wise,
- Cecil B DeMille,
- Joseph L Mankiewicz,
- Francois Truffaut,
- Claude Sautet,
- Mervyn LeRoy,
- William Wyler,
- Julien Duvivier,
- Mel Gibson.
One of the genres I like most are epic films. The best ones for me are:
- THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
- BEN HUR (both silent and sound)
- QUO VADIS?
- KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
- CLEOPATRA (1934 and 1963)
- THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
- JESUS OF NAZARETH
- THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
- HELEN OF TROY
Therefore, I like Cecil B DeMille whom I consider a genius of biblical films.
I also love old classical dramas, the best one of all I consider QUEEN CHRISTINA by Rouben Mamoulian with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.
A movie that had an impact on my life was BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON by Franco Zeffirelli.
Besides, I am a fan of some silent films. These are the ones I saw and liked very much:
- FLESH AND THE DEVIL
- THE SUNRISE
- THE LAST LAUGH
- BIG PARADE
- A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS
- THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
- THE KING OF KINGS
Among psychological movies and specific interpretations of the world, Fellini is no. 1. Although I don't agree with his vision of the world, I love his movies from the 1950s, including LE NOTTI DI CABIRIA and like some of the 1960s and 1970s, like LA DOLCE VITA or GIULIETTA DEGLI SPIRITI. OTTO E MEZZO (8 1/2 is also worth consideration as a great work). But as far as this theme is concernced, I am very much interested in Italian Neorealism, resembled most in GERMANIA ANNO ZERO and ROMA CITTA APERTA.
I don't like science fiction movies and I don't watch many horrors, however some of them are worth consideration.
Different Standpoints, One Story
Since many of the movies that touched the subject of the extermination of the Jews during the 1930s and 1940s appeared rather too general, epic proportion films, it seems that something like IDA by Pawel Pawlikowski is a wonderful chance to symbolize a modern approach to the material. It is one great DETAIL, a story of one character where "every moment feels intensely personal" (Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian). A very interesting protagonist tormented by suggestion, suspicion and indication. Yet, does the protagonist instill any understanding in us?
Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), or rather Ida Lebenstein, is a young 'nun' in the early 1960s Poland who has a chance to leave to the world just for a while before the time comes for the final vows. There, in the convent, within the context of the Benedictine maxim 'Ora Et Labora' (Pray and work) and the statue of the Merciful Jesus, we get to know our protagonist. A very fruitful theme that echoes many of the old Hollywood pictures, including NUN'S STORY. Yet, Anna's leave to the world does not have anything to do with a dilemma whether forgive or not nor with a sort of 'climb every mountain' attitude but she leaves in order to dig in the past, to find the grave of her roots, find out who she really is. In other words, she makes a dramatic discovery of her ancestry. But the help in that journey appears to be quite a sympathetic, earthly easy-going joys' Mary Magdalene-like character of Wanda (Agata Kulesza) and a young saxophonist (Dawid Ogrodnik) who introduces her to the joys of...carnal pleasures. Yes, indeed, she must know those pleasures in order to understand later what she actually resigns from by entering the convent. Jim O'Neill nicely puts it with reference to Ida's character that it is an altogether a "search for identity and truth in a world that suppressed both."
So far, it would make a perfect sense and a lovely inspiration for a drama if it were not for the problem of where the truth lies. Forgive me to become slightly ignorant now or politically incorrect but there is NO historical truth in this movie whatsoever. I am not one of those who blame the movie for being anti-Polish, not at all. While the convent aspect occurs to combine the Jewish world with the Catholic world quite successfully, the later story seems to draw even greater borderline between the Jewish nation and the Polish nation. It could have happened that there were some Polish people who killed the Jews while many many others risked their lives to save them. IDA does not do justice to the nation but, after all, the movie does not intend to do so. A little film can do little good but, at the same time, much evil. The problem lies in the fact that many viewers will be misled by what the argument revolves around. Why did they kill the Lebenstein family and buried them in the forest? Was it because of jealousy? Was it because of greed? (the son in one of the scenes says openly that he will show Ida and Wanda the spot where they are buried on the condition they resign from the property he lives in). Open for discussion and quite thought provoking...but for those who give themselves time and check some history, become intellectually involved not merely resorting to emotions. Others will simply resort to minimalism of the view of what allegedly happened in Poland. Here, as a Pole and Polish patriot I admit that I feel disappointed. More to say, the depiction of Poland is merely shards of old past, long forgotten and ruins. The spots Ida visits are either ruined filthy districts or totally neglected, primitive villages. Come on, that is not the way Poland looked like in the 1960s in spite of the fact that we were being poisoned by the red plague from the east.
But it would be unfair not to see the merits of the film. While many film scholars mention the intense portrayals of Ida and Wanda, I agree but...I would highlight the visual aspect more. Starting with the fact that the film is black and white (which Jim O'Neill labels as "images" looking like "vintage photographs") the camera-work is brilliant. Heavily influenced on cinema's long tradition and revealing certain features of even silent cinema and Expressionism (consider the shadows, the shots of staircase), it is an artistic picture, no doubt of that. I particularly liked the scenes at the convent that seem to grasp the specific atmosphere of the spiritually affected places. The delicacy of the love scene later in the movie also deserves credit. The classical music of Bach supplies the film with additional charm. And the characters?
Wanda and Ida seem to differ a lot from the very first meeting. While Ida is a totally inexperienced character who simply seeks to discover her own identity, Wanda is a woman with a past, a very very cruel past. As a state prosecutor and the one who sentenced many innocent people to death, she supplies the moments with either sarcastic irony or hardly believable metamorphosis. Inspired by the true historical character of Helena Wolinska-Brus, she leaves many questions unanswered. With her alcoholism and act of despair, she remains a rather character to be pitied and, more to say, compassionate. In that respect, I advise you to see GENERAL NIL. Yet, there is something that joins them: mutual Jewish ancestry. Both suffer and both occur innocent.
Relying on Peter Bradshaw's words that every moment in IDA is intensely personal, I recommend this film. From the standpoint of art and psychological torments, from the standpoint of one story, it is a captivating movie. Yet, we should not forget that there are also other standpoints, perhaps the ones that are not taken into account seriously bu surely the ones that cannot be ignored.
St. Vincent (2014)
Entertaining and Worthwhile
"May God protect me from gloomy saints" (St Teresa of Avila).
No matter what we associate a word 'saint' with, this is a movie that destroys all kinds of clichés and iconographic imposition on the concept. Seemingly a comedy with a bit of drama, it is a story that will surely stamp a very unique concern in its viewers' minds. But truly, it is something that may prompt us to look for saints amongst us, saints who are not gloomy whatsoever...
Not much is intellectual and very little of it appears to be spiritual, we may, nevertheless, laugh out loud when Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), having been advised by his Catholic priest, the teacher of religion to describe a saint around him (and not some ideal from the altar) selects a man who has helped him in so many difficult situations, who has placed hope in his life with a bit of humour and determination. Yes, he has the authority to equal him with St William of Rochester as saints are among us and they are the source of our humour. And thanks to the man who plays a saint, this hilarious saint, the film is not "a formulaic and slushy picture" (Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian).
Bill Murray does a wonderful job in the leading role. He supplies the character with considerable charm. His scenes shine with authentic depiction of the character his age who can handle some sorrows (the illness and death of his wife), who grows through the contact with the boy. Funny, great scenes of his will long remain in memory.
Jaeden Lieberher is absolutely terrific as Oliver. From a mocked boy who embodies weakness to a character displaying certain coming-of-age drama features, it is one of the best performances from a youngster you can encounter in film.
ST VINCENT is not much of the content, perhaps, but a fine funny film which I highly recommend.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Warrior/Prophet Lacks Charisma
Ridley Scott once pointed out that part of the job he does is "creating worlds." He has proved that these 'worlds' of his may win the viewers leaving them dazzled and heighten the feeling of grandeur in a similar fashion as Hollywood pioneers used to do a few decades ago. With this in mind, I went to see EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. And in spite of its first half, which is sort of visual journey into ancient Egypt, the film is rather a serious disappointment which lacks a charismatic protagonist and leaves a viewer constantly tormented by suggestion and indication. And not at all do I express this opinion as one of the Christian audience who "distrust and dismiss the movie at the outset looking only for what it gets wrong" (with reference to Brett McCracken's words). I am not going to enumerate the innumerable liberties taken with the biblical source but highlight certain important points.
What strikes me most about this movie, and perhaps most of the viewers will agree with me, is the depiction of the protagonist, Moses, for many a key prophet of the Old Testament. Here I would not merely consider the portrayal by Christian Bale but the complex notion of this hero. With no reference to the predecessors on screen, including Theodore Roberts, the ultra famous Charlton Heston (whose characterization was inspired by Michelangelo's masterful sculpture) or Burt Lancaster, Bale's Moses lacks any continuity or charisma. Steven D.Greyfanus has concluded Scott/Bale's Moses most memorably as "a skeptical humanist." It is not only revealed in the modern approach to Biblical material but, primarily, in the 'almost' secular interpretation of the events. Everything, including his mission, appears to be at war within the character who is concerned with the solution and intellectually involved in it. Although he seems to undergo certain development, the stature of the leader is that of a warrior (his sword and never a rod), a revolutionist, an activist and, from a tempting but extremely modern and individual point of view, a man like any other man, a husband (here he comes and proves to his wife Sephora that he has brought his people) rather than a prophet supplied with the divine means. Here comes, naturally, the interpretation of God.
Israel...the one who wrestles with God (not the one who fights with him)...this may display certain resemblance in Moses' acts but leads to greatest torments at the depiction of God in the film. The arguments in many reviews revolve around the notion whether the boy we find in the film is God of Israel, any 'god' or a divine messenger, a 'Malak.' The prelude tells us: the Hebrews have not forgotten their God for these 400 years and God has not forgotten them. What kind of God and His Image do we find in the boy? Many reviewers are intrigued by this concept. The boy is "petulent in what he wants" (Carl Kozlowski), manifests a "daring move, perhaps, but also one that courts ridicule" (Mark Kermode), he is "a scowling boy with a curt manner and a temper" (Greyfanus) - a postmodernist vision of a member of an interaction rather than a Creator. The liberties taken with the Biblical material appear to evoke most noticeably in the scenes of Moses' encounter with this boy.
That is also manifested at the scenes of the plagues. Although we cannot skip the visual merit of these scenes, it is interesting to quote John Mulderig of Catholic News Service who points out: with "computer-generated effects to spare, its human interaction is stilted and uninvolving." So many scenes, more to say, the entire movie has too many general scenes, almost master scenes and, consequently, there is no room for the characters. We do not see particular characters of Hebrew slaves, we do not get the psychological burden that is put on men, women and children in captivity, we do not see the very real cry to God for help, for salvation. While the Pharaoh's court has some 'spicy' depiction, the slaves are totally neglected with few exceptions like Nun played by Ben Kingsley (but we purely see that the reason behind it is more give a chance of on screen time for an actor than any development of a character). As a result, ordinary viewers do not exactly get the point of the cause, why in fact 'this Moses' wants to set them free from Egypt and lead them to the land of Canaan.
Here it is necessary to mention the two Pharaohs: Seti played by John Turturro and Rameses played by Joel Edgerton. While the former one does a pretty fine job echoing much of Sir Cedric Hardwicke's character (including the sympathy for Moses and disappointment with his son-successor), the latter one is a Pharaoh with little power and little appeal. Any remarkable depiction (if there is any) begins and ends with the scenes of the battle with the Hetites, then, Rameses goes more and more pale. Visual effects seem to take over and shadow his even more pathetic screen presence. To some extent, his character might bring to mind Commodus from GLADIATOR but the performances do not bear any resemblance.
Nevertheless, I am not going to say that this film sums up as a total waste of time and money...
EXODUS is a film which is worth seeing, anyway. Its first half seems to have very high expectations and seems to lead us to something ambitious, yet, from the moment of 'prophetic mission' it goes pale and offers a flawed storytelling. Perhaps Mr Scott does not feel at ease with Biblical content and, in his epics to come, he should consider warriors rather than prophets...5/10
Das andere Leben (1948)
Post-WWII Social Insight and Judgment
DAS ANDERE LEBEN by Rudolf Steinboeck, which can be translated as ANOTHER LIFE or A DIFFERENT LIFE is one of the two films made by the crew and cast of the Viennese Theater of Josefsstadt (something we could call 'an independent production' these days). The story is based upon the novel by Alexander Lernet-Holenia. Interestingly, it has not lost any of its vigor or message and still appears to work perfectly as a post-WWII social insight and, more powerfully, the judgment of the time.
It is July 1944. Different characters seem to echo the tormented choices that the generation faced at the time. The judgment, therefore, is not directed towards people from the start but towards the political and social situation. Who attracts our attention most are two women: Elisabeth Josselin (Aglaja Schmid), a wife of Austrian officer Walter Josselin (Robert Lindner) and Suzette Alberti (Vilma Degischer), a Jew, the daughter of Dr Heinrish Israel Joel (Hans Ziegler). Life looks quite promising for both of them until Suzette widows. Then, the horror of the Nazi horror steps into her flat and forces her to flee (the scene of her escape is one of the most powerful moments of the film). The arts of survival becomes a struggle unendurable for the gentle minded, kind woman who finds too few friends in the tough reality. Soon, it is Elisabeth who will be bound to "become" Suzette...
Apart from a mainstay theme of a woman within the man-dominant society (Walter, Elisabeth's husband manifests the 'duy above all' approach at least at the beginning of the story), the story is very daring (for the time) to work as an insight and the judgment of the times when Jews were persecuted solely because they were Jews. The character of Suzzette, brilliantly played by Vilma Degischer (a word about the actress later) is the manifestation and embodiment of victims of discrimination and appalling reality that spread around the country in the 1930s and 1940s. "Can you make friends with a Jew?" asks Walter his wife Elisabeth at one moment. Although her father is a well renowned doctor, his reputation is discarded once people find out he is a Jew. Yet, there were also people ready to help and Elisabeth embodies that attitude and, in the classical maxim, help she gives, help she will receive...
A distinguished Josefsstadt Theater actress, probably most famous worldwide as Erzherzigin Sophie in SISSI Trilogy, Vilma Degischer, delivers a performance that may hardly remain unnoticed. She places much charm and vitality as well as emotions and feelings to her character and creates an unbelievable rapport with the viewers. A performance that has totally stood a test of time! This cannot be said about Aglaja Schmid who builds more upon her female appeal and gives a performance that may lead to ambiguous opinions. Nevertheless, some of her scenes still prove her talent which works rather on stage than on screen.
The male characters are clear and predictable from a social standpoint but intriguingly (for the time) sophisticated and ambiguous from personal standpoints. These are also two: the aforementioned Walter, Elisabeth's husband who does anything for the duty to his country but, yet, changes in time and discovers the reality so corrupted, the other is Bukowsky (played by the actor famous for some films of the time, including the ones with Zarah Leander, Siegfried Breuer), a calm, illusive, charming personality who has his goals and means to achieve them. There is a bit of mystery about his character and a bit of illusion which corresponds to the atmospheric backdrop to the entire story. Among the supporting cast, much credit to Hans Ziegler as Dr Joel (the actor also played Dr Seeburger in SISSI).
Yes, the whole atmosphere of the entire film may remind you of something like G.W. Pabst's style in DER PROZESS or F.W. Murnau's TABU. So to say, most of the scenes are heavily influenced by the German Expressionism. In that relation, the film skillfully places us, viewers, within the depths of the true continuity with filming tradition and does not merely resort to sweet post-war fairy tales but displays this continuity, this tradition in the new context. Mind you, for instance, the shots of Bukowsky's house, this light and shadow noticeable throughout, the way tension is built primarily on images. Sometimes, like in the silent era, the image, the picture tells for itself. Consider the scene Elisabeth finds out about Suzette's death. A long static shot that makes us both observers and participants. The bars of destiny's irony, the inevitable doom, the the sound of steps drawing parallels with the pulse.
DAS ANDERE LEBEN with its unpredictable touches and enriched manner of storytelling is a film highly worth seeing. As a production which rather stands on its own, it evokes unique emotions. A different film than the ones we see these days, for sure with a slightly clichéd yet unpredictable finale.
MARNIE, among the most powerful and appealing movies by the Master of Suspense, emerges as a rather 'skipped' production rarely enumerated as the director's definite work. However, its purely psychological, more to say, psychoanalytical appeal, truly makes us, viewers, voyeurs into the mind of the protagonist. That 'psychoanalytical' element made the movie not so much popular at the time of its release but makes it far more convincing nowadays. Fernando F Croce memorably points out that "Viewed from the safe distance of four decades after its release, MARNIE, perhaps even more than THE BIRDS, emerges as the director's definitive late-period masterpiece. In that manner, we discover most remarkably the prolific and prophetic Hitchcock. Where is it best manifested?
Viewing this film still brings its viewers into an unbelievable experience thanks to its protagonist, Marnie, played by Tippi Hedren, the star in THE BIRDS but "a shabby substitute for Grace Kelly" (Fernando F Croce). If the princess of Monaco could have played the role or not is not of such significance nowadays. What remains crucial is how Ms Hedren portrays her unbelievably complex, sophisticated character, how she handles the considerably psychedelic states of mind and helps viewers not only watch her on the screen but get into her world. Croce moves further in that respect observing that "everything under the camera's scrutiny becomes a potential element of the heroine's subjective unreality." Nevertheless, we could argue to what extent the camera aids the great manifestation of a character, a tormented character that did not have a double before. Ms Hedren does a splendid job in keeping us alert, making us attempt to figure out the complications of her mind as well as the haunting past. In that respect, she greatly aids Mr Hitchcock while highlighting the powerful association of criminality with violence and sex (with reference to Charles Ramirez Berg's article on Alfred Hitchcock. There also lies fear which Emily Cleaver in THE GUARDIAN finely addresses saying that "the fear here, does not lie in BIRDS but the fear and anxiety are in Marnie's past, invisible even to her."
Sean Connery as Mark, her doctor and her husband is a wonderful leading man from a purely psychological standpoint. Not at all any romantic leading man! He is unlike any other leading man in both the contemporary understanding and other Hitchcock's movies. Perhaps, here there was also the reason why the film was not that popular initially. There is no love story as we get, for instance, in SUSPICION or NOTORIOUS. Here, we get a much more thought provoking situation where the past really haunts and where the complications of human mind can be cured by true discovery, understanding and patience in a relationship. It is interesting to note that the 'rape scene' was substituted by a scene of certain submission and reflection, where, partly deliberately and partly coincidentally, sex and desire gave way to reason. In years, it also works better.
The character who appears here as a 'rival' so to say or, perhaps, a dominant female presence is Lil, Mark's sister (palyed with skillfully sensual undertones by Diane Baker). Her duality and coldness are perfectly delivered by Ms Baker who plays her role with ease and desirable distance combined with suspicion.
The beautifully memorable sequences in the film as well as many details to which Hitchcock paid particular attention constitute another great merit of MARNIE. The scenes with the safe, the great hunting sequence, the use of red that plays a significant role in the storyline and Marnie's mind, the famous camera movement at the public event that bears resemblance to NOTORIOUS, the image of her mother's flat at Baltimore are just a few examples derived fro Hitchcock's early experience with German Expressionism. Yes, MARNIE, though made almost half a century later than the German Expressionism actually saw its heyday, is an expressionist movie.
Some people call MARNIE Hitchcock's last great film. No matter how much this opinion may occur objective, one thing is certain. It is something far beyond your expectations, even the high expectations that you probably have from a Hitchcock's film. it is, as Emily Cleaver points out "instant psychiatry."
Gem of Polish Cinema
Similarly to greatly renowned productions of Italian Neorealism that aimed at depicting the post-war reality in a convincing manner, this rarity of Polish cinema directed by Leonard Buczkowski appears to be a true surprise. Depicting the post-war period in the ruins of Warsaw, it surprises us with its realism and humor that, unlike many productions of the time, still create a desirable effect. Buczkowski, who made this film two years after famous FORBIDDEN SONGS supplies us with something different here but not at all less appealing. Bearing the same title as the famous silent classic by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, THE TREASURE offers a brilliant display of witty situations and satirical glimpse of society (not merely the society of the time).
An interesting note is how finely the film mocks the social drawbacks like greed, prejudice, jealousy and celebrates the values like honesty, youthfulness and determination. Let us have a brief outline of the content.
A newly wed couple Krystyna (Danuta Szaflarska) and Witold (Jerzy Duszynski) are looking for a flat in the ruined Warsaw. As difficult as it may seem, the enthusiastic young husband finds a seemingly suitable flat to live. They desire privacy, no doubt about that. Luckily, they seem to have found it in a beautifully equipped flat owned by distinguished Honorata (Jadwiga Hojnacka). The silent witness of their joy is a little piece of paper where Witold notes...'treasure'...the spot where his treasure (his wife) will sleep. Yet, problems arise when it occurs that they are not at all alone and will never be left alone. There are more residents of the flat, some displaying exceptional humor, some highlighting suspicion, some depicting in-depth interest in what is going on. They seem to be individual phenomena to a certain moment...when it occurs to them that a 'treasure' is hidden somewhere in the flat. The mutual quest combined with curiosity and greed will unite them...
The storytelling, as simple as it may seem, addresses certain values that have always been deeply rooted in the society. The witty, almost comical manner in which the movie develops that aspect may sometimes occur dated. Nevertheless, it never leaves a viewer totally indifferent to its gist. However, we can skip that point and see the film solely for performances where there is still much to be celebrated.
The characters are exceptionally clear, memorable and very convincing. They make the story vibrant and interesting. Danuta Szaflarska, the actress who has herself experienced the tragedy of war, does not resort to certain melancholy in her role but, like in FORBIDDEN SONGS, supplies us with a captivating portrait of a young wife with her dreams, desires, expectations. This role is very much alike the real Danuta Szaflarska with her ever present optimism and warmth. We feel the story with her. But, as an actress, she is never powerful alone and leaves much freedom to her co-star Jerzy Duszynski who portrays Witold. His determination becomes transparent in many scenes and an almost symbolic reference to the young generation - the eyes of the future. They are the couple of hope amidst the ruins of the old society. Among the supporting cast, a particular mention must be made of Adolf Dymsza who portrays Alfred Ziolko with excellent humor and some hilarious touches. His imitations of sounds, animals' sounds long remain in the memory of the viewer. A great comedian!
THE TREASURE is a film highly worth seeing because it is far from any post war propaganda but rather depicts the difficult reality with a necessary element of humor that is a true 'treasure' in our hands which always makes life more endurable. 8/10
The Birds (1963)
Beyond Categories; Outstanding Impact
Having seen THE BIRDS, you might take a stroll and accidentally notice crows flying nearby. Nobody around seems to pay attention and you feel a bit at odds with the situation. "Are they going to attack me...?" you think. And it is not merely Hitchcock's intention but the truly outstanding impact of great piece of cinema.
Based on Daphne Du Maurier's story (the author of REBECCA), the film is probably most associated with the Master of Suspense thanks to his splendid rapport with the screenwriter Evan Hunter who adapted the story to the screen. The movie's major strength lies in its flawless storytelling, buildup of tension and study of characters. That makes any viewer emotionally and intellectually involved since everything occurs to be perfectly measured and, yet, surprising. The movie does not display the mainstay themes; there is no McGuffin, there are no explanations, climaxes, explicit references. Nevertheless, it deserves to be called "Hitchcock's last unflawed film" (David Thomson) where, in Hitchcock's very intention to "scare the hell out of people," it still haunts as "a threat of unspeakable horror" (Bosley Crowther, NYTimes). However, what makes it a movie beyond categories is the fact that it does not aspire to thriller but goes far beyond.
If it were not for the credits and the lack of music score (replaced by the sounds of birds that powerfully aid the mood), we would actually assume that we are watching some story that, on the one hand, presents to us captivating characters and, on the other hand, some theme for psychoanalysis. Mitch and Melanie meet in a rather unexpected circumstances at a birds' shop in San Francisco. Just to note that Mr Hitchcock makes his cameo performance quite soon so that we can direct our curiosity towards something else. The action moves to Bodega Bay that supplies the atmosphere with a rather English flair. There, Melanie gets to know people seemingly living together but innerly being quite closed within their angst. Mind you what brings her there to Mitch's house. A gift for his young sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) - two love birds. Crowther nicely defines them as "one of nature's most innocent creatures and one of man's most melodious friends." The hidden meaning of this gift, however, works as a 'contrast' for events to come. And the plot would rather develop in a natural human way where love takes over if it were not for the prophets of doom and messengers of terror, the title birds whose noises shade the chirping of the love birds.
Indeed, much has been said about such effective depiction of the birds' attacks. Those images are simply 'carved' in your memory and appear to create unforgettable emotions. The incredibly lasting effect predominates thanks to no explanation of why they attack. Xan Brooks in The Guardian accurately points out that the movie "provides no answers and no escape." We actually do not know how it all ends. There is no Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, no trip of the escaper as it was initially planned, no additional thrills; there is as little as and as much as an image, horrifying, gloomy, and pessimistic where the aggressive intruders from the air take sovereign control over the land, over the world, conclusively. However, the horror depicted in those images, including the victims of the attacks, is merely a miniature of what the film really offers to more cautious viewers, cautious to details and analysis. For if the thrill may become dated as more decades pass, this aspect predominates as essentially timeless.
CHARACTERS: The rather uncomplicated nature of the plot goes with a truly sophisticated, complex study of the characters. The movie's triumph are the narrative elements which Crowther labeled as "clear" and "naturalistic" because that provides extraordinary insight into the personalities portrayed. Melanie is, on the one hand, a typical Hitchcock blonde - beautiful, sophisticated, a woman of appeal you might easily be taken with and, on the other hand, a character of naiveness and freshness; an outsider for others not feeling totally at ease in Bodega Bay. That odd feeling is intensified when she meets the teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) and discovers that she used to be Mitch's girlfriend. Mitch delivers certain features of a mama's boy (Hitchcock's fertile theme) but appears to be sympathetic. What emerges as embodiment of angst and fear of loneliness is his mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy), a character of constant 'presence' and permanent 'distance.' But for any viewer fond of social significance, one scene is a masterwork.
The TIDES RESTAURANT scene alone is the sufficient reason for seeing the film. A display of various characters at the face of a problem. The true problem, however, lies in the fact that they either refuse to admit a problem or exaggerate it. There is hardly anyone who would offer us something objective, realistic. There is Mrs Bundy (Ethel Griffies), an ornithologist who embodies skepticism of a scientist and pride of human mind ready to give the answer to anything. She builds all her theses on reason. Although she becomes intellectually involved in the possible assumptions, she does not in the possible solutions. On the totally opposite point, there is a religious devout, a distortion of religion's essence whose prophetic affiliations lead him to one condensed utterance: "This is the end of the world." Both of them contribute very little to the situation. In between, amidst the gore of talks, comes a more 'humane' personality of a mother afraid for her kids and a man who finds so simple a solution...In all, some of them resort merely to words, others to deeds and media...highly measured and condensed informing. What occurs, however, is the fact that nature stands above human reasoning. Furthermore, it may indeed scare the hell out of us...
And that thought should, perhaps, accompany us while watching THE BIRDS - an outstanding movie of visual, intellectual, emotional impact beyond categories evocative of something uncommon, scary, memorable.
Wondrously Experimental and Intensely Entertaining
The Master of Suspense, so well known for his MacGuffin and the tension built upon the suffering of audiences, delivers something deliciously uncommon in ROPE. Compared to REAR WINDOW by some Hitchock fans, ROPE echoes certain mainstays of the director evoking his most fertile theme (murder); yet, stands on its own as an experiment which, paradoxically, after almost 7 decades appears to work out anyway. The most stagy Hitchcock's movie which might resemble more a play than a thriller was based on a Patrick Hamilton play and a Leopold-Loeb murder case and may appear boring at certain moments. However...
Pamela Hutchinson in "The Guardian" rightly points out that this movie is the most "audacious" of all Hitchcock films because what practically remains in the backdrop of the story is the very confrontation with the ideology that poisoned the world a few years before. Here, we do not have the context of Germany of the 1940s where people talk of superior man, the Nietschean philosophy built upon one of the most serious violations of human dignity and, above all, equality but these are two young people in New York. Consider the homo-erotic overtones between the male protagonists, similarly to STRANGERS ON A TRAIN Hitchcock made a few years later. But above all, what emerges is the mastermind and perfect murder.
One character, Brandon (John Dall) is the coldest in his deed of murder, the other, Phillip (Farley Granger) is more subverted to murdering but the evil act driven primarily by ideological affiliations is at the very center of the movie. Seemingly, it is good will combined with hesitation that is bound to give way to evil anyhow. And here comes the camera...
With us who know from the very beginning who the murderer(s) is/(are), the tension is based on our perception and our waiting for it to be revealed. The stagy set of the entire movie (a New York apartment with the Manhattan visible through the windows behind) aids the atmosphere considerably. Colors contribute to the senses as well with the sunset. The murder might be revealed at any moment during the party breaking, in the very Hitchcockian fashion, the idyll of the public event. However, it becomes a party with the most gory background and the truly hidden motives that we know but never identify with. There is not much to discover in ROPE but there is a lot to feel, a lot of out senses to activate. Much thanks to the camera experimentation. Roger Ebert in his review on the film (1984) observes that "camera movement helps establish mood." In that case, ROPE is one of the most wondrously experimental films.
The intense entertainment revolves around sheer brilliance of performances, including John Dall as the wicked Brandon, Farley Granger as hesitating Phillip, Sir Cedric Hardwicke as an ideal of an old English gentleman and a father, Constance Collier with the theatrical but memorable performance as David's aunt and James Stewart as insightful Ruppert. His scenes and role are absolutely different than those in VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, REAR WINDOW but high worth considering as a skillful handling of a personality. The performances are witty, indicative, very well executed.
A viewer might associate the movie with a different title, for instance BOX but some perfect details clarify a lot to the characters and us, viewers, why it is titled so simply yet engagingly as ROPE. With the lovely novelties, it is still a highly worth seeing film as the Master of Suspense's historic experiment. 8/10
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Among Best Films Of Our Lives
Not seldom have we seen veterans returning from wars in movies and certain assumptions are likely, but THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES occurs to be an exceptionally memorable treatment of the theme. Bosley Crowther in New York Times, soon after the premiere of William Wyler's gripping work, pointed out accurately that the film "visions the overflowing humors and the curious pathos of such returns, and it honestly and sensitively images the terrible loneliness of the man who has been hurt."
One of the major strengths of this film, therefore, does not lie in entertainment (though it does not lack it whatsoever) or any sort of heroic deeds worn in glorified patriotism (something that many movies of the time did not resist), but in the very empathy it employs to the theme and the characters. William Wyler speaks to the generation with clarity and modesty derived from his very experience with the men of Air Forces. Roger Ebert develops the thought labeling the central theme as "sobering at the problems veterans faced." He adds that "Wyler doesn't pump in superfluous drama" but actually IS with his characters and with/for his audiences. As a result, the story does not resort to the specific time of history but concludes in a rather universal, timeless insight into psychological and moral aspects of those troublesome torments and alienation therein endured. Ebert explains the fact why the movie so wonderfully passed a test of time with three adjectives applied to it: "lean, direct, honest." Let me highlight those features from the standpoint of the three veterans herein depicted.
The main cast do not only come from various backgrounds, do not only portray different personalities with common experience yet diverse backgrounds but truly surprise us at multiple levels. All of them truly deservedly credit.
FREDRIC MARCH, a very famous actor at the time, does a splendid job as sergeant Al Stephenson coming back home to his wife Milly (played with bravura and charm by Myrna Loy) and two kids, a daughter Peggy (played with subtlety by Teresa Wright) and a son Rob (Michael Hall). He is 'lean, direct and honest' in both merry-go-round scenes and serious moments but most captivating at the very adjustment to the family after the years of absence. The terrific ability to balance the hilarious with the serious is something that makes March's performance deserve particular attention. Although he has come back from war, much is at war within him...
DANA ANDREWS as a former bombardier Fred Derry is a totally different character to analyze and perceive in the very context of pre-war vs. post-war reality - something many viewers of the time could identify with and most viewers of our time can fully understand. His destiny is shaped in direction towards Al's family (he is in love with Peggy) and yet, distorted by the haunting past and wrong choices. Here, who calls our attention is his wife Marie (Virginia Mayo), a conceited, vain woman occupied with what one looks like rather than bothering to consider what one feels. Andrews is given much freedom on the screen to develop the character on a great scale for the time. He does well. But the most intriguing and perhaps the most identifiable character among them is...
HAROLD RUSSELL as Homer Parrish, a sailor most hurt by the war. His artificial hands, steel hooks have become almost a symbol of the movie's most powerful anti-war aspect, and, at the same time, the reason why the story may be called "food for quiet and humanizing thought" (Crowther). His character moves us most and leaves us almost reflective because it embodies honesty. Homer Parrish is a living statement that evokes the indifference and arrogance of war. He is in love with Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell) but he has to confront the reality the war experience has given to him. He is no longer the way he dreamed to be. Yet, the awareness of being loved helps him go on. Consider the bedroom scene with Wilma and the genuine tears of joy at having heard she loves him. Deservedly Mr Russell got the Oscar for the role and there is no question about one thing: such a screen achievement may be considered one among the very best roles of one's life. In this character lies quiet, subtle, captivating heroism.
Among the female characters, great performances are delivered by Myrna Loy as Al's wife whose acting Crowther labels as "charmingly reticent" and Teresa Wright as Peggy who highlights trustworthy enthusiasm and youthfullness in difficult times. Virginia Mayo's "brassy and brutal" (Crowther) depiction also bears watching.
In all this achievement, kudos to cinematographer Gregg Toland who employs high contrast lighting with terrific visual resonance added to the the whole story and builds the scenes upon exceptional clarity. Along with the obvious contribution of the director William Wyler, no less appreciation should go to the screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood for the perfectly framed plot(s).
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES may undeniably be considered as one among the best films of our lives, an intense emotional link between the characters on screen and viewers where genuine feelings conquer heroic victories.
Venuto al mondo (2012)
As an actor, Sergio Castellito brings out the very combination of duality and simplicity; as a director, he moves his audiences by confusion and despair ever present both in human life and on screen. Based on the novel by the director's wife, Margaret Mazzantini, TWICE BORN is, above all, a display of various characters, even on the cost of the historical context of the most recent and so cruel war in Europe, the Balkan conflict of the 1990s.
The New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott criticizes the movie for "missing any sense of history or politics;" David Rooney in Toronto Review observes that "the story reeks of cheap sentiment masquerading as social and political engagement" labeling it as an "overwrought and overlong melodrama;" however, what strikes us most from the very beginning are the characters - "this luckless generation" imprisoned in their 'worlds' of inner conflicts and dualities surely influenced by the very historical and political situation. The latter aspect is, to some extent, significant. Many are the victims of the conflict, the most touching one is young girl of incredible athletic abilities. But this purely political aspect remains in the background. The story is played against the backdrop of historical context and appears to serve as a manifestation of a labyrinth-like drama that life very often is.
The true embodiment of this labyrinth-like drama seems to be, at first sight, the protagonist, Gemma (Penelope Cruz), a woman whose destiny is shaped not only by the nationality that represents 'freedom' to the whole context (mind you the scene when everyone is supposed to say the most important word for them) but also by all the people around her, in particular Diego (Emile Hirsch) and 'her son' Pietro (Pietro Castellito), a neurotic character with notes of coming of age drama. Excellent vitality to the story is contributed by her old friend Gojco (Adnan Haskovic) and a Bosnian woman Aska (Saadet Aksoy). Thanks to them, the movie almost bursts out with emotions. It is sometimes overwhelming and sometimes terribly confusing how we, as viewers, discover the motives that govern the characters. The story, built primarily on flashbacks and sometimes even flashbacks within flashbacks, occurs to manifest the blending past and presence in order to keep a viewer alert and supply the desirable tension.
The performances of the cast of quite multinational backgrounds appear to be very well fit to the tension of the drama. Penelope Cruz, having already played under Castellito's direction in DON'T MOVE, portrays a rather sullen character of a mother amidst the ruins of conflicts and war. She also depicts a character of interesting choices, especially as a wife. Closer to the end we get, more need for display of emotions there is, and Ms Cruz handles that with exceptional vitality and subtlety. One of the most powerful scenes of the movie is her reunion with Aska, actually, a biblical "Hagar-like" substitute mother... Emile Hirsch underlines some interesting aspects of his character as well, being particularly convincing and absorbing at the psychologist scene. There, you get the essence of who the couple are...another fine manifestation of the past hidden within the walls of subconsciousness. Aska, in that case, is a highlight.
Interesting music score, striking cinematography by Gianfilippo Corticelli, production designing by Francesco Frigeri contribute to the pluses of the movie's influence on the senses. Violence, however, seems to create tension of moments in a flawed manner. The scenes of war cruelty or the rape ae depicted in a too graphic way excluding any hints of deduction. From the short scenes of pregnant Aska or the very birth give a slight undertone of viewers' supposing conclusions that Diego is not the father. Nevertheless, not being prepared for any facts, you may be taken with some moments, especially Diego's insane behavior facing the protesters.
After all, TWICE BORN is worth seeing as a highly emotional screen production. What can a man be amidst the roar of hatred? What can human voice for peace be? Merely a glimpse of a moment like a dove that carries a brighter message? We cannot skip that moment; we must give him time and moment to speak up...