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"The man who has no inner-life is a slave to his surroundings" (Henri
The above quotation may seem to pass the gist of the movie's content and yet, after a more in-depth analysis, you may see striking parallels among various 'incarnations' of slavery. However, there is no philosophy whatsoever. Rather something utterly from this world. What can touch viewers more profoundly, what may appear more appealing than real memoirs written with human hand, carved by human experience? That is the story of Solomon Northup
One of the reasons why Steve McQueen's movie has been labeled as a 'long awaited' production and considered to be a "pioneering drama about American slaves" (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian) is its emotional resonance. Both film scholars and contemporary film freaks will agree that the supreme subject matter of the movie is not so much how evil the INSTITUTION of slavery was but rather how evil a human can be to another human. This in-depth insight into inner drives that prompt to evoke the best or the worst out of a person. If cinema usually fails in exhibitions strength of awing viewers with effects, 12 YEARS AS A SLAVE proves to succeed in provocative, daring and absorbing address of the conflicts within human being in his inner world and outside world. Keeping that in mind, one could echo the words of Paul MacInnes from the Guardian that the movie "confronts a practice that endured in the United States of America for nearly 250 years." In that political sense, Peter Bradlaw memorably points out that it is "a story from the cold civil war that preceded the hot one." But it is above all the protagonist that makes it a wholly absorbing drama.
The memoirs by Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are skillfully adapted
by the novelist John Ridley. Therefore, the major strength of McQueen's movie lies in the fact that it is more a story of a slave, a particular man with his tragedy, his humiliation, his suffering than a depiction of a historical system. It aims at depicting a situation as it was in case of a particular man more than supplying us with some basic notions that the audiences are barely fond of these days.
Thanks to Chiwetel Ejiofor, we have a truly powerful depiction of a drama, a wondrous insight into thought provoking feelings and emotions that may rise in a free man made a slave. The protagonist, a talented violinist who had a family in New York and used to live a life of a free man has to confront the reality that he barely imagined in nightmares. There are many scenes that, mind you, are not very wordy but where picture says more than words could do. That is a wonderful return to the basic feature of cinema and its most primordial power - to touch viewers through what they see. Even in these hardest conditions, he appears not to lose his hope...as long as all is brought to a truly touching conclusion.
Within the artistic concept, kudos to cinematographer Sean Bobbit and his interesting uses of images. We can experience some moments of the atmosphere of the Old South, not praised as, for instance, in GONE WITH THE WIND where the charm of southern belles and manners of slave owners seem to prevail over the tragedy of the humiliated ones. The shots of nature, the picking of cotton provide a specific image for the whole story.
Among the supporting cast, a mention must be made of Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy. Her role is, perhaps, the one that we will most identify with and empathize with apart from the protagonist. She said in an interview that "being part of 12 YEARS AS A SLAVE has been one of the most powerful experiences of my life." That says for itself.
A great film about a man who had his inner life and that helped him to survive and meet his beloved ones as an experienced 'master' of will.
With the very intentions of the director, Julien Duvivier, and the
producers to dramatize Strauss' spirit rather than facts, it appears to
be no surprise to notice how deeply THE GREAT WALTZ is rooted in the
convention of the 1930s. If you await some biographical outline, forget
it. Simply the movie excludes such expectations from the very
beginning. It is a fairy tale, dreamlike movie where music bursts out
in unforgettable enthusiasm, love is in the air of peaceful Vienna
Woods, a little saccharine charm accompanies the elaborate images and
in its center...is Johann Strauss. Unreal and too elegant as it may
seem, Strauss is, after all, a Viennese composer. Let me take a note of
the protagonist. But is it Schani Strauss or a waltz or rather both?
Depicted by Fernand Gravey, Schani does not clearly deliver the revolutionary aspect of his personality and his music. Obviously there is no single mention of the conflict with his father, Johann Strauss (known mostly for his Radetzky March), there is no depiction of his hard way to becoming a self made composer. At the beginning, a banker Wertheimer fires him, which makes Schani free and very happy not to make money but glorious music. But all this makes him a more 'romantic,' so to say, hero. Combined with the context of 1848, he is not a sort of pacifist (as it was far the case of these movies) but a musician full of zeal of leading people to the world of his music, the charm of his waltzes. Both Strauss and his music are inseparable. And although the action takes place at the beginning of his career, we hear all of his waltzes from THE BLUE DANUBE to KAISERWALTZ. The movie is, therefore, separated from historical chronology but everyone stops to care about that. We like that because Strauss is far from any realism in portrayal and far from saccharine idealization...somewhere in between...where could that be better achieved if not with women at his side?
Luise Rainer as Poldi, Schani's wife, is placed in contradictory character-depiction with Carla Donner played by Miliza Korjus, an actress of partly Polish ancestry. Both women differ considerably but both constitute inspiration for Schani. While singer Carla Donner (with some magnificent moments of her songs) reveals extravaganza, Poldi strikes us with considerable naiveness. 'You told me you love me' seems to evoke above all in her attitude. In rivalry, perhaps, and moments of concord and acceptance, they both will have to face each other in the most unpredictable situations. Among scenes that Miliza Korjus and Fernand Gravey share together, a mention must be made of Wienerwald scene (scene in Vienna Woods) and the spontaneous, charming composition of the famous waltz. The Coachman, foremost, provides great touches of humor inevitable in a movie of this sort.
With the visual aesthetics of the movie come the elaborate sets, very beautiful choreography and exquisite gowns by Adrian (known for Garbo movies). Subtle scenes of growing enthusiasm whilst composing blend with public events, the most important of which appears to be the debut performance at Dommayer's.
The finale is, however, something that appears to be quintessential for what Johann Strauss' music has meant to Vienna for all these years. Partly humorous and partly serious, but above all, a jubilant conclusion in the tribute to the King of Waltz and his meeting with the emperor remain in the memory for long. But if you have not seen it yet? You indeed have something to look forward to...a beautiful movie ahead of you.
"I had to choose between serving my country or the Red Empire" (Ryszard
Described as "the first Polish officer in NATO" by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ryszard Kuklinski was one of the most absorbing figures of the recent history as a man who played a decisive role in the Cold War. At the 10th anniversary of Kuklinski's death, Wladyslaw Pasikowski, a rather newcomer director (known for his AFTERMATH made two years earlier), has made this film with exceptional insight into the interpretation of a specific reality, with courage (taking into account the various negative viewpoints caused by some political affiliations of its critics and accusations against Kuklinski from post-communist) and extraordinary evaluation of modern needs within cinema trends. But within this uncommon evaluation, we are interested in an ordinary viewer who goes to see this film for various reasons: to get to know history; to find the depiction of the protagonist's heroic deeds, surely; but, in many cases, to get some thrill, some action, something we all, even unconsciously, expect of cinema. After all, JACK STRONG is, foremost, a movie. Therefore, I am not going to be a historical judge in this review but rather look at the film from a movie freak's standpoint, more in terms of purely cinematic means as done by the reviewers before me.
The film is supplied with resonance at its depiction of Communist Soviet Union vs. the Capitalist world of the United States. Two realities that stand in total opposition. In that context, JACK STRONG serves as the almost flawless illustration of the Cold War period where Poland (swallowed by communism) and the protagonist, Ryszard Kuklinski (1930-2004), appear in between two powers. The Polish colonel, deluding his comrades, is actually a spy to NATO passing the top secret documents to CIA. What do these documents refer to? Soviet plans to use nuclear weapons and, to put it shortly, immense hazard of nuclear war, a poisonous policy raised on anti-craft bases. He contacts Americans using the most 'unpredictable' almost 'primitive' devices that, anyway, contribute to our imagination - device called 'spark.' By placing himself and his family in unbelievable risks, can he handle that political duality for long? Or more to ask, perhaps sounding paradoxically, does he do it for himself or out of his patriotic motives?
The former question seems almost rhetorical. The latter question, however, (which refers to strong accusations against this man), within the quotation by Kuklinski I entailed at the beginning and, in particular, the word 'serve' should aid in eliminating the unfair seeds of doubt. SERVE excludes all egocentric drives. But there is something else, the beginning of the movie that does not appear to be wordy in script but tremendously powerful in visuals. The film opens with a shocking scene (that in a way sets the tone for the entire story). Oleg Pienkowski, as we may deduce, had been doing exactly what Kuklinski takes up and comes to an end that barely differs from Holocaust. So to say, the Soviets that suppress the east block seem to indicate what fate awaits all those 'traitors' that dare spill the beans about their policy. In that very context, we understand Kuklinski's motives. Serving communists that were within our country was, actually, serving the Red Empire. Therefore, by being a spy to CIA, he actually served America in the Cold War but, consequently, served Poland too in its way to freedom. That makes his story exceptionally absorbing and captivating as fleeing in wooden boxes. Asked at the finale if it was worth, he concludes all these events, all these sorrows in a beautiful sentence. But let me highlight performances.
JACK STRONG is a movie which features Patrick Wilson in an interesting role of Daniel. Among the supporting characters, its strong point lies in portraying historical characters, including Oleg Maslennikov as the Russian military commander Kulikov, Volodymyr Necheporenko as Brezniev and Krzysztof Dracz as Wojciech Jaruzelski responsible for the imposition of martial law in Poland. But all our attention is called on Marcin Dorocinski in the lead whose American pseudonym "Jack Strong" finds its manifestation in this portrayal.
He echoes all the flawless hyper-psychological-spy roles ever depicted by handling the role with exceptional duality of choices: he can be divided into two realities of a personality: formal and private, a colonel and father/husband. One cannot go without the other in responsibility but hardly does it go in pairs within one reality. The former requires the sacrifice from the latter and vice versa. That is beautifully depicted in his family conflicts, in the choices he makes, in the rapport with his two sons, Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) and Waldek (Jozef Pawlowski), his wife Hanna's (Maja Ostaszewska) suspicions. Finally, however, we get the redeeming aspect of reconciliation prompted by desperate acts to build a safer future in America.
JACK STRONG, besides all the psychological-historical-political balance, is a wonderfully entertaining movie with tensions that equal the best American productions. Obviously, there is a gray aspect of times, specific times in Poland but moments of pure adrenaline are not to be skipped. What I mean here is, foremost, the 'car race' in the icy streets of Warsaw which finely combines humor with tension and blend reality with fantasy. Polish, English and Russian in the movie add authenticity to the characters' nationalities. And many other strong points that are simply noticeable when seeing the film.
Serve his own country...where monsters were disguised as masters...was a hard task for the conscience and honor on the verge of wretched captivity. He chose the hardest, what price did he/they pay? What reward did he/they get? Merely a memorial tribute or, perhaps, something more.
A successful movie that manages to resist the temptation of being a shallow historical make-believe. Consequently, it is a fine history lesson for the viewers keen on that stuff. It also manages to hold our attention and meet the supreme expectation of a contemporary movie-goer: ACTION. 9/10
"We could recall once again the kind and gentle personality of the Pope
strong in faith, keeping to rules and yet, always open and smiling."
(Benedict XVI after the premiere of the movie in the Vatican, October
Fatima, Portugal, 1977 - 60 years after the Apparitions of Virgin Mary to three Shepherd children. Among the group of pilgrims, we see a humble cardinal who does not use a pompous talk but speaks of heart, looks at the world and Divine Providence with childlike eyes. Soon, however, this humble cardinal enters the walls of the convent in Coimbra and sees the last seer of Fatima, sister Lucia dos Santos (1907-2005) who, in the most unpredictable circumstances, addresses him "Holy Father" Who is this special man? What is his mission? How did the vocation begin? What has brought him to this extraordinary place? Albino Luciani (1912-1978) known to the world for a short period of time as pope John Paul I, more affectionately, however, 'Il Sorriso Di Dio" - a smile of God, is the hero of this touching and captivating biopic.
The movie is predominantly dominated by a 'smile' - a sort of 'privilidge' of true saints but does this smile have anything to do with the ever present slogan KEEP SMILING?
It appears to be an obvious fact that since the Second Vatican Council that took place in the early 1960s, the image of the pope has changed. He has become a person closer to people, less a monarch and more a pastor, someone who does not limit his targets to activities of the Roman Catholic Church around the world but is more a father for all humanity. In this context, smile is something that draws a powerful emotional link with people. In this way, the 'Vicar of Christ' reveals the teachings of Jesus Christ to the world. And, primordially, the popes who come to the minds of many are John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis now. But even the barely known (or at least mentioned in the media) Albino Luciani, the predecessor of Karol Wojtyla whose pontificate lasted for mere 33 days, offered something incredibly unique and individual to the Church. Neri Marcore, known in Italy mostly as a comedian, gives an outstanding performance. Let me analyze certain points not to spoil much of the content.
Neri Marcore portrays Albino Luciani as an austere Christian with such values as modesty, love, mercy, compassion, particularly gentle appearance. His smile is far from some fake mask but comes from the encounter with Christ. His style, also as a pope in the second part of the movie, shocks the 'great learned' ones but almost magnetizes simple people. In one scene, when asked why his speeches are so simple, he answers that listeners should come home with at least one thought in their minds. In another scene, he says that any war is the absolute evil, the opposition of Christ. He says a strict 'No' to sedia gestatoria as well as Pluralis Maiestatis (when pope used to address the people in the Plural form as 'We') He speaks of God as Mother (referring to the words of the great mystic Julian of Norwich), of poor Christ and of himself as a humble servant, Christ's poor vicar. That is incorporated into the biographical facts from his life, including his mission as a bishop of Vittorio Veneto, later the patriarch of Venice (similarly to Angelo Roncalli, later pope John XXIII). Therefore, no doubt he was seen as a sort of 'Don Camillo' in the Vatican by some cardinals. But this conflict appears to be deeper.
It is the conflict between two visions of the Church that arose after Vatican Council II. The director handles that in a subtle way displaying forgiveness, displaying regret of those who were against the pope. Yet, certain actions took more serious steps. Poor or wealthy, humble of powerful...it is all summed up in a beautiful sentence that Albino Luciani says to one Msr Marcinkus: we were taught to learn God of mercy, not god of money. That other side of the vision of the Church (which cannot be clearly seen as 'conservative' unlike 'liberal' for the Church is no political institution) is nicely personified by cardinal Villot (José Maria Blanco Martinez). In this context, we see John Paul I's spiritual growth. Pity that there is no single mention of John Paul I's particular fondness of Saint Gregory the Great (pontiff 590-604). That would nicely stress the continuity of the Church and explain some motives of Papa Luciani.
All the first part is, in a way, depicted in flashback when, historically or not, Luciani speaks with Sister Lucia. It is she (like it was the case with Padre Pio-Karol Wojtyla HISTORICAL meeting) who foretells his papacy. But one primordial aspect arises: God has mysteriously saved his life from danger in many circumstances. In one scene, a teenage Albino (still in Forno di Canale) almost falls from the rock in the mountains and calls on Jesus at a little cross that stands nearby. When saved, he finds vocation within his heart. In another scene, his lung illness mysteriously disappears. It's all handled with fine subtlety. The touching scenes include his mother's death, the meeting with cardinal Karol Wojtyla, and...so to say whenever he appears on the screen with a smile. From time to time, we see the archive footage, especially near the finale, that is beautifully incorporated into the movie.
A great film that manages to capture the gist of who this pope really was and remains for long in memory. Thank you, Giorgio Capitani, for depicting the figure of John Paul I in such an affectionate manner. The smile of God upon the face of the Smiling Pope touched by Love of Christ is what the world needs today. 9/10
"I still have imaginary friends who I talk to in my head" (Lee Ryan).
From the opening sequence of the movie, which the New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther labeled as "charmingly fanciful farce," the word imagination seems to evoke as the key aspect of Mary Chase. However, we, as the viewers of the 21st century find it really hard to absorb that imagination in the pure form of its initial motives. Do we see the real only? Do we even bother with some products of our minds? Has technology made us a more 'down to earth' practical children of modern times? Can we genuinely smile at the protagonist who crosses the borderline of 'normal behaviour'? Or, in his case, do we rather seek some psychological attempts, some sophisticated stuff that would put the character within a drawer with effort to psychoanalyze him. Lee Ryan's quotation I have entailed at the beginning of this review might prompt certain answers to some of the questions.
The strength of Henry Koster's movie (and his 'vivid and droll direction' as Bosley Crowther memorably points out) lies in this 'unreal' aspect of the story. James Stewart, interviewed in March 1990, recalled that this was one of those movies of his that he had a soft spot for. A truly versatile actor recalled this very role as unique in its seriousness and wit alike. It is him, apart from some wonderful co-stars, who makes this movie unforgettable. Let me focus on his performance for a while.
JAMES STEWART beautifully combines the serious and humorous aspects of his character. The seriousness lies in the whole creation of his inner world, his pal - a big rabbit called Harvey - who, at times, truly may infect our vision and make us all (like his sister) visualize a character who somehow stands at his side. This desire of someone's presence that may ease the pain of loneliness is an excellent inspiration for some psychoanalytical notions. At the same time, humour helps us all resist the temptation of falling into tense stuff that would result in some scientific approach. Humour is superior in most of the scenes and James Stewart delivers it, inspires it and creates it skillfully. This "wonderfully warm and sympathetic presentation of a character" mentioned by Bosley Crowther and "its wistfully sweet appreciation of the innocence of a benevolent lush" are revealed in Stewart's performance. Other co-stars.
JOSEPHINE HULL with the theatrical aspect in her acting and the tremendous impact upon the emotional resonance of the people who 'live with' the protagonist leave a lasting impression in every viewer. From the absorbing moments of wit to some touches of (today we might say) overacting perfectly work in creating a captivating character who, by the way, is easily scandalized and yet influenced by 'an imaginary friend.'
THE SUPPORTING CAST deliver some memorable moments, including
A nice film absolutely worth seeing, A story that will make you think a bit, wait a bit, sympathize a bit and, foremost, amuse yourself at its pleasant handling of the story.
"Die Liebe Bleibt Und Ewig Bleibt Das Lied..." ("love and the song
remain forever") - with an exceptionally sentimental song by Zarah
Leander, we get the opening sequence of the movie made by the Ufa
star's favorite director, Carl Froelich. Thanks to great collaboration
of Universum Film and Black Hill Pictures, we can admire the visuals of
the movie with elaborate sets and dazzling costumes. But the assumption
that ES WAR EINE RAUSCHENDE BALLNACHT (the title misleadingly
translated into "It was a gay ball-night") was another purely Zarah
Leander vehicle soon proves to be wrong. It is not the Zarah Leander
film like, DER WEG INS FREIE, for instance. Why?
Froelich's film, which bears significance to many Russian theme movies, is an artistic communication with the viewers of the time, a very specific period in Germany when Nazi propaganda also imposed certain demands on the artistic visions. The artistic communication is manifested in three concepts: atmospheric influence, protagonist's interpretation and portrayal of two women.
ATMOSPHERIC INFLUENCE expressed in sets, stunning cinematography by Franz Weihmyr, enchanting costumes by Herbert Ploberger and music by...Tschaikovsky/Leander: It seems quite obvious that most of the movies of the period had a strong impact on viewers through visuals. Everything was supposed to look beautiful, awesome even in order to delude the perceptions of its audiences. In that aspect, the movie appears to represent the purest concept of what atmospheric influence meant. Heavily relying upon German Expressionism and the modern trends of the time as well as some of the individual visions of the director, it serves that purpose powerfully. Therefore, you can see dreamlike wardrobe, elaborate sets, little details. Music, as in most films about composers (in that case it is Tschaikovsky) constitutes a backdrop character of the movie, leads us into the musicality of the characters, controls the changeable feelings, corresponds to various emotional states. In that case, however, we can divide it into the original pieces by the composer, in particular 4TH SYMPHONY and the songs sung by Zarah Leander, in particular the much appraised "Nur Nicht Aus Liebe Weinen" - "All but no tears for love." But Zarah Leander's songs, like in most of her other performances, exceptionally handled under the director of Carl Froelich, mean something in constant relation to the protagonist of the movie.
PROTAGONIST'S INTERPRETATION: Played by Hans Stuewe, based upon Geza Von Cziffra's novel and inspired considerably by Jean Victor and Georg Wittuhn's story it is more the 'fictitious' Tschaikovsky of cinematic vision than the faithful portrayal of the composer's personality. The movie cannot be categorized as a biopic whatsoever. And not at all do I mean to refer to the aspect of sexuality (indeed, stressing the homosexuality of the composer would miss the point in the context of a movie made in the 1930s) but, foremost, to the depiction of his passions. The passions of any composer are foremost revealed in his masterpieces, in his works. Here, however, 'WORK' is an advice of Professor Otto Hunsinger (Leo Slezak) as a cure for love disappointment. What of these passions would speak to the minds of the viewers of the time if not a tragic love story, a tearjerker that made many women use too many handkerchiefs. In that respect, Mr Stuewe does something extraordinary. With gentleness (perhaps too much for an artist), he recalls the musicality and moods of Paul Henreid in a movie about Schumann THE SONG OF LOVE with Katherine Hepburn or a much appraised DECEPTION with Bette Davis. But what stands behind all this is simply the fact that he is a male character and...doomed to be shadowed by...women. The women competing for him. Something very innovative at the time. He is a sort of the Vronsky of ANNA KARENINA, an object of female feelings, a sweet motive of their sighs.
TWO WOMEN: Perhaps we are more educated as viewers who see the movie with today's experience. Two women of the film, however, arouse an almost never ending awe of inner freedom, tragic dramatizer and a way towards emancipation: Marika Roekk, the famous dancer who made an international career and delivers some perfect moments in the movie in the role of Natassja Petrowna and, obviously, Zarah Leander in the role of Katherina. While the former one surprises us with a few moments and particular skills delivered before the camera, the latter one has some predictable moments, delivers some predictable lines as an unhappy wife of a monstrous man Michael Iwanowitsch Murakin (Aribert Waescher) - again echoing classic literature by Tolstoy. Nevertheless, both appear to be charming portrayals, the women in Tschaikovsky's life, fictitious or real, no one cares but given some very authentic bases and supplied with absorbing feelings. They add the purely emotional resonance to the whole story and, in their rivalry, provide unforgettable tensions. That also pushed some limits of moral acceptability in social contexts among viewers, for sure. All, however, leads to the inevitable finale, a tragic tearjerker.
All things considered, the movie is a nice looking fairy tale, which, after all, may supply some sensitive viewers with a flair for the special period in German cinema when beauty on the screen had its motives and screen art served its purpose. Highly worth seeing!
Taking into account various period dramas of the 1930s and their
'interpretations' of history, PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX
appears to be unique at various levels. In that 'uniqueness,' it still
arouses enthusiasm in film freaks. Initially titled THE KNIGHT AND THE
LADY, it features for the second time a very interesting couple: Bette
Davis with Errol Flynn. The former one was already associated with some
best movies of the period while the latter one was at the height of
popularity thanks to the still astounding portrayal of Robin Hood.
Under Michael Curtiz's direction (still before his world fame with
CASABLANCA), a solid period drama evokes where necessities of
filmmaking transcend those of historical accuracy.
Treated solely as a screen achievement and no basis for any history analysis, the film's greatest strengths lie in ACTING, MUSIC SCORE and VISUALS.
BETTE DAVIS: The dramatic resonance of the story is not achieved so well thanks to its source (a stage play by Maxwell Anderson) but, above all, thanks to the acting of great caliber by Bette Davis and her difficult (not to say doomed) collaboration with her male co-star. As Ms Davis openly loathed Mr Flynn from the very start of the production, it seems easier to have evoked contradictory emotions in her and prompt her to deliver that jungle of mixed 'make-me-love-hate-you before the camera. She both loves him and curses him, she seems to be perfectly appealing in her policy of ruling while alone and, at the same time, appears to be totally unable to exist without him. At times concentrated on the country, on England whom she calls in a purely patriotic line at the finale 'the most enduring love' of hers but, at other moments, solely focused on herself and the 'bitter aging mask' that makes her break all the mirrors in fury of not standing the sight of herself. Here, Bette Davis delivers an excellent contrast between and within a woman and a queen, the torments that truly gain sovereign control over her. That certainly affects the storytelling and a viewer. But in all that, Ms Davis manages to dominate our attention. The portrayal of the queen goes with her policy of peace which relies heavily on some other Hollywood productions of the time, including Garbo's 'interpretation' of the Swedish queen. Some lines about the nonsense of wars simply echo those ones in the 1933 MGM production (a note: Sir Laurence Olivier was going to be cast in both films....but...his leading ladies differed in the attitudes: Garbo appeared too cold in his arms while Bette Davis appeared too much after him...producers barely obeyed leading ladies' wishes). But this did not stop Bette Davis to portray a neurotic character in an excellent way.
ERROL FLYNN: Because of the requirements of the drama and the inevitable focus on the queen, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex becomes a 'playboy' of the story who does not fully restrain the temptation of 'counting too much on queen's loves' (with reference to Lord Bacon's advice). He is hard to be tarnished by his enemies but someone who may easily eclipse the queen's popularity. In one lucid moment, he comes back triumphant from Cadiz and appears to be struck by the jungle of lies and deceit that he finds on the court. Foremost, however, he beautifully delivers torments at the queen's reaction who, actually, does not know if she hates him for making her love him or herself for needing him so much. His gentle, rather extremely subtle performance, though, does not remain 'eclipsed' by Ms Davis's totally but has its moments particularly worth attention.
In the role of Penelope, at the release of the film, OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND is another member of the cast who was widely popular among the audiences thanks to the fresh memory of GONE WITH THE WIND. In this rather genuine role of a queen's lady in waiting, she puts some feelings and heart to the harsh rules of the court, to the maliciousness of men in conspiracy and toughness of leaders. Above all, however, let me echo once again the aforementioned movie about Queen Christina. Doesn't the queen kissing Penelope on the lips make you think of Christina kissing Ebba? A very thought provoking parallel... Anyway, one among the supporting performers and the newcomers at the time is VINCENT PRICE in a very interesting and (unfortunately) hardly developed role of Walter Raleigh. He portrays an interesting and sophisticated character in some absorbing moments. Highly worth mentioning.
MUSIC SCORE: Much of the dramatic touch of the movie is achieved thanks to Erich Korngold's score. It memorably reveals its triumphant moments, its romantic tunes and, in the most magnetizing way, the haunting flair to all. This beautifully corresponds to the emotions of the characters, to the changeable moods, to some bitter conclusions at the finale.
VISUAL SPLENDOUR: Seemingly something we take for granted especially in the movies of that genre, camera-work, costumes, lights and shadows work perfectly in this film. Just a brief mention of the atmosphere of doom that is memorably prompted and evoked when drama reaches its crescendo should exemplify the enormous contribution of that aspect within the general mood of the film.
Not for any greater glory of history on screen, but, undeniably, one of the most entertaining period pieces you may ever see. Despite the fact you may forget most of it after some time, it is really hard to skip in memory certain moments delivered by Bette Davis. A gem!
Why do people complicate their motives? What strength lies behind
different people's destinies? What is coincidental and what is
prefabricated in life? What spiritual link may exist among humans who
have gone through different traumas? Can you undergo a radical change
in a new environment and remain true to yourself? These sort of thought
provoking questions will evoke when seeing MONSIEUR LAZHAR - a film
that may truly occur an illuminating discovery amongst recent
Directed by a newcomer Philippe Falardeau, it surprised me from the start. Seemingly, its school context can lead viewers to draw parallels, or even compare it with other films of the thematic concern. The Independent draws parallels with the Iranian production A Separation. Some find noticeable similarities with MONSIEUR MATTHIEU. The most striking movie quoted by many occurs to be DEAD POETS' SOCIETY. Indeed, certain plot aspects are common, like student/students-teacher relations, consultation with parents, the inner school system. Nevertheless, these are not the 'copies' where the movie's strengths really lie. These are not the themes returning again in a slightly different form and under a different title that prompt some movie critics label MONSIEUR LAZHAR "cinema at its most impactful" (Liam Maguren), "a reaffirmation of teacher's vocation" (Phillip French, The Observer). More to say, that would have never opened the way towards winning the City of Toronto Award and Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. What charm lies in MONSIEUR LAZHAR? I would condense it in three points: the portrayal of THE PROTAGONIST, the depiction of SCHOOLING and intensification of EMOTIONAL RESONANCE.
PROTAGONIST: Roger Ebert states memorably that the film "has no simple questions and simple answers. Its purpose is to present us with a situation, explore the people involved and show us a man who is dealing with his own deep hurts." In media res, we get to know the protagonist and his environment. Beautifully depicted in an all in-depth portrayal by the Algerian comedian, writer and actor Mohamed Said Fellag, the title character Monsieur Lazhar is someone reliable and easy to identify with. As a refugee in Canada (the action takes place at Montreal), he is a newcomer at work and in the country. Equally, he strives to achieve the status of a reliable teacher and a reliable citizen. We may suspect that he has certain past behind him, a rather difficult past and memories from his homeland, but, as fate places him among the pupils whose trauma becomes clear to us at once, we discover him more and more. This mental discovery of the protagonist prompted within viewers is something very authentic with a memorable stimulus hidden within flawless action and clever script. Soon, we may agree with the statement of Phillip French in The Observer that "Lazhar is a man of tact, probity and a rich sense of humor." Taking responsibility for the class, the children who lost their previous teacher in the most 'nightmarish' circumstances, his arrival at the school rightly makes the whole film more and more thought provoking and convincing. In his encounter with his pupils, we discover the surprising fact that they, actually, have more in common than anyone would suspect. But the thing is, the little trick is to find this link. Anthony Quinn nicely points out about "a sympathetic balance between a child's view of schooling and an adult's."
SCHOOLING: Again, let me quote Roger Ebert's strong but interesting line: " a teacher seems hardly allowed to be human." But in Monsieur Lazhar, this tact, probity and a rich sense of humor appear to be harmonious and excellently balanced. In the relations with parents and other teachers as well as his pupils, he is full of tact; his probity is clear in the way he treats his challenges (a few scenes show him at his desk correcting pupils' works) and a sense of humor is revealed at right places and at right time. Nevertheless, the critical view on schooling remains, the imposed rules, the usually inhumane requirements. Mind you the fact that the film actually ends with a hug, a hug of a teacher and a pupil, something forbidden at schools, yet something that rightly points out and stresses humanity needed in teacher-student relations. This humanity which is a key for healthy relations, austere methods of communicating thoughts. Here we could agree with a critic Critic Anne Hornaday of The Washington that the film "achieves its own sort of crystalline perfection in simply telling the truth, and telling the truth simply."
EMOTIONAL RESONANCE: It seems to be a primordial conclusion after viewing the film that the story, though difficult and tense, does not imprison the characters within the world of traumas but is directed towards the redemptive aspect of humanity in itself. Practically, no words or statutes or any power of mind helps the characters recover from difficulties but emotions. Something very human, something bound to criticism by the skeptical world of conventions, yet something true to human nature. The emotional resonance of the story is throughout a hidden character of the film, a backdrop presence that makes itself influential and significant. Handled memorably by the cast, including the youngsters who, thanks to undeniably effective rapport with the director, supply us with authentic display of emotions. Perhaps, it is most striking with Alice (Sophie Nelisse) but when we see the film from the standpoint of the protagonist, all the characters contribute powerfully to this target.
All in all, an important film, a must see not only for teachers for whom it may work as inspirational achievement but for all viewers who like ambitious cinema.
When we consider many of the novel adaptations made at Ufa in the 1930s
when, actually, the Nazi propaganda saw its heyday, it is hard to
capture the traces of their literary sources. Considerable exaggeration
in fear of any immorality explicitly displayed resulted in altered,
distorted content. And that travesty seems to be very noticeable in
Carl Froehlich's movie the title of which, HEIMAT (Homeland), is one of
these titles that could be labeled: misleading and meaningful alike.
From the very start, with the credits, we are led to the atmosphere of the times and Zarah Leander, the close up of the face of studio queen, a sort of "the Garbo of the Ufa Studio." Soon we hear her singing "Drei Sternen" (three stars) with her deep voice, something that carried so much charm and magic at the time that even the propaganda leaders could not resist it. Most of that charm, however, has not stood a test of time and, after all these years, we are led to capture just the glimpse of who this woman was and what she managed to evoke in her roles in a short career span.
In HEIMAT, the movie made by the director the legendary actress most collaborated with, she handles the portrayal of a woman who leads us all to a conclusion that is not so widespread these days: success and career do not necessarily go with inner peace and happiness. Maddalena becomes the sole master of herself, a personality whose life blends art and reality, blissful illusion and bitter consequences that life sets forth. Comedy blends with drama (something very realistic). This aspect of both femme fatale and a woman being emancipated is echoed in many of her later films, particularly, DER WEG INS FREIE where an artist copes with the unexpected 'surprises' that conventions and gray everyday offer. All the aura, so to say, around her evokes and intensifies these feelings quite convincingly in spite of highly dated acting style.
The first aspect in that 'aura' is the place where the action is set - a small German town in 1885 where the prefabricated conventions take over all feelings of genuine self. She comes to her hometown as a very famous opera singer, as Maddalena dall'Orto and is going to sing something meaningful, something that may at least call our attention to her inner torments, Bach's PASSION ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW. But, as it usually happens in such pretentious movies, art occurs to disguise the past. How will she deal with the bitter secret she carries in her heart and is yet to be revealed in the most unpredictable circumstances? The secret of the life in Berlin and one Bankdirektor von Keller (Franz Schaftheitlin)...
Another aspect in that aura are the visuals. Everything seems to evoke her mental and psychological states. Thanks to heavy influence of the German Expressionism's tradition and some elements of Stanislavskian method, the viewer is memorably led to the world of changeable moods that the protagonist goes through. In one of the most unforgettable scenes of the movie, Maddalena enters a Gothic church where the shadows, the organ music, the architecture that in a racket like fashion seems to take a 'mental and visual' flight, the aesthetic mannerism and extreme emotions subvert our senses. In another scene, she enters her home after 8 years and touches the objects clearly evoking the emotional ties to the things and memories. Mind you the wonderful use of ostentatious, elaborate sets with the dazzling close-ups of Ms Leander's face.
Finally, a significant aspect is her singing which contributes highly to the merits of the movie supplying it with desirable resonance of the drama. She sings like Ms Dietrich as far as magnetism is concerned and unlike Ms Dietrich when we consider dramatizing. Meanwhile, her songs provide us with a unique artistic experience. The song about three stars as well as the more 'emancipated' song 'Die Liebe' (Love) work on a creative level of communication even with the viewers of today. Note, for instance, the moment she sings at the harp or the musical and emotional crescendo of the finale.
But after seeing the film, I had such a feeling that it would be a great exaggeration to say that this is purely a Zarah Leander movie, that it is worthwhile seeing merely thanks to her. As a matter of fact, she may occur too dramatic, too pretentious in her style to many people among modern audiences. Such a portrayal of a woman, an artist and a mother seems to occur one of the reasons why the film may be considered dated. There is, however, one performance that will actually never allow us to analyze it as old fashioned and barely convincing. It is Heinrich George's portrayal of the father. The actor who was highly underrated in his time achieves something special. His role is not an easy one, he depicts a man deep in his own world-view, an authoritative but affectionate parent (he has his own premonitions - consider his memorable line he utters to his daughter "You have retained a good heart but there is something in your eyes I don't like"). He is a loyal citizen but, above all, a humorous fellow. Drama and comedy find best balance in him. This role recalls heavily his portrayal in DER POSTMEISTER where he did not play with Ms Leander but Hilde Krahl.
That is why I consider HEIMAT a great Zarah Leander and Heinrich George's achievement. Highly worth seeking out.
THE VIKING of 1928 still appears to be, in a way, a strikingly
absorbing picture. Although it seems that any commitment to viewing
this movie may be a privilege of some little group of film scholars,
claiming that it leaves no impression whatsoever would surely belittle
the significance of silent cinema along with its unique appeal.
Obviously, it could not stand a chance against many modern 'pseudo-epic
adventures' that heap us with cheap effects which, at moments, cross
dangerous borderline placing us at risk of being deprived of
imagination. With that in mind, its two strip Technicolor effects would
merely appear laughable for some but, paradoxically, renewing for
others. Yes, some of its awe-inspiring charm that initially contributed
to its adventure merit, still remains.
A misleading assumption lies in a viewpoint that solely two strip Technicolor (for which the movie is most famous) makes THE VIKING worth seeing. Of course, it is impossible to miss this point when even mentioning this movie. Nevertheless, what strikes me most about this film is its storytelling and the fact that it evokes the courage of the Vikings no less than their cruelty. Meanwhile, it does not fall into temptation of reducing them to sheer savages from a purely subjective standpoint of 'baddies.' So to say, such an early achievement becomes authentic and, at the same time, gains realistic targets. It is not only executed in the character of Leif Eriksson (Donald Crisp) who travels towards the new shores but, even, in Erik the Red (Anders Randolf), his father. The sophisticated nature of his character is prompted by contrast within him. On the one hand, his axe is used against his political and religious enemies, even his own son when he discovers his new faith. One the other hand, he draws a very humane conclusion in a memorable scene: 'Leif is my son after all.
THE VIKING with no great stars of the time (being an MGM production), contains all the pictorial elements that we find in cinema of any decade. It substantially depicts love, revenge, fight. We have a Northumbria context of Alwin (LeRoy Mason), taken as a slave, we have a beautiful prototype of female warrior, Helga played by Pauline Starke (of course, a blonde beauty as it is a movie about the Vikings after all), we have kings of two opposing policies, we have this eternal conflict between Christian faith (represented by King Olaf of Norway and his followers, including Erik Leifsson) and pagan cults (represented by Erik the Red, Leif's father, the king of Greenland). Predictably, the Christians are depicted as loving, understanding and forgiving while the pagans are cruel. Yet, there is some nobility in both groups (again with reference to a more psychological approach). Their confrontation, however, is one of the most authentic moments of the theme ever found in silent cinema. Finally, we have the theme of new land, promised land, America (yes, long before Columbus) so much appealing to the audiences of the late 1920s.
But the film is no serious stuff and it should never be treated like one. It is, first and foremost, adventure and entertainment. Just to recall some scenes that have truly stood a test of time and are no less entertaining than they must have been in the late 1920s, including the depiction of Greenland, Vikings' feasts (less savage than in 1958 Fleischer's film), love plot between Alwin and Helga, Egil/Alwin vibrant fight. On the subject of Helga, the beautiful warrior blonde, much credit to Pauline Starke's inspiring performance. The idea of such a female character was not new in this period of silent films. We should remember the lost film QUEEN OF SHEBA and the famous chariot race of the queen and princess Vashti. Nevertheless, Starke's portrayal must have occurred revelatory as early as in 1928 combining appeal and authenticity.
I agree with the opinion of those viewers who praise this film and recommend others to seek it out. Perhaps, it is flawed historically; surely, it is no towering entertainment for viewers used to most dazzling spectacles of our decade. Nonetheless, I believe that anyone may find something for themselves in this early Technicolor treasure and find its reasonable running time fruitful and memorable.
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