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Tabor ukhodit v nebo (1976)
Gypsy music and 70's camp- melodrama with cult status
These were the seventies: while some European film-makers invaded the big screen with exploitation flicks, controversial satires and hammer horror soaked in a nightmarish conglomerate of blood and sexual fluids, while others- on both sides of the Iron Curtain- intelligently turned historical, literary or mythical subjects into sophisticated creations, Loteanu followed his style; Communism-supervised and censored 70's camp, so dated that it becomes anachronistically adorable.
Needles to say, this film, and it's follower " A hunting drama" (1978) are perfect examples. The rest of Loteanu's creations faded in the background, for he will be remembered by most moviegoers for these two pseudo costume/ period dramas combining subjects placed around 1900 with glamorous, showy and melodramatic seventies style.
In my native Romania, this film( also due to limited exposure to other directors, creations, because strict censorship allowed few films to be shown) this film had such a cult status, especially before 1989, that the soundtrack of this film was virtually in everyone's memory to such an extent that even people who didn't see the film knew it by heart, the songs were( quite liberally and inaccurately) translated into Romainian and were heard at least once at any party that was supposed to be truly entertaining. And even after 1989, when censorship was a over and tons of new channels and blockbusters invaded the big and the TV screen, it is still aired at least once a year on at least one TV channel.
The reason is simple- the film enjoys such a cult status because everything about it is unreal and the film doesn't even conceal it. Like the classic Hollywood musicals, infested with optimism and family friendly, lighthearted, almost Bubblegum Pop-style tunes, it must have been a colorful, campy, playful escape from an increasingly bleak everyday existence, not strictly in a restrained but even the "free" world. Like famous Romanian columnist Cristian Tudor Popescu said while analyzing this film( by the way, his rendition famous cinematic artworks followed by a cult classic are an interesting alternative to Mr. Tocilescu's more famous broadcast called "Schoking films") that this film is from the beginning striking a pact with the viewer. The Gypsy life is not sold as authentic but simply as pleasant and both he and his viewers know this-as long as it's entertaining. But, in the film's defense, Mr.CTP adds that the viewer who is not impressed by the breathtaking closeups emphasizing Svetlana Toma's eyes, the contrast between her overlong dark hair and pale face and her grand gestures might be a true film critic but not a true film lover( and this is something very rare to hear from one of today's most untouchable, strict and moralist journalists). In this sense, he is right. A single shot of Svetlana Toma singing in the streets is more fascinating than the entire film, even if the rest of the film were worthless, these very seconds are the work of genius that will make movie history. The scene is shot just brilliantly: the camera lingers on her face for a while before she starts to sing, these few moments are breathtaking and build up a huge tension, which continuously rises while she starts to sing a tune with one of the most haunting rhythmic structures in music history. It resembles the seconds before Liza Minelli starts to sing that famous "Money" -song from Cabaret, the technique is similar, a few seconds delay on the character's faces -highly expressive, even tense, then the breathtaking moment the music sets in, making it all even more captivating. And this so famous tune almost reminds me of Bryan Ferry's song "The price of love", because tough the music is Gyspsy, it has a certain Glam rock flavor- the elaborate use of beat and rhythm,creating one of the most compelling soundtracks ever , combined with a theatrical, Glam inspired gesture( everything almost toying with time and pacing in a continuous crescendo).
Svetalana Toma's actual performance is a combination between Claudia Cardinale's part from " The Leopard", strikingly resembling her physically, up to the clothes and the way she sensually wets her lips and hair and the dated image of the good-hearted gamine by Paulette Goddard in " Modern Times", homeless but anarchistic and ( anti-) socially active, even anticipating a bit Kate Bush's video for "Wuthering Heights" where the singer adopts a pseudo Gypsy look complete with red dress, breathtaking dancing, flowing dark hair and a red flower to adorn it. However the part of Rada is quite faked and idealized- i don't think that she had so much liberty to stay single so long in a society where marriages are arranged from early ages.
Also, I think that Gatlif or Kusturica( even if they also included a bit of idealization) render Gypsy tradition far more accurate than Loteanu. This is why i never saw this film completely up to very recently, thinking that it was nothing more than a mixture of simple people mocking the upper classes and some unilateral plain landscapes just tiring and boring my eyesight. But Loteanu seems to hesitate between some moments of genius( against all camp and censorship) and a very formal, artificial, overly sanctified, dogmatic depiction of nature, tradition and human migration-making all look tastelessly sanctified and mystical( very odd in an atheist film-making). Besides, all the characters, especially the male ones, are more hippies than gypsies, the men being easily interchangeable between gypsy whereabouts in one second and rather sleazy, "groovy", dated 70's macho( in fact, these macho, their influence in popular culture advocated outlandish clothing, casual fornication, nomadic lifestyle, anti-consumerist and anti-establishment stances). Even the ending is far-fetched and melodramatic- here the "tragedy" is posed, failing to impress or to cause sadness, making it equally campy as a cheesy happy end.
Worth watching as a flagship of seventies nostalgia, seasoned with few moments, scenes ( but worth as much as hours of cinematic masterpieces) of genius.
Austrian film-making at its best!
Watching this film during this summer on the Austrian channel ORF I had great expectations due to a very catchy, intriguing promo. My already high expectations were not disappointed. It is always great pleasure to see that European cinema constantly produces such almost unknown masterpieces, especially today, when it has become increasingly harder( in 2004, when this film was made or afterward) to stick to the European style.
The plot is, tough not copying Almodovar, an Austrian version of " La Mala Educacion"- both Spain and Austria being traditionally Catholic countries, the various scandals, rumors and ( sometimes unjust) allegations surrounding this powerful institution provide a rich, almost endless material for movies with various approaches of the matter.
Unlike Almodovar's film, this one goes much further in analyzing the multi layered connection between church and secular society and the part these connections play in order to defend its respectable image at all cost.
But just like in Almodovar's film a young man is dubiously silenced( and others even more endangered) as he tries to unveil the abuse he was constantly subjected to while studying in a Catholic school, in this one none else than the son-in-law of the ( fictional, but most likely not too far from real characters) director of the Salzburg theater is mysteriously killed just when he intended to make some uncomfortable confessions from his past which could incriminate some important church officials.
The film starts off with two memorable landmarks of Salzburg- first a cliff with a breathtaking view overlooking the town, from whom the victim is actually thrown and which will play also an important part towards the film's climax( reference to Hitchcock's " Vertigo") and secondly the famous Salzburg theater festival, as the film begins just at the point where that year's edition is marred, almost overshadowed by the murder in the director's family.
This is the moment when the strange, antisocial but honest detective with a shady background Brenner sets in to unveil the truth. He is a former cop, thrown out from active service for undisclosed matters and presently acting on his own, constantly experiencing extreme poverty and social exclusion. It is almost unbelievable to see that Salzburg, a city depicted as quiet and law-abiding can have so many homeless people and poor sections, when it actually seems to small and wealthy, to idyllic to have anyhting else but middle-class, if not richer inhabitants( just like Austria).
He soon discovers that the influential theater director is not interested to solve the case, however his daughter, eager to find the truth about her husband's death urges Brenner to lead an investigation. As Brenner examines the Catholic school where the victim once studies, he soon discovers a complicated network of both heterosexual and homosexual child molesters constantly provided by this institution with fresh"meat" of both genders. Some clients are influential especially one prominent opera singer which looks like a hetero version of Rudolph Mooshammer and even has a taste for rented sex and bizarre fetishes just like the famous fashion designer.
But as the investigation goes on, the Church officials and other mighty figures become worried about the outlandish detective and try to kill him on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, after he is unjustly accused of having killed the roommate with whom he shared a sordid lodging( and, just like in Almodovar's film, the church works extremely efficiently in faking clues, everything pointing at Brenner) he manages to escape narrowly from the same death like the one that started the plot( and from the top of the same cliff). After he kills some employees of that infamous school in self-defense, further investigations are ceased and he has to leave the town temporally. Furthermore, the victim's widow is not eager for justice anymore, accepting the same guilty silence around her, either forced by her strict father or realizing that she's can not fight the system. She is actually one of the most complex characters in the film, torn between her spoiled need for a sheltered life and her desire to look for justice at the expense of respectability.
Subnsequently, the film's title reveals its doublethink or doublespeak meaning: it hints both at the silence required in strict schools during classes, but also the mendacity dominating society's most respectable institutions and most privileged circles.
It's captivating too see that, besides it's typically Austrian, dark humor( e.g. a real, non-fictional village called petting, used here as a pun just like the film's title) how actual the issue can be. That is, in many cases, not just the dishonest corrupt official, but also honest people in traditionally Catholic countries try to cover up such scandals, the latter category so well manipulated that they truly believe in the church's innocence.
Haunting and worth seeing, but also meditating about.
Die Blechtrommel (1979)
20 century boy
Schlöndorff's "The Tin Drum" is an admirably crafted masterpiece, because it has all the qualities of true art-house film and at the same time is controversial enough to be listed alongside the masters of anti-Establishment, twisted European cinema( Bunuel, Ferreri, Abuladze, Pasolini, Ken Russell to name only a few). Even more, Grass's novel is turned into a film which could symbolize the quintessence of the equally twisted and violent 20th century itself. Oskar Mazerath, the main character of this film, is the typical product of this century. Raised , like Grass himself, in Danzig, he shows from the very beginning of his life, even before he was born( watch the surreal scene of his birth closely) an abnormally acute sensibility and understanding for the surrounding world. His family environment is fairly respectable, but presented in a shocking anti- Bourgeois, almost Bunuelian way: a hulking and rather simple-minded father with business ambitions and slight right-wing tendencies, a frivolous mother, a superstitious grandmother, a legendary, supposed grandfather believed either dead or having made a fortune from rags to riches like Gatsby as an immigrant in the US, a good-looking but weak and sickly uncle who is presumed to be his actual father. Oskar's precocious sensibility and his awareness of the flawed adult world prompt him to take a surreal decision on his third birthday- he causes himself a crippling fall from the top of a staircase in order to stop his physical growth and therefore stay a child( strictly bodily, because his mind is far more developed than that of adults). Everybody believes it was an accident, but even the name Oskar seems to be a hint to Oscar Wilde and to his story about Dorian Gray- like the character in Wilde's work who's portrait ages instead of him, Oskar is trapped in a body which won't grow nor age. This self-inflicted interruption in the natural growth process is also a symbol for Europe's imminent plunge into the involution represented by Fascism and Communism which would eventually end in World War two. But Oskar is born in 1924, when both political extremes are no serious threat: the Nazis are just some hoodlums who are incapable even of organizing a public gathering, Communism is represented by an anecdotal character which does nothing more but performing the Internationale. But all of these characters are morally ambiguous like the petty Bourgeois universe in which they live: like in an expressionist painting, nobody is spared of gruesome and bizarrely humorous caricatures, the church, the school, the neighboring kids; all of them indulging in humiliating Oskar for his small height. But this is almost nothing compared to the risks Oskar would have faced if he grew up normally- 9 chances in 10 he would have ended up fighting for Nazi Germany like millions of other youngsters Hitler sent to war. And Oskar plays drum. Often accompanied by his voice, so shrill that it shatters glass( which was later taken up as a gag in "Victor/Victoria"). He is moody and rather amoral, unlike the kids faced with World War II from Pasolini's "Salo", he is not exclusively a victim, he actually resembles often Alex De Large's sociopath tendencies, the children from "Lord of the flies" or the teens from "American History X". He doesn't hesitate to entertain the Nazis, at the same time being eager to seduce the servant girl and future wife of his father( by, e.g.spitting in some fizzy powder sprinkled over her hand or body and forcing her to swallow that mixture- in a way he is incapable of ridding himself of childhood perception about "pleasant" activities) and trying to force an abortion with some gigantic scissors when he discovers her pregnancy. At the same time he seems innocent and immature to the outside world, due to his appearance and his drum. I think that the more recent "Jeuxs d'Enfants" owes a lot to "The Tin Drum" because the couple from this film is prompted by a tin box from their childhood to act childishly even when both are 35 and married and to see even a foolish suicide pact as a mere game. Oskar was also compared to Amelie and Forrest Gump, but while the first is a fully developed and mature woman with childlike innocence and Forrest a grown-up with subnormal immaturity, Oskar is not so innocent and optimistic as these two, and the message of the film is far deeper as the rather campy, unrealistic "chicken-soup" happiness of these two similar characters. Towards the ending of the film, when, in a sublime symbol of vanity, Oskar's giant father is buried in a coffin improvised out of crates with his hand lurking out( due to wartime poverty), he finally starts to grow, as en ending to his self-induced childhood, parallel to the war that draws to a close and with it, Germany's and Europe's involution. Haunting film, right down to Mario Adorf's portrayal of Oskar's huge but ultimately mortal father, the both playful and compelling soundtrack by Maurice Jarre and the character of the madman wandering about in graveyards screaming:"Habemus Dominum!". A must-see to be seen at least once.
Italian history X : an almost-masterpiece
After watching Salo,I was not shocked by its sexuality or violence,rather by its lack of artistic honesty and historical accuracy.The same feeling I got watching Visconti's The Damned ,where historical facts are oversimplified,overblown beyond recognition. In both films the intention is to depict how cruel and immoral the Right-wing dictatorships in recent history were and both suggest that by e.g. amplifying the degree of sexual perversion of its protagonists.In fact,like it was often pointed out,there is little connection between a deviant sexuality and an oppressive political rule. Turning historical villains into perverts is cartoon-style and adds nothing to the intellectual level of the public;it manipulates into being forcefully outraged,stirring up not the violent but the fundamentalist,prude,judgmental instincts in all of us.If cinema tricks you into it,you should indulge in your "five minutes of hate",only because you do something supposedly moral by hating someone who is completely flawed and therefore you do your moral duty by hating him. So,the public's homophobia,puritanism,sexual purity,bi-phobia, was cleverly(intentionally or not)used by Pasolini in this film to stir up everyone's hate against the Fascits.First you are appalled by what you see ,but as soon as the mind replaces the instincts,one is tending to question the authenticity of this film. Actually,Fascism,Nazism and the Bourgeosie were sexually more restrained than Pasolini portrays them,but as these three form a symbolical triangle of his hatred and phobia,he must vilify them beyond any limits of supportability.Partly it is not his fault,because,as I have correctly seen in other user comments,the extreme and unrealistic criticism of Salo was not singular in that period.Even if The Damned,The Conformist or 1900 were less violent films,they all fit into the same ideology:in yesterday's European art cinema it was OK and even encouraged to depict the Right-winged evil at the verge of porn,horror and Gothic. So this is the main reason why I find Pasolini's death as a political commission illogical,as contemporaries bearing equally violent,slightly more restrained messages not only against the Nazis,but also against Bourgeios establishment weren't slashed.Also I find it unlikely that Pasolini was clipped by one of the underage actors from this film,it is hard to fancy that these submissive pubescent teens would have overrun him with his Alfa Romeo.Still,a movie with a potential and meaning,if it weren't for the fact that the villains were almost liturgically repeating:we are arrogant,we are supremacist snobs,we are the bad guys,beware etc.Yet the actuality of this film is not faded,events like these are actually possible nowadays even in democratic countries-parts of the practices seen in the orgy happened in occupied Irak almost yesterday. The famous experiment of Dr.Philip Zimbardo proved that the nightmare situations from 1984 can easily come true:anyone of us can potentially become a torturer.Also the Alied troops didn't necessarily bring joy and eternal peace into Fascist Italy:seeing the equally violent La Pelle where G.I.'s indulge in the same violence with the subjects of the occupied country,it's not always Fascits:bad-Allies:good.And the Communist Pasolini should have known that in the Communist gulags the treatment was roughly the same. Many have seen the parallel between Salo and the Biblical Tale of Sodom,but there's also another story from the Old Testament hinted at:as the young people are tortured,killed,it is similar to one of the plagues brought by God's wrath over Egypt-the death of the younger generations. As for the excrement scene,was intended to be against mass proceed food,but it is actually more of an offense brought to the simple,honest citizen who regularly buys his food from a mall or a drive-in;even if it's unhealthy,it is hard to actually say upfront:you're eating...because even if he knew he'd be glad to buy it affordable.Was Pasolini vegan or high cuisine fan to have the authority to judge? The underage sex ,anything else but pornographic,failing to arouse,might shock on screen,but the same society(without being the republic of Salo)is shamelessly pushing teens trough media,music,fashion to "do it" increasingly younger.It happens in the U.S. and everywhere and thus the teeny stars have up to a point no better destiny than the prisoners of Salo. The torture scenes are rather restrained and somewhat Bunuelian,reminding of the famous eye from "Un Chien Andalou". In its complexity of cultural and symbolical aspects this film is more than hard to stomach,one should have the courage to read between its graphic and psychological violence. It certainly pushed the boundaries of art film,of what is allowed in one,yet it is still an art film even if (highly arguable) the most gruesome and daring ever. Still,this film is accomplished due to its debate about guilt(and maybe even a hint at the omnipresent and controversial issue of the Holocaust),placing it on a similar level with the much less violent and more symbolical,yet equally chilling and bleak Georgian masterpiece Repentance,due to the fact that in both of the films the young and innocent have to pay for the corruption of the political and moral terror brought about by their elders. At a closer look the two films have resembling symbols-while in Salo we see a bearded man dressed up effeminately enjoying a voyeuristic masturbation-session while watching the teens being tortured,in Repentance a dirty bearded man is greedily eating a hulking cake resembling to a house or church,stating proudly that dictatorship is not bad-in both cases the symbol stands for decaying patriarchal values,the self-devouring Bourgeoisie and the forces of omnipresent Vanity and destruction. Maybe it signifies also the decay of comfortable Western society due to its moral ambiguity(and Salo should be the historical precedent),but in virtually all Anti-Nazi films(including this) the feeling of the Apocalypse is so strong towards the ending,that the viewer might think that all life was wiped out. Yet it wasn't totally eliminated,even if some historians and moralists question whether life after Auschwitz is legitimate. Cynically speaking not only life went on after wards but also the atrocities,performed even by Pasolini's fellow Communists and partly even in democratic countries. So that history repeats like a vicious cycle is fact,that Pasolini tried to warn us to break the cycle is questionable,if not mere fiction.
La grande bouffe (1973)
Somewhat unrealistic-nothing exceeds like excess?
This film is supposed to be a criticism against consumerist society. Well,it could have been done much better.In fact,few people even in the Western world afford&allow themselves to indulge with such delicacies, the most expensive champagne. It is therefore a criticism of capitalism not as it really is,but as it is wrongfully depicted in some Communist propaganda about Western "decadence".
Note that the events in the film must take place , in the year 1972 or 1973,because its characters know "The Godfather:Part one".This means the affluent society just before the Oil Crisis put an abrupt ending to the almost thirty years of relentless economical growth after 1945.So,realesed in 1973,the subject would have already been dated.It would have been much better if Ferreri would have made this film in the 80's,because it fits the materialistic credo of the following decade.
The idea of the middle-aged man contemplating suicide was well used in films ranging from "The Waltz of the Toreadors" to "Scent of a Woman".Here the suicide pact between four quite wealthy middle-aged men is just unrealistic,especially if there is no logical reason,no plan,no actual pact.Only one character has diabetes and he dies in the most quick and painless manner by eating an entire cake and then passing away as if he fell asleep,as if he wanted desperately to convince the audience that he's dead,when not only the actor but even the character seem to "fake it"(death of course).But we know nothing more of his ailment and if this is the actual reason. Nor do we know why the other three are doing this.
Mastroianni should have stuck to "La Dolce Vita",there his character experiences another kind of death and suicide,not physically,slowly defeated by a pleasure-seeking society.This part was the criticism of consumerism without graphic violence,vulgarity,physical signs of pain.But in this film,also being called Marcello,like in Fellini's masterpiece,his part is becoming a tasteless copy of his former part,another,more fleshy Marcello.
The death scenes are more of an insult to intelligence rather than disturbing.The viewer is supposed to believe that the four deaths are plausible,if a doctor or even a person without medical knowledge can tell that neither of the characters could die in real life like they did here.They seem to know far too good when exactly they are going to die to be for real!Besides,in every thorough scientific analysis of the symptoms before and in the moment they died it is clear that the cause of their death is just a big deceit.
Praised for its divinely decadent mood,this very mood is rather shabby. The villa which is supposed to be a gateway into the decadent verse,of luxury,of vintage class&style looks awfully tasteless and unimaginative,a sterile visual experience completed by a bunch of underfed,dirty poultry running around.And the Bugatti that just drives back and forth without advancing,in a surreal way of defying the laws of mechanics and the very mission of even the worst car,when it should be a fast vehicle.A hint at Isadora Duncan's death?Or just a symbol for the fact the pact once made,trough some incredulous,inexplicable and unrealistic laws of destiny no one will leave the house alive?
The food which also serves as suicide weapon is understated and rather unappetizing,though expensive compared to the real French-Italian gourmet cuisine.The literary symbols are also out of place:this film should be a modern Satyricon,but it lacks the picturesque style of the Roman masterpiece,the "Godfather"-imitation is too anecdotal and superficial and Boileau's oak and its story are completely redundant in the plot line,because the hint that Boileau's world of classical harmony is dead in our postmodern times is a too obvious truism.The spectacular factor of Satyricon-style banquets is also lacking.
The film should be a warning against the "mortal sin" of gluttony. Actually it is both pathetic and deprived of any realistic expression or emotion,because a real-life French or Italian gourmet would relish all these foods and many more without dying,without even getting sick.Ironically,only hours after I saw the film I also embarked on a weekend of lavish eating and drinking in a secluded mountain villa with my friends and,almost needless to say,after having consumed similar quantities none of us dies or even got sick,lol!-of course there was no suicide pact in our case.
No exceeding excess(though made in the materialistic eighties,years of overspending,the same film would have had another message and such quantities of food would not have been used for dying,rather as a status symbol or even a psychotherapy in favor of living).It fails to condemn materialism because neither its temptations are shown as appealing or sinful(and even less as deadly)nor is death due to them the slightest bit possible in real life,and also failing to bear any lessons against excessive greed.One ends up pitying not the basic needs and vices of the characters,nor their low morality,rather their immense tastelessness(even in death)and their unimaginative behavior exhaling mediocrity,essentially non-intellectual though their are supposed to be educated.
The parallel between food and the forces of life and death,of eroticism and passion is key element in films ranging from the tragic "Como l'Agua para chocolate"(where food and recipes are present in the most disturbing and intense moments of the character's doom)up to that forgettable pseudo-entertainment called "Woman on top".In this film it was just misplaced and misused.
Much more convincing films about how consumerism and the promise of material happiness in a shallow,ruthless society have a crippling impact on the individual,but not necessarily trough food and suicide pacts,like "Blow-up","La Dolce vita","Clockwork Orange","Scarface",Citizen Kane","Wall Street" or "American Beauty"-in all this masterpieces the characters are undergoing their own suicide without knowing,being dragged in the downward spiral of greed much more complex than for food,they may or may not be wiped out physically,but always(and in the long run much more painful)innerly.
This film,on the other hand,where even the four deaths fail to be credible,is a shame,but fortunately an exception in the usually so artistically accomplished,so flawless European cinema.
Ai no korîda (1976)
It was quite unusual,though not shocking,to view this film aired on a stately owned channel.Appearantly it would have been more appropriate to see it on a channel exclusively dedicated to hardcore adult productions.I repeat apparently,because,in spite of its strong sexual content,it is too both too deep and often even too nonsexual,even too repulsive if compared to porn.
Repulsive?Well certainly not always comfortable to watch,but while you are not shocked anymore,once you have overcome certain restrains,this film turns out worth your time and (yes,precisely)intellectual effort.
The first impression that this film left,from the very first scenes,were the immense amounts not only of full nudity but also explicit sexual intercourse.Considering that this film was made in 1976,even the most unconventional European art cinema is relatively mild if compared to this.Even earlier European directors like Ken Russell or Pasolini included some nudity in their best works and even some quite daring hints to the sexual act,but only to be surpassed by far trough films like this. In fact,some scenes were so realistic and so arousing,that it was difficult not to get turned on.
But besides the obvious sexual aspects,this film will spark many controversies for years ahead.The controversy whether it is an art film or porn is not idiotic and useless in this case.Actually it combines beyond any doubts strong elements of both and is open to many interpretations. Without being prude,I don't think that less explicit sexual acts would have deprived this film of its art film qualities and wouldn't also have made the storyline less logical and organized.As if one would say that deep inside you know or guess that it would be an art film and therefore would be able to overlook some slightly hardcore subtext.
About the meaning of the title-I was surprised to find out that the the word "Corrida" does not exist in Japanese and is used in the very familiar sense similar to bullfight.An artistic way to say that love and even more,sex,are a cruel,often violent and ruthless sport or game. This is not supposed to demonetize love,however the romantic,pleasurable face of sexuality are merely side-effects of a natural process which isn't necessarily painful or humiliating,however essentially amoral,wild,basic.Like a game of high stakes and high risk,it can very easily destroy the ones involved and this fascination with danger doesn't make it less appealing.
Basically like corrida,it is a strange combination between a bloodsport(and involving also other body fluids)and a mind game,where brute force are mingled with unleashed fantasy and calculating shrewdness.In fact,apart from the sexual interest,the characters keep you haunted and curious like watching an intricate game of chess or poker:tension is gradually rising and you eagerly await to be puzzled and overwhelmed by the next move,much more than you were by the previous.
Speaking of tension,one is gradually directed,forced to anticipate a violent and chilling outcome.The characters behave increasingly unbalanced so that one guesses long before anything happens that they will unleash disaster,like in Ettore Scola's "Pizza Triangle" or Russell's "Women in Love" one grasps the gradual turn of eccentricities and unbalanced minds into sheer horror.
And like in "Happy Tree Friends",after an apparently nonviolent opening begins a barbaric spree of bloodshed.Unlike the cartoons mentioned above,the mood is neurotically timeless and ghastly,like in Russells "The Devils" "Fellini-Satyricon" sets,colors etc. preparing the viewer with the entrance in a doomed and savage universe where every step might be the last.
About the ending:it was so realistically done,with violently colored bloodstreams in horror film style that I wondered if the actor was permanently harmed.Let's not for get that also in 1976 the film "La denier femme" saw an also unbalanced Depardieu undergoing the same "treatment",while the lethal intercourse of this haunting,violent couple is almost certainly a source of inspiration for the intense,both destructive and triumphant sexual act in Arau's"Como l'Agua para chocolate"from 1991,where even the sexual position used by the characters,their expression,as much as their physical appearance mirrors this film with a strange "deja-vu" effect.Additionally this film might have also influenced,besides Arau,the not less controversial "Jeux d'Enfants",both in the violent ending and sexuality as a game(as corrida).
The actions of Sada left me,eventually,more disappointed than fascinated/puzzled.In her extreme jealousy,unbalanced behavior she acts more like a contemporary post-modern teeny girl than a Japanese,like the contemporary every-day female as seen in women's and teenager's magazines,popular culture,fashion,in mainstream porn,soap-operas or music videos.She acts so violently not out of lacking self-control,but more due to animal selfishness and a shallow,unintelligent pursuit of pleasures.Inspite of her untypical desires and feelings she is mainly an unimaginative,selfish bitch,incapable of originality in spite of unusual sexuality.
What I liked about this film was how it destroyed several popular myths like the crimes of passions as something exclusively non-existent in heterosexual couples and also the way it resembles Oriental storytelling in its disrupted plot-line,including,much like in the erotic stories of the Arabian Nights,subplots,alternative plots,frame-stories and a surprising twist in conclusion,ending it with a saying,a quote or other forms of Oriental wisdom.
Irrespective of its "shocking" side,this film is still a somewhat flawed,uneven yet also meaningful,intellectual "almost-masterpiece",an obvious example of daring experimental forms of (alternative)cinematic art;however,a more cynical view might reveal the extreme use of sexuality and violence as a marketing strategy to attract the most common mainstream Western Audience,which snobbishly and superficially creates the appearance of a non-violent and non-sexual,prude one but is seduced almost instantly by well marketed sex and violence,even if they keep up an artificially respectable appearance.
Of course one couldn't see such a film come out of Hollywood,nor the contemporary Hollywood-stars engaging in such violence and real,unrestrained and bizarre sex(though they would if the studios would ask them to&it would sell),but as long as such productions are non-American,they are viewed as exotic curiosities,which mainstream audience would be occasionally allowed to watch but mainstream cinema never allowed to make.
Push it to the limit!Welcome to the limit!
The first impression ever made about this film and its main character,even before I fully watched or understood it,was the immense lust for life,dignity and harsh masculine beauty(not necessarily in the outer sense of the word)Pacino invests in this character.This impression lingered with me obsessively long after the film was over and was boosted by further viewings. While it is redundant to repeat the story of Tony Montana,the main character of this film,it is very important to stress upon the fact that,without wanting to elude his vulnerability,he still is the product of his age and society. His story actually stats like a history lesson,beginning when the Cold War slowly drew to a close and Cuban refugees could enter the U.S.,Tony being one. For the petty criminal the new country truly is the promised land,but this was the general mood at the turn from the 1970's to the 1980's. The story starts during Jimmy Carter's reign,but much of Montana's rise as successful gangland baron takes place during the administration of a Ronald Reagan. Apparently unimportant trivia but it explains much of the context in which Montana rose to power-the Reagan era marks the shift from a Baptist,Christian,unspectacular president like Carter to a more ambitious one:Reagan the actor,the showman,the marketer(of his own public image).At the same time,with Reagan's direct support it marks a historical change from two decades of relentless social turmoil,crisis,shaken credibility to an age when the U.S. is regaining is status as world power,when a new hedonistic and egocentric generation of "golden boys",tired of the elder generation's nihilism and hippie rebellion,will turn a seemingly endless and incurable economic recession in an age of unprecedented prosperity when consumerism and cashing in legendarily climaxed. History records this period as "reaganism" and its motto was:"Greed...is good",Montana illustrating this mentality as good as the broker acted by Michael Douglas in the film "Wall Street" which made these words famous. From rags to riches in record time at all cost-this is the way even crime became an economical wonder in the gilded 1980's. In a few years former penniless immigrant becomes head of a multimillion empire where money keeps on rolling in. The soundtrack,considered by many worse than that of a dated porn,is not only awesome,making the film worth watching almost only to hear it,its cult classic "Push it to the limit" says it all-this outstandingly,divinely decadent and lush track reminding of the not least famous theme from "Neverending story"(both soundtracks being composed by the timelessly compelling genius Giorgio Moroder)represent a state,a mood,which makes the two so different films resemble:they are both lavish 80's modern legends,both dealing with initiating journeys,only that "Scarface" is a more violent,yet equally fascinating never-ending story about the almost mythical quest incited by unlimited ambition. Even this film's flaws-though unimportant-are the typical product of the eighties.The visuals are extremely unprofessional,during the entire film the image looking rather shabby due to extremely bleak,poor use of light and color,the viewer easily mistaking this film with a typical B-movie of that age,these commercial,cheap films seen on the rudimentary videotapes of that age including martial arts and boring,unpretentious amounts of pointless violence and nudity. Ironically this flaw mentioned above would taint every other cinematic masterpiece,however considering the subject,the B-movie quality is an advantage as it may be intentional to add to this film more "hood" credibility. Tony Montana is far more than a simple newly rich criminal,he is a complex ,at a certain degree,even barbarically,savagely heroic character.His famous speech in titled "Make way for the bad guy" is an interesting and uncomfortably ironic view at 1980's consumerism. While acknowledging that he is a typical product of his age he still finds the power to sneer at the lucrative,but superficial social establishment of this period. Pacino almost anticipates the not less controversial speech of his later character Frank Slade from "Scent of a woman",in both of the cases two harsh,macho-like yet innerly uncompromising characters revealing profound and radical truths in a uncensored,sharp language. One ends up considering the bad guy less immoral than the more respectable members of society-at least in Montana's case you know that he is a killer,a drug-dealer while other far more influential politicians and tycoons only knew to hide their speculations better,had respectable images and no criminal record. Especially in the 1980's U.S.,it was unimportant how to get rich,in Reaganism only the outcome mattered and while people like Montana were the scapegoats and/or the guys who did the dirty work so that more "respectable" people don't get soiled(in both cases Montana was useful to society and its "pilars"),while more immoral people performed the same shady deals at a larger scale,comfortably hidden by their conventional WASP image and their superficial appearance of righteousness. Gifted with the ambition of a Shakespearean character,in Montana's case,in a twist differing from Shakespeare,it is not his ambition leading to his irremediable downfall.It may be partly explained that during the 1980's one couldn't be too ambitious and,unlike in the Shakespearean tragedy,even pathological,Machiavellian,unrestrained ambition hadn't a bad press. The only thing not allowed in this calculating,overly greedy age was to show your human side and while in the world of crime feelings were always an impediment,being so 1980's America(even if not as criminal)was the worst move possible.Like in the closing scene from Macbeth,Montana will be confronted with final consequence of his deeds with Shakespearean depth and intensity... Montana's rise and fall also remind of another typical gangster embodying the American Dream-Gatsby,even the pool where Montana is finally crashing into seem like a reference to the not less famous swimming pool scene. Both Montana and Gatsby are of humble origins,both craving for money and power,and after owning "the world" for a while,both have to discover the emptiness of the American Dream,both end up floating in a pool. Everything mentioned above and many more subtleties of this masterpiece almost turn it into a period drama about the recent past, a lavish portion of 1980's memorabilia combined with unexpected art film accomplishment and Pacino(along with Scent.. and Godfather)at his best.
L'eredità Ferramonti (1976)
A family affair
This superbly shot&acted creation is,like most of Bolognini,unjustly overlooked,while it reaffirms that Italian cinema is loaded with genius besides Fellini,Visconti and Pasolini. The plot is a criticism at the savage nineteenth century capitalism,its cruelty and shallowness,placed in turn of century Rome,dealing with the ruthlessness of the Italian high bourgeoisie in their pursuit of wealth. Old Ferramonti-Anthony Quinn in yet another stunning "tour De force" of his incomparable acting-is a thrifty millionaire,which,after forty years of service,closes down the bakery which brought him wealth at the expense of overworked and underpaid workers and cheated customers. This bitter and ruthless old man is a conservative patriarch and tyrannical father and so totally Quinn:both in real life and in films like The Greek Tycoon,or the more conventional Revenge or A walk in the clouds,nothing suits Anthony Quinn best than being an unbearably rough,strong-willed and dictatorial,yet strangely charismatic "pater familiae". But Ferramonti is at such a degree authoritarian and fond of his money(which he doesn't share not even with his family,not even spends on himself,preferring to live frugally while his millions are piling up)that he negatively influenced the life of his children,now all of them grown up,yet still treated like children by him:Pippo,his most submissive son,is simply cut off from his share,tough he was the only one to work alongside with his father in the bakery and even contributed to the old man's fortune;Mario,the more wild tempered son,became a gambler living out of risky speculation at the stock exchange,enjoying a questionable short term prosperity;while Teta,the family's only daughter ran away from home and married only to escape her father's fits,her marriage to a man disliked by her father making matters only worse.The strange thing is that the old man doesn't have any paternal feelings for his children whatsoever,he is seeing them only as a potential threat,as competitors,as enemies wanting his hard-earned money. Shortly after wards Pippo marries the beautiful Irene,which like him,grew up in a wealthy yet austere environment.Irene is more ambitious than her husband and her marriage starts in a promising way,the couple's financial situation prospering and above that,she manages to reconcile the family. However one soon gets to see this woman's real face-Dominique Sanda,an iconic figure of the seventies,brilliantly mingles a flawless ingénue looks with cool,distant Garbo-style cynicism and manipulative,haunting magnetism in this part-as Irene soon shamelessly starts an affair with her brother-in-law,tough it is first unclear if due to the sexual charisma of this elegant man or just the need to acquire his protection and connections in order to succeed in the Roman high society. She even manages to enthrall the Old Ferramonti,who ends up by loving her more than his children,meticulously planning every attack which step by step takes her closer to the old man's millions(this is actually the only why she married Pippo,knowing that he will be her gateway to a fabulous fortune).Strangely at first,everybody in the family is trusting her and her contacts with the old man,thinking that she can be used as a middle man between the disinherited children and their brutal father. As it happens in love-stories where two or more brothers love the same woman,for instance Brothers Karamazov or Legends of the fall,things will take very dramatic turn,comparable to the films above,Irene managing to destroy,partly unintentional,partly purposely both Pippo and Mario,just trying to control them.Eventually her plans to keep the fortune for herself only will finally be stopped for good by her sister-in-law and her husband who end up as only heirs,ironically they weren't better than her,just "respectable mediocrities". The achievements of this film are countless:besides the good acting of Fabio Testi and Luigi Proietti as Mario and Pippo(two of Italy's most famous and talented actors),only to be overshadowed by the performances of Dominique Sanda and Quinn,who both are depicting the same kind of characters-passionate at an almost pathological scale for money and power,yet cruelly cold and calculating while pursuing their interest,the beautiful interiors of the opulent Italian bourgeoisie and the stunning soundtrack by-who else than Morricone. The only minuses might be that some sets sometimes look somewhat shabby in their nostalgic period-piece style,that gestures are too theatrically overblown and that there is a typically European,uncensored amount of-not too appealing,more destroying the film's beauty than enthralling-nudity. Nevertheless worth watching,both as trip back in visually overwhelming era and as a lesson that capitalistic greed is not necessarily a modern invention.
Waltz of the Toreadors (1962)
Surpsingly good,a an early masterpiece starring a not yet so famous Sellers
This film haunted me from the first viewing,or at least I was oddly fascinated at its beginning and a little puzzled,slightly bored and confused towards the end,due too the fact that it seemed to me well made however a little uneven,encapsulating,besides beauty and depth a little bit of pathetic,overblown,hilarious,less plausible,corny situations. Now a realize that judging this film as uneven is also,partly,my own fault.The reason may be that I first saw this film in my early teens,when I could relate a little less to the sentimental problems of an aging man.Seeing it for the second time a few weeks ago(and five-six years later than the first viewing)I gradually understood more of the character's inner structure and grasped this film's value and depth much better. Besides Seller's both deep yet humorous performance this film is beautiful for it's nostalgic "fin-de-siecle","Belle-Epoque" mood,the overtly sophisticated elegance of the characters,the costumes,the language,the sets. The storyline,the plot are,in a very balanced,discreet,stylish way divinely decadent.In late nineteenth century-beginning of twentieth century England an elderly officer(Sellers in an unusually mature and witty understated part)is,like Frank Slade from Scent of A Woman years later,oscillating between a suicidal,anguished saturation of life and a huge portion of self indulgent yet healthy and uncensored hedonism/vital-ism in spite of his age. Unlike Frank Slade it is not a physical disability that causes his depression and suicidal tendencies,rather(what partly applies to Frank Slade too)the fear of getting old or,more precisely,of not being capable to enjoy life fully due to aging,besides that an unhappy marriage,a major failure in love,the futility of the all the privileges and luxuries he can easily afford,yet fail to cure him of his doubts. Inspite of contemplating suicide I think that both General Fitzjohn from this film and Colonel Frank Slade are sad,but not irremediably ill-fated creatures.Suicide-though neither one of them is putting it into practice,is in their case,not a cowardly evasion,but a manly way to achieve a moral triumph over a morally flawed world.By the way,neither of them is a failure,o.k. they tend to be selfish,cynical,even too overindulgent,however they both bear an immense and unaltered lust for life,a vivid intellect and sensibility,an intense,even if outer restrained love for life,women and-almost incredible-family. Beneath the womanizing,socially hyperactive,hard-drinking Fitzjohn lies an almost childlike enthusiasm and thirst for life and both Seller's performance(few actors know to mingle childlike and mature behavior,features etc. credibly and brilliantly as he does)and the whole mood exhaling a peaceful,quiet joy of living(remember it's the pastoral Brithish countryside in the aristocratic sense of the word). Another resemblance with Scent of a Woman is the importance of a very particular dance,which,like the famous tango in the film mentioned above,sparks a whole universe of beauty and nostalgia,of memories,of an almost unreal sort of joy and beauty. I always thought that Anouillh is a fossilized,high-minded but old-fashioned playwright,a sort of a too off-beat,pretentious,declamatory,uselessly&unpractical sophisticated geek.This film,a screenplay after a less known creation of him,proved that he is not only talented,but also witty and entertaining in an unceremoniously juicy yet still intelligent and profound way. Probably this film needs more than one viewing to get over its too hilarious,old-fashioned,uneven,artificial bits and discover that it is truly(at least at certain extent)a masterpiece.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Seldomly a film of such beauty...
I was in my teens,about sixteen or seventeen,when I first saw this film and,incidentally,I was at an age when the twenties imagery fascinated me-well it still does... Highly artistic was the opening scene,when the annoying phone calls are associated with a lavish party scene-a symbol for life's vanity and the revenge of a guilty conscience for all the pleasures(similarly in Shakespearean theater the obsessive repetition of nagging noises is actually stands for the guilt complexes from the past reemerging). It's,like previously other viewers noticed,the story of a few poor immigrant boys trying to conquer the new promised land-even if they end up building an empire of crime(let's face it,they did't have any other chance to evolve from rags to riches considering their social background)they are somewhat American pioneers,these solitary,strong-minded and ambitious heroes who turned the U.S. into what it is today. By the way,American capitalism and political life,even if apparently honest and fair-play are not necessarily based on legal methods... Eventually their twisted friendship will(like in a passionate,irrationally intense love-story)destroy everything it touched-and in between an epic spanning between 1915 and 1968,a visual treat of elegant vintage cars,stylish clothing and sophisticated champagne bottles-all the luxury and fascination of the legendary prohibition age. The scene where Prohibition is "buried"-somewhat resembling the "Death of Glitter" concert from "Velvet Goldmine",actually a coffin-shaped chocolate-cake is surrounded by four candles stuck into Cordon Rouge bottles,is one of the most influential in film history,probably known and loved even by the ones who aren't much into this genre,did not watch/enjoy this film. In my opinion this scene is capturing all the beauty and vanity of life,youth,ambition and pleasure-it is almost possible to feel,to sense an utterly voluptuous universe fading away,becoming impossible to hold back... I don't think that the characters were homosexual,in spite of their very strong friendly love,I guess this film is rather a hymn in the honor of a myth as old as mankind:friendship;even admitting that this film involves a certain homo erotic subtext,it is that high-minded, poetic,strictly Platonic homo eroticism to be found in the strong bonds that existed among e.g. ancient warriors wanting to be buried together and have their ashes mixed for eternity-this ritual(though altered) actually happens this way in this film too. I also don,t buy the preconception that Max was a traitor-notice that even his more balanced friends are actually brutes occasionally violently bursting out like wild animals-he's just a better survivor and fighter that the rest.Of course he might be more megalomaniac,self-indulgent and egocentric than the others,but he's acting according to the rules of gangland and of his Jewish background-the Jewish origin of most of the characters partly explain their talent for money-making,their compellingly manipulative personalities,their practical intelligence. While Noodles turns out,in my opinion,as a winner in the end.Even if poor and forgotten,even if he gets high in order to forget life's misery,he seems balanced and appeased in the end.After going trough pretty much of what his century had to offer,after undergoing so many experiences and changes,he takes refuge in a world(even if artificially created by drugs)where,in an almost godlike way,only the beauty,the legendary side of the violent age of gangsters exists.He therefore rescued,almost like Proust,trough the power of memory,his glamorous and adventurous youth from extinction. Another fascinating (among many others) scene is the one when a posh partying crowd is throwing with Cordon Rouge bottles out of an old timer swiftly and almost invisibly driving by-this scene somewhat exhales the ghastly,nostalgic roaring twenties beauty,like in a novel by Fitzgerald or a visually disturbingly compelling&lush period piece by Ken Russel. Irespective of the dark,violent and bleak message of this film,I'll always remember it as one of the most accomplished visual poems dedicated to youth and the unlimited ambitions it is often linked with. Therefore a lush and highly fulfilling treat due to its immense and very credible evocative power,depicting credible and actual scenes without ever being common or boring.