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A superb text book film, but with very little to teach about life and love.
"Notorious" is a textbook film for using dramatic irony to structure a story. Unfortunately, like the rest of Hitchcock's films, it left me emotionally cold. The film has a great deal to teach about screen-writing and film making, but very little to teach about life and love.
It's a poor love story, and a poor spy story - the genre beats for these types of story are mostly missing from the film. It's the dramatic irony that makes it fascinating - different characters having different levels of knowledge at different times. All the main turning points revolve around a character having a "realisation" and catching up with what the audience already knows. Each moment of realisation creates a wonderful sense of peril and intrigue that are sustained right through the next sequence of scenes until the next realisation.
Ingrid Bergman is astonishing to watch - her face tells us every thought she has. The film is slanted so that it's her story, rather than Cary Grant's.
Is it a good film? No. But its a decidedly wonderful film to watch for writers, film makers, and Ingrid Bergman fans.
Life is unpredictable and senseless. So celebrate!
Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed and starred in this wonderful movie. Zatoichi, a blind swordsman, is the central character but plenty of time is given to developing the stories of the people that Zatoichi meets. The generous way the screen time is shared out makes it more of a multi-plot movie.
The movie has all the makings of an epic samurai tale. Astonishing violence, stunning colour, terse dialogue, gorgeous costumes, tragedy and grim humour. The different stories promise us tales of revenge, loyalty, honour and innocence. Step by step however those stories twist and turn in ridiculous ways, leap forward beyond what we could expect or imagine, or stall permanently and refuse to move forward.
Is that because it's badly written? No, it's all one giant joke on you and me. Takeshi Kitano has taken all the genre conventions of the stranger-comes-to-town-in-search-of-his-enemy samurai story and then turned them on their head. Once it's all set up, once you believe you're in for a real samurai treat, the writer starts playing games with your mind and with the genre.
The progression is remarkable and brilliant. I started surprised, then moved to confusion, then astonishment, some hilarity, then disbelief, and finally hilarity squared. This is one of the best written films I've seen. This is an anti-plot movie, it's an argument against the idea that life (or that movies) makes sense and is predictable. It says that our lives have no rhythm, they're silly and you can't tell what's going to happen next.
Do you believe that about your own life? Does it sound like too grim a message to accept? Well Takeshi Kitano's answer is that seeing that we can't make sense of life, we might as well just dance. Although the plot is incoherent and rhythmless, in the background of scenes you'll see extras going about their daily lives and making their own rhythm. They'll tapping hammers, or sawing wood, and the different percussive sounds are synchronised in a way that makes music, that makes sense. This builds and builds through the movie until the stunning climax where most of the cast face the camera and do a tap dance routine at the village festival. Life is meaningless, so where ever you are, what ever you're doing, you should relax, celebrate and enjoy it. You should dance.
Takeshi Kitano gives what I thought to be an astonishing performance, but the man has no ego. He gives his movie to others. There are incredibly striking performances in this movie. Who, you ask? Just check the cast overview, all those guys are great. Of course they're supported by great writing, but they really do give very distinct performances. There are some superb comic turns, real laugh out loud stuff.
If you love samurai movies, and are strong enough to see them laughed at, then you could be in for a real treat. My advice is that you should relax, celebrate and enjoy it. You should dance.