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An Absence of Light. I love this film very much. (spoilers)
30 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
`The Policewoman' is a perfect companion-piece to `Gloria' (1999, Manuela Viegas). Both Portuguese films deal with troubled childhood, cruelty, tragedy, and premature death. Both films have some memorable scenes in which a body is dragged through a dark forest, and have wonderful endings. Both films are atmospheric, and feelings and emotions in both films are conveyed through silence. It seems like `The Policewoman' is another part of `Gloria', and that is because both films are made by Joaquim Sapinho and Manuela Viegas. Sapinho directed `The Policewoman' and co-wrote `Gloria', while Viegas directed `Gloria' and co-edited `The Policewoman'.

However, though I like `The Policewoman' very much, I feel this film is not as daring and uncompromising as `Gloria'. The storyline of `The Policewoman' is much easier to follow, and the ending of `The Policewoman', though as abrupt as `Gloria', is not as enigmatic.

What makes me fall in love with `The Policewoman' is not the plot, but its obsession with dark forests and darkness. While I was watching `The Policewoman', I felt the sunlight in some scenes in this film was too strong. It was so strong that it irritated my eyes. I realized later that the sunlight in some scenes in this film was not too strong, but the viewers felt the sunlight was unbearable because this film left the viewers in darkness for such a long time that the viewers' eyes cannot adapt to bright light suddenly. I once had this kind of experience while I was watching `Zmej' (2002, Aleksai Muradov). When a character in `Zmej' switched on the light to drive away the darkness, I felt the light was too strong and very unwelcome. Both `Zmej' and `The Policewoman' belong to a wonderful kind of cinema-a cinema which makes your eyes hate sunlight and daytime.

Another thing that I like very much is the role of the policewoman in this film. The policewoman in this film behaves like an angel, but what I like very much is that the viewers rarely have a chance to look at her face clearly. The face of the policewoman was shown clearly on the screen for about one minute. She mostly stays in the darkness. Her face is hidden or half-hidden for most of the time. Yet, she has a very strong presence and an important role in this film. Her character, along with the character of the truck driver who plays football with Rato, give hope to the cruel world portrayed in this film. Though her character stays in the darkness physically, her character is really the bright light of hope, mercy, kindness and understanding.

I also like many other scenes in this film, including the scenes which show nearly empty roads and nearly empty landscapes. I also love the beginning of this film very much. This film starts with shots of beautiful landscapes, of a tree with a heart carved into it, of a hand caressing that tree, of a woman leaning on that tree, of the woman picking flowers, of the woman with the flower in a cemetery. All these scenes are wordless, yet can tell the story effectively. The sad feeling in these scenes are so strong. This film uses minimal expressions to convey maximal feelings.

Scenes that I like include every scene which shows the strong tension between Tania and Liliana, especially the scene in which Tania visits Liliana at the shop, and the scene in which Tania walks in front, Rato walks in the middle, and Liliana walks behind them. One can sense how much Tania and Liliana distrust each other. But the tension between them is conveyed very beautifully and in a restrained way.

Other scenes which are so deeply ingrained in my mind are the scene of Tania when she heard the news about her son, and the scene of Tania in front of a fireplace. These scenes are very sad and heartbreaking. And Tania is such a wonderful character. She may love her son too much and does too many stupid things for him, and it may be because she is just a human being--a human being who is prone to make mistakes, make bad choices, a victim of their own stupidity and stubbornness, a human being whose flame of hope won't die out easily during the downpour of bad lucks. Her character shares the same weakness with ‘Margaret Hall' (Tilda Swinton) in `The Deep End'. These women endanger themselves because they love their sons.

The eyes of Rato is another thing that I like. His eyes make his character more enigmatic. He is not a kid who wants his audience to feel pity for him, especially by the way he behaves near the end of the movie. Some viewers might feel both sad and relieved with the fate of Rato at the end of the film.

Other performers in the film don't have many chances to show their talents, but their scenes are memorable, thanks to the director. The scene of Liliana which I like very much is the scene in which she has some kind of reaction when she sees her uncle enters her cell in the prison. And the benign truck driver provides the warmest scene in this film. He plays football with Rato in the dark, using only lights from the truck. However, in this film, warm feelings can appear only briefly. Rato follows the football and disappears into the dark. That moment is unforgettable.

Joaquim Sapinho, together with Manuela Viegas, Manoel de Oliveira, Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Fernando Matos Silva, and Manuel Mozos, really makes me feel very enthusiastic for Portuguese cinema. I can't wait to see other films of all these directors.
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Wheel of Time (2003)
The unexpected calmness of Werner Herzog
28 March 2004
`Wheel of Time' is a very good film, but I admit that it is different from what I expected from Herzog. He is still very talented, but I doubt if the subject matter is best suited to him. `Wheel of Time' concerns many things, including religion, virtue, and faith, which in this case may not be the best subjects for Herzog. But when `Wheel of Time' deals with some strange and crazy rituals, political oppression, and rugged landscapes, these parts of the film are very satisfying.

Some scenes in `Wheel of Time' are magical, especially the scenes which show vast landscapes and people performing strange rituals. Those scenes are Herzogian, I think. Nobody does this kind of thing better than Herzog. If a cinephile watches these scenes, not knowing who shot them, he or she will guess correctly that they were shot by Herzog. These scenes make `Wheel of Time' rise way above television documentaries.

But other scenes are not as magical as I expect from Herzog's films. I think that maybe the religious subject matter of this film doesn't allow Herzog to be as playful in directing as he was in other films. It is very difficult for any filmmaker, including Herzog, to make an interesting documentary about something virtuous like this. It would be much easier to make an interesting film if the film is about `good vs. evil', or about some strange rituals in which people walk on fire and pierce themselves horrifically.

I think Herzog is like a wizard, and one can hardly makes a more magical film than him if the film is about nature-made or man-made madness, brutality, or suffering in life. But because of the subject matter of `Wheel of Time', this film is not my most favorite of Herzog's. I like `Wheel of Time' as much as Herzog's `How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck' (1976) and `The Flying Doctors of East Africa' (1969). I think these three films are very good films, but because the people portrayed in these films are not `very' strange nor `very' crazy, these three films lack some kind of excitement I found in other films by Herzog, especially when compared to Herzog's `Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices' (1995), `My Best Fiend' (1999), `The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner' (1974), and `Land of Silence and Darkness' (1971), which is my most favorite of Herzog's films.

Some parts of Herzog's `Lessons of Darkness' (1992) deal with political madness, and I think Herzog is good at this subject, too. In one scene in `Wheel of Time', a former political prisoner gave an interview about the brutality of the Chinese rule. This scene is very simple. It is just a normal interview. But for me the power of this scene is much more stronger than most scenes in `Wheel of Time'. And it also reminds me of some great scenes in `Lessons of Darkness' in which some people gave their own testimonies to what happened when Saddam invaded Kuwait. I think one thing that makes the scene about the former prisoner stand apart from other scenes in `Wheel of Time' is because this scene talks about `evil forces', while other scenes in `Wheel of Time' are about some kind of virtuous power.
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Heartbreakingly sad thriller (spoilers)
28 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
***spoilers***spoilers***Some movies can make you cry while you're watching them, but few of them can even make you cry every time you think of them. For me, 'Before the Storm' belongs to the latter category. Yet, this heartbreakingly sad movie has one scene that is much more thrilling than most thrillers, and the joke about 'Kurosawa' is one of the most memorable lines in my memory.

'Before the Storm' poses very interesting questions about violence and moral dilemmas. Many characters in this film seem to do something wrong, but apart from Danne, can we actually call what Ali, Leo, the Courier, and Johan Sander do as totally wrong? They might do wrong things, but they have their own reasons. This movie seems to ask the viewers that if were put into these four characters' shoes, what would we decide to do? Would we decide to act differently if we were in the same dire situations as them? Ali and Leo face one of the most difficult choices in the world. If a young boy as Leo hadn't done what he did in this movie, the other choice he might have resorted to is committing suicide. It's up to each audience to decide for themselves if what Ali does is wrong or right. What this movie perfectly achieves is to make us understand very well why these characters do such a thing.

Not only the 'decision-making' of the characters that is worth pondering, some scenes also leave interesting questions in our mind. For example, the scene when the father and mother of Leo teach Leo about violence. Yet, Leo's father works in the truck plant. Does he know that he might be responsible for mass violence? From the conversation between the Courier and Ali, we can assume that her organization used to distribute leaflets about the military use of the trucks to the public, but that method couldn't stop Sander. That leads to another interesting question in the movie: if the converting of the trucks is no secret, why are the public only concerned about the loss of their jobs? Why are they not concerned about the loss of people's lives in other countries? Are we too interested in earning money for our families that we try to forget or ignore the fact about our 'indirect' roles in this kind of cruelty?

Another great thing about 'Before the Storm' is that it shows us the consequences of characters' actions. And consequences often come as a surprise to the characters. After Leo forced Danne to say an obscene word, Sara uses that exact word to call Leo. After Ali told Leo some sentences that influence Leo's decision, Leo repeats those sentences to Ali at the exact moment that would affect Ali's decision. Ali makes an arguably noble decision in the hospital, but considering the consequences, is his noble decision the right decision? 'Before the Storm' reflects the real world where the most villainous characters (Danne and Sander) are the survivors, and the most innocent characters (Ali's ex-wife and son) suffer the most.

In my opinion, the hospital scene and the ending scene are truly classic. During the thrilling hospital scene, I forget breathing and my heart pounds heavily. The thrill comes partly because of the music, and because we somehow identify ourselves with Ali in this extremely dangerous situation. We can't help imagining we were Ali, and asking ourselves what exactly we should do to Sander, to the bodyguard, to the Courier, to her grandchild, and most importantly, to Sander's father?

Because we feel so much involved in Ali's decision-making, the thrill comes not only because we fear that Ali might be in danger, but also because we fear that Ali might decide to bring danger to other characters. Thrilling scenes are effective if they can make the viewers feel as if they are not only the 'observers' of the scene, but also the 'participants' in the scene. Most thriller movies are not as thrilling as this scene in 'Before the Storm', because in most thrillers' climax scenes, we know exactly who is the villain and who is the innocent, who should be punished and who should be rewarded. The villains in other movies are so bad that the hero (and the viewers) never has any doubt in his (or our) mind(s) whether the hero should do the killing or not.(It is worth noting that Arnold Schwarzenegger is mentioned in 'Before the Storm'.) In those movies, the viewers can be sure that the hero will do only good things and we can decide very easily that the villains should be killed. Thus, the thrill in other movies relies on what the hero will do to get rid of the villains, whereas the thrill in 'Before the Storm' relies on whether the hero will kill or help the so-called villains, which villain he should help, and whether the hero is as evil as the villains and the villains are as innocent and pitiable as the hero. These questions apply to the conflict between Danne and Leo, too. This movie might be one of the most difficult movies for the viewers to decide whether the child protagonist (Leo) should be punished or rewarded. It's not the physical action, but it's the moral ambiguity behind the physical action that makes the hospital scene in 'Before the Storm' the most thrilling scene in my memory. Moreover, this scene might be the only thrilling scene that can make me cry at the same time. And I cry because of that face--the face of Sander's father lying on the floor, begging for his son's life. I even cry as I'm writing this down. This face will keep on haunting me for a long time.

The ending scene confirms this film as one of my most favorite films of all time. The strength of the ending scene relies on its marvelous editing, and I'm not even sure that what I saw in the ending scene is what really happens in the story or a part of it is a dream. In the ending scene, the narrative style differs a lot from the preceding scenes. There is no continuity of time and place. Fragments of various characters' lives are mixed and edited in such a way that has a tremendous impact on my emotion. Moreover, this ending scene can manage to tell the conclusion of so many characters' lives in very few minutes, and a lot of twists are in this scene. I cry a lot when the camera focuses on the hand of Ali's wife and hands of other characters, when I see Danne is alive, when Leo departs from his family, and particularly, when the bodyguard discovers that the Courier's grandchild is alive. How can Reza Parsa come up with a scene so emotionally powerful like this? I have never seen a scene like this in other movies before. This is a perfect ending, narratively and emotionally.

Minor characters also lend great charm to the movie, including Sara and Leo's mother, and particularly the Courier and the anti-Kurosawa little girl. Tintin Anderzon is perfect as Leo's mother. Sasha Becker can show how much Sara likes Danne by just using a glimpse from her meaningful eyes. The Courier surprises me with her talent as a spy. She can appear any minute, without warning, in any place or any situation. This character wouldn't look out of place at all if she appears in superb spy action/drama films such as 'La Femme Nikita'. My only disappointment is that she is defeated too easily, considering her great spying talent. One thing worth noting is that one fast-food chain plays an indirect part in her demise. Is the director trying to say that the Courier's mistake is letting her grandchild too immersed in consumerism? The little girl is an unforgettable character even though she might be on screen less than 5 minutes. She is not involved in the main plot, but in an interesting subplot concerning chains of unrequited love. Her role might be small, but poignant. Her happiness when she is together with Leo lasts very briefly. Something she says indicates that she hopes to be with Leo again, but she might have to wait forever, as the ending song suggests.

It's hard to find other movies to compare with such a superior film as 'Before the Storm'. The only one I can think about is Antonia Bird's 'Priest'. While these two movies are totally different in many ways, they are as moving and bring as many tears to my eyes. More importantly, the understanding and sympathy between Ali and the harassed boy in the bus scene reminds me of the understanding and sympathy between Father Greg and the harassed girl in 'Priest'.
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Lime (2001)
Irresistibly colorful dream world
20 April 2002
The world portrayed in 'Lime' is too beautiful to be real, yet it is too beautiful for me to resist. I give this movie 10/10 mostly because of its choice of music, and also because of its beautiful colors, its haunting black and white scenes, its cinematography, its editing, the performance of Rita Kvist, and its tremendous impact on my emotions.

There are many scenes that I like in 'Lime', including the scenes when the camera focuses on an insect at the window, when Tanja makes her own dress, when she imagines her mother dancing hauntingly, the scene in the forest, and the scene about a wolf. These scenes are not only beautifully shot, but they are also strangely powerful. The heightened colors, the contrast between color scenes and black-and-white scenes, and the appropriate pace of editing lend this movie great excitement, while the story itself is not as exciting.

Giving it 10/10 means I love it so much though I think it still has some flaws. While the role of Tanja is so impressive and gives Kvist a great chance to show her talent, the supporting characters are somehow not fully developed, including her friend, her ex-boyfriend, her new boyfriend, her little brother, her new stepfather, and particularly her mother. 'Lime' chooses to focus only on Tanja, and that makes it different from other recent movies about single mother-teenage daughter in countryside, including 'Tumbleweeds' and 'La Spagnola'.

The second half of this movie is not as intense as the first half, and I have to admit I'm not satisfied with this kind of ending. Thanks to its music, 'Lime' is now one of my most favorite films about teenagers, but because of its possible-but-lackluster resolution, the place for my most favorite teenage film still belongs to 'Busu' by Jun Ichikawa. Though both two films are about troubled teenage girls and are tremendously powerful, 'Busu' gives a feeling of a 'real world', while 'Lime' gives a vividly colorful picture of a 'dream world'. 'Lime', for me, is perfect as a way to escape from reality. Yes, I'm one of those people who wish our own life should have been like Tanja's.
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Judex (1963)
A marvellous film for those who love supervillainess (spoilers)
19 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS: Deceptively titled Judex, the heart of the film actually belongs to the arch elegant enemy of the title character. This film shows many obstacles the supervillainess must overcome in order to get what she wants, instead of showing the obstacles the superhero must overcome. Thus, it's one of those rare films of which some audience will find themselves drawn to and siding with the villainess, cheering for her, and secretly praying that she would escape, survive, or win in most situations, and these audience will also ask themselves time and again while watching this film, 'Why is the boring heroine still alive? She should have been dead already.'

While the hero seems to have no trouble doing anything he wants especially in the first half of the movie, the villainess gets into tight and dangerous situations many times. Her clever plans always run into trouble, and she must improvise solutions to her problems. Though the villainess is punished in the end, those audience who cheer for her should still be satisfied, because she is not punished by the unimpressive hero, but by a character who is no less charming than her. The final fighting scene is very exciting, because it is not only about the hero versus the evil, but it involves some other characters who aren't exactly good or evil, thus the audience cannot guess the fate of these characters. While the audience can predict the fate of the hero, they are still thrilled to find out if other supporting characters will survive or not.

Many scenes are weirdly beautiful and unforgettable, including the mask party scene, the strange dance scene between the villainess and her lover, the scene when the villainess reveals what she wears inside the nun clothes, the scene when the heroine floats down the river, the scene when the detective reads a book about fighting nuns, and most importantly, the moment when the acrobat girl shows her delight in saying that her uncle was eaten by a lion.

I love this film very much, or to be exact, love the villainess and the last person she fights with. After watching 'Charlie's Angels' and 'The Heroic Trio', starring Maggie Cheung, I think some studios should consider making a new film inspired by the plot of 'Judex' with the help of some Hong Kong kung fu choreographers. If a new version is to be made, please let the villainess fly high and don't make the heroine helpless.
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Band of Ninja (1967)
What an exciting story!
31 January 2002
Ninja Bugei-cho is a very exciting film, and its excitement, for me, relies solely on its powerful story. It is also a very strange film because it consists of only still cartoon-drawings with voice-over and sound effects. Seeing this film is somehow similar to reading a fascinating comic book or storyboard. While the pictures on the screen are not moving, this film, similar to any comic book, gives freedom to our imagination to move the pictures in our mind.

I'm very impressed with its fast pace. The story is very dense. What is told in its 131-minute length can be told easily in 30-hour-long tv series. Imagine all the excitement in 30-hour-long tv series being compressed into 2-hour movie. There are many climaxes, and I think even the story of each member of the Kage family has the climax of its own.

But while the story is full of interesting characters, it lacks deep characterizations. Most characters are as flat as its material, but I don't think that is a flaw of this movie. It's just a style usually found in this type of story. For a story like this, the movie must last much longer than 2 hours so that each character can be given 'real flesh and blood' or 'real subtle feelings and emotions'. I think its excitement much more than compensates for its lack of 'real life'. What this movie really does best is giving each character different fighting skill, and explaining how each of them acquires that special skill. The story of each supporting character is so interesting that each of them should be expanded into a 2-hour movie.

The two main female characters impress me a lot with their expertise in fighting. I will never forget one fighting scene in this movie which involves one pregnant character. Even a small character such as the lady bandit is very fascinating. Oshima's female characters in this movie are as charming and charismatic as in his other movies. Oshima's female characters are not the type usually found in mainstream Japanese cinema. His female characters are as physically strong, determined, bold, and fatally alluring as Paul Verhoeven's female characters.

There's one scene in this film which is very scary. It's the scene of the 'running earth'. It frightens me so much and makes me feel as if I witnessed the real event and was running away from 'them'. If this movie is a live-action, this scene might cost a lot to make it look real. But this film proves that in order to scare the audience effectively, money is not as necessary as the audience's own imagination. There are also many brutal, gruesome, and gory scenes in this movie, and they make me feel very grateful that this movie is not a live-action. Sketches of blood are much more tolerable than real-looking blood.

The ultimate pleasure and excitement I gain from watching this film are somehow similar to the ones I get from watching 'X-Men' or 'Lord of the Rings'. Each of them has a story full of cartoon-style fighting and many interesting supporting characters. However, 'Ninja Bugei-cho' doesn't give you only excitement. It also lets you exercise your imaginative power. This film is highly recommended for those who don't care if there are 'moving pictures' on the screen as long as they can create their own 'moving pictures' in their mental projections.
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Keep It Quiet (1999)
Brimful of feelings (spoilers)
25 January 2002
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** I love every character in this film, and I rarely feel like this. I love them because they are so real. These are characters with imperfection and small details of characteristics that make them truly come alive. Every main character in this film seems to have their own interesting past, and though they don't talk much about it, they can make the audience feel it. Some of them seem to hide their own feelings or don't express them clearly. They seem to think about something that they don't fully speak out, but they can make the audience sense their hidden and fluctuating feelings and their hidden thoughts. These characters do everything as real human beings do, and that's one of the most difficult goals any filmmaker can ever achieve.

I also love nearly every detail in this film. These details seem to possess some special power inside: the power of real life. I love the blurred lights at the end of the film, the haunting piano score, very brief glimpses of an old woman who tries to search for something in her bag on a train or glimpses of some women who wait for someone or think about something, Stephanie's face when she says she's happy that William is out, her face when she lies that she's surprised at what Gregoire says, her bright smile outside the elevator, Madame Guerin's commercial smile, the living place of Agnes which feels so cold (though some rooms are painted in yellow with bright light) and alienating (Is that a part of the reasons why Gregoire decides to move to a small room?), the moment when the nun and Veronique nearly quarrel, the moment when William and Barbara nearly quarrel over cigarettes (and we learn later how William treasures his cigarettes), the moment when Gregoire stands near someone crazier than him in a bar, the discussion of the policy of forgetfulness, the moment when Agnes tells her little son everybody must die, the moment when Agnes remembers that she is boiling milk (some other instances also imply she is forgetful, but as forgetful as some normal human beings), and the moment when Gregoire refuses to talk. But what I like the most of all is the moment when Agnes changes her mind on an eclair and when she suddenly stops talking to think about something. (Is she thinking about a secret? Because Gregoire later says she is very secretive.)

The characters and the relationships in this film are very interesting and intriguing. Do they love each other or just don't know how to express their love? They don't clearly show that they hate each other, but they often show some signs of detachment (one good example is the glasses Louis wears when he is with Veronique), discontentment, anger, or irritation towards their loved ones, sometimes with many possible reasons. They often show some signs that they feel uneasy or uncomfortable. Maybe the word 'love' or 'hate' or any word in general are actually inadequate to describe what these characters or real human beings feel towards each other. There characters, as real human beings, and their feelings and emotions are too complicated to be defined by any word, their moods are in constant changing, and they and their reasons shouldn't be judged. I believe there are not many films that can portray these aspects of human beings as excellent as 'Pas de scandale'.

Jealousy or something close to jealousy is portrayed very well in this film. Apart from the envy that Louis, as famous as he is, might have towards his brother, it is very interesting that many characters seem to be frustrated when their loved one pay interest to unloved ones. While other films often portray jealousy between rivals in romantic relationship, 'Pas de scandale' chooses to explore other feelings that exist in everyday life but are hardly explored in other films. Does Louis feel bad that Gregoire leave their country house to the godmother's family? Why does William suddenly leave the restaurant? Is it because he doesn't like the presence of Barbara or Louis, both are outsiders to the love relationship between him and Stephanie? Why does Stephanie suddenly leave the bar? Is it because the presence of two women (also outsiders or unloved ones) or something William says? Why does Stephanie seem to be upset when she sees William and his male friend watching TV together? Both the friend and TV are unloved ones or outsiders to her relationship with William. Maybe she just feels bad about her 'adultery', or about the failure of her 'date'. I put these sentences into questions or use the word 'may' because there seem to be many possible reasons for these characters, as for real human beings, to act or feel like this. There is also a very interesting exception. While the presence of Louis (now unloved one to Laure) causes the male friend (or boyfriend?) of Laure to leave the room, it is very clear that he leaves voluntarily with no anger or frustration. That makes this very small character very special in this film.

However, it is noteworthy that not only the presence of an unloved one that can cause irritation, the presence of the loved one can also cause irritation in some cases. Agnes complains that she cannot play piano when Gregoire is near, and she complains to Stephanie that Gregoire likes to stay in too much. Agnes seems to be more at ease with Stephanie and Louis than with her husband. Does she still love her husband or not? Maybe she just requires a psychological space as other human beings do. And irritation sometimes is just a change of mood: Stephanie seems to be briefly disturbed by Barbara's question about last night, and her hostile reaction towards Gregoire lasts briefly too.

Gregoire is a very interesting character. He is not only different from the time before he was jailed, but what he does now is also different in each situation. He doesn't say anything on TV, but he tells strangers that he's out of jail and confesses about his kissing to everybody in front of Agnes. He moves to sleep in a small room, but seems to be disturbed when he was stuck in his car. Is he really claustrophobic or is it just an excuse to chat with Stephanie? He says he is guilty but not responsible for the crime. What does it mean? Does he really feel guilty for whatever he does, especially when he doesn't keep promises he gave to Louis and William? He sometimes gives interesting comments, particularly the one about people who don't need to be loved. But does he really fall in love with Stephanie? What does he really feel about William? It is worth noticing how he treats William in the morning and in the evening, the difference between the meeting of people from different class and the meeting of people in the same class, and how similarly or differently those two meetings end.

Luchini and Lindon have a great chance to shine in this film. Huppert and Giocante also give great performances. Aubry, Liotard, and Bas also show that they have talents to spare if they were allowed more screen time. After all, Benoit Jacquot deserves the most credit. He's a real wonder.
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La Chinoise (1967)
Is this a movie? Or something much better?
22 January 2002
There are many great things about 'La Chinoise', including its political and historical importance, which have been elaborately discussed by film enthusiasts all over the world, so I'd like to add only my very personal thoughts about this film. Personally, 'La Chinoise' stands very much apart from, if not above, all of the films I've seen. While other films of Godard make me feel they are great movies, 'La Chinoise' doesn't make me feel like that. It makes me feel as if I hadn't seen a film, as if I'd just had a very nice and exciting conversation with friends, as if I'd just had a very lively discussion with them, as if I'd just participated in a hot debate, as if I'd just quarreled with some people. No film ever made me feel like this.

Scenes and dialogues worthy of remembering in 'La Chinoise' are as innumerable as in other films of Godard. Forever imprinted on my memory are the scenes when Leaud can't understand what his girlfriend says without the help of music, the droll assassination scene, and most important of all, the discussion on the train. This train scene looks so simple, yet it is very subtle and powerful. I saw 'La Chinoise' the first time four years ago, and I felt very detached from the movie. Seeing it again, I think it is one of my most favorite now.
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Exciting and entertaining (spoilers)
15 December 2001
Warning: Spoilers
There are many reasons why I like this film very much. Firstly, the heroine (Kiberlain) is a very interesting character. She's not an ordinary heroine. She's not entirely virtuous nor evil. While she tries to protect herself from those greedy guys, she also does a very cruel thing to the pitiful Comtesse. However ruthless she is, I can't help cheering for her when she deals with those cunning guys with her quick wit.

Secondly, I think this movie is tremendously exciting. It moves with a relentlessly energetic pace. The excitement I get from this movie is as much as, if not more than, what I get from horror films. This movie makes me feel as if I am watching a horror film in which the heroine has to think fast, move fast, and act fast in order to survive. Instead of using murderous situations and physical fighting, False Servant uses love situations and verbal weapons. The heroine lives in a very risky situation, but her weapon here is her words, and sometimes her money. She must use her words or her lies to seduce, to convince, to persuade, or to cheat others, so that she can survive, or to be the last winner of this game.

I also like very much that the situations in this movie change very rapidly. Every time I think the heroine is safe and can control the game, the situation reverses. There are many times she nearly gets caught or unmasked by other characters, but she still outwits them time and again by creating new elaborate and convincing lies instantaneously. Moreover, the characters she deals with are not easy to cheat. They all have their own clever plans.

Another thing I like very much is the beauty of the dialogue. Most sentences said in this movie are very pretty and witty, and that quality is hard to find in other movies. I saw this movie 3 times, and I find that the more I see it, the more I adore its flowery dialogue and admire the person who translated it from French to English. I wonder how beautiful the original French dialogue is, because the dialogue in the English subtitle makes me feel overjoyed.

I also like that this movie doesn't try to be romantic. There are too many movies about a girl dressed as a boy and then falling in love with a boy. But in False Servant, the heroine doesn't disguise herself and fall in love. She does it in order to destroy the guy. Her disguise doesn't lead her to discover how nice the man is, but leads her to discover how crooked, untrustworthy, heartless, selfish, and greedy the man is. That's quite different from other movies, and that can relate very well to modern audience, I think.

Another thing that I like is that the movie relies solely on the power of its dialogue. The dialogue alone can make this movie much more entertaining than those movies with luxurious settings and costumes. I also like that this movie doesn't hide its fictitiousness. I think that quality goes very well with its insincere characters.

One technique used in this film is quite funny. It's when the characters turn their faces away from other characters and speak out what they think to the audience or the camera. One scene in this movie is also worth mentioning. It's the scene when Trivelin tells Lelio about what happens between the heroine and la Comtesse in the garden. I like that this movie doesn't have to show the garden scene to the audience directly. The audience can visualize that garden scene clearly just by listening to the words of Trivelin. This movie may be made with a very low budget, but it is really rich.
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This movie is a "must-see-at-least-twice"
4 December 2001
The opening scene of this movie can tell you how the whole film will be like: strange, hypnotic, visually stunning, sometimes disturbing, and powerful. This film is about gangsters in Berlin after WWII. It is mesmerizing, and makes me want to see it again and again after it ends. Though I cannot quite understand the whole story of this movie after viewing it for only one time, its atmosphere really entrances me. The atmosphere is strange and has something undescribable about it, something which is unfamiliar and really makes this movie stand out from other movies. And I think its atmosphere corresponds very well with the mental state of the characters. Besides its superb visual quality, the use of plane noises in this movie is quite interesting and very effective. Moreover, there is a sense of discontinuity running throughout the whole film. It seems like some scenes which might have been important to other mainstream films are deemed unnecessary here, and they are indeed unnecessary. To make a movie full of discontinuities might not be difficult, but in this movie, the feeling of discontinuity seems to fit in very well, seems very appropriate, seems so right, and I think to make a movie like this requires a real great talent. The feeling of discontinuity strongly enhances that undescribable atmosphere and makes the movie much more exciting to watch. Furthermore, it is worth noticing that not only some scenes are appropriately left out, but something which would normally have been the focus of the scene is sometimes curiously missing.

As for the performance, Katharina Thalbach has a suitable and memorable role here. The actor who plays Gladow also gives a stunning performance. I have heard that the film is based on a true story, but I think its style, feelings, and power are unique, and quite different from other movies based on a true story. In my opinion, this movie is not only a `must-see', but a `must-see-at-least-twice.'
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End of Desire (1958)
This great movie offers a rare comfortable distance
4 December 2001
The use of colors in this movie is quite impressive. I think the colors are truly beautiful, and I feel the use of colors here is somehow different from other movies, but I can't quite tell exactly how it is different. I'm also impressed by another hard-to-describe aspect of this movie: the comfortable distance between the audience and the characters. I find myself enjoy watching this movie many times, though I'm not really interested in the story and these kinds of characters. Why do I enjoy watching it while feeling uninvolved in it? It is because I feel very comfortable watching it. I feel as if there is an emotional space of a very appropriate size separating me from the characters. I don't feel the characters' feelings are too far away from me that I lose interest in them, and nor do I feel the movie pushes the characters' feelings so overwhelmingly close to me that I feel uncomfortable. I don't really know how the director can make me feel like this, and I wonder whether he intentionally created that pleasant distance.
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Ohikkoshi (1993)
A brilliant film burning with bitter feelings (spoilers)
6 November 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Moving is indeed one of the most moving films about children. It deals with a girl who seems unable to cope with her parents' separation. The movie is very successful in expressing the feelings of the girl, and it is not too sweet or sentimental. Though some scenes might lack originality, every scene is still extraordinary for me because of its overflowing streams of emotions.

Though every scene is excellent, there are two scenes which strike me much more strongly than others. One of them is the fire-in-laboratory scene. The feelings and emotions expressed in this scene is indescribably strong and remind me of my own childhood. Another scene which strikes me as severely is the scene when the mother tries to reach her self-confined daughter. The last 20 minutes of the film are superbly created. It truly reflects the mental state of the girl, and though I think this last part expresses something too obviously, I still love it because of its strange beauty and its tremendous power. And I think it really offers one of the best solutions to the problem.

While the movie mostly shows the traumatic experiences of the girl, it also offers a lot of sympathy for other characters. It's really hard to say whose fault it is in this delicate problem. The parents of the child seem to have done the best they can, and the child reacts in a much cleverer way than I would do if I were in her place. I really like her lovely-but-strongly-determined ways of protest. The girl who played this miserable child really deserves some performance awards. It is a very difficult task to play a girl who is both strong and fragile, and also in deep agony like this.

The editing is perfect and gives priority to emotional flows than narrative flows. The cinematography is dazzling, especially during the latter part of the film and in the last scene. I feel no surprise to find that the cinematographer is Toyomichi Kurita, who did a wonderful and unforgettable job in ‘The Moderns'.
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The Last Hole (1981)
How can I erase this film from my memory? (spoilers)
6 November 2001
Warning: Spoilers
There are two main reasons why I want to erase this film from my memory. Firstly, some scenes in this movie make me laugh every time I think of them, and I can't stop laughing even when I'm in public places. This film is going to drive me insane. After I saw this film, that night I spent about half an hour thinking of it, and laughing. Secondly, it makes me feel guilty every time I laugh. How can I laugh when the subject matter of this movie is about the cruelest thing that ever happened.

While many scenes is this film are oddly and extremely funny, there are two special scenes that I can't get out of my mind. They are the scene when the doctor tries to give the exact prescription, and the scene when Barbara keeps doing that thing. I wonder how Herbert Achternbusch can create such a scene like this. The doctor's scene make me laugh and feel very guilty at the same time. And the Barbara's scene is the funniest scene in the funniest movie by the funniest director. Achternbusch is not only my most favorite German director, but also one of the funniest directors for me. His films make me laugh the most, and Das letzte Loch might be one of his greatest works. While every film of his is excellent and tremendously funny, this one is also hypnotically powerful in its visual style and its use of music. Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein's cinematography here is beautiful, meaningful, and disturbing at the same time. And the music is incredibly strange.

Like other films by Achternbusch, I never understand what happens in this film. But like other films of his, to laugh and enjoy it requires no understanding. Every sentence spoken in this film is absurdly funny. I can't stop laughing at the dialogue though I can't make any sense out of it. Maybe one day I might understand it more if I have a chance to learn German and see it for the second or third time. Seeing any of Achternbusch's films for only one time is never enough.

The last part of the film when the characters go to Italy is the most impressive part for me. It is full of ludicrous ideas, and I really like the way it makes fun of names. But it is not only very funny, but also powerful, hypnotic, and poignant. Powerful and hypnotic for what Last Susn does in this scene. Poignant for what Nil discovers under the sand. I guess Nil is what one calls a tragicomic character. He makes me feel painful and sad. What should he do? Where should he run to? Is there any way for him to escape from his guilt and memory? I can't answer that, and I doubt if anyone can.

If I could nominate this film for some awards, I would like to nominate it for best film, best director, best supporting actress (Annamirl Bierbichler) , best screenplay, and best soundtrack. As for now, I want to forget this film before it drives me insane and overwhelms me with guilt.
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Kalte Heimat (1995)
The heart and soul of the land is magically and warmly revealed
24 October 2001
The movie begins with a mesmerizing shot, and it never lets me down after that. 'Cold Homeland' is so warm with humanity and shows many ordinary people who can hold my attention entirely with stories of their lives. But it's not only their stories that are captivating; more importantly, it is mainly the magical directing talent of Koepp which makes this movie extraordinary.

What makes this movie so special to me is that while I was watching it,I felt so drawn into it as if I were also in that place. Koepp can make me really 'feel' the place, not just seeing it. He can transform the screen into a magical door and makes me feel if I walked into that door, I would step into that faraway land at once. He can really capture the sense of the land with his subliminally powerful scenery shots. There are many shots in the movie which represent only landscapes. These scenery shots are not there to show how beautiful this land is, nor they are there just to inform the audience about how this land really looks like. I feel these scenery shots are much more than that. By inserting these shots appropriately in the movie, Koepp let the landscapes speak for themselves. He can make the landscapes-- the trees, the grass, the wind, the stones, the buildings, or even the sunshine there-- reveal their own 'feelings' and make the landscapes embrace the audience with their tender arms. This is pure magic!

Koepp is also very talented in making people speak. Though some people speak little, what they speak means a lot and has strong feelings within it. Other people in the movie speak a lot about their past, and though they tell the stories of their lives calmly, something from their past, something from their hearts makes me cry. I really don't know why I feel like crying when the old woman starts singing. And when she reveals her past, I find her story one of the most impressive and deeply touching. Listening to some people in this movie telling their lives for 2 minutes can stir more powerful emotions and leave long-lasting impressions than seeing some fictional 2-hour movies. Some stories told are really unforgettable, and I don't want to forget them because they make the word 'life' much more meaningful to me than before.

Koepp is also talented in representing some interesting aspects and information about that place, especially the information about the ethnic diversity of people living there. I learn a lot about this astonishing part of the world from this movie. This movie does not only carry the audience on a visual journey through this special land, but it also lets the audience touch the land, feel the land, breathe the air of the land, admire the soul of the land, and admire the spirits of people living there.
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Tube Tales (1999)
Heartfelt and very funny (spoilers)
8 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
The whole film is one of my most favorite British films of the last five years, because it is really entertaining and moving. There's not a minute in this movie which makes me feel bored. 'Mr. Cool' is cool. 'Horny' is very funny and lovely. 'My Father, the Liar' gives me some strangely undescribable feeling. 'Mouth' is amusing. 'A Bird in the Hand' is affecting. 'Rosebud' is pleasantly strange.

However, my most favorite films are 'Bone' and 'Steal Away', because they can move me to tears. 'Bone' gives me the tears of joy and make me feel elated after seeing it. I thought what the guy does is one of the most beautiful and impressive ways to express feelings. It is one of the most heartfelt moment in cinema and affects me nearly as strongly as the ending of Eric Rohmer's 'The Green Ray.'

As for 'Steal Away,' I can't help crying when the criminal turns to wash the feet of the foot-washer. I think this moment in 'Steal Away' has something in common with that moment in 'Bone.' In these two moments, there is some deep communication between characters without using words. While words tend to be deceptive or inadequate to express what one thinks or feels, what these two characters in different films do is communication from their hearts, and that leads to real understanding. Though the ending of 'Steal Away' is a little bit predictable, its effectiveness is not lessened. While other films give me a lot of laugh, I feel these two films speak directly to my heart.
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Class Trip (1998)
This trip is greatly rewarding (spoilers)
8 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This film is very exciting, touching, and beautiful. It belongs to one of my most favorite coming-of-age film. There are many reasons why I love this film so much. One of them is the terrific talents of Clement van den Bergh and Emmanuelle Bercot. I think it is very hard to play the leading role in this film. Nicolas is deeply troubled inside, and the actor has to keep it hidden inside to make it convincing why the kid has a lot of bizarre daydreams and nightmares. Though he has a sad face, he must not make his feelings too obvious. The actor has to make us understand that Nicolas cries for help all the time, but not by his voice or obvious expression, but by something hidden under his expression, something hidden in his eyes, and by his imagination. I think Clement van den Bergh is really successful in this difficult role.

Bercot is also excellent. She does not portray a stereotyped teacher. She really makes this role her own by expressing feelings and emotions of vulnerable human, and that makes this teacher a real person, not only a character. I was quite impressed with her talent in the latter part of the movie after the news of the crime starts spreading.

The story is really moving, especially when it deals with the growing friendship of the two boys, and the rollercoaster scene is strongly intriguing. More importantly, the atmosphere created in this film is excellent, and owes a lot to the superb cinematography, the haunting musical score, the appropriate location, and the rhythm of the story. The vast landscape is beautifully captured by the camera, and cleverly used to mirror the psychological aspect of the character. Each nightmarish scene is intense, and the scene when the boy is frozen to death keeps haunting me for a long time. This is one of the films which must be shown on the big screen so that its beautiful atmosphere can be appreciated fully; however, it has been shown in Thailand only once.

This film does not only excel at creating the atmosphere, but also at creating the excitement. While seeing it, I couldn't guess what would happen next. I couldn't guess if the story would turn out to be one of those children films in which everybody understands one another at the end, or if it would belong to a serial-killer genre. Sometimes I couldn't guess if the scene was just a dream or reality. The ending, though quite brutal to the feelings of the characters, is done in a surprisingly delicate manner. This film should be viewed together with Festen, which partly deals with the same subject matter but uses totally different approach. Yet I think both films are similarly effective in their own ways.

Though I can't say this film is innovative, original, or significant to the history of cinema, at least this film is really significant for me, judging by its tremendous impact on my feelings. Though this film deals a lot with painful experiences, I have to say I really enjoy the trip through this film. This trip is greatly rewarding.
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Unforgettable (spoilers)
8 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
While the story and the acting talent of Tina Engel impress me very much, what really impresses me the most in this film is the role of the bank teller played by Katharina Thalbach (who also gives a wonderful performance in 'Engel aus Eisen.') While other characters such as Christa Klages and her friends make me feel that their actions are somehow limited by reasons or easily-explainable feelings and emotions, the role of the bank teller makes me feel very excited because her actions are somehow unpredictable and not ordinary. I could not predict surely what she would do next and how her actions would affect Christa's life. And in my second viewing of this film, though the excitement caused by unpredictability had gone, I found that I still felt captivated by this character and felt I could identify with her. What a great character!

As for Christa Klages, she really deserves to be called 'heroine.' She is not only the central character, but she is strong and can learn to confront both the society and herself. She really gives inspiration. Though she sometimes does something wrong, it's difficult to lose sympathy for her. Tina Engel is perfect for this role. She can show both the strengths and the weaknesses of Christa. Oh, and what a great voice she has!

Apart from these two roles, I'm also impressed by the title of this film, the first sentence said in the film, and the ending. The long title really drew my attention in the first place, and I find it unforgettable. The ending of this film is also unforgettable, and has a very strong impact on me. I feel as if I were Christa herself in the final scene, and everytime I think of this ending, I can still feel what Christa felt. That feeling lasts so long after the film ends.
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The most enjoyable dream of my life
1 October 2001
`The Death of Maria Malibran' is a very strange film. After I have seen this movie twice, I still know very little about Maria Malibran. Everything that happens in this film is beyond my understanding. When I walked out of the cinema, I felt like waking up from a dream. I remember the dream quite clearly, but I don't understand what happens in it, and why it happens like that. All I know is that this is the most enjoyable dream I have ever had in my whole life.

Though I never like opera, I still love this film very much. Though I don't understand what is the plot or the story behind this film, it captivates me entirely. The photography, the art direction, the lighting, and the make-up are of excellent quality. The acting, the editing, and the music are exceptional too. I like it very much that the camera often focuses on the expression on characters' faces. This technique both heighten the beauty of the image, and make it look very funny at the same time. I also like the movement and the positions of characters in each frame very much.

However, `The Death of Maria Malibran' is not just a very strange film. It is not just a film full of beautiful images and beautiful soundtracks. It is not just an experimental film. It means much more than that to me. Many images in this film touch me so strongly that I can't imagine how I can adequately express how much I like it. More importantly, I was completely surprised and overwhelmed with joy to find that many images in this film are somehow like what my friends and I have been fantasizing for a long time. Werner Schroeter is the first guy that I know who can make our fantasy come true.

`The Death of Maria Malibran' really expands the boundary of cinematic empire in my viewing experience. I have never known nor imagined one can make a movie like this. But now that I know a film like this really exists, my hope and my faith in the potential of cinema are restored, and I will go to see a movie with much more excitement and eagerness than before. Cinema can prove itself to me again that it is really unpredictable.
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The Creatures (1966)
Marvelously created (spoilers)
20 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Les Creatures is marvelously created like all of Varda's films I've seen. There are many wonderful things about this exciting movie, especially the story, how it relates to real life, and the roles of the protagonist and the two Quellec sisters.

The story of Les Creatures is very impressing with its concern with free will, fatalism, and determinism. Moreover, it gives the impression of a myth and science fiction at the same time. And the idea about the live-chess game is very exciting. I really wish that someone should take this idea as a basis for a TV series or reality show. In Les Creatures, the game doesn't last as long as I want. I want to see it lasts for 30 hours or so. It's very enjoyable seeing characters' lives dramatically change after one character meets one another. (Maybe that's why I like `Melrose Place.') And I think some reality show can use this idea as well.

The idea about the abruptly changes of emotion and behavior is also intriguing. Though these sudden changes, which are cleverly emphasized by the changes of color, seem a little bit comical, I think they are an intelligent way of representing reality. Many people, including me, have experienced a lot of these abruptly changes of emotion in real life. Many times anger does arise suddenly, unexpectedly, involuntarily and seemingly unreasonably, and pass away very quickly, leaving only destruction and regret. This movie displays very well this part of real life. And it makes us think about some questions of life. While the characters in this movie suffer the volatility of emotion and behavior because they are the helpless victims of the scientist, does that mean we, who actually suffer severer volatility of emotion in real life, might be the victims of ourselves as `the scientist' lives within our mind? Are we as totally helpless as these characters? Can't we fight our bad impulses? Is it just one part of our mind that makes us suffer? And can that bad part, like the scientist, be destroyed by another part of our mind?

The role of the protagonist has so many interesting things about it. In one of the early scenes, he looks down from a high tower to the rising level of water. He lives in a secluded castle. He can scare the bad girl by his mere presence. He can talk to animals. In one scene, he even claims jokingly that he is something other than normal human being. When the game begins, we see his presence in many places. As a player in the game or as a writer, he can manipulate (real or fictional) lives. But the thing that impresses me the most about him is his reaction to the game when the old man harasses the girl. He can't tolerate this. He cannot let it happen without his intervention. He doesn't want to play the game any more if he cannot prevent things like this. He'd rather deny the role of life-manipulator than to let such things happen. However, the role of his wife, played by Deneuve, is quite passive. And I think it might be an interesting idea to compare the roles of Deneuve and Piccoli in this movie with their roles in `Belle de Jour.'

However, the characters who impress me the most are the Quellec sisters. In my opinion, they seem to be the true winner in this game of life though misfortunes sometimes befall them. The younger sister astonishes me, and can even surprises the scientist, by her reaction when she discovers the truth about her lover. This minor character wins a lot of respect from me, and will always remain outstanding in my memory. The older sister seemed boring at first. She made me assume beforehand that she was just a character easily found anywhere else – a woman who is foolishly in love. But this character surprisingly develops. She can learn the lesson of life. And at the end, she makes me feel like cheering for her when she reveals to whom her affection might turn.
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Vignon gives a superb, terrific performance
7 July 2001
If I were a judge of an award, I would vote for Florence Vignon to get the Best Actress award. She gives a superb, terrific performance in this film. The expression on her face and her eyes convey very well the complicated feelings and emotions of her troubled character, Solange. By her acting, one can feel what Solange feels. One can understand her reasons, her impulses, her changing, and her heart. One can sympathize with Solange, and some might even be able to identify with this character. Vignon really made Solange come alive.

Apart from the acting, there are many other good things about this movie. One is that this heartfelt movie has given some audience the badly-needed encouragement and inspiration to pursue their dream and helped them to restore hope in life. Moreover, though this film focuses on the unreasonably unhappy feelings of a married woman, I find that I have experienced many same feelings, many same moments as this character. The feelings experienced by Solange are really universal. What this character feels is not only reserved for married women, but is also felt by many people no matter whether they are man or woman, married or single, western or oriental, simple people or great philosophers, living in the present or living thousands of years ago. For some people, it is very easy to identify with Solange because sometimes you can feel very unhappy, feel very bored with your life and you don't know exactly why. You don't know for sure which person or which thing is the real cause of your unhappiness. Things around you seem to go smoothly. People close to you are still nice to you. But you know deep inside you are unhappy. You don't know for sure if changing your job or your lifestyle will make your life better or worse. You just know that now you are a living dead and you don't want to go on living like this. For some of you who have ever asked yourself , `Are there more to life than this?', `If I pursue my dream, will it turn out to be just an illusion?', you will find Solange as your kindred spirit. For some of you who have ever hoped someone else will help you change your life, this film might give you a good lesson.

Another thing that I like is that there are no real villains in this movie. Every main character shows both their good and bad sides. Every character here deserves sympathy though they have their own weaknesses and stupidity.

One of the most memorable scenes in this movie is a scene at the car park when Solange let out her long-suppressed anger and frustration. This scene is as powerful and deserves applauding as another car park scene in `Fried Green Tomatoes.' While the audience cannot release their pressure directly like this in real life, Vignon and Kathy Bates help us release it indirectly.

But my most favourite scene is the scene when Solange sit alone in the park. I feel connected to her the most in this scene, though I think it is too short. I wish this scene could be much longer, or could be inserted repeatedly into the story. I understand that scenes like this-character doing nothing-are not necessary at all in the narrative process. Scenes like this have no effect on the story, and including them will make those mainstream audience crying dull or bore and lessen the box office receipts. But for me, scenes like this are the ones that have the greatest emotional impact. I love this film very much, but I think I could have loved it more if it dared to discard `story' and gives higher priority to feelings and emotions of characters. (But if any director do as I wish, it's highly likely he will have great trouble seeking financial support for his next film.)

Eventually, I think Solange made the right decision at the end.
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Varda cast a spell on the audience
6 July 2001
The film is about lives of shopkeepers living on the same street. They were asked the same questions-When did they move here? How did each of them meet their spouse? What is their dream? The film also shows their daily lives-opening the shop, attending to customers, doing their jobs.

The person who impresses me the most in this film is the lady of the perfume shop, whose name I'm not sure if it's Marcele or not. She is really outstanding. She talks the least in this film. She smiles the least. But the expression on her face and her eyes are undescribable. By just being herself, she is mysterious. There's something about her which makes this film extraordinary. She seems to be the living proof of some facts of life. She is the opposite of the word `superficial.' And Varda seemed to realize that while filming. Varda let the camera focus on her many times. And everytime she's in the frame, there's something magical in the air. Moreover, that lady also provides one of the funniest scenes in this movie. But that scene is not only very funny, it also reflects an ironic truth of some people's lives. I don't know whether to laugh or cry for this scene. And I have to ask myself if my life is somehow similar to her.

The last part of the film touches me deeply and strongly. It's the part about their dreams. And the last sentence which Varda said plus the last image of the film somehow move me to tears, though it's not something sad at all. On the surface, the last scene is very ordinary. This scene would have no effect if it stands alone. But when it was put at the end of the film, this scene is emotionally and spiritually extraordinary.

Another interesting thing about this film is that it totally changes my feelings towards a photo. Before I saw this film, I'd seen its promotional photo-the picture of the bakery couples-and I felt nothing. It was just a photo of strangers. But after seeing the film, I look at the same photo again, and I am overwhelmed by some feelings. After you've learned about their lives and their dreams, after you have seen their smiles and observed their daily lives, they are not strangers any more. Looking at the same photo, I have the same feeling as I would have by opening my family albums and seeing photos of someone in my old neighborhood. The photo reminds me of their lives, and makes me wonder how they are now. This film really makes me wonder how lives on that street are now.

Last, but not least, I also like the technique of intercutting scenes of daily lives with scenes on the magician's stage. Varda seems to have a lot of fun connecting these scenes together by some amusing links-such as when both scenes refer to `losing head.' This clever juxtaposition of scenes create a lot of laughter among the audience. But I think the most important effect of this technique is that it makes the audience realize that our daily lives-our normal boring every day lives-indeed have some magic in it. This film has proved very well that ordinary people have so many interesting things to tell, and it also helps some of us to realize how magical life is.
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Glória (1999)
A Masterpiece, to say the least
31 May 2001
Gloria is a masterpiece, and shows that Manuela Viegas is a master of storytelling. This film is as great and impressive as 'L'Argent' by Robert Bresson, 'Charisma' by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and 'August in the Water' by Sogo Ishii. Being compared with these three films might help you get an idea about how excellent Gloria is. Unfortunately, Gloria seems to be underpraised compared to L'Argent and Charisma. This is surely an overlooked gem, and Manuela Viegas deserves much more recognition than this.

Actually I have to admit that I don't want to say much about this film, knowing that no matter how much I try to say, it cannot do justice to the virtues of this movie. And I feel that in order to fully appreciate this film, it might require multiple-viewing, but I had only one chance to see it, unluckily.

Gloria tells a story about the volatile relationships between 4 main characters. Ivan, a young boy, goes to live with Vicente, his father, in a deserted town. He becomes a friend of a young girl named Gloria, and the relationship between these characters gets more tangled up when Mauro, the brother of Vicente, appears in town.

While the plot seems so simple, I am reluctant to say what this movie is really about. The brochure says it is about `rite of passage' and `disappearing rural landscape', but it seems like it also concerns something else. Does it concern family trauma? Or growing up and learning to experience love, frustration, and disappointment? Or about the return to/departure from nature ? Or about some deep psychological aspects? It's up to each audience to find the answer for themselves. As for me, apart from the main theme, this movie also shows interesting observation on many things, including the irrepressible nature of adolescence, the tenderness of affection, the horror of jealousy, and the evil.

Another interesting thing in the story is the roles of landscape, water, river and nature, and their connections with some characters, particularly Gloria. These connections are beautifully emphasized in the later part of the film.

Another thing worth noticing in the story is that while the conflict between Vicente and Mauro is obvious, there might also be some hidden conflicts between Gloria and Vicente, and the meaning of these conflicts is worth thinking about. Both Vicente and Gloria have great influences on Ivan's life, but sometimes they are very opposite, especially in the way they treat animals, woods and Mauro. It should also be observed who picks up the umbrella after it was used as a weapon, and what the meaning of this carefully-structured scene is.

Story aside, I want to say I am very impressed by many scenes in this movie. From the beginning scene, I can feel that this is a work of a serious filmmaker. The beginning scene, similar to the following scenes, tells the story not by what you see, but by what you don't see. What is excluded is sometimes more important than what is included. It also happens to the promoting photo of this film. It's a picture of a child with the lower half of the face covered by an arm. Looking at this photo, I cannot guess what the expression on the face is. Similar style is used in this movie. Some images in this movie are not meant to show, but to conceal. From time to time, this movie does not tell the story directly. It just hints at the story. And that's what impresses me the most in this film.

Apart from the opening scene, the scenes that I like very much include the lingering shots of Vicente's injured hands, of discarded shoes, of sheets hanging, of Gloria walking, of the moving bed, of characters and windows, of dirty earth on human bodies, and above all, of the grasping of grass--refusing to let go. These images somehow strike at my heart. `Very beautiful' is an inadequate expression to describe these meaningful shots. Moreover, there are other shots in the film which are quite shocking, or full of suspense and tension. When Gloria is alone in some scenes, one can sense a presence of danger that might lurk out and harm her at anytime. Strangely, this danger is not only invisible, but sometimes it is also non-existent. This movie can effectively bring out fear and tension from inside the mind of the audience. It brings out fear from the audience's own thoughts, not from scaring the audience by some cheap tricks.

As for the shocking scenes, I think the most appalling ones are the ones about beating up, whether it is between children or adults. There are quite a few beating scenes in this film, and though the viewers cannot see the beating obviously, these scenes have quite stronger effects on my mind and are more disturbing than bloody beating scenes in other films. This might be because the obscurity somehow magnifies the horror of it, and also because what quite shocks is not really 'the act of beating', but 'the perpetrator of the act' and 'the impulse of the act.' Other scenes that shock me include the scenes that show the bizarre ways some characters treat each other.

For me, the most powerful scenes arrive near the end. During that part, I dare not blink my eyes. I feel every scene, every cut, every shot in that part is very essential, very important. I feel so thrilled and excited. I fear that if I close my eyes for just 1 minute, I might have missed an important clue. However, after the movie ends, I feel both puzzled and dazzled, thanks to the storytelling technique used in this film. And I think this technique is somehow similar to `fill-in-the-blank' questions in a test.

When I did my English exam, the 'fill-in-the-blank' section is usually the most difficult one on the test. There are no multiple choices to choose from. However, when it comes to movies, movies that leave blank spaces for viewers to fill in are usually the most fascinating and exciting ones for me. So why 'fill in the blanks' tests bring headache and 'fill in the blanks' movies bring enjoyment? It's maybe because for some movies, there are no definite answers for the blanks. All answers can be considered correct. Or it's maybe because you don't have to fill in the blanks at all. These blanks are there for the blankness and for any emotions or feelings which can be originated from the appropriately-placed blankness. There's no need to fill them in.

There are many gaps in the narrative process of Gloria especially in the final part, but with the brilliance of the director, these gaps somehow make the story transcendent, instead of disrupting the pleasure of the viewer. This movie has proved that by showing less, more meanings and feelings are conveyed. Silence, in Gloria, really speaks a thousand words. Moreover, by some magical power of the director/editor, this fill-in-the blank movie somehow fulfills me spiritually. It's a wonder. It's a drink of nectar. I feel so elated after seeing it, and have got two opposing feelings about it. This magnificent piece of art makes me feel so glad that I'm still alive and have a chance to see it, and if I had to die after seeing it, I would rest in peace. But at the same time, I also feel that I wouldn't actually rest in peace as I still yearn to see this movie again and again and still want to keep on living so that I might have a chance to see other films by Manuela Viegas. Such is the power of this movie.
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An exceptionally pleasant and friendly mind trip
25 May 2001
Though I like costume-period movies with lavish sets and all the extravaganza, I often wondered if the stories in those movies could be told in another way, if they could be told in a minimalist style, using shoestring budget, if the visual element of those movies really has to be breathtakingly beautiful and spectacular. Are there any other ways? I also wondered what the result would be like if one dared to take a different approach to tell the same story. After seeing `La fausse suivant' be Benoit Jacquot and `Theodor Hirneis,' I know I've found the answer, and I know I've found what I'm searching for. These two movies, the former presenting characters without sets, the latter presenting sets without characters, are as effective, funny, and entertaining as, if not more than, the best costume-period movies. `Theodor Hirneis' deserves a lot of praise not only because it represents the boldness of the director, not only because it is innovative, not only because it is `different', not only because it cost so little, but because it also has many other good things about it. I love many things in this movie, and what I'm writing here can represent only `a part' of its virtues.

I have to admit that I'm not familiar with `Syberberg' at all, so what's innovative in my point of view might be an old storytelling method used in many other movies that I've never seen. However, for me, this is the first time I encounter this method. This movie tells a story of a court cook under King Ludwig II based on the memoir of the cook. This memoir can be easily adapted to make a costume-period movie, but Syberberg didn't choose that way. He chose to have a narrator walking through many beautiful palaces in the present time, quoting the memoir and giving his own comments from time to time. All is said in monologue. Thus, this movie has both the feelings of seeing a documentary and reading a book at the same time, but it also gives so many other feelings.

One of the many good things about this movie is its humour. Because the memoir tells about the madness of King Ludwig, one can't help laughing a lot at his crazy activities, but still feels sympathy for his servants. Apart from this amusement which can also be achieved by a much-more-expensive costume-period movie, I am more impressed by what this movie can achieve, but costume-period movie can never achieve.

Though I can't understand 100 % of the English subtitles as I'm not a native English speaker, it is not difficult to follow the story of the cook and his King, and when can follow the story, one can see `the story' played out in his mind, in his own imagination. Thus, seeing this movie is like seeing two movies at the same time: one you see with your eyes, the other you envision in your mind. I have never experienced something like this before. How can the simplest technique in storytelling create something so extraordinary like this? A costume-period movie can only make me see or experience one movie, not two simultaneously.

For me, this kind of technique results in at least two great advantages that costume-period movies can never achieve. One is that you can see the differences between the movie you see and the movie you envision. Your eyes see the present, but your mind sees the past. Your eyes see the empty room, but your mind sees people in that room. Your eyes see a calm and peaceful atmosphere in the film, but your mind senses the turbulence, the tension, the fear, and the deadly mystery in the story. Your eyes see the smile and friendly attitude of the narrator, but your mind sees the madness of Ludwig and the sorrow state of people who had to work for him. This movie has proved that to tell effectively the absurdity of people who had too much power or money, you don't have to use much money. You can tell it by the cheapest way possible. However, this technique of contrasting the present and the past doesn't always make the audience feel bad for King Ludwig, because I think the contrast becomes most striking, the difference reaches its climax, when the narrator says,'Without the King, the magic is gone.'

The other advantage of this technique is that by letting the audience imagining by themselves, the audience have the same pleasure as they would have by reading the memoir. While most films don't give the audience a chance to imagine, this film provides plenty of chances, and seeing this film has become a unique experience of filmviewing--It's a liberation. While the film itself is a kind of liberation from the normal rules of filmmaking, the audience's power of imagination is also liberated. King Ludwig can look as handsome as you wish he could be; the food can look as delicious as you want it. What picture can satisfy you more than the picture in your own imagination? Everything you see in your mind corresponds to your desire. You don't have to complain about the lighting, the costumes, the faces of actors, as you'd probably do with costume-period movies. And the act of imagining also has some fun in itself. However, while I feel liberated seeing this film, I still feel the oppression of the King's servants at the same time.

Seeing this film somehow makes me feel like I want to compare films with food. While most films can be compared to 100%-ready food that the audience must consume it as it is, this film is like 50%-ready food. The filmmaker provides you the ingredients and invites you to help him cook (by envision another movie), and you have some fun already while cooking it. And because you cook it by yourself, the taste of the food will totally correspond to your taste (everything looks the way you want it to be in the movie you envision).

However, What I'm impressed the most in this film is some feelings I can't describe, something I can't explain. Apart from the feeling of liberation and the fun of imagining, at the same time I also feel as if this film gives me a warm and cosy place to rest. While most films make me feel as if I see a room full of many things, this film makes me feel as if I see a space, and this space welcomes me to go into it. Moreover, this film gives me pleasant, comfortable, and friendly feelings. Seeing this film makes me feel as if I just had a walk in a beautiful park with a friend - a friend who doesn't force me to think the way he wants. Hardly a film can make me feel as if it is a `friend.' I feel as if the task and role of filmmakers have been expanded by this film. The definition and realm of movies have been broadened. Film is not only a carrier of messages and themes. It can also be a friend of the audience, or maybe something more than a friend, something no word has yet been assigned to. And I don't know exactly where these feelings come from. Is it because it lets me imagine? Is it because of the smile and the characteristics of the narrator? Is it because of the story? I don't know which elements (ingredients) of this film (food) that makes me feel like this. Maybe it's because of the talent of the director--If food were film, he must be a real great cook.
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Weltmeister (1994)
One that succeeds in many levels
26 April 2001
After seeing this movie, my friend told me why he liked this movie so much. He said it was because the characters in this movie symbolized very well the situations of some countries. After he explained it to me, I came to realize that this movie has a skillfully-structured, multi-layered story. That's just one of many good things about this movie, because, more importantly, I think it also succeeds in another level. I said that because I had already loved this film wholeheartedly before I was told about the symbol systems in it. I think this movie represents very well the essence of feelings some people experienced in their childhood. The agony, the pain, and some undescribable feelings of the boy and the girl, especially during the second half of the film, really appeal to me. All these feelings of the characters bring back the memory of my childhood. I feel like I want to reach out my hands to the boy and the girl. I feel like I want to tell them that I once felt the same way too. I wonder how the director can successfully convey feelings like these to the audience. I really respect and admire this director. Moreover, I completely love the ending of this movie. I feel it is very appropriate to end like this. This movie is great in both the symbolic level and the emotional level. I hope I will have a chance to see other works of this director in the future. This movie has proved that Zoran Solomun has the potential to be the world master.
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Cat and Mouse (1967)
Shocking, sad, nostalgic and beautiful at the same time
26 April 2001
Though I have no knowledge about the political background of Germany during the Nazi era, and though I don't have any ideas about what "Cat and Mouse" stands for, I still think this film is truly great. What I like the most about this film is the techniques. There are many surreal scenes in this film. These surreal scenes, which contain some deep meanings unknown to me, are sometimes very funny, sometimes very haunting, and most of them are full of undescribable feelings. Many scenes are shocking, sad, nostalgic, and beautiful at the same time, especially the scenes when the characters are suddenly and amazingly transformed into deformed dolls. I feel like laughing everytime the cat appears, though I don't know why the cat has that effect on me. The scene when the boy is dancing on the ship is also outstanding. I wish this film or its director could be as famous as, if not more than, "The Tin Drum" or "If." "Cat and Mouse", while as sharply satirical as those two films, still has a profound effect on personal feelings. Though I don't know how well this film reflects the political, military, social, or historical issues, at least I know that, after seeing this movie, I looked at cats in a different way for some time.
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