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La macchina ammazzacattivi (1952)
Combat injustice, but in moderation!
Utterly brilliant black comedy about an Italian village dominated by selfish and corrupt people. The simple and humble photographer Celestino is unhappy about this until he runs into an old man who is the very image of Saint Andrew, the town's patron. The old man tells him the reason for all the unhappiness is that evil people are allowed to live, thus good people must kill them!
Using magic powers, the old man tells Celestino that his camera now has lethal powers! If he photographs a photograph of someone, that person will die. A perfectly loathsome official pursuing a romantic couple appears on the scene; when Celestino points his camera at a photograph showing the official in a stiff-armed salute, the official freezes dead in this posture.
The greedy councilmen are arguing over a windfall subsidy the government has given the town, and want to use it for everything but the needy. Celestino "photographs" a few of them, but a problem arises: the poor who have benefited by his lethal actions become as greedy and selfish as those who once tormented them. It looks as if our hero will have to kill EVERYBODY in order to purify the world! Celestino is of course too kind a guy to do that, so he then tries to set matters right.
People have certain expectations of Rossellini, but black comedy and slapstick farce are not among them. Give the guy a chance, he made great films in several genres, not just neorealism. Luis Bunuel (whose ironic attitude is similar to what we see here) suffered from the same typecasting: he made some brilliant dramas, but people only want to see his late surrealist works. The neorealists treated the camera as an instrument of social struggle, so it is possible to see this film as an allegory.
This is in the tradition of Commedia dell'Arte, it will help if you have some familiarity with slapstick.
Peasant Under Grass
This little film is a ghost story about a modern English farm haunted by the ghost of its former owner. It is rumoured that he murdered four children, but it is slowly revealed that they were child labourers who died in various accidents exacerbated by his carelessness.
Four children are exploring the farm when they come upon his desolate grave, then they get parts of the story out of the old caretaker. An ancient photograph reveals that the long-ago dead children looked strangely like the four present-day ones. Ah, but will they come to harm or not?
This film was missing for the longest time, then it appeared on youtube a few months ago (watch?v=YLAfDrFUBkA). As a farm safety film, it bears comparison with Apaches (1977). Never Rest has a more coherent plot, but Apaches is much more frightening. Since both are on youtube, it's nice to compare them
The Book of Negroes (2015)
The Book of Negroes was an eighteenth century British document detailing all the Afro-Americans who had fought on the British side in the Revolutionary war, and were promised a new life elsewhere. A considerable number ended up in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. There were problems with the harsh climate and petty racism, but it was better than the alternative.
This program takes its name from that, and the first episode looks quite satisfying, as we trace a black girl's odyssey from Mali to America.
So far, it does not seem much different from Roots, but I will keep watching to see if something original turns up.
La villa dei mostri (1950)
This appears to be the same as Villa dei Mostri (1950) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043107/ How do I go about getting it deleted?
This appears to be the same as Villa dei Mostri (1950) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043107/ How do I go about getting it deleted?
This appears to be the same as Villa dei Mostri (1950) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043107/ How do I go about getting it deleted? This appears to be the same as Villa dei Mostri (1950) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043107/ How do I go about getting it deleted?
I had read elsewhere that Underworld was the first film noir, but I didn't have high expectations before I saw the Criterion release. The action flows quickly and compellingly, while the noir scenes are beautifully done. A lot of it resembles Metropolis - the dance-hall scenes, the factory whistle, etc.
A lot of what I thought was original in Scarface (1932) is anticipated here - Ben Hecht wrote both of them. The love triangle, the flower shop, the apocalyptic shoot-out are much the same. Hecht complained about the (few) sentimental bits in Underworld, obviously Scarface was his come- back to Sternberg - but he owes a big debt to Sternberg for inventing so much new visual language.
Film noir seems to have developed gradually out of the chiaroscuro used by painters, as and when cameras became capable of it. The last third of Pandora's Box is noir, as is much of The Wind and most of The Lodger. The Lodger is probably the first all noir, but it is inferior to Underworld - Hitchcock was undermined by matinée-idol Ivor Novello's demand for a safe and innovative ending.
Definitely a must-see - too many people overlook silent cinema.
Soufflé au Chocolat (2011)
Light as a Soufflé
This is very much an easterner's view of the west coast, everything is goofy and unstructured, and adultery is a habit very easy to slip into.
Numerous California-comedies have dealt with this theme, this time it is done in French - the characters combine French and Quebecois. It is about their reaction to post-modern Vancouver, and then to Galiano Island, where they decide take a holiday.
It seems like a sitcom made into a movie, maybe when it gets English subtitles its greater depths and existential angst :) will become apparent. As it is, you get pleasant entertainment with some wonderful scenery.
Il portiere di notte (1974)
A Woman's Strange Addiction
This is a complex movie, and I didn't like it the first time I saw it; I thought it invited us to take pleasure in the degradation of the character Lucia. Later viewings led me to see that this is a sympathetic study of a woman damaged by her youthful experiences.
The story is simple enough: an opera-conductor's work takes him to Vienna, where he and his wife Lucia stay in an elegant but somehow decadent hotel. Here she recognizes the night porter as the concentration camp guard who had abused her when she was a teen-age inmate. The expectation is that she'll call the cops, but no: she abandons her husband, he quits his job, and the two throw themselves into a doomed and passionate amour-fou.
I'll probably be pelted with bricks for suggesting that this is a chick flick, but I notice that female reviewers treat it much more respectfully, and give it a higher rating. Tracy Hodson has written an excellent appraisal at amazon.com which goes into much more detail than I ever could. Anyhow, novelist Barbara Alberti and director Lilliana Cavani put a lot of effort into it, and deserve serious attention.
The film achieved instant notoriety when it came out, but anyone looking for cheap thrills is going to be bored silly. The Nazi background is not essential to the story, it simply sets the scene for an abusive relationship in a way that viewers of 1974 could understand. Lucia does the unthinkable because her soul has been warped by her experiences - alas, this sort of thing is more commonplace than we care to admit, other viewers have had something to say about this.
Charlotte Rampling gives an excellent performance, once you know what she's trying to achieve - you'll notice that she's actually the one who calls the shots in the relationship, contrary to surface appearances. Dirk Bogarde is good at playing the sort of elegantly sinister character that was his specialty. The imagery and pacing owe a lot to Visconti films like The Damned. The pace was actually too slow for my liking - I missed the concentrated fury of Repulsion - but it at least contributed to the atmosphere of elegance combined with decay. I recommend this to people who enjoy intense character studies, but not to those looking for excitement.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971)
I remember being taken to see this, and I didn't like it - the approach seemed too gory and sensational, whereas Macbeth demands the creepy and Gothic.
I just went and watched it again - I still feel the same way, in fact I only made it half-way through. Polanski has chosen to go for cheap thrills and gore, not dealing with the deeper themes. He did a much more profound job with Repulsion, which I consider to be his masterpiece.
As for Macbeth, the best version is Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (Kumonosu Jo), which is a masterpiece in every way.
Allegro non troppo (1976)
Two Thumbs Up
... is the first thing you'll see, as this melange of cartoons is framed by a story of an animator kept chained to a dungeon wall except when there's work for him to do.
The "3 Stooges" humour of the live action segments quickly becomes tiresome, as does the film's caprice of being a take-off on Fantasia. The animated segments are ingeniously thought out, but the humour is so vulgar and so Italian that foreigners probably won't relate to it.
Now I am going to turn around and tell you to rush out and watch Allegro non Troppo. There is one truly wonderful sequence - Valse Triste, aka Feline Fantasies, aka The Last Meow. The dreams and longings of this homeless pussycat are among the greatest that animation has produced (you can watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX92pHpPc-k ). Those of you who enjoy the work of Yuri Norstein or Martin Rosen would do well to check this out.
I saw this some years ago, and it didn't really grab me. I dusted it off recently, and it seems so much better when you watch it again... and again.
This is actually a very cerebral film which gives you a lot of information to digest. Gorehounds looking for ultra-violence will be disappointed in this one - it's really a profound meditation on the human condition.
Polanski made an inspired decision to cast sex-goddess Catherine Deneuve in such a difficult role; although she's generally wasted as eye-candy, her acting skills are superb. Here she's absolutely convincing in a performance that must have been very hard to pull off. I have known people like Carol, and she gets everything perfect, she must have done a lot of study.
Viewers have grumbled that this re-hashes Meshes of th Afternoon, but that was an experimental short that was just crying out to be expanded into a feature film - Carnival of Souls also seems to have been inspired by it. You may as well complain that Meshes of the Afternoon is derived from The Yellow Wallpaper - all artists are inspired by others.
Polanski certainly brings a new measure of visual inventiveness to Repulsion, as well as keeping the musical score so minimal. Get yourself into an open mind, and enjoy.
Soap and Water
The real reason to see this movie is for its portrayal of the fens, a pert of the world we don't often see. The atmosphere of muck and ooze contributes greatly to the story, and sexual imagery involving eels reminds me of The Tin Drum. The sombre, empty horizons reflect the state of mind the characters are in.
That being said, I still think the story is pure soap opera. I can appreciate a good melodrama, but this didn't offer anything out of the ordinary. That being said, I still think the story is pure soap opera. I can appreciate a good melodrama, but this didn't offer anything out of the ordinary.
So I recommend the movie, but it is far from being a masterpiece.
The Most Powerful Cartoon
This cartoon is only 149 seconds long, it manages to pack in some of the most powerful images in the medium. The soundtrack consists of the song "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child", accompanied by graphic images of racial prejudice - beatings, lynchings, electric chair, etc. You don't expect this sort of thing from 1932, but a Soviet propaganda cartoon has no need to pull its punches. The only false note is at the end, a statue of Lenin - we are supposed to believe that this white knight has the solution to the problem.
Ivan Ivanov-Vano later became the grand old man of Soviet animation, a big influence on geniuses like Khrzhanovski and Yuri Norstein.
You can see it here:
Las aguas bajan turbias (1952)
One of the Great South American Classics
"The Rivers Run Red" - that's the theme of this sort-of western set on the Paraguay-Argentina border (formed by the River Parana, referred in the title).
The story concerns peons recruited to go upstream to the frontier, "Alto Parana", to work on an estate - and their subsequent exploitation and brutalization. The scenes are more harshly realistic than in US movies (especially from 1952), and a good reason to see the film if you can find a copy.
Since this part of Argentina is culturally Paraguayan, we are treated to quite a bit of Paraguayan harp music and dancing. There's even a saloon called El Guarani where we see the harpist playing blithely while mayhem takes place around him. This includes one of the best barroom brawls ever found in a western - you'll just have to see it. The rhythm of the film rises toward a violent conclusion.
My version doesn't have subtitles, so I couldn't tell what work was in progress - clearing land? ...cutting branches for fodder or mate? The movie is good enough to deserve a proper release.
The acting is excellent - I couldn't find a false note anywhere. I gather the country was then in the fiercest stage of Peronism, so the movie was probably a heroic labour of love for all the actors in it.
Town Without Pity (1961)
In View of the Singular Brutality of this Movie
I have no alternative but to ask that you watch it as soon as possible.
This is undoubtedly Kirk Douglas' finest performance, probably because he's playing a character somewhat like himself. But rookie actress Christine Kaufmann completely steals the show in what must have been a very difficult performance. She deserved an Oscar, not just a second-rate Golden Globe.
Director Gottfried Reinhard is the son of impresario Max Reinhard, the guy who put Frank Wedekind on the stage. Although you may not have heard of him, Wedekind wrote such famous plays as Lulu and Springtime Awakening (which resembles Town Without Pity in some ways). That line "the law is like a great wide river" is a paraphrase of a famous line from Springtime Awakening in fact, the movie has a ton of great quotable lines e.g. "such a small town, and so much hate and meanness".
Besides the portrait of a small town where everyone hates everyone hates everyone else, added tension is given by this being a proud and ancient place humiliated by foreign conquest and occupation (West Germany, 1960). The many tensions reach boiling point and explode. This Swiss-American co-production goes places Hollywood would never dare, it more resembles German movies like The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.
The theme song was a smash hit in 1961, and even got an Oscar nomination; the music was written by the legendary Dimitri Tiomkin, a classically trained composer.
"No, it isn't very pretty what a town without pity can do-oo".
Das Geheimnis der Marquisin (1922)
A Soap Opera Indeed!
An utterly charming 2 minute cartoon from the legendary Lotte Reiniger, famed for her unique method of silhouette-animation.
Here we see Versailles-style aristocrats cavorting, and the riddle is posed: What keeps the Marquise's skin so delicately white? The answer: Nivea soap... it turns out the whole thing is a commercial!
It's a good intro to Reiniger's style,and a good way of testing whether you'd like to tackle The Adventures of Prince Achmed (a masterpiece,but not for all tastes).
Other Reiniger cartoons are harder to get hold of.
Does anyone out there know of a source?
First Great Talkie
This is one of Hitchcock's best pictures, as well as the first talkie to scale he heights of artistic greatness (The Jazz Singer is competent and pleasing, but too sentimental to be a masterpiece).
Hitch really showed his skill in the new medium by using an expressionistic to sound - very famous is the section where the guilt-ridden Alice hears a jumble of incoherent words punctuated by "knife...knife...knife". Hitch had learned visual expressionism in Germany, where he had made his first complete films e.g. The Pleasure Garden; he uses it to good effect here, as we see a neon-sign morph from a cocktail-shaker into a plunging knife.
The characters are complex and well constructed. The detective is something of a lout concerned to impose his will on everybody; this makes him a ruthless detective, but has no qualms about covering up for his girl when he finds out her part in the murder... not so much because loves her, but because it puts her absolutely in his power.
The blackmailer seems to be as slimy as they come, until we realize that he's dirt poor and only wants some breakfast, some pocket-money and the occasional cigar. Despite the title, he's a minor character, but his acting is wonderful.
Anny Ondra as Alice White is the heart and soul of the picture. It's doubtful whether any English actress of that era could have portrayed the range of emotions (and skin) demanded of the character, so Hitch was right in using her - but her Czech accent was so thick they had to use a primitive form of dubbing. She starts out being jolly and slightly mischievous, but events change her into someone overwhelmed by guilt and paranoia. She really just wants to be loved, but the guys available to her range from domineering to disgusting. (The end of the movie suggests that she will live under the total domination of Frank, consumed by fear and guilt.) Some of the technical details are a bit primitive (this is 1929), but the acting and artistry certainly make up for that. My only big objection is to the title - the blackmail is a minor sub-plot, the real theme is the destruction of a woman's personality.
PS Does anybody know of other full-length talkies made between The Jazz Singer and Blackmail? I haven't found any.
Julia Taymor did the best job possible with this rubbish... Titus Andronicus is reckoned to be one of Shakespeare's worst plays. Not that it doesn't flow nicely, but the heaps of corpses and buckets of blood don't have any deeper meaning or philosophy.
It helps to know that WS wrote Titus Andronicus while still young - you can see how it's the 16th-century equivalent of blood-soaked modern crime shows. Anyhow, it should be an eye-opener for those who think of Shakespeare as a heap of manuscripts of interest only to scholars. Action devotees should enjoy this more than other Shakespeare.
Taymor has included a frame-story about a boy playing with toys who then become characters in the story, also there are many shifts between ancient and modern settings. It's a bit pretentious and incomprehensible, but highly cinematic - it was probably the only way of getting a watchable movie out of such degraded material.
Anyway, hats off to Taymor for taking on such a difficult project.
Storni Weather - The Call of the Sea
Alfonsina Storni was an Argentine poet and journalist who made a successful career in the rough-and-tumble world of reporting, and in a very macho society.
Kurt Land does quite a nice job of bringing her story to the screen. Land was from Vienna, so he has a romantic atmosphere somewhat similar to Ernst Lubitsch. This style of movie-making was dated even in 1957, but Alfonsina does have some nice stylistic touches; they use voice-overs of AS's poetry to accompany some of the elegiac scenes (I figure this was a big influence on I the Worst of All, another great Argentine film).
Spoiler It is well known that Alfonsina ended her life by walking into the sea after discovering that she had cancer; Felix Luna and Ariel Ramirez wrote a famous song about it (Alfonsina y el Mar) that was probably inspired by this movie, and Mercedes Sosa has done a stunningly beautiful rendition of it.
The movie opens with a great shot of waves breaking ominously on the seashore, accompanied by AS's poetry - this scene is better appreciated if you know the story. Another scene has Alfonsina looking into a fish-bowl and saying "I wonder what it would be like to live under the sea".
There's also a startling scene where Alfonsina announces the news of her illness; suffice to say that it's handled in a way very different from Hollywood.
The film is too slow-moving to be considered a masterpiece, but it has a lot entertainment value. I recommend it for those who would like to explore a different culture, or to know about one of the more interesting figures of the XX century.
Nora Helmer (1974)
Fassbinder + Ibsen = Spectacular
I've now seen four film versions of Ibsen's "A Doll's House", and this has to be the best. The first thing that grabs your attention is the art direction/camera-work,which shows us everything through glass, through netting, or reflected through multiple mirrors. This really drives home the unreal hothouse atmosphere, the "Doll's House", in which Nora lives. (As is well known, the story revolves around her comfortable but barren relationship with her proud but possessive husband Torvald).
The acting is wooden, but it needs to be. Naturalistic acting would look out of place in such a deliberately-artificial setting, whereas the long static poses bring out the gilded-cage ambiance of the story.
The look of this film is typical of Fassbinder's classical period, which I consider his best; it produced such films as Petra von Kant, Chinese Roulette, and Effi Briest. Nora Helmer is at least as good as the others, it's a pity it's so little known. I had to go to a lot of trouble to get my copy, which doesn't even have English subtitles. (Fortunately, the story is so familiar that most viewers will be able to follow it; otherwise, watch an English language version first - the Jane Fonda or Claire Bloom versions are easily available).
I am pleased to say that the picture quality is good, considering that the movie was made for the tiny Saarland-TV and then distributed by the equally tiny All-video. Picture quality is essential in a production which depends so much upon artistic visuals.
Great stuff, one of the master's best; I hope it will get a proper release on DVD someday. Wouldn't it be nice to have a multi-set combining this with the Julie Harris, Jane Fonda and Claire Bloom versions?
The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)
First Lawrence Film is also the Best
It seems that this was the first time anyone had tried putting D.H. Lawrence on film; its also wonderfully well done, a great deal better than Ken Russell's overblown excess.
A large part of the credit goes to William Alwyn's creepy score, similar to the work he had done for Odd Man Out a few years before. Odd Man Out is reckoned to be one of the best British films, but this is about equal in quality.
I don't want to spoil the story for those who aren't familiar with it; but when you read that it's about a boy and his magic rocking horse, you might not be prepared for the darkness involved. The undertones of the story make it closer to Pasolini or Fassbinder than to anything we have come to expect from British cinema.
Some scenes of exposition are typical of the era, with a lot of scintillating conversation; these help to understand the story, but you can probably go to the fridge without missing too much. The essential scenes are - a) those with the rocking horse; b) those between the boy and the mother; c) all those with Alwyn's music. (Alwyn deserves a better reputation than he now enjoys).
Near the end is one shot you really should check out, where the boy sees the storm-clouds form into horses' heads.This must surely have been an influence on later movies like The Haunting (1963).
Mobilier fidèle (1910)
A Moving Picture
This is a nice little piece, an early work of stop-motion animation by pioneer Emile Cohl; it is as much fun as a modern cartoon. The idea is that pieces of furniture have been trained to move themselves, so moving house becomes very easy.
No people appear at any point in the movie.
The English title is The Automatic Moving Company.
Emile Cohl was well-known for his early animation work, but much of it is difficult to appreciate nowadays. The Automatic Moving Company is one of his more accessible works, and it is available on collections like "Animation, the Beginning".
Chinesisches Roulette (1976)
A Man That Looks On Glass
A family of rich industrialists has one child - a teenage daughter crippled by some disease she caught 11 years before (probably Muscular Dystrophy). She has every luxury imaginable, and her parents are superficially polite to her - but underneath, they despise her. Her mother, especially, hates her enough to kill her; yet she maintains the appearances of a caring parent.
Both parents have adulterous affairs going - ever since the daughter Angela became crippled by her illness, as the girl sweetly informs us. They both go off to their country chateau at different times on various pretexts, and turn a blind eye to what the other spouse is probably doing. Angela is left in a glittering emotional desert, a gilded cage; her only source of companionship is her mute governess/nanny, a pleasant young lady with a mischievous smile.
Angela has grown to be as elegant and cruel as the people around her, although we can sympathies because we see that there was no way she could learn better behaviour - I like to compare her to Catherine Sloper at the end of The Heiress (1949). She arranges matters so that both her parents book the chateau for the same weekend; so one adulterous couple surprises the other "in flagrante delicto". Being civilised people, they laugh it off and sit down to dinner, determined to enjoy the weekend as a party - but then Angela and the governess turn up. Angela is the most perfect portrayal of a "yuppie b*tch", but we can still feel for her. (At one point she asks the caretaker's son, "Would you be able to love a cripple", and his silence tells us all we need to know.
After she has installed herself at the chateau, she drags herself around the hallways opening various bedroom doors and peering maliciously at the adulterous couples inside; they stare back in unhappy resentment. Later the couples propose to relieve their boredom by some game, so the mother comes up with a bright idea: target shooting! She forthwith aims a pistol out at the courtyard where her daughter is hobbling along; it takes the "other woman" to gently restrain her by holding her hand.
Later, at supper, Angela proposes that they should play her favourite game, "Chinese Roulette", in which one group tries to guess the identity of some individual selected by the other group, by means of indirect questions. The questions become increasingly ruthless and cutting; it becomes apparent that this game is as fiendish as Chinese torture and as deadly as Russian roulette, though it uses words instead of bullets. I don't believe in spoilers, so I won't tell you how it ends.
The photography in this movie is absolutely stunning; many of the scenes are shot through (or reflected in) glass, suggesting the glittering falsehood and superficiality of these people's lives. The colour composition is exquisite, words cannot really describe it. The slow movements of the characters are choreographed almost like ballet. The spooky music is just used at intervals making this feel like a horror movie (which it really is). Fans of "evil child" movies should check out this one, which raises everything to the max.
The director, R. W. Fassbinder, said that he wanted to portray what happens when parents fail to love their children. RWF has a reputation for making art movies with obscure meanings, but this isn't one of them - it's a very rewarding experience, I urge everyone to see it. Everyone is entitled to make the odd clunker, and the guy hit the mark more often than not.
Super Size Me (2004)
Greasy Kid Stuff
The art of the documentary is really going downhill. In the 70s and 80s people perfected a way of making documentaries without any narrative, just letting the sequence of images tell the story. Koyaanisqatsi, Atomic Café, Gimme Shelter are examples of this; they are all works of art. Making and understanding such a doc requires a greater amount of effort, but it yields a more satisfying experience.
Nowadays filmmakers have reverted to the primitive form of beating us over the head with their message, telling us at every turn what we should think. Supersize Me falls exactly into this category, we are given no chance to think for ourselves. The message is a good one, no quarrel there, but ultimately the film resembles the fast food it criticizes - superficially appealing but unedifying.
There has been a whole slew of docs like this - Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation - and I have been unwilling to take issue because I agree with the messages they contain. But I don't want this unimaginative and conventional style to become the norm! I ask documentary-makers to study Godfrey Reggio and the Maysles brothers, so they can learn how to purvey their message with elegance.
You'll get a charge out of it.
Rhinoceros is not the best of American Film Theatre's films, but it does grow on you. When I saw this in the cinema, I had already read Ionesco's play, so I was in a mood to be critical of every change
notably the change of setting.
Over the years, I have come to see that Ionesco can be transmogrified, and that most of the changes work quite well. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder turn in dynamite performances, and the rest of the cast does nicely as well. Karen Black actually has the hardest job, turning her sweet and sexy character into a rhinoceros, but she carries it off gracefully. This is real acting!!
The most objectionable part comes with political references, like a picture of Richard Nixon, or a "Remember Pearl Harbor" lapel button. Not only is all this too heavy-handed, it dates the movie unnecessarily. The music is also quite low-quality 70's kitsch, especially the song "What did you do to yourself?". This song however accompanies a great dream-sequence. I must also say that the theme accompanying the final scenes is quite moving.
Ultimately, Rhinoceros is one of the great dramatic works of the twentieth century, and this movie will be for most people their only chance to see it (now that it can be bought on video). For those who don't know anything about it, it's about a town where the citizens start getting a strange malady that turns them into rhinoceroses. It starts out as a slapstick comedy of manners, but this is Ionesco's way of softening us up so we're more vulnerable to the horrific elements later on. Those of you who enjoyed Dr. Strangelove and Brazil should get a charge out of this.
Ri Chu (1985)
Lux ex Oriente
I can't believe I'm the first one to review this gorgeous movie! The colours, the camerawork, the composition, all are absolutely exquisite, even in my cheap vhs copy.
The story is set in about 1930, seemingly in Shanghai or some other big, cynical Chinese city. Su Fang (Fang Shu) totally dominates the movie in her role as Chen Bailu, the lady who is forced by poverty to leave her poet husband and become a courtesan, living unhappily among riches. Her training is to display joy and pleasure at all times, even though this is only an act for the benefit of customers. What really shatters her complacency is the coming of a new, very young, employee who is both frightened and angry...and lacks the social graces necessary to survive. Chen Bailu cares enough for this new girl to pretend that she's her adopted daughter, and her death comes as a terrible blow.
The plot details can be difficult to follow; but much of the meaning can be found in the contrast between the beautiful images of the "smart people" and the painful lives they lead.
Apparently the novel by Yu Cao is considered a Chinese classic and has been done several times, but it is difficult to see how anyone could do a better job than this.
See this movie, it's a rare and beautiful experience!