Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
...film... exists to consecrate the human face
...le cinema c'est comme des boules de clarté dans une ocean si sombre.
Je suis venu ici pour écrire un roman. C'est l'histoire d'un homme que j'ai inventé. Il est silencieux, naïf, sans audace, et il laisse passer les chances du bonheur. Je l'ai fait vice-consul de France à Calcutta. Vice-consul, profession médiocre, mais sûr ... et qui trompe. Calcutta, ville infinie de la lassitude d'être... Je dois maintenant dire sa défaite, son rêve ecrasé, et comment Calcutta, lentement, mettre en plein lumière sa solitude, sa banalité, son angoisse, si court.
Ce soir dans le port il y a un place libre dans la Funchalense. Mais ne crois pas jamais des gens comme moi.
REUNIS, LE SOIR, COMME DES CONSPIRATEURS, NE SE CACHANT AUCUNE PENSEE, USANT TOUR A TOUR D'UNE FORTUNE SEMBLABLE A CELLE DU VIEUX DE LA MONTAGNE; AYANT LES PIEDS DANS TOUS LES SALONS, LES MAINS DANS TOUS LES COFFRE-FORTS, LES COUDES DANS LA RUE, LEURS TETES SUR TOUS LES OREILLERS, ET, SANS SCRUPLES.
Quotes from Bruno Dumont, then AO Scott, dialogue from "La Femme Publique", "Nuit Noire, Calcutta" and "Les trois couronnes du matelot", typewritten note in Out 1: Noli Me Tangere.
I like films about the body and human lifecycle, and about how the mind works. I also like films containing images that strike me with awe. In the mix are films about outsiders and the ostracised, and films that provoke a feeling of being haunted.
Films containing aspects of bildung and spiritual progression are also welcome, as are films of pure aestheticism.
Like everyone I also like escapist cinema.
Below is my ordered top 100.
Stay safe and happy.
Les Maîtres du temps (1982 - René Laloux)
Le soulier de satin / The Satin Slipper (1985 - Manoel de Oliveira)
America, America (1963 - Elia Kazan)
Faraon / Pharaoh (1966 - Jerzy Kawalerowicz)
L'Éden et Après / Eden and After (1970 - Alain Robbe-Grillet)
Cesarée (1978 - Marguerite Duras)
Gymnopedies (1965 - Larry Jordan)
Les enfants du paradis / Children of Paradise (1945 - Marcel Carné)
P'tit Quinquin (2014 - Bruno Dumont)
Vertigo (1958 - Alfred Hitchcock)
Madame Bovary (1991 - Claude Chabrol)
The Spiral Staircase (1945 - Robert Siodmak)
Amer (2009 - Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)
Obitateli / Inhabitants (1970 - Artavazd Peleshian)
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943 - Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid)
The Pumpkin Eater (1964 - Jack Clayton)
Heaven's Gate (1980 - Michael Cimino)
Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále / I Served the King of England (2006 - Jirí Menzel)
The Bat Whispers (1930 - Roland West)
La nuit fantastique / The Fantastic Night (1942 - Marcel L'Herbier)
Shutter Island (2010 - Martin Scorsese)
Fünf Patronenhülsen / Five Cartridges (1960 - Frank Beyer)
Deadfall (1968 - Bryan Forbes)
Au coeur de la vie / In the Midst of Life (1963 - Robert Enrico)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975 - Peter Weir)
Trois couleurs: Bleu / Three Colours Blue (1993 - Krzysztov Kieslowski)
El abrazo de la serpiente / Embrace of the Serpent (2015 - Ciro Guerra)
Under The Skin (2013 - Jonathan Glazer)
Club de femmes (1936 - Jacques Deval)
Les grandes manoeuvres (1955 - René Clair)
Accattone (1961 - Pier Paolo Pasolini)
Eyes Wide Shut (1999 - Stanley Kubrick)
Parsifal (1982 - Hans-Jürgen Syberberg)
Brutal Ardour (1978 - Manuel Huerga)
A Farewell to Arms (1932 - Frank Borzage)
Dai-bosatsu tôge / Sword of Doom (1966 - Kihachi Okamoto)
9 dney odnogo goda / Nine Days of One Year (1962 - Mikhail Romm)
Konets vechnosti / The End of Eternity (1987 - Andrei Yermash)
Byzantium (2012 - Neil Jordan)
The Sand Pebbles (1966 - Robert Wise)
Tenshi no tamago / Angel's Egg (1985 - Mamoru Oshii)
Medea (1988 - Lars von Trier)
Army of Darkness (1992 - Sam Raimi)
Possible Worlds (2000 - Robert Lepage)
Andrei Rublev (1966 - Andrei Tarkovsky)
Ferdinand the Bull (1938 - Dick Rickard)
Altair (1995 - Lewis Klahr)
Die Parallelstrasse / The Parallel Street (1962 - Ferdinand Khittl)
Hadewijch (2009 - Bruno Dumont)
The Pharaoh's Belt (1993 - Lewis Klahr)
Les mains négatives (1978 - Marguerite Duras)
Moderato cantabile (1960 - Peter Brook)
Winter (2008 - Nathaniel Dorsky)
For a Few Dollars More (1965 - Sergio Leone)
The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966 - Sergio Leone)
Le grand jeu / The great game (1934 - Jacques Feyder)
A Canterbury Tale (1944 - Michael Powell)
Natural Born Killers (1994 - Oliver Stone)
Krysar / The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1986 - Jirí Barta)
La lune dans le caniveau / The Moon in the Gutter (1983 - Jean-Jacques Beineix)
Entezar / Waiting (1974 - Amir Naderi)
The Big Parade (1925 - King Vidor & George W. Hill) with the score by Carl Davis
Lucifer Rising (1972 - Kenneth Anger)
Camille (1936 - George Cukor)
Another Sky (1954 - Gavin Lambert)
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972 - Peter Medak)
Liquid Sky (1982 - Slava Tsukerman)
Hours for Jerome (1982 - Nathaniel Dorsky)
Kachagebi, tavi VII / Brigands, chapter VII (1996 - Otar Iosseliani)
Homo Faber (1991 - Volker Schlöndorff)
The History of Mr. Polly (1949 - Anthony Pelissier)
Il mistero di Oberwald / The Mystery of Oberwald (1980 - Michaelangelo Antonioni)
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949 - Charles Barton)
The Belly of an Architect (1987 - Peter Greenaway)
L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo / The Bird With Crystal Plumage (1970 - Dario Argento)
O Pintor e a Cidade / The Artist and the City (1956 - Manoel de Oliveira)
Kaos (1984 - Paolo & Vittorio Taviani)
The Scalphunters (1968 - Sydney Pollack)
The Keep (1983 - Michael Mann)
Skorbnoye beschuvstviye / Anaesthesia Psychica Dolorosa / Heartbreak House (1987 - Aleksandr Sokurov)
Cube (1997 - Vincenzo Natali)
Touki Bouki (1973 - Djibril Diop Mambéty)
Jûjiro / Shadows of the Yoshiwara (1928 - Teinosuke Kinugasa) accompanied by Matthew Bourne and the Birdman of Alkijazz
Tess (1979 - Roman Polanski)
Staré povesti ceské / Old Czech Legends (1953 - Jirí Trnka)
Mauvais sang / The Night is Young (1986 - Leos Carax)
Gandahar (1988 - René Laloux)
Duelle (une quarantaine) (1976 - Jacques Rivette)
Specter of the Rose (1946 - Ben Hecht)
Kárhozat / Damnation (1988 - Béla Tarr)
Csillagosok, katonák / The Red and the White (1967 - Miklós Jancsó)
Seconds (1966 - John Frankenheimer)
Orlando (1992 - Sally Potter)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013 - Joel and Ethan Coen)
Sílení / Lunacy (2005 - Jan Svankmajer)
Cremaster 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 (1996, 1999, 2002, 1995 & 1997 - Matthew Barney)
Maska (2010 - Stephen Quay & Timothy Quay)
The Face of an Angel (2014 - Michael Winterbottom)
Invásion (1969 - Hugo Santiago)
Una lucertola con la pelle di donna / Lizard in a woman's skin (1971 - Lucio Fulci)
It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it. - Andy Warhol.
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
Types of films and aesthetics I have a penchant for.
There's several types of films here, classic auteur films from the likes of control freaks von Sternberg/Lang/Welles/Borzage/Bresson; films that programmers clunkily refer to as artist's film and video/experimental film/avant-garde cinema, by folks like Dorsky/Hutton/Klahr/Jordan/Bokanowski/Fischinger/Deren; films that I'd call Amerarkana (low profile, minimalist, enchanted, anonymous American crime/horror), The Music of Chance/The Kill-Off/Liebestraum/Crawlspace/The Passion of Darkly Noon; dreamlike films, such as La Nuit Fantastique/Dementia/Amer/Judex/Fascination/The Alphabet Murders; film noir; films with unrequited love, particularly The Unsent Letter and Les Enfants du Paradis; films portraying outsider experiences, films about the art of living (these are mainly French); portrayals of ecstatic experiences; westerns; films dealing with the fact of the human body (as opposed to cerebral films) and human lifecycle such as the Cremaster Cycle, False Aging, Stereo, Belly of An Architect, and Seconds; well-handled treatments of Buddhism (Kim Ki-Duk films); films regarding existential folly such as Youth Without Youth and the Shanghai Gesture; films with fairy-light-style diegetic lighting (this means lighting that comes from within the fictional world of the film as opposed to huge lights behind the camera) such as This World, Then The Fireworks; films showcasing great/interesting interior design, like David Lynch films or White of the Eye (not usually felt to be the primary merits of these movies of course!). I was a teenager in the '90s so there are quite a few '90s genre movies in the mix, particularly '90s action movies, that I love, if taken at face value these can be hard to understand, but they're all visually beautiful and generally have something clever going on under the surface, examples being Wes Craven's Shocker, Richard Stanley's Hardware, Albert Pyun's Adrenalin: Fear the Rush and Russell Mulcahy's Silent Trigger. Emotionally-resonant film treatments of metanoia, or the process or realising that you never knew yourself, or that your conception of the world is/was entirely wrong, for example Pasolini's Oedipus Rex, The Shanghai Gesture, Night Sun, and Shutter Island (The Truman Show wouldn't qualify because it's other people fooling Truman rather than himself). Films within the tradition of Bildung, or a film version of the Entwicklungsroman, that is to say stories of hard won personal growth, such as Adam and America America, and perhaps the opposite, "what doesn't kill you makes you weaker" (my little joke treatment of Nietzsche's famous phrase) type stories such as Apartment Zero, or even films where these ends are shown as beginning as a forked path (Franklyn). Escapism is an obvious one that I share in common with everyone! Films that deal with perception or the nature of the mind, such as Memento, The Prestige, La Nuit Des Traquées. Recently highly aesthetic treatments of people discovering their sexuality (not for erotic content) such as Lewis Klahr's Pony Glass, Philip Ridley's The Passion of Darkly Noon or Steven Shainberg's Secretary. All sorts of films really. In another person's words, IMDb User Ear_Poisoner pointed out to me on the List and Recommendations forum, "your interest tends to more visual and tonal experience rather than narrative based.". I also like for films to be intriguing or interesting, I want lots of secondary neural detonations after the movie has ended. Speaking of explosions I think the idea for me has always been that a movie should blow my mind, so I sometimes find the distinction between entertainment and art movies moot in that they're just different ways of achieving the same end.
A note on availability, and how to see more of these should you wish to.
A lot of the films in this list are not available on dvd or blu-ray in your region, or just not available on dvd or blu-ray at all. Here's some suggestions. Hack your DVD/Blu-ray player so that it plays whatever you want it to play, this is usually dead easy with DVD. I drew the short straw and bought a hard-to-hack player, but for a small fee and a remote control in the post, this obstacle was overcome. I still buy and watch VHS tapes all the time where the dvd is out of print; the last batch of VHS players made will play SECAM, PAL, NTSC, anything you want, though you have to buy these off restorers now. Other outlets. There are websites all over the world selling official dvds that you won't find in chain stores or just any store if you don't live in a capital city in an affluent country: the German Filmmuseum website, Re:Voir, FNAC for Spain, the Danish Film Institute, the University of Massachussets (DEFA archive films), Amazon has various branch outs in other countries, even the Japanese Amazon is usable to non-Japanese speakers, with a little patience and thought. You can get Minerva Classics and Raro Video films off of Italian Amazon, and many more! Some directors even sell DVDs on their own websites, like Jon Jost, Ken Jacobs, Frederick Wiseman, Barbara Hammer, and Barney Platts-Mills (and I'm sure many others). Travelling to see films is not an unreasonable thing if you are able. I am happy to travel over 100 miles to see a film that I'm dying to see and can't be seen any other way. If you'd do the same to see the Mona Lisa, why not do it for the film equivalent? Go to a good film festival. All sorts of amazing films play at film festivals and nowhere else, if you complain about the quality of contemporary films, this is the shot in the arm you need! Cannes requires a special effort (you would need press accreditation), however large urban festivals such as London, TIFF, NYFF, are just as good in terms of quality, and will take the cream of the Cannes, Berlin, and Venice crop. All sorts of other amazing niche ones are around such as Pordenone for silents and Oberhausen for shorts. A large majority of the short films mentioned are on Youtube, Vimeo, Google Video, or UbuWeb, don't miss out! Rental/streaming services like Netflix, MUBI, LoveFilm, they're all there for you. Phone a friend for more info on this, but there are also invitation-only websites where members download genuinely unavailable movies, these are a treasure trove. Blind buying. An expensive habit, but can be eye-opening. Making sure you understand your taste is good for blind buying, this means that you will do well more often than not when you buy, get used to knowing what sorts of elements in a film you like, and who is good at recommending them. If you recognise that you've never enjoyed a portmanteau film, don't blind buy one! Local cinemas you don't know about. They are often around, and the folks inside will not bolt the doors and eat your entrails (unless they do). Often they can be a bit grungy and dilapidated, and there's not fifteen different varieties of cokey cola, abbattoir slurry in a bun (hot dogs), and buckets of million percent mark-up popped corn; however these facilities often offer alternatives like absinthe and apple pie (at least mine does), and they show different movies.
Warnings and confusions.
The list can be confusing to mainstream fans (I've no beef with people whose dreams are mirrored by the blockbuster makers, but also not much in common). I often get a response from people who have seen the say 20 mainstream movies on the list (and nothing else), where they just tell me the entire list is rubbish because the movies mentioned aren't much kop by mainstream criteria. I tend to enjoy these movies when they become zany and unabandoned, examples being The Spirit and Bad Boys II. The gradual process where I came to really enjoy movies mostly involved realising that I disagreed strongly with the implied values in mainstream film (promiscuous people generally dying first in horror movies would be an example of an implied value, i.e. promiscuity is bad).
To avoid confusion it's worth pointing out that although I enjoy irony in every day conversation, none of the appreciation of films listed below is ironic. There are five Roger Corman movies on the list, but they're there in earnestness, that particular gentleman was fond of subtext, in my opinion he was a bona fide auteur, and a socially comitted filmmaker.
Miscellaneous notes and typically requested statistics.
**The average IMDb rating of these films at the current time is 7.1/10. The highest is 9.0/10 for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the ones under 5.0/10 are:
Eye of the Beholder (1999 - Stephan Elliott) 4.9/10 The Face of an Angel (2014 - Michael Winterbottom) 4.7/10 Ett Hål i mitt hjärta / A Hole in My Heart (2004 - Lukas Moodysson) 4.6/10 Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It. (1970 - Roger Corman) 3.9/10 Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996 - Albert Pyun) 3.9/10
Always take the IMDb rating with a pinch of salt!
**Whenever publishing something like this before I always get asked about the director count, so here it is to pre-empt the question. It's slightly spurious in the sense that, with only three films extant (and only one available on dvd), no matter how much I like Sadao Yamanaka's work he can't ever get to the top, whereas, Fritz Lang must eventually triumph with such a large filmography. 3 films: Peter Greenaway, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Dario Argento, Oskar Fischinger, Manoel de Oliveira, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Alex Cox, Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jacques Rivette, Matthew Barney (taking Cremaster 3 and 4 as two separate films), Monte Hellman, and Werner Herzog. 4 films: Fritz Lang, Lewis Klahr and René Laloux. 5 films: Marguerite Duras, Lars von Trier and Roman Polanski.
** There are several films here which are particularly subjective personal choices, the main example is The History of Mr Polly, I've feel a very close personal similarity to the character of Mr Polly. This probably bought the film to life for me a lot more than for another viewer. This is as opposed to Les enfants du Paradis where pretty much anyone is going to associate with at least one of the characters.
** A hopefully diminishing list of films that are on my top 500 but not on IMDb is below. Usually I try and get these films added to IMDb and antnield of criterionforum has also helped with this.
94 Art Herstory (1974 - Hermine Freed) 181 Exit (1971 - Denys Irving & Naomi Zack) 397 Dach / Roof (1994 - Anja Czioska) 429 Schwebebahn (1995 - Darren Almond)
Please don't be afraid to leave me recommendations if you have any, no-one alive has ever watched more than a fraction of the good stuff!
Wonder here I use both in the normal sense (some of the films below are simply wonderful) and in the sense that James Ellroy defined it as term in his early novel "Clandestine", and which is found in profusion in his later novels, particularly the famous LA quartet. Wonder which is an ecstatic fascination with the extent of the primal depravity of others.
The adaptation of Ellroy's Black Dahlia is on the list. I found this rather fitting in the sense that, I feel that any real adaptation of an Ellroy novel would be rejected by the public at large and their protestant sensibilities. The success of Curtis Hanson's film adaptation of LA Confidential, is its own repudiation, in my opinion anyway.
Roma città aperta (1945)
Popular resistance movie
Rome, Open City is a populist film following a small community of Romans during the nine-month occupation of Rome by the Germans (subsequent to the downfall of Mussolini and prior to liberation by the Allies). The presence of one of the great actors of her generation, Anna Magnani, engaging, passionate and with an earthy common sense is a massive positive for the film. For me there are also a lot of negatives: amateurish action scenes, a highly voyeuristic approach (the women are almost always dressing or undressing and the last shot of Magnani is particularly inappropriate - not to give anything away), a use of grand guignol towards the end that caters to the lowest common denominator; the handling of suspense is limp, the films contains homophobic leitmotifs and half baked ideological rhetoric, and uses visibly thin and unenthusiastic POWs used as German extras. Some of these criticisms are written off by commentators as "of their time", but I think great art always transcends its time (and to be more explicit, its prejudices). The poor technical elements can't be overlooked even in the presence of this relativist excuse slip. Had Rossellini never watched Hitchcock?
Fuk sau (2009)
Vengeance is about a Frenchman who travels to Hong Kong and Macau to avenge the murder of his daughter's family. The Memento-like riff is that he is losing his memory and so needs to take photos of people to remind himself who they are. It takes a long time before the filmmakers find a way to use this idea creatively, and then they use it really badly. What's annoying is that the movie doesn't need the memory loss lead at all, the whole movie still would work well if the guy was compos mentis, you still have a fish-out-of-water lead character, and you still have lots of material about loyalty and brotherhood.
Bloodthirsty vengeance is obviously a really bad idea, and so if you're going to make it the theme of a movie, you need either a strongly pulpy feel to the movie, or you need really stupid characters; maybe make it a samurai movie, as the sort of moral codes that existed centuries ago would make sense of the characters and their motivations here. As it is, this movie just doesn't make sense. Some of the narrative conceits are weak, like how the lead character comes across some assassins for hire randomly in his hotel. The movie also had really bad CGI, you could see the blood spurts each time someone got shot were amateurish.
I ended up being pretty annoyed, it just felt like someone had torn a first draft script from a scriptwriter's hands and just started shooting with it. Johnny Hallyday (rest in peace), is a picture of pain, but because he's been worn down by age and strife, not because he's acting it, there's nothing expressive about what he's doing in this movie. It comes across like he's involved so that the movie still got co-production money. According to Roger Ebert he was a last minute substitution for Alain Delon.
I won't deny that the movie has effective moments, the set piece at the barbecue spot at night is really good, although even that has a really stupid moment (improbable boomeranging Frisbee). I've recently watched Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy, and this effort from Johnnie To is absolutely light years behind those excellent movies in terms of quality. Somehow this was accepted in competition at Cannes in 2009.
L'ivresse du pouvoir (2006)
To watch L'ivresse du pouvoir for me is simply to fall in love with Isabelle Huppert. Her elegance is the indelible touch of the movie. The scenario almost a pretext to spend time with her. Green silk and red leather leave phosphors on the mind, although she has more than style; a great shot is of Judge Charmant Killman requesting her kitchen knives to be lined up in a drawer, these are her razor like strategems to bring down the corrupt. Another enjoyable feature is Chabrol's playing with structure, scenes often end whilst you still are expecting more to come, and this trick spellbinds you to the movie; also there's very little use of traditional dramatic levers, no sex scenes, very little visible animus or violence; this corking leaves much pressure building up and the end product is champagne.
The movie is perhaps a foible, a glorious foible of Chabrol. I felt that, yes, the movie is portraying an episode in French history, the Elf Affair, but that was almost beside the point, and I felt more like a member of an audience watching a Chabrol-ian magic show. It is a deliciously fetishistic exercise in the dynamics of power. My favourite metaphor is when one of the defendants, Humeau, plays football without keeping score, he and his friends play the game of power for enjoyment and mutual enrichment, not out of a desire for adversariality, they are chums on the skim. The Judge on the other hand requires prey, and fights for something much more abstract. The morality of what is going on is less interesting than the "monkey-ness".
A languorous look at miserable lives
A rather sombre and one-note film about a young serial killer who manages to escape trial as an adult on grounds of diminished responsibility, and gets released into the chicken coop again when he's 18. A semi-retired cop who wants to get him back in custody and stop any more deaths trails him after release. A young lady who doesn't think much of life hooks up with the serial killer. Brings to life a phrase I recently heard from a philosopher, when we look for romantic partners we look for, "familiar suffering".
The film is about people with meaningless lives, looking for a reason to get out of bed every day other than to continuously reflect on their pain.
Potentially for people who already read the novel, the poor editing is easily overlooked as they know what was going on anyway. Russell Crowe and Laura Dern signed up to the project, perhaps as the novel has received some quite favourable attention, but they don't bring much to it.
The film lacks any dramatic oomph, partly because the cop is a really nice guy who looks at Eric as a young man with a mental illness; and there's no animus back from Eric, simply because he lacks most ordinary human feelings. Although a few people did manage to get happy about Tenderness, it seemed to me like like a roughly hewn film with no outstanding qualities.
Eyes! Lungs! Pancreas! So many snacks, so little time!
I guess the major feeling I get watching an MCU (Marvel Comics Universe) movie is, wow once the special effects industry was an auxiliary of the movie industry, now the movie industry is an auxiliary of the special effects industry. But I guess everyone's down with that these days? So I won't preach too hard about it, after all Méliès and his effects kicked it all off and so maybe we're back to the beginning of film, with all it's awkwardness and inappropriateness too.
The movie was appealing to me from the poster and the trailer. A normal guy can become Venom, Venom don't take none of the brown stuff, he's gonna kick you ass right out of your face. So yeah a two hour holiday from the tediousness of the social contract.
The film actually comes off as a bit of a buddy movie, inseparable parasite and host journalist Eddie Brock spends most of the movie bonding with comic effect. A main failure is that we're meant to believe that macho figurehead and multi-millionaire heartthrob Tom Hardy is playing a "loser".
As usual with comic book stuff, you end up feeling that the resulting vigilantism is being given a bit more support than it probably should be getting (the effects of vigilantism are usually heartbreakingly stupid and tragic). The villain (I imagine Elon Musk probably didn't see the funny side with this one) and the antihero both basically have the same general activity, they do whatever the hell they want. But you have to get in bed with the devil to defeat the evil people, right? What popularised the "work with your darkness" nonsense, Dexter back in 2006? Or Jack Bauer back just after 911?
So I enjoyed it, but probably "needed a shower" too. And like a chump I'll probably be back for a second serving of "eyes, lungs", and "pancreas", when they show the sequel.
Dead Slow Ahead (2015)
Dead Slow Ahead is a slow film that relies on visual composition, and very little on traditional dialogue-driven narrative. It is haunted and phosphorescent. If you have sojourned with such "slow cinema" films before, imagine a phantasmagoric version of Peter Hutton's At Sea. This is the nightmare to Hutton's reverie.
The movie follows the ship Fair Lady and its crew over the briny and through miasmic ports. You could call it an experimental documentary. Whilst on the one hand the movie is very literal, that is, it is showing the normal activities of an actual crew on a working ship, on the other it seems to be designed as some sort of introspection on humanity's current phase, characterised by overreach, ecocide and unsustainable activities.
A middle section of seascapes has a tone after Clark Ashton Smith, a ship wandering in search of safe harbour on a globe overcome by wyrd happenings. The treatment of the humans we see remains empathetic throughout, with the criticism being of the machines in which they are entwined. This is the dystopian vision of Lang's Metropolis come true.
Hints of the supernatural come from various shadow plays, spectral presences amongst the sailors. The movie has all the unreasoning beauty of the death wish, and regularly took my breath away.
Lady Oscar (1979)
Jacques Demy's movie of Lady Oscar frequently moved me. It is not a "swashbuckler" in spirit, it does not glamourise violence; it is not a movie about "girl power". It is a tragedy that raises important questions about freedom and gender. After becoming father to a series of daughters whose mother dies in childbirth, Général de Jarjayes decides that his latest daughter will in fact be a son, Oscar, and brings her up to be an heir and defender of the de Jarjayes name. He is delighted to find her a position as bodyguard to Marie Antoinette. Oscar is unquestioning of the system into which she is inducted, a bubble of privilege, acid wit, and decadence. She is dutiful and she "knows her place". At the same time the young boy and later groom who was her companion when Oscar grew up seems to have much more class consciousness.
What her gender transformation helps to do is to de-romanticise the material, when Oscar accepts a duel, the result, devoid of machismo, comes off as a banal murder, which is precisely what it is. It is difficult to wholeheartedly see Oscar as an éoniste or transgender hero as her identity as Oscar is created for her by her father. Indeed her self-actualisation is intertwined with her accepting a more female identity. On the other hand she does use her identity as Oscar to react against male society, and becomes a role model for some of the Versailles women.
Oscar, despite adopting a male role, is not free. This is potentially quite an important point of the movie, equality and freedom are not the same thing. Her role is to hang around the wilful and indolent Antoinette, and she develops a strong sense that her life has become meaningless. To become a man is not to have meaning, it's an escape from a trap within a trap, the outer trap being the Ancien Régime in the case of this movie. When Oscar attempts to enter a regiment, her male soldiers refuse to obey her, and her superior officer gives her no support whatever. In any case the regiment only exists to suppress the people.
At a very late stage Oscar finds freedom in an act of defiance. You can feel the weight lift off her shoulders as she spends her first day as a truly free adult, despite residing in a prison cell. This feels very contemporary, freedom is something very few of us are born with, it's something we have to seize, it's profoundly personal and cathartic.
Another reviewer on this site refers to Barry Lyndon as inspiration, "Now the magic of that was its carefully spaced vacuums. It had engineered emptiness, something that only a master could do." That is definitely something Lady Oscar is attempting, in my belief it worked better than my fellow reviewer felt.
A note on historical accuracy. Thomas Jefferson described Marie Antoinette as, "...proud, disdainful of restraint, indignant at all obstacles to her will, eager in the pursuit of pleasure, and firm enough to hold to her desires, or perish in their wreck." That is exactly how she is portrayed in Lady Oscar by Christine Böhm. Jefferson also describes the relationship between the King and the Queen thus, "he had a Queen of absolute sway over his weak mind and timid virtue..." Again this seems to have been very well captured in the movie.
Lady Oscar is a politically complex movie which seems often to have been misjudged by relying on a fruitless comparative analysis with the animé and manga sources of the story. Whilst actually quite serious it does however have its gorgeous moments.
Dirt and glamour
This one's a little firecracker. An astute and observant young Malian man gets tired of life working as a porter on a minibus after he is leapfrogged in the hierarchy due to nepotism. There is no reward for his loyalty on square street so he tries a more crooked path. His talent is quickly recognised by local narcotics traffickers and he handles a number of increasingly taxing operations whilst affording a life he could only have dreamed of previously including sampling the luxuries of Bamako's flesh pots. He stays alive by his sharp wits and nerves of steel through some perilous situations, including tangling with Al Qaeda. Ladji is naturally an upright person and an impressive man and so the moral hazards he exposes himself to inevitably takes a toll, as does the realisation that he can never be accepted into posh society. The director though has a feel for and education in the crime genre such that you never feel, "I've seen it all before".
I felt watching the film that I got an interesting insight into some of the cultural complexities and vibrancy of Mali. Wùlu means dog and is a dual reference to the fact the Ladji becomes a dog in order to try and achieve the lifestyle he's looking for, and also to the stage of learning in Bambaran culture when one is taught how to fit into the world.
Hollywood should be scared, because Africa is coming, this movie had an incredible vibe, and the continent is starting to produce movies that make many Hollywood ones look average. Wùlu is Daouda Coulibaly giving Michael Mann a run for his money, with his debut feature film!
L'amant d'un jour (2017)
A dad, his daughter, and his lover of the same age as his daughter
Lover For A Day is about a philosophy teacher who is in a relationship with one of his students, Ariane, and his daughter, Jeanne, of the same age who moves in with them for some time. It is very French in that they immediately co-exist instead of making spectacles (although there are some hints that they are human like the rest of us despite being Parisienne).
The title of the film refers to the brief infidelities of Ariane. This behaviour seems to be treated as enigmatic, as a philosophical curiosity. There is nothing curious about it, the magisterium of anthropology is the place to turn to, it is well documented that the human animal has primary and secondary sexual strategies for transmitting their genes to the next generation. The answer is banal, the participants in this drama are banal, they do not rise above what is animal in themselves, there is no transcendence, no romance.
Ariane describes falling in love with Gilles when he says in class, "Philosophy is not about divorcing oneself from life". It was difficult not to see some humour in this in that he comes off as a bookish and torpid man. Of course Ariane is simply sleeping with him because he has roguish good looks, is comfortable in his own skin, and is the nearest authority figure.
One cannot fault the actors, Éric Caravaca, Esther Garrel, Louise Chevillotte, who absolutely outclass the boring story. I hope that the career of Louise Chevillotte takes off, as this appears to be her "break" as the Americans say.
The film's main positive is that it has a certain quality of eroticism, Esther finds out that Ariane has appeared in a pornographic magazine quite by chance, and there is no clang here as Chevillotte is genuinely attractive enough that this is believable. The sex scenes are very warming.
Garrel shoots in black and white because he knows nothing else, an old dog that cannot learn new tricks. Is he the last victim of 1968, dead alive? When the credits rolled there were little gasps and titters, "is that it?", yes that's it, no punchline, a little story without profundities.
Legend of the Lost (1957)
Atmospheric and philosophically sophomoric desert romp
A paunchy and tired-looking John Wayne, insistently wearing a cowboy outfit in the Sahara, is the sore thumb in what is a pleasant enough and indeed gorgeous "psychological adventure" outing. I guess if you own the production company you get to wear what you want and "fine tune" the script how you want. Poor old Henry Hathaway. The actually intelligent Ben Hecht got money for old rope with an ironic turning of the handle on the script. One of his sayings applies to this movie quite well, "A movie is never any better than the stupidest man connected with it."
The movie is a love triangle, that plays out during a trip to find a lost city of gold in the desert. The characters undergo implausible personality changes and the morals, metaphors and symbols being imparted seem variously barren, inappropriate or misplaced.
The movie does however have its ecstasies, the photography of Jack Cardiff, and the fire in the eyes of Sophia Loren. The first 20 minutes have a wonderful sense of exoticism, even if that sort of thing is frowned upon in these politically correct times. I class this as a "film malade", a film with a sick soul, a a rare bird, different from simple incompetence. Legend of the Lost get's compared to Hathaway's Garden of Evil a lot, I'm definitely in the Garden of Evil camp, the atmosphere and Gary Cooper versus John Wayne makes it somewhat of a no contest.
Where the Chocolate Mountains is a 55 minute experimental movie that uses amongst other trickery multiple superimpositions, mirroring (hence the title of this review) sculptural work, and delivers a visual narrative. I was sceptical before viewing the movie because the works of this artist that I've adored looked very definitively like the work of a celluloid film artist and this work was digital. Indeed in the Q&A after the screening I attended, Pat said that he was very resistant to changing to digital, but he said he did it because working with film was getting harder and harder. Contrary to his expectations it actually freed him up; he could do what he wanted more quickly, and he had more materials available (digital archives particularly). Digital technology has set him free to become an absolutely major artist, in my opinion. And I think old age has led him to "Pinturas negras" territory.
The Chocolate Mountains are an area of California where the military tests ordinance. They aren't anything special to look at. As a child growing up in California, O'Neill's family used to take holiday trips to Mexico. They used to go past signs to The Chocolate Mountains and Pat always wanted to go there because of the name. So it's some sort of analogy for America, the name is very seductive, but there's a lot of violence there and actually the mountains don't look so great. It's a complicated movie, he finds a lot of beauty in and around the L.A. River and in L.A., but there's also a sense of the infernal at every turn.
He made some sculptures from wood for the movie which are integrated throughout. His first calling before film was as a sculptor and his influences as an artist are largely sculptors. He manages to use some fairly simple cone scultpures in a variety of ways, some end up being very erotic (suggestive of thighs). He sometimes rotates them just to illustrate the relentlessness of time marching on (that was my take at least!). Oftentimes the conic imagery relates to unexploded ordnance.
My favourite shot from the movie is in the L.A. River, below some sort of bridge, and it looks like two snake-like creatures made of pure flame flirting with one another. He filmed a lot of actual materials on fire to graft into the movie. Scenes like this in the movie often have an unusual eroticism.
Although most of the film had scenes which are multiple superimpositions (O'Neill mentioned that 5 is his magic number for number of images to layer), some of my favourite shots are just completely unvarnished mobile phone footage he took whilst on a holiday in Ireland. There was a dog on the beach where he was staying who was lame in one of his front feet, but would still chase after anything, and would bark incessantly to try and get people to throw things to chase after. O'Neill said that he identified with the dog, mad, pathetic, old, energetic. Some of the scenes which chimed most with me are of buildings such as cathedrals, which he somehow manipulates to look more like capricci, filled with these flame creatures, filmed with a reflection along a vertical line, i.e. horizontal symmetry.
He uses a lot of weird cool sound clips. Creaky doors from his house but also audio from a long list of old b-movies such as The Beast of Yucca Flats.
It's a haunting film noir that has a true sense of night's mystery. The title potentially makes reference to the fact that though inspired by the Chocolate Mountains, they do not actually appear at any point in the movie.
The Missing Person (2009)
Convention challenging private eye movie
The Missing Person is a contemporary noir that plays with the classic genre conventions in a comic way, although without invalidating or trivialising the content (scenes where you may expect an escalation of suspense often intentionally end bathetically as convention meets the real world). Private Detective Rosow is a Chicago-based private detective originally from New York who receives a short notice commission to tail a man and a boy cross country. He's an alcoholic and clinically depressed, but he still has some level of ability to achieve his task. "Missing Person" on a surface level refers to the guy Rosow is tailing, but also is about Rosow being missing in an existential way, someone for whom family and community have become concepts only. The bathos allows you to connect in a deeper way with his state, by challenging your familiarity. What's shocking about modern society is how the dissolution of traditional social structures, and omnipresent material convenience has led to so many "missing" people.
Fundamentally The Missing Person is an image driven movie, the shot I liked best was a shot at night in the dining cart of the train to California, a cupola of light surrounded by thick darkness, the characters hurtling in cheap comfort through vast emptiness. The image that is iconic (or would be if anyone had watched the movie on release) is of Rosow in the dark with his day-glo glasses. I think from reading about the movie, many reviewers didn't get that it was a movie where much effort had been made on the visuals; you need to stick with it and carry on inspecting it to realise the contrary. At the start, Buschel uses the most purely functional credits anyone could imagine, they look like the yellow writing you get in PowerPoint presentations (supposedly as yellow on blue is the easiest writing to read if you're dyslexic). America is shot just exactly how it is (one of very few movies that have reminded me of my trip to America), and it can be assumed that this means the shooting is amateurish. It's actually more of a statement at the start of the movie, this movie is going to look the opposite of a John Alton shot movie, it's going to be as unmannered as we the filmmakers can make it.
L'assassinat du Père Noël (1941)
whodunit Occupation noir
"L'assassinat du Père Noël" opens with an act of defiance, the village school teacher Villard announces to the onlooking children that there are two ways to be successful in life, either through one's own hard work ("propre industrie") or the imbecility of others ("l'imbécillité des autres"). This is a slightly bemusing point decades later without the context that the film was released in 1941, during the German Occupation of France. It is one of those breath-taking moments you see in films of the Occupation where someone essentially risks their life to defy the Nazi death cult (another is a sotto voce mocking of the Nazi salute at the end of "L'assassin habite au 21"). Here "imbecility of others" would appear to be referring to the support of the people for the rise of popular fascism. The censors appear to have been too square to notice any of this. There is further poignancy when you realise that one of the stars of the movie, Harry Baur (as Cornusse/Santa Claus), was tortured to death by the Gestapo very shortly after this film was made.
The plot is about a snow globe village at Christmas, and you know that given the title of the film, and indeed if you were a cinema-goer at the time, from the movie posters, that Santa Claus or someone dressed as him will be murdered. Who killed him, the Baron who has mysteriously returned after many years, or one of the various "pillars of the community" we are introduced to. It is a noir film for sure, the village in claustrophobic, snowed in, the atmosphere is thick, which bits are as they seem? Is fair foul or foul fair to borrow from Monsieur Shakespeare.
It doesn't really matter whodunit, not to me anyway, and so I wasn't bothered by the quick wrap up at the end of the movie. The main theme of the film for me was truth and fantasy. The teacher Villard is a commie and a freethinker, not of the obviously deplorable kind, he has a lukewarm heart as well. But his search for the "truth", who he is the champion for is ridiculed by the events of the movie, although he is a "freethinker" his thoughts are obviously not free enough to realise that Catherine, championing fantasy, is almost completely unmoved by his wooing, and indeed that the reason for this is that they are no match at all. Perhaps the truth is like the white vermouth he habitually orders in the bar, not a particularly palatable drink. Perhaps the primary motivation for exposing the truth, is a deep-seated hatred. However the movie is even-handed, there are perils to fantasy as well, Cornusse and his cockamamie stories, for all their charm, mess with the heads of the children, as you evidenced by the bitter speech of the Baron, who heard them in his turn, and was led by them into misadventures. Catherine at one point talks of wanting a knight in shining armour husband who will kill any other man who looks at her, romantic fantasy can be pathetically cruel.
The encirclement of the police near the end of the movie is perhaps a message to the audience to hold tight, the world is coming to save us. There are hints throughout that even greater themes are lying just between the surface of the film, which plays with narrative and explores the nature of narrative (a paradoxical falsity that allows us to believe we have made sense of things) marvellously well. The two old men playing Belote may be our only gods.
Noce blanche (1989)
Noce Blanche is a story where a philosophy teacher falls in love with a "wayward" 17-year-old student of his. Viewings of this will likely be motivated by the subject matter, however the film does offer up substantial insight into the human condition. What is very interesting about children, especially bright ones, is that they can see through the hypocrisies of the adult world through all our false pride and double standards, and love means everything to them. They are trumped by the muscularity, cynicism, experience and judgement of adults. But they see through us, Mathilde sees straight away that François, despite a wife, career, and friends, is completely alone in the world, she sees it because it is obvious and she has not been desensitised.
There are two particularly interesting philosophical ideas that come up in François' classes, that we are the unknowing accomplices of our "other self" the subconscious, prisoners of its fate, and also that people who choose to study metaphysics, choose death, as a preference over life.
The aesthetics of the movie are very subtle, it could easily be mistaken for one of those French dramas where the camera is simply pointed at the actors, but there is a palette of blue and greys here, and I ended up freezing the view a few times to admire the stills. It is far from being ostentatious or mannered however.
The story ends up feeling quite Grecian in the end, but who am I to say unrealistic, reality is almost always stranger than fiction. Works for purposes of titillation for sure, but also has great depths. Two successful watches in a row from Brisseau for me, following on from The Girl From Nowhere, more adventures to come!
A document from 1968
L'été takes place mostly at a large country house in Normandy, called Le Broy. A young activist has left Paris following the riots of 1968 and is spending some time on her own at the house. The house is owned by friends of her parents, who are not using it that season, but it's due to be refurbished at some point, which stops the stay feeling open-ended.
She spends time corresponding with a friend, listening to classical music and thinking about her partner who she has left behind. She also spends quite a lot of time frolicking in the gardens and the surrounding countryside. The movie anthologises a lot of the slogans from the 1968 rioters, maybe the touchstone here is "Vivez sans temps morts - jouissez sans entraves" or "Live without dead time - play without hindrance".
Reading about 1968 would be a pre-requisite for watching this movie. It is still an inspiring time for me. A group of very beautiful French students decided it was time to overthrow the government and free people from the oppression of parliaments, laws, consumerism and wage slavery. They weren't even close to a victory, but their lessons for personal fulfillment live on. The world wasn't ready for these actions, but the Time of Cherries will come again.
The young lady is often shown naked, which is in line with the theme of sexual revolution for 1968.
Although the movie is playful, there is also a sense of grief, those that make revolution only halfway, dig their own graves, is a very poignant slogan. The lady is shown with her face being reflected in some old dark glass, as if she has a foot in the next world.
It is ironic, probably intentional, that a privileged upper middle class woman holidays in her wealthy parents friends' home, and also that she comes across quite a lot of people working, and all she does is essentially take leisure. Not inconsistent with '68 principles, but a fairly essential comment. I know that if any of my reactionary friends watched the movie they would hit the roof seeing this contrast.
The music is perhaps represented as being in touch with the revolutionary instincts, no brash Russians, but mellifluous Monteverdi, Couperin, Handel, Bach etc. One interesting tune was Fantasy for guitar imitating the harp in the style of Ludovico, by Alonso Mudarra. The major expression of grief and betrayal is expressed by a relating of the plot of Kleist's novella Michael Kohlhaas, which ends in a baroque act of defiance.
My heart goes out to the filmmakers. This film sits apart from the other three seasons in the Tetralogy of Marcel Hanoun. The others are much more connected in a group.
The Exploding Girl (2009)
Sweet slice of life film
I've seen this film described as Mumblecore, I think it is a useful starting point to describe the film, though I think it has marked differences. Both this movie and Mumblecore movies in general concern relationships between young white heterosexual folks with relatively privileged upbringings, who are undergoing changes in their lives, or are stuck in the Doldrums hoping for the wind of change. The thing is that Mumblecore often has a warts and all approach, and a comic aspect. So you might get a boy and a girl having a conversation about the internet porn they watch. The difference with The Exploding Girl is that, largely the characters in this movie are shown in a positive light, employing a lot of discretion, and there's no attempt to tickle your funny bone, plus the movie often actually looks really good (as opposed to the hand-held shakiness of Mumblecore).
The two main characters are Ivy and Al. Ivy is studying at Ithaca, but on a break, whilst Al is a friend of many years who stays with her over the period. Al is studying evolutionary biology at college and talks about Goldschmitt's theory of hopeful monsters, which I thought was a really good metaphor for the stage of life Al and Ivy are at, i.e. going from being really good at being kids to learning how to be really good as adults. A hopeful monster is a missing link in evolution between different more steady lifeforms.
Ivy has seizures and is on medication so she has to be careful about drinking, which makes it difficult to engage with a lot of the party life and experimentation that happens at college. Al is sympathetic with this and so they spend time hanging together. Both of them have different romantic interests but seem to do have the potential to do really well together. They're both great young people, which is the thing I liked about the movie, that it showed how great they were. I liked the writing, little things like Al recording his own songs on a tape recorder, with rather overstated lyrics! I felt kinda envious at the end because I wished when I was that age I could have shown a girl the things I was proud about (and vice versa). At one point Al went to see a Zed and Two Noughts (described as an English film called Zoo) with some friends. I watched that alone at about the same age.
They're both pretty gentle and thoughtful. The main reason I wanted to write a comment about the film is that it made me feel like being a bit more gentle and thoughtful. Corollary to that was that I went out and bought a friend a doughnut. It had jam and cream in it, when I came back he said he didn't like cream.
The title of this film leads you to believe that it's a Michael Myers slasher movie, but it isn't. It's an authorised use of the franchise label, Carpenter himself was involved in the production, but it's a really different type of horror movie from the first two. Carpenter actually originally planned for all the movies to have different characters and scenarios, but the first was so popular it got a sequel.
I knew it wasn't a Michael Myers film but I wasn't familiar with the plot. That's actually quite a good way to watch this one.
Scenario-wise the film is about as preposterous as it's possible to get, say as preposterous as toxic waste from a chemical plant producing Nazi zombies with laser guns. And if you care about such things, do not watch the movie. It's not just the premise either, there are particular plot developments that seem unfeasible.
That aside I found the film genuinely to have a horror atmosphere right the way through, and it contained moments of truly abject horror and byzantine creepiness. It has been pointed out to me that Nigel Kneale (uncredited), the writer behind Quatermass was involved with the project, and a lot clicked into place when I heard that, because you can feel some of the atmosphere of Quatermass 2 in the scenario here, and with the dialogue about Samhain, that just had to be written by the same guy who was writing the Hobb's Lane dialogue for Quatermass and the Pit (i.e. connecting the present with a quickly established supernatural past).
Halloween III is genuinely a horror film with messages, about corporatisation of culture, surveillance, the insidiousness of mass media, in a way that really sunk in for me, it wasn't just window dressing. You could even view it as positively avant-garde, it's almost Baudelaire-ian in its rejection of modern culture. People have scratched around for the villain's motivation, but for me it doesn't lie much further afield than this quote from Baudelaire, "Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing 'evil'- and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil." It presents wickedness as its own reward. Dan O'Herlihy is particularly great here, who you may remember as "The Old Man" of OCP in RoboCop. He portrays an utter creep in this movie! The movie, however lumpy and problematic it is plot-wise, maintains its high standards in terms of visuals and soundtrack the whole way through (John Carpenter does the soundtrack). It actually gets good enough visually that I would say it has some pretty iconic images.
Recommended to people who liked films like Michael Mann's The Keep or Richard's Stanley's Hardware. That is people who like atmosphere-thick narratively-fractured horror movies.
Truly a wild ride
So imagine if Bob Guccione kidnapped Werner Schroeter, forced him onto a diet of magic mushrooms, and at a point of a gun and with the regular administration of scopolamine put him to work making a serial killer movie. That's Mascara.
I actually can't believe I just watched that movie. I had an odd defeated day, and I got some Mazarin Omnipollo beer in (tastes as good as it sounds) and knew I needed to see something off the chain. I hadn't figured out how far off the chain this movie was, psychologically it was like being in an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon watching this movie. In my long film watching experience it has set a new high watermark for the bizarre. Carlo Ponti famously exclaimed "What?" when he saw a film Polanski made that was then in homage called "What?". But Polanski was a mere amateur at confusion compared to Patrick Conrad, the director of Mascara.
Police superintendent Bert Sanders (Michael Sarrazin) is an opera maven, and regularly attends with his sister Gaby Hart (Charlotte Rampling). There is more than a small hint that these two have a closer relationship than is recommendable between siblings. Sanders, in his late 40s, lives in with sis, and has massive problems with sublimated desire and sexual confusion. He visits a secret underground club where leading citizens dress in black tie, and watch drag queens lip sync Strauss and Gluck as well as pop music (including a Kris Kristofferson song). There's also some highly stylised S&M going on in antechambers. He's in a chaste relationship with a transsexual girlfriend who does cabaret at the club. When she comes onto him, all hell breaks loose, the tonne of psychosexual gelignite in his head blows sky high and he spends the rest of the movie alternating between catatonia and psychosis, digging himself in deeper whilst covering his tracks and trying to stop his sister getting with the dressmaker for the local opera house.
Parts of the movie have genuine pathos and are tres trans sympatico, but others seem almost hideously exploitational. The impression comes across that Partick Conrad is messing with you with some of the twists, like an experiment in blowing the viewer's mind.
And you know Charlotte Rampling is in the midst of all this acting her skin off at points. Unbelievable. She was not afraid of appearing in off the charts projects for sure, The Flesh of the Orchid is another superb example (no way could she have pretended that she was off for a straightforward gig with that one, not when James Hadley Chase wrote it!!!).
Wanna get unhinged? Put on some Mascara baby.
At the end of a tragic day
This film of Thomas Heise, called Material, is a collection of film footage he collected over the years, not used in other projects. In the way it is structured together it gains more than the sum of its parts. The general topic seems to be the collapse of East Germany aka the DDR, though the spectre of the Third Reich is there too, for example a play being put together has to do with that and skinheads appear towards the end of the film. There is little music except "From Hanover Square North, At the End of a Tragic Day, The Voice of the People Again Arose" the last movement of Charles Ives' Orchestral Set No. 2, which originally refers to the moment when Ives learnt of the sinking of the Lusitania, but here I think refers to the process of Germany emerging from lost decades. There is a scene where some of the production team from the play access some dangerous ruins, no doubt from the war, and end up finding an apple tree in the overgrowth inside. In relation to the original project it is likely unimportant, but in the context of the film here it is very beautiful in its metaphor, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Other scenes appear to include footage of the Monday protests in Leipzig, seminal in the dissolution of the DDR, apparently because the secret police the Stasi did not have a major presence in the city; some pleas from prisoners in Brandenburg for further extension of an amnesty that was happening at the time; a residents meeting; a parliamentary session; children playing in ruins; footage of models of buildings by the Berlin Wall, footage of an art installation which contained miniature buildings too, but also model people in provocative situations; a cinema where a riot breaks out during the showing of what looks like a political documentary.
A fairly common feature was people being given the chance to speak their minds freely, which is so beautiful.
It was a slog as a viewer to watch this for nearly three hours, and I stopped at points to look into some of the relevant history as context, on the Internet. However, in its portrayal at the angst and confusion of a nation, it hit me as the credits rolled, with much more of a punch than Rossellini's Germany Year Zero, which I also watched recently.
Behold a Pale Horse (1964)
I watched Behold a Pale Horse twice in a row. It's a long movie where little action happens until the end, and there are no heroes.
Manuel Artiguez is an outlaw who has continued to fight the Spanish Civil War for twenty years after defeat, from his base in the French town of Pau. His raids appear to serve little to no purpose other than as acts of defiance. His adversary is Captain Viñolas, a venal and rather fatuous adulterer, who despite being a Catholic is as far from grace as the radical atheist Artiguez.
Nothing appears to keep the men alive except for adversarialism and antagonism. A small boy Paco, crosses the border to find Artiguez in the hope that he can inspire Artiguez to avenge his father and kill Viñolas. He sees a bull on his trip, and it's pretty clear this represents Artiguez, who knows no other course of action than to fight (and, it's hinted at, womanise). The other children have a natural reaction to Paco, seeking out Artiguez, why would you do such a thing? There are several scenes in the movie where the old revolutionaries are shown alone, interspersed with many vibrant scenes of the young healthily enjoying themselves. Artiguez and Viñolas have become rather insistent irrelevances, in a region which wants to forget the bloodshed. The two of them engaged in a savage and stupid dance of death The young priest Francisco attempts to engage with Artiguez but has little effect. He is a confused man who is only just able to tell the difference between the warmth of his own heart and the coldness of logic. He is a neophyte, although he is able to put a few good thoughts out there. The baroquerie of Lourdes, shown in the movie hardly aids the case for religion with all its fetishisations.
It is a sad movie, full of manifest failure on the part of all its participants. One of the final scenes is of several dead participants led out on mortuary trolleys, all for once profoundly equal, the tragicomedy of their lives at an end.
The rich black and white photography seems often visually allegorical in its combinations of compositions and saturations. This is particularly the case where Viñolas antagonises a bull as a picador. It is an entirely bewitching movie.
Duvivier seems capable like no other of really laying out the most unpalatable truths. The movie shows a group of resistance fighters assemble for a reunion 15 years after the war is over. It's genre is whodunnit (who betrayed our leader in this case), but it's a lot more impressive than that suggests. What the structure does do is allow for a lot of suspense, the movie really kept me fascinated.
Right from the start nothing appears particularly heroic about the group, their meet up is as awkward as an SS reunion. After the war they all went their separate ways pretty much (with exceptions, such as Marie-Octobre and Francois, the rich industrialist who funds her fashion house). Why is this important. It feels like they maybe did dirty things together, took justice into their own hands, skulked around in the shadows. Maybe their cause justifies everything, I guess that would be the traditional view anyway. I'm in my mid thirties and I never met anyone who believed in a cause, people choose activities and roles that suit them, that is all, killing as an activity is much more fundamental than the cause it underlies.
There is something extremely unhealthy about the male "comrades" and their attitude to Marie-Octobre. At the beginning Francois introduces her as "notre fleur de fusil", or the rose in our guns. Her role generally seems to be "unattainable sex object". She refers to the gathering at one point as a "huis clos", a term for a closed proceedings, but surely meant to evoke Sartre's play ("No Exit" in English), about the pain of being aware of yourself an an object to others' perception, set in Hell. I refer to them as comrades in inverted commas because they are all quite ready to suspect one another at the drop of a hat. In a particularly galling act of cowardice they all write down the name of the person they prejudge as being guilty and anonymously drop their ballots into an urn.
No new truths are discovered in the course of the meeting, these are all people who know one another, all they have to do is work out, in a rather anally retentive fashion how each individual's proclivities could have lead to the death of their leader.
I personally found the elegant and aristocratic Francois almost intolerably overbearing and sanctimonious. His view of order must be imposed on everyone else. I never felt more in favour of anarchy than when watching this movie.
Society's fall from grace
Falling is an interesting movie. It didn't get much of an international release on home video or in the cinema, and I had great difficulty tracking down a copy. I was initially surprised at this because György Pálfi broke out into the international market with movies like Taxidermia, Hukkle and Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen (this last one is particularly excellent) and I would have expected he had enough of a brand to secure an international release even if the movie was a misstep. As it turns out, one of the episodes in the film, I'll term it the dcotor's appointment episode, is so brutal and vile, that it's not hard to understand how it didn't get released outside of the festival circuit. It's not just that the scene is miserable, it's more the lack of an obvious message to redeem it. The movie's overall message seems to be about cultural degeneracy and newly emergent selfishness, generally these seem to be fresh messages, although the elderly couple who talk past each other seem to be less au courant.
Palfi is not alone in thinking that society is undergoing a fall from grace, I guess the other famous Hungarian director with the same message is Béla Tarr (very different approaches!). I agree with the message, I think my generation broadly rejected every value that their parents had, and through the baby out with the bath water. Generally people have chosen to use their new freedoms (sexual, religious etc) to destroy themselves.
Overall Falling feels rough around the edges and plays a few wrong notes. What I felt missing was any sense that the director actually cared about the fall from grace he's describing. This is much more apparent in a film such as Jan Svankmajer's Lunacy.
For reference I will list the episodes and what they are meant to represent in my opinion (in order of my recollection). You should not read this unless you are happy with "spoilers".
* Old long suffering couple. This is a fairly ordinary episode which frames the rest of the material. The couple (could be married or could be selfish old man with a live-in housekeeper, hard to distinguish!) ignore the needs of one another and the lady attempts to kill herself twice (the unordinary bit is that she manages to survive both plummets from the top of her apartment block). This is the failure to sustain love through a long term relationship.
* Yogics. A group of new age disciples receive banal instruction from a cult-like leader. One member is able to levitate but is told off for showing off, he then merges into a wall in an attempt to jump through it. I guess it is amusing in that for all the talk of opening one's heart chakra, this appears to be as insular a grouping as any of the others in the movie.
* Throuple. So a lady called Dede decides that one boyfriend is not enough and a second one is moved in. She acts as if this is some sort of completely reasonable step and boyfriend number one is unreasonable for resisting it. This scenario is presented as some sort of ultra trashy romcom. This is a tragedy of people trying to reinvent the relationship focusing solely on their own needs.
* Gynecologist. A lady decides that she wants to have an operation to be "repregnant", i.e. she pays an obstetrician/gynaecologist to reinsert her already born baby into her body. This is all presented in a very matter-of-fact way. It appears that this will lead to the child's death, the doctor talks about the baby being "reabsorbed" by the body. It was not very clear to me what this episode is trying to tell the viewer. It could be that there is suggestion that society focuses much more on mothers than children, like motherhood is a cult in-and-of-itself, and not about self sacrifice anymore. I'm not sure really. It came off as crass to me.
* Naked party guests. So this segment is not particularly original, Manet for example did a famous painting where there is a naked woman at a picnic with some fully clothed men (Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe - at the Orsay in Paris). The woman in this case is portrayed as naked at a party because she is a trophy, she is stripped of her opinions, in the end she meets a man in the same position, and it's suggested they will have an affair. This is a tragedy of a breakdown in the sacrament of marriage.
* Terrorised child. A child lives in fear of his father, represented by an omnipresent actual bull in the apartment. This is the fall from grace of the family unit.
* Germaphobes. A couple who misunderstand the imperatives of hygiene are engaged in a folie a deux where they become obsessed with creating a perfectly sterile environment. They have intercourse without touching one another and then there is an abject end to the episode.
To be or not to be
I really felt that although folks mostly agreed that the movie captured the "poetry of everyday life", there was much more to be had from the movie, which has its subtleties aplenty. Yes the ruins of Paterson are beautiful, yes the dappling of the light is fine, yes Laura and Paterson are a beautiful couple but go deeper!
Most art that you initially create is going to be derivative. Paterson's poetry is essentially derivative of William Carlos Williams. You have to fight through this phase and find your own creations. So when Paterson's homework is eaten by the dog (remember to see the humour in this), I was mindful that the dog had done him a favour, because all of the early stuff is worthless, unless you happened to be called Rimbaud or Chatterton, and even then I imagine they burned a lot of doggerel before they wrote a good sentence. Derivation can be incredibly apparent in painting, for example Mondrian, where he dabbled with other folks' styles (impressionism, fauvism and even pointillism) before he arrived at his unique mature expression, for which he is famous (termed neoplasticism).
Writing poetry is difficult, as so eloquently pointed out by WB Yeats:
"We sat together at one summer's end,// That beautiful mild woman, your close friend, // And you and I, and talked of poetry.// I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;// Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, // Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.// Better go down upon your marrow-bones // And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones // Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather; // For to articulate sweet sounds together// Is to work harder than all these"
Paterson will need to break a lot of patterns and cobwebs if he wants to become a great poet.
Many have looked at this portrait of a relationship and saw something sweet and tender. I'm sorry but I saw two disconnected individuals, a freeloading girlfriend, a boyfriend without a backbone, and a couple that didn't make decisions together. They're both good-looking tranquil people, but they're not soulmates. Laura tells Paterson that his poetry is great, but he needs challenge, not a sycophant, he needs someone who understands him, not someone who uses his wages to buy an expensive dog and gets him to walk it every evening! So when he recites a love poem, it's something false, it's a confection, it's what we want to hear but it's not true, and this is why he's still so far from greatness.
The use of doubles in the movie is far from trivial, what it's saying is that there is a different lives Paterson (or any of us) could be leading, we have to make choices every day about which person we are going to be. The dissolve at the end when Paterson is lying in bed and seems to disappear momentarily is hinting that he might be best off disavowing his current life, he should be running a mile. Yet it's a comfortable life, and everyone likes comfy right? Two guys on the bus have a discussion where both recall recent encounters with women they liked and both had managed to fumble the ball through inaction, they chose, they don't live uncomfortable lives, but they chose not to live passionate lives. So that's why I chose the title for the review, because we all have to decide whether to embrace nonbeing, some sort of Taoist concept of naturalness, or whether we want to bristle our creativity, and streak like comets. Maybe the latter is innately egotistical. I think that the choice is what this movie is about, be humble or be brave. The movie is dualistic, no one interpretation is there to be forced on you. For me when he writes a poem about the song "Swinging on a Star" that's saying something key, he mentions that the only line he really plays again in his head is the one about being a fish, not being any of the others lives in the song. Again this is dualistic because it could be saying that he knows the life of a poet is for him, and it's the only one he thinks about, so he should embrace it, but if you read the full lyrics of the song, it talks about the fish who "can't write his name or read a book". Whereas another option "Would you like to swing on a star // Carry moonbeams home in a jar // And be better off than you are". Seems like the best though radical option that is open to Paterson, to change everything, but perhaps he won't take it.
Ending on a more playful note, congratulations to Mr Jarmusch for yet again working a matchbox into proceedings!
The Neon Demon (2016)
"So I asked myself, of all the melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most tragic? Death. And when is this most tragic of melancholy topics most poetical? When it most loosely alludes itself to beauty. The death, therefore, of a beautiful girl is unquestionably the most poetic topic in the world." So spoke the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe in Francis Ford Coppola's movie Twixt. These words are a paraphrasing of Poe's own writing, from his essay "The Philosophy of Composition". Coppola and Refn both seem to have taken some interest in using Elle Fanning in films about the death of a beautiful woman. The topic is insanely fascinating in this presentation.
The Neon Demon is about a girl who goes to Los Angeles in order to become a top model. The work, compliments, admirers and envy all start to roll in. The movie is essentially thematic, largely relying on the visual and on atmosphere.
NWR is an extreme addict of beauty, and the movie contains some staggeringly voluptuous photography. The message is that physical beauty is superficial. But there is no sanctimony to be had from Refn here, on the contrary he goes for full immersion, a beauty-holic on a bender. The film is a testimony to the power of beauty, it is a mesmeric, galvanic glory. The tail end of the beast mutates into images you see only in rare dreams, a mix of the abject and the byzantine. A judgemental reaction to this dreamworld would be a nonsensical act.
Les hautes solitudes (1974)
What this movie is, depends to a larger extent than usual on you the viewer. Garrel films Jean Seberg, Nico (in a relationships with Garrel at the time), Tina Aumont and Laurent Terzieff in Seberg's apartment, there is no sound recording or soundtrack. It's a silent movie consisting mainly of closeups of their faces. To me it was like visual Bach, I thought of his Goldberg Variations mostly. A large proportion of the film is Seberg, which I preferred as she was being the most intimate. Tina Aumont seems like an extravert in the Jungian sense, like she ceases to exist to an extent when others aren't around, and Nico seemed very distant in her few scenes. There was a certain amount of vanity on display, but also Seberg looks into the camera like she really wants to connect. She can laugh with just her eyes. There's a Zanzibar film called Deux Fois by Jackie Raynal where Raynal plays this sort of trick with editing where she shines a mirror at the camera and then disappears, and it appears like she is trying to make the same sort of connection that a magician makes with their audience. I had a similar feeling watching Seberg in Les Hautes Solitudes. Garrel incidentally was part of the Zanzibar group, although this film is post-Zanzibar.
Probably the iconic shot from Les Hautes Solitudes is the side of Seberg's face reflected against a polished surface, filmmakers love their mirrors. I wondered if this was some sort of comment about being an actor, that is having difficulty separating your roles from who you are, certainly I once saw a film where some people were being taught acting and a lot of it was about personal deconstruction, which must be as tremendously psychologically damaging as it is professionally rewarding. The reflection in the polished surface looks like the "silver screen".
Some people get Murnau or Dreyer type feelings when they watch this, i.e. as if they are watching classical drama as opposed to a type of documentary (Nosferatu or Vampyr). I just saw a woman to some extent lost, to some extent searching, and also thinking about the past. Her pain at some points seemed very raw and I wanted to comfort her. I thought a bit since about Garbo in Camille, and how nuanced and beautiful that role was, and the pain of her character there. It's rare that I ever see a film and think about how great it would be to meet the actor, but Garbo in Camille was one time it happened and here is another.