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Powaqqatsi (1988)
10/10
Faces of Earth
27 May 2013
Great film if you just want to let loose your mind and abandon all other thoughts. As expected, the wealth of the images to a wonderful score is nothing less than fantastic, this time closer to people's faces while they're working their asses off, struggling with dirt, dust and garbage or just staring right into the camera, often a little uncertain, sometimes with proudness, but never with pride and always quite affecting. Alle these worn out, contemplative Third World faces we see in close-up or in half distance show the mortality and vigour, the pettiness and dignity of mankind at the same time - that's the underlying beauty of this overwhelmingly ugly world. There's one particular image that I've kept till today: in a reoccurring scene taking place somewhere in the Middle East, Reggio focuses his lenses at a little girl in tears and dust clouds steering a racing horse cart over a bumpy road always in danger to fall over while, which seems to be, her father lies next to her on the box, unable to move and seemingly wasted. She is obviously in pain and desperation and yet masterfully manages her difficult situation (to drive her drunken father home?), probably not for the first time. Quite powerful.
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Alice (1988)
9/10
Dark Alice
27 May 2013
My favourite screen adaptation of Carroll's classic novel, because it's so different from the cute dreamy candy-coloured wonderland which Alice is usually visiting. I still haven't read the source material; I probably think I've become too old for it by now, but that's just a stupid excuse. Or maybe because I know the story inside and out (as depicted by Disney and other overly optimistic offerers). That's why I was so positively surprised by Svankmajer's dark and eerie version, far from what I would have expected even when I read the filmmaker's name. Svankmajer does make strange little films, from what I know and saw so far, sometimes even quite whacky stuff. This film is no exception, but it has an uniquely morbid atmosphere due to the fascinating stop-motion animation and the unsettling sound effects. There's no conventional dialog which is reduced to a minimum and mostly recited by Alice herself from a third person perspective with the attachment "...says the white rabbit" et al. This technique doesn't allow us to feel with and for Alice and to delve into her fate; it rather makes us aware that we are merely within a tale. There's no way we can get lost in the intellectual world of six-year-old Alice; she remains to be a self-contained, pretty incommunicative little girl that's just trying to get out of this nightmare (without being ignorant to oddities that constantly pass her way out), and we are just observers of her dream. It's a film made not for everyone for sure; as a squeamish romantic or a lover of the more optimistic versions, you'd probably hate it. I, for one, am all in for a morbid, decayed, rotten cinematic vision, especially when it hits a children's classic and completely turns it upside down.
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La Jetée (1962)
10/10
Moments to Last a Lifetime
1 March 2010
A masterpiece of the highest order. If there's anything like perfection, this short film would be the epitome of it, at least in the cinematic sense. Marker's only fictional story in his career is told not through moving pictures, but stills that are sorted and superimposed. It is a necessary stylisation to give the film this unique power and enchantment that it has. It's a science-fiction story after all, and its documentary look, through-composed as a sequence of snapshots in a figurative photo album, makes it much more reliable.

Another thing: when the protagonist remembers a photograph that he has seen in his youth, we, the viewers, are facing a similar puzzle of pictures. La jetée leaves us forming a formulated, living universe, similar to the protagonist who defines his whole purpose in life out of one single impression. He lives and feels only through the knowledge of this important picture which has such an enormous, spectacular effect on his puerile soul, so that he even develops the ability to travel through time and space to liven up his memories and make that one photograph tangible for him. So, with the plot in mind, there's absolutely no other choice to tell the story than in this way. And this way is peerlessly productive and effective, formally poetic, reflexive and a perfect dream.

There's especially one particular moment, that I'm sure will go along with me for the rest of my life: when the beloved girl seems to blink her eye at us (me?) and exposes a smile. Marker uses only frozen single pictures of her, but in this very shot he shares a deeply moving, genuine, vibrant moment of happiness and affection with us in an ultimate profession of love to the art of film and love itself. It is probably one of the greatest, most emotional moments in the history of cinema. Art to be meant to last forever. (10/10)
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10/10
From Book to Screen
4 February 2010
Hugo's novel is my bible. I remember, while I was reading the books in the course of over one year (in small portions mostly, but not rarely I had to sacrifice an entire night), one of the three volumes has been always in a striking distance to me: near my pillow, riding pillion, on my school desk or in my backpack on trips and sleep-overs. Simply put, the story was my home for that one year, Jean Valjean one of my closest friends and Cosette my own child. That's now about 10 years ago and I still return to it every once in a while, pick randomly chapters to read and still am drawn to Hugo's uniquely beautiful and powerful language (i.e. the chapter where he describes the battle of Waterloo is probably the single best piece of literature I've ever read). So, although, I love the book so much, I never dared to touch any screen adaptation, and there are plenty out there, because I did not want to ruin my imaginations of Les misérables I had in my mind for more than 10 years now. I finally did last week and what can I say? Actually, I don't want to spout too much, to run into danger to talk things to death, but it's an amazing, amazing experience when you see those pictures that were engraved in your head for a long time, now alive, in front of your eyes instead of behind. Of course, a book is, I guess, always more stimulating than its adaptation (are there actually any examples to disprove?), and Bernard's is no exception. In fact, this one is as close to the essence of literature as the medium can get. Everything that can be great about movies comes together here, and in the end, Les misérables is the first film I immediately felt home (which is mostly due to the previous history I have with the story), and when a filmmaker achieves exactly this with his very own methods, like a writer does with his/hers, the outcome is nothing less than, yes, cinematic perfection.
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8/10
Loners
19 January 2010
From all the Bressons I've seen this week, this one is the hardest to describe. I liked a lot, but I don't exactly know what it was that I liked. The film, taking place mostly at night in the streets and on the bridges of Paris is somewhere in between the typical lethargy and an a-typical hysteria and is about utterly lonely people that meet up with people who are even lonelier. It's fascinating to look how those change directions all the time, interrupt actions to start a completely different one, jump from one anecdote to another. It's a fascinating jumble; you never know what is going to happen next and very similar to Cassavetes' Shadows (which I tend to like more).
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9/10
Zombies in Armour
19 January 2010
According to George A. Romero, Bresson has made only zombie films, and this one indeed suggests this conclusion. Inspired by Cocteau's Les chevaliers de la table ronde, the director created an absolutely unspectacular, scanty, masterful historical scenery which ultimately destroys all romantic imaginations of knighthood. Lancelot and his colleagues strut around stoically, preferably full-armoured, with a lowered visor and even when the helmet's off, there's not one emotion to read on the knights' faces which blink towards a world that is doomed to failure, a world that has lost its pivot because of guilt, doubts, a growing consciousness which calls itself into question. There's only one long shot in the entire film which stimulates the viewer in thinking beyond the pictures into a spiritual dimension which always has been Bresson's intention and theme. Lancelot is an impressively consequent, utterly economically told film that raises the big questions of life, love, faith, loyalty, honour and treason.
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6/10
Water Music
19 January 2010
OK, I have to take up the cudgels for this film and for Shyamalan in general. I was never a fan or even close to, but I think Shyamalan is a man on a constant search and with a deep yearning for a better world. I really do. This film, taking it pure and simple is beautiful and gentle and whimsical just like one of these ALMOST perfect pop songs, where you can't help it, but love them. So, as with these songs I'm not going to respond with the nastiness of a cynic (or worse: of a critic ;) ) to Syamalan's Lady in the Water, but have to engage into the story which, as always in the director's oeuvre, combines everyday life with supernaturalness and shows an array of different characters who are all searching for the meaning in their own lives and/or already haver lost any courage and optimism. It's of course no psychologically elaborated masterpiece à la Bergman, and yet, it isn't bad either, as the majority thinks it is. Shot by Wong-long-time colleague and virtuoso Christopher Doyle, the film abstains from the usual, "unbelievable" twist at the end and rather tells a modern fairy tale (the idea to this movie arose when Shyamalan read his kids a bedtime story – this is a loose adaptation of that story) with charmed, broken characters, who finally find a purpose in life and at least change their present résumé through rescue at the end (this is no spoiler, of course we have a happy end here). "The times they are a-changin'", as the band A Whispering In The Noise properly puts it with their Bob Dylan cover during the closing credits.
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7/10
Waiting for the Grim Reaper
19 January 2010
Obviously an experiment in sociology of coincidences, accidents, death, family flexibility, demand of individual security and personal luck. Bier's film starts as a common controversy between restrained idealism (excellently represented by Mads Mikkelsen) and the mephistoic-friendly super-capitalism which seems to confirm the squalor of our modern profit-oriented society and then, in the second part, escalates to the personal tragedy of doomed Jörgen (performed with an impressive physical presence by Rolf Lassagard) who uses his wealth to secure his family and whose parvenuish manner shows true desperation. There are some extreme-extremely emotional moments, such as the last scene of Jörgen and his wife in the bedroom (it felt like a dagger slowly piercing through my chest) or Anna's heartbreaking reaction to Jörgen's confession. Now, when I think about it, it's a perfect companion to the film above.
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Away from Her (2006)
8/10
Transience
19 January 2010
This is what I'd call "mature" film-making and it's almost hard to believe that a, at that time, 26-27 year old director could create such a meditative, sensitive study on age, transience of human mind, on language and its loss. Polley surely has sublime powers of observation; the main characters are perfectly cast. The pace of the film is remarkable as well - it gives enough time allowing us viewers to tenderly see into an intimate and threatened togetherness without getting caught in tragedy. A tiny drop of bitterness: whereas the main protagonists are perfectly illuminated, the secondary characters are too stereotyped - the detached retirement home manager, the lovely nurse, the lunatic inmate, the pierced emo-teenie-girl that makes friend with the elderly man and probably one or two more.
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9 Songs (2004)
7/10
Intimacies, Iced Landscapes and Rock'n'Roll
19 January 2010
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in a rather softly erotic, entirely undramatic love story of two people who are brought together by coincidence and whose lives part after a short, intense time. It's explicit, upfront, even radical in its depiction, but never speculative - a typical Winterbottom film. What I like best about it is the interplay of the intimate bed scenes with the Antarctic footage and the (rousing) recordings of the concerts. It perfectly forges links from the physical, romantic joie de vrie to spirituality and human surroundings. Not recommended to the prudes, but to everyone else who enjoys cinema at its most intimate.
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9/10
Landscapes of the Soul
19 January 2010
I think, En passion is indeed not a perfect film, but who likes perfection? In fact, I think, up to now, it belongs in Bergman's top 10 and is a great addition to the issues argued in Vargtimmen, Skammen and Rite. All these characters here are not really authentic, but one: Verner, the old man suspected by the villagers on that island to be the animal abuser, and therefore excruciated. Everyone else, including Andreas, Anna and the couple they are friends with, are people who call for problems, get entrapped by them and catapult themselves into an almost-catastrophe. It's interesting that Verner, writes to Andreas, who seems to be the worst of all, i.e. most un-authentic, a suicide note, saying: "I can't look into anyone's eyes anymore", is, to my understanding, the key to the film - self-made problems contrasted with problems created externally. Given Verner's suicide, driven by slander and torture, Andreas' and Anna's issues in their relationship fade, normally, but then an axe gets involved, a stable burns down and a horse runs off, ablazed, kindled by the real animal tormentor who still is on the loose. An inferno.

What I like most about this film, though, is its situational context: the island. I can't think of another Bergman film where the environment plays a bigger role than here. All figures are moving in a lost, iced vastness, in defoliated, sparse woods, get stuck in morass and dirt. Animals get brutally tortured and killed, wood gets chopped, wagons bog down in mud. The forlornness and menace of the people in nature is wonderfully captured by Nykvist, mostly in long, high-angle or panoramic shots and is an intriguing contrast to the interior (of the cottages, where the talking, cheating and fighting takes place) - inside there lurks the psychic, outside there's the physical death. That is a great imagery. However, I'm not satisfied with these interview snippets which I think is a nice idea (such as Bergman's verbal directions in the off in Vargtimmen), but it's executed quite poorly.
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9/10
Watching a Novel
19 January 2010
This one is one of the most novelistic films I've ever seen. I haven't read the source material, yet, but I feel that it's been adapted almost word-by-word. Even the scenery, the landscapes, the interiors, the characters' faces appear to be like pictures, imaginations you have in your mind when you read a novel and experience the story through the subjectivity of the main protagonist - dreamlike, mysterious, vague, greyish, dark, incomprehensible. Every scene in the film shows a moment in the life of the young, idealistic priest as a depiction of his being, his disease, his questions and his silence. These bits and facets slowly come together for the viewer - just as for the protagonist himself. The last shot of the cross is the summary and the extension of the film: grey, hazy, crooked, almost without contours it is not a sign of victory and redemption, but a remembrance of the endlessness of the grey landscapes, the dark buildings, the incomprehensible gestures, recalling the suffering and immense loneliness of the priest. It recapitulates his pain and is a sign of torment. Now that I've seen one film by Bresson made before this one and several made after this week, Journal is a transition in the filmography and contains seeds of almost every moment in Bressons later works, especially the typical Bressonian techniques of sound editing, and, of course, the unique monotony and brilliant coherence of the images.
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8/10
Roman Sundays
7 September 2009
A sweetheart of a film and a pleasing surprise. The film takes a nostalgic look at Rome's favourite recreation area, and director Luciano Emmer is up there with his Italian colleagues, Rossellini, Visconti, De Sica, when it comes to visual poetry. Similar to People on Sunday and A Day in the Country, the plot comprises several episodes with several groups of people, Roman families, youth gangs and young love couples, who spend a Sunday at the beach of Ostia. It's meant to be a light-hearted romantic comedy, but the shadows of war are still visible in form of barbed wire and landmines in the beach sand. The mostly amateur actors perform unspent, sincere and strangely touching. The most notable performance comes from a young, bloodily fresh nature talent, Anna Baldini, Franco Interlenghi's crush here, who surprisingly has no other film listed on IMDb than this one. She reminds very much of a young Harriet Andersson in Bergman's first films. I'm wondering why she did not keep up and I hope she's okay ;). Unlike Marcello who obviously started off one of Italy's greatest film careers with his first noticeable appearance here. His role is a good, but ordinary one of a traffic cop who devotedly helps his struggling girlfriend. The film truly is a little gem with a wink and a big beating heart.
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Into the Wild (2007)
10/10
Stray Dog
7 September 2009
I think I finally found the best picture of this decade. To be honest, I can't think of another film right now that has had such a deep personal impact on me. Ironically, I didn't have much interest in Penn's work as director before, so I missed Into the Wild's theatrical release. My date picked it up at the library without me knowing and, while we were watching, it hit me completely unexpected and left me quite dumbfounded, in a positive way. I always knew it, spontaneous love is real love! For me, the film is perfect and nothing less and I'll try to explain a little why that is...

So, I made clear so far that I think Sean Penn's Into the Wild is a masterpiece which I'm sure, at least nowadays, can't be surpassed at all by emotional impact, wisdom and profundity. At the same time, it's a film that carries great weight for myself (to an extent that only Badlands and Summer with Monika reach, maybe not even those): At one point in my life I had similar thoughts spooking through my mind like the protagonist, Alex Supertramp, had. I was never brave enough to make the next step, though.

Into the Wild is an universal tragedy about love itself, its endless possibilities and, at the same time, its total failure. Usually, after quarrels about continuing or beginning a love relationship most films end in a way that the doubting person goes on a journey to the essence of his/her yearning which can be an extended walk through the city, bar-hopping or even a spontaneous plane trip to finally dissolve all remaining questions and doubts in a kiss or an emotional confession. Here, we don't have this kind of cathartic ending, because the redeeming insight, that one is only happy who can share the luck with others, comes to Alex at a time, "lonely, scared", when it is well-nigh impossible for him to make it true.

All the persons that run across the idealistic adventurer Alex during his trip give him reasons to (re-)appreciate individual freedom which pushes ahead his journey forth and forth. What he doesn't see is that all these people actually fill the gaps of affection that Alex missed at his parental home. He, his head full and burdened with dreams, fails to see that he would have found what he was longing for all the time: The loving mother (Keener), the wise father (Holbrook), the passionate girlfriend (Kristen Stewart), the daring brother (Vaughn). The relationships to everyone Alex meets are built up in an extremely touching and sensitive way and, after a short time, are dissolved in painful moments of leaving. Freedom has its price, a price that Alex does not realize and therefore does not have to pay. It's nothing that I can accuse him of, though, because he is an intrepid dreamer who acts out of emotions and that makes him utterly likable. At the same time, it's easy to see that Alex' ideas are enraptured from this world. The mournful landscape panoramas are wonderfully shot by Eric Gautier, often in meditative slow motion with Alex in focus. He seems to deliquesce in the beauty of nature when the camera circles above around his head, releasing a view to the vast mountains of Alaska, a melting that looks and feels breathtaking, but actually paves the way for Alex' downfall. Eternal love pays the price when it is scratching its fingers bleedingly at the abrasive walls of reality - especially when the opposite is the wilderness, always only a mirror and not the receiver of one's own passions. That is the price which causes Alex' death at the end and a broken heart in everybody he left behind.
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10/10
Resistance
7 September 2009
What I like most about this film is its sobriety, dispassion and sophistication in tackling the topic. There's no idealisation of the resistance group. It is based on precisely researched historical facts which successfully moves over clichés and false glorifications. Director Michael Verhoeven makes clear, that Sophie and Hans Scholl were neither longing for death nor wanted to set a beacon by giving themselves in custody. As incredibly brave and encouraged they were, they wanted to live most of all. The film also prompts questions of resistance fighters in a terror regime: Is there a right to resist against the majority of people? Is violence justified? Is it allowed to carry on sabotage which threatens the population? Is it allowed to wish a defeat for the own country? Is it worth anything to risk one's own life?
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The Decameron (1971)
10/10
A Night at the Dreams
31 August 2009
There are at least hundreds of reasons why I like Il Decameron so unbelievably much, a film that, in retrospect, always feels like a whole night of various kinds of wonderful dreams. First of all, there is this incredible variety of faces and characters in those stories and episodes that are both, alternating comic and tragic. I especially love the episodes with the three brothers and their poor sister, the one with two "nightingales" on the roof top, the side plot with Franco Citti and, of course, the self-ironic part which Pasolini plays himself. I also like the two big long shots à la Bosch and Giotto (with my woman Silvana Mangano as Madonna in the latter). I like the film's rich choral fresco, the joyful and sensual atmosphere which surrounds the often bitter fate of the characters, the transformation of literary and cinematic material to an impudently carnal and physical matter, which consists of erections, stomachaches, hunger, excrements. I like how the film laughs about life and sexuality and frequently meets death.

There's always a constant, circuiting movement where all characters are driven by the desire to improve their living conditions and to fulfill their wishes. While doing so, they come to know betrayal and disappointment and therefore reckon with the reality of a world that is mean and unfair to them. There are the rich and the poor (such as Lisabetta and her brothers and Lorenzo), the smart and the naive, the saints and the sinners, the self-pleasing and the troublemaker. Those crowd scenes that often connect the episodes of all these swarming people and colours, where always a special incidence of light, a striking gesture of a figure, an effective angle catches the eye, are especially beautiful. And finally there's the cut with these smooth counterparts of environment and human figure, of static takes and wild tracking shots (i.e. the wonderful chase in the woods of Lorenzo and the three brothers with its sudden standstill, the transition of the lightness of the play to an ominous shadow). And the shots of Ninetto silently dancing himself outside the church or Lisabetta hugging the plant pot with tears running down her cheek are the ones I will never forget.
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Khadak (2006)
9/10
Smoke and Ashes
6 July 2009
Excellent film. It's visually sublime, very spiritual and incredibly stirring. Admittedly, the long, quiet shots resemble Jia's cinema, Byambasuren's semi-documentaries and even Tarkovsky, but it doesn't curtail the power of the images one bit. Those are shots of a faraway, hence fascinating world (Inner Mongolia) where the people have a way rougher ride than us Central Europeans - we who are living in a "well organized" society. I don't mean those who still live under same conditions as their ancestors thousands of years ago. They seem to be perfectly happy, much more than us. I mean those people who are forced to adjust to a system they don't know and where they either stand or fall. Most of them fall once they are robbed of their lives with all that's left is emptiness and boredom. The film is about the loss of the spiritual soul, about cutting off roots and about ruining ancient cultures. There is just one little objection: Maybe it would have been more effective if a local had made the film instead of Europeans, because this way it remains to be a view from the outside.
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Violette (1978)
9/10
Take Her to the Sea
23 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
For some reason, I absolutely fall for all of Chabrol's films where Huppert is the center of attention and this one is no exception. The film is based on an authentic case in France of the 30s which hit the headlines and caused a big scandal. Chabrol, of course, does not simply render the facts, but provides a subtly interlaced story which illuminates the milieu quite well. In fact, it is perhaps the most narrative complex structure I've seen from him and the ending, although hinted at throughout the film, has an unexpected twist. Huppert, as most of the time, is amazing as the cool, ho-hum, indifferent 18-year-old vamp searching for a suitable man at nightclubs and bars. It is, by all means, her best performance under Chabrol and of the very best of her career. However you might think of her actions, Violette is a dreamer foremost, more like Madame Bovary than Marie from "Une affaire de femmes". She dreams of finding the right man, her first real love who will take her to the sea. Unfortunately, she falls for the wrong one.
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Backbeat (1994)
6/10
The Story of Disco Stu
23 June 2009
We all know who The Beatles was. But not everybody knows how many more played in the band before their big breakthrough in 1961. This film tells the story of one of them, Stu Sutcliffe, best friend of Lennon at that time and a tragic figure. It is a sensitive piece without a doubt and a decent homage to the beginnings of the world's most popular band, but Stephen Dorff as Sutcliffe is pretty horrible, his overacting almost painful to watch. Unfortunately, his performance ruined a lot for me which is the film's greatest pity, because Sutcliffe was an interesting character. He came to the band in 1960 as bass player after Lennon wheedled him into. While staying almost exclusively in Hamburg, Sutcliffe met the German photographer Astrid Kirchherr (who was also the inspiration for the famous haircuts) and fell in love with her. He neglected the duties of being a band member, concentrated on painting instead and spent his time with Astrid whereupon McCartney fired him. So, Sutcliffe accepted within a blink and said that the band is not going to become famous anyway. You bet. However, Dorff was definitely the wrong choice for the role.
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The Road Back (1937)
7/10
Homecoming 1918
2 November 2008
Remarque's novel (which I haven't read) Der Weg zurück/The Road Back is a sequel to his All Quiet on the Western Front. Whale's (or rather Universal's) The Road Back has Slim Summerville as Tjaden again and mentions the names of Kat, Detering and Paul Bäumer in order to directly tie on the preceding film's success. Without success. Surely, The Road Back has a great first half, but, alas, a second half which does not hold up very well. Whale's excellent talent in directing is apparent, but as soon as the German soldiers arrive at home after World War I, it drifts too much into sentiment and pathos, without holding back the one or the other really powerful scene, (especially the one in the mental hospital) and some truly wonderful performances by Slim Summerville and Andy Devine. The choreography of the mass scene towards the end is impressive as well (which resembles Eisenstein's famous Odessa shots a lot). So, it's not really forgettable, but slight disappointment nonetheless.
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8/10
When Conscience Afflicts
2 November 2008
The Man I Killed deals with home comers of World War I, the war which's end is celebrating 90th anniversary this month I think, is much better than Whale's, because it's more subtle and less histrionic overall (except for Holmes' unbearable, almost laughable staginess). It has some great actors, most of all Lionel Barrymore who gives a physical powerhouse performance, the best I've seen from him so far. The film is very short, too short in every respect for the other lead characters to really unfold (again except for Holmes', who is simply too much to take) and for supporting roles to really get fully recognized, such as the house maid, played by Zasu Pitts. Even though the subject matter is dark and depressing, the film has its light moments, typical Lubitsch moments of drollness and wit who perfectly knows what is so comical and absurd about German bourgeoisie. However, The Man I Killed is miles away from the usual Lubitsch comedy of the 30s and is instead a thought-provoking, touching drama and an obviously heartfelt processing of a dark European history. Did I mention, that Holmes was horrible, though?
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9/10
Big Birds, Small Birds
2 November 2008
"Where goes humanity?" - "I don't know!" Maybe it's a comedy, but I don't think anyone is 100% sure what kind of a film this really is. It's not really comedic, because behind all those absurdities and silliness there lies a seriously political and religious concern, a bittersweet desire and infallible disappointment. Maybe we should take the film as what it is, as one-of-a-kind, a cinematic high jump which gives rise to all sorts of speculation and conjectures without knowing where to start and where it ends.

Not only the viewer is left unsure, the protagonists are, too. They embody the condition of the film's unsureness perfectly, as well as the nature of one of the most unique works of Italian cinema, which is also the most variant and formally abstract film project of Pasolini: A weird story, a picaresque tale which mixes metaphors and cinematic references (from Keaton's statics to Chaplin's poesy of the dusty road to Fellini's clowns to Rossellini's monks); a philosophic apology which depicts the end of ideologies, the crisis of Marxism on the background of the clash of rulers and subjects (hawks and sparrows) and the unfortunate encounter of those who have the blessing of knowledge (the wise raven) and those who outlive themselves without the awareness of being part of this world: Totò and Ninetto, father and son. Both are walking the eternal road of a universe which is merciless, discuss pretentious things and express themselves with the help of their basic instincts: physical needs, but also the hate towards inferiors and subservience to superiors. On their way, they encounter the mystery of life and death (birth of a child, a family that kills themselves with gas, a funeral), as well as the mortal fear of those who starve. Until the raven appears, decides to go along with them and overwhelms them with needless wisdoms.

It's great to see Totò in here, a masterful actor who often was criminally misused in abysmal Italian entertainment movies and shows here the wide range of his talent. The interaction with the young, intuitive Ninetto Davoli is probably the biggest joy in this film.
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10/10
The Revolutionary Christ
2 November 2008
For sure, the Christ of Il vangelo secondo Matteo is the most exceptional one ever to be depicted in cinema - a brilliant poetic fiction which brings it back to the pure level of words and gestures and displays the amazement and enthusiasm of the view of a privileged witness such as St. Matthew. A hard, implacable Christ, gentle to children and furious at salesmen, vehement against hypocrites, scribes and humbugs, unrelenting in his faith. He preaches the most difficult revolution given, the inner revolution of behaviour and its resulting decisions. The people that he is confronted with are sort of an Eisenstein'ian choir of faces in closeups with absent-minded or bright looks and ambiguous smiles of those who don't really understand. In this regard, it's actually a Pasolini'an choir of a mute mob witnessing happenings they feel subordinate to, a choir of anonymous figures, who suffer but not fight and who still dedicate themselves to a hope which becomes more and more unreachable.

Jesus and his 12 followers are a group of involved young men, who champion for revolutionary concerns. The youth and inexperience of the actors gives a fascinating sense of the fragility of the Christian movement itself in its very beginnings. The iconic-like closeups are a reminiscent of medieval, religious pictures whereas Enrique Irazoqui, who plays Jesus, seems like as if he descended right from a El Greco painting with his thin figure and slim, long face. The music from Bach and Mozart, as well as Blues recordings conveys additional meaning: The cry of revolt and the demand to be heard and received by the people and its authorities. It becomes utterly touching when the film dissolves into melancholy and passion by the power of Bach's classical music chorus and the blues.

The cinematography is remarkable and takes in many scenes the position of a third person telling the story. The intensely textual and dramaturgic reference to the biblical model, the amateurish performances of the actors and the waive of any pathos gives the film a strong naturalistic nuance. Jesus is less the son of god, but more an ideological fighter who gives radical speeches. But, Pasolini does not demystify the figure of Christ, nor does he question the set dogmas of the official church. He rather accentuates the social facets of Jesus' life and work and gives it an unforeseen political smack
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Last Days (2005)
8/10
"It's better to burn out than to fade away."
2 November 2008
It perhaps helped, that I was a 'grunger' myself and the biggest Kurt Cobain fanboy on the face of the earth during my early teen years, and the rock star that indie darling Michael Pitt satisfyingly embodies here, obviously sketches out the "last days" of the Nirvana frontman. After "Elephant", a film about the massacre in an American high school, Van Sant deals once more with another moment of crisis of the youth culture of the 90s, once more triggered by a senseless act of violence. In Kurt's (Pardon me for using the forename, but I feel very close to him although I never actually was) suicide note, he tells that the success of his band and his role as the "voice of his generation", for him, the depressive grunge poet, was a burden that suffered him to death. In the public dialogue of the music business in 1994, he was considered to be the first MTV-victim: the last true rock'n'roll rebel who slipped into something he couldn't cope with.

It's brilliant how Van Sant's achieves an exterior shallowness in the shots and images we see on screen to the contrary odds of the inner life of the main protagonist, a restless wanderer on an everlasting search for oneself and the final resignation "I lost something on the way I am today." The film is very meditative and naturalistic; a minimalist drama which locates for the most part in a roomy building and depicts the events which might have caused to the suicide of the musician. It has some intensely spellbinding musical moments, kind of an abstract form of the style of Nirvana's music and the grunge movement per se, when Blake/Pitt murmurs for almost 5 minutes a acoustic ballad and finally furiously tears the strings of his guitar. Or there's the sequence when Blake talks on the telephone with a member of his band who wants to argue him into making another tour. This conversation, like so much more in the film, goes off into nothingness - at some point, Blake doffs the handset and leaves his pal talking into the void until the scene interrupts. Another great moment in the film is when we see Blake from a distance in his rehearsal room through a window, while the camera almost imperceptibly backs up and one by one releases the view at the luxurious country house, walking around and operating several instruments. The chords of an electric guitar crescendo to a voluminous drone sound and with every instrument Blake plays, the intensity increases while the camera slowly moves away from the house. This gives a feeling as if Van Sant withdraws from his protagonist, with the awareness that also the camera can not get to truth of Blake's/Kurt's story and that certain secrets should rather left to be untouched. It's also remarkable that Van Sant avoids any direct reference to drug use, but there are hidden innuendos such as the Velvet Underground song Venus in Furs we hear from a scratched record: "I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for thousand years". This extolled numbness of the body has also befallen Blake whereas the association of the record and the heroine needle is kind of a 'witty' pun.

At the end, when Blake leaves his body (in admittedly too much pathos) and goes up the Stairway of Heaven, you just seem to be relieved that his misery of mental and physical exhaustion and mundane loneliness finally found an end and you have to agree with Kurt Cobain's famous line: "It's better to burn out than to fade away."
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La Chinoise (1967)
8/10
Western Youth Policies
2 November 2008
With this film, Godard applies his attention to the awakenings of Maoism and other left wing groupings among the western youth, which became highly dramatic in France and elsewhere just one year later. In this regard, he attempts to press forward an explicit political statement with the story of 5 young students, living together in a commune and studying Mao's bible. In doing so, Godard establishes a very interesting position within commercial cinema - for one thing, by siding with the political line of the Marxism-Leninism, or rather putting its policy up for discussion, for another thing, by giving this film an utterly unspectacular structure which is mostly based on language and reasoning discussions. For long periods, this film has the character of a Brechtian teaching play and does not show the result of thought process, but the fumbling and unsure, often awkward gait of thinking itself between the grueling influences of the exterior environment, politics and history, which Godard quotes as signs and images of pop culture. It's probably not Godard's most engaging film, but it's certainly very intriguing, given the course of history after this film was made.
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