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1/10 - 4/10 = Negative
5/10 = Average
6/10 - 10/10 = Positive
*Depending on the degree of the flaw, a film can be marked down more than one point.
1/10: No matter how hard I try, I can't think of anything I liked about these movies whatsoever.
2/10: Movies with this rating barely have anything I liked about them. Sometimes, the only thing I can say I liked are a few minor things. However, I can't say I liked nothing about these movies.
3/10: Movies with this rating have a couple solid aspects I liked. However, the bad outweighs the good quite a bit.
4/10: Movies with this rating have several things I disliked and a fair amount of things I liked. However, the bad slightly outweighs the good and I wouldn't say they're average or okay.
5/10: Movies with this rating may have a few flaws, but there are just enough things I like about them for me not to consider them to be bad films. I wouldn't say I liked them though.
6/10: I like movies which get this rating. They may have a few flaws, but overall, I find these movies to be pretty good. I have little issue with revisiting these movies as long as it's only a few spread out viewings.
7/10: I really like movies which receive this rating. Movies with this rating usually have only one thing I disliked about them or a few minor things I disliked. I'd be okay with revisiting these movies every now and then.
8/10: I can't find anything major I disliked about these films. There may be one or two minor issues I had, but they're usually insignificant when factored against everything I liked about them. These movies may not give me a feeling of "I couldn't have enjoyed this any more". However, I have no issue with revisiting them as my opinion may possibly grow.
9/10: Like films I give 8/10 to, I can't find anything I disliked about these movies as well. I also don't have any minor issues with them. However, what sets these films apart from films I give 8/10 to is that I find more merits with them and feel a far greater connection to them. They still don't give me a sense of perfection, but they sure come close to doing so.
*A film has to be at least one year old in order to receive this rating.
10/10: I can't think of anything I disliked about these movies. Not only do I think these movies are perfect, but I also think they're untouchable and awe-inspiring. I doubt I could've enjoyed them anymore.
*A film has to be at least five years old in order to receive this rating and I have to watch it at least twice.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
A well-acted story with some compelling character dynamics
Though the last time I saw this film was several years ago, I remember thoroughly enjoying my time with it. I was impressed with Wallis's performance and Hushpuppy's character arc, though I felt the film's magical realism flew over my head and wasn't sure what to make of that aspect. I had been meaning to rewatch the film for a while, so I was happy to revisit it for this thread.
When it was released back in 2012, it garnered a lot of praise, but since then, it has received a fair share of backlash. Given this, I wasn't sure how well it would hold up. Fortunately though, it held up pretty well, except my initial opinion of the film is pretty much the same as it was last time.
As has been noted by many people in the past, Quvenzhane Wallis gives a strong performance. Nowadays, it's hard to find good child actors, but Wallis did a phenomenal job in this film, sounding like someone much older who's had many years of acting experience. Her narration brimmed with all kinds of emotion, causing her to disappear into her role. While Dwight Henry was good, Wallis definitely stole the film.
Hushpuppy's and Wink's relationship was also compelling, just like I thought it was last time. Hushpuppy's mother has left them and has caused a rift in their family. Hushpuppy has her own house and her father requires for her to take care of herself, hence toughening her up for the real world. With his health declining and the ability to thrive in the Bathtub growing harder, accomplishing this becomes especially important. While there are some scenes of Wink teaching her various skills (fishing and preparing food), I liked how her arc didn't have a "checking off the boxes" feel in terms of him teaching her a single skill at a time, one after another. Instead, this theme was largely handled by the way Wink spoke to her. He often referred to her with masculine pronouns and having her act "manly" with telling her to break open a lobster with her bare hands instead of a knife or pretending that she beat him in an arm wrestle. I thought their dynamic was pretty solid, overall.
While Hushpuppy's character arc in the film is compelling, I think only one scene from it reaches greatness, which is when she goes to seek out her mother. The sequence starts off fine enough with the dreamy atmosphere of the restaurant, but her conversation with her mother blew me away. What's interesting is that Hushpuppy doesn't reveal they're mother and daughter throughout this sequence. Like, she almost reveals it by saying "You can take care of me. Me and Daddy." However, once her mother says she can't take care of anyone, Hushpuppy doesn't reveal any more info about their relation and leaves after a few minutes. My reading of this sequence is, after Hushpuppy noticed her father wasn't going to live much longer, she chose to go to her mother as a last resort in hopes she'd look after her. Seeing her mother couldn't take care of her either though was when she fully realized she had to take care of herself. Thus, that was the final main step to her character arc. Overall, I think the emotional bits of this scene were handled pretty obliquely, which was why I responded so well to it. Again though, I don't think anything else in the film is able to reach this scene in terms of greatness.
I found the film's magical realism to be a mixed bag. I enjoyed some aspects to it, like Hushpuppy imagining her mother as the playfulness of these scenes were contrasted with a strong sense of longing. They also highlighted Hushpuppy's dependency on her parents. As with my first viewing though, I wasn't sure what to make of the Aurochs. Were they supposed to be reflections of how Hushpuppy has to toughen up? Are they supposed to represent a form of violence which Hushpuppy has to avoid adopting? No clue. As they stood, I appreciated their scenes as a curiosity, but I felt they were underdeveloped and would've liked for them to be fleshed out more.
Overall, I think this film holds up pretty well. Though I think only one scene in it reaches greatness, it still has plenty to offer, both in the way of Wallis's performance and Hushpuppy's character arc. I don't know if I'll watch it again, but I'm glad I got to revisit it.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Another great entry into Kubrick's large body of films
I was surprised by how much I loved this film. I know it's a Kubrick film, but since I'm not a fan of historical dramas and given that Barry Lyndon is a middle child between four Kubrick films which are more well-known (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket), I was wondering if this would be one of his weaker films. But nope, Kubrick blew me away once again.
A major theme of this film is the death of existentialism. Barry's attempts to use his wit and skills to secure a good outcome outside of the system make him an existentialist. These efforts are constantly undermined though. For example, though it initially seems like he kills John Quin in a duel, it's later learned that Quin didn't die and that the duel was a ruse to get rid of him. Also, his efforts of escaping to Dublin are undermined by being robbed. In addition, his plan to join the Seven Years' War to get a pension that will enable him to return home are undermined by his friend dying and, of course, never receiving the pension. Finally, his efforts of deserting the war are undermined by him being drafted into the Prussian Army. Since Barry was unable to change his fate and avoid becoming part of the system, his existentialist ideals fell flat.
The latter parts of the first half are where Barry loses his existentialist ideals and becomes part of the system he attempted to avoid. Saving a Prussian soldier's life in the Seven Years' War is his first turning point. While he initially attempted to create a good outcome for himself by operating outside of the system (again, with no luck), he's now operating from inside the system and doing what those above him would want him to do. Except, he isn't quite ready to be a part of the system. Though he's operating from inside it now, he's yet to master the act of deception. While many people in the film deceived Barry up to this point, he's yet to do the same as Prussian Captain Potzdorf caught on to his last attempt. Eventually though, Barry and Chevalier successfully deceive the Prussians by escaping the country. Marrying Lady Lyndon serves as the final nail in the coffin to his existentialism, causing him to be a member of the system. He's now a deceiver who marries for class and uses violence to settle disputes, just like those around him. He wasn't able to escape this fate.
Now is a good time to mention the cinematography. Most shots in the film are constructed to look like paintings, largely due to the abundance of wide angle shots and how the film was shot only in natural light. While this style is visually outstanding, it also adds to the film's themes. Of course, paintings never move regardless of how long or how many times you view them. They will always tell the same story. I think this aesthetic shows how Barry's story is neither special nor unique. Rather, the character traits we see of him are part of a pattern. Many other people had, have, and will have the same fate as Barry. For instance, though little is known about Barry's father, the first shot shows that he also used violence to settle disputes. In fact, a common camera movement in the film shows a close-up of Barry, only to pull back and reveal more and more of the setting he occupies. These shots show that Barry is less important to these frames than the scenery surrounding him is.
The second half expands upon this generational pattern by detailing how Bullington becomes a faceless member of the system, just as Barry, Barry's father, and everyone else around them did. Much like Barry uses violence to solve conflicts with Bullington in the second half, Bullington uses violence to solve his own conflicts later on. Bullington also upholds the same existentialist ideals Barry had in the early stretches of the film, shown by how Bullington constantly defies Barry with the belief he can save his mother from him or how he later leaves the family estate. Like Barry though, Bullington's efforts are undermined. Defying Barry doesn't save his mother: it only results in him getting beaten. Leaving the family estate doesn't allow for him to operate outside the system: he later returns to the estate. Given this, Barry and Bullington are one and the same as they both end up operating inside the system, despite their efforts to avoid it. Just like a character in a painting, they have no free will and will always live in the same scene.
In conclusion, this is another impressive addition to Kubrick's large body of films. I'm not sure where I'd rank it amongst his other films, but it's definitely a great film. If you haven't seen this film yet, I highly recommend doing so.
Antwone Fisher (2002)
A well-crafted and well-acted story
This was a solid film. It didn't blow me away, but I found it to be a well-crafted and engaging story anchored by some strong performances from Denzel Washington and Derek Luke.
The acting is one of the film's highlights. I generally like Denzel Washington and this film was no exception. As usual, he gives a strong performance which helps to heighten the emotional power of certain scenes. I was unfamiliar with Derek Luke going into it, but I also admired his work and thought he was able to carry the film well, even in the final act where Washington's character was mostly absent. Though I wasn't familiar with many of the actors who played smaller parts, I thought they were fine as well. Overall, I didn't have any issues with a particular cast member.
As far as its story goes, Antwone Fisher is a character study on the titular character, which explores how he grew up, the many hardships he faced, and the way they made him violent later on. While a lot of the film consists of flashbacks to his childhood, it also spends a decent amount of time detailing how his various sessions with Dr. Davenport influenced his behavior, which is detailed through various people who either help or hinder him, like his relationship with Cheryl, the various people he runs into who provoke him into fights, or his trouble with fitting into various events he attends. This led to a handful of powerful moments which kept me on board throughout the film.
I don't think every scene hit its mark though. For instance, the reunion of Antwone and his mother felt rather brief and not as powerful as it should've been. Also, Davenport telling Antwone that their time together helped him to confront his own demons fell flat as, while Davenport's conflict with his wife was certainly made clear, his own road to recovery wasn't fleshed out enough for me to buy their final conversation. In spite of these occasional missteps though, I did enjoy the story a decent bit, if not loving it per se.
Overall, I enjoyed this film quite a bit. Sure, it's a rather straightforward story and not every beat of it landed, but many other aspects did and the excellent twin performances from Washington and Luke helped to heighten the emotional resonance of the film.
Great setup, but I don't think the film delivered
The ideas for a great film are certainly here. A group of people attempting to form a society in a spaceship after they have no hope of making it back to civilization which is set against their deteriorating mental states is definitely an interesting concept. I mainly enjoyed seeing the various ways the passengers coped with this, such as cults or sex orgies popping up, or the Mima being heavily relied on by the passengers as a way to keep calm. I appreciated the undercurrents of escapism in these scenes and I responded the most to them. In that sense, the film is at its best when one views these scenes in a vacuum for their stylistic and sensory merits.
Skimming through some critical reviews, I noticed that a lot of people liked the production design. I enjoyed some elements of it such as the exterior shots of the ship or the framing of the Mima. Overall though, I wasn't a fan of it. While I didn't mind that the interior of the ship didn't look futuristic, I wish that more work would've been put into it as it felt like the film was mostly shot in a shopping center and a hotel. To a degree, this distracted me as I could feel its low budget.
Also, after finishing the film, I couldn't shake the feeling that, in spite of all its craft and ideas, it had ultimately failed to connect with me. For one, I wasn't a big fan of the pacing. The film operated at a high pace, leading to a handful of segments and some various scenes being glossed over, as if the film was always in a hurry to get to the next scene. This style of pacing clashed poorly with how mundane and uneventful life on the ship was, making it hard to get on the character's wavelengths. While I don't think that every film should represent sculpting in time, displaying such felt especially necessary for this film concerning its tone. I also felt like the pacing harmed a few character motivations since there wasn't enough breathing room to flesh the ideas out in them fully, like the Astronomer's or Isagel's final scenes in the film.
Overall, I wasn't too impressed by this film. The groundwork for a great film is certainly here and the film managed to work a couple wonders out of its script, but ultimately, I don't think the film delivered on its promising setup and it ultimately left me cold.
Had some potential here and there, but so much of it was smothered in a cold and distant approach
This film brought to mind questions on whether you can enjoy a film if you don't know what the director is going for, to which I'd answer yes. For instance, "The Color of Pomegranates" and "El Topo" sailed over my head, but I still enjoyed the mood and feel to them. With this film though, I was frequently wondering whether I was getting anything out of it.
Before I go any further though, I'll state that there are some aspects and scenes which, in a vacuum, worked really well. For instance, I liked that the violence was used sparingly and had a direct, matter-of-fact approach which resisted excitement or awe and how the minutes before the final act made for a strong slice of buildup, with the scenes of the terrorists trying on clothes or listening to music taking on a different feel than they did beforehand. Also, certain scenes stuck with me for a while such as David's nighttime walk through the city which raised a couple implications towards the motives of the terrorists or Yacine wearing a wig and makeup during his rendition of "My Way", which, due to an early conversation where Yacine, thinking he was being treated as a clown, refused to sing for the group, seemed to be masking something deeper. Overall, there's some bits I really like and some competent filmmaking here and there. This potential though was smothered so much in an approach which left me cold and distant.
As said, so much of this film left me wondering whether I was getting anything out of it and the opening 50 or so minutes are a prime example of this. In spite of all the visual and editing techniques Bonello utilized here (cross-cutting, flashbacks, split screen effects), this sequence ultimately failed to connect with me. I found it to be mostly lacking in suspense given it failed to establish stakes or threats which could've potentially disrupted the terrorist plot for a number of the characters involved or by cutting to flashbacks that occurred before (?) the bombing, sacrificing much of the narrative momentum in this sequence in the process (which wasn't even a lot to begin with). As it stood, the sequence really dragged and didn't leave much of an impression on me. Unfortunately, the second half didn't fare much better. One reviewer made a case for it by writing "Why pigeonhole these characters by allying them with a specific political ideology when you can let their actions...speak for them?" Giving the characters a political ideology wasn't what I was looking for. Rather, watching them interact with the various material goods in the department store didn't mean much to me. As stated earlier, Yacine's rendition of "My Way" was effective, but the rest of their actions lacked the interesting motivations that Yacine's sub-plot had and so much of what went on didn't interest me much and felt like filler for something which never occurred. Finally, the ending felt like brutality for brutality's sake. The only interpretation I have for the ending in order for it to make sense is that the terrorists carried about their plot as a response to the unethical behavior of the police in the city, except I can't find enough evidence to back up that interpretation. If this was Bonello's intention, this theme would've had to been hammered into the film more for the final act to hit as hard as it could've. As it stood, while I appreciated it somewhat, it didn't seem like it was making a coherent point and left me, like so much of what else happened in the film, cold (I also thought the shootings were portrayed in an awkward way, but that might just be me). Really, a lot of this film felt like a shell of what could've been a great film.
A bunch of other aspects annoyed me as well. For instance, there was a recurring motif of presenting a scene several times from multiple angles and perspectives, and this worked well enough at some points (showing the bombs exploding in this style, for instance), but more often than not, this made for some distractingly annoying editing which seemed kind of pointless. Secondly, the flashbacks were integrated into the film in a pretty awkward manner that took away from the film, like the aforementioned flashbacks in the first 50 minutes or David's flashback after his nighttime walk through the city which seemed unnecessary. Finally, some scenes stuck out as being exceedingly bad, like one of the aforementioned scenes shown from multiple perspectives during the ending sequence, or a randomly placed, tonal breaking nightmare which bordered on the supernatural with how it seemed to blend into reality (which, if that's the case, is even more egregious).
Really, while there's a few quality scenes and aspects mixed into this film, they're buried in such a myriad of flaws that I just can't recommend this. It's a shame, really, because this is such a unique approach to the genre which is rare to come by and Bonello had a good framework to tackle this approach with, but after watching it both times, it just sort of came and went by and, once the credits rolled, I didn't retain much of my experience with it.
How Green Was My Valley (1941)
A powerful and moving film
Famous for beating Citizen Kane at the Oscars for Best Picture, this is usually considered to be a good film, albeit one which shouldn't have beaten Citizen Kane. To be fair to the film, I went into it without expecting it to be better than Welles' film as I didn't think judging it like this would be fair to John Ford. While I prefer Citizen Kane by a decent margin, I still enjoyed this film quite a lot and I think it has plenty going for it that it's able to stand just fine on its own.
This film does something rare in that it feels simultaneously epic and intimate at the same time. Though it wasn't clear how much time passed throughout the film, many strikes, misfortunes, and conflicts were presented in vivid detail. Something interesting about these occurrences was how so little of them involved Huw; most involved the other characters in the valley, like the protests which drove Huw's brothers away from his father for opposing their decisions to join a union (which also created tension between him and the other strikers), Angharad grappling with her wish to marry Mr. Gruffydd while Evans unwanted courtship loomed over her, or Bronwyn's struggles to earn enough money to get by. Given all these characters and their interlocking storylines, the film acted as a vivid depiction of the valley as Huw's flashback didn't just tell us of the events which shaped him as a child, but also those which effected the people around him. In spite of this scope, the film balanced this out with a strong feeling of intimacy amongst the characters. One could criticize the sentimentality of some of these moments, but I found them compelling as not only did they contrast well with the film's massive scope, but since the adult Huw's emotional state in the opening scene was of mournful nostalgia, it made sense for some of this sentiment to reflect in his flashback, and the occasional sentimental scenes were a good way to represent this.
Amidst the conflicts in the valley, the residents would often find themselves divided with their ideologies clashing against each other. The protests and unions formed is the first instance of this division. This impacted Gwilym's relationship with his sons and estranged him from the other strikers for refusing to endorse their strike, revealing how much their village had broken apart. Mr. Gruffydd, the village preacher, later responded to those actions by condemning the villagers for their religious hypocrisies with how they looked down upon and vandalized Gwilym's house, yet sat in the same church with him, making for a relatable scene which reflected some of my views on religion. While one could despise the villagers though, I don't think contempt hung on the clashes between the characters as much as a tragic undercurrent did since we saw in the opening that they initially got along with each other just fine before the wage cuts. It's just that the wage cuts tore them apart and led to the various factions in the village.
Ford also included some small scale sub-plots involving the villagers, like Angharad's aforementioned attempted courtship of Mr. Gruffydd, which included a handful of compelling scenes and an abstractly beautiful culmination to their relationship in the coda, or Huw's conflicts with a school bully and his cruel teacher, which, in spite of having little to do with the central conflict involving the coal miners, turned out to be a worthwhile break from this premise as Huw's experience there helped to develop and strengthen his character. These sub-plots and the various characters involved in them made the valley seem expansive, yet were used sparingly enough that they never seemed like distractions from the film's central conflict.
While this isn't my idea of a great film, I think it's really good and it definitely doesn't deserve to be remembered predominantly by its "A good film which shouldn't have beaten Citizen Kane" reputation. Overall, it's a strong film, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.
Il grande silenzio (1968)
An atypical and hard-hitting western film
Though I've known about this film for a while, I fortunately managed to watch it without knowing its ending. I heard it was surprising, but that was about it. While this film didn't wow me like my favorite Westerns have (which isn't to say I have any particular issues with it per se), I found it to be a truly uncharacteristic entry into the genre, whose themes resonated with me for a while.
This atypical Western film initially starts with many of the mythical pleasures of Leone's Dollars Trilogy. The initial depiction of Silence brings to attention The Man With No Name in the way he seems smarter and faster than his enemies and where the suspense isn't focused so much on "Will he die?" as much as it's centered around "How soon will his enemies die?". Mute due to an injury he faced when he was a child, his character behaves in a way that often makes him feel like a feeling. The way he moves from area to area, always aware of his surroundings and always prepared when he gets into combat, blowing his enemies away with ease and precision, makes him seem like a mysterious figure. Loco, the leader of a gang of ruthless bounty hunters, is initially shown to be intimidating, like a typical Western villain. Though Loco seems better equipped to fight Silence than the other bounty hunters in the film, he doesn't appear to be a match for him. Or, at least, this describes the first act.
What starts out as a homage to Sergio Leone soon develops into something more complex and hard-hitting. Discussing this film without spoiling its ending is a difficult task, because so much of what I love about it goes back to its ending considering the strength of how well it builds to it. The buildup in question concerns the effect the handling of Silence and Loco has on the viewer as they watch the film. The more time spent with the characters, one begins to notice subtle changes in both their demeanors, changes that soon hang on the viewer and reek of an unthinkable dread, like Loco not falling for Silence's taunts or Silence being beaten up by his enemies twice. With Loco though, "reaffirmation" better describes him as "change" implies he grows in intelligence and skill as the film rolls along when, in actuality, these traits are clearly inside him from the start. It's just that these reaffirmations increase in dread throughout the film as contrasting Silence's progressively weakening demeanor to that of Loco's slowly informs the viewer how difficult taking on Loco will be for Silence, giving the illusion that he undergoes significant change and has acquired Silence's initial depiction. Once Silence encounters Loco, his initially impenetrable demeanor is slowly rendered obsolete and is replaced by an unconvincing facade. As the film comes to a close, this subtle dread grows to an unbearable level, leading to one of the darkest, most unforgiving endings I've ever seen in a film. It's a realistic depiction of what probably would've happened in real life.
Overall, I really liked this film. The way it builds to its ending is really unique for the genre and it lingered with me for a while. Though this isn't quite a great film for me, I'll definitely keep an eye out for Corbucci in the future (this is the first film I've seen from him).
Pisma myortvogo cheloveka (1986)
Minor quibbles aside, this is a pretty underseen film
This is another film I watched before, but didn't remember that well and felt it deserved a rewatch (I try to have one of these films each round). I got a whole lot more out of it this time around and while I have some little quibbles with it here and there, I'd say it's a solid science fiction film which is fairly underseen and should be discussed more.
Most people in this film had a generally nihilistic view on life and doubted that there was any hope for humanity. This seemed to be the prevailing attitude amongst most of the survivors we saw in the film except for the main character, Larsen, who believed that other surviving humans existed outside the central bunker and the town he lived in and that their species wasn't doomed. While much of his arc consisted of him trying to convince the people he encountered of his theories to no avail (which made for a number of compelling exchanges, like when a man referenced how Jesus called humanity doomed when he saved them), another handful of scenes featured several intimate moments which detailed his mental state, delivered by the way of the letters he wrote to his son. While the biting knowledge that his son might never read them lingered over these scenes, I found the overall execution of them to be a mixed bag. The monologue of how an operator was unable to make it to a computer in time to prevent the first missile strike since he was slowed down by a cup of coffee in his hands stuck out as a brilliant slice of dark humor. Larsen needing to recite a story of how seeing a cow run over by a locomotive when he was little gave him recurring nightmares of a black locomotive just to describe the distance he had and the insecurities he felt for his son, on the other hand, felt overwritten by comparison. The point of that scene would've still been made without the fluffy bits.
Ultimately, Larsen's emotional conflict came to a compelling culmination. Allowing the children in the orphanage to be admitted into the central bunker would help pave way for humans to live on, as he believed they still could. They're young and, when they get older, they'll be able to produce more offspring. They represent the next generation of humans. Since the central bunker rejected them from entering and since the kids Larsen saw inside the Children's Department of the central bunker were all sick and injured though (I don't think his reaction upon seeing them was as much a response to his son Eric as I initially thought as much as it had to do with his fears of the potential outcome of the children in the area), this made it likely that an entire generation of people could be lost, potentially dooming humanity in the process. However, by caring for them in the final act, they were eventually healthy enough to venture out into the landscape to potentially find the surviving humans which Larsen fervently believed in, making this the only significant impact he had on the town. I'm not holding my breath that their journey is going to lead to anything (I'm not so sure that ambiguity was the best choice of an ending), but regardless of whether they live or die, Larsen still gave them a chance at finding somewhere else to live, a chance they surely wouldn't have had at the central bunker or if they had remained in the town.
Lopushansky is often thought of as a protégé of Tarkovsky. I see these influences in the style of this film, like some of the long takes, or the ethereal beauty to be found in certain devastated landscapes. The most significant influence is with the sepia filter which permeates throughout most of the film. This was reminiscent of Tarkovsky's "Stalker", which also had undertones of a nuclear disaster. Overall, I found this choice of filter to be a great touch, albeit one which was occasionally undermined by the decision to shoot a few scenes in a bluish/purple filter. The filter in those scenes were distracting with how they clashed poorly with the sepia filter and didn't seem to add much to the film. I could've done without that. Beyond the sepia filter though, beauty could be found in several other shots in the film, like an early tracking shot which followed Larsen out of the museum and eventually revealed the full extent to the destruction and immensity of it, a hypnotic shot of an emotionally defeated Larsen as a trickle of water ran down his head and body, and the climactic shots in the library where the camera pulled back and revealed the massive scope of the room. The film's style was packed with several types of greatness and, though certain decisions undermined its look, it stuck out as one of the film's main strengths.
Overall, while I'm not quite an ardent supporter of this film, I liked it quite a lot and I'll definitely recommend it to other people on this site. Being my first Lopushansky film, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for his other films.
The Baby of Mâcon (1993)
Flawed but full of really interesting ideas
Prospero's Books is the only other Greenaway film I've seen. While I struggled a bit with that one and had some difficulty with getting a handle on Greenaway's style (I plan to revisit it in the future), I still enjoyed it quite a bit and found it to be one of, if not, the most unique book-to-film adaptation I've ever seen. I'd say I enjoyed this one a decent bit less, but I still found plenty to like and, for the most part, enjoyed my time with it.
The most prominent aspect of it is that it's shot in the style of a staged play which is represented by an audience watching the play as the actors/actresses perform it in front of them. This was an interesting premise and I was curious to see how it would develop, beyond the initial function of it being a distancing technique of course. Initially, I wasn't sure what to make of this aspect (specifically, the handling of it in the final act), but it all started to come together when I thought about the film from the perspective of the audience members watching the play who had no idea what was actually going on. If you've seen the film, you'll know that a shocking sequence of violence occurs in the final act which completely changes the initial purpose of the staged play aspect. The violence shown in the "play" is real, but nobody in the audience understood what was going on and thought it was part of the act. Since the full extent to the heinous nature of the act doesn't translate to the audience, this means they aren't feeling the real-life visceral power of the act. They're instead feeling a disturbing, yet watered down depiction of the act. Beyond that, however, this dynamic doesn't just solely apply to this film. This also applies for pretty much all films which display extreme violence (murder, torture, rape, etc.). Of course, there's all kinds of disturbing films out there which depict these acts and most directors and actors involved in these scenes do as much as they can to make these scenes as realistic as possible. However, as disturbing as these scenes may be, the knowledge that the people in them are just actors and that nobody is actually getting hurt or killed during filming means that these acts are both watered down and a misrepresentation of the actual seriousness of the act. Until actors/actresses are actually hurt and killed on set (which, obviously, won't ever become standard), all films which show these scenes, as disturbing as their portrayal of the act may be, will always fail to capture the true heinous nature of the acts. Due to this, The Baby of Macon acts as a criticism of all films which feature extreme violence by arguing that the medium is unable to properly represent this.
While this is a terrific point in and of itself, the more I thought about the staged play dynamic, the less supportive I was with it. Beyond the final act, I don't think the rest of the film did nearly enough with this dynamic to keep me that engaged with what came prior. That so much of the film's strengths would be lost without its climactic scene makes me wonder whether Greenaway was interested in developing this point all throughout the film or if he was saving the majority of his commentary for the final act. Like, doing something like this isn't inherently bad or anything (I thought Five Easy Pieces, for example, didn't kick in until its final act, but I still really liked it). I also have no intention of writing this film off entirely or dismissing it as average since I appreciated a decent bit of what came prior to the final act such as the care in which everything was put together, the unique framing of the film, the occasional scenes of the actors in the play talking to each other while they weren't performing (at one point, this foreshadowed the final act), and the unexpected shift into violence in the second half. On the other hand though, the film could often be problematic with its bloat given that some points were lingered on longer than necessary, like the Bishop's son distrusting the Daughter and the lengthy sequence of the Baby acquiring a cult-like following amongst the townsfolks. Emphasizing those aspects seemed to serve no point beyond restating those points that were already made clear, often causing the film to feel longer than it really was. I also found the fairly frequent naked/sexualized shots of the main child actor to be really disconcerting. Due to this, when I rewatched the film after getting a good handle on its themes, I found myself somewhat disinterested in most of what came before the final act and found myself impatiently waiting for it to happen. Again, the strengths of the final act are strong enough to shine through this, but I couldn't shake the feeling that a decent portion of the film failed to connect with me throughout both my viewings of it.
Overall, while I found this film to be a bit of a chore to get through, I'm still recommending it since the points it makes in its final act are strong and layered enough that they're able to shine through its flaws. I'll definitely keep going with Greenaway's films.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
A masterpiece of complex characterizations and themes and high levels of craft
The Western genre isn't necessarily my favorite genre out there, but it can hit the spot every now and then. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is an all-time favorite, but it's the only Western which makes it on my favorites list. Or, at least, it was until watching this film, which is now the newest addition to my favorites list.
What resonated with me the most were certain character dynamics. Pike Bishop was a complex character. Early on in the film, he says "When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished," revealing one of his philosophies. As we observe though, Pike doesn't uphold this belief as he abandons a number of people throughout the film, as we learn either via flashback or throughout the events of the film. Seeing these scenes play out brings some gray to his character and gives us a sense of his troubles. It isn't until the end where he finally upholds his belief, which marks the start of an utterly perfect final act. There's also Deke Thornton, the leader of a group of bounty hunters, who's told he has thirty days to kill the gang of else he will be sent back to prison. In a flashback, it's revealed that he used to be a member of Pike's gang but was captured and arrested in a shootout. As the film rolls along, he visibly expresses his frustration over the bounty hunters he rides with. He gets in a handful of arguments with them and refers to them as "gutter trash" a couple times. Seeing both this and his various confrontations with Pike, we get the sense that he doesn't want to kill them and wishes to be accepted back into their gang instead. Without spoiling anything, I found the payoff for this dynamic to be deeply effective and it resonated with me long after the film ended. Other notable characters include Angel, who acquires a seething hatred for General Mapache after he learns that his troops ravaged his village, kidnapped his girlfriend, and killed his father. Though Pike instructs him not to avenge his father, his desire to get revenge on the corrupt General often complicates their goals and puts his own life at risk in the process.
Also effective were the musings on how the politics of the American West were disappearing around the gang members (the film took place a year before the start of World War I). There were a handful of visual indications that the gang was in need of retirement such as how Pike had difficulty mounting a horse at one point (Unforgiven, which serves as a great companion piece to this film, also featured a protagonist who struggled with this; I wonder if this film influenced Eastwood) or how the gang commented on how cars will be used in the war. In addition to this, the gang, whose original goal was to pull off one last successful heist before retiring, often commented on how they'll have to find a new line of work pretty soon. One of the members also questioned whether he would've been better off running a whorehouse as opposed to his life of thievery. All of these ways of coping with the end of the era all resonated with me and made for some interesting discussions amongst the characters.
The gunfights bear a ridiculously high level of craft. They're deeply engaging to watch with their combination of multi-angle, quick-cuts, montage editing, slow motion, and, of course, the massive body count, which was uncharacteristic for Westerns when this film was released. The most notable gunfight is, of course, the famous Battle of the Bloody Porch, which was foreshadowed to earlier in the film when the machine gun used in the final shootout accidentally fired at Mapache's troops, missing every single person present. Looking past the craft and the high body count in the ending though reveals a clever sub-textual interpretation on how the gang members, by killing most of Mapache's troops in the final shootout, unintentionally helped the rebels with their fight against the Mexican Federal Army, which, historically, disbanded in 1914, a year after the events of this film. Since a central theme in this film focuses on the death of the American West, it's shown that the gang actually helped pave the way for a new way of life with the final shootout, taking multiple people representative of their way of life with them to the grave in the process.
Overall, this film is a masterpiece. The character dynamics, central themes, and the gunfights resonated with me in the best possible way. As stated earlier, I'm not the biggest fan of Westerns, but I'm really glad I saw this film as it left a massive impact on me.
American Movie (1999)
A powerful and affecting documentary
This is one of the few non-well known films I saw before I got into film. Since I wasn't used to slow pacing at all, I struggled quite a bit and, before rewatching it for this thread, I hadn't thought much about it. Now that I've finally sat down to give it another chance though, I've come to the conclusion that it's pretty excellent and criminally underseen.
When I rate and review films I dislike, I rarely think about how dedicated the director could've potentially been to their work while in production or how many hurdles they could've run into in the process of directing that film. More importantly though, I encounter films which fail to give me any insight into the mind of the director who made that film. However, learning about the personal struggles of a director or getting a sense of who the director is can be a really beautiful experience. Since I haven't watched Coven, I can't speak to whether it's a good film or not. However, this documentary reminded me that even if a movie can feel student film-y or misstep a number of times, a lot of work can still be put into that film and the director can also show a strong, overwhelming passion when making it, regardless of how much it shows in the film. Knowing this about the director can cause you to feel more sympathetic towards their work. I find that getting a sense of this is really fascinating and this film evokes this sense in spades. Not only did we get to see how determined Borchardt was in the production of this film, but we also saw him run into a number of obstacles while creating it in addition to several conflicts with other people in his life. Given this knowledge of Borchardt, this induced a truly affecting and strangely personal layer of empathy for him. Also, I say the word "personal", because watching this documentary reminded me a lot of all the times I've watched/read/played something by a close friend of mine. Though I may have my issues with what they make, I often find myself hesitant to point these issues out since I'm really close to that person and am aware of what creating that form of media means to them. Since this documentary did such a thorough job at fleshing Borchardt out and exploring his motivations and aspirations, he felt like a proxy for all the times I've encountered this.
While Mark Borchardt was at the heart of the story, the film also fleshed out a handful of other characters around Borchardt who influenced and shaped him as he went about the production of Coven. The first of which was his mother, who fervently supported him and occasionally went out of her way to help him out with his goal despite having her doubts that he'd ever succeed as a movie director. Knowledge on how she used to fight with Borchardt's father also interested me since it gave a sense of Borchardt's background. Borchardt's best friend Mike was also compelling. Little about his ambitions were known. Like, we knew he was a musician, but we didn't know whether he worked anywhere or if he was unemployed and simply played it on his own accord. Regardless, I appreciated him for his strong dedication to Borchardt, not just in the sense of how he helped him with Coven, but also how he helped him with a number of the films he made when he was younger. His prior struggles with drug addiction were also compelling to learn about. The most interesting of these characters, however, was Bill, Borchardt's uncle. He was elderly, lived alone in a trailer, and had a negative outlook on life in how he constantly expressed his dissatisfaction and indifference towards Borchardt and a number of other things which happened in the film. He seemed to have no ambitions left. In spite of this, however, Borchardt consistently tried to get him involved with the production of his film, perhaps an attempt to help him find happiness given that he recommended this to him at a few points in the film. Bill's final lines really resonated with me as they were the culmination of Borchardt's efforts.
Overall, this documentary was powerful and it lingered with me for a while after finishing it. With documentaries, I rarely find myself eager to rewatch them, but I can definitely see myself watching this one again in the future since it impressed me so much. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend doing so.
Le locataire (1976)
A complex and effective psychological horror film
This is the third psychological horror film I've seen from Polanski (I've also seen Rosemary's Baby and Repulsion). I love all three of these films and think they're really well-crafted and impressive. Of the three of them, however, I think I like this one the most.
While watching this film, I often questioned whether the events in it were real or if they were just in Trelkovsky's head. Though Trelkovsky could've just imagined everything in it, that about 101 mildly or really fishy things happen in it which involve the other tenants in the building complicates this. While some of these incidents could be dismissed or explained with simple, rational factors, when all of these are stacked up together, it does cause one to raise doubts. A lot of this has to do with the dialogue as certain lines have double meanings to them. For instance, in an early scene, the Concierge says "Don't worry, she won't get better." when referring to the attempted suicide of the previous tenant. While this line and a handful of other lines and conversations could be meant in an entirely non-sinister context, the greatness is that they can be used interchangeably. While some scenes are harder to make a case for one way or the other, Polanski usually refuses to either confirm or deny Trelkovsky's suspicions, creating an air of mystery which flutters around this film. This ambiguity also causes many scenes in the latter portions of the film to be terrifying since this possibility that Trelkovsky may be right is maintained through the entire film by Polanski, as he illustrates with the ending scenes by how the tenants who appear to have good intentions on the outside still have a sinister atmosphere around them. However, since the film also raises some doubt towards whether or not Trelkovsky's right such as how he mistakes a salesman for Monsieur Zy while in Stella's room, we also wonder if the tenants actually don't mean any harm to him. The final act carries this feeling with it. Overall, I think this film does an incredible job at eliciting complex emotions from the audience through this ambiguity.
Polanski also has a unique way of building up to the more horrific moments in this film. While a handful of "horror" sequences are found throughout the film, it takes over half the film for the horror to be emphasized as the main focus. What I find interesting about what comes before this emphasis is that, while the film tells us that it's going to be horror fairly early on, the horror sequences eventually become fewer and fewer and the romantic/dramatic sequences begin to replace them until the film convinces you that it's actually not going to be a horror film. Due to this, the emphasis on horror can strangely come off as a surprise. Beyond this, however, what's even more clever is that the film strangely evokes questions on whether it, for a brief moment, achieves transcendence from the horror genre. While, on one hand, you could point out how the early horror sequences show what genre it is from the start or how it's easy to find out it's a psychological horror before you even watch it, the film does such a good job with buildup by placing a greater emphasis on the romance between Trelkovsky and Stella, having most of his conflicts with the other tenants boil down to noise complaints, and by having a number of other non-horror sequences and conversations that it complicates this question. In a way, it does convince you that it's actually not going to be a horror film around the middle. I think this is one of the hardest and most impressive things for any genre film (horror, action) to achieve and I'd say this film accomplishes it really well, especially so considering that I never felt impatient while waiting for this shift to happen as it contained more than enough to keep me interested.
Overall, this film is really impressive. While I was fairly mixed on it when I first watched it, I now think it's pretty incredible. Both the ambiguity found throughout the film and the feeling of transcendence it evokes as it rolls along are two really effective concepts in my mind and they definitely make it worth recommending.
Ta'm e guilass (1997)
Not quite great but effective nonetheless
I was meaning to check this film out for a while as it looked pretty interesting. While I wasn't blown away, I did like it quite a lot and I definitely think it's much better than the 1/4 rating Roger Ebert gave it.
I think it's at its best when it depicts Badii's conversations with the various people in his car. There's three main people he encounters throughout and each of them react in a different way to his offer. The first is a shy Kurdish soldier. When Badii encounters him, their conversation starts out normally, but as it goes on and we see Badii suggest driving around with him and how he drives further and further away from where the soldier plans to go, this conversation grows uneasy. We see that the soldier increasingly grows disconnected by how he doesn't talk much and often asks to be driven back or let out. It's a quietly tense sequence. The second man is a seminarian. With this section, I found their musings on whether suicide is a sin to be interesting as it opened up a few thought provoking questions. The third man is a taxidermist named Mr. Bagheri, the only one of the three who's named. He agrees to take part in it since he needs the money to take care of his sick child, but warily so since he attempts to persuade him otherwise during the car ride back to his workplace. With his scenes, I could tell he was disgusted by what he'd have to do, but felt that was his only choice in the matter. I also found the story of his attempted suicide to be powerful. All three of these characters had differing personalities and reacted to his offer in different ways, each of which were compelling.
The look of the film is also worth praising as a number of scenes and aspects appealed to me quite a lot. The sequence which stood out the most to me was of Badii sitting in an active construction site as he was covered in a cloud of dust. This is a well-shot and sort of eerie scene which causes you to wonder whether something bad might happen to him or if he's thinking of giving up. Since it's edited in a way which makes it seem as if Mr. Bagheri was in his car throughout this sequence (as if he already discussed his plan with him) makes it feel all the more mysterious. Another notable sequence is how a thunderstorm began as Badii lied down in the hole. It's a small touch to the scene but it adds a lot more power to it since everything which happens before the final act is shot in broad daylight. This shift in lighting adds a lot of mood to that moment. I also liked the shooting style. Although most of the film takes place in his car, I liked how the camera wasn't restricted to showing everything from inside the car as it occasionally showed shots from outside, overhead views of him driving by, or people looking at him as he drove by. This may not seem like a major detail, but I think this style adds a lot of variety concerning the camerawork and since many of the final portions don't take place in his car, this caused the "transition" to feel more natural rather than abrupt.
The coda is probably what's discussed the most. It's a surprising scene and I didn't expect it to end the way it did. I was really mixed on it at first, because I felt like the film risked a lot on the strength of it and I wasn't sure I preferred it over how I thought the film was going to end (or, the two ways I thought it was going to end). Not knowing what to make of it, I looked up some theories and the reading I settled on is that it shows life isn't meant to be analyzed but merely experienced. This fit well into Badii's characterization since we didn't know much about him (his family, his job, his motivation for wanting to take his life) other than a brief mention that he was in the military. So, in a way, the ending works at extending the mystery of his character. As a whole though, while I at least appreciate it, I'm not sure I got much out of it. There is, indeed, an air of mystery which flutters around Badii which is heightened by the ending. I thought of this throughout the film, in fact. My experience though was that, by the time Mr. Bagheri appeared, I wasn't thinking of how mysterious he was as much as I was focused on wondering what his outcome would be. Shifting the focus back to the mystery of his character served to show something I wasn't interested in seeing explored at that point. With my first viewing, I thought it was surprising and had fun pondering over it, but when I rewatched the film after processing the coda, I was taken out of the film when I got to it as I found it to be jarring.
Even though I don't think the ending works, I still enjoyed this film quite a lot on the whole and I found it to be an engaging experience. I definitely recommend it and am surprised that it isn't discussed here more often.
Invaders from Mars (1953)
A solid and effective sci-fi flick
Overall, I typically enjoy early science fiction film like this one, even when I have some issues here and there. I typically enjoy the look of them and the alien/monster designs which strangely impress me more than the cgi garbage which typically gets produced nowadays. This was another example of such as I enjoyed a great deal about it. There's plenty of solid material to love.
My favorite thing about this film was how so much of it was changed with the ending. Typically, I'm not a fan of the "It was all a dream" ending, but I actually thought this film utilized that twist really well. While thinking about this film, I noticed that certain parts of it felt exaggerated or fantastic (outside of the alien scenes of course) as if it was caught between reality and a dream. For instance, I found it odd how the military was so quick to believe that there was alien activity, that the military would let the kid and the two doctors remain on-site as they prepared to fight the aliens, how the kid and the female doctor were the only ones at the entire site to be sucked underground during the last act, or how the kid knew how to work an alien gun at a critical moment. I wasn't sure what to make of these scenes throughout my first viewing. Instead of taking issue with these moments though, the film resonated well for me upon reflection as I got a sense that it operated alongside the kid's perspective.
The mind control concept was handled really well as I thought the film did quite a lot with it, given how it was able to produce various reactions and feelings from me while watching. For instance, since the opening scene showed that David's parents were nice and got along with him pretty well, this made certain scenes in the opening act such as his parents yelling at or slapping him hard to watch. An uncomfortable atmosphere filled the early scenes. This dynamic of mind control also made certain encounters really suspenseful as it sometimes seemed as if David was at the mercy of them, something I mainly felt during the police station sequence. Finally, I tend to love horror films like this where, once the human characters are "changed", they still keep their human form (the first two Evil Dead films and Night of the Demons come to mind as examples) as this can sometimes make their clashes with the human characters (family, friends, et al) all the more effective.
I also enjoyed certain technical merits, specifically the cinematography and set design. David is occasionally shot using low angles which represent how small and insignificant he is in the presence of those around him. This applies for the adults he encounters such as how he looks up at the police in the police station or how the aliens from the final act are treated as giants in comparison to both him and the other adult characters. I also enjoyed the set design of the alien ship. While something like, say, Forbidden Planet, for example, put much more geometry and color into the set design, I thought the minimalist design in this film gave a rather barren look to the alien ship which I found appealing.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film. While I can't quite say it blew me away, I still enjoyed a great deal about it such as the childlike perspective, its handling of the mind control premise, and various technical merits, so it gets a strong recommendation from me.
I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
A simple romance film made great by a unique and mystic feel
It pains me to say that, until this film, I've had trouble with falling in love with the films of Powell and Pressburger. The first of their films I saw, Black Narcissus, didn't do much for me. After I added this film to my watchlist, I decided to give it a rewatch and while my initial criticism (that Sister Ruth's arc was too predictable) didn't bother me, I'm still not sure I liked it other than the gorgeous cinematography and the final act. Maybe another viewing will help to solidify my opinion on it. I then saw The Red Shoes, which I thought was pretty decent, although it wasn't till the 2nd half when Victoria's and Julian's romance began that I was fully into it. However, I did like this one quite a bit, so maybe I'll rewatch the other two as well.
After a fairly cheesy opening (which I kind of like as, since its feel contrasts with the Isle of Mull, I got a sense that Joan was steeping from one world to the next) with a mix of good and not-so-good visuals, the film definitely takes on a unique feel once we get to the island. As we spend time on it, we hear about all kinds of curses and bits of folklore of the area such as a castle which might curse the laird if he ever walks into it or a story concerning a King who attempted to anchor a boat in a massive whirlpool for 3 days in order to marry a princess. While these stories are interesting in and of themselves, what I enjoyed the most about these tales was how they aligned with the present dynamic between Joan and Torquil. While these tales definitely give this feeling during the later scenes in the film, there's a constant mystic air throughout the film. Maybe their relationship isn't really going anywhere because Torquil hasn't stepped foot into the castle? Maybe encountering the whirlpool will have an effect on their relationship? The overwhelming reaction I got throughout the film was that the state of their relationship was informed and impacted by their surroundings and the folklore of the area.
In addition to the folklore, the atmosphere also helps add to this hypnotic feel. The Isle of Mull is shown as a gorgeously atmospheric area with several impressive views of the ocean stretching out to the horizon, large waves crashing against the shore, fog occasionally filling certain scenes, and the constant sound of the wind which is either shown in the way of it violently shaking the tree branches on the island back and forth or how it's quietly heard in the background throughout most of the film, even indoors. I also liked the atmospheric shots of various people standing near the ocean who were covered in shadows, preventing you from seeing their faces. These visual and sensory pleasures further help to give it this unique feel. Other standout shots include Joan imagining her wedding while a transparent scene of it dissolves over her current state (the first shot of this really impressed me since it happens shortly before she arrives to the island, setting you up for the differing tone in the process) and the ship voyage near the end, which contains a handful of jaw-dropping visuals.
Overall, this is a really effective film. Behind the central dynamic between the two leads lies a moody, mystical atmosphere which envelopes the island throughout and gives it a unique feel, one which I can't recall seeing in any other romance film. Even though this is the only film I really like from Powell and Pressburger, I'll definitely keep watching their films. As of now though, it's my favorite of theirs.
Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
Cinema at its most daring and beautiful
The first time I saw this film, I didn't give it nearly enough credit. I really loved the first 15 minutes, but largely tuned out for whatever reason quickly afterwards and wasn't able to get back into it. I chose to revisit it for this thread as I felt like I wasn't fair enough to it when I first watched it. Overall, I really loved it. It's full of a lot of great material, found in Resnais' fantastic direction and the complex romance between the two leads.
As with my first viewing, Resnais' direction impressed me quite a lot. Topped with one of the most beautiful opening shots I've ever seen, the film often cuts between the present and the past, showing images which occur during and after the war. In spite of the occasional violent imagery in some of these scenes (I had to look away from the screen at a couple points), there's a strong sense of lyricism to this imagery, whether you're referring to the opening shots of a rebuilt Hiroshima with people walking through a museum made to commemorate the bombing of the city which seeps with emotion, Riva's flashbacks of a former lover which transitions from tenderness to a biting sense of loneliness within a single frame, or Riva's atmospheric flashbacks to when she was locked up in a cellar. Due to all of these scenes, it's easy to get lost in these aesthetics and swept up by the film. And these are deeply impressive aesthetics to get lost in, concerning the heavy subject of the film.
I also really enjoyed the central romance between the two leads as it made for a compelling dynamic between the two of them. During an early scene, Riva says to Okada "You're destroying me. You're good for me." I think this summarizes their relationship pretty well as two lovers who want to be together but can't. As the film progresses, its handling of their identity gets increasingly cloudy. Throughout several scenes of her discussing her past lover who was killed during the war, she begins to confuse Okada as her lover, oftentimes referring to him as such in several scenes such as their memorable exchange in the Tea Room. With these segments, we get a sense that she's still held prisoner by her wartime memories and maintaining her relationship with Okada will only exacerbate this problem. It's a really powerful dynamic. This culminates in their actions during the final 20 minutes which were a pretty decent way to end the film, even though this is the only portion where I think the film drags. While I wouldn't recommend cutting this portion out of the film, maybe trimming a couple of their encounters out of it would make it flow much smoother.
The romance also works to establish metaphors for the post-war traumas which would've existed back then as, in addition to how Resnais occasionally undercuts their intimate moments (the opening shot, the time they spend together in bed), he also dehumanizes the two leads in a number of ways, which can be observed by how the two leads are referred to as "She" or "He" or with the famous final lines that raises a number of questions. Due to this, their romance feels rather abstract given the ambiguities which underlie it. While they both seem to represent the scars and traumas many people had during post-WW2 (European and Japanese trauma), could the two of them be symbolic of their countries or are their countries symbolic of them? That Riva confuses Okada as her lover can also be read as an attempt that many people would've made to cover their traumas by projecting an image over them in an attempt to overshadow them. These kinds of questions persist after the film ends given that it can be interpreted both ways.
In conclusion, this is a really spectacular film that represents cinema at its most daring and beautiful. Regardless of what direction the last 20 minutes go in, the film which comes prior is wholly evocative and complex, overwhelmingly so at times. While several clips of disturbing war-time footage found at the beginning will keep some people from watching it, if you're able to get past that, you're in for a great treat with this one.
Moartea domnului Lãzãrescu (2005)
One of the best films of the decade
I was planning to check this film out a while ago, but for some reason, I never got around to it. Having seen it though, I was really blown away by it. I initially thought the first act dragged a little, but after rewatching it, I warmed up to it and the film impacted me to the point that it's become one of my favorites of the decade.
Ever since I got into film, I consistently got more and more used to slow paced films as I went along. Now, I sometimes can't even tell if a film is slow as long as I find it to be interesting. After watching this film, I tried to think of other films that used their slow pacing in a better way, but currently, I'm having great difficulty with coming up with much that compares to this. A couple critics felt that this film was too long, but I wouldn't say it dragged at any point as I was thoroughly engaged throughout it. The majority of the film serves as a criticism of the Romanian medical system as it details the various flaws with the doctors, shown in numerous parts where the doctors wasted time performing tests/asking questions which didn't accomplish anything or where it would take a while for them to help Lazarescu out. This repetition comprised the bulk of the film. Instead of becoming less impressed by this point as it went on though, the overwhelming reaction I got from this repetition (intensity of feeling is largely what the film conveys) was that each wasted minute was tearing him down, slowly but at a steadily increasing rate. This is set against how the film continuously details his declining health, shown by how he slowly loses the ability to walk and speak and how he grows less and less conscious as the film goes on. As the night unfolds, it's clear that the problem slowly escalates. Watching the film, you feel a quiet rage towards the doctors he encounters throughout the film, one that hangs on you to the point that it slowly wears you down as you watch it, causing any forms of progress made on him to feel like a catharsis.
Beside these characters lie a couple others who bring a lighter side to the film. The most notable of which is Mioara Avram, the nurse who accompanies Lazarescu throughout the night. While she sometimes speaks up towards the doctors and expresses criticism towards their practices throughout the film and especially with the third hospital, she usually faces verbal abuse in response. As much as she has the right to be mad at the doctors though, she remains calm and passively accepts the behavior they treat her with. At one point, she says she's had her job for 16 years. With all of this, I got a portrait of a woman who, after many years of experiencing the issues with the medical practices in the country, eventually understood over time that there was nothing she could do to help the situation. While she has a few friends in the medical field (one of the women she meets apologizes that he couldn't be operated on in the second hospital), she's largely powerless in the face of them. Despite this though, she still at least attempts to make a difference. Again and again. Other memorable characters include Sandu Sterian, Lazarescu's neighbor who helps him out in the opening act. While I had issues with this act during my first viewing, I enjoyed it much more this time around. Although his neighbor isn't able to help him out that much, it's interesting that, even though he isn't a doctor, he still does more for him than most of the doctors he encounters throughout the night are able to do. It's a good way of showing how flawed many of the doctors depicted in the film are since many of them compare unfavorably to someone who doesn't even have a medical degree.
Overall, I'd say this is a great film given how Puiu did so much with such a simple premise. It hooked me right at the beginning and held on to me firmly throughout the whole film. This one gets a strong recommendation for sure.
Really good and interesting, but not great
My initial response was that Haneke was exploring where the support for Nazism came from and how the treatment of many of the village kids helped to influence this movement. As the schoolteacher says, "They could clarify some things that happened in this country". After watching the film though, I looked up some interviews only to learn Haneke denied that this film says anything about Nazism/fascism, so I realized I had to amend my reading of the film. I then came to the conclusion that Haneke was more interesting in exploring the repressive social order of the village and its effect on its inhabitants. While I wouldn't say this is a great film, I'd definitely say it does a great job at painting a bleak portrait of the village, one which is a lot more nuanced and complex than one would expect from reading a summary of its themes.
In the village, the father figures hold the most power, controlling their kids and sometimes even going against their wives. The baron lies at the top of this social order. He has a paternalistic attitude which he displays throughout the film and occasionally lectures to the villagers. Though he isn't popular, most of the villagers are dependent on him. Since he's the employer of half the village, he has the power to fire and refuse to provide work to all the members of a particular family, shown by what happens to the farmer and his family. The next prominent character is the Pastor, who ranges from strict puritanism, seen by how he restrains his son to his bed after he finds out that, to authoritarianism, shown with his physical punishments of his kids and even his wife, to a degree. The film's title comes from how he ties white ribbons to his kids to remind them of their innocence and purity, but this motif later symbolizes the oppressive constraints placed on the kids concerning how white ribbon is used to tie the pastor's son to a bed or how ribbon is placed over a kid's eyes after he's savagely beaten. In spite of this, the pastor shows middle ground given a couple tender scenes where he allows his youngest son to care for an injured bird or how he accepts his son's gift of a bird later in the film. Another prominent character is the farmer. While we get to see some of the control he has on his family, he primarily shows us what can happen to a family who gets on the baron's bad side and he reinforces the dependency the villagers have on him. The last prominent character is the doctor. Although you initially sympathize with him, he's later revealed to be emotionally abusive to his wife (and possibly towards his previous wife) and physically abusive to his daughter. Each of these father figures contribute to the film's themes in many different ways. Due to this, it's not easy to pick up on everything from a single viewing and it usually takes a few viewings to grasp everything which goes on.
These father figures effect the children in a variety of ways, presumably causing them to carry out the acts of violence. The connection between these incidents are that they're caused by the repressive social order of the village. For instance, the farmer's son destroys the baron's cabbage field as he believes he was responsible for the death of his mother, leading to the other struggles his family undergoes throughout the film. The steward's son pushes the baron's son into the water as he was jealous of him for having a working flute (he likely had it due to his family's high position in the village) while he had trouble whittling one out of wood. The steward's violent confrontation with his son afterwards was the effect of that. It's likely that the acts we don't see are also carried out by the children. For instance, were the pastor's kids responsible for attacking the baron's son given how their Dad punished them in a similar way? Were the pastor's kids responsible for the rest of the incidents in the village concerning the conversation the schoolteacher has with the pastor at the end? The way the final act handles all these mysteries might disappoint some people, but I found the payoff to be quite unsettling. The schoolteacher's final narration stuck with me for a while after the film ended.
With all that being said, I'm not sure why Haneke chose to make the schoolteacher the protagonist. Where does he fit into all of this? Considering how fleshed out and interesting many of the other characters in the film are and how much they add to the themes, the schoolteacher feels one-dimensional by comparison. His relationship with Eva, for instance, holds such little relevance towards the film's themes, save for an admittedly interesting visit to her family where we see that the repressive social order of the village occurs elsewhere. For the most part though, I thought he was kind of boring. I wasn't quite as bothered with his character the second time around, but he still acts as a detriment to the film and locks it firmly in the really good tier.
In conclusion, I'd say this is an example of a film held back from greatness from one major issue which could've easily been fixed. In spite of that, the rest of it is truly excellent. I imagine I'll get more out of the film if I were to watch it again since there's so much to unpack from it in terms of all the character dynamics (I know I didn't say much about the steward). If you haven't seen this one, I highly recommend it.
Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)
A Really Unique and Complex Romance Film
John Cassavetes is a director who I've really been warming up to in the past year. The first film I saw from him was A Woman Under the Influence, which I enjoyed quite a bit but didn't love it. The next film I saw from him was Shadows, which I enjoyed quite a bit more as I was able to get more of a grasp on his style. The third film I saw from him, Husbands, stuck out to me so much as a great film and, since watching it, the more convinced I am that it's one of the best films I've ever seen and that it'll likely make it on my favorites list once I rewatch it. This film didn't hit me quite as much, but I imagine it will grow on me in the future as it also impressed me a great deal.
The first couple acts feel rather scattered and aimless as they follow the two titular characters around as they go about their daily lives. The first 15-20 minutes are a number of scenes which follow Moskowitz as we get a glimpse into his job, his strange interactions with the various people he runs into, and other activities he does in his spare time while the next 20 or so minutes follow Minnie around as we get to see her go about her day, where we see how her personality greatly differs from that of Moskowitz's. These scenes are connected to each other in really jarring and abrupt cuts to different settings which often stop people in the middle of their sentences or even in the middle of their words (most of these cuts are in this section, as the rest of the film is less aimless by comparison). All of this gives this section of the film a type of fragmented style which occasionally jumps around from place to place. While it may come off as boring to some, I found this usage of bloat to be effective not only for providing an introduction into the lives and the personalities of the two titular characters, but also for serving as an accurate representation of how meandering life usually is. And I always like to see this feel in films, as I did here.
While the first couple acts are certainly strong, the film becomes much greater once Minnie and Moskowitz meet as their relationship is really interesting and really complex. That their relationship persists throughout the film can easily come off as confusing for many people, and understandably so. Moskowitz comes off as crazy in a number of his various actions, he loses his temper multiple times, and he sometimes yells at Minnie for stupid reasons. Later in the film, Minnie tells him that she doesn't love him. In spite of all the conflict he causes her though, she continues to date him. One wonders why she continues to do this in spite of his behavior. I wasn't able to think of a reason for this during my first viewing, but with my second viewing, I paid close attention to the conversation Minnie has with her Mom near the beginning of the film where she confesses to her that she finds it easier to give herself up to men as she grows older. I think that this conversation sums up the following film and their relationship.
It's important to note that Minnie started talking to Moskowitz after the failed luncheon date with Zelmo Swift (who behaved in a similar manner as Moskowitz in the way that he attracted attention in public by yelling a lot and how he'd lose his temper for minuscule reasons or no reason at all). Is her decision to stay with Moskowitz influenced by her conversation with her mother and her experience with Zelmo? The overwhelming reaction I had when I watched the film was that it was. I think her decision to stay with him wasn't because she loved him, but because she chose to give herself up to him. Also relevant to this interpretation, I've seen a number of romance films where the two lovers initially despise each other, but slowly warm up to each other the more time they spend together. This is a really common dynamic and while it happens in this film, I had a feeling that the reason this was in there was to show that Minnie was slowly deciding to give herself up to Moskowitz throughout the film, in spite of his consistent outbursts and clashes with her family members and friends, not that she was falling in love with him.
Overall, this is a really excellent film. Although I initially struggled with it to an extent, I warmed up to it a great deal on my second viewing and I now feel comfortable with calling it a great film. The unique feel of the early couple acts and the complex dynamic between the two leads is what made it stick out to me so much. I still think Husbands is my favorite of his films I've seen as its story resonated with me the most, but this one isn't far behind.
Khaneh siah ast (1963)
An artistic and poetic masterpiece.
This short makes my top 30 favorite films of all time. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did when I first saw it considering how poor the quality of the film is (in fact, there are a couple points where I can't make out the subtitles in the film due to how they blend in with the background). Given this, what did it do to impress me so much?
The line "Leprosy is not incurable" is repeated twice throughout an opening sequence which states facts about leprosy, almost as if to make sure the meaning of that line isn't lost concerning the grisly images we see of the people with the disease. Considering how the narrator points out how other people with the disease were cured when treated for it, this monologue also indicates that all the people we see suffering in the film could be cured of this disease. It's just that the government failed to take care of them as, instead of solving the problem, they herded them into the colony documented in the short, leaving them to further deteriorate. Instead of this scene coming off as preachy, this unspoken message is implied rather than directly stated, making for a really powerful scene. Regardless of whether you pick up on this implication or not, it still manages to get under your skin.
Farrokhzad also does a great job at exploring the ironies of the daily lives of the people in the colony, specifically with religion. Multiple sequences indicate that religion is a major part of their cultures. In one scene, a group of kids thank God for giving them hands, eyes, and ears - features which many people in the colony don't have. In another powerful moment, a man holds his withered hands in the air and refers to hands while reciting a prayer. This is followed by a sequence which cuts between a group of people practicing religion and several shots of people with deformed body parts which were brought about due to the disease, in turn creating tension with this editing technique. The viewer can't help but wonder why all these people thank God for giving them gifts which many of them don't have. It seems likely that religion is an abstract concept in their lives and they don't think much about the words and prayers they say.
In addition, a few sequences in the film stick out to me as especially powerful. The first of which shows a couple women putting on makeup and brushing their hair. This scene shows how, in spite of their facial and bodily features, many of the people in the colony still make an effort to look "beautiful", as if their goals are to connect with their past lives or to find light in such a depressing environment. Another scene shows a group of boys playing ball together. Unlike a number of the older people we see in the colony, their mobility doesn't seem to be effected by their disease. Despite this though, the grotesque facial features of a number of them are hard to ignore and, considering how the shot which immediately follows this sequence shows a man with one leg slowly walk down a path with the help of crutches, the short seems to suggest that those boys will grow up with further suffering and that they won't be able to experience moments like this unless they're cured of their disease (one effective shot which occurs earlier in the film shows a man giving his crutch to a boy to play with). One final scene worth mentioning is the classroom scene at the end. Something about this scene, specifically some of the answers the boys give to their teacher, makes it feel staged. It just seems too suited for the messages Farrokhzad wants to send to have naturally occurred. While I usually find staged scenes like this to be jarring in documentaries, I didn't mind it so much in here as it's still able to make for a devastating critique of religion.
Overall, this is a perfect short. Instead of solely raising awareness for the issue documented in it, Farrokhzad has several artistic points which she incorporates into the dialogue and the visuals of the film quite flawlessly as many of them are subtle or implied rather than directly stated. Sadly, Farrokhzad died shortly after this film was released, making this the only film she directed. Who knows what else she could've given us? However, this film will forever stand as a masterpiece to me and, if you can get by the occasional issues with the subtitles, you're in for a great treat with this one.
Not quite a great film, but a really good chiaroscuro marvel with a compelling story.
Overall, I really love this one, even though I wouldn't quite call it a great film. I struggled with its run-time at first, but a second viewing helped me to appreciate it a lot more.
My favorite thing about this film is how multiple images in it feel like they're from a horror film. I noticed a number of examples of this such as the framing of certain shots, the alignments of the actors and certain props, and the darkness and shadows which often envelop the screen at certain key moments. All of this causes the film to feel like a chiaroscuro marvel. Also, the state of McTeague's and Trina's relationship and the way it develops throughout the film also helps in this regard. While the recurring clip of someone's shriveled up hands touching a pile of money had the biggest impact on me out of all the images in the film, a variety of other ones such as a couple of the colorized shots of people shifting through gold and other treasures, pretty much every single scene of Zerkow, and the incredible usage of foreshadowing during McTeague's and Trina's wedding also impacted me quite a lot. This feel stuck out to me quite a lot while watching the film and, as a result, the 4 hour runtime didn't bother me that much.
I also enjoyed how McTeague was developed in the first couple acts of the film. From one of the opening scenes where he gets into a vicious fight, it was shown that he wasn't exactly the noblest protagonist out there. After this, a couple of his early encounters with Trina such as him forcing himself on her further provided some gray to his character. Knowing that the film would enter into darker territories later on made these scenes stick out as foreboding as I knew that McTeague's questionable treatment of Trina would likely escalate. His treatment of Trina in the later passages is appropriately disturbing, but once you realize that the word "greed" applies more to her and less to him, these passages take on a different feel as, upon realizing that Trina is making the situation worse for herself with how she refuses to give up her winnings, you start to hope that Trina will give her money to McTeague to prevent an inevitable conclusion to their escalating contempt for each other.
As much as I love this film though, I do think it could've been improved at certain points. For instance, while the film does an excellent job at establishing and building up the tension between McTeague and Trina, I can't say the same about Schouler. After he had his fallout with McTeague, he didn't do much in the film after that scene. Most of the remaining film revolved around McTeague and Trina, while Schouler was only significant once very briefly in a middle segment and in the ending. Something like this isn't inherently bad per se, but it felt really off to me considering that the film established a great amount of tension with Schouler's outburst. In addition, considering how much I loved the visuals of the film in how they evoked a horror film, I was a bit disappointed by how the final act consisted mostly of a chase which largely abandoned the eerie feel I loved in what came prior. I found this change in tone to be pretty jarring and I wasn't able to get back into the film during this act, even with the final couple minutes which were probably great.
Overall, while this film could've been great if a couple medium sized aspects were different, I'd still say that it's a really good film.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
An Essential 50's Sci-fi Film
This film has a few major aspects on its mind, and my enthusiasm for them ranged from loving certain areas to not caring much about others.
Without a doubt, the visuals left the biggest impression on me as they were quite gorgeous to look at (the starship, the planets' landscapes, Morbius' residence most of all). Beyond the sense of imagination the film carries throughout, I enjoyed the geometric shapes present in a number of shots, the jaw-dropping sense of scope provided in others such as, again, Morbius' residence, and the camera placements which captured these locations in a really pleasing way. In addition to the creepy design of the monster which looked quite ahead of its time, I also read that some of the backgrounds were paintings. Impressive. In fact, I even had to watch the film again as I was so enamored with the visuals and effects that I forgot to pay attention to the dialogue and the story at certain points.
In addition, Adams is a pretty interesting character who's handled quite well in the film as there's always a subtle, wavy air of mystery surrounding his character. Even after you encounter him for the first time and he provides a brief rundown of the planet, there's still a strong hint that he may still be hiding something from the crew. Then, when it seems like the film answers that question, it doesn't take long for it to establish further doubt and mystery concerning his character. Then, when the film finally answers the next batch of questions you have, it provides a nice dose of interesting insight towards his character that results in an extra, compelling layer of depth. In short, it's the kind of film which gets more interesting as it goes on. While the visuals instantly clicked with me, it took me a bit longer to develop a strong appreciation of its narrative strengths. I think I still prefer viewing it for the visuals (that I have a good understanding of the plot as of now may or may not diminish the mysterious elements upon future viewings), but time may change that.
I think my only reservation would be with the romance sub-plot as I didn't care that much about it. While Altaira's naivety could've potentially made for an interesting dynamic if it was handled properly, I found it disappointing how Adams and at least one other crewman took advantage of her despite clearly knowing about her lack of knowledge concerning romance. To be fair, most of the issues with this occur in the first half, but I think the film missed the mark. It felt quite uncomfortable to watch a number of these scenes play out. As a result, this was my least favorite angle of the film.
Overall, I mostly enjoyed this one. While I didn't love it necessarily, I did enjoy it quite a bit, and I'll gladly recommend it to other sci-fi fans out there. It certainly lives up to its hype.
Things to Come (1936)
Great visuals combined with a number of compelling story lines
Made in 1936, this is one of the earlier science fiction feature films I've seen and I'd say it's a pretty solid entry into the genre.
Starting in 1940 and ending in 2036, this film serves as a timeline as it presents several stages in an apocalyptic scenario, starting off with global war, detailing the survivors of the war struggling to live in the ruins of the world, and the attempts to rebuild humanity and advance science. The film is told in episodic structure. New characters are established in each of the individual parts of the film (often, they're the descendants of the characters in the opening). Due to this structure, many of the individual segments have their own feel to them. Some, like the 1970 segment, are longer and have a bigger scope than others, but even a few of the shorter ones like the conflict involving two wartime pilots work in the way that they feel like vignettes or short films. I wouldn't say anything in the film felt like filler, regardless of how much or how little time was devoted to it. Everything served a purpose.
I figured I'd talk about what I think of each individual segment for this review. The opening takes place on Christmas Day where the threat of war is constantly looming over the civilians. This segment works as an accurate portrayal of how someone would cope with the imminent threat of war. It's Christmas Day, which is supposed to be a happy time, and while the family the film focuses on tries their best to enjoy themselves, they're unable to shake off the looming threat which hangs over them. I like the backdrop of Christmas as it serves as a nice contrast from the horrific moments in this segment and the destruction of the city is visually impressive (I'll discuss the visuals more later on).
The next section details how expansive the war got in addition to a deadly virus which was created throughout the war to be used as a biochemical weapon. While much of this sequence is told via montage, two small vignettes are given focus in it. The first details a brief conflict involving two soldiers after one of their planes is shot down. Though short, it contains some good, thought-provoking dialogue and a layer of dark irony. I kind of love it. The second segment involves a doctor and his family as they attempt to find a cure for the virus. It's a bleak snapshot of what the city in the opening was reduced to and an introduction to the type of flawed leadership which is present for the next act of the film. Although, I think it's the only segment of the film which could benefit with some breathing room and it left less of an impact on me as the pilot segment did. Fortunately, the strongest segment comes after this.
The next segment shows the survivors in the aftermath of the war and the plague. Running at just over half an hour, this is the longest segment in the film. It concerns a conflict between Rudolf, a warlord of a decayed, tribe-like city, and John Cabal, a pilot who has a vision to outlaw war and bring about world peace. I got a pretty strong feeling from this segment that the conflicts between the two groups were really senseless due to how Rudolf foolishly worsened the matter and how all the conflict which Rudolf caused could've been prevented. I think this segment is an effective portrait of a leader mad with power and it lingered with me quite a bit more than any of the other segments did.
The final segment is a conflict between a group of people who plan to carry out a manned flight to the moon and a larger group who want to stop scientific progress. I think this segment has a good premise, but even though the visuals look the best in this section by far, I wouldn't say that the premise was executed in a way which managed to suck me back into the film nor did it culminate in a way which I found to be particularly compelling. It felt like a step back after the section in the decaying city.
Another area I admire are all the visuals as they're quite a blast to look at. While the futuristic cityscapes in the final act still look the best in my eyes, the other visuals remain effective throughout. Many of them from the sets of the various cities created for the film to the montages which indicate time lapses to the futuristic vehicles down to even the text scrolls give each segment a distinct look. They enhance my enjoyment of the film even more and further make this film stand out as one of the better looking dystopian films I've seen. One of the reasons I like seeing futuristic cityscapes from older films is that it can be interesting to see how people from the past envisioned what the future would look like, especially if it's a creative vision like it is here.
Overall, this is a really good film, because even if you don't care for the story in the individual segments (which mostly didn't apply for me), I feel like the visuals should still be strong enough to maintain your attention.
Tini zabutykh predkiv (1965)
A unique stylistically and moody expressive work.
My first experience with Parajanov was with The Color of Pomegranates. While I loved the visuals, music, and the dancing, I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around what the film meant. I'll probably revisit it sometime in the future as my experience with this film makes me wonder if it was even necessary to understand it. My next experience was with this film. Although I saw it a while back, I felt I didn't give it nearly enough credit, which I largely blame on how I was still new to feeling-driven films which relied heavily on the strengths of their visuals, camerawork, etc. I was more used to narrative-driven films. Having obtained some more experience with it though, I decided to revisit this one, leading me to develop a far deeper appreciation of it.
The first thing I noticed upon diving in other than being reminded of how memorable the opening scene is was the camerawork. At times, the camera movement proves to be swift and energetic in a way which I don't think I've seen in film before. It quickly darts from set piece to set piece in an environment, only focusing on someone or something for a couple seconds at a time before it darts off to something or someone new. Nature is also utilized by the camerawork in certain scenes, the most notable of which is of the adult Ivan and Marichka spending a couple moments with each other in the wild as they're surrounded by plants which partially obscure them throughout the scene, causing it to feel all the more tender.
Other stylistic merits include the brief transitions of the visual styles. While the transition from color to black and white may seem fairly obvious in terms of what it's trying to convey (it's brought about due to a notable scene in the first act), this viewing led to me finding more merits with it. The first black and white shot could easily be mistaken for a shot in a horror film. The way the wind repeatedly blows a door open and closed is a creepy image. Most of the black and white scenes after that masterful shot maintain a similar vibe. They mostly consist of showing Ivan in the aftermath of the incident, who doesn't utter a single word throughout this sequence (he doesn't speak that much throughout the remainder of the film as well). Instead, the dialogue consists of voice-overs by a number of characters discussing his current mental state, his loneliness, etc. It's a quietly unsettling sequence, which makes great usage of a few notable concepts. Other notable scenes include the slight visual distortions after the sorcerer strikes him near the final act, signifying the beginning of the end.
While the stylistic merits of this film are certainly strong and varied, I think the music also deserves a lot of credit. I'm not that familiar with this style of music, but it adds so much to the whole affair. I first heard of this film when I saw a segment of the Christmas scene in a youtube video. I was still fairly new to classic films and especially foreign films, but the brief snippet of music in that clip made me want to see it. What's special about the soundtrack is that it doesn't feel like it's just there to exist in the background or that it could be cut without losing much from the film. It's so expressive, so full of life that it feels like an integral part of the film, as if it's a character itself.
The best way I can sum up all the stylistic merits of the film is that the whole affair feels like folklore. Overall, this is definitely a great film.
A compelling film which has numerous strengths
I just thought this movie was alright on my first viewing. There were a few aspects I really liked about it such as the middle scene and the depiction of the hunger strike. However, I originally disliked how attention was taken away from most of the characters introduced in the first act. Overall, it feels like an odd choice to introduce multiple characters only to have them leave the film half an hour later, doesn't it? However, after I revisited this movie a couple more times, I loved it to such great of an extent that it's now one of my favorite films of all time.
Northern Ireland, 1981. After the government withdraws the political status of all paramilitary prisoners, the inmates of the Maze Prison retaliate by forming a blanket and a no wash protest, ultimately leading to a hunger strike led by one of the inmates, Bobby Sands.
This movie is clearly an unconventional film due to the lack of dialogue and the plot structure. One thing I've learned from watching unconventional movies is that while they may have glaring flaws on the surface, the director might have a good reason for making the film that way. For instance, Bela Tarr and Michael Snow had good reasons for drawing out Satantango and Wavelength as much as they did and Stan Brakhage had good reasons for including no sound in most of his films. Sometimes, if I think more about aspects which seem like glaring flaws in unconventional films, it starts to make sense that a director would make their film that way. That was how I warmed up to this film.
What I love about this movie is its unique story structure. I initially thought it was a traditional three-act structure. However, I make the argument that the first and the third acts are bookends to the dialogue sequence in the middle. The first act showed the failed protests and the consequences they had on both the guards and the prisoners, the second act showed a prisoner revealing his plans of a more organized protest, and the third act showed that protest in action. By featuring only one prisoner in the third act, I think the statement McQueen is making here is that the hunger strike protest worked better as, since there were less people involved, it was more organized. I initially criticized the movie for taking attention away from several of the characters introduced in the first act, but I now think that this decision helped the film.
Another point which McQueen appears to be making here is that both sides are tired of the protest but are unwilling to back down. This is conveyed in numerous places such as how Raymond Lohan can be seen cleaning his bloodied knuckles a couple times in the film. There's also a powerful moment where a prison guard can be seen crying while the rest of the guards beat numerous prisoners with batons. This implication also extends to different prisoners such as Gerry as his emotions convey fright and determination as he smears his faeces on the wall for the protest. These scenes add a layer of humanity to this film.
It's also hard not to talk about the number of memorable moments found in the film such as the captivating and well-acted dialogue sequence in the middle which feels like the film's centerpiece. Besides that scene, however, dialogue feels unimportant to absorbing the rest of the film and its characters, so the mostly dialogue free film seems to thrive on this restriction. There's also other chilling moments outside of the dialogue such as when Lohan is killed by an IRA assassin in front of his catatonic mother who seems unaware of her surroundings. Another great scene is the long, stationary, and expressive shot of a prison attendant cleaning up multiple puddles of urine. Finally, it's hard not to mention the painfully realistic depiction of Sands' hunger strike. To film that sequence, Fassbender went on a diet of less than 900 calories for 10 weeks to give the illusion of starvation. This sequence was filled with clever moments such as a montage of Sands' food servings slowly getting smaller as he inched closer to death, images and sounds of flying birds as he convulsed in pain, and what I think was his hallucination near the end of his strike.
In conclusion, I think this film is a masterpiece, and it's, currently, my favorite film of the 2000's. It's also one of the best debut films I've seen before. While this film can be hard to watch due to the brutal and disturbing content found throughout, it remains so compelling for a variety of reasons that you can't turn away from the picture. Not for the faint of heart, but a must-see for older viewers.