Films seen in 2005 - Part I (with comments)
- Yek Etefagh sadeh "A simple event" (1973 / Iran / Sohrab Shahid Saless) ***1/4 / **** 10.12.05
- Two days ago I went to the cinema to see a rare screening of Iranian films that have become classics but are somehow forgotten today. The screening was the beginning of a weekly series, that will show every wendnesday films that have inspired the work of Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, who has an exhibition of some of her work and her newest video here in Berlin until December this year. After reading some info on her, I will probably pay it a visit, but even this new film series would have been good enough for me. The two next screenings will be on a film by Kiarostami and one by Kurosawa, which I'll hopefully be able to catch.
- But let's get back to our main issue. The two iranian films were "The House is Black" by the famous iranian poet Forugh Farrrokhzad who was only about 27 years old when she made the film. It's about a leper colony, and what it's like living with this disease, but primarily the film seemed a contemplation about nature's ugliness, which turned to flaming beauty through the insisting eye of Soleiman Minasian's camera, which forced every image directly at the viewer, so that I at times felt like Alex in "Clockwork Orange" - it seemed impossible to look away. The fast paced editing and Farrokhzad's magnificent poems, read by a beautiful female voice (her own?) both contrasted and supported the images of deformed people. It reminded me in many ways of Stan Brakhage's "Window Water Baby Moving", but while the lack of sound in Brakhage's short freed your imagination and your mind from the actual situation and opened up spaces, the use of sound in "The House is Black" achieves a similar effect - another layer that lifts reality into another dimension, so that the truth can be experienced more intense.
- But I came too late to the cinema and missed the first 5 to 10 minutes of the film so I can't really state a "complete" opinion on it, as the film has a running time of 22 minutes.
- Instead I'll focus on the second film.
- "Yek Etefagh sadeh" was, as far as I know, also the first - but luckily not last - attempt of the now legendary Iranian filmmaker Sohrab Shahid Saless to direct a film. The print I saw must have been very old, with lots of scratches and streaks on it, and english subtitles. Maybe it was still the same copy that had been shown at the 1974 Berlin Film Festival, where the film garnered critical acclaim and two awards. At the same time another film by Saless, Tabiate bijan "Still Life", was shown in Competition and won him the silver berlin bear for best director and the FIPRESCI award for the best film.
- If you want to know where the current Iranian cinema takes its strength from and what are its traditions, you may look at Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf, two seemingly different poets of the cinema who helped developing Iran's film industry internationally and nationally, but both must have been heavily influenced by Saless' films. After watching "A simple event", Kiarostami's beauty and watchfulness, his awareness of time and space, seem not just inspired, but heavily indebted to this classic (and I'm sure there's even more to discover in earlier Iranian cinema)- a direct line from the past.
- The film was made in 1973, and is a glimpse into the life of a small boy and the underprivileged classes in the Iran of those days. The camera follows him on his everyday routines, starting with a walk to the school in the morning and his going to sleep in the night, after he has brought home a canister of water from a nearby well. In between he has to help his father, a fisherman, sell his bait after school, buy bread on his way home, and help his mother who never leaves the house with some tasks while studying for school. These line of events is repeated throughout the whole film until the moment where the title's "simple event" occurs. This simple event is the unexpected death of his mother, which doesn`t seem to affect the son as much as the father, though both remain more or less stoic, not up to the situation fate has chosen for them. But even afterwards things don't seem to change that much although the end may show a glimpse of hope. The father wants to buy a new suit for his son, and this has certainly nothing to do with his son's achievement, who is bad at school, and was even at the verge of being expelled. But the suit is too expensive, the father can only afford two thirds of the lowest price he's being offered, thus angrily striding out of the shop, cursing the owner, his son following on his heels. Together they walk along into an unknown past, but although it may not have anything positive in store for them, they could have established a more personal relationship. The father showed for the first time an attempt to do something for his son, while through the other parts of the film he was mostly accupied with fishing and drinking, so that he could go fishing again the next day. The ending hasn't the same vibe as say, the end of De Sica's "Bycicle Thieves", but that's because of the overall vagueness of the film, which leaves everything kinda hanging in mid-air. Interestingly this stylistic device enables the director to say much more about a situation, as the viewer has to make up his own mind. But the difference to other film using the same device is that in this case it is not because of the complexity of the characters and the multy-layered narrative of the film, but is, quite the opposite, due to its simpleness. There are strokes against a hypocritical and opressive society, and the film has a very critical "second layer", but the events are nevertheless shown as consistent occurencies that have meaning through themselves. The repetition of ever the same course of events doesn't become boring and meaningless through the film, because to show this routine is part of the concept of the film. They were as meaningful as the viewer wanted them to be the first time around, same as the last time. Logically the film thus ends the same way it had begun. What we have seen was a section from the life of a person, and what we have learned therefore varies from viewer to viewer. I dont know which superlatives could describe accurately the simplicity and beauty of this film, without contradicting the films own intentions. One of those films were you get what you put into it, and if you try hard it can be very much.
- Vendredi Soir "Friday Night" (2002 / France / Claire Denis) ***1/2 / **** 09.30.05
- Saw "Vendredi Soir" a few days ago, and it was the second film by Denis I have seen. The first one, "Chocolat" (1988) was also her debut, and while the film had profound moments of beauty, and the plot developed in a subtle mode, Denis has made huge progress during these 14 years, as far as I can judge by these two films. While the first one was still a somewhat coherent narrative structure, and wanted to tell a story through glances and gestures, "Vendredi Soir" succeeds at getting a story out of glances and gestures. The minimal dialogue used in "Chocolat" was still significant, although it was more important what wasn`t said, than what was. The silence between the characters helped to build a bridge and a connection between the protagonists, the white wife and the black servant. In "Vendredi Soir" this concept is taken further, as the words and the dialogue become almost transparent, having no meaning in itself, always revealing what is meant on a deeper level. The Silence doesn`t help to overcome social differences, but is the main tool of communication. Without words the body starts to express itself more directly, and the glances and gestures are the sensual devices to take in the world around us.
- Denis has progressed from a poetic film to making poetry arise directly on the screen. "Vendredi Soir" is a sensual poem in which you get to taste and smell and feel the things you see on the screen, all achieved through totally cinematic devices.
- The film begins with lots of different views of Paris at night, but a Paris we may know from our dreams, a town of bright windows and dark rooftops that seems to spring out of a fairy tale. It reminded me of Rene Clair`s "Over the roofs of paris" and Hitchcock`s "Rear Window" at the same time, making the viewer a participant and voyeur both at once. Like in reality we never only observe but are also observed. Object and subject as one. Throughout the film light plays an important role - soft light, harsh light, reflections on mirrors, windowpanes, while camerawoman Agnes Godard accentuates the changes through the constantly shifting employment of different film "stock". Though the film is shot on 35mm Godard makes it appear like she has shot everything with Digital equipment, giving the film a sometimes raw, sometimes sensual, but always poetic look.
- The intention may have been to make everything appear hyper-real, a dream reality that is nevertheless firmly rooted in our present time (Paris in 2002), thus showing us the endless possibilities of the everyday world that surrounds us. A Big ugly city becomes through the power of Love (Art) a radiating, vibrant landscape filled with beauty.
- The Story is simple. A woman about to move in with her boyfriend encounters another man and has a passive one-night stand. But the exceptional thing is that Denis makes us feel every moment of it, experience the emotions like the characters do. The Camera always stays close to the protagonists faces, moves along with their inner feelings, trembles and searches like they do, teasing and wishing like they do, finding and discovering like they do. It isn`t a character of its own, but becomes through the phenomenal montage and fast paced elliptical cutting the very space between our protagonists, registering what they register not in a way of showing but of doing, not how but when - the spaces of time opened up are always now.
- The poetry of Denis can be compared to Jean Vigo, but her quality that separates hers from his, is that while Vigo hailed the powers of our imagination, showing our phantasies enriching reality, Denis totally rejects a division. The magical comes from the real, is reality itself, not a victory of imagination over mind, because the struggle has ended. Change your heart...
- They Drive by Night (1940 / USA / Raoul Walsh) *** / **** 9.26.05
- The film is a fine mixture of Drama and Trash, presenting serious issues about life, contrasted, or better wrapped up into an murder/obsession story. The film is two in one, part interesting social study, part noir thriller, with a trashy touch. A clear predecessor and inspiration for "Film Noir" which really took of afterwards.
- The interesting thing is that although the film is way too short to wrap up all its issues properly, (it even wants to be comic several times, with comic relief that isn`t really needed), it nevertheless succeeds to have characters that feel real and that you seem to know and understand in only a few seconds.
- That said, the film rests heavily upon the shoulders of the actors, which all do a great job with what they are given. Ida Lupino gives very much sympathy to her pre-"femme fatale", and the sparks keep flying between her and George Raft, even though he doesn`t want her. Same goes for Ann Sheridan, and the bunch of supporting players. The only one who doesn`t quite seem to know what to do is surprisingly Humphrey Bogart, in a good but underdeveloped role. There are also great scenes that I suppose weren`t intended, as the film can be read as an attack on an insensitive and constricted society, with Ida Lupino as its victim, though freed from it through her "insanity", while all others remain their unsuspicious victims.
- It may be a mess, but for an attentive viewer a very rewarding one.
- And here`s a short review from one of my favorite film-pages that nails my argument, though the reviewer didn`t seem to have gotten as much fun out of the picture as myself...
- Bad ma ra khahad bord "The Wind will carry us" (1999 / Iran, France / Abbas Kiarostami) ***1/2 / **** 9.26.05
- Saw the film again after three years, and it`s lyrical beauty was even more obvious than the first time. The title is taken from a poem, and when it is recited, in the darkness of a cave, one can feel all the beauty that surrounds us, even if we don`t always see it.
- The Film is about a man who has an inner struggle, but doesn`t want to see it. Only at the end of the film he aknowledges it, though he can`t solve it. The small village he came to, 700 miles away from Teheran, awakens his senses, his lust for life, even though he came looking for death. When in the end the old woman dies, it is totally unexpected, and it doesn`t really matter anymore. Maybe he will stay, maybe he will go, but he is changed.
- Life needs living says this film, almost shouts it in your face, but with such warmth of breath, that you go with it. Along with the estranged character the viewer starts to rediscover the world, if he pays attention, and out of the endless flow of time, compassion starts to arise, compassion for the flowers, the trees, the earth, and the people, with all their beauty and shortcomings.
- The worst disease is death says a character in the film, when we`ll have to leave this earth. One day, the wind will carry us away.
- Per un pugno di dollari "For a Fistful of Dollars" (1964 / Italy, West Germany, Spain / Sergio Leone) **1/2 / **** 9.25.05
- Saw the first part of the Leone Trilogy for the first time in three years, and it hasn`t improved much. Today I can appreciate some skills more than I could when I was younger, but the plot-holes and some over the top scenes stand out worse, also. Great cinematography with some gorgeous POV shots, close-ups, and an almost theatrical way of staging the actors, that show Leone`s directing skills. I especially liked it, when there was a shot from the side, and one could see the frame filling up perspectively with men, which was a good 3-D effect. :-)
- Besides that, there`s fine acting by Gian Maria Volonte and an interesting score by Ennio Morricone.
- But the story was way too trivial, and as an allegory too plot-driven as to keep me interested for it. Should have been more emphasis on atmosphere and less on plot, or it should have taken more time for the plot development and the characters.
- Anyway, the other two installments of the "trilogy" are far better and longer. A good introduction to Leone.
- Bu san "Good Bye, Dragon Inn" (2003 / Taiwan / Ming-liang Tsai) ***1/2 / **** 8.28.05
- Saw "Goodbye Dragon Inn" at a local festival, and although it wasn`t as good as Tsai`s other films I`ve already seen, I enjoyed it. The ending was a tear-jerker ;-)
- L`ennui (1998 / France, Portugal / Cédric Kahn) ***1/2 / **** 8.20.05
- After having seen this film my belief that french cinema of the last ten years is a s alive as ever has again been reassured. Many claims have been made, that french films aren`t what they used to be(which they of course aren`t, as time changes), even that the quality of french film production has fallen into mediocrity. But as Jonathan Rosenbaum pointed out already during the 90s in his essay on "Les Voleurs" (1996 / Andre Techine), a film I thoroughly recommend, is that most critics only consider what they get to see from french films, whixh is very little. If they were really interested and would dig a bit deeper into every years production on their own, they would find many rough diamonds along with some polished ones.
- Cedric Kahn is a young director and according to this film a most promising one. We have the Story of a middle-aged philosophy teacher who falls for a 17 year old girl (sorry Trevor ), but this isn`t your usual older man falls for Lolita type of film. In fact I got so bored after about 15 minutes, because of the lurid but seemingly empty pace of the movie and the contrived dialogue, that I started switching channels on my TV, but when i returned to the same scene I had left a few seconds later, i knew I was finally onto something.
- The film begins with a rapid pace showing a disturbed Charles Berling (who had one year earlier starred in Anne Fontaine´s brilliant social study "Nettoyage a sec", but may be best known for the leading role in Patrice Leconte? "Ridicule") who has entered a cocktail party of his ex-wife Sophie, with the intention to speak to her (they seem to be separated for a short time only), but doesn´t succeed as she seems to be more concerned with making the impression that she has her life under control, though we see that she´s very far away from this goal. It is never explicitely mentioned in the film, but there are numerous great scenes that indicate that the marriage has left deep wounds in Sophie´s heart and mind, and probably also in Berling´s character, though he isn`t one for analizing situations, when it comes to himself. At the party he is "offered" a young student who admires him for the night, but she shows not a hint of interest. He even explains to Sophie, that he hasn´t had sex for the last six months, and intends to go on this way, in order to write a new book. After having left, he wonders aimlessly through the night when he encounters a painter who gives him his adress after a rescue by Berling from a difficult situation. When he visits the painters house the next day, he discovers that he has died during sexual intercourse with his 17 year old student he was obsessed with. After meeting her, Berling steps in the same "trap". he starts a sexual relationship with her, that gets more and more dramatic until end of the film, and the final climax.
- The theme of the film is obssession, and it reminded me at times of Zulawski´s movie of the same name, though it isn`t as notorious or deliric. A case study of the protagonists neuroses getting the best of him, and his entanglement into an illusion of his own making. The fascinating object of desire is Cecilia (debut by Sophie Guillemin), who in no way corresponds with a young femme fatale. Quite on the contrary. She is a bit fat, small, is aware of her sexuality but doesn`t use it as a tool, she is rather introverted and makes no real attempt at seducing anybody. More than anything else she is like an object waiting to be used, though only if it pleases her (which it seems to do quite often though). And that becomes the crucial point. No active relationship develops between the two besides a sexual one, which is neither demanding nor boring. Just plain ordinary sex, which is shown several times, and is over fast. Cecilia seems to be oblivious to ambition, the need to small-talk with people, or communicate on any other level than sexually. She seems to have no real needs nor desires, living in the moment, and with a day to day time-table, that`s pretty schematic. The protagonist now starts to interpret this blank canvas, and instead of writing his book, he begins to wonder what`s going on in Cecilia`s mind, begins projecting his own fears on her. He thinks she is cheating, she`s lying, she doesn`t love him, etc. as he becomes more and more possessive. As his desparate attempts to possess her even sexually don`t find a satisfiying conclusion his paranoia takes on a clinical state. More and more he turns into a victim to his desire for love and closeness, which he can`t possibly find in Cecilia, but instead of letting it go, he degrades himself even more.
- The strength of the film lies in its director`s ability to carry things to the extreme, to let its protagonist go not just to the borders, but clearly over everything socially acceptible. He shows the utter ridiculousness of the protagonists behaviour, without ridiculing him, and even in the most degrading and unbelievable scenes the direction never falters on what is a very small line between seriousness and absurdity, maintaining the films credibility, and most of all its sincerity, through which every character of the film is primarily his own, keeping its dignity. This exceptional accomplishment by Cédric Kahn is most promising for a young director more interested in the process of self-discovery and redemption of his characters, than in any bleak nihilism or apocalyptic vision of mankind and relationships.. The ending beautifully underscores his humanist standpoint. Strongly recommended.
- The film is available on DVD in North America and Great Britain. The The UK release is by Artificial Eye.
- Maboroshi no hikari "Maborosi" (1995 / Japan / Hirokazu Koreeda) **1/2 / **** 8.08.05
- Saw Maboroshi at the Cinema, but my high expectations weren`t exactly matched. The film is very dark, very slow, and very quiet, sooo I should have loved it, as these are my favorite kinds of films. But I didn`t, though I guess I may grow morefond of it in the future.It was also shot in deep focus, which is imo the most marvelous thing cinema has to offer (and one of the reason`s why Lumiere`s films still appeal to me :-) )
- Rating is a good **1/2 / ****
- Izo (2004 / Japan / Takashi Miike) **1/2 / **** 8.06.05
- Saw Izo, and what can i say. The movie left me speachless, and a bit dumbstruck, and I still can`t figure out if it`s a badly filmed, pseudo-philosophical joke, or if it has actually something to say, though i tend to the letter. But as my currently favorite film critic Olaf Moeller put it, it may be the weirdest film of 2004 (or soemthing like that).
- In the end, if you want to see something unique, you can go and watch Jansco`s "The Round-Up", or go to your local video store and rent "Izo".
- Birth (2004 / USA / Jonathan Glazer) ***1/2 / **** 8.04.05
- For a mainstream film very daring, as it`s a film that poses questions without answering them. The ending is one of the best I`ve seen this year. Gorgeous cinematography!
- You may want to read this fine review: http://filmfreakcentral.net/dvdreviews/birth.htm
- Furin kazan "Flying Banners" (1969 / Japan / Hiroshi Inagaki) **1/2 / **** 7.20.05 ?
- This Samurai epic set in the 16th century of Japan, is about a former Ronin, magnificently played by Toshiro Mifune, who begind to serve at an already high age as an adviser of a strong warlord Takeda, and tries through his influence to unite Japan, which is divided in various territories, and in a state of civil war. During the ca. 167minutes we see how Takeda's clan wins battle after battle, continously expanding its territory. There is also a kind of "love story" in the film, which is handled in a mature way, as the whole film uses little melodramtics, and tells more through things unsaid, than through dialogue. This love Story is (besides the fantastic camera work) the most interesting aspect in the film, and gives it the much needed depth and tragedy, which otherwise would be almost missing. The camerawork is outstanding, using an interesting palette of colors, and lots of impressive shots of the nature, to tell its story shot in widescreen. The directing and the dialogue are also very good, as is the editing and the acting, and the music is also right, with a pathetic but restrained note that fits the thematic. The only major problem is the a bit too glorifying portrayal of the warriors, and the reactionary standpoint of the characters, from which the director either doesn't know how, or doesn't want, to distance himself far enough.
- If it weren't for this, the film might be compared to the late Akira Kurosawa epics, and I'm sure Kurosawa was influenced by this film in the technical department. The film is a mixture between chambara and jidai-geki, but has its moments of reflection and ambiguity towards the characters depicted. Luckily the end pulls the film in the right direction. In the end I rated it "only" **1/2 / ****, so it's recommended, but one has to be careful with certain ideological aspects.
- Crash (2004 / USA / Paul Haggis) **1/2 / **** 7.16.05
- I've seen Crash because of the postive remarks in this thread last week, and I must say I'm not so enthusiastic about it. For a Hollywood film it is certainly way above average, but for an independent film, definitely below. What was the worst thing in the film was the terribly pathetic score, which got on my nerves more and more, and which almost succeeded in ruining one of the best scenarios that has come out of the US this year.
- This said, the scenario, and especially the dialogues are the films main support (though they too have some flaws), making very good performances by Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Don Cheadle and Sandra Bullock possible. In fact there isn't one mediocre performance in it. But again one big problem is the flashy pacing and cutting, which are more of a show-off than a thorough reflection. Some moments appear pointless and "overdirected", and there are numerous deja-vus, as one remebers almost the same things made in a better way before (e.g. 21 Grams, Mystic River, Short Cuts, Magnolia, etc.). The film doesn't offer any new insights, but is (at least from my pov) right in the middle of current invents where we observe that the american "melting-pot" concept doesn't work.
- I can't add much to the positive things that have already been mentioned, let me tell you only that the film had one great moment, in fact for me one of the best emotional experiences in film in my whole life. The scene where Matt Dillon rescues Newton from the car-wreck is in avery aspect a phenomenal achievement, one that should be studied in every filmclass. But it only works so good, because of the scenes and the atmosphere we've experienced before. This scene is the films climax, and I'd recommend evrybody to see the film, if only for this. There is also a great scene at the end, when one of the immigrants is shown standing in a videostore in front of a huge display of goods, but I remember the exact same scene from another film (maybe somebody casn help me here), but nevertheless this one shot conveys maximum complexity in minimum time, and in the end says more about our world's problems than could be expressed in words.
- Despite myself praising certain aspects, the film as a whole doesn't say anything profound or new, that hasn't been said in a better way numerous times before. For me a film isn't automatically good, just because it makes one think. I think the pressing actuality of its topic and the need to discuss the things mentioned in the film in our society (which constantly tries to suppress them) makes a lot of people see qualities in the film it actually hasn't. Yes, the film is of some importance, because it allows a big audience to discuss things that should have been adressed much earlier, but this doesn't make the film AS FILM much better than the mediocre Fahrenheit 9/11. But at least this film knows abouts its faults and it tries to show people in an honest way.
- Hadaka no shima "The Naked Island" (1960 / Japan / Kaneto Shindo) **3/4 / **** 7.11.05
- This film was made independently by Shindo, as all major companies in Japan refused to invest money in it, though he had already established himself as a film director at that time. He raised about 50 000 dollars I think, and made it on his own. Fact is that Shindo wanted to make a sound film without any dialogue, and he did! The story takes place on a small island in Japan in the 60's, where a family of four lead a hard life, having no water or electric light, and also no technological devices. The parents have to bring buckets of water everyday from the nearby mainland, using a small wooden boat, that can only be manouvered by hand. They live from what they grow on the island, and have to take care of it every day. The two boys are both very young and go to school on the mainland. The film shows in beautiful tableaus how these four, and especially the parents, live in the course of a year, mostly through close-ups of the daily routines of watering the plants, collecting the water, and seemingly endless boat trips in between. As the film takes its time to show these daily struggles of man versus nature in a slow pace, it has nevertheless many cuts, which somehow interrupts the flow of time imo, and doesn't work as intended. Also is the use of no dialogue problematic, as the family and other people at times appear like deaf-mutes, when the director shows us scenes where talk is much needed, but instead of avoiding such scenes, he doesn't know how, and there are some akward moments. At other times this problem is avoided in a good way, and the viewer only gets subtle hints. But the main problem of the film is its portrayal of a patriarchal structure, under which the woman suffers, but which is never condemned. When she tries to rebell two times in the film, it doesn't work out, and in the end she accepts her lot. The conditions of this are never explained, or why the family doesn't live a "normal" life on shore. The husband is presented as cruel, once slapping his wife so hard in the face, that she falls on the floor, and never showing any signs of affection, even when later in the film one child dies. In the end the director seems to be affirmative of the husbands actions, as life will go on like before. Besides this hugely problematic portrayal of a japanese family, and some directorial flaws, the film reveals the simple acts of living under such harsh conditions, where almost every movement must lead to a goal, so that like strokes on a canvas, which in the end add up to a full painting, the very act of living becomes a work of art. Each gesture becomes important, as every second of life seems to be squeezed out of the frame, and the pearls of sweat on the forehead and the sucking of water by the plants become metaphors for the struggle of life. The film is a circle of life and death, and shows us that everything in the world is connected, and every living being is dependant on another, while it at the same time glorifies the human spirit and achievement, which creates life out of nothing, and survives under the most extreme conditions. The film can thus be seen as an ode to human endurance.
- Uzak “Distant“ (2002 / Turkey / Nuri Bilge Ceylan) ***1/4 / **** 6.20.05
- Mayis sikintisi “Clouds of May“ (1999 / Turkey / Nuri Bilge Ceylan) **1/2 / **** 6.20.05
- Just came back from watching two films by acclaimed turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Despite travelling problems - though the films were shown in the same city i live, i travelled 1and1/2 hours there and 3 1/2h back - Inevertheless enjoyed 4 1/2h of european auteur cinema. First I have to admit that I had very high expectations, especially for Uzak, (which must have won almost all major film awards it seems) and also a bit for "Clouds in May". Though Uzak imo isn't quite the masterpiece it could have been, the themes of alienation in a big city are presented in an original way. A director who has lost (and maybe betrayed9 all his former ideals (He wanted to make films like Tarkovski once) lives in Istanbul, where a male relative comes to stay with him for a short time, searching for work, and turning the loners regulated and terribly boring and redundantive life upside-down. Confronted with his despicable self and his cynism, the protagonist (great performance by Mustafa Özdemir) must at the end realize that his life(concept) has failed, while the visitor returns as suddenly as he has appeared. In one very impressive sscene the protagonist is shown with his great fear of life and love, his wounded heart and the scars that he's received during his life at once exposed. It is only a minute in a car in the midst of a breathtaking countryside, and two or three words of dialogue. In between we see two short talks with the ex-wife who is moving with her new husband to Canada to start a new life. At the first of the two meetings she tells the protagonist, that she can't have children any more, probably because of a former abortion during her divorce with the protagonist. This most intimate scene in the whole film is filmed static (as the whole film) and very laid back, with no change in the framing, mise-en scene, lightning, or anything else than where Ceylan has filmed the characters watching TV. The very static takes and minimalist dialogue establish a mood in the film that is at the same time hyper-realistic and hyper-sensitive/, somewhere between Kiarostami, Ozu and Bergman. There is also a dream sequence in the film, which hardly stands out from the rest. Under a carpet of snow the films Istanbul seems like an unidentifiable moloch that sucks out the souls of its inhabitants, while seemingly staying the same over the year. As one character exclaims in "Clouds in May" one cannot distinguish the seasons in Istanbul. The characters are helplessly lost and trapped in their lives and any escape is only an escape from oneself. Nevertheless at the end of the film there is almost a feeling of hope, as a new day begins, if not for the protagonist, at least for the viewer who has learned a life lesson in only two hours in the dark.
- Clouds in May from 1998 Ceylan's second film (about the filming of his first) must be somehow the second part of an (until now?) unofficial trilogy, with Uzak at its end. The same protagonists are presented here though not yet as disillusioned and estranged by life. Three generations are presented in this tale of birth and death, showcasing nature and mans place in it he tries to find. While shooting a fake documentary the protagonist fails to record (Ceylan does it instead for us) the wonders of life happening around himself, and is unable to connect with his fellow people. Traditions are vanishing, family's fAlling appart, in short, life is moving on without anybody noticing. At the end we have a beautiful finale where the sense and fulfillment of one life are shown, and the viewer is released with a feeling that he has somehow become a better person.
- Khane-ye doust kodjast? “Where is my friend’s house?” (1987 / Iran / Abbas Kiarostami) ***1/4 / **** 6.19.05
- My first Abbas Kiarostami Film I saw, was at the first installement of a small film festival in my hometown Ptuj in Slovenia, three years ago. They only showed 8 films if I remember right, under the motto "auteurs of today" (or something like that). One of them was "The Wind will carry us".
- When i first saw it I thaught it to be the best of the films, which i considered mediocre back then, but which in retrospective seem great (haven't seen any of them since), and some are amongst my favorites now (for example the Kiarostami). Other films were Roy Andersson's "Songs from the second floor", Robert Guédiguian's "La ville est tranquil", Yi Yi, Romance, Durian Durian (Fruit Chan). Though I liked it when I saw it, I wasn't too impressed. One problem may have been, that I was terribly tired during the screening, slapping my face constantly to stay awake, and two times almost falling asleep. I remember most of all, that my eyelashes weight at least a ton each, and that i fought a battle for seeing as much celluloid as possible. But nevertheless the films images and beauty have not only remained perfectly intact in my memory (only a handful films can claim that), and have with time even increased its power.
- With this film alone Kiarostami would have made a fine place for himself in film history. With his pacing and use of space and time, the simple story of the waiting for a woman's death becomes a parable on life in general. And the ending is pure cinema magic. Along with the protagonist the viewer finally arrives in heaven - on earth.
Two days ago i saw my second Kiarostami film (I know, It has taken a long time... but i seldom see more than two films by any director) "Where is my friends house?" and though it wasn't as great as the latter, it was still a very good film and a good example of the subtly didactic iranian cinema.
- The whole film is basically the search of the 8 year old protagonist for his friends house (which he doesn't find - but the film offers us a beautiful ending), while opposing the hierarchic and oppressing society, and making lots of magical encounters. The musical score is also outstanding, recalling Shankar's work for Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy. In fact the whole film ows in spirit and humanism much to Ray, but though he doesn't quite reach this master, he's at times very close. Viewed through the eyes of a child the viewer gets to experience the provincial iranian society as it presents itself to an "ignored" observer. Subtle portrayals of oppression of individuals, the individualizations of starting "capitalism", and the estrangement through technological advance (also western influence in general), as well as the oppression of children. The ending is again one of the most beautiful moments in film history, and maybe I rated this film "only" ***1/4 / ****, because my expectations were too high and I saw it on a bad print on Video, and I've watched a bunch of great films the days before (Uzak, Aparajito, Blanche, Adoption, Angel's Egg, Umberto D., to name just a few). Nevertheless see it if you can!
- Now I have The Cyclist by Makhmalbaf waiting on my shelf ( my third Makhmalbaf film - seems I'm expanding ;-)
- Tenshi no tamago “Angel’s Egg” (1985 / Japan / Mamoru Oshî) ***1/2 / **** 6.11.05
- After having seen Angel's Egg by one of my favorite current directors Mamoru Oshii, who's latest film was shown in Cannes last year, I was once again blown away. This rarely seen masterpiece was released in 1985, and fastly aquired a cult following, though it still isn't properly aknowledged in film history, due to its lack of distribution and availability. I got to see a perfect quality fansub version which was shown here in Berlin last month in front of an audience consisting of about ten people, from which 5 left the viewing after a couple of minutes. So what is so great about this unknown 70minute anime? It is a story of a little girl guarding an egg who meets on our erth far in the future a man with a cross. They journey a bit together, meet some strange people hunting shadows of fishes, and that's about it, without giving away the final twist. Doesn't sound much?
- Well, it is one of the most personal films I've ever seen, and one that doesn't exactly tell a story. We have a parable that is presented through associative montage, with minimal dialogue and maximum symbolism. The whole film is bathed in christian mythology, and even the little dialogue consits mostly of quotes from the bible. Sounds very slow and difficult to "read", but once you've gotten into the right mood, (and that will happen fast or never) you are presented with an overwhelming portrait of Oshii's overcoming of a personal crisis. If it weren't for the animation we might be watching Bresson or even Dreyer, as the Faces and Eyes of the Characters tell us the most.
- He made the film, after having lost his faith (he was a catholic previously) and it shows. A doomed atmosphere on a dead planet inhabited by strange machines and "people" that are caught in useless rituals. Everything seems to have ceased living and only appears to be "there" without purpose. But at the end of the film we are witness to a spiritual rebirth and a new hope. The film begins with gods descent onto the earth, and ends with its ascent into heaven. In between we see a kind of death and rebirth of mankind. We have already all of Oshii's main themes he would later explore more deeply, and also a famous mirror-scene he would later use reversed in Ghost in the shell.
- What can I say at two o'clock in the morning? A spiritual film that isn't religious (though a little knowledge of christian mythology would help), and a must see for every anime fan. If you like Tarkovski, Dreyer, Bresson, you'll probably enjoy this one.
- Ballada o soldate “Ballad of a Soldier” (1959 / Soviet Union / Grigori Chukhraj) ***1/4 / **** 6.10.05
- Have seen Ballad of a soldier last month (The criterion edition) and besides a bit too much pathos, the film was a great experience. Totally different than cranes are flying because of its optimistic mood, it made me feel exactly what the director intended, that although we know from the first scenes, that the protagonist has died in the war, the movie shows us his greatness as a human being, and that his life was worth every second of it, even if it had only consisted of the days at leave. And the love story is one of the most beautiful ones I`ve seen on screen, and I`m a sucker for good romance. Russian cinema at the end of the 50s was really changing in a good direction. I wonder how Chukhraj`s other films are, as I can`t get hold of them.
- Svoi “Us“ (2004 / Russia / Dmitri Meskhiyev) ***1/4 / **** 5.24.05
- Well, I've seen it this year, and I think it's better than the other new russian films I've seen in the last few months, e.g. The Return, Koktebel, Udalionny dostup (don't know english title), not to mention My stepbrother Frankenstein, which was at time terrible. Very realistic film about World War II, about different kinds of people, and different ways of supporting ones country. Also esthetically very worked out, with fine "washed-out" cinematography, good cutting, and and a very nice slo-mo scene at the beginning. The violence was depicted very realistically, and also the way different people deal with it. At the end a very human film.
- Lakposhtha hâm parvaz mikonand “Turtles Can Fly” (2004 / Iran, France, Iraq / Bahman Ghobadi) *** / **** 5.05.05
- I liked the film, but I am not so cheerful about it as most people seem to be. It had some clichees imo, and the glimpses of the girl jumping of the cliff during the whole movie, were way too much. The metaphor and message of this were like shoved in your face, while it would have been much more effective, if the viewer had only seen it at the end (and maybe at the beginning).
- Also the main protagonists didn't have enough depth imo, they were more like characters acting their specific type of character and his behavings over and over again. While the film is way ahead on almost anything that was made about this war (be it tv, news, documentaries, etc,etc.), and it's a very important film, one shouldn't overestimize it just because of that.
- Dare mo shiranai “Nobody Knows” (2004 / Japan / Hirokazu Koreeda) ***1/4 / **** 4.22.05 + 7.22.05
- The film is wonderful, had only one flaw (imo the sometimes too "sweet" music), and it's situated in this space between documentary and fiction, which is the thing I love most in films. The direction is marvellous, as the film gets better and better, and is one of those rare examples, where the director lets the film find its own pace. There are some outstanding scenes in the film, that can be compared to ANYTHING that has ever been put on the screen, that oscillate between the screen and the viewer, creating a sort of third reality besides film and the real world. My favorite scene is at the end of the film:
- Akira and his friend are sitting in a train after having buried the youngest, and the camera just pans them.
- This is exactly why I watch movies, when it becomes clear to me that I don't know any other artform which can express feelings as sublimely as film. In such moments art transcends life, creating situations that in normal life would maybe called "miracles", and Koreeda lets us because he never judges his characters see human beings as they are. The film thus becomes a perfect example of humanist filmmaking. One of the best films of this year, which will probably end up in my top ten of 2005.
- Saw it a second time last week, with two friends who were both bloen away. The film seemed even better the second time I saw it, though it wasn't as magical as during my first experience. My rating has jumped up to ***1/2 / ****, and I now think it will definitely make this years Top ten. The music which was a bit too "schmaltzy" imo the first time, seemed fitting in the 2nd viewing. In fact I now think, that the film would have lost something without it. Though the song at the end does say a bit "too much", it is nevertheless beautiful, and though the scene would have maybe been better without it, this is marginal. Of course the film isn't perfect, but I don't want to concentrate on the flaws, as it has tremendeously much to offer. I'll finally get to see Maboroshi next week in the cinema. I know we have some enthusiats on board so I'll tell you what I think about it. If it's only half as good as this one, I'll be satisfied.
- Punch-Drunk Love (2002 / USA / Paul Thomas Anderson) ***1/2 / **** 4.01.05
- Saw Punch-Drunk Love finally after two years, and my high expectations weren`t disappointed. It was even better than Magnolia (a personal favorite), showing that Paul Thomas Anderson has developed enormously as a director (and maybe also as a person). This is one of the all time great films.
- Shi mian mai fu “House of flying daggers” (2004 / China, Hong Kong / Zhang Yimou) 2.16.05
- The first scenes of "House of flying daggers" seem to suggest an "old school" martial arts film, as we are thrown into an ancient chinese brothel, in which the male protagonist is searching for a female assassin, presumably the main attraction of the house, a blind dancer. There is plenty of beautiful photograpy and costume design as the viewer gets to see three great choreographies, first of a dance, than of a game, and finally of a fight between the assasin and a royal guard. There is little dialogue, which is mostly banal, and not only the setting is gorgeous, but also the actors. Although there are hints of the following events, and the three main protagonists with their relations to each other are presented, the viewer isn’t yet prepared for the events that will follow, overpowered by the eye-candy that is presented to him not only visually, but also accustically. The game scene, which is too complex to explain to western viewers unfamiliar with this kind of exercise (sufficient to say it involves beans, drums, and a quite remarkable dress), the viewer is put in the blind girls place, concentrating on every sound caused by movement.
- His latest feature finds chinese director Zhang Yimou at the height of his power, having in the past achieved both critical acclaim and economic success inside and outside of his country. “House of flying daggers” seems to be an attempt of globalisation, by which I mean that the film tries to cater to a wide audience through high production values and a seemingly cliched presentation of a melodramatic love story, combining actionscenes for the male and lovescenes for the female part of the audience, underlined by an orchestral score, and with three asian superstars. Combined seem the most commercial factors from Asia and the Western World also in a huge international advertising campaign, which had the desired effect and swept the masses into cinemas all over the world. But Zhang’s ambitions were also artistic ones, and he enriches the film through commenting on cuurent global issues like terrorism, patriarchism and the repression of women, and the threat that springs from all ideologies which forget about the people and follow a “the end justifies the means” policy. But in the midst of these issues Zhang’s main concern is a universal love story, and unbelievable as it may seem he succeeds with all of it, giving the viewer one of the best cinematic experiences he is to encounter this year.
- The prologue of the film which ends with the fictitious rescue of the heroine Mei (played by Zhang Ziyi) through the male protagonist Jin(Takeshi Kaneshiro), has some subtle foreshadowing of the issues that will be dealt with in the following, though. As Jin is ordered to find out the truth about Mei the blind dancer by his Boss Leo (Andy Lau), who will later bcome his antagonist, he responds that he will have a good time in the brothel, falsly assuming an easy task. So the first thing we get to see is him sitting in the middle of a huge circular hall, already heavily drunk and surrounded by concubines. After calling for the house’s newest attraction, he tells Mei that she will be “taken outside” if she succeeds to entertain him, telling her that after a successful performance she will also have the honor to @#%$ him, and after witnessing her dance he tries to rape her. Though this is a staged attempt in order to succeed with the plan devised by his Boss, the viewer isn’t so sure if Jin is entirely acting rational. Suddenly in rushes Leo with other royal guards pretending to install order to the chaos, but he decides not to arrest Mei, if she shows him her remarkable abbilities through a game in which she must follow the movements of objects only through sound. During this second performance, Mei attacks Leo with a sword, and an extended fight sequence follows in which we also get to see Mei’s talent to handle weapons, though she hasn’t a chance to win against the superior soldier, who shows his arrogance in a scene where he abandons his weapons to fight Mei’s sword with only his fists – he succeeds. The audience is presented a patriarchal society through a male point of view, in which women are objects of sexual desire, the weaker sex that has to be rescued, and can only find happiness in the arms of a man. For being raped the woman is punished along with her persecuter, and when she tries to rebel this is only a futile effort against a superior opponent. The motive of the rape is repeated two times, and on both occassions Mei must be rescued – without weapons she seems powerless. The condescending view of women can also be seen in a scene where Jin makes a compliment to Mei, when he says that in the future he will order his concubines to dress like her, and even more through conversations between Mei and Leo, where he repeatedly states his wishes to possess her. His idea of love seems to be based on ownership, and when he kills her at the end of the film, he states that he had to do it because of her betrayal of their love. Only when Mei frees herself out of societys limitations through losing her virginity, there is a glimpse of hope, and though she states that she wants to be free as the wind, she doesn’t survive. Nevertheless when facing her death she succeeds in forcing the male leads to rethink their positions, and the audience is challenged to accept that women have the right to a free will, and the necessity for both men and women in giving up role models of victim and perpetrator.
- What follows after the escape of Mei and Jin, is a complex investigation of the state of the battle of the sexes, during which the characters switch their identity many times, appearing at times as rebels and at others as royal warriors. The viewer finds out that Leo and Mei know each other, Leo and Jin love Mei, while she can’t decide on one, and there are so many plot twists, that the viewer doesn’t know the true emotions of the characters until the last scene of the film. The film deals with identity, as everyone turns out to be someone else than he appeared, but rather than answering these questions, even the characters themselves don’t know who they are, and they have a long way to go until they discover that identity can only be found within oneself, and not in the outside world through applying clothes or ideologies. Freedom comes only through self discovery not self denial, and the characters in the film only become human when they become individuals at the end of the film, acting on their own emotions, and not following the orders of their groups. Though the royal soldiers are all men, while the rebels appear to be women only, the opponents act with the same set of rules, have the same goals, and apply the same morals in achieving them. But in order to bring a change to society, Zhang Yimou suggests that one has to break free from these restrictions, and while the characters don’t succed ( one of the last shots is of the royal army marching to battle the rebels), the audience is expected to learn from them, and avoid the same mistakes.
- Real emancipation is a tricky business, and both sexes can begin with the process, when they have accepted each other as equals, and the same means are available to both. Though the film ends with this premise, it also tells us that only true love may be powerful enough to actually bring a change in society@@@@@, a change that hopefully blossoms after the film, while the film remains unchangable. An extension of fiction into reality that is very much needed.
- El Topo "The Mole" (1970 / Mexico / Alejandro Jodorowsky) ***1/2 / **** 2.06.05
- This has over the years really become a cult object, and though it is today by many considered a classic, its notorious history still hasn´t come to an end, as the availability of the film is very limited, and there seem to be various edited versions in screen time and screen size. I saw a widescreen version with washed-out colors, which was a bit cut I believe.
- Nevertheless the power and vision of this film came through my 16:9 TV screen and I experienced enough of its magic to glimpse its greatness.
- The film was made as an underground project in the Mexico of the late 60s, and had difficulty finding distributors, probably because Jodorowsky had already caused a scandal with his previous film "Fando y Lis" in 1967 which was (reportedly after a notorious run in Mexican cinemas, where numerous fights broke out over it) banned by the Mexican government. This film too has in time become a cult object all over the world, and is available on DVD in the US along with an audio commentary by Jodorowsky himself and a documentary on its making. Though I haven´t seen it yet myself, I don´t think fans of surreal films would be disappointed if they took a chance with it. Because all of this Jodorowsky had difficulties with El Topo, but after John Lennon urged a friend to buy distribution rights, it got a world wide release and was heralded all over the world for its weirdness and strange philosophical take. If one considers a statement by Jodorowsky where he said that he asks of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs, one can see why the hippie-generation all over the world got enthusiastic about it. But while for example a film like "2001 - A space Odyssey" (which also got a lot of negative press on its original release, and commercial success through stoned audiences) became later regarded as a great cinematic achievement, El Topo hasn´t yet gotten the same academic "beatification", for better or for worse.
- So a modern viewer commonly approaches it not expecting a demanding work of art, but more something along the lines of 70s pseudo-intellectual Eurotrash, spiced with some gore and sex scenes.
- I must confess, that this was also my own approch, when I borrowed it from a local videostore, but I was soon to be disabused.
- The film features Jodorowsky himself as the main character El Topo, a gunslinger in search of himself. At the beginning he has a young son with him, but he leaves him alone in a village after finding a woman who is willing to accompany him on his travels. From this point on things start to go downwards for him, as the woman stirs up his ambitions to become something. On his search for fame and money he becomes more and more unscrupulous killing and torturing people, and even aquiring a second wife. The mission he finds himself on is a mixture of a spiritual search and a killing spree, on which he has to find four master gunmen of the desert (each with a personal philosophical stance) which he wants to defeat. After completing his task (not in an honest way that is), he is left alone in the desert to die by the two women who have apparently bscome a couple.
- After this many a viewer (and critic) would have liked the film to end, but Jodorowsky is more interested in his philosophical vision, and the expression of a humanist view of the world, and adds a final chapter to this film, which is imo crucial for its understanding and the overall quality of the film. In the last part (which is the strongest) El Topo awakes in a cave where he has been worshipped for many years as a saint who is going to rescue the clan of deformed outcasts living there. Felling guilty of his former sins, he starts digging a tunnel, to connect the cave with the outer world, represented by a nearby town. Here Jodorowsky gets deeply allegorical and crafts a pessimistic commentary about the state of things in present day Mexico. I´ll only tell, that in the following El Topo encounters his son, and that the union of all people is a task that can´t be easily completed. The ending shows a bit hope for the human race as a whole, though it is far away from happy. It personally reminded me of the end of Jean Renoirs "La grande illusion", with whom the director shares his love for the common people and his ambivalent belief in and love of mankind, though both know what horrible things it is capable of.
- But above all the films quality rests in its subversive take on film and society, which has put many viewers of, and is also the most responsible factor for the films strange reputation.
- Jodorowsky uses elements from all over the world, mixing western and eastern philosophies, using film styles as different as the western and the slapstick comedy (where Jodorowskys knowledge of film history gleams), and dialogues and a use of language that seem to come from everywhere. The use of camera-angles contrasts beautiful panoramas with repulsive stagings of human decadence, and from gore to sex scenes, to a lrelationship between a dwarf and a "normal" person, there seem to be few topics the film doesn´t have something to say about. But this eclectisicm isn´t just a show-off, but at the very center of the films whole concept.
- As a whole the only satisfying comparison I found, would be to Glauber Rocha´s brazilian masterpiece "Black God, white Devil" (which was - made in ´64 - surely a huge influence), with added philosophical grounding.
- Jodorowsky has afterwards made only a handful of films (some also classics), but with this film alone he has left an important mark in film history.
- Koktebel "Roads to Koktebel" (2003 / Russia / Boris Khlebnikov, Aleksei Popogrebsky) *** / **** November 2004
- Have seen Koktebel last year in November in a smal russian film festival, and a good German filmcritic/historian gave a little speech about it, where he said, that he wanted Koktebel to have been in the Venice film festival instead of "The Return", but had some problems with "jurors" (or whoever decides this kind of thing) in russia, and he thought it was the best russian film of a "new" filmmaker. Don't remember what he said about it anymore, and sadly I didn't have time after the film to talk with the director who was present, so here are some of my own thoughts.
A slovenian reviewer used the expression (roughly translated) that it is an outstanding example of "didactic films for older children" russia was so famous for in the past, and which have disappeared since the Soviet regime broke down. This is meant in a VERY positive way, and this view describes my experience of the film perfectly.
- We have a father son relationship, where the mother is missing, and the father has no job, so both go on a trip through russia to "Koktebel", a town somewhere in the southwest (i think). During their voyage which is on foot, both have several more or less strange encounters with people whom they ask for some food, or a shelter in the night. Some are good, some are bad, most remain ambiguous, and the son gets to learn more and more about the world he lives in. During the yourney which begins to drag on to long Koktebel begin to be some kind of magic words (like the land of OZ), where the son hopes for all problems to be solved, and a normal life with his father (who told him about relatives who live their and will help them). When the two at one point start living with a lonely woman, who begins a relationship with the also lonely father, the son becomes jealous, and the fathers promises of soon moving on become a lie during the months they spend there. So, in the end the son starts alone to continue his journey, and at the end of the film, we will have a very interesting conclusion in Koktebel. I won't tell anything more, so as not to spoil the movie, if you haven't seen it yet. This story and the events that happen, aren't central to the film, but are "only" used as a catalysator to let the viewer see different stages of the father-son relationship. That's really all the film is about, and it gets more difficult to follow and complex, because the film is told from the child's point of view, and there isn't much (significant) dialkogue. Almost every important thing is expressed through glances of the characters, their body-language, the look in their eyes, and through what the camera chooses to show us ,and what not. In this it very much resembles Zvyagintsev's "The Return", and also in the use of symbolism, which isn't as heavy , but no less important. On the technical side we have also some long takes, abrupt cutting, frequent use of ellipses, and lots of irritating and unexplained events (or that's the way they are presented). In some scenes there is even a surrealist touch (you'll remember a radio-scene ).
- I can thoroughly recommend it, and it is surely a great experience, if parents watch the film Together! with their children, and afterwards talk about it.
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Listing is by:
original title, international title (english and in quotation marks; if known), remark (if a version is cut, dubbed,etc.), year of production, main country it was produced in, director, personal rating, and the date of the viewing.
In general, a film that gets more than ** / **** is one I liked, a film that gets less, one I disliked.
***** / **** (one simply can't make a better film)
**** / **** (the film is in itself a perfect entity)
***1/2 / **** ((almost) a masterpiece)
*** / **** (very good)
Must sees, are films with ***1/2 / **** or higher rating. My favorite films are in bold.
The rating reflects how good or bad I thought a film to be. It doesn't always show, which one I liked or enjoyed more.