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living in Israel
makes a living out of computers and computer networks
best films ever - Casablanca, The Great Dictator, Citizen Kane
likes travelling, blues, rock and jazz music, reading, sports (especially football), and of course - films
Lost Highway (1997)
surrealistic film noir
'Lost Highway' belongs to a category of movies that confuses many viewers, thrills many others, generates endless discussions and triggers extreme reactions. Welcome to the universe of most of David Lynch's films, a universe in which cinematic story telling and time-lapse have their own laws, where reality and dream are meddling with each other. Lynch is the latest great surrealist artist. I do not know if he is the last one, but for sure, the most important of the surrealists among our contemporaries.
Like any complex film or artwork, we can approach 'Lost Highway' from several angles. It's a 'film noir' in which we are dealing with crimes, gangsters, cops, violence and eroticism. It's an art film where we find the cinematic aesthetics of David Lynch's films that we already know well from 'Blue Velvet' and 'Twin Peaks' at the time of the release. We can try to follow the logic of action, read the explanations of Lynch's fans (including the IMDB viewers comments) or we can build our own theory in which we try to find explanations for the duplication of the main characters (the same male character embodied by two actors - Bill Pullman and Balthazar Getty, two female characters played by the same actress - Patricia Arquette). We can immerse ourselves in the horror atmosphere that is smartly built using Hitchcock's techniques amplified in Lynch style. Or we can just let the imagination of the director carry us, accepting that we are in a dream. Or in a nightmare.
In a way, I think it's easier to track and accept 'Lost Highway' today than two decades ago. Spectators are a little more familiar nowadays with the ambiguities in film scenarios where not everything is explained in detail and not everything fits into Cartesian logic and linear time. The quality of the film can also be found in the perfection of its production. From any point of view we watch the film, it satisfies - as horror, as a surrealist movie, as an erotic thriller, as a mystery. The extraordinary soundtrack places Lynch alongside Hitchcock and Polanski in the category of the film directors who know how to handle the sound as well as the image. 'Lost Highway' is not an easy film and requires efforts to watch, but efforts must be directed elsewhere than finding 'logical' explanations of everything that we see on the screen. Most viewers will find, I think, that their efforts were rewarded.
One Step Behind the Seraphim (2017)
a case of bad education
'One Step Behind the Seraphim' reminded me Pedro Almodóvar's "Bad Education" in many ways. Both films can be seen as recovery exercises from old traumas by sharing personal experiences many years later, films in which the directors included part of the personal experiences of the years spent in religious education systems. Both films take place in countries (Spain and Romania) which came out of nights of dictatorship. The difference is that in Almodóvar's film the religious school system belonged to the old regime, while in Daniel Sandu's film the Orthodox theological school that is presented (for the first time as far as I know in a Romanian film) was allowed to function freely only after the 1989 revolution. In both films, the heroes, children or teenagers, are confronted with the rigidity of dogmatic systems and evil personalities among teachers who will influence their roads in life.
The heroes in Daniel Sandu's film are not presented as passive victims. They are at the age of uncertainties and discoveries, but also at the point where they can begin to discern between good and evil and may decide to collaborate with evil to fight against it. Director Daniel Sandu, in his first feature film, comes from this world. Although he has left it many years ago, he does not look back with anger, but rather tries to describe the system and the people who populate it, as he knew them in the first decade after the fall of Communism. The image is not radically different from that of the 'outside' world, there is corruption and dogmatism, but guilt seems rather personal. So is the revolt of young people, whose conflict seems more personal than anti-dogmatic. The final scene (a visual quote from '1984') suggests acceptance and integration in the system after the danger has passed, at least for the time being.
'One Step Behind the Seraphim' succeeds very well in describing the group of young men on the threshold of maturity, at the age and in the phase of experiences and rebellions. The team of young actors is doing a great job, each of the characters is well built and different from the others. I am not a great amateur of coming to age movies, but the quality of the acting game conquered me, with a special mention for Stefan Iancu, a reincarnation of James Dean in Romanian cinema. Vlad Ivanov proves with every new role that he is one of the great Romanian actors of the moment. His character embodies the continuity of corruption in the Romanian society, the perpetuation of the old methods of denunciations and personal files in combination with the new rhetoric, the one of the church in this case, which they compromise through contamination. Director Daniel Sandu demonstrated professionalism in leading the actors and story telling. The film is a bit long but it avoids ostentation and remains in memory because of the thematic and of its heroes. 'One Step Behind the Seraphim' adds a new facet to the complex image of Romanian cinema.
Il conformista (1970)
normality of evil
Bernardo Bertolucci has a difficult posterity. Even the obituaries at his disappearance last year included more or less veiled criticism of his voyeurism in 'Last Tango in Paris' or 'The Dreamers' or its sliding into the extreme-oriental commercialism of 'The Last Emperor' and 'Little Buddha' . I believe that the grumblers should be sent to his early works, to '1900' and especially to this special film "Il conformista" ("The Conformist") in order to appreciate the emotional impact, the political commitment, and the cinematic aesthetics of a director who did not avoid scandals, but who deserved the glory that he enjoyed during his lifetime, which he still may recover in the history of Italian and world cinema.
In 1963, a few years before "Il conformista" was made, Hanna Arendt published her book 'The Banality of Evil'. Inspired by the trial of Adolph Eichmann, Arendt theorized about the role of dull and mediocre personalities, ready to any compromise, which in the conditions of a totalitarian dictatorship can become the instruments of evil, accomplices and participants in the most odious crimes. It is very possible for Bertolucci to have known and read Hanna Arendt's book, because '"Il conformista" deals exactly with this subject, asking the question of the significance and even the possibility of 'normality' in an abnormal world, and having as main hero an Italian intellectual who lives under the trauma of a childhood sexual assault and aspires to become a normal and normative citizen of the world in which he lives - the period of Mussolini's fascist dictatorship. Based upon a novel by Alberto Moravia, the film describes a hero who is a victim of his own nightmares, of his desire to ascend socially combined with cowardliness and the betrayal of the ideals of his youth. In order to climb the social scale and to integrate into a world built in appearance for the pure and the powerful, he adapts his own personality through murder and complicity to the crimes committed by the fascist regime in suppressing the opposition. His treason works at all levels: intellectual, religious, emotional, familial. Marcello Clerici (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant already at the peak of a long career from which he never seems to have descended) will adapt his social path and try to establish a family that meets the social standards,. When he meets a woman who may give him a chance of rehabilitation, he is unable to accomplish with his own hands the murder mission he was trusted with, but also unable to save her. The end of the film suggests a betrayal of his betrayal. Adaptability changes color, and chameleonism will only change direction, depending on the requests of the new regime.This is the powerful political message of the movie and of the book that inspired him and it successfully passes the screen.
Many of Bertolucci's films are exuberant visual performances, and "Il conformista"is no exception. We are absorbed in the world of 1938, but the image and the sets do not try to create a faithful reconstruction of the era, but rather a hyperbola of the hero's experiences. The city's scenery in Rome and Paris and the interiors of bourgeois suites or luxury hotels envelop spectators in the decadent atmosphere of a world on the edge of the abyss. Monumental decorations with crushing dimensions and the architectural style of the fascist Brutalism highlight the megalomania and the oppressive character of the dictatorship. The colors and the alternates of clear and foggy (as in the scene of automobile chase) are adapted to the carnal feelings or the indifference and the inability to act of the hero. The manner in which the action told and style of editing give a look of cinematic modernity. At no moment did I have the feeling that I see a movie made almost half a century ago. After all, cinematographic masterpieces are ageless.
Ioana, the main character in 'Charleston' directed by Andrei Cretulescu appears on the screen only in the first minute of the movie. We see her in a cafe, she gets a message on her phone, she runs out, turns the corner, and we can hear the terrible noise of a traffic accident. The subject of the rest of the film is Ana's absence. In her life, we find out, there were two men. The husband (played by Serban Pavlu) and the lover for the last few months of her life (Radu Iacoban). The two meet in strange circumstances and try to cope with the void left in their lives by Ioana's disappearance.
Men are not the best communicators, especially in moments of mourning. The two men in the film are as diverse as possible in physical appearance, social status, character. What unites them is the love and longing for Ioana. But these are mostly manifested by heavy drinking, long silences interrupted by a few punches, and a dance in the middle of the movie that has nothing to do with the rest, or if it has, I have not deciphered it. The problem with the film is that we understand or guess what the characters are about in the first ten minutes, while the movie lasts almost two hours. Almost two hours that seemed much longer to me, in which I did not learn anything about the woman who was Ioana, even though we are taken by the camera into her bedroom, favorite bar, cinema to see her beloved movie, on the seashore where her love stories began, and even at her grave in the cemetery. We find out nothing about the reasons why she chose to live a double life or what she found in the two men with whom she shared her life. The husband tells the lover at one point, 'what did Ioana find in you?'. The question I think is also valid for him. The characters do not evolve and do not grow, hiding the whole film behind the crumb of in-communication. A vague side story about a local bar being threatened by demolition because of corrupt clerks and some foggy mob-like characters add nothing substantial.
Many films with thin scripts are saved by acting. Indeed, in 'Charleston' we are dealing with good performances from fine actors. I saw Serban Pavlu in several roles on the stage and he met the expectations, but to me Radu Iacoban, whom I know less, was the true revelation. The presence on screen of Victor Rebengiuc, even for only a few minutes, was also a delight. But these characters do not communicate with each other. Perhaps this was intended by director Andrei Cretulescu, who is also the author of the script, but what works well on stage in absurd theater does not always find cinematic equivalents in movies. Perhaps the filmmaker, who came from the film critics world and this is his first feature film, has tried to demonstrate how to make a successful film for festivals. The result, however, seemed to me a long and repetitive film, a sterile and pointless exercise.
bad luck as a way of life
'Ghinionistul' ('The Unlucky' or 'The Bad Luck Guy'), the comedy directed by Iura Luncasu, which I saw at the Romanian Film Festival, organized in Israel these days, reminded me of the Romanian joke about the guy who after passing away is given the opportunity to chose in what kind of hell he would spend the rest of the eternity. Naturally, he chooses the Romanian hell: neither the temperature of the pitch boilers is so hot, nor the demons are really devilish, and anyway, if you give them a hundred lei you can 'solve the problem'. This is about the atmosphere laughed about of this rather different feel-good movie, with many good intentions and original ideas, although not all of them realized. Well, a Romanian comedy ... but it's refreshing to see one after so many 'serious' Romanian movies.
The hero of the movie is Robert (Vlad Logigan), a young musician from somewhere in center Romania, who is convinced that he is born under a bad sign. He tries to meet ends not from today till tomorrow but from morning till noon or from afternoon to evening, he has two teenage sisters and a drunk father (Gheorghe Visu) in care, while his chances of becoming an achieved musician in a not very commercial genre (classic guitar) seem equal to zero. Everybody takes advantage of his kindness, the owner of the house he rents and the one of the local pub, the nymphomaniac mother of his guitar pupil, his father, even the local thugs who try to involve him in a kidnapping. Robert belongs to the category of comedy characters from Charlot to Benigni who conquer the hearts of the spectators and of the beautiful girls in the movies through their innocence and kindness. If he could only break the circle of bad luck.
What did I like? Vlad Logigan is the right actor for the role and acts very well. He is so good that it might be worth considering to make of this film a 'pilot' for a series. The script is well written, the moments in which the story trains are rare. The combination of social critic, comedy of situations and absurd works most of the time well and there are plenty of twists and surprises that keep the attention of the spectators. What I liked less? Excepting Robert, most of the other characters are reduced to stereotypes that fail to raise atop the levels of TV comedy despite the actors' efforts. The end seems to be rushed, the idea is good, but I believe that it deserved to be developed in several scenes. An extra dose of daring, even some insanity, could have transformed this movie from just another comedy into a film to remember. Even so, 'Ghinionistul' offers the audience another facet of a diverse cinema school, with talented and independent creators.
THE SECRET of HAPPINESS (2018)
The action of 'Secretul Fericirii' ('The Secret of Happiness'), Vlad Zamfirescu's debut film happens on the terrace of a modern urban apartment, the heroes are prosperous young people (call them yuppies if you want), the problems they face are related to personal relationships. There is no hint about the immediate Romanian reality, the story could have been located in many other places in the world, which is in fact a proof that the Romanian cinematic landscape is much more diverse and perhaps even more interesting than what you would guess from watching only the most famous films of the 'new wave'.
Alexandru Popa's script uses the closed space formula (well, you may call it open, in this case, it's a fairly spacious terrace) with several (few) characters and the action taking place in 'real time'. In this case, there are three heroes, two men and one woman, a triangle representing three points of a quartet consisting of two couples of very good friends. One of the friends makes a strange proposal, a game if you want, outside of the accepted 'social norms'. Secret passions and and truths hidden even among the best friends begin to be gradually revealed.The intrigue is very intelligently built, there are plenty of surprises along the way that keep the attention and interest of the audience, and the second part of the film takes the viewers in a very different mood than the beginning. There are quite a lot of surprises and a final punch as well.
The formula is of course not very original, I have seen in recent years some films of this kind, about the same type of décor and social environments - " Carnage " written by Yasmina Reza and brought to screen by Roman Polanski, or Paolo Genovese's "Perfetti sconosciuti "are the ones that immediately come to mind. We could call the formula 'theatrical' , but in this case the theater-film relationship was inverse than usual. First was the screenplay and the movie was made, and only then was the stage play written and put on stage. The play is successful in Romania, and I would not wonder if it will be successfully exported to other countries as well.
First time director Vlad Zamfirescu had the chance of a very good script, and proved a good mastery of the cinematographic means. He also plays one of the three main roles, and his partners give him a good replica. Dialogues flow naturally, the tension is built with patience, surprises appear at the right times. It's an excellent debut, certainly eased by the fact that the formula is close to theater, a field in which Vlad Zamfirescu already has experience as director. Such a debut sets the expectation for the future at a high level, and if he continues his career as a film director, he will have to show that he masters the job also when moving away from the world and the formulas of the theater. I am look forward to see and hear from him in the future.
end of a civilization
'Morometii 2' (translated in English as 'Moromete Family: On the Edge of Time) was the second film that I saw at the Romanian Film Festival organized in Israel these days, and the screening yesterday at the cinematheque in Herzlya was followed by a meeting of the producer Tudor Giurgiu with the local audience. On this occasion, I learned that the film written and directed by Stere Gulea beat the record of the number of viewers in the cinema halls in Romania in recent years. I am not surprised by this fact, as the film touches strings that have not vibrated for a while in the minds and souls of Romanian spectators. It's about nostalgia - the theme as well as the way to make cinema -, the film is blessed by a cast that includes some of the most talented and popular Romanian actors from several generations, and it's also the screening of a book that Romanian viewers know from the school benches. And yes, it's a solid, well-done film with many qualities that justify the price of the ticket and the time spent in the cinema theater.
If we look carefully, we are dealing with this two stories in this film, two stories that the screenwriter and director combine in one narrative, two worlds that start from the same place, but which will break apart irremediably. The first one is the world of Ilie Moromete, the main character in the first volume of the book that gave the name of the film, and the hero of the first film directed by Stere Gulea 31 years earlier. It is the world of the Romanian village, the basis of the economy and of the Romanian culture for centuries. In the previous film whose action was taking place in the interwar period, we saw this world threatened by the changes brought about by capitalism - modernity but also new morals, difficult to reconcile with the traditions. Ilie Moromete tries to resist with his skeptical wisdom and with the spirit of adaptation specific to the peasants in hard times. In 'Morometii 2' we are in 1945 and the threat is much more serious and aggressive, it is about the transformations brought by communism sustained by the Soviet occupation. The revolution is radical in this case, the change imposed by the new leaders includes forced collectivization and the destruction of private property. It is the end of an era and of a whole civilization, and this time Moromete's conservative skepticism and his instinctive resistance to change will no longer be enough. The second world described in the film is that of Niculae Moromete, the younger son in the family, a chip that jumped away from the trunk as Romanians say, through his desire to read and learn. He too, like his older brothers, will leave his native village, but in his case the personal change is much more radical, anticipating a social transformation that would follow, reducing numerically the peasantry class and destroying it from a cultural and lifestyle point of view
Stere Gulea does not actually brig to screen faithfully the second volume of 'Morometii' but rather extrapolates and combines it with elements from other books by Marin Preda, or with biographical information gathered from his diligent documentation work. Marin Preda is probably one of the Romanian writers who best described the transition period between interwar capitalism and democracy and the communist dictatorship, but he wrote during the communist era, and his anti-communism, if it existed, could never be explicit . In Stere Gulea's film we are dealing with a 'what-if' version of the themes and characters of Marin Preda. If he had lived and created in a period without censorship, this may, perhaps, would have been the path taken by Preda. Or maybe not.
What I liked. The cinematography is gorgeous. The decision to shoot in black and white is perfectly justified. The natural environment, the houses, the interiors, the costumes, the requisites - all render finely, in detail, without being ostentatious and strident, the period in which the action takes place. Horatiu Malaele's acting play is superb. His character has spirit and nobility. From now on, when Ilie Moromete's name will be mentioned, his face in this role will appear right before my eyes. The film has style, a style typical of the 'classic' Romanian cinema, renewing a thread interrupted by the two last decades of 'new wave'. It is one of the directions of the Romanian cinema that deserves to be continued. What I liked less. The combination between the descriptions of the two worlds is not always harmonious. There are many characters in the film that represent similar categories and typologies and they are too little differentiated - the children of Ilie Moromete, the peasants in the village who oppose collectivization, the acolytes of the new regime. Even the presence in some roles of excellent actors who do everything they know and can (and the know and can do a lot) is not enough to create credible and memorable characters. 'Morometii 2'is a good film that will not be overlooked by the history of Romanian cinema, but which misses the chance of being equal to the first film in the series and becoming one of the remarkable films of this history.
farewell to the Maestro
'Aniversarea' ('The Anniversary') was the first film that I have viewed last evening at the Romanian Film Festival organized in Israel these days. Filmed in 2016 and premiered in 2017, Dan Chisu's film was the last appearance on screen of the great film and theater actor who was Mircea Albulescu. He would leave this world shortly after the shooting of this movie and did not get to see it. I do not know exactly how many of the dozens of viewers in the cinema theater yesterday knew who was Mircea Albulescu, but for me this film means first of all the farewell film of this giant. But there are many other good reasons why 'Aniversarea', without being a masterpiece, is a movie that deserves to be seen.
45 years ago, Mircea Albulescu played the role of a communist politician whom the party had trusted with the management of a factory during the period of the takeover of power by the communists. The film was called "Puterea si Adevarul" ("Power and Truth") and it was a quite typical combination for the films of that period between communist propaganda and half-truths that scriptwriter Titus Popovici and film director Manole Marcus sneaked in managing to pass them through the censorship filters. Albulescu's role in 'Aniversarea' can be seen as a continuation or the closing of a cycle opened in "Puterea si Adevarul". Here Mircea Albulescu is Radu Maligan, a former Communist dignitary, head of the "services", the owner of the files containing the personal secrets of the "enemies" of the regime but also of his dignitaries, as everyone spied on everyone in that system. Now, at the age of 94, immobilized in a wheelchair, he spends his time listening to classical music and looking around without saying a word at what is left from the world he tried to destroy and rebuild. The whole family and a few former colleagues gather in his apartment located across the street from the main concert hall in central Bucharest to celebrate his birthday, but it could just as well be a funeral, as he just looks at them, refuses communication, without even a the tear flowing over his cheeks. The gathering resembles a "Godfather" style mafia encounter, but it is clear that the family and the surrounding world are in crisis and disintegration. The former communist dignitary at his old age is not only a witness who cannot or does not want to react, who refuses confession to the priests or to the psychoanalyst that family members prepare for him. He and the regime he represented are the source of the evil and of the moral disorientation that we are witnessing.
Maligan's family with its three or four generations is a microcosm of today's Romania, a society that seems to have lost its compass and is divided by larger or smaller conflicts. The main problem with the film is that writer and director Dan Chisu has tried to say too much, to collect too many interesting themes and cases in the same film. The gathering of too many topics in the 100 minutes of screening leaves the impression of a messy puzzle, without any of them receiving the in-depth treatment they deserve. Of all the themes that have been approached, the attempt to find religious beliefs as a possible alternative to delivering personal salvation or at least the comfort in face of death is the one that best passes the screen. It is also a more general subject and easier accessible to spectators who are not that familiar with Romania's history and politics. But even for this theme, too little time is devoted missing an in-depth approach, the dialogues between the priests and the psychoanalyst sound artificial and out of context, and the Orthodox-Catholic sub-conflict adds an unnecessary complication. The actors' performances are excellent, the film features a gallery of valuable actors, among which I would also mention besides Albulescu the excellent Razvan Vasilescu. Cinematography is uncertain, most of the filming takes place in the space of the same apartment, whose exact topography is not revealed to the spectators, but I could recognize the collection of objects specific to Bucharest apartments, with the mixture of the relics of the past and the technical gadgets of the present. 'Aniversarea' adds to a series of films made over the last decades describing Romania's long and painful detachment from a past that refuses to be left behind and whose tragic personal and social implications continue to be present until today.
Les amants du Pont-Neuf (1991)
a superb film about love in garbage
I hope that you'll excuse my enthusiasm. It is quite rare to fall on a film that I consider it deserving a 10/10 rating on IMDB. I am a demanding cinema fan, and the maximum rating is reserved on my scale to films that are exciting, innovative, remarkable (not necessarily impeccable) from an artistic point of view and whose viewing have captivated or moved me or both. It is the case of 'Les amants du Pont-Neuf', the superb film directed by Leos Carax released in 1991.
The film can be described as a love story in the world of the homeless Parisians. I happen to know well the place most of the action takes place, the Pont-Neuf bridge, located in the center of Paris, near one of the hotels where I chose to stay when in the City of Lights. The filming of 'Les amants du Pont-Neuf' has its own story. Carax used for part of the time for shooting the real bridge which was under renovation in 1989, the year when France celebrated the 200th anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. The two heroes are an alcoholic tramp (Denis Lavant, Carax's favorite actor) and a young painter touched by a disease that gradually destroys her eyesight (Juliette Binoche), running away to escape desperation because of her illness and an unfortunate love story. The two do not know too well to communicate, it starts with a drop of compassion that develops in a relationship. To survive they steal in different ways when they are not drunk or consuming other substances. Still, nothing stands in the way of the love story between them, neither their personal misfortunes, nor the misery of the homeless life they are forced or maybe they choose to live, not the police raids or the antipathy of an older homeless who declares himself the 'owner' of the bridge under repairs. It is only when things could begin to straighten out that their love story will be in jeopardy. There are many extreme situations and bizarre or out-of-norm solutions, but nothing to bother either the heroes or the viewers, as the love story is compelling and captivates the attention and emotions of the audience. Love and beauty can blossom anywhere, including in garbage and in evil environments, we know it since Baudelaire.
Carax's cinematic style in this film (and in a few more of his films) belongs to a trend called 'Cinema du look', popular in the '80s, which can be described as a post-Nouvelle Vague reaction. The characters are chosen with predilection from the outskirts of society, they are vagabonds, prostitutes, walking failures or criminals, while the films are shot in the aesthetic style reserved for films describing the more fortunate social classes (Claude Lelouch's films for example). The results are spectacular in this film, in which the exuberance of the official celebrations resonates with the lovers' emotions, where the Paris of garbage and poverty seems to harmonize with the tourist's Paris. Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche create two of the best roles of their careers, they are sincere, vulnerable, and authentic as the two lovers hit by the misfortunes of life, who find mutual support in each other avoiding the fall in abyss. I strongly recommend this movie, I personally loved it enormously. You will get as a bonus a scene that I believe inspired James Cameron in Titanic. I'm not saying more, because I hope that you will look for this movie and see it, if you have not done it yet.
Death and the Maiden (1994)
ghosts of horror
I cannot explain exactly why 'Death and the Maiden' did not make on me the impression that I would have expected from a film directed by Roman Polanski and featuring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley (during their peak periods of glory) in the lead roles. Perhaps it is the fact that I have seen since 1994 quite a bunch of similar films that look back to the period of political repression by the right-wing regimes in South and Central America in the 70's. Maybe it plays a role also the fact that the formula of drama in close space, sometimes inspired by theater plays (in this case, it's an adaptation after Ariel Dorfman's play) had a lot of other accomplishments, including some other films by Polanski. Or maybe just because 25 years have passed since this film that does not have enough extraordinary elements to make it age beautifully was made.
Premises are good. Dorfman and Polanski create a combination between political cinema and post-trauma psychological films in a setting that seems to descend directly from Hitchcock. Gerardo and Paolina Escobar are a socially well-placed couple who live a comfortable life in an oceanfront villa. The ghosts of the past, however, follow the two, materialized especially in the anxiety of the woman who is tormented by the memories of the arrest, torture, and rape that she suffered two decades ago as a political opponent during the dictatorship. The day when Gerardo learns that he is to be named a special investigator of the crimes committed during the crackdown, a stranger, Dr. Miranda appears in their life, accidentally or perhaps not. Paolina recognizes his voice as the doctor's who collaborated with the military and participated in her torture. The woman decides to make justice. Can she be sure about the identity of a man she identified only by his voice? Can Gerardo accept summary justice instead of the official process he is going to lead at the national scale? Will the doctor recognize his guilt, if he is indeed guilty? Does the victim have the right to become a judge, maybe a executioner? All these questions are looking for answers in a stormy night in a villa by the ocean.
What I liked. The cinematography, especially the presence of water, which plays in many of Polanski 's films a role both aesthetic and in the building of the tension. The action of the film begins on a heavy rain and ends on a high cliff below which the waves of the ocean break furiously. The intensity of the actors' acting, especially Sigourney Weaver's. Franz Schubert's music. What I liked less. The theatricality of dialogues - something that works well on stage does not sound sometimes as natural on the screen. The closing resolution of the conflict belongs more to the cinema of the 1950s than to the 1990s. The slightly theatrical, slightly tired atmosphere places 'Death and the Maiden' among Roman Polanski's less successful works.
Dragged Across Concrete (2018)
I had two reasons that got me out of home to go and see this movie directed by S. Craig Zahler, a director whose previous films (low cost action, so-called B movies) I have not seen. The first was the title - 'Dragged Across Concrete'. I told to myself that a movie with such an awful title has the potential to hide something special. The other was the lead role actor, Mel Gibson, one of the famous and controversial characters in the world of cinema, independent-minded (working systematically outside of the big American studios) but also possessing a negative public image that includes alleged violent misdemeanors and even racist episodes. The choice of S. Craig Zahler, who also wrote the script, is so good that I can only suspect that the story and the role have been created with Gibson in mind.
Mel Gibson is making the best of his successful casting, creating one of the best of his roles that I remember. His hero, the police officer Brett Ridgeman is approaching the age of 60 years, and the integrity combined with 'unconventional' law enforcement methods succeeded just to get him stuck in the same position for more than 30 years, while his former partner, who probably had the guts to accept compromises, gives him orders from his comfortable office. Ridgeman / Gibson seems to be enjoying the cop work with his younger partner, Tony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn, excellent casting also), but home troubles are gathering (a multi-racial neighborhood with many problems, an adolescent daughter who is aggressed on the road from school to home, a former cop wife who is sick), and the suspension following an incident in which the two partners used 'excessive force' does not help. The road to crime is tempting, but like in many other movies, it will prove to be dangerous. Director S. Craig Zahler uses not only Gibson's talent as actor, but also Gibson's public figure, distributing him as a maybe-bad-guy, a man with material problems and under constant pressure because of the profession, whose attitudes and actions can be sometimes interpreted as racist. There is no clear stand taken or excuse made in the film for this, just the description of some characters and situations that exist. And this description is made with much cinematic talent. Each scene, each situation is described in detail and in depth, has visual and action logic, whether it is in a modest apartment or in a gorgeous villa, in a parked garage or in a bank, in the light of the day or in the semi-darkness of the night. S. Craig Zahler proves talent in describing various social environments, credibly bringing to screen different micro-universes such as the world of policemen or of the African Americans in needy neighborhoods, or building the relationship between the two policemen.
The film contains several scenes of violence close to sordid, which probably provoked the envy of Quentin Tarantino, but I think the director did well (from a cinematographic point of view) refusing to cut them out in order to create a shorter version for broader distribution in cinema theaters. It's definitely a sordid story about a handful of men from different social backgrounds (it's worth mentioning here also the character of Henry, a young Afro-American man just out of prison, also played very well by Tory Kittles) who resort to various kinds of crimes to evade the situations without any perspective that the society placed them in. A few days ago I saw 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' directed by Marielle Heller. Two seemingly very different films, one is a biopics written by a woman with a woman engaged in literary forgeries as the main heroine, the other directed by a man is about men engaged in violent crimes. Both films, however, share the type of characters who, in a different world, or perhaps in other times or in another social context, with some chance, could have been positive characters and normative citizens. The circumstances and the cruel world they (we) live in are pushing all of them toward crime, of course with very different degrees of gravity and eventually with very different implications. 'Dragged Across Concrete' is not a movie that will please everybody, but viewers who do not shy away from violence (not free violence!) on screen and from films almost two and a half hours long (without giving however the impression that they are extended in time without reason) will have the satisfaction of watching a solid, interesting, well-acted film.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
the story of a bad girl
A "normative" film spectator (if such a person exists nowadays) would have every reason to dislike the main heroine of 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' directed by Marielle Heller. Lee Israel is a felon, an alcoholic, and a pretty asocial character. She is not beautiful, she carries with her an excess of pounds and a sense of frustration as a failed writer, she is behind payments of the rent of a dirty apartment which smells as a garbage gut, and of the drugs to heal her only companion in life - a cat. She is ready to do almost anything to survive and overcome her situation. Her fall in crime is described as accidental, but it can not be said that Lee Israel fights back too hard when the opportunity to make easy and illegal money arises.
The young American film director (at her only second feature film, but with a safe hand and fluent story telling as at her twentieth) manages to completely revert the data of the story, relying on Lee's autobiographical book written years after events, a book that finally brought her (in honest ways) the literary success that she deserved . The main merit must be shared between Marielle Heller - the film director, Melissa McCarthy - the actress who plays the lead role, and Richard E. Grant, who gives her the replica as Jack Hock, an eccentric, sympathetic and vicious to the bone figure who becomes her friend and partner crime. Grant is one of those actors we feel we have always known, who have played in numerous supporting roles and in TV series, and who only when they get the chance of a consistent role like here we understand what wonderful actors they are. Few of them have this luck. Manhattan's atmosphere in the early 1990s, its streets and bars, the literary milieu and the one of the gay community facing the peak of the AIDS crisis are excellently reconstituted. The movie is authentic because it does not idealize anything. Neither the behavior of the characters, nor the situations in which they find themselves, and the solutions they choose to get out of them.
We can of course debate how serious the offense committed by Lee Israel - falsifying private letters of famous personalities - was . The American justice was not very severe in her case, limiting the punishment to a suspended prison sentence. The social commentary of the film seems to be at least equally harsh in the direction of those who generate the demand for letters and other memorial objects related to writers, actors and other celebrities who are no longer alive. After all, maybe the only ones who are really hurt are these celebrities or, more precisely, their personality and the way they remain in history. Otherwise, naive people who are willing to pay a lot of money for these items receive more or less what they want, and the traders benefit from the counterfeit merchandise just as well as from the real stuff. If we accept this point of view, we remain with a well made film that brings to the screen two characters that are far from being role models, but they are authentic and interesting, and they succeed in gaining the sympathy of the spectators, even of the "normative" ones.
Love Story 2018
The local cinematheque was host last night to the Austrian director Hans Weingartner, the author of the lovely film '303', who after the projection entertained a dialog with the film critic Yael Shuv. '303' is a movie of a kind that is not much made today - a romantic 'feel good' movie that also tells many smart things about the world around us, a movie about and with young people who are neither drugged, neither extremists, nor fallen into misery or crime, a combination between a 'road movie' in the style that Wim Wenders was making 40 years ago and romantic films like Arthur Hiller's 'Love Story' based upon Erich Segal's novel that delighted the generations that were young at about the same time.
At first it seems that we are dealing with the usual 'boy meets girl' recipe. The film's heroes are two young Germans who meet by chance and decide to go together on a trip from Germany to Portugal in a 30-year-old caravan. It's one of the 'retro' elements of the movie, there are a few more, but the truly 'retro' stuff is the relationship that emerges between them. The boy belongs to the category of those who are not able to maintain a relationship for more than a few months. The girl is in the middle of the complete disintegration of her previous relationship and on top of this, she is also pregnant and undecided whether or not to keep the baby. Both of them are students, intellectuals in making, and they talk a lot, enormously, theorizing everything from politics and ecology to their attitudes toward love and the hormonal analysis of caressing and kissing. Verbosity slows down their getting close, and as tension accumulates between them and in the minds of the audience, dialogues play the role of prelude (Yael Shuv used the term foreplay) to the love affair between the two. Intelligently, director Hans Weingartner focuses most of the time on the two heroes and the caravan that carries them from the north to the south of Europe. The surrounding landscapes almost do not exist, when filmed they are practically deserted, only the two characters, the boy and the girl count. It's a 'road movie' where the important road is the way the two of them progress in their relation.
I liked the two characters, and the way the interaction between them is described on screen. The director and the actors Mala Emde and Anton Spieker manage to create empathy between heroes and spectators. Hans Weingartner told the audience at the discussion after the screening that the actors were let very little freedom to improvise, being asked to strictly follow the written text for most of the time. That also means that the script is well built, and the actors have achieved remarkable performances, giving autenticity to a text that is not at all trivial or easy. The film is optimistic without being sweet. As long as there are young people who are discussing with the same seriousness and passion about the planet's problems and about kisses, and as long as there are directors who know how to make movies where a love story can create thrill just like an action movie, there is still hope. I mentioned 'Love Story' that I saw almost half a century ago. I do not remember many details, I have not seen the movie since then, but I remember my personal identification with the heroes. I had a similar sensation yesterday watching '303', although I'm now at a very different age than the characters.
the first talkie by Hitchcock is a pleasant surprise
'Blackmail', Alfred Hitchcock's first 'talkie' is a pleasant surprise, a movie that is worth watching and can be seen with the eyes of 2019 viewers, and not just for documentary and historical research purposes.
It's a crime and blackmail story that involves an amorous triangle, combined with what we call today a '#metoo' story. Such cases are not easy for women today, much less they were in London where the action takes place in 1929. Hitchcock manages to combine elements of sentimental drama with social critique. In addition, we meet here one of the very typical heroines for Hitchcock's films, a sexy woman (a blonde, like most of his lead women characters and actresses) who finds herself under social pressure and within a sentimental dilemma, who does not know to make the right decisions, but whom the director makes us sympathize and solidarize with, even if she is suspected to have committed a crime.
Visually, the movie looks good. The introductory scene still belongs to the silent film, dialogues and sound effects start only in the second film, as if the director would have said: 'That's where my spoken film career starts.' There are already in 'Blackmail' elements that we will find in Hitchcock's later films: close shots with games of shadows and lights, a murder that happens behind a curtain, a cameo appearance of the director. The expressiveness of the actors at the first spoken films, still using the tools of pantomime specific to the silent movies is well under control. All actors are well-chosen, and even voices and soundtrack are generally better quality than in later Hitchcock movies in the coming years. 'Blackmail' is one of the transition period films that have successfully passed the proof of time. Recommended.
'synonyms' or 'false friends'?
Nadav Lapid's talent as a director and scriptwriter is visible in the excellent scenes that open and conclude his movie 'Synonyms' ('Milim Nirdafot' in Hebrew) Which received the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Yoav, the film's hero, an Israeli young man fleeing from his country, begins his journey in Paris nude and with no nothing that belongs to him, as at his birth after being robbed of his bag and clothes in the apartment where he spent the first night. At the end, we see him banging with his fists and then trying in vain to break a door that never opens, behind which is hiding his French friend, and perhaps the world he dreamed of becoming part of, a world that also rejects him. It is obvious that director Nadav Lapid likes symbols and his film is loaded with them, although not all of them are successful in the same way.
'Synonyms' is not a movie that tries to be enjoyed. From this point of view I would compare Nadav Lapid with Yorgos Lanthimos, another director who does not hesitate to shock his viewers in each of his films, creating uncomfortable symbols and situations that make many viewers agitate in their chairs or even leave the cinema theaters before the end of the projections. From the point of view of the Israelis, young people like Yoav, who are leaving to other countries are not exotic characters at all. Thousands of Israelis try every year their chance in the big world. Most of them, however, do it without the hatred of Nadav Lapid's hero, keeping contact with their country, families and with their identity and mother tongue. After all, no one can escape from the star under which we are born. Not even Yoav, who can leave Israel, may try to give up his mother tongue, but not his personal history and his mentality. Even the main metaphor of the film, that of an identity change by the complete renunciation of Hebrew is borrowed from the Zionist myth of the East European pioneers, who a century ago quit the yiddish spoken by their parents to adopt a the new language and a new cultural identity in Palestine that was to become the State of Israel in 1948. The film is equally critical of France. His French friends seem unable to give Yoav a moral support beyond the material aspects, and the institutions that try to educate immigrants in the values ??of French democracy and laicity seem to lack the necessary cultural tact and instrumentation, resorting to sterile, almost caricatural methods. However, the guilt of non-adjustment is ultimately personal. Yoav comes to France and tries to learn its language with a dictionary, but he is not ready to assimilate its culture and mentality. The scene of the concert is eloquent, it is also the moment when the dimensions of the gap become clear. Lapid's Yoav is an extreme exception, both as an Israeli and as an immigrant in France. Failure is only his own, it is a personal failure. However, because of the way the movie is made, I am afraid that many of its viewers will miss this.
What I liked. I have already mentioned the symbolism of some of the scenes. Tom Mercier's acting performance is sensational, despite being a debutante. The actor has charisma and personality, and Yoav's role fits him well. A star is born. The agile editing, sometimes too nervous, gives a sense of hysterical dynamics, suited to the atmosphere and the main character. What I liked less. The approach is wry, there is no detachment, no dose of humor. All the Israeli secondary characters are grotesquely and schematically presented, almost like negative stereotypes. The only exception is Yoav's father, and the few seconds the two meet create one of the rare moments of empathy in the film. I confess that I did not understand the role of the group of Israelis in black suits, characters who actually completely disappear halfway through the movie. Who are they or what they mean? Are they real characters or fruit of Yoav's imagination and nightmares? 'Synonyms' could open up a very interesting discussion about cultural and linguistic identity, about the possibility of physically and spiritually fleeing from the country where you were born, about the hopes and the realities of being accepted in a new country. The negativism and the rigidity of the director's approach are making the debate difficult, and I'm interested if there have been or if there will be such open debates around the film in Israel or in the Diaspora. To use a specific English expression, Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' risk being actually 'false friends'. This important, promising and disturbing movie might be liked by some or rejected by others but not for the right reasons and even not for the reasons intended by its authors.
Sauver ou périr (2018)
the proof of fire
Pierre Niney is one of my favorite French actors at the moment. At age 21 he became the youngest resident actor ever at the Comedie Francaise. In the last few years he has captured the attention of cinema lovers and I found him superb in his roles in 'Frantz' and 'Promise at Dawn'. Seeing him in the lead role in 'Sauver ou perir' (or 'Through the Fire' as the English title goes) is the main reason I chose to see this movie, which otherwise is quite far from any of my favorite genres.
Undoubtedly, 'Sauver ou perir' starts from the best of intentions. It describes the life of the 'sapeurs-pompiers' (emergency teams providing medical and fire fighting services) in Paris in details that prove an excellent documentation. It has a declared patriotic and heroic flavor without making any excuse, and those who resonate at 'La Marseillese' have the opportunity to hear it a few times. When the main hero is hurt in a tragic accident, it brings on the screen an emotional story of the confrontation of a couple of young and beautiful people with an adverse destiny. Melodrama and rhetoric are not avoided.
Unfortunately, in cinematography, good intentions do not always result in good movies. Director Frédéric Tellier's film fails to overcome the level of a docudrama. What rescues it somewhat is Pierre Niney's acting, which pulls out everything he can get of the role ofs a young hero dedicated to his job, forced to face his own mortality, the physical limitations imposed by the accident, the crisis through which his marriage passes. Eventually, 'Sauver ou perir' confirmed both my fears and my expectations. It did not manage to overcome the limitations of the genre, but provided another excellent acting performance by Pierre Niney.
Le grand bain (2018)
men in water
The very fact of making a movie about men in these years when women's films are the focus of attention is a proof of originality from the director and co-scriptwriter Gilles Lellouche, better known as an actor and only at his second film after a pause of 14 years. Even more, the heroes are not comics characters or super-spies saving the world, neither great thinkers, politicians, or other celebrities of the day, but rather a collection of middle-aged men, each with its problems and failures, who find their escapist refuge in practicing one of the most feminine possible sports - synchronized (or artistic) swimming. And no, none of them is gay, this is not the theme of 'Le Grand Bain'.
The subject is taken from a real case in Sweden, and in parallel with the French movie, an English film that I have not seen yet has also been produced and released to screens. As it often happens, the label 'inspired by a true story' is a good excuse for situations and a story that seem incredible at first sight or hearing. The model is of course 'The Full Monty' which I liked a lot about 20 years ago. The story has an air of deja vu, but paradoxically this does not matter because the approach is light and empathic. Each of the heroes comes with his personal history and the problems of each of the characters are gradually revealed in a well-orchestrated chaining alertly edited together. The common denominator is the need to compensate for the professional or family failures of each of the heroes with the sporting teamwork in which eight or ten personal failures can be gathered to create collective success by accepting the differences and rejecting the macho patterns of the surrounding society.
Gilles Lellouche gathers some of the most popular of his fellow actors in this film. I viewed with great pleasure, as always, Mathieu Amalric and Benoît Poelvoorde, two of my preferred actors in the francophone space. I also liked the interpretation of Philippe Katerine whom I knew less. There are also some less explored threads that could have been developed (the Sri Lankan team mate - the only 'stranger' in the team, the stories of the two girls), but on the other hand maybe it's better that the film does not try to to send too many messages risking to dilute in too many directions. As it stands now, 'Le Grand Bain' is a humorous and empathetic film which succeeds in conveying a credible and important "feel-good" message, despite the routine or lack of credibility of some of the details.
portraits and letters
Paul Cezanne's life can be divided into two very different periods. Born in 1839 in a prosperous family, with a banker father, he chose a life and artistic career very different from the expectations of the bourgeois environment. All his young years he lived quite precariously from his father's allowances, supplemented with financial support received from his friends, including Emile Zola. Only after 1886, after his father's death, has was able to enjoy financial independence. That's when his artistic recognition also began. The younger painters of the time were the first to understand the revolution brought to art by the French painter, for whom not the subjects of his paintings were important but their form, the struggle with the artist's tools and materials in the desire to capture and remodel the colors and lights of the world. Throughout his life Cezanne was also an ardent and constant epistolary. The exhibition, organized two years ago and presented in 2017 and 2018 successively at the National Gallery of Portraits in London, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and the Smithsonian in Washington DC, approached a topic less researched and less appreciated of Cezanne's works - his portraits. Phil Grabsky's 'Cézanne - Portraits of a Life' the 'Exhibition on Screen' cycle uses letters and portraits as milestones in the journey through the biographical and artistic path of the painter.
One might argue that Cezanne was not the most skillful portraitist in art history. Most of his portraits are self-portraits or represent Hortense, the painter's wife. These are inner-focused portraits. Thoughts, personality, feelings are not very visible - the attention of the viewer is attracted to something else. Shapes delimited by color and light, simplified and yet so eloquent geometry, the palette always expressive without ever being strident - all these are components of a change in the relationship between the artist and the subjects of his works. From this point of view Cezanne's portraits are on the same line as his landscapes or the still life works painted in the artist's studios. Each of these painting subjects had centuries-old history when they were approached by Cezanne. All these genres were looked at differently after Cezanne dealt with them.
Phil Grabsky's documentary follows Cezanne's life using works from the exhibition of portraits as visual material and the letters exchanged by the artist with his father, his friends (Emile Zola in particular), his contemporaries who were gradually beginning to recognize the value of his work, as text and commentary. Unlike other 'Exhibition on Screen' series, we get less information about the exhibition itself, although the curators, experts and directors of the institutions that hosted the exhibition make their contributions, especially through descriptions and explanations of portraits exposed in the context of other works of the respective periods. The documentary is complemented by biographical details related in particular to the family relations provided by Phillipe Cézanne, the artist's great-grandson. Some of the accompanying images are filmed in the artist's house and workshop, today a museum in Aix-en-Provence, which I had the opportunity to visit last year. The most eloquent images are however the paintings themselves, filmed on an overall and detailed level. Cezanne was an artist but also an artisan, inventor and road opener in shape, colors and technique. Art documentaries such as 'Cézanne - Portraits of a Life' help us to understand him, but direct contact with his paintings is a really unique and unforgettable experience.
Rich and Strange (1931)
a Hitchcock before Hitchcock
In the perspective of the almost nine decades elapsed since its filming and launching, 'Rich and Strange' (the English title) a.k.a. 'East of Shanghai' (the American title) is an atypical film in Alfred Hitchcock's career. It is one of his few films in which the thriller element is secondary, the production belonging rather to the genre of romantic intrigue in combination with the exotic-orientalist travel movies. But if we look closely at the film in the context of the period in which it was realized, we understand that we deal with the quests of a young and talented director who was exploring different cinematic genres, who inventing in the film studios, and who was living together with the entire cinema industry of those times the transition from the silent to the spoken movies.
We deal with the story of an English couple, probably typical of the 1930s, he is a clerk, she is a housewife, their marriage is under pressure because of the everyday routine. The news of receiving a money gift (kind of an early inheritance) that will allow them to make a dream journey to the Far East comes just in time to trigger their voyage on the luxury cruise ship where much of the action takes place. The marital problems are now transferred to the high seas and their relationship will be put to the test as each of them will have the opportunity of extra-conjugal adventures. It's the screening of a novel, the genre of intrigue that has been and will be the subject of countless romantic movies, some better and some worse. The approach is light and feminist, with most comic arrows targeting men. It can not be said that Hitchcock revolutionizes or makes a significant contribution to this type of movies.
What's left of this movie for the 2019 viewers? Several scenes anticipate the master of cinematic rhythm and visual effects that will become Hitchcock. I refer in particular to the scene that opens the film, created in the studio, a sort of office version of Chaplin's classical assembly line scene in 'Modern Times'. The film also has a much higher dose of humor than many other Hitchcock films. There is also an effect due to the transition from silent to spoken films, which at the time may have been considered a flaw, but which nowadays gets an interesting aesthetic dimension. The script seems to have been written for a silent film, in many scenes the dialogues are minimized or missing, and the scenes are separated by titles like in the silent movies. The result is interesting. On the other hand, the soundtrack has many of the problems of the beginning of the spoken films, including bizarre shrill voices of actresses. The makeup and mimics of the actors are exaggerated, also largely belonging to the silent film. 'East of Shanghai' is a film signed by Alfred Hitchcock that belongs to the period before the director became the Hitchcock we love because he thrills us.
better than 'Green Book'
As I belong to a specie in danger of extinction - those who have not yet subscribed to Netflix -, I had to wait for a rare public screening of Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón's film 'Roma', which almost won the Academy Award in the Best Film category, in order to form an opinion to myself. I'm trying to avoid discussing the 'legitimacy' of Netflix and of the other 'private' distribution channels. I have an opinion, but it does not matter now that I have seen the movie in a cinema. I am trying to judge 'Rome' by the same criteria that I use for any other film, asking the same questions about the way the movie created empathy, taught me new things, impressed me aesthetically and/or I had fun watching it, disconnected from the problems of everyday life. My appreciation according to these criteria is that 'Roma' is a good film, but not a masterpiece.
Inspired largely by the director's real biography, 'Roma' has as main heroine Clio, one of the two maids in a middle-class family home in the neighborhood that gives the name of the film in Mexico City. The story takes place in 1970 in a world that is a collection of contrasts: the neighborhood is inhabited by relatively wealthy people but we see a lot of poverty on the streets, the family house is well maintained by servants but signs of decay are present everywhere, the marriage in the family itself is about to fall apart despite the four children. Servants are much more than just servants, Clio is also the caretaker and the confident of the kids and is considered a part of the family in many ways, but class differences are always reminded. The story slowly moves away from the bourgeois house and the family cell, gradually the circles of characters and locations widens, it first includes the social milieu with which the maids are in contact, then the extended family and its social circle, until it includes a panoramic view of several sectors of the Mexican society. The crisis whose symptoms we watched at the private level is more general, it is the crisis of a society haunted by corruption, violence and class differences. 'Roma' makes a zoom-out from being a family film to a social and political fresco.
Clio is a character that viewers of this film will not easily forget. The director's love for the woman who inspired the role, a woman who actually still lives with his family, is obvious. The performance of the young Mexican debutante actress Yalitza Aparicio is gorgeous. It's worth watching her in the extraordinary scene at the maternity and then you may ask yourself as I did what it means for a woman to play such a scene. It's not the only memorable scene, there are more in the movie. Alfonso Cuarón has also signed the cinematography and he knows his craftsmanship, combining scenes with camera moving in parallel with the characters, panoramic frames that represent true human and social compositions, long frames, or short frames sequences. The black and white film fits very well and the light is very well used.
Besides many qualities, the film also some flaws. Above all the length - some scenes are artificially extended, others seem to try to say too explicitly 'this is an art movie', for example the introductory scene that includes the generic. I wrote a few weeks ago that 'Green Book' seems to have been made with the Academy Awards in mind. So, I think, was 'Roma'. Alfonso Cuarón is well acquainted with the American cinema industry, he has worked in Hollywood and has attended several Academy Awards ceremonies. Even the choice he made to distribute the film on Netflix may have been deliberate, the debate between the camps of the opponents and of the fans of streaming channels will soon end with the victory of the latter, and 'Roma' has skillfully used this momentum. If it had been distributed in cinemas as a Mexican film, it would not have been distributed to larger audiences in the US and around the world, and would not have attracted the attention of the Academy members except maybe for the prize of the best foreign film. So it won (on merit) two more awards (best director, best cinematography) and was very close to winning the big one. It did not succeed, eventually the majority of the jury members preferred the 'Green Book' - a much more conventional film and safer choice. Cuarón and his colleagues can console themselves with the fact that many viewers who have seen both movies believe that 'Roma' is a better film. Including me.
an early Hitchcock set in the world of theater
Watching Alfred Hitchcock's early films is a special experience for any movie lover and fan of the master of suspense. The first period of Hitchcock's career took place in England. Hitchcock made his debut in the silent films, and his cinematography remained primarily a visual art during all his career. Around 1930, he lived together with the whole industry the transition to the spoken film or better said sound film, because at Hitchcock the soundtrack includes not only the voices of the actors, but also the sound effects and the music that plays a key role in creating the atmosphere . 'Murder!' belongs to this period, and is besides its dramatic qualities a document of this transformation, at a time when the soundtrack was recorded "live" during the shooting of the scenes, including the musical accompaniment. Many decades later the process would be rediscovered by film directors for artistic purposes, but at that time there was simply no separation between the visual and the sound channels.
'Murder!' is largely a movie about theater. The action takes place in the actors' world, the crime victim at the center of action is an actress, the main suspect is also an actress, and the role of the detectives trying to discover the truth behind the appearances is also played by actors. We find in the film even a 'theater in theater' scene used as a mean to provoke a guilt confession, which reminds us of 'Hamlet'. We can see in this work Hitchcock's passion for the stage and his pleasure to reveal what happens - technically but also from human point of view - in the backstage of the theater.
Leaving aside the historical aspects, what remains interesting in this film almost 90 years after its realization? Some of the acting performances are remarkable, especially Herbert Marshall 's lead role. There is a very good scene with a jury debate, perhaps the first in a cinematic series that later became a distinct genre, including '12 Angry Men '. Hitchcock's later directorial mastery is predicted by some excellently filmed scenes - the sequence of the windows in the opening scene, the shadow of the hanging in the prison, the suggested death by the end in which we only see the reactions of the spectators. This is not yet a masterpiece, but sparkles of genius are already visible.
La promesse de l'aube (2017)
ode to motherhood
I confess that I had great expectations and some emotions before seeing 'La promesse de l'aube'. Romain Gary was together with Boris Vian, the favorite French writer of my adolescence, and 'La promesse de l'aube' was one of my beloved books paired with Vian's 'L'ecume des jours'. The new version of the film (its second adaptation to screen) directed by Eric Barbier fully met my expectations.
The book and the film tell about two love stories. The first of these is the love of a mother for her son, an unlimited love, a love that is remembered by the writer over the years, a love that determined the course of his life. In most of the world's literature and languages for such a mother the common expression is 'Jewish mother', only in Hebrew such a mother is called a 'Polish mother'! Both fit here. The son's answer is, of course, the book that Romain Gary wrote decades later, the book that inspired the film. I can say without hesitation that this book is unique in the literature in its description of the relationship between a mother and her son. The second love story is for France. The book's heroine passionately loves her country of adoption, the country that saved her life, sheltered her, gave her the dignity. Nina Kacew educates her son to love France, returning the love that seems to have been offered to them unconditionally. However, none of the two love stories are happy to the end. Romain Gary's life will be cut short by suicide, and it is impossible to establish which were the sources of despair and disappointment that led to this, but it can not be ruled out that the partial failure of the life plan predestined by his mother had a role. The love of the Jews sheltered by France for their country and their readiness to return their gratitude with all sacrifices, including life, was hardly put to the test of history, from the Dreyfuss case to the racial persecutions and deportations during the Second World War. The book and the film end up in an optimistic note, but readers and viewers know this is not the whole story.
'La promesse de l'aube' is a captivating and exciting movie. Many viewers, probably, like me, know the intrigue and the characters, yet the precision of the details, together with the sensitivity and the passion of the actors, create a moving story that cannot leave the spectators indifferent. Charlotte Gainsbourg is fascinating as a woman living through several ages, struggling to survive and succeed, radiating the fierce love for her son, conveying her passion for life and her love for the adoptive country. All the three actors who represent the writer at different ages are excellently chosen and play very well, with a special mention for Pierre Niney who creates again a superb role and consolidates in my eyes his position as one of the best French actors of the moment. Watching the film not only did not disappoint me at any point in comparison with the emotions related to reading 'La promesse de l'aube' many decades ago, but added new dimensions to the intellectual experience around this exceptional book.
Moon Hotel Kabul (2018)
The international military engagement in Afghanistan after 9/11 is nearing the 20th anniversary. It seems quite surprising to me that very few films have been made on this subject, about the impact that the foreign intervention has had on the lives of the Afghan people, about the traumas suffered by many of the foreign soldiers or civilians involved in the actions there. A few American movies, most of them in the 'action' genre, the British series 'Our Girl' about which I wrote here, and that's all I know about. I may be missing some, of course. 'Moon Hotel Kabul' is the first attempt of the Romanian cinema in this direction. A fascinating theme. Although only the first sequences in the film take place in Afghanistan, the Center-Asian country is present throughout the film of director Anca Damian because of its impact on the lives and death of the people who have been there.
Ivan Senciuc (Florin Piersic Jr. ), a reporter at an important Romanian daily newspaper returns from Afghanistan after having spent the last night in Kabul at the Moon Hotel with the young translator Ioana Preda (Ofelia Popii ). Two days later he learns that the young woman has died, supposedly having committed suicide. As the hero oscillates between his instincts of reporter and the desire to bring a last homage and lead to the eternal rest a woman who faced alone the big world, and film oscillates stylistically between a hesitating thriller anchored in actuality and a journey into the 'deep Romania' towards the village where the coffin is awaited by Ioana's mother (Rodica Negrea ) and brother (Alexandru Nagy).
This combination hides both the promise and the failure of this film. I see director Anca Damian and scriptwriter Lia Bugnar following a trend that is common to many directors and scriptwriters lately. Their films try to deal with too many subjects at once, to adopt influences and to use styles from different directions. It is good sometimes not to be able to categorize exactly the genre of a movie, but in some cases it seems that the director, screenwriter and producers have not decided what kind of film to make, or may have wanted to please spectators with different preferences. Part of 'Moon Hotel Kabul' explores the Romanian actuality from the original angle of the traumatic impact suffered by the few Romanians exposed to the wars of Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Another part of it would be a thriller combined with criticism of press opportunism, but the film ends exactly when this part becomes more interesting. The binder is the minimalist style, characteristic of Romanian films in the last 10-15 years, with attention to detail and based on fine actors performances. The actors are indeed really excellent. Florin Piersic Jr. gives a strong and yet introspected performance in the lead role. Alexandru Nagy creates a role of composition that reminded me of Florin Piersic - father in one the best roles of his career in 'Of Men and Mice' on the stage of the National Theater about half a century ago. Seeing again Rodica Negrea after a long time was a delight. Ilona Brezoianu and Adrian Titieni accurately sketched two memorable supporting roles. I also liked the cinematography, with a Bucharest filmed with a dusty yellow filter that made me breeze the air pollution I so well know. The oscillation between two different genres of movies, plus some insertions belonging totally to another style (fantastic cinema) left me however with a feeling of inconsistency. 'Moon Hotel Kabul' is a puzzle made up of many interesting parts, but an unfinished puzzle in which some pieces are missing, and the existing ones do not fit perfectly.
effects of time
Time has its own ways also in terms of movies. I have just finished watching 'Senilità' (the English title is 'Careless') directed by Mauro Bolognini, a prolific and well-known Italian director at the time, author of 46 films between 1953 and 1995, a collaborator of Pasolini who was the script-writer of some of his films. 'Senilità' was released in 1962, the year in which in Italy Michelangelo Antonioni made 'L'Eclisse' and Vittorio De Sica 'The Condemned of Altona'. In many ways, however,'Senilità' seems to have been made in another era.
Time plays an important role in the concept of this film. Bolognini brings to screen a novel by Italo Svevo, whose action takes place in Trieste, but moves the story from the end of the 19th century to 1927. The change is significant not only from a historical point of view, the Adriatic city changing its belonging from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to an Italy hesitating between liberalism and Fascism in the period between the two world wars. Placing the story in a slightly closer era gave to Bolognini the opportunity to shoot in a location in a Trieste that still retained many of the city's characteristics between the two wars, and the resulting cinematography is the most successful part of the film in my opinion. Today the black and white film is used to create 'artistic effects', but in 1962 it was still a bit cheaper than the color film, and the choice was, I think, economical. A decision with a good artistic result.
Changing the place of the story from the introverted Austro-Hungary of the end of the 19th century to the liberated post-World War I atmosphere is not just a change of background. The moralist perspective and the psychological introspection in Sveto's text gain psychoanalytic tones amplified by social differences that remind Neo-realism. We are dealing with a 'romantic square', two men and two women who can not overcome the social and psychological barriers to consume their passions. Sveto's dialogues sound artificial and conventional, and they do not fit well in the period in which the film is placed. The actors' performances are also rhetoric, with the brilliant exception of Claudia Cardinale's appearance. The Italian actress already on the road leading her to super-star status seems to come from another world, not only because of the character's beauty and vulnerability, but also because of the quality of her acting. It's for her and for the cinematography that 'Senilità' is a movie that deserves to be seen.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' had all the premises for a successful entertainment. It's an action and espionage film, a combination of genres that I like. The action takes place during the Cold War, a very interesting historical period for me, which has been the background of many successful books and films, and a pretext for the retro-espionage style that has created some successful comedies. The cast features Alicia Vikander, an actress who is as beautiful as she is talented. And yet, I have not managed to resonate or have fun with this movie. Whose fault was it? Maybe mine, though I have doubts that this is the reason.
The film begins with a spectacular car chase in the Wall-divided Berlin in the 1960s, reminiscent of the style of 'Mission: Impossible '. We are dealing not with one super-spy but with two of them, who will continue their stunts in Rome, Italy, and on the Mediterranean shores. One is CIA, the other is KGB, and their bosses have decided that they have to work together to save the world, which does not prevent them from fighting with each other during the breaks. There is also an evil scientist of the Nazi era, plus one sadistic 'doctor of death'. The scientist also has a very beautiful daughter for whose charms the two spies will also exchange some other punches. As many spices as for a rich salad, but too many for one film.
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' is based on a television series of the 60s that was not, of course, broadcast in Romania where I was living at that time. I believe that if the retro line would have been followed more carefully, it would have had the chance to be a better movie. As it came out, director and co-writer Guy Ritchie seems to have tried to combine too many genres without succeeding in doing a good job in any of them. The action scenes are rather sloppy, except for the sea race close to the end of the film, where the split screens work very well. The spy intrigue a la Le Carre is confusing. The gags and comedy scenes rarely and with difficulty smash a smile. The romantic line is atrophied by the actors' flat play. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, are forgettable super-spies. Neither for Alicia Vikander nor for Hugh Grant in a supporting role, 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' will be a film to remember in their careers. After all, if I think better, I do not believe that I am to blame for the missed entertainment.