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Milky Way (2007)
A purple arrow landing on every target
28 March 2020
As one struggles to get to grips with this movie, one suddenly realises that his is the point of the movie; you cannot really get to grips with it. It is a koan, an exercise in demonstrating the inadequacy of reason. 10 puzzling, statically shot tableaux later an absolute calm has descended. That is the beauty of the movie.

What follows is a description of my experience of 2 of the scenes, so please read after the movie if you haven't seen it and want to come at it fresh. The first scene sets the atmosphere of confusion, in the dark there's what looks like a sliver of a river, and a flickering flame in the distance, I was wondering if this was Styx and some watchfire in Hell, as the light increases it's clear there's a wind turbine on a lake (technology and alienation also seems a theme) ominously chopping at the air (sound design is very important in this movie). There's also a meta layer to this fugue of reason, for example you see a couple of cyclists bunny-hopping up and down a rocky mound, a particularly awkward way to navigate an inscrutable surface, they are then bemused by a tree that is spontaneously combusting and contradicting the maxim that there is no smoke without fire.

The link to the title appears to come most directly in the last scene of the movie, where the lights of an industrial complex resemble the Milky Way.
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Frost (1997)
27 December 2019
Frost is a slow and baleful movie shot mostly in eastern Germany in Winter. The film follows Marianne and her young son Misha, although the wind is as ever present a character. Marianne flees her abusive partner entering the hinterands of the east attempting to fend for herself and her child in a depressed, indifferent and anomic atmosphere. Occasional moments of kinetic beauty serve only to briefly punctuate the gloom and each is chillingly doused. Frost is masterfully shot, with complex dollying and tracking that few filmmakers would attempt. Mr Kelemen who shot and directed the film is strongly sensitive to cruelty, the type of cruelty that is unmasked only to the vulnerable. The key to the film is Psalm 8, spoken in a church scene, which talks about a theological relationship between God and children. "You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies". Perhaps the most sublime scene is that of a young boy dragging a piece of metal down a cobbled street. A klaxxon and a condemnation of those who hide behind their door, seeing no evil and giving no charity. Tarkovksy is often brought up in relation to Kelemen, but I was also thinking of the Dardennes.
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The Corrupt (1963)
Late in the day noir
28 November 2019
Symphony for a massacre, as the French wording has it, never particularly rises above the contract of its title. Neither does it, via the medium of the crime thriller deliver any poignant commentary on life, as you might get from Melville in Le deuxième souffle (referring to a second wind you may get in later life), or via the medium of a "buddies movie" deliver any poignant commentary on male solidarity, as you might get from Duvivier in La Belle Equipe. It is a film where people are simply killed sequentially, but without the panache that grand guignol would rely upon to float the same property. It suffers perhaps from being quite late in the day, in 1963, for creating such a work of noir, too far from the pessimistic thoughts and hardships arising from the Second World War.

Of course there are master actors and actresses involved in the movie and three master directors, so it is not reasonable for me to suggest it is a turkey, but I have seen better films of its type, at least to my taste. There are occasional flourishes in the dialogue, Charles Vanel's Paoli darkly offering some "paté de merles" or "paté of blackbirds" to his co-conspirator, but it does feel like a Michel Audiard could have been bought in to tighten things up.

The film attempts to make an impact through the use of symphonic music in fairly uneventful scenes, and this element did not work for me. Much better the minimalism of Le Samouraï.
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Woozy love story
11 August 2019
Sentimentalists will feel rapturously at home with Melodies of White Nights. It is the story of Yuko and Alyosha, who get to know each other in Leningrad (now Petrograd/St Petersburg) during the white nights period between April and August when the sun never really sets. Yuko is a Japanese pianist who has always been fascinated by the classical music of Russia and makes a pilgrimage to this place that tugs at her heart. Alyosha is a composer who is putting together a concerto which becomes inspired by his and Yuko's time together. It is a chaste movie, with not even a single kiss on show, but it reminds you of the some of the more tender facets of love, contentness with just being around the other person, the feeling of impertiness at the thought of interfering with someone else's life with declarations of love. There is no animus in the movie, the drama is simply provided by the fact that Yuko lives a whole world away and must return at the end of summer. Both Yuko and Alyosha suffer from unhappiness, both have the empyrean consolation of art. What can happen for them?

A trip to a foreign country is a good metaphor for love itself, which is why the film works so well.
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Popular resistance movie
17 January 2019
Rome, Open City is a populist film following a small community of Romans during the nine-month occupation of Rome by the Germans (subsequent to the downfall of Mussolini and prior to liberation by the Allies). The presence of one of the great actors of her generation, Anna Magnani, engaging, passionate and with an earthy common sense is a massive positive for the film. For me there are also a lot of negatives: amateurish action scenes, a highly voyeuristic approach (the women are almost always dressing or undressing and the last shot of Magnani is particularly inappropriate - not to give anything away), a use of grand guignol towards the end that caters to the lowest common denominator; the handling of suspense is limp, the films contains homophobic leitmotifs and half baked ideological rhetoric, and uses visibly thin and unenthusiastic POWs used as German extras. Some of these criticisms are written off by commentators as "of their time", but I think great art always transcends its time (and to be more explicit, its prejudices). The poor technical elements can't be overlooked even in the presence of this relativist excuse slip. Had Rossellini never watched Hitchcock?
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Vengeance (2009)
Misfiring actioner
21 November 2018
Vengeance is about a Frenchman who travels to Hong Kong and Macau to avenge the murder of his daughter's family. The Memento-like riff is that he is losing his memory and so needs to take photos of people to remind himself who they are. It takes a long time before the filmmakers find a way to use this idea creatively, and then they use it really badly. What's annoying is that the movie doesn't need the memory loss lead at all, the whole movie still would work well if the guy was compos mentis, you still have a fish-out-of-water lead character, and you still have lots of material about loyalty and brotherhood.

Bloodthirsty vengeance is obviously a really bad idea, and so if you're going to make it the theme of a movie, you need either a strongly pulpy feel to the movie, or you need really stupid characters; maybe make it a samurai movie, as the sort of moral codes that existed centuries ago would make sense of the characters and their motivations here. As it is, this movie just doesn't make sense. Some of the narrative conceits are weak, like how the lead character comes across some assassins for hire randomly in his hotel. The movie also had really bad CGI, you could see the blood spurts each time someone got shot were amateurish.

I ended up being pretty annoyed, it just felt like someone had torn a first draft script from a scriptwriter's hands and just started shooting with it. Johnny Hallyday (rest in peace), is a picture of pain, but because he's been worn down by age and strife, not because he's acting it, there's nothing expressive about what he's doing in this movie. It comes across like he's involved so that the movie still got co-production money. According to Roger Ebert he was a last minute substitution for Alain Delon.

I won't deny that the movie has effective moments, the set piece at the barbecue spot at night is really good, although even that has a really stupid moment (improbable boomeranging Frisbee). I've recently watched Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy, and this effort from Johnnie To is absolutely light years behind those excellent movies in terms of quality. Somehow this was accepted in competition at Cannes in 2009.
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18 November 2018
To watch L'ivresse du pouvoir for me is simply to fall in love with Isabelle Huppert. Her elegance is the indelible touch of the movie. The scenario almost a pretext to spend time with her. Green silk and red leather leave phosphors on the mind, although she has more than style; a great shot is of Judge Charmant Killman requesting her kitchen knives to be lined up in a drawer, these are her razor like strategems to bring down the corrupt. Another enjoyable feature is Chabrol's playing with structure, scenes often end whilst you still are expecting more to come, and this trick spellbinds you to the movie; also there's very little use of traditional dramatic levers, no sex scenes, very little visible animus or violence; this corking leaves much pressure building up and the end product is champagne.

The movie is perhaps a foible, a glorious foible of Chabrol. I felt that, yes, the movie is portraying an episode in French history, the Elf Affair, but that was almost beside the point, and I felt more like a member of an audience watching a Chabrol-ian magic show. It is a deliciously fetishistic exercise in the dynamics of power. My favourite metaphor is when one of the defendants, Humeau, plays football without keeping score, he and his friends play the game of power for enjoyment and mutual enrichment, not out of a desire for adversariality, they are chums on the skim. The Judge on the other hand requires prey, and fights for something much more abstract. The morality of what is going on is less interesting than the "monkey-ness".
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Tenderness (2009)
A languorous look at miserable lives
12 November 2018
A rather sombre and one-note film about a young serial killer who manages to escape trial as an adult on grounds of diminished responsibility, and gets released into the chicken coop again when he's 18. A semi-retired cop who wants to get him back in custody and stop any more deaths trails him after release. A young lady who doesn't think much of life hooks up with the serial killer. Brings to life a phrase I recently heard from a philosopher, when we look for romantic partners we look for, "familiar suffering".

The film is about people with meaningless lives, looking for a reason to get out of bed every day other than to continuously reflect on their pain.

Potentially for people who already read the novel, the poor editing is easily overlooked as they know what was going on anyway. Russell Crowe and Laura Dern signed up to the project, perhaps as the novel has received some quite favourable attention, but they don't bring much to it.

The film lacks any dramatic oomph, partly because the cop is a really nice guy who looks at Eric as a young man with a mental illness; and there's no animus back from Eric, simply because he lacks most ordinary human feelings. Although a few people did manage to get happy about Tenderness, it seemed to me like like a roughly hewn film with no outstanding qualities.
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Venom (2018)
Eyes! Lungs! Pancreas! So many snacks, so little time!
8 October 2018
I guess the major feeling I get watching an MCU (Marvel Comics Universe) movie is, wow once the special effects industry was an auxiliary of the movie industry, now the movie industry is an auxiliary of the special effects industry. But I guess everyone's down with that these days? So I won't preach too hard about it, after all Méliès and his effects kicked it all off and so maybe we're back to the beginning of film, with all it's awkwardness and inappropriateness too.

The movie was appealing to me from the poster and the trailer. A normal guy can become Venom, Venom don't take none of the brown stuff, he's gonna kick you ass right out of your face. So yeah a two hour holiday from the tediousness of the social contract.

The film actually comes off as a bit of a buddy movie, inseparable parasite and host journalist Eddie Brock spends most of the movie bonding with comic effect. A main failure is that we're meant to believe that macho figurehead and multi-millionaire heartthrob Tom Hardy is playing a "loser".

As usual with comic book stuff, you end up feeling that the resulting vigilantism is being given a bit more support than it probably should be getting (the effects of vigilantism are usually heartbreakingly stupid and tragic). The villain (I imagine Elon Musk probably didn't see the funny side with this one) and the antihero both basically have the same general activity, they do whatever the hell they want. But you have to get in bed with the devil to defeat the evil people, right? What popularised the "work with your darkness" nonsense, Dexter back in 2006? Or Jack Bauer back just after 911?

So I enjoyed it, but probably "needed a shower" too. And like a chump I'll probably be back for a second serving of "eyes, lungs", and "pancreas", when they show the sequel.
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Wyrd happenings
30 May 2018
Dead Slow Ahead is a slow film that relies on visual composition, and very little on traditional dialogue-driven narrative. It is haunted and phosphorescent. If you have sojourned with such "slow cinema" films before, imagine a phantasmagoric version of Peter Hutton's At Sea. This is the nightmare to Hutton's reverie.

The movie follows the ship Fair Lady and its crew over the briny and through miasmic ports. You could call it an experimental documentary. Whilst on the one hand the movie is very literal, that is, it is showing the normal activities of an actual crew on a working ship, on the other it seems to be designed as some sort of introspection on humanity's current phase, characterised by overreach, ecocide and unsustainable activities.

A middle section of seascapes has a tone after Clark Ashton Smith, a ship wandering in search of safe harbour on a globe overcome by wyrd happenings. The treatment of the humans we see remains empathetic throughout, with the criticism being of the machines in which they are entwined. This is the dystopian vision of Lang's Metropolis come true.

Hints of the supernatural come from various shadow plays, spectral presences amongst the sailors. The movie has all the unreasoning beauty of the death wish, and regularly took my breath away.
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Lady Oscar (1979)
20 May 2018
Jacques Demy's movie of Lady Oscar frequently moved me. It is not a "swashbuckler" in spirit, it does not glamourise violence; it is not a movie about "girl power". It is a tragedy that raises important questions about freedom and gender. After becoming father to a series of daughters whose mother dies in childbirth, Général de Jarjayes decides that his latest daughter will in fact be a son, Oscar, and brings her up to be an heir and defender of the de Jarjayes name. He is delighted to find her a position as bodyguard to Marie Antoinette. Oscar is unquestioning of the system into which she is inducted, a bubble of privilege, acid wit, and decadence. She is dutiful and she "knows her place". At the same time the young boy and later groom who was her companion when Oscar grew up seems to have much more class consciousness.

What her gender transformation helps to do is to de-romanticise the material, when Oscar accepts a duel, the result, devoid of machismo, comes off as a banal murder, which is precisely what it is. It is difficult to wholeheartedly see Oscar as an éoniste or transgender hero as her identity as Oscar is created for her by her father. Indeed her self-actualisation is intertwined with her accepting a more female identity. On the other hand she does use her identity as Oscar to react against male society, and becomes a role model for some of the Versailles women.

Oscar, despite adopting a male role, is not free. This is potentially quite an important point of the movie, equality and freedom are not the same thing. Her role is to hang around the wilful and indolent Antoinette, and she develops a strong sense that her life has become meaningless. To become a man is not to have meaning, it's an escape from a trap within a trap, the outer trap being the Ancien Régime in the case of this movie. When Oscar attempts to enter a regiment, her male soldiers refuse to obey her, and her superior officer gives her no support whatever. In any case the regiment only exists to suppress the people.

At a very late stage Oscar finds freedom in an act of defiance. You can feel the weight lift off her shoulders as she spends her first day as a truly free adult, despite residing in a prison cell. This feels very contemporary, freedom is something very few of us are born with, it's something we have to seize, it's profoundly personal and cathartic.

Another reviewer on this site refers to Barry Lyndon as inspiration, "Now the magic of that was its carefully spaced vacuums. It had engineered emptiness, something that only a master could do." That is definitely something Lady Oscar is attempting, in my belief it worked better than my fellow reviewer felt.

A note on historical accuracy. Thomas Jefferson described Marie Antoinette as, "...proud, disdainful of restraint, indignant at all obstacles to her will, eager in the pursuit of pleasure, and firm enough to hold to her desires, or perish in their wreck." That is exactly how she is portrayed in Lady Oscar by Christine Böhm. Jefferson also describes the relationship between the King and the Queen thus, "he had a Queen of absolute sway over his weak mind and timid virtue..." Again this seems to have been very well captured in the movie.

Lady Oscar is a politically complex movie which seems often to have been misjudged by relying on a fruitless comparative analysis with the animé and manga sources of the story. Whilst actually quite serious it does however have its gorgeous moments.
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Wùlu (2016)
Dirt and glamour
19 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This one's a little firecracker. An astute and observant young Malian man gets tired of life working as a porter on a minibus after he is leapfrogged in the hierarchy due to nepotism. There is no reward for his loyalty on square street so he tries a more crooked path. His talent is quickly recognised by local narcotics traffickers and he handles a number of increasingly taxing operations whilst affording a life he could only have dreamed of previously including sampling the luxuries of Bamako's flesh pots. He stays alive by his sharp wits and nerves of steel through some perilous situations, including tangling with Al Qaeda. Ladji is naturally an upright person and an impressive man and so the moral hazards he exposes himself to inevitably takes a toll, as does the realisation that he can never be accepted into posh society. The director though has a feel for and education in the crime genre such that you never feel, "I've seen it all before".

I felt watching the film that I got an interesting insight into some of the cultural complexities and vibrancy of Mali. Wùlu means dog and is a dual reference to the fact the Ladji becomes a dog in order to try and achieve the lifestyle he's looking for, and also to the stage of learning in Bambaran culture when one is taught how to fit into the world.

Hollywood should be scared, because Africa is coming, this movie had an incredible vibe, and the continent is starting to produce movies that make many Hollywood ones look average. Wùlu is Daouda Coulibaly giving Michael Mann a run for his money, with his debut feature film!
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A dad, his daughter, and his lover of the same age as his daughter
30 January 2018
Lover For A Day is about a philosophy teacher who is in a relationship with one of his students, Ariane, and his daughter, Jeanne, of the same age who moves in with them for some time. It is very French in that they immediately co-exist instead of making spectacles (although there are some hints that they are human like the rest of us despite being Parisienne).

The title of the film refers to the brief infidelities of Ariane. This behaviour seems to be treated as enigmatic, as a philosophical curiosity. There is nothing curious about it, the magisterium of anthropology is the place to turn to, it is well documented that the human animal has primary and secondary sexual strategies for transmitting their genes to the next generation. The answer is banal, the participants in this drama are banal, they do not rise above what is animal in themselves, there is no transcendence, no romance.

Ariane describes falling in love with Gilles when he says in class, "Philosophy is not about divorcing oneself from life". It was difficult not to see some humour in this in that he comes off as a bookish and torpid man. Of course Ariane is simply sleeping with him because he has roguish good looks, is comfortable in his own skin, and is the nearest authority figure.

One cannot fault the actors, Éric Caravaca, Esther Garrel, Louise Chevillotte, who absolutely outclass the boring story. I hope that the career of Louise Chevillotte takes off, as this appears to be her "break" as the Americans say.

The film's main positive is that it has a certain quality of eroticism, Esther finds out that Ariane has appeared in a pornographic magazine quite by chance, and there is no clang here as Chevillotte is genuinely attractive enough that this is believable. The sex scenes are very warming.

Garrel shoots in black and white because he knows nothing else, an old dog that cannot learn new tricks. Is he the last victim of 1968, dead alive? When the credits rolled there were little gasps and titters, "is that it?", yes that's it, no punchline, a little story without profundities.
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Atmospheric and philosophically sophomoric desert romp
12 January 2018
A paunchy and tired-looking John Wayne, insistently wearing a cowboy outfit in the Sahara, is the sore thumb in what is a pleasant enough and indeed gorgeous "psychological adventure" outing. I guess if you own the production company you get to wear what you want and "fine tune" the script how you want. Poor old Henry Hathaway. The actually intelligent Ben Hecht got money for old rope with an ironic turning of the handle on the script. One of his sayings applies to this movie quite well, "A movie is never any better than the stupidest man connected with it."

The movie is a love triangle, that plays out during a trip to find a lost city of gold in the desert. The characters undergo implausible personality changes and the morals, metaphors and symbols being imparted seem variously barren, inappropriate or misplaced.

The movie does however have its ecstasies, the photography of Jack Cardiff, and the fire in the eyes of Sophia Loren. The first 20 minutes have a wonderful sense of exoticism, even if that sort of thing is frowned upon in these politically correct times. I class this as a "film malade", a film with a sick soul, a a rare bird, different from simple incompetence. Legend of the Lost get's compared to Hathaway's Garden of Evil a lot, I'm definitely in the Garden of Evil camp, the atmosphere and Gary Cooper versus John Wayne makes it somewhat of a no contest.
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Fearful symmetry
13 December 2017
Where the Chocolate Mountains is a 55 minute experimental movie that uses amongst other trickery multiple superimpositions, mirroring (hence the title of this review) sculptural work, and delivers a visual narrative. I was sceptical before viewing the movie because the works of this artist that I've adored looked very definitively like the work of a celluloid film artist and this work was digital. Indeed in the Q&A after the screening I attended, Pat said that he was very resistant to changing to digital, but he said he did it because working with film was getting harder and harder. Contrary to his expectations it actually freed him up; he could do what he wanted more quickly, and he had more materials available (digital archives particularly). Digital technology has set him free to become an absolutely major artist, in my opinion. And I think old age has led him to "Pinturas negras" territory.

The Chocolate Mountains are an area of California where the military tests ordinance. They aren't anything special to look at. As a child growing up in California, O'Neill's family used to take holiday trips to Mexico. They used to go past signs to The Chocolate Mountains and Pat always wanted to go there because of the name. So it's some sort of analogy for America, the name is very seductive, but there's a lot of violence there and actually the mountains don't look so great. It's a complicated movie, he finds a lot of beauty in and around the L.A. River and in L.A., but there's also a sense of the infernal at every turn.

He made some sculptures from wood for the movie which are integrated throughout. His first calling before film was as a sculptor and his influences as an artist are largely sculptors. He manages to use some fairly simple cone scultpures in a variety of ways, some end up being very erotic (suggestive of thighs). He sometimes rotates them just to illustrate the relentlessness of time marching on (that was my take at least!). Oftentimes the conic imagery relates to unexploded ordnance.

My favourite shot from the movie is in the L.A. River, below some sort of bridge, and it looks like two snake-like creatures made of pure flame flirting with one another. He filmed a lot of actual materials on fire to graft into the movie. Scenes like this in the movie often have an unusual eroticism.

Although most of the film had scenes which are multiple superimpositions (O'Neill mentioned that 5 is his magic number for number of images to layer), some of my favourite shots are just completely unvarnished mobile phone footage he took whilst on a holiday in Ireland. There was a dog on the beach where he was staying who was lame in one of his front feet, but would still chase after anything, and would bark incessantly to try and get people to throw things to chase after. O'Neill said that he identified with the dog, mad, pathetic, old, energetic. Some of the scenes which chimed most with me are of buildings such as cathedrals, which he somehow manipulates to look more like capricci, filled with these flame creatures, filmed with a reflection along a vertical line, i.e. horizontal symmetry.

He uses a lot of weird cool sound clips. Creaky doors from his house but also audio from a long list of old b-movies such as The Beast of Yucca Flats.

It's a haunting film noir that has a true sense of night's mystery. The title potentially makes reference to the fact that though inspired by the Chocolate Mountains, they do not actually appear at any point in the movie.
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Convention challenging private eye movie
2 October 2017
The Missing Person is a contemporary noir that plays with the classic genre conventions in a comic way, although without invalidating or trivialising the content (scenes where you may expect an escalation of suspense often intentionally end bathetically as convention meets the real world). Private Detective Rosow is a Chicago-based private detective originally from New York who receives a short notice commission to tail a man and a boy cross country. He's an alcoholic and clinically depressed, but he still has some level of ability to achieve his task. "Missing Person" on a surface level refers to the guy Rosow is tailing, but also is about Rosow being missing in an existential way, someone for whom family and community have become concepts only. The bathos allows you to connect in a deeper way with his state, by challenging your familiarity. What's shocking about modern society is how the dissolution of traditional social structures, and omnipresent material convenience has led to so many "missing" people.

Fundamentally The Missing Person is an image driven movie, the shot I liked best was a shot at night in the dining cart of the train to California, a cupola of light surrounded by thick darkness, the characters hurtling in cheap comfort through vast emptiness. The image that is iconic (or would be if anyone had watched the movie on release) is of Rosow in the dark with his day-glo glasses. I think from reading about the movie, many reviewers didn't get that it was a movie where much effort had been made on the visuals; you need to stick with it and carry on inspecting it to realise the contrary. At the start, Buschel uses the most purely functional credits anyone could imagine, they look like the yellow writing you get in PowerPoint presentations (supposedly as yellow on blue is the easiest writing to read if you're dyslexic). America is shot just exactly how it is (one of very few movies that have reminded me of my trip to America), and it can be assumed that this means the shooting is amateurish. It's actually more of a statement at the start of the movie, this movie is going to look the opposite of a John Alton shot movie, it's going to be as unmannered as we the filmmakers can make it.
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whodunit Occupation noir
25 March 2017
"L'assassinat du Père Noël" opens with an act of defiance, the village school teacher Villard announces to the onlooking children that there are two ways to be successful in life, either through one's own hard work ("propre industrie") or the imbecility of others ("l'imbécillité des autres"). This is a slightly bemusing point decades later without the context that the film was released in 1941, during the German Occupation of France. It is one of those breath-taking moments you see in films of the Occupation where someone essentially risks their life to defy the Nazi death cult (another is a sotto voce mocking of the Nazi salute at the end of "L'assassin habite au 21"). Here "imbecility of others" would appear to be referring to the support of the people for the rise of popular fascism. The censors appear to have been too square to notice any of this. There is further poignancy when you realise that one of the stars of the movie, Harry Baur (as Cornusse/Santa Claus), was tortured to death by the Gestapo very shortly after this film was made.

The plot is about a snow globe village at Christmas, and you know that given the title of the film, and indeed if you were a cinema-goer at the time, from the movie posters, that Santa Claus or someone dressed as him will be murdered. Who killed him, the Baron who has mysteriously returned after many years, or one of the various "pillars of the community" we are introduced to. It is a noir film for sure, the village in claustrophobic, snowed in, the atmosphere is thick, which bits are as they seem? Is fair foul or foul fair to borrow from Monsieur Shakespeare.

It doesn't really matter whodunit, not to me anyway, and so I wasn't bothered by the quick wrap up at the end of the movie. The main theme of the film for me was truth and fantasy. The teacher Villard is a commie and a freethinker, not of the obviously deplorable kind, he has a lukewarm heart as well. But his search for the "truth", who he is the champion for is ridiculed by the events of the movie, although he is a "freethinker" his thoughts are obviously not free enough to realise that Catherine, championing fantasy, is almost completely unmoved by his wooing, and indeed that the reason for this is that they are no match at all. Perhaps the truth is like the white vermouth he habitually orders in the bar, not a particularly palatable drink. Perhaps the primary motivation for exposing the truth, is a deep-seated hatred. However the movie is even-handed, there are perils to fantasy as well, Cornusse and his cockamamie stories, for all their charm, mess with the heads of the children, as you evidenced by the bitter speech of the Baron, who heard them in his turn, and was led by them into misadventures. Catherine at one point talks of wanting a knight in shining armour husband who will kill any other man who looks at her, romantic fantasy can be pathetically cruel.

The encirclement of the police near the end of the movie is perhaps a message to the audience to hold tight, the world is coming to save us. There are hints throughout that even greater themes are lying just between the surface of the film, which plays with narrative and explores the nature of narrative (a paradoxical falsity that allows us to believe we have made sense of things) marvellously well. The two old men playing Belote may be our only gods.
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Noce blanche (1989)
25 March 2017
Noce Blanche is a story where a philosophy teacher falls in love with a "wayward" 17-year-old student of his. Viewings of this will likely be motivated by the subject matter, however the film does offer up substantial insight into the human condition. What is very interesting about children, especially bright ones, is that they can see through the hypocrisies of the adult world through all our false pride and double standards, and love means everything to them. They are trumped by the muscularity, cynicism, experience and judgement of adults. But they see through us, Mathilde sees straight away that François, despite a wife, career, and friends, is completely alone in the world, she sees it because it is obvious and she has not been desensitised.

There are two particularly interesting philosophical ideas that come up in François' classes, that we are the unknowing accomplices of our "other self" the subconscious, prisoners of its fate, and also that people who choose to study metaphysics, choose death, as a preference over life.

The aesthetics of the movie are very subtle, it could easily be mistaken for one of those French dramas where the camera is simply pointed at the actors, but there is a palette of blue and greys here, and I ended up freezing the view a few times to admire the stills. It is far from being ostentatious or mannered however.

The story ends up feeling quite Grecian in the end, but who am I to say unrealistic, reality is almost always stranger than fiction. Works for purposes of titillation for sure, but also has great depths. Two successful watches in a row from Brisseau for me, following on from The Girl From Nowhere, more adventures to come!
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L'été (1968)
A document from 1968
22 January 2017
L'été takes place mostly at a large country house in Normandy, called Le Broy. A young activist has left Paris following the riots of 1968 and is spending some time on her own at the house. The house is owned by friends of her parents, who are not using it that season, but it's due to be refurbished at some point, which stops the stay feeling open-ended.

She spends time corresponding with a friend, listening to classical music and thinking about her partner who she has left behind. She also spends quite a lot of time frolicking in the gardens and the surrounding countryside. The movie anthologises a lot of the slogans from the 1968 rioters, maybe the touchstone here is "Vivez sans temps morts - jouissez sans entraves" or "Live without dead time - play without hindrance".

Reading about 1968 would be a pre-requisite for watching this movie. It is still an inspiring time for me. A group of very beautiful French students decided it was time to overthrow the government and free people from the oppression of parliaments, laws, consumerism and wage slavery. They weren't even close to a victory, but their lessons for personal fulfillment live on. The world wasn't ready for these actions, but the Time of Cherries will come again.

The young lady is often shown naked, which is in line with the theme of sexual revolution for 1968.

Although the movie is playful, there is also a sense of grief, those that make revolution only halfway, dig their own graves, is a very poignant slogan. The lady is shown with her face being reflected in some old dark glass, as if she has a foot in the next world.

It is ironic, probably intentional, that a privileged upper middle class woman holidays in her wealthy parents friends' home, and also that she comes across quite a lot of people working, and all she does is essentially take leisure. Not inconsistent with '68 principles, but a fairly essential comment. I know that if any of my reactionary friends watched the movie they would hit the roof seeing this contrast.

The music is perhaps represented as being in touch with the revolutionary instincts, no brash Russians, but mellifluous Monteverdi, Couperin, Handel, Bach etc. One interesting tune was Fantasy for guitar imitating the harp in the style of Ludovico, by Alonso Mudarra. The major expression of grief and betrayal is expressed by a relating of the plot of Kleist's novella Michael Kohlhaas, which ends in a baroque act of defiance.

My heart goes out to the filmmakers. This film sits apart from the other three seasons in the Tetralogy of Marcel Hanoun. The others are much more connected in a group.
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Sweet slice of life film
22 January 2017
I've seen this film described as Mumblecore, I think it is a useful starting point to describe the film, though I think it has marked differences. Both this movie and Mumblecore movies in general concern relationships between young white heterosexual folks with relatively privileged upbringings, who are undergoing changes in their lives, or are stuck in the Doldrums hoping for the wind of change. The thing is that Mumblecore often has a warts and all approach, and a comic aspect. So you might get a boy and a girl having a conversation about the internet porn they watch. The difference with The Exploding Girl is that, largely the characters in this movie are shown in a positive light, employing a lot of discretion, and there's no attempt to tickle your funny bone, plus the movie often actually looks really good (as opposed to the hand-held shakiness of Mumblecore).

The two main characters are Ivy and Al. Ivy is studying at Ithaca, but on a break, whilst Al is a friend of many years who stays with her over the period. Al is studying evolutionary biology at college and talks about Goldschmitt's theory of hopeful monsters, which I thought was a really good metaphor for the stage of life Al and Ivy are at, i.e. going from being really good at being kids to learning how to be really good as adults. A hopeful monster is a missing link in evolution between different more steady lifeforms.

Ivy has seizures and is on medication so she has to be careful about drinking, which makes it difficult to engage with a lot of the party life and experimentation that happens at college. Al is sympathetic with this and so they spend time hanging together. Both of them have different romantic interests but seem to do have the potential to do really well together. They're both great young people, which is the thing I liked about the movie, that it showed how great they were. I liked the writing, little things like Al recording his own songs on a tape recorder, with rather overstated lyrics! I felt kinda envious at the end because I wished when I was that age I could have shown a girl the things I was proud about (and vice versa). At one point Al went to see a Zed and Two Noughts (described as an English film called Zoo) with some friends. I watched that alone at about the same age.

They're both pretty gentle and thoughtful. The main reason I wanted to write a comment about the film is that it made me feel like being a bit more gentle and thoughtful. Corollary to that was that I went out and bought a friend a doughnut. It had jam and cream in it, when I came back he said he didn't like cream.
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Genuinely creepy
18 January 2017
The title of this film leads you to believe that it's a Michael Myers slasher movie, but it isn't. It's an authorised use of the franchise label, Carpenter himself was involved in the production, but it's a really different type of horror movie from the first two. Carpenter actually originally planned for all the movies to have different characters and scenarios, but the first was so popular it got a sequel.

I knew it wasn't a Michael Myers film but I wasn't familiar with the plot. That's actually quite a good way to watch this one.

Scenario-wise the film is about as preposterous as it's possible to get, say as preposterous as toxic waste from a chemical plant producing Nazi zombies with laser guns. And if you care about such things, do not watch the movie. It's not just the premise either, there are particular plot developments that seem unfeasible.

That aside I found the film genuinely to have a horror atmosphere right the way through, and it contained moments of truly abject horror and byzantine creepiness. It has been pointed out to me that Nigel Kneale (uncredited), the writer behind Quatermass was involved with the project, and a lot clicked into place when I heard that, because you can feel some of the atmosphere of Quatermass 2 in the scenario here, and with the dialogue about Samhain, that just had to be written by the same guy who was writing the Hobb's Lane dialogue for Quatermass and the Pit (i.e. connecting the present with a quickly established supernatural past).

Halloween III is genuinely a horror film with messages, about corporatisation of culture, surveillance, the insidiousness of mass media, in a way that really sunk in for me, it wasn't just window dressing. You could even view it as positively avant-garde, it's almost Baudelaire-ian in its rejection of modern culture. People have scratched around for the villain's motivation, but for me it doesn't lie much further afield than this quote from Baudelaire, "Personally, I think that the unique and supreme delight lies in the certainty of doing 'evil'- and men and women know from birth that all pleasure lies in evil." It presents wickedness as its own reward. Dan O'Herlihy is particularly great here, who you may remember as "The Old Man" of OCP in RoboCop. He portrays an utter creep in this movie! The movie, however lumpy and problematic it is plot-wise, maintains its high standards in terms of visuals and soundtrack the whole way through (John Carpenter does the soundtrack). It actually gets good enough visually that I would say it has some pretty iconic images.

Recommended to people who liked films like Michael Mann's The Keep or Richard's Stanley's Hardware. That is people who like atmosphere-thick narratively-fractured horror movies.
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Mascara (1987)
Truly a wild ride
18 January 2017
So imagine if Bob Guccione kidnapped Werner Schroeter, forced him onto a diet of magic mushrooms, and at a point of a gun and with the regular administration of scopolamine put him to work making a serial killer movie. That's Mascara.

I actually can't believe I just watched that movie. I had an odd defeated day, and I got some Mazarin Omnipollo beer in (tastes as good as it sounds) and knew I needed to see something off the chain. I hadn't figured out how far off the chain this movie was, psychologically it was like being in an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon watching this movie. In my long film watching experience it has set a new high watermark for the bizarre. Carlo Ponti famously exclaimed "What?" when he saw a film Polanski made that was then in homage called "What?". But Polanski was a mere amateur at confusion compared to Patrick Conrad, the director of Mascara.

Police superintendent Bert Sanders (Michael Sarrazin) is an opera maven, and regularly attends with his sister Gaby Hart (Charlotte Rampling). There is more than a small hint that these two have a closer relationship than is recommendable between siblings. Sanders, in his late 40s, lives in with sis, and has massive problems with sublimated desire and sexual confusion. He visits a secret underground club where leading citizens dress in black tie, and watch drag queens lip sync Strauss and Gluck as well as pop music (including a Kris Kristofferson song). There's also some highly stylised S&M going on in antechambers. He's in a chaste relationship with a transsexual girlfriend who does cabaret at the club. When she comes onto him, all hell breaks loose, the tonne of psychosexual gelignite in his head blows sky high and he spends the rest of the movie alternating between catatonia and psychosis, digging himself in deeper whilst covering his tracks and trying to stop his sister getting with the dressmaker for the local opera house.

Parts of the movie have genuine pathos and are tres trans sympatico, but others seem almost hideously exploitational. The impression comes across that Partick Conrad is messing with you with some of the twists, like an experiment in blowing the viewer's mind.

And you know Charlotte Rampling is in the midst of all this acting her skin off at points. Unbelievable. She was not afraid of appearing in off the charts projects for sure, The Flesh of the Orchid is another superb example (no way could she have pretended that she was off for a straightforward gig with that one, not when James Hadley Chase wrote it!!!).

Wanna get unhinged? Put on some Mascara baby.
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Material (2009)
At the end of a tragic day
27 December 2016
This film of Thomas Heise, called Material, is a collection of film footage he collected over the years, not used in other projects. In the way it is structured together it gains more than the sum of its parts. The general topic seems to be the collapse of East Germany aka the DDR, though the spectre of the Third Reich is there too, for example a play being put together has to do with that and skinheads appear towards the end of the film. There is little music except "From Hanover Square North, At the End of a Tragic Day, The Voice of the People Again Arose" the last movement of Charles Ives' Orchestral Set No. 2, which originally refers to the moment when Ives learnt of the sinking of the Lusitania, but here I think refers to the process of Germany emerging from lost decades. There is a scene where some of the production team from the play access some dangerous ruins, no doubt from the war, and end up finding an apple tree in the overgrowth inside. In relation to the original project it is likely unimportant, but in the context of the film here it is very beautiful in its metaphor, a light at the end of the tunnel.

Other scenes appear to include footage of the Monday protests in Leipzig, seminal in the dissolution of the DDR, apparently because the secret police the Stasi did not have a major presence in the city; some pleas from prisoners in Brandenburg for further extension of an amnesty that was happening at the time; a residents meeting; a parliamentary session; children playing in ruins; footage of models of buildings by the Berlin Wall, footage of an art installation which contained miniature buildings too, but also model people in provocative situations; a cinema where a riot breaks out during the showing of what looks like a political documentary.

A fairly common feature was people being given the chance to speak their minds freely, which is so beautiful.

It was a slog as a viewer to watch this for nearly three hours, and I stopped at points to look into some of the relevant history as context, on the Internet. However, in its portrayal at the angst and confusion of a nation, it hit me as the credits rolled, with much more of a punch than Rossellini's Germany Year Zero, which I also watched recently.
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16 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I watched Behold a Pale Horse twice in a row. It's a long movie where little action happens until the end, and there are no heroes.

Manuel Artiguez is an outlaw who has continued to fight the Spanish Civil War for twenty years after defeat, from his base in the French town of Pau. His raids appear to serve little to no purpose other than as acts of defiance. His adversary is Captain Viñolas, a venal and rather fatuous adulterer, who despite being a Catholic is as far from grace as the radical atheist Artiguez.

Nothing appears to keep the men alive except for adversarialism and antagonism. A small boy Paco, crosses the border to find Artiguez in the hope that he can inspire Artiguez to avenge his father and kill Viñolas. He sees a bull on his trip, and it's pretty clear this represents Artiguez, who knows no other course of action than to fight (and, it's hinted at, womanise). The other children have a natural reaction to Paco, seeking out Artiguez, why would you do such a thing? There are several scenes in the movie where the old revolutionaries are shown alone, interspersed with many vibrant scenes of the young healthily enjoying themselves. Artiguez and Viñolas have become rather insistent irrelevances, in a region which wants to forget the bloodshed. The two of them engaged in a savage and stupid dance of death The young priest Francisco attempts to engage with Artiguez but has little effect. He is a confused man who is only just able to tell the difference between the warmth of his own heart and the coldness of logic. He is a neophyte, although he is able to put a few good thoughts out there. The baroquerie of Lourdes, shown in the movie hardly aids the case for religion with all its fetishisations.

It is a sad movie, full of manifest failure on the part of all its participants. One of the final scenes is of several dead participants led out on mortuary trolleys, all for once profoundly equal, the tragicomedy of their lives at an end.

The rich black and white photography seems often visually allegorical in its combinations of compositions and saturations. This is particularly the case where Viñolas antagonises a bull as a picador. It is an entirely bewitching movie.
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Marie-Octobre (1959)
Huis clos
11 December 2016
Duvivier seems capable like no other of really laying out the most unpalatable truths. The movie shows a group of resistance fighters assemble for a reunion 15 years after the war is over. It's genre is whodunnit (who betrayed our leader in this case), but it's a lot more impressive than that suggests. What the structure does do is allow for a lot of suspense, the movie really kept me fascinated.

Right from the start nothing appears particularly heroic about the group, their meet up is as awkward as an SS reunion. After the war they all went their separate ways pretty much (with exceptions, such as Marie-Octobre and Francois, the rich industrialist who funds her fashion house). Why is this important. It feels like they maybe did dirty things together, took justice into their own hands, skulked around in the shadows. Maybe their cause justifies everything, I guess that would be the traditional view anyway. I'm in my mid thirties and I never met anyone who believed in a cause, people choose activities and roles that suit them, that is all, killing as an activity is much more fundamental than the cause it underlies.

There is something extremely unhealthy about the male "comrades" and their attitude to Marie-Octobre. At the beginning Francois introduces her as "notre fleur de fusil", or the rose in our guns. Her role generally seems to be "unattainable sex object". She refers to the gathering at one point as a "huis clos", a term for a closed proceedings, but surely meant to evoke Sartre's play ("No Exit" in English), about the pain of being aware of yourself an an object to others' perception, set in Hell. I refer to them as comrades in inverted commas because they are all quite ready to suspect one another at the drop of a hat. In a particularly galling act of cowardice they all write down the name of the person they prejudge as being guilty and anonymously drop their ballots into an urn.

No new truths are discovered in the course of the meeting, these are all people who know one another, all they have to do is work out, in a rather anally retentive fashion how each individual's proclivities could have lead to the death of their leader.

I personally found the elegant and aristocratic Francois almost intolerably overbearing and sanctimonious. His view of order must be imposed on everyone else. I never felt more in favour of anarchy than when watching this movie.
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