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Accident (I) (2017)
Downright rubbish
1 February 2020
This Accident is totally an accident. In fact a catastrophe.

Possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. It's so bad I just couldn't stop watching! Apparently filmed in South Africa with right-hand steering wheel, but in stead of driving on the left side of the road, they drive on the right. And that's the least of the blunders.

One highly improbable thing after the other happens. Where did all those flares come from? A wrecked car is surrounded with them, a girl finds two on the edge of the water - planted for accidents just like this? And in the middle of nowhere there's a street lamp with a loose live wire. To top it all, it's on the edge of a cliff with a rock slide. OMG

The film defies description. Made by morons for a moron like me who watched it all for a redeemable factor which never came. Tondowski et all owes me 75 minutes of my life. I'm suing them.

To be avoided under all circumstances.
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Fiela se Kind (2019)
Comparisons are Odious
19 January 2020
Yet when two film versions of the same novel are made, it's somehow impossible not to compare.

I'm in the habit of never reading reports or reviews on films or theatre shows before seeing it myself. The following is therefore my uninfluenced and undiluted opinion.

Let me start off by saying that I've seen various stage productions and synch translated the Chris Barnard (screenplay) Katinka Heyns (direction) 1987 version of Fiela se Kind from Afrikaans to English. Moreover, I met Dalene Matthee in 1978, became friends and read the novel on publication in 1985. I'm therefore more than acquainted with the plot/story and characters.

Brett Michael Innes's treatment both in scriptwriting and direction is laudably restrained and austere. In his retelling of this tale of fate, cruelty and tragedy, the central theme speaks crystal clear: love knows no boundaries, a mother's love least of all.

IMDb is not the place, neither has the space, to do a dissertation, Suffice it to say that I was not reduced to tears, but to sobs, owing to that exact honesty, sincerity and restraint.

Fiela se Kind the movie 1987 was a good movie and the character a performance. Even a good performance. With a great performance by Lida Botha as Berta van Rooyen, the forest mother. Fiela se Kind 2019 is an experience and the character by means of Zenobia Kloppers a human being. She ripped my heart out. So did the other characters. Not a trace of acting. Honesty, simplicity, sincerity. There is nothing ostentatious or showy.

The contrast between the whitewashed KleinKaroo farmstead and the forest hut speaks volumes in itself. Coloured people sitting at table eating with cutlery versus whites using their hands. Class is not confined to colour or race,
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The epitome of musical drama
29 July 2019
I'm acquainted with Leos Janáek's operas 'Jenufa' and 'The Little Vixen'. However, this is my first encounter with his 100 minute work based on Dostoevsky's 'Memoir From The House Of The Dead'.

The handful of people who read my reviews may complain that I only write raves. That's an accusation I gladly accept. From an early age I learned to be discerning - courtesy of my parents - and I have an instinct, a nose, for what could be good and what not. If I sound audacious, be that as it may. I won't waste time, space or energy on anything infra dig.

'From The House Of The Dead' is an experience. This production, conducted by the enigmatic Pierre Boulez and directed by Patrice Chéreau, is mind-blowing. Janácek's music is in itself ambrosia for the soul. Set in a Siberian prison it deals with the past and present of it's characters. It's a difficult opera to stage, mainly because it requires 17 male soloists and an enormous chorus. Only four women appear for a brief moment to stage a concert - which is never performed - and only one woman sings about four bars.

Prison life ipso facto implicates strong homoerotic undercurrents. Both Dostoevsky and Janácek are/were regarded as either latent homosexual or living it under highly secretive circumstances. In the two so-called pantomime scenes Thierry Thieû Niang's choreography (not dancing but highly stylised movements) the sexual tension is tangible. Moreover the (innocent) nobleman Gorjancikov asks young Alyeya: "Do you have a sister?" And continues: "She must be very beautiful if she looks like you." Henceforth the relationship is tender and mutually protective.

However, neither the libretto or the director focuses only on this aspect. A prison is fraught with danger. Anger. Aggression. And prisoners are stripped of all dignity. Incidentally, the one scene where they're stripped down to their naked bodies is not erotic at all. It's heart wrenching.

Leos Janácek's opera contains no pretty arias. It's durchkomponiert with some superb orchestral interludes which the director visually utilises. Conductor, orchestra, chorus and soloists, director, choreographer and designers make this an unforgettable unit.

Yes, I'm swooning. 10/10
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Boris Godunov (1990 TV Movie)
Thoroughly Russian, Truly brilliant
15 July 2019
Nastoyashchiy russkiy

What a privilege! What a pleasure. Owing to technology I can watch 'foreign' language art films and theatre productions in the comfort of my home. On DVD.

Russian works performed by Russian artists have a depth, breadth and scope that elsewhere can hardly be emulated.

My then longtime companion Afrikaans actor Ernst Eloff was not partial to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky until a friend forced him to listen to a recording by a Russian orchestra with a Russian conductor.

I'm besotted with Russian music and literature. It's the country that gave the world playwright Anton Chekhov, authors Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn et al. And composers Rachmaninov, Prokof'iev, Stravinsky.. And in this case Modest Musorgsky.

I have his Boris Godunov on DVD in a Gran Teatre del Licau production directed by Willy Decker, conducted by Sebastian Weigle with Finnish powerhouse bass Matti Salminen in the title role. It's a 'modern' look at the work with the tsar an almost Hitler-like figure and it's excellent.

However. the 1990 production of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg is an exact copy of the 1983 Andrey Tarkovsky direction of the opera. Need I say more? Robert Lloyd reprises the title role. He slots in with the Russians perfectly. His Boris is tormented; he knows he has an insurmountable task to rule a country. When two kids want to touch his coat in adoration, he flees in a panic. Brilliant. Brilliant.

From the included booklet - In rehearsal: "First meeting of the chorus. Andrei talks about the crowd - the Russian people. How they will crawl out of holes filled with the rubbish of history. Their movement is to be that of fog: slow and heavy. Then, when they plead with Boris to become their Tsar, their movement should be like rye in the field."

That says it all. A superb, supreme film director at work on the stage, subtly creating Rembrandt- and Hieronymus Bosch-like pictures, masterfully lighting them and drawing extraordinary performance from all the singer-actors. Valery Gergiev, stalwart of Russian conductors, leads the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus.

Yes, I'm swooning. 10/10
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Beneath the Silence (I) (2016)
Silence is golden... or leaden
5 May 2019
Living up to the title of this work by writers/directors Erez Mizrahi, Sahar Shavit Beneath the Silence offers many silences - wonderful theatrical/cinematic moments when what is unsaid weighs much heavier than any spoken dialogue ever can.

The character of Menashe Basson (superbly delivered by Amos Tamam) lives in this silence. He can't express his pain, his suffering, his regret in words. and this very silence stifles his wife Dafna (a wonderful performance by Adva Bolla) and confuses and alienates his young son Shlomi (Roy Fink).

Rather symbolic is Shlomi's long hair (references to Samson?) which his mother refuses to have cut despite authorities advising short hair owing to ever present lice. But Dafna keeps her son's hair insect free. About her husband's emotional infestation she's helpless.

When not in school Shlomi spends his time with his two friends. But his bicycle is broken and his father doesn't fix it...

The film opens on the last night of the Six Day War and then moves to six years later on the eve of the Yom Kipur War. Menashe realises that he is getting lost within himself and is drifting further and further from his wife and son. He does his job - delivery - like an automaton and becomes the outcast of his community.

Beneath the Silence is an excellent portrayal of (what was later diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder but then was still misunderstood and referred to as) shell shock. The script, direction and acting never fall into the trap of becoming melodramatic. These people's pain is real, their inability to cure it both understandable and moving.

Excellent viewing, thought-provoking and a frightening picture of the aftermaths of war.
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25 April 2019
Last night I saw a very interesting movie (broadcast on TV5MONDE) based on fact.

Hélène Jégado (1803 - 1852) was probably one of the first, if not the very first, female serial killer in modern history. Known as Fleur de Tonnerrre she is believed to have poisoned as many as 36 people with arsenic over 18 years, hence the film's English title The Poisoning Angel.

Déborah François gives an entirely convincing performance as the beguiling chef who as a child was told by her mother that she is the bearer of Ankou (something akin to the Grim Reaper). Her mother was in fact her very first victim.

The rest of the cast follows suit and both period feel and 'look' are perfect. So is the music which is never obtrusive and in tone with the late nineteenth century.

In contrast with Hollywood crap such as Disturbed (starring Christina Ricci and John Cusack) this work directed by Stéphanie Pillonca with script by Gustave Kervern creates suspense while giving insight into a woman's disturbed psyche.
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Miséricorde (2016)
27 March 2019
Swiss director Fulvio Bernasconi transports a Swiss policeman. Thomas, to Canada in the province of Quebec where he befriends and stays with indigenous people.

When one of the young boys is killed in a traffic accident, he vows to find the culprit, because the mother can't bury her son until the guilty party apologises for his death.

Thomas himself is hiding from a stark reality in his life. Moreover, the entire community is upset and gets drawn into the rage. They, more than the unfortunate Mukki's relatives, are bent on revenge.

Although Miséricorde is in essence a suspense movie, it transcends the genre, because it primarily deals with loss, tradition and custom, relationships and the human psyche. Loneliness is an inherent part of every being. It also takes an incisive look at how different people and races act in the face of tragedy, danger and death.

The characters are all well-drawn, including a pregnant policewoman (somewhat reminiscent of the Coen brothers' Fargo), her father, a disgruntled elderly uncle, Thomas himself (played by Jonathan Zaccai), and various others. The actors embody these characters with conviction and sincerity. Marthe Keller in a cameo as a grandmother is rather fetching.

As mentioned, tradition plays an important part, despite everyone employng modern technology. A spiritual advisor has to guard Mukki's body and keep on annointing it. The result is cinema that keeps you in suspense yet at the same time is quite touching.

All in all 90 well spent minutes. 8/10
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A Kid (2016)
Not for the rough and ready
23 March 2019
With sadness and distress I've read (some) of the IMDb reviews on Le Fils de Jean. However, it shouldn't be surprising as most people are prone to blockbusters and sound bytes.

Although I wouldn't exactly describe this as the art of slow cinema, it nevertheless moves along with a gentle pace, portraying gentle emotions and the odd outburst or two. Primarily it's a film about relationships between parents and children, and vice versa and between siblings.

Very seldomly do French films hit the viewer over the head with melodramatic confrontations and every realisation and experience rushing along like car chases. Most of the time they allow the viewer to discover the characters and have rare looks into their inner beings. Although this is not particular or peculiar to French films, a general sense of melancholy and romance are ever subtly present in French works.

One reviewer in particular slates the acting. I can only presume that said person is not acquainted with the works of Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Theo Angelopoulos and most works from Europe. Even thrillers such as The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg) are not shoved down viewers' throats with grandstanding.

The great French film masters (Robert Bresson, Agnes Varda et al) also, like thorough painters, take time to uncover their characters, their stories and their situations.

I won't compare Le Fils de Jean (directed by Philipe Lioret, also responsible for the wonderful Welcome starring Vincent Lindon) with any of the great masters' films, but it's a gem. Mathieu, who visits Canada to find out more about his (presumed dead) father Jean and is taken to the lake where he supposedly drowned, finds himself in a different world. Albeit all French speaking, even certain expressions and customs are foreign to him (and vice versa again).

This is not operatic, melodramatic, grand scale acting. This is gently coming to grips with the soul and marrow of every character. This is real. Sincere. Supported by excellent photography, the wonderful script is brought to life by director and actors and the film is strewn with small, delicate delights. And. a big AND, not everything is explained as in Hollywood films. The viewer can come to own conclusions. Mine were certainly being moved, being transported and being touched.

This is worth a few revisits.
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The art of slow cinema
9 February 2019
My only other viewing of a Guédiguian film is Une histoire de fou (A history of madness) released with the incongruous and ludicrous English title Don't tell me the boy was mad. It deals with Armenian expats in France and then those who wage war against an unforgivable past.

In La villa (The house by the sea) the director uses Ariane Ascaride again as the central character. After a twenty years absence owing to trauma Angéle returns to the villa of her ailing father. Unlike Une histoire de fou, La villa doesn't rely on a fast moving plot. There are secrets, there is suspense, there are unexpected developments, but it's gentle and 'slice of life' cinema not blockbuster.

I've noticed on reviewer giving it one star and calling it boring. One has to live this movie. It's akin to a Chekhov play and all the characters (with the possible exception of the children) unfold softly and with immense understanding. There are shades of The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya. Not in circumstance, but in the inner lives of the characters. Angéle can easily be a mixture of Nina, Irina Arkadina and Jeljéna. Her brothers Armand and Joseph are also reminiscent of the Russian master's works. So are the neighbours, their son (Yvan) and the smitten fisherman.

There are no emotional or real summer thunderstorms or winter blizzards. La villa contains real people with day to day needs and wants and at the same time unfulfilled dreams and passions.

The four young visitors who are only seen in two brief scenes could be a jarring note, but then again they portray those with sheer hedonistic goals as opposed to the inhabitants of the villa and their lifelong neighbours.

Yet the family is not totally cut off from the world. Political intrigue also touches their lives but in a humane and personal way.

This is slow cinema at its best with excellent script, editing, direction and acting. The lack of underscoring music is also refreshing. However: La Villa is not for those who can only think in sound bytes.
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Death in the Soul (2018 TV Movie)
23 December 2018
This quietly tense French made for TV movie has been rated by a small number of viewers and currently the average is 6.8 which is way too low. When a reviewer recounts the story or plot, it displays little insight. The latter is indeed a strong element in the movie: insight into characters, situations and the effect of the death of a teenage son on everyone who has known him. Lawyer Tristan Delmas (Hugo Becker) is saddled with the task of defending Marc Lagnier (Didier Bourdon) who has confessed to murdering his son. Unraveling the relationship between him and his wife Valérie Bourdon (Isabelle Renauld) and both of their raltionships with their son Alex is more than daunting. It is 'n fact a stone wall. Into the picture walks Alex's half sister Pauline (Flore Bonaventura) - who'd been at school with Tristan - to complicate the situation even more, because she firmly believes in her stepfather's innocene. Add to this Tristan close friend, a policeman, who is more of an obstacle than assistance. Although Tristan accepts Marc's confession, he needs to expose the motive in order to defend him in court. There are no fanfares in the film. No major special effects. It's not a recipe Hollywood whodunnit. It's a thorough psychological study. Whereas the death of Alex is real, it's simultaneously a metaphor for the ills in society, the delicacy of love and relationships and a springboard for psychological examination and investigation. The real suspense lies in the characters' interaction with each other. Imdb indicates the translated title as The Death in a Soul. The version that was broadcast by TV5Monde here in South Africa carries the title A Soul in Torment. Both are quite apt. The acting is sincere, the dialogue fluent and believable and Tristan's own plight as human being who had sworn an oath is quite captivating. If viewers are interested in suspense stories with more flesh and soul than just tension and moments of shock or horror, they should watch this. Highly enjoyable and thought-provoking
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Rites of Spring and Rejuvenation
23 October 2017
Director Oliver Herrmann uses Igor Stravinsky's The Rites of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) performed by the Berliner Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle as the basis/backdrop/soundtrack for a silent movie.

The film leads the viewer into the world of Santeria. Three people, unknown to each other, have their lives interlinked. To create humans 'God' bakes them in an oven like biscuits. 'God' baptises them and sends them on their way through life. 'God' also creates their city on a table - and the film ends on this table as well. Throughout 'God' is watching their progress, hardships, happiness and sadness through a telescope.

Dr Bardot has an obsession about cleanliness/hygiene. Lucia is obsessed with sex yet unfulfilled and unhappy. Since her husband has passed away, Esther is obsessed with death.

When the characters hit rock bottom, 'God' uses two coins to cause a solar eclipse during which they are transported to a tropical island to partake in a ritual.

The visuals are astounding. One is never sure whether 'God' is male or female, the transitions of the humans and guardian angels from baked dolls to human beings are subtle but unmistakable and the wordless actions of the three central characters as well as the rest of the cast are flawless. (Lucia's jealous father watching her having sex is but one example.)

What as stroke of genius to take Stravinsky's music away from the ballet and give it a fresh look and meaning. Here the sacrifice of the virgin takes on an altogether different meaning...

Lovers of art films and art music should make a point of watching this. The music was recorded especially for the film. It's released on DVD by ARTHAUS MUSIK. A must see. Please note the film contains nudity
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A Deicate Balance
9 June 2016
In 1890 medical doctor Anton Chekhov writes short stories in newspapers to sustain his parents, three brothers and sister. Discovered by publishers and consequently Leo Tolstoy, he finds success by receiving the Pushkin Prize. His publishers urge him to write novels and plays. However, when one brother dies of tuberculosis, he decides to travel to Sakhalin and meet its convicts who are subjected to terrible conditions. René Féret's final film plays out like one of his main subject's own scripts: it's a gentle, nuanced, above all subtle portrait (performed superbly by Nicolas Giraud) of a man who is "incapable to love" yet has an intense affair with a married woman and cares more for his fellowman than for himself. Assisted throughout by his sister Macha (Masha) and loved by his brothers, he unobtrusively becomes one of the world's most revered authors. This film should be made compulsory viewing to anyone daring to direct one of his major plays. In a remarkable scene he sits quietly in an auditorium watching a rehearsal of 'The Seagull'. Afterwards he gathers the cast round a table and without ranting and raving or raging, he tells them: "You are killing my characters. You want to show the audience what good actors you are. And how funny or dramatic you can be." Life - as seen through the eyes of Anton Chekhov, and the director of this loving, beautiful tribute - is a symbiosis of comedy and tragedy. The two are interminably linked. It's neither broad farce nor Greek catastrophe. Life is laughter hiding the lump in the throat and teary eyes. AND: life or comedy is never merely an unbroken string of coarse words.
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Fun and Funny
19 September 2015
Another reviewer writes this off as a common Afrikaans movie of the 1970s and also attacks the script. The latter is in fact French playwright Robert Thomas's rather famous 8 Femmes which Francois Ozon many years later turned into almost a musical under its original title. The reviewer also refers to seven women but there are in fact eight.

Among Robert Thomas's most well-known plays count La Perruche et le Poulet (in Afrikaans as Babbelkous en Bruidegom); the play which Alfred Hitchcock bought but never filmed (although several other versions were made): Trap for a Lonely Man (also in Afrikaans as Lokval vir 'n Man Alleen); and of course Huit Femmes.

Franz Marx directed a number of movies in die 1970s and 1980s and also made some serious art films for television such as Die Buitestaander (The Outsider) and 'n Lug Vol Helder Wolke (A Sky full of Clear Clouds) based on the novel by Karel Schoeman before he launched Afrikaans's most famous soapie Egoli.

In Netnou Hoor Die Kinders (careful, the children might hear) Marx used eight of the most famous and adept Afrikaans stage actresses and he exploited both the staginess of the play and the stagecraft of the actresses. Sometimes the characters are way over the top, which is exactly what is needed to create both comedic moments and suspense. There is hardly anything common about the setting, the costumes, the script and especially the language (no vulgarities or coarse words) but double entendres abound. Nearly every line of dialogue is yet another twist in the tale and sting in the tail.

Although it certainly won't be regarded as either a classic or art, it still has great entertainment value, even more so for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced this bevy of actresses on the stage. They showed impeccable timing and in their continual one-upmanship never lost the tongue-in-cheek touch. And Marx directed with a deft hand.
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Ant children
1 August 2014
Channel 437 on DStv (South Africa) is the French channel TV5 aimed at French speaking African countries during the day with soaps and information programmes, In the evening and during the night it broadcasts programmes from France itself. Not exclusively so, but in general. It also offers news and weather forecasts.

Late evening Tuesday and Thursday and sometimes also Wednesday and then more or less at 02:00 Sunday mornings the channel offers full-length feature films, both classic and modern with English subtitles. I PVR these so I can watch them at leisure Last Wednesday the channel offered Le secret de l'infant-fourmi (The secret of the ant-children). Based on current events and facts (and a real incident) it recounts Cecile visiting her lover Didier in Benin where he has been working for a couple of years. He lives in the Bariba region. She takes his car to go to a waterfall, gets lost and is almost accosted by a woman begging her (in what is to her unintelligible Bariba) to take her baby. The mother disappears into the bush.

Cecile decides to adopt the baby, calls him Lancelot and after some legal wrangling and opposition from Didier and severe warnings from the local people, she returns to France taking her son with her. Everyone believes that the baby is a sorcerer and evil, because he cut an upper tooth first. A sure sign of sorcery.

Long story short. When he is seven he develops serious psychological problems. Moreover he is the only black child in his class and he is derided. Cecile decides to take him back to Benin to find his parents. Not to hand him back, but for him to make peace with his heritage.

Only now does she learn with how much superstition babies that are born prematurely or have an upper tooth first or other 'abnormalities' are regarded. These children have to be 'repaired'. Cecile realises that repaired implies being killed. Murdered. The police and the political leaders are all involved. Lancelot's biological parents are traced but then he is kidnapped and they know he will be killed.

Only about ten minutes or so before the end of the film the horrific meaning and secret of the title - infant-fourmi (ant-children) - is revealed.... Absolutely horrific and it's still happening.

This is not a Hi-Def, glossy movie. It obviously didn't have a major budget. But it is hard-hitting and sincere and as realistic as a documentary. A low-profile film that deserves to be seen.

The European characters are played by actors, the rest of the cast are Benin people, but to protect the children no Bariba child was used. They're all from other regions.

The secret of the ant-children..... How much I learn, how little I know
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Women in Love (2011)
Excellent. And South African actors shine
21 July 2011
How proud am I, how thrilled and moved and excited.

In 1969 Ken Russell - whose works ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous - gave the world his somewhat flawed, but unmistakable masterpiece WOMEN IN LOVE based on the D H Lawrence novel. (The latter remains one of my favourite authors.) The one and only Alan Bates together with Glenda Jackson, Jenny Linden, Oliver Reed, Eleonor Bron and many others brought the characters to unforgettable celluloid life.

Now, forty two years on BBC4 has produced a two part series of the same novel, mixed with themes and scenes from its prequel THE RAINBOW. Although it might be said that it would be hard to equal the Russell version, William Ivory delivers a sterling script and Miranda Bowen's direction never falters. It is, in short, as good as the original and it steers clear of ever mimicking or mocking it. Russell's work viewed the sisters Gudrun and Ursula from a male perspective. Lawrence had enough feminine wiles and qualities to truly understand his female characters and in Bowen's version this is obvious. Unlike Glenda Jackson's powerhouse and almost butch Gudrun, Rosamund Pike delivers a cunning vixen, a very feminine near nymphomaniac artist and Rachael Stirling is a stronger, more present, less demure Ursula than Jenny Linden.

The film's sequences differ from Russell's work and where essential scenes have to be repeated, they offer an entirely different insight into both character and situation. For instance here the famous nude wrestling scene between Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich features much later, is less erotic, not in front of a winter fire but on the beach in bright sunshine and therefore is more plausible and motivated. By now the two friends have strained their relationship to such an extent that they have to confront each other. Incidentally,this version doesn't shy away from Rupert's suppressed gay tendencies. There is no sign of the chilling Alpine snow scenes where the two couples 'split'. Here we have the scorching South African desert with heat so visible it has to affect and effect the characters. And gone is the final discussion between Rupert and Ursula where he declares: "Having you, I can live all my life without anybody else, any other sheer intimacy. But to make it complete, really happy, I wanted eternal union with a man too: another kind of love," With her reply:"I don't believe it. It's an obstinacy, a theory, a perversity." This has already been portrayed and would be superfluous. The film's end is almost abrupt and unexpected and has great impact.

According to sources the BBC Four production was shot entirely on location in South Africa. If so, the art director, set designers and dressers etc should be doubly congratulated for depicting the English Midlands during the early 1920s.

The reason for my pride and excitement, however, is how the local (South African) actors not only hold their own, but well-nigh outshine their British colleagues in some scenes (more about this later). I can't mention them all, but Tamia Visagie (Winifred), James Alexander (Roddice), Natasha Loring (German girl) and Michelle Maxwell (her aunt) all deliver gems. The stalwart and immensely versatile Jeremy Crutchley turns Gudrun's mentor/lover Robert (entirely overlooked by Larry Kramer & Ken Russell) into both desirable and detestable flesh. Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots creates a Samantha who is far more than the sum-total of her beautiful face and exquisite boobs; she is not merely whore but the full-blooded woman in body and mind both Brangwen sisters ache to be. As the somewhat ambiguous and mysterious Wolfgang Loerke (portrayed by Vladek Sheybal in 1969 as a vicious, scheming queer) Grant Swanby once again shows why he is one of my favourite actors. His Loerke is less obvious, less blatant - a subtle seduction of Gudrun's senses and sensibilities. And then there is Susan Danford who in 90 seconds looks like a young Geraldine Chaplin (if not for her voice I wouldn't have recognised her) but demolishes Gudrun as Robert's wife surrounded by their four or five children. She does what Jack Nicholson did to Robert de Niro in The Last Tycoon: in one short scene she totally overshadows Rosamund Pike. It's not scene stealing. It is inevitable and essential. And leaves an indelible memory.

All these actors are of course thoroughbreds on stage. When oh when oh when are we coming up with a local script and a director to do cinematic justice to so much acting talent? And there are many more out there (or should I say out here?) We have a wealth of good, great and brilliant actors. And an abundance of stories. .
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Voices (1979)
Voices need no words
1 February 2011
I saw this in 1979 and still remember some scenes vividly. Viveka Lindfors. What a 'fors' to be reckoned with! Alex Rocco superb. Michael Ontkean never better. And then Amy Irving. What an underrated underused actress. Such versatility and nuance. Loved her in Yentl. Adored her in this. Her dance sequences are unforgettable. Words are superfluous about a movie where one voice is the monotone of a deaf person, yet filled with so much light and shade and transition it leaves an indelible memory. Moreover, the subtle use of music adds to a general feel of compassion and insight. Both scriptwriter and director, as well as the photographer and composer deserve accolades. Nothing superfluous, nothing pretentious, simply damn good storytelling with great and touching performances.
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Notre-Dame de Paris (1996 TV Movie)
Exquisite ballet
23 November 2009
André Flédérick's direction of Notre-Dame de Paris does the choreography by evergreen Roland Petit every bit of justice. This is an exquisite work relying heavily on classical ballet but shading it with so much contemporary moves that it sparkles and shines and finally moves the viewer to tears. Based on Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, it retells the story of Quasimodo and Esméralda in graphic scenes. It has a character and an overall look which is quite unique.

The opening in front of the famous Notre-Dame is perhaps the most colourful I've ever seen in ballet (or any other form of stage work for that matter.) Costume's were designed by none other than Yves Saint Laurent and what starts off with virtually all the colours of the rainbow, moves through the ballet to threatening shades of red and onto sombre, mournful black attire.

Quasimodo, danced to perfection by Nicolas Le Riche, suddenly appears amongst the frolicking dancers in a beige outfit reminiscent of sandstone. Here is a Quasimodo with no prosthesis to represent a hunch. By only squaring his right arm and spreading his fingers he completes the picture and is utterly believable. Quite a dish of a man, his facial expressions assist him in portraying a misshapen, hapless and misunderstood being. This is his story and although Esméralda gets top billing, his applause at the end is by far the most deafening and rightfully so. He portrays pain and joy with equal dexterity in pirouette and jeté, twists and turns and large soulful eyes. His frustration combined with anger about the deformity is heart-rending.

As Esméralda Isabelle Guérin also fully rises to the occasion. She is sensuous, sexy yet sensitive. The back leg extension is something to behold. I have never seen a ballerina slide en pointe and she does it twice with breathtaking accuracy. The way she reveals various facets of Esméralda's character in partnering Laurent Hilaire (as the lecherous, treacherous priest Frollo) or Manuel Legris (as her lover Phoebus) is a lesson to many an actress. Wonderful! Both Hilaire (with superb elevation) and Legris are excellent although the latter might lack the physical stature to be fully convincing as the idealised romantic hero. Their dancing, however, is of the quality one expects from the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris. (Note the exceptional choreography for Phoebus in making love...) This also applies to the corps de ballet. Even the wildest abandon is portrayed with precision and discipline.

David Garforth conducts the orchestra with a deft hand. Not many conductors understand the art of supporting dancers rather than becoming the main feature. He does both score and dance justice.

The score was written especially for the work by Maurice Jarre (yes him of the soundtracks of Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and countless others and father of Jean-Michel) with not a chord sounding like his film music. The main pas de deux for Quasimodo and Esméralda is tender and sweeping and the choreography and execution unforgettable.

Throughout the novel Victor Hugo mentions the architecture of the Notre-Dame and René Allio's decor needs a special mention. Attention was paid to minute detail and authenticity throughout. Scenes range from the exterior to the bell-tower (Quasimodo trying to stop the bell from ringing is utterly shattering).

This production is available on DVD in high definition and widescreen and belongs on every ballet/dance fan's shelf. BRAVO!
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By no means miserly music
15 July 2009
Young, and very dashing, conductor Vladimir Jurowski concludes his interview in the DVD's bonus material with: "But it's not an opera." He is right. If one is a stickler for recipes, Rachmaninoff's The Miserly Knight will be a disappointment. Even a disaster. There is no chorus. There is no female singer only five male characters. There are no memorable tunes. And thank goodness no recitatives either. The viewer/listener has to wrestle a one hour body of masculine and muscular music. The only moments you are allowed any relief are in the brief breaks between scenes. The ArtHaus DVD, by the way, is of the highest quality with genuine surround sound and high definition visuals.

Director Annabel Arden - who staged this relatively unknown work at the Glyndebourne Festival together with Puccini's Gianni Schicci in a programme called 'Avarice and Greed' - presents an equally brawny portrayal of miserliness causing misery. She even fills the orchestral interludes with strong visual material. An aerialist (depicting feminine wiles) and film images are used to flesh out the story.

Sergei Leiferkus, as the baron hoarding his fortunes, is unbelievable. Being a baritone, he has to tackle this part which is too low for a baritone and too high for a bass with every fibre in his being. He has an uninterrupted solo of twenty five minutes and he sustains this in what appears to be an effortless way. Tour de force is such a cliché but what other expression suffices? Perhaps he is the only singer in the world who can take on the role at the moment. One is left breathless by his performance AND on his behalf.

Richard Berkeley-Steele, with a shock of red hair, as Albert his hapless son is equally convincing and so are the sly servant, the glib money-lender and the smug but shrewd duke. And the aerialist lends exactly the right touches of surrealism and symbolism to the production. It is difficult to define the period in which it's set, but the work was composed in 1903-05 and premiered in 1906 so the money-lender's watch is conspicuously modern. The costumes and set(s) however are spot on.

Don't expect the Rachmaninoff of the Second Piano Concerto. Or any of his other compositions. He did not treat the original Pushkin text as holier than holy (like most Russian composers did).To him music and lyrics were of equal importance. In fact sometimes the music outweighs the lyrics. Which makes the work quite unique and brings about a full emotional experience. Add to this the visual elements of the production, the quality of voice and acting plus Jurowksi and the orchestra's excellence and it is exceptional. Bravo! And bravo for staging the work. "But it is not an opera..."
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La guerre et la paix (2000 TV Movie)
Peace versus war in musical masterpiece
25 May 2009
Sergei Prokofiev's opera version of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping novel (which originally appeared in serialised form in a newspaper)lends exactly the right balance of lyricism, drama and tragedy to the subject. Here are no separate arias a la Italian Opera, linked with endless recitatives. The music is a continuous line of instrument and voice changing with every scene and its context. The production gives the music and libretto its full due. It's lavish in its simplicity and vice versa. From the opening scene with Natasha and her cousin in the bedroom and the count eavesdropping outside, to opulent ball room dances and grim personal confrontations, it runs like a river in flood to the inevitability of war. Sung in the original Russian, with a number of Russian singers in the lead roles, it unfolds like the novel in chapters that are page turners. Obviously the entire novel cannot be reproduced, but score, libretto and production do it full justice. The singing is of the highest standard with Nathan Gunn and Olga Gouriakova as the star-crossed lovers excelling vocally and in acting. Vasilli Gerello as Napoleon shines, but then so do Robert Brubaker, Anatoli Koucherga and the rest of the cast. Not to forget the chorus and dancers. Hats off as well to conductor and chorus master Staging the opera is problematic as there are quite a number of soloists involved and to make the war scenes realistic virtually hundreds of chorus members are required. The set designs assist Stage Director Francesca Zambello in creating a panorama of death and destruction. So do the costumes and lighting. This is highly recommended for lovers of serious music and those who prefer Deutsche Oper (with the exception of that Night Music composer) and Russian Opera to the frills and shrills of the Italian oeuvre.
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Act of God (II) (2009)
Wish there were more
6 May 2009
A good little film, with good acting and lots of suspense, but unfortunately it ends rather abruptly and almost unresolved. Not that issues in life itself are always resolved, but here it seems as if the writer was unsure of what to do with his characters. Had it been the female inspector's moral dilemma, the film as it stands might be the reality that she has to live with, but it's the ex-cop and the heart-surgeon who's stories are really important. Perhaps the POV should shift in which case it will be more satisfactory. Nevertheless, it's not a wasted hour or so with David Suchet proving he can be hard as nails and not only the charming Hercule Poirot. Jenny Agutter suits her character to a T and both Adrian Dunbar and Nadia-Cameron Blakely are very convincing. Max Brown is the surprise package. And the stately home is to die for...
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One of a (rare ) kind
23 May 2007
Why no-one has as yet commented on this production - which has been available on video for quite some time and is now on DVD - is beyond me. Liza Minnelli is one of a rare kind and whereas the restored "Liza with a Z" has earned accolades and raves, her (several years later) performance at RCMH deserves exactly the same. She falls into that category of belt singers which is hard to define or describe. Belonging to the same club would be Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Bette Midler and of course Liza's mother, the mother of them all, Judy Garland. Perhaps one can add Edith Piaf whose renditions of some of her chansons are quite torchy or belting. And always pitch perfect. All of these ladies are not afraid of singing ugly when a song and its contents beg for it. And then the next moment producing the sweetest, purest sounds...

At RCMH Liza is a breathtaking bundle of energy, delivering song after song after song and dance after dance in a non-stop ever varying fashion. Here she doesn't use the sexy male troupe as back-up singers and dancers, but to reveal more would be a spoiler. Suffice to say that Ms Minnelli is not threatened by 'competition' or other voices.

The show contains a great tribute to her father Vincente with superb photographic material. Intimate moments are achieved with a Charles Aznavour song amongst others which leaves one in tears.

The second act then builds to a heart-stopping climax with a tap sequence based on the "Stepping Out" production which starred Liza with Julie Harris and Shelly Winters. And then we move to the standard, yet freshly delivered, Cabaret and a finale to top all finales. Whereas Streisand in my eyes (or ears for that matter) is the god(dess) chanteuse, Minnelli is the indisputable queen of ballad/belt song and dance. Female singers coming after them can only aspire to these ladies' greatness. As Harold Robbins says in his comment on "My name is Barbra": 'sorry Celine, only in your dreams!' Another DVD is available featuring the concert of Charles Aznavour and Liza Minnelli in Paris. Quite a gem. And here she sings some of her well-known songs, including Liza with a Z in French!! However, I don't find any mention of it on IMDb. Nevertheless, if you find it difficult to obtain, buy yourself the Liza Minnelli Live from RCMH. It can hardly be improved on. Brava, Liza, brava! The voice is perfect, the renditions flawless, the dancing immaculate - watch the tribute to Bob Fosse and weep or jump for joy - and the orchestra great. They even join in the singing, but again, I won't spoil your fun. Discover this for yourself immediately.
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La damnation de Faust (1999 TV Movie)
Magnificent Hell.... and Heaven
14 December 2006
Von Goethe's famous story of Faust has been retold in several versions. Hector Berlioz's dramatic musical version - which he insisted is NOT an opera - is vividly brought to life here. This production was staged at the Salzburg Festival in 1998 and conductor, designers, director and cast all deserve only the highest accolades. Puritans (as in the case of Dvorak's Rusalka starring Reneé Fleming) might object to the 'modernity' of the staging. However, it is sheer brilliance and underlines the context, subtext and substance of the libretto and score in every aspect. Never has hell looked so magnificent and enticing, yet repulsive. And heaven, added like an unwanted coda, brings tears to the eyes. Vesselina Kasarova as Margarethe (although her acting borders on hamming) conveys all the nuance of the character both in voice and gesture. She is truly great. So is Paul Groves as Faust. The scene where he gets intoxicated on everything Méphistophélès (a stupendous Willard White) promises, as symbolised by Faust smoking an opium pipe, is unforgettable. Many a Hollwood actor would (SHOULD!) envy him the dreamlike, sleepy look in the eyes - proof that honesty is always reflected in the mirrors of the soul. To give away anything about the decor, costumes and direction would be to spoil any viewer's joy of discovery. The chorus, including a boys' choir, does not display the usual amateurish acting of opera choruses. Here they are a coherent whole in a stylised, stylish portrayal of mankind in general. Some of the scenes (let alone the singing and the superb accompaniment by the orchestra as well as the orchestral interludes) simply take one's breath away. This is available on DVD (ArtHauS label) and should be included in any serious music and art film lover's collection. Berlioz wrote some of the world's greatest music for this Faust.
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Rusalka (2002 TV Movie)
Glorious voices and brilliant settings
18 January 2006
This production by the Paris National Opera is not only for opera buffs. Sung in the original Czech and starring the inimitable American soprano Renee Fleming, it is a feast for the eye and the ear. The production is 'surprisingly' modern with an opening set consisting of a six inch deep pool with real water surrounded by tall walls. This is eerily lit and suggest the depths of the lake the sprites are finding themselves in. Rusalka has fallen in love with a human being and she desires to be turned into a human as well. This could only spell disaster for the water nymph, as the Spirit of the Water warns her, but she summons the witch Jezibaba nevertheless and her wish is fulfilled.

The scene changes constantly with magic sets, all stark and simple yet terribly striking, enhancing the magic and tragic feel. Rusalka's Prince is wooing a Princess from another country....

Antonin Dvorak's music is glorious, Rusalka has the most astonishing arias - which Renee Fleming delivers in a spine-chillingly beautiful fashion - and the other voices, especially baritone Franz Hawlata as L'esprit Du Lac (unfortunately translated as Water Goblin) and Larissa Diadkova as Jezibaba are magnificent. One forgives the Prince for not being fairytale handsome - Ms Fleming being so attractive at that - because of his passion and his timbre. The direction is inventive, innovative and enchanting. The subtitles are easy to follow and anyone with a penchant for drama, mystery, music and love will be swept away by Rusalka's waves. A must see. 10/10
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The Sea Gull (1968)
5 April 2004
Why is that art is not appreciated? This film was directed by the very same Sidney Lumet of DOG DAY AFTERNOON, TWELVE ANGRY MAN etc fame, and it gets a 5 from 38 IMDb voters!! Sidney Lumet captured the essence of Chekhov's Russia as no other English speaking director ever has. James Mason, Simone Signoret and David Warner are all superb in their parts, but Vanessa Redgrave as Nina crawls into the skin of the character and delivers (yet another one of her) absolutely brilliant portrayal(s) Her rendition of the play within a play - not particularly well received by her mother (Signoret was truly a diamond) is heartbreaking and the symbolism of the sea gull and Nina herself fuse into an eternal unit. Perhaps Vanessa Redgrave, despite so many accolades, is the most underrated British actress. Her versatility is astounding. [Compare her in this with her portrayal of Andromache in Cacoyannis' WOMEN OF TROY.] But the interplay between all the characters, the subtleties of their longings, passions and disappointments are supremely brought to life albeit on the silver screen by Mr Lumet. Any serious filmgoer/lover should see this beautiful, touching and thought-provoking film. Bravo!
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Possibly one of the worst ever
25 February 2004
This is possibly one of the worst films ever. There is no suspense, the plot is utterly predictable, the dialogue ludicrous and the acting appalling. Apart from the fact that one has to suspend all disbelief to forgive the script its premise, it doesn't even evolve into fantasy. It remains incongruous and implausible. Some thrillers thrive on this and actually pull it off, but Dead Man's Run fails in all aspects.Once John Savage has been 'outwitted' his acting reaches histrionics which are so funny, one doubles up. Unfortunately it wears thin and one cannot even laugh at it. The two other blokes are not too bad, but alas the two actresses are at best terrible! Is this all the director and scrip-wright's fault? Perhaps. If you really have nothing else to do, rent this one for a few laughs, but don't expect to be scared.
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