"Cinema is not magic. It’s a technique and a science. A technique born of science and the service of a will. The will of the workers to free themselves." — Irma Vep
When you come from a culture that has accepted a standard of taste, how do you produce something radical? Irma Vep is the story of Rene Vidal (Jean-Pierre Leaud), a director who has fallen out of favor in French cinema. The film juxtaposes two stances of French cinematic taste: those who see old-fashioned and beautiful cinema to be superior, and those who detest the old and want to make room for the new. In attempts to revitalize his career, Rene decides to direct a silent re-make of Louis Feuillade’s silent film, Les Vampires (1915). In choosing a woman to play the film’s heroine, Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire), he wants to find someone with the grace of a feline and the edge of a thief, ultimately deciding not to use a French actress.Continue Reading
The City Of Lost Children (La Cité Des Enfants Perdus)
ONCE UPON A VERY STRANGE TIME… Dark, damp, and dreary, tucked away in a twisted dream somewhere between Oliver Twist and The Brothers Grimm is The City Of Lost Children. A ginger-headed sideshow strong man of Russian origin named "One" (Ron Perlman) has had a very bad day indeed. His sideshow barker has been knifed during their last chain busting performance and later that evening his adopted little brother, Denree, is abducted by a band of Jean-Paul Gaultier clad "Cyclopes" and taken away to an oil rig-looking platform of a mad scientist’s lair! Not only is the scientist mad, but he’s quite frail and cranky and even named Krank (Daniel Emilfork).
NOTE: Krank is something akin to Robert Helpmann’s Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with a shaved head.Continue Reading
Murmur of the Heart
Some of Louis Malle’s most daring films capture the bewilderment that comes with entering young adulthood. Features such as Au Revoir Les Enfants and Pretty Baby not only guide the audience through the tender and turbulent times of their leading youth, but also deliver a glimpse of the social environment and conditions in which they live. Murmur of the Heart is, in few words, a nuance of intimacy and perhaps a re-working of the Oedipus complex. It follows Laurent—a fifteen-year-old boy whose aristocratic identity and layered personality result in a constantly altered state of mind and lavish exercises in rebellion. Due to his social standing and education Laurent is not your average fifteen-year old, and thanks to the privileges of a lax society and the perspective of older, rambunctious brothers, he has come to think of himself as a young man. The current leading lady in his life is his mother; a beautiful Italian who, like a girl of a much younger age, is constantly impressed and smitten with Laurent’s charm and innocence. Known to his older brothers and surrounding family as "sensitive" and intellectual, Laurent also shares a certain vulnerability to jazz, theft, and women. All of this is put to a halt, however, when Laurent develops a heart murmur and is sent on vacation with his mother to receive treatment. With plenty of free time and leisurely activities, Laurent and his mother grow even closer than before, ultimately leading to displays of affection that must later become secrets, and yet are still handled, by Malle, with delicacy.
For a first-time feature-length actor, young BenoÃ®t Ferreux is full of surprises. Laurent’s character is like a balanced mesh of puppy dog and tyrant, which somehow blends to make an odd and highly entertaining finished product. Portraying the unmasked desire by boys of this age and social class to become men is a refreshing alternative to the rough-edged machismo upbringings we often see presented in film. For Ferreux to be able to grasp that concept early and portray it correctly is in itself a promise of the fruitful career that was to come.Continue Reading
Doctor: " What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets." Cecilia: "Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl." -- Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides
Cries and Whispers
"In the screenplay, it says that red represents for me the interior of the soul. When I was a child, I imagined the soul to be a dragon, a shadow floating in the air like blue smoke....But inside the dragon, everything was red." -- Ingmar Bergman
For most of Ingmar Bergman’s career, the decision to shoot in black and white, both before and after Cries and Whispers, has been one of choice and trust. The delight of seeing his vision in color is not simply based on color itself but of his use of it in the film. Like a poet, Bergman decided to look past what color can mean for the eyes alone, to its purpose to help us understand and appreciate life, death, and the soul.Continue Reading
The Mirror is absolutely the most poetic film I’ve seen. Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia’s famous director, sewed the film together like fragments, creating a loose, non-linear, autobiographical tale full of childhood memories. The film contains newsreel footage and poems by Tarkovsy’s father, Arseny Tarkovsky. It is a personal, unique film, now highly regarded as one of Tarkovsky’s best works and masterpieces. His work, often a struggle with the Soviet authorities, is well-realized and committed – he has only made seven feature films out of his 27 years as a filmmaker, and each one of them is finely crafted and boldly uncompromised. Here is one of my favorites.
The film begins with Alexei’s son Ignat. The film revolves around his thoughts and his world, and the narrator reads poems reminiscent of a man’s relationships with his mother, ex-wife, and son. The mother, Maria, is a proofreader in a printing press. She is first shown in the countryside during pre-World War II. The rural countryside is one of Tarkovsky’s landscapes – the homes and the land featured in the film are gorgeously drenched in nature, yet also contain an element of isolation. Tarkovsky’s use of nature refers to his childhood memory of war that caused many to evacuate Moscow to the countryside.Continue Reading
Blood of a Poet
Jean Cocteau, one of the great multi-talented artists of the 20th century is given free reign in his first film. His approach is whimsical and free improvisational; a childlike freedom hangs in the air of this film, even as it addresses rather dark subject matter. The result is a series of powerful images that still seem fresh nearly 80 years later.
Experimental and surrealistic in nature, Blood of a Poet is not a film for individuals who seek clear and definite story lines, to say the least. Rather this is a film that should be considered as a work of art, and not as a traditional movie. That is not to say that these are a series of meaningless images - this is essentially a poem in the form of a film. A series of Cocteau's own reflections...as Cocteau puts it ,"a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body."Continue Reading
Few directors choose to take risks within cinema, and when they do, they reveal ideas in the most intriguing and significant ways. Michael Haneke, in his film Code Unknown, definitely gives his viewers something to take home, long after they’ve watched it. Like a string of Venn-diagrams, the film is a series of segments loosely tied by the intersection of characters in Paris, France, and the subtext goes far beyond just that. The scenes allude to the missed communication within a society blinded by tension caused by differences in race, age, class, and backgrounds in a disheveled European nation. Here is the rare portrayal of Paris as an intellectual discourse, and while less violent compared to Funny Games or CachÃ©, the film is still pointedly bold, high-minded, and socially aware.
What does “code unknown” really mean? We find out a glimpse of this answer in the beginning scene, set in a school of deaf children. A girl is acting out a scene in front of her classmates. They guess what she is attempting to convey: “Alone?” “Hiding in place?” She shakes her head at each conjecture. The simplicity combined with mystery of this scene is an appropriate overture for the rest of the film.Continue Reading
The 4th Man
Castration, murder, bisexuality, a man posed suggestively on a crucifix, and the line of dialogue, "Through Mary to Jesus," during an orgasm are just a few highlights from what I think might be one of the most devoutly Catholic films I have ever seen: Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man. Actually, the film might just be trying to make some sort of statement about the "artist as Christ." I can't be too sure. Either way, and more importantly, it's a richly atmospheric thriller that's as unforgettably funny as it is horrific.
Jeroen Krabbe stars as Gerard Reve, an alcoholic, Catholic novelist from Holland who has risen to considerable fame for being an artist who "lies the truth." After an egotistical Q&A celebrating his work in Vlissingen, he is seduced by Christine Halsslag (Renee Soutendijk) who insists that he spend the night at her hotel/hair salon before returning home. While drawn to Christine ("You have the body of a young boy"), Gerard immediately receives both symbolic and blatantly grotesque warnings of danger through his dreams and encounters with some of the town's people. He chooses to ignore them; however, when he finds out that Christine is also involved with a man named Herman (Thom Hoffman), the writer decides he must have Herman even if it kills him. While sort of playing Christine to get closer to Herman, Gerard stumbles onto some information about the woman's past that might unveil a more terrifying reality than any of his fantasies.Continue Reading
Merci Pour le Chocolat (a.k.a. Nightcap)
I must admit this is the first Chabrol film that I have seen, and what a delight it is! Browsing the racks of the Foreign DVDs I couldn’t help but notice how many of his films star the charming Isabelle Huppert (8 to be exact), whose performance as the Yin to Dustin Hoffman’s Yang in I Heart Huckabees took me aback. Coupled with Mark Wahlberg’s role, this was the most enjoyable factor of said film. Back to Merci...
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the plot logistics, so I’ll try and make a good assessment of the main themes. Primarily this film’s story is about trust, deceit, and the malleability of the family unit. It doesn’t tackle these topics with too much severity and, in conjunction with its beautiful locations, soft colors, and hazy look, the whole thing goes down very smoothly, like a warm cup of hot chocolate. I need to hand it to Chabrol for portraying such heavy topics in a light manner, which is a rare feat to pull off.Continue Reading