This month with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Harrison Bergeron, La Dolce Vita, Scoop, Interiors, Europa, Gerry, Design for Living, Die Siebtelbauern, Matador, Arabesque, Targets, How To Steal a Million, Me and You and Everyone We Know
When seeing La Science des Rêves last month, I was reminded that I had never seen Michel Gondry’s much lauded previous film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which of course I wanted to see as well.
The story about a couple wanting to have each other erased from their respective memories because things didn’t work out too well and then rediscovering their love in the process sounds a bit stale. But it is enriched by most of that rediscovery taking place in dreams where they have to run away from the erasing and where you can actually see the memories being erased.
I just loved the scene in the book store for example, where all the book covers were replaced by plain white covers over time. Also, the film is really good at giving you that ‘dreamy’ feeling by having relatively long shots and slow scenes.
All that – and the idea of doctors messing with your brain (
technically it’s brain damage) to erase those memories – is rather twisted. Add to that the whole environment with a the strange company doing the brain deletions and their dopehead employees, and you have something that’s quite funny as well.
And funniness brings me right to my main problem with the film – which may have well been the reason why I didn’t see the film when it was in cinema two years ago: the main character is played by Jim Carrey. And I just can’t stand seeing his ever grinning face. Just spoils things for me.
And while on the topic of manipulating brains, there’s Harrison Bergeron a film based on a very old (1960s) short story by Kurt Vonnegut. And as Vonnegut’s stories go this one is plain and simple, refreshing and very bitter.
A few decades in the future the American society has evolved to a fully egalitarian system. Everybody finally is equal. And those who aren’t equal are made equal. As things go this means all the creative, skilled or clever people are ‘handicapped’ rather than smartening everybody up. People have to wear some kind of device that interrupts their thoughts should they have any. And those who are athletic or otherwise physically able have to wear ‘handicaps’ to make them equal as well.
And then there’s Harrison, the son of a normal family who just won’t manage to graduate from school because his marks are too good. The state orders him to have brain surgery so he will be ‘normal’. But before that happens he is ‘kidnapped’ and given the opportunity to join a small group of smart people who actually run the country. With the egalitarian society, they of course have to work under cover but their work is needed because all the equal people just aren’t smart enough to keep everything running.
Of course that fact irks Harrison, but he also thinks everybody else who has to live with their limited intellects, the blandest daytime television (
we can’t educate the kids on TV because then they’d have an advantage over those who don’t watch TV) and finally uses the opportunity to give people a day of cultural television.
There are so many little twists in the film and you get to feel the tension: Yes, we love Beethoven (just as in Clockwork Orange or Elephant, it’s always good old Ludwig van in films…) and we won’t have any skilled composers or even performers in that brave new world. VS No, we can’t allow people to be smart, because the competitiveness of smart people started so many wars and years of misery. It’s really a great collection of heavy points woven to a light story.
Quite amazing and really worth the read or watch. The rather short story is contained in the volume of short stories Welcome to the Monkey House read it online but as a fan of both Vonnegut and short stories, I’d say you’re missing out then.and is less fleshed out than the film. You can also
La Dolce Vita is another classic that I finally got around to seeing. Just shy of three hours, we have plenty of time to learn about the debaucheries in the life of the yellow press journalist Marcello. A few days of enjoying life and going nowhere by going everywhere.
I can imagine that the film was a bit scandalous when it was released in 1960, but with today’s background, it’s a bit hard to be overwhelmed by that and seems a bit like a rather long film in stunning black and white that has a number of cool scenes in it. And like a film from a time when you could call people ‘paparazzi’ in a non-derogative way.
Let’s say I can appreciate bits of it, but I didn’t like it that much.
Whoa! It seems like Woody Allen’s previous film Match Point only came out a few months ago (actually it has almost been a year) and being the workaholic that he is Woody Allen already released his next film Scoop now (actually it has been released for some months in other places but only made it to Germany now).
It also seems like he got used to the niceties that are Scarlett Johansson and the English upper class – which both feature prominently in the film where American journalism student (with more than a passing interest in dental hygiene) Sondra meets the spirit of recently deceased journalist Joe Strombel and is told to follow rich kid Peter as that guy is supposed to be a killer.
All that happens during a magic show by Woody Allen’s character Sid – aka Splendini the magician – of course. And he pretends to be Sondra’s father, going with her to ‘research’ the topic while she falls in love with Peter. Sounds pretty confusing? Murder mysteries should be I guess. And naturally not without a sense of humour which ranges from Sondra being overwhelmingly clueless (very charmingly overwhelmingly clueless, though) to Sid tactfully mentioning that he was born Hebrew but then became a Marxist in smalltalk to the English upper class.
Add to that some classy scenes of deceased on their boat trip on Hades and you are well entertained. At least I was. And of course I stayed all the way through the closing titles once more. Woody Allen films always have those nice old fashioned serif titles. Every time I see them I do wonder which typeface is used there as it seems to be quite a conscious and constant design element of the films. And this time I remembered to Google it and found a nice post pointing to Windsor and providing screenshots of several films.
Woody Allen has made so many films, that there will always be another one you (or at least I) didn’t know about yet. And now I can tick his 1978 film Interiors off that list. Having seen many of his funny films, this one was a let down at first as it starts in a rather dull way. People looking all 1970s-ish and us getting an insight into the life of a family with an obsessive mother who’s into interior design and terrorises (as in ‘just doing what’s best for’) her daughters with that.
Not too exciting, that. Just some tension between the mother and her daughters and the in-laws. But add a few levels to that tension by making her husband move out and eventually marry another woman and you’ve got some fine drama. Particularly if that new wife is as friendly as she is simple minded while the family is a bit on the intellectual side. In the end everything goes a bit wrong and yet there is no blame to be shifted.
Not the lightness I’m used to from Woody Allen, but quite a good study of the tensions. And somehow looking at all those perfectly designed and stale flats reminded me a little of the downtown flat they had in Match Point. But my memory may be playing tricks on me there.
Europa is another pre-Dogme 95 film by Lars von Trier. It tells the story about young American Leopold Kessler who comes to Germany just after the end of World War II to work as a conductor on night trains - in the spirit of helping out. He gets the job thanks to his uncle who is already working on Zentropa night trains (and otherwise mostly drunk). And soon he gets to know the owner of the railway company, fall in love with his daughter and end up in a messy situation with anti-occupation rebels.
The film is full of dark imagery and of course doesn’t evade the cliches you’d expect in a film in Germany at that time. The whole setup is amazing, with scenes in both black and white and colour in there, with a mix of German and English being spoken and with a narrator guiding you through the film who speaks as a kind of hypnotist to the protagonist.
Really an amazing Kafka-esque film that touches many difficult questions. It reminded me of von Trier’s Element of Crime in style – and it appears that’s not a coincidence as these two and Epidemic are apparently mean to be a trilogy. So I may need to watch that one as well.
Two guys, Gerry and Gerry – aka Matt Damon and Casey Affleck – go on a wilderness trail. They get lost in the desert and things turn a bit dramatic. We get to see a simple and dramatic story in Gus van Sant’s 2002 film Gerry and with it’s very simplistic setup – a desert and two actors who don’t talk much – it could easily be a bit boring. Indeed the film is very slow. We have endless shots of first following the guys’ car to the hiking trail and then following them on the trail. And yet, in all that, suspense and drama slowly build and you get to start the fear of not being able to find and make their way back. It’s quite great and scary.
While not being exactly entertaining, the film has some drama that way and it’s cool to look at. All those long shots and the following of the actors on their trip. Holding the camera on them while they are walking. There’s a scene when they are shot from the side while they are walking right next to each other at the same speed and, which is quite cool. Add the odd bits of in-focus / out-of-focus shooting and the wide empty landscape and you have stuff to look at. One of the Gerrys wears a black shirt with a large yellow star on it – which reminded a bit of the great yellow shirt with the bull on it in Elephant.
Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or not to Be is a great classic. But it’s amazing to see that he actually made more than fifty films in total. I had the opportunity to see Design for Living recently. I think its English title is rather brilliant, while its German title
Serenade zu dritt (Serenade for three) seems appropriate but lacks a similar subtlety and cleverness.
The film is about an American girl, Gilda, who falls in love with two guys, George and Tom whom she meets on a train to Paris. They are artists, a playwright and a painter respectively, and share a flat and their love for Gilda. But instead of having a horrible rivalry between them for the rest of the film, Gilda suggests they just all move together and – having a background in advertising – does her best to turn the guys’ art into more commercially successful art while trying to neutralise jealousy as far as possible.
That works well and soon Tom has a successful piece in a theatre in London while George is making and selling many paintings. Of course moving to London means that Tom is away from Gilda and George and Gilda use that opportunity to come together – which reverses when Tom comes back to Paris for a visit. As things can’t be evened out thanks to jealousy, Gilda decides to marry her longtime rich acquaintance Max instead. But she’s unhappy in that new golden cage rather soon and in the end a surprise visit by Thomas and George solves everything for good…
Quite a funny film – and surprisingly progressive for a film made in 1933 (and more open minded than loads of the stuff you get to see these days) I’d say. With a number of good laughs in it, too.
Hooray, I finally got to see Die Siebtelbauern (aka The Inheritors). Everybody really recommended it when it ran in cinemas back in 1998 but I never had an opportunity to see it so far. And people were right the film is quite good!
It is set in rural Austria some decades back. A farmer a killed and when his will is read out he first tells of all of his staff and peasants for being lazy and dumb but then goes on to tell his fellow farmers that they’re jerks and his former staff will inherit the farm. In a time where the peasants are considered a lower class that doesn’t go down well with the farmers who want to contest things.
With seven people remaining on the farm to run and own it, each of them is called a
Siebtelbauer (1/7 farmer). Despite them not being terribly educated, they manage to run the farm just fine. However, they do not get along with the other farmers who want to crush them. And of course the other farmers succeed. Being a large bunch of rich people who own the state in that region they get away with pretty much everything they do and so they send people to burn parts of the farm and go ahead to rape one of the women. All that without the slightest conscience of doing something bad because – sure enough – they are just wanting to put things ‘back to normal’.
It’s scary to see how some rich people can ‘rule’ their region. And in a way I’m pretty sure that similar – possibly slightly more abstract – things can still happen these days. If not with some rich people getting away with everything in Austria then with big corporations getting away with whatever they want worldwide.
There seems to be an English version of the film. But I wonder how the film works in English as those slightly funny Austrian accents used by the people in the film and the narrator Severin really add to its quality.
Matador is a film Pedro Almodóvar directed 20 years ago. And while you can tell the decade by the clothes and cars, it’s definitely quite modern otherwise. Once more this film is about obsessed people. There’s the ex-matator Diego who now teaches bullfighting and has is obsessed with killing, there’s one of his pupils Angel (played by Antonio Banderas – isn’t it odd how Almodóvar seems to be good at spotting actors who will be famous early on?) who lives with his religious mother and tries to rape his pretty neighbour Eva – who in turn is his master’s girlfriend – to lose his virginity and prove he isn’t gay.
But he can’t take that – and confesses his deed to the police the next day where he ends up confessing a number of murders as well, as if to prove his mum right that he actually is evil. Lawyer María comes to defend him, but she’s actually obsessed with the ex-matador Diego with whom she shares an obsession with death. And the film ends up focusing on the lethal story of María and Diego in the end.
Perhaps not Almodóvar’s greatest movie – particularly as the story is neither straightforward nor surprising, but not bad either. And surprising to see that even such an ‘old’ film already has plenty of similarities with the newer ones.
I thought Stanley Donen’s Charade was quite good in a recent fit of Audrey Hepburn-mania. And Arabesque was the film Donen directed right afterward. No Audrey Hepburn in there, but Sophia Loren instead and another fun spy story to enjoy. As the title suggests, the story revolves Arab circles and ends up being about everybody hunting a little sheet of paper with some hieroglyphs on it. In the middle of all that is Prof. David Pollock (Gregory Peck) who was told to decipher the text but involuntarily gets drawn into a big mess where everybody around him seems to be both untrustworthy and willing to kill him if he doesn’t play along.
Rest assured that there is a happy end with punting… and that the time it takes getting there is quite amusing. And keep and eye on the opening credits in Donen’s films. They remind me a bit of James Bond opening credits but they are more strictly graphical and thus cooler in my book.
Hehe, a film title that you can type with your left hand only – Targets. It’s directed by Peter Bogdanovich of What’s Up Doc fame, which is the main reason why I wanted to see it. It was the first film he directed (and actually wrote, edited and acted in himself) and it’s both good and disturbing. I also thought it looked rather modern and clean for a film from the late 1960s.
The film tells two stories in parallel. That of old and famous horror film actor Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) who wants to quit his job. And that of well-bred youth Bobby, who collects plenty of weapons and ammunition, kills his wife and mum and then goes on to shoot people on a highway. In the end he shoots people through a hole in the screen of a drive-in cinema – and is finally stopped and scared to death by Byron Orlok who is to grace the screening of his own film and ends up talking to Bobby from both the screen and for real…
Seeing how easily Bobby can gather the weapons and ammunition is a bit shocking. But seeing him turn passer-bys into targets just for the heck of it is far more shocking. And while his killing seems quite cold-blooded, the fact that he isn’t all that cool about it and nervously loses parts of his ‘equipment’ as he moves on, makes you wonder what exactly made him go to kill all those people – starting with his family.
Apparently the story is based on real events that happened a while before, which makes things even more tragic. That and many more things can be learned from the extra commentary track that’s on the DVD. I’m not really into DVDs and loathe all those ‘extras’ – which mostly seem to be there to give film businesses an excuse for their absurd pricing, rather than being worth. But those extra commentary tracks giving you more background or pointing out little details in the film are just great. Particularly if you want to watch the film again.
I already enjoyed such a commentary track in Blowup where it highlighted how and why the film was considered a bit scandalous fourty years back. And in Targets, the commentary is by Peter Bogdanovich himself and he uses it to tell some stories about the shooting, pointing out particularly ambitious shots, explaining references to other films, admitting where they used little ‘cheats’ to keep the film affordable and giving credit to people inspiring him to shoot certain scenes. I really enjoyed that as well.
OMG! More Audrey Hepburn goodness. And I really liked this one. Possibly even better than Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn is Nicole, the – ultra charming – daughter of art afficionade Charles Bonnet in that film. He forges paintings and takes great pride in exhibiting and possibly selling them. A dangerous thing to do, of course.
And things start being dramatic when a statue (forged by Nicole’s grandfather) is exhibited and is supposed to be scrutinised by the company insuring it. The statue has to be stolen… which Nicole does with Simon, a guy she got to know when she shot him after he broke into her house. Of course they manage to steal the statue from the highly protected museum. And even though Simon is an art expert trying to track down forgeries, the fact that there’s a certain romance going on leads to a reasonably cheerful ending.
Interestingly I didn’t think the film was boring although I tend to do just that with films that run for two hours.
Me and You and Everyone We Know is a rather weird film. We meet shoe salesman Richard who just separated from his wife and moved to a new place with his kids Peter and Robby. We meet artist Christine who earns a living by caring for pensioners. And with them we run through ninety minutes of odd situations.
From Richard struggling to cope with his new situation, properly care for the kids and developing a bit of a fancy for Christine. To those young kids having kinky chats on instant messaging services – in a funnily innocent way. To Christine sending art videos to a gallery for her dreams. To seeing a beautifully dramatic scene of a goldfish in a bag on the roof of a car – on the motorway.
Not the most straightforward story perhaps, but full of cool, weird and beautiful scenes. And with ASCII art as well – the kids typing it on their computer. Reminding me that I once di the same – copying an image of Snoopy on a typewriter back in the 1980s.
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Have you seen any other Fellini, Sven? Probably my second favorite director (behind only Kubrick.) I like 8 1/2 better than La Dolce Vita, myself. You probably already noticed this, but the term “paparazzi” actually comes from the name of the photographer (Paparazzo) in La Dolce Vita, which was, itself, a bit of Italian onomatopoeia, in that Fellini thought the sound of popping flashes and shutters sounded like “pa pa pa”…
No I haven’t seen other Fellini. I’ll note 8½ on my ever growing list of films to see.
And, yes, I was surprised by that paparazzo thing! Didn’t know about that before. That much about films not being able to change the world.
There was this big Fellini retrospective in the UK a long time ago, and they had this long drawn out documentary about La Dolce Vita. Anyway, somebody in that doc. said the term Paparazzi relates to an Italian word for mosquitos or fleas. It never made much sense at the time, and I prefer the explanation put forward by d.w. :)
Add to the Fellini list La Strada and Amarcord, although the latter is a bit too sentimental.
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