They had a Luis Buñuel week on telly recently on occasion of the retrospective at the Berlinale film festival. That gave us the opportunity to see his ‘classics’ Le Charme discret de la Bourgeoisie, Belle de Jour, Viridiana. Other films this month were Control, Permanent Vacation, C’était un rendez-vous, Der Rote Kakadu, Der Felsen, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, Der Siebente Kontinent, Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, Eastern Promises, Paprika and There Will Be Blood.
In Le Charme discret de la Bourgeoisie a bunch of well-off, bourgeois, friends try to dine together - but it’s not going to happen throughout the film. Because of dates being wrong, sex being preferable or the army dropping in for a visit. Whatever happens may raise an eyebrow, but is taken with reasonable contenance and we get to see the real ‘worries’ these people have instead. Like how a good martini is made or selling the drugs they smuggled in their diplomat luggage.
As you might expect with Buñuel, things are slightly absurd and in numerous scenes we follow the protagonists’ dreams rather than ‘reality’. With - as dreams and the bourgeois life go - the difference being unnoticeable at first and only becoming apparent ‘with a bang’ at the end when people wake up.
While this may seem a bit outdated from today’s point of view, I found that at least the dream scenes still worked rather well, catch you by surprise and reveal the absurdity of the story you see.
A rich housewife spending her days under the name of Belle de Jour as a prostitute. Séverine (played by a beautiful Catherine Deneuve) lives as the wife of a caring and wealthy doctor, Pierre, but she seems a bit frigid at home. After rumours of some other friend of theirs being a prostitute comes up, she becomes interested in the idea and starts to work at a discreet brothel while her husband is at work.
She gets to know different kinds of customers and seems to like her job there. All that while hiding it from Pierre of course. Eventually she becomes a bit too friendly with one of her clients who in turn can’t seize to see her and who tries killing Pierre in the end, adding a bit of drama.
As you might expect with Buñuel, there are also a few dream-like scenes in the film which naturally take us on an alternate, less desirable, track of events and from which the film cuts back after a while. Yet, the film isn’t overly ‘surrealist’ but rather an interesting game of thoughts.
Perhaps time has rubbed the scandal off Viridiana, but it still remains a thought provoking film. I am tempted to say it’s a little subversive as it doesn’t really approve immoralities. It just lets us witness them as facts of human life.
And thus we meet the nun-to-be Viridiana who stays over at her uncle’s. Her uncle in turn fancies her and wants her to wear the wedding dress of his late wife which she refuses. He wants to force her to stay with him by saying he slept with her while she was passed out, she decides to leave nonetheless, he kills himself, tragedy. Well, other family members coming to inherit the house, anyway. Where Viridiana takes care of a bunch of beggars and lets them stay to make up for things. And while her guests appreciate her generosity, they don’t exactly reciprocate it.
Drama, with many more details there in the film. At first I found it a bit boring, but once all those details come together, it ends up being quite compelling. And depressing perhaps.
Let me be frank here: I am not a huge Joy Division fan - not because I think they are bad but because their music was never particularly relevant for me. And yet, I knew I had to see Anton Corbijn’s film Control about Ian Curtis right away. It’s the poster that did it. What a great shot - black and white, the posture, the look, of course the cigarette and just the right angle of the face. Combine it with the the unlikely appearance of pink Helvetica Neue Black and you have me salivating. Just seeing the film advertised on the front page of the cinema programme made me know I had to go and see it.
Of course the film being a music documentary, in black and white and shot by a photographer also appealed to me. Even better, the film itself was quite good. It outlined the rise of Joy Division and how the music, the touring, the girls and the whole lifestyle around it were too much for Ian Curtis to cope with and eventually led to his suicide. Quite tragic in fact as his situation wasn’t even particularly desperate from an outsider’s point of view. He just wasn’t the person for that kind of life.
Oddly I found the things which initially attracted me to the film strange after seeing it. In my mind the late 1970s aren’t black and white. They use colour film. Perhaps with slightly faded images. The film also didn’t look authentically black and white to me when seeing it (a bit of an obsession of mine, I can’t really nail how to see it, but mostly I simply do) and checking in the internet afterwards confirmed that (it was shot in colour and then copied to black and white).
In addition to that, a Black Helvetica - as gorgeous as it looks on the poster - wouldn’t be the typeface I associate with that time. And, finally, I wondered whether the film’s excessive use of wide aperture and hair thin depth of field and way in which it was played with was really a good thing for a film. Ah, well, it’s sexy anyway…
Permanent Vacation is the first film Jim Jarmusch directed way back in 1980. As its title suggests it follows a guy around who is on a ‘permanent vacation’, that is a bit of a slacker. He tries to make sense of the things he encounters and his life in general. But that doesn’t really work out. Plenty of scenes with hopeless/ugly backgrounds as well.
While the idea for the film sounds quite cool, I didn’t think it was particularly good. Perhaps it’s my dislike of the 1980s, perhaps we’ve seen too many filmed slackers on YouTube by now. Or perhaps it’s just the first film which wasn’t too revolutionary.
Usually I’m not a fan of car racing - or racing games for that matter. It just seems pointless. But if it’s real? Quite a different story. And racing a car through Paris early in the morning makes it worthwhile. Which is all that the eight minutes of Claude Lelouch’s C’était un rendez-vous is about. And meeting the girl, of course.
It’s breath-taking, isn’t it? Particularly because it seems so real and the car Passes some of those pedestrians more closely than I’d consider comfortable. It’s a fine line between reckless and cool. And it’s hard to tell whether it was crossed here.
Der Rote Kakadu (The Red Cockatoo) was quite a successful German film two years ago. It plays in Dresden just before the Berlin Wall is built. And in a story of young people - love triangle, nights out in the club Der Rote Kakadu where Western music is played, trying to get cash in the West to sustain that lifestyle, poetry - we see the less favourable aspects of the GDR kick in. People are asked to spy on their friends, you can’t publish your own poetry and of course you’ll be beaten up for listening to Western music. At the end, most of them had been convicted in court and some manage to flee to West Berlin before the Wall is built.
Not a bad film. A bit too long and with what seems like a bit of a romantic view on the 1950s, perhaps.
Text in many places of the film looked very Helvetica-like (at the spirits factory, in the courthouse, even stencilled on a bus with an alternate Ü). Even with back history of the typeface I’d guess that 1950s GDR is neither the place nor the time for it. In fact a Motorway sign looked quite Arial-ish. And it’s definitely never the right place or time for that…
Another film by the same director, Dominik Graf, is Der Felsen (aka The Map of the Heart in English) with grainy low quality image that makes you think of home movies. It follows a middle aged woman, Katrin, around Corsica where she stays with her lover. It’s their last time together as his wife is having a child back home in Germany. That looked a bit like a dull romantic tragedy coming on and I was about to turn it off.
But things ended up being more twisted and Katrin meets young Malte who, it turns out, is on the island as a part of his sentence for crimes he commited back home in Berlin. At first he just steals things from here, but he wants to see her again and - just having been left - she isn’t entirely uninterested either. Things end up being a bit messy then with Malte’s criminal past, the people looking after him and reality catching up with them. Throw in Maltes sweet kid brother who really wants to find some new parents for himself and you have a turbulent mix with a less-than-happy end.
If they had cut another thirty minutes or so from the film - preferably from the beginning - it could have been quite good. The way it is, it seems a bit lengthy.
In Pedro Almodóvar’s Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) we see what the title promises in an amusing way.
Actress Pepa cannot reach her lover Iván. And in what follows everybody is a bit tense and yet hilarity ensues. Let’s just say we also get to meet Iván’s ex-wife, their son and his new lover. Throw in a few terrorists, a cab driver with a supermarket in his cab, a Jehova’s wittness porter (played by Chus Lampreave who is in many of Almodóvar’s) films and a jug of gazpacho spiked with barbiturates and you get something that isn’t mind-blowing but quite entertaining.
Michael Haneke’s 1989 film Der Siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent) is another sign of his brilliance and possibly brutality. It’s a film about an upper middle class family who live their life day by day. It’s an orderly and proper life. It seems incredibly boring. Which you get right into as a viewer in the film’s opening scenes where you sit in the car while it goes through the car wash and follow the family’s getting up routine, getting to know their toothbrushes, their crockery, their electric garage door but not actually seeing any of their faces.
Despite their success at mastering the death of family members and the husband’s carreer progressing, things seem bland and sad. Something seems ‘wrong’ about the family. And, strangely, they know it. They consider their life to be a sorry affair and want to end it. Which they do in an orderly way, destroying all their belongings first - a task which sounds easier than it is - and then killing themselves.
This is totally depressing. It moves you from someone thinking
what a sorry life to someone thinking
ah stop, it wasn’t that bad. Haneke really has a good hand for these things. And cool steady shots of the items in the family’s life as well. A great film, but just like Funny Games one that can darken your mood.
Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski were a bit of a team. And a highly lauded one. In their 1972 Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre, the wrath of god) Kinski plays Don Lope de Aguirre who is on a trip to conquer South America in the age of colonisation and in pursuit of gold. Even when they are lost too deeply in the forests and river on their float, Aguirre doesn’t want to return to the rest of their expedition but continues to pursue his goal until pretty much everyone is dead. He does remain determined though and the insane stare remains in his eyes throughout.
A bit similar to Fitzcarraldo it’s an interesting film, particularly in how the tension is built over not much happening. Not really my type of film though.
David Cronenbergs 2007 film Eastern Promises is situated in London’s Russian Mafia. Throats are cut, tattoos are had, big Mercedeses are driven and Borschtsch is had. Probably this is playing a bit high on the stereotypes. And midwife Anna finds herself amidst all this when one of her patients dies while giving birth and a diary in Russian is found in her bag. She tries to find out about the girl’s history and unpleasant things uncover one by one.
Not one of Cronenberg’s strongest films I think. The gore is there but the subtlety is missing.
Some people absolutely dig Japanese animated films and go great lengths to see them. And while I consider myself Japan-o-phile, those films never really ‘clicked’ for me. I can appreciate the drawings. I can appreciate some of the cool and absurd ideas in the films and the lightness with which they find their place there. And yet I have never become a big fan, more a collateral watcher to be honest. And the recent film Paprika didn’t change that. It looked amazing in places. It had an interesting story about dream machines that connect to the brain and then go out of control. And it had fantastic parades of machines, cuddly toys and fridges marching through the dream scenarios. But still I wasn’t thrilled.
The two driving forces of the USA as we know it: Oil and christianity. Both of them seem to provide a fertile playground for people to fulfill their ‘vision’ mostly at the expense of others and - if they do well - in a somewhat destructive way. So when an upcoming oil baron and a growing up nutter priest meet, hilarity ensues. All that in dark tones, slightly ennerving music and at great length.
Possibly the main idea of There Will be Blood is an ever-so-slightly different one, but this struck me as ‘very American’.
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