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All reviews - Movies (46) - TV Shows (1) - Books (2) - Music (2)

Molière review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:50 (A review of Molière)

A vivid, opulent, imaginative, intelligent and magnificent depiction of the life of the great French playwright and the era he lived in. It made me interested in the theatrical work and life of its distinguished female director and, even allowing for its 4 hour length, it should be better known and appreciated.


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Straits of Love and Hate review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:44 (A review of Straits of Love and Hate)

Made at the Shinko Kinema studios, Straits of Love and Hate/Aien Kyo (1937) was based partly on a work by Kawaguchi Matsutaro, a Shinpa tragedy writer and performer. It also encorporates Tolstoy’s Resurrection, a much read book in Japan, and was scripted by Yoda Yoshikata, who was to become Mizoguchi’s regular scriptwriter, here working on his third Mizoguchi film.

Rarely seen, the film is in need of restoration. With very sparing use of close-ups and quite dark settings with indistinct figures it can be sometimes hard to follow. The viewer has to work, but careful attention is well rewarded! As other Mizoguchi films from that time have been lost, we are lucky to have it at all.

As often in Mizoguchi’s career we have a tale with elements of Shinpa melodrama. Ofumi, a servant at an inn in the Northern province of Shinsu, is impregnated by the inn-keeper’s son Kenkichi (Shimizu Masao) with whom she is temporarily infatuated and forced to elope in the face of family, especially paternal, disapproval. Kenkichi, however, proves to be a hopeless breadwinner, and Ofumi is forced into prostitution to care for the new baby. Kenkichi lacks the character to stand up to his father who visits, and returns home.

After a period as a waitress and turning to drink, while using a wet nurse to care for the baby, Ofumi joins a troupe of comic Manzai travelling players in which she strikes up a relationship with fellow performer Yoshitaro (Kawazu Seizaburo)….

Aien Kyo continues Mizoguchi’s interest in theatre. And as elsewhere (e.g Story of the Late Chrysanthemums) the theatrical performance bears relation to and comments on offstage events- later in the film, the watching Kenkichi is filled with remorse. His voyeuristic peeping is a common feature of Mizoguchi films, here reminding me of the final shot of both Street of Shame and Mizoguchi’s career.

I admire the daring formal devices, which to me more than compensate for any loss of close physical association with the characters. At times, we are placed almost as documentary fly on the wall observers looking past people in the foreground and characters with their backs turned.

I’m also very taken with the smooth camera movement, the beauty of compositions, the lovely wintry settings, and not only the film’s sounds but also quieter moments, creating an atmosphere that is natural and yet distinctive..

Following on from the experiments in deep staging in Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion the previous year, Aien Kyo makes remarkable use of different planes of interest, with comings and goings in foreground and deep background- for example, in the scene in which Kenkichi is conversing with the troupe manager, they leave and the distance reveals a further room from which Ofumi and Yoshitaro emerge

There are beautiful moments of stillness, wisps of steam reminiscent of Ozu and the more recent masterpiece Maborosi in which, like Straits of Love and Hate, close ups are few and so all the more precious. At the time of making the film, Mizoguchi disliked close-ups but later appreciated their value.

Yamaji Fumiko gives a very striking and convincing performance, her first for Mizoguchi, as Ofumi. Shindo Kaneto, a young Art design assistant on the film, went on to a very long career in directing, most notably Onibaba and Naked Island. He was so impressed with Mizoguchi’s work and transformation of the actress, he became what has been called a disciple of Mizoguchi and later made a film about the great man.

Whereas Kenkichi is a typical weak and vacillating Mizoguchian male (others, especially fathers, are often oppressive), Ofumi has spark; by the time she meets up with him later in the film, toughened by her experiences of hardship, she can call the shots. At one point, he is remorsefully and haplessly kept waiting for her reply as she calmly taps her cigarette before smoking. Mizoguchi heroines are certainly not all shrinking violets or self-sacrificing angels, but often strong, resilient and here, as in The Love of Sumako the Actress, My Love has been Burning and the memorable ending of Osaka Elegy, also spirited and independent.

Kenkichi however comes across as quite an anaemic character- maybe a weakness of the film, as maybe with one or two others by Mizoguchi, is this relative lack of colour to the central performance as a feeble and unreliable male.

Yoshitaru is a stronger and more grounded personality. His attack on Kenkichi is apparently not the result of vulgar jealousy but selflessly encouraging Ofumi to return to the father of her child, and likely security. But it turns out the respective weakness and faults of Kenkichi and his snobbish domineering father have not been dispelled.

In Tolstoy’s Resurrection the male central character whose initial impetuosity causes difficulties for a young woman, has a greater nobility than Kenkichi. Mizoguchi had a less rosy outlook on the potential ideal humanism of the upper and richer classes. Here, the film’s ending i think strikes some sort of balance between regret over lost possibilities and an undaunted front in the face of a testing future. We are left with faith in the heroine.


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The Pearl review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:43 (A review of The Pearl)

Directed by the little known Belgian aristocrat Henri d’Ursel,The Pearl (1929) is a lightly erotic silent masterpiece, over 30 minutes long, that links Celine and Julie go Boating, Jean Vigo, Man Ray, Maya Deren and the early crime serials (or should that be surreals?) of Louis Feuillade, which were much admired by the surrealists. In The Pearl, the body-hugging costumes of Musidora in Vampires are brought to mind, by a vampish sexy pearl thief, played by the suitably named Kissa Kouprine, whose mischievous allure and stocking tops entice a young man from fidelity to his fiancée who is enjoying a languorous idyllic summer setting. The film moves easily between lush meadows, woods, waterways, Parisian rooftops, corridors and bedrooms, with an eye for an image as impressive as the beguiling atmosphere.


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The Arbor review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:42 (A review of The Arbor)

I was expecting a pleasant relaxing summery film full of flowers and Laura Ashley dresses. Instead here’s a part documentary, part acted and lip synched account of life on a tough council estate in Bradford, England, centred on a young playwright (who found fame with the 80s film Rita, Sue and Bob Too in particular) and 4 generations of her family. It’s engrossing, uncomfortable and thought-provoking. It may make very interesting play with layers of illusion and reality- acting, plays, films, TV, news reports- but it’s about as truthful an account of the lives of the underclass in Britain over the past few decades as we’ve had. Lessons should be extended to systematic policy failures over drugs, alcohol, social deprivation, racism, violence, prisons, funding of social care, and a range of attitudes including on gender. But i doubt for the most part they will be- for although the film makes a very good job of presenting the main characters involved in a sympathetic way which reduces viewer judgmentalism, there are still the usual convenient scapegoats for tragedy- faceless social workers. And so the principle causes of the unfolding problems are easily missed.


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The Other Side of Underneath review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:40 (A review of The Other Side of Underneath)

Apparently the only British film directed solely by a woman (Jane Arden) in the 1970s, The Other Side of Underneath is quite harrowing and claustrophobic, taking us into the minds of female psychiatric patients in Wales, with discordant screeching sounds and strange searing and hallucinatory images. It seems to subvert not only polite society but also the repression of sexuality; late in the film we have a relative, almost idyllic sense of freedom, with an open air coupling. There’s something of Max Ernst and Edvard Munch about the film, but this is very much from a female perspective, implying that society for too long has damagingly frowned on female sexual feelings as unclean. Scenes with romanies and a few black children are telling, underlining the shared status of unwanted powerless outsiders. Alongside almost infernal visions, the film also questions attitudes to religion and neglect of a more natural life.

Maybe wretchedly self-indulgent, relentless and disgusting to some, for me it’s a serious, persuasive and emotion-churning examination of “mental illness”, one of the boldest films to emerge from the UK, but one from which i was relieved to step out into the warm sunlight.


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Rosetta review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:39 (A review of Rosetta)

“The heart that is low now will be at the full tomorrow” (R.S.Thomas)

The award of the 1999 Cannes Palme d’Or to Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s “Rosetta” met with general surprise and confusion. Screened at the very end of competition, the film had slipped through a crowd of acclaimed rivals, unheralded and largely unnoticed.

Reminiscent of Bresson’s “Mouchette”, it concerns a teenage loner who lives in a run-down Belgian trailer park with an alcoholic mother, battles desperately to find work and is obliged to draw on her own resources to survive – emotionally and physically – a tough, bleak life.

In “Rosetta” the hand-held camera clings to the central character like an umbilical cord. Yet such is the film’s rigorous authenticity and power that it breaks free of its constraints and soars.

This achievement owes much to the director’s searching unsentimental honesty but more still to an outstanding, intensely concentrated performance from young Emilie Dequenne. Inhabiting her character in her breathing, her posture, in every minutest detail, Dequenne simply is Rosetta. Vulnerable, burdened and suspicious, but fiercely, at times ferociously, determined, she is a seemingly indomitable warrior with no trace of self-pity, charged with an extraordinary feral force.

From its dramatic expressive opening, in which Rosetta’s walk conveys a world of meaning, the film is endowed with scenes of memorable impact, most notably the near-drownings and the tender, reassuring repetitions with which Rosetta sends herself to sleep.

“Rosetta” might even be said to justify Godard’s famous statement that film is the truth twenty four times a second, and never more so than in its final moment. Mercilessly hounded by a young man whose friendship she had betrayed, Rosetta at last crumples in tearful, defeated exhaustion. By resolutely continuing to focus not on his reaction but on the girl herself, the Dardennes capture an expression which conveys a wonderful sense of compassion, acceptance and hope.


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Claire's Knee review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:37 (A review of Claire's Knee)

A title and a film to cherish. The fifth in Rohmer’s series of six Moral Tales, Claire’s Knee covers a month of full summer at Lake Annecy in the French Alps. Away from his rather severe-looking fiancée, a 35 year-old diplomat (Jean-Claude Brialy) encounters a female Romanian novelist friend (played by the writer herself, Aurora Cornu), who encourages him to flirt with an amiable teenage girl at whose lakeside home she is staying. When his attentions divert to the pretty but disinterested 17 year-old step-sister, he fixates on the eponymous feature.

As in his previous, equally assured masterpiece My Night with Maud- indeed, as throughout a prolific and consistent career spanning the six decades since he and fellow “Cahiers du Cinema” critics Godard, Truffaut and other New Wave stalwarts turned director – Claire’s Knee is a lucid analysis of temptation, moral choices and the fine details of relationships, all delivered with a gosssamer dexterity.

Where Maud’s crisp black and white was instilled with a cool wintry precision, Claire’s Knee captures the essence of summer with the agile grace of a swallow. Cinematographer on both films, Nestor Almendros delights in the warmth of the season, the lush vegetation and the gorgeous blues and greens of the setting, which once captivated the painter Cezanne.

A typically deft and wholly cinematic Rohmerian blend of insightful observation, generous humanism, delicate visual touches and sophisticated dialogue (though the director’s sophistication invariably exceeds that of his characters), the film gently punctures the protagonist’s tendency to condescension by exposing to the viewer realities of which he is blithely unaware. The concentrated eroticism of the moment when he caresses the specific object of his desire is astonishing for both its circumstances and also an understatement which shames Hollywood’s ludicrous grandstanding.

Filled with deeply satisfying sensual and intellectual pleasures, Claire’s Knee has retained all its charm and freshness; as seemingly ageless as its ever-youthful creator.


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Russian Ark review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:36 (A review of Russian Ark)

Russian Ark is not only a film of incomparable technical ambition; a sinuous, languorous, labyrinthine ramble, achieved in a single, astounding 96 minute digital take, that glides stealthily through the gilded splendours of the Hermitage at St Petersburg, guided by an 18th century French diplomat, with audience and a mumbling off-screen “spy” joined as spectators to a sumptuous array of paintings and sculptures (Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Canova..), classical concerts, a grand ball, historical pageants and figures, including a now young, now aged Empress Catherine II; it is also a pretentious, self-indulgent elaboration of the director Sokurov’s thematic concerns, a preposterous virtuoso display of costumes and choreography (marshalling a cast of almost a thousand); an extraordinary, painstakingly rehearsed theatrical performance, replete with lugubrious longueurs, that renders editing redundant; a refined examination of the links between past and present, various art forms, Russian and European civilisation, illusion and reality; a culmination of certain arthouse aspirations that also serves as a beautiful eulogy of cinema history, recalling Last Year at Marienbad, Celine and Julie go Boating, The Leopard, Bondarchuk’s War and Peace, Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Ophuls, Von Sternberg, Kubrick et al; a noble, elegiac testament to celluloid and the prodigious ten minute take; an allusive celebration tinged with melancholy; a closure, an opening; a deliciously sensuous surreal journey from within a disturbed mind; a Carrollian wander through a cultural warren; an ego trip for director and viewer alike, with camera as eye for an I; an eyes wide shut meditation on vision, voyeurism, identity; an intimate space odyssey of 2002, an ethereal exploration of Time, a graceful, ghostly reflection on transience and the echoing footfalls of history, a remembrance of things past, a Proustian sentence; a floating repository; a dream, death, eternity…and none of the above.


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Maborosi review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:34 (A review of Maborosi)

The debut feature of Kore-eda (one-time documentarist and director of the widely admired “Afterlife” and “Nobody Knows”) is one of a small, precious number of films for which i have felt lovesick. Maborosi’s story is superficially simple: affected by the death of her grandmother and her husband’s inexplicable suicide, a young Osaka woman starts new married life, along with her son, in a remote seaside fishing village, but finds the past continues to trouble her. Eschewing close-ups,the narrative draws the viewer in gradually, so that, as Tony Rayns says, intimacy is earned, not frivolously given. It is haunted throughout by a dark, almost overwhelming sense of mystery. The film’s masterfully controlled mise-en-scene, contemplative pacing, ‘off-screen space’ and quiet investment of objects (a bike, a teapot, a wisp of steam…) with both beauty and meaning, all recall Ozu and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Its lighting is refined, at times, to the point of abstraction, while Nakabori’s photography is utterly, immeasurably exquisite. It is another treasure from the land of Mizoguchi, the isles of cinematic wonders. But Maborosi is not best served by hyperbole. It is an unassertive film, too shy, too pure and concentrated to seek the limelight. While compelled to tell of its elusive magic, I protectively fear its over-exposure. In publicising, am I breaking faith? It connects in secret. With the heart that is ready.


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The Life Story of David Lloyd George review

Posted : 3 years, 2 months ago on 20 August 2014 04:33 (A review of The Life Story of David Lloyd George)

This long-lost 1918 depiction of the life of the Welsh firebrand orator, radical social reformer and World War 1 prime minister plays like The Adoration of the Saviour- of the Poor, Empire and Civilisation. I wasn't so keen on the pounding war propaganda that dominates the second half, but its dramatic scale, use of locations, surging crowds and sweeter moments are vastly impressive. A major rediscovery.


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