Directors: 

Mikhail Kalatozov, Aki and Mika Kaurismäki, Elia Kazan, Buster Keaton, Abdellatif Kechiche,  Lodge Kerrigan, Abbas Kiarostami, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Kim Ki-duk, Takeshi Kitano, Satoshi Kon, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Grigori Kozintsev,

Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Stanley Kwan

 

 

Kadár, Ján

Kadár, Ján  World Cinema

Began his career after WWII making documentary shorts, then moved to Prague where he made one feature, Katya (1950), before teaming up with Elmar Klos in 1952. Despite wary Czech censors, the pair co-directed and co-wrote a number of socially oriented documentaries and features, achieving international recognition for their Oscar-winning film, The Shop on Main Street (1965). Adrift, begun in 1968 but interrupted by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, proved on its release in 1971 to be one of the most haunting depictions of mental breakdown in modern cinema. After his partnership with Klos dissolved in 1969, Kadár tried his hand in the US and Canada with varying degrees of success.

THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (Obchod na korze)

Czechoslovakia  (125 mi)  1965  co-director:  Elmar Klos

 

Time Out

Kadar and Klos deal with the horror of the Holocaust by detailing the moral plight of an Everyman: In 1942, thanks to his brother-in-law, an official of the Nazi occupation, a small town Slovak carpenter, Anton Brtko (Króner), is made Aryan controller of the little shop of Mrs Lautmann (Kaminská), a deaf elderly Jewish widow. The directors and co-writers play the story just like a provincial comedy of the time - dialectically countered by Zdenek Liska's minatory string score - as they trace the tragicomic relationship that develops between the widow and the controller in the brief period before the cattle trains are mustered for the transports. It shades darker and darker as 'Tono' finds himself getting more and more deeply involved in the secret Jewish support sytem, only to burst into the finale's remarkable dream sequence, where the couple wander free as lovers under the town's sun-dappled limes.

Movie Vault [Mel Valentin]

A wrenching, tragic-comic dissection of the effects of living under the moral and physical constraints imposed by autocratic, fascist rule, The Shop on Main Street deftly blends multi-dimensional characters, richly nuanced performances, flawless dramatic structure, and intricate, bravura camerawork into a film that leave a lasting impression on an audience, an experience that asks much of an audience, but refuses to engage in simple sermonizing or easy sentimentality. The Shop on Main Street, however, rejects the conventional approach to narratives set during wartime (i.e., heroism and self-sacrifice), and instead focuses on the morally compromised (and sometimes morally bankrupt) characters and the choices they make to survive, and in some cases, prosper under fascist rule at the expense of others. Not surprisingly, The Shop on Main Street won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1965.

Set in a small Slovakian village seemingly insulated from the war, invasion, and occupation of most of Europe by German fascism, the characters in The Shop on Main Street attempt to live their lives in something approaching normality, with varying levels of compromise, willful ignorance, and complicity. The local vegetable market is open for business, storefronts are rolled up in the mornings. On Sundays, the villagers rest, attend the local church, and take a leisurely stroll around the main square. The villagers engage in lazy, meandering conversation, even as the not-so-subtle pecking order reveals itself. Kadar inserts an ominous, discomforting note into the Sunday morning scene: a high crane shot lingers over a courtyard, men are seen walking quickly in a tight circle (apparently prisoners on their morning exercise). As the camera hovers above the village, an edit introduces us to the Sunday strollers. Some of the casual strollers are, however, wearing black uniforms, similar to Nazi uniforms, but with different insignia. The men in the black uniforms are the local fascists who have openly accepted Nazi rule, and in exchange, have obtained the accoutrements of power and privilege over the village and its inhabitants, Slovakians and Jews alike. During World War II, the Czechs resisted Nazi rule, and were predictably punished, but the Slovaks accepted the Nazis, and saved themselves from a ruinous occupation. Instead, their leaders chose collaboration with the Nazis and their fellow Slovaks had little choice, except in the differing level of complicity with the fascist regime.

Antonin “Tono” Brtko (Jozef Kroner, in a subtle, multi-layered performance), a carpenter by trade, has chosen the path of least resistance to the fascist regime: grudging acceptance and an discomforting passivity. His life, however, isn't free of complication. His wife, Evelyna (Hana Slivkova, equally restrained and sympathetic in her role) prefers a more active collaboration with the regime, one with potential financial and social rewards. Her brother-in-law, Marcus Kolkotsky (Frantisek Zvarík) is the head of the local fascists, a walking stereotype defined by his voracious desires and hunger for power. Tono has little affection for Kolkotsky, but accepts the need for at least superficial deference to the more powerful man. Kolkotsky, for his part, offers Tono a Faustian bargain, the administration of a small textile shop operated by an elderly Jewish widow, Rozalie Lautmann (Ida Kaminska). By official (actually Kolkotsky's) decree, Tono has been declared the “Aryan controller” of the widow Lautmann's shop. Due either to her age (and possible senility) or to willful blindness, Rozalie misunderstands their new, respective roles and the diminution of her status. Instead, she is convinced Tono has been sent to her shop as an assistant. Kadar and his co-screenwriter wring a great deal of sympathy and pathos for Rozalie. She, in fact, seems unaware of the war, or the fascists that have taken control of the village (and what that might mean for the other Jews). Tono's friend (and local humanist), Imro Kuchar (Martin Holly) suggests that Tono accept the pretense, offering him both moral and financial incentives (the latter from an underground Jewish organization that pays the Aryan controllers protection money). After some hesitation, Tono willingly accepts Kuchar's proposition.

Conflict and tension for Tono appears from several different sources, from his venal wife, from his corrupt brother-in-law, from his growing affection and respect for the widow Lautmann, from the larger, external forces that threaten to overwhelm his newly arrived at arrangement that, for the first time, offers him money, status, and respect. The moral dilemma for the protagonist emerges from a discrepancy in knowledge between character and history. Presuming even a superficial understanding of history, the audience is likely to project the inevitable, inescapable events that will overturn the lives of Rozalie and Tono, and force Tono into a stark choice, between his moral integrity and personal survival. Whatever choice he makes, he loses, the result of a zero-sum game. That choice, the culmination of the second act, which itself turns on the development of the amicable relationship between Tono and Rozalie, between a deeply flawed, anxiety-ridden character, and a sweet, apparently naïve woman (who herself is symbolic of the unsuspecting, innocent victims of fascist regimes everywhere). The dilemma here can be both generalized (the moral choices necessary to survive under authoritarian regimes) and particularized (the hard choices made under the Nazi regime during World War II by those it conquered and oppressed).

The final act in The Shop on Main Street unfolds in a single set over the course of a day, as the event the audience has foreseen finally occur, the deportation of the village's Jews. Tono is forced to decide between two equally unpalatable choices. That dilemma is played out primarily as an alcohol monologue, as Tono gradually breaks down under the stress of a decision he doesn't want to make. Kadar unhinges the camera from its tripod, and switches to an edgy, confrontational, handheld camera, tracking Tono through the shop like a predator. The camera in effect becomes Tono's conscience, the closer it gets the more effort he expends to evade it. Ultimately, however, Tono can escape neither the camera nor himself. He has time, however, for one more, tragic decision, a decision that leaves the audience disturbed, unsettled, yet moved by the final image of an imaginary, idyllic moment in time, one that the fascists can never enter.

The Shop on Main Street: Not the Six Million but the One    Criterion essay by Ján Kadár, September 17, 2001

 

The Shop on Main Street (1965) - The Criterion Collection

 

Just Who Owns the Shop? Identity and Nationality ... - Senses of Cinema   Andrew James Horton, December 28, 2000

The Shop on Main Street (1965) - #130 | Criterion Reflections  David Blakeslee

The Shop on Main Street – The Pinocchio Theory - Steven Shaviro

 

The Shop on Main Street - TCM.com  Paul Tatara

 

DVD Verdict  Erick Harper

 

DVD Talk (Earl Cressey)

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick)

 

digitallyOBSESSED! DVD Reviews  Mark Zimmer

 

Classic Film Guide

 

Bright Lights Film Journal [Matthew Kennedy]  also reviewing CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS

 

Images (David Gurevich)   also reviewing CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 

The Shop on Main Street - Wikipedia

 

ADRIFT (Touha zvaná Anada)

Czechoslovakia  (108 mi)  1969  co-director:  Elmar Klos

 

The New York Times (Roger Greenspun)

The three movies of Jan Kadar that I have seen—"The Shop on Main Street" (1966), "The Angel Levine" (1970), and "Adrift," which opened yesterday at the Cinema Rendezvous—though differing in story and details of situation, all share a distinctive technical vocabulary and a pervasive, perhaps obsessive, preoccupation with a theme.

Actually, "Adrift," which was begun in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and interrupted by the Russian occupation, mostly predates "The Angel Levine," though it is a more assured and, in general, a more interesting movie.

The Kadar theme concerns the failure to accept life's difficult blessings, and in each of the three films it is embodied in an anecdote having to do with a humble man who is strongly tempted to virtue but who, out of fear or skepticism or desire, resists the temptation and so loses the familiar gift—in each case a woman—that he learns too late has given his life its value.

In "Adrift" the hero (Rade Markovic) is a fisherman who rescues from the river a beautiful and utterly mysterious girl (Paula Pritchett). His interest in her, annoyance at first, grows until he can no longer make love to his wife (Milena Dravic) and when she takes sick and then miraculously almost recovers he prepares her medicine in a poisonous concentration — which he is about to give her when . . .

"Adrift" never quite ends; it circles. Its late sequences repeat its early sequences, and its central anecdote is told as a flashback in the course of an unreal inquisition that turns out to be a drunken dream. Dislocations between levels of reality are important to the movie, as its title suggests, and the deceptively simple, rather banal story is clearly intended to support a meaning structure that is at once demanding for its audience and, hopefully, magical in its associations.

I must say that I think the magic at no time works, that the demands are purely gratuitous, that the simplicities of the story are every bit as real as they are apparent, and that its banality is only enforced by the devices — the shock cutting, the symbolic clues, the musical mottos, including the choir of heavenly voices that seems to travel from one Kadar movie to another—by which the director intends to impress significance upon material from which he has been unable or unwilling to extract meaning on its own terms.

Nevertheless, "Adrift" is serious work by a director who knows what he wants to do and commands the resources and the skill to do it. I continue to find Kadar a dull artist, but in the context of his particular kind of semimystical cinema he provides at least the example of a genuine intellectual ambition at work.

In the previous Kadar movies I have seen, the prize neglected was played by Ida Kaminska, an actress with qualities calculated to bring out the worst in her director. The very lovely and talented Miss Dravic is in every way an improvement, except that stuck in bed and made feverish, she begins to seem, in Jan Kadar's hands, a little like Ida Kaminska. An American, Paula Pritchett, plays the girl in the river. Between the classic angularity of her face and the magnificent nonangularity of her body she combines the best of two erotic-fantasy worlds. But she does not, if you happen to notice, offer much of a performance.

Kael, Pauline – film critic

 

“If art isn't entertainment, what is it? Punishment?”    —Pauline Kael

 

Required Reading: Criticism & Analysis  For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies (Pauline Kael, 1996), thoughts by Jim Emerson from cinepad

She's sloppy, she's arrogant, she's stubborn, she's wrongheaded, and at least half the time her critical judgements aren't supported by the observations she herself has made!  And yet, she's the most exciting and influential film critic in America.  You don't read Kael for her opinions (they're frequently wacky and seem to have more to do with some personal grudge or favoritism -- or maybe what she had for dinner -- than what's actually on the screen) but nobody conveys a passion for the movies like she does. Most of her books are out of print (I Lost It at the Movies, Deeper into Movies, and Reeling are among my favorites), but this volume collects her masterworks, including her famous reviews of Nashville, Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather Part II, Last Tango in Paris, and other masterpieces of the '70s, when she (and American movies) were at their peak.   

Kael, Pauline   Art and Culture

"I believe that we respond most and best to work in any art form (and to other experience as well) if we are pluralistic, flexible, relative in our judgments, if we are eclectic," wrote Pauline Kael, the undisputed queen of journalistic film criticism.

 

Born in tiny Petaluma, California, Kael went on to study philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley and to write for both Life Magazine and the New Yorker. Her tenure at the latter publication, which spanned from 1968 to 1991, established her as the most prolific and, at times, the most caustic critic around. Her occasionally acerbic tone was not born of dismissiveness; on the contrary, her exacting standards arose from an absolute passion for film, and she was as capable of eloquent praise as of trenchant criticism. Add to the mix Kael's formidable scholarship and her seamless mastery of the American vernacular, and her product became as much that of a fine writer as that of a film buff.

 

Probably the most telling indicator of Kael's attitude was her voice, which verged on the dead-pan. Of the classic "Das Boot" she wrote: "If you want to experience the tedium of life in a German submarine, this is the movie that will give it to you." Summarizing in the flattest of terms, she left the reader to wonder: were these compliments or criticisms?

 

Below apparent accolades lurked a sly sense of humor, sometimes deeply buried, sometimes lying just beneath the surface. Of the impossibly dashing actor, Robert Redford, she hilariously pointed out, "He has turned almost alarmingly blond -- he's gone past platinum, he must be plutonium; his hair is coordinated with his teeth." Perhaps Kael's expectations of films, film criticism, and art in general are best summed up with her own clipped statement: "It's got to be too much or it's not enough."

 

 Pauline Kael, Wickidly Inspirational Movie Critic   Kathleen Geier from Goodye Magazine, July – September, 2001

 

One picture of Pauline Kael strikes a peculiarly jarring chord. In it, a bescarfed, blandly-smiling Kael cuddles with a cute-faced pooch. But this cloying portrait bore scant resemblance to Kael’s actual writings and personality, which, above all, were lusty and combative. Kael, the celebrated film critic who died on September 3 at age 82, was a fierce opponent of fake gentility and treacly sentiment in all its guises.

For instance, here’s Kael on The Sound of Music: “Wasn’t there perhaps one little Von Trapp who didn’t want to sing his head off, or who screamed that he wouldn’t act out little glockenspiel routines for Papa’s party guests, or who got nervous and threw up if he had to get on a stage?” About Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, she wrote: “Shangri-la, the genteel Himalayan utopia of peace, health, and eternal life, is enough to make one head to the nearest gin mill.” She even found the New Testament “a bit sticky.”

Though at the time of her death she was hailed as perhaps the greatest movie critic of her generation, she did not achieve success until relatively late in life. The youngest of five children, she was born a Polish Jew in 1919 on a farm in Petaluma, California. She studied philosophy at Berkeley, but dropped out in her senior year for lack of funds. For years she struggled to support herself and her daughter as a cook, seamstress, and textbook writer. She also tried her hand as a playwright, made experimental films, and ran a revival movie house in Berkeley.

She published her first movie review in 1953 after a magazine editor heard her arguing about a movie in a coffee shop, and asked her to contribute a review of Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Kael slammed it. Soon she was writing about movies for Partisan Review, Sight and Sound, and other publications. Her first book, I Lost It At the Movies, was published in 1965.

What a rude breath of fresh air she must have seemed! In her slangy, jazzy prose, Kael confronted the puritanical authoritarianism that dominated postwar culture. With a few exceptions like James Agee and Dwight MacDonald, American movie criticism in mid-century consisted mainly of dreck churned out by middlebrow fatheads like the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther. She was particularly brutal with what she saw as the vanities of the audience. “I would like to suggest,” she wrote in 1961, “that the educated audience often uses ‘art’ films in much the same self-indulgent way as the mass audience uses Hollywood ‘product,’ finding wish fulfillment in the form of cheap and easy congratulation on their sensitivities and liberalism.”

Intellectual though she was, she disdained theoretical approaches to movies. She saw no point in having abstract, a priori conceptions and rules for judging art, and instead advocated an open, ad hoc aesthetic. “Art is the greatest game, the supreme entertainment, because you discover the game as you play it,” she wrote. “We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way. Why should pedants spoil the game?” She claimed she almost never saw the same movie twice.

Kael was most influential during the years she wrote for The New Yorker (1968-1991). If her biography is ever written (apparently, there is one in the works), surely the comic high point will be the epic battles between Kael and her legendary editor, William Shawn. One writer remarked that Shawn “was as obsessed with keeping smut out of his magazine as Joe McCarthy was with getting Communists out the government.” This set up a natural conflict between the ultra-proper, passive-aggressive Shawn and the blunt, salty-tongued Kael.  After reading her pan of Terence Malick’s Badlands, Shawn said, “I guess you didn’t know that Terry is like a son to me.” Kael’s response: “Tough shit, Bill.”

Kael came out on top in most of these confrontations, but she lost one major battle. She wanted to review Deep Throat, but Shawn neatly prevented her. “He was ill and sprung his heart troubles on me, so I gave in on that one,” she explained.

She had a keen eye for new talent, and was an early champion of Coppola, Altman, Scorsese. Reviewing Steven Spielberg’s first movie, she wrote: “If there is such a thing as movie sense … Spielberg really has it. But may be so full of it that he doesn’t have much else.” Other judgments, however, seem badly dated, such as her pronouncement that the night of the premiere of Last Tango in Paris was “a date that should become a landmark in movie history comparable to May 29, 1913, the night [Stravinsky’s] Le Sacre du Printemps was first performed, in music history.”

In terms of both her colloquial style and her pop-friendly sensibility, Kael was enormously inspirational. Among her most prominent followers are critics Elvis Mitchell, James Wolcott, David Edelstein, and Greil Marcus.

Still, Kael’s writing drew critical fire as well as praise. She and her film-critic followers (the “Paulettes”), were accused of orchestrating their opinions, and she was so feared that she was frequently banned from advance screenings. The writer Renata Adler, herself a sometime film critic for the New York Times, famously eviscerated Kael in the pages of The New York Review of Books, judging her 1980 collection, When the Lights Go Down, to be “piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless.” Critic Andrew Sarris compared her reviews to papal pronouncements of infallibility. In later years, her reviews sometimes took on a strident, bullying tone. Her friend Roy Blount, Jr., remarked: “Tell Kael that you enjoyed a movie that she thought was, as she might put it, not ... very ... good, and she will say, ‘Oh’ in a certain tone and look at you ... as if you’d said you’d gotten a kick out of Goebbels’s speech the other night.”

The critic Louis Menand wrote that as the quality of movies began to deteriorate in the late 70s. Kael began to overpraise and over-damn with hyperbolic abandon. By the time she retired from The New Yorker in 1991, the film culture she helped to build was fading away. Her farewell to the movies: “I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible … the prospect of having to sit through another Oliver Stone movie was too much.”

Pauline Kael: I lost it at the movies - book | ArtForum | Find ...   Greil Marcus reviews Kael’s book “I Lost It at the Movies” from Artforum

Nineteen-sixty two was the year I found out there was more to movies than rooting for the good guys and cowering in your seat. I saw Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, and The Manchurian Candidate, probably the first American movie that could have carried Fassbinder's title Fear Eats the Soul. But 1962 was also the year of a filmic incident I've recalled at least as often as I've thought of any of those classics: the night I saw The Pirates of Blood River.

It was the last day of school. The theater was jammed with students, most of them graduating and most of them drunk. The air was thick with the tension oozing out of a thousand bodies. Up on screen, evil pirates, noble Huguenots, and a lot of piranha fish gave chase to a progressively incomprehensible story-line. The movie was not delivering: four years of high school for a reward like this? Suddenly, with bullets shooting off in all directions and nobody caring, a tall kid stood up in one of the front rows, turned to face the crowd, and raised his arms. "I NOMINATE THIS MOVIE SHIT-FUCK OF THE YEAR, 1962!" he roared--and just like that, the release everyone had come seeking was granted.

Puhlished in 1965 by Little, Brown and currently out of print, I Lost It at the Movies was Pauline Kael's first collection of movie criticism. She cites The Seventh Seal, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and The Manchurian Candidate. She does not mention The Pictures of Blood River. But her book has room for it--and for the anti-epiphany it could produce--as it has room for anything else that might go into the experience of seeing a movie, talking about it later, or remembering it years and years after that. "Film criticism is exciting just because there is no formula to apply," she wrote in 1963, in a precise, withering demolition of Andrew Sarris' "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962"--"just because you must use everything you are and everything you know." Thus Kael shares her pages with the audiences that surrounded her as she wrote from Berkeley and San Francisco from the mid '50s on, and with the academic and artist friends she argued with. She shares her pages with the New York critics who handed down the word she so gleefully and damagingly tossed back. "A lady critic" from "far-off San Francisco," Sarris wrote of Kael in 1968, in his The American Cinema, unable to bring himself to mention her by name, but his sneer only barely bottled up his outrage. Can you imagine! A woman! From San Francisco!

Paying her money like anybody else, Kael left the theater transformed or cheated. ("Robbe-Grillet...may say that...the existence of the two characters begins when the film begins and ends ninety-three minutes later, but, of course, we are not born when we go in to see a movie--though we may want to die by the time we leave.") Kael made prissy writers like Sarris uncomfortable because she demanded more from movies, from life, than they did. It was easy to find yourself in Kael's essays; it was harder to get out of them. As with West Side Story:

Sex is the great leveler, taste the great divider. I have premonitions of the beginning of the end when a man who seems charming or at least remotely possible starts talking about movies. When he says, "I saw a great picture a couple of years ago--I wonder what you thought of it?" I start looking for the nearest exit. His great picture generally turns out to be He Who Must Die or something else that I detested--frequently a socially conscious problem picture of the Stanley Kramer variety. Boobs on the make always try to impress with their high level of seriousness (wise guys, with their contempt for all seriousness).

It's experiences like this that drive women into the arms of truckdrivers--and, as this is America, the truckdrivers all too often come up with the same kind of status--seeking tastes: they want to know what you thought of Black Orpheus or Never on Sunday or something else you'd much rather forget.

Kael published her first review in 1953; the pieces in I lost It at the Movies begin in 1954, with an attack on the right-wing Night People and the left-wing Salt of the Earth. Straight off, Kael sucks everything into a movie: literature, politics, moronic comments heard leaving a theater, great wisecracks heard inside it, the mood of the country, the whole arc of culture from the Depression into the postwar boom. The reason I look back to Pauline Kael's book, though, does not exactly have to do with its perspicacity, anger, or love. (Reading Kael on Jules and Jim, it's hard not to fall in love: with the movie, its characters, with their love for each other and their time.) I look back to Kael's book--or, really, carry it with me, as I have since 1966, when I first read it--because like few books of criticism before or since it pays its promise in full: "you must use everything you are and everything you know." On page after page Kael's writing moves as if to match that pledge, to test its limits. The result, for a reader, isn't admiration or envy. It can be a kind of wonder: what would it feel like to write like that--to feel that alive? A lot of people other than myself are still trying to find out.

Pauline Kael Links & Resources  also seen here:  Pauline Kael Archives

 

Reviews A-Z   Pauline Kael capsule movie reviews  (2,846 reviews in all)

 

Pauline Kael - A Tribute • Senses of Cinema  Julie Rigg from Senses of Cinema, November 20, 2001

 

Welcome to Paul Rossen's Homepage  which features a Pauline Kael section

 

Pauline Kael  profile

 

Pauline Kael Bio  Baseline biography from Cinemania

 

About Pauline Kael  profile page from About.com

 

Pauline Kael Biography  from Biographybase

 

Pauline Kael  from Encyclopedia Britannica

 

Pauline Kael - Salon.com  Pauline Kael article links from Salon

 

Replying to Listeners   transcript of Pauline Kael responding to listeners on a KPFA radio broadcast, January 1963

 

here  a 55-minute audio recording of Kael at a lecture in 1963 at San Fernando Valley State College, from Tom Sutpen at if charlie parker was a gunslinger, there’d be a whole lot of dead copycats

 

Are Movies Going to Pieces?   Pauline Kael from the Atlantic Monthly, November 1964

 

Zeitgeist and Poltergeist; Or, Are Movies Going to Pieces?  Pauline Kael essay, December 1964

 

Marlon Brando: An American Hero - 66.03  Pauline Kael from the Atlantic Monthly, March 1966

 

PAULINE KAEL ON “MASCULINE FEMININE”  Pauline Kael, the review that got here hired at the New Republic, November 19, 1966

 

Pauline Kael, Onward and Upward with the Arts, “"BONNIE AND CLYDE",” The New Yorker, October 21, 1967, p. 147   (pdf format)

 

The Pearls of Pauline  article on Kael from Time magazine, July 12, 1968

 

"Trash, Art, and the Movies"  Pauline Kael from Harper’s magazine, February 1969

 

Pauline Kael vs. Gimme Shelter - The Documentary Blog  a reprint of Kael’s New Yorker review December 19, 1970, and a response from the Maysles, from the Documentary Blog

 

"Raising Kane"  lengthy Kael essay on the making of CITIZEN KANE from the New Yorker, February 20 and February 27, 1971

 

"Stanley Strangelove"  Pauline Kael’s legendary rebuke of CLOCKWORK ORANGE, from the New Yorker, January 1972

 

Last Tango In Paris  Pauline Kael Criterion essay, from The New Yorker, October 27, 1972

 

"The Man From Dream City"   Pauline Kael remembers Cary Grant, from the New Yorker, July 14th, 1975

 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest  Pauline Kael excerpted from The New Yorker (1975), reprinted at the littlereview

 

The Stepford Wives    Pauline Kael excerpted from The New Yorker (1975), reprinted in the Guardian

 

The New Yorker  Pauline Kael review of Superman from The New Yorker, January 1, 1979

 

The Shining  Pauline Kael review excerpts from the New Yorker, June 9, 1980, reprinted at the Kubrick Site

 

"Why Are Movies So Bad? Or, The Numbers"  Kael from the New Yorker June 23, 1980, also seen again here, calling it one of the angriest rants against business-as-usual in the film industry ever written — and one of the most lethally accurate, this is a highlighted version of the same article from Reel.com:  "Why Are Movies So Bad? or, The Numbers" by Pauline Kael                              

 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Ouch Ouch)  Renata Adler reviews Kael’s book, When the Lights Go Down, from Time magazine, August 4, 1980, also at the New York Review of Books (into only, subscription needed) seen here:  Renata Adler's 7,646-word massive attack on Kael  and also in part by Jim Emerson from Scanners, February 21, 2007:  Pauline and Renata Go Showboating - scanners 

 

THE CONCISE PAULINE KAEL - New York Times  5001 Nights at the Movies, a book review by Stephen Farber from the New York Times, November 14, 1982

 

HISS HISS BANG BANG  Neal Gabler reviews Kael’s book State of the Art (404 pages) from the New York Times,  December 8, 1985

 

"A Passage to India, Unloos'd Dreams"   Kael from the New Yorker, January 14, 1985

 

Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of “Heaven’s Gate”    Kael from the New Yorker, August 12, 1985

 

The New Yorker (Pauline Kael)   Kael’s review of Platoon, January 12, 1987

 

God’s Pickpockets  Kael’s review of Hairspray from the New Yorker, March 7, 1988

 

'THE GOOD ONES NEVER MAKE YOUR VIRTUOUS'   book review of Kael’s Hooked (510 pages), by Robert Sklar from the New York Times, March 19, 1989

 

For Pauline Kael, Retirement as Critic Won't Be a Fade-Out  Janet Maslin from the New York Times, March 13, 1991

 

That Wild Old Woman  Richard Corliss from Time magazine, November 7, 1994

 

BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Pauline Kael, Loving and Loathing  Margo Jefferson reviewing For Keeps, by Pauline Kael (1,291 pages) from the New York Times, December 28, 1994

 

The Atlantic Monthly’s review of Kael’s For Keeps: Thirty Years at the Movies  Roy Blount Jr. from the Atantic Monthly, December 1994

 

Finding It at the Movies  Louis Menand reviewing For Keeps, by Pauline Kael from the New York Review of Books, March 23, 1995

Pauletteburo?  Fur flies over the Kael "kopy kats"  from the Boston Phoenix, March 27, 1997

Screensaver: Teacher's pet   Wes Anderson talks about his pilgrimage to the home of Pauline Kael, interview by Chris Lee from Salon, January 21, 1999

FILM; My Private Screening With Pauline Kael  Wes Anderson from the New York Times, January 31, 1999

A Gift For Effrontery  Ken Tucker’s Brilliant Careers from Salon, February 9, 1999

A VISIT WITH KAEL; Making Sport  David Edelstein and Wes Anderson letters to the editor from the New York Times, February 21, 1999

In the shadow of the screen  Pauline Kael picks five favorite novels that have something to do with the movies, from Salon, May 17, 1999

A poem for Pauline Kael's 80th birthday  Roy Blount Jr. from Salon, June 24, 1999

A Glorious High   Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah, from the Austin Chronicle, November 19, 1999

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang  a classic Kael admirer letter to the editor from the New York Times, December 12, 1999

Salon Books | Pauline Kael on the fun of writing disrespectfully  Kael’s speech for the National Book Critics Circle awards, from Salon, March 16, 2000

Interview with the heretic  Renata Adler, who also wrote for the New Yorker and the New York Times, offers her views of Kael, by Dennis Loy Johnson from Salon, August 21, 2000  [also see Adler’s review dated August 4, 1980]

THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Kael's Fate  a letter to the editor clarifying Kael’s dismissal from McCall’s magazine from the New York Times, September 3, 2000

Public Lives: Filmmakers Tremble, and Gladiators Fall Apart  Robin Finn from the New York Times, May 16, 2001

Pauline Kael  The critic: Pauline Kael, R.I.P. obituary essay by Stephanie Zacharek from Salon, September 3, 2001

Salon.com Arts & Entertainment | Remembering Pauline Kael  Greil Marcus, Roger Ebert, Allen Barra, Michael Sragow, Charles Taylor and others from Salon, September 3, 2001, also seen here:  Remembering Pauline Kael   

Pauline Kael, Provocative and Widely Imitated New Yorker Film Critic, Dies at 82  Lawrence Van Gelder from the New York Times, September 4, 2001

CNN.com - Pauline Kael: 1919-2001 - September 4, 2001  Paul Tatara from CNN, September 4, 2001

The Critic Who Made You Fall in Love With Movies  All Things Considered from NPR, including several audio interviews, September 4, 2001

brilliantly marshalled argument  Queen of brilliantly marshalled argument, obituary by Nigel Andrews from the Financial Times, September 4, 2001

Kael influenced Hollywood and moviegoers  obit essay by Penelope Houston from the Guardian Unlimited, September 5, 2001

 

Pauline Kael, film critic, dies at 82  The Guardian, September 4, 2011

 

Why do we go to the movies?  Pauline Kael essay, an extract from “Trash Art and the Movies” from Pauline Kael's Raising Kane, from The Guardian, September 5, 2001

 

She lost it at the movies  obit essay by David Thomson from Salon, September 5, 2001

 

Obituary: Pauline Kael | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles ...  Tom Vallance from the Independent, September 5, 2001

 

In Memoriam : Pauline Kael   Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge, September 5, 2001

 

Exit the hatchet woman  John Patterson from The Guardian, September 6, 2001

The Best Lover a Movie Could Have  obit essay by David Edelstein from Slate, September 7, 2001

Flipside Movie Emporium: In Memory and Appreciation of Pauline Kael  The Lights Have Gone Down, In Memory and Appreciation of Pauline Kael, by Eric Beltman, September 7, 2001

A Reel Loss  obit essay by Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2001

The film critics' film critic  Philip French from The Observer, September 8, 2001

Fond Tales of a Fiery Critic  a collection of voices by Michelle O’Donnell from the New York Times, September 9, 2001

As the Lights Go Down  obit essay by Michael Atkinson from the Village Voice, September 11, 2001

The Lights Go Down on America's Greatest Movie Critic | Pauline ...  Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly, September 14, 2001

"The Movies Lose a Love And a Friend"  obit essay from A.O. Scott from the New York Times, September 16, 2001

Pauline and Me: Farewell, My Lovely | The New York Observer  Andrew Sarris from the New York Observer, September 16, 2001

 

Newsweek (David Ansen)   Transition:  Dancer in the Darkness, on Pauline Kael’s passing, September 17, 2001

Remembering Pauline Kael   links to Kael-related articles from the New Yorker, September 17, 2001

Why Pauline Kael Dead is Still Better than Most Critics Alive  Russell Brown from The Simon, November 1, 2001

All Hail Kael: A film series remembers the uncompromising New Yorker critic Pauline Kael  Lisa Hom from the SF Weekly, November 21, 2001

Steven Rubio bids farewell  Thank You to cultural critics Pauline Kael and Michael Rogin, by Steven Rubio from Bad Subjects, December 19, 2001

Do Not Recycle These Items  a tribute to Kael by Margo Jefferson from the New York Times, December 23, 2001

Prose and Cons  (an appreciation of Pauline Kael, New Yorker's film critic), Artforum articles following the death of Pauline Kael, March 1, 2002

Jonathan Demme films  Pauline Kael excerpted reviews from the New Yorker, from Storefront Demme (2002)

The Hindu : The movie lover's companion  Pradeep Sebastian from The Hindu, March 24, 2002

Resigned to Another Blockbuster  A.O. Scott recalling Kael’s June 23, 1980 New Yorker article, from the New York Times, May 19, 2002

Out of Focus  Tim Grierson reviews Afterglow: A Last Conversation With Pauline Kael by Francis Davis (128 pages), from Knot magazine, October 13, 2002

 

New York Bookshelf/Nonfiction  brief excerpt from Afterglow: A Last Conversation With Pauline Kael from the New York Times, October 20, 2002

 

Last Conversation  excerpts from Kael interview in Afterglow: A Last Conversation With Pauline Kael by Francis Davis, from Salon November 20, 2002

 

Book gives glimpse into mind of former critic Pauline Kael ...   Ryan Bornheimer reviews Afterglow from the Oregon Daily Emerald, January 7, 2003

 

When It Was Bad It Was Better  A.O. Scott from the New York Times, April 18, 2004

 

'Sontag & Kael': The Perils of Pauline and Susan  Michael Wood’s book review of Kael & Sontag:  Opposites Attract Me, by Craig Seligman, from the New York Times, May 30, 2004

 

reviews  book review of Kael & Sontag:  Opposites Attract Me, by Craig Seligman, written by Joy Press from the Village Voice, June 8, 2004

 

The gay attacks on Pauline Kael  from a film review in her new book of George Cukor’s Rich and Famous, calling it a homosexual fantasy, from Salon, June 25, 2004, and the subsequent reader response here:  Letters

 

Excerpt from  Kael & Sontag:  Opposites Attract Me, by Craig Seligman (244 pages), reprinted in Salon, June 25, 2004

 

Curious Combination  essay on Kael & Sontag:  Opposites Attract Me by David Thomson from the Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004

 

'It's really a crock'  Pauline Kael, an edited extract from her review of THE STEPFORD WIVES at The New Yorker, from The Guardian, July 18, 2004

 

The Pearls of Pauline from Brights Lights Film Journal  Allan Vanneman, November, 2004

 

The Critic (Interview with Armond White)  White discusses his admiration for Kael in Filmmaker magazine, Winter 2004

 

Viewing the parcels of Pauline  Mark Feeney from the Boston Globe, September 6, 2005

 

The Broad View: Pauline Kael, Film Criticism's Good Mommy  Lisa Rosman from the Broad View, December 15, 2005

 

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule: ON PAULINE KAEL'S BIRTHDAY  June 19, 2006

 

Cinephobia: Kael  Stepen Rowley reviews several of Kael’s books from Cinephobia in 2006, also seen here:  Kael

 

Trash and Art: Critics on/of Pauline Kael   Jim Emerson from Scanners, February 19, 2007    

 

Pauline and Renata Go Showboating - scanners  Jim Emerson from Scanners, February 21, 2007

 

"Q&A: Elvis Mitchell: Part 1"  Mitchell recounts meeting Kael, from Undercover Black Man, March 5, 2007

 

Whatever happened to the adult movie?  John Patterson from The Guardian, July 6, 2007

 

Grab me, or i'll open another...  Victoria Moore from The Guardian, September 7, 2007

 

CRITICISM OF CRITICISM OF CRITICISM: Pauline Kael - A & E  John Semley from the McGill Tribune, March 26, 2008

 

The end of the critic?  Patrick Goldstein claims Kael had an influence and readership that contemporary film critics do not have, from the LA Times, April 8, 2008

 

In Which Wes Anderson Tries To Game Pauline Kael - Film - This ...  Wes Anderson’s essay about showing RUSHMORE to Pauline Kael, followed by a furious back and forth series of heated responses from David Edelstein and Anderson, from This Recording, August 18, 2008

 

7 most scathing Pauline Kael reviews | TotalFilm.com  September 3, 2008

 

Why Warren Beatty's attack on Pauline Kael failed  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, February 3, 2010

 

Why Pauline Kael never saw a movie twice - Roger Ebert's Journal  Transcript from pages 74-77 of Afterglow, A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael (2003), by Francis Davis, also including a four-part video conversation in 1982 between Pauline Kael and the Canadian film critic Brian Linehan, from The Chicago Sun-Times, October 4, 2010

 

Mad About Her: Pauline Kael, Loved and Loathed  Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott from The New York Times, October 14, 2011, also seen here:  Pauline Kael

 

Back Issues: Five essential Pauline Kael reviews.  Nathan Heller from The New Yorker, October 17, 2011

 

Pauline Kael, Film Critic, Contrarian : The New Yorker  Nathan Heller from The New Yorker, October 24, 2011

 

Tough Movie Love: Pauline Kael  Dan Callahan book reviews of Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, by Brian Kellow and The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael, by Sanford Schwartz, from L Magazine, October 25, 2011

 

The Iron Lady: A New Biography of Pauline Kael  Lawrence Levi from The New York Observer, October 25, 2011

 

Kiss Kiss, Gang Bang: Pauline Kael, Deep Throat and The New Yorker  Lili Anolik from The New York Observer, October 25, 2011

 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Deeper into Kael  Jim Emerson from Scanners, October 25, 2011

 

Lucking Out and Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark  Self-Styled Siren, October 25, 2011

 

The mysteries of Pauline Kael  Camille Paglia from Salon, October 26, 2011

 

The '70s, as Dramatic as a Movie  Janet Maslin from The New York Times, October 26, 2011

 

'Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark'  Brian Kellow from The New York Times, October 26, 2011

 

Book recalls film critic Pauline Kael with relish  Douglass K. Daniel from The San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2011, also at The Winnipeg Free Press seen here:  Review: Laudable Pauline Kael biography shows roots of personal, controversial ...

 

Deep Throat and a run-in with the red pen | Media Monkey  The Guardian, October 26, 2011

 

Roaring at the Screen With Pauline Kael  Frank Rich from The New York Times, October 27, 2011

 

Brian Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark reviewed: How - Slate  The Carnal Critic, Dana Stevens from Slate, August 27, 2011

 

When Film Mattered: Pauline Kael's The Age of Movies  Chris Barsanti from The Millions, October 27, 2011

 

The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy interviews recent Kael biographer Brian Kellows, October 27, 2011

 

Pauline Kael: Hero or hack?  Matt Zoller Seitz and Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, October 27, 2011, also at indieWIRE, October 28, 2011 seen here:  Pauline Kael: A conversation 

 

Pauline Kael Reviews: The Ones She Got Wrong - Slate  David Haglund from Slate, August 28, 2011, also seen here:  When Pauline Kael Was Wrong 

 

Book Review Podcast: Frank Rich Discusses the Career of Pauline Kael  Frank Rich reviews two recent books on Kael, including an audio only broadcast (25:05) from The New York Times, August 28, 2011

 

Easy Reader: Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark Throws Radiant Light on ...  David Finkle from The Huffington Post, October 28, 2011

 

Links for the Day: Debating Pauline Kael, 50 Best Movie Villains and ...  Ed Gonzalez from The House Next Door, October 28, 2011


The Uneasy Partnership of Pauline Kael and Penelope Gilliatt  Sarah Weinman from Slate, January 13, 2012

 

The Perils of Being Pauline, interview with critic Francis Davis

 

Why Pauline Kael never saw a movie twice - Roger Ebert's Journal  Transcript from pages 74-77 of Afterglow, A Last Conversation with Pauline Kael (2003), by Francis Davis, also including a four-part video conversation in 1982 between Pauline Kael and the Canadian film critic Brian Linehan, from The Chicago Sun-Times, October 4, 2010

 

She Lost It At the Movies  Kael interview by Susan Goodman from Modern Maturity magazine, March/April 1998

 

Kael: the last interview  Francis Davis interview from The Guardian, October 31, 2002

 

Quotations  Kael quotes from About.com

 

Pauline Kael   on YouTube (.34)

 

Pauline Kael 2   (.33)

 

YouTube - Pauline Kael 3  (.46)

 

Pauline Kael (1919 - 2001) - Find A Grave Memorial

 

Pauline Kael - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Kahn, Cédric

 

L’ENNUI                                                        B                     87

France  Portugal  (122 mi)  1999

 

Kahn seems particularly adept at examining the middle aged male identity crisis.  An arrogant, middle-aged intellectual (Charles Berling) begins having an affair with a sexually compliant, but emotionally impenetrable adolescent girl (Sophie Guillemin), which drives him nuts, as she remains aloof to everything that has meaning to him, ignoring his very core as a man.  And the more she ignores him, the more he wants to possess her, which only makes her need him even less, eventually leaving him in abject despair. 

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | L'Ennui ()  May 2000

The present. Recently separated from his wife, Parisian philosophy lecturer Martin finds himself ever more alienated from the niceties of his upper-middle-class life. Driving through a red-light district, he witnesses an altercation between 17-year-old Cécilia and the much older Meyers. He follows the latter into a sex bar and saves Meyers from a nasty beating. Meyers rewards him with one of his paintings, but on visiting his studio a few days later, Martin learns the painter has recently expired while making love with his model - Cécilia, with whom Meyers had been involved in a highly-charged affair. Martin now begins to meet her for regular sex.

Riddled with self-doubt and tortured by unremitting self-analysis, Martin is intrigued, infuriated and finally driven round the bend by Cécilia's inscrutable ability to live only in the present. When he learns she is two-timing him with an actor her own age (Momo), jealousy gives way to increasingly deranged behaviour. Cécilia abandons her dying father, leaves Martin behind, and goes on holiday with Momo. Martin picks up a prostitute in his car and promptly crashes into a tree. Martin recovers in hospital from his injuries, hopeful about the possibility of now taking his life forward again.

Review

In its stark scrutiny of sex and sexuality, Cédric Kahn's compelling transposition of Alberto Moravia's 1960 novel La noia (Boredom) to a highly stylised contemporary Paris is an extension of his critically acclaimed Bar des rails and Trop de bonheur. Stylistically, however, where the quasi-documentary social realism of these earlier features situates them under the 'young French cinema' umbrella, L'Ennui has higher production values and constitutes an assured fresh departure. The film carries visual and thematic echoes of Last Tango in Paris (1972), First Name Carmen, and some of the work of Catherine Breillat. The key initial encounter between Cécilia and Martin, for instance, is reminiscent of the sexual stand-off played out between the 14-year-old Lili and Maurice in the seaside hotel room in Breillat's 36 Fillette - a film on which Kahn worked as assistant editor.

Sex in L'Ennui is presented in a resolutely detached manner. Titillation or the threat of slippage into the pornographic is subverted through the strong grounding of the sex scenes in the narrative, the eruption of humour (a deadpan quip, or the rhythmic thumping of a bed on a wooden floor), or simply sheer horror at the sexual violence. Kahn's methodical dissection of the formation and disintegration of an intense relationship between two pretty unappealing human beings is almost scientific in its precision: just as the movement and interaction of inanimate particles might be magnified through the lens of a microscope, so Kahn charts the fallout from the chance collision of two bodies finding themselves locked into the same deadly orbit. The sequences in which Cécilia and Martin have sex are no more or less significant within the overall canvas of the film than any of the other scenes that take place outside, inside, or in cars, and where we are just as alert to the emotional investment at stake in the spatial proximity or distance between their bodies.

The Meyers character - hauntingly embodied by the late Robert Kramer - looms large. Martin is increasingly plagued by the possibility that his passion for Cécilia may be no more than a hollow rerun of that previously shared between Cécilia and Meyers. But Meyers also represents painting, and his presence signals Kahn's careful attention to composition and colour. The rapprochement of opposites within the narrative - of Cécilia's inscrutable calm and emotionless voice and Martin's edgy gestures and clipped, nervy tones - is powerfully underscored by a mise en scène in which fluid camera movements are constantly threatened by the unannounced cut. Similarly, Martin's frenetic hyperactivity is portrayed not only through distorting lenses, but in startling leaps in rhythm and pace. As his intermittent bouts of enraged obsession give way to near-madness, we find ourselves ensnared in an increasingly hallucinatory narrative. Beautifully crafted and superbly acted, this often darkly funny and disturbing film deserves a wide audience.

L'ENNUI   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

 

RED LIGHTS (Feux rouges)                                B+                   91

France  (105 mi)  2004

 

From the maker of L’ENNUI, Kahn uses the Bressonian model, with nearly emotionless actors in an otherwise naturalistic setting, using multiple images with a wealth of detailed minutiae, with occasional rhapsodic interludes of classical music, in this case Debussy’s “Nuages,” or “Clouds,” possibly suggesting our lead character has his head in the clouds.  What starts out as a traffic jam out of Godard’s WEEKEND, turns into a husband and wife (Carole Bouquet) spat as they drive off into the countryside to pick up their kids from summer camp.  Because of the slow start, the husband (Jean-Pierre Darrousin) has a few drinks, and sees every wayside bar as the calling of the sirens, and before long, he’s had plenty, most on the sly, which he has to lie about, and he then sees his wife’s comments as an attempt to demasculate him, claiming he wants to “live like a man” and “be free.”  Eventually, they lose one another and accidentally split up in the night.  Out of desperation, he starts buying drinks for a guy who turns out to be an escaped convict, eventually offering him a ride, claiming to be brothers in the night, actually calling him a “lord” for living outside the law, respecting him for ignoring the rules of red lights.  What happens later becomes clear only the next morning when he awakens in his car, not knowing how he got there.  His awareness of the facts becomes apparent in a brilliant telephone sequence.  Much of this film just touches around the edges of reality, never really finding its way inside.  It’s an interesting mix of what appears to be film realism that also embraces elements of dreamlike surrealism.

 

Red Lights  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack  

 

Kahn, Nathaniel

 

MY ARCHITECT:  A SON’S JOURNEY             A-                    94

USA  (116 mi)  2003

 

An affectionate and extremely personal look at legendary 20th century American architect Louis Kahn by his son, who never really knew much about him while he was alive, as he was only 11 when his father died, but by making this film, he was able to uncover the mysteries of his father’s secret private life, fathering children by 3 different women, none knowing the other, by traveling around the world to visit the architectural sites, speaking to those that worked with him and knew him.  Kahn was known for his belief in the power of things ancient and durable, things that will leave a lasting impression throughout the ages, and as an architect, he was able to succeed several times over with works that other architects can only envy.  But as a mere mortal, he seemed hopelessly out of his element, as his people skills, or social understandings, left a hole in his family’s future, a hole that this film attempts to fill.  While known as a great artist, he died nearly penniless and alone in a Penn Station bathroom, left unidentified for days, and this film is a spiritual odyssey begun 25 years later by his lone, illegitimate son to recover the love and power of his missing father through an identification with the power of his art, which is superbly shown in one of the better father and son films one could ever hope to see.  The works are visually stunning and this film provides an equally terrific parallel narrative, the search for the missing person that discovers an inner soul to match.  Among the works shown are the Richards Medical Towers, the Exeter Library, the Jonas Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, and the Bangladesh capital building, the Dhaka Capital Complex, built with hand labor over a 23-year period, not completed until ten years after Kahn’s death.

 

Kalatozov, Mikhail

 

MOMI Does Desplechin  Plus: Cranes flies at BAM, J. Hoberman from the Village Voice

 

Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov made his first movie in 1930 and was stationed in Los Angeles during World War II as the Soviet ambassador to Hollywood, but he only became a truly international figure when his revelatory World War II drama The Cranes Are Flying won the top prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival and, something of a cultural Sputnik, was the first post-Stalin Soviet film to circle the globe. "One Crane does not make a summer," Time sniffed, but Kalatozov and his brilliant cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky followed up in 1959 with the equally convulsive Letter That Was Never Sent, in which a team of geologists battle nature in the Siberian wilderness. Both features are screening throughout the mini-tribute, The Emotional Camera: Mikhail Kalatozov. I Am Cuba, the almost hallucinatory tribute to tropical revolution that flopped in 1964 but has since become Kalatozov's best-known movie, screens twice. His last film, The Red Tent (1969), a Soviet-Italian co-production starring Sean Connery as arctic explorer Roald Amundsen, gets a rare screening, introduced by Elliott Stein.

 

All-Movie Guide

Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov made numerous films, but is best remembered for three important dramas. The first Salt of Svanetia(1930) was a seminal work in early Soviet cinema, noted for its beautiful cinematography, and sensitive look at life in a remote Caucasian village. Though greatly appreciated today, authorities originally considered it too antagonistic. The second, The Nail in the Boot (1932) was banned for the same reason. Kalatozov first gained international recognition for the third film the Cranes Are Flying (1957). In 1958, it won the Golden Palm award at Cannes. Born Mikhail Kalatozishvili in Tiflis, Russia, Kalatozov originally studied to be an economist. In 1925 though, he began working as an actor in the Georgian studios. He then began cutting and shooting films. He made his first short documentary, -Their Kingdom in 1928 and two years later made his feature film debut. Salt of Svanetia was his second film. After his third film A Nail in the Boot was banned, Kalatozov was assigned to strictly administrative duties within the film industry until 1939 when, during WW II, he was appointed chief administrator of soviet feature-film production. In this capacity, he briefly worked in Los Angeles as the Soviet cultural representative. Following the war, Kalatozov became the deputy minister of film production and in 1950 resumed his directing career. Unfortunately, but for The Cranes Are Flying much of Kalatozov's output has been mediocre at best.

Eternal Flying Cranes. Mikhail Kalatozov 

The name of illustrious film-director Mikhail Kalatozov (1903-1973) is one of the most recognizable brand names of Soviet cinematography. His famous film The Cranes Are Flying (1957), one of the most popular and unfading masterpieces of cinema, is remembered and beloved till date.

Georgian-Russian film-director Mikhail Konstantinovich Kalatozov (true surname Kalatozishvili) was born on December 28, 1903 in Tbilisi (earlier named Tiflis). As a youth he worked as a driver and projectionist, and later as a film-cutter, cameraman and scriptwriter at the Tbilisi filmstudio; took part as scripter and cameraman in creation of Geroy nashego vremeni (The Hero of Our Time, 1925) (dir. Ivane Perestiani), and Giuli (1927) (dir. Nikoloz Shengelaya)

In 1928 together with N.Gogoberidze he directed Ikh tsarstvo (Their Empire) using news-reel materials. In 1930 Kalatozov made his debut in film-directing on his own with Sol Svanetii (The Salt of Svanetia) that became famous all over the world.

After finishing a post-graduate course at the Academy of Art Studies in Leningrad (1937) and a short period of work at Tbilisi filmstudio Kalatozov was engaged as a film-director at Lenfilm Studio where he shot two movies about pilots Muzhestvo (Courage, 1939) and Valeri Chkalov (1941). The hero of the second film, the legendary Soviet ace Chkalov played by Vladimir Belokurov for many years remained not less popular among the viewers than Chapayev from the same-name movie by brothers Georgi and Sergei Vasilyev.

From 1943 Kalatozov worked at Mosfilm studio and represented Soviet cinema in Hollywood, in 1945-1946 he was at the head of Central directorate on feature film production, and in 1946-1948 he held the post of Deputy Minister of Cinematography of the USSR.

During the late 1940s – early 1950s when not many movies were shot in the country, Kalatozov was granted the State Award (1951) for his film Zagovor obrechyonnikh (Conspiracy of the Doomed, 1950), a political pamphlet after the same-name play by N. Virta, starring the uncomparable Russian singer Aleksandr Vertinsky. However his true success of that period was his lyrical comedy Vernyye druz'ya (True Friends, 1954) (Grand Prix at the Film Festival Karlovy Vary), the characters and the style of which evidently bore signs of anticipation of the upcoming ‘Thaw’ epoch.

A beneficial influence of the ‘Thaw’ also marked Kalatozov’s major masterpiece, the war drama Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying, 1957) (Grand-Prix at the Cannes Film Festival , 1958), innovative both in form and essence, after Viktor Rozov’s play Vechno Zhiviye (The Eternally Alive). With all its artistic system the film interprets the war first of all as a personal tragedy for two young people longing for love and life. The acting of the leads Tatyana Samojlova and Aleksey Batalov, brilliant montage and unusual mobility of the camera make this film an art work filled with great tragic power and subtle lyrical beauty.

Inspired with the success of this film Kalatozov extended its imagery and drama finds to his next work, Neotpravlennoye pismo (The Letter That Was Never Sent, 1959), where the central plot collision is the death of a group of geologers searching for a diamond field. This film was followed by a philosophical and romantic poem of a film entitled Ya Kuba (I Am Cuba) (1964).

His last work was the joint Italian and Soviet production of the film Krasnaya palatka (The Red Tent, 1969) about the salvation of the polar expedition of Umberto Nobile. Besides reavealing the best features of the film-director’s creative personality (his gift in conveying the pathos of man’s feet, and the spontaneity of nature) the film starring Sean Connery, Claudia Cardinale, and Peter Finch became one of the most successful joint productions by Soviet and foreign cinematographers.

Mikhail Kalatozov died in Moscow on March 29, 1973.

In 2000 “Mikhail Kalatozov Fund” was established in Russia as a non-commercial organization aimed at supporting and developing national cinematography, as well as keeping the memory of cinema masters of this country.

Official site of Mikhail Kalatozov Fund

Mikhail Kalatozov – Russiapedia Cinema and theater Prominent ...  biography

Sergei Urusevsky - Films as cinematographer:, Films as director:  exemplary profile by Dina Iordanova from Film Reference

 

The History of Cinema. Mikhail Kalatozov: biography, filmography ...   Piero Scaruffi

Mr Bongo - Director - Mikhail Kalatozov  biography

SeaGullFilms.com - Kalatozov, Mikhail  bio and filmography

 

Mikhail Kalatozov Film Director :: people :: Russia-InfoCentre  biography

 

Mikhail Kalatozov - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

 

Mikhail Kalatozov - Movies, Bio and Lists on MUBI

 

BAM : Brooklyn Academy of Music   brief overview for a film retrospective

 

Imaging by Numbers, Block Cinema, Block Museum, Northwestern ...  brief overview for a film retrospective

 

soviet cinema of the sixties - at the walter reade theater  overview for a film retrospective

 

Georgia: Past, Present, Future...   History of the Georgian Cinema, by Alexander Mikaberidze (Undated)

 

Visionary Agitprop | Movie Review | Chicago Reader  Jonathan Rosenbaum on I Am Cuba, December 7, 1995

 

Why Are the Cranes Still Flying?    15-page essay by Maxim D. Shrayer, The Russian Review, July 1997 (pdf)

 

I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964) - Bright Lights Film Journal   Gary Morris, December 1, 1998

 

Promethean Aspirations in Mikhail Kalatozov's Sol ... - InVisible Culture   Saving the Other/Rescuing the Self: Promethean Aspirations in Mikhail Kalatozov’s Sol Svanetii, by Daniel Humphrey, January 1, 2003

 

The Cranes are Flying – Offscreen  Donato Totaro, May 2003

 

Read the piece on Mikhail Kalatozov in the New York Sun.  The Inspiring Tale of a Flying Soviet, by Bruce Bennett, October 3, 2007

 

A Soviet Guide To Cuba - The New York Sun   Gary Giddens from The NY Sun, November 20, 2007

 

The Nail in the Boot | Silent Film Festival  Ronald Levaco, 2011

 

Closely Watched Frames: SALT FOR SVANETIA (Mikhail Kalatozov ...  Noli Manaig, September 22, 2011

 

Landmarks of Early Soviet Cinema (Web Exclusive) — Cineaste ...  Harlow Robinson from Cineaste, 2012

 

A Sound-Era Soviet Cinema Primer | White City Cinema  Michael Glover Smith, February 11, 2013

 

mikhail kalatozov's retrospective return to 1920s agitprop cinema in i ...   Monmental Melodrama:  Mikhail Kalatozov’s Retrospective Return to 1920’s Agitprop Cinema in I Am Cuba, 12-page essay by Tim Harte, March, 2013 (pdf)

 

The Cranes Are Flying - Liz Hogg  7-page essay, April 2015 (pdf)

 

Soviet cinema: the legacy of Tatiana Samoilova and Mikhail Kalatozov ...   Agata Pyzik from The Calvert Journal, May 15, 2014

 

The polemic around Mikhail Kalatozov's A Nail in the Boot: Studies in ...   Anthony Anemone, May 12, 2015

 

'I Am Cuba,' directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, a masterpiece of commie ...  'I Am Cuba,' a masterpiece of commie melodrama, by Brandon Soderberg from City Paper, July 28, 2015

 

Vague Visages Is FilmStruck: Jeremy Carr on Mikhail Kalatozov's 'I Am ...    Jeremy Carr from Vague Visages, February 8, 2017


Moscow's Cuban Propaganda Movie Was a Cinematic Masterpiece ...   Darien Cavanaugh from War Is Boring, March 4, 2017

 

Workshop “Cinema's Contribution to Comparative Revolutionary ...   Revolutionary Workshop with Anke Hennig und Rachel Moore at Freie Universität Berlin, April 24, 2017

 

Mikhail Kalatozov 1903 – 1973 - GEORGIATOSEE   May 25, 2017

 

Poetics of Cinema: Mikhail Kalatozov & Sergei · Lomography   April 1, 2017, including a video (5:37)

 

subjective camera of Sergei Urusevsky and Mikhail Kalatozov on Vimeo (7:39)

 

Mikhail Kalatozov (1903 - 1973) - Find A Grave Memorial

 

Mikhail Kalatozov - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

SALT FOR SVANETIA (Jim Shvante [marili svanets])

Russia  (55 mi)  1930

 

User reviews from imdb Author: Kirk from Illinois, USA

This early Kalatozov documentary about hardships in a remote village in Georgia shows that all his ideas and inventions were with him from the start. Though not the unadulterated festival of inconceivable images that his later films became, this is still full of plenty of unforgettable sequences. In one scene villagers are using an old, rickety pulley to bring water up a tower. It starts out cutting from a simple shot of the water bucket to a simple shot of the villagers, then the cutting becomes faster and faster and the shots get closer and closer and the camera swings back and forth with the villagers as they heave and how and then suddenly a cut is made to the perspective of the water inside the bucket as it gets pulled up the tower. This is merely a single example of the many unforgettable things to be seen in this film. Highly recommended for anyone interested in documentaries and especially early Soviet cinema, and this is absolutely essential viewing for any fans of I AM CUBA or THE CRANES ARE FLYING.

User reviews from imdb Author: Mango_of_the_RGRT from Mountains!

"Salt for Svanetia" is fascinating.

The film is unique in history and, more specifically, in its formalistic Soviet era. The key to understanding the originality of "Salt for Svanetia" is, I think, in its approach. It begins as a somewhat ordinary documentary (though with key differences, which I'll think about later) about a small mountain community (the Ushkul) in Georgia. The camera sets out to show us their way of life and will, we assume, proceed along the lines of other Soviet propaganda films in revealing their vitality and their importance to the Soviet Union as a whole, perhaps presenting an argument as to why they deserve our attention. Soviet propaganda of the era is usually predictable in this fashion, right?

But something happens. "Salt for Svanetia" doesn't proceed predictably; it doesn't proceed to ennoble the villagers and their hardy ways. It actually begins to mock them. The film's argument becomes infused with a sense sarcasm, with humor, and with irony. Svanetia needs salt. We see an image of a cow bellowing, intertitled: "S-a-a-a-lt." Svanetia needs salt. There's salt in urine. We see a herd of animals gathering around a man relieving himself... It's both grotesque and comic.

And from here the film only pushes itself into more blunt irony and terror. "The funeral of a rich man is a celebration." A tragedy and a funeral kick off an incredible final 15 minutes of film. As the villagers bury one of their dead, they exile a pregnant woman because it is a bad omen to have a birth on the day of a funeral. We watch the woman stumble down the open dirt road, collapse, and give birth to a child that has no chance of life. The woman lies exhausted, her baby by her side, a goat licking the infant's soaked skin... "There's salt in blood." All of this is intercut with the funeral proceedings, which include the sacrificing of a horse by riding it to death, running it until its heart bursts. It is a formalistic orgy of death. All this because religion still rules in this secluded land.

The Ushkul are no longer hardy. They are now barbarous and brutish. And this is why the Soviet Union must connect these villagers with the rest of the nation. The women are tired of feeding their milk to graves. Order must be established. Civilization must be brought. We are building roads to Svanetia! And it is with this irony that "Salt for Svanetia" marks itself as a unique product in history. It is surprising, original, and brilliant.

Aside from this twist of irony infused in the propaganda, the film further separates itself visually. Note that this is one of the early features of Mikhail Kalatozov. Anyone familiar with his later work will be familiar with his formal expression, his insane and impossible shots that convey subjectivity. When one considers that Salt "Salt for Svanetia" appears nearly 30 years before his most famous accomplishments, it's stunning how sophisticated his camera is here. To reconsider the opening of the film, look at the first sequence concerning the towers and their defensive purposes for the Ushkul people. As stones are hurled from the top of the tower to the intruders below, the camera swings violently up and down, mimicking the motion, adding a sense of aggression to the action. Such camera movements are present throughout the film and are remarkable. Mixed with masterful Soviet editing which often parallels or counter-points movements, this film is formally marvelous.

Formally marvelous, visually gorgeous, and thematically brilliant... "Salt for Svanetia" is an absolute must-see for any student of cinema. Before you go out and familiarize yourself with this film, however, you oughta to brush up on Soviet film and Soviet film theory. The uniqueness of the film becomes much more apparent when contrasted with its peers. Thankfully, on home video the film is packaged with "Turksib", a film that serves extremely well in comparing and contrasting technique.

This must be seen more. It's unfortunate it is known by so few. This deserves to be among the film canon and should be heavily promoted in critical studies. It is one of the richest textbooks. Not forgetting to mention, if this film received more attention it might help uncover more information about Mikhail Kalatozov, who is appallingly neglected in film scholarship. Do any of his other early films still exist? If they do, will they ever see the light of day? What did Kalatozov think about film and theory? Will anything on him ever be translated to English? Get this film out there people. Watch it and write about it. It has every right to be known.

Landmarks of Early Soviet Cinema (Web Exclusive) — Cineaste ...  Harlow Robinson from Cineaste, 2012

The 1920s was a miraculous golden age for Soviet cinema, both for features and documentary. The eight films included in this meticulously curated and handsomely presented collection convey the incredible excitement filmmakers felt at the opportunity to participate in the construction of the world’s first socialist state. Freed from the need to make money that drove the Hollywood industry, they could focus on “educating” the new Soviet population. Even Vladimir Ilych Lenin, the father of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the first leader of the country that would become the U.S.S.R., understood that cinema, an art based on technology and machines, was the most suitable one for a country founded on the transformation of humanity through industry and technology. Cinema was nothing less than “the most important art,” Lenin famously declared. Experimentation was the order of the decade. It was a brief but brilliant interlude, before Joseph Stalin came to power and cast a puritanical and paralyzing pall over all the arts, including cinema, in the early 1930s.

In the thick booklet of detailed critical essays that accompanies the DVDs, curators Maxim Pozdorovkin and Ana Olenina write that their goal is to expand understanding of the early Soviet film industry beyond the relatively well-known work of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. (So highly respected was Eisenstein by the end of the 1920s that he was even invited to Hollywood in 1930 to work at Paramount Studios.) Pozdorovkin and Olenina sought to chronicle the development of Soviet Montage and to showcase “the many ways of approaching that mysterious moment between two shots…. Though the films collected here run the gamut of genres and montage styles, what unites them is a belief in the power of fragmentation, recombination, and juxtaposition. They take an active, transformative approach to the footage and display an acute awareness of the medium’s power over the spectator. They believe in cinema’s ability to transform the spectator.”

Four feature films and four documentaries make up the set. The directors are a who’s who of kino luminaries: Lev Kuleshov (The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr.West in the Land of the Bolsheviks and By the Law), Sergei Eisenstein (Old and New), Dziga Vertov (Stride, Soviet), Esfir Shub (The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty), Mikhail Kalatozov (Salt for Svanetia), Viktor Turin (Turksib), and Boris Barnet (The House on Trubnaya). All the films were originally released between 1924 and 1930. Each has a nifty new musical score, using both previously composed and original material. Robert Israel compiled four of them; his score to the early morning Moscow street scenes inThe House on the Trubnaya makes ingenious use of Sergei Prokofiev’s piano cycle, Fugitive Visions, to set the mood.

The films of Eisenstein and Kuleshov are the best-known. In Old and New, completed in 1929 with his trusty codirector Grigori Aleksandrov, Eisenstein (1898-1948) was responding to the Communist Party’s appeal to artists in all media to create work that addressed the transformation of the backward Russian countryside. The film’s production was severely complicated by the frequent changes in official policy on economic development in the agricultural sphere, and Eisenstein had to several times reedit and retitle the film. The dominant theme (as in so many other Soviet films of the late 1920s) is the triumph of the machine over outdated traditional methods. In this case, a cream separator represents the apotheosis of progress and a symbol of the shining future. Eisenstein considered the playful sequence in which the cream separator springs into action, spewing luscious cream, an experiment in “cinematic ecstasy” resembling (in Olenina’s words) “an erotic or religious rapture.” Farmwork never looked so sexy. The failure of the excessively “formalist” Old and New, roundly booed by the party press at its premiere, left Eisenstein traumatized. For nearly ten years afterwards he failed to complete another film, despite numerous false starts both in Hollywood and in Moscow. Only with the simplistically propagandistic Alexander Nevsky would he resurrect his career.

Like Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970) not only made films, but also wrote extensively on film theory. His imaginative parody The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr.West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) upends negative Western preconceptions about Russians and Bolsheviks, even as it consciously imitates the style of the American action films he so admired. With an all-star cast that includes the manic, leering Aleksandra Khokhlova and cameo appearances by two directors (Boris Barnet and Vsevolod Pudovkin), Mr.West reaches its Buster-Keaton-like climax in a memorable chase sequence. “Placing a cowboy in fringed chaps on the snowcovered streets of Moscow and having him lasso an unsuspecting Russian coachman,” writes Olenina, “is a strategy that bespeaks Kuleshov’s pursuit of comic defamiliarization.” By the time he made By the Law two years later, in 1926, Kuleshov’s style had dramatically changed, becoming less artificial and more moody and psychological under the influence of German expressionism. This gloomy story (adapted from a short story by Jack London) of murderous jealousy and passion among three prospectors under extreme pressure in the Klondike packs considerable emotional power, with another hyperkinetic performance from Khokhlova.

Future director Boris Barnet (1902-65) began as a Kuleshov protégé, but they parted ways after Barnet nearly killed himself doing a stunt in the role of the cowboy inMr.West. Soon he had a successful career as a director in his own right. Barnet’s fourth film, The House on Trubnaya (1928), a witty social satire on life under the limited capitalism allowed by the New Economic Policy, made him famous abroad as well. Written by a stellar quintet that included the formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky, The House on Trubnaya deals with one of the favorite topics of the era: the Moscow housing shortage. As thousands of peasants flooded into the capital, they resorted to all sorts of ruses to find a place to live, crowding into communal apartments that provided ample material for domestic comedy. Barnet uses an open staircase in an apartment building for lots of up-and-down action. “Chopping wood on the staircase is not allowed!” warns a poster, but some of the brawny barechested residents do so anyhow. Parasha (played with physical gusto by Vera Maretskaya), the country girl who has come to Moscow in search of her uncle, ends up as a domestic servant to a pretentious bourgeois hairdresser. But he gets his comeuppance when she joins the union and asserts her proletarian rights.

Barnet uses lots of entertaining visual tricks and puzzles: stop-frame with reverse motion, reflections in puddles and mirrors, even a car seeming to move in a full circle with small stop-motion jumps. A scene of a workers’ march through the city streets becomes a symphony of flags and flagpoles floating disembodied in the sky. Unlike most Soviet films of the period, The House on Trubnaya illuminates human feelings and foibles within an ideological framework, in a manner reminiscent of Ernst Lubitsch. A highly original and versatile talent, Barnet later made spy films that have been favorably compared to Hitchcock’s.

In Soviet cinema, documentary film occupied a highly privileged position. As Maxim Pozdorovkin writes in his accompanying essay, “Nonfiction film was recognized both as an art form and as source material for the writing of history.” Many Soviet filmmakers blurred the line between feature and documentary; Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and October provide only two of the best examples. In his ground-breaking Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov (his real name was the more prosaic David Kaufman) proved that documentary film could be exciting and artistic. In this collection, Vertov is represented by his informational “lecture-film” Stride, Soviet (1926), a plotless and heavily edited assortment of scenes from the daily life and labor of Moscow. Without the aesthetic integrity of Man With a Movie Camera, it requires patience (and probably some political background) from the viewer, but offers in its best moments a dynamic portrait of a “city-in-progress.”

Esfir Shub (1894-1959), one of the few female directors in the early Soviet film industry, had a less “activist” view of documentary than Vertov. Her masterpiece, The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927), is a “montage of historical documents” that she found in newsreels, official film records, and home movies of the Tsar’s family. For Shub, montage meant allowing the original footage to speak for itself without excessive formal manipulation. Because the footage she discovered is so emotionally revealing, exposing the amazing indifference of the Russian aristocracy to the squalor that surrounded them during the horrific slaughter of World War I, what emerges is a powerful documentation of “living reality,” as fellow director Vsevolod Pudovkin described it. The pace of the editing is slower, more deliberate, than in most other Soviet documentaries of the period, but the analytical message condemning the evils of the old regime no less incisive.

Vertov and Shub paved the way for the work of two other directors who took documentary in a more artistic, impressionistic, and even ethnographic direction: Viktor Turin and Mikhail Kalatozov. Both explored the remote and exotic territories on the southern fringe of the newly formed U.S.S.R., in documentaries produced outside the mainstream Russian studios. Both also celebrate the progressive mission of the Soviet government in bringing technological improvements to the lives of people whose lives had been virtually untouched by modern civilization. In Turksib (1929), made by Vostok-Kino in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, Turin chronicles the construction of a new railroad linking the textile industry of southern Siberia with the wool and cotton producing regions of Kazakhstan. His treatment of the harsh beauty of the Kazakh steppe is breathtaking, its endless sandy expanses sculpted by the wind into weird abstract patterns. To illustrate the need for a reliable connection between the textile industry and its suppliers, he shows a long caravan of camels overtaken and submerged by a violent sandstorm. Pumping pistons and speeding locomotives provide the solution. Turin uses many of the same techniques (visual metaphors, striking informational graphics, allegorical montage) seen in other Soviet documentaries of the period, but with unusual taste and restraint.

The setting for what may be the most remarkable film in this set, Kalatozov’s Salt for Svanetia (1930), is an isolated village high in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. Made by the Georgian state studio with Kalatozov as cameraman, it bears an introductory quotation from Lenin: “The Soviet Union is a country so big and diverse that every kind of social and economic way of life is to be found within it.” So Kalatozov (who was himself of Georgian origin) spends most of his time showing the bizarre, vivid world of the Svan community, living a highly ritualized and brutal existence to which the cinematography lends a mythological dimension. The village’s problem is that it has no salt with which to support life for both humans and animals. Graphic images of death and suffering abound. Only the arrival of a Bolshevik brigade in the film’s final moments promises relief.

Several decades later, Kalatozov would become world famous for his searing antiwar film, The Cranes Are Flying, and for his sumptuous portrait of the Cuban Revolution,I Am Cuba. Salt for Svanetia prefigures both of them in its unorthodox and arresting visual imagery. Pozdorovkin calls it “the most visually liberated film of the silent Soviet era,” with its preponderance of crazy angled shots and exaggerated naturalism. The evocative new score by Zoran Borisavljevic, which draws on traditional Georgian music, only heightens the emotional impact.

The quality of all the films restored for the Landmarks of Early Soviet Film DVD box set is exemplary. All but two of them (Turksib and The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty) have the original Russian intertitles as well as easily read English subtitles. The critical material in the accompanying booklet gives extensive historical background and information on the films, but there is one odd omission: the running time of each film is nowhere to be found. But anyone interested in Soviet film, or the early history of documentary, will want to own this set.

Promethean Aspirations in Mikhail Kalatozov's Sol ... - InVisible Culture   Saving the Other/Rescuing the Self: Promethean Aspirations in Mikhail Kalatozov’s Sol Svanetii, by Daniel Humphrey, January 1, 2003

 

Salt for Svanetia - The Edinburgh Film Guild (pdf)

 

Salt for Svanetia - TCM.com  James Steffen

 

Closely Watched Frames: SALT FOR SVANETIA (Mikhail Kalatozov ...  Noli Manaig, September 22, 2011

 

Workshop “Cinema's Contribution to Comparative Revolutionary ...   Revolutionary Workshop with Anke Hennig und Rachel Moore at Freie Universität Berlin, April 24, 2017

Shooting The Revolution Film Series: Salt for Svanetia / Dzim Svante ...

 

Jim Shvante Sol' Svanetii (Salt for Svanetia). 1930. Directed by Mikhail ...

 

Knotted Fields : Part II : SHARNA PAX

 

Salt for Svanetia (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1930) - - Sergei Eisenstein

 

Salt for Svanetia - Wikipedia

 

NAIL IN THE BOOT (Lursmani cheqmashi)

Russia  (53 mi)  1931

 

User Reviews Author: oOgiandujaOo from United Kingdom, October 27, 2011

I've seen many strange films over the years, Nail in the Boot probably has them all beat. The conceits in the story, designed with the message that only flawlessness is acceptable in the pursuit of the Russian brand of socialist ideals, are gigantic enough that they must surely have made Ayn Rand green with envy.

The plot considers an armoured train crewed by communist men who all come from the same boot factory. The train is attacked by imperialist forces, and one soldier, sent away on foot, must try and call up reinforcements.

The political aftermath is Fellinian in its grandiosity and mad pageantry, except that I think it's all done with a poker face.

The movie is a rather late silent, which I think adds to it's ferocious zeal and nightmare-like intensity. The cinematography is awe-inspiring, pure and immaculate, military fetish in the style of Battleship Potemkin par excellence, clean constructivist lines.

Quite quite ludicrous, though thoroughly brilliant, pretending you're watching a nightmare is probably the best way to watch it.

User Reviews from imdb Author: zetes from Saint Paul, MN, May 12, 2012


Now this Kalatazov film is pure propaganda, and actually pretty nasty. And downright bizarre. It feels like a fever-dream that doesn't even make much sense until it reaches its point, right near the end. And then it's so silly that you just have to giggle at it. Still, it's an interesting, even if sometimes vile, piece of work with, as usual with this director, some outstanding images. The plot concerns a heavily armed train that is blocked off by the enemy (undefined - I don't think the USSR was even really at war with anyone at this point, were they?). While most of the men stay inside the tank-like car that holds all sorts of secret weaponry, one soldier is sent on a mission to deliver news of the attack to his superiors, so they might send re-enforcement. Unfortunately, the kid steps on a nail, which goes right through his boot and into his heel. He tries his damnedest to reach his command, but the injury slows him down and, having failed (and the train having been captured), he is eventually arrested and put on trial. "Not good enough to father children!" says a banner, paraded into court by a group of faithful Soviet children. But, objects the soldier, if his boot had been better made and not been penetrable by the nail, he would have been successful in his mission. Yes, that's the takeaway from this film: soldiers are responsible for their duties, yes (the soldier accepts his guilt), but if the workers of the Soviet Union are lazy and don't do their work properly, they are just as neglectful of their duty and as guilty as a bad soldier. All fine and dandy, I suppose, but, I mean, come on, it's a boot. What's the sole of it supposed to be made of, cement? My question is this: if the soldier stepped on a nail with his boot and it bent, wouldn't the guys at the nail factory then be the a-holes? After all, that nail could have been holding something really important together. In my mind, the takeaway from the film shouldn't be that the boot factory makers are bad at their jobs, but that the nail factory workers are really good at theirs. This film also led me to ponder what it would have been like to be an avid moviegoer in Moscow in the late '20s, early 30s. 90% of films just seemed to be there to lecture you. If I were a shoe factory worker and saw this film, I wouldn't be thankful for the message. I'd be thinking, "Well, *beep* you, too, Mr. Kalatazov!" All that said, it's still a pretty good movie. This and Salt for Svanetia can both be watched in their entirety on Youtube (in one video). Both are under an hour (as is Turksib, though that one wasn't on there).

 

The Nail in the Boot | Silent Film Festival  Ronald Levaco, 2011

 

The polemic around Mikhail Kalatozov's A Nail in the Boot: Studies in ...   Anthony Anemone, May 12, 2015

 

TRUE FRIENDS (Vernye druz’ya)

Russia  (102 mi)  1954

 

User reviews from imdb Author: angelique94 from United States

Story about 3 childhood friends who found each other later in life and decided to rafting on one of the Moscovian rivers. In their 3 week trip each one of them have a change to look within themselves and maybe correct all the wrongs in their lives...........On of them, the agricultural engineer find his long lost romance. The other one, the neurosurgeon performs dangerous surgery and the third one who is a famous architect turns from pompous blue-blood that he is into a normal person.

This is the kind of movie that makes you fell warm inside and no matter how bad your day was if you watch this movie it'll all be better. I strongly recommend that you watch this movie.

THE FIRST ECHELON (Pervyy echelon)

Russia  (114 mi)  1955

 

This is the first collaboration of Kalatozov working with cameraman Sergei Urusevsky, who is listed as a co-cinematographer with Yuri Yekelchik, which suggests he may have filled in at some point and captured the eye of the director, working together on only 4 films.  This film is rarely mentioned, as the other three are noted for their legendary camerawork from Urusevsky.  

 

THE GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHER-DIRECTOR RELATIONSHIPS  Alan Bacchus from the Daily Film Dose

 

Anyone who knows me knows I continually praise the underappreciated work of Mikhael Kalatozov. His man behind the camera was the great Sergei Urusevsky. Between the two filmmakers they created a series of films known for their innovative and proficient use of the mobile camera. Urusevsky could move his camera virtually anywhere he wanted. Using starkly contrasting B&W and extremely wide lenses, the world of his films were opened up to see everything in the frame. His extremely long takes of “I am Cuba”, “The Cranes Are Flying” and “The Letter That Wasn’t Sent” saw the camera move up and down buildings, into swimming pools, across long stretches of road, up staircases etc. He is a master and I can’t hype him enough.

Sergei Urusevsky - Films as cinematographer:, Films as director:  exemplary profile by Dina Iordanova from Film Reference (excerpt)

 

Urusevsky's interest in cinematic form found its adequate expression only after he began working with director Mikhail Kalatozov. Their first collaboration was the war-time romance drama Pervyi eshelon (1955), but it was not until the triumph of Letyat zhuravli (1957) that Urusevsky's innovative approach to film narration was recognized. Besides receiving the top award at Cannes, the film marked a decisive turn in Soviet war cinema: for a first time the experience of war was discussed through the utterly personal anxieties of the protagonists. Hand-held camera shots were used as often as technology allowed. There was even a scene where the protagonist, Veronica, runs away in a moment of trauma, surrounded by a shaky background of trees and buildings, reflecting her state of mind. For this subjective shot Urusevsky is said to have asked actress Tatiana Samoilova to hold the camera herself while running.

 

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Letyat zhuravli)             A                     99

Russia  (94 mi)  1957

 

1956 was the 20th Congress of the Communist Party and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech denouncing Stalin and the Stalinist purges and the gulag labor systems, revealing information that was previously forbidden, publicly revealing horrible new truths, which opened the door for a new Soviet Cinema led by Mikhail Kalatozov, once Stalin's head of film production.  This film features a Red Army that is NOT victorious, in fact they are encircled, in a retreat mode, with many people dying, including the hero, in a film set after 06-02-41, the German invasion of Russia when Germany introduced Operation Barbarossa, a blitzkrieg invasion intended to bring about a quick victory and the ultimate enslavement of the Slavs, and very nearly succeeded, actually getting within 20 miles of Moscow in what was a Red Army wipe out, a devastation of human losses, where throughout the war 22 to 26 million Russians died, or 15 – 20% of the entire population.  Historically, this was a moment of great trauma and suffering, a psychological shock to the Russian people, but the Red Army held and prolonged the war 4 more years until they were ultimately victorious.

 

During the war, Stalin used the war genre in films for obvious morale boosting, introducing female heroines who were ultra-patriotic and strong and idealistic, suggesting that if females could be so successful and patriotic, then Russia could expect at least as much from their soldiers.  Stalin eliminated the mass hero of the proletariat and replaced it with an individual, bold leader who was successful at killing many of the enemy, an obvious reference to Stalin himself, who was always portrayed in film as a bold, wise and victorious leader.  But Kalatozov changed this depiction, as THE CRANES ARE FLYING was made after Stalin's death, creating a political thaw and causing a worldwide sensation, winning the Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or in 1958, as well as the Best Director and Best Actress (Tatyana Samojlova), reawakening the West to Soviet Cinema for the first time since Eisenstein's IVAN THE TERRIBLE (1944) in the 40's.

 

Adapated by Viktor Rozov from his own play, this film features brilliant, breathtaking, and extremely mobile camera work from his extraordinary cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, using spectacular crane and tracking shots that literally glide through the streets, always creating an exhilarating sense of motion, featuring near hallucinogenic images of wartime, battlefields, also Moscow and crowded streets that are urgently vivid and real.  The story is simple, a couple blissfully in love are separated by the German invasion.  Boris (Aleksey Batalov) is called to the front leaving Veronica behind, who is superbly played by Tatyana Samojlova, who represents for Soviet films a more truthful character, asking Boris selfishly, “What about me?” when he announces he is off to war.  When Boris hears his father, a doctor at the hospital, consoling a wounded, demented soldier who wants an immediate end to his life because his girl married someone who stayed at home, his father tells him that it would be her disgrace, not his, as she would never know his bravery, describing such a woman:  “There will be no pardon for her.”

 

With Boris off to war, Veronica is chased by Boris’s cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin), who uses his corrupt influence to get an exemption from serving in the army, eventually raping Veronica in a visually dizzying air raid sequence, where Veronica is under siege from Mark at the same time Russia is under siege from Germany, mirroring the war in her personal relationship, revealing the enemy within.  Losing one’s virginity was cause for marriage in Soviet society, which actually boosted Mark’s chances, particularly after not hearing from Boris after 4 years of war, so he was presumed dead.  But she hates Mark and retains her romantic yearning for Boris, as expressed in one of the many brilliant scenes when she actually exposes Mark cheating on her.  In perhaps the sequence of the film, her mind in utter turmoil, shot in a wintry bleakness, she runs towards a bridge with a train following closely behind her, a moment when the viewer is wondering if she might throw herself in front of that train in despair, but instead she saves a 3-year old boy also named Boris who was about to be hit by a car.

 

Another exceptional scene captures the death of Boris on the battlefield, who dies a senseless death, and his thoughts spin and whirl in a beautiful montage of trees, sky, leaves, all spinning in a kaleidoscope of his own thoughts and dreams, including his lost love, envisioning an imaginary wedding with Veronica.  This film features the famous line, “You can dream when the war is over.”  In the final sequence, when the war is finally over and soldiers are returning in a mass celebratory scene on the streets, where Veronica finally learns for certain that Boris died, all are happy and excited with the soldier's return, but Veronica is in utter despair, passing out flowers to soldiers and strangers on the street in an extreme gesture of generosity and selflessness revealing with poetic insight “cranes white and gray floating in the sky.”

 

The film was released in 1957 in Russia, and according to some reviews, “the silence in the theater was profound, the wall between art and living life had fallen...and tears unlocked the doors.”

 

The Cranes Are Flying   Block Cinema

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, The Cranes Are Flying was among the first works produced during the Khrushchev Thaw and one of the first post-war Soviet films screened in the West. Veronica and Boris, a young couple blissfully in love, have their relationship and their country crushed by the onset of World War II. Featuring Ursevsky’s beautifully composed black and white photography, Kalatozov’s masterwork, unmarked by Stalinist propaganda, focuses on the individuals who are flattened by larger forces — the fierce upheaval and anguish of war.

The Cranes Are Flying, directed by Mikhail Kalatozov | Film review   Time Out London

 

Kalatozov's war movie, a product of the Khrushchev thaw, was adapted by Viktor Rozov from his own play and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1958. It remains notable for the way its story of a young couple torn apart by war stresses human suffering and waste, rather than the heroic struggle foisted on directors by the Stalinist dictates of 'Socialist Realism'. There is much to admire: the vital performances, notably that of the dark-eyed Tatyana Samojlova as the left-behind Veronika; Sergei Urusevsky's beautifully composed b/w camerawork; the urgent crowd scenes and dynamic mise-en-scène. But Vajnberg's too pointed and occasionally gauche and melodramatic score is unfortunate, given the movie's overall subtlety and emotional restraint.

 

Sergei Urusevsky - Films as cinematographer:, Films as director:  exemplary profile by Dina Iordanova from Film Reference (excerpt)

 

Urusevsky's interest in cinematic form found its adequate expression only after he began working with director Mikhail Kalatozov. Their first collaboration was the war-time romance drama Pervyi eshelon (1955), but it was not until the triumph of Letyat zhuravli (1957) that Urusevsky's innovative approach to film narration was recognized. Besides receiving the top award at Cannes, the film marked a decisive turn in Soviet war cinema: for a first time the experience of war was discussed through the utterly personal anxieties of the protagonists. Hand-held camera shots were used as often as technology allowed. There was even a scene where the protagonist, Veronica, runs away in a moment of trauma, surrounded by a shaky background of trees and buildings, reflecting her state of mind. For this subjective shot Urusevsky is said to have asked actress Tatiana Samoilova to hold the camera herself while running.

 

The Cranes Are Flying   Film Comment

 

No other work more powerfully symbolized the coming of the Khrushchev “thaw” in Soviet culture than Kalatozov’s masterpiece, winner of the Golden Palm at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. Like many other Soviet films, it was a tale of wartime love and loss, but here Soviet audiences saw characters who were not model heroes but flawed, contradictory and completely understandable human beings. Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov) are lovers looking forward to a life together. When the war breaks out, Boris heads off to the front while Tatyana stays behind and succumbs to Boris’ cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin). The situations each character confronts, the kinds of compromises and excuses they’re often forced to make, is the stuff of Kalatozov’s film; buoyed by cinematographer Sergei Urushevsky’s extraordinarily vibrant camerawork, The Cranes Are Flying achieves an almost mythic dimension, as the story of these star-crossed lovers becomes the story of a nation.

Time Out New York (David Fear)

A Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, an eye-opener for Westerners wary of ramrod Soviet-cinema propaganda, one of the first major works made during the post-Stalinist “thaw” of the late 1950s: Mikhail Kalatozov’s tale of love during wartime has earned its landmark status several times over. But to think of this exquisite tragedy as a Communist-art curio would be doing yourself a great disservice. The Cranes Are Flying is anything but a museum piece; rather, it’s the kind of timeless, devastating melodrama that can leave the most jaded of audience members moist-eyed.

The story sounds like pure WWII hokum: Boris (Batalov) and his beloved “squirrel,” Veronika (Samojlova, making the most of her Falconetti-worthy close-ups), are hopelessly smitten with each other. Then she discovers he’s just volunteered to fight on the Eastern Front, and fate, along with Boris’s slimy cousin (Shvorin), conspires against any happily-ever-after ending for the couple. Kalatozov’s masterstroke, however, was to hijack Russia’s kino-fist style and use it to craft an emotionally expressionistic love story; the melding of virtuoso bombast to such swooning, punch-drunk material becomes a seamless marriage of form and content. You can see the director and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky trying out the wide-angle tracking shots they’d later employ for the pro-Castro travelogue I Am Cuba (1964), but Cranes is where their dizzy, delirious filmmaking feels truly revolutionary. When the film whips itself into one of its many operatic froths, it scores a direct hit to the heart that makes many of Borzage’s and Sirk’s hyperventilating romances seem kittenish in comparison.

Chris Dashiell at CineScene "The Cranes are Flying"

Once in a great while I stumble onto a little-known gem, a film I have heard mention of, but had little idea of its greatness. This picture was a major hit in Russia, and won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, yet how many in the West have actually seen it? It tells the story of Veronica (Tatiana Samoilova), who must part with her lover Boris (Alexei Batalov) when he joins the army to fight the Germans when they invade in 1941. In his absence she suffers terrible losses, including a cruel seduction by Boris's cousin, a draft dodger. As she evolves from a passionate girl to a woman scarred by tragedy, she clings to the hope of reuniting with her lover.

Kalatozov was one of the innovators in the great period of Soviet silent film in the 20s - a disciple of Vertov. This is evident from the modernist style of The Cranes Are Flying. The picture employs an amazingly fluid and exciting technique - brilliant camera placement and movement, crane shots, hand-held shots, superimposition, dynamic use of sound and music - a style that weds formal beauty with deep emotion. Although it is hard to single out just one scene, I must mention a sequence in which a soldier who has just been shot sees, not his whole life passing before his eyes, but everything that could have happened, should have happened, in his future - a sequence which is executed with such perfect unity of music and montage, with such devastating, poignant effect, that I can literally never forget it.

This film has all the polish of an American studio film combined with the inventiveness of the emerging new waves in world cinema. But what makes it even more special is that, unlike most movies in which a flamboyant style is employed, the form is in the service of a story which is utterly romantic, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. This film revels in the most profound joys and sorrows of the heart, the hardest lessons of life, the deepest nostalgia for what is lost, and the greatest bonds of feeling between people. Its power is aided immeasurably by the performance of the beautiful Samoilova (Stanislavsky's great-niece), who is hypnotizing in a way that I can only compare to the classic star performances of old Hollywood. It is not perfect - what movie is? Sometimes the style is too much, almost overwhelming the plot. Sometimes the story makes its point too patly. But it's a work of rare intensity and compassion. When it was released in the Soviet Union, it caused an outpouring of emotion - audiences wept uncontrollably. The grief over the incalculable losses of the war - millions dead, millions more lives shattered forever - had up until then been smothered in the Russian cinema by the Stalinist "aesthetics" of patriotic glory. Now, finally, the flood was loosed. It was also the first time that realities such as draft dodging, war profiteering and the black market had been acknowledged in a Soviet film.

The Cranes Are Flying has now joined my list of all-time favorites. I know that it is unlikely that this movie will show up on the shelves of your average video store. So if you do happen to spot it, I urge you to rent it right away. You may experience, as I did, a revelation.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

In the years following WWII, Soviet cinema stalled under the bureaucratic clench of the Stalinist government, which severely cut back on resources and favored sunny, propagandistic entertainment, with little but the most blandly heroic references to the war. After Stalin's death, one of the first filmmakers to emerge was Mikhail Kalatozov, his former head of production, a virtuoso technician who developed the "emotional camera"—his term for the elaborate handheld takes that put his characters' feelings in purely visual terms. A child of the silent era, Kalatozov spent some time on assignment in Los Angeles during the war, and his late-period work culls from both influences at once, investing the Hollywood melodrama with simple stories, spare dialogue, and gloriously expressive images. In recent years, Kalatozov's international breakthrough, 1957's Palme D'Or-winning The Cranes Are Flying, has been eclipsed somewhat by the unearthing of his 1964 propaganda film I Am Cuba, an outrageously beautiful (and beautifully outrageous) piece of pro-Castro Communist kitsch. But a new DVD edition, though bereft of any special features save for Chris Fujiwara's insightful liner notes, should cement Cranes' reputation as a key post-war effort, both for its cinematic audacity and for its frank, moving depiction of families and lovers torn apart by violence. A movie star that never was, Kalatozov's captivating tragedienne Tatiana Samoilova matches his intensity and bravado as a young woman whose devotion to Alexei Batalov, her new fiancé, is tested when he volunteers to fight the invading Germans. Dealt a second blow when her parents are killed in a bombing raid, Samoilova moves into Batalov's family home, where she fends off the increasingly aggressive overtures of his cousin (Alexander Shvorin), a piano prodigy who used his talents to wiggle out of the draft. But as her letters to the front continue to go unanswered, Samoilova finds it harder to resist Shvorin's advances, even though she remains steadfast in her belief that Batalov will return when the war is over. War melodramas don't get any more elemental than The Cranes Are Flying, yet Kalatozov has a way of making every cliché seem fresh again, if only by force of invention. Teary farewells and reunion scenes are old genre standbys, but there's nothing quite like the long shots of Samoilova searching for Batalov among the throngs of embracing lovers, or navigating intrepidly through a parade of departing tanks. Kalatozov lives for big dramatic epiphanies, and he isn't shy about going well over the top; in one particularly striking sequence, Shvorin pounds out a thundering concerto over the sounds of sirens and German bombs, steeling himself to advance on Samoilova while she's at her most terrified and vulnerable. At its best, The Cranes Are Flying could be watched with the sound off without losing any of its impact. A pure visual storyteller, Kalatozov conveys more in dizzying camera moves and bold swaths of light than words could express.

The Cranes Are Flying - TCM.com  Mikita Brottman and David Sterritt

The Cranes Are Flying (1957), winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, was among several Soviet movies that reached American art theaters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, amazing audiences with their clear commitment to human dignity and compassion. How could the demonized enemy of cold-war America produce thoughtful, civilized fare like My Name Is Ivan (1962), about a twelve-year-old made into a spy, or A Summer to Remember (1960), about a little boy’s warm relationship with his family, or Ballad of a Soldier (1959), about a young man who’d rather visit his mother than receive a medal for bravery?

The answer lies in the so-called Thaw that swept across the Soviet Union after dictator Joseph Stalin died in 1953 and his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, put liberalized policies into place as part of a de-Stalinization campaign. This period’s most sweeping cultural change was the quick decline of Socialist Realism as the only legitimate artistic style. Gone were the days when government bureaucrats presided over every stage of an artist’s work, demanding that any state-sponsored project (which meant any project at all) promote Marxist-Leninist dogma in terms any proletarian could understand. Creative people were freer than they’d been for decades to explore their own ideas and intuitions.

Like their American counterparts, the newly liberated Soviet filmmakers still had to think of audience appeal and follow censorship guidelines, so even during the Thaw it was important to find subjects that would break new ground without offending current sensibilities. One strategy was to focus on very young characters who weren’t likely to be involved with sex, violence, or scandal. Another was to deal with themes related to World War II, which had killed an astonishingly large number of Soviet people (the most of any country) and remained sorrowfully fresh in the nation’s memory. The Cranes Are Flying falls into the second category, giving one of the era’s most perceptive treatments of antiwar sentiment—a force that connected strongly with Soviets still profoundly shaken by the trauma their society had undergone.

The main character is Veronika, played by Tatyana Samojlova, who won the best-actress award at Cannes for her performance. She’s happily in love with her boyfriend, Boris, and can’t imagine anything that could spoil their romance. Her calculations don’t include World War II, though, or the patriotism that leads Boris to volunteer for active service. We see his sad fate—he’s killed in a swamp while trying to save another soldier—and then we see Veronika’s distress when she hears that he’s missing in action. This is a half-truth at best, but it allows her to hope Boris is still alive and will eventually return.

In the meanwhile, Veronika has moved in with Boris’s relatives after the destruction of her own family by German bombing. Among the people in this crowded household is Boris’s cousin, Mark, who has a crush on her. She finally gives in to him—it’s implied that he forces her to have sex—and then marries him out of guilt and shame. The marriage quickly turns sour, and much later the family realizes that Mark is immoral and Veronika didn’t betray Boris of her own free will. The ending is bittersweet, as Veronika finally understands that Boris is dead but that his memory and devotion, to both her and their country, lives on.

The Cranes Are Flying takes its title from birds that swoop romantically over a river at the beginning and end of the story, symbolizing Veronika’s hopes and dreams. Most of the film is less sentimental than this might lead you to expect, though, and its political perspective is especially interesting. In place of Stalinist propaganda touting the virtues of comradeship and collective labor, director Mikhail Kalatozov and screenwriter Viktor Rozov show the difficulties of everyday life in a war-torn city, stressing the need for individuals to carve out their own paths amid the challenges, temptations, and obstacles that confront humanity in every sociopolitical system.

What’s most remarkable about The Cranes Are Flying is its brilliant visual style, which draws on two traditions that had galvanized Soviet culture before Socialist Realism took over: the avant-garde theater of Vsevolod Meyerhold and other Constructivist artists, and the cinema of Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, who spearheaded the great montage movement that found undreamed-of possibilities in the art of film editing. A scene exemplifying both approaches is the fateful moment when Veronika finds herself alone with Mark after everyone else has fled to an air-raid shelter. The action is richly theatrical, with curtains billowing in from a shattered window and light waxing and waning from one moment to the next as Veronika fends off Mark’s advances with stylized slaps and repetitions of “Nyet” in rhythmic cadences. All this is further heightened by Mariya Timofeyeva’s supercharged editing, which pushes the dreamlike moment to the point of hallucination.

Other scenes use different techniques just as creatively, as when bravura moving-camera shots capture Veronika’s attempts to bid Boris farewell before he leaves and to find him in an outdoor crowd at the end of the story. Credit for such extraordinary moments goes jointly to director Kalatozov and former army cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, whose camera work is stunningly expressive from start to finish. These two had worked together before and would collaborate again in the future, most notably on the 1964 spectacle I Am Cuba, a piece of procommunist agitprop graced with some of the most eye-boggling camera work in film history. Wits have dubbed it “The Crane Shots Are Flying.”

Still, the movie these artists will be most remembered for is The Cranes Are Flying, a sensitively acted, beautifully crafted triumph that stands with the finest works of the special time when it was made.

The Cranes Are Flying  Criterion essay by Chris Fujiwara, April 29, 2002

 

One Scene: The Cranes Are Flying - From the Current - The Criterion ...   Haskell Wexler (37 seconds)

 

The Cranes Are Flying (1957) - The Criterion Collection

 

Why Are the Cranes Still Flying?    15-page essay by Maxim D. Shrayer, The Russian Review, July 1997 (pdf)

 

The Cranes Are Flying - Liz Hogg  7-page essay, April 2015 (pdf)

 

The Cranes are Flying – Offscreen  Donato Totaro, May 2003              

 

The Cranes Are Flying | Criterion Collection | Foreign Film | Movie ...   Matthew from Classic Art Films, August 6, 2015

 

An Inside Look at World War II's Bloodiest Battle  Michael Sontheimer interviews Russian soldiers from Der Spiegel, November 2, 2012

 

Soviet cinema: the legacy of Tatiana Samoilova and Mikhail Kalatozov ...   Agata Pyzik from The Calvert Journal, May 15, 2014

 

DVD Times [Michael Brooke]  also seen here:  Film @ The Digital Fix - The Cranes Are Flying

 

No more war! The anti-war message of The Cranes Are Flying (1957 ...  Dorota Niemitz from The Wall Street Journal

 

Movie Masterworks » Blog Archive » Cranes Are Flying by Mikhail ...   Mark

 

Film Review: The Cranes are Flying (1957) – Adam Mohrbacher

 

Old School Reviews [John Nesbit] 

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Scott Renshaw]

 

The Cranes Are Flying  Vance Aandahl from JeremySilman

 

Criterion Confessions: THE CRANES ARE FLYING - #146   Jamie S. Rich

 

Images - The Cranes are Flying and Ballad of a Soldier  David Ng

 

DVD Savant Review: Ballad of a Soldier & The Cranes are Flying  Glenn Erickson

 

dOc DVD Review: The Cranes Are Flying (Letjat zhuravli) (1957)   Jeff Ullmer

 

The Cranes are Flying : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video   Matt Langdon

 

DVD Movie Central  Michael Jacobson

 

thirtyframesasecond: The Cranes Are Flying (Soviet Union, 1957 ...  Kevin Wilson

 

Buhay/Pelicula [Eboy M. Donato]

 

REVIEW: Летят журавли [The Cranes are Flying] [1957] | www ...  Jared Mobarak

 

The History of Cinema. Mikhail Kalatozov: biography, filmography ...   Piero Scaruffi

 

Russian Film: Mikhail Kalatozov: The Cranes are Flying - Летят ...

 

1957, The Cranes are Flying: Set Design , Cinema | The Red List

 

The Cranes Are Flying | Chicago Reader   Dave Kehr

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)  also seen here:  Movie Review - - Screen: Exchange Film:Soviet 'Cranes Are Flying ...

 

Tatiana Samoilova, a Movie Star Behind the Iron Curtain, Dies at 80 ...   Obituary from The New York Times, May 7, 2014

 

Tatiana Samoilova obituary | Film | The Guardian  Ronald Bergan, May 12, 2014

 

Russian Movie Star Tatiana Samoilova Dies: 'The Russian Audrey ...  Andrea Soares from Alt Films, May 2014

 

Tatyana Samoilova obituary: Star of 'The Cranes are Flying', which ...   John Riley from The Independent, June 8, 2014

 

DVDBeaver.com - Full Graphic Review [Gary Tooze]

 

The Cranes are Flying - DVD Comparison Criterion vs. RusCiCo

 

The Cranes Are Flying - Wikipedia

 

Letyat Zhuravli     YouTube Videos  (.36 sec)

 

Letyat.Zhuravl   (1:38)

 

YouTube - The Cranes are Flying (1957)  (3:04)

 

Letyat zhuravli (1957) 1  (4:28)

 

Letyat zhuravli (1957) 2    (4:34)

 

Letyat zhuravli (1957) 3   (5:36)

 

The Cranes are Flying   (6:42)

 

The cranes are flying / Летят журавли   (10:09)

LETTER NEVER SENT (Neotpravlennoye pismo)   B+                   90

aka:  The Unmailed Letter 

Russia  (97 mi)  1960

 

A rarely screened film, this is the third film collaboration between Kalatozov and his legendary cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, who was a front-line cameraman during WWII where he obviously learned the art of camera mobility from first hand experience literally decades before its time.  Urusevsky’s brilliant work in this film is notorious for having influenced several scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), most likely the speed of the camera as it whizzes through the Siberian forest remaining completely in focus capturing people running through natural environments.  Of note, on the night the film was screened, which began at 8 pm, there was a full lunar eclipse (2/20/08) NASA - Total Lunar Eclipse: February 20, 2008, reaching its peak for about one hour from 9 to 10 pm.  Conveniently, the Russian Cyrillic language was completely indecipherable by the student projectionists at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema who could not figure out how to do reel changes with so many ten-minute reels, causing them on two occasions to completely stop the film, turn on the lights, take a brief break and figure out how to organize the next segment before continuing.  This allowed the audience to run outside on a perfectly clear night in the frigid 5 degree winter temperatures to observe the natural phenomena happening in the sky.  For these incidents to have occurred during a film that revolves around man’s fragile relationship to the natural world around him felt like no accident, like the stars were all properly aligned.

 

In the spirit of pioneer exploration, dedicated to all the Soviet people, this film bears a similarity to Carroll Ballard’s NEVER CRY WOLF (1983), opening in the sky high above the clouds, a group of four Russian geologists are flown into a remote Siberian forest in search of what they believe will be an immense diamond vein.  Left on a riverbank with all their gear and equipment tossed in a heap, the camera is the viewpoint of the helicopter as it lifts into the sky and flies away, leaving them as tiny specks on the ground.  Tatyana Samojlova returns as Tanya, the only female of the group, making a large impression after she comes out of a swim with her nipples noticeably protruding.  This raises a certain amount of sexual tension as she is married to the feeblest man in the group, the intellectually inclined radio man Sabinine (Innokenti Smoktuvosky) who discovers Sergei (Yevgeni Urbansky), the man best acquainted with outdoor wilderness skills, may have his eye on her as well.  The fourth man appears to be the team leader and guide, the level-headed Andrei (Vasili Livanov).  Digging a series of holes in the ground, they may as well be digging their graves, as their search proves futile until Andrei convinces them to stay beyond their agreed upon duration, featuring a series of close up shots and a shirtless Sergei hoisting an ax, capturing a Dovzhenko-like rhythm of work until ultimately they find what they’re looking for.  They patriotically raise their glasses toasting the future pioneers of the Soviet space race, believing they have discovered a means to fund their mission. 

 

Despite several name actors, their influence is diminished by the rather sappy story, instead what can’t help capturing our attention is the physical appeal of that Urusevsky camera that never rests and some bold, over the top Russian music by Nikolai Kryukov, whose credits go back to the 30’s, actually helping revise musical scores in the late 40’s and 50’s for Eisenstein’s POTEMKIN (1925) and several early Pudovkin films.  The balance between the artistry is extremely effective as they do capture a Russian flavor that we see again in Tarkovsky’s Ivan's Childhood (1962), especially the scenes of men sloshing around the lakes and wetlands deep inside the Russian forests, featuring unforgettable images of birch trees and a recollection of music back home, but also that incredible train shot in Stalker (1979).  The optimism of the film is immediately upended when a huge forest fire breaks out and they need to make a desperate escape, discovering their boat is lost and their radio can’t transmit messages.  Basically lost in what turns into a desolate Siberian wasteland, what follows is a lesson in survival as they are trapped inside the inferno of a burning forest that stretches for miles in every direction, eventually costing several of them their lives, ultimately running out of food and supplies, as their boots wear out, leaving them defenseless against the onset of ruthlessly brutal winter conditions that arrive in the blink of an eye, as fire suddenly turns to a river of ice.  The pace of the film slows to a crawl, resembling the monotonous pace of GERRY (2002), while also expressing the hopelessly unforgiving conditions in the finale of Masaki Kobayashi’s THE HUMAN CONDITION (1961), which this film may well have influenced.  The poetic beauty of the primeval wilderness belies its deadly capabilities, as humans occasionally are no match for the elements of nature, yet this film etches some of the more indelible images, reminders of how the earth once existed alone, immense, and untroubled by man’s presence.     

 

The Letter Never Sent   Block Cinema

The true story of a disastrous expedition of geologists searching for diamond deposits in the Siberian wilderness, The Letter Never Sent has an exceptional cast, but its stars are eclipsed by cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, whose camera takes flight and soars through ice storms, forest fires, and the tundra of Siberia. It's a dazzling, technically brilliant film from the cruelly short partnership of Kalatozov and Urusevsky.

User reviews from imdb Author: Fpi

This is a totally excellent man vs. nature drama. An outstandingly dramatic soundtrack is coupled with some of the most powerful and unique visuals I've ever seen. If you thought Tarkovsky was a one-shot in the Soviet Union when it came to beautiful yet haunting images, you'll definitely think again after this movie. The characters and the story are perhaps not too well developed, but this somehow adds to the sense of not being totally in control, which is important here. It's nothing short of a tragedy that this movie is totally unknown; it would probably have been a candidate of reaching IMDb's top 50 if it were. Those looking for unknown classics should hunt this one down at all costs.

User reviews from imdb Author: wheeler-benjamin from United States

Saw this at Tribeca Film Festival in Spring 2007, and was absolutely floored. I walked out of the theater afterword amazed at what I'd seen and thrilled that such an amazing film existed and had been maintained by a tiny number of appreciators in such excellent quality for so long.

The story is not the strong point of the movie. Rather, as with Terence Malick films, the story is just a starting point for the film, which is another beast entirely. What shines and carries the film from scene to scene is the cinematography. I didn't know if this was happened elsewhere at the time, but I didn't expect to see hand-held camera work in a 1959 Russian film, let alone the kind of early spinning, impossibly-filmed shot that appears early in the film. Later, there is a sequence that makes me long to know how they created the opportunity to film in such conditions.

If you've read this far, you must track down this movie. My understanding is that Francis Coppola has a California archive maintain the only copy in the Americas, and that it's usually shown just one a year.

Movie Vault [Vadim Rizov]

 

It sounds cool, but it isn't: a director-cinematographer team known for deranged, insanely impossible cinematography and shots venture out to Siberia and really set off a forest fire and make it look like the camera is all of two feet away, and that the actors are only this far away from certain death, and the only reaction you can muster is "How the HELL did they do that?" But really, it isn't all that cool: the forest fire can't possibly occupy more than 20 minutes of screen time, and there's nothing else to really recommend to the film. The pure visual coolness of the fire occurs nowhere else, and nothing else makes up for it.

Two superstars of Russian cinema team up here: the competent but unexciting Smoktunovsky, here wearing an unlikely beard, and the intensely irritating Somoilovna. They're both on a team sent to Siberia to find diamonds, which they do; on the very day they're scheduled to leave for Moscow, a forest fire wreaks havoc, and the gang is stranded in Siberia, miles from rescue, with their radio unable to transmit, only to receive. The team set out to make it back...to civilization.

You would be correct in assuming that this is cliche territory. For all its spectacular scenery and terrific shots, the film merely feels like a mean-spirited attempt at killing off all of its (admittedly annoying) characters. Stranded without memorable dialogue, original plot mechanics, or any other story elements, the film coasts entirely on its admittedly great cinematography. However, as any number of films have proved (and as Amelie did recently), rarely do superlative shots make up for a total absence of everything else. The film throws in one damn setting after another, but they did little to raise me out of my torpor (in fact, their absurdity threw me deeper into it). And, most incongruously of all, there's some ostentatious propaganda thrown in: no matter what, Smoktunovsky insists "I cannot die...I MUST deliver the map" showing where the diamonds are so that the Soviet people can rid themselves of "dependence on foreign diamonds." THEN he can die in peace. Absurd and somewhat banal, and so is the film. 5 stars for cinematography, and absolutely nothing else

 

User reviews from imdb Author: SONNYK_USA from NYC

Welcome to Siberia, circa 1959 (in perfectly restored, glorious Black and White).

Although this story revolves around four 'pioneers' dropped into a vast wilderness to search for a rumored vein of diamonds (aka 'the Diamond Pipe'), the real star of the movie is cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky ("Soy Cuba," "The Cranes Are Flying").

Urusevsky is master of composition, dolly shots, and hand-held photography (when necessary). The way he frames his close-ups of the actors practically allows the audience to see into their souls.

Of course, it helps that he's shooting a top-notch Russian cast, including actress Tatyana Samojlova ("The Cranes Are Flying") whose character 'Tanya' is desperate to survive the troubling events that befall the group. Tanya is also the lone female and commands the attentions of two men in the rock-sampling group (though one is unrequited).

In addition, the visual elements are underscored aurally by composer Nikolai Kryukov's ("The Forty-first") evocative score, although he does amp up the music a bit too much in a couple of scenes. Not unusual for the time period, so set your appreciation meter back to the 50's and you won't be as bothered as I was.

The title of the film refers to not one but two letters that figure into the plot. One is a long, personal letter that is referred to in voice-over from time to time throughout the film, while the other is a love letter thought to be hidden away until it accidentally comes to light.

The plot is very straightforward so I won't spoil any surprises by detailing it here, suffice to say that the main attractions of this film are the artistic cinematography, the strong cast, and the director's choice to foreshadow plot elements by overlaying fiery images over his hardcharging trekkers.

If you've never seen any films by director Mikhail Kalatozov ("The Red Tent," "Soy Cuba," "The Cranes Are Flying"), then this one is probably as accessible as any and with a new restoration to boot, practically a MUST-SEE.

The ending alone is worth the price of admission, so check it out festival goers.

Like Anna Karina's Sweater: April 2007  Filmbrain

1959's The Letter That Was Never Sent is one of two restored classics at this year's fest lensed by Russian master Sergei Urusevsky (the other being Grigori Chukhrai's The Forty-First.) One of four films that Urusevsky made with director Mikhail Kalatozov, it's sandwiched between 1957's The Cranes Are Flying and 1964's I Am Cuba. While nowhere near as powerful as either of those films, The Letter That Was Never Sent is an absolute must see for lovers of dramatic cinematography.

The paper-thin plot revolves around four geologists, three men and one woman, who are sent to Siberia to search for a diamond mine. Driven not by dreams of personal wealth but rather for make benefit glorious nation of Russia, they drink a toast to the future funding of the space-race, and other examples of socialist pride. Though we do get a bit of backstory on all of the characters, and there are hints at sexual tension between alpha-male Sergei and the married Tanya, it's little more than a red-herring, for the bulk of the film finds the quartet fighting for survival after they are driven deep into the Siberian wilderness by an unexpected forest blaze. As the Siberian summer quickly turns to winter and the number of survivors thins, we learn of not one but several letters that remain unsent, as well as a thing or two about personal sacrifice for a greater good.

Urusevsky's cinematography lends itself perfectly to this tale of man vs. nature, and visually there isn't a dull moment. It's been said the film influenced both the look of Tarkovsky's Stalker and Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and there are indeed elements here that can be found in both of those films. Urusevsky's camera is extremely fluid – from the opening shot taken from the back of an unseen helicopter as it rises upward, to the liberal use of hand-held shots as the group traipses through reeds and woods – there are scant few moments of stillness. Though not shot from a character's POV, the camera, at times, mimics the action we witness – swinging violently around when somebody is punched, or rapidly jerking up and down to the motion of an arm swinging a pickaxe. Though Urusevsky employs all sorts of Dutch and low angle shots, as well a handful of slow dissolves, they never feel overstated or overused, as they often can (and do) in lesser films. This new print from the Moscow film archives looks positively wonderful, and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Long Voyage Home: Traveling with Kalatozov  Criterion essay by Michael Atkinson, March 22, 2012

 

Letter Never Sent: Refining Fire  Criterion essay by Dina Iordanova, March 21, 2012

 

Spellbinding Shots from Letter Never Sent

 

Letter Never Sent (1959) - The Criterion Collection

 

Sergei Urusevsky - Writer - Films as ... - Film Reference  Dina Iordanova from Film Reference

 

The Letter That Was Never Sent (1962) - Home Video Reviews - TCM ...  Michael Atkinson from Turner Classic Movies

 

CriterionCast.com [David Blakeslee]

 

DVD of the Week: Letter Never Sent (1959) | Cagey Films  Kenneth George Godwin, also seen here:  DVD Review: Letter Never Sent (1959) - Blogcritics Video

 

Soviet Cinema Found « Film Splatter  Kevin M. Pearson

 

NitrateVille.com • View topic - Great Movies No One's Seen: The ...  Mike Gebert from NitrateVille

 

Letter Never Sent | DVD | HomeVideo Review | The A.V. Club  Scott Tobias

 

DVDTalk.com - Blu-Ray [Jamie S. Rich]  Criterion Blu-Ray, also seen here:  CriterionConfessions.com

 

DVD Savant Blu-ray Review: Letter Never Sent  Glenn Erickson, Criterion Blu-Ray

 

DVD Verdict - Criterion Collection (Blu-ray) [Patrick Rogers]

 

The QNetwork [James Kendrick]  Criterion Blu-Ray

 

epinions Criterion DVD [Stephen O.Murray]  Criterion Blu-Ray

 

Movie Metropolis - Blu-ray [Christopher Long]  Criterion Blu-Ray

 

Letter Never Sent Blu-ray Review  Matt Hough, Home Theater Forum, Criterion Blu-Ray

 

DVDcompare.net (Blu-ray Disc)  Noor Razzak, Criterion Blu-Ray

 

Blu-ray.com [Dr. Svet Atanasov]  Criterion Blu-Ray

 

Letter Never Sent (1959/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)  Nicholas Sheffo,

 

Slant Magazine Blu-ray [Jaime N. Christley]

 

Love is Rarer than Diamonds: 'Letter Never Sent' | PopMatters  Michael Curtis Nelson from Pop Matters

 

Letter Never Sent - Neotpravlennoye pismo - Mikhail Kalatozov - 1959 ...  James Travers from Films de France

 

'Letter Never Sent' a Cinematic Tour de Force - Scene-Stealers  Eric Melin

 

Letter Never Sent — Inside Movies Since 1920  Joe Galm from Box Office Movies

 

Letter Never Sent « Walsh Words  Michael Walsh 

 

Letter Never Sent - Daily Film Dose  Alan Bacchus

 

Letter Never Sent Blu Ray Review - Film Junk  Jay C.

 

LETTER NEVER SENT (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1959) « Dennis Grunes  Dennis Grunes

 

Battleship Pretension [Scott Nye]

 

Letter Never Sent Criterion Collection DVD Review: Kalatozov’s Take on Man Vs. Nature Canadian Cinephile from Cinema Sentries

 

Nate's Mini Reviews: Letter Never Sent: Mikhail Kalatozov

 

Letter Never Sent | Blu-Ray Reviews | JoBlo  Mathew Plale

 

CriterionForum.org: Letter Never Sent Blu-ray Review  photos

 

Mikhail Kalatozov - Neotpravlennoye pismo aka The Letter Never Sent  photos

 

seanax.com » Classic: Mikhail Kalatozov's 'Letter Never Sent'  Sean Axmaker

 

Martin Teller

 

The Letter Never Sent (1959) - Mikhail Kalatozov - RoweReviews

 

Criterion on the Brain: #601: Letter Never Sent  Bza

 

Episode 126 - Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent - Criterion Cast  Ryan Gallagher

 

Concise Cinema [Adam Cook]

 

Letter Never Sent - Movie info: cast, reviews, trailer on mubi.com  Mubi

 

DVDBeaver - Blu-ray [Gary Tooze]

 

Letter Never Sent (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

I AM CUBA (Soy Cuba)                                         A                     95

Russia  Cuba  (141 mi)  1964


I am Cuba  Block Cinema

Funded by the Soviet Union in honor of Castro’s victory, I Am Cuba is a breathtaking cine-poem that portrays pre-Communist Cuba as a deliriously decadent, exploited nation in need of revolution. One of cinema’s most astounding pieces of agitprop, this was also a dazzling technical achievement with stunning black and white photography and confounding tracking shots. A cult film resurrected in the 1990s, in part because of Martin Scorsese’s endorsement, I am Cuba is a long feat of filmmaking acrobatics. In Russian and Spanish with English subtitles.

Institute of Contemporary Arts : Film : Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba)

A masterclass in bravura movie-making, this dazzling, delirious epic of Communist propaganda has to be seen on the big-screen to be fully appreciated. Made in 1964 but virtually unknown and unseen until its initial re-release in the mid-1990s, Soy Cuba takes the viewer on a journey from the decadent 'pools and parties' milieu of Cuba under Batista, into the world of poverty and oppression created by US imperialism before finally emerging into a revolutionary dawn.

Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov (The Cranes are Flying) and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky create staggering sequences with the camera performing seemingly impossible feats. The politics may be naïve but such is its power and beauty that you can't help but be stirred by this one-of-a-kind experience.

Time Out London

 

Few new print re-releases are as welcome as Mikhail Kalatozov’s deliriously impressive 1964 polemical poem of a society on the cusp of transformation. The product of a distinctively Soviet take on the island’s history and aspirations, ‘I Am Cuba’ saw Kalatozov, fresh from Palme d’Or success for ‘The Cranes are Flying’, joined by that film’s cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as co-writer. The result is a sensual four-chaptered epic of injustices exposed in Batista’s dictatorial Cuba, elevated by suitably revolutionary camerawork, its confidence a formal expression of faith in the island’s uprising. (Accompanying screenings of ‘making-of’ doc ‘I Am Cuba: the Siberian Mammoth’ reveal the invention at play.) It seems reductive to call this one of cinema’s great ‘lost’ works because this is one of the great films period, taking its place in the canon with urgency since its re-emergence in the 1990s. It’s out on DVD in March but for once the benign order to view it large is mandatory. Cinema’s singular dream, so often betrayed elsewhere, is to deliver such visions as this.

 

Sergei Urusevsky - Films as cinematographer:, Films as director:  Dina Iordanova on cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky from Film Reference (exerpt)

 

The film runs close to three hours and consists of four unrelated stories, recounting the fates of ordinary Cubans involved in situations of class confrontation that in the end lead them all into revolution. Otherwise an ordinary propaganda feature, I Am Cuba is outstanding for its extraordinary cinematography and design influenced by the work of Cuban painter Jose Portocarrero. Urusevsky chose to make the film in lush black and white, as he believed that the powerful emotional impact of contrasting shadows was crucial in cinema. For I Am Cuba, he used special infrared stock to achieve a fairy effect of the white island and palms on the dark background of sea and sky. Most of the film was shot with a 9.8 lens that slightly distorts the proportions and gives the images a dizzy, engulfing feel.

 

The shots in I Am Cuba are long and elaborately composed; many consist of a single take that runs over two minutes. In order to secure the changes in angles and the twists in the point of view the camera had not only been hand-held most of the time, but at times had to be handled by two operators. The nearly three-minute-long complex single-take opening scene on the hotel roof had to be shot 17 times; it involves vertical and horizontal movement of the camera operator, a combination of panoramic shots and extreme close ups, as well as the coordination of more than 100 extras.

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

Rescued from obscurity by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, Mikhail Kalatozov's I Am Cuba is sustained ecstasy for cinephiles, a dreamlike phantasmagoria of technique disguised as a pro-Castro propaganda film. Kalatozov (The Cranes Are Flying), once Stalin's head of production, was dispatched to make the film a week after the Cuban Missile Crisis, so each of its vignettes serves to reinforce Communist ideals as an answer to capitalist (primarily American) exploitation. There's evidence that the film was viewed as impossibly naïve at the time—it flopped in both the Soviet Union and Cuba—and it certainly seems that way now, but its pleasures are largely dissociated from any thematic agenda. Photographed in a B&W monochrome so rich and luxuriant that every image could be mounted on a gallery wall, I Am Cuba serves as a showcase for Kalatozov's "emotional camera," his term for the unbroken, astonishingly elaborate handheld takes that he strings into a narrative. Working from a restored print, Milestone's fine DVD transfer is especially useful for isolating individual shots. For example, there's the one that starts by roving through a beauty pageant on a hotel rooftop, descends five floors to a poolside party below, and then follows a woman into water. (Paul Thomas Anderson admits to copping this shot for Boogie Nights.) Or there's the one that tracks past cigar makers on an open-air balcony, only to soar off into a gliding bird's-eye view of a martyr's funeral procession on the streets below, as if the cameraman has somehow sprouted wings. The stories themselves—a virtuous woman forced into prostituting herself to wealthy Americans, an old sugarcane farmer who burns his land in defiance of the United Fruit Company, a college student driven by leadership in the revolution—are bluntly obvious in their intent. But I Am Cuba is still propaganda of the first order, a beautiful and sensually overwhelming tribute to the land and its people. 

Kamera.co.uk   Antonio Pasolini

Propaganda cinema never looked as beautiful as the dazzling, poetic and delirious Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba), by Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov. Made in 1964, the film fell into obscurity until the mid-1990s, when it was rediscovered as a masterpiece. The rescue operation has been further aided by Brazilian director Vicente Ferraz's documentary I Am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth(2005), which is opening in London alongside the original.

The film starts with an arresting aerial shot of the island to establish the location and present a vision of tropical exuberance. A female voice-over, rich in pathos and lament, introduces itself as Cuba. This personification of a place is the first ideological strategy of the film. Still during the opening shot we are shown scenes of poverty in paradise, which looks inconsistent with the beauty of the land.

Episodic in construction, Soy Cuba was written by the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko and the novelist Enrique Pinedo Barnet. The first section after the overture is arguably the best: it starts with a miraculous tracking showing a swimming pool party at the top of a hotel, a symbol of pre-Castro decadence. It goes down from the terrace to the swimming pool area, finally diving into the water to show the slithering bodies of swimmers. This is followed by another sequence in a bar that looks like a fantasy mondo-exotica tiki bar where a group of cartoonish Americans parties like rich white-trash versions of Frank Sinatra. Here a favourite Communist metaphor of capitalism is introduced: prostitution. A beautiful, innocent and symbolically virgin Cuban girl called Maria is forced to sell her body to the Yankees to whom she introduces herself as Betty. There! Even her name has to be changed to please the clients, imperialist thieves of cultural identity.

The second segment shows the suffering of a sugar cane farmer who loses everything when the landowner announces he has sold his property to an international fruit company. The graphic beauty of the sugar plant blades provides a slightly surreal tapestry against the sunny sky dotted with sparse white clouds.

Soy Cuba gets more Soviet in the third segment, which shows the struggle of the student rebels in Havana. At this point it drums up the propaganda, blaming the country's foes squarely on general Batista and his army of fat pistolleros. Change is imminent, we feel and anticipate. With a strong influence from Russian formalism, the sequence reaches an apotheotic montage climax when the protagonist of the sequence is murdered by the police. This sequence also includes another unbelievable tracking: the camera moves across a room at the top of a building, goes through the window and carries on as if it's flying over the road where a procession is carrying the body of the hero. The result is pure visual ecstasy.

The final segment is the preachiest one and illustrates the conversion to the cause of a family of peasants, led by the appropriately named Mariano. Mariano is visited by a hungry rebel, who he welcomes and feeds. But he gets upset when the armed man starts with his revolutionary spiel. A few moments later, Mariano's house is destroyed by the bombs dropped by an airplane and he decides to join the guerrilla in the jungle.

With anti-American sentiment raging across the globe, and quite often accompanied by a discourse that is not too dissimilar from the ideological programme fostered in Soy Cuba (which, despite its cunning simplicity, does contain some essential truths about imperialism and globalisation), this is a must-see film. The set pieces alone justify sitting through Soy Cuba, which stirs similar emotions to The Battleship Potemkim (1925).

BFI | Sight & Sound | I Am Cuba (1964)  Paul Julian Smith from Sight and Sound, August 1999

Four episodes in Cuba, just before the Revolution of 1959. The first begins in a Havana nightclub where prostitutes entertain US tourists. Afro-Cuban bargirl 'Betty' also goes by the name Maria, but her fruit-vendor boyfriend does not know about her job. After a display of orgiastic dancing, Betty's client insists on returning to her shack with her. In the morning he takes her crucifix and faces off her boyfriend, only to be mobbed by hungry children in the slums.

Pedro, an indebted sharecropper, harvests precious sugar cane with his two children. When the landlord arrives and announces he has sold Pedro's farm to the United Fruit Company, Pedro sends his children off into the village and, mad with rage, sets fire to his crops and home.

Back in the city, after burning down a drive-in showing newsreels of the dictator Batista, revolutionary student Enrique saves Gloria, a young woman who is being harassed on the street by US seamen. Enrique defies party discipline and takes aim at a brutal policeman from the top of a skyscraper, but he is unable to pull the trigger. After his companions are shot or arrested for distributing leaflets, Enrique leads an anti-government demonstration at the university. Walking valiantly into the water cannon armed only with a rock, he is shot by the same policeman and receives a hero's burial, attended by Gloria.

The final segment returns to the country. The leader of the revolutionary students in the previous episode, now a bearded guerrilla fighter, seeks support from a poor peasant family. The father replies that his hands are made for sowing not killing. But when the family are bombed out of their farm by government aircraft, the peasant joins the rebels and bravely wins himself a rifle from the enemy. The film ends with the guerrilla army advancing towards Havana and a future of freedom and justice.

Review

Made in 1964, I Am Cuba has been described as Communist kitsch. But from the first shot it is characterised not so much by ideology as by the 'formalism' of which Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov (Cranes Are Flying, 1957) had been accused in his own country since the 30s. The camera drifts slowly over palm trees mysteriously drained of life by the high-contrast black-and-white photography. A voiceover repeats Russian poet Yevtushenko's portentously poetic script in both Spanish and Russian, while the soundtrack blends Cuban percussion and male voices more suited to the 'Volga Boat Song'. Floating on a canoe in the next shot, we are treated to a repertoire of Kalatozov's techniques which will be obsessively repeated in the next two hours: distorting fish-eye lenses, extreme low and high angles, and a restlessly mobile camera, constantly plunging down into the vegetation or up over the streets and palms.

You can see what worried the Soviet authorities who funded this co-production and sent the crew and equipment to Cuba. Kalatozov clearly aestheticises poverty. The peasant farms of the second and fourth episodes are gardens of Eden, the sugar cane (shot from below once more) a great shining forest stalked by giant peasants. Here the exotic paradise of Cuba gets to play Virgin Nature to the Marxism that promises industrialisation amongst its other benefits. Moreover the camera is clearly consumed by the urban decadence it so stylishly documents. Much of the first episode seems to have drifted in from the David Bailey photo exhibition that was showing at the Barbican during I Am Cuba's run. Bikinied beauties jive atop skyscrapers and the camera even follows them into their rooftop pool to get a closer view. The impossibly glamorous prostitutes, wasp-waisted and beehived, embody a Caribbean cool the revolutionaries, however romantically unkempt, can hardly rival. When Afro-Cuban Betty cuts loose on the dancefloor, the camera gyrates with her, lost in ecstatic but problematic abandon.

It is perhaps not surprising that, according to critic-historian Michael Chanan, such co-productions were not much loved by audiences on the island at the time. But one unexpected pleasure for European viewers today is the glamour of Kalatozov's mise en scène. The film's Havana is not the now-ruinous dereliction of the old city, but a sleek vision of modernity worthy of Wallpaper* magazine. The students drive fast cars along wide highways or scale angular high rises, all concrete, glass and steel. The beachfront Malecón is eerily pristine. Shot just a few years after the Revolution, the film inadvertently reminds us that, in spite of appalling inequality and corruption, Cuba had been more developed than its island neighbours. So the predictable heavy handedness of Kalatozov's propaganda (including the theft of a crucifix by a stereotypically Jewish tourist) is undercut by the uncontrollable aesthetic delight of its visual style. Sugar, intones the voiceover, is sweet; but it is harvested with bitter tears. Entranced with the tropics, Kalatozov swoons over the sweetness and can bring himself only to trudge dutifully through the tears.

This means that in the second, more-didactic half the film falls flat. Political pedagogy, however flashily shot, remains uncinematic; and the anonymous characters (students and peasants but curiously not workers) are too crudely schematic to embody historical process with the dynamic 'typicality' recommended by theorists such as Georg Lukács. But even here inexplicable moments of unmotivated lyricism irrupt: the initially jolly US sailors ("Here come the Navy, hurrah!") seem to be have been drafted in by Busby Berkeley while a snowstorm of revolutionary leaflets spiral down against a darkened sky, a strangely haunting image. If the Revolution's promise of work and freedom now rings unbearably hollow and if the theme of prostitution is uncomfortably relevant today, then I Am Cuba remains, Communist kitsch or not, a memorably eccentric and lyrical hymn to the transformatory powers of cinema. 

mikhail kalatozov's retrospective return to 1920s agitprop cinema in i ...   Monmental Melodrama:  Mikhail Kalatozov’s Retrospective Return to 1920’s Agitprop Cinema in I Am Cuba, 12-page essay by Tim Harte, March, 2013 (pdf)

 

Visionary Agitprop | Movie Review | Chicago Reader  Jonathan Rosenbaum on I Am Cuba, December 7, 1995

 

I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964) - Bright Lights Film Journal   Gary Morris, December 1, 1998

 

Vague Visages Is FilmStruck: Jeremy Carr on Mikhail Kalatozov's 'I Am ...    Jeremy Carr from Vague Visages, February 8, 2017

 

Moscow's Cuban Propaganda Movie Was a Cinematic Masterpiece ...   Darien Cavanaugh from War Is Boring, March 4, 2017

 

Images - I Am Cuba - Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture   Gary Morris, also at Bright Lights Film Journal, December 1, 1998, seen here:  I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964) - Bright Lights Film Journal

Soy Cuba - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications - Film Reference   Julie Christensen from Film Reference

 

Sergei Urusevsky - Writer - Films as Cinematographer:, Films as ...  Diana Iordanova from Film Reference

 

Movie News and Releases - DVD Film Reviews by Turner Classic Movies  Sean Axmaker

 

I am Cuba - TCM.com  Andrea Passafiume

 

notcoming.com | I Am Cuba  Ian Johnston

 

I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) | PopMatters  Jack Patrick Rodgers

 

I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) | PopMatters     Chris Barsanti

 

A Soviet Guide To Cuba - The New York Sun   Gary Giddens from The NY Sun, November 20, 2007

 

I Am Cuba | Film Review | Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

 

DVD Times  Anthony Nield, also seen here:  I Am Cuba | Film at The Digital Fix

DVD Savant Review: I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition - DVD Talk   Glenn Erickson

 

I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video Jamie S. Rich

 

Mikhail Kalatozov, I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba): Old School Reviews  John Nesbit

 

American Cinematographer: DVD Playback:  Kenneth Sweeney

 

Flicks - Cinescene   Chris Dashiell

 

'I Am Cuba,' directed by Mikhail Kalatozov, a masterpiece of commie ...  'I Am Cuba,' a masterpiece of commie melodrama, by Brandon Soderberg from City Paper, July 28, 2015

Blasts from the Past - Cinescene   Howard Schumann

 

The IFC Blog [Michael Atkinson]

 

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

 

Movie Habit: Review of I Am Cuba (1964), ****   John Adams

 

I Am Cuba  Anthony Holden from Channel 4 News

 

Mikhail Kalatozov « Rightwing Film Geek  Victor Morton, August 8, 2006

 

Joana Morais: Mikhail Kalatozov's "Soy Cuba"  Jamie Russell

 

INRUSSIA — Soy Cuba

 

I Am Cuba (1964), Mikhail Kalatozov - Kino Klassika Foundation

 

ICA Cinematheque: Soy Cuba | Institute of Contemporary Arts

 

GreenCine | product main - I Am Cuba (1964)  Tom Wiener from All Movie Guide

 

DVD Watch  Josh Rosenblatt from the Austin Chronicle

 

read more  TV Guide

 

mikhail-kalatozov · plastique monkey  Famous tracking shot from I AM CUBA on YouTube

 

BBC - Films - review - I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba)   Jamie Russell

 

Richard Gott on Mikhail Kalatozov's Soy Cuba | Film | The Guardian  Richard Gott from The Guardian

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

City Pages [Matthew Wilder]

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov)

 

1964 film "I Am Cuba' mixes art and propoganda - SFGate   Scott Rosenberg

 

Los Angeles Times (Carina Chocano)

 

I Am Cuba Movie Review & Film Summary (1995) | Roger Ebert

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden)

 

DVDBeaver   Gary W. Tooze

 

Soy Cuba - Mikhail Kalatozov (1964) - YouTube  (2:37)

 

THE RED TENT (Krasnaya Palatka)                 B-                    82

Russia  Italy  (158 mi)  1969  ‘Scope   cropped international version (121 mi) without ‘Scope

 

The English language version seen was the cropped international version which not only loses something without the immensity of the 'Scope imagery, especially filming a landscape as vast as Antarctica, but also large sections spoken in Russian-only were not subtitled.  Usually these joint ventures between countries make for good public relations, but fairly mediocre movies, of which this was no exception.  Kurosawa's DERSU UZALA (1975), a joint Russian-Japanese venture shot in ‘Scope in Siberia, comes to mind, not usually thought of as one of his better efforts.  This one stars Peter Finch, Sean Connery, fresh off his success with several James Bond movies, and the always alluring Claudia Cardinale.  Finch is seen in his later years as Italian General Nobile watching a TV documentary recalling his failed exploits to be the first to fly over the South Pole in a dirigible, a mission that failed when it crashed in a storm, costing several of his men their lives, but they reappear as ghosts in his room, forever haunting him about the ominous decisions that he made, questioning his courage under fire and his leadership skills.  The entire film is shot in a flashback, where the entire expedition plays out again inside his head.  The time is 1928 and the mission was financed under the auspices of the fascist Mussolini regime to show a perfect and historically lasting example of Italian courage to the world.  When his mission failed, initially he was rescued alone under dubious circumstances by a showboat Swedish pilot while others in his crew were later rescued by a Russian icebreaker, giving other countries the headlines for heroism, while Nobile was stripped of his military command and publicly disgraced and humiliated.  This film offers the world another chance to review his actions, where he is summarily judged by the people, living or deceased, who participated in the expedition.  

After the crash, the opening sequence of camping on the ice, huddling under a red painted tent awaiting their rescue, but discovering their radio was broken in the fall recalls Star Trek episodes where Kirk asked science officer Spock to immediately initiate repairs to their broken communicators, where they are otherwise lost in space.  The hysteria sets in rather quickly with this group, probably the result of the cropped editing, as there’s little time spent developing anyone’s character.  Meanwhile, back in civilization, the commander left in charge of the communication center refuses to act without direct instructions from Mussolini in Rome, insisting on making it an all-Italian rescue operation, which places their lives in further risk, something akin to the cynical delayed mining rescue in order to attract more headlines in Billy Wilder’s ACE IN THE HOLE (aka:  THE BIG CARNIVAL, 1951).  Enter Claudia Cardinale, the gorgeous girl of one of the missing Finnish scientists, who despite news coverage that suggests they must all be dead, insists he’s alive and enlists support from a braggart Swedish pilot (Hardy Krüger) and North Pole explorer Roald Amundsen (Sean Connery), who was flying in a craft designed by Nobile during his successful North Pole flight, but gave him little credit due to his alleged Fascist ties.  This is barely touched upon in the film and is instead given a melodramatic sweep where Cardinale challenges his initial reluctance with male insults before the dashing Amundsen flies into the face of a storm and disappears.  The flying Swede finds them, but can only bring back one at a time and insists the first be General Nobile, who is discredited and made a scapegoat by Mussolini for leaving his men behind when the weather makes it impossible to return for them.  

Nobile, however, makes radio contact with the commander of a Russian icebreaker.  This sequence was unsubtitled, but delivers one of the best scenes in the film, where instead of the desolation on the ice huddling inside a tent, it’s suddenly a pastoral delight with children parading around flying a kite that acts as a radio antenna in what resembles carefully manicured farmlands, where a young Russian kid is perched atop his house with his amateur radio kit attempting to hear emergency signals, and damn if he’s not the only one who discovers they’re still alive, jumping up and down and screaming with the hysterical enthusiasm of Dr. Frankenstein.  In an equally memorable sequence, he and a handful of others hop on their horses and race full-speed through a miraculously beautiful birch forest with Keystone Cops-like musical accompaniment from Ennio Morricone to announce to the world he’s found their radio signal.  This is the only amusing sequence in the entire film.  Afterwards, I was told by a Russian viewer sitting next to me that this lad was decorated by Stalin himself and declared a hero, where he was granted a place on the search and rescue icebreaker for his heroic service.  But when he arrives at the dock, the ship has already left without him, leaving him heartbroken and crushed. 

In the course of events, 3 men in the 9 man survivor group decide to walk to safety, including the Finn and also Donatas Banionis (from Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS, filmed three years later in 1972), believing they can find help since they are at the time hopelessly stuck without any radio contact.  But soon after they leave, a temporary radio fix leads to the hopes from the icebreaker, which immediately finds itself frozen in the ice, suddenly dousing all hopes, creating a harrowing mood of a near-death experience for all involved, as they’ve had to endure the harshest conditions on earth for a month, leaving them all suffering from frost bite, nearly starved and weakened beyond belief, where their weariness and isolation in a state of limbo is matched by the endless horizon of nothing but frozen ice.  Some don’t survive.  Like a strange intimate theater piece, the trial in Nobile’s head brings the dead back to life, where they all sit around in the comforts of his room and judge his actions, speaking to him angrily, putting him on trial, something he obviously did for the rest of his life on his own, replaying this same incident over and over again in his head like a cruel version of the Myth of Sisyphus, haunting his conscience along with his humiliating public disgrace.  In Kalatozov films, the rugged landscape always challenges the endurance of man, where Amundsen himself questions whether men were even meant to explore the barren desolation of Antarctica.  It’s strange that the interior questions are as far-reaching as the seemingly infinite exterior horizons, where man is a conduit between the two worlds, always driven to explore both with the same burning passion and intensity, but somehow his curiosity is never satisfied.   

 

The Red Tent   Block Cinema

Kalatozov’s final film is an Italian-Soviet co-production about an actual ill-fated 1928 expedition to the North Pole in a dirigible, which crashed, stranding the entire crew. The story is told years after the incident by the Italian General who led the expedition; he sees the ghosts of those who lost their lives because of his decisions. A meditation on hubris and leadership, The Red Tent has breathtaking cinematography, a brilliant score by Ennio Morricone, and a wonderful turn by Sean Connery as the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

User reviews  from imdb Author: TrevorAclea from London, England

Arctic climes didn't do Sean Connery's initially troubled post-Bond career any favours, although his top billing in The Red Tent is highly misleading, since his supporting role is not much more than a cameo. Instead, forth-billed (after Claudia Cardinale and Hardy Kruger) Peter Finch takes the lead as General Nobile, whose ill-fated 1928 airship expedition to the North Pole, intended to boost Fascist Italy's international prestige, instead ended ingloriously with the survivors stranded on melting ice packs for weeks while inertia, lack of initiative and the poor chain of command resulted in buck-passing, recriminations and destroyed reputations rather than rescue attempts. The real-life disaster was the inspiration for Frank Capra's Dirigible (Capra and studio boss Harry Cohn were both huge admirers of Mussolini in the early days), but this ambitious Russian-Italian co-production is best remembered, if at all, for either its catastrophic box-office failure or its unusual framing structure. Although unusual may be an understatement: in a move more akin to theatre of the 60s rather than epic cinema, it begins with the ageing Nobile, tormented by another sleepless night, summoning up the ghosts of those involved in the disaster and the rescue to put his command on trial.

As a dramatic device, it's too theatrical to entirely work, especially in the clumsy opening reel, but it impinges little on the main drama once the film gets going and ultimately pays dividends, both in the stark poetry and terrible beauty of a scene where Connery's Roald Amundsen recounts his own death and in the final moments which come to some kind of peace with the issues of responsibility, human fallibility and forgiveness. But it's the survival story that works best, with director Mickail K. Kalatozov often eschewing the spectacle (airship and plane crashes, icebreakers and vast landscapes of ice) with a preference for medium shots that keep the film surprisingly intimate (unusually for such an expensive picture, it is also shot in the more confined 1.78:1 ratio rather than Scope).

I can't answer for its historical accuracy beyond Connery's philosophical Amundsen being nothing like the ruthless egomaniac of reality that he had become by this time (indeed, Amundsen's death in this rescue did much to salvage his heroic reputation after the public backlash to his bitter score-settling memoirs). However, far from having to be persuaded to join the rescue attempts, Amundsen had immediately volunteered only for Mussolini to specifically insist he be excluded because of his earlier public disputes with Nobile in the aftermath of their previous expedition, leaving Amundsen to finance his rescue attempt privately. Nor was Amundsen reluctant to return to the Arctic: shortly before the opportunity arose, he said that he wanted to go back and die there "in the fulfilment of a high mission, quickly, without suffering." (The fact that he was undergoing painful radium treatment at the time may have colored his words.) Poetic license aside, it is surprising that the political fallout is not dealt with more overtly - it was a huge national embarrassment that Il Duce's heroes had to be rescued by Russian communists. Indeed, the film is almost totally apolitical, with Il Duce mentioned only once in passing in the opening newsreel footage. However, as a drama it's unsensationally compelling, and Ennio Morricone's score is one of his best.

Paramount's widescreen R1 DVD transfer is pretty good but sadly lacking in any extras.

Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]

One of the grandest adventure/survival films is one you’ve probably never heard of - “The Red Tent” - an oddball fusion of Italians and Soviet filmmakers with an all-star international cast and crew. It tells the true story of a failed Italian expedition to the North Pole via airship in 1928. The great Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov directs his first and last English language film with complete authenticity. Other than the completely realistic arctic disaster story the film is a powerful story of ambition, greed, international politics, heroism and cowardice.

Kalatozov begins the story with perhaps the longest pre-credit sequence in film history. Before we even get to the snow there’s a 13 mins dream sequence from inside the head of General Nobile (Peter Finch) who fatefully led many of his crew to their deaths during the expedition. One by one the participants in the story appear in his subconscious in a makeshift psychological trial. It’s a manifestation of Nobile’s inner guilt and responsibility for the tragic events. Though it’s fascinating from a psychological perspective, as a cinematic device it’s awkward and confusing at the beginning and barely comes together at the end.

But it’s important to get past this first scene, because the film only gets better and more rewarding. The claustrophobia of the surreal dream sequence is released dramatically once Kalatozov gets outside into the open air where he works best. Intimacy is not Kalatozov’s forte. He needs big crowds, big machines, big scope to make his films. Italian General Nobile (Peter Finch) is in charge of leading an expedition to the North Pole. It was an age of nationalism and competition for international discoveries and achievements. Amundsen and Peary had already been to the North Pole, which Nobile has conspicuously missed out on. So Nobile’s mission serves not only to stake a claim for his country but personal pride as well.

Kalatozov stages a wonderful farewell scene – not as grand as the farewell in “The Cranes are Flying” but majestic nonetheless. The addition to Ennio Morricone’s swooning score pushes Kalatozov’s epic style to even greater heights. The airship falters from the extreme cold and crashes to the ground miles from their target. The crash is horrific and directed with complete realism. With the crew stranded in the frigid and unaccommodating arctic it becomes a desperate fight for survival – finding food, shelter, salvaging the radio all become tasks of importance.

The film cuts back and forth between the airship, the Italian basecamp where the news of the expedition has made the incident an internationally covered press story as well as a Russian expedition that hears their distress signal. Not only is it a fight for survival but a race to rescue them.

The stunning visuals anchor this exciting flick. The on-location filmmaking in the desolate tundra is impossible to fake and so, I can only imagine how grueling the shoot must have been. The expansive helicopter shots of the endless ice and snow isolate the characters and pit against their environment, like Lean did in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Kalatozov’s increases the spectacle and scope when he introduces the Russian subplot. In fact, my favourite scene is when the amateur radio operator is tuning into the distress signal from the lost crew. The boy sits on top of his roof with the radio while the other townsfolk watching from below control the antenna with a kite. It’s a classic Kalatozov moment when he frames up the entire town from the roof whose attention is drawn to the one boy on top of the house. The image of the boy on the roof which shows how mass communication can bring people from different cultures together for a common goal is also an allegory to the collaboration of filmmakers from different cultures to tell this story.

Kalatozov’s collaboration with the international talent is a fitting swan song for the Soviet master (see also
“I am Cuba” and “The Cranes are Flying”). For a man who plied his trade as a virtual unknown behind the Iron Curtain, his grand emergence into the ‘Western’ world of filmmaking was also his final bow. “The Red Tent” was Kalatozov’s final film. His died several years later. Enjoy.

The Auteurs  David Cairns

 

PopMatters  Leigh H. Edwards

 

Epinions DVD review [Stephen O. Murray]

 

Fulvue Drive-in   Nate Goss                 

 

The Aisle Seat [Andy Dursin]   

 

Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings  Dave Sindelar

 

The Red Tent - Filmcritic.com Movie Review  Christopher Null from Film Critic

           

DVDBeaver.com [Gregory Meshman]               

 

Kalev, Kamen

 

EASTERN PLAYS (Iztochni piesi)

Bulgaria  Sweden  (89 mi)  2009

 

Eastern Plays   Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily

An accomplished debut feature from Bulgaria’s Kamen Kalev, Eastern Plays begins as if it were just another slice of gritty realism from eastern Europe but evolves into a sensitively observed portrait of a young man struggling to find himself after years as a drug addict.

Already picked up for sales by Memento Films International, it’s a moving, uplifting tale which should draw attention to Kalev as a talent to watch. Virtuoso arthouse independents might be tempted to buy it on the back of strong reviews, festival play and awards wins.

Tragically, the lead actor Christo Christov, a childhood friend of Kalev’s whom he cast essentially to play himself, died in an accident a few days after shooting ended. The film is dedicated to him; his strong performance, and his untimely passing will only serve to fuel interest in the film.

Eastern Plays is not just a story of recovery but delves into the unpleasant world of neo-Nazism and racist violence in Sofia. 

The drama focuses initially on Christo’s younger brother, the shaven-headed Georgi (Torosian), who escapes his miserable home life with his domineering father (Nalbantov) and stepmother by hanging out with a group of skinheads and neo-Nazis in heavy metal bars.

Christo himself is a frustrated artist, earning a pittance in a furniture-making shop and prone to bouts of severe depression and anxiety as he tries to pull his life together after years as a heroin addict. One night, he gets drunk at a restaurant after ditching his needy girlfriend (Yancheva) and while stumbling home witnesses a Turkish man, his wife and daughter being beaten by Georgi’s gang. He successfully intervenes to stop the attack, although has his face smashed in the process.

After visiting Georgi to warn him off the gang, he develops a relationship with the Turkish girl Isil (Aksoy) while she stays in Sofia by her father’s hospital bedside. Her exuberant spirit and inquisitive mind raise his spirits but her sudden departure back to Istanbul leaves him desolate once more.

Kalev and Christov do a terrific job in illustrating Christov’s plight and the tormented feelings which plague his existence. He takes refuge in his art – and a daily visit to the clinic for methadone – but feels little sense of self or self-esteem. 

He isn’t a pathetic character so much as a complicated one, and Kalev injects humour, intelligence and moments of warmth into Christo that lift the characterization beyond cliché.

The story ends in an uplifting way and notably Georgi looks to have abandoned his involvement with the neo-Nazis by finding a girlfriend and an interest in art. As a hint of the corruption at play in Bulgarian society, Kalev throws in a couple of scenes implying that the gangs spreading racial hatred against Bulgaria’s Turkish neighbours are merely paid pawns of politicians attempting to further their right-wing agendas.

Cannes. "Eastern Plays"  David Hudson at Cannes from The IFC Blog, May 18, 2009

 

Ray Bennett  at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 17, 2009

 

Jay Weissberg  at Cannes from Variety, May 17, 2009

 

THE ISLAND

Bulgaria  Sweden  (108 mi)  2011

 

The Island: Cannes 2011 Review  Jordan Mintzer at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 15, 2011

For his sophomore effort, Bulgarian director Kamen Kalev returns to the Directors’ Fortnight with The Island, a film that’s as far from his gritty debut, Eastern Plays, as can be imagined. Part amour fou two-hander, part offbeat psycho-spiritual thriller, its ambitions wind up far outweighing its accomplishments, though an alluring performance from lead Thure Lindhardt could bolster Euro arthouse play.

From the opening scene, where tightly wound businessman Daneel (Lindhardt) has his fortune read in a crowded Parisian café, it’s clear that Kalev is making an about face from the realistic, street-set dramatics of his first feature. When we’re then introduced to Daneel’s girlfriend, Sophie (actress/model Laetitia Casta), who surprises him with a trip to Bulgaria – only to find out once they get there that the supposedly German-born Daneel is actually a Bulgarian orphan – we know things are going to get weirder.

In that sense, The Island doesn’t disappoint, but making heads or tails of what happens when Daneel and Sophie wind up crashing at a run-down monastery on a remote isle, and then Daneel begins to lose his mind, is not something the film really encourages. Rather, Kalev (who also wrote the screenplay) takes a detour into Lynch and Tarkovsky territory, though his storytelling skills and aesthetic prowess are below the level needed to sustain a narrative that creeps further and further towards quirksville without completely justifying its choices.

There’s some promise early on, and one would think that the island will be a place where Daneel and Sophie can work out their various couple issues, the principal one being Sophie’s hidden pregnancy. But things quickly fall apart when Daneel runs into a woman (Boyka Velkova) who may or may not be his birth mother. Add to that a dead body, a slew of Biblical references, a song by Tom Waits and a supporting role by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowksy, and you’ve got all the elements in place for artsy head-scratcher, though wait: there are way more wackier things in store.

Much of this would be hard to swallow if it weren’t for the intense performance of Danish actor Lindhardt (Angels & Demons), who gives Daneel a chaotic spiritual bent that partially anchors all the madness. Casta (Gainsbourg) has a harder time wrapping herself around some of the English-language dialogue, and several scenes look to have been re-dubbed. Camerawork by Julian Atanassov is sustainable while Jean-Paul Wall’s score overreaches.

The Island  Lisa Nesselson at Cannes from Screendaily, May 15, 2011

A cross-cultural Parisian couple - and, by extension, the audience - get way, WAY more than they bargained for when they take a few days holiday elsewhere in Europe in The Island. Producer-writer-director Kamen Kalev (Eastern Plays) sends all concerned on a multi-pronged journey, a trippy triptych whose twists are impossible to anticipate.

Viewers who like surprises shouldn’t read synopses or reviews and just bring an open mind and a sturdy attention span into the theater. Eclectically cast, fearlessly ambitious and more than a little nutty venture will no doubt divide viewers into “You’ve got to be kidding” and “Whoah - that was cool!” camps, but this is a conversation starter even if the conversation consists of “What was THAT?”

Sophie (Laetitia Casta) and Daneel (Thure Lindhardt) have been a couple for four years. They’re hard-working citizens with good jobs and their carnal connection is palpable. Some might find it surprising that a natural beauty in Casta’s league would set up house with a fellow who here is made to look like the love child of Willem Dafoe and Matthew Broderick, but these two are hot for each other. It’s their verbal communication that needs improvement.

He’s on edge and distracted, due to his stressful corporate job. Sophie wants a vacation break. He leaves the destination and travel arrangements up to her. When they get to the Paris airport and Daneel learns she has booked a flight to Bulgaria, he freaks out, categorically refusing to go but finally relenting.

When they land in Sofia, a doughy, seriously retarded man accosts them for a cigarette, whereupon Sophie learns that Daneel speaks Bulgarian. She thought he was German. They each have rather momentous secrets. Hoping to salvage what was meant to be a relaxing getaway, they take a ferry to a small island - formerly known as Bolshevik, no less - that boasts a monastery, a café and a handful of guest rooms.

A deliciously ominous aura of unease pervades every shot and dialogue exchange. Radiating earthy, sensual poise, Casta’s down-to-earth persona tries to defuse the percolating menace just by remaining herself as Daneel grows less and less familiar.

Daneel’s glimpse of middle-aged guest Irina (Bojka Velkova), has triggered the kind of dreams and memories - or are they delusional fantasies? - film is the perfect medium to convey. In one such feverish interlude, Sophie gives birth to something you don’t see every day, even in the aisles of Symbols R Us.

Fed up with her increasingly erratic mate, Sophie returns to Paris, leaving Daneel to experience the sort of transformation caterpillars and butterflies have been perfecting for millennia. An incredibly strong and interesting premise seems to dissipate into terminal eco-pretentiousness. And then things REALLY get weird.

Sophie and Daneel speak English together although she occasionally bursts into French. Lindhardt, a Dane who shows an impressive range as the tale plunges off the beaten narrative path, learned his Bulgarian lines phonetically.

From the opening scene in which Alejandro Jodorowsky gives a Tarot reading to the unpredictable multiple endings, this careening film has the courage of its convictions. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it affair.

Kalin, Tom

 

SWOON

USA  (82 mi)  1992

 

Time Out

The story of Leopold and Loeb – two young intellectual aesthetes, from wealthy Jewish families, who murdered a 14-year-old boy for kicks in Chicago in 1924 – has been filmed twice before. Rope located the roots of fascism in Nietzschean discourse. Compulsion was a more muddled ‘true crime’ saga. Kalin’s film is the least naturalistic and most factual. It is also the first to expand on Clarence Darrow’s argument for the defence, that the pair’s homosexuality was a sign of pathological deviance; ergo they were not accountable for their actions. The film’s second half sticks to court transcripts, to diagnose a repressive, racist, homophobic pathology on a wider social scale, endemic to patriarchy itself. Sketched in deft, sharp strokes, this is no more than a postscript to the earlier exploration of the lovers’ sado-masochistic relationship: how Loeb bartered crime for sex, and how their transgressive games escalated to the point of no return. With its sinuous monochrome finish, Swoon is decadent and economical, subjective and detached, fascinating and appalling – conjunctions Sacher Masoch himself might have recognised.

PopcornQ Review  B. Ruby Rich

Swoon is inspired by the story of Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, two Jewish law students who, in 1942, kidnapped and murdered a young boy to illustrate their intellectual superiority to others. Their capture and trial led to international media coverage, and to two movie variations: Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Richard Fleischer's Compulsion.

But the movies neglected to mention that Leopold and Loeb were more than just a criminal couple; they were also partners in bed. Swoon pursues the boys' unusual relationship from plotting to prison bars: What compelled Leopold and Loeb to kill? Did their crime have anything to do with homosexuality? If it didn't, surely their punishment did. Swoon is a clever, troubling fiction about history, homophobia, ecstasy, and murder.

"Swoon is quintessentially a film of its time. It takes on the whole enterprise of `positive images' . . . turning the whole thing right on its head."

outrate.net (Mark Adnum)

The Leopold and Loeb court case of 1924 was filled to the brim with scandalous revelations about “perverts” and a Freudian defence based on the homo-psychosis of the defendants, who were two handsome Chicago high-society princes/unremorseful gay-lover killers.

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb had killed a young local boy for a lark and put his body in a drain pipe. Living louche before the murder, entertaining drag queens around the poker table, Leopold and Loeb settled comfortably into prison life, running the prison library and eating most meals together for around four years, when Loeb was slashed to death in the showers by a fellow inmate.

Early media savvy superstars, Leopold and Loeb were the inspiration for the Hitchcock movie Rope and in 1959 when the Orson Welles' Compulsion used the tag line “Based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case” Leopold successfly sued 20th Century Fox.

Released in 1971, Leopold moved to Puerto Rico, where he married and continued his lifelong study of ornithology. Leopold was reported to have had an IQ of 200, and he spoke 28 languages fluently.

In other words, we could go on for ages about the real Leopold and Loeb, intriguing gay figures with flair and an all-for-love court-and-prison drama to rival Oscar Wilde. Discussions about "
New Queer Cinema", and Swoon in particular, on the other hand, run dry very quickly. The contrast between real gay outlaws and faux, red-ribbon ones is a sharp one, and it shows the shortcomings of late AIDS-era American gay culture in a most unforgiving light.

The epitome of “New Queer Cinema”, Swoon is a wilted, limp film that bypasses the glamourous velocity of its subject matter in favour of lame film-school callisthenics. Pretentious experiments with form and style, an incompetent approach to storytelling and a decidedly emasculated view of homosexual killers/lovers make the movie a disappointing bore.

Despite the braggadocio of the film’s tagline (“puts the homo back into homicide”) and its overweening attempt to be “queer”, its detachment from the sweltering passion of its main characters, their haughty arrogance, their lethality, renders this queer film free of any sexuality.

Like a Herb Ritts coffee-table book, there’s plenty of arty-farty glances at highly sexual subjects, but no real sense of sex. Leopold once said that he was jealous of the food Loeb ate and the water Loeb drank, as they became a part of his being. All evidence suggests that he helped shove their victim’s warm corpse into a sewer pipe because that’s what Loeb wanted him to do. There’s absolutely no indication of this passion, this primeval love in the film. Instead, there’s crazy camera angles, contrived dialogue, and ham acting. To show audiences that violence and homosexuality are timeless concerns, Kalin places remote controls and cell phones in the occasional shot. A female, black court stenographer adds “kookiness” to the odd scene, but, as Kalin noted, such a figure would never have appeared in a courtroom of 1924.

Why take one of the most inherently sensational stories of the century – possibly the single most sensational story of the gay century – and then play stupid games with it, as though the story itself is of no consequence? Putting material like this in the background is just a lazy way of getting around thinking up your own plot.

TV Guide review

Hip to the nth degree and so self-conscious it verges on the suffocating, SWOON takes its inspiration in equal parts from 1924's sensational Leopold and Loeb case and Harlem drag balls by way of Madonna.

Wealthy Chicago teenagers Nathan Leopold, Jr. (Craig Chester) and Richard Loeb (Daniel Schlachet) are smart, spoiled and bored. They're embroiled in an intense, secret affair, whose fervor places them on a collision course with the straightlaced mores of middle America. They're outsiders on every level: homosexual in a family dominated culture, Jews in the Protestant midwest and sensualists in a bourgeois America that values puritan conformity above all else.

These two precocious teens intellectualize their outlaw sexuality into philosophical alienation, and begin to commit petty criminal acts--arson, vandalism--of escalating seriousness; eventually they kill fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks. Though they've planned a "perfect murder," the badly concealed body is quickly found and Loeb's glasses, uncovered nearby, lead the police to them. The two are arrested; under questioning, Loeb confesses and they're tried amidst vicious public opprobrium. State's Attorney Crowe (Ron Vawter) helps turn the trial into a prurient spectacle, hinting darkly about sexual sadism; Leopold and Loeb's smirking, superior attitudes both titillate and outrage the public and the media. Though they escape the death penalty, both go to prison, where Loeb is murdered. As a middle-aged man, Leopold is eventually released, marries and dies in obscurity.

The Leopold and Loeb case contained all the elements necessary to shock America in the 20s, the same elements that would make it into a true-crime bestseller today. The victim was an innocent child, the suspects educated and not connected to the criminal element. But more importantly, Leopold and Loeb lent (and lend) themselves to treatment as outsiders: wealthy Jewish homosexuals who may look like us, but are somehow safely, irrevocably different. That difference is at the heart of SWOON.

The case has inspired two movies before SWOON: Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE and Richard Fleischer's COMPULSION. As examinations of the case both were hampered by an inability to speak frankly about the conceptions of homosexuality that informed both the behavior of the two young men and the public reaction to their crime. But SWOON's writer and director, Tom Kalin, intends far more than a more factually correct recreation of a sordid murder case; though treated at the time as the crime of the century, by contemporary standards it's all (sadly) tame stuff and hardly merits another once over from the atrocity standpoint. Kalin instead weaves a dense and often beautiful net of allusions to ideas about homosexuality--social, scientific, philosophical and aesthetic--and traps Leopold and Loeb (or Babe and Dickie, as they call one another) within its meshes. Informed by radical queer politics and suffused with a strangled romanticism, SWOON is simultaneously provocative and infuriating, too intelligent to dismiss, but too enthralled by its own cleverness to escape being precious.

Shot in crisp, sparkling b&w, SWOON has the look of a too-cool-for-its-own-good jeans commercial, all avant-garde angles and compositional devices at the service of venal commerce. Kalin's sparse evocation of Chicago 70 years ago is a triumph of invention over budget. With little more than a period car and some strangely timeless clothing (the cloche hats reflect the appropriate period, but the suits wouldn't look out of place on today's streets), he suggests a stiffer, more proper America, one in which the words "sexual" and "politics" could never have been used in the same sentence and social rebellion had yet to acquire a marketable cachet. SWOON argues that with no models for living their lives as gay men, Leopold and Loeb were doomed; their sexual orientation isolated them from society, while their coddled upbringings prevented them from forging independent identities outside the mainstream. Craig Chester and Daniel Schlachet's performances as Leopold and Loeb are a particular asset, suggesting the mutable form of desire, and the power it wields in all its manifestations.

Kalin's use of anachronism (a touch-tone phone, a walkman, a newspaper with no date), which recalls the work of Derek Jarman (CARAVAGGIO, EDWARD II), seems designed to suggest the continuing relevance of SWOON's preoccupations--the ways in which sexuality determines social integration, the conflict between the public and the private self, the transformation of thwarted lust into anti-social behavior--but isn't used consistently enough. Its isolated manifestations just look wrong, and break the movie's often hypnotic spell. The same is true of the appearances by the "Venus in Furs Divas," an assortment of campily outfitted men in drag and women who look like men in drag reciting sado-masochistic verse. The device screams "formalism," but to what end?

SWOON is an intelligent, thoughtful piece of filmmaking, and its flaws do not diminish its achievement. The Leopold and Loeb case has been popularly thought of as an example of what can happen when bright but morally underdeveloped young men fall under the sway of Nietzchean philosophy, and SWOON returns philosophy to the bedroom, arguing persuasively that sexuality--in its social implications, as well as its private manifestations--is at the root of all behavior.

eFilmCritic Reviews  Rob Gonsalves

 

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

 

Edinburgh U Film Society [Stephen Townsend]

 

DVD Talk (Daniel W. Kelly)

 

Austin Chronicle (Steve Davis)

 

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin)

 

SAVAGE GRACE                                                    B                     87

USA  Spain  France  (97 mi)  2007

 

There’s something to be said about the English, especially growing up among the privileged upper classes, where one’s manner and demeanor are constantly being judged, as if on public display for rude, demeaning criticism from whomever is in a higher class just above yours - - and God save the Queen.  There’s this feeling that the English love to chastise and reprimand, where society’s version of giving someone a good tongue lashing is all part of the nation’s tradition, like soccer or cricket or taking high tea.  British dramas are filled with a peculiar kind of straight forwardness, where getting to the heart of the matter using as few words as possible is common practice.  While this is a distinctively American story about the family of Leo Baekland, one of the original developers of plastics who made a fortune, especially during the Depression when everyone else was losing theirs, this brutally inelegant portrait of an elaborately artificial world resembles the rise and fall of Barry Lyndon, told like a British drawing room drama where class distinction is a birthright, featuring elaborate interiors with characters all but suffocating within their own restrictive, carefully drawn parameters.  Adapted from a novel by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, and based on true events, this film has a novelistic inner narration which advances the psychological thoughts of several of the characters who speak, as if reading from their own personal diaries.  Set during the period 1946 to 1972 (though the adults never age), Leo’s son George apparently didn’t live up to his father’s expectations and committed suicide, leaving a dark cloud hanging over the next generation of his family and the fortune to his son Brooks (Stephen Dillane), an educated but introverted and aloof husband who has lost all interest in the superficialities of his social climbing wife Barbara (Julianne Moore) as well as his only son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), who is gay and too close to his mother, always drawing her affection away from the neglected husband.  Brooks despises Barbara’s need to flaunt her privileged status by organizing posh late night dinners at the Stork Club, social gatherings where important people are “seen,” a pompous gesture he simply has no use for.     

 

While Moore is marvelous as the brazenly domineering center of attention, her mood always registers as falsewitty, charming and charismatic, but also conniving and self-centered, as despite her bravura public persona, she really has no friends in the world and is out there hanging on a limb by herself, spoiling her over-pampered son, as if that will bring her the love she needs, but even that misfires.  She is described by her husband as a former actress who will always be an actress.  So what we have here is a great dysfunctional family where wealth only aggravates their pathetic and near pathological indifference to others, where behind the scenes they are largely ridiculed as Barbara has no academic standing to speak of and resorts instead to comically overwrought, inappropriate outbursts of temper as a means of saving face.  This has the makings of a bitchy, Betty Davis or Douglas Sirk-style, down and dirty melodrama where all hell breaks loose, but that’s not the way Kalin plays it.  Instead he creates an understated, exquisitely detailed interior mood piece shown with a surprising degree of restraint damning the manners and habits of the filthy rich that turns into a bizarre road movie of frustrated escapism, as they retreat to upper crest locations around the world from New York, London, and Paris, to Cadaqués and Mallorca in Spain, each one alienating them further, outcasts everywhere, where their barren lives resemble an enormously cavernous universe of unending emptiness, expressed through incessant cigarette smoking, probably more than any other film seen in the last 50 years, where their indulgent emotional cravings are on display like a constant fix from a narcotic, more a reflex devoid of any feeling or pleasure that after awhile generates an artifical layer replacing the original, where what was once human has vanished altogether and gone up in smoke.      

    

Despite being gay, the pressure on Tony to present himself respectively in public, namely with a girlfriend, drives him to a relationship with the adventurously free-wheeling Blanca (Elena Anaya), the odd lover out in his regular relationship with a pot smoking beach bum Jake (Unax Ugalde), yet striking enough that she eventually catches the eye of Brooks who steals her away, leaving his wife and son.  This is a truly pathetic moment, yet perhaps the best in the film as Barbara embarrassingly confronts them both at the airport as they attempt to flee, where she recognizes a younger and prettier version of herself, a girl who had enough sense to follow the money from Tony to Brooks, calling Blanca nothing more than a “cunt.”  This is more than a hurtful moment; it’s a transformative one that will manifest itself in ever deteriorating forms of destruction as the film progresses.  Tony understands that he has inherited his father’s role of having to take care of his drama queen mother’s needs, which is presented comically at first, and then tragically, as Barbara resorts to being comforted by a male gay friend that she is sleeping with, that Tony is also sleeping with, that ridiculously leads to the three of them together, which leads to a full-blown incestial affair, a stupefyingly desperate measure of a mother’s attempt to cure her son of homosexuality.  While the motives throughout the film are barely recognizable, this act solidifies the extent of their isolation pushing them into an unidentified no man’s land, a place where nothing is as it seems, apparently a hell hole of no escape for either one of them.  The photography by Juan Miguel Azpiroz impresses throughout while the music from Fernando Velázquez is a beautiful undercurrent to the themes of isolation and loneliness, occasionally quiet and reflective, especially some utterly gorgeous piano passages perfectly matched with tender images, while at other times the swirling largesse of the orchestra fills the void of what’s missing in this under-heated melodrama of lost and bitterly empty souls.     

 

D-DAY  Erica Abeel at Cannes from Filmmaker magazine

Topping off D-day was Tom Kalin's Savage Grace, a selection of the Director's Fortnight sidebar. It's based on the true story of Barbara Baekeland, who married up into the Bakelite plastics fortune. Husband Brooks seems to despise his gorgeous wife for being “low class” (Julianne Moore, in a wardrobe keyed to her coloring); and his son for being gay. Brooks runs off with son's theoretical g.f., leaving Moore and son in their own hothouse. Then Moore's “walker” b.f. seduces the son, and all three end up, giggling, in the same bed. It gets worse. You have to wonder what we're supposed to take away from a sicko psychodrama that's well acted (Moore gives it her best shot), but offers zero insight into what made these folks derail. Maybe the problem is that they never held an honest job.

Over a diet coke in the American Pavilion (I'm not a member and had to sneak in), I got to thinking. Friday's 3 D-movies share an intangible flaw: somewhere between intention and execution, the film loses credibility, even turns ridiculous (in fact, when Moore's character, after seducing her son, tells him, “You're the best,” the audience laughed). It's hard to poinpoint where it happens, but the falseness is fatal. Rather than engaging the viewer, the film virtually fades from the screen as you watch, becoming a phantom of the filmmaker's imagination.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein)

Tom Kalin’s Savage Grace recounts the (true) cautionary tale of Barbara Daly Baekeland (Julianne Moore), a not too worldly but socially ambitious beauty whose abandonment by her husband (Stephen Dillane), dwindling finances, and—here’s the singular note—homophobia coalesced into one bad trip for her son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne). Always overmothered, the unambiguously gay young man became the repository of Barbara’s hunger for control. Why, she would convert him to nondeviant sexuality if she had to sidle into his lap and stick his willy into herself.

Kalin lays this out with a touch of Madame Tussauds—the film is archly posed, with a score (by Fernando Velázquez) that’s rich in portentous strings. (Is there a theremin in there? Probably my imagination.) But Howard A. Rodman’s script has a lot of juice, and the rhythms are so pregnant that the air vibrates with something, even if you’re not sure what. Moore is virtuosic when it comes to chewing the scenery while standing stock-still—perfect for the going-to-seed failed movie actress Barbara. Dillane—whose Leonard Woolf was the best thing in The Hours—is infectiously uncomfortable: You don’t entirely blame him for bolting. Redmayne is … queer, in the old sense: physically detached, with only his bulgy eyes signaling his inner panic. In its frigid way, Savage Grace is potent: It makes incest a state of mind.

The Village Voice [Jim Ridley]

A lip-smacking episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Depraved, designed more for train-wreck gawkery than psychological illumination, Tom Kalin's garish melodrama applies icehouse style to hothouse material: the 1972 murder of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland, former wife of the heir to the Bakelite fortune, by the grown son she'd taken to fucking to cure his homosexuality. From the life-preserver clinging of his culture-vulture mom (Julianne Moore) to the contempt of his aloof playboy dad (Stephen Dillane), young Antony Baekeland was molded from birth into a sexually confused, neurotic mama's boy (played as an adult by Eddie Redmayne, who at his unhealthiest resembles Alan Colmes after a Queer Eye makeover). His standing as his mother's de facto husband led inevitably to incest, violence, and a grimly redundant self-suffocation; in Kalin and screenwriter Howard A. Rodman's hands, his downfall becomes a glossy travelogue, with stops in Paris (where his mom has Antony favor the guests with a reading from the Marquis de Sade), Majorca (where he and mom wake up on either side of her polymorphous walker, Hugh Dancy), and London (where a fateful kitchen knife awaits). This marks Kalin's first feature in the 15 years since his queer-cinema landmark Swoon, a grave, provocative retelling of the Leopold and Loeb case that refused to explain the killers away as victims of mass gay panic. This, by contrast, is a tawdry nighttime soap that marvels without insight at its characters' despicable behavior: It squanders a major performance by Moore, who rips into Barbara's confrontational mania, maternal perversity, and all-consuming need with nail-clawing fury and no small amount of malicious humor—as when she tries to quiet her increasingly agitated son/handjob recipient with a sharp "Inside voice!"

Bina007 Movie Reviews

It's a story so delicious, you couldn't make it up. The suave heir to an industrial fortune marries a beautiful social climber. They lead a life of privelege and ease in the summer resorts of Europe. She is embarassingly over-ambitious for her delicate young son. All three have casual sex with alarming alacrity. No-one is off limits. Nothing is unexpected. And then, after an hour or two of bed-hopping, the young son and mother indulge in the only coupling as yet untried. The fuck each other. He kills her. He orders chinese take-out and waits for the cops.

All this is true. But so much is left out. We never learn of Barbara Baekeland's disgust at her son's homosexuality. We never see that she seduces him in an attempt to turn him heterosexual, rather than out of careless boredom. We never see Tony exhibit signs of mental illness - the murder is not foreshadowed in anything he says or does. As a result, the movie lacks momentum or narrative drive. It just drifts across the screen - one scene of boredom and casual sex after another. You never understand why any of the characters do anything, much less care. Even during acts of incest or murder, the dull tedium of their lives has infected the movie-goer to the point where we couldn't care less. Things aren't helped by the lack of context in the production design. Apart from one scene in the Stork Club we never see the Baekeland's as social animals, living fast in glamourous parties or nightclubs. Maybe this was due to a budgetary constraint? The result is that visually, this is rather a dull film. There's also a sort of prudishness when it comes to the sex scenes. They are hinted at but never shown - certainly this movie has none of the balls-out bravery of Christophe Honoré's
MA MERE.

All of this is a tremendous shame. I have great respect for all three lead actors - Moore, Dillane, Redmayne - and the subject matter could have been fascinating. But the movie had a listless, bizarrely prim feel to it. I was utterly unimpressed.

The New York Times (A.O. Scott)

“Savage Grace,” Tom Kalin’s long-awaited second feature (after “Swoon”), swoons through a number of lovely, storied places on its way to a sad and sordid end. Narrated by Tony Baekeland (played in young adulthood by Eddie Redmayne), it begins in the post-World War II Manhattan of late-night dinners at the Stork Club and moves on to Paris in the ’50s and then to Spain (Cadaqués and Majorca, to be precise) in the late 1960s and London after that.

Written by Howard A. Rodman, “Savage Grace” follows the true, appalling story of Tony and his parents, played by Stephen Dillane and Julianne Moore. Brooks Baekeland, heir to a plastics fortune (his grandfather invented Bakelite), is frustrated by his own lack of ambition and less than kind to his wife, Barbara. For her part, Barbara is impulsive and also somewhat pretentious, striving to jam herself into social niches where she won’t comfortably fit. Greeting a literary scholar who has come for lunch, she asks: “Was Proust truly a homosexual? Qu’est-ce que tu penses?”

That line, like so many others in Mr. Rodman’s script, is written and delivered with an arch, brittle self-consciousness that becomes oppressive over time. While it’s likely that the diction and phrasing of the dialogue approximates the idioms of rich expatriates during the decades in question, the characters still seem vague, stilted and unreal.

This is especially true of Barbara, whose volatile personality is at the heart of the story. She is, we infer, both victim and provocateur in her marriage, suffering from Brooks’s coldness even as she goes out of her way to inflame his contempt. Her relations with Tony range from neglectful to needy to downright monstrous.

But instead of a character, Ms. Moore presents a series of poses, phrases and disjointed emotions. The intriguingly epicene Mr. Redmayne is something of a cipher in the film, which is fine when Tony functions as the spectator and interpreter of parental melodrama. But by the time his own pathology comes to the foreground, his actions are less tragic than weird and mystifying.

Mr. Kalin, perhaps oppressed by a need to obey the chronology of the story, fails to infuse it with enough dramatic momentum or psychological gravity. Everything and everyone in “Savage Grace” looks utterly gorgeous — Ms. Moore even as she is coming undone, the tastefully appointed rooms she inhabits, the period-perfect clothes she wears — but the décor, rather than being the vehicle of high feeling in the camp-melodrama tradition to which the film aspires, suffocates and blurs every interesting emotion.

There is a degree of pleasure to be found in watching a slow-moving spectacle of privileged decadence. But your interest in the decline of the Baekelands as they wander down the path from sarcasm and social posturing to abandonment, incest and murder never rises above the level of prurience. Even as it tries to be suave and nonjudgmental, “Savage Grace” has some of the breathless salaciousness of Barbara’s question about Proust. It lays out the facts of the case with the false nonchalance of a seasoned gossip, professing not to be shocked by anything even as it expects you to be.

Bisexuality! Marijuana! Anal sex! A father who sleeps with his son’s girlfriend! A son who sleeps with his mother’s boyfriend! All of great intrinsic interest, to be sure, but “Savage Grace” doesn’t seem quite sure of how to communicate its own fascination with such doings, whether to convey shock, envy, pity or bemusement. Proust might have known what to do with the Baekelands, but Mr. Kalin and Mr. Rodman don’t make much more of them than the mess they apparently already were.

BOOKS OF THE TIMES - New York Times  Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson (492 pages), reviewed by Daniel Goleman from The New York Times, July 10, 1985

SAVAGE GRACE. By Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson. 492 pages. William Morrow. $17.95. WHEN Tony Baekeland, great-grandson of the man who made millions by inventing the first commercially successful plastic, stabbed his mother to death in 1972, it was the final chapter in a family saga with plot twists worthy of ''Dynasty'' - or perhaps Tennessee Williams. For one, there was Tony's homosexuality; by 14 he was seducing other boys. While Tony's sexual preferences are not so remarkable, his mother's response was: she tried, it seems, to save Tony from his homosexuality by seducing him. Then, when Tony finally managed to bring home a girlfriend, his father ran off with her.

The murder sent ripples through the ranks of a glittery crowd. Tony's mother, Barbara Baekeland, had once been engaged to John Jacob Astor, and spent most of her time in social pursuit of the rich, the famous and the gifted. It is this same rather glamorous circle of friends and acquaintances who, through their own testimony, tell the tale of the Baekeland family in ''Savage Grace,'' by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson.

Miss Robins and Mr. Aronson skillfully weave together the reminiscences and documents - and the delicious gossip - that reveals the Baekeland saga. They are fortunate in being able to call upon an exceptional cast to tell the story, including Francine du Plessix Gray, Alastair Reid, William Styron and, through letters and an excerpt from a novel, James Jones. Moreover, a dazzling list of notables have walk-on roles in the book: Robert Graves, Dylan Thomas, William Saroyan, Cecil Beaton, Salvador Dali, Prince George of Denmark, and on and on.

There is a mythic quality to the Baekeland story, one that echoes Greek tragedy, but with peculiarly American twists. The fable is familiar: a flawed but brilliant figure rises from obscurity to found a wealthy dynasty which, over successive generations, disintegrates into oblivion.

The family fortune was made by Tony's great-grandfather, Leo Baekeland, an immigrant Belgian chemist. Leo, working in his laboratory in Yonkers, developed a plastic he marketed as Bakelite. Leo Baekeland's plastic found thousands of uses, from toilet seats and the streamlined radios of the 20's and 30's to a crucial, but still secret, use in the first atomic bomb.

Leo's son, George Baekeland, as so often happens to the children of great men, never lived up to his father's inflated expectations. The same psychological legacy seems, in turn, to have paralyzed George's son, Brooks, a brilliant student who abandoned physics for writing as he was about to complete his Ph.D. at Columbia. Brooks, despite his intellectual gifts, became the sort of writer who never managed to produce the novel he supposedly labored over for decades.

The women who married this line of Baekeland men seem all to have suffered the misery of an emotional divorce within the shell of a marriage. The social amenities were preserved - the formal dinners and social engagements - but the marriages themselves were at a distance. Indeed, Brooks's father, George, preferred to live in a small house in the company of his dogs rather than in the mansion with his wife and children.

As for Tony, there was, in early childhood, little to herald the angst of his later life. A charming, faunlike lover of nature, he spent his childhood in paradisiacal settings, with glittering chums; his beach playmate at 9, for example, was Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, daughter of Rita Hayworth and Aly Khan, his swimming pool the Eden Roc.

Still, the psychological ennui seems to have increased through the Baekeland generations. Tony Baekeland's family life was chaotic, centered around his mother's intense pursuit of the social status to be gained by befriending the famous. Tony was left by the wayside, an afterthought. Despite some talent at art and writing, Tony was thrown out of one posh school after the other.

By late adolescence, Tony began to fall apart. By his 20's, the signs of his schizophrenia were blatant: his paintings in a still life class, for example, were human figures with blood dripping down the side. Still, his mother strove to maintain appearances, playing the masquerade of a happy family. She would blithely show off his grotesque artworks to dinner guests, saying, ''Aren't they marvelous!'' - oblivious both to the fact that Tony was stonefaced and the dinner guests aghast. More ominous was the casualness with which she shrugged off Tony's angry outbursts and the physical attacks on her that preceded the stabbing.

By offering the reader the actual words of those involved, ''Savage Grace'' avoids the loss of credibility suffered by most novelized renderings of such events, notably due to the attribution to characters of thoughts and feelings that the narrator cannot possibly have known about. Many of the interviews have a special eloquence. For example, of all those who bear witness to the lurid details of the Baekeland family debacle, none is so interesting a figure as Tony's father, Brooks. He speaks with the voice of one at once lucid, literate and sophisticated, and yet blind to the most basic needs of the human heart.

One frustration in reading ''Savage Grace'' is that it lacks some basic aids that would help the reader intent on piecing together the details of its absorbing story. While the glossary of names of those quoted identifies them in terms of their careers or social station, their proximity to the Baekelands is not mentioned. It is difficult to know, then, how much credence to give some of the testimony - is it mere gossip? is it from the lips of an intimate friend? a casual acquaintance? Another help would be a family tree, since the book covers four generations of a sprawling familly.

But these are minor omissions in an otherwise gripping tale. ''Savage Grace'' is a fascinating, though macabre, exploration of the decadence of wealthy people without purpose. Read as a clinical case history, it shows how the psychological abandonment endured by some children of the very wealthy makes them suffer the same inner deprivations as do children of the very poor. And as a modern-day morality tale, ''Savage Grace'' bears eloquent witness to the emptiness of la dolce vita.

indieWire [Michael Koresky]

 

not coming to a theater near you (Tom Huddleston)

 

Bina007 Movie Reviews

 

Cinematical (Kim Voynar)   from Sundance

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

The New York Sun (Steve Dollar)

 

The House Next Door [Keith Uhlich]  (excerpt, about halfway down the article)

 

Paste Magazine [Sean Edgar]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Paul Griffiths

 

Savage Grace   Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily

 

Prost Amerika  Mike Caccioppoli

 

CompuServe [Harvey Karten]

 

OhmyNews [Brian Orndorf]  also seen here:  FilmJerk.com Review [Brian Orndorf]  and here:  DVD Talk

 

Reel.com [Chris Cabin]  also seen here:  Filmcritic.com

 

Kalin's Saving "Grace"  Wendy Mitchell on the announcement of making the film from indieWIRE

 

Julianne Moore on her dark ''Savage Grace'' | Julianne Moore ...  Missy Schwatrz interview at Cannes with Julianne Moore from Entertainment Weekly, May 21, 2007

 

The ‘Savage Grace’ Of Julianne Moore - Hamptons.com  Tom Clavin from Hamptons.com, June 19, 2008

 

Variety.com [Jay Weissberg]

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]  from Sundance

 

Los Angeles Times (Mark Olsen)

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips)

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott)

 

Kang Yi-kwan

 

SA-KWA

South Korea  (118 mi)  2005

 

Sa-kwa  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

There's absolutely nothing wrong with Sa-kwa. It's beautifully acted, with its two stars' naturalistic approach serving to underplay potential melodrama. Legend-in-her-own-time Moon So-ri is terrific in this, in control of the slightest tremors of emotion darting across her visage. But Kim Tae-woo, who I last saw in Woman is the Future of Man, is an exceptional foil. His strait-laced Sang-hoon could be played for cheap comedy, but instead there's a quiet tragedy in the way his dorkiness and one-track masculinity stays mostly the same while Moon's Hyun-jung evolves around it. Kang has made a confident first film, but there's a sense in which Sa-kwa plays out with a kind of inevitability. For all the lovely moments of observation that ring true (cf. the family yoga in the woods), there is an overarching determinism, as though life always developed in precisely one way and all Kang or the rest of us can do is watch it unfold. This makes Sa-kwa a bizarre proposition, raising questions of whether movie clichés are repeated because they accurately depict How We Live, or whether we are all making sense of our lives using tired, inadequate scripts. Hong Sang-soo thematizes this problem, but Kang simply embodies it.

Sa-Kwa  Adam Hartzell from the Korean Film Page

A friend of mine, in commenting how much she got out of Rules of Dating, added the disclaimer that it's a hard film to explain to other people because, well, the relationship you're talking about sounds so 'wrong'. There is much 'wrong' that happens in Rules of Dating, but like Hong Sangsoo's films, I never find the 'wrong' that happens approved by the text (as I do in the reprehensible Plastic Tree). There is a subset of films about "romantic" couples in South Korean cinema that focuses on the messiness of relationships that I think the majority of people experience more often than the fairy-tale, soulmate couplings we dream about. Although I see much positive about the heightened concern by United States filmmakers regarding the representations of particular populations, a negative side is that some might stray from portraying certain realities of life because some might be concerned of indirectly promoting all the -isms that still persist. Freed from the political situation particular to the United States, South Korean cinema has been able to develop some fascinating and complex romantic plots that often have you leaving the theatre not knowing what to think, having to let your thoughts and feelings settle before you proclaim allegiance with or defiance towards what you witnessed on screen.

These types of messy romances serve as the base for Kang Yi-kwan's debut film Sa-Kwa. An assistant director for Memento Mori and Three Friends, Kang found himself with the privilege to direct Moon So-ri (Oasis, A Good Lawyer's Wife, Bewitching Attraction) in a film about loving, suffering, lying, and forgiving - oneself and others - that he also wrote. His camera immediately announces the unease that feeds these messy couplings through the feeling of improper intimacy conveyed in the at-the-shoulder shots of Moon's character Hyun-jung. The camera is extremely intrusive on Hyun-jung, making us feel as if we are stalking her. And this is how she feels initially about Sang-hoon (Kim Tae-woo - Don't Look Back and, speaking of Hong Sangsoo, Woman Is The Future Of Man), the man in her building who relentlessly pursues her in spite of her rejections. She reconsiders Sang-hoon after her boyfriend of many years unexpectedly calls off their relationship. We witness Hyun-jung stutter into a marriage with Sang-hoon upon which, as hard as we might try, we cannot justify projecting a star-crossed romance. The highpoint of this well structured narrative is the wedding scene. Without dialogue, but with the happy-wedding signifiers of lighting, costume and music, the ambivalent looks of Hyun-jung and Sang-hoon temper this joyous moment with an underlying feeling of doubt about this union. After the wedding we see their love grow, but we also see it dissipate.

The story is told from the point of view of Hyun-jung and we follow her as she struggles to figure out what's best for her and the people that matter to her. And speaking of people who matter to her, her family is absolutely wonderful in its characterization. What could have come off as cliches - the mother intrusive in her daughters's relationships, the father aloof to the troubles within the family, the younger daughter always ready to pout and stomp out of the room - instead come off as nicely nuanced and often hilarious. As much as this family has its trouble, (and to Kang's credit, by bringing in their economic issues this film keeps from being a completely atomistic take on these lives), I found myself wanting to join in on the hikes and tai-chi exercises as a cousin.

The choice to leave the film title un-translated for non-Korean audiences allows for Sa-Kwa to fully resonate with both its meanings, "apple" and "apology", two words that allude to Christian theology. As significant a religion as Christianity is in South Korea, I have been surprised how infrequently it shows up fully engaged in the plots of the country's films. The apple definition of Sa-Kwa obviously intends to reference the Garden of Eden story, but not as a platform to punish everyone as so-called sinners in order to control the population. Sa-Kwa presents adults living adult lives, making adult choices, and struggling with the ramifications of those choices. These characters aren't damned and excommunicated; they are embraced, understood, and forgiven.

And since one can't be forgiven until one apologizes, there in falls the other definition of Sa-Kwa. Apologies and forgiveness are prominent themes throughout Sa-Kwa as they both relate to suffering, making the film a wonderful jumping off point for the discussion of "Theodicy", the term from the 18th century theologian Gottfried Liebniz that means "the Justice of God" and represents theological attempts to explain 'why bad things happen to good people'. Sa-Kwa seems to argue that suffering comes from a direct relationship with knowledge, something represented by the apple since the apple in the book of Genesis comes from the 'Tree of Knowledge'. The more you know, the more you hurt. Rather than focus on the suffering of the wider world, Sa-Kwa focuses on the suffering of the everyday of the every woman and man. Some of the suffering of the everyday is caused by the things we bring about, such as the lies we tell and the selfish acts we demand, but some is also caused by decisions outside of our control. And the more we learn about what we can and can't control, the more we learn about life, the more possibilities to suffer emerge. But rather than taking this as a lesson to remain ignorant and to keep information from others, Sa-Kwa demonstrates how owning up to the responsibility knowledge affords us can lead to greater reductions in the suffering of ourselves and others. As one of Hyun-jung's parents (I forget which one exactly, only having access to one screening so far) underscores, wouldn't life be "boring" if we never had to work through suffering, if we didn't have to learn and apply what we learn?

Sa-Kwa is not so heavy-handed in its Christian subtext as to put off non-Christians like myself. As an Agnostic, I find the story a validation not of Christian belief but of the resiliency of my fellow human beings. Any of us who have been banished from the paradise of innocence in relationships after partaking of the fruits of knowledge that adulthood provides will find something to relate to in Sa-Kwa. The ending is appreciatively ambiguous enough that each of us can cuddle up with an ending that works for our fallible selves right now. Then we can watch it again at a different turn in our lives for a different teaching, a sign of all Good Books and Good Films.

Kani, John

 

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH                               C                     73

South Africa  France  (108 mi)  2008

 

Award winning South African playwright John Kani takes his first play (2002) and moves both behind and in front of the camera, directing and playing the lead role in the film.  Unfortunately he gives a somewhat wooden performance, standing around and reading the lines as if sitting on a stool, attempting to enunciate as best as possible using perfect diction.  As an older man, he couldn’t be less spontaneous and more predictable, so he feels like a lecturer, as if we’re being read and lectured to.  Since this is about history, it all but dulls the otherwise searing subject matter.  Much of this feels force fed, made easy to digest through elaborate explanations in a near one-man play, growing ridiculously simplistic at times.  The problem is the unlikability factor, as the lead character who dominates the screen time spends way too much time selfishly thinking of himself, and not in flashbacks in a WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957) revelry, as if he’s painfully looking back at himself with moments of admiration as well as regret, but his resentment is expressed through his current outrage where he believes people have done him a major injustice.  In an intimate theater this may work, but on film, this self-centered tone of personal squabbles pales against the reality of the nation’s policy of forgiveness, which is nothing less than a transcendent moment in history.  The film never gets on track and with barely a hint at soul searching, where the characters are never fleshed out.  Unfortunately everything is wrapped in a package where the harsh edges are smoothed clean that makes it all too palatable for the viewers, who needn’t do any heavy lifting in this film.   

 

He’s worked in his South African village library since the early days before apartheid when blacks were not allowed to enter the library, and met his wife there.  He expects to be named the library director in the next few days, a position he feels he’s earned, and at age 63, one he’s paid his dues to qualify for.  We hear him freely express his thoughts as Sipho, the narrator and lead character, while also seeing newsreel shots of Archbishop Desmond Tutu heading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.  He’s received news that his younger brother Themba died while living in London, a social activist and exile from the anti-apartheid movement, a man who could generate energy and enthusiasm into an audience through his gift of speech.  As his body is being shipped back to South Africa for burial, Sipho has mixed feelings about his brother, and other exiles who received such favorable treatment upon their return while others who worked hard for the struggle were often overlooked.  Themba was the one who always received favorable treatment from his family and special recognition from his country while Sipho labored hard and arduously to generate the money to support him for most of his adult life, including the college career that he could never obtain for himself as his family never had the money.  Sipho’s troublesome memories about his brother parallel the country’s difficulties in coming to terms with the reconciliation trials, as horrendous offenses are being admitted to, yet the white perpetrators receive amnesty and are not held accountable for brutal murders, torture, and other acts of violence.  Those are the terms of the hearings, as otherwise no one would step forward to admit to these crimes.   Still, when the nation hears the full extent of the organized criminal acts directed against its own black citizens, it’s easy to associate justice with revenge.

 

This subject is further explored when the differences between the two brothers is exacerbated by the behavior of their children.  Themba’s body is brought back by his grown daughter Thando (Motshabi Tyelele), an insufferably spoiled brat who carries more luggage than can fit into most people’s homes, and who is bringing back the cremated ashes instead of the body they were expecting.  Already set in her ways, she has little respect or interest in African ways, as she’s used to doing exactly as she pleases.  While Mandisa (Rosie Motene) on the other hand is Sipho’s daughter, who looks after him daily, and lives her life in accordance with the blessings of her father.  Everything comes to a head when Sipho receives notice that he does not get the job, which sends him on a drunken bender.  When the two girls find him in the corner of a notorious bar, the night is still young, as Sipho will spend the night railing against the injustices of his life, including the recollections of his brother’s atrocious behavior.  When Thando thinks he’s just jealous because his brother was a movement hero, Sipho lays out what sacrifices are needed to be a responsible man, something his brother could never be, as he never worked a day in his life, yet he accepted all the hero worship adulation while continually receiving support from his family.  Sipho describes his day of reckoning, where he will demand that he be installed as director of the library on the grounds that he is entitled to it, threatening to burn the place down if they don’t honor his wishes, after which he can claim amnesty by admitting his crime.  Again, his vow of revenge is his criteria for obtaining justice.  In the morning when he sobers up, it’s just another day, but it’s also the day he lays to rest his brother’s ashes and with it the enormous resentment he has carried around with him for years.  

 

The 8th Annual CHICAGO AFRICAN DIASPORA FILM FESTIVAL  Facets Multi Media

Nothing But The Truth is a gripping investigation into the complex dynamic between the people who remained in South Africa and risked their lives to lead the struggle against apartheid and those who returned victoriously after living in exile. 63-year-old librarian Sipho Makhaya prepares for the return of the ashes of his brother Themba, recently deceased while in exile in London after gaining a reputation as a hero of the anti-apartheid movement. Award-winning actor John Kani is the lead actor in this film version of the internationally acclaimed play Nothing But The Truth which he also authored.

Director bio  African Film Library

Bonsile John Kani is a South African Actor actor, playwright and director. He was born in New Brighton township in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth. He joined The Serpent Players (a group of actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were performed to a resounding reception.

These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. He also received an Olivier nomination for his role in My Children My Africa!

Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island. These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of 52 performances.

Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed in the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa specifically the rift between black people who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated regime folded. It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for best actor and best new South African play. In the same year he was also awarded a special Obie award for his extraordinary contribution to theatre in the USA. In 2008  Nothing but the Truth was adapted for the big screen marking Kani’s directorial and screenwriting debut. The film has been widely received and scooped several awards including the coveted Silver stallion award at Pan African Film and Television awards of Ouagadougou (Fespaco). Kani is executive trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the Market Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA.

Kani has also received the Avanti Hall of Fame Award from the South African film, television and advertising industries, an M-Net Plum award and a Clio award in New York. Other awards include the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation Award for the year 2000 and the Olive Schreiner Prize for 2005. He was voted 51st in the Top 100 Great South Africans in 2004. In 2006 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town.

Kapadia, Asif

 

THE WARRIOR

Great Britain  France  Germany  (86 mi)  2001  ‘Scope

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

NW India, ages ago. Sent by his warlord boss to punish a village defaulting on tithes, warrior Lafcadia (Khan) finds himself unable to slay a young girl after noticing his son's pendant around her neck. But the tyrant won't tolerate deserters: when Lafcadia, laying aside his sword, tries to leave for his native village in the Himalayas, his former second-in-command, Biswas, captures and kills his son. Devastated, he continues his journey into the wilderness, meeting various loners as he goes, while Biswas follows in bloody pursuit. If some of the above sounds familiar, that's because the plot of Kapadia's fine feature debut echoes The Outlaw Josey Wales and several Mann and Boetticher Westerns; stylistically, however, Kurosawa and Leone are reference points. In other words, this is basically a Western transposed to India, but the brazenly mythic tone aligns it less closely with Hollywood models than with more reflexive storytelling traditions. With its stark narrative simplicity, its timeless setting and cipher characters, the epic mode may not produce psychological complexity, but it does score in terms of scale, sweep and sheer panache.

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4/5]

As a first feature, written and directed by Asif Kapadia, who was born in Hackney and didn't go to India until he was 23, The Warrior is audacious. Kapadia took a crew of 250 into the deserts of Rajasthan, where you could fry an egg on a rock, and later to the foothills of the Himalayas, where seven layers of clothing were required to stop from freezing at night.

He used mainly untrained actors and wrote the script with Tim Miller, his senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London. They shared an interest in magic realism and folk tales. Kapadia's true passion is for Westerns and what he calls "landscape films", short on verbal communication, rich on visual expression.

The Warrior recreates the brutal traditions of the Rajputs, who ruled from isolated fort fiefdoms with a ruthlessness that would have been the envy of Bosnian Serb generals. If his subjects failed to provide the lord with his annual levy, because of drought or poor harvest, he beheaded their representative and sent assassins to raze their houses to the ground.

Lafcadia (Irfan Khan) is the leader of these warriors, who has a Damascus Road moment during the massacre of innocents and decides to pack it in and return to his village in the mountains. Kapadia's film is the story of that journey, as the repentant murderer is pursued by riders who have been ordered to "bring me the head of Alfredo Lafcadia".

The influence of Sergio Leone is everywhere, from Khan's brooding performance to the detritus of desertscape. Dialogue is kept to a minimum. The camera's eye captures a terrible beauty. The warriors are like The Wraiths from The Lord Of The Rings and Lafcadia has the white-robed presence of a prophet.

To call this an Eastern is too easy. It's more than that. It is a unique cinematic experience, created by a young British/Indian filmmaker who has the courage of his perception and an understanding that movies are a visual medium.

"I didn't want to make a small first film," he said. "Two people in a room didn't interest me."

They won't interest you, either, after this.

Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez

Just as Quentin Tarantino happily plugged countless Asian imports for Miramax, Asif Kapadia's The Warrior, the story of a brutal Rajput mercenary who goes straight and subsequently incurs the wrath of the warlord who employed him, reaches American shores under an equally dubious banner: "Anthony Minghella Presents." This type of promotion is ridiculous: Not only does Minghella have absolutely nothing to do with the film's production but his name sets up a worrying level of expectation ("Please, not another Cold Mountain!"). In the end, the only thing in common between Kapadia and his film's master of ceremonies is that the intersection of the past and present in The Warrior recalls the epic ritual of denial that serves as the foundation for Minghella's only good film, Truly Madly Deeply.

After his defection, Lafcadia (Irfan Khan) takes to wandering barren landscapes and remote mountain villages, haunted by the memory of his dead son and pursued by his former cohort Biswas (Aino Annuddin). In a young thief (Noor Mani), Lafcadia finds a substitute for his son, and in one of the most touching sequences in the film, finds himself playing with the boy in the same way he did with his son before his death. Lafcadia's decision to abandon his mercenary ways starves for a convincing justification, but Khan's expressive eyes fill in the gaps by evoking his character's crisis as a hunger for spiritual salvation. This makes Lafcadia's interaction with a blind woman (Damayanti Marfitia) especially compelling: Lafcaida carries the woman in his arms to a place called the Holy Lake, but after sensing the man's bloody past by touching his face with her trembling hand, the woman denies him what is understood to be an act of penance.

There's raping, pillaging, and beheading in the film, but Kapadia keeps much of the film's violence off-screen, which does more harm than good at times: This G-grade presentation of R-rated horror perpetuates confusion (is Biswas putting on a show when he slices the throat of Lafcadia's son?). And while many of the characters, namely the priggish warlord played by Anupam Shyam, are cartoonish, and the story's delineation of right and wrong is scarcely complex (in essence, thieving and bloodletting is justified if it benefits the disenfranchised), The Warrior's narrative economy is impressive. I much prefer the full-throated passion of
The Gate of the Sun, but it's to the film's credit that it's able to say so much with very little words and even less righteousness.

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

The Onion A.V. Club review  Nathan Rabin

 

James Bowman review  also seen here:  The New York Sun (James Bowman) review

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Janos Gereben

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

VideoVista review  Jeff Young

 

Kamera.co.uk review  Sameer Padania

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Nate Meyers) dvd review

 

DVD Savant (Lee Broughton) dvd review

 

DVD Town (Yunda Eddie Feng) dvd review

 

DVD Talk (John Wallis) dvd review [3/5]

 

DVD Verdict (Joel Pearce) dvd review

 

Talking Pictures (UK) review  Jaap Mees

 

Close-Up Film [Kirsty Walker]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Dan Lybarger) review [4/5]

 

The Village Voice [Uday Benegal]

 

filmcritic.com (Christopher Null) review [2.5/5]

 

Variety.com [Derek Elley]

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [2.5/4]

 

BBC Films (Almar Haflidason) dvd review

 

Guardian/Observer review

 

The Boston Phoenix review  Peter Keough

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]

 

Los Angeles Times (Jan Stuart) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Laura Kern) review

 

FAR NORTH

Great Britain  France  (89 mi)  2007  ‘Scope

 

Time Out London (Wally Hammond) review [2/6]

 

Those hoping to avoid the cold might want to skip director Asif Kapadia’s latest ethnographically interested mini-epic, an adaptation of an Arctic-set story by feminist Sara Maitland. The tundra is as breathtaking as the acting is solid. Michelle Yeoh and Michelle Krusiec, decked out in Inuit chic, are suitably fierce as the cursed and lonely hunter and adopted daughter. They are ever canoeing or sledding together, away from their murderous fellow man, until Sean Bean’s half-dead escapee soldier falls in their path and divides them.
 
It’s strange and eerie – in a bad way. It could be the Middle Ages, except for the radios and listening stations on the horizon. The politics are obscure too, with marauding groups suggestive of a fascist near-future. Themes of survival, savagery, maternalism and rivalry are unresolved. Disappointing.

 

Eye for Film (Paul Griffiths) review [4/5]

In 2001 British director Asif Kapadia's feature debut The Warrior garnered him just praise for his able story telling and for eliciting moving performances from his cast whilst capturing stunning Indian scenery. He followed this up last year in the States with The Return starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It couldn't have been more different, or disappointing. Thankfully, Far North looks and feels like the film we were hoping for last time around.

In fact, it is. It's just taken Kapadia more than four years to realise his vision so I guess he had to do something to pay the bills in the meantime. He has again teamed with Tim Miller (The Warrior co-writer) to develop a Spartan screenplay, based on a short story by Sarah Maitland, which charms with its simple folklore inflections and disturbs with its dark humanity.

Michelle Yeoh is Saiva, a nomadic woman wandering the truly desolate icescapes of the Arctic tundra. Her sole companion is the younger Anja, played by Michelle Krusiec. Together they have forged a harsh hand-to-mouth existence, on the move with their huskies, avoiding others, battling the cold, hunting for food. They’re close and comfortable with each other’s mostly wordless company; Anja is resilient and perky, Saiva a determined maternal protector.

One day a figure, a man, played by Sean Bean, staggers over the barren horizon and finally collapses at Saiva’s feet. His name is Loki. With much consternation Saiva takes him back to their animal-skinned camp where his mere presence instantly and seismically changes the women’s closed daily living. His name is deliberately apt, taken from a god of Norse mythology known for unbalancing the nature of things. Inevitably, tensions mount as their new relationships see brute human psychology tentatively unfurl from within all three.

Kapadia has described the film as a dark fairy story rather than a straight narrative. Indeed, when the final act comes it is both chest-freezingly shocking and entirely apposite with the three-handed Greek tragedy that he has steadily developed from the first opening sequences. It is an unsettling, captivating conclusion.

Everyone delivers persuasive performances, considering the environmental conditions and that they’re working with characters that are drawn as intentionally illustrative as they are human. If anything, Bean is the weakest and least evolved because of this (although he’s still far better than in his execrable The Hitcher) and while Krusiec is consistently reliable Yeoh, frankly, excels. Her portrayal of Saiva as both seasoned survivor and conflicted victim brings the full tragic portent of her flash-backed past straight into her present actions and wavering gaze, transfixing throughout.

Equally spellbinding is the epic polar scenery, beautifully rendered by cinematographer Roman Osin. Mountainous, awesome and utterly punishing, Far North is best seen on the big screen to appreciate in full the world the characters live in - and Kapadia’s sizeable achievement in capturing and so poignantly weaving it to his characters’ story. It is a far more welcome return for the director.

An absorbing, disturbing and exceptionally composed filmic fable.

BFI | Sight & Sound | Far North (2007)  Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound, January 2009

The Arctic. Saiva - once a solitary outcast, supposedly cursed - is now accompanied on her travels by Anja, a young woman she raised from a baby after Anja's settlement was wiped out by the soldiers taking over their homeland. One day the two women rescue Loki, a man found wandering in the tundra; he too is a fugitive. The three continue travelling together and, despite Saiva's warnings, Anja becomes Loki's lover. Anja tells Saiva that she is tired of the nomadic life and is leaving to start a family with Loki. Saiva kills Anja, slices off her face and wears it to make love to an unwitting Loki; when he realises what is happening, he runs off into the wilderness.

Review

Asif Kapadia's 2001 debut feature The Warrior remains one of the most singular and adventurous enterprises in recent British cinema: a dazzling fusion of traditional Indian imagery with martial-arts action and the stylised starkness of the Sergio Leone Western. A follow-up has been long awaited and Far North - premiered in Venice in 2007 - could be considered Kapadia's second feature proper, his 2006 film The Return, a Sarah Michelle Gellar scarer, being strictly a for-hire job.

Far North is nothing if not adventurous and shows the same thirst for exploration that made The Warrior such a stirring anomaly. Just as that film was largely inspired by its location, Far North starts out not so much from a narrative base - although the seed was a short story by Sara Maitland - as from a landscape, its visual palette and its expressive ambience. Here, the story serves to help explore the setting rather than the other way round.

Shot in the Norwegian Arctic and in the extreme northern archipelago of Svalbard, the film bears the traces of what was by all accounts an unusually arduous production, the shoot sometimes happening at minus 40 degrees. The landscape is the film's true subject, as was not strictly the case in The Warrior, where a compellingly schematic narrative and the charismatic presence of Irfan Khan held equal claims on the attention. In Far North, however, the geography itself results in a more contemplative, downbeat mood. Kapadia and Roman Osin, returning as DP, are working with a greatly reduced colour palette: snow, brown land, grey rock, occasional splashes of blood and glows of fire as opposed to the intense blue skies and red sands of The Warrior's location, Rajasthan. Nevertheless, Far North often provides an intensely impressionistic experience - although, oddly, it is sometimes less striking visually than sonically, the grumbling and cracking of ice fields and the subsonic booms of the water beneath forming an eerie soundscape that makes Dario Marianelli's sparse, new-agey score somewhat redundant.

Yet the film falls short of the mythic heft it seeks in its stripped-down narrative, about the outcast Saiva and the young woman, Anja, who accompanies her on her travels. One of the problems is the context: we neither quite believe in the generalised timelessness of the landscape nor in the hints of geographic specificity. In this unidentified landscape, characters speak English, and at one point, in the background, Russian. The two women are presumably to be taken as Inuit, given the casting of Malaysian-born Hong Kong star Michelle Yeoh and Asian-American Michelle Krusiec - while the provenance of Loki, the man who comes between them, is unclear, his name suggesting affinities with the malign Norse god.

Any potential substance to these barebones characters is undermined by the terse but awkward English dialogue ("How's the reindeer?" "Tough"), with which the actors never sound comfortable. Stiff playing, and distracting American inflections in the two women, prove such liabilities that you wish Kapadia had gone the extra mile and eschewed dialogue entirely, an approach that might well have yielded a tougher film (though it would have limited its commercial prospects still further). And, while few actors are quite as adept as Sean Bean at stumbling out of a tundra and looking battered by the elements, it's nevertheless hard to forget that this is Sean Bean: the connotations of solid action-role bluffness are hard to shake off.

A bleak and abrupt ending, aspiring to the extremity of primal myth, comes across as an incongruous switch of register, with an unfortunate echo of Hannibal Lecter's impromptu mask-making in The Silence of the Lambs. Far North falls far short of the echt-Inuit resonance of Zacharias Kunuk's geographically specific Atanarjuat (2000), yet it does often hit a note of genuine mystery and otherworldliness. Scenes in which the women pass a prison-like encampment, or in which we glimpse a cluster of geodesic domes, suggest an almost science-fiction quality, as if we're really on another planet. The film takes on its own life the more it drifts away from the strictly human dimensions of the drama and gestures at something more evocatively abstract - which is when it develops affinities with the more exigent landscape-art and durational tendencies of film-makers such as Philippe Grandrieux or Lithuania's Sarunas Bartas. For all its flaws, Far North remains as strikingly non-conformist as its predecessor; you wonder what revelations Kapadia might yet give us if he girds himself to venture into the more recondite territories this film gestures towards.

Screen International review  Lee Marshall in Venice

 

Critic's Notebook [Alan Diment]

 

Bina007 Movie Reviews

 

Sky.com [Tim Evans]

 

Little White Lies

 

Close-Up Film [Dave Hall]

 

Urban Cinefile review  Andrew L. Urban

 

Variety.com [Alissa Simon]

 

SENNA

Great Britain  USA  Brazil  France  (106 mi)  2010                                 Official site

 

Senna takes a shocking look at a Brazilian racing phenom ...  Ken Eisner from Georgia Straight

Not many sports figures, especially from outside the United States, cross over to represent something greater than the sum of their skills. It usually takes charisma, talent, and a time-stamped sort of luck, and race-car star Ayrton Senna had plenty of all three—until it all ran out.

Before his sudden death in San Marino at the age of 34, the Brazilian phenom grew from a go-kart sensation in the early ’80s to become one of the world’s top drivers just as the Formula One franchise was capturing a wider public’s imagination.

Resembling a skinnier Antonio Banderas and philosophically articulate in both English and Portuguese, the intense champion with the odd first name launched a long-running dramatic narrative for speed-racer fans when he became teammate to his chief rival, the more pragmatically political, and very French, Alain Prost. (An argument can be made that Sacha Baron Cohen borrowed elements from both figures for his imperious racer in Talladega Nights.)

British director Asif Kapadia and writer Manish Pandey draw on a wealth of archival footage, sporadically effective music (some of it is pretty ESPNish), and no on-screen talking heads to tell Senna’s spectacular tale. His rise came during the final throes of Brazil’s military dictatorship, when that giant nation felt stagnant and isolated, and the bilingual film could have provided um pouco mais context to convey why the guy (not even a football player!) became such a national hero. There is also very little about his personal life.

Still, there’s certainly enough meat here in the public sphere, and this exciting documentary’s final contention—that its hero was felled by logo-branded technology, not God-baiting hubris—has the power to shock well outside the dangerous world it depicts.

Next Projection [Ronan Doyle]

Almost every review I have read of Senna seems to find it necessary to insist that the film is of a wide appeal; that its audience need neither have any interest in, nor knowledge of, the subject of the documentary: Formula One racing. To say that I lack these things would be an understatement of staggering proportion, my attitude toward sport of any kind skeptical and cynical at best. Sport, to me, is like religion: I understand the concept, I appreciate that people get something out of it, but I can’t begin to fathom quite why.

Taking its title from legendary Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, Senna charts his rise from go-kart racer to three-time World Champion Formula One driver, covering in the process his clashes with the politics of the sport, his infamous rivalry with fellow McLaren driver Alain Prost, and the untimely end to his professional career.

An interesting aspect of Senna’s approach is its explicit use of archival footage—save for its stylised title sequence—accompanied by audio interviews with Senna’s immediate family as well as officials and journalists from within the world of Formula One racing. With no specifically shot scenes of his own, director Asif Kapadia entrusts our attention entirely to the drama of this story, allowing it to unfold before us as a narrative arc rather than as a retrospective consideration of a career. This tactic works well, facilitating a tension for those among us unfamiliar with this story and its progress. As a sports movie, Senna presents its racing sequences like action scenes, bringing to them as much tension as is possible. It is in the usage of on-car cameras, offering us as close an approximation to the driver’s line of sight as can be given, that this is primarily achieved, the realization of the immense speed at which the cars are traveling disarmingly surprising and unexpectedly involving. Sharp turns; sudden appearances of other cars; skids and slides: all are noticed only after their occurrences, giving us an insight into the rapid reactions required of these racers. It is difficult not to have one’s breath held and heart racing as this footage unfolds. That the scenes off-track are more exciting than those on, therefore, should tell you much about how engaging Senna’s struggle with the oppressive internal politics of his passion are. This is more than just a look at a racing driver, this is a look at a human being wading through the murky swamps of bureaucracy which sully his profession, and indeed at one point his own success. Though the film may perhaps be somewhat too unbalanced in its perspectives, it manages to present an engaging portrait of an enthralling man, his dedication to his passion, to his nation, and to the faith toward which his astounding speed seems to hurtle him.

When I likened my perspective on sport to that on religion, I did so not out of an atheistic tendency toward casual dismissal, but out of the fact that Senna accomplishes a similar feat with both topics. Much as the on-car camera allows one to appreciate the dizzying transcendence of the sporting experience, the way in which Senna speaks of his steadfast faith, and the genuineness of his belief that he is, in his own way, becoming closer to God, conveys to us his own religious transcendence. Senna is a wonderful film not because it is genuinely exciting and thrilling, not because it presents a portrait of a human rather than of a driver, but because it showed this curmudgeonly cynic just how much things which mean nothing to him can mean to others.

Though the film may perhaps be somewhat too unbalanced in its perspectives, it manages to present an engaging portrait of an enthralling man.

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young]

A compelling, high-octane hagiography of Brazil’s charismatic Ayrton Senna, triple Formula 1 World Champion before his untimely death – in harness, as it were – during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

For the visuals, director Asif Kapadia and editors Chris King and Gregers Sall use only existing archival footage of Senna’s life on and off the track, with occasional commentary – via interviews conducted for the film – from his friends, family and colleagues, plus a couple of F1 journalist. But the tone (Manish Pandey receives screenplay credit) is near-uniformly adulatory throughout, and even if Senna does come across as a very decent, admirable, humble individual, the idea that he rose to the top of this most competitive and strenuous of professions through sheer niceness stretches credulity.

Kapadia falls into the classic sports-biopic trap (most heinously displayed in Ron Howard’s disgraceful Cinderella Man) of demonising the impeccably noble protagonists’ foes and opponents. And while the squeaky-clean, pinup-handsome Senna’s rivalry with his rather more devious, rather less photogenic former team-mate Alain Prost obviously became highly – and absorbingly – acrimonious, and while late F1 supremo Jean-Marie Balestre evidently wasn’t the most cordial or fair-minded of individuals (“my decision is the best decision!” seems to be his mantra), that doesn’t excuse the way Senna presents both men in such moustache-twirlingly villainous terms.

For all the inherent fascination in Senna’s rise to international fame as a motor-racing driver whose skill and personality transcended his sport, and F1’s near-simultaneous transformation into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise with global reach, Kapadia’s approach – with its dramatic, near wall-to-wall score – often feels excessively emotive, as if the tale being told somehow wasn’t quite forceful enough to be be told on its own terms (which it most certainly is).

There’s also the nagging sense that the full story – or rather stories – are rather more complicated and nuanced than we’re led to believe. To take one obvious example, Senna goes to great pains to illustrate what a very big deal the driver was in, and for, Brazil – providing welcome good news in an age of political repression and economic hardship. But while Nelson Piquet is briefly shown, and is identified as himself being a triple world F1 champ, the casual viewer would have no idea that Piquet was also Brazilian, and was champion the very year before Senna’s first title. This isn’t to diminish Senna’s achievement in any way, nor the great affection with which he was held at home – but to imply that Senna was the sole example of globally-recognised sporting excellence in the late 1980s is, at best, misleading.

And surely the real tragedy here is the severe plight of Brazil as a result of years of military dictatorship – far eclipsing the fate of a single individual, no matter how wonderful and inspirational he might have been. Regarding that sad fate, Kapadia and company also spend far too much time on the Imola race – lingering on the minutiae of events before, during and after the catastrophe.

Their technique is skilful enough to create tension even among those who know the precise details of the outcome – watching the crash via footage shot from the cockpit of Senna’s own car is almost as gut-wrenchingly suspenseful as the final reel of Paul Greengrass’s United 93. But the film comes uncomfortably close to tastelessness in the way it so very carefully, steadily and lengthily builds up to Senna’s crash – his death a total, out-of-the-blue fluke, it would seem.

The result is undeniably powerful, and the image of Senna’s flag-draped coffin is piercingly poignant – especially as juxtaposed with images of the young, ambitious driver with his loving family at the start of his career. The impression conveyed by this slick, manipulative film, made in conjunction with the Ayrton Senna Foundation, and very much an authorised account, is unmistakeably that of a man who was essentially too good, too pure, too saintly – not just for the grubbily cash-dominated world of Formula 1, but for the world, full stop.

“Senna”: Meet the Elvis of racing drivers - Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir

 

Review: Not A Racing Fan? 'Senna' May Not Convert But Sti ...  Eric McClanahan from The Playlist

 

Review: Senna is riveting, emotional celebration of ... - HitFix  Drew McWeeny

 

Senna Review: You'll Never Watch This ... - Pajiba  Dustin  Rowles

 

Senna reviewed: a riveting Formula One documentary about ... Dana Stevens from Slate

 

PopcornReel.com [Omar P.L. Moore]

 

Senna · Film Review · The A.V. Club  Alison Willmore

 

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

 

Film.com [Christine Champ]

 

Critic's Notebook [Alex Beattie]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Jeff Robson]

 

exclaim! [Bjorn Olson]

 

The Need for Speed, for the Love of God in Senna | Village ...  Nick Pinkerton from The Village Voice

 

DVDTalk.com - theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]

 

Digital Fix [Anthony Nield]

 

DVD Verdict [Steve Power]

 

Blu-ray.com [Michael Reuben]

 

AVForums (Blu-ray) [Steve Withers]

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

The Film Stage [Raffi Asdourian]

 

Angeliki Coconi's Unsung Films [Angeliki Coconi]

 

Little White Lies Magazine [Matt Bochenski]

 

Trespass Magazine [Sarah Ward]

 

NPR [Ian Buckwalter]

 

Sound On Sight [Simon Howell]


Surrender to the Void [Steven Flores]

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

Digital Spy [Simon Reynolds]

 

MovieMartyr.com [Jeremy Heilman]

 

ReelTalk [Donald Levit]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Michael Moore and the Oscars get it right - Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir, January 9, 2012

 

The Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]

 

Variety [John Anderson]

 

Senna movie review -- Senna showtimes - The Boston Glob  Wesley Morris from The Boston Globe

 

'Senna,' a new formula for documentaries - Washington Post  Ann Hornaday

 

Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones]

 

'Senna': Movie review - Articles From The latimes - Los ...  Kenneth Turan from The LA Times

 

Senna Movie Review & Film Summary (2011) | Roger Ebert

 

Senna - The New York Times  Stephen Holden from The New York Times

 

AMY                                                                           B+                   91

Great Britain  (123 mi)  2015

 

The opening half of this film is as good as anything you’ll see all year, where in the opening thirty seconds, the instant you hear Winehouse’s voice, viewing footage at age 14 at a birthday party for one of her friends, singing “Happy Birthday” followed by such a wrenching version of “Moon River” of all things that you’re already on the verge of tears, becoming a truly inspirational glimpse into what a unique talent and personality she was, possessed with a mature and fully developed voice while still a teenager, with vocal interests ranging from Sarah Vaughn to Ella Fitzgerald, where her jazz stylization at such a young age made her a singular, stand-alone artist in an sea of overproduction and mass commercialization.  Her raw talent is immediately recognizable from the moment you listen to her, where the earliest recordings tend to be jaw-dropping.  The early years of getting discovered, finding a manager, and recording her first album feels like an extremely proud and joyful journey, where everyone can just feel she’s ready to claim instant recognition.  It’s in the second half that the director undergoes his own meltdown, however, losing sight of what was so valuable and extraordinary in the opening, as it wasn’t more meticulous detail about her death that was needed, or sad images of an artist’s meltdown just before she died, where it becomes, literally, an obsession with her trajectory towards death, which feels exploitive and unseemly, literally dragging her through the mud, especially since that kind of graphic exposure is so unnecessary, having already been plastered all over the tabloid press.  Why on earth would we need to see that again?  Nonetheless, despite accentuating her demise well beyond the point of discovering anything new, it’s her early career that should generate a real interest in her work.  Believe it or not, this film will introduce an entirely new audience to her music, where much of this is like discovering it for the very first time.  Easily the most pathetic point in the film is having her drug addiction used as fodder for late night talk show jokes, where the crassness of the cruel humor actually shelters people from understanding the real tragedy of the experience, which this film does bring to life.  Dying of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, her early demise was expected, perhaps even inevitable, as her name was so associated with explosive tabloid headlines that seemed to feed off of every tragic downturn in her life that the public became numbed by the overexposure.  Even many young people distanced themselves from her, choosing not to follow her music or career, as if that was tainted by another death trip, forever associated with the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Kurt Cobain, all dying at the age of 27.  Actually her death felt very much like the death of Princess Diana, as if both were hounded to death by the Paparazzi.  

 

Director Asif Kapadia, following a familiar pattern of his highly successful earlier documentary SENNA (2010), which brought recorded footage of Formula One race car driving to life while following the thrills and spills in the racing career of Brazilian champion Ayrton Senna, is seen using home movies, behind the scenes videos, TV appearances, and phone footage, along with interviews from several key people behind the scenes in attempting to develop a more complete portrait of the artist as a young woman, becoming quite successful at humanizing Winehouse, whose career has otherwise been described as a train wreck.  In fact, the prime achievement of the film is to show just how brilliant an artist she was, which shows all the negative publicity and late career Paparazzi obsession in a different light.  Using archival footage from family, friends, and record companies, the film is literally an impressionistic mosaic of her life, rarely seeing who’s behind the voices heard throughout the film, instead focusing on Amy herself, a tactic that allows the audience to develop their own opinion of what they see onscreen, where through the years her hairstyle, her body, her clothes, and even her face is literally transformed before our eyes.  Winehouse is seen as a unique soul who never really wanted to be famous, thinking it would be awful and that she might “go mad” if it ever happened, realizing that the music she loved was not “on that scale” and was instead much more personal and intimate.  Growing up in North London listening to jazz singers, she developed a powerful voice while also offering raw and expressive lyrics describing her life, which are literally windows into her soul.  The film allows us to see the sheer force of her personality, that is often girlish, silly and funny, but also ferocious.   According to Kapadia, “She’s such a natural artist.  She picks up a guitar, goes up on the stage, sings and blows you away.”  Her songs are like diary entries, as they describe her problems with addiction, her relationships, and the choices that she made and the people around her made as well, where she loses control over her life at the end and literally becomes this forced public exhibit that is pranced out in front of the public and expected to perform on command, like one of those organ grinder monkeys.  While the intimacy of so many of the personal snapshots draw us closer into her life, becoming a global mega-star left her vulnerable to the constant glare of cameras, where the vulture-like, feeding frenzy treatment received at the hands of the Paparazzi reveal appalling images that when seen today only disgust us.  Because she’s always performing in front of a camera, the viewpoint of constantly watching her face staring back at us suggests we in the audience are complicit in what happened to her, showing an unhealthy appetite for misery and self-destruction, as someone is downloading and watching in mass those YouTube videos of her horrible performances, or buying those grotesque tabloids, so when she’s trotted out in public like a puppet on a string, she’s only doing what we expect and demand of her as a popular mega-artist. 

 

One of the major pieces of contention in the film is the poisonous atmosphere that going on the road plays with mentally fragile or unhealthy performers, where they can keep it together in the controlled studio environment to make a record, but when they have to play to sold-out stadiums promoting their work for extended periods of time, the temptation for drug and alcohol use is simply too great for some with addiction problems to overcome, becoming their ultimate downfall, sending them into toxic tailspins they can’t recover from, especially when those around them keep sending them out on the road as they are relying upon that steady flow of cash coming in.  It’s heartbreaking that people don’t think to save a life first and foremost, but in Winehouse’s case, everyone, including the artist herself, was in a state of denial about the seriousness of her health problems, especially since drugs played such a major part of her life.  Because the audience is so familiar with the outcome, it plays out a bit like Gus van Sant’s ELEPHANT (2003), a heartbreaking recreation of a Columbine High School massacre, where in each, the audience looks for key indicators of what might have been done differently to create a different outcome.  Obviously what makes these films so tragically sad, bordering on horror, is watching them play out with no one recognizing any of the signs or showing the least bit of concern, even as so many cries for help were left along the way.  Her family, who are part of her inner circle, has denounced the film as misleading, disassociating themselves from it and stopped all contact with the director.  While the film does show the hangers-on and the murky and often disturbing conditions surrounding her, where those closest to her might have actually had a hand in driving her over the edge, especially the decisions (“My daddy thinks I’m fine”) made by her money-grubbing father, overall there’s enough blame to go around, but the film’s real intentions are to regain a bit of her humanity and illuminate what’s so remarkable about this extraordinary artist.  Some of the most remarkable early footage comes from her friends, Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, as collectively they videotaped everything they did, offering a loose, freewheeling style that really energizes the film.  At only 16, she finds a young manager in Nick Shymansky, who’s only 19, so her early rise is more like a couple of kids having a fun night out.  Perhaps all along, she modeled herself after and considered herself a jazz singer, yet she was marketed and eventually treated by the Paparazzi as a pop star.  The truth is jazz is a smaller marker niche, where playing to jazz festivals and small clubs doesn’t draw the same crowds or generate cultural interest at Grammy Awards, where the potential income is severely diminished.  The tried and true formula for success has always been to go for the money and fame, because with financial security comes the ability to make better choices in the long run.  When Winehouse sings a duet with one of her idols, Tony Bennett, she’s almost embarrassed at not holding her own, where her voice at that stage in her life is already failing.  Speaking afterwards, Bennett reminds us that no jazz artist likes to perform in front of fifty thousand people, before offering the final sobering thoughts that we can’t help but share, “Life teaches you how to live it…if you live long enough.” 

 

Setting Sun - Film Comment  Amy Taubin, July/August 2015

But by far the most mesmerizing screen presence and performance belonged to Amy Winehouse in Asif Kapadia’s superb documentary-biography Amy. The director of Senna, Kapadia again showed his tenacity in assembling huge amounts of footage of every kind—home video to professional concert recordings—and editing it to show not only a huge talent in action but also a determined, desiring, and, in this case, massively self-destructive addictive personality. A Jewish girl from North London who grabbed up the phrasing of Sarah Vaughn and the look of the Supremes, remaking them into something more audacious and moving than anyone would have thought a British twist on African-American jazz and pop could be in the 21st century, Winehouse burned through the Aughts and died of alcohol poisoning at age 27 in 2011. Like Senna, Amy is a ghost story, heartbreakingly rich with life.

Amy - Time Out  Dave Calhoun

Anyone with a beating heart will be forgiven for allowing it to break during this unflinching and thoughtful account of the life and death of the soul singer Amy Winehouse. A shattering and sensitive documentary, it's directed by Asif Kapadia, the British director of 'Senna', who has once again created an immersive, layered portrait by stitching together mostly existing footage. Much of it is shot on phones or Camcorders, capturing chats in cars, holiday banter or, more cruelly, intimate moments with foil and crack. As with 'Senna', Kapadia relegates interviewees to the soundtrack. They include Winehouse's family, friends, colleagues, doctors and bodyguard – and their voices, many concerned and caring, help to fill this film with a love that counters the gloom.

Moving from Winehouse's first steps in the music business in 2001 to her death in 2011 at just 27, 'Amy' gives equal weight to her talent and tragedy. But the film refuses to offer easy answers to explain her demise, preferring to submerge us in a perfect storm of accelerated global celebrity, fractured family relations, destructive romances, bulimia, depression, drug abuse and alcoholism. 

With a list that long, it would be crude to point the finger of blame in one direction, and Kapadia doesn't. But there are villains: Winehouse's father, Mitch, comes off badly, not least when he turns up to Winehouse's post-rehab St Lucia bolthole with a reality-TV crew. And Winehouse's one-time husband Blake Fielder-Civil presents himself as deeply unsympathetic to say the least – not helped by his remorseless droning as he recalls events on the soundtrack.  

But 'Amy' isn't as downbeat as it sounds. That's because Winehouse herself was impish, smart, raw, provocative and funny – at least before the heroin and crack robbed her of her smile and wit. That personality shines through, especially in some of the tender early footage shot by her first manager, Nick Shymansky, who at 19 was only three years older than Winehouse and almost as green. And let's not forget the music: time simply stops several times when we hear Winehouse sing: scenes of her duetting with Tony Bennett or recording 'Back to Black' with Mark Ronson are as moving as any of the more explicitly sad stuff.  

But, once the music stops, we're left with a long list of people unable or unwilling to cope: parents distracted by their own problems or motives; childhood friends who felt helpless; a music industry unfit to care; a husband with his own selfish interests at heart; and, ultimately, Winehouse, a talented but unwell little girl who everyone thought had a soul much older than she clearly ever did.

Amy / The Dissolve  Keith Phipps

When Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011 at the age of 27, the world did not recoil in shock. Winehouse became an international star with her 2006 album Back To Black, but her ascent was accompanied by reports of hard living and a messy personal life. It didn’t take long for the tabloid-feeding aspects of Winehouse’s life to eclipse her extraordinary artistic accomplishments. A jazz singer of great versatility, Winehouse broke into the pop market by channeling her voice and deeply personal songwriting into a sound rooted in classic soul and girl-group pop that nonetheless felt like exactly what the ’00s had been missing. But a gulf soon opened up between the human directness of her art and the images of a zombie-like Winehouse wandering London in torn clothing, sometimes bleeding, sometimes accompanied by her on-off boyfriend (and later husband) Blake Fielder-Civil, sometimes alone apart from a security retinue. Reports from inside Winehouse’s Camden flat described her as living in squalor, and as her alcoholism, drug addiction, and bulimia became public knowledge, she became an easy punchline, the shaming, go-to example of what bad living could do to the careless. A sense of inevitability accompanied her death. It was always going to happen—just look at her—and then it did.

It’s much to the credit of Amy, a new documentary about Winehouse from Senna director Asif Kapadia, that the film restores a sense of Winehouse’s humanity. It wasn’t some caricature of excess who died, but a woman of unique gifts, with people who cared about her and a private life the public didn’t entirely know. Nor was her death necessarily unavoidable. Part of what makes Amy so sad are the moments that point to paths not taken and choices not made—often by those around Winehouse—that might have changed the course of her life, and that could have prevented her from joining what Kurt Cobain’s mother called “that stupid club” when her son died at 27. Kapadia achieves this, as with all of the film’s effects, subtly, and without offering any direct commentary. Amy weaves together home movies, TV appearances, and paparazzi footage, bringing in new interviews with key players but keeping them off-screen. No one here is allowed to take over the narrative, and on more than one occasion, their accounts conflict or stand in contrast to what archival footage shows.

Some of the most wrenching contributions come from childhood friends, first glimpsed in footage from a teenage birthday party in which a 14-year-old Winehouse floors everyone with a song. It’s far from the last candid moment the film preserves. Behind-the-scenes footage shows Winehouse nervously prepping for gigs as her early manager Nick Schmansky jokes with her as a way to boost her confidence. Schmansky was 19 when he met Winehouse, then 16, and such scenes play like kids who have no idea what they’re doing getting pulled toward fame by the magnetic force of Winehouse’s talent. They also play a bit like a horror movie, with each early success bringing her closer to what everyone watching knows is her inevitable fate. In time, the home movies give way to scenes captured by photographers stalking her every move, muscling into her personal space as she walks down the street to the accompaniment of clicks and flashes. Then these give way to concerned news reports and footage of a disoriented Winehouse unable to perform in front of crowds that quickly turn hostile.

As to what brought her to that place, some of the least-convincing contributions come from Mitch Winehouse, the father Amy trusted but who can be seen time and again making questionable decisions that appear more motivated by material gain than his daughter’s well-being. (Winehouse’s biggest hit, “Rehab,” immortalizes his judgment with the line “my daddy thinks I’m fine.”) Would Winehouse’s story have turned out differently if one of her most trusted advisors wasn’t a man who would show up at the island retreat she went to to get away from drugs with a reality-show film crew? Or a manager who tried to placate Winehouse’s friends with the assurance that many high-functioning professionals use heroin so they shouldn’t worry so much?

Yet the film isn’t about Winehouse’s victimization, at least not entirely. For all the bad influences in her life—and the damaged rasp of the unseen Fielder-Civil’s voice makes at least one of those influences seem downright ghoulish—and for all the biographical details revealing a broken home and self-destructive habits that began in Winehouse’s early teens, the film also captures the central mystery of how her demons related to her art. In one moment, Winehouse talks about how she lives for music. In another, she tells a friend on the night of her triumph at the Grammys “This is so boring without drugs.” She practically breaks down in awe singing a duet with Tony Bennett, but spends years failing to get it together to record material that might have allowed her to have a career like Bennett’s, instead of leaving behind two albums, dozens of imitators, and a lot of unanswered promise. She was, the documentary argues, a complex artist, one of awe-inspiring talent and many frustrating contradictions, and one who deserved better than to become just another punchline on her way to the grave. Kapadia provides a heartbreaking reminder of what we lost when we lost her.

Sight & Sound [Jane Giles]  July 2, 2015                     

 

North London, 1998. Shaky home video captures three 14-year-old girls sitting on the stairs. It’s someone’s birthday and they’re messing around, getting ready, licking lollipops. The girls start to sing ‘Happy Birthday to You’. And then, and then… that voice. The voice of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday coming out of a skinny little white girl with buck teeth.

 

It’s a killer opening; less than a minute into the film and I’m already choking back tears. There’s no spoiler alert needed here – surely everyone knows that the precociously talented girl who was Amy Winehouse would be dead by 27, a member along with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain of what Cobain’s mother called “that stupid club”. It was all over the press, and her death was deeply affecting to millions.

As with Asif Kapadia’s documentary Senna (2010), Amy is composed almost entirely of archive footage, with no talking heads or single overarching commentary. We hear from a large cast of characters – Amy’s parents, friends and collaborators, such as Mark Ronson, Yasiin Bey (the former Mos Def) and Salaam Remi, plus some wise words from doctors and drug counsellor Chip Somers – who are credited as they speak, though the director keeps his own name off the picture until the very end.

The effect of this is to make Amy seem not only the subject but the author of her own story; Amy utilises a very wide range of types of film footage – archive, mobile phone, news, home video – and she’s in almost every frame, her voice heard throughout. Ironically it’s Amy who seems to be the one vibrantly alive; the unseen interviewees are a chorus of ghosts in the background, particularly the barely-there whisper of her notorious ex Blake Fielder-Civil, the man who inspired Back to Black, the break-up album that changed everything.

Amy was born in 1983, and the film whizzes quickly through her childhood, probably due to a relative scarcity of relevant footage from this time. Noting the unhappiness that came with her parents’ separation, we see that by her early teens she was on antidepressants, and at 15 bulimic. She was desperate to leave home because “You can’t smoke weed all day in your mum’s house”; as soon as she earned a bit of cash she got her own flat with a girlfriend in East Finchley. Her debut album Frank (2003) was well received, and her career began to take off.

It was when she moved to Camden Town that things got messy. She hung out in The Good Mixer pub and at the club Trash with The Libertines and The Kills, but most of all embarked on an obsessive affair with Blake. Amy followed him into hard drug use because she wanted to feel what he was feeling, but he eventually dumped her to go back to his partner. The film’s centrepiece is a fascinating sequence in which Amy records the vocal for the title track of Back to Black in 2006. She is standing alone in what seems to be a makeshift booth; the scene is stripped of instrumental music, and the focus is on the clarity of her heartbroken lyrics and the pain in her voice. At the end she remarks on the sadness of the song as if she’s listening to someone else or hearing it for the first time.

In Amy ‘the voice’ is augmented by the word, and the visuals are often overlaid with writing. Amy’s childish handwriting, covered in little love hearts, floats across the screen, and the poetry of her lyrics is written out for us to read as the songs play, resonating deeply with what we know to have been going on in her life. In addition to onscreen credits that keep track of who’s speaking, Kapadia continually documents place names and key dates, as Amy gets back with Blake, marries him in 2007 and divorces a couple of years later. The events feel uncomfortably close to home as, more or less chronologically, the film moves inexorably towards Amy’s relatively recent death.

“You sound common,” said Jonathan Ross in an early interview, referring to Amy’s remarkable speaking voice. “Thanks?” she laughs, surprised, perhaps a bit offended, but taking it as a compliment in the face of his identification and approval. Like her best mates Jules and Lauren, the teenagers sitting on the stairs, she was a ‘gobby girl’ with a strong London accent who didn’t seem particularly to want or need the mega-stardom that rose up around her. In 2003, she predicted that she wouldn’t be able to handle fame: “I’d go mad,” she said. And go mad she did, amid the full attention of the British press, a million flashbulbs exploding in her face, her plight fodder for chat-show comedians. We see the paparazzi in a feeding frenzy outside her home – they knock her over in the scrum, then tell her to “cheer up”.

This is a film about ‘the voice’ augmented by the word, but it’s also about the image, and Kapadia makes powerful use of still photography, whether pictures stolen by the paparazzi, studio portraits, snapshots or selfies. The presence of so many little-known images indicates the sheer number of pictures taken of Amy; we see the child become a young woman (“Stop filming my spots!” she complains to a friend), then an icon and increasingly a caricature of her own stylised image.

As the film documents Amy’s first crisis of drug addiction, a potentially playful image of her sticking out her tongue is undermined by a coating of thick grey-green mucus, and Kapadia holds the shot for much longer than we would wish. Contemplating Amy’s madness, the director uses a set of raw photographs that invoke portraits of Victorian asylum inmates. Well-chosen archive footage documents the processes of photography: a creepy film of Amy and Blake posing for the fashion photographer Terry Richardson (since the subject of allegations of sexual assault); the paparazzi grabbing shots of Amy in shock outside Pentonville prison after Blake is arrested; and unwanted television cameras capturing a complex family altercation, Amy’s father Mitch agreeing to let a couple of tourist fans take a snap as she attempts to get away from it all on a remote beach.

By the time of the 2008 Grammys, Amy is drug-free and on stage in London, video-linked to the ceremony in Los Angeles as her idol Tony Bennett arrives to present the award for Best Record. “Dad! It’s Tony Bennett,” cries a star-struck Amy, and her jaw is on the floor when he announces her as the winner. The room explodes. But then, on what looks like the greatest night of anyone’s life, a girlfriend recounts how Amy took her backstage to confide that it was boring without drugs. “I don’t want to die,” Amy said, but even when drug-free she was drinking heavily to anaesthetise herself. Terrible live performances at the Eden Project and Bestival prefigure a final nightmare show, when Amy sits down silently on stage in Belgrade. The crowd’s cheers turn to boos, jeers and commands: “Just sing.”

Jules recounts that Amy sounded her old self again when she unexpectedly rang in late July 2011 to apologise for her bad behaviour. But the following day she was dead from alcohol poisoning, found by her bodyguard in bed as if sleeping, her heart weakened by years of drug abuse and bulimia. News cameras quickly gathered around the house in Camden to capture the sight of a body bag being taken away, as young women in the crowd outside wept, “Rest in peace Amy.” We see the people we’ve come to recognise through this film – Amy’s friends, family and collaborators – devastated, arriving and gathering at her funeral, where the men’s kippahs remind us for the first time of her faith. Among other things, Judaism prohibits tattoos, and Amy became one of the most famous tattooed ladies of all time.

Midway, the film becomes gruelling, and the endless chaotic flashlights and dizzying mobile-phone visuals hard to bear. There are some shocking images in this desperately sad, judicious but overlong film, which itself could be read as part of the problem – a symptom of the public’s endless appetite for misery and seeing stars self-destruct. But while walking this fine line, ultimately the film neither wallows in Amy’s fate nor glamorises her tragedy. All of this makes Amy essential viewing, not least for the audience of young women who will be drawn to it. If it’s distressing to watch, imagine how it felt to be her.

Documentaries are often more suited to television than cinema but, like Senna with its drive for speed and sound of roaring engines, Amy is definitely one for the big screen: big eyes, big hair, big eyeliner, big sound. On screen, the film’s title is her name in big bold capital letters and it packs a huge emotional impact. With the rights to her music controlled by Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s story will surely become a biopic one day, like most of the others in ‘that stupid club’. But it’s hard to imagine that a significantly different version will be told, because from his multiple interviewees and the vast amount of archive, Kapadia has drawn together a single but collective point of view: Amy was an adult, not a child. She liked alcohol and drugs. The paparazzi are awful. And she was one of the greats.

“Amy,” Back from Black - The New Yorker  Anthony Lane

 

a documentary film about the British singer Amy Winehouse  Joanne Laurier from The World Socialist Web Site

 

Cannes Review: Asif Kapadia's Devastating, Discomfiting Amy Winehouse ...  Jessice Kiang from The Playlist

 

Amy, the Amy Winehouse Doc, Is a Rush of Joy and Grief ...  Stephanie Zacharek from The Village Voice     

 

Cannes Review: Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse Documentary is Heartbreaking and Extraordinary  Kaleem Aftab from indieWIRE

 

Alt Film Guide [Mark Keizer]

 

In These Times'  Sady Doyle

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

Amy, a documentary about Amy Winehouse, reviewed.  Dana Stevens from Slate

 

'Amy': Review | Reviews | Screen - Screen International  Fionnuala Halligan from Screendaily

 

How Mr. Winehouse Exploited Amy - The Daily Beast  Richard Porton

 

Slant Magazine [Chris Cabin]  

 

At Cannes, a Remarkable Documentary About Amy Winehouse's ...  Jordan Hoffman From Vanity Fair                      

             

Review: The tragedy and talent of Amy Winehouse's life unfolds in powerful doc ...  Gregory Ellwood from Hit Fix            

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Angeliki Coconi's Unsung Films [Theo Alexander]

 

ArtsHub [Sarah Ward]  

 

Rock n Reel [Steve Pulaski]  also seen here:  INFLUX Magazine [Steve Pulaski]

 

Independent Ethos [Hans Morgenstern]

 

Film Racket [Chris Barsanti]

 

Cinema365 [Carlos deVillalvilla]

 

Writing: Movies [Chris Knipp]

 

Spectrum Culture [Erica Peplin]


theartsdesk.com [Kieron Tyler]

 

Cinemablographer [Pat Mullen]

 

Reel Insights [Hannah McHaffie]  also seen here:  Hannah McHaffie [Hannah McHaffie]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Robert Munro]

 

'Amy' Movie Review | Rolling Stone  Peter Travers

 

Movie Review: AMY — ChaseWhale.com

 

Cannes 2015: Amy – Articles | Little White Lies  Sophie Monks Kaufman

 

Cannes 2015 Review: AMY Beautifully Celebrates A ...  Ryland Aldrich from Twitch

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]


Documentary Seeks To Free Amy Winehouse From Her ...  NPR

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

The Film Stage [Rory O'Connor]

 

Sound On Sight  Katie Wong

 

Daily | Cannes 2015 | Asif Kapadia's AMY | Keyframe ...  David Hudson at Fandor

 

Cannes: Director Defends Controversial Amy Winehouse Doc  Rebecca Ford interview from The Hollywood Reporter, May 15, 2015

 

Stephen Dalton from The Hollywood Reporter, also published in Billboard magazine seen here:  Amy Winehouse Doc Pieces Together Singer's Troubled Life Story: Film Review