Michel Ocelot was born on the
French Riviera and spent his childhood in Guinea and his adolescence in the Anjou
region of France. After studying art, he learned about animated films by directing
short films during his vacations with a group of friends who each used
different techniques (cartoons, puppets, etc.). Michel Ocelot also enjoyed
animating paper cut-out characters. He kept a taste for varied creations and
pared-down techniques. He directed the animated series, Les Aventures de
Gédéon (1976, based on Benjamin Rabier’s work), then used characters and
backgrounds made with lacy paper in his first professional short film, Les
Trois Inventeurs (1979). This highly original film was rewarded with a
BAFTA in London. Since this film, Michel Ocelot has written the screenplays and
done the artwork of all his creations. After this, came the following short
films: Les Filles de l’égalité (1981) which won the Special Jury Prize
at the Albi Festival, Beyond Oil (1982) and La Légende du Pauvre
Bossu (1982 – César for Best Animated Film). Michel Ocelot returned to the
TV series format with La Princesse Insensible (1986) comprising 13 x
4-minute episodes, and directed the short film Les Quatre Voeux (1987).
His third series, Ciné Si, (1989 – 8 x 12- minute episodes) was animated
with the shadow theater technique: carefully cut-out black paper silhouettes. Several
of these sequences later appeared in Princes & Princesses (2000).
He wrote the 26-minute film, Les Contes de la nuit (1992), made up of three sequences, then embarked upon the adventure of his first feature film. In 1998, the general public became aware of Michel Ocelot, thanks to the huge box-office and critical success of Kirikou and the Sorceress. The film's popularity was so
great that it led Michel Ocelot to relate more of his little hero’s adventures in Kirikou and the Wild Beasts (2005) which he co-directed with Bénédicte Galup.
Azur & Asmar, minutely prepared from 2001 on, is a project full of new experiences: Michel Ocelot worked with a live-action producer (Christophe Rossignon, of Nord Ouest), chose to combine 3D and 2D, and brought together his production and animation team in Paris, the town where he lives. Unlike most other French animation productions, Azur & Asmar was made entirely in Paris.
Michel Ocelot was also President of the ASIFA (International Animated Film Association) from 1994 to 2000.
Michel Ocelot - Random Dance - Collaborators brief bio from Random Dance
ReAnimania profile page
Michel Ocelot - Director, Screenwriter, Production Designer ... brief bio from UniFrance
Le Palais des dessins animés: Bienvenue Michel Ocelot short films
Michel Ocelot The Auteurs
The Ocelot Syndrome Tiberge from
PICKS: Top 5 Animated Films - France Today
: Animated Shorts - A French Master and His New Film Steve Fritz feature and interview with the
director, from Newsarama,
Imagine at Annecy - Ocelot Simon’s Blog from Imagine,
Paper Goes to the
Movies Claire Lui from Print magazine,
Interview de Michel Ocelot Interview by Orianne Charpentier (2005)
Azur and Asmar: The Prince's Quest - interview with Michel Ocelot ... Interview from The List, January 31, 2008
Doshi » In conversation with Michel OCELOT, Director, Azur ... Sunil Doshi interview in Mumbai,
Michel Ocelot interview Ghibli World interview, August 2008
Evening Class: ANIMATION: <em>AZUR & ASMAR</em>—A Few ... Michael Guillen interview from The Evening
Interview with Michel Ocelot 2009 (pdf format)
Interview with Björk and stills from "Earth Intruders" video Michel Ocelot music video
all cartoons animation 2d 3d Videos - Dailymotion YouTube clips from Daily Motion
Kirikou is tiny but he is mighty
A delightful, ravishingly beautiful children’s story starring a precocious young child that speaks to its mother while still in the womb. Set in a small African village where women remain naked from the waist up, and where, according to legend, the men have supposedly been eaten by the mean and evil Sorceress, who has also plugged up their water supply. Using the bright, bold colors of a sunlit culture resembling the naive tableaux style of paintings by Henri Rousseau, known for his richly colored and gorgeously detailed pictures of lush jungles, wild animals, and exotic figures set in an almost dreamlike paradise, this is one of the more beautiful animated films ever made, featuring a very clever young naked baby, Kirikou, who seems to have supernatural running ability, yet also a charmingly inquisitive nature, confounding all the adults around who have resigned themselves to accepting things the way they are. When Kirikou asks why the Sorceress is so mean, they scold him for asking such a question that small children couldn’t ever understand. Yet on the day of his birth, Kirikou demonstrates he’s remarkably clever and quite capable of outsmarting anyone.
Despite his desire to be helpful, the other children have a way of ignoring Kirikou, claiming he is too small and not worth paying attention to, even as he warns them of lurking dangers. They laugh and play without him, but at their peril, as the Sorceress devises clever means of her own to snatch up the village children. But Kirikou magically saves the day, which is followed by celebratory song and dance, as they invent a song praising the wisdom and bravery of young Kirikou. Yet just as quickly, they’re ignoring him again, insulting him and calling him names while they run off and play, once more ignoring his warnings. Not only the children, but the adults as well continue to believe what they’re used to, which is to see a world filled with rumor and prejudice, and ignore the truth behind everything.
Kirikou goes on a perilous journey where he searches for the secret behind the Sorceress’s meanness, and much of it is expressed through lavishly beautiful flowers and animals, which offer an allure, yet also a dangerous side as well. Kirikou must find his way among the many dangers while also cleverly managing to survive, which amounts to taming the natural wilderness around him and unlocking the keys to his own destiny as well. Respectful of its unique setting, the percussive rhythms and musical score by Senegalese legend Youssou N'Dour lend an authenticity to the West African landscape, offering insight into the native culture that is never exploitive or dismissive, that is driven instead by oral traditions and customs. But it’s the warmhearted humor and wit that matches the elegant look of the film, always surprising the audience with inventive storytelling and a young lead character who is magically appealing.
Not before time, the kids are taking over. Well, grown-ups these days just don't cut it. Or if not kids, then a kid... Neatly dovetailing with the sentiments of Whale Rider, this animated elaboration of a Senegalese folk tale brings us (pace Rick Moranis) surely cinema's smallest hero - Kirikou, a preternaturally walking, talking, indefatigable newborn. Not one to beat around the bush, Kirikou summons his own birth aloud from inside his mother in the first minute of the film, and he's no sooner out in the world than trying to remedy it. He emerges into a village short on gold, water and menfolk, all these and more requisitioned by Karaba, the implacable sorceress down the way. 'Why?', Kirikou demands to know, and not taking 'you're too young to understand' for an answer, he quickly progresses from freeing his uncle and fellow children from the enchantress's clutches to hatching a plan to dig beneath Karaba's encampment to the wise man of the mountain on the other side. All this, and still the villagers doubt his worth... At least they know how to beat the drum when fortune favours them (music courtesy of Youssou N'Dour). The directors animates the tale in a simple but unsparing chromatic style, typically using two-dimensional profile perspectives. Perhaps they've taken a lesson from the protagonist: for all the film's sense of magic, Kirikou turns out to be a level-headed logician at heart, thinking out his dilemmas in delightful internal monologues. It's a great package: salutary, short (74 minutes) and sweet.
Sight and Sound
Kirikou is tiny but he is mighty" —Song from Kirikou and the Sorceress
Introducing a new children's champion, Kirikou and the Sorceress, a magical treat.
A huge hit in France and joint winner (along with Chicken Run) in 2002 of the British Animation Award for best European animated feature, Kirikou and the Sorceress is a children's animated film that is a world away from Disney.
Based on a traditional West African folk tale, Kirikou and the Sorceress is the story of innocence defeating evil, with a modern twist. Glittering with gold and exuding malevolence, Karaba is a sorceress who has eaten the men-folk of the village and dried up the spring. No-one seems able to stop her until a remarkable baby is born. The tiny but brave Kirikou delivers himself from his mother's womb to emerge walking and talking and undertakes a perilous journey in order to disarm the sorceress by discovering the cause of her own pain.
Writer-director Michel Ocelot's rich animation plunges his audience deep into the myth and spirituality of the African bush. The animation style and setting are unapologetically African with no attempts to westernise the people or setting. From emerald jungles to the glowing hellfire of Karaba's lair, Kirikou's world is a kaleidoscope of joyous colour. The drawings of plants and trees are stylised reproductions of real tropical flora, inspired by Egyptian drawings and the paintings of Henri Rousseau.
The soundtrack by internationally renowned Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour gives an authentic pulse to what he calls "the mythical Africa of children's tales." Kirikou and the Sorceress, the only film to attract his talents, features only traditional African instruments. The music and voices were recorded in his Dakar studio.
Mother, bring me into the world," demands Kirikou, the infant protagonist of the animated fable "Kirikou and the Sorceress." Like its tiny hero, "Kirikou" proceeds at its own pace, and that pace is a more willful and slower piece of storytelling than children are accustomed to getting from American animated films, in which emotional crises are worked out like story problems (if Buzz and Woody need to get to point A ...).
The director Michel Ocelot's belief in his film is as winning as his title character's confidence, even though "Kirikou" is probably a story more suitable for younger children than for older ones.
Kirikou tells his mother when he's ready to be born and then pops out, a rambunctious can-do charmer who's constitutionally incapable of being defeated. This fairy tale, based on a West African legend, sends its indomitable little-boy hero with a ridge of sculptured hair atop his head on his way to outwit the evil sorceress Karaba and her minions: grim, obedient fetish objects and a thirsty beast that consumes all the water in sight.
It's wonderful and rare to see an African landscape rendered for an animated film and not have any of the characters voiced by white mainstream American movie stars, or hear any Broadway approximations of African music. The rhythms of "Kirikou" are aided by the lyric pulse of Youssou N'Dour's score, which lends the story an airy exuberance. The music does some of Ocelot's work for him.
Ocelot's style of illustration often uses a regal rigidity. His characters are frequently captured in profile, rendered as if they were pictograms created by the artist Romare Bearden. It's a full-scale delivery of animation with its own cultural imperative.
This gives the movie an odd delicacy, especially in scenes when "Kirikou" is most effective, as when Karaba's fetish figures -- blockish and frightening -- charge onto the screen. This scene and shots of Karaba -- her burning amber eyes match the gold jewelry she wears, tribute she has forced villagers into surrendering -- have a haunted serenity, instead of the anarchic pop-pop-pop that even the most tepid American feature-length cartoons provide.
"Kirikou and the Sorceress" has a modesty of scale that
limits its power, even with the occasional glimpses of fairy-tale horror (with
a primal earthiness reminiscent of "Princess Mononoke") that peek
through. The formality of both the dialogue and the visuals also vaguely
suggests the earliest Japanese anime to reach
It's more a piece to admire than to be involved by, yet it's easy to imagine children hypnotized by a hero tinier than they are when "Kirikou" is continually loaded into the VCR.
Sci-Fi Weekly review Matthew McGowan
RFI Musique - - Manu Dibango meets Kirikou RFI Musique interviews film composer Manu Dibango, December 27, 2005
The Globe and Mail review [3.5/4] Liam Lacey
Another whimsical, deceptively simple exercise from Intl. Animated Film Society prez Michel Ocelot, "Princes and Princesses" might not attain the worldwide penetration of the French animator's 1998 hit, "Kirikou and the Sorceress," but still has the ability to charm at fests, in specialty situations and on the tube and homevid.
Utilizing an evocative style of black silhouetted figures against vibrant washes of color, Ocelot puts forth the setup of a teacher urging an inquisitive boy and girl to use their imaginations and magical machines to act out series of short tales. The stories involve various permutations of the plucky, problem-solving title royalty. Each begins in a proscenium frame and affords Ocelot the chance to illustrate a different period, including an unspecified Romanesque wood, ancient Egypt, 19th-century Japan, the year 3000 and a Grimm-era tale in which kisses turn the duo various animals (pic's funniest sequence). There's even a minute-long break built in at the half-hour mark, presumably for discussion. Tech credits are straightforward for the form, although the sparse visual style may keep pic from traveling beyond animation aficionados and kiddie auds fluent in the film's simple French.
Lotte Reininger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed,
with its amazing animation of paper silhouettes, was a true revelation about
the possibilities of the medium that were already being recognized in the
1920s. Acclaimed animator Michel Ocelot tries his hand at the same style of
work (though not necessarily using the same primitive tools as Reininger).
The film tells the stories of six princes and/or princesses in various settings. The framing story is itself a flight of imagination as two young animators (Arlette Mirape and Philipe Cheytion), working under Yves Barsaco, design the stories and costumes that will be involved in each. A mechanism transforms each of them into the characters of the story, who then proceed to act out the tales, which have a distinct fairy tale feel. The first story, The Princess of Diamonds, is a traditional quest tale about a cursed princess who has been frozen into place until someone comes along who can retrieve the 111 diamonds that have fallen from her necklace in the time allotted—but anyone who fails will be turned into an ant. This episode offers some gorgeous moments, particularly of the diamonds sparkling against the grass. Ancient
The Sorceress is an amusing tale about patience, as a king offers the hand of his daughter to whomever can enter the impregnable castle of a sorceress. The endless methods that the other competitors try to storm the castle are highly creative, and the animation of flames and the like is quite effective. The Old Lady's Coat is a story about 19th century
The final segment is Prince and Princess, a quite hilarious take on the story of the frog prince. Reminded that a kiss turned a frog into a prince, the princess finds out that her kiss turns a prince into a frog, and things quickly deteriorate from there as the two progress through an ever funnier succession of creatures as they desperately try to kiss their way back to human form. The detail of the silhouettes here is particularly dazzling. Better than the other segments, it captures the handmade yet incongruously baroque flavor that makes Prince Achmed such a delight. Thoroughly enjoyable for young and old, the main detraction for the younger set is the omission of an English language voiceover.
French writer-animator Michel Ocelot deals exclusively in fables and fairy tales, but he presents them with a blunt directness that seems antithetical to the genre. Instead, it winds up enhancing it. In his best-known film, 1998's phenomenal African folk tale Kirikou And The Sorceress, the characters speak with a clipped, aggressive gravity that becomes its own form of wry humor. They're dealing with preposterous events—a little naked hero who speaks to his mother from inside the womb, then crawls out, severs his own umbilical, and runs off at supersonic speeds to save his village from a malevolent witch—but they're dismissive about mere magic, which they take as a given part of life. Accepting their own petty natures and learning about generosity of spirit proves far more complicated.
Ocelot's 2005 semi-sequel, Kirikou And The Wild Beast, retains the gorgeously detailed visuals and that hilarious tonal bluntness, but loses much of the compelling mystery, and the urgency of life-and-death situations. A series of short stories designed to take place in the middle of the first film, it begins with a typically straightforward introduction, as a character snaps that Kirikou And The Sorceress was "too short," and says that he has more Kirikou tales to tell. But those who haven't seen the first film will be lost amid the short stories' oddities, and those who have may find it hard to drop back to earlier points in the characters' development, and watch them recapitulate earlier dumb mistakes, this time with pettier stakes. Wild Beast is the Tales From Watership Down of the animation world—a pleasant but utterly inessential adjunct to an enduring classic.
Ocelot's earlier anthology Princes And Princesses, while less visually ambitious, is a great deal more fun. Alone in an office, three animators—a grizzled old mentor and two mildly egotistical assistants—devise fairy tales, then costume themselves (via a creepily simple machine) and play out their stories onstage. The frame story could use some development—like Wild Beast, Princes barely tops an hour long, in spite of packaging proclaiming a longer run time—but the stories are terrifically creative, tight little fillips, ranging from a 19th-century Japanese fable to a far-future love story to a silly fantasy about a prince and princess who change shapes whenever they kiss. The animation reproduces Lotte Reiniger's pioneering silhouette style, but the material is pure Ocelot: funny, sharp, and endearingly grounded, no matter how fanciful the concepts get.
Michel Ocelot's diminuitive Senegalese hero Kirikou returns in
this sequel to Kirikou and the Sorceress. Having outwitted the sorceress
Karaba (Awa Sene Sarr) by getting water for his village, Kirikou (Pierre Ndoffe
Sarr) thinks that he will live in happiness and peace. But as his grandfather
(Robert Liensol) recounts, his adventures are just beginning. This picture
collects four West African folk tales as the struggles of Kirikou and his
village continue against the wicked sorceress.
The story picks up right from the end of the earlier film, as Kirikou directs water to the village's vegetable garden, which quickly thrives from his attention and the water. But one night the garden is utterly destroyed by a wild beast that may have been sent by Karaba to wreak havoc. Kirikou alone is willing to discover the nature of the beast, a massive black hyena, and solve the mystery of why such a meat-eater would disturb their vegetable garden. The second tale shows the village attempting to earn money in order to buy food, after the destruction of their garden. Kirikou hits upon the plan of making pots to sell in the nearby town, and soon everyone is helping out with pottery, which they begin to tote on their heads to the town. But when they run across a water buffalo and decide that it will make a good beast of burden, Kirikou's suspicions and warnings go unheeded.
The third tale is the most adventurous, as Karaba determines that the best way to defeat Kirikou is to lure him out of the village by using his curiosity against him. Odd bird footprints do the trick as Kirikou is soon out of the protection of the village and finds himself surrounded by Karaba's fetish army. In the final tale, he uses that army against Karaba. When the women of the village, including his mother (Marie-Philomène Nga), fall ill, the cure rests with a yellow flower found only near Karaba's compound. Kirikou decides that the best way to save the women is to disguise himself as a fetish and make his way in to retrieve the medicinal flowers.
Once again, the picture has gorgeous design that is harmonious with the West African source materials. Color tends heavily towards brown and yellow, with a turquoise sky that emphasizes the equatorial sun. Ocelot's visuals have a nice combination of naturalism and stylization that serves the subject matter well. Traditional costuming is on display, which means that there's National Geographic-style nudity on display throughout, with bare-breasted women and nude children (including little Kirikou).
Characterization is pretty well demonstrated, with small moments that reveal much. Samples of these include the fiery temper of Karaba as she is outwitted, or Kirikou's childish delight at tasting honey and licking it from his fingers. He also has a nice moment of compassion as he tends to an injured ground squirrel. His speedy movement is almost ridiculous and lends an air of lightness to the proceedings. The wild beast of the title is suitably scary, though it occasionally is reduced to money-saving cycling, which is a little jarring against its otherwise naturalistic movements. But on the whole it's quite masterfully accomplished and an interesting glimpse into traditional Senegalese life. The running time is nearly 25 minutes shorter than the box's claimed 95 minute running time, however.
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3.5/5] Richard Scheib
aka: The Prince’s Quest
A sumptuously beautiful film, as would be expected, with an underlying social theme about encountering prejudicial differences when various races, religions, or cultures mix, where, interestingly enough, the end credits list people from two dozen nations that contributed to the making of the film, adding that they “all got along well.” This strategy is overly obvious and actually detracts from the overall impact of the film. Instead, there are moments of dazzling imagery, but the storyline loses momentum by the end when it simply runs out of ideas. Two legendary Japanese directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, incorporate similar human conflicts with both technology, nuclear power, global war, and the idea of living in harmony with nature, yet the quality of their filmmaking (arguably) did not suffer as a result. Not so here, as the luscious visuals are extraordinary, adding a highly decorative Arabian Nights splendor, but the cardboard characters never evolve into anything truly interesting, remaining something close to stereotypical depictions that end up dragging the entire film down. One of the problems with choosing a subject purely for what it represents to the audience, such as a light skinned or dark skinned person, a person who is good or evil, is that they can never be anything else, as they are stuck in this singular categorization.
This film feels more like a sketch or outline of a story, or perhaps the victim of serious editing to keep the length down, as entire threads are either never explained, such as the abusive behavior of the near missing father who throws them out of their original home, or how their mother, who was herself a servant, now has servants of her own and is feared by all while living like a queen in most immaculately beautiful home in the land, made scant reference to, as angry mobs are upset throughout, but other than alleged superstition and a hatred for blue eyes, we never understand what they’re so upset about and why they’d wish to kill anyone, or forgotten altogether, such as the future lies in the hands of the young princess, mentioned several times and then eventually forgotten. Using a Shakespearean Twelfth Night or Pericles template where two young boys are raised by the same woman as brothers, one Arabic speaking and dark skinned, the other English speaking, pale skinned with blue eyes, are separated at an early age, eventually finding each other as young adults years later after a long and arduous journey involving a shipwreck and a cultural disaster leaving one of the boys a stranger in a strange land. What’s interesting is that before any reunification can begin, both immediately decide to set out on yet another journey in search of the Djiin Fairy imprisoned under a cavernous mountain, a character from a song their mother used to sing to them, where their intentions are not only to rescue her, but win her hand in marriage.
While their mother’s home resembles the architectural
perfection of the Alhambra, filled with the integrated harmony of birds,
flowers, continually flowing water, and delicately designed Moorish mosaics,
their journey takes them across vast deserts into the mountains where people
inexplicably behave just as crudely and violently as the land where they
began. They must endure fights against
hordes of angry men, discover the clues to secret passageways, and finally make
the correct choice between several possible entranceways, where the wrong
choice could mean their lives. The
colors and magical creatures are endlessly inventive, though the two princes,
despite their bravery and nobility of spirit, are more one-dimensional and
never reveal any surprises. When all is
said and done, the end is nearly a mockery of an end, as it goes on and on like
the mind-altering, run-on sagas of the SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT (1965), emerging
with an all too simplistic, feel good, Disney like finale. The film relies on a healthy dose of Arabic
music, much of it gentle and hypnotic, but unlike KIRIKOU, it barely scratches
the surface when it comes to offering an appreciation for the history and
culture of the region. Also of interest,
in the screening at the
Azur & Asmar JR Jones from The Reader
Digital animators are naturally taken with their newfound power to render depth of field, which may be why this sophisticated 2-D fantasy by veteran French animator Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) seems so extraordinary. Though carefully shaded, his digital characters are firmly rooted in the cutout tradition, and their flattened bodies seem to merge with the dazzling backgrounds, which are steeped in the bold color and elaborate patterns of Islamic art. For his story Ocelot recycles standard fairy-tale elements into a cross-cultural fable about a French boy and a Moroccan boy who join forces on a mystical quest. It's pretty two-dimensional as well, but the movie, like the art that inspired it, is all about the ornamentation. In French with subtitles. 94 min.
French director Michel Ocelot has reportedly spent about seven years working on this beguiling animated fable, and the densely layered and vividly coloured images he conjures up are like the illustrations from a much-loved children's book. In the manner of the Thousand and One Nights, the movie tells the story of two friends, as close as brothers: Azur and Asmar. One is the son of a nobleman, the other the son of the north African nurse who brings them up, and enraptures them with tales of a Djinn fairy awaiting the love of a prince to release her from an enchantment. Harshly separated in their teens, the rich young man travels to the Orient where he finds his friend again, and they travel onward on a mission to find this mythical Djinn princess. It has real charm: an old-fashioned looking movie, but with a heartfelt belief that, pace Kipling, east and west can and should meet.
With its delicate, fairy-tale bones and layer of politically conscious muscle, Azur and Asmar is a sleek and yet slightly unwieldy animal. The fourth animated feature from French director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress), Azur's hybrid appeal should be one of its strongest selling points but proves its weakest: The lessons of cultural intolerance are pitched simply enough for children to understand, yet the execution lacks the schmoozy wit and splashy visuals to keep them entertained; adults will find the elegant combination of cut-out and CGI animation bewitching but the thematics unsubtle, at best. Azur and Asmar are introduced as babes at the breast of an Arab woman (nanny of the former, mother of the latter) in an unspecified Anglo land. Raised as brothers, Azur is an Aryan wet dream, while Asmar is brown like his mum. The boys are separated by Azur's unaccountably evil father, but meet years later in an unspecified Arab land, both chasing a childhood fable that involves freeing a fairy princess. Azur is feared by the Arabs for his blue eyes, a sort of reverse racism that causes him to feign blindness, and all of the Arabic dialogue is untranslated, heightening his feeling of isolation. Aside from a visual shout-out to Jesus and a mention of madrasas and mosques, Ocelot skirts religious questions altogether, offering a moral about ethnic differences, with interracial dating as "the answer for a harmonious future."
French animator Ocelot’s style is so distinct from most American animation that it seems like an entirely different art form. In Azur & Asmar, Ocelot takes advantage of computer animation’s strengths (moving the point of view from, say, a low angle looking up at a character to a God’s-eye perspective in one gorgeous swoop), but he also mixes complex backgrounds that often look like collages with flat planes of color for characters’ clothes, a choice that stresses the two-dimensionality of the film. (Animation buffs will spot the influence of Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 silhouette animation film The Adventures of Prince Achmed.) And, with a rich use of Islamic architectural detail, the film nearly explodes with lush detail. Have we mentioned that this thing is gorgeous?
The plot follows Azur, blond, blue-eyed European, and Asmar, the Arab son of Azur’s nanny. In a loosely defined Middle Ages, the boys are raised like brothers, complete with sibling rivalry. As adults, they meet again when both have set out on a quest to free the djinn fairy. It may take a while to adjust to Ocelot’s slower pacing, but once you surrender your Disney-and-Pixar-trained expectation of wacky cuteness (like the jumbo-sloth humans who mar the second half of WALL•E), Azur & Asmar is utterly enchanting.
We have been very outspoken supporters of French animator Michel Ocelot in these pages for some time now. With his deceptively simple stories that reveal layers upon layers of meaning with repeated viewings Ocelot calls to mind master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki on more than one level, a similarity that Miyazaki himself seems to have noticed given that his Studio Ghibli has championed Ocelot’s films throughout Japan. It is his African folk tale Kirikou and the Sorceress that first drew serious international attention to Ocelot’s work and armed with a very different animation style the master is returning to Africa once again - albeit a very different part of Africa - for his latest effort, Azur and Asmar.
Playing like an excerpt of Arabian Nights, Azur and Asmar is an Arabic based fairy tale revolving around a pair of young men - the upper class European Azur and the servant class Arab Asmar. Different classes they may be but the two boys grew up together as virtual brothers with Asmar’s mother hired on to be Azur’s wet nurse and nanny. And so, much to Azur’s father’s chagrin, the young boy grew up with the lower class foreigner as his constant playmate and chief rival, learned to speak Arabic in his childhood and was raised on a steady diet of Arabic folk tales. Key among those tales, the story of the Djinn Fairy - a magical princess imprisoned inside a mountain awaiting a brave prince to come and save her, a prince who she would then marry.
As the boys grow the class distinctions inevitably raise their ugly heads until, finally, Azur’s father loses his temper with both his son and the nanny, sending the son off to the city to learn from a proper tutor while throwing Asmar and his mother out onto the streets with only the clothes on their backs. Though years pass Azur never forgets the stories he learned as a child and when the time comes that he has rown enough to be independent he declares to his father that he is leaving home and setting off across the ocean on a quest to rescue the Djinn Fairy from his childhood stories. And off he goes, only to be swept off his boat and washed ashore penniless, shunned by the locals who - thanks to superstition - fear his bright blue eyes.
Shunned and scorned Azur clenches his eyes shut and swears to live life as a blind man. Since arriving in the country he has seen nothing but ugliness and his eyes have brought him nothing but pain and so he puts them away. Luckily he is ‘adopted’ by a fellow foreign beggar who offers to act as his guide and takes him to the city to beg a living and in the city, of course, Azur is reunited with his nanny - who has never forgotten the boy she raised as her own and welcomes him warmly - and Asmar, who has never forgiven Azur’s family for his rough treatment and expulsion. Unwilling allies the two young men set off on their quest ...
A visually dazzling film - easily the most impressive visual piece of work in Ocelot’s career - Azur and Asmar takes a bit of time to hit its stride. The pacing in the early going is clumsy, Azur’s father a single-note charicature and the relationship between the two boys rushed and overly simplified. But once the film finds itself - right around the time that Azur finds himself washed ashore penniless - it is pure magic. Ocelot is smart enough to recognize that the power of mth and legend lies at least partially in its simplicity and he refuses to clutter up the narrative with unnecessary devices. The story telling is lean with minimal dialogue serving to bolster the jaw-dropping imagery. But lean in no way implies weak. Ocelot may not like to waste words but those he does use are used to great effect. His regular themes of diversity and tolerance are woven subtly throughout the film, as are issues of love and honor and family. I don’t believe it’s an accident that Ocelot chose to make a film set in an age where the Arab world was the most tolerant and culturally diverse in the world in our current political climate but as much as he clearly wishes to make that point he is also wise enough to make it subtly and not overwhelm the core story, the story of the Djinn Fairy.
The quest for the Fairy follows all of the classic quest motifs and does so beautifully well, a perfect example of why quest stories still hold so much power. The two boys learn, grow and change throughout their journies, emerging at the end as much better and wiser men for the experience. And the journey itself is sheer magic for all ages, the encounter between Azur and a shockingly crimson colored lion with bright blue claws being a particular favorite. The artwork and design is stunning, unlike anything you have seen in western animation before, a riotous shock of color and geometry designed to showcase both the beauty of nature and the classic patterns of Arabic design and tile work.
The slow opening keeps Azur and Asmar from hitting quite as high a peak as does the first Kirikou film but it is, nonetheless, clearly the work of a master.
"This film was made in
You will find this message amidst the closing credits to Michel Ocelot's Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest, followed by a list of the 25 different nationalities represented by the film's cast and crew. It is not merely a piece of ethnographic trivia, but a statement that perfectly summarises a film thoroughly committed to the virtues of pluralism and multiculturalism in creating a better world.
Like Ocelot's breakthrough animated feature Kirikou And The Sorceress (1998), Azur & Asmar employs a fairytale 'quest' frame to explore humankind's twin capacity for shallow prejudice and open-minded wisdom - but where the earlier film reduced our global village to a tiny African community, this latest film is set on a much larger canvas, with a much richer, computer-generated palette. It is a tale of two races, two cultures, two continents, two languages - and of two 'princes' who achieve their regal status through worth rather than birth.
Blonde, blue-eyed baby Azur may live in the country, and the country house, of his father, a wealthy French widower, but he is brought up by his North African wet-nurse Jenane alongside her own baby boy Asmar. Jenane always treats both boys as equals, but their young years and skin-deep differences create rivalries, until eventually Azur's father removes the French boy altogether from the influence of Jenane and her son - by brusquely kicking them off his property.
Now, years later, the adult Azur has all but forgotten the Arabic taught to him by Jenane, but he still remembers her enchanting stories of a beautiful Djinn fairy imprisoned deep within a black mountain - and so he sets off on a quest to liberate and marry her. Shipwrecked on the shores of Jenane's land, mistreated by superstitious locals, and reduced to a lowly beggar, Azur almost abandons all hope from the outset and determines never to look upon the world again, until a chance encounter with his fellow countryman, the narrow-minded arch-cynic Crapoux, guides him to the nearby medina, whose many sensory pleasures Azur can appreciate even with his eyes closed.
There he is reunited with Jenane, now a rich merchant, and resumes his quest, with useful advice from the Jewish scholar Yadoa, the precocious Princess Chamsous Sabah (herself, like the Djinn fairy, held as a cloistered prisoner against her will), and even from Crapoux. But will Azur be helped or hindered by Asmar, who is also seeking to free the fairy? And will they all be able to deliver the city from its blind prejudices and tendencies towards self-destruction?
The first thing that will strike any viewer of Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest is its dazzling, painterly colours, whose ostentatious exuberance has little parallel in animation. The spice market is a mottled haven of reds, oranges and yellows, Jenane's garden is a sea of soothing greens, the Princess' palace is an Escher-like illusion of blacks and whites, while the Djinn fairy's underground chamber is an all-encompassing shadow-world that suddenly explodes into a display of every colour under the sun.
Indeed colour forms a central motif in the story, starting with the difference in the hue of the boys' skin - although when both lads are covered from head to toe in mud, Azur's racist father is unable to tell them apart, and as Jenane will later remark, "their blood is the same colour". The local Africans' superstitions focus upon blue eyes, while Crapoux is terrified of black cats. An early argument between the boys as to which is the more handsome (and whose country is superior) is followed by the vision of a rainbow in the sky. Shortly before Azur is reconciled to his long-lost 'mother' Jenane, his white garments and face are accidentally (but significantly) bespattered by a kaleidoscope of spices.
Yet even as Azur, at his lowest point, feigns blindness to avoid witnessing all the ugliness around him, Ocelot's film deploys its hyperchromatic aesthetic to suggest the very opposite: that beauty, harmony and enlightenment reside in opening one's eyes and mind to the brilliant variety that the world has to offer - including, paradoxically, ugliness itself. Crapoux may seem ridiculous when he complains that the medina's exquisite dye markets "don't have grey" - but Ocelot's egalitarian vision can happily accommodate even the perspective of so absurdly blinkered a character, and in the end revere the opinion of one "who thinks differently" alongside everyone else's. In this moral landscape, you see, the shades of grey are just as essential to the overall ideological spectrum as the most eye-goggling primary colours.
Set against such lavish backgrounds, Ocelot's characters can at times seem a little bland - an impression that is not aided by the relatively inchoate way in which they (and more particularly their costumes) have been drawn, making them two-dimensional not just in the literal sense. For some, this visual contrast between setting and person, though a familiar feature in much Japanese animation or indeed in video games, may prove a somewhat grating stylisation in what is otherwise a true feast for the eyes - but Ocelot has so captivating a story to tell that such quibbles are quickly left behind.
Though Azur and Asmar's adventures unfold in the Middle Ages, they reflect with great intelligence and sensitivity upon issues confronting today's globe: the conflicts that emerge from differences of class, sex, race and religion, and more particularly the divisions between the West and Islam. In his magical, awe-inspiring tale, Ocelot imagines a utopia where such differences might be both acknowledged and embraced in a dance of colour. He also, however, has the good sense to confine such a utopia to a land of dreams and the realms of fairytale – where perhaps, at least until we come to realise that the same fraternal and regal blood courses through all our veins, utopia will always belong.
Film Journey Doug Cummings
Fabulist of filmmaking Nigel Andrews from The Financial Times
Animated Shorts: Michel Ocelot's Azur and Asmar Steve Fritz frim Newsarama
AWN Showcase - Michel Ocelot photos from Animated World Network
'Azur & Asmar' stars the voices of Steven Kyman, Nigel Pilkington ... Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune
The New York Times review Nathan Lee
our DVD-forum Ard Vijn from the Twitch Forum
Tumbleweeds Demetrios Matheou from Sight and Sound, March 2000
The Walkers are a two-unit family: mother Mary Jo is a spirited Southerner and serial spouse who flees town whenever a relationship breaks down; Ava is her 12-year-old daughter, an intelligent child buffeted by her mother's erratic love life.
Following the failure of her last relationship, Mary Jo again uproots herself and Ava and moves to Starlight Beach, near San Diego. There she gets a job as a secretary and Ava enrols in the local school. Mary Jo soon hooks up with Jack, a trucker. Despite a promising beginning, the relationship soon crumbles and Mary Jo decides to leave Starlight Beach. This time Ava, who has developed strong friendships at school, refuses to go with her. She runs away, hiding out at the home of Dan, a work colleague of Mary Jo. Mary Jo finally realises that it is time to put down roots with her child. The two are reconciled. Only then does Mary Jo notice the sensitive Dan, who has been attracted to her all along. Together, they go to see Ava's successful performance as Romeo in a school production of Romeo and Juliet.
Sandwiched between the visceral New York films which established his career, Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese made Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. A road movie about a newly widowed woman who sets out to find a new life with a young son in tow, the 1974 film very much comes to mind when watching Tumbleweeds, although the allusion doesn't necessarily favour first-time director Gavin O'Connor.
While Alice tries her hardest to avoid men, Mary Jo's compulsive behaviour towards them is the driving force of Tumbleweeds - responsible both for mother and daughter's nomadic lifestyle, and for the tensions between them. In exploring this, the script is often funny, and insightful. In particular, O'Connor and his co-screenwriter Angela Shelton (on whose memoir this film was based) avoid the usual overwrought rationalisations for Mary Jo's insecurities: hers is simply a banal life story, in which one mistake leads to another, until misadventure becomes a habit.
The depiction of the parent/child relationship is also well observed, less in the dialogue, perhaps, than in its palpable physicality: frequent meals, food fights, farting displays; Ava's first period; a trip to the beach wearing matching (and ill-fitting) bathing costumes. Rather than the saccharine show one might find in a more mainstream movie, Janet McTeer and young Kimberly J. Brown's tactile rapport offers something infinitely more believable. Indeed, it's the rich, febrile performance of the British actress, bringing just the right blend of charisma and chaos to her characterisation, that lifts this essentially modest film. Driving her Mustang as if dressed for Ascot, Mary Jo comes across as a raunchier version of Blanche Du Bois, still reckless before tragedy has taken its indelible hold.
The affinities with Scorsese's film are everywhere: in the scenario; the rather naive view of men - as either nice guys or irredeemable brutes - that one sometimes finds in female-centred films made by male directors; and the naturalistic performances. But O'Connor's handling of the mise en scène pales in comparison, exposing the ordinariness of his direction.
This is epitomised by his misguided use of the jarring 'naturalism' - the skittish, arbitrary camerawork - of US television police dramas. Even a quiet dinner scene between mother and child is shot as if the cameraman needs a detox. The result is as intrusive as the writing is subtle. O'Connor also appears in the film, as the trucker Jack; ironically, it is when he's on the road that the director, like his character, seems most at ease.
WARRIOR B 84
While there’s nothing particularly novel about this formulaic story, a ROCKY (1976) picture with Nick Nolte in the famous Burgess Meredith role as the aging fight trainer, with the role of Rocky split between two brothers, Tom Hardy as Tommy and Joel Edgarton as Brendan, split from one another as teenagers and forced to lead very separate and distinctly different lives. Hardy plays a brooding ex-Marine, a loner with so many complications in his life he can barely utter a word, a guy carrying a grudge who turns into a horrifically brutal fighter, while his brother Brandon is a high school physics teacher, married with two children, but about to have his home foreclosed, forcing him into a state of desperation where he can pick up extra cash from the fight business. Joel Edgarton is the screenwriter of the very stylish The Postman Always Rings Twice style Australian film THE SQUARE (2008), directed by his brother Nash, and one of the criminal brothers in one of he best pictures of last year, ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010). Here he plays the older brother who got the better end of the deal, as the younger brother was forced to flee from an abusive father, taking his terminally ill mother with him, basically fending for himself at an early age, losing all contact with his family. Neither one has any use for their father, who finally after all these years is trying to get sober, but barely even registers as having a pulse with these two guys, as they’ve left him behind ages ago. Rather than playing football in Mark Wahlberg’s INVINCIBLE (2006), wrestling from Aronofsky’s THE WRESTLER (2008 ), or boxing in David O. Russell’s THE FIGHTER (2010), this movie features the latest fighting craze called the ultimate fighting championship, mixed martial arts, which allows boxing, wrestling, and various martial arts techniques where a fighter wins by points, knockouts or submission holds, where in this case, a round robin battle of 16 leads to 4 fights within 24 hours, the winner takes all, a $5 million cash prize.
While the actual narrative is familiar, but rather than
shown in an indie style picture, which is usually all character development,
this is a tense, highly stylized, Hollywood action picture that takes us
directly into the center of the ring where it becomes an adrenaline-laced fight
picture, an old-fashioned popcorn movie that stars three men who are so damaged
they are barely articulate, who haven’t spoken to one another in years, and
when they do have the opportunity, they still have next to nothing to say, so
it’s all about what happens inside the ring.
Tommy is a former undefeated high school State wrestling champion, but
his quick exit from the state curtailed his promising career, while Brendan had
a brief, fairly ordinary ultimate fighting career that also came to an abrupt
end as his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) couldn’t stand to see her husband get
pummeled. But both are completely off
the radar when it comes to ranking the best fighters in the world, so just
getting into this tournament is something of a stretch. However, the acting in this picture is
superb, among the best performances of the year, where they each complement one
another nicely, where Nolte is the odd man out, bruised, beaten, old and weary,
who dares to hope against all fading hope that he can reconcile his differences
with his two sons who refuse to acknowledge his existence, who spends his time
listening to a tape in his ear of a reading of Melville’s Moby Dick. Tommy went off to
Iraq and bulked up, but so little is known about him that his life is a mystery
even to himself, as he keeps everything secretly locked up inside, very much in
the mold of Stallone in FIRST BLOOD (1992), where fighting is his true release,
seen kicking the living crap out of a championship contender as a walk on
fighter in a dingy gym, which is how he earns his reputation. He’s also recognized by a soldier in
While there is a working class setting of
An angry and bitter young man (Tom Hardy) returns to the home of his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) so he can train him to fight in a mixed martial arts tournament and nothing more. His older brother (Joel Edgerton), whom he also harbors resentment towards, is a struggling school teacher facing foreclosure and also eyes the substantive cash prize of the MMA tourney. "Warrior" is a sports movie that is rife with cliches, that is handled in such an extraordinarily powerful manner that we gladly embrace them. It's a film that transcends its genre and should appeal to everyone because it finds strength in its human story. Tom Hardy, who's star is quickly on the rise, brings a quiet ferocity to the role and Joel Edgerton is quite good as well bringing believability to his family man/scrappy underdog fighter. Then there is Nick Nolte, an actor many write off for his off screen antics, who reminds us all what a powerful presence he is. His repentant and tough as nails drunk is surely to earn him a supporting actor nod. With "Warrior", director Gavin O'Connor has taken the kind of film that holds a high mass appeal and injected with a dynamism along with a touch of humanity resulting in a work that plays like gangbusters.
The realm of mixed martial arts is still an
ephemeral one, where upstart fighters can quickly rise through the ranks if
they prove their mettle with a combination of brute strength, mental agility,
endurance and sheer insanity.
A sport that generates millions of dollars in revenue, yet is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, is full of inherent contradictions, and in Warrior, it acts as a metaphor for the fractured family life of two brothers, both teetering on the edge between respectability and oblivion.
Beginning with the arrival of broken down, AWOL Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) at his father's (Nick Nolte)
Okay, before the eye-rolling starts, know that Warrior is a straightforward, classically told family story with an ending that can be spotted from the first reel, so the key with a movie like this is how it reaches its destination. Hardy and Edgerton are both solid, bringing subtlety where it's sorely needed to the yin-yang of two brothers torn apart. Nick Nolte is excellent as their formerly drunken dad, adding a sad-eyed nuance to the kind of role he was born to play, especially as he edges into to the twilight of his career.
From his sternness to the contrition of an ex-addict to his wild-eyed (and haired) leap off the wagon of sobriety, Nolte is a joy to watch and master of every scene he's in. As things reach a fever pitch and our battling brothers advance through the tournament, director Gavin O'Connor does a good job keeping things moving at an entertaining pace, making sure the comparatively wee Irish brothers beating down men twice their size feels at least somewhat realistic.
Warrior is a smart film, but it's also a fairy tale for dudes where, despite the bloody struggles, the pieces fall together neatly. It's nearly impossible to run a new spin on the sports film, and Warrior isn't trying to re-invent the wheel. Yet what it does with its pieces makes for bold, gritty entertainment.
With Miracle and now Warrior, Gavin O'Conner can lay claim to being the finest sports-drama director working today. That field is, admittedly, a shallow one, yet faint praise isn't intended, as O'Conner continues to exhibit a deft knack for melding interpersonal drama with athletic competition in ways that, despite his tales' clichés, earn their melodramatic manipulations through genuine empathy for characters' plights. Whereas his prior effort about the historic real-life 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had built-in rooting-interest, Warrior works from an original dramatic template—original, of course, except for its indebtedness to Rocky, with which it shares not only a Philadelphia setting for its rise-to-fisticuffs-glory trajectory, but a set of archetypes modeled after the Italian Stallion, Adrian, Mick, and Drago. Still, if those connections are sometimes blatant, they're also embraced as a means of acknowledging the enduring impact of its basic nobodies-make-good template, in which two long-estranged brothers, high school wrestling star and Iraq war vet Tommy (Thomas Hardy) and physics teacher and former UFC punching bag Brendan (Joel Edgerton), seek self-worth and salvation through confronting their traumatic past with recovering alcoholic father Paddy (Nick Nolte), all while vying for a $5 million purse at an Atlantic City mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament.
If Brendan is a loyal family man in a Balboa mold, battering ram Tommy is On the Waterfront's Terry Malloy, a glowering, sarcastic everyman struggling to both subsist and survive his own inner demons. Tommy and Brendan's day-to-day lives and self-esteem are wracked by contemporary concerns regarding housing foreclosures and battlefield trauma, which for Tommy is complicated by his having heroically saved comrades by literally ripping a tank's door off its hinges, but the consistently well-modulated script doesn't overstate its modern-condition concerns so much as merely couch its uplifting saga in a relatable here-and-now. As with a recurring, understated thematic subplot involving Paddy and Moby Dick, or when Paddy loftily proclaims, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't," and Tommy deflates the sentiment with a "Yeah?," Warrior regularly finds a way to meld its more epic impulses in a convincing working-class reality. That's also true of the story's guiding moral and emotional conflicts and dilemmas, which—be it Brendan's refusal to lose his house because "we're not going backwards," or Tommy and Brendan's equally valid anger over Brendan's teenage decision to stay with his abusive dad while Tommy and their dying mother fled to the West Coast—recognize life as a thicket of complications, misunderstandings and mistakes that rarely can be assessed and resolved in cozy black-and-white terms.
The film's first half carefully considers its protagonists, with its generous spirit extending to that of Paddy, whose soul-crushing mixture of guilt is beautifully conveyed by Nolte in a performance of tremulous reserve and grace. Hardy and Edgerton are equally compelling as siblings at war with their father, each other, and themselves, providing enough polar-opposite energy to create tremendous friction during the finale, an inevitable showdown between the two that—in light of the preceding, even-handed character-centric material—is most powerful for its ability to elicit desire for dual victory. Shooting with a patina of rusty grays, blues, and blacks, O'Conner handles these segments with aplomb, and once the tale turns to the MMA cage, his action sequences deliver one visceral wallop after another. To its occasional detriment, the plot never upends expectations, ultimately hewing to a predictable happily-ever-after path. Yet on the heels of its compassionate portrait of wounded masculinity in search of stability and forgiveness, his bruising clashes—highlighted by an amazing close-up of Brendan as he attempts to fell an undefeated opponent with a submission hold, his life's fears and desires manifest in his fraught face and vein-bulging neck—prove so gripping that, even at 139 minutes, Warrior leaves you wanting even more.
Review: Warrior gives Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton compelling ... Drew McWeeny from HitFix
Warrior (2011) : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical Tyler Foster
Warrior movie review starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte Rebecca Murray from About.com
Warrior | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club Allison Willmore
Filmcritic.com Anthony Benigno
Eye for Film : Warrior Movie Review (2011) Owen Van Spall
Review: 'Warrior' | KPBS.org Beth Accomando
Boom Because Our Opinions Matter
Hardy: 'It's a normal human impulse to watch two people kick the hell out of
each other' Stuart Jeffries
interviews actor Tom Hardy from The
'Warrior' review: Solid drama packs painful wallop Amy Biancolli from The SF Chronicle
THE SILENCE (Das letzte Schweigen) B+ 91
Not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman's THE SILENCE (1963) or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Iranian film THE SILENCE (1998), where this film may not stand with that elite company, however the Swiss director has worked as a second unit assistant director for the Maren Ade film THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003), an unusual German film told in a measured and meticulously distinct, realist manner with a truly provocative final sequence. A film with no opening credits, here the opening shot surveying the gorgeous Bavarian landscape sets the scene, resembling the aerial shot in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) following a car as it makes its way down a tree-lined highway, where this homage is likely not accidental, especially considering the content of the movie. Writing, directing, and producing his first feature-length film, it also explores the unpleasant underbelly of an otherwise orderly and mainstream German society where people on the surface at least have nothing to fear, where children are often left on their own, probably resembling the quaint life in most small towns where everybody knows everybody else. Set in the pastoral heartland of Germany in 1986 with golden, waist-deep wheatfields extending to the horizon, we watch the tail end of what may be a snuff film, or at the very least, a pedophile’s sexual fantasy, where two men, Peer, Ulrich Thomsen, a Danish actor seen in Susanne Bier’s film In a Better World (2010), and Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) then hop into a car on the lookout for young prey, eying an 11-year old girl Pia (Helene Doppler) riding her bicycle alone down an isolated country road, where the girl is viciously raped and murdered in the wheatfields by Peer as Timo passively watches in a state of shock and horror at the outcome, her body dumped into a lake afterwards, where the killers were never caught, as Timo mysteriously disappears afterwards in a mixture of anger and personal disgust.
The film jumps ahead 23 years, introducing an entirely new set of characters, including another young girl, 13-year old Sinikka (Anna Lena Klenke) who storms out of her parent’s house in a furious rage after a perceived invasion of her privacy, never to be seen or heard from again, as she becomes the victim of a copycat killing at the exact same location, where the police are again without a suspect for the crime. The community is in an uproar, where the police have no answers for a seethingly angry public, but we also see the stunned reactions of the parents, including Elena (Katrin Saß) the mother of the first girl, Pia, who lives only a few hundred yards away from the murder site and has to undergo the experience all over again, where people are dumfounded and shocked at the gruesome similarities. While only the audience sees the original perpetrators, everyone remains clueless about both crimes, where the community is aghast at having to re-live through this same horrible ordeal again. Adapted by the director from the second of three Jan Costin Wagner novels, Das Schweigen (2007), all of which take place in Finland featuring the same lead character, Detective Kimmo Joentaa, a rather frumpy and hapless looking detective who in the movie becomes David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), a damaged soul still mourning the death of his wife from cancer, which happens in the first novel, Ice Moon (2003). Perhaps because of his own personal experience, Detective Jahn, along with the steadfast help of his devoted partner, Jule Böwe as the pregnant detective Jana Gläser, they are the only ones in law enforcement who see this as more than a case to dispose of to make the public get off their backs, as there are larger implications that are routinely being ignored. What is truly exceptional here is rather than invest energy attempting to solve the crime, the director is more interested in examining a cross section of people affected by the crime, where their response becomes the dramatic focus of the picture.
The director doesn’t forget Peer and Timo, much older now and barely recognizable, where Peer remains at the same apartment complex working as the maintenance worker, where the audience immediately senses the obvious, the presence of a pedophile literally surrounded by unsuspecting children playing in the yard area that he maintains. Timo on the other hand has moved to another city and is married with two children, where his wife Julia (Claudia Michelson) believes he’s an architect away from home for a few days inspecting a site location, while in fact he’s gone to visit Peer after the second murder, suspecting from the similarities that he’s involved. Timo remains conflicted about the visit, still feeling guilty about the original incident that Peer has long since forgotten, yet their meeting together is the Macbethian stain from which all tragedy occurs, where countless more characters are still having to deal with the ugly ramifications of their actions. The film is reminiscent of Tony Hillerman detective stories, where the overwhelming prominence of the natural environment affects each and every one of the characters, where the beautiful and tranquil landscape shots here are a stark contrast to the mental anguish and torment felt by entire community, much like the overriding grief felt throughout David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990 – 91), where the small town police work is really more of an excuse to reconnect several of the characters, alternately shifting various points of view, keeping the audience off balance while brilliantly interweaving the piano and violin in the stylishly original music of Michael Kamm and Kris Steininger as Pas de Deux. While Wagner’s book is more like INSOMNIA (1997), a Nordic noir murder mystery that takes place in the Scandinavian summer heat under the perpetual midnight sun, introducing a dreamy, almost unreal quality to it, this movie is more interested in exploring and exposing the depths of human anguish, reconnecting people’s lives to deep seeded feelings that were long thought dormant, becoming a sad and sorrowful elegy for the dead. Like Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), the film is an accomplished expression of community despair, somewhat disguised as a detective whodunit story, but instead becomes a complex study of grief, remorse, obsession, and the persistence of long pent-up guilt.
Two murders, apparently identical, with 23 years between, form the centre of this slow-burning, intelligent thriller which circles round the perpetrators, the police, the victims and their families. Beginning with a bang with the almost dialogue-free rape and murder of teenager Pia, and witnessing the effect on Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring), the shocked accomplice, we move swiftly to the present, where another girl of similar age, Sinikka, is killed on the same spot on the same date 23 years later. The police who were involved and failed to solve the crime eagerly take up the trail – recently retired Krischan (Burghart Klaußner)and the disturbed David (Sebastian Blomberg) whose wife has just died, the former seen by his ex-colleagues as a bit of an old duffer, the latter as a neurotic liability (who surely would have been firmly sent home on indefinite sickness leave by any real police force). For the first victim’s mother it is an ordeal she must revisit, and for the parents of Sinikka the nightmare is just beginning .Timo has moved away from his previous life and become a successful and happy family man. The tension builds simultaneously on the police’s official and unofficial investigations and on the question whether the guilt and knowledge of the identity of the murderer will drive Timo out of his new life to confess. Meanwhile Ulrich Thomson as the enigmatic murderer Peer, now seemingly a kindly caretaker, sends shivers down the spine as he sits by the children’s swing park and helps out old ladies. No crime is, maybe, as straightforward as it looks, and what has been thought of as a serial killing turns out to be more complicated, and the idyllic cornfield in which the two murders take place becomes a kind of timeless pivot for the action. Great beginning and end are rather let down by a long central section of overlong meanderings in regret, guilt and grief, but overall it’s a good mix of suspense and serious meditation on the many aspects of a crime.
The Silence | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club Mike D’Angelo
More than two decades later, another teenage girl disappears, on the same date and in the same spot, her bicycle found just a few feet from the previous victim’s grave marker. Someone’s trying to send a message, it seems. The Silence takes its time in revealing who’s responsible for this second crime, and why it’s happened again, yet writer-director Baran bo Odar (adapting a novel by Jan Costin Wagner) isn’t as interested in solving a mystery as he is in examining the community’s response to this re-opening of an old wound. From the detective who failed to solve the ’86 murder (Burghart Klaussner) to the victim’s still-grieving mother (Katrin Sass), people who thought they’d put the tragedy well behind them are drawn back into emotional states they’d long forgotten. That goes double for Möhring, now a respectable husband and father living in another city, who heads back to confront his ugly legacy and his old friend.
From moment to moment, The Silence can feel a bit pokey, as it divides its attention among a host of characters and never builds up much urgency about the fate of the second victim, whose body hasn’t been found. The film’s provocative nature only becomes fully apparent with the final scene—not due to some unexpected twist (by that point, all has been revealed), but via a sudden, head-spinning shift in perspective. What had seemed like a lackluster ensemble piece turns out to be an exercise in empathy, inviting viewers to recognize the pain of an otherwise reprehensible character by enfolding him into a huge tapestry of mutual anguish. That tactic might genuinely piss some people off were it not accomplished so quietly and subtly, and while the movie’s plodding journey to this destination isn’t ideal, there’s a sense in which it almost needs to be that TV-drama-ish, in order to lower the viewer’s defenses. (There’s no rationalization for Thomsen and Möhring looking the same age in scenes set 23 years apart, however. Shaggy wigs don’t cut it.) Even for the irredeemable, The Silence audaciously suggests, loneliness is loneliness.
The ugliest parts of human behavior are often on display in cinema. Artists and audiences alike — though perhaps more the former than the latter, to look at box office returns — feel drawn by the worst in us. Safe in dark theaters, we contemplate horrors and root for the heroes caught up in them. And we hope for directors who can use striking visual language to build some meaningful commentary on the most rotten moral foundations. You have to be an absolute believer in the communicative and political power of cinema to watch a movie about murdered children and sift its frames for something more than macabre titillation.
That requirement is more critical than usual for Baran bo Odar’s The Silence. The Swiss writer-director’s film is beautifully executed, but punishing in its every detail. Twenty-three years after a girl was killed, another abandoned bicycle appears in the same spot in the same field, another pair of parents are left to agonize, and another set of cops set about the hunt. There is little physical violence in the film, but an inexhaustible supply of emotional carnage. “Depressing” ain’t the half of it.
The Silence opens with a still shot of a residential balcony, all tans and blues and right angles, with a massive, distorted, deep electronic sound putting the viewer instantly on edge. Cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer’s camera zooms slowly in on the sharp metal corners of the mail slot, before Odar cuts to the interior of the apartment. Two men are watching a projector showing a young, frightened girl. Suddenly the cuts become rapid, the shots come at hard angles to one another, and you sense that you should be grateful for the sudden distortion of time and space. Filled with dark energy, the two men depart (shown in a straight-down shot of their red car backing out of a garage into a cramped driveway, the shot full of the same harsh, square geometry).
Later, they separate, the passenger horrified at what he’s just watched and encouraged the driver to do. And 23 years later, young Sinikka Weghamm (Anna-Lena Klenke) meets the same fate, in the same field, after fighting with her parents and being stood up by friends and deciding to bike back home. If The Silence were a grindhouse flick, the implications of the fight with her parents would be unacceptably regressive: Sinikka tells her father to “fuck off,” he starts after her, and her mother stops him. But Odar’s movie isn’t about the kind of simplistic moral calculus that B horror flicks use to frame their gore as judgment. It’s about how appearances deceive, and how good intentions are insufficient for the righting of wrongs.
The visual language Odar and Summerer employ is unmistakable: characters and places are defined either with rigorously angular, boxy shapes in the frames around them, or by the messiness of their personal presentation. By and by, the filmmakers elaborate upon the suggestion in the opening sequence that the squared-away order in which central antagonist Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) lives is a mask. Elena (Katrin Sass), the mother of the first victim, has preserved her daughter’s bedroom exactly as it was when she disappeared. It is fastidious, and Elena’s relationship with this organic shrine to her dead girl’s prim, organized, angular goodness is complicated and painful. Sinikka’s home is shown first in interiors, with the same scheme of corners and blunt geometry, and it’s only after she’s disappeared that we see the house from outside: It sits, for all its rectangles and clean lines, beside a mini-mountain of torn dirt, and a yard full of haphazard construction equipment.
Another thing you might have to believe to enjoy The Silence: Hope and uplift in such stories is just a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. There is little of either to be had in the detectives’ pursuit of the killer, although some seems to come by way of Peer’s one-time accomplice Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring). His fierce internal wrestling after Peer’s message to his lost “friend” — delivered via news footage of Sinikka’s disappearance in that familiar field — shakes up the family and life he’s made for himself 23 years on. But Timo’s response is a poor excuse for redemption. Odar executes that internal struggle wonderfully, and Mohring does excellent, haunted work. So, too, does Sebastian Blomberg, as Inspector David Jahn, a widowed, sweat-soaked, unshaven ghost of a man who is alone among his colleagues in being more interested in getting the case right than in getting it off the books. Odar introduces these several sets of initially disparate characters — mothers and cops and killers — and braids them together gracefully. But he uses the resulting rope not to pull his audience up out of the darkness, but to strangle us in it.
Review: 'The Silence' An Effectively Moody Murder Mystery | The ... Gabe Toro from The indieWIRE Playlist
Screenjabber.com Charles Whitting
The Silence :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews Jim Emerson
The Silence - Movies - The New York Times A.O. Scott
A terrific mix of reality and fantasy blended together in one day in the life of a teenager on the verge of manhood, shot in stunning b & w, some scenes are truly amazing, terrific performance by the boy, Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc, and a very tight, well written script, coming in at 77 mi, winner of Venice Film Fest FIPRESCI award
Film of the Month: Le Souffle Ryan Gilbey from Sight and Sound, May 2003
Le Souffle is a portrait of an angry young man almost too painful to watch
The coming-of-age movie, with its insistence that nothing will ever be the same again after that summer, can be maddeningly simplistic. It typically depends for its impact on the transformative effect of a single plot point, and for its illumination on hindsight softened by nostalgia. Even if first-time director Damien Odoul had not mounted in Le Souffle a string of poetic visual coups that might have made Cocteau swoon, it would still be possible to marvel at how nimbly he sidesteps the traps of the genre to which his film has some tentative allegiance.
With its combination of savage rustic imagery and a bare-bones narrative sketching one boy's stumble towards manhood, Le Souffle could be described as a sheep in wolf's clothing. Shots of animals being culled or dissected prime us, slightly misleadingly, for an essay of the utmost seriousness, such sights being a staple part of the arthouse diet Godard's Week-End, Haneke's Benny's Video, Delphine Gleize's upcoming Carnages. In the absence of plot, here it's often the bodies that tell the story: a boy's belly-button spirals in on itself in close-up like a mysterious seashell, a girl's never-ending legs are as pure and white as a mile of uncrossed beach. The performances, too, have an almost embarrassing naturalism. As the half-surly, half-frolicsome adolescent David, Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc is so fine he makes you want to avert your eyes; his convulsive dances and tantrums, his boastful incantations ("I represent all the bad boys!"; "I am a wolf!") are too near the knuckle for anyone who has been, known or lived on the same planet as an angry young man.
But the rites of passage in David's story are not forthcoming. Even now, having watched the film twice, I'm not certain he makes it across the border into the adult world. Is there a name for a coming-of-age film which manifestly fails to make good on the genre's one stipulation?
Stranded on his uncles' farm in the remote Limousin region of France, David might well be undergoing a life-altering experience during the balmy day charted by the film. But we are no wiser by the end of it than he appears to be; like David himself, Le Souffle is breathtakingly pretty but largely inscrutable. Repeatedly a chance presents itself for catharsis or epiphany notably in David's interaction with Stef, the wisest and least brutish of the men gathered on the farm for a barbecue that grows closer, with each revolution of the spit, to a sacrificial ceremony. Repeatedly such opportunities go unexploited.
Odoul may even be baiting film-makers who have stuck to the straight and narrow in their journey through the treacherous forest of adolescence. It can be no coincidence that the closest thing the film has to conventional action comes when David looms over a boy's body beside a railway line, just as his American peers did in Stand by Me. The obvious difference is that whereas River Phoenix and chums were related to that body only as spectators, and had their progression into adulthood flagged by setting eyes on it, David is complicit in his discovery the boy is his friend Paul, whom he had shot in the back seconds earlier. Even more radical is the film's denial, or at least suppression, of motive or consequences. David sheds a few tears for his injured friend, but more out of frustration at not being able to hoist Paul on to his disobedient horse.
Even with so much beauty to please the eye, a person will eventually question the purpose of a film in which violence engenders in its perpetrator no apparent emotion, not even pleasure. Is this another River's Edge, another Fun, in which the blank doling out of brutality becomes a symptom of youthful alienation? Not likely. David rips the tailfeathers from a cockerel and lobs stones at a forlorn donkey who might reasonably be wondering if Au hasard Balthazar wasn't punishment enough for his species. The root of the violence, though, is to be found not in David's languid aggression but in the farm's stone banquet room, where the men eat, sweat, lug each other around like dolls and rake over their lives without insight.
Who can predict whether David will be the exception? The film isn't saying. It's pregnant with images of birth and rebirth that point to a maturation process not discernible in his face. In fantasy excerpts, he is naked and dirty, as though he has just tumbled out of the womb. Early on he has his scalp shorn while a sheep's severed head looks on, flies dancing about its grisly grin. This is the only moment in which he looks truly contented, oblivious as he is to the ritualistic connotations of his uncomplicated crop. Of course, we have just witnessed the killing of that sheep, its black blood dribbling noisily into a bucket, as well as the brisk unwrapping of a dead pig whose intestines almost uncoil into our laps. We are, then, better placed to comprehend that David is being primed for sacrifice.
While he is not actually slaughtered by the corpulent farmers, there remains a jabbing, malevolent quality to the day's celebrations that gives the film its sinister kick. You might suspect that the men are nudging their young charge towards intoxication in order to have their wicked way with him, but the scenario is all the more disturbing for its absence of sexual danger. True, there is a scene in which David is jolted out of his stupor with a cup of salty coffee, before being sprayed with a hose. Odoul throws in cut-aways to his tormentors a hairy, distended belly ballooning over a man's trousers; a gummy mouth twisted in laughter; a mutt's leathery tongue unspooling obscenely. It's a horrifying scene: a rape scene, in fact, in all but the letter of the script. But sex very quickly leaks out of the movie. It's almost as though Odoul needed that shocking episode to clear sensationalist thoughts from our minds.
What he saddles us with is something more amorphous and pervasive. If these ghouls were just after David's cherry, their threat to him could be routinely quantified. What they actually want is to make him a man. He is to be inducted into their cannibalistic circle of martyred sons who are regurgitated into irresponsible fathers. One man, Jean-Claude, was shot in the head by his dad. "Ah, memories," he sighs. Pierrot, who is plotting to leave his wife and children, warns David: "Get this into your skull fathers always abandon their sons." David, who is fatherless since his parents' divorce, pastes fond photographs of female relatives by his bed, alternated with snaps of dead animals. But there are no women present in his life here, unless you count the fantasy sequence in which he visits the fairytale house of his supposed girlfriend long enough to enjoy a brief clinch and to cradle his head mournfully in his hands at the sound of her mother's angelic singing, before fleeing through the window of her Rapunzel tower. In a landscape drained of all female influence, it is hardly surprising that the oak tree cleaved into an unambiguously vaginal V comes to seem like the only positive influence in this boy's life.
VENICE 2001 REVIEW: 400 Breaths; Odoul’s Spellbinding Debut “Deep Breath” Patrick Z. McGavin from indieWIRE, also seen here: NYFF 2001 REVIEW: 400 Breaths; Odoul’s Spellbinding Debut “Deep Breath”
A foreign film for those who think cute is the highest compliment, this painfully po-faced story about an oddball hotel poses a question: If you tune a fish-out-of-water premise down to the lowest key possible, are you still left with nothing but formulaic tripe? It’s a given that the uptight visitor (Kobayashi) who arrives at the movie’s spare beach resort will find the let-it-flow attitude of the proprietor (Mitsuishi) to be irksome, and the strange, smiling geriatric (Motai) who serves shaved ice to be maddeningly inscrutable. We also know what will inevitably happen next: The longer this city dweller is around her deadpan-kooky fellow travelers, the more those nightly bouts of “twilighting”—a fancy way of saying you’re staring off into space—will seem deeply profound.
The real lesson: Just because a predictable narrative comes laden with pretty pictures and Zen quirk, that doesn’t make its platitudinous ideology any less grating. Director Naoko Ogigami may have a keen eye for placing characters in clean, uncluttered space, but her ear for dialogue (“I just spend my time waiting…for time to pass, I guess.”) suggests she’s digested a steady diet of New Age blather. Megane isn’t interested in spiritual enlightenment; it’s the cinematic equivalent of a rock-garden tchotchke sold as exotica to tourists.
Village Voice (Scott Foundas) review (Excerpt)
I first saw Tôkyô Sonata at last year's Sydney Film Festival. On the flight back, after learning that my father had died in Florida, I saw writer-director Naoko Ogigami's delightful Megane (Glasses), another Japanese film that begins with the blowing of a gentle spring breeze. The breeze heralds the arrival of Sakura-san (Masako Motai), a grandmotherly Mary Poppins in simple dress and pulled-back hair who seems to materialize out of the ether with the start of the season at Hamada, a secluded beach resort. This particular year, her appearance is followed closely by that of Taeko (Satomi Kobayashi), a buttoned-up professor on holiday who has chosen Hamada (where she seems to be the only other guest) for its lack of cell phone reception. She has "the talent to be here," says the resort's kindly manager (Ken Mitsuishi) upon realizing that Taeko is the first guest in three years to find her way without getting lost. Less pleased with the arrangements is Taeko herself, who discovers that the only sightseeing in the area involves sitting on the beach and staring fixedly off into the distance—a form of r&r dubbed "twilighting" by the locals. Nor does she take too kindly to Sakura-san's daily in-person wake-up calls and incessant offers of homemade shaved ice. At one point, she makes an ill-fated break for it, packing her overstuffed suitcase and heading for a nearby resort—the Marine Palace—that turns out to be something of a Marxist Café Med, with morning collective farming followed by afternoon study sessions.
An exceptionally subtle comedy of manners and observation, Megane screened last year at Sundance and New Directors/New Films, but inexplicably remains without a U.S. distributor. (MOMA has booked it for a week-long run as part of the museum's ongoing ContemporAsian film series.) When I saw Ogigiami's film in-flight, I felt almost giddy with joy; revisiting it nine months later, I realized the credit is entirely the movie's and not the unusual circumstances under which I viewed it. The people in Megane do not ask much of one another, content to bask in the pleasure of their own company while listening to the lapping of the waves and watching the sun recede into the horizon. Never do we even learn just who Sakura-san is or where she comes from—she may be a yoga teacher from Tibet or an opera teacher from Prague, or both, or neither. "I wonder," says one character, allowing her wonder to linger, taking pleasure in not knowing. Eventually, spring breezes give way to summer rains, Sakura-san vanishes as quickly as she appeared, and Taeko must contemplate a return to the world of cell phone signals. So, this, too, shall pass, and yet Megane leaves us suffused not with loss but possibility and the feeling of an imminent return—to Hamada or someplace like it.
Slant Magazine review Nick Schager
The Hollywood Reporter review Maggie Lee
A film that will put many viewers to sleep, as it has a dreamy, somnambulistic quality that feels as if the storyline is interweaving various bedtime stories. Three high school girls in a rural mountain village decide to tell each other stories, where they each elaborate on what they’ve heard so far, creating a kind of chain letter effect. While in theory, this may sound interesting, onscreen it never had a cohesive theme or developed any kind of structure to hold our interest, weaving in and out of reality like there is no reality, creating dream-like landscapes, much of the film photographed in extremely dim light, nearly always in the dark, so the few times daytime is seen, it feels ultra-expressively bright and colorful. I did enjoy the whale theme, describing the effects of a whale washed ashore, not responding to any of the human efforts to help or revive it, which is followed by a giant truck driving by with a bright blue picture on the side of a whale riding a wave, likely an advertisement for a refreshing drink, but it continues to be seen in gorgeously odd situations. Much of the film is lush and has moments of rare beauty, has an excessively slow pace, occasionally accentuated by the dense, hauntingly mysterious and somber tones of Arvo Pärt’s “Silouan’s Song,” but the overall tone of the film is without energy or vibrancy, as if none of this really matters to anyone, as if the characters in the film are a bunch of bored people that got together to try to amuse themselves at our expense, and nothing really holds our interest except, perhaps, the “look” of the film.
Steven Okazaki's subjects range from heroin addicts to dairy
Steven started in children's programming in 1976, producing dramatic
shorts and documentaries for Churchill Films in
With a fellowship from the American Film Institute, he moved in a different direction with Living on Tokyo Time, a comedy about a Japanese dishwasher and her deadbeat green card husband. It premiered at Sundance and was released theatrically by Skouras Pictures in 1987.
In 1991, he won an Oscar® for Days of Waiting, the story of artist Estelle Ishigo, one of the few Caucasians to be interned with the Japanese Americans during World War II. Other PBS documentaries include: Hunting Tigers (1989) a comic look at Tokyo pop culture featuring Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe; Troubled Paradise (1992), about native Hawaiian activism; American Sons (1994) about how the lives of Asian American men are shaped by racism; and The Fair (2001), a quirky celebration of the Minnesota State Fair.
From 1994 to 1996, he worked with NHK Hi-Vision, producing some of the earliest HD-TV programming. Two films, Alone Together: Young Adults Living with HIV and Life Was Good: The Claudia Peterson Story, about a family living next to the Nevada Test Site, won UNESCO Awards.
In the last ten years, much of his work has been with HBO
Documentary Films. In 2000, HBO premiered the powerful Black Tar Heroin,
a cinema-verite chronicle of the lives of five young heroin addicts.
It was nominated for an Emmy and was one of HBO's highest rated documentaries
that year. In 2005, he produced Rehab, a disturbing look at drug
treatment, which won the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award, honoring
journalists who have "demonstrated the highest standards of reporting on
drug issues." In 2006, he received his third Oscar® nomination for The Mushroom Club,
a personal reflection on the 60th anniversary of the
Segments from his films have been featured on "The CBS
Evening News," "The NBC Nightly News," ABC News
"Nightline," CNN and "Oprah." Steven was born in 1952 and
grew up in
Okazaki interview on metroactive.com Director Steven Okazaki documents young SF junkies, by Michelle Goldberg, April 12, 1999
Okazaki article A-bomb Legacy Fading: Steven Okazaki fims hibakusha stories for future generations, by Mandy Willingham from Japan Focus, April 15, 2006
Academy award winning short about a white wife of a Japanese-American who refused to be separated from her husband, becoming one of the few whites sent to an internment camp during WWII, based on the story of Estelle Ishigo and her novel Lone Heart Mountain.
A powerfully disturbingly documentary shown initially on HBO
TV that provides raw and graphic evidence of the effects left on the only
survivors of a nuclear attack. Like
Holocaust survivors, many have refused to discuss this issue their entire lives
as they have been shamefully ostracized within their own society due to their
overt scars and physical disfigurements, a reminder of a distant past the
Japanese society has been in a rush to forget.
The film opens by asking typical Japanese teenage kids in
Perhaps the most remarkable footage was shot by Americans
who arrived on the scene shortly after the Japanese surrender, bringing in
medical teams who were ill equipped to understand at that time the far-ranging
effects of radiation poisoning. So when
patients who were supposed to get better didn’t, they had no treatment plan whatsoever
to offer, so the survivors were photographed, like some sort of hideous guinea
pigs put on display for the world to see.
Unbelievably, one of those photographed as a grotesque child was now
speaking to the cameras in this film as an adult. That transition is mind boggling. The population of
The film makes unusual use of drawings and paintings by the
survivors, which add a childlike innocence to the gruesome depictions, many of
which may be seen here: http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/whitelightblackrain/slideshow.html. The American pilots who flew the mission to
drop the bombs were also interviewed, maintaining a detached distance
throughout, claiming they were just carrying out their mission
successfully. Most Americans were
thankful the war was over, but for the Japanese, it was something else
altogether, as nothing in the history of the world has compared to the
aftermath of an atomic blast. In a
surreal event that actually happened, there’s an extended sequence of Edward R.
Murrow on the TV show This Is Your Life,
where Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Japanese activist is on the show attempting
to raise money to assist atomic blast survivors, where the pilot of one of the
planes that dropped the bomb suddenly appears from behind the curtain to shake
his hand and make the first donation, while other survivors are so disfigured
they remain silhouetted safely behind a curtain—only in America. One
wonders why Americans brought a special plane just to film the pilots dropping
the bombs, as if they were somehow proud to show off their latest military
weaponry. Certainly this was the mindset
at the time. In the aftermath,
more... Facets Multi Media
As global tensions
rise, the unthinkable now seems possible. The threat that nuclear "weapons
of mass destruction" will be used is more real and more frightening than
at any time since the height of the Cold War, perhaps since 1945. White
Light/Black Rain, an extraordinary new film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker
Steven Okazaki, puts a human face on what we're really talking about. Even
after 60 years, the atomic bombings of
Vet documentarian Steven Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain" provides a concise, often powerfully unpleasant account of the atomic bomb drops on Japan that ended WWII. Extensive survivor interviews and some hard-to-watch archival footage make this an important document. Brief specialized theatrical play is possible before the pic makes its HBO debut on the Hiroshima anniversary date, Aug. 6. While the film will primarily be an educational broadcast and classroom perennial, it should also be required viewing for advocates of the "Just nuke 'em" school of conflict resolution.
After briefly sketching the historical context and development of the bomb, Okazaki speaks with U.S. military and scientific personnel who were a part of the top-secret 1945 mission.
Interviewed Japanese, who ranged in age from 3-20 at the time, tell very different stories of the blast, subsequent hurricane-force wind and enveloping fire. Many were left disfigured, lost entire families and/or developed lifelong illnesses from radiation poisoning. This section is illustrated via art made by survivors, much of it simple and childlike yet extremely disturbing, a la Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
But that's nothing compared with what follows: First-person recollections of the final segment, "Aftermath," are accompanied by horrific color archival footage of the dead, dying and hospitalized. Many children were among the latter, in such pain that some purportedly begged to be put out of their misery. Even those who survived often lived out their lives as a new form of leper, pitied but generally shunned by mainstream society.
Film's sobering impact lets the images and witnesses' words speak for themselves. Editing is airtight, other aspects solid.
An end title notes that world powers hold the nuclear capability to re-create Hiroshima 400,000 times over.
Possibly even tougher to watch (though it's a close race) is
Steven Okazaki's "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki," which will be shown on HBO in August and may also get a
theatrical release. Of course we know about the atomic bombs dropped on
For all the talk in recent years about “weapons of mass destruction”—most particularly nuclear armaments—only two such devices have ever been employed in actual warfare: The atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, which killed 140,000 people, and the one dropped on Nagasaki three days later, which killed 70,000. Another 160,000 survivors of both blasts died later of radiation-related illnesses.
documentarian Steven Okazaki goes well beyond the hard facts and cold figures
in White Light/Black
Rain, a comprehensive look at the two nuclear explosions that ended
World War II (the Japanese surrendered a few days after the bombing of
Light/Black Rain for maximum impact, beginning with newsreel footage of
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other events leading up to July 16,
1945, when the first atomic bomb was tested. He then shows street scenes of
From there, much of the story is told through interviews with survivors of the explosions, like Kiyoko Imori, who was three blocks from Ground Zero in Hiroshima and somehow wasn’t incinerated, even though her family and classmates were killed (she tearfully states her belief that she was spared so she could “tell people what happened, so they’ll understand”); Keiji Nakazawa, whose experiences were turned first into a series of graphic novels (Barefoot Gen), which was later as a pair of animated movies; and a doctor who viewed the explosion over Nagasaki and notes that the mushroom cloud was actually “a pillar of fire.”
Some survivors have physical scars; one woman has facial burns and gnarled hands, while a man had flesh fused to bone on his chest (“You can see my heart beating between the ribs”). All of the survivors have emotional scars, having watched their families, city and way of life taken from them in a literal flash. “My siblings never got to try chocolate, and the other wonderful things of life,” one survivor laments.
There are also interviews with Americans who helped build and deliver the bombs. They express surprise at how powerful the bombs, dubbed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” really were—one points out that anyone suggesting dropping a nuclear bomb on Iraq has no clue what they’re talking about—but also put their actions in the context of combat: The bomb “did what war does—it destroys people.”
is remarkably little anger expressed toward
Okazaki uses drawings and painting by A-bomb survivors to illustrate many of the stories, but eventually he shows still photos of Nagasaki the day after it was bombed, with charred bodies lying on what once were bustling streets, and U.S. Army footage of hospital patients (including one of the present-day interviewees) with terrible burns and infections.
images are horrific, but
But in a world where the youth don’t know
what happened in August of 1945 and where enough nuclear weapons exist to
Sundance review on indiewire Steve Ramos
Film Threat Phil Hall
New York Times Chilling Details, 62 Years Later, of the Ground Zero in Japan, by Neil Genzlinger, August 6, 2007
First of all, this kind of film could never be made in the
Using an overly exaggerated theatrical acting style, very much like Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO, where everyone acts overly foolish, we meet Eiji Okuda, a character actor in at least 25 previous films, but here directing his first feature film, who plays an oafish cop who sleeps on the job, horses around with his fellow officers, drinks and steals women’s pets, then returns them in exchange for sexual favors. One day as he is drinking alone off in a corner booth, he is approached by a beautiful young girl, Mayu Ozawa, who propositions him and follows him to a hotel room, but vanishes mysteriously afterwards. Thinking she’s a high school girl, he harasses all the girls he can find searching for her, but to no avail, as the girl has disappeared. Yet we see her erotically aroused by a photo of a male one-winged bird which is tattooed on the policeman’s back, and to literary references to Japanese mythology which suggests on earth, the bird can’t fly, yet in heaven, it joins its mate and flies freely. Out of the blue, as he is attending a gangster’s funeral, he sees the girl dressing up the body, and the two become instant lovers. Her name is Yoko, she’s 15 and not even old enough to attend high school yet, but she knows by the tattoo on his back that they are destined lovers, and they are then seen as inseparable, riding together on a single bicycle while, oddly, a lilting French love song plays, "Le Courage d'Aimer" sung by Pierre Barouh. It was only at this point that the film captured my attention. There is extraordinary music by Wong Kar-wai’s musical composer Shigeru Umebayashi that prevails throughout the film, establishing a fragile underlying layer of beauty. The policeman joins her family, which includes her physically imposing retarded brother and her grandfather, the man who gave the cop his tattoo. Yoko suggests she might wish to get a female one-winged bird tattooed on her back, so the two of them could be united forever. The myth, however, suggests this only happens in heaven, not on earth, so we are forewarned.
All is well until the brother sees them having sex, which sets off a flashpoint in his mind, as he witnessed his mother having sex at an early age and grows violent at the sight, comparing it to dogs copulating, which triggers an impulse in his head to shoot them. But as this is his sister, someone he doesn’t wish to harm, he crawls up on top of a giant smokestack and sleeps off the night, an apt image for his perceived isolation. The grandfather orders the policeman to leave Yoko alone, and for the sake of his brother, the policeman agrees. But this can’t last. Love finds a way. Yoko decides to get her tattoo after all, but the grandfather calls for the policeman, needing to see his back to compare the colors, but grows too weary to complete the task, requiring the policeman’s help to finish the job. In this manner, the family is reunited, and again, all appears to be reconciled, with images of a happy couple riding off together in marriage wearing white, as if the birds are flying freely at last, where the camera pans up into the white sky, an image of innocence, panning back down to earth where the screen turns black and we hear the sound of a gunshot – the end of innocence, reality sets in, very much like the slap in the face, or the whack on the butt for a newborn baby as it is welcomed out of the womb. There is no way society could ever accept this couple, as they would always be seen as an example of something culturally taboo, irregardless of their professed love. Icarus was not allowed to fly too close to the sun. When he did, he would fall.
RUNIN didn't really work for me, I preferred his first film, but the style and subject matter were interesting, with some gorgeous compositions. An over the top, overly melodramatic film about doomed love featuring prisoners exiled to a Devils Island in the 1830’s off the coast of Japan, where the recurring dream is to get back to Edo and see the cherry blossoms in the spring, a reference to being free. While the cinematography is first rate and the island locale is gorgeous, the filmmaking itself is mired in miserablism, taking us from one wretched disaster to the next, each more dreary than the last, where the human spirit is literally sucked out of each of these human souls, opening with men placed in large straw balls that are then rolled down the side of a mountain into the ocean, a man dressed as a geisha who services male sexual needs, but clings to a female geisha, a former red lantern geisha who services everyone else on the island, so the two are a gloomy pair, a newly arrived prisoner who sits atop a hilltop and studies the tidal patterns dreaming of escape. Young women are victimized, tortured and murdered, a man goes blind, the island suffers from famine and bouts of starvation where hundreds die, prisoners trying to escape are shot or rolled down the mountain, each step on their path grows more pathetic until eventually, as a viewer, you’ve had your fill and it becomes ridiculous after awhile. My favorite scene was an attempted suicide by drowning in the ocean, shown with gorgeous underwater photography, as the man ties himself to a stone and sinks. Eventually, he changes his mind and decides to cut himself free, as we see the sun and floating jellyfish above. Hard to see what others may like about this kind of costumed historical drama steeped in sex and violence, perhaps attempting to resemble the intimate sensuality of Nagisa Oshima’s doomed lovers in IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, but the mood here is overly solemn and self-pitying, accentuating their futility as prisoners with a sadistic flair, each person overly absorbed in the dispirited gloom of their unending captivity, languishing in the hell of eternal doom.
A film dedicated to the memory of the first time director’s
father, an in-your-face, frenetically paced film filled with profanity, set in
a working class district in
He is the abuser, a brutal alcoholic who also snorts coke,
he literally bites part of the nose off of Billy, a junkie who steals from
everyone. The camera follows his step by
step ritual of making a score followed by an immediate fix. One scene is haunted by his mother’s gaze,
played beautifully by
The power and value of this docudrama--about the kidnapping,
imprisonment, and torture of half a dozen high school activists by
MUCH AS THE
Héctor Olivera's notable new film La Noche de los Lapices ("The Night of the Pencils"), however, tells the story of a group of six high school children who did not survive. Their sole crime was their participation in a student protest for free bus passes. But the military junta saw them as subversives, and in September 1976 the homes of six students were raided in pre-dawn darkness. The students -- all of whom were less than 18 years old -- were brutally arrested and dumped in prison. The raid came be to known as the "night of the pencils." The film follows the story from the student protests in 1975 to November 1980 when the only student to survive the ordeal was finally released.
Clearly, this material could have easily degenerated into an Argentinian television movie of the week in the wrong hands. Fortunately, director Olivera seems to have kept his integrity mostly intact. He does not shy away from disturbing realities, and he draws a surprisingly complex portrait of the students, their captors, and the students' parents. The film's accomplishment in this regard is considerable and therefore worthy of serious attention.
This is especially true of the film's second half, which depicts the oppressive internment, harsh interrogation, and outright torture that await the students. The film does more than just dab grime and dirt on the actors' faces to create sympathy. It manages to create a genuinely moving and convincing picture of the ordeal these students went through. By describing everything from the small details that substitute for survival to the constant battle to maintain hope, Olivera recreates a nightmarish experience in very accessible and potent terms.
While the validity of that accomplishment is not open to question, the film does suffer from limitations. Paradoxically, the same qualities that enable Olivera to escape the standard television cliché's are the same qualities that prevent the film from rising above its limitations.
The film's major success is that it closes in and focuses intently on the experience of six individual people undergoing a terrible ordeal. However, that very fact is what causes the film to begin losing its social and political resonance: this could have been the story of any six young prisoners in any country around the world. The specific links between these individuals and the Argentine experience in the late 1970s start to come unraveled.
Ordinarily, one would applaud any effort to impart a universal
value to a fairly specific story. However, in this particular case, the the
tactic seems to have backfired. Ultimately, the film is not about politics or
A truly visionary director might have been able to resolve the
difficulties and transcend this limitation. In fact, one has come very close to
doing just that -- Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket (1987). That
film, which treated its characters and viewers with equal brutality, was an
intensely clinical dissection of a hellish environment and the resultant
pressures toward madness. At the same time, the film captured the paradoxes and
absurdities that surrounded the American war in
Still, the film does have enough good qualities that deserve recognition. La Noche de los Lapices succeeds enough that it will undoubtedly be remembered when film historians begin to chronicle the current Argentinian film renaissance. And in an increasingly commercialized filmmaking environment, that is no small achievement indeed.
"Work is man's chance to express himself, the average person's opportunity to be creative...What I am against is the relationship man has today with the world in which he works." —Ermanno Olmi
All-Movie Guide Sandra Brennan
Though not among
Labor Relations Ara H. Merjian from Artforum magazine, September 29, 2009
IN ONE OF THE MANY CLOSE-UPS in Ermanno
Olmi’s Il posto (1961), audiences come face-to-face with the
film’s young, wide-eyed protagonist, Domenico, who is seated at the desk of his
new big-city position (the “posto” in question), staring at a mimeograph
machine as his colleague’s arm works the machine’s rotating plates. The boy’s
glazed look registers the rote ceremony with a kind of detached horror. We
watch as this aspiring office worker—recently arrived in
As part of what film scholar P. Adams Sitney once dubbed “New Wave Neorealism,” Il posto rode the resurgence of Italy’s postwar cinema scene, which had crested a year earlier with Fellini’s La dolce vita, Antonioni’s L’avventura, and Visconti’s Rocco e i sue fratelli. Like these directors, the young Olmi used the recent lessons of Neorealist film to forge his own, somewhat more auteurist vision—though one still rooted in a basic concern with ordinary subjects and featuring nonprofessional actors. If any single leitmotif links together the works in Olmi’s expansive oeuvre, which has evolved over several generations and countless governments, it is the theme of work. Whether as a dehumanizing atomization of individual plight or a redemptive source of intimacy and solidarity, the labor trope threads together films as disparate in setting and subject as Il posto, One Fine Day (1969), and The Scavengers (1970).
In ways comparable to his contemporary Pier Paolo Pasolini, Olmi fetishized certain aspects of
premodern society and culture, using them as counterpoints to the alienated
(and alienating) conditions that subtended
In Terra madre (2009), a documentary released this year
that focuses on
Ermanno Olmi - Director - Films as Director:, Other Films ... P. Adams Sitney from Film Reference
Ermanno Olmi, born in Bergamo in 1931, is the Italian filmmaker most committed to and identified with a regional heritage. His films are distinctly Lombardian; for the most part they describe life in Milan, the provincial capital (for example, Il posto, Un certo giorno, Durante l'estate and La circonstanza ). He has also filmed in the Lombardian Alps ( Il tempo si è fermato ), and his native Bergamo ( L'albero degli zoccoli ), but even when he ventures to Sicily, it is to make a film of a Milanese worker temporarily assigned to the south who longs for home ( I fidanzati ), and when he makes a semi-documentary biography ( . . . e venne un uomo ), it is of the Lombardian Pope, John XXIII.
Furthermore, his work bears affinities to the central literary figure of the Lombardian tradition, Alessandro Manzoni, whose great historical novel, I promessi sposi , is variously reflected in at least three of Olmi's films: most directly in I findanzati , whose very title recasts the 1827 novel, but also in the idealization of a great ecclesiastic ( . . . e venne un uomo ), and in the vivid recreation of a past century ( L'albero degli zoccoli) , which portrays peasant life in the late nineteenth century rather than Manzoni's seventeenth. The most significant Manzonian characteristic of Olmi's cinema is its Catholicism: of all the major Italian filmmakers he has the least problematic relationship with the Church. He embodies the spirit of the "opening to the Left" which has characterized both religious and parliamentary politics in Italy since the early 1960s. For the most part, his films center upon an individual worker caught between employment and an individual quest to assert dignity through labor. Quite often this tension carries over from work to the conjugal or preconjugal love life of the protagonist.
Like Pasolini, Rosi, and Bertolucci, Olmi is a filmmaker nurtured by postwar neorealism. Like his great precursors, Rossellini, De Sica, and Visconti, he has worked extensively with amateur actors, chosen simplified naturalistic settings, eschewed elaborate artifices or lighting, and employed an ascetic camera style. What mobility his camera has comes largely from his extensive use of the zoom lens. In contrast, however, to the first generation of neorealists, he has a high tolerance for abstraction and ambiguity in his storytelling. Dramatic and emotional moments are consistently understated. Instead of a mobile camera, he has relied heavily upon montage (especially in the intercutting of scenes between Milan and Sicily in I fidanzati ) and even more on the overlapping of sounds. In fact, Olmi's meticulous attention to sound, his isolation and manipulation of auditory details, tends to transform his realistically photographed scenes into psychologically inflected domains of space and time.
After L'albero degli zoccoli , the predominately latent religiosity in his cinema became more manifest. Cammina, cammina recounts a version of the story of the Three Wise Men seeking the Christ child. La leggenda del santo bevitore turns the last days of a Parisian clochard into a parable of divine intervention. Its plot is perhaps more characteristic of Rohmer than Olmi, but the filmmaker uses it to reimagine the simple daily activities of proletarian life through the eyes of a drunkard bewildered by his sudden streak of good fortune. Similarly, in a wholly secular mode, Lunga Vita alla Signora returns to the topos of Il tempo si e fermato and Il posto after nearly thirty years to glimpse the intricacies of an affluent family reunion from the perspective of a naive adolescent in his first job as a busboy in an elegant Alpine hotel.
Olmi released two films in 1992, Lunga il fiume , a poetic documentary on the Po River, and Il segreto del Bosco vecchio , a fable adapted from Dino Buzzati, set in the Dolomites before the First World War, in which a sentient forest, with talking animals and winds, defeats the plans of a retired colonel for its commercial exploitation. Both films celebrate nature as a conduit of Divinity. The commentary of Lunga il fiume even allegorizes the outpouring of the river into the Adriatic as a type of Jesus's kenosis and death.
Throughout the 1980s Olmi directed a workshop for young filmmakers, Ipotesi Cinema, at Bassano del Grappa. In the face of radically reduced film production and the domination of television in Italy, Ipotesi Cinema was a utopian project for helping filmmakers find alternative modes of production and financing without compromising the originality of their ideas.
TCMDB biography and profile page
Milano Film Festival The Complete Olmi, introductory biography and filmography, 2009 Fest
Ermanno Olmi - Art Director, Cinematographer, Co-Producer ... bio and filmography from Variety
Ermanno Olmi profile page from The Auteurs
Ermanno Olmi - Overview - MSN Movies profile page
Ermanno Olmi bio from World Lingo
Ermanno Olmi profile page from NNDB
MISSING DIRECTOR'S CHECKLIST SERIES - Volume #4 - The Films of ... complete filmography
Italian Directors - Ermanno Olmi various Olmi films for purchase, with brief descriptions
Olmi, Ermanno - Facets more films for purchase
walter reade theater: salt of the earth: the cinema of ... The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi,
restrespective intro and films, March 21 –
Film Comment On Earth as It Is in Heaven, by Deborah Young, March/April 2001
Movies Other| One fine filmmaker One Fine Filmmaker, the Uncertain Idealism of Ermanno Olmi, by Chris Fujiwara from The Boston Phoenix, August 1 – 8, 2002, also seen here: Boston Phoenix: One Fine Filmmaker (2002)
Olmi wins lifetime award at Venice film festival - Entertainment ... English SINA, September 6, 2008
Pictures: Work in All its Nobility and Drudgery: The Films ... Justin DeFreitas,
Life's Work: The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi - BAM/PFA - Film Programs Life’s Work: The Cinema of Ermanno Olmi, by Jason Sanders from BAM/PFA, September 25 – October 30, 2009
11th Oct 2009; Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto
Olmi biography and Il Posto
review, from Konangal,
TSPDT - Ermanno Olmi They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Film makers on film: Mike Leigh - Telegraph Mark Monahan talks to director Mike Leigh about Tree of Wooden Clogs, from The Telegraph, October 19, 2002
Cineuropa - Interviews - Ermanno Olmi Luciana Castellina interview from Cineuropa, November 27, 2002
Cineaste Magazine - Articles - Reflecting Reality--and Mystery: An ... Reflecting Reality--and Mystery: An Interview with Ermanno Olmi, Bert Cardullo interviews Olmi in English language from Cineaste magazine, August 2008, also here: Cineaste
TRE FILI FINO A MILANO (short) B 89
Italy (18 mi) 1958
ICE ON THE DAM (short) A- 94
superb documentaries well worth seeing
Italian director Ermanno Olmi's valentine to his adopted city of Milan (1983, 62 min.) begins with a long scene of a Verdi opera being performed for the elite at La Scala, then moves into the streets where a maintenance crew is readying the piazza for a new day, right before Christmas. What follows is a series of impressionistic montages—snapshots of ordinary people, young and old; personal ads being read in a cacophony of voice-overs—that evokes the loneliness and impersonality of a metropolis teeming with alienated workers. Some of the sequences get tedious, but Olmi has deftly edited in time with his selections of opera, jazz, and pop. Also on the program is Tre fili fino a Milano (1958, 18 min.), one of the many documentaries Olmi made in the 50s while employed by the electric company Edison Volta. It's a simple visual poem that celebrates the hard work and joy of a crew putting up cables and electrical towers in the mountains. Both films are in Italian with subtitles.
TIME STOOD STILL (Il tempo si è fermato) A- 93
Italy (83 mi) 1958 ‘Scope
documentary (Ice On the Dam) turned into feature story, nice pacing, interesting humor and use of music, striking imagery
IL TEMPO SI E' FERMATO (TIME STOOD STILL) is a sensitive little story and Olmi's first feature film. It is set in a mountain hydroelectric station in wintertime. A young man assigned to work there gets to know and appreciate the older caretaker whose ways are so different from his own. The film is very visual and has hardly any dialog. It achieves, as do so many of Ermanno Olmi's later films like IL POSTO, THE FIANCES, THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS, and CAMMINA CAMMINA a sense of "mystical humanity", whereby mundane events reverberate with a kind of luminous dignity.
A little known masterpiece and Olmi's first feature, the film
takes place in the snowy mountains of northern
IL POSTO A 96
aka: The Sound of Trumpets
Italy (93 mi) 1961
As in all Olmi films, filled with a gentle humanism, similar to Kurosawa's IKIRU, deeply felt, unsentimental, beautifully told story about a young man's search for a steady job, the attention to detail is fabulous
Il Posto Mike D’Angelo from Time Out New York
Shot in the very office building where he'd toiled before breaking into
the movies, Olmi's low-key comedy of mauvais travail (the film's title
translates as The Job, though it was originally released in the
Olmi's modern classic, his second feature, has a hero of Keatonesque ingenuousness - a Candide loosed on the big city (Milan), and surviving in spite of the roaring alienation and enclaves of privilege apparently designed to defeat him. Olmi keeps the scenario firmly anchored in a humane realism, and builds a comedy of feeling based upon the implicit observation of the minutest detail, the subtle shifts of emotion on the human face, the shared memories of adolescent embarrassment. If exercises in applied sadism like 10 pall, go and see a genuine master extract as much sexual charge from the sharing of a coffee spoon, and then real humour from the problem of how to dispose of the cups. A delight, no less acute for being gentle.
Film at 11 Adam
The unassuming grace
of Ermanno Olmi’s early ‘60s feature, Il Posto (The Job), becomes even
more apparent in the era of high concepts, expensive stars, and special
effects. Employing amateurs and real citizens as extras, as well as filming in
only actual locations, Olmi was able to elicit natural (not naturalistic)
performances and involve the viewer in everyday life and struggles. If this
concept seems slight or dull, especially when used to highlight a young man’s
entry into a Kafkaesque office workforce, it is Olmi’s use of space and editing
that imbues realism with the substance of art.
Il Posto is unabashedly autobiographical but strongly universal. It tells the story of Domenico (Sandro Panseri), a soulfully sad Italian youth from the suburbs applying for a big city career. He is subjected to simple psychological, physical, and mathematical exams, yet is degraded by literally competing beside a host of applicants of varying ages and expressions. The only saving grace is the presence of pretty Antonietta (Loredana Detto), the only other applicant of Domenico’s age group. She’s bright and assured where he’s uncertain and reticent. Olmi counterpoints their quietly budding relationship with the cul-de-sac existence of the office workers. While the employees have been hammered over the years into finding the office building as their primary place of life and existence, Domenico sees Antonietta as a new opportunity brought by the job. When they are separated by differing departments, Domenico, now an assistant mail worker, still tries to find chances to meet her. A New Year’s office party proves fruitless in his quest to make more of their relationship, but he still finds fun and excitement, however minor and short-lived, among his fellow drones. A clerk dies soon after, and Domenico obtains this position, providing an ambiguous end to the film and beginning to his office life.
Olmi’s strengths as a filmmaker lie in realism, performance, and sympathy. A true humanist, he finds the strengths and weaknesses of his characters as facets in the same raw gem. His cuts between the faces of Domenico and Antonietta, greatly enhanced by the unpolished beauty of Panseri and Detto, reveal more about their personalities than any number of pages of dialogue ever could. The darting of eyes, the pursing of lips...it is these facial tics that show the true nature of human beings, and Olmi captures them without force or urgency. But the director is not simply about close-ups; he also frames the crowded applicants like cattle in a pen, or a lone clerk engulfed by spacious, labyrinthine hallways. For all of the inherent social and economic commentary, there is much more importance weighted on people, relationships, and community. This is where Ermanno Olmi’s true allegiance and interests lie, not with observations only on the sordid state of the postwar world, but in the simple, uncertain, yet undeniably dramatic lives of everyday citizens.
Ermano Olmi is a filmmaker who remained true to the tenets of neo-realism (as defined by their ideologue Zavattini) long after the more celebrated adherents to the creed - Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti had abandoned it. Rossellini went on to make films like The Rise of Louis XIV (1966), De Sica to make social comedies like Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Visconti into operatic excesses like The Damned (1969). Neo-realism had set out to portray the lives of ordinary people - even when devoid of drama - but the best-known works of the movement are often highly dramatic in their choice of subject matter. Olmi came a little latter and first received recognition for Il Posto (1961), a film that shows his ‘˜documentary' methods exceedingly well. Olmi is intent on capturing a way of life with all its nuances and this is perhaps better facilitated by subject matter that is not inherently dramatic - perhaps because high drama has the tendency to overwhelm and obscure the smaller emotions.
Il Posto is about young Domenico Cantoni, living with his family in a village close to Milan, who tries to find work in the city, finds it and enters the corporate hierarchy as a messenger, to be promoted to clerk in quick time. Domenico meets a pretty girl named Antoinetta Masseti, becomes friendly with her for a brief while until the physical distance between the two (within the same office) undoes the relationship. The high point of the film is a New Year party for company employees that Domenico attends and that Antoinetta, unexpectedly, does not.
One is tempted, while describing something as ‘˜insubstantial' as Il Posto to word one's description in dramatic language. IMDB, for instance describes the film as being about ‘˜a young man's initiation into adulthood,' which makes it sound like a tale of seduction by an older woman! The problem, I think, is that we expect ‘˜high art' to have implications that will transformational and the sensations of a young man's first few weeks in a company office simply do not carry enough weight.
To describe the best moments in the film - and there are several wonderful moments - Domenico attends a New Year party just after he has joined the company as a messenger. Antoinetta has told him that she will be there and Domenico is anxious to spend an evening with her. Domenico arrives a half hour too early and has therefore to spend several excruciating minutes at a table alone, with a bottle of champagne in front of him. His acute discomfort is being noticed although the others are too kind to look upon him as a figure of fun. Antoinetta does not show up and we never see her again because our attention has now been drawn to the next great moment in Domenico's life - when he will become a privileged clerk instead of a mere messenger. There is high drama in this moment because a myopic clerk has just passed away. The clerk was engaged - after office hours - in remaining at his desk and working on a novel. The clerk's novel is incomplete but his papers have to be sorted out - into personal and official - before another person occupies his chair. Another irony is that the people in the room are all clerks but there is an implicit hierarchy in the way the desks are arranged. The senior-most clerks sit closest to the accountant and the fact that a desk half way to the accountant is occupied by a junior like Domenico can cause much resentment among the others.
The purpose of great cinema is not always to disturb us or offer prognoses about the state of the world. There is a more modest kind of cinema that is simply preoccupied recreating sensations for us - sensations that in our everyday anxieties we have ignored or simply forgotten. The major emotions (our triumphs and tragedies) are the ones we choose to retain perhaps because they justify us in a way that the small sensations do not. Few of us remember (or care to remember) the discomforts in our earliest triumphs, the small embarrassments we pushed under the carpet and the joys too slight to be even admitted to ourselves.
If Il Posto is not about the ‘˜dehumanizing effect of the large corporation' (we don't see Domenico becoming ‘˜inhuman'), if you don't want to scream at him, ‘˜get out while you can,' (the emotions of another IMDB critic), where does the value of Il Posto reside? Its value rests, I suggest, in bringing alive to us - in all their vividness - the moments in our own lives that we misplaced because the emotions they generated were too fleeting, too fragile to be retained. In providing a dispassionate but acutely perceptive look at urban life and its ironies, the film touches upon sensations that realist cinema has rarely acknowledged.
Il Posto: Handcrafted Cinema Criterion essay by Kent Jones
“Architecture as Social Commentary” Megan Ratner from Bright Lights Film Journal, February 2004
The DVD Journal Kim Morgan, Criterion Collection
11th Oct 2009; Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto
Olmi biography and Il Posto
review, from Konangal,
Turner Classic Movies dvd review Brian Cady
Il Posto Peter Nellhaus from Coffee Coffee and More Coffee
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review Criterion Collection
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review Criterion Collection
sixmartinis and the seventh art Shahn reviews the architecture in IL POSTO, August 20, 2007
The Aspect Ratio Best Films of the 60’s by Ari, Brian, and Pete
CultureCartel.com - Ermanno Olmi - 2003 - Il Posto (1961)/I ... Keith Uhlrich reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI
PopMatters David Sanjek reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI
DVD Review - Ermanno Olmi's "Il Posto" and "I Fidanzati" Jürgen Fauth reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
Shooting Down Pictures #937: Il Posto - Intro on YouTube (6:51)
THE FIANCÉS (I FIDANZATI) A 95
Italy (77 mi) 1962
another tender portrait with acute attention to small details, deeply felt humanism
One of the most remarkable films ever made about the Italian working class, Ermanno Olmi’s The Fiancés (I fidanzati) is also a love story of sorts. More particularly, it’s about the strain placed on an engaged couple by their separation once the man, Giovanni, relocates from Milan, where he works as a welder in a petrochemical factory, to his new job, at the company’s new plant, in Sicily. Giovanni is taking his and Liliana’s future with him, as it were, for the better pay and greater opportunities for career advancement that, theoretically at least, will also advance the date of their marriage and help strengthen their financial foundation. Things do not work out that way, however; there’s no coming together of north and south. In reality, and with great feeling and brilliant black-and-white imagery, Olmi clarifies the extent to which work dictates the course of working-class lives. Including love, it seems. The Fiancés is a devastating film.
The opening movement consists of two parts. The setting is industrial Milan in the ravishing dark of night: the time for those who are hard at work during the day to squeeze in some social life. Specifically, a club-dance hall is being readied for the evening’s working-class patrons. People file in; in the dark, patrons are already sitting, waiting; the floor is sprinkled with (I’m guessing) rosin; the musicians take their places and ready their instruments. Usually in a film such preparations are taken for granted; they aren’t shown. But as this is a film specifically about workers, Olmi is reminding us that these people also are laborers, part of the same working-class community. This “silent” overture—there is no dialogue—is as engrossing as it is affectionate, and it establishes the film’s participation in the Italian neorealist tradition bringing documentary realism to fiction. Its last two features find the lights at last coming on and the floor coming to life with couples.
The second part of the opening is more complex. Giovanni and Liliana are one of the couples in the hall. They are seated at a small table, but they aren’t facing one another; there’s tension between them. “Well?” Giovanni asks, inviting Liliana to dance in an anything-but-romantic or even cordial way. Liliana, upset, will not dance with Giovanni, who eventually leaves her to ask someone else across the hall. Before the two do end up dancing together, around and around and around almost mechanically, Liliana will rise to the bait of Giovanni’s desertion by also dancing with someone else, playing tit for tat. Spliced into all this are scenes at the factory, from earlier in the day, that explain the source of Liliana’s unhappiness. In bits and pieces we see Giovanni’s being offered the new job and accepting, which will mean his moving to Sicily, leaving behind, in Milan, Liliana as well as his father. (The “new job”—to me, it seems a ruse: something expediently offered that won’t, finally, accrue to Giovanni’s benefit—is as part of the team constructing the new plant.) We see Giovanni tell his bosses that he isn’t married—the truth, but also a bit of a lie, since he is engaged to be married and hence not as “free” to move as he pretends. Indeed, we also see him arrange for his 70-year-old father, who has been living with him, to be put into a group “home” in his absence. Giovanni is all that assuages Liliana’s loneliness in life, and it will take time before they can reunite. It’s a company promotion for Giovanni; it almost seems like a death sentence for Liliana. Giovanni’s flight to Sicily occurs the next day.
The editing is the key. The shafts of workday “explanation” penetrating the nighttime social scene between Giovanni and Liliana is visual irony, since it’s the edited-in bits—work—that controls the social, private life of the engaged couple (and Giovanni’s father’s current situation), not vice versa. Moreover, the compound suggests the fragmentation of their lives that their work-enforced separation will impose. What a marvelous example of form expressing thematic content.
Giovanni’s plane takes off in daylight and lands in Sicily at night; Giovanni has probably never flown in an airplane before. While the work site is spectacular, Giovanni must first contend with unpleasant hotel accommodations—the cramped space of his room, the sterile corridor, and the almost desolate nature of the restaurant downstairs, especially when compared to the Milanese dance hall. (When Giovanni is finally settled in his own apartment, the effect is no different, and Olmi stresses the exploitation of imported workers from another angle: the ridiculously expensive nature of the tiny, threadbare accommodations available to them.) Thus begins Giovanni’s terribly lonely stay in Sicily—on a realistic level, the separation from all that’s familiar to him, including Milan, Liliana, his father, his co-workers; metaphorically, an encapsulation of his welding work itself, but for the first time unmitigated in its alienating quality by any family or social life away from work. We, at least, are compelled by what we see to address the nature of Giovanni’s workday life apart from the normal context of the rest of his life that makes his labor bearable. By extension, we are moved to reflect on hard or monotonous labor in a more general sense, to consider the plight of workers from two opposite ends: what might reduce the alienating nature of their labor (for instance, reduced work hours, alternating work days, and vacations); the level of compensation and benefits that’s appropriate given the sacrifices that workers must make and the torture, or near torture, that they must endure. This is a far more subtle because indirect, more original and complex, though no less powerful, description of the alienating nature of labor than Jean-Luc Godard would present in both British Sounds (released in the U.S. as See You at Mao) and Pravda (both 1969), in one of which a slow tracking shot through a factory discloses different persons engaged in monotonous, and monotonously similar, work, and in the other of which the same idea is conveyed by a fixed camera showing a single soul engaged in grindingly repetitive work.
In this regard, something must be said about the single most celebrated image in The Fiancés—one of the most fantastically beautiful shots in all of cinema: like Roman candles or a herd of shooting stars against the dark sky, showers of sparks falling from the worksite. For me, the image is sorely ironic. The beauty is something that we see while the workers who are inadvertently creating it do not. While the workers are in the scene, hence in no position even to notice the spectacle, we have the benefit of Olmi’s long-shot. There’s another such image in the film, of mounds of salt. Olmi doesn’t show us the labor that went into raking these up; he shows us the outcome. What we see is eerily lovely, but because of the context that this film provides we find irony here also, on two fronts. One, the visual beauty is for us, but the workers who inadvertently and laboriously created it are exempt from the pleasure we find in the sight; for them, the mounds of salt encapsulate the backbreaking nature of their labor. In addition, these rows of salt mounds on a stretch of almost depressingly flat land perfectly project the loneliness, isolation, dehumanization and disconnection from all that’s familiar to them that Giovanni and other workers there must feel. Again, Olmi’s distancing strategy sets our minds on an analytical course.
Giovanni’s off-work wanderings through a bleak landscape, especially given the theme of alienation, reveal the influence of Michelangelo Antonioni. This foot travel is also another example of Olmi’s distancing, thought-provoking use of irony. On one level, it’s simply the case that, disconnected from Milan and all that’s familiar to him, Giovanni in these new surroundings has no place to go. Hence, he drifts; he wanders. However, the irony lies elsewhere; for again we see this fish out of water in a way that describes and defines the “water” he is normally in. Whether in Milan or down south, Giovanni is “going nowhere.” In Milan, his social and familial entanglements may have obscured this from our view; in Sicily, where Giovanni is on his own, we confront this in the visual metaphor for it that Olmi has conjured. We may infer in this instance that what we see is correlative to what Giovanni himself may be feeling, now that caring for his father and looking forward to marrying Liliana no longer distract his capacity for reflection.
Needless to say, the relationship between Giovanni and Liliana takes a terrible beating. Letters unanswered, the separation itself, the wayward thoughts that seize the agitated imagination: all these help to make Liliana feel that she is “losing” Giovanni. It should be noted, too, that Giovanni succumbs to his loneliness to the detriment of his bond with his fiancée. Absence makes the heart grow fickle—or, by way of compensation in Liliana’s case, fearful and desperate. Again, the context that Olmi’s film provides takes these events out of the realm of moralistic or primarily psychological consideration; again, what we see in these two individual lives, and in their relationship, is the extent to which Giovanni’s work determines their rocky course. To be sure, in the imagined face-to-face encounters that accompany their eventual stream of back-and-forth letters, Liliana imputes to their separation a greater closeness between the two; but in the context of the film’s use of irony, this matches Giovanni’s guilty wishfulness and Liliana’s unhappiness, suggested here by her too great insistence on unmitigated joy. It’s decisive to my reading of the film that the two end in this fantasy domain; they never really reunite. Liliana’s worry that Giovanni would “disappear” has materialized.
There’s another way to approach The Fiancés, and I at least must make note of it. This film is very much a companion-piece to Olmi’s previous and more famous film, Il posto (The Job—released in the U.S. as The Sound of Trumpets, 1961), about a suburban boy’s first work experiences—finally, a desk job in a large corporation in the city, in a room of rows of similarly occupied desks—following high school graduation. Domenico’s “job” implies both his reduction and imprisonment. At first, The Fiancés almost seems like a continuation of Il posto, which ends in a dance hall much as The Fiancés begins in one. However, surrealistic elements, befitting Domenico’s still adventurous young mind, make Il posto a different kind of film than The Fiancés. In retrospect, the one-year-later film implies the numbing of the human mind that Giovanni’s years of labor have induced.
Olmi wrote and directed The Fiancés, and Lamberto Caimi cinematographed—though not so gorgeously as the foolishly enhanced DVD suggests. Carlo Cabrini is faultless as Giovanni. However, in her richer role as Liliana, Anna Canzi is even better. It is absolutely necessary for Olmi’s intentions that, for all her anxiety, lack of self-confidence regarding her relationship with Giovanni, and pleadings, Liliana must not seem to be a nag, even in the slightest degree; if she had seemed a nag, the viewer’s attention might shift from the socioeconomic and political realm, where Olmi wishes to keep it, to the moralistic and primarily psychological. Tall order; yet Canzi, while projecting Liliana’s feelings to the full, somehow avoids all the lurking pitfalls that might have wobbled Olmi’s intent. She is superb.
The Fiancés won the Catholic Film Office Award (OCIC) at Cannes. And, of course, it ought to have won the prize, as its humanity is unassailable.
More than fifteen years later, Olmi would find art-house success with the peasant epic Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), which I once slandered and dismissed with this too-clever summation: “De Sica, and ye shall find.” My appreciation of Olmi’s Tree, to say the least, has grown over the years. Nevertheless, The Fiancés is trimmer (a mere 77 minutes), tauter, and fuller besides; The Tree of Wooden Clogs, more diffuse. The Fiancés is a masterpiece.
I fidanzati: Rhapsody in the Rain Criterion essay by Kent Jones
I fidanzati The Criterion Collection
DVD Verdict - Criterion Collection Bill Gibron
Turner Classic Movies dvd review Brian Cady, Criterion Collection
DVD Journal D.K. Holm, Criterion Collection
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review Criterion Collection
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Mark Zimmer) dvd review Criterion Collection
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
CultureCartel.com - Ermanno Olmi - 2003 - Il Posto (1961)/I ... Keith Uhlrich reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI
PopMatters David Sanjek reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI
DVD Review - Ermanno Olmi's "Il Posto" and "I Fidanzati" Jürgen Fauth reviews both Il POSTO and I FIDANZATI
ERMANNO OLMI - DANCING 1 (da I FIDANZATI) on YouTube (5:10)
I FIDANZATI, 1962...I (5:53)
A MAN NAMED JOHN (E venne un uomo)
aka: There Came a Man
Italy (90 mi) 1965
Time Out review Tom Milne
Not so much a biography of Angelo Roncalli as an attempt to evoke the aura of his life and the paths that led to his becoming the much-loved Pope John XXIII, Olmi's film uses Rod Steiger as a 'mediator'. Steiger, in other words, lends his presence as commentator, occasionally stands in for the Pope, gazes benignly at the small boy who represents the pontiff as a small boy. With Steiger reflecting a sort of conventional awe, it is perhaps small surprise that what emerges from this jigsaw portrait is pretty much a pious homage. Olmi's quirkish hand and eye as a film-maker are really evident only in the early sequences, shot in delicate colours almost like fairytale illustrations, which conjure the quaintly rustic surroundings in which the future Pope grew up.
Ermanno Olmi uses the writings of Angelo Roncalli (1881-1963) to
narrate episodes from his life, following him from early childhood to his
investiture as Pope John XXIII, but this 1965 film gives little sense of why he
became a major reformer. Much of what we learn is unsurprising: John admires
the “simplicity” of Jesus's teachings, thinks the purpose of being a priest is
to help the poor, and avoids looking at street posters “where indecency might
be found.” As the main character, Rod Steiger is less an actor than a stand-in,
LA COTTA (The Crush) – made for TV
Italy (49 mi) 1967
Fun, sweet featurette (49 minutes) about a 15 year old ("let's say
16") boy who likes to take an industrial approach to courting. His plan
for making the most of time at a party is to draw up a list of all the boys,
then ask each girl to pick the boy they want to make out with! But when a new
girl enters his life, industry is forgotten and he finds himself dreaming
romantically, especially in the lead-up to New Year's Eve. But, this being an
Olmi movie, happiness isn't quite as straightforward as it seems ...
A worthy short film from one of
“I’d like to give you the first kiss again.”
Charming is the adjective most often applied to writer-director Ermanno Olmi’s 49-minute “The Crush”; however, I also find the film close to devastating. Perhaps it is the low, crestfallen voice that seemingly on-top-of-everything 15-year-old Andreà slips into when Jeanine, his girlfriend of ten days and presumed soul-mate, stands him up for their planned New Year’s Eve date. Andreà ends up spending the majority of his time with two individuals: a cab driver, who takes forever delivering him to the address of the party that Jeanine’s grandmother mistakenly believed that her granddaughter would be attending; the older sister of the girl throwing this Jeanineless party, who tries to get Andreà another cab and in the meantime ministers to his fragile ego—with kindness and honesty, not sex, although the dumped boy is suddenly smitten with her, too. We never learn this young woman’s name, but it hardly matters; we are assured that for Andreà there would be other crushes to come.
This is a wonderfully exacting filmlet, originally made for Italian television, unified by a sharp theme: the reality of raw human feelings, but the unreality of much of the rest of reality due to the profound fog into which subjectivism—our interpretations, coping strategies, alternate in-the-moment imaginings and imperfect recollections later on—plunges it. Olmi’s opening description perfectly suits this elusive material: “A true story that could be a fairy tale.” Moreover, Olmi’s style creates a fluid blend of fiction and documentary, adolescent selfconsciousness (expressed briefly by amateur filmmaking-within-the-film) and naturalism.
I wish I could give you the names of the marvelous (nonprofessional?) actors who play the bespectacled Andreà—he somewhat resembles Woody Allen—and the anonymous young woman; but I cannot locate a cast listing.*
* Marcella Di Palo Jost, bless her, found the information. The boy is played by Luciano Piergiovanni; the woman, by Giovanna Claudia Mongino.
THE SCAVENGERS (I recuperanti)
Time Out review Tom Milne
A curiously exact echo of Olmi's first feature, Time Stood Still, with its quietly funny exploration of the relationship between two men, one young and one old, who have nothing in common but their work. High up in the mountains, amid past battlefields, they scavenge for old shells and hidden ammunition dumps, dreaming of the day of El Dorado when they will find the armoured car which supposedly lies buried somewhere, lost and forgotten. Shot in documentary style, with amateur actors and a minimum of plot, it may not sound too enticing; but one has to reckon with Olmi's extraordinary ability to make bricks without straw, and here he constructs an entire drama out of the conflict between two lifestyles. Deceptively simple, it speaks volumes about our rat-race civilisation in its vivid, quizzically funny way.
ONE FINE DAY (Un certo giorno)
"ONE FINE DAY" everything goes sour for the self-assured,
middle-aged director of a Milanese advertising agency that is controlled from
You may have heard this one before. If you haven't, it doesn't make much difference because Ermanno Olmi, the Italian director, makes sure you get the point, long before the ad man does. "One Fine Day" was shown at the New York Film Festival last night and will be repeated today at
In his first two fiction features, Olmi, who began as a documentary filmmaker, remained at a sociologist's distance from his characters, whom he saw with a poet's eye. As the young clerk of "The Sound of Trumpets" (1961) slipped slowly into the great machine that is the new Italian industrial society, it was Olmi, not his protagonist, who expressed a rueful sadness. The director took a somewhat more personal view of the young couple in "The Fiances," but the film still was the sort of socially conscious cinema that by definition, peers down on its characters as it also surveys the surrounding landscape.
At the end of "One Fine Day," the advertising executive, who has won acquittal, says simply: "Now things will return to normal—as they were before." But he knows, as you and Olmi know, things can never quite be the same again. Although the new film is about people who are more aware of themselves than were the clerks and welders in the earlier films, Olmi is still very much in evidence directing our attention to the sadness and banality of it all.
Olmi often does this very skillfully, as when one of the ad man's superiors says of an employe who has suffered a heart attack: "According to our plans, he should have lasted longer."
Olmi's details are fine. You know the milieu immediately when you see a successful lady executive who wears fine furs and elaborate hairdos, and whose eyes are exhausted.
The performances also are first-rate, especially Brunette
Olmi, however, is a director who likes to compose individual images for beauty's sake. There seems to be much photographing of characters through glass, as well as a pan horizontally across exteriors and interiors to pick up people who are arbitrarily off-screen when the scenes begin. This is fancy filmmaking and it is finally as tiresome as the title is heavily ironic.
DURING THE SUMMER (Durante l'estate)
Time Out review Tom Milne
The marvellously quaint and funny tale of a timid, unprepossessing little man - self-styled as The Professor - who busies himself with designing coats-of-arms, and presenting them to anyone who matches up to his private assessment of nobility. Recipients include an old man patiently waiting on a railway station for the son who doesn't turn up, a hall porter who brings a cup of coffee when he hurts his leg, a girl with whom he embarks on a sidelong little romance, and who proves that she deserves his accolade of 'Princess' when the law finally catches up and he is jailed for his 'malpractices'. Stunningly shot in colour, with a non-professional cast and very much the same wryly observant sense of humour as Il Posto, it has a touch of real Olmi magic to it.
With films such as The Secret of Old Woods and The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Italian director Ermanno Olmi may be identified with people of the soil, but in this charming and rarely screened 1971 comedy he successfully transposes his profound humanity to a cast of literate urbanites. An aging academic (Renato Parracchi) earns a modest living as a cartographer and in his spare time pursues an interest in heraldry, persuading strangers that they're descended from nobles and selling them hand-drawn coats of arms. Lonely and idealistic, he visits a former student who's become a wealthy architect, but he's nauseated by the man's swinging friends and nightmarishly modern home. Closer to his heart is the drifting hippie (Rosanna Callegari) he befriends after a series of chance encounters on the street: “Perhaps you don't know it,” he tells her, “but you may be a princess.” Olmi's trust in the inherent nobility of common people would be cloying if it weren't so obviously sincere, and the film's closing shot is just bitter enough to qualify as Chaplinesque. In Italian with subtitles. 105 min.
THE CIRCUMSTANCE (La circostanza)
The bourgeois family Olmi observes here is caught in a process of disintegration that hardly requires the promptings of a languid summer's minor crisis. A motorcycle crash, a business reorganisation seminar and a childbirth represent the unlikely-seeming dramatic punctuation in Olmi's mosaic portrait of minimal domestic communication; while the director himself adopts an uncharacteristically elliptical structure and a rare stridency to capture both the frenetic tail-chasing and tentative adaptations to change which criss-cross the dead institutional centre. If the criticism is muted, it's because for Olmi, every new circumstance offers at least a new option.
In this 1973 portrait of a wealthy Milanese family, director Ermanno Olmi intercuts narrative fragments about each member, the disjunction between them conveying the characters' separation from one another. The patriarch is threatened by downsizing at his company, whose managers fear for their careers even as they chatter in business jargon, while his daughter resists but then succumbs to her boyfriend's advances. The members seem less a family than a group of casual friends, brought together only by shared crises. Olmi closely observes the details and rhythms of their daily life—which makes the storm that accompanies a childbirth seem highly artificial. In Italian with subtitles. 96 min.
THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS (L'albero degli zoccoli) A 99
Italy (186 mi) 1978
What an intensely personal film, if ever you question your own faith, whatever it may be, see this film, it's worth every accolade it ever received
Chicago Reader (capsule) Dave Kehr
Ermanno Olmi's 185-minute study of peasant life in turn-of-the-century Italy (1978) is rich with incident but thin on ideas—less an advance over the standard film festival peasant epic than an unusually accomplished rendition of it. The characters and situations are oppressively familiar; Olmi's wide-eyed, wondering point of view helps to freshen them, but not enough to overcome completely the Marxist sentimentalism inherent in the concept. I found the film most successful when it left its tenant farm setting for a lovely, lyrical boat trip to the big city, the one moment of expansiveness in Olmi's otherwise hermetic narration. Still, the film is consistently engaging and suggestive, though it never explodes into the masterpiece it's clearly intended to be. In Italian with subtitles.
Olmi's uncompromising reconstruction of peasant life in turn-of-the-century Lombardy marks a return to his origins in neo-realism and non-professional casts. Choreographed as an ensemble work that admits no star performers, his film takes its unhurried pace from the lives of the dirt farmers it observes - lives of repetitive drudgery punctuated by cautious moments of felicity. Its gently muted colour camerawork succeeds in covering the exquisite landscape with a thin patina of mud, while for two of its three hours the changing of the seasons is the closest the film comes to a dramatic event. By showing peasant exploitation as neither triumphant Calvary nor action-packed drama, Olmi refutes both 1900 and Padre Padrone, and creates a near-perfect hermetic universe, punctured only in those rare moments when, as tautologous as the film's English title, he dots the 'i's on the amply demonstrated Marxist message. Still, a near faultless and major film.
If there were any reason for dropping out of normal life and dedicating
oneself entirely to watching Italian films, this might be it! The majestic
simplicity and dignity of this film make even the best contemporary films seem
trivial and stillborn by comparison. Loved by sensitive audiences and critics
alike, Ermanno Olmi's movie describes incidents in the lives of four families
The most authentic version on this film has the original Bergamasco dialect track. The newer DVDs from
VideoVista review Gary Couzens
Ermanno Olmi made his name with small-scale films such as 1961's
Il Posto, about the life of a postal clerk. The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (aka:
L'Albero degli zoccoli) is his best-known film; it won the Palme d'Or at the
Olmi follows in the neo-realist tradition of realistic settings and un-showy camerawork, with non-professional actors. (Holy Drinker, which starred Rutger Hauer, is an exception.) The Tree Of Wooden Clogs, shot in 16mm and originally made for Italian television with a cast of local villagers, is a three-hour study of a year in the life of a
Olmi, a practising Catholic, sees a spiritual dimension to all this, often 'ennobling' the onscreen events by the use of Bach on the soundtrack. There's no plot as such and the village itself is the central character rather than anyone in it. There's a lot of incident and plenty to admire, but the film's length and steady pacing means that many will find this heavy going. Squeamish viewers should beware a goose being beheaded and a pig being killed and gutted, but these scenes are as much a part of village life as anything else.
Malcolm's Century of Films: The Tree of Wooden Clogs The Guardian,
No other Italian film-maker of world stature has been as neglected as Ermanno Olmi, possibly because his quiet mastery is unfashionable but also because a serious illness has limited him in recent years. The last time he came into prominence was in 1978 when he won the Palme D'Or at Cannes with The Tree of Wooden Clogs.
Many think this three-hour epic about the lives of peasants in turn-of-the-century Bergamo is his masterwork. It may be, but other classics include Il Posto (The Job), Un Certo Giorno (One Fine Day) and La Circonstanza (The Circumstance). His films may not have the virtuosity of Fellini, Visconti, Pasolini and Bertolucci. But time will prove that they are of equal value.
The Tree of Wooden Clogs was taken from stories Olmi's grandmother told him. Using peasants from the area as actors, it was made with direct sound (very unusual in Italy). It was even spoken not in Italian but in Bergomesque. The film attempted not only an attack on an outmoded social system - the peasants have to beg land and the wherewithal for a basic education from the local landlord - but an almost mystical affirmation of the relationship of man to nature.
Olmi was a Catholic as well as a Marxist so the film isn't as angry, and is far more beautiful, than that other masterpiece of the same genre from Latin America, Nelson Pereira Dos Santos's Barren Lives.
Its strength lies not just in its ravishing depiction of the changing seasons in a stunning part of Lombardy nor in its human sympathies, which are never patronising to the ordinary people he finds so unordinary, but in its measured, cumulative approach to the hard life of those close to penury and exploited by the powerful. For instance, the tree of the title is cut down by a father to make a pair of clogs for his son to reach school. For which he pays a terrible price.
There are several other stunning sequences, such as when a secretive old man finally tells his granddaughter how he has managed to grow his tomato crop so early each year that he can be the first to sell in the market. Even better is the honeymoon trip on an old barge to Milan. This is a documentary that isn't a documentary, perhaps a trifle nostalgic for times past but never averse to pointing out the viciousness of the old system and the bleak fight that has to be fought against the natural world.
Olmi's other films are very different, though inhabiting the same humanist space. The Job has a young man triumphantly finding a clerking job but thereby condemned to drudgery for the rest of his life. One Fine Day is about a middle-aged businessman who causes an accident in which a farmworker dies, which forces him to re-examine his whole empty life. "Work," said Olmi, "is not a damnation for man. It is his chance to express himself. But work as it is organised by society often becomes a condemnation. It annuls man. We are conditioned, but we are also guilty of letting it happen."
His precise and tactful films never over-dramatise. They seem to exist naturally, setting his characters against an equally authentic background so that you forget the skill with which they are made. It is good to know that many of the best of present day Italian film-makers regard his work as a model.
Decent Films Guide (Steven D. Greydanus) review [A] also one of 15 films listed in the category "Values" on the Vatican film list
AvaxHome -> Ermanno Olmi-L'Albero degli zoccoli (1978) brief comments, also photos attached
The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) Michael DVD
Tree of Wooden Clogs, 1978 - Top 10 Cannes Film Festival Movies - TIME Richard Corliss (capsule review)
Philip French's DVD club: No 93: The Tree of Wooden Clogs | Film ... Philip French from The Guardian, November 18, 2007
Film makers on film: Mike Leigh - Telegraph Mark Monahan talks to director Mike Leigh about Tree of Wooden Clogs, from The Telegraph, October 19, 2002
DVDBeaver dvd review Gregory Meshman
KEEP WALKING (Cammina, Cammina)
Directed, produced, written, photographed and edited all by Ermanno Olmi, this vast film follows the ramblings of a ragged caravan across an Africa that looks suspiciously like Lower Tuscany. After a deal of time it becomes apparent that these are the Magi, following yonder star, while clad in ethnic sacking. Olmi treats the whole escapade with a delightful irreverence, which apparently has not amused the Vatican.
In CAMMINA CAMMINA ("Keep on Walking") Ermanno Olmi has recreated
the journey of the Magi as it might have been enacted by a village full of
Italian peasants. Some refuse to make the trip; some drop out grumbling along
the way; some persevere in search of a miracle - and all for the best of
reasons. Olmi knows the strengths and limitations of the human spirit, ancient
or contemporary, and fills his sublime and haunting pageant with suspense,
gentle comedy, and ironic climax. This is a biblical story for our time, etched
in a visual style as clear and mysterious as faith itself. What a tragedy that
this towering film is virtually unknown in the
Emboldened by the critical and commercial success of The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Italian director Ermanno Olmi indulged himself with this 1982 epic about the journey of the Magi to witness the birth of Christ. Like the earlier film, it was shot in Olmi's native Lombardy and cast entirely from the local peasantry, and the opening sequence shows the players preparing for a religious pageant as an announcer explains the film's naturalistic premise over a public-address system (shades of Altman's M*A*S*H). But here the combination of rural authenticity and minimal narrative, so effective in Olmi's best work, backfires: centuries removed from the story, the amateurs playing the three wise men and their followers become more a burden than an asset, and the long march to Bethlehem bogs down in a series of trials that test the pilgrims' faith—and the audience's patience. The script offers provocative flashes (when the pilgrims return home, leaving Jesus unprotected from Herod's slaughter, one of them tells a magus, “From now on in your temples you'll celebrate only his death!”), but they're overwhelmed by Olmi's piety. In Italian with subtitles. 150 min.
MILANO 83 A- 94
Italian director Ermanno Olmi's valentine to his adopted city of Milan (1983, 62 min.) begins with a long scene of a Verdi opera being performed for the elite at La Scala, then moves into the streets where a maintenance crew is readying the piazza for a new day, right before Christmas. What follows is a series of impressionistic montages—snapshots of ordinary people, young and old; personal ads being read in a cacophony of voice-overs—that evokes the loneliness and impersonality of a metropolis teeming with alienated workers. Some of the sequences get tedious, but Olmi has deftly edited in time with his selections of opera, jazz, and pop. Also on the program is Tre fili fino a Milano (1958, 18 min.), one of the many documentaries Olmi made in the 50s while employed by the electric company Edison Volta. It's a simple visual poem that celebrates the hard work and joy of a crew putting up cables and electrical towers in the mountains. Both films are in Italian with subtitles.
LONG LIVE THE LADY! (Lunga vita alla signora!)
A village boy, hired as a waiter for a lavish banquet in a medieval castle, observes the rituals of the upper crust in this whimsical 1987 comedy by Italian writer-director Ermanno Olmi. The first half of the film seems like a documentary, meticulously recording the meal's preparation and the youngsters' reaction to “downstairs” protocols. At the dinner, presided over by a feeble dowager, an international cast of jet-setters partake of an exotic menu capped by a giant fish, their elegant but joyless gathering countered on the sound track by Telemann's festive Table Music. Olmi mercilessly exposes the fatuity of the guests, the yawn behind the smile, but after his stinging critique the film ends with a shrug. In Italian with subtitles. 115 min.
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
A slight but charming comedy set in a remote chateau, to which come six catering-school teenagers to wait at a banquet. Seen largely through the watchful eyes of shy, solemn Libenzio (Esposito), the absurdly militaristic preparations, the meal, and the post-prandial relaxation away from the silent stare of the stern, cadaverous hostess, become as magically tantalising and dreamily sinister as the transition from childhood to adulthood. The often unpredictable, faintly surreal satire is distinguished by Olmi's subtle eye for detail; while the exact significance of relationships and events is left intriguingly ambiguous, a wealth of emotion is conveyed not by the remarkably sparse dialogue but by faces, glances and gestures momentarily caught by the camera's serene and tender gaze.
Made by the great director of TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS, IL POSTO , and CAMMINA CAMMINA, this movie is a contemporary comedy-allegory set mostly in an "enchanted" castle. The central character is Libenzio, a naive young apprentice waiter. Along with a group of other young people he is brought to the castle to assist in serving a gargantuan dinner of esoteric food. It is a gastronomic variation on the sado/sexual story of Pasolini's SALO'. The dinner is put on to honor a decrepit old woman who heads some mysterious multi-national conglomerate. It is part of an annual ritual attended by a crypto-Wagnerian elite. The jaded character of the guests is meant to contrast with the purer natures of the peasant youth who serve the meal. This is a strange and intriguing work which combines gothic black comedy with some lyrical counterpoint.
THE LEGEND OF HOLY DRINKER A- 94
Italy France (127 mi) 1988
remarkably photographed in color, somewhat reminiscent of Leos Carax, but the deeply felt humanism is all Olmi
Rutger Hauer portrays a downtrodden alcoholic who gets a chance for redemption in this 1988 drama, one of Italian director Ermanno Olmi's few studio ventures, adapted from the last novella by Austrian-Jewish writer Joseph Roth. Andreas (Hauer), a bum who sleeps under the bridges of the Seine, is given 200 francs one day by a mysterious old man (Anthony Quayle) who asks only that he put the same amount in the poor box of a local chapel as soon as he can afford to. Andreas finds temporary work, then sets out to return the money, only to be sidetracked by assorted temptations and memories of his tormented past as a miner in Poland. Yet his wallet is always miraculously replenished. Olmi charts this inebriated pilgrim's progress with excruciating detail that borders on the oppressive. The storytelling is laconic, relying on hallucinatory images (courtesy of cinematographer Dante Spinotti), Stravinsky's piquant music, and close-ups of Hauer's befuddled yet dignified face, all of which create a despairing, morose mood that's only dispelled at the end. In Italian and French with subtitles. 125 min.
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
A tramp, exiled in Paris and haunted by a criminal past, sees no way out of his predicament until, almost miraculously, he is offered 200 francs by a wealthy stranger whose only request is that, when he can afford it, he return the money to a chapel dedicated to St. Thérèse. A man of honour but weak will, the derelict takes the chance to rejoin a world to which he had become a stranger, finding work, keeping company with women, dining out and sleeping in beds; such luxuries, however, distract him from his obligation... Olmi's adaptation of Joseph Roth's novella is faithful and charming, filmed with a simplicity that mirrors the original's economy. As the alcoholic, though a tad too clean, Rutger Hauer effortlessly suggests the character's blend of pride, dignity and vunerability, while Olmi eschews prosaic realism in his evocation of Paris, seen as an oddly timeless, universal city; the lyricism matches the almost magical coincidences of the plot. Indeed the film has the resonance and innocence of a parable, its religious elements widely subordinated to a story that is told with a minimum of fuss and explanatory dialogue. Quite why the film is so affecting is hard to hard to pin down: maybe it's because Olmi is so sure of his gentle, generous touch that he feels no need for overstatement.
THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER (Ermanno Olmi, 1988) Dennis Grunes
Because it has an air of fable or legend about it, La leggenda del santo bevitore somewhat resembles Orson Welles’s The Immortal Story (1968) or Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful (1997). Some may even be reminded of Vittorio De Sica’s Miracle in Milan (1951).
Written, directed and edited by Ermanno Olmi, the film derives from Joseph Roth’s 1939 novella, his last work. Roth was an Austrian Jew who exiled himself to Paris with the rise of Hitler in 1933. Roth, who wrote about Jewish life (for instance, in Job, 1930), suffered from chronic alcoholism, like Andreas Kartak (Rutger Hauer, beautiful), the protagonist of Legend, who, impoverished and homeless, sleeps under bridges in Paris in 1934. One day a stranger gifts Andreas in the street with 200 francs, explaining a debt he (the stranger) owes to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Andreas promises to repay the 200 francs, when he is able, to a nearby church. But each Sunday something comes up, including pleasant distractions or shards of painful memory from his haunting past; and, even though the 200 francs lead to more and more money coming his way, Andreas doesn’t repay the debt he owes. Olmi’s enchanting film is a study of loss, shame, perseverence and redemption.
In the opening shot, the solidity of the outdoor stairs down which Andreas walks is wobbled by falling leaves, which evoke transience. The whole “legend” that unfolds may be Andreas’s dying fantasy; doubtless, much of what Andreas “sees” are apparitions or delusions induced by chronic drinking. Holding the pocket watch they gave him years earlier when he set out on his own, Andreas “sees” his parents in a bar. He passes out at table; when he awakes, the elderly couple are gone.
THE SECRET OF THE OLD WOODS (Il segreto del bosco vecchio) A- 93
Italy (134 mi) 1993
A somewhat surrealist view of a magical woods that seems to have a mind of its own, just a baffling change of pace from Olmi's ultra-realism
This Ecological Fairy Tale, with live actors and talking animals tells the story of a colonel (Paolo Villaggio) who is entrusted with a large estate of woodlands until his schoolboy nephew comes of age. Disregarding local tradition and the practice of his esteemed deceased brother, the military man decides to selectively cut the old growth timber. He is confronted with the protestations of the tree spirits (Giulio Brogi) and the local townsfolk, to no avail. Over their objection he releases the unpredictable wind from the cave to which it has been confined, and even wishes for the early demise of his nephew so he can own the woods outright. But he comes to value human contact more, starts to come to terms with most of the spirits, and reverses some plots to get rid of his nephew. A bit like a live action Hayan Miyazaki tale such as Princess Mononoke, but not so violent.
GENESIS: THE CREATION AND THE FLOOD (Genesi: La creazione e il diluvio) – Made for TV
I was very moved by the images in this lyric evocation of the Book of
Genesis by the great Italian director Ermanno Olmi, whose TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS
is one of my favorite films of all time.
Through a series of painterly images, and the calming, soothing narration of Omero Antonutti (Paul Scofield in the English version,) we are hand-led from the creation of man (in simple, elemental, but effective brush-strokes) to the fall of man, to what constitutes the longest segment of the film, Noah's construction of the ark, and the first of mankind's redemptions. Omero Antonutti plays the old man, the prophet-vessel of God himself as his boat is the vessel of a new humanity. The loading of the animals, the sense among Noah's extended family during the voyage that they are part of something greater than themselves, the dove at Ararat with the olive branch in its mouth, the vista of a subsiding ocean, all create, with the simplest of means, an impression that can be sublimely moving. And we ask ourselves why. What special gift can make a film director convert images, words, and sounds into the sacramental?
The music and musical selections by Ennio Morricone (with a great deal of Bulgarian women's chants incorporated) create a haunting impression as well. One does not have to be a great believer or even a believer at all, to be swayed by this work of wondrous poetry.
THE PROFESSION OF ARMS (Il mestiere delle armi)
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
To follow the first half of Olmi's dense narrative - charting developments in the 16th century war between the Papal army and an invading German force - it'd be wise to do some historical research beforehand: so swiftly and persistently are we bombarded by names, dates, facts and figures, that the only theme to emerge with any clarity is that of war, the world and our view of life and our fellow men having been transformed (for the worse, naturally) by the development of firearms. Thereafter, however, things slow down to focus more closely on the heroic captain Giovanni de' Medici, wounded by a cannonball and bravely facing amputation; here, Olmi's historical rigour still pertains, but, in being applied to an individual's experiences, rather than that of society at large, allows for a more accessible meditation on courage, mortality, love and loyalty. A very fine film, then, but also, for a while, extremely, even excessively demanding.
This is an absolute must for anybody interested in Olmi's work or in the
Italian Renaissance. One of the best Italian productions in years.
As usual, Olmi concentrates on the grey landscapes of his native Padana plains, engulfed in a swirling fog dominating the human figures which move through it, in an atmosphere of timeless melancholiness. As in its masterpiece, "L'albero degli zoccoli", Olmi successfully tries to paint a picture of the characters' feelings and strivings through the pitfalls of a difficult existence, devoid of any intrinsec meaning.
Do not misunderstand me - this is none of the pacifist crap fashionable amongst trendy critics and intellectuals. Neither it is a convoluted attempt to convey "profound" sociological or psychoanalytical concepts. That's why it didn't win the prize it deserved at
The Generals of both armies are no heroes, but rather human beings endowed with very human needs - Giovanni writes his loving wife to send him underpants, and his far less loving uncle, the Pope, to send him some money to pay his men. These are poor and humiliated men, fighting in the pope's behalf, and receiving blessings (instead of money) in exchange. Their one solace through religion consists in the act of burning churches and crosses to warm themselves a little - "That's the Christ of us poor people, he will help us", they say finding a huge wooden crucifix, and the face of the Christ being burnt is a testimony to their grieves. But the leader of the German Landsknechten, famous von Freundsberg, is also an old man who, for all his vain ferocity, is forced to go back to
The peasants fleeing through the fog, or hung by the German troopers, are wistful - more than tragic - elements of an unmoving landscape, mute testimony to the eternal cycles of war, of suffering, of pathetic strives to win victories that will be forgotten one day or week or month later, as new puppets will "strut and fret their hours upon the stage, and then will be heard no more" (from the famous monologue of Macbeth).
A masterpiece from Ermanno Olmi. A film worth seeing wherever you live.
A rigorous account of the final days in the life of Giovanni De Medici, who embraced his role as a soldier with an almost religious devotion and fervor, "The Profession of Arms" is veteran Italian director Ermanno Olmi's most accomplished and cogent work in years. Demanding, difficult and almost impenetrable at first due to its dense salvo of historical figures and events, this atmospheric drama slowly evolves into a fascinating character portrait and a deeply humanistic meditation on war and death. Olmi's eloquent Renaissance apologia for gun control is unlikely to make Charlton Heston's top 10 and is too inaccessible even for the normal foreign film crowd, but might find admirers at the extreme high end of the arthouse niche.
A legendary warrior despite his young age, renowned for his valor and good fortune in battle, Giovanni (referred to here in old Italian as Joanni) had his troops blacken their armor to advance unseen on the enemy by night, earning them the name of the Black Band. Opening with the funeral in 1526 of 28-year-old Giovanni (Bulgarian newcomer Hristo Jivkov), the drama backtracks one week to chronicle his mission as leader of the Papal mercenary army that provided the final protective barrier between his uncle, Pope Clement VII, and the advancing German lansquenet forces of Charles V.
With Italian liberty careening toward an end, political confusion was accelerating and loyalties were severely compromised, prompting the Papal hierarchy in Rome and the country's noblemen to secure whatever personal gains they could from a rapidly deteriorating situation. As a result of this chaos, Giovanni's call for reinforcements and weapons fell on deaf ears.
Olmi's backgrounding of this chronicle is limited largely to identifying the extended gallery of characters with onscreen titles. In Italy, where most audiences have some knowledge of historical figures such as the Medicis and Gonzagas and geographical familiarity with the Northern countryside along the Po River where the events take place, the minimal exposition may not present a problem. Foreign audiences likely will have great difficulty distinguishing who's who and where their allegiances lie. In this respect, however, the film may benefit from having its wordy old-Italian text condensed into more concise, easily comprehensible subtitles.
But just as Olmi, while reflecting on the futility of war, displays only a finite interest in the spectacle of battle, so his aim is less to document particular historical events than to use them as a spiritual springboard for his examination of the human soul and, most importantly, the process of facing death with dignity.
That aim is underlined by an approach that distances itself from the detached documentary feel of Olmi's best-known work, such as 1978 Palme d'Or-winner "Tree of Wooden Clogs," adopting instead a more impressionistic style that steadily builds depth and nuance. Also a departure is the lean editing and use of short pithy scenes here, whereas Olmi's films frequently have tended toward dull longwindedness. (Shooting script reportedly ran much longer and was considerably modified during post.)
While the first half of the film focuses on Giovanni's courage and dedication to his task as soldier and protector, the second half portrays him bringing that same sense of bravery and calm acceptance to the days of suffering that precede his death.
His downfall comes during a clash with the Germans, who, thanks to self-serving Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua (Sergio Grammatico) and the Duke of Ferrara (Giancarlo Belelli), have come into possession of four newly introduced light cannons known as falconets. Seriously wounded in the upper leg, Giovanni endures the amputation of his gangrenous limb and a final four days of agony. A closing quotation from the period, advocating an end to the use of firearms, encapsulates Olmi's pacifist message.
It's in the powerful, remarkably sustained account of Giovanni's deathbed torment that Olmi masterfully expands the scope of his erudite character study.
Shifting between lucidity and mild delirium, surrounded by the men who have betrayed and supported him and by mocking, carnal frescos, Giovanni reflects on his life and work, his dutiful wife (Dessy Tenekedjieva) and his mistress (Sandra Ceccarelli), a noblewoman from Mantua carrying his child. What emerges is a quietly stirring portrait of the martyrdom of a man of unshakable faith and courage, an expert in the art of war tainted by human weaknesses but fueled by firm convictions and oddly noble sentiments.
Olmi's ultra-Catholic ideology and sermonizing on Christian values have contributed to distance many critics from his work over the past twenty years. But here those beliefs are employed with uncharacteristic moderation and intelligence. This is especially notable in a scene in which Giovanni's ruffian soldiers are reprimanded by their leader as they destroy a plundered crucifix for firewood.
More than a history lesson, this is an atmosphere-driven drama. Lensing by the director's son Fabio Olmi could perhaps have benefited from the enhanced visual sweep of widescreen rather than standard 35mm. But the choice of shooting the austere castles and Po River settings (Bulgarian locations stood in for the majority) in gloomy candlelight or through mist, sleet and snow adds a rich texture to the film's formal beauty and the painterly composition of almost every frame. Composer Fabio Vacchi's fretful strings and melancholy choral arrangements also are effective.
Continuing his preference for using mainly little-known or non-professional actors, Olmi has assembled a mixed cast of Italians and Central Europeans, and while the post-synched dialogue imposes a slightly flat studio sound, the expressive faces, free from actorish mannerisms, contribute greatly to the film's arresting solemnity.
FilmFestivals.com review Ron Holloway
"Cantando dietro i paraventi" tells the story of a woman who takes
the leadership of a group of pirates which was once at the orders of her dead
husband. Olmi got us used to the mix of epic fable and historical tale but this
time he also expresses his personal views on storytelling through an explicit
use of a theatrical representation. All aspects of cinematography are at very
high levels in this movie: excellent photography (the hands of Fabio Olmi are a
big promise for Italian cinema), beautiful sounds and striking dialogs even
though in the Italian version the Chinese actors are not superbly dubbed.
Everything is very well mixed together and the spectator truly has the feeling
to live in one of those ancient oriental fables. I personally think this title
doesn't achieve the formal perfection of "Il Mestiere delle armi" or
"L'albero degli zoccoli" but is still very enjoyable and well made
reminding me the more poetic version of Olmi that we've seen in "Il
Jettisoning all traces of his realist style, veteran helmer Ermanno Olmi has crafted his most complex and sumptuous work to date with "Singing Behind Screens." This Chinese folktale, partly staged in a brothel, is the product of a mature director confident with the range of techniques at his command. Arthouse auds familiar with the Olmi name and sympathetic to Chinese period tales may help to defray, or even cover, pic's 10 million euro pricetag. Stateside, Miramax has already picked up pic as part of a package deal.
Olmi himself sees the film as a follow-up to his anti-war "The Profession of Arms," but the multi-layered construction and ravishing imagery combine to make it more like a fairytale.
A young man (Davide Dragonetti), in what looks like 1930s urban China, gets lost and mistakenly enters a Chinese brothel. Though visibly uncomfortable, he becomes attracted not only to the sexual situations but even more to the staged narration of a Chinese folktale about a female pirate.
Pic initially crosscuts between the start of the staging and the young man's entrance. Though it occasionally returns to this character, for the most part the film moves between the highly theatrical staging of the story in the brothel and the "opened-out" scenes in actual locations.
Fable is narrated by an old captain (Bud Spencer) from the deck of a large Chinese junk that fills one end of a huge room. The brothel's clients, in little reed huts arranged with a view of the stage, can either watch the show or indulge in other pleasures.
Initially only the narrator's voice is heard, and the action is performed as a dance. However, at the moment the young man succumbs to the charms of a hooker, the pic cuts to a real lake where pirate junks are firing on a shoreside village.
Leader of the pirates is Admiral Ching (Makoto Kobayashi), who's backed by a consortium of profiteers. To calm things down, the Emperor (Xuwu Chen) offers Ching a high title if he'll give up his pillaging. However, Ching's backers, unwilling to lose their income, murder the pirate first with a poisoned carp.
Ching's widow (Jun Ichikawa) seeks vengeance, pillaging villages and vessels and becoming the most feared corsair of the coast. When the old emperor dies and his heir (Sultan Temir Omarov) ascends the throne, the new ruler personally goes out to capture the widow.
Olmi has worked with fairytales and fantasy before, from the sweet simplicity of "The Legend of the Holy Drinker" to the childish misfire of "The Secret of the Old Wood." But "Singing" is a more complex realization of the director's liking for creating multiple worlds that work both in the imagination and in real terms, somewhat a la Peter Greenaway. Auds expecting a swashbuckling tale or an anti-war tract will be disappointed: Skirmishes and pillaging are kept to a minimum, and the pirate figure is sympathetic, so it's hard to perceive any pacifist theme here.
Rights problems prevented screen credit being given to Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Widow Ching, Lady Pirate" from his "A Universal History of Infamy." (In fact, Borges took the plot from a 19th-century Chinese work, and the tale may well go back further than that.) Olmi adds the framing device of the brothel, using the staged play-within-a-play to reveal what is seen as the essence of truth. The plot boils down to a tale of fury appeased by forgiveness; the opulent staging gives a sense of depth to the material.
Glorious lensing by Olmi's son, Fabio, makes the stunning vistas of Lake Scutari in Montenegro completely convince as a Chinese coast, with majestic, painterly mountains. Where "The Profession of Arms" (also shot by Fabio), was memorable for its icy blues and smoky whites of a frozen landscape, here the dominant tones are opulent blues, rich reds and vibrant yellows, all redolent of the Far East.
Music mirrors the striking settings, with generous chunks of Stravinsky, Berlioz and Ravel.
Thesps take a back seat to the visual compositions. As often, Olmi gathers a cast of mostly unknowns, headlined by female dancer Jun Ichikawa (not to be confused with the male Japanese helmer), whose calm, at times hard exterior occasionally slips to reveal the jumble of emotions that thrust her into pirating. Seasoned vet Bud Spencer (aka Carlo Pedersoli) brings flair to the narrator's theatrical recitation, and finds humor in the role without straying into Robert Newton-like excesses.
Film's title comes from a Chinese poem, in which the sign of a contented home is said to be the sound of a woman singing within its walls.
Most anthology films present a handful of directors doing less than their best work, but Tickets—a three-way collaboration between Ermanno Olmi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Ken Loach—not only contains some fine filmmaking, it works as a unified piece. Tickets' three parts take place on the same train on the same day. Veteran Italian neo-realist Olmi tracks a professor who's having trouble enjoying the meal in his first-class dining car because he's preoccupied by thoughts of his beautiful personal assistant, and by a poor refugee family he can see just beyond the glass coach door. Kiarostami follows Olmi with a sketch of the strange relationship between a domineering older woman and the handsome young man who reluctantly looks after her. And Loach brings up the rear with the most plot-driven film, about three Scottish soccer fans who encounter Olmi's refugee family and have to make a decision about whether they can help.
All three films focus on how small gestures get magnified in a cramped, noisy space. If someone loses a ticket or won't stop crying, the hassle grows exponentially. Taken as a complete film, Tickets uses a traveler's discomfort as a metaphor for how Europe is dealing with its immigration problem. To refugees, their plight is the single most important thing happening. To everyone else, they're an inconvenience, spoiling an otherwise pleasant trip.
More vital than Tickets' theme is how each filmmaker approaches it. Loach goes after it head-on, dropping his trio of well-meaning working-class knuckleheads into a naturalistic film heavy on improvised dialogue and tense yelling matches. Olmi tackles the theme more artfully, in a beautifully lit, elegantly structured film that flashes backward and forward to show how one man's consciousness wanders, unable to hold one thought. But Kiarostami's film is the most remarkable, mainly for how it breaks free of the fixed-camera experiments he's been dabbling with lately, and uses a style that could almost pass for conventional, if not for the long, hypnotic shots of clouds and rolling countryside reflected off multiple windows. As for Kiarostami's story, it's about an obnoxious, overweight woman who sits where she wants and bickers with everyone, and the wonder of the film is that she equally represents old-world Europe and its changing face.
Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach and Ermanno Olmi chart the emotional odyssey of six characters over the course of a railway journey from Austria to Rome.
The idea for Tickets originated in an informal conversation between producers Carlo Cresto-Dina and Babak Karimi. But it wasn't until Abbas Kiarostami met his chosen collaborators Ken Loach and Ermanno Olmi that the film's form and narrative premise fell into place. Though it's tempting to see Loach and Olmi's contributions as mere wings to the triptych's central piece (indeed, one famous critic ostentatiously left the screening I attended the minute Kiarostami's section finished), it was Olmi who came up with the conceit of the train journey, and it's his lustrous and extraordinarily textured first section that opens the film.
Carlo Delle Piane, a regular in the films of Olmi's compatriot Pupi Avati, plays an elderly pharmacist (anonymously dubbed "the professor") experiencing travel chaos in Austria. He's been away on business but is expected back home in Rome for the birthday party of his grandson. His scheduled flight has run into problems, but Valéria Bruni Tedeschi's angel of an Austrian PA (she has golden hair and appears almost to be floating) has found him a ticket for an intercity train. He's impressed that she has booked him for two meal sittings in the dining car so he will be assured a seat for the duration of the journey. Yet some kind of security crisis seems to be affecting the train. In a scene chillingly reminiscent of countless World War II-set scenarios, before the journey begins soldiers and police patrol the station concourse as Tannoys bark German and German Shepherd dogs nose around. The passengers look confused, intimidated and a little frightened. There's a scent of madness in the air.
Delle Piane's character bears precious little resemblance to that other Italian chemist, Primo Levi. With his fashionable flat cap, neat white beard, rimless spectacles and indignation at being asked for identity papers by a passing policeman, there's something absurd about him. And there's a whisper of Visconti's late movies about ageing and memory in the way he descends into reveries about ethereal blondes. As Chopin is played in the carriage (a fellow passenger cannot get his CD player earpiece to operate) the professor tries to write a letter of thanks to Bruni Tedeschi's PA, which elides, via memories of childhood experiences of music, into fantastical confessions of romantic attraction. The more he dreams of girls playing pianos and candlelit dinners with his angel, the more he is given to little whimsical skips and euphoric gambols. His dainty rejection and then acceptance of an aperitif is in some sense the 'strawberry moment' of Death in Venice. The professor confesses in voiceover, to be "daydreaming like a teenager". Yet here is a man facing old age who cannot even decide on the way to address his correspondent, relentlessly writing and rewriting his opening sentence.
What's especially noticeable about this first section is how Olmi uses sound - the boom of station noise, overheard music and conversations, babies squalling in corridors, the sometimes deafening rattle of the train fading in and out of muffled private moments - to get around the restrictions of space imposed by the train location. But try as he might, the professor can't help but be drawn back to the reality of the carriage's night-mirrored window and the army officer (who looks oddly like Jean-Claude Van Damme, but isn't) sitting scowling opposite him. The soldier speaks only accented English - the new voice of international imperialism, we must understand - but his greatest crime is causing a mother to spill her baby's milk as she hunkers down to feed the child in the crowded corridor between carriages. As the professor asks the waiter to bring him some warm milk so he can take it to the mother, and the train staff mop up the spillage, which looks so much like a puddle of blood, the moment of final resignation comes: the sleep of old age and the old grown helpless like babies again.
From St. Jerome to the rampaging rhinocerine Madonna of Kiarostami's central section, which is shot in daylight. A woman in late middle-age, with white hair and a string of pearls, boards the train with a host of suitcases gamely carried by a young assistant. She treats him as a lover, a toyboy, a kept man; but it later transpires that he appears to be on some form of national service, and that she is a widow on the way to a memorial service for her army-general husband. Silvana De Santis plays the woman with sweaty, angry energy; nothing will stand in her way and she will co-operate with no one she considers beneath her. The young man, played by Filippo Trojano, has a sad expression and beautiful eyes, which are later accentuated by the flat lighting Kiarostami deploys when the man is talking to a young friend of his sister whom he meets in the corridor (and of whom De Santis' character is jealous). This frontality, this sense of painted iconography, is homage enough to Kiarostami's late friend Pier Paolo Pasolini (Kiarostami's charcoal sketch of Pasolini hung in the bedroom of the Rome flat of the Italian director's muse, Laura Betti, until her death last year).
By the conclusion of this second segment De Santis and Trojano's characters have rowed and separated. She leaves the train alone and unaided, but not before one of the best sequences in the film, which harks back to one of the Iranian director's longstanding obsessions and involves an argument over mobile phones (Kiarostami considers them a curse of modernity). The performances in this section are generally the best in the movie, and the final bust-up between Kiarostami's characters, shot through Venetian blinds with the reflection of the countryside rushing past, is quite beautiful.
And so to Ken Loach. His section does little with the space or the noise of the environment, and concentrates squarely on character - with a touch of comedy thrown in. His protagonists are fans of Celtic Football Club: three of them, all young men, travelling to Rome, like Chaucerian pilgrims, for a Champions League match. They've brought a huge bag of sandwiches from their Asda workplace to feed themselves along the way. After one of them gives a sandwich to a young Albanian boy they discover the lad has stolen a train ticket from them. There is then a moral struggle as the Scots talk to the family of the boy and have to make a quick decision about letting them keep the ticket. Is the family genuinely in need, or are they crooks? With Loach we always know the wisdom of the working man will shine through, and so it does. The Celtic fans make the right call, and the fraternity of football fandom gathered at the station in Rome helps the seemingly fare-dodging trio to evade the police. If Loach delivers easily the least rich and imaginative section of the film, it's a satisfyingly light conclusion to Olmi's frightening opening gambit and a welcome return to normality.
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Kamera.co.uk Antonio Pasolini
DVD Outsider Slarek
The Lumière Reader Tim Wong
Tickets British Film catalogue
BBCi - Films Matthew Leyland
Time Out London review Geoff Andrew
Patience! Olmi’s little seen, much misunderstood film – purportedly his last feature – is a bizarre, elegant gem shifting surprisingly but seamlessly from a faintly noir, semi-satirical look at a university library’s desecration – fuelling fears of religious/political terrorism – to a pastoral fable about the priestlike culprit’s redemptive refuge in the Po valley. Who is this man, violently abandoning book-learning? A saviour to folks facing environmental exploitation? Not unlike a latterday, more effective ‘Miracle in Milan’, this profoundly Catholic, profoundly personal fable veers, like many Olmi films, between the seemingly inept and the spellbindingly innocent, magical in its tenderness, its striking visuals and its unpredictability. Don’t miss – but give it time.
All the books in the world aren't nearly as valuable as a single cup of coffee with a friend -- so says "One Hundred Nails," Ermanno Olmi's disappointing follow-up to his luminous "Singing Behind Screens" (2003). Helmer, now 75, has declared this his last fiction feature, a double-blow for those who felt he'd just reached his most fruitful period -- until now. Following a professor's epiphany from jaded scholar to messiah-like neighbor, unconvincing tale may be screened at offshore Italo fests and retros. But given that Olmi's last two (superior) pics were shelved internationally, it's doubtful "Nails" will find takers.
Unsparingly religious in tone, despite the ad line "Religions have never saved the world," film opens with a scene redolent of "The Da Vinci Code," as tremulous strings accompany a caretaker's horrified shouts from a library's locked gate. When the cops arrive, the cause of his agitation is clear: Someone has nailed 100 precious manuscripts into the floor. Not just normal nails, but big ones, like the kind used to hammer Jesus onto the cross.
While police try to identify the perp, a flashback to the day before shows a professor of philosophy (Raz Degan), whose name Olmi deliberately withholds, bidding farewell to students at semester's end. Of special significance is an Indian student (Amina Syed), completing her thesis on women and religion, who explains that religion is the one certainty in her people's lives.
Suddenly, off goes the prof in his BMW convertible, which he abandons before heading to the banks of the Po River and a ruined peasant house. Venturing into town, he's taken aback by the friendliness of the people, so unlike the bookish cityfolk back at Bologna U. Flirtations develop, neighbors help him fix up the ruins, and everyone turns to the charismatic newcomer for help when their illegally built community center is threatened with demolition.
How the professor turns into a Christlike figure, or indeed why they need him at all, remains a mystery -- Olmi's sympathetic yet simplistic view of the rural population displays a surprisingly (for him) patronizing attitude, as if they somehow need this intellectual outsider in order to survive. Final shot of candles lit along the road in anticipation of the prof's return reinforces the sense of deification.
Olmi's stated aim is to depict a figure exhibiting the humanity of Christ -- not the Son of God, but the Son of Man. However, this still begs the question: Would Jesus damage precious manuscripts to make a facile and wrong-headed point? Olmi sets up a questionable dichotomy between an elderly, dried-up Monsignor with one milky eye, seen as the rep of the Church and all things bookish, and the handsome professor who's turned his back on everything but human contact.
In many ways, "One Hundred Nails" harks back to Olmi's earliest films, with a touch of Pasolini, evident not only in the locations but also the largely nonpro cast. Fabio Olmi's lensing repeatedly returns to the river's calm, presenting a timeless land of purer values than those of the city, though lacking the richness of his last two pics with father Ermanno. Music forms a key element, not only Fabio Vacchi's post-Stravinsky strings, but also Ravel and traditional tunes turned into sacred chorales.
One Hundred Nails (Centochiodi) | Review | Screen Lee Marshall from Screendaily
Veteran Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi is a devout Catholic, and
his work has long had a spiritual agenda. But even in such obvious parables as The
Legend Of The Holy Drinker (which won a Golden Lion in
It's a shame that in One Hundred Nails, which the director has announced is to be his last feature, Olmi gives in to the temptations of overt Biblical symbolism in a film that has neither the dramatic sinew nor the charismatic central performance to support the weight.
Italian audiences have given it a respectful reception after it opened on 30 March: Olmi's signature still has authority among older cineastes. Younger audiences may be drawn by the presence of Israeli-born, Italian-based poster boy Raz Degan in the headline role, though the latter's fitful movie career (he was last seen as Darius in Alexander) has hardly helped to keep him in the public eye.
Festival action is by no
means a given for this fragile swansong, and it is difficult seeing One
Hundred Nails drumming up much interest from distributors outside of
With its story of a
university theology professor (played by Degan) who escapes to a rural idyll by
the banks of the
But two things undermine the authority of the film's pastoral dream. The first is the absurdity of its initial premise, which takes us into the territory of a Da Vinci Code reimagined by Dario Argento.
Early one morning, a custodian discovers that a hundred precious manuscripts have been nailed to the floors and desks of a university library with thick, crucifix-style iron nails.
This whole opening sequence, with its clunky dialogue and theatrical lighting and music effects, seems deliberately pitched in B-movie mode; only the disorienting syntax created by the overlapping and interleaving of scenes hints that we are in the hands of an auteur.
The mystery stays a mystery for no more than 10 minutes; the culprit is the intense 'professorino' (young professor) played by Raz Degan; his motive, clear from the start but hammered home (just in case we missed it) at the end, is the sudden realisation that book-learning has cut him off from real life: "all the books in the world", he preaches to a compliant carabaniere, "are not worth a coffee with a friend".
And here One Hundred Nails' other main problem is spotlighted: the hobo Christ that Degan becomes when he flees academia, and his fast car, for a tumbledown hovel by the Po, is a humourless hermit whose Son-of-God credentials are overplayed by the script (which, among other things, refuses to give 'il professorino' a name) and by Degan himself.
We're consoled, though, by warm performances from the cast of mostly non-professionals who play the villagers that adopt Degan's character and help him fix up his panoramic hovel. Olmi's nostalgic affection for the earthy rhythms and grounded good-humour of rural life comes through as strongly as it did in one of the director's most celebrated works, The Tree Of Wooden Clogs (1978).
All is simpler in this tight-knit but generous community, and people engage in more wholesome activities than those stressed city folk. Degan's love interest – a gawky, freckled Mary Magdalen – works in a bakery; the young 'disciple' he befriends is a postman who used to work as a builder; the oldies who come to drink and dance at the riverside bar and social club paint, or recite poems, or sing: all is pre-technological, and il professorino is the only one who seems to know how to use a computer.
But as the bulldozers of those we take to be the modern-day Pharisees threaten this pastoral enclave, the Biblical symbolism is forced down our throats more insistently (there are references to Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the Resurrection, and many other canonical moments), and the ironic spark of il professorino's rural hosts is doused so that they can sit around the table, wide-eyed and admiring, while he does his Jesus act.
Just as we never really believe that Degan's character would have hammered all those nails into all those medieval manuscripts, so we never really buy the villagers' capitulation to this Donovan-like Christ who appears in their midst with no apparent backstory.
Olmi clearly wanted to use his final feature to make a sort of spiritual summa of his career so far; but the medium is too slender for the message.
Still, the elegaic mood is underlined by the impressionistic nature shots of cinematographer Fabio Olmi, the director's son, who does wonders with natural lighting effects; and by Fabio Vacchi's moody score, which plays insistently with a couple of melancholy thirties songs rearranged by Sardinian jazz musician Paolo Fresu. Olmi is a master at texturing sound and image to create atmosphere.
The Lumière Reader Joe Sheppard
2007 Toronto International Film Festival Journal Ken Rudolph’s Movie Site
Terra Madre (Mother Earth) is a bi-annual multi-language conference hosted
This film starts out like a documentary of the 2008 Terra Madre conference in
An unforgettable and thought provoking experience: this film seems to move beyond the normal boundaries of the documentary format. I, for one, will not forget its message, nor its beautiful imagery.
In his new documentary Terra Madre, inspired by the Terra Madre network of food communities, internationally renowned Italian director Ermanno Olmi delivers a powerful message about the critical issue of food, and its economic, environmental and social implications.
Terra Madre was conceived in 2006 by Ermanno Olmi and Slow
Food president Carlo Petrini, united by their passion for the work and values
of the farmers and others gathered at the international Terra Madre gathering
‘Only Ermanno Olmi’s sensitivity could express the ethical value of this extraordinary gathering, Terra Madre,’ said Carlo Petrini. ‘This is a global network made up of a rich diversity of people, professions, and cultures and beliefs, which stretches to 153 countries across the world. It sows and cultivates positive ideas for the protection of biodiversity, respect for the environment and the dignity of food, for a future of peace and harmony with nature’.
Shooting commenced at the meeting in 2006, following which Olmi embarked upon an in-depth exploration that culminated in Autumn 2008, prior to the following edition of Terra Madre. The documentary includes moments from the international gathering, and follows some of the participants on returning to their homelands, interweaving their stories with the director’s own vision and ideas, to create a foretelling, political piece.
‘At the Terra Madre meeting I recognized the peasants who used to live in my countryside, at the time of my childhood’, states Ermanno Olmi. ‘Their faces look alike, no matter which corner of the world they come from. On those faces I could see the same marks, those that remind you of the landscape of ploughed fields, the rows of trees, the pastures. Today that world is besieged by big business, which only aims at profits. The peasants also want to have a profit, but their attachment to the land is also an act of love: this feeling harbours the respect for nature.’
The world premiere of Terra Madre was held on February 6 at Cinema Paris in the festival’s Berlinale Special section. A second showing of the documentary was made on February 12 in the festival’s Kulinarisches Kino (Culinary Cinema) section. The documentary was also previewed during the Slow Food on Film festival in
Review: Terra Madre Peter Brunette from The
BERLIN -- Ever since 1978 when he burst into full view on the
international scene with the magnificent "Tree of the Wooden Clogs,"
77-year-old Italian auteur Ermanno Olmi has been known as the enraptured
cinematic poet of peasant life, life lived close to, and in harmony with, the
In this new documentary centered around the international Slow Food movement, which began in Italy, Olmi shows that he has lost none of his passion or poetry.
While prospects for theatrical release seem remote, the film is a must-see for festival programrs concerned in any way with issues of globalization and sustainability. It should also have a healthy life in ancillary markets, especially DVD.
The documentary is loosely structured around two gigantic events called "Terra Madre," hosted by the Slow Food movement, in 2006 and 2008. More than 6,000 cooks, farmers, shepherds, and fishermen from more than 130 countries gathered to celebrate what has become an impassioned, worldwide movement away from globalized, destructive corporate farming back to the local variety that bolsters the earth's productivity rather than merely exploiting and denuding it.
Most of the first half of the film is interspersed with clips from various speeches and local ethnic performances given during the two events, with Olmi's crew following up on the specifics of various fascinating initiatives, such as the International Seed Bank that has been established deep inside an island north of Norway to protect more than 4 million seed samples. Poetic interludes intoned on the soundtrack by Italian actor Omero Antonutti give a pleasing mythic aspect to the whole.
We move around various places in
The last part of the film is the strongest, though some impatient viewers may find themselves squirming a bit. Here, after having established the economic and political context of food, the substance that unites us all, Olmi leaves behind all dialogue in a lengthy and gorgeous paean to the earth and its potential plenty, as he wordlessly follows the days of a peasant from the preparation of the earth to the lusty enjoyment of what he has grown himself. The myriad close-ups of birds and fruit and bees and sprouting seeds, and finally the heavens themselves, is pure Terrence Malick at his best, and here "Terra Madre" soars.
The Auteurs Daniel Kasman at
“American Me,” a stomach-turning prison drama with James Edward Olmos, doesn't mean to glorify gangsterism, but it does in its own bullheaded way. Set behind the bars of Folsom State Prison, this cruddy, K-Y-jelly-coated look inside the big house depicts the downs of doing time, but it also dignifies the strivings of a self-made crime lord. A eulogy to this Chicano strongman, it often seems more of a primer on ruthless ingenuity than it does a caution against a life of crime.
Olmos, both as director and star, finds a tragic grandeur in the
rise and ruin of Santana, a teenager who comes of age inside the
Santana, a thinker, poet and advocate of Chicano rights, realizes
that his organization has become ethnically cannibalistic, that it finds both
fresh soldiers and new clientele in the barrios of
Though this is a well-intentioned, well-made movie, it's hard to imagine why a person of sound mind would subject himself to this unrelentingly sordid polemic. For those who have ever wondered how drugs are smuggled into prisons, "American Me" spares few of the anatomical details. The same goes for gang rape and assorted other extracurricular activities, including burning friends alive and strangling relatives. Gross as it is, Olmos the director makes the alternative, a self-sacrificing life on the outside, seem impossibly bland. The scenes inside Folsom are pulsing with a terrible energy that subsides with Santana's return to the domesticity of barrio life.
That's not to say that the conclusions of screenwriters Floyd Mutrux and Desmon Nakano lack validity. It's pathetic, for instance, that Santana cannot consummate a romantic relationship with a neighbor (Evelina Fernandez) because he has no experience whatsoever with women. Unfortunately Olmos, as a first-time director, seems equally ill-equipped at conveying intimacy.
American Me Despair in the Barrio, by Carmen Huaco-Nuzum from Jump Cut, June 1993
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review [HD-DVD Version] Nicholas Sheffo
DVDBeaver dvd review Yunda Eddie Feng
and punishment in Kazakhstan Geoff
Andrew at Sight & Sound,
After A Prophet, you might justifiably have expected
Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone to have been the most impressive film of
the second day of
It’s more than a decade since the Kazakhstani director’s The Road (also in the Un Certain Regard strand) met with a warm reception from the Cannes critics, but the new film shows he hasn’t lost his capacity to combine simplicity of method with subtlety of resonance. Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, it’s just as much concerned with redemption as the Audiard movie, but in its own quiet way is rather more persuasive. About an impoverished, lonely and almost catatonically shy philosophy student who commits a fatal robbery and only gradually comes to see the full error of his ways, the film is often reminiscent (in its lighting, colour schemes, low-key acting style and pacing) of Aki Kaurismäki’s version of the same novel, though for the most part without the Finn’s trademark deadpan humour.
Indeed, with its pared-back, taciturn, almost Bressonian directness, Student might even seem like a rather naïve take on the Dostoyevsky theme, were it not for Omirbayev using a couple of scenes of philosophy lectures and some judiciously chosen clips playing on the student’s landlady’s television to add depth to the theme of responsibility and ethics; how are we to regard the student’s actions given the nature/nurture debate and the changes that have overtaken Kazakhstan in recent times? Such considerations are mercifully never hammered home but simply included as part of the film’s overall fabric, as material for us to think about should we wish.
While it would undoubtedly be wrong to make great claims for Omirbayev’s film, it certainly doesn’t outlast its welcome and fulfils its admittedly modest ambitions. That’s surely quite enough to be going on with, and more than could be said for Lou Ye’s Mystery, the somewhat murky tale of marital infidelity and suspicious death that served as the opening film for the Un Certain Regard strand.
Cannes 2012. Darezhan Omirbaev's "Student" Daniel Kasman at Mubi, May 19, 2012
You cannot look away from Darezhan Omirbaev's Student, as you can't look away from any of the Kazakh director's films, for each and every shot is quietly but powerfully charged. It always seems a minute charge until a simple shot's condensation of narrative expression and emotional nuance sneaks up on you. In this new film, liberally yet efficiently adapted from Crime and Punishment, the titular student, very poor, very dejected, rides a bus through town; later that afternoon he spontaneously gives away money to the family of an unemployed poet; finally, we see him walking through the rain, and suddenly: ah! he is so poor that he gave away even his bus fare. It is not a chain of this-and-then-that, but a quiet movement, elliptical and quotidean, asking the audience to read how a nominally unimportant action or insert is, in fact, crucially telling to what's going on in someone's mind, in their life, in the connection between scenes.
Like how 2009's Shuga adapted Anna Karinina down to
ninety minutes, Student pares away its source and the world until all
that's left is the everyday that speaks volumes, volumes materially,
narratively and emotionally. As with Kaïrat, Killer, The
Road and Shuga, Omirbayev sees how contemporary social, political
and economic life in
His recent move to adapting Tolstoy, Chekhov (for a Jeonju digital short) and here Dostoyevsky sees him move from genre to literature, taking the central conflicts of these stories and rooting them directly in the now of Kazakhstan, a strange and almost surreal (if not dream-like, as the director's films always are fully integrated with his characters' dreams) way of charting on-going progress by calling back to the past for stories of classic, age-old construct. While Killer saw its hero's downward spiral towards violence as the result of new applications of capitalization in the post-Soviet country—a narrative of the individual losing control in a new world—Student charts the opposite. Its hero isn't finding his way in a new society, he's lamentably stuck in his way, an improverished and seemingly ineffectual youth who begins to feel the new need to act as an individual in what has become an unfair world of gross class-wealth disparity between individuals. In response to the bankers and playboys roaming the streets in Range Rovers adorned with gorgeous female passengers and pumping club music while he sleeps in a cramped basement apartment, cannot afford the rent and is lectured to on social Darwinism at school, the student decides to act upon the world violently. There is no policeman in this adaptation; the stone-faced student is the film's center and renders it the most desolate and anguished of Omirbaev's works, intent on the anguish of the young man who sees action against the world as the only valid response to social, material impotence.
Yet, in a typically surprising revelation from the director, after the boy's mother appears in a dream she actually shows up at his apartment, friendly and warm, and we see, for a moment, that the clouded view of his life up til now was but a small picture, subjectively honed down from a more complex reality. These surprises are common in Student, in which nominally incidental elements in another film, like a head laid on a pillow, a bus ride past office buildings, or the reaching into a purse, tremble with longing, suspense and mystery. For the first time in Omirbaev's films dissolves separate scenes, which, along with his characteristic dream sequences—which are dream-like but not dreamy, so they resemble the look and feel of the rest of the film, until a detail gives away the irreality—subjectivize the film's rich but shy emotional core, which seems to count grievances fit to burst, only to tread a path, uphill, collecting more everyday actions and appearances—like the poet's daughter, and the student's mother—that shine a light from the world outside the student's head.
This "outside" is perhaps triumphant over all, as it is what contains the poetry, pith and surprises of the narrative's clean path following the student. The world of the film is not limited to his vision, only interpreted and impaired by it; this materialist filmmaker, whose cinema is always rooted in the reality of the filming, objects and locations, the importance of where people live, work, drive, grow up, nevertheless makes his films so much about perception of this same world, and perception's limits, expanses and reveries. For a long time, Student is nearly a nightmare, sometimes dryly funny (everyone's television seems either to be playing popular garbage or images of conflict, including the assassination of JFK; when a Kazakh documentary comes on television, no one is watching it) before the hero inadvertently realizes there's a difference between acting upon and acting for, taking something on himself instead of putting it to others. And here, marvelously, at the end, dream and the reality of the narrative overlap and never are clarified, creating a profoundly moving ending of questioning, at once hopeful and despairing, one that sees a tremendous significant even in small dreams, if that is all one has for now.
Budd Wilkins at
| Cannes 2012 | Darezhan Omirbayev’s STUDENT David Hudson at
Stephen Dalton at
Leslie Felperin at
Marcel Ophüls - Harvard Film Archive (excerpt)
A master of the grand-scale documentary, Marcel Ophüls has
crafted a compelling body of work that questions the nature of truth, history,
and testimony. The German-born Ophüls came as a youth to
All-Movie Guide Sandra Brennan
German director Marcel Ophuls, the son of famed director Max Ophuls, has continued his father's legacy
of films centering on oppression and prejudice. Recognized for his hard-hitting
documentaries, Ophuls is best known for his internationally-acclaimed,
award-winning film The Sorrow and the Pity (1970), a
provocative French film that chronicled events in Nazi occupied
Marcel Ophüls NNDB bio
'The Memory of Justice': An Exchange Letter to the Editors of The
Ophüls, Marcel They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Gerald Peary Interview (2000) September, 2000
'Patriotism is a lie' |
Film | The Guardian Stuart Jeffries
interview from The Guardian,
Peau de banane (1963) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
Cathy, a seductive young woman, decides to take revenge on two
crooks, Bontemps and Lachard. These two are responsible for the bankruptcy and
ruin of her father, and so she asks Michel, her ex-husband, to give her a
helping hand. There is no other solution for them than to become crooks
themselves, so they conceive a shady deal with Bontemps on a island in
The director of The Sorrow and the Pity and Hotel Terminus isn't exactly known for his lightness of touch, and this 1963 curiosity will cause no one to lament that Marcel Ophüls gave up a career in featherweight crime thrillers for Holocaust documentaries. With Jean-Paul Belmondo as a raffish con artist and Jeanne Moreau as a wronged woman out to avenge her father's death, Ophüls' lumpy souffle shares a bloodline with the French New Wave, but the movie's desperate gear-shifting is more frantic than antic. Three years after Breathless, Belmondo is already coasting on ossified cool, walking through his scenes as if he's left a cigar burning in the wings. Whether he's cooking with a jazz combo or posing as a German scientist, he never alters his permanent sneer. Moreau isn't much better; it's hard to believe Peel hails from the same era as Jules and Jim and Bay of Angels.
Then again, what could they have done? Ophüls' main interest seems to be reinforcing his stars' effortless coolness, throwing them into a series of absurd schemes just so they can look unfazed by them. It's like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with the cast of thousands whittled down to two. Ophüls does his desperate best to inject laughs — at one point, Moreau's henchmen fool a mark into thinking they're calling from a construction site by thumping on a nearby radiator — but the movie's as light as lead.
“One who has not suffered the horrors of an occupying power has no right to judge a nation that has.”
—Sir Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill’s Foreign Secretary, 1940-1945, Prime Minister, Great Britain, 1955-1957
An account of the Nazi occupation of France, with particular reference to the town of Clermont-Ferrand, this is an orthodox mixture of contemporary newsreels and present-day interviews. Those questioned include politicians, collaborators, résistants, a French admiral, a Wehrmacht captain, a British secret agent - and of course the man and woman in the street who concentrated on just getting through the thing. The mosaic is comprehensive, the documentation overwhelming, particularly regarding the nature and extent of collaboration. In France, of course, the film was dynamite. Other countries, other generations may - or may not - be in sympathy with Anthony Eden, as he firmly declines to condemn those placed in a predicament which he and his compatriots were spared.
How truly compelling is "The Sorrow and the Pity," a monumental 4 ½-hour documentary about one of the saddest realities of World War II: the almost placid collaboration of the French with their occupying German conquerors. The movie was created by Marcel Ophüls (son of the great Max Ophüls) and portrays a devastating picture of the collective compromise of morality under duress. We are brought into intimate contact with the times by way of newsreel footage and interviews with present-day survivors of all persuasions as they recall the events of the past, corroborate or contradict others or even themselves. We see the danger that comes with historical amnesia and the refusal to see that there is a potential for great evil as well as great good in all of us. This is a profound movie, and a profoundly disquieting one. It does not substitute facile attitudinizing for intelligence and integrity. It demands that we push the limits of our vision beyond the borders of the screen masking in the theatre. It would be a sorrow and a pity not to see it…and think about its implications for all of us.
Le Chagrin et la pitié (1969) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
By any standards, Le Chagrin et la pitié is a monumental
piece of film documentary. For one thing, it dares to make an objective
assessment of one of the most difficult periods in
The film combines shockingly frank interviews with players in the
drama with archive footage (mainly newsreel excerpts). Although the film
is nominally centred around the town of
The film was directed by Marcel Ophuls (son of the great German film director Max Ophuls) whose investigative documentaries earned him international acclaim. It was originally commissioned by the French television channel, ORTF, as part of a series of three films about recent French history. When its producers André Harris and Alain de Sédouy were dismissed from the channel for participating in the political uprisings of May-June 1968, Marcel Ophuls had to turn to a German television company to finish the film. Ironically, it was with German money that Le Chagrin et la pitié was completed.
When the ORTF refused to broadcast the film, its first public airing was in a small Parisian cinema in April 1971. The film immediately unleashed a storm of controversy and was condemned vociferously as being unpatriotic. In particular, many saw it as a direct assault on the government of General de Gaulle, since it significantly diminished the role of the general during World War II. The film continued to be shown at specialist cinemas and film festivals throughout the world and was nominated for an Academy Award (in the "best feature documentary" category) at the 1972 Oscars. It was not until 1981 that the film was shown on French television, when it attracted an audience of 15 million viewers.
Le Chagrin et la pitié is a film in two parts. The
first part (L’Effondrement ) shows how a
In the second part of the film (Le Choix), which looks at
the last two years of the Occupation, we see how growing distrust and
resentment germinated into opposition and created a growing resistance
movement. Whilst scores of French men and women risked their lives
to free their country, others became ever more complicit in Nazi activity,
denouncing their own neighbours, supporting the anti-Jewish purge and enlisting
in the German army.
Most of the material in the film consists of interviews (most of which were conducted by Ophuls), making this a very personal and vivid account of the Occupation. The recollections of the film’s contributors are obviously tainted by their experiences and, for many, it is apparent that the wounds have yet to heal – in spite of the fact they are recounting events which took place almost thirty years before. As the accounts are sometimes contradictory and often have a strong personal bias, this patchwork quilt of revelations forms a very complex picture, suggesting that any simple assessment of the Occupation would be both both flawed and unjust. In an archive clip, Anthony Eden (British Prime Miniser after the war) eloquently states that no one who has not been confronted with the threat of invasion from an overwhelming enemy can condemn the French for their capitulation. However, it is hard not to be moved by the testimony of some of the film’s contributors and we are ultimately led to cast judgement – not on the French nation as a whole, but on individual men and women who were galvanised to perform acts of great evil, or great good.
By allowing the villains and heroes of the piece to speak freely, the film gives a more graphic and forceful account of events than will ever be divined in any history book or wartime drama. The film begins with a stomach-churning interview with a high-ranking Nazi officer, who apparently still sees himself as a member of the Super Race and has no qualms of his participation in the Holocaust (to the point of not understanding why his fellow countrymen have such misgivings about the period). In another chilling interview, aristocrat Christian de la Mazière candidly tells André Harris how, as a young man, he was seduced by fascism and became one of the 7000 Frenchmen to sign up for the Charlemagne division, a special SS unit assigned to the Eastern Front.
On the side of the heroes, a farmer, Louis Grave, gives a solemn
personal account of the work he and his brother did for the resistance.
Grave was denounced by a neighbour and ended up in a concentration camp; his
bitterness is still apparent 25 years on. A British spy, Denis Rake,
movingly recounts the extreme generosity of ordinary French people he saw
whilst he was serving in
Surprisingly, there is very little mention of De Gaulle’s
movement, La France Libre, which took control of
The film ends with an archive extract in which popular singer
Maurice Chevalier attempts to justify a concert he gave in Nazi Germany.
He claims, in English, and without a great deal of conviction, that he was
there not for the benefit of German troops but merely to entertain French
prisoners of war. With brutal irony, this sequence succinctly sums
up how much of the French nation must have felt about the Occupation – an
overwhelming sense of guilt, self-admonishment and naïve optimism that it could
be put behind them and forgotten. The fact that the many contributors in
the film still felt so strongly about events which took place nearly thirty years
in the past suggests that the incident could not be so easily swept under the
carpet. It is evident that the wound would take many more decades to heal
and, even then, a unpleasant stain would remain, etched into
World Socialist Web Site Richard Phillips
The Sorrow and the Pity Tom Block from culturevulture.net
The Sorrow and the Pity Peter Momtchiloff from Electric Sheep
DVD Times Gary Couzens
DVD Savant Review Glenn Erickson
digitallyobsessed - DVD review Dale Dobson
BBCi - Films Jamie Russell
Marcel Ophuls's four-and-a-half-hour documentary (1976) uses the Nuremberg trials as a starting point for an investigation of the ideals of justice and the failures of their execution—abstract ideas that Ophuls makes vital through his remarkable montage technique, intercutting newsreel footage and contemporary interviews. Ophuls abandons the usual voice-of-God stance of the documentarian; this is a personal search for meaning, with the author insisting on his own failures of understanding. An intense, demanding experience.
An investigation of the impact of the Nuremberg trials on the German conscience, and a study of the implications of the moral and legal principles established there for events like Hiroshima and Vietnam, The Memory of Justice operates by steadily drawing the viewer into a situation that is forever expanding, as new ramifications and contexts are found by Ophüls in the course of his interviews and in the use he makes of library footage. The film is, accordingly, as important for its method of investigation as for the facts it reveals. In contrast to the tight narrative and fixed viewpoint of the run-of-the-mill TV documentary, Ophüls' film is so structured as to force the viewer to involve himself in the arguments presented in the actual process of watching the film, thus transforming a passive viewing into an active reading. (Originally broadcast in two parts, 'Nuremberg and the Germans' and 'Nuremberg and Other Places'.
Marcel Ophuls's THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is a massive, confounding, but transfixing consideration of the definitions (or indefiniteness) of justice and responsibility in the post-Holocaust world.
The film is divided into two parts. "Part One:
Ophuls also interviews leading German figures of the Nazi era,
including Albert Speer and Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz. While Doenitz denies
knowledge of atrocities, Speer, when confronted by Ophuls with hs own
statements of the time, coldly acknowledges his complicity. An American
psychologist who tested the defendants (among them Hermann Goering and Rudolf
Hess) is also interviewed. He describes their contempt for the trials and
complete lack of remorse for their actions. In other interviews, German
civilians who lived during the period, express either indifference, denial, or
guilt. An elderly fisherman expresses nostalgia for the era. A concentration
camp survivor who testified at the trials recalls the shock of coming to a
The first section of "Part Two:
The acceptance of Nazism by Germans is analyzed, viewed as having
resulted from economic devastation and inequitable distribution of wealth. The
importance of anti-Semitism in the rise of the Nazis is also examined, Speer
confirming that he felt there were "problems with Jewish influence"
Violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who is Jewish and chooses to play in
A monumental, frustrating, and often brilliant work, THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is at once a comprehensive historical text and a very personal piece of filmmaking. From the precredit sequence onward, there's no doubting that this exhaustively researched and highly informative documentary is the work of Marcel Ophuls. Coming off the success of THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1971), Ophuls seems to have wanted to go further, to get beyond an examination of how people behave in times of crisis and into an analysis of what is learned from those times. If possible, THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is more ambitious than THE SORROW AND THE PITY, and while it is less trenchant and probably less successful overall, it is no less remarkable an undertaking.
The cinematic equivalent of a thesis, THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE
begins by putting forth the proposition that atrocities such as those committed
under the Third Reich could occur again, in any place, despite the avowals from
"responsible" nations at
Taken collectively, the interviews, as Ophuls has conducted and
arranged them, are the basis of a compelling and reasoned analysis. In working
to verify his hypothesis, Ophuls offers strong evidence that the lessons of
Sometimes, Ophuls makes his points through rich irony. For
example, Hartley Shawcross, who believes steadfastly that
In attempting to cover such vast intellectual terrain, however, Ophuls lets the film go afield at times. Some of the interviews seem superfluous, and have the effect of diluting rather than strengthening Ophuls's speculations. Sections of the film that address events in Vietnam, for example, include commentary from Daniel Ellsberg (of The Pentagon Papers fame) which adds virtually nothing to the intelligent discourse generated from interviews with Taylor, witnesses to American war crimes, and other people whose relevance is clear. The film also loses focus with the inclusion of seemingly extraneous material, such as Joan Baez singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" in German, or a sequence in which a small group of contemporary Germans--among them Jews--lounge naked inside a sauna. These digressive elements unnecessarily cloud an already very complicated film.
While the density of THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE may prove frustrating, this cannot, given Ophuls's intent, be considered a flaw. Nor can the fact that Ophuls finds no concrete answers to many questions he raises. The film is undeniably ponderous at times, but one can only admire Ophuls for sacrificing facility to intellectual integrity. In seeking to make sense of why terror continues to be inflicted in the name of imposing "principles" (as Taylor terms it), Ophuls has put together a study that is as fascinating as it is challenging. THE MEMORY OF JUSTICE is persuasive as argument, and extraordinary as filmmaking. (Extensive nudity, adult situations.)
'The Memory of Justice': An Exchange Letter to the Editors of The
Ophuls' documentary about the Nazi war criminal, expelled from Bolivia and returned to France for trial, is a mass of interview and newsreel spliced and juxtaposed to produce a narrative which is also a moral and historical record which is also a set of questions which can be reduced here to two crunchers: who are you to judge? what would you have done? The film rarely flags, despite copious location shifts and languages and subtitles which run the gamut and the gauntlet. From wartime France to fascist Bolivia, from boyhood admirers to aggrieved business partners and victims of the Nazis' butchery turning almost as much upon each other as their persecutor, the film is as much about selective memory and the vagaries of moral responsibility as a story of one man who affected so many, and who managed to work for not only the SS but also the Allies, the Bolivian arms runners and the romantically conceived Bolivian navy, and return to Lyons at the age of 71 more sprightly and confident than most of the people whose lives he wrecked. Superb.
HOTEL TERMINUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE slowly but surely indicts the international community of complying with WWII criminals. Director Marcel Ophuls uses the charmed existence of the shrewd but sociopathic Nazi Barbie as a focus for his stinging documentary-essay.
During the war, Klaus Barbie became known as the "Butcher of
Lyon" for the cruel and ruthless terror he inflicted upon his victims,
mostly French Jews. During Barbie's belated 1984 trial for war crimes, Ophuls
interviews dozens of people who remember the man and the monster. In
Through interviews with French Resistance leaders, Nazi leaders,
and war historians, Ophuls establishes that Barbie, as head Gestapo agent in
The second half of the film concentrates on Barbie's life in
Following a government coup, Barbie moved from
Like the landmark SORROW AND THE PITY (1970), HOTEL TERMINUS: THE
LIFE AND TIMES OF KLAUS BARBIE clearly establishes a pervasive guilt about the
Holocaust. There are "good guys," but they are not the people usually
depicted in the war film genre--e.g., the French Resistance fighters, the
American soldiers and politicians; rather, the "good guys" (like
American agent Erhard Darbringhaus and French Resistance members Lucie and
Raymond Aubrac) are those few who have been willing to speak out against Barbie
and his cohorts. Otherwise, most of the supposed Allies represented here either
barely remember events (like feeble ex-US intelligence officer Benjamin Shute),
or protest Barbie's trial (like Albert Rossett, a slick Jean-Marie Le Pen "National
Front" supporter), or outright apologize for protecting him through the
years (like seedy American agent Eugene Kolb). Even some of the intellectuals,
Unlike his approach in THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1972), however, Ophuls places himself much more often into the frame as the interviewer/interrogator, making HOTEL TERMINUS a more personal work. His frustrations with the lies and nonanswers--especially the refrain that the war was "over 40 years ago"--are recorded onscreen, and he even shows his bitter sense of humor, in scenes alone where he mocks his less cooperative interview subjects (interestingly, he also shakes hands with thuggish Barbie aide Alvaro De Castro, forcing one to wonder if he would also shake hands with Barbie, if he had had the chance to interview him). The personal becomes political for Ophuls in his dismaying discovery that Barbie's lawyer, Jacques Verges, an advocate for left-wing causes, was really a sly politician, paid off by an anti-Semitic financier.
If anything, Ophuls perfects the interview and editing techniques of THE SORROW AND THE PITY, while building his case deliberately but forcefully, as was also the case in Claude Lanzmann's SHOAH (1985). (Appropriately, Ophuls interviews Lanzmann, though only briefly.) While Ophuls privileges the victims and eyewitnesses to Barbie's atrocities, he refuses to romanticize their suffering (a la typical Holocaust melodramas), and he neatly reinforces their accounts by crosscutting their poignant and believable testimony with the evasive and hypocritical words of Barbie's apologists. Thus, lively debates occur between individuals who never meet (or would ever want to meet): Lise Lesevre, a torture victim, and one of Barbie's friends, a Peruvian neighbor; the cowardly Sgt. Robert Taylor, who hired Barbie for the CIC, and the heroic Erhard Darbringhaus, who exposed him; Ivo Omrcamin, who helped many a Nazi move to South America, and Elizabeth Holtzman, the US prosecutor of Nazi war criminals; and Francois Hemmerle, a French Resistance turncoat who exploited Jews, and Rene Tavernier, the French poet.
As the film's title suggests, Ophuls is more attuned than ever to dark irony: several of his subjects condone Barbie while sitting in front of Christmas trees (during the Kolb interview, he cuts to the angels on the trees); and just as the phantom image of the elusive and rarely seen Barbie pervades the lengthy film, so does Ophuls's use of a German youth chorus song, which is eerie in its sweetness and light. The rough cinema verite approach (and the occasional "60 Minutes"-style ambush interview) masks a highly sophisticated-- albeit world-weary--understanding of the people and events. Ophuls errs only in not providing the uninitiated viewer with more facts about the war itself before plunging into details about Barbie's involvement. Still, one can only be grateful that Ophuls got what he did on film and presented it in such a profound way. (Adult situations.)
eFilmCritic Reviews Teen Movie Critic
Siskel & Ebert (video)
New York Times (registration req'd) Vincent Canby
The perilous symbiosis of war and the media undergoes merciless scrutiny in The Troubles We've Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime.As penetrating as it is far-ranging, this documentary astonishment by the legendary ( The Sorrow and the Pity, ) surveys the Bosnian war through the lens of the international press corp. of , of , famed war correspondent , and dozens of others provide grist for the ethical mill, while Ophüls provides the omnivorous intelligence required to sustain nearly four hours of riveting inquiry. Original footage is poised against film clips ( Only Angels Have Wings, Papa's ) selected for maximum irony and structural dynamism. Screening five times this week at Anthology Film Archives, Veillées d'armes, as it's known in original French, will be available spring 2007 as a less butt-busting experience on DVD through Milestone Films.
by Jerry White The Troubles We’ve Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime, from Cinema Scope
None of Marcel Ophuls’ films have ever been very easy to see, but for many
years The Troubles We’ve Seen (1994) has had a special mystique. To my
knowledge it played only twice in
There is a moment in Troubles—which is ostensibly about the coverage of the
Indeed, while Troubles is more or less about
Furthermore, this film is very much about the idea of
The film’s other “star” is Alain Finkielkraut, a philosopher who, like
Ophuls, has been a thorny presence in French intellectual life. He’s written
extensively about the war in the former
We get a good sense of this in his L’ingratitude: Conversation sur notre
temps (1996), a book-length interview with Québécois journalist Antoine
Robitaille, where Finkielkraut challenges an overly romantic vision of Sarajevo
as a symbol of cosmopolitan Europe under siege by a dying nationalism; he
writes that “An authentically plural city, a vertiginous tangle of confessions,
calendars, ceremonies and architectures, that doesn’t mean that Sarajevo was ever
constituted as the little New-Yorkish approximation run aground in the Balkans,
that some, emotionally, wanted to discover.” This aligns nicely with his
critique of sentimental multiculturalism in 1987’s La défaite de la pensée
(available in English as The Defeat of the Mind). Frustrated by the
tone-deafness of both romantic (as in through-rose-coloured-glasses-viewing)
advocates and Romantic (as in dirt-worshipping, Wagner-apologizing,
non-Christian-disliking reactionary) opponents of multiculturalism, Finkielkraut
wrote that “the two camps profess the same relativism. The credos are opposed,
but not the visions of the world: both perceive cultures as enveloping
totalities, and give the last word to their multiplicity.” Finkielkraut has
contrasted the notion of an ethnic state—which he sees as a German
invention—with the French idea of a political state. In L’Ingratitude he
writes that “France, in short, gave to the world a definition of the nation
that was political, and not cultural”; in La défaite de la pensée he writes
that “In the century of nationalisms, France—and was its merit and its
originality—refused the racializing of the spirit,” which he contrasts to “la
bêtise haineuse du Volksgeist,” or, to channel George Burns via Bart Simpson,
the hideous bitch-goddess of the “national spirit.” Finkielkraut still
believes in the viability of culture as a category (he’s proud of
Finkielkraut wants culture to make demands instead of offering easy comfort,
and this, of course, is the vision of
Max Ophuls directed films in
Here is a checklist of features that occur in many of Ophuls' films:
Naturally, these do not all occur in every Ophuls film.
Film Reference Robin Wood
Max Ophüls' work falls neatly into three periods, marked by geographical locations and diverse production conditions, yet linked by common thematic concerns and stylistic/formal procedures: the pre-Second World War European period (during which he made films in four countries and four languages); the four Hollywood films of the late 1940s (to which one might add the remarkable Howard Hughes-produced Vendetta , on which he worked extensively in its early preproduction phases and which bears many identifiable Ophülsian traces, both thematic and stylistic); and the four films made in France in the 1950s. It is these 1950s films on which Ophüls' current reputation chiefly rests, and in which certain stylistic traits (notably the long take with elaborately mobile camera) are carried to their logical culmination.
Critical estimation of Ophüls soared during the late twentieth century; prior to that, the prevailing attitude was disparaging (or at best condescending), and the reasons for this now seem highly significant, reflecting far more on the limitations of the critics than of the films. The general consensus was that Ophüls' work had distinctive qualities (indeed, this would be difficult to deny), but was overly preoccupied with "style" (regarded as a kind of spurious, slightly decadent ornamentation) and given over to trivial or frivolous subjects quite alien to the "social" concerns considered to characterize "serious" cinema. In those days, the oppression of women within the patriarchal order was not identified as a "social concern"—especially within the overwhelmingly male-dominated field of film criticism. Two developments have contributed to the revaluation of Ophüls: the growth of auteur criticism in the 1960s and of feminist awareness, and I shall consider his work in relation to these phenomena.
1. Ophüls and auteurism. One of the first aims of auteur criticism was to dethrone the "subject" as the prime guarantee of a film's quality, in favor of style, mise-en-scène , the discernible presence of a defined directorial "voice": in Andrew Sarris's terms, the "how" was given supremacy over the "what." "Subject," in fact, was effectively redefined as what the auteur's mise-en-scène created. Ophüls was a perfect rallying-point for such a reformulation of critical theory. For a start, he offered one of the most highly developed and unmistakable styles in world cinema, consistent through all changes of time and place (though inevitably modified in the last two Hollywood melodramas, Caught and The Reckless Moment ). Ophüls' works were marked by elaborate tracking-and-craning camera movements, ornate décor, the glitter of glass and mirrors, objects intervening in the foreground of the image between characters and camera. His style can be read in itself as implying a meaning, a metaphysic of entrapment in movement, time, and destiny. Further, this style could be seen as developing, steadily gaining in assurance and definition, through the various changes in cultural background and circumstances of production—from, say, Liebelei through Letter from an Unknown Woman to Madame de . . . Ophüls could be claimed (with partial justice) as a major creative artist whose personal vision transcended the most extreme changes of time and place.
The stylistic consistency was underlined by an equally striking thematic consistency. For example, the same three films mentioned above, though adapted from works by fairly reputable literary figures (respectively, Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, and Louise de Vilmorin), all reveal strong affinities in narrative/thematic structure: all are centered on romantic love, which is at once celebrated and regarded with a certain irony. Similarly, all three works move towards a climactic duel in which the male lover is destroyed by an avenging patriarch, an offended husband. All three films also feature patriarchal authority embodied in military figures. Finally, style and theme were perceived as bound together by a complicated set of visual motifs recurring from period to period. The eponymous protagonist of Ophüls' last film, Lola Montès , declares "For me, life is movement"; throughout his work, key scenes take place in vehicles of travel and places of transition (carriages, trains, staircases, and railway stations figure prominently in many of the films). Even a superficially atypical work like The Reckless Moment (set in modern California rather than the preferred "Vienna, 1900" or its equivalent) contains crucial scenes on the staircase, in moving cars, on a ferry, at a bus station. Above all, the dance was recognized as a central Ophülsian motif, acquiring complex significance from film to film. The romantic/ironic waltz scene in Letter from an Unknown Woman , the fluid yet circumscribed dances of Madame de . . . , the hectic and claustrophobic palais de danse of Le Plaisir , the constricted modern dance floor of Caught , and the moment in De Mayerling à Sarajevo where the lovers are prevented from attending the ball: all of the above scens are reminders that "life is movement" is not the simple proposition it may at first appear.
There is no doubt that the development of auteur theory enormously encouraged and extended the appreciation of Ophüls' work. In its pure form (the celebration of the individual artist), however, auteurism tends towards a dangerous imbalance in the evaluation of specific films: a tendency, for example, to prefer the "typical" but slight La Ronde (perhaps the film that most nearly corresponds to the "primitive" account of Ophüls) to a masterpiece like The Reckless Moment , in which Ophüls' engagement with the structural and thematic materials of the Hollywood melodrama results in an amazingly rich and radical investigation of ideological assumptions.
2. Ophüls and Feminism. Nearly all of Ophüls' films are centered on a female consciousness. Before the 1960s this tended merely to confirm the diagnosis of them as decorative, sentimental, and essentially frivolous: the social concerns with which "serious" cinema should be engaged were those which could be resolved within the patriarchal order, and more fundamental social concerns that threatened to undermine the order itself simply could not be recognized. The films belong, of course, to a period long before the eruption of what we now know as radical feminism; they do not (and could not be expected to) explicitly engage with a feminist politics, and they are certainly not free of a tendency to mythologize women. In retrospect, however, from the standpoint of the feminist theory and consciousness that evolved in the 1970s, they assume a quite extraordinary significance: an incomparably comprehensive, sensitive, and perceptive analysis of the position of women (subject to oppression) within patriarchal society. The films repeatedly present and examine the options traditionally available to women within our culture—marriage, prostitution (in both the literal and the looser sense), romantic love—and the relationship between those options. Letter from an Unknown Woman , for example, dramatizes marriage (Lisa's to von Stauffer, her mother's to the "military tailor") and prostitution ("modelling") as opposite cultural poles, then goes on to show that they really amount to the same thing: in both cases, the women are selling themselves (this opposition/parallel is brilliantly developed through the three episodes of Le Plaisir ). Essentially, Letter from an Unknown Woman is an enquiry into the validity of romantic love as the only possible means of transcending this illusory dichotomy. Clearly, Ophüls is emotionally committed to Lisa and her vision; the extraordinry complexity and intelligence of the film lies in its simultaneous acknowledgement that romantic love can only exist as narcissistic fantasy and is ultimately both destructive and self-destructive.
Far from being incompatible, the auteurist and feminist approaches to Ophüls demand to be synthesized. The identification with a female consciousness and the female predicament is the supreme characteristic of the Ophülsian thematic; at the same time, the Ophüls style—the commitment to grace, beauty, sensitivity—amounts to a celebration of what our culture defines as "femininity," combined with the force of authority, the drive, the organizational (directorial) abilities construed as masculine. In short, the supreme achievement of Ophüls' work is its concrete and convincing embodiment of the collapsibility of our culture's barriers of sexual difference.
Max Ophüls biography from Turner Classic Movies
Plaisir d'amour - The Films of Max Ophuls - Harvard Film Archive biography by Laura Mulvey and retrospective film comments
Max Ophüls > Overview - AllMovie biography
Max Ophüls Biography Hal Erickson from All Movie Guide
Max Ophüls - filmportal.de biography
MAX OPHULS biography and film comments from Film Forum (pdf)
Max Ophüls NNDB bio page
Max Ophls - MSN Encarta bio page
Madman Entertainment biography
Max Ophuls The Auteurs
Max Ophüls - Director by Film Rank 9 most notable films
Truffaut’s homage to Ophüls and Lola in Shoot the Piano Player Lola Montès tribute from Film Forum on YouTube video
Excerpt from 1955 essay on Lola Montès François Truffaut 1955 essay, from Film Forum (pdf format)
Letter from Max Ophuls to Francois Truffaut
Lights Film Journal Fifteen Years of French Cinema by André Bazin, initially a lecture in
Trapped in a Tomb of Their Own Making: Max Ophuls's the Reckless ... Trapped in a Tomb of Their Own Making: Max Ophüls's The Reckless Moment and Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow, by Amy Lawrence from Film Criticism, 1999 (excerpt)
max ophuls Tracking
Eternity: Max Ophüls Moving Pictures,
from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 –
"Max Ophuls: A New Art -- But Who Notices?" Tag Gallagher from Senses of Cinema (2002)
ophuls - filmmaker profile at videovista.net Max Ophüls: Bitter & Sweet, by Gary
Couzens from Video
Ceremonies : The New Yorker The Films of Max Ophüls, by
Undercurrent Article (2006) Max Ophuls's Adaptation to and Subversion of Classical Hollywood Cinema and Their Effect on his European Filmmaking, by Lutz Bacher from Fipresci (2006, originally published in 2003)
Rushdie's Receding Talent Lee Siegel references Ophüls in Shalimar the Clown from The Nation, September 15, 2005
Rushdie : The Enchantress of Florence : Shalimar the Clown ... Mary Whipple from Mostly Fiction,
"Max Ophuls's Adaptation to and Subversion of Classical Hollywood Cinema and Their Effect on his European Filmmaking" Lutz Bacher from Fipresci, November 2006
Max Ophüls, The
Earrings of Madame de... - Film - New York Times Dave Kehr from The New York Times,
Film of All Time: Ophüls’ Madame de … Is Coming Back to Town Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer,
Andrew Sarris & Lola Montès: A Brief History Film Forum, where Sarris also claims Lola Montès is the greatest film of all time (pdf)
The Earrings of Madame de . . . :The Cost of Living Criterion essay claiming greatest film of all time by Molly Haskell, wife of Andrew Sarris
Maneuver: The Earrings of Madame De... :: Stop Smiling ... James Hughes from Stop Smiling magazine,
Max Ophuls: Motion
and Emotion - BAM/PFA - Film Programs
July 20 –
Moving Pictures: the European Films of Max Ophuls Ophüls Retrospective, September – December, 2007
Cinematheque Ontario - Programmes - THE PLEASURE OF SEEING: THE ... The Pleasure of Seeing: The Sublime Cinema of Max Ophüls, including 19 film reviews, October 19 – December 9, 2007
Weekly [Jason Anderson] Maximum Ophuls, by Jason Anderson from Eye Weekly,
the Cheap Seats… » Showing Soon; The Best of The Rest… John Hodson,
Movies Michael Wood from The
Ophuls' Femme Fatales: Dangerous Beautiful Women and Their ... Grace Troje from
Ophüls, Max They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Palin is the New Lola Montes: A Conversation with Andrew Sarris Nathan Lee interview on WNYC,
Links for the Day (October 1st, 2008) The House Next Door
The first long-playing movie of Max Ophüls has not enough singing to be
really an operetta, but both songs "Ich wär so gern richtig verliebt"
and "Ist dein Herz noch ledig, schick es nach Vendig" are reprised
several times. So sometime it looks like an operetta.
For sound track hunters (like me) there wasn´t any real loot, because all singing parts were very short and noisy.
An interesting scene was in a ´wave bath´, because I did not know that this kind of bath was already existing in 1932. (excuse my school-english)
max ophuls Tracking
Eternity: Max Ophüls Moving Pictures,
from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 –
Only his second film, THE BARTERED BRIDE confirmed Ophuls as an visual artist to be reckoned with. BRIDE is set in a Bohemian village, in the mid-1800s, where Marie (Jarmila Novotna) is "bartered" off in marriage to pay her parents' debts. Hans, the man she really loves (Willy Domgraf-Fassbaender), promises the marriage broker not to interfere with the wedding in return for some gelt--but the story takes a happy turn into the world of the circus in the end. In this Ophulsian musical--featuring spoken dialogue interspersed with songs from Smetana's opera--money makes the world go round...not necessarily to the detriment of true love.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
The Smetana comic opera, with all its expansive earthiness played
like a piccolo for the earliest traces of Max Ophüls' rhapsodic lilt. The Czech
village of the libretto is erected around
'What is eternity?' a young girl asks her soldier lover. What indeed? As in Ophüls' Lola Montès, La Ronde and Madame de... this early German melodrama - which treats the passionate, whirlwind love affair between a young lieutenant and a shy sensitive fräulein - acknowledges both the liberating joy of love and its sad transience. For humans are never entirely free of their past, and young Fritz has a skeleton in his closet that makes a mockery of the pair's vows of undying love. Most similar to Madame de..., the film may be a little slow and ragged at times, but its final emotional power is undeniably immense.
max ophuls Tracking
Eternity: Max Ophüls Moving Pictures,
from Walter Reade retrospective June 25 –
The camera of Franz Planer follows the protagonists in long tracking shots,
observes precisely the development of an affection and later deep love between
Fritz (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) and Christine (Magda Schneider) during the nightly
walk through the sleeping city and their endless swings of waltzing through the
empty coffee bar. It is also great how Ophüls exemplarily trusts in the
viewer's imagination to make things visible. The couple has forgotten the world
around them, being only close together, overwhelmed by the feelings, which
suddenly arise in them. The slow waltz resembles a soft hug, but the melancholy
in this dance is perceptible and especially Fritz, who has a secret tête-à-tête
with a bored baroness, seems to fear, that the love for Christine might not
have a happy ending.
And last but not least some words about Gustaf Gründgens who plays the cheated baron: In the scenes, he is acting mainly only with looks, with stringent, frigid looks, that whoosh across the room like bullets. The precision of his performance is masterful and probably the best in this film.
From a play by Arthur Schnitzler, Max Ophüls’s Liebelei was released in Germany in 1933, about a month after Hitler became chancellor, without the director’s or playwright’s name in the credits. Both men were Jewish. (Schnitzler had died the previous year.) By this time, Ophüls had fled to France. After the war, the Allies banned Liebelei, which is anti-militaristic and whose heroine commits suicide after the boy she loves, a young army lieutenant named Wolfgang, is killed in a duel.
Like Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Liebelei takes place in Vienna at the turn of the century; and, like that later Ophüls film, it enmeshes a vulnerable girl’s aching love in the web of the time’s militaristic code of honor. The delay of Christine’s appearance in Liebelei reflects her insignificance in the male- and military-minded scheme of things. By contrast, she matters most to us because of Ophüls’s own feelings toward her and the poignancy of her enactment by Magda Schneider, Romy’s mother.
Structurally, Wolfgang’s military drills and related military obligations literally interrupt the course of his deepening romance with Christine. As a result, their encounters—their walk together at night, their dance, their sleigh ride—seem like stolen moments. Yet these are the most important moments of their lives and of their briefly shared life. (We see their dance trebly: directly; in a mirror; as wall shadows. We also see the boy dance with his mistress, whose husband will kill him when he no longer has any romantic connection to the man’s wife.)
Christine’s death, rendered by an expressive camera movement, remains one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema.
Some films cannot be sufficiently qualified by superlatives, and this
superb, tranquil, poetic masterpiece is one of them. This film is not just to
be watched and enjoyed, but to be felt with all the senses.
Without ever becoming sentimental it tells a very moving love story, but there is a deeper meaning in it (of course already conceived by Arthur Schitzler). We see an artificial
This "misplaced honour" is shown through various male characters, but the most devilish of them is Gustaf Gründgens (absolutely brilliant): was there ever a cigarette smoked as by Gründgens, concentrating all his anger and hate in his smoking. And here we have only one example of Ophüls' idea of letting the image speak, not by dialogue alone (sometimes unintelligible, but this is on purpose!), but by body and camera movement, lightning, editing, sets, the meaning of a scene is told.
This film is superb on all levels, but this is not the place to analyze further (and there are people who are much more capable to do that than I am). I just want to refer to the final sequence (starting with Beethoven's 5th): see how Ophüls, just by perfectly arranging Ullrich, Eichberger and Hörbiger opposite Schneider, gets an image that shows emotional desolation: the party is over, life is over (one must have seen the film to understand this remark). This culminates in the long, extreme close up of Magda Schneider realizing and trying to come to terms with what has happened; one must have a heart of stone not to get tears into one's eyes or at least a lump in the throat, when seeing this scene. This scene was her moment of triumph; was she ever again as outstanding as in this scene?
Liebelei premiered after the Nazi take-over; it was banned, then - by popular demand - quickly showing was allowed again but only after the names of the Jewish contributors were removed. It amazes to know that in 1945 it was banned by the Allies.
I was initially worried after seeing La Signora di tutti
(Italy, 1934) that Ophüls’ earlier films would be as unconvincing as that was,
all incredibly inspired camerawork and staging, but all sadly foiled by
inadequate acting and a storytelling not up to the level of sophistication as
the director’s mysterious flashback structures. Thankfully Liebelei, the
director’s German film of 1933, is almost up to the level of Ophüls’ acclaimed
post-Hollywood films, a film intoxicated by romance and by its loss, rendered
with an enamored lilt and a refined sadness.
A philandering lieutenant (Wolfgang Liebeneiner) in—where else?—1900 Vienna, already garnering a reputation of unsavory sexual liaisons in the barracks, decides to forgo adultery after meeting a young, innocent girl (Magda Schneider). Ophüls devilishly directs their pseudo-first date, the lieutenant walking the girl home after his buddy and her friend obviously head off to spend an evening together, as a silent and self-absorbed walk home in the snow, with little crackle and chemistry between the two. Yet they are smitten, and soon reveal their love to each other, especially during a glorious sleigh ride through a landscape positively bowed under a dense blanket of snow—miraculously shot on location and not faked by this director who so loves artifice in the drama! Yet such idylls are not meant to last in the work of this most fateful of directors, and the offended husband of the lieutenant’s early conquest figures out what’s going on right as the young officer is calling off that flimsy relationship for something more pure. As is the custom, a duel is demanded, and the outlook for the couple dims in the last act as death may keep each lover apart from the other.
Liebelei generally forgoes the overly elaborate camerawork and shocking long takes of La Signorra di tutti, but exchanges them for a grander mise-en-scène, a film-world more in touch with emotional assuredness and expression. Stylistically, Ophüls does this through very slow dollies into key scenes (almost as slow as that famous near-final shot in Antonioni’s The Passenger!) and keeping certain information off-screen, most notably that fateful duel between the lieutenant and his offended Baron, and most devastatingly during the admission of a lover’s death. At this climax the camera hangs onto the reaction of the survivor with a sublime empathy and dedication, as she hears and responds to the news delivered off-camera. A multitude of other sophistications are to be found in the film (certainly noteworthy and unusual, the carryover of real classical music, here Beethoven, from a scene where it is diegetic, being played by a symphony on-camera, to overlaying the drama of the following scenes as soundtrack music), but enumerating them probably won’t express the film’s lovingly insular, fated romantic atmosphere. Gustaf Gründgens, in a mostly silent role as the justly angry Baron is particularly spectacular; a quote from an IMDb reviewer is too good to not end this post on: “he is acting mainly only with looks, with stringent, frigid looks, that whoosh across the room like bullets.” Indeed, and Schneider’s looks of love, ones so potent that they can only foreshadow the dedication of such a pure lover, foreshadow actions that, like in a Frank Borzage film, will hopefully unite lovers wrested apart by the outside world.
Liebelei Jesús Cortés from Senses of Cinema, March 2006
A comedy of errors in which a young man must seemingly sin to find salvation, his greatest happiness and profit. Peter Frank can inherit his winemaker uncle's estate only if he refrains from drinking for a whole month...and finds a way to end longterm competion with another company. A series of accidents and surprise twists bring Peter and the lovely Gina together, and in order to prove his selfless affection, the prospective heir imbibes the forbidden wine. But, as is often true in Ophuls' world, breaking socio-economic rules may not mark the end of the world--but rather the winning of a new one.
To Max Ophüls this was an assignment (from the
Having Ophüls in mind the film can also be considered a celebration of happy-go-lucky life: contrasted are those who live an easy going, wine and dine life with those whose narrow-minded life is based on punctuality and mineral water. Maybe that is why the film was banned in 1937: it was considered a film that could endanger public order and national-socialist feelings.
Good cast with Heinz Rühmann who shows his natural comic talent at best and Max Adalbert who is very good as the grumpy uncle; supporting cast good as well. Chauvinism makes me want to point out Lien Deyers (as Gina), a fine, charming and attractive actress from The Netherlands who had a successful career in German cinema.
Lien Deyers, the charming Dutch screen actress favorably known by patrons of German-language films here, is the animated centre of attraction in "Lachende Erben" ("Laughing Heirs"), a highly entertaining comedy now at the Seventy-ninth Street Theatre.
As the action of this picture is concerned with the fate of the
estate of a famous wine grower in the
The actors are all excellent, the photography and sound
reproduction are clear, the music and jokes are pleasing and the views of the
Time Out review Tony Rayns
Ophuls' only Italian film, in which once again his subject is female sexuality - as a 'danger' or threat, as a source of beauty, as a marketable commodity. The film star Gaby Doriot (Miranda) attempts suicide, and under anaesthetic she recalls the events that shaped her life. Commerce, industry and high finance are viewed with sharp irony throughout, but the melodrama centres on a seductive ambiguity: is Gaby a victim of those around her, or their willing accomplice? As ever, Ophuls' highly mobile camera shows rather than tells, emotionally sensitising all it lights upon.
Max Ophuls made this melodrama in Italy in 1934, following his flight from Germany. With its large-scale, operatic effects and aggressively experimental style, it is clearly a young man's film, yet contains more of the mature Ophuls than any early work of his I have seen: the elaborate flashback structure employed to tell this tale of a movie star's romantic entanglements anticipates Lola Montes, and the cold, static beauty of lead actress Isa Miranda suggests the sublime emptiness of Danielle Darrieux' Madame de. Ophuls's camera glides and glides, as it always would, yet at this early point the camera movements don't have quite the emotional refinement they would acquire later on. Technique, in Ophuls's case, seems to precede specific meaning, but the emotional outlines are clear.
Adapted from a then-popular novel by Salvatore Gotta, LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI (EVERYBODY'S LADY) weaves--as Andrew Sarris notes, by means of "intricate flashbacks and symbolic ellipses"--the eventful lifestory of movie star Gaby Doriot (Isa Miranda), triumphant as a performer, personally despairing. Triggered by a suicide attempt and subsequent emergency treatment, we are propelled into the actress' past history / memory to re-experience with her the (almost musical) patterns of narcissism, love and heartbreak that have brought her to the present sad state of affairs. LA SIGNORA, says Sarris, "rises to the heights of tragic self-realization so typical of the greatest Ophulsian heroines; and Miranda's Gaby Doriot is indeed one of the greatest of these tragic creatures." It certainly prefigures--in form and content--Ophuls' masterpiece LOLA MONTÈS.
Truly an extended exercise in soap opera, La Signora Di Tutti tells the tale of Gaby, the daughter of a military man who has lived a life of scandal before becoming a successful movie actress. Her life story is told through flashback as she undergoes medical treatment for a suicide attempt that has taken place before her big comeback tour.
Typically, Ophuls is very visual, with the early medical scenes taking on an almost sci-fi feel, however, the film quality and camera work show their age and the clever touches Ophuls brings to his later work barely feature, though he uses as many novelty cutting techniques as he can (fading in and out of shots is a particular favourite of his here).
The story is true hokum... our poor heroine finds that men simply keep falling in love with her, with destructive consequences.
The main portion of the film is dedicated to showing how each member of a family falls for her starting with the intoxication of the son, but gradually affecting both his mother and father as well. Yup... it's all very torrid stuff with Isa Miranda looking beautiful, slightly bewildered and not a little dangerous in the lead role.
Not the greatest of the director's work this is one for romantics and fans of tragic love affairs.
La Signora di tutti (1934), a film Max Ophüls made in
Strangely enough, it is not Ophüls’ extreme stylization that has this awkward result. It is a marvel to see this early Ophüls and realize his audacious camerawork and ornate set design was already apparent in 1934! His techniques here includes but are not limited to: long takes, long tracking shots, single-take sequences, 360-degree camera panning, shot/reverse-shot cutting through dissolves, triple cross fades (a shot dissolving into a second which dissolves into a third, meaning three separate moving images overlapping at the same time), and, perhaps most impressively, a shot/reverse-shot conversation that takes place between a man driving a moving car and Gaby rowing a moving boat! Ophüls really gives precedence to the ability of the camera; to first and foremost let it, through movement, express impressionistically a kind of combination of emotion and subjectivity. It is this latter quality that is perhaps most important, as Gaby, like Joan Fontaine’s character in Letter to an Unknown Woman may be qualified not only as a bit mad but also more than a little responsible for her own elaborate downfall, and therefore the moving camera helps explain a psychology that the drama does not.
And this drama does not. Rarely have I seen a film that feels so much contempt for linking things together, linking in terms of everything ranging from how one scene or event leads into the next to how one character changes from shot to shot. Isa Miranda, as the ill-fated heroine who seems to attract scandal like a magnet, and who also delivers one of the most supremely mediocre on-screen performances I have ever seen, seems to simply be fed lines culled from whatever dime-store romance was laying around the set that day. The movie literally goes from a scene where she denies a kiss to the old husband of the infirmed rich woman Gaby has befriended and been taken in by, to admitting (with no between scene or transition of mind or emotion) that she loves and desires to run away with him! The whole film is built on sudden, unexplained changes like this. And as interesting as it is to have a questionably intelligent/sane narrator combined with a curious framing device (flashback while under the knife!), neither the actress nor the script nor even the direction is strong enough to use these discrepancies or point them somewhere, as Ophüls so successfully does in later films.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
Colette collaborated on DIVINE's script, in which a country girl
(Simone Berriau) finds work as a chorus girl in
An uncharacteristically flawed film from La Ronde maestro Max Ophüls. A naïve country girl takes centre stage in a seedy theatre in Paris, only to be horrified by the sexual demands put on her. While her unwitting involvement in the cast's drug dealing never rings true, her romance with a milkman convinces and brings some much-needed humour and pace into the somewhat directionless plot. Overall Ophüls seems too entranced by his seedy settings to pay his usually close attention to the plot. The surprise ending will shock fans of his work, and while it may be initially gratifying, on reflection it just adds to the overall disappointment.
iofilm review Lee
WITH just two prints still in existence this is a rarely seen early work of Ophuls. It's a forgettable look at a woman out of synch with the world around her.
Simone Berriau is the simple country girl who is encouraged to go
It has none of the stunning images of La Signora di Tutti (made a year earlier) to help lift it from the realms of cheap melodrama. The screenplay, written by French author Colette, contains some surprising subjects for the time but still the whole thing seems very jaded.
Ophuls echoed his compositions of pianist Alexander Brailowsky in this performance short whenever Stefan (Louis Jourdan) played piano in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN a decade later.
Antoine's source play was called The Enemy, but the tenderness is all Ophuls'. Three ghosts who were put in their graves by their 'enemy' (Berriau) foregather at the wedding of her daughter - to reminisce and to see that history doesn't repeat itself. This is quintessential Ophuls: catastrophes of the affections viewed warmly, ironically and non-judgmentally; the preoccupation with time; the speed and fluency of the storytelling. Small-scale (by Ophuls' standards) perfection.
This rarely seen comic fantasy is set in Ophulsian motion by a mother's thwarting of her daughter's elopement with the man she loves. The girl (Simone Berriau) is then buried in a marriage made for financial security. When her daughter (Jacqueline Daix) grows up, it looks as though she will be the third generation to opt for money over love. But the spirits of three men who died--in one way or another--for love of her mother, their "tender enemy," make a trip back to earth in the nick of time, to warn her off such a sad destiny by showing her, in flashback, her trapped mother's experiences and to introduce her to "the right man." Ophuls adapted this lovely roundelay of mothers, lovers, and "ectoplasms" from a rather nasty play by André-Paul Antoine."Funny, stylish, cynical, THE TENDER ENEMY has a certain downscale strangeness--the ghosts are wrapped in cellophane, and the flashbacks are staged against spare, stylized sets floating in washes of dappled light." -- Magill's Survey of Cinema
Ophuls' second contribution to a series entitled "Music and Cinema," which included works by a number of well-known directors. Ophuls' shorts were photographed by Franz Planer.
Ophuls' only Dutch film follows the extremely complex adventures
of a bank clerk named Brand who loses and ultimately rediscovers a large
deposit. An original story, KOMEDIE is the director's most
"Brechtian" film in its use of a master of ceremonies or directorial
alter ego who tells the tale of money that moves the world: "Money which
is mute, which straightens what's bent, which is worshipped, which he desired
until it taught him to despise it...." It's not a great stretch to see
Komedie's currency as an early version of THE EARRINGS OF
A minor film from Max Ophuls, but minor Ophuls still has so much filmmaking energy that it makes even the major work of figures like Spielberg and De Palma shrink to virtual nothingness. Ophuls was effectively imported to Holland to make this 1936 feature and thereby beef up the lackluster Dutch film industry. Based on an original Ophuls story (and coscripted by Walter Schlee, Alex de Haan, and Christine van Meeteren) and featuring songs and commentary from a neo-Brechtian clown who stands outside the plot, the film describes the misadventures of a bank courier (Herman Bouber) who is robbed of bank funds and fired, only to be appointed as head of a finance company by crooked businessmen who believe that he has the stolen money. Rather light and on the cutesy side as narrative, this comedy is worth seeing mainly for the inventive mise en scene (with the great Eugen Schufftan as cinematographer); it's full of unexpected camera angles and Ophuls's usual delight in camera movement (watch for an especially giddy dream sequence). With Rini Otte and Cor Ruys.
Just before the Sino-Japanese War, the beautiful aristocrat Kohana (Michiko Tanaka) is brought low into geishahood by her parents' bankruptcy and suicide. A coolie who is also a painter (matinee idol Sessue Hayakawa) falls deeply in love with the innocent girl as he transports her to her new home in a brothel. Eventually wooed and symbolically wedded by a Russian naval officer (Pierre-Richard Willm), Kohana remains the heart's desire of her coolie. An Ophulsian Madame Butterfly with moments that anticipate LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.
A variation on Ophuls' film noir THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), NO TOMORROW is the story of a once-respectable woman who re-encounters her first love, now a successful doctor. Reduced to nude-dancing in a sleazy dive, with a son to support, Evelyne (Edwige Feuillère) borrows money at an outrageous interest rate in order to create a facade of respectability--and, it goes without saying, Georges falls in love with her all over again. But how can Evelyne maintain her bourgeois value and save son and "father" from the consequences of her fall?
From Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, Ophuls' version
moves from the 18th to the 19th century, and transforms the dramatic tale of a
doomed young man's loss of his true love (Annie Vernay) to a friend (Jean
Galland) into a romantic tragedy that focusses--in typically Ophulsian
style--on the sorrows of the woman the poet Werther (Pierre-Richard Willm)
cannot seduce away from her strait-laced judge-fiancé. In
"One of the finest and most misunderstood of all Ophuls'
films," according to Robin Wood,
THE EXILE is the one swashbuckler in the history of that robust genre that demands to be called exquisite. Or Dutch: it's a fictional account of Prince Charles Stuart hiding out in Holland, evading pesky Roundhead spies and genteelly romancing a lovely innkeeper (Paule Croset / Paula Corday) while waiting to be restored to the English throne. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who wrote the script and produced as well as giving a droll stellar performance, set the capstone on his enterprise by hiring Ophuls (restyled Opuls for U.S. consumption) to direct. The results are variously delicate, cosmopolitan, and finally ecstatic as Max and Doug have a field day staging an epic swordfight up and down sundry windmills. With Henry Daniell a superb Cromwellian death's-head, plus Nigel Bruce, Robert Coote, and oh yes, Maria Montez!
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., wrote, produced, and starred in this Anglophilic imagining (based on Cosmo Hamilton’s novel His Majesty, the King) of king Charles Stuart II’s life in exile before the Restoration in 1660. The plot focuses primarily on Stuart’s (fictional) romance with a Dutch girl (Corday), and, ultimately, his dilemma over whether to maintain his blissful working class existence with her, or return to the throne of England to serve his “larger” purpose in life. In the meantime, the indomitable Charles is pursued by Oliver Cromwell’s supporters (embodied primarily by the bloodthirsty character of black-hatted Colonel Ingram — a perfectly cast Henry Daniell), and must persuade Corday that a former flame (Maria Montez) no longer holds any sway over his heart. [Montez is simply delightful -- and typically over-the-top -- in her few shorts scenes midway through the film.] Fortunately, director Max Ophuls (in his first American production) adds his inimitable touch to the proceedings, elevating what would otherwise be a mundane historical drama into something slightly more involving; by the end of the film, we can’t help caring about Charles and the fate of his country.
One Response to “Exile, The (1947)”
writer93_99, on January 19th, 2009 at 9:13 pm Said:
Agreed, not a must - but certainly an engaging introduction to the work of director Ophuls, whose most famous films trailed this one. As stated, this is a much better work with Ophuls (and esp. his sweeping camera) at the helm. Without him, it would have the look and feel of a number of respectable but dull historical biopics. I can’t say ‘The Exile’ itself would have been “mundane” without Ophuls directing, but it would certainly be a lesser film.
The film sports a fine cast overall. Corday is rather pleasant
throughout, but the more memorable turns are handed in by Nigel Bruce, the
deliciously vile Daniell and, of course, Ms. Montez. La Montez actually seems
to exit the film about four or five times - and the feeling is that she can’t
quite bring herself to leave the screen and has asked
This is definitely one that TCM should (re?-) discover and make available to ffs. Not wildly memorable perhaps but, as stated, worth a look.
The Exile Robert Keser from Senses of Cinema, March 2006
Time Out review Tony Rayns
Of all the cinema's fables of doomed love, none is more piercing than this. Fontaine nurses an undeclared childhood crush on her next-door neighbour, a concert pianist (Jourdan); much later, he adds her to his long list of conquests, makes her pregnant - and forgets all about her. Ophüls' endlessly elaborate camera movements, forever circling the characters or co-opting them into larger designs, expose the impasse with hallucinatory clarity: we see how these people see each other and why they are hopelessly, inextricably stuck.
In this paradigm of romantic filmmaking, Joan Fontaine's love for concert pianist Louis Jourdan blossoms when she's just a teenager, and continues to thrive through his seduction and abandonment (of her and an unborn child). Out of this familiar storyline Ophuls delivers a remarkable heroine so spiritually self-sufficient her adoration takes on a life and power that transcends its unworthy object--Molly Haskell rightly calls Fontaine "a militarist of love." Another "perfect" film, according to David Thomson, who writes that "in its melolodic variations on staircases, carriages, rooms, glances, and meetings, [Letter] is about forgetfulness and the inescapable rhyming of separate times. No one had more sympathy for love than Ophuls, but no one knew so well how lovers remained unknown, strangers."
CINE-FILE: Cine-List - Cine-File.info Ben Sachs
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN deserves to be considered alongside Max Ophuls' final French masterpieces (LA RONDE through LOLA MONTES), with which it shares extended tracking shots, romantic nostalgia for turn-of-the-century Europe, and a profound understanding of human affairs. The film takes its title and structure from a letter received by an aging concert pianist/playboy that recounts a bourgeois girl's lifelong infatuation with him; in an inspired Ophulsian irony, he hardly remembers their one-night fling from years before. In the words of Judy Bloch, "Lisa's life is like the carnival ride that takes the couple, on their only night together, through the countries of Europe, a fantasy of movement that is really a circular stasis, propelled by a bemused pedaler/director." This may be so, but to characterize Ophuls as simply bemused fails to capture the full power of his art: Few filmmakers have been able to suggest such genuine euphoria amidst obvious recreation. (Vincente Minnelli is another.) No matter how compromised Ophuls' characters are revealed to be, the sheer beauty of his form—which can suggest both architecture and choreography—always finds value in their passion.
FilmExposed dvd review Tom Huddleston
Max Ophuls’ Letter From An Unknown Woman is probably the best unrequited love story ever committed to celluloid. It tells the story of Lisa Berndl (Fontaine) and her magnificent obsession with dashing concert pianist Stefan (Jourdan), the true and only love of her life. Told in flashback as a series of confessions scribbled down by the dying Lisa to her unwitting paramour, the film charts her progression from secret admirer to notch on the bedpost, to unwed mother and finally to society dame, always tortured by the memory of her love for Stefan and the knowledge of what might have been.
It’s hard to say which of these characters is the more selfish; Ophuls and his writers spare them no indignity, from Stefan’s creative narcissism to Lisa’s blind, self-flagellating passion. But somehow, they remain loveable, trapped and defenceless like children against the emotional forces which control them. Even when Lisa considers abandoning her kind, supportive husband for one night with the unreliable Stefan, it is her pain we feel, her confusion.
There is perhaps an element of social critique in Ophuls’ depiction of the affair. Avoiding all direct historical reference (despite the political upheavals of the time and place: turn of the century
Visually the film is glorious, Ophuls’ camera gliding and swooning through the sumptuous sets, a shimmering monochrome ballet. The music (by the wonderfully named Daniele Amfitheatrof) is equally majestic, orchestral swells accompanying each emotional crescendo. And the writing is note perfect, Lisa’s profound but dreamlike voiceover serving to heighten yet further the sense of poetic tragedy in which the film is steeped.
Letter From An Unknown Woman is a unique and precious work of art. Emotionally overwrought but still detached and incisive, managing to find sympathy for its characters even in the depths of their grandiose self-absorption. It is a film about pity and longing, beauty and ignorance, a heartbreaking study of regret, an otherworldly missive from a lost era of epic tragedy and romance.
Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948, Max Ophuls, US... Kevin Wilson from Thirty Frames a Second
Max Ophuls' brief sojourn into
Over the next two decades or so, they meet now and again as she pursues Stefan and her dream of them having a life together. He never recognises her, she does of course. His intentions every time seem honourable enough - it's not as if he treats her as a one night stand, but we realise that Stefan is incapable of settling down with any one woman. His and Lisa's motivations are always completely different, and whilst their fates are inextricably linked forever, they can never have what either of them want. He says to her during their first affair; "promise me you won't vanish", to which she responds "I won't be the one who vanishes". It's as if she knows what his behaviour is like and how he treats women and that his promises are hollow, but this doesn't dissuade her at all. Her attraction and feelings overwhelm any common sense.
Lisa fell pregnant after their first fling, and she had since managed to achieve respectability by marrying a man with wealth and status, yet she jeapordises this by conducting another affair with him. The consequences of this were not only her husband's rejection but also her son's death as he contracted typhus when she was with Stefan and he did not reach the doctors in time. This might not directly be a moral judgement on her behaviour and rejection of respectability, but it's interesting how one's sympathies don't directly lie with Lisa and make us totally condemn the irresponsible Stefan. In many ways, they are equally weak-willed and motivated by hopeless dreams. However, their mutual attraction proves ultimately fatal and the final irony is the fact that Stefan's mute servant was aware all along that the girl who Stefan conducted two brief affairs with were in fact the same woman.
Ophuls would further develop his interest in romances determined by fate in 'La Ronde' and 'Madame de...'. His two following
Ophuls Conducting: Music and Musicality in Letter from an Unknown ... Alexander Dhoest from Senses of Cinema, August 2003
Letter from an Unknown Woman Carla Marcantonio from Senses of Cinema, March 2006
Long Pauses Darren Hughes
Letter From an Unknown Woman Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, USA 1948) CeltoSlavica
Eye for Film ("Chris") review [5/5] Chris Docker
Old: Letter From an Unknown Woman JR
Jones from The Reader Blog,
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
A somewhat downbeat and dreary take on the American Dream, filled with a nightmarish pessimism about the corrupting influence of money, and considering when this was made, it’s a prescient comment on the otherwise sunny decade of the 50’s in America, a decade of supposed optimism and promise, an era when Americans pulled themselves out of the doldrums of the post-war trauma of the 40’s and moved to the suburbs, building new lives for themselves and their Baby Boomer children. Clashes between Communism and Capitalism were just beginning, and German director Max Ophüls was driven out of Europe by the Nazi’s, emigrating to the United States where he was fired from his first job by Howard Hughes. This film may be the director’s revenge, taking aim at the huge ego and tyrannical style of Hughes who surrounded himself with Yes men, throwing around directives and always telling others what to do, but leaving himself isolated and alone in the process, much like Charles Foster Kane living alone in his massive estate of Xanadu at the end of CITIZEN KANE (1941). After Kirk Douglas and Ginger Rogers dropped out for what were considered script differences, Robert Ryan and Barbara Bel Geddes were borrowed from RKO to make this picture, where Ryan as international business tycoon Smith Ohlrig (modeled after Hughes) is a ruthlessly impatient man used to getting his way, but also subject to heart ailments when he doesn’t, momentarily turning him into a panicked weakling in desperate need of his life saving emergency medicine. But this is a starring vehicle for Bel Geddes as Leonora, who is seen initially in her cramped apartment paging through magazines, picking out extravagant jewels and minks that in her eyes define success. Saving her money to attend a charm school learning manners and etiquette, her idea of femininity is modeling fur coats in a department store, hoping to catch the eye of a rich millionaire who will sweep her off her feet at the perfume counter. For many women in the 50’s this aptly describes the American Dream, as going to college and choosing a career was never the first option, which always remained finding a wealthy husband.
Despite receiving an invitation to an exclusive party on
Ohlrig’s yacht, Leonora spends most of the day pouting instead of primping,
ending up going at the last minute where she misses the ride, left alone at the
pier waiting in the darkness for someone to pick her up. When a man arrives from the yacht, she asks
for a ride, but he has important business to take care of, but brings her
along, eventually driving her to his mammoth estate on
Making a new life for herself, she finds another small, cramped room and a job as a receptionist for a pair of young doctors serving mostly poor kids, which is where she meets James Mason (in his first American picture) as Dr. Larry Quinada, who hires her, though after a few weeks he questions her disorganization, as her desk is a mess, and she continues to hold onto her idealistic views on marriage, advising women patients in the waiting room on the art of marrying a rich husband, even after discovering what a sham her own life has become. But instead of motivating her to improve her skills and make better choices, Leonora ends up running away in shame, where Ohlrig sweet talks her back to the mansion, but she quickly discovers ulterior motives behind his actions, as he’s already orchestrating her life again as if nothing’s changed. Running back to the good doctor, things improve momentarily, expressed in a dizzyingly choreographed dinner sequence between the two of them as they end up doing the waltz on a crowded dance floor, where Lee Garmes’ camera swoops around walls peering in and out of the rooms, creating an idyllic moment when he asks her to marry him. Complications ensue, however, as she’s already married and pregnant, and neither one to the good doctor, so rather than tell him, she again drops out of sight until the doctor tracks her down, where Mason and Ryan have a mano a mano talk, as Ryan lowers the hammer and sadistically reveals the facts of life. Despite the conservative nature of the times, being cooped up in the mansion of a man who has no interest in her, who in fact openly despises her, does not seem to be the right environment to live or have a baby, especially when she’s met someone who actually cares about her. But in this film, that’s not an option, where instead there’s a contrived ending, where Mason gives a long involved speech to Bel Geddes in the back of an ambulance, an ominous picture of melodramatic destiny and gloom, where one finds freedom and hope in the ultimate tragedy of their lives, pulling success out of failure, which may as well be an answered prayer to “lead us not into temptation (money), but deliver us from evil (corrupted power).”
A key American melodrama: draw a line between Citizen Kane and Written on the Wind, and you'll find Ophuls' noir classic at the heady mid-point. A car-hop Cinderella (Bel Geddes) chases a fashion-plate, charm-school dream; a childishly megalomaniac millionaire (Ryan) marries her to spite his analyst. Ophuls holds back his camera to frame the sour domestic nightmare, but gloriously equates motion with emotion when Bel Geddes takes solace with James Mason's virtuous doctor. The alluring web of hearts and dollars has rarely looked so deadly, and only the studio spared us the sight of the kill.
Variously dubbed a woman's film and a film noir, CAUGHT is an extraordinarily intense examination of a love triangle involving a blonde "nice girl" who dreams of bettering herself (Barbara Bel Geddes); a destructively neurotic, charismatic millionaire (Robert Ryan); and a good doctor with his feet firmly planted on the ground (James Mason). Kin to Madame de's husband (Charles Boyer), Ryan's Smith Ohlrig is a dark coil of complexity. Abusive and neglectful of the woman he truly adores, but mistakes as just another gold-digger, this demon lover's passions run very deep. Ophuls designs each frame and camera movement to express existential / emotional / economic traps and revivifying kinesis. Photographed in strongly contrasting light and shadow by the legendary Lee Garmes.
CINE-FILE: Cine-List Ben Sachs
Max Ophuls made two films with James Mason,
who may have been the director's ideal leading man in
Caught (1949, US, Max Ophuls) Kevin Wilson from Thirty Frames a Second
Recently, I reviewed 'Letter From An Unknown Woman', a superior melodrama which remains probably the best of the four Ophuls films that I have seen. Made just a year after, 'Caught' was Ophuls' first attempt at making a contemporary American film. This too is another melodrama, but one that also acts as a scathing attack on certain American values of the era (materialism, ambition, success). Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes), Caught's heroine starts as a rather shallow young woman about to enter charm/finishing school, with the sole intention of developing the refined habits and behaviour that will snare her a rich, successful husband. She reads fashion magazines, and romantically yearns for the good life. Naturally, her dreams becomes more of a nightmare.
Leonora meets and falls in love with Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), a ruthless businessman with emotional and physical health issues. He's not so keen, but just to spite his psychoanalyst, he marries her regardless. Marriage isn't what Leonora expected it to be. Her charm school education is no use to her now. A man used to winning (who has heart palpitations when his superiority is threatened), Smith humiliates her in front of their friends/colleagues and wants to do his best to ruin her, ruling over her like a tyrant.
Escaping his clutches, she takes a job as a receptionist for the kind and self-sacrificing Dr Quinada (James Mason), and their attraction is mutual. However, when Smith finds her and wants her back (he can't accept losing her), Leonora is torn between the two men. Her yearning for a good life, for wealth, security and status take priority over love, though the crucial aspect is the fact she's pregnant with Smith's child and that Smith threatens a divorce citing adultery, giving him custody of their child, so perhaps Leonora is learning that her shallow ideals aren't what they're cracked up to be. Her eventual freedom is obtained in the most ironic of fashions, though not without a huge degree of tragedy, and what there is resembling a "happy ending" is incredibly subdued.
Like his fellow German, Douglas Sirk, Ophuls utilises the melodrama genre to raise significant and salient points about typically American values, increasingly held by many during a period of economic prosperity. Smith, unrestrained capitalism in human form is a cruel and merciless creature, who can't accept defeat and who must master others. Leonora's desire of Smith's world and her idealised notions of success and wealth display a sense of ambition that becomes her downfall. Only with the compassionate Quinada does Leonora find happiness, which refutes every ideal she previously held, although she struggles to let go of Smith's world. One wonders though, whether like Sirk's films, the satirical angle of 'Caught' was obviously noticed by its audience or whether it was just treated as a domestic nightmare and nothing more. Ophuls, who uses camera movement better and more interestingly than most, uses his technical gifts to show Leonora's world of peril - look at his use of lighting too when Leonora is faced with the moral dilemma of saving Smith's life when he has a heart attack. It would be so easy to let him die so she can be free and the contempt on her face is obvious, but Ophuls rejects such simple plot developments. 'The Reckless Moment' was made the same year, and should be considered together as incredibly pertinent dissections of contemporary American mores.
This film is a nice little melodrama about a marriage that should not have
occurred. Barbara Bel Geddes is a "hostess" who was going to be on a
yacht during a party. She is delayed, and when wondering how to get to the
party she runs into a young man, Robert Ryan. He offers her a ride, and the two
actually have a relaxed good evening together. In fact it turns out to be more
promising than Bel Geddes can hope for. She wants to marry well, and she
discovers that Ryan is a multi-millionaire named Smith Ohlrig. When he proposes
she accepts. Lucky girl? Not quite.
Ryan is one of those fascinating actors who was good enough to handle the juiciest villains and the most compelling of sympathetic types. The same year as CAUGHT he made THE SET-UP, as a boxer in decline, who unwittingly double-crosses a mobster by winning a fight he should have thrown. In future films he would threaten Spencer Tracy in BAD DAY AT BLACKROCK, would by Ty-Ty the deluded farmer and gold seeker in GOD'S LITTLE ACRE, and would be Claggart, BILLY BUDD's evil victim. It was quite a remarkable career. Most people remember his brooding villains more than his good guys. Curiously enough, in real life he was not the clone of his anti-Semitic murderer in CROSSFIRE but a lifelong fighter for civil liberties. He also was a man with a sense of humor. When warned about black listing for his liberalism he laughed and dismissed it, suggesting that J.Edgar Hoover would not go after him - Ryan pointed out he was a good Roman Catholic and a war hero.
Ohlrig has a psychosis that makes him go after anything that initially he can't get. If he doesn't get it he has panic attacks where he collapses and can barely breath. Initially Bel Geddes rejects him, but he perseveres and she makes the mistake of saying yes. Once he has her he treats her like an adjunct to his various properties and corporations. She does break away for awhile, aided by her new romance (James Mason), but she weakens because she finds herself pregnant. Ohlrig now has her and her child in his sights as his property.
If the film was one sided (as my synopsis suggests) it would not quite as good as it is. Ryan does show other points about Ohlrig. He is showing a film of a business project to some of his executives at his mansion, and Bel Geddes is bored. She makes no effort to take an interest in the film - and Ryan pointedly lectures her that if she would just be quiet and watch she might learn something. Although such moments are rarely revealed in the script, it does suggest that a bit more work by Bel Geddes might have made the relationship somewhat more tolerable.
The film conclusion has been somewhat dismissed as too pat. Trapped by her husband's wealth and power, Bel Geddes is left as a weak, pathetic type, pregnant but non-comprehending what is around her. But Ryan has an argument with his factotum, played by Curt Bois. Bois has been a sleazy underling - quite slick and greasy in his rapid patter speech (with "darling" frequently thrown out towards Bel Geddes to get her to do what Ohlrig wants to do). But Ryan basically insults the man for no good reason. Bois suddenly turns on him in a quiet and effective manner. He says that he thinks he'd prefer returning to his old job as a maitre-d at a restaurant than continue working for Ryan. He also says that no matter what Ryan can do, he'll never win Bel Geddes' affections. It is this blow to Ryan's psyche that leads to his final collapse at the close of the film, and to Bel Geddes' release from the marriage she should have avoided.
Caught - Turner Classic Movies Felicia Feaster
Lonelyheart on Notebook | MUBI Daniel Kasman on Robert Ryan
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
Caught (Max Ophüls, USA 1948) CeltoSlavica
The New Yorker [Pauline Kael] (pdf format)
The Ottawa Citizen [C.E.C.] (pdf format)
Chicago Reader Dave Kehr
This 1949 melodrama from Max Ophuls's postwar
Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) valiantly tries to help her daughter
(Geraldine Brooks) get out of a blackmailing scheme perpetrated by her slimy
boyfriend (Sheppard Strudwick), before things go from very bad to absolute
worst. Suddenly, a dark angel arrives in the person of James Mason's Martin
Donnelly, one of the moodiest and most perfectly controlled performances of
this magnificent actor's career. One of the many excellent films produced by
Bennett's husband Walter Wanger, The Reckless Moment began life as a Jean
Renoir project, and its story has some of the feel of his late-30s work. In
what may be his most underrated film, Ophuls concentrated on the sad, oddly
romantic interaction between Mason and Bennett, and offered just as controlled
and moving a vision of suppressed emotion as distinguished his European work,
with a pitch-perfect rendering of southern
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
Having concealed her daughter's accidental killing of her seedy older lover, upper middle class housewife Bennett finds herself being blackmailed by a loan shark; fortunately for her, the man he sends - small-time crook and loner Mason - becomes infatuated with Bennett, and ends up killling his partner. Ophüls' noir melodrama, like his previous film, Caught, can be seen as a subtle, subversive critique of American ambitions and class-structures: in committing the moral and legal transgression of concealing a corpse, Bennett is merely protecting the comfort and respectability of her family life, and the irony is that Mason's self-sacrifice, made on her behalf, simply serves to preserve the status quo that has relegated him to the role of social outcast. This sense of waste, however, is implied rather than emphasised by Ophüls' elegant, low key direction, which counterpoints the stylisation of Burnett Guffey's shadowy photography with long, mobile takes that stress the everyday reality of the milieu. A marvellous, tantalising thriller, it also features never-better performances from Mason and Bennett.
FilmExposed dvd review Tom Huddleston
When the opening titles credit a film as adapted from a short
story in the Woman’s Home Journal, you know you’re onto a good thing. The
Reckless Moment doesn’t disappoint. Max Ophuls’ last American film is a
women’s picture in the grand tradition of Mildred Pierce (1945) - dark
edged and melodramatic, and dripping with moral ambiguities.
Like Mildred, Lucia Harper (Bennett) is a practical, determined housewife attempting to hold her family together against ever-increasing odds. When her wayward teenage daughter accidentally murders her crooked older lover in the boathouse, Lucia hides the body and attempts to go on with her life. But trouble arrives in the form of Donnelly (Mason), an emotionally vulnerable Irish mobster sent by his superior, the mysterious Nagle, to blackmail the Harper family to the tune of $5000. But while Lucia scrambles to raise the money in her husband’s absence, Donnelly begins to develop powerful feelings for his intended victim.
The power of The Reckless Moment lies in a subtle subversion of established cliché. The plot is straightforward, even predictable, and at first glance, the characters seem much the same: the straight-laced mother, the selfish, petulant daughter and her sleaze ball boyfriend, the scrappy teenage son and grizzled grandfather, the sassy black maid with a heart of gold. But gradually our perceptions begin to shift, as hidden depths are revealed through the characters’ interactions with one another. Donnelly is introduced and immediately feels out of place. He’s placid, reasonable, completely unthreatening, polite and accommodating to Lucia and her family, far from the typical
Lucia and Donnelly’s relationship never develops beyond the platonic. In his introduction, Todd Haynes discusses how the filmmakers took their lead from Brief Encounter (1945), placing emphasis on passionate restraint over torrid bursts of emotion. And it’s an odd relationship. We get the feeling Lucia is quite a bit older than Donnelly, more experienced and capable, a mother figure as much as a lust object. While her feelings for him are born out of gratitude and remorse rather than desire, her dedication to her absentee husband is never called into question.
It is only at the end that Lucia’s icy mask begins to crack, and here Ophuls pulls off his final act of subversion. After doggedly resisting all attempts at support, whether from her family members or from Donnelly himself, Lucia finally accepts the assistance of the black maid Sybil, whose domestic servility is swept away as she assumes the dominant role, watching over Lucia in her hour of need. It’s a fitting end to a strange but moving film, small but perfectly formed, and a welcome rediscovery on DVD.
The Reckless Moment makes an interesting entrant in the postwar ‘suburban threat’ stratum of thrillers. Put simply, the emergence of suburbia and ‘white flight’ from the cities after the war intermingled anxieties that many thrillers were quick to exploit, from as early as Shadow of A Doubt (1943) to Cape Fear (1955) at the extremes, to numerous ‘B’ and ‘A-pictures’ inbetween, especially around the turn of the decade.
The interesting wrinkle The Reckless Moment brings to this strand of thriller is The Absent Male and its corollary of the (in effect) single mother. This being almost the 1950s there must be a father figure, but the husband of Joan Bennett’s Lucia Harper character is never seen nor heard in The Reckless Moment, nor does he exert any influence, as ghosts in the machine sometimes can.
No, this is Lucia’s show, and she proves mighty competent at extricating her
daughter from extortion, throwing the cops off the scent when the family is
threatened by a murder investigation, thwarting blackmail and all the while
keeping three squares on the table for demanding teen son David and his
ineffectual granddad! (By
Without revealing why this is a plot twist, Mason’s gradual melting is the film’s weak link and more convincingly portrayed in the 2001 remake (The Deep End, starring Tilda Swinton – an unusually good contempo Hollywood thriller). Mason’s Martin Donnelly character continually complains to Lucia that the family is smothering her, but the reality is it’s just normal life – the usual static and burr-in-the-saddle stuff without which we feel alone. It’s convincingly portrayed too.
Interestingly we can see a link between the family scenes with their hassles and distractions and the similarly bumpy ride of the street scenes in the tenderloin district into which Lucia must descend later in the picture. The contrast from the fluffy cloud-filled sky of her middle class normalcy to the murky grime of pawnshops and tenements is stark - the different classes even get different weather!
Ophuls (streamlined inexplicably by
A shot that does not call for tracks, Is agony for poor dear Max
Who separated from his dolly, Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
So European is the cinematic grammar and overall look of The Reckless
Moment it is easy to imagine viewing it with subtitles. Like Lubitsch,
Ophuls was, as
Reckless Moment: Max Ophuls' Masterpiece of Middle Class ... Sean Axmaker from Parallax View,
The Reckless Moment (1949, Max Ophuls) Kevin B. Lee from Shooting Down Pictures
For Criticism (Again): Movie Love in the Fifties, by James Harvey book review by William D. Routt for Senses of Cinema, June 2004
DVD Times review Gary Couzens
Noir of the Week Paulcito
The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophüls Cinematic Sojourns, also here: Cinematic Sojourns: The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophüls
Movie Magazine International review Monica Sullivan
THE RECKLESS MOMENT DVD [Max Ophuls] Xploited Cinema
Cinematography of the Holocaust detailed credits
La ronde Don Druker from The Reader
Max Ophuls's witty version (1950) of Arthur Schnitzler's play showing love as a bitterly comic merry-go-round. Going less for the darker feelings in Schnitzler than for the surface gloss, Ophuls displays dazzling technical virtuosity and a cinematic elegance we're not likely to see again. Anton Walbrook acts as master of ceremonies and narrator as one love affair intertwines with another and love's roundabout carries Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, and Jean-Louis Barrault full circle. The movement toward Ophuls's baroque masterpiece Lola Montes is unmistakable. In French with subtitles. 97 min.
Not one of the director's very greatest films on desire (see Letter from an Unknown Woman and Lola Montès for those), Ophüls' circular chain of love and seduction in 19th century Vienna is still irresistible. Embellishing Arthur Schnitzler's text with metaphors that are entirely his own (a carousel; an omniscient/omnipotent narrator/MC, with Walbrook at times actually seen splicing the celluloid stories together; and that perfect expression of the Ophülsian circle, the waltz), Ophüls almost manages to make you forget that the performances in the first half (Signoret, Reggiani, Simon, Gélin, Darrieux, Gravey) are much better than those in the second. And there are more than enough moments of cinematic magic to excuse the occasional longueurs of talkiness.
Even those unfamiliar with Ophuls' oeuvre know this much-imitated
film, adapted from another Schnitzler play and initially banned from the
La Ronde (1950, France, Max Ophuls) Kevin Wilson from Thirty Frames a Second
As alluded to in the previous piece, Ophuls' brief Hollywood career was completed after making 'Caught' and 'The Reckless Moment', but still at his creative peak, he resumed work in France, with 'La Ronde' being the first example of this. Based on 'Reigen', the play for Arthur Schnitzler which was banned for obscenity, a fate the film faced in certain countries, Ophuls weaves a mesmerising tale of a daisy chain of ten sexual partners (e.g. A sleeps with B, B sleeps with C, etc before returning back to A). Although Ophuls remains faithful to the original setting of the play, turn of the 20th century Vienna and scrutinises the sexual mores of society as well as its class differences, the crucial theme of the transmission of syphilis seems if not omitted, then underplayed, although this doesn't really undermine the satire too much.
One of Ophuls' masterstrokes is using the handsome and charismatic Anton Walbrook (most famous for 'The Red Shoes') as the film's narrator and master of ceremonies. An omnipotent presence over the events that unfolds, as well as influencing events to ensure the circle of lovers remains intact, he is the incarnation of our desire to know and dispenses romantic advice; "all are led the same merry dance, when love chooses its victims of chance". He initially sets up the whore with the soldier, then aids the pairing off of each subsequent set of lovers, all to keep the carousel going.
Ophuls shows how sexual impropriety crosses class boundaries; notice how the whore pairs off with both the soldier and the aristocrat, representing two arms of high society. The sole married couple both have affairs - as the husband says "marriage is a perplexing mystery" and perhaps the young gentleman who sleeps with his maid represents a sense of economic exploitation. Using typically elaborate camerawork, never more evident that the opening scene, unbroken for several minutes as it follows Walbrook's introduction and summation of the events at hand, Ophuls pans the camera in circular directions as if to denote the circular nature of the waltz of love. Good natured and whimsical, though no less specific in its observation of sexual attitudes of the time, 'La Ronde' is an enchanting cinematic experience by a film maker clearly on the crest of a wave.
Max Ophuls' "La Ronde" from a 1980's UK perspective. Francis Wyndham from Sight and Sound, Spring 1982
Arthur Schnitzler's attitude to Reigen seems to have been
consistently deprecating. In 1900 he paid for two hundred copies to be
privately published and circulated among his acquaintances, describing it as 'a
series of scenes which are totally unprintable, of no great literary value, but
if disinterred after a couple of hundred years may illuminate aspects of our
culture in a unique way.' Twenty-one years later, when its production in
It was made in
One thing is clear: if Schnitzler at his best was more bitter than sweet, with Ophuls it was the other way round. Schnitzler's original was unromantic, almost brutal in tone: a daisy chain of random couplings in which each sex exploits the other. The pattern of sentimental pretence and duplicity during courtship, followed by post-coital indifference, was repeated with only minor variations through contrasting social spheres, from low life via the opulent bourgeoisie to artistic bohemia. Ophuls' version, half a century later, softened this mischievously bleak study of prosaic promiscuity by approaching it through a haze of poetic nostalgia. His evocation of a never-never Vienna is blatantly stylised; the first shot is of a stage, with candles as footlights; the action remains contentedly studio-bound throughout and the sets have the gauzy, insubstantial look of theatrical backdrops or a once familiar landscape misremembered in a dream. By introducing a new character- the Master of Ceremonies, elegant in evening cloak and tilted opera hat, who sets the merry-go-round tunefully turning - he also introduced an element of determinist fatality not present in the play. The Master of Ceremonies is a figure from expressionist drama, a puppeteer ruthlessly manipulating his dummies while indulgently allowing them an illusion of free will. He is also, it must be admitted, a pretentious cliche- much more so than the broadly characterised 'universal types' of the central drama - and it took an actor with the finesse of Anton Walbrook to prevent him from seeming an irritating bore.
This device also enabled Ophuls to show us a little of what happens to the ten characters outside the two episodes to which each was strictly rationed by Schnitzler. In the process, the intrigue is prettified, becoming a circle of linked love stories rather than a catalogue of copulation or a relay race illustrating the spread of venereal disease. We learn that the soldier, after ditching the maid, falls in love with her too late; we see the husband sadly stood up by the grisette he had seduced with callous caution; and we understand that the grisette has lost her heart to the fickle poet.
Here, Ophuls flirts with sentimentality. Schnitzler's reductionist view of human behaviour, the follies and falsities it is driven to by the erotic itch, may have risked over-simplification and monotony but it was never glib. The notorious rows of dots he used to represent the act of love were tactful rather than arch. In stage productions today, the wretched actors are compelled by current convention to simulate the act, with effects both ludicrous and banal. Ophuls dealt with this problem by various exercises in winsome ingenuity - the most striking being an urbane intervention from the Master of Ceremonies with a reel of celluloid and a pair of censor's scissors. Did all this strike me as coy in 1950? I don't think so - but it does now. As so often in similar cases, one tends to the irrational belief that if anything has changed it is the work rather than oneself.
But such changes are of little importance: the work still dazzles. Ophuls' camera refuses to be restricted by the obvious limits on motion imposed by successive duologues in successive bed-rooms. It roams with the inquisitive abandon and sensuous grace of a cat set free from a basket round the upholstered restaurants, chambres privees, cafe concerts, garconnieres, theatre coulisses and misty riverside alleys which frame the action. The exquisite set and costume designs by George Annenkov do more than decorate: they interpret mood, hint at meaning, betray motive, enhance emotion. If it had no other distinction, the film would survive as an anthology of acting by some of the most brilliant stars of the pre-New Wave French cinema. Has any actress been more delectably sexy than Simone Simon as the maid who seduces (is seduced by?) the 'young master'? No one could equal the delicate glitter of Danielle Darrieux in her two bedroom scenes, with clumsy lover and sanctimonious husband. Given the almost impossible assignment of playing a glamorous ass, Gerard Philipe lives up to his legend. Serge Reggiani, Daniel Gelin, Fernand Gravey, Odette Joyeux... all are consummate. Only Jean-Louis Barrault as the poet embarrasses by caricaturing a philistine's notion of the artistic temperament, and Isa Miranda is not given time to develop her interestingly harsh characterisation of the actress.
Apparently one of their scenes together, in a country inn during a snow storm, was cut by Ophuls from the final print - and its absence, disturbing the crucial symmetry, does make itself felt. (It contains the line 'This is better than acting in stupid plays', which can set a live audience giggling.) It was the first scene he shot, and it was on location. From the rest of the movie, glorying in the artificiality of a studio setting, it must have stood out for Ophuls like a sore thumb, and he reckoned the cost of a little narrative confusion well worth paying for its excision.
La ronde: Vicious Circle Criterion essay by Terrence Rafferty
La Ronde - Film (Movie) Plot and Review - Publications Philip Kemp from Film Reference
Movies Michael Wood from The
Slant Magazine review Dan Callahan
Turner Classic Movies review Sean Axmaker
Prodigal Directors Come Home: Part 2 of 4: Movie info from ... David Parkinson from Film in Focus
La Ronde (Max Opüls, 1950) Gonzolaz from Reading Cinema
La Ronde (1950) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
La Ronde Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review Arthur Lazere
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review Criterion Collection
Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3/5] Criterion Collection
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review Criterion Collection
Paste - DVD Review Andy Beta briefly reviewing 3 Ophüls films
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
Le Plaisir Dave Kehr from The Reader
Max Ophuls's 1951 anthology film (a popular form of the time that has sadly fallen into disuse) collects three short stories by Guy de Maupassant, each dealing with the ideal of “pleasure” in a different context: old age, sex, and sacrifice. On the whole, the film falls below the level of the work that surrounds it, La Ronde and The Earrings of Madame de . . . , but it unmistakably belongs to Ophuls's postwar period, one of the most extraordinary creative peaks in film history. In French with subtitles. 98 min.
Featuring a dream cast--including Claude Dauphin, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Gabin, Pierre Brasseur, Simone Simon, Daniel Gélin, Jean Servais, Gaby Morland, Pierre Brasseur, Madeleine Renaud and Peter Ustinov--LE PLAISIR renders into exquisite Ophulsian cinema three stories by Guy de Maupassant. In the first, "Le Masque," an old man temporarily regains his youth by wearing a magic mask to a ball. In the second, "La Maison Telier," a group of prostitutes embark on an annual country holiday. In the last, a painter who makes his models his mistresses is forced to marry one (Simone Simon) after she cripples herself in a suicide attempt. Each tale is an exhilarating dance, alternating movement and stasis, light and shadow, pleasure and pain.
Ophüls' second French film following his return from the
As with Jean Renoir's "Everyone has their reasons," it's easy to misread Max Ophüls's famous maxim ("Life is movement") and reduce it to a comfy, affirmative aphorism. The Renoir quote is widely accepted as a warm shrug embracing all of humanity's foibles rather than an acknowledgement of the difficult interlocking and relativity of lives, just as Ophüls's statement can suggest the gracefulness of a universe in motion rather than the implacability of life's forward momentum and the transience of emotion. The beauty and Mozartian sense of visual musicality of his work enhance rather than detract from Ophüls's toughness, for, beneath the velvety suavity, the director's worldview could be as bleak, savage even, as those of fellow Teutonic masters Von Stroheim, Lang, Wilder, and Preminger.
Guy de Maupassant's sardonic pen would seem a perfect fit for the director, yet Le Plaisir, Ophüls's adaptation of three of the writer's short stories, both accommodates and questions de Maupassant's cynicism. Often palmed off as a minor work sandwiched between the clarity of theme of La Ronde (which critic Robin Wood correctly tagged a "thesis" work) and the fullness of expression of The Earrings of Madame de…, it's nothing short of brutal when it comes to depicting the human desperation of glittering surfaces. "I could be sitting next to you," the Maupassant-as-narrator (Jean Servais in the original French version, but Peter Ustinov in the English-dubbed version, sounding a lot like Pepe le Pew) announces at the start, yet the tone remains ruthlessly detached, the better to enjoy the human spectacles of vanity, regret, and elusive romance. Ophüls's justly celebrated mise-en-scène is at full throttle in the opening segment, Le Masque, with the camera picking up the swirling beat of a luxuriant 19th-century ball. Amid the festivities, a man decked in tuxedo, top hat, monocle, and mustache, virtually a parody of the dapper gentleman, rushes onto the dance floor to join the quadrille; in one of the most stunning of all tracking shots, Ophüls's camera follows his strenuous pirouettes until the mysterious figure collapses.
The camera movement ranks alongside Hitchcock's blurring of fantasy and reality in Vertigo and Antonioni's magisterial final zoom in The Passenger, though here Ophüls's spiraling track accentuates the character's loss of control, like a puppet getting tangled over his own strings. The fallen dancer is shown to be wearing a mask, and the scissoring of the plaster façade reveals a breathless old man (Jean Galland) trying to fool age and resurrect past glories. If life is movement, stasis is, logically, death, and, as the Doctor (Claude Dauphin) accompanies the old man back to his home, he realizes the price of fantasy etched in the weary face of Gaby Morlay, Galland's earthbound and long-suffering wife, who sees it as her duty to put up with her husband's egotistical flights of fancy. Surely Stanley Kubrick studied Le Plaisir because Le Masque appears to withering effect in Eyes Wide Shut, his own vision of marital discovery, yet Ophüls's touch is far more delicate than either Kubrick's or de Maupassant's, worldly without being jaundiced, and it is typical of his complexity that the adaptation remains faithful to the writer's words while at the same time indicting the male egos in search of pleasure at the cost of a woman's suffering.
Ophüls's sympathy for women corseted within patriarchal grids is
even more evident in the second episode, La Maison Tellier. The
virtuosic crane shot inspecting the outside of a Paris bordello, gliding from
window to window with the Madam (Madeleine Renaud), suggests the missing link
between similar maneuvers in Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise and
though the movement has the subtly constricting effect of surveying a
dollhouse, with the women inside not only objects of pleasure for the male
customers, but also objects of contemplation for the audience. Ophüls slyly
hints that gender exploitation has become so ingrained into society that the
cathouse is essential to keeping stability; on the Saturday night that the
doors are closed, fights break out among men as the respectable pillars of
society line up by the shore to bitch and moan. It's the first Communion of
Madam's niece, so the jolly hookers take the day off to visit her family on the
countryside. The pastoral vistas away from the city make this the most
Renoirian of the episodes, a connection further clinched by the casting of Jean
Gabin as Renaud's earthy-peasant brother, whose daughter's church ceremony the
next day doesn't keep him from taking an interest on one of the girls, Danielle
Again, Ophüls's own view differs from de Maupassant's, who went out of his way to depict the women as coarsely and stupidly as he could, staging their encounters with the rural community for derisive divisiveness. By contrast, Ophüls visualizes their presence in church as a profound mingling of the sacred and the profane, and his camera takes transcendental flight, literally. Diagonal tilts follow the beams of light, lyricizing the physical distance between religious statuary and human attendees, between spectacle and audience, and, most importantly, between an image seen and an emotion felt. Contemplating their own lost innocence, the women give in to the waves of feeling, spiritual rupture is evoked via pure motion, and a sublime 360° pan brings it all together into emotional community.
Back out in the fields, they savor one last meal before having to return to town, until Gabin makes a wine-fueled pass at Darrieux and brings things to a halt. Still, Gabin is the most sympathetic of the director's male characters, his lechery an open and ultimately good-hearted impulse, free from the hypocritical sheen of the city men who visit the Madam's gals while professing moral superiority—indeed, one of the movie's most affecting shots follows Gabin's lonely ride home after dropping the women at the train station. The crane movement is reprised to close the segment, again inspecting the bordello's windows, only this time the activities inside can only be seen through semi-closed shutters, another view of whirling pleasure that, for all the merriness, can only scream entrapment.
It is typical of the misunderstanding of the director's gaiety that this episode was shuffled around to close the English-narrated version of the film, the concluding twirl around the house sold as a happy ending. Ophüls's original format, capped by the third segment, Le Modèle, is necessary for the crystallization of the previous themes, and for the final dissection of the nature of pleasure. The briefest of the episodes, it is also the most lacerating. "Possession is always followed by the disgust of familiarity"—it could be Peter Coyote talking in Polanski's Bitter Moon, only it's Jean Servais, the narrator, finally given human shape as the jaded friend of painter Daniel Gélin. The model of the title is Simone Simon, who first meets and captivates Gélin in an art gallery, a site of frozen beauty. "I adore your movements," he tells her, yet even in their first moments together he is happiest when molding her into poses for his canvas, immobilizing her into objects of visual plaisir. His colleague's dictum is promptly honored, and Gélin soon grows bored and aloof with Simon—the early, exhilarating lateral pan right in the night of the exposition is reversed, harrowingly, to the left later on as the trajectory of a domestic row, capped by the couple's shattering of their own reflections in a mirror.
Le Plaisir illustrates not merely Ophüls's unparalleled sense of flow and texture, but also his proto-feminism. His later films often take a male narrator, and, as noted Douglas Pye noted in a Senses of Cinema article, the film spends considerable time, through visuals, contradicting the all-controlling patriarchal voice. When Servais speaks of feminine "directness of sentiment," he (and, therefore, de Maupassant) means it condescendingly as inferior to male rationality, for women are meant to be seen rather than heard, felt up rather than felt. That Simon refuses to be discarded by her lover's wandering interest points to the film's structure of awareness of and rebellion against the controlling gaze, the last progression from the passivity of the wife in the first episode and the spiritual epiphanies of the women-for-rental in the second episode. No longer kept in rigid poses, the model is dumped unceremoniously by the artist—bursting into Gélin's atelier, Simon is goaded into jumping out the window, and, for the only time in the film, Ophüls's camera shifts into point-of-view for the swan dive. Both legs broken, she forces Gélin into marriage, a grotesque victory that, paradoxically, seals her freedom. In a society built on the oppression of a gender, where pleasure is not only ephemeral but one-sided, Ophüls says, female assertion can only erupt through such dreadful acts of revolt. "Life is movement," but, as the narrator can only conclude, "Happiness is no lark."
Le plaisir: Life Is Movement Criterion essay by Robin Wood
Le plaisir (Max Ophüls, 1952) Gonzolaz from Reading Cinema
Le Plaisir (1952) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
VideoVista review Lucinda Ireson from Second Sight
Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/5] Criterion Collection
DVD Talk (Jeffrey Kauffman) dvd review [5/5] Criterion Collection
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review Criterion Collection
Metroactive.com [Michael S. Gant] Criterion Collection
Epinions DVD review [Stephen O. Murray] Criterion Collection
FilmExposed dvd review Matt Kelly
Turner Classic Movies review Michael T. Toole on Peter Ustinov
Paste - DVD Review Andy Beta briefly reviewing 3 Ophüls films
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
aka: Madame De…
Madame de... Dave Kehr
Certainly one of the crowning achievements in film. Max Ophüls's gliding camera follows Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer, and Vittorio De Sica through a circle of flirtation, passion, and disappointment, a tour that embraces both sophisticated comedy and high tragedy. Ophüls's camera style is famous for its physicalization of time, in which every fleeting moment is recorded and made palpable by the ceaseless tracking shots, yet his delineation of space is also sublime and highly charged: no director has better understood the emotional territory that exists offscreen.
As the earrings of Madame de... take a treacherous route from one owner to the next, an entire world comes to life, the world of the French aristocracy during the Belle Èpoque, particularly the interior world shared by Madame de... (Danielle Darrieux), her rigid husband (Charles Boyer) and her soft, charming lover (Vittorio de Sica). Max Ophuls' masterpiece, easily one of the greatest films ever made, has all the trappings of romantic cinema, but its fluid camera takes us beyond the film's glittering surfaces ("only superficially superficial," as Boyer so aptly puts it) to the raw feelings surging beneath--and ultimately into the spiritually redemptive territory of grand passion. Darrieux, Boyer and de Sica did their greatest work in this towering film. "Perfection." -- Pauline Kael.
Ophüls' penultimate film, indulging a characteristically tender irony in its adaptation of Louise de Vilmorin's novel, is - even by his standards - exceptionally elegant in its rendering of its fin de siècle Paris milieu of ballrooms, the opera, and dashing young military officers paying their attentions to the unnamed heroine (Darrieux) of the title. The story concerns this beautiful woman's adulterous affair with an Italian diplomat (De Sica), with a pair of earrings playing an implausible and extraordinary role in their relationship. What is particularly brilliant about the film is the way Ophüls constantly draws attention to this improbable plot device, to allow a distanced and unmoralistic meditation on actions and their consequences. Also fine is the sumptuous decor, photographed in superb monochrome, and there is a particularly good performance from Boyer as the discreet 'wronged' husband.
Max Ophuls (1902–57) is the auteurist's auteur. A director whose distinctive visual style and sustaining interests dominate movies he made in five countries and in as many languages, Ophuls epitomizes a particular worldview. Even as his long, intricately choreographed takes made the flow of time into something material, so his movies were often meditations on an irretrievable past.
The scion of a German-Jewish dry goods business, Ophuls (né Oppenheimer) defied his family to become first an actor and then a stage director in Vienna; although he began his movie career in Weimar, Germany and worked most prolifically in France and the U.S., Ophuls is the most Viennese of filmmakers. He taught the camera to waltz, often through a 19th-century city that, no matter its name, seems a glittering simulation of the Hapsburg capital.
The Earrings of Madame De . . . (1953), showing in a
sparkling new 35mm print for two weeks at Film Forum, is quintessential Ophuls.
Virtually every shot is a dolly and, although made in
Having overspent her allowance, the Comtesse Louise de . . .
(we're never given her family name) decides to sell the diamond earrings that
husband General Andre de . . . (Charles Boyer) gave her as a wedding
present—and thereby hangs the tale. Over the course of the movie, the jewels
pass back and forth between the characters, their value rising according to the
emotional meaning invested in them. Louise pretends to have lost them at the
opera; unbeknownst to her, the earrings find their way back to the general who
regifts them to his departing mistress who, losing at roulette, pawns them in
The circulation of these diamonds recalls La Ronde (1950), Ophuls's cause-célébre adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's play, in which a case of syphilis is passed from lover to lover. Simultaneously embodying precise social relations and priceless sentiment, the earrings equally suggest a Marxist riff on the nature of desire. (That the movie's English-language distributor added "earrings" to the movie's original title, Madame De . . . , has served to force such readings.) Last seen, however, the earrings have come to signify Louise herself.
Has there ever been so shallow a character whose fate is so tragic? Playing opposite two aging matinee idols, Darrieux is a natural coquette—not above strategic fainting spells—and undeniably lovely. With her upswept hair, bare shoulders, and impeccable posture, she blossoms from her gown like a single tulip in an Art Nouveau vase. Ophuls famously directed Darrieux to "incarnate a void," and one of the movie's great shots makes this literal (and also emphatic as, rather than moving his camera, Ophuls employs the motion of an object within the frame). As Louise goes on a trip, her train pulls out of the station, leaving the general, who has just seen her off, standing in a misty emptiness.
These characters have manners beyond mannerism. Almost every line has a double or even opposite meaning. When she's with the baron, Louise several times repeats, "I don't love you, I don't love you." But, as she actually does, he will cease to believe her. Vacuous as she is, Louise is always acting except when an unexpected surplus of emotion cues us that she isn't. Late in the day, the general tells her that he has always resented the role in which she cast him. Desperate to regain her love, he presents her once more with the earrings, only to discover that she has never loved him.
On one hand, Madame De . . . is all surface and style; on the other, it conveys real loss. The three principals ultimately drown in the giddy whirlpool of Ophuls's inexorable tracking shots. When the general tells Louise that their marriage is "only superficially superficial," he might be speaking about the movie and, indeed, Ophuls's entire oeuvre. Although the filmmaker is romantic enough to match cut from a flurry of torn love letters to the falling snow, the subtlety of other gestures seems more characteristic of Japanese than Western cinema. And the displacements are kabuki: Whether or not Louise and the baron ever consummate their love, their feelings are made amply (even shockingly) apparent at the two balls where they swoon in each other's arms as if they were the only people in the room.
Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris didn't agree on much but they did
find common ground when it came to The Earrings of Madame De . . . .
Writing in a small literary magazine in 1961, Kael used the word
"perfection" to characterize Ophuls's refined sensibility. And, some
15 years later, Sarris called Madame De . . . his candidate for
"the greatest film of all time." The greatness of Ophuls's official
masterpiece is that one can appreciate these sentiments even if one doesn't
necessarily share them. Much as I admire Madame De . . ., I prefer
Ophuls flawed: His mangled
The Earrings of Madame de . . . :The Cost of Living Criterion essay claiming greatest film of all time by Molly Haskell, wife of Andrew Sarris
Film of All Time: Ophüls’ Madame de … Is Coming Back to Town Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer,
Andrew Sarris & Lola Montès: A Brief History Film Forum, where Sarris also claims Lola Montès is the greatest film of all time (pdf)
"... Only Superficially Superficial": The Tragedy of ... Adrian Danks from Senses of Cinema, February 2003
Malcolm's Century of Films Max Ophuls:
Madame De, by Derek Malcom from The
MDEarringsMmede Movie Diva
“The Earrings of Madame de…” Sean
Axmaker from Parallax View,
Next Door [Steven Boone]
Madame de... (1953) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
stylusmagazine.com review David Pratt-Robson
Madame de... (Max Ophüls, 1953) Gonzolaz from Reading Cinema
Maneuver: The Earrings of Madame De... :: Stop Smiling ... James Hughes from Stop Smiling magazine,
Film Notes -The Earrings of Madame De. . . Kevin Hagopian from the NY State Writer’s Institute
Madame de... Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
VideoVista review Lucinda Ireson from Second Sight
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review Criterion Collection
The QNetwork [James Kendrick] Criterion Collection
Epinions DVD review [Stephen O. Murray] Criterion Collection
Nick's Flick Picks - Capsule Review Nick Davis
FilmExposed dvd review Matt Kelly
The New Yorker [Anthony Lane] capsule review
Paste - DVD Review Andy Beta briefly reviewing 3 Ophüls films
The Earrings of Madame de... Reviews Janus Films web page
Madame de... (Directors Suite) (1953) MichaelDVD
Max Ophüls, The
Earrings of Madame de... - Film - New York Times Dave Kehr from The New York Times,
DVDBeaver dvd review Gary W. Tooze
When this masterpiece opened, police had to be called to put down riots, so confused and enraged were those who first watched it. In 1963, Andrew Sarris dubbed LOLA the greatest film ever made--and it's surely an arguable position! Ophuls' exhilaratingly composed screen--in color and CinemaScope--magnifies the story of legendary courtesan Lola Montès (Martine Carol). Long after her larger-than-life romances with aging King Ludwig (Anton Walbrook), Liszt, and a handsome young student (Oskar Werner), Montès is reduced to a circus display, with ringmaster Peter Ustinov acting as a director who both exploits and adores his "muse.": The tabula rasa of Martine's mannequin-like face and the turntable vignettes of her rich past are the stuff from which movie magic is somehow unreeled. In the inexorable circularity of Ophuls' mise-en-scène lies both the tragedy and transcendence of human existence: he makes you believe that art and style make timebound mortality matter. One of the great examples of the French cinema's provocative bent for identifying Woman with Film.
Time Out Tony Rayns
A biography of the celebrated 19th century adventuress, but not a biography in the conventional sense: the lady's life is chronicled in a highly selective series of flashbacks, framed by scenes in a New Orleans circus where she allows herself to be put on show to a vulgar and impressionable public. The space between her memories and her circus appearance is the distance between romantic dreams and tawdry reality, or between love and the knowledge that love dies. Ophüls conjures that space into life - indeed, makes it the very subject of his film - by means of the most sumptuous stylistic effects imaginable: compositions unmatched in their fluidity, moving-camerawork that blurs the line between motion and emotion. If ever a director 'wrote' with his camera, it was Ophüls, and this still looks like his most sublime work. [Note: Shot in three separate language versions - French, German and English - this was premiered at around 140 minutes, but subsequently much recut. The English version - The Sins of Lola Montes in the US, The Fall of Lola Montes in GB - ran 90 minutes, but is seldom seen now. Prints of the French and German versions currently in circulation are approximately 112 minutes. - Ed].
Agnes Poirier Lola Finally Gets Her Close-Up, from The Guardian,
Marcel Ophüls will always remember the afternoon of
Speaking before a screening at
The producers started re-editing the film behind Max's back. Soon, nothing remained of his complex narrative, or of the powerful soundtrack. Max Ophüls died a year later, and for generations Lola Montès has been known as the "doomed masterpiece".
Now, 53 years on, the film has been restored to its original
glory. At the
Elegantly rendered film of exceptional grace and beauty. From a technical perspective this motion picture can be said to do no wrong. It's one of the first great uses of widescreen and Technicolor. The continual highly choreographed movements required very difficult camera movements - pans, tracks, and tilts often in combination - but are all captured with such agility they seem effortless. The sets are intricately weaved into these shots, foreground and background details not only provide beauty but interact with the characters/shots, regularly yielding new designs. Ophuls was one of the greatest architects, but that strength also has downsides such as the characters coming off as nothing more than puppets. That often plays into Ophuls theme though, his films show external beauty but interior shallowness, a world where no amount of opulence brings happiness. Lola (Martine Carol) is sometimes very independent and outspoken, when she's free, but she's usually a kept woman. We first see her in her lowest state in an exploitational circus act that recounts her past scandals, and through a series of flashbacks we see earlier incarnations where she belonged to men of great power and wealth, even a king. The same ideas are often repeated, but shown from two different perspectives; the circus representing the absurd and the flashbacks the more realistic. Some have claimed there's great psychology here, but that the film is not as captivating as it could have been because of a poor lead performance. To me this is largely a stylistic exercise and Carol is no more or not less than she's asked to be. The problem is the film is designed for her to be another set piece rather than a three dimensional human being that's being explored. Carol's name value was required to get investors to put up the then exorbitant $1.5 million, so maybe if Ophuls had a different actress the film would have been better. Certainly Joan Fontaine delivered a lot more in Letter from an Unknown Woman, but Lola Montes would have had to be a quite different film, and maybe then some of its visual energy and creativity would have been sacrificed.
Even before Andrew Sarris fanned the flames of auteur-theory wars
by proclaiming it to be the greatest film of all time, Lola Montes had
always been an object of controversy. Extravagantly over-budgeted, heavily
edited after hostile French screenings, and released in three different
languages, it was from the start designed as an all-or-nothing gamble, an
attempt to use its novelettish subject as a codex for everything its maker, Max
Ophüls, stood for. As such, the filmmaker's obsessive concerns with the passage
of time and female beauty (and its exploitation) take center stage—literally in
this case, as the story unfurls largely in the three-ring arena of a
19th-century circus. The main attraction at the center of the swarming trapeze
artists and costumed dwarves is the eponymous heroine (Martine Carol), an aging
courtesan whose sole claim of fame, a list of illustrious lovers during her
youthful romps throughout
As sawdust-and-tinsel reenactments of past scandals parade before her, Lola's memories flood the screen. From her early days as an eager ingénue to her flings with Franz Liszt (Will Quadflieg) and King Ludwig of Bavaria (Anton Walbrook), her path is obscured by dreams and romantic impossibilities, visualized by the breaking up of the widescreen with pillars, veils, color filters, nets and frames within frames. It is this romantic drive, however, that helps Lola through her life's many ascensions and declines: A royal mistress turned sideshow freak, she is pelted with tawdry questions and sells kisses for dollars yet regrets none of her decisions as a woman ensnared by the trapdoors of love. "My life is whirling before me," she confides to her assistant between circus acts, and Ophüls's overpowering camerawork, forever tracking, circling and gliding, maps out an existence keyed to the vertiginous highs and lows of emotional fantasies. Her ringmaster-husband (Peter Ustinov) may crack the whip, but it's Lola, contemplating her life from her platform, who, not unlike Simone Simon's spurned model at the end of , defies objectification by remaining true to her feelings even at the edge of the abyss.
A bodice-ripper invested with the profundity of a Stendhal novel, Lola Montes is also, even more than , Ophüls's definite commentary on movie-watching. It's surely no accident that the circus arena, with its opulent chandeliers, choreographed movement and behind-the-scenes clutter, is very transparently a movie set, a self-reflexive contraption which, as Lola sits on a revolving stage and is consumed by the eyes in the dark, seems to both exalt and engulf the heroine. It's here that Martine Carol's lack of charisma in the title role becomes an advantage: Many think she gives the film a hollow center, but I believe her limitations are necessary for a part that crystallizes the audience's own role in the cinematic process, that of projecting their own desire onto celluloid surfaces. is a smoother and more precise valse romantique, but Lola Montes is Ophüls's boldest vision of film as a medium that reveres beauty in order to both nurture and mock dreams. After their own sobering affair with the film, viewers are left to echo Liszt's compliment to Lola: "Thank you for the illusion."
Lola Montès - From the Current Andrew Sarris for Criterion
Proves Prophet With Prodigious <i>Lola Montès</i> | The New ... Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer,
Film of All Time: Ophüls’ Madame de … Is Coming Back to Town Andrew Sarris from The NY Observer,
Andrew Sarris & Lola Montès: A Brief History Film Forum, where Sarris also claims Lola Montès is the greatest film of all time (pdf)
ever” or just eye candy? “Greatest film ever” or a cream cake? Andrew O’Hehir
Lola Montès Rodney Hill from Senses of Cinema, March 2006
Lola Montes Chris Wisniewski from Reverse Shot
DVD Outsider L.K. Weston
The Auteurs Ryland Walker Knight
Angeles Film+TV - Lola Montes: Revered and Reviled, Max Ophuls ... J. Hoberman from LA Weekly,
Lola Montès (1955) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
Nicola Osborne, also seen here from Kinocite: Lola Montes
Lola Montès Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Zone Michael Turvey from Artforum magazine,
Lola Montès 1955 filn notes (pdf format)
• View topic - Lola Montes (Max Ophuls, 1955) Criterion Forum
Sunday 18 Emmanuel Burdeau at Cannes from Cahiers du Cinéma
What Lola Wants : The New Yorker Richard Brody
Cinema is Dope » Movies: Lola Montes (1955) a few photos
LOLA MONTES / Max Ophuls (1955) - Peter Ustinov & Martine Carol ... more extraordinary photos
Excerpt from 1955 essay on Lola Montès François Truffaut essay from Film Forum (pdf format)
Truffaut’s homage to Ophüls and Lola in Shoot the Piano Player Film Forum on YouTube video
Andrew Sarris & Lola Montès: A Brief History Film Forum (pdf)
The Reel Thing XX: Program Abstracts brief restoration info
Article more restoration info
Lola Montez Wikipedia
The Real Lola Montez (pdf format)
The last year (1919-20) in the life of tubercular, alcoholic artist Amedeo Modigliani. Visually it's surprisingly bland - and what's the sense of making a film about a painter in b/w? - but Becker's humanism is unwavering, even when confronting such stereotypes as the rich American philistine or the uncomprehending working man. Creativity is viewed matter of factly, as an affair of sheer hard work. And while the scenes to do with Modigliani's string of selfless, supportive women tend to be repetitive and slightly irritating, they are redeemed by Lilli Palmer's performance as Manchester poet Beatrice Hastings and by the casting of the elegantly elongated Anouk Aimée, the perfect bride for a Modigliani. The project was initiated by Max Ophuls, then taken over by Becker when Ophuls died. The film was attacked by Ophuls' collaborator Henri Jeanson for its alterations to the original scenario, hence the absence of a writing credit.
A transitional film (1958, 108 min.) between the French “tradition of quality” and the New Wave, this slick biopic about the last year or so in the life of the painter Amedeo Modigliani (the title alludes to the bohemian quarter and the year, 1919) is a highly personal effort by one of the idols of the New Wave generation, the neglected Jacques Becker (Casque d'or, Le trou). At once clunky, overproduced, and naive, it's also sincere and moving, in spite of its faults as a statement about the gulf between serious artists and marketers. It's both helped and hindered by its glamorous cast: Gerard Philipe, Anouk Aimee, and Lilli Palmer. Jean-Luc Godard memorably defended this film when it came out by writing, “Everything rings true in this totally false film. Everything is illuminated in this obscure film. For he who leaps into the void owes no explanations to those who watch.” In French with subtitles.
I am convinced that only those people can really appreciate this movie whose
title is either "Modigliani", "Les Amants De Montparnasse"
or "Montparnasse 19", who are aware that the last year of life of the
Italian-French painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) who died with 36 years,
was played by Gérard Philipe, who was lethally sick during the shooting of this
movie and died shortly after its release, 1959, with 36 years - on one of the two
diseases that Modigliano had himself and exactly in his age. Further, this
movie was directed by Jacques Becker - after the sudden death of Max Ophüls.
Becker, too, died only 2 years after this movie. Since it is clear that Philipe
knew that his days were counted and since one can assume that also Becker knew
about his own few remaining months, this movie, suddenly, does not look like
kitsch anymore. I just would like to mention that famous scene, where
"Modi" says: "Jeanne, on the other side, there will be eternal
joy, isn't that so, Jeanne?". Philipe's tears are probably real. In
another famous scene, where Modi is going to be humiliated by an American
billionaire, he quotes Van Gogh: "I have to drink a lot to get that
splendid yellow back that I found last summer". These words could be
Philipe's own words. Fassbinder who dedicated his movie "Despair"
amongst two others to Van Gogh called this phenomenon "A Trip Into The
It is a famous as well as sad fact that his contemporaries put as many obstacles as they could in the way of Jacques Becker, so that he was able to realize only a good dozen of movies. Today, half a century after Becker's death, "Modigliani" is still not available. The only American VHS edition is long out of print, and one pays horrendous prices for a copy. And the worst: not even in
Montparnasse 19 (1958) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
Cinematic biographies of famous artists are not a rare
phenomenon, but few such films manage to evoke the acute sense of despair and
It is a deeply pessimistic but honest film. You can think of so many artists who have suffered a similar fate to Modigliani. His work was shunned and ridiculed during his lifetime, but within hours of his death, the art-dealers were out in force, crawling all over his works. The final scene of this film makes the point very effectively – it is a painfully tragic ending, and one which makes you feel both sad and angry.
The film itself had something of an eventful journey in production. It was originally to have been directed by the legendary director Max Ophüls, but he fell seriously ill and could not continue the project. He suggested that Jacques Becker, another great director, should direct the film in his place. Ophüls himself died just a few days before the film was released.
This is easily one of Becker’s better films. As in his
earlier film, Casque d’or , he manages to recreate the
And who better to play Modigliani than Gérard Philipe? An acting legend in his own lifetime, Philipe was the archetypal modern romantic hero – not the dashing, suave hero in the mould of Jean Marais, but a more human, slightly cynical kind of romantic hero. Watching his performance in this film you might think he was made for the role of Modigliani – it is certainly one of his best screen performances. Christian Matras’ masterful photography captures a real feeling of torment and despair in Philipe’s face – you can tell that the actor had a profound understanding of the artist’s psychology. But what makes his performance so memorable – and so moving – is the knowledge that Gérard Philipe himself died within just a few years of making this film – aged just 37 (in fact, the same age as Modigliani). This gives a disturbing tragic resonance to what is in any event a stirring film.
Strictly Film School review Acquarello
Oplev, Niels Arden
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Män som hatar kvinnor) B+ 91
Another impressive European film that is something of an audience favorite, perhaps this year’s TELL NO ONE (2006), a popular film that hung around all summer long, as both are intelligent, well-acted, and stylish thrillers distributed by Music Box Films that keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The title itself is terrible, and instead translates to MEN WHO HATE WOMEN, which is perhaps too bold, but is much more appropriate to this story, a decades long murder mystery filled with grisly murders balanced against an intriguing, off color love story. The film opens as a top notch journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is being sentenced to 6 months in prison for libel and is immediately whisked away from his family Christmas dinner to meet secretly with a millionaire business tycoon, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) in a remote island location where Vanger wants him to search for his missing for 40 years, presumably killed niece, but only after his libel case had been thoroughly investigated by a computer expert, a young punkish Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) who has found no evidence of any wrongdoing, but instead everything suggests a frame. Of interest, the niece always made him a birthday gift of crushed flowers, and those gifts have continued to be sent from various corners of the earth ever since she went missing. Vanger believes his is a hateful family, one of whom is likely the murderer with a sadistic interest in continuing the birthday reminders of her absence. With 6 months before his sentence begins, Blomkvist has nothing to lose and resigns from his magazine to begin his investigative work. Simultaneous to his mounting evidence, a parallel story reveals Lisbeth has hacked into his computer and is following his every lead, eventually sending him a significant missing clue, which, of course, he traces back to her. Her skills at uncovering secret evidence are unmatched, so he convinces her to join heads and the two stories merge as one.
With a kind of LAST TANGO IN
The dark and at times horrendous story is told with a brisk pace, advanced by clues, impeccable computer searches and interviews, but especially intriguing are negatives of old photographs which they blow up and scan, becoming a movie within the movie, where they uncover unsolved murders and follow the leads, leading them to various sexually gruesome murder sites across the country where something potentially connects to this case. As they get closer, the inner circle of the Vanger family become more and more suspicious and paranoid, as they all appear to have something to hide. The actual island estate is filled with architecturally stunning homes that are especially foreboding in the winter ice, with a few former Nazi’s living inside, men who have little respect for human life and will go to any extent to protect what they have. There’s plenty of suspense and psychological tension in this taut drama where a near secret sexual relationship coincides with a family’s near secret past. Something has to give, and when it does, it will carry the force of forty years of lies and cover ups, something dark, twisted, and repulsive, yet undetected throughout that entire period of time. Noomi Rapace, especially, is a real discovery, as her hostile yet vulnerable character is shrouded in secrets as well, but she’s actually looking for a way to believe in something better, yet all around her she is held back by deeply disturbed and detestable men who have turned her life into a living hell, isolated, alone, but an aggressive force, even as she sleeps with Blomkvist, a man who senses danger with every move, that only grows more acute as he draws closer. It’s one of these cool sophisticated crime fiction thrillers that’s gorgeous to look at, that relies on intelligence and a multitude of clues, where a heavy streak of brutal sadism lurks underneath the sexual intrigue between the major players. By the end, it may feel like something out of the Bourne conspiracy series, but this investigative team is smart, sexy, and unusual enough that they could return for an encore.
Every so often, you get the gift of watching an under-the-radar actor bloom into a critical-mass phenomenon before your bloodshot eyes: Franka Potente in Run Lola Run, or Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. Add Noomi Rapace to the list; what she does with the title character of this Swedish thriller-cum-pop-lit-adaptation will spawn cults of swooning Rapacephiles stat. Of course, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Scandi-noir best-seller—the first volume of his megapopular “Millennium” trilogy—was hardwired for instant iconic status, but let’s not damn with faint praise. After watching this wispy young woman dig her talons into the goth-garbed, bisexual biker-chick hacker Lisbeth Salander, you’ll have witnessed a star being börn.
Lisbeth is just a piece of director Niels
Arden Oplev’s deep, degenerate puzzle, even if she eclipses everything
around her. A disgraced journalist (Nyqvist) is hired to investigate a
decades-old mystery; photographs contain clues, biblical passages are codes,
and the scribe and his pierced, pixie-ish sidekick race around trying to find
out whodunit. Oplev himself speeds through the story’s plot twists like he’s on
deadline, but importantly, the filmmaker nails the book’s indictment of the
sexual-predatory vibes seemingly embedded in
This is part of the mega-selling Millennium Trilogy of gruesome crime novels by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Originally (and pertinently) entitled Men Who Hate Women, this first story has now been adapted for the screen and finds its way to the UK having already become a European box office smash; the other two have also been filmed and their release here will presumably depend on how this is received. For what it's worth, I predict healthy returns. It is a forensic procedural with explicit violence, sex, sexual violence, violent sex and crime-scene photos of the sort that were once never shown, then just glimpsed and now blandly lingered over in every detail.
Michael Nyqvist plays Michael Blomkvist, a reporter facing an unjust prison sentence for criminal libel. Before his jail term starts, he is hired by a wealthy industrialist to solve the mystery of a niece who disappeared 40 years before, and who, poignantly, once babysat Blomkvist as a boy. He uncovers a string of hate crimes, and teams up with a super-sexy badass computer hacker with emotional issues called Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace), the eponymous tattooed girl. This film is probably too long, and it's only after the first hour that the narrative engines are properly revved, but director Niels Arden Oplev really socks it over. A must for the existing fanbase: others might have preferred it in two or three TV episodes.
Essentially a locked-room mystery with lashings of gore and
sexual brutality, Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
disguised the simplicity of its narrative by embedding it within an almost
Balzacian depiction of Swedish society, warts and all (but mainly warts). Niels
Arden Oplev's adaptation relies more on the mystery, but has two complex,
compelling leads driving its story. Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist), a disgraced investigative
journalist, is asked by industrialist Henrik
Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the
disappearance of his niece from a family reunion 40 years ago. A finite number
of suspects emerge, mostly members of Vanger's hugely dysfunctional dynasty:
aged Swedish Nazis, venal old aunts, creepy brothers and cousins. Blomqvist
teams up with Lisbeth Salander, who is the true star of
Larsson's books, a state-raised, quasi-autistic computer hacker with a
horrifying past and an alarmingly black-and-white sense of morality. Played by
Noomi Rapace—the real discovery here—Salander is a walking time bomb of
injuries and resentments. Together they disinter the Vanger family's grotesque
secrets, while somebody—a still-active serial sex-murderer, perhaps?—uses
increasingly violent methods to try to stop them. An elegant contraction of the
novel, discarding Blomqvist's sexual bravado and thus saving Larsson from his
own worst tendencies, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may be a
shallower experience than the book, but it has a headlong velocity all its own.
Catch it before the inevitable
The Daily Telegraph review [3/5] Sukhdev Sandhu
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, whose original and more potent title was Men Who Hate Women, begins with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), an investigative journalist dedicated to exposing corporate crime, facing jail for libelling a wealthy tycoon. Unexpectedly, he gets a call from aristocratic industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) and is summoned to a palatial rural residence to be told about the murder of the old man’s niece Harriet (Ewa Froling) in the mid-1960s. Her body was never found and no one was ever prosecuted: can Blomkvist help?
Real help comes in the form of an androgynous, bisexual,
computer-hacking twenty-something called Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). She’s
a walking mystery; tense, tiny, apt to get into fights. She’s also, for reasons
that aren’t clear at first, financially reliant on a brute of a guardian.
Sharing a hatred for the old men whose ruthless, money-grabbing grip on power
gives the lie to the fiction of
Rapace is the real star of the film, carrying the action and compelling our attention much more than Nyqvist’s passive (literally so, as is shown in one head-scratchingly funny sex scene) and rather inhibited character. She’s never more dangerous than when she’s under attack, lashing out with a bottle at youths who attack her in a subway, exacting artful revenge against one of the bastards who exploits her. Something has happened to her – something that Larsson explains to readers in subsequent volumes of the “Millennium trilogy” – that makes it unclear whether or not she’s suffering from Aspergers syndrome. What’s going on in her head is the film’s real mystery.
Racism, patriarchal misogyny, globalization: director Niels Arden Opley gives all these hefty themes their due in this largely faithful adaptation that short-changes its source text only in the limited attention it pays to Blomkvist’s long-standing affair with a fellow journalist at his magazine. When it comes to pointing the finger of blame at modern-day Sweden, it turns out that the culprits are individuals as much as they are economic or political systems: the bad guys, unquantifiably more wicked than anyone could have imagined, represent a blue-blooded clan that, rather like the Winshaw family in Jonathan Coe’s novel What A Carve Up!, has been poisoning Swedish society for many decades.
If that makes this drama, scripted by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, feel a little synoptic, like the kind of twisty and rather twisted saga you might expect to see on television, that’s probably because it’s been constructed from material shot for two television movies. All of which means, in spite of its dark subject matter, it tweaks and extends the thriller genre to less startling or mysterious effect than another Swedish film, Let The Right One In, did to the vampire-genre flick.
Still, the wintry photography is consistently atmospheric, the sense of cultural scabs being picked at interesting, and Rapace’s performance altogether more thrilling than any that can be imagined from Kristen Stewart, Natalie Portman or any of the mooted co-leads in the promised Hollywood remake.
Sight and Sound review Lisa Mullen, April 2010
The Onion A.V. Club review [A-] Tasha Robinson
Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez] a vote of dissension
Screenjabber review Doug Cooper
hoopla.nu review Stuart Wilson
Noomi Rapace interview: the world’s most seductive sleuth David Gritten interview with the star actress from The Daily Telegraph, February 18, 2010
Larsson: author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Iain Hollingshead from from The Daily Telegraph,
Entertainment Weekly review [B] Lisa Schwarzbaum
The Hollywood Reporter review Sheri Linden
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director lashes out at US remake Andrew Pulver from The Guardian,
Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo director attacks Hollywood remake Ben Child from The Guardian, November 9, 2010
DEAD MAN DOWN B- 80
Even the most damaged heart can be mended. Even the most damaged heart. —Darcy (Dominic Cooper)
Though he built his career on made-for-TV movies in Denmark, director Niels Arden Oplev made an international splash with his highly inventive take on the opening chapter of Stieg Larsson’s The Millenniun Trilogy, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009), which also introduced a generally shattering performance by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, also seen in Beyond (Svinalängorna) (2010), where in both performances she plays a bitterly angry survivor of childhood trauma. In his first experience working in America with a budget that for this film alone may exceed all of his other films put together, featuring a terrific cast, the film is bound and determined to deliver the obligatory Hollywood explosive sequences, which have become so routine and standardized in American big budget entertainment that anything without it is likely called an indie film. Something out of the revenge genre, this action thriller focuses on two emotionally wounded characters who have each survived a horrible ordeal, yet both have eyes on obtaining revenge, becoming not only obsessive but maniacally driven to exact their own brand of justice. Colin Farrell, where you’d have to go back to IN BRUGES (2008) to find a performance this stylishly intense, plays Victor, a Hungarian immigrant looking to establish a new life in America, but his wife and daughter were killed under mysterious circumstances, becoming a low level gangster for the corrupt mobster Alphonse (Terrence Howard) who had his family killed, where he is believed dead as well, but changed his identity. Living on the same floor in the high rise building across the way is Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), where the two meet by strangely seeing one another from their respective buildings. Beatrice is disfigured, especially on one side of her face, from an auto accident caused by a drunken driver that she continues to rage against with open hostility, as he only served three months in jail. Living with Beatrice is her diminutive mother, Isabelle Huppert no less, speaking broken English and French, looking after her adored daughter by baking cookies, maintaining her good humor, and occasionally putting a smile on her daughter’s face. Both are the kind of women who simply take over your life with a zest for living most of us are incapable of experiencing, where Beatrice opens Victor’s eyes when he wasn’t even looking.
Using strange flashbacks that aren’t even initially
understood, Victor repeatedly stares at his computer screen watching home
videos of his wife and daughter, dead to the world in more ways than one as
he’s completely unresponsive to most people, so his best friend is fellow
gangster Darcy (Dominic Cooper), a nervous and fidgety guy who’s also a nonstop
blabbermouth given a second chance at life by his generously understanding wife
and newborn, suggesting “even the most damaged heart can be mended.” This understanding clicks in Victor’s brain,
as he’s obviously on a circuitous route to hell and damnation, where he has his
apartment set up as a surveillance lab, with tapped cellphones where he can
hear every conversation within Alphonse’s inner circle and a secret room hidden
behind the refrigerator that offers photos, memorabilia, and other clues about
each of the gangland players, like a commemorative memorial, even though they
are still alive. This is an indication
of Victor’s mindset, however, as in his head they are already dead. Initially we think he may be a cop
infiltrating this gang, watching every move they make, until eventually we
realize the convoluted path this picture is taking by making Colin Farrell a
one-man wrecking crew, a Rambo-like killing machine with designs on
revenge. When he finally meets Beatrice,
her burning need for revenge is not so hard for him to understand, though the
film reaches a hysterical level of anxiety when she blackmails him with cellphone
video footage of him killing a man in his apartment, vowing to turn it over to
the police unless he executes the driver who mangled her face. Once you understand Victor’s detached
emotional level is on par with Rambo, Sylvester Stallone as scorned
Written by J.H. Wyman, one of the feature writers of J.J. Abrams’ current sci-fi TV series Fringe (2008 to present), and shot by Paul Cameron, a co-cinematographer of Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL (2004), the film has a sophisticated, European arthouse look, with plenty of well composed shots from unusual angles, mixing dilapidated buildings, empty warehouses, and plenty of street action along with conflicting stories about gangland killings, mysterious letters with cryptic messages sent to Alphonse with only partially completed photos, where Alphonse initially targets who he thinks is behind it all, blowing away an entire detail of criminal drug operators in the process, which draws the ire of none other than mob boss Armand Assante, a legendary gangster figure and Emmy winner playing John Gotti, who has also been receiving the same letters, which couldn’t have been sent by anyone from his drug unit after they were already killed, sending him into a furious rage, where both men have to find a leak in their organization. In a sequence out of SAW (2004 and counting), Victor has a bound and blindfolded hostage that he’s keeping in an abandoned warehouse, one of the Albanian killers that actually murdered his wife and child. In fact, this guy has so many events going on at once, with his buddy Darcy continually blowing in his ear on his cellphone, filling him in on the latest developments, where most would be hard-pressed to keep track of them all, juggling a developing romance in between all his other gangster interests, all seemingly impossible, yet these various projects do amp up the intensity level, even if the viewer finds much of it preposterous. But this typifies what passes for Hollywood entertainment, where men have to rise to the level of superheroes, showing the capabilities of Rambo, where a huge part of the appeal are the special effects sequences blowing things up and high risk, showdown moments of blowing people away. With terrific acting performances on display throughout, including an interesting twist featuring the European talent of Rapace, Huppert, and Assante, not to mention a director that knows how to build suspense, the redemptive love interest of damaged souls may simply be too much, turning more existential, as there’s plenty more carnage yet to come. Despite the unpredictable twists and turns, there are too many holes and improbabilities, including scenes that make little sense, left dangling in midair as if something significant was edited or left out, yet overall, as an action and psychological thriller with a fixation on revenge, the well developed characters keep things interesting.
Dead Man Down | review, synopsis, book tickets ... - Time Out Trevor Johnston
Finding a dead body in a freezer has crime boss Terrence Howard feeling even more uptight than usual. Somebody, somewhere, is stalking him, and loyal cohort Colin Farrell is among the team assigned to track down the miscreant. Farrell – he of the furrowed brow – has other issues to contend with, however, including troubled neighbour Noomi Rapace as a scarred beautician with her own vengeful agenda. So begins a way-too-leisurely thriller whose destination is fairly obvious from early on, but to which the talented cast apply themselves with effortful seriousness. We appreciate how they give the characters a semblance of dimensionality, yet the script is wilful to a fault, and Danish director Niels Arden Oplev (like Rapace, a veteran of the original ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’) overdoes the portentous suggestiveness while keeping us waiting for genuine excitement. Two hours of fractious, would-be arty idling is more than enough, so thank goodness for French actress Isabelle Huppert, delightfully dotty as Rapace’s cookie-baking maman. In all her long and distinguished career has she ever previously uttered the word ‘tupperware’?
Dead Man Down | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club Nathan Rabin
Dead Man Down, the grimy English-language directorial debut of Niels Arden Oplev, who helmed the Swedish adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is really two forgettable films, dimly battling for supremacy. The marginally more promising one is an action melodrama about Noomi Rapace (also from the original Dragon Tattoo), a troubled young woman who was physically and emotionally scarred in an accident, attempting to blackmail a low-level hoodlum (Colin Farrell) into murdering the callous judge who hit her with his car. The second, more muddled, less promising B-movie is an insanely involved quest for vengeance against an entire criminal outfit that’s only slightly less time-and-labor-intensive than the manhunt for Osama bin Laden documented in Zero Dark Thirty.
The always-dependable Colin Farrell stars as a steely-eyed gangland enforcer with a dark secret. His life changes when Rapace, the mysterious, scarred woman who lives across the street, reveals that she witnessed him committing a murder, and says she’ll turn him in unless she commits a murder on her behalf. Farrell is understandably reluctant, as he has shadowy, vengeance-minded business of his own to attend to, involving Machiavellian boss Terrence Howard.
Dead Man Down doesn’t tip its hand about its ultimate subject until late in the film. It takes forever to get going, unspooling its hopelessly convoluted, unwieldy plot for so long that it loses whatever marginal narrative momentum it possesses. The film shows a rare, illusory spark of life in a deceptively electric sequence where the full extent of Rapace’s soul-consuming hatred seeps out in an exhilarating burst. In this moment, and pretty much this moment alone, the film runs hot with emotion; otherwise, it’s clammy and oddly detached, in spite of the operatic themes at play. Dead Man Down exerts an unconscionable level of effort for minimal reward: It aspires to exquisite world-weariness, but just ends up feeling exhausted by its frenzied yet fruitless exertions.
Trashy action thrillers have long been a staple of the American moviegoing diet. The genre is dependably, unflinchingly derivative, its sole well worn, like that of an overworked shoe, holes and all. The action pic has been whittled down to a formula, easily replicated in labs by men in suits checking off boxes, recycling the same narratives, themes, and characters ad nauseam. And its audience is nearly as reliable. So, when something like “Dead Man Down” comes along, it deserves heaps of praise just for being so unique. Not all of it hits its mark, but when the picture starts to gain momentum at the hour mark, its distinctiveness sets in. And it’s almost startling.
“Dead Man Down” sees Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev (director of the original “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”) helming a script by J.H. Wyman (writer for TV’s “Fringe”). An uncharacteristically stoic Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a thug-for-hire working for a sleazy crime boss, Alphonse (Terrence Howard). Farrell broods in the background of the first few scenes, speaking only four words in the first fifteen minutes of the film. It’s a smart choice, allowing us to accept the character as a focused but broken man, always keeping an eye on his surroundings – quite a reach from Farrell’s chatty turns in fare like “Phone Booth” and “In Bruges.”
When Alphonse begins receiving threats via mail (think “The Riddler”) and one of his crew members is killed, he begins the hunt for his mysterious adversary. Dominic Cooper offers support as Darcy, a fast-talking friend and co-worker of Victor’s, while Noomi Rapace co-stars as Beatrice, a pretty but disfigured neighbor who often waves at Victor from her balcony.
Beatrice’s facial scars, the result of an accident with a drunk driver, have cost her her job and her well-being. When she accidentally witnesses Victor strangling a man in his apartment, she sees an opportunity for revenge. She decides to get to know her neighbor, ultimately producing a video of the aforementioned scuffle, using it to extort him. If Victor kills the drunk driver, she won’t go to the cops. As convoluted as this might sound, it’s only a jumping-off point for the rest of film. And while the director is guilty of dramatic whiplash early-on, revving up the action via loud music and quick cuts before slamming on the brakes, the best is saved for later.
The film is written and shot unlike most actioners, ripe with uncomfortable silences and thoughtful shot compositions. As the narrative’s twists and turns reveal themselves, the characters grow – particularly Victor and Beatrice – and what began as an exploitative relationship turns into something more. No, the screenplay doesn’t become overly saccharine, but the players’ motivations are entirely believable, even if their circumstances are not.
Some will criticize the story as a wholesale lift of “The Punisher,” minus the costume. And it is. I had no trouble imagining Tom Jane in one of the lead roles. But beyond some of the clichéd plot machinations, the picture never holds the viewer’s hand. It treats the audience like adults and allows the actors to play their roles multi-dimensionally – a rarity in this kind of picture. Portions of the film are downright elegant in their staging.
The shootouts are serviceable, but they don’t need to be any stronger when the character work is this strong. Some of the dialogue is less than ideal and some of the story beats don’t make a lick of sense, but as a whole, this is strong work by everyone involved. If you find yourself bored between the first and second acts, hang in there. The second half is far more illuminating, and the conclusions of the two main arcs are undeniably satisfying. And as much of a surprise as the film’s successes are, the involvement of WWE Films is even more enigmatic. It’s hard to say what their involvement was beyond producing the film, but it’s certainly the best project that they’ve had their name on to date. Not much of an accomplishment, I know. But “Dead Man Down” is very worthy of action fans who crave a bit more from the genre.
Review: 'Dead Man Down' Is A Surprisingly Satisfying ... - Indiewire Drew Taylor from The Playlist
Dead Man Down Jeff Nelson from DVD Talk
Dead Man Down (2013) - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
Bleak Noir: 'Dead Man Down' | PopMatters Cynthia Fuchs
Dead Man Down Review: Exactly What You Think It Is, and ... - Pajiba Amanda Mae Meyncke
DEAD MAN DOWN Review | Collider Matt Goldberg
Combustible Celluloid Review - Dead Man Down (2013), J.H. ... Jeffrey M. Anderson
Dead Man Down | Review | Screen John Hazelton from Screendaily
Dead Man Down: Film Review - The Hollywood Reporter Michael Rechtshaffen
Movie review: 'Dead Man Down' - A&E - Boston.com Ty Burr from The Boston Globe
Dead Man Down - Movies - The New York Times Manohla Dargis, also seen here: 'Dead Man Down,' Starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace
SPEED WALKING (Kapgang) B+ 90
Denmark (108 mi) 2014 Official site
Director Niels Arden Oplev, whose made-for-TV version of the opening chapter of Stieg Larsson’s The Millennium Trilogy, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009), introduced the world to Noomi Rapace while exceeding all expectations when it literally demanded an international release, is back in Denmark after working in the United States for several years on the less than inspiring Dead Man Down (2013) with this uncharacteristically tender coming-of-age comedy based upon Morten Kirkskov’s somewhat autobiographical debut novel Kapgang. Reflective of a culture that prides itself on being the world’s fairest and most sensible people (not withstanding Shakespeare’s dour portrait of Hamlet, written by an Englishman, or Lars von Trier, a narcissist and egomaniac who thrives on being the center of the world’s attention), who are certainly not above going on raging drunken benders, and can be coarse and vulgar and utterly foolish at times as well, but by the next day things are back on an even keel. According to Denmark in the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Denmark became the very first country to legalize pornography in 1969, where people have free access to porn, sold in most convenience stores and movie rentals, where prostitution is not a criminal offense and is rare among minors, and television channels initially broadcast hardcore pornography free and uncoded at night. In the 1970’s sex education in schools became mandatory while abortion was legalized. In this era of sexual liberalization, the story is set in the mid 1970’s in the small town of Sonder Helpful on the Jutland peninsula, where 14-year old Martin (Villads Bøye) is one of his school’s better speed walkers, an Olympic event also known as racewalking, where the toe of the hind foot must remain on the ground until the forward heel lands out of the air. It’s an odd sport with an ungainly body movement, where legs and arms are often seen moving in different directions. Nonetheless, like any sport, there are winners and losers, and according to his coach, Martin shows promise of winning the upcoming regional race.
Martin is on the team with his best friend Kim, Frederik Winther Rasmussen, where they’re at the age where boys play plenty of practical pranks on one another in the locker room, like making outrageous sexual allegations, teasing someone about having sex with an ugly girl, or snapping their towels at defenseless naked bodies in the shower, often aiming for their private parts. In this manner, undiscovered words are often added to their vocabulary while also generating a healthy interest in sex, which is pretty much all boys think about at that pubescent age. The opening is mixed with tragedy and absurd humor, as Martin notices the flags are being lowered to half-mast without knowing who died. As usual, Martin rides his bike home from school listening to the radio which is playing Nazareth’s soulful “Love Hurts” (1975) Nazareth - Love Hurts - YouTube (3:36). On the street people turn and stare in unison, which he attributes to his singing, while many are also lowering their flags, but once home he’s told the sad truth about his mother. While he thought she was sick with the flu, it turns out she died from cancer. His father is completely distraught, hasn’t a clue how to raise his own children, including meals, as that was the exclusive domain of his wife, while older brother Jens (Jens Malthe Næsby) wears sunglasses around the house to hide his continual tearful outbursts. For Martin, however, life goes on, where he immediately seeks the comfort of a local blonde named Kristine (Kraka Donslund Nielsen) to take his mind off his troubles, as both are in the same class about to be confirmed in just two weeks. While initially she agrees to a hug and kiss out of sympathy for his mother’s death, she quickly realizes he’s got a crush on her and is interested in more, which sparks her own desires, where she all but promises to sleep with him after her confirmation when she’s considered an adult. Meanwhile, Martin and Kim discover a pile of porn magazines and make do with practice sessions, a literal rehearsal for the real thing, exactly the kind of innocent boy on boy scene that would never be shown in American cinema, as we remain too prudish in our sexual hang-ups.
At the funeral service, where Martin nearly jumps into the grave after his mother, it’s only then that the realization that she’s actually gone kicks in, as he’s been in denial, trying not to think about it, shifting his thoughts to Kristine whenever he can. At the community dinner afterwards where everyone has had plenty of stiff drinks, one man, Rolf (Jakob Ulrich Lohmann), gets a bit too frisky with another man’s wife, so Martin calls him on it, tells him he’s crossed the line of bad conduct and asks him to leave. In stunned silence, the adults are a bit embarrassed by their own collective apathy, but Martin’s father, the kind of guy that stands up to no one, stands by his son ordering the drunken man to leave. It’s in Rolf’s rambling drunken remarks that rumors start to spread that Martin’s father has already found another woman (the hairdresser) to take the place of his wife, offensive remarks when repeated back to Martin, so he devises a plan with Kim and Kristine to spy on his father, literally catching him in the act, a rather hilarious moment of pathos, as he looks so pathetic. His soul-searching, confessional response to his boys afterwards about how he promises to change his life for the better couldn’t be more laughably surprising, as Oplev does an excellent job balancing Danish humor with tragedy, as this is ultimately a serious tale of a young boy’s grappling to find his way into an adult world, struggling through his awkward love and fragile sexuality. Martin’s loss of his mother is seen as something that he simply must overcome in a story filled with sadness, grief and growing sexual awareness. While his grandmother’s candid comments are overly bitter and hostile, and the boys trip to a pitifully excluded town homosexual is hurtful and mean, everything in the picture leads up to Martin’s sprawling confirmation party, the day he supposedly becomes a man, plied with alcohol, the object of honorary speeches, yet he remains as sexually confused as ever, where his world has simply been turned upside down. He’s left in a strange place between dark drama and disturbing comedy, where adolescence seen in this light is uncensored, frank, and often devastating, where Martin’s own coming-of-age reflects the world around him coming to terms with this newly discovered sexual openness, where reality and fantasy have little in common except the urge to experience both. Love is not just a bottle of booze and a few porn magazines, where crudeness must give way to a gentler approach, beautifully expressed when Kristine teaches Martin how to kiss a girl properly, taking her feelings into consideration. It’s a sweet initiation helping him navigate his way through this Brave New World.
Speed Walking | Chicago Reader Ben Sachs
A small-town boy approaching his religious confirmation discovers the weird, wild world of sex, experimenting with girls and boys, spying on his widower father as the old man screws his hairdresser, and even paying a visit to the local child molester. This icky comedy takes place in 1976, and director Niels Arden Oplev (who did the Danish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) never lets you forget it: the movie is so laden with period kitsch that it feels like a spoof. (I was a little surprised that none of the characters owned a pet rock.) As in Tattoo, the storytelling is almost slick and engaging enough to distract from the rampant misanthropy. If you have any moral compunctions about explicit sex scenes involving underage actors, stay far away. In Danish with subtitles.
In a quirky, small town, situated in the outskirts of everything, 14-year-old Martin is getting ready for one of the most formal transitions from boy to man; the communion. It's 1976, music's in the air and hormones are blossoming. But in the midst of it all Martin's mother suddenly passes away and her tragic death trickers a series of events that not only changes Martin's life forever, but also affects everyone else in the local community. Overwhelmed with grief neither Martin's dad, nor his older brother, is capable to comfort Martin. He enters adulthood in a mixture of drunken happiness and immense sadness over the loss of his mother, and his relationship to both his friend Kim and girlfriend Kristine comes to its natural conclusion.
From The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo director Niels Arden Oplev is this ‘70s coming of age drama about Martin, a 14-year-old boy who has unexpectedly lost his mother to cancer. Martin’s mother is widely loved in his town, but Martin seems to be handling it better than his dad, who he suspects is already seeing someone else, and his older brother, who clings to his mother’s belongings. Her death looms large over other big moments in Martin’s life, like training for a speed walking race and discovering his sexuality along with a girl and friend. It’s a polished, surprisingly mature story, but it raises some red flags that tow the line between teenage naiveté and insensitivity. Speed Walking doesn’t fully grapple with Martin’s curious sense of discovery and leaves some depth on the table. And speed walking in high ‘70s jeans looks notoriously silly.
Martin is soon getting his confirmation (a Christian rite-of-passage for teenagers), but when he comes home one day, he has lost his mother to cancer. In the time after this loss, Martin is also very interested in a girl in the neighborhood. And a boy.
Set somewhere in the 1970's, Speed Walking is a sweet, fun, unpretentious and charming coming-of-age dramedy. - Surprisingly amusing and with very fine acting by debuting actor Villads Bøye as the boy Martin and the two other kids, Kraka Donslund Nielsen and Frederik Winther Rasmussen. Backing them up are some wonderful adult Danish actors: Especially Sidse Babett Knudsen (Borgen (2010-13)) is a treat, and her delivery is flawless and particularly funny if you understand Danish. Anders W. Berthelsen (Mifune/Mifunes Sidste Sang (1999)) is great as the unprepared father, and Kristian Halken (Dark Horse/Voksne Mennesker (2005)) makes a good, vague country priest.
The film is very light, almost unserious in its dealing with some real issues, - but only almost. It doesn't carry any terribly heavy themes with it. - It's just a fine, very good time, and that's welcomed.
It is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, whose mega-hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (2009) led him to make the American mega-flop Dead Man Down (2013). He has announced an interesting-sounding mystery thriller as his next feature with the title Deity.
Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
Over the course of a few, rough weeks, fourteen-year-old Martin (Villads Bøye) navigates a fluid, burgeoning sexuality, processes grief after the sudden death of his mother, and competes in a speed walking competition. The year is 1976 in this Jutland-set story of a boy adapting to his country’s rapid transition to a more liberal era.
Writers of coming-of-age films sometimes forget (or maybe choose to ignore) that growing up can be a pretty screwed-up experience. Sure, young hearts get broken over first loves all the time in the movies, but there’s a wild sort of destructiveness to childhood that’s not always captured on-screen. The ideals and pitfalls of the adult world are sometimes imposed on adolescents before they’re ready for it.
Oplev decided to adapt this story for the screen before
Lead actor Villads Bøye gives a bold, first-time performance as Martin and dares to hit every note Oplev asks of him. The process of grieving his mother’s death takes him through denial, anger, and hysterics, and each step rings true. Bøye is flanked by his older brother who struggles to move past the denial phase, and his father, who is at a total loss for how to raise a family on his own.
Oplev shot the film in eight and a half weeks on a four million dollar budget and clearly took great delight in designing a film that takes place in the 70’s. The American rock soundtrack includes hits like The Knack’s “My Sharona,” making this portrait of self-discovery during an imperfect childhood a perfect blend of “Dazed and Confused” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” The only lingering question is what the speed walking tie-in is all about, to which Oplev remarks, “It’s kind of a stupid sport…but it was popular at the time.” Speed Walking is a consistently hilarious, all-around worthwhile effort – a real highlight of Danish cinema in 2014.
Oppenheimer, Joshua and Christine Cynn and anonymous
THE ACT OF KILLING B+ 90
Denmark Norway Great Britain (116 mi) 2012 Director’s Cut (160 mi) Official site
It is forbidden to kill.
Therefore, all murderers are punished,
unless they kill in large numbers,
and to the sound of trumpets.
In Southeast Asia, as in other places, dictators appoint rats and cockroaches as their executors, and they live to tell their tales. This experimental documentary is a horror show, a dagger, a guillotine, a confession box in an insane asylum. It’s also a very frightening lesson on history and how we remember it.
— Kong Rithdee
The essence of real state terror is when people don’t know they’re afraid anymore.
—Ariel Heryonto, Indonesian writer
First of all, let me say that I’m of the opinion that it was a mistake to make this film, as the director believes that telling the story of Indonesian Genocide from the point of view of the perpetrators was a sacrifice he had to make, as otherwise there would be no film. Had he attempted to tell the story from the point of view of the victims, the military would have forbidden any interviews from taking place, and would likely have confiscated any film. So perhaps a film is not the way to go in getting this information out to the world. After all, it wasn’t a film that exposed the tortures at Abu Ghraib or the flood of cover-up lies in Watergate, but solid newspaper reporting. This is actually a story where the director collaborates with the perpetrators and offers them a forum in allowing them to reenact their most heinous crimes, when they assassinated as many as two and a half million communists in 1965-66. Imagine making a post-war Nazi film where the filmmaker allows the Nazi’s to restage some of their most grisly atrocities in front of a camera, literally bragging about their actions, and even dragging in their wives and children and grandchildren to see how proud they are about what they’ve done. Reminiscent of the feeling one gets when watching Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1935), something is morally deplorable about the idea of a film that would showcase brutal killers and then allow them to recreate in their own cinematic style how they visualize their role, seen jubilantly watching themselves onscreen afterwards where they continue to think of themselves as heroes in their nation’s history, yet they razed entire villages, raped and tortured, and committed government sanctioned ethnic cleansing, while no one has ever been charged with war crimes.
Oppenheimer was present at the screening, showing for the first time the
full-length, two hour and forty minutes Director’s Cut in Chicago (where the shorter, more compact version may
have a greater impact as it does feel more focused), and suggested
that at least in his mind, he made the film for the victims and their families,
and for human rights supporters, as only in this particularly twisted and
gruesome way would this chapter in Indonesian history ever be told. According to Oppenheimer, no one in Indonesia
had ever been told anything about what happened to all the missing persons in
1965, and as ironic as it may be, the murderers, in their zeal to proudly
showcase their anti-communist hatred, reveal exactly how they systematically
murdered, including thousands of beheadings, several million communists, union
leaders, ethnic Chinese, intellectuals, and social activists, becoming a
disturbing psychological portrait of killers who are motivated not by ideology,
but by wealth and stature. Perhaps even more
egregious is the
The American born director educated at Harvard has worked for over a decade with militias, death squads and their victims to explore the relationship between political violence and the public interest. Oppenheimer’s family is Jewish, many of whom perished in the Holocaust, where he has developed a highly unsual view of human forgiveness, including befriending one’s enemies, whether it be mass torturers or the Gestapo, recognizing that evil has always been part of the human condition and is something that needs to be confronted and reconciled. This film actually grew out of an earlier film, THE GLOBALISATION TAPES (2003), a documentary film about workers on an Indonesian Palm Oil plantation, many of whom have been stricken by horrible forms of cancer from working with such toxic chemicals and many also lost family members to the genocides. While they were never allowed to talk about 1965, it’s also notable that in this film, no one speaks for their lost voices either, as they continue to remain silenced. Again in a written article, their voices would be heard, largely incorporated into the fabric of the story and able to comment on this monstrosity that we witness in this film, which focuses solely on the killer’s point of view, allowing them to boast about their crimes, where these men are gangsters and former street thugs who escaped punishment and are now some of the richest and most feared men in a rampantly corrupt country still run by a military state. Of particular interest is the list of anonymous names in the final credits, as people are still afraid of repercussions, including one of the co-directors. When Oppenheimer initially began seeking out interviews with the killers, literally finding upwards to a hundred, within minutes they all began boasting about their accomplishments, which caught him completely by surprise, as usually one fears reprisals for admitted acts of murder, but these men continue to speak with impunity, and even appear on a nationwide talk show in a particularly grotesque segment. The film is a stark contrast to Rithy Panh’s autobiographical The Missing Picture (L'image manquante) (2013), where he recounts the Cambodian Genocide from the victim’s point of view, as he lost his entire family, and the film is a reverential tribute to the missing.
The suggestion, of course, is that this film gets at the heart of what’s so disturbing, perhaps even more than any regular documentary film, which this certainly isn’t, as it’s a deeply unsettling film that exposes the mass murders that took place in Indonesia in 1965, while allowing the murderers themselves free access to express how they did it, reopening deep wounds from the past, where perhaps the point is that it is necessary and worthwhile to unearth these atrocities. The men parade themselves in front of the camera with a kind of juvenile delight, which is a mix of the surreal, such as the dreamlike opening musical sequence that suggests all is right in the world, where colorfully clad dancing girls emerge from a giant fish, where offscreen a director’s voice shouts at them to keep smiling. This is the lead-in to what amounts to a welcoming into the delusional world of the killers themselves, seen openly riding through the streets like anointed war heroes, pointing out the buildings where people were tortured and murdered in mass numbers, actually bringing the cameras to the exact sites where the murders took place. The focus of the film is largely centered upon one character, Anwars Congo, now a family man and stately grandfather, seen early in the film dancing the cha-cha-cha, claiming he used to beat people to death but there was too much blood, so he refined the process, using a wire around their necks instead, something he learned from watching American gangster shows on television, showing the viewers how it’s done. While Anwar still has nightmares about what he did, haunted by the eyes of the dead that continue to seek him out at night, so he tries to forget by using alcohol, marijuana, or ecstasy, breaking out into song, where his friend responds “He’s a happy man.”
Anwar’s sidekick is Herman Koto, a larger-than-life figure whose chubby frame is often unadorned, a long-haired gangster feeling very comfortable in his skin, but also a goofball character who dresses in outlandish costumes in drag during the fantasy musical numbers, and never does he let this effect his overly macho masculinity. Herman was too young to participate in the murders, as he was only 10 at the time, but he emulates their status as the nation’s heroes and tries to be like them, bathing in the glory of their past successes. Added to this group is Adi Zulkadry, one of the gang of killers that belonged to a select team called the Frog Squad. While these three may be the main protagonists, others join in when Anwar and his friends are asked to dramatize their roles before the cameras and show just what happened. By turning the camera on the perpetrators themselves, the director then lets them tell their own story, which is far more effective than conducting interviews, as the dramatic impact couldn’t be more chillingly appalling. Perhaps the viewer keeps waiting for the standard documentary to take shape, but Oppenheimer instead takes us into the heart of darkness of these men’s Hellish imaginations, and then leaves us there, where each recreation of events becomes even more nightmarishly horrendous than the last. Adi is concerned that this movie will alter history and shift the blame onto them, changing the dynamic 180 degrees, as in the past they tried to pin the communists as the bad guys, where in real life they’re the wretchedly horrible creatures. But it’s this image of themselves that they boast about and pride themselves on, as people are right to fear them, which is how they stay in power, as they are remorseless and show no moral boundaries whatsoever. These are men capable of doing anything.
Anwar shows a fondness for John Wayne westerns, Elvis Presley musicals, and gangster thrillers, where the sheer flamboyance of their reconstructions reflects a fascination with the glitter period mixed with B-movie horror, where seeing Herman dressed in red glitter, belly exposed, wearing thick eyeliner and a giant headdress is sure to generate audience laughter, as these guys are so over-the-top, it goes far beyond absurd. It would be hard to imagine guys like Herman Göring, Rudolf Hess, and Joseph Goebbels (or even lower level prison guards more reflective of these guy’s actual rank in the making of the genocide) conjuring up something this deplorably theatrical, taking this kind of unadulterated glee with themselves while doing it, where this obviously allows a certain catharsis to take place. What’s perhaps most intriguing is how these men have continually lied and deluded themselves (and their nation) for decades, shielding themselves with this fabricated vision of heroic truth so that they don’t have to face up to what they really are, cold blooded killers. While one grows almost sick of the unchecked egos on display, it’s also hard to look away, as where else can genocide be expressed in this manner? It feels mocking and highly exploitive, as if these guys are rubbing our noses in their immunity from prosecution, waving their own banner of freedom, but perhaps this indulgence goes too far, as it is certainly drawing the world’s attention. While there is no notion of redemption for Anwar and his cohorts, one is left with a sense that Anwar is somewhat revolted by what he sees reflected back onscreen, and has perhaps even renounced the violence of his past by the end of the film, a mysterious acknowledgement of wrongdoing that recalls the infamous ending of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s A MOMENT OF INNOCENCE (1996), one of cinema’s most profound use of reenactment. Oppenheimer allowed his film to be streamed online for free in Indonesia, where on the first day there were more than 6500 viewers. The government’s secrets have inexplicably been revealed, where gangsters and thugs have been charading as freedom fighters, but are little more than murderers and assassins, where really the modus operandi in Indonesia is to rule by fear and intimidation, using the Pancasila Youth much like the Ton Ton Macoute in Haiti during the Papa Doc Duvalier era, where the government pulls out their heavily armed goon squad whenever they wish to suppress the opposition and strike fear into the hearts of all citizens, who continue to live under threat of arrest and persecution, while corruption rewarding the guilty parties remains rampant throughout every level of government.