Directors: 

Carlos Saura,  John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Ulrich Seidl, Seijun Suzuki, Ousmane Sembène, Douglas Sirk, Abderrahane Sissako, Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Sokurov, Paolo Sorrentino, Steven Spielberg, Preston Sturges,

Jan Svankmajer

 

 

Saada, Nicolas

 

SPY(IES)                                                                   B                     86

France  Great Britain  (99 mi)  2009

 

This first time feature director indicated he wanted to make a genre picture, but one that highlighted the personal relationships.  While he admits to a love of 40’s and 50’s Hitchcock, like NOTORIOUS (1946), VERTIGO (1958), and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), while also American 1970’s paranoid thrillers like KLUTE (1971), THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974), or THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), among others, what he’s really made is a Michael Mann urban thriller, written specifically to star the leading lady Géraldine Pailhas, reportedly rejecting his initial producer who insisted on a bigger named star only to find another producer in order to make the film he wanted.  Originally a film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma magazine, he also gained notoriety on a Parisian radio show “Nova at the Movies” which is devoted to music in films.  This film wastes no time as Guillaume Canet works with a friend as a baggage handler, where they typically steal easy to reach items for profit.  When they reach onto a bag protected by Syrian diplomatic immunity, what his friend thought was cologne turns into an explosion of flames, killing him shortly afterwards.  Arrested immediately by the Parisian police authorities, they discover he’s amazingly smart but has been wasting his time with dead end jobs, and under threat of a lengthy prison term, not to mention a knife attack in his apartment, he agrees to work with the police in an attempt to arrest two men he saw exchange packages in a restricted airport zone.  The outlandish plot works like a James Bond movie, only here the story is told a little bit differently.

 

Vincent (Canet) is sent to London, where the two suspected men have traveled, and assigned to work under the authority of Stephen Rea, a veteran officer of the British military intelligence who is continually baffled by the young recruit’s lack of protocol.  As improbable as this sounds, pulling a guy out of baggage handling and employing him in the nation’s secret service, that’s the kind of film this is—improbable happenings in a film saturated in the gloss of an urban landscape.  He’s given a new identity as a foreign aid physician helping to improve third world services and ordered to tail Claire, the beautiful wife (Pailhas) of a wealthy businessman who has Middle East ties in Damascus, including the personal services of one of the men Vincent saw at the airport.  Their initial encounters are amusing in their awkward moments, but he’s encouraged to seduce her in order to obtain her cooperation in building a case against her husband.  Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine makes the streets of London come alive as they initially meet in high end shopping establishments, local coffee shops or even an art museum before finally agreeing to meet at his hotel.  Showing a sophisticated reserve and quiet restraint, their growing friendship mirrors the danger and mounting tension of getting closer to the husband’s connections, which include a pharmaceutical expert who may be trafficking the explosive device to terrorist groups.  While there are many close calls, including the possibility that Vincent could easily be drugged or poisoned, Canet and Pailhas really have a wonderful screen chemistry together, their sensuous romance accentuated by the lush musical score by Cliff Martinez.  Interestingly, the final sequence was choreographed to the music of Benjamin Britten’s “Moonlight” from his Peter Grimes Sea Interludes, Op. 33a, which the director played on the set so the actors would feel engulfed in the dramatic allure of the score. 

User comments  from imdb Author: Siamois from Canada

This nice little European thriller offers a mix of romance, drama and even some bits of action. The premise is simple. Vincent (Guillaume Canet) is a smart, educated young man who has a history of "illicit activities". One day, at his job at the airport, he and another corrupt colleague look at diplomatic luggage in the hope of scoring some valuable. Instead, Vincent is catapulted in an international terrorist conspiracy that will change the course of his life.

Espion(s) features an international-flavored cast and takes place in the UK and France. The movie features dialogs both in French and English and will be best enjoyed by those fluent in both languages since it switches so often. I think this gives an air of authenticity to this movie that I would like to see more often but those who aren't bilingual or hate subtitles might not appreciate it as much.

Nicolas Saada's direction is effective. There is an air of big budget movie, yet firmly European feel. The music of composer Cliff Martinez is punchy, effective yet elegant. The photography is crisp and clean if a little uninspired at times. We wish for more memorable shots and more glimpses of the cities, of the sets, of the action. But Saada mostly concentrate on the characters. Vincent is thrown in this world of agents, high rollers, opportunists, innocents and terrorists. A world he doesn't know much about but that seems to give him a second life.

Vincent is a classic underachiever and is Claire (played by beautiful Géraldine Pailhas), the disenchanted wife of a rich businessman who simply took the easiest way to security. Their relationship, their romance, is somewhat understated yet pleasant to see unfold. Veteran star Stephen Rea gives his usual solid performance but it feels like he was underused. It was also nice to see the talented Archie Panjabi do the best she could with her smaller but important role. If there was a disappointment, it was with the antagonist Alexander Siddig, who mails his performance despite having perceivable charisma and magnetism. He has very little to work with and we never care much for him, which makes the movie's main threat less palpable.

Where this movie shines is as a drama. Guillaume Canet gives yet another solid performance. He's been consistently proving that he is leading man material in whatever he is featured in. He gives multi-dimensionality to a sparsely written character. Where the movie lacks the most is action scenes. Not the number of them, but the execution. They do fall a little flat and uninspired. As everything else, the golden rule is that if you are going to do something, do it well. The knife fight scene and the final airport scene were not essential to the story and the script could have been reworked to avoid those. If they are kept, a director must inject more conviction and character in there.

This is a recommended movie and very enjoyable, although repeat viewings are not very likely.

Plume Noire [Fred Thom]

French writer/director Nicolas Saada's debut film might be called Spy(ies) but the world he describes here is at the opposite of the glamour clichés usually associated with the genre. His film is slow paced, enveloped in gray tones — the London weather might obviously have something to do with this — and is more of a psychological character study than a big adventure full of intrigue.

Guillaume Canet (Love me if you dare, The Beach) plays Vincent, a baggage handler who, after being involved in an accident involving a diplomatic suitcase he's trying to steal, is recruited by the French secret service to seduce Claire (Géraldine Pailhas — Don Juan Demarco), the wife of a man who might be linked to a terrorist network.

What follows is a game of seduction where love will intervene, and Mr. Saada's script mostly delivers the portrait of a confused man, a non-professional spy who struggles to find balance between his duty and his feelings. As a result, Spy(ies) unfolds as a typical French love drama and, if you're looking for thrills, you'll need to wait until the end to remember you were watching a spy film.

With Spy(ies), Mr. Saada aims at debunking the myth of the spy profession by giving us a realistic look at its mechanism. What he shows us is pretty simple and unspectacular, secret services manipulating civilians into getting them the information they need, work which is mostly done through the use of blackmail, seduction — a prostitution subtheme which was curiously also the center of the recent and mediocre spy French film Secrets of State — and usb keys rather than usual guns and gadgets.

Contrary to the recent Secrets of State, which shared the same premise by giving us a realistic look at modern counterintelligence, Spy(ies) succeeds by adopting a monochromatic realism, while the former couldn't find its mark between realism and blockbuster entertainment. The right tone of the script and the self-restraint of the direction are the sign of quality cinema, which might be surprising here as this is Mr. Saada's debut work as a writer/director. However, when you know that he used to work as a critic for emblematic film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma, this might give you an idea about the standards of quality he imposed himself.

But Spy(ies) also works finely because of its casting choice and there is something intriguing about leading man Guillaume Canet, as the versatile actor seems comfortable and believable whether he embodies a clean-cut yuppie or a messed-up and marginal character. Hiding his good looks under s scruffy beard, he carries the film, supported by a couple of strong performances by Géraldine Pailhas and Stephen Rea (V For Vendetta). Ms. Pailhas showcases both strength and fragility here, while keeping her French charm — but I arguably might not be very objective here as I've always been under the spell of the Marseille-born actress.

Getting back to the rules of the genre, Spy(ies) ends on with action but a final image captures the two lovers facing each other; it becomes clear that what you just watched was a love story with a spy intrigue in the background rather than vice-versa. This is certainly what you should expect from French cinema, which masters the art of turning any genre into an intimate drama — one need only recall Film Noir…

Reeling Reviews [Robin Clifford, Laura Clifford]

 

Variety.com [Jordan Mintzer]

 

review  Brendan Kelly from The Montreal Gazette

 

Saalfield, Catherine

 

INFIDEL

USA  (45 mi)  1989

 

PopcornQ Movies  Cecilia Dougherty

 

Simply stated, Arroe is a black fashion model, a lesbian, who deals with issues of racism in an industry that is intolerant of variation from either the passive Anglo ideal, or that of the exoticized, primitivized woman of color. There is nothing simple about Catherine Saalfield's Infidel, however, as the film uncovers and repositions layers of myth about female beauty, the function of racism in standardizing our ideals, and the necessity oof female self-consciousness in a scheme that demands both conformity and uniqueness. Partly autobiographical, partly extracted from collective experience, this jumpy, tightly crafted narrative reconstructs the process behind the formulation of self-image.

 

Lesbian viewing and perversity   Jennifer Montgomery from Jump Cut, July 1992 (excerpt)

Catherine Saalfield's INFIDEL is deeply invested in the issues of the lesbian look and desire. The central characters of INFIDEL are a black woman who was once a fashion model and her lover, a white woman. The white woman is played by the filmmaker and her sister. Actually, whether Saalfield and her sister are supposed to be a unified character is up for grabs: Saalfield is heard instructing her sister on how to play the role (i.e. how to be a lesbian), and there are moments when the two appear on screen at once.

The black woman recounts some of her experiences of racism in the modeling industry. The problems of body image and ethnicity are brought up not only by the black woman but a host of other women, all white, who talk about modeling, their looks, and appear nude or clothed looking at themselves and sometimes touching one another.

The clearest voice in the film is that of a woman with a large, wine-colored birthmark on her face, who discusses her family's attempt to get rid of it and the lore of birthmarks. TV and magazine imagery of models of all races are interspersed throughout. The lesbian relationship, and the entire film, in fact, takes place in a series of dorm room interiors. Consequently, while the issues under discussion are disturbing and the characters evidently in some conflict with themselves, an air of privilege, safety, and leisure pervades the film. Everyone spends a great deal of time looking at themselves, at each other, and looking at themselves looking at the camera. Sometimes their looks are pained and unresolved, such as when the black woman regards herself in the minor, draws in blue grease pencil eyes where her own brown eyes are reflected, and then turns over the mirror to reveal a collection of disturbed, child-like scribbles of idealized ladies. But, by and large, the looks exchanged are more about girlish self-consciousness and a benign narcissism.

The split subject, the complexities of women desiring and criticizing each other, exoticism, and racism are all factors that diffuse our vision. In INFIDEL the problems of the specular gaze are subsumed in the pleasures of lesbian looking. I think that Saalfield intended the black woman's story of escape from the modeling industry to be the central theme of her film, and a metaphor for all women's self reclamation. There are moments when the black woman's identity overflows the bounds of metaphor and she occupies a strong position in the film. In one section she is seen lounging on her bed watching a Phil Donahue show about modeling. While an emaciated black woman, the most celebrated model of the day, parades down the runway, and Donahue and a male fashion designer discuss the problem of how to disguise big butts, the woman viewing languorously devours spaghetti with her hands. The camera moves up her body caressingly, like an ad for Levis 501 jeans. Here the subject's sensual existence and her autonomy from TV's oppressive emanations are complete.

But most of the film strays from this woman's personal power, and subsumes her in the voracious desires of the white lesbian behind the camera. The black woman is surrounded by the pleasures and desires of white women in a white environment. The harem-like ambiance overwhelms and trivializes the very issues that INFIDEL purports to address. The sexual attentions that the white women shower on themselves and the black woman are truly seductive. But if this is what it means for lesbians to reclaim visual pleasure, then I'm not sure I'm ready for pleasure yet. INFIDEL could have been really powerful if Saalfield had not mitigated the film's sexual pleasures with the false consciousness of a racial issue that isn't given the attention it deserves.

Sabu

 

D-A-N-G-A-N RUNNER                              B                     87

aka:  Non-Stop

Japan  (82 mi)  1996

 

modern, quick-cutting style on the edge of humor – different

 

Non-Stop   Mike D’Angelo from Time Out New York (link lost)

Hyperventilation hasn't been a subject much explored in the movies, but filmmakers are doing their damndest to correct that glaring oversight. Hard on the concrete-slapping heels of last year's Run Lola Run—though shot two years prior to that arthouse hit—arrives Non-Stop (previously known on the festival circuit as D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner), the sixth and final film in the Shooting Gallery's latest series of overlooked foreign and independent flicks. If you wondered how the hell Lola made it to the closing credits without bursting a lung or going into cardiac arrest, prepare to feel triply exhausted watching this film's three protagonists chase one another on foot through the streets of Tokyo...for the entire movie.

Or just about, anyway. A brief prologue depicts hapless Yasuda (Taguchi) casing a bank he's planning to rob, but before long he's desperately fleeing the drug-fueled wrath of convenience-store cashier Aizawa (Yukai), from whose aisles he'd attempted to shoplift a mask. When the pair bumps into yakuza thug Takeda (Tsutsumi), to whom Aizawa owes money, the chase takes on a third dimension, and time eventually contributes a fourth. What began as pursuit gradually metamorphoses into escape; by the end, the trio are running not single file but side by side, laughing like oxygen-depleted hyenas at the sheer joy of still being conscious and ambulatory after hours in motion.

By sheer coincidence, I happened to catch 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner at Film Forum just a few days before seeing Non-Stop, and while it's unlikely that Sabu was influenced by Tony Richardson's seminal work of Britgrit, both films depict the marathon runner's brain as a hotbed of memories and reveries. The difference is that Loneliness, as its title suggests, is actually about something, whereas Non-Stop, as its title suggests, is mostly about its own sense of momentum. Not that kinetic abstraction is necessarily a terrible thing, but Sabu doesn't demonstrate much conceptual flair; compared to the forthcoming Korean action flick Nowhere to Hide, Non-Stop looks positively inert. (In fact, there's a brief chase scene in that movie that's far more visually inventive than anything seen here.) After a while, the title began to feel like a threat.

DANGAN Runner / Dangan ranna   Aaron Gerow from The Daily Yomiuri

World cinema has rarely seen such a trio of losers as on display in DANGAN Runner. The wimpy Yasuda (Tetsuo's Tomoro Taguchi) tries to prove his manhood by holding up a bank after his girlfriend jilts him, only to miserably fail because he forgot his mask at home. Aizawa (Diamond Yukai) struts around on stage as a rock singer, but in his real life is a drug-addicted convenience store clerk who can't live up to his girlfriend's love. The tough-looking yakuza Takeda (Tsutsumi Shin'ichi) swears he will die to save his boss, but when the time comes, blithely steps aside and lets his mentor bite the dust.

The actor-turned-first-time-director Sabu (no, not the star of Thief of Baghdad, but Hiroyuki Tanaka from World Apartment Horror) uses these human failures to hilariously parody the macho vanity brandished by the male sex.

Realizing he has forgotten his mask, Yasuda runs into a convenience store by the bank only to realize he doesn't have any money. He tries to shoplift it, but is stopped by the store clerk--Aizawa, of course--and tries to shoot his way out.

Slightly grazed, Aizawa chases Yasuda all around the neighborhood until the two collide with a passerby--whom we are not surprised to see is Takeda, the two-bit gangster from whom Yasuda bought the gun and Aizawa his drugs. He, too, joins in the escalating pursuit.

This chain of coincidences prompts a seemingly never-ending chase throughout Tokyo. In the meantime, the cops, Takeda's gang (bent on revenge), and the rival mob (who offed Takeda's chief) swing into action until all the participants violently converge in an absurd, culminating showdown.

DANGAN Runner's delightfully parodic excess is epitomized by this chase. Unlike most action movies, where the requisite chase scene takes up a few minutes at best, the three stooges' marathon continues for 80 percent of the film, supported neither by adrenaline (as in Speed) nor terror (Marathon Man), but by rhythmic editing and the sheer kinetic stupidity of the participants.

Sabu's film almost seems to be a return to the origins of cinema, recalling classic chase comedies such as those of the Keystone Cops, but in a more postmodern context, with a complex, though skillfully related narrative style.

With cinematic references ranging from yakuza films to Kurosawa, DANGAN (which means "bullet" in Japanese) is a farce about the construction of (self-)images.

Each of the three runners is determined to play a role for an audience in order to prove his manhood. Yasuda, in particular, rehearses and repeatedly looks at himself in the mirror as if to confirm his performance is effective (this "feminine" trait is another sign of his inability to assume the macho mask).

In one of Sabu's bag of effective tricks, almost all of the characters are allowed an imaginary sequence, a chance to construct their own "film" inside their heads with themselves as the star. One yakuza's fantasy is even presented as a movie which ends when a fellow yakuza, interviewed after the daydreamer's imagined Takakura Ken-like demise, shoves the annoying camera away.

It is precisely this macho bravado, this mistaking of image for reality, that inevitably leads to humiliation and even destruction. But Sabu, who also wrote the script, in the end takes pity on his idiotic threesome.

As they run themselves to exhaustion, the purpose of their chase begins to change. No longer are they trying to catch someone, to win this masculine test of strength and endurance. They are running simply to run--for the mere pleasure of it.

It is as if by being utterly humiliated and stripped bare of costuming by their own blunders, this trio of schleps has found meaning to their own lives, an ounce of authenticity to their otherwise pitiful existence.

And through this quite enjoyable movie, maybe we have found another hope to watch out for on the Japanese film scene.

POSTMAN BLUES

Japan  (110 mi)  1997

 

Postman Blues / Posutoman burusu   Aaron Gerow from The Daily Yomiuri

 

"Does your heart ever thump with excitement like it did when you were a kid?" The yakuza Noguchi (Horibe Keisuke) poses this question to his childhood friend Sawaki (Tsutsumi Shin'ichi) at the beginning of Postman Blues, but it could equally be directed at the audience. How long has it been since a Japanese movie really made your adrenaline flow?

If it has been a while, the Postman Blues signals the end to your long wait. Just as Sawaki, a bored postman stung by Noguchi's query, in the end opts to get off the beaten path of postal delivery to seek his own thrills, director Sabu veers from a conventional Japanese cinema defined by either cheap diversions or dolorous art to deliver his own wonderful package of movie excitement.

The content we get is not exactly new: Sabu's entertainment strategy does not involve dumping convention out the window, but rather wittily playing with and parodying it. Part of the fun is just to sit back and spot movie citations ranging from old Nikkatsu action films and Takakura Ken to Chungking Express and Jean Reno.

The problem of convention is, in fact, the center of Sabu's comedic world. Last year's hilarious Dangan Runner, which played to great applause at the Berlin Film Festival, featured three idiot heroes and a cast of bungling characters almost fatally in love with macho stereotypes. This time, however, Sawaki is less an admirer of these constraining images than their unknowing victim.

Emerging from Noguchi's apartment, Sawaki is spotted by cops staking out the young gangster. Wondering why a postman would enter the apartment, they figure Sawaki must be some kind of delivery man and begin following him. After a few twists and turns involving drugs, a severed finger (cut by Noguchi in yakuza style), and some other details too absurd to explain here, the cops and their criminal profiler become certain that this postman is really a sexually peverted, drug-addicted, mass murdering gang kingpin who likes to dismember his victims.

In reality, Sawaki just wants to be something more than a postman, since that's how everyone seems to define him. His break from the routine is to pursue a love affair with Kyoko (Toyama Kyoko), a terminally-ill cancer patient whose letter he finds in his bag.

That romance is probably the most conventional and cloying part of Postman Blues, but it indicates how kindly Sabu looks upon characters with even the most cliched dreams if they are romantically hopeless. Beyond Sawaki, another such dreamer is the hitman Joe (Osugi Ren), whom Sawaki befriends at Kyoko's hospital, would win the Killer of Killers competition if it wasn't for the presence of a more powerful rival - the fatal killer inside his body.

Just as the mad dash in Dangan Runner enabled its heroes to transcend their categorized existence, it is Sawaki's frentic bike ride against the clock to meet Kyoko - all undertaken without knowledge of the police's high-tech pursuit - that gives him his thrills and us ours. The decision of Noguchi and Joe to help him also gives meaning to their lives.

But it is the cops with their roadblocks and blocked minds that makes them representative of all that is stifling about modern society. Despite their own bungling stupidity and a few good eggs, they are more formidable than the self-destructive fools in Dangan Runner. Their power drives up the ante and makes the smashing conclusion to Postman Blues that much more potent and adrenaline-filled. Postman Blues is an action comedy, one of the better ones in years. But as the "blues" in the title indicates, its world view is ultimately pessimistic. For Sabu, escape from this world must inevitably involve the most extreme forms of transcendence. Yet it is lucky for us that Sabu's own effort to rise above the dull clouds of tired Japanese film entertainment, through raucous and wonderfully radical, need not go that far.

THE BLESSING BELL                              B                     86                   

Japan  (87 mi)  2002

 

A Chicago world premiere!  Using a similar Tsai Ming-liang style, only without the meditative and reflective tone, a lone man who never speaks, Susumu Terajima, simply wanders aimlessly down the street and bears witness to strange occurrences, all are very slowly developing comedic sketches.  Strangers befriend him and reveal in utmost confidence their innermost secrets.  He seems always trying to help someone in need, but rarely are his efforts noticed or appreciated.  The entire film is largely plotless, piecing together bits of human interaction, improbabilities, usually leading to a humorous payoff. The film was slow, but amusing; none in the home run category.  Sabu was present, calls himself a genius, believes all his films are masterpieces, and took a picture of himself in front of the audience. While he did not claim influence, he did pay utmost respect to Akira Kurosawa. 

 

BUNNY DROP  (Usagi doroppu)            B                     86

Japan  (115 mi)  2011  ‘Scope

 

Taking a page out of Takeshi Kitano’s endearing KIKUJIRO (1999), where an adorable young child hooks up with an improbable gangster yakuza on a road journey across Japan, where their diametrically opposite impulses keep the viewers on their toes and the film from sinking into familiar territory, Sabu on the other hand instead chooses a more formulaic style, a single man raising a child, told in a rather straightforward manner but then enhances the experience by for the most part avoiding cheap sentiment.  Once more, the centerpiece is an enchanting child, in this case 6-year old Rin (Mana Ashida), who resembles the daughter Sachiko (Maya Banno) in Katsuhito Ishii’s THE TASTE OF TEA (2004), noticeably off to the side with no one paying attention to her during a grandfather funeral service, where it turns out she is his illegitimate child.  Everyone is too involved with their own affairs to worry about this child, believing child services would eventually intervene—everyone, that is, except the deceased’s grandson, 30-year old Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama) who asks if the child would like to come home with him where he gets a quick refresher course on parenthood, knowing next to nothing, but stubbornly refusing the help from his sister (Mirei Kiritani) who indicated he would crack within a few days.  Adapted from a manga comic by Yumi Unita, the point of view is clever enough to include Rin’s views throughout the film, feeling very much like a Miyazaki children’s film, as Rin has to make her way through this terrifying experience virtually alone, where Daikichi is more of her sidekick than the other way around.  Rin is firmly the centerpiece of this film.   

 

What is clear from the outset is that the two are perfectly matched, as both are a bit mature for their age, but Daikichi’s refusal to patronize the young girl helps considerably, as they work as a team, where she offers him advice on parenting skills, which are needed, as he quickly finds a child care center, but it’s unnerving having to carry this new girl through rush hour commuter trains and the swarms of pedestrian foot traffic in order to eventually find a center which is nowhere near his job, where he has to sprint the entire way if he expects to make it to work on time.  It’s evident no one could keep up that hectic schedule, where he’s forced to transfer to a lower paying position in order to avoid the late night mandatory overtime, arriving much too late to pick up Rin.  It’s amusing to discover none of his original coworkers had children, but all of his new coworkers do, where they’re quick to compare photos of their kids.  But the heart of the film is the interpersonal relationship between Daikichi and Rin, as it’s a sweet and warmhearted duo, told realistically and intelligently, where they both earn every bit of love and affection that they offer and receive.  Rin, for instance, occasionally asks profound questions, developing a complex inner life of her own. 

 

The first variance from the tone of realism are Daikichi’s daydream sequences, where he sees gorgeous women in magazine photo shoots and instantly fantasizes dancing an ultra-sensual tango, where the two sizzle with sexual intoxication, which are delightfully amusing moments, nothing kinky about them, but adds a suave and debonair step to Daikichi’s character.  He’s no super parent, as his many mistakes only make him more endearing and vulnerable, where he’s helped along the way by another single mom (Karina, one of the dazzling women in his fantasies) whose son and Rin become fast friends.  They are apparently the only two kids at the childcare center without two parents, as they are deeply affected by an assignment to draw many different pictures of their two parents, which sends them bolting out the door on a journey alone through the city.  Reported missing, there is a frantic citywide search for them, which has a familiar tone with Miyazaki’s MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), especially the way the search brings everyone closer together, an effective use of unforced realism, where a child’s world is not patronized or embellished by cheap narrative tricks, but is fully captivating by the attention to small details that capsulizes what matters the most, where their whole world is present in these everyday moments, often enhanced by Masayuki Iwakura's quietly effective score.  One of the best sequences of the film is a parallel alternative to Daikichi’s fantasy sequences, a children’s theatrical spectacle where they’re all dressed up in costumes and where the universe of children couldn’t be more magical and alive. 

 

a page of madness [Nicholas Vroman]

Adapting the bland, but popular manga, Usagi Drop, the insubstantial, but usually visually stylish director, SABU has created a particularly bland movie. Usagi Drop chronicles the 30-year old Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama) who becomes the surrogate single father for his deceased grandfather’s illegitimate 6 year-old daughter, Rin (Mana Ashida). Dwelling on the quotidian hassles of a busy salaryman stuck with an impossibly cute little girl and the comedic and/or semi-tragic situations that arise, SABU dispatches them summarily and formulaically. For SABU lovers, there’s a subplot dropping our hero working into a factory production line, buddying up to a bunch of working class male fetish objects. There’s also a single mother love interest subplot for the romance set. Machan gets a few scene-chewing moments, but little chance of character development. Mana Ashida is darling. With Bunny Drop one gets the impression that movies may be beginning to catch up with what society has pretty much put behind many years ago. Tales of child rearing and growing up are timeless, but Usagi Drop adds little to the genre.

Variety Reviews - Bunny Drop - Film Reviews - Shanghai Fest ...  Russell Edwards

Japanese helmer Sabu masterfully pulls a rabbit out of a cliched hat with "Bunny Drop," a joyful variation on the normally cloying adult-saddled-with-a-kid genre. Devoid of pretension and perfectly cast, pic has a gentle simplicity and takes a direct approach to parenthood's emotional riches. Given that Sabu is already a festival fave, this heartwarming confection will have no trouble hopping around the circuit. The source manga's huge following alone will help the film leap high at the Nipponese B.O. when it's released in August; beyond Asia, it will be a tougher sell.

Ever since "Little Miss Marker" in 1934, films have enjoyed forcing unlikely single men to look out for abandoned tots. Japanese films visit this setup repeatedly -- the original manga of "Bunny Drop" has already twice been made into an anime since it started in 2005 -- and the culture's sometimes queasy-making preoccupation with ingenues can make such films look morally suspect. Sabu circumvents all such obstacles here to deliver a film that is remarkable, despite its mostly unremarkable content.

Twenty-seven-year-old salaryman Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama, "Gantz," "Death Note") returns to his family home after a long, unexplained absence to attend his grandfather's funeral. Six-year-old Rin (Mana Ashida), the grandfather's deplored love child, is also there, although her mother is nowhere to be seen, and the rest of the family ignores her. Though it takes a while for Daikichi to adjust to the idea that this doe-eyed tyke is his aunt, he is appalled that his relatives want to dump her in an orphanage; in a flash of nobility, he offers to take care of Rin himself.

Back in Tokyo, Daikichi puts Rin in day-care but, like any single parent, still has to juggle his extensive work commitments, a grueling Tokyo train commute and increased home duties. Rin complicates matters further with the usual childhood problems: wetting the bed, not making friends, then making friends, becoming sick, experiencing feelings of abandonment and posing tricky questions about death. Still, all in all, cynics may decry Daikichi's relatively easy run as a single male parent in rigid, conservative Japan.

Sabu's pics ("Monday," "Hard Luck Hero") often generate comedy by upping the what-else-could-possibly-go-wrong ante, but here he plays against fans' expectations by keeping the wackiness to a minimum. Early on, a couple of hilarious, fashion magazine-inspired romantic fantasy sequences soften auds in preparation for the more mundane drama ahead, but the pic's familiarity and adherence to everyday trials and tribulations turn out to be its true strength. A dramatic climax that might have provoked shrugs of indifference is instead delivered with sweet perfection, though Sabu never administers too much sugar at once.

Matsuyama is sublimely deadpan as the loving single dad, and distaff thesp Karina does a lot with a little as the single mom who gives Daikichi parenting tips and provides a possible love interest. But the pic's main motor is the cuteness of tyke Ashida, who was only 6 when "Bunny Drop" was filmed but already had nine feature films on her resume. Clearly she's no amateur, and her high-quality perf is well supported by her co-stars and Sabu's judicious direction.

Lensing by Hiroo Yanagida has the soft-focus look favored by Japanese independent cinema. Like the script, Masayuki Iwakura's upbeat score flirts with treacle, but brings a great sense of fun to the film when it underlines the romantic fantasies of its male protag. Other tech credits are solid.

Camera (color, widescreen), Hiroo Yanagida; editor, Naoya Bando; music, Masayuki Iwakura; art director, Etsuko Akiba. Reviewed at Shanghai Film Festival (competing), June 15, 2011. Running time: 108 MIN.

The Japan Times [Mark Schilling]

 

Safdie, Josh

 

THE PLEASURE OF BEING ROBBED

USA  (68 mi)  2008

 

The Pleasure Of Being Robbed  Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily

 

A glance at the multi-tasking names in the credits is enough to show just how homemade New York film-maker Josh Safdie's debut film is. And at just 68 minutes, it challenges the definition of full-length feature. But it would be a shame to hold either limitation against it, as The Pleasure Of Being Robbed is a charming indie title, suffused with the spirit of the French New Wave of the early sixties and possessed of a quirky likeability that has as much to do with co-writer Eleonore Hendricks' delicate performance as an urban vagabond who likes to steal things just for the hell of it, as with Safdie's sure command of tone.

Premiering at Austin's SXSW festival before moving to its Directors' Fortnight closing night slot, this divertissement with its Super 8 aesthetic reminds us that the best low-budget filmmaking can deliver a celluloid freshness that big productions lack. But the film's grungy look and ultra-slim running time is bound to limit its theatrical potential. Presenting the film (as happened in Cannes) as part of a package with Josh's film-maker brother Benny's 13-minute short The Acquaintances Of A Lonely John could be a fix for the running-time issue, but outside of New York, festivals and specialist cineclub are still going to be the main distribution model.

Editor, co-producer and DoP Brett Jutkiewicz's shaky handheld camera follows gamine, crop-fringed Eleonore (Hendricks) – a sort of present-day Jean Seberg – as she wanders the streets of New York, lifting a strangers' handbag after embracing her, and walking off with a holdall which turns out to contain a dog and some kittens. Gradually it becomes clear that dreamy, carefree, live-for-the-moment Eleonore is not a standard thief: she doesn't take money, and when she starts looking for the car that goes with the keys she's just filched, it's because she wants to sit in it, as she can't drive. But her geekily cool friend Josh (Safdie) persuades her to take him home in the car – and so begins a driving lesson in real city streets that looks alarmingly authentic.

Occasionally the plot's inconequentiality gets the better of it, but before things can drag too long events veer in an unpredictable direction.

Neither over-cute or over-long, The Pleasure Of Being Robbed is a paean to a city and those who fight to keep it on the side of non-conformity. Safdie's debut is so lo-fi it makes the films of Hal Hartley look like Hollywood, but scratch the surface and there's the same air of gentle New York eccentricity. The tasty soundtrack mixes indie rock from groups like The Beets with older classics – like the wistful Thelonius Monk piece that wraps this small, genial, poetic film.
 
GO GET SOME ROSEMARY

USA   (100 mi)  2009  co-director:  Bennie Safdie  

 

Melissa Anderson   at Cannes from Artforum, May 16, 2009

JET LAG, LACK OF SLEEP, watching four to six films a day, trying to remember how to conjugate the passé composé: All can contribute to a certain sense of losing one’s grip, of not being able to separate dream and waking life. Did I really see a festooned baby elephant marching down the Croisette this afternoon? Was I really assaulted by a projectile sugar cube as I headed toward the Salle Debussy?

Mine wasn’t the only notion of reality that was slightly askew: Cracked ideas about parenting dominated the day’s moviegoing. Tyros Josh and Bennie Safdie, both of whom had work in last year’s Directors’ Fortnight, returned to the Fortnight this year with their first feature collaboration, the oddly buoyant Go Get Some Rosemary. Starring Ronald Bronstein (director of last year’s Frownland) as Lenny, a wiry, divorced NYC dad taking care of his two young sons, Sage and Frey (exceptionally spirited half-pints Sage and Frey Ranaldo), for two weeks in New York, Go Get Some Rosemary (2009) demonstrates that father knows worst. When Lenny, a film projectionist, has to go into work unexpectedly but can’t find a sitter, he figures giving his kids a third of a sedative so they can be unconscious for several hours is better than having them wake up and flip out when they see no one’s home. Rosemary, much like Josh Safdie’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008), assembles a superb cast of weirdos orbiting around a profoundly flawed main character. Though at times borderline psychotic, Lenny is often the perfect playmate for his sons—maybe because his sense of logic is about as developed as an eight-year-old’s.

Go Get Some Rosemary  Howard Feinstein at Cannes from Screendaily

 
In his debut feature The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008), New York City native Josh Safdie shot scenes of the Big Apple from a car that were totally fresh—not an easy feat in a metropolis that has been filmed nearly every which way. Now he and brother Benny come close to accomplishing the same, but from the vantage point of a pedestrian in a pointedly unglamorous Manhattan.
 
That man on the street is an un-ambitious, divorced man-child named Lenny (Bronstein), who manically darts to and fro attempting, mostly in vain, to care for his kids during his annual two-week child custody (the character is based on Safdies’ own father). That they opt for a frequently close-in, jerky camera style and a grainy look could limit the film’s commercial life to urban arthouses in the US, although some European territories are more open to such low-budget American indie fare. Yet the movie’s winning humour could prove a sales asset. It is grounded not in laugh lines but in the odd situations in which Lenny finds himself, and the bizarre friends and acquaintances he comes across (the most memorable being a man who sings Cuanto Caliente el Sol into a microphone while waterskiing). 
 
A projectionist, Lenny is played with relish by Bronstein, an indie director himself (Frownland), who captures the character’s frenzied immaturity as well as his infectious zest for life. His self-absorption and avoidance of responsibility conflict with the obligations placed upon him when his two adorable sons, nine-year-old Sage (Sage Ranaldo) and seven-year-old Frey (Frey Ranaldo), come to stay in his untidy midtown tenement apartment.
 
Lenny acts less like their father than their peer, and he makes some unwise choices regarding the children. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too, to have them around while still maintaining the freedom he has become used to. He sneaks out to see women. He nearly kills the kids with sedatives so they will sleep while he goes to work, although the fact he is responding to workplace blackmail by an uncompromising boss allows him to remain a sympathetic figure in our eyes.
 
Lenny commands the screen. He is the consummate New Yorker: spontaneous, sassy, manipulative. He could be referring to himself when he shows the boys an enlarged model of a mosquito at the Museum of Natural History, informing them that “they are native to New York.” Underneath his adolescent behavior, however, lies a repressed layer of melancholy, most notably manifest when he is home alone after the boys have returned to their mother. Gone is his engaging friskiness, but he is nothing if not resilient. In constant denial, and incapable of letting himself experience emotional pain, he takes drastic action. To their credit, the Safdies leave the finale open-ended.
 
After a while, the continuous handheld style and gritty texture begin to feel a little mannered, a bit vertiginous. Fortunately, Bronstein’s high-energy presence overcomes any formal quibble.   
 
Exporting Old New York to France: Cannes Diary 05/19/09  Karina Longworth at Cannes from SpoutBlog

Meanwhile, I spent much of my second full day in Cannes thinking about a Directors’ Fortnight double feature I caught the night before: Like You Know it All, the latest ode to drunken paralysis and hungover confusion by Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (see my review here); and Go Get Some Rosemary, the second Fortnight feature in as many years from Red Bucket Films and their 20-something progenitors, New York-based brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. Both films are (at least) semi-autobiographical portraits of men who work in film but languish on the far margins of what we think of as “the industry”; both use humor to ingratiate us into the worldviews of protagonists who, at best, display a thought process that’s skewed, and at worse, exhibit behavior that cannot be excused. Where the former may depend on a familiarity with the director’s previous work to complete the joke, the latter’s blend of slapstick and surrealism in what should be super-serious situations helps to crystalize the Safdie style sketched out in last year’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed. Fueled by a go-for-broke lead performance by Frownland filmmaker Ronnie Bronstein, the Safdies’ follow-up should win over at least a few skeptics who failed to see the charm in their debut.

The film’s opening scene gives a fair sense of the tone to come. Lenny (Bronstein) buys a hot dog and then attempts to climb over a fence into a park. He falls and drops his hot dog, and, cracking up laughing at himself, puts the meat back in the bun and continues through the park, eating and laughing. Set mainly over a rocky two week period in which 30-something fuck-up Lenny has custody of his two young sons, Go Get Some Rosemary plays out in vignettes, in which Lenny tries to barrel through the day and fails with increasingly dire consequences. You watch his ill-advised problem solving in horror (it gets a lot worse than eating a dirty hot dog), but, somehow laugh with him and become invested in wanting him to do better, even as his desperate, impulse-guided self-absorbtion seems to evolve into pure insanity.

Though the filmmakers still have a ways to go in terms of equaling their energy, enthusiasm and imagination with technical consistency (there are moments in this film where the wobbly hand-held camera absolutely works to plant us in the middle of a scene and convey the mood of total chaos, and there are other moments where I wanted to reach out and grab the image just to keep it from moving),  Rosemary is a step up from Pleasure both visually and narratively. Shot by Josh Safdie and Brett Jutkiewicz on 16mm film, in one scene Rosemary ups the ante on the arts-and-crafts dream logic of Pleasure’s climax, and elsewhere applies a kind of hyper-verite. Though comparisons to filmmakers from John Cassavetes to Lodge Kerrigan could probably apply, the Safdies seeming to take the greatest inspiration from the anarchic spirit of late-20th century New York legend, reinvigorating the notion of the city as a place where anything could happen. On some level, the movie may even be an unassuming period piece — there’s no overt indication that it takes place in anything but the present day, but I don’t recall seeing a cell phone or a hybrid car, and if the Safdies were consciously setting the story in the pre-Giuliani days of their youth, the depiction of New York as a wonderful/horrible playground full of creeps (one amusingly played by a famously off-kilter, Cannes-beloved American director) and creepy-crawlies would fit.

Certainly, the Fortnight seems to have planted the responsibility of restoring indie New York street cinema on the brothers’ narrow shoulders. Olivier Père, the section’s artistic director, said as much in his introduction to Rosemary’s Saturday night premiere, calling the Safdies “a kind of symbol for us … you will see tonight we have plenty of reason for hope in American indie film, and New York film.” Hope is all well and good, but considering that the last Safdie feature followed up their Fortnight closing night premiere by screening in New York for barely a week, I just hope that New Yorkers will eventually have a way to judge this new work for themselves.

Eric Kohn  Moving Pictures 
 
Cannes. "Go Get Some Rosemary"  David Hudson at Cannes from the IFC Blog, May 17, 2009

 

Natasha Senjanovic  at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 17, 2009

 
Rob Nelson  at Cannes from Variety, May 16, 2009     

 

Sagan, Leontine

 

MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM

Germany  (88 mi)  1931

 

Madchen in Uniform  Don Druker from the Reader

 

Leontine Sagan's remarkable film sees a lesbian relationship as the only available alternative to the authoritarian order as a boarding school for daughters of the Prussian military aristocracy becomes a microcosm of Germany, circa 1931. Based on a play by Christa Winsloe, performed by an all-woman cast, independently made, and cooperatively financed, this was one of the few genuine women's films of the 30s. In German with subtitles. 87 min.

 

Time Out

A key early German talkie: a powerful melodrama about life in a Prussian boarding school for the daughters of the bourgeoisie - a bastion of the ideology of 'strength through suffering'. The plot mechanics are predictable - unhappy pupil with crush on housemistress is driven to attempt suicide - but the atmosphere and sensitivity to teenage fears are not: stage actress Leontine Sagan brings an exceptionally warm touch to her depiction of female friendships, and her denunciation of the Prussian orthodoxy is more a matter of subtle imagery than shrill accusations. Whether it adds up to a precursor of militant lesbianism is another question...

Chris Dashiell at CineScene (down the page)

 

A sensitive girl (Hertha Thiele) does not respond well to the disciplinarian atmosphere of a boarding school, and develops an attachment to the one teacher (Dorothea Wieck) who shows her some sympathy. This German film was made right before Hitler came to power and was written and directed by women with an all-female cast. Although it has become famous for its subtle hint of lesbian desire, the picture is more about the destructiveness of authoritarianism. The strict, rigid methods of the headmistress contrast with the emotional vulnerability of the girls. (And the school's striped uniforms seem to eerily foretell the concentration camps.) The story takes an unusual turn, with a climax which is surprisingly tender and profound. I'm frankly amazed that this deeply humanist film was made at all. Although not a masterpiece of style (the acting is sometimes a bit wooden as well), I was touched by Maedchen in Uniform, and saddened by my knowledge of what was to come.

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Erika Balsom from Cine-File

The story of a fourteen year old girl's relationship to both her teacher and her headmistress at a traditional German boarding school, Leontine Sagan's MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM is a film marked both by controversy and multiple stages of critical assessment. Although popular in Europe upon release in 1931, the film was banned both in the US (to be released only after significant cuts) and by Goebbels following the Nazi assumption of power. It was not shown again in Germany until a 1977 television broadcast, while screenings at New York and Chicago women's film festivals in the mid-70s generated a significant reevaluation of the film, heralding it as a landmark of queer cinema, with some suggesting that it may be the first film with an openly lesbian storyline. In his seminal survey of Weimar cinema, From Caligari To Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer reads the film as a progressive response to the rising tide of fascism that was to overtake Germany in 1933. Despite its abstention from the expressionism that dominated the 1920s, Kracauer sees MADCHEN, along with films like DOCTOR MABUSE and THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, as exploring ideas of despotism and rebellion, with the tyrants of their story lines as nothing less than prefigurations of Hitler. MADCHEN's anti-fascism dominates much of the early commentary on the film, which sees it as a critique of the authoritarianism of the Prussian school system and an exploration of the emotional ramifications of life under dictatorship. However, such a reading obscures the film's palpable lesbian cadence. As B. Ruby Rich has written, " ... most important to the film's reputation through the years has been its significance as an anti-authoritarian and prophetically anti-fascist film....In emphasizing the film's progressive stance in relation to the Nazi assumption of power, however, film historians have tended to overlook, minimize, or trivialize the film's central concern with love between women... One of the few films to have an inherently gay sensibility, it is also one of the most central to establishing a history of lesbian cinema."

BBCi - Films  Jason Wood

Leontine Sagan's ground-breaking early German talkie was representative of a new kind of film which emerged from a period in Weimar history when homosexuality was seen as fashionable. Set in almost exclusively all-female environments, the films (of which Mädchen in Uniform was one of the first - and certainly one of the best) can be read as pre-cursors to militant lesbianism.

Mädchen is set in a Prussian boarding school for the daughters of officers and the bourgeoisie. It follows the part-tragic story of an unhappy pupil, Manuela (Thiele) whose crush on her angelic teacher, Fraulein Von Bernburg (Wieck - astounding) ruffles the feathers of the demonic Headmistress (Unda, suitably terrifying and icy).

The headmistress sets out to destroy the fragile girl who slowly begins to contemplate suicide as the only escape from her suffering and torment, all the while oblivious to her teacher's kindness and the glowing esteem with which her classmates are beginning to view her.

The premise of the film (which simply drips atmosphere and angst) is simple and plays as the most dramatic and heart-wrenching of melodrama's. It is beautifully crafted and performed, evocatively lit, and sensitively directed by former Austrian stage actress Sagan - amazingly it was her début and given the political repercussions she subsequently suffered, something of a baptism of fire.

Although one may view this film as simply a great love story and an anti-fascist call to arms, it was quickly re-claimed as a landmark film in the evolution of Queer cinema, becoming an important and challenging piece of film-making in this context. But in whatever context one views it, the depth, beauty, and compassion of the film is undeniable and it will forever retain an important place in cinematic and sexual history.

Maedchen In Uniform   From repressive tolerance to erotic liberation, by B. Ruby Rich from Jump Cut

 

The Celluloid Closet  Looking for what isn't there, by Martha Fleming from Jump Cut

 

Black Hole Reviews

 

FilmFanatic.org

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

The New York Times (Mordaunt Hall)

 

Sai, Yôichi

 

QUILL

Japan  (100 mi)  2004

 

Quill   Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

Those festival programmers sure are cunning, holding this film back until the end of the festival when we're all sleep-deprived and vulnerable, all our steely discernment worn down until we just let loose with a collective "Awwww...." From a critical perspective, making a film about the life cycle of a cute little doggie is dirty pool, like competing with the aid of a performance-enhancing steroid. But despite this, I must say that Sai gives the material if not the best possible treatment, certainly a skillful and intelligent enough overall structure to obviate needless mawkishness. His depiction of Quill's relationship with his blind owner, a forceful, no-nonsense activist for the disabled, is particularly well conceived. (Watch for the moment at the rec center when the man is speaking to his wife with a group of his friends, and he replies to her question both verbally and in sign language.) The movie hits its emotional pivot points like a machine, but the highest compliment I can pay Quill is that it manages to manipulate without being ruthless about it. It's a deeply humane film, and I felt no need to harden my heart against it. I.e., I wept like a little baby. When this gets released -- not if, when -- I suspect it'll become the most successful Japanese film since the 60s. It can't miss. Slap the Sony Classics logo on this puppy and watch him go.

 

Said, Marcela

 

THE SUMMER OF FLYING FISH (El verano de los peces voladores)                  B+                   90

Chile  France  (88 mi)  2013

 

A film set within the non-narrative, impressionistic style of South American cinema where establishing mood is paramount, creating a recognizable visual landscape that the viewer frequently returns to, but what happens within this elusive realm may be subject to one’s own imagination, where the director creates an artistic canvas, but refuses to reveal significant details, moving seamlessly within an atmospheric dream state where it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and imaginary, leaving the viewer to sort out the details.  Similar to neighboring New Argentine Cinema directors Lucrecia Martel or Lisandro Alonso, or even Mexican director Carlos Reygadas in 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #2 Post Tenebras Lux , this is a visually sublime style of cinema that tends to thrive in the subconscious realms, where it literally refuses to provide clarity or rational thought, instead only offering clues, existing along the periphery where each viewer is likely to have a different reaction.  In this manner, fifty different viewers are likely to get fifty different reactions, all of which contribute to the experimental nature of this style of filmmaking.  One recalls the hypnotic somnambulistic quality of Lisandro Alonso’s LOS MUERTOS (2004), a mesmerizing slow burn through a dense jungle, where the camera acts as the eyes of the audience exploring the vicinity, where alienation is revealed through fragmentary images that barely piece together a whole.  LIVERPOOL (2008) is another intense, trance-inducing study in solitude, a near wordless movie that takes place almost entirely in the viewer’s head, as there are no connecting threads to a story, only a wandering, ghost-like journey that expresses how easily one can each lose their place in life.  Lucrecia Martel’s first feature LA CIÉNAGA (2001) is a masterwork of claustrophobic cinema, providing an atmosphere of idle affluence, featuring a multitude of oddly populated Buñuel-like people lounging around an overgrown resort pool doing nothing, seemingly without purpose, becoming a dissection of class indifference.  Even more compelling may be the art films of Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, where image is knowledge, where you can count on extreme visualization and an austerity of form.  In his most recent film, 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #2 Post Tenebras Lux , he nearly disregards narrative altogether, becoming a profoundly influential modernist work that simply operates in a different cinematic vernacular, existing in a dreamlike plateau where humans often play a secondary role.  While South American literature is known for magical realism, there is a cutting edge group of experimental South American film directors known for abstract often incomprehensible narratives, but extremely poetic, stream-of-conscious visual schemes, to which we must add Marcela Said, a Chilean filmmaker with a documentary background, having studied film and media at the Paris-Sorbonne University while also working as a photography assistant to Sara Matthews in New York. 

 

First and foremost there is the morning mist creeping along the shadows of a lake surrounded by the abnormally pristine natural beauty in areas of Curarrehue, Coñaripe, and Liquiñe in southern Chile, where wealthy landowner Don Francisco, also known as Pancho (Gregory Cohen), has built a magnificent modern hacienda in the middle of a dense forest.  This idyllic location is mesmerizing to the eyes, as impressive a place to live as one could possibly imagine, but it belies a growing undercurrent of unseen danger, underscored by a sinister threat lurking out in the forest, giving a slight feel of horror, which seems to be the source of the dark, unfolding mystery.  Cinematographer Inti Briones, who also captured the wild natural beauty of the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia in Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet (2011), as well as the completely artificial, literary world of Raúl Ruiz’s Night Across the Street (La noche de enfrente) (2012), uses the camera to probe the surroundings as we observe Pancho’s daughter Manena (Francisca Walker) in an opening walk through the forest, quickly getting under the surface when the pet dog disappears and gets lost in the lush foliage.  Her father is an orderly patriarch used to having things done his way, where one of his obsessions is getting rid of the carp inhabiting the lake by using dynamite.  Such an intentional violation of nature is not without consequences.  The root of this conflict goes back to the era of the Conquistadors when the white Europeans colonized the South American indigenous populations, where there remains a difference of opinion on who owns the land that for generations was used by native people.  Wealthy descendants of those original Europeans are landowners who build vacation homes on what has traditionally been the hunting and fishing grounds of the local Mapuche people, who comprise 85% of the Indigenous peoples in Chile.  Plunging her camera into these primeval forests, Said brings to the foreground some of these grievances that are largely ignored by the larger population.  Pancho’s hired help are all Mapuche natives, likely the lowest paid on the economic scale (nannies, maids, security guards, and servants) and also the most mistreated.  When one of the young hired hands, Pedro (Carlos Cayuqueo), is injured from a dynamite blast, Pancho couldn’t be less concerned, as all he’s worried about is getting rid of the fish, in contrast to Manena who is outraged at the way her father treats his workers.  We sense the frustrations brewing from the natives who are forced to see good fish go to waste, uncovering piles of dead fish buried indiscriminately throughout the forest.  Don Francisco is also intent on placing fences along his land, making it difficult for natives to hunt in their natural habitat, causing friction when his unleashed dogs attack their livestock.  His manner in addressing their concerns is expressed through a haughty superiority, crassly paying them off simply to make them go away, and then cursing them under his breath. 

 

While we hear the offscreen sound of dogs barking endlessly, especially noticeable in the still of the night, it’s a sign of continuing instability, yet part of the overall mindset.  While Manena smokes pot and jumps between two young guys, Lorca (Guillermo Lorca), a cute young painter, and Pedro, the indigenous hired hand, where she is eventually cheated on, leaving her angered, betrayed, and her dreams for a better world deflated.  A drunk and completely wasted Pedro is found passed out in the pitch black of the night, lying in the middle of the road, unable to stand up, where he refuses aid, but the scene is shot from the back seat of Pancho’s SUV, where Manena is unable to decipher what she’s seeing, adding more than a touch of horror and suspense, amplifying a sense of the unease, compounded by an eerie score from Alexander Zekke.  The details of the story became less and less relevant, where much more important are the "attitudes" being conveyed, where Don Francisco doesn't have to listen to anyone, not his daughter, his wife, his hired help, his neighbors, the townspeople, and ultimately not even the police, especially after he hides a known fugitive from justice, completely disregarding the laws of man, all of which contributes to an escalation of violence.  By placing himself above the law, he is a representative of man’s folly, the delusion that money can somehow make things right and lead to happiness.  In this case, it does the opposite, where the largely unseen presence of the Mapuche natives grow more irritable with his racist acts of indifference, where Pancho can be seen drunkenly joking and complaining about having to recognize indigenous “land rights.”  While the colonialist people in the film are largely contemptible, they are secondary to the overall notion of cinematic art, which instead creates abstract impressionistic images that tend to stick in the viewer’s subconscious afterwards, where over time we'll remember much of the mixed messages and the jumbled mosaic.  But the key to the film is the impressive camerawork, where the one constant throughout is the pristine beauty of the region, continually shot under a shroud of lingering fog or rain, where it's Said's use of location shooting that impresses the most, where the director uses “exterior” geographical landscapes to heighten the “interior” examination of the characters.  It’s a film of astonishing subtlety and social conscience, where colonial man is not only out of balance from the natural world around them, which feels overwhelming and all-consuming, but also themselves, where the rich, who have everything, are in a perpetual state of delusion, completely indifferent to the world that they casually ignore.  This is non-commercial arthouse cinema usually only screened at festivals, where the director’s first fictional feature premiered at Director's Fortnight at Cannes

 

Georgia Straight [Janet Smith]

The title sounds light, but in this subtly ominous coming-of-age story, a girl comes to realize her rich family’s idyllic life of leisure on a misty hot springs ranch is deeply flawed. She’s old enough not just to see her parents’ imminent marital breakdown, but more importantly, the indigenous Mapuche’s growing intolerance of moneyed white elites on their land. Atmospherically shot, bathed in foreboding music, this one speaks little in actual words but carries lush rain forests of meaning about class, entitlement, and a new generation in Chile’s countryside.

The Summer of Flying Fish - Film Society of Lincoln Center   Film Comment

Don Francisco is celebrated for the effective if increasingly violent ways he employs to exterminate the carp that overpopulate the artificial lake on his property in the majestically beautiful areas of Curarrehue, Coñaripe, and Liquiñe in southern Chile. His beloved 16-year-old daughter, Manena, seems to be the only one aware of the growing tension surrounding them, as the demands of the Mapuche Indians that have lived and worked in the area for centuries have gone unheard for too long. Marcela Said brings her sharp observational skills as a documentarian to this fiction/nonfiction hybrid, working on location with nonprofessional actors to create a quietly powerful denunciation of environmental destruction and social injustice. But she also succeeds in crafting a moving and vivid youth drama through Manena’s tricky predicament, caught between loyalty to her family and to what she knows is right.

TIFF 2013 | The Summer of Flying Fish (Marcela Said, Chile ...  Robert Koehler from Cinema Scope

The long shadow of Lucrecia Martel casts itself over the atmospherically weighty, metaphorically leaden The Summer of Flying Fish, Marcela Said’s uncertain entry into fiction after a string of non-fiction features. After Martel rewrote the coming-of-age playbook a decade ago in Argentina with La cienaga, Said is late to the same game in neighbouring Chile, where teen girl Manena (Francisca Walker) witnesses the alienation between her landowner family and the indigenous workers waging what appears to be full-on rebellion on the family’s southern woodlands property. While the key to both films is the point-of-view from an upper-class perspective, there’s a crucial difference: Martel allowed space for her working-class characters to gain considerable power in the interstices of her elliptical narrative; Said falls into the trap of abstracting everyone outside the obnoxious family circle, rendering the brewing war on the film’s borders to the scale of a negligible skirmish at best. The gorgeous rendering of the lushly forested landscapes begins to play the unfortunate role of covering over the movie’s extremely slim and obvious content, in which each family member plays their proscribed and predictable role, down to Manena’s dad as a deluded mini-caudillo.

Modern Americans by Aaron Cutler - Moving Image Source  Aaron Cutler

The Summer of Flying Fish (2013) tells this ongoing story, essentially from the point of view of the conquerors. Its main character is Manena (Francisca Walker), a wealthy teenage girl from Santiago. She has moved with her family to a forest area in the South of Chile near Patagonia, where her landowner father, Pancho (Gregory Cohen), is steadily claiming the area’s resources with local help. His employees include Pedro (Roberto Cayuqueo), a shy Mapuche boy who gradually exposes his love for rock music to Manena, and in whom Manena’s interest steadily grows.

Filmmaker Marcela Said, creating her first fiction film following four documentaries, has chosen to tell Summer largely from Manena’s point of view. This choice lends the film a strong documentary element, with the viewer absorbing and discovering landscapes of the Aruacanía and Los Rios regions at the same time as Manena does; it also simultaneously gives the work a quality of dramatic irony, with much of the story’s action hovering just beyond what Manena can see.

Scenes of the Mapuche conflict are rarely shown onscreen in the film, as are any Mapuche people aside from Pedro. Summer instead gives several moments of Manena and other new residents to the area walking and swimming through their forest surroundings, or else relaxing in their large homes, attended by servants. The film implies that these casual moments of discovery and pleasure have come from a new breed of colonialism, in which transplanted white people enjoy themselves in a new place thanks to the work of unseen darker-skinned people that have cultivated it for centuries.

Meanwhile, violence breaks out around the edges of the frame. One of the film’s first scenes shows Manena in a car with her family members, witnessing police cordoning off an area for reasons that her father races past too quickly for her to discern. The reasons are hinted at in Pancho’s subsequent ongoing quest to blow up the carp fish pervading the water around his new home, which risks driving himself and others around him deaf. His efforts (which Said and co-screenwriter Julio Rojas based on a true story) serve as a metaphor for local powers hurting themselves in the name of self-protection. They will gain resonance as he attempts to purge himself of native influences in the name of his family while driving its members away..

Pancho’s actions—increasingly violent, and increasingly met with native resistance—particularly impact the relationship between Pedro and Manena. In time, the girl becomes less willing to accept her patriarch’s gifts, and more sympathetic and open to new friends. The viewer, in sharing Manena’s position, sees life through the eyes of a naïve, privileged person growing aware of her privilege’s source. What she will ultimately do with this knowledge remains, at film’s end, unsaid.

[TIFF Review] The Summer of Flying Fish - The Film Stage  John Fink

The Summer of Flying Fish is not an easy film to discuss. Sparse, beautiful and often leaving the audience in limbo, the narrative feature debut of Chilean documentarian Marcela Said takes a unique on-the-ground point of view verses the political arial overview. The film is an ensemble character drama, told mostly in long, observant takes, using a long-standing conflict between the native Mapunche and white (European) landowners. For uninitiated audiences, the film offers little backstory, as initially, the conflict is treated as a background event that occasionally enters an annoyance (quite literally in one scene, a road block).

At the center of the story is Poncho (Gregory Cohen), a wealthy landowner and his daughter, Manena (Francisca Walker), whom we learn is American. He wishes to head to Manhattan, she doesn’t – and this is not a major plot point. A structure this lucid is a little disorienting at times, however Marcela Said’s documentary roots create a superb sense of realism, including the employment of non-professional actors. Representative of a new trend in Latin American cinema (along with Lisandro Alonso, the Argentine director), Said has crafted a realistic, ethnographic narrative, a study of landscape and political geographies more so than characters — however it is very interesting that this is perhaps not her intent.

The film subtly shows the rhythms of life and work, including Pancho’s obsession with the carp population in his private lake (leading to an incident where a young man potentially loses his hearing when Pancho orders explosives used). This is not treated as an action sequence of a pinnacle of great drama, but it’s rather a small moment. Manena grows rebellious as all teenagers do — but again, no tremendous moments of drama. Cold and observant, Said’s camera remains at a distance (often in slightly unconventional frames, frequently in a medium to wide shot). I fear this distance may not always work, especially for an audience unfamiliar with this conflict; the information requires some heavy lifting from the audience.

Yet, perhaps this is all the more reason to experience The Summer of Flying Fish. It’s a sensory immersion experience with some stunning landscape shots. Also these shots are slightly off and look as if they were photographed a stop or two too dark. The plight of the Mapunche peoples is grossly under-represented and this is by no means a drama that simplifies the history of the conflict into a traditional three-story narrative encompassing the past, present and future in a matter that is easy to understand. In fact, Said provides a more unique approach; we are privileged to see the world from the perspective of a documentarian gathering facts. The heavy lifting requires assembling the narrative from the raw data we’ve given in 85 minutes. While this device isn’t the most effective (or the broadest), it respects the intelligence of the audience while testing their level of engagement. Challenging in passages, The Summer of Flying Fish is a beautiful and troubling portrait.

TIFF Review: 'The Summer of Flying Fish ... - Indiewire  Carlos Aguilar

 

Review: the summer of flying fish tries to tackle a ... - Twitch  Jaime Grijalba Gomez

 

The ongoing Chilean new wave yields Flying Fish | Bleader ...  Ben Sachs from The Reader

 

The Summer Of Flying Fish - Screen International  Mark Adams

 

Cannes by Koehler: The Owners & Ate ver a luz | Film ...  Robert Koehler from Film Comment, May 31, 2013

 

looking good - artforum.com / film  Tony Pipolo from Artforum, January 6, 2014

 

Facets : Cinematheque Schedule: The Summer of Flying Fish

 

Tensions and pressures that are almost unbearable - World ...  David Walsh from the World Socialist Web Site

 

by Marcela Said The Summer of Flying Fish - Alpha Violet

 

Chile in Toronto, Part 2: Marcela Said on her Film ... - Indiew  Sydney Levine interview from IndieWIRE, September 17, 2013

 

Hollywood Reporter [Stephen Dalton]

 

Cannes Film Review: 'The Summer of Flying Fish' - Variety  Peter Debruge

 

The Summer of Flying Fish - The Boston Globe

 

Miami New Times - Cultist blog [Hans Morgenstern]

 

The Summer of Flying Fish - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Saïto, Daïchi

 

TREES OF SYNTAX, LEAVES OF AXIS

Canada  (10 mi)  2009

 

2009 New York Film Festival / Views From the Avant-Garde ("The Home Game"  Michael Sicinski from The Academic Hack, Program Eleven

Trees of Syntax is a short work which, as the title obliquely promises, focuses on dense foliage and trunk patterns of what seems like hundreds of trees (although on 2nd viewing I thought I saw certain areas of park recur). What Saïto does is to generate a photographic system whereby the body of the images -- the trees themselves -- are the sole figure in a super-high-contrast photographic field, surrounded by a dense black background. Rather than the images fading in and out, they seem to pop onto the screen only to be resubmerged into the inky darkness a half-second later. Trees of Syntax utilizes extreme high-contrast printing to allow the trees to "appear" from an isolated visual field, registering as pure, only partially representational forms. At other points in the film, it appears as though Saïto has printed his "image track" through a differentially-engraved black-leader scrim, such that his carvings into the emulsion can control how much of the original image of the trees will come through visually, and when, and how it will retract. This process would be complex enough in itself, but Saïto has also subjected the tree footage to radiant, almost searing colors, so that the forms that burst through the wall of black murk are like energy-charged globules of pure light, glistening like stained glass, falling away like fireworks. It's impossible not to think of Brakhage's hand-painted films while viewing Trees of Syntax, but Saïto's use of color, shape and movement are exceedingly different. He chips away at these charmed particles specifically in order to keep them balanced on the edge of representational intelligibility.

Like Impressionist painting outfitted with a new, late-modernist attitude, Trees of Syntax plays with conditions of light and texture, but also with human cognition pitched at a slight but rather exciting panic mode. In musical terms, the film is an agitato, and the film's soundtrack, by violinist Malcolm Goldstein, is a rare instance of a score that functions in tandem with the experimental film of which it is a part. Goldstein's jagged Webern / Boulez style modernism, all jumps and jots, perfectly amplifies Saïto's continual playing against the dark void. And, much as the Goldstein score communicates rough edges prodding the surrounding silence, Saïto's tactile method of layering results in a picture plane that vibrates even when its denotative contents -- the same tree -- have not changed. That's because, of course, the negative space is fluctuating, generating a kind of artificial wind. What's more, Saïto's color scheme often shifts within single one-second passages, in ways either subtle (say, between lime and kelly green) or dramatic (green against lilac, for example). While Saïto's eye as a colorist does owe a debt to Brakhage (something I suspect he'd freely admit), his orchestration of these painterly gestures within the circumscribed bounds of rapidly shifting pictures -- trees and foliage -- produces an aesthetic that bears little of Brakhage's sweep of line and gesture, replacing it with the jittery vibration of blocks of color, interrupted mid-movement by "obstructions" which are, ironically, their very subject matter.

More simply, Saïto's dazzling forms keep running into trees. In fact, the film's very title articulates the deep ambivalence with which it regards these organic shapes. Saïto aims to confront them with an organizational principle of some kind, however tentative: "trees of syntax" form the one, sometimes two vertical formations that mold the individual frames; "leaves of axis" take those forms out toward the edges of the frame, much as leaves function as the axes in botanical terms -- longitudinal support and arrangement. Although Saïto's film is too frantic to provide classic structuralism (and who'd want that anyway?), it could be said to invoke a sort of scientific average, the sum of the compositions providing a way to think about trees as potential components of film form. Again, a dialectic: how can an artist make use of the natural world while allowing it to retain its fundamental character? In spite of being constructed according to some very clear plans, Trees of Syntax still scrambles our sensorium, providing an alternate map through the woods. Destination: lost. Rigorously, epiphanically lost.

[ADDENDUM: Mr. Saïto was kind enough to contact me privately regarding this review, and as you'll note from the semi-redacted portions above, I was incorrect about certain of his production techniques. I have a tendency to do very little advance reading prior to writing about a film, since I am always interested in trying to analytically describe my viewing experience. This sometimes leads to errors. I'm not perfect, and I misidentify technical details (especially when I'm forced to view films on video).But I sometimes leave the errors there since I think they describe some actual aspect of the film as a viewing event, even if I am not accurately telling you how the film gets you there. Nevertheless, I do strive for accuracy, and as per Mr. Saïto's correction, there is no painting, hand tinting or scratching in Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis. The effects are achieved through skillful processing and printing technique, and the combination of various film stocks. (Some of this I probably should have guessed...) Saying more is probably unnecessary. Again, thanks to Daïchi Saïto for the clarification.]

Saks, Gene

 

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK

USA  (106 mi)  1967

 

Barefoot in the Park  Tom Milne from Time Out London

Disposable Neil Simon comedy about newlyweds coping with their unheated walkup apartment, a flighty mother-in-law, and a romantically disreputable neighbour. Sprightly dialogue, nice performances.

Crazy for Cinema

Young love gets put to the test when a newly married couple is forced back to reality after their blissful honeymoon. Passion gets pushed to the wayside once the trials of everyday life begin and they must learn to sink or swim together.

Neil Simon trains his razor sharp wit on the foibles of a newly married couple in this witty and wacky romantic comedy. While some of the ideas expressed are bit dated, Fonda and Redford are so charming and sexy you won't care one bit. The challenge of starting a life together brings them quickly back to reality and exposes the potential down side of their rather impulsive nuptials.

A ramshackle apartment, wacky neighbors, pressures at work and a lonely mother-in-law only add to the stress of blending two rather different personalities and life philosophies into one happy couple. One long night on the town almost proves their undoing, leaving us to wonder if love is enough to bridge the gap between a conservative lawyer and the free-spirit he made his wife.

The final third where they sort of switch personalities – figuratively, not literally – is rather obvious and overplayed, but it gives Redford some of his best comic moments in the piece as a man worn down by an emotional wife, a dreadful head cold and a whole lot of whiskey.

Written and performed by anyone else, these characters would have been one-dimensional, but the first-rate team of Simon, Redford and Fonda make their troubles funny, poignant and unforgettable. This is a smart, sassy and sexy romance that takes an honest look at life after the wedding bliss fades away.

BBCi - Films  Almar Haflidason

Robert Redford puts on his best poker face as a straight-laced lawyer who marries the fun-seeking sex kitten Jane Fonda. It's hardly a strong plot for a movie, but Neil Simon inserts just enough sparkling dialogue into this adaptation of his Broadway hit, to keep boredom from ruining this kooky film.

We enter the lives of this winsome couple, just as they are about to embark on their honeymoon marathon run of mutual appreciation. Six days later and they emerge back into the world. Redford has to go to work, but Fonda would rather he didn't as she's reluctant for the fantasy to end. Redford insists that he really must go to work and Fonda purrs with naughty alternatives. It's a pattern that is repeated into forming the flimsy backbone for the movie. He's sensible and she just wants fun. Inevitably, they reach the point where they both begin to irritate one another.

They argue, and pretty soon we're all wistful for the screamingly funny highlights that had preceded their spat. It's the moment when you realise just how much delicious fun Fonda and Redford extract out of Simon's achingly witty script.

Key to the silliness is their awkward apartment located at the top of five flights of stairs. Many laughs are derived from this mighty climb, and it provides relief from the fact that most of the movie takes place in one room. It's a limited setting that occasionally threatens to kill the film dead. Thankfully the characters within this particular confined space are just too charming and entertaining to let that cramp their style

DVD Times  Raphael Pour-Hashemi

The sixties produced many situation-comedies that filled one-off feature films, and Paramount's 1967 traditionalist Barefoot In The Park easily encapsulates one side of the decade which was trying to battle with the counter-culture and anarchy of the other side. The film was released in the same year as In The Heat Of The Night and Bonnie And Clyde, though feels like it was released a good five years earlier, as nothing is daring or risqué about Barefoot In The Park.

This doesn't mean the film should be ignored, as it is in fact a warm and deliciously witty slice of married life from playwright Neil Simon, a man who has delighted audiences around with the world with such classic creations as The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys and California Suite. Simon revels in dialogue; he doesn't need multi-locations or massive set-pieces, instead he builds narrative momentum by deftly structuring his characters and then providing them with brilliant punchlines.

Barefoot In The Park is no different, with limited locations and only four main characters. Paul (Robert Redford) and Corie Bratter (Jane Fonda) are two newlyweds embarking on the next phase in their life, which involves moving into a new apartment and starting life together. Paul is a rising attorney in New York, and Corie has been left to tend to their new apartment that Paul has not yet seen. After six nights of Honeymoon bliss in a posh hotel, Paul has to drag himself to work from the alluring clutches of Corie, whilst she oversees the decorating of their new apartment. Things start to go horribly wrong, as the apartment is based on a steep fifth floor block that lacks an elevator, and Corie enters the apartment to find it without any furniture or heating. This is the start of Paul and Corie's troubles, as they soon start finding that marriage throws up many clashes of personality between the two of them.

Because Barefoot In The Park wears the fact that it is a light comedy on its sleeve, the audience never feels as if the film contains any bite or edge to it. We know that Paul and Corie's marriage is apparently in trouble, but we never feel it, as the film seems to have an unspoken promise from its outset that all will end happily. This is not a criticism of the film, since it is a convention of any form of situation-comedy that the normal roles of the characters remain the same at the conclusion. Also, the film can be forgiven for having a tame content by virtue of being extremely funny in places. From the tremendously sarcastic dialogue between Paul and Corie to the excellent in-jokes, such as the apartment's lack of elevator or Corie's mother's (Mildred Natwick) bleak complaints at having to walk five flights of stairs. It's a film in which the jokes are formed out of its own premise, and are expertly handled.

Redford and Fonda are not an equally matched couple on paper, and yet they possess a good dose of on-screen chemistry that helps the film to succeed. Redford is suitably calm and quick-witted as Paul Bratter, the ambitious lawyer who seems surprised at his wife's desire to subvert any of his ambitions. In turn, Jane Fonda is also very good as Corie Bratter, a care-free and lively trophy-wife that seems to want more than to just be a lawyer's housewife. In great support, Charles Boyer is very good as Victor Velasco, the squatter neighbour from upstairs who has set his sights on Corie's mother Ethel. Mildred Natwick plays Ethel in a hilariously apathetical fashion, and her performance was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. It's refreshing to see Natwick give Ethel a different spin from the usual stereotypical 'busybody mother' role.

The music by Neal Hefti is typically 'Paramount-comedy-late-sixties' and is very memorable due to it representing a forgotten era. This era now left behind came to depict a slightly adventurous America casually moving away from right-wing conservatism, with affluence, tidy streets and attractive couples coming to represent the traditionalist view of late-sixties USA. When you contrast this America with the America depicted in a film such as Midnight Cowboy, it's easy to notice how there seemed to be two different film movements sweeping the nation.

Anyhow, Barefoot In The Park is handled with confidence by director Gene Saks, a man who continued the theme with The Odd Couple and Cactus Flower in successive years. It's a light comedy that is enjoyably warm and one that lacks any sort of ground-breaking approach, but some times a traditional genre-pleaser is all that is required anyway.

Barefoot in the Park  Sarah Heiman from Turner Classic Movies

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

barefoot in the park - movie and tv vault reviews at videovista.net  Craig Clarke from Video Vista

 

Mildred Natwick News » Andrew Sarris Harshes on 'Casino Royale ...  Andrew Sarris from The Village Voice, June 15, 1967

 

Minicrix [Anne Billson]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Variety.com [Variety Staff]

 

Movie Review - Barefoot in the Park - The Screen: 'Barefoot in the ...  Bosley Crowther from The New York Times

 

Sala, Pawel

 

MOTHER TERESA OF CATS

Poland  (95 mi)  2010

 

This film played at the Polish International Film Festival, but the subtitles ended after about ten minutes, leaving the rest accessible only for a Polish speaking audience.  A dozen or so people walked out, as the film was shown on a DVD with defective subtitling.  Inspired by true events, the filmmaker takes a stab at recreating the psychological undercurrents leading up to a brutal murder.  Opening and closing in the present where two kids are being arrested for the murder of their mother, the film backtracks initially by days, then weeks, and months, showing a family in turmoil, especially the occasional ranting and out-of-control older son Artur, age 22, who is idolized by his younger 12-year old brother Marcin.  On one of the first few days, a decapitated head is discovered, while going back a few more days, a bloody knife can be seen in Artur’s hands where the audience can’t see what’s happening just offscreen.  Without dialogue, all anyone could do is draw inferences from what we see, where the director uses a few visual flourishes, such as mutiple mirror shots, as many as four mirrors in one shot where there is constant movement continually altering the look of the screen.  But to what end this is used is hard to say.  Also the mother has a habit of picking up stray cats, where there are over a dozen cats in the frame for all of the indoor shots, but more importantly, we hear the bickering sound of cats constantly growling and fighting with one another.  The mother appears to have been married to a military husband, but when challenged by Artur, he eventually leaves the home, leading a remote and solitary life, almost as if imprisoned.  When she goes to visit him, there are no sparks left between them.  But as the film keeps moving backwards in time, reminiscent of IRREVERSIBLE (2002), we see some of their happier days, where instead of the aggressive sounds of feral cats, we hear the peaceful chirps of birds in the forest at a sunny family picnic, where the couple makes love under the canopy of trees, where even the dreary winter colors come alive for a blissful summer moment of seeming innocence.  What is clear is that the two sons are the animals, not the cats, living under this mother’s roof, where it’s hard to draw any other conclusions without dialogue.      

 

Variety (Alissa Simon) review

An experiment in flashback structure reaps diminishing returns in somber drama "Mother Teresa of Cats," from debuting Polish helmer Pawel Sala. Based on the brutal real-life murder of a mother by her two sons, pic plods backward in time from the arrest of the culprits in a succession of short scenes that mark an unsuccessful attempt to make psychological sense of the crime. Slated to open domestically in September, this is bleak, arty fare that will rep catnip to certain parts of the international fest circuit.

Saleswoman Teresa (Ewa Skibinska) and military hubby Hubert (Mariusz Bonaszewski) spawned sons Artur (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, impressive), 22, and Marcin (Filip Garbacz), 12, as well as a young daughter. Increasingly unruly, Artur claims he can read minds, predict events and bring the dead back to life. He also says he's been abused by his father. Given the excessive number of felines Teresa keeps around the house, it's clear something's not right with this family, but exactly what remains vague. Despite valiant thesping, the characters remain ciphers. Steady, blue-green toned lensing by Mikolaj Lebkowski anchors pic's dispassionate tone; other tech credits are fine.

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Mikolaj Lebkowski; editor, Agnieszka Glinska; music, Marcin Krzyzanowski; production designer, Katarzyna Jarnuszkiewicz; costume designer, Monika Jagodzinska. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 12, 2010. (Also in Karlovy Vary Festival -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

Saldanha, Carlos

 

ICE AGE:  THE MELTDOWN                   B-                    81

USA  (90 mi)  2006

 

Ever want to work as a fur and feather designer?  Then this is the film for you.  Continuing the family theme of a wooly mammoth, a sloth, and a saber tooth tiger all looking out for one another, while a lone crazed squirrel is in pursuit of the ultimate acorn, which opened the previous film which this director co-directed, this time we add the voice of Queen Latifah as a female wooly mammoth who thinks she’s a possum, as she was abandoned as a child and has been raised by possums, hanging upside down from trees when she sleeps, and considers herself a sister to her two very clever brothers, who are a constant delight, an irrepressible force that no one else seems to be able to contend with.  Unlike Romano’s ultra-dour mammoth, Latifah has a gas with her little friends, spending as much time at play as they can.

 

Following the earlier film which was advertised as the coolest movie in 16,000 years, here the title suggests the world is about to be wiped out, but it never really materializes, probably because there are too many kids watching in the audience.  Witnessing an apocalyptic disaster might cause some emotional problems with the kids, so much of this is kept friendly and amusing, including musical numbers from thousands of Simon Says sloths and a terrific copy cat segment from flying vultures.  Also, there’s an interesting acorn heaven sequence.  All in all it’s easy to watch, sometimes funny, occasionally touching, but never rises above the safe zone.

 

Saleem, Hiner

 

KILOMETRE ZERO

France  Kurdistan  (96 mi)  2005

 

Kilometre Zero | Review | Screen  Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily

One person’s illegal war is another’s act of sweet liberation in Kilometre Zero. Inspired by the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdistan director Hiner Saleem has made a film that vividly illuminates the brutal realities of life under the tyrant’s rule. Petty dictators lurk at every checkpoint, people are casually executed at the side of the road and hatred flourishes in the bitter divide between Arab and Kurd.

Despite Saleem’s claims that this is not a political film, it is hard not to perceive it in those terms and occasionally righteous anger gets in the way of a more incisive drama.

Nonetheless, this has some comic touches to lighten the overall tone and a poignancy in the ultimate resolution of the story. There should be enough interest in the subject matter and the next film from the Vodka Lemon director to ensure modest arthouse prospects for this competition entry. The film premiered in competition at Cannes.

The film begins at the very moment of Saleem’s inspiration in 2003 with radio reports of the fall of Saddam Hussein. We are then reminded that in 1988, Chemical Ali killed 182,000 Kurds.

In 1988, Ako (Kirik) vows to flee Iraq. His wife Selma (Bilgin) refuses to countenance such a thought as long as her sick, aged father is alive and dependent on them. There is no way to resolve the issue and soon Ako is drafted and sent to the frontline of the Iran-Iraq War. We see the extent of the hatred reserved for the Kurds in the treatment of Ako’s friend Sami (Qeladizeyi) who is continually beaten, humiliated and made to feel less than human.

Ako becomes a desperate man and even lies in the trenches with his leg in the air hoping it might be shot or blown off. It would be a small sacrifice to pay if it meant he would be sent back to his wife and son and left alone. Then, he is assigned to accompany a martyr’s corpse to his family. It could be his only way of getting home except the driver (Ekrem) is an Arab who hates Kurds and the journey is fraught with tension, hostility and bitter irony.

Maturing into a road movie set against the barren landscapes of Iraq, Kilometre Zero is at its most impressive on a purely visual level. It is beautifully composed by cinematographer Robert Alazraki who constantly frames characters in doorways or through windows underlining the way in which they are trapped by their circumstances. Humans are often seen against imposing mountain ranges, dwarfed by the country and its history.

Much of the wry humour is also visual, with a giant statue of Saddam Hussein criss crossing the country to show there was no escape from the dictator’s image or presence. At one point, Ako and the driver are ordered to a rest area where others cars with flag-draped coffins stretch as far as the eye can see - all glorious martyrs according to the regime. It is the absurdity observed in everyday life that captures just a hint of the more freewheeling approach that Saleem brought to the award-winning Vodka Lemon.

The dialogue tends to be less sophisticated with conversations that exist to illustrate a point rather than convey the natural exchanges of everyday life. This is particularly true of the scenes between Ako and the driver but then their whole relationship is based on volatility. Within a heartbeat they can go from shared laughter to rolling around fighting in the dirt to calmly swapping pictures of their respective children. They even acknowledge that on a personal level each finds the other to be charming and decent, but that still doesn’t detract from the fact that they are sworn enemies.

The film’s title is a reference to Saleem’s belief that Iraq has refused to move forward throughout its 80-year history and remains at the starting point of latitude zero. His film still ends on a note of hope back in the Paris of 2003 with the news that Saddam has gone and some possibility of progress or renewal might be possible.

Kilometre Zero may seem a little worthy and heavyhanded at times but there is enough human interest in the characters and their journey to provide an emotional connection for the arthouse viewer.

Salles, Walter

 

FOREIGN LAND                                          A                     95

Brazil  Portugal  (100 mi)  1995  co-director:  Daniela Thomas

 

A stylized black and white perfection, with brilliant art direction credited to Daniela Thomas, a theater and opera director, set in Brazil in March 1990, after 30 years of a military dictatorship, the newly elected President decides to freeze all bank accounts with more than $300, causing nearly a million Brazilians to flee the country in search of opportunities in “foreign lands.” 

 

This story features a 21-year old in Brazil who follows his mother’s dying wish to return to her birthplace in Spain, but becomes a courier for a gangster disguised as an antique dealer and runs into some deadly trouble.  He meets in Lisbon, Portugal, a girl whose boy friend was just murdered by the same gang.  Both end up on the run, finding themselves in a permanent state of exile, meeting other exiles from Africa, where personal and political troubles haunt their every move.  Eventually, they become lovers, making love on a beach where they are dwarfed by a huge ship grounded just offshore, poetically suggesting shipwrecked souls running aground, only to meet the nefarious gangsters waiting for them at the Spanish border.  There is some excellent writing, but the film lacks a center, a human heart, as all are mysteriously escaping from their own hearts.  Beautiful Spanish music underscores the powerful visuals, perhaps a companion piece to Wong Kar-wei’s HAPPY TOGETHER.  

 

CENTRAL STATION

Brazil  France  Spain  Japan  (106 mi)  1998

 

Central Station  David Denby from The New Yorker

 

Against her nature, Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), an intelligent but nihilistic old bag—a retired schoolteacher who writes letters for illiterate people and then never mails them—leaves Rio de Janeiro with a little boy in tow and takes to the road. The boy's mother has been killed, and his desire to see his missing father stirs something in Dora. The two of them are practically hoboes, but once they leave Rio life opens up for them. This shrewd, tough, and bighearted Brazilian movie, directed by Walter Salles, moves surely and convincingly from utter negation to something like guarded optimism. A great star in Brazil, Montenegro rivals such legendary actresses as Jeanne Moreau and Giulietta Masina in her ability to alter her moods from mask-of-tragedy woe to childish pleasure without apparent calculation. With handsome Vinicius de Oliveira as the boy and Marília Pêra as Dora's friendly neighbor. In Portuguese.  David Denby

 

Central Station  Nina Caplan from Sight and Sound, March 1999

Dora is a letter writer in Brazil's Central Station. She transcribes the loves and longings for Rio de Janeiro's illiterates and sends the results - or not - as she and her neighbour Irene see fit. When one of her clients is run over and killed, nine-year-old Josué is left motherless. Dora takes him in and sells him, but later steals him back. Dora and Josué go in search of his father Jisus, using the address of the letter Dora had written but failed to send for Josué's mother.

Dora tries to leave Josué on the bus but he follows her, forgetting his rucksack which contains Dora's money. Penniless, they are picked up by a kindly, religious truck driver who abandons them when Dora grows too friendly. By hitching they reach Jisus' house but he has sold it to buy alcohol. In the town, Josué saves them from destitution by suggesting Dora write letters for pilgrims. This time, she posts the letters.

By chance, they find Josué's two half-brothers. Their father has disappeared, but Dora reads the letter he had sent six months ago: he had gone to Rio in search of Josué's mother and the son he has never seen. The brothers realise he too must be dead. The next morning, while Josué sleeps, Dora takes the bus for Rio. Josué wakes up too late to prevent her departure. Both are left with a photo by which to remember one another.

Review

The trouble with road movies is they often go nowhere. Walter Salles' Central Station makes a virtue out of a common failing. It's a time-honoured scenario: haphazard travelling companions take a trip down Self-Discovery Highway, destination Understanding. For nine-year-old Josué, the search for his father marks his coming of age. His companion Dora, a retired teacher, rediscovers her humanity when she leaves her post writing letters for Rio's illiterates in Central Station to help him.

Salles (Foreign Land) takes recent upheavals in Brazil as his starting point and tackles individual quests within the context of the pain, loss and redemption of the whole community. Josué spends most of the film trying to join a community which is a metonym for the Brazilian society Dora abandoned along with her teaching career. As a letter writer, she interprets rather than instructs: if knowledge is her currency, she has exchanged generosity for avarice. She and Josué approach one another from opposite ends of the social spectrum: he seeks a place, she has abandoned hers. These two disparate but coinciding quests for rehabilitation are the film's heartbeat.

With his brothers, Josué will find a trade and a place in society. It is at his instigation that his mother Ana writes - via Dora - to her abusive drunken husband Jisus, tentatively pleading for reconciliation while the boy plays with a wooden top, symbol of his soon-to-be-lost childhood realm. He will lose top and mother simultaneously. His search for male role models will place him behind the wheel on a paternal truck driver's lap when he and Dora hitch a lift. Later, he will strike a similar pose with his older brother Moisés in front of the latter's lathe: the man behind, guiding the boy's hands. Under Moisés' guidance, Josué makes a top, no longer just a toy but a symbolic token of initiation into the community. This process begun, Dora leaves, having rediscovered the selflessness of the teacher/guide.

Like the trains, Central Station starts from the eponymous station and radiates outwards. People and trains move past with equal smoothness, making their random trajectories through the umber light that permeates the film. Characters collide with one another with seeming incoherence, like the letters which Dora posts, keeps or destroys according to her whim. Life is not linear. Dora tells Josué that one should always take buses because they have regular routes and preordained stops. She associates taxis with instability; her father's unfaithfulness; her mother's death. Dora's world contains its own insecurity: a perpetual liar whose lies are never believed, she imputes her own untruthfulness to others. "How do they measure a kilometre?" asks Josué during their journey. "They make it up," replies Dora.

Vinícius de Oliveira is extraordinary as the proud, vulnerable Josué, chin raised as the tears fall, dictating Dora's clothes and make-up and initiating macho sex talk as he tries to seem grown up. Like a teacher brushing up on a rusty foreign language, Dora relearns her moral grammar for his benefit and posts the letters she used to jettison. The film takes religion as its point of stability, replicating the developing country's conflict between industrialisation and tradition. The two travellers bounce from evangelist truck drivers to places of pilgrimage. In a stunning visual depiction of faith, the screen fills with points of light from pilgrims' candles. The family unit, seen as irrevocably lost, is idolised: Dora becomes a virgin mother to Josué, while his brothers create a shrine commemorating Ana and Jisus. When Dora leaves, the image which remains to comfort her and Josué for their mutual loss is a photo of them taken with a picture of a saint, a parody of the nuclear family, suggesting the duplication which replaces intimacy in a fragmented society. Salles takes this one step further: the result, a random microcosm of Brazilian life both intimate and eloquent, is Central Station.

BEHIND THE SUN

Brazil  Switzerland  France (92 mi)  2001  ‘Scope

 

Behind the Sun  Leslie Felperin for Sight and Sound, March 2002

 

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES                B                     84

Brazil  (130 mi)  2004

 

An idealized and romanticized vision taken from the diary entries, most seemingly written to his mother, of the continental travels from the still impressionable youth of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, now an icon of revolutionary fervor turned into a capitalistic dream in the form of T-shirts, posters, red-starred emblems, and now this film.  Back in 1952 when he was only 23, he and his lifelong friend, Alberto Granado (whose memoirs “Traveling with Che Guevara” were also used), embarked on an 8000-mile journey across South America.  Eric Gautier’s cinematography stands out, especially blending actual locations from Argentina, Chile, and Peru with striking black and white portraits of the working class poor, also the haunting music of Gustavo Santaololla, including some memorable dance sequences to the likes of Prez Prado.  Latino superstar Gael Garcia Bernal takes a stab using a young man’s natural curiosity as the key to his personal growth, a child of privilege, with a girl friend so rich that it looks like she lives in a Swiss chateau, studying medicine, yet identifying with the underclass, with an eye for injustice wherever he sees it.  It’s tired and predictable, something right out of the social tiered milieu of TITANIC, but what I found unusual was their final destination – a leper colony in the Amazon, where the sick lived in huts on one side of the river while the doctors and nuns lived in comfort on the other.  Now where, but in the movies, would this be any young man’s final trip destination?  Despite the predictable set ups and the all too obvious contrasts of rich and poor, the upper class wealth and status of Guevara’s family origins against the poor and indigenous people they encountered, particularly the picturesque grandeur of the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu against the current overpopulated squalor of Lima, Peru, the film does a good job of humanizing these young men with the natural landscapes and people they encounter.  Where else are you going to see a soccer match in a leper colony? 

 

Motorcycle Diaries  Gerald Peary

Those who remember Ernesto "Che" Guevera, killed in 1967 by rightists aided by the CIA, as a fierce, uncompromised. Marxist revolutionary will be mortified by The Motorcycle Diaries. This lollipop-land retelling of the early days of Fidel Castro’s compatriot shows Guevera as a shy Argentine med student who, on a post-college 1952 road trip with a biochemist buddy, "learns" the obvious: that it’s a rotten world out there, and that poor people are neglected. It’s the social conscience of a Peace Corps volunteer, not of a far-left militant who, in Cuba, would bring down Batista’s government.

But that’s the ploy of Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles (Central Station): a depoliticized, picturesque movie which can attract a middle-class audience that would be scared off by something truly radical. So "Che" is played sweetly by Mexico’s arthouse pinup, Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien); and the places about South America traversed by Guevera and Alberto Grenado (Rodrigo de la Serna) become a topographic diversion. Such beauty! And The People? They remain the primitive Other, Indians without voice waiting for liberation from our white-guy movie heroes. Believe young "Che" swimming a river to be with his leper-colony friends? Then you’ve been smitten by this bogus-to-the-core movie.

The Motorcycle Diaries  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

Essentially a soft, mostly unfunny buddy comedy that takes a solemn, laboredly humanist turn in the final act. Even setting aside the political difficulties with the depiction of young, pre-revolutionary Che Guevara (the promise of youth, idealism unsullied, etc.), the main problem is that Salles simply isn't a very good filmmaker. His pacing is awkward. His ability to successfully articulate humor and seriousness is virtually nil. His images are curiously bland and flat; even his overly-praised landscapes frequently lack pictorial power. His editor shows no skill for the task, chopping scenes into fragments for no discernable purpose. And Salles' use of music is unfailingly obvious, serving as a kind of Luaka Bop CD sampler buoying the proceedings for a presumed middle-class viewership. In terms of characterization, Guevara spends most of the film toggling back and forth between a handsome schemer and part-time cad, on the one hand, and a deeply concerned doctor-without-borders on the other. The shifts are sudden and motivated only by the film's need to make its point in boldface, about the Awakening of a Revolutionary. As far as trying to place The Motorcycle Diaries in a larger cultural framework, one can only ask, why now? What purpose is served by embodying Latin American radicalism (a force that is still very much alive) in the singular person of a dead 60s icon? This isn't to say that Che Guevara has nothing to teach us in the present day, but a radical aesthetic approach (such as the one Spike Lee adopted for Malcolm X) would be necessary to demonstrate how the past survives into the present. Salles, needless to say, is not the man for the job.

 

Walter Salles' 'The Motorcycle Diaries'; On the Road, Without Much ...  Peter Brunette from indiWIRE 

Because of its blatant populist appeal and very soft-core leftist politics, many critics and ordinary viewers will be automatically wild about Walter Salles' "The Motorcycle Diaries," but they will be wrong. This film that explores a real-life motorcycle trip taken by the 24-year-old Che Guevara and a friend around South America in the early 1950s hits all the right notes, but for this critic, at least, the piano's badly in need of tuning. Salles, the director of the much-loved but even more manipulative "Central Station" a number of years back, is up to his old tricks once again, but the more recent film, even on a basic formal and dramatic level -- and despite all the praise it got at its Sundance premiere in January -- is simply not very interesting.

When Che Guevara is played by Gael Garcia Bernal, the Mexican heartthrob who also stars in Pedro Almodovar's competition film, "Bad Education," of course you want to like the film. And the idea of two young men, setting out to explore life and their continent -- like another young man around the same time in North America, Jack Kerouac -- is an instantly sympathetic one. But the things that actually happen to them -- road accidents, picking up girls, going to parties, running out of money, all liberally sprinkled with gorgeous shots of the magnificent countryside -- couldn't be more pedestrian. In fact, most of the events that occur would be completely uninvolving if you didn't know that they were happening to Che Guevara. So the viewer finds him- or herself basically waiting for this solidly upper-middle-class, spoiled kid from Buenos Aires, this doctor-in-training, to finally encounter the People and start becoming the Che Guevara that, depending on our politics, we love or hate.

About halfway through the film, after what has in effect been little more than a long travelogue, Che and his friend Alberto, who incarnates the standard, lovable Sancho Panza sidekick figure (played by Rodrigo de la Serna), finally discover the landless, exploited Indians and begin to develop a social conscience. Nowhere is this sentiment really explored in depth, however, and Salles doesn't even go near any political analysis of the causes of the unjust economic system that prevails in Latin America. Instead, we learn by the end of the film that there is "injustice," as though it were a fact of nature, which has the wonderful effect of completely isolating viewers from any blame. Salles' appeal is solely to the mushy, bleeding-heart, limousine-liberal kind of folks that the right takes so much delight in ridiculing.

The last part of the picture shows Che and Alberto working in a leper colony, once again demonstrating their closeness to the People (whom Salles evokes with black-and-white images distributed frequently throughout the film, especially in its coda). There is an immense party thrown for them when they leave (which Salles, Spielberg-like, milks for all it's worth emotionally) but it all ends up seeming kind of phony when you realize they've only been there for three weeks. Salles also focuses on a death-defying stunt Che pulled, swimming across the Amazon at night in order to show his solidarity with the poor, with the purpose of adding as much drama to this pretty limp plot as possible, but it all seems totally artificial even if it did happen. Here at the end, Salles is so eager to manipulate (like Spielberg at the end of "Schindler's List") that he basically shows us three different farewell scenes in a row. And just in case someone in the audience didn't know that this was, in fact, all about THE Che Guevara, Salles spells out the future, letter by letter, in condescending titles.

The ultra-rich, politically liberal Salles' heart was undoubtedly in the right place when he made this movie, but virtually every aspect of it is aimed at evoking the most unthinking baseline of emotional responses. There's no depth anywhere, no examination of the conflicts that any upper-class kid must feel about fighting for justice vs. selfishly living the good life, no demonstration that, of course, poor people aren't necessarily more noble or better people just because they're poor. Nothing of any substance whatsoever. All we get here is the most facile yanking of the heartstrings of liberals everywhere, and at this point in the history of this increasingly dangerous world, this is no longer enough.

by Richard Porton    A Failure of Nerve, also reviewing THE EDUKATORS from Cinema Scope (excerpt)

In recent years, that chronically amorphous entity known as “political cinema” has become synonymous, at least in North America, with high-minded (or, in the case of Michael Moore, low-minded) documentaries. Many such films are laudable, but the recent re-release of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1965) recalls that a radical narrative political cinema, with no concessions to either liberal pabulum or crude agit-prop, was once possible. The tough-mindedness of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece—a nuanced anti-colonialist film that nevertheless avoids sentimentalizing Algerian terrorism—is conspicuously absent in present-day narrative political cinema. In an era where utopian hopes have been discarded, allegory seems to have much more potency than social realism. For that reason, it’s arguable that recent fiction films not acknowledged by most critics as particularly political at all—e.g., The Saddest Music in the World—are much more politically trenchant than, say, Costa-Gavras’ Amen (2002).

Two vapid—but crowd-pleasing—Cannes Competition selections unwittingly demonstrate how the intellectual and aesthetic impoverishment of much contemporary political cinema can be traced to a fatal failure of nerve. Hans Weingartner’s The Edukators and Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries are distinctly different in tone and style. In the guise of a gentle lampoon of the follies of young German radicals, Weingartner falls back on complacent clichés that dismiss any sort of political commitment. Salles’ sober road movie pays humourless homage to Ernesto “Che” Guevara with a painstaking, and painfully dull, chronicle of Che and his friend Alberto Granado’s youthful trek across Latin America. Yet both films pander to the prejudices of middle-class, nominally liberal audiences. Just as many leftists prefer the novels of Céline (an unrepentant fascist) to the bland pieties spouted by so-called “liberals,” I’d rather be provoked by an intelligent right-wing cineaste instead of being bored by “feelgood” liberal cinema...

...If The Edukators is disconcertingly snarky, the Robert Redford-produced The Motorcycle Diaries proves cloyingly earnest. No radical icon of the 20th century is as much in need of demystification as Che Guevara. Yet going beyond the mainstream left’s uncritical veneration (and the right’s demonization) of Guevara is a surprisingly daunting task. Even Leandro Katz’s admirable documentary dissecting the famous final photograph of the martyred Guevara, The Day You’ll Love Me (1997), ultimately reinforces the Che myth. The last shot of Kurosawa’s Bright Future (2002), reveals, however inadvertently, the quasi-theological nature of the Che cult: glassy-eyed teenagers in “Che” T-shirts saunter down the street, emblems of anomie who surely haven’t read a word written by their idol.

Far more lyrical and incisive than the turgid Marxist-Leninist prose churned out by Guevara after becoming a professional revolutionary, the travel diaries, which honestly reflect the nascent political consciousness of a young Argentine medical student, could certainly have been the basis for a compelling film. Salles, however, merely replaces the cliché of the macho anti-imperialist warrior with an equally one-dimensional image of a sensitive, James Dean-like picaro. Eric Gautier’s restrained cinematography, with its frequently hand-held evocations of the rough-hewn landscape, nicely complements Gael Garcia Bernal’s blessedly low-key performance as Che. On the most literal level, the film remains remarkably faithful to the details of Guevara and Granado’s wanderings through Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, even though their visit to Machu Picchu takes on the flavour of a woozy travelogue. Yet, at almost every juncture, Salles’ adaptation either embellishes the source material with suspect melodramatic flourishes or expunges the charm of Guevara’s often wry observations.

To cite one of the most egregious examples of Salles and screenwriter José Rivera’s compulsion to “sex up” their adaptation, Guevara’s casual reference in the diaries to an evening where he swam across the Amazon becomes a full-fledged narrative crisis in the movie as the young hero barely escapes drowning. In addition, a pivotal incident involving one of Che’s acquaintances in Peru, Dr. Hugo Pesce, is oddly sentimentalized. According to Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s biography of Guevara, Pesce, the author of a book entitled Lattitudes del Silencio, became apoplectic after Che attacked this work “for describing landscapes badly and being pessimistic in his analysis of the Indians.” In the Salles version, Pesce evinces enormous gratitude for Che’s frankness—a minor discrepancy perhaps, but one that speaks to the film’s tendency to Hollywoodize the life of a man who is already a secular saint.

Salles’ preference for the youthful Guevara over the mature revolutionary may stem from the fact that, once Che and his comrades achieve power in Cuba, it becomes impossible to perform the alchemy of turning him into a Robert Redford liberal. Indeed, however much one might admire his defiance of the US and bemoan his murder in Bolivia at the hands of the CIA, Che was unquestionably an authoritarian leftist who admired the iron discipline of Lenin’s “democratic centralism” and had little patience for the Trotskyists and anarchists who were challenging Fidel from the left. Fine distinctions of this sort are rarely made in films that tackle politics and history, but as The Battle of Algiers demonstrates, films that succeed both as viable cinema and insightful history are well within the realm of possibility.

The Cult of Che  Paul Berman’s review reminding us that Guevara was a Stalinist, from Slate, September 24, 2004

 

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.

The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. And Walter Salles' movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford's Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel. And thus it is in Salles' Motorcycle Diaries.

The film follows the young Che and his friend Alberto Granado on a vagabond tour of South America in 1951-52—which Che described in a book published under the title Motorcycle Diaries, and Granado in a book of his own. Che was a medical student in those days, and Granado a biochemist, and in real life, as in the movie, the two men spent a few weeks toiling as volunteers in a Peruvian leper colony. These weeks at the leper colony constitute the dramatic core of the movie. The colony is tyrannized by nuns, who maintain a cruel social hierarchy between the staff and the patients. The nuns refuse to feed people who fail to attend mass. Young Che, in his insistent honesty, rebels against these strictures, and his rebellion is bracing to witness. You think you are observing a noble protest against the oppressive customs and authoritarian habits of an obscurantist Catholic Church at its most reactionary. 

Yet the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Christological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death—precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America's Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences. The rebellion against reactionary Catholicism in this movie is itself an expression of reactionary Catholicism. The traditional churches of Latin America are full of statues of gruesome bleeding saints. And the masochistic allure of those statues is precisely what you see in the movie's many depictions of young Che coughing out his lungs from asthma and testing himself by swimming in cold water—all of which is rendered beautiful and alluring by a sensual backdrop of grays and browns and greens, and the lovely gaunt cheeks of one actor after another, and the violent Andean landscapes.

The movie in its story line sticks fairly close to Che's diaries, with a few additions from other sources. The diaries tend to be haphazard and nonideological except for a very few passages. Che had not yet become an ideologue when he went on this trip. He reflected on the layered history of Latin America, and he expressed attitudes that managed to be pro-Indian and, at the same time, pro-conquistador. But the film is considerably more ideological, keen on expressing an "indigenist" attitude (to use the Latin-American Marxist term) of sympathy for the Indians and hostility to the conquistadors. Some Peruvian Marxist texts duly appear on the screen. I can imagine that Salles and his screenwriter, José Rivera, have been influenced more by Subcomandante Marcos and his "indigenist" rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico, than by Che.

And yet, for all the ostensible indigenism in this movie, the pathos here has very little to do with the Indian past, or even with the New World. The pathos is Spanish, in the most archaic fashion—a pathos that combines the Catholic martyrdom of the Christlike scenes with the on-the-road spirit not of Jack Kerouac (as some people may imagine) but of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a tried-and-true formula in Spanish culture. (See Benito Pérez Galdós' classic 19th-century novel Nazarín.) If you were to compare Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries, with its pious tone, to the irrevent, humorous, ironic, libertarian films of Pedro Almodóvar, you could easily imagine that Salles' film comes from the long-ago past, perhaps from the dark reactionary times of Franco—and Almodóvar's movies come from the modern age that has rebelled against Franco.

The modern-day cult of Che blinds us not just to the past but also to the present. Right now a tremendous social struggle is taking place in Cuba. Dissident liberals have demanded fundamental human rights, and the dictatorship has rounded up all but one or two of the dissident leaders and sentenced them to many years in prison. Among those imprisoned leaders is an important Cuban poet and journalist, Raúl Rivero, who is serving a 20-year sentence. In the last couple of years the dissident movement has sprung up in yet another form in Cuba, as a campaign to establish independent libraries, free of state control; and state repression has fallen on this campaign, too.

These Cuban events have attracted the attention of a number of intellectuals and liberals around the world. Václav Havel has organized a campaign of solidarity with the Cuban dissidents and, together with Elena Bonner and other heroic liberals from the old Soviet bloc, has rushed to support the Cuban librarians. A group of American librarians has extended its solidarity to its Cuban colleagues, but, in order to do so, the American librarians have had to put up a fight within their own librarians' organization, where the Castro dictatorship still has a number of sympathizers. And yet none of this has aroused much attention in the United States, apart from a newspaper column or two by Nat Hentoff and perhaps a few other journalists, and an occasional letter to the editor. The statements and manifestos that Havel has signed have been published in Le Monde in Paris, and in Letras Libres magazine in Mexico, but have remained practically invisible in the United States. The days when American intellectuals rallied in any significant way to the cause of liberal dissidents in other countries, the days when Havel's statements were regarded by Americans as important calls for intellectual responsibility—those days appear to be over.

I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba—will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. It's easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among that cheering audience is going to make a movie about Raúl Rivero?

As a protest against the ovation at Sundance, I would like to append one of Rivero's poems to my comment here. The police confiscated Rivero's books and papers at the time of his arrest, but the poet's wife, Blanca Reyes, was able to rescue the manuscript of a poem describing an earlier police raid on his home. Letras Libres published the poem in Mexico. I hope that Rivero will forgive me for my translation. I like this poem because it shows that the modern, Almodóvar-like qualities of impudence, wit, irreverence, irony, playfulness, and freedom, so badly missing from Salles' pious work of cinematic genuflection, are fully alive in Latin America, and can be found right now in a Cuban prison.

Search Order
by Raúl Rivero

What are these gentlemen looking for
in my house?

What is this officer doing
reading the sheet of paper
on which I've written
the words "ambition," "lightness," and "brittle"?

What hint of conspiracy
speaks to him from the photo without a dedication
of my father in a guayabera (black tie)
in the fields of the National Capitol?

How does he interpret my certificates of divorce?

Where will his techniques of harassment lead him
when he reads the ten-line poems
and discovers the war wounds
of my great-grandfather?

Eight policemen
are examining the texts and drawings of my daughters,
and are infiltrating themselves into my emotional networks
and want to know where little Andrea sleeps
and what does her asthma have to do
with my carpets.

They want the code of a message from Zucu
in the upper part
of a cryptic text (here a light triumphal smile
of the comrade):
"Castles with music box. I won't let the boy
hang out with the boogeyman. Jennie."

A specialist in aporia came,
a literary critic with the rank of interim corporal
who examined at the point of a gun
the hills of poetry books.

Eight policemen
in my house
with a search order,
a clean operation,
a full victory
for the vanguard of the proletariat
who confiscated my Consul typewriter,
one hundred forty-two blank pages
and a sad and personal heap of papers
—the most perishable of the perishable
from this summer. 

LINHA DE PASSE

Brazil  France  (108 mi)  2008

 

Anthony Kaufman  at Cannes from indieWIRE

Just as Jia's characters are trapped in a life-long cycle to make a buck, so, too, are the protagonists of Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas' "Linha de Passe," an accomplished, though unremarkable competition film that never rises above its familiar tale of a poverty-stricken family. Concerning a single mother, raising her four children, from an 18-year-old aspiring soccer player already past his prime to the youngest, a dark-skinned boy in search of his father among Sao Paolo's bus drivers, the film skillfully interweaves its multiple storylines. Smartly, Salles and Thomas avoid any melodramatic excesses, leaving the drama to play out in more subtle ways.

Linha De Passe  Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily

Solid and involving, if hardly ground-breaking, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas's Linha de Passe is a complex and gritty drama about a working-class family's struggles in the streets and on the football fields of soccer-crazy Sao Paolo. Reunited with his co-director on 1996's Foreign Land, Salles offers a well-knit multi-strander that vividly evokes the rigours of keeping body and soul together in Brazil's biggest city, while offering a down-to-earth alternative to the more romantic and stylistically flashy films (City of God, Lower City, Berlin winner Elite Squad) with which Brazilian cinema has been identified lately.

Very much in the mode of Salles' 1998 breakthrough Central Station, Linha de Passe offers a compelling cast and a narrative fail-safe - the travails of a tough mum and her unruly brood - that should give it modest but significant international appeal.

Set over four months, the story follows the family of Cleuza (Corveloni), a middle-aged single mother with four sons already and one more on the way. Three of the boys are on the verge of adulthood. Dario (de Oliveira, from Central Station) is a talented footballer yearning for his big break, but held back by the fact that at 18, he's already too old to be considered a fresh new talent. Denis (Baldasserini) is a cheerful womaniser with a girlfriend and baby son on the

side, who plies a perilous trade as motorbike messenger. And Dinho (Rodrigues), a fervent Pentecostal Christian, keeps his head down working at a gas station. Odd son out is the younger Reginaldo (Santos), a mixed-race boy who's become obsessed with the father he's never known, a black bus driver.

The narrative takes us inexorably towards the four sons' moments of truth, some more plausible than others. The son who has the most explosive crisis is the one we least expect it of - which itself makes for a kind of inverted predictability. Salles, Thomas and their co-writers skilfully juggle the various narrative balls, although the pace eventually slackens and we find

ourselves impatient for the climax of each strand. In this sense, Gustavo Santaolalla's moody score somewhat works against the film, overstating from the start a sense of tragic inevitability. It should be said that, though, that tough as things get, the film's open ending feels humanistic and merciful towards its characters, rather than suggesting a cop-out.

Without overstating the grimness of Brazilian working-class life, the film evokes a hardscrabble existence in which opportunities are precarious and must be paid for: Dario eventually gets his shot at the big time, but palms have to be greased. The sheer hustle of Sao Paolo comes across vitally in the traffic scenes, with Denis risking his neck - and eventually others' - on the city highways. Brazil 's polarity between rich and poor is subtly handled in the scenes set in the household where Cleuza works as a maid.

Above all, the film comes across as a film about religion - that is, Brazil 's true religion of football. Salles and Thomas use on-field action to urgent effect, notably in the opening scenes, where Cleuza roots for her team. The film's title refers to a football pitch marking - alluding, no doubt, to the lines that everyone in the story has to observe or cross.

Mauro Pinheiro's photography brings out the everyday grittiness of a grey working city. A strong cast emotes and agonises discreetly, the actors playing the older sons giving their roles various winning shades of callow desperation. But it's Santos, looking somewhat younger than his 15 years, who steals the show with his spiky exuberance, even managing to carry off Reginaldo's final moment of glory.

ON THE ROAD

France  Brazil  (137 mi)  2012

 

Anyone who has seen any Walter Salles film knows he's all about pretension and superficiality, exactly what the Beats raged against.  He uses big name Hollywood stars, throws huge amounts of money at the project with enormous advertising, and then tries to make something resembling a European art film that throws reality out the window in an attempt to lure eager young consumers into buying tickets.  His films are instantly forgettable, from the Fernando Meirelles artsy fartsy Brazilian school of magazine photo shoot style reality that people fell for in Meirelles' CITY OF GOD (2002), a film set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro which displays a dizzyingly fast, hyper-kinetic hand-held camerawork and quick cutting edit style that won all sorts of critical acclaim but I found near worthless, as the overall tone was completely false, in my view, to be followed by THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005), a romantic love story about a European white couple living among the stench and filth of the Nairobi slums, where the backdrop of Africa is used exclusively for providing gritty atmosphere, not for any truth about living in the country whatsoever.  The sheer manipulation of these films is paramount to anything they have to say about any subject matter.  Where has Meirelles gone to lately?  Instantly forgotten. 

 

In a similar vein, Walter Salles in THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004), uses a real subject, Che Guevera, an uncompromising Marxist revolutionary and turns his life onscreen into Hollywood la la land, eliminating any political views from his life's purpose, which is nothing less than a sham, creating instead a picturesque road movie that can attract a middle class audience that would never accept the idea of anyone who was actually radical, so they use Gael Garcia Bernal as a pin up boy to help glamorize the subject matter. 

 

Sheer manipulation.  George the Cyclist got it right (Cannes Day Eight) in understanding that what Salles does is take the actual living essence out of the character and replace it with an idealized, illusionary depiction that has nothing to do with history, truth or reality.  There isn't an ounce of authenticity in these films, nor should anyone going in ahead of time expect there to be any.  

 

There was a Mubi Forum on Beat Generation Films - Film Forum on mubi.com.

 

But I tend to agree that no cinematic depiction of the Beats has done them any justice, that with them it was all about getting their thoughts down onto paper as quickly as possible, heightening every moment, where Neal Cassady had a criminal past, for christ's sakes, and often resorted to small-time crimes as a way of life, so of course he often got jobs as a night watchman, and having spent a good deal of time in prison, his utter disdain for authority captivated the Beats who were mostly middle class white kids who defied the reactionary nature of the status quo, who were searching instead for a completely new understanding of the world around them, as they simply had to replace normalcy with something else, which they did in their writings, which, once again, were amazingly personal in their autobiographical authenticity. 

 

Cannes 2012: On the Road – review  Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 23, 2012

 

Walter Salles has brought to Cannes a good-looking but directionless and self-adoring road movie, based on the 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac. It's comparable to Salles's 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries about the early adventures of Che Guevara and his buddy Alberto Granado – but there the travellers were learning to think and care about people other than themselves. This really isn't the case with the heroes of On the Road, who strenuously insist on how passionate and life-affirming they are, with dozens of self-consciously staged parties, in which the characters heroically swig from bottles, smoke joints, have sex and become narcissistic, flatulent and boring in a way that isn't entirely intentional.

The journey across America is part of the literary education of budding writer Sal Paradise, played by Sam Riley, and everyone has a reverence for the written word; Salles's camera periodically lingers, solemnly, on the covers of books by Arthur Schopenhauer and Marcel Proust and one character even reads joylessly aloud from Swann's Way.

In the late 1940s, Sal's father has just died; he hangs out with the striving, gabbling Ginsbergian poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) in various hipster dives, but is himself blocked as a writer and wondering what to do with his life. Then everything is turned around by meeting Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a wild free spirit, a wanderer taking odd jobs and turning tricks: at their first meeting, Dean opens the door to him stark naked. He seems gloriously unfettered by the boring bonds of hearth and home; he is a hobo of the mind and spirit, just taking off when and where he pleases, drinking life to the very dregs. He is with his gorgeous 16-year-old bride Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart, but seems to have many other quasi-conjugal ties around the country that he is not too worried about. Fascinated and inspired by this freewheeling alpha-male, Sal himself hits the road, sometimes with Dean, sometimes without, scribbling notes for a book.

Sal has a sort of homoerotic bond with Dean, which is displaced into their mutual infatuation with Marylou, but there is never any sense that he genuinely cares for Marylou, or is interested in her. Other friends and acquaintances join them on the road, and we become aware that while the guys are heading for the hills, they have in almost every case left a woman behind, fuming. Camille (Kirsten Dunst) finally throws Dean out on his ear; Galatea (Elisabeth Moss) rages at her errant husband – and the women's anger, though shrill and futile, has a kind of real life that the bland, self-admiring male voyagers do not. Marylou herself is endlessly tolerant. Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams have eccentric cameos as Old Bull Lee and Jane, a couple who give houseroom to the travellers.

On the Road does, ultimately, have a touching kind of sadness in showing how poor Dean is becoming just raw material for fiction, destined to be left behind as Sal becomes a New York big-shot. But this real sadness can't pierce or dissipate this movie's tiresome glow of self-congratulation.

Dave Calhoun at Cannes from Time Out London, May 23, 2012

Walter Salles applies the spirited documentary naturalism of 'The Motorcycle Diaries' to this adaptation of Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road': the beat writer's early 1950s spin on his late 1940s encounters with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and, above all, his magnetic free-spirited friend Neal Cassady, as they intermittently quit New York and travel around America looking for answers to big questions unknown or undefined.

It's hard to fault the travelogue credentials of Salles's film as Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and the Cassady character, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), voyage from city to desert and scorched cotton field to snowy prairie. They pick up, drop off and drop in on various folks along the way, from Moriarty's two on-off women, Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Camille (Kirsten Dunst), to Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge, essentially as Allen Ginsberg) and Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen as William Burroughs).

The film is characterised by quick and frenetic storytelling, an energetic jazz soundtrack, a free and unobtrusive attitude to sex and drugs and performances that are zesty and immediate. Yet still 'On the Road' entombs its era's zeitgeist more than it lives it. It feels long and tedious, as if we've dropped in on someone else's party without knowing or caring who these folks are, knocking back the whisky and barbiturates as regularly as they're knocking off each other.

Partly that's because Salles mutes the in-the-moment mania of 'On the Road' by both relying heavily on Sal Paradise's narration and pulling back often to soak up a good-looking cityscape or landscape (shot beautifully by Eric Gautier). Both tics come at the expense of properly examining Paradise and Moriarty's relationship beyond initial hero worship that fades to reveal a gulf of responsibility and maturity between the two. Hedlund is strong in scenes of musical mania, especially one in which he dances at a club with Stewart, but there's a lot of sturm und drang to his performance and not a great deal of soul. Riley is more passive, and his feels like a character observed rather than explored.

Salles nods to themes of abandoned women and absent fathers, but these feel like late attempts to offset the vanity and recklessness of the characters by saying something more considered about them. A late shot, too, of Kerouac bashing out the manuscript further complicates the tension between the writing of the book and the book itself, and between the attitudes of the time and the benefit of hindsight. The rebel yell of 'On the Road' now sounds muted and even a little embarrassing.

On The Road   Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily

After more than five decades of thwarted adaptations, Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1957 Beat generation novel has finally made it to the screen. But while it’s well cast, resplendently shot and buoyed up by a moody, pitch-perfect jazz soundtrack, On The Road fails to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles”, to quote one of the more celebrated passages from Kerouac’s book. Walter Salles’ film is designer Kerouac, a slick product that deploys all the tools of the big-budget, award-chasing indie film – some handheld camera, a little desaturated colour, hot young actors – to craft a product that feels oddly flat despite the romantic, creative, freewheeling lifestyle it enshrines. There are moments, to be fair, when it captures something of the bebop spirit of the age; but much of the time it feels more like a Beat generation brochure.

Still, the polite ripple of applause the film received after its Cannes press screening will translate into a more than polite ripple of box-office action for a commercially smart film that will attract both older audience nostalgic for the buzz Kerouac’s book gave them all those years ago and younger kids curious about the Beat mythology. For the latter demographic, the on-the-money casting of Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), Sam Riley (Control) and Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga) will also exercise a pull. Nominations, when they come, will likely be for adapted screenplay (if only for the courage of finally rising to challenge), cinematography and, possibly, best actor for Hedlund (who smoulders like a young Brad Pitt in a camera-hogging performance).

Part adaptation ,part biopic, the film dips into both Kerouac’s novel and his real life between 1947 and 1951, the years of his friendship with Neal Cassady, the main character and inspiration of the author’s heavily autobiographical novel. The real-life characters are given fictional monikers, exactly as in the book: Kerouac himself becomes Sal Paradise; Cassady is Dean Moriarty; Kerouac’s Beat poet friend Allen Ginsberg is Carlo Marx; and Cassady’s first wife LuAnne Henderson is Marylou.

It’s the shifting quadrangle of alliances formed by Dean (Hedlund), Sal (Riley), Marylou (Stewart) and, to a lesser extent, Carlo (Sturridge) that the script homes in on, as the foursome criss-cross America from New York to Denver (Dean and Marylou’s hometown) to California, and back. Along the way Dean divorces Marylou for the more conventional Camille (Dunst), the novel’s name for Carolyn, the mother of Cassady’s three children – but he keeps Marylou on as his lover. Also featuring, in a New Orleans sequence, is Old Bull Lee (Mortensen), aka the original junkie writer, William Burroughs, and Terry (Braga), a single mother Sal has a brief affair with while working in the California cotton fields.

With his background of petty crime, string of romantic conquests and self-taught literary yearnings, the effortlessly virile Dean is a magnetic figure for the more introverted Sal, who admires, it is suggested, his impulsiveness and freedom from social constraint. Carlo’s own admiration of Dean is complicated by his homosexuality and Dean’s occasional bisexuality (he sometimes plays the rentboy to make some extra money).

Uncomplicatedly sexy Marylou is perhaps the only one who sees Dean as he is: fun to be with, a great lover but entirely selfish. Sal’s gradual facing up to Dean’s inability to accept responsibility or remain loyal to friends and lovers is the backbone of the film’s otherwise freewheeling road-movie structure.

Given that Jose Rivera’s script draws on Kerouac’s life as well as the book that made him famous, plenty of facts are fudged perhaps the chief one being the suggestion that On The Road was the first proper literary product of the obsessive notebook scribbling we see Sal indulging in throughout. Whereas Kerouac actually published his debut novel, The Town And The City, during the period covered here. There’s no sign, either, of Kerouac’s wife of the time, Joan Haverty. But these truth tweaks are all of a piece with the film version’s indulgent embrace of Kerouac’s self-sustaining myth.

Even the tubes of Benzedrine that are hoovered up by the protagonists look pretty in a film that goes for atmosphere over emotion and the ticking off of cultural references (from Proust via Rimbaud to Charlie Parker) that it never quite knows what to do with. The sunset-kissed or snow-dusted rural landscapes of America (mostly shot on location in Canada) are ravishing, and the soundtrack, scored by Gustavo Santaolalla with jazz musicians Charlie Haden and Brian Blade, is a concise snapshot of the era. But in its relentless pursuit of visual and aural polish and in the way it tamely critiques Kerouac’s legend at the same time that it glorifies it, On The Road feels a little shallow.  

On the Road: Cannes Review  Todd McCarthy at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 23, 2012

Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's generation-defining novel is vibrantly visualized and features a "perfect" Kristen Stewart.

Making a screen version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road has been an elusive fantasy for numerous filmmakers in the 55 years since the Beat classic was published. Brazilian director Walter Salles, the man who finally got to realize the dream, has done a respectable job of it, and at moments better than that, though the film rarely busts out to provide the sort of heady pleasures it depicts.

Opening in France and some other territories on the heels of its Cannes Film Festival premiere, but not in the United States until autumn via IFC and Sundance Selects, this France-Brazil co-production is fronted by a very attractive cast and is highly promotable to a sophisticated public familiar with the material. Still, the film’s ultimate success will hinge upon whether younger audiences can connect with this vibrantly visualized period piece about the birth of the American counterculture.

Kerouac fantasized about co-starring as himself opposite Marlon Brando’s Dean Moriarty, and several directors -- most prominently Francis Ford Coppola, an executive producer here -- wrestled with an adaptation. Set over a few years beginning in 1947, On the Road is the story of youthful searching, yearning and striving for experience and truth by a handful of hipsters in their early 20s who, very much against the grain of a conformist period, eagerly embraced drugs, experimental sex, black culture and jazz, and life outside the yoke of steady work and conventional family constraints. In modern parlance, they pioneered an alternative lifestyle; the fact that they looked scruffy and wore T-shirts and jeans makes the characters onscreen resemble normal kids anytime from the late-‘60s until today.

Kerouac famously wrote the book in a three-week creative spasm on a single 120-foot scroll, and Salles has attempted to find cinematic equivalents to the author’s fluid, jazzy, quicksilver prose. The colors are intense, looks and gestures are fleetingly caught, rhythms are varied to convey highs and lows of perception and sensation. A feeling of great fidelity to and high regard for the material courses through Jose Rivera’s adaptation and Salles’ directorial attitude (the pair effectively warmed up for this road trip with The Motorcycle Diaries eight years ago).

But there are several barriers to representing On the Road in effective movie terms. First is the lack of dramatic structure; the book is about several journeys, each eventful in its own way, but it remains fitfully episodic. The filmmakers deal with this by making a climax out of Kerouac finally breaking through his creative block and writing the book, but the lonely spectacle of an author typing has never proved cinematically interesting and still doesn’t here.

Furthermore, while Dean Moriarty represents the essential life force, the mad one who burns like a Roman candle, much of his Benzedrine-and-booze-fueled behavior comes off as just reckless and irresponsible; onscreen, anyway, he seems more suitable to be envied rather than admired.

And lingering over the entire enterprise is the question of whether it will be clear to uninitiated and young audiences what the characters are rebelling against. Aside from Kerouac’s briefly seen mother and family, the “straight” world is scarcely glimpsed -- and nor should it be, as this was not an intention of the book. But the film provides little sense of how contrary and counter to the norm the characters’ thinking and behavior were in the context of the time.

After burying his father, the Kerouac figure Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is taken to meet wildman Neal Cassady stand-in Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), who answers the door stark naked, having been interrupted during sex with his saucy teenage wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Lots of voiceover, along with shots of Sal vacantly staring at his typewriter and toting around Swann’s Way, accompanies the aspiring writer’s eager embrace of life’s exotic but hardly inaccessible stimulations, beginning with New York jazz clubs and drugs and, after heading to Denver, some sexual sharing with the supercharged Dean and Marylou.

Athletically built, tousle-haired and up for anything, Dean attracts men and women, comes and goes as he pleases and abides by no rules; no sooner does he divorce Marylou than he marries the more stable Camille  (Kirsten Dunst), with whom he starts having babies, even as he returns to Marylou for further travels and fun.

Although the story is Sal/Kerouac’s, the star part is Dean, and Hedlund has the allure for it; among the men here, he’s the one you always watch, and the actor effectively catches the character’s impulsive, thrill-seeking, risk-taking, responsibility-avoiding personality.

As embodied by a solid, if inherently reactive Riley, Sal is good-looking too, but in a more boyish, innocent way. Intimidated by Dean just as he idolizes him, he has the guts to follow far down an uncharted road where most others wouldn’t. He sometimes takes detours, among them an abridged romance with a Mexican girl (Alice Braga) while picking cotton with migrants in California, and continues to put in time trying to write at his mother’s modest home in Queens.

But it’s the group adventures that count the most, and Salles has captured some of them quite evocatively: A wild New Year’s Eve party where Dean and Marylou dance in a sexy frenzy; a calm and weird stay at the Louisiana home of the William Burroughs character, Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen, very fine); another sexy scene in which Marylou simultaneously pleasures Dean and Sal (out of camera range) as they all ride naked in the front seat of their car; Dean’s escape from domesticity with Camille as he joins Sal at a club to see Slim Gaillard, and a wild sojourn south of the border for mind-blowing weed and Mexican whores.

Less effective are Dean’s quest for his long-lost father in Denver, the windy ramblings of Allen Ginsberg equivalent Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and an out-of-left-field episode involving a fastidious gay man (an unbilled Steve Buscemi) keen to buy Dean’s services.

While the film’s dramatic impact is variable, visually and aurally it is a constant pleasure. Eric Gautier’s cinematography is endlessly resourceful, making great use of superb and diverse locations (including New York, Canada, New Mexico, California, Louisiana, Mexico and Argentina). The cars, beginning with the central Hudson, are terrific, as are the décor, clothes and wide range of music. The film was researched to the limit, and it shows.

Stewart, selected for Marylou five years ago on the basis of her striking debut in Into the Wild, is perfect in the role, takes off her clothes more than once and nearly always seems to be breaking a sweat, which kicks the sexiness quotient up high. Amy Adams is frumpy and into a mysterious zone of her own as Old Bull’s odd wife, while Elisabeth Moss is obliged to carp and complain as the severe fellow’s unsuitable house guest.

James Rocchi  at Cannes from the indieWIRE Playlist, May 23, 2012

 

Eric D. Snider at Cannes from Movies.com

 

Eric Kohn at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 23, 2012

 

Drew McWeeny at Cannes from HitFix, May 23, 2012

 

On The Road – Cannes Film Festival 2012  Adam Woodward at Cannes from Little White Lies, May 23, 2012

 

The long and winding road   Barbara Scharres at Cannes from the Ebert blog, May 23, 2012

 

DAILY | Cannes 2012 | Walter Salles’s ON THE ROAD »  David Hudson at Cannes from Fandor, May 24, 2012

 

Cannes Film Festival: Walter Salles' journey to 'On the Road'  Kenneth Turan interview at Cannes from The LA Times, May 23, 2012

 

'On the Road' Review and Oscar Prospects  Anne Thompson at Cannes from Thompson on Hollywood, May 23, 2012, also seen here:  Anne Thompson 

 

Owen Gleiberman  at Cannes from Entertainment Weekly

 

Todd McCarthy at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 23, 2012

 

Justin Chang at Cannes from Variety

 

Ben Kenigsberg  at Cannes from Time Out Chicago, May 23, 2012

 

Cannes Film Festival: An Early Look at ‘On the Road’  Manohla Dargis at Cannes from The New York Times, May 23, 2012

 

The Beats Hit the Road Again on Screen  Steve Chagollan from the New York Times, May 23, 2012

 

'On the Road' on the Big Screen  Joan Dupont feature and interview from The New York Times, May 22, 2012, also seen here:  Joan Dupont

 

Salvatores, Gabriele

 

I’M NOT SCARED                                       B+                   92

Italy  (111 mi)  2002

 

An excruciatingly beautiful to look at sin and redemption film wrapped in the pastoral beauty of a rural horror thriller, looking very much like a wide-screen companion piece to Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN, largely due to the superb photography of Italo Petriccione who captures the surface as well as another world lurking just underneath.  This film is based on a novel by Niccolo Ammaniti and features vast wheatfields, with birds constantly fluttering in and out of the screen, screeching or soaring above, sometimes menacingly, sometimes beautifully, creating an enticing world where sights and sounds are harmoniously matched by the music of Ezio Bosso and Pepo Scherman, sounding very much like violin variations of Pachelbel’s “Canon” and the otherworldly music of Arvo Part.  The story is about kids and is seen through the eyes and the imaginations of kids, who play innocently enough with one another in the summer-lit wheatfields, finding an abandoned house, daring one another to do dangerous things.  One ten-year old child, Michele, played by Giuseppe Cristiano, returning to the scene to fetch his younger sister’s broken glasses, which he lost, discovers someone hidden in a covered hole who could be living or dead, and runs from the scene.   As the days pass, he returns again and again to the scene of the crime, alternatingly horrified and curious, ultimately discovering another boy his own age who is chained and left alone, yet given just enough food to be kept alive.  In Michele’s mind, he weaves an imaginary story to match what he sees.  Alternately, the imprisoned boy does the same, thinking of Michele as his Guardian Angel.  At home, Michele overhears his parents, who with several other village adults have a disturbing interest with a television report of a child kidnapping for ransom.  As none of this makes sense to Michele, who feels an allegiance to his parents, yet the universe of the boy’s fate becomes dangerously wrapped around Michele’s shoulders.  What follows may be predictable enough, yet it evolves beautifully, simultaneously blending the worlds of the children and the adults into one.  One is emotionally pulled into Michele’s world, and while simplistic, this is captivating throughout.  

 

Samir

 

FORGET BAGHDAD                                  B+                   90

Germany  Switzerland  (111 mi)  2002

 

An extremely complex subject, to become the enemy of your own memories, presented to the audience like a college lecture, filled with facts and analysis where it’s hard to keep up with all the information.  The son of Iraqi Jewish Communists who fled Iraq in the early 1950’s, Swiss-born filmmaker Samir sets out to discover the men who knew his father in an attempt to reconnect with his roots.  Basically, the film examines how some Jews historically do not believe in Zionism, how there is a fractured Jewish state divided between Western European Jews, the Ashkenazi, who have an exclusive claim to the Holocaust, and the Middle Eastern Jews from Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, who were run out of their countries in the early 1950’s by forces which may have included violent acts initiated by the ultra-right Zionist secret service agents in Israel in collaboration with Arabic governments, acts initiated to drive the Eastern, “Oriental” Jews called Mizrahim to the new Jewish homeland in Israel.  For instance in Iraq, where there were 140,000 Jews, none were interested in relocating to Israel until after bombings and arrests gave them no other choice.  Within a year, 120,000 requested asylum in Israel, turning professional, well-educated, Iraqi middle class merchants into Israeli refugees living in tents, totally at the mercy of this new country that demanded every new citizen contribute in some way to the betterment of the whole, so all were given menial tasks.  Based on the pre-existing prejudice against Arab Jews, they were fumigated upon entry, actually sprayed with DDT before being sent to a kibbutz where they would learn farming techniques.  The film follows the story of 4 men who were Iraqi communists in the 1940’s, all joining the left-leaning communists as that was the organization fighting the Nazi’s, none who knew the director’s father, all now relocated in Israel, all with Arabic roots, and all some 50 years later still feeling as if they are in a state of permanent exile.  Also, the film includes a prominent Israeli film scholar with Arabic family roots now living in New York, who was the first to go live on Israeli television to suggest there was a prejudicial rift within the Israeli state between the Ashkenazi and Mizrahim Jews.  Archival footage, including old Egyptian films, are mixed with current interviews and the director’s narration to provide a composite view of how the Arabic aspect of these Jews has been eradicated in their assimilation to the land of Israel.  But roots are hard to eradicate, they don’t erase easily, memories keep popping up from time to time, and perhaps those memories, the film suggests, as non-politicized as they are, can be the key to unraveling a human solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so long as they are not forgotten.   

 

Sandrich, Mark
 
SHALL WE DANCE

USA  (109 mi)  1937

 

Women in Hollywood musicals  Pulling the Plug on Lina Lamont, by Martin Roth from Jump Cut, April 1990

 
Sanjinés, Jorge
 
BLOOD OF THE CONDOR (Yawar mallku)

Bolivia  (85 mi)  1969

 

User comments  from imdb Author: S.M. Flatten from Culver City, California, USA

The editing and cinematography are of renegade or guerilla filmmaking. The film has almost no production value of any kind. Blood of the Condor is amazingly artistic and complements the paranoia of the plot. This film is must see for every film student and amateur filmmaker!

Time Out review

About a conflict between the Peace Corps and a local tribe in Bolivia , used to dramatise the racism latent in 'Western Aid' programmes. The Peace Corps were discovered to be practising sterilisation on Indian women without their knowledge. Sanjines' film explores the implications of this policy.

Occam's Projector [Czaro Woj]

In the Bolivian mountains, a man, his wife. Their children: dead. Life according to tradition. One day, police arrest the man, shoot him in cold blood—injured, alive. His wife takes him down, into the city, to his brother. City? Machines, velocity, "modernity", racism—godlessness. The doctor in the city hospital says (in Spanish), "You need blood, you need money to buy blood." They don't have money; will they find it, earn it? Interesting structure, parallel flashback: Peace Corps arrives in the mountain village, bringing clothes, medicine. It's a front. In reality: a forced, covert sterilization program. The man finds out, swarms and attacks the modern-looking building with fellow villagers. They catch the Westerners (in English) listening to psychedelia. Freak-out ensues, frightened Westerner in close-up: "They seem to know everything!" In the present, the man dies, no money for blood. His brother and wife return to the village. Last shot: villagers raising their rifles in protest—freeze frame. Film rendered in striking compositions, jagged editing, little money. Political, impressive. Original title: Yawar mallku.

The Clandestine Nation: indigenism and national subjects of Bolivia in the films of Jorge Sanjinés  Leonardo Garcia-Pabón from Jump Cut, Fall 2001

Santana, Antoine

 

A SONG OF INNOCENCE                         B+                   91

France  (90 mi)  2005

 

Despite the overt similarities to Marco Bellocchio’s film THE NANNY (1999), including many scenes that look exactly alike, the director takes sole authorship of his film, though in truth, it does have a more subversive ending.  A dark and ultra grim mood prevails throughout this stylish class conscious chamber drama set in 1877 that resembles the look of a gothic horror thriller, where underneath the decorative veneer lies the exaggerated style of a vampire story, except very little actually happens except the introduction of severe rules meant to keep the servants in their place, boredom and the passing of time.  Opening with a black and white painterly photograph of a pregnant woman standing beside a bare tree under a full moon, we then see a woman dragged off in a horse-driven carriage in the dead of night with a cloak over her head, rushed up the stairs of a run down mansion by candlelight, delivered to the room where a baby cries.  Enter the wet nurse, Islid Le Besco, wearing a blank expression on her face and very worn peasant clothes.  She has been hired to care for the infant daughter of the lord and lady of the manor, the cold and dour Grégoire Colin, who has a fetish for control, status, and reinforcing his authority over the servants, and his attractive young bride, Émilie Dequenne from ROSETTA (1999), who at age 18 is the same age as the nurse, and finds her friendship and companionship more satisfying than that of her aloof and domineering husband.

 
The film composition is extraordinarily precise by Angelopolos’s cinematographer, Yorgos Arvanitis, where the clothes, the manner, each shot, each room, each image is stunning in it’s period detail, yet there is something bizarre happening when Colin stands alone in a narrow hallway in the dark of the night, perhaps looking in on one of the ladies, and the walls start to close in on him, like a shot out of REPULSION (1965), where his repressed anxiety seems to make the walls move, almost like an expressionist image.  Later, the nurse herself has visions of herself as Cinderella, freeing herself from this dreary, slavish existence and dressing up for the ball.  While the nurse is overly affectionate to the baby, there is a dark underside to her queer nature, which is observed and commented on by the other servants, as if she is somehow possessing the baby, as a vampire possesses one of its victims, or she’ll occasionally read the baby a scary story and let her cry. 

 

There are many painterly images, and a deliberate, established pace that gives us insight into the household rhythms and personalities.  One unforgettable image is a flashback to the night when the lord of the manor and his doctor visit a home of nursing mothers, seeking the services of one of them.  Most are unclad from the waist up, their breasts exposed, perhaps twenty, thirty women presenting themselves in this manner, all lined up, as if the men are at a bordello choosing which woman he desires.  They even taste the breast milk before choosing the right nurse.  We learn she was forced to give up her son to take this position, and she tells the lady of the manor that she dreams of the day she and her son, as well as the lord’s child, will run away together and rise up in revolutionary rebellion against the master class.  The lady of the manor is revolted at what she hears, realizing she’s talking about her baby, thinking these must be delusions of grandeur.  This causes such concern that they consider relieving her of her duties, but decide instead to wean the child from the wet nurse for two months, as they have also heard the nurse’s son has died, and vow not to tell her, as they wish nothing to disturb the relationship between the mother, the nurse, and the baby, who are even on a strict diet to ensure healthy milk production.  On the night before she leaves, the nurse is told the full circumstances of her child, as the dramatic music of Mahler’s 1st Symphony kicks in, a slowly developing children’s round that has such sinister implications, as in the darkness of the night all sorts of dire possibilities float through our heads in a cinematic psychological study of a woman in distress.  The ending is, quite simply, stunning, and raised a smile to my face, as much of the small details of the film collectively form a personal portrait, which in an instant, like THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, changes before our eyes. 

 

Santiago, Cirio H.

 

FIRECRACKER

Philippines  USA  (77 mi)  1981

User reviews  from imdb Author: mcslime from schenectady, new york, usa

This movie was probably singularly responsible for my interest in B-grade martial arts movies. I saw it when I was very young (before cable - eeeeek!) on late-night "Kung-fu Theater". The local station had obviously made a mistake and aired the movie uncut - violence, nudity, and all! The epic final fight scene finds the heroine steadily losing pieces of her clothing one item at a time until she finishes the battle wearing nothing but her panties. The sight of her fighting in such a condition forever made me a fan of the genre! See it if you have a chance.

Firecracker  Contest and contradiction, by Gina Marchetti from Jump Cut

 

Sapir, Esteban

 

THE AERIAL                                                            B-                    80

Argentina  (90 mi)  2007

 

Imagination has saved men.

 

Opening in a film within a film, like The Shrinking Lover section of Almodovar’s TALK TO ME, I kept expecting the actual film to materialize, but it never did, remaining in this format throughout, a black and white silent film where all the town’s inhabitants (except inexplicably one family) remain voiceless, where a megalomaniac known as Mr. TV owns all the jobs, all the food, and all the media outlets which have stolen their voices.  It’s a Guy Maddin-like creation without his humorous flair for melodrama or quirky wit, a film that can be overwhelming at times with the grandiose look of the METROPOLIS style set designs pitting the powerful against the meek, an obvious reference to the political suppression of free speech that has wreeked havoc with Argentina’s political past, such as their notorious disappearing persons or the oppressive military force that initiated a campaign against its own citizens in their Dirty War from the 70’s and 80’s.  In a town where it’s always snowing (a reference to Guy Maddin’s CAREFUL?), Mr. TV is a Dick Tracy-like villain characterized by his giant limo where the obnoxious car alarm goes off all the time and his henchman, shown with a deformed face and a rat’s tail, has to kick the tires to make it stop.  Another henchman working for Mr. TV wears a space helmet over his head with the Soviet Union label “CCCP” across the top.  The Voice is an exquisitely beautiful Latin singer who performs sensuous tangos on TV wearing a provocatively low-cut dress, but also a hood over her head that is entirely black where her face should be.  As a sign of conformity, the entire town lines up in front of every available television set to watch this show.  The melodious quality of her voice, even when speaking, is comforting.  Her son has no eyes at all, but like her, he can also speak.  However, she constantly warns him to be careful when speaking, as others may be listening who can do him harm.     

 

Across the street from them is a father and daughter, where the father is separated from his femme fatale wife who works under heavily fortified security for Mr TV, while he and his own father have recently been fired by Mr. TV.  The word “Fired” is stamped on their personal ID cards that they publicly wear.  However the father and son team operate a TV repair business, and when they actually fix one, the word “Repaired” is highlighted, like a blackened neon-light across the movie screen.  This plays like a running serial.  Will The Voice and her son lose their voices as well?  Will her son ever get his sight back?  Will Mr. TV succeed in his plan to steal all the town’s words as well?   Will the father and daughter ever reunite with the mother?  Will Mr. TV, the rat and the commie, ever get their comeuppance?  Stay tuned, as these questions and others may or may not get answered in this film.  The question is: will you stick around to find out?   There’s an overly dramatic orchestral musical score by Leo Sujatovich that is pulsatingly staccato, constantly jarring the nerves, where even the music suggests a continual beating down of the population.  The problem here, despite the overly obvious metaphor, is that the actors barely break a sweat.  The emphasis is on form, not the product, so the human aspect gets drowned out by the visual design.  Obviously the film was invited to a film fest for the dazzling visual inventiveness, but there’s a feeling of disconnect as well, remaining emotionally aloof and detached from the world of the audience, unfortunately growing more cartoonish and monotonous after awhile.     

 

sneersnipe (David Perilli)

 

From a narrow modern perspective one problem with many silent films which use inter-titles to display dialogue is that they can break up the pace of a film. La antena (The Aerial) stands out for the inventive approach to conveying silent film in a world that has sound. Black and white with a near continuous score, dialogue is displayed on screen when characters speak, similar to a comic: the words are a visual constituent of the world they appear within. Dialogue is given shape and form in the moments it appears in to fit with the look of the scene and the content of the dialogue. Often the words are like 60s typography (like in the magazine OZ for example) where the words are all blown up and irregular.

So, for example, two villains converse whilst being overseen by the hero of the piece. Because their words are visual and part of this world, they are obscured by the giant collars of a man's coat! As the talkers move, the hero (and us) are finally able to see what is being said but this is one of the few times where the idea that characters are conversing throughout in a written graphic medium is explicit to the way in which they interact with their world. This reaches delightful heights of whimsy when some heavies try to shoot the heroes with machine guns. Rat-tat-tat's literally stream across and fill the screen as the bullets fly. Or where a central blind character can only understand what others are saying by touching their mouths – literal lip reading (or touching)!

Set in an oppressive city inspired by the Art Deco vision of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, director Esteban Sapir creates a world where the population have been stricken of their voices with the exception of a single woman. Aptly named 'The Voice' she sings dolefully on a television channel run by the ruthless Mr TV. When an inventor and his family are drawn into Mr TV's machinations a struggle to control the world's words ensues. For a film based around words, the much 'spoken' mantra 'They strip us of our voices but they can't take away our words' signposts the direction the plot is going in.

Deliberately setting out to work with the form of a film Sapir name checks all over the place in his influences. La antena clearly owes a debt to the Soviet silent film-makers, particularly Vertov, as Sapir toys so ably with the very concept of a silent film being made by a crew who can do sound. In this sense the film is analogous to more populist (and anglophone) films like Pleasantville where the colour and its absence are part of the plot. Visually the film loves using depth and keyholes to give it a distinct look. The debt to Lang and other German expressionists is also there but far less well exploited. The city has an odd composite feel, design and costume wise, which is only really escaped by the end.

As a director with a strong advertising and shorts background, Sapir seems much like an arthouse version of say Michel Gondry or David Fincher. He takes an idea which sets up a construct, and plays with it visually. La antena is reminiscent of Gondry 's and Fincher's shorts but is more ambitious in comparison to their features. The biggest similarity to La antena is probably from the work of Guy Maddin: La antena is probably the best Guy Maddin film that Maddin himself has neglected to make.

The downsides of the film are the occasional Latin American sentimentality and the occasional jokey humour at the expense of the scenario (but given the semi-self awareness of their state even this fits somehow). The worst excess is the decision to base the visual design of Mr TV's villainous scheme on the Metropolis robot-maria awakening look – but to place Voice on a swastika! Oh dear. In opposition the good guys end up sticking her son on a Cross of David. At the very least it's a poor visual gag that sticks out in a good film, at worst it's bound to be offensive to someone.

Complete with a predictable yet cleverly handled resolution, La antena throws its hat into 'a film from 2007 you must watch' barely a month into the year.

 

Variety   Jay Weissberg

 

Cherry-picking elements from a variety of genres for his cautionary fable of media control, writer-director Esteban Sapir turns "The Aerial" into a grab bag of overstatement embellished by sentiment. Based on silent film stylizations along with broad borrowings from comic book characters, pic plays like Dick Tracy meets "Metropolis" via Dziga Vertov, but the encounter is not felicitous. Undeniably lovely visuals can't sustain an overly precious story that could have made a strong impact as a short. This odd choice for the Rotterdam opener will see limited fest play before falling into the "curiosity only" category.

Best described as a part-talkie, "The Aerial" imagines a B&W world in thrall to Mr. TV (Alejandro Urdapilleta) and his ever-present broadcasts and products. During "Year X," in the "City Without a Voice," the populace has lost the ability to speak -- all except for The Voice (Florencia Raggi), a faceless mystery woman who sings on one of Mr. TV's programs.

Together with Dr. Y (Carlos Pineiro), Mr. TV concocts a devious plot to further rob the populace of all communication skills. Their plan calls for controlling The Voice, but little do they know that her son Tomas (Jonathan Sandor), though born without eyes, also has the power of speech.

When The Voice is kidnapped, Tomas is rescued by The Inventor (Rafael Ferro), who knows of an aerial where he can broadcast a plot-destroying message. Together with daughter Ana (Sol Moreno) and wife The Nurse (Julieta Cardinali), they set off, hotly pursued by Mr. TV's sidekick Mouseman (Raul Hochman).

With The Voice strapped to a giant swastika in Dr. Y's laboratory and Tomas strapped onto a giant Star of David (oy vey), it's a race against time to see whether The Inventor can save the City from total mind control.

Sapir certainly makes his message clear: Subtlety isn't his strong point. He doesn't disguise his influences either. Besides "Metropolis," scenes and themes are lifted from the Melies Brothers, "The Bride of Frankenstein" (a fairy in a snow globe), and half a dozen others.

But there's no punch, just a series of overplayed moments in which he uses the silent film form in the same postmodernist way as a Guy Maddin with Baron Munchhausen fantasies. Even the B&W lensing is toyed with, crystal clear in some scenes and then slightly pulsating in others, as if the projector bulb is struggling for energy.

There are many beautiful moments: the arresting opening, with hands poised above a typewriter as if belonging to a piano accompanist, and a shot of words folded into dough is remarkably inventive.

But Sapir spoils the cleverness with heavy-handed devices, like an overused plastic tear, or that ill-advised swastika versus Star of David coupling.

Vertov's spirit is ever-present with words directly on images rather than relegated to intertitles, but the great Soviet master would have completely rejected the cutesy sentiment.

Praise, however, goes to production designer Daniel Gimelberg's beautiful sets, inspired not only by Expressionism but 1940s noir. His constantly snowing cityscapes are lovingly shot by d.p. Cristian Cottet, and the whole transfers handsomely to 35mm (post-production must have taken up the bulk of creative time). For a change, music is properly paired with the images.

Camera (B&W, Super 16mm-to-35mm), Cristian Cottet; editor, Pablo Barbieri Carrera; music, Leo Sujatovich; production designer, Daniel Gimelberg; costume designers, Andrea Mattio, M. Cristina Astudillo; sound, Jose Luis Diaz; assistant director, Lorena Contardo; casting, Cecilia Alvarez Casado. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Opening Night, competing), Jan. 24, 2007. Running time: 98 MIN.

LA ANTENA d: Esteban Sapir  Keith Waterfield from Alternative Film Guide

Sarandan, Susan – Actress

  

Film Comment  Gavin Smith interview from Film Comment

 

Sarne, Michael

 

JOANNA

Great Britain  (108 mi)  1968  ‘Scope

 

FilmFanatic.org

As Peary points out immediately in his review, this dated film is “bad and self-indulgent”, but nonetheless has some redeeming qualities — namely its ability to capture the zaniness and existential yearnings of the 1960s. It should also be applauded for addressing interracial romance — and showing confident, successful blacks — at a time when this was still considered taboo by many. Unfortunately, Waite’s grating baby-voice got on my nerves immediately, and her wiggish hair makes her look like Phyllis Diller — I’m not surprised she only made two more films after this.

Movie Talk [Peter Fuller]

Former 1960s pop singer turned film director Mike Sarne is probably best known for helming the infamous 1970 box office bomb Myra Breckinridge – an overblown, kitsch adaptation of Gore Vidal’s novel starring Raquel Welch and Rex Reed.

But two years before his Hollywood debut, Sarne fashioned this quirky story of a wide-eyed girl (Geneviève Waite, who would later marry Mamas & the Papas singer John Phillips) falling in with the loose-living London crowd. Donald Sutherland steals the film as a flamboyant but frail, wealthy young man who invites Joanna on an impulsive trip to Morocco; while Calvin Lockhart (in his film debut) cameos as a street-wise hipster who Joanna falls in love with.

Famously described by Gore Vidal as resembling ‘a collection of cigarette ads’, Joanna is very much a time capsule of London in the 1960s, and has much the same trippy qualities as Myra – especially its narrative structure, which is basically a succession of mad situations that Joanna finds herself in. Think Voltaire’s Candide transplanted to a mod London, but minus the debauchery.

Included in the new BFI Flipside release is the brilliant short film on which Joanna is based. Made in 1966, Road to St Tropez follows a married woman travelling in the South of France in a sporty Renault Caravelle (the car of choice for touring the Riviera in the 1960s) picking up strangers along the way, including a very young Udo Kier (in his film debut), before returning to her dull life in the city. This is a wry, cynical look at lonely women of means with too much time on their hands. It’s one of those true gems that I can watch over and over, if only for the car and scenery.

The other extra is Death May Be Your Santa Claus (well known in prog rock circles because of its connection to a famous 1971 avant-garde album of the same name by the British psychedelic band Second Hand). The film, about a day in the life of a radical black student, has a non-linear narrative structure that comes across like a Beatnik cut-up poem set to celluloid with loads of allegorical references to racism, poverty, war and religion. It’s very dense, so you’ll definitely need a little something to make this go down. Still, it did prompt me to track down the cult album.

This wonderfully strange, eclectic release is now available as a Dual Format release through BFI Flipside.

Britmovie [Drewe Shimon]

 

Rock! Shock! Pop! [Ian Jane]

 

Blu-rayDefinition.com UK Blu-ray [Brandon A. DuHamel]

 

TV Guide review

 

New York Times [Renata Adler] (registration req'd)

 

Sarno, Geraldo

 

COLONEL DELMIRO GOUVEIA

Brazil  (90 mi)  1978

 

Brazil Film Update   Randal Johnson from Jump Cut

Documentarist Sarno's first dramatic feature (he made VIRAMUNDO in 1964) is a historical reconstruction of the life and death of Brazilian nationalist industrialist Delmiro Gouveia. Told largely from the perspectives of people associated with him rather than from that of Gouveia himself, the film begins with a cinema verite style shot of a worker/peasant saying that his boss (Gouveia) had never had anyone killed. The film ends with a similar shot, this time of a young worker from Gouveia's factory who, after his boss' death, says that workers did what Gouveia told them to, then what the English ordered, and that nobody ever asked their opinion. He says that when the workers control the means of production, nothing will impede the country's development.

Development and the paths to it are what the film is all about. Delmiro Gouveia represents a form of nationalist-bourgeois development, a form much in vogue during the populist years of Kubitschek, Quadros and Goulart. The worker in the final image offers another, more proletarian solution. It's difficult to know which solution the director favors, since the film itself is a glorification of Gouveia and his individual efforts to develop the Northeast. The films deals with his rise to economic power in the Brazilian interior through his development of a thread-making factory based on hydroelectric power derived from a darn on the Paulo Afonso Falls of the Sao Francisco River. His success undercuts the monopoly held on the Brazilian market by the British Machine Cotton Company. After refusing to negotiate or sell out to the British firm, Gouveia is assassinated. His factory is later acquired by Machine Cotton, dismantled, and thrown into the river. The film's high level of production values as well as its political questioning make CORONEL DELMIRO GOUVEIA one of the most important films of recent years. The film had its U.S. debut in the 1978 San Francisco Festival. 

Sarris, Andrew – Film critic

 

Required Reading: Criticism & Analysis  The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (Andrew Sarris, 1968), by Jim Emerson from cinepad

Everybody needs a personal pantheon -- a selection of filmmakers whose work means the most to them -- and Sarris (who, along with Pauline Kael, is the most influential of American film critics) turned his into a seminal work of criticism.  Sarris introduced America to the French auteur theory of the director as "author" of a film, and is a more scholarly and disciplined writer and film theoretician than Kael. Which is not to say that he's dry or dull -- he's just more interested in history. His essays on key filmmakers are a joy to read.  This is a landmark book you'll revisit and re-read continually.

Sarris, Andrew   Art and Culture

Andrew Sarris served as film critic for the Village Voice for almost 30 years and as the editor of the English-language version of the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, but he is best known as the primary spokesman for the "politique des auteurs" -- or auteur theory.

Prior to the emergence of this theory in France, the idea of filmmaker-as-author was applied strictly to certain European directors who considered themselves independent artists and exercised complete control over all aspects of their films. This model created the distinction between art films and popular cinema.

In France, however, the critics who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema were convinced that American cinema, and even, or especially, Hollywood cinema, was worthy of close examination. They proposed the radical idea that masterpieces were not the exclusive domain of a cultural elite of directors, and that cinematic authors previously dismissed as merely commercial had in fact made significant personal statements in their work. The assertion that the auteur’s distinctive style is only revealed through a thorough examination of his whole body of work caused a shift in critical perception and a re-evaluation of directors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sarris created an enormous furor when he introduced this theory in his Village Voice column, and his book "The American Cinema," which ranked American directors in various categories of importance and relevance, escalated the controversy. While the theory had many opponents, even its supporters did not always agree, and two main schools of critics emerged. One group stressed the directors’ recurring thematic motifs, the core meanings in their works, as the true measure of unique vision, while the other stressed form, or the individual styles of directors. Later, most critics accepted that some combination of the two defined the true "auteur."

With his introduction of auteur theory into the cultural dialogue, Sarris helped to define the role of the film critic. By arguing that there was indeed an artist at work in film, he set the course toward a standard of film criticism that went beyond issues of personal taste.

Kent Jones' tribute to Sarris in Film Comment  also seen here:  Film Comment 

 

Kent Jones re-examines the 50-year career of Andrew Sarris, the man who brought auteurism to America

 

Overview for Andrew Sarris  Turner Classic Movies

 

Andrew Sarris - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC  biography

 

Andrew Sarris: Information from Answers.com  biography

 

Andrew Sarris’s profile at Columbia University

 

Welcome to Emanuel Levy » Andrew Sarris:American Film Critic  profile essay

 

Andrew Sarris  Profile from Full Movie Review

 

ANDREW SARRIS' FAVOURITE FILMS by kenji  Mubi

 

Andrew Sarris' Pantheon Directors on Lists of Bests

 

Andrew Sarris' Top Ten Lists: 1958-2006

 

Andrew Sarris's Reviews for the New York Observer

 

Andrew Sarris – Notes on the Auteur Theory - Home › Faded Requiem  Andrew Sarris Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962, from The Film Artist (pdf format)

 

ANDREW SARRIS ON LOLA MONTES MOLLY HASKELL ON LOLA MONTES  1963, (pdf format)

 

Who's Afraid of Andrew Sarris? (Maybe Mike Nichols Should Be ...  Sarris review of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? From The Village Voice, July 28, 1966

 

Mildred Natwick News » Andrew Sarris Harshes on 'Casino Royale ...  Andrew Sarris on CASINO ROYALE and BAREFOOT IN THE PARK from The Village Voice, June 15, 1967

 

TSPDT - Andrew Sarris: Director Categories from "The American ...  Andrew Sarris book, "The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968" (383 pages), 1968

 

The American cinema: directors and directions, 1929-1968 - Google Books Result (383 pages), 1968

 

Andrew Sarris | The Sticking Place  Sarris review of MEDIUM COOL, from The Village Voice, August 28, 1969

 

The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, by ...  book review by Paul Warshow from Commentary magazine, October 1969

 

Graduate Review - Andrew Sarris  1970 

 

Andrew Sarris vs. Pauline Kael on “Raising Kane” « Wellesnet: The ...  Andrew Sarris’s reply to Pauline Kael’s infamous article “Raising Kane,” that was first published in The New Yorker, April 15, 1971

 

Andrew Sarris reveals the mystery behind “ROSEBUD” in Orson ...  Citizen Kael vs. Citizen Kane, by Andrew Sarris from The Village Voice, April 29, 1971

 

'This Moviest of All Movies' - 73.03  Sarris review of GONE WITH THE WIND, by Atlantic magazine, March 1973

 

Alphaville (1965) - The Criterion Collection  Criterion essay, October 19, 1998, also seen here:  Comments on Alphaville by Andrew Sarris - Coldbacon

 

The Rewards of Obsessing About Film  Janet Maslin from the New York Times, April 14, 2001

 

French Cancan (1955) - The Criterion Collection  Criterion essay, August 2, 2004

 

Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment: Andrew Sarris  April 6, 2005

 

"Get Reel"  J. Hoberman from The Village Voice, October 18, 2005

 

Q&A: MOLLY HASKELL & ANDREW SARRIS :: Stop Smiling Magazine  November 7, 2005

 

Poll: Andrew Sarris and Your Greatest Films of All Time - scanners  Jim Emerson from Scanners, March 12, 2007

 

Knocked Up a K.O.!: Apatow Hits Ground Like Sturges, Wilder | The ...  Sarris review of KNOCKED UP from The New York Observer, June 5, 2007

 

Happy Birthday, Andrew Sarris!  Bright Lights After Dark, October 31, 2007

 

Infantile Filmocidal: Andrew Sarris v. Pauline Kael OR Auteurism v ...  August 5, 2008

 

SXSW Review: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism  Peter Martin from Cinematical, March 20, 2009

 

Fade out on: Andrew Sarris | NJ.com  Stephen Whitty from The Star-Ledger, June 10, 2009

 

Some Came Running: To Andrew Sarris  Glenn Kenny from Some Came Running, June 10, 2009

 

Andrew Sarris Persists and Endures « davekehr.com  June 11, 2009

 

Andrew Sarris Era Not Quite Over Yet in NYC | Movieline  S.T. Vanairsdale from Movieline, June 11, 2009

 

Film - Andrew Sarris - A Survivor of Film Criticism's Heroic Age ...  Michael Powell from The New York Times, July 9, 2009

 

Critic After Dark: Andrew Sarris profile on The New York Times  Noel Vera from Critic After Dark, July 12, 2009

 

In memory of Andrew Sarris's New York Observer reviews. | Filmwell  Jeffrey Overstreet from Filmwell, August 11, 2009

 

The American Critic  Forced Perspective, January 14, 2010

 

Not My Opinion  Forced Perspective, March 1, 2010

 

What Are Your Favorite Books About The Movies?  Jessica Barnes from Cinematical, April 29, 2010

 

'Psycho' Is 50: Remembering Its Impact, and the Andrew Sarris ... 'Psycho' Is 50: Remembering Its Impact, and the Andrew Sarris Review, by J. Hoberman from The Village Voice, June 15, 2010

 

Understanding the Place of Auteur Theory in Film Theory  Valerie Williamson from Suite 101, March 27, 2011

 

RIP Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012  Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, Influential Film Critic, Dies at 83  The New York Times, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, leading film critic and advocate for directors, dies at 83  The Washington Post, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, influential film critic, dies aged 83  Catherine Shoard from The Guardian, June 20, 2012

 

David Edelstein on Andrew Sarris, 1928–2012  The Vulture, June 20, 2012

Andew Sarris, 1928-2012: Highlights From His Village Voice Years  Tony Ortega from the Village Voice, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, Film Critic Who Made Directors Into Artists, Is Dead  Forrest Wickman from Slate Magazine, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, Critic Who Championed Film's New Wave, Dies at 83  Todd Cunningham from The Chicago Tribune, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, Defining Film Critic Who Introduced Auteur Theory To America ...  Jen Chung from the Gothamist, June 20, 2012

 

Iconic Film Critic Andrew Sarris Dies At Age 83  Joshua Brunsting from The Criterion Cast, June 20, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris, auteur provocateur  Jaime Weinman from Macleans, June 20, 2012

 

Influential Film Critic Andrew Sarris Dies at 83  Gregg Kilday from The Hollywood Reporter, June 20, 2012

 

Cinemonkey: Andrew Sarris, 1928 - 2012  D.K. Holm from Cinemonkey, June 21, 2012

 

Andrew Sarris Interview with David Kurz  available on audio only from Wired for Books (Undated)

 

Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris - Dialogues - Moving Image Source  April 12, 2008

 

Andrew Sarris | The Days of Yore  Astri von Arbin Ahlander interviews Molly Haskell, March 7, 2011

 

Interview with Andrew Sarris on Film Criticism  Eve Gerber interview from the Browser,  March 9, 2011

 

Images for Andrew Sarris

 

Andrew Sarris - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

Sasanatieng, Wisit

 

TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER                         B+                   90

Thailand  (110 mi)  2000

 

A true midnight movie classic, a candy-colored Thai western with a constantly roving camera that took six years to be released to the United States, a film so artificially stylized in the Douglas Sirk soap opera melodrama camp, featuring horrible writing that could possibly be on par with the Flash Gordon TV series, where there isn’t the remotest sense of nuance, everything is color-exaggerated and so over the top, using humorous references from all sorts of films, especially the Sergio Leone westerns.  Rousing musical themes resemble those of Ennio Morricone, there are plenty of mano a mano scenes, where the camera veers into a close up on the eyes, catching a squint, a twitch, even a water-dropped blink, before then switching into the Takeshi Miike mode, where a cowboy outlaw gang is actually shown shooting a bazooka, with blood-drenched, phantasmagorical imagery which is not afraid to go animated.  The overwrought acting and overall slow pace of the film resembles silent films, where everything is expressed through various poses for the camera.  All in all, this is a delightful romp into a magical mystery western that feels like watching hilariously mediocre television under the influence of a giant hangover. 

 

Stella Malucci is Rumpoey, the beautiful Governor’s daughter, always dressed in the finest attire, hair and make up perfect, never without full lipstick, accentuating the most color imaginable, while the expressionless Chartchai Ngamsan plays the Black Tiger, a sidekick to Mahesuan, Supakorn Kitsuwan, the two fastest guns in the west.  The Tiger is the silent man in black, while the garishly dressed Mahesuan, with his penciled moustache, is always spitting tobacco juice and grunting, while bellowing when he speaks.  They’re each part of an outlaw gang.  But the film has flashbacks to the Tiger’s youth, then known as Dum, played by a different actor, Suwinit Panjamawat, who woos the same girl.  This shows the history of when Dum first came to the aid of Rumpoey, something he seems to make his life’s work.  She gives him an engraved harmonica wrapped in her scarf to remember her by, and like Charles Bronson in Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969), he mournfully plays that thing to obsession.  Their relationship is a thing for the ages, yet it’s more hilarious in his total detachment, almost delivering a Kaurismäki deadpan while Rumpoey is hysterically melodramatic, accentuated by a romantic song that feels like it came from a Tsai Ming-liang satire. 

 

While the plot is stupid, and the film is in dire need of an editor, running a good twenty minutes too long, the film is never less than entertaining, as it sustains its adherence to psychedelic art direction, using good-looking actors, a half a dozen songs, and occasional lapses into something so completely improbable that it may remind us of the cardboard good and evil stereotypes from the early Star Trek television show.  The acting is phenomenally bad, which is actually one of the treasures of this film, as it’s so camp, that the style itself becomes the leading interest in the film.  One must give credit where credit is due, art direction by Rutchanon Kayangan and Akradech Kaew Kotr, cinematography by Nattawut Kittithun, original music by Amornbhong Methakunavudh, all of whom were the leading creative influences of this film, which stakes a claim for being one of the more uniquely eccentric films seen for quite awhile.

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

For almost seven years, Wisit Sasanatieng's Thai Western-comedy-romance Tears Of The Black Tiger has been the stuff of cinephile legend, passed around in bootleg form in a generalized protest against the shameless film-hoarding of Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. Always on the lookout for the next foreign-language crossover hit, Weinstein went on an oddball foreign-film-buying binge in the early '00s, then stuck most of those acquisitions on a shelf. Apparently he realized that a film like Tears Of The Black Tiger—with its wildly stylized design and hyperbolic story about a sharpshooting cowboy, his epic love for an heiress, and a gory three-way gang war—could only reach a cult audience.

Some reviewers have semi-sided with Weinstein, suggesting that since Tears Of The Black Tiger spoofs obscure Thai B-movies, American audiences might have trouble grasping that its blatant artificiality is intentional. But that's hogwash. Tears Of The Black Tiger is in the tradition of Bollywood, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Juzo Itami, and Douglas Sirk, and all those are arthouse staples, either directly or through the directors they influenced. Rather than stitching a lot of wrinkles into his boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-becomes-masked-bandit plot, Sasanatieng revels in the chance it gives him to play with the medium, whether by stopping the action so he can insert a slow-motion replay of a ricocheting bullet (and the head it blows to gooey bits) or by staging outdoor scenes in front of abstractly painted backdrops.

But the Tears Of The Black Tiger skeptics are also right, in that the movie is never going to have broad appeal. Though Sasanatieng makes a few swings at real poignancy—which don't really connect—mostly this is the kind of relentlessly postmodern "fun" best served in small portions, and preferably on dessert plates. The film's lofty reputation has as much to do with its scarcity as its "and now here's a midget with a rocket launcher" randomness. Thematically, the movie only hits one point: People are untrustworthy, so a true hero stands alone. Or maybe it hits two points: With Sasanatieng's indulgence of lyrical scenes where young lovers row in a lotus-strewn lake, or his use of flashbacks that look like old movies with frames missing, he seems to be saying that even our memories are a lot better when they look like cinema.

TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

 

Watching "Tears of the Black Tiger" would be a strange experience under any circumstances, but this Thai Western's oddness is enhanced by its roundabout path to American screens. Made in 2000, it created a big enough buzz at Cannes the following year to draw the attention of Miramax. Once they acquired it, their interest suddenly evaporated. Like many Asian films they picked up, it languished in their vaults for years. When the New York Asian Film Festival tried to book it a few years ago, they were turned down.

However, once the Weinstein brothers left the company to start their own, Miramax suddenly showed a new willingness to license unreleased films from its catalogue to other distributors. In fall 2005, Magnolia Pictures released Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Pulse;" with "Tears of the Black Tiger," they've rescued their second film from Miramax's clutches.

Proliferating in several different cuts, "Tears of the Black Tiger" has been more a rumor than a film one can actually watch. The difficulty of seeing it has worked as a form of anti-hype. The film's reputation has only benefited from its rarity. While fascinating in many respects, it's not a neglected classic like Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows," made in 1969 and released for the first time in the U.S. last year.

Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), a young peasant, falls in love with rich girl Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi). They plan to be together, but time intervenes. Ten years pass before they meet up again. Dum's father (Kanchit Kwanpracha) is killed by outlaws, while Rumpoey plans to marry a cop, Captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth). Hoping to bring down his father's murderers, Dum becomes "Black Tiger," a notorious bandit, in an attempt to insinuate himself into the gang. He still hopes to convince Rumpoey not to marry her fiancée.

Whatever Thailand's cinematic accomplishments, its films simply didn't make it onto the American arthouse/festival circuit until the past decade. "Tears of the Black Tiger" seems alien because it combines familiar influences-Douglas Sirk's melodramas, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah's Westerns-with indigenous ones. In the press kit, Sasanatieng cites Thai director Rattana Pestonji as his primary inspiration, but American spectators have to take his word for it. In some ways, his compatriot Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films, which show little influence from Western narrative, are easier to appreciate. Weerasethakul embraces the enigmatic openly, while Sasanatieng holds meaning at arm's length.

"Tears of the Black Tiger" borrows images and scenes from Leone and Peckinpah-a character's fondness for the harmonica from the former, a machine gun massacre from the latter. Drawing less directly from Sirk, it evokes '50s melodrama through plot, color, and cinematography. Sasanatieng's use of color is his film's most immediately striking quality. The colors are simultaneously vivid and somewhat faded. "Tears of the Black Tiger" was digitally altered to look like Technicolor, but it doesn't aim to match the brightness of a new print.

As much as old films themselves, "Black Tiger" recalls spectators' memories of them. This becomes explicit when a flashback is depicted through simulated scratches, a crackly soundtrack, and jump cuts meant to suggest missing frames.

Sasanatieng says he wants to offer "nostalgia as future shock." For American audiences, "Tears of the Black Tiger" summons nostalgia for an alternate film history that we can't access. Often described as campy, the film's tone is hard to pin down. Its emotional textures are contradictory, with the jokey and show-offy jostling next to an apparently heartfelt love story. Visually, its accomplishments are tremendous; many scenes would be equally breathtaking as still photos. On an emotional level, however, the film never gels.

For one thing, it's too gory to sustain a lighthearted spirit-brain matter splatters across the screen twice, as well as detached arms-but spends too much effort putting its romance within ironic quotes to work as a full-fledged melodrama. Perhaps something got lost in translation, as the love scenes' dialogue is full of purple prose and clichés. However, the performances would look wooden even without subtitles.

Only in the final scene does "Tears of the Black Tiger" achieve the tragic grandeur it aims for. Or does it? For all the lush splendor of Sasanatieng's images, his greatest achievement may be making a film that so tantalizingly resists one's efforts to figure out what it is trying to accomplish.

 

The Village Voice [Nathan Lee]

 

Sight and Sound   Edward Buscombe

 

LoveHKFilm.com (Lee Wong)

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

Slate (Dana Stevens)

 

Salon.com [Stephanie Zacharek]

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) : "electric turquoise... fluorescent emerald"

 

Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)  Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus

 

BeyondHollywood.com  Gopal

 

Reel.com [Tim Knight]

 

Film Journal International (Daniel Eagan)

 

Guardian/Observer

 

Austin Chronicle [Marrit Ingman]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert)

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 

CITIZEN DOG (Mah Nakorn)

Thailand  (100 mi)  2004

 

Martin Tsai's Blog

Wisit Sasanatieng’s whimsical fable-like musical romance Citizen Dog has invited many Amélie comparisons. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s international hit is vigorously cutesy at best, and it doesn’t come close to capturing the kind of genuinely inspired and beguiling magic seen in Sasanatieng’s sophomore feature. Making over Bangkok with the same hyper neon colour scheme seen in the director’s Tears of the Black Tiger, the film involves an introvert with a severed index finger, a compulsive-obsessive fixated on environmental activism, a chain-smoking 22-year-old who looks to be about seven, a talking stuffed bear, a zombie motorcycle taxi driver and a pair of lovers fetishizing over packed-sardines bus rides. It’s unfortunate that the film’s Thai origin might compel Western viewers to dismiss its quirkiness as eccentricity, effectively confining the film to the festival and arthouse ghetto and barring it from reaching an Amélie-size audience. Then again, Sasanatieng might already be a household name here if Miramax had bothered to release Tears of the Black Tiger.

Fipresci  Jacob Neiiendam

Despite screening outside both the international and ASEAN competition at the Bangkok International Film Festival, the most talked about film at the event was Wisit Sasanatieng's highly anticipated Citizen Dog (Ma Nakorn). The producers of it no doubt kept it in the Thai Panorama not to hamper the film's life on international festivals, where it should have an even better and longer life than the director's previous effort, Tears of the Black Tiger (Fa Talai Jone). Wisit Sasanatieng's feature directing debut was the first Thai film selected for Cannes, where it screened in Un Certain Regard in 2001.

Citizen Dog is a surreal modern fable about a country boy Pod (Amornpong Maithakunnawut), who goes to the big city of Bangkok , despite his grandmother's warning that he will grow a tail if he ever gets a job there. Nevertheless, he quickly starts working in a sardine-packing factory, loses his finger, finds it again and gets a new friend in the process. The fast paced introduction to this warped reality is nothing short of hilarious and Sasanatieng's great looking color-splashed world (courtesy of DoP Rewat Phreeleat) is as inventive as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 hit Amelie , which seems to have had a strong influence on the Thai filmmaker. However, the film's central story sees Pod falling in love with Jin (Sangthong), a maid obsessed with cleaning, who has her head buried in a mysterious white book. The dreamless boy only has eyes for the dreamy girl, but she is too caught up in her own world to notice.

The story throws everything from musical numbers (with Thai pop ballads) to undead motorcycle drivers and talking teddy bears into the mix, and it is at its best when it constantly surprises the audience with its surreal absurd humor. However, it really wants to be romantic at the same time, and it is much less successful at that. About halfway through, the film loses its momentum, it simply runs out of story when the relationship between Pod and Jin fails to develop, and the film never really recaptures the audiences' attention.

Despite the script problems in the second half, Citizen Dog is more fully developed and accomplished than the Western parody homage Tears of the Black Tiger . Sasanatieng's background as a successful director of commercials is still evident, but he is on his way to finding his own voice. Along with his close collaborators: Nonzee Nimibutr, for whom he wrote Nang Nak in 1999, and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang ( Last Life in the Universe ), who also narrates Citizen Dog , Wisit Sasanatieng confirms his position in the forefront of the Thai New Wave. Expect to see Citizen Dog at a major European festival in the months to come.

eFilmCritic.com (Jay Seaver)

 

Bangkok Nation  Phatarawadee Phataranawik

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 

Satana, Tura – B-movie sexploitation actress extraordinaire

 

The Official Tura Satana Website

 

Cult Sirens: Tura Satana

 

Tura Satana  Sandra Brennan from All Movie Guide

 

Tura!!!  Faster, Psychotronic, Kill! Kill!  Feature and interview with Satana by Michael J. Weldon from Psychotronic magazine (1999)

 

tura satana  Interview by Dr. Cliff, from Rooms in the House by Dr. Cliff, September 1999

 

retroCRUSH: The World's Greatest Pop Culture Site  Interview by Randy Waage from retroCRUSH (2005)

 

C I N E B E A T S :: Tura Satana - An American Icon :: June :: 2007   June 13, 2007

 

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Satrapi, Marjane

 

PERSEPOLIS                                                          B                     88

France  USA  (94 mi)  2007  co-director:  Vincent Paronnaud

 

Freedom always has a price

 

After receiving such critical acclaim for notably sharp commentary, including sharing the Jury Prize this year at Cannes with SILENT LIGHT, I have to admit this was something of a mild disappointment as it’s not nearly on the same level as the marvelously unique Reygadas film, and there’s only a bit of an edge in this attempt to tell a brash, candidly honest, autobiographical coming-of-age story set during the dawn of the Islamic revolution, showing a young girl growing up in Iran, transplanted to Europe during the Revolution, where the film attracts attention, if for no other reason than it’s politically timely due to the Bush administration’s noticeable belligerence towards Iran.  Satrapi’s film, exquisitely featuring the real life mother and daughter voices of Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni respectively, takes us through her mixture of dead serious as well as comically observant recollections of the brutal crackdown by the current Iranian regime, something no one currently living in Iran could do, where suppressing the rights of women and many of its citizens through a police state using torture and imprisonment, even execution, are still quite common, while also stressing the aftereffects of the horrors of war, specifically the effect it has on children.  It should be pointed out, however, that the film is equally critical of the young girl’s experiences in Europe, where she was victimized by racist stereotypes and insults, alienated and left alone when there was no one who gave a damn about her.  By the end, however, damaged by her experiences in both worlds, there is something of an abrupt conclusion, where the film just decides that it’s over, while we, the viewer, are to surmise that her life abroad is really just beginning.  Persepolis is the Greek name for the ancient Persian capital of Parsa, an interesting link between the cultures of the East and the West, which is the precarious place Satrapi finds herself, juxtaposed in the middle somewhere like a no man’s land, finding herself in a self-imposed exile from the lack of freedom in her homeland yet also unappreciated in her adopted country, where she will always be contemptuously viewed as a foreigner.   

While the animated style, also drawn by Satrapi, is simplistic, most of it in black, white, and gray, with occasional spurts in color, somewhat resembling the style of the French children’s books and subsequent cartoon Madeline, another delightfully candid, non-conformist child growing up in Paris, Marjane grew up during the turbulent years in Tehran in the late 70’s when the Shah was deposed by a rising tide of radical Islamic fundamentalism.  Coming from a loving family of wealth, she was exposed to progressive ideas from within her own family, including a Marxist uncle who studied in Russia.  Amusingly, her childhood allegiance in support of the Shah, who was chosen by God according to her school, quickly shifts where she’s soon seen parading around the house in favor of revolution.  And as a rebellious teenager, her Westernized musical interests in ABBA and Iron Maiden are outlawed, along with her idol Bruce Lee, French fries with ketchup and her Adidas shoes, as are many of her outspoken views, many of which mimic those of her grandmother, voiced perfectly by 91-year-old Danielle Darrieux, a liberated woman who’s used to speaking her mind, including her own philosophical take on men with small dicks.  But Marjane’s views really get a jolt of reality when her uncle, who advocated democracy, previously imprisoned by the Shah and tortured by jailers trained by the CIA, claiming “they certainly knew their stuff,” is arrested again and eventually executed by the new regime of religious mullahs.  While literally hundreds of thousands die needlessly in the Iran/Iraq war, where the West cynically arms each side against the other, the war comes perilously close to home when the house next door is bombed, so for her own protection her parents decide to send her to a French school in Vienna.  There she finds a group of outcasts, all of whom have families they can rely upon, while she suffers an endless stream of evictions.  “In the West, you can die on the street and nobody cares.”  Yet there she discovers an underground punk scene of drugs and casual sex along with steins of beer, where in a hilarious hangover scene she can’t stop her own out-of-tune karaoke version of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from playing inside her head, where she sees herself performing to the music inspired by martial arts movements.  But after a series of relationships gone wrong and a retreat into the isolated world of books, eventually she becomes so lonely and destitute that she returns home again, but the world she hoped to find has already disappeared. 

Adding to the film’s charm are the personal touches, the way that Marjane internalizes her experiences with self-deprecating humor which is usually at odds with her friends and the society around her, including imagined glimpses of herself chatting with God and Karl Marx.  Initially when she observes people in Tehran getting arrested on the street with such regularity, she develops a flippant juvenile attitude about turning in innocent victims to the police, like it’s some kind of joke, which earns her a well deserved chastisement from her clearly infuriorated grandmother who asks if she’s ever heard of the word integrity.  Enrolling at the University of Tehran which is still caught up in the wave of fundamentalism, she absurdly sits in art class sketching a government approved, anatomically correct, fully veiled model in place of a nude body, she discovers that the students are actually advocating more restrictions and fewer rights for women, which leads to another personalized crisis which is amusingly depicted as depression.  In time, she gets arrested for holding hands with a boyfriend in public, which is punishable by a large fine or by lashes.  When she thinks marriage will solve all her problems, she discovers her choice for a husband is an unambitious layabout who prefers sitting around watching TV.  Leaving her little choice in the matter, she discovers she is too great a risk to remain in Iran, as independent minded people such as herself are presumed guilty - - of something, so she decides to accept a lifelong exile away from her family, returning to Paris where she continues to live to this day with a live in friend, a fellow cartoonist who helped her draw and direct this film.  The film is engaging, but it feels strangely tame, at least by Western standards, yet much too wicked to have much of an impact on Iranians.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all was hearing afterwards that there is expected to be an outpouring of cash for an English language version of the film starring the voices of Gena Rowlands and Deneuve as the grandmother and mother, also a couple of guys hurting for cash, Sean Penn and Iggy Popp. 

Persepolis  JR Jones from the Reader

Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical comics about growing up in postrevolutionary Iran have been condensed by Satrapi and codirector Vincent Paronnaud into a beautiful black-and-white animation that both preserves their simplicity and incorporates more fanciful imagery, sometimes from traditional Persian art. Little Marjane, the headstrong daughter of two liberal intellectuals in Tehran, grows into a rebellious teenager who defies the paternalism of the Islamic republic. Shipped off to Vienna for her own safety, she suffers the usual trials of adolescence while trying to come to terms with her national identity. The story's greatest value lies in its elegant twining of the universal and the obscure: Satrapi's coming-of-age should be familiar to all, but along with it come startling glimpses of everyday life under the heavy hand of a Muslim theocracy. PG-13, 95 min.

FlickFilosopher.com [MaryAnn Johanson]

There is no question that the animation style of this French production is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before: it apes the style of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name, with its scratchboard vitality and black-and-white insistence. But something essential has gotten lost in the translation from the page to the screen. Which is not to say that this isn’t a fine film: it’s just not great, like I would have expected it to be, like the source material is. Satrapi -- working with French comics artist Vincent Paronnaud -- tells the true story of her childhood in Iran before and during the Islamic revolution, when her girlish vivacity, fueled by Western rock music and fantasies of the wider world that any teenager would recognize, slowly gets crushed under the tyrannical thumb of religious oppression. Small details about secret parties and illegal alcohol and other furtive defiance of the oppressive rule of the mullahs build to a larger, poignant story about overcoming fear -- and learning to cope with it -- when positively everything sprials out of control. As a cautionary tale about how fast tyranny can fall, there is power here. As a coming-of-age tale of a girlhood lost too soon, it leaves us wanting, just a little.

Between Productions [Robert Cashill]

In his review of Persepolis in the current issue of Cineaste, my colleague Rahul Hamid nails what bugged me about the film, a wholly worthwhile endeavor that I enjoyed watching despite a creeping dissatisfaction. Co-director Marjane Satrapi took incidents from her childhood in Iran, as the mullahs took power, and transposed them into two well-received graphic novels. From her exile in France, she and Vincent Parannoud have turned them into an animated film, whose stylized black-and-white images are in old-school 2D, no digital gimmickry here.

Their screenplay is as unadorned as the animation; not artless, but it gets down to business without much fuss or moralizing. Young Marjane, who loves Bruce Lee and ABBA, finds herself in conflict with her classmates and the government at large as the comforts of Tehran, provided under the dubious stewardship of the shah, vanish. Off she goes to France, for a first round of culture shock, followed by another as she returns to her remaining family in Iran, proving, wistfully but defiantly, that you can't go home again. Vocally, the movie is a family affair: Marjane is voiced by Chiara Mastroianni, whose mother, Catherine Deneuve, provides the voice of Marjane's mom. (Marjane's tart grandmother is played by 91-year-old Danielle Darrieux, who in the press kit notes that she has lost count of how many times Deneuve has played her daughter.)

Not that I didn't like hearing these distinguished ladies grouse about hard times in Iran, but I think their Gallic charm works against the effectiveness of the piece. The movie seems to be taking place in the next arrondissement over, rather than in the mystery-shrouded capital whose history over the last 30 years has been veiled from us. Rahul says the books are much more time- and place-specific; the film is more of a gloss, humorous and poignant, but too simple, more of a primer. The Western, "just-like-us" side of the film dominates. I still recommend a viewing: Persepolis, which Sony Pictures Classics opens tomorrow, is an educational entertainment that neither bores nor patronizes, a rare-enough hat trick for movies here and abroad to pull off. And I will treasure a cinema-set scene that unites Madame de... and Godzilla, two of my all-time favorite film characters. But I felt the reduction from page to screen.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California

Iranian expatriate Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis' graphic novel series (2000-2003) recounts her life to age 24, when she left Iran with her family's blessing for the last time and went to live in France (1994). Collaborating with her Paris studio-mate, cartoonist and video artist Vincent Paronnaud and a stellar French cast, Sagtrapi has successfully transferred her drawings and story to a 95-minute black-and-white animated film. Chiara Mastroianni is the voice for the adolescent and young adult Marjane; Chiara's real-life mother Catherine Deneuve does Marjane's mother and veteran French star Danielle Darrieux is the voice of Marjane's feisty, outspoken, and totally irreverent grandmother. (An English-language version featuring Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, and Gena Rowlands apparently will be released later.) Word on the street is that this more handmade French animated film, now in selected US theaters, may give Pixar's slick 'Ratatouille' a run for the Best Animation Oscar this year.

Satrapi, who told this story first in autobiographical comic strips that became best-selling books, grew up in a progressive ruling-class Tehran family. An uncle with whom she was close had been to Leningrad to study Marxism-Leninism. As a little girl she picked up the radicalism, and had some of her grandmother's genes for outspokenness. Shifting allegiances and roles quickly, she soon gave up supporting the Shah and walked around the house calling for revolution. She tried on ideas constantly, posing as a prophet, then a dictator. God and Karl Marx, whom she imagines appearing to her in her bedroom, vie with each other for her affections. Her communist uncle is hopeful that the revolution will grow democratic; but while he is imprisoned and tortured by CIA-trained jailers under the Shah, he is executed under the mullahs—whom, strangely, the narrator says little about. (Khomeini is not depicted.) All the girls must take the veil. But Marji, already an avid collector of bootleg heavy metal and punk tapes, remains an obstreperous girl who in class outspokenly challenges the pious lies of her chador-wearing teachers.

Iran's war with Iraq causes terrible disruption: the house next door is destroyed. For her safety in this desperate moment for the country (1983), Marji's parents send her to Vienna, where she attends a French school, as she has all her life. Though she eventually becomes part of a group of misfit students, Vienna is a hard and lonely time for the girl. She grows up physically (which happens in seconds in the animation—the film's most eye-catching sequence) and enters love problems: first with a boy who turns out to be gay; then one who sleeps with another girl—a betrayal that makes her so despondent she becomes homeless and ill and almost dies. She returns to an Iran where the upper class is living a double life of secret alcohol parties and music. Attending university in Tehran she meets a man named Reza and marries him--but the union is a mistake, which her grandmother cheerfully dismisses. "The first marriage is just practice," she says. A bored, doodling psychiatrist listens to her troubles, tells her she's depressed, and gives her some pills--which seem to make her more depressed.

Finally the time comes when Marjane is in effect ordered by her family to leave the country for her own good. She goes to France, where she has remained ever since. That's the end of the book and the film.

Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel 'Maus' was an avowed inspiration for Satrapi's work, as well as a French comics artist named David B., whose style she imitated at first. The collaboration with Paronnaud came about after they shared a studio.

The animated 'Persepolis' received rave reviews in France and shared the Cannes festival Jury Prize with Carlos Reygadas' 'Silent Light.' It premiered in the US at the New York Film Festival and opened in some US theaters on Christmas Day.

The US's newly hostile stand against Iran may spur wider Stateside interest in this film, which skillfully combines a young woman's coming of age story with contemporary political history. This remains, however, basically a child's and young adult's version of events, a kind of post-1970 'Iranian History for Dummies.' The viewpoint has obvious limitations as a depiction of the larger events that are so much a part of the story Satrapi tells. The film moreover adds little that wasn't in the book other than a little more gray cross-hatching and in fact omits some day-to-day detail that make the original version specific. The film's look too remains as bare-bones, as virtually style-neutral as the book's. This is not to say 'Persepolis' hasn't complete technical integrity, clarity of storytelling, and much charm; nonetheless viewers in search of a phantasmogoric visual banquet or a thoroughgoing picture of modern Iranian history may be left hungry for more.

PERSEPOLIS   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

"Persepolis" isn't any old coming-of-age story, just as Iran is no ordinary country. As the Bush administration lies its way toward a potential military confrontation with that nation, artists like Marjane Satrapi, who can build a bridge between the West and the Muslim world, are a rare breed. She's far from the only one, but she speaks to a larger audience than novelist Nahid Rachlin or even video artist Shirin Neshat.

Based on Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novels, "Persepolis" was made in France; a live-action version of the story shot outside Iran would be a terrible idea. One American producer wanted to make it with Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt as Satrapi's parents - but the unreality of this film's animated images makes the translation go down smoother.

When I first saw Jafar Panahi's "Offside," I was startled by its combination of feminism and Iranian nationalism. Because it was shot in France, "Persepolis" is able to go much further in its critique of the Iranian government, yet it also includes a scene where a teenage Satrapi declares, "Yes, I'm Iranian, and yes, I'm proud of it!"

The film has been condemned by the Iranian government, but self-hatred is the last thing of which its vibrant heroine is guilty. "Persepolis" shows that one can rebel against Iranian misogyny without capitulating to "Axis of Evil"-style rhetoric or idealizing the West.

"Persepolis" begins with Marjane (Chiara Mastroianni; the character is voiced as a child by Gabrielle Lopes) contemplating a flight to Iran at Paris' Orly airport. This section is in color, but the rest of the film, consisting of her reminisces as she decides what to do, is black and white.

Her flashbacks begin in 1978 Iran, when she was nine years old. The Shah is just about to fall. Her uncle has just been released from prison, where he suffered brutal torture. Protests are a daily event. The liberal Satrapi family feels betrayed by the Islamic revolution, but young Marjane has a hard time taking it seriously. She grows into a rebellious teenager, wearing the chador but writing "punk is not ded {sic}" on the back of her jacket. Her parents (Simon Akbarian and Catherine Denueve) decide to send her to Vienna for high school.

In the film's press kit, Satrapi cites 1920s German Expressionism and '40s Italian neo-realism as her greatest cinematic influences. The notion of combining the two styles seems improbable, even contradictory - one reveled in stylistic excess and artificiality, while the other used bombed-out streets as locations. However, Satrapi and Paronnaud's direction shows that they can indeed be brought together.

In scenes of everyday life, their style is matter-of-fact. Satrapi drew all the characters, even background extras and herself. Her scrawl appears simple, even childlike. No one has nostrils or lips.

All the same, Satrapi is no minimalist. "Persepolis" often takes off into stylized flights of fancy. The use of black and white hasn't restricted the filmmakers' imagination. When Marjane talks to God, they fill the screen with curlicues. Many backgrounds are colored with beautifully modulated washes of gray. While sticking to a small palette, Satrapi and Paronnaud use every possibility it offers.

As a literary phenomenon, "Persepolis" might be comparable to Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Runner." The differences between Satrapi and Paronnaud's film and Marc Forster's film adapted from the Hosseini novel, released two weeks ago, are quite telling. Once they emigrate to America, Forster and Hosseini's Afghan characters never experience racism or discrimination. They're even able to reconstruct the bazaars of Kabul in a California antique market.

On the other hand, Marjane finds life in Vienna a frustrating and alienating experience. Satrapi obviously doesn't regret moving to France, but her film acknowledges the pain of exile and the cluelessness with which Westerners often treat immigrants. Political activism costs several of Marjane's relatives and friends their lives, but for the hippie and punk "anarchists" of Vienna, it's a game to be played while smoking joints and drinking beer. In Iran, Western pop culture inspires her - she loves punk, ABBA, and Iron Maiden - but actually living in the West is a much different story.

As a storyteller, Satrapi's most impressive quality is her ability to bring a mature perspective to the rebellion of her childhood and adolescence. Her film's playfulness honors the boisterous girl she once was. The sequence where she wakes up from a drug overdose, resolves to get her life back together, and bursts out with an off-key, heavily accented version of "Eye of the Tiger" is one of the year's funniest .

Still, "Persepolis" goes far beyond mere nostalgia. The experiences of displacement Satrapi relates are hardly unique. In some respects - particularly in the case of the wise grandmother voiced by Danielle Darrieux - it feels thoroughly French; in others, it seems to herald a new breed of cross-national cinema that can't be boiled down to Europudding.

Cineaste  Rahul Hamid

 

Only The Cinema [Ed Howard]

 

The Film Sufi  MKP

 

PopMatters [Bill Gibron]

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

The Village Voice [Nick Pinkerton]

 

World Socialist Web Site  Clare Hurley

 

Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]

 

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

Screen International   Lee Marshall from Screendaily

 

indieWIRE (Kristi Mitsuda)   from Reverse Shot

 

Epinions.com [Steven Flores]

 

Persepolis  Patrick Z. McGavin

 

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Marjane Satrapi projects voices of Iranian women on the big screen ...  Kelley L. Carter interviews the director from the Chicago Tribune

 

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Saulnier, Jeremy

 

BLUE RUIN                                                              B                     88

USA  (92 mi)  2013  ‘Scope

 

Jeremy Saulnier was the superb cinematographer in Matthew Porterfield’s experimental films HAMILTON (2006) and Putty Hill (2010), while making his first feature MURDER PARTY (2007, which could easily be the title of this film as well), a kind of comic Halloween bloodbath, while still holding onto a career in advertising, creating product videos for Kraft Foods, IBM, Viacom, and the NHL.  This second film was the winner of the Director’s Fortnight FIPRESCI Award at Cannes 2013, a marked upgrade in critical acclaim, an ultra stylish revenge thriller made on the cheap, featuring the director’s childhood best friend as the lead actor and executive producer, Macon Blair as Dwight, a homeless man living in his rusted out blue Pontiac on the beach, where the opening sequence replicates Morris Engel’s often overlooked American indie film Little Fugitive (1953), where Dwight similarly hides out under protective cover at the local amusement park, also picking up disposable bottles left laying about and returning them to recycling centers for cash, where immediately we get the feel this is an eccentric and possibly creepy guy living on the fringes.  The cops pick him up not for anything he’s done, but to warn him that the convicted dual murderer of his mother and father is being released from jail soon, which sets a series of events in motion, such as an ominous visit to the local gun shop.  Saulnier does a good job playing with the audience’s expectations, always throwing them a bit off kilter, using plenty of odd humor throughout.  What this really comes down to is watching a geeky loner who has spent his life avoiding people, who barely talks to anyone, suddenly going after the Cleland family, savagely gruesome, grindhouse B-movie characters in the mold of Rob Zombie’s THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), a film that took sadistic trailer trash and elevated it to an art form. 

 

The audience knows Dwight is in over his head, and every conceivable plan he comes up with goes haywire, but Saulnier amps up the suspense throughout, knowing full well that the audience can’t take their eyes off this foolhardy attempt to exact revenge for his family.  Why he feels the need to pull this off, we’ll never know, as this writer/director confidently leaves out plenty of back story, luring us right into the middle of the action, which at times is fast and fierce, while at other times there’s a lull between the storms, where like a cat, Dwight disappears and licks his wounds.  Acting against type, Dwight surprises us with is ingenuity, though it’s sheer damn luck that seems to get him out of situations, certainly not forethought, as most of the time he responds to pure kneejerk reactions, such as the moment of truth when he springs upon his prey like a man possessed, an unflinching moment of violence reminiscent of a similar moment in Jacques Audiard’s 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet ....  Once he crosses the line, there’s no turning back, as neither he nor the audience have a clue what’s in store for him.  The things that catch his eye are often weirdly amusing, or just plain odd, but he has the good sense to rely upon the help of others, starting out with his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves), who nearly busts his chops for reviving this blood feud, as she’s now with two children and a home, making her a convenient target.  From that point on, the film seems to take on a life of its own, as it’s Jamie Lee Curtis preparing to meet the bogeyman in HALLOWEEN (1978).  

 

Tracking down another friend is inspired by a scan through Dwight’s high school yearbook, where Devin Ratray as local war veteran Ben is the best thing in the picture, as he steals every scene he’s in.  Ben isn’t sure what to make of Dwight’s situation at all, and since he’s the one usually perceived as having a screw loose, Dwight must be in sick trouble, but he tries his best to help him out, only sensing what deep shit he must be in.  But Dwight, being who he is, continues to fuck up, but he’s a lovable loser who’s forced to turn into some kind of super sleuth and RAMBO-like warrior on the loose.  Vigilante justice is a genre unto itself, and this director seems to enjoy changing the rules of the game, shifting genres, and putting his lead character into ever more increasing danger, adding dark noirish elements throughout, anything to heighten the atmospheric mood.  The film is fraught with tension, but takes a predictable turn by the end, where the story simply runs out of options, though seeing Eve Plumb from The Brady Bunch (1969-74) as the redneck mama urging her boys to kill this son-of-a-bitch has a charm all its own.  It gets a little dicey, where family secrets are finally revealed, but this plays out like mafia families who vow revenge, refusing to back down under any circumstances, as if it’s a matter of honor.  Well, there’s little honor to speak of, and the moral grounds crossed by all participants keeps the audience guessing what will happen next.  It’s a taut thriller, dark and highly entertaining, continually atmospheric, well written and well directed, with a refreshing take on familiar themes.     

 

Twitch [Brian Clark]

 

Besides the fact that I doubt we'll see a more deft, thrilling genre film this year, I'm very pleased that Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin addresses a number of issues that revenge films have been overlooking for decades. For example, after you've been irrevocably wronged and made it your mission to set that right, what if you can't afford a gun? Guns are expensive. If you get a gun, which one do you get and how long do you need to spend learning to shoot it? Okay, screw the gun, let's go with a knife... but if you kill one person with a knife, won't there likely be others who want to kill you back? I'd like to go on about the ways that Charles Bronson lied to us, but Blue Ruin is much more fun to discover for yourself.

The unlikely protagonist here is a doughy-eyed beach bum named Dwight. We're not talking beach bum in the cute lazy-surfer sense of the word; he is actually a bum who lives on the beach, who breaks into houses to sleep at night when the inhabitants are on vacations, sifts through the trash for food, and spends most of his time in a beat-up, rusty car. Life isn't good by any means, but it's simple -- until he finds out that the man who murdered both of his parents has been let out of prison on account plea bargain. So, as the genre requires, off he goes to right the injustice.

But that's about the only genre requirement that the film meets head-on. It's also as far as I'm going to go into the plot (about ten minutes), as one of the great pleasures of the film is it's sly sense of surprise. By about twenty minutes in, it's difficult to figure out where the film is going, what it's trying to say or what to expect next, and, besides one leap of logic, it's all incredibly smart. It is also violent, hilarious, very suspenseful and best of all, humane and thought-provoking.

Saulnier (making a huge step forward from his clever, but goofy previous horror satire Murder Party) approaches the film with a neo-naturalistic style that works amazingly well, not only to sell us on the characters and world of the film, but also to make the film's sly jokes even more hilarious. The acting (and casting, for that matter) is superb. Particularly, Macon Blair turns what could have easily been a self-conscious, hapless protagonist into a guy that we genuinely empathize with, even if we don't root for him 100% of the time. This combined with Saulnier's close attention to detail, both internal and external, keeps the film feeling completely unified and compelling, never breaking its gaze with a jarring tonal shift.

At times, some of the film's imagery feels like it clashes a bit with its thematic intent, particularly late in the film when a case full of guns more-or-less elicited some cheers. But whatever -- the themes of gun ownership, violence and especially revenge are all messy ones with plenty of room for contradiction. And that aside, it's rare that a genre-film takes the chances of this one and succeeds so resoundingly. Highly Recommended.

 

Exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

When Blue Ruin opens, Dwight (Macon Blair), a homeless man living out of a rusty old blue Pontiac, scrounges for food at a local carnival, heating up his findings on the beach where he parks and spends his nights. A police officer picks him up, taking him into the station while reassuring him that he's isn't in any sort of trouble. She, as we learn, knows Dwight and his back story quite well, pointing out that she wanted him to be in good company when heard that the man who killed his parents was getting out of prison on early parole.

Dwight, in a position with literally nothing left to lose but the titular car, which is deliberately American-made, acting as a metaphor for the country's decimated mythology, decides to enact vengeance on the man. This decision, one that puts justice in the hands of the victim, has a bare bones simplicity that acknowledges and slightly subverts the classic narrative of the country itself, understanding the history of violence and (anti)hero ideation that built the very foundations of a country perpetually running from its own past.

Normally, the act of killing would require intricate planning and have to occur at an opportune moment to ensure self-preservation. But Dwight, lacking the skills associated with a Western hero, merely follows the recently paroled murdered into a restroom at a bar and attacks him with a knife while he tries to take a piss. It's ungraceful, brutal and crisp, having an awkward realness and unflinching vividness that exaggerates the ugliness and horror of unrehearsed violence. Though it's graphic, there's nothing gratuitous about what we see; it's just candid and disturbingly real.

What gives Blue Ruin its charm is Dwight's believable, entirely plausible, bumbling sensibility. Acting on emotion, he doesn't think about his getaway or how he'll evade detection while covered in blood. His luck, or lack thereof, guides him to his sister (Amy Hargreaves) where he learns that his decision could very well have put her life, and the life of her children, in danger.

The cat and mouse games that unfold are as brutal as they are, at times, funny. The mistakes that happen during moments of attack consistently have logic. Director Jeremy Saulnier is careful to ensure that each moment has a sense of banality that ties everything into our quotidian experience, making things like a bow and arrow attack look and feel as out of place in suburbia as it would in real life.

Similarly, his handling of character breakdowns has an idiosyncratic frankness that corresponds with the template of shocking, unexpected violence, giving everyone contrary personality traits. For example, Sam (Dwight's sister) initially seems professional and conservative, cooing the sort of blandly concerned sentiments one would when encountering a long-lost sibling with a history of asking for money. But when she finds out what Dwight did, her body language shifts and her vocabulary regresses to a simplistic state of angered vulgarity, suggesting that presentations, whether they be that of character or country, are easily chipped away when violence is introduced into the lexicon.

Though occasionally too convenient for its own good, this highly engrossing thriller has the makings of a lasting cult title. It's the sort of text that could easily be scrutinized for introductory American film theory, being accessible and entertaining while also having the vernacular appropriate for its own time and place.

 

The Film Stage [Danny King]

92 minutes of taut physical activity, morbid humor, and gruesome violence, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is one of the year’s leanest and most impressive killing machines. Saulnier begins his film with quiet, character-building chapters, but once he sets his resourceful, pleasingly narrow plot in motion, Blue Ruin becomes nothing more than a series of sharp, vicious set-pieces founded on Nash Edgerton-like bursts of violence. The film is a good example of the kind of genre treat that gets points for disposable ambition: Saulnier’s technique is so controlled, and his sequence staging so clever, that nothing else really matters.

Macon Blair — who appeared in Saulnier’s 2007 feature debut, Murder Party — stars here as Dwight, a drifter living out of his beat-up 1990 Pontiac. Sporting a Ben Foster-in-Rampart beard, Dwight’s existence is a series of small struggles: sneaking into homes to take a hot bath; swiping food from dumpsters; walking down random streets, which Saulnier, acting as his own D.P., shows us in elegant lateral tracking shots; and passing time on the beach, where he stores his car, which is covered in rust and bullet holes. Saulnier and Blair keep things teasingly vague at the outset, which creates a delicious tension, and is a hallmark of confident storytelling; they’re daring us to ask ourselves, “Why are we spending so much time with this seemingly innocuous individual?”

Answers begin creeping in when a police officer asks Dwight to come down to the station; she tells him that a murderous man connected to Dwight’s past is being released from prison after a two-decade stint. Dwight drives to the prison, and we see the murderer being greeted by his limousine-touting family. Dwight tracks the limo to an isolated bar, hides out in the bathroom, and, in the blink of an eye, stabs the ex-con in the neck. This is an awesomely claustrophobic scene, with Saulnier reserving a generous amount of time for gripping anticipation: a number of effective beats just sit with Dwight in the bathroom stall, milking the expectation of carnage for all it’s worth. And when the kill does come, it’s chaotic and messy, reminiscent of the unforgettable stabbing that sets Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet into motion.

More backstory kicks in when Dwight, on the run from the dead man’s now-revenge-hungry family, stops at his sister’s (Amy Hargreaves) house to inform her of the situation. By this point, Dwight has cut his hair and shaved his beard, allowing us our first clean look at Macon Blair’s face, which is basically the only thing the actor needs to draw on for this performance. It’s a good face, though, comfortably restrained both in silence and in conversation, and conveying both the character’s sneaky intelligence and his hangdog insistence on seeing this battle of bloodshed through to the end. He has an everyman quality, too, which is important for this role: as smart as Dwight can be, it’s even more crucial for him to be constantly vulnerable, or else the pangs of suspense on which the film rests wouldn’t compute.

In addition to Hargreaves, Blair also gets supporting help from Devin Ratray (Buzz from the Home Alone films; more prestigiously, Alexander Payne’s upcoming Nebraska), playing a gun-nut childhood friend of Dwight’s. Their scenes consist of brief bonding and discussions of firearms: rifles, machine guns, pistols, bullets. Saulnier’s obsession with these objects, and the intricate detail with which Ratray describes them, inevitably raises gun-control-related themes — which, along with the backwoods location work and automobile-inspired title, aligns Blue Ruin somewhat with Alexandre Moors’s Blue Caprice. It’s worth noting, though, that Saulnier’s camera is equally hypnotized by relatively less-lethal items: hammers, bone saws, pitchforks, discarded glass, blood-stained money, even flashlights and medical supplies. (There’s a horrific scene in which Dwight attempts — and miserably fails — to remove an arrow from his thigh.) This creates within the film an exciting, propulsive pace, because Dwight is always doing something, or holding something, or aiming something.

Blue Ruin’s best set-piece involves Dwight, an enemy Dwight has been storing in the trunk of his car, a gun, a long conversation, and a shock-scary act of violence. This scene embodies exactly what’s right about Blue Ruin: it starts with a classic, barebones situation (two rivals, one armed, one unarmed), and then asks Saulnier to fill in the blanks of the scene with what he can do as a filmmaker. He shows a trove of potential: funny, cunning dialogue; a witty awareness of the foolishness of the scenario; clean, dynamic blocking; and the lurking possibility of slaughter that can pounce at any moment. By the end of the film, the combination of these elements leaves you both viscerally exhausted and intensely excited to see Saulnier’s next film.

TIFF Review: Suspense Thriller 'Blue Ruin' Is Terrifying, And ...  Gabe Toro from The Playlist

 

“BLUE RUIN” (TIFF Movie Review) | FANGORIA®  Samuel Zimmerman

 

Film.com [David Ehrlich]

 

The Hitlist at MSN Movies [William Goss]

 

Screen Daily [Allan Hunter]

 

How Jeremy Saulnier Went From Corporate Videos to ... - Indiewire  Eric Kohn from indieWIRE, May 18, 2013

 

Brian Clark  at Cannes from Twitch

 

Daily | Cannes 2013 | Jeremy Saulnier’s BLUE RUIN  David Hudson at Fandor

 

Dork Shelf [Andrew Parker]

 

Etrange 2013 Interview: Jeremy Saulnier on BLUE RUIN  Ben Croll interview from Twitch, September 2013

 

Variety [Justin Chang]

 

Blue Ruin: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy

 

The Torontonian Reviews BLUE RUIN « Movie City News  Jake Howell

 

Cannes 2013: For 'Blue Ruin' helmer, a new path to career-building  Steven Zeitchik from The LA Times, May 18, 2013, also seen here:  Stephen Zeitchik

 

Cannes reviews: Politics and troubled family lives in ... - Roger Ebert  Ben Kenigsberg

 

Sauper, Herbert

 

DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE                          A-                    94

Austria  Belgium  France  (107 mi)  2004

 

Is this what Franz Fanon envisioned when he wrote The Wretched of the Earth?  If ever there was a film that exposed the woes of capitalism, how it perpetrates an unequal distribution of wealth, how the goods and services are produced by a lower class unable to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, which is instead enjoyed by a middle to upper class, the only groups able to afford the price – this is it.  In nightmarish fashion, some of it truly terrifying, perhaps excessively so, as nothing is more terrifying than reality, the filmmaker exposes the day to day realities of living in Tanzania today, home of the birthplace of original man along the banks of Lake Victoria, now, sadly, victims of extremely high death rates from AIDS, where the religious figures refuse to counsel or recommend the use of condoms, believing using a condom is a sin, where widows are forced into prostitution, where the extreme poverty leads to young kids who melt plastic fish containers, sniffing a product that resembles glue, where they are then sexually victimized, unable to awaken from their drug-induced stupor.  The film does not use the typical talking points method, where various experts bore us to death with details, instead it focuses on the people in the region and lets them tell their story, visually painting a journalistic portrait of graphic, unforgettable images that few of us could even imagine, much less see captured on film.
 
The corporations are seen patting themselves on the back, claiming they’ve provided 1000 jobs to the region, cleaned up the factories so they’re up to the European Union standards, capturing 500 tons of fish every day, completely oblivious to the starvation and disease that dominates the region, where some 2 million Tanzanians face starvation so that another 2 million Europeans can eat Tanzanian perch every day.  Someone, on one day a few decades ago, placed a Nile perch in Lake Victoria, a fish that was not indigenous to the lake, that through the passage of time, has eaten all the other groups of fish in the lake, including fish that eat algae and have historically kept the lake clean, leading to a giant perch the size of a baby whale which is exported exclusively to Europe, Russia, and Japan, a fish that is not affordable to the local fisherman or any of the villagers, who instead are left the fish carcasses to live on, where we see truckloads of garbage being unloaded, basically rotting fish, so you can imagine what it smells like, with worms, maggots and other vermin crawling all over it, which young women collect and place on racks to dry, which is then sold in the local markets of Mwanza.  There is an extraordinary scene on a beach filled with hungry children, where a pot of rice is placed on the ground, and they all grab at once with their bare hands, pushing and shoving others out of the way, even taking the food from others through brute force, leaving some with handfuls and others with nothing, a staggering image of survival of the fittest. 
 
The film is balanced between images of the locals and images of the profiteers, who sit around with healthy fish strung on a line and cook their fish while drinking Scotch, ridiculing the behavior of the blacks in the region, calling them lazy and unwilling to work, while they surround themselves with nearly exclusively white Europeanized business partners.  The Australian or Russian pilots arrive in Tanzania with their planes empty, and leave completely filled with already packaged perch fillets.  The pilots have their pick of the local prostitutes.  In one horrid scene, the women are commiserating with each other after one of the pilots has stabbed and killed one of their friends, after promising her a better life with educational opportunities.  One of the Russian pilots eventually confesses on camera to flying in tanks and arms, which he delivers to Angola, then flies to Tanzania and loads his plane with fish to return to Russia.  He dreams of a world where all the children are happy, but that isn’t this world we’re living in, as evidenced by the perfection of the final shot.  This is a raw and devastating look at the human condition, an amazing journalistic exposé, with unforgettable images as harrowing and appalling as anything you're ever likely to see, captured with detachment and objectivity, with the filmmaker occasionally asking questions quietly, but obviously getting footage that no one would believe if they didn’t see it for themselves.  According to the director, his recollection of this film is sitting “in the merciless equatorial sun surrounded by a million Nile perch skeletons, trying not to go mad.” 

 

Darwin's Nightmare   Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine

 

After being introduced into Lake Victoria during the 1960s, the Nile perch would go on to devastate the natural ecosystem of the world's second largest lake, a place often cited as the origin of all human life. With Darwin's Nightmare, director Huper Sauper traces the effects this scientific experiment has had on the ecology and people of Tanzania, namely those in the Mwanza region of the country. Aesthetically and theoretically, the film is the antithesis of Errol Morris's beautiful but strenuous Fast, Cheap & Out of Control in that Sauper doesn't connect the many pieces of his thesis for the audience. What's revealed to us over the course of the documentary's two hours is a horrifying vision of globalization gone terribly amuck, less a nightmare than a vicious domino effect: Though the preponderance of the Nile perch in Lake Victoria brings jobs to the region, the fish are not meant for Tanzanians but the two million people in Europe—conspicuous by their absence—who feast on it everyday. Once the tender white fillets have been removed from the fish, the carcasses are taken to maggot-infested dumps, where ammonia fumes cripple the people responsible for salvaging the fish heads that are later fried and fed to the impoverished masses. Sauper piles one horror on top of another, revealing the means by which local blacks become complicit in the abuse of their people and how the material used to export the fish often gets into the hands of local children, who use it to make glue for huffing purposes, which only exposes and numbs them to all sorts of horrors including rape. The ultimate irony, though, is that the perch leaves the country via Russian planes often responsible for feeding revolutions in Rwanda and other war-torn regions with arms made all over Europe. This is a film with a lot on its plate, and while Sauper strains to connect the AIDS crisis in the region to the perch nightmare, the message that globalization in the region has become tantamount to human slave trade is never lost.

 

by Steve Erickson  Darwin’s Nightmare from Cinema Scope

As carefully structured as narrative fiction, Darwin’s Nightmare artfully manipulates its documentary materials around its chief subject and chief metaphor: the voracious Nile perch that has destroyed both the ecosystem and the socioeconomic life around Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake. Introduced into the lake as an experiment at some unknown date nearly half a century ago, the Nile perch thrived and eventually decimated the rest of the fish population, while the subsequent exploitation of the perch for the European market effectively enslaved the native Tanzanian population. The picture Sauper presents is unrelentingly grim, yet even while piling a final, even more awful revelation upon evident disaster, the film never turns into a monotonous parade of horrors; Sauper is after understanding, not despair. Darwin’s Nightmare would make a telling double bill with Jia Zhangke’s The World (2004), suggesting that while in Beijing the rapacity of globalization is required to hide behind the mask of cosmopolitan glamour, in Tanzania it is free to show its ugliest face.

An airport lies near the lake in the village of Mwanza, its runway surrounded by debris from crashed planes. Largely piloted by Russians and Ukrainians, aircraft arrive several times a day to transport the day’s catch back to Europe. Although the perch are rapaciously abundant, the exorbitant price they command on the European market dictates that the native Tanzanians cannot enjoy their own “natural” bounty; they subsist on fried fish heads and the meat rejected by Europeans. The fishermen can barely make a living, women have few options other than prostitution, HIV runs rampant, and the streets are filled with glue-sniffing orphans.

Though blame is certainly there to be assigned, Sauper is not simply out to point fingers. The situation depicted in Darwin’s Nightmare is particularly dismal because the only villain is an abstract ideology which entraps its practitioners as much as its victims. While the Ukrainian and Russian pilots are certainly more privileged than the Tanzanians, they often succumb to the stresses of their dangerous job and risk their lives by overloading their planes with fish. European Union bureaucrats seem hopelessly detached from African reality rather than ill-intentioned, while the Tanzanian government itself remains virtually invisible in the face of their people’s suffering.

The ugliness of the situation, unfortunately, finds its way into the aesthetic as well. If Darwin’s Nightmare has a major flaw, it is its crude videography: interiors are muddy, night scenes murky. However, the sun-bleached backgrounds, light glares and bleeding colours suit the film at times; attractively framed and lit racks of rotting, maggot-covered fish carcasses wouldn’t necessarily be any more expressive. Sauper’s direction is a step above Robert Greenwald’s degree-zero aesthetics—or much recent, polemically-driven work made by people who know more about activism than filmmaking—because he knows how to make the best artistic use of his limited resources.

Raymond Depardon’s Africa: What About the Pain? (1996) sums up the relentlessly downbeat tone of most Western-made documentaries about Africa, and while Darwin’s Nightmare is no exception to this model, neither is it completely hopeless. The residents of Mwanza are dignified, devoid of self-pity and as articulate as their command of English allows them to be. (While the vast majority of dialogue is spoken in English, the film is nevertheless subtitled.) They’re resigned to an incredibly difficult situation, treating it as a fact of life, most memorably a man who guards a research fishery, armed with poisoned arrows to ward off the thieves who killed his predecessor, who speaks with disarming matter-of-factness about looking forward to another war so that he can reclaim the soldier’s salary he once pulled down.

The ironic complexity of this man’s sentiments indicates how Sauper is after something deeper than an accusatory broadside. He’s searching for a system rather than a situation, which he anchors around the question of whether the cargo planes, supposedly arriving empty from Europe, are in fact carrying weapons destined for the numerous trans-African conflicts. The answer, chillingly and unsurprisingly, appears to be yes. As EU representatives speak glibly about the Africans’ entrepreneurial skills while turning a blind eye to arms sales to the Congo and Angola, several of Sauper’s interview subjects plainly explain why both Europeans and Africans might prefer war to peace. Yet these kinds of grim ironies can be useful as well. Globalization has wreaked havoc on Tanzania, but as a consequence, it may make the world’s interconnections plainer; and Sauper, with dogged persistence and fine artistry, puts in the hard work of exposing the chain of responsibility. In 1995, Janet Maslin foolishly described Larry Clark’s Kids as “a wake-up call to the world.” As essential as it is harrowing, Darwin’s Nightmare truly fits that bill.

The ambiguity of Darwin's Nightmare  Olivier Barlet from Africultures, April 1, 2006

 

"The Little Story": Darwin's Nightmare, Hubert Sauper; Les Saignantes, Jean-Pierre Bekolo  Kenneth Harrow from Africultures, December 28, 2006

 

Saura, Carlos

 

SauraTango

Carlos Saura is Spain's most important filmmaker after Buñuel.  He was born in Huesca (Aragón), Spain on 4 January 1932.  His mother was a pianist and his brother Antonio a painter.  Hence, from early on he was much influenced by music and art.  Carlos Saura himself was interested in photography and is indeeed an excellent photographer.  He also made his first feature film with a 16 mm camera in 1950, when he was only 18 years old.  In Madrid he started his career in industrial engineering but he later registered as a student at the Instituto de Investigaciones y Estudios Cinematográficos (Cinematographic Study and Research Institute) from which he obtained a diploma as director.  He also studied journalism and became a university professor until 1963, when he was removed from his post for political reasons.  He started filming as a neo-realist but he later switched to allegorical and "Second Cinema" (artistic auteurist cinema).  As such he has won many numerous national and international awards, including Silver Bears at the Berlin Festival for La caza (1966) and Peppermint Frappé (1967); Special Jury Awards for La prima Angélica (1973) and Cría cuervos (1975); and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 1979 for Mamá cumple cien años

Carlos Saura and Flamenco  March 2009

When the authoritarian Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975, he unleashed a great wave of artistic and literary creation in Spain, a wave which continues to this day. Nowhere was this more evident than in movies, and none among the movie directors has presented such a strong fund of creative work than has Carlos Saura. Born into an artistic and musical family in 1932, Saura was only four years old when Franco seized power at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

He created his first film in 1957, Cuenca, at the age of twenty-five, and a new graduate of the Madrid Institute of Film Research and Studies. Eight years later he presented La Caza, which won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Since then he has continued a career of almost phenomenal productivity, releasing forty one films in fifty one years. His films have won a string of international awards, including prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, a nomination for an Oscar and the prestigious Goya Award. In 2008 he was honored with the Global Lifetime Award at the Mumbai International Film Festival.

For flamenco aficionados, he is certainly best known for his several works related to flamenco. The first of these was Bodas de Sangre, (Blood Wedding) based upon the play of the same name by Federico Garcia Lorca, which was released in 1981. This was followed by Carmen in 1983, and by El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician) in 1986. These were all made with the collaboration of Christina Hoyos and Antonio Gadés, who were at that time, Principal Dancer and Artistic Director of the Ballet National de España, respectively. These three productions are often referred to as the Flamenco Trilogy.

Bodas de Sangre and Carmen are dramatic pieces structured around the frame that Antonio Gadés and his company of dancers are rehearsing a flamenco style ballet which tells the story of first the Lorca play and second the Bizet Opera. In the latter case the story sometimes goes back to the source material for the opera; the novella of Prosper Merimée. In both cases the ‘reality’ which is presented slips back and forth, from the source material of the rehearsal, to the experiences of the protagonists. When each story ends with an act of violence, one is uncertain whether the violence was committed on the character in the story, or the character in the rehearsal studio.

El Amor Brujo is based on an extension of the much shorter ballet composition by Manuel de Falla, who spent much of his working life in Paris and was an associate of Stravinsky and Boulez. Although he chose to work as a classical composer, he remained deeply rooted in the flamenco culture of his native Cadiz. In the case of the film, there is only one level of theatricality, and we know that the act of violence is solely an act of theatre.

These acts of violence, in each case a homicide by knife, are in fact troubling. They were a cliché at the time, both in literature and theatre concerning gitanos. It is the central drama of the celebrated film Los Tarantos, with Carmen Amaya (and also the young Antonio Gadés) in which both the protagonists are murdered. It occurs in the standard English language work on flamenco; Don Pohren’s The Art of Flamenco, and it occurs in several twentieth century accounts of life among gitanos. If the accounts represented a general truth, the gitanos would have become extinct by now. The gitano I have known best did indeed carry a small folding knife, which he used to take cuttings of one of my fuschias, which he then planted. They grew well and many are still growing in my yard.

The three movies of the Flamenco Trilogy – probably did more to increase the awareness of flamenco around the world than anything else had done in the preceding years, although many who were already aficionados pointed out the neither the dance nor the music was true flamenco; in the case of Carmen, the music was based on Bizet’s opera (although much enhanced by music director Paco de Lucia), in the case of El Amor Brujo the music was Manuel de Falla’s and in the case of Bodas de Sangre it was an original score by Emilio de Diego.

A few years after the completion of The Flamenco Trilogy Saura produced two movies which could not be challenged for a lack of authenticity: Sevillanas (1982) and Flamenco (1995). The former explores the many and variable styles of Sevillanas, from the simple social dance of the gitano communities in the Province of Sevilla, to the high styled and pretentious performance of Matilde Coral, to the lute and ballet slippers of the Escuela Bolera, and the more genuine social dance form explored by Rocio Jurado. The second film does something similar for flamenco, from the root forms of a family fiesta to the jazz-flamenco fusion of Manolo Sanlucar

Some have described these as documentaries, which they are not quite. Each performance has been staged and rehearsed especially for the movie, and the settings are entirely a creation of the director. Flamenco is staged in the former railroad station in Sevilla, which was rendered obsolete when the new station was built for the World’s Fair of 1992. The director makes sure that, in the final scene we can hear the street noises of Sevilla as we fade from performance to reality. The stage set is plain, and in the case of Flamenco, relies upon dramatic use of plain white partitions, mirrors, shadows and great orange suns, which Saura will use again.

Saura begins each of these movies with an homage to the roots of flamenco. In the case of Sevillanas, this is a performance by a gitano family-style group which includes some dancers who are old enough that walking is a challenge, let alone dancing. In the case of Flamenco this is again a (staged) performance by gitanos who are still wearing their go-to-supermarket clothes. From there he takes us to heavily theatrical performances, and in the case of Flamenco, to performances which are of the flamenco-jazz-fusion genre.

In 2005 Saura released the movie Iberia. Here, purists will argue that this is not a flamenco movie. Although many of the dancers are well known to aficionados, notably Sara Baras and Aida Gomez, and the musicians and singers include some of the best known flamenco names, the music is largely the Iberia Suite by Isaac Albéniz, and the dance style is probably best described as flamenco-influenced modern ballet.. But, then, in the piece entitled Torre Bermeja Saura suddenly goes back to flamenco roots with a striking performance by Manloco Sanlucar on guitar, and with a charming and somehow menacing performance by four rather large tias gitanas from La Familia de Antonio el Pipa, a performance which leaves its memory with us long after the images fade.. The movie ends with a group of mostly amateur dancers, varying in age from ten to seventy doing a highly choreographed Sevillanas. The piece is directed by Aida Gomez, and it ends in a pas de deux between Aida and a male dancer in a rainstorm which is certainly the sexiest Sevillanas ever.

These six movies illustrate the fact that flamenco today is no longer just the flamenco puro of the peña and the tablao, not even that of the theatrical cuadro, but it has been expanding for decades into the world of ballet, modern dance and classical music. Not always successfully to be sure, but like it or not, that’s where it’s going. We can hope that it never loses it’s roots however, and Carlos Saura has done well to keep reminding us of those.

Carlos Saura, pagina oficial  official website (in Spanish)

 

Carlos Saura - Director - Films as Director and ... - Film Reference  Katherine Singer Kovács, updated by Rob Edelman, from Film Reference

 

Carlos Saura: Information from Answers.com  extensive biography and filmography

 

Carlos Saura Biography - Yahoo! Movies  biography

 

Carlos Saura > Overview - AllMovie  biography from Sandra Brennan

 

Carlos Saura - Director Bigraphy  biography from Madman

 

Carlos Saura  brief bio from Enforex

 

Carlos Saura  profile page and filmography from NNDB

 

Carlos Saura - Filmbug  profile page

 

Carlos Saura - Movie List on mubi.com  Mubi

 

Carlos Saura - Director by Film Rank  Film ranking from Films 101

 

Carlos Saura  various film reviews by Acquarello

 

Theatrical Space and Social Change in Carlos Saura's   Theatrical Space and Social Change in Carlos Saura’s Los ojos vendados (1978), by Kevin M. Gaugler from Marist College (Undated)

 

Carlos Saura < Honorary Chairman & Guests < 1995 < Festival ...  Osaka Film Festival, November 1995

 

Carlos Saura's La Caza  Lawrence Russell from F Court, February 25, 1999

 

Carlos Saura gathers his flamenco photographs in an exhibition  Yasha Maccanico from Es Flamenco, July 16, 2004

 

Carlos Saura  Manuel Yáñez Murillo from Film Comment, March/April 2007, also seen here:  Bluegrass Film Society: Manuel Yáñez Murillo: Carlos Saura's 50 ...

 

Carlos Saura   Commitment and Grace: The Films of Carlos Saura, Film Society of Lincoln Center, April 17 – May 3, 2007

 

• View topic - Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy  Criterion Forum, a film discussion group, August 31, 2007

 

Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy - DVD and Conquer - TIME  Richard Corliss at Time magazine, October 16, 2007

 

Carlos Saura Pictures - 2010 Pusan International Film Festival ...  Saura with his daughter Ana, October 10, 2010

 

The film 'Flamenco, Flamenco' by Carlos Saura premieres at Spanish ...   Flamenco-World, October 15, 2010

 

Carlos Saura, Spain's celebrated film director, to present  November 27, 2010

 

Vengo  Reflections on Saura's Carmen, excerpt from Flamenco Music and National Identity in Spain, by William Washabaugh, 2011

 

Filmmaker Carlos Saura leads flamenco's big new step - New York ...  Jos Manuel Simin from The NY Daily News, February 16, 2011

 

Flamenco Hoy by Carlos Saura | Maria Kucinski's Musings  February 20, 2011

 

Carlos Saura's “Flamenco, Flamenco” at DC Film Fest « Flamenco ...  Ken McNaughton at DC Flamenco, April 11, 2011

 

Strange Horizons Columns: Intertitles: "A Strange and Savage ...  Genevieve Valentine on the Flamenco Trilogy from Strange Horizons, May 9, 2011, also here:  glvalentine: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy

 

Carlos Saura: Interviews  Edited by Linda M. Willem (232 pages), 1999

 

Cineuropa - Interviews - Carlos Saura • Director  Cineuropa interview February 19, 2008

 

Interview: Camera is My Memory: Carlos Saura  Bikas Mishra interview from Dear Cinema, April 16, 2008

 

Images for Carlos Saura

 

Carlos Saura - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

LA CAZA (The Hunt)

Spain  (91 mi)  1966

 

La Caza  Time Out London

 

La Caza manages, with very little reading between the lines, a remarkably overt condemnation of Spain's presiding spirit. Three middle-aged men and a youth embark on a day's rabbit hunting. They take with them the trappings of material success, and their prattle places them alongside the status quo. Petty vanities and jealousies lie close to the surface, but it is a deeper-felt, more inarticulate sense of guilt that grows to dominate. Where they hunt had been a battleground during the war (and still contains its rotting corpses), half the rabbits they kill are diseased. And as the sun gets hotter, the stare of the camera becomes more relentless, burning into the flesh of ageing men who twitch and grunt in their sleep. Feverish sexuality (linked by implication to repressive politics), outbursts of violence and a sense of foreboding all contribute to the group's self-destruction. Although over-emphatic in its editing, seldom has a film been informed with such crystal hatred for its characters.

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

Carlos Saura's breakthrough feature, and a grenade lobbed under Franco's nose -- the nation's barely submerged political tensions are flushed out under the baking sun. A jeep zips across the desert floor to ominous pounding, and four guys arrive at the desolate arroyo, a former battlefield, ground still battered by shell craters, where most of them previously fought Civil War loyalists. A montage of shotguns, starkly loaded and lingered over, locates the group's macho-surplus before the titular hunt, a bloodbath that pulverizes the local bunny population; the tone is jocular, oddly strained, for in the course of the day the mood grows darker and nerves get rawer in the face of an unearthed past, resentment over a friend's death, a runaway wife, money, failure, growing old. Triggers get itchy. Twentsysomething Emilio Gutiérrez Caba tags along, standing, by virtue of his youth, for hope (or, perhaps, ignorance), but the focus lies squarely on the balding, middle-aged pillars of a virulent regime -- landowner Ismael Merlo, businessman Alfredo Mayo, and widowed sci-fi buff José María Prada, all accomplices, in one way or another, in a culture's oppression. Conflating class privileges with law-of-the-fittest braggadochio, Mayo deliberately blasts gamekeeper Fernando Sánchez Polack's prized ferret; Merlo admonishes his colleague's cruelty, yet his own grasp over the peasant's land (and, by extension, his ailing mother's fate) is no less dictatorial. Prada, off in his own paranoid holiday, mumbles in German and stomps around a decapitated mannequin, a bug impaled on its chest, like a medal, to be used for target-practice seconds later. Sores are scratched open, and sanguine hands materialize as exhumed rot -- putrid rabbits, skeletons in caves, "How many humiliations have you suffered?" asked as a bovine carcass is carved, dreams recounted over sleeping mouths in hairy close-ups. To Saura, violence is both a society's fascistic residue and potential exorcism, shotgun barrels turned inwards if change is to happen. Cinematography by Luis Cuadrado. In black and white.

Night in the Lens [chai walla]

Four men drive through the midday heat into the foothills of the Pyrenees, looking forward to a day spent getting away from the stress of work, and shooting a few rabbits. Two of them, José and Luis, are business partners, and they are meeting up with Paco, a friend from a long time back, with whom they fought on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Accompanying the group is Paco’s brother-in-law, a fresh-faced young man named Enrique. In their brusque reintroductions at a roadside diner we begin to sense that, in contrast to Paco, who has been steadily and shrewdly building his own fortune, the other two men have experienced traumatic professional and personal failures. However they lack the energy or the need to hide the overflow of regret that marks this minor reunion as they speed towards their hunting ground - hills where, they fondly reminisce, loyalist soldiers once fled from their crackling rifles.

They are headed to an area of land that José owns, which is vast, open, and theirs to use. But it is a blighted, horrible region, where little grows, and the rabbits are afflicted with a man-made illness meant to deplete their numbers. And so arrive the businessmen from distant civilization, here to further exterminate the bare fauna that can live here, and stew their diseased quarry. Surprisingly there is a man, named Juan, who inhabits the land along with his family. He works for José, limping around the property and keeping a small farm while barely subsisting. It becomes apparent that José is steeped in dire financial woes, and that his motive for bringing Paco along on this excursion is to appeal to him for help. He has made a series of bad business decisions, one of them possibly being working with Luis, a sullen and bespectacled drunk who says more by apocalyptic quotations from science fiction novels than revealing things about his personality.

Harried and fallible, José often peers jealously in the direction of Paco, a successful man whose outward look of comfort and sophistication is meant as a testament to his unwavering confidence. Nothing seems to bother him, he even sunbathes in the horrible sun that causes the others to sweat and see double. José brings up a time in the past in which he saved Paco, but it means little to the other man. To Paco, José is a rung on the ladder that he has long since passed over, no longer to be considered with any seriousness. Meanwhile Enrique, ignorant of all this intrigue, watches Nina, Juan’s teenage daughter, in a way that seems both predatory and chaste. She meets him with open naivety, obviously unaccustomed to seeing many men besides her father.

In the desolate, scrub-covered setting, time stands still, the sun hanging immediately above as if loth to finish its voyage, holding the characters in this pale wasteland like ants too small to escape being burnt, even if they could know what was happening to them. The balding, middle aged men sit around after a fitful round of shooting, laden with so many accoutrements that they could be on a Bunuel picnic, while a radio plays yé-yé tunes (including one in which the singer repeats “loca juventud!” – “crazy youth”). They have brought wine and cognac to the “land without bread” and it becomes quite a surreal scene, developing without requiring much to happen. Luis drinks continuously, his water bottle containing something that certainly isn’t water, and makes everyone else nervous by shooting at the surrounding scenery.

Luis and Enrique drive to a walled, medieval village to buy bread, and watch with a crowd of locals as a hanging cow is disemboweled. The scene (along with one inside the rude farmhouse where Juan lives) is a reminder that in Spain, one is never far from the primitive, the vestiges peering through the curtains of time, incomprehensibly frozen in place. The two of them bring back a mannequin to use for target practice, and Enrique winds up dancing with it and Nina while the flow of tinny pop songs continues to splutter forth from the radio. Unlike the older adults, they are having oblivious fun, apart from the cares of the world. “I feel as though I have been here in a dream,” Enrique thinks to himself. A past life, perhaps, but most certainly one spent with the Nationalists.

After having talked to Luis, Enrique begins to look questioningly at the motivations of his brother-in-law, who married into the family and acquired their business. He feels as though he knows less, not more, about the suave but inscrutable Paco, who speaks assuredly about the two of them becoming partners. José, who does not seem as though he could suffer a rebuke from Paco, treats the man as his only hope. He talks about Arturo, the missing fourth friend who committed suicide years ago, recalling him as though he knows he is swiftly heading down the same road himself. The others don’t say much about their deceased colleague, and Enrique is unsuccessful in finding out more from them.

The rabbits that the men are hunting are an appropriate analogy to the scattered loyalists who once hid in caves and were slaughtered in that very valley, by these very men. As the hunters’ lucidity wanes in the merciless sun, the animals, both helpless and unpredictable, act as the hair-trigger catalysts for sudden rushes of activity that break the disconnected contemplation. José’s dog runs up and down the hills and Juan appears in the crosshairs of Enrique’s World War II Luger, bringing his pet ferrets to the rabbit tunnels to fulfill their namesake, thus further complicating the circus of moving things that confuse the eye.

In the course of the characters’ spare and tense conversations the idea comes up a few times that hunting is cruel, but that of course depends upon one’s worldview; only an attitude may be cruel, as philosophy can be easily sloughed off and actions boiled down until there is no intent but the cold, irreducible intent of the natural order. Correspondingly, as the hunt is done in sport, without a note of cruelty, then it is passable for the men’s consciences, much like the way they joyfully and dutifully committed murder during the war. Director Saura, at times subtly and at others quite overtly, places loose bricks in the façade of masculinity and refinement that they hold out to separate themselves from nature and the landbound peasants, revealing the savagery that underlies it all and that they rely so much on keeping contained.

When the men’s composure begins to fall to pieces, one cannot help but think that this is the returning of past misdeeds – a notion that, rather than being used as here as the basis for a horror scenario, instead provides a pointed political comment. After a certain point Saura has wound the situation so tightly that, while we certainly expect violence to erupt – all the alcohol, the nervous trigger fingers, the dark pasts – we also expect some sort of clever outlet for the characters’ labyrinthine, half understood associations. Independently of the passage of time, of character development, and of other occurrences that would distinguish ridges on the canvas of the plot, Saura manages to advance the story with people’s emotions piercing a scene like beams of hot light through the clapboards of a barn. The transformations that take place are somewhat torturous, Saura utilizing them to state, in effect, that these are the types of people born of war and autocracy, unsavory in similar ways and kind of holding power beneath Franco’s flag. But there is, in his depiction, a hopefulness that they cannot avoid forever atrocities to which they have been party, and that they will, somehow, destroy one another.

The film resulting of all this is pared down and eerily concise, in spite of its languid close-ups on people and things, and voice-overs from the characters’ thoughts that are alternately poetic (Enrique’s) and panicked (José’s) – which, while hastening the tension, are unnecessary. Altogether more effective is his use of often unsatisfactory revelations, which, as in a muted and disconcertingly incomplete rendering of the psychodrama paradigm, are basic and sketchy, rarely forming a coherent whole. At once brutish and beguilingly evasive, The Hunt attempts to strike at the core of modern humanity, and does so without accentuating the process of how it arrived at that point. And what does it find there that wasn’t already inherent in a day spent shooting game?

Culture Court [Lawrence Russell}  Lawrence Russell from F Court, February 25, 1999, also seen here:  Carlos Saura's La Caza 

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

PEPPERMINT FRAPPÉ

Spain  (92 mi)  1967

 

Peppermint Frappé  Time Out London

Vertigo via Buñuel. Saura's ambitions may have been a bit loftier than his talent back in 1967, but this slice of art house surrealism insinuated itself past Franco's censors to give a welcome glimpse of a Spanish film culture dominated by the shadow of its absent master. The engagingly provocative yarn of erotic obsession, in which plain-Jane Chaplin is 'remoulded' by her unhinged boss into the image of his brother's foxy wife (also Chaplin) isn't obstructed overmuch by Saura's reverential 'homages', and its roots in a script by Rafael Azcona (subversive plotsmith for Berlanga and Ferreri) ensure that sufficient black comedy incisiveness penetrates the flashy surface.

User reviews  from imdb Author: bgilch from Montreal, Quebec

Anyone familiar with Bunuel will find a treat of similar proportions in Peppermint Frappe's fascinating study of a fetishistic mind. This film is so carefully gripping that its mild-manneredness hides its thriller nature; instead, the film favours a meticulous reconstruction of a man's past desire projected into a vertiginous present he now creates. For all the layered desire and sexual tension, however, it is the subtle power of sublimation that works best. Consider the long, breath-taking seduction scene of the radiologist, the nurse & the rowing machine. The art direction is excellent and the opening credit music is great. Where the film loses its edge is in the direction, which is not as skilled as that of the dedicatee. This is more noticeable at the end, where the camera movement gives way to freeform and has a very dated late 60's look. A pivotal song in the film is likewise hard to take seriously. Still, the film is mesmerizing & scenic, & Jose of the 4 names- the radiologist, gives a tremendously controlled performance. It's his film and he carries it brilliantly. Ana, the nurse, is excellently portrayed as well. Overall, fascinating but not sharp enough

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

Peppermint Frappé opens to the image of a pair of hands meticulously cropping images from a fashion magazine for a personal scrapbook. The hands belong to an unassuming and conservative physician named Julian (José Luis López Vázquez) who runs a radiology clinic from his personal residence, assisted by a shy, mild mannered nurse named Ana (Geraldine Chaplin). One afternoon, Julian pays a visit to his childhood friend, Pablo (Alfredo Mayo), a charismatic and sophisticated adventurer who has recently returned from Africa with the unexpected news that he has married a beautiful and carefree young woman named Elena (Geraldine Chaplin). The sight of the captivating Elena visibly stuns Julian, as he recalls an incident that would pervade his thoughts and invariably define his image of the feminine ideal - the sight of a pious young woman who had continuously beaten a ceremonial drum despite physical discomfort during a Good Friday ceremony. Julian confronts Elena with his vivid memory of the episode, but she proves to be oblivious to the past encounter. Nevertheless, despite Elena's cosmopolitan demeanor and obvious dissimilarity with the elusive penitent drummer, Julian falls hopelessly in love with her. Frustrated by his inability to win Elena's affection, Julian turns his attention to Ana, as he attempts to recreate his haunted image through his trusting, devoted nurse.

Carlos Saura presents a taut and compelling examination of obsession in Peppermint Frappé. As in Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (and Saura's subsequent film, Cría Cuervos), Saura uses surreal and haunted memories in order to create an allegorical chronicle of the pervasive repression of Franco-era Spain. By juxtaposing Julian's seemingly innocent youthful recollections with his increasing obsession towards the unattainable Elena, Saura creates a harrowing portrait on aberrant behavior and perversion of reality: Julian's observation of the Good Friday ceremony that led to his obsession with Elena; his glimpse of a children's mock marriage ceremony between Pablo and a girl in the village; his voyeuristic glance through a keyhole as a posed Elena kneels in an abandoned bedroom. Similar to Luis Buñuel's The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, the desire to attain an elusive ideal woman results in a literal recreation of her image. Note the Vertigo-inspired, carnivalesque, circular camera tracking as Julian oversees Ana's rowing machine exercises, Elena's uninhibited dance in an open field as a mesmerized Julian takes photographs, Ana's transformation at Julian's weekend retreat. Dedicated to legendary filmmaker and compatriot, Luis Buñuel, Peppermint Frappé serves an irreverent, fascinating, and subversive document on the nature of uncertainty, repression, and desire.

STRESS IS THERE (Stress-es tres-tres)

Spain  (94 mi)  1968 

User reviews  Author: david melville (dwingrove@qmuc.ac.uk) from Edinburgh, Scotland

As its title suggests, this is a deeply weird Pinter-esque emotional triangle - involving an insanely jealous husband, his gorgeous young wife and his carefree business partner. They spend much of the film in a car, driving through the arid Spanish landscape on their way to a deserted beach. Loyalties shift, identities blur... By the end, it is frankly impossible to say who has (or has not) done what to whom.

To make it doubly strange, Carlos Saura has shot this film in the most starkly realistic of styles. Its Spartan visuals, minimal music and sober black-and-white camerawork make us feel we are watching a documentary. This makes the ambiguity of the action even more bizarre and disturbing. When the husband sees (or imagines he sees) his partner making love to his wife, we are not watching a standard movie 'dream sequence.' We are witnessing madness itself. True madness, convinced that what it sees is reality!

Pushing this film still further into realms of delirium, Saura's subtle but chilling use of homoerotic, even sadomasochistic, imagery makes you wonder just WHO the husband is most possessive of. His wife or the other man? A langorous scene where he watches the younger man swimming. A fetishistic interlude with black leather and a motorbike. (Has Saura seen Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising?) Recurring visions of Saint Sebastian - the classic homoerotic saint, naked and pierced full of arrows. Strong stuff indeed for Spanish cinema under Franco.

It all adds up to one of Saura's most oblique and tantalising works... And Geraldine Chaplin looks particularly exquisite in her blonde wig!

HONEYCOMB (La madriguera)

Spain  (102 mi)  1969

User reviews  from imdb Author: jartcrouge from Madrid

This film is not just one of the great results of Saura and Geraldine Chaplin creative and marital union, but one of the rare movies where the environment, the house here, takes the main role.

The huge, abstract, pre-minimalist concrete house (by Spanish architect Carvajal) transforms itself during the whole film running, setting the path to the main characters paranoia. The images that Saura produces are enigmatic, surrealist, funny, and in a strange way therapeutic, and they are deeply rooted in Spanish cubism and surrealism. It is probably one of the most contemporary and interesting film by the director, not recognized, yes, but a great unexpected value anyway.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Daniel Ingels (fenway-5) from Brooks, Texas

This bizarre movie was made in Spain with an international cast and revolves around the games and fantasies of its main characters, husband and wife, Per Oscarssen and Geraldine Chaplin. Their upper middle class marriage is dull, so they venture out into the shadowy realm of role playing and fantasizing. I'm not sure in what language this thing was originally filmed, but it was a badly dubbed version that I caught a couple of times on late, late television. The husband begins by trying to get his wife to don some racy underclothes; she is repulsed by them and sends them down the garbage disposal! Taking another tack, the husband summons his unresponsive wife to the basement, where he's waiting, very solemnly, behind a teacher's desk. He orders her to sit in a high-chair, which just does hold her. He then proceeds to lecture her (taking on the role of her father) about her unacceptable marks in school. She now responds as a young girl, calling him "Daddy", and bowing her head in shame. He releases her from the high-chair and promptly puts her across his knee for a sound spanking with a ruler on her pantied bottom. The film devolves from this point, to where the games become darker, finally involving a pistol. Strictly a weird film, but could have been much better.

Movie Review - Honeycomb - Honeycomb' Feeds on Fantasies - NYTimes.com  Roger Greenspun from The New York Times

 

THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS (El jardín de las delicias)

Spain  (95 mi)  1970

User reviews from imdb Author: David Lie from Singapore

Carlos Saura's "Garden of Delights" is a sly, black comedy about personal and political repression under Franco's regime. Psychodramas and shock therapy are among the tools of the trade employed to jump-start the memory of a wealthy industrialist recovering from an auto accident but still confined to a wheelchair. That his loved ones are in fact the instigators of such crude and farcical attempts to pry open the amnesiac's Swiss bank account should come as no surprise to anyone remotely familiar with Spanish history and culture. But Saura's dark tale, it seems, may proved too daunting to audiences who are unwilling to give themselves over to the film's dreamy, ruminative style that deliberately shunned "objective reality" for a subjective and interpretative approach to cinema. In Saura's view cinematic "reality" should represent the repressed state of the nation's collective consciousness and its refusal to surrender its dreams under those conditions. The debilitating conditions of fascism should not inhibit other forms of realities to exist or to challenge the prevailing political reality so that what "is" is not necessarily more important than what "should" or could have been. Scenes, real or imagined, accordingly compete for our attention throughout the narrative much as if the delights of the garden only become apparent after careful introspection and reflection. If fascism is indeed the soul of the new machine, then paralysis is just a state of the mind.

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

Bourgeois members flutters around a stage production, a glamour-puss parts her eyelashes with pins, malevolent oinks are heard off-screen. A huge pig is sent in and the whole, tacky mélo is dropped into the lap of the audience, namely José Luis López Vázquez, puzzled and catatonic in his wheelchair. A ruthless tycoon paralyzed in a car wreck, he vegetates as his family, Chabrolian in its venality, stages bizarre farces in hopes of rousing his memories, especially memories of the money account. "Suiza, dinero... Suiza, dinero," his old father (Francisco Pierrá) chants, tapping a geography book. Luchy Soto, his wife, complains of their children and guides his hand to the safe on the wall, to no avail. Carlos Saura uses the sardonic gags for dark elegance, in-jokes, even ("La Caza! La Caza!" Vázquez stammers among shotguns and pals), but first of all the decay of a culture growing deformed beneath the straitjacket of fascism. The late-Buñuel surrealism (a maid flashes a breast to get the boss to drink milk) is founded on dreams, digressions, illusions inside illusions -- within his mind, the wheelchair careens out of control across the lawn and into the dirty pool; later, Vázquez leans back to enjoy the sounds of the garden, until three medieval knights, armor and all, push him into a maze of doors. Cinema for Saura is about the elusiveness of recreation, of reality and the past, with the family's tableaux contrived out of greed but integral shock-therapy nevertheless, bent on forcing memories to the fore: the character can only impotently watch the stunting at the root as his First Communion becomes the Second Republic, sneakily staged in a warehouse, Geraldine Chaplin located amid the watchers to ensure the personal within the historical. His own voice brings Vázquez back "into character," but only briefly, for Franco is still wheezing in power, an entire clan, or a nation, in stalled wheelchairs. "What's important are the symbols." With Charo Soriano, Alberto Alonso, Julia Peña, and Esperanza Roy.

Carlos Saura  Acquarello from Strictly Film School

In The Garden of Delights, Carlos Saura infuses his now familiar, archetypal elements of financial crisis, physical disability, infirmity, and game hunting that were introduced in his seminal film, The Hunt as subversive, iconic symbols for the rigidity of Francoist corrupted ideology, with a healthy dose of blunt, tongue in cheek - and pointedly allegorical - Buñuelian absurdity to create a perversely wry, acerbic, and trenchant indictment of the bourgeoisie, whose unwavering support of General Franco enabled his ascension to (and retention of) power in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The prefiguring title sequence depicting a derelict, primitive, experimental workshop set to curious, otherworldly sound of a variable shortwave, analog noise provides an idiosyncratically appropriate introduction to the film's surreal fusion of reality, dreams, interpreted recreation, and fleeting memory, creating an atmosphere of deliberate construction that is subsequently reinforced in the establishing sequence of a re-enacted childhood trauma involving a parental scolding that escalates to a trapped encounter with a large, rambunctious pig (note the comical sighting of the farm animal being scuttled through the kitchen that evokes the thwarted, unspecified "entertainment" of Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel). At the heart of the privileged Cano family's cruel and bluntly coercive elaborate staging and grotesque charade is a crude attempt at immersive psychotherapy designed to mentally rehabilitate (or at least shock) the partially paralyzed, amnesic, recovering accident victim and sole family bread winner, Antonio (José Luis López Vázquez), whose faltering memory holds the key, not only to the secreted family fortune, but to his company's - and in turn, his family's - financial viability as well. Recreating transformative encounters and indelible events as a means of re-introducing Antonio to the essential elements of his life - or rather, the family's superficial perception of his life - in what Antonio's father, Don Pedro (Francisco Pierrá) earlier describes as the importance of reinforcing its symbols, what is invariably revealed is the pervasive dysfunction, hypocrisy, and greed inherent in Antonio's empty, coddled, and self-absorbed life. As in The Hunt, Saura obliquely equates the specter of Francoism with social degradation through allegorical contamination, this time, through its most formidable ally: the church. Juxtaposing Antonio's first communion with the advent of the Spanish Revolution (note the incisive cameo of franquista hero, Alfredo Mayo, who played the role of Paco in The Hunt), the priest's sermon, "From a tree with diseased roots, what fruit can we expect?" becomes, not a cautionary tale for the young communicant, but a corrupted prophesy that exposes the church's own complicity and moral paralysis in the institution of Franco's repressive regime.

The Garden of Delights | Chicago Reader  Don Drucker

 

The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre [Zev Toledano]

 

User reviews from imdb Author: mgrindberg from Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

 

User reviews from imdb Author: Lee De Cola from Reston VA

 

ANA Y LOS LOBOS (Anna and the Wolves)

Spain  (102 mi)  1973

User reviews  from imdb Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The young but traveled Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) arrives in a manor in the countryside of Spain to work as nanny of three girls and finds a dysfunctional family: the matriarch (Rafaela Aparicio) is a sick old woman obsessed by death and having constant nervous breakdown; her son José (José María Prada) was raised dressing girl's clothes until his First Communion and is obsessed by military clothes and stuffs; Juan (José Vivó), the father of the three girls, is a pervert since his childhood that writes pornographic letters to Ana; his wife Luchy (Charo Soriano) has suicidal tendencies; and the mystic and religious eremite Fernando(Fernando Fernán Gómez), who was inflicted to flagellation in his childhood, lives recluse in a cave. The presence of Ana disturbs the three brothers with tragic consequences.

In the 70's, "Ana y los Lobos" was very successful in Brazil and one of my favorite movies of my adolescence. This film is actually a political allegory of Franco's dictatorship in Spain, with the mother and the three brothers representing the Spanish society of those times. The omnipotent mother is the old Spain; the oppressive José represents the authoritarianism of the military government of Franco; Juan the repressed sexuality and Fernando the Catholic Church. The story is bizarre with a weird atmosphere and characters and top-notch performances, with Geraldine Chaplin extremely beautiful and sexy. The DVD released in Brazil by the Brazilian distributor Platina Filmes is actually a VHS converted to DVD, with low-quality of image. The worst is the unforgivable and shameful mistake in the subtitles in Portuguese that wrongly translates, for example, "seho" (seal, in English) as cello, misleading in a non-sense way the viewer that can not understand Spanish. My vote is eight.

COUSIN ANGELICA (La prima Angélica)

Spain  (107 mi)  1974

 

Cousin Angelica | Chicago Reader  Dave Kehr

 

A 1974 film by memory-and-desire specialist Carlos Saura (Cria cuervos). Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez plays a middle-aged man who returns to the village of his youth, where his dim memories of the Spanish Civil War mix with his recollection of his first love, his cousin Angelica.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When the single middle-aged Luis (José Luis López Vázquez) travels from Barcelona to bury the remains of his mother in the vault of his family in Segovia, he is lodged by his aunt Pilar (Lola Cardona) in her old house where he spent his summer of 1936 with her. He meets his cousin Angelica, who was his first love, living on the first floor with her husband and daughter, and he recalls his childhood in times of the Spanish Civil War entwined with the present.

This sensitive movie is a touching love story having the background of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War with the coup d'État of General Francisco Franco in July 1936. The original resource of Carlos Saura, using the same actor (José Luis López Vázquez) representing the boy and the man, is awesome. The forbidden love for his cousin, the dogmatic education of the Catholic Church, the relationship with his family are revived by Luis in this simple and unknown gem. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Prima Angélica" ("The Cousin Angelica")

Movie Review - Prima Angelica. La - Screen: Spain Is the Star ...  Vincent Canby from The New York Times

 

CRÍA CUERVOS

Spain  (109 mi)  1976

 

Cría Cuervos   Time Out London

A mesmerising film which conflates the drive to wish-fulfilment - a young girl, after watching the death of her father, comes to believe she holds the key to life and death - with a partial account of the last days of Fascism in Spain. At the root of both strands of Saura's elliptical script lies the idea of repression as the motor force behind the strange goings-on in the isolated (yet in the middle of Madrid) house of the Anselmo family. Intriguingly, the film suggests that the spirit of the dusty surrealism of Buñuel lives on in his native Spain.

Cinepassion.org [Fernando F. Croce]

Rejection of "childhood innocence." Carlos Saura’s Spain is a crumbling mansion where a girl (Ana Torrent) projects memories and phantoms, the adult world is a strange realm as the Franco guard expires. Bedroom endearments yield to murky death, the uniformed patriarch (Héctor Alterio) is dutifully mourned and the rigid aunt (Mónica Randall) takes over, the kids are unsettled ravens. The fragile mother (Geraldine Chaplin), a former piano prodigy sent to the grave by disease and her husband’s infidelities, appears to Torrent as a flirtatious remembrance, playing and replaying past moments; the paralyzed grandmother (Josefina Díaz) lives but is herself a ghost, gazing at a mural of pictures of old Spain. Grown-up issues become fodder for playacting children rummaging through a wardrobe, but grave things swirl behind the girl's dark eyes -- a fascination with death, from the stoic burial of a pet hamster to the way she mock-executes then "revives" her sisters (Conchita Pérez, Marie Sanchez) during a game of hide-and-seek, serves both as the cornerstone of her own private, controlled universe and as the pathway into the unknown beyond childhood. Gliding movements connect them, mix them: Torrent alone in a room broods over the pot of baking powder her mother told her had enough poison "to kill an elephant," Saura pans to the right to reveal Chaplin as the adult Torrent, looking back pensively ("Why did I want to kill my father?"). The deadpan, unalarmed timbre expands on Wise and von Fritsch's Curse of the Cat People, the "flying" sequence stems from Mulligan's The Other, a pop song is repeated until its drippy circularity embodies dark enchantment itself. Summer's over, back to class -- will reactionary values be perpetuated, or extinguished? This tiny tower questions her stagnant surroundings, and meets and overthrows her aunt's stock reproach: "You're still too young." With Florinda Chico.

Raging Bull [Mike Lorefice]

Repression breeds an increasingly corrosive perversion of reality in Carlos Saura's complex examination of a traumatized child's mind. Opting to ignore the magnitude of what the three young sisters have witnessed and "protect" them from the grieving process, the death of their terminally ill mother (Geraldine Chaplin) is never discussed. Believing the philandering and neglect of her general father Anselmo (Hector Alterio) to be the culprit, Ana (Ana Torrent) places what her mother told her was poison in his glass, leading her to believe she's responsible for what's actually a heart attack. Shifted to the care of Aunt Paulina (Monica Randall), another fascist who chooses their own selfish romantic endeavors over regard for family, the children face their uncertain future alone. Ana takes on the worst qualities of both parents; she's lonely, melancholic, passionless, and desperate like her mother and a tyrant playing dangerous games with family members like her father. The haunting memories of the morbid, largely silent child spark her deluded imagination, allowing Saura to enter the surreal realm of his master Luis Bunuel, mixing fantasy and reality to the point you rarely know one from the other. The most memorable segments enliven the play world Ana orchestrates. At once entertaining and disturbing, she and her sisters reenact scenes from the lives of the troubled adults they've been surrounded by, with Ana taking solace in the role reversal of traumas and indignities she or her kindred spirit mother, who still appears to her, have suffered. Ana Torrent confirms her standing as one of the greatest child actresses in this film that's most closely linked to Victor Erice's superior traumatized Torrent vehicle Spirit of the Beehive, but the themes of Saura's allegory of Franco-era repression also bear considerably resemblance to his own Peppermint Frappe. Anselmo is Franco, who was on his death bed at the time of production. Though many autobiographic details are inserted, Saura focuses on women because they bear the brunt of the patriarchal and catholic repression. They are all withdrawn to the point of listlessness, with the mute grandmother (Josephina Diaz) looking on silently while secretly longing for the good old days of the Spanish Republic, while unknowing authoritarian collaborator Paulina stresses well presented order keeping lies over honesty and freedom. Like an orphaned child, Spain doesn't know what direction it's about to go in, and knowing others are likely to control your destiny and unlikely to be the ones you'd bequeath that power to is frightening. The world the children are being educated for will be outdated as soon as Franco dies, though they may graduate before adequate reform is enacted. For me the main problem with the still memorable film is the way Saura attains his surrealism and allegory - regularly shifting perspectives between the various opposing forces as well as alternating between an intimate and distanced depiction of the material - undermines his psychological portrayal of Ana.

Cría cuervos . . . :The Past Is Not Past  Criterion essay by Paul Julian Smith, August 13, 2007

 

Cría cuervos . . . (1976) - The Criterion Collection

 

The Criterion Collection Database [Dan Callahan]  May 1, 2007

 

Film-Talk: Cria Cuervos, Carlos Saura, Spain 1975  Martin S. from Film-Talk, January 8, 2010

 

PopMatters [Michael Buening]

 

Filmjourney  Doug Cummings, March 31, 2007

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

Childhood Through A Child's Eyes  Iza Larize from Somewhere in the Depths of Cinema, May 1, 2011

 

Cría Cuervos  Acquarello from Strictly Film School

 

Cria Cuervos: The Criterion Collection - DVD review (1 ... - DVD Town  Christopher Long from DVD Town, Criterion Collection

 

Cria Cuervos ... - The Criterion Collection : DVD Talk Review of ...  Thomas Spurlin from DVD Talk, Criterion Collection

 

dOc DVD Review: Cría Cuervos (1976) - digitallyOBSESSED  Joel Cunningham, Criterion Collection

 

The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick]  Criterion Collection

 

DVD Savant Review: Cría Cuervos  Glenn Erickson, Criterion Collection

 

DVD Verdict [Tom Becker]  Criterion Collection

 

DVD review: Cria Cuervos  Peter Nellhaus from Screenhead, August 24, 2007

 

Suite 101 (Kevin Sturton)

 

Young Actress Reviews  Dale

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Cria cuervos | Chicago Reader  Dave Kehr

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: francois chevallier (francheval@noos.fr) from Paris, France

 

Read the New York Times Review »  Vincent Canby

 

DVDBeaver [Gary Tooze]

 

ELISA, VIDA MÍA (Elisa, My Love)

Spain  (125 mi)  1977

User reviews  from imdb Author: jackush

The fact that this is the very first commentary here shows that we don't deal with one of the most famous movies of the great Spanish master, and this fact is really stunning. Even if not set in the dance medium, especially flamenco and tango, with which Saura is generally linked, this movie is highly personal. Saura is one of the very few directors who succeed to be very national in its cinematographic language."Elisa" is no exception: the outdoor images, looking like De Greco and Goya paintings, the stunning performance of the actors remembering sometimes flamenco intensity, give to this movie a glorious cinematographic presence. The issue which stands in the center of this movie is a universally and uneasy one: the relation between father and daughter. Saura knows to avoid a tabloid depiction of this relation, although it doesn't avoid the border-line oedipal tensions. Throughout settled mostly in a chamber-music like duet, it doesn't have the claustrophobic Bergman character. The movie is a love duet, with its aggressive and passionate outcome. Awesome experience. .

User reviews  from imdb Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) has not seen her father Luis (Fernando Rey) for nine years, but she receives a telegram from her sister Isabel (Isabel Mestres) in a moment of crisis of her marriage with Antonio (Norman Briski) telling that her father is ill and she decides to travel to the countryside of Madrid with Isabel and her brother-in-law Julián (Joaquín Hinojosa) and their two children to visit Luis for his birthday. Elisa decides to stay with his father when her sister returns to Madrid with her family and she gets closer to Luis, understanding why he left her mother years ago. Later she tells him that Antonio cheated her with her best friend Sophie and their relationship has ended. When Antonio unexpectedly arrives in the house, Elisa takes a decision about her life.

"Elisa, Vida Mía" is a beautiful movie about father and daughter relationship. The performances of Fernando Rey and Geraldine Chaplin are awesome and full of feelings. There are moments that I found confused to be understood, like the incestuous scene, but in general this drama is very nice. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "Elisa Vida Mia"

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

Marking Carlos Saura's first film following the death of Franco in 1975 as Spain emerged from the shadows of fascism towards democracy, Elisa, My Love also represents Saura's creative transition from allusively political to integrally personal filmmaking, resulting in one of his most intimate, captivating, emotionally lucid, and profoundly introspective works on loneliness, aging, passion, reconciliation, and legacy. The film opens to a curiously apparent disjunction: a male narrator recounts an impulsive decision to embark on a haphazardly arranged trip organized by the family from Madrid to the country upon receiving word of their estranged father's deteriorating health and compromised recuperation after a recently undergone surgery - a reluctant journey to a distant parent that had only been made palatable by the idea of spending time away from home, and providing a convenient distraction from ongoing marital troubles with a (presumably male) spouse named Antonio. In hindsight, the assignment of the masculine voice - later illustrated to be the father's, a writer and school teacher named Luis (Fernando Rey) - for what is subsequently revealed to be the unexpressed sentiments of his vulnerable and emotionally fragile daughter, Elisa (Geraldine Chaplin) proves to be an incisive trompe l'oeil (or rather, trompe l'oreille) that prefigures the profound, almost instinctual connection between absent father and lost child. Having left his wife (who, uncoincidentally, bears striking physical resemblance to the now adult Elisa) and the family home when Elisa was still a child (Ana Torrent), Luis has broken from his past - not to embark on a new adventure or in search of something better - but to escape its emotional burden, retiring to the country to lead a humble life of solitude writing his autofictional stories from a rented cabin. Encountering a deeply introspective, unfinished, diaristic manuscript among the work-in-progress papers on her father's desk, Elisa is immediately drawn to her father's pensive isolation, and accepts his invitation to spend a few days at the cabin where gradually, past and present, reality and imagination, dream and anxiety converge to give form to Elisa's ephemeral, unarticulated despair over her parents' traumatic separation and her own failing marriage. Saura's perceptive juxtaposition of the dark and cramped cabin against the vast, open fields of the rural landscape (a contrasted visual framing that is also underscored in the bookending long shot of the family automobile traversing the unpaved road that leads to the cabin) proves especially suited to the film's alternating realms of physical and psychological realities - a paradoxical metaphor that encapsulates Elisa's emotional and existential limbo (and perhaps, more broadly, an indirect allusion to the state of post-Franco Spain itself) between captivity and liberation, terminality and perpetuity, death and transfiguration.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Natashenka_S from Israel

 

Elisa-Vida-Mia - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes - NYTimes.com  Vincent Canby from The New York Times

 

DVDBeaver.com [Per-Olof Strandberg]

 

LOS OJOS VENDADOS (Blindfolded Eyes)

Spain  France  (1010 mi)  1978

User reviews  from imdb Author: bhaviour (bhaviour@aol.com) from New York City, USA

At long last I was able to see this film last night as part of a(n) (incomplete) Carlos Saura retrospective sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. Having been a big fan of the director's CRIA CUERVOS (1976) and ELISA, VIDA MIA (1977), both of which were shown commercially in the United States and warmly received, I was dismayed when LOS OJOS VENDADOS (1978) received no theatrical release and never turned up as part of previous Carlos Saura retrospectives in NYC.

Saura's collaborations with Geraldine Chaplin are the shining lights of his career and LOS OJOS VENDADOS is no exception. Her presence in this film is indispensable to its success, and she is never less than mesmerizing. I would need at least another viewing to begin to appreciate fully the film's layers and nuances -- the ways it links falling in love with the disintegration of existing relationships; persistence of memories with dreams and nightmares; persecution by self, others and society with political terrorism.

The film is filled with unforgettable imagery and haunting moments. Except for two overlong and overdone sequences (ironically, one of which is a dance scene given that Saura's reputation today rests mostly on his dance films), LOS OJOS VENDADOS is one of Saura's strongest films. The final 5 minutes are unforgettable.

By the time he made LOS OJOS VENDADOS, Saura had definitely developed an identifiable style of his own, and it is a pity that his 1970s films are largely ignored and/or unavailable today. Unseen in New York for 28 years, LOS OJOS VENDADOS drew only a handful of viewers at the showing I saw. The film cries out for restoration (the print the Film Society managed to unearth was faded pink and had a botched subtitling job). It is perhaps an even more relevant and powerful film now than it was in 1978.

Theatrical Space and Social Change in Carlos Saura's   Theatrical Space and Social Change in Carlos Saura’s Los ojos vendados (1978), by Kevin M. Gaugler from Marist College (Undated)

 

MAMÁ CUMPLE CIEN AÑOS (Mama Turns 100)

Spain  France  (92 mi)  1979

User reviews  from imdb Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Ana (Geraldine Chaplin) is alive and married with Antonio (Norman Briski); they arrive in the manor in the countryside of Spain where she worked as a nanny many years ago, for the centennial birthday of the matriarch (Rafaela Aparicio). In their reunion, she finds that Jose died three years ago; Juan (José Vivó) left his wife Luchy (Charo Soriano); Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez) is still living with his mother and unsuccessfully trying to fly a hang glider; and the three little girls are grown-up. Further, she discovers that the dysfunctional family is completely broken, and Luchy in embezzling mother's money. When Juan arrives for the celebration, he plots with Fernando and Luchy to kill the mother to get the inheritance. Meanwhile, Antonio has a brief affair with Natalia (Amparo Muñoz).

"Mamá Cumple Cien Años" is a surrealistic dark comedy that uses the characters of "Ana y los Lobos" and Antonio from "Elisa, Vida Mía". Again, Carlos Saura uses a political allegory with his characters: the omnipresent and omnipotent mother is still the old Spain; however, the children have grown, Lucy becomes a greedy woman and Juan is gone. Further, she is betrayed by her beloved sons. There are certainly many other political elements for those familiarized with the Spanish history. The beauty of the former Miss Spain (1973) and Miss Universe (1974) Amparo Muñoz is astonishing. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Mamãe Faz 100 Anos" ("Mother is 100 Year Old")

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

Returning to the dysfunctional family dynamic and generational saga of Anna and the Wolves in its psychological exposition into the root of ingrained human cruelty and repression, Mama Turns 100 Years Old is a wry, eccentric, and provocative, if underformed satire on the latent trauma and moral repercussions of emotional subjugation, manipulation, and corruption. On the eve of the indomitable family matriarch, Mama's (Rafaela Aparicio) centenary, former domestic servant Ana (Geraldine Chaplin), now the happily settled wife of a devoted, bohemian husband named Antonio (Norman Briski), has received a personal invitation from Mama herself to stay as a guest in the secluded family estate and celebrate the festivities - an unexpected request that, as Mama subsequently reveals, stems from the inescapable conviction that her family, goaded in part by her conniving daughter-in-law, Luchi (Charo Soriano) and enabled by her dotty, gullible son, Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez), has been underhandedly plotting to kill her before she reaches the all-important milestone. However, as Ana and Antonio alternately settle into their awkward roles as accommodating guests of absurd, idiosyncratic rituals and bemused observers of a deeply rended (if superficially intact) familial intimacy, the couple, too, inevitably becomes caught up in the corrosive atmosphere of petty infighting, superficial civility, aimless distraction, nebulous alliances, and emotional deception (a figurative entrapment that is visually encapsulated in Anna accidentally stepping into a rabbit trap within the estate grounds). As in Anna and the Wolves, Saura seamlessly interweaves oneiric images (including the addition of excerpts from the preceding film) and elements of magical realism to illustrate the integral correlation between psychological trauma and physical (and behavioral) manifestation. Concluding with the truncated shot of Mama figuratively casting out the scheming relatives from her immediate circle, the surreal parting image becomes that, not of banishment from paradise, but a reluctant liberation from the performance of a grotesque, dehumanizing charade.

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

Lightness doesn't come easily to Carlos Saura, comedy even post-Franco will feature vengeful dissonance. Ana the governess (Geraldine Chaplin) is resurrected to visit the family responsible for her demise in Ana and the Wolves, she's welcomed with hugs and kisses on the eve of Mama's (Rafaela Aparicio) centennial birthday. Chaplin ponders the passage of six years before a mirror, her husband (Norman Briski) looks down from the balcony and an orange hanglider fills the screen, manned by the dotty uncle (Fernando Fernández Gómez) and crashed before quite taking flight, all punctuated by Schubert. The clan also includes frigid daughter-in-law Charo Soriano, absent son José Vivó (magically summoned to supper in a casual Ordet spoof) and prematurely conniving granddaughter Ángeles Torres; Mama is vigorously querulous but her relatives have decided she has lived long enough, besides they need her dead to split the property. The acerbic mood is that of Cría Cuervos and Garden of the Delights, sad-eyed despite the jesting Saura stages in elaborate daisy-chains -- Chaplin and Briski share a bed, she hogs the covers and literally kicks him out in another overhead shot, his fall knocks water from a jar into his slipper (poured back into a glass, accordingly) and sends him into horny niece Amparo Muñoz's crimson-walled bedroom. The military lunatic from the first film is wept over as a "good son," another acrid note is rung as the family opens costume chests in the attic and play dress-up: the wee daughter (Elisa Nandi) ecstatically sniffs mothballs while Soriano and Muñoz fight over a revealing slip, Vivó savors the show from behind a dilapidated confessional. "What a future awaits you," it is sighted to the young, yet Saura suggests a strangely hopeful discharge in the foregrounding of the characters' duplicitous charades -- a portrait of familial resilience is uncynically fashioned in the final, receding tracking shot, even if the traps around the mansion are reminders that Ana is still among the wolves. With Rita Maiden, and Monique Ciron.

DEPRISA, DEPRISA (Fast, Fast)

Spain  France  (99 mi)  1981  ‘Scope

 

Fast, Fast  Time Out London

Meandering through the suburbs of Madrid and its empty hinterlands, an episodic plot follows the sex, drugs and crime life-style of four felonious but likeable punks (played by real-life delinquents, two of whom were later apprehended for robbing banks). A teen-gang movie, and in many ways an unassuming genre piece, but mercifully free of moralising. Distinguished by an inventive soundtrack and stirring flamenco music score, and a mobile, intimate camera that follows its characters like a shadow, closely capturing not only action but reaction, ephemeral moments of camaraderie, friction and a perfidious 'freedom': fast living, leisurely observed.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Prof_Lostiswitz from Cyberia

This movie makes beautiful use of Flamenco music, and does it better than any I've seen. Carlos Saura obviously cares deeply about the medium, as he also made a movie called Flamenco (although it's just a concert piece).

The story is very basic; it deals with the adventures of young street-criminals in Madrid who graduate from car-theft to bank-robbery. What's interesting is the way Saura makes us care about these "hijos de nadie", who are kind and decent people 50% of the time, and feel they have no future in regular society. But the movie never sentimentalizes them - they do exactly what you'd expect such people to do.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum; a lot of the communication is via the graceful gestures the Spanish are so good at. This allows extra time for the soundtrack, and it really gets you into the spirit of the film, which is really more like dance than acting.

Flamenco originated among the dispossessed, among beggars and gypsies condemned to live in waste places and junkyards on the edge of town, and the scenes of the barren housing-projects on the fringes of Madrid really bring this feeling to life.

Deprisa, Deprisa conveys a better understanding of the spirit of Flamenco than more elegant movies dedicated to the subject. (And Carlos Saura is a genius).

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

Inasmuch as Hou Hsiao Hsien's Goodbye South Goodbye, Nagisa Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth, and Theo Angelopoulos' The Beekeeper capture the rootlessness of a morally stunted, lost generation that has come of age at a time of profound political and cultural transformation, the reckless, thrill-seeking, young anti-heroes of Carlos Saura's Deprisa, Deprisa also indirectly bear the scars of a life lived in the periphery - paradoxically insulated from the tyranny of institutional rule, but also divorced from the inured resilience engendered by its imposed sense of order. The film opens to the metaphoric image of imposed separation: the perpetration of a car theft by a seemingly experienced hotwirer Meca (Jesús Arias) and designated lookout Pablo (José Antonio Valdelomar) as the two, caught in the act by the owner, roll up the windows and lock the doors to prevent intrusion. Helplessly trapped inside the troublesome vehicle by a mob that has now closed in around them, the pair forces a clear path through the crowd by brandishing a gun, before inevitably making their escape into the street. But the stolen car only proves to be the first step in a more elaborate scheme. Spotting an attractive waitress named Ángela (Berta Socuéllamos) at a local cafeteria, Pablo is immediately captivated by the receptive (and equally restless) young woman, who soon becomes his lover and subsequently, inducts her into their gang after an afternoon of makeshift target shooting (and a reluctant agreement from a third accomplice, Sebas (José María Hervás Roldán) who questions a woman's capacity for ruthlessness). Alternately spending their idle time at discotheques and video arcades, acting on their impulsive whims, and succumbing to the intoxication of drug use, the emboldened quartet begins to stage an ever-escalating series of hold-ups throughout the city, with increasingly lucrative, and inevitably tragic results. Revisiting the recurring themes of machismo and displaced aggression that pervade Saura's oeuvre (and first introduced in his groundbreaking allegory, The Hunt) into a provocative exposition on the legacy of disenfranchisement, violence, and arrested development (a theme that also pervades Cría Cuevos) in contemporary, post-Franco Spain, Deprisa, Deprisa is also a raw and sobering portrait of a generation at an existential crossroads, struggling to find mooring and direction in an uncertain climate of transformative, social revolution, as the nation emerged from the repression of fascism towards the liberalization of democracy. Inevitably, it is this dichotomy that is reflected in the recurring image of passing trains that bisect the horizon - a perennial view from the public housing suburb outside the city where Pablo and Ángela live - a visual bifurcation that illustrates, not only their socioeconomic marginality, but also exposes their irreparable moral fissure.

BLOOD WEDDING (Bodas de sangre)

Spain  (71 mi)  1981

 

Blood Wedding  Time Out London

Choreographed by Gades from the play by Lorca, with Saura recording not the polished final production but a day-lit dress rehearsal in a bare studio with no scenery and minimal props. This visual austerity accentuates gesture, ceremony and convention, in both the ballet itself (a drama of outraged honour and revenge) and the dancers' parallel, ritual preparations for performance. Saura uses cinematic effects sparingly, at dramatic highpoints (in particular the climactic knife-fight, filmed in a vertiginous circular tracking shot) which draw the viewer from beyond the metaphorical footlights into the very heart of passion and desire. Dance-lovers will need no further encouragement, but it's seductive enough to fascinate even balletophobes.

Cinepassion.org [Fernando F. Croce]

Dance as cultural remembrance and exorcism. The libretto is Federico García Lorca’s, Carlos Saura gives it an incantatory reading. Dressing-room mirrors are lit up one by one, the performers file in from an unseen outside world. The camera lingers on the dancers lost in action (fastening on wigs, removing snapshots from makeup kits) then tries to stare down the flamenco rooster, Antonio Gades, who smokes and applies mascara and recounts his beginnings in professional choreography ("I really began dancing out of hunger"). The bare rehearsal loft is an amphitheater, with wall-length mirror and wooden floors to bear the stomping of soles. Gades’s instructions during warm-up are banal ("So-so. The end was weak... Don’t raise your eyebrows"), the performers (and Saura’s camera) finally take off once they move into a run-through of the production. (A moment of relief: Exchanging costumes backstage, Cristina Hoyos confides her nervousness to another dancer.) García Lorca’s tale of feuding clans and doomed lovers is both a suppressed memento from the Franco regime and a totem of Andalusian macho folklore. The bride (Hoyos) leaves the groom (Juan Antonio Jiménez) for her lover (Gades), the groom’s mother (Pilar Cárdenas) hands the cuckold his knife, the pantomimed duel is shot with a languidly spiraling camera. Tigerish strides, heavy-lidded glances, rhythmic finger-snapping. Sinuous undulation is the basis of Saura’s distillation -- the betrayed wife’s (Carmen Villena) accusation during the matrimonial shivaree consists of a finger wordlessly raised in a luxuriant arch, Gades’s flexing legs and puffed-up chest are made to embody a century of masculine theatricality. The ritualized aggression from the past is danced to, but not easily shed; the film closes in the studio-arena, everybody still "in character." Cinematography by Teodoro Escamilla.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Logical Mind [Bob Turnbull]

 

I hadn't heard of Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy when Criterion's new Eclipse line of releases announced it several months back, but I was immediately curious. I find that dance on film can be incredibly exciting and visceral. For example, Robert Altman's "The Company" may not have a great story, but the dance sequences are glorious.

So I popped in the first of the three Saura films with pretty high expectations - and had them all exceeded. I knew right away that I wanted to post something about it, but I don't know how much I can say (or even show via screencaps) that will get across the experience. The film is all about movement and rhythm and drama writ large. There's the quick, sharp, slashing motions of arms and legs for exclamation; the whips of heads turning in sync with snapping fingers; a smoothly raised leg pausing just ever so slightly at the top of its arc; pleading expressions on faces; THE MUSIC; etc. It's quite exhilarating.

It opens with a 15 minute sequence of the dancers and musicians arriving at a rehearsal hall with all their gear - makeup, outfits, personal belongings. We watch them slowly prepare to move out to the dance floor.

 

The leader of the troop is Antonio Gades - a striking figure who leads the group through some warmup exercises throughout the next 10 minutes of the film. The ease with which these people accomplish the moves he lays down for them is, frankly, damn annoying. Dancing for them is like breathing for the rest of us. Within the warmups, there's a section where the dancers spin across the floor one by one. Even though it's just a practice exercise, you can see several of them immediately throw grand dramatic expressions on their faces as they begin the movements. It just seems to be ingrained in them.

 

After another short prep sequence, the remaining 40 minutes of the film is devoted to a full dress rehearsal of the Federico Garcia Lorca play of the film's title - adapted for dance and song. Setting a single motionless camera to capture the whole performance would've made for an excellent film, but Saura brings the camera right into the thick of things and adds to the fluidity of the dancers' movements. He captures their expressions in closeups, slides the camera along the floor with the whole group and brings attention to various body parts. It's never flashy but it's incredibly effective.

 

The story is pretty simple and much is conveyed via the dancers' expressions and through the lyrics of the songs (there's almost no spoken dialog in the play). On the day of her wedding, a woman runs off with her lover who has also abandoned his own spouse. The newly wed husband persues the couple and challenges the other man to a knife fight with not unpredictable results. That basic story allows for a number of other issues to come out such as the role women have in this particular society...Which is to say the role they DON'T have - that of choice makers. As well, men are also expected to take on certain roles, the biggest of which is to behave as MEN. This of course leads to the confrontation of the husband and lover.

The 6 minute knife fight that closes out the story is quite extraordinary. The entire sequence is done in silence and slow motion - not by slowing down the film, but by the dancers themselves smoothly stepping through the well choreographed fight at about 1/8 speed. I can't even imagine the incredible strength and control it must take to move like that for that long a period of time - bending, stretching, balancing and never being able to relax into normal body movements.

 

It's a remarkable work of art. I can't wait to see the remaining films.

 

Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, October 15, 2007

 

Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy - The Criterion ...  The Criterion Collection, also seen here:   Blood Wedding 

 

A Journey Through The Eclipse Series: Carlos Saura’s Blood Wedding  David Blakeslee from The Criterion Cast, September 27, 2010

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

Passport Cinema [A.J. Hakari]

 

DVD Talk - Eclipse Series [Jamie S. Rich]  Flamenco Trilogy (Criterion Collection), also seen here:  Criterion Confessions

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)  Flamenco Trilogy (Criterion Collection)

 

DVD Verdict- Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy: Criterion Collection [William Lee]

 

Strange Horizons Columns: Intertitles: "A Strange and Savage ...  Genevieve Valentine on the Flamenco Trilogy from Strange Horizons, May 9, 2011, also here:  glvalentine: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Pablo from Seattle

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Darragh O' Donoghue (hitch1899_@hotmail.com) from Dublin, Ireland

 

'BLOOD WEDDING' - Review - NYTimes.com  Janet Maslin, October 25, 1981

 

DVDBeaver [Gary Tooze]

 

DULCES HORAS (Sweet Hours)

Spain  France  (106 mi)  1982

 

Sweet Hours | Chicago Reader  Dave Kehr

Carlos Saura's 1982 film introduces an unexpected strain of warmth and humor in his work. The scrambled time schemes and Freudian conundrums of Cria and The Garden of Delights are still there, but they lose some of their academic obdurateness under a glow of playfulness and philosophical acceptance. The elegantly effete Inaki Aierra stars as a playwright trying to work out his long-standing love affair with his manipulative mother through a new theater work, the rehearsals of which are being held in his boyhood home. Flashbacks mingle with episodes from the present as he enters into an affair with the actress he has cast as his mother, the radiant Assumpta Serna. Saura's ingrained formalism finally pays off with a beautifully conceived modernist finale, which mocks the film's themes of regression just as it idealizes and embraces them.

User reviews  from imdb Author: GrandeMarguerite from Lille, France

In this film, directed in 1982, Carlos Saura deals once again with some of his favorite subjects : Spain during wartime, family matters, suicide, memories. "Sweet Hours" is reminiscent especially of some of the films Saura has directed in the early 70s, "Cousin Angelica" and also to some extent "Cría Cuervos". With a rather complex plot structure, Saura evokes Spain's tormented memories of the Civil War and the years which followed Franco's victory as well as the hidden conflicts which may occur in a family.

"Each person is an entity made of memories. Even if one doesn't want to, we're made by the past" once stated Saura in an interview. Juan Sahagún (Iñaki Aierra) would certainly agree with this theory. In "Sweet Hours", Juan Sahagún is a writer who often takes refuge in the past. He is tormented by it -- by memories of his elderly father who went off to South America and by memories of his young and beautiful mother who committed suicide in 1942. Therefore he has written an autobiographical play, Sweet Hours, which contains some of the key scenes of his childhood. The play is in rehearsal and Juan attends the sessions, following a regressive and romanticizing impulse to rebuild his own "sweet hours" by slipping in and out of the actors' reconstructions and his own memories. He even falls in love with Berta (Assumpta Serna), the young actress who is rehearsing the role of his mother and who bears a striking resemblance with her. But the past is never quite as attractive as you imagine it. Juan's sister, Marta (Isabel Mestres), feels that her brother idolizes someone who never really deserved unconditional love. In order to dispel her brother's errors, Marta gives him the correspondence between their parents written during the period when their father was in Argentina. Marta is certain that the letters will work as an eye-opener by revealing a domineering and slightly mischievous matriarch who actually drove her husband to abandon her…

It is a bit strange to see that "Sweet Hours" has fallen into a sort of oblivion today. It was one of the first Spanish films I watched as a teenager, around 1984; I don't think it has been featured on a national TV channel here ever since. As I was learning Spanish at school with a teacher I was very fond of, I guess I was ready to love everything this teacher would show us. I remember that it was quite a challenging film to watch for 15-year-old kids, but Saura was regarded as THE great Spanish director by then (along with Buñuel), Almódovar still being unknown outside Spain at that time. Although "Sweet Hours" is one of the most complex films Saura has written, his narrative strategy is relatively simple : Juan is a grown man in the drama, a pre-teen boy in the flashbacks – but this could be confusing to a not-so-mature audience. Nevertheless, I have always thought that "Sweet Hours" had a charm of his own. Since it is a film I had recorded for my Spanish class, I had kept the videotape so I could watch it again to write this review. The experience proved to be an interesting one as I could compare my memories and what I saw on screen. I think I never perceived right the Oedipal subtext when I first watched the film some 25 years ago, when actually it is quite obvious ! As a matter of fact, the mother-son relationship could be the most shocking part of the film to some people, although Saura deals with the theme of incestuous desire in a delicate way. Yet, the film's real subject is the danger of nostalgia. Juan has not only a distorted image of his mother, he also remembers the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War as "the good old days" via the warm recollections of his family. Ironically enough, we soon learn that Juan comes from a Fascist family through scenes in which the Nationalist cause and conservatism are either ridiculed or presented via petty characters, such as Tío Angelito and Juan's grandmother. "Sweet Hours" tells us about Juan's emancipation from nostalgia, yet the whole film can be seen as a metaphor for Spain: the country had to liberate itself from its Fascist past to be able to face its future. For that matter, "Sweet Hours" can be regarded as the last film in a series where Saura uses memories of the Civil Spanish War to depict a bourgeoisie asphyxiated by militarism, sexual taboos and religious fanaticism. After the release of "Sweet Hours", Saura felt free enough to move on with a totally different film on flamenco, "Carmen" -- one of his greatest triumphs.

Movie Review - Sweet Hours - CARLOS SAURA'S 'SWEET HOURS ...  Janet Maslin from The New York Times, October 22, 1982

 

CARMEN

Spain  (101 mi)  1983

 

Carmen  Time Out London

Saura's Carmen is a Spaniard's examination of the story which did for Spain what the Hovis ads did for Yorkshire. Like his earlier Blood Wedding, it explores the legend through various forms of popular Spanish dance and folk-song, entirely transposing Bizet's music. The result is as visually exhilarating as the earlier film, but far more complex in its ambitions and achievements. Mingling dance rehearsals with sexual encounters, real fights with choreographed rumbles, and producing a hilarious pastiche of the dreadful 'March of the Toreadors', Carmen is both a new kind of musical and marvellous cinema.

Carmen  Dave Kehr from The Chicago Reader

While producing a ballet of Carmen, a choreographer (Antonio Gades) finds himself reenacting the tempestuous plot with his passionate leading lady (Laura del Sol). The obviousness of the idea is exceeded only by the triteness of execution in this 1983 film by Carlos Saura (Tango); just enough pretentiousness is laid over the sterile concept to make it a real classy night out for the folks who've been yearning to see an “art film.” The dancing is not so bad, and it might have been interesting to see how it was developed, but Saura isn't concerned with anything as mundane as the creative process: the action is set in a rehearsal hall, but nobody rehearses. Instead, Saura is after the big enchilada: the film reveals, to the astonishment of all concerned, that Life Imitates Art. Del Sol is a born smolderer, but Gades's constant preening takes the edge off whatever eroticism Saura is able to stir. R, 102 min.

Carlos Saura's "Carmen" | clivejames.com

At the flamenco dance school which forms the master setting for Carlos Saura’s movie version of the Antonio Gades stage show Carmen, the rehearsal for the tobacco factory scene should be enough to drive the new viewer in search of the DVD that will yield the complete miracle. One of the greatest dance movies ever made, Carmen powerfully suggests that if Saura’s other dance movies had been danced to flamenco on wooden floors they would have been miraculous too. But in his Amor Brujo the flamenco dancers dance on sand, thereby removing three-quarters of the impulse, and his tango movie (called simply Tango) is miles off: Saura’s true talent is for filming dancers in groups, and the tango is not a group dance. Nevertheless, in Carmen even the solo and pairs dancing – all the choreography is by the movie’s leading man, Gades  – is sufficiently sensational, and the group dancing, as in this extract, is beyond praise. Saura’s title-role star, Laura del Sol, is so vividly beautiful she might have carried the movie even if it had been about double-entry bookkeeping, but in the tobacco-factory scene she blends in, and the essence of a truly fabulous movie is all here in a few short minutes. 

Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, October 15, 2007

 

Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy  The Criterion Collection

 

Vengo  Reflections on Saura's Carmen, excerpt from Flamenco Music and National Identity in Spain, by William Washabaugh, 2011

 

A Journey Through the Eclipse Series: Carlos Saura’s Carmen  David Blakeslee from The Criterion Cast, December 20, 2010

 

Love is a Rebellious Bird - Carlos Saura Dance Trilogy Part 1 ...  Metalluk from Epinions

 

DVD Times  Nat Turnbridge

 

Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]

 

Passport Cinema [A.J. Hakari]

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello                       

 

Desert Island Movie #9: Carlos Saura's Carmen « Cinema Station  April 19, 2011

 

DVD Talk - Eclipse Series [Jamie S. Rich]  Flamenco Trilogy (Criterion Collection), also seen here:  Criterion Confessions

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)  Flamenco Trilogy (Criterion Collection)

 

DVD Verdict- Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy: Criterion Collection [William Lee]

 

Strange Horizons Columns: Intertitles: "A Strange and Savage ...  Genevieve Valentine on the Flamenco Trilogy from Strange Horizons, May 9, 2011, also here:  glvalentine: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Michael Coy (michael.coy@virgin.net) from London, England

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Geofbob from London, England

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Galina from Virginia, USA

 

DVDBeaver [Gary Tooze]

 

LOS ZANCOS (The Stilts)

Spain  (95 mi)  1984

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

A somber, despondent, middle-aged university professor and respected playwright named Ángel (Fernando Fernán Gómez) returns to a large, empty country cottage that has been covered and secured for the season, perhaps the first time that he has returned since the untimely death of his wife and children. Restless in his sleep and haunted by the memories of his lost family, Ángel impulsive decides to burn his manuscripts (whose authorship undoubtedly contributed to his estrangement from his family, even in life) - a figurative act of self-erasure that soon escalates to a suicide attempt. Locking himself in the propane tank storage room at the base of the house and opening the valves of all the cylinders, Ángel prepares to light the fatal match as the room fills with gas when he is caught in the act by his new neighbor, a school teacher named Teresa (Laura del Sol) who has coincidentally stopped by to introduce herself and borrow a bottle of wine. Inviting him over to meet her husband, Alberto (Antonio Banderas), an artist and aspiring actor from a traveling performance art troupe called The Stilts (named after their idiosyncratic use of prop stilts in their performances) who stage commissioned, harlequin, experimental street plays to entertain the public, Ángel is immediately captivated by the genial and attentive Teresa, drawn together by the shared intimacy of her respectful silence over his suicide attempt, and Antonio's sincere entreaties to author a script for the troupe for an upcoming children's engagement at a local park. Gradually emerging from his loneliness by a renewed sense of purpose, and deeply touched by their struggling, but seemingly idyllic, bohemian existence, Ángel begins to insinuate himself into the couple's life in an attempt to win Teresa's heart, a seemingly impossible, quixotic quest that drives him further into the darkness of his despair. Revisiting the themes of emotional displacement and projected desire of his earlier films, Peppermint Frappé and Carmen, and evoking the generational disconnection and rootlessness of Deprisa, Deprisa, The Stilts is a dreamlike and surreal, yet pensive, articulate, and understatedly resonant portrait of loss, grief, and healing. Juxtaposing the stilt performers' whimsical, absurdist fantasies with the moribund immediacy of Ángel's melancholy and isolation, the film becomes a lucid parable for the human imperative to reconnect with its own collective soul in the wake of profound tragedy - a metaphoric shedding of aloof and distancing escapist stilts that inevitably becomes a symbol for Ángel's own figurative return to the process of life on earth - a spiritual re-engagement with the travails and rapture of an imperfect, but redemptive but existence.

EL AMOR BRUJO (Love the Magician)

Spain  (103 mi)  1986

 

A Love Bewitched  Time Out London

 

The third collaboration between Saura and choreographer Gades, once again teeming with hot gypsy passions. But this one suffers from high-styled pretensions, and is short-circuited by non-musical scenes that have all the subtlety of old-fashioned, flaring-nostrils melodrama. The story is a supernatural love triangle about a woman possessed by the soul of her dead husband and pursued by the man who murdered him. The camera-work is straightforward and strong, the dance sizzling and authentic; but as with most series, Flamenco III isn't quite as satisfying as its predecessors.

 

El amor brujo | Chicago Reader  Pat Graham

Carlos Saura's adaptation of Manuel de Falla's flamenco ballet. What the continuing spate of dance films from this director (Blood Wedding) has to do with cinematic artistry remains a mystery, though here at least some of his old surrealism resurfaces to counterpoint the indifferent choreography. There's an air of primal brooding in Saura's playing with the elements of archetypal magic—fire, wind, rain—and the artificial, closed-in styling (in a tight studio container, complete with eerie scrim lighting and insistent wind machine) suggests an affinity for Val Lewton-ish forms of supernatural unsettlement. Unfortunately, the surreal all too quickly becomes the earthbound whenever the dancing starts, and the potboiler emphases of the story line aren't helped any by Saura's heavy dramatic hand. With Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Juan Antonio Jiminez (all a bit long in tooth for the youthful roles they play), and Laura del Sol (1986).

User reviews  from imdb Author: Dr. Michael J. McColley-Parmer (drparmer@ymail.com) from United States

Formalismo, that school of Hispanic literature that emphasizes form as function, or form over function, has little to do with Saura's EL AMOR BRUJO. This is Saura's final work in his flamenco trilogy that began with BODAS de SANGRE and includes CARMEN. As with those two films, Saura bases this cinematic ballet on a previous work, Manuel de Falla's EL AMOR BRUJO. The other two films in the trilogy were based on Lorca's BODAS de SANGRE and Merimee's and Bizet's novel and opera, CARMEN. These three classical works are not examples of formalismo. Rather, they are prime examples of both the realistic and impressionistic schools of literature which under the creative mastery of Saura become sensual re-creations of love, passion, betrayal, and death. The love stories here supercede form and attain a thematic content worthy of the great literary works they portray. The starkness of the set is for symbolic purposes and not for form nor for function. The dilapidated, dusty set represents the emptiness of the soul that has lost great love, or has been deceived by a bewitching love. The set takes on color when Candela dances the Fire Dance, and again at the end when Lucia sacrifices herself to be the eternal lover of the bewitching ghost of Jose, thus setting Candela free from his cursed memory. Saura never lets us forget the tension between reality and fiction as the dawn rises on a new day over a theatrical set free of obsessions with death and love that bewitches the lover.

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

DANCE DRAMATIST Carlos Saura concludes his trilogy of flamenco folklorico with the disappointing "El Amor Brujo," an overblown adaptation of a simple Andalusian ghost story. Choreographer Antonio Gades, who collaborated with director Saura on both "Blood Wedding" and "Carmen," here graces the screen with his brooding portrayal of a star-crossed gypsy ghostbuster.

Agile and expert, his back arched like a sickle moon, Gades dances the demons away for his boyhood sweetheart (Cristina Hoyos), a widow possessed by the ghost of her husband (Juan Antonio Jimenez). The apparition's lifetime mistress (Laura del Sol) completes this romantic quadrangle, completed when the four were pre-adolescents.

The legend begins in accordance with gypsy custom, as a pair of drinking buddies pledge their children, Candela and Jose, in marriage. The fly in the paella here is Carmelo, who has adored Candela since childhood, and Lucia who eternally lusts after Jose.

Candela grows into a man, via time-lapse photography -- and, judging by appearances, 40 years fly by before the pivotal wedding. (Great dancers or no, Gades, Hoyos and Jimenez are well into middle-age, ludicrous as contemporaries of the youthful Del Sol's Lucia.)

Hoyos may bewitch an audience with her sensuous body and its fluent motion onstage, but the close-up lens is no friend of hers. And the same goes for Jimenez, undulating as the undead flamenco dancer Jose -- yet neither Lucia nor Candela (the dumbest heroine since Desdemona) can resist his come-ons. Candela loves Carmela who loves Jose who loves Lucia who is somewhat stuck on herself. It's "All My Gypsies."

Overlong at 100 minutes, this big-screen expansion of the original 27-minute ballet "Love, the Magician," is a statically paced departure from the stamping cadences of flamenco. The score, often at odds with both the choreography and the story, ranges from Spanish guitar riffs to barrio disco sung by a pair of senorita Supremes.

It all takes place in an under-stylized slum, full of corrugated-metal shacks and so many car carcasses that you keep expecting the Road Warrior to whiz by. But no such exuberance. Saura is intent on an exploration of structure -- he telegraphs his obsession with a lengthy opening shot of the sound stage. And "El Amor Brujo" suffers for his intransigence, remaining so stagey and distant that we rarely feel the flames

Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, October 15, 2007

 

Eclipse Series 6: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy - The Criterion ...  The Criterion Collection, also seen here:   El amor brujo 

 

DVD Talk - Eclipse Series [Jamie S. Rich]  Flamenco Trilogy (Criterion Collection), also seen here:  Criterion Confessions

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)  Flamenco Trilogy (Criterion Collection)

 

DVD Verdict- Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy: Criterion Collection [William Lee]

 

Strange Horizons Columns: Intertitles: "A Strange and Savage ...  Genevieve Valentine on the Flamenco Trilogy from Strange Horizons, May 9, 2011, also here:  glvalentine: Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA

 

TV Guide review

 

Movie Review - - FILM: CARLOS SAURA'S 'AMOR BRUJO' - NYTimes.com  Janet Maslin, December 23, 1986, also seen here:  New York Times [Janet Maslin] (registration req'd)

 

DVDBeaver [Gary Tooze]

 

EL DORADO

Spain  France  Italy  (149 mi)  1988  ‘Scope

 

El Dorado  Time Out London

Saura's account of Spain's quest for Peruvian gold differs from Herzog's Aguirre, Wrath of God in intention and budget. Loopy Lope de Aguirre and his conquistadors sail themselves up a creek without gold or paddle, decimated by unseen assailants, hostile environs, exhausted provisions, and mad, merciless self-slaughter. Aguirre (the excellent Antonutti) is a tired 50-year-old way down the military pecking order; if voice-overs suggest he sees himself as God's instrument, Saura portrays his murderous deeds asa product of the clashing forces of Spanish society. His attempt to demythologise this folie de grandeur within the conventions of the big budget epic (at $9 million, Spain's most expensive film to date) excels in evoking the destructive effects of sexual jealousy, envy, greed and the Spanish obsession with death. But despite lush 'Scope photography and the meticulous display of authentic armour and finery, the film is often oppressive, and too dependent on faces to communicate meaning, adding obscurity to something already complex and ambiguous. Not Saura's best, perhaps, but a fascinating attempt to get to the heart of myths, men and history.

User reviews  from imdb Author: rogornmoradan from León, Spain

Shot in Costa Rica in 1988, 'El Dorado' is one of a rare breed, a Spanish film about its own role in America in the 16th century. However, this film doesn't tell a story of glory and conquest, but one of failure and slow descent into madness.

The story is about an expedition down the Orinoco river in 1560, undertaken by Spanish soldiers with the aim of finding the famed land of El Dorado, where gold is supposedly plentiful. I suppose that it is not a spoiler to say that the place doesn't exist and that what the expeditioners find is something completely different.

The film is 142 minutes long, and not exactly action-packed, so a prospective viewer should realise that the leisurely pace is meant to reflect the utter boredom provoked by the long and uneventful days in the journey, but these 'dead' days, as in many expeditions, are punctuated by moments of high intensity and tension in which the travellers will have to react to the challenges thrown at them by the jungle... or by themselves. In this sense the film is a study on how to face (or not) insurmountable obstacles in extreme conditions, in particular when greed, pride and lust are thrown into the mix.

The filming on location does half the job for the film-makers. The river and the jungle are like one additional character, and one can feel the stuffy Old-worlders slowly stewing under their heavy shirts and armour as the days pass. I find a bit of fault with the way Lope de Aguirre, the main character, is played. The film goes for understated menace from a quietly unscrupulous man, which ends up adding to the slowness of the film. Of course, that's the director's choice, but I feel that a bit of energy and feeling of danger coming from the villain of the piece would have been welcome.

All in all, it's an effort that meant a lot for Spanish cinema in the 1980s, having been filmed only four years before the 5th centenary of the discovery of America and just a decade into full democracy after the Franco dictatorship. But it if has to be enjoyed, one must come with 'Apocalypto' Mode firmly shut off.

El Dorado (1988) by Carlos Saura  Avax

 

Movie Review - El Dorado - 'Patty' Launches a Major Star - NYTimes.com  Vincent Canby, May 22, 1988

 

¡AY, CARMELA!

Spain  Italy  (102 mi)  1990

 

Ay! Carmela  Geoff Andrew at Time Out London

Saura's work has so often made tacit reference to the Spanish Civil War that one might reasonably expect this, his most direct look at the conflict to date, to be one of his more heartfelt efforts. It concerns a raggedy but enthusiastic cabaret trio - lusty Carmela (Maura), husband Paulino (Pajares), and their hapless, mute dogsbody (Diego) - who, in 1938, decide to take a break from entertaining Republicans on the Aragon front and retreat to a less beleaguered Valencia. But (surprise, surprise), lost after a foggy overnight drive, they find themselves behind enemy lines, where their only hope of escaping imprisonment or execution is to fake fidelity to Franco, and stage a show for his troops with lyrics and gags doctored accordingly. As political cinema, this exceedingly broad 'tragi-comedy' falls flat on its face, never moving beyond simplistic polarities and a concept of history as sentimental as it is falsely heroic. As drama, too, it fails to transcend maudlin stereotypes (both national and sexual), while its origins as a stage play are all too obvious, and the performances given to grotesque overstatement.

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

Song, dance and politics make clumsy partners in Carlos Saura's "Ay, Carmela," a surprisingly flatfooted tale from the director of such fleet flamenco movies as "Carmen" and "Blood Wedding." Set during the Spanish Civil War, the dramatic musical is the story of two freedom-loving vaudevillians who are captured and forced to entertain the fascist troops against their will.

Carmen Maura of "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" plays the title role with her usual flash and earnestness.

Unfortunately Carmela, a fiery chorine, sings and dances her way into danger, and Maura can neither carry a tune nor shake that thing. And dragging her long skirts behind her, she most recalls an anchored tanker.

Carmela, her husband, Paulino (Andres Pajares), and a mute assistant (Gabino Diego) they picked up on the roadside are enthusiastically entertaining the ragtag Republican troops as Franco's planes buzz menacingly overhead. When the show is over, the tired, hungry trio decides to drive for the relative safety of Valencia but is apprehended by Mussolini's soldiers along the way. Accused of spying, they are certain they'll be shot, when they are recruited to entertain instead.

Between rehearsals, getting their costumes together and the big, long, rather dreadful show, the ensemble enjoys the surplus of pasta and wine, and Carmela and her husband finally have a chance to make love. They call themselves "Carmela and Paulino's Elegant Variety Show," but they are a second-rate act obliged to perform third-rate material written by a fascist theater director.

Paulino is persuaded that cooperation will ensure their survival, but Carmela stubbornly refuses to compromise her principles. She is particularly offended by a coarse, anti-Republican skit, the finale of their evening performance. Who will win this battle of the beliefs? There's little doubt that it will be the strong-willed Carmela, that the consequences will be tragic, and that her decision will come only after several cornball numbers.

It doesn't help that dining, dancing and sudden death all merit the same emotional weight under Saura's cautious direction. Accustomed to the passions of flamenco, he seems constrained by his duty to history and his own faded memories of Guernica.

Pedro Sena

Carlos Saura has always been interested in dance, film, theatre, and many of the artistic forms which people have related to. He has depicted them in his films as a part of life, a very important part of life, that provides not only a spark, but also the means without which we are not capable of surviving.

It is no surprise, then, when this film deals with such a theme, and in a manner which is not pleasing, but this time, it is a compromise one has to make between life and death.

A pair of down on their luck actors, take up a small living, in exchange for food by providing entertainment for the troops ( the republicans ) that are fighting the forces supported by Mussolini, Hitler and Generalissimo Franco ( the nationalists ). When they are tired of a small town, and decide to go on to a larger place, life changes. While resting close to Valencia ( their destination ), they are approached by the advancing nationalists. They are arrested, and thrown in with all the others, only to be saved by an Italian commander who used to be a theatre director, and stage manager. He insists on the creation of material for his own troops, and all of a sudden the entertainers are forced to become real 'actors'. It's the only alternative to death. However, Carmella ( the wife ) has a bit of a big mouth and often speaks out, and this has a potential of getting them all in trouble. Needless to say, they don't win, or get very far, although the nationalists won all the battles and ruled until Franco's death in the seventies.

A bit of an oddity, for a Saura script, it is acted, in the spirit of a fun farce, and play, but it is deadly serious, and the characters are in danger at all times. All in all, it is a slow film, that requires the viewer's attention, because much of the dialogue is intended to create 'slips of the tongue' which is a very good, and strong acting tool. However, this attitude, often gets all of them in trouble, though the Italian commander, has a good enough sense of humor and understanding of things, to be able to disagree, and defend their position cleverly. And without, meaning to, both the audience, and the actors, are eventually forced, or resigned, to accept the inevitable solution. The life of the artists goes on. The art lives on. And a new government is now in power, though it got there by the gun.

A politically minded film, it really shows the sensitive side of an extremely volatile situation, and how one can deal with it, even if one disagrees with it. People do tend to stand up for life, given the choice. And the ensuing results are not always pleasant.

The acting is fun, and good. The film does not have much music in it, but it does have the political songs of the day, which at times are sung, and their lyrics keep the film moving. The subtitles, unfortunately do not do the original dialect any justice at all, so one really misses out on the actual flavor, and style of insulting an invading force, which renders the actors forced choice even more repugnant and disappointing. Taken out of the subtitles are the swearing, and the fowl language which these songs have.

The actors' original opinion on the nationalists is not very far from a pile of excrement. The subtitle, doesn't even come close to telling us what was really said.You may like to see this film, if you are a history buff, and have an interest in Spain, or if you want to practice your vernacular Castillian.

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

Frank Maloney

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: alejosj (fabriccasalazar@aol.com) from New York City

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Michael DeZubiria (miked32@hotmail.com) from Luoyang, China

 

Movie Review - Ay, Carmela! - Review/Film; Entertaining the Troops ...  Janet Maslin from The New York Times, February 8, 1991

 

EL SUR – made for TV

Spain  (60 mi)  1992

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Verox (veroolivera@hotmail.com) from Santiago, Chile

To see El Sur is like slipping as a guest into one of Jorge Luis Borges' tales. If you like this argentinian writer you'll like this movie, because El Sur is Borges quoting Borges, his melancolic solitude, his metaphysics dressed as poetry and, most of all, his eternal questions about reality and illusion. What is the result? an instant out of life which dilutes into dreamdom, whilst present mixes itself up with past. The lead character here is Juan Dahlmann, an obscure argentinian librarian from european heritage -much like the same writer in the 40's- who has consecrated to keep, in spite of economic difficulties, an old property at the south of Buenos Aires province. His life passes by way of his work and his reading, he recites from memory `Martín Fierro' (the most famous work of the writer -also argentinian- José Hernández) and is dazzled by a rare edition of the Arabian Nights, both books did fascinate Borges, both books about voyages.And so Dahlmann travels, after an accident, to the `estancia' of his elders, in an initiatic tour which will bring him to face his identity and face the Pampa, where his past and his fate awaits him, to face Buenos Aires suburbs, a South that is filled with barbaric, fearsome and rough knifes who duel the cultish highbrowish North of the erudits, the capital of libraries and china cups. ¿Why else did I liked this movie? Because is true art house cinema, the speed of the narrative is at the same time slow and undefatigable as life itself, following strange turns instead of a straight line.

Finally, I do have a very personal reason to my enjoyment during the 60 minutes I spent in front of the TV. It really got me, from the very beginning, the voice over with his cadentious and raw spanish with argentinian accent, loaded with melancoly, seamlessly caressing every word, embracing its millions of meanings, until you feel like, for an instant, everything makes perfect sense.

SEVILLANAS

Spain  (53 mi)  1992

 

Sevillanas  Geoff Andrew at Time Out London

 

Yet another Saura excursion into flamenco (though this time without a story), this simply works its way through various dance and musical forms, using solos, duets and ensemble pieces performed in stark rooms, to paint a picture of a popular culture that appeals to all ages and types. It's all elegantly shot, of course, and there's a certain fascination in seeing OAP's strutting their stuff; but after a while, the accent on variety actually becomes tedious, so that one finally feels exhausted by the endless parade of dancers proudly tossing their heads, waving their arms, twisting their wrists, and flashing their eyes.

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Keith F. Hatcher from La Rioja, Spain

For `Sevillanas' Carmen Saura had not much option but to use a documentary form, as he simply linked together in no order a dozen flamenco artists - singers, dancers and guitarists - in a bare 50 minutes. The result is short and sweet, but evidently brings no depth to the subject: you might just be watching one of those `canned' ready-made musical programmes which are not much more than several video clips strung together and hurled at you from one of those sky channels.

The film has its moments: above all the duet with Manolo Sanlúcar and Paco de Lucía - which of course was far too brief. One cannot describe the deep empathy that flows between musicians playing this kind of music. You have to watch it and feel it. I will deal more lengthily on this matter in my comments on the biographical documentary of Paco de Lucía in about a week or so when it appears on IMDb. The documentary was shown here together with `Sevillanas' in a thematic programme dedicated to this great musician.

`Sevillanas' is a job half done for those of us who seriously would like a wider exploration of these exceptional musical forms, so unique to Spain, but now so universally acclaimed. Another fifty-odd minutes might have done something to remedy this feeling. In `Calle 54' (qv) Fernando Trueba did a much better job of exploring contemporary Hispanic jazz, an exquisite jewel.

¡DISPARA! (Outrage)

Spain  Italy  (108 mi)  1993  ‘Scope

 

Dragan Antulov

Among all countries of Continental Europe, Spain can be most proud of its film industry today. Viewers sceptical towards non- Hollywood films are more likely to watch Spanish than any other European film. This phenomenon should be credited to the younger generation of Spanish filmmakers - people who didn't hesitate to embrace such non-European concept like Hollywood genre films and later gave them local flavour. Before those youngsters Spanish cinema rested on the shoulders of the more traditional filmmakers whose work consisted of non-commercial pieces similar to their European counterparts. Best known among them was Carlos Saura, "Oscar"-awarded filmmaker specialised in social dramas. However, despite all of his past glory, Saura seems out of touch with present Spanish cinema and SHOOT!, his 1993 drama, is one of the examples.

Protagonist of the film is Ana (played by Francesca Neri), beautiful circus performer whose specialty is equestrian marksmanship. Her circus travels around Europe and comes to Madrid. Marcos (played by Antonio Banderas) is a journalist who visits circus in order to write an article about it. He meets Ana and two of them fall in love with each other. Marcos is so smitten with Ana that he considers quitting his journalistic career and following Ana's circus instead. But before he is able to make this decision, Ana is brutally attacked, raped and sodomised by three young auto- mechanics. Still in shock, Ana decides to employ deadly skills in order to take revenge on rapists. This event triggers another cycle of violence.

It seems that Saura and his co-writer Enzo Monteleone tried to make some kind of "European" version of THELMA & LOUISE and replace Hollywood glamour and cheap feminism with more seriousness and naturalism. Because of that, the rape scene in the film is extremely disturbing and painful to watch. But only slightly painful is the rest of the plot which drowns itself in absurd and almost lartpourlartist violence and ends rather predictably. The viewers could somehow survive that if the plot and characters were somehow engaging. However, apart from Ana, played by Italian actress Francesca Neri (recently seen in couple of big budget Hollywood productions like HANNIBAL and COLLATERAL DAMAGE), all the other characters are bland, one-dimensional, forgettable or unnecessary. Even Antonio Banderas, who was supposed to be more at home while playing straightforward "normal" guy, seems to miss his mark and the lack of romantic chemistry between him and Neri is quite evident. Because of all that, all those who love Spanish cinema would think of SHOOT! as nothing more than one great miss.

HorrorYearbook [Molly Celaschi]

The story follows Ana (played wonderfully by the beautiful Francesca Neri) as a sharp shooter performing in the circus. She falls in love with a journalist named Marcos (Antonio Banderas). After a brutal rape and several murders later, she finds herself on the run with Marcos chasing after her.

The DVD story would have you believe that this is a typical Rape/ Revenge flick where the rape occurs early on and the rest of the film is the woman seeking vengeance. But the rape doesn’t occur until 40 minutes in giving the viewers plenty of time to get to know Ana and like her character. She looks like Rachel Weisz and is quite impulsive and quirky. Her character is very likeable and you will find her emotionally honest even when she is lying. This will make watching her downfall a little difficult to bear.

You watch Ana fall in love with Marcos, make love with him, and then you see the excitement in her eyes when she runs to her door one fateful night expecting Marcos on the other side. The gang rape is brutal, but most of the violence (outside of the rape) is implied. The revenge part takes place very soon after. The rest of the film is Ana and Marcos trying to reach each other one last time, making several mistakes along the way, and a very climactic reunion at the end.

Where the story veers into stupidity, is when Marcos sees the news story of the rapists murders, assumes Ana is the killer without even speaking to her, and then proceeds to rat on her instantly. That amore`. Soon after, Ana visits a doctor for her excessive bleeding (ahem, vaginal, due to the “bottle assault”), the doctor immediately calls the police on her the moment Ana leaves the room. Rape Advocacy, yeah! And get this…the doctor then goes on the radio giving the victims name and detailing her vaginal wounds! Ethics? We don’t need no stinking Ethics!

Ultimately, this film is incredibly depressing and bleak. The ending will not make you feel any better about what transpired before hand. The victim gets no justice and she is punished for being victimized. A cop even refers to her as “the bitch.”

Favorite Quote: "I said I'd follow you to Hell, well, here I am," spoken by Marcos to Ana after he finally catches up to her at the end.

DVD Extras: Scene Selection and brief Film Facts. There is an Italian and English dubbed version. The dubbed version is terrible and takes away from the atmosphere. Plus, I know what Antonio Banderas sounds like and I can assure you that was not it.

Bottom Line: Very dreary film with not much to recommend here except Francesca Neri's great performance.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: jotix100 from New York

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Gonzalo Melendez (gonz30) from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

Variety Reviews - Dispara! - Film Reviews - - Review by Deborah Young

 

FLAMENCO

Spain  (100 mi)  1995

 

Flamenco  Time Out London

Showcasing different styles and generations, and featuring 500 dancers, singers and guitarists from all walks of flamenco life (from Joaquín Cortés down), Saura's film is both an exciting document of a thriving Spanish art form and a boring documentary. Technically, it's dazzling. The setting, Seville's Plaza de Armas (a converted station), is revealed through Vittorio Storaro's cool, translucent rays of orange light suggesting the movement from dusk to dawn; there are mirrors, white panels, silhouettes. Surprising, then, that a film celebrating flamenco as a popular affair should offer so little contextualisation - and no subtitles - to a non-Spanish-speaking audience. Who are these people? What is this dance about? It's a valid artistic decision and preferable to cock-eyed translation, but what it gains in purity over most of Saura's other films, it loses in accessibility.

Film Scouts Reviews: Flamenco (de Carlos Saura)  Kathleen Carroll

Spanish director Carlos Saura celebrates the vigorous, intensely passionate music of his homeland in FLAMENCO. The pounding heels and raspy vocals may not be music to your ears. Nor are there any sub-titled explanations of the various dances and songs, each of which reflect the diverse styles and cultural influences of the flamenco.

Still with the brilliant cinematographer Vittorio Storaro making a substantial artistic contribution Saura demonstrates once more his amazing ability to transform dance into high drama on film. Using just lighting tricks to suggest the passing of time Saura stages what looks like an all-night flamenco marathon on the bare floors of an improvised sound stage. The 300 performers, ranging from superbly graceful women in vintage white lace dresses to veteran male singers with leathery, world-weary faces, are almost all electrifying. But the show stopper is the incredibly sensuous farruca dance of the bare-chested Joaquin Cortes who will have audiences swooning in the aisles.

Flamenco  Jose Arroyo from Sight and Sound, August 2000                           

In the old Plaza de Armas train station in Seville some of the greatest exponents of flamenco show off their artistry by playing, dancing or singing in various styles including bulerías, guajiras, alegrías, soleas, tangos, villancicos and farrucas.

Review

While lovers of the musical mourn its passing in Hollywood, Carlos Saura - Spain's greatest director of art cinema in the 60s and 70s - has diligently produced a body of remarkable films in the genre. From the flamenco trilogy he made in the 80s (Bodas de sangre, Carmen and El amor brujo) to more recent forays such as Ay, Carmela!, Sevillanas and Tango, Saura has now spent 20 years paring down the musical, adapting it to Hispanic forms of music and dance and collaborating with the greatest dancers, choreographers and musicians of flamenco and tango. With the possible exceptions of Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris, 1951) and Bob Fosse (All that Jazz, 1979), no one has filmed dance better; certainly no one is doing it better now.

Flamenco is deceptively simple. Initially one wonders if it's a documentary. The setting is the old Plaza de Armas train station in Seville, transformed into an impromptu performance space. The structure of the film is quasi-educational: some of the most acclaimed contemporary performers demonstrate their virtuosity in the various styles flamenco takes, impressing us with the range, depth and expressivity of the form. The brief voiceover at the beginning tells us that flamenco has its roots in the mixture of peoples, religions and cultures in Andalusia in the south of Spain. There, a combination of Arabic jarachas, Greek choruses, Castilian epic poetry, Jewish lament and black music from Cuba (son) received a gypsy accent and developed into flamenco as we know it today.

We soon realise, however, that Flamenco is less a straight documentary than an intensely creative response to the aesthetic and cultural particularities of flamenco dance and music. Through its theatrical presentation, striking cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango in Paris, 1972) and minimal but vivid set design, Saura's mise en scène gives visual expression to flamenco's vibrancy. All the singers and dancers are filmed in front of modernist settings: brightly coloured circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. These shapes shift and blend within the frame to create a sparse but dramatic context for the performers; the visual strength of Saura's film thus lies in its formal hybridity and adaptability, both of which are essential properties of flamenco.

Saura also uses light and shadow as key elements in the look of the film. Dancers enter into the light, then disappear out of it and encircle it. The line of their bodies and their responses to the beat of the music are rhymed with or used as counterpoint to the play of light and shadow on screen. Mirrors create a sense of depth: feet are seen close-up while the rest of the body is visible as a reflection. Camera angles are chosen to capture formations of dancers while never losing sight of the individuals involved; camera movements similarly respect the bodies, skills and co-ordination of the dancers and the gathering force of symmetry. The editing is co-ordinated not only with music but with line.

Aspects of star persona aren't forgotten in the staging either: Joaquín Cortés, arguably the biggest star in the film, is shot at a distance distinctly greater than that of the other performers. Though his trademark long mane and bare chest are visible, the camera, in emphasising the body in movement (through medium long-shots) rather than the individual performer, draws our attention away from Cortés' show-business persona and highlights his impressive talents as a dancer.

Flamenco is a music of the dispossessed. While the dance is capable of describing and evoking fiery passions, these intense feelings are more often about bread than sex. Songs here tell of hunger, betrayal, Jesus being turned away from the inn. Flamenco's wail often reminds people of American blues because it articulates emotional and social wants and yet, through its raw and abundant expressive power, it simultaneously seems to answer these wants: shared singing and dancing thus offer a magical compensation.

In keeping with the utopian sensibilities of many Hollywood musicals, Saura shows us old dancing with young, professional performers alternating with people seemingly off the street, the haggard and worn dancing alongside the sleek and well nourished. By the end of the film, all these individual dancers and singers come together in a dance that breaks through previous scenes of individual pain into a joyous sharing. The dispossessed are here seen to come together in a community of plenty, immediacy, transparency and energy. Saura doesn't skimp on the pain that gives rise to and finds expression in so much flamenco; but working with a troupe of some of its best practitioners, he transforms it into art, and thus into a kind of joy. It's simple but it is so in a way only great films can be - simply great.

DVD Verdict Review - Flamenco  Bill Gibron

 

DVD Savant Review: Flamenco (de Carlos Saura)  Glenn Erickson

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Angus Wolfe Murray

 

Flamenco - Fulvue Drive-In.com  Nicholas Sheffo

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Michael Powe (michael@trollope.org) from Naugatuck CT USA

 

Variety.com [Deborah Young]

 

BBCi - Films  Michael Thomson

 

Flamenco  Sol Louis Siegel from the Philadelphia City Paper

 

San Francisco Examiner [Allan Ulrich]

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Octavio Roca]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden, April 25, 1997

 

Carlos Saura documentary - Flamenco in Andalucia - Spain  YouTube (5:30)

 

TAXI

Spain  (110 mi)  1996

 

Taxi  Nigel Floyd at Time Out London

Saura's first film scripted by another hand is a crude, uneven exposé of vigilante taxi drivers who spend their nights ridding Madrid of undesirables - blacks, gays and drug addicts. While it concentrates on the middle-aged cabbies' murderous conspiracy, the flesh-and-blood performances by Lys and Lopez fuse with Vittorio Storraro's crisp, almost futuristic cinematography, drawing us into their nocturnal world. However, once Santiago Tabernero's script shifts to the drippy teen romance between idealistic teenager Paz (Rubio) and her reluctantly racist/homophobic boyfriend Dani, matters go fuzzy at the edges. Only the instinctive power of 19-year-old newcomer Ingrid Rubio relieves the tedium of watching liberal sentiments fall into place.

Variety Reviews - Taxi - Film Reviews - - Review by Todd McCarthy

Modern European xenophobia and vigilantism receive a tiresome melodramatic expose in "Taxi." Impressive technique and some eye-catching performances keep Carlos Saura's latest pic watchable for a good part of its overlong running time, but a schematic, predictable script and unsatisfying denouement run this wannabe shocker into a ditch. Pic doesn't look to travel far internationally.

"There's too much garbage, and if nobody will sweep it up, we will," exclaims one of the leading characters, speaking for a group of like-minded taxi drivers. The garbage in question is not refuse on the streets of Madrid, but Arabs, blacks, drug-addicts, gays and all manner of deviants, whom the drivers have patriotically decided to pick up at night and violently dispatch.

Among the core group of death-squadders, a self-described "family," are Velasco (Angel de Andres Lopez), the smugly self-satisfied father of sexy, rebellious Paz (Ingrid Rubio), who begins driving when she flunks out of school; the lusty Reme (Agata Lys), whose hunky son Dani (Carlos Fuentes) is in military service and catches Paz's eye; Calero (Eusebio Lazaro), a vicious ex-cop and all-too-obvious symbol for Franco; and Nino, a fat, racist skinhead.

In between brutal assaults on targets whose looks the drivers don't like and arguments over tactics, quite a bit of time is given over to Paz's tense relationship with her father, who is so upset over her newly shaved head that he insists she wear a frightful blond wig.

Key sequence is a nocturnal attack by the hit squad on an Arab shantytown, with Dani, whose political thinking is not articulated, egged on by the others to kill a man. This senseless act gnaws at him, but he really becomes upset only when he finds that his racism gets in the way of his burgeoning romance with Paz.

For her part, Paz takes an amazingly long time to wake up to the political sentiments of her father's circle, especially after a protracted luncheon during which members of the Family can't restrain themselves from jerking into fascist salutes. When she finally sees things for what they are, the ruthless Calero insists that they are all doomed unless Paz is killed; pic quickly spirals down the drain from there.

Aside from turning this torn-from-the-headlines tale into such contrived melodrama, film's major problem would seem to be its decision to point the finger of blame so exclusively at the remnants of the Franco years. At one point, Calero, speaking of the Arabs, announces that "everything that's wrong with this country is their fault." But the picture takes an almost equally simplistic view, suggesting that it is the aging, leftover fascists who are stirring up all the trouble, and that with them out of the way, young people can be trusted to turn things in the right direction. It's an unrealistic, sentimental outlook, and quite unsatisfying as an analysis of the problem.

The feisty and fetching Rubio keeps the picture interesting to watch even when the events around her are going dramatically haywire. Fuentes has matinee idol looks, and Lys is a live wire as a sexy middle-aged mom with a cruel streak.

Lenser Vittorio Storaro, in his second collaboration with Saura, makes the many night scenes colorful and dramatic, while soundtrack of pop tunes is lively.

Taxi (1996) by Carlos Saura DVDRip Spanish  Avax Home

 

PAJARICO

Spain  (100 mi)  1997  ‘Scope

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: ctosangel-2 from Madrid, Spain

This film, made in Murcia (southeast of Spain) won the award Paoa in the International Festival of Cinema from Viña del Mar (Chile) in October'98, "for the sensitivity ant depth, the mood and the warm of the creation", said the jury. This jury unanimous decision was a surprise and deception between Alejandro Amenabar Spanish fans, who were awaiting the award for the "modern" Open Yours Eyes (a kind of Matrix with less money than the Wachowski's film).

User reviews  from imdb Author: Keith F. Hatcher from La Rioja, Spain

Another of those films in which young people - more or less ten year olds Alejandro Martínez and Dafne Fernández - begin to discern the world they live in with an awakening consciousness.

In this case 'Manu' is sent to a house full of relatives in Murcia, eastern Spain, while his parents work out a divorce. The house is peopled by some rather strange types, such as Tío Juan, who fantasises in being a painter, Tío Fernando, who is a cake-maker, plays the cello and is homosexual, and Tío Emilio, who has a biology laboratory deep down in the bowels of the building. If we add the elder cousin is dating a yonqui and that El Abuelo is three-quarters senile, recites poetry and disappears in his pyjamas, one readily fathoms some rather weird storytelling.

Saura manages it well, precisely because his story and directing keep everything skillfully in perspective, as well as the fact that he keeps the two children right in the middle of the angle and focussing of both the story itself and of course the filming. His choice of children is superb: both Alejandro as 'Manu' and Dafne as Fuensanta (literally `holy fountain'), hold your attention, above all for their ingenuously natural performances. Dafné Fernández one year later was under Saura's orders as Rosario, Goya's granddaughter, in what was to be somewhat fatefully titled for Paco Rabal `Goya in Bordeaux' - the city in which our grand old actor finally died.

I regret somewhat the too brief appearance by Rafael Ramírez; perhaps because I loved his performance in the TV series `Juncal' in which he worked so well with Rabal, the best `truhan' that Spanish films have ever produced.

This film is almost like a tribute to Paco Rabal, who was born in Murcia, a splendid, beautiful province of Spain, from its inland highlands sweeping down to the sparkling Mediterranean. His performance is quite good - for what there was of it: he doesn't appear until we are an hour into the film.

<From the gardens of Murcia, I bring you a flower..> he recites, while his mind bends and twists through barely-remembered, mostly forgotten vague shadows. He calmly continues eating his soup, despite the fact that Tío Emilio has swept everything away in a fit of rage.

Massó's music seems to limit itself to paying tribute to, or simply plagiarising, Joaquín Rodrigo, Fernando Sor and Tárrega, and the fragments of cello were indeed partitures by Bach.

There are certain other symbolisms present - such as when the Murcia Cathedral solemnly strikes five o'clock in the afternoon, and fragments of Alberdi's famous poem come to mind. This is absolutely in keeping with the intimist angle taken up by Saura for this little story, rather than the surrealism to which we are more accustomed from this Aragonese director.

<How beautiful is life, how beautiful is the sea; how well one is when one is well> muses the old grandfather on the beach.

Yes, but poor little 'Manu' would have preferred to stay with Fuensanta the rest of his life....

TANGO

Spain  Argentina  France  Germany  (115 mi)  1998  ‘Scope

 

Tango  Geoff Andrew at Time Out London

A tired, clumsy, imaginatively arthritic tribute to the expressive and romantic power of tango, this integrates well-performed but uninspired dance sequences into a flaccid, studio-bound narrative about a brilliant, uncompromising, ageing director (a self-portrait?) putting on a tango extravaganza and having problems with philistine producers, his grief over the loss of his wife to another man, and his feelings for a beautiful young dancer. True, the film tries to explore many different facets of tango, but it fails throughout; even Storaro's uninspired camerawork can't save an appallingly misguided ballet recreating the fate of Argentina's 'disappeared'. Banal musings on creativity, reactionary crap about sexual politics, tricksy gimmicks with mirrors and silhouettes, the narcissistic portrait of the artist - all this would be bad enough, but Saura doesn't even shoot the dance sequences with any feeling for framing, movement or rhythm.

Tango  Marjorie Baumgarten from The Austin Chronicle

Carlos Saura proves once again, as he did with his recent Flamenco and 1983's Carmen, that he is a master director of the dance film. In collaboration with his brilliant cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor) and Argentinean-born composer Lalo Schifren (Mission: Impossible), Saura has created a visual equivalent of the tango's intricacies, a dance which is described in the movie as “one body moving with four legs.” With screens and mirrors, silhouettes and filters, costumes and choreography, the movie is a rich, evocative blend of moods in which each tango encounter expresses something new and different. Tango is propped up with a familiar but threadbare storyline about a choreographer whose creations are reflections and portents of events in his real life. Much like the plot of All That Jazz, his love life provides the stuff of his creative impetus. His wife has taken up with another man which leaves him fitful until he falls under the sway of his new dancer, who is also the paramour of his mobster/backer. Rather than the plot, what carries the movie along are its varied and distinctive dance scenes. There are dances of seduction between men and women and a dance of seduction between two women, a dance of Argentina's founding settlers and a dance of the recent military regime's madness and its disappeared victims, a dance between children and a dance between street-gang fighters. The narrative flow is loose but always intriguing and a stimulant for the senses. Those who know the tango are sure to find more details in the film's paces, yet amazingly, those who, like myself, are totally unfamiliar with the dance's nuances will find themselves rapt with pleasure. At nearly two hours, Tango could use a little more substance to its plot, yet the chance to bask for two hours in the wizardry of Storaro's lighting and camerawork is a delight that should be seized at every opportunity.

Tango  Geoffrey Macnab from Sight and Sound, August 1999                         

Buenos Aires. Mario Suárez, a middle-aged theatre director, is left holed up in his apartment, licking his wounds when his girlfriend (and principal dancer) Laura leaves him. Seeking distraction, he throws himself into his next project, a musical about the tango. One evening, while meeting with his backers, he is introduced to a beautiful young woman, Elena, the girlfriend of his chief investor Angelo, a shady businessman with gangster connections. Angelo asks Mario to audition Elena. He does so and is immediately captivated by her. Eventually, he takes her out of the chorus and gives her a leading role. An affair develops between them, but the possessive Angelo has her followed all the time.

The investors are unhappy with some of Mario's dance sequences. They don't like a routine which criticises the violent military repression and torture of the past. Angelo has been given a small part, which he takes very seriously. The lines between fact and fiction begin to blur: during a scene in the musical showing immigrants newly arrived in Argentina, two men fight over Elena. She is stabbed. Only slowly do we realise that her death is not for real.

Review

In his autobiography, A Lifetime in Movies, Michael Powell writes about the idea of the composed film, in which music is the master, but is combined with emotion and acting to make a complete whole. Carlos Saura's Tango is just such a film. It relies far more heavily on colour, movement and music than on dialogue or characterisation. Like Powell's The Red Shoes (1948) or Saura's own, earlier dance movies (for instance, Blood Wedding or Carmen), it blurs the lines between rehearsal, real life and performance. And it is just about possible to trace a line between Powell's films and Tango. Late in his career, Powell worked as a consultant at Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope where cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who has shot four of Saura's films) was one of the key technicians. Storaro's lighting of some of the interiors in Tango, complete with iridescent colours and dramatic shadows, rekindles memories of equally stylised sequences he lensed for Coppola's One from the Heart.

Tango is nothing if not self-conscious. Yet another womanising, middle-aged director, exorcising his own personal demons through his work, Tango's lead character Mario Suárez seems to have been borrowed directly from Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). Miguel Ángel Solá, who plays him has the same crumpled charm as Mastroianni in Fellini's film. There have been countless other films about film-making and also many about tango (just recently, Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson, for example). Of all dances featured in the movies, it is easily the most common. Combining arrogance and sensitivity with raw sexuality, the dance originated in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late nineteenth century, but spread across Europe and the US like rampant syphilis. Saura (a Spanish film-maker) seems determined here to take the dance back to its South American roots.

A spellbinding but perplexing piece of film-making, Tango's storyline could be written on the back of cigarette paper - a director puts on a musical, just about sums it up. There are some misjudged moments: given the lack of social and historical context, the dance sequence showing brutal military repression seems out of place. Nevertheless, Saura manages to hint at the foibles and neuroses of his characters. As in all the best backstage/backscreen musicals, he shows up the tension between the artists and the investors backing them. Somehow, he also convinces us that Suárez (the name is suspiciously close to his own) really is going through some sort of midlife crisis. His voiceover is melancholy and poetic; he is, for all his grace and humour, intensely voyeuristic. When we see Elena, his beautiful new discovery, dancing with his ex-girlfriend Laura, we're in no doubt about his mixed feelings of lust, anger and jealousy.

Saura draws a subtle contrast between the febrile atmosphere at rehearsal, where every new routine seems as much a battle as a dance, and the documentary-style sequences showing the way tango is integrated into everyday Argentinian life. We see an old maestro (Juan Carlos Copes) dancing it with incredible grace and delicacy. At school dance class, a precocious young girl holds herself back rather than be paired with anybody else other than the oafish, big-footed boy she loves. Nevertheless, for all its technical polish and virtuosity, Tango has the roughness and spontaneity of a work-in-progress. There's a sense that the film-makers, like the dancers, are working on the hoof. That's what makes their efforts so exhilarating to watch - even when they do trip up.

KQEK.com DVD Review [Mark R. Hasan]

 

culturevulture.net  Arthur Lazere

 

Nitrate Online  Elias Savada

                         

ReelViews [James Berardinelli]

 

Harvey S. Karten

 

The Tech (MIT) [Roy Rodenstein]

 

Pedro Sena

 

TANGO - Film Journal  Wendy Weinstein

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Dennis Schwartz

 

Jerry Saravia

 

Mike D'Angelo, The Man Who Viewed Too Much

 

Review: Carlos Saura's Tango  David Halloran from Leisure Suit

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Angus Wolfe Murray

 

Cinema-Scene.com [David Perry]

 

The Movie Report/Mr. Brown's Movie Site [Michael Dequina]

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Michael DeZubiria (miked32@hotmail.com) from Luoyang, China

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Dr. Michael J. McColley-Parmer (drparmer@ymail.com) from United States

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA

 

User reviews  from imdb (Page 4) Author: Darragh O' Donoghue (hitch1899_@hotmail.com) from Dublin, Ireland

 

Tango Review | Movie Reviews and News | EW.com  Owen Gleiberman

 

Variety.com [Jonathan Holland]

 

BBCi - Films (DVD review)  Almar Haflidason

 

Tango  Cyndy Fuchs from Philadelphia City Paper

 

Memphis Flyer [Brigitta von Messling]

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Edward Guthmann]

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Janet Maslin, February 12, 1999

 

GOYA IN BORDEAUX

Spain  Italy  (107 mi)  1999  ‘Scope

 

Goya in Bordeaux  Time Out London

Bordeaux, 1828: exiled from his native Spain, Francisco de Goya (Rabal), now aged 82, spends his final days in a house shared with his lover Leocadia (Ramón). He recounts the events of his life to their young daughter Rosarito (Fernández), cueing flashbacks to his time as court painter to King Charles IV, and his passionate affair with the intoxicating Duchess of Alba, who still haunts his thoughts. He describes the torment at going deaf at 46, and his anguish over the destruction of Spain during years of political turmoil, reflected in the tone of his later paintings. This is Saura's dream project and his dedication to it is evident in the detailed exposition. At once colourful, opulent and dark, it captures the delights and demons of genius. Singular, intriguing, mesmerising, there are rich rewards here for lovers of painting, history and spectacle. 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

Carlos Saura's portrait of the artist Goya as an old man is sumptuous to behold, although one will not leave the theatre with a much deeper knowledge and understanding of this great Spanish painter's career. This court painter and portraitist is considered by many to be the forerunner of modernism, as his style combined an earthy pictorial realism with a satiric subjective edge. Goya's contempt for many of his subjects shows through his brushstrokes. Living and working in the latter half of the 18th century and the first couple decades of the 19th, Goya was witness to the political and romantic intrigues of the last years of the Bourbon court and the Napoleonic invasions of Spain. This thumbnail background, however, is more historical information than the movie provides, and the film is unlikely to be of much interest to anyone who isn't already familiar with Goya -- or the work of Vittorio Storaro, the master cinematographer whose credits include Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor, Dick Tracy, and most of the films of Bernardo Bertolucci. Goya in Bordeaux revels in Storaro's magisterial touch and lighting sorcery, which prove particularly apt when portraying the last years of Goya's life during which the painter lived in exile in Bordeaux and began painting dark and macabre subjects on the walls of his villa. The movie centers on the 82-year-old and deaf Goya (who is played as an old man by Rabal and as a young man by Coronado) reminiscing about his past to his young daughter Rosario (Fernandez). The paintings are used as entryways between the past and present, yet the information they convey is remarkably little. It's as if the noted director Carlos Saura had morphed into a Spanish-style Ken Russell, pursuing wild artist biopics that emphasize the lure of imagination over the pesky details of historiography. And, indeed, some of Saura and Storaro's imagery is extremely compelling: the film's dreamy opening sequence, for instance. But Saura's interest in recent years seems to have taken a particularly insular focus on the uniquely Spanish arts with films such as Tango, Flamenco, and Carmen in his repertoire. Unfortunately, his viewpoint does little to open up the subject for greater scrutiny, assuming as it does previous knowledge of the subject. Goya may be one of Spain's artistic touchstones, but he is an artist who belongs to the world also.

Goya in Bordeaux  Paul Julian Smith from Sight and Sound, November 2000

Bordeaux, 1828. The 82-year-old Spanish artist Francisco de Goya is living in exile. His younger lover Leocadia and her daughter Rosarito, an aspiring artist, take care of him in his final illness; Goya himself is working on lithographs and socialising with fellow radical exiles. Over the course of the last months of his life, Goya recounts his life story to Rosarito. He recalls his entrance into the glittering Madrid court of the Bourbons, the illness that led to his early deafness, his love affair with the Duchess of Alba, who dies poisoned by conspirators, the French invasion of Spain and the Peninsular War. Meanwhile his major works, including his portraits for Charles III's court, the caprichos series of etchings, the Black paintings, and the Disasters of War series, are brought to life in on-screen tableaux. Finally Goya dies; his body is discovered by Rosarito.

Review

Time has not been kind to Spanish director Carlos Saura. Spain's greatest film-maker during the final years of Franco's rule and the country's transition to democracy and the auteur of such oblique and resonant psychological dramas as Cría cuervos (1975), Saura was laid low in the 80s by the costly fiasco of his historical epic EI Dorado. More recently, he made Taxi (1996), a liberal-minded but routine thriller about neo-Nazi gangs in Madrid which showed little sign of his personal style, while his 1998 film Tango prompted Spaniards to ask whether he had progressed since his earlier dance tragedy Carmen (1983). Goya in Bordeaux, whose release in Spain inadvertently coincided with Volaverunt, Bigas Luna's lavish biopic of the artist, combines elements from Taxi and Tango. Saura, screenwriter as well as director, stresses the liberal credentials of his Enlightenment hero, who was fiercely opposed to tyranny; this political commentary is accompanied by an abstract and theatrical mise en scène whereby Goya's works are brought to life in startling tableaux vivants, a visual style familiar from the director's dance films.

It's an ambitious undertaking, especially given that the Spanish film industry is now dominated by coarse post-Almodóvar comedies, and the contrast between the naturalism of the historical drama and the stylisation of the aesthetic performance is sometimes jarring. Shot in the studio, with sliding screens on which the artist's works are projected, Goya in Bordeaux often evokes a fluid cinematic space analogous to the free-floating world of the artistic imagination. The expressionist lighting and colour of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Taxi and Tango) produce powerful graphic effects. For example, in the credit sequence the camera slowly tracks over sodden black earth and tilts up to a blood-red hanging carcass, whose entrails morph into the dying Goya's head. Images are often dense and multilayered: in one extended travelling shot the old Goya walks in front of a translucent scrim of prints from his caprichos series while the young Goya shadows his movements behind; it's an impressive sequence which aptly recreates the simultaneity of artistic experience.

But the problem with Goya in Bordeaux is that this visual dimension is more eloquent than the verbal element. Saura's dialogue is clunky, even clichéd. Such lines as "The spiral is like life," "Deafness left me isolated" and even "This will be a masterpiece" would not be out of place in a Hollywood biopic from an earlier era. Audiences, even in Spain, need to be reminded of the historical ironies of Goya's life, such as his early admiration of France which was later to invade Spain so brutally. But the presentation of these complexities is only fitfully integrated into the narrative. Moreover, the flashback format leads to longueurs and repetitions, leaving the viewer as frustrated and bewildered as the young girl to whom Goya recites his life story. The absence of narrative drive and characterisation (Maribel Verdú's Duchess of Alba, Goya's true love, is a cipher) makes the experience of watching the film akin to leafing through a de luxe volume of illustrations: these are visually sumptuous, often ravishing images but they fail to connect with each other or the spectator.

This is unfortunate because there is so much to like about Goya in Bordeaux. The shifting and shimmering mise en scène, based on montages, lighting effects and transparent panels, is an impressively realised collaboration between the director, cinematographer and art director (Pierre Louis Thévenet, best known for Almodóvar's High Heels). And the imagery never subsides into the clichéd Goya-esque. Catalan physical theatre group La Fura dels Baus, known for their visceral performance pieces, are ideally suited to act out the graphic sequence based on Goya's Disasters of War print series. José Coronado, now best known in Spain as the lead in top-rated television drama Periodistas, is assured as the young artist. Francisco Rabal, the fresh-faced señorito of Buñuel's Viridiana (1961), has long since become a grizzled veteran, his crown of white hair backlit here like a halo. Rabal performs with matchless pathos as the dying genius, even attempting some perilously dignified dance steps. But surely the hidden story of Goya in Bordeaux is that of Saura himself: a once brilliant and fashionable artist who is now out of favour in his own country.  

PopMatters  Tobias Peterson

Plume-Noire.com Film Review: Goya In Bordeaux  Anji Milanovic

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

Harvey S. Karten

Edwin Jahiel

GOYA IN BORDEAUX   Frank Swietek from One Guy’s Opinion

Solo Goya! - CineScene  Don Larsson

 

GOYA IN BORDEAUX - Film Journal  Daniel Eagan

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

CultureCartel.com - Carlos Saura - 1999 - Goya in Bordeaux Movies ...  John Nesbit, also seen here:  John Nesbit: MovieGeek review

Jerry Saravia

Steve Rhodes

Haro Online

Jon Popick

Dennis Schwartz

eFilmCritic Reviews  iF magazine

filmcritic.com in Bordeaux  Christopher Null

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Angus Wolfe Murray

In brief: "Goya in Bordeaux"  Peter Rainer from New York magazine

User reviews  from imdb Author: Alice Liddel (-darragh@excite.com) from dublin, Ireland

User reviews  from imdb Author: Keith F. Hatcher from La Rioja, Spain

Variety Reviews - Goya in Bordeaux - Film Reviews - - Review by ...  Eddie Cockrell

BBCi - Films  Michael Thomson

Goya in Bordeaux  Sam Adams from The Philadelphia City Paper

San Francisco Chronicle [Peter Stack]

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden, September 15, 2000

BUÑUEL AND KING SOLOMON’S TABLE (Buñuel y la mesa del rey Salomón)

Spain  (105 mi)  2001

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: diztorted from Morelia, Michoacan

Carlos Saura directing and ode to Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca in the shape of a surreal, mysterious but delightful journey. What else do you need? As Dali said somewhere in the movie "I've just had a mental excitation" with this movie. Imagine a threesome of excentric artist following clues in the search of a mythological piece known as the "table of king Solomon" and experiencing surreal visions throughout the story such as a kid lifting the sea as if it was a mattress in the floor to look what's beneath.

The music, the dialogues, the environment, and the colors of the film, take you to a place that might look like familiar places, only in other dimension where strange things are normal for the people. A place where your mind can really grow on to the exterior.

I've seen many bad reviews for this film, I even read one that said "this is a film only for Saura or Bunuel's fans", but I'm not sure about that. I am a fan of both but more than that I'm a fan of films, of the art of motion picture and every single variation it might have, and I tell you movies like this one once again remind me what it is that I love about films so much...the ability to get away and live experiences I would never do in the real world.

Mark R. Leeper

In the 1930s Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, and Federico Garcia Lorca join forces and have an Indiana- Jones-style adventure looking for one of the great (non-existent) treasures of history. The feel is a little like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. But the pace is slower. There are some sly comic touches. The film was made for the 100th anniversary of Bunuel's birth in the year 2000.

The story is told in flashback as an elderly Luis Bunuel remembers his adventures with his friends and plans to film them. In the years just prior to the Spanish Civil War three internationally respected artists: Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, and Federico Garcia Lorca have a wild film serial adventure looking for a mythical artifact that allows one to look into time. The table is given a history that would make the Maltese Falcon green with envy. With a bizarre sense of fun co-writer and director Carlos Saura throws in anachronisms, jokes about the making of the film itself, film references, and a beautiful sense of elegant photography. The story is told in flashback as Bunuel's reminiscences. The present time flows into the 1930s and passersby seem to know about films Bunuel would make in the future and about the making of this very film. Meanwhile we are treated to the comical repartee of three slightly mad geniuses as they go on their madcap quest through mystical Toledo, Spain, with its strange dark rooms and corridors, fighting mysterious foes, and seeing incredible sights. Some of the visual ideas have a ring of Monty Python; some are state-of- the-art visual effects. While a few of the images lack sufficient imagination, others are delightful and some astonish. Set design is by the remarkable Jose Hernandez. The score, featuring a flamenco motif, is by Roque Banos.

Saura has filled the film with interesting images, but he has a pacing problem. Basically, the story bogs down in the middle act and does not progress for a good long time. The film shown at the Toronto International Film Festival at 9 AM on September 10. That is just 24 hours before the terrorist attacks. This coincidental incident put its secret religious spy networks into a wholly unintended and unfortunate context. Some slightly anti-Semitic comments take on a much more serious aspect in retrospect.

MysticalMovieGuide.com

 

MovieForum.com   Robert L

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta

 

Variety.com [David Stratton]

 

THE SEVENTH DAY (El séptimo día)

Spain  (103 mi)  2004

 

The 7th Day  Geoff Andrew at Time Out London

Saura returns to some sort of form with this hypothetical recreation of the circumstances leading to a shotgun massacre perpetrated by two middle-aged brothers in Extremadura in 1990, which left nine villagers dead and another 16 very seriously wounded. As related by a teenage girl (whose father was perhaps the killers’ prime target), it’s a tale of unrequited love, rivalry and murderous tit-for-tat revenge between two families who’ve already argued over land. Despite some generic clichés and bits of over-acting, Saura is mostly successful in evoking the joys and pitfalls of life in a remote, rather impoverished pueblo, and – notwithstanding odd longueurs – makes effective use of popular songs and flamenco to reflect on the action. And in the dramatisation of the deadly night, his choreography of violence is as expert as ever.

User reviews  from imdb Author: newland80 from Vitoria, Spain

Carlos Saura has been one of our finest directors for almost five decades, and, after a bunch of irregular films in the nineties, returns in top form with "El séptimo día". Based on the tragic true events happening in 1992 in Spain, the film captures the essence of the maddening atmosphere that gave way to the slaughter of Puerto Hurraco.

In Spain there is little tradition of portraying real-life events in film. Writers Loriga and Saura were actually heavily criticized by some, as if their film would bring back the painful memories that most people had chosen to forget. However, their film portrays the slaughter and the events that led to it with gusto and with no sign of sensationalism.

In fact, a great part of the film is devoted to depict the summer romance of a young girl (Yohana Cobo, what a discovery) and a lifeguard (Oriol Vila, another breakthrough). Thus, the murderers (outstanding Juan Diego, José Luis Gómez, Victoria Abril and Ana Wagener) are relegated to a secondary subplot for almost half of the film.

Saura managed to assemble one of the greatest casts of the last few years. Apart from the aforementioned, José García, Eulalia Ramón, Carlos Hipólito and, in bit parts, Elia Galera, Juan Sanz and Carlos Kaniowski are worth mentioning for their excellent work in "El séptimo día".

The best: the cast and the good taste in filming a real-life tragedy. The worst: that some people criticized it before they had even seen it. They should not forget that we are bound to repeat our history if we choose to forget it.

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

On an isolated pueblo in the heart of the Spanish countryside, the seemingly familiar story of fickle young love unravels to incomprehensible tragedy when the spurned lover, Luciana Fuentes, expresses a vengeful wish on her seducer in the presence of her fragmented, devoted brother Jerónimo who, in turn, executes his sister's wish, resulting in the young man's cold and brutal murder in an open field. Despite Jerónimo's capture and 30-year prison sentence, the shame on the Fuentes family still proves to be terrible burden as the townspeople continue to treat the siblings with open contempt and derision, culminating one day in a suspicious fire that engulfs the family home and escalates the deeply entrenched family feud. Publicly humiliated, forcibly driven out of town, and struggling with Luciana's delusional obsession over her broken engagement, the family's harbored animosity festers with each passing year, awaiting Jerónimo's release and pondering the inevitable day of reckoning against the community that had turned its back against them. From Isabel's retrospective opening monologue to the intimately captured innocence of the children's world, Carlos Saura evokes the provocative and trenchant social observation and disquieting mystery of his seminal film, Cría Cuervos while retaining the musicality and immersive passion of his later, cultural expositions to create a haunting and indelible work. Through the introduction of the slow-witted, drug-addicted witness - the child of an incestuous relationship - Saura illustrates an intrinsic parallel to the town's oppressive isolation and complicity that contributed to the perpetuation of the communal tragedy. Based on a true incident in 1992, the film is a thoughtful, potent, and incisive examination on the insidious nature of collective exclusion, intolerance, implicit collusion, systematic demoralization, and consuming vengeance.

 

Shadows on the Wall [Rich Cline]

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: jotix100 from New York

 

IBERIA

Spain  France  (120 mi)  2005

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California

If Saura hadn't done anything like this before, Iberia would be a milestone. Now it still deserves inclusion to honor a great director and a great cinematic conservator of Spanish culture, but he has done a lot like this before, and though we can applaud the riches he has given us, we have to pick and choose favorites and high points among similar films which include Blood Wedding (1981), Carmen (1983), El Amore Brujo (1986), Sevillanas (1992), Salomé (2002) and Tango (1998). I would choose Saura's 1995 Flamenco as his most unique and potent cultural document, next to which Iberia pales.

Iberia is conceived as a series of interpretations of the music of Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz (1860-1909) and in particular his "Iberia" suite for piano. Isaac Albéniz was a great contributor to the externalization of Spanish musical culture -- its re-formatting for a non-Spanish audience. He moved to France in his early thirties and was influenced by French composers. His "Iberia" suite is an imaginative synthesis of Spanish folk music with the styles of Liszt, Dukas and d'Indy. He traveled around performing his compositions, which are a kind of beautiful standardization of Spanish rhythms and melodies, not as homogenized as Ravel's Bolero but moving in that direction. Naturally, the Spanish have repossessed Albéniz, and in Iberia, the performers reinterpret his compositions in terms of various more ethnic and regional dances and styles. But the source is a tamed and diluted form of Spanish musical and dance culture compared to the echt Spanishness of pure flamenco. Flamenco, coming out of the region of Andalusia, is a deeply felt amalgam of gitane, Hispano-Arabic, and Jewish cultures. Iberia simply is the peninsula comprising Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar; the very concept is more diluted.

Saura's Flamenco is an unstoppably intense ethnic mix of music, singing, dancing and that peacock manner of noble preening that is the essence of Spanish style, the way a man and a woman carries himself or herself with pride verging on arrogance and elegance and panache -- even bullfights and the moves of the torero are full of it -- in a series of electric sequences without introduction or conclusion; they just are. Saura always emphasized the staginess of his collaborations with choreographer Antonio Gades and other artists. In his 1995 Flamenco he dropped any pretense of a story and simply has singers, musicians, and dancers move on and off a big sound stage with nice lighting and screens, flats, and mirrors arranged by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, another of the Spanish filmmaker's important collaborators. The beginnings and endings of sequences in Flamenco are often rough, but atmospheric, marked only by the rumble and rustle of shuffling feet and a mixture of voices. Sometimes the film keeps feeding when a performance is over and you see the dancer bend over, sigh, or laugh; or somebody just unexpectedly says something. In Flamenco more than any of Saura's other musical films it's the rapt, intense interaction of singers and dancers and rhythmically clapping participant observers shouting impulsive olé's that is the "story" and creates the magic. Because Saura has truly made magic, and perhaps best so when he dropped any sort of conventional story.

Iberia is in a similar style to some of Saura's purest musical films: no narration, no dialogue, only brief titles to indicate the type of song or the region, beginning with a pianist playing Albeniz's music and gradually moving to a series of dance sequences and a little singing. In flamenco music, the fundamental element is the unaccompanied voice, and that voice is the most unmistakable and unique contribution to world music. It relates to other songs in other ethnicities, but nothing quite equals its raw raucous unique ugly-beautiful cry that defies you to do anything but listen to it with the closest attention. Then comes the clapping and the foot stomping, and then the dancing, combined with the other elements. There is only one flamenco song in Iberia. If you love Saura's Flamenco, you'll want to see Iberia, but you'll be a bit disappointed. The style is there; some of the great voices and dancing and music are there. But Iberia's source and conception doom it to a lesser degree of power and make it a less rich and intense cultural experience.

eFilmCritic Reviews  Mel Valentin

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura, once known for his complex explorations of Spanish history, politics, ideology, and class under Francisco Franco's authoritarian regime, turned away from narrative filmmaking and toward the non-narrative (or loosely structured) musical format half a decade after Franco's death. In 1981, Saura directed "Blood Wedding," a musical interpretation of Federico García Lorca's play of the same name. Two years later, Saura adapted Bizet's "Carmen" (1983). Other adaptations followed, including "El Amore Brujo"(1986), "Sevillanas" (1992), "Flamenco," "Tango" (1998), and "Salomé" (2002).

Although centered on Spanish composer Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz's (1860-1909) music, primarily his "Iberia" suite, Saura's latest film, aptly titled Iberia, is a sensuous celebration of Spanish dance, culture, history, and geography. Saura, however, also celebrates the potential of film to work in tandem with dance, music, and sound to create a unique cinematic experience that places aesthetics and form at the same or higher level than intellectual engagement or content. To say that, though, shortchanges Saura's dense, interlaced approach to Spanish history and culture, most of which will be unfamiliar to non-Spanish audiences. While missing historical and cultural referents arguably diminishes the viewing experience, the overall effect is relatively minor (and might spur viewers to seek out Albéniz's work as a composer and brush up on Spanish history and culture).

Saura structured Iberia around different movements from Albéniz's work as a composer, primarily his "Iberia" suite for piano. Saura introduces each movement around a title drawn from Albéniz's work, beginning with "Evocation," a solo for piano as Saura's camera playfully travels along the piano, lingers on the pianist, then moves through a set still under construction. What at first appears to be a split screen, isn't (it's a mirror sliding horizontally across the frame). Saura breaks the "fourth wall," showing us the film crew and performers preparing for the segments that will follow, eventually circling back to the pianist completing the solo. It's a striking, bravura opening, filmed in a single take that hints at Saura's desire to create an immersive experience for his audience.

The second sequence, "Aragón" subtly suggests that Iberia is meant both to preserve a cultural heritage through the permanency of film and to extend that heritage to future generations. An instructor leads her young charges through basic flamenco moves with musicians half-hidden in the background. The children, dressed in casual clothing, respond enthusiastically, watching themselves in a full-length mirror, slipping off in twos as period photographs are projected in the background.

The next two segments, "Bajo la Palmera" and "Granada," are even more stylized, opening with silhouetted figures against red/orange/yellow backgrounds for "Bajo la Palmera" and, in a recognition of Spain's complex historical association with Arabic/Muslim culture (and presumably Jewish culture too), three groups of women, dressed in black, blue, and white, dance separately at first, before joining together as a group in front of white screens (but blue is the dominant color).

"Cadíz," the next segment set to Albéniz's music is probably the least successful. The attempt to modernize Albéniz's music through the addition of a "soulful" saxophone really doesn't work. It's more muzak than music. Set around a single woman and multiple suitors, the performances remain vital and engaging, but the music undercuts whatever involvement viewers might have with the dancers or the basic storyline. Saura noticeably also uses performers of various sizes and shapes, suggesting more openness toward the female and male forms in Spain.

In "Triana," two performers engage in a romantic duet as their faces are half-hidden in dramatic lighting and shadow (as oversized period photos, presumably of the composer and his family, hang in the background). "Torre Bermeja" is remarkable, not only for the set design and lighting (a given by this point in Iberia), but in Saura's decision to use middle-aged, female performers for the traditional vocalizations, foot-stomping, hand-clapping, and dance steps of flamenco.

Constructed around dueling groups or "gangs" in modern dress, "Alemaría" falters by having one dancer adding break-dance moves to his repertoire (not to mention the dancer looks like Rico Suave) as he challenges his rival in a "West Side Story"-like dance-off. Contrary to Saura's presumed intention to prove Albéniz's relevance to contemporary dance styles and movement, the end result is cheesy, campy, and unintentional comical. Luckily, " Cadíz" and " Alemaría" are the only two missteps Saura makes.

The remaining segments cover everything from a full orchestra and women in traditional mourning dress, "Corpus Sevilla" (the lead singer's vocalizations are equally traditional), to a single performer dancing in front of movie screen that doubles and triples her image on a time delay (she's accompanied by a trio of piano, violin, and violoncello), "Rondeña." The subsequent segments, while distinguished by lighting and set design, aren't quite as distinctive. The second to last segment, however, again centered on a lone female performer, is starkly symbolic, suggesting the painful struggles necessary to create and maintain cultures (birthing metaphors are front and center). The segment titles begin to repeat themselves, eventually circling back to the stage set that opened Iberia as students, instructors, and adults perform first in a group and then in pairs.

This final circling back and moving forward, as culture passes between generations, is a fitting coda for Saura's optimistic celebration of Albéniz's music and its impact on Spanish culture. As for Carlos Saura, he may have turned away from his critiques of contemporary Spanish society, but his non-narrative films suggest that filmmakers can make late-career changes in direction and focus and still produce meaningful work.

Iberia — Inside Movies Since 1920  Kevin Courrier from Box Office magazine

 

Variety.com [Deborah Young]

 

FADOS

Spain  Portugal  (90 mi)  2007

 

Fados  Keith Uhlrich from Time Out New York

Carlos Saura’s documentary on the Portuguese musical tradition of fado is an inviting and immersive experience, the third piece of a song-and-dance triptych that also includes Flamenco (1995) and Tango (1998). As in one of Jonathan Demme’s concert films, the filmmaker trusts that performance alone provides the necessary context: Save an opening-credits crawl explaining the history of fado (born among the lower-class residents of Portugal’s 19th-century port cities, it’s a genre composed of melancholic vocal and instrumental ballads), Fados consists entirely of musical set pieces.

Saura’s elegant use of mirrors, rear projection and lighting cues give the proceedings a theatrical feel; however, his efforts are pure cinema, whether he cuts in for emotional close-ups during a tangolike ode to jealousy or allows a song to unfold in a fourth-wall-breaking single take. The director possesses a deep respect for the genre’s traditions, but he does not neglect the influence of fado up to the present moment (as evidenced by the presence of Brazilian reggae star Toni Garrido and hip-hop artists NBC, SP & Wilson). Indeed, there’s a burgeoning sense as the film goes on that Saura (a Spaniard) is subtly interrogating the history of a people; Fados’ brilliant closing image quite literally brings this idea to the fore.

Carlos Saura's FADOS | Boiling Sand  April 14, 2009

I caught the new Carlos Saura movie FADOS in NYC on the way to Lisbon a few weeks ago. At that time, the air traffic fates seemed against me since my flight was delayed and I had a 24 hour stayover in New York before leaving for Europe. Fortunately the Cinema Goddess gave me the perfect sendoff for 2 weeks in Portugal by having this movie playing at those theaters that are across from Lincoln Center.

Saura is not one of the filmmakers to whom I was intuitively drawn, but instead I initially saw a film of his on recommendation: while on the board of directors of IMAGE Film/Video Center in Atlanta, a colleague who was a former dancer gave me a heads up on Saura’s CARMEN. The film really clicked and I’ve tried to catch all his works since.

When Saura’s movies went from being dramas-with-dance to dance-and-music-anthologies (around the time of his TANGO), I had to stop and re-evaluate his movies. (Again, with cinematic synchronicity, I saw TANGO around the time of my first trip to Buenos Aires.) With FADOS, I discover viewing a film that is strictly collaged from interpretations of a cultural artform can heighten the enthnographic study and pleasures of seeing a film. Seeing legendary performers and fresh hiphop artists interpreting fado music in a single sitting, situated in intelligent and totally filmic spheres of performance, can enrich in a way that his earlier drama-based works could not. (And the sequences were executed in a way that made a tech-head like me sit up and try to unravel how shots were made.)

And speaking of legends, on my first trip to Lisbon (before fado music became fashionable again) I went to an underground cavern of a nightclub that was very Rick’s Cafe Americain in its melange of international clientele, and under-the-radar camaraderie. The high point of the evening was hearing a remarkable singer, Argentina Santos, who Had The Power and knew what to do with it. She climbed on the intimate stage and began singing: the room was silent. [I totally forgot about the drink in my hand for the entire set.] With each breath, she would arch her eyebrow in a certain fashion that seemed to say, “Hang on, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”
When Santos’ face, in all her decaying magnificence, materialized on the cinema screen in FADOS, my hand flew to my chest as my body experienced a semi-kundalini rush. She still has everything that makes fado what it is: tristesse, mystery, passion, control.

A Song-and-Dance Man: Carlos Saura's 'Fados' - indieWIRE  Michael Koresky, also from Reverse Shot here:  Fados

Adorned in oranges, purples, and golds, and unfolding on shimmering soundstages flanked by scrims and screens of varying sizes, “Fados” creates a universe unto itself, an enclosed festival space meant to stand in for an entire world of song. This is the norm for the brilliant Spanish director Carlos Saura, who for nearly thirty years has built a parallel film career (to his more conventional dramatic one) as a charter of musical traditions. After his “flamenco trilogy,” all collaborations with the late, great dancer and choreographer Antonio Gades, in which he was working through his notions of how to convey dance and movement on screen (“Blood Wedding,” “Carmen,” and “El amor brujo” are all dazzling, self-consciously movie-movie deconstructions as much as filmed flamenco ballets), Saura then moved on to the straightforwardly titled “Flamenco” and “Tango,” both immense popular successes. “Fados,” which takes its title from a tradition of emotive, melancholy singing derived in the poor port-side areas of early nineteenth-century Lisbon (but with African and Brazilian origins), and which has survived into various modern incarnations, rounds out this second trilogy.

Shot with seamless dexterity by two cinematographers, Jose Luis Lopez-Linares (who lensed Saura’s typically theatrical productions “Iberia” and “Salome”) and Eduardo Serra (the director of photography on everything from Shyamalan’s gorgeous “Unbreakable” to Vermeer-aping “Girl with a Pearl Earring”), “Fados” is saturated in visual artificiality, all the better to provide colorful contrast with the heartfelt, authentic performances at its center. Essentially a nonnarrative of songs strung together to feature length (the less hospitable will call it a glossy music-video compilation), Saura’s film incorporates such fado subgenres as flamenco and hip-hop into its presentation of Portugal’s most symbolic national music genre. If you get on its wavelength, it’s a rousing affair, by nature more celebratory than instructive—which is both a credit and a criticism, as the uninitiated will be baffled at the parade of unfamiliar faces, past and present, but they will have no choice but to submit to the engaging moment.

One could cite Saura’s choice to return to his well-practiced realm of documenting music as unadventurous at this stage in his career; I prefer to remain heartened by his unwavering fascination with musical expression in various forms. Now at age 77, Saura seems able to put forth such visually luxurious films with almost mechanical precision, and certainly “Fados,” which was unsurprisingly in part a commission from the Portuguese tourism board, seems easily served as an exotic export for foreign viewers, but the loving attention to detail he shows here, as in his other music films, now betrays an almost grandfatherly devotion to his subject.

From its opening visual coup, in which endless silhouettes of people walk in profile along large screens projecting images of others, possibly from an earlier time, moving head-on towards the camera, to its smooth but grandiose final crane shot which reveals the workers, tracks, and wardrobe surrounding the set (in a neat reversal of “El amor brujo”‘s stunning opener), “Fados” is not just decorative but immersive. In between we get appearances from, of course, Caetano Veloso, and contemporary, Mozambique-born star Mariza, plus eloquent, unadorned tributes to fado legends Maria Severa and Amalia Rodrigues. The latter makes for one of Saura’s most memorable passages, as archived footage of this proclaimed “Queen of Fado,” rehearsing piano-side, appears on an enormous screen as dancers and singers stare up, their backs to the camera. Saura then beautifully segues, tracking his camera right, to a room constructed of screens projecting ghostly images of Rodrigues, as dancers romantically entwine before them. It’s grandly theatrical, and perhaps not unexpected as a visual conceit, but there’s something unutterably touching about such gorgeous icon-making, wrought from such basic ingredients as song and guitar.

Carlos Saura's 'Fados' « Pasadena Art Beat  Jana J. Monji at Pasadena Art Beat, August 27, 2010

 

Film-Forward.com  Nora Lee Mandel

 

Movies that make you think [Jugu Abraham]  also seen here:  DearCinema

 

Film Review: Fados  Maria Garcia from Film Journal

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

The Village Voice [Nick Pinkerton]

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Sing to Me | The New York Observer  Andrew Sarris

 

Review: Fados   Harvey Karten from CompuServe

 

Critic's Notebook [Robert Levin]

 

Critical Mass Film House [Deborah Dearth]

 

DVDTalk.com [Jamie S. Rich]

 

DVD Verdict [Daryl Loomis]

 

Fados — Inside Movies Since 1920 - BOXOFFICE Magazine  John R. McCarthy

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

The NYC Movie Guru [Avi Offer]

 

Review: 'Fados'  Peter Rainer from New York magazine

 

Paste Magazine [Sean Gandert]

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: sezme from Canada

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: ruiresende84 (ruiresende84@gmail.com) from Porto, Portugal

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Artemis-9 from Portugal

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: freeds from New York City

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Egberto Moreira from Portugal

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: pablo-esquer from Chile

 

Fados Review | Movie Reviews and News | EW.com - Entertainment Weekly  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety.com [Robert Koehler]

 

Boston Globe [Wesley Morris]

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Jonathan Curiel]

 

Movie Review - Fados - Guitars, Whores and Sin: The World of the ...  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, March 6, 2009

 

I, DON GIOVANNI

Spain  Italy  (127 mi)  2009  ‘Scope

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

Having recently expanded our grasp of Portuguese soul music in Fados, veteran Spanish director Carlos Saura—now almost 78—dramatizes the relationship between music, the Catholic Church, and good old nondenominational lust.

In a screenplay Saura wrote with two others, I, Don Giovanni begins in Venice, circa the 1770s, with converted Jew Lorenzo da Ponte (Lorenzo Balducci) working hard as a priest, womanizer, and writer of anticlerical tracts. Things were different back then. He actually expects the Italian Inquisition, however, and flees to more genteel Vienna, where there’s a rage for all things Italian.

That is certainly to an Italianate audience’s advantage, since no one in Austria appears to speak German—not even composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Young Mozart (Lino Guanciale) gives his word-wise visitor a shot as librettist, although the film jumps right over their success with The Marriage of Figaro in order to dwell on the challenges of their titular opus.

These clever operators are handed routine obstacles, including money trouble (of course) and frequently duelling divas. Da Ponte also struggles to separate himself from mentor Casanova, and he finds himself wanting to change his licentious ways when he meets a curly haired beauty straight outta Botticelli.

Said chaste maiden (Emilia Verginelli) and our pale-skinned protagonist look good together, like escapees from a vampire movie for Italian teens. And the whole thing is given a sumptuous gloss by Vittorio Storaro, cinematographer of such items as The Sheltering Sky and Apocalypse Now. Artificiality is pretty much the point here, and if it doesn’t make the famous opera any more meaningful, it is at least music to the eyes.

moviereview [Sheila Taylor]

Carlos Saura’s I, Don Giovanni is not a film of the opera, but a fictional interpretation of the collaboration between the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (Lorenzo Balducci) and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Lino Guanciale). Lovers of the operatic masterpiece will gain more satisfaction than those who are not familiar with the work, as they will be able to follow the opera from the information in this back story.

The film opens in Venice in 1763 and this alone is enough to transport you into celluloid heaven. We float along the canals on a gondolier with the writer Lorenzo da Ponte who is being sent off to exile to Vienna. Why? Because he is a philandering priest and, like all well-connected people, he is given a letter of recommendation to present upon his arrival. Not to just anyone, but to the King’s favourite composer, Salieri (Ennio Fantastichini) and through him he meets an eccentric passionate newcomer to the scene called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri uses the introduction as a way of undermining Mozart’s ascension by hiring the unknown da Ponte as his librettist.

Before he left Venice, da Ponte had been asked by a benefactor to look after his beautiful daughter, Annetta (Emilia Verginelli). He could not accept the responsibility as he was completely besotted by her. The benefactor eventually dies and Annetta turns up in Vienna. This is where the story goes in to overdrive as da Ponte tries to mend his ways. His friend Casanova (Tobias Moretti), gives a list of his ex lovers to Annetta and he tries to woo her back.

Salieri’s attempt to thwart Mozart’s success fails. Da Ponte’s work inspires Mozart to the point where he is able to compose ‘Don Giovanni’, considered to be one of his most powerful and indeed bold compositions. Their creative collaboration also extends to ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’.

The action is shot with meticulous detail by Vittorio Storaro, who won Academy Awards for his work on Apocalypse Now, Reds and The Last Emperor. The costumes are beautifully created by the Viennese designer Brigit Hutter. However, the sumptuous aura of the film is only slightly marred by the obvious fake exterior sets of Venice and Vienna. You get the feeling that you are not quite there, that this is an exercise of art imitating life. However, this is a rollicking tale which is beautifully executed and should appeal to a wider audience

Urban Cinefile (Australia) [Andrew L. Urban]

 

Filmink Magazine, Australia

 

The Japan Times [Kaori Shoji]

 

FLAMENCO HOY (Flamenco Flamenco)

Spain (101 mi)  2010    

 

Carlos Saura's “Flamenco, Flamenco” at DC Film Fest « Flamenco ...  Ken McNaughton at DC Flamenco, April 11, 2011

The new film by Carlos Saura, Flamenco, Flamenco was shown at the DC Film Fest on Sunday April 10, 2011. It is a rich and colorful concert of modern flamenco artists, 101 minutes long. Filmed over seven weeks inside a former Seville Expo '92 pavilion, it features 21 singers, dancers and instrumentalists, many of whom have visited Washington.

Saura has made ten flamenco movies in forty years and some of them have been rather stark. This one by contrast is a chocolate box of color. Every set is different, with backgrounds of European paintings and vivid Spanish landscapes. There are lots of close-ups of faces, instruments, palmas and footwork.

In the cinema audience we were moved to applause first by Sara Baras, who danced in a red dress tucked up behind in a bustle. She danced beautifully, but when she unwrapped the dress and held out the full size [see above photo], it was magnificent. The youngest dancer, with a blond ponytail, was spectacular, credited as El Carpeta.

Some sets were unforgettable, such as the man and woman who sang and danced in pouring rain throughout. Three men sat around a wooden table, the one in the middle singing and those on either side tapping out the rhythm with their fingers and knuckles. Farruquito came on, all smiles and magic flashing feet, followed by Paco de Lucía, with a full complement of support artists, including a couple of pretty girls.

Israel Galván, who dazzled us in DC as the Clown Prince of Flamenco, artfully slid between canvasses, alternately light and shadow. Eva Yerbabuena was all slim torso, in a sheer red top from navel to neck. A team of beautiful young women danced a Processionale, each covered in a transparent cloak; another team, all in red, danced in Vee formation, and master cinematographer Vittoria Storaro wisely focused on the leader, who riveted us with her eye contact. The stage lighting was a separate character, often warm and dramatic in close-up. Back-to-back grand pianos dueled and complemented one another, seen from every angle, including a bird’s eye view.

When [DC local dancer] Estela Velez debuted her tour de force, Lorca: Flamenco Poetry, on February 28, 2009 she closed with "Verde," the haunting song by Manzanita based on Lorca’s poem. Saura opened and closed his great new film with the same melody, performed in a male/female duet. He also used the immortal Lorca/Camarón favorite, "La Leyenda del Tiempo."

The film 'Flamenco, Flamenco' by Carlos Saura premieres at Spanish ...   Flamenco-World, October 15, 2010

November 19th, 2010 will be a date to mark on the flamenco calendar. The film ‘Flamenco, Flamenco’ by Carlos Saura is to premiere at Spanish cinemas. The Aragonese filmmaker thus reveals the sequel to his movie ‘Flamenco’, which was a real salutary experience for the genre’s internationalization in the late 20th century. A new generation of artists gather in this film once again highlighted by the lighting of Oscar-winning Vittorio Storaro, who plays with reproductions of Spanish paintings this time around. Eva Yerbabuena, Sara Baras, Israel Galván, Estrella Morente, Niña Pastori, Miguel Poveda, Farruquito, Rafael Estévez & Nani Paños, Montse Cortés, Rocío Molina… are some of the artists called upon in this casting which includes maestros representative of the genre such as Paco de Lucía, Manolo Sanlúcar, Tomatito and José Mercé.

‘Flamenco, Flamenco’ by Carlos Saura comes to Spanish movie theaters after being shown at the Montreal World Film Festival and the European Cinema Festival of Seville, the city where it was shot. What was once the Pavilion of the Future at Expo’92 turned into a movie set during the months of October and November 2009. And the twenty-one scenes were shot there making up the movie, the latest installment in the award-winning filmography of the Aragonese filmmaker, in which along with musicals such as ‘Iberia’, ‘Carmen’ and ‘Tango’, there are personal works of fiction like ‘Los golfos’, ‘La caza’, ‘Deprisa, deprisa’, ‘El Dorado’ and ‘¡Ay, Carmela!’, among others.

The film opens with the Lorcan song por rumba which ‘Flamenco’ was closed with. But this time ‘Verde que te quiero verde’ isn’t performed by Ketama, but rather by young cantaores Ángeles Fernández and Carlos García. The baile is represented by a large lineup of figures of this time. The first to appear, dressed in red, is Sara Baras por alegrías. She is followed by young talents like Rocío Molina por garrotín, the acclaimed Eva Yerbabuena with the soleá ‘Llanto’, the avant-garde Israel Galván with ‘Silencio’, the creative Rafael Estévez and Nani Paños dancing a guajira by Arcángel, Farruquito with the piece ‘Lluvia de ilusión’ and even his little brother Manuel Fernández ‘El Carpeta’ pointing to the future with a bulería. Moreover, there is room for the group baile choreographed by Javier Latorre in the pieces ‘Semana Santa’ and ‘El tiempo’.

The entire film is sprinkled with moments of cante throughout. Montse Cortés and Estrella Morente represent the established acclaim of young female voices, one with a soleá por bulerías and the other por tangos. Miguel Poveda appears twice: first solo with a cuplé por bulerías, and secondly together with Yerbabuena. And there are more duos included in the movie. Tomatito joins forces with Niña Pastori to recall ‘La leyenda del tiempo’ by Camarón. The two most personal pianists on the current scene, Diego Amador and Dorantes, converse in ‘Dos almas’.

The maestros

As Saura himself has written, “on this journey, the maestros accompany new talents, whether it is as a sort of presentation, or whether it is giving them a chance, in a transfer of creative continuity which keeps the flame of the future alive”. And those maestros are none other than Paco de Lucía performing the bulería por soleá ‘Antonia’; Manolo Sanlúcar with ‘La danza de los pavos’ from his album inspired by the painting of Romero Rossendi; and cantaor José Mercé por martinete and toná. And closing the circle, the movie finishes the way the first one began, with a Jerez-style flamenco fiesta including the performances of artists such as Luis el Zambo, Jesús Méndez and Moraíto, among others.

Carlos Saura, Spain's celebrated film director, to present  Web Radio Gratis, November 27, 2010

 

Flamenco Hoy by Carlos Saura | Maria Kucinski's Musings  February 20, 2011

 

FLAMENCO FLAMENCO by Carlos Saura  Film Site

 

Sautet, Claude

 

CLASSE TOUS RISQUE (The Big Risk)

France  Italy  (110 mi)  1960

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

 

Stocky, barrel-chested French crime icon Lino Ventura tenderly puts his wife and kids on a train with a promise of a future. Then he steels himself to rob a pair of bank couriers in broad daylight and make a daring escape from the crowded streets of Milan to Paris, gambling his family's future with every step. Romantic codes of honor collide with the unforgiving doom of the gangster thriller with a fascinating ambiguity that even shades Ventura in Claude Sautet's lean, tough 1960 crime classic, making a belated American theatrical debut in a restored print. Snatch-and-grabs, gunfights and getaways are shot on location with a jittery naturalism in contrast to the old studio-style formality of men making plans in the reassurance of their offices. Sautet lets the film wander from Ventura's desperate odyssey, but when the irresistibly charming young Jean-Paul Belmondo enters the picture as an unflaggingly loyal ally, his wandering is forgiven.


Richard Brody from The New Yorker (link lost):

 

After a job in Italy turns deadly, a career criminal, Abel Davos (the moody, hulking Lino Ventura), flees to his native France with his family in tow. His wife is killed in a shootout with border guards, and his old underworld friends can't help—but a new one, Eric Stark (a coolly sardonic Jean-Paul Belmondo), can. Hiding out in Paris, Davos needs a wad of money and one more great escape. The genre is the criminal procedural, and the intricate story comes from a novel by José Giovanni, himself a former criminal—but the whole film plays like a feature-length exposition for a one-shot ending. The director Claude Sautet's second feature, released in 1960, is the last best hope of the French Old Wave: the black-and-white images seem lacquered to a high gloss, and the script and performances are controlled to the vanishing point of reality. If its tight emotional modulations derive from several bracing coups de théâtre, the thick, unyielding atmosphere is broken by only a few coups de cinéma. In French. 

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

Fans of old-school French crime flicks will be reconvening at Film Forum, where Claude Sautet's 1960 Classe Tous Risques has what amounts to its local premiere. (A dubbed version opened 40-something years ago on 42nd Street as The Big Risk.) The title is an untranslatable pun on tourism and insurance; the premise is existential. Sad-eyed, big-beaked Lino Ventura, usually a secondario, here plays a brutally resourceful slab of beefcake—a French thug on the lam in Italy for a decade who needs to get back home, along with his wife and two little boys. A daylight robbery in Milan precipitates a remarkable chase through Italy topped by a shoot-out on the beach at Nice. Stuck with the kids, Ventura manages to make his way to Paris, thanks to guardian angel Jean-Paul Belmondo, fresh from Breathless and the cutest pug-ugly in Pigalle. In those precincts, it's as if the old-timer has returned from the dead.

 

Classe Tous Risques is shot on city streets but unfolds in the world of the movies—in a Godardian touch that anticipates Godard, the Ventura character is identified by the cops as "an old pal of Pierrot le Fou." The new titles are flavorsome, and the restoration is up to Rialto's previous high standards—shades of gray with the pale glow of an overcast autumn sky.

 

Metroactive [Richard von Busack]

First-time director Claude Sautet described this excellent crime drama as "a film about the end of the traditional underworld and its flamboyant ways." Certainly, it's a film about the end of the traditional underworld movie.

The muscular yet soulful Lino Ventura stars as Abel Davros, a criminal legend hiding after a robbery and escape that left several dead. The police dragnet is closing in, and the fugitive's old associates (who owe him) have gone soft, respectable or afraid. But Abel is given a last reprieve from Mme. Guillotine by an insouciant boxer turned thief, Eric Stark (lead-billed Jean-Paul Belmondo), who impulsively volunteers his help.

For those who would rather look at mid-1950s Paris than mid-1400s Florence, the film is heaven. Bresson's cinematographer Ghislain Cloque photographed it. And the piquant argot is newly translated by Lenny Borger.

Sort of a beard, but a beautiful one, is Stark's girlfriend Liliane (Sandra Milo, who was, according to Sautet, the girlfriend of one of the producers). Like her fellow Tunisian Claudia Cardinale, Milo is ripe and dark. In some actresses, beauty is accompanied with a sense of humor or patience. In a few, there's a sense of disgust, as if the lady has been harassed one too many times—the kind of clouded beauty Ingrid Bergman had in Under Capricorn.

That's what Liliane has, and when she turns on the full wattage of a smile on her new squeeze Stark, the movie gets a burst of levity. Stark is slightly weightless from love; the couple glides into the frame in a plunging elevator; Stark hops over a short flight of stairs, just thinking about her.

In the constant change of scenery, and the lash-like outbursts of splendidly choreographed violence, Classe Tous Risques looks forward to the Bond films as much as it looks backward to the age of Bogart and Jean Gabin.

Though Sautet did a spy adventure later on (he directed one of the OSS 117 pictures), his concern is, as always, with the human side of the story. The director of Nelly et M. Arnaud supplies unfussed-over poignancy, which stings the viewer—consider Abel's unspoken farewell to his children, who are last seen framed through the arch of a car's side window; or the motherly woman who pronounces Abel's obituary: "I always hoped for something good for him. I don't know what it was, but I always hoped it."

Barely released, dubbed and concealed under the title The Big Risk (supposedly "Classe Tous Risques" means an all-risk insurance policy), this classic gangster movie never got a fair chance in America. J.-P. Melville (director of the similar Bob le Flambeur) praised Sautet by saying that if Classe Tous Risques had starred Robert Ryan, it would have got the attention of Hollywood.

Such judgment shows the way Parisians of the day understood Hollywood cinema: how they expected that Ryan was the biggest thing in the movies of the day (as he should have been) instead of realizing he had the status of a B-actor, compared to nonpareils like Pat Boone and Troy Donahue.

New York Sun [Bilge Ebiri]

"Classe tous risques" is one of the greatest French films made before 1960, but almost nobody has heard of it. Made at the same time as films like Godard's "Breathless" and Truffaut's "Shoot the Piano Player," Claude Sautet's somber, powerful thriller doesn't indulge in boyish fervor or narrative deconstructionism.

Conventional cinematic wisdom has it that films made in France at that time were a stale morass of period pictures and high-minded dramas until the New Wave brought a youthful jolt of joie de vivre. But this easy formulation marginalizes films from the time that neither fit within the status quo nor the youthful vanguard. Witness the sad fortunes of "Classe tous risques" (1960). That could change with Film Forum's release of this new print, finally subtitled in English. (It was released stateside briefly in a dubbed version, titled "The Big Risk," and hasn't been seen since.)

"Classe" begins in Milan, where Abel Davos (Lino Ventura), a gruff, weathered French criminal, parts with his wife and kids, planning to meet them later. Broke after fleeing across Europe for years, Abel decides to risk a return to France. With his best friend, Raymond Naldi (Stan Krol), he robs two bank couriers. A bravura ensues, a nearly dialogue-free 30-minute sequence of Naldi and Davos's elaborate escape - involving motorcycles, cars, buses, and boats - all in an effort to meet up with Abel's family in the border town of Ventimiglia and sneak back into France.

Jose Giovanni, the French ex-con whose authentic novels of the underworld drew on his former life as a hood, wrote the novel on which "Classe" is based. His central theme of honor among thieves has worked itself into the fibers of Sautet's treatment - not just in this opening sequence.

At its most basic level, "Classe tous risques" is a movie about a crook whose feelings get hurt. The sequence of Davos and Naldi's escape works because of a carefully established bond between the two criminals. Once he reenters France, Davos expects his old gang to exhibit a loyalty similar to Naldi's. He's mistaken, however; his pals have either gone legit, become too big, or gotten too hot to hook up with him. Instead, they send an unknown driver named Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo, that face familiar from so many New Wave classics) to haul him and his kids off inside a tricked-out ambulance.

Stark and Davos's relationship will turn out to be a beautiful one; indeed, it will serve to underline the sense of betrayal Davos feels from his friends, some of whom owe their lives to him. Though the film will give us some flashes of violence toward the end, it's to Sautet's credit that he keeps the focus primarily on his central character's feelings: As Davos seethes, the tension mounts. What begins as a high-speed chase movie becomes progressively more internal, leading to a surprising and sad finale.

Criterion Collection film essay [Bertrand Tavernier]  June 16, 2008

 

Criterion Collection film essay [N. T. Binh]  June 16, 2008

 

Classe tous risques (1960) - The Criterion Collection

 

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A HEART IN WINTER (UN COEUR EN HIVER)

France  (105 mi)  1993

 

Un Coeur en Hiver  Anthony Lane from The New Yorker

 

A tale of love and violins, but don't expect "Intermezzo.'' Claude Sautet's film, as its title suggests, is not much of a heartwarmer; but its cool look at thwarted passion is enthralling nonetheless. Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) makes and mends violins; Camille (Emmanuelle Béart) plays them. The two of them shift from distrust to desire to disappointment—in other words, they go through all the motions of love except the making of it. This is so restrained it's shocking; we feel the terrible pressure of all that Stéphane might do with his life and yet refuses to attempt. With his spirit as buttoned down as his shirts, Auteuil offers a startling portrayal of failure, never hamming it up for the sake of our compassion. André Dussollier turns in an equally quiet performance as Stéphane's business partner and rival in love; add Béart's immaculate poise, and you wonder what strange district of Paris this is, populated largely by emotional cripples. The movie will hardly blow your mind, but there's nothing precious here; Sautet builds up a needling tension, aided by fine renditions of Ravel at his most difficult and plaintive. In French. 

 

Edinburgh U Film Society [Spiros Gangas]

Two friends and partners, Stéphane (Autieul) and Maxime (Dussolier) run a violin making business in Paris. Maxime reveals to Stéphane the two-month relationship which he has with Camille (Béart), a young violinist whose attention seems to be drawn to Stéphane...

The plot reveals too many twists and delicate psychological tricks to be presented here in detail. It is another meditation on the notion of love as power and manipulation and it contains several socio-psychological threads which make it virtually impossible to categorise the film into a generalised schema. On the one hand the typically encountered love triangle is here used in order to highlight conflict at two different levels. Firstly by stressing the destructive effects regarding the manipulation of one's emotions, and secondly emphasising the decaying relationship between Stephane and Maxime, whereby friendship has been replaced by a more formal partnership. On the other, issues of the artist/craftsman and his self-contained world, of the teacher-pupil relationship (hence the enigmatic presence of Stéphane's mentor), or of latent homosexual desire, crop up continuously in a somehow covert form, rendering Un Coeur en Hiver something more than a perplexing love story.

Sautet's handling of the story contains moments of fine directorial skill, especially in cases where a small group of people are involved. For example, the scene where after a meal, Stéphane, his mentor, Camille and Maxime discuss the contemporary state of art is conducted exquisitely by Sautet who manages with great economy of means to convey the inner world and temperament of his characters. The music by Ravel might appear excessive at points but it remains a constant vehicle for uncovering emotions and resolving tensions. Daniel Autieul is astounding as the reticent, introverted craftsman whose emotional cul-de-sac is counterbalanced by self-pity, André Dussolier provides a beautifully sustained naturalistic performance, but the film belongs undoubtedly to Emmanuelle Béart who displays impressively how much she has matured as an actress. Entirely free of the typical pretentiousness which burdens contemporary French cinema, Un Couer en Hiver integrates all of its subtle elements into an elegant and complex whole and can easily be regarded as the best film to come out of France in many years.

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

The French are very good at the particular kind of romantic geometry on display in Claude Sautet's superb new film, "Un Coeur en Hiver" ("A Heart in Winter"). The love triangle is their form, their metier. It has also become one of their most overworked formulas. And so when "A Heart in Winter" began, with its tasteful Ravel strings, its muted palette and its music-world setting, I feared the worst.

But happily, "A Heart in Winter" isn't just a stroll through the gardens of high culture; it's a deceptively complex picture full of unexpected beauty, richness and feeling.

In "Heart" Sautet revitalizes the triangle form partly by standing it on its ear, partly by adhering strictly to its rules. The two male principals, Maxime and Stephane (Andre Dussollier and Daniel Auteuil), are in nearly every sense a perfect team. In the shop where they repair and restore violins for the elite of the French music world, they partner each other wordlessly and in effortless synchronization.

Their world is smoothly harmonized, ordered and routinized, with everything done according to schedule and -- though technically Maxime is Stephane's boss -- each person comfortable in his designated role. This is true even outside the shop -- on the racquetball court (where Stephane allows Maxime to win), or over dinner at the local bistro, where Maxime boasts of his extramarital liaisons and Stephane, who has no love life, listens.

That's what Stephane does: He listens. He is the silent partner in this relationship, and the calm center of the film. While Maxime charms the customers, holding their hands and soothing their delicate sensibilities, Stephane does the actual work on the instruments. And to this he is almost monkishly dedicated, happy to remain in the background.

That is, until Maxime drops his bombshell. Over dinner one night, the debonair Maxime informs Stephane that he is in love, that he is leaving his wife and setting up house with Camille (Emmanuelle Beart), a gifted and classically beautiful young violinist.

When he hears the news, Stephane's expression barely changes, yet Auteuil shows us that his friend has dealt him a wounding blow. With his dark, beady-eyed handsomeness, Auteuil is astonishingly good, especially considering the radically curtailed range of emotions he's allowed. And yet he and Sautet are very protective of the character's ambiguity and the murkiness of his motives. We're never sure, for example, whether Stephane is genuinely jealous of Maxime -- which he says he can't even imagine -- or merely feels betrayed and left out because Maxime had an affair and didn't tell him about it.

From this point on, the movie becomes an intense series of trios and duets. In doing so, Sautet follows a musical model, setting up each encounter as a musical interlude between instruments, each with its very distinct voice.

To some extent the concept of the triangle -- or, in this case, the trio -- is Sautet's true subject. And by placing an inscrutable male at the center, instead of the mysterious female who traditionally plays that role, Sautet -- and screenwriters Yves Ulmann, Jacques Fieschi and Jerome Tonnerre -- have put a new spin on the old math.

As the film progresses, Stephane becomes more and more of a puzzle. What we at first perceive to be shyness or social awkwardness in him, we learn is actually a joyless but consciously worked-out design for living. Stephane fancies himself the ultimate realist; while everyone else is obsessed with the muddled life of the heart, he walks the intellectual straight and narrow. When Camille plays for Stephane, she senses that somehow his responses are deeper, more fully felt than, say, Maxime's, which are spit-polished with the same shallow charm he dispenses effortlessly to any and everyone.

Immediately, Camille becomes obsessed with Stephane. And we can completely understand her passion, because Stephane is a deeply curious breed of cat, irresistibly devious and nearly impossible to nail down. In everything, Stephane refuses to declare himself. When Camille throws herself at him, he explains that he cannot return her feelings, that he cannot love her because such emotion is alien to him.

For a movie that is virtually without sex, sex is everywhere, especially in the scenes where Stephane watches Camille play, with her exquisitely elongated neck stretched to cradle her violin. But the sex is all on Stephane's terms -- that is, in the head, where it's less risky and where he can remain hidden.

Ultimately, the guy is a bit of a muddle. Yet that's okay here, mainly because the filmmakers (and Auteuil) have given us so many angles on the character that we're left with the rare problem of too many choices rather than too few.

Of the three parts, Maxime may be the most difficult, simply because he seems to be so completely what he is -- a man at ease with himself and his place in the world. As a result, we might tend to take Dussollier's champagne elegance for granted.

Because each of these characters carries such a heavy symbolic load, the tendency might be to play the archetype and not the person. But as Camille, Beart avoids this trap by throwing herself completely into her character's emotions. Camille represents what women characteristically represent in such situations -- messy emotionalism -- but Beart also shows how ambitious Camille is, and how easily she is able to cast Maxime aside when he is no longer useful to her.

Still, Auteuil is the revelation here. As Stephane, the actor displays the same meticulous concentration and attention to detail, the same combination of delicacy and precision, that his character shows in calibrating the angle of the fingerboard.

The same is also true for the film as a whole. Sautet hasn't been one of the cinema's brighter talents (even though he won an Oscar in '72 for "Cesar and Rosalie"), but "A Heart in Winter" is an expertly modulated piece of music in a minor key -- haunting and passionately understated and, surprisingly, resilient in the mind.

Raging Bull [Mike Lorefice]

 

Boston Review | Un Coeur en Hiver, reviewed by Alan A. Stone

 

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Movie Reviews UK  Damian Cannon

 

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Sauvaire, Jean-Stéphane

 

JOHNNY MAD DOG                                               B+                   91

France  Liberia  Belgium  (93 mi)  2008  ‘Scope

 

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop

 

Billie Holiday-Strange fruit- HD - YouTube (3:03), 1939

 

In the opening ten minutes of this movie the audience witnesses child murders and a rape, where a family comes under the attack of young rebel forces, an armed band of roving children carrying heavy weaponry and shouting foul obscenities, searching for food, government soldiers, money, and other children to recruit, forcing the family to submit at gunpoint, which includes ordering a young pre-teen son to either shoot his father or be killed, a rite of passage many of them have experienced first hand.  Africa is a continent that knows continual strife from the everpresent eruptions of violent and bloody civil wars, where the worst African scenario involves the conscription of young children who are kidnapped by warlords or local militias and sent off to the front, usually hopped up on drugs carrying AK-47 assault rifles, oftentimes never seeing their families again as they have been killed and their villages burned during the many massacres.  One of the more controversial books written on the subject centers on the fighting in Sierre Leone, an autobiographical account written by a child soldier who was abducted at age 13 and is called A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah, though many have questioned the historical accuracy of a child’s recollections.  This movie was shot in Liberia without ever identifying a country of origin, as the director instead relies on the viewer’s familiarity with a history of horrific African atrocities in Rwanda, Liberia, or the Sudan.

 

This film is a searingly raw and graphically realistic docudrama that follows one band of rebel soldiers under the command of 15-year old Johnny Mad Dog (Christophe Minie), who serves ‘Colonel Never Die’ (Joseph Duo), a mythical warlord who has recruited and trained them all, a fierce disciplinarian who instills uniformity through repeated profanity-laced mantras that are memorized and constantly shouted back in unison, especially during raids, a kind of military call back that mimics boot camp behavior.  But most peculiarly, the children wear whatever they have collected and picked up from their raids, which amazingly includes a pair of angel’s wings on one soldier, a red T-shirt claiming “It’s Better in the Bahamas,” a Crucifix, a white wedding dress, colorful wigs, a crash helmet, and what appear to be strands of Mardi Gras beads around the neck of Mad Dog.  This rag tag crew, many of whom are themselves former child soldiers from Liberia, look dressed for a photo shoot before a break dance contest instead of guerilla warfare military attire.  To prepare them for battle, they are given an assortment of pep pills, most likely amphetamines and large doses of cocaine rubbed into their wounds to keep them wired, medicine that the children are led to believe will keep them invincible.  As they enter a nearby city, Mad Dog is ordered to take out and secure the state-controlled TV station, where the female news anchor is immediately terrorized and raped by two different rebel soldiers.         

 

There is a parallel storyline that includes Mad Dog’s chosen girlfriend that he calls Lovelita (Careen Moore), who he simply picks out of a group of fleeing civilian refugees, who is the closest thing to someone or something that he actually cares about, as otherwise these rebels show no regard whatsoever for human life and are in every sense of the word a terror organization, perhaps best expressed in a street scene with a young kid carrying oranges who they assume is an enemy soldier, and who they treat with full contempt.  As they move through the deserted streets openly chanting their victory songs, they are caught by sniper fire, a riveting scene reminiscent of Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET (1987), where they systematically track down the line of fire, firing off celebratory bullets into the air afterwards.  Simultaneously the camera follows the tragic storyline of 16 year-old Laokolé (Daisy Victoria Vandy), who tries to move her legless father and little brother away from the advancing rebel assault, who is continually seen walking through the perilously dangerous city streets, carrying her wounded father in a wheelbarrow to the United Nations hospital, eventually losing both, a prevailing theme in this adrenaline-laced portrait of a world gone mad, where there is no order but unending terror and chaos, where even if the rebels were to succeed, it’s inconceivable to even consider their capacity to lead, as they were designed to seek and destroy and have little use in the actual rebuilding of the country.  They are instead the haunting and tragic reminders of the ugly scars of war.     

 

Jackson Tennessee Fourgeaud's profoundly unsettling score casts a pall over the bloodbath of horrors, framing what we see in a new and different light, offering an anguishing perspective that respects both the living and the dead, where at one point a rebel soldier’s radio strapped to his back carries a Martin Luther King speech about the history and ramifications of slavery, making a strange historical connection to these young children of war who have been uprooted from their homes and severed from their families literally for centuries, always serving the agenda of larger unseen powers.  One of the more moving sequences is a seemingly spontaneous song that one soldier sings after the death of his fellow comrade.  The film is an unending stream of screams, chants, songs, taunts, and slogans, all signs of propaganda and uneducated youth, as they may not be able to read, but their choral chants can instill bone-chilling fear.  Surprisingly, the most profoundly moving segment is the end credit sequence, set to a quiet, searingly personal Nina Simone rendition of “Strange Fruit” Strange Fruit Nina Simone Version - YouTube (3:28), an achingly graphic portrait of a Southern lynching made famous by Billie Holiday.  This connection to the roots of the slave trade is particularly effective, as are the chilling archival photos of child soldiers dressed up for war, proud to be seen photographed on a roadside lined with lingering images of atrocities and death.   

 

Johnny Mad Dog Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out London  David Jenkins

It’s something of a travesty that this sense-battering vérité war movie which follows a ferocious battalion of dead-eyed boy soldiers as they help to overthrow a tinpot dictator in an unnamed African state is being released on just three screens in London. Debut director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire shows all the technical moxie and in-your-face urgency of Paul Greengrass at his best, shooting the film in a clipped, docu-realist style that gives it the tension, the political profundity and the emotional wallop of even the classiest multiplex genre fare. Clad in dressing-up-box attire, including wedding dresses, fairy wings, wigs and crash helmets, this 15-strong unit of trigger-happy, pill-popping teens (all superbly brought to life by real Liberian youngsters, some actual ex-fighters) browbeat, exploit and murder all who stand in their way.

Like Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’, this is a film about the cultural influence of war: the vernacular, the attire, even the occasional sliver of dark poetry that can emerge from its dank recesses. The dialogue is made up almost entirely of patriotic clichés, machismo-fanning mantras and call-and-response chants. The film sees war as a deadener of moral and physical inhibition, a paradoxical state where there are no winners or losers, just the living and the dead. Stunning.

Johnny Mad Dog, review - Telegraph  Tim Robey

Imagine an African Lord of the Flies pulled off with the jittery expertise of The Hurt Locker, and you’re only some of the way to grasping what’s in store in Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Johnny Mad Dog. Shot in Liberia, and inevitably calling to mind the civil war which brought about Charles Taylor’s expulsion in 2003, it’s not historically specific, and in fact never even names its setting: but these child soldiers, with their outlandish borrowed garb and expletive-riddled patois, could come from nowhere else. One flaunts a pair of fairy wings; another, in someone’s just-evacuated bedroom, tries on a wedding dress for size, and is pleased enough to desport himself in it for most of the running time. What gives a surreal edge to the air of make-believe are the summary executions going on outside.

Johnny (Christopher Minie) is the lieutenant of this particularly virulent little gang, about 15 strong, who imagine themselves freedom fighters against a hated President, though a sharp moment towards the end makes it clear that it’s virtually arbitrary which side they’re fighting on. They’ve been indoctrinated into a horrifyingly robotic mindset which makes rape and killing their main tools of power, working themselves up into frenzies of knee-jerk rage as they claw what they can from this wreckage of a nation, and anyone unlucky enough to cross their path.

Meanwhile, Laokolé (Daisy Victoria Vandy), a 16-year-old student in the capital, tries to escape the encroaching terror with her baby brother in tow, setting us up for a confrontation with Johnny which has the grippingly ideological edge of gender combat. Of all, things, I’m reminded of an Alan Bennett line: “History is women following behind, with a bucket.” In this instance, he might have added an Uzi.

If the movie sounds tough, it certainly is, but Sauvaire is resolutely responsible in shooting and cutting his way around the carnage: it often has a glancing, offscreen impact, or happens in long shots, so we feel how morally distanced these boys have become. Slaughter is their routine. The actors he found to fill the ensemble, including the unforgettable Minie, know the rituals all too well: many were child soldiers themselves during the 2003 atrocities, agreeing to these reenactments as a kind of therapy. Sauvaire is on record for overseeing their continued counselling through his Johnny Mad Dog Foundation. Any trace of exploitation is outweighed by how eye-opening and sobering, and close to unique, this film is. Cinema normally hides from truths this hard.

Johnny Mad Dog | Review | Screen  Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily, also seen here:  Johnny Mad Dog 

Cinema is forever inventing new ways to tell us that war is hell, but few recent films have explored the extremes of that hell as vividly or intrepidly as Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's African drama Johnny Mad Dog. Shot in Liberia, with support from the Liberian government, the film is a terrifying, somewhat surreal story of child soldiers in that country's recent conflicts.

Shattering performances by unknowns, many of them actually former child soldiers, plus a confrontational directing style make this one of the most striking recent French fiction debuts. African-set stories are traditionally a tough sell, and its punishing brutality will deter some. But this will be a must at least for festival s, and an appealing attraction to niche buyers with an eye for the cutting edge.

Set apparently in Liberia - the location is never specified - the film follows a rag-tag detachment of under-age militia fighting in an African conflict. They are headed by an older General, Never Die (Duo), and have been trained over the years to be mercilessly brutal. For most of these boys, and the occasional female conscript, war is the only world they know. One teenager, Johnny Mad Dog (Minie), lost his family at 10, and has long since forgotten his real name. The detachment, kitted out in bizarre fancy-dress garb - fairy wings, wigs, hip-hop accoutrements, even a wedding dress - operate a ruthless shoot-on-sight policy, sometimes implemented on each other.

Their current mission, with Johnny as squadron leader, is to take over a city and help unseat the government. Meanwhile, a 13-year-old girl, Laokolé (Vandy), tends to her younger brother and their legless father. The film gradually brings Johnny and Laokolé together, positioning them as opposing forces of catastrophe and redemption in African society; a startling conclusion proving that Sauvaire has nothing quite so schematic in mind, but it offers at least the possibility of hope.

Sauvaire gives us some of the most terrifying and feral militia forces ever seen on film. The young soldiers rarely speak beneath a furious yell, terrifying their victims and barking out slogans and morale-boosting chants apparently culled from Vietnam movies. There's a certain Lord Of The Flies horror in the suggestion that these are still children at play in the most murderous way, their battle garb suggestive of a nightmarish carnival (end-credits photos of the real things show that this dress code is quite true to life).

The film is compelling from the start: Sauvaire's use of sound, disorienting framing and deliberately fragmented editing gives the film the urgency of recent mainstream war drama yet stands apart as very much an art film, stripping the action of any sensationalism. The predominant language is English, barked out with an edge of heavily-accented patois that make English subtitles necessary.

A terrific cast put their all into the action, all the more unsettlingly given that many of them have lived through these very horrors. Some will surely perceive an element of exploitation, unwitting or otherwise, in Sauvaire's recruiting these children to re-enact such atrocities; in fact a programme called the Johhny Mad Dog Foundation has been set up to help support the young actors.

Film review: Johnny Mad Dog | Film | The Guardian  Peter Bradshaw

Child soldiers - just like adult soldiers, only better. They're fitter, more agile, more fanatically ready to obey orders, as good if not better with weapons, only hazily subject to international law and crucially unencumbered with the adult's fear or indeed understanding of death. This is the world of Africa's infant warriors in Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's intestine-dissolvingly brutal and thrilling film, coproduced by Matthieu Kassovitz and based on the 2002 novel Johnny Chien Méchant by the US-based Congolese author Emmanuel Dongala. We see a group of boys, aged between 10 and 15, each carrying an assault rifle, being psyched up for their rebel faction's glorious final assault on the capital, by being screamed at, by participating in the cult chanting ritual loosely copied from American war movies and finally by getting cocaine rubbed into their open wounds, so that its stimulant influence, directly ingested, will override the lack of food or sleep.

Until watching this, I had heard the words "child soldier" in a kind of Orla Guerin voice in my head, sorrowful and perplexed like everyone else by the image of tiny belligerents seen on the TV news, grotesquely tricked out with guns and attitude. They could not actually be like grownups on the field of battle, surely; it must be a case of propaganda posturing?

No. The power of this movie lies in persuading you that these children are entirely able to do the work of adults, including pillage and rape. Some of them have bizarre kiddy mannerisms: one has angel wings, another puts on the wedding dress of the woman whose husband he has just executed. But everything they do in the movie could easily be done by young men five or 10 years their senior. Cast adult actors in the roles, and it would not look like Dennis Potter's famous adult-child play Blue Remembered Hills. It would look exactly the same. When the child-soldier unit snaps into action in one scene, with ferocious discipline and cohesion, I realised that the movie it looked like was Saving Private Ryan.

Sauvaire's movie places the action specifically in 2003, in the dying weeks of the civil war in Liberia. Charles Taylor's government is on the verge of collapsing and the rebels are advancing, victoriously if chaotically, on the capital, Monrovia. Johnny Mad Dog, played by Christopher Minie, is the 14-year-old leader of his irregulars; the others have names like Small Devil and Jungle Rocket. Johnny's second-in-command is a bloodthirsty younger boy worryingly called No Good Advice, a name which he has presumably not earned by recommending endowment mortgages.

Their mission is to proceed through villages and towns, "holding positions" and terrifying the populace, pressganging all the children into their ranks and stealing food and money. They are tacitly permitted and even encouraged to execute civilians for weapon-practice and esprit de corps, and their other function is to draw the fire of snipers positioned by the retreating government army. They are beyond feral, kept in fighting mood by the propulsive rhythms of their chant, like a playground game in hell: "You don't wanna die? - Don't be born! - I make a face? - Stay away from me!" Yet they have teamwork and strategy.

Johnny's story unfolds in parallel with that of a teenage girl called Laokole, played by Daisy Victoria Vandy, part of the fleeing mass of civilians, but destined to come into contact with Johnny.

Laokole transports her maimed father in a wheelbarrow and must look after her little brother, too. She fatefully witnesses Johnny's unit brutally shooting a small boy. For a strange, subdued moment, Johnny and Laokole meet on a shattered staircase in a deserted building. They look into each other's eyes. From then on, something appears to have changed inside Johnny. When his unit brings a wounded soldier to a UN hospital, and the blue-helmeted guards won't let his heavily-armed crew inside, Johnny appears to lose his nerve, ordering a "tactical retreat" despite overwhelming superiority in numbers - to the astonished disgust of the other Lost Boys.

Is Laokole going to humanise Johnny? That would be too easy. Yet clearly something has happened, something to jolt Johnny out of the closed and murderously abusive world which has been his family since he was tiny. But jolt him where? Their final meeting, in the film's concluding minute, is very striking and the performances of Vandy and Minie are something to wonder at. Its resolution was perhaps a little contrived, but the film's sheer force is, however, unarguable. It packs a punch that goes right through your solar plexus and out through your shoulder blades. And it carries a nauseous message: child soldiers are horrible, but they are simply the evolutionary endpoint of war. They are the exception which is all but indistinguishable from the rule. War is brutalising, infantilising, dehumanising, requiring the unquestioning submission to authority. All soldiers are child soldiers: that is the bitterly cynical nightmare that Sauvaire's film insists upon to the very end.

Sight & Sound [Trevor Johnstone]  December 2009

 

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Director interview  Ambrose Heron YouTube interview from Film Detail, March 16, 2010 (1:27)

 

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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier - Wikipedia, the free ...

 

The feud over Ishmael Beah's child-soldier memoir, A Long Way Gone. - By Gabriel Sherman - Slate Magazine  Gabriel Sherman from Slate, March 6, 2008

 

Sayles,  John

 

NOW with Bill Moyers. Arts & Culture. John Sayles | PBS  Biography

Filmmaker John Sayles began his career as a novelist and short story writer with the publication in 1975 of PRIME OF THE BIMBOS, followed in 1977 by UNION DUES, a National Critics' Circle and National Book Award nominee. A short story collection, THE ANARCHISTS' CONVENTION appeared in 1979, when he began working as a screenwriter for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Early screenwriting credits include PIRANHA, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, THE HOWLING, and ALLIGATOR.

Using the money he earned writing "creature features," he financed his first film in the roles of writer, director, and editor, RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN, a bittersweet look at a reunion of 60's political activists. The film, with a production budget of only $40,000, gained a national theatrical release, won the LA Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay and helped launch the "American Independent" film movement. His second film, LIANNA, was one of the first American movies to deal with a lesbian relationship in a non-exploitive manner, and set several house records in theatres around the United States.

His first studio movie, BABY IT'S YOU, was released by Paramount in 1983, and featured newcomers such as Rosanna Arquette, Vincent Spano, Matthew Modine and Robert Downey, Jr. in a mid-60's coming-of-age drama. Next was the very low budget THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, an African American sci-fi allegory starring Joe Morton as a black extra-terrestrial who crashes to earth in Harlem.

Sayles filled a three-year filmmaking hiatus by acting in a critically acclaimed theater production of The Glass Menagerie with Joanne Woodward and Karen Allen and directing three rock videos for Bruce Springsteen: "Born in the USA," "I'm On Fire" and "Glory Days." He also won a Writers Guild Award for best TV movie screenplay for UNNATURAL CAUSES, which dealt with the legacy of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war and starred Alfre Woodard.

He was then able to film MATEWAN and EIGHT MEN OUT, projects he had written several years earlier. MATEWAN is the story of a bloody 1920 West Virginia coalminers' strike, and marked his first collaboration with Chris Cooper and Mary McDonnell, as well as with cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who received an Academy Award nomination for his photography. Sayles wrote a textbook about the screenplay and the experience of the production entitled THINKING IN PICTURES that is used in film courses to this day. EIGHT MEN OUT, the story of the 1919 Black Sox baseball scandal, was based on the book by Eliot Asinof and was one of the last movies released by Orion Pictures. It has become a perennial on television during playoff and World Series time.

The television movie SHANNON'S DEAL, written by Sayles, led to a highly-acclaimed but short-lived TV series of the same name in 1989-90 and starred actors Elizabeth Pena, Richard Edson, and Migue Ferrer who would later appear in his films. The teleplay won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers Association.

CITY OF HOPE, appearing in 1990, was an urban epic filmed in a mere five weeks, one of the lowest-budget Cinemascope movies ever made. It featured appearances by actors he would work with again and again: Cooper, Morton, David Strathairn, Angela Bassett, Miriam Colon, and Tom Wright among others. His third novel, LOS GUSANOS, a multi-generational tale set in Cuba and Miami's Little Havana, was published in 1991, and since has been translated into several languages. Next came PASSION FISH, a film about the healing relationship between a home-care nurse coming out of rehab and a paraplegic former soap opera star. Alfre Woodard was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, Mary McDonnell for an Academy Award for Best Actress and Sayles received his first Academy nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH was based on the children's book THE SECRET OF THE RON MOR SKERRY by Rosalie K. Fry and was the first of his movies filmed outside the United States, on the Northwest coast of Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The story deals with the legend of a half-human, half-seal selkie and the fate of her descendants. Moving to the Mexico-Texas border, Sayles next directed LONE STAR, a tale of race and history that proved to be his most commercially successful picture and garnered a second Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

MEN WITH GUNS, a road movie set in a strife-torn Latin American country, was shot on a very low budget in three different states in Mexico, with dialogue principally in Spanish and several indigenous languages. The film starred the eminent, award-winning Latin American actor Federico Luppi. It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best foreign-language film. LIMBO, released in 1999, was a story of three damaged people (played by David Strathairn, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Vanessa Martinez) who find each other in the extremes of the Alaskan wilderness. It was invited to the Official Competition of the Cannes Film Festival and remains Sayles' most controversial movie.

SUNSHINE STATE, boasting a stellar cast led by Edie Falco and Angela Bassett, was released in 2002. The film takes place during a festival week in a Florida coastal town about to be inundated by corporate tourism. The film received a National Board of Review Special Mention for Excellence in Filmmaking. The film also appeared on over 25 Top Ten Lists, including The New York Times, Premiere Magazine, Film Comment, The Associated Press, L.A. Weekly and The San Francisco Examiner. Additionally, Angela Bassett received the NAACP Image Award for Best Actress for her performance.

Sayles' fourteenth film, CASA DE LOS BABYS starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Susan Lynch, and Rita Moreno is the story of six American women waiting to adopt babies in an unnamed Latin American country. Moreno plays the head of the hotel where they are staying.

Throughout his career, Sayles has continued to function as a screenwriter for hire, working with a "Who's Who" of American and international directors and writing over 50 scripts. He received the John D. MacArthur Award, given to 20 Americans each year for their innovative work in diverse fields. He is also a recipient of the Eugene V. Debs Award, the John Steinbeck Award and the John Cassavettes Award. In 1998, he was honored with the WGA Lifetime Achievement Award.

As an actor he has appeared in dozens of films, written songs for his own features, and served as executive producer on Alejandro Springall's SANTITOS and the Sundance Picture Winner GIRLFIGHT, written and directed by Karyn Kusama.

Film Comment  Gavin Smith interviews Sayles from Film Comment, May/June 1996

Will the real John Sayles please stand up? Novelist, former B-movie hack writer, studio rewrite ace (most recently, Apollo 13), bit-part actor --but mainly independent filmmaker. Meaning what exactly?

The first generation of independents (Cassavetes, Warhol, Shirley Clarke, Maurice Engel, Robert Young, Robert Kramer) represented a distinct break with the classical values of mainstream U.S. filmmaking. Sayles's generation, the second (including Jost, Burnett, and Nunez), withdrew from the avant-gardism and cinéma vérité of the first, towards sociopolitical engagement and naturalism. They were free of the selfconsciousness and mannered styles of the third generation (Jarmusch, the Coens, Van Sant, Soderberg), and almost old enough to be fathers to most of the fourth (Kevin Smith, Tarantino, Hartley).

Unlike his peers, Sayles has found an autonomous niche between the studio major leagues and the indie minors. For him, the term "independent" surely has a political significance largely lost on or taken for granted by the next two generations. In fact, many of his films have internalized it thematically --the social and/or personal struggles in Lianna ('83) and Matewan ('87) are explicitly about gaining independence; his films ponder and problematize the relationships of individual/community and personal/social; and there's always an underlying dynamic between idealists seeking freedom and pragmatic realists who have attained a measure of independence. That last is worth noting because, as a filmmaker, Sayles himself is strikingly pragmatic, tailoring his screenplays and style to the resources available to him.

Indeed, Sayles's sensibility is, in the first place, a practical and organizing one (it's significant, I think, that he edits his films himself). Taken along with his flair for considered, critical reworking of narrative and social conventions, this may explain something: the curious dispassion and objectivity of his films. The risk-taking is discreet, embedded in the writing --there's rarely any nerviness in the directing, any feeling of a director getting carried away with the medium. Until recently, his films have been mainly prose, lacking in poetry. They can be compelling and moving, but for someone whose career began on the wild fringes of Corman exploitation flicks, Sayles is surprisingly respectful of filmic decorum and good taste. I miss the disreputable vitality and juicy, sardonic humor of his screenplays for Lewis Teague's Lady in Red ('79) and Alligator ('80) and Joe Dante's The Howling ('81). Ever since, apart from Passion Fish ('92), Sayles puzzlingly seems to have largely denied his innate sense of humor, while the comedic aspects of The Brother from Another Planet ('84) feel flat and labored. Nearly twenty years on, Sayles's scripts for films like Piranha (Dante, '78) exemplify the subversive potential of the pulp/exploitation/genre tradition. But like "independent," "exploitation" too has its own undeniable political significance, and having mastered this brand of fast-and-loose storytelling, Sayles turned away to more earnest, well-meaning --but at times impersonal --subject matter, and more quiet storytelling registers: Return of the Secaucus Seven ('80), Lianna, and Brother from Another Planet all shun or downplay the traditional principles of overt conflict and tension as narrative mainsprings. Is David Thomso