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Posted: May 21st, 2014, 7:13 pm
by kingrat
Welcome to SSO! Thanks for writing about a couple of unfamiliar films.


Posted: May 25th, 2014, 5:31 pm
by sandykaypax
Wanted to repsond about A Royal Affair--I really liked it, too! I also watched it on Netflix streaming--I saw that Swedish actress Alicia Vikander was in it, and since I enjoyed her performance greatly as Kitty in Anna Karenina, I watched it with interest.

Very well done historical drama concerning the Danish court.

Sandy K


Posted: June 2nd, 2014, 6:39 pm
by kingrat
Ida (2014, dir. Pavel Pavlikowski) will not be playing on as many screens as the latest Godzilla or X-Men, but it’s worth seeking out. This is one of the most visually distinctive films I’ve seen in a long time, with its elegant black and white cinematography emphasizing the grays, and shot after shot worth reproducing in a coffee table book. Much praise to the cinematographers, Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, and the director, who particularly like interior shots looking out into a misty world and exterior shots with windows looking inside to a smoke-filled room.

Sister Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novitiate nun about to take her final vows when her mother superior tells her that she is actually a Jewish girl named Ida who was left at the convent orphanage during WWII. Anna/Ida is instructed that she must see her aunt and learn about her family before she takes her vows. Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) turns out to be melancholy, promiscuous, and alcoholic, bitter that her status as a judge in the Stalinist era has been reduced to the role of a minor magistrate in the post-Stalinist world of 1962 Poland. Together the two women seek out the truth about the death of Ida’s parents. Agata Kulesza makes the most of her meaty role as Wanda. Agata Trzebuchowska reminded me of the young Rita Tushingham and Sissy Spacek, waif-like, not beautiful, but an ideal camera subject who commands the screen.

Dialogue is spare; I’d like to have learned even more about those who hid and those who betrayed Ida’s parents, but perhaps the limited nature of what she learns is part of the meaning. Pawlikowski’s approach is so unsentimental that he even manages to get away with the cliché of having the young man who is drawn to Ida be a jazz musician. The music of John Coltrane is important in the film, and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony is even more important.

Like so many of the black and white films we love, Ida is less than an hour and a half long.


Posted: June 3rd, 2014, 6:45 pm
by kingrat
I liked An Angel at My Table (1990, dir. Jane Campion), shown as part of the Australian film series on TCM. This was originally shown on television in three segments, each about 50 minutes long, and that is how I watched it, without intending to. This follow the New Zealand writer Janet Frame from a rural childhood to institutionalization to travel and the beginnings of a successful career. Three different actresses play Janet as she grows up, and both the youngest, Alexia Keogh, and the adult Janet, Kerry Fox, are superb.

Previous postings indicated that some of you are not too fond of Campion’s later film, The Piano. I liked it, with the proviso that I would not consider the Harvey Keitel/Holly Hunter relationship to be love, and I found Sam Neill sympathetic in many respects as the husband. That may not be how Campion sees things. She doesn’t go out of her way to build sympathy for her characters, which is both a positive and a negative. She avoids sentimentality, overstatement, and special pleading, all of which are real possibilities for the material in An Angel at My Table, but she misses the chance to achieve maximum emotional impact. For instance, she obviously doesn’t want to rehash One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in her treatment of Frame’s years spent in mental institutions, but she might have explored more deeply without fear of overemphasizing the horror of the situation. Two of Frame’s sisters meet unexpected fates, but we scarcely recognize either sister, so again this doesn’t affect us too much.

The childhood third was my favorite part. The way things just happen, without much rhyme or reason, seems to me the way most children experience their lives. This is the approach Campion follows throughout the adolescent and adult sections as well. Characters just appear; we have to figure out who they are and infer what has happened in Janet’s life between scenes. The compensation for this approach is that Campion has a remarkable eye. To give one small example, the shy Janet hears the man who lives upstairs bringing a woman home, and we follow the light through the cracks in the ceiling as the two people walk into his room. Travel is an important motif, and there is a beautiful shot of a train at sunset making its way through the landscape.

The music makes intelligent use of Schubert, Janet Frame’s favorite composer, with one of his piano sonatas and his song “An die Musik” sung by the great contralto Kathleen Ferrier. There is also imaginative use of the setting of a Robert Burns poem, “Duncan Gray.” This is the “Ha, ha, the wooing o’ it” which is sung at one point; we have heard it earlier as a plaintive yet jaunty tune on the pennywhistle.

I am very grateful to TCM for making this excellent film (which it is, despite my reservations) available to us.


Posted: June 22nd, 2014, 11:14 pm
by Lucky Vassall
Doing some digging in the Foreign Film Forum, I found Kingrat’s description of La Promesse and was intrigued enough to watch it. It was even better than I expected. My reaction reminded me a lot of my reaction to the French New Wave when it first started. Like those films, I couldn’t believe how their technique made the story seem so real.

That film led me to seek out the Dardenne brothers later film, The Son (Belgium 2002), which is easily the best film I’ve watched this year. Like the earlier film, they use a hand-held camera, lots of close-ups, and keep you guessing as to the meaning of the action. You’ll find lots of other similarities as well, such as the two principals being a grown man and a teenage boy and the fact that we are kept waiting until the climax to find out “will he or won’t he.”

The entire first third of the film leaves you wondering what the principal character is doing, and why. He is played by the actor who played the father in La Promesse, Olivier Goumet, who won the Best Actor Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. The story is told from his point of view, so he is in every scene. We quickly learn that he teaches carpentry at a vocational training center and is divorced, but it’s clear there’s considerably more to his back story than that. Even when we learn more, we are still kept in the dark as to why he does what he does. In fact, in a moving scene, his former wife asks him, “Why?” And his response, “I don’t know,” sums up the entire picture. No wonder he won; how many actors get to play “I don’t know,” for an entire film, and how many could do it and still keep our interest?

I note that Roger Ebert included The Son in his 2002 ten best list, and I certainly have to agree with him. I urge any Foreign Film lover to seek out this film. I guarantee, it’s one you won’t soon forget.


Posted: September 5th, 2014, 7:35 pm
by kingrat
I am still enjoying the Jeanne Moreau films from SUTS. I saw most of Jules and Jim, having not seen it for many years. Frankly, after seeing several of Truffaut's later films when they were spotlighted on TCM, I was afraid that it might not be all I had remembered. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, although--ironically, given Truffaut's status as one of the proponents of the politique des auteurs--the skill and charisma of the stars, Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, and Henri Serre, has much to do with the success of the film. Not to slight Truffaut's contribution, but I wonder how impressive his direction would seem without Moreau and Werner. In many ways, the carefully scripted Jules and Jim fits comfortably into the tradition of Hollywood star vehicles.

Bay of Angels is a film I'd been curious about for years. I like it better than Demy's Lola, not quite so much as the masterful Umbrellas of Cherbourg, although that one is hard to top. Moreau looks frankly unattractive through much of the movie, appropriately so as a middle-aged woman addicted to gambling. Claude Mann plays the rather inexperienced younger man who develops his own gambling addiction. SPOILERS: The "happy" ending doesn't strike me as happy at all. Demy, I think, sees the two as a romantic couple genuinely in love, but I see it as a young man condemning himself to gambling hell due to his infatuation with a worthless woman, even if she does look like Jeanne Moreau. Perhaps this is because I knew someone in a comparable situation; things did not end well.

The Immortal Story was a disappointment; I hope to write more about it later. The Lovers was not a disappointment at all, quite the reverse, and I hope to write about it, too. The distancing effect which is the central element of Louis Malle's films was never more on display than here. Diary of a Chambermaid has not begun well; Moreau doesn't make much effort to be credible as a housemaid, although she is absolutely credible as a watchable movie star. There's still The Trial to watch. Oh, and although La Notte turned out to be not one of my favorite Antonioni films, it was very much worth watching, and again Moreau's star power shone through. She has Bette Davis' skill at looking beautiful at times and unattractive at other times.

It wouldn't be extravagant to get down on bended knees to thank TCM just for showing this remarkable set of films. And this was only one day.


Posted: September 6th, 2014, 11:27 am
by JackFavell
I'm totally with you on the Jeanne Moreau day. I would not only get down on bended knees, I'd actually prostrate myself in front of TCM headquarters and/or any of the staff to thank them for that incredible lineup!

You still have some of the best films to see! I agree about La Notte, but it's a dense I think I could go back to and find more in. Of course, just training the camera on Moreau's face for two hours one could find a wealth of mystery and revelation. I'm beginning to agree with Orson Welles that she is the greatest film actress.


Posted: December 17th, 2018, 11:36 pm
by Masha
Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

This movie was written, produced and directed by Werner Herzog.

I believe that statement is all the description necessary. I believe it explains also why it is such a difficult movie to describe. He has said in interviews that it came to him as a fully-realized nightmare. I consider the movie a great success in that it does let us look into a perverse genius's nightmare. It is nearly as disjointed as any dream and it scratches at the scabs of primal fears.

Inmates take over the asylum. Then what? They realize it would be pointless to escape because they would be quickly caught. It is obvious that there is no place for them in the bleak landscape. This lack of place is truly why they are there in the first place. The situation quickly devolves into tiny debaucheries of juvenile violence and impotent sexuality.

I found the movie as fascinating as it was disturbing. The implications re: unfettered human behaviour are as deep and as far-reaching as it is superficial and shortsighted.

I believe this is one of those movies which a person will either love or hate with very little middle ground. I hesitate for that reason to recommend that any watch it but I do hope that all do watch it at least once for it is a unique experience.