Safe (1995/Haynes) **** PRO
after several recommendations on RT i finally get to see my first Todd Haynes. it is a powerful experience indeed.
Julianne Moore is given her best role, and masterizes it with minimalist acting.
the film itself is minimalist and almost cinéma-vérité, following in every step of her life, a wealthy wife who realizes unconsciously the boredom of her pointless lifestyle. She gradualy becomes allergic to all her environment, food, dust, car pollution, spray bomb, chemicals, textile... while the medical specialists (doctor, physician, psychiatrist) are clueless and helpless.
this film began in the most socialy and healthy secured environment, where anyone would feel safe and happy, tragicaly slides into an agressive world of oppression and permanent hazard, in her head at least, or so everybody thinks. is she nuts or is the entire world unsensitive to this new "plague"?
i liked the way the film leaves it all up to personal interpretations, without blaming "profitable sects", "alternate new age cures", "mental illness", "filthy rich people"... because it paints a real human drama, even if this woman is overreacting, her system cry out loud that she cant take it anymore. the world is crazy and the "emotional strike" is the only possible way to protest, or to lock herself in.
beautiful cinematography, and excelent choices of scene directing, mainly based on characters interractions in pertinent moments of their lives, never falling into the narrative cliché.

Samaria (2004/Kim Ki-duk) +++/pro
From an indian tale about a prostitute who converted all her clients to Buddhism, a korean girl tries to change perverts into better people, her father is a policeman who discovers it and breaks down. Totally abstract and alledgly poetical... if such subject can be poetic. Disturbing and thought provokating, both crude and contemplative.

Sanjuro / Tsubaki Sanjûrô (1962/Akira Kurosawa/Japan) +++/PRO
Toshiro Mifune is a rude and lazy ronin-hobo, a "naked blade", yet much smarter than a bunch of 9 young bewildered samurais ploting to takeover the clan commandement, and will walk them through the traps and ambushes. Kurosawa makes of a classic power rivalery showdown, a witty comedy, on cinemascope where he lines up 10 lead characters upfront! With an appropriate gloomy noir photography and swift expert scenes of sheer violence. A moral subtext advice not to judge a man on his face (deformed, dirty or sympathetic) as a very different mind might hide behind.

Sanshiro Sugata (1943/Akira Kurosawa) +++/pro
it's a pretty simple story (bordering Karate Kid), but Kurosawa debut directing in 1943 is brilliant!
Even Ozu declared : "if 100 is the max rating, Sanshiro deserves a 120 ! Congrats Kurosawa!" The film was such a popular success a sequel was immediately projected and directed by Kurosawa in 1945.
The missing parts (replaced by intertitles summary) were suppressed (and later lost) by the censorship during WW2 for fear of promoting rebellion.
I agree the fight scenes are a bit of an elliptic jumpy trick (discontinuous camera shot showing only before and after the moves), but the result is as effective, keeping the film from being a straight action film to focus on the romanticized drama it's supposed to be.
The story takes place in 1883 in Tokyo, around the life of Shogoro Yano, creator of the new art of Judo when the old school practized only Jiu-jitsu, the ancestral japanese martial art. It's funny to see japanese people wearing 3 pieces european suits in the streets, especially the martial art masters, while in modern japanese films the traditional kimono is worn by all. The fight tournament is organized by the police to enroll the best fighters. Due to the rageous rivalry between the old/new schools these are deathmatches, when the competitors are not killed in the street during singular duels.
Sanshiro becomes more skillful than his master, after a beautiful poetical ellipse where we see one of his clogs abandonned in the street when he decided to join the Judo school, the wind, rain, snow, time pass over the clog, until we meet again Sanshiro drunken fighting in the streets.
The scene in the pond with the lotus flower is not so obscur... On the contrary it is probably the best scene in the film. Sanshiro uses his judo unconsiderately, away from The Way of the Man, which angers his master. Proud and Immature, Sanshiro shows off and try to commit suicide by standing in a cold muddy pond, stiff attached to a stick until death. He is in the middle of a dramatic triangle : the heart (his mates who try to appease the master), the art (the master's rigorous punishment), the spirit (the monk who preaches to break the silly grudge in a sarcastic way). Sanshiro alone in the pond thinks hard, and when he looks at the lotus flower (vivid symbol) shining in the moonlight, remind him the meaning of life and the vanity of his pride.
The final fight in the wind is highly dramatic indeed. And the romance between Sanshiro and Sayo is always respectful and tender, never cheesy.

Santa Sangre (1989/Alexendro Jodorowsky/Mexico/Italy) +++/pro
The doppleganger's performance was truly outstanding! I could see these hands having a life of their own, belonging to someone else, a woman. A couple scenes are masterpieces like the shot of the crucifixion with the roosters, the 'Birdy' soul asylum, the elephant funeral, the hands music-hall number! But unfortunately the film's quality is uneven. I understand this is an glam-exploitation flick with a "cheap-kitsch" look, but it goes from extraordinary scenes to really bad shots. The first half hour was so campy I thought I would not enjoy it. The Santa Sangre Temple and the whole circus episode didn't work for me, too cheap, even if the sets/costumes were quite inspired. But nothing like the magical atmosphere of the second part. Really amazing.
I especialy enjoyed all the early cinema references : Freaks (in the circus), the Marceau pantomime (Les Enfants du Paradis), Birdy (in the psychiatric hospital), Mélies (in the "disappearance of the mommy" number), the cemetary scene with the living deads, Mandrake (comics)...
Really a powerful film, with a very personal inspiration, symbols and imagery. What a great freudian allegory for the Oedipian complexion, if I've seen any : The son whose mother literaly inhabits his body, screams "Get out of my life" when he tries to starts his sentimental love-life with his childhood love...
The identification of Fenix to his father, Orgo, is central here, like if was doomed to grow up as a macho womanizer molesting/raping/killing women, like his father-figure. The overwhelming weight of the gene pool, and the parental education, so mindbending that it drives him crazy, even long after both his parents are dead. Meaning we never escape the active or passive upbringing of our parents, like Freud said. The circus environment is particularly telling, as it's were you "adopt" wild animals (wild but also innocent and free) then tame/train/condition to mimic behavior alien to their nature. The scene of the young deaf-mute girl is forced to walk a cable on fire is significative. Fenix has been educated like an animal in a circus, by abusing, delirious parents. His mother, a bigoted religious fanatic, is no better. Religion is dominating life and education, especialy in Mexico, where the population (especially women) is living by the religious calendar : church, pilgrimage, devotion to shrines, absurd miracles all around the place... (that you call hypochrisie of religion 101)
So Jodorowsky turns into real life aspects the nightmarish phobia of being the reincarnation of the father: tatoo, cowboy costume... which is the physical interpretation of Fenix's mental alienation, which split his persona into the good mommy's boy and the boy become man like his father, both being inconciliable and terribly obstructing for his sexual life. His attraction for the transexual half-Schwarzzy half-princess shows his confusion searching to reconcile the 2 extreme ends of his desire.
I believe Orgo is an american coming from the United States, right? There is an interesting political statement here too. Eagle+cowboy = yankee.
the "Begging Him to Break my Arms/War with Controlling Mommy theme" is also interesting : Mommy = mummy in the theatre trick (and I hadn't figured the mother was dead by then! )
When he paints white his missed "brides" to call the white of his childhood love the deaf-mute girl, expresses the overwhelming everlasting print of the first lovestruck over all subsequent love affairs, striving to find the perfect woman as innocent and pure as the child-love, and trying to forge each new conquest into the idealised model, which failure causes fatal death. Death of love, skipping to the next affair, but in Jodorowsky's world, leads to literal murder.

Saraband (2004/Bergman/Sweden) ++
Made for TV, projected at digital venue only. A follow up of the story of Marianne and Johan, divorced couple of Scenes from a Marriage (a made for TV epic). Very stagey direction cut in a dozen sequences featuring a different combination of protagonists by pair. Opened and closed by Liv Ullman's frontal-camera monologs contemplating a life in photographies. Film dedicated to Ingrid Thulin, deceased last year.

Sayat Nova / Color of Pomegranates (1968/Armenia/Parajanov) ****/PRO
i cant say i understood all the symbolism (which is the only obscur aspect), but the storyline is rather simple, and the intertitles explains all u need to know.
i suppose to read the author's poetry and know more about armenian culture would enhance the comprehension of the film. but as an ethnologic film on a foreign culture (the religious ceremonies, the traditional rituals, the education, the social life, the market, the sacrifice, the marriage) is told by images, we dont really need commentaries.
quite simply this is the biography of this poet. from birth to death. i thought there would be more citation of his poetry and more insights in his work. i was frustrated too (i was victim of my expectations ) i really wish i had the quotes written to read them again afterward.
but the power of the film is to translate the meanings of this poet's inspiration and style through the symbolism and photography of the images used to tell the story. hence the sometimes surrealist situations that obviously takes distance with his REAL life. it's like a visual poem he would have written on his own life. from what i gethered, the guy wrote this kind of poems (from the qotes), about love, social life, education and all, things taken from traditional life and from his own experience. so in a way, the film does justice to his memory and his work.
some scenes are truly masterful and compare with Tarkovsky's best shots in Zerkalo or Nostalghia...
the boy lives among books in his childhood, and his grand father who is a literate respected man gave him the taste for words and literature. he grows up, bathed in the armenian culture, traditions, religion... becomes a menestrel, go to the court, then to a monastery, get married, lose his relatives and spiritual father... and leaves on the road before dying himself.
this isnt too hard to follow throughout the film, even without the intertitles. althought i believe the same actor plays the poet adolescent, and his bride... so it's quite confusing when they are wearing traditional costumes.
and each period of his life is not depicted in a descriptive way, pragmatic and factual. they are told poeticaly, through symbols and images that best express his feelings and the source of his inspiration for his art.
the colorful traditions and craftwork (rugs, paintings, costumes, market, religion), the education (religion, books, initiation), the oral culture (tales, poetry, songs, music, sacrifice, rituals). even without knowing them, or understanding why they do it, we get the gist of this people's identity... it's not too far from more famous cultures : turkish, arab, russian, indian.
i thought the marriage ceremony looked very indian!
and there isnt much more to understand from it. it's merely a testimony of the "lost" heritage of the armenian people who suffered oppression and banishment through the ages, and a massive genocide in 1915 (1.5 million killed) by the Ottoman empire (Turkey).
the surrealist scenes are easy to connect with poetry. not more complex than Buñuel's, Tarkovsky's, Cocteau's, Has', Maya Deren's, Quay Brothers', Svankmajer's or Lynch's films...
it's about poetic images collision, word associations, subconscious, abstract inspiration, pure aesthetism. there is nothing rational to understand or to analyze. just let it flow and float with the wind.

The Sea **
Festen revisited by an icelandic fisherman! funny and thick. script a little weak but good pieces of acting and truthful presentation of a small industry in a lost island.

Searching for Debra Winger (2002, Rosanna Arquette, USA) -
Rosanna Arquette interviews her friends from the movie business about the status of actresses in Hollywood, compared to actors, and around the question "how an actress can work while being a woman, a mother and a wife?"
I never heard of Debra Winger before, but she is presented like a landmark in the trend of aging actresses retired from work for family duties.
Featuring Patricia Arquette, Emmanuelle Béart, Katrin Cartlidge, Laura Dern, Jane Fonda, Teri Garr, Whoopi Goldberg, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Kelly Lynch, Julianna Margulies, Chiara Mastroianni, Samantha Mathis, Frances McDormand, Catherine O'Hara, Julia Ormond, Gwyneth Paltrow, Martha Plimpton, Charlotte Rampling, Vanessa Redgrave, Theresa Russell, Meg Ryan, Ally Sheedy, Adrienne Shelly, Hilary Shepard, Sharon Stone, Tracey Ullman, JoBeth Williams, Debra Winger, Alfre Woodard, Robin Wright Penn ... and Roger Ebert (the only male!)
The bulk of insights are mandatory for participants in the Female archetypes debate, as the moral pressure on actresses to look beautiful (with forceful plastic surgery) and limited to supporting the lead male role for simplistic dichotomy without grey areas between the horny teenager and the ugly mother.
Their conclusion is unanimous there aren't any good roles for females in their 40ies, and very few for Oscar winners oldies.
An interesting glimpse of behind the scene non-P.C. thoughts of famous actresses. Unfortunately it doesn't go very deep beyond the well known clichés ("is she fuckable?", "plastic surgery bad", "kids are my first priority"...)
Rosanna is too easygoing and flaterring with her interviewees "I love your work, You're my inspiration, You're still sexy, You're beautiful" so this chat at dinner tables sounds like girl's night out gossips. And doesn't make real life actresses look smarter than their scripted roles...
Only the older actresses (Rampling, Stone, Redgrave, Fonda, Winger) have a meaningful look back on their career choices and the business environement. Which alone makes the documentary worthwhile.
The part when they talk about child education is especially pathetic, making actresses look like the naive bourgeoisie of motherhood amazed at the fancy of raising real life children : how tragic it is to go to work leaving a child behind, stealing that moment when peeking at a sleeping child, compromising their career for their kids and husband, being mom full-time...
Anyway it's a wide range of stars criticizing the male-driven society in the film industry, where only perfect women fit in and aging mothers are alienated for ever.
Rosanna once asks "Why did Debra Winger have to quit? What can we do about it? Should we raise a revolution?"
The girls talk a lot, complain a lot, but finally don't come up with any solution and obviously condone the male-centric system by accepting weak roles or giving up to a private family life altogether.

Seisaku's Wife / Seisaku no tsuma (1965/Yasuzo Masumura/Japan) ++/pro
Superb B&W scope cinematography, with a couple glorious key scenes showing off a brilliance of composition and dynamics (love making, capture). Unfortunately the oversignificant screenplay is essentialy dialogue-delivered with redundant lines, and a hasty introductive plot exposition skipping through 3 funerals in 5 mins (!). Although by showing nothing but newspaper headlines from the 1905 war against russia fought by a couple of villagers, the film translates the oppressing disconnection of the countryside with the front line. Interesting portrait of a re-married widow alienated by an intolerant population.

Les Sentiments (2003/France/Noémie Lvovsky) ***
with a delicious Nathalie Baye, an ever enjoyable Jean-Pierre Bacri, a full frontal nudity Isabelle Carré, and Melville Poupaud.
a nice little drama-comedy, without great ambitions, but some good scenes and truthful character performances.
a young couple (Carré+Poupaud) move in next door to replace an country doctor who wants to retire (Bacri+Baye). While the hubbies talk about the trade transmission, the women share their feelings at home. Soon, Bacri falls in love with Carré which makes him act funny and make him feel young again. this adultary affair is well played :). When they are busted, the wonderful friendship between the 2 couples is broken... and the couples have different reactions to overcome this accident.
the film is punctuated by a sort of antic choir: a choir class filmed separately who sings the various episodes of the story. but the art direction on set is dreadful! blah. apparently someone likes red in the crew, as well as silly clothes with bright colors and shapes...

Shadows 1959 - USA - B&W
directed, written & edited by John Cassavetes
co-produced by Seymour Cassel
with : Lelia Goldoni, Ben Carruthers, Hugh Hurd (also in Woman Under the Influence)
cameo of John Cassavetes and Seymour Cassel
Cassavetes' jazz-scored improvisational film explores interracial friendships and relationships in Beat-Era (1950's) New York City.
Benny's a hipster, moving in and out of Manhattan's beat scene, aimless, maybe close to trouble. His sister Lelia, who looks less African-American than White, is vulnerable and about to fall in love. Hugh, their older brother, is a struggling singer whose agent, Rupert, may be the only person with faith in his talent. The story moves back and forth, like jazz, among the three of them and what seems at first to be separate lives. Lelia meets Tony, and lets herself hope this is true love. Then he meets Hugh and prejudice gives Tony an excuse to cut and run. Can family and friendship bring solace for her hurt, purpose for Benny, and belief in Hugh? Is life more than shadows? ( from IMDb)
a very intimate piece of cinéma vérité, based on improvized scenes around a theme, long uncut plan sequence of dialogued interaction between actors impersonating a character in difficult scenes. a tight atmosphere, desribing the parallel prejudices and taboo on jazz music, black people, generation gap, sex, fame...
Leila Goldoni is outstanding, a late teen, torn apart between her black roots and family, and the dreams of her young age to break of from all discriminations and live a "normal" life, meet true love with a white man, and give in her virginity. but the social context stands in the way for a light skinned black girl, and good looking apparences can burst into oblivion when her ethnicity surfaces.
the tone is very personal and the character studies is existencialist.

Shoah (1985/Claude Lanzmann/France) ++++
Monumental documentary work lasting 9 1/2 hours based on interviews of first hand witness (jewish survivors and SS supervisors) of this wordless thing which was the systemic extermination of every last european jew by Hitler's Final Solution. An evil secret fiercy defended by the nazi. For the first time, full details of the despicable procedure for this oiled death machine are revealed to the world. The architecture of the film moves from shapeless suggestions to the most sordid detail without any archive footage, entirely shot on location around the death camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Chelmno and Belzec. Lanzmann was present to debate his film with the audience. Complete review coming up...

Sirocco d'Hiver / Winter Wind (1969/Miklós Jancsó/Hungary) -/CON
I hope the famous Jancsó masterpieces are better than this because it was dreadful under any possible standard... Despite a nice red-tinted color throughout (I'm not sure if it's the original color), and the camerawork efforts to warp up a plan sequence per reel (about 8 or 10 plans in 80 min) this drama around the 1930ies civil war across Hungary-Serbia-Croatia trying to express a paranoid atmosphere of treatchery, bribery, political corruption, summary executions, and made-up martyr to serve the cause, fails all the way. Actors are literaly spining around before the camera, with horses and a dog, in and out of the building, in the snow, in the bath tub... long pauses and silly dialogues (3 languages all dubbed in french don't help either).

Sin noticias de Dios- Don't tempt me/No News From God (spanish, french, italian, mexican/2002) Agustin Diaz Yanes ***
2 angels one from Hell, one from Heaven come down on earth, embodied in the shapes of Penelope Cruz and Victoria Abril to fight over the soul of a poor dying boxer. the original spin is they dont chase around, and slam eachother with super-powers, but only use human feelings and trick. besides they live together, well aware of the stakes, at the boxer's apartment. cynical interpretation of Dante's inferno too ;)

Six et demi onze / 6,5 X 11 / Six and half eleven (1927/Epstein/100') ***
Silent Black&White (without music)
Photo : Goerges Périnal
cast : René Ferté (Harry Gold), Suzy Pierson (Marie), Edmond Van Daële (Jérôme de Ners), Nino Costantini (Jean de Ners)
Scenario : Marie Epstein
Story : Jean is young and impetuous, and leaves his wealthy older brother, Jérôme, alone without a note. He drives to the coast with his beloved fiancée, Marie, a beautiful singer, and by her a magnificent villa "The Castle of Delight", with immense gardens and fountains and steps going down to the sea. Jean buy a camera and take plenty of pictures of her. (6,5 by 11 is the format of the professional film negative).
The passion is short... Marie falls in love with a famous dancer and drives away in his fast sportcar. Jean is devastated and commits suicide.
Later Marie, neglected by the dancer, gets a "lack-of-attention-sickness" and falls in love with the doctor, who happens to be Jérôme!!! but neither of them know of their connection with Jean.
It's only when the personal belongings of Jean are returned that Jérôme goes to the villa and find the film negative...
a somptuous cinematography making clever use of surimpression, mirrors and objective screens. the cars in the movie bring long travelling and panorama. multiple eyes overlaping emotional scenes with psychologic dilemna.
the circular romance, with repeating tragedy sits the narration in a romatic avant-garde.

The Sleeping Tiger (1954/Losey/UK)
a psychiatrist is stalked by a poor uneducated mugger, although his military career helped him to control the young thug, and makes a deal with him : to follow a 6 month therapy rehab to save him from jail. of course the young is smart enough to accept and play the game. despite his rebutal and fake answers, the psychiatrist believes inherant violence of small crooks who had an unfortunate upbringing can be cured by therapy, and will persist and pursue his trust in this moral pact.
the psychiatrist lovely wife feels abandonned by her overworked husband who neglects her because of his endless conferences. incidentaly the young thug (Dirk Bogarde) is attractive and charming in a rough kind of way, a wild appeal that seduces this posh housewife with a weak heart.
just like Hitchcock's Spellbound (or Marnie), and Huston's Freud, Losey develops a menage à trois love conflict through the textbook analysis relationship : fatherly figure, aggressive/affective transfer, counter-transfer,
trustful bound, faithful relationship.
the one scene where teh wife is facing a choice crisis before denouement, shot with a ceiling-camera looking down on her walking the bedroom with anxiety is especially powerful!

Sleuth (1972/Mankiewicz/USA) ++
Outstanding duo performance in a dialogue driven intrigue, well written for the stage, but not so impressively adapted for the screen. The frequent inserts of automates close ups get annoying after a while.

Snow in spring / Shunsetsu (2004/ Hiroshi Toda/Japan) ++
A psychiatrist after working with senile patients affected by alzeihmer, makes this first film with friends and members of his staff. A poetical portrait of a young family dealing with the grand father degrading health. A symbolic dream sequence in a temple articulates the dreadful conclusion to abandon the old man in the snowy mountain.

Soilers (1923/Ralph Ceder/USA) Short 0/CON
lame gold rush slapstick with kicks and fist fight. Featuring a gay cowboy!

Ye ban ge sheng / Song at Midnight (1937/MA-XU weibang) B&W/130' ****
a troup of actors arrive in a derelict theatre to play an opera in a remote village, and find out it is haunted by a ghost of a famous opera singer. the old stage manager has a hunchback and long finger nails, just the thumb and the little finger, and drag himself across the dusty theatre à la Max Shreck! (excellent). the lead singer encounters the "phantom" who helps him to rehearse his part, and confess his secret...
before being an opera star the phantom was a revolutionary (connection back to the chinese culture agenda ), who was persecuted by the imperial army and sold out by the jealous foreman who jealouzed his affair with the beautiful daughter of the local warlord. result : the girl is gone mad, and listens to a love song coming from the theatre every full moon night for the last 10 years. the new lead singer will become him to help the disturbed girl, and eventualy carry out his revolutionary plans by reviving the old subversive opera.
a chinese avant-guarde "thriller" largely inspired by The Phantom of the Opera (Julian/Chaney, 1926) and Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931), as a mix of scenes from the 2 stories (with the ever revolutionary background concern, only illustrative).
an astonishing cinematography, a mise en scene, and acting direction reminiscent of Murnau's Nosferatu, a quite awkward and amusing influence of the western culture on chinese cinema.

Soldier of Orange (1979/Paul Verhoeven) +++/pro
WW2 seen from Holland, collaboration, antisemitisme, resistance, cooperation with UK where the queen of Holland (the Orange family) is exiled. Rutger Hauer plays a freshman protected by a senior student (the first episode shows humiliating hazing like in If...), 6 of them will go through the war together or on their own, according to their characteristics (jew, german, engaged to a girl, or hidden). Great WW2 movie.

Songs from the Second Floor / Sånger från andra våningen (2000 /Roy Andersson/Denmark/Sweden/Norway) **** PRO
98 min / ratio 1.66:1 / 35 mm / Color
Written, Directed, Edited and Produced by: Roy Andersson (swedish)
Cinematography by : István Borbás, Jesper Klevenas, Robert Komarek
Original Music by : ABBA's Benny Andersson
Awards: Cannes 2000 Jury Prize (tie)
A film poem, surrealist, existantialist, inspired by the Peruvian Communist poet Caesar Vallejo "Beloved is he who sits down", and Dostoievski's Notes from the Underground. A story about our need for love, our confusion, greatness and smallness and, most of all, our vulnerability. In a nameless unidentified (scandinavian) city, many characters, among them a father and his mistress, his youngest son and his girlfriend. It is a film about big lies, abandonment and the eternal longing for companionship and confirmation.
Almost abstract and pure, Andersson draws a social study of modern times in a doom & gloom fashion, where guilt and humiliation weights on every step of our lives, deconstructing the unconscious process of despair, sadness and mental pain.
The pictures involve insurrance fraud fire, street offense, crucifixes traffic, haunting ghosts, cab-driving poet depression in a mental hospital, self-flagellation parade, week-long traffic jam, children trial and children sacrifice off a cliff, sing-along opera by a group of subway fares, mass exodus at the airport...
Clearly influenced by Luis Buñuel (The Discrete Charm Of The Bourgeoise), Beckett, Kafka, this movie recalls the universe of Gilliam's Brazil, Monty Pythons, Coen bros' The Hudsucker Proxy, P.T.A's Magnolia,
It took Andersson 4 years to complete the shooting. 46 scenes, plan-sequence, all but one with a static frame, wide angle, large focus depth, on a set composed to the smallest detail. The characters who show white painted faces, between clown and japanese theatre, that impersonate a uniform human kind, struggle without any apparent coherance to escape self-destruction of a mindless, emotionless, bureaucrat society. Most of them are non-professionnal actors selected for their bleak or odd look.
technicaly, the direction is very complex. Andersson spent months to compose each sets individualy, shooting over and over those long plan-sequence to reach perfection. sometimes he even shot again the whole scene, rebuilding a new set, calling back all the cast, because he changed his mind and needed to fix the wrong detail.
if the result looks simple and pure, it's because all the up-stream work has been seamlessly integrated. editing and camerawork were an artistical choice. maybe u dont like how it looks, but i dont think it was specificaly detrimental to this type of movie. on the contrary, as far as he composed his film in successive (almost independant) events, and claimed to create stand-alone pictures within the film, like windows openning on a surrealist situation, the minimalist motion is fully coherant.
i found this sometimes tiresome indeed. but i wont say that my boredom was an evidence of the artwork failure... the topic is tough, the viewer's commitment is not eased with bite-size digested commentaries. the film requires more attention span than the average film, i thought that Andersson's decision was partly motivated by this idea.
it forces our eyes to explore the frame during the long silences, and put us in the shoes of voyeur helpless witnesses! we are forced to watch, like Alexander de Large in A Clockwork Orange. remember the scenes from Irreversible (i.e. rape), or Haneke's Funny Games (i.e. manslaughter scene)
the color chart, and photography shouldnt influence your opinion on the characters and the storyline. i think the characters were meant to be presented in a very distant, bleak, unattractive way. the discontinuity of the lead role focus in each frame, prevent us to "care" or project ourselves in one or the other of the characters... i think the point of Andersson was to put us in front of the TV of a possible world, and see what could happen to us if our social behaviors were taken to an extreme. so instead of the classic (hollywood) transfer on an identifiable central character and his/her whereabouts, we are witnesses of a symbolic world presented like an absurd fable.
Andersson started by a few 30 filmed (35mm!) tests to build the set, piece after piece, define the frame, ajust the light, place the characters (80 people on screen!). there is a painted wall in the back to complete a fake perspective. the footages are proejected to the crew so they can correct the errors.
when Andersson feels the scene is "exact", after a few filmed rehearsals, about 15 takes of the full plan-sequence are filmed.
this precision and dedication to the work on set is admirable!
of course this method is very expensive (film processing, studio location, crew)! but Andersson is his own producer, he owns his camera and a mini-studio with stages and all the necessary technology. and he funds his feature film by shooting ads videos for TV (he made lots!)

Soy Cuba (Russia/Cuba/1964) Mikhail Kalatozov ****
just awesome! the greatest black and white photography i ever seen, whitewashed, with a dark sky, makes the lively carribeans look like siberia...
4 chapters to tell the story of Cuba from the dictatorship of Batista to the popular revolution led by Fidel Castro.
typical communist propaganda in teh likes of Eisentstein, with innovative camera shots (plan sequence)

Spellbound (1945/Hitchcock) ••••
Hitchcock just loves it : impredictible tortured minds, murder investigation, and love combined in the same character. the psychiatric development is a little superficial and relies on widely known clichés (heavy emphasis on a single graphical element that is appropriate to cinematic experimentation like the red color in Marnie), although the psychanalitic involvement is far deeper than in other movies of the kind. and Hitchcock plays with it, while using a practicaly educational approach.
the dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali himself is outstanding! this is a faithful 3D impersonation of Dali's art. for this piece alone, the film becomes a masterpiece! even if the investigatory narrative is sometimes weak. Hitchcock + Dali + Freud = magic!
Hitchcock can be ironic and blame his intrigue for its naive and shallow treatment through the critical look of Dr. Brulov who slap Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) on the hand like a little child (metaphoricaly) because love alter her scholar judgement on the danger of a schizoid subject.
this romantic adventure is very pleasant to watch between Bergman and Peck. the mysterious quest into the unconscious is even more exciting.

Spring in a small Town / Xiao cheng zhi chun (Fei Mu/China/1948) B&W/85' ***
it's a surprise to see this kind of couple psychology development in a chinese film of this era (i dont know if there are many of this kind...), like Ouyang Feng so cleverly pointed out, it is the same setup as in the later In The Mood For Love.
2 young teens (16 yold), Zhang and Zhou, living in the same town fell in love but the traditional puritan society didnt allow their union in an easy way, and the war with Japan split them apart, as the boy leaves without any hope to see eachother again.
the girl, Zhou, marries Lao, a rich owner, whose wealth will collapse because of the war. the film begins with Lao in his garden, surrounded by demolished walls, and suffering from a mysterious disease (tuberculosis?). there is no love between them and they hardly talk to eachother.
then an old friend of his comes back after 10 years away on the front, he is doctor, and doesnt know his best friend married his childhood love.
both decide to hide their love to the ill husband and struggle to refrain their attraction out of respect for him. although the husband is ashamed to see his wife unhappy and unsatisfied.
in this love triangle, messed up by faith, honor, friendship, respect, unspoken love and lust, the young sister of the husband, a 16 yold, becomes a potential wife for the doctor...
great scenes depicting frustration, internal conflicts, contradictory thoughts... a classic melodrama, without outstanding cinematography tho. great performances, and subtle plot construction

Spring Silkworms / Chun can / Les Vers à Soie du Printemps (1933/China/CHENG Bugao) Silent B&W **
A poor family struggling with depts of the last season, is working hard to farm their silkworm to make a good harvest. The cotton trade, cheaper and more abundant, make the silk prices go down in this world depression context. the foreign silkworm eggs are very expensive too, the family father contemplates the decision to take, to make the best of a small farm or buy foreign eggs and loan money to buy more leaves to feed them. he is a lone father, with 2 sons and 1 daughter. one son is lazy and secretly in love with the neighbor's girl.
The film is a great documentary on a traditional silkworm farm (interesting for who never knew about it), punctuated by a rather classic romanced story on top.
the adjacent farms meet on the small river banks, to clean stuff and cross the river on the bridge. that is where all the gossips start. the neighbor's girl is considered bad luck for whatever reason, so everyone tend to avoid and mock her, so the curse doesnt bring them a bad season.
the film is about the reward of hardworking, despite all economical problems, and beyond all the traditional curse and bad luck fears that are counter-productive.

Stavisky... (1974/Resnais) •••
a more classical format for Resnais in this historical film portraying a french criminal from the begining of the 20th century who changed his identity to build his own empire (theatre, press, bank). unfortunately, he is betrayed, and hunted down as soon as he becomes an obstacle to the new political power. a great Jean Paul Belmondo performance in the title role! and a quite rich story digressing around power (finance, bribery), money (frauds, gambling), politics (Trosky, Front Populaire), love (womenizer, free-love)...

Stranger on the Prowl / Encounter / Imbarco a mezzanotte (1951/Joseph Losey/Italy) ***
very interesting noir interpretation of italian neo-realism... The Bicycle Thief meets The 400 Blows.
a day in the life of a reckless boy, Giacomo, and a desperate bum (Paul Muni - Scarface) in post war Roma. Giacomo is raised with a sister by his lonely mother, a launderer. He likes to play marbles for money in the street with his friends, and loses the milk money, so he steals the milk at the dairyshop. Earlier that day he watched his best friend, an old horse he used to ride, taken to the butcher. its owner lied to him when he said he would sell it to a far away farmer to retire in peace.
meanwhile a stray bum arrives in town and is pushed around by the police, everyone looks down on him and feels no pity for his condition. he used to be a decent worker but lost everything and was forced to go away from his home and family.
they meet at the dairy shop where the bum in rage kills the dairywoman to eat a piece of cheese. the police comes around and Giacomo believes they look for him because of the stolen milk. when the bum catch him as an hostage and a guide in the ruins of the city, Giacomo thinks the bum will help him escape the police. and the bum let him believe that way, until the police corner them on the roof of building. the film pleads redemption for desperate crimes perpetuated by starving people in the lowest misery. it's also the story about a boy who needs a father figure to look up to and how he learns the cruelty of life and the sacrifices it costs.
typical neo-realist narrative cinematography, with a nice B&W photography.

Stromboli (1949/Rossellini) **
a cute Ingrid Bergman, in a cute italian island, with a somptuous photography, unfortunately in a messy narration, with very classic studio acting and a heavy handed story quite simple about the intolerance of a small commmunity lost on the sides of an active volcano.
could have been great, but the directing is uninspired or inexisting and the symbols arent subtle at all.
a fantastic sequence on the traditional tuna fishing, and some beautiful pics of the volcano and an irruption.

Struggle (2003/Ruth Madder) Color 76'
A woman from Poland is literaly imported to Austria in a coachfull of slave labor for the summer season of strawberries hand-picking job. Her little daughter accompaigned her on site, sleeping in a site contstruction cabin with everyone else. On the way back they run away before the border in the hope to find a job in Austria and live there. We follow the bleak, tiresome, stressful lives of illegal immigrants who are exploited by the careless employeers of the "free-market" capitalist world...
Almost no dialogue and no music in this contemplative film, only sounds of the daily life, work repeatitive gestures, lack of communication between workers, or with the boss. This is a overwhelming ritual. Everyone know they can't complain, or they'll lose their meagre daily salary. This is a beautiful study of the lowest class of workers in our economical system, showing the alienation of men to make a living, with lengthy silent plan-sequence where we observe people picking strawberries under the rain, riping open turkeys in a food-factory, cleaning stuff... In parallel we follow the equaly boring life of an male austrian real-estate agent who seek excitement in his weekly night-out to sex orgies with his best friend to experiment all sorts of sex practice. The film is never obscene but portrays the vain and pityful intimate lives of people within the struggle for a social status. The mise-en-scene only, with a meaningful control of time lapses, tell us all about the weight of this heartless industrial world dehumanizing individuals to the barest tool unit.
The woman filmmaker (30 years old) was in attendance and presented her film. She shows a skillful mastering of film techniques and an inspired vision of the ensemble. Her personal style, unconventional, challenging narration with no dialogue and music, is impressive for a debut feature! This film was her final work at university, she used a script from Barbara Albert (Nordrand, Free Radicals), who also presented 2 films at the festival.
Ruth Mader already made 5 shorts and 2 documentaries. Her short Zero Deficit was presented in Cannes 2001.
filmography :
Struggle (2003)debut feature
Null Defizit (2001)short / DOC / Cannes 2001
Gfrasta (1999)short
Kilometer 123,5 (1994)short
Gatsch (1993)short
Endstation obdachlos (1992)short

Stupeur et tremblements - Fear and Trembling (France/Japan/2002) Alain Corneau ***
exploriing the hierarchical society of a multinational firm in Tokyo. Ambition and endless respect to the superiors are the rules to go by in the obscur world of business in japan.
a young belgium woman born in japan, takes a job as translator in one of the biggest company. but her position as newbie and foreigner, throw her in some sort of sadist initiation from her superirors and colleagues. repeatitive useless work, filing, xeroxing, cleaning the toilets... she will find out that people place their career above all, and only seem friendly for personal interest.
Stupeur et Tremblements is the adaptation from the eponymous autobiographical novel by french best seller Amélie Nothomb, who actually lived in Japan in her childhood many years, so her understanding of japanese culture and its clash with the western world and France in particular is insightful.
Sylvie Testud's performance is impressive indeed, she actually learnt some japanese for the part (no phonetical dialogue delivery). It is really about the workplace and xenophobia heavily tinted with sexism. The struggle of a qualified woman to claim her place in a world excluding her for discriminative prejudice.
It's also the inner reflexion of a resilient woman able to abstract herself from this work slavery and ponder over human identity and relationships.
The inner voice (voice over) narration further emphasizes this subjective point of view with introspection.
The film is very speechy, and intellectual too. The light atmosphere and the occasional delirious sequences make it rather delightful. The quality of contemplative images is also a strong point.
The selective portrayal of the supporting charcter is cleverly partial and exagerated, to give us clear-cut antagonists to the title role, with an interesting balance of power playing both sides. It's a cynical critique of the hardworking japanese society with a lot of self derision on Amélie's part.
However this extreme situation, is only a disguised satire of the underestimated condition of european and american women. The message of the film strikes back in our face.
It was also a poor turnout in France... Although Sylvie Testud won the Best Actress César (french Oscars).

Summer Clouds (1958/Mikio Naruse)
I was surprised how familiar with Ozu's family drama this film is. Or is it just that every other post war japanese film is about arranged marriage and a propagandist discourse to bend the conservative mindset of elder generations in favor of the free-minded youth opened to western lifestyle?
I felt the mise-en-scene was too dependant on dialogue delivery, with an off-beat reverse shot edit, not much inspired cinematography overall, but a nice color photography in a surprisingly green countryside environment right outside Tokyo.

Swimming Pool Ozon ***
exciting parody of classic british crime movie. with a delicious Ludivine Sagnier and an unexpected clumsy Charlotte Rampling. interesting end twist. the story is a bit dull but the atmosphere is just crispy!