A Tale of Two Sisters / Janghwa, Hongryun (KIM Jee-woon/2003/South Korea)
a difficult movie to review without spoilers... since much of it relies on the uncertainty between (flashbacks) illusion and reality. like u said, the film doesnt solve all the issues for us by the end of the film, and many holes in the story leaves multiple interpretation to understand what just happened.
loosly based on a traditional korean tale (Janghwa, Hongryun), already adaptated for cinema 4 times since 1924.
the film opens on a severly traumatized girl, Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), in a psychiatric asylum. apparently she lost her head after a terrible murder that took place in her family home, where they return with her sister, her uncle and step mother, after several years. this place is haunted by dark memories of these past events and ghosts of dead people.
Kim Jee-soon builds his film on images, with mysterious/partial dialogues that doesnt really help to understand the crime. even the denouement is explained by (diegetic) images only, with a second set of rushes that show more (or less) information than previously shown in the opening scenes). Beautifuly photographed images put us directly in the mind of this confused people, a psychotic thriller telling the complex relationship inside this broken family. 2 sister of about the same age strongly bound together, and have very different personalities. the step mother is over-the-top crazy which becomes understandable along the film.
i agree with Ouyang Feng, the ghost is definitely inspired from Ringu : a woman hiding her face behind long black hair, a broken neck, and a funky speed editing to make her moves awkward. the sound effects (especialy the use of TV scratch sounds) surrounding the ghost appearances is unmistakable. the hommage is complete with a shot of a TV with scrambled image (untuned) switched on mysteriously in the middle of the night, and someone glued to the screen in somekind of hypsnosis...
but the inspiration is limited to the ghost treatment. the rest of the film is very different from Ringu. the influence of Kyoshi KJurosawa is less obvious, if only by the predominance of the gorgeous photography even in the gorest scenes. superb shots of faces against highly designed backgrounds (paperwall, floor, landscape).
an easthetic horror pic, that develops an interesting psychological backstory, smarter than the usual gore flick, that demands a constant involvement of the audience. even if the drama goes in circle by mid-film, some scenes are very powerful (typicaly the dinner with the 2 couples!!!).
Tarnation (2004, Jonathan Caouette, USA) ++ / pro
Cannes 2004 - International Critique Week
debut feature from a young NYC actor from a disfunctional family to say the least. Diary looking back on the past 20 years of his life, growing up between his grand parents and abusing foster families since his mother was sent to an institution and treated with shocks, which destroyed any bit of personality in her. Jonathan draws a video portrait of his childhood dreams, his latent homosexuality and his own personal health issues. After taking heavy dose of hard drug when he thought he was smoking his first joint of marijuana, he lost focus, and seem to be hyperactive, and delirious at times. He's fascinated by cinema and camera since he was 10 yold. This video diary shows his evolution has a film director, sometimes interviewing his family, sometimes constructing fiction, as well as an actor when he films himself, sometimes acting, sometimes confessing. The psychedelic editing follows the corresponding era aesthetic, with kitsch transition and video effects in the 70ies, up to split screen in the 80ies.
The document is powerful for the subject, and entertaining for the artistic vision, but maybe a little weak on the form. A disturbing experience to go through, and humanly thought provocating.
Taste of Tea / Cha No Aji (2004/Katsuhito Ishii/Japan)
Feature film made by Katsuhito Ishii (animator who did the anime segment in Kill Bill 1), delirious and delicious slow paced ensemble comedy-drama about the world of childhood in rural japan, an homage to anime in film, really funny and warm hearted.
Tartuffe (1925/Murnau/Germany) ++
Murnau adapats the french classic for his pet actor Emil Jennings, on his request, before shooting Faust. A theatrical comedy with the density of an expressionist lighting. Murnau opens a window for a theatre play within the frame of his film, summoning the dramatic art into cinema, disguised as an ambulant kinorama. Film within a film.
Le Tempestaire (1947/Epstein/25') B&W Sound ***
a young girl is in love of a young fisherman who is out fishing when a storm rises and she worries he wont return. she heard of the taboo legend of the "Tempestaire", sort of voodoo fortune tellers who could read the future and calm the sea. but this out-to-date practice has been banished by religion and the scientific mindset of the government. she will find an old man who knows anyway...
this small drama is only an excuse to make gorgeous shots of the sea fury and the storm! featuring some avant-garde experimentation with overlapping footages, and jump cuts editing.
Tesis (1996/Amenábar/Spain) ***
a solid thriller with a powerful screenplay. the these part is overlooked, and hardly credible, but the definition of characters and the manipulation of suspicion is well managed. a lot of great ideas with the use of sounds especially (e.g. the headphones) and the confusion of point of view mixed with subjective camera. i found it quite original, setting itself free from usual thriller cliché, by reinventing them or deforming the ready made scenes into something unexpected. the content is enlighted by some insightful comments on visual violence and television hypnosis.
more of a psychological thriller than the usual scary movie.
Le Testament d'Orphée (1960/Cocteau) ****
an egocentric trip of a poet for his postmortem notoriety, 3 years before his death.
i wish i had seen Orphée because it is really a sequel, borrows some footage and many references to the his 11 years earlier work. it's my first Cocteau film too. but i loved the surrealist style.
he uses backward filming very efficiently to produce innovative effects like in the scene where Cegeste jumps from under the sea, the flower "re-birth", the chalk drawing with an eraser-cloth, or the bubble of smoke blow up in the opening sequence. also a great generic graphism by cocteau himself.
performances are too static and forced, but the whole film is "staged" especially the iconic figures like Oedipus, Atigone, Minerve, the Horse-Man...
cinematography is plain, but the photography is full of artistic touches all throughout, and the set in the stone carrier is amazing.
a boat-load of cameos: Picasso, Yul Brynner, María Casares, Jean Marais, and Truffaut's actors Charles Aznavour and Jean-Pierre Léaud (at the same age as in Les 400 Coups)
Thirst / Tröst / 3 Strange Loves (1949/Bergman/Sweden)
quite a complex storyline. I got thrown off too, it was one of my very first Bergman. I need to revisit now, there was a lot that I didn't understand back then, especialy the second story with the therapist... But the writting and directing, very stagey, was already stunning, focusing on one-on-one dialogues.
despite the camera movement, it's always closed room studio settings, with 2 actors "on stage" delivering their lines back and forth. Althought this was the classic cinema back then and his early films are mainly following this mise-en-scene style.
It has to do with the "pompuous" monologues telling big ideas, closer to the auteur's writting than real life discussions, the way someone overhears the conversation, or jumps in the room to stop the secret dialogue... familiar tricks on theatre stage.
Three... extremes (2004/Omnibus) ++
Trypthic by 3 frontrunner indie asian filmmaker subverting the rules of the horror genre, and pushing a pathologic situation to its extreme. Reminiscent of the Twilight Zone. No apparent relation between these three 40 minutes shorts.
Dumplings (Fruit Chan/Hong Kong)
A middle-aged woman, whose husband cheat with a teenager, buy aunt Mei's expensive dumplings to get her 20 years old skin again. This is a social/psychological critique of the vanity of woman unsecurities. How far a woman who lost her husband would go to be desired again? Asia is known for its cult of all sorts of immoral aphrodisiac powers like to drink the sleen of a live Panda bear. This fiction takes this absurd superstition to its extreme, which bends ethics for the sole cosmetic purpose by mixing in murder and abortion with an intimist drama. The ridicule vanity of woman's beauty.
Great atmosphere, fantastic lighting, delicate character portrayal. Visual narration composed by the somptuous cinematography of Christopher Doyle. An extended feature length film existe for this segment. C:++ W:+ M:++ I:+++ C:++++
Cut (Park Chan-wook/South Korea)
A typical dumb horror film plot is taken to an absurd extreme for a genre satire more comedic than scary. A famous director of horror flicks is captured by a killer, an envious loser frustrated extra, who wants to humiliate him by torturing his wife through sophisticated psycholigical manipulation. The cynical character rebels against bad horror genre in a schizophrenic act. No moral, nor motive, all becomes possible, until a supernatural ending. Many references to horror device: vampire opening scene, mirror movie set, horror director becoming a victim of his own games (a plot used in Verhoeven's episode of The Hitchicker). Pleasantly delirious. C:- W:+ M:++ I:++ C:++
Box (Takashi Miike/Japan)
Miike goes for horror with the most quiet atmosphere. Fortunately he doesn't go for the ready-made effects, now overused by everyone: close ups, jump cut edits for Boo! effect, a ghost with the awkward walk...
Although it's not entirely successful. Mostly redundant and hollow, with the same mini story played over and over... The twist ending looks like a joke. The film combines the themes of jealousy, incest, remorse, and murder in a haunting serie of nightmares. Beautiful calm cinematography (especially in the circus). C:+ W:+ M:++ I:++ C:+++
Tiexi Qu : West of Track - Rust 1 (2003/Wang
It took me long enough to see All 4 parts of this 9h epic documentary. I had missed the first 2h when initially released last June with Wang Bing in attendance.
Each part is autonomous, in fact as it is DV footage, it can be viewed on TV easily and paused anywhere. Inside the whole rests an amazing sum of realities, juxtaposed on several levels! An extraordinary ethnographic study, re-inventing cinema from zero on the footsteps of Lumières and Flaherty, giving its original meaning to the patient descriptive image. This is as much a contemplative critique of the chinese society on the verge of a capitalist outburst, as an exhumed newreel from the XIXth century european industrial age, as an intimate relationship between the camera and people's genuine lives. Articulated in 3 portions spanning over 3 years and 300h of dailies, Wang Bing observes the fall of a major industrial pole in the North East of China. The accomplice intrusion of the silent cameraman behind private doors brings out a transcendant human nature of community dependent on an immaterial/irresponsible/ideological regime. A truly powerful testimony to experience as this film is its last remaining evidence.
Together Lukas Moodysson ***
very funny and rich multiple characters storyline, all living in the same house, eventualy, in 1975's Hippie Stockolm. by the director of Fucking Amal **** and Lilja 4-ever (not seen).
Tokyo monogatari / Tokyo Story / Voyage à Tokyo (1953)
awesome contemplative quasi-documentary depicting of the last trip of an eldery couple from the country, who comes to Tokyo to visit their children, a married son doctor with 2 boys, a married daughter who runs a hair salon, and their step daughter married to a son killed in the war, (and another son and daughter living outside Tokyo) who are all busy in the big city, and who dont know what to do of them. They send them away to a Spa center. the distant point of view only shows reality without taking side, without preaching moral. the very strict japanese education impose a respectful silence on family conflicts in public, until they can be discussed in private in the back... everybody strives to show a straight face, while feeling pain and embarrasment. the film present the gap between generations as well as eras before/after war, in contry/city life.
the photography is sharp and beautifuly composed, in a square format black&white, static plans, exploring the depth of japanese interiors. transitions between scenes deliciously edited with a static shot of a door corner or an empty room, giving the necessary informations of time and space continuity.
Tokyo Boshoku / Tokyo Twilight (1957/B&W/141') ****
his latest Black&White, before he decided to try color films.
dark drama developing tougher subjects than usual : single-parent family, cheating mother abandonning her 3 children, casual passion, pre-marriage pregnancy, suicide... and more arranged marriage. (topics still quite controversial -if not taboo- in 1957!)
the older sister (Tatsuo Saito), comes back with her baby, living to her father's house, after a quarrel with her husband. the younger sister, taking care of her lone father (Chishu Ryu), is secretly running after her first lover who avoids her, while an arranged marriage is plotted. She's pregnant and cant tell anyone by her careless lover who runs away. Their mother, gone for 20 years with a man, re-appears owning a game house (Mah-jong) in a dodgey district, she'll learn about her son death, and will also cause great trouble in everybody's life. a fault made long ago had broken this family for ever, and none can overcome the deepest wound. the older sister feels bad for showing a bad example of arranged marriage to her younger sister, and the father is helpless desperately watching his daughters in great need of a mother. outstanding dramatic performances of the 3 lead characters in highly tensed situations!!!
the ending is heartbreaking...
Ozu inserts background characters who play key roles in the exposition of the moral issues, even with small lines : the noodle vendor, the younger sister's friends playing mah-jong (famous scene when a guy reveals the pregnancy gossip reciting some "ironic poetry"), the mother's new boyfriend, the father's bar tender and a customer.
Tomorrow's weather (Poland/2003/Jerzy Stuhr) *** mixed
20 years ago a father (played by the filmmaker himself), has abandonned his family, wife and 3 young kids after an obscur affair of accident with a drunken member of the party... he had to disappear and joined a monastery. Forced to set a foot outside to play in a catholic rock-band he is recognized by his wife and expulsed from the monastery to avoid a scandal.
this barely credible story is an opportunity to emphasis the gap of generations before/after the communist block. much like in the most successful german Good Bye Lenin! the main character who ignores everything of capitalism, is confronted with a vision of hell, clashing with all their beliefs. ironicaly somehow nostalgic of the moral order imposed by the soviets... to best criticize the chaotic sprawling of nameless liberties in everyday lives. even his own children reject him and his moralizing speeches while they only think of success through manipulation, corruption and exploitation of their own family.
A social soap with cynic political humor, on the changes brought lately by the capitalism behind the iron curtain, invading Poland (and all around Europe) with endless filthy freedom leading to all excess of sex, drug, immorality, despite the religious conservatism of fervent catholics who believe in the values of family and wisdom of elders. a pertinent analysis that is also true in any western country, like here in France, or even the USA : Real TV shows, internet wilderness, teenage drugs, sex drive, corruption...
rightly called "Poland Hospital" by a polish film critic, this pretty much sums up the spirit and the treatment of the film. everything happeneing to this family evolving around the brand new hospital named after the current pope Jean-Paul 2. few jokes about Solidarnoœæ, the labor party of Lech Walesa who led a political revolution in Poland.
the filmmaker is most famous as an actor and his own son, plays his son in the film. he made a quite funny film that fires on many hot subjects that plagues our society today. the tone is light with a good dose of self-derision, that can be read on many levels to reach a truly meaningful perspective.
Too Late Blues (1961) John Cassavetes ***
a very enjoyable early Cassavetes flick, rounded up like a theatre play. New York downtown, the beguening of hte 60ies, Jazz is evil, a band of buddies, an agent and an attractive singer babe in the middle. each have their own way to set priorities in life: music, success, money, girl, couple... jazz bounds them together and jazz tears them apart. Characters have some personality and they dont go where we expected them to, because pride stiffen their compromises.
Toute La Mémoire Du Monde (Resnais/France)
Gorgeous B&W photography for this intelligent and poetic documentary on the life of books in the national library with a philosophic commentary on civilisation and human memory.
Transport From Paradise (1962/Zbynek Brynych/Czech) +++
Opening sequence: Shot from inside a luxury car, on the passenger seat, shallow focus set on the Mercedes sign on one side of the screen and a black rigid SS flag at the front of the car to the other side of the screen. The background is out of focus, we see the road with signposts on teh side saying "warning", "ghetto", "keep out"... then some barracks, barriers and a gate. The car pulls out, the camera pans to the side where an Oberführer waits with a grin and opens the door.
Music outside, people dancing and singing. Then we notice some klieglight in the background, and a voice shouting directing orders in a megaphone. We realize this is a propaganda film being staged.
On the continuity of this exploration of movie set backstage, the camera opens in a dark cave where silhouettes are hunting a cat. In a few phrases, some key roles of the story are defined, and anounce already the tension existing between friends.
A subversive film from the czech new wave.
The first sequence veils the ghetto from the outside with blur like if nobody should/could see it. Meanwhile the Mercedes sign, like a sniper crosshair, seems to hunt a target as it is static on the screen and the road behind it is moving.
The movie set marks the cynical humor of the film. Right away the ghetto is split between the happy camp the nazi wants the world to believe in, and the hard reality of a ghetto ruled by fear and discipline.
The Terezin concentration camp in czech occupied territories during WW2. A
general arrives to check the ghetto before approving a visit of the Red Cross.
According to an idea of the führer a film is being shot in the ghetto,
by a jewish director, with staged happiness and singing children for propaganda
The general finds a pro-russian poster in the ghetto, "Death to Fascism", and orders the deportation of 2000 jews from this ghetto to Birkenau for "special treatment" in retaliation. The dean of the jewish council in the ghetto, Nobel prize of chemistry who invented aspirin, refuses to sign the paperwork of this unusual transport and is arrested.
Until the transport is formed the tension builds up among the people on both sides: the organised underground of the jews running an illegal print workshop, also the german hierarchy composed of individuals with variable loyalty and ambition. The human flaw is the loophole of the system allowing for the slimest leeway. Even under oppression and the threat of death, lust is still a powerful drive to bend the minds, the dark humor of the czech new wave.
C:+++ W:+++ M:+++ I:+++ C:+++
Niezwykla podróz Baltazara Kobera / The Tribulations of Balthazar
Kober (1988/Poland) ****
direction/adaptation : Wojciech Has
cinematograpy : Grzegorz Kedzierski
from Frédérick Tristan : "Les tribulations héroïques de Balthasar Kober"
Germany : XVIth century. Balthazar Kober is the only surviving child of a famille in a country decimated by plague, he has a stammer, people consider him doomed by God.
Since the opening credit, he has visions of an arch-angel who encourages him and initiate him to education to overcome his handicap. Daniel Emilfork (chilean actor seen in The City of Lost Children) is a spooky Theolog-Master. Balthazar also sees dead people : his mother, his brothers and sisters who push him to meet the dangerous Papagayo, a subversive philosophe wanted by the religious authorities because of his blasphemous ideologies. Balthazar is a very naive young man, easily manipulated by whoever smooth talk him the best, and his destiny is torn apart between the angel, and the devil, between the religious establishment and the blooming liberal philosophy... the plague anihilates the population helplesly and the "inquisition" scavange the country. Balthazar falls in love with a bohemian woman, and will try to find her back through epic adventures, political plots, summary trial, corruption and a death trip.
the story is a bit complex, exploring various levels of temporality and spaciality, where reality and illusion melt in. Has produces a fantastic photography, as usual, with rich set design and costumes, a glorious angel in silver armor, glimmering dead people and mostly outdoors locations shot with skilled camerawork.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971/Roman Polanski/UK) ++/mixed
A gore and visualy amazing adaptation of Shakespeare in a realist setting. Unfortunately the only print available was french-dubbed and magenta tinted the film Polanski did after his wife died with his unborn child...
Trois vies & une seule mort / 3 lives & only one death (1996/Raoul
An onscreen narrator tells us the story of a story of a story : Marcello Mastroiani lives 3 parallel lives on the verge of reality, with his wife, his mistress, his daughter, his wife's new husband and his mistress' former husband... simultaneously, thanks to malicious fairies manipulating time and space. This complex and nonsensical narrative structure, directly influenced by La Nouvelle Vague (Resnais : Last Year in Marienbad, Mon Oncle d'Amérique, La Vie est un Roman) and Surrealism (Buñuel : Le Fantôme de la liberté, Cet Obscur Object Du Désir, Belle de Jour, Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie), has principal purpose to explode the academic screen conventions. A refreshing and playful experiment served by a skillfull cinematography and mise-en-scène holding together multilayered shots and continuity loopholes.
andresson's Songs from the second floor; Has' The Saragossa Manuscript, The Hourglass Sanatorium, Voltaire's Candide, Diderot's Jacques le Fataliste, Rivette's Céline et Julie vont en bâteau, Santiago's Les Trottoirs de Saturne, Godard's Alphaville, Pierrot Le Fou, Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation, Kaurismaki's La Vie de Bohème.
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Not as experimental as it was sold. It's essentialy puzzling by the 2 fold partition into 2 distinct films about different stories (both mythical fable), only connected by the fact the same 2 characters play the lead roles, in disconnected characters. It is rather dense and obscur, but works very well on a poetical/symbolic level.
4 is extremely harsh! It's beautifuly crafted and this innovative narration is certainly thought-provocative. I didn't really understand the meaning, but the atmospherical lingering pace is deliciously contemplative. I found a fratenity with Sergei Parajanov's wordless vignette storytelling. I wish there had been more content to chew on but it's good to see art films taking the time to just shoot images freed from an imposed drama.
Les Trottoirs de Saturne (1985/Hugo Santiago) ***
the psychotic wandering of an exiled Tango player from an imaginary country named Aquilea (stands for Argentina) living in Paris. he sees and talk to a dead Tango composer, he longs for his lost homeland with nostalgia, and disappears for days (which drive nuts his wife, an attorney, and his friends). his sisters shows up with a group of friends who plot the revolution to overthrow the military junta back home.
interesting camerawork panning on random objects of the set in the middle of a dialog. a film for Tango lovers
Trouble Every Day Claire Denis **
great cast and photography, but poor (or lame) screenplay. it's just a vampire movie after all
Two For The Road (1967) Stanley Donen ****
awesome road movie built on several flashbacks artisticaly intertwined to describe the ups and downs of marriage. a reflexion on the life of the couple, and the best editing work i ever seen!
The pair Audrey Hepburn / Albert Finney is admirable, they are great in this love-hate courtship throughout 12 years punctuated by half a dozen of road trips across France, under various financial and social conditions: broke, itch-hiking, newly-wed in a broken car, stuck in a family car with a friend-couple with child, wealthy in an expensive car, or alone and cheating...
i notice the funny generic in Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can was inspired by this movie's generic.