Walk on Water (2004/Eytan Fox/Israel) +
A nice little film pushing around the usual stereotypes of people and positions in Israel. Quite enjoyable to watch but it isn't a cinematic breakthrough either... There is more subject than genius in the writting/directing.
This secret agent is more of a hitman. To get rid of enemies is an unofficial covert operation of the Mossad, it's not what spies do all day. Just to correct the James Bond generalization because it is a realistic film, not to mix up the image of intelligence retrieval services with killing special forces. This said the Mossad does run a black list of people (mostly arab terrorists worldwide) to get rid of by all means, without trial, this is wellknown.
Personaly I thought the cliché of the dry/cold hitman without feelings (Léon), was rather dull in the film. What I appreciated was to speak out loud and confront archeenemies ideals and prejudices. To have a german and an israeli share their perceptions of eachother without insults (because the spy must play a role of the friendly tour guide), the confrontations between the arab and the israeli is a little more brutal though, and (unecessarily) complicated with the hetero/gay discrimination.
The gay message is limited to a few homoerotic scenes (full frontal male nudity, and gay club aesthetics), this is never an assertive propaganda in the film. Although to add this on top of nazi history and Mossad is almost ridicule... Making Mossad agents looking like gay-haters then gay-friendly. I'm not sure how this approach could mend fences between Israeli hardliners (incarnated by intolerant haters) and palestinians (incarnated by a gay man). The most absurd happy ending (in closing sequence) might be a german audience pleaser, but should be taken with great irony by the jewish comunity. Too bad the film tries too hard to make peace to the extent of sounding comically naive. Maybe this is the cynical note contained in the title to remind us this is pure fiction.
The expression of the german guilt for nazi history is real, even in the newer generation (Axel and Pia), and well developped with subtle touches telling the social/familial taboo around this era, and the undermining decay it develops inside the mind. Although again it's annoying to portray "sensible germans" by a gay boy, and a jew-lover girl who works in a kibbutz... this seems far too extreme.
Dealing with conflicting feelings between family ties and moral ideals is the most interesting issue in the film, if we abstract all the distracting reservations I mentionned above. Nazism seems to be a heavy burden even for Israelis who get tired of it too (Eyal).
C: ++ W: + M: 0 I: + C: +
The War Zone(UK/1999) Tim Roth ****
the mechanics of incest and the destruction of a family. very powerful. exceptionnal performances! crude too, hard to bear at times...
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Japan/France/2001) Shohei Imamura ****
Wedding Ceremony in Carelia (1921/A.O. Väisänen/Finland) ++/pro
One of the first reel remaining from finish cinema debut. A naturalist documentary on folk culture, describing step by step a wedding ceremony from the engagement proposal to the married couple's home. Great images of finnish vernacular architecture! People stand in front of the camera like for a still photograph (to introduce each character, labeled with an intertitle) and make a spin to show their profile (a 3D grasp of reality that was inaccessible to photography)
The Werckmeister Harmonies (1999/Bela Tarr/Hungary) ****/PRO
Cynic comedy. Pleasant and enigmatic drama about a divorced/unemployed businessman who is pulled into an old malediction involving an oracle, fishes, a murder, a bum, a wet libido, a spirit and magical love. Fantastic cinematography. the story is very rich, with maybe too much confusing elements but the atmosphere is certainly worth
i like the Kafkaian characters and political oppression, i assume they translate part of the recent hungarian history, but i dont know enough about it to figure what are the symbols of the whale, the fantastic Prince, the aggressive crowd, the music theory... if anybody has insights or a link to a deeper analysis (i am open to spoilers now) please post here.
the B&W photography is amazing! composition, soft grey tones, hard edged blacks and whites, fog, night. i dont know how he lit his sets, but the light seems always natural, yet the visibility in the night is well managed.
it's very powerful how he drags the Whale trailer convoy's shadow on the street facade, stretching it and flatening it, before the tractor appears on screen!
again when the crowd marches on in the night, the outlines white against black turn into black silhouettes against the brightly lit Hospital interior!!! and the surreal whitish tones of the naked eldery...
the details of the plot are a little dense to me, and i have a problem with the main character Janos. everyone seem to consider him like a kid, late teen i'd say, but the actor is 34!!! is he supposed to be simple minded or something? i think the innocent, naive point of view of the character would have been better impersonated with a younger actor.
the whale is almost a live character! "she" is coming to visit the town, the professor is asked to meet her, Janos call her the greatest creation of God, representation of his will and many other metaphysical aspects... she is the travelling "circus" everyone talks about, that is suspected to coincide with an evil curse : all towns visited are set ablaze by a revolution. this "circus" facade hides an underground rebellion (obviously a political revolution) led by the mysterious Prince... ultimately she is the victim (unlike in other towns where it happened) of the looting that got carried away.
maybe there is nothing very "deep" behind the whale symbol, but it is definitely some kind of "tojan horse".
i just make the connection with The Bible story of Jonas traped in the Whale's stomach... (cant remember the point of the story tho)
well the eastern europe context, and the recent issues with fascist party winnning the democratic government in Hungary, make the hints in the film even more political oriented. i had the same feeling about the innocent, pointless Hukkle, which has a strong underlaying criticism of the extremist population (women) ganging up to form an underground "revolution" (mass husbands ridance)
The Werckmeister Harmonies are very close to Kafka's The Trial (by Welles)... typical of the political contestation hidden behind metaphor and vague symbols to hint poeticaly at the oppressive regime (communists)
Hungary is surely a democratic nation who is not overwhelmed by the censor (as far as i know) but this kind of protest is kinda politicaly incorrect...
Whisky (2004/Uruguay) Juan-Pablo REBELLA, Pablo STOLL ****/pro
A slow simmering uneventful behavioral study between 2 lonely unmarried persons dedicated to their job in a small socks factory. Jacobo in his 60ies, the elder son, inherited the family business in Montevideo, Uruguay, and lives his repetitive life quietly. Marta, 48 yold, worked for him for 20 years, always on time, very careful and disciplined. She's not talking much either. By a curious understanding they agree to pretend to be married when Hermann, his younger brother arrives now from Brazil. The awkward couple, like 2 opposite magnets stuck together, will strive to put a good face, despite all the hassle it causes in their good old routine of bachelor habits. Hermann left Jacobo alone to take care of their dying mother untill the end, the unspoken pain creates uncomfortable silences between the 3 strangers.
With a minimalist camera, these 2 young (30yold) directors influenced by Aki Kaurismaki (who gets a special thanks credit) observe the difficulty of being of lonely persons who are unable to connect with their environement and hide their human weakness behind redundant daily protocol. The study of unsignificant details, silent behavior, embarrasing situations reveals a complex relationship between the protagonsits and shows their unglorious humanity to us as they notice it themselves. Sometimes life isn't as easy as it seems, there are deeper wounds that wouldnt go away no matter how hard they try.
25 Watts, their first feature, was the first known from uruguay (I didn't see it). This one is in tune with the latina new wave of contemplative films like those from Argentina : La Cienaga / The Swamp (Martel, also present at Cannes this year with La Niña Santa) or Los Porfiados (Manzur).
The Wild, Wild Rose / Ye mei gui zhi lian (1960/Wang Tian-Lin)
awesome chinese film noir !!! with a jaw-dropping vamp (Grace Wang) at least as good as a Rita Hayworth! She sings, she dances, she teases, she seduces, she fights (on the floor with a woman), she cries, she's proud and tragicaly contains her love inside... all so sexy!
the plot is quite classic (losely based on Bizet's opera Carmen) but the chinese adaptation makes it very interesting in details. as a Hong Kong film, there is no hint of communist propaganda for once it's pure western cinema.
The Wild Rose (Grace Chang) is a glamourous bewildered singer of a classy club in Hong Kong. the boss' girlfriend is jealous of her, and complains that she sings too loud, so a competition between the 2 women starts to catch the audience attention. Grace sings a Carmen classic, warming everyone in her backroom to sing with her... so when the boss tumbles down to stop her, all the customers support her.
Incidentaly, Grace shares a flat with an older woman who plans to open her own club, and escort a fat richer man to get some funding. Garce's pianist and dear friend is replaced (because his wife is very sick) by a young piano teacher, imposed to her, which creates some more tension in the club. this young man is engaged to a lovely fiancée (who spends the whole movie crying in a corner), and seem to be immune to the wild Rose's legendary seduction. so the musicians mock her and bet she couldnt conquer this new pianist within 10 days...
the adventure begins! few problems will get in the way : her (un)official husband "one-eyed Dragon" is out of jail, her dear friend's wife needs a $2000 operation to save her life...
Grace will eventualy run away with the young pianist, after a dreadful love parade, robbing the club's money and almost killing One-Eyed Dragon... (a sublime noir piece, happening in the darkness of the club office)
the 3rd part of the film is the desperate life of the runaway lovers (unexpectedly she gave up her fame, her song number, her fancy dresses, her standing, and he abandonned his fiancée and mother), with a powerful fatal ending (anti-happy ending) totally coherent with the immorality of the characters.
it's all about Grace Wang really. Her interpretations of western standards (in chinese) from Opera or american films, her tap dancing performance on flamenco music, her japanese Geisha impersonation, all matching with a festival of fancy stage costume, are amazing! Her role makes this film a classic!!!
Willard (2003/Morgan) **
disapointing. could have been so noir, so spooky, so creepy. and is not because it was obviously targeted at family audience and oriented to comedy prioritarily...
the beautiful photography only shows up in the last 15 minutes, with shots of the clock, and other objects, close-ups of the rats...
Crispin Glover is great, even if exagerating the psychopath in him at times. sadly Mulholland Dr's Laura Elena Harring is underused and doesnt fit... hardly her fault tho.
the mother and Mr. 'Boss' Martin are burlesque and annoying.
Ben is the most expressioneless rat on screen! they should have cast Socrates for the bad, and Ben for the nice one... if only it didnt confuse everyone with the holy hollywood color code (white/blond=good, black/brunette=bad)
Witman fiúk / The Witman Boys (1997/János Szász/Hungary)
Hungary. 19th century. A small town freezing in the snow. Two brothers, in their early teen, see their father die of a heart attack before their eyes. Their mother, distant and unloving, soon find a surogate husband. The boys are mocked in school. A trauma turning into urge for revenge, passion for violence, adoration of death. Torturing animals is their favorite occupation when a motherly prostitute met outside a brothel becomes their icon, the most beautiful woman in the world worth dying for... or killing for. A very soft study of awakening to sexuality, largely fantasized, changing them into men.
The somber photography, often in outdoor nightscape, dim oil lamp lite interior is a superb transcription of an ancient atmosphere. The story develops a child vision of the world of adults, naive and superstitious, in rebellion against the conservative tradition of education. A cold and difficult film with touching moments.
C:++ W:++ M:+++ I:+++ C:++++
Woman in the Dunes (1964/Teshigahara) ****
i just revisited this masterpiece, and man, other films look so dull in comparison... the B&W photography is sublime a naturalist study on sand (almost a scientific documentary demonstrating the semi-fluid/semi-solid properties of dry sand, capilarity of wet sand)
the bright daylight shots are exquisite, with a strong contrast of deep black and blinding white. the shaded shots are more "dirty" tho... faded and greyish.
this is such a multilayered tale, with a deep Kafkaian feel to it! (even if the tyranic authority is not developed, the communist (village collective comitee) despotism is abusing helpless individuals reduced to slave labor (they dig the sand to sell it like in Dune)
the boundless prison is a metaphoric metaphysical oppression, described in the openning voice over : Tokyo's paperwork society (much like Brazil's premise with a very different turn). so the sand/desert is the antagonism of paperwork and order. sand is moving (avalanche, flowing, filling up, sneaking in, quick sand) to shake any stable order you try to establish. it's like living on a boat (image hinted in the dialog), the comfort is minimal, belongings are to the barest (off with the underwear, the camera...), and u cannot sleep sound, working hard to scoop out the sand is the only way to survive!
beside the political parable, the erotic relationship between a cartesian intellectual and a sensible country woman, as if cast away on a desertic island, is captivating. the evolution of this relationship, developping as characters aknowledge more information on the other or on the environment, is full of surprises, from domination to passivity, the psychological study escapes the expected pits (evasion, agressivity, respect, deal).
i notice there is a 147 min director cut that i never saw, could someone tell me about it? i'd love to watch these extra 24min!!!
Tokyo no onna / Woman of Tokyo / Une Femme de Tokyo (1933/silent/B&W)
a young man feels humiliated when he finds out his sister who was supposed to work on translations for an old professor, to pay his university, but instead is rumored to be seen as an hostess in the red light district... an imperial policeman, found out throught an investigation, and his sister, who dates the student, wants to warn his sister before her reputation is tarnished.
He who goes mad, beat his siter and vanish... both women regret deeply, and will even more...
a japanese melo, very much inspired by american and european contemporean films!
whereas the prostitutes are praised and celebrated as the queens of the feasty bourgeoisie at the same time in Europe (La Belle Epoque), they represent the ultimate humiliation in the proud and moraly strict japan. it makes very funny comparison in movies of the same era (like with Ophüls and Epstein)
movie 'name dropping' reference:
theatre scene watching : Lubitsch-directed vignette entitled The Clerk in Cruze & Humberstone's If I Had A Million(1932)
Hijosen no onna / Dragnet Girl / Women on the Firing Line / Femme et
Voyous (1933/silent/B&W) ***
in street gang hosted by a boxing club, a former boxe champion lead his hunchmen to scare and steal the population. He falls in love of a secretary and want to turn her into an escort girl to make his living. She is bad mannered, talks dirty and is furiously jealous when he lay his eyes on another girl! of course he's charmed by a young polite girl comes to him to ask for the liberation of her younger brother who was enrolled earlier... they fight and split, untill they realize they want to live together. one last robbery and they are off to a better life from scratch, inspired by the well mannered girl. but can you realy escape your destiny when you're a baddie?
a typical japanese film noir allegdly influenced by Hawks, Sternberg, Lubish... which gives a very western look to this early Ozu! the gang boss is a boxer and gets his ways with his fists and guns instead of a saber or martial art kicks. they play pool and drink wiskey. just like in the (american) movies!
it's funny to see how these early classic american influenced films are the most using camera motion (travelling, pan, chained transition...) whereas his later masterpieces are mainly with fixed camera and still shots transition.
movie 'name dropping' reference:
french poster of Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front / A l'Ouest Rien de Nouveau (1930)
The Wooden Camera (South Africa/2003/Ntshaveni Wa Luruli)
filmed on location with unprofessional actors.
Madiba (11) and Sipho (15) are 2 black kids from the township outside Capetown in South Africa. the former finds a digital camera, the latter a gun with one bullet, near a dead body along the railroad. these gifts "fallen from the sky" will orientate each destiny, one will grow artist, the other gangsta. i guess the pun around "to shoot with a camera" and "to shoot with a gun" plays a role in the irony.
this sounds like a very arbitrary and artificial premise, but the story portray archetypal characters that best represent the only options offered to the black community youth. They will both fall in love of a "whitey" teen girl, from the wealthy area, who rebels against her parents' conservatism and xenophobia. she is pierced, hippie/grunge dressed, does grafitti, steals books, and eventualy learns cello with a french music teacher. this teacher (Jean Pierre Cassel), is the (overtly) good man who loves the people from the township, without prejudice, dance with them, and reveal their talentes to make them feel important.
the camera is hidden in a wooden toy shapped as a rough camera, so nobody believes Madiba actually shoots footage of their lives. they use a wheelbarrow to make travellings, and colored bottles to tint the picture, and play with thelight. the video images are a little shaky, out of focus and the hurried editing is head-spinning, but this makes for an original point of view and some interesting pictures: faces, attitudes, dances, drunken nights, gun assaults, crimes...
it's not nearly as good as Hijack Stories (South Africa/2000/Oliver Schmitz) tho. another film telling the post aparteid clash in south african communities.
The World (2004/Jia Zhang-Ke) +++
The emerging generation of chinese youth coming from a village live a surrealist life throughout foreign attractions without leaving Beijing. Drinking tea on top of the Eiffel tower, dancing near the Taj Mahal, crossing the Tower Bridge to the Keops Pyramids, all in one day, this Disney-like entertainment park offers a fake glimpse of the capitalist culture within an isolationist regime. Driven by mobile phone touch, love grows from an illusionary escapism to leave labor/sexual exploitation and go to Hong-Kong, Mongolia, or France with a counterfeited passport.
Jia protrays a dreamy timid China, in this artificial cocoon, craving for social liberties and individual opportunities in the 21st century.
Jia Zhang-Ke was in attendance to discuss his latest film, co-produced by Kitano and Shanghai, the first one to be released in China (in 5 main cities on April 15th). Improvisation was allowed to make the script evolve as the sentimental relationship developping between the cast during the 2 month of rehearsal influenced Jia to rewrite some scenes. As he says "Cinema is life".
The Wrestler (1970/Paul Verhoeven) 0/con
Short. A young man is busted by his father cheating with his wrestler master's wife.