His Dark Materials
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Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, when Jews were removed from their professional activities, a Jewish doctor reluctantly accepts the petition of a fellow tenant to heal a political fugitive who has been shot. The moral dilemma that the doctor faces is quite obvious, but no less complicated: his previous profession of medicine had the purpose of saving lives and improving health; nevertheless, with the Nazi occupation, the potential consequences of giving medical assistance to a political fugitive are unmeasurable.
Modern Holocaust films, especially made in the U.S., normally use sensationalist portrayals of physical, psychological and/or emotional abuse against the Jews to accentuate the inhumanity of a world turned upside down. Nevertheless, Europe had a different perspective towards the conflict, equally humane, but with no manipulation and placing in the center of the table even more complex themes to treat amidst chaotic circumstances. The most notorious examples specifically talking about the Czech New Wave were The Shop on Main Street (1965), which embodies the multifaceted perspective of a whole town while placing an unlikely human relationship as a protagonistic element, and Zbynek Brynych's film now being discussed, which was released also in 1965.
As the film progresses, different faces of a torn nation impacted by conflicting forces are shown, which happens during the doctor's hellish search for morphine. Little hope seems to be around seedy joints where local women are forced to be prostitutes for German soldiers, bars, and insane asylums with high suicide rates. But at some point, you also begin to realize, given some clothing styles, furniture and available domestic and medical artifacts, that the film is more probable to take place in the 1960s, turning the whole show unexpectedly into an allegorical representation of the Communist dictatorship through the portrayal of the Nazi regime, becoming the thousandth Czech film that makes references to Communism. The whole show, therefore, is historically hypothetical, but socially politically valid.
Despite its seeming subtlety, ...and the Fifth Horseman Is Fear, a title that randomly makes a Biblical speculative reference out of context, is a testament against inhuman circumstances about the exaltation of the human spirit above overwhelming ideals of power and nationalism. Morally, the film actually might be one of the most challenging to see, because it is easy to stand up from the couch feeling that certain scenarios are entirely devoid of hope. Either you support an invasive regime against the lives or well-being of others, or you must pay the terrible price of getting hold of your own definition of "ethics" and "moral". Shot spectacularly like only the 60s managed to do in beautiful Black & White, this is the Holocaust portrayed from a more mature and difficult perspective which reminds us that, as human beings, we make decisions everyday with, unfortunately, incalculable repercussions in any time term.
P.S. It is a pessimistic film, but concluding in a way that invites everybody to the contribution of a better world where we stop creating realities with dead ends.
The catharsis is executed right in the ending. Kawase uses in a most intelligent way mental limitations/disorders as a psychological distractor, but the troubles that invade the human heart are universal. Beneath the surface, both characters suffer very similarly. Absorbing cinematography and among the five best movies of 2007.
"Vozvrashchenie" is like real life. We assume the perspective of the sons and, treating us like such, the movie does not supply any meaningful answers to the events depicted. The events are meant to happen just like that, without any prior warning. Such things were meant to remain unknown. What we are offered is a breathtaking journey deep into the Russian wilderness, filmed as masterfully as few auteurs accomplish today, displaying poetry on screen like if it was the easiest thing to do.
Fantastic South Korean/Chinese co-production. Very well done. Worth watching specially because of Zhang Ziyi. Violent and heroic as it should be.
Let's start with the basics: ¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño? is an unintentionally bad movie: terrible sound editing, a laughably mediocre screenplay, an intolerably simplistic couple, one of the most unbelievably retard and annoying wives in cinema (but don't worry, the film takes care of her :D) and death people that can be clearly seen breathing. So what? So is the same case with Jess Franco. Hence, you immediately move to that special, delicious underground European cinema category of the 70s and see it with an entirely different perspective.
Now... Remember how The Return of the Living Dead (1985) worked as an unofficial "sequel" to the story of Romero's original zombie masterpiece, supposedly telling "what really happened"? In my humble opinion, it is fun to see this controversial thriller with the same scope with respect to Village of the Damned (1960). After all, the silences, the deserted scenarios and the "sci-fi / alien / telepathic" creepy stares are still present in these young little bastards as a plague that seemingly cannot be stopped. Although the menace in Village of the Damned was definitely far superior and more intimidating, this is a lost gem among Spanish cinema.
Rumor has it this great follow-up to Elektra lost the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1978 by one vote.
The ones that know at least squat about movie appreciation do not give a flying f#ck about that.
Exceptional romance put on screen. The director builds little fragments as short as our perception of those great and amazing moments that brighten our life, yet seemingly quick as time flies away with no remorse. A miraculous cinematography and an absorbing environment brings to life one of the few brilliant movies of long-distance relationships and how it all comes down to perspective and reaction. The little details are still in the director's mind, and his ideas would culminate with his masterpiece 15 years later.
Comedy as it had never seen before; passionate and irrational romance as it had never been satirized before. Brilliant episodic hyperactivity addressed with a wonderful scenery and allegorical scenes, some of them intentional, some of them perhaps not. Lubitsch is an unrecognized master of the genre, and he was one of the first filmmakers (if not the first) to understand that one of the most effective sources of comedy is to mock our own flaws and senseless features.
The first efforts by Forman are also his best. What puzzles me with this film in particular is how audiences are interpreting the emotional evolvement of Andula throughout her love discoveries. People credit this film to show a great deal of empathy towards youth in the complex world of relationships and how differently two people may interpret one shared relationship.
So, that's the purpose of this masterpiece but not necessarily its strong point. Forman hires a great number of good screenwriters to develop his story to construct real-life scenarios and mock at them with intelligent humor. Visually referencing Godard (also psychologically), such humor takes these scenarios and converts them into something unbelievable throughout, but only for brief moments, especially those that normally would be awkward. If you pay attention, you'll see why this is labeled as a comedy beyond the plot and its arguments.
Any film requires an analysis that stands as independent from its original source material, which in this case is the book entitled "Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back", for the purpose of making a fairer objective evaluation. The remaining subjective percentage depends on the gut feeling of the viewer. That shall be my stand while writing a small review for this film.
However, when it comes to stories that deal with God, the Bible, Heaven, Jesuschrist and other related topics, it is important - but not necessary - for me to split my review into two independent sections so that any reader, regardless of his/her beliefs, can have access to both my cinematic perspective and my Christian point of view.
So let's work on the first part:
For treating such a transcendental topic for humanity, which is the existence of God and Heaven itself, the overall message seems to be dependent more on its melodramatic aspects than in the seriousness of it all, resulting in a timidity to display its true colors. With terrible pacing issues that take us from the death of the child in the hospital to a scene where he is suddenly playing with his father in a teeter-totter because he had already COME BACK TO LIFE and LEFT THE HOSPITAL, the entire movie feels like a very nervous child making a very shy class presentation in front of his classmates about a very interesting topic, rushing everything to finish fast.
Shockingly, the movie title decided to partially borrow the original title of the book, which is an affirmation in itself ("Heaven IS for real"), but then decides to appeal to the sensibilities of a varied, mainstream audience, not declaring a stance specifically and remaining neutral for the sake of religious tolerance. The concept of "Heaven" ends up being left to the interpretation of the viewer's appreciation of life. "Heaven is everywhere. Heaven is all of us. We can have a little piece of Heaven in this life if we are better people."
It does have some valid points and interesting questionings, such as the almost heated debate held between the father and the female psychology professor who offers naturalistic explanations and Einsteinian concepts for explaining the metaphysical experience of the son. Also, we have the scope of a village that tries to manipulate the father, who happens to be a small-time priest, into saying things as long as they seem coherent and not scandalous, such as having a son who claims to have made a journey to Heaven and back. How much is too much? That's irony at its finest. But then again, none of these arguments are answered or discussed to a degree that guarantees reflection. What would normally take hours, if not days, to discuss, finishes in 5 minutes with a melodramatic "final punch line" to make the scene seem thought-provoking.
With an idealistic idyllic setting, an idealistic family with idealistic life conditions, and a seemingly idealistic but actually aggressive rural community, "Heaven Is for Real" opts for the easy path and offers an unbelievable perspective about a transcendent topic with no self-assurance, direct remarks, memorable moments, thought-provoking argumentations or subsequent reflections that might actually bring something to the table. Flat and uninspired, the whole show is, overall, a forgettable story of dramatically manipulated metaphysical themes with a questionable veracity.
And as for the Christian perspective, I shall make it as brief as possible, in case you're interested to read; if not, proceed to the final rating.
What ends up being downright disturbing about the film, beyond how shallow it is, is the message. The novel is considered to be a "Christian novel" that recounts the true events of the Protestant family, the Burpos. Protestant Christians consider the Bible as the only source of revealed truth. The whole message in the film is entirely anti-biblical, claiming that Heaven is everywhere, and Heaven is all of us living in some sort of impossible, pretty and pink harmony. Basically, it adopts a relativist perspective. How comfortable...
Heaven is the place where God resides, and where those that have accepted Christ into their hearts shall remain for eternity.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
- John 3:16
"He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things."
- Ephesians 4:10
"I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
- 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
"And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
- Luke 23:43
"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?"
- 1 Kings 8:27
A work being catalogued as Christian should consider that the most important work to be done, above all things, is the conversion of souls to Christ, which is not the film's main aim, and I speak from a Protestant point of view, which most probably is the perspective of the author.
So, for a film which title I agree with, I do not agree with most of its content nor its entire delivery, so I cannot recommend it either for Christians or non-believers.
This is definitely my favorite version of Jarmusch, the dude of stationary solitude and existentialist inertia with an air of coolness. I. Simply. Love this Jarmusch.
For starters, Jarmusch was a director of artistic and cultural inspirations: books, films and songs of all ages, Jarmusch is a living amalgamation of styles and trends that refuses the existence of originality. Everything is the result of something previously done and represented either intellectually or stylistically, a philosophy that I fully support. Since the film opens, you can see Jarmusch's aesthetic director stamp, but as the film progresses, you slowly begin to unravel his possible influences. Even if you encountered Jarmusch one day and he told you that you perceived his influences wrong, maybe you wouldn't. When I saw Stranger in Paradise for the first time two weeks ago, a film that I had incorrectly postponed for about 8 years, I clearly witnessed a Nouvelle Vague and Cassavetes-like cinéma vérité hybrid with an irreverent sense of humor.
Stranger in Paradise is a film about isolation, which is represented in many forms.
1) Willie is an unproductive small-time gambler living in a small flat located in New York City. He has detached himself completely from human interactions as much as possible, and all he does is to watch TV, drink, smoke, sleep and walk in the dilapidated streets during midnight.
2) His distant cousin, Eva, is moving from Budapest to America, alone, to a place that she doesn't know, and informs him that she will need to stay at his place for 10 days. He is reluctant to this and doesn't like the idea. Family detachment.
3) Eva meets Eddie, Willie's buddy. They get bored together, but the guys develop a fondness for Eva. This smells like a love triangle directed by Eustache. Isolation ensues.
4) Once both grow simultaneously bored out of that monotonous daily routine, strengthening their initially cold relationship in the process, Eva decides to leave with her aunt living in Ohio. Willie now doesn't want to. The pain of being left alone again.
5) Months later, Willie and Eddie win $600 in a poker game and decide to go after Eva in Ohio. Now its their fondness to Eva and the boredom of their isolated life the factors that push them to get rid of this isolation.
6) It's winter in Ohio. The streets are covered with snow. Few people walk in the streets. The aunt, Lottie, also lives alone. There is nothing for the trio to do than look at the frozen surface of the water.
7) The three decide to escape. Detachment once again.
This hilarious pattern of being reluctant at first, feeling bored next and escaping to another isolated place in an attempt to get rid of their previous unsatisfactory life stage is repeated from beginning to end. So, for the 1000th time, it is all about detachment and isolation. The minimalist style that captures the barren landscapes along with the unenergetic black-and-white cinematography communicate the same message with a high correlation.
Classic directors that inspired this type of films and style had no choice but to use black-and-white in their films. Now that technology has transformed this usage into an artistic decision, it is possible for filmmakers like Jarmusch to rise out of the blue and give an important name to independent cinema while utilizing the beauties of black-and-white to their advantage, because in modernity, people are forced to put attention to the details of the film if it looks so dead in color, or walk away. Personally, I think it looks beautiful in all of its glorious bleakness, dissecting monotony, and choking the alligator.
I will perpetually applaud not only the bravery involved in the delivery of these controversial, anti-political celluloid deliveries whenever they are made, but also the commitment behind these projects such that the national film industry of the country being considered is put on the map. Moreover, there is rarely a more humble and equally straightforward honest perspective of a sociopolitical turmoil than that of the domestic perspective. So, thank God, Machuca is a Chilean film about the Chilean coup d'état, and it delivers its punches strongly without the need of being propagandistic or sensationalist.
Set in Santiago de Chile shortly before the military coup of Augusto Pinochet in 1973 and during the highly controversial socialist government of Salvador Allende, famous for being the first Marxist politician to become president of a Latin American country through open elections, Machuca tells the simple story of a privileged Chilean boy, Gonzalo Infante, that befriends a lower-class classmate, Pedro Machuca, after their school undergoes the social administration changes of Father McEnroe, the Catholic and socialist director of the school who greatly encourages social equality among classes. As it is expected, discrimination ensues not only between the classmates, but between the professors as well. After Infante refuses the social pressure from a bunch of kids who were ordering Infante to mistreat Machuca, both Infante and Machuca become friends. Then, Infante decides to accompany Machuca to his home, and meets his family and his cousin Silvana, a family dedicated to sell flags at rival political protests.
The film adopts the perspective of Infante, which is the first relevant point of discussion, because the movie's title references the counterparty in this young relationship. This should be a direct indicator of the fact that one of the endless topics of the film is about accepting the social and economic life circumstances of the "different classes" - although there is no such thing as being a "different" human being than others - in an attempt to reach a societal consensus. Even if this sounds as a utopia, the definition of "utopia" does not entail impossibility. In short, utopias are possible. In a time where the lower classes were being politically mobilized in Chile from one condition to another like ping-pong balls, it is then necessary to witness this reality from a more "privileged" point of view like that of Infante so that the tragedy is left implied and the overall result cannot be perceived as emotionally biased or manipulative. In this way, when you go from seeing empty classrooms with boys of all classes to having only wealthy boys with clean faces and pretty uniforms, a statement has been spoken. It is terrifying and tragic at the same time.
The point of the paragraph above is that, plotwise, the protagonist is Infante, but thematically, the real protagonist is Machuca and the mobilization of classes derived from intolerance, thus justifying the film's main argument about the importance of considering an opposite point of view.
To accentuate this point of having an "utopian" (sorry if I use the quotations marks a lot but my guts have been forcing me throughout this review) exchange of perspectives to reach a harmonic consensus, we have a key scene of utmost importance, which simultaneously signals the film's main statement and disguises it as an arousing symbolisms of sexual discovery during youth: Silvana exchanges kisses with Infante and Machuca in a prolonged sequence while eating condensed milk. "Brilliant" is the best adjective I can come up with to describe it. By the time the strike arrives, and disaster ensues, the burned and destroyed can of condensed milk near the ending becomes the perfect symbol of this "sweet and affectionate exchange of realities" being consciously destroyed.
Machuca is a powerful film meant to be understood by worldwide masses instead of only adopting a biased right-wing or left-wing perspective for empathizing with a single group. It is important because it has a universal message, and universality does not adopt sides. Covering aspects of poverty vs. wealth, Socialism vs. intolerance, news media vs. ignorance, news media as a source of ignorance, sexuality, irresponsible parenthood, education vs. religion, childhood innocence being broken by unspeakable human cruelties, and conflicts of almost all sorts, this almost-masterpiece by Chile speaks important truths that should be considered by all kinds of audiences, and puts Chilean cinema on the map once again, which is as scarce as most of the cinema that comes out of Latin America.
So what might be the best way to attract your attention to a New Wave classic that is both worth-watching and worth 86 minutes of the time of your life? Well, listing is always more attractive to the eye. So, this film is many things:
- Kô Nakahira's debut, who is one of the important names in the Japanese New Wave.
- Controversial upon its initial release because of its depiction of delinquent Japanese youth.
- Considered as the pioneer work in the Japanese "taiyozoku" (sun tribe) subgenre, characterized by a notorious lack of adult presence, and the characters embodying the yearnings of Japan's post-war disillusioned youth.
- A predecessor not to the French New Wave (many Nouvelle Vague followers, including myself, consider the movement in France to have begun in 1955), but definitely to the portrayal of youth in any classic New Wave movement: Yugoslav, American, Czechoslovak, and even French.
- A film that Truffaut tremendously enjoyed, which not only impulsed him to recommend it to the Cinematheque, but also inspired him to make films with a particular style.
- A complete embodiment of what any New Wave movement of the 50s and 60s stands for, excluding the technically experimental/abstract side: a jazzy soundtrack, exploration of sexuality, the physical vacation settings of a moral tale by Rohmer (very conveniently... you'll see why), and an equally convenient lack of adult authorities.
It also has Truffaut's enthusiasm, Chabrol's macabre intentions, Rohmer's reflections on morality about relationships and affairs, and very, very brief "intellectual discussions" in the vein of Godard and Rohmer. If it wasn't because of some brief depictions of Japanese architecture, not even the language could have convinced me that this is a Japanese feature: it is a bloody French film, containing an interesting number of elements that preceded all of the Nouvelle Vague directors. In my book, "influential" is a very correct term to coin. With a climax worth of Polanski's Polish debut (that mirrors an important number of characteristics as well!), Crazed Fruit, although not legendary or masterful, is an absolutely essential viewing for those willing to venture into what is officially known as the N?beru b?gu, better known as the Japanese New Wave. Simple as that.
P.S. One scene that has the infamous vixen lying down with one of the brothers looking at the night sky while half of the frame's background consists of the dark ocean glittering in the middle of the darkness is one shot I will never forget.
Winner of the three prestigious Kinema Junpo Awards including Best Film, Best Actress (Shima Iwashita) and Best Director (Masahiro Shinoda), Double Suicide is a masterful cinematic retelling of a famous bunraku (puppet theater) Japanese play of 1720 set in Osaka and written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
Potentially Shinoda's highest peak of cinematic artistry and theatrical melodrama, this psychological spectacle is a Shakesperian tragedy of striking visuals, overwhelming performances and strokes of surrealism that simultaneously invade a tragic story about loyalty, love affairs and societal obligations that range from the marital to the family-related. Surprisingly, the film opens with present-day (1969) documentary(?) segments, featuring the cast, the crew and the organization of the attrezzo, where we see them organizing the scenography, but seemingly preparing everything necessary for a puppet play. The puppets are clearly displayed. While the initial credits are displayed, we hear a conversation between Shinoda and one of the writers, Taeko Tomioka, discussing the difficulties involved in finding a proper shooting location for filming the "final suicide sequence in the graveyard", and considering what parts of the script should not be followed closely. As we advance through the credits, the puppets fade out and are transformed in the main actors, whereas the crew assume supernatural, ghastly forms of dark ghosts supposedly representing the puppeteers.
Let's just omit saying that this is one of the most ingenious opening scenes ever, and focus on Shinoda's honorable homage to the theatricality of the time. There are very rare cases in which the performances, the cinematography, the script, the music and the artistry involved in the set designs and art decorations correlate perfectly and harmoniously to create a complete, melodramatic masterpiece from every possible angle. Notorious is the work of actress Shima Iwashita, who portrays BOTH roles of Osan, Jihei's wife, and Koharu, the deplored courtesan. Stunning is the usage of the color WHITE to make the film seem like it is taking place in an otherwordly realm surrounded by light, but not necessarily heavenly. Interesting is the decision by Shinoda of keeping the concept of the "puppeteers" from the tradition of bunraku and apply it to film, where they do not intervene in the decisions and tragic outcomes of the characters, but rather facilitate the physical circumstances forming part of the contexts of the characters' decisions. It is like an alternative take on the role that the Chorus had in the ancient works of Sophocles, such as "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone", where they would chant between one act and the next, highlighting unspoken emotions, unclarified actions, or explaining the tragic circumstances that were surrounding the characters. They were a complement to the story. In this case they are too, but rather working mysteriously like shadows lurking in the dark, awaiting for the execution of their tasks, like symbols of fate.
One of the best war films I have ever seen (I am not joking), Masumura's relentless and disheartening war masterpiece is an unbelievably honest depiction of the moral implications of the desperate decisions taken by doctors, nurses, soldiers and generals under desperate circumstances, while the film also reminds us by intervals about the human condition and dignity that all of them begin to lose as the repercussions of war keep making a terrifying progress.
The protagonist is the nurse Sakura Nishi, who is send to the field hospitals in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) in 1939. Another important character is Dr. Okabe, a committed officer and surgeon who has to perform dozens of amputations and operations every day, almost arbitrarily deciding, with his scarce means, equipment and professionalism experience, who lives and who dies. The whole story revolves around the two characters. The nurse Sakura begins to get emotionally attached not only to her profession, but to the patients as well, whereas Dr. Okabe's decisions begin to get professionally affected by his morphine addiction and personal problems.
Akai tenshi explores war from a perspective that very few films hesitate to: that of medical assistance to the agonizing soldiers. That immediately causes the viewer to reflect in the effects of violence not only in real life - speaking in terms of the futility of war - but also from a cinematic perspective: watching violent sequences in battlefields, which are normally portrayed as action-oriented, have somehow managed to be qualified under terms of "entertainment", whereas the sights that this film shows are horrifying, full of pain, blood, gore, limbs and sicknesses. So Masumura masterfully constructs a duality between perceptions of war and pain, and between perceptions of entertainment and humanism. That is probably the greatest talent of this 1966 powerful testament.
And I say "probably", because when the film fully tackles humanism, it explores certain facets of human life that remind us of our condition with exceptional power: family, fear, patriotism, and unexpectedly, love and sexuality, reaching heights that very few movies do. Nurse Sakura suffers a serious number of transformations, from a woman that was determined to do a job, to a woman that learns how to (but is never cabable of) separating her feelings from her job, to a woman that begins to carry guilt out of the death of 4 people over her soul (whether if it was her fault or not), to a woman that finally reflects on the significance of her survival. The doctor passes from being a morphine addict that saw soldiers not as human beings, but as mere instruments of war that had to be treated for sending them back to the front lines, to a man that rediscovers that which defined him as a man and as a human being: love, which he had lost three years ago when his wife died. All he did now was facing death every day, taking decisions of life and death that should not belong to any single woman or man on Earth.
By the time we arrive to the 10-minute climactic, expertly filmed and invigorating war sequence, we no longer even explore the possibility of perceiving the sequence as entertaining. Rather, we come to the conclusion that all of the emotional devastation and discoveries, and all of the pain portrayed in the previous 85 minutes, were result of the action in the battlefield. So this sequence is scarier than it is pulse-pounding or exciting: it is horror that you wish just stopped for not increasing the number of victims and deceased people. What a bold move.
So I have to arrive to the conclusion that the greatest talent of Akai tenshi is that it makes people reflect on the consequences of war in a very universal way, rather than hiding its truths under biased "patriotic" statements or entertainment stunts. It is honesty and humanism disguised as a war film which chose its historical setting perfectly.
Toyoda's bleak, fierce and rebellious essay about high-school youth is one stylish delivery that marks Toyoda's comeback to straightforward moviemaking after a documentary effort.
Maybe the first concern that people will face when stumbling upon this underknown gem is the suspension of disbelief it requires for buying this hypothetically anarchich high-school environment, where teachers are unrealistically permissive and even run away from the students for their own safety, where there is not enough security looking after the crimes committed in this space, where "education" seems to be ridiculously banal. But remember: it is surreal. All essays dealing with contemporary problems (not only about youth, but about any topic of social relevance) can allow themselves to be unrealistic and unconventional sometimes to deliver a message in a stronger way.
So remember, it is a surreal examination of a hypothetically anarchic environment and, moreover, it is based on a manga. I found about the latter after finishing the film, but indeed, while I was watching it (and ergo before I knew it was based on a manga), I wondered how this would have come across or received if made in anime form. It has all the bizarre trademarks for bringing a realistic setting unrealistically, so imagining this as an anime feature, with its potential success, is not hard at all. So why am I using the word "hypothetically" too much? Because of the "suppose that..." game we are invited to play:
Suppose that we take the real problems of youth nowadays and transmit them to a school. Suppose, however, that adults don't matter, students are not asked to be disciplined pervasively enough, and internal security is not existent. To what extent, therefore, could the behavioral tendencies of youth evolve if given more liberties, that is, if granted more permissions? Toyoda directs this violent and weird hypothesis about a possible answer, which can be interpreted either as a wake-up call for both young and adult generations (their parents), or as a symbolic tale about any oppressive form of government, where rulers are worshipped and followed with fundamentalist loyalty, and base their ruling period with an iron-fist type of imposition. Of course, the internal conflicts are not excluded, including a follower that decides to rebel against the present ruler for overthrowing him.
The fantastic final act convinced me of the final rating, where we learn that everything that cannot blossom is destined to remain dead, as in a flower. We learn this reflection from the only adult that actually has a relevance plotwise... and this adult happens to be a dwarf. But does this rule apply deterministically against humanity as well? Or is a human being capable of changing? Can light be originated in the middle of darkness?
P.S. It is impactful the degree to which the film manages that you care about the characters each new minute. That's something hard to achieve.
Seul Contre Tous is much more than just a sequel to Carné (1991). Way much more...
For those that missed Carné, the film opens with a quick recap of everything that happened in the first installment, and then more. It then moves on with life. It takes less than 5 minutes to realize that Noé is using exactly the same visual techniques that he had used 7 years ago. That is something quite surprising; indeed, what stands out from Carné is its use of editing that assaults the senses quite pervasively: juxtaposition of aggressive images with comedic ones, the sound of a loud "BANG" while making a close-up to an object or person at the speed of light, and maybe using another "BANG" to return to its original position. You could describe it as "unstable", which is good, given the increasing psychological instability of the character. But it is surprising because you would expect the film to acquire new techniques, and it seemingly doesn't.
But it takes around 30 minutes to realize that this is one huge step forward compared to Carné, and that the beginning was definitely not bullshitting. The film opens with the moral microuniverse that will invade the entire collapse show for 93 minutes: to each his own Morality, to each his own Justice. That fucking moral relativity. It exists. Everybody lives according to his own principles, away from God, and therefore turning the world upside down. "This is my moral; moral is this", says a man in a bar taking out his gun and displaying it publically. That is his means to execute justice against any other uniformed man that challenges his moral.
That was clear for the Butcher since the insane climax of Carné, but this film kicks off with that insanity and never lets go. Progressively, it becomes a nihilistic discourse about the irreversible state of the rotten human condition, which is egotistical, exploitative and perverted above all things. It is a fundamentalist perspective about a world collapsing, and this undeniable collapse becomes internal in his mind, which also begins to distort things and to shift from one harmful moral to the next one every single day. This nihilism involves repulsion against human relationships, opportunism, politics, microeconomics, family and relatives, having a job, domestic life, and God.
Beyond the technical stunts seen 7 years ago, Noé fortunately implements new ones, which show random people sporadically, somehow related with the Butcher, with a documentary tone. The shots are longer and adopt the form of tracking shots that are interrupted by an aggressive external stimulus. Or sometimes, it just stays still for quite a time, because necessary emphasis must be made in a situation or a character saying something. This entire emotional build-up with tints of anarchy culminates in what is one of the most emotionally disturbing conclusions of the decade, where neither two of the possibilities presented (the real and the imagined) are suitable in an ideal world. Both are damaging in unimaginable levels.
For those that want to know the actual ending of this story, watch the opening of Irréversible (2002), which is, indeed, pessimistic as fuck, and ironically, the ending of Irréversible. The Butcher could never cope with the world, and therefore embraces philosophical perspectives of life to masquerade his self-destructive frustration instead of accepting it directly and with no relativism regarding how lost his position is in this world. BAM!
The British occupation of Egypt began in 1882 and was extended until 1956, two years later after the Anglo-Egyptian agreement of 1954. Al-Mummia takes place in 1881. That is important.
Often credited by Egyptian critics and worldwide connoiseurs alike as one of the most important Egyptian films ever made - and if I am allowed to say, my third favorite film from Egypt - Al-Mummia is one incredible, spectacular and thought-provoking masterpiece about the search of a national identity, where the stellar cinematography and a haunting score are barely the technical highlights of a deeply symbolic testament made not with a camera, but with a collective heart.
Based on a true story, Al-Mummia faithfully dramatizes the 1881 incidents, in which an Upper-Egyptian clan called the Abd el-Rasuls were secretly raiding Deir al-Bahari, a site containing a cache of royal mummies that covered the Nineteenth Dynasty (1292 BC - 1189 BC), the Twentieth Dynasty (1189 BC - 1077 BC) and the Twenty-first Dynasty (1077 BC - 943 BC), and possibly two more Dynasties, belonging to the New Kingdom and to the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt. This clan would then sell the antiquities on the open market in Cairo. Nevertheless, after an internal conflict in the clan, one member decides to help the authorities of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, established in 1859 for the conservation, protection and regulation of all antiquities and archaeological excavations in Egypt.
This historical setting is used with many purposes. To begin with, there is an internal conflict that involves tradition and a respect for the dead. As it turns out, this clan had been carrying out this livelihood for approximately three milennia. Even in the times of the Dynasties, tomb raidings were rather common. This activity, now passed down as a long-lasting tradition, seems to trouble some members of the clan as a sign of disrespect against their ancestors, so there is a moral trade-off between preserving tradition and assigning an eternal resting place to the dead.
Secondly, we have the conflict between two civilizations: countryside and city. Their perspectives on the correct "cultural" administration and handling of antiquities that represent the identity of a very ancient civilization, still under current evolution, differ significantly under subjective terms. Maybe a consensus between those two perspectives could be reached, but it turns out that civilization is proggressively walking towards a society ruled by the wealth maximization rules of the homo conomicus, thus obstructing the path to an easier resolution. This conflict that has antiquities as an excuse is actually a conflict of lifestyles and relative moral.
Thirdly, we have 1881 as a breaking point in Egypt's history. It is speculated that the antiquities stand for an identity long held by two different civilizations in different ways, thus providing a prophetic subtext for the occupation that would follow next year, where this national identity, that is ultimately held as collective, at least in average, would suffer again a challenge by the occupation of foreign forces with yet another set of national and financial concepts.
Technically, the film shifts from style to style, but all consistent in terms of pace, that range from a camera that pays close attention to the vastness of deserted landscapes and water, to minimalist architectonic impressionism previously observed in the works of Jean-Daniel Pollet, especially Bassae (1964). The dialogue delivery and subtle acting give a metaphysical importance to a long-held culture that surpasses the comprehension even of the natives, like poetry composed with lines of mysticism.
An absolutely entrancing experience, Chadi Abdel Salam's first film is one of the most admirable debuts in worldwide cinema, which rises transcendent questionings to the surface, which hides infinite historical layers of sand beneath it.
A romantic story from the 1960s France starring the renowned actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and the talented actress Anouk Aimée (Lola, 1961)!
Winner of the OCIC Award and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival of 1966! That sounds convincing so far.
Wait... Nominated for 4 Academy Awards in 1967, out of which 2 were won, which are Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen, and Best Foreign Language Film. Now that's a bad omen...
It's not that I want to speak bad about the Academy, but...
Well, in fact I do want to talk bad about the Academy.
It actually turns me on...
So here we have an attractive recipe because its ingredients seem tasty enough, prepared at the right time, and with an enticing reputation thanks to Cannes. After all, few films open their initial credits proudly displaying their Palme d'Or.
This is a damn mixed bad which left me frustrated, and yet longing for more.
First, we have the visual style, which is the most troublesome aspect of it all. It constantly makes transitions between black-and-white and Eastmancolor. Why? No apparent reason, really. It is not nostalgia. It is not the characters feeling sad or depressed, and therefore repressing their sentiments towards one another. It wasn't something chronological, either. In fact, that would make even less sense. Nothing fits. Lelouch only wanted to say: "Hey! Look! I passed my Film University courses and I learned how to shoot images in both styles!" Good job there, boy.
Second, the cinematography, which is surely gorgeous and well balanced, feels like being given more importance than to the emotional development of the characters. This is supposed to be a drama that reunites two people in common circumstances (a widow and a widower) that slowly unravel their feelings and personalities between each other while they balance their past love life and their current existence. Both the past and the current existence are also given sporadic attention. Ergo, with no proper background, it becomes even more difficult to feel sympathy for the characters, and easier to feel betrayed at the resolution. This is written not with the intention of implying that a film that gives more importance to the style commits a sin when forgetting about its characters; on the contrary, if your plot does not justify the style - like it should have happened here - credibility begins to show a decreasing trend.
Thirdly, so maybe the fact that the characters are difficult to relate to because we have the cinematography and the gorgeous, catchy main score invading the story, maybe we can, then, focus on the story. Well, the problem is that the entire content of the sandwich is boring. Really, displaying scenes with no relevance for 50 minutes in the middle with some brief, but interesting intersections of plot management can deteriorate the experience, and it surely does here. This film would have worked way better if it actually had committed to its own responsibilities or to explore new potential areas, like the potentially successful character analysis/dissection it could have been, and that have increased in popularity today thanks to the work of Linklater and Kiarostami. Even the incredibly simplistic title is a sign about the predominant superficiality of it all.
But then, we have some weird intermissions that take us out of the Hollywood realm, of the predictable territory and of the corny garden where cinematic clichés flourish, and we find ourselves in the middle of moments that are either hypnotic, thought-provoking or simply captivating from an emotional point of view: key scenes like the couple watching a man alone with his dog walking alike, and then talking about how a person can be beautiful if the person chooses life above art; like a son speaking about his dream to become a fireman and asking for a Coca-Cola in Spanish; like the last act, which seems like an attempt by the film to ammend past mistakes and put additional layers to the story.
I see waited potential wherever I see, because there is love and intelligence at every corner, but poorly delivered... Maybe not poorly, but "uninspired" is the word, no matter how beautiful the last tracking shot is, no matter how strongly stories about couples dissecting themselves slowly resonate in my heart, no matter that it has two of my favorite French actors in my favorite decade of cinema, no matter how many times I will hum ("lalala") the main theme from now on during the entire week, like I am doing right now. I am being generous with it because it is not a conventional love story. It is pretty good at staying away from emotional manipulation stunts and clichés that push you away from a more realistic dream. There are strong strokes of poetry displayed throughout an uneven canvas of passion and self-discovery.
That camera is a protagonist. It is alive...
It moves like a mouse in closed spaces, like a kite through buildings and trees, like an observable stalker through the streets, like a mirror of human faces observed closely, and turns its head as quickly as a bird.
That score haunted my soul. It sounds like an omen of death.
Few films utilize a score so hauntingly. At first glance, it is deceptively simple, as the horror score consists of around 4 tones. But it terrifies you. It sounds like a choir echoing through a long, dark tunnel during midnight. Sounds like that make me feel powerless. It made the whole show more disturbing. This film embodies the word "disturbing" so beautifully. Actually, the power of the score does not rely on the film, and viceversa. both help each other.
And then we have views on violence.
Tangible monsters can be scary, but sometimes not as terrifying as the monsters of the mind. Those are harder to fight against. The protagonist embodies that anxiety. He is a prisoner of his own demands. The film is so honest and polished in its delivery, that it is almost obvious how Kargl never intended to bring exploitation to the table, but authentic horror without the need of a high body count, or screams. The more realistic it is, the more powerful the punch, and throughout, with the killer's voiceover, extreme disturbing close-ups, a camera that doesn't miss a detail, a realistic running time of events, a score that sucks your soul out, all technical accomplishments intentionally place you inside the killer's mind, and transforms your hands into his. The camera normally shies away from the intimate action of an assassination; here, you become the victim. You feel like drowning.
Another thing that serves as evidence for confirming that Kargl's scope wasn't intended as exploitative is the psychological character analysis approach used since the very beginning. The narrator IS the killer. That's a dangerous move for more reasons than you can count (ask Gaspar Noé, the biggest admirer of Angst), one of them being that you as a viewer have no choice but tolerating a rotten soul that kills out of pleasure, excitement and anxiety combined. And here's someting I don't remember seeing in the genre before: while we witness the violence and horror with such asphyxiating minimalism, the narration does not explain the killings in almost 100% of the occasions. Rather, it begins to reflect in the character's past. If you have enough energy and bravery to hear his anecdotes in case that you can get past the audiovisual stimuli of the horror portrayed, you realize that his stories were either much more tragic, or definitely more graphic and disturbing. It's deception after deception, all with bloody aftermaths, which he uses as a psychological justification of his current actions, as an attempt to rationalize his irrational impulses, which is already an oxymoron. That is simply one spectacular stunt, because if you want to escape from one story, then you have to switch to the other one (that being told or that being shown), so there is no visual or emotional escape. This state of being trapped mirror's the state of the killer as well. Indeed, if you observe carefully, the anecdotes he tells have parallelisms with what he is executing at the moment (the fat mother with the pig, the handicapped son with his stepfather, etc.). That is a very accurate and loyal definition of horror: not being able to escape.
How unfortunate it is that Kargl first appeared in the big screen with this extraordinary masterpiece and then left without a trace. However, Angst left an influential legacy behind in Austrian and German horror, and its reputation still lives in the minds of those who witnessed one of the most impactful psychological analyses in decades. If you liked this film, Buttgereit's Der Todesking (1990) is strongly recommended. Even fans of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), one horror show I respect well enough, should dare go to German-speaking horror territory from time to time.