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I May Destroy You
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Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) - 7,5
Last work from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Just like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, this is a love archetype promoting a universal message. The story unravels within the seed of a tribal community inhabiting Bora Bora, a remote island in French Polinesia. Matahi and Reri ride against forces of higher power within the tribe to preserve their love bond. The resistance is stretched to the limits of what is humanly possible hereby sentencing their tale to a tragic fate.
This movie is so engaging that it's easy forget that one is seeing a docufiction. As is hallmark of this genre, it's not possible to separate reality from fiction in what is partly a real documentation of the people of Bora Bora and their culture. All the characters are the real tribal natives and chinese living in the region. By virtue of which Tabu invokes a different kind of allure from Sunrise's. The idyllic landscape, the tribal rituals and the close contact with nature contrast with the modern world of Sunrise, and craft a rawer and a potentially more nostalgic experience.
But ultimately, Tabu doesn't have the impact of a timeless masterpiece like Sunrise. That monumental dreamlike enchantment of Sunrise is missing from Tabu. This is a slightly more earthen and dry experience. In any case, Tabu has great poetic beauty and emotional power. The top-notch camera work and cinematography earned Floyd Crosby an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, while the archetypal performance as Reri launched Anne Chevalier's acting career for the following years. This beautiful work of silent cinema was homaged by Miguel Gomes in 2012 with his homonymous film which I highly enjoyed. Recommended!
Seven Samurai (1954) - 8,5
Japan, Sengoku period.
Theft of values, theft of life, theft of happiness and pride. Oppressive suffering haunts a small village of farmers. Suffering perpetrated by vultures of greed whose next attack, the farmers profess, will sentence the village extinct. What can be done? Everything that follows stems from the instinct of survival. Instinct camouflaged in delusions of honor, justice, altruism and bravery. Instinct fed by fear, despair and love. Thus begins the existential crusade to preserve the dearest and most precious human virtues in a cruel and amoral world.
Appeals for the samurai conduct warrant provisions for the battle ahead. But the only distinction between a samurai and a non-samurai is one's mask: the world we invent for ourselves is only a disguise for our fears and denials. A farce that falls apart when heroism meets life's ungratefulness and the harsh truth becomes inescapable: all men are slaves of their mortality in the struggle for survival, samurai or not. Death is oblivious to our titles and dilemmas. But when death strikes, only those who seek to outlive fate are caught off guard. They will never know ephemeral happiness, for life is unforgiving of one's mistakes. Living it humbly is the only way to die undefeated.
A single negative remark: considerable length and slow progression may lead to boredom and distraction. Particularly during the first half where all main characters are slowly introduced. This is heightened by the fact that Kurosawa's cinema may not be particularly easy to chew for some: rewards aren't immediately apparent to viewers, and his movies may even appear aesthetically insipid or plain. Digging below the surface, however, reveals a very different truth. Seven Samurai overflows with beauty and genius subverted between the lines of the cinematic composition. The ability to effortlessly engage and entertain speaks volumes about the amount of thought invested in each take. Almost every sequence was crafted with sculptor's fastidiousness, and the result is near perfect symbiosis between form and function - one of Kurosawa's greatest gifts. Highly recommended!
King Kong (1933) - 8,5
Filmmaker Carl Denham and his film crew prepare to embark on an expedition to inhospitable and virtually unknown location. Legend has it that somewhere in the Indian Ocean lies an uncharted island inhabited by a primitive civilization. This civilization has remained isolated from the rest of the world hereby creating a mysterious and unique culture of adoration centered around a monstrous and prehistoric creature - Kong. This is the story that motivates Denham to set forward the expedition. He keeps the rest of the crew ignorant of the motivations until they are close enough of their destination. Denham intends to verify the facts behind the legend and aspires to be the first person to capture the so-called creature in film. But his ambition cannot match the epic proportions of the ordeal ahead of them. The explorer and his team will be treated with the experience of a lifetime.
The context in which King Kong emerged is quite interesting. Scientific and technological breakthroughs in the early 20th century had drastically affected the lives of many Americans. With the Great Depression hitting hard, thirst for progress and financial empowerment became top priorities for the population. The cinematic industry took upon itself the route of escapism for a public that was jaded by the hardships of real life.
King Kong was crafted when the ability of fantastic cinema to bewilder and haunt the audience was probably at its greatest. In the 30s, one of the public's most prominent cinematic whims was to submit the bizarre, the unfathomable, the dangerous or the eccentric to the scrutiny of scientific exploration. This caprice was capitalized in exotic adventures that sharply contrasted with the lameness of real life, and that, by virtue of their populist nature, reinforced certain ideological agendas and even social prejudices largely extinguished today. This movie descends from a long tradition of jungle movies in America, specifically, a subgenre that explored pseudo-romantic relationships between apes and women.
Notwithstanding its ludicrous premise, King Kong is symbolic of the American aspirations during the Great Depression. The ability of the individual to confront and conquer any hardships of life no matter how magnificent those hardships may be, was the sort of message that many Americans sought after in cinemas. The characters of the movie also display an ethos that seems representative of, at least, the male mindset in the 30s.
King Kong is a wholly competent movie. It employs a formula of populist cinema still kept in use today, but here it was shaped with a visionary ambition that can hardly be matched by contemporary filmmaking. This is not a subtle flick. We are promptly engulfed in the 'action' without much ceremony and only a sketch of suspense. Romance, fantasy, humor, adventure and terror are all intertwined in a wholly coherent work that still entertains today. King Kong must have been an immense technical challenge. I'm intrigued about the method used to merge the stop motion animation and live action into coherent scenes. It still looks amazingly believable today. It looks so good that it invokes in me a feeling of surreal enchantment that I can't get in any other film. This is a technically brilliant work.
Given the social context when the potential of cinematic expression was still being explored, King Kong was probably an archetype of the ultimate experience in cinematic entertainment. Therefore, it deserves a distinguished place in the history of cinema. The original impact may be lost, but King Kong has the grace of a prehistoric relic, and immerses me in a dreamlike experience of epic scale. It's also a very fun movie. I greatly enjoyed this classic. Highly recommended!
Pandora's Box (1929) - 8
German silent classic directed by Georg Whilhelm Plabst. The libertine and naïve spirit of seductive Lulu is a potentially fatal trap to any man or woman who crosses paths with the young dancer. Seemingly unaware of the consequences of her actions, Lulu drifts at the mercy of events in a melodramatic adventure marked by strong sexuality and deviltry. Lulu's treacherous spell will be her doom; she will fall into misery and despair, and will meet a tragic fate at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Lulu personifies the Greek myth of Pandora on which the movie is thematically based. Pandora's Box is notable for lifting Louise Brooks into stardom, and for, presumably, being the first movie in the history of cinema to deal with the lesbian theme. This is a must-see for fans of Louise Brooks, fans of silent cinema and to whomever wants to see how homosexuality was treated on the screen in a period where it was still a taboo subject. The ludicrous pathos lends a funnier quality to the movie than it is supposed to be, but this doesn't hinder the cinematic experience. Wonderful cinematography and camera work. Supremely fun and naughty movie. Recommended.
Ivan's Childhood (1962) - 8,5
Tarkovsky could hardly come up with a better debut. Ivan's Childhood is yet another wonderful work from the Russian master. Moving and heart-breaking movie where a 12-year-old orphan risks himself on the front lines of the Second World War. For Ivan's young and corrupted mind, there is no worthwhile purpose except fighting the enemy of war, and the vengeance of his dead loved ones is a first order priority. Early love and happy childhood with his mother were ephemeral miracles now conserved in his memory; the war has become the only reality for Ivan. Similarly to The Bridge (1959), directed by Bernhard Wicki, Ivan's Childhood exerts a contrast between those two distinct realities to underline the absurdity of warfare and its costs. The Russian movie is a more intelligent, original and emotional cinematic experience, and is no less powerful in its anti-war message--if one chooses to see it that way--despite the fleeting combat sequences and not being as raw or graphic as The Bridge. Ivan's Childhood is, ultimately, more absurd and painful by throwing into the scene a 12-year-old child who has to duck the enemy practically alone. We fear and feel for him just like his adult comrades. Great acting by a very young Nikolai Burlyayev who later appears in Andrei Rublev. Very good acting overall, beautiful cinematography and inventive camera work. Based on a short story written by Vladimir Bogomolov, Ivan's Childhood is a powerful movie that deserves classic status. Even though this is Tarkovsky's first feature film and a few rough edges making itself noticed, it engages me in a poetic dream almost as effortlessly as the other masterpieces from the Russian genius. Highly recommended!