Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Eclipse (L'Eclisse) (1962)



Ukendte Nætter
L’Eclisse is the third movie in a series by Michelangelo Antonioni that started with L’Avventura and La Notte. It is not immediately apparent that this is a trilogy, there is no continuing story or overlap in characters, but thematically they are quite similar. They all deal with emotional emptiness.

When you read a synopsis describing a movie as inaccessible and without a logical plot it is usually time to get worried and I was, going into this one. This is not what I normally look for in a movie. Fortunately I had already watched the other two movies so I was acclimatized to Antonioni’s particular style and with that synopsis I feared the worst and that is actually a good place to be. It can only get better than expected.

I actually found it more coherent than the previous two movies. It did not feel as if the movie was searching, but missing, a storyline, because it did not pretend to have much. Instead it was full of impressions, pictures expressing that particular emotion the movie seeks to convey. That is much less stressful for me as I do not have to try to make sense of what I am watching.

Monica Vitti is back as a woman, Vittoria, who is breaking up with her boyfriend, Riccardo (Francisco Rabal). We have no idea why, but apparently they have been talking or arguing all night. Vittoria is determined to end this, but Riccardo is more reluctant. Leaving Riccardo, Vittoria is entering a vacuum. Her apartment is empty. Her modern neighborhood is cold and sterile. For a while she fills up the space with two friends, dreaming they are in Africa, but it is just that, an escape.

Vittoria’s mother is playing with money on Rome’s stock exchange and as Vittoria go there to seek out her mother (Lilla Brignone) we are introduced to that crazy place. This is a hectic and surreal place where money is made or lost in minutes and everybody are leaning on a heart attack. It is here Vittoria meets Piero (Alain Delon) and somehow they start hanging out together.

Piero completely embraces consumerism. He lives in the present, concerned with work, buying things and doing what he wants, when he wants it. Not an unpleasant guy at all, but very different from the hesitant and thoughtful Vittoria who has no idea what she wants and who seems to second guess herself in anything she does. It feels like archetypical man and woman profiles and that may be intended. She soon gets frustrated with him because he seems shallow and he gets frustrated with her because he cannot figure out what she wants. It is a wonder they are still together at the end of the movie.

Speaking of which, the movie is famous for an ending entirely without the two protagonists. That was not as special as the hype made it, but did serve effectively to underline the empty waiting that Vittoria experiences.

I think limbo or emotional vacuum is the overriding theme of the movie, even more than in the previous movies. You can fill up your life with money, work or consumption, but is that enough? Can you love someone, or force yourself to love someone and have that fill your life? All these people are clearly lacking something.

Maybe it is just me who is a bit naïve, but looking at these three movies there is something missing in all of them: children. To name procreation as the meaning of life is a little too biological even for me, but from personal experience I can definitely say that getting children of your own gives plenty of purpose, one way or the other. That may be what these very modern Italians are missing.

L’Eclisse is a beautifully made movie with every picture thought out and full of details. Technically the stock exchange scenes are brilliant and they capture the primal energy perfectly. As does the soundtrack that must have inspired countless later movies. A detail I liked very much was the juxtaposition of very new and very old, but then again, that is Rome.

This is not a movie I would recommend to everybody, but if you know what you are going into, you will not be let down by this one.

 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Sanjuro (1962)



Off-List: Sanjuro
As I will be doing a few times in 1962 I am moving off-list to review movies that should have been included. This, the first one, is Akira Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro”.

“Sanjuro” is the sequel to “Yojimbo”, which I reviewed off-list for 1961. It is again a strong movie, but to put it bluntly, not up there with “Yojimbo”. It does all the right things and on its own I love it, but the problem here is that is it a sequel and as such suffers from some of the usual problems with sequels. First and foremost that Yojimbo is a damn good movie and very difficult to match. It simply pales in comparison. Secondly, it is a bit too obvious that with Toshiro Mifune’s character, the ronin Sanjuro, Kurosawa had found a winning formula that had to be explored/milked for what it was worth. That always leaves me with a bitter taste.

Having said that, there is no doubt that “Sanjuro” is a great movie. I did have a great time watching it, even if I expected more.

While the ronin character is the same, the plotline is a bit different from “Yojimbo”. This time Sanjuro walks into a feud between a decent chamberlain and a corrupt superintendent. Not two groups of warring gangsters, but a good side and a bad side. The chamberlain’s supporters have been complaining about corruption and in the process brought the chamberlain’s life in danger. Sanjuro now joins the supporters in their effort to free the chamberlain and get back at the corrupt superintendent Kikui (Masao Shimizu).

Trouble is, these supporters are complete clowns. They may be samurai with top-knots and swords and everything, but they act like confused geese.  Without Sanjuro they would have been completely lost. When they act on their own advice they get in trouble, but when they follow Sanjuro’s advice they accomplish remarkable things.

Sanjuro is the same lonely ronin from “Yojimbo”. Crude, impolite, but with his heart in the right place. Oh, and a totally awesome swordsman.  The main difference from “Yojimbo” is that Sanjuro is now more concerned with preventing death rather than causing death, even among the bad guys. Not that it really stops him when it is necessary, he still kills with lightning speed, but with a regret that he did not have in “Yojimbo”.

It is also clear that “Sanjuro” is a lighter movie than the dark “Yojimbo”. A movie between good and bad guys have one side pegged as the winners from the beginning. It is never really brought in doubt. When Sanjuro gets in trouble it is never serious trouble and there are a number of places where we are encouraged to laugh, especially of the nine clowns Sanjuro is helping.

The movie works, it is funny when it wants to be and dramatic when it aims in that direction, but I guess I miss that darkness and gritty ambience that “Yojimbo” had. You could still laugh at “Yojimbo”, but it was a more cynical laugh, a bitter laugh. In “Sanjuro” there is no bitterness left, instead you laugh at them clowning around. However I have to give it that the ending is the most awesome one I have seen in year. If you have not seen it I will not ruin it, only say that it is spectacular.

I hope I have not given the impression that “Sanjuro” was a poor movie, because it is not. It just had some pretty big shoes to fill and I would happily watch it again. After revisiting “Yojimbo, that is.

 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

An Autumn Afternoon (Sanma no Aji) (1962)

 
 
En eftermiddag i efteråret
It has been a few days since my last review through no fault of this movie. My wife and I went on a small trip to Warsaw, Poland to escape the oppressive heat and I decided not to bring along any movies. Probably a smart choice. Yasujiro Ozu’s “An Autumn Afternoon” (“Sanma no aji”) is not a movie you want to rush through in a plane, but something to enjoy quietly and slowly at home. Doing that is a very rewarding experience.

Let me say right from the start that this is the best Ozu movie I have watched. There are no big dramas, no shouting, no action whatsoever and only the thinnest of plots. Instead this is a beautiful portrait of an older man who realizes that his children are growing up and he is getting old. It is sympathetic to its characters and entirely free of melodrama, but with precise insight into the feelings the characters go through and it is just so beautifully made, like a Japanese flower arrangement: Aesthetic, restrained and insightful.

The older man is Shuhei Hirayama (Chishu Ryu). He is a widower with three grown children of which the oldest Koichi (Keiji Sada) is married and live in another apartment with his wife. Hirayama attends a class reunion together with his old friends, one of which is Kawai (Nobuo Nakamura). They have invited one of their old teachers Sakuma who is having a grand time and gets a bit tipsy. When they drive him home they realize that he is actually a sad old man making noodles with his old and bitter daughter. For Hirayama this is a wake-up call. He can see himself ending like Sakuma, old and destitute and clinging on to his daughter. Kawai is urging him to marry off his daughter, but Hirayama has not been busy and Michiko (Shima Iwashita), his daughter, has not been busy either, but content to run the house for her brother and father. As Hirayama has seen what the future has in store for him he is set in motion and so is Michiko.

This feeble summary does not sound at all inspired, but in the movie it works perfectly. Hiroyama is a jovial fellow and this group of middle aged man is very sweet. They are a bunch of pranksters like overgrown boys, but obviously also men of some importance, managers and that sort of people. It is hard for them to accept that they have grown old, but face it they must.

Hirayama’s children are balancing between tradition and modernity and it is very interesting to watch them handling this balance. Traditional family values versus modern independence. Conspicuous consumption against traditional prudence. And as becomes the key event of the movie, the mechanisms of marriage. They are caught between the modern way of falling in love with someone they meet themselves and arranged marriage set up by their parents. This theme has been explored before and after and is usually a very loud affair, but not here. Here we can see that both father and daughter are very uncertain about the whole thing. Michiko has fallen in love with someone, but has not dared to ask him, and Hiroyama has not dared to ask her what she wants. All this hesitation means that opportunities slip away and that is the real risk with Sakuma’s fate lurking on the horizon.

Ozu is brilliant at catching these underplayed emotions and really show what a high context culture the Japanese is. Sometimes it is just a glance, sometimes a shy laughter, the misery in a cup of sake or the longing look at some golf clubs.

The calmness is supported by Ozu’s unique style of filming. He was the master of the static camera, placed on the floor and usually with some sort of framing. It is absolutely beautiful in color and somehow drags the rush out of the movie so we as viewers give ourselves time to take in the story. As a composition Ozu was never better and when we get to the last scene with Hirayama, drunk in his wedding suit singing old wartime songs, we absolutely understand him.

I can only recommend this movie. This was the last one Ozu ever did, but it makes me want to seek out some of his earlier movies not on the list. Watch this, but do yourself a favor and make sure all is quiet around you when you watch it.

 

Monday, 24 July 2017

400 Movies!!!



400 Movie Anniversary
Another milestone has been reached by yours truly. 400 movies down the list as I count it.

It feels like I am actually getting somewhere, 400 is a sizeable chunk of the, huh, approaching 1200 movies on the List.

The past one hundred movies has taken me from 1955 to 1962, which amounts to seven years and it has taken me a year and nine months. It is five years since I started the blog and seven and a half years since I started watching the movies. Slow but steady.

The List keeps throwing curveballs at me, mixing the solid hits with the obscure and this is a trend that seems to intensify here in the sixties. Sometimes it is fun, sometimes annoying, but I am still in a period where I have seen very few of the movies before, so they are always new and surprising to me.

And now for the traditional award.

Last time I mentioned that the style was moving from noir to westerns and that has truly been a theme of the past hundred or two hundred movies. It is therefore tempting to give the award to:

Best Western (not a hotel)

Nominees are:

1.       The Searchers

2.       Seven Samurai

3.       Yojimbo

4.       The Stagecoach

5.       High Noon

Considering Westerns are not my favorite genre, this is a very strong field of movies, all of which I enjoyed heaps. Any of them could run away with the award, but I will, without blinking, name the winner as:

Seven Samurai

This is simply one of the best westerns ever made and it is not even taking place in the American West.

Somehow I have a feeling that the category for my next award at 500 would be Most Obscure movie. I was tempted to do it already, but I know some seriously weird stuff will be coming my way over the next hundred movies so I will push it a little.  

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Dog Star Man (1962)



Dog Star Man
I like video art, I really do, but Stan Brakhage’s ”Dog Star Man” did absolutely nothing for me.

I have a hard time explaining what I saw, partly because it made no sense at all and partly because I had serious trouble maintaining attention on the film. Instead my attention strayed everywhere else and whenever it returned to the screen it was just more of the same.

There were some solar flares, some close-ups of body parts, sometimes internal body parts. There was a man walking up a hill in snow with a dog and an axe over his shoulder. Those pictures were very confused, but I got the impression it was not going so well for him. There was a baby and some faces, maybe religious, and the whole thing was mixed with scratches, quick cuts and false colors.

There is no sound to this thing. At first I thought it was a mistake so I found another version on YouTube, but that was the same. Even silent movies come with a sound track.

Video art is hit or miss and this is definitely a miss for me. I feel annoyed, not just for wasting an hour and fifteen minutes on this thing, but because this film takes a slot on the List in a year where there are several movies that should have been there. That is not a fault of the movie, but of the editors of the List. I will sort of pretend that they got the spot instead and will be including at least three extra movies for 1962.

There is not really a lot more I can say about “Dog Star Man”. I understand that this is widely acclaimed so obviously somebody get something out of it.

On another not, this is my 400th movie on the List, so there will be an anniversary post coming up soon.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cleo de 5 a 7) (1962)



Cleo fra 5 til 7
Here is another movie I did not expect much from. French new wave cinema has had a lot of trouble impressing me and the description of “Cleo from 5 to 7” sounded… uninspiring to say the least. Following a girl around for 2 hours almost real time while she waits for the result of a medical examination. Not exactly my kind of movie.

It starts that way two. There is no plot, not in the classical sense at least and as not much is happening I found myself drifting for the first 15 minutes. Then something happens. I am not sure exactly what it is, but I assume that in the disappointment of any plot to latch onto the brain starts to look for something else, and that is what this movie has plenty of. There is a lot of something else.

In fact this movie is so smack full of impressions from Paris in 1962 that you could watch this movie, get nothing else out of it and still leave happy. The taxi drive through Paris while listening to the radio news was a real eyeopener. It felt very real and with so many details that it got me quite excited. While this sounds like a distraction it also served as the key to the movie for me.

The woman we follow is Cleo (Corinne Marchand), a singer of some fame who is now waiting for the results of what sounds like stomach cancer. Cleo is surface and appearance. Everybody looks at her, even herself, but all anybody see is a baby-doll-like bimbo with the depth of a cartoon character. She is frankly rather annoying. Her relationship with her boyfriend is super shallow, like that of an admirer and I get the impression that they only care for each other in as much as they feel flattered. Then half way through the movie Cleo takes off that awful wig and change from the flamboyant fur coat and polka dot dress and into a more anonymous black dress and she is completely changed. It is as if she is changed from the image she wants the world to see and into herself as a person who actually watches the world. I was only able to put it into words when I watched the extra material, but the effect was very clear and striking in the movie. She changed from a non-entity I did not care about and into a real and interesting person.

The curious thing is that she was a lot prettier as herself, she could in fact go around like that today and she would not look out of place, but that is beside the point. As Cleo observes the world so do we. People in the café, on the street and the people she meet. All because of a change in view point becomes a lot more interesting. Her friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blanck) is a mirror on this experience. As a nude model, the artists see her but they do not see her as anything but an idea. Away from the studio she is alive and joyful and nothing like the empty shell the artists are looking at.

It is in this state Cleo meets a soldier in a park, Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller). At first he seems rather annoying in the way he is coming on to her, but his interest is genuine and so she finds herself genuinely interested in him, something very different from her relationship with her boyfriend, and she opens up and find relieve in that sharing.

When Cleo finally gets the results of the test it seems almost inconsequential. In a way she has through her transformation healed herself.

This is a quite unusual film and as I wrote in the introduction I would not have expected to like it, but I found that I actually did. First for the treasure throve of details it gives, but then as it opens up, for the existential depth of it.

The whole real-time thing seems like a gimmick, like Hitchcock’s (almost) one-shot “Rope” movie, and it sometimes threatens to sabotage the movie. Life is simply not interesting enough for two hours that we need to see it all, but it does add to the realism and makes all the details so interesting. Fragments of dialogue, news in the radio, random people on the street and all the strange things that happens in real life and not in a typical edited film version.

Of the French new wave movies, I have watched, this is probably the one I have liked the most, one that actually captures the idea of this new wave. Recommended.

 

Friday, 14 July 2017

A Dog's Life (Mondo Cane) (1962)



Mondo Cane
Ahh, 1962. A new year, new movies, a great leap into modernity or more of the same?

“Mondo Cane”, the first movie of 1962 is a great leap all right, but I am not entirely sure where to. Off the planet maybe and into the world of tabloid headlines and half-baked truths. Certainly an… interesting way to start a new year.

“Mondo Cane’s” raison d’etre is to shock and upset and not much more than that. In this manner, it has more in common with a modern tabloid or maybe a Michael Moore movie than anything else. Sometimes it works, I was upset a few times, and sometimes this 21st century viewer is just to jaded to take offence and then it seems merely quaint, but back in its day this was a great hit at the box office and apparently sparked a whole genre of “Mondo” films.

It was an Italian team (Cavara, Prosperi and Jacopetti) who combined footage from around the world in a montage that barely hangs together. The vignettes cover items such as pets, men as sex objects, environmental pollution and religious practices plus a ton of other issues that generally has very little to do with each other. When it works best the footage is combined so a topic is considered from very different angles that makes us question what is normal. My favorite is the jump from a pet cemetery in America where people say goodbye to their beloved pets as if they were members of the family to a Malaysian restaurant where you can get your favorite puppy for dinner. What is normal, to treat an animal as family or to eat it?

Unfortunately these juxtapositions fail more often than not, aiming more for the shock effect as when Gurka soldiers in Nepal decapitate living cattle. Even I had to look away. Or old people shoved aside to die in Singapore.

“Mondo Cane” is very liberal in its definition of truth and at times its manipulation is definitely in the way. I am sure the Bikini atoll was devastated by the nuclear bomb testing, but somehow the turtle confusion sounds like they are bullshitting us and the life guard demonstration in Sydney Australia is just too silly. On the other hand the sequence about nightlife in Hamburg is probably authentic. I have seen places and people like that and the saying is true that says that there is nothing as stupid as drunk people when you are not drunk yourself. Maybe with the exception of the idiots in the bull-run sequences from Portugal. Or the people who will pay a fortune for a smashed car or a painting made by nude women smeared in blue paint…

It is a surprisingly easy movie to get through. The confusion of these vignettes should have made it pointless, but in themselves they are usually beautifully shot and with enough surprise that I sit curiously waiting for the next vignette. Tribes on pacific island or Papua New Guinea are expected to be odd, but it is when we see our own culture portrayed as odd that it starts getting interesting.

I would not say I was sold by “Mondo Cane”, its objective is simply too narrow, and I do not feel informed at all, merely weirded out, but it was still a lot better than I thought it would be. I would be hesitant about taking too much away from the movie except this, that when your angle of view changes, things you thought where normal may suddenly become very strange indeed.