Archive for June, 2009

L’homme qui aimait les femmes (1977)

“L’homme qui aimait les femmes” (1977)

homme

IMDb

narrative details

This is one of the most interesting conceptions of a man who spent all his career and life questioning the very conception of cinema and what it meant in every moment. After the adventure of french new wave of the 60’s, Truffaut matured and, to me, he started producing his more focused work. He basically produced some films which were essays on cinema, as well as autobiographical depictions of his thoughts.

So, we have a film about storytelling. A womanizer who writes the story of his life. Every woman in his life is, herself, a story. So the pleasure of being involved with a woman maps the will Truffaut has to tell a story. The fact that Morane writes all the stories, and makes one single big form (a book) with them enhances this.

The woman editor has an important role. She is the key character that Truffaut places above Morane, and she annotates and comments on the whole structure. Her remarks on Morane’s book and personality may as well be taken as commentaries on the very film, and of its director. She is self-reference, she is Truffaut commenting on himself, thus adding reflexivity to the film. That’s why she observes that Morane, the writer, doesn’t reject the “details” others wouldn’t notice, and she literally says that he is basically a storyteller. Also, she is the one who remarks the fact that Morane’s funeral is the perfect ending to the story. I saw all this as reflexive annotations on the very structure of the film and, more generally, on the nature of Truffaut’s cinema. He was through all his life a storyteller, and above any pleasure he took in making a film, there was the pleasure of narrating. Also he took a special interest in filming details, something i think he took from Hitchcock. The hand dialing phone numbers, or turning the pages in the address book, that sort of thing.

Morane’s funeral, which opens and closes the film, gathers all the women around him. It is, like the editor (the second narrator) told, a praising of Morane’s life, the recognizing of his qualities, the celebration of his life (cinema).

This and “La nuit américaine” are so far the best built films by Truffaut that i saw. Many times i think that Truffaut (and Godard!) has spent to much time around things which were not that important, like school kids discussing football teams. But in certain points, he made important contributions to the evolving of cinematic narrative. This is one of them.

My opinion: 4/5

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Sleuth (2007)

“Sleuth” (2007)

sleuth

IMDb

twists

It is reducing to think of this as a remake of the original. Instead it is much richer to consider it as a film which over layers the original. You really should see the first one in order to magnify the experience of this one. Think of the original, than consider it to be merely a starting point. Than open your mind to this one. You do that, and you will be given one of the best film experiences that deal with the creation of stories. I did.

Schaffer/Mankiewicz’s version was about two characters fighting for the control of the storyline. Their personal game of humiliation and revenge was based on each one creating a story and performing it so convincingly that they would fool the other into believing it. In that version we had toys and animated puppets all around the set to enhance this. It was a masterpiece of film writing that worked because the acting supported it. Laurence Olivier was great there because he constantly explained us the creation of the story as we went along. The film was one of pure males, cocks fight. The woman for whom they were fighting, was in a painting.

Here we start on the footsteps of that film. Two thirds of the thing leave no room for wandering about motivations. If you know the original you will know what to expect. This is wonderfully staged. The woman that causes the game IS the house, which she decorated. So we have her playing the game, much more than we had in the original. Branagh is to be reckoned for the mastery of the thing. The way he handles surveillance cameras invents a third character who is all around, whom we never see. The house is, at the same time, ostensibly a set, designed not for someone to live in it, but to be explored by our characters. But it IS also a house! I’ll mark this as an interesting case of a film which relates cinema and architecture, for how the house/set is handled.

**spoilers herein**

The narrative master stroke comes in the last 20 minutes. It’s a special thing which will work with stronger effect because we already have the original film. It’s a kind of twist over what we expect because we saw that other film. Here we feel heavily the hand of Harold Pinter. At a certain point, when our characters are starting the last “set” of their game, we are left undecided oscillating between believing their sincerity or trying to figure who is making the move. The gay theme is introduced, and the play moves to a state of enormous ambiguity, only revealed in the very last minutes. Again, the house (the elevator) provides us a strong last shot, which ends the film in a much more conclusive and effective way than the original. Caine’s character is much more ambiguous, and he is to be credited with his long moments of pure silence in the guest room, as he decides whether to give in to Law’s demands or not. That was great

Jude Law is quite an interesting actor to follow. Besides his obvious qualities, it seems to me he is specially intelligent (or well oriented) in how he chooses the films where he plays. His remakes of Caine’s former roles are good examples of that.

My opinion: 4/5 this is several plays within a play, which becomes a film, framed by other film. You want to watch it.

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Batman (1989)

“Batman” (1989)

batman burton original

IMDb

remembered darkness

Because i saw this film back when i was very young, and before now i hadn’t seen it in a while, i have a personal relation with it. I evolved and the film evolved with me, in my mind.

It really had been a while. And the memory i have of it is much darker than what the film is. Why? I changed; films changed. That’s it. This was supposed to contain a dark world, many call it Gothic. Indeed it has a dark environment in some points, Burton is a specialist in producing certain environments. But it no longer works as a dark world with dark minds, if it ever did. It has now the appeal of teen films: we know where everything is going, but we want to see it anyway. And the world is brighter than that of so many other films not specially remembered for its “darkness” as this is. I suppose that probably has to do with how the cinematic narrative is built. This film relies on its visuals, and that is usually a matter of fashion. It goes away, and when it does, the film will stand or not based on its cinematic content. Burton trusts that showing the world will make us enter it. Well i did enter it 15 years ago, now i only remember i did, but i no longer find the door to it. I suppose Nolan really did replace solidly Burton’s vision, after Schumacher’s disasters. It introduced instability in narrative, in “dark knight” he built a whole narrative out of instability. He understood how he could support a whole visual world consistently adding layers twists, indeed making the whole film a big twist.

Nicholson’s performance is as plastered as his character. It’s based on individual charm, not on a troubled mind. His villain is a non ironic joker. Ledger really pushed the character elsewhere, to the fields where Brando or Depp operate.

This is interesting to watch, for it shows how linked are cinema, cinematic memories, and our own lives.

My opinion: 2/5

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Je vous salue, Sarajevo (1993)

“Je vous salue, Sarajevo” (1993)

IMDb

the right frame

Godard is a curious and highly talented filmmaker, yet uneasy to get, arrogant and autistic in so many times. This ruins much of what he makes, but we’re still left with some pearls.

This is one of them. A simple exercise of visual manipulation, minimal in its resources and time extension but which becomes magnificent in its visual power. This short is 2 minutes of multiple framings of one single photography. Every framing will give us a particular reality within, and make us comprehend different worlds within the world which, as the short goes along, we understand to be a single image. These two minutes in Godard are more analytic and meaningful than many of Wenders films which address directly what it means to look for the hidden visual meanings of images. Why couldn’t he be so clear headed in the 20 years preceding this film?

Here, as in a few other Godard films, i was so impressed with how he manipulated me, that i forgave his usually speech, one of underneath political stubbornness and egotism, disguised as a pure humanitarian. I do not reject his intentions, only his attitude.

Also, a question arises here, and in the work of Godard throughout the 90′. More than testing the limits of cinema, here he questions its own definitions. I believe (based on his “history of cinema” episodes) that he pushes his own definitions of cinema to the fields of painting. Yet, i think he becomes more of an image maker and manipulator. Painting, in its cinematic sense, has two ways to be understood: one is with lighting/color/composition, the other is as visual communication/manipulation. Welles/Toland, Conrad Hall, Gordon Willis. Those were painters. Here Godard attempts at manipulating, and wanders in not so explored fields of cinematic narrative.

My opinion: 4/5 watch this.

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Mankind Is No Island. (2008)

“Mankind Is No Island” (2008)

IMDb

deceiving

This is damaged goods. Everything in it may look reliable and powerful, but a careful reviewing will reveal how false it is.

The film is apparently born from a clever visual idea, supported by editing. Images caught in two cities, that merge to give us a message. And editing is the key cinematic tool to achieve that message. But the deceit is that, besides a few images of homeless people and true city daily life, all the footage is in fact filmed words edited to make readable sentences. And all the rhythm is given Not by the filmed words, but by the music that follows it. So, we may be led into thinking that this actually has any cinematic value at all, when in fact it is a lazy effort, disguised as an honest amateur work. It took me several viewings to understand what was wrong.

A minor complaint is that the message is patronizing, numb, bloodless. IT tells you what you know, and it doesn’t tell it from any interesting perspective. It’s wrapped with the silly notion of treating viewers like children, in a way not even children (or specially children) should be treated. Many viewers enjoy being treated like that, that’s probably why this film had such a success. Well i don’t.

If you want a piece of editing where images are the key to the emotion and the music is just an additional support, watch this commercial:

Take out the sound in a second viewing and check how the editing stands. Do it with this “mankind…” and see how dead it becomes. IMDb doesn’t file commercials, but comparing the film i’m commenting and the example i’m linking, maybe they should.

My opinion: 1/5

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