Archive Page 2

Pickup on South Street (1953)

“Pickup on South Street” (1953)

IMDb

floating narrative

This is not groundbreaking and it will not change you in any fundamental way. But it is deeply noir, and that is something always worth seeing.

We have a story centered on a character who is, among every character, the one who knows less about what’s going on. He is the only one totally outside the juicy plot he gets sucked into, and yet the only one that everybody (police and communists) believe to be in control of everything. Everything happens to him, he fights to control the events, but ends up being swept by them.

Notice this: he literally gets into the story by randomly picking a girls’ pocket, and steeling some very important film. He doesn’t have a clue about the importance and value of what he has, and acts accordingly. In the meanwhile he tries to outplay both the police and the communists, using the girl as his arrow girl, as a shield. He ends up loosing control both of the story (but not quite), as he falls in love with the girl. So here we have a cute sense of chaos in the story, agitated narrative where we find ourselves lost, as much as our surrogate detective, in this case the pickpocket.

Fuller has a great sense of pace and mood, and this film has a very special extra thing: the floating shack where many of the fundamental twists in the narrative happen. That is one great set that I will have with me for a long time. As an explored space it is good enough, in studio context. As a metaphor for the unstable mood of the whole narrative it works fine. In the end, this space becomes the odd center of the bizarre noir world of the film, and to root a film so strongly in a place is something I always appreciate.

My opinion: 4/5

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Carnage (2011)

“Carnage” (2011)

IMDb

group Repulsion

This film is very aligned to what Polansky has done throughout his career. Here we find most of the superficial elements that we know, and for which we love his work.

The space containment. Polansky is one of the absolute masters of environment exploration, to make a film inside one single space, multiplying the possibilities for our usage of that space, and mashing it into the narrative, until the moment It becomes narrative. He has a perfect sense of framing, camera movement, and shot timing. The problem in this film is that the banality of the environment, obviously required to be the home of what is supposed to be an ordinary couple, just isn’t interesting enough to make the skills of the master be superlative.

There is the sense of absurdity in the original material that totally mirrors Roman’s own twisted sense of humor, that kind of bizarre weirdness we found in Vampire Killers, or the Tenant. *minor spoilers* Here we actually have something interesting, because we start watching one film, and end up watching another. The premise is one of simple drama, personal relations, the apparent discussion about education, child violence, etc. But than it takes weird turns, and we enter a world of total absurdity, specially from the moment of Winslet’s throw-up. It’s as if Polansky was diluted into the whisky the characters share, and they become increasingly possessed by his spirit. We digress from one film, of a relatively normal reality, to another one, fabricated in Roman’s incredible cinematic eye, many years ago, which now has this quite different approach.

All the actors collaborate positively in the ride. All four are at least competent. Waltz surprises, he has a remarkable sense of timing in lines, and posture. Jodie and Kate are fine actresses, among the best, I wish we could have more of Jodie in interesting projects.

Polansky now films in a more relaxed manner. It’s as if he was officially retired and now began to film for himself, as if he was having dinner with some friends. I hope we can have at least a few more of this relaxed walks. He never fails us. This is another fine chapter of his artistic life.

My opinion: 4/5

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The Big Knife (1955)

“The Big Knife” (1955)

IMDb

breathing space

By coincidence, I saw Carnage, the new Polansky, shortly after this one. Polansky is a master of small spaces, and moving inside them, and making them part of the dramatic fabric of the film. Space as drama, as metaphor, that’s one of the things that made me want to watch films seriously, one of the concepts dearer to me. Robert Aldrich is also a spatial man, a cinematic architect, who also considers and bends the space to take from it wherever he is making out of the material he is shooting. That’s specially well done in Kiss me Deadly, a must-see on many levels, but also here in this smaller film. Here we have filmed theater, a one set film. The first problem is that the set is a little bit studio like, and thus is more contrived, giving Aldrich less possibilities for breaking the camera angles and camera moves.

Shooting studio was norm, and had advantages, light control, etc, but the downfall proves bad for the kind of visual work that Aldrich liked to try. Well, it’s a little bit like Palance’s character, trapped inside his golden cage, living profitably at the expense of artistic compromise.

But this film is still a worthy experience. The text helps. The inner tensions of Charles Castle, mapped into Jack Palance’s own Method approach to acting. All that wrapped about the brilliant vision of Aldrich, supported by the also brilliant Laszlo, a fine cinematographer, we have such great films produced by his camera. This is a one space film, but also a one-man show. It’s all about how the environment mirrors how Palance reacts to the world. In that sense this is a kind of noir, in how he only reacts to the adversities, a pawn in an odd world, where he is the odd center. But this is not noir in the wider sense, in the definition that Ted applies to it, which i embrace. Ida Lupino was a clever artist, and she knows enough to support Palance’s act. She really helps. We tolerate Steiger’s excesses because his character is not too much exposed, but he does go over the top.

Anyway, stick to the camera, how it reacts to Palance. The characters movements, what’s usually defined as mise-en-scène, is remarkable in how it is reflected always in how the camera moves. This is something that started with Hitchcock’s Rope. Sidney Lumet toped this game with his Angry Men, but this is a sensible use of the camera in that respect.

My opinion: 3/5, a very pleasant minor work of a very fine director.

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Notorious (1946)

“Notorious” (1946)

IMDb

pre-rope

Hitchcock is one of the most important directors ever, someone who changed film rules, film codes, who introduced a huge number of new terms to film grammar.

He mastered and built new things around cinematic uses for camera movement, framing, and he bent narrative in marvelous brilliant ways. His top achievements can and must be studied by us today, they were the milestone for much of what followed, and in narrative terms, some things that he has done are still unsurpassed.

But, even if today, i look at really old Hitchcock films and detect in them bits and pieces of what his intuition might be getting at, I really believe that the 50’s were the the decade when he developed all the things for which i love him today, and believe him to be one of the masters. With Rope comes the first time in which he really builds something totally new, in that case bending camera movement, creating a cinematic eye, bright and new. Dial M… Rear Window, Vertigo, even Psycho. All those are works which you have to see.

But before Rope, what we have are hints. In this film, there are a few bits of framing and camera movement which are really cleverly and conceived. The coffee cup framed while a dialogue is going on. The crane shot that begins opened to the house lobby space, and closes on Bergman’s hand, holding the key. Those are really nice, and do something very hitchcockian: a scene where apparently nothing relevant happens (a trifle dialog, the simple arrival of guests), but through the camera movement and framing, a new meaning is given to a detail of the scene. Purely visual, few people worked as a purely visual mind as well as H..

But the grand picture, here and in nearly every film before Rope, is just not that great. As noir, this fails, because the world of this film is explained all the way, it’s a simple spy story, which we follow based on the tension of the “is she gonna get caught?” scenes. Noir would require a bizarre unexplained world, something about us not knowing what’s happening. This is a “mcguffin” type of construction, that stuff about the wine bottles, which are only good to make us want to follow. And Hitchcock always mastered that device, but his best results come when he uses that distraction to deliver us an incredible visual presentation for it. Not here.

We do have Grant and Bergman, a hot couple back than. They do deliver their performance well enough. They do exhale some cinematic magic. And Ingrid was a real woman, and a real actress. But this film is mostly based upon style. And style, we know, fades in no time. So this film gives us not much today, because the master hadn’t yet reached the perfection of his later cinematic manipulations of our visual minds. A few times before Rope he was close to achieve that. But here, he’s just trying out a few solutions, but this film is a pure exercise in style, a style that is no longer the one we look for today.

But Ingrid Bergman was some kind of a woman.

My opinion: 2/5

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Ukradená vzducholod (1967)

“Ukradená vzducholod” (1967)

IMDb

fly away

There’s something interesting about Czech animation of the 60′. There was talent, and an interesting will to explore, try new things. Plus, the Czechs were probably the most actively discontent people of the soviet satellite states. When this film came out, the Prague spring was about to happen, the country was boiling with tension and will to change.

Creative minds usually boil at higher temperatures under such contexts. So, I assume that some metaphor of search of freedom might be made of this story. Flying away, escaping land, searching for places where one can try the unthinkable back home. Intellectuals not playing along the regimes on the other side of the curtain were having tough times. This would be a suitable metaphor, in the line of what Svankmajer was doing.

Also, the choosing of Jules Verne, so loved by this director, is itself a comment on the kind of thing he was trying to pull off. The reason why we love Verne is the inventiveness of the science fictions he proposes. He didn’t write sci-fi as Philip Dick, where the scientific otherworldliness is the framework for the exposure of a cleverly conceived deep exploration of things close to us, in our “real” world. Instead, with Vernes it’s really about the world, in physical terms, the verisimilitude of the scientific proposal, to live in that world, as it is defined by the writer. He gives us the seduction of hipper-realism, the sensation that what we’re reading might be possible (indeed much of it is right now being done), wrapped around the fascination of a fantasy parallel world. On top of everything, experimenting is what drives this kind of creators.

The trouble with this film is that the codes are outdated. I don’t connect to the visual presentation of this film. This world sounds flat and not fascinating today. There is visual sensitivity here, in how animation and real action are mixed, how the yellow tone is used to unite the whole bits. A lot of effort was put into it, and it may have worked in its day. But not now. It’s a scream for freedom, and we feel it even today, As such, it’s good. As a film, i really think that there are other adventures more worthy of being lived, other journeys for useful to be taken.

My opinion: 1/5

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Meu Tio Matou um Cara (2004)

“Meu Tio Matou um Cara” (2004)

IMDb

description layer

Narrative is the soul of a film, isn’t it? Even when that near evidence is contested by the filmmaker, we seem to want to find a story wherever. Is that hardwired in our imagination? is it a cultural acquisition? It’s meaningless. We do find stories, and that is important if we want to understand where most of our art comes from.

Cinema is, so far, the ultimate narrative medium, the one where the deepest transformations have been invested, in terms of storytelling, narrative invention, etc. That’s because cinema is a conglomerate of other activities, with millenniums of existence, plus the power of moving image, something always wished, but never achieved until cinema appeared (some cave paintings already tried to replicate movement!).

So, if you are serious in seeing films, and understanding the medium, you have to wonder about how the story of storytelling evolved. Some names are fundamental. Others not so much. Jorge Furtado is one of this latest. He’s is relatively unknown outside Brazil, but I do think that anyone should be exposed to his work. He is one of the most clever film writers ever. I mean ever. More than 20 years ago, while still not making features, Furtado created a memorable short piece, Ilha das Flores. There he picked up on something Welles had been doing in the 70′, and thinking about it since the 50′. What has been commonly known as “film-essay” is where Furtado left advertising and entered cinema. And he hasn’t left that world ever since, having written golden pages and pushed the medium a huge leap ahead. That’s how much I admire his work, how much i take him into consideration.

This film is another exercise in narrative layering, narrative stance, and self-reference. All in one. We start with a regular story, here about a supposed murder. This story is already filled of versions, which we get to know as the film develops. The uncle’s version is full of gaps, and we get successive evolutions to the initial statement “I killed a guy”. Than, Furtado centers the film on a character, stranger to this main storyline that we pitched. We hear the inner voice of that character. He’ll be our designated detective, our surrogate on-screen. But that voice never narrates what we see. Instead it comments on what we see, intersecting it and mixing it with outside references, filmic or not. A voice that comments on the main story and its characters. So that’s 2 layers now, one of them purely self-referential. Add to it the story of this narrator character, something to do with teenage (mis)adventures and love stories. Now it’s a third story, a third layer, which will punctually intersect the first one, and even overlap it from a certain moment on. The second layer, that of the inner voice, is all around, soaking the other two and how we watch the film.

**spoilers** The convincing ending (from a cinematic point of view) comes out of the successful overlapping of all the layers, to allow for a funny (from genre’s point of view) conclusion, which is itself highly self-referential: what gives away the whole plot is a set of photographs, who reveal both Kid and Soraia. Those photographs, documenting an event we never actually see except by glimpses, given to us after the conclusion, have an order that matters and tells a story, a 4th narrative layer that concludes the other 2. There’s a funny side play with the photos, that tell a different story when its order is changed, thus helping the uncle to maintain his status as an idiot.

As a film, for what it means, this is pretty superficial, even meaningless. Funny and juicy, but not deep. As cinematic exercise in narrative layering, this is truly powerful, as anything conceived by Furtado.

My opinion: 4/5

Nabbeun namja (2001)

“Nabbeun namja” (2001)

IMDb

torn pages

Some people just get to you. Being close to you, culturally, should help in that process. And sometimes it does. But most of the times, it’s meaningless where the art comes from. Some codes seem to be universal and will reach wherever you come from. I suppose that’s what Jung meant by collective consciousness. Kim Ki Duk changed me with his Bin Jip. In ways that i’m still trying to understand. I know that among many of the most powerful ideas in art, i’m specially fond of the idea of reaching without touching, to touch without contact. To make a climax but emptying the climactic moment. That’s something i’ve experimented in several areas where i try and work, music, architecture, image. It’s a powerful concept, hard to achieve, rewarding if you do. Kim Ki Duk did it in Bin Jip, and for that i’ll see whatever he has to offer.

*major spoilers* I think he was already surrounding that idea that blossomed in Bin Jip when he did this. This is about a despicable character, who falls in love with an normal woman. He bullies her in a clumsy attempt to approach her, and gets rejected. So he kidnaps the girl, takes her to Seul’s underworld, and reduces her to prostitution, out of love. Twisted and quirky, but in the process he becomes a voyeur, and always without touching, he watches her, screwing client after client. It’s a sick dark world the one we have hear, but one which encapsulates the sensitivity of a man who says love without using a dialog. You see, you know you found a true filmmaker, when what you take of the film are visual bits, bits of structures, bits of the pain of others. Based on this, we have a simple fold: we watch the mude thug watching the used girl. We also see him through her eyes. Ultimately we are put off of the film when we become at first as much unaware of the content of the photograph on the beach as the couple. But ultimately we are taken to the last level of the narrative, pushed away from its core.

The idea of the photograph in the sand is sublime. Where does it come from? how was time manipulated to make it be there? how does the moment in which she finds the shredded pieces overlap the moment in which they took the photograph. And than, the idea of the photograph as a mirror, the beautiful shot in which we see it, missing the bit which we know already how will be fulfilled. Cinematography and lighting, as usual, are top.

I will recommend you to go to Bin Jip and skip this unless this filmmaker really means something to you, and you want to understand his drafts and not only his most powerful experiences. But the quirkiness of the world he invents here is just too dark, too twisted to allow me to live in the beautiful, sensitive inner world of Kim Ki Duk. The man has pure talent, and quiet passion, but this is not his best experience.

My opinion: 3/5