Friday, May 11, 2007

The Italian (2005)

****½
Russia

The promotional material and the basic plot outline (a Russian 6-year-old escapes from his grimy orphanage in search of his biological mother) would have you expect a heartwarming, Academy-Award-friendly tale of (what else?) the Triumph of the Human Spirit. But it isn't that. This is a dark, searing account of a human spirit that believes itself deprived of something that may never have existed, one that rejects a future of practically guaranteed contentment and opportunity in order to pursue a spectre - a delusion so vividly ingrained that it becomes more real and majestic than the rare glimmer of genuine hope that can present itself before the eyes of a prematurely disillusioned mind. There is an undercurrent of repressed pain that makes the movie almost unbearable to watch - and results in a sense of relief rather than frustration every time it skips into the machinations of a fairy tale. Writer-director Andrei Kravchuk's remarkable sense of the squalor and atrophy of a battered, post-Communist Russia makes the story's impact that much more immediate.

wr/dir: Andrei Kravchuk
ph: Aleksandr Burov
pd: Andrei Rudiev, Vladimir Svetozarov
cast: Kolya Spiridonov, Denis Moiseenko, Sasha Sirotkin, Andrei Yelizarov, Vladimir Shipov, Polina Vorobieva, Olga Shuvalova, Dima Zemlyanko, Mariya Kuznetsova, Nikolai Reutov, Dariya Lesnikova

Noise (2007)

***½
Australia

A meditative police procedural with pretensions of exploring the human condition. Writer-director Matthew Saville imagines that he is working with a scope far greater than the story allows, and there are implausibilities along the way, as well as several shaky monologues. But his crafting of the film is quite elegant and the performances - ranging from Brendan Cowell's subtle, sensitive, readily self-deprecating work in the lead to the gentle slang and stark, lived-in faces of the supporting actors (and even the extras) - are each and every one a thing of beauty.

wr/dir: Matthew Saville
ph: Laszlo Baranyai
pd: Paddy Reardon
sound design: Emma Bortignon
cast: Brendan Cowell, Maia Thomas, Katie Wall, Fiona Macleod, Nicholas Bell, Henry Nixon, Maude Davey, Luke Elliot, Simon Laherty

The Pornographers (1966)

****
Japan

Shohei Imamura's nutty, increasingly surreal tale of the misadventures of a Japanese maker of underground porn, his mistress (and landlady) and her maladjusted offspring cleverly encapsulates his left-field take on the sordid impulses chortling beneath the unassuming norms of Japanese society. The shifting timeframes get a bit confusing, and at a running time of over two hours, the movie goes on far too long, but any time your attention starts waning, Imamura reclaims it with a typically robust, beguiling setpiece.

dir: Shohei Imamura
wr: Shohei Imamura, Koji Numata
ph: Sinsaku Himeda
cast: Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masaomi Kondo, Keiko Sagawa, Ganjiro Nakamura, Chocho Miyako

The Flower of My Secret (1995)

***½
Spain

The first time that most people picked up on hints of a meditative nature behind the mad, frantic genius of Pedro Almodóvar was this atypically talky tale of the emancipation of one hormonal writer of glossy romance paperbacks. The magnificent, ever elegant Marisa Paredes takes on the lead role with terrific command, along with brazen support from two inimitable staples of the Almodóvar pantheon, Rossy de Palma and Chus Lampreave.

wr/dir: Pedro Almodóvar
cast: Marisa Paredes, Juan Echanove, Carmen Elías, Rossy de Palma, Chus Lampreave, Kiti Manver, Imanol Arias

Cutter's Way (1981)

***
USA

A murder mystery which has developed a limited but enthusiastic enough cult following that may lead you to believe that the movie itself contains more flashes of personality than it really does. It's well-acted and admirably committed to character as far as the central trio is concerned. But the characters in the sidelines never make a whole lot of sense, and there isn't enough atmosphere or insight to justify the routine meandering of the plot.

dir: Ivan Passer
cast: Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, Ann Dusenberry, Stephen Elliott, Arthur Rosenberg