Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Bubble (Eytan Fox, 2006)

***
Israel

There were bits of artifice in Eytan Fox's previous films, but the characters were so vivid and engaging that it was easy to overlook the numerous plot contrivances. This is also the case with a large chunk of his latest film, concerning a gay relationship that sparks up between a Palestinian and an Israeli Jew. Even if the characters are idealised, sitcom-friendly variations on breathing people and the dialogue is for the most part either expository or trite, you're eager to forgive Fox because their affection for each other is palpable and, honestly now, how many directors thusfar have offered up a twenty-something-dating-hipster perspective on the Palestinian issue? But as the coincidences start piling up, the characters' actions grow increasingly erratic and contradictory, and the plot takes roughly six too many hysterical detours, the film's unsteady topicality veers into exploitation.

Zoo (Robinson Devor, 2007)

**½
USA

An admirably compassionate but awkward look into zoophilia, sparked by the notiorious case of Kenneth Pynan (though he's only ever referred to as Mr. Hands in the movie), who bled to death after being anally penetrated by a horse. Director Robinson Devor understands the sadness, the eerieness and the tragedy of a 'zoosexual's state of mind, but he refuses to acknowledge its bizarreness and its morbid fascination. He has accordingly chosen to photograph the film with artsy, grief-stricken, heavily pregnant lyricism that very quickly becomes exhausting.

The Witnesses (André Téchiné, 2007)

****
France

The earnest-complacent AIDS drama hit its peak (in terms of circulation more than quality) during the early-to-mid 90s and gradually began losing exposure thereafter, so much so that it has been nearing extinction as of late (bad news to people with a social conscience, though good news to lovers of complex drama). In a sense André Téchiné is being decidedly démodé in daring to tackle the issue at this point in time - particularly in opting for an approach of historical documenting rather than hysterical pseudo-topicality - though a more graceful and articulate insight into the shock and panic of the abrupt outbreak of the disease in the 1980s doesn't exist on celluloid. With customary wisdom he peoples his picture with tangible, vibrant characters rather than shrill demographics. Through them you experience the paralysing terror of AIDS rather than just hear about it.
The fretting orchestral score by Fred Chichin and Philippe Sarde is quite openly derivative of Philip Glass' work and it works wonderfully well. In tandem with the shrewd, sensible cutting, setting up a brisk pace, it keeps you that much more involved in the proceedings, and builds on the story's urgent, forceful impact while maintaining its intimacy.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, 2007)

***½
USA

A confounding account of the sensational real-life murder of unstable socialite Barbara Baekeland by her that-much-more-unstable son. With elegance and absolute - as well as, to an extent, blinding - commitment, Tom Kalin (whose first film since the staggering Swoon [1992] this is) directs Howard A. Rodman's haphazard, incomplete draft of a promising script. The characters, although rendered vivid by a uniformly solid cast, are left underdeveloped, and much of their unorthodox behaviour in the third act is shocking for all the wrong reasons. The picture is always absorbing and often dazzling (as pictures tend to be every time they provide the malleably fierce and destitute Julianne Moore with a juicy role), so much so that - despite the unpleasant subject matter and the trying 15-year wait for a second Tom Kalin picture - it leaves you wishing that Kalin and Rodman took some extra time to prod into the motives and causes behind their characters' dodgy neuroses, rather than focus on the kinky effects.

Times and Winds (Reha Erdem, 2006)

**½
Turkey

Writer-director Reha Erdem is working with subject matter very rich in potential - the generations-worth of strained father-son relationships that tend to haunt patriarchal cultures - and he's all too aware of it. Every composition is swelling, positively dripping with high, ponderous sentiment, and in order that you don't miss out on any of it, he has organised for a portentous, perennially grieving orchestra to cue your heartstrings. The photography - capturing what ought to be the cleanest village in all Turkey - is immaculate, relentlessly beautiful; and every shot, every cut, every action and line of dialogue has had the last drop of oxygen studied out of it.

Glue (Alexis Dos Santos, 2006)

***
Argentina/UK

A wise man once said, "Just because something happened to me, that doesn't automatically make it interesting" - a concept that is yet to reach the moderately talented Alexis Dos Santos. There's no questioning his film's authenticity, or its careful observation, or the natural performances of the pubescent leads - only the world's necessity for another sensitive, leisurely low-budget account of a teen's sexual awakening.

In Memory of Myself (Saverio Costanzo, 2007)

***
Italy

A sombre, magisterially crafted mood piece about a Jesuit novice experiencing doubts just as he's about to be ordained. The brooding - and there is a hefty amount of it - appears to be motivated roughly as often by self-importance as it is by something more substantial.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Away from Her (2006)

***½
Canada

Talented actress Sarah Polley's first feature as director, charting Julie Christie's gradual succumbing to Alzheimer's as well as its ramifications on her 44-year marriage to Gordon Pinsent, is treading on Hallmark waters, though it's much more nutritious than its synopsis would suggest. Much of the crafting is basic, almost prosaic (the arbitrary, soulless flashbacks in particular), yet rather than telemovie-triteness, it contributes towards a sense of intimacy, placing the focus as it does squarely on the warm and weathered characters. The dialogue is rich and literate, providing for a terrific showcase for the ever-graceful Christie, though in the less showy but more layered role of the supportive husband, Pinsent is just as impressive.

Beauty in Trouble (2006)

***½
Czech Republic

In Jan Hrebejk's family dramedy, Anna Gaislerova ditches her virile but ineffectual husband just before he gets sent to prison, then gets involved with a much older, much richer man.
Hrebejk never heard a sensitive-new-age-adult-alternative track too maudlin, and he never saw a montage too insurance-ad-like. But he can spot a sharp script. Furthermore he can build a portrait of unrelenting evil of caricaturish proportions and, enormously aided as he is by his actors, render it completely life-like and convincing (ditto angelic good-heartedness). A lot of his skill in these situations stems from his understanding that lives which to the average comfortably-well-off filmmaker would appear strange and messy, to the people living them are, if anything, plain and mundane.

Breath (2007)

South Korea
***

Ever since he turned meditative, Kim Ki-duk has been teetering down a fine line between poignant and cutesy. In this love story between a lonely housewife and a killer on death row, you are to determine at your own discretion whether Kim's characters are quirky-melancholic people, or quirky-melancholic caricatures of morbidly maladjusted people. They're endearing - to a point - but they don't resonate.

Mamma Roma (1962)

****½
Italy

Pasolini's contribution to the striking number of great Italian films about irrepressible big-city prostitutes. With typical gusto Anna Magnani plays the titular one here as she battles to provide for a bright future for her delinquent son. Magnani, of course, tends to ensure a picture's watchability as soon as she takes on the lead role, yet as a consequence of this, the director of said picture is forced to take on the added challenge of insuring his doesn't turn out to be just another Anna Magnani movie. Pasolini succeeds in this - particularly in the way he portrays the malnourished outskirts of Rome, with the richness and sensuality that marks his best work. He also did well to cast the radiant Silvana Corsini as the son's love interest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Henry Fool (1997)

****½
USA

The people who didn't tap into the subtle wisdom and loveliness of Hal Hartley's early films mistook this one for a testament to his maturation. It's no such thing. Harley was a mature filmmaker from the outset and all that separates this [not coincidentally perfectly wise and lovely] dramedy from his earlier ones is that he's stingier with the comedy and the melancholy that was quiet and restrained in Trust and Simple Men is here amplified and brought to the forefront. It's an approach that - working, as it is, off a plot about a pretentious writer and an antisocial garbageman-poet, as well as a quirky-whimsical score - reeks of undergrad hollowness to begin with, but becomes more digestible and resonant as the characters grow meatier and more life-like.
It's longer than Hartley's previous films and less contained - almost sprawling tone-wise if you compare it to The Unbelievable Truth and Simple Men. In some sense it's also more ambitious, and probably more flawed. But ultimately it's just as charming and big-hearted.

Black Sunday (1960)

****
Italy

A delicious low-budget mix of wooden acting, cheesy vampire mythology, cheap though effective Gothic sets, clever bits of gore and very exciting high-contrast visuals. The plot is reportedly derived from a Gogol story and evidently it was deemed absolutely necessary that the original 1830's Moldavia setting should be retained.

Bay of Angels (1963)

****½
France

Jacques Demy re-asserts Jeanne Moreau's effortless goddess-ness in this champagne bottle of a movie about high-risk gambling in the Riviera. With her hair dyed in an ungodly shade of platinum that would overwhelm any other actress, Moreau glides, twinkles and pouts her way through major wins and losses at the roulette tables, exuding her inimitable mix of sex and magic without the slightest hint of strain. It's easy enough to understand how a hitherto mild-mannered bank clerk would see fit to abandon a life of stability if only to share in a few nights of her spontaneous, faux-naive brand of fatalism - really anyone would. Whether they'd be operating on a hunch of uncanny wisdom or romantic idealism, Demy suggests, is not that easy to determine.

51. My Night at Maud's (Eric Rohmer, 1969)


My Top 100 Films countdown will have to take a break now, but will continue on August 13th, right after the Melbourne International Film Festival

52. My Man Godfrey (Gregory LaCava, 1936)

53. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

54. Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

55. Turksib (Viktor Turin, 1929)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

56. Tristana (Luis Buñuel, 1970)

57. Three Colours: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

58. Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952)

59. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963)