Saturday, May 28, 2011

REPRISE (Joachim Trier, 2006)

***½
Norway
Norwegian hipsters in their early 20s - even when they're manic-depressive writers who wear The Smiths T-shirts - are far less pretentious and arrogant than their American (and, for that matter, Australian) counterparts. Much more likable too, and infinitely more natural actors. I'll always be dreading the notion of first-time filmmakers exploring the lives of twentysomething writers/painters/photographers/performance artists. But this was a lovely surprise.

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)

**½
USA
Equally startling for its acuity (the scary insight into parent-adolescent relationship, the cult of celebrity that develops around a tragic death) as it is for its vacuity (the ipod soundtrack, routine woman- and gay-hating).

VIDEOCRACY (Erik Gandini, 2009)

****
Sweden/Denmark/UK/Finland

A staggering, comprehensive purging of Berlusconi's political abuses, it's particularly pertinent in light of recent developments.

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CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (Chuan Lu, 2009)

**
China/Hong Kong
Across an elegantly lensed two hours, the human spirit is raped, then crushed, then pillaged a little, then raped again. This is war as masterfully crafted pornography.

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8½ (Federico Fellini, 1964)

*****
Italy
What separates Fellini's self-analysis from the plethora of rip-offs it spawned (all of which inevitably and very quickly slip into the land of wankery, never to emerge) is his generous, all-encompassing spirit. He lets you in on his private jokes and hang-ups. He doesn't look to assert his genius or delineate a status above yours. Organic, spontaneous and with an intoxicating sense of longing, his dreams speak at the level of your dreams. Few - if any - other filmmakers have mastered their craft to such a level that they've been able to capture something as vague, as mysterious and overwhelming as one's own dreamlife with such sensitivity, such intimacy and openness that, rather than a stranger's autobiography, you feel you are tuning into a raw, unfiltered materialisation of another person's rich and fabulous headspace.

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ALEXANDER NEVSKY (Sergei Eisenstein, 1938)

****
USSR

This celebrated biopic of a legendary 13th-century warrior who leads the Tatars to defeat a much larger invading Teutonic army isn't necessarily Communist propaganda as much as it is one big middle finger to Hitler and his cronies. (And it certainly isn't subtle - a whole sequence is devoted to the leader of the Teutonic knights coldly dumping Russian infants into a fire.)

The establishing scenes drag on, but once we get to the extended climactic battle at frozen Lake Peipus, things get pretty exciting. The fighting itself isn't necessarily convincing, but it's impeccably photographed and edited.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN (Marzieh Meshkini, 2000)

****
Iran
A triptych of pertinent tales about three women, who may as well be three variations on a single, oppressed woman at three crucial stages in her life. In the first story, Hava is an hour away from turning nine, and having to wear a chador as well as end her friendship with the boy next door. In the second a recently wed woman enters a bicycle race to escape from her husband and two vengeful brothers. In the third, an elderly woman goes on a shopping spree, collecting every household appliance she’d been deprived of in her youth. To varying degrees, an element of surrealism – or just plain absurdism - dominates each of the three vignettes.

Marzieh Meshkini is a sensitive and supremely talented woman. This is her first film – her film school thesis even – and already she appears to have developed a peerless sense for where to put the camera in order to most economically evoke a lifetime of deep and profound mourning.

LOVE AFFAIR; OR THE CASE OF THE MISSING SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR (Dusan Makavejev, 1967)

*****
Yugoslavia

An arresting, absorbing, morbidly witty bricolage. Politically aware and very evocative of its time and place, it unfolds in the vein of the same year's "I Am Curious - Yellow", and it's inarguably valuable for providing a free-thinking, impulsive perspective on a sheltered Socialist government from within (in contrast to "Yellow"'s naive though very endearing posturing).

As far as the narrative goes, it involves a sweet, unorthodox and ultimately tragic romance in Belgrade between a free-spirited switchboard operator of Hungarian descent and a sensitive rat exterminator of Turkish ethnicity. Then there are also monologues by a criminologist and an elderly sexologist, a brutal poem about a rat, an autopsy, and footage from Esther Shub's "The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty" (1927).

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

HENRY FOOL (Hal Hartley, 1998)

****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 very wise and lovely dramedy from his earlier ones is that this time out he's stingier with the comedy, while 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 - 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.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CRASH (David Cronenberg, 1996)

****
Canada

A bunch of lascivious yuppies heavy-breathe and gesticulate in that once familiar straight-to-VHS style while they give into the irresistible erotic allure of car crashes and dismemberment.

Even in the confident, practiced hands of David Cronenberg, it’s difficult to take such scenes completely seriously. And yet he sets a mood and a rhythm with such (characteristic) conviction that it’s very easy to get carried away in it. Pretty much every moment of the film is both ludicrous and beguiling. And it leaves you feeling much more sensitive to the nature and workings of obsession (no matter how bizarre a form it takes).

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