Wednesday, June 01, 2011

PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Fred Zinnemann, 1930)

*****
Germany
This obscure silent docudrama is slightly less obscure than other similarly vital films of the era for several reasons:
- it provides a bracing, uncluttered glimpse at a society at a pertinent historical junture (post-Weimar, pre-Hitler);
- it continually meanders away from its very loose narrative and into disarming tangents;
- it was co-written-directed by a group of people that included Billy Wilder (fourteen years before Double Indemnity), Robert Siodmak (sixteen years before The Killers), Edgar G. Ulmer (fifteen years before Detour) and Fred Zinnemann (twenty-three years before From Here to Eternity).

A crisp, breezy, singularly beautiful film, it finds poetry in close-ups of even inanimate objects just as regularly as it does in the delicate shapes sunlight forms on faces. And such vibrant, absorbing faces, too (none of them were actors). Not an inch of the frame is ever wasted.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

YI YI (Edward Yang, 2000)

****½
Taiwan
A tender, meditative saga founded on an old-style melancholy humanism, it begins with a wedding, ends with a funeral and in between charts in novelistic detail the mostly internalised self-questioning of each member of a bustling extended family. It unfolds in generally quiet, reflective scenes observed from a respectful distance and in a visual style that is intricate and elegant without being showy. Edward Yang doesn't for a moment leave you in doubt as to his delicate and singular sense for the pain that accompanies the accumulation of wisdom. But he seeds in a couple of particularly piercing monologues, one roughly midway and one at the finale, that are overpowering beyond anything he has led you to expect.

Recently the film popped up on multiple Top 10s among the great films of the decade. And, well, it is.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

LATE MARRIAGE (Dover Koshashvili, 2001)

****½
Israel
Despite healthy box office and fervent acclaim, this extra tragicomic Israeli tragicomedy was never released in Australia. So it has taken me an unforgivable amount of years to get around to it.

As a piece of filmmaking, it's a little rough around the edges (it has that primarily-writer first-time director haze), but as a piece of drama, it is astounding:

Romantic love and stone-set orthodox tradition are pitched against each other in an unhinged life-or-death smackdown when a 31-year-old bachelor from a garishly conservative Haifa household secretly engages in steamy, disarmingly and ingeniously detailed sex with a single mother, all while ostensibly courting pedigreed, school-aged virgins primped for marriage.

Though hilarity abounds, there are extended, masterfully calibrated sequences of emotional violence that leave you breathless. Koshashvili though, isn't one to get off on the shock and scandal he is eliciting. At every moment he is busy parsing through the knotty mess he has conjured up for telling social and character detail, his observations pitched at a laudable balance between caustic and empathetic.

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