Sunday, December 14, 2014

Two films from the Balkans: Zakloni (Ivan Salatić, Montenegro, 2014) and Okean (Tamara Drakulić, Serbia, 2014)

Picture courtesy of Ivan Salatić.
The 32nd edition of the Turin Film Festival, an annual event that is as old as this blogger, ran in my hometown from November 21 to 29. This year the festival offered a rich selection of American movies of the 70s, so I had the opportunity to catch up with little-seen films like the irresistibly funny Taking Off (1971), which was Czech director Miloš Forman's foray into Hollywood, as well as renowned ones, like Sydney Pollack's paranoia-drenched Three Days of the Condor (1975), for which I've miraculously managed to stay away from spoilers for 32 years. Among the films in competition I saw the short feature film Zakloni (Shelters) by Ivan Salatić from Montenegro, in combination with Okean (Ocean) by Serbian director Tamara Drakulić; I give a brief account of the screenings in the following.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The horror of choice: Woman in the Dunes
(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

The ant-lion, also known as doodlebug, is a tiny predatory insect that digs little pits in the sand, then hides at the bottom waiting for preys, typically ants, to fall in. When this happens, the sides of the pit start to collapse, dragging the ant down toward its doom. If you are wondering why I'm telling you this, you probably haven't seen Woman in the Dunes.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Confusion is sexy: Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

Jean-Luc Godard once said that every movie is ultimately a documentary about its actors. This is particularly true of Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer's first effort in ten years. In fact, despite most reviews describing it as a sci-fi film about an unnamed alien, actually the protagonist does have a name: it's Scarlett Johansson.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coming full circle: The Broken Circle Breakdown
(Felix Van Groeningen, 2012)

Unfairly overshadowed by Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Bellezza in the foreign-language film category at the 2014 Oscars, this remarkable movie from Belgium reminds us that heavy subjects don't necessarily make heavy movies. There are many ways a filmmaker can engage us emotionally without appealing to our most basic Pavlovian instincts.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Cow-Boy Girl contest comes to an end

Had the only raison d'être of this blog been to provide David Bordwell with the missing piece of the Magnificent Ambersons puzzle, I'd still be happy with it. That being said, I hope there's more to life than The Cow-Boy Girl and that we will have more occasions to talk about cinema in fresh and engaging ways.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here you can read Bordwell's final blog entry on the quest, with the links to the previous posts and the poster I discovered on the eHumanity archive.
Please don't expect such exploits from me every week!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hurrah! A poster! A poster!

You may recall that at the end of May I tried to contribute to solve a mystery involving an unidentified poster briefly appearing in a scene of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. Film historian David Bordwell was responsible for it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Disney's Maleficent: Adding complexity, with caution

One of the most common complaints leveled against Disney films has always been the lack of complexity. Their detractors generally emphasize that the Disney universe seem to adhere to a rigid Good/Evil dichotomy, with little or no room for nuanced, multi-faceted characters. Disney's latest effort Maleficent, a live-action reinterpretation with gothic undertones of the 1959 iconic animated feature film Sleeping Beauty, appears like a curious attempt to break with tradition and respond to those allegations with a shining counterexample.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On the origins of a Hitchcockian dictum

In my last entry I discussed Xavier Dolan's 2013 thriller Tom at the Farm. I tried to show how, in my opinion, the director's failed attempts at building suspense largely depended on bad staging and ineffective camera placement. In fact, despite many reviews having described Dolan's work as "Hitchcockian", the term seemed to me totally out of place in that case.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Killing the suspense: Xavier Dolan's Tom at the Farm (2013)

Recovering from what for me was easily the worst cinematic experience of the year and in the impossibility of rewinding the whole thing in my head, I decided that I had to make something good out of it by at least trying to understand why it had been so frustrating. Was it Xavier Dolan's omnipresent, falsely angelic face? Or maybe the exploitation of the theme of homosexuality to seek the viewer's complicity? No. Apparently, it had something to do with camera placement.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The missing picture

Film theorist David Bordwell yesterday posted an article on his blog about movies referencing other movies, and how allusionism is not a prerogative of contemporary cinema. He discusses the allusions present in a scene of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, where many movie posters dating to 1912 can be seen in the background of a lengthy tracking shot. He concludes the article with some guesses about a poster he wasn't able to identify (the photo below is taken from his website). I confess that I haven't been able to think about anything else for a few hours.

Let's try to give a small contribution to the investigation. As Bordwell observes, the first letters of the title seem to form the word "Car", while the spot on the left could likely be a determinate article. However, there seems to exist no movie of the epoch titled "The Car...". The first option occurring to me is "The Conductor", which seems confirmed by the fact that the man in the foreground apparently wears the uniform of a train conductor. Does he expect the native guy below to pay the fine? However, the only movie title I found which seems consistent with this hypothesis is Conductor 786 (1912), but the plot apparently doesn't fit with the poster. Another possibility, but maybe it's my Italian background speaking, is "The Carabiniere" or "The Carbineer", which again would explain the uniform. There does exist a 1913 Italian film titled Il Carabiniere, but it doesn't feature American Indians, as one would expect.

And what if the first letter was a capital "H" instead? The search goes on...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier, 2013)

In a recent article film critic Matt Zoller Seitz advises wannabe film critics, among other things, to study history and psychology. I was reminded of his advice while watching Nymphomaniac, and especially I was wondering in which way psychology, and psychoanalysis in particular, has influenced filmmaking and film criticism. Indeed, a lot of movies these days seem to have been bathed in psychoanalysis − Spider, The Machinist and Black Swan are just the first examples coming to my mind. That's something even a layman on the subject like me can easily recognize, since, as anthropologist Henrietta L. Moore points out in her book A Passion for Difference: Essays in Anthropology and Gender,

"Psychoanalysis has entered popular culture [...]. Not very much may be known about psychoanalytic theory, but a whole series of popular experiences  like motivation in crime novels and television dramas  has been profoundly influenced by theories of causation and personality development based on a version of psychoanalytic thought."

The topic deserves greater attention than my limited knowledge allows. Indeed, the book Psychoanalysis and Cinema by film theorist Christian Metz seems to be an essential reference point. I will concentrate just on these two aspects: How much the common practice among certain filmmakers of venturing into Freudian territory has contributed to flatten out film characters and plots, and to what extent Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac can be considered a critical response to this approach?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Spike Jonze's Her will be probably be remembered as the most old-fashioned futuristic movie ever made. Set in in an unspecified future where checkered shirts and high-waisted pants seem to be the latest fad, it follows a lonely ghostwriter as he embarks on a love affair with the female-voiced, ever-evolving operating system of his personal computer.

Friday, April 25, 2014

35 Shots Of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008)

A strange thing happened to me after watching Claire Denis' 35 Shots Of Rum. Once the film was over, I thought I would forget both the story and its characters very quickly, because it seemed to me that nothing remarkable had happened during its 100 minutes running time. Only after a few days I realized how much the film had settled in my mind, despite (or maybe I should say precisely because of) its unremarkability. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Minister (Pierre Schoeller, 2011)

In the same way that Krzysztof Zanussi's 2005 Persona Non Grata offered us a cross section of the intrigues taking place in a Polish Embassy, Pierre Schoeller's The Minister has undoubtedly the merit of introducing us into a world we know only superficially, and generally never get in contact with. Most of its appeal indeed comes from the great care it devotes to illustrate the mechanisms of power unraveling inside the departments of a French Ministry.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Barbara (Christian Petzold, 2012)

"The heavens are what split first", wrote Christa Wolf in her 1963 novel Divided Heaven in the aftermath of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Even if a quarter of a century has passed since the heavens reconciled (the Wall fell in 1989) apparently that chapter in German history still proves an inexhaustible source of inspiration for contemporary German cinema, see for example Sonnenallee (1999), Goodbye Lenin (2003) and the Academy Award winner The Lives Of The Others (2006). But when is the former East Germany backdrop motivated by the urgence of filmmakers to grapple with a recent past that still hurts, and when is it more an exploitative choice, of the sort made by Liliana Cavani with The Night Porter?

Friday, March 14, 2014

La Moustache (Emmanuel Carrère, 2005)

Don't be fooled by the apparently innocuous title. Written and directed by first and foremost writer Emmanuel Carrère and based on his own novel, La Moustache is a powerful, unsettling film that will make you feel uneasy long after the end credits have rolled.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

Continuing on a path begun with 1998's The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt tells the story of a man falsely accused of child sexual abuse who is ostracized by the small Danish town he lives in. If that previous feature centered on a harsh truth that everyone seemed unwilling to accept, here the situation is reversed, the plot revolving around a blatant falsehood that everyone for some reason is willing to swallow.

Welcome to Goya Cinema!

Thank you for taking the time to stop by. I do my best here to write open-mindedly about the film experiences I enjoyed the most. Good or bad, sad or happy, smart or stupid, all of them have improved on - paraphrasing a film critic I greatly admire - the sight of my room's ceiling viewed for the same length of time.

It's all work in progress. I encourage you to post comments, share opinions, start discussions. Suggestions about the blog itself are welcome.

Have a nice time!