Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - The Novel

After having seen the film twice, I decided to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chboski.  Originally published in 1999, I was amazed the slender work could be adapted into a two hour film.

The novel (novella?) consists of a series of letters written by Charlie, the protagonist, to an unknown "friend" over the course of one school year.  It is explicitly set in the 1991-92 academic year. The film starts with this epistolary plot device but abandons it until picking it back up for the epilogue.  In the book, the effect of the letters is to make fuzzy what was presented as facts in the film.  Since Charlie's subjective observations are the topic of his letters, the reader is left to wonder about his biases and as the novel continues, his mental state.  The film presents the events written about in Charlie's letters as gospel but there is some ambiguity in the novel.

Charlie's relationship with his sister is much deeper in the novel.  In the film, Ponytail Derek slaps her and Charlie keeps quiet.  She eventually dumps Derek and goes to the prom alone.  In the novel, Charlie reports the incident to his English teacher (Paul Rudd) who reports it to Charlie's parents.  This forces her to keep her relationship with Derek a secret because her parents insist she have nothing to do with him.  She continues to see him secretly (even having a "fake" boyfriend) and eventually becomes pregnant.  She tells Charlie who drives her to the abortion clinic.  This remains their secret throughout the novel.  She dumps Ponytail Derek (the character has no name in the book) because he denied being the father of the baby and has a new boyfriend by the time of the prom.

The tone of the novel is much darker than the film.  Charlie witnesses a rape and the dysfunctional family dynamics on both his maternal & paternal sides are explored through holiday visits and recounted stories.  Charlie's family has been through a lot going back at least two generations which legitimizes his illness and the concerns of his family.  Charlie is seeing a psychiatrist for most of the book whereas he only sees one after his nervous breakdown the film.

Oddly, the character of Mary Elizabeth goes to Cal Berkeley in the book instead of Harvard in the film.  There are other small discrepancies but the biggest difference was the humor or lack thereof.  I thought the film had moments of inspired comedy whereas the book focused more on Charlie's sadness and difficulties.

I've read that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a cult favorite among a certain segment of the population.  I can understand that.  It reminded me a little of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  If I had to provide a pithy quote, I'd say The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the MTV generation's Catcher in the Rye.  The odd thing about the film is the time it took to adapt the novel.  The "MTV generation" is in the 30s or even 40s now.  My quote isn't nearly as original as it may sound.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower was originally published MTV Books which I believe has been bought out by Simon & Schuster.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Game of Thrones

While visiting my father last week, I watched the first season of Game of Thrones on DVD.  Game of Thrones is an acclaimed HBO series.  I don't subscribe to HBO so I had never seen the series.  I was given the DVD set as an Xmas present and decided to watch it while with my father.  Consisting of 10 episodes (each approximately 60 minutes), I'd have a hard time setting aside 10 hours if I was at home. However, when with my father, I spend more time indoors.  My father doesn't have a DVD player; I don't either.  I had to watch the DVDs on his desktop computer.

Despite the less-than-ideal viewing conditions, I consumed the 10 hours of content in 12.5 hours.  The multi-layered, fictional story of Westeros is highly addictive.  Game of Thrones is primarily about the scheming and positioning for power among the royal families from the Seven Kingdoms.  Incorporating disparate historically based plot elements evoking medieval England and Mongol warriors, Game of Thrones creates an elaborate fictional universe which is at once realistic but also involves dragons, winters which can last for decades and zombie like creatures from the other side of a massive wall (Hadrian's Wall and The Great Wall of China seem the inspirations).

More familiar elements are at play such as illegitimate children, incest, honor, family bonds and royal court intrigue.  There is a goodly amount of nudity, sex & violence to keep one's attention.  Best known among the extremely large cast was Sean Bean & Peter Dinklage.

Although the time commitment was enormous, I can't image watching the series as it was originally broadcast - 10 consecutive weeks.  The plot is extremely intricate & characters meet and then double back and eventually discover one character knows another. I would imagine several plot details and nuances would be lost to memory if you saw the series over 2.5 months.

I know people who hole up for a weekend while watching television series like I did for Game of Thrones (on a TV though; not a PC).  There is something to be said for it.  I think watching it in extended sittings is the most efficient way to consume the product.  I had never watched so many DVDs in such a compressed time period.  I don't know how often I'll be doing it again but I have already looked for the Season 2 DVD set (coming out on February 19).

Lena Headey as the scheming Queen Cersei Lannister, Dinklage as her brother, Lord Tyrion Lannister (often drunk and in the company of whores)  and Emilia Clarke as the exiled Princess Daenerys Targaryen who is beginning to recognize her own powers particularly stood out among the large cast.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Alamo Drafthouse Inches Towards Reality

In last Saturday's SF Chronicle, I read that the Alamo Drafthouse's remodeling of the New Mission Theater was approved by the San Francisco City Planning Commission on January 9.  The $10 million project includes the theater remodel and a new 114 unit condo next door to the theater.

The final sentence of the Chronicle article states "Work on both developments could begin by summer."  In previous reports, Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League has stated the remodeling could be complete by the end of 2013.  It's unclear if they are still on schedule for a 2013 completion.  Also, completion of the remodeling is not the same as opening the theater for business.  In previous documents, theater renovations were estimated to take 10 to 12 months which would indicate a 2014 completion.

Regardless of the opening date, this news can only be considered progress towards the opening of the Alamo Drafthouse in SF.  The Planning Commission Draft Motion has some interesting artist renditions of what the property will look like as well as full design plans.  Interestingly the packet also includes letters from various organizations supporting the restoration and reopening of the New Mission Theater.  The Roxie supports the opening by stating "The Roxie Theater is in support of the restoration of The New Mission Theater.  The reopening of The New Mission Theater will allow San Francisco to experience more film gems that would not be seen without such venues."  I would think competition from Alamo Drafthouse would be detrimental to the Roxie but perhaps the programming will be different than what I was expecting.

In the Planning Commission motion, it states "The Project is located within .6 and 1.0 miles from other theaters, including the Roxie Theater at 3117 16th Street, Victoria Theater at 2961 16th Street, and the Castro Theater at 429 Castro Street. These three theaters are all independent theaters that do not directly compete with Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas, which typically shows first‐run, major motion pictures."

Comparing the designs for the New Mission vs. the New Parkway which has a similar food & beverage strategy, the Drafthouse design is terraced rows of seating with a long counter in front of each row for plates & glasses.  However, beer & wine service or the ability to eat food requiring a knife & fork during the film are not of foremost importance tor me.  Instead, the Drafthouse's policy of kicking people out of the theater for using their cell phones is something I truly relish.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


My first film of 2013 in San Francisco was Tristana at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

Tristana starring Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey & Franco Nero; directed by Luis Buñuel; Spanish with subtitles; (1970) - Official Website

I've seen four Franco Nero films in about a month.  He starred in Django, he had a cameo role in Django Unchained and he was a talking head interviewee in the documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop & Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s which I saw at Another Hole in the Head.  He had a supporting role in Tristana.

Tristana marked director Luis Buñuel's return to Spain after a long period of exile in Mexico.  The film is a dispassionate treatise on the relationship dynamics between Don Lope (Fernando Rey) and his ward, Tristana (Catherine Deneuve).  An quiet pas de deux occurs in the film.  First father figure, then seducer and finally quietly despised by Tristana, Lope and Tristana imperceptibly swap dominance, vitality & power between themselves as the years go by.

Tristana leaves the home of Don Lope with Franco Nero as her lover but a leg tumor (??) forces her to return to his home with her spirit missing as well as her right leg.  Lope, viewing his past actions more charitably than Tristana, takes her back and in short order marries the younger woman (she wears black at their wedding).  As he ages, Lope's health fails he relies on his young wife to care for him.  At a crucial moment, she exacts "revenge" which results in his death.

My plot description (melo)dramatizes the story considerably.  Tristana's transformation is quite subtle and easily attributable to her missing leg.  Small signs of her true feelings and resentments are revealed but the full extent was a quite a surprise to me.  Along the way, Buñuel lathers on the imagery with criticism of the Catholic Church and Tristana's long-standing dreams of Lope's severed head.

Catherine Deneuve looks beautiful if not slightly too old for the part.  Her performance is restrained but very memorable.  Fernando Rey's role requires more range but he doesn't overplay it.  Their chemistry (or their characters' lack thereof) is considerable.  I believe Deneuve's voice was dubbed as the entire film was in Spanish.  Lola Gaos as the stone-faced maid Saturna made a favorable impression on me as well.

Combined with Belle du Jour (1967), Deneuve & Buñuel were very successful in their collaborations. Conforming to a plot, Buñuel's Tristana (and Belle du Jour but not L'Age d'Or) were very much to my liking.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Django Unchained

My father & I saw a second film while I was visiting him in Las Vegas.

Django Unchained starring Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz & Leonardo DiCaprio; with Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington & Don Johnson; directed by Quentin Tarantino; (2012) - Official Website

It turns out my father is a bit of Tarantino fan.  I am too but I didn't think he was.  Django Unchained  was the only film he wanted to see while I was in town.  I dragged him to Lincoln.  It's hard to discuss films with my father.  He is getting older and conflates films.  He thinks certain scenes occur in one film but in fact they occur in another.  I can't believe my father is a fan of Kill BillPulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs.  He has a hard time with non-linear storytelling.  Fortunately, the plots for Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained progress in linear fashion which are the only Tarantino films I have seen with him.

Django Unchained doesn't need much set up.  Django (Jaime Foxx), a former slave and now a bounty hunter, arrives at the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) to free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  I thought I saw the character's name spelled Brunhilda on a bill of sale in the film but all the sources I see on the internet show the character's name as Broomhilda like the cartoon character.  Django is accompanied by his mentor & the man who freed him from slavery, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), also a bounty hunter.  Candie is capably assisted by his chief house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

That is the story in a nutshell but Tarantino stretches this out to 2 hours, 45 minutes.  I noted to my father that Django was 15 minutes longer than Lincoln but he said it felt shorter.  There was never a point where I confused about the characters as I was in Lincoln at time, but there were stretches where I felt the film could have benefited from some editing.  That's quite damning from me as I don't recall feeling that way about any other Tarantino film.

If you asked me what I would take out, my quick suggestions would be some of the scenes in the mountains where Django learns his quick draw skills, most of the scene with the KKK predecessors and most of the scenes where Django escapes from his inexplicably Australian captors/miners which seemed mostly to be vanity scene for Tarantino, his long time collaborator Michael Parks and his stated favorite actor from Australia, John Jarratt (Picnic at Hanging Rock).  This might get it down to 2 hours, 30 minutes but the plot seems better suited to 1 hour, 50 minutes or so.

Of course, Tarantino can make me feel like a 2:30 film is as lean as can as was the case with Inglourious Basterds.  I guess that really gets to the heart of the matter.  I wanted to enjoy Django Unchained as much as Inglourious Basterds but I didn't.  That's not to say I didn't like Django Unchained; it just didn't meet my lofty expectations.  That's unfair to the film and ultimately myself but it is the truth.

What was there to like in Django Unchained?  Samuel L. Jackson in particular.  He looks like Uncle Ben but acts like Uncle Tom.  At times, Stephen addresses his master as if the roles were reversed but Jackson's portrayal is characterized by deep self-loathing of his race and the ruthlessness by which he wields power among the household slaves.  Matching him step-for-step is Leonardo DiCaprio as the Southern gentleman whose casual racism is to be expected in a film set in the Antebellum South.  However, his casual brutality & cruelty is likely more shocking to modern audiences.  Those two character, Stephen & Calvin Candie, are not exactly well developed by the plot but you can fill in their backstory without too much trouble.  They provide more than adequate villains for the two heroes (Django & Schultz).  However, Django & Schultz never really get the meaty scenes like the two villains (it's always the case, isn't it?).

Christoph Waltz has some nice scenes early on as he tracks down his bounty prey but as the film progresses, the focus shifts to Django who is more enigmatic.  Actually, how a German dentist came to be a bounty hunter in 1850s United States sounds like a good movie.  Regarding Django, other than Candie observing he is 1 in 10,000, there is little to explain Django's drive, courage and skills.

Unlike Inglourious Basterds, where Tarantino brought about a premature end to WWII, there is no indication that the Civil War would be averted in the semi-fictional Django Unchained universe.  The film is set in 1858/59.  I left the theater wondering what kind of life Django & Broomhilda would have as the buildup to and actual Civil War inflamed racial prejudices.  Django made a point taking Broomhilda's bill of sale and certificate of manumission making it clear that he felt he would need these documents as proof of her free status in the future.  I guess these types of historical conjectures don't belong when considering the merits of Django Unchained.

Some other observations:

The use of the word "nigger" is beyond ubiquitous.  For a film set in the time & location which Django Unchained is set, that is to be expected.  Curiously, my sensitivity to the word became dulled through repeated use.

When the slaves were fighting to the death, their movements reminded me a lot of MMA fighting.  It made me question the ethics of watching MMA.  I wonder if that was intentional on Tarantino's part.

Franco Nero showed up as the slave owner of the opponent of Candie's slave.  That's the scene where Django spells his name - "D-J-A-N-G-O; the D is silent."  Nero responds "I know."  I wonder how many in the audience realized Nero had played the title role in Django in the 1960s.

Several of the scenes involve white actors speaking with exaggerated Southern accents and acting in a depraved manner...and they eventually get their comeuppances.  As satisfying as that is, the repetition makes in tiring.

Jaime Foxx wearing a Little Boy Blue valet outfit more appropriate for 17th or 18th century is one of the most amusing moments of the film.

The opening theme song is from the original Django.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The first film I saw in 2013 was Lincoln while visiting my father in Las Vegas over the New Year's break.

Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field & Tommy Lee Jones; directed by Steven Spielberg; (2012) - Official Website

Lincoln was partially based on the book Team of Rivals by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I read and greatly enjoyed that book.  Although the book covers Lincoln's entire presidency, the film concerns itself with the last four month's of his.  In particular, the film focuses on the Lincoln administrations efforts to get the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution passed by the House of Representatives (the Senate had already passed it).  Lincoln is racing the clock as a) the 38th Congress was lame duck after the November 1864 elections and b) the Civil War was winding down and Lincoln was concerned the end of the war would take away the motivation to pass the amendment.

The film spends time explaining the mood of the common man, the motivations of the Congressman and Lincoln's rationale for pushing the amendment while the 38th Congress was in session.  This bring me to the first problem with Lincoln.  It was too pedantic.  I consider myself to have an above average knowledge of US history and some of the items in the film were new or surprising to me.  That by itself isn't a bad thing but the film runs 2.5 hours and could have been shorter without losing much by selective editing.

There were many small detail I picked up on that didn't add much to the plot.  Lincoln's chief personal secretaries were John Nickolay and John Hay (a future Secretary of State).  They actually lived in the White House; sharing a bedroom.  In one scene, Lincoln goes to their bedroom to send a telegram I believe.  That must have seemed odd to some people that the President would go their rooming house or that they even lived together.  Hal Holbrook plays Preston Blair who, in the film, claims to be the founder of the Republican Party.  That claim is debatable but more interesting to me is that Blair lived on the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  He had lived there since the Jackson administration to which he was an unofficial adviser.  That house, known as Blair House, is now owned by the federal government and is the official lodging for guest of the President.  During the Truman administration, the White House was being remodeled and Truman lived at Blair House.  In 1950, Puerto Rican separatists attempted to assassinate Truman at Blair House.

Spielberg also seemed to want as much historical accuracy as possible.  The results is a huge cast.  Some directors would have consolidated and eliminated characters but Spielberg seemed set to give many Congressman "speaking parts."  This made it difficult to keep track of the characters.

As the film progresses, Lincoln fades to the background.  By modern standards, Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) takes an unusually active role getting the amendment through the House.  He and Lincoln have to navigate three factions - the Copperhead Democrats who are opposed to the element, the Radical Republicans who want to push equal rights as far as they can and Conservative Republicans who were more concerned with ending the war and bringing the confederate states back into the Union.  Towards that end, the Conservative Republicans were worried the 13th Amendment would prolong the war or create a permanent wedge in the post-war Union.

The maneuvering of these various factions is shown in great detail.  Seward commissions an operative (James Spader) to work on lining up lame-duck Democrats to vote for the Amendment in exchange for government jobs.  All this is kind of interesting but it has the unintended effect of equating the issue of slavery (human bondage) with political gamesmanship.  We see the sausage being made...

Lincoln as played by Daniel Day-Lewis is full of stories which don't always make his point and put off those he is talking to.  Lincoln seems equally concerned with his political legacy and the inherent inhumanity of slavery.  The immorality of slavery is glossed over for long periods in Lincoln.  Indeed the most ardent advocate for the amendment is Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-PA) who we learn has an African American housekeeper (S. Epatha Merkerson) whom he shares a bed with (in real life, the housekeeper was mixed race or mulatto to use the parlance of the day).  In fact, the most outlandish item in the film is when Stevens takes the official (and only) roll call of the amendment vote home with him to his housekeeper.  That strikes me as pure Spielberg hokum.

Although Lincoln is the most Oscar nominated film of 2012 and has the inside track for Best Picture, I wasn't quite as impressed.  The self-importance of the film didn't match the quality of the film.  Frankly, I think a different director would have made a better film.  Spielberg's inclination towards sentimentality and his power to resist edits or interference likely resulted in a film I found disappointing.  It's far from being a bad film but sometimes less is more.

Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 By the Numbers

I numerically summarize my 2012 film going experiences below.

I saw 436 "films" on a theater screen in 2012. This compares to 406 "films" in 2011 and 382 in 2010. For these purposes, a film is not just a feature length film but also includes programs (typically from film festivals) which consist of multiple short films. If it was categorized as a single program in a festival guide, it counts as one film entry on my list. Conversely, I saw several programs which consisted of a short film and a feature length film. For my counting purposes, those are counted as a single film entry.


The top 10 venues in which I saw films in 2012 were:

1) Roxie Theater (103 films) - primarily from four film festivals - 2012 SF Indiefest, I Wake Up Dreaming, Beauty of the Real & Not Necessarily Noir; also DocFest and Another Hole in the Head was at the Roxie

2) Castro Theater (70 films) - 36 films between 2012 Noir City and 2012 SF Silent Film Festival

3) Pacific Film Archive (49 films) - various PFA programs including Nikkatsu, Bellissima and French Cinema Classics series

4) Landmark Theaters (33 films) - 3 films from SFFS French Cinema Now series; the rest from individual programs; theater breakdown - Embarcadero Center (18 films), Opera Plaza (7), Lumiere (6) and Bridge (2)

5) New People/Viz/SFFS Film Center (31 films) - most films from 2012 SF International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), 2012 SF International Film Festival (SFIFF) and the SFFS Fall film series

6) Camera Cinemas (25 films) - most film from 2012 Cinequest and 2012 SFIAAFF

7) Kabuki Cinemas (23 films) - all films from 2012 SFIAFF and 2012 SFIFF

8) Stanford Theater (18 films) - no festivals, but loosely defined series

9) Vogue Theater (15 films) - all films from 2012 Mostly British Film Festival

10) California Theater (11 films) - all films from 2012 Cinequest; California Theater is referring to the theater located in downtown San Jose and not the Landmark operated theater of the same name in downtown Berkeley

Honorable mentions - San Jose Rep (8  films; all from 2012 Cinequest), Balboa Theater (7 films), YBCA (6 films), Smith Rafael Film Center (6 films; most from the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival), 4 Star (6 films) and the Crest Theater (4 films; all from the 2012 Sacramento French Film Festival)

I also saw 8 films in Las Vegas while visiting my father throughout the year, but not at the same theater.

I went to a number of venues for the first time in 2012 - the Rialto Elmwood in Berkeley, the Crest in Sacramento, Oddball Films in the Mission District of SF, the New Parkway in Oakland and 142 Throckmorton in Mill Valley.

The top three venues (Castro, Roxie & PFA) have remained the same since 2010 although the order of the three has changed for each of the past three years.


On 252 days in 2012, I saw at least one film.  Of those 252 days, I saw:

1 film on 125 days
2 films on 87 days
3 films on 27 days
4 films on 9 days
5 films on 4 days

On Sunday, January 29, I saw five films at the Castro as part of Noir City.  Many of those films less than 70 minutes though.  On Sunday, March 4, I saw five films at Cinequest in San Jose.  I took a vacation day the next day and saw five more films at Cinequest.  On Sunday, March 11, I saw four films at the Encore Day at Cinequest and a fifth film at the Camera 3 which was not affiliated with Cinequest.

As much as I dislike seeing four, much less five, films in one day, I am going get my money's worth if I drive all the way to San Jose for a film festival.

I also remember January 29.  I had the opportunity to see six films that day but skipped out on The Maltese Falcon.

All the four film days were also associated with film festivals.  I went for four in a day during Noir City, Mostly British, Indiefest, Cinequest, SF Asian American, Sacramento French & Silent Film Festival (3 consecutive days)

My cumulative cost per film is $8.00 per film.  I've been tracking those costs meticulously since January 1, 2010 although it gets a little fuzzy w.r.t. costs which I deduct as charitable donations on my income taxes.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Naked Island

With this post, I will have documented every film I watched in 2012.  I did say I was going write dedicated posts to Something Wild & Body Double so those are still coming but I have largely caught up with my film backlog on this blog...just in time to create a new backlog of films starting with Thursday's Mostly British Film Festival.

I saw The Naked Island at the YBCA in August.

The Naked Island starring Nobuko Otowa & Taiji Tonoyama; directed by Kaneto Shindō; Japanese with subtitles; (1960)

Japanese film director Kaneto Shindō died in May 2012 at the age of 100.  The YBCA had a three film retrospective in his honor.  The other two films in the series were Kuroneko & Onibaba; both of which I had seen previously.  Actually, I recall liking the soundtrack to Onibaba quite a bit.

When I wrote that The Naked Island is in  Japanese with subtitles, it's a bit inaccurate since there is no dialog in the film.  Most of the subtitles translate Japanese signs or other written words.

The premise of The Naked Island is that a family of four (husband, wife and two sons) live on a small island off the coast of Japan.  The characters are not give names.  They are one step above subsistence farmers.  It is never explained why they live on this island so close to a town on the main island (filming took place on an island off the coast of Hiroshima).  The island has no fresh water so they must  row their boat onto the main island to pump water and bring it back for human consumption and irrigation.  Close to a third of the film involves them rowing their boat, pumping the water, rowing back, climbing the treacherous trail uphill and watering their crops on the terraced hillside of the island.  All this was done in silence as if it were their normal daily task.  This could easily become tedious but for reasons I cannot articulate, I was fascinated by it.  Carrying heaving buckets on poles resting across their shoulders, I wondered how the actors kept their footing.

By eschewing dialog, the film has a documentary feel to it.  There is no dialog to shape our opinions.  In fact, the only questionable action was the husband slapping his wife when she slipped and spilled water.  Other than that, the film shows the family going through mundane tasks for them - gathering water, tending to crops, sharing a meal, rowing into town, enjoying a day in the town, etc.

It's not until the end when the older son falls seriously ill that any drama is introduced.  As the father makes the agonizingly slow journey across the bay to fetch a doctor, we see the boy's feverish last minutes as the mother looks on helplessly.  The boy dies and his classmates attend the funeral but there is limited opportunity for grieving as the family is locked into this daily struggle for survival.

There is a harsh reality to the family's lives which Shindō never challenges.  No one ever talks so it's difficult to introduce new ideas.  However, they avail themselves to the modern conveniences in town and at least, the older boy goes to school on the main island, so it is somewhat odd that they would choose this life.  Poverty isn't the issue either as they enjoy a meal in the town and are able to make rent payments in the form harvested crops.  They have city clothes too.  The family co-exists with the modern world so close geographically but so far technologically from the modern world.

Actress Nobuko Otowa (the mother in Onibaba) was Shindō mistress during production of The Naked Island and Onibaba (1964).  In the late 1970s, the two would marry when Shindō's wife divorced him.

The Naked Island is tremendous film.  It is certainly minimalist but it never lost my interest.  Rather than appearing to be slavishly adhering to the self-imposed silent structure of the film, The Naked Island uses that silence to create a detachment between the audience and the characters which allows Shindō more freedom in telling his story.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Killer Joe & Deadfall

I saw two films, a few months apart, which seemed unusually similar.

Killer Joe starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church & Gina Gershon; directed by William Friedkin; (2011) -  Official Website
Deadfall starring Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde & Charlie Hunnam; directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky; (2012) - Official Website

Killer Joe was the last film I saw at the Lumiere which closed on September 23.  I saw Killer Joe on August 28.  I saw Deadfall at the Landmark Opera Plaza in December.

The eponymous Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) is a paid assassin hired by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) and his father, Ansel Smith (Thomas Haden Church).  The younger Smith is in debt to loan sharks and is told his mother (divorced from Ansel) has a life insurance policy which names his younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) as the beneficiary.  Chris assumes if his mother dies, he will have access to the insurance money since he and Dottie are very "tight" (it's implied they are incestuous).  Hence, the Smith men hire Killer Joe to kill Adele, their mother and ex-wife, respectively.

Once the deed is done, the Smiths discover the beneficiary is not Dottie, but Adele's second ex-husband, Rex.  Furthermore, it was Rex who misinformed Chris about the life insurance beneficiary and told him how to contact Killer Joe.  Chris has been duped by Rex but Joe is more suspicious; particularly of Ansel second wife Sharla (Gina Gershon).  It turns out Sharla has been having an affair with Rex which Joe proves by retrieving some nude photos from Rex (who is presumably killed by Joe).

The Smiths were going to use part of the insurance money to pay Joe.  Without money upfront, Joe has taken Dottie as a "retainer" and after revealing the truth about the insurance scam, announces he is marrying Dottie.  Chris is vehemently opposed to this which sets up the climax of the film.

There is a modest amount of violence, much of it in the final scene, but Killer Joe is disturbing on a different level.  McConaughey is quite menacing with his soft voice & Texas drawl.  His scenes of "romance" with Dottie are very creepy, in part because is a child in woman's body (although never stated, I thought Dottie might have had a learning disability or some trauma which stunted her emotional development).  The other Smiths are the trashiest of PWTs - incest, conspiracy to commit murder, extramarital affairs, etc.

Although the content is pure Southern Fried Noir but director William Friedkin pushes the characterization to extremes and gets a few laughs along the way.  From the opening scene where Chris is greeted at his father's trailer by Sharla, naked from the waste down.  Let's just say Sharla doesn't get the Brazilian wax.  Funny, bizarre, disturbing if you think about it for long enough, Killer Joe doesn't quite take itself seriously which makes the bitter pill go down a little easier.

A memorable film, Killer Joe is populated by outstanding performances.  Gershon in particular gets A+ for effort.  The most memorable scene involves Joe interrogating Sharla as she slips up and has to admit, little by little, that she knows more than she is letting on.  The specter of violence hangs over the scene ratcheting up the tension.  It ends with Sharla doing things to a piece of fried chicken which my words cannot fully convey.

Deadfall also features two incestuous siblings, Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde).  They have robbed an Indian casino somewhere near the Canadian border around Thanksgiving.  Addison shoots a police officer after their car crashes.  They split up with plans to meet near the border.  Liza goes back to the road to be picked up by Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a recently paroled convict who has just killed a man in an argument (it later turns out the man lived by Jay doesn't know this).  Jay is off to visit his parents (Kris Kristofferson & Sissy Spacek) when he sees Liza on the side of the road.  He picks her up and his avoidance of the police suits Liza just fine.

Addison treks through the wilderness where he encounter a dangerous old man who cuts off his finger when Addison attacks him for his snowmobile.  Later he comes upon a small cabin, where Addison dispatches a drunk man who abuses his family which reminds Addison so much of his own childhood.

Using cell phones, Addison & Liza plan meet at Jay's parents house before crossing the border.  An intrepid deputy (Kate Mara) is tracking Addison by the bodies he leaves behind.  This lead to a climax at the dinner table in the house with Jay, his parents, Addison & Liza and the deputy all seated at the table.  This scene is reminiscent of the finale of Killer Joe.  Liza & Jay have developed feelings for each other which Addison is jealous of.  As the police are closing in, Addison & Jay have their showdown.

The film has a few interesting subplots.  The deputy is the sheriff's son and the only female in the department (which could use a refresher course on sexual harassment law).   Jay is an Olympic bronze medalist in boxing who fixed a fight and has a strained relationship with his father.  Of course, the siblings have long standing issues dating back to their childhood.

Deadfall lacks the self-aware affectations of Killer Joe.  It is a more earnest film.  The snowbound & isolated settings add to the sense of desolation all the character feel.  Killer Joe looks like Friedkin achieved what his goal was for the film.  I get the sense Deadfall didn't quite get to where director Stefan Ruzowitzky wanted.  Perfection should not be the enemy of the good and both are quite good films.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Grab Bag of Films

I am finally whittling down the backlog of 2012 films I have not yet chronicled.

In the second half of 2012 I saw several slightly above average films; many of them foreign.

Nobody Else But You starring Sophie Quinton; directed by Gérald Hustache-Mathieu; French with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
The Big Picture starring Romain Duris; directed by Eric Lartigau; French with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt; with Ray Liotta & James Gandolfini; directed by Andrew Dominik; (2012) - Official Website
Easy Money starring Joel Kinnaman; directed by Daniel Espinosa; Swedish with subtitles; (2010) - Official Myspace
The Man From London with Tilda Swinton; directed by Béla Tarr; English & French with subtitles; (2007)

I saw Killing Them Softly & The Man From London at the Roxie.  I saw Nobody Else But You at the Landmark Lumiere, The Big Picture at the Landmark Embarcadero & Easy Money at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

Nobody Else But You is a French film about the death of Marilyn Monroe.  Technically, it is a fictional flashback to life of Candice Lecoeur (Sophie Quinton) who thinks she is Marilyn reincarnated but the plot is very similar to the circumstances regarding Monroe's death...right down to the two brothers who are politicians and have affairs with her.  Since the film is told in flashback as a journalist investigates Lecoeur, the audience already knows she will die.  Once I picked up on the historical basis for the plot, the film lost its whodunit quality.  All that is left is the considerable sex appeal of Sophie Quinton who does an admirable Monroe imitation.

Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt as a hitman who has to kill some guys who robbed a mob sponsored poker game.  He has to deal with all sorts of labor issues and management approvals to get the job done.  Ray Liotta has a small but memorable role as a card room manager who has robbed his own poker game in the past.  He even blabbed about it but enough time had passed that he was forgiven.  Some not-so-bright Jersey boys decide to rob the game again figuring Liotta would be fingered for the crime and take the fall.  They are write but eventually Pitt is dispatched to get them.  Gandolfini shows up as a drunk, whore-mongering, out of town hitman who can't get sober enough to finish the job.  The entire is played against the backdrop of the 2008 financial meltdown and presidential election.  The analogies are too ham-handed for my tastes.  Killing Them Softly has the feeling of a good idea taken too far.  The analogy was forced in my opinion.

Easy Money is about JW, who leads a double life - business school student by day and drug courier by night.  He gets involved with a Chilean ex-con.  The two them get involved in a drug war with a Serbian hitman on the other side.  Those three characters are the focus of this taut and violent film.  JW is dating a wealthy woman and trying to impress her family.  The Chilean guy has a pregnant sister and is fugitive (he escaped from prison).  The Serbian has a young daughter he loves.  Easy Money drags a little as these characters are developed.  It doesn't quite reach Scorsesian levels; it's more like someone trying to imitate Scorsese.  However, there are scenes which are extremely tense and one where the little girl receives a call from her father as he lays dying from a gun battle is heartbreaking.  The Serbian character's subplot was my favorite.

Of these film films, The Big Picture is my favorite.  Romain Duris plays a successful lawyer.  Catherine Deneuve has a small role as his law partner.  She still looks beautiful.  Anyway, Paul (Duris) discovers his wife is having an affair with the photographer neighbor.  After confronting him, Paul accidentally kills him.  Worried about being arrested for murder but also tired of his life, Paul switches identities with the dead man and fakes his own death.  Paul was an amateur photographer earlier in his life.  He travels to Montenegro and takes up the dead man's name & profession   He begins taking photos and rediscovers his love for it.  As a foreigner living in such a small town, he attract unwanted attention; especially when a French neighbor, without permission, submits his photos to the local newspaper.  This leads to a job at the local newspaper, followed by an art gallery exhibit and finally an offer for a larger art exhibit in London with full publicity...with his face matched to the dead guy's name.  Paul books illegal passage on a cargo ship where he learns first hand how Eastern Europeans deal with suspected stowaways.

The Man From London was my least favorite of the five.  Practically unwatchable with its snail's pacing, the plot involves a man who witnesses a murder and recovers a large amount of money from a briefcase near the dock he works.  With the penumbra of noir elements, director Béla Tarr forgoes plot and dialog for extended visual compositions  and stylized cinematography.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Eternal Poet: Raj Kapoor & the Golden Age of Indian Cinema

In July & August, the PFA had a six film series titled The Eternal Poet: Raj Kapoor & the Golden Age of Indian Cinema.  Raj Kapoor (1924-1988) was one of the best known Indian actors although he was also a director & producer.

I saw two films in the series.

Aag starring Raj Kapoor & Nargis; directed by Kapoor; Hindi with subtitles; (1948)
Bobby starring  Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Pran & Premnath; directed by Raj Kapoor; Hindi with subtitles; (1973)

Aag is a beautiful looking black & white film.  Cinematographer V.N. Reddy used shadows and its effect brilliantly in what appears to be a low budget film.  Kapoor plays Kewal Khanna, a student reluctantly studying law to continue the family's long tradition in that profession.  After deliberately failing his final exam, Kewal is banished from the family home by his father (played by Kamal Kapoor but no relation).  This allows Kewal to follow his true dream of acting.

Kewal meets with Rajan (Premnath), a painter who helps him establish his own theater.  The two become best friends and Kewal's flourishes artistically and emotionally.  The only hole in his heart is for Nimmi (Nargis), his true love since he was a boy.  Kewal writes plays & cast actresses trying to find or recreate Nimmi or his idealized version of her.  When he finally discovers an actress who "fits the bill" he is disheartened to learn that Rajan has eyes for her (he paints her obsessively).  Unable to reconcile his love for the woman (or the woman she represents) against the love for his best friend, Kewal disfigures his own face (setting the theater on fire in the process).

The entire film is told in flashback on Kewal's wedding night. Aag has one surprise left for the ending.

I've always thought Bollywood films have difficulty with drama.  The de rigueur use of songs and over reliance on plot contrivances undercut the drama of a film.  In this case, Aag is a tragedy with an ending tacked on to make it seem like Kewal has triumphed.  Is it what Indian filmgoers want to see?  I suppose or else Bollywood wouldn't keep cranking them out.

At 168 minutes, I found Aag difficult to sit through.  As they say in the business world, it is what it is and you go to an Bollywood film with that knowledge.  You either accept the film on its own terms or you don't go.  That can be true of any film but I'm often able to find enjoyable and meaningful portions of films that are less than outstanding on the whole.  With Bollywood films, I have difficulty accepting drama or even extended melodrama.  I like my Bollywood films light-hearted and comedic to match the music.  Aag doesn't fit this categorization and as such I was not able to fully appreciate it.  I'd like to see the classic Bollywood film which plays it straight up without musical numbers.

If my opinion of Aag is mixed, it is more than made up for with my enthusiasm for Bobby.

Raj Nath (Rishi Kapoor, son of Raj Kapoor), is the son of a wealthy businessman Mr. Nath (Pran).  Visiting his old nanny, Raj meets the woman's granddaughter Bobby (Dimple Kapadia) and it is love at first sight.  Bobby's father, Jack (Premnath) is a poor, uncouth fisherman.  I'm not sure about the Kennedy brother reference for father & daughter except Jack & Bobby (in the film and real-life) are Catholic.  As the romance progresses, Mr. Nath is not going to allow his son to marry into his former housekeeper's family.  He accuses Jack of using Bobby's beauty to lure Raj into marriage so that he can have access to the Nath fortune.  To further drive a wedge, Mr. Nath arranges for Raj to be married to the daughter of another wealthy businessman.

Unable to tolerate their fathers' constant arguments and meddling in their lives, Raj & Bobby run away together. Mr. Nath puts out a reward for his son's return which attracts the attention of Prem Chopra (played by Prem Chopra, Raj Kapoor's brother-in-law) and his gang.  They capture the lovers but Chopra begins to beat Raj when he tries to escape.  The fathers and police arrive to save the young couple but they still flee from their fathers.  The climax involves a waterfall and each father saving the other's child from death, realizing the love each has for their child and allowing the marriage.

With broad comic brushstrokes and over-the-top performances by the fathers, Bobby was crowd pleasing.  Pram and Premnath (also credited as Prem Nath in some films) steal the scenes in which they are in individually or together.  Premnath was also Raj Kapoor's brother-in-law; Bobby was a family affair!  With upbeat songs and unabashed melodrama/romance, Bobby is well made and a pleasing Bollywood musical by my standards.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Flawed Men and the Women Who Loved Them

I saw two films in December at the Landmark Embarcadero which portrayed deeply flawed men who achieved greatness in their respective fields.

Hyde Park on Hudson starring Bill Murray & Laura Linney; directed by Roger Michell; (2012) - Official Website
Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins & Helen Mirren; directed by Sacha Gervasi; (2012) - Official Website

Hyde Park on Hudson tells the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his relationship with Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney).  Suckley was FDR's sixth cousin and mistress.  What was it with FDR and his cousins?  Eleanor Roosevelt was his fifth cousin, once removed.  Suckley was FDR's companion and lover for over a decade.  If the film is to be believed, their relationship was on open secret known to the press, the White House staffers, Eleanor Roosevelt and others.

Much of the film takes place in June 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom visited FDR's country estate in Hyde Park, NY.  FDR, of course, is park of Hyde Park Roosevelts whereas Teddie Roosevelt and Eleanor are descended from the Oyster Point Roosevelts.  King George VI is the monarch portrayed by Colin Firth in The King's Speech.

King George's visit was an attempt to shore up American support for the coming war with Nazi Germany.  The war wouldn't officially start until September 1939 but the imminence of the war was apparent to all observers.  Hyde Park on Hudson portrays FDR as cavalier about the issue.  FDR seems to be sizing up King George as if to determine if the King is worthy of his support.  The King's willingness to be photographed eating a hot dog is the pivotal moment in Anglo-American relations if Hyde Park on Hudson is accurate.

FDR is often considered one of the greatest American presidents but Murray portrays him as henpecked and in need of feminine comfort in order to discharge his responsibilities.  FDR's private secretary, Marguerite LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), acts as gatekeeper, procurer and sometime mistress.  Eleanor Roosevelt does not turn a blind eye towards her husband's dalliances.  She actually forms friendships with LeHand & Suckley.  It's implied that her sexuality at this point in their marriage is exclusively sapphic.  She views LeHand & Suckley's ministrations as beneficial to her marriage and country.  Suckley is caught unaware of the full extent on LeHand's services to the president.

There are times when I laughed at the incredulity of some of the situations.  Just before King George's bite heard around the world, FDR insists Suckley join the First Couple & the Royal Couple at the head picnic table as act of contrition.  You see, the evening before Suckley had caught FDR cheating on her with LeHand.  Technically, he was cheating on his wife with LeHand but I guess he was cheating on Suckley, once removed.

I forgot to mention the most powerful woman in FDR's life - his 83 year old mother, Sara.  In the film, FDR spends considerable time juggling the demands of his wife, cousin, secretary and mother while probing the British sovereign's haughtiness with paintings, alcohol and food.  It all seems ridiculous if you think about it for long but the film is amusing.  Murray doesn't quite do an impression of FDR.  He loses himself in the role which is more than he usually does.  Murray's character always seem to have certain similarity but in Hyde Park he completely subsumes himself in the persona of FDR.

The supporting actresses keep the film moving nicely.  I've been a fan of Laura Linney's I saw her as Dede in Tale of the City (it's already been 20 years since that miniseries aired).  Marvel's LeHand is the juiciest character in the film.  Suckley is a shy and withdrawn whereas as LeHand is self-assured; more so than one would expect from a private secretary...unless she was intimate with her boss.  Olivia Williams as Eleanor, Elizabeth Wilson as Sara Roosevelt & Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth are memorable.  Colman plays Elizabeth as bitchy & uptight.  Fortunately for Western civilization, her husband ate that hot dog over her objections or we would all be speaking German now.

If you don't take Hyde Park on Hudson too seriously (i.e. recognize it as a comedy), it's an entertaining film.


The scenes in Hitchcock are more believable because Alfred Hitchcock was such a larger than life character.  Documenting the making of PsychoHitchcock show how personally invested Hitchcock was in the film; both emotionally and financially.  The film is based on Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.  Psycho was based on Robert Bloch's Psycho with Norman Bates partially inspired by Ed Gein (aka The Plainfield Ghoul), a serial killer who tangential behaviors are numerous and ghoulish.

In Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense has hallucinations where he speaks with Gein during the production of Psycho.  Hitchcock really kicks into gear when we get see Anthony Hopkins do his Hitchcock imitation.  More closely matching Hitchcock's distinctive speech patterns than Murray in Hyde Park, Hopkins does seem to be doing more impersonation than interpretation.  With such an iconic personality, I don't know if Hopkins could have chosen a different route...although Murray.  However, these are two different films.  Whereas Hyde Park seems as though it would be better suited for serious drama, it strives for comedy.  Hitchcock with its flamboyant characters would be better suited to comedy but strives for drama.

The heart of Hitchcock is the relationship between Hitchcock & his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).  We see their power struggles within the marriage and their coping mechanisms.  Reville, Hitchcock's most trusted film advisor, scripted and edited all his films.  She chafed at having her own identity and considerable talents overlooked in favor of her husband, whom she help immensely.  Hitchcock had some peculiar interactions with his leading ladies.  Not necessarily sexual but sexualized, Hitchcock fell in love with his leading ladies and attempted to control them while Reville looked on, reining in his more bizarre behaviors but allowing him to fetishize his actresses to the creative benefit of his films (and detriment of their marriage).

Hitchcock is self-conscious of his weight and jealous of the men who pay attention to his wife.  Reville resents the attention her husband lavishes on his female actresses and suffers from low self-esteem in comparison to the ever younger and beautiful women being cast in his films.

Coming off the success of North by Northwest, Hitch is anxious to try something new and quickly champions Psycho despite the source material's macabre and outré elements.  Unwilling to find financing, Hitchcock mortgages his house.  From there we see him increasingly under pressure from the stress of the film production and the suspicion Reville is having an affair.  Along the way, Scarlett Johansson shows up as Janet Leigh.  I didn't think she looked or sounded much like Leigh but Johansson was sexy and magnetic like I remember Janet Leigh.  James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, has a smaller role in Hitchcock but captures Perkins/Bates much more least, accurate with my expectation.  Hitch bullies and teases Perkins as he knows about his closeted sexuality.  Toni Collette as Hitchcock's assistant and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles have smaller but memorable roles.

Like the best Hitchcock films, Hitchcock has a cheeky sense of dark humor which serves it well.  I  enjoyed Hitchcock quite a lot.  It's not a great film but it is a thoroughly delightful one.


Landmark Theaters have been running a "no cell phone" PSA before its screenings for a few month.  The spot feature Hitchcock admonishing the audience to not use cell phones.  The footage in the ad comes from Hitchcock.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

#1 vs. #2 and I'm Not Referring to Notre Dame vs. Alabama

In 2012, Sight and Sound film magazine released its Greatest Films of All Time list as selected by film critics.  Revised every 10 years, the 2012 version was notable for a change atop the list.  Since 1962 (five consecutive polls), Citizen Kane had held the top spot.  In the 2012 poll, Vertigo took the #1 spot while Citizen Kane fell to #2.  The two films swapped poll positions from 2002 to 2012.

I saw both films at the Castro Theater in 2012.

Citizen Kane starring Orson Welles; directed by Orson Welles; (1941)
Vertigo starring Jimmy Stewart & Kim Novak; directed by Alfred Hitchcock; (1958)

I don't have much to add to the volumes written on these two films.  I've seen both films several times.   In fact, I have seen both films at the Castro Theater before.  I gained no new insight from these viewing although I enjoyed both film.  Vertigo & Citizen Kane stand up well to repeated viewings.

Vertigo isn't my favorite Hitchcock film.  I have read Jimmy Stewart's character is close to Hitchcock's own feelings towards his leading actresses.  It's unhealthy to say the least but it is so twisted as to be amusing at times.  The San Francisco and greater Bay Area locations also make the film particularly interesting to me.

As I learned from Hitchcock & various other sources, Vera Miles was originally cast as the lead actress in Vertigo.  She backed out due to pregnancy so Kim Novak was cast in the career defining role.  Many feel Novak was miscast but I thought she held her own.  She does better as Judy than Madeleine but I think Judy is the better part.

I have even less to add about Citizen Kane.  I find it interesting that the lead characters in both films are based on real people (William Randolph Hearst in the case of Citizen Kane).  The films show the flaws in these two men which makes for better entertainment and according to critics, better art.  I recall reading somewhere that great characters requires a flaw.  If the character were to achieve perfection, the audience could not identify and appreciate the character or the performance.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960

PFA had a long series which ran from September 14 to December 9 called Grand Illusions: French Cinema Classics, 1928–1960.  At 35 films, it was the longest film series I can recall at PFA.

"A common canard of film history is that the French New Wave of the late 1950s swept aside the French cinema that had come before it, replacing a staid 'tradition of quality' with a new, breathless energy. But even for Truffaut, Godard, and their Cahiers du cinéma brethren, the history of film in France, from the passionate poetry of Jean Vigo to the magisterial ironies of Max Ophuls, was an essential source of inspiration."

Among the films I had previously seen were Hôtel du NordLola MontesChildren of ParadiseGrand IllusionThe Rules of the GameBeauty and the Beast & Such a Pretty Little Beach.

I saw 8 feature films.

Le jour se lève starring Jean Gabin & Arletty; directed by Marcel Carné; French with subtitles; (1939)
Casque d’or starring Simone Signoret & Serge Reggiani; directed by Jacques Becker; French with subtitles; (1952)
Le bonheur starring Charles Boyer; directed by Macel L'Herbier; French with subtitles; (1934)
L’étrange Monsieur Victor starring Raimu; directed by Jean Grémillon; French with subtitles; (1938)
La bête humaine starring Jean Gabin & Simone Simon; directed by Jean Renoir; French with subtitles; (1938)
L’Atalante with Michel Simon & Dita Parlo; directed by Jean Vigo; French with subtitles; (1934)
Port of Shadows starring Jean Gabin; directed by Marcel Carné; French with subtitles; (1938)
Eyes Without a Face starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli & Edith Scob; directed by Georges Franju; French with subtitles; (1960)

I also saw two short films which were screened as part of the series.  L'Atalante was preceded by Zero for Conduct.  Eyes Without a Face was preceded by Le sang des bêtes.

Zero for Conduct starring Jean Dasté; directed by Jean Vigo; French with subtitles; 41 minutes; (1933)
Le sang des bêtes; directed by Georges Franju; documentary; 20 minutes; (1949)


I was a little disappointed in the series.  The majority of the films I saw were from the 1930s and part of the Poetic Realism movement.  In some cases, I found them a bit of slog.

It's telling that my favorite film of the series was Le sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts).  A documentary about an abattoir.  I don't think I ever had cause to use that word except in discussion of Sideways.  Le sang des bêtes was very graphic in its documentation of the animals' slaughter.  Seemingly in the middle of a neighborhood, I can't imagine a slaughterhouse being situated similarly today.  Perhaps the French of the postwar era weren't as squeamish about their provenance of their animal protein.  Director Franju's camera captures the repetitive nature of the work and the indifferent attitudes of the workers towards slitting lamb's throats or skinning cows while they are still twitching.  The total effect is hypnotic.  It's like an industrial film or Victory at Sea where the repetition and weary faces have a certain artistic beauty.  I noticed some of the butchers even smoked in the abattoir which is très chic in my book.  Beefy men with leather apron and knives fix their dead eyes on their grisly task while a cigarette dangles from the mouth and the carcasses of countless animals hang around them.  This little captures the essence of what many of the French directors were striving for in the narrative features.

Casque d’or was my favorite feature.  With many elements of film noir, Casque d’or tells the story of a carpenter (Serge Reggiani) and a prostitute (Simone Signoret).  The program notes use the term gigolette which I had to look up in order to distinguish its definition w.r.t. prostitute.  I think it is one of those French subtleties; they have a whole slew of words for women who have sex with men with implied gradations.

Anyway the two become romantically involved but Signoret is involved with a loutish gangster.  Manda (Reggiani) eventually stabs the gangster in a fight and flees to the countryside where his romance with Marie (Signoret) flourishes.  Unfortunately, the local gang boss (Claude Dauphin) wants Marie for himself.  He frames Manda's best friend for the stabbing death.  Manda returns to confess his crime.  On the way to prison, Manda escapes, hunts down Dauphin and kills him in front of the corrupt policeman who was in cahoots with him.  This second killing earns Manda a date with the guillotine which is the finale.

Casque d’or is very dark and moody tragedy.  Honest carpenters shouldn't mix with whores & gangsters.


I also enjoyed L’Atalante quite a bit.  Director Jean Vigo, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and the cold, wet conditions on location didn't help his condition.  L’Atalante was Vigo's first and last feature film.  The final cut was edited by someone else as Vigo was bedridden for the last few months of his life.  He passed away soon after L’Atalante was released.  Even the production history sounds like a French film.

Jean Dasté is Jean, a barge captain who marries small town girl Juliette (Dita Parlo) as the film open.  The newlyweds take up residence in captain's quarter on the barge.  First mate is the old salt Père Jules (Michel Simon who was in his late 30s when the film was made but looked much older).  Juliette has a hard time adapting to life on a canal barge while Jean has a jealous streak which shows when Juliette is caught chatting with Jules in his cabin.  Simon's performance is triumphant as the inimitable sailor.  Actually, Simon & Parlo seem to have more on screen chemistry than Dasté & Parlo which fits nicely with Jean's jealousy and short temper.

During a layover in Paris, Jean is unable to show the eager Jules the City of Lights show she disembarks and wanders the city alone.  Having to leave earlier than planned, a resentful Jules leaves port the next morning without Juliette.  Abandoned in Paris, Juliette has to make her way as best as she can.  In the meantime, Jean quickly regrets his decision as his job performance and emotional health are negatively affected.  Eventually Jules (Jean is too stubborn) returns to Paris to find Juliette to return her to her husband.  Their joyful reunion is the finale.

This is one of these films which doesn't ring true anymore (if it ever did).  I can't imagine a wife, having been abandoned in strange city, being happy to be reunited with the husband who abandoned her.  L’Atalante (which is the name of the barge) is a fairy tale though.  Juliette tells Jean a folk tale about only being able to see one's true love under water which plays a role in Jean's erratic behavior later in the film.  The entire film has a lyrical feel which has undoubtedly elevated its status among film critics beyond the simple plot of the film.  I found the charm of the film undeniable.


Eyes Without a Face is another film which overcomes its horror genre facade.  I'm not able to articulate why it is more than a horror film but it certainly feels like something more.  Perhaps it is just a well made horror film.  Regardless of its genre label, Eyes Without a Face was a film I couldn't avert my eyes from.

Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his assistant Louise (Alida Valli, in a nice performance) lure young women to their deaths.  Génessier performs face transplants on the young women; removing their face and transplanting them to his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob).  Christiane's face was disfigured in a car accident and she is presumed dead.  Actually, Génessier murdered another woman and faked his daughter's death in order to conceal his medical experiments.

Christiane walks around with a lifelike facial mask which is pretty creepy.  It reminded me a little of a Twilight Zone episode.  Scob returned to that mask 40+ years later in Holy Motors which must have been paying homage to Eyes Without a Face.  The garish mask hides a kind and sensitive young woman who is increasingly uncomfortable with her father's efforts to restore her face which seems to be more about assuaging his own guilt regarding his role in the car accident.

After several young women are sacrificed and at least one transplant rejection, the police set up a sting operation.  They persuade a young shoplifter to be the bait.  The cops bumble the operation and the woman is just about to undergo the operation when they show up at the doctor's house (his lab and operating room is in the basement).  Christiane releases the young woman, kills Louise and releases the dogs which the doctor has experimenting on.  Stretching belief, the dogs attack the doctor and disfigure his face.

Eyes Without a Face reminds me a bit of Alfred Hitchcock's work.  The scenes where the earnest Louise disposes of bodies or lure young women to their deaths are played for humor.  An attractive woman with expressive eyes, Valli does quite a bit in her supporting role.  Pierre Brasseur also shines  as the obsessed and unethical doctor.  Scob has a more difficult role.  Only seeing "her face" for a few scenes, she spends most of the film behind an inexpressive mask.  Her emotions are communicated through movements and her voice (which is spoken in a language I don't understand).  Despite this, Christiane evoked sympathy from me.

There is one particular scene where the face transplant procedure is shown in an unusually graphic manner for the era which caused some in the PFA audience to walk out.  The gore is more implied than shown but I have to admit, it made me feel uncomfortable which only means Georges Franju skillfully directed the scene.


The other films in the series don't quite stand out in my memory.  Well regarded by critics, the films were not quite to my liking.  L’étrange Monsieur Victor was interesting in that a wealthy fence kills a man but shelters the man accused of the crime and being hunted by the police.   Port of Shadow has a noir look as Jean Gabin falls for the wrong woman (Michèle Morgan).

I seem to have misplaced a film.  I cannot find the title or the date & time which I saw the film.  I thought it was Port of Shadows but my handwritten note don't match that film.  The French film was set in post-WWII Paris.  A man arrives at a train station and meets with friends (a married couple with a young son).  The two men were resistance fighters.  The couple has some interesting neighbors.  One neighbor has tons of kids and a pretty daughter who helps the father sell newspapers and magazines at the same train station the man arrived at.  Another neighbor is suspected of being a Nazi collaborator during the war.  That man's daughter arrives and falls in love with the man from the train station.  She is married to an Englishman who drives a fancy car.  Eventually her brother arrives and needs money to leave the country quickly.  The lead actor had an Italian surname if memory serves me.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

L'Age d'Or

With Luis Buñuel's Tristana playing at the Landmark Opera Plaza this week, it seems as if I planned procrastinating about another Buñuel film.  I watched L'Age d'Or at the YBCA in September.

L'Age d'Or starring Gaston Modot; directed by Luis Buñuel; French with subtitles; (1930)

The screenplay for L'Age d'Or was co-written by Buñuel and Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí.  L'Age d'Or can only be described as surrealist.  The "plot" is barely visible throughout the film and by end of ~60 minute feature, Buñuel has completely abandoned it in favor of allusion to a Marquis de Sade novel.

The nominal plot involves a man (Gaston Modot) and woman (Lya Lys) having their lovemaking interrupted repeatedly in different locations.  The couple seem to move through time as part of the film is set in ancient Rome.  The iconic image from the film is that of Lys sucking the big toe of a statue in a manner to suggest fellatio.  This was one of the main reasons the film was banned almost immediately upon its release.

The final scene invokes de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom but transposes a character who appears like Jesus Christ.  It is implied this character kills a woman off screen and the final image is of a crucifix with scalps of women attached to it.

What am I supposed to make of this film?  Asking that question w.r.t. a surrealist piece of art seems to defeat the purpose.

Many years of ago, I saw Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967) with the radiant Catherine Deneuve.  I recall enjoying that film.  I'm hoping Buñuel & Deneuve's second collaboration, Tristana (1970), is equally enjoyable.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


On the last day of my Thanksgiving visit with my father in Las Vegas, we went to see Looper at a dollar movie house.

Looper starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis & Emily Blunt; directed by Rian Johnson; (2012) - Official Website

Critically acclaimed and making some Best of 2012 lists, I found Looper to be listless and a little too clever for its own good.

The film is set in 2044 when the US is in economic collapse.  In 2074, time travel is invented.  Organized crime uses time travel to send back people they want killed.  Their emissary is Abe (Jeff Daniels), the only person from the future who isn't targeted for assassination.  Abe rounds up younger version of men he knows in the future to be his hit squad.  At appointed times, people arrive from the future where they are immediately killed by one of Abe's men.  The victims are sent back with silver strapped to their backs which is payment for Abe and the killer.  Eventually, the killer's future self is sent back in time with gold strapped to his back.  When the younger self kills the older self, it is called "closing the loop" and the gold is a final payment for the killer who retires from the business.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of these "loopers."  His future self, Old Joe, is played by Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job mimicking Willis' speech patterns.  Not closing the loop is a big no-no and punishable with torture and mutilation.  By amputating a limb on the younger version, the older version knows his younger self has broken the rules.  I don't understand why they just don't kill the younger self.  The explanation is killing the younger version would change the future but doesn't cutting off someone's leg change the future?  It's these kids of inconsistencies which annoyed me about the film.

Anyway, we see a two time loops for Joe.  In one loop, he is killed as planned.  Joe retires, moves to China, falls in love but sees his wife killed by gangsters who have come to send him back to 2044 to be killed.  Not content with the way his life turned out, Old Joe returns to the past and overpowers his younger self.  His intention is to kill the Rainmaker, the all powerful mobster in 2074 who is just a boy in 2044.  I forgot to mention some people have telekinetic powers which comes into play later.

Young Joe has to avoid Abe's men and kill Old Joe in order to keep all his limbs.  Both Joes track the Rainmaker down to a farm and encounter Sarah (Emily Blunt) and her son who has powerful telekinetic power beyond anyone's imagination.  The climax is a showdown.  Old Joe wants to kill the boy and is willing to kill Sarah in order to accomplish this task.  Young Joe realizes if the kid see Sarah murdered, the trauma will turn him into the Rainmaker.  Killing Old Joe won't necessarily make much difference because he might return in the next loop.  The only option is to kill himself so that Old Joe doesn't exist.

Looper is an interesting film.  It's always fun to work through the time travel impacts and seeing Gordon-Levitt do a Bruce Willis impersonation is fun.  Jeff Daniels makes the most of his time and there is much speculation if the character Kid Blue (Noah Segan) is younger version of Abe.  There is a certain symmetry to the theory as Old Joe kills Abe and Joe kills Kid Blue thus destroying the timeline if Kid Blue become Abe.  I'd have to watch the film a second time to state an opinion but I didn't think enough of the film to merit a second viewing.  Maybe when it comes on TV.

However, clever plotlines and geeky discussions on time travel do not a great film make.  I didn't think Looper was one of the best films of the year.  My father became so confused and later bored with the film that he left the theater and took a nap in the car.

Welcome/Goodbye to Retrodome

One of the items I have forgot to post last month is that the Retrodome in San Jose is closing on or by January 31.  The Retrodome is a multi-purpose performance space in the former Century 25 Theater at the Westgate Mall at 1694 Saratoga Ave.  Featuring live musical theater, films, stand up comedy & live music, the Retrodome has flourished for nearly 3.5 years.  Having lost their lease, they are weighing their options but will not fight the closure of their current venue.  They are considering reopening in a different location.  To find out more about their plans, you can read their blog.

I've been aware of the Retrodome for awhile but have never been there.  I don't get down to San Jose often.  I'm not sure if I can make it down there by January 31.  The MeshugaNutcracker! looked interesting but I couldn't get down there in December.  I don't think there are any more live productions before their scheduled closure.  There are only sing-along & quote-along films (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Grease and Raiders of the Lost Ark) on the schedule currently.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Seven at the Stanford

I saw seven films at the Stanford Theater from August to October.

The Violent Men starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck & Edward G. Robinson; directed by Rudolph Maté; (1955)
Rainbow Over Texas starring Roy Roger, Dale Evans & Gabby Hayes; directed by Frank McDonald; (1946)
Way Down East starring Lillian Gish; directed by D.W. Griffith; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Dennis James; (1920)
Waterloo Bridge starring Mae Clarke & Douglass Montgomery; with Bette Davis; directed by James Whale; (1931)
The Impatient Maiden starring Mae Clarke & Lew Eyres; with Andy Devine; directed by James Whale; (1932)
The Bad Sister starring Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis & Humphrey Bogart; directed by Hobart Henley; (1931)
Seed starring John Boles, Genevieve Tobin & Bette Davis; directed by John M. Stahl; (1931)

I saw The Violent MenRainbow Over Texas as a double feature on August 2.  Way Down East was a single bill on August 3.  I saw Waterloo BridgeThe Impatient Maiden as a double feature on September 26.  I saw The Bad SisterSeed  as a double feature on October 16.

The Violent Men was a nice find.  Glenn Ford plays John Parrish, a rancher who wants to sell his land and move east with his fiancee.  Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck play Lew & Martha Wilkison, a married couple who own the largest ranch in the area.  Wilkison lowballs Parrish for his ranch.  Unwilling to sell at such a low price and looking for revenge when Wilkison's hired gun (Richard Jaeckel) kills one of his ranch hands, Parrish digs in his heels.  Parrish is the wrong man to mess with since he has experience as a Confederate marauder.

The Violent Men is elevated by the presence of Robinson & Stanwyck.  Wilkinson is left wheelchair bound as a result of an Indian attack years before.  Unable to perform his husbandly duties, Wilkinson can only wonder about the relationship between his younger brother (Brian Keith) and his wife.  The audience and Wilkinson's daughter (Diane Foster) have no doubts regarding their illicit relationship.  This melodramatic love triangle among the hard-nosed and bitter Wilkinson, his Lady MacBeth wife and his brother is unique in that the villains rarely get such treatment.  Indeed, Wilkinson almost comes off as the most sympathetic of the bunch.  Even Ford's Parrish is less than admirable as his ruthlessness comes to the forefront.

Rainbow Over Texas is the first Roy Rogers film I can recall seeing.  Even as a kid, I don't recall seeing his films on television.  The most memorable scenes involved Dale Evans in a swimsuit.  I didn't realize what an attractive woman she was.  She plays an rich Eastern socialite hiding out from her father at their ranch in Texas.  I can't recall the plot too well.  There is a horse race over open country.  Roy & Trigger enter the race but some gangster has fixed the race so they try to cheat to win.  There was a murder in there somewhere too.  It involved a guy wearing the same shirt as the murderer and being falsely accused.  I can't remember the songs.  There was a scene in a saloon where Dale is jealous of a woman paying attention to Roy.  Dale dresses as man while stowing away on a train.  At 65 minutes, the film is like a tasty appetizer than you enjoyed at the time but cannot recall later.  Did I mention Dale Evans looked awfully good in the film?

I don't recall much about Way Down East.  Lillian Gish plays a country bumpkin who goes to the city to visit her wealthy cousins.  She falls in with the wrong man and her reputation is ruined.  Later, living in a small town, the rich guy arrives and the town gossip exposes Gish's secret.  She is cast out of town and dies on an icy river bank.  Heavy handed and predictable, I just couldn't enjoy the film.  Two scenes stayed in my memory.  There is a party scene where Gish's stands out (for appearance and conduct) and the aforementioned climax on the icy river.

Waterloo Bridge involves an American streetwalker (Mae Clarke)  and an American GI (Douglass Montgomery) in London during WWI.  Unaware of her profession, Cronin (Montgomery) invites Myra (Clarke) to his family's country estate.  Why an American in the Canadian army (as an enlisted man) would have a family estate in Britain was not explained.  Bette Davis shows up as Cronin's younger sister.  Keeping her secret despite Cronin's declarations of love and proposals for marriage, Myra goes to great lengths to avoid Cronin.  Finally, Myra's landlady reveals her true profession.  Undeterred, Cronin returns to Waterloo Bridge (her stroll and where they originally met) and finds Myra.  Desperate to marry before being shipped to the front, Cronin secures Myra's acceptance of his marriage proposal just before being hauled off by MPs to report to the front.  As his truck departs, a bomb detonates and Myra is killed.  It's quite a tearjerker.  The English accents and sound quality of films from the era made it difficult to understand all the dialog.

Not as well known as the Vivian Leigh/Robert Taylor version, this Waterloo Bridge was quite good.

The Impatient Maiden casts Clarke as a legal secretary for a divorce lawyer.  This makes her cynical about marriage.  Clarke lives on the Angels Flight street in LA which is always nice to see.  A suicide attempt by a neighbor puts her in contact with Lew Ayres as an ambulance doctor.  A love triangle forms between Clarke, Ayres and John Halliday who plays the divorce lawyer.

I can't say I disliked The Impatient Maiden but three months later I don't recall much about it nor do I recall what I thought of it at the time.  Clarke's roommate in the film is Una Merkel & the ambulance driver is Andy Devine.  The become a couple in the film and their two voices grated against my ears like sandpaper.

The Bad Sister is Sidney Fox.  Her younger sister is Bette Davis.  Fox is the most popular girl in town.  She falls for Humphrey Bogart, a con man.  She convinces her father to back Bogie's scam who then convinces the rest of the townfolk.  Abandoned and pregnant, Fox comes slinking back home.  A very abrupt ending indicates all was forgiven and Davis got the doctor who was more interested in Fox.  The Bad Sister was underwhelming.  At 68 minutes, it was probably a B film.

Seed was more interesting.  Davis plays John Boles' dutiful wife.  Boles was a former aspiring novelist who had to take a job in a publishing company to support his wife and five kids.  Wealthy Mildred (Genevieve Tobin) re-enters his life.  A former friend and admirer of his literary work, Mildred offers to support him while he writes his great novel.  Mildred's largesse drives a wedge between the man and his family.  Eventually Boles divorces Davis & marries Mildred.  To add insult to injury, Boles asks Davis if the kids can live with him and Mildred.  Rather than dashing the childrens' excitement of living the high life and being reunited with their father, Davis selflessly agrees.

Davis (like Joan Crawford) is at her best when she is bitchy.  Here she play the saint and it's just not very interesting.  More interesting that The Bad Sister, Seed has a few scenes showing the evolving relationship among the three main character which is skillfully done.  Taken as a whole, the film is old fashioned in its views about the role of women in society and acceptable behavior.  I was very aware that the situation seemed artificial in 1931 (when the film came out) and even more so in 2012.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen

Way back in July and August, I saw a series at the PFA called Bellissima: Leading Ladies of the Italian Screen.

The series paid tribute to Italian actresses in their iconic performances.  The series consisted 17 films but I only 7.  The series ran from July 6 to August 31.

Nights of Cabiria starring Giulietta Masina; directed by Federico Fellini; Italian with subtitles; (1956)
Sandra starring Claudia Cardinale; directed by Luchino Visconti; Italian with subtitles; (1965)
The Girl with a Suitcase starring Claudia Cardinale; directed by Valerio Zurlini; Italian with subtitles; (1961)
Open City starring Anna Magnani; directed by Roberto Rossellini; Italian with subtitles; (1945)
L’amore starring Anna Magnani & Federico Fellini; directed by Roberto Rossellini; Italian with subtitles; (1948)
Bread, Love and Dreams starring Gina Lollobrigida & Vittorio De Sica; directed by Luigi Comencini;  Italian with subtitles; (1953)
The Widower starring Franca Valeri; directed by Dino Risi; Italian with subtitles; (1959)

Among the films I missed were three I had already seen - Bellissima, Mamma Roma & The Leopard.  The films I regret missing were Oh! Sabella! & Two Women.  Although La Strada was scheduled for July 7, I recall that they replaced it with something else (La Dolce Vita?) at the last minute.


One of my favorite (perhaps the qualifier can be omitted) musical films is Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.  Aware that it was based on Nights of Cabiria, I have long wanted to see the Fellini film for comparison purposes.  The first difference is the profession of the lead character.  Charity (MacLaine) is a taxi dancer in Sweet Charity (1969).  Thirteen years after Cabiria and released during Vietnam War and Free Love movement, it is telling that the American version had to resort to a profession which was on the verge of extinction at the time.  Are there any taxi dancers left today?  Although the film hints at the unsavory side of "taxi dancing," the film is surprisingly tame.

Nights of Cabiria is heartbreaking as Cabiria (Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife for 50 years) is a flat-out streetwalker.  Although the strolls are mostly played for laughs, it's Cabiria personal relationships which tugged at my heartstrings.  The two films follow the same plot roughly until the end when the most significant difference occurs.

In Sweet Charity, the boyfriend abandons Charity when he realizes he cannot look past her "taxi dancing."  In Nights of Cabiria, the boyfriend abandons Cabiria after robbing her of her life savings and nearly killing her.  Both moments were emotional but Cabiria's ending had a greater sense of tragedy.  Charity suffered heartbreak.  Cabiria experienced breathtaking cruelty.  Charity is whitewahsed; Cabiria is sordid.  Charity's upbeat demeanor is quirky; Cabiria upbeat demeanor is surreal given the ugly circumstances of her life.

Both films are outstanding but Nights of Cabiria puts your emotions through a workout as the audience follows Cabiria's tragicomic plight.


Open City is a famous film.  Often billed as Rome, Open City, the Roberto Rossellini production was filmed in Rome while fighting was still occurring on the Italian peninsula.  Based on the life of Don Pieto Morosini, a Catholic priest who had been killed the Gestapo for helping the resistance, Open City is the grandfather of the neorealist film movement.  Filmed less than a year after Rome was liberated by US troops, the title refers to Rome's status after the Nazis pulled out.  The general events depicted in the film must have been very personal to the many non-actors who appear in the film.

The film is fascinating because it is set so close to the actual events it depicts.  Rossellini made films when Mussolini was in power and during Allied occupation.  The natural question is how he gained favor with the Americans so quickly.  Also during the filming of Rome, Open City, Rossellini began a romantic relationship with star Anna Magnani despite both being married.  In fact, most biographers imply Rossellini left Magnani for Ingrid Bergman although technically he had to get divorced from his wife (Marcella De Marchis) to marry Bergman.  A decade after the divorce, De Marchis would collaborate with Rossellini as his costume designer on Garibaldi.

Open City is best known for a harrowing sequence where the Gestapo torture an insurgent (Marcello Pagliero) in front of the priest (Aldo Fabrizi in a memorable performance) and Magnani's death scene as she is shot while chaseing after a truck.  The camera angle is from the back of the truck and we see Magnani fall and die.

Open City is still a powerful film which really lays bare the double dealing consequences of Nazi sympathizers.  This is common theme as Army of Shadows transplants the action to Paris.  Nazis brought the worst in humans (both in real life and in film).


Bread, Love and Dreams is a showcase for Gina Lollobrigida's earthy sexuality.  Of the mid-century Italian actresses, I have always found Lollobrigida's screen image to be most appealing.  In Bread, Love and Dreams Lollobrigida plays a country girl whose headstrong manner captures the attention of a Carabinieri colonel (Bicycle Thieves' director Vittorio De Sica).  A good natured comedy, De Sica arranges for Lollobrigida's character to encounter one of the men (Roberto Risso) under his command and the object of her longings.  For his part, the Colonel refocuses his attention on the local midwife (Marisa Merlini).  A sex farce (the Colonel's love life is the topic of much discussion among the villagers) with some laughs at the expense the rural and backward townfolk, Bread, Love and Dreams is an entertaining if not terribly memorable film.


Two Claudia Cardinale films gave me a greater appreciation for the actress.  Sandra, also titled Sandra of a Thousand Delights, is a variation on the Electra complex complete with an incestuous relationship between the eponymous Sandra (Cardinale) and her brother (Jean Sorel).  Set in a decaying palazzo, the setting matches Sandra's decaying family - incest, Nazi sympathizers, Jewish concentration camps, etc.  Sandra, filmed by Luchino Visconti in black and white, is a beautiful looking film about ugly secrets.

The Girl with a Suitcase was, perhaps, my favorite film of the series.  A coming of age story with the 23 year old Cardinale as the older woman, Girl with a Suitcase is as much Jacques Perrin's film as Cardinale's.  Aida (Cardinale) arrives at the Fainardi house looking for her boyfriend Marcello who has dumped her.  Marcello's teenage brother, Lorenzo (Perrin) meets Aida and quickly smitten.  I can't blame him as Cardinale has never looked better.  A bit of a fantasy courtship ensues - age differences and class differences separate the two.  There is a scene where an older man "seduces" Aida while Lorenzo looks on; treated like, acting like and feeling like a little boy.  Aida is far from naive and is fully aware of her effect on men but that doesn't necessarily mean she isn't passionate about Lorenzo.  Girl with a Suitcase is a love story for realists.


Alberto Sordi play the would-be title character in The Widower.  A black comedy about a con man scheming to kill his wealthy wife (Franca Valeri), The Widower is a memorable film which also comments on the industrialization occurring in Italy at the time.  The comedy is farcical at times but Sordi is up to the task.  Sordi made a series of films in the 1950s with similar and progressive titles - The Bachelor, The Husband and The Widower.

L’amore with Anna Magnani & Federico Fellini and directed by Roberto Rossellini was my least favorite.  Consisting of two unrelated stories, Anna Magnani first plays a woman who believes she is St. Mary and is pregnant (but not immaculately) by a man she thinks is St. Joseph (Fellini).  In the other story, Magnani is a woman who speaks on the phone in a desperate plea to save her romantic relationship.  Neither story appealed to me and four months later, I cannot recall much about either.  I just recall being disappointed in the film when it screened.