Category Archives: Foreign Drama Films

Law of Desire-1987

Law of Desire-1987

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura

Scott’s Review #1,021

Reviewed May 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Law of Desire or La ley del deseo (as translated in original Spanish) is a 1987 film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Quite groundbreaking for its time and penned by a respected director, the film was rich in offering what was rarely presented in films during the 1980’s- a complex love triangle between two men and a trans woman. The fact that the trans woman is the sister of one of the men is a bonus to the buttery soap opera premise.

In 2020, when LGBTQ+ films are more plentiful in cinema (at least at the indie level), Law of Desire suffers slightly from a dated feel and parts drag along. It’s tough to heavily criticize a piece so brazen as this one was when it was released to art-house theaters and musty metropolitan theaters. As groundbreaking as the film must be given credit for, the story now feels sillier than it should, and more outlandish than it probably intended to be over thirty years ago.

The fabulous setting of Madrid, Spain is the backdrop for the luscious tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, think the prime-time television series Dynasty on steroids. Cocky Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful gay film director with his pick from a bevy of young, good-looking gay males, is madly in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), though he has a roving eye. Suave Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who comes from a conservative family, is new to the gay scene and falls madly in love with Pablo when Juan goes to find himself. Tina (Carmen Maura), who likes men and women, has just been dumped and is vulnerable.

Besides the obvious daring gender bending this story could be a simple one told many times across many genres. Almodóvar spins things into a frenzy as the plot unfolds adding manipulations, sub-plots, and bizarre characters into the mix.  For example, Ada is Tina’s surrogate daughter and is a precocious ten-year-old girl in love with Pablo. Ada refuses to go back with her mother (Bibi Andersen) when she comes back to whisk her off to Milan to meet a man she just met.

The gay subtext is what is center stage here. Back in the 1980’s, the term LGBTQ+ was on nobody’s radar and having any representation at all in cinema was still territory barely scratching the surface. This point kept returning to me over the course of the film and imagining how fresh the experience would have been to any gay man or gay woman fortunate enough to have seen it. I am not sure any of the characters would serve as great role models, but the representation is nice. Almodóvar adds in a good deal of naked flesh for an added treat.

Several comic scenes arise with gusto. Antonio, who lives at home with a religious zealot of a mother, convinces Pablo to sign his letters from “Laura P”, a character from his latest play, to trick Antonio’s nosy mama. Tina, not much of an actress, is cast in Pablo’s one-woman theatrical productions. She thinks her performance is great, Pablo thinks she stinks. The comical moments are the ones that work best, giving the plentiful offbeat characters a chance to let loose and shine.

Towards the conclusion, Law of Desire takes a tragic and Shakespearean turn. A drunken Juan is thrown off a cliff to his death prompting an investigation with Antonio and Pablo both prime suspects. Finally, a kidnapping and police stand-off ensue with a murder/suicide providing the film’s final moments.

I am not a fan of the title that Almodóvar chooses. Preferable would be a title that is a bit more titillating. Even Lust of Desire or Object of My Desire would have been better choices. Law of Desire screams of a tepid episode of television’s Law & Order. For a director with such an outlandish approach and such bizarre characters the title is bland, banal and tough to remember.

For those seeking a kinky and provocative late-night affair will find Law of Desire (1987) a good old time. It lacks much of a clear message instead providing a sexy romp and dreary ending. Running the gamut of adding musical score pieces as unique as 1970’s The Conformist, a film also shrouded in same sex desire, to cheesy 1980’s synth laden beats, adds some confusion. Nonetheless, diversity and inclusiveness are good recipes to chow down on and celebrate.

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice. The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score the film provides beauty and impressionism. The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but is assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy. While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is. Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar, but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful. If Gustav dared to have approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert. Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion. The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous, but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David-since we are in Italy. But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side-story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city. In 2020, with the vicious Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on a whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s own sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual. In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterwards walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo. As Tadzio outreaches his arms towards the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly. Dyeing his grey hair black and whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made up face are meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion. The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Director-Franco Brusati

Starring-Nino Manfredi

Scott’s Review #996

Reviewed March 6, 2020

Grade: B

Bread and Chocolate (1974), known as Pane e cioccolata in Italian is a mixed dramatic and comedic offering by director, Franco Brusati, a well-known Italian screenwriter and director. The film is charming and tells of one man’s trials and tribulations trying to make it as a migrant worker in a foreign country- in this case neighboring Switzerland. He is conflicted by the opportunities presented and the catastrophic way his life is screwed up at every turn. The film is meaningful and poignant but sometimes has no clear path. A commonality is the representation of differing cultures.

Nino (Nino Manfredi) is a hard-working Sicilian man who heads for Switzerland in search of a better life- the time-period is the 1960’s or the 1970’s when this was a common occurrence. Despite his best efforts to fit in with his neighbors, he never quite seems to make it, haplessly going from one situation to the next.

He befriends and is supported for a time by a Greek woman named Elena, who is a refugee and harbors secrets. He forages a career as a waiter and befriends a bus boy. As his luck dwindles, he is reduced to finding shelter with a group of Neapolitans living in a chicken coop, with the same chickens they tend to in order to survive. With bizarre gusto they frequently emulate the chickens, strangely parading around their quarters like animals.

The main character of Nino reminds me of the character that Roberto Benigni played in the 1997 gem, Life is Beautiful. In that film, Guido tries to shelter his son from the horrors of war. In Bread and Chocolate Nino has a zest for life using humor to survive and get through daily situations, slowly realizing his dire straits. Both characters are scrappy and daring; Nino humorously urinating on a tree or awkwardly finding a dead body in the woods.

The theme of the film is loaded with conflict over staying in Switzerland to find a better life or returning in shame to his homeland of Italy, assumed a failure. Nino constantly wrestles with this quandary and discusses this point with his family photos in his bedroom. In two instances he nearly gets on a train headed back to Italy but changes his mind. The film does not do a great job explaining or showing what is so awful back in Italy.

Bread and Chocolate is difficult to categorize because it is neither straight ahead comedy nor pure drama. As the film progresses it loses some situation comedy moments in favor of exhibiting melancholia and sadness. I am not sure this is a great decision as we wonder many times if we should laugh with Nino or feel badly for him? Perhaps both?

The film scores big when it focuses on the comedy as evidenced by several laugh out loud restaurant scenes. Nino, clearly not knowing what he is doing, struggles to properly peel an orange to serve a guest. He emulates another waiter with hilarious results. Later he offends a snobbish, sophisticated woman after she blames him for causing her to fall to the floor.

The strangest scene occurs when the chicken people spy four gorgeous Swiss siblings bathing in a nearby river. Gorgeous and tranquil, they are the definition of stunning and lush. Charmed by the idyllic vision of the group, Nino decides to dye his hair and pass himself off as a local. The images of the cackling and dirty Italian people, with their snickering and drooling set against the peaceful family is both beautiful and odd. The scene could almost be featured in an Ingmar Bergman art film.

Bread and Chocolate (1974) is a film about a man’s journey that nearly can be classified as an adventure, drama, art film, or comedy, and sometimes crosses genres too much. The comedic antics draw rave reviews, but the film slips a bit when it goes in the dramatic territory and becomes middling and too preachy. Actor Nino Manfredi breathes all the life he can into a film that is appealing, but not quite marvelous.

8 1/2-1963

8 1/2-1963

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #973

Reviewed December 27, 2019

Grade: A-

For fans of acclaimed and experimental Italian film director, Federico Fellini, a clear plot is rarely the recipe of the day with his projects. With 8 1/2 (1963) he creates a personal and autobiographical story of a movie director pressured into another project but lacking creative ideas and inspiration to fulfill the task. We can all relate to this in one way or another.

The film is confusing, beautiful, elegant, and dreamlike, exactly what one would expect of a Fellini production. His film also hints at a deeper message and complexities. The recommendation is to experience the film rather than analyze or worse yet, over-analyze it, simply letting it marinate over time and relish in the offerings.

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a famous Italian film director suffering from director’s block after he is tasked with, and attempts to direct, an epic science fiction film. Experiencing marital difficulties, he decides to spend time at a luxurious spa where he has strange reoccurring visions of a beautiful woman (Claudia Cardinale), is visited by his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), and is berated by a temperamental film critic.

When Guido’s film crew arrives at his hotel in the hopes of starting production, he becomes overwhelmed by the mounting pressures and escapes into a world of memories. He visits his grandmother, dances with a prostitute, and relives his time at a strict Catholic school. Attempts to add these memories to his new film are dismissed by the film critic. The rest of the film is a mish mash of odd occurrences as Guido attempts to make his film.

Fans of Fellini’s other works will undoubtedly fall in love with 8 1/2, and since the film is about film this scores points in my book. His other famous works like Roma (1972) and Amarcord (1973) are similarly semi-auto biographical but differ in that they are more straightforward stories- as much as can be said about a Fellini film. Usually lacking much plot 8 1/2 resembles Juliet and the Spirits (1965) more than the others for comparisons sake. Fantasy and reality are interspersed, making the film tough to follow.

It appears to be about a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown and is a complex and personal study. As Guido spirals out of control and teetering towards insanity, he also muses about his situation. These highs and lows told in a comical fashion make 8 1/2 even more difficult to figure out and react to.

My previous suggestion to simply experience 8 1/2 achieves credibility as the film rolls along. Viewers may be unsure of what is happening, if not downright perplexed by the whole thing, but there is an energy that pulls one into its clutches with masterful sequences and potent embraces of life, loves, and culture. This must be attributed to the look and style of the film.

8 1/2 won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design (black-and-white) and is considered a highly respected and influential work of art by most film critics. Appreciated mostly for its beautiful cinematography, it also delves into the meaning of life with a live and let live approach.

Lovers of avant-garde works of interpretation and expressionism will be giddy with delight while experiencing ruminating thoughts following 8 1/2 (1963). Having only seen the film once and embraced it wholly as a work of art, but frustrated by the lack of tangible meaning, my own advice is to see the film a second, a third, or even a fourth time for a deeper appreciation and understanding. I plan to heed my own suggestion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Federico Fellini, Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

Shoplifters-2018

Shoplifters-2018

Director-Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring-Lily Franky, Sakura Ando

Scott’s Review #962

Reviewed November 26, 2019

Grade: A-

Shoplifters (2018) is a fabulous Japanese offering, directed, written and edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda. The film is awfully slow-moving and understated, but provides a moving and poignant message about family, by blood or not, and the powerful ties that bind individuals in a compassionate and emotional way. The film is character driven and humanistic, offering sentiment and emotion without ever feeling overwrought or manipulative. It is not to be missed.

A dysfunctional group of outsiders reside together in a dingy basement establishment in Tokyo, Japan, escaping their poverty by shoplifting and embarking on mild adventures to pass the time. They share a deep bond and look out for each other. The audience assumes they are family, which they are, but not in the biological sense. The family rescues an abused young girl and takes her into their home, showering her with love and affection. Eventually, trouble comes when one of them is caught shoplifting, which leads to a domino effect of terrible events.

The group consists of Osamu (Lily Franky), a day laborer forced to leave his job after twisting his ankle; his “wife” Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), who works for an industrial laundry service; Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), who works at a hostess club; Shota (Kairi Jo), a young boy; and Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), an elderly woman who owns the home and supports the group with her deceased husband’s pension.

The film showcases most of the characters equally as they work, drink and hang out together. The abused girl, named Yuri, is given a haircut and renamed Lin, and is central to the plot. Nobuyo and Shota take a shine to her, she teaches Lin that parents who love their children hug them and do not hit them, while Shota teaches her the ins and outs of stealing groceries.

Though the watch is a slow one the audience inevitably falls in love with the characters and the connection becomes powerful before the viewer knows it. We know Osamu and Nobuyo should leave Yuri where she is when they see her unattended and shivering on a cold balcony, but they cannot help themselves. Their actions lead the audience to immediately realize that they are good, kind people, who have been handed bad life circumstances to deal with.

The film is a tough watch and is not one ever to be defined as edge-of-your seat. Many scenes involve characters walking around the streets, almost aimlessly, commenting that the weather is cold or other trivial conversational bits. The scenes could be defined as boring or bleak, but eventually something magical happens and the characters become favorites, the viewer immersed in their world unflinchingly.

The character of Yuri is a tough one to observe. With bruises on her arms and a burn from a hot iron, tearful is the imagining of the terror the little girl has already been through at the hands of blood relatives, especially since her parents assume she has run off and are thrilled she is out of their lives. The conclusion of the film is cold and harsh, hitting home that the justice system is flawed and cruel, as Yuri ultimately is returned to her parents, certain to face more abuse and eventual death. Doesn’t child abuse usually turn out like this?

Director, Kore-eda, could have spun a feel-good story with the family parading onto the beach in sunshine, but he chooses not to. We wonder how Yuri’s life might have turned out under better circumstances and if the courts had not gotten involved. Kore-eda instead paints of stark picture of reality and not the fictional happily-ever-after that films too often rush to craft.

Shoplifters (2018) offers a look at humanity at its best and its worst with a story about joy and pain. The film is quiet and careful and ultimately keeps one in its grips. It sticks with the viewer and makes one question what a family really is and what it is defined as in the court of law. Who is to decide who is family and who is not family? The film will make one ponder many things which a treasured quality of good cinema is.

Angels of Sex-2012

Angels of Sex-2012

Director-Xavier Villaverde

Starring-Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Alvaro Cervantes, Llorenc Gonzalez

Scott’s Review #934

Reviewed August 23, 2019

Grade: C

Angels of Sex (2012) is a Spanish LGBT drama that attempts to create an intriguing romantic relationship between its characters, but slowly teeters into a plot driven soap opera mess, leaving the viewer unsatisfied.  Casting good-looking actors and showing plenty of skin only goes so far before one’s attention span begins to wane and start yearning for more depth, which never comes in this film. The film-makers do get some props for crafting a diversity film, but the story ultimately sucks.

The urban setting of Barcelona, Spain is the backdrop of the film as student, Bruno (Llorenc Gonzalez), is saved by karate instructor, Rai (Alvaro Cerventes), and begins to question his sexuality as the men grow attracted to one another. Throwing a hurtle into their blissful affair is Bruno’s girlfriend, Carla (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who is drawn to both men while shunning their romantic attraction to one another. The three characters interact and carry on affairs with each other leading to a series of emotions that influence their decisions.

The premise is intriguing, at the beginning of the story anyway, as a “straight man meets gay man” moment immediately occurs, and sparks fly between the men.  When Bruno accepts his attraction to Rai while also continuing his attraction to Carla a unique bisexual premise is offered. Why can’t Bruno spend equal time with Rai and Carla? Which one will he decide to choose or will choose him? Will each of the three be okay with the arrangement? These are the sorts of interesting questions offered by the film until it slips about halfway through.

Each character begins to crumble and become banal and wishy-washy, especially Carla. She accepts the “time-sharing” relationship, but then gets mad when she sees Rai and Bruno kiss, finally falling for Rai and having an affair with him. Huh? This is character assassination 101. Bruno’s motivations become unclear as he hedges on nearly every decision, while Rai becomes more brooding and indecisive. It’s as if the writers did not know which direction to take the characters in or thought their good looks would carry the film.

Other gripes include the title of the film having nothing meaningful to do with the story, and rather seems like a weak effort at gaining some attention (and viewers) by incorporating such a title. Another irritant was the constant inclusion of unknown characters break-dancing to song. Was this necessary? Rai has an interest in the genre, we get that, but the needless scenes seem like attempts to fill time.

A better use of time might have been additional scenes of Carla and her mother. A passing scene or two and an alluded to situation involving Carla’s father cheating on the mother is limiting and could have been an interested sub-plot, perhaps even figuring in to the main story. Carla’s group of friends add little to the film especially her slutty friend bedding two others in the group. The situation seems more like an add-on or a time filler more than rich writing.

Props go to any film with the desire to showcase an LGBT themed story as, despite the film being made in 2012, most LGBT films are still indie projects. I hoped for and expected more from the film especially the culturally interesting location of a European hotbed of sexuality and parties.

Angels of Sex (2012) starts off well until disintegrating into a bad LGBT episode of “As the World Turns” or “Days of our Lives” with poor character writing, unnecessary supporting characters and a feeble attempt at a twist ending that merely turns into a red herring and thereby a disappointment.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)- 2017

BPM (Beats Per Minute)- 2017

Director-Robin Campillo

Starring-Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois

Scott’s Review #884

Reviewed April 11, 2019

Grade: A-

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017) is a film that is both exhilarating and heartbreaking to watch. Churning out emotional reactions such as empathy and empowerment the film channels a potential life-saving cause. Of French language and shot documentary style the film is not an easy watch as the viewer is transplanted back to the early 1990’s when the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the world in general and the gay community specifically. A mixture of a community- oriented movement amidst a love story makes this project worthwhile viewing.

The immediate focal point of the story is an impassioned and aggressive Paris based chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a unified gay and lesbian organization intent on speeding up the French government’s response to the unwieldy AIDS epidemic. The group resorts to extreme public protests consisting of fake blood throwing and invading prominent pharmaceutical company meetings. Their intent is to get them to release trial results immediately instead of waiting until the next year. The various debates and infighting among the chapter are heavily featured.

As the film progresses BPM (Beats Per Minute) slowly shifts its focus from the protests to the personal lives of the ACT UP members as a romance brews between nineteen-year-old HIV positive Sean (Perez Biscayart), who already exhibits visible infections from the disease, and HIV negative Nathan (Valois), a newcomer to the group. The pair quickly become inseparable as Sean’s body becomes ravaged by the disease resulting in a poignant and dire conclusion sure to elicit tears.

Director, Campillo and co-screenwriter Philippe Mangeot drew on their personal experiences with ACT UP in developing the story enriching the authenticity of the experience. Despite being shot in present day the film feels genuine with a 1990’s feel and flavor. The gray Parisian locales though gorgeous and picturesque also portray a sadness and bleakness. As Sean gazes outside we sense his fear and anguish. Through this character Campillo and Mangeot provide personal stories representing the plight of many during that time.

A particularly racy scene erupts approximately halfway through the film as Sean and Nathan’s love story takes center stage. Foreign language films are not known for shying away from nudity or sexuality the way many American films do. As the impassioned pair make love for the first time, little is left to the imagination. Despite the gratuitous nudity and the overt sexual tones, the duo’s relationship is not solely physical, and the audience will undoubtedly come to care for both men the way that I did.

The two-fold story is a wise choice and the overall message that BPM (Beats Per Minute) presents is both inspiring and a good telling of the LGBT community’s struggles at notice and inclusion during the 1980’s and 1990’s. This point is both a positive and a negative as the story beckons back to a day in the community’s history dripping with pain and loneliness and this comes across on film. The film is hardly a happy experience and quite rather the downer.

The main drawback to the film is its length. At nearly two and a half hours the story and principle points begin to become redundant which causes the overall message to lose a bit of thunder. The constant bickering and debate among the ACT UP group becomes tedious to watch as fight and clash after fight and clash resurface repeatedly.

Though painful to experience and not very uplifting, BPM (Beats Per Minute) is an important film to view given how far the treatments of HIV have progressed over several decades. Not taking things for granted, a trip down memory lane for those alive during the epidemic is recommended. For those fortunate enough to have missed the 1980’s and the 1990’s the film is a necessary reminder of how life once was for the unfortunate victim of a devastating epidemic.

The Bicycle Thief-1948

The Bicycle Thief-1948

Director-Vittorio De Sica

Starring-Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola

Scott’s Review #867

Reviewed February 16, 2019

Grade: A

The Bicycle Thief (1948), modified to the English title from the original Italian Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) is an important and cherished film containing a powerful message enshrined in a compelling story. The film is fraught with emotion and focuses on a powerful relationship between a father and his son and a determination to retrieve what is rightfully theirs. Made post World War II the film has a socialist theme and is made with a hallmark neorealist style centering around working class people. The film is an example of cinema being art and not merely entertainment.

The film deservedly was awarded a special Academy Award for “most outstanding foreign language film” before the historic Best Foreign Language Film award existed. This is a testament to the power and humanism the film envelopes as the sad and occasionally wonderful story unfolds. The inclusion of professional actors and non-actors make the film a strong and authentic watch in a quick one hour and twenty-nine minute running time.

In late 1940’s Rome Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) struggles to find decent work to support himself and his family. When an opportunity presents itself but requires the use of a bicycle, Antonio’s wife Maria (Lianella Carell) selflessly sells family heirlooms to acquire his pawned bicycle. Things are looking great for the family as Antonio begins his new job only to have his bicycle stolen by a thief on his first day as he sits atop a ladder helplessly witnessing the theft. Determined to track the thief down and retrieve his stolen bike he and son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) traverse the city in growing desperation.

The Bicycle Thief is a simple story but one which enraptures the viewer with many different emotions. Anger at the thief, empathy for Antonio and Bruno, inspiration by the humanity of some characters, and rage at the actions of others. Antonio strives to be a good role model for his son and a provider for Maria. By the end of the film he has become a more complicated character, resorting to dire means to solve his problems. Antonio is desperate, guilt-ridden, and ashamed, but is also a highly inspirational character.

Fans of the gorgeous and historic European city of Rome are in for a treat. The Bicycle Thief is peppered with enchanting shots of the famous city and focuses on the events of normal everyday people as they go to work and spend their days on a mission. The lighting used by director Vittorio de Sica is bright and sunny and portrays Rome as a hot and bustling epicenter. The atmosphere is foreboding as we known something dire will soon occur amid the warm and cheery metropolis.

The acting is at the center of The Bicycle Thief’s success with inspired performances by Maggiorani and Staiola as father and son. Staiola is masterful as a young boy who needs a father figure and hangs on his father’s every move with passion. His soulful and expressive eyes contain sadness and hope in many scenes as he yearns and prays for his father to be happy again and for himself to feel safe. In comparison, Maggiorani possesses an ability to portray strength and angst interchangeably. His finest scene is pivotal as he realizes he has become no better than the thief he despises early in the film and is buried in shame.

The Bicycle Thief (1948) is a film made powerful and memorable by its simplicity and humanistic sensibilities. The plot is basic and explores one man’s quest at justice and the right to live his life and care for his family. His journey is complex and fraught with tense moments only making the film palpable and heart racing as his adventure unfolds before us. Thanks to gorgeous cinematography and an ample dose of pathos those who watch this film will be in store for a treasure in powerful cinematic story telling.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay

Roma-2018

Roma-2018

Director-Alfonso Cuaron

Starring-Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Scott’s Review #862

Reviewed February 2, 2019

Grade: A

Roma (2018) is a film to be experienced rather than merely viewed. A cinematic, black and white feast for the eyes and direction to be amazed with is utterly impressive and a triumph in masterful film-making. On par with geographically picturesque epics such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), the piece is at first not an easy watch, but the audience will become both enraptured and rewarded with each passing moment as the characters emerge to flawless perfection reaching a crescendo of magnificent art.

Set during a politically tumultuous time in Mexico City during 1970 and 1971, the film follows a young maid working for a middle-class Mexican family and her perspective on her surroundings. She serves as housekeeper going about her numerous duties of mopping, cooking, even cleaning up the family dog excrement that runs rampant and as emotional support for the members of the family.

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and her best friend, fellow maid Adela (Nancy Garcia) tend to four children of varying ages and their troubled parents, he a doctor and she the family matriarch. Antonio and Sofia (Marina de Tavira) have a troubled marriage as he supposedly goes to Quebec for business as tensions mount among the family. Through it all, Teresa, Antonio’s mother resides with the family as Cleo learns she is pregnant, and her boyfriend Fermin flees after hearing the news.

Director Alfonso Cuaron, responsible for the writing, direction, cinematography, editing, and nearly every other aspect of the picture, draws from his own personal experience growing up in Mexico City. Cuaron reportedly created the film as an artful love letter to his beloved family housekeeper whom he adored. In this way there is rich personality and intimacy throughout and a definite family angle. As the film centers mainly around Cleo’s trials and tribulations, the entire family appear in numerous scenes and thus feels like an ensemble feature.

Cleo is a quiet and modest girl happily going about her chores and serving the needs of everyone around her. She is treated well by the family and adored by the children only occasionally enduring the wrath of Sofia’s temper and troubles, but she is loved and appreciated. In love with Fermin and her only sexual experience she winds up pregnant which scares the aggressive and battle-minded young man. The story-line takes place over the course of a year, so we see Cleo’s entire pregnancy progress and experience her devastation as she gives birth to a still-born girl.

My favorite aspects of Roma are the simplicity and the monumental touches that Cuaron includes. The film begins with a lengthy shot of water being thrown on a cement garage and the puddles and circulation of the water. Seen from above is a slow-moving airplane and numerous background shots of a slowly landing airplane subsequently appear throughout the film. Is this to represent the slowness of life? Life, death, and near-death experiences are featured in Roma. Cleo’s pregnancy, the death of a baby, and the near drowning of one of the children rescued by Cleo despite the girl not being able to swim.

Gorgeous scenes of Cleo traversing through the streets of downtown Mexico City exude beauty. Undoubtedly the scenes represent her journey through life and the pain and rewards that she experiences, but they also feature dozens of interesting characters if one pays close attention. A man lighting a cigarette, a woman gazing, and other ordinary people doing things that look illuminating and like glimpses of the past. The automobiles are representative of the 1970’s as a Ford Galaxy, the family car, is extensively featured.

The films cover art (pictured above) is a creation that perfectly captures the theme of Roma and is highly symbolic. Huddled on sand at the beach the family encircles Cleo with expressions of panic, fear, and gratitude. The black and white adds depth as it could easily be a piece immersed in an art museum. The group of people appear unified and cling to Cleo for dear life also in a show of support and appreciation. The photo is endearing and beautiful to look at.

Roma (2018) received an impressive ten Academy Award nominations as well as numerous year-end accolades an impressive achievement for a foreign language film. For those with enough patience to let the film and its components marinate will be rewarded with a fine appreciation for cinematic artistry. The dreamlike quality with meticulous attention to detail makes this personal work a fascinating masterpiece.

Cold War-2018

Cold War-2018

Director-Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring-Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot

Scott’s Review #861

Reviewed January 29, 2019

Grade: A

Every once in a long while a modern film set in a different time- period comes along that embodies that era with such authenticity and grace that we forget that it was not shot in the time the story is told. Cold War (2018) is one such film that dares to whisk the viewer to another world with genuine timelessness emboldened by the torturous romantic entanglements of its main characters.

Reminiscent of an Ingmar Bergman film and shot in black and white the film is lovely, tragic, and fraught with historical references. One can dissect both character nuances and atmospheric qualities encompassing the entire experience. The film is a sum of its parts with a painful layer of veneer immersed in all the various tidbits. Cold War contains almost no humor but rather doom and gloom.

Amid the ruins of post- World War II Poland, repressed and self-destructive musicians Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) forge into an obsessive love-affair and cannot stay away from each other despite the European cities and countries that stand in their way. Spanning over a decade they battle alcohol abuse, rage, and imprisonment as they traverse between Poland, France, Berlin, and Yugoslavia.

Zula does obtain a level of success with her musicianship, but at a steep cost. She is forced to marry a hated man whom she does not love and many years away from Wiktor. Still, their romance perseveres over time until the duo makes a fateful decision that leads to a profound climax. The conclusion of the film is powerful, macabre, and emotional.

To state that Cold War is a tragedy is almost an understatement though viewers will probably not realize this going into the film. When Zula auditions at a Polish house for the musically gifted and Wiktor accompanies her on the piano sparks fly between the two as they meet for the first time. Zula appears to be a simple farm girl and sings a mountain song in duet with another girl. Spirited, Zula flirts with men, but is forever drawn to Wiktor and their chemistry runs rampant.

The direction, art direction, and cinematography are superb offering a magnificent look to the film. The use of black and white filming gives the piece an immeasurably timeless quality especially as streets and avenues in Paris emerge from time to time. They could easily be 1950’s France. The lovely halls that the pair perform in add ambiance and effect and musical treasures such as the melancholy main song performed in multiple languages and tones sparkles with culture.

With a run-time of only eighty-nine brief minutes Cold War never feels rushed and compartmentalizes all that it needs to tell in this span of time. The story contents run from 1949 until the early 1960’s and the film’s title is no mere accident. The historical reference plain and obvious the film also contains a bleak and frigid quality in both its surroundings and its characters. One worth mentioning is a rigid government man who complains that one girl in the chorus is “too dark”, the connotation being one of nationalism.

Multiple comparisons to Pawlikowski’s masterpiece Ida (2014) can be drawn one of which is that Kulig stars in both films. In addition to the black and white shooting both films feature a central female character that is tortured, a Nazi occupation of Poland or the after-effects of such an occupation, and the effects of repression or otherwise obsessive behavior featured in both films. Pawlikowski is superb at crafting these types of damaged and conflicted characters in his films.

Director Pawlikowski successfully achieves a second Polish film offering that challenges his audiences with remarkable story-telling, a dark mood, and a reminder of the terrible effects of the aftermath of World War II and those left in its wake. Psychological scars can wound as much as physical scars as Pawlikowski proves in the characters he draws from and their doomed lives. Cold War (2018) is an achievement in many ways and makes for thoughtful conversation after the credits roll.

Au Revoir Les Enfants-1987

Au Revoir Les Enfants-1987

Director-Louis Malle

Starring-Gaspard Manesse, Raphael Fejto

Scott’s Review #859

Reviewed January 21, 2019

Grade: A

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), the English translation Goodbye, Children is a powerful story of youth and friendship amid a French boarding school during the Nazi occupation of France. As World War II rages on Director Louis Malle crafts a tragic and poignant film that resonates on many levels featuring both good and evil and the forever loss of childhood innocence.

The film is based on actual events that Malle experienced as a child when he attended a Roman Catholic boarding school. At age eleven he witnessed a Gestapo raid in which three Jewish children and a Jewish teacher were savagely rounded up and taken to Auschwitz concentration camps and presumably to their deaths. What a powerful and tragic event he faced, and he brilliantly transplants this to his film.

We meet young Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) as he bids his mother farewell and takes a train to his boarding school after a lengthy vacation. The headmaster introduces three new students one of which is Julien’s age. Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) is socially awkward but excels at mathematics and piano. The boys initially dislike one another but slowly forge a powerful bond when they are immersed in playing a game of treasure hunt together. Julien soon discovers that Bonnet is Jewish, and the school is protecting him for capture.

The film is divided into two main stories, the troubled relationship and subsequent friendship between Julien and Bonnet and the revelation that Bonnet is Jewish and the benevolence of the school officials to the plight of Jews. The latter gives Au Revoir Les Enfantes a socially relevant angle as the audience begins to care deeply about Bonnet and the other Jewish boys yearning for education and freedom. Their innocence and confusion over being hated is effective and painful to watch.

The tyranny of the Gestapo is matched by the kindness and courage of the teachers who defy the anti-Semitic policies and admit Jewish students into the school under assumed names. The teachers are the heroes of the story and largely unsung as they yearn to give children of any religion a good education and a chance at happiness and fulfillment. I would love to see schools feature Au Revoir Les Enfantes to their students as a lesson in bravery.

Any viewer who has visited France will assimilate nicely with the good culture and sophistication the country envelopes. Most scenes occur at the boarding school with lessons being learned and the growth of many of the students, but a favorite scene takes place at a gourmet restaurant. As Julien and his mother lunch with Bonnet and others the meals, staff and ambiance exude French style and goodness, but among these luxuries also lies the constant threat of the Nazis as they bombard the restaurant and attempt to kick a Jewish man out of the establishment.

Malle wisely affixes the camera closely on the faces of Manesse and Fejto with a glowing quality that is both beautiful and haunting. This results in many scenes featuring the expressions of the boys including wonderment, shock, intensity, and fear. The young actors rise to the occasion and perform their roles flawlessly with a natural quality.

The boys learn a myriad of valuable lessons most notably that the world is unjust and filled with unfairness. Malle gives the finale more than enough power and angst to leave the viewer pondering the fates of the Jewish characters. Their fates undoubtedly sealed by the Nazis the how’s and the whys are left ambiguous eliciting powerful emotions.

Au Revoir Les Enfantes (1987) is a superb and relevant offering depicting the pain and fear experienced by Jewish people in a tragic period of history. Told through the eyes of children the film hits home as an innocence is discovered and then lost. The film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but was defeated by Babette’s Feast.

The Insult-2017

The Insult-2017

Director-Ziad Doueiri

Starring-Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha

Scott’s Review #815

Reviewed October 1, 2018

Grade: B

A Lebanese film nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy award, The Insult (2017) offers its audience what I would categorize as a message film.  A battle of cultures and religions lead to chaos and controversy culminating with an embattled court case as we get to know supporting characters as well. While the film is above average it is also too glossy and at times plays out more like a television series- with dramatic effects and plot developments for miles. Still, the film is a worthy watch.

In a small Lebanese village, main character Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) lives with his pregnant wife Shirine. Working as an automobile mechanic, Tony is a proud member of the Christian community, attending rallies and events. His village employs Palestinian refugees to perform maintenance repairs, which irritates Tony. When a verbal altercation with middle-aged refugee Yasser (Kamel El Basha) occurs over a broken gutter, a failed apology results in physical violence as the situation rapidly escalates.

The courtroom drama, while compelling, seems a very familiar story. Other recent foreign language films such as A Separation (2011), and Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem (2014) use similar plot devices of family conflict that wind up in the courtroom. Those films are better written and feel more authentic and raw than The Insult does. All throughout the film I kept telling myself I was not watching a middle-eastern version of Law & Order, but that is what it felt like.

Personally, I felt little sympathy for Tony and I was not completely sure if we were supposed to feel anything for him. With his brooding nature, and populist attitude he is written as downright unlikable at first. I assume the intent was to soften the character over the length of the film when he briefly comes to Yasser’s aid and helps start the man’s car. However, Tony soon reverts to his original stubborn nature.

Yasser is a much more likable fellow, albeit with a temper. Hurling curse words at Tony is the reason the tension between the two men begins in the first place and attempted apologies only lead to miscommunications between everyone. But Yasser gets my vote for the most compassionate character. In the supporting roles, an interesting (though perhaps not completely necessary) side story exists as the embattled lawyers are revealed to be father and daughter.

The major problem with The Insult is that the entire story seems plot-driven and each step created to come up with a way to build or add tension. For example, a speeding motorcycle angrily side-swipes Tony and his wife.  The partners are then in peril because their daughter is born premature due to the stress. Situations and tensions could have easily been wrapped up or smoothed over under different circumstances, therefore the tone of the films feels less than authentic and manipulative despite some good drama.

Still, what the writing team does is introduce the audience to the turbulent world of Middle Eastern politics in a way that undoubtedly results in thought-provoking views and exposures to opposing ideas. The film also provides a distinct hopeful slant at the conclusion so as not to send a dour message. The direction is that people can come together as one peaceful group, but that it will not be easy.

The Insult (2017) is not a bad watch and, in fact, compels the viewer to witness an interesting story of differing cultures and warring religious beliefs churning two men inside out when faced with conflict. The film also does a fine job of emitting a peaceful message of coming together as human beings.

An overall rating of “B” is a nice score but given the dozens of potential Best Foreign Language finalists, I am not sure the film quite “cuts the mustard” for me- surely there were superior entries. But then this Oscar category’s nominating process has always been a mystery.

The Square-2017

The Square-2017

Director-Ruben Oslund

Starring-Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss

Scott’s Review #814

Reviewed September 28, 2018

Grade: B+

The Square (2017) is an eccentric Swedish language film that is highly interpretive and does not always make perfect sense the way a more mainstream film would. This is both a positive and a negative as the ultimate message of the film is admirable, though some parts are both perplexing and downright bizarre. The film was bestowed an Oscar nomination, undoubtedly for its bravery and cutting-edge approach, for the Best Foreign Language Film- subsequently it lost to A Fantastic Woman (2017).

The X-Royal art museum in Stockholm, Sweden is the primary setting of the film. The action centers mostly around the museum’s creative director Christian (Claes Bang), who is new to the job and attempting to introduce a new installation called “The Square”. A misunderstanding with a youthful public relations firm hired to make the exhibit as accessible as possible, leads to controversy. The film also interjects various sub-plots that are by and large interesting in themselves, but do not always make logical sense.

Bang is quite compelling in the lead role and the best part of the film for me. He is charismatic, a good father to his two daughters, and helps the homeless- even going so far as to help a young woman when nobody else will, only to find his wallet stolen- an unfortunate victim of a scam. Furthermore, Christian’s desire to create “The Square” is quite humane and admirable- a safe zone for trust and compassion. The character is a good-guy, but also concerned with his status.

Common themes of satire and human being’s natural hypocritical nature abound. For example, in one scene Christian, proud to drive his flashy Tesla car and giving money to the homeless, is then afraid to be seen in a run-down apartment house. Later, a man with tourettes syndrome disrupts an interview at the museum and is looked down on by “open minded people” as a result. The latter scene is admittedly quite amusing as the man erupts with various expletives at the most inopportune times.

My favorite sequence by far occurs approximately mid-way through the film. As bizarre as the scene is, it is also riveting in its momentum and bravery. When a group of well-dressed museum members gather for a lavish dinner and to watch a human art show, a bare-chested man who only grunts emerges and slowly begins to antagonize certain guests. He begins pulling the hair of one woman while chasing one angry man from the hall. Shocking, intense, and thought provoking are words to describe this scene. But perplexing is what does the scene mean?

A treat for me was being able to view the frequent interior and exterior scenes of the famous Stockholm museum- of which I was privy to have visited in 2016. So fresh was this experience that it brought back wonderful memories of not only the museum, but of the gorgeous city of Stockholm itself.

The chemistry between Christian (who is Swedish) and an American reporter, Anne (Elisabeth Moss), does nothing for the film. In fact, it feels completely disjointed and unnecessary and there is little connection between the two characters. Engaging in a one-night stand, the duo has a dispute about a used condom. Does Christian think that Anne is desperate enough to use his sperm and impregnate herself? The resulting spat between the two seems meaningless.

The Square (2017) is a very tough film to review. Oftentimes disjointed and impossible to make heads or tails of, one would be wise to simply “experience” the film on its own merits. I am not sure I particularly need to view it again and try to figure out the plot because I am uncertain if that was the intent by director Ruben Oslund. Having directed the wonderful Force Majeure (2014), a more straightforward and superior film in my opinion, The Square is worth a watch in its own right.

Babette’s Feast-1987

Babette’s Feast-1987

Director-Gabriel Axel

Starring-Stephane Audran

Scott’s Review #796

Reviewed July 27, 2018

Grade: A

Babette’s Feast (1987) is a pure delight for any viewer who is a foodie, and particularly of stylish French cuisine. In fact, during the final thirty minutes or so I was salivating with pleasure as a final multiple course meal was presented before me. The film is rich with “flavor” and tells a wonderful tale of self-sacrifice, benevolence, and good human nature. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film- the very first Danish film to do so.

Adapted from a 1958 short story, Babette’s Feast tells of two elderly and deeply religious Protestant sisters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Phillipa (Bodil Kjer), who exist in a small village in Denmark. The sisters have lived there all their lives and, through flashbacks, it is revealed that each had an opportunity for romance with men decades earlier, as young and fresh young ladies. Each resisted the temptation due to the deeply religious beliefs of their disapproving father.

When a delightful French woman, Babette (Stephane Audran), appears on their doorstep with a note from Phillipa’s potential beau, the kindly women take her in. Babette is a refugee fleeing Paris and offers to serve as the sister’s housekeeper. Babette is filled with life and a passion for cooking and art- largely contrasting the townspeople, who frequently shun pleasures and harbor reserved and repressed feelings for joy. When Babette wins the lottery and is assumed to depart back to Paris, she instead offers to make the town a lavish, classic french meal.

The film is a pure treat, especially in the final act when Babette decides to prepare the exquisite meal. This is the true highlight of the film and the menu simply must be listed below in order to wholly appreciate the film. As each course is served, the film depicts the cooking process, as spices, salts, wines, and reductions are featured, so much so that we wonder, who really made such a gorgeous meal when filming transpired? Audran, known to be a gourmet, must have adored this fabulous and creative role!

In order, Babette’s delicious feast consists of turtle soup served with Amontillado sherry, buckwheat pancakes with caviar and sour cream served with Veuve Cliquot Champagne, quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce served with Clos de Vougeot Pinot Noir, an endive salad, rum sponge cake with figs and candied cherries served with Champagne, assorted cheeses and fruits served with Sauternes, coffee with vieux marc Grande Champagne Cognac. My mouth is watering and my stomach growling as I write this!

In wise and poignant fashion, the film heralds the return of Martine’s longtime admirer, Swedish officer Lorens, who escorts his elderly aunt to the dinner. The other dozen or so dinner guests agree not to fuss or voice any reactions to the meal, but Lorens is different. With each serving he comments in explicit detail the pleasures of the tastes and fondly recollects an experience with each course. In this way he speaks for the rest of the guests as we see their reactions and the pleasures they exhibit non-verbally.

Tenderly, Lorens confessed that he has never forgotten Martine, and she the same for him. Despite not having seen nor heard from each other in decades, their connection has never wavered and thus have spent their lives as one. What a lovely and powerful scene this is and adds a romanticism and elegance to the overall film.

The lighting is effective as many scenes seem to bask in an illuminating glow. The whimsical village is well lit with many soft or muted scenes exuding elegance and grace in the tiny living community. The costumes and styles are meaningful and make the time period of the 1800’s realistic. This adds a tremendous amount to the look and texture of Babette’s Feast.

The overall themes of Babette’s Feast (1987) are ones of kindness, forgiveness, enjoyment, and honesty. The characteristics are brought to life by the characters in the film, rich with flavor and taste, and all experienced through the importance and pleasures of food. What a magnificent piece of film making this work is and the enormity of riches through good dining.

La Vie en Rose-2007

La Vie en Rose-2007

Director-Olivier Dahan

Starring- Marion Cotillard

Scott’s Review #790

Reviewed July 18, 2018

Grade: A

As a true fan of French actress Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose (2007) is the tremendously talented lady’s finest role to date- and I would venture to say one of the best in film history. She immerses herself into the pivotal role of singer Edith Piaf and churns out a breathtaking performance. Besides the vehicle to showcase her acting chops, the film as a whole is lovely, offering the poignant life story of the troubled star, adding enough French zest to offer more than just a biography.

The way that the plot is constructed is quite interesting as the story of Edith Piaf is told in non-linear fashion. The highly complex singer’s biography is recounted first telling elements of her childhood and concluding with events occurring shortly before her death. Her childhood is difficult so she is raised by her grandmother in a bordello and discovered on the streets to begin her meteoric rise to acclaim. The events of the film are known to be fairly accurate making the song-stresses life story awe-inspiring.

The visual aspects and cinematography elements to La Vie en Rose are lovely.  With soft, muted tones, the film is rich with culture and has a wonderful French way about it. Since the story commences in 1918 the time period is fraught with rich history including World War II and a lavish trip to New York City where Edit performs. To say nothing of the lavish Parisian settings, the “look” of the film is enough reason to watch in wonderment.

Enough praise cannot be reaped upon Cotillard as Piaf and as enjoyable and profound as the film itself is, the casting of the French actress is both perfect and unimaginable to think of anyone else in the role. As treasured a performance as Cotillard gives, the film makers wisely choose to leave Piaf’s actual voice in the musical numbers. Anyone else mimicking her would be unimaginable and frankly insulting. And an imitator would not have served the film well.

Regardless of the voice-overs, Cotillard delivers such a flawless and brave performance that it makes the film what it is. Piaf was known as a very difficult woman to deal with both personally and professionally, though there were many sympathetic qualities to her given her tough life.  Cotillard’s facial expressions and mannerisms perfectly mimic the stars own qualities so much so that the actress seemingly becomes the singer. The actress deservedly won the Best Actress Academy Award for her layered performance.

The final scene of the film is both profound and ghastly. A very ill Edith, looking haggard, clown-like with heavy makeup, decides to take the stage for the final time, aware that she is dying. Refusing to cancel her show, she performs her well known number, “non, je ne regrette rien”. She then exits the stage in frail manner and dies shortly thereafter. She was the consummate professional and star until the moment of her death. This particular scene is a wonderful culmination to the film.

La Vie en Rose (2007) solely judged as a biopic is a very good piece of film making that tells a graceful, sometimes moving story of an incredible talent. With a performance such as Cotillard’s the film goes to another level and the performance becomes the main event. The emotions and the characteristics the actress undertakes are astounding and go down as one of the finest depictions in cinematic history.

A Separation-2011

A Separation-2011

Director-Asghar Farhadi

Starring-Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi

Scott’s Review #734

Reviewed March 21, 2018

Grade: A

A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film that was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award statuette, the first Iranian film to achieve the honor. The film is a family drama that is wonderfully complex, and weaves typical family issues (divorce and school issues) with more complicated and cultural leanings, and keeps going and going with story nuances. A Separation is directed by the acclaimed Asghar Farhadi, who is also responsible for the brilliant screenplay- this is a top notch film.

Presumably set in Tehran, or a more progressive (by Iranian standards) city in Iran, husband and wife Nader and Simin  reside with their teenage daughter, Termeh, and Nader’s elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Frustrated by her husbands refusal to leave the country for a better life, Simin files for divorce, but her wish is rejected by male judges. When she leaves her family anyway, Nader is forced to hire a pregnant caregiver, Razieh, to tend to his ailing father. After a controversial tragedy ensues, causing Razieh to suffer a miscarriage, the film shifts directions and adds an entirely new layer to the  already fascinating story.

Farhadi is very keen with his delivery of a good story- he traditionally mixes themes of culture and social class together in an interesting way as his future, 2017, work, The Salesman, would also do. Thanks to Farhadi’s innovative storytelling, more notice is taken to Iran and Iranian culture, thereby humanizing its citizen more within the craft of film. We see Iranian people just like ourselves and not the radical or dangerous individuals we are programmed to see.

With A Separation, there are no clear cut protagonists or antagonists, and viewers allegiances may shift throughout the run of the film. Do we champion Simin for desiring a better life for herself and for Termeh or scold her for refusing to live with her family? A progressive woman for sure, she is a layered character in her ambitions and her autonomy.

Nader is also a complex character- heroic for desiring the best of care for his father, he is also fraught with anger and bad temperament, which is the main reason for the second half of the film, and leads to Razieh’s predicament. Viewers will not be certain whether Nader is a good man or a villain, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. Subsequently, this is the meat of the entire story, and makes for an enthralling experience in character development.

As if the brilliant screenplay was not enough to demand a good watch, the acting across the board is wonderful. A cast including seasoned Iranian actors, Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as Simin and Nader, these are my favorites, and are quite adept at carrying along the nail-biting tension in masterful form.

Shades of Alfred Hitchcock are evident throughout the film as the tension unfolds to a crescendo and the action builds and builds and builds in layers upon layers of good stuff. The quick editing and unique camera angles mirror some classic works of the famous director.

The success of A Separation is the films fast-paced, nicely edited construction, in a way that, at over two hours in length, the film speeds along rather quickly, and causes those who experience it to ponder, wonder, think, and ascertain. Asghar Farhadi has quickly become a prominent director, met with obstacles from his native country, and yet surpassing these hurdles to construct great film. I look forward to many more of his works.

A Fantastic Woman-2017

A Fantastic Woman-2017

Director-Sebastian Lelio

Starring-Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes

Scott’s Review #729

Reviewed February 27, 2018

Grade: A

A Fantastic Woman is a 2017 Chilean film that is groundbreaking in subject matter and has rightfully received heaps of accolades including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Especially worthy of mention is the films lead actress, Daniela Vega, the first transgender woman to present an award at the Oscars and a dynamo performance in her represented film. Besides all of the cultural achievements, the film succeeds in its own right as a compelling drama.

The film gets off to a sweet and romantic start as we meet Marina (Vega), a young waitress and aspiring singer, and Orlando (Francisco Reyes), a mature, affluent man thirty years her senior. Surprising her with a lovely birthday cake, the pair are beginning to embark on a serious relationship as Marina has recently moved in with Orlando. When tragedy strikes and Orlando is rushed to the hospital after collapsing, Marina must face the harsh reality of her partners narrow minded family and suspicions from law enforcement.

What a wonderful starring vehicle for this astounding young talent that is Vega. The film shares a story that has never been told before, though the transgender genre is slowly coming into its own- think 2015’s brilliant Tangerine. With A Fantastic Woman though, the story telling is more intimate and personal and clearly from Marina’s point of view. Faced with both financial issues and losing her love, she is forced to hurdle obstacles centered around her lifestyle that she had thought had been conquered through her open life with Orlando, who loved her for who she is.

Vega expresses so much with her wide-eyed stares and introspective glazed looks. A performance that is remarkably subdued, she does not have a traditional blowup or dramatic, emotional scene. Instead, she calmly goes from scene to scene with her anger and heartbreak brimming under the surface. As she is verbally insulted and degraded by Orlando’s bitter ex-wife, Marina stands her ground and calmly accepts the verbal attack. Even when Orlando’s thuggish relatives physically assault her with tape, she is calm in her reaction. This is a testament to Vega’s talents.

Perhaps the most touching sub plot involves Marina’s struggle to retain the dog that Orlando had kindly given to her. When Orlando’s son refuses to let her keep the dog, Marina reaches her breaking point and begins to fight dirty, refusing to hand over the keys to Orlando’s flat until she gets her way. The tender affection she has for the animal is wonderful as, despite having a few people in her corner, the dog is her pride and joy and best friend.

As stellar as Vega is, and the film does clearly belong to her, credit and mention must be given to the supporting players, who are largely unknown actors to me. Though we feel no sympathy for Orlando’s ex wife or his relatives, they are competently portrayed and we do feel their anger and spite. We do not know much about the back-story, but we do know that Orlando has revealed to all his involvement with a trans woman and he is proud of Marina. Actor Reyes is a dream as Orlando and we wistfully imagine a different film centered  solely on his romance with Marina. In their short time together, the audience falls madly in love with the duo.

A Fantastic Woman succeeds as a nuanced, level headed drama with a powerful message and a timely approach. Never veering over the top or being too preachy, the film is a wonderful telling of a topical subject matter. I only hope that more stories surrounding this genre are told in the future, since it is a goldmine of uncharted story-telling with so much potential.

Juliet Of The Spirits-1965

Juliet Of The Spirits-1965

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo

Scott’s Review #725

Reviewed February 15, 2018

Grade: A

A true Fellini film in every sense and perhaps his most personal film of all, 1965’s Juliet of the Spirits is a colorful and masterful experience containing fluid art direction and stunning sets and costumes. As with most of his films, the story and its intricacies are odd and do not always make perfect sense, but the film is meant to be absorbed and felt and exhibits more of a central plot than some of his other works. Juliet of the Spirits is certainly not to be missed for fans of Fellini or any novice wanting an introduction to the great director.

In a compelling tidbit of background information, lead actress Giulietta Masina, wife and muse of director Fellini, and sometimes deemed the female Charlie Chaplin, plays a true to life character. In real life the woman suffered from her own bout with a philandering husband- Fellini himself! For this reason alone the film is interesting to watch as a true to life story leading the audience to empathize with Giulietta and her life of doldrums and turmoil.

Giulietta Boldrini (Masina) is an affluent woman living in Italy with her successful and dashing husband, Giorgio (Mario Pisu). Despite wealth, two housekeepers, and free time to do whatever she pleases, she is dissatisfied with her life and her surroundings. This occurs largely after hearing her husband mutter another woman’s name in his sleep. Concerned and intrigued, Giulietta hires investigators to unravel the mystery while at the same time spawning an adventure for her.

Instead of being a cookie-cutter film with a basic plot explained above, in true Fellini form, the character of Giulietta traverses on a journey into the dream-like and odd experience, tapping into her repressed desires and innermost thoughts, while being exposed to her larger than life and sexy neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo). The oversexed Suzy enlightens Giulietta to the joys of her mansion, her tree house, and her many dazzling, weird friends, and bubbling sensuality.

Juliet of the Spirits is a joy to watch and quite a bit more linear than other complex masterpieces such as 1960’s La Dolce Vita or 1969’s Fellini Satyricon. The plot is spelled out in a direct way- Giulietta is depressed and anxious for something new and exciting in her life. Her journey into this new life while wrestling with her demons and resistance makes this film so much fun to watch.

The styles and colors that Fellini creates are brilliant and lavishly loud. Take the gaudy and glamorous nest that Suzy calls home. With a built in underground swimming pool where she bathes after lovemaking, and velvety red walls and furniture, her palace is both tawdry and sophisticated. Fellini uses gorgeous reds, greens, and blues throughout the film to create dazzle and spectacles with larger than life characters.

To further focus on Suzy for a minute, the blonde bombshell frequently visits her very own tree house complete with a swing. She flirts with handsome young men who gaze up at the scantily dressed beauty as she tosses her high-heeled shoe down to them in a suggestive manor. When they come up to the top of the tree house by way of a mechanical basket, presumably for sex, this is too much for the overwhelmed Giulietta, who returns to the safety of her own home. But clearly she is as much titillated as she is scared.

The film belongs to Masina and we cannot help but wonder if Fellini created Juliet of the Spirits as a sort of apology to the actress for his reported years of cheating. Regardless, Masina plays a middle-aged, confident on the outside- insecure on the inside, woman flawlessly. With her expressive eyes and nice smile, Masina fully encompasses the role with enthusiasm- a perfect fit for a Fellini film.

Juliet of the Spirits also is great at mixing in several forms of film genre including fantasy, drama, and light comedy and contains a bevy of interesting supporting characters. Suzy’s seemingly clairvoyant mother is a great side character as she upon meeting Giulietta immediately sees that the woman is troubled. Giulietta’s father, whom we meet when she is a little girl appearing in a religious play, is boisterous and spirited.

Having been fortunate enough to stay at the Grand Hotel in Rome, a lavish yet strange establishment where Fellini spent many a night as a guest, I fantasized while watching Juliet of the Spirits, that he drew inspiration for this film from said hotel. The grand red textures appear in both hotel and the Fellini film so I could very well have experienced a true inspiring facility.

Stalwart, creative, and masterful director Fellini once again serves up a stylish film that must be thought about following a good, solid viewing. Too much analysis, however, will ruin the enchanting experience, as Juliet of the Spirits is best served up as a treat to be mesmerized by in glamorous fashion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Color, Best Costume Design, Color

Black Orpheus-1959

Black Orpheus-1959

Director-Marcel Camus

Starring-Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn

Scott’s Review #689

Reviewed October 8, 2017

Grade: A

Black Orpheus is a 1959 French film, made in Brazil, honored with a win in the coveted Best Foreign Language Film Academy award category in 1960, considered somewhat of a surprise to actually win. The film is adapted from the well known Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, now set in Rio de Janeiro during the festive celebration of Carnaval. Containing a cast of almost all black actors and providing a look at life on the streets of Brazil, Black Orpheus is vivacious, and filled with lively song and dances.

The setting is key to the film as the beauty and merriment is mixed with loss and tragedy- loads of exterior shots of Rio de Janeiro flesh out the film with many shots high atop a hill in a quaint village where all of the characters live-and most in very close proximity to each other. Similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the film is romantic and lovely, but the story is also mired in jealousy and drama amid the dancing and many celebrations. Many of the actors, certainly leads Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn, are non-actors, cast undoubtedly because of their gorgeous, authentic looks, but surprisingly both are phenomenal in their roles, perfectly cast.

Wholesome Eurydice (Dawn) arrives in the city of Rio de Janeiro by way of a trolley driven by Orpheus (Mello), intent on visiting her cousin, Serafina. There is an instant attraction between the young man and woman as he provides directions to her cousins village, which is also his. Orpheus, however, is engaged to be  married to his possessive and demanding fiance, Mira, though he is less than enthused about the impending marriage and would rather fix his guitar than buy Mira an engagement ring.

As the Carnival festivities get underway, Orpheus and Eurydice give in to their mutual attraction and dance the night away while subsequently trying to avoid the wrath of Mira, and avoid a mysterious costumed man who has been stalking Eurydice since  she escaped her village and fled to Rio.  Eurydice is terrified that the man may want to kill her and his motivations are unknown. His character is particularly frightening as he is known as “Death” and dons a tight, skeleton costume.

The tragic conclusion culminating in a wonderful chase scene in Orpheus’s trolley station is fantastic. The morbid ending is unsurprising based on the legendary Greek tale and the Romeo and Juliet comparisons, but is still heartbreaking and difficult to experience, most notably the final scene atop a cliff. As the lovelorn couple topples down a hill together at the hands of another central character, the scene is shocking and difficult to watch. Intertwined in each others arms, the scene is also gorgeous and a confirmation of true love and artistic beauty.

Some accusations of racial stereotypes within this film have abounded over the years, mainly the depiction of Brazil being inhabited by party-going, sex-crazed people, but I find the film a masterpiece and the type of cinematic experience to be enjoyed rather than over-analyzed. Particularly, the almost non-stop musical score created by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim is to die for and an enormous part of what makes the film so engaging and entertaining.

Perfectly capturing the spirit of a jovial, cultural, environment, Black Orpheus spins an interesting, heartbreaking tale of love amid a musical. Tragedy, art, true love, romance, and death, are all elements captured in this wonderful film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film (won)

Tanna-2016

Tanna-2016

Director-Bentley Dean, Martin Butler

Starring-Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa

Scott’s Review #673

Reviewed August 18, 2017

Grade: A

Tanna, named for the tiny South Pacific nation of Vanuatu in close proximity to Australia, is a small film made in 2016 and nominated for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award. A marvelous work in every way, the crowning achievement is how this particular film was made. Shot entirely on the island with a minimal budget and the use of non actors, the result is  a  romantic, yet tragic  love story that will move its viewer to tears in its innocence and beauty. Tanna is shot in the  Nauvhal and Nafe languages.

Film-makers reportedly spent seven months in the village of Yakel, immersing themselves in the culture and civilization of the tribe. The people are the last of their kind, rebuffing nearby colonial and Christian influences in favor of their own traditional values and beliefs. The story that the film tells is based on a true story of love inflicting two tribe members and played out by the villagers- each portraying a role very close to their own lives and hearts.

As the movie opens, we are immediately exposed to a tribal community going about their daily life- they wash, hunt, and wander through the jungles exploring their natural surroundings. The men wear simple penis sheaths and the women are mostly topless. We sense a great community and a sense of togetherness. When Dain and Wawa  (I am admittedly unsure if these are the “actors” names or the real-life people) lay eyes on one another from across the jungle, they instantly fall in love and begin to secretly spend time with one another in a tender and romantic courtship.

A traditional rule of the tribe is arranged marriage, which becomes a major problem for Dain and Wawa as their love blossoms. When a neighboring tribe attacks the Shaman over a dispute regarding bad crops, Dain wants revenge. When cooler heads prevail, the leaders of each tribe decide that Wawa will marry a member of the other tribe, which leaves she and Dain distraught and desperate- their love is then tested in the ultimate way.

The individuals who play both “Dain” and “Wawa” offer an authenticity and  truth that astounds as reportedly, in addition to never having acted, neither had never seen a camera before, but both pour their souls into the characters they portray. This also goes for the little sister of Wawa, who is a goldmine in her honest portrayal. In fact, all the performances are rich.

Visually, Tanna is just breathtaking. The exotic lushness of the green jungles mixed with the gorgeous running streams and waterfalls are one thing, but the oozing volcano that inhabits the island is both colorful and picturesque during the night scenes.  In fact, the entire film is shot outdoors and is captured incredibly well. In this way, the film immerses the audience wholly in the tribal world.

Comparisons to the William Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet must be made. The film is a romantic tragedy of epic proportions and the doomed couple share  everlasting love and a bond that can never be broken. The truth in this tale is genuine as the couple must agonize over a decision to either remain together or risk the threat of Dain’s life and Wawa’s freedom if they return to their native village. The film is almost poetic, never more so than in the final act, which is set upon the glorious spitting volcano.

Sadly, films similar in both richness and honesty are rarely made in modern times, but that just makes Tanna stand out as a treasure in beauty and thought. Interestingly, because of the real-life couple’s determination and strength, the age-old tradition of chosen marriages has since been lifted and true love encouraged.

Punish Me-2005

Punish Me-2005

Director-Angelina Maccarone

Starring-Maron Kroymann, Kostja Ullman

Scott’s Review #670

Reviewed August 9, 2017

Grade: A-

Punish Me (sometimes titled Hounded) is a provocative 2005 German language film that pushes boundaries and titillates the viewer with its racy themes of masochism and pedophilia that will be way too much for your average viewer to marinate and digest. In fact, some may be completely turned off (rather than on) by this film. However, for the edgy thinker, the film is quite the find. Unique, extreme, and thoughtful, Punish Me is an experience to remember.

Shot entirely in black and white (rare for twenty-first century cinema) the film appears bleak and harsh, cold almost- and that is no doubt an intentional measure. The grizzled German landscape (the city is unidentified), gives the film an interesting and effective cinematography, transforming the black and white colors exceptionally well, whether the scene is set in daylight or night time. Something about the black and white decision is genius.

Elsa Seifert (Maren Kroymann) is a fifty year old probation officer. Married and raising a teenage daughter, she appears to live a stable, middle class existence. When one of her charges, Jan (Kostja Ullman), a sixteen year old, handsome young man, gives a pursuit of her, their relationship turns into an obsessive, lustful situation for both. Jan, you see, likes to be sexually beaten, and, at first, hesitant, Elsa slowly gets immersed in Jan’s world.   When other characters begin to catch wind of the situation between Jan and Elsa, the film really becomes intense.

Astounding to me is the fact that Punish Me is directed by a woman, Angelina Maccarone. This both surprises, and impresses me. Thought-provoking is the female perspective in the film. Elsa is not an unhappy woman- though she nervously chain-smokes in almost every scene. She initially has no intention of being sucked into Jan’s eccentricities. As she awkwardly spanks him in their first steamy, sexual encounter, she is gentle, yet she quickly intensifies. Is she insecure with her middle-aged body? She certainly gets carried away by Jan’s charms, putting both career and husband at risk. Can she stop herself before it’s too late?

One wonders a few things- How would this film feel if it were directed by a man? Maccarone centers the perspective on Elsa more than she does Jan- or are we to assume that Jan, at sixteen, is merely experimenting with his sexuality and therefore not the more interesting character?  This was my determination. Elsa has way more to lose than Jan does. We are not sure why Jan is so troubled to begin with or why he likes to be beaten- was he abused by his parents? sexually or otherwise? What deep rooted issues does Elsa have?

I imagined the complexities offered had the film gone something like this- Elsa is a male character. Would man on boy be too much? Is female on boy safer? One wonders, but if Elsa was a male and Jan a female, I do not think the film would be half as controversial or daring. It would seem more exploitative, or dare I say, conventional. Instead, Maccarone, turns the film into a psychoanalytical feast as we wonder what makes both Elsa and Jan tick and why they enjoy the discipline scene? Perhaps there is not clearly defined answer.

The supporting characters are not explored very well, other than a fellow troubled girl that Jan beds, commenting that she is too fat (she is not) or Elsa’s husband being revealed to have once had an affair with another woman pronouncing “it was only sex not love”. From this, one draws the conclusion that Elsa and her husband will reunite and resume their middle class life together, but what will become of Jan?

Thanks to effortless direction and good choices by Maccarone, she makes Punish Me an examine-worthy look at sexuality, desire, and emotions. Many will loathe the film or not bother to give it the time of day based on the subject matter, but the film is a treat for the creative cinematic lover and lovers of analysis.

The Salesman-2016

The Salesman-2016

Director-Asghar Farhadi

Starring-Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti

Scott’s Review #668

Reviewed August 2, 2017

Grade: A

The Salesman is the latest film directed by Asghar Farhadi to win the coveted Best Foreign Language film Oscar-2011’s A Separation also won the crown and 2013’s The Past, nestled in between the other films, is nearly as good. All contain mesmerizing and gripping plot elements that leave the audience in good discussion long after the film has concluded- that is what good storytelling is all about.

Rich with empathetic elements and good, crisp writing, Farhadi has quickly become one of my favorite international film-makers as each of his pictures are as powerful in humanity as their counterparts. Along with fellow contemporary Claude Chabrol (admittedly around a lot longer), similarities abound between the two creative maestros in the form of thrills, mystery, and differing character allegiances. I adore how both directors incorporate the same actors into their films.

In clever fashion, Farhadi incorporates classic stage production, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, into the story and the play and the film contain similar themes- humiliation and secrets.  Young and good-looking couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are community theater actors living a happy existence in metropolitan Tehran, Iran. They have a wonderful array of friends and companions and are popular with their close neighbors and theater buddies. Emad, a well-liked high school teacher, and Rana, a housewife, make a perfect couple, but their bond will soon be severely tested.

Forced to move from their crumbling apartment into temporary quarters owned by a theater friend, they are unaware that the former tenant worked as a prostitute and had a bevy of gentleman callers. What they do know is that she left the unit in a hurried way, leaving behind all of her belongings for them to sift through. One night when Rana is home alone, she inadvertently allows a mystery person to enter, which leads to a terrible incident. The film centers around determining what exactly happened between Rana and the intruder. Is she hiding the truth? Can she and Emad get past the implications of the events?

The audience is left  with a powerful and intriguing mystery to absorb and unravel. Throughout most of the film questions are brought to the surface to be thought through. Who was the intruder? Will Emad exact revenge? What happened?

The brilliance of The Salesman is that we, as the audience, never actually see the incident inside Emad and Rana’s apartment take place, so we are baffled by what has transpired. We merely witness the after-effects and the questions the characters (mainly Emad) have. Is Rana being truthful? Did she know the man who entered the apartment? Was it even a man or perhaps the former female tenant? With Farhadi, anything is possible, but rest assured, a startling climax will ensue.

Compelling and the pure genius of the film is how the viewer’s loyalties will not only be divided by character, but will also change within an actual scene. In one tense sequence, a heroic character becomes the villain and slowly returns to being the hero again-talk about a topsy turvy experience! The Salesman is smothered with a roller coaster of emotions and feelings.

In fact, the way that more than one of the central character’s change their motivations is largely the film greatest success. Rana, Emad, and “the Man” are flawed, complex characters, and what a treat it must have been for these actors to sink their teeth into these roles.

A special mention must be given to the other actors involved in the film. The Salesman is fraught with great performances big and small. In addition to the leads (Hosseini and Alidoosti), the supporting cast exudes immeasurable talent. Farid Sajadhosseini as “the Man” is simply astounding in his performance and his family members, appearing largely in the conclusion of the film, deserve much praise. These small characters appear in the most pivotal time of the film and give it the needed acting chops required to pull off the end result.

Asghar Farhadi hits another one out of the park with The Salesman and how deserving is the Oscar win for this man- a director whose films are always sure to be compelling, thought provoking treats. I cannot wait for his next film.

A Man Called Ove-2016

A Man Called Ove-2016

Director-Hannes Holm

Starring-Rolf Lassgard

Scott’s Review #653

Reviewed June 12, 2017

Grade: A

A Man Called Ove is a wonderful 2016 Swedish film, honored with a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, that is just a darling watch-in fact, the film is wonderful. Equal parts whimsical, humorous, and heartbreaking, the film churns up emotions in me brought to the surface, and that is quite telling about the experience. The film is magical in a sense. Lovely scenery of Sweden also abounds, making A Man Called Ove an unexpected marvel and certainly worth checking out for good film lovers.

Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is a fifty-nine year old curmudgeon living in suburban Sweden. He is the keeper of law and order in his quaint, little community of bungalows, regularly ridiculing rule breakers and the oblivious with torrents of shouts and insults. He despises several of his neighbors including a beautiful cat that saunters around the complex as if she owns the place.  When an interracial family moves in next door to Ove, his life forever changes as he becomes acquainted with the husband, the wife, and their two young girls. In the midst of his new found entertainment, Ove regularly visits his deceased wife’s gravestone, bringing her flowers, and plotting his own suicide. Through flashbacks, we are taken on a journey through the past as we learn all there is to know about Ove.

The film as a whole is a beautiful experience and , admittedly, I worried at first that A Man Called Ove would be too lighthearted and sentimental- just the type of foreign language film the Academy far too often recognizes in lieu of darker, more complex (and in my mind, deserving) films. A Man Called Ove is not exactly dark, but certainly not trivial or fluff either. I found the film rich with great writing and character development.

Romance is also a major theme of the film, but not in a corny way. For a good portion of the running time, Ove’s deceased wife Sonja, is a complete mystery. We only know that Ove misses her terribly and cannot wait to be with her in the afterlife. In fact, we only get brief glimpses of her photo on the table. When finally introduced to the story, we see them both in younger years, filled with hope and promise. I beamed with delight during these wonderful moments. The scenes of their innocent first dates and the connection they develop are heartwarming and innocent.

Later, when Sonja’s story is wholly explored, we come to a new appreciation for Ove and why he is the way he is in present times- we understand him better and the character develops. Some of the paths that life takes Ove and Sonja are tear inducing and emotional, largely due to the character and personality that Sonja possesses. On the heels of the Ove and Sonja back-story, we are treated to scenes of Ove and his father, in the past. His mother dying way too young, the pair develop an unrelenting bond that is severed only by tragic circumstances.

Ove’s constant bungled attempts at suicide (he buys poor quality rope to hang himself, a visitor interrupts his attempt to breathe in toxic garage fumes, and he ends up saving a life when he intends to be hit by a train) are the comic turns that the film mixes perfectly with the heavy drama.

A perfect balance of drama, comedy, churning emotions, and heartbreaking honesty, A Man Called Ove is a pure treat in modern cinema and is highly recommended for those seeking a treasure with a full array of characteristics.

Fellini’s Roma-1972

Fellini’s Roma-1972

Director-Federico Fellini

Starring-Britta Barnes, Peter Gonzales

Scott’s Review #649

Reviewed June 5, 2017

Grade: A-

Fellini’s Roma is a trippy experience through Rome during two differing time periods. As with all Fellini films, the film is meant to be experienced rather than analyzed. One must nestle into the life that Fellini offers on screen- in this instance the fabulous city of Rome, Italy in both positives and negatives. The experience was very good for me, as both a world of odd characters and of ancient Rome oozed from the screen in appealing and absurd fashion.

From a plot narrative- there is really not one. In fact, arguably the only character portrayed is, in fact, Rome herself. The film takes place in both the 1930’s as well as the 1970’s, and is said to be an autobiographical tale of director Fellini’s experiences growing up in Rome.  We see little Fellini as a youngster, experiencing the vast city for the first time and as a teenager now living in the city. Interestingly, the film traverses from both sets of time periods back and forth with really no rhyme nor reason.

Throughout the film, we see both the beauty and the ugliness of Rome- the majestic Colosseum and the dirty entrails of the gloomy city. Scenes of seedy brothels, mainly in the 1930’s, and a myriad of strange and scantily clad females prance before the cameras looking for a lucky score amid the droves of men lusting after them. Another depicts a fashion show, of sorts, taking place at the Vatican, involving nuns and priests in bizarre costumes.

The 1930’s setting is my personal favorite. Gritty, cold, and harsh, the bleakness of Rome is depicted. Unsurprisingly, this has much to do with the historical time period. Since Mussolini was in power, and on the eve of World War II, the darkness is apparent. In a frightening scene, bomb sirens wail as a women shrieks in panic. The brothel scenes are downright creepy and the subsequent theatre scenes involving drunken, rowdy, young men leering and cursing at the entertainment, is a peculiar slice of life sequence.

In contrast, the 1970’s sequences are layered with more beautiful depictions of the city. Brighter colors are depicted, and there appear to be either scientists or explorers digging into ancient ruins and finding gorgeous art that is subsequently ruined by the blowing air. We also see hippy types basking in the sunlight. Again, much of this film is largely open to interpretation.

I adore Fellini’s Roma in terms of an expression of the city of Rome as an art form, but the film is highly unconventional- another plus for me. Sure, I may have desired to learn more about the bevy of creepy and potentially interesting characters, but I finished the film with an appreciation of Rome, unlike none I have ever known.

A startling final scene, in which legendary Italian film star, Anna Magnani, appears scantily clad, implied to be a prostitute, was filmed shortly before her untimely death at the age of sixty-five.

As a film, Fellini’s Roma is a wonderful history lesson, but also a lesson in interpretation and film appreciation. Most film goers are accustomed to a begin, middle, and an end, as well as some semblance of plot. Roma contains none of that, but rather, is mind opening and still fresh many years after its release, which is a true testament.

Spa Night-2016

Spa Night-2016

Director-Andrew Ahn

Starring-Joe Seo

Scott’s Review #645

Reviewed May 19, 2017

Grade: B+

On the surface, Spa Night may seem like a straight-ahead independent LGBT themed film (of which in recent years there is no shortage of), but the plot of the film is really twofold. Sure, it tells the coming of age story of a young man’s sexuality, but Spa Night is also a story of the boy’s Korean parents financial struggles and their desire to raise a son into a successful young man, sacrificing their own happiness in the process. The films tone is very subtle and the action moves slowly, but it is a sweet story and a relevant one.

David Cho is a shy Korean-American high school student on the cusp of going to college. His parents (who only speak Korean) have sadly recently lost their take-out restaurant in Los Angeles. The parents struggle to make ends meet (she by waitressing, he by doing odd moving jobs), while David takes SAT classes to ensure he get into a great college. David is also struggling with his sexuality and one night visits a local male spa with drunken friends. He gets a job there and begins to experience male on male shenanigans taking place on the sly in the spa, all the while developing his own blossoming sexual feelings.

David’s development in the story is key- he is resistant to coming out as gay because his parents are traditional Korean, constantly mentioning David finding a girlfriend and succeeding in school, becoming what they have failed to achieve. When, at one point, he fools around with another male in the spa, David insists on a no kissing policy. This reveals to the audience that he has issues with the intimacy with another male and in one compelling scene some self-loathing occurs. When he stares too long at a buddy in the bathroom, while both are inebriated, this clues in the friend, who is then distant towards David.

The film is enjoyable because there are two stories being told rather than one, which helps the film succeed. We also care a great deal about David’s parents, compassionately portrayed rather than the stereotypical “tiger mom” and a rigid father. Wanting only the best for him, and having no clue about his sexuality struggles, they trudge along with their own issues. The father drinks too much and the parents frequently squabble. This is a clue to the film because it explains why David is hesitant to mention anything to them, despite the fact that he is close to his parents.

I also enjoyed the slice of life and coming of age appeal that the film possesses. Several shots of day to day life in Los Angeles are shown, mainly as characters go about their daily routines. The budget allotted Spa Night must have certainly been minimal, but the lesson learned is that some really fantastic films are made for miniscule money, but as long as the characters are rich and the story humanistic, the film succeeds- this is the case in Spa Night.

Almost every single character is of Asian descent- I am guessing all Korean actors. This is another positive I give to Spa Night. In the cinematic world, where other cultures and races are woefully underutilized or still stereo-typically portrayed, how refreshing that Spa Night breaks some new ground with an LGBT centered film with Korean characters.

Spa Night was deservedly crowned the coveted John Cassavetes award at the 2016 Independent Spirit awards (for films made for under $500,000) and director Andrew Ahn is certainly a talented novice director to be on the watch for. He seems destined to tell good, interesting stories about people.