Category Archives: Foreign Language Films

Parasite-2019

Parasite-2019

Director-Joon-ho Bong

Starring-Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin

Scott’s Review #963

Reviewed November 28, 2019

Grade: A

Parasite (2019) is a South Korean language film that has it all. The writing is powerful and thought-provoking, the direction is unique and intriguing, the acting stellar, and the story perfectly paced with dizzying twists and turns. The film is uncomfortable and unsettling (in a good way), catapulting from dark humor to horror by the time the shocking finale plays. An experience to be dazzled by and ravaged at the emotions it will instill in the viewer.

The story centers on two families. The affluent Park’s live in the lap of luxury, enjoying the finer things in life like a lavish residence, a personal driver, and a live-in housekeeper. Park Dong-ik is the CEO of an IT company, his beautiful wife, Park Yeong-gyo, stays at home with their two children, Park Da-hye and Park Da-Song. They are rich and, on the surface, rather spoiled and superficial.

The struggling Kim’s reside in a semi-basement that constantly floods, accept menial jobs to pay the bills, and are grifters. Patriarch Kim Ki-taek and wife Kim Chung-sook have two teenage children, Kim Ki-woo and Kim Ki-jeong. They are cagey and resourceful and think up schemes to garner money. Each is good-looking but struggles to find much success in life.

Kim Ki-woo’s friend tutors for the Park daughter and will soon travel abroad for studies. He convinces Kim Ki-woo to interview for the position, who easily gets the job by charming the gullible Park Yeong-gyo. He and the rest of the Kim’s create an elaborate ruse to insinuate themselves into the Park family by tricking Mr. and Mrs. Park into dismissing their driver and housekeeper. The Park’s are unaware that their new staff are related!

The underlying theme of Parasite is one of class distinction and social inequality. The tension builds more and more with each scene and the monetary differences between the haves and have nots is always on the surface. Once the Kim’s get a taste of the good life they have no intention of being satisfied merely as hired help- they want it all for themselves.

The fact that the Kim’s are clever, and manipulative is no accident on the part of director, Joon-ho Bong. Conversely, the Park’s are gullible and easily outsmarted by the Kim’s. Why are they rich and the Kim’s poor, the audience wonder? Are we to root for the Kim’s to overtake the Park’s? The Kim’s are no saints as they resort to the firings of other people to get what they want. Allegiances to characters will shift along the way.

As the Kim’s get comfy one night in the Park house when the family goes on a weekend camping trip, the film really takes off. Drunk and sparring with each other, the doorbell rings and the haggard former housekeeper begs to be let in. When she claims to have left something behind in the basement, this leads to a shocking secret and dramatic turn of events. I did not see the revelation coming and events only catapult the film into something else. The pacing and tension during this scene are outstanding.

Tough to rival this scene, the film does just that with the gruesome and bloody birthday party scene. The proverbial “sh## hits the fan” as the tensions among the characters come to life. The scene results in several deaths and the rage of a prominent character reaches a crescendo. The scene is set on a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for birthday cake, balloons, and shiny wrapped presents. After a lovely start the party becomes laden with blood, screams and intensity.

Bong writes the Kim patriarch as the most sympathetic character, and a montage at the end of the film makes this clear. The other characters are less benevolent and more complicated. When Mrs. Kim shoves the family dog she is unlikable, but then she is kind to the former housekeeper. Mrs. Park appears innocent at first but then is a shrew when she plans her son’s birthday party, expecting all to cater to her every whim. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Park mock Mr. Kim behind his back and insinuate that poor people “smell funny”. Do the Park’s deserve their fates?

Parasite (2019) is a dark film filled with clever writing, good character development, that takes audiences on a roller coaster ride. The sub-titles do little to detract from the fantastic experience this film offers as Bong spins a spider-web of deceit, desperation, and tragedy. Viewers will certainly be thinking and talking about this one for days.

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.

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director-Georges Franju

Starring-Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon. The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could possibly be. The film is nestled into a short one hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences. What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy. The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists. The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck. But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young women and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane. Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise. Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by doctor, assistant and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style. Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in almost tender fashion. The film is not the 1980’s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goer’s preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but nonetheless recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film. As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough. Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends. This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Scott’s Review #911

Reviewed June 17, 2019

Grade: A

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), translated in French to mean Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is a darling and daring film, unique like none other, consisting of all dialogue being sung recitative, like an opera or a stage musical. But wait there’s more. The film has an abundance of colorful and dazzling set designs that enrich the entire experience amid the lovely French culture and atmosphere. Interspersing one of the loveliest melodies imaginable and the result is a stoic treasure. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and several other nominations.

The film is divided into three parts and moves along chronologically over the course of six years. Part One is The Departure, Part Two is The Absence and Part Three is The Return, each title representing a meaningful part of the story. Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve (Deneuve) own a struggling umbrella boutique in Cherbourg, France. Genevieve falls in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a local mechanic, and they have sex the night before he is drafted to war, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.

Madame Emery and Genevieve must decide what options are best when she is courted by wealthy jeweler Roland (Mark Michel), who is unaware of her pregnancy. Genevieve and Guy continue to write letters to each other as she softens towards Roland and a decision is made. An injured Guy returns from the war and events kick into high gear as the love birds face uncertain future amid surrounding barriers to their happiness.

To embrace the flavor and pacing of the film takes a few minutes of patience- like some viewers becoming accustomed to sub-titles in general, which the film also possesses, the singing is initially quite jarring but before long is to be embraced and appreciated for its unique nature. To stress the point, the film is not a standard musical, with songs mixed in with conventional dialogue, each line of the film is sung.

Deneuve, who with this role gained wider recognition beyond simply a French audience already familiar with her work, shines brightly in the lead role, never looking lovelier. The young lady, hardly appearing just sixteen (in truth she was twenty-one) carries the film with a chic and sophisticated style perfectly in tune with the 1960’s time-period. Her magnificent grace and elegance make her the primary reason to tune in as she sings her lines flawlessly and with unforced precision.

The story is unequivocally a basic one of girl meets boy, boy is drafted into the army, girl becomes pregnant, girl meets another suitor, boy returns home as conflict arises, but the magic is what director Jacques Demy does with the piece. Everyday life is presented in situational scenes adding substance and commonalities. Genevieve and Guy are in love and face external as well as internal obstacles. At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), a quiet young woman who looks after Guy’s aunt, is secretly in love with Guy, as she adds a secret weapon to the film.

The audience cares for the characters, especially Genevieve and Guy, but the supporting characters add a robust quality worthy of mention. Anne Vernon is pivotal as Madame Emery, stylish and lavish, she is both concerned for her daughter’s well-being, while slyly seeing opportunities to save her boutique. Guy’s sickly Aunt Elise provides security and love to those who heed her advice and is remarkably played by actress Mireille Perrey.

The vivid colors and sets make The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tough to forget. Stark and florescent painted pinks, greens and blues, mainly on the walls, provide zest and flavor, a grand style all its own. With bright and crisp designs, the result is reminiscent of a lavish Hollywood musical, but with a cultured French twist. The result is perfect, and one can easily immerse themselves in both the singing and the artistry. The reoccurring main song “I Will Wait for You” (the main theme, also known as “Devant le garage”) is delicious and emotional as it appears in many poignant scenes.

For those seeking a charismatic and distinctive experience with nuances and a hint of experimentation will undoubtedly sink their teeth into this fruity and tasty treat. With French atmosphere for miles, the film is simply encompassing of all that is good and cultured about French film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) will entertain and unabashedly knock your socks off, with something grandiose and sizzling with flavor.

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.

Diabolique-1955

Diabolique-1955

Director-Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring-Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meuisse

Scott’s Review #878

Reviewed March 16, 2019

Grade: A

Diabolique (1955) is a masterful French thriller that is as compelling as it is frightening and offers insurmountable influence in years to come. Shamefully remade and Americanized in 1996 starring Sharon Stone, a waste of time if you ask me, the original is the one to discover and salivate over. With a perfect blend of psychological intrigue, never ending suspense, even a good mix of horror that Hitchcock would find impressive (more about him later), the film is brilliant in its pacing and frequent twists and turns.

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques is set in a crumbling boarding school in the metropolis of Paris. Sadistic headmaster Michel Delassalle (Paul Meuisse) runs a tight ship but works for his Venezuelan wife, Christina (Vera Clouzot), who owns the school. Michel is immersed in a torrid affair with schoolteacher, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) and regularly abuses both women as well as his students. The two women embark on a plot to kill Michel, but when they succeed in their plan, Michel’s body goes missing.

In a bit of fun trivia, director Clouzot, right after finishing making Wages of Fear (1953), optioned the screenplay rights, preventing Hitchcock from making the film. This movie helped inspire Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Robert Bloch himself, the author of the novel version of Psycho, has stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is Diabolique. If the film displays nuances incorporated in Psycho, this is undoubtedly the reason. Clouzot also directs his wife Vera in the prominent role of Christina.

The brilliance of the film is that it could have been made by Hitchcock as the entire experience has his stamp and influence written all over even though his best works lay ahead of him in 1955. Still, from the Gothic mood to the “can’t believe your eyes” twisted, blood curdling ending, the director immediately comes to mind every time I watch the film. The “shock” ending only exceeds expectations with fantastic delivery.

The film takes an unusual stance in the dynamic between the two women, Christina and Nicole. Rather than take a traditional route and make the women rivals for the man’s affections, Clouzot chooses to make the pair co-conspirators. This only deepens their relationship as events unfold and takes a darker and more dire turn. They rely on each other as teammates rather than despise each other over their love for another man. Intelligently, they spend their energy on making sure the insipid man gets his just comeuppance for his dirty deeds. Nicole clearly leads Christina in the direction she needs to go.

The black and white cinematography is highly influential to the mood of the film. With each unexpected twist or scene of peril the lighting is perfect in radiating the suspense. The camera juxtapositions the frequent glowing of the white against the dark black that exudes a frightening, ghost-like presentation. The entire setting of the school is laden with dark corners that provide good elements of foreboding and sinister moments to come.

As the women become more and more unnerved by the limitless possibilities that the missing body presents, many questions are asked but are impossible to answer. “Where is the body?”, “Could Michel be alive?”, “If he is alive is he hell bent on revenge?” The viewer will also be asking these questions throughout most of the final half of the film. When an unknown person begins to call the women and other clues take form the questions begin to multiply.

Clouzet uses frequent shots of objects to enhance the tension even further. Closeups of a dripping bathtub, a typewriter with a man’s hat and gloves, a woman’s feet as she removes her shoes, and a woman running in terror through the corridors of the school. These facets only enhance the overall experience as the suspense and the terror begin to mount.

Diabolique (1955) is considered one of the greatest thrillers of all time and I concur mightily with this assessment. A French version of Psycho (1960), that combines an acclaimed director’s ingenious subtle ideas into a giant web of delicious film making. The viewer will never see the surprise ending coming even if they think they have the plot figured out. This point alone is reason enough to see the film and salivate in the greatness of it.

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.

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.

Goodnight Mommy-2015

Goodnight Mommy-2015

Director-Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Starring-Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz

Scott’s Review #833

Reviewed November 21, 2018

Grade: B

Goodnight Mommy (2015) is an Austrian film that is not for the faint of heart nor for the squeamish. Being a seasoned viewer in diverse, bizarre, and otherwise unpleasant cinematic experiences, the film was nonetheless a tough watch for me. Universally lauded and even submitted as Austria’s Foreign Language entry for the Academy Awards, I found the film at times pointless and gratuitous in its torture scenes. Still, the film stayed with me days later and that is always a positive.

In a peculiar and unclear story opening, we witness a mother (Severin Fiala) and nine-year-old twin sons (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), residing in a remote lakeside location surrounded by cornfields and nature. The mother (character unnamed) is disfigured and wrapped in bandages with only her eyes and mouth revealed, a haunting and grotesque image. The twins, Elias and Lukas, are very disturbed by her appearance and concerned when she begins acting strangely, ignoring Lukas entirely and chastising Elias repeatedly.

Through a game that the mother and twins play, the audience learns that the woman is a television personality- has she had a face lift by her own choosing or has she been in an accident? As she acts cruelly and selfishly towards the twins they begin to question whether the woman is really their mother or a fake. They become determined to find out at all costs, turning the tables on the mother, resorting to tortuous methods to get the truth out of her.

A few positives for me in Goodnight Mommy are as follows. The Austrian setting and language are huge strengths in adding to the mystique of the overall film. The unfamiliar (to me) speech and the remote modern home that the mother uses as a sanctuary work very well.  In this way loneliness and isolation are infused into the film giving a measure of dread. The way the plot continues to un-fold and the circumstances are slowly revealed is a good thing. The how’s and the why’s of the mother’s surgery come to fruition and allegiances switch from the boys to the mothers over the course of the film, which I found interesting.

The major negatives are the motivations of the twins and the big reveal at the end of the film- a reveal easily figured out within the first portion of the running time. Though not shocking, the revelation only complicates said motivations and questions abound. Is one of the twins just plain crazy? Who is the woman in the photo with the mother dressed exactly like her? If this is a red herring, no wonder the twins think this woman is impersonating their mother. The mother not being able to escape the twins clutches is a bit hard to swallow- remember they are old nine-years-old!

The torture scenes are brutal for the audience to endure. As Elias and Lukas tie their mother to her bedpost and demand she reveal she is not their mother the methods they resort to are devious and cringe-worthy. Prolonged in nature so that the viewer feels they are also being tortured, when the twins burn her face with a magnifying glass, the process is slow and excruciating. Later, they decide to super glue her mouth shut and when they realize she cannot eat, they sever the glue with scissors leading to a bloody mess. These scenes are tough to take.

The point of Goodnight Mommy (2018) seems rather, well, pointless. Torture for the sake of torture and many plot holes or story dictated plot devices- who did not think that the Red Cross would fail in rescuing the mother? Nonetheless, the film does contain a mystique and an unnerving, haunting quality.  The viewer will undoubtedly be kept thinking about the subject matter and the ending, specifically the final still-frame.

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.

The Lure-2015

The Lure-2015

Director-Agnieszka Smoczynska

Starring-Michalina Olszanska, Marta Mazurek

Scott’s Review #741

Reviewed April 12, 2018

Grade: B

2015’s The Lure is as odd a film as one can imagine- dreamlike and sometimes even absurd. The story mixes a strange blend of the horror genre with musical numbers, but for the sake of classification purposes, I would teeter to the side of gothic horror. Oddly enough, some of the choreography numbers are reminiscent of 2016’s La La Land, but that is where the comparisons between those films end as the former musical numbers dark and the latter cheery. A tough film to review, The Lure is rather disjointed, but kudos for creativity and unpredictability.

Bravely directed by a female (more kudos!),  Agnieszka Smoczynska, a Polish film-maker, the story is a cross between an autobiography of her troubled youth, and a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. Besides the obvious Polish language content the film does not appear overly Polish- it might have been nice to be exposed to some of the culture.

The film immediately gets off to a mysterious start as two teenage girls- later revealed to be mermaids/vampires named Silver and Golden- emerge from the water and follow a rock band back to a tacky nightclub where the band regular performs for patrons there for the strippers- it is sometime in the 1980’s. The girls perform music and strip, becoming an act called “The Lure”. While Golden continues to thirst for blood, Silver falls in love with a bassist causing her to yearn to be a real girl and subsequently has surgery to remove her tail and grow real-girl legs. As part of the fairy tale, if her intended marries someone else Silver will turn into sea foam and die.

The story is completely perplexing and a difficult follow, yet there is something mesmerizing and escapist about it. My wonder is if Smoczynska intended the film to make total sense or left it open to a bit of interpretation- after all the film is a mix of fairy tale and real-life experience. Some portions appear to be rather dream-like, for example the nightclub singer has thoughts or visions involving Silver and Golden, but what is unclear is whether she is experiencing reality or imagination.

Props must be given to The Lure for originality alone. The film is successful at stirring up multiple genres and creating something truly unique. In particular, the characters of Silver and Golden are transfixing- at times they are sweet and kindly, but then their fangs come out at a moments notice revealing evil and a carnivorous blood thirst revealing a grotesque, haunting countenance. The way in which Smoczynska created these characters is rather awe-inspiring and the up and coming director must have a wealth of imagination deep within.

On the other hand, the plot never really comes together enough to grab hold of the viewer in a riveting way. While Silver and Golden are clever characters and we feel some level of empathy for them, I also never felt completely gripped by them either. I felt no connection to any of the supporting characters either. Any attempt at figuring out the plot will only leave the viewer frustrated. I would advise taking The Lure as an experience and not a puzzle to necessarily be unraveled.

The Lure has elements of immeasurable fascination and an enormous creative edge. Attempts to create a unique fable meshed with a disturbing central theme are successful, but the overall story is way too confusing for the average user and ultimately ends up dragging towards the final portion with the final climax a wee bit unsatisfying. Still, a brave and inventive attempt at achieving something fresh and imaginative in cinema.

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.

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.

Toni Erdmann-2016

Toni Erdmann-2016

Director-Maren Ade

Starring-Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller

Scott’s Review #686

Reviewed October 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Reaped with a slew of award nominations in 2017, mostly in the Foreign Language film categories, Toni Erdmann is a unique film that I must champion, but for its imagination and humanistic perspective alone. At two hours and forty two minutes in length, it can almost be watched in segments- miniseries style. The film is set in Bucharest, Romania, so viewers are treated to several exterior scenes of the bustling city and interesting European culture. However, the film is actually German and Austrian made and produced.

Winfried Conradi is a hippie-type man in his sixties. Divorced and working as a music teacher, his dog suddenly dies resulting in his decision to reconnect with his corporate, power hungry daughter, Ines. She is forging her career in business consulting, currently on assignment in Bucharest. Winfried insinuates himself into Ines’s busy life as she wants little to do with him or the petty practical jokes he continues to play on her. Gradually, involving a few hysterical antics and embarrassing situations, father and daughter reunite and forge the loving relationship that they once shared.

What makes Toni Erdmann an unusual film is simply that one will not know what to expect from the film or what direction the film will go in as we get to know and love the characters. We do know that Ines is a driven career woman, busy beyond belief, with no time for her father. Yet, in all of the scenes that Ines and Winfried share, in large part due to fantastic and believable acting by the two principles (Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller), there is an underlying love and appreciation for each other that comes across on-screen. This chemistry made me root for the father-daughter reunion and re-connection.

When Winfried dons his garish wig and horrid false teeth, naming himself “Toni Erdmann”, a series of hilarious scenes ensue. Winfried is successful at being noticed in important corporate functions and dinners he follows Ines to, as well as a ladies dinner with Ines and her friends as he explains to the women that he is in Bucharest to attend a funeral that a friend is having for his pet turtle. The way that actor Simonischek fills his character with an earnestness and dry wit is what makes these scenes so hilarious.

My favorite scene of all and, if this film goes down in history as remembered, is a scene that will surely be talked about for years to come, is the “naked party” scene. Not only is the scene comical, it is also fraught with meaning as it is a turning point for the character of Ines. Hosting a team building party for her birthday, the party is set to begin, except Ines cannot get her dress on and her shoes do not match. Frustrated, with a guest already at the door, Ines strips naked and decides to turn the party into a naked, team building experience. Some guests are disgusted and leave, others reluctantly agree to strip nude. It is the point where Ines sheds not only her clothes, but her stodgy, rigid persona and begins to appreciate and enjoy life again- thanks to her father.

Toni Erdmann is a unique and unpredictable film by a female director (Maren Ade), who has an interesting and strong perspective on the female psyche. She carves a thoughtful tale about a damaged father and daughter with characters to root for and a realism. The film is a fun, laugh out loud romp, that also goes into dramatic territory, careful to remain playful and not be too overwrought. I enjoyed the film tremendously.

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.

Fire At Sea-2016

Fire at Sea-2016

Director-Gianfranco Rosi

Scott’s Review #671

Reviewed August 12, 2017

Grade: B+

Fire at Sea was honored with a coveted 2017 Best Documentary Feature Oscar award nomination, but despite this high achievement, was met with largely negative reviews from its viewers- this is not as surprising as it might seem. Furthermore, the documentary was also the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language film category, but was not chosen. In this way, the piece is rather a hybrid between a “typical” film and a documentary, making it all the more unique in itself.

The lackluster comments are undoubtedly due to both the very slow pace and the way the documentary is jagged- interspersing snippets of story not seeming to go together with the main message. Compounded by the sheer length of the film (one hour and fifty four minutes is very long for a documentary), the work will not go down in history as a rousing crowd-pleaser. But it is an important film.

The story tells of a group of modest individuals inhabiting a tiny Sicilian fishing island named Lampedusa, located somewhere between Sicily and Libya. The island is prominent for being a rescue area for migrants forging a treacherous journey from African countries (mostly Libya and Sudan) to the island for safety and medical treatment. It is implied that the migrants do not actually stay on the island for very long, but rather Lampedusa serves as a temporary sanctuary. It is not explained where the migrants go or what happens to them after medical treatment.

After a slightly tedious start, I began to become immersed in the various stories and began to appreciate the slow pace- I actually found this calming. We see snippets of the ordinary daily events of the residents: a young boy and his friend carve faces out of cactus plants, later the boy experiences an eye exam and is told he needs glasses- later we see a lengthy scene merely of his family eating pasta. We also get to know a resident doctor, grandmother, disc jockey, and scuba diver.

Admittedly, I began to wonder what a young boy preparing a sling-shot, or a grandmother preparing sauce,  had to do with the main content of the documentary- that of migrants coming to the island. Then I realized that director Gianfranco Rosi is telling a human story and witnessing the ordinary Lampedusa citizens going about their lives is in strong contrast to the fleeing and terrified migrants. I was able to put all the pieces together.

Told without narration and with the dialogue in Italian containing  sub-titles, additional unique aspects to the project, Fire At Sea is unusual, but I admired its important message.

The most powerful scene in the film is a quiet one- a resident doctor describing his experiences with the migrants. He professes how any decent person should help any needy souls and describes the grisly task of performing autopsies on the people (many women and children), who do not survive the harried journey across the Mediterranean Sea- many dying of hunger and thirst or being burned by the diesel fuels from the tiny boat they are stuffed into. His long, yet powerful account will move one to tears.

This testimonial by the doctor speaks volumes regarding the current influx of needy individuals, mainly from Syria, who need help from both neighboring countries and countries far away. Some have been kind and have let individuals into their countries, while others have shunned the migrants (namely in 2017 the United States). The honest account from the doctor summarizes the message of humanity that Fire at Sea represents.

Another powerful scene emerges towards the end of the documentary as several African men are rushed from their ship to another ship and tended to by rescue individuals. Sadly, the barely alive, yet conscious men are not long for this world as a few minutes later we see a series of body bags lined up containing the expired men. This tragic realization speaks volumes for the need for such humanistic individuals as some who reside on Lampedusa.

Fire at Sea, the title a World War II reference to the fiery waters that the residents could see from a far distance during that time, is a story that is worth watching. It provides a lesson in kindness and good decency and a reminder that some people are just good, generous souls, all but willing to help those in need. We can all learn from this documentary.

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.