Tag Archives: Art films

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Reviewed December 5, 2010

Grade: A

Women in Love is a shamefully, by and large, forgotten gem- except for the obscure cinema lover- made in 1969. The film is a British art film and way ahead of its time. Despite the title it is anything but a romantic comedy- quite dark in content actually. The film is adapted from a D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

The story is of two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, living in a small mining town. They gather at the wedding of a friend and each become enamored with a member of the wedding party. Later, at a swanky dinner party, the girls meet the men. The film tells of the sisters individual relationships with each of the men (played by Alan Bates and Oliver Reed) as well as the men’s relationship with each other. All of the relationships are very complex and filled with emotion-some tender and some quite violent.

Women in Love is one of the first films to feature tons of nudity, but not so much in  a gratuitous fashion. The film’s theme are love, hatred, and the trials and tribulations of the English upper class are explored. The film is a love of mine since it is character driven, told from each of the characters perspectives, and is quite the intense experience. Glenda Jackson won the 1970 Best Actress Oscar- deservedly so.

Embrace of the Serpent-2015

Embrace of the Serpent-2015

Director-Ciro Guerra

Starring-Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar

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Reviewed November 23, 2016

Grade: B+

Embrace of the Serpent is a cerebral experience in the art of complex storytelling, weaving two parallel stories set forty years apart from each other. It is an immensely creative film crafting a black and white cinematic expressionism into its lurid walls. Admittedly I found the stories tough to follow at times, and the film contains an impressionistic quality, but I knew I was watching something creative and brave and that is worthy of a hefty thumbs up.

The setting of the film is the Amazon jungle, along the vast Amazon river, deep in the heart of South America. The time periods are both 1909 and 1940, and both feature an Amazonian shaman who is the very last of his people and very resentful of white men. In 1909, he travels with a dying German scientist and in 1940, an American. Both are looking for a sacred healing plant, which contain magical powers.

The parallel stories both feature a Spanish Catholic Mission by the side of an Amazon tributary. In 1909, the leading priest is sadistic and abusive towards the young boys in his charge. Years later, the young boys are now hardened and grizzled. Both stories also feature the revelation of the plant, though in different ways and with vastly different outcomes.

Worth mentioning as the best part of the film, much better than the story-line, is the effective use of black and white visuals. This gives the film a mysterious, old world type of vibe that is tremendous, and really makes it feel like a film made in the 1940’s, if not earlier. In this way, it makes Embrace of the Serpent a visual spectacle, especially as countless scenes occur along the Amazon- we see the characters float, via canoe, and are treated to the beauty of the water and the surrounding luscious mountains. It appears other-worldly, a part of the remote continent that few must see or appreciate. This is my favorite aspect of the film.

The stories are, indeed, complex, sometimes not making complete sense, and I found myself a bit confused throughout, but this may have been due to the films clear art film persona, leading the film to be open to interpretation. Both white men have different experiences with the sought after plant. I was left with some questions that I still am not sure about even having read the synopsis of the film. One of the men has a dreamy, hallucinating experience with the magical plant, but what happens after this? The shaman is an interesting character as we see him as a young man and as an old man, throughout his life living as a lonely, resentful man.

Embrace of the Serpent is a perplexing, interpretative film, but contains a magical quality and, if the story is muddy, one can whisk away to a fantastic experience just watching and enjoying the cinematic treats being offered. A visual gem.

The Seventh Seal-1957

The Seventh Seal-1957

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand

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Reviewed October 23, 2016

Grade: A

The Seventh Seal is an Ingmar Bergman Swedish masterpiece that, after three mere viewings, I am just beginning to fully appreciate, and fall in love with. It is not that I did not “get” the dark, artsy theme to begin with- I did, but The Seventh Seal is a savory dish meant for repeated offerings and with each, I have loved it even more. The subject matter of the plague and of the Black Death are very heavy. It is a quiet,yet powerful, dark, art film about death.

The film is shot in black and white, which does nothing but enhance the cold, stark concepts of the film. Color would have certainly made the film more cheery or bright- if that can be said given the subject matter. Instead, the filming is cold, yet illuminating, and the whites seem very white- the blacks- very dark, which is symbolic of the films concepts.

In the story, a disillusioned medieval knight-Antonius Block (Max von Sydow)  returns home from war disenchanted with life. He has fought in the Crusades and has returned home to Sweden to find it plagued by the Black Death. He begins to play a game of chess-alone- and is visited by Death- a hideous pale creature shrouded in black. Antonius challenges Death to a game of chess- his fate left up in the air so long as the game continues. Throughout the film, Antonius is the only character who can see Death- the other characters cannot, making the film open to interpretations.

The other characters in the story are a troupe of actors that Antonius meets along the way to his castle and a young, fresh-faced girl who has been branded a witch and is fated to be burned at the stake is featured. Since she is close to death, Antonius takes particular fascination with her.

Throughout the film and the trials and tribulations of the characters, Death is continuously lurking around, watching these characters, which is a fascinating part of the film. They, obviously, cannot see him, so we can only assume their time in this world is limited.

What makes The Seventh Seal so powerful is its honesty- harsh as it is. The knowledge that death is coming for these people is fascinating and many of the characters discuss god in length, pray, as religion is an enormous aspect of the film. It almost contains a good vs. evil, god vs. devil component, and again, important to stress, is highly open to interpretation. Great art films are.

Numerous scenes reverberate and are major iconic moments in film history decades later. The scene of Antonius and Death playing chess on the beach is chilling and ghost-like. Death- his pale face and black cloak would frighten anyone. This scene has been referenced numerous times over the years.

The inevitable final shot- my favorite- is a long shot of peasants being led to their fate by Death as they are pulled begrudgingly by a rope held by Death is reminiscent of the Pied Piper and is entitled “dance of death”. The individuals are dressed in black and are atop a hill surrounded by sky, making the morbid scene highly effective. The Last Supper scene is also powerful as a last meal is enjoyed by the group- unsure of what fate has in store for them the next day.

I anticipate more viewings of this brilliant piece of film making.

Belle De Jour-1967

Belle De Jour-1967

Director-Luis Bunuel

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel

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Reviewed September 22, 2016

Grade: A

Belle De Jour, the title translated to “lady of the day”, a French pun for “lady of the night”, a kind phrase for prostitution, is a fantastic art film. Stylish, sophisticated, and open to interpretation (at least in my opinion), Belle De Jour is a late 1960’s journey into eroticism, social norms, and sexual freedom. Gorgeous star Catherine Deneuve has never looked better and does mental conflict in a calm way. The film is directed by Luis Bunuel.

Severine is a wealthy young newlywed, seemingly who has it all. She is showered with love and affection, not to mention material items, by her handsome hubby, Pierre, played by dashing Jean Sorel. She wants for nothing as her husband is a doctor of great wealth. Yet she is unhappy and refuses to have physical relations with Pierre. She begins a secret life as a prostitute in a posh home, only working in the afternoons, to avoid being found out. She has no regrets, but is apprehensive about the clients she meets. Throughout the film Severine has secret fantasies about being kept in bondage and enduring various other sexual humiliations. All the while, the question asked is “Is this all Severine’s fantasy or reality”?  Or perhaps merely a portion is. The audience wonders.

Do we feel sorry for the character of Severine? Absolutely not. In fact, one could make the argument she is spoiled and selfish, but she is not evil, but rather confused. She is quite polite, and Deneuve fills her with kindness and even an angelic spirit. One cannot despise her even though on the surface one might be tempted to. What right does this woman have to rebuff her husband in lieu of sleazy clients? One particularly volatile client becomes obsessed with Severine and stalks her, going so far as exacting violence against her husband. But wait, is this Severine’s fantasy or reality? Is she imagining everything and merely obediently waiting at home for her husband to return each day or is she living this life?

Many shots of gorgeous Paris are used by Bunuel, including the famed Arc de Triomphe and many other interesting streets and sights, which is a treat for fans of culture. The use of these exteriors goes a long way to ensure that the film is clearly “French” from a visual perspective.

Certainly, in 1967, the sexual revolution was in full swing and Belle De Jour epitomized the revolution of the times. Yet, it does not feel dated or reduced to a film “of its time”. I find it more a character study than a genre film as Severine is an interesting study.

Belle De Jour challenges the viewer with an intense yet subtle story of a woman conflicted with sexual desire and repression- a film open to much interpretation and discussion. It does what an art film is supposed to do- makes us think and ponder.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!- 1965

Director-Russ Meyer

Starring-Tura Satana, Haji

Top 100 Films-#85

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Reviewed May 28, 2016

Grade: A

Shamefully, this cult masterpiece from 1965 has somehow alluded me for many years- largely due to its unavailability on Netflix- head shaking for sure. Finally, I decided to simply buy the newly released Blu-Ray edition, and I have immediately become a huge fan of this Russ Meyer work of art. Influential and intriguing, it is no surprise it is a camp classic. Several famous directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino, have paid homage to this film in their own later works- most notably, Death Proof. Fast cars, sexy women, and murder represent this unique film.

In comparison to other famous Meyer works, specifically the gregarious yet brilliant Supervixens (1975), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is almost understated and quiet. He also directed the well known Beyond The Valley of the Dolls from 1970. Shot in black and white, several notable comparisons to Supervixens must be pointed out: a hot California desert, large breasted women, and gas stations are prevalent throughout. Unlike Supervixens, though, there is little or no nudity.

Three go-go dancers race through the desert in their sports cars. They have murder and kidnapping on their minds. The ring-leader, Varla (Tura Satana) is a vicious, sexy, Asian woman. Her two side-kicks are Billie (Lori Williams), and Rosie (Haji). While Billie and Rosie squabble and fight in a juvenile fashion, Varla is the serious one. The trio enjoy racing their cars and engaging in the game “chicken”. When they meet all-American couple, Tommy and Linda, out for a romantic drive, they have a dispute, and end up killing Tommy- drugging and kidnapping Linda. After stopping for gas, Varla hatches a plot to steal money from a crazy old man, his muscular-yet dimwitted son (known as the Vegetable), and the old man’s seemingly normal son, Kirk.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a groundbreaking film as it is gender bending. The women are hardly written as sex objects like most in films of that day were-far from it. They are ferocious, specifically Varla, as they do typically masculine things- race cars, fight, kill, yet do not sacrifice any of their femininity. All three women are sexy, busty, and wear stylish make-up. They are not trying to be like men, but are tough girls. This is part of what makes the film so wonderful to watch. Usually in Hollywood, these characters would be molls to even rougher men, or supporting the men in some way. These female characters are the film.

My favorite character is Varla. Sexy, fierce, and a minority, how often is a female villain this charismatic?  Perhaps in Bond films, but then she would be a conquest of Bond and not her own person. Varla makes up her own rules. The fact that she is Asian is superb and breaks many barriers in the way Asians are portrayed in film. Varla is more devious than the others characters- willing to kill anyone who stands in her way- even her own friends.  She is a character written very well by Russ Meyer, and pure femme fatale.

The male supporting characters are interesting. The old man, actor Stuart Lancaster, would later appear in Supervixens. He is a cripple, wacky, and as diabolical as the women. He has designs on innocent Linda and makes no bones about it. The Vegetable is hunky and fresh faced- an innocent victim of his father’s evil ways, so he is a character we root for. I enjoyed the brief romance between he and Billie. Lastly, Kirk is the “normal” son, also a victim of his father. When he and Linda run across the desert while being chased by Varla, we root for them to survive.

The black and white style, chosen in order to save money, actually adds to the unique cinematography,  with sharp edits, and gives the  film mystique. The 1960’s jazzy score adds to the film as well. In color, I wonder if the film would have had a more cartoonish quality. The black and white moves Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! into art film territory.

The debate over the film is, “Is the film exploiting women or empowering them”? To me, the film is answering the question of whether women can be tough, sexy, and complicated with a resounding yes. All three principal characters are layered- each develops feelings for other characters, and at one point Rosie’s sexuality is questioned by Billie. Still, the female characters are not monsters nor are they caricatures. They are complex with real emotions.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is an influential art film/exploitation film that empowers female characters, questions gender categorizations, and takes hold of the viewer, never letting go.  A miraculous representation of the changing times in cinema during the 1960’s. It is brilliant.

The Girls-1968

The Girls-1968

Director-Mai Zetterling

Starring-Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson

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Reviewed May 11, 2016

Grade: B+

The Girls is a 1968 political leaning, surreal, dream-like, feminist Swedish film. These may seem like too many adjectives to describe a film, but they all happen to be warranted and work to categorize it, which is tough- it is a complex film. The film left me deep in thought about what I had just viewed- that is a positive for me. Directed by a female, Mai Zetterling, the film clearly is told from a female perspective and is quite difficult to follow, though the message portrayed is a thought compelling and powerful one-women repressed- whether in reality or fantasy-by men.

In my attempt to describe The Girls accurately, it appears to contain a boys versus girls component throughout- told by the girls. The plot centers around three women: Liz (Bibi Andersson), Marianne (Harriet Andersson), and Gunilla (Gunnel Lindblom). The women are hired to star in a touring production of Lysistrata and each faces conflict and concern over leaving their respective families, but for differing reasons. Liz’s husband, who is having an affair, cannot get rid of her soon enough. Marianne has recently dumped her married boyfriend. Gunilla has four children and suffers from guilt.  All of the women are very friendly with each other.

All three principal actresses are familiar to eagle-eyed Ingmar Bergman fans as each of them have appeared in numerous films of his-in very different types of roles. Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal feature these actresses.

The women go on tour and have various surreal experiences based on the play in which they are star. The film, made in black and white, has very overexposed cinematography. The blacks and the whites are very sharp in look and this is no doubt purposely done.

On the surface it would appear that the women hate men and yearn to be free of them. Is that the point of the film? It seems to go in other directions as well. Do they hate their lives and feel confined with men and free without them, when they are touring their play? How do they feel about their children? Do they miss them on tour, love them, resent them, or perhaps  a bit of each? They yearn to be free of restraint.

We are treated to numerous scenes that seem to be a dreamlike state or a fantasy of one of the women. One runs through the forest and comes upon a grizzled, dirty child on the ground. Is it hers? She then sees her husband sitting in a living room chair in the middle of the forest. The symbolism resonating through The Girls is countless. We also see the women fantasize about a handsome, young man. Are they tired of the doldrums- looks and otherwise- that their husbands have caused them?

Many political scenes of protest occur throughout the film. In one, the women march in unison- Nazi style and chant. In another, the women lead what appears to be a charge of women- suffragette style, until the women start attacking each other and punch and kick each other in the streets. These scenes and countless others are tough to analyze, but perhaps this is the point? I decided to simply escape into the film and not try to figure out what everything meant.

Fantastic to see are the exterior scenes shot in Stockholm, Sweden, which reminds us what a liberal, democratic city it is. Yet the women are clearly repressed. Made in 1968, during the sexual revolution, the timing of the film is perfect.

The Girls left me pondering the story and the viewpoint and I will need further viewings in order for the film to more successfully sink in and for me to get it- if I ever do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In fact, the film is the kind of film that requires further viewings to understand. I look forward to watching this film again and that is high praise for it.

Irreversible-2002

Irreversible-2002

Director-Gaspar Noe

Starring-Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#4

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Reviewed February 7, 2016

Grade: C+

As I ponder my review of Irreversible,  a 2002 French thriller and “art film”, I am attempting (as I always do) to look at the film critically, from a story and a technical standpoint, as well as a myriad of other aspects that make up a film. This is admittedly a toughie. On the surface I despised the film wholeheartedly (more on that later), but from a critical standpoint, I found characteristics to admire and give credit to. One thing is for certain- I never want to see this film again.

The story is told non-linear style and, in fact, begins at the conclusion of the story and works backwards, which I credit the film for, giving it a unique storytelling experience, cleverly done. Two Parisian friends, Marcus and Pierre, go on a rampage after Marcus’s girlfriend is brutally raped and beaten. In panic mode, they learn the name of the attacker (Le Tenia) and go to a gay BDSM club aptly named “The Rectum”, a place the attacker apparently frequents, where they fervently search for him all the while beating club-goers and causing havoc.

Since the story is told in reverse, the audience is initially in a state of confusion at the events transpiring, and the jagged, shaky camera work, a very creative technique, only adds to the chaos. We only know that two maniacs are running rampant, destroying everything in their path. Slowly, we realize what their motivation is as we work backwards. We are introduced to Alex, a beautiful young woman- in the early stages of pregnancy, who is Marcus’s steady, but used to date Pierre. They are all very good friends. We see the romance between Marcus and Alex, and, working even further backwards, we see Alex sitting alone in a park, reading a novel, and enjoying a bright, pleasant day in the park. This peaceful closing scene contrasts drastically with the rest of the dark film. The film then becomes a flashing, frenetic, black and white experience, which I do not understand.

The film is quite bizarre and intensely brutal. The rape of Alex in a dark, gloomy underpass is one of the most intense and disturbing scenes I have ever witnessed in film, and at one point I needed to leave the room briefly. The scene is ten minutes in length and Alex is anally raped and then beaten into a comatose state. It is a sickening scene and we witness her pain, misery, and humiliation first hand.

When Pierre and Marcus avenge her rape on who they think is Le Tenia, the scene is also extremely brutal. After (supposed) Le Tenia is captured by them, he attempts to rape Marcus, and Pierre grabs a fire extinguisher and bashes the victim to death as the face is repeatedly destroyed in full detail. It is a tough scene to watch.

I question the motivations of the director wholeheartedly and wonder if his intentions were to story-tell, or simply make as gruesome and shocking a film as possible. I have read that when the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, many people walked out of the auditorium in disgust- I can see why. Irreversible is severely homophobic, with repeated gay slurs being used throughout the gay club scenes and is also anti- Asian as evidenced by Pierre’s and Marcus’s racial slurs directed at a taxi driver.

The motivations of the character of Le Tenia make no sense to me as it is revealed he is a gay man. Why a gay man would brutally rape a female is unclear to me. This, combined with the extreme brutality, anti gay, anti minority, and anti women, render the film rather pointless from a story perspective.

My assumption after processing the film is that the director wants us to sympathize with nobody in the film, except Alex. Pierre, Marcus, certainly Le Tenia are all hateful characters. It is interesting how, at first, since the beginning is the end, the motivations of the characters are unclear and confused.

My admiration of Irreversible comes solely from the unique camera work, the clever pacing of the film in the form of backwards chapters, and the frenetic style of the opening work, however the homophobia, racism, and brutality left me cold and I could not shake the feeling that this film is shocking for the sake of being shocking, and one that I ultimately cannot applaud.

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director-Claude Chabrol

Starring-Bernadette Lafont

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Reviewed December 18, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director that before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968. He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement. In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960’s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it. It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom  happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously  look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.  The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large this way on the surface, but all throughout the film there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows or coming around the bend. As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

In fact, the film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood. Paris, one of the worlds most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as a greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.  Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love. One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other, who ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killers bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years. Creepy? Yes.  The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girls heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly. This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. In fact, the ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail. During the murder it almost seems like the victim is welcoming the death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim or is a new girl the killers next target? In the final shot we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is clearly not a happily ever after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

A Serbian Film-2010

A Serbian Film-2010

Director-Srdan Spasojevic

Starring-Sergej Trifunovic

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#6

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Reviewed October 13, 2015

Grade: B

A Serbian Film is a 2010 Serbian horror film that attempts, and succeeds, in breaking down every possible taboo barrier, albeit in a stylish, admirable, artistic way. The film is certainly not for the faint of heart and even die hard, gross out horror fans might find it too shocking to view. It is not so much the gore that is challenging- horror aficionados have seen this before, but rather the blatant display of the subject matter at hand, that delves full speed ahead into pornography, including rape (both sexes), necrophilia (sex with corpses), and child sexual abuse, that is both tough and sickening to watch. Priding myself in being able to take anything that is thrown my way in the world of film, I admired A Serbian Film’s bravery at going places rarely gone before in film. I felt, however, that the story was not too compelling or particularly well written and that the primary goal was to shock the audience rather than tackle a great story. Intriguing to note is A Serbian film has been banned in several countries, for the obvious controversial content.

Milos is a semi-retired porn star, now happily married to the beautiful Marija and living a peaceful existence. While they struggle financially, they share an adequate life while raising their six year old son Petar. One day Milos runs into a fellow porn star, Lejla, who suggests he contact a powerful porn producer and return to the business, citing an enormous windfall to be had since the producer is making more “artistic” films these days. Milos cannot resist the potential money and meets with the mysterious man named Vukmir. One thing leads to another and he is once again lured back into the porn industry. What he is not told is the premise or details of the film he is to appear in, only to show up at the designated filming location. Predictably this leads to disaster and the main plot of the film emerges. Milos is drugged in order to become a “stud”, bedding and beating almost anything that breathes…..or doesn’t breathe if you catch my drift.

Brazen is a polite way of describing this film. It is perverse and goes way out there. Milos, while drugged, begins to do crazy stuff, not realizing what he is doing and spirals further out of control as the drugs increase. The producer, in the film’s brief attempt at a social slant, cites child pornography is in popular demand as online viewers clamor for this new form of “art”. Two scenes stand out as gruesome to view. One involves a pregnant porn star giving birth- she does so and her counterpart proceeds to rape the screaming baby- the new mother grins in sinister pleasure. In another, Milos rapes his own son, Petar, while Milos’s brother, rapes Milos’s wife. Of course, being heavily under the influence, Milos does not realize what he is doing, but the film succeeds in shocking and disgusting the audience. Both of these horrific scenes have nothing to do with the story and are included to shock elicit a reaction from the viewer.

My criticism of the film is that the grotesque scenes have little to do with the story and are arguably not needed in order to further the plot. Shocking for the sake of being shocking, the film reminds me in a way of Salo, a brutal art film from 1975, which focuses not on horror, but on the horrific time of Nazi-ism. Salo is a masterpiece because it contains a powerful, thought provoking story.

A Serbian Film is a brave film, but ultimately the story achieves nothing more than being a disturbing film that I never need to see again.

The Passenger-1975

The Passenger-1975

Director-Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring-Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider

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Reviewed July 19, 2015

Grade: A

A true art film in every sense of the word, The Passenger is a thinking man’s film, not for those content to munch on popcorn and escape the day’s stressors, but rather, custom made for a film fan willing to ponder the meaning of the film, revel in the slow pace, and appreciate the film as an art form. The Passenger is tough to “get” throughout most of its over 2 hour running time, but its complexities are also its most beautiful characteristics. To say that the film will leave the viewer with questions is quite the understatement, but is pleasing to analyze and come up with conclusions of meaning. Michelangelo Antonioni directed this film and is well-known for directing Blowup and Zabriskie Point, neither of which I have seen as of this writing.

Jack Nicholson stars as a journalist named David Locke, who is on location in Africa (specifically the Sahara desert in Chad). David’s assignment is to produce a documentary film. While there he mysteriously assumes the identity of a businessman named Robertson, who he finds dead in his hotel room. This task is easy due to the fact that David and Robertson look very much alike. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Robertson is involved in arms dealings and smuggling matters related to the ongoing civil unrest within the country. Flashbacks reveal David’s former life, including his friendship with the businessman, and his relationship with his wife, Rachel, and these scenes are mixed in with the current action until they become more linear with each other.

The film is complex to say the least. The initial scene when David spontaneously decides to switch identities is excellent. We wonder, what are David’s motivations and what is the appeal of him taking over another man’s life? Who is the man? Why is David so unhappy in his own life? In this way the film succeeds immeasurably as the plot is not simply told to the audience like so many other mainstream films. Events seem genuine and not forced for plot purposes.

In current time, whereabouts in London, Rachel sadly mourns the assumed “death” of her husband David, though we learn that Rachel has secrets of her own she has been hiding and suffers from tremendous guilt. To further complicate matters for everyone, she is attempting to find the businessman, since she has learned that he was the last person to see her husband alive. Also mixed into the story is a mysterious young woman whom David meets when the story moves to Barcelona, Spain.

What makes The Passenger so compelling to me is its intricacies- story as well as camera styles. The seven minute long shot towards the end is brilliant filmmaking and the climax is quietly intense. The cameras focus is in a hotel room, switches to the parking lot, and returns to the hotel room. I was transfixed by the character of David enormously, struggling to empathize with him, while all the while enjoying an intelligent character study mixed in with a story of political intrigue.

I do not confess to understand everything about The Passenger and will surely need more viewings to make more sense of it all, but the film fascinates me. In a time of mediocre films, how refreshing to stumble upon a forgotten relic from 1975 and have renewed appreciation for film as an art form.

The Virgin Spring-1960

The Virgin Spring-1960

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg

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Reviewed May 15, 2015

Grade: A

The Virgin Spring is a quiet masterpiece by director Ingmar Bergman. A Swedish language film, it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, surprising for such a dark film. I have heard about this film for years, but it had alluded me up until this point, and I am finally glad that I viewed it. It is breathtaking and mesmerizing. A unique film for many reasons, it inspired “revenge” films to follow, specifically The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, which are horror films, yes, while The Virgin Spring is interestingly an art film. The film also questions morals and the main characters religious beliefs and reflections of guilt.

Filming is in black and white and the first point that struck me about the film is its gorgeous cinematography and lighting. The brilliant deep contrast of black and white with the illumination of a characters face while the background is death black is very brazen and reminiscent of Citizen Kane. It gives the film a warmth and glow that contrasts perfectly with the bleak subject matter.

The story of The Virgin Spring is a tragedy, yet the filming is so magnificent that it was not until the film concluded and I pondered the actual story that I realized just how horrific it truly is. And that is was Bergman was going for-provoking thought. This is not a film to kick back and be entertained while munching a tub of popcorn. It is a film meant to make one think.

An affluent Swedish couple, who owns a farm, lives a peaceful, quiet existence. They are stellar members of their community and church. They are humble, but they can afford to have servants. They have a beautiful and pampered young daughter named Karin, who is sent to deliver candles to their church one sunny day. Karin is a trusting, virginal, and proper girl. She comes upon a trio of males- two adults and a young boy. At first gleefully sharing food with them and enjoying her new found friends, they soon turn on her and she is viciously raped, robbed, beaten, and murdered. The look of surprise, pain, and horror on Karin’s face is monumental. As this occurs, a pregnant and spiteful servant, Ingeri, watches in horror from a hiding place. A rival of Karin’s, Ingeri wanted misfortune thrust upon Karin, but as she watches in horror, the expressions on her face portray regret.

As the family hope and pray that they can find the missing Karin, the men and boy show up at the farmhouse in need of food and shelter. Unbeknownst to the family, they are Karin’s rapists and killers, and once the truth is known, the once sweet parents are out for brutal revenge. The young boy of the trio is guilt ridden and physically sick from the circumstances. Is the families revenge justified or should they (as good Christians) forgive? This is the moral point of the story.

The conclusion of the film is powerful as the father begs god for forgiveness. He questions his actions. But is he a changed man? Bergman uniquely and intelligently shoots these scenes with only the fathers back in view as he throws his hands to go. We, the viewer, become one with the father in these moments, which makes for powerful storytelling.

Influential to many subsequent films, The Virgin Spring is a powerful tale, reminiscent of a fairy tale, that makes the viewer think upon the ending. Subdued yet horrifying, it is meant to be viewed and analyzed.

Teorema-1968

Teorema-1968

Director-Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring-Terence Stamp, Silvana Mangano

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Reviewed April 10, 2015

Grade: A-

Teorema is a 1968 Italian art film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom later would go on to direct the dark and disturbing 1975 masterpiece, Salo- 120 Days of Sodom. If one is looking for a concise, mainstream plot with a fixed, to the point, beginning and ending, one will be disappointed. Rather, Teorema is an exhibition in artistic style and interpretation and succeeds in mesmerizing this viewer in thought and contemplation.

A mysterious stranger, simply known as “the visitor”, suddenly arrives to stay with an affluent, Italian family in their sprawling estate. The family consists of a father, mother, son, daughter, and maid, all with issues of loneliness, boredom, fear, rage, or repression. The handsome stranger successfully beds all members of the family and just as suddenly as he arrives, he then disappears from the household leaving the family members with different thoughts, feelings, and actions upon his departure.

The film is highly interpretive and every character can be analyzed. All of the characters are seduced by the stranger and the family’s wealth can be studied. Is Teorema (which translates to theorem in Italian) a commentary on the bourgeois society? The father, Paolo, owns a factory and appears to be in turmoil- is he a repressed homosexual? The conclusion of the father’s story is very interesting as he turns his factory over to the workers, strips naked, and roars with anger and frustration. Is the mother simply a wealthy, bored housewife or much more than that? This character might have been explored more thoroughly. The maid, devoutly religious, becomes suicidal after her tryst with the stranger. The others confide in the stranger about how they feel about themselves and, at times, the film is like watching a therapy session as each character delves more into their own personal feelings. Only the maid is a bit different than the others, but could this be because she is of working class and the others affluent? The daughter, Odessa, approximately, sixteen years old, becomes depressed after her liaison. The frightened, weak son appears to have a crisis and is consoled by the stranger in a loving, tender fashion.

Interestingly, the film at the time was resoundingly denounced by the Vatican, who took offense at the controversial tone of the film and its focus on “obscenity”. Could this be because of some people’s interpretation of “the visitor” as being a Christ-like figure? One must argue the difference between “obscenity” and “art” after viewing this groundbreaking and visionary film. Personally, I viewed Teorema as a thought-provoking experience and did not feel as if the film were going for shock value. Certainly, the film is lightweight in this regard compared to the hauntingly brutal Salo, which followed years later.

Teorema delves into the psychological abyss and portrays an Italian family as more than wealthy- they are people with emotions, fears, desires, and complexities. Certainly not for mainstream audiences, but meant for lovers of interpretive film, it can be debated and discussed for ages to come.

Under the Skin-2014

Under the Skin-2014

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Scarlett Johansson

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Reviewed January 31, 2015

Grade: A

Under the Skin is a tough film to review- in a word it is mysterious. The general consensus is that people either love the film or hate it- it is one of those types films. I love it and it appears on many 2014 top 10 film lists. The visual creativity alone astounds me. To summarize, Scarlett Johansson plays the female alien presumably sent to Earth to meet young men and lure them, using her feminine wiles, into a pool of dark liquid where they are entrapped and subsequently peeled, their skin used for an unknown reason. The oddity of the story is as appealing as it is confusing, but somehow fascinating beyond belief.

The film is set in Glasgow, Scotland, during present times. The film has a cold, dark tone to it and the city itself seems bleak. Johansson, in an unnamed role, takes the clothes of a dead human woman and begins traversing the streets of Glasgow, picking up the men as they walk home or go to the grocery store. She carefully selects men who will not be missed- men who are loners or family-less. As the film goes along Johansson becomes more sympathetic. She yearns to become a human and to do what humans do- she goes to a diner and attempts to eat a delicious slice of cake and vomits the contents. She has a strange man on a motorcycle following her, making sure she completes her assigned tasks. Some of these conclusions are surmised as the lack of dialogue in the film adds to the mystique.

A particularly frightening scene, and my favorite in the film, involves the female alien meeting a swimmer on the beach, who is on holiday in Scotland. Her flirtation with him as she attempts to accost him is thwarted by a family in peril. A father, mother, and infant son are enjoying a day on the secluded beach. Suddenly, their dog begins to drown as the waves become too intense. The mother struggles in panic to swim to the dog and rescue it- the father then does the same. What happens next is very sad and the female alien and the motorcycle man both leave the screaming infant to die without so much as a second glance. This poses a few questions- are they aliens without emotions for human suffering? Do they not care? Do they revel in the misery? Do they simply not realize what is going on? The viewer will ponder these questions and others long after the film ends.

Later, the audience is confused further as the female alien meets a severely deformed man and they bond as she drives him to, presumably, his death. She loves his hands and is fascinated by his tenderness towards her. As they talk she shows signs of caring for a human being as they begin a sweet friendship of sorts. Why does she bond with this disfigured man instead of the more handsome men she meets? Does she in some way relate to him due to her growing feelings of being a misfit and desiring to be human? One wonders.

Visually the film is creative. Spellbinding is the sequences involving the men being submerged in the black fluid as they slowly disappear leaving only the skin. Their transformation is slow, methodical, and imaginative and one relishes in what is going on. The score is reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby in its eeriness and visually the film must have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Under the Skin is a fantastic journey through a weird, perplexing, sometimes confusing world, but at all times leaves me thinking and glued to the activity onscreen. It is an art film that breaks barriers and provokes interest and intrigue not catering to mainstream expectations. It is what art films are meant to do- challenge. More films should take risks like these.

Last Tango in Paris-1972

Last Tango in Paris-1972

Director-Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring-Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#8

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Reviewed December 5, 2014

Grade: A-

Last Tango in Paris is a very dark 1972 erotica art film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (The Conformist), starring Marlon Brando as a disturbed, angry American man named Paul, whose wife has committed suicide. He is left to survive on his own in Paris lost and without her where he runs a decrepit apartment complex. Lonely and bitter, he meets a much younger Parisian woman (Maria Schneider), equally disturbed for different reasons, and they forge a relationship that is sometimes brutal, degrading, but also containing mutual affection and need. They are addicted to each other.

This film may very well be my favorite performance by Marlon Brando. He plays a hateful, unpleasant character, yet there is something appealing about him and the viewer sympathizes with his grief. That is to Brando’s credit, of course. A lesser actor would not be as effective. He is damaged, treats everyone like shit, but there is also a vulnerability to him that is mesmerizing to watch. Brando was such a great, method actor that he simply morphs into the characters he plays. Paul is certainly his most raw and emotional performance of his career.

Actress Maria Schneider is also tremendous in the film. Equally disturbed, her character Jeanne experienced a vastly different upbringing- that of wealth and pampering. She has a fiancé who loves her dearly, yet she is drawn to the power and abuse of Paul- the fact that he is an older man is sexy to her. I kept thinking, “What is wrong with this woman?” She seemingly has everything, yet she yearns for excitement. Is Paul a fling for her? Does she care about him or is she using him? Is he using her? Could they be using each other? The film raises many psychological questions. Jeanne is clearly in emotional turmoil. In fact, both Jeanne and Paul are.

Last Tango in Paris is a difficult film to watch- several scenes are unpleasant, even brutal, but it is a character study of two damaged individuals. When Paul anally penetrates Jeanne on the floor of his apartment, forcing her to recite gibberish, it is almost too much to bear. Paul wants to know nothing about Jeanne. He does not want to know her name, her past, nothing- complete anonymity. He lives for the present and their sex is animalistic, filled with lust and need.

But these examples are a testament to the power of Last Tango in Paris. It is not boring. The finale leaves you wondering what will happen to Jeanne. Will she commit suicide? Will she return to her fiancé and life of luxury, her affair with Paul over? Was the affair only a fling for her or does she really love Paul?

The film is a dark, tragic, romantic story. It is brutal, raw, and honest. It is not to be missed.

Birdman-2014

Birdman-2014

Director-Alejandro G. Inarritu

Starring-Michael Keaton, Edward Norton

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Reviewed November 6, 2014

Grade: A

Birdman is a very unique art film, which happily, has garnered major exposure and publicity, because a movie like this runs the risk of receiving praise and notice only from the art house crowd itself. The film’s star-Michael Keaton, portrays Riggan Thomson, a former action hero superstar from the 1990’s, who was made famous for the “Birdman” character he created. Having made sequels to the film, his career has since dried up and he hopes to establish credibility and prove himself a real actor by writing, directing, and starring in his own play.

The film is set in and around the Broadway theater in New York City. As opening night approaches, he struggles to pull everything together and emit a successful production while faced with an injured terrible actor, a difficult actor, his own insecurities, and a miserable theatre critic destined to ruin his big chance. To make matters worse, his daughter Sam, played by Emma Stone is a recovering drug addict who hangs around the theatre distracting actors with her charm and good looks.  Naomi Watts and Edward Norton play Leslie and Mike, other cast members in the production. Watts is sympathetic as the emotional actress with the heart of gold who finally has her dream of performing on Broadway realized. Norton, outstanding as Mike, is blunt yet socially awkward and can only perform truthfully on the stage. Keaton is simply a marvel as he plays a dark and vulnerable man hating and wishing to shed his ridiculous movie persona of yesteryear and secretly cringes when recognized by fans. He communicates with a voice inside his head, the voice he used when he played “Birdman” years earlier.

The uniqueness of the film is the use of what seems like one long take as the action rarely stops and seems to be ongoing. In my opinion, the film belongs to Keaton- he wonderfully relays vulnerability, pain, and fear within with an outward persona of bravery and masculinity. Throughout the film I wondered, is Riggan suicidal? What is real and what is imagined? Are certain scenes foreshadowing for later events? The film has much depth. One marvels at how art imitates life- Is Keaton really portraying himself? Keep in mind that Keaton was the original Batman in the successful superhero franchise beginning in 1989 and his career tanked shortly thereafter. Birdman is a comeback film for him and he is devastatingly good. Norton’s character Mike impressed me- blunt and honest he is also flawed and scared and in some ways addicted to the stage.  Stone has one particularly brilliant scene as she lambasts her father and with regret later on, tells him that the world has moved on without him and that he is irrelevant just like everyone else- it is a powerful scene. In another, Riggan is locked outside of the theater during the performance, clad only in his underwear- how on earth will he return to the stage and complete the show? The quick slights at current Hollywood superstars playing superheroes, specifically Robert Downey Jr. are deliciously naughty.

A dark comedy for sure, it is impossible to predict what will come next and the film is very New York theater style. Keaton’s run in with a theater critic in a cocktail bar is the best scene in the film as the critic’s vicious critique of “You’re a celebrity, not an actor” resonates both pain and tremendous anger for Riggan. Riggan is a sensitive, struggling man and Keaton so wonderfully shows his vulnerability in every scene. Bravo!

 

Salo-1975

Salo-1975

Director-Pier Paolo Pasolini

Starring-Paolo Bonacelli

Top 100 Films-#32      Top 10 Disturbing Films-#1     

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Reviewed October 8, 2014

Grade: A

 Salo is a deeply disturbing, highly controversial, Italian art film from 1975 that is not for the squeamish nor for the prudish. Many people will revile this film for its distastefulness and despise the film entirely- that is if they even give it a chance, which, unfortunately, many people will refuse to. But beyond the filth, perversion, and hatefulness that are themes of Salo, lies a film that is a work of art and must be experienced by the most open minded of cinema lovers.

The film is a dreamlike experience that centers on four wealthy Fascist Italian men of great importance and power, circa 1944, who decide to kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls- the youngsters must be the cream of the crop and flawless in appearance, only the most attractive will do- one girl missing a tooth is immediately cast aside as a reject. Whether the girl flaunted her marred appearance is open to interpretation.

The youths are then taken to an enormous palace where they are stripped of all clothing and forced to endure four months of torture, sexual perversions, and humiliations at the whim of and for the entertainment of their captors. Finally, at the end of their terms, most are tortured to death by way of scalping, removal of tongues, or having their sexual organs burned off. Also living in the palace are four aging prostitutes who enthrall the men, along with the reluctant prisoners, with tales of kinky and perverted sexual encounters from their younger days mostly involving anal sex.

The film is divided into four sections based on Dante’s Divine comedy: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit, and the Circle of Blood. In one sadistically disturbing scene, one of the young girls is forced to eat human excrement by one of her wealthy captors. In another, during the Circle of Shit, everyone dines on a meal consisting of human excrement where lewd sex occurs. One of the female prisoners is tricked into eating food laced with nails- a contest to determine who has the best buttocks results in the winner being brutally murdered. Everyone in the film is bisexual and there are repeated scenes of extreme, almost pornographic, violent sex scenes.

On a side note, most of the youngsters (non-actors) reported having a ball while filming Salo, and knew not what the film was really about, so the feeling on the set was light-hearted, nothing like the finished product.

While deeply disturbing, Salo is a film that some, or many, will simply not get or look beyond the obvious for a deeper message. It is a masterpiece in its ugliness, rawness, and political statements and is quite artistic once one gets past the brutality and rawness of the film.

Salo contains much political symbolism- the excrement serves as the filth of Nazi Germany and authoritarian figures throughout Europe such as Hitler and Mussolini, the abuse of power that was rampant during the time period of the film (World War II era), and the entire film is about the abuse that powerful people (the wealthy fascists equate to powerful Germans) inflicted on the weak (the innocent boys and girls mirror the Jews and the weak).

Is Salo a disturbing, grotesque film? It absolutely is. Is it mindless torture for the sake of torture like movies as extreme as Saw and Hostel? It is not. It is an art film, not a horror film. Banned in many countries for decades due to the extreme content of rape, murder, and torture of individuals thought to be under the age of eighteen, it remains widely banned to this day in several countries. Many film makers, actors, and historians struggle to maintain the artistic merit of the film.

To fully get Salo, one was delve into the mind of the film makers and recognize that it is a statement film, filled with symbolism that challenges and questions the politics of its time. Director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, was brutally murdered by a male prostitute shortly prior to the film’s release. Salo is one of the most disturbing films I have ever viewed.

The 400 Blows-1959

The 400 Blows-1959

Director-Francois Truffaut

Starring-Jean-Pierre Leaud

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Reviewed August 15, 2013

Grade: A

The 400 Blows is a French New Wave masterpiece from 1959 that is heartbreaking yet beautiful in its storytelling. It tells the story of Antoine, a kindhearted yet hardened teen boy who is forced out on his own to live a tough life on the streets of Paris. It is autobiographical of sorts as director Francois Truffaut suffered a childhood similar to the boy.

Misunderstood and mistreated by his parents and schoolteachers, Antoine must survive and thrive as a teenage runaway who cannot get a break in life. Shot in Paris and featuring gorgeous shots of the city, the black and white filming add to the bleakness and coldness of this young boy’s life and Truffaut was the first to use the since common still-frame close-up of angst and the scenes of Antoine running from the city along the beach are some of the most beautiful in film history.

Truffaut influenced a generation of directors with his very personal brand of storytelling. The 400 Blows is not always a pleasant film, but an important and influential one in art cinema. Young actor Jean-Pierre Leaud gives an excellent performance.