Category Archives: International

Strange Way of Life-2023

Strange Way of Life-2023

Director Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal

Scott’s Review #1,425

Reviewed April 22, 2024

Grade: A-

Pedro Almodóvar is a unique film director. Spanish, his films are flavorful, saucy, and unpredictable. He tends to mix melodrama, wacky humor, and a colorful landscape frequently sprinkling LGBTQ+ elements even if they are not classified with that specific genre.

I adore his films though they frequently blur together for me.

Though a Spanish film, Strange Way of Life (2023) is only Almodóvar’s second English language film and to my knowledge his first short feature film.

Watching the brief thirty-one-minute offering I fantasized about a full-length feature or even a television series based on the story and characters.

Since it’s short we get right down to business quickly.

One day Silva (Pedro Pascal) rides a horse across the desert to Bitter Creek to visit Sheriff Jake (Ethan Hawke). It is quickly revealed that twenty-five years earlier, the sheriff and Silva, worked together as hired gunmen.

They fell in love during a passionate encounter with three whores and barrels of wine who ditched the men when they realized they were not valued.

Silva provides Jake with the excuse that the reason for his trip is not to go down the memory lane of their old friendship but rather to rescue his son Joe (George Steane) from persecution for being suspected of killing Jake’s late brother’s wife, also a whore.

After Jake and Silva sip wine and enjoy a lovely meal they quickly engage in animalistic sex and reignite their long-dormant passion.

While Silva is gung-ho about reuniting Jake has reservations.

Pascal, who is everywhere due to the success of his television series The Last of Us is fabulous to watch. His sexy machismo pairs well with his passion for his soulmate. Because his character of Silva intends for him and Jake to live out their days running a ranch he is a more inspiring character than Jake.

This point is a nod to the groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain (2006) whose characters also flirted with running a ranch together during a time when any gay relations were forbidden territory.

Hawke is quite good too though I’m partial to Pascal. Buttoned up and law-abiding he rebuffs Silva’s advances, at first.

It’s nice to see Hawke in a gay role. Both characters are masculine thereby dismissing silly LGBTQ+ stereotypes that too often appear in cinema.

It also doesn’t hurt to get a glimpse of Pascal’s bare butt or Hawke’s buff physique as they while away time in the bedroom.

I love the sweaty and muscular Western genre being the backdrop of an LGBTQ+ film and tipped upside down. Not to reduce it to a tepid John Wayne film cliche there exists a gorgeous and melodic fado singer throughout the film.

It is performed by Manu Ríos.

This counterbalances the Quentin Tarantino-ish blood and violence with lovely music.

The film is titled after a 1960s Portuguese fado song by Amália Rodrigues

Since Strange Way of Life is a brief experience many facets could have been explored. Why did Silva leave Jake in the first place? What made him suddenly have a realization after twenty-five years? Were there other men at that time?

Being critical that the film is short and deserves full-length feature status it nonetheless deserves to be towards the top of Almodóvar’s catalog a testament to its power.

Strange Way of Life (2023) successfully takes a macho genre like the Western and lights it on fire proving that two men can be tough and tenderly love each other.

Anatomy of a Fall-2023

Anatomy of a Fall 2023

Director Justine Triet

Starring Sandra Hüller, Milo Machado-Graner

Scott’s Review #1,422

Reviewed March 4, 2024

Grade: B+

The taut legal thriller, Anatomy of a Fall (2023) is rich with mystery and almost immediately offers the viewer a character’s surprising death. The rest of the film is spent trying to figure out how the death occurred as a trial surfaces.

The mountainous puzzle made me as the viewer anticipate a shocking conclusion or at least a cemented ending leaving nothing to the imagination.

In plain terms, I wanted to know why the character died, at whose hand, and how the act was done.

As good as the film is the ending underwhelmed me. I was left wanting more than I was offered. This is undoubtedly a result of the enormous buildup.

However, the effort is spectacular, and some of the year’s best acting is showcased by Sandra Hüller and Milo Machado-Graner, who give rich and dramatic performances. They stay believable and nuanced in challenging, teary scenes. 

Sandra (Sandra Hüller), her husband Samuel (Samuel Theis), and their eleven-year-old son Daniel ( Milo Machado-Graner) live a secluded life in a remote town in the French Alps.

Tension develops when Sandra, who is a writer, is interviewed by a reporter at home as they sip and enjoy wine. Samuel ruins the moment by blasting an obnoxious song loop causing the interview to be aborted.

Suddenly, Samuel is found dead in the snow by Daniel! The police question whether he was murdered or possibly committed suicide. Samuel’s suspicious death is ultimately presumed murder, and Sandra becomes the prime suspect.

As the trial begins, the events of Samuel’s death are uncovered while the complexities increase. A disturbing journey into Sandra and Samuel’s troubled relationship is explored with Daniel being at the center of the drama.

Anatomy of a Fall is a slow-moving vehicle but that’s a large part of its appeal for me. After Samuel’s death, the film features quiet scene after quiet scene of Sandra and Daniel being interviewed by either their lawyers or others involved in the case.

While not action scenes, the dialogue reveals an incredible amount of backstory. An incident that occurred years earlier is key and the remnants of that unfortunate activity are vital to the entire reveal.

With tremendous acting the film is also significant in scoring Justine Triet an Oscar nomination for Best Director when shamefully few female directors have ever been given this distinct honor.

Unfortunately, Triet’s nomination comes at the expense of Greta Gerwig NOT being nominated for the ginormous blockbuster hit Barbie. I’d give the nomination to Gerwig but why couldn’t they both be nominated?

Triet also wrote the screenplay and wisely crafted an unpredictable vehicle. Since Sandra is on trial the writing could have felt forced or generic but it doesn’t. There are also no silly television drama moments of unnecessary legal jargon or canned shocking tense moments.

What Triet serves up is genuine and humanistic.

The cold and snowy atmosphere reminds me of a Swedish film from 2014 called Force Majeure with a similar story of uncovered secrets and backstory. They are both set in the French Alps ironically enough.

I expected more from the ending but Anatomy of a Fall (2023) mesmerizes and keeps one guessing never feeling boring like some legal dramas can.

While Triet’s Oscar nomination may be questionable, Hüller’s is not and I’d even argue she deserves to win.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Justine Triet, Best Actress-Sandra Hüller, Best Original Screenplay (won), Best Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best International Film (won)

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

Lina Wertmüller, a visionary female director around a time when there were few female directors with notoriety, created The Seduction of Mimi (1972), a flavorful Italian adventure/drama/comedy.

Any fans of Federico Fellini will immediately draw comparisons to his films with saucy banter, odd characters, and lively music. But amid the fun exists importance.

Wertmüller produces a film with more of a defined plot focus than Fellini usually does.

The key to the enjoyment of The Seduction of Mimi is twofold. Actors, Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato starred in three of Wertmüller’s films together, usually as love-torn yet bickering couples with lots of drama and misunderstandings.

The other films are Love and Anarchy (1973) which I have not seen and Swept Away (1974) which I have seen.

The actors work so well together that anyone familiar with them will instantly be delighted especially during high-energy scenes when they spar or passionately solidify their romantic intentions.

Giannini was Wertmüller’s muse in a time when rarely if ever a male actor was a muse of a female director.

The other nicety is the title of the film. One might assume (I did) that the character of Mimi is female and is seduced by a male but in Wertmüller’s film, it is the reverse. This causes traditional gender stereotypes to be turned on their heads with more awareness of assumptions.

Mimi (Giannini) is a Sicilian dockworker who inadvertently becomes involved in an increasingly complicated series of personal conflicts.

After he loses his job after voting against a Mafia kingpin in a ‘secret’ election, Mimi leaves his frazzled wife Rosalia (Agostina Belli) to find work. He moves to Turin, where he engages in an affair with a Communist organizer, Fiorella Meneghini (Melato).

Soon Mimi finds himself juggling not two but three relationships and three children while plotting to take revenge against the corrupt forces that ruined his life.

The Seduction of Mimi is quite good but I’m more partial to her other films like Swept Away and the hysterically brash Seven Beauties (1975), her best work in my opinion.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about ‘Seduction’.

Taking nothing away from Melato’s performance, Mimi is the focal point and Giannini is a pure delight. For viewers unfamiliar with his work, his dazzling green eyes and almost manic style fills the character with pizazz and passion.

The actor is also great at making his wacky shenanigans seem realistic.

Beyond the hijinks, Wertmüller offers serious messages about sexual hypocrisies, political dilemmas, and corruption. She mixes jokes with purpose so that the audience learns a thing or two while being richly entertained.

Like her obvious mentor, Fellini, she appreciates good satire and incorporates that into her films.

Visually, there’s some cool and wacky camera-angle stuff going on. Mimi repeatedly notices moles, beauty marks, or otherwise odd eccentric facial features which come into focus as shaky closeup camera shots.

Since the film is so Italian it’s joyful to watch it for this aspect alone. There are frequent sequences shot on location in Sicily, and around Italy, a treat for those partial to European films.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) is a film I’d like to see again for more appreciation and further examination. It’s a film that has more going on than meets the eye and leaves its viewer pondering more specifically regarding the Union storyline.

The Zone of Interest-2023

The Zone of Interest-2023

Director Jonathan Glazer

Starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller

Scott’s Review #1,419

Reviewed February 2, 2024

Grade: A

The Zone of Interest (2023) offers a unique experience for its audience. It’s one of a distant observer to unthinkable horrors and events that took place during the 1940s occupied Poland.

A lovely estate rife with flourishing flowers and plush gardens surrounds the haunting setting of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Exterminations and unspeakable acts of human suffering occur daily whilst a German family enjoys their dream home hardly unnerved by what’s going on steps away.

The father is the mastermind behind the suffering.

The macabre film is extraordinary, and powerful, and will haunt you long after it ends.

The subject matter of the Holocaust in cinema is usually told with a visual examination of the victims. In The Zone of Interest, though, what you don’t see is worse than what you do.

The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) live a seemingly idyllic life with their five children. They fish, swim, and frolic among the confines of their house and garden next to the camp.

Höss is a high-ranking and respected member of the Third Reich. Servants handle chores around the house, while the prisoners’ belongings are given to the family.

As a viewer, I first thought to myself what a happy family they seem to be. I was quickly sickened when I realized what was going on over the top of their high walls and their role in it.

Director, Jonathan Glazer, brought us disturbing films such as Birth (2004) and Under the Skin (2015) and revolts even more with The Zone of Interest. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film quite like it.

Usually, what happens in a film happens on screen. Seeing the Jews gassed or shot or tortured is horrific enough. Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) was a masterpiece by visually featuring the nature of the Holocaust in an inventive black-and-white way.

We see the victims.

In The Zone of Interest, it’s the sound that is effective. Beyond the garden wall, gunshots, shouting, and sounds of trains and furnaces are constantly heard.

The nights are even worse.

A quick glimpse of flames and smoke roaring to the sky are the visuals key to the events taking place next door.

We only very quickly see a parade of prisoners march through the grass……once.

Höss approves the design of a new crematorium, which soon becomes operational. With horror, it is confirmed that thousands of Jews are gassed and burned.

Glazer keeps the viewer at a distance with more than just experiencing the unseen. The cameras are set far back from events so the audience observes the family instead of being alongside.

There are no closeups.

The lighting is superior. Muted tones portray the starkness of the period. Effective is how everything appears grey except the flowers in the garden.

Some peculiarities exist that are hard to figure out. In two sequences, a Polish girl who lives nearby sneaks out every night, hiding food at the prisoners’ work sites for them to find and eat.

The film is a clay animation style similar to what Glazer used in parts of Under the Skin. It’s weird, stylistic, and fascinating.

Late in the film, Höss descends a staircase and retches. He does so again. I’m not sure why he does. Is he subconsciously sickened by the death he causes? He has been tasked with a new initiative to transport hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to be killed.

The mission has been named after him.

Is it too much for him to deal with?

The film ends with a modern scene of a group of janitors cleaning the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum before it opens.

I was dying to know what happened to Höss and Hedwig.

It’s a searing film, unforgettable and uncomfortable. It plods and sickens but is pure art. It’s troublesome and a unique entry for Holocaust films. Glazer finds a new way to examine material told in cinema for decades.

The Zone of Interest (2023) is a painful masterpiece and a thinking man’s film.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director-Jonathan Glazer, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Feature Film (won), Best Sound (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Director Jacques Demy 

Starring Dominique Sanda, Michel Piccoli

Scott’s Review #1,397

Reviewed September 10, 2023

Grade: A

Une Chambre en Ville (also known as A Room in Town) is a 1982 French musical drama film written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Colombier, and starring Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, and Michel Piccoli.

Those familiar with Demy’s other works like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) will be aware that his preferred genre is the musical drama and in Une Chambre en Ville, the dialogue is entirely sung.

And those unfamiliar with his work are recommended to give his films a chance. They are flavorful and offer exceptional production design to say nothing of other ingredients.

I liken the film to be most similar to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because the story involves two people destined to be together but who are thwarted by many obstacles threatening to ruin their happiness.

Demy creates a distinct Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet final ending in the best of possible ways.

The story is set during a workers’ strike in Nantes, France in 1955. A steelworker named Francois (Richard Berry) has a fling with the married daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) of his widowed landlady, Margo (Danielle Darrieux).

His girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon), who works in a shop and lives with her mother, wants to get married but he is unwilling, partly because they have no money and nowhere to live.

Oh, and he also has met Edith.

On the street, François is accosted by Edith who is a beautiful woman who wears only a fur coat and has decided to take up part-time prostitution to pay bills. Her husband owns a struggling television shop.

The two have a blissful night together in a cheap hotel and fall madly in love.

Une Chambre en Ville is at first jarring because the dialogue is in the form of a song. But after merely a few minutes I became invested and enamored with the characters. This occurs when Francois and Margo ‘discuss’ the strike and even though she is upper-class she supports the workers.

They quickly bond.

Before this though, the tone is set with black-and-white cinematography of the workers’ strike that quickly turns to color. My hunch is that Demy wanted to promote the seriousness of the situation and alert the audience that they were not watching a rosy musical with tap-along tunes.

There’s a message of pain, struggle, and depression which doesn’t make the film a downer either.

As with Demy’s other films, the art direction and set designs are gorgeous. The director has a talent for introducing the most fragrant colors like red, yellow, blue, and green, that are powerful and enshroud the characters in pizazz and vibrancy.

The set highlights are Margo’s apartment drizzling with red color and contemporary patterns and furniture and Edith’s husband’s television shop. The greenish hue reveals a tacky yet sophisticated French style. These and other sets are superior efforts.

The main attraction is Francois and Edith and I was smitten with them almost immediately. Some may think this is odd because basically, Francois dumps his nice girlfriend for a sexy prostitute who flashes her naked body to him and then beds him.

Nonetheless, I became enraptured. They make ‘love at first sight’ seem believable and possible. The thing to remember is they are both wounded by their circumstances and are reaching for their desires out of desperation.

The finale of Une Chambre en Ville is dazzling but painful to watch. I alluded to a Romeo and Juliet catastrophe and this is no joke as the star-crossed lovers meet a dire ending.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing what happens.

Jacques Demy creates a film made in 1982 that feels nothing like a 1982 film as we are believably transported to 1955.

Une Chambre en Ville holds up as well as Demy’s films made two decades earlier and he proves none of his creativity and romantic dramatics have waned.

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow

Scott’s Review #1,377

Reviewed July 15, 2023

Grade: A

Recently acquiring a robust Ingmar Bergman collection featuring over three dozen of the great director’s works, I have much introspective filmmaking to look forward to.

Considered visionary, influential, and many other stellar adjectives, his films are personal and human. They are frequently dark and not easy watches but the payoff is quite big for the patient cinephile.

His 1961 work, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) tells the story of a schizophrenic young woman, Karin (Harriet Andersson), vacationing on a remote island with her husband Martin (Max von Sydow), novelist father David (Gunnar Björnstrand), and frustrated younger brother Minus (Lars Passgård).

She has been released from the hospital and plans to enjoy the summer in tranquility at the family’s quaint cottage.

She slowly unravels as the reality sets in that she may not get better and the family is aware of this.

The story is told in a brisk twenty-four-hour period and consists of only the four aforementioned characters. It is structured as a three-act play in a very short ninety-one-minute run.

Let’s remember that mental illness was not as advanced in 1961 as it is decades later. Most who suffered from it were tossed away into a ‘loony bin’ and quickly discarded from society.

Delving into such controversial and unpleasant territory in 1961 deserves huge accolades.

The brilliance of Through a Glass Darkly is how Karin realizes her mental illness and its fateful ravages. She is aware of what’s happening to her and that she will never recover. After all, the hen’s mother also suffered from mental illness.

Her rich characterization is powerfully played by Andersson who is the standout in the film. This could be a result of Sven Nykvist’s cinematography but sometimes Karin looks like a little girl and other times a haggard older woman.

I wonder if Bergman was trying to show the parallel between Karin and her mother.

Speaking of the camerawork, as in Bergman’s films the black-and-white style only enhances the quality of the picture. The contrast between black and white and the frequent close-ups of the characters reveal glowing and ghostlike facial images.

I champion shots like this because it enriches the visual perspective and shifts away from the story momentarily.

Andersson is not the only actor who is excellent and second place belongs to Björnstrand as the father. His character is a writer and deeply pained. Revealed to have tried to commit suicide he is riddled with guilt, regret, and desperation.

von Sydow is decent as Karin’s husband but the actor has much better Bergman roles to reflect on. Any cinema lover will immediately associate the great actor with The Seventh Seal (1957).

Towards the end of Through a Glass Darkly, I didn’t quite connect the dots when the characters go into detail about how god is equated with love.

My focus was more on Karin and the other characters coming to terms with the fact that she would go to an asylum and never return.

What Bergman does so well in Through a Glass Darkly is he makes the audience envelop the characters, accepting and feeling their pain. I despair along with Karin when she imagines a spider emerging from the walls and crawling on her.

Of course, the audience doesn’t see what Karin imagines which makes the scene much scarier than if Bergman had shown a giant spider.

One’s imagination is always worse than what is on the screen.

Requiring patience and a deep dive into despair, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) is worth the work. Lovely beachside images and beautiful sunlight mix perfectly with anguish and depression creating an intimate experience.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Original Screenplay

Europa Europa-1990

Europa Europa-1990

Director Agnieszka Holland

Starring Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy

Scott’s Review #1,373

Reviewed June 29, 2023

Grade: A

Europa Europa (1990) is a unique film that showcases a young Jewish man’s plight and experiences in a dangerous time in world history.

There have been many films made that examine German Naziism in some way, shape, or form but the film is German which only authenticates the story.

The secret sauce of this film is the remarkable storytelling by Agnieszka Holland who also directed.

The fact that it is based on real-life events only adds emotion heartbreak and just a little hope. It is based on the 1989 autobiography of Solomon Perel, a German-Jewish boy who escaped the Holocaust by masquerading as a Nazi and joining the Hitler Youth.

Perel himself appears briefly as “himself” in the film’s finale.

Speaking of German war films, Europa Europa doesn’t eclipse the power of the 1930 masterpiece All Quiet Along the Western Front or the 2022 remake for that matter. It’s not as raw but it does personalize the experience by focusing on one character and his perspectives.

The film adds a tinge of humor, homosexuality, and full nudity in a way that lightens the mood and almost makes it fun instead of pure doom and gloom.

But the concentration camp horror is never taken for granted.

Handsome Jewish teenager Salek (Marco Hofschneider) is separated from his family when they flee their home in Germany for Poland. Salek ends up in a Russian orphanage for two years, but when Nazi troops reach Russia he convinces them he is a German Aryan, and becomes an invaluable interpreter and then an unwitting war hero.

While he can hide his Jewish blood on the surface he is uncircumcised which makes him vulnerable and at risk of being found out at any moment.

His deception becomes increasingly difficult to maintain after he joins the Hitler Youth and finds love with beautiful Leni (Julie Delpy), a staunch anti-Semite.

Hofschneider easily carries the film. With dashing good looks and a trusting smile the audience can see how he might be able to fool the German regime. As shown during a powerful scene where the Hitler Youth is taught how to spot a Jew, scrawny, rat-like, and mistrustful looking are the characteristics they are told to be wary of.

Salek is the opposite.

The actor appears completely naked in several scenes including full-frontal. This is not done frivolously because his penis is central to the plot and his potential discovery.

Delpy plays the gorgeous yet tragic character of Leni. She at first appears humane and kind but her true colors and anti-Semitic hate soon shine through which troubles Salek. He is startled at how much hate a young girl could harbor for human beings she knows nothing about.

The realization hits home to the audience as the power and influence that Hitler possessed with the ruination of human life in so many different ways.

A groundbreaking sequence occurs when a German soldier named Robert (André Wilms) attempts to molest Salek when he is privately bathing. Revealing his homosexuality to Salek while realizing Salek is Jewish makes them the best of friends.

They both have secrets that would get them instantly killed.

When Robert is mortally wounded he and a devastated Salek share a deathbed kiss forever cementing their bond. The human connection is more powerful than a sexual one.

A reunion with a family member at the conclusion will melt the hardest of hearts.

Europa Europa could have been a darker film than it was because of the subject matter and perhaps should have been.

It’s not quite on par with All Quiet Along the Western Front or Schindler’s List (1993) in the annals of Nazi war films but is not far behind offering hate mixed with kindness in an exploration of human feeling and emotion amid chaos.

Shamefully, due to a ridiculous decision that the film didn’t meet eligibility requirements Europa Europa (1990) was not nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar but easily won the Golden Globe.

Despite the film’s omission, it went on to be a critical and commercial success in the United States achieving just desserts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Seven Beauties-1975

Seven Beauties-1975

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Shirley Stoler, Fernando Rey

Scott’s Review #1,364

Reviewed June 3, 2023

Grade: A

Italian Director Lina Wertmüller was the first female ever nominated for the coveted Best Director Oscar. She did not win the award but the nomination is a bold victory for women artists in 1975 and a testament to her visionary approach to filmmaking.

With Seven Beauties (1975) she tackles the painful subject of concentration camps during World War II with artistic merit and a powerful message of survival by her lead character, Pasqualino, brilliantly played by Giancarlo Giannini.

Through Pasqualino’s backstory, Wertmüller provides comic relief and a sizzling Italian style. This counterbalances the terrifying German elements with cultural and sometimes humorous sequences set in Italy. Pasqualino’s family hijinks are explored.

Back in 1930s Italy, Pasqualino is a struggling low-level Sicilian thug who accidentally kills a man who disgraced his unattractive and vulnerable sister Concettina (Elena Fiore). He escapes imprisonment by joining the military but goes AWOL when things get too severe.

Eventually, Pasqualino is captured and sent to a concentration camp where he vows to do anything to survive. He attempts to seduce an evil and obese female German camp commander (Shirley Stoler) but this comes at a deadly price.

I’ll argue that Stoler should have received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Her callous nature only deepens as her character is peeled back and Pasqualino’s hope that she has a glimmer of kindness in her is dashed. She is one of the best screen villains of all time.

Seven Beauties is an art film with gorgeous visuals especially potent in the concentration camp and surrounding forest. The greyness of the camp is perfectly opposite the pizazz of Italy.

As Pasqualino and comrade Francesco wander around the looming German forest the camera points upwards to the sky in a blurry and dizzying form.

At the start of the film, black and white footage of World War II encompasses the screen, and slivers of the tyrants Mussolini and Hitler are displayed.

If not for the macabre dark humor we see in Italy, Seven Beauties might be too much of a downer. Pasqualino’s seven sisters are unattractive and one is living the life of a struggling stripper and prostitute. He also manages to cleverly chop a body to bits and stuff the body parts into suitcases.

Back in Germany, the scenes between Pasqualino and the female commander are frightening. He is forced to provide sexual pleasures in exchange for his survival but when she callously orders him to select six mates to be executed her viciousness is apparent.

Giannini is a fabulous actor and heartbreakingly reveals Pasqualino’s vulnerabilities as the film plows forward. His good-natured innocence is lost forever and the man he winds up as is darker.

But the caveat is that the character is never purely good but rather layered in complexities. Always, Giannini emotes deep expressionism through his powerful green eyes.

Similarities between Seven Beauties and Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) or Fellini’s Roma (1972) are evident. Had I not known Wertmüller directed the film I would have thought Fellini had. This is more so because of the Italy sequences featuring a bevy of zany, homely characters which adds flavor and humor.

Fernando Rey, well-known for playing the villain in The French Connection (1971) appears as a doomed prisoner who ends up in a large tub of shit rather than suffer a forced execution.

The executions are sob-inducing as lines and lines of prisoners being callously shot and killed are tough to watch. But, the core of the film is about the viciousness of humanity and this must never be forgotten.

Wertmüller delivers a masterpiece that I’ve now seen only twice. I plan to watch this film again and again for the content to sink in more.

The comic elements of Seven Beauties (1975) never diminish or lighten the horror of the Nazi’s actions since they are not done in parallel. The back and forth between periods only add value and balance to a powerful subject matter.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director-Lina Wertmüller, Best Actor-Giancarlo Giannini, Best Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen

O Fantasma-2000

O Fantasma-2000

Director João Pedro Rodrigues

Starring  Ricardo Meneses

Scott’s Review #1,363

Reviewed May 25, 2023

Grade: B

The target audience for a film like O Fantasma (2000) can only be gay men or anyone macabre enough to want to see male pornographic eroticism mixed with sadomasochism.

There is more than one scene that is straight-up pornography. I’ll spare the details but most kinds of sex are on full display and do not look staged or faked.

It’s the type of film that I’m still digesting and ruminating over. I suppose that’s better than having forgotten it.

The director, a gay man named João Pedro Rodrigues, doesn’t sugarcoat the film’s subtext, which is a young man’s painful journey into self-awareness and homosexuality.

The film is set and shot in and around Lisbon, Portugal. Unfortunately, any palatial, lush, or culturally significant landmarks are not used. Instead, seedy, dark, and industrial areas are.

During the night, brooding, lonely Sergio (Ricardo Meneses) works as a trash collector. In between garbage dumps, he embarks on an increasingly dangerous journey of anonymous sexual encounters. Soon, he becomes fixated on one handsome stranger and ‘plows’ down a haunting path.

The opening scene immediately plunges the viewer into a subversive world. Two men, one clad completely in leather, the other naked, are engaging in rough anal sex. We do not who they are or how they figure into the story…….yet.

Speaking of story, O Fantasma doesn’t have much of one. Besides the brief synopsis listed above, Sergio spends a good amount of time playing with his dog, having sex with a policeman, and rebuffing his female co-worker Fátima (Beatriz Torcato) advances.

Oh yeah, Sergio also has time for more rough outdoor sex with his male boss, Virgilio (Eurico Vieira), drinking from puddles, and taking a dump in his clothes.

O Fantasma all seems rather pointless when its shell is peeled back and it’s dissected a little. I get that Sergio is a gay male who is self-hating and conflicted but I feel like I’ve seen that angle played enough times, and no, O Fantasma doesn’t turn about face and offer a happy ending.

Young men struggling with their sexuality in any way need not see this film. It will undoubtedly veer them off the next nearby cliff.

With that footprint relayed, a more mature gay man will find erotism and some titillation to experience and what’s so bad about that? But, O Fantasma is for grown-up audiences and tastes only.

To say that there are enough bare asses displayed to go around is a severe understatement. The naked front male appendages make frequent appearances both erect and flaccid. Oral and anal sex are given equal screen time and one poor bunny rabbit doesn’t stand a chance again an angry and hungry man.

I’m still cringing from that scene.

O Fantasma is a disturbing viewing but never boring. It’s not quite cerebral or artsy but boy does it mesmerize. I’ve never seen a film quite like it nor do I think I ever need to see it again.

This film would never have been made in the United States but European filmmakers get away with so much more skin and sex. That’s just a known fact.

Actor, Ricardo Meneses, doesn’t possess much acting range nor does he need to. He simply needs to glare, sulk, and stalk to make his character’s intention clear. He’s got a great body and even looks good when he sniffs a shower stall and licks Fátima’s face.

A peculiar dog reference abounds throughout the film, the sniffing, licking, and using of two real dogs among its cast. Does Sergio feel dog-like because of shame over his sexuality and/or his need for depravity and degradation?

I both liked and disliked O Fantasma (2000) but longed for a less ambiguous conclusion and a happier resolution for Sergio.

Major props to Rodrigues for crafting an innovative if not haunting production.

All Quiet on the Western Front-2022

All Quiet on the Western Front-2022

Director Edward Berger

Starring Felix Kammerer

Scott’s Review #1,350

Reviewed March 10, 2023

Grade: A

With the escalating situation in vulnerable Ukraine with Russia’s dictator invading the neighboring country, the timing for the release of All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) couldn’t be more perfect.

The clear anti-war message that the film presents is nearly as powerful as when the film was first made in 1930 but the original wins out by a sliver.

The human destruction, loss of life, and futility of battle still resonate nearly one-hundred years later with a very different rendition.

In both a timely and timeless way, the film reminds its audience of the hell that war is with countless battlefield scenes that devastate and scar the main character.

As I asked in my original review- have we learned nothing at all?

The time is 1918 amid World War I. Furious patriotism prompts seventeen-year-old Paul (Felix Kammerer) to enlist in the German Army. He and his peers are duped into believing they will receive a hero welcome and fulfill their duty to the country.

Their perception is shattered as they are sent to the muddy trenches and stinking foxholes with little food, water, or training.

They quickly learn about the horrors of war.

While keeping the terrible message close to heart during my watch of the film, I was nonetheless constantly comparing the 2022 version to the 1930 version directed by Lewis Milestone. Especially intriguing is how a film can be remade so well after many decades.

The remake adjusts the final scene tremendously with mixed results. The powerful ‘butterfly scene’ in which Paul reaches for the gorgeous creature from a bloody foxhole is eliminated.

Instead, a scene nearly the equivalent is offered involving the fate of Paul. It’s more drawn out but resonates nonetheless.

Both are exceptional endings but I’ll forever remember Milestones and neither are happy ones.

Also missed are Paul’s furlough and subsequent visit to his small hometown. Instead of being embraced he is ridiculed and called a coward for questioning the war.

This is a precursor to the sheep-like support of Adolf Hitler by the German people several years later.

However, the remake introduces a powerful musical score with a loud and bombastic drum beat. Its eeriness and unexpected appearances are foreboding and tragic assuring that death is right around the corner.

The cinematography is more modern and slickly created which is beautiful to witness especially in the wintry France sequences. The snow-coated farmland and cloudy skies perfectly encompass the mood of the film.

Enough praise for Kammerer, an Austrian actor. His clean-cut appearance quickly turns waif-like as he is traumatized by one death after another. His piercing blue eyes provide so much depth and ooze pain that it becomes mesmerizing.

He should have received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

The battle scenes are not softcore and nor should they be. A heaping amount of bodies are bludgeoned, run over by tanks, self-mutilated, or otherwise torn apart. This reinforces the destruction that war has on lives, especially the young ones.

But the best scenes occur when Paul forms a bond with another soldier. His best friend Kat, played by Albrecht Schuch, has nothing in common with him in ‘real life’. Coming from different backgrounds they would normally not cross paths and yet they become close.

A tender moment occurs when Paul and a French soldier pummel each other only to finally see each other as human beings and a level of kindness emerges. They wonder why they are intent on killing each other.

Just as its predecessor does All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) successfully mixes the ravages of war while peppering examples of friendship and humanity.

Sadistic and brutal the film presents the case for a world that is anti-war and wins out in spades. It’s more terrifying that any horror film because of its reality.

In the end, the staggering numbers of human casualties are listed with somber and quiet end credits.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (won), Best Production Design (won), Best Original Score (won), Best Sound, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects, Best International Feature Film (won)

When Love Comes-1998

When Love Comes-1998

Director Garth Maxwell

Starring Rena Owen, Dean O’Gorman, Simon Prast

Scott’s Review #1,340

Reviewed February 3, 2023

Grade: B+

When Love Comes (1998) is a New Zealand film, spoken in English, by filmmaker Garth Maxwell.  It starts slow and muddled but quietly captures me with its thoughtful and humanistic tones of emotion, conflict, and sexuality.

There are no subtitles which makes the dialogue hard to follow given the accents and may knock the film down a smidgen for me but the main stories are enthralling with deep texture.

More or less an ensemble of six acquaintances, and three of the characters get the most screen time.

The main character is washed-up singer Katie Keen (Rena Owen) who struggles to create a new life for herself while coping with her absent admirer Eddie and living with her best friend, Stephen.

Stephen is in love with sexually confused ex-hustler Mark, while, band members Fig and Sally, smitten with each other, yearn for success while traipsing around town and the beaches together.

The most interesting storyline is LGBTQ+ centered. Given the time was 1998 when gay films were just starting to make their presence known, Stephen and Mark have the most depth.

Admittedly, a couple of story points are disjoined like why the men have trouble admitting their feelings for each other and Mark’s anger issues cause him to smash a window. In the end, their story wraps nicely and Maxwell gets points for making the audience appreciate the couple.

The lesbians get short shrift. Are they gay or bisexual? If bisexual, are they a couple or what is their arrangement? Don’t get me wrong, they are fun to watch shred the guitar and beat mercilessly on the drums as they raucously perform but little is known about their lives.

Even though When Loves Comes is an ensemble the lead character is Katie. I fell in love with her character because she is the most well-written. At one time a big pop singer, her star faded and she is at a crossroads.

As she whimsically gazes at the crashing waves the expression on her face reveals the deep thought and regrets in her life.

Unfortunately, her love interest, Eddie, is heard from but does not appear in the flesh until pretty deep into the film. Therefore, there is not much rooting value for the couple and we don’t know much about Eddie.

Surprisingly, despite this miss, there is a connection I felt for Katie and Eddie. Rena Owen is a terrific actress revealing expressions and a veneer we deeply want to explore.

There is a decent amount of flesh in the sex scenes which makes for some fun but the wise move is to stick to the character motivations and watch them develop.

This can be said with only three of the characters and I wished for more grit from Eddie, Fig, and Sally.

When Love Comes feels lopsided at times but succeeds as a slow-build film. Nothing is done quickly or forcefully instead crafting long scenes of dialogue but the conversations have something to say rather than existing as filler or a bridge to get to more important scenes.

I respect the cinematography because it has a softer independent film look which is of course what it is. A big budget is not needed for a film about people and the sequences showing Aukland are wonderful.

Keeping the time frame in mind, I wish I saw When Love Comes (1998) at the time it was released. It would have packed a harder punch than it does twenty-five years later when plenty of similar-toned films have been made.

Parallel Mothers-2021

Parallel Mothers-2021

Director-Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit

Scott’s Review #1,326

Reviewed December 22, 2022

Grade: A-

The terrific quality encircling Parallel Mothers (2021), Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, is the constant homage to Alfred Hitchcock. Not to imply that the cult favorite Spanish director needs to borrow at all because he’s got a flavor and color all his own but he has fun adding some patterns of the influential director.

Anytime there is a compelling identity switcheroo or mistaken identity to enjoy it makes me think of the director. Throw in a dose of subtle lesbianism to make things interesting and you’ve got yourself an excellent film.

I also noticed a bit of Brian DePalma’s influence in the dreamy scenes but it’s primarily Hitchcockian as far as the suspense and plot twists are concerned.

The setting is Madrid, Spain (more about that later) where two women, Janis (Penélope Cruz) and Ana (Milena Smit), meet in a hospital room where they are about to give birth. Both are single and became pregnant by accident unsure of what, if any, future with the fathers they will have.

Janis, middle-aged, is exultant to become a new mother, whereas Ana, an adolescent, is scared, and traumatized. Janis encourages Ana which creates a close link between the two women assumed to never see each other again following the birth of their babies.

But a strange twist of fate brings the women back into each other’s lives and their babies are at the heart of a complicated situation.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Parallel Mothers but I assumed that Cruz played a fortysomething woman who perhaps doesn’t want to give birth at her age.

Cruz is excellent in the role of Janis, a confident woman who exudes warmth and stoicism. She is unfazed about her one-night stand and plans to live happily ever after with the baby daddy despite his wife suffering from cancer.

Janis is not delusional but knows what she wants and is determined to get it embracing her situation and caring for others in her path instead of manipulating them.

A strange situation occurs with Ana and her baby which throws everything into a spiral.

Cruz is a muse of Almodóvar’s, appearing in many of his films like Volver (2006) and Pain and Glory (2019) and she is perfectly cast in this role. She is a mature woman, a feminist, and a role model while staying true to her family roots which is how she meets the father of her child.

Anyone who has either been to Madrid or aspires to (me!) will be treated to a history lesson free of charge. Plenty of location sequences of the city, restaurants, and street life are featured. As with Almodóvar’s style, he incorporates vibrant colors, a rich aesthetic, and brilliant cinematography.

The musical score enhances the series of events perfectly.

A slight miss for me is the connection between the baby story and the other story which is the disappearance of people during Spain’s wars. I didn’t envelope the important civil war story as much as I should of or understand what the connection was.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing?

The introduction and backstory of Ana’s mother, a well-known theater actress, felt jarring and out of place. I expected more of a connection to the other events in the film than was to be found.

Almodóvar teeters more in the vein of drama than his usual witty comedies like 2013’s I’m So Excited and the results are stimulating especially with Cruz in the main role.

Parallel Mothers (2021) is a sizzling and titillating exploration of human sensation, eroticism, and emotion.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Penélope Cruz, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Flee-2021

Flee-2021

Director-Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Scott’s Review #1,274

Reviewed July 7, 2022

Grade: A-

Flee (2021) has the distinction of being the first film that is a documentary, an animated movie, and also classified as international since it was made in Denmark. It was nominated in all three categories for icing on the cake at the Academy Awards.

It’s a unique telling of one man’s journey out of war-torn Afghanistan as a refugee and his eventual safe destination of Denmark. He eventually goes to Princeton University in the United States.

This is pretty impressive for a man who could have easily died in Afghanistan before he even had a fair shot.

The film also depicts stories of his family and his realization that he is gay is made further complicated because of the country he is born in.

Flee contains beautiful graphics and art design and shifts focus from the present-day to the past and back again and includes real-life footage of various soldiers and battles (hence the documentary status).

It’s one of a kind and a tremendous effort, though I longed for a bit more of the LGBTQ+ storyline, and was curious for a glimpse of what the real-life figures looked like, which usually comes at the end of a biography-type film.

In this case, it never did.

But the gripe is small potatoes when stacked against the meaning and inspiration that Flee provides.

The focus of the story is on Amin Nawabi who wrestles with a painful secret he has kept hidden for over twenty years, one that threatens to ruin the life he has built for himself and his soon-to-be husband, Kasper.

Recounted mostly through animation by director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he tells the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.

Because of the animation, I was at first thrown by Flee since it starts with the interviewer and interviewee having a conversation. In a traditional documentary, we would see the two people face to face but instead, we hear their voices in animated characters.

I quickly got used to this and it’s the way the film is throughout. The real-life characters like Amin’s family and future husband are all animated and real human beings never appear except for the newsreel-type footage.

Surprising, and also a deepening of the story is when Amin admits that he initially lied about his family all being dead. The reason he does this is out of instinct and a survival technique (for both him and his family).

Flee is perfectly paced at one hour and thirty minutes. There is ample time to discuss and showcase Amin’s decision to leave Afghanistan and the terrible journey his mother and sisters were forced to endure.

They traveled by boat from Russia to the safety of Sweden as human traffickers.

What a horrific way to escape a country especially as many stories of deaths due to suffocation follow human traffickers.

Amin is a man of secrets and anyone who has ever harbored some out of desperation will assuredly relate to Amin’s plight.

He keeps many even from his husband to be and the viewer can understand his secrecy and deep-seated fear of a return to Afghanistan and certain execution.

His story is tragic and courageous but I yearned to know more about his life with Kasper. How did they meet? Did Amin have trouble realizing his homosexuality? He mentions that he was a ‘different’ child and openly wore girls’ dresses but how else did he deal? What obstacles did they or do they continue to face?

There is a beautiful scene where he comes out to his understanding brother and sisters but I guess I wanted more.

Visually, the graphics are modern and edgy. The different countries of Afghanistan, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark all take on distinctive identities and the animation during the boat sequences is quite nerve-racking.

If a standard documentary can provide adequate emotion and storytelling, the way the filmmakers decided to make Flee (2021) is remarkable and worthy of praise.

For those desiring a humanistic story of one man’s valiant plight, Flee will leave you very satisfied.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature Film

Dead Snow-2009

Dead Snow-2009

Director Tommy Wirkola

Starring Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen

Scott’s Review #1,237

Reviewed March 12, 2022

Grade: B

First off, the cover art (pictured above) of the 2009 Norwegian horror-comedy film Dead Snow, is simply incredible. The creepy Nazi head embedded in the snow with a background chainsaw is perfect marketing and genuinely artistic.

It automatically makes the tired zombie horror genre feel fresh and alive with endless possibilities.

The film itself is a decent watch and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities are necessary to appreciate the movie. There is a hint of art film qualities peppered throughout and it’s not a run-of-the-mill mainstream horror film either but a sense of humor and embracing the ridiculousness is required.

In other words, one must be a fan of the genre to watch Dead Snow. Otherwise, it will not win people over with a great storyline or character enrichment.

It’s a slice-and-dice ’em affair and after a slow build goes into overdrive with the kills and thrills.

The familiar setup of a group of young people, this time intelligent medical students, heading off for a long weekend of booze and sex in a remote location gets Dead Snow off to an intriguing start.

A lonely cabin in the middle of the snowy mountains of Norway is the primary setting for the Arctic Easter bloodbath.

The eight of them plan to ski and relax during the time away. After one of their group disappears while on a solo cross-country hike, a mysterious resident (Bjørn Sundquist) provides the remaining visitors with a backstory.

In the last days of World War II, a battalion of Nazi soldiers disappeared into the nearby woods after the residents turned on them, and their zombified corpses remain on the prowl in the area looking for fresh meat.

Of course, the students hoot and snicker at the stranger’s proclamations but the audience knows full well the Nazi soldiers will emerge eventually. After all, in the very first scene, one of the students who never shows up to join the others is killed by an unidentifiable figure in the dark woods.

If nothing else, Dead Snow is prime-grade entertainment. I eagerly awaited who from the group would be butchered first and how it might happen. As all fans of the slasher horror genre know he or she who parties or has sex is not long for this world, and Dead Snow is no different.

What is different from a straight-ahead release is the dark humor that encompasses the film. When one student who is deathly afraid of blood must remove his arm with a chainsaw after being bitten, he does so with deep seriousness and precision.

The macabre scene nearly rivals some others like when a male member of the group is seduced for sex by a female member of the group while sitting on the toilet in the cold outhouse.

Enough splatters of blood exist to forget how silly the Nazi soldiers look. But the makeup and creative team do a superior job of making the zombies look horrific too. In particular, their leader, Colonel Herzog, is a combination of sexy and hideous.

The international quality and the Norwegian language require sub-titles but that is no problem for me. This brings sophistication and intelligence that I appreciate, rising the film above the mediocrity that it may have suffered from had it been an American release. The foreign lands add mystique.

Dead Snow at one hour and thirty minutes is short enough not to wear out its welcome which it starts to do in the final fifteen minutes or so.

A chase scene across the snowy mountains and motivation for some ancient gold coins are explained as the final character makes it to safety in an until then missing car.

Or does he or she?

Providing some fun without taking itself too seriously, Dead Snow (2009) contains no message nor any marquis stars. Making Nazis the evil ones is no stretch so there is immediately enough rooting value to forgive some of the students for their idiotic decisions.

It’s a bloody fun time but not much more.

Lamb-2021

Lamb-2021

Director-Valdimar Johannsson

Starring-Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snaer Guonason

Scott’s Review #1,187

Reviewed October 17, 2021

Grade: A-

Director, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s feature-length film directorial debut is a mixed recipe of eeriness and gorgeous cinematography sprinkled with horror and dread. The film is shot entirely in remote Iceland making the texture of the film ominous and haunting.

The creation, Lamb (2021), is highly effective in mood and dread as throughout most of the film the feeling that something awful will happen at any moment is unrelenting. During numerous sequences, I expected something to leap out from behind a door or suddenly peer through a window but the film contains no gimmicks.

It doesn’t need them. The low-key musical score is terrific.

After an extremely slow build, the shit finally hits the fan making the payoff well worth the wait.

On their remote farm, María (Rapace) and Ingvar (Guonason) share a peaceful and idyllic life raising sheep. They are deeply in love but miss having a child. After one of their sheep gives birth to a human/sheep hybrid, they are filled with love and decide to raise it as their own naming her Ada. The arrival of Ingvar’s troubled brother Pétur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) upends their calm family dynamic.

Providing an additional hurdle is the arrival of their “daughters” sheep mother who remains outside their house crying for her newborn. She is determined not to let María and Ingvar steal her baby. Does María go too far in a fit of rage?

Jóhannsson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, fills the film with mystery. The first scene is of a herd of horses terrified by some approaching force that arrives at María and Ingvar’s barn. Later, featured animals like the sheep, a cat, and a dog seem spooked and alert. What is this force and what’s in store for the characters?

On the surface, a sheep/human hybrid runs the risk of feeling ridiculous especially as Ada ages and is clad in bright sweaters and jackets. She cannot speak but can comprehend and is capable of feeling and emotion. She is quite human-like and filled with love. I, as audiences will, took to her and therefore rooted for her happiness.

I adore the characters of María and Ingvar. Preparing meals together, sipping wine, and playing cards, they take turns with the farmwork and make a wonderful romantic ideal. It’s never known if they once had a child who died or whether Ada is the first sheep/human hybrid they’ve ever seen. They don’t seem completely surprised at the birth.

When they visit a grave marked with the name Ada, we wonder who the deceased is?

I shuttered upon the arrival of Pétur. A heap of trouble he mooches off of our happy couple and despises Ada, almost shooting her with a shotgun. Thankfully, he has enough sense not to hurt her but the ever-present shotgun inevitably comes into play later on.

Rapace, Guonason, and Haroldsson provide exceptional acting which goes miles to ground a story that could easily be deemed as silly or superfluous.

Cinematographer, Eli Arenson, deserves major props for filming gorgeous Iceland location shots. Having visited this lush geographical paradise I immediately appreciated what I was being offered and was taken back to the sprawling farmlands and statuesque mountains.

Those who are squeamish about seeing an animal give birth may want to close their eyes during one scene which undoubtedly is a real birth of a lamb. I found it beautiful.

The final fifteen minutes of Lamb is violent and daring. Mixed with an obvious nightmare is a sweetness and sincerity that dripped from the screen. The folktale presentation creates a fairytale comparison and the fate of one character is shrouded in uncertainty.

For those wondering who or what Ada’s father is, daddy does finally make an appearance.

Lots of questions abound after the credits roll so might there be a sequel offered by Jóhannsson? Let’s hope so.

Lamb (2021) perfectly infuses the common reality of farm work and an attractive couple’s daily life with a horrific folklore story. I might have preferred a slightly faster pace but by no means did I ever feel robbed of a proper payoff.

Minari-2020

Minari-2020

Director-Lee Isaac Chung

Starring-Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn-Yuh Jung

Scott’s Review #1,181

Reviewed September 24, 2021

Grade: A-

I proudly champion a film like Minari (2020) for further bringing Asian actors and directors into the Hollywood mainstream with a truthful story. They have slowly (and it’s about time!) begun to reap the riches from the Academy Awards and other such honors. Parasite (2019) and to a lesser degree Crazy Rich Asians (2018) helped propel respectability to the Asian film community.

With that said, I expected Minari to be a masterpiece, and instead, it is simply a very good film. That’s a tough statement for me to make. Undoubtedly, it was heavily helped by the progress I have mentioned above.

This is to take nothing away from its cast and wonderful director, Lee Isaac Chung.

I found the film sentimental and heartwarming but only during one scene did it ever feel dangerous or edgy.

Of strong interest to me is the fact that the film is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung’s upbringing, but is it a fantasized version?

The plot follows a family of South Korean immigrants who try to make it in the rural United States during the 1980s. Specifically, the year is 1983 in the southern state of Arkansas where the family sticks out like sore thumbs amid the suffocating summer heat.

Chung, who writes and directs the piece, provides a tender look at the ties that bind- family. The Yi’s are a Korean-American family that moves from California to invest in a crummy plot of land and their own American Dream. Jacob and Monica (Yeun and Han) are reduced to taking even crummier jobs sexing chicks at a local factory.

The family home changes completely with the arrival of their scheming, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother Soon-Ja played by Yuh-Jung.

Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what makes a home. The Yi’s are resilient through the constant bickering of Jacob and Monica, Soon-JA’s stroke, bad water, and the burning of their shed which stores their goods.

The story is all well and good, and it is good, but I desired more. I blame this on the heaps of praise put on Minari and the number of Top 10 lists it appeared on.

For example, hearing the premise I couldn’t help but wonder what discrimination the Yi’s would inevitably face down in the deep south. But they faced none. In one soft scene, the young Yi boy, David, played exceptionally by Alan Kim is asked by a local kid why his face is flat. They quickly become best friends.

Another ally and Jacob’s farming partner is played by Will Patton. He is a Korean War veteran and a bit nutty yet he adores Jacob and the rest of the Yi’s and harbors no ill-will towards them. I expected him to despise them because of the war. This would have been more realistic.

The southern characters are written as nice as pie and always ready to lend a helping hand. This is all fine and good but is it realistic?

The casting is outstanding and brings the dialogue to reality. Yeun and Han bring their A-games in more than one vicious fight scene where their words crackle with intensity leaving them teetering on the verge of divorce. Yeun was recognized during awards season but Han was sadly overlooked.

Soon-Ja mixes humor with drama and will leave many viewers bawling with her facial expressions and terrific acting during the final sequence. Her performance deservedly led her to a Supporting Actress Oscar win.

In fact, the finale felt so incredibly raw and real to me whereas the rest felt sentimental that based on this alone it caused me to raise its grade from a B+ to an A-.

Beautiful landscape and brilliant acting make Minari (2020) a fine experience. It teeters too close to formula at times but offers freshness and representation for a group only starting to receive their recognition.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Lee Isaac Chung, Best Actor-Steven Yeung, Best Supporting Actress-Youn Yuh-Jung (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Lee Isaac Chung, Best Male Lead-Steven Yeung, Best Supporting Female-Youn Yuh-Jung (won), Han Ye-ri, Best Screenplay

Hot Summer-1968

Hot Summer-1968

Director Joachim Hasler

Starring Chris Doerk, Frank Schobel

Scott’s Review #1,173

Reviewed August 27, 2021

Grade: B

One of the strangest films I’ve ever watched Hot Summer (1968) deserves enormous accolades for even being filmed, produced, and in existence.

You see, it’s the only film (that I know of) to come out of East Germany before the wall came down in 1989 and unity garnered.

This is astounding in itself despite some warts the film contains.

The starkness and seriousness that envelope the German stereotype are shattered by the bubblegum musical nature of the film. This is an oddity in itself.

It’s patterned after the trite, summery United States beach movies of the 1950s and 1960s when teenage characters flocked to the sandy beaches looking for romance with their contemporaries.

In this film, they do so within song and dance numbers led by two East German pop idols of the time, Chris Doerk and Frank Schobel.

The genre of the film pretty much sucks and is not at all my favorite style of film but Hot Summer contains a liberal helping of sun, perfect smiles, and beach bodies to keep viewers at least interested.

The acting is not great nor is it expected to be.

As goofy as possible the musical comedy follows a group of teenage girls heading to the Baltic coast together for their summer vacation. Naturally, they wind up meeting a similar group of amorous teenage guys, giving way to quarrels and flirtatious competitions that are played out in lively song-and-dance numbers as the individuals hook up with each other.

Despite that the film was made during the Cold War period there are no political or like messages to be found which surprised me. If there were any subliminal intentions related to this, like the groups sticking together, they didn’t register with me. I think this is a positive.

Hot Summer is pure summer fun- nothing more and nothing less.

The songs are a major win and rather hummable, especially the title track. It stuck in my head for some time after the film had ended. One character performs a lovely ballad amid a campfire that is quite beautiful and incredibly atmospheric.

The numbers are professional largely because real-life pop stars Doerk and Schobel do the bulk of them.

Still, Hot Summer has a couple of negatives to mention. Why the decision was made to pattern a film, especially one as groundbreaking as being the sole East German film during the Cold War, by using a subject matter as hokey as the summer beach theme is beyond me.

Certainly, better genres exist to borrow from.

My hunch is that Joachim Hasler, who directed the film, desired a release from the bleakness of his own culture and saw America as the land of freedom and fun.

The choreography is a bit stiff, if not downright amateurish which adds to the bizarre nature of the overall product.

Certainly nothing like the exceptional choreography of say Oklahoma (1955) or West Side Story (1961) instead we get rigid dance numbers.

Kudos to the film for being made at all Hot Summer (1968) is hardly a great film but it does hold the viewer’s interest. It contains enough fun and frolics and good-looking young people to avoid being a snore.

L’Avventura-1960

L’Avventura-1960

Director Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti

Scott’s Review #1,167

Reviewed July 30, 2021

Grade: A

L’Avventura (1960) has a lot in common with the horror masterpiece Psycho (1960), released the same year, although they couldn’t be more opposite on the surface.

One is an American horror film by an esteemed British director and the other is an Italian art film. What could they possibly have in common?

Forgetting that the former is not at all a horror film, L’Avventura first introduces a character that the audience is certain to be the main character only to pull a switcheroo midstream and make other characters the central protagonists.

Think what Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane was in Psycho to John Garvin and Vera Miles, Sam Loomis, and Lila Crane.

Be that as it may, as an interesting if not completely odd comparison, L’Avventura is a brilliant film and not just for the story alone. Black and white cinematography of the grandest kind transplants the film viewer to a fabulous yet haunting island where a good portion of the events occur.

Frequent shots of the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea and its roaring waves pepper the action.

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic of Italian cinema, two beautiful young women, Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna (Léa Massari) join Anna’s lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), on a boat trip to a remote volcanic island.

They plan to spend their time cruising, resting, and relaxing on the Mediterranean. The trio is all good-looking and resides on the outskirts of Rome. They join two wealthy couples and depart on their excursion,

When Anna suddenly goes missing on an island stop, an extensive search is launched. In the meantime, Sandro and Claudia become involved in a romance despite Anna’s disappearance, though the relationship suffers from the guilt and tension brought about by the looming mystery.

Their relationship is intriguing based on the roller coaster emotions they face. Their burgeoning romance and Anna’s disappearance overlap.

Assumed to be the focal point of the film Anna eventually serves as more of a ghost character and quickly disappears from the screen.

This though me for a loop.

Events do not remain on the island but return to the Italian mainland where Sandro and Claudia continue with their guilt finally becoming convinced Anna might have returned!

The brilliant and ambitious thing about L’Avventura is that the film changes course many times.

On the surface, it appears to be a film about a missing girl and a friend’s attempts to locate her. But Antonioni delves into a film about emotions and the meaning of life making the audience go deeper along with the characters.

Eventually, Sandro and Claudia chase a ghost of their design and plod along unhappy and unfulfilled suffering paranoia.

L’Avventura is all about the characters and the cinematography and each immerses well with the other.

Many characters exchange glances with each other that the audience can read into. What was the relationship between Sandro and Claudia before the cruise, if any? What is the back story of Anna and Sandro? And what’s become of Anna? Did she run off and drown or was she murdered?

The camerawork is just stunning, each shot a lovely escapade into another world. Particularly, the yacht cruise and the island sequences are astounding. I love how the characters explore different sections of the island instead of dully standing on the shore or otherwise similar types of shots.

As the title says the point of the film is of adventure and both physical and cerebral adventure.

L’Avventura (1960) is a film that will make you think, ponder, escape, and discuss the true meaning of the film. Isn’t that what great art cinema does?

Antonioni also made me consider comparisons to another great art film creator- the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

Macabre-1980

Macabre-1980

Director Lamberto Bava

Starring Bernice Stegers

Scott’s Review #1,165

Reviewed July 26, 2021

Grade: A-

With a pedigree for horror, director Lamberto Bava has a lot to live up to. He is the son of Mario Bava deemed the “Master of Italian Horror” for creepies like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) and worked alongside Dario Argento, another famous Italian horror director.

Lamberto certainly learned his craft exceptionally well and he created a terrific and gruesome horror film called Macabre (1980) which certainly lives up to its name.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing too much but the experience of watching his film will stay with the audience long after it ends.

Nightmares anyone?

Let’s just say that one won’t look at one’s libido and the human head in the same way ever again.

Sadly, Bava wouldn’t remain very long in the feature film industry. After assisting Argento with his films throughout the 1980s Bava would move to the television industry. But what a lasting impression he makes with Macabre.

The horrific tale mixes murder, madness, and perverse (or perverted) passion. A lonely New Orleans wife and mother, Jane Baker, played by Bernice Stegers, carries on a torrid affair without her family’s knowledge.

After sneaking around and causing her daughter Lucy’s (Veronica Zinny) suspicions to be aroused, a violent accident leaves her lover, Fred, dead.

Devastated, Jane does a stint in a mental institution. Supposedly cured, she leaves determined to pursue her forbidden desires and ends up moving in with her dead lover’s blind brother, Robert (Stanko Molnar).

But what secret or ghastly desires does she hold dear to her heart and what oddity resides in her refrigerator?

You’re probably wondering why a director with Italian roots as strong as Bava’s would choose the cajun and gumbo-infused city of New Orleans- I was too.

Why not choose a more gothic locale like Rome? The setting is even more jarring given the British and Italian actors cast in the film.

Rumor has it the events in the film happened in New Orleans but I’m not sure I buy that.

Be that as it may, something is unsettling about this weird setting. But somehow it works as measured against the bizarre nature of the story. It’s so out there that for some reason it affects.

The running time is just right at one hour and thirty minutes and with such a low budget any longer might have felt distracting or made the pace too much.

Stegers is fabulous in the central role. She is controlled yet neurotic, madly in love with her beau on the brink of instability. She is also a strong, feminist woman as she brazenly carries on with her affair unconcerned of the consequences though death isn’t exactly what she expects.

Regardless, Stegers does a fine job and carries the action throughout the duration.

It’s tough to measure at the time whether Bava is going for mid-level camp or complete over-the-top bizarro. He knows the tricks of the trade and avoids the popular slasher effects like gore and blood. This is to his credit.

Instead, he floods Macabre with juicy atmospheric elements and a perfect mood. This mood gets creepier as the plot develops reaching a crescendo at the conclusion when Richard, Lucy, Jane, and even the deceased Fred adjourn for a savory dinner where the events will never be seen coming.

Macabre (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece that I highly recommend for any fan of Italian-style horror and those desiring a ghoulish and titillating journey into the macabre.

How appropriate.

In the Name of-2013

In the Name of-2013

Director Malgorzata Szumowska, Mateusz Kościukiewicz

Starring Andrzej Chyra

Scott’s Review #1,159

Reviewed July 8, 2021

Grade: B+

In the Name of (2013), not to be confused with In the Name of the Father, a 1993 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is a Polish independent LGBTQ+ genre film directed by a female, Malgorzata Szumowska.

I point out the gender only because the subject matter skews heavily towards male homosexuality which is an interesting one for a female to tackle.

Szumowska does so with gusto providing wonderful cinematography and quiet dialogue.

She casts her husband, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, in the central role of an outsider who stirs up the sexual feelings of a priest struggling with his long-repressed sexuality.

If one looks carefully, each character struggles with conflict and self-acceptance in some way, restless and hungry for peace of mind and satisfaction.

We wonder if any of the characters will ever find this.

The priest in question is played by Andrzej Chyra. It’s revealed that Adam joined the House of God at age twenty-one to escape issues he wrestled with concerning his sexuality. He has spent his life running away from his true self.

Now in his forties, he currently leads a rural parish having been transferred from the lively city of Warsaw, and is still tormented by desire. To make matters even more difficult he mentors troubled young men with lots of testosterone.

When Adam attempts to help troubled teen Lukasz (Kościukiewicz), long-suppressed feelings begin to surface as the men grow closer. A townsperson catches wind of possible shenanigans and Adam is transferred yet again to another location. This has happened before. But, will Adam and Lukasz have a chance at happiness if they play their cards right?

The obvious comparison of In the Name of is to Brokeback Mountain (2005) which set the standard and paved the way for many LGBTQ+ films to be made.

All of Adam’s and Lukasz’s dalliances, and there are romantic suggestions, but nothing animalistic is secretive. Both men are repressed but are at different stages of life.

I can’t say In the Name of hits the mark in this regard because the film is less about a male romance than about the characters being unhappy. It’s not until the end of the film that any blossoming develops between Adam and Lukasz.

I wanted more meat between the characters, pun intended but was left knowing almost nothing about Lukasz specifically.

I also yearned for more backstories from three supporting characters. Ewa (Maja Ostaszewska), an attractive local woman, flirts with Adam and the coach on occasion and drinks too much, later regretting her actions.

How does she happen to be in the town and why is she without a man already? Is the coach gay or straight? It is suggested he is gay but this remains unclear.

Finally, Blondi is a bleached blonde troubled boy played by Tomasz Schuchardt. He beds another boy and senses Adam’s sexuality filling Blondi with venom.

I wanted to know more about Blondi.

Despite these slight yearnings for more the film is very good.

Chyra does a terrific acting job in the main role of Adam and easily wins over the audience who will root for his happiness. During a great scene, the typically reserved Adam explodes with self-deprecating rage while on a video call with his sympathetic sister.

He struggles for self-acceptance that many of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to.

I sense that having seen In the Name of when it was originally released in 2013 would have made the experience even more powerful.

By 2021 the cinema world has been saturated with films containing similar story points and religious conflict issues so that appears a commonality rather than originality.

But I’ll never complain about too many LGBTQ+ films being made.

Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and recommend it to anyone seeking a quality character-driven experience.

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Director Guillermo del Toro

Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López

Scott’s Review #1,156

Reviewed June 25, 2021

Grade: A

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a treasure of a film. I would classify it as a masterpiece for creativity alone.

It is not for children!

The fact that it has some fantasy trimmings and tells its story from a child’s perspective is misleading. The film deals with some heady and heavy stuff that will both frighten and be lost on the younger crowd.

A clue is that Guillermo del Toro directs the film, he of well-known note for creating films such as Hell Boy (2004), Hell Boy II: The Golden Army (2008), and The Shape of Water (2017) the latter winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar Award.

I adore that Pan’s Labyrinth is Spanish-Mexican. Somehow that makes the experience a bit mysterious and exotic right off the bat.

The frightening period of 1944, directly post World War II is also key to the good story since war and mayhem are themes.

The main character, Ofelia, meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.

Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant and sick mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to prevent a guerrilla uprising.

Lonely and feeling lost, Ofelia explores an ancient maze, encountering the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks to claim immortality.

She is completely and utterly spellbound and intrigued all at once. Finally, she can escape the ravages of real life and immerse herself in a fantasy world all her own. She hates her stepfather, worries for her mother, and can’t wait to traverse her new world. If only life were that simple.

In a fairy tale, Princess Moanna, who Ofelia becomes, visits the human world, where the sunlight blinds her and erases her memory. She becomes mortal and eventually dies. The king believes that eventually, her spirit will return to the underworld, so he builds labyrinths, which act as portals, around the world in preparation for her return.

Enter Ofelia.

About that creativity, I mentioned earlier. Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for adults, taking some similar points and adding the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable.

The darkness of the forest is the best and most memorable part.

The art direction is astonishing to see. Bewildering forest trimmings and haunting lighting make their appearance as Ofelia immerses herself in her new world. The viewer sees her new world through her eyes, that is through the eyes of a child.

So authentic are the sets and ruins that it is impossible not to be thrust full-throttle into the fantasy sequences.

The story can be downright horrifying at times. Carmen eventually dies and Ofelia is taken under the wing of Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), Ofelia’s stepfather’s housekeeper, and also a revolutionary harboring dangerous secrets.

Ofelia and Mercedes team up to save Ofelia’s baby brother from the hands of the dastardly.

The strange fantasy world may confuse some viewers. It’s simply not the imagination of Ofelia (or is it?) because Vidal, Mercedes, and the baby all play a part in the eerie labyrinth.

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so imaginative and magnificent that we see this world through the eyes of a child but also the clear glasses of the adults.

Scenes of torture mix with scenes of innocence so well that it is impossible not to be transported to a magical world where reality often disrupts the pleasurable fairy tale.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2008) is a visionary film and must be experienced to be believed.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Makeup (won), Best Original Score

Ugetsu-1953

Ugetsu-1953

Director Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo

Scott’s Review #1,147

Reviewed May 31, 2021

Grade: A

Kenji Mizoguchi, who directed the brave Japanese masterpiece, Ugetsu (1953), successfully brought Eastern cinema to Western audiences when the film was discovered. The result is a groundbreaking ghost story that fuses reality with the supernatural in gorgeous ways.

It’s not always clear what is going on but in only the best of ways. It’s like being inside a dream.

The notice is a long time coming since Mizoguchi had been making films since the 1920s! But his forever stamp on cinema is worth the wait and Ugetsu is a timeless treasure.

Ugetsu is not the easiest plot to follow but that is fine because its brilliance lies in other areas. Like, every area to be clear.

The cinematography, the mix of reality and the supernatural, the tone, the questioning messages, and the character conflict all add muscle.

It’s cinema to be experienced and mesmerized by. Haunting, sad, and stoic, it explores themes such as war, family, and forbidden relationships.

Its cultural exploration is important and teaches Japanese customs. This film taught me what great cinema is- not necessarily linear or explained, but drenched with brilliance, thoughtfulness, and art. I was able to escape the confines of traditionally constructed films and it was an awakening in pleasure and creativity.

The lesson learned is great cinema knows no boundaries and the film was helpful to open my eyes to types and styles of films that may be deemed difficult.

Drawing its plot, particularly from Ueda’s tales “The House in the Thicket” and “The Lust of the White Serpent”, the film is set in Azuchi–Momoyama period Japan (1573–1600). Mizoguchi was fascinated and inspired by these fables and the supernatural style from the long-ago stories is powerful and classic.

A peasant farmer and potter, Genjūrō (Masayuki Mori) leaves his wife and young son behind during the civil war and is seduced by a spirit that threatens his life. He finds himself at a Kutsuki mansion to sell his pottery.

The mansion is run by fabulous Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo) who seduces him and requests he marry her.

But is Lady Wakasa real or a ghost from the past? She harbors a horrific secret.

A subplot involves Genjūrō’s friend, Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa), who dreams of becoming a great samurai and chases this goal at the unintended expense of his wife. He steals the head of a well-known general and is rewarded with shiny armor. Eager to tell his wife he instead finds her working at a local brothel.

The costumes specifically deserve a shout-out. Drenched in Japanese drawings and colors they are exquisite to the eye despite Ugetsu being a black-and-white film. The obvious art looks better without color adding mystique.

My favorite visual is when two couples drift along in a boat on a tremendous lake. Amid fog and haze, the scene is gloomy yet magnificent offering lush Japanese geography. It’s a breathtaking visual with a fabulous texture and tone that, once again, is aided by black-and-white filmmaking.

The ghost story also is aided by the black and white cinematography. Isn’t everything? The scenes seem to scroll by in a fusion of live-action and gorgeous landscapes.

What is reality and what is not is up for debate. This adds to the confusion and overall beauty.

The humanity and moral conflict the two main characters face are hearty and worthy of discussion. They strive for great success and riches but live in a cruel world.

I found the men to be heroes. Ugetsu is as much a character study as it is an art film.

Ugetsu (1953) is a must-see for film lovers and those intrigued by other cultures. It should appear on lists of superior films shown at film schools if it is not already.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Black and White

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Director-Céline Sciamma

Starring-Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

Scott’s Review #1,114

Reviewed February 19, 2021

Grade: A-

A film with tremendous artistry and a cool LGBTQ+ vibe, gay director Céline Sciamma interestingly delivers the goods with Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). She takes modern-looking actors and transplants them to the era of France during the late 18th century.

The film tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and a painter commissioned to paint her portrait.

The viewer will ask themselves the following questions. What would become of two young gay women in this long-ago age? How many people repressed their true feelings and desires because of the times they lived in? Would their different classes and backgrounds cause strife within their burgeoning relationship? I know I constantly asked myself these questions.

To those with limited cinematic patience be forewarned. A Portrait of a Lady on Fire is plodding. I didn’t mind this aspect but some might. The payoff is not bombastic in an act of violence or an explosion sort of way but it’s well worth the effort put in.

In a common approach in modern film that is feeling more standard than special, the first scene postdates the events in the rest of the film so that we sort of know-how events will turn out. But we do not know the how’s and the why’s. It is immediately assumed that one character has suffered some loss or misfortune related to a painting.

Painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is summoned to a remote island inhabited by very few people. She is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haene) who is destined to be married to a nobleman in Milan, Italy. Héloïse is depressed and despondent, wanting nothing to do with her intended whom she has not met.

The portrait is a gift to the never-seen husband-to-be. It is revealed that Héloïse’s sister leaped to her death from the cliffs on the family estate so it’s suggested throughout that she may suffer the same fate.

Needless to say, Marianne and Héloïse fall madly in love.

Their love is hardly ever a question as the chemistry is immediately noticed. Sciamma, who wrote the screenplay, avoids stereotypes that would give away the sexuality of the main characters. They are not butch nor do they possess masculine qualities. Do we wonder if they are bisexual? They never struggle with their sexuality, a dramatic cliche in other LGBTQ+ films.

I adore this because it makes the love story more powerful rather than one character pursuing the conflicted other.

As brilliant and artistic as I found Portrait of a Lady on Fire to be there are a couple of unexplained or unclear aspects. I am not even sure how they relate to the main story.

Waifish housemaid Sophie has an abortion with assistance from Marianne and Héloïse. Later, the three go to a bonfire gathering where women sing, during which Héloïse’s dress briefly catches fire (just as shown in the painting featured in the beginning).

When Sophie is having the abortion there is an infant and child nearby. Are they her children? Who are the women who sing?

I didn’t understand the point of these items.

Fortunately, these missteps can be forgiven for the grander piece is amazing filmmaking. The final shot of Héloïse sitting in a theater is phenomenal and borrowed from Call Me By Your Name (2017) which featured an identical scene.

The camera focuses on the face of actress Haene as she emits many emotions during the flawless scene. What a win for an actor!

Despite some side story flaws, I adored Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). The film is exceptionally shot and almost all shots could be portraits in their own right. Especially lovely are the beach sequences as when Marianne and Héloïse first ignite the flames of their passion.

My takeaway is that it tells the story of fate but doesn’t feel like a downer. Rather, it feels like life.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Wild Strawberries-1957

Wild Strawberries-1957

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson

Scott’s Review #1,111

Reviewed February 10, 2021

Grade: A

A seventy-eight-year-old man (Victor Sjostrom) reflects on life, loss, and a million other emotions as he ponders his inevitable death in the Ingmar Bergman masterpiece Wild Strawberries (1957).

The film has a melancholy tone and forces the viewer to put themselves in the shoes of the old man and wonder how senior citizens view death. One great point is it represents the geriatric demographic, which has traditionally been sorely lacking in cinema.

It’s cerebral and reminds me in a peculiar way of A Christmas Carol in the way an old man ruminates over his forgotten and sometimes misbegotten youth.

Bergman creates genius on par with his most famous work The Seventh Seal also released in 1957. I’d list these two films as his very best and most inspiring.

Do older people fear death?  Do they whimsically revisit their youth from time to time or do they live with regret and unfulfilled desire?

My hunch is that it’s probably a bit of all.

Wild Strawberries made me think like the old man and the effect was powerful, making me worry and fear my death and relive my glory days.

Isak Borg (Sjostrom) begins to reflect on his life after he decides to take a road trip from his home in Stockholm to the distant town of Lund to receive a special award. Along the way, a string of encounters causes him to experience hallucinations that expose his insecurities and fears.

He realizes that the choices he’s made have rendered his life meaningless, or so he perceives it.

He is accompanied by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) who doesn’t like Isak too much, is pregnant, and plans to leave her husband. They meet a trio of friendly hitchhikers led by Sara (Bibi Andersson) who reminds Isak of the love of his youth.

A bickering couple reminds him of his unhappy marriage, while his elderly mother reminds him of himself.

The best part of the film is when the group stops at Isak’s childhood seaside home and imagines his sweetheart, Sara, with whom he remembered gathering strawberries, but who instead married his brother.

Anyone who has returned to their own childhood home or neighborhood can easily relate to the powerful memories that are served. I pretended I was in Isak’s character and several emotions occurred.

Sjostrom is incredibly good and infuses a natural range of emotions. At first crotchety and distant I grew to admire his sentimentality as he fondly recalls innocently picking strawberries on a summer day. How glorious and innocent to reminisce in an act so mundane yet monumental.

An old man, he was once young. How quickly the years go by. I took this as a lesson to appreciate each day and experience. Sjostrom had me mesmerized.

Some find Izak unsympathetic but I disagree. I found him incredibly likable.

Relationships are a strong element of Wild Strawberries. Izak muses over past loves, but also his mother, daughter-in-law, housekeeper, and hitchhikers. Peculiar is his relationship with his housekeeper, Agda, played stunningly well by Julian Kindahl.

Are they secret lovers or platonic friends? They seem like husband and wife.

While the story is astounding, the visual qualities of Wild Strawberries are amazing. For starters, the video content is crisp and clear with very bright black-and-white photography. Each shot is mesmerizing and reminiscent of paintings.

To that end, there is so much going on in Wild Strawberries if one looks closely enough. The closest adjectives to describe the experience are hallucinogenic and mesmerizing. The group of people gathered over a meal was young, fresh, and carefree. They all have a life ahead of them and almost every viewer can recount a time where he or she felt that way.

It’s both nostalgic and sad to realize it doesn’t last as Bergman makes so painfully evident.

The scene where Isak witnesses a hearse approaching is terrifying. When he realizes it is himself lying in the casket it’s enough to give one a chill. It’s creepy and powerful in tone and effects.

Wild Strawberries (1957)  possesses many facets of the human experience. Sorrow, joy, depression, acceptance, frustration, and fulfillment.

This is a work of genius and is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates great experiences in cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

Ma Mère-2005

Ma Mère-2005

Director Christophe Honoré

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel

Scott’s Review #1,103

Reviewed January 21, 2021

Grade: A

Brilliant French film actress, Isabelle Huppert, turns in another outstanding performance in Ma Mère (2005).

The film is a daring and sometimes shocking experience met with mostly derision from many fans and critics. The subject matter is hard for the weak of heart to take or understand, or maybe even put up with.

The taboo nature of incest is what the film is about but also the dark and far reaches of the human psyche and emotion. A heavy and ingenious film for where the filmmakers dare to go.

I found it brilliant.

Fun fact Ma Mère was rated NC-17 when it was released in the United States. The reason was “strong and aberrant sexual content”. Despite the sexual fetishism, there is NO drug use.

Huppert plays a recently widowed and sexually adventurous woman named Hélène. She is visited by her young and restless son, Pierre (Garrel) just before his father’s death when he plans to reside with his parents on their lavish island villa.

Instead of mourning the loss of her husband, Hélène boasts about her infidelities to Pierre as he copes by masturbating to and then urinating on his father’s pornographic magazines.

Ma Mère is not a happy film but quite intriguing. Of course, the film is French which automatically gives it a sense of style and sophistication which writer/director Christophe Honoré dazzles the audience with.

If the film were American it would not work at all. The characters need to be European.

An intense attraction develops between mother and son when Pierre struts around the villa naked and broods. Instead of acting on her impulses, Hélène encourages her uninhibited sex partner Réa (Joana Preiss) to have sex with Pierre.

They do so at a popular shopping and nightlife complex. Hélène looks on longingly as the partially clothed couple makes love with passersby raising no objections.

Hélène appears to be turned on.

Things get stranger when afterward, Hélène includes her son in an orgy with her friends. After the orgy, Hélène decides that she must leave her son to travel. While saying goodbye to Pierre, she implies that something taboo has happened between them and that she must leave to prevent it from happening again.

We are left unsure of what she means.

Hélène’s motivations are unclear or is she simply a good poker player? Does she feel bad about her attraction to her son or does she secretly revel in it?

There is a ton of masturbation and jealousy in this film. There is also a hefty dose of sadomasochism and such talk. It’s for the extremely adult viewer.

Ma Mere leaves the viewer to ponder many questions throughout the running time. Is Hélène a lesbian or just sexually promiscuous? What is the back story with her husband? Do they happily cheat on each other or what is their arrangement?

I completely get why people wouldn’t be enamored with Ma Mère. It’s a tough watch though I laughingly find myself wondering if those skeptics are mostly prudes.

I found myself absorbed by the machinations of the characters, especially Pierre and Hélène, and chomping at the bit to figure out what would eventually happen to the characters.

Spoiler alert- the film does not end happily.

A criticism hurled at Ma Mère is that why we should care about the characters. There is nobody to root for. While mother and child partake in orgies and other sexual dalliances, it’s not as if Hélène exactly takes advantage of the boy, nor is he especially likable.

I deem the film fascinating.

For a weird trip inside the minds of sexual deviants and those who love the joy of sex and sexuality, Ma Mère (2005) is a delightful experience.

It’s also creepy shit.

The ending is dire and dreary and will make the viewer think long after the film ends. And that is what provocative films do. And so do great films.

Anyone who thinks they have a mommy complex will soon be cured.

Isabelle Huppert does it again.