Tag Archives: Art

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

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

Tár-2022

Tár-2022

Director-Todd Field

Starring-Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant

Scott’s Review #1,315

Reviewed November 18, 2022

Grade: A

Tár (2022) is a brilliant film that truly belongs to Cate Blanchett. I cannot picture any other actress in this role but her.

I can pretty much watch any film that she appears in with my favorite being her self-titled role in Carol (2015). But Tár is a close second.

In Tár, again in the title role, she plays a brilliant woman whom the audience admires but slowly finds pieces of her personality tarnished and brittle, under the surface. As the film goes on her character’s psyche is peeled back more, like an onion.

This lofty praise of Blanchett is in no way meant to diminish the rest of Tár because it revels in grandiose riches. The pacing, musical score, and other acting performances are to be championed.

When I found out that Todd Field was directing Tár my spirits began to soar.

After all, he directed In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), two tremendous films with a quiet, small-town, setting brimming with secrets and scandals which slowly rise to the surface.

The subdued locales are scrapped in favor of Berlin, a busy, behemoth of a city in Germany. Some of the events take place in New York City so there is a large, cosmopolitan vibe. The luminous settings are encompassed by a cold, grey, stark quality.

Tár requires the viewer’s absolute patience to get the biggest bang for the buck. It can be tough to follow with very long sequences but the Field/Blanchett combination makes the film culminate in a muddy and dazzling conclusion.

Blanchett plays Lydia Tár, the groundbreaking conductor of a major German Orchestra. We meet Tár at the height of her career, in high demand, as she’s preparing both a book launch and a much-anticipated live performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

What could go wrong? In Lydia’s case, just about everything.

Over a few weeks, her life begins to unravel. The result is an examination of power and its effect on those who have it and those who don’t.

The timely #MeToo movement is in top form.

The gender flip is also quite interesting since typically it’s males who have and abuse the power, but Lydia is a female and a lesbian.

I spent a good part of Tár feeling perplexed, anxious, and compelled. It’s a slow burn but I always knew, with Field in the director’s seat, that a big payoff awaited me. I happily jumped into his arms and waited for the shit to hit the fan.

The key to Tár is that many of the events have happened off-screen and before the current events of the film. There is a mysterious, suicidal, former student of Lydia’s in the mix. She sends desperate, pleading, emails to Lydia and her assistant.

We wonder how the former student ties into the events.

Lydia relies on Francesca (Noémie Merlant), her attentive personal assistant, and Sharon (Nina Hoss), her sickly wife, and concertmaster for just about everything.

Soon, a new and gifted Russian cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer) arrives on the scene. With Lydia smitten, how will Olga fit in with the other women?

Francesca, Sharon, and Olga are three pivotal female characters and each actress is exceptional in the role.

Tár reminds me of both Whiplash (2014) and Black Swan (2010) for different reasons. It envelops the world of classical music like Whiplash did for jazz and Black Swan did for the ballet world.

All three films could be watched close together and more similarities could be noticed.

Tár is a film that can be owned and watched again to piece together the jagged puzzle pieces. It’s a rare moment in the modern film where one can be re-watched.

Since it contains music, the orchestra and maestro sequences are wonderfully constructed so the coldness of the events mirrors the song choices.

Stark and boiling over with gems like mystique, uncertainty, and sophistication, Tár (2022) rejuvenates modern film with a bleak yet thought-provoking story of a powerful woman.

It’s a film that engrosses and thrills.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Actress-Cate Blanchett, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best Feature, Best Director-Todd Field, Best Lead Performance-Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Performance-Nina Hoss, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing

Blonde-2022

Blonde-2022

Director-Andrew Dominik

Starring-Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale

Scott’s Review #1,305

Reviewed October 7, 2022

Grade: A

Blonde (2022) is not the kind of film that I expected.

When I became aware there would be a new film vehicle showcasing the legendary film icon Marilyn Monroe I guessed that it would be a biography-style effort. After all, this is hardly the first time the star’s life would be explored.

Throw in bits about her struggles, her love life, her famous screen roles, and her rise to fame and there you’d have it.

My only real thought was who would be playing her?

Films about Marilyn have been done before including the most recent effort I can recollect, My Week With Marilyn (2011) starring Michelle Williams, a superior film but hardly groundbreaking or that well remembered ten years later.

Released via the Netflix streaming service, director Andrew Dominik kicks the shit out of any preconceived notions about glamorous, happy, and rich Marilyn.

He creates a story focused on the dark side of the star. Her failures, her insecurities, her forced abortions, and her humiliations. The result is a film that is tragic and profound and should be well remembered.

Blonde delves into facts and some of the deeper thoughts of the legend herself, creating a muddy and dreamlike quality that makes the viewer apprehensive about what’s going on.

Since it’s based on the 2000 fictional memoir written by Joyce Carol Oates which is her interpretation of events, it makes truth, and imagination all the muddier.

It’s not happy days watching Blonde, which left me wondering if Marilyn had a happy day in her life. From her abortions to sexual harassment, drug addiction, and physical abuse by her husband, she excitedly scampers off to a date with President Kennedy, only to be forced to give him oral service.

Ana de Armas, known for Knives Out (2019) and No Time to Die (2021) is brilliant as Marilyn. Her mannerisms, speech patterns, and facial expressions reveal a genuine, layered, portrayal rather than a carbon copy imitation of her.

Blonde boldly reimagines the life of one of Hollywood’s most enduring icons in two hours and forty-seven minutes of storytelling. Advisable is to not watch the film in one sitting but rather spread it over three nights to let things marinate.

Events begin with her volatile childhood as Norma Jeane, an abusive mother and absent father, and her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements. Blonde blurs the lines of fact and fiction to explore the widening split between her public and private selves.

In a way, Marilyn suffered from a split personality, longing to be Norma Jeane and despising Marilyn.

Enhancing the ambiguity Dominik elects to use cinematography that is sometimes blurry as if in a sleepy haze and sprinkles color with the mostly black and white filming. He even films one abortion scene from the perspective of Marilyn’s vagina.

These creative details cause me to classify Blonde as an art film and highly interpretive.

While not a crowd-pleaser Blonde is not all doom and gloom either.

Tidbits about her most famous films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Some Like it Hot (1959) are featured as one or two neat camera tricks so it appears that de Armas is acting opposite Tony Curtis.

I worry that poor reviews for Blonde may hinder de Armas’s chances of receiving an Academy Award nomination. Positive reviews usually help secure Oscar recognition.

Thankfully, despite many critics and viewers having issues with the film, de Armas has received worldwide acclaim.

Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody are very good as Marilyn’s husbands, controlling Joe DiMaggio and insecure artist Arthur Miller. Both actors fuse good acting with distinguished portrayals so that the audience sees the appeal of both men.

Other interesting sub-plots involve Monroe’s ‘throuple’ romance with bisexual actors Cass and Eddy, and a haunting exposure of the abuse suffered by Marilyn at the hands of her mother Gladys, wonderfully played by Julianne Nicholson.

There is little doubt that Blonde (2022) is an odd film that is not for everyone. But, its down-and-dirty texture and tour de force portrayal of Monroe won me over.

It chilled me to the bone in the best possible way.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Ana de Armas

Crimes of the Future-2022

Crimes of the Future-2022

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux

Scott’s Review #1,295

Reviewed September 2, 2022

Grade: B

Being somewhat familiar with the work of director David Cronenberg and the macabre and squirmy elements he adds to his films, I had a fair idea of what type of experience I was in for. There was anticipation as I slipped the blu ray of Crimes of the Future (2022) into the player.

He’s responsible for such peculiar pleasures as Eastern Promises (2007), an annual Christmas time watch for my husband and me, and A History of Violence (2005) a gangster-flavored effort. Cronenberg frequently teeters around psychological horror and science fiction though has dabbled in other genres.

Stalwart actor Viggo Mortensen once again graces the screen in one of Cronenberg’s films and leads the charge as the main protagonist in Crimes of the Future.

Visually the film is astounding with creepy shapes and visceral red images floating about mainly in the opening credits. It’s riddled with a subdued and mellow mood taking its time to get going and allowing for somber tones and textures.

It’s a tough and weird watch but somehow slowly lures the viewer into its confusing web.

Be warned though that the story is inexplicable and impossible to figure out. I even read a post-film synopsis and was still unclear how the puzzle pieces are supposed to come together. But maybe they aren’t.

Crimes of the Future is the type of film that is recommended to be digested and left to ruminate in one’s inner being. The translation is to not overthink the events but rather to enjoy what is being served.

Sometime soon, the human species has adapted to a new synthetic environment, causing bodies to undergo new transformations and mutations. With his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), Saul Tenser (Mortensen), a celebrity performance artist, publicly showcases the metamorphosis of his organs in avant-garde performances.

In simpler terms, his body is cut into for all to see.

An odd character named Timlin (Kristen Stewart), an investigator from the National Organ Registry, obsessively tracks their movements. A mysterious group exists with a mission to use Saul’s notoriety to shed light on the next phase of human evolution.

The summary is tough to write and even tougher to explain so I won’t waste space even going there. I’ll leave it to say that the above is the best that can be explained and only that there is a fascinating story element to the events.

Something about science fiction and the future typically equates to mystique and wonderment.

I could watch Mortensen in pretty much any film which is the main reason to see Crimes of the Future. The actor is so keen on choosing just the right roles for him and each is so different from the last.

Merely comparing his recent films like Captain Fantastic (2016), Green Book (2018), and Crimes of the Future results in the actor continuing to challenge himself with the depth of each character instead of capitalizing on name recognition to cash a hefty paycheck like other similar aged Hollywood actors.

I won’t name names but Liam Neeson could take a note or two from Mortensen.

Seydoux, a French actress pairs well with Mortensen. She possesses a sophisticated European vibe that translates well within this distant future. She is sexy and because of the subject matter, this is key to the visual style the film has.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Kristen Stewart as the nutty and nerdy Timlin but it’s a shocking follow-up to a fabulous portrayal of Princess Diana. As she speaks rapidly with timidity it’s a particular role but nice to see Stewart continue to go with edgy roles.

Because it’s Cronenberg, Crimes of the Future (2022) is cerebral and provocative with a fleshy and grim style. I’d expect nothing less from the director but would have preferred a more cohesive package.

In the end, I simply couldn’t figure the film out so it’s tough to completely recommend it.

Spencer-2021

Spencer-2021

Director-Pablo Larraín

Starring-Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall

Scott’s Review #1,193

Reviewed November 7, 2021

Grade: A

In the 2020s there has been a sudden flurry of depictions of and attention given to Princess Diana, a tragic figure in British royalty who came to an untimely death in 1997.  The Netflix series The Crown and a documentary immediately come to mind. While tremendous offerings they often stay the mainstream or historic course.

But Director Pablo Larraín presents a daring and rather unpleasant telling of a miserable Christmas weekend the Princess spent among the royal family in 1991, a time when her marriage to Prince Charles had been decimated and reached the point of no return.

Spencer (2021) is a brilliant art film focused on the troubled young woman’s dealings with her children, her eating disorder, her loneliness and despair, and of course relationships with the royal family.

Kristen Stewart delivers a career-defining performance as Diana and bravely puts on full naked display the shocking reality of the real-life figure’s most inner thoughts and demons.

Larraín prefaces the film with the sentence ‘a fable about a real-life tragedy’ or something to that effect.

The crumbling marriage of Princess Diana (Spencer) and Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has led to rumors of affairs and an impending divorce but peace is demanded during the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. The lavish spread of magnificent food, pheasant hunting, and family photos would be the dream of many but Diana is counting down the minutes until she can escape the dreary experience.

Restless, Diana imagines her life without the royal family and yearns to escape her trapped life. She fantasizes, binges and purges, and spends time with her children, while clinging to her friend and Royal Dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins), and befriending the kindly Equerry Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall). He leaves a book about Anne Boleyn, the tragic wife of Henry VIII, which Diana becomes obsessed with.

My two biggest takeaways are Stewart’s performance and the musical score.

Stewart has long attempted to separate herself from her household name-making performances as Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga film series (2008-2012). Several supporting roles in independent features like Still Alice (2014) and Cafe Society (2016) followed but with Spencer, she hits the jackpot.

Her vulnerability and insecurity infuse themselves into Diana with ferocity and power so much so that I became immersed with her mannerisms as much as the words she spoke. A long and painful dinner scene (my favorite scene) with no dialogue features a closeup of Stewart as she angrily glares at several members of the dinner party. Her disgust at both them and the life she now leads is apparent.

Stewart displays how much Diana desired to escape from her cage where she felt as trapped as an animal would.

Jonny Greenwood creates a fantastic musical score that is haunting and powerful. He is the lead guitarist of the alternative rock band Radiohead and has scored numerous film scores. In the sequence listed above, he offers bombastic and eerie stringed instruments and a powerful drum beat. Later, as Diana wanders the grand halls he expresses her frustration with his music.

It’s an essential part of the film.

To lighten the mood, the 1986 hit song “All I Need Is A Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics is played while Diana and her boys drive in their car on a sunny day singing along.

Spall and Hawkins play vital supporting roles as Diana’s only true allies. Spall is quiet and reserved but reveals so much with his facial expressions as his sympathy for Diana is apparent. In a surprise twist, Hawkins’s Maggie admits both her sexuality and her love for Diana as the two grow even closer.

Diana was quite the powerful ally to the LGBTQ+ community during a time when precious few were and the film gives a good reminder of her open-mindedness and her open heart.

Spencer (2021) is not the crowdpleaser some, including myself, would have expected and may even turn some viewers off with its depressing and embroiled cinematic fury. But it’s so much better than a popcorn feature with deeper emotion and exceptional psychological appeal that takes us into an imaginative state.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Kristen Spencer

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) is similar to 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 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 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 a 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 threw 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? 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 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 similar shots.

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

L’Avventura (1960) is a film that will make you think, ponder, escape, and discuss the true meaning. 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.

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

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Director Jaromil Jires

Starring Jaroslava Schallerova

Scott’s Review #1,076

Reviewed October 30, 2020

Grade: B+

One of the oddest films I’ve ever laid eyes on. The best way to view a film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonder (1970) is to absorb it and let it either pull you in or turn you off.

The cadence is to feel the film and then search for any semblance of meaning or interpretation later, or perhaps never.

The genre best to categorize the film is art cinema meets fantasy meets horror meets fairy tale. Is it ever a bizarre experience? If one is to take hallucinogens first, this film is a recommended watch.

The production is Czech and is translated to Valerie a týden divů in its native language. 

The story involves a week in the life of Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and the weird sexual thoughts and desires she encounters while blossoming. She encounters witchcraft, vampires, and a bizarre Constable, who wears a mask.

Valerie is raised by the strangest grandmother (Helena Anýžová) imaginable, who morphs into other characters named Mother and Redhead. Valerie does not live a boring life.

One poster for the film is of a blooming flower with splotches of blood that can be interpreted as a girl losing her virginity.

To delve much further into the plot than a quick summary is wasteful because it doesn’t make very much sense. Such activities as Valerie’s grandmother making a pact with vampires to keep her young forever, Valerie lying in a coffin surrounded by rotten apples, being burned at the stake, and finally being followed and menaced by her priest, are a few of the shenanigans the film presents.

This is shrouded by some of the loveliest photography and scenery you’ve ever seen.

The creativity and the experimental nature of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders are what will allure an open-eyed viewer seeking something left-of-center….very left-of-center.

The story is secondary.

The medieval landscape is gothic and haunting, perfect for evil-doings and strangeness. Not to harp on this point, but the look of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the money shot. All else can be left by the sidelines.

The perspective is all Valerie’s, which is nice in an early 1970’s feminist way. It feels like Valerie is changing from a girl to a woman and a strong one at that. She is coming into her own after facing and challenging demons. In the mix is a handsome man who titillates Valerie.

I felt like I was emerging into the girl’s subconscious and experiencing her fears and desires alongside her.

Critically speaking, I would have preferred a little more logic and wrap-up, but that’s just me.

Surely, not a realistic interpretation, Was the girl dreaming while asleep or merely delving into fantasy one day? The more I tried to follow the story and put together the pieces like working on a puzzle, the less this did me any favors.

I then decided to space out and indulge in the other lovelies included. I should have done this from the beginning.

I am unsure how many Czech films I have seen if any, but Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a clear example of what Czech filmmakers can do and it’s crazy what they can come up with.

The mystique is likely multiplied on American audiences and a viewer used to more formulaic approaches to film. With a desire for more put-together stories and logic, I nonetheless admired this film for the magic and style offered.

The Lighthouse-2019

The Lighthouse-2019

Director-Robert Eggers

Starring-Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Scott’s Review #987

Reviewed February 5, 2020

Grade: A-

The Lighthouse (2019) is the sophomore effort by acclaimed and novice horror director, Robert Eggers. His first, The Witch (2015) garnered praise and independent film award nominations, and his latest offering has also received many accolades across the board.

This time around, he wisely secures top-notch talent casting the incredible Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson to star.

The result is a well-acted, gorgeously photographed film, that is odd beyond belief, requiring a second viewing to even attempt some understanding. The atmosphere of this film will draw some viewers in and push away others. It is that type of film experience.

Shot in startlingly good black and white, the time is the 1890s, set somewhere off New England.

The film stars Dafoe and Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers who start to lose their sanity when a storm strands them on the remote island where they are stationed. They spar, love, and play games, while imaginations run wild with bizarre images of mermaids, death, and claustrophobic storm conditions.

Frequent hallucinations render the plot unclear of what is fantasy and what is reality.

The technical aspects of The Lighthouse are superior to the story elements.

The gorgeous camera work, looking like either a modern film or a film from the 1940s is superior. Almost never is a film made like this, and the black and white filming provides a cold and bleak atmosphere.

The prevalent wind and driving rain buttress with flying objects and mud create a looming and foreboding danger. The viewer can tell that sinister events are on the horizon, perfectly encrusting the increasingly dangerous storm.

The story is tough to figure out with the exception that one or both men are losing their minds. Winslow (Pattinson) is the newbie, sent to assist the elder lighthouse keeper, the elderly and cranky Thomas Wake (Dafoe).

Wake forbids Winslow to ever set foot in the lantern room, insisting that task is his job alone. This piques the interest of the young man especially when Winslow observes Wake going up to the room at night and stripping naked. Winslow begins experiencing visions and dreams of tentacles in the lighthouse, tree stumps floating in the water, and distant images of a mermaid.

Peculiar scenes exist that make The Lighthouse both memorable and tough to figure out. The presence of seagulls makes the film authentically beach-like with the cawing and flying around.

Their existence soon becomes an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) as a one-eyed gull begins to stalk Winslow.

Told it is bad luck to ever kill a gull since they harbor the souls of sailors, Winslow finally kills the attacking one-eyed gull in a fit of rage during one of the film’s most brutal scenes. Wake seethes with rage.

The film is homoerotic in many scenes, none more so than the lovely scene when the two men begin to dance and sway to the music. About to kiss, reality strikes, and the two drunk men come to blows.

The scene reminds me of an important one in the groundbreaking LGBT masterpiece Brokeback Mountain (2005). The combustible pent-up masculine tension explodes, and we wonder if in another time the men lovers might be. This aspect is cerebral, filling The Lighthouse with psychological mystique.

A common element is the two men’s distrust of one another. Trapped by the bad storm they frequently drink themselves into oblivion- what else is there to do?

They sit and stare at each other, sometimes filled with rage, sometimes suspiciously. In a scene both jaw-dropping and hilarious, Winslow forces Wake into a collar and leash and lead him on his hands and knees into a muddy grave.

Unsure if the scene is fantasy or reality, it could almost be taken from a gay leather porn film.

Eggers has a bright future ahead of him and I am eager to see his next project. I am not averse to odd or even nonsensical films if the intent is good, but I would recommend a more straightforward approach next time to see what he comes up with.

The Lighthouse (2019) successfully offers a creepy and bizarre tale of men losing their sanity in a dream-like and creative way that will assuredly divide audiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Robert Eggers, Best Male Lead-Robert Pattinson, Best Supporting Male-Willem Dafoe (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Editing

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Eyes Without a Face-1960

Director Georges Franju

Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli

Scott’s Review #922

Reviewed July 23, 2019

Grade: A

Eyes Without a Face (1960) is a macabre and twisted French-Italian horror film co-written and directed by Georges Franju based on a novel of the same name by Jean Redon.

The film cover art (see above) is flawless and terrifying, inducing the creeps by only giving it a glimpse causing the recipient curiosity, attempting to analyze what the meaning behind it could be.

The film is nestled into a short one-hour and thirty-minute package but that is more than enough time to scare the audience to death with many fantastic and gruesome elements, severely limiting the gore, which only adds to the horrific nature.

The film was highly controversial when released in 1960 because of the subject matter at hand and was subsequently either loved or reviled among its audiences.

What makes Eyes Without a Face, so riveting is the empathy for the characters and the measures gone to right wrongs, despite the main character being undeniably crazy.

The complex emotions of guilt and obsession are commonalities making it a layered and complex horror film appearing on many Top Ten genre lists.

The film is not for the faint of heart.

Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brassier) is a brilliant and successful physician who specializes in plastic surgery. After a vicious car accident that he is to blame for, he attempts to repair the ruined face of his daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), a victim of the wreck.

But his plan to give his daughter her looks back involves kidnapping young girls and removing their faces. He is aided in his machinations by his assistant, Louise (Alida Valli), who kidnaps the young woman and helps him in the laboratory acting as a surrogate mother to Christiane.

Louise aids Génessier partly because of his help in restoring her damaged face in events that happened before the film begins.

Scob is the stand-out character, containing an innocent and quietly melancholy existence as she is the clear victim of the story. Her defeated posture while resiliently hopeful and demure is complex for an actress to carry and she defines grace and poise.

Brasseur and Valli, the villains of the film, each deliver the goods in different ways. Valli, haunting in her best horror effort, Suspiria (1977), is mesmerized by her doctor and savior so that the relationship is almost cult-like. Brasseur, while devious, is strangely heroic too, as he steals lives to save other lives, so his character is extraordinarily complex.

The surgery scenes are chilling featuring white, starchy uniforms worn by a doctor, assistant, and victim. The scenes could almost be mechanical tutorials offered to first-rate medical students with scholarly intentions if this were not a horror film, the look is so documentary style.

Genessier calmly cuts an entire circular length of his victim as a hint of blood slowly oozes down the sides of her face in an almost tender fashion.

The film is not the 1980s slasher film image that encompasses non-horror film-goers’ preconceptions and, made in 1960, contains a somber yet gorgeous texture.

The best scene occurs when one of Genessier’s victims, lying on a gurney, comes to and gazes at a figure leaning close to her. The camera turns to the figure revealing a blurry but recognizable image of Christiane, sans the face-like mask she usually wears throughout the film.

As the victim shrieks in horror, Christiane slowly backs away from her amid a sunken feeling of pain and heartbreak, remembering how much of a freak she must appear to others. The scene is sad and grotesque at the same time.

Horror films often get bad raps, but poetic and stylized horror films are a diamond in the rough.

Eyes Without a Face (1960) achieves its place in the cinematic archives with brilliant black and white cinematography entrenched in a Gothic, chilling story with characters whose motivations can be dissected and studied long after the film ends.

This is a type of film that keeps the viewer thinking and deserves repeated viewings to fully capture all the plentiful gems that it offers.

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

UPDATED REVIEW

Director Ken Russell

Starring Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Alan Bates

Scott’s Review #766

Reviewed June 2, 2018

Grade: A

Women in Love (1969) is a British romantic drama film that is truly one of a kind. The film is quite cerebral and requires a bit of thought which undoubtedly will lead to good conversation with film connoisseurs everywhere following a viewing.

The four central characters are complex and flawed and intersect in each other’s lives in a dramatic fashion making the film a “thinking man’s” feast.

The film is adapted from a popular D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

In 1920, set in the Midlands section of central England, sisters Ursula (Jennie Linden) and Gudrun (Glenda Jackson) attend the wedding of an acquaintance, Laura Crich. The Crich family is enormously rich and owns a good portion of the mining town.

During the ceremony, Gudrun and Ursula fantasize about Gerald Crich (Oliver Platt) and Rupert Birkin (Alan Bates), respectively. When the foursome cross paths again at Rupert’s pretentious girlfriend’s party, attraction and conflict arise.

The film is described as “character-driven” and does not begin to do it justice. Each of the four principal characters is richly written with intelligence and gusto. All of them are either flawed or insecure in some way, while the fact that Gerald and Rupert share a sexual attraction for each other is another nuance explored throughout the film.

Rupert is confident and outspoken about his bisexuality- extremely rare for a 1969 film. In this way, Women in Love is ahead of its time.

The major themes in Women in Love are commitment and love and how each character handles these sometimes either embracing them or running away from them.

Gudrun and Gerald are in love with each other, while Rupert and Ursula are too, but one couple is unsuccessful at reaching any sort of bliss. The characters possess a bevy of emotions making their happiness almost impossible and the characters feel doomed to failure from the onset.

This is an example of the tremendous writing on the part of Larry Kramer and bringing the characters to the big screen in a memorable way.

Jackson’s Gudrun and Bates’s Rupert are my favorite characters because they appear to have slightly more depth to them and feel like the standouts. Gudrun appears to have love/hate feelings toward Gerald and often is downright cruel to him.

As they vacation in the Swiss Alps, Gudrun purposely and inexplicably flirts with a gay artist leaving Gerald insanely jealous and resulting in tragedy.

Counter-balancing Gudrun’s anger, Rupert showers in fun and zest for life, happily bi-sexual and thinking nothing of it, enjoying his sexually charged affections for both men and women.

The supporting characters, specifically snobbish Hermione and mentally unstable Christianna Crich are examples of perfect casting. Eleanor Bron plays Hermione as mocking and teetering on unhinged. As she psychologically bullies poor Ursula when it’s clear Rupert prefers the more innocent woman, Hermione becomes frightened.

Actress Catherine Willmer takes Christianna to a new level in creepy. Already appearing psychotic, when her daughter tragically drowns the woman goes over the edge, unleashing vicious dogs on any visitors to her estate.

Both actresses give unforgettable performances.

Women in Love contains a scene that may very well be the most homo-erotic scene in film history. As Rupert and Gerald decide to partake in a Japanese-style wrestling match one evening, they strip completely naked and grapple in front of a roaring fire.

In this lengthy sequence, both front and rear nudity are provided, leaving nothing to the imagination. When Rupert suggests they swear eternal love for each other, Gerald cannot commit to the emotional union.

One wonders if this outstanding scene influenced 2007’s Eastern Promises.

1969’s Women in Love is an amazing film with terrific acting all around. Taking romantic drama to an entirely different level and setting a new standard for brilliant complexities in film, the work of art from director Ken Russell is peppered with nuances making it rich with great storytelling and character development.

The fact that one couple ends in bliss and the other in tragedy is sheer excellence.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Director-Ken Russell, Best Actress-Glenda Jackson (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography

Black Orpheus-1959

Black Orpheus-1959

Director Marcel Camus

Starring Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn

Scott’s Review #689

Reviewed October 8, 2017

Grade: A

Black Orpheus is a 1959 French film, made in Brazil, honored with a win in the coveted Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award category in 1960, considered somewhat of a surprise to win.

The film is adapted from the well-known Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, now set in Rio de Janeiro during the festive celebration of Carnaval.

Containing a cast of almost all black actors and providing a look at life on the streets of Brazil, Black Orpheus is vibrant and filled with lively songs and dances.

The setting is key to the film as the beauty and merriment are mixed with loss and tragedy- loads of exterior shots of Rio de Janeiro flesh out with many shots high atop a hill in a quaint village where all of the characters live most in very close proximity to each other.

Like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the film is romantic and lovely, but the story is also mired in jealousy and drama amid the dancing and many celebrations.

Many of the actors, lead Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn, are non-actors, cast undoubtedly because of their gorgeous, authentic looks. Still, surprisingly both are phenomenal in their roles and perfectly cast.

Wholesome Eurydice (Dawn) arrives in Rio de Janeiro by trolley driven by Orpheus (Mello), intent on visiting her cousin, Serafina. There is an instant attraction between the young man and the woman as he provides directions to her cousin’s village, which is also his.

Orpheus, however, is engaged to be married to his possessive and demanding fiance, Mira, he is less than enthused about the impending marriage and would rather fix his guitar than buy Mira an engagement ring.

As the Carnival festivities get underway, Orpheus and Eurydice give in to their mutual attraction and dance the night away while subsequently trying to avoid the wrath of Mira and avoid a mysterious costumed man who has been stalking Eurydice since she escaped her village and fled to Rio.

Eurydice is terrified that the man may want to kill her and his motivations are unknown. His character is particularly frightening as he is known as “Death” and dons a tight, skeleton costume.

The tragic conclusion culminating in a wonderful chase scene in Orpheus’s trolley station is fantastic. The morbid ending is unsurprising based on the legendary Greek tale, the Romeo and Juliet comparisons are still heartbreaking and difficult to experience, most notably the final scene atop a cliff.

As the lovelorn couple topples down a hill together at the hands of another central character, the scene is shocking and difficult to watch. Intertwined in each other’s arms, the scene is also gorgeous and a confirmation of true love and artistic beauty.

Some accusations of racial stereotypes within this film have abounded over the years, mainly the depiction of Brazil being inhabited by party-going, sex-crazed people.

I find the film a masterpiece and the type of cinematic experience to be enjoyed rather than over-analyzed.

Particularly, the almost non-stop musical score created by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim is to die for and an enormous part of what makes the film so engaging and entertaining.

Perfectly capturing the spirit of a jovial, cultural, environment, Black Orpheus (1959) spins an interesting, heartbreaking tale of love amid a musical.

Tragedy, art, true love, romance, and death are all elements captured in this wonderful film.

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

Women in Love-1969

Women in Love-1969

Director Ken Russell

Starring Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden

Scott’s Review #553

Reviewed December 20, 2016

Grade: A

Women in Love is a shamefully, by and large, forgotten gem- except for the obscure cinema lover- made in 1969.

The film is a British art film and way ahead of its time. Despite the title, it is anything but a romantic comedy- quite dark in content. The film is adapted from a D.H. Lawrence novel of the same name.

The story is of two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula, living in a small mining town. They gather at the wedding of a friend and each becomes enamored with a member of the wedding party.

Later, at a swanky dinner party, the girls meet the men. The film tells of the sister’s relationships with each of the men (played by Alan Bates and Oliver Reed) as well as the men’s relationship with each other.

All of the relationships are very complex and filled with emotion tender and some are quite violent.

Women in Love is one of the first films to feature tons of nudity, but not so much in a gratuitous fashion.

The film’s themes are love, hatred, and the trials and tribulations of the English upper class are explored. The film is a love of mine since it is character-driven, told from each of the perspectives of the characters, and is quite an intense experience.

Glenda Jackson won the 1970 Best Actress Oscar- deservedly so.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Director-Ken Russell, Best Actress-Glenda Jackson (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography

Embrace of the Serpent-2015

Embrace of the Serpent-2015

Director Ciro Guerra

Starring Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar

Scott’s Review #524

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Reviewed November 23, 2016

Grade: B+

Embrace of the Serpent (2015) is a cerebral experience of complex storytelling, weaving two parallel stories set forty years apart.

It is an immensely creative film crafting a black-and-white cinematic expressionism into its lurid walls.

Admittedly I found the stories tough to follow at times, and the film contains an impressionistic quality, but I knew I was watching something creative and brave.

That is worthy of a hefty thumbs up.

The setting is the Amazon jungle, along the vast Amazon River, deep in the heart of South America. The periods are 1909 and 1940, and both feature an Amazonian shaman who is the very last of his people and very resentful of white men.

In 1909, he traveled with a dying German scientist and in 1940, an American.

Both are looking for a sacred healing plant, which contains magical powers.

The parallel stories both feature a Spanish Catholic Mission by the side of an Amazon tributary.

In 1909, the leading priest was sadistic and abusive towards the young boys in his charge. Years later, the young boys are now hardened and grizzled. Both stories also feature the revelation of the plant, though in different ways and with vastly different outcomes.

The best part, much better than the storyline, is the use of black-and-white visuals. This gives the film a mysterious, old-world vibe that makes it feel like a film made in the 1940s, if not earlier.

In this way, it makes Embrace of the Serpent a visual spectacle, especially as countless scenes occur along the Amazon- we see the characters float, via canoe, and are treated to the beauty of the water and the surrounding luscious mountains.

It appears other-worldly, a part of the remote continent that few see or appreciate.

This is my favorite aspect of the film.

The stories are complex, sometimes not making complete sense, and I found myself a bit confused throughout, but this may have been due to the film’s clear art film persona, leading the film to be open to interpretation.

Both white men have different experiences with the sought-after plant.

I was left with some questions even having read the synopsis. One of the men has a dreamy, hallucinating experience with the magical plant, but what happens after?

The shaman is an interesting character as we see him as a young man and an old man, living as a lonely, resentful man.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015) is a perplexing, interpretative film, containing a magical quality and, if the story is muddy, one can whisk away to a fantastic experience just watching and enjoying the cinematic treats offered.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

The Seventh Seal-1957

The Seventh Seal-1957

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand

Scott’s Review #497

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Reviewed October 23, 2016

Grade: A

The Seventh Seal (1957) is an Ingmar Bergman Swedish masterpiece that, after three mere viewings, I am just beginning to appreciate and fall in love with.

It is not that I did not “get” the dark, artsy theme to begin with- I did, but The Seventh Seal is a savory dish meant for repeated offerings, and with each, I have loved it even more.

The subject matter of the plague and the Black Death is heavy.

It is a quiet, yet powerful, dark, art film about death.

The film is shot in black and white, which does nothing but enhance the cold, stark concepts of the film. The color would have certainly made the film cheery or bright- if that can be said given the subject matter.

Instead, the filming is cold, yet illuminating, and the whites seem very white- the blacks- very dark, which is symbolic of the concepts of the film.

In the story, a disillusioned medieval knight-Antonius Block (Max von Sydow)  returns home from war disenchanted with life. He fought in the Crusades and returned home to Sweden to find it plagued by the Black Death.

He begins to play a game of chess alone- and is visited by Death- a hideous pale creature shrouded in black. Antonius challenges Death to chess- his fate is left so long as the game continues.

Throughout the film, Antonius is the only character who can see Death- the other characters cannot, making the film open to interpretations.

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

Since she is close to death, Antonius takes a particular fascination with her.

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

What makes The Seventh Seal so powerful is its honesty- harsh as it is. The knowledge that death is coming for these people is fascinating and many of the characters discuss god in length and pray, as religion is an enormous aspect of the film.

It almost contains a good vs. evil, god vs. devil component, and again, important to stress, highly open to interpretation. Great art films are.

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

The inevitable final shot- my favorite- is a long shot of peasants being led to their fate by Death as they are pulled begrudgingly by a rope by Death reminiscent of the Pied Piper and is entitled “Dance of Death”.

The individuals are dressed in black and are atop a hill surrounded by the sky, making the morbid scene highly effective.

The Last Supper scene is powerful and the final meal is enjoyed by the group- unsure of what fate has in store for them the next day.

I anticipate more viewings of this brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Belle De Jour-1967

Belle De Jour-1967

Director Luis Bunuel

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel

Scott’s Review #486

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Reviewed September 29, 2016

Grade: A

Belle De Jour, the title translates to “lady of the day”, a French pun for “lady of the night”, a kind phrase for prostitution, is a fantastic art film.

Stylish, sophisticated, and open to interpretation (at least in my opinion), Belle De Jour is a late 1960’s journey into eroticism, social norms, and sexual freedom.

Gorgeous star Catherine Deneuve has never looked better and calmly does mental conflict.

The film is directed by Luis Bunuel.

Severine is a wealthy young newlywed, seemingly who has it all. She is showered with love and affection, not to mention material items, by her handsome hubby, Pierre, played by dashing Jean Sorel.

She wants for nothing as her husband is a doctor of great wealth. Yet she is unhappy and refuses to have physical relations with Pierre.

She begins a secret life as a prostitute in a posh home, only working in the afternoons, to avoid being found out. She has no regrets but is apprehensive about the clients she meets.

Throughout the film, Severine has secret fantasies about being kept in bondage and enduring various other sexual humiliations. All the while, the question asked is “Is this all Severine’s fantasy or reality”?  Or perhaps merely a portion is.

The audience wonders.

Do we feel sorry for the character of Severine? Not. One could make the argument she is spoiled and selfish, but she is not evil, but rather confused. She is quite polite, and Deneuve fills her with kindness and even an angelic spirit.

One cannot despise her even though on the surface one might be tempted to. What right does this woman have to rebuff her husband in place of sleazy clients? One particularly volatile client becomes obsessed with Severine and stalks her, going so far as exacting violence against her husband.

But wait, is this Severine’s fantasy or reality? Is she imagining everything and merely obediently waiting at home for her husband to return each day or is she living this life?

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

Certainly, in 1967, the sexual revolution was in full swing and Belle De Jour epitomized the revolution of the times. Yet, it does not feel dated or reduced to a film “of its time”.

I find it more a character study than a genre film as Severine is an interesting study.

Belle De Jour challenges the viewer with an intense yet subtle story of a woman conflicted with sexual desire and repression- a film open to much interpretation and discussion.

It does what an art film is supposed to do- makes us think and ponder.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!-1965

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!- 1965

Director Russ Meyer

Starring Tura Satana, Haji

Top 100 Films #85

Scott’s Review #406

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Reviewed May 28, 2016

Grade: A

Shamefully, this cult masterpiece from 1965 has somehow alluded me for many years- largely due to its unavailability on Netflix- head shaking for sure.

Finally, I decided to simply buy the newly released Blu-Ray edition, and I immediately became a huge fan of this Russ Meyer work of art.

Influential and intriguing, it is no surprise it is a camp classic.

Several famous directors, most notably Quentin Tarantino, have paid homage to this film in their later works- most notably, Death Proof. Fast cars, sexy women, and murder represent this unique film.

In comparison to other famous Meyer works, specifically the gregarious yet brilliant Supervixens (1975), Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is almost understated and quiet. He also directed the well-known Beyond The Valley of the Dolls from 1970.

Shot in black and white, several notable comparisons to Supervixens must be pointed out: a hot California desert, large-breasted women, and gas stations are prevalent throughout.

Unlike Supervixens, though, there is little or no nudity.

Three go-go dancers race through the desert in their sports cars. They have murder and kidnapping on their minds. The ring leader, Varla (Tura Satana) is a vicious, sexy, Asian woman. Her two side-kicks are Billie (Lori Williams), and Rosie (Haji). While Billie and Rosie squabble and fight in a juvenile fashion, Varla is the serious one.

The trio enjoys racing their cars and engaging in the game “chicken”. When they meet the all-American couple, Tommy and Linda, out for a romantic drive, they have a dispute and end up killing Tommy- drugging and kidnapping Linda.

After stopping for gas, Varla hatches a plot to steal money from a crazy old man, his muscular yet dimwitted son (known as the Vegetable), and the old man’s seemingly normal son, Kirk.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a groundbreaking film as it is gender-bending. The women are hardly written as sex objects. Most films of that day were far from it. They are ferocious, specifically, Varla, as they do typically masculine things- race cars, fight, kill, yet do not sacrifice any of their femininity.

All three women are sexy, and busty, and wear stylish make-up. They are not trying to be like men, but are tough girls. This is part of what makes the film so wonderful to watch.

Usually, in Hollywood, these characters would be molls to even rougher men or supporting the men in some way. These female characters are the film.

My favorite character is Varla. Sexy, fierce, and a minority, how often is a female villain this charismatic?  Perhaps in Bond films, but then she would be a conquest of Bond and not her person.

Varla makes up her own rules. The fact that she is Asian is superb and breaks many barriers in the way Asians are portrayed in the film. Varla is more devious than the other characters- willing to kill anyone who stands in her way- even her friends.

She is a character written very well by Russ Meyer, and a pure femme fatale.

The male supporting characters are interesting. The old man, actor Stuart Lancaster, would later appear in Supervixens. He is a cripple, wacky, and as diabolical as the women. He has designs on innocent Linda and makes no bones about it. The Vegetable is hunky and fresh-faced- an innocent victim of his father’s evil ways, so he is a character we root for. I enjoyed the brief romance between him and Billie.

Lastly, Kirk is the “normal” son, also a victim of his father. When he and Linda run across the desert while being chased by Varla, we root for them to survive.

The black and white style, chosen to save money, actually adds to the unique cinematography,  with sharp edits, and gives the film a mystique.

The 1960s jazzy score adds to the film as well. In color, I wonder if the film would have had a more cartoonish quality. The black and white moves Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! into art film territory.

The debate over the film is, “Is the film exploiting women or empowering them”? To me, the film is answering the question of whether women can be tough, sexy, and complicated with a resounding yes.

All three principal characters are layered- each develops feelings for other characters, and at one point Rosie’s sexuality is questioned by Billie. Still, the female characters are not monsters nor are they caricatures. They are complex with real emotions.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) is an influential art film/exploitation film that empowers female characters, questions gender categorizations, and takes hold of the viewer, never letting go.

A miraculous representation of the changing times in cinema during the 1960s. It is brilliant.

The Girls-1968

The Girls-1968

Director Mai Zetterling

Starring Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson

Scott’s Review #404

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Reviewed May 11, 2016

Grade: B+

The Girls is a 1968 political-leaning, surreal, dream-like, feminist Swedish film. These may seem like too many adjectives to describe a film, but they all happen to be warranted and work to categorize it, which is tough- it is a complex film.

The film left me deep in thought about what I had just viewed- that is a positive for me.

Directed by a female, Mai Zetterling, the film is told from a female perspective and is quite difficult to follow, though the message portrayed is a thought compelling, and powerful women repressed- whether in reality or fantasy-by men.

In my attempt to describe The Girls accurately, it appears to contain the boys versus girls component throughout- told by the girls. The plot centers around three women: Liz (Bibi Andersson), Marianne (Harriet Andersson), and Gunilla (Gunnel Lindblom).

The women are hired to star in a touring production of Lysistrata and each faces conflict and concern over leaving their respective families, but for differing reasons.

Liz’s husband, who is having an affair, cannot get rid of her soon enough. Marianne has recently dumped her married boyfriend. Gunilla has four children and suffers from guilt.  All of the women are very friendly with each other.

All three principal actresses are familiar to eagle-eyed Ingmar Bergman fans as each of them has appeared in numerous films of his-in very different types of roles.

Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal feature these actresses.

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

On the surface, it would appear that the women hate men and yearn to be free of them. Is that the point of the film? It seems to go in other directions as well. Do they hate their lives and feel confined with men and free without them, when they are touring their play?

How do they feel about their children? Do they miss them on tour, love them, resent them, or perhaps a bit of each? They yearn to be free of restraint.

We are treated to numerous scenes that seem to be a dreamlike state or a fantasy of one of the women. One runs through the forest and comes upon a grizzled, dirty child on the ground. Is it hers? She then sees her husband sitting in a living room chair in the middle of the forest.

The symbolism resonating through The Girls is countless. We also see the women fantasize about a handsome, young man. Are they tired of the doldrums- looks and otherwise- that their husbands have caused them?

Many political scenes of protest occur throughout the film. In one, the women march in unison- Nazi-style and chant. In another, the women lead what appears to be a charge of women- suffragette style, until the women start attacking each other and punching and kicking each other in the streets.

These scenes and countless others are tough to analyze, but perhaps this is the point. I decided to simply escape into the film and not try to figure out what everything meant.

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

The Girls left me pondering the story and the viewpoint and I will need further viewings for the film to more successfully sink in and for me to get it- if I ever do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The film is the kind of film that requires further viewing to understand. I look forward to watching this film again and that is high praise for it.

Irreversible-2002

Irreversible-2002

Director Gaspar Noe

Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel

Top 10 Disturbing Films #4

Scott’s Review #375

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Reviewed February 7, 2016

Grade: C+

As I ponder my review of Irreversible,  a 2002 French thriller and “art film”, I am attempting (as I always do) to look at the film critically, from a story and a technical standpoint, as well as a myriad of other aspects that make up a film.

This is admittedly a toughie.

On the surface, I despised the film wholeheartedly (more on that later), but from a critical standpoint, I found characteristics to admire and give credit to. One thing is for certain- I never want to see this film again.

The story is told in a non-linear style, begins after the story, and works backward, which I credit the film for, giving it a unique storytelling experience, cleverly done.

Two Parisian friends, Marcus and Pierre, go on a rampage after Marcus’s girlfriend is brutally raped and beaten. In panic mode, they learn the name of the attacker (Le Tenia) and go to a gay BDSM club aptly named “The Rectum”, a place the attacker requests, where they fervently search for him all the while beating club-goers and cause havoc.

Since the story is told in reverse, the audience is initially in a state of confusion at the events transpiring, and the jagged, shaky camera work, a very creative technique, only adds to the chaos. We only know that two maniacs are running rampant, destroying everything in their path.

Slowly, we realize what their motivation is as we work backward.

We are introduced to Alex, a beautiful young woman- in the early stages of pregnancy, who is Marcus’s steady, but used to date, Pierre. They are all very good friends. We see the romance between Marcus and Alex, and, working even further backward, we see Alex sitting alone in a park, reading a novel, and enjoying a bright, pleasant day in the park.

This peaceful closing scene contrasts drastically with the rest of the dark film. The film then becomes a flashing, frenetic, black-and-white experience, which I do not understand.

The film is quite bizarre and intensely brutal. The rape of Alex in a dark, gloomy underpass is one of the most intense and disturbing scenes I have ever witnessed in the film, and at one point I needed to leave the room briefly.

The scene is ten minutes in length and Alex is anally raped and then beaten into a comatose state. It is a sickening scene and we witness her pain, misery, and humiliation.

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

I question the motivations of the director wholeheartedly and wonder if he intended to story-tell, or simply make as gruesome and shocking a film as possible.

I have read that when the film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, many people walked out of the auditorium in disgust- I can see why.

Irreversible is severely homophobic, with repeated gay slurs being used throughout the gay club scenes, and is also anti- Asian as evidenced by Pierre’s and Marcus’s racial slurs directed at a taxi driver.

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

My assumption after processing the film is that the director wants us to sympathize with nobody in the film, except Alex. Pierre, Marcus, and Le Tenia are all hateful characters.

It is interesting how, at first, since the beginning is the end, the motivations of the characters are unclear and confused.

My admiration of Irreversible (2002) comes solely from the unique camera work, the clever pacing of the film in the form of backward chapters, and the frenetic style of the opening work, however, the homophobia, racism, and brutality left me cold and I could not shake the feeling that this film is shocking for the sake of being shocking, and one that I ultimately cannot applaud.

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Les Bonnes Femmes-1960

Director Claude Chabrol

Starring Bernadette Lafont

Scott’s Review #303

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Reviewed December 19, 2015

Grade: A

Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) is a French film by Claude Chabrol, a wonderful director whom before watching this film, I was shamefully unfamiliar with, save for the recently viewed Les Biches, made in 1968.

He has been labeled the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock and, by all accounts, that is an accurate statement.

In the case of Les Bonnes Femmes, it is a brilliant film that came about during the experimental New Wave films of the 1960s and simply cannot be forgotten upon viewing it.

It has resonated with me on a profound level and I cannot stop thinking of it and analyzing it.

The film centers on four shopgirls, living in Paris, all of whom happen to be young and beautiful and mysteriously look similar to one other.  Their names are Jane, Jacqueline, Ginette, and Rita. They are rather bored with their lives and meander aimlessly through life and the doldrums of their job by looking forward to social occasions, which mainly include men.

The girls party (some more than others), date, go to the zoo, swim, and enjoy typical young lady festivities.

So far the film might sound like a typical, lighthearted, nice story- think a French Sex and the City. It is, by and large, this way on the surface, but throughout the film, there is a calm sense of dread- like something bad might be lurking in the shadows of coming around the bend.

As the girls are at the zoo one day, a mysterious individual begins following them, though the viewer has no idea why or who it is.

The film contains more than a sense of dread now that I ponder this point. Rather, a sense of chilling violence is in the air. A brooding, cold, ugly feeling transpires and it is due to superior direction and the overall mood.

Paris, one of the world’s most gorgeous cities, looks bleak, dark, and gloomy throughout the film. The black and white cinematography undoubtedly adds to this as greyness envelopes every shot.

Throughout  Les Bonnes Femmes there is plenty of foreshadowing as situations arise that give a sense of danger or something bad is imminent.

Early in the film, two of the girls are walking along the street when they are approached by two men in a car wanting to party with them. They accept and the viewer wonders what a bad decision they may have made. The men wine and dine the women, who are looking for love.

One of the girls is quite a bit more reserved than the other and ends up spending the night with the men. Later, the owner of the shop tells a story of how she once acquired a serial killer’s bloody handkerchief after he was guillotined and has kept it for years.

Creepy? Yes.

The tigers snarling at the girls when they visit the zoo is laced with symbolism as is a, at first, fun game at the pool, as the men dunk the girl’s heads underwater until things escalate towards danger.

Jacqueline, the sweetest of the girls, meets a motorcycle man and they begin to spend time together. They are happy. The irony of this is that during these later scenes, in which an act of brutality occurs (one character is murdered), the tone of the film is suddenly sunny, warm, and bright. A lovely afternoon in the woods turns evil, and quickly.

This was a shocking scene for me to experience as I was caught off guard. The ending of the film can be discussed in vast detail.

During the murder, it almost seems like the victim is welcoming death. Could this be? Additionally, is one of the shop girls his next intended victim, or is a new girl the killer’s next target?

In the final shot, we see him dancing with a girl, but it is unclear (at least to me) if it is one of the shopgirls.

Chabrol is not a happily-ever-after kind of director. His films are known to be stormy with dread looming. But they are also laced with style, sophistication, and a dark appeal.

I cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of his works.

A Serbian Film-2010

A Serbian Film-2010

Director Srdan Spasojevic

Starring Sergej Trifunovic

Top 10 Disturbing Films #6

Scott’s Review #282

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Reviewed October 13, 2015

Grade: B

A Serbian Film is a 2010 Serbian horror film that attempts, and succeeds, in breaking down every possible taboo barrier, albeit in a stylish, admirable, artistic way.

The film is not for the faint of heart and even die-hard, gross-out horror fans might find it too shocking to view.

It is not so much the gore that is challenging- horror aficionados have seen this before, but rather the blatant display of the subject matter at hand, which delves full speed ahead into pornography, including rape (both sexes), necrophilia (sex with corpses), and child sexual abuse, that is both tough and sickening to watch.

Priding myself in being able to take anything that is thrown my way in the world of film, I admired A Serbian Film’s bravery in going places rarely gone before in film.

I felt, however, that the story was not too compelling or particularly well written and that the primary goal was to shock the audience rather than tackle a great story.

Intriguing to note is A Serbian film has been banned in several countries, for the obvious controversial content.

Milos is a semi-retired porn star, now happily married to the beautiful Marija and living a peaceful existence. While they struggle financially, they share an adequate life while raising their six-year-old son Petar.

One day Milos runs into a fellow porn star, Lejla, who suggests he contact a powerful porn producer and return to the business, citing an enormous windfall to be had since the producer is making more “artistic” films these days.

Milos cannot resist the potential money and meets with the mysterious man named Vukmir. One thing leads to another and he is once again lured back into the porn industry. What he is not told is the premise or details of the film he is to appear in, only to show up at the designated filming location.

Predictably this leads to disaster and the main plot of the film emerges. Milos is drugged to become a “stud”, bedding and beating almost anything that breathes…..or doesn’t breathe if you catch my drift.

Brazen is a polite way of describing this film. It is perverse and goes way out there. Milos, while drugged, begins to do crazy stuff, not realizing what he is doing, and spirals further out of control as the drugs increase.

The producer, in the film’s brief attempt at a social slant, cites child pornography as in popular demand as online viewers clamor for this new form of “art”.

Two scenes stand out as gruesome to view. One involves a pregnant porn star giving birth- she does so and her counterpart proceeds to rape the screaming baby- the new mother grins in sinister pleasure.

In another, Milos rapes his son, Petar, while Milos’s brother, rapes Milos’s wife. Of course, being heavily under the influence, Milos does not realize what he is doing, but the film succeeds in shocking and disgusting the audience.

Both of these horrific scenes have nothing to do with the story and are included to shock elicit a reaction from the viewer.

My criticism of the film is that the grotesque scenes have little to do with the story and are arguably not needed to further the plot.

Shocking for the sake of being shocking, the film reminds me in a way of Salo, a brutal art film from 1975, which focuses not on horror, but on the horrific time of Nazi-ism.

Salo is a masterpiece because it contains a powerful, thought-provoking story.

A Serbian Film (2010) is a brave film, but ultimately the story achieves nothing more than being a disturbing film that I never need to see again.

The Passenger-1975

The Passenger-1975

Director Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring Jack Nicholson, Maria Schneider

Scott’s Review #259

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Reviewed July 19, 2015

Grade: A

A true art film in every sense of the word, The Passenger (1975) is a thinking man’s film, not for those content to munch on popcorn and escape the day’s stressors, but rather, custom-made for a film fan willing to ponder the meaning of the film, revel in the slow pace, and appreciate the film as an art form.

The Passenger is tough to “get” throughout most of its over two-hour running time, but its complexities are also its most beautiful characteristics. To say that the film will leave the viewer with questions is quite an understatement, but is pleasing to analyze and come up with conclusions of meaning.

Michelangelo Antonioni directed this film and is well-known for directing Blowup and Zabriskie Point, neither of which I have seen as of this writing.

Jack Nicholson stars as a journalist named David Locke, who is on location in Africa (specifically the Sahara desert in Chad). David’s assignment is to produce a documentary film. While there he mysteriously assumes the identity of a businessman named Robertson, who he finds dead in his hotel room.

This task is easy because David and Robertson look very much alike. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Robertson is involved in arms dealings and smuggling matters related to the ongoing civil unrest within the country.

Flashbacks reveal David’s former life, including his friendship with the businessman, and his relationship with his wife, Rachel, and these scenes are mixed in with the current action until they become more linear with each other.

The film is complex, to say the least. The initial scene when David spontaneously decides to switch identities is excellent. We wonder, what are David’s motivations and what is the appeal of him taking over another man’s life? Who is the man? Why is David so unhappy in his own life?

The film succeeds immeasurably as the plot is not simply told to the audience like so many other mainstream films. Events seem genuine and not forced for plot purposes.

In the current time, whereabouts in London, Rachel sadly mourns the assumed “death” of her husband David, though we learn that Rachel has secrets of her own she has been hiding and suffers from tremendous guilt.

To further complicate matters for everyone, she is attempting to find the businessman, since she has learned that he was the last person to see her husband alive. Also mixed into the story is a mysterious young woman whom David meets when the story moves to Barcelona, Spain.

What makes The Passenger so compelling to me is its intricacies- story as well as camera styles. The seven-minute-long shot towards the end is brilliant filmmaking and the climax is quietly intense.

The camera’s focus is on a hotel room, switches to the parking lot, and returns to the hotel room. I was transfixed by the character of David enormously, struggling to empathize with him, while all the while enjoying an intelligent character study mixed in with a story of political intrigue.

I do not confess to understanding everything about The Passenger and will surely need more viewings to make more sense of it all, but the film fascinates me.

In a time of mediocre films, how refreshing to stumble upon a forgotten relic from 1975 and have a renewed appreciation for film as an art form.

The Virgin Spring-1960

The Virgin Spring-1960

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg

Scott’s Review #243

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Reviewed May 15, 2015

Grade: A

The Virgin Spring is a quiet masterpiece by director Ingmar Bergman.

A Swedish language film, it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960, surprising for such a dark film.

I have heard about this film for years, but it had alluded me up until this point, and I am finally glad that I viewed it. It is breathtaking and mesmerizing.

A unique film for many reasons, it inspired “revenge” films to follow, specifically The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, which is a horror film, yes, while The Virgin Spring is interestingly an art film.

The film also questions morals and the main character’s religious beliefs and reflections on guilt.

The filming is in black and white and the first point that struck me about the film is its gorgeous cinematography and lighting. The brilliant deep contrast of black and white with the illumination of a character’s face while the background is death black is very brazen and reminiscent of Citizen Kane.

It gives the film warmth and glow that contrast perfectly with the bleak subject matter.

The story of The Virgin Spring is a tragedy, yet the filming is so magnificent that it was not until the film concluded and I pondered the actual story that I realized just how horrific it truly is. And that is what Bergman was going for-provoking a thought.

This is not a film to kick back and be entertained while munching a tub of popcorn. It is a film meant to make one think.

An affluent Swedish couple, who owns a farm, lives a peaceful, quiet existence. They are stellar members of their community and church. They are humble, but they can afford to have servants.

They have a beautiful and pampered young daughter named Karin, who is sent to deliver candles to their church one sunny day. Karin is a trusting, virginal, and proper girl. She comes upon a trio of males- two adults and a young boy.

At first, gleefully sharing food with them and enjoying her newfound friends, they soon turn on her and she is viciously raped, robbed, beaten, and murdered.

The look of surprise, pain, and horror on Karin’s face is monumental. As this occurs, a pregnant and spiteful servant, Ingeri, watches in horror from a hiding place. A rival of Karin’s, Ingeri wanted misfortune thrust upon Karin, but as she watches in horror, the expressions on her face portray regret.

As the family hopes and prays that they can find the missing Karin, the men, and boy show up at the farmhouse in need of food and shelter.

Unbeknownst to the family, they are Karin’s rapists and killers, and once the truth is known, the once-sweet parents are out for brutal revenge. The young boy of the trio is guilt-ridden and physically sick from the circumstances.

Is the family’s revenge justified or should they (as good Christians) forgive? This is the moral point of the story.

The conclusion of the film is powerful as the father begs God for forgiveness. He questions his actions. But is he a changed man?

Bergman uniquely and intelligently shoots these scenes with only the father’s back in view as he throws his hands to go. We, the viewer, become one with the father in these moments, which makes for powerful storytelling.

Influential to many subsequent films, The Virgin Spring (1960) is a powerful tale, reminiscent of a fairy tale, that makes the viewer think about the ending.

Subdued yet horrifying, it is meant to be viewed and analyzed.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White