Tag Archives: International Drama

Eismayer-2023

Eismayer-2023

Director David Wagner

Starring Gerhard Liebmann, Luka Dimic

Scott’s Review #1,427

Reviewed May 31, 2024

Grade: A-

Eismayer (2023) may be the first Austrian-language film I’ve ever and is the first Austrian LGBTQ+ film. Similar to German cinema there is a cold and stark naturalistic veneer to the filmmaking making it feel moody and foreboding.

I’ve said this many times before but the statement still has merit. The LGBTQ+ cinema genre has been saturated with offerings since the late 1990s, especially into the 2000s and it can be difficult not to tell the same story continuously.

As proof of the above, our Prime subscription contains numerous LGBTQ+ films to showcase so we decided on Eismayer which sounded interesting.

It focuses on the military, is Austrian, and focuses on a love story between two soldiers. The fact that it is based on a true story held special intrigue.

Sergeant Major Eismayer (Gerhard Liebmann) is known and feared as the toughest training officer in the Austrian Armed Forces. He is ruthless and unfeeling with recruits and a staunch disciplinarian, with order and macho toughness.

Unsurprisingly, the new batch of recruits despises him.

Surprisingly, in his personal life, he is a loving father to his son whom he adores and treats his wife respectfully.

But when he starts to fall in love with Falak (Luka Dimic), a recruit who is unashamedly out and proud as a gay man Eismayer must decide if his closeted existence is worth it.

The director, David Wagner, paints a lovely canvas of the love between two men that slowly takes shape. He wisely makes the running time less than an hour and a half so the film doesn’t drag.

It’s not a shock what develops between Eismayer and Falak because their embrace appears on the cover art but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.

I like the direction Wagner takes with this story. Eismayer being the title character the focus is on his character not the couple as a whole. The plot centers on his plight to come to terms with his sexuality and also make it publicly known.

He doesn’t have to come out naturally but if he wants to have an open and honest romance with Falak he must do this genuinely.

It’s unexplained why Eismayer is the way he is but one can easily guess why. His father was probably stoic and military-like he is and the expectation was to be macho and tough at all costs, showing no vulnerability.

To satisfy his urges he is reduced to having hot sex with willing recruits in the back seat of a car but it’s hardly candlelit dinners and romance nor satisfying.

In addition to being in love with Falak, he admires his courage to be out and proud in a traditionally masculine environment.

We know virtually nothing about Falak’s backstory. What made him come out? What was his father like?

While there has been a clear shift in acceptance of gays in the military a story like this hasn’t been told in film to my knowledge.

Gone hopefully are the days when LGBTQ+ filmmakers told stories of mere resistance to a gay character’s happiness as an obstacle to their joy and acceptance.

There is a raised eyebrow or two when Falak makes his homosexuality evident in the shower and one grizzled senior officer complains that ‘fags don’t belong in the military’ but the younger officers have little issue.

They even applaud at the end when Eismayer and Falak kiss and embrace, cementing their open and blossoming romance.

A fantasy? Possibly, but Wagner gives the likely predominately gay male audience something to admire and cheer for.

Understated, but packs an emotional punch and an uplifting and inspiring message, Eismayer (2023) is an Austrian film I hope will inspire more American filmmakers.

Strange Way of Life-2023

Strange Way of Life-2023

Director Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Ethan Hawke, Pedro Pascal

Scott’s Review #1,425

Reviewed April 22, 2024

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is performed by Manu Ríos.

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

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

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

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

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

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

The Seduction of Mimi-1972

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato, Agostina Belli

Scott’s Review #1,420

Reviewed February 4, 2024

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Through a Glass Darkly-1961

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow

Scott’s Review #1,377

Reviewed July 15, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europa Europa-1990

Europa Europa-1990

Director Agnieszka Holland

Starring Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy

Scott’s Review #1,373

Reviewed June 29, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the concentration camp horror is never taken for granted.

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

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

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

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

Salek is the opposite.

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

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

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

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

They both have secrets that would get them instantly killed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Beauties-1975

Seven Beauties-1975

Director Lina Wertmüller

Starring Giancarlo Giannini, Shirley Stoler, Fernando Rey

Scott’s Review #1,364

Reviewed June 3, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Quiet on the Western Front-2022

All Quiet on the Western Front-2022

Director Edward Berger

Starring Felix Kammerer

Scott’s Review #1,350

Reviewed March 10, 2023

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They quickly learn about the horrors of war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He should have received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Love Comes-1998

When Love Comes-1998

Director Garth Maxwell

Starring Rena Owen, Dean O’Gorman, Simon Prast

Scott’s Review #1,340

Reviewed February 3, 2023

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parallel Mothers-2021

Parallel Mothers-2021

Director-Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit

Scott’s Review #1,326

Reviewed December 22, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The musical score enhances the series of events perfectly.

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

Maybe it’s a cultural thing?

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

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

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

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

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Minari-2020

Minari-2020

Director-Lee Isaac Chung

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

Scott’s Review #1,181

Reviewed September 24, 2021

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

In the Name of-2013

In the Name of-2013

Director Malgorzata Szumowska, Mateusz Kościukiewicz

Starring Andrzej Chyra

Scott’s Review #1,159

Reviewed July 8, 2021

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to know more about Blondi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugetsu-1953

Ugetsu-1953

Director Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo

Scott’s Review #1,147

Reviewed May 31, 2021

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Black and White

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Director-Céline Sciamma

Starring-Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

Scott’s Review #1,114

Reviewed February 19, 2021

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t understand the point of these items.

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

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

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

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

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Wild Strawberries-1957

Wild Strawberries-1957

Director Ingmar Bergman

Starring Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson

Scott’s Review #1,111

Reviewed February 10, 2021

Grade: A

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

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

It’s cerebral and reminds me of A Christmas Carol since an old man struggles over his forgotten and sometimes misbegotten youth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some find Izak unsympathetic. I found him incredibly likable.

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

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

While the story is astounding, the visual qualities of Wild Strawberries are amazing.

The video content is crisp and clear with very bright black-and-white photography. Each shot is mesmerizing and reminiscent of paintings.

There is so much going on in Wild Strawberries. The closest adjectives to describe the experience are hallucinogenic and mesmerizing.

The people gathered over a meal were young, fresh, and carefree. They all have a life ahead of them and almost every viewer can recount a time when they felt that way.

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

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

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

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

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

Ma Mère-2005

Ma Mère-2005

Director Christophe Honoré

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel

Scott’s Review #1,103

Reviewed January 21, 2021

Grade: A

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

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

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

I found it brilliant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hélène appears to be turned on.

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

We are left unsure of what she means.

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler alert- the film does not end happily.

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

I deem the film fascinating.

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

It’s also creepy shit.

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

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

Isabelle Huppert does it again.

Corpus Christi-2019

Corpus Christi-2019

Director-Jan Komasa

Starring-Bartosz Bielenia

Scott’s Review #1,082

Reviewed November 14, 2020

Grade: A-

Questions of faith and redemption enshroud the powerful film, Corpus Christi (2019), directed by Jan Komasa, a Polish filmmaker. Many viewers will not possess the patience to get through the slow pace of the film, but I’ve seen enough of these quiet films to know that the payoff is usually worth the time invested.

I was right and there is a prize to be awarded at the end of the film while gradually sucking the viewer in along the way.

Komasa creates some beautiful camera work and shows what life is like in a small Polish village, but the culminating story and its afterthought are the main attraction.

I imagined myself living in this sleepy village where church and religion are the main highlights, while scandal and gossip seep below the surface. The church where some of the action takes place is stunningly beautiful.

Juvenile delinquent, Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) resides in a Warsaw detention center, serving time for second-degree murder. He has bonded with the resident priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat), and is spiritually awakened, determined to become a priest himself. He is disappointed to learn this is an impossibility because of his conviction.

Released and sent to work doing manual labor in a sawmill, Daniel stops in the village church to pray and pretends to be a priest. Assuming he is a real priest, the local priest asks him to temporarily fill in for him, which he eagerly does.

The main ingredient of the story is the plight of Daniel and his yearning for redemption, and this is wise on the part of the screenwriter (Mateusz Pacewicz).

In a more conventional story, Daniel might pretend to be a priest to avoid capture or a redundant existence at the sawmill. Instead, Daniel desires to be a priest and he wants to do right by the parishioners who are warm to his overt and unconventional style.

He is seen as a leader and a moral compass, and Daniel adores and needs that.

Others side stories emerge to complement the main story and flesh out the happenings even more. This gives supporting characters more to do than merely support Daniel’s story. This is a refreshing choice and makes it more of an ensemble piece.

A recent car wreck has devastated the village, angering the inhabitants. The driver, reportedly a drunk, killed several teenagers and himself in the crash. His widow bears the rage of the villagers, receiving hate letters and nasty notes written on her house.

Marta (Eliza Rycembel), whose brother died in the accident, sympathizes with the widow and wants the driver to be buried alongside the other victims, but everyone else refuses.

Marta’s mother, a religious woman, is conflicted and devastated. The mayor supports the villagers in their anger, even going so far as threatening Daniel. A fellow inmate spots Daniel and blackmails him. Marta and Daniel begin an affair.

There is so much going on with the different characters that the film could be turned into a miniseries. Despite the slow pace, I became fully enveloped in the lives of the villagers and began to care about other characters’ conflicts, not only Daniel’s.

Inevitably, questions will need to be answered. When will Daniel be found out? Who will rat him out or who will harbor his secret? What will happen to him if he is discovered? How will Marta react to the news? These questions constantly went through my mind as the plot unfolded which kept me wonderfully engaged.

Bielema is fantastic in the lead role. The complexities of Daniel are seen during intense sequences when he abuses drugs, has tawdry sex and bludgeons a fellow inmate during a bloody fight. He is not always the peaceful young man befitting of a priest.

But that makes the character nuanced and complicated.

Corpus Christi is about conflict and characters wrestling with their demons. It’s a character study. Marta, her mother, the widow, the priest at the youth detention center, and Daniel’s prison buddy, are all multi-dimensional.

Each of the central characters faces a demon: regret, sorrow, conflict. This is what makes the film so intriguing.

The events unfold at a slow, but steady pace sure to enrapture the thinking man’s viewer. A similar American film would be Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (2017), starring Ethan Hawke.

Corpus Christi (2019) needs no explosions, CGI effects, bombs, or car chases to grip the viewer and provide a truthful story based on honest emotion.

Oscar Nominations: Best International Film

The Tin Drum-1979

The Tin Drum-1979

Director Volker Schlöndorff

Starring David Bennent, Angela Winkler

Scott’s Review #1,047

Reviewed July 31, 2020

Grade: A

A fantastic and mesmerizing film experience that goes deeper than most films do the longer you stick with it, The Tin Drum (1979) takes a brutal point in world history and completes a layered production.

The film brings humor morphing into tragedy and back again in the most original of ways seen through the eyes of a young boy named Oskar (David Bennent), who decides to physically grow no further than three years old in an allegory of political turmoil amid World War II.

The film is riddled with thought provocation and historical meaning resulting in brilliance.

The film begins in 1899 and ends in the early 1940s. The story starts hilariously in Polish lands when Oskar’s grandfather meets his grandmother while fleeing the police. Their tryst in a potato field produces Oskar’s mother, Agnes (Angela Winkler). She is then later torn between two men, her cousin Jan (Daniel Olbrychski) and Alfred Matzerath (Mario Adorf), whom she marries.

Oskar is born with his parentage in question since Agnes carries on an affair with Jan throughout the years. Oskar’s grandfather flees to America and becomes rich sans family.

When Oskar turns three, he is given a tin drum as a present that he adores and refuses to part with. He throws himself down the cellar stairs much to his family’s chagrin and develops the uncanny ability to shatter glass by screaming at a high pitch.

As the 1930s become the 1940s Oskar witnesses his mother’s affair, her tragic death, his father’s and uncle’s deaths, and a beloved Jewish man committing suicide rather than being caught by the Nazis.

He finds love with a sixteen-year-old shop girl named Maria and may or may not father her baby.

The Tin Drum is not always an easy watch and teeters between fun and frightening. Oskar is not the lovable kid next door that everyone adores. He is creepy-looking and unattractive at first glance, almost demonic.

Actor David Bennent is perfectly cast and has a way of offering moments where he stands transfixed, mouth dropped open, taking in the action and making gazing observations.

Oskar goes from three years old when the film begins to a grown man when it ends but never changes his appearance.

Some viewers may be bothered by certain scenes. Bennent was only eleven years old and suffered from a growth defect in real life. More prudish viewers may find the youngster’s intimacy a bit shocking since he appears nude and beds a woman in full view.

I found it in no way gratuitous or exploitative and would argue that it is vital to show the growth and maturation of little Oskar.

International films typically get away with more sex and nudity than American films, but the scenes are artistic and beautiful.

The pacing in The Tin Drum is terrific. At two hours and forty-three minutes, there is plenty of time to explore relevant scenes and sequences slowly letting them brew and marinate. The comedy of Oskar’s grandparent’s sexual appetites taking place under her big dress is hilarious and reminiscent of Federico Fellini’s best films.

The intriguing dwarf characters that Oskar meets and befriends bring life and zest to the film as they embrace their peculiarities and profit from them encouraging them to do the same.

The second half of The Tin Drum turns dark.

Agnes, now pregnant, vomits after witnessing eel being collected on the beach. When they are prepared for dinner, she at first resists then embarks on a fish-eating obsession resulting in her untimely death.

Is this an example of showing Germans stuffing themselves with Nazism? The deaths of Jan, Alfred, and others follow in rapid succession as clips of the Nazi occupation are featured.

A valuable history lesson is offered when The Tin Drum incorporates real-life footage of Adolph Hitler. Most frightening is a clip of him outside of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. How he overtook this magical city and almost destroyed it is unfathomable.

This perfectly counterbalances the fairy-tale or ridiculousness of other scenes bringing home the terrible message that much of what the film explores are true events.

The greatness that oozes from The Tin Drum (1979) is layered and dynamic. The filming is mostly in West Germany with bits shot in Poland which gives authenticity to the experience. Other offerings are surrealistic, sometimes child-like innocence, sometimes tragic, and too realistic.

The picture drizzles with life, energy, synergy, and multi-faceted character relationships. One of the greats to watch more than once to grasp the numerous things going on.

The film version is adapted from the novel of the same name, written by Gunter Grass.

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

Pain and Glory-2019

Pain and Glory-2019

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas

Scott’s Review #1,042

Reviewed July 20, 2020

Grade: A-

Thought to be director Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal effort to date, Pain and Glory (2019) showcases the talents of actor Antonio Banderas, who has been appearing in Almodóvar’s films since 1982.

A character study, the film poetically reflects on the life of an aging filmmaker (Banderas) who aches to find his lost creative soul while reminiscing about his first love.

The triumphant film could have been faster-paced, but above all celebrates life, regret, and pain, and is thus inspiring.

Salvador Mallo (Banderas) is a once well-known filmmaker well on the decline personally and professionally. He suffers from health maladies leaving him in chronic pain and has lost his knack for crafting good projects.

When he runs into an old friend and actress, Zulema (Cecilia Roth), who barely acts anymore and is reduced to accepting any roles offered to her, he decides to visit the lead actor from his best-known film, Sabor.

Salvador hasn’t spoken to Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) in thirty years and both ruminate over the film as it is to be remastered and celebrated.

Once a subject of contention, Salvador and Alberto begins to smoke heroin prompting Salvador to revisit his childhood memories, rediscovering life. His most prominent memory is when he and his father and mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) move to a whitewashed cave to live.

There he meets and befriends an older laborer, whom he teaches to read. Salvador discovers his sexuality through this young man after seeing him naked.

Years later, during the 1980s, Salvador falls madly in love with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), and the pair share a passionate love affair that deteriorates at the end of the decade.

In present times, Federico re-emerges and tracks down Salvador. They reconnect, sharing drinks and memories, nearly reigniting their passion. Federico is now married to a woman and raising kids in Argentina, but the powerful memories resurface, and the men flirt and gaze at one another longingly.

The film utterly belongs to Banderas. The actor has charisma in many other roles, but Salvador might be his crowning achievement.

It’s such a personal role and written specifically for the actor by Almodóvar. He possesses the ability to grasp the viewer into his clutches and never let go.

From the agonizing pain he experiences daily causing him to choke for no reason to his inability to fulfill his now elderly mother’s dying wish to die in her village after accusing him of never loving her, we empathize with him every step of the way.

His sexuality discovered and revealed at a young age, Salvador’s longing, and unfulfilled passion are the most intricate and nuanced aspects of the film. As the laborer draws a picture of Salvador, which he rediscovers later, there is unspoken passion between the youngsters.

In later years, his assistant nudges him to look the laborer up via Google, to see where he is, perhaps reconnecting. Salvador refuses, sinking in regret of what might have been.

To build on this, his fling with Federico as a young man, shown via flashbacks, is powerful. The scene when a teary Federico, during present times, sits in a theater weeping while watching Salvador’s play, is a testament to his love for the man.

The unknown is why the relationship failed and Federico gave up men and succumbed to a traditional relationship, but we can only guess Salvador might not have been able to commit. When the men spend an evening together capped off with a passionate kiss but nothing more, we realize how they could have built a wonderful life together.

Props to Sbaraglia for a tremendous performance in a small role.

Assuredly, Pain and Glory were patterned after 8 1/2, a 1963 masterpiece penned and directed by Federico Fellini. The themes of regret, writer’s block, and memories come into play throughout both films. Almodóvar even names Salvador’s lover Federico, an obvious tribute to the famous director, known for infusing stylistic touches and non-linear stories.

Like most of Almodóvar’s other projects, Pain and Glory celebrates vibrant colors, sexuality, and passion in its themes. Set in Madrid, the film has a zesty, cultured Spanish flair with blues, greens, and oranges.

Even though the overarching theme is loss, pain, and missed opportunities, the film is still stacked with rich energy and pizzazz. For those with a fondness for acting, cinema, or creativity there is enough to satisfy.

After decades in the spotlight crafting film after film with resounding results, Pain and Glory (2019) may be the cream of the crop for the Spanish director.

Thanks in large part to the tremendous efforts of a legendary actor, the experience will please fans of the directors and anyone with a taste for a film about zest for life, unfulfilled pleasures, and new experiences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Antonio Banderas, Best International Feature Film

Law of Desire-1987

Law of Desire-1987

Director Pedro Almodovar

Starring Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura

Scott’s Review #1,021

Reviewed May 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Law of Desire or La ley del Deseo (as translated in original Spanish) is a 1987 film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

Quite groundbreaking for its time and penned by a respected director, the film was rich in offering what was rarely presented in films during the 1980s- a complex love triangle between two men and a trans woman.

The fact that the trans woman is the sister of one of the men is a bonus to the buttery soap opera premise.

In 2020, when LGBTQ+ films are more plentiful in cinema (at least at the indie level), Law of Desire suffers slightly from a dated feel and parts drag along. It’s tough to heavily criticize a piece so brazen as this one was when it was released to art-house theaters and musty metropolitan theaters.

As groundbreaking as the film must be given credit for, the story now feels sillier than it should, and more outlandish than it probably intended to be over thirty years ago.

The fabulous setting of Madrid, Spain is the backdrop for the luscious tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, think the prime-time television series Dynasty on steroids.

Cocky Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful gay film director with his pick from a bevy of young, good-looking gay males, is madly in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), though he has a roving eye.

Suave Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who comes from a conservative family, is new to the gay scene and falls madly in love with Pablo when Juan goes to find himself. Tina (Carmen Maura), who likes men and women, has just been dumped and is vulnerable.

Besides the obvious daring gender-bending, this story could be a simple one told many times across many genres. Almodóvar spins things into a frenzy as the plot unfolds adding manipulations, sub-plots, and bizarre characters into the mix.

For example, Ada is Tina’s surrogate daughter and is a precocious ten-year-old girl in love with Pablo. Ada refuses to go back with her mother (Bibi Andersen) when she comes back to whisk her off to Milan to meet a man she just met.

The gay subtext is what is center stage here. Back in the 1980s, the term LGBTQ+ was on nobody’s radar, and having any representation at all in cinema was still territory barely scratching the surface.

This point kept returning to me throughout the film and I imagined how fresh the experience would have been to any gay man or gay woman fortunate enough to have seen it. I am not sure any of the characters would serve as great role models, but the representation is nice.

Almodóvar adds in a good deal of naked flesh for an added treat.

Several comic scenes arise with gusto. Antonio, who lives at home with a religious zealot of a mother, convinces Pablo to sign his letters from “Laura P”, a character from his latest play, to trick Antonio’s nosy mama.

Tina, not much of an actress, is cast in Pablo’s one-woman theatrical productions. She thinks her performance is great, but Pablo thinks she stinks. The comical moments are the ones that work best, giving the plentiful offbeat characters a chance to let loose and shine.

Towards the conclusion, Law of Desire takes a tragic and Shakespearean turn. A drunken Juan is thrown off a cliff to his death prompting an investigation with Antonio and Pablo both prime suspects.

Finally, a kidnapping and police stand-off ensues with a murder/suicide providing the film’s final moments.

I am not a fan of the title that Almodóvar chooses. Preferably would be a title that is a bit more titillating. Even Lust of Desire or Object of My Desire would have been better choices. Law of Desire screams of a tepid episode of television’s Law & Order.

For a director with such an outlandish approach and such bizarre characters, the title is bland, banal, and tough to remember.

Those seeking a kinky and provocative late-night affair will find Law of Desire (1987) a good old time. It lacks much of a clear message instead providing a sexy romp and dreary ending.

Running the gamut of adding musical score pieces as unique as the 1970s The Conformist, a film also shrouded in same-sex desire, to cheesy 1980s synth-laden beats, adds some confusion.

Nonetheless, diversity and inclusiveness are good recipes to chow down on and celebrate.

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director Luchino Visconti

Starring Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice.

The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score, the film provides beauty and impressionism.

The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, and published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but are assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy.

While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is.

Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful.

If Gustav had approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert.

Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion.

The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David- since we are in Italy.

But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while, it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city.

In 2020, with the vicious COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on a whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise, it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual.

In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterward walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo.

As Tadzio outreaches his arms toward the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly.

Dyeing his grey hair black whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made-up face is meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion.

The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Bread and Chocolate-1974

Director Franco Brusati

Starring Nino Manfredi

Scott’s Review #996

Reviewed March 6, 2020

Grade: B

Bread and Chocolate (1974), known as Pane e cioccolata in Italian is a mixed dramatic and comedic offering by the director, Franco Brusati, a well-known Italian screenwriter and director.

The film is charming and tells of one man’s trials and tribulations trying to make it as a migrant worker in a foreign country- in this case neighboring Switzerland. He is conflicted by the opportunities presented and the catastrophic way his life is screwed up at every turn.

The film is meaningful and poignant but sometimes has no clear path. A commonality is the representation of differing cultures.

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

He befriends and is supported for a time by a Greek woman named Elena, who is a refugee and harbors secrets. He forages a career as a waiter and befriends a busboy. As his luck dwindles, he is reduced to finding shelter with a group of Neapolitans living in a chicken coop, with the same chickens they tend to to survive.

With bizarre gusto they frequently emulate the chickens, strangely parading around their quarters like animals.

The main character of Nino reminds me of the character that Roberto Benigni played in the 1997 gem, Life is Beautiful. In that film, Guido tries to shelter his son from the horrors of war. In Bread and Chocolate, Nino has a zest for life using humor to survive and get through daily situations, slowly realizing his dire straits.

Both characters are scrappy and daring; Nino humorously urinating on a tree or awkwardly finding a dead body in the woods.

The theme of the film is loaded with conflict over staying in Switzerland to find a better life or returning in shame to his homeland of Italy, assumed a failure. Nino constantly wrestles with this quandary and discusses this point with his family photos in his bedroom.

In two instances he nearly gets on a train headed back to Italy but changes his mind. The film does not do a great job explaining or showing what is so awful back in Italy.

Bread and Chocolate is difficult to categorize because it is neither a straight-ahead comedy nor pure drama. As the film progresses it loses some situational comedy moments in favor of exhibiting melancholia and sadness.

I am not sure this is a great decision as we wonder many times if we should laugh with Nino or feel bad for him. Perhaps both?

The film scores big when it focuses on comedy as evidenced by several laugh-out-loud restaurant scenes. Nino, clearly not knowing what he is doing, struggles to properly peel an orange to serve a guest. He emulates another waiter with hilarious results.

Later he offends a snobbish, sophisticated woman after she blames him for causing her to fall to the floor.

The strangest scene occurs when the chicken people spy on four gorgeous Swiss siblings bathing in a nearby river. Gorgeous and tranquil, they are the definition of stunning and lush.

Charmed by the idyllic vision of the group, Nino decides to dye his hair and pass himself off as a local. The images of the cackling and dirty Italian people, with their snickering and drooling set against the peaceful family, are both beautiful and odd.

The scene could almost be featured in an Ingmar Bergman art film.

Bread and Chocolate (1974) is a film about a man’s journey that can be classified as an adventure, drama, art film, or comedy, and sometimes crosses genres too much. The comedic antics draw rave reviews, but the film slips a bit when it goes into the dramatic territory and becomes middling and too preachy.

Actor Nino Manfredi breathes all the life he can into a film that is appealing, but not quite marvelous.

The Leopard-1963

The Leopard-1963

Director Luchino Visconti

Starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #991

Reviewed February 18, 2020

Grade: A

One of the great works in cinematic history, I preface this review by stating that I viewed the English dubbed version of the brilliant The Leopard (1963) starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.

This version is considerably shorter, at two hours and forty-one minutes than the Italian version, which is three hours and five minutes.

As grand as the former is, my hunch is that something is lost in translation put side by side with the latter. The English version has no subtitles and is available only on DVD, so the film is difficult to follow but is still rich in texture.

An interesting tidbit is that the film surgery was performed without director Luchino Visconti’s input – the director was unhappy with the editing and the dubbing. This point is valid since some of the voices are Italian and French, sounding too American and unauthentic.

Admittedly inferior, the English version is nonetheless extravagant and lovely by its own merits, though I am dying to see the original version, if available.

The time is during the 1860s as the tumultuous era affected the country of Italy and more specifically, Sicily. Prince Don Fabrizio Salina (Lancaster) is at a crossroads, torn between holding onto the glory he once knew and accepting the changing times, welcoming a more modern unity within the country.

He is surrounded by a new mayor, Don Calogero Sedara (Paolo Stoppa) who has a gorgeous daughter, Angelica (Cardinale), who intends to marry Fabrizio’s French nephew, Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon).

The film dissects the changing times in Italy.

The visual treats that await the viewer are astounding and by far the best part of the film. The lovely and palatial estates are gorgeous with decorative sets, bright and zesty colors, and ravishing meals displayed during parties to make any audience member salivate with joy.

The costumes are state of the art, as each frame can easily be a painting on a canvas. A tip is to periodically pause the film and study and immerse oneself in its style.

Many film comparisons, both past and yet to come, can easily be made when thought about. An Italian Gone with the Wind (1939), if you will, with Angelica as Scarlett and Tancredi as Rhett (okay, the chemistry is not quite the same, but similarities do exist), and Concetta as the long-suffering Melanie, the characters can be compared.

The great ball, the costumes, and the ravaged country are more prominent comparisons.

Nine years after The Leopard, a little film entitled The Godfather (1972) would change the cinematic landscape forever.

Director, Frances Ford Coppola must have studied this film, as the plentiful scenes of the Italian landscape and the Italian culture are immersed in both films. Even snippets of the musical score mirror each other.

What a grand film to borrow and cultivate from!

Despite all the beautiful trimmings that make The Leopard a masterpiece, the film belongs to Lancaster, in the best role of his career. The hunk in 1953’s From Here to Eternity, as the Prince, he is aged to perfection, distinguished-looking with graying sideburns.

The film is an epic extravaganza and the actor leads the charge, carrying the film. He is a stoic man, but not without fault and emotion, wearing his heart on his sleeve, realizing that he must adapt to the changing times. We feel his quandary and embrace the character as a human being.

Attention-paying fans must be forewarned that the plot is basic and while difficult to follow because of the absence of sub-titles, at the same time there is not a highly complex story to follow.

The story is about how the Prince maneuvers his family through troubled (and changing) times to a more secure position. This is the overlying theme of the film.

Suffering from dubbing and quality control issues can do nothing to ruin a spectacular offering that is a cinematic gem and testament to the power of The Leopard’s (1963) staying power.

I eagerly await the day when the traditional Italian version can be located, and discovered, as this will assuredly be a treat to sink my teeth into.

Until then, the film is a historical epic that can be appreciated for the dynamics and importance it so richly deserves.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Color

8 1/2-1963

8 1/2-1963

Director Federico Fellini

Starring Marcelo Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale

Scott’s Review #973

Reviewed December 27, 2019

Grade: A-

For fans of acclaimed and experimental Italian film director, Federico Fellini, a straightforward plot is rarely the recipe of the day with his projects.

With 8 1/2 (1963) he creates a personal and autobiographical story of a movie director pressured into another project but lacking creative ideas and inspiration to fulfill the task.

We can all relate to this in one way or another.

The film is confusing, beautiful, elegant, and dreamlike, precisely what one would expect of a Fellini production. His film also hints at a more profound message and complexities.

The recommendation is to experience the film rather than analyze or worse yet, over-analyze it, simply letting it marinate over time and relish in the offerings.

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a famous Italian film director suffering from director’s block after he is tasked with, and attempts to direct, an epic science fiction film.

Experiencing marital difficulties, he decides to spend time at a luxurious spa where he has strange reoccurring visions of a beautiful woman (Claudia Cardinale), is visited by his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), and is berated by a temperamental film critic.

When Guido’s film crew arrives at his hotel in the hopes of starting production, he becomes overwhelmed by the mounting pressures and escapes into a world of memories. He visits his grandmother, dances with a prostitute, and relives his time at a strict Catholic school.

Attempts to add these memories to his new film are dismissed by the film critic. The rest of the film is a mish-mash of odd occurrences as Guido attempts to make his film.

Fans of Fellini’s other works will undoubtedly fall in love with 8 1/2, and since the film is about film this scores points in my book.

His other famous works like Roma (1972) and Amarcord (1973) are similarly semi-autobiographical but differ in that they are more straightforward stories- as much as can be said about a Fellini film.

Usually lacking much plot 8 1/2 resembles Juliet and the Spirits (1965) more than the others for comparison’s sake. Fantasy and reality are interspersed, making the film tough to follow.

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

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

This must be attributed to the look and style of the film.

8 1/2 won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design (black-and-white) and is considered a highly respected and influential work of art by most film critics.

Appreciated mostly for its beautiful cinematography, it also delves into the meaning of life with a live-and-let-live approach.

Lovers of avant-garde works of interpretation and expressionism will be giddy with delight while experiencing ruminating thoughts following 8 1/2 (1963).

Having only seen the film once and embraced it wholly as a work of art, but frustrated by the lack of tangible meaning, my advice is to see the film a second, a third, or even a fourth time for a deeper appreciation and understanding.

I plan to heed my suggestion.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Director-Federico Fellini, Best Story, and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Foreign Language Film (won), Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (won)

Shoplifters-2018

Shoplifters-2018

Director-Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring-Lily Franky, Sakura Ando

Scott’s Review #962

Reviewed November 26, 2019

Grade: A-

Shoplifters (2018) is a fabulous Japanese offering, directed, written, and edited by Hirokazu Kore-Eda. The film is slow-moving and understated, but provides a moving and poignant message about family, by blood or not, and the powerful ties that bind individuals compassionately and emotionally.

The film is character-driven and humanistic, offering sentiment and emotion without ever feeling overwrought or manipulative. It is not to be missed.

A dysfunctional group of outsiders resides together in a dingy basement establishment in Tokyo, Japan, escaping their poverty by shoplifting and embarking on mild adventures to pass the time. They share a deep bond and look out for each other.

The audience assumes they are family, which they are, but not in the biological sense. The family rescues an abused young girl and takes her into their home, showering her with love and affection.

Eventually, trouble comes when one of them is caught shoplifting, which leads to a domino effect of terrible events.

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

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

Though the watch is a slow one the audience inevitably falls in love with the characters and the connection becomes powerful before the viewer knows it. We know Osamu and Nobuyo should leave Yuri where she is when they see her unattended and shivering on a cold balcony, but they cannot help themselves.

Their actions lead the audience to immediately realize that they are good, kind people, who have been handed bad life circumstances to deal with.

The film is a tough watch and is not one ever to be defined as edge-of-your-seat. Many scenes involve characters walking around the streets, almost aimlessly, commenting that the weather is cold or other trivial conversational bits.

The scenes could be defined as boring or bleak, but eventually, something magical happens and the characters become favorites, the viewer immersed in their world unflinchingly.

The character of Yuri is a tough one to observe. With bruises on her arms and a burn from a hot iron, tearful is the imagining of the terror the little girl has already been through at the hands of blood relatives, especially since her parents assume she has run off and is thrilled she is out of their lives.

The conclusion of the film is cold and harsh, hitting home that the justice system is flawed and cruel, as Yuri ultimately is returned to her parents, certain to face more abuse and eventual death. Doesn’t child abuse usually turn out like this?

Director, Kore-eda, could have spun a feel-good story with the family parading onto the beach in the sunshine, but he chooses not to. We wonder how Yuri’s life might have turned out under better circumstances and if the courts had not gotten involved.

Kore-eda instead paints of stark picture of reality and not the fictional happily-ever-after that films too often rush to craft.

Shoplifters (2018) offers a look at humanity at its best and its worst with a story about joy and pain. The film is quiet and careful and ultimately keeps one in its grips. It sticks with the viewer and makes one question what a family really is and what it is defined as in the court of law.

Who is to decide who is family and who is not family? The film will make one ponder many things which a treasured quality of good cinema is.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film