Tag Archives: Foreign Language films

Flee-2021

Flee-2021

Director-Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Scott’s Review #1,274

Reviewed July 7, 2022

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this case, it never did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Snow-2009

Dead Snow-2009

Director-Tommy Wirkola

Starring-Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen

Scott’s Review #1,237

Reviewed March 12, 2022

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

The familiar setup of a group of young people, this time intelligent medical students, heading off for a long weekend of booze and sex in a remote location gets Dead Snow off to an intriguing start. A lonely cabin in the middle of the snowy mountains of Norway is the primary setting for the Arctic Easter bloodbath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Snow at one hour and thirty minutes is short enough not to wear out its welcome which it starts to do in the final fifteen minutes or so. A chase scene across the snowy mountains and motivation for some ancient gold coins is explained as the final character makes it to safety in an until then missing car.

Or does he or she?

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

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

Lamb-2021

Lamb-2021

Director-Valdimar Johannsson

Starring-Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snaer Guonason

Scott’s Review #1,187

Reviewed October 17, 2021

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minari-2020

Minari-2020

Director-Lee Isaac Chung

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

Scott’s Review #1,181

Reviewed September 24, 2021

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Summer-1968

Hot Summer-1968

Director-Joachim Hasler

Starring-Chris Doerk, Frank Schobel

Scott’s Review #1,173

Reviewed August 27, 2021

Grade: B

One of the strangest films I’ve ever watched Hot Summer (1968) deserves enormous accolades for even being filmed, produced, and in existence. You see, it’s the only film (that I know of) to come out of East Germany before the wall came down in 1989 and unity garnered. This is astounding in itself despite some warts the film contains.

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

It’s clearly patterned after the trite, summery United States beach movies of the 1950s and 1960s when teenage characters flocked to the sandy beaches looking for romance with their contemporaries. In this film, they do so within song and dance numbers led by two East German pop idols of the time, Chris Doerk and Frank Schobel.

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

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

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

Despite that the film was made during the Cold War period there are no political or like messages to be found which surprised me. If there were any subliminal intentions related to this, like the groups sticking together, they didn’t register with me. I think this is a positive. Hot Summer is pure summer fun- nothing more and nothing less.

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

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

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

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

The choreography is a bit stiff, if not downright amateurish which adds to the bizarre nature of the overall product. Certainly nothing like the exceptional choreography of say Oklahoma (1955) or West Side Story (1961) instead we get rigid dance numbers.

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

L’Avventura-1960

L’Avventura-1960

Director-Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring-Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti

Scott’s Review #1,167

Reviewed July 30, 2021

Grade: A

L’Avventura (1960) has a lot in common with the horror masterpiece Psycho (1960), released the same year, although they couldn’t be more opposite on the surface. One is an American horror film by an esteemed British director and the other an Italian art film. What could they possibly have in common?

Forgetting that the former is not at all a horror film, L’Avventura first introduces a character that the audience is certain to be the main character only to pull a switcheroo midstream and make other characters the central protagonists. Think what Janet Leighs Marion Crane was in Psycho to John Garvin and Vera Miles, Sam Loomis and Lila Crane.

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

In Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic of Italian cinema, two beautiful young women, Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Anna (Léa Massari) join Anna’s lover, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), on a boat trip to a remote volcanic island. They plan to spend their time cruising, resting, and relaxing on the Mediterranean. The trio is all good-looking and resides on the outskirts of Rome. They join two wealthy couples and depart on their excursion,

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

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

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

The brilliant and ambitious thing about L’Avventura is that the film changes course many times. On the surface, it appears a film about a missing girl and friends 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 own design and plod along unhappy and unfulfilled suffering paranoia.

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

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

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

L’Avventura (1960) is a film that will make you think, ponder, escape, and discuss the true meaning of the film. Isn’t that what great art cinema does? Antonioni also made me consider comparisons to another great art film creator- the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

Macabre-1980

Macabre-1980

Director-Lamberto Bava

Starring-Bernice Stegers

Scott’s Review #1,165

Reviewed July 26, 2021

Grade: A-

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

Lamberto certainly learned his craft exceptionally well and he creates a terrific and gruesome horror film called Macabre (1980) which certainly lives up to its name. I won’t spoil the fun by revealing too much but the experience of watching his film will stay with the audience long after it ends.

Nightmares anyone?

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

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

The horrific tale mixes murder, madness, and perverse (or perverted) passion. A lonely New Orleans wife and mother, Jane Baker, played by Bernice Stegers, carries on a torrid affair without her family’s knowledge. After sneaking around and causing her daughter Lucy’s (Veronica Zinny) suspicions to be aroused, a violent accident leaves her lover, Fred, dead.

Devastated, Jane does a stint in a mental institution. Supposedly cured, she leaves determined to pursue her forbidden desires and ends up moving in with her dead lover’s blind brother, Robert (Stanko Molnar). But what secret or ghastly desires does she hold dear to her heart and what oddity resides in her refrigerator?

You’re probably wondering why a director with Italian roots as strong as Bava’s would choose the cajun and gumbo-infused city of New Orleans- I was too. Why not choose a more gothic locale like Rome? The setting is even more jarring given the British and Italian actors cast in the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Name of-2013

In the Name of-2013

Director-Malgorzata Szumowska, Mateusz Kościukiewicz

Starring-Andrzej Chyra

Scott’s Review #1,159

Reviewed July 8, 2021

Grade: B+

In the Name of (2013), not to be confused with In the Name of the Father, a 1993 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is a Polish independent LGBTQ+ genre film directed by a female, Malgorzata Szumowska. I point out the gender only because the subject matter skews heavily towards male homosexuality which is an interesting one for a female to tackle.

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

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

If one looks carefully, each character struggles with conflict and self-acceptance in some way, restless and hungry for peace of mind and satisfaction. We wonder if any of the characters will ever find this.

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

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

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

The obvious comparison of In the Name of is to Brokeback Mountain (2005) which set the standard and paved the way for many LGBTQ+ films to be made. All of Adam’s and Lukasz’s dalliances, and there are romantic suggestions, but nothing animalistic is secretive. Both men are repressed but are at different stages of life.

I can’t say In the Name of hits the mark in this regard because the film is less about a male romance than about the characters being unhappy. It’s not until the end of the film that any blossoming develops between Adam and Lukasz. I wanted more meat between the characters, pun intended but was left knowing almost nothing about Lukasz specifically.

I also yearned for more backstory from three supporting characters. Ewa (Maja Ostaszewska), an attractive local woman, flirts with Adam and the coach on occasion and drinks too much, later regretting her actions. How does she happen to be in the town and why is she without a man already? Is the coach gay or straight? It is suggested he is gay but this remains unclear. Finally, Blondi is a bleached blonde troubled boy played by Tomasz Schuchardt. He beds another boy and senses Adam’s sexuality filling Blondi with venom. I wanted to know more about Blondi.

Despite these slight yearnings for more the film is very good. Chyra does a terrific acting job in the main role of Adam and easily wins over the audience who will root for his happiness. During a great scene, the typically reserved Adam explodes with self-deprecating rage while on a video call with his sympathetic sister. He struggles for self-acceptance that many of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to.

I sense that having seen In the Name of when it was originally released in 2013 would have made the experience even more powerful. By 2021 the cinema world has been saturated with films containing similar story points and religious conflict issues so that appears a commonality rather than originality.

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

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

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Pan’s Labyrinth-2006

Director-Guillermo del Toro

Starring-Ivana Baquero, Sergi López

Scott’s Review #1,156

Reviewed June 25, 2021

Grade: A

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a treasure of a film. In fact, I would classify it as a masterpiece for creativity alone. It is not for children! The fact that it has some fantasy trimmings and tells its story from a child’s perspective is misleading. The film deals with some heady and heavy stuff that will both frighten and be lost on the younger crowd.

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

I adore that Pan’s Labyrinth is Spanish-Mexican. Somehow that makes the experience a bit mysterious and exotic right off the bat. The frightening time period of 1944, directly post World War II is also key to the good story since war and mayhem are themes. The main character, Ofelia, meets several strange and magical creatures who become central to her story, leading her through the trials of the old labyrinth garden.

Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her pregnant and sick mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband (Sergi López), a sadistic army officer who is trying to prevent a guerrilla uprising. Lonely and feeling lost, Ofelia explores an ancient maze, encountering the faun Pan, who tells her that she is a legendary lost princess and must complete three dangerous tasks to claim immortality.

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

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

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

The art direction is astonishing to see. Bewildering forest trimmings and haunting lighting make their appearance as Ofelia immerses herself in her new world. The viewer sees her new world through her eyes, that is through the eyes of a child. So authentic are the sets and ruins that it is impossible not to be thrust full-throttle into the fantasy sequences.

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

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

Guillermo del Toro creates a world so imaginative and magnificent that we see this world through the eyes of a child but also the clear glasses of the adults. Scenes of torture mix with scenes of innocence so well that it is impossible not to be transported to a magical world where reality often disrupts the pleasurable fairy tale.

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

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

Ugetsu-1953

Ugetsu-1953

Director-Kenji Mizoguchi

Starring-Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyo

Scott’s Review #1,147

Reviewed May 31, 2021

Grade: A

Kenji Mizoguchi, who directs the brave Japanese masterpiece, Ugetsu (1953), successfully brought eastern cinema to western audiences at the time the film was discovered. The result is a groundbreaking ghost story that fuses reality with the supernatural in the most 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 just fine because its brilliance lies in other areas. Like, every area to be clear. The cinematography, the mix of reality and supernatural, the tone, and the questioning messages and 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 are 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 in the hopes of selling his pottery. The mansion is run by the 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 actually 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 the lushness of 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 is hearty and worthy of a discussion. They strive for great success and riches but live in a cruel world with challenges. 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 definitely appear on lists of superior films shown at film schools if it is not already.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design, Black and White

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire-2019

Director-Céline Sciamma

Starring-Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel

Scott’s Review #1,114

Reviewed February 19, 2021

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t understand the point of these items.

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

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

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

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

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Wild Strawberries-1957

Wild Strawberries-1957

Director-Ingmar Bergman

Starring-Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson

Scott’s Review #1,111

Reviewed February 10, 2021

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

Do older people fear death?  Do they whimsically revisit their youth from time to time or do they live with regret and unfulfilled desire? My hunch is that it’s probably a bit of all. Wild Strawberries made me think like the old man and the effect was powerful, making me worry and fear my own death and relive my glory days.

Isak Borg (Sjostrom) begins to reflect on his life after he decides to take a road trip from his home in Stockholm to the distant town of Lund to receive a special award. Along the way, a string of encounters causes him to experience hallucinations that expose his insecurities and fears. He realizes that the choices he’s made have rendered his life meaningless, or so he perceives it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships are a strong element of Wild Strawberries. Izak muses over past loves, but also his mother, daughter-in-law, housekeeper, and hitchhikers. Peculiar is his relationship with his housekeeper, Agda, played stunningly well by Julian Kindahl. Are they secret lovers or platonic friends? They seem like husband and wife.

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

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

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

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

Wild Strawberries (1957)  possesses many facets of the human experience. Sorrow, joy, depression, acceptance, frustration, and fulfillment. This is a work of genius and is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates great experiences in cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay

Ma Mère-2005

Ma Mère-2005

Director-Christophe Honoré

Starring-Isabelle Huppert, Louis Garrel

Scott’s Review #1,103

Reviewed January 21, 2021

Grade: A

Brilliant French film actress, Isabelle Huppert, turns in another outstanding performance in Ma Mère (2005). The film is a daring and sometimes shocking experience met with mostly derision from many fans and critics. The subject matter is hard for the weak of heart to take or understand, or maybe even put up with. The taboo nature of incest is what the film is about but also the dark and far reaches of the human psyche and emotion. A heavy and ingenious film for where the filmmakers dare to go. I found it brilliant.

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

Huppert plays a recently widowed and sexually adventurous woman named Hélène. Her young and restless son, Pierre (Garrel), is visited by her young and restless son 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 are 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 masturbating 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 over the course of 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 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

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Director-Jaromil Jires

Starring-Jaroslava Schallerova

Scott’s Review #1,076

Reviewed October 30, 2020

Grade: B+

One of the oddest films I’ve ever laid eyes on, the best way to view a film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonder (1970) is to absorb it and let it either pull you in or turn you off. The cadence is to feel the film and then search for any semblance of meaning or interpretation later, or perhaps never.

The genre or genres best to categorize the film art cinema meets fantasy meets horror meets fairy tale. Is it ever a bizarre experience. If one is to take hallucinogens first, this film is a recommended watch. The production is Czech and is translated to Valerie a týden divů in its native language. 

The story involves a week in the life of Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and the weird and sexual thoughts and desires she encounters while blossoming. She encounters witchcraft, vampires, and a bizarre Constable, who wears a mask. Valerie is raised by the strangest grandmother (Helena Anýžová) imaginable, who morphs into other characters named Mother and Redhead. Valerie does not live a boring life. One poster for the film is of a blooming flower with splotches of blood that can be interpreted as a girl losing her virginity.

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

The creativity and the experimental nature of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders are what will allure an open-eyed viewer seeking something left-of-center….very left-of-center. The story is secondary. The medieval landscape is gothic and haunting, perfect for evil-doings and strangeness. Not to harp on this point, but the look of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the money shot. All else can be left by the sidelines.

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

Critically speaking, I would have preferred a little more logic and wrap-up, but that’s just me. Surely, not a realistic interpretation, was the girl dreaming while asleep or merely delving into fantasy one day? The more I tried to follow the story and put together the pieces like working on a puzzle, the less this did me any favors. I then decided to space out and indulge in the other lovelies included. I should have done this from the beginning.

I am unsure how many Czech films I have seen if any, but Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a clear example of what Czech filmmakers can do and it’s crazy what they can come up with. The mystique is likely multiplied on American audiences and a viewer used to more formulaic approaches to film. With a desire for more put-together stories and logic, I nonetheless admired this film for the magic and style offered.

They Call Her One Eye-1973

They Call Her One Eye-1973

Director-Bo Arne Vibenius

Starring-Christina Lindberg, Heinz Hopf

Scott’s Review #1,061

Reviewed September 14, 2020

Grade: A-

They Call Her One Eye (1973) is a marvelously wicked revenge film that is a must-see for any Quentin Tarantino fans since it’s a blueprint for his works to come. The famous director worked as a clerk at a video store (back when they had video stores) and stumbled upon many odd and wonderful obscure, independent films. Through the guidance of his stepfather, he was encouraged to pursue his love of film by visiting art theaters and such. Undoubtedly, They Call Her One Eye was one of his findings.

A young woman (Christina Lindberg) struggles to overcome her tortured past but runs into more trouble when she gets mixed up with a seemingly wonderful man (Heinz Hopf), who ends up being the exact opposite. After she misses her bus to her job at a farm, the man picks her up and soon has her working as a prostitute and addicted to drugs. Her only chance to escape will be to learn martial arts and exact revenge on her pimp. She spends her time off learning to fight and plotting a day of reckoning.

Impossible not to conjure images of Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), the film is told from a female perspective and revenge is the recipe of the day. The main character also wears an eye-patch, following a horrific scene when her eyeball is removed as punishment for being defiant. Any fan of Tarantino knows that the character of villainous Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in Kill Bill also wears an eye patch and is a force to be reckoned with.

The film is clearly focused on the 1970’s female revenge genre so the fun is witnessing how bad Madeleine is treated by her pimp and her myriad of clients because we know they will soon be dead. Director, Bo Arne Vibenius makes no bones about what type of film this is and as a good measure of gender equality, throws in a female client who abuses Madeleine. They Call Her One Eye is also reminiscent of I Spit on Your Grave, a disturbing 1978 American film with a similar story and more fanfare.

Those with even the slightest hint of prudishness must be forewarned. There is not only extreme nudity (the film is Swedish after all!) but contained within are several pornographic sequences of both vaginal and anal sex. The scenes are tough to watch, and the unknown is whether the actors appeared in these moments themselves since their faces cannot be seen. Only, well, you know. My hunch is that these scenes were spliced in from real pornographic films of the day, but are not necessary or relevant to the rest of the film.

The Swedish locales are lovely especially those of the countryside or farmland and the subtitles are nice to have. The film loses a point because my copy of the DVD is dubbed in English rather than authentically Swedish speaking. I personally found this a slight detraction but there are other viewers who may find this just fine.

The fight scenes are mostly done in slow-motion which is another Tarantino stamp. This adds some flavor as the slowed-down scenes become more effective as blood and saliva spattering is at a maximum level. Madeleine is the clear heroine (no pun intended) of the story so the film doesn’t contain any other good characters except for Madeleine’s parents who quickly commit suicide after receiving hateful letters they think are from their daughter. Her plight is lofty since she is raped at a young age by a filthy derelict which leaves her mute. The girl has little luck.

Her pimp Tony is dastardly and when he picks her up on the roadside we know there is terror in the store even though he benevolently takes her for dinner. They Call Her One Eye is so low budget that it almost feels like someone walked around with a camcorder and videotaped the sequences. Of course, this only lends credence to the grit the film produces and works exceptionally well for offering a seedy, dirty delight. Rumor has it that during the eye-slicing scene, recommended for only those with steel-lined stomachs, a real corpse was used. Whether or not this is an urban legend is anyone’s guess.

Fans of Tarantino or those of experimental, artsy, horror meets thriller lined productions will adore They Call Her One Eye (1973) as it is plagued with richness, disturbing storylines, and much blood. However, the result will leave feminists or anyone championing women with a small smile on their face after the dramatic conclusion.

Honeyland-2019

Honeyland-2019

Director-Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Starring-Hatidze Muratova

Scott’s Review #1,045

Reviewed July 27, 2020

Grade: B+

Honeyland (2019) is an important documentary for anyone who cares a wit about the environment, or for those who don’t but should, experience it.

The setting is the rural mountains of Macedonia, an area probably on nobody’s radar yet comes a terrific story, nonetheless. The key takeaways that the filmmakers want the audience to get are those of greed, overindulgence, and the need for conservation to be a hot topic, a worthy little something of the utmost importance.

The piece has the honor of being the first documentary to be nominated not only for the Best Documentary Oscar but also for the Best International Feature award. The need to receive dual nominations is a mystery to me as the documentary is as straightforward as one can be minus the need for any narration.

Unclear is if this is the reason for both nominations. It won neither, losing to American Factory (2019) and Parasite (2019), respectively.

The focus is on a middle-aged woman named Hatidze, who lives inside a cave in the village as a caretaker to her elderly mother. Not only does she feed and bathe the bedridden matriarch, but she is the keeper of wild bees in her village.

She periodically embarks on a journey into the city to sell honey that she collects from the beehives. The honey is of top quality and she can sustain a living based on a good reputation. A kind man even gives her a free fan to give to her mother to help keep the flies away during the intense summer heat.

One day, a rambunctious family of seven arrives to live next door to Hatidze. They are energetic and noisy, but she bonds with them, especially one of the sons. Hatidze teaches the father how to produce honey like she does and warns him to only use half of the honey or else it will upset the bees and cause problems.

Needing money, the man is pressured to produce more and succumbs to the request only to accidentally kill Hatidze’s bees causing a rift in their friendship. She is heartbroken and angry.

A few reasons to recommend Honeyland are the frequent camera shots that capture moments.

Reportedly, it took three years to film, and over four hundred hours of the footage used to come up with an hour and a half of running time. The best scenes are gorgeously shot and feature Hatidze in close-up moments.

As she gazes into the sunset or prompts her mother to eat bananas for nourishment, the lines on her face express her myriad of emotions. She longs to be married, a missed opportunity, and wonders how her life might have been different had she.

Hatidze’s village will be a novelty to most viewers and she lives in a world that no viewer will have to experience. This is a positive reason for viewers to expose themselves to this other world.

With no electricity, no water, no nothing, she makes do with what little she has and bears no ill will. The neighbors finally pack up and leave, exhausting their short-lived good fortune, and Hatidze is left alone to endure a hard winter.

When her mother finally dies, she succumbs to tears, the burden lifted from her but an endless feeling of grief and uncertainty.

Honeyland (2019) offers a powerful message of the temptations of greed and the ramifications this can have on others who simply wish to live in peace. It brings the viewer into a strange world unfamiliar and dire to nearly everyone. It centers on one woman’s endurance, courage, and tenacity to simply live her life the only way she knows how one foot in front of the other.

With gorgeous cinematography, the documentary is very slow-paced and not an easy watch but mirrors the pace of life in the harsh mountains of Macedonia.

Oscar Nominations: Best International Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

For Sama-2019

For Sama-2019

Director-Waad al-Kataeb, Edward Watts

Starring-Waad al-Kataeb, Hanza al-Kataeb

Scott’s Review #1,044

Reviewed July 25, 2020

Grade: B+

The wonderful thing about documentaries is that a viewer can absorb and learn something they have not been exposed to and know little or nothing about.

Aware via news outlets of unrest in Syria, For Sama (2019) personalizes and humanizes the battles as the film chronicles the life of a young Syrian woman and her husband, both rebels and he a doctor, with a young daughter born and raised amid the war-ravaged city of Aleppo from 2011-2016.

For Sama is horrifically brutal and unkind at times, but to soften the experience would be to do an injustice to those on the front lines living with war every day.

The viewer should see firsthand the inhumanity and terror imposed on innocent civilians before they are cavalier to what the effects of war are.

The film bravely shows both human suffering and death including dead children. Waad al-Kataeb wrote, produced, co-directed, and stars in this brutal yet hopeful production.

She also narrates it.

Waad al-Kataeb focuses on five years living in Aleppo, Syria before and during the infamous Battle of Aleppo, a major military confrontation between the Syrian government and its opposition.

She is a marketing student when the documentary begins and highly intelligent. Waad al-Kataeb meets and falls in love with Hamza, a skilled doctor whose wife has already fled for safety leaving him behind.

Waad gives birth to her first daughter Sama and navigates motherhood all while the conflict begins to engulf the city.

Waad and Hamza work at one of the few remaining hospitals in the city, facing daily agonizing decisions whether to flee to safety or stay behind to help the innocent victims of war. Despite having Sama and later becoming pregnant again, they cannot bring themselves to leave as it would be abandoning those who rely on them. The documentary features their friends who also stay on, refusing to leave the city they still love.

The group tries for brief moments of pleasure, sitting around and chatting, all while the constant threat of bombings is a daily occurrence.

Intriguing is that For Sama is told from the perspective of the female. This is unusual in the war genre, whether it be a film or a documentary feature as more common is for it to be male-driven.

When she provides narration, Waad gives off a warmth and a kindness that is tough not to fall in love with. She cares for Sama, never knowing if today will be their last day alive.

In one frightening moment, Waad quickly gives Sama to another person to hide when the bombs start hitting the hospital, determined that Sama’s life might be spared if she is thought to be an orphan, rather than the spawn of hated rebels.

Props must be given for getting this project off the ground and released, rewarded with wide acclaim and recognition. In a country as volatile as Syria, how inspiring to have someone like Edward Watts, an English filmmaker, able to follow through with For Sama. Amazing is how some footage especially during the bombings was spared.

Waad explains how determined she was to film as much as she possibly could, even during very personal moments. In the most heartbreaking scene, a pregnant woman is injured during a bombing and her lifeless baby is born.

After minutes of real-time uncertainty, the baby finally coughs and gags and is alive. Watts and Waad go to horrific depths to show how close the baby comes to dying and the scene is fraught with sadness and finally relief. I have never seen moments as chilling as these in any documentary.

Other scenes feature young boys whose playmates or siblings have just been killed by bombs and their emotional exhaustion and grief. Thankfully, the documentary tries to add as many moments of human connection through what laughs and good times can be mustered when fear is the main ingredient of daily life.

For an experience baring the ugliness of war, the constant fear, and peril, and a humanistic story of raising one’s child during frightening times, For Sama (2019) also shows the love and dedication to one’s flesh and blood and the beauty of spirit and perseverance during tragic times.

It is heartbreaking, humanistic, and inspiring.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary Feature

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Documentary

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

A Prophet-2009

A Prophet-2009

Director-Jacques Audiard

Starring-Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #1,034

Reviewed June 18, 2020

Grade: A-

A Prophet (2009), known as Un prophète in the French language, is a prison drama/crime thriller made exceptionally well and told from a character perspective rather than a plot angle. Skirting any traditional genre prison characteristics, the film instead crafts a character study with the conflicting emotions of its main character taking center stage.

The result is a layered, complex experience led by a brilliant acting turn by actor Tahar Rahim.

Malik (Rahim) is a nineteen-year-old French youth of Algerian descent imprisoned for six years for attacking police officers. Friendless and unable to read, he is vulnerable and coaxed into murdering a witness involved in a crucial trial.

He becomes embroiled in tensions between the Corsicans and Muslims who populate much of the prison. Malik cannot forget his participation in a murder, tortures himself, and has frequent nightmares of the incident. He slowly rises the ranks of power within the prison community becoming involved in dangerous events and pivoting from meek to fear.

Largely avoided are overused prison elements common in many films of similar ilk. In other films, humor or standard dramatic situations occur that make a watered-down experience. A Prophet breathes fresh life into the prison film, albeit grisly and violent life. The film is not for everyone and is extremely dark, even brutal at times.

During murder scenes, blood and guts are spilled at an alarming rate, and there ceases to exist many characters to sympathize with. Malik is the main character but is an opportunist, readily doing what he must to gain power and control. Can we blame him? No.

Malik is a complex and nuanced character who is a joy to watch and dissect. He starts his prison tenure as a naive and timid boy, illiterate and easily manipulated. Over time, he grows into a seasoned gangster becoming involved in intricate plots and messy situations. Actor Tahar Rahim successfully makes the character both likable and detestable, fleshing him out so the audience will love and hate him. This is the mark of a wonderful actor who can give complicated dynamics to the character.

Prison life is portrayed exceptionally well by director Jacques Audiard, who relays an authentic representation. It was good enough to make me never want to be imprisoned anyway. He wisely hired former convicts as both extras and advisors to flesh out the experience. Life in prison, Audiard style, is not a rosy picture, but one filled with pain, fright, and violence. The Arab population, woefully underrepresented in cinema, is given a voice.

Another subject matter, homosexuality, a popular addition in prison films is not explored. Mostly played either for laughs or providing a conveniently situational plot device, A Prophet does not need the inclusion, too much else is going on. Although a titillating prospect for many, the subject may have added a sexual or romantic angle taking away from the main point of the film, which is one man’s journey within the prison system.

Told from one man’s viewpoint, A Prophet (2009) is a triumphant French film that deservedly received accolades for its courage and realistic feel. Starring a young actor with great potential and a brave director unafraid to develop logical storytelling and avoid typical traits, one wonders what their next project will be. Violent gangs, corrupt guards, and impressionable prisoners would be a good way to continue.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Foreign 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 1980’s- 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 over the course of the film and imagining 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, 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. Preferable 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 1980’s 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, 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 dared to have 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 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 own 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 towards 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 and 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-period is the 1960’s or the 1970’s 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 in order 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 overstaying 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 are difficult to categorize because it is neither a straight-ahead comedy nor pure drama. As the film progresses it loses some situation 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 laughs 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 nearly 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.

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 clear 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, exactly what one would expect of a Fellini production. His film also hints at a deeper 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 in a comical fashion 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, loves, 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 own 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 own suggestion.

Oscar Nominations: 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

Parasite-2019

Parasite-2019

Director-Joon-ho Bong

Starring-Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin

Scott’s Review #963

Reviewed November 28, 2019

Grade: A

Parasite (2019) is a South Korean language film that has it all. The writing is powerful and thought-provoking, the direction is unique and intriguing, the acting stellar, and the story perfectly paced with dizzying twists and turns.

The film is uncomfortable and unsettling (in a good way), catapulting from dark humor to horror by the time the shocking finale plays. An experience to be dazzled by and ravaged at the emotions it will instill in the viewer.

The story centers on two families. The affluent Park live in the lap of luxury, enjoying the finer things in life like a lavish residence, a personal driver, and a live-in housekeeper.

Park Dong-ik is the CEO of an IT company, his beautiful wife, Park Yeong-gyo, stays at home with their two children, Park Da-hye and Park Da-Song. They are rich and, on the surface, rather spoiled and superficial.

The struggling Kims reside in a semi-basement that constantly floods, accept menial jobs to pay the bills, and are grifters.

Patriarch Kim Ki-taek and his wife Kim Chung-sook have two teenage children, Kim Ki-woo and Kim Ki-Jeong. They are cagey and resourceful and think up schemes to garner money. Each is good-looking but struggles to find much success in life.

Kim Ki-woo’s friend tutors for the Park daughter and will soon travel abroad for studies. He convinces Kim Ki-woo to interview for the position, who easily gets the job by charming the gullible Park Yeong-gyo.

He and the rest of the Kims create an elaborate ruse to insinuate themselves into the Park family by tricking Mr. and Mrs. Park into dismissing their driver and housekeeper. The Park’s are unaware that their new staff is related!

The underlying theme of Parasite is one of class distinction and social inequality. The tension builds more and more with each scene and the monetary differences between the haves and has not is always on the surface. Once the Kims get a taste of the good life they have no intention of being satisfied merely as hired help- they want it all for themselves.

The fact that the Kims are clever and manipulative is no accident on the part of the director, Joon-ho Bong.

Conversely, the Park’s are gullible and easily outsmarted by the Kims. Why are they rich and the Kims poor, the audience wonder? Are we to root for the Kim’s to overtake the Park’s? The Kims are no saints as they resort to the firings of other people to get what they want.

Allegiances to characters will shift along the way.

As the Kims get comfy one night in the Park house when the family goes on a weekend camping trip, the film takes off. Drunk and sparring with each other, the doorbell rings, and the haggard former housekeeper begs to be let in.

When she claims to have left something behind in the basement, this leads to a shocking secret and dramatic turn of events. I did not see the revelation coming and events only catapult the film into something else. The pacing and tension during this scene are outstanding.

Tough to rival this scene, the film does just that with the gruesome and bloody birthday party scene. The proverbial “sh## hits the fan” as the tensions among the characters come to life. The scene results in several deaths and the rage of a prominent character reach a crescendo.

The scene is set on a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for birthday cake, balloons, and shiny wrapped presents. After a lovely start, the party becomes laden with blood, screams, and intensity.

Bong writes the Kim patriarch as the most sympathetic character, and a montage at the end of the film makes this clear. The other characters are less benevolent and more complicated. When Mrs. Kim shoves the family dog she is unlikeable, but then she is kind to the former housekeeper.

Mrs. Park appears innocent at first but then is a shrew when she plans her son’s birthday party, expecting all to cater to her every whim. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Park mock Mr. Kim behind his back and insinuate that poor people “smell funny”.

Do the Park’s deserve their fates?

Parasite (2019) is a dark film filled with clever writing, good character development, that takes audiences on a roller coaster ride.

The sub-titles do little to detract from the fantastic experience this film offers as Bong spins a spider web of deceit, desperation, and tragedy. Viewers will certainly be thinking and talking about this one for days.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Bong Joon-ho (won), Best Original Screenplay (won), Best International Feature Film (won), Best Production Design, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film (won)