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Thread: 2006 Repertory

  1. #46
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    Originally posted by Sano
    You started a great thread Oscar. I had lots of fun reading through it, and I'd like to see some of the films you mention.

    Thanks, Sano. Last year I had a thread in which I reviewed every film I watched. This year, I'm only reviewing the films I liked a lot that I had not seen before or had not properly appreciated. I'm convinced most would find these films at least worth checking out.

    Interesting that you've seen and appreciated the Taiwanese gem "The Personals".

    What's best about The Personals is the performance by Rene Liu, which garnered the actress four festival awards. The subsequent film by director Kuo-fu Chen, Double Vision, is something completely different. A mystery thriller starring Rene Liu, Tony Leung, and American actor David Morse playing an FBI agent. It's available here on dvd so I'll be watching it soon. Have you seen it?

  2. #47
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    Originally posted by Sano
    Wow, you sound like you've just seen your first film by Straub/Huillet :-) I liked the film very much when I saw it for the first time this year on a Japanese DVD and immediately wrote a review

    I've seen a few Straub/Huillet films, probably not as many as you have. The best one I've seen is Not Reconciled. Here's a review of it I posted last year:

    Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules (Germany, 1965)

    Marrieds Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet collaborated on this adaptation of Heinrich Boll's novel "Billiards at Half-Past Nine". It revolves around three generations of men from the Fahmel family and how each relates to a church, the Abbey of St. Joseph in Cologne. Heinrich Fahmel designs it in 1910, his son Robert blows it up as an act of sabotage, and Robert's son Joseph is entrusted with its reconstruction. The narrative incorporates several contemporaries of Robert both during the war years and in the present.
    The underlying theme is (re)building vs. destruction. The theme's presence in the narrative is matched by a formalist strategy of exploding the plot into discrete, de-dramatized fragments from different time periods. The viewer is implicated in the job of restoring the timeline, to some extent, reconstructing the narrative. It helps that Not Reconciled is only 53 minutes long since the film requires one's full attention for maximum impact and legibility.

    Not Reconciled is an indictment of Germany's collective psyche, which in the opinion of Straub and Huillet made the rise of Nazism possible. The film denounces how many who embraced Nazism wholeheartedly were able to assume positions of power during reconstruction. The thesis is that German society has failed to become reconciled with dangerous aspects of its psyche and legacy despite appearances to the contrary. Fassbinder advanced similar ideas on his BRD trilogy.


    Btw, I don't think the aim is to achieve maximum realism at all.

    The dvd released here by New Yorker Video includes a making-of doc, made for German television. In it, a young Jean-Marie explains his aim was to recreate history as realistically as possible by paying strict attention to period costumes, instrumentation, and settings. He explained that all the material used to tell the story of Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena are actual manuscripts, letters and, primarily, the writings of Anna Magdalena Bach. The only elements of stylization I noted were the use of black and white film stock and two times when the film cuts from interior spaces to shots of the horizon and the sea.

  3. #48
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    Haven't seen "Not reconciled" but your review makes it seem very interesting to me. Had forgotten that some of the controversy concerned Heinrich Böll's novel. A friend of mine is a huge fan of Böll - maybe I can point him to the movie :-)

    What I wanted to say with my statement that their aim was not to achieve maximum "realism" with the film is a bit difficult to explain (my native tongue is also not english, if that serves as an excuse)...
    Of course they tried to make everything look and sound as accurately as possible (including music costumes, architecture, as you already pointed out in your review), BUT the film has a lot of stylization to it. The constant moving "in" and "out" of the camera from a fixed point of view (like in "Barry Lyndon") the deliberate choice of long uncut sequences featuring usually only music and no dialogue, and the very particular choice of scenes and moments from the life of Bach and his wife.
    While the couple is sometimes "realist" with what they are doing, how they do it, their style (and the movies as a whole), can imo not be described as realist at all.
    But other films confirm this impression even more: various adaptations of plays, or the deliberate contrast of fiction and reality in "Class Relations" are an example.
    I would even go so far as to say that Straub probably wouldn't use the term "realism" in the usual way, as his realism concerns something deeper that always includes more than "just" scientific reality.
    That's why all of their films have a very spiritual "feeling" for me.
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  4. #49
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    Didn't notice your first reply Oscar.

    The subsequent film by director Kuo-fu Chen, Double Vision, is something completely different. A mystery thriller starring Rene Liu, Tony Leung, and American actor David Morse playing an FBI agent. It's available here on dvd so I'll be watching it soon. Have you seen it?
    Yes, I picked it up two years ago in my local videostore because I remembered the name of the director. But the film is also stylistically a departure and more of a "mainstream" effort. Better than most mystery thrillers, it's still no David Lynch ;-)
    Could fit quite well with the better J-Horror actually. It's always great watching david Morse, and I also like Tony Leung (this one as well as the other) so it was OK for me.
    If you don't go in with great expectations you'll probably enjoy it.
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  5. #50
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    I will check it out then.

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    THE DAY THE SUN TURNED COLD (Hong Kong/1994)

    Although nominally a Hong Kong production, The Day the Sun Turned Cold is set in the same wintry northern China territory as The Story of Qiu Ju. Veteran mainland writer/producer/director Yim Ho's stylish conceit rests on 24-year-old factory worker Guan Jian, who seeks to bring city police evidence that his hard-working mom may have murdered his father 10 years earlier. At first, the chain-smoking captain he accosts figures the mild-mannered man to be either an over-imaginative reader of crime novels, or a man burdened by psycho-sexual conflict. Eventually he accompanies Guan to his frozen homeland to help unravel the mystery.

    The picture unfolds with time-jumping self-assurance. It is particularly rich in ambiguity and psychological nuance, with young Guan's emotional alliances constantly shifting between his hard-working mother, his cruel-tempered schoolteacher father, and the handsome young woodsman who befriends him and falls for mama. Guan's betrayal of their affair has tragic consequences, and many layers of guilt and resentment serve to both suppress and revive his memories. By the time mom is formally charged, Guan's still not sure about his own motives.

    This excellent rural crime drama is based on a true story. It won the Best Picture and Best Director prizes at the Tokyo International Film Festival. It was released exclusively on vhs. Used copies are easy to find and inexpensive. A dvd release would give the film deserved exposure.

  7. #52
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    THE YOUNG ONE (USA-Mexico/1960)

    A black clarinetist named Traver, fleeing for his life, arrives in a stolen boat at a game-preserve island off the Carolina coast. Miller (Zachary Scott), the game warden, kills a rabbit and brings it home to his shack. There he finds PeeWee, his alcoholic handyman, dead, and PeeWee's orphaned granddaughter Evie sniffling. They cursorily bury PeeWee in the backyard. Next morning, after Miller takes his boat into town, Evie encounters Traver while tending to the beehives. Ravenous, he takes honey from her but pays her $20 for one of Miller's shotguns and some canned goods. They establish a wary friendship, and after he accidentally causes a leak in his boat, she supplies him with tools to repair it. When Miller returns and discovers Traver with his things, he chases after Traver, tries to kill him and shoots holes in his boat.

    Several more tense confrontations and power shifts between Traver and Miller follow, complicated by the presence of Evie; the object of Miller's growing lust and Traver's casual ally, she's innocent of sexuality and racism alike. Eventually Traver agrees to work for Miller in return for board until he repairs his boat. Miller allows Traver to sleep in PeeWee's shack and moves Evie to his shack, enabling Miller to consummate his lustful designs on her. The drama thickens the next day with the arrival of a Protestant preacher and Miller's boatman Jackson. They discover around the same time that Traver is fleeing from a rape charge and that Miller raped Evie the night before.

    The complex moral and practical trade-offs that ensue are the heart of the movie. In fact, the film can be seen as a series of intricate transactions and exchanges. Bunuel refuses to condemn or exonerate anyone _the maestro commented in his autobiography My Last Sigh: “one of the problems [with it] was its anti-Manichean stance, which was an anomaly at the time, although today it's all the rage.” The film is a co-production of the US and Mexico, with a script credited to "H. B. Addis" and Bunuel. The former is the pseudonym of Hugo Butler, a talented blacklisted screenwriter who penned many of MGM's prestige pictures of the 30s and 40s, three for director Joseph Losey, and Jean Renoir's The Southerner. The cinematographer is the great Gabriel Figueroa, who shot most of Bunuel's best Mexican work and half of the classic films of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. The Young One is possibly the best movie in English never released on home video in the USA.

  8. #53
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    You don't identify the director until the third paragraph, which seems odd. When you do get to the circumstances and origins of the film, they seem interesting.

  9. #54
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    Good point. When I wrote the piece I intended to include the auteur's name on the title. Then I forgot to do so. Some readers will be surprised to read "Bunuel" in the last paragraph because they don't know Bunuel made two movies in English. I also want to acknowledge there's a few other masterpieces in English never released on any home format. Welles' Chimes at Midnight among them.

    Here's one of the few reviews of The Young One available:
    The Young One

    And here's a brief review I wrote last year about Bunuel's other English-language film:

    The Adventures of Robinson Robinson Crusoe (Mexico, 1952)

    English-language feature by Luis Bunuel, shot in Manzanillo on the Mexican west coast, based of course on Daniel Dafoe's 18th century novel. A lamentably forgotten quantity until it was digitalized and restored on the occassion of its 50th anniversary. Now available on dvd for your pleasure and edification. Robinson Crusoe is a remarkable adventure film in gorgeously quaint PatheColor, faithful to Dafoe's prose_no attempt is made to obscure the fact that Crusoe was a slave trader who, not unlike the average 17th century European, regarded his racial and cultural superiority as a given. Irish actor Dan O'Herlihy got a deserved Oscar nomination from the Academy and Jaime Fernandez is very good as Friday. A couple of events provide Bunuel opprtunities to indulge his skills as a purveyor of surreal imagery, and of course, it's Friday who stumps Crusoe during a theological debate.
    This is my third viewing of it since its release last fall. This time, at my son's insistence.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 12-06-2006 at 10:43 PM.

  10. #55
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    This adds perspective. I have seen The Chimes at Midnight (but not heard them), in Berkeley years ago, I think, though the memory is dim. Buñuel's Robinson Crusoe sounds so familiar, but I don't think I saw it. Jeffrey Anderson (Combustible Celluloid ) says of Buñuel "He even attempted a couple of English-language films, as if he were sticking a toe in the waters of Hollywood. Fortunately for all of us, he quickly pulled it back out again." He has a rather good discussion of the Crusoe film, but hadn't seen the other.

  11. #56
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    Not at all impressed with the Combustible Celluloid piece. I'm glad he gives Crusoe 3.5 out of 4 stars and calls it the "best Dafoe I've seen". Does the line you quote imply Bunuel would not have been able to continue making great movies in English, or in Hollywood? Bunuel proved capable of delivering masterpieces while working within several national cinemas.

    To call Bunuel simply an "atheist" is reductive and simplistic. All Anderson had to do was read Bunuel's autobiography or watch Nazarin (Film of the Year award from the Intern. Catholic Cinema Office).

    Anderson calls the Mexican films from the 50s "poorly financed", which gives the wrong impression that they have low production values. He writes "It wasn't until his 60s that he captured the world's attention with a series of Mexican and French-financed masterworks like Viridiana...". Actually, six of the 50s Mexican films played in competition at Cannes and they were critically acclaimed (three of them won awards: Nazarin, Los Olvidados and Ascent to Heaven). Morover, Viridiana (and Tristana also) was shot in Spain and financed mostly by a Spanish producer.

    I understand though that Anderson is writing from an American perspective and Bunuel's Mexican films released in the 1950s got practically no distribution and no attention in the US. To this day, The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, Nazarin, and others are available on dvd in England and not the USA (where at least 10% of the population are of Mexican descent). Go figure.

    Anderson seems to have very superficial knowledge of a director he rightly calls "one of the 8 or 10 greatest directors of all time".

  12. #57
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    Sorry if Anderson did not hit the spot with you. I read it in great haste, just thought it might interest you. Maybe this shows there is a need for your voice.(Sometimes it is nice to know others are writing crap about one's interests--shows one's needed.) Or are there good books in English about Buñuel? You do note that England seems to appeciate Buñuel better than the US.

  13. #58
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    I'm glad you provided the link to Anderson's review because it gives us an opportunity to discuss Bunuel. Actually, his comments specific to the Crusoe film are fine. But when writes about the man and his career, one gets the impression that he hasn't taken the time and effort to get to know someone he considers one of the top 8 or 10 greatest directors of all time". There are many good books about Bunuel in English, and many of his screenplays have been translated and published. He is a darling of film studies programs here and abroad, and with good reason. I'd go with "Bunuel" by John Baxter and his "My Last Sigh". Also, UC Berkeley has recently published "Luis Bunuel: New Readings". Perhaps the fact that many of his films are not available here on dvd but are available in the UK means he is better appreciated over there. It is safe to say that it's easier for the average film buff in the UK (and of course, France and Spain) to get a comprehensive view of Bunuel's career. Americans can compensate by importing some of the films not available here (the Hong Kong versions can be had cheaply and have good English subs). And we can be proud that the Criterion (US) editions of films like Viridiana and L'Age d'Or are definitive.

  14. #59
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    Good to know.

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    LE SILENCE DE LA MER (France/1949)

    Jean-Pierre Melville's first feature was independently produced, mostly self-financed. He had been denied a union card, and had neither a production permit nor the rights to the source material, a short story by Vencours. But nothing could keep the former Resistance fighter from making his film.

    Werner, a German lieutenant, is stationed in France in 1941 and moves into the rural village cottage of an elderly, scholarly gentleman and his niece. They take a vow of silence toward the German intruder, sitting by the fireplace night after night when the officer returns from his duty. The well-mannered officer uses their silence to share his thoughts: his life story, the girl he almost married, his love of German music and French literature, and his belief that this occupation will benefit both countries. Werner admires the French couple's discipline and sense of dignity. His political naivete (in civilian life he is a musical composer) and underestimation of the evil government he represents, comes to light when he meets with friends who are in Paris to negotiate the political arrangement between the two countries. It is then that he is shocked into realizing the barbaric designs, namely to reduce the world to be submissive to a dominant Germany, to "rip the soul" out of each country it conquers. His more benevolent ideas are sneered at by his German friends. Fed up with this, but resigned to the fact that there is nothing he could do about it, he volunteers for duty in the war zone.

    Most of the action occurs in the living room of the country cottage. There are two potent flashbacks to Werner commanding a tank in front of Chartres Cathedral and a pre-war rendezvous in the Bavarian woods with his girlfriend. There are two outdoor scenes in which the French man and his niece separately run into Werner, but manage to maintain their vow. Le Silence de la Mer is unique in that it contains no dialogue; Werner's monologues alternate with the Frenchman's voice-over narration while the characterization of the niece is built out of the precise observation of her body movements and gestures. The brilliant choreography of medium shots and perfectly timed close-ups evidence a first-time director who acquired a hand-cranked camera and a projector at the age of six.

    Le Silence de la Mer is rich in meaning but austere in presentation, not unlike the films of Robert Bresson. Later in his career, Melville would say: "I sometimes read Melville is Bressonian...I'm sorry, but it's Bresson who has always been Melvillian". Jean Cocteau was among the few who watched Melville's debut upon release. He immediately proceeded to ask him to direct the screen adaptation of his play "Les Enfants Terribles". By the time he died in 1973, Melville had created an admirable body of work and had been recognized by many as "the father of the French New Wave".

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