Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Grand Illusion (1937)

Film: Grand Illusion (208/250)
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Had I started with this Renoir film, I'm not sure I'd be the biggest fan of his work. There's nothing wrong with this film, necessarily, it just felt to me like an effort to connect with these characters at times. And I really enjoy Renoir's other films, so I can't help but compare this to those. That's not to say I got nothing out of this film. Like Renoir's other films, there was an affable charm in his supporting characters, and I really enjoyed Erich von Stroheim's performance. I always enjoy him in front of the camera. He has a certain reserve and awkwardness (maybe because of his accent?) that makes his performance feel genuine and relatable. This film reminded me of Joyeux Noel (2005), a film about soldiers in World War I connecting across enemy lines and finding a common bond. In this film, the differences aren't so much in nationality but in class. Officers are treated better, regardless of what country they come from, and it's easy to forget that while two characters might have found a possible friendship, this is still war. There's always bound to be heartbreak. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Come and See (1985)

Film: Come and See (207/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

Good god, that was depressing. Like, curl up in the fetal position under a blanket and wait for the end of the world depressing. This story of a boy joining the Soviet resistance movement in World War II is brutal and horrifying, as a story like that must be. He witnesses unspeakable atrocities, suffers real physical and emotional trauma, and barely resembles a human being by the end of it. He seems to turn into an old man before our eyes, shaken and numb. I can't imagine what the set of this film was like; I even read an account that the young teenage actor's hair turned gray just from the stress of making this film. How many lives were destroyed by actually existing in this war? In all the wars? Sitting there watching this film in the relative comfort of my home, not feeling cold or hungry or fearing for my life, I felt so incredibly sad for all of the children that are casualties of this cruel world. Of all the war films I've seen, this one felt the most visceral. It didn't feel like I was watching actors. I felt like I was watching someone's real tortured memory. That's what makes this more horrible than any horror film. This all really happened, and not even the film's memorable ending can undo it. The film's title couldn't possibly be more fitting, taken from the Bible's Book of Revelation:
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."

Isn't that what war is?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Z (1969)

The Following Contains Vague Spoilers. Proceed With Caution.
Man that ending still packs a whallop. When I first saw this film a few years ago, it took me by absolute surprise. In a Trump/Brexit World, it's a painful reminder that sometimes the polls are wrong. Sometimes the bad guys win. There is no reassurance to be found here.

They say that films where the characters hold back tears are more likely to illicit tears from the audience. Here, Costa-Gavras is holding back the revolution in hopes that it will inspire the audience to start one. "Any resemblance to actual events, to persons living or dead, is not the result of chance. It is DELIBERATE."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Quote: Wuthering Heights

"May you not rest so long as I live on! I killed you. Haunt me, then! Haunt your murderer! I know that ghosts have wandered on the Earth. Be with me always. Take any form, drive me mad, only do not leave me in this dark alone where I cannot find you. I cannot live without my life! I cannot die without my soul."
Wuthering Heights (1939)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Canoa: A Shameful Memory (1976)

I really appreciate how this film takes its time. It appreciates the importance of building to a climax. But it also appreciates the importance of a good tease. That opening where the reporter is taking down the bare bone facts of the story is a master stroke. It satiates the impatient viewers by letting them know where things are headed, while also building a sense of dread into every moment that follows. There are no happy scenes because we know what is to follow. Innocent questions of who will stay and who will go have life or death stakes. Even unintended things like the priest's glasses and that PA system give unintended dread by conjuring Jonestown two years before it even happened. Movies don't get much more horrific. And it is all true.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Breaking the Waves (1996)

Film: Breaking the Waves (206/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time 

Bess (Emily Watson) is a sweet and simple woman, recently married to Jan (Stellan Skarsgard). She is completely devoted to him, but the time comes when he must leave her to go work on an oil rig. Her faith and her obsession with her husband lead them both down a very unlikely and heartbreaking path. I read that Emily Watson was a last-minute replacement for Helena Bonham Carter, but I can't picture anyone else in the role but Watson. Her sweetness and vulnerability make her the perfect martyr for this story. And despite the melancholy story, I was still incredibly captivated. This is a quality I've found in the other Lars von Trier films I've seen (admittedly only two others)...I've always been intimidated by his films, not wanting to be completely depressed afterwards, but they are just so damn interesting when I finally give them the chance. But I guess that's true of a lot of challenging films and filmmakers. More often than not, you just have to jump in. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sight & Sound Challenge: Ikiru (1952)

Film: Ikiru (205/250) 
First Time/Rewatch: First Time

I'm really behind on my Kurosawa! I had only seen Rashomon and Seven Samurai before this, and I had this inaccurate picture of his films being larger-than-life stories with larger-than-life characters. But this simple story of a dying man surprised and moved me, and it might be my new favorite Kurosawa film.

Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is a middle-aged man with a boring job, no passion, doing the same thing day after day. Nobody accomplishes anything, except frustrating the public by pushing their problems off on another department, and another, and another... And then one day, he learns he's dying of stomach cancer. Not "movie cancer" either, where a character seems fine until one day they're gone. The characters really describe what they're going through, we feel the agony of dying from such a disease. He assesses his life, his relationships, and must make peace with himself before the end. Shimura gives a great performance; he has such sadness in his eyes. He successfully carries this film and gives the story the emotional weight it deserves. Shimura appeared in a whopping 21 Kurosawa films, so I guess I need to see more of those!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Detective Story (1951)

Theatre and Film share so much in common, yet in very crucial ways they're worlds apart. They both use actors, sets, costumes and lighting. They both rely on scripts and are viewed by theaters full of people. But translating a good play to the screen is actually rather challenging. Often the finished film will betray its origins as a play through its limited number of locations. You feel like there is no real world outside the set where this story is taking place. That's certainly not the case with this William Wyler adaptation. This film is alive! People come in and out, this character interacts with that character, etc. It feels like a fictional police precinct and we are but a fly on the wall. And like a real fly, we get to move all over the place and see everything from the best angles. People who say Wyler was a lesser director can go take a long walk off a short pier.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Quote: Emma

"There is only one thing to do with a person as impossible as she. I must throw a party for her! Otherwise everyone will feel at once how much I dislike her."
Emma (1996)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Five Came Back (2017)

This was an interesting experience. Since I had already read Mark Harris' excellent book of the same name, a lot of these stories were old news to me and that really held me back in the early chapters. I mean it was cool getting to see some of the footage that I'd only read about, but nothing new was really brought to the table. There wasn't anything that really justified this being a film rather than a book. But then there's that final third. In its final hour, this doc really becomes cinema. As fascinating as I found the book, it didn't move me. The final segment of this film moved me greatly. Five Came Back will go down as one of the finest documentaries about cinema ever.