Tuesday, June 22, 2010

#383: Brute Force

(Jules Dassin, 1947)

Dassin is an underrated American director with a unique perspective on cinema, one of the great noir directors that unfairly got pushed into the background during the blacklist era. Brute Force isn't the classic that, say, Rififi is, but it's a dark and, in its own way, epic take on the prison system, social power dynamics, and the human condition (no wonder this guy was blacklisted). Think Oz but a 40s noir movie where all the prisoners aren't such bad guys once you get to know them.

Yeah, there is a bit of melodrama here that I don't particularly need in my dark prison drama. But by the end, when the whole place is on fire, you have to think this isn't your average picture. Good stuff.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#328: Murmur of the Heart

(Louis Malle, 1972)

With the exception of Chinatown, Murmur of the Heart is probably the most famous movie about incest (am I missing some other movie?). Like that classic, this Louis Malle film isn't really about incest, but instead about the rumblings of youth and the messy journey that brings boys into their place among men. This is played out as class satire and a sort of reverse embrace of French culture, represented by the French upper-middle-class family that has an Italian matriarch and son/protagonist obsessed with American jazz.

Lea Massari, who memorably played the missing girl of Antonioni's masterpiece, L'avventura, plays the mother here, and she is spectacular. Her character is so inappropriate with her sons well before any hint of actual impropriety that it becomes difficult to sympathize with her, but she is obviously oblivious to her line-crossing that eventually all you can see is her feeling of helpless sexuality. Massari is so beautiful that her casting is half the battle here, but her reserved emotional conflict with regards to her family goes the rest of the way. When her son, so desperate to lose his virginity, to conquer a woman, to feel like he has gained some semblance of power in the world, finally sees the damage that can be inflicted upon the victims of such conquests, it is a mutually beneficial encounter that feels tenderly sad, more melancholy than tragedy. And, of course, instead of retracting from the power of this realization, the young protagonist is instead invigorated by it, immediately moving on to more conventional encounters.

The second half of the film is undoubtedly uncomfortable, but still certainly compelling, and while Malle has made better films, this is well worth seeing, if not for the compelling story and artful direction, then for the excellent performances from Massari and Benoit Ferreux. As I watch more and more films from Malle, it becomes clear that his catalog is stacked well beyond his masterpieces.

Friday, June 11, 2010

#45:Taste of Cherry

(Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

“I understand how difficulty you have comprehending the last scene of this movie. I sympathize with you. But this has been deliberate on my part. In "Taste of Cherry” I have tried to keep a distance between my spectator and the protagonist. I didn’t want spectators emotionally involved in this film. In this film, I tell you very little about Mr. Badie, I tell you very little about what his life is about, why he wanted to commit suicide, what his story is I didn’t want the spectators get engaged in those aspects of his life. For that purpose I had to keep Mr. Badie away from the audience. So he is a distant actor in a way. First I thought to end the movie at the point when he laid down on his grave but later I changed my mind. I was uncomfortable to end it at that point because I was very concerned, and am always concerned, about my spectators. I do not want to take them hostage. I do not want to take their emotions hostage. It is very easy for a flim-maker to control the emotions of spectators but I do not like that. I do not want to see my audience as innocent children whose emotions are easily manipulable.
I was afraid that if I ended the movie where Mr. Badie laid down on his grave the spectator would be left with a great deal of sadness. Even though I didn’t think the scene was really that sad, I was afraid that it would come out as such. For that reason I decided to have the next episode where we have the camera running as Mr. Badie was walking around. I wanted to remind spectators that this was really a film and that they shouldn’t think about this as a reality. They should not become involved emotionally. This is much like some of our grandmothers who told us stories, some with happy and some with sad endings. But they always at the end would have a Persian saying which went like this "but after all it is just a story! . . . The very last episode reminds me of the continuation of life, that life goes on, and here the audience is confronted with the reality they had hoped that Mr. Badie would be alive and there he is a part of nature and nature still continues and life goes on even without Mr. Badie. And if one could really think about being or not being present in life, or if one thinks about it in terms of the real implication of such presence, one might not in fact engage in committing suicide at all. The person committing suicide might think that s/he is taking revenge from the society, nature, life, powers to be, and so on. But s/he don’t realize that after a suicide life still goes on and things stay the way they are. I could interpret this in a different way. If my audience is as creative as I imagine them to be, they can take this in a variety of interpretations and I can sit here and every time make a different interpretation of it, as every time one can creatively reinterpret the reality. "