dromasca

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Reviews

She Said
(2022)

Hollywood investigates Hollywood?
I confess that I had high expectations from 'She Said', the docu-drama based on the report written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the two New York Times reporters who revealed in the book with the same name the story of the journalistic investigation related to the sex crimes committed by Harvey Weinstein and especially their fight to break the wall of silence and convince some of his victims to reveal what they had been through. The subject, of course, is fascinating, and remains relevant. The film didn't exactly turn out to be an introspective investigation into Hollywood, the mores and institutions that have protected Weinstein and his deeds for too many years. This theme is indirectly present in the film, from the testimonies of the victims. Other films may tackle it more directly in the future. As in the book, the focus in 'She Said' is on the work of the two reporters and the news organization they belong to. This is OK from my perspective - newspaper offices have been the backdrop for many interesting films. My expectations were, however, even more amplified by the fact that the film director is Maria Schrader, a fine actress (she does not appear in the film, however) and German filmmaker, the author of one of the (not very many) films that are rated 10 in my list of reviews on IMDB (I am referring to 'Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe'). Promising also was the presence in the cast in one of the lead roles of Zoe Kazan, one of the most talented American young actresses of the moment, who had been formidable in the TV mini-series 'The Plot Against America '. To my joy, my expectations were almost totally confirmed.

Many of the film's scenes take place in the offices of the New York Times, and to reinforce authenticity, filming took place there. In other scenes, the viewers are introduced to the homes and family environments of the two journalists and accompany the reporters to meetings with potential witnesses. These are mostly women, victims of Waxman's assaults, intimidated into silence by his social standing, by the machinery of lawyers and big studio officials around him and in his service, and by the non-disclosure agreements they were bound to sign, sometimes receiving compensation to buy their silence. It can be said that in addition to the documentary part, the strength of the film lies in the brave but also sensible approach to the problem of the silence of victims in cases of sexual assault, to the huge personal, social and career price they pay when they complain against the aggressors at the top social scale. Without being violent at almost any moment (with the exception of some verbal outbursts), the film renders a permanent atmosphere of pressure. A horror film in a way, where the victims are terrorized twice - by the crimes committed against them and by the pressure exerted upon them when they try to complain or reveal the truth.

There are illustrious precedents for 'She Said' in the journalism film genre. Many times 'All the President's Men' is mentioned, but this is not the only example. The authenticity of this docu-drama is of course one of its great qualities. It is not only about the use of authentic locations in filming , but also about texts (dialogues, testimonies or extracts from electronic communications) that are spoken or played as they were in reality. Also participating are some of the real characters of the drama that took place in 2017. The most famous is the actress Ashley Judd who plays her own role. Others agreed with their real names being mentioned, any way most if not all were publicly known from the press and from the book published in 2019. The professional actors who interpret the rest of the roles do it with sincerity and the border between documentary and drama is practically invisible in this film. Of course, the female journalist couple played by Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan dominate the cast. Their approach constantly suggests emotional involvement, empathy for the victims combined with the efforts to induce in them the courage to break the wall of silence, anger at the horrors they reveal in balance with the professionalism required by the journalist's job. 'She Said' largely succeeds in its mission. The drama that gave birth to the global '#Me Too' movement is being reenacted. The film ends with some texts describing the progress made in recent years, also thanks to the courage of the heroes in the film. I think however that it is only a beginning, maybe some early battles won in a war that will be long and difficult. Equality and respect between the sexes in the workplace is still a distant goal in many countries in the world and in many industries and work places. Even in the countries considered more advanced in this respect, in other industries and even in the film industry, there are still many Harvey Weinsteins out there. This film will not be the last to tackle these complex realities.

Tueurs
(2017)

crime and politics
The Belgian film 'Tueurs' ('Killers') made in 2017 has two directors. One of them, who is also the author of the story and co-screenwriter, is called Francois François Troukens and is a former bank robber who spent some time behind bars. His partner is Jean-François Hensgens who is also the cinematographer (with good results). The result of their collaboration is a 'film noir' describing a violent confrontation between policemen and gangsters with political reverberations inspired by a real (and still unsolved) case in Belgian history. However, the film does not try too insistently to propose a solution to a series of unexplained crimes, the historical connection seems to be more of a pretext. It remains a fairly well-made action film, with precisely outlined characters, even if psychologically they don't go too deep.

The film begins as a violent action film, alertly paced, in the American style. A burglary at a supermarket is followed by the elimination of witnesses. Is it just a theft, or a terrorist act? What is the connection to the string of similar crimes that happened 30 years ago? Is the fact that among the victims is a female judge who investigated the cases in the past just a coincidence? Gradually, the main heroes of the action take shape. Frank Valken is a burglar fresh out of prison, participating in the heist, but is he also guilty of the murders as the police seems to believe and is trying to prove? Lucie Tesla is a brave and incorruptible police officer who tries to uncover the truth, but the obstacles seem to come not only from the criminals but also from her bosses in the police and the prosecutor's office. Are they involved? What is the connection to the crimes committed three decades ago?

The not fully assumed reference to real cases is problematic. For Belgians, just mentioning the actual cases of Brabant murders in the 1990s is probably insufficient. For those unfamiliar with that episode in recent Belgian history, the case brought to the screen is even more mysterious. It seems to be about political murders, but the orientation of those who ordered them is unclear - what exactly were they after? The action part is well outlined, and the character of Frank Valden, played by Olivier Gourmet, is well built. Lubna Azabal's performance in the role of the policewoman also seemed excellent to me. 'Tueurs' is a well-crafted action film that would have won, I think, if the political side was more clearly explained and if the characters were given a bit more screen time to define and reveal themselves to the viewers. I often criticize modern movies for their excessive length. 'Tueurs' is one of the rare cases where I think the film would have been better if it had a few dozen extra minutes.

Tagundnachtgleiche
(2020)

between night and day
Discovering new filmmakers at the beginning of their careers and watching productions that surprise with quality and original vision is one of the joys of cinema lovers. I was well inspired to decide to watch 'Equinox' (the original title is 'Tagundnachtgleiche'), a German film that doesn't have a very high rating on IMDB and that didn't offer me any known names on the poster. The very pleasant surprise was to find a story about love and loneliness with convincing heroes who manage to involve us in their lives, with a well-written script in which reality and fantasy, love and death, light and shadows alternate and find a balance, like the days and nights at the time of the equinox in the title. It's director Lena Knauss' 2020 debut film, but there's nothing to suggest that it's a rookie film.

Alexander is about 30 years old and repairs bicycles, although he has a musical training that he puts on the back burner, content to listen day and night to a music station that broadcasts classical music. From the window of his apartment he begins to notice a young and beautiful woman from an apartment in the neighboring building. One evening he decides to follow her and ends up in a night club (called 'Echinox') where the girl, named Paula, is a dancer. They have a stormy one-night stand, but in the morning the woman kicks him out. Then, she disappears. To his despair, he learns that she died in an accident. Missing the woman he had known for only one night makes him build around this relationship events that mix reality with fantasy. At Paula's grave, he meets Marlene, her older sister, who also happens to be a presenter on the radio station Alexander was listening to. A bizarre love triangle is born, in which Alexander continues to be in love with the woman who had died. What sense would a relationship between Alexander and Marlene make? Paula is always between and with them, in memories and in fantasy.

I liked the way the story was built, with a gradual evolution of the man's relationships with the two sisters. The mixture between night and day, between fantasy and reality is also excellently captured by the image signed by Katharina Bühler. Music also plays an important role in the story, of course. The two lead actors excellently interpret the roles entrusted to them. Thomas Niehaus starts from the carelessness of an average man, in danger of losing his chance to love, to slide into passion, fantasy, despair. Sarah Hostettler as Marlene tries to be a counterpoint of reality to Alexander's unrequited passion, she constantly seems to know more than she is letting on - both about her sister and about Alexander - but she has to manage and maybe sacrifice her own feelings to save the man. Sensitively written and beautifully shot, 'Equinox' offers an interesting cinematic experience, and launches a female director and several actors that I hope to meet again soon in other films on the screens.

See How They Run
(2022)

a mousetrap in a mousetrap
Viewers who had the opportunity to see Agatha Christie's famous play 'The Mousetrap' will have a great advantage and probably will enjoy more watching the film 'See How They Run' directed by Tom George, one among the several promising premieres of cinema autumn 2022. It is a whodunit detective mystery that begins with a murder that takes place in 1953 in the theater where the 100th performance of the play that borrows the title of the play in the third act of 'Hamlet' was just performed. This is the same theater where the play has been performed for the last 70 years, until today. (The war did not interrupt the performances, the pandemic did). The film is a detective story that envelops the play of the master of detective novels and theater, who also appears as a character. So here we have theater within theater and mystery within mystery, presented in a period farce approach that promises much. However, not all promises are fulfilled.

The off-screen voice is used a lot in this film, with the interesting twist that off-screen also means off-life. The film begins with the cinematic parallel of the characters list attached to classic detective novels. In movies this enumeration can be as boring as possible, and this is one of the first pretexts for comedy with literary allusions. There will be more. The celebration of the hundredth performance is spoiled by the discovery of the body of the American film director brought from Hollywood to London to adapt to screen the play, in a version 'something less boring than the play'. The characters that could be involved are the actors who play in the play and the theatrical crew that had participated in the production and staging. A pair of policemen appear - an alcoholic, disillusioned and war-invalid commissioner and a policewoman who is attached to him to learn the trade. In a short time they will discover that each of the characters would have had a reason or more to have committed the crime. Everyone is therefore a suspect.

The script is meant to be very smart. Each character is related to the role in the play or production. The problem is that most viewers have little or no familiarity with Agatha Christie's play. Tom George has experience in television, but for the big screen he is a newcomer. And here, the keys to success are different. I am convinced that those who are well acquainted with detective literature in general and with the play in particular have many reasons to be satisfied and will enjoy the play. Speaking for myself, I've seen the play and read a few of Agatha Christie's novels, but that was many decades ago, so I felt like I've lost about three-quarters of the jokes. Worse, the detectives' suspicions and the solution of the mystery are also quite tied into the play, so that even the detective part may be obscure to the less initiated viewers. And yet there are plenty of reasons for interest in 'See How They Run' even for viewers without a Ph. D. in Agatha Christie. First of all, I found the recreation of London in 1953, with its streets and theaters, its people and their clothing, delicious. The allusions to the film world of the '50s are interesting. The two actors cast in the detectives roles - Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan are delicious, have great chemistry and achieve beautiful comic moments with romantic tension and with minimal means. There are some bizarre casting decisions, but I also enjoyed the presence of Adrien Brody, with a small role but which he plays with visible pleasure. Agatha Christie fans and those who have recently seen 'The Mousetrap' will enjoy this film. The rest of us are more likely to leave the screening with a smile on our faces.

Im Westen nichts Neues
(2022)

the storm before the silence
The name of Edward Berger, the director of the new version of the screen version of Erich Maria Remarque's novel 'Im Westen Nichts Neuen' ('All Quiet on the Western Front') was already known to me. He directed 5 of the 8 episodes of the excellent television series 'Deutschland '83'. This new adaptation, to which Berger also contributed as a co-writer, is not a TV movie, even though it is produced by Netflix. I saw it in a cinema theater and nothing seems 'low cost' in the production. On the contrary, I believe that the intensity of the approach and technical aspects such as the screen format would ensure its success even without streaming. It is also an important landmark, as it is the third film adaptation of Remarque's novel, one of the masterpieces of anti-war literature, but the first made in Germany. In fact we can say that we are dealing with a rewrite inspired by the novel rather than a screen adaptation. The filmmakers kept the general lines of the story and the main character, added a lot of background information, and simplified or simply skipped whole chapters in the novel. This - let's say - free adaptation manages to add content and emotion in many places, but it is not without certain problems, noticeable especially to those who have read the book and seen the previous versions, especially the one from 1930.

The screenwriters omitted from the film's narrative many details related to the military training that transforms the naive high school student Paul Baumer from a young man blinded by nationalist and militaristic propaganda into a killing machine. That's right, the start of the story is wrapped up in another rather emotional story, that of the uniform Baumer received upon enlistment. What material are survivors made of? Is it chance, or maybe the existence of a friend, or the ability to kill with a split second before being killed? A jump in time brings us to the final days of the war. Two parallel narrative threads added to the main one introduce us to the train at Compiegne where Marshal Ferdinand Foch imposes the terms of Germany's unconditional surrender and to the castle where a German general plans a last and useless battle, to save something from the "dishonour" of surrender. It will be a last storm before the silence of peace, which will fall over Europe for two decades. Unfortunately, it is merely a silence of the dead.

The scenes in the trenches are extraordinary, some of the best in war movies I've seen. It's an immersive experience that surpasses, in my opinion, the one created by Sam Mendes in '1917'. The terror of the bullet killing the comrade half a meter away, or the noise and the otherworldly image of the enemy tanks - monsters crushing the soldiers - are rendered with phenomenal realism and authenticity. Other solutions impressed me less. The scenes at Compiegne have a slight tendency towards revisionist history, and the German general character has a dose of caricature that seems a little out of place in context. The creations of the two actors in the lead roles - Felix Kammerer and Albrecht Schuch - are exceptional. Volker Bertelmann's music accompanies and enhances the visual effects. The anti-war message of the novel is partially lost due to script changes, but it is recovered by the exceptional reconstruction and representation of the nightmarish experience lived by millions of soldiers in the trenches of the First World War.

La Môme
(2007)

Marion & Edith
The 2007 biopic Olivier Dahan directed (and co-wrote) about Edith Piaf has two titles, both in French. In the original version it is called 'La Môme' (which would roughly translate as 'the kid girl'), an allusion to the singer's first stage name in the world of cabaret (La Môme Piaf). For the English version, the distributors chose 'La Vie en Rose', the title of one of her famous songs. I personally prefer the original, which I think better describes the intentions of Olivier Dahan, a director who has two more biographies of famous women in his filmography, the most recent about Simone Weil. The character constructed by the filmmaker represents a personal version of the singer's biography and personality, one that is far from having a rosy life. Dahan together with the impressive actress in the lead role did not try to build a complete and ultimate biography, but rather present their vision of one of France's greatest singers and especially of the woman she was.

Edith Piaf's life was a constant and messy struggle for survival. This was true in childhood and youth when it came to physical survival and desperate attempts to overcome the miserable social condition into which she had been born, and it was true later when she had achieved success but had to struggle to survive as artist and as a woman. Co-screenwriter and director Olivier Dahan felt - and I think he was right - that a conventional, chronologically narrated biopic would not have suited her. The film oscillates between two temporal planes: the last years of the singer's life, who had barely passed 40, but in which she had become a physical ruin due to depression, drugs and alcohol consumption, the stage being the only place where she exercised her immense talent and charisma; and flashbacks of her childhood years and of the road to consecration, the years in which she had transformed from a wild girl raised in brothels or traveling circuses to an even wilder but talented and then famous singer. Biographical elements are picked subjectively. Those related to her sentimental life and to some extent her artistic training predominate. Entire episodes such as the entire period of the war and the occupation of Paris are omitted. Among the men in her life, only the boxer Marcel Cerdan occupies an important place on screen (he was indeed, apparently, her great love) while - for example - Yves Montand is ignored except for an indirect mention, and the names of her two husbands are not even mentioned. Viewers who have some familiarity with the French music scene of those years will recognize characters like Bruno Coquatrix (composer and patron of the famous Olympia hall). The others will probably remain puzzled by the multitude of characters that surround the singer.

Dahan's filming style is adapted to the episodes and periods of the singer's life that were brought to the screen. When he describes her first years of life we have a historical drama on the screen. When it comes to the sentimental connection with Cerdan, the chosen style is that of the romantic films of the '40s or '50s. And when the heroine is in crisis and conflict, the camera seems to vibrate with her. The performance of Marion Cotillard dominates, this is one of her great roles, which places her in the first rank of French actresses. Aided by an exceptional make-up, she achieved a formidable role here, which fully justifies the Academy Award for Best Actress. Two European actresses had received it before her: Simone Signoret (but for a role played in English) and Sophia Loren for La Ciociara. Edith Piaf in this movie is Marion Cotillard and Marion Cotillard is Edith Piaf. A formidable role, but still I had a hard time to identify with the heroine. 'La Môme' is a magistral edition of the actress's biography, but not a complete or definitive one.

Des femmes disparaissent
(1959)

the vice villa
I am fascinated by the French films made in the last years of the sixth decade of the 20th century. The revolution in the art of cinema that was to be the Nouvelle Vague was about to break out, and in almost all the films made in the years '57 - '59 one can glimpse the signs of the smoldering volcano. 'Des femmes disparaissent' is the second feature film made by Édouard Molinaro, a prolific and successful director who was not associated with the New Wave. His long career would evolve towards lighter and more luminous films than this violent drama with many 'film noir' elements set in a single night in a labyrinthine, crime-haunted city that could be Marseilles. The title is very didactic, one of the most uninspired movie titles I've come across, but behind it and despite the prologue written in about the same tone hides a social drama with excellently profiled characters. There are elements of modern cinematography that make watching this film an interesting experience not only for cinema history buffs but also for viewers of a wider audience.

The film begins as a neighborhood drama, in an atmosphere somewhat similar to Italian neorealist films. Pierre and Beatrice are two young people from a proletarian background. They are neighbors, in love and engaged. Beatrice wants to go out for a night out, reclaiming her independence, at least until marriage. Pierre is jealous and follows her, but a couple of gangsters are watching the place where the girls gather for the party and attack the young man. Stubbornly, he continues the pursuit and his fears prove to be well founded. The party is an opportunity to recruit young women for prostitution and 'export' across the Mediterranean. The confrontation between Pierre and the mobsters increases in intensity, and from here the film takes on the allure of a film noir, with the hero alone facing the violence of the bandits in an attempt to save his beloved.

Revisited more than 60 years after its making, the film is uneven, mixing elements of beautiful cinematography with old-fashioned details that haven't held up as well over time. The story is simple and takes place over the course of a few hours of the same night, which makes it attractive and easy to follow. There is also a crescendo in the story and a quickening of the pace towards a memorable final scene. The generic and the cinematography are well done, building a 'film noir' atmosphere. The music is exceptional - jazz performed by percussionist Art Blakey and his band, outstanding jazz artists, among those who performed in France in the 1950s. Less successful are the sets, especially in the outdoor scenes. Filming took place, it seems, entirely in studios and the cardboard sets seem almost visible. La Nouvelle Vague that had just begun that year 1959 would almost completely sweep away this style of filming, still extremely used in French films of the 50s. Some very interesting actors also appear. Robert Hossein, a complex actor, today unfairly forgotten, plays the main role. His Pierre is a positive hero who does not disguise his shadows. Estella Blain who plays the role of Beatrice looks a lot like her generational colleague, Brigitte Bardot. She would prioritize her career in music, and die quite young. The bad guys are also represented individually and with shades of humor. I especially noticed Philippe Clay, an actor that I do not think that I had ever met before. This film made at a turning point in the history of cinema offers quite a few good reasons for viewing or re-watching even today.

Searching
(2018)

a good computer screen thriller
Movies that take place mostly or even exclusively on computer screens are not exactly a novelty anymore. In the last 20 years I have seen such productions in different genres - from romantic comedies to science fiction epics. The compression of reality on the screens of laptops, mobile phones or sophisticated devices of the future presents filmmakers with technological and script challenges, and at the same time gives them the opportunity to search for original solutions that change the classic ways of telling a story and bringing it to the screens. In an increasingly virtual world like the one we live in, these tendencies are natural. Made a few years ago, 'Searching' (released in 2018) is a surprisingly mature film considering the fact that it is director Aneesh Chaganty's debut film. The intelligent use of graphic space is not the only asset of this film, which uses the opportunity to bring up some interesting issues about the relationships between parents and teenage children, generations separated not only by age but also by technological skills in adapting and using virtual spaces in behind the apps on the screens.

David Kim, the hero of the film, is a widower and the single father of a teenage girl. His wife died less than two years before and her absence means loneliness for the man but especially an enormous loss for the daughter left without maternal support. Communication between a busy and chronically tired father and a girl dealing with the loss of her mother and the problems of age does not work very well. When the girl disappears, the father becomes totally involved in the search. Rummaging through the files in the girl's laptop he will discover that he knew very little about her and that almost everything he knew or believed about the girl is wrong. The search in virtual spaces turns into a process of discovering the personality and the soul of the missing teenager.

The first part of the film is the one I found to be the strongest and most original. It takes place almost exclusively on the computer screen. Unlike other films of the genre, in 'Searching' applications on computers and phones are not presented as a threat, but represent an essential part of the world in which the film's heroes of all generations live. Father and daughter exchange messages and dialogue on video likely more than in person. It is not good or bad, these are their lives, like the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the contemporary world. Searching in the sense of the 'search' function on search engines becomes a gradual discovery of the daughter's real person. From a moment on, the story turns into a detective plot, the search becomes a routine search for a missing person, and although there are no plot surprises here either, the film becomes an ordinary detective story. The virtual world is - at least in this film - more interesting than the real world.

John Cho, an actor I know from many films on the small and big screens, dominates 'Searching' with an impressive acting performance in the role of the father. The screen-in-screen formula forces him in the first part of the film to appear as a framed figure, as we see ourselves or see others in video conferences. It's a challenge that the actor meets with skill and professionalism, evolving from oblivious father to anger, through anxiety and then despair, to a determination to uncover the truth about his daughter's fate. Michelle La as the daughter and Debra Messing as the cop woman who takes on the case of the missing girl also create supporting roles worth mentioning. In the end, even if the film does not fulfill all the expectations raised by its first part, the viewer leaves with the feeling of having watched an interesting and well-made thriller. Which is not small achievement either. I'm a bit worried about the news that a sequel is in the works, but maybe this time my fears will be disproved. I won't avoid it.

24 Frames
(2017)

a work of art
'24 Frames' is one of those films that, in retrospect, is said to be a testament of a great director. There are enough arguments in favor of this categorization, including the final frame or scene in which we have on the screen the image of another screen in which the end of a classic film unfolds, including the magical 'The End'. And yet, even though Abbas Kiarostami was 76 years old when he filmed '24 Frames', I don't think that his intention was to create a testament film. This film radiates search and exploration of new ways of artistic expression. Far from being some 'last famous words', it seems more like a mid-career film of an artist in constant search. Returning to some of the tools he had used many decades before, at the beginning of his journey as an artist, the Iranian director combines them with the most advanced techniques of animation and digital image processing. A complete and versatile artist, Abbas Kiarostami has created in '24 Frames' a work of art that defies categorization. Personally, I confess that I have never been able to fully understand what the boundaries are between cinematography as art and video art. '24 Frames' seems to belong to both and many other fields of art. Watching it is a spiritual experience.

24 is a magic number in cinematography. 24 frames per second was the standard for classic projectors. The day has 24 hours and in the film time is one of the main subjects. Abbas Kiarostami constructed his work as a sequence of 24 sequences, each 4 and a half minutes long. Fixed, classic forms were one of the aesthetic obsessions of the creator who was, among many others, a creator of haikus. The first frame starts from a famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 'Hunters in the Snow'. With the help of computer animation, portions of the painting wake up one by one. The soundtrack also comes to life placing the painting into its natural and period context. What was a snapshot of a single moment in time becomes a moment in a sequence of the passage of time. Similar patterns will be present in the following frames, but the starting points are photos created by the author. In its early versions '24 Frames' was supposed to be a sequence of reflections on art starting from famous paintings, as in the first frame, but due to copyright reasons Kiarostami had to change his strategy and used his own creations from albums of still photography, an artistic field that he had practiced at the beginning of his artistic journey.

'24 Frames' is a very different viewing experience than a traditional film. There is no plot, no human characters. Kiarostami, the filmmaker who excelled in creating heroes drawn from reality and who built psychologists full of credibility and humanity for them, places his human silhouettes - when they appear - on an equal level with those of animals, plants, landscape items. One can also interpret this attitude as an expression of the idea that we humans are only a part of an endless Universe, and not necessarily the center of it. The film seems more like a collection of philosophical essays or poems. Each of the frames has an aesthetic value in itself, but they also tell a lot about the connection between the creator and the artistic objects resulting from his imagination, about nature and its observation. The world in the frames is often seen through the geometry of a window, and in a few cases transparent but material screens or windows separate the viewer from the nature beyond. A nature that, let's not forget, is largely artificial, the result of the author's thinking in relation to the context of the still images that represent the starting points of each frame.

The viewer who dares to see '24 Frames' must know (and if he doesn't know, he will find out after the first frames) that this is not an ordinary entertainment film. The reward will come from the beauty and depth of cinematic thought and the boldness of the author's artistic exploration, which he becomes witness of. An unforgettable artistic experience.

Die Vierhändige
(2017)

dark German thriller
'Die Vierhändige' ('Four Hands' in English) is an author movie written and directed by German filmmaker Oliver Kienle. It is a film that surprised me (for the better) by the quality and expressiveness of the image and by the intensity of the actors' acting. It demands attention to watch, and there is a danger that it will lose some of its audience in the middle, especially those who are used to the logical, deterministic and linear plots of German detective films. The authors emphasized the psychological side and the trauma suffered by the characters. The degree of ambiguity of the story allows different interpretations according to the personal perspective of each of the viewers. It's not an easy movie to watch, but it's interesting and well-made enough to be worth watching. Those who will - more or less easily - overcome the difficult moments of the story will be rewarded.

It's one of those movies of which you can say very little about the story so as not to spoil the enjoyment and interest of future viewers. Two sisters witness in their early childhood the brutal murder of their parents. The experience traumatizes them and binds them to each other for the rest of their lives. When the assassins are released - after serving their 20-year sentences - their destinies are again dramatically influenced.

Oliver Kienle's script proposes an interesting and original combination. The film has only a handful ofc significant characters (the sisters, a nurse who befriends one of them, the criminals who appear in only one scene each) and yet the entire action takes place amidst the crowded cities and institutions of contemporary Germany. A house also appears, oddly placed in the landscape, suggesting the strange things that happen in it. The cinematography by Yoshi Heimrath is designed in a post-Hitchcockian style, combining chamber drama with hallucinatory outdoor scenes, in hospitals, in discotheques, in concert halls. There is a lot of darkness in this film, the colors when they appear are also blurred. The disorientation of the heroes is also transmitted to the audience along with a feeling of insecurity about the understanding of what we see on the screen. Frida-Lovisa Hamann and Friederike Becht create memorable roles as the two sisters. Christoph Letkowski should provide a balancing act in the role of the character who should but mostly fails to represent a point of emotional stability. Music plays an important role in the film, and the soundtrack created by Heiko Maile completed with fragments of classical music performed on the piano contributes to the atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty. 'Die Vierhändige' is a good psychological thriller, one of the well-made films in this genre that I have seen lately.

Everybody's Fine
(2009)

a lonely father
'Everybody's Fine', the 2009 American family drama by director Kirk Jones, offers the opportunity for a series of interesting reflections on the passing of cinematic time. Why do some older films seem contemporary, while other films, made a decade or two ago, are showing signs of early ageing? 'Everybody's Fine' is a remake of a 1990 Italian film directed and (co-written) by Giuseppe Tornatore, which featured Marcelo Mastroiani. In the American version, Robert De Niro takes on the role of the father remained alone after the death of his wife, who will embark on a journey across America in search of his children. To say that 'the remake does not live up to the original' seems trivial, but the statement seems to me correct in this case as well. The feeling is accentuated by elements of outdated cinematography that make the film look older than the 13 years that have passed since its making. It is not just about mobile phones, which have become a common means of communication for everyone, that would make many of the details of the story obsolete. There were, however, plenty of heartwarming moments in the 2009 version, and the joy of seeing Robert De Niro in the first of a series of maturity roles that cemented his position as one of the premier actors of his generation.

The film's hero, Frank Goode, remained alone at his retirement age after his wife's death. He would have enough reasons to to find consolation in the achievements of his children, to whom he dedicated his life's work, and who, spread throughout America, seem to be enjoying success as - respectively - plastic artist, advertising manager, symphonic orchestra conductor and Las Vegas dancer. He also enjoys the satisfaction of having performed a useful, if not very spectacular, job - Frank manufactured insulation for the telephone cables that instantly connect people across America. Loneliness bothers him, however, and when the four children cancel one after the other participation in a weekend he wanted to spend with them, Frank decides - against the advice of his personal doctor - to go on a trip to meet each of them. But the realities don't exactly match what Frank knew about the children's situations, and every meeting, when it happens, seems to be a failure.

Inter-human communication is the main theme of the film. Professionally immersing himself in the technical aspects, dedicating his life to the success of his children, Frank seems to have missed the direct communication with them. The screen rendering of the story is uneven. The road trip part with the random meetings with the inhabitants of deep America seemed to me the best. Some of the metaphors proposed by the script work very well, but others are too explicit - especially the nightmare scenes, the imaginary dialogues with the children or the monologue at the cemetery. Robert De Niro is terrific throughout. This is one of his best roles (and not a gangster one!). The parent-child relationship allows De Niro to meet on screen with some of the most interesting actors of the younger generations: Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell. There are many good reasons to see this film, but also the Italian original one that inspired it.

The Adam Project
(2022)

all-family films need not be childish
'The Adam Project', Shawn Levy's 2022 film, is one of those film projects that strives to prove that Netflix has become a production house that can rival any of the major studios. The film belongs to a hugely popular film genre - the all-family sci-fi comedy -, it is impeccably made from a technical point of view, promising quality viewings both in cinemas and in the living rooms of homes where Netflix streaming reaches, and manages to bring on screen an impressive gallery of famous actors. However, it lacks an ingredient that is essential in the production of a successful and quality film - a script fit to the other talents assembled in this production. Despite the promises, 'The Adam Project' disappointed me.

The idea behind the film's story is interesting, although not very original. Time travel is possible, has always been, even if in some periods it has not yet been discovered. Traveling from 2050 to 2022 or 2018 is therefore possible, and the way in which these journeys take place is rather similar to the space flights in 'Star Wars'. The hero of the film, a time travel pilot, goes on such a journey to repair the loss of his loved one, is chased and injured, and finds refuge in his childhood home where he meets his own version at the age of 12. The two will get to know each other and will tram in an adventure whose purpose is ... to avoid inventing temporal travel.

The filmmakers were well aware that temporal paradoxes are very complicated and chose to replace the solutions with lightsaber battles against regiments of... well, I'm not sure, but I think they're robots, if not cyborgs or something else. Ryan Reynolds dominates the film and is really the only one who has a consistent role. As a viewer, I can only regret that actors like Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo or Zoe Saldana don't have more solid parts. The special effects are OK, but we don't see anything new here either. Stories that combine family (and especially kids) troubles with time travel science-fiction have also already been told on screen in films such as the 'Back to the Future' or 'Terminator' series. The writers of 'The Adam Project' did not try to hide these influences. On the contrary, the heroes of the film have seen all the previous films and even discuss them on the screen. Me, if I were to take my children or grandchildren to the cinema, I would prefer to take them to the original films.

Ticket to Paradise
(2022)

Clooney and Roberts are not enough to save this film
George Clooney and Julia Roberts are two excellent actors and the Academy Awards they each won were well deserved. They are also two very suitable actors for romantic comedies, and if we accept the idea that good romantic comedies can be made with characters (and actors) in their 50s or even 60s, then casting them in the lead roles of a film of this kind may be a good idea. However, to make a quality romantic comedy something else is needed - a believable story that makes us resonate with the characters on the screen, possibly fall in love with them or suffer with them during the screening of the film. 'Ticket to Paradise' by director Ol Parker did not have the chance of such a scenario. By basing their film solely on the charm and magnetism of the two actors, the filmmakers have failed in their attempt to deliver quality entertainment. Clooney (at the peak of his charisma) and Roberts try their best, but it's not enough to save the film from the fate of a mediocre comedy.

David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) married 25 years ago and divorced 5 years later. Lily, their only daughter is finishing her law studies and a wonderful career awaits her starting in a prestigious law office. On the farewell college trip to Bali, the young woman meets a local seaweed farmer, falls in love with him, and decides to remain on the island paradise in the Indian Ocean. The two divorcees decide to join forces to convince their daughter to give up her marriage plans. The reasons are their own experience of a failed marriage but also the fear that the girl is destroying her life, at least according to Western or American patterns. The first 10-15 minutes offer the opportunity for funny exchanges of replicas, filmed with rhythm and using appropriately the technique of parallel frames. These are also the best comedic moments in the film, in my opinion. It is what follows that disappointed me.

'Ticket to Paradise' reminded me of a tradition of American cinema in which the film fits very well. It's about dramas, sentimental comedies or musical films produced in the 30s whose stories took place in the world of the super-rich dressed in tuxedos, sumptuous dresses and fur coats. Spectators of those times, preoccupied with economic crises and - towards the end of the decade - with the danger of war, filled the theaters where charismatic heroes played by actors such as Clark Gable or James Stewart appeared on the big screens. With a few changes in scenery and dialogues, 'Ticket to Paradise' could have been made then. George Clooney is, by the way, the actor closest to the profile of the great American actors mentioned, and he is formidable in this film. But I think that his charm (and to a lesser extent that of Julia Roberts) are not enough to carry the whole movie. The relationship between the two is too predictable and the parallel love story between the two young people is completely missed. Kaitlyn Dever as the daughter is, I think, a terrible miscasting. At no point do we see her as an intelligent young woman making a sensible decision. The way in which the natural paradise of Bali is described is at the level of tourist clips commercials and the presentation of the local culture smella paternalistic Western folklorism. I understand that the intention of the filmmakers is here also an escapist cinema that disconnects its viewers from the problems of the day, but in the absence of authenticity and a somewhat believable story, the effect risks being missed. I'm afraid that only the joy of seeing George Clooney and Julia Roberts again and together is what will be left after watching this film.

Hell or High Water
(2016)

capitalist apocalypse
Many of the scenes in director David Mackenzie's 2016 film 'Hell or High Water' appear to take place in a post-apocalyptic world. Sun-scorched fields that seem to produce nothing but clouds of dust. The deserted roads where from time to time billboards appear about loans and debt payments. But especially heroes who behave like all restrictions of morality or law and order no longer apply. And yet this is the Texas of the years after the 2008 economic crisis (it might as well be the 2000 one or the 2021 one). The landscape is real and populated by people. People who are forced to do anything (this is one of the meanings of the title) to survive the apocalypse caused by other people and their institutions - in this case banks.

'Hell and High Water' can be seen as both a western or as a movie about cops chasing bank robbers. It has many of the attributes of these genres and the Texas landscape suits them perfectly. The heroes of the film are two brothers whose lives took the path of the "bad boys". The older brother, Tanner, has just been released from prison and is often the victim of bouts of violence. Younger brother Toby is after of a divorce that has estranged his wife and two boys. The brothers' mother has recently died, and the farm she has left is in danger of being lost to a bank due to default on the mortgage. To keep their farm, the two resort to robbing the local branches of the bank that made them the loan. They steal at gunpoint only the money from the drawers (small bills that cannot be traced) and they also find a way to launder money at casinos. The plan seems to work for a while, until two policemen begin to understand their profile and methods, and until the violent instincts of the older brother can no longer be contained.

'Hell or High Water' continues the line of several American films whose stories take place in the center of America today, among people hit by economic crises and marginalized by the way the capitalist economy works. What gives quality to this film is the excellent understanding of the social environment and the humanity of the characters that are brought to the screen. Every detail is excellently presented and filmed with empathy and expressiveness: the Texas landscapes with endless roads and plains covered in dust and industrial ruins, gas stations and restaurants, banks and small towns that don't seem to have changed much from the Wild West era with except for cars, not too luxurious either. Watching Jeff Bridges in his maturity roles is a delight and the role of police officer Marcus Hamilton suits him perfectly. The two brothers are excellently played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. The smaller roles also provide the opportunity for some memorable performances, the most notable being that of Kristin K. Berg as a waitress whom the two brothers meet in a restaurant on the road and who will play an important role in their destiny. Each of these small roles and the extras appearances radiate authenticity, the characters seem to be the people we meet in everyday life, they build a human puzzle that fits perfectly into the social and natural landscapes. British director David Mackenzie's understanding of American atmosphere and social issues is remarkable. I noticed him first in 'Perfect Sense', a film made in 2011 that predicted the global pandemic and dressed it in a powerful metaphor. 'Hell or High Water' brings to the screen a well-written story with real characters and problems we understand. It will stay, I think, as a document about the crises of the first decades of 21st century America. It won three Academy Awards, and that was, in my opinion, one of the years when the Academy didn't get it too wrong.

Le roi de coeur
(1966)

the world as a madhouse
'Le roi de coeur' starts from a formidable idea and ends up betting too much on it. In the filmography of director Philippe de Broca, the film occupies a special place, being considered one of his most 'serious' films in terms of message and compared to most of his other creations that aim for pure entertainment. The heroes in 'Le roi de coeur' are either soldiers or patients in a madhouse. Soldiers, German and British or rather Scottish, butcher each other in the final months of the First World War. The asylum patients live with the nostalgia of a royal and princely past and become the masters of the city abandoned by the local population and by the retreating occupants. When the world is engulfed in madness, are not the diagnosed mentally ill more rational than those on the outside? What is sanity and where can it be found? 'Le roi de coeur' approaches this theme in the context of an emphatic anti-war message. In the 60s the film enjoyed success and gained the status of a 'cult film'. Some of the luster has started to fade over time, but what's left is still pretty consistent and interesting.

The screenwriters do not hesitate to play with symbols as explicit as possible. The lead hero is an ornithologist soldier, who takes care of the pigeons of a Scottish regiment. Pigeons, which were to become a symbol of peace much later, were used during the First World War to transmit messages across enemy trenches. Private Charles Plumpick has the misfortune of being the only one in the regiment who speaks French and for this reason he is sent on an impossible mission to prevent the blowing up of the mined town by the retreating Germans. Arriving in the city and being chased by the Germans, he takes refuge in the mental health asylum where he declares himself to be the "King of Hearts". When the mined town is deserted by both the Germans and the inhabitants, the lunatics come out of the asylum's gates left open and take over it. They do it with charm and imagination, as only fools know how to do. They have the food, the drink and the clothing of the whole city at their disposal. The war from outside, however, will not let the colorful performance that seems to resemble a Fellini circus continue for a long time.

The metaphor behind the question 'where is the real madness?' works up to a point, but it can't support an entire movie. 'Le roi de coeur' looks very good visually. There is one formidable scene, that of the two regiments - British and German - entering and marching in the town square without noticing each other. Pure comedy, Philippe de Broca at his best. But the historical metaphor is too far from history. The characters, except for the main hero, lack any depth. The military - both German and English - are portrayed based on stereotypes. They look like in a vaudeville, their uniforms are impeccable and the music of the brass band and bagpipes is sounding loud even after more than four years of bloody war. Even the lunatics gallery fails to provide characters that are memorable or at least differentiated from each other in typology and character. Highly gifted actors like Pierre Brasseur or Jean-Claude Brialy get roles in which they are almost unrecognizable and which we immediately forget. Geneviève Bujold, in one of her first consistent roles, will perhaps be remembered only for her physical presence. The notable exception is Alan Bates, already a well-known actor when this movie was made, who creates a memorable role that is more sensible and luminous than most of his other screen appearances at the time. The image of the king crowned by the lunatics, reluctantly assuming the crown to discover little by little where the lesser madness can be found, is the one that sticks in the spectators' memory, I believe.

The educated film fan has one more problem to face. It's very hard to appreciate asylum movies after having watched 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', which would be made nine years later. Any comparison is unfavorable. This also happens with 'Le roi de coeur', which is perhaps not even the cult film it was considered for a while. And yet, there are many reasons why this film is still worth watching today.

Masculin féminin
(1966)

Generation 1965
The best tribute we can pay to a filmmaker who is no longer with us is to watch his films. Discuss them with our movie-loving friends. Write about them. Jean-Luc Godard's death created the opportunity to watch or re-watch some of his famous films. I saw on this occasion - for the first time! - 'Masculin féminin' made in 1966. WOW! I confess that annoyed me many times over the past few decades. I didn't understand or resonate with some of his later films. I disagreed with some of his political views. I had already forgotten, perhaps, what a great filmmaker he was. 'Masculin féminin' impressed me deeply and on several levels. By style, and by execution, and because of its leading ideas. It is the film of the 1965 generation, and watching it after more than half a century is a meeting with the generation of young people of those times. The honesty and direct style of the New Wave makes the film a document. But it is much more than that.

The action of 'Masculin féminin' is a love story seen through the eyes of a man. Paul is described in the cast as 'an unstable young man' but his instability is more related to the way he interacts with the world around him. In reality he knows quite well what he wants (beautiful girls and then The Beautiful Girl) and he is also politically involved with well-formed convictions, perhaps a result of the two-year military service that he had just completed. Paul meets and falls in love with Madeleine, described as 'a little singer'. This characterization must also be received with reservations, because Madeleine manages to release a first record which enjoys local and international success and, maybe, she is on her way to becoming a 'great singer'. Paul (also advised by his friend Robert - 'a trade unionist') uses tricks from the arsenal of Parisian boys to win Madeleine's heart. The dialogues between the two boys and the three girls (Madeleine and the friends she lives with) revolve around this 'masculine-feminine' balance described in the title, at the age of emerging from adolescence, but they also address the political issues and cultural phenomena of the day in which heroes live. Everything is of a freshness and a contagious sincerity.

The story would probably be a small routine melodrama if not filmed by Godard. The script draws the guidelines of the action and the actors - who belong to the generation and environment of the heroes - do the rest. Part of the story takes place outside the filming angle of the camera, because what matters is not necessarily the events but the reactions of the heroes to these events. The editing always gives the feeling of collage, excessive chiseling is avoided and the sound captured directly from the streets and Parisian cafes is used. The division into 'chapters', which would later be used by many directors (Woody Allen among them) plays here the role of commentary, adding a dimension to the visual part. It's a 'classical culture' tool used in a very non-classical manner. Jean-Pierre Léaud and Chantal Goya are excellent in the lead roles which are among the best of their careers. One of the heroine's friends is played by Marlène Jobert, an actress I really like, for whom this film was the beginning of the consecration. The film's heroes live their loves and breakups, small pleasures and big disappointments in a charged political atmosphere and during the major pop cultural revolution. However, these are presented without ostentation and this only enhances the effect. There is no shortage of satirical arrows towards the establishment cultural monuments of the era, from De Gaulle to Ingmar Bergman. If I had to choose only one film to represent France in the mid-60s and the young generation of those times, the generation that would take to the streets and barricades in 1968, it would be 'Masculin féminin'.

Les yeux sans visage
(1960)

a gem in horror
The 1960 'Les yeux sans visage' is the most famous film by filmmaker Georges Franju, a remarkable and slightly contradictory figure in the history of French and international cinema. He made very few films in his career, but his influence on his contemporaries and those who came after him was immense. Part of the legacy left off the sets is the founding in 1936 of the institution of Cinematheque Française in Paris together with Henri Langlois and a conception of the art of film that represents a synthesis of his work as a documentary filmmaker and a filtered assimilation of the aesthetics and creative methods of Surrealism. Contemporary with the filmmakers of the New Wave, he rejected their adherence to the immediate reality but shared with them the conception according to which the director is the main author of cinematographic productions. For him, however, the cinematographic aesthetics were more important than the narrative, the way the story is told taking precedence over the story itself. 'Les yeaux sans visage' is a landmark in the history of the horror film, and has inspired filmmakers like Almodovar ('La piel que habito') or John Woo ('Face / Off') as a theme but also as an aesthetic.

'Les yeux sans visage' is an adaptation of a detective novel by Jean Redon signed by the couple of screenwriters (themselves authors of detective novels) formed by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The plot is, on the surface at least, quite simple and is told linearly. In the opening scene, a woman drives a car at night carrying a dead body. A masterfully filmed scene, as will be several to come (the cinematography belongs to Eugen Schüfftan). The woman behind the wheel is Louise, assistant to Dr. Genessier, a renowned surgeon specializing in skin grafts. His daughter had suffered a car accident for which he feels responsible, and the famous doctor will use his talents to find suitable donors to repair the disfigured girl's face. Donors become victims of the evil couple's plans.

The story is reminiscent of classic horror novels, starting with 'Frankenstein' with a scientific twist. In fact, skin grafts like those shown in the film are not 100% safe even today. How the story is filmed is what matters. In the '50s the center of gravity of 'horror' film productions had moved overseas, but visually 'Les yeux sans visage' descends rather from the German cinema of the 20s and early 30s. Surrealist elements are added to this, but the influence of the period in which director Georges Franju worked as a documentarian, author of films of a cruel realism in this genre, is also felt. The fantastic usually works as an insertion of the supernatural into the everyday. In the 'horror' universe, the opposite effect is sought - of everyday elements introduced into an atmosphere that defies logic. Several of the stronger scenes created censorship problems for the film in 1960 in Europe, and the version that was broadcast in 1962 in the United States was slightly 'sanitized'.

Georges Franju knows well the secrets of the trade and a comparison of this film with Hitchcock's successful films is not at all exaggerated. Same as the international master of the genre, Franju amplifies the excellent visual part with an expressive soundtrack, with music by Maurice Jarre, the composer who also worked on the famous hits created by David Lean. From the cast I noted the excellent Alida Valli in a role of partner in crime very different from many others I knew from her career and Edith Scob who plays the role of the daughter with her face covered by a mask. We will especially remember her silhouette. Over half a century later, we will meet the actress again in Leos Carax's 'Holy Motors'. Pierre Brasseur disappointed me a bit as the criminal scientist. He's OK but leaves the impression that he missed the opportunity to create a memorable 'bad guy'. 'Les yeux sans visage' is a gem of the genre, forgotten in the drawers of the history of the horror movies. Don't miss the opportunity to discover it, if you haven't already.

Howards End
(1992)

mansion of discord
'Howards End', James Ivory's 1992 film, opens with a scene that takes place in nature. We see, filmed from behind, a woman running. She is wearing a long dress, which clearly hinders her movements. Clothes get dirty from grass and rain-soaked ground. The scene is symbolic of one of the film's themes - the status of women in the first decade of the 20th century -, a period that takes its name in England after that of King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria, who had waited many years to inherit the throne from the long-lived Queen. Social and political conflicts were building up and simmering like lava from a volcano about to erupt. Rigid laws and conventions covered internal social conflicts, just as the force of the imperial army and the colonial bureaucracy tried to contain external ones. The eruption that was to come would be called the Great War or the First World War. The world that precedes it is excellently described in the novels of E. M. Foster and in the films made by director James Ivory and his producer and partner Ismail Merchant. They are complex and lavishly shot films that bring back into focus, reconstruct and reinterpret the conflicts and problems of a world that is seemingly receding into history, but which continues to influence the present.

Representatives of four social classes find themselves engaged in a conflict in the middle of which is the mansion Howards End, located in a village near London. The building surrounded by a park with abundant and unsettling vegetation is the historical legacy of Ruth's old British noble family, brought into the Willcox family through her marriage to Henry. He is the type of the enterprising but unscrupulous capitalist, for whom social conventions hide moral corruption, and who despises all who are not like him. His sons and daughter seem to have inherited his character and ideas. When Ruth befriends Margaret Schlegel, a beautiful and intelligent young woman but in danger of passing marriageable age, from a middle-class family of German origin, and decides, on her deathbed, to leave the mansion as inheritance, the Willcox family does not hesitate to resort to fraud by destroying the handwritten will. Margaret along with her sister Helen have different moral values than the Willcoxes, but good intentions don't always pay off. Attempts to help the young and impoverished Leonard Bast, a dreamer struggling in capitalist London, cause more harm than good.

Key scenes of the film take place at or are related to Howards End. In the dramatic structure of the story, the mansion is a symbol. For some of the characters in the story it is just a property. These disputes reminded me of the novels of John Galsworthy which were set in a nearer period, and in which even love or wives were regarded as objects of property. The differences in conception between generations and social classes are evident when we look at how the characters relate to women's rights - the political ones, but also the one to decide their destinies, to choose their suitable partners. Another central theme of the film is the communication between the characters. All of them are very voluble, they entertain sometimes sparkling dialogues, but they don't always understand each other. For Henry Willcox, words hide rather than express, and even when he wants to express his possible affection and make a marriage proposal he does not know how to choose the right words. Margaret Schlegel, on the contrary, is intelligent and cultured, but perhaps precisely her fine education is at excess when dealing with people whose moral values do not correspond. Fate decides in the end and its blows are far from being just rhetorical.

'Howards End' gathers a formidable team of actors who enjoy consistent roles. For Emma Thompson, the role of Margaret meant several well-deserved awards and confirmation of her status as an international star. Helena Bonham Carter is no less impressive in my opinion as Helen. Old lady Ruth is played with nobility and passion by Vanessa Redgrave, and the Christmas shopping scene with Emma Thompson is a classic. For Anthony Hopkins, the role of Henry Willcox is not the most visible of his career or of that period. He melts into the character and doesn't try to shock. Tony Pierce-Roberts' cinematography is excellent, both when filming at Howards End with the nature and countryside surrounding the mansion, and when he accurately recreates London in the first decade of the 20th century. 'Howards End' remains a delight for fans of solid and intelligent movies.

Death on the Nile
(2022)

fantasy on the Nile
I think that Kenneth Branagh understood something important about Agatha Christie when he started the series of films with Hercule Poirot as the hero, in which 'Death on the Nile' (a much delayed 2022 release) is the second film. Agatha Christie was never a realistic writer. Her novels are detective mysteries, exercises in logic, dramas that take place in closed spaces that delimit not only the place but also the social categories of the characters. Most of her books have a unity of time and space reminiscent of Greek tragedies, but they are ultimately books aimed at the entertainment of certain categories of readers. It is not an imaginary world, but a world parallel to ours, from which she draws her characters and situations by selection. We are dealing with detective fantasies. 'Death on the Nile' is such a fantasy, a story that takes place in a precise historical moment and in well-defined places, but which has no ambition to say anything dramatic or critical about that time and those places. Much of the filming took place on location in Aswan in Egypt, but the decision appears to have been primarily aesthetic, not a search for authenticity. The focus is on the characters, on the relationships between them, on the crimes that are a bit late to happen, but when they are triggered they do continue in chain. And, of course, the character of Hercule Poirot, who takes on new and surprising dimensions in this film.

The opening scene takes place in 1914 and is reminiscent of WWI trench films. In 'Death on the Nile' we learn many new things about Poirot, about the origin of some of his whims, and even about his physical appearance. It may be that Branagh along with screenwriter Michael Green have the intention of making a film about the young Poirot one day. It would be based largely on their imagination and not on an Agatha Christie novel that she never wrote. It would be very interesting. Ultimately Poirot's own method consists of using a few visible events and information to construct the solution to the most complicated puzzles. The character of Hercule Poirot would be one of them. Next we jump in time to the year 1937, and from dark and humid London we arrive in the sun-scorched Egypt. Agatha Christie and Kenneth Branagh's characters live in a fantasy bubble that has little in common with the real world. There is violence and stress but these are not the contradictions and violence that predicted World War II, but the internal conflicts of a privileged class and its various servants. Without much effort the action could have taken place a century earlier or perhaps a century later. The mystery is well built, the characters are introduced gradually and we know them well enough when the bodies start to pile to have the feeling that they can - almost all - be both criminals and victims.

'Death on the Nile' is superbly filmed and the name of the cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos who collaborated with excellent results on all the latest Kenneth Branagh's films must be mentioned. Aesthetics derive from logic in his visual conception, for the universe the viewer sees on the screen is an extension of Poirot's mania for symmetry and wholeness, one of the external oddities that build his complex personality. Watch the ensemble scenes and count how many of them are architecturally designed, like works of art or classical monuments. The cast includes some of the successful actors of the younger generations. It was the choice of some of the actors that I found less inspired. Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot may radiate wealth but not love, and this feeling is accentuated by Emma Mackey's hot performance as the disappointed rival. An inspired and interesting addition to the cast is the pair of mother-daughter musicians, played by Sophie Okonedo and Letitia Wright. They provide the pretext to build a soundtrack that I really enjoyed, combining blues with big band jazz of the era, and gives us the opportunity to know the sentimental side of Poirot. 'Death on the Nile' is a visual and musical detective fantasy and quality entertainment. Those who will try to watch and judge it from a different perspective will do so at their own risk and they have good chances of being disappointed. I loved the movie.

Persian Lessons
(2020)

a very special tale of survival
'Persian Lessons' is one of the most surprising films I've seen lately. It is an international co-production made by studios in Russia, Germany and Belarus. Director Vadim Perelman was born in Ukraine and lives and works in Canada and the USA. Released in 2020 on the festival circuit, the film didn't really get to run in theaters before the outbreak of the pandemic. It's being released again now, and I hope it will be seen by a lot of people in theaters or streaming. It had probably been filmed a year before release. Today, such a co-production would probably not be possible, if we take into account the events of 2022. The cinematographic approach is also special, but that does not surprise me, because Vadim Perelman is a film director who is not in a hurry to make many films (this is his fifth in a career spanning some 20 years) and chooses his subjects and scripts carefully.

'Persian Lessons' is a film about the Holocaust. Like many films with similar themes it is a story of survival. Each survival in the Holocaust was a miracle, but in telling it,Vadim Perelman approaches the topic from an original perspective and with a sensitivity that makes the film find its place in the ranks of quality films. The story told is extraordinary, but it is the human dimension that primarily interested screenwriter Ilja Zofin and the director. The hero of the film is Gilles, the son of a rabbi from Antwerp, arrested in occupied France and deported in a transport destined for extermination. Chance and perhaps generosity and a passion for books help him, as in the truck that takes the prisoners to the unknown and perhaps to death, he comes into possession of a book of Persian mythology, which he takes advantage of to claim to be Iranian and not Jewish, escaping immediate execution. In the forced labor camp where he ends up, one of the officers is a former chef, whose dream and plan B in the event of Germany's defeat is to get to Iran. Gilles, now Reza, takes it upon himself to teach him Persian. It's just that he doesn't know the language at all and has to invent it. To memorize the words he had already translated, he uses the register with the names of those interned in the camp, meticulously kept by the executioner. The intellectual game between Gilles / Reza and officer Klaus turns into a more complicated relationship: executioner - victim, torturer - prisoner, but also student - teacher and to the end accomplices in the wish to survive. The words of the invented language play an important role. The danger of death is constant and imminent, and every day of survival is a victory for the young deportee.

The story has many levels of complexity and a symbolic load, avoiding at the same time didacticism and excessive rhetoric. The dialogues are excellently written. I don't remember seeing the Argentinian born actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart before and all I need to say is that his performance as Gilles / Reza is formidable. German actor Lars Eidinger undertakes the character of Commander Klaus. His role is not easy, because the balance between revulsion towards the executioners' deeds and the human dimension, between caricature and understanding the reasons for the actions, is very fragile. Eidinger succeeds, I think, very well in this difficult mission. His character could be a good example of what Hanna Arendt called 'the banality of evil'. I also noticed in the cast the presence of Jonas Nay, a relatively young German actor whom I had already admired in the cycle of television mini-series starting with 'Deutschland 83 '. His role is not very complex but the young actor fills it with content. The side plot of the relationships in-between the German officers and soldiers who turn their duty into crimes may seem far from the central thread of the story, but in my opinion it helps in understanding the context and adds details to the picture of the slave labor camp, where for the prisoners the difference between life and death depended on chance and the whims of the executioners. There are nuances even in hell, this would be one of the interpretations of this complex and impressive film.

Falling in Love
(1984)

love and friendship
A movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, made during a time that represented the peak of their careers can't be too bad. I confess that I hadn't heard much about 'Falling in Love' nor about its director Ulu Grosbard, and when this film came my way I became quite curious to find out what the reasons were. Watching the film made in 1984 answered my question. The movie is really not too bad. Streep and De Niro are beautiful, charismatic and intelligent, clearly enjoying working together and carrying the film, but the feeling at the end is one of a miss and a disappointment. "Falling in Love" seems much too trivial compared to the immense talent of the two actors who already had two Oscar awards each in their records in 1984.

One of the reasons for the disappointment is that, already in 1984, the formula of the film had been used far too often. The tradition of American productions of this kind has its source in the films about illicit relationships and broken families of the 40s and it appeared often in the 70s (example: 'Kramer vs. Kramer' - great blockbuster, also staring Meryl Streep), being updated for to place it in the modern American landscape, mostly urban (and often Manhattan). The heroes of films in this category are baby boomers, they usually belong to the middle class, they don't really have material worries, so that they can focus (on screens at least) on their own emotional problems. The idea of chance encounters and reunions (in the case of this film on the train) without which the story would not exist is not terribly original either. Frank and Margaret, the film's heroes, are married and reasonably happy when the option of true happiness and capital L Love comes their way. Can the relationship between them be maintained at the level of friendship? Or if that is not possible in that of a chaste bond? Do the heroes have the right to deny themselves happiness? And if not, who pays the price for their happiness? What happens to the families in danger of breaking up, to the kids and to the abandoned partners? 'Falling in Love' approaches these questions quite lightly, the expressive power and (outer and inner) beauty of the lead heroes dominate the screen and is provided as a solution to moral dilemmas. The heroes literally ask themselves several times 'what am I doing?' and keep doing what they're doing.

The characters surrounding the heroes are rather pale and inconsistent sketches. This seems to me to have been the main problem with the script, along with the lack of memorable lines. It is assumed that the two intelligent heroes could articulate their feelings in words, but this does not happen. Fortunately for the director, or maybe that was his idea, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro make up for the fragility of the text with looks and body language that say everything that needs to be said. I can't fail to mention the presence of Harvey Keitel, an actor I like immensely, who has a delicious supporting role as Frank's male companion and counterpoint. In fact, the scenes in which the two protagonists hide and then explain their feelings to their respective confidant friends are among the most successful, seeming to be a kind of exemplification of psychologist John Gray's book 'Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus', which was to appear a few years later. Otherwise, too many coincidences, too many repeating scenes in the crowd, although the streets of Manhattan, China Town and Central Station look well filmed in the style of French New Wave films. Almost four decades after its making, 'Falling in Love' is not a film to be avoided or only suitable for Christmas programs, but the main reasons why it is worth seeing are still Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. Which, of course, is no small thing.

The Italian Job
(1969)

the original Italian Jon
I watched the original 1969 Peter Collinson-directed version of 'The Italian Job' 19 years after seeing the 2003 remake. I don't remember much about the remake and the 5/10 rate that I gave it then on IMDB probably explains the reasons. The 1969 film is certainly not the best of the heist genre that was very popular in those days, but there are still some good reasons for a viewing more than half a century after its production and release. By seeing it, today's viewer can get an idea of the recipes for cinematic success of the late 60s. And the IMDB rating is also higher.

The film starts from a rather original idea that locates it in a special place in the category of films that describe in detail the planning and organization of the most sophisticated robberies. The gang of British villains led by Charlie Crocker (Michael Caine) and financed by Mr. Bridger (Noël Coward) will rob a convoy containing gold bars that Communist China (we are in 1969!) intents to pay for a factory Italian cars. He will do it with the help of a computer expert, in the role of none other than the famous comedian Benny Hill, who will sabotage the computerized traffic management system in Turin (again - it's 1969!) and create a huge traffic jam. As in all these films, the most sophisticated plans get bogged down by unpredictable details. Everything is treated here with an immoral humor that would not be possible today. In 1969 correctness and politics had not been united in the same sentence.

The comedy part is the strongest part of the film, but viewers should be warned that this is a British comedy and that some of the jokes may get lost in translation even for the English-speaking audience. This film was received very differently in England than in the rest of the world, and I think this difference in perception continues to this day. In the eyes of most viewers, 1969's 'The Italian Job' is a heist comedy with some good moments and some not so good moments, with a car chase that climbs stairs, flies between buildings and accelerates into sewer systems, with a few likeable actors and with some jokes that can be about half understood, with a memorable retro tech scene from a time when computers were bigger than refrigerators and music by Quincy Jones. For British viewers and film critics it is a film that repeatedly shows up in the rankings of the best British films of all times. Michael Caine, Noël Coward (for whom this is his last film as an actor) and Benny Hill each represent a different kind of star and English humor, and the very act of bringing them together on the same screen is a feat. Even if today's viewer risks losing his enthusiasm for this film, he can be sure that he has watched the best version of 'The Italian Job' produced so far.

Jurassic World: Dominion
(2022)

a festival of screaming dinosaurs
If my count is correct, 'Jurassic World Dominion' (2022 - directed by Colin Trevorrow) is the sixth major studio film to develop the world and characters invented byMichael Crichton and first brought to the screen in 1993 by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is one of the producers of this film and I believe he was involved as a producer in most if not all of the films in the series. However, his artistic guidance seems to be absent in this episode. If this is the final in the series, it is one devoid of glory. If others will follow, we can hope that it is only one of the weakest episodes and that a recovery will follow. Anyway, 'Jurassic World Dominion' disappointed me.

Crichton's book and the first film were a cautionary parable about the dangers of science out of control. It's the theme of 'Frankenstein' only the monsters are not human but dinosaurs reborn through the wonders of genetic engineering. When he decided to make the first 'sequel', the main theme became the coexistence of humanity with the world of dinosaurs on our fragile planet. The latest series and this last one in particular add new themes related to the control of large corporations over advanced technologies and the ethical implications of genetic manipulations when they are carried out not 'only' on dinosaurs but also on human beings. These are interesting and important topics. The treatment reserved to each of them is the real problem with this film.

The opening scenes and several episodes throughout the action contain a few promises, unfortunately unfulfilled. The biology of dinosaurs imagined by the authors of the film and special effects experts is one of the most diverse, which allows not only playing with sizes (from pet dinosaurs to the biggest carnivorous giants in the history of the planet) but also with the roles that they can play in people's lives. The chases in the prairie where the dinosaurs run alongside the wild horses, the bar populated by various characters, which quotes 'Star Wars', the circus arena where one of the violent confrontations takes place are each beautiful ideas that unfortunately are not supported even in terms of time screen nor as an action item. Instead, we are dealing with endless scenes - let's call them action - in which the soundtrack is dominated by the most diverse roars and which probably intent to be scary, but in reality become a little ridiculous through repetition. The head of a large global corporation that plays with the magic wand of genetic engineering without caring about the risks is the lead Bad Guy, presented as a kind of clone of Steve Jobs, another slightly questionable idea and in any case already seen before. There are many other good ideas in the script, unfortunately most of them are abandoned before they can make a consistent impact.

'Jurassic World Dominion' introduces viewers to three generations of characters and actors. The younger appear here for the first time and will perhaps represent central characters in the following films, if the confrontations or coexistence of humanity with the world of dinosaurs continue on the screen. The middle generation is the one introduced by the first 'Jurassic World' together with the theme of human cloning, superficially addressed here, which also deserved a more careful and deeper treatment. Finally, the three main characters of the 1993 film, played by Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, reappear here. Time has not forgiven them much and their impact is mediocre, especially since they are made to repeat roughly what they had done 29 calendar (and maybe also cinematic) years ago. I generally have a reluctance about sequels that rehash characters with decades of their distant past success. The scriptwriters of these films should really ask themselves what the viewers want: the originals with the risks of degradation caused by the passage of time, or new actors to creatively continue the ideas and conflict lines? About the same as the concert reunion of rock idols from half a century ago, forgive me for the comparison. If it is not refreshed, the Jurassic series risks remaining frozen in history.

Anna
(2019)

Luc Besson - Deja Vu
When Luc Besson made 'Nikita' in 1990, he unleashed a veritable avalanche of films whose heroines (or maybe we should say super-heroines) are young and beautiful women who, in extreme and hopeless situations, are recruited by espionage services to be turned into formidable killing machines, for good or bad causes. A television series followed, which at least at first seemed to me to be as good as the film, and other films whose characters function in much the same patterns and plots that follow similar paths. Among those who imitated Luc Besson from 'Nikita' was ... Luc Besson. The last time (so far) he did it in was in 2019 with 'Anna'. Why did the French director return to this theme and what does he bring new?

Thestory takes place in the final years of the Cold War, roughly between 1985 and 1990. Russia is engaged in a transition process but the KGB continues to be active and recruit new agents, including Anna, a young woman blackmailed into using her physical and intellectual qualities in the service of the motherland. As the promise of being able to return to a normal life after a few years is not respected, Anna easily falls into the trap set by the CIA, which promises her the same thing if she becomes a double agent. Will any of the rival services deliver on their promises? How will Anna manage between the blackmails of the two institutions and between two lovers who are also her direct bosses. You will find out the answer if you see the movie. What can be said is that the road to possible liberation is strewn with many corpses and violent and spectacular, if not very original, action scenes.

What is different about this film and quite successful in my opinion is the way the narrative is organized. We see episodes that can last for hours, days or months of cinematic action and stop at a moment of surprise and suspense. A flash-back gives viewers the explanation of what they saw, presenting the events on the screen from another point of view. The process repeats itself several times and is what makes the cinematic experience interesting and elevates it above most spy action movies. Éric Serra, who composed the musical scores ofmany of Besson's films, does a pretty good job here as well. Sasha Luss, who plays the title role, seems to be as beautiful, talented and intelligent as her character. Helen Mirren, with a rather dodgy wig, has fun playing the role of the 'brain' of the KGB operations. Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy are OK as spies and lovers who are rivals in every way. 'Anna' is entertainment that will please fans of the genre, but Besson should look to other sources of inspiration for the final part of his career to live up to the successes of his early days.

Denial
(2016)

history in a court of law
When he made 'Denial' in 2016, Mick Jackson returned to a format more suited to television, although the film was intended for the big screen and ran in theaters. The BBC is also a co-producer. It's a courtroom drama that tackles a topic that ostensibly belongs to history - the Holocaust and its deniers. The film is based on a real case, one in which David Irving, the British author of several books about Hitler and Nazi Germany who sued in the year 2000 the American historian Deborah Lipstadt for libel, because she had criticized his statements in a book, questioning his qualifications as a historian. Based on another book written by Lipstadt after the trial, and using the records and documents of the trial, 'Denial' gained authenticity but at the same time had to face the risks of docudramas.

The film is divided into two parts: the preparation for the trial and the trial itself. Irving chose to sue in England because here, unlike in the United States and other parts of the world, the party accused of defamation must prove not only that its critical statements are accurate, but that there was an intention on the part of the criticized author to write untruths. Knowing the British judicial system well, the team of lawyers chosen by the publishing house Penguin who had published the book decided to adopt a surprising tactic. First, they accepted that the case should be tried before a single judge and not a jury. Second, they decided, unlike other similar trials, that Holocaust survivors should not be called to testify. This tactic presented a dilemma for the heroine. It could be interpreted as an avoidance of confrontation and seemed to deny the victims their right to express themselves. In hindsight, legally, it proved to be the right tactic, but it also deprived the cinematic spectacle of some of the courtroom confrontations and the impact of direct testimony. To emotionally compensate in the story, the scriptwriters inserted a scene where the legal team visits the Auschwitz death camp. A professional visit for some of them ('at the scene of the crime'), a dramatic confrontation with the past for others.

The film benefits from some exceptional acting performances. Rachel Weisz is sensitive and passionate in the title role, balancing personal involvement with a determination to bring the truth to light and a refusal to compromise. Tom Wilkinson gives substance and color to the role of the lead lawyer. The most outstanding acting performance, however, belongs to Timothy Spall as David Irving. Negative roles are always difficult, even more so when it comes to a charismatic and intelligent individual who puts his qualities in the service of harmful ideologies. Spall manages to bring the character to life, to explain the fascination it generates for some, but also the reasons why any decent person must refuse to legitimize the actions of such characters. Is 'Denial' a film for the big screen or for television? It is less important, as the important message reaches viewers in both distribution formats.

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