dromasca

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Reviews

Crai Nou
(2021)

uncertain moonlight
'Crai nou' (2021) (distributed internationally with the title 'Blue Moon') is a debut film, but Alina Grigore, its script author and director, is not a debutante in cinema. On the contrary, it can be said that she already has a creative path that is worth following and that this film represents another stage in the evolution of one of the most interesting filmmakers of the young generations of Romanian cinema. After studying acting at UNATC (the Theater and Cinema Academy in Bucharest), Alina Grigore made her acting debut more than a decade ago, being cast in movies and television series. After another period of studies in the United States, she tried her forces as a screenwriter. 'Illegitimate', the film written by her together with the director Adrian Sitaru, proved her courage in choosing a controversial topic and in the stylistic approach of dealing with delicate themes. Now, I had the opportunity to be among the first spectators, at the film festival in Haifa and before the premiere in Romania, of 'Blue Moon', which can be considered her author film because she wrote the screenplay (based on her own stories) and also assumes the role of director. She does it again with courage and self-confidence. As in the previous film, this is the story of an unhappy family, a family torn by conflicts, stifled aspirations and the burden of old events that cannot be forgotten. It is an interesting and imperfect film, a film that arouses interest and provokes discussions, both in terms of theme and the way it is conceived.

'Crai nou', the title in Romanian, reminds of the folklore traditions related to the new moon, the beginnings of love, the feminine desires and the search for the future husbands. The main heroine of the film, Irina, does not necessarily aspire to fairy tales love, but rather to escape from the family circle and the narrow social space in which she is forced to live. She is part of a fairly large family that manages a hotel in the mountains, in a picturesque area of Romania. The family is a bit dysfunctional, the relations are quite tense, her divorced father who lives in England for a long time and visits occasionally is called 'the deceased', Irina's sister has relationships that are not well received by the family. The business is run by the girls' two cousins, one of them, Liviu, quite violently, trying to control their private lives. Irina is perhaps the smartest of them all, but she doesn't even know what she wants to do with her own life. She plans to leave, she prefers Bucharest to London where her father lives, but her attempts to escape are hampered by her own ignorance of the world outside the family perimeter. She may eventually be able to help her sister, but it is not clear if she will be able to take control of her own destiny.

The film benefits from the excellent cinematography by Adrian Paduretu. Each scene's colour palette is adapted to the atmosphere, from the illustrated postcard images of the hotel in the mountains to the dark blue of the New Moon night, which justifies the English title of the film. It also uses long frames, many scenes being filmed with hand-held camera in one take, which offers authenticity and gives the actors time to express their feelings. Alina Grigore, herself an actress, works with actors according to a method that allows everyone to develop their characters and leaves room for spontaneity. Ioana Chitu is excellently distributed and her Irina is memorable. Mircea Postelnicu accurately executes the difficult role of Liviu, although here the script I think has a problem, the character does not seem to evolve, which obliges the actor to repeat his violent outbursts without adding anything from one scene to another. Vlad Ivanov also appears in a minor role, possibly wanting to be included in the cast to support the film. The whole team of actors plays authentically, but the balance between the 'to-the-book' precision of the scenario and the freedom of expression of the actors seems to lean too much towards the second direction. There are some ideas in the film that are certainly important to the director but which do not all cross the screen clearly and distinctly: social stagnation, the invisible ceilings that limit the role of women, the repression of genuine feelings in personal relationships, the conflict between the different points of view of women and men in relationships. With 'Blue Moon', Alina Grigore proves that she is an innovative screenwriter and director, who has a lot to say and knows how to express herself in an interesting cinematic way. But the audiences risk to be confused by her too many cinematic searches. I think that the viewers and the way they receive the story and the messages should be the focus of her attention in the future films that she will make.

The Bike Thief
(2020)

on the tracks of De Sica
If there was a need for a good proof that English social dramas are inspired by Italian neorealism, it is provided by 'The Bike Thief', made in 2020, the director's debut film by Matt Chambers. The title is a direct and casual reference to Vittorio De Sica's 1948 film, 'Ladri di biciclette'. His film is a homage and a transposition in time of the classic film of Italian neorealism, but not a pastiche. The script, also written by Matt Chambers, reuses some of the main ideas, situations and lines of action in Sica's film, transplanting the action in that part of contemporary London that most Englishmen and tourists ignore - the world of immigrants trying to find their place and build an identity in a world that offers them very few points of material or moral support. It is a film made with simplicity and sincerity, whose cinematic and acting qualities manage to make it interesting for film buffs who are interested in human and social dramas.

Viewers never know the name of the main hero. In fact, he spends much of his film with his face camouflaged by a motorcyclist's helmet. He is a Romanian immigrant and works at night delivering pizza to the customers of the restaurant run by Yusuf. The job is at the limit of legality, the moped used for deliveries is not insured. The boss also rents him the apartment where he lives with his wife - who works as a housekeeper - and his two children, a teenage girl who is a student, and a boy a few months old. His social integration is feeble. He speaks English only at a basic level and does not communicate much with his colleagues, immigrants from other continents. The family works hard and lives on the edge. When the moped entrusted to him by the boss is stolen - maybe bad luck, maybe the revenge of his colleagues - his whole existence is ruined. He is in danger of losing everything - his job, his housing, the means to support his family. The police do not help him because the moped was not insured and they seem more interested in checking whether he is not an illegal immigrant. We don't know much about this man, but he seems like a decent and honest person. However, the situation in which he finds himself cannot be resolved by honest means. As in the films of De Sica and of other Italian masters, the character is motivated by noble moral considerations, before all by devotion to his family, but life and the social conditions around put him in extreme situations.

The lead role is excellently played by Alec Secareanu. We can suspect that his lack of communication is not necessarily a character trait, and behind his silence there seems to be an untold life story. Anamaria Marinca is Elena, his wife, and I would have liked her role to be more consistent. Alexia Maria Proca debuts exceptionally in the role of the teenage daughter. The family scenes are interpreted with discretion and sensitivity. From the Romanian perspective, the film says something about the confrontation of many immigrants with the Western world that is far from welcoming them with open arms, and about the conflict of moral values between home education and the realities of the society in which they landed. However, director and screenwriter Matt Chambers did not insist on these issues, and from the point of view of a 'neutral' spectator, the film could be about immigrants from any other part of the world. The image signed by Nanu Segal adds quality to the film, bringing to the screen a London of the night, cold and dark, camouflaging its violence and contradictions. The conflict seems to be evolving slowly, but it is a gradation of slipping into the dark. Matt Chambers wrote and made a discreet film, but which conveys a significant message and has a remarkable emotional impact. Compared to the illustrious original that inspired him, 'The Bike Thief' does not come out very disadvantaged.

Pierrot le Fou
(1965)

the eye of Godard
The departure of Jean-Paul Belmondo gave us, the cinema lovers, the opportunity to see for the first time or to watch again some of the remarkable films that marked his career which started over 60 years ago. 'Pierrot le fou' directed in 1965 by Jean-Luc Godard presents Belmondo in a role that reminds us that the actor was one of the standard bearers of the New Wave, a role that can be considered a transition phase between experimental art cinema and the highly successful roles in popular films, which would become the mark of his career in the following years. Godard, the film's director, on the other hand, was walking the reverse path. 'Pierrot le Fou' is one of his latest films that seems to be made for the broad audiences. The tools are similar to the ones of the blockbusters and great action films of the era. The film dialogues with the American film school of the 50s that had profoundly influenced the cinema of Godard and of his colleagues of generation, but the way it is filmed and structured is in fact a reverent distancing from it.

The story almost prophetically anticipates movies like 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'Easy Rider'. A murder has been committed in which two lovers are involved. The two set off on a dangerous journey, fleeing from the police and the accomplices of the murdered man. This would sound like an action movie, but 'telling the story' interests Godard too little. This is just a pretext to describe feelings and reveal who his characters are. Within a few years, Godard had evolved from black and white to colour film, and his cinematographer Raoul Coutard filmed spectacularly, using the strong colours of the primary spectrum. The dialogues include more references to popular culture, poetry, literature, philosophy than to what happens to the heroes on screen. If we add to this the music of Antoine Duhamel what comes out is a film that externally resembles what colleagues of that generation such as Jacques Demy (Les parapluies de Cherbourg had come out a year before) and Claude Lelouch (Un homme et une femme would appear the following year) were making. But appearances deceive. The directors coming out of the crucible of the New Wave were already each stepping on completely different paths.

The lead roles belong to Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, both in their prime and on the uphill slopes of their careers. In this film, Belmondo abandons his 'voyou' clothes for those of an intellectual bourgeois bored with life, ready to give up comfort for a love story that overcomes the routine of life. The tragic dimensions of his character are convincingly outlined only towards the end. Anna Karina is beautiful and mysterious, attractive and dangerous. 'Pierrot le Fou' is probably the film in which she looks the best in her entire career. The relationship between the two heroes is actually part of a love triangle, but not in the conventional way of metaphor. The third tip of the triangle is the camera, playing the role, if you will, of the point of view of the spectator or the director. In many of the film's sequences, contrary to all previous conventions, the characters look at the camera, sometimes dialogue directly with it in words, other times flirting or expressing their feelings just by looking at us (or the cameraman, or the director). There is another layer of meaning to this production, as the filming took place a few months after Godard and Anna Karina broke up, and 'Pierrot le Fou' was to be the last of a series of films made together during that period that launched their respective careers. Godard sees and films Marianne Renoir, the character in the film, with the eye of the betrayed lover, still fascinated by her beauty, trying to understand her betrayal. Life sometimes not only beats the movie, sometimes life is part of the movie.

Die Reise mit Vater
(2016)

'you are so different'
'That Trip We Took with Dad' (the Romanian title is 'La drum cu tata', the German title is 'Die Reise mit Vater') is Anca Miruna Lazarescu's 2016 debut feature film. The director was born in Romania but has lived in Germany since childhood and was formatted in German film schools. 'That Trip We Took with Dad' is a film with a strong personal touch, inspired by the story of the life of the director's father and her family, possibly a kind of farewell to a past and complicated stage of her own biography. It is also an opportunity to recall a key moment in European history (the invasion by the USSR and some of its allies of Czechoslovakia in 1968) and the way it was lived in Romania and by the Romanians. I lived in that era and I was close to the age of the youngest of the film's heroes.'That Trip We Took with Dad' seemed interesting and authentic to me, almost a missed opportunity to be a great film.

The perspective is probably unique for most viewers, both because of geographical and cultural differences, but also due to the passing of half a century and the changes that have taken place during this time. In one of the key lines of the film, Ulrike (Susanne Bormann), a young German woman from the FRG tells Mihai, her Romanian friend (Alexandru Margineanu) 'You are very different'. The mentality gap caused by the different historical experiences of the same young generation in the two parts of Europe in 1968 is one of the central themes of the film. Mihai and Emil Reinholz, who had gone on a car trip to the German 'Democratic' Republic to find a surgeon to operate on their father, arrive, in the whirlwind of events after the invasion of August 22, 1968, in the 'free world' , ie in the Federal Republic. Young Romanians admire the reformist movement of the 'Prague Spring' and oppose the Soviet intervention and the re-Stalinization of Eastern Europe (including Romania). The young Germans they meet belong to the confused generation of 1968, admire socialism and ignore the realities of its application on the other side the Iron Curtain. They are united by their idealism, their aspiration for freedom and the music of the Beatles and the Stones, they are separated by their historical and life experiences and especially by their ignorance of the realities 'on the other side'. The Reinholz family is not without its contradictions either. The elder boy, a doctor, is obliged by the Romanian Securitate to be an informant in order to receive the right to travel and save his father. The West does not receive him with flowers either, and life there seems to demand similar compromises. The father is a former communist sympathiser, disappointed by the realities. Returning to Romania at that time, that path that was actually chosen by many who were in this situation, meant resuming the struggle for survival and a wait of another over 20 years until gaining freedom, along with all Romanians, at the fall of communism in 1989.

The story is interesting and the construction of the script is clever. The approach could be criticised for Manichaeism, the characters are drawn and judged from the start, but let's not forget that this is a personal perspective. For those who lived in communist Romania and for their descendants who talked to their parents and who know history well, it is clear who were the 'good guys' and who were the 'bad guys'. Some of the situations described in the film give the opportunity for memorable scenes (the children's games in the courtyard of the building in Arad, the Soviet tanks that almost crush the heroes, the conflicts in the East German detention center, the boys' song and the father's dance at the meeting with the German 'leftists'). I think that if the film had insisted on these directions, emphasising even the satire and the grotesque, the result could have been even more remarkable. Even so, I can only admire the performances of the team of actors with Alexandru Margineanu and Razvan Enciu in the role of the two young Romanians of German origin, whom I recognised as two fellows of my generation. Ovidiu Schumacher is also very good in the role of the father, and Susanne Bormann credibly plays the role of Ulrike, the young German of noble origin and with revolutionary sympathies. 'That Trip We Took with Dad' is an interesting film that manages to provide a personal perspective on the events of 1968 and to be a true document for those who did not live that period. For Anca Miruna Lazarescu this may be the start of a great career as film director.

John Wick: Chapter 2
(2017)

violent action and ... a good film
'John Wick: Chapter 2' (2017) is the second episode in a series featuring the character created by Derek Kolstad and directed by Chad Stahelski. Three instalments have been released so far and the fourth is in filming and will be released (if all goes according to plan) in 2022. Before launching into feature film directing Stahelski worked as a stuntman and stunts and special effects director for more than two decades, with over 75 movies in his filmography. It is therefore not surprising that the special effects in JW: C2 take up perhaps half of the screening time and that they are spectacular and professionally executed. But this is not the only reason why this film, and the whole series, competes and even surpasses in many ways competitors such as the series 'James Bond' or 'Mission Impossible'. Spectators who do not reject action films in principle and films filled with violence have many other reasons for satisfaction. JW:C2 is a movie that proves again that there are no good or bad genres, there are only good movies and bad movies. It is both violent entertainment and quality film. Yes, it is possible!

Why does 'John Wick' succeed where other series fight routine and result in movies that we easily forget half an hour after the end of the viewing? The main reason is, I think, John Wick himself, that is the character created and played by Keanu Reeves. The action story (full of contract killers, secret societies and global financial intrigues) in this film is no more believable than in many other films, and the series of coincidences that help the hero stay alive (usually) from the first to the last minute of the film it is as incredible as the huge pile of corpses and the amount of material destruction it leaves behind. However, the character created by Kolstad and Stahelski is exactly that kind of loner in constant battle with a hostile destiny that suits Reeves perfectly, in any kind of movie he appears in. Even though he never assumes an explicit superhero role, John Wick acts like a superhero, otherwise he has no chance of survival. And Reeves is the perfect actor for that.

The technical and visual qualities of the film are remarkable and fans of the genre will enjoy a real feast. The supporting characters (almost exclusively negative) have well-written lines and the interpretations are impeccable. Of course, Reeves' on-screen reunion with Laurence Fishburne, the partner in the first 'The Matrix' movies, is very interesting. I also noticed Riccardo Scamarcio and Ruby Rose, as a bad-guy and bad-gal respectively, almost up to their opponent as well as Lance Reddick, an actor with a style and nobility that captivates me every time he appears on screen. I recommend JW: C2 to all those who do not reject action movies from the start and who want to spend two hours of no-guilt dynamic entertainment.

7500
(2019)

a highjacking movie, but not like in Hollywood
'7500', the 2019 film by German director Patrick Vollrath is part of Amazon's efforts to position itself (and) as a film house, with original productions streamed with priority but not exclusively on its own channel. It belongs to the genre of hijacking movies, a fairly popular genre, including in Hollywood where it enjoyed beautiful budgets and the participation of famous actors. '7500' is a low-cost European version, but it has many qualities and original features. Patrick Vollrath debuts as a feature film director with this film, and demonstrates an excellent mastery of the profession and inspiration in the choice of means of expression. The result is a dynamic, minimalist and hyper-realistic film, which demonstrates that the genre does not need large investments and spectacular effects to create real tension and drama.

The story takes place almost in real time in the cockpit of a plane flying between Berlin and Paris. The cabin is locked over 95% of the time, as required by aviation regulations worldwide after 9/11. Shortly after takeoff a gang of terrorists take control of the passengers cabin and try to force entry into the cockpit to take control of the flight. The second pilot's girlfriend and mother of his child (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the only familiar actor in the cast) is a stewardess on the flight, which, of course, complicates the situation. Vollrath manages to transform the claustrophobic space of the cockpit into the location where most of the drama takes place, using from time to time the monitor that allows pilots to see the passenger cabin as a visual means of expanding the space of action. Unfortunately, the script writers, after building the premises excellently and credibly unfolding the story to a point of maximum intensity in which the refusal of a Hollywood solution seemed inspired to me, seem to have lost inspiration and the last part of the film is less original.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor I like and who is searching for his own path as he matures beyond the age of the handsome young man casting, probably chose this role as an exercise in acting very different from those played in genre films by stars such as Harrison Ford (or even Jodie Foster!). The other name to remember from the cast is that of Omid Memar who plays the role of a young Islamist who has fallen into the trap of fanaticism. The two actors manage to credibly build a conflict in which duty and feelings confront fanaticism, and they do everything they can to overcome in the final scenes a dialogue and an action that become predictable. The cockpit is the almost exclusively claustrophobic setting of the film, the director and producers choosing to use a real plane as an alternative to building the sets in the studios. The indications of the instruments are part of the setting and action, and from the comments I read I understand that they are perfectly simulated and synchronized. The filming also took place in several continuous sequences lasting many minutes, which strengthens the feeling of realism and real-time tracking of the action on the screen. '7500' is a very good action and psychological thriller for about the first two thirds of its screening duration. Too bad the screenwriters and the director did not have the courage and inspiration to continue it in the same way and returned towards the end, to use the terms of air transportation, to the safe flying paths, the ones already traveled too many times.

Die Wand
(2012)

the invisible wall
Something strange takes place in the opening scenes of 'Die Wand', the 2012 film by Austrian director Julian Polsler. A young woman travels on a trip to a remote cottage in the Alps with a couple of friends. They leave her alone for a short (shopping?) trip to the nearby village and do not return. The young woman goes in their search and finds that an invisible and impenetrable wall has appeared between the area where the cottage is located and the rest of the world. Or maybe the rest of the world has ceased to exist. Nobody comes looking for her. Alone in the middle of the mountains, with a dog, a cat and (conveniently) a cow she has to learn to survive by herself. A Robinson story, but without a shipwreck and with a woman as heroine. 'Die Wand' could be a horror movie, it could be a survival movie and it's a little bit of that, but it's also something else entirely.

One of the fundamental rules of the fantastic genre is respected, the heroine being suddenly thrown from a familiar and (psychologically) comfortable environment into a hostile and dangerous world. Director and screenwriter Julian Polsler, who brought to screen a novel by a writer named Marian Haushofer, is less interested in the technical details of survival than in the emotional confrontation of the woman left alone with the surrounding nature and herself, with her revolt followed by the action and with her struggle against resignation and despair. We do not know anything about her past, about those she left in the existence 'before', we do not even know her name. And yet, throughout the film we get to know and understand her, we identify with her efforts to preserve her dignity and humanity. We can guess that she is an ordinary person who, like most of us, is not at all prepared for such an extreme situation. She finds the resources for what she does in herself, in the will to keep a diary (which maybe no one will read) and the calculation of the days, in the company of animals and in harmony with nature.

Much of the film's persuasive power is due to Martina Gedeck, a formidable actress I know from 'The Lives of Others' and many other memorable German films. The relationship with nature plays an important role, but unfortunately I did not find in the list of credits on IMDB who authored the cinematography. The soundtrack, which belongs to Bernd Jungmair, uses copiously classical music, especially from Bach's compositions. Filled with symbols, more or less transparent about destiny and the human-nature relationship, 'Die Wand' managed to capture my interest throughout the screening and make me care about the fate of the heroine. The directing style is discrete and this is intentional, taking into account that a very good horror film could have been made starting from the same first 10-15 minutes. The result is a film in which extreme physical situations are not completely absent, but psychological extremes are more important.

Annette
(2021)

a musical in the world of Carax
Anyone who ventures to watch a film by Leos Carax must know that he has a good chance of going through a unique cinematic experience. 'Annette', which made its debut at the delayed Cannes Film Festival in 2021, is no exception. Of course, movie lovers can make attempts to place this film in one or more categories - for example musical, rock opera, family melodrama, social comedy - and they will all be right (with a high degree of approximation). 'Annette' is all these but first and foremost a Leos Carax movie - it's weird, dramatic, grotesque, sentimental, absurd, baroque, desperate. It is a film that you can expect a quarter of the audience to leave the cinema hall quite early during the screening, with many of the remaining ones being fascinated and enchanted until the last scene. This also happened at the screening I attended. Needless to say, I'm one of those who are irresistibly drawn into the fantasy world of Carax movies, and doesn't plan to escape from it anytime soon, even if 'Annette' has good chances of disappointing many of his fans.

The director warns us from the formidable scene that opens the film that we will witness a musical theatre show - a musical or rock opera, I never understood exactly the boundaries between these genres arelaid. We are invited backstage and on stage before the curtain rises. The actors, the extras, the choir, the musicians prepare for the show, gather and then go out together in an opening number filmed as a single long frame composed of many beautiful minutes. We meet the lead characters, a couple in love who are also celebrities: Henry is a stand-up comedian who balances humour about himself and cynicism. Ann is an opera singer specialising in roles that inevitably end with the death of the heroine. Henry and Ann declare their love in another memorable musical number. They're getting married. A child is born - Annette - who will not be an ordinary child. I stop here with the story so as not to spoil the pleasure of those who will see the film. I will only mention that there are many elements in the story that can be described as belonging to the romantic melodrama, that various and serious themes are approached, and that the rules of the musicals genre are strictly observed in the film which is almost completely missing spoken lines. And, of course, the film belongs to Carax's universe.

'Annette' doesn't seem want to be loved, but I loved a lot of things in it. The music belongs to the Mael brothers (a.k.a. Sparks group). Adam Driver's performance is formidable and I think I saw in this film one of the Academy Awards nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Marion Cotillard seemed a little underused in this film. It is also worth mentioning the performance of Simon Helberg, in a secondary, but significant role. The cinematography of Caroline Champetier creates the illusion of a stage show with special effects. The use of the wooden puppet that embodies Annette is worth a discussion. Many will love the solution, I was not excited. I understand that it is part of the concept, but the emotional distancing through aesthetics always makes me uncomfortable. In other of his films, I resonated with the characters of Leos Carax, even if I didn't always fully understand them. In 'Annette' the opposite happened. The characters in the film are open and explicit, but it was hard for me to identify with them. The film addresses some important issues - the star system, the avidity of the media in search of sensational and scandal, the violence of men in relationships, the exploitation of wonder artist children - but, avoiding sentimentality, the director installed a barrier between the story in the film and viewers that I I couldn't get through it completely. When does this usually happen to me? At some opera performances. Maybe, when we think of this film, out the phrase 'rock opera' what we have to remember is 'opera'.

No Escape
(2015)

running scared
It is impossible to comment on 'No Escape', the action film made in 2015 by John Erick Dowdle and written by him with his brother Drew, without thinking about international events in the news. An American family finds itself in the worst possible place at the worst possible time - in a foreign overseas country where a change of political regime has taken place and the lives of all foreigners are in danger. Communications are no longer working, the American embassy has been evacuated or occupied by the rebels, and the family has to make its way to freedom, at all price. The chosen path, in fact the only possible one, is violent, and the result is an action film in which things happen and are resolved as in Hollywood movies, but which also has current resonances and a political substratum.

'No Escape' succeeds because the screenwriters and the director have followed one of the rules that in some cases turn action movies into good cinema: they have created a gallery of characters whose fates viewers care about and can identify with, who go through credible experiences. The middle-class American couple played by Owen Wilson (in a dramatic role, very different from most of those played by the actor in other movies) and Lake Bell live with their two little girls an absolute nightmare, turning into a few hours from ordinary people living the experience of traveling to an exotic country in people running scared, fleeing murderous mobs in order to save their lives. Explicit violence and especially the use of children in the scenes where the two girls go through scaring experiences could be debatable, but director John Erick Dowdle managed in my opinion to create a perfect balance that makes the film captivating as an action film (there were scenes in which I literally sat on the edge of the chair) without slipping into manipulative extremes.

There is a third important character in the film, whose presence has a dual role - to save the American family in moments of action when everything seems lost and to make the connection between what we see on screen and the geopolitical reality of Indochina where the action is located (the film avoids naming the country exactly, and some details of the location are problematic). Pierce Brosnan's fans will be pleased to meet him in the role of an aging James Bond, who thinks and speaks like John le Carre's spies. 'No Escape' is a good action film, which could be considered a purely escapist movie if the subject were not so related to current events.

Black Widow
(2021)

feminism and comics
Scarlett Johansson is the super-heroine of the film 'Black Widow' directed by Cate Shortland and released on screens this summer (2021) with a delay of one year due, of course, to the pandemic. The film's producers (including Scarlett) have decided to postpone the release until the audience returns to theatres. Commercially, I think the decision was inspired, and the film, benefiting from the passion of the genre's fans after a year of abstinence, was devoured by those who were able to reach the cinema halls, and by those who accessed it on streaming. So Scarlett did her duty on screen as Natasha Romanoff, one of the super-heroines of the Avengers cycle returned from the death that had taken place in a previous series, and in the successful campaign to promote the film. Enthusiasts of the genre have passionately discussed how 'Black Widow' fits into the 'Marvel Universe', as an intermediate story between two series already released many years ago and a prelude to a sequel (or more) to appear in future. Fans less familiar or unfamiliar with comics-inspired movies have received a spectacular action movie, with a few original elements and quite a few other issues that they are not willing to forget as easily as fans do.

I'm not a fan of comic books and Marvel heroes are unfamiliar to me. So I can only judge what I saw, being aware that I miss many of the details. 'Black Widow' starts very promising. The lives of a middle-class American couple in Ohio and of their kid daughters are abruptly interrupted when the parents, Russian (ex-Soviet actually as the event took place in 1995) agents, have to flee instantly because their cover has been blown-up. They arrive in Cuba and the girls are traumatically separated from their parents, who turns out to be not even their real parents. There are intense scenes, related to the real world and feelings with which we can resonate. Unfortunately, the only ones. Jump in time, 21 years later. We understand that the two girls followed 'special' programs that turned them into ruthless killers, even endowed them with supernatural powers, and now belong to different camps of the geopolitical wars. Destiny reunites the two, and later with their 'cover' parents in a mission that I will not say about more than that it is, of course, about saving the world or something like that of the effects of a red-coloured powder that annihilates the power of decision and turn humans into robots subject to any order. Half of the film is action scenes, the other half the tribulations of the reunited family, which was not a real family, but is still brought together by the values of the struggle for good and truth. (I try to be as serious as I can when I write this!)

It is a film inspired by comics and the characters have a depth equal to the thinness of the sheet of paper on which they are drawn. The exception is Natasha, the character played by Scarlett Johansson (an actress I really like) and allow me to appreciate that this is one of her good roles at a time when her choices have raised many questions for me. But the superheroes can't afford to hesitate and doubt, and the film is, I think, a kind of handover within the series from Natasha to her sister Yelena, played by Florence Pugh, a British actress I see for the first time, talented and beautiful, but who will have to prove that she is able to carry the weight of films with the same aplomb as the magnetic Johansson. There is also an avalanche of feminist messages in this film directed by Cate Shortland, an Australian director with films of completely different genres in her record so far. All the heroines that matter are female, men are either bad guys or, in case they are not bad, they are ridiculous. Too explicit to be effective. 'Wonder Woman', for example, promotes the same kind of ideas, but makes it much more elegant. I can't say that I ended up watching 'Black Widow' too disappointed. As an informed spectator I knew what to expect. Excellent made technically, with captivating action scenes, the film will appeal to fans of action movies, and especially those inspired by comics. Experts in the 'Marvel Universe' will have new topics to debate for a long time to come. The rest of us we spent a couple of pleasant hours or so watching, and we'll quickly forget about everything we saw.

Le secret
(1974)

who is on the run?
The presence in the cast of Jean-Louis Trintignant, Philippe Noiret and Marlene Jobert should be enough to make 'Le secret', Roberto Enrico's 1974 film a memorable one. And yet this is an almost completely forgotten film. This seems completely incomprehensible to me, especially since besides the name and the acting of the three famous actors this is a film with many qualities, a psychological thriller of the best quality reminiscent of Hitchcock's films - compact, well written, with solidly built characters that cannot be easily forgotten. In addition, it is a very actual film. If it had been made today, it would undoubtedly have been characterised as a political thriller.

This film also finds me in a very rare moment of disagreement with the opinions of my favorite film critic, Roger Ebert, who saw the film and wrote about it shortly after its release. Come on, Roger, one star out of four? Too predictable? The story of the film revolves around the mystery of the identity of David, the hero played by Trintignant, who escaped from an nightmarish institution that can be a psychiatric asylum for dangerous lunatics but can also be a prison where those who oppose the political regime are deprived of liberty and tortured or perhaps those who unintentionally found out a secret dangerous for state security are harshly interrogated to find out how much they know. Is David a dangerous psychotic killer, a paranoiac conspiracy theorist, or an innocent man trapped in a Kafkaesque situation? There is a solution to this dilemma and an explanation of the situation of the hero, which we learn practically in the last scene and the upheavals of situations and perceptions happen permanently. The relationship between the fugitive and the couple of intellectuals (he is a writer, she is an artist) could be a classic triangle consisting of an escapee and a hostage pair, but it is much more, because the characters are nuanced, the man and the woman each have their reasons for acting the way they do, and the interpretations of Philippe Noiret and Marlene Jobert are profound and create empathy. The pace at which the plot unfolds is perhaps slower than fans of action movies would expect, but there are enough moments of tension, both events-wise and psychological.

I recommend the viewing to those who have the opportunity to watch or re-watch 'Le secret'. The pleasure of seeing together the trio of formidable actors will be combined with the encounter with a well-written film, with a remarkable soundtrack signed by Ennio Morricone, which finds a perfect place among the good achievements of French cinema of the '70s.

Chouans!
(1988)

love, swords and revolution
The most memorable of the lead heroes of 'Chouans!', the 1988 historical movie directed by Philippe de Broca is Count Savinien de Kerfadec played by the formidable Philippe Noiret. A man of the Enlightenment, an inventor passionate about science and reason but refusing to give up his faith, he is a character full of life, wisdom and humanity, who dominates the story and the film. Dramas and revolutions take place around him and his life is not spared by tragedies starting with the death of his wife at the birth of his only son, which takes place in the opening scene of the film, but his attitude remains serene and positive even when the world around him falls apart and social conventions collapse. This positive approach radiates throughout the film and makes the viewing experience captivating and, unexpectedly, optimistic, although the film unabashedly covers one of the bloodiest and most controversial periods in French history - the years of revolutionary terror.

Unlike many other films dealing with the events of the fall of the Bastille and the years that followed, 'Chouans!' it takes place neither in Paris nor at Versailles, and the heroes of the film are neither kings nor leaders of the revolution. The episode described in the film takes place in 1793-94 and is less well known - it is about the revolt of three departments in Brittany against the revolutionary regime of terror that had executed Louis XVI, a popular revolt but one incited by the nobility and the clergy who had lost their properties and privileges. The deep fracture of the French society of the time passes through the family of the liberal count of Kerfadec and among the three young people raised from childhood under his tutelage - his son, the daughter adopted on the same night of his son's birth, and another young man adopted a little later, in his childhood. The two men will end belonging to the opposing political camps, and their romantic rivalry will intensify, becoming a relationship mixing brotherhood and hatred.

Philippe de Broca brings back to the screen something of the light and optimistic approach from his youth films ('Cartouche', 'That Man from Rio') and the chosen solution works unexpectedly well, mitigating the drama of historical or fictional events that are presented on screen. The bloody confrontation between the revolutionary and royalist camps almost turns into a series of 'cape and sword' confrontations. The idea of inventing flying machines a century or so in advance is unexpected, funny and well inserted into the story. Political satire spares none of the camps, and the feelings of the triangle of young lovers will inevitably be influenced by the crumbling down of the world around them. Philippe Noiret dominates the film in one of his most complex and solid roles from the peak period of his career. Sophie Marceau was just 21 when she filmed 'Chouans!' and her talent and beauty shine. The two rivals are played by Lambert Wilson and Stephane Freiss, very suitable for their respective roles. The only major problem of this production stems in my opinion from the fact that what we see on the big screen (and lasts over 2 hours and 20 minutes) is an abbreviated version of a 4-hour television mini-series. The result is that in some places there are missing connecting scenes that would have clarified details of the story, and some of the (quite numerous) supporting characters do not have enough screen time to develop and reveal themselves to the public. It would be interesting if a complete copy of the film was restored and screened in cinemas or on television, after all nowadays a duration of almost 4 hours is not as intimidating as it was over 30 years ago. 'Chouans!' it is not only an important landmark in the careers of the filmmakers and actors who participated in its production, but also a pleasant and interesting film to watch today.

Tenet
(2020)

Christopher Nolan Plays Again with Time
In 'Tenet', the film that became famous for its complicated pandemic launch in 2020, screenwriter and director Christopher Nolan plays again with time. It is one of his recurring themes and the one that ensured his first great success with 'Memento'. More than two decades have passed since then, and the London-born director seems to be able to get any budget and attract the most outstanding acting and technical talents to turn his ideas into films for the big screens. 'Tenet', however, had a strange fate also because many spectators saw it in their own salons and not in cinemas halls that were closed due to the pandemic. It's a film that only Nolan could have written and directed, and like for many of his other films, the opinions of the viewers are extremely polarised. I confess that 'Tenet' left me confused, and this is not only because it has a complicated story, which uses phenomena from a science of physics that I do not claim to have understood.

It is one of those films reviewers should write as little as possible about their story, so as not to rob the interest and pleasure of those who have not seen it yet. We are dealing with heroes who save the world as in movies like James Bond or Mission Impossible, and we are also dealing with time travel based on a scientific premise explained in detail. Intense efforts and a lot of money have been invested in both directions. It is an almost non-stop action film, which fits well with the mentioned blockbusters, both in terms of visual effects and geographical sceneries (we are taken through Mumbai, Kiev, Oslo, Geneva, Vietnam, etc.). Time travel is detailed from the perspective of several characters, and lovers of temporal paradoxes can enjoy several such situations. The film has undeniable visual qualities and the originality of the special effects has been deservedly rewarded with an Academy Award.

My problem with Christopher Nolan's films is that they fail to engage me emotionally while I am watching. I always appreciate them more retrospectively, when I think about them and when I intellectually decant what I have seen, but I have to make an effort to follow them in real time. This is exactly what has happened to me now. I'm a fan of action movies, but the combination with temporal science fiction was difficult to watch and made the story confusing at times. I am also passionate about intelligent science fiction, but in 'Tenet' the abundance of explanations seemed excessive to me, they did not make the story clearer and there was no need for so much science for viewers who are accustomed to cinematic pretexts. One of the qualities of the film is that the characters evolve or are gradually revealed to us, many of them being more than stereotypes, but even so they did not manage to involve me emotionally.

John David Washington is an anti-hero cast in a role similar to those routinely undertaken by Tom Cruise, and the scenes in which he interacts with the character played by Elizabeth Debicki are about the only ones that caused mes some real emotion. Another interesting casting is that of Keneth Branagh as a 'bad guy' like in the James Bond movies. In general, it is a first-rate cast, but I don't think any role here will remain among the 'best' of the stars in the credits. It was a pleasure to watch Michael Caine again, even if in one scene only, especially since he plays a character named Sir Michael. Otherwise, the film was for me visually spectacular, but confusing. I recommend future viewers not to try to understand too much, or to wait until after watching, when the opinion about what they saw will start to improve. I personally miss the simplicity of the idea and the minimalism in 'Memento'.

Il racconto dei racconti - Tale of Tales
(2015)

gory tales
'Il racconto dei racconti' (or 'Tale of Tales' in the English version) made in 2015 proves once again that Matteo Garrone is one of the most significant Italian directors of the moment, able to approach various genres with self-confidence and a perfect mastery of means of expression, while bringing his contributions and personal vision in each of his films. Based, but without faithfully adapting, on three of the stories in the collection of Giambattista Basile, an Italian equivalent of the Brothers Grimm, Garrone's film builds a gallery of colorful and credible characters, and around them a world populated with monsters and medieval castles, with passions and violence, in which the viewer is transported and absorbed during the over two hours of screening. The combination of fairy tales and horror, present in the subtext and in the bolder cinematic interpretations of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales, is explicit here, and the result is even more than a collection of fairy tales for adults.

The three stories are interleaved and independent, they come together in a final scene that has no impact on separate narrative threads, united by the space of legend in which they occur - a late Middle Ages that coexist with the world of legends with kings and princesses who live in castles surrounded by forests populated by animals, monsters and ogres. The kings and princesses of the three kingdoms, who are the heroes of the stories, suffer from the same existential diseases and traumas that humanity is haunted to this day, but to deal with them they have at hand magic and spells instead of the contemporary science and its experts. A king and a queen cannot have children and the solution is suggested to them by a monk or maybe a wizard who proposes a Faustian deal. The result will be the birth of two twins through a birth that today we would call artificial, whose destinies will be united despite differences in rank. Another king spends his nights in debauchery, until he hears the voice of a woman who charms him, but the voice does not belong exactly to the young virgin he had imagined. Finally, the king of the third kingdom maintains a flea as a pet with disastrous consequences, including for his only daughter sent to marry an ogre who solves the oracle problem that was the condition for acquiring the princess' hand. The stories take place in a setting of legends created by Alessia Anfuso, the characters are dressed in magnificent costumes and extremely precise in details created by Massimo Cantini Parrini, and everything is superbly filmed by Peter Suschitzky. Remarkable is the use of classic movie studio effects with a minimal amount of computer graphics.

Each of these stories has equivalents in the world of fairy tales we know, but the screenwriters who adopted Basile's stories avoid the beaten path. The twins will not change their identities as in 'Prince and Beggar', the ogre will prove cruel and violent to the end unlike the cursed prince in 'Beauty and the Beast' and only the return to youth will prove to be temporary as in ' Youth Without Old Age'. Narrative twists often include a dose of naturalistic and horror violence, but they are packed in cinematic beauty and expressiveness. Remarkable is the psychological depth of most of the characters, the result of intelligent writing and acting talent. The queen embodied by Salma Hayek evolves from a loving wife who is ready to do anything to give birth to a child to a black widow and an possessing mother. Toby Jones and Bebe Cave embody a father-daughter couple in which he, the king, is dominated by his esoteric passions, and she, a princess, must find the strength alone to face terrible trials. The only wasted talent seemed to me to be that of Vincent Cassel, an actor I really like, but who here could not overcome the limitations of the role of a king sexually obsessed to the level of ridicule, a character to whom he added nothing of his usual intelligence and charm.

The beginning and the end frame the stories in a space of legend like the ones told in popular fairs, but these are not exactly the innocent fairy tales that were told to us as children.

La prima notte di quiete
(1972)

Alain Delon between social and existentialist drama
'La prima notte di quiete', the 1972 film by Valerio Zurlini , has three different titles. It was released on the English speaking market as 'Indian Summer', a title that has an explanation somewhere in the film, but has little to do with what happens on screen. In France it is known as 'Le professeur'. The film is an Italian-French co-production, but can be considered as belonging to Italian cinema. It is the penultimate of the only nine feature films left by Zurlini, a director whose life and career have been roo short, enough to leave behind a few solid films, including this one, but no masterpiece. 'La prima notte di quiete' can be described as being somewhere between a romantic social drama and existential cinema. It is an interesting film, with many qualities, even if it fails to reach the peaks of those years by Pasolini or Antonioni, the masters of the respective genres in the Italian cinema of the time.

The film opens with a very beautifully filmed scene (like the whole film) on kind of a 'Quai des Brumes'. The lonely man by the sea is the literature teacher Daniele Dominici (Alain Delon), who has just arrived in the city of Rimini, which in this film looks more like a port city at the North Sea than on the Adriatic Sea. We are in the early '70s, in the midst of a sexual revolution, and the teacher has been in a relationship sprinkled with infidelity on both sides and routinely threatened by boredom for several years with Monica (Lea Massari), a woman his age (30+). He tries to balance his life with a passion for card games, which gets him in touch with the libertine underworld environment of the city. Daniele notices in his class Vanina (Sonia Petrovna), a 19-year-old young woman. The interest for the girl, who is beautiful and different from her colleagues, turns into attraction, and then into devouring passion, despite or maybe just fuelled by differences in age, class and culture, and by the dangerous environment and dubious entourage of the girl.

Zurlini planned to make out of this film a first episode in a more complex social and family saga, covering several decades of post-war Italian history. There are some clues in the film about the teacher's father, a venerated hero who fell in the war, and the ending broadens the context by alluding to the family that does not play another role in the plot. As this film remained the only one in the planned cycle, it remains rather a snapshot of a specific moment in the history of Italy - the early 70s - and of a well-defined social environment, that of provincial cities touched by a modernity with mixed consequences while facing a conservatism of another era that is struggling to maintain its influence. Alain Delon creates a role specific to this peak period of his career, that of the man who internalises his feelings in an inner boil. Sonia Petrovna is a fascinating partner, with a look foretelling Monica Bellucci, in the role of a brutally grown-up young woman. In addition to Lea Massari, Alida Valli, another legend of Italian film, also appears in an episodic role. Dario Di Palma's cinematography brings to life the image of a coastal Italy very different from that of tourist postcards. Some frames are anthological, such as that of the sea and the sky captured in the same grey colour and separated only by a restless horizon line. Mario Nascimbene's soundtrack uses copiously jazz music with saxophone and trumpet solos. There are many good reasons to see 'La prima notte di quiete' and just as many reasons to regret that this film remained just a building block of an unfinished edifice.

Sabrina
(1954)

The Beauty and the Corporate Beat
In 1954, when 'Sabrina' was made, the film's director, Billy Wilder, and the three actors who played the lead roles (Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) had each won at least one Oscar. 'Sabrina', an entertainment movie, a romantic comedy of sorts that would have no chance at such awards nowadays, was also nominated for six awards. In the end, it won just one, for the best costumes, the film marking the beginning of Audrey Hepburn's collaboration with the fashion house of Givenchy. This is probably the only award that the film would have deserved. 'Sabrina', seen 67 years after its premiere, has some interesting qualities, but these are not necessarily the ones that were appreciated at the time.

Wilder's 'Sabrina' belongs to the genre of escapist films set in the world of the rich, a genre that enjoyed great success in the United States in the 1930s - the years of the economic crisis and the long period of recovery that followed. The war brought other topics to focus in the next decade, but the genre reappeared in the early 1950s. Success was not the same an America that had changed a lot, much more prosperous and socially dynamic. The Cinderella story we are wittnessing, set in the luxurious East Coast mansion belonging to the Larrabees, a tycoons family, and their sumptuous Manhattan offices, is as unbelievable as the fairy tale that inspired it. It is proof that the gap between some of the products of the Hollywood film industry and reality is not something new, but rather a permanence in the history of American cinema.

Films of this kind largely relied on the personal talent and charm of their stars, and 'Sabrina' was no exception. The problem could have been that when the film was made, the couple to fall in love was played by Bogart who was 55 and Audrey who was 25. The writers tried to alleviate this difference by creating for Bogart a role of 'corporate beast', a workaholic aging man whose life was dedicated to the family business, but the change of affection of the girl embodied by Audrey Hepburn is still not convincing. Like in the legend and the movies about 'Beauty and the Beast', to use another comparison with the world of fairy tales and fairy tale-inspired movies. Instead, in the perspective of the 67 years since its making, another unexpected effect appears. Humphrey Bogart's Linus Larrabee, a rather atypical role in the actor's filmography, looks unexpectedly contemporary, a corporate capitalist that today, if a remake was made, the screenwriters would put at the top of the pyramid of a global hi-tech corporation and not many other things should be changed. Audrey Hepburn is a charming and out-of-this-word, as in all her appearances on screen. Charles Lang's cinematography offers a few unexpected glimpses of beauty, and so does the music with a few songs composed by Friedrich Hollaender that play an important role in the story. 'Sabrina' looks obsolete in many ways, but re-viewing it today we can understand many of the reasons why it was successful at its time.

The Loft
(2014)

a confusing remake
'The Loft' could have been a special remake. Director Erik Van Looy crossed the ocean with the idea of his successful film 'Loft' made in Belgium in 2008 and directed the American version himself, which was released in 2014. I did not see the original film, but the IMDB reviews and user comments indicate that this is another Americanized adaptation that fails to reconstruct the qualities of the production that inspired it. The film looks like a combination of a Hitchcock-like 'whodunit' with an erotic thriller, not completely devoid of cinematic qualities, but without enough emotion and suspense to justify the crossing of the ocean.

The starting point of the story is the same as in a few other European movies - a group of men, friends, all married in this case, lead libertine lives, sprinkled with extra-marital adventures. In this case, they buy a downtown apartment to bring here their casual relationships away from the eyes of the world and especially of their wives. Vice is to be paid for sooner or later, and the punishment appears in the form of the corpse of a murdered woman. As only the five of them know the secret of the apartment and as each of them has a key, the culprit is one of them. So we are in a version of the mysteries 'whodunit' in a closed room, like Agatha Christie, where everybody suspects everybody else, but the social ambiance is middle class plus and the setting is one of the large American cities.

The police intrigue is quite complicated, and it is revealed to us through the police investigation, the discussions between the five men and the flashbacks all these trigger. This could have been quite interesting, but here is the main problem of this production, in my opinion. There are too many characters, and the cast and interpretations do not differentiate them in many cases. It may be that the fact that director Erik Van Looy knows his characters so well has been an obstacle in clarifying them for viewers. As the film looks, I lost interest in the story, and worse, was confused as I had the feeling that many characters have at least one double (the immoral husbands, their mistresses, their wives, the corrupt businessmen, etc.). 'The Loft' is well filmed, but despite the visual qualities it failed to engage or interest me.

L'histoire d'Adèle H.
(1975)

mad love
'The Story of Adele H.' made in 1975 is one of François Truffaut's most beautiful films. If I had to choose one film to illustrate the second half of his career, I think I would choose this one. It is a seemingly simple film that tells an obsessive love story that could be told in many ways, that could easily slip into the grotesque or 'horror' but which manages to avoid all the pitfalls and remain sincere and emotional. The film is inspired by a real biography, that of the unhappy life and love story of Adele, Victor Hugo's daughter, and although I am very cautious about films that visibly expose the label 'authentic story' I think this time the label fits. I don't know how faithful the screenplay is to the historical details, to the letters exchanged by Adele with her famous father, or to the personal diary kept by the heroine, but I think that the film, beyond factual authenticity, has another much more important quality - artistic authenticity.

In many languages of the Earth we find expressions like 'crazy love' or 'madness out of love'. Love and madness are close states. Adele's story is such a case. Victor Hugo's young and beautiful daughter (Isabelle Adjani), who lived in exile with her parents on one of the Channel Islands, traumatized by the death of her sister, drown at sea, falls in love with a young British officer, Lieutenant Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson). The young man is handsome but a womaniser style Don Juan by nature and a games addict on top, so Adele's family refuses their intention to get married. The officer leaves for a new garrison in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Adele travels in his footsteps. To her despair, Albert nowrejects her, he already went on to his next adventures. Adele is not only ready to do anything (including lies, intrigue, harassment) to regain her love, but as her attempts fail one after the other, she refuses to accept reality. Love becomes obsessive and turns into a spiral of madness. The society that had protected her until then (as the relatively rich daughter of a great personality of the time) becomes hostile to her and will eventually crush her, but when that happens, psychologically, she was already lost.

Isabelle Adjani was 19 when she filmed 'Adele H.' François Truffaut models her as he knew how to do with many of the formidable actresses he has cast in his films, and Adjani dominates the film with her fascinating beauty, embodying the passion that becomes obsessive over time. At a certain point the story could have slid into horror, but this doesn't happen. The love that turns into madness destroys, but the main victim is the heroine herself, who eventually ends up not recognising her former lover. Passion, turned abstract, had devoured his very image. The cinematography, which belongs to Néstor Almendros, also focuses on the image of the heroine, emphasising the contrasts between naive beauty and inner storms, between the white of the skin, the elegance of the silhouette and the cold, wet and dark roughness of the interiors and nature around her. 'The Story of Adele H.' is the film that brings François Truffaut the closest to the status of master of the art of cinema.

Funeral in Berlin
(1966)

Harry Palmer, an anti-Bond
Over time, spy films about the Cold War have become historical films, but they have not always been so. In 1966, when Guy Hamilton made 'Funeral in Berlin', the film could have been categorised as a 'actuality film'. Of course, actuality fiction, because it is actually the screening of a novel by Len Deighton, the second in a series of three films starring the English secret agent Harry Palmer. The first was 'The Ipcress File' which had been successful. It was the decade in which the James Bond film series, which would have a much longer cinematic life, was also released. Ian Fleming and Len Deighton wrote spy novels in different manners, and the films inspired by their novels also took diverging directions. Fleming was heading for adventure and commercial entertainment where the identity of the enemies didn't matter much, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the James Bond series continued after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Deighton was more attentive to the technical and political details of the Cold War, and the three films in this series inspired by his novels more accurately reflect the period, in a cinematic style approaching the film noir genre.

Michael Caine's Harry Palmer is a hero different in many ways of James Bond, who at that time was played bySean Connery. It is, if you wish, an anti-Bond. Unlike Bond, who has an impeccable record, Palmer has a dubious past, in which he was involved with the world of crime. Bond casually collects sentimental conquests, while Palmer, when he falls for a gorgeous girl, immediately smells the trap. Finally, and perhaps the most significant difference, Bond lightly uses his 'license to kill' while Palmer's gun remains loaded throughout the film, even when he receives an explicit order to eliminate an opponent.

Guy Hamilton, who had previously directed 'Goldfinger' in the James Bond series, changes the register with versatility and manages to create an espionage thriller in which the plot and the relationships between the characters are credible and have a greater weight than the action part (which is not completely missing either). The excellent cinematography of Otto Heller uses filming on location in the Berlin divided by the infamous wall, and those scenes have a documentary authenticity. Michael Caine, whose popularity and the success that came after owes a lot to the three films in this series, acts smarttly, with discretion and humor, the role of Palmer. I also noticed in the cast Eva Renzi as a superb Mossad agent, and Oskar Homolka, who was one of the Austrian Jewish actors who took refuge in the United States before World War II, in the role of Soviet Colonel Stok, who triggers the story, announcing his intention to defect to the West. What follows is worth watching. 'Funeral in Berlin' is an interesting film for the context in which it was made, but also as entertainment for spy movie lovers and not only for them.

Comment je me suis disputé... (ma vie sexuelle)
(1996)

a saga in a cup of espresso
The first thing that strikes at the 1996 film directed by Arnaud Desplechin is the title: 'Comment je me suis dispute ... (ma vie sexuelle)' (or in English 'My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument). It is a title almost as impossible as that of Radu Jude's latest film that received the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, a title that wants to state even before the screening begins that the viewer will have a cinematic experience that is from the usual patterns. The second thing those who read the film sheet notice is the duration: three hours minus two minutes. Today it has become more common for films to last at least two hours, and productions lasting about two and a half hours are not uncommon either, but in the previous century, even in its last decade, such a duration was mainly reserved for the genre of the historical saga, and the screening was divided into two series. This is not the case with 'Comment ....' (you'll excuse my abbreviation, I hope) which is a unitary cinematic work and which is in fact a comic drama contemporary to the period in which the film was made, having as heroes a group of French intellectuals in their 30s, their bonds of friendship and love, conflicts, love affairs and separations. On one hand it is a complex film because of the fabric of intrigue and the evolution of the characters, on the other hand it is a surprisingly simple film if we analyze carefully what is actually happening on the screen.

I guess that one of the inspirational models of the screenwriter and director were those films of Woody Allen that take place in the intellectual circles of the northeast coast of the United States. We follow a group of friends, mostly students or in the first years after graduation, who seem to live in a kind of sentimental commune, sharing their adventures and almost casually freely swapping partners. When things take a more serious turn, psychoanalysis and its variants appear. The off-screen commentary is copiously used, sometimes in the 3rd person in Nouvelle Vague style, other times in the 1st person, as if made from the patient's couch. The main hero is Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Almaric), professor of literature and doctoral student at a prestigious university, whom we will see separating from Esther (Emmanuelle Devos), his mistress on-off for ten years, entering a risky adventure with the unstable and sometimes violent Valerie (Jeanne Balibar), and dreaming of Sylvia (Marianne Denicourt) who is the mistress of his best friend, Nathan (Emmanuel Salinger). His professional life is capped, with a doctoral thesis whose completion seems to last an eternity, and to make things worse, a former friend and now rival, in fact a nullity with pretensions, gets a better position as an associate professor in the same faculty. Achieving his aspiration to follow the intellectual path that attracts him and to write literary criticism involves giving up his academic career. The ending is not too different from the beginning. A few years passed from the life of the heroes and three hours from that of the spectators.

The film alternates dialogues between the young people with scenes from intimacy, plus flashbacks that clarify the biographies and paths of the heroes in previous years. The verbosity is intense and a bit lacking in depth, with dialogues that mostly take place at restaurants, parties or in bed, with diary pages and letters sent and not sent, with testimonials in video-documentary style. Arnaud Desplechin manages to create some anthological scenes when he goes to extremes emphasising the comic or emotional elements (with the help of the excellent Emmanuelle Devos). The whole team of actors is remarkable, and we can say that this is the film of a generation of young French intellectuals played by a representative selection of a generation of young French actors. The lead role belongs to Matthieu Amalric, for whom 'Comment ...' was the first film in which he was cast in a consistent role. The interpretation is remarkable. Paul Dedalus seems to be a late teenager who refuses to mature sentimentally but also to abandon his ideals, and his family name can be considered an allusion to the sentimental and professional labyrinth, full of wrong paths and attempts to come to light in which his life takes place. The detached approach and the alternating counterpoint of the intellectual, sentimental and comic scenes make the film enjoyable to watch and attenuates the effort of the three hours of viewing. Would the movie have been better if it had lasted an hour less? We will never know, but we would have certainly missed the opportunity to discuss this topic.

Une aussi longue absence
(1961)

the exceptional debut of Henri Colpi as director
Henri Colpi's directorial debut film, 'Une si longue absence' (the English title is 'The Long Absence'), won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1961 with 'Viridiana' by Luis Bunuel. Such a distinction should have launched a formidable career, especially since Colpi was not an unknown name, already having significant contributions as director of editing in films such as 'Hiroshima Mon Amour' by Alain Resnais. And yet, the promises have not been fulfilled. Although he continued to make contributions to many films, some remarkable, most in TV or film editing, his career as a feature films director counted a total of only five films and none of those that followed managed to approach economy of means and artistic refinement in 'Une si longue absence'. Was it because of the lack of synchronisation with some of the principles of the New Wave? Maybe he never received again a screenplay like the one written by Marguerite Duras for this film? We can only regret, because 'Une si longue absence', seen 60 years after its making, is a remarkable film in many ways. The decision of the Cannes jury in 1961 was fully justified. Colpi's debut film had its place on the same high step of the podium together with Bunuel's masterpiece.

The story takes place in a small bistro in a French village, somewhere on the road between Paris and the south of France and in the surrounding square and streets. We are in 1960 and the traces of the Second World War are still visible on the walls of the old church but especially in the minds and souls of the local people. Some continue to talk about the war and link the news with about the endless conflicts France seemed to be involved it to the events of that time, others continue to live the traumas of the disappearances of loved ones. Among the latter is the owner of the bistro, Therese Langlois (Alida Valli), who never stopped waiting for her missing husband, arrested by the Gestapo and taken prisoner in Germany in the last year of the war. When a vagabond (Georges Wilson) appears on the streets of the village, a man who seems to have forgotten his identity as a result of a trauma that also took place at that time, it seems to Therese, and later she becomes more and more convinced, that he is her missing husband. The woman who never stopped carrying the love for the lost man in her soul will try all sorts of tricks to help the tramp remember something about his past - from playing opera music on the music box in the restaurant to inviting him to dance, from reciting loud the family history to serving his favourite types of cheese. Will these attempts succeed? Is he the man Therese is looking for, or is it more about an embodiment of a love that has no concrete substance?

The story is told with minimalist artistic means, and here, as in the way the nature and streets of the city are filmed (the cinematography belongs to Marcel Weiss) it is felt thatHenri Colpi was not at all detached from the cinematic techniques introduced by the New Wave. On the other hand, the dialogues are literary chiseled (Marguerite Duras' contribution is obvious) and the acting continues a style specific to classic French cinema. Both Alida Valli and Georges Wilson create admirable, sensitive and restrained role. The combination of the wide screen and the black and white film is excellently used in several multi-shot scenes, which avoids changing the shooting angles. The sets manage to transport us to the era and Georges Delerue's music dramatically punctuates the story, also introducing a beautiful theme song ('Trois petites notes de musique'). Emotionally and cinematically, 'Une si longue absence' is outstanding. We can only regret that Henri Colpi did not manage to continue his career as a director with films of the same quality as this debut.

Changeling
(2008)

a mother searching for her son
I hesitated quite a bit before deciding to dedicate 2 hours and 20 minutes of my time to watching Clint Eastwood's 2008 movie 'Changeling'. One of the reasons is Clint himself, I'm not one of his enthusiastic fans, and every time I face a film of his, the result is that I appreciate the film, including his talent and professionalism as a director, but I can't say I like it. There is something in his subjects and in the rigidity of his approach that keeps me at a distance. In addition, this film strongly desires to warn the audiences starting from the poster and from the introducing titles that it is based upon a 'true story'. Paradoxically, this kind of aggressive marketing makes me pay close attention to the artistic authenticity of the film, which depends on many other factors that have nothing to do with the anecdotal detail that what we see on screen is faithful or very faithful to events that happened in reality. Some of my fears were confirmed by watching 'Changeling', but fortunately there are many other reasons why at the end of watching the viewers have a chance to be satisfied even if they are not among Clint's fans.

Most of the story takes place in Los Angeles in 1928, with an ending that lasts until 1935. That was the year before the Great Depression and the end of a period of expansion in California. Angelina Jolie (Angelina Jolie) is what today we call a 'single mother'. Her husband left her on the birthday of their son, Walter, and she works hard at the telephone company to ensure a decent living. One day, on a Saturday when she was called to work, 9-year-old Walter disappears. Kidnapped? Murdered? Strange events took place in California at that time, including the disappearance of children. After a few months, the police announce that Walter has been found on the other side of America, but when he appears, Christine is convinced that the boy police brought to her is not her son. From here the action branches into two parallel threads. One is a social drama about the single woman facing a corrupt system that refuses to admit mistakes and goes so far as to lock her up in a psychiatric institution to make her accept the official version. The other is a police investigation into the abduction of children, possibly related to the boy's disappearance. Spectators will judge the extent to which the two threads of the story merge and clarify each other.

Clint Eastwood seems to love so much the cinema of the 60s and 70s, the timewhen he was at the peak of his acting career, that even now, when he is a well-known director, some the films he directs have a flavour that belongs to that era. The 2008 'Changeling' is a film about the late '20s that seems to have been made in the' 70s. The screenplay written by J. Michael Straczynski has an interesting idea, switching over two cinematic stereotypes. Unlike a few other Hollywood movies that retrospectively forgive the LAPD and its officers of any guilt in connection with the violent methods used to fight organised crime, in 'Changeling' the police plays the role of the 'bad guys', while to the help of the single woman fighting the system comes as the 'good guy' a preacher with a radio audience, the kind of those who would gain a much worse reputation, at least in movies. John Malkovich seems a bit over-cast in the role of Pastor Gustav Briegleb. I greatly appreciated the acting performance of an actor I didn't know, Jason Butler Harner in the role of a criminal the kind that Peter Lorre was undertaking in the 1930s in the films of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. Angelina Jolie didn't convince me here either that she deserves her acting fame. Tom Stern's cinematography, on the other hand, is remarkable, with scenes filmed on location appropriately enhanced by computers to reconstruct the topography of the period, plus an impressive parade of cars of the time. I also liked the music, chosen and composed by Eastwood himself - discreet enough not to bother and expressive enough to emphasize the mood, with a main theme that deserves to be added to the playlist of famous musical themes. For me, 'Changeling' - like other Eastwood-directed films - failed to engage me emotionally, but many of its artistic qualities are to be appreciated and make the film worth watching.

En liberté!
(2018)

undoing wrongs
'En liberte!', The 2018 French comedy directed by Pierre Salvadori, opens with a scene that seems to be taken from an action movie with super-cops made in the 60s. The scene, in which a brave policeman neutralizes a large crowd of gangsters, a scene that is repeated with variations several times throughout the film, is actually the summary of the bed-time story told by the film's heroine, police lieutenant Yvonne Santi (Adele Haenel) to her son falls to have him fall asleep, recounting the heroism of her husband, also a police officer, who fell on the line of duty two years before. It so happens that Yvonne discovers the true face of her ex-husband: not a hero, but a corrupt policeman, who also destroyed the life of a young man named Antoine (Pio Marmai), whom he had innocently imprisoned. Antoine, wrongfully convicted, is on the verge of release. Policewoman Yvonne will try to make up for some of her husband's injustice. Is redemption possible?

'En liberte!', the French title of the film, can have several meanings in French. It literally means 'released', as Antoine finds himself, awaited by his wife Agnes (Audrey Tautou), free to resume his life from the point where it was interrupted by injustice. However, the second meaning would have been 'unleashed', also fit, because in prison Antoine had both accumulated anger for the years of his youth that he had been deprived of and had also learned violent methods to express his frustrations. Yvonne, who experiences her own frustrations and faces loneliness by refusing the advances of another fellow police officer, will try to fix what her missing husband had destroyed - Antoine's life. It is not an easy task, and the risk that the young man who went through the 'prison school' will be the one to draw the young police woman on the slope of mental imbalance and crime is permanently present.

The cast is blessed by the presence of Audrey Tautou in a supporting role, which she plays very well. What I found fascinating is the fact that the excellent actress Adele Haenel takes over exactly the type of heroine played by Tautou in some of the previous films - physical beauty doubled and amplified by an inner radiance and goodness, intelligence and emotional maturity that guides her in doing good to those around, sometimes in spite of themselves, risking and sacrificing a lot for others around. I had noticed first Adele Haenel in the film 'La fille inconue' by the Dardenne brothers, then I admired her in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Her role in this film confirms to me that she is one of the most talented and full of personality actresses of her generation. The story, quite improbable in fact, manages to pass the screen due to her charm and the one of her partner Pio Marmai, and to the cinematic approach that is a combination of romantic movie and comedy with cops in the good French tradition of the gendarme from Saint Tropez movies, updated to today's realities of the cities on the French Riviera. 'En liberte!' it's a more than enjoyable movie and those looking for quality entertainment in the summer months can find it here.

The House That Jack Built
(2018)

anatomy of evil
I have a proposal for those who have not yet seen 'The House That Jack Built', Lars von Trier's latest film (2018). Try to forget who the director is. I know it's not easy, because we are dealing with a person and a personality who provokes and shocks, who seeks and attracts scandals and who knows that advertising is best when it's bad. My opinion, after watching this film to which the 2018 Cannes Film Festival scheduled only a premiere out of competition, is that the attitudes and reactions triggered by this film are much more extreme than the film itself. It is a dissection and a psychological analysis of a serial killer, developed with effusion over two and a half hours of screening, but I did not find in this film anything that would shock me more than what I experienced for example at the screenings of 'The Silence of the Lambs' or 'Zodiac' and the graphic visual details do not exceed what we saw in the countless films in the series 'Scream', 'Halloween' or 'Elm Street', not to mention the violent and psychological intensity of the films of Tarantino, Lanthimos or von Trier himself. Whoever manages to separate this film from the advertising shell of the image that the director is trying to build to himself will have many reasons for cinematic satisfaction.

Von Trier assumes in 'The House That Jack Built' the risk of describing five episodes of the blood and corpse-laden journey of a serial killer. At one point, Jack, the hero of the film, played by Matt Dillon, confesses to his future victim that he committed 60 murders and is about to commit the 61st. One of the messages of the film may be that one should believe the statements of those who confess to criminal inclinations and bloody sins. Why is von Trier a special case? Other directors who have approached such themes and characters have not faced similar dangers, but von Trier has made enough other extreme films (but also some sublime ones) as well as shocking statements, so that when he speaks evil we may be tempted to believe him. Jack's travel partner in the film is most of the time a voiceover borrowed from Bruno Ganz, that of a character named Verge, who receives Jack's confessions and forces him to look for the roots of the deeds he commits. Is there any possible justification? Is there any other alternative end to this journey than in one of the hottest circles of Hell?

Matt Dillon succeeds to create in 'The House That Jack Built' one of the best roles of his career confirming the statistics that make the roles of psychotic criminals career peaks for the actors who play them. Bruno Ganz - in one of his last roles, he would die less than a year after the premiere of this film - creates an excellent counter-character in Verge, and the use of off-screen dialogue between the two is in this case perfectly justified. Lars von Trier copiously uses the collage technique by inserting animation, sequences from his own films, documentary sequences (including with characters embodying the evil that Hitler and Mussolini) and musical sequences such as those with pianist Glenn Gould. The original music and the soundtrack belong to Víctor Reyes and the cinematography to Manuel Alberto Claro, the faithful director of cinematography of von Trier for more than a decade. The America described by von Trier (who has never visited the North American continent) is perfectly believable, the realism of the scenes amplifying the horror effect. The combination of sophisticated references, core dialogue, psychological analysis of the character on the one hand and his behaviour on the screen on the other hand can be confusing and shocking, but it is interesting and asks questions that seem legitimate to me about how evil can be represented on screen. Anyone who knows von Trier's films understands that he rarely compromises. This is not the case here either and in my opinion the balance is clearly positive.

The Dead Zone
(1983)

survival of 'The Dead Zone'
Released in 1983, 'The Dead Zone' belongs to one of the two better periods of the filmography (otherwise quite unequal) of film director David Cronenberg. The film has many of the characteristics - better or worse - of the cinema of the '80s and of the screenings after Stephen King's books. Nearly four decades after its making, today's viewers can find enough reasons to criticize, for example, the lack of credibility of some dialogues and situations, the cinematography or the obsolete and exaggerated dramatic style of the actors. However, the feeling I had at the end of the viewing was of a clever horror film and an interesting cinematic experience. 'The Dead Zone' looks like a '80s movie that survived well the passage of time and is - in my opinion - one of the good screenings inspired by Stephen Kings books or even written by him, a collection of films that comprises many hundreds of titles, with some remarkable achievements but also with many resounding failures.

It takes a few minutes to realize that the actor who plays the young spectacled and in love professor Johnny Smith, is Christopher Walken, of course in a much younger version of himself, but already having in 1983 a number of great films on his record. Smith is a typical hero of Stephen King's books, a young man with a banal name living a quiet life as a teacher in a sleepy town, in love and close to marrying a colleague, also a teacher at the local school. An accident happens that changes the whole life of the heroes and triggers the events in the film. In 'The Dead Zone' after a five-year coma, Johnny Smith wakes up not only to see that the world around him has changed but also to see that the accident has given him supernatural powers that can be a blessing or a curse. - in his case the power to read the past of those he comes in contact with but also to predict their future. The impact force of Stephen King's intrigues lies in the fact that he does not try to explain too much of the physical or psychological phenomena, and when he explains he does it more at the level of popularisation. Categorising King's books and the movies that are inspired by them as science fiction is in my opinion in most cases a mistake. They belong rather to the fantasy or horror genre, descending from E. T. A. Hoffmann and E. A. Poe more than from Jules Verne.

For the scheme to work, scientific credibility must be replaced by artistic credibility. In films, this requires the consistency of the plot with the fantastic idea, a visual concept and a selection of actors who immerse the audience in the story without feeling the need to use reality as a reference. Christopher Walken dominates this film, living on screen the transformations of the hero from the trauma of the accident, through the shock of the time lag, the understanding of the powers that events endowed him with and the decision to use his forces to intervene in the lives of others. David Cronenberg had the chance of one of the most consistent screenplays in films inspired by Stephen King's books. Other films would later explore similar themes (the supernatural powers of heroes gained from traumatic events) including the temporal paradoxes opened up by influencing the future. Cronenberg is not interested in these complications. His hero considers the 'gift' of foresight more like a curse until he understands that he can use it for good. That 'dead zone' mentioned in the title of the film not only provides the ambiguity that makes the difference between rational and fantastic explanation, but also provides an area of freedom in which the aspiration for good of the main hero (and of the viewers who sympathise with him) can act. 'The Dead Zone' is an example of the fact that the horror genre can coexist very well with positive messages when the dosage of emotions is accurate and when the artistic execution is accurate.

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