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The Eagle Has Landed

the last film of John Sturges
'The Eagle Has Landed' concluded John Sturges' directing career in 1976. Over the course of 30 years, the American director has made 44 films, achieving some remarkable successes in the western genre ('The Magnificent Seven', 'Last Train from Gun Hill'). Action films, some of which were inspired by events during World War II, were another of his specialties, including 'The Great Escape'. 'The Eagle Has Landed' brings to screen a Jack Higgins novel depicting an imaginary behind-the-lines action in which a German commando allegedly tried to kidnap Winston Churchill. Benefiting from a select cast, the film manages to be even today, at a viewing after 45 years since its premiere, a reasonable entertainment, a more than honorable end of career and a kind of epilogue that makes visible the limits of a genre of productions very popular in the 60's and 70's.

We know from history that Winston Churchill was not abducted by the Germans during World War II. What is original in the script of this film is that, unlike most of the war films we know, 'The Eagle Has Landed' is told from the point of view of the Germans. The main hero, Colonel Kurt Steiner, played by the very British Michael Caine, is a hero paratrooper, a devotee military, decorated with the Iron Cross. Steiner does not adhere to Nazi ideology, he is even punished for trying to save the life of a Jewish woman in the occupied countries, but on the other hand he proudly carries the Iron Cross and proceeds without moral hesitation in an action that, if successful, could have changed the fate of the war. None of the Germans, except Heinrich Himler (played by Donald Pleasence), is a negative character. Steiner's ally in this action is the Irishman Liam Devlin, an IRA activist and an enemy of the British (played by Donald Sutherland) a picturesque character, who commits a few bad things before he falls in love with a young Englishwoman. This 'humanization' of the enemy would probably not have passed today without causing controversy, but in 1976 it seems to have been accepted without much dispute. The plot has quite a few unbelievable aspects, but we are in the territory of historical fiction and action movies, so the historical reality must be treated more like a pretext.

As an action movie, 'The Eagle Has Landed' largely meets expectations. He has a good sense of humor, and the action is fast-paced, although the situation is not very credible. The feeling is that we are watching a film written in the '50s but made in the' 70s. The characters are well defined, and some of the acting performances are remarkable. In addition to Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland, I enjoyed Robert Duvall's acting as the German officer planning the whole action, although he is aware that the war is lost. John Sturges avoids caricature and the choice is correct, at least from a cinematic point of view, the risk being that the approach will be considered too idealized. The soundtrack is composed by Lalo Schifrin, a composer whose music career spans nearly six decades, including the soundtracks and music themes of over a hundred movies and television series, some famous ('Mannix'! - does anyone remember? And 'Mission Impossible', among others). I recommend the movie, it's a more than acceptable entertainment, and a good starting point for discussions about 'action movies from another time'.

Die Neue Zeit

love, art and politics
Famous artists are not easy themes in movies and TV series, as it may seem at first glance. The great personalities in the history of art have their fans who have opinions that are hard to change and dangerously to contradict about the lives and the personalities of their idols. Art historians and experts check the authenticity of biographical details and the compatibility of the characters created on the screen with what is known about the lives or works of artists. It is even more difficult to bring to the screen an entire artistic movement and the institution that gave birth to it. This ambitious venture was undertaken by German director and co-writer Lars Kraume who created the 2019 mini-series 'Bauhaus - A New Era' (in German 'Die Neue Zeit'). I found the result a little surprising. Lars Kraume and his team managed to bring to the screen a detailed and truthful description of the political and social context in which Bauhaus was born in a Germany just out of the First World War and also imagined a beautiful love story which is artistically credible, even if challenged by rigorous researchers. However, the series says less about the movement that would revolutionize art and architecture, creating a fusion between industrial and aesthetic that underlies what we call design today. But ultimately, this is a fictional series, not a documentary, so we have plenty of reasons to watch 'Bauhaus - A New Era' as mere fans of quality television.

The series covers the first period in the history of the art school and the Bauhaus art movement, the period between 1919 and 1925, when the institution was based in Weimar. Walter Gropius (played by August Diehl) sets up here, with the support of a liberal minister of culture, an institution that aims to represent the progressive and avant-garde currents of German culture, opening it to the rest of the world, while combining artistic and social ideals: life dedicated to creation, art and crafts for the masses, the rejection of rigid conventions and traditions. As it appears in the film, the city of Weimar represents the effervescence but also the social and political contradictions of a war-torn Germany, in which extremisms were fighting each other and in which conservatism tried to limit or even annihilate the avant-garde. This, in turn, was segmented between the followers of expressionism, which had already manifested itself in the decades before the First World War, and the abstract, minimalist, industrialized art promoted by Gropius. Much of the film, however, focuses on the largely unconsumed love story between the school principal and the movement leader and one of his students, Dörte Helm (played by Anna Maria Mühe). She is a minor artist, coming from a conservative family, who will gradually get rid of prejudices and will simultaneously become the opponent and stimulator of the cautious Gropius, but also his muse and his sentimental interest. This connection, probably fictitious, becomes the main focus of the action, and provides the motivation for many of the decisions attributed to Gropius, both as a school principal and as an artist and architect. The story is told through flashbacks, using the pretext of an interview that the architect, who became famous and settled in the United States, gives to the Vanity Fair magazine many decades later. The reporter is more interested in the romantic aspects than in art, design, and architecture, and this interest is also transferred to the narrative structure of the series.

The narrative captures some of the main aspects of Germany immediately after the defeat in World War I, with the contradictions that would lead within the next 14 years to the collapse of democracy and the rise of Nazism. The creative effervescence of the arts and crafts school is also very well captured, as are the difficulties and contradictions between the liberal and the institutionally conservative artistic vision, in aspects such as equal access to courses by women. August Diehl and Anna Maria Mühe play the two main roles excellently, describing a teacher-student relationship that was morally problematic even a century ago, but which acquires significance and is full of emotion in the context of the story. There are many other significant acting roles, but the one I do not want to leave out is Sven Schelker's role as the esoteric professor Johannes Iten, Gropius' deputy in the first period of the Bauhaus. The movement sought to stay out of politics, to become a creative field and a model of artistic and social progress in a conflict-ridden Germany. As an institution, it is clear that it has failed. This can be seen in the series, which covers the first stage of its history, and we know that the school partially changed its direction after Walter Gropius left it in 1928 and closed in 1933, after the Nazis came to power. Its main promoters have emigrated, spread their ideas and created art, crafts and architecture around the world. The style and design survived the school and influenced the architecture and art of the next century. The series 'Bauhaus - A New Era' presents a view of the beginnings of the movement, is well made and beautifully acted and, even if it does not have the rigor of a documentary, it is worth watching.

Gui lai

forgetting and forgiving
Yimou Zhang is one of the most famous and prolific Chinese directors. Some of his films, historical blockbusters based on traditional legends and stories, sprinkled with spectacular martial arts scenes, have gained international fame and circulation. It is possible that they finance and allow the making of his other films, those that deal with today's China or the troubled and controversial history of his country in the last century. The 2014 production 'Coming Home' belongs to this later category. It is a family drama that follows the fate of a Chinese family during the haunting decade of the Cultural Revolution and the years that followed. The year the film was made is also significant - 'Coming Home' could not have been made or would have looked differently a decade or two before 2014, and it would look differently or not be made today. The title of the film refers to the return from exile of a Chinese intellectual convicted of an unspecified guilt, who reunites with his family after almost two decades of separation. 'Coming Home' brings to screen a novel by a Chinese writer based in the United States, Geling Yan. It is an original approach to a topic present in the films and literature of the world, especially from other communist or former communist countries - the first example that comes to my mind os the one of the novel 'Panta rhei' by the Russian writer Vasili Grossman.

The film opens with a long prologue, which takes place during the period of maximum terror and repression. Political prisoner Lu Yanshi (played by Daoming Chen) escapes from the 're-education' camp where he was exiled and tries to see his wife, Feng Wanyu (played by Gong Li), and daughter Dan Dan (Huiwen Zhang) who was only three years old when he was arrested. The woman and her daughter are warned by the authorities not to receive him and to report on him as soon as he appears. In a heartbreaking scene, Feng Wanyu refuses to let him into the apartment. He is denounced by the teenage girl, educated in 'patriotic' spirit, who hopes that in this way her career as a dancer in 'revolutionary' ballets will not be barred. A few years later, the period of terror ends and the released prisoners return home. Feng Wanyu, who had suffered a shock and became amnesic in the aftermath of her husband's re-arrest, no longer recognizes him. Dan Dan, whose dreams of becoming a dancer had been shattered by being the 'traitor's daughter' and despite denouncing her father, together with Lu Yanshi will try to awaken the woman's suppressed memory to return the family life to normal.

The story focuses on the family cell and viewers can decide whether what they see on the screen can be generalized to the historical context in which the story takes place or even beyond. Is it possible to return to normalcy after long periods of separation and the traumatic experiences of those deported or imprisoned and of those left at home? Is Feng Wanyu's amnesia a coincidence or a symbol of a society trying to forget the dark episodes of its history? Each spectator will draw her or his own conclusions and lessons. But all, I believe will admire the acting. Gong Li and Daoming Chen are formidable actors who play with sensitivity and dignity the drama of a couple hit by the storms of history. The cinematography, combined with the authenticity of the sets and costumes, transports us to that period in history, unknown to those who did not live in a communist country. At one point I had the impression that the film is black and white, but the sensation was due to the almost mono-chromatic monotony of life, the simplicity of clothes, the decay of standard homes of the time. In the simple and impoverished interiors we witness the intrusion of the authorities into private life, the constant surveillance to which the common people were subjected. The scenes in the train station are memorable. The soundtrack is enriched by the music played by the wonderful pianist Lang Lang. The last part of the story and the conclusion of 'Coming Home' may seem melodramatic, but here too there is room for reflection. The characters do not revolt and take individual responsibility in front of the others for their share of the blame for what happened. Forgetting and forgiving each other is the key to their survival.

Don't Look Up

Netflix Looks Up
It's rare for a film to radically divide opinions like 'Don't Look Up', the political-apocalyptic satire written and directed by Adam McKay that ended the year 2021, succeeded to do. Fame preceded it in my mailbox and in the news stream on social media, and I found my friends' opinions so radically divided as few movies (or other topics) managed to split them. My take joins those who liked the movie. 'Don't Look Up' seemed to me a quality comedy that tells a lot about the world we live in, about the quality of the world's political class right now, and about the television that turns news into show business and show business into garbage, about the status of science and the denial of scientific evidence, about the mass addiction to celebrities and about the way big corporations control our lives, about the catastrophes that threaten humanity and the way we prepare to face or ignore them. The collection of celebrities participating in this production is impressive, but even more impressive is the fact that many of them play roles outside of their usual routines. If there were any doubts that Netflix is now in line with the big studios in the creation of interesting cinema, movies like 'Don't Look Up' should dissipate them without appeal.

Astronomy professor Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his PhD student (Jennifer Lawrence) discover a comet heading straight to Earth, which seems to have 100% chances of destroying the world as we know it, in just over six months. As good citizens should do, the two notify the authorities and land quite quickly in the anteroom of the Oval Office. However, President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is too busy to receive them on the first day, and even the next day the news of the impending end of the world seems to her to be of little importance compared to the appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court or the approaching by-elections. Desperate, the two scientists will turn to television to make their message known to mankind, but the main effect is that the professor will become a celebrity and will bed the anchor of a news show (Cate Blanchett) while his student will woke up being arrested by the secret services and warned to stop spreading panic to the public. The government and military machines, the big corporations and the whole world will finally start acting, and by the time Earth will meet the comet, much more will have happened, stuff that would be ridiculous if it weren't about our only planet.

Adam McKay is passionate about politics, big finance ('The Big Short') and the mechanisms of the White House ('Vice') but his career also includes scripts and directing of numerous segments in 'Saturday Night Live'. The inspiration for the laught about the planet on the verge of destruction in 'Don't Look Up', I think, comes further back, from Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb' and Chaplin's 'The Great Dictator'. In fact, SNL and a number of other similar shows started there. A gallery of memorable acting performances helps. Leonardo DiCaprio adds another chameleon role to the repertoire. Jennifer Lawrence proves once again that beauty does not mean the denial of talent. Meryl Streep is a president descending directly from 'Saturday Night Live' whose character and (non-subtle) political allusions have the quality of upsetting everyone who wants to be upset. Cate Blanchett amazed me with another role in which it took me a long time on screen to recognize her. Ron Perlman plays a role that parodies all the other roles in his entire career. Ariana Grande almost plays herself, and sings very well. The number one acting creation, however, is, in my opinion, that of Mark Rylance in an anthological role of a big corporation tycoon that is far from everything he has done in the past. The only celebrities who get less consistent roles are Himesh Patel and Timothée Chalamet (when does this young man have time to star in so many movies?). The style of dialogue and filming is itself a satire and a parody of the 'end of the world' genre productions of the big studios. In my opinion, 'Don't Look Up' is one of the most entertaining but also significant films of this movie season. Many of today's critics will regret later, I think, their opinions, because this is one of the films whose appreciation is likely to increase over time.

Ci ke Nie Yin Niang

multi-layered history
'The Assassin' is a cinematic event. The film made in 2015 by Taiwanese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou came after eight years of silence, in which he had not directed any feature film. Another seven years have passed without a new feature film, although there is news that one is in the making. Until the release of that next one, 'The Assassin' offers enough reasons for cinematic satisfaction, interesting debates, relating to what each of us knows about China's history and its culture and traditions, very different from those of many of us. 'The Assassin' was also the director's first film with a story set more than a millennium ago. It is based on a story that has become part of the tradition, as is the case with many episodes in China's millennial history. Like all great creators - writers or filmmakers - Hsiao-Hsien Hou, even when he brings a historical episode to the screen and tells stories about legendary heroes, tells a lot about people and the world today.

At first glance, the script brings to the screen a 'wuxia' story about heroes practicing martial arts. It's just that in 'The Assassin' the main hero is a young woman named Nie Yinniang, trained from the age of ten by a nun aunt to become a lethal assassin. The story has its origins in a legend from the seventh or eighth century, during the Tang Dynasty, considered a golden age in the history of imperial China, one of the peak periods of culture but also a period of struggle to strengthen central authority. Yinniang is sent to the Weibo region, then on the outskirts of the empire, with orders to assassinate her cousin, Tian Jian, the governor of the province. However, her conscience does not allow the girl to carry out the orders and be the killing machine she was trained to be. The personal conflict between authority and individual will is one of the keys to interpreting the film. But it is not the only one. In a world dominated by men, the characters who control the events in 'The Assassin' are women: Yinniang herself, her aunt and martial arts mentor, the wife of her cousin who coordinates the intrigues at the governor's court. A third level of complexity is provided by the internal political conflict. The Taiwanese director chose an episode in the history of China that refers to a rebellious province that was to be brought under the control of the central authority. However, the methods of force do not seem to succeed and this seems to be symbolic in a film which is a co-production between the studios in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, and which is filmed in part in Japan.

Political and feminist messages are well-wrapped in an exceptional cinematic aesthetic. The cinematography combines beauty with expressiveness, and offers an abundance of wide shots in nature, reducing people to their true size. This is also one of the compositional ideas and principles of traditional Chinese painting. Yinniang's role is played with elegance and dignity by Shu Qi, who is one of the director's favorite actresses, collaborating on some of his previous films. The fight scenes are short but effective, it is clear that Hsiao-Hsien Hou uses the wuxia genre as a vehicle to make the audience resonate with more complex ideas, but giving due honor to the action, when and as needed. I'm not competent enough to appreciate how historically authentic the costumes and sets are, but they are certainly beautiful and consistent with the aesthetics of the film. For the viewer with little knowledge of the ancient history of China, a minimum of preparation through reading makes it easier to watch, the few lines of explanation at the beginning being quite brief. Skillfully using the format of historical action films, 'The Assassin' is a complex and aesthetically pleasing film, offering a memorable cinematic experience.

A Quiet Place

the terror of silence
John Krasinski, the director of the horror films in the 'A Quite Place' series, learned an important lesson from the classics of the genre, and especially, I believe, from Alfred Hitchcock. If you have a good idea in hand, focus the film around it, avoid complications, and especially avoid explanations. In horror and the associated sub-genres, effects are amplified by the lack of technical details and complicated solutions. Fog and shadows are definitely, after all, well-known elements of the genre's props. The first film in this series, 'A Quiet Place', lasts only 90 minutes, has only four characters (I only counted the human ones), and yet it manages to make an impact and make its viewers think about what they have just seen after the end of the screening. The less fortunate may even be haunted some of the scenes in nightmares.

We are in a post-apocalyptic world. The apocalypse happened about 246 days ago. We don't know exactly what it was (ecological catastrophe?, alien invasion?). Underground monsters have taken over the planet and exterminated a large part of the human population. Their most developed sense, perhaps the only one, is hearing. Any noise that survivors make endengers their lives. They are forced to live in a world of silence. The Abbott family has a hearing-impaired teenage daughter. Their knowledge of sign language is an advantage. Survival is not easy, especially since a baby is about to be born.

The terror of silence is a great idea and John Krasinski builds around it. Viewers can't help but wonder how long they would last if they were to survive in such a world. The monsters in 'A Quite Place' do not look very original, they seem to be borrowed from movies like 'Alien'. The characters belong to the family horror movies, but the spectators are not exempt from scenes of explicit violence. Everything is filmed impeccably, we are somewhere in the American Midwest and we see rendered with anticipatory accuracy the look of the world a few months after a major disaster. Among the actors I have to mention Emily Blunt (great casting as a mother in extreme conditions) and especially Millicent Simmonds in the role of the teenage daughter. The latter is a very young and extremely talented actress and I hope that she will get the chance of good roles, which will develop her career. Made with talent and simple means, violent as needed without falling into extremes, 'A Quiet Place' manages to combine good cinematic quality with a horror film that will fully satisfy fans of this genre. The second film in the series was released in 2020 and seems to be close to the quality of the first, and the third is in preparation. It's a series worth watching.

Mademoiselle de Joncquières

galant revenge
'Mademoiselle de Joncquières' (or 'Lady J.' as sounds the title under which it was distributed in English, avoiding the difficulties of French spelling), the film made in 2018 by Emmanuel Mouret was a pleasant surprise. I confess that I had not seen any film by this French director before and that I was a little reluctant when reading that it was a gallant-romantic story from the 18th century, a free adaptation of a novel by Diderot. The presence in the cast of Cécile de France an actress I like, as beautiful as she is intelligent, convinced me to see the film. I sat down in front of the screen for her, I got much more.

The Marquis de Arcis (Edouard Baer) is one of those men of his century who inspired the character of Don Juan, the womanizing serial conqueror of female hearts. Madame de la Pommeraye (Cécile de France) is a beautiful and intelligent widow, who gives in to the charms of the conqueror to be abandoned when he gets bored and moves on to the next target. Together with her friend and confidante Lucienne (Laure Calamy), she devises a plan of revenge involving Madame (Natalia Dontcheva) and Mademoiselle de Joncquières (Alice Isaaz), mother and daughter, impoverished women forced into prostitution. The conflicts and intrigues of the nobility cause suffering to the other people, but the consequences will be borne by all.

What are the secrets to the success of this version of the story of 'Mademoiselle de Joncquières'? First of all, cinematography. Both the natural landscapes and the interiors are composed with style and attention to detail, reminiscent of late Baroque paintings. The color palette is superb, and the costumes fit into landscapes and interiors. Emmanuel Mouret did not necessarily pursue authenticity, the costumes and sets being more a representation of the way we imagine the 18th century France before the revolution than a historical reconstruction. He spared his characters from wearing wigs, which was a must at the time, and let Edouard Baer wear a beard that dates back the centuries before and after the 18th century. However, the characters are authentic in the way they move and especially in the way they speak. Taking over the dialogues from Diderot and other Enlightenment authors, the screenwriters managed to create an elegant and expressive atmosphere. The acting is all excellent, and the only reproach I would bring to the script and production is the weakness of the two female characters from the 'lower classes' - Madame and Mademoiselle de Joncquières. They should provide a realistic counterpoint to the fairytale life of the nobility, describing the economic and social chasm that was the main cause of the French Revolution. Unfortunately, they don't have enough screen time or text of the same intensity and quality as the rest of the characters. We will surely will meet Alice Isaaz, the beautiful and talented young actress who plays Mademiselle de Joncquières, in many films in the future, and I hope that they will be at least of the quality of this production.

Chère inconnue

love triangle
I'm not much of a fan of melodramas. Most movies in that genre leave me indifferent at best, and unwillingly amuse me in the worst cases. However, there are exceptions, and in those cases the effect may be the opposite. In rare cases, in quality movies, the melodramatic effect works very well for me. This is the case of 'Chère inconnue', a film made in 1980 by Israeli director Moshé Mizrahi, during the French period of his career, bringing to screen a novel written by Bernice Rubens, and starring three of the most formidable actors in French cinema at the time. The very uninspired English title under which the film was distributed was 'I Sent a Letter to My Love'.

The story takes place somewhere near Brest, in a house on a cliff on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, which could very well be the setting for a thriller directed by Hitchcock. By the way, I think that the master of suspense would have liked this story. Louise (Simone Signoret) and Gilles Martin (Jean Rochefort) are a sister and brother, 50+ years old, living together. He is disabled since childhood, she dedicated her life to his care. Yvette (Delphine Seyrig), who is their close friend, brings them fresh bread every morning and discusses the day's news with them. None of the three are married, life almost passed near them, but the flames of their passions are not completely extinguished. When Louise tries to find - using an imaginary identity - a sentimental relationship, using the ads in the newspaper publicity, she is surprised that the one who answers is Gilles. An aparent idyll flourishes in the correspondence between the two, which becomes more and more dangerous, especially after Gilles wants to meet personally the mysterious stranger with whom he had begun to fall in love.

A side comment. This film, made in 1980, is one of those that highlight the huge changes brought about by mobile telephony and the Internet in the way of inter-human communication. The relationship advertising in newspapers, the letters sent in envelopes, the mailboxes (made of tin!) and the 'post restante' mail at the post office have almost completely disappeared from our lives in less than a generation. If it were made today, the screenwriters of this film would have to completely rethink these details.

The story works well thanks to the intelligent, sensitive and humanly credible script and the exceptional acting performances. A real storm of feelings develops between the three characters. Behind the appearances of quiet, banal and conventional lives there is friendship, true love, and carnal passion. But nothing is declarative, spoken words do not express feelings, and even the words written under the cover of anonymity do not reveal everything that happens in the depths of souls. The melodramatic part is excellently dosed, and the tension of the relations between the characters sometimes reaches the thriller genre. Simone Signoret and Delphine Seyrig create two of the best roles of the mature periods of their careers. However, they are topped by Jean Rochefort, an actor of great finesse and with a special character and culture, who did not always have the chance to be distributed in roles up to his immense talent. Here he has the opportunity to show everything he can and knows, and he does it masterfully. Director Moshé Mizrahi proves with this film that he was one of the valuable filmmakers of his generation, despite the fact that his filmography, developed on three continents, did not have many peaks. No doubt, 'Chère inconnue' is one of them.


space dystopia and glasnost
'Kin-dza-dza!' is a 1986 science fiction production of the Soviet film studios Mosfilm, directed by Georgian director Georgiy Daneliya. If we didn't know anything about this movie and if it was spoken in English we could classify it in the category of low-cost movies with a crazy script that combines the pretext of science fiction with absurd comedy and social criticism. For the informed spectator, 'Kin-dza-dza!' is much more. 1986 is one of the first years of the democratization of the Soviet Union. Director Georgiy Daneliya, who had seen many of his previous films censored and other projects stopped before they were made, was one of the first to use the atmosphere of openness ('glasnost' in Russian) to make a satirical and critical film about the Soviet society, the inequalities between the peoples of the USSR, the deprivation suffered by the population, the ecological disasters caused by forced industrialization. In this film, he combines the science-fiction tradition of Russian literature and cinema (Arkadi and Boris Strugatzki) with the social satire practiced in the first decades of Soviet history by Ilf and Petrov. The result is an original, funny and strange film that has rightly become a legend or 'cult' film if you wish (I'm not a fan of this term), unforgettable for those who know it, but also ignored by many others.

The movie begins in Hollywood style. Two Soviet citizens on a Moscow street press the wrong button on a strange device and suddenly find themselves on a desert planet in another galaxy. Vladimir Nikolaevich (Stanislav Lyubshin), the elder of the two, is an engineer or team leader in a Soviet factory, the younger one, Gedevan (Levan Gabriadze), carries a violin. Attempts to contact the Soviet embassy, of course, fail, and the Soviet moral and behavioral codes are put to the test. The inhabitants of the world they have reached master telepathy and intergalactic travel, but their society is divided into classes, and those belonging to the upper classes have almost supreme rights over the destinies of those of the lower classes or races. The language is reduced to a few words and one of them ('ku' if you are curious) can have thousands of meanings. Matches are at a great price, and the box that Vladimir Nikolaevich has in his pocket can buy a lot, including a trip between stars, while the violin will turn them into a kind of 'performers' of the planet's inhabitants, although their musical talent seriously scratches the ears of earthly spectators. Those who lived through the era and those who learned about it will recognize many aspects specific to Soviet society, from the inequalities between the Russians and the other peoples of the Union to the ecological catastrophe transforming the planet into a huge desert, strewn with rusty industrial skeletons witnesses of a past industrialization, and with ships stranded in what was once a seabed. In 1986, it took not only talent but also courage to bring such a chain of subversive metaphors to the screen.

Georgiy Daneliya and cinematographer Pavel Lebeshev manage to create a consistent and effective cinematography, turning the lack of technical means into an artistic quality. Costumes are superb, among the best in post-apocalyptic cinema. Stanislav Lyubshin is a fine actor in the tradition of Soviet film, and the young Levan Gabriadze is so expressive that I can't help but wonder why his filmography was limited to just a few films. The whole cast is great. 'Kin-dza-dza!' is a reference film for the period in which it was made, but also a strange and funny entertainment, which tells a lot about the world then and ... about today, because some things have not changed much.

Le bon plaisir

a lost letter
At the end of 'Le bon plaisir' (1984), the film directed by Francis Girod, before the credits, a routine disclaimer is displayed stating that the story and the characters are imaginary. In fact, the relationship between this film and reality is much more complicated and interesting. 'Le bon plaisir' is the screenplay of the novel of the same name published a year before Francoise Giroud, who also wrote the screenplay. These were the first years of Francois Mitterrand's tenure as the first socialist politician to become president of France. Françoise Giroud, a well-known journalist and writer, editor of 'Elle' magazine, co-founder and editor of 'L'Express', was a former Minister of Culture in the center-right governments that preceded the Mitterrand era. It was rumored that the new president had a daughter from a secret relationship outside of marriage. 'Le bon plaisir' is about a French president who has a child from a secret relationship, out of wedlock. Were the book and the movie inspired by these rumors? Worse perhaps, politically tendencious? Or was it just a coincidence? Or one of those cases where reality immitates fiction? The fact is that a decade later, in 1994, President Mitterrand's extramarital affair was revealed. His daughter was 20 years old, so in 1984 she had been exactly the same age as the child in the movie.

The story in 'Le bon plaisir' revolves around a lost letter that triggers a political-sentimental intrigue. The beautiful and elegant Claire (Catherine Deneuve), designer and owner of an elegant apartment in Paris, is robbed of her bag in the street. In the stolen purse there is a letter from her ex-boyfriend who is none other than the President of the Republic, a letter containing a secret that may compromise the career and presidency of the politician. Soon, the interior minister, the secret services, the scandalous press will rush into Claire's life to reveal or protect, at any cost, the secret.

The film begins and develops in its first half as a political thriller, then seems to take the path of a political and 'good feeling' family comedy to end in political drama. The first part seemed to me the best, the story is well written, and the action kept me alert. The comedy part, on the other hand, is too diluted, except for the ridicule thrown at the pompous French republic in which the presidents live in the palaces of dethroned and beheaded kings and adopt their lifestyle. The ending is too short and abrupt to have the desired impact. Catherine Deneuve is beautiful and luminous, in this again it is impossible again not to fall in love with her. Jean-Louis Trintignant struggles with a character which is too schematic, a too dislikable president to be truly detested and who reveals nothing of the reasons why he could have been loved or adored by those around him, let alone elected president of France. Michel Serrault, on the other hand, is excelling in his more consistent role as a devoted interior minister. Also starring are Michel Auclair in an interesting and ambiguous role of a mysterious and highly connected editor and Hippolyte Girardot as the young man who triggers the whole story with a theft in order to satisfy the whim of a girlfriend who has left him in the meantime. 'Le bon plaisir' is a watchable movie even today, an entertainment film that satisfactorily passes the 37-year-old exam (well, except for the phones), but it is also one of those cases where the story around the film is more interesting than the movie itself.

La petite voleuse

Truffaut after Truffaut
We can look at 'La petite voleuse' (1988) in several ways. First of all, the film contains a few landmarks worth being studied in film schools: the last screenplay written by François Truffaut before his death in 1984, entrusted when the director realized that he would no longer have the strength and time to make the film to his friend Claude Berri, who produced the film but commissioned Claude Miller to direct it. Truffaut, Berri, Miller left us together with almost their entire generation, but very present is Charlotte Gainsbourg, who at the age of 17 played in 'La petite voleuse' her first great role. Then this is a film about an almost lost generation, that of the French whose childhood, adolescence and life were diverted from the natural trajectories by war. Finally, it is a film that looks back with lucidity and a little anger from 1988, the year of its realization, to 1950, the year in which the story takes place.

'La petite voleuse' opens with three scenes that seem to belong to a Truffaut movie or are a reverence for the beloved master and friend. A case of stealing takes place in a high school class. The heroine of the film, Janine (Charlotte Gainsbourg), is immediately identified by the camera as the main suspect. We then see her changing her student uniform into the clothes of a grown-up woman. An anthological frame, also present on the movie poster, shows her putting on high-heeled shoes. Going out in the city, her first stop is in front of a cinema hall. She looks at the languid photos of an American star. The quote from 'Les 400 coups' is obvious. Janine, by the way, is Antoine's female alter-ego, the hero of the film that launched Truffaut''s career. They should both have been the heroes of 'Les 400 coups'. To simplify the plot, Truffaut had taken her out of the story, later writing a separate script about her, a film whose filming was delayed her until his passing away. His friends and disciples took over the script and turned 'La petite voleusee' from a generational film into a combination of the genre of the female coming to age movies (I was wondering what would the film have looked like if it was directed by Agnes Varda?) and from time to time of a gangsters road movie like 'Bonnie and Clyde'. Here, too, is the closure of a cycle, for the filmmakers of the legendary American film had also been influenced by the films of the New French Wave. Many of the key scenes take place in the movie theater, which for Truffaut was the center of the universe.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is incredibly young but also incredibly Charlotte Gainsbourg, as we know her growing and evolving artistically in the over 30 years since the film was made. Janine is a rebellious and disoriented girl, looking to make her place among the adults and longing for love, fighting with the world around her through thefts but also with her imagination. A character hard to forget for those who see the movie. Charlotte Gainsbourg is surrounded by a team of good and well-distributed actors, who are all eclipsed by her performance. The reconstruction of the atmosphere of France in the first decade after the war is accurate and credible, excellently marked by the sequences of filmed news reels that put the actions and feelings of the heroes in the context of the time. The only thing we could blame the filmmakers for is the repetition of some ideas in different scenes, which leaves a feeling of rhetorical insistence. Berri and Miller practically gave up their own initiatives and relied on the talent of Charlotte Gainsbourg and the development of ideas from François Truffaut's script. In a way, 'La petite voleuse' can be considered Truffaut's last film.

Rive droite, rive gauche

Depardieu and Baye meet at the peak
'Rive droite, rive gauche' (1984) is the last of the 9 films in the career of director Philippe Labro. I don't know exactly why Labro, who had been a friend and film disciple of Jean-Pierre Melville, concluded his directing career at that time, while continueing to write and becoming the programing director of the RTL television station for about 15 years. Judging by this film, he mastered the secrets of the profession. 'Rive droite, rive gauche' is a political thriller combined with a romantic story, which makes very good use of a generous cast with Gérard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye in the lead roles. The reunion of the two actors who were then at the point of transition between youth and maturity is reason enough to see this film today, and it is not the only reason.

The plot is not very original, but is plausible. Paul (Gérard Depardieu) is a famous and expensive lawyer, who defends cases and people who are not always the most honest. Sacha (Nathalie Baye) is a Public Relations expert who promotes revolutionary medical products. He is married but not faithful to the marriage, she is divorced. Each has a boy about ten years old. Two 'yuppies' in the Paris of the' 80s who find themselves involved in high-level corruption business and especially fall in love inevitably and irremediably and start a dangerous connection that adds to the other complications.

The story could take place nowadays and only car brands and a 30 kilo camcorder considered very modern that does what would be done today with a mobile phone indicates that the film is made almost four decades ago. And of course, Depardieu and Nathalie Baye, who are at the peak of their physical and artistic form, arousing feelings of nostalgia for those who have known them ever since. The charm of the film is largely due to the talent and chemistry between the two formidable actors. Some of the elements of the plot could be questioned - the bad guys are very bad and without any nuance, the ending is a bit accelerated - but all in all, 'Rive droite, rive gauche' is an action and romantic thriller that passes well the proof of time.

West Side Story

Spielberg meets Bernstein
The history of cinema is (also) a history of remake movies, and getting back to a famous theme such as 'West Side Story' is an event, especially since the 2021 version is directed by the famous Steven Spielberg himself, who The 75-year-old is on his first musical attempt. But the new 'West Side Story' is much more than a meeting between Leonard Bernstein's musical genius and Spielberg's cinematic genius. Let's not forget that the very musical written for Broadway was an adaptation of a book that was also a remake of a masterpiece that belongs to another art. It's the zillionth take of Shakespeare's play 'Romeo and Juliet'. The story is well known. Boy loves Girl. The two belong to two camps that are deadly enemies. They swear eternal love in spite of the enmity of those around them. However, the boy cannot avoid getting involved in the conflict with tragic consequences. In the unequal struggle between love and hate, the chances of the two lovers are zero. The ending being known, the differences consist in the description of the historical and social environments and in the talent with which the actors reproduce the passion of the saddest love story in history. For Spielberg, the term of comparison is not only Shakespeare's play but also the Broadway staging and the screen adaptation made 60 years ago, both of which enjoyed the endorsement and participation as Bernstein. How does the new film compare to the 1961 screen version? How inovative is the new version? Is the effort of creating a new and expensive production justified?

The last question is probably easy to answer. The remakes of successful movies (or adaptations of famous plays) don't need much justification. Each generation of filmmakers and viewers deserves their own 'West Side Story' or 'Romeo and Juliet'. Home success is largely guaranteed. What about the artistic success? Spielberg's 'West Side Story' tries at the same time to be inovative in its approach and extremely respectful of the music, dance and the original text or at least of its intentions. Some scenes are almost quotes - the dance that opens the movie, the balcony scene. However, new situations also show up, and these deserve some attention. Maria, the Puerto Rican Juliet, gets a life story that does not exist in the book or in the original film. She is not a new fresh immigrant, but has been in New York for many years, where she has cared for her elderly and sick father. Tony, the Romeo, also has a modified story, quite debatable in my opinion. His reluctance to engage in violence is determined by the positive influence (indeed!) of time spent behind bars for having committed a violent crime. The positive and interesting extension is that of the character of Valentina, who combines the figure of the Nurse in Shakespeare's play with a mixed marriage, which could be an example of coexistence. Finally, the West Side of Manhattan is caught on screen as bulldozers take action to demolish the former slum of poor immigrant homes and make way for luxury apartment blocks and the fabulous Lincoln Center.

Not all of these inventions work well on screen. Social and racial tensions did not seem to me to be better highlighted by the updates in the script. The new background story attributed to Tony seemed unbelievable to me, and was not offset by the acting of Ansel Elgort, who was stuck in a single attitude in most of the scenes. Film debutant Rachel Zegler is a conquering, fresh and ingenue Maria. They both sing splendidly. In fact, the musical and the choreographic numbers are the strong points of this edition of Bernstein's musical. Rita Moreno's performance as Valentine is remarkable, much more than a beautiful tribute and a symbol of continuity relative to the 1961 production, in which she played and sang Anita and received a supporting role Academy Award. In the new production, Rita Moreno has a consistent role, she sings excellently and speaks one of the memorable lines from the film - 'Life is sometimes more important than love'. This 'West Side Story' of our generation is not an ultimate production, it is an unequal film, but with many beautiful moments. Paradoxically, the musical 'debutant' director Steven Spielberg succeeds almost perfectly in the musical and dance parts. At least for them I recommend watching.

Blinkende lygter

gang of foolish
'Blinkende lygter' (the English title is 'Flickering Lights') is the first feature film by Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, who, by the time the movie was made in the year 2000, had already started a prolific screenwriting career. He continued in this direction, being the author of scripts for over 50 films so far, while as a director he has made only 5 films in 21 years. 'Flickering Lights' already demonstrates professionalism and originality. We find in this film bizarre characters, to whom we will discover the history and motives of the behavior, and the absurd but human comic situations that will be repeated and amplified in the following films. And we find Mads Mikkelsen, the formidable actor who is not missing from the credits of any of Anders Thomas Jensen's films.

We can tell from the opening scene that we are dealing with a gangsters movie, but not an ordinary one. Imagine a Marx brothers movie directed by Quentin Tarantino and sprinkled with Danish humor. The heroes are a gang of four criminals who can't help but toughly beat those who get in their way, excepting the cases when they shoot them or fight each other. Two of them seem to consider quitting their jobs (cherchez les femmes!) and returning to a normal life, but for that they need money, so another 'hit'. The third seems incorrigible in his passion for firearms, and the fourth has his problems, including a bullet in the stomach. When the gang gets in trouble with other gangsters worse than themselves and have to flee, the opportunity to change the course of their lives is offered by the the unexpected hiding in an abandoned restaurant in a forest. Will the four of them turn into peaceful restaurant owners? The movie is just starting here.

The combination of violent gangsters movies and absurd comedy with strange characters doing terrible things, but which the audience can't help but sympathize with, has been working well since this first film by the director. Anders Thomas Jensen will perfect it in the next films. His heroes always have surprises in store. Søren Pilmark plays the role of the gang leader, with Mads Mikkelsen, Ulrich Thomsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas in the other three gang members roles. All are actors with whom Jensen will work in the films that will follow in his career as a director. By hazard of programming, I've seen four of his films in reverse chronological order. This debut film already has all the characteristics of its directorial style. The only obvious flaw in the film, in my opinion, can be found the script. The four stories about childhood traumas that are the motivations of the characters' actions seemed too similar and too didactic. But it is not enough to deprive us of the pleasure of watching.

The French Dispatch

a reverence to printed journalism
Wes Anderson planned to launch 'The French Dispatch', his latest extravagant fantasy, at Cannes, with the red carpet deployed for his stars, and when Corona canceled the 2020 film festival, the director along with the film's producers decided to postpone the launch for a year. The delay just increased the curiosity of viewers, and now we can already or will soon (depending on where in the world you are) enjoy watching this movie. Wes Anderson continues in the direction of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' with a production that gathers on the screen an impressive cast, which could support about ten successful Hollywood films, with a cinematography in which we recognize his distinct visual style, with an inventiveness and combination of modes of expression and genres that look like several chapters of film encyclopedia, and with a main idea (we can even say an obsession) that connects various stories and welds them together in a consistent whole. The obsession this time around is the classic, high-quality printed journalism that was in the American press in the 20th century and which is continued today by very few publications, including the one that directly inspired the film which seems to be 'The New Yorker'. The film can be considered as a tribute to a certain category of the American periodical press, a tribute made with exquisite means of cinematic expression.

Wes Anderson tried to reconstruct on screen the experience of those who love weekly or monthly magazines that combine current affairs with culture, reporting with investigations, reviews with original literary creations, translating it from a reading experience into a cinematic one. The film is organized into three main sections with a prologue and an epilogue that is also an obituary. Each of the three main articles becomes a short film, but they all share the same directorial / editorial vision. One of them combines the artistic and the judicial chronicle by telling the story of a prisoner convicted of a double murder (Benicio Del Toro) who becomes a famous painter with the help of a sexy guard (Léa Seydoux) and a skilled art dealer (Adrien Brody). The story is told in an 'academic' presentation by Tilda Swinton. The second article belongs to the political reporting genre bringing to the screen an episode of student riots in which the reporter at a rip age (Frances McDormand) becoms romantically involved with a revolutionary student (Timothée Chalamet). Finally, the final segment combines the culinary critic with the police chronicle, reporting on an investigation in which the son of the police inspector (Mathieu Amalric) is kidnapped and the services of the culinary chef of the police (Steve Park) are used to catch the criminals. The master conductor is the editor-in-chief of the magazine (Bill Murray), the owner and the enthusiast of the profession in a world where this kind of journalism seems to have become obsolete.

Wes Anderson's merit is that he manages to bring to the screen cinematic equivalents of the journalistic genres to which each of the segments belongs. It does so using a sparkling combination of cinematic means: black-and-white, color and artificially colored film, mute comedies and special effects, documentary and animation, screen segmented in all possible ways, and art documentary. And much more. The sequence of celebrities on the screen is also dizzying, I've met about ten of my favorite actors again, and many other movie buffs will probably have similar opportunities to rejoice. However, there is a difficulty in following all the details that follow one another at a fast pace, which is a challenge for those who are not familiar with the world of the press or with the French and American cultures. I'm sure that on second viewing I would understand more details, but I'm sure also that there are things that will escape me no matter how many times I see the movie. But that doesn't diminish the pleasure of watching. 'The French Dispatch' is a film that deserves to be taken seriously just because it doesn't take itself too seriously.

Adams æbler

this apple is not from Paradise
'Adam's Apples', a 2005 film by Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen, abounds in religious symbols. The main characters are named Adam and Ivan (resonating close to Eve), the story takes place in and around a church, Ivan is a priest, (numerous) Bibles fall down and always open to the Book of Job, and an apple tree loaded with fruit will play an important role in the story. But this is not about Paradise, the characters are rather confronted with the Devil and their own demons. It is an original and interesting film, which highlights the conflicts between faith and non-believers, between reality and imagination as a mechanism of self-defense against the hardships of life. It is a film with strange and unfortunate characters, and it is one of those Danish comedies in which the absurd, the grotesque and the sublime coexist well together.

Adam in this movie (Ulrich Thomsen) is a neo-Nazi, a violent and rude man, who does not hide his opinions and brutally cuts through any situation. Fresh out of prison, he must serve a probationary period of public service in the parish of the priest Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen). Gunnar (Nicolas Bro), a former tennis champion who fell into alcoholism, and Khalid (Ali Kazim), a refugee from a Muslim country and a gas station robber, are also here. Ivan seems at first to be a model preacher who strives to bring sinners on the right path through sermons and socially useful activities, but we soon begin to understand that his reality is not the same as the one seen by those around him and especially by Adam, and that the struggle with Satan preached in sermons has a much more concrete embodiment in his person.

'Adam's Apples' is one of those films in which the story is more of an allegory and less a faithful and immediate reflection of reality, but that does not mean that the characters are abstract or belong to the realm of fantasy. On the contrary, each of them is far from stereotypes, has a life and a complexity that avoids patterns. Ivan, Adam, Gunnar, Khalid, Sarah - the woman asking for the priest's advice about an abortion - and the old former guard in a concentration camp gradually reveal themselves to the spectators and each becomes something else than what they seem at first sight. Acting is exceptional, Mads Mikkelsen formidable as always being matched with the right partners in this film. The cinematography signed by Sebastian Blenkov creates a seemingly idyllic setting of a Danish rural area which at key moments turns into threatening. Of the Anders Thomas Jensen films I've seen so far, 'Adam's Apples' seems to me the most impressive.

Oslo, 31. august

24 hours
'Oslo, August 31' (2011), the second film by Norwegian director Joachim Trier, is inspired by a French novel written in 1931, which was also brought to screen by Louis Malle during the Nouvelle Vague period of his career. Trier, a great admirer of this cinematic current, transplanted the story to the Norwegian capital, which is the favorite setting of his films. In fact, the film opens with an almost documentary journey through the city, with urban sequences associated with the thoughts of its permanent or temporary inhabitants. The city is the background for the lives and problems of those who live in it or pass through it, but it does not play an active role. One of the characters expresses this indifferent relationship with a phrase that can be a motto of the film: 'Society does not save those who want to self-destruct'.

The narrative structure of the film reminded me of the American TV series '24' which was very popular 15-20 years ago. Its hero, played by Kiefer Sutherland, saves the city, America or the world within 24 hours. The hero of Joachim Trier's film, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), tries to save himself in the entire interval between two sunrises, and the mission proves to be no less difficult. Anders is nearing the end of a detox cure that has lasted several years. The result of the treatment is fragile. Physically, drug and alcohol addiction seems to have gone away. Psychologically, however, the motivation that makes most people continue to live beyond crises has disappeared - professional ambition, emotions in relationships with women or friends. In addition, the world has moved forward, age is beginning to show signs, friends have established families, years of absence from the CV raise questions when he is trying to get a job. The 24 hours that Anders spent in Oslo, during which he tries to renew contacts with the world from which he was absent, confronts him with the indifference of the surrounding society, all the more so as it is dressed in the velvet gloves of Scandinavian politeness and civility.

'Oslo, August 31' is not a 'feel good' film but rather a 'feel bad' one - melancholic and quite depressing. It was very difficult for me to identify in any way with the hero of the film, maybe because addiction to substances, feelings like uselessness and boredom, and the morals and codes of the world of northern Europe are foreign to me. I appreciated the way 'Oslo, August 31st' is filmed and the acting, especially Anders Danielsen Lie, although I also have a doubt about that. The role in this film is so similar to the one he played in 'Reprise', Joachim Trier's debut film, that I should see another film or more in which Danielsen Lie plays something different to be convinced by the quality and depth of his talent. Joachim Trier is without a doubt a talented director, very connected to what has happened or is happening in world cinema but also very attached to the city of Oslo where the stories in all his films that I have seen so far take place. These movies fall into the category of movies that I appreciate but not of those that I love.


Norwegian Nouvelle Vague
'Reprise', the 2006 debut film by Norwegian director Joachim Trier, is a tribute to the directors of the French New Wave and their films. In many ways it looks like a New Wave movie made in Norway in the 2000's. Its heroes are young intellectuals searching for their personal and artistic identity. It is filmed mostly on the streets of the metropolis that is Oslo, and even includes in the story two episodes that take place in Paris. The style of the narration is non-linear, reality is intertwined with imaginary 'what-if' scenes, the point of view is personal and the off-screen voices are used copiously. The problem is that 'Reprise' was made about 45 years after the New Wave appeared on the screens of the world, and another 15 years have passed since then. The novelty effect is non-existent. In order to be able to capture the attention of the spectators, it is necessary to have a story and characters that will win the interest and, if possible, the affection of the spectators. From this point of view, the success is partial.

'Reprise' begins with an exceptional opening scene. Two young men stand in front of a mailbox, each with a large envelope in his hands. They are excited and hesitant. They finally put the envelopes in the box. The two are Philip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman Høiner), two 23-year-olds aspiring to become writers. The envelopes contain the texts of their debut books, which they hope to see published. From here, with the help of the off-screen voice, we enter the field of conditional mode. One of them may succeed and the other may not. Their sentimental ties may have diverted them from writing. Life and literature may come into conflict and the price of success may be the inability to feel or, conversely, the fear of feeling and engaging too much.

The narrative is quite twisted, storytellers alternate, and the style of 'possible scenarios' is a permanent challenge for viewers. The masters of the New French Wave understood the difficulty and in their best films they had the skill and maybe the luck to cast actresses and actors who won the empathy of the audiences of their time. They also simplified their stories or used classic narrative structures borrowed from the detective genre or from American movies. Joachim Trier, in this debut film, failed to follow his teachers from this point of view. He tries to say too much, which is a debutant syndrome. It is obvious that he is very familiar with the environment he describes, after all the heroes are his generational fellows. He has some great ideas, such as the mute dialogues with outside voices between lovers. The soundtrack is composed exclusively of live music, punk and metal, violent and at full volume, kind of a counterpoint to the rules of Scandinavian conversation. However, the narrative is too contorted, and from the cast only Anders Danielsen Lie as Philip and Viktoria Winge as his girlfriend Kari manages to create a credible relationship on screen. The rest of the characters are simply not interesting enough (at least that's how they seemed to me) and their intellectual contortions and even the satire of the editorial system remain too abstract, especially since we are never told what the writers film's heroes write. 'Reprise' is the interesting debut of the talented director who was to become Joachim Trier, but the title of the chronicle of the debut book of one of the heroes, 'Form without substance' fits also the film.

Mænd & høns

Animal Farm
A film appears from time to time, defying any attempt at categorization, a film so strange, absurd, disturbing but also comic and human, that a special genre must be created for it and the film declared as the head of the series. This is the case with 'Men & Chicken', a movie released on screens in 2015, written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. It's a film that doesn't belong in my comfort zone, and the viewing experience was mixed for me, alternating moments when I wondered 'what is this nonsense about?' with moments of real cinematic fascination. This is the second film by the Danish director that I have seen in the last ten days and the fact that Jensen is one of the most original and interesting screenwriters and directors not only in Denmark but also in the whole world seems undeniable to me.

Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (David Dencik) are brothers. On his deathbed, their father confesses to them that they are in fact adopted. Their biological father lives somewhere, on an isolated island with a population of 42 inhabitants. While searching for hime, they will discover a landscape worthy of horror movies, a farm full of animals and the fact that they have three more brothers. The two are already pretty weird characters, but that's nothing compared to how their brothers look and behave. From here the film slips into an intrigue and an atmosphere that combines the absurd with the grotesque, the rude with the bizarre. Almost anything I can write here would be a spoiler, so I'll just say that the five brothers will discover the hidden secrets of their own origins and natures together.

Anders Thomas Jensen practices a kind of humor in this film that is far from my personal taste. The film is full of extremes that can only be taken as a joke. Even if I am resistant to many of the types of effects that are current in modern horror movies, I dislike some of the stuff exposed in this film. Mads Mikkelsen is formidable and the whole team of actors is able to build a world of strange characters whose behaviors, if they follow any rules, these are totally different from the usual. The scenario holds surprises at every turn, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the next minute, especially since what is happening does not always make sense. There is a message in this film, and it is an important one, but before I got to it I had to make the effort to endure many scenes and situations that were hard to digest for me. 'Men & Chicken' belongs to the category of films that I can appreciate in terms of cinematography and originality, but whose viewing require an effort for me.

Tout feu tout flamme

father and daughter
'Tout feu tout flamme' (1982) is one of only eight films directed in his career by Jean-Paul Rappeneau, an interesting but not very prolific French film director. This is one of his least appreciated films today, although at the time of its release on screens it enjoyed good publicity and the presence in the cast of two formidable actors: Yves Montand whose career already had gathered three decades and Isabelle Adjani at her peak, shining and beautiful. In fact, the two actors support this film and if the movie is worth seeing today it's because of them. In their absence, we would have been left with a mediocre and not very funny movie.

The heroine of the film is Pauline Valance (Isabelle Adjani), a beautiful and brilliantly intelligent young woman, the expert assistant of the Minister of Finance. She spends her days in international conferences at the highest level, the evenings she returns home where she takes care of her two younger sisters, teenagers, and her grandmother, the owner of a Parisian building. Suddenly the father (Yves Montand) reappears in their life, many years after having left his family (his wife is apparently dead) to do dubious business with casinos in the Bahamas and Canada. We will soon find out that the exuberant and charming father returned not only because of the longing of the family, but also to seize the property, sell it and use it as a source of financing another dubious business with a casino, this time on on the shores of Lake Geneva, between France and Switzerland. How much is scam and how much is paternal feeling in the person and the actions of the character?

'Tout feu tout flamme' suffers from the syndrome of films that try to attract viewers of several film genres without deciding exactly where it belongs. It's often a recipe for failure, and that's exactly what happens here. The film begins as a family comedy, continues as a film about father-daughter relationships, to become in its second part an action comedy with a touch of political satire. It doesn't do very well in any of these categories. What makes the film interesting even almost 40 years after its release on screens is the charismatic presence of Yves Montand, who conquers not only the hearts of those around him on screen, but also those of the audience in the room, manages to convince both when he loves and acts melodrama, and as a bonus, he even sings. Besides him, Isabelle Adjani seems less convincing than usual, the comedy scenes in particular are thickened without much effect. Singer Alain Souchon also appears in a supporting role. He has an interesting physiognomy, but unfortunately his role was too thin. All those who miss Yves Montand, who is in this film at the age of maturity but in best physical and artistic form, must see this film. For the rest of the spectators, watching is optional.

House of Gucci

family affairs
I celebrated the 84th birthday anniversary of director Ridley Scott by watching his latest production, 'House of Gucci'. It is the second premiere of a film of his in two months, which demonstrates the vitality and desire to make films of the director. Apart from the presence of Adam Driver in the cast, it is a very different film from 'The Last Duel'. In fact, this is one of the characteristics of his career. His films are different from each other in terms of theme and genre. One can never predict what Ridley Scott's next film will be about. But it can always be assumed that it will be a quality film, an interesting and well-filmed story, a film that will attract talented and prestigious actors. 'House of Gucci' is no exception from these points of view. With a formidable cast and a passionate story, inspired by real events that took place in the fashion empire that is the House of Gucci, a story that combines luxury, passion and crime, 'House of Gucci' did not disappoint me at all .

I confess that I am very little interested and almost completely ignorant in terms of fashion and big fashion houses. 'House of Gucci describes exactly the history of such an institution, but fortunately for me it is less about the aesthetics of fashion, although the film tries to say something about the conflicts between the classic lines and modernity, between the unique pieces designed to satisfy the fantasies of the world's rich and mass production, as well as about the fate of the family businesses in an extremely competitive economy in which almost any means excuses the purposes of commercial success and profitability. However, the focus is on the family relationships between brothers Aldo (Al Pacino) and Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons) who had inherited and developed the business founded by their father and ran it together in the '80s, and their sons Maurizio (Adam Driver) and Paolo ( Jared Leto). In the family also enters Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) whose relationship with Maurizio seems at first to be a beautiful love story that breaks down social barriers. However, the family conflicts and the personal relations between the five characters will take a dramatic turn.

Ridley Scott knows how to bring complex stories to screen and to nail in chairs his spectators in movies that last more than two and a half hours. This succeeds in this case as well. 'House of Gucci' is fluent and cinematically consistent. The distribution is top notch and only the sequence of names on the generic would be enough to justify paying the admission ticket. The acting performance that seemed extraordinary to me is that of Lady Gaga. I had greatly appreciated her acting performance in 'A Star Is Born' and hoped that she would confirm her value as an actress even in movies where she does not sing. My expectations were met. In the role here,Lady Gaga proves that she is a formidable actress, who brings life to the characters she enters, who creates roles different from each other and especially from the one she plays in life. Her Patrizia Reggiani, the beautiful, lovingly, ambitious, unscrupulous girl from the people, reminded me all the time while watching Anna Magnani. Al Pacino is also excellent in a consistent role of a character who goes through upheavals of destiny. We can only regret that Jeremy Irons does not have an equally solid role, but the time we see him on screen is a delight. Salma Hayek also shows up in a supporting role, one of her most interesting lately. Turning to the disappointments, I start with Adam Driver, who for the first time after many movies puzzled me, seemed more indecisive than his hero and failed to clarify who was this character who climbs to the top of the pyramid constantly looking like he wants to be somewhere else and do something else. Finally, Jared Leto seemed to me to exaggerate in the transformations of physiognomy and in the comic features that he attributed to his character.

This film could very well have been an Italian film, the language in which most dialogues are supposed to take place. Does it lose credibility by being spoken English sometimes adding, not very justified I would say, Italian accents to the English spoken by some characters. Of course, the Italian film would have been very interesting, but it would have had a different perspective, and I think the issue of authenticity is a false one. A movie is a movie. Ultimately, we don't care if 'Spartacus' should have been played in Latin or 'The Last Duel' in medieval French. 'House of Gucci' is a great studios film that takes place mostly in Italy and which does not try to pretend that it is something else. I think we're lucky to have Ridley Scott with us in the ninth decade of his life, full of energy and desire to make movies. Let's enjoy him!

Verdens verste menneske

the story of an imperfect woman
The heroine ofJoachim Trier's latest film 'The Worst Person in the World' (2021) is about 30 years old, but she still hasn't managed to find a profession that would give full meaning to her life, or the man she would like to be with and spend the rest of her life, or what could make her happy. It is, if you wish, the film of her searches and the failure of these searches in a hurried and individualistic world. This contemporary Norwegian counter-heroine is one of the most complex and interesting female characters I have seen on screen in recent years. Renate Reinsve's formidable performance brought her a well-deserved award for female performance at the Cannes Film Festival. This is one of the important reasons, but not the only one for which this film is worth seeing.

Julie (Renate Reinsve) is an intelligent and intellectually gifted young woman. She starts studying medicine and then gives up, starts studying psychology and abandons this as well, decides to become a photographer and works in parallel and as a bookseller at a bookstore. Her parents are divorced, she is closer to her mother (who is worried about her daughter's un-decisions) while her distant and indifferent father is a negative model that probably makes her wary of relationships with men. And yet she falls in love, not with one man but with two: with a comics book writer and cartoonist about 14 years her senior who wants a child and with a seller at a pastry shop who wants to have fun and maybe to get rid of his previous girlfriend who is more interested by ecology and vegetarianism. Time passes, life advances, but it is not clear in which direction.

I guess that one of 'Joachim Trier's sources of inspiration are Woody Allen's older and newer films. The organization of the story in 12 chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue, the well-matched use in this case of off-screen voice, the relationship between lovers separated by age gap, the presence of parents in the lives of mature people, all these they reminded Allen. Even the almost exclusively urban setting seems inspired by his films, with a local touch, of course. If you haven't visited Oslo (like me) by the time you finish watching this movie you will feel the desire to visit this city, which looks colorful, sophisticated, and ... warm (most of the story seems to take place in the summer). The location in time is clear, thanks to the pandemic masks that the characters wear in the epilogue. Just count a few years back. There are at least two chapters in the film with original cinematography that fits well into the logic of the story - the imaginary or real encounter between lovers looking for and finding each other with the rest of the world frozen around and the sequence of the 'experimentation' with hallucinogenic mushrooms. 'The Worst Person in the World' is the story of an imperfect woman with an imperfect life, as are the lives of most of us, a woman who is certainly not the worst person in the world, and the film about her is made interestingly and well acted. Recommended viewing.

Hytti nro 6

long journey to the north
I was curious to see 'Compartment no 6', the film by Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen, which became one of the most awarded movies on the festival circuit during this special year which is 2021. The film is a 'road movie' or if you wish a 'railroad movie' , whose story takes place most of the time in a train that runs through the Russian steppe from Moscow to Murmansk, in the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle. Two young people, a Finn woman and a Russian man, who have nothing in common except enough reasons not to be able to tolerate each other are forced to spend the three days and two nights of the trip together. The formula seems pretty rusty, especially as what almost everything viewers expect after the first ten minutes of watching the film happens, and yet, beyond the not very original story, the film manages to catch the attention through sincerity and the natural and empathetic way in which the characters and the reality around them are treated.

The film director and the lead heroine are Finnish, but the story takes place in Russia, sometime in the late '90s. Laura (Seidi Haarla), a student in Moscow, is planning a trip to Murmansk, in the far north of Russia, together with Irina, her Russian girlfriend. The friend gives up at the last moment and from what will follow we understand that the relationship was almost over from her point of view. Laura takes the trip alone, in a sleeping cars train, the purpose of the trip being to see some petroglyphs 10 thousand years old, which arouse her interest as a future archaeologist. In the train she is assigned to the same compartment with a young Russian man named Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a drunk and rude person. She tries to find a place in another compartment, but this proves to be impossible. The trip promises to become a nightmare, the communication between the two being hampered by differences in language (Laura speaks only elementary Russian), culture, and alcohol fumes. From here, however, things will evolve.

The interaction between the two works wonderfully, and even if the situations are not that original - we have already seen similar ones in too many romantic comedies - the subtlety of the script writing, the talent and the chemistry between the two actors manage to make the relationship credible and human, leaving room for multiple subtexts and interpretations. The romantic element appears late, and until then the communication between the two young people is based neither on language (which is a tool of misunderstanding rather than understanding) nor on sexual attraction. Cultural differences are subtly described, juggling around stereotypes. We can of course ask ourselves how true to realities is the image of Russia in the first decade after communism that is presented to us on screen. I know too little about Finnish cinema, except for a few films by Aki Kaurismaki, so I'm not sure if my assessment is correct, but it seemed to me that compared to what I saw, the focus is less on the comic and sarcastic dimensions and more on the human connection and communication between the heroes. In other words, 'Compartment no 6' looks more like a Russian film about a young Finnish woman directed by a Finn than like a Finnish film. Anyway and whatever shelf we lay it, it is a simple and good film, whose viewing has chances to please many spectators. The actors do an excellent job, and the camera work makes watching the scenes on the train, in Russian homes, or from the frozen steppe an immersive experience. The decisions of the juries of festivals such as Cannes or Jerusalem, I believe, will in this case be validated by the reception of the public.

Mr. Klein

mistaken identity
Somehow, I got to see only now, 45 years after its release, 'Mr. Klein', Joseph Losey's 1976 film, one of the most interesting movies about the Holocaust and Paris during the Nazi occupation. The film is produced by Alain Delon, who also plays the lead role, one of the best acting creations of his career. It is also one of the last films in the career of Joseph Losey, a remarkable American film and theater director, who spent many decades of his life in Europe, self-exiled because of his communist beliefs. He made several successful films, mostly in England in the 1960s. 'Mr. Klein', made in France, is both significant as one of the first films that addresses lucidly and critically the problematic history of French collaborationism and also fits into the themes and atmosphere of Losey's previous films with heroes who question their identity and the description of ambiguous relationships, often leaving the viewers to decide the meaning of what they see on the screen. I don't think I'm wrong in saying this is Losey's last great movie.

The story takes place in German-occupied Paris in the winter of 1942. Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is an art dealer who leads a comfortable life by taking advantage of the opportunity to buy at low prices paintings from the collections of Jews who were forbidden to practice their professions or trades and who had to sell household objects, including art, in order to survive. The ambiguity of his Alsatian name puts him in an awkward position when he is mistaken for another, Jewish, Robert Klein and begins to receive the newspaper of the Jewish community. Being a Jew in occupied Paris was more than a social stigma, and in trying to clarify the situation, Mr. Klein became entangled in the intricacies of the Petain regime's bureaucracy. The search for his alter-ego becomes a kind of police intrigue in a world that has become absurd according to the criteria of logic and legality that he had known until then. Gradually, he begins to open his eyes to the extent of the discrimination suffered by the Jews and which he had taken advantage of until then nonchalantly. Trying to prove his own 'national purity', Mr Klein starts to get closer the other Robert Klein, who had endangered, intentionally or unintentionally, his easy existence until then. The two Robert Kleins never meet but their destinies are linked.

The quality of Joseph Losey's film-making is remarkable. Paris under occupation, decadent and indifferent, in which part of the population had adopted the slogans, policies and racial legislation of the occupiers and had become complicit in persecutions and deportations denying the democratic principles of France, is brought to the screen with authenticity and carelessness. Attentive as always to detail, Losey creates various interior sets, from the hero's sophisticated apartment or residence in a castle of the probable mistress of the other Robert Klein to his rented, miserable and rat-infested house or the corridors of the police prefectures. The streets are deserted, cold, hostile and if vehicles appear they are police or Gestapo cars. Music plays an important role in two key scenes, one taking place in the castle, the other in a cabaret. The sound of the phones is as threatening as in Hitchcock's movies. Last but not least, the final scene is probably the first on-screen rendition in a feature film of the arrests and deportations of the Paris Jews from the Winter Velodrome, a historical episode kept under silence until then, which many French would have preferred to forget. Alain Delon builds his role between nonchalance and defiance, between trying to ignore realities and assuming them. Among the actors in the cast, I must also mention Jeanne Moreau and Michael Lonsdale, two formidable actors who are cast here in consistent supporting roles. The ending is debatable and was debated, open to many interpretations that have not, I think, been definitively settled by this day. IMDB mentions that Costa-Gavras also contributed to the script, although he is not listed in the credits. 'Mr. Klein' is a must-see film about occupied France and the attitude of the French towards the Holocaust, a film worth seeing, thinking about and discussing.

Retfærdighedens ryttere

a revenge movie like no other
The poster for 'Riders of Justice', the 2020 film by Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen, features a bearded and tough-looking Mads Mikkelsen with a rifle on his back and a pistol in his hand. It could very well be a poster for a Bruce Willis movie, and the first ten minutes of the movie seem to indicate that we are watching a revenge movie. Markus, the hero played by Mikkelsen is a professional soldier who, while deployed on a mission to a country in the desert, receives the news that his wife died in an apparent train accident. Returning home to bury his wife and take care of his teenage daughter, Markus is contacted by an eccentric mathematician who, at the time of the accident, had traveled in the same car with his dead wife, and who convinces him that it was not an accident and that he suspects who might be culprits. What follows is a kind of revenge movie, but a very special one and very different from the ones in which Willis would act or have acted in.

The action scenes are not lacking throughout the film, and yet 'Riders of Justice' is far from a routine genre film, and is rather close to the violent and colorful, comic and absurd world of the Coen brothers. One of the reasons why this film is special is the gallery of characters that are excellently outlined, each of them strange in his own way but with well-justified motivations for the way he or she behaves. Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) is a professional military who has lived a large part of his life away from his family, has probably seen everything related to violence and his first instinct is to resort to violence to resolve conflicts of any kind. Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) carries back the loss of a daughter many years ago in an accident for which he was responsible, while his friend Lennart (Lars Brygmann) carries childhood traumas. Hacker Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) and Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), Markus' daughter, who share the overweight complexes, Bodashka (Gustav Lindh), a young Ukrainian trafficked as a male prostitute, and the teenager Sirius (Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt) complete an unlikely team that in the desire to help Markus in his revenge campaign ends up facing an ultra-violent gang of criminals.

The fact that the bad guys gang bear the judicial name 'Riders of Justice' which is also the title of the film is, of course, an irony but also more than that. Far from assuming absolute clarity in separating evil from good, the story revolves around a few questions whose answers are not easy and are constantly changing, and these changes are even more interesting than gunshots duels. Are the chains of events deterministic, and can we calculate not only their sources but also their consequences and future events? To what extent can we rely on mathematical calculations and 'modern' technologies such as facial recognition? Screenwriter and director Anders Thomas Jensen's approach combines the sarcastic and anti-moralizing cynicism specific to some of the Danish films with the sympathy for his characters who are not blessed by luck. The result is that we can identify emotionally with the heroes of the film despite the many horrors that happen on the screen, some of which are committed by them. The film also has many moments of irresistible comedy, sometimes deriving from situations, sometimes resulting from dialogues, and my only reproach is a somewhat excessive length and a few redundancies in the second part, in which the screenwriter seemed to have finished the supply of original ideas and resorted in compensation to more routine action scenes and melodrama situations. 'Riders of Justice' is a revenge film different from all the others that have been labelled as such so far, and the only thing we can hope for is that the American remake, if there will be one, will not cast Bruce Willis in the lead role.

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