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Well, that was something I watched
We open to a bunch of students watching a movie that wouldn't pass for a high school film class project. We'll never know why, they just watch it, and thus the film club is reformed, having shut down seven years ago when one student went insane and another died. That's it, we see them watching, than they're getting picked up to go down.

You can tell this is the greatest film club to ever exist, because not once during the course of this film do they ever talk about, well, films. I'm not asking for 90 minutes of enough cinematic references to make Tarantino blow his load, but maybe just showing a tad bit of interest. I'd even accept an off hand Kurosawa name drop. I'm not even sure why they care about making their own movie, which is apparently going to be an improv. Is it even correct to say they care about making their own movie? There's virtually no planning. A couple of the girls will get together at a time and just make a shot, or record themselves announcing their roles.

Oh, but I haven't even gotten to what's actually the focus: the drama. The film has a ton of interpersonal conflicts, from food stealing, poisoning, that go nowhere. There's no blow off or pay off to any of it. I wouldn't have minded any of this if it ever built up into anything. As it is, it just feels like the only way the writer knew how to pad out time before the movie picks up is having them hate each other.

and by when it picks up, I mostly mean when it teases us. It takes over half the movie before we get anything but cheap false jump scares (one really inept one involving a freeze frame), and then when we get down to brass tax? It feels like we were better off with the false scares.

When characters die off, it's off screen. It's not even like we cut away from the slayings, most of the time characters just walk off screen, and then eventually they're dead, like we're watching a slasher film version of L'Avventura. Lets also not forget amazing sequences like when our antagonist, searching for a hiding girl, paces back and forth across the room like a confused drunkard.

What's sad is there are touches of quality. The setting is very nice looking, and there are a few effective moments. The director is capable of setting up suspenseful sequences and unsettling imagery. A good horror movie lies within.

Though one area there is nothing good to say is the soundtrack. Note to film makers: music doesn't automatically make your scene better. The film sabotages moments that could've been suspenseful with bombastic music. One sequence that highlights this is when two of the girls are trying to find their friend, who is screaming for help. This protracted sequence could've easily been suspenseful in of itself, but instead this ridiculous music is played. Not only does it sound like something that belongs in a chase sequence, but it almost mutes the screams. How did anyone watch this scene during post production and think "I am so glad we added this soundtrack".

Also a pretty obvious Evil Dead (the original) influence, especially the roaming shot through a night time forest. If only the director could've learned more from the original Evil Dead, like sustaining an intense atmosphere.

and then, the ending.


So after three of the girls magically disappear from the upstairs and wind up outside, mostly dead (except the spiteful one whose dying act is to hold onto the surviving character's ankle while she's trying to run), we find out our antagonist, despite all implications of supernatural forces, was one of the girls. The motive? Watching the movie made her want to kill. I assume it's because she couldn't believe anyone would make something that cheap and distribute it, and it made her lose all faith in the human race. So our survivor kills her in self defense, and wakes up with their, teacher or something, who only has a bandage around the head after taking a blade right through the skull. They sit and watch the video that drove Maki insane, and suddenly she tells her she wants to be like the survivor, which were the words the killer spoke. So, basically, she's driven insane. Then we see this is being filmed, apparently, and that's the end.

So just keep throwing on the twists until the audience has given up.


I wanted to like this movie a lot more. But no, what I'm left with is a bittersweet disappointment. A movie that had something in it, that could've been really good, but overall more fun is had making fun of it than sitting down and watching it. It certainly makes for an excellent lesson in how to take your strengths and screw them over. A film with no more than five minutes of thought put into its writing devolving into an anti climactic ending. and it just makes you think of way better movies you could be watching, like the original Evil Dead, Onibaba, Kuroneko, Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees, among others.


Ugetsu monogatari

What else can be said?
Along with Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", "Ugetsu" was responsible for breaking Japanese cinema out of it's native land. The story is set during a civil war, where a farmer lives happily with his wife and son, as well as a friend who dreams of leaving his impoverished state to become a samurai. After finding some success, exploiting the war to make a grand profit, their greed brings them away from their wives: one into realizing his samurai ambitions, the other to the home of a pale beauty.

Much has been said of the film's visual splendor. One can see here the beginnings of the sort of imagery that dominates your typical studio ghibli film, only much more bombastic. For my part, I prefer Mizoguchi's, in comparison, understated approach. Maybe not as impressive initially, but it lingers in the mind for much longer. There's really not any still shorts that do justice to the film's imagery, one must see the movements of the camera to appreciate what's on the screen. Even the most simple of moments seem more potent under Mizoguchi's proverbial eye. Adding to that is the music, which is almost surreal in how it conveys both sorrow and the fantastic.

If the emphasis on visual and sounds is making it seem like Ugetsu is just a pretty but vacuous spectacle, it absolutely is not. The technical prowess only underlies the beauty of the story. On paper, the story and characters are very simple. What makes the characters realized are the incredible performances. The most powerful moments in the movie are expressed through the face. Despite the short running time giving little time to establish the character's relations, there is such a genuine chemistry among them that the significance of these bonds isn't taken for granted as it may often be in these sorts of films. Make no mistake, Genjuro loves his family, even if he isn't always appreciative. One small but wonderful moment is when he's shopping for a yukata for her, and sees an image of her holding one over herself. Genjuro's journey is the main one and the heart of the movie, with Tobei's darkly comical journey as much more of a side story.

and one can't talk about Ugetsu without mention of it's ending. I won't spoil but I will say it ranks alongside another Mizoguchi masterpierce, "Sansho the Baliff", as one of the greatest, most powerful endings to a film. and it is this ending wherein one, perhaps like Genjuro himself, takes more notice of the little moments that suddenly take much more significance.

This is the only film where, upon first viewing, I watched it again within 24 hours. The first time I was sad but overwhelmed, like I wasn't sure I liked it except for the ending. But repeat viewings have convinced me that there's an elusiveness to this movie: as much as I've said, I still feel like I don't fully understand the power this film has.

Absolutely recommended.

Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte

One will love or loathe-I love
The film's story can be summed up as a cast and crew being stuck making a film that seems like it will never get off the ground: whether it's getting the film stock they need or getting the director to do his job instead of finding some other reason he can't shoot right then. During that time, the crew find ways to amuse and busy themselves.

This was a transitional period for Fassbinder: he was moving away from the abstract, visually interesting but ultimately empty Godard inspired works like "Love is Colder than Death" and "The American Soldier" and just starting to phase over to melodrama, where his great works reside. Thus this film falls somewhere between the two styles.

With the exception of a couple of scenes, there is no music. The performances, for the most part, are very low key. Only Sacha, the producer, and the director express any flare. This in of itself can be alienating, especially for those accustomed to more mainstream comedies, but there's also the looseness of the writing. There's no real arc or build up to anything. Scenes simply happen. Characters A and B might be having a fling in one scene, but two scenes later it's A and C, and it's as if A and B were never together. We'll have a scene of the director stating definitively he can't finish the film, but goes on making the movie with no obvious explanation. Yet there will be other moments that ARE followed up on later in the movie, even if only for a scene. Scene order is some times completely random. One scene of the director screaming at his crew he doesn't want to be near them could've been placed anywhere in the movie.

All of this together and it becomes easy to see why the movie is so polarizing: it is often emotionally flat, has a very slow pace(which is the opposite of what one expects from a comedy) and barely has a narrative. This is why you see reviews saying nothing happens, saying it's a waste of time or that it feels like improve.

So then why is it loved by others? Speaking as someone who loves the movie, I can answer.

First, the characters themselves. The director and producer are the highlights, but there's a wide cast of personalities and whether the film is going anywhere or not, it's a joy just to see all the various interactions between them. If you're willing to follow along and show patience for what's occurring, you'll grow to love watching these people, kind of like a family you wouldn't want to live in but watch from a distance. The unappreciated unit manager, the poor, abused translator, the often perplexed Eddie Constantine, they all bring something to the film and since there's such an abundance of them, none of them wear out their welcome.

Secondly, the movie is funny. It's sense of humor is somewhat dry, partially thanks to the mostly flat delivery, but it's there. The highlights of course being the director himself, whether flaunting his pretentiousness or screaming at the screw for often inane and petty reasons, the movie's laughs are earned. The randomness of the scene order also plays a part of this. The topic of the scene can be humorous or heavy, but it's all played out in the same way.

But above all else, even when it isn't funny, it's interesting. Whether just seeing what they'll do next or the ambient atmosphere, I never found myself bored with this movie. If you can get accustomed to it's style, it's a fascinating sit through.

This is certainly a film that requires a bit of work on the viewer's part, but I think it is well worth it.

Subete ga kurutteru

A golden work that could've easily have been crap
Lets look at the basic story: Jiro is a clean cut, hard working student looking to please his mother, who is having an affair with a business man. Dismissing his mother's situation as prostitution, he falls in further with a crowd of proud criminals and goes down the bad path. Also intertwining sub plots including a young woman trying to raise money for an abortion to not burden her living partner and Jiro's new girlfriend who is involved with a gangster.

Certainly at first glance of a summary like this, one envisions a life time channel movie, or something in the vain of MST3K fodder like "I Accuse My Parents". What ultimately saves this can be summed up thusly: Seijun Suzuki. I won't say this is his best movie necessarily, but it probably displays his strength best, making movies that revel in absurdity while not becoming flat out comedies.

It's to Suzuki's credit that many of these scenes come off less laughable than they should, while others are played up to such an extent you can only laugh, but all of it feels intentional and calculated. Characters will completely shift in behavior at points, and it's a testament to Suzuki we can still take anything seriously in all of this.

One particularly brilliant scene has a man trying to make a solemn, heart felt confession to someone, the kind of performance one would expect in a serious drama, while the person he's speaking to is making out with his girlfriend and talking in a snappy, Godardian fashion. A complete contrast of moods that seems like the actors are in two completely different movies, and yes it inspires a few laughs while still eliciting sympathy, and is brilliant in how it conveys the utter dissonance and break down in communication between them.

I mentioned Godard earlier, and certainly more than a few touches of "Breathless" can be seen here. There are a few jump cuts near identical to those in "Breathless", and towards the end Jiro even begins talking a little like Michel, however there's enough original flourish here. The camera work is sweeping and complimentary to this hyper paced film of only 70 minutes, weaving through plot points gracefully. There's a lot of content in this seventy minute picture but it is never rushed.

Well worth a look.

Návrat ztraceného syna

An absorbing piece-however patience is required
Sitting in a whirlpool containing the works of Carl Theodore Dreyer, Robert Bresson and John Cassavettes is this work of the Czech New Wave, "Return of the Prodigal Son".

The film begins with dialogue between a man (whose name we eventually learn is Jan) and his therapist discussing a recent suicide attempt that Jan doesn't know the cause of. During the early part of this exchange, we don't see either of the speaking characters, but instead the camera shows us a montage of shots in their outermost surroundings. Although these characters are alive, this sequence almost gives the impression of witnessing a conversation between ghosts, an effective foreshadowing for our lead's hollow existence. Although Jan is a successful engineer with a wife and child, he can't seem to function or find much satisfaction in the world around him. This lack of satisfaction is the closest thing we get to a real answer, but ultimately it feels that we've barely scratched the surface of the anxiety plaguing him.

Low key would be the best phrase to describe the performances and overall mood. There is scarcely any music except for a few scenes. The performances are almost completely drained of any theatricality, with only the occasional spurts of passion. Jan especially seems to keep the same mono tone throughout the movie, and his eyes almost always hidden behind sun glasses. Like other masters who have used this technique, the effect is utterly absorbing and sits in the mind long after viewing has completed. and make no mistake, low key does not mean wooden. Jan's performance is excellent. Not to discredit everyone else in the picture, but this rests mostly on the shoulders of Jan, and he sublimely conveys a range of emotions. Yes, we do see moments of happiness and passion as well as the angst. Nothing ever feels forced or over the top.

However, the film is also methodically paced, which in combination with the performance, will require the viewer to be prepared to focus. I don't consider this a flaw, but anyone wanting to watch this should be prepared for that.

I haven't gone into the story too much. Besides the tidbits I posted up above, there really isn't any overarching story. Events and sub plots occur that may or may not be wrapped up. This is not a film to watch with expectations of spelled out ideas of tightly knit conclusions. Instead the various threads more so paint a picture of a man amid a break down he has no grasp on, not too different from the narrative structure of a french new wave picture.

If you can find this film (and as of this review, it can be found via Hulu streaming) and are a fan of art house films and especially those akin to the film makers mentioned earlier, it is absolutely worth a watch.


Mediocre effort
I love Hideo Gosha. At his best, he mixes some of the best action sequences of any samurai film with intricate, subversive stories. However, "Death Shadow" comes off as a pale imitation of his better films.

Describing the plot is nearly impossible. We start off immediately with three men agreeing to be shadow agents before skipping ahead to see them on a raid that ends with one of them reuniting with his daughter. Then events quickly lead to said daughter becoming a shadow agent (and by quickly I mean in the first half hour), before she leaves the film for awhile as we start delving into other conflicts.

Compared with how brilliantly economical the storytelling was in films such as "Three Outlaw Samurai" and especially "Sword of the Beast", wherein a variety of interesting characters got their stories across, being fulfilling and without feeling rushed, on top of fitting in plenty of action sequences into decently short running times.

This in contrast is an absolute sprawling mess. The plot changes focus about three times within the first half of the film, and worse than that, new characters are being brought in constantly, each with their own little plot thread that seems to exist purely to pad the run time. Compared to the evolving leads in previous Gosha films, Ocho doesn't have much going for her.

One would think the increased camp factor would add some charm, but they would be sadly mistaken. It's like Gosha's trying to do the movie in the style of the Adam West Batman TV series, however he never goes far enough with it, so you just end up with a film that has a bunch of quirks sprinkled throughout in what otherwise seems to be trying to be relatively serious. I think i get the kind of tone he was going for, but it didn't work, and the film's blatant attempts to draw laughter fall flat on their face. The character of Mr Hell is particularly grating.

To give credit, the action scenes are decent for the most part, and the film has a pretty decent look to it despite some obvious cheapness, but they're not enough to make up for everything else, and even these are sorely lacking compared to the director's previous efforts.

There's not a whole lot to recommend. There's certainly worse ways to spend nearly two hours, but you can also do a lot better than this.


A strong and unique entry in the Zatoichi series
If you're not familiar with the Zatoichi series, it's the samurai equivalent of "Godzilla". From the 60's to early 70's, twenty five films were made about a blind swordsman who gives a good massage, gambles like no other, and of course, cuts down lots and lots of bad guys. Unlike the "Godzilla" films (fan as I am of them), the Zatoichi films were typically well plotted, albeit formulaic. They were generally light hearted affairs with little sprinklings of darker subject matter. "Zatoichi in Desperation" was the first time the star took the director's chair, and it was a bleak as hell, psychedelic film unlike any other in the series. With this twenty sixth film, he took the director's chair once again.

Many have commented on the, shall we say, dense plot. Rival gangs fighting over guns, over women, a rebel who becomes Zatoichi's hesitant rival, a group of children, a gambling prostitute- even at near two hours, it's a lot to take in. It's a departure from the other films which were generally very well plotted. The thing though is those films generally paired it down. This has so much going on and the way it all wrapped up seems an after thought.

For me, this isn't enough to sink this film. "Zatoichi in Desperation", the previous directorial effort of the man himself, showed a visual flare and atmosphere completely unique to the series, and he seems to be building on it here. The colors and soundtrack are for the most part, exceptionally well done and do so much for the mood.

That's exactly what this entry is: a mood film. The other Zatoichi films are all about building up bad guys for an eventual catharsis when Zatoichi either strikes down or humiliates them. In this we get the bleakness of "Desperation" mixed in with a tenderness and bittersweetness "Conspiracy" had but much more. It's more comparable to a film by Antonioni in that regard, where feeling and mood carry more weight than the plot and characters (though this comparison is superficial: this movie is nowhere near as masterful or in depth as the masterworks of Antonioni) Many seem to complain about the bleak tone and graphic violence. First off, violence and bleakness are not flaws, they are choices, and simply saying "gore, dark, bad" is not valid criticism. Secondly, why would someone watch a samurai movie if such things are a turn off to them? With that said, I can certainly see valid reasons why someone would dislike this film. If you go into this wanting an action film (and really, why wouldn't you expect that from a Zatoichi movie?), while the action scenes themselves are well done, they are very few and far in between. There's also not a whole lot of momentum in the film. Part of being this kind of mood film is a lack of such, which is somewhat at odds with an action piece. and there is no denying that the characters and plot are, well, not quite nonsensical but lacking. I found Zatoichi's political minded friend to be fairly interesting, but his plot mostly stays under the radar and it's popping up towards the end seemed random. Nothing ever quite comes fully together. It's definitely a fragmented film, which is something of a double edged sword in this context. Also strange are the cheap fade to black transitions often used. Considering this is supposed to be the high budget Zatoichi film, this is a very strange choice for me.

and as has also been mentioned, many elements are repeated from previous films. Just in terms of plot and character, it comes off as what you would get from putting a handful of other entries into a blender.

However, when all is said and done, I did enjoy this movie. It's what I call a "trip", a movie that carries me on it's mood and leaves an impression equivalent to that of a dream: near unexplainable in impact, but an impact none the less.

If you go into this with the expectations of an exciting action film, you'll get it in small doses, like a full course meal handed to you in small servings at a time. However if you go in without expectations, you might end up liking it. After twenty five Zatoichi films, most following the formula, I'm glad that we got something a bit different.

The Dead Outside

The best zombie film of the past 30 years
Those with short attention spans and no appreciation for minimalism will balk at this film, which is probably why it has a laughable 4.3 rating (as of this review). However, as a huge fan of zombie films, I think this one is criminally underrated and for those with an appreciation for something more challenging, "The Dead Outside" delivers.

The premise is dirt simple: Danielle, a man who recently lost his wife and child in this national zombie epidemic, finds an empty house on his travels. He stops in for a bit and is discovered by a teenage girl named April, who has survived their on her own for many years.

The film mostly follows them in their time living together. It's a typical dynamic on paper, with Danielle being more humane and not wanting to kill the zombies, while April has no hesitation in killing them. While Danielle is fairly calm and collected, April is volatile and paranoid. Their dialogue and interaction are realistic and nuanced. Nothing feels cliché or forced here, and even the revelation of April's back story, which could've easily been over the top, is well done.

The pacing is slow and methodical. Many smaller moments, such as Danielle taking a shower when the lights go out, or April chopping wood, adds to the feeling that we're watching life unfold rather than a traditional movie. It's helped by the camera work, almost always close in, adding to the intimacy and intensity. Combined with the beautiful but foggy and desolate setting, creates a gripping atmosphere.

The film builds into one of the most intense climaxes in a zombie film since "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie", and when it was over, I wished that the film would go on longer. Not for any kind of loose ends left, but simply to see it continue.

Highly recommended, especially if you're looking for something a bit different.

Hwa-i-teu: Jeo-woo-eui mel-lo-di

Ghosts are easy. Being a pop singer is hard.
"White" or "White: The Melody of Curse" has a fairly familiar premise: a failing pop idol group finds an old, uncredited song, and use it to rise to the top. However this tale of fame and fortune becomes mixed in with the paranormal: the song is cursed, fueled by the wrath of a vengeful ghost.

The comparisons with Ringu/The Ring are obvious, from the ghost itself down to the fact the song is discovered on a videotape. The movie does give a respectable effort in ratcheting up suspense, and to be fair there are a couple of effective scares.

However the real strength of this film lies in two areas. First, the story is pretty well done. While the paranormal stuff is prominent, there's also a strong focus on the characters, who are as much affected by their shifting fortunes as they are any bumps in the night. You would think once the ghostly stuff showed up, it would take center stage. Instead it runs parallel to the sudden pressures, ego trips, and bouts of jealousy of their new found fame, meshing together very well and creating a greater emotional and psychological depth than one might expect from such a premise. The film is even fairly touching and somewhat sad at points, aided by pretty good performances.

The second main area is the visuals. There is a certain flare here. It's not Argento or Fulci by any stretch, but the film does look really good. Whether it's a dark room/hallway or the flashiness of the dance stage, the cinematography and imagery are strong. Even without caring for the plot and characters, one could sit back and appreciate the look.

Is the movie a masterpiece? No, I wouldn't go that far, but it is very enjoyable, and if you're a horror movie fan with nothing to do on some afternoon, you could do a lot worse than this.

A Touch Unseen

The greatest ghost of this movie is that of the time wasted watching it
Like a cross between Zulwaski's "Possession" and "The Entity", but don't take that to be an endorsement-this lame duck of a movie doesn't posses any of the intensity of those two movies (and certainly nowhere near as disturbing as the Zulwaski film). Anyone expecting something on par with "A Tale of Two Sisters" or "I Saw the Devil" will be severely disappointed.

The film follows Yeon-sul, a young college bound woman whose psychotic former lover has returned to carry on their relationship, and who stalks her as she continues to refuse him. However, she's also raped by an incubus, a ghost that wants sex with women.

If you're wondering what these plot lines have to do with each other, well, nothing, really. Of course not everything in a movie has to tie in directly, but in this case all that's happening is that the stories are competing for screen time and attention, like two people fighting over the last window seat on the bus. Worse than that, neither are particularly terrifying or even interesting. The stalker is barely threatening, and nothing but cheap, stereotypical techniques are used to try and make him intimidating, which wouldn't be a problem if they were done even remotely effectively. The incubus scenes are laughable, coming off like soft core scenes, relying on the actress to try and convey the horror being brought upon her after the fact. The problem being, the actress isn't very good.

There's no real build up to anything. The plot gets going right away. The characters are paper thin. Even the stereotypical characterizations in a slasher film can at least be fun to watch until the inevitable slayings. These characters are not only paper thin, but dull as dirt, and we're spending most of the film with them bumbling around waiting for either the incubus or the stalker to underwhelm us with their presence again.

Not even worth watching just to kill eighty minutes, there's thousands of better movies that could do that. Taking an eighty minute walk around in broad day light in a friendly, low crime neighborhood will produce more terror and anxiety than this piece of cinematic dead weight.

Are there any positives? Well, it's competently made, that's about it. I'm not making the argument this is one of the worst movies you'll ever see, not by a long shot, but it is excessively difficult for me to name any legitimate redeeming values.

Le cercle rouge

A film closer to "Persona" than "Heat"
Melville has always had an attention to detail that would seemingly put his films in the realm of realism, but often delved into abstraction and formalism. Nowhere is that more apparent than "Le Circe Rouge" or the Red Circle.

We start with two parallel characters: Corey, recently released with an offer for an "easy" heist job and immediately robs a local gangster for money to get himself back on his feet, while another felon, Vogel, escapes while being transported and prompts a nation wide manhunt. The two come across each other by chance, both deciding to take the job after enlisting the help of an alcoholic former ex-cop. These three characters are total abstractions. Histories are hinted at, but never explored. Unlike Jeff Costello, there's little to analyze or think about. It's like they were born into this world at film's start, empty shells carrying on like wind up toys. This parred down method may not please those wanting more fleshed out characters, but it does add to the film's tone and atmosphere, and seems to be a deliberate choice rather than an inability to create good characters (which Melville's films have done many times)

In contrast is the inspector, the one who was escorting Vogel when he escaped, and who escaped due to him giving Vogel the benefit of the doubt, but as his superior tells him, "all men are guilty". The inspector must hunt them down, and finds himself using increasingly sinister tactics, including trying to force the owner of a club to inform, despite the latter's strong, somewhat honorable convictions against such. These are the most realized characters in the film.

The film has a grayish, foggy look to it, almost akin to a dream state, and that's the best way to describe the film, like a dream. Full of coincidence as well as some bizarre scenes (such as the spider dream sequence), taking this film as a straight forward heist film will result in disappointment. The minimalism in dialogue as well as music add to this surreal and bleak mood prevalent throughout the movie. This is the definition of a slow burn, and one is advised to simply soak this all in as they watch rather than waiting for plot development. I know when I first saw it, I was kind of baffled, but the film remained firmly on my mind for awhile, which is when I began to appreciate the beauty of this film as his truly most abstract work.

No review should go without mentioning the heist scene. Twenty five minutes and without dialogue, it never drags because of the impeccable lighting and unwillingness to cut corners. You will see everything, and it is exciting. Michael Mann tried to create similar kinds of heist sequences in "Thief", and as good as that film is, it couldn't pull off those scenes with quite the power Melville did here.

At two hours and twenty minutes, the movie is far more likely to feel too fast than too slow. Amazing how such a slow pace and long run time can go by so briskly.

Le samouraï

Style that supports substance
Much like Hitchcock, Melville had an assembly line of masterpieces, with most film makers lucky to have even one film on any of their levels. Both film makers also made their most career defining films closer to the end of their run. In Hitchcock's case, it was the 1960 film, "Psycho". In Melville's case, it was 1967's "Les Samurai", among the most influential films ever made. Not only did it inspire imitators on an international level (such as "The Driver"), but director's entire filmographies, such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcesse and John Woo, owe a debt to this one movie.

The first shot has Jeff Costello, our lead, laying in a smoke filled room, before we go on a step by step process as he gets ready for his next job in a dialogue free 10 minutes where we soak in the look and mood. A greyish look to what is otherwise a colorful film, often with the only accompanying noise being foot steps across the pavement, inserting music only where fitting, without breaking the mood. This is in addition to each beautifully composed shot.

Jeff carries out his hit, killing a night club owner, but is rounded up in an intense twenty minute sequence where the police, try to find the killer among the line. Of course it's too early in the film for Costello to be taken to prison, we realize as a viewer, but the suspense comes in knowing Jeff killed the man and going step by step as the police at first are only going through person by person, but begin to suspect Costello and use every tactic they can to try and implicate him. I won't spoil how he gets out, but trust me when I say even on repeat viewings, the tension of this entire part does not falter.

Although let go, he is trailed by the police and sought after by former employer, who fear him getting caught and ratting them out to police. For much of the movie we are treated to a cat and mouse game where he evades both sides constantly, whether through a memorable sub way chase or an almost western style shoot out. Smooth editing and tight pacing combine with the great visuals to create a brisk thriller that despite often being free of dialogue, never gets dull and never overstays it's welcome. Melville is a master of detail, going through things step by step (whereas most would cut out many details), only piling on the suspense. There's also many little touches, such as how we almost never see Costello draw his gun, it just is suddenly in his hands (in most cases anyway).

Now I could talk about the aesthetics of this movie for longer, but one common quip about this film is that it is style more than substance. Now I won't deny style is a big part of the appeal, but I don't feel the film is lacking. It's a simple story, but effective. Not just for the crime thriller aspects, but Jeff himself, played with cold calculation as well as subtle intimidation by Alan Demoine. He talks very little, and his motivations are ambiguous. It's comically common for a movie to be called existential simply because it's arty, but in this case it applies. Jeff's motives are never made entirely clear. We are left only to try and interpret what he's thinking at any given time, only knowing he is driven by some inner code of conduct. Ultimately this is what the movie is about, not the cops, not the double cross, but Jeff himself. He is a fascinating character and one could talk endlessly about what drives him and what the ending was about.

If you can appreciate films driven more by suspense than action, more vague than explained, such as "Bullit", "Point Blank", "The French Connection", etc. than "Le Samurai" is up your alley.

Le deuxième souffle

Breath taking
What I find is that a great film of great length, whether slow paced or not, is life a sheep in wolf's clothing. However intimidating a run time may look, the greats go by quicker than many 90 minute efforts. Whether it's Solaris(1972) and Andrei Rubev(1966) in just short o9f 3 hours, or Seven Samurai(1954) and Godfather II(1974) in excess of 200 minutes, there films to me never feel their length and always justify it. While many have commented on "Second Wind" (using the English title for simplicity's sake) running time, rest assured, it too is deceptive.

The film opens abruptly into the finale of an escape sequence from prison, giving no breathing room as you are thrown into the action. One man dies but the other two make it out, as we go to an atmospheric opening credits sequence of the two running through the forest, with little to no music. Only one of the escapees is of concern to us, Gustave Minda (regularly called Gu), put behind bars for a train robbery gone wrong. He comes back to his old stomping grounds, rescuing his sister and loyal friend from a pair of thugs. Their murder further brings heat down on him in a case led by Blot, a wise cracking but crafty inspector. Many plot points are running intersect, including a battle over the cigarette business and the forming of a heist, the latter of which Gu is drawn into in order to have some money when he leaves the country. While there are a lot of characters and going ons to keep track of, as long as one is paying attention, following along is simple, as Melville masterfully brings these plot points together.

This is a dialogue and character heavy movie, making it more similar to "Bob the Gambler" (1955) than "Le Samurai(1967). While maybe not as snappy as Godard, or Tarantino for a more modern example, Melville's films were always strong in dialogue, and this is no exception. This movie is composed of a string of home running scenes. Whether it's humorous, like inspector Blot's sarcastic rant on the unwillingness of a restaurant's employees and customers to comment on the shooting that had occurred, or serious, such as a trio of gangsters confronting a man they believe set them up, there are no wasted scenes or dull moments, whether five minutes or twenty. There's nothing here story wise that is of particularly new ground: a noir style fatalism, a police force as corrupt as the criminals they pursue, political intrigue and betrayals, however it doesn't matter. Originality is welcome but not necessary in anything, and here we see these familiar threads executed with such enthusiasm, backed by strong performances all around, that it hardly matters whether one has seen these things before. If there is one possibly original aspect, it is in it's ending which I won't spoil here. It's a small, but important moment, and much like his follow up "Le Samurai"(1967), widely open to interpretation.

Melville is known for his awesome visuals and mood, and this is no exception. His love of noir is apparent in the perfectly dark lighting, combined with an often minimal soundtrack that aids in creating a mood of dread in many scenes. This is actually a much more subdued effort for Melville in that regard, but it works here as the focus is much more on story and characters.

Not to be missed for fans of crime films.

Un homme qui dort

Moody Experimental Film
This criminally underrated 1974 film easily ranks among the likes of "Pickpocket", "Breathless" and "The 400 Blows" as among the greatest films in french cinema. This film chronicles a young man who has dropped from his studies and is trying to distance himself from the world around, but starts finding it increasingly hard.

Shot in black and white, the film feels like a new wave film with it's raw, low budget cinematography, having a grainy and gritty look that punctuates the intense, somber mood of the film. Scenes in darkened areas are reminiscent of noir films in their use of shadow, and the editing is generally quick, sometimes with a musical flow. In addition to the imagery, the story is conveyed through a second person female narrator (second person meaning the narrator is always referring to "you", such as "you do or don't get up"). Interestingly, whenever the situation becomes more anxious and desperate, the narrator's normally flat tone starts to become more panicked, or angry. So while the film may seem initially as just a woman talking about something this man is doing, in reality it does have a, albeit abstract, character arc.

Although at times trying on the patience, this film's style ultimately pays off, creating a completely unique and engrossing experience. The slow, subtle deteoration of the main character's mental state spills into your mind. I was rarely bored while watching, thanks to the powerful imagery and raw, minimalist atmosphere. The detachment our lead is trying to create is perfectly conveyed. The film recreates the tedium and a sort of numb pain, the depravity, desperation and entrapment this attempted lifestyle leads to.

If you want a more traditional narrative, certainly look elsewhere. If what you've read here and in other reviews sounds interesting, than this is probably the film for you.


A Parallel Revolution
in 1959, the revolutionary French New Wave movement was taking place. Spearheaded by film critics turned film makers who wanted a change from the tradition of quality, prestige films based on novels in rigid structures, the new wave went in the polar opposite direction. These were low budget, contemporary films, often with non professional actors with no adherence to traditional narrative structure. Ironically, in 1959, there was a film being made in America that was low budget (no studio funding at all), non professional actors, contemporary, and no adherence to narrative structure. This film was John Cassavette's "Shadows".

"Shadows" could be described less as a story and more a glimpse into the lives of three individuals. Where it begins is virtually arbitrary, and it ends without any meaningful resolution. The dialogue, as would be typical of Cassavette, felt improvised and more like real life was being filmed. For the time it was unheard of, and even today you would seldom see a movie like this, or at least not in the main stream.

Of course a movie being "realistic" does not make it inherently good, contrary to what some may believe. The strength of "Shadows" lies in it's fully realized characters and situations. Every actor really brings the character they play, however important or non important, to life. Every emotion, from small talk and wise cracks among friends, to consoling a broken hearted sibling, to getting into a near fight, feels absolutely legitimate. We have Hugh, the sibling with darker skin, who struggles with his lounge singing career while struggling to maintain artistic integrity and be the rock of his family. There's his brother, Ben, who is lighter skinned, that hangs out with trouble making friends. Finally their sister, Lelia, who easily passes off as white, trying to break away from her little sister role and finds herself in a romantic relationship. There really is no main character, all three have their own little thread going on that often crosses over with the others, but doing so naturally. Although racism does come up at one integral point in the movie, this isn't really a movie that focuses on racial issues.Most of the things these characters deal with are universal.

Note must also be made of the jazz soundtrack that helps light a constant fire under the movie, and truly helps make it a time capsule for 1950's Manhatten. I feel the movie would truly lose some of it's fire and passion without this score. At the end of the day, passion may be the key word for this film. Either you're swept up in the authentic displays of human interaction and emotion, or you're likely wading through the longest 82 minutes of your life. If the latter, than the strong performances and intimate cinematography, the innovation, won't mean very much.


A Trippy but accessible sic-fi dark comedy
This 2013 scandanavian sci-fi film centers on Robert Nord, a formerly powerless man in an unsatisfying life, who discovers the exact frequency needed to control people's minds. He can give orders to their subconscious, from what to do to how to feel and what they even notice. Testing this out on his neighbors, he continuously experiments with this new power, while also using it to deflect law enforcement and a man who wants to know the secret for himself.

The story is told in a non linear fashion, with scenes often put out of order, to where we'll see something begin but cut away and go to another part of the story, before we see it's result later on. Don't be scared off by this, however. The film is easy to follow, you simply need to pay attention. In addition, the film is very cold and distant, using none of the usual techniques to manipulate audience reaction, but simply allowing things to play out. This works well for the dry sense of humor the film has, much of it centered around how both dark and absurd Robert's experiments become, which needless to say fall very short of what most rational people would consider moral. The only judgements made, however, are by the audience alone. However even with his immoral action, it's easy to feel some slight sympathy for Robert, a mentally ill, somewhat pathetic individual who at times seems to have his heart in the right place, but whose actions never lead to consequences good for anyone, not even himself. LFO: The movie finds that perfect balance, between conveying the philosophical quandaries of it's subject matter as well as the innate comedy of it, which come together especially perfectly in the film's conclusion.

I don't want to say too much more, because it's better to go into this knowing very little. If what I wrote sounds even a little intriguing to you, chances are this film is right up your alley and you should seek it out immediately.

Loong Boonmee raleuk chat

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Divide a Film Going Audience
When it comes to art films, there's always been a divide. More casual viewers are more likely to dismiss a lot of them as pretentious and stupid, film buffs are more likely to find them beautiful and above anything you'll spend ten to fifteen to watch in a multiplex today. "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is one of those films, however, that even divides film buffs amongst themselves. Despite winning Palme D'or, the film has many detractors, and a 6.6 on this site(as of this review). 6.6 isn't bad but far below what you would expect given some of the praise. So, what IS this film exactly?

The title character is a man who is slowly dying, living out with his family for his remaining days. Those days become consumed by flashbacks to past lives (though it's not always clear what that life is or how it relates), being visited by the ghost of his wife, and trying to plan for his after life. The film has a very loose structure. Many people find the pace unbearably slow, I think in part because the film doesn't really build up to anything. To call this film meditative would not be a hyperbole, it's a mellow kind of movie. After watching it, I felt different, like I had been given the world's greatest massage, my muscles loosened up and everything, it's not like anything I've gotten from a movie before. This is helped by the beautiful scenery and cinematography. This is a movie that, if you can't watch it on a big screen with loud speakers, should at least be watched in a dark room with headphones if watching on a laptop/desktop. There's little in way of soundtrack (except for one beautiful song later in the film), but the sounds of nature are beautifully captured.

The actual narrative is composed of many smaller stories, all of which connect with Boonmee. All of them work on their own level, and together do create a low key but very, very touching film. the scene where Boonmee talks to the spirit of his wife about the anxiety he used to have giving speeches may be the highlight there, though the princess story and the final flashback are also up there.

This is a film you have to watch on it's terms. You have to be willing to watch it as a more meditative kind of experience, to simply enjoy it the way one might enjoy a hike in the woods of a car ride. If that's not what you want out of a film, avoid this at all costs.

For me, personally, I was a little hesitant going in, given how divided opinion was, but I'm glad I did, and will certainly watch again. It's a powerful film. It won't necessarily leave you in tears, but it will likely leave an impression on those who gravitate towards things like this.


Pure Raw Emotion; Unfiltered, Unstructured, Real.
To describe the story of "Faces" is futile, possibly even misleading. This film can best be described as a series of scenes conveying the intertwined lives of several people over an expanded period of time. Nothing is resolved. Characters are constantly switching topics, radically shifting through a series of emotions. There are about a handful of scenes in total, most of which last around fifteen to twenty five minutes. I hope by now I've conveyed that this is about as far from a conventional narrative as possible.

The best way to describe this film is pure, raw intimacy and intensity. The camera is rarely far from anyone. The framing is always off center and close, which builds not just intimacy but total unease. The performances are absolutely authentic, not a line or moment feels inauthentic (besides when a character is being inauthentic, of course). The film is an exhausting watch, and getting through this in one sitting is often difficult. Cassavette's other films certainly feel more well paced and spaced out, but the degree to which this film can quickly overwhelm is a testament to the film's strength and the experience watching it.

Yes, I could sit here and talk about the movie's themes, it's portrayal of intimate relationships and society in general, but I think the most honest way I could review this is to refer to this film as an experience. If you're willing to engage the film, to watch the loud, obnoxious characters often going on tangents, giving fake laughter and trying to be distracted from themselves, you will be rewarded.

Opening Night

Gena Rowland's Finest Hour
Gena Rowlands, known for her spell binding performances (especially in Cassavette films), gives perhaps her greatest performance yet as aging theater actress, Myrtile Gordon. Beloved by her peers and fans alike, she struggles with her latest role, having to play an aging woman, a role that forces her to face herself, a role she despises. That's on top of witnessing the death of a young, rabid fan. As the opening of the play, "Second Woman" comes closer, her downward mental spiral only worsens.

It's hard to know what to say about this film. I've mentioned Rowland's performance, great as it is, is enhanced by fantastic cinematography.Shots such as Rowlands looking herself in the mirror, but in such a fashion that it appears someone is sitting next to her, the many well timed close ups of her face, among the many genius shots. This is the closest Cassavette has come to making a psychological thriller. Those familiar with "Black Swan" or even "Persona" will no doubt notice similarities, although as is usually the case with this director, it never fully fits any particular genre, only giving you shades of it. Anyone expecting any ultimate outcome or revelation will be disappointed. Is Myrtile's problem alcoholism? Is she simply insane? Is it all just about aging?Is it all of that? Like many things in life, it's much more likely to be a variety of factors, and it only aids the film in creating multiple layers to this dilemma rather than trying to build around one problem.

The play within the movie (reportedly filmed in front of an undirected audience giving legitimate reactions), where often times Myrtile changes dialogue, goes off script, are less interesting than what goes on behind the scenes, however this doesn't hurt the film much, especially when, given the unpredictability of the lead actress, can go off at any moment in a completely unpredictable direction and become a further unveiling of the actors on stage. A big part of this film is the creative process, of the some times rigid adherence to script, to the very idea of staging emotions and feelings that are pre rendered into a script. Perhaps it's for this reason that the on stage antics don't feel as powerful, but ultimately beneficial to the film on a thematic level.

Many, especially if used only to mainstream movies, might find this movie slow and confusing. Cassavette's style does take getting used to. Having watched other films of his however, I found this, despite it's near two and a half hour length, to be an easy sit with time flying by. Absolutely recommended.

Pierrot le fou

No, no, it's Fernidand le Fou
Like much of Godard's work, "Pierrot le Fou" doesn't have much of a plot so much as a basic premise. Frenidand, bored and alienated by his robotic upper class peers, leaves a party on bad terms and runs into his still at home babysitter. He drives her home, and then the two start to fall in love. Then they run off, and the rest of the film is their misadventures.

The film is filled with subversions and deconstructions. The soundtrack inexplicably stops and restarts throughout. Characters talk directly to the audience, and at points even just flat out say "the audience". The characters are well aware they're in a movie at points ("let's go back to the gangster picture"). There are a few musical numbers, though they are very low key, lacking the grandeur and choreography one would expect. In fact, I love the musical moments in this film because they are so low key and unobtrusive. Action sequences are truncated and undermined. The characters narrate, often telling the audience what the next chapter is, which is pretty much always despair, bitterness and hope. Godard is determined to tear down the curtain, to never let you forget you're watching a movie.

Yet, all of these elements come together naturally. It never crosses into stupid pretentiousness. These elements only serve to enhance and give a new layer to a film that is still deeply compelling. Godard apparently didn't care to be sentimental (a lot of the European art directors don't care for that word) but sentimental is one way I'd describe the movie. Here we have two characters whose common ground is being unable to live in their current state of life: Fernindand because it's devoid of any intellectuality and passion, Marianne because she seems incapable of living in a steady life and becomes bored quickly. It's for this reason the two are drawn toward each other and run away together.

Much of the film is made up of episodes, as the two end up on a "Bonnie and Clyde" style crime spree (a whole two years before the definitive Bonnie and Clyde movie made waves in the united states), robbing people and trying to stay one step ahead of the police as well as gangster Marianne has angered. The movie is very comedic in it's tone, and while it's easy to laugh at the absurdities of what you see, I found the most humor in the subversions and pot shots at cinematic tropes. In contrast though, you'll have the characters, whether in narration or talking to the audience (especially Fernidand) giving beautiful narration and monologues, punctuated by beautiful imagery (did I mention the film looks really good?). Their feelings for each other indeed begin being put to the test, as while the similarity brought them together, their differences start to bring them into conflict, shown when the characters are hiding out in a beautiful resort with nothing to do. When Marianne suggests going back to "the gangster picture", their crime spree, it makes clear that the distraction of danger and adventure may be what keeps them together.

This blending of comedy and deconstruction with almost poetic resonance of feelings comes to ahead in it's ending, which I won't spoil, but needless to say it is both hilarious and touching.

If you've seen any of Godard's other films, you have a good idea of what you're in for. If you've never seen a Godard film, this one might catch you off guard, but it's probably among his more easily accessible films.

À bout de souffle

"The worst sin is cowardice"
Some films are simply famous without necessarily being influential, or at least not widely so. Then there are films that are not merely well known, but a significant advancement that alters cinema forever. Some of these films are artifacts that are really only worthwhile as a piece of history. Examples of this would include something like "Voyage to the Moon", which meant a lot to film history, but as a film, is so primitive as to be laughable. Then there are those works that function both as great films and significant steps in cinema. A number of silent films fall under this category, such as "Metropolis", "Cabinet of Dr Caligari", and "Nosferatu". "Breathless" falls into the later category, not only being one of the most influential films ever made, but also a truly great film.

The plot, thin as it is, revolves around Michel (who takes on the look and mannerisms of Humphry Boggart) who is chased down by a cop he ends up shooting. The police are after him. We see a few scenes of the police questioning people and hunting him down, but it's not the focus of the film. Michel instead steals some money, gets together with a woman named Patricia, trying to sleep with her, then run away from her, and get the money he's owed.

Much in the way Godard broke and played with the rules of cinema, so Michel makes his own rules, dictating his own pace. He knows the police are after him, and he does try to avoid them, yet he refuses to be inconvenienced. He does whatever he feels like doing at the time. Make no mistake, Michel is far from a saint. Yet it is this determination to do what means the most to him, however random it seems, or however shallow it seems, that gives "Breathless" real humanity beneath the detached way the characters act. We're watching someone who, knowing his demise could come at any moment, will make as much as he can of the time he has. Knowing that, nothing he does in this film is meaningless. Even the tiniest of things, such as him stopping to admire the humphry boggart poster, means so much more.

Make no mistake, though, there's plenty else to admire about the film. The cinematography is fantastic. Using a hand-held camera and a wheelchair instead of a dolly for moving shots, we have a movie that rarely feels still. The camera is often intimately close, using only a few far away shots (often simply to establish distance between characters). The jump cuts this film is famous for are used stylistically. Even when indoors,it feels like things are in constant motion, ensuring that the film never feels slow, and even after all these years, the visual style of the film feels unique unto itself, even among the rest of Godard's filmography.

Something also must be said of the dialogue. It's fast, it's snappy, topics change constantly, characters contradict themselves, make references, etc. It's certainly stylized dialogue, delivered so naturally, but this dialogue gives the film sheer entertainment value. There's just something about watching the conversations unfold that is hypnotic, almost a thing of poetry. The apartment scene in particular I rate as one of the greatest scenes in cinema.

As a piece of history, "Breathless" is equally fascinating. While an argument could be made about what the best french new wave film is (there's certainly steep competition in that department, "The 400 Blows" and "Pickpocket" as two examples), "Breathless" is the defining one. The film, more than any other, that gave a sense of freedom to film makers everywhere, showing they didn't have to limit themselves to a rigid narrative structure. The jump cuts also, of course, were a huge innovation and have been used to the point of almost tedium throughout cinema ever since. There's certainly more to say on the historical side, but I don't want this to get too long.

The casual viewer will likely have a tough time with this one. Unlike relatively straightforward french new wave like the before mentioned "400 Blows", "Breathless" is abstract and likely to leave the unprepared viewer bored, confused and dismissive. I warn you do not go into this movie expecting a thriller, or a film that is in anyway conventional. This is a film where characters waste time,conversations go nowhere and last a long time, and the plot is the least relevant thing occurring for 95% of the movie.

I know, that sounds awful, and in the hands of someone else, "Breathless" would be a worthless train wreck of a movie on par with the works of Uli Lommel. Yet in the hands of "Godard", it is a mesmerizing film experience.

Point Blank

Perhaps Even More Fresh Now Than in 1967
One of the first American films to show clear influence from the french new wave, a cinematic movement in France that rewrote the book on what film could do.John Boorman's thriller was not exactly a blockbuster, but even at the time it caught the eyes of many a film makers and critics and survives as a cult classic, enduring long after it's 1999 remake was forgotten.

"Point Blank" stars Lee Marvin as Walker (no last name), a man who agrees to help his close friend, along with his wife, pull off a heist in Alcatraz. However Walker is betrayed and left for dead. Surviving, he escapes the island and begins a relentless hunt for Reese, who is now living the high life. However this seemingly simple revenge tale gets far more complex.

In "The Terminator", Kyle Reese described the title killer as something that cannot be reasoned with, that will not stop until his target is dead. That description could just as easily apply to Walker. Played with brilliant creepy subtlety, Walker is an absolutely menacing presence on screen. Devoid of emotions besides anger, the film follows his growingly meaningless rampage.He is no hero. He tortures without relent, hurts without remorse, and he doesn't stop. I can't imagine any other actor, even one who might be fit for the role, bringing everything to the table Lee Marvin does. He's hypnotically good, and that is perhaps what makes his journey of interest, rather than any traditional sense of like ability.

Lee Marvin's performance and the intricate, constantly twisting plot are also accompanied by the most unique aspect of the film, being the way it's made. A broad use of flashbacks, including flashbacks within flashbacks, giving a very dream like feel to the film at times. Sound is often displaced, with some bits having little to no sound and others having sound carry into scenes they couldn't be a logical part of, such as the "walking" scene where Walker's foot steps are heard even as he's driving. The brilliant use of the wide frame, and make no mistake, this film NEEDS to be seen in wide screen. This is a beautiful looking film, and while certain aspects of the film have been copied, not many have brought it all together the way "Point Blank" has, making it a very unique experience.

Exciting, masterfully made and acted, with a haunting and brilliant ending, "Point Blank" is almost incomparable to anything else, and is well worth giving a view.

Bob le flambeur

Above All Else, A Fascinating Character Piece
Absent of the stylization of "Le Samurai" and not as gritty or violent as crime thrillers of the 60's, "Bob the Gambler", from Jean Pier Melville, is none the less an important film historically for it's influence on the crime genre, heist films specifically. However, how does it hold up as a film?

Certainly there is sufficient build up to the heist. We see every step of the planning, with plenty of twists and turns leading up to it, and once things get started, the suspense is certainly there, though without giving anything away, the suspense doesn't come the way one would expect it to, but the tension is definitely there. There is violence, though not a whole lot, and it's obscured, so don't expect much in the way of high octane gun action.

While the sections of the film dealing with the heist itself, the planning, build up and execution would all be enough to make this a fine film, what elevates it even more is the characterization. Bob is a a retired criminal, who all ready served twenty years in prison. Now friends with a cop and living seemingly straight, he's none the less prone to gambling and losing. He takes a father like role to Paulo, who aspires to be like him, and takes a liking to a young woman, Anne. He's seemingly a good person, willing to help others whenever he can. However, when he loses most of his fortune on a foolish bet, he gets a team together for a grand scale heist. This film is about more than a heist, it's about a flawed man whose vices will ensure he is never completely on the straight and narrow. Paulo also falls prey to his desire to win over and impress Anne, at any cost. The highlight of the film for me is the characters, fully realized and done justice by fantastic performances from everyone involved. I won't spoil the ending, but it's one of those endings that makes you completely rethink your earlier perceptions.

Cinematography, while not as amazing as "Le Samurai", is still something to appreciate, with clear influences from American crime and noir films.

SHould be approached as more of a crime drama than a full out, action packed heist film. Definitely recommended.


Before Travis Bickle, there was Michel
Robert Bresson is one of those directors often listed among the highest tier of film making. Even cinematic elites like Andrei Tarkovsky hold him in the highest esteem, and "Pickpocket" is one of the highlight films of his career.

The film centers around Michel, a character often compared to the protagonist of Dostovesky's "Crime and Punishment", but I would say he's closer to "A Raw Youth", the story of a young man who rejects the ideals of his elders and seeks to live in society on his own terms. In this instance, it's through pit pocketing. But it's not just a means to survive for Michel, it's a way of life, an art, an obsession, a thrill. Even he knows if he continues this way of life, his downfall will be imminent, and yet he can't stop. Again we can compare with many a dostovesky protagonist, a pitiful man who brings about his own downfall, yet can invoke a sense of empathy. They are not monsters, they are, tragically, flawed.

It is this level of intricacy in the storytelling that helps give the film it's raw power. Watching this the first time, I didn't even notice that the actors gave completely mechanical performances, rarely if ever emoting, a purposeful choice on the part of the director. So masterful is the storytelling, both in the writing and the direction, that it feels like I felt like I saw the emotion myself.

I can't not talk about the cinematography. Much has been said about the pickpocket scenes themselves. The only tool Breson uses is close ups, just enough to let the audience see what is going on, and through that suspense is created. I have to believe this film was an influence on directors such as Peter Yates, who would use similar techniques for crime thrillers like "Bullit" and "The Friends of Eddie Coyle".

Even without the suspenseful pick pocketing scenes, every shot is precise. The highlight shot of the film for me is when Michel is standing outside in a small crowd, the wind blowing by him. In a film focused on objects and materials, somehow the wind never looked more beautiful.

Although the film is certainly on the artsy side, don't let that deter you. The film, much like Truffaut's "The 400 Blows", is very straight forward and easy to follow on a story telling level. If you enjoy films like "Taxi Driver" (on which this film was an influence), then this movie is for you.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

A Film Unique Even Within the Filmography of it's Unique Director
"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie", the original 1976 cut, was the first movie by Cassavette I had ever seen. I went in, only knowing the basic premise and that it was not a usual picture, and I was blown away. It completely changed my perception of how a film could be written, and opened me not just to his other films, but many other kinds of films in general. Now some time and many films later, and my opinion has changed very little on this particular piece.

"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" revolves around strip club owner Cosmo Vitelli, a man who carries himself with swagger and dignity, who loves his joint, the Crazy Horse West, who loves the workers within it, but who is a man of great vice. After paying off one gambling debt, he falls into another, but this time from mobsters who offer him an alternative to paying: to murder a Chinese bookie.

The experience of this film will differ depending on the version. Many prefer the 1978 recut, which is a very tight film, and it works as a moody neo noir picture. It has scenes not in the longer cut, but overall focuses entirely on plot.

However my preference is easily for the original version. The leisurely, prolonged pace helps create a unique feel to the film, and also creates more of a balance. Whereas the 1978 film is dark, almost nihilistic, the 1976 version has much more heart to it. We see much more of the relationship between Vitelli and not just his workers, but the club itself. Thus one sees the true struggle, in a man being torn between committing a heinous act, or losing the thing he loves most. Add to that, the pace also creates more of a build up to the fated crossroad where Cosmo will either kill the bookie, get killed, or back out, resulting in that fateful scene meaning so much more. Cassavette made this film as an allegory to his struggles as an independent film maker, and in the 1976 cut this is much more apparent. Even apart from the thematic and narrative, though, the 1976 cut feels unlike almost any other film. Beyond the merits of it's story, "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" is an experience, akin to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky in giving the sense that when the movie's done, one has not simply seen a great movie but been on a journey (while the 1978 version feels almost rushed in comparison)

On a technical level, the film is low budget and it shows, but like films such as "Breathless" and "Mean Streets", the low budget, raw feel enhances the mood, especially of the night scene. Two pivotal scenes towards the end that take place at night posses a near unrivaled mood, and this is in great part thanks to hand held, almost documentary style that the movie is made in. The night club scenes are also a visual highlight, filmed in colored gels that make the club feel like a world all it's own.

and of course like most Cassavette films, the dialogue has a very improvised feel (many to this day believe his films were improvised), which means people talk over one another, topics can change at any time, and there's no cinematic manipulation to enhance the impact of certain lines. While there's far less of the rapid and sudden emotional twists and turns within a scene that are a mark of most of his films, there's still plenty for fans of his to be familiar.

If you haven't guessed by now, this is NOT a typical mobster film. It's nothing like "The Godfather" or the gangster films of Scorcesse (and no, I'm certainly not trying to put down those great films), or like any other. It's a very slow, methodical, non stylized picture that to this day will baffle the unprepared viewer. If you watch this and aren't familiar with Casavette's other films, know that it's not going to be quite like anything else you've seen.

You can get this film either through the five DVD John Cassavette collection or the Criterion DVD. I can't vouch for the former, but the criterion has both the 1976 and 1978 cuts. While I by far prefer the 1976 version, you may as well get both and come to your own conclusion.

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