frankgaipa

IMDb member since May 2002
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Reviews

Sabrás qué hacer conmigo
(2015)

Heartfelt But Imperfect
The director told us she brought in screenwriters to doctor her heartfelt script referencing experience with an epileptic friend. I fear they did more harm than good. We're all familiar with the structure that divides a film into parts, each headed with a different third-person-limited POV character's name. Here first we get his, in which they meet not so much cute as mystery-woman mysterious. Then we get hers in which she turns out to be quite ordinary, flashing back to cover the same events as in his chapter. Not Rashomon, no conflict, just different POV. Each of these initial parts ends with his fit which he hadn't anticipated and she doesn't understand until she does. As we enter the film's third section in which, for a while, as he regains normalcy, there's a crescendo of POVs, hers and his simultaneously, that had me thinking I'd really like the film. I wanted that crescendo to extend as long as possible. But, no. It becomes her as sympathetic onlooker, him as cause epileptic. She or her script doctors should have stayed in his head much longer than they do, even if doing so would have meant inventing what's there. I'm confident that if she had, what she invented would have been true enough.

All that said, parts are very powerful and the water imagery much appreciated.

La petite Lili
(2003)

Two Maps
No character isn't tinged with cliché. Maybe we don't like them, maybe we do like this one or that, but so what? Even the film within a film within, ultimately, a film-in-the-making is clichéd. Or maybe such Chinese boxes have become their own genre. But if you're lucky enough to own the disk, or to hang onto a rental long enough, watch it once just for the edits, the cuts. Early on, in and around the country house, they're so frequent and abrupt they should be dizzying, but they aren't. They're always natural, true either psychologically or mechanically. The camera skips indoors and out almost, though maybe not quite, to the point where you could sketch the layout. An uncertain eye becomes a firm hand. The target of a gaze suddenly becomes the new point of view. Or someone walks into the inanimate focus of a gaze, so cut to somewhere unexpected, this new person's gaze. Point of view shifts so often, so seamlessly, it seems almost to justify me in an argument I not sure I didn't lose once about the viability of film against prose in conveying emotional detail. How difficult is it to shift point of view half a dozen times on a page or even six without degrading the game?

When the whole structure threatens to replay itself toward the finish, it doesn't quite because Julien's chosen a perhaps not very French but not so unlike recent Rohmer sound-stage version of the country house. The cuts still dance, but it's a broken, postmodern dance. The actors, all I think but Julien who's out to direct and Simon, who stumbles about hilariously humbled by the shadow of too calm, too mirror-image Michel Piccoli playing him, move like too-smooth marionettes.

In the end, the film is about the contrast between the opening mise en scène and the closing. It's a glorious suspense film, with no resolution to the question it asks. Can Julien pull it off? I can't recall a more completely realized Miller film.

17-sai no fûkei - Shônen wa nani o mita no ka
(2004)

The Only Lasting Truth
I recall the name of neither, can't find them in my films-seen list or IMDb. Maybe neither title includes the critical R word. Both must be at least twenty years gone. But somewhere, both Japanese yet likely unrelated, exist a short and a feature each about a man running.

Just running.

In the short, which played at the Pacific Film Archive or San Francisco International Film Festival, he seems an exerciser barely holding to conversation pace. Apparently random individuals, just, if I recall, from curiosity, no other motive, run up along side, chat awhile, then drop away. Some just chat. Others ask mildly challenging "why" questions. Some seem defeated, whether physically or rhetorically. Some aren't defeated, but fall away, or behind, all the same. Within the frame of the film, we don't see the runner begin or finish. There's no before the run or after. He never pauses.

I'm hazier about the feature. It probably played San Francisco's Roxie. But watching it I remembered the short. The feature took place all or mostly at night. It was urban, streets not paths. The sun may have risen, but late. There may have been a crime or the red herring suggestion of one. Maybe a woman came or went. I don't think the key movement was a chase. He wasn't fleeing. His momentum seemed of and for itself, no from or toward. Only the runner knew why run and he never said. There's a slim chance I'm misremembering a drive or a cycle ride as a run, but it still brought to mind that short. In either case I may be scripting in memory works superior to the originals, but I still credit them.

In 17-sai no fûkei - shônen wa nani o mita no ka, translated for the US as Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw, an older teen travels by bicycle northward from near Tokyo, I think along the Sea of Japan since the surf is always to his left. In the film, unless I missed it, he has no name. He's nearly as anonymous as the runner in that short. His pace is frantic, but with no sense of going anywhere. His true-crime surfaces gradually -- he killed his mother brutally, bloodily -- but he seems not to be fleeing. He's just going, just moving, not Tokyo northward but moment to moment, one curve to the next. His exhilaration -- with the sounds of surf and wind, the peel of rubber, the ever changing ribbon of road -- is tangible and links him to us. All these things are to him pretty much what they'd be to you or me on the same road achieving the same forward momentum. Recently Clair Denis in L'Intrus sent her aging monster Trebor down a forested asphalt road on a racing bike to tie him by his sensations to us. But this boy is no monster. Encounters with a fisherman and WWII vet humanize him further, as he and we equally listen to their stories. The stories hardly matter, though in themselves they do matter. What's important is we and the murderer "rub shoulders" to sit and learn, just as we would have had there been no murder in the film or in fact. The final encounter, with a Korean woman after a broken bicycle chain in way too much snow has nearly doomed his goalless mission, tests and proves his humanity again.

I don't want to go too much farther in guessing Wakamatsu's intentions. The system here allows us too little of his output. Of the three available, only a dubbed mess, The Notorious Concubines, seems vaguely pinku. The other two, Go, Go, Second-Time Virgin and Ecstasy of Angels, are anything but. Go, Go… is a claustrophobic masterpiece set on a black-and-white rooftop.

I can't empathize with murder, but easily imagine plowing through the air, not away from but after, whatever disaster. The boy is us. The death penalty's no issue, but the boy should not die. He is and is not the murderer, did and did not murder. He's new, because the moment and sensations are new. As Octavia Butler says in her pair of parables, "The only lasting truth is change."

Un couple parfait
(2005)

But When She Moves
Too many, on these pages and elsewhere, forget that film is visual. Too many sit in darkened screening rooms to read rather than to see images. Though inevitable, sound came late. Sound has never been absolutely necessary to cinema. Too many fuss about what happens next, when, how soon, or simply how. I'm far from avant-guard, dote on narrative, love low and high comedy, morbidly distrust directors who brag, as I once heard Alain Tanner at a screening of Dans la ville blanche, that they've learned to hold static shots longer and longer. Interspersed in my films-seen list is plenty of trash and genre, as well as the sublimely wordy like Rohmer. But Rohmer's so skilled at recording women, and men, in motion and in stasis, that his films are watchable, even fascinating, with the sound removed. His intricate dialogs may complete, but turning them off doesn't destroy the narrative thrust.

I can't quote scene or shot, but found Un Couple parfait almost unbearably suspenseful on the shot to shot level. Low lit, grainy images of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's Marie whisper her emotional state more effectively than words could. Even when she's absolutely still, she isn't. A shallow breath. A blink. But when she moves! The film grows from electric light to carelessly dark daytime indoors to sunlight in the museum near the finish. The plot consists of Marie transforming, or not, advancing, or not, with the light. She is or isn't quite who, what, she was in the opening scenes.

I don't mean that all or even much is in the eye of the beholder, the audience. I'm sure it's not. It IS on the screen, to absorb, to decipher, not to overwrite, not to create on one's own. But give it a chance.

That opening scene, Marie's (Or was it Nicolas's?) announcement to disbelieving friends that they're separating, is suspenseful by any standard. The friends' disbelief colors every moment we spend with the two lovers thereafter. Maybe the friends' disbelief is also Nicolas's hurt. But it isn't Nicolas's film. Maybe it's Marie's self-doubt, guilt, or self-certainty. The friends pit Marie against herself or against herself as others perceive her. But either is too simple, simpler than what we see.

On two hours sleep after late night and early morning screenings, I caught, rapt, every frame of Un Couple parfait, then contently fell asleep during some Hong Kong dreck that screened after it.

I'm more than a little puzzled that Rohmer came to mind before Bresson. But it's probably valid. The use of light here, and color, is closer to Rohmer. Un Couple parfait is very much a color film. Rohmer has mastered color as Bresson never did.

Stupeur et tremblements
(2003)

A 24-Hour Day
"I had, outside the company, an existence far from empty or insignificant. I decided not to speak of it here…eleven metro stations from there, was a place where (Japanese) liked me, respected me, and saw no rapport at all between a toilet brush and me" (my awkward translation from p. 159-160, Stupeur et tremblements, Editions Albin Michel S.A., 1999). The novel's barely 200 pages of largish print. Nearly all of the movie's events have already gone down by the time Nothomb pauses to excuse the world outside la compagnie Yumimoto. Two years have passed since I saw the film, and two weeks since I read the novel. I can't recall whether the admission made it into the film. If so, it may been too easy to miss in the general downward rush.

My overwhelming reaction to the film, and somewhat less so to the novel, was a confusion of annoyance with and embarrassment for Amélie. Again and again, not so unlike a horror movie heroine stupidly wandering into dark places alone, she does what even we totally out of it in the audience can see is going to be the wrong thing. Again and again, I asked myself: Why can't she bide her time awhile, watch and learn? Of course she couldn't. They wouldn't let her. But still, as least as Sylvie Testud plays her, she might have gotten on even Westerners' nerves. I can imagine working with or around her in such an office, but might not always like it. Yet add a life outside as indicated that quote with which I began, and it's possible to see not just a saner host society but a saner Amélie/Nothomb as well. Fubuki too, comes across a bit more complexly in the novel where she's a genuinely tragic figure, too old (at an insanely young age) to marry wisely, but this is at the expense of pages of exposition that would have stopped the film cold. When the vice-president has a screaming fit at Fubuki, Amélie sees unconscious sexual tension, an excuse for the fat man to get close to the imposing beauty. An unlikely but apt touch point film might be Neil Labute's 1997 In the Company of Men.

An American-born but much older coworker of mine used to tweak us by saying about Japanese visiting the Bay Area, "Hey, they reeeally impress me. They're so regimented! I wish I could be like that!" I don't think he meant it. More likely he was reminding us that those otherworldly visitors were not him. Stupeur et tremblements has the form of a horror flick, or even of Larry David-style embarrassment comedy. To get more out of it, try to imagine for each character, even the obese vice-president, a 24-hour day.

Thirst
(1979)

Waxed Cartons
Below is the first paragraph of my review of another genre-breaking film, Robin Campillo's Les Revenants (2004):

My memory of the 1979 Australian film Thirst turns on a single misleading image: blood in milk cartons on supermarket shelves. Well-heeled shoppers push carts to and fro down spic-and-span aisles. Though the film's creators hadn't the nerve, or perhaps the imagination, to carry through -- their vampires are conventionally dangerous since the blood in the cartons is human -- that image broke genre. It suggested a maligned, maybe ghettoized yet worldwide minority not just making do but thriving. To analogize any of several possible real world minorities would be wrong, considering where the film goes. But if Thirst were newer, we'd wonder, is the blood in the cartons artificial, created humanely in a lab? Is it vampire "soy milk"? Are these vegan vampires? Whatever the answer, in that supermarket image Thirst's vampires are us. They're no more horrific than we are. The genre collapses.

Les revenants
(2004)

Truffaut and Kiyoshi K.
My memory of the 1979 Australian film Thirst turns on a single misleading image: blood in milk cartons on supermarket shelves. Well-heeled shoppers push carts to and fro down spic-and-span aisles. Though the film's creators hadn't the nerve, or perhaps the imagination, to carry through -- their vampires are conventionally dangerous since the blood in the cartons is human -- that image broke genre. It suggested a maligned, maybe ghettoized yet worldwide minority not just making do but thriving. To analogize any of several possible real world minorities would be wrong, considering where the film goes. But if Thirst were newer, we'd wonder, is the blood in the cartons artificial, created humanely in a lab? Is it vampire "soy milk"? Are these vegan vampires? Whatever the answer, in that supermarket image Thirst's vampires are us. They're no more horrific than we are. The genre collapses.

Les Revenants alone isn't an especially good film. Its performances, its mise-en-scene, its pace, its use of language are adequate. Even its sublimely understated, and I think particularly French, satire of small-town politics and the bureaucracy of humane sociology won't make it last. But it will last, at least in compendiums of genre, because it collapses genre.

Mathieu's supervisor complains, "The new mains 55 feet below sea level…Temporary access to reach the depths prepared by workers…Tunnels access the different areas of the site…This makes no sense!" Well, no. But to viewers struggling to make sense, snagging already on hints the implications of which escape the film's normal characters (sleep, body temperature, aphasia, absence of physical fear, etc.), Mathieu's report may deliver a different, nearly poetic logic. The film's map-able in a startlingly vertical way. The municipal meeting room, whether I imagined or took clue from some image out the windows, seems at a level above the town. From above that level, disturbingly prescient aerial photos tag and track both less warm and warm beings, both them and us. Like the frolicking child in Truffaut's Small Change, a boy falls tragically from a balcony but to no harm. An elderly woman, who's ever dressed in an elderly woman's limp print dress, obsessively scales a ladder she props against a ten-foot hedge. Eventually Mathieu's tunnels have plot-wise use. A claustrophobic leave-taking transpires in one. At a different point, workers lie bodies upon (above) their graves.

I assumed, but don't know why, the phenomenon to be worldwide, but there's no clue save that no one says otherwise. All we see is the town. The barrage of statistics -- everyone who died in the past 15 years, X% are this old, Y% that old, Z% have jobs to return to, W% walk nine miles each day, V% of their language is U% comprehensible – often seems to apply just to the town, but more likely, given the level of the misguided science, is general. Why does (nearly) no one die in the film? In a town big enough to generate X corpses in 15 years, someone must die nearly every day. Probably the writers deemed more deaths inconvenient, or did the normal folk's lives freeze even to the suspension of accidental, deliberate, and health-related death until order returned?

If revenants emerge worldwide, then a key touch point film is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo. Why are Kurosawa's revenants horrific while the French ones are only aloof or just distracted? Compare the scenes between father, mother, and son with those between "mother" and "son" in Spielberg's AI. Finally compare the struggles of Stanislaw Lem's various protagonists to comprehend things they perhaps were never meant to, whether statistical anomalies in The Investigation or possible aliens in His Master's Voice.

Samaria
(2004)

Saintly Insanity
As narrative, Samaritan Girl makes little sense. Motivations defy logic or escape mention.

Jae-Young's rationalization based on Vasumitra, especially in an impressionable girl, I nearly believed, but her obsessive smile throughout, from her brief career to her suicidal jump to, finally, her death "mask" renders her either saintly or insane. Or she's both at once. Historically and in fiction, short life spans seem a symptom of that particular duality.

Director Kim never explains Yeo-Jin's decision to "undo" Jae-Young's diary entries. She simply does it. Whatever thoughts I imagine for her, because she returns the money, she in turn gains a saintly aura. Not one of the two girls' "johns" seems quite villainous. Even the worst behaved, the musician who blackmails Yeo-Jin into what amounts to rape, pauses at Jae-Young's death and at Yeo-Jin's reaction to it. However he behaves in that present, Jae-Young's clinging wish to see him suggests special empathy in her recent past with him. The men we see best seem jealous guardians of some rarified gift they've received knowing their unworthiness. How gentle seem the chubby one or two I don't know how better to identify, who we see I think only in the room. How humble, though irrational given the faces, first supportive, then hurt, surrounding him, seems the man whose family we meet. How many times does Kim bring up Teresa, the layer on of hands? Read Teresa. How sane, by our standards, was she?

Suspense, excruciating suspense, in the film's final two-thirds derives from the father's increasingly irrational reaction to his discovery. Instead of confronting Yeo-Jin with what he can have no doubt about, he turns into a righteous voyeur, then a violent one. I waited, and waited, and waited for him to confront Yeo-Jin, and at the same time for her to catch on to and confront him. In a sometimes very literal sense -- he doesn't turn when the family man jumps -- we don't even know if he hears the impact – Yeo-Jin's father doesn't look back, goes only forward. And so does she until (I think) the diary's exhausted.

Yeo-Jin's monochrome dream on the riverbed exhibits no less logic than the film that contains it. Rather than narrative, Samaritan girl's a poem with narrative elements, with three narrative threads or stanzas that follow on each other only vaguely, that overlap each other recklessly. Forget or only play with rationality. Look instead for juxtapositions, dream logic, miracles. If there's a saint here, a Samaritan girl to justify Kim's harping on Teresa, then I'm sure it's not the Vasumitra-obsessed Jae-Young, but the methodical, seemingly all-seeing Yeo-Jin. I'm not at all certain she doesn't know nearly as much Kim allows us to know about her father. Her saintliness seems nearly sane.

Touch points? Flannery O'Connor's fiction, Almodovar's Talk to Her, Kieslowski's Heaven.

Gunki hatameku motoni
(1972)

Corkscrew
I haven't seen all Fukasaku's work or even all those in English, and I'd been a little down on him since a read of Takami's novel cued me to a casting error that prevented Battle Royale from being even better than it is, but the minimalist Under the Flag of the Rising Sun may be his best. It's about war, and The War, and nationalism and bureaucracy, but also about memory. A hierarchical maze of live action, stills, and live again, color, black and white, and color again, captures layers we all experience in memory and perception. The corkscrew path the widow follows denies just long enough to unsettle no matter how one reacts to the resolution Fukasaku adds to the source novel.

Shiritsu tantei Hama Maiku: Namae no nai mori
(2002)

Dream Dreams More Amusing
Dropped in this rental one lazy night, hardly remembering what I'd ordered. Knew it was another Maiku hama. At least one of the "Mike Hammers" had played the San Francisco Film Fest one year, and amused mildly. Expecting farce, I watched the grainy nighttime opening segue to a really seventies set up: father seeks daughter's rescue from cult. Rockford. Cult members eschew names for numbers. The Prisoner. Finally I grabbed the sleeve. How old? What? 2002? No! Yes. Not '72. And no I hadn't mis-seen the director's name. Shinji Aoyama, two years after Eureka, not, apparently, some freshman effort. Then came (small spoiler) the tree. No, this one isn't lethal, but a line or two the cult-mother doctor speaks to Maiku make the allusion plain enough. When did Kurosawa release Charisma? 1999, not just before this but before even Eureka.

Not quite awful but, like a lot of seventies trash, dreamy, lazy, naive, lulling, simple, dark, something to fall asleep to and dream dreams more amusing.

La petite Chartreuse
(2005)

Am I Weakening?
I'm not sure there's a translation yet, so how available it may be to other English speakers, but I've made a point of reading Péju's "La Petite Chartreuse" before commenting the film based on it.

The read, two months and a half after seeing the film, was a bizarre experience. Despite myself, I entered the novel with expectations. I entered it anticipating its conclusion. It begins in what I think of as L'Etranger mode. Not just Camus' one, but three self-absorbed-yet-reacting-to-their-environs characters—Eva, her mother, and memory-savant Vollard—gravitate toward the accident that will irrevocably change each. This wasn't so different. Denis and his cinematographer had attempted something like it. I read on.

Pieces fell in: the mother's psychological and physical absence, her incompetence, prompting Vollard's reluctant yet ever-increasing movement toward Eva. The film's mother had been so much easier to forgive, even while blaming her. Is it harder to deny face, voice, and eyes than their more rational representation in prose? In prose as on screen, Vollard versus Eva and her ailment amounts to "mutisme contra mutisme" (p. 253, Gallimard, 2002). Other things challenged my memory. What's this 1968 strikes stuff? Who's this narrator who becomes an "I" for a single chapter, then recuses himself in favor of all too omniscient third-person? Did the film's bookshop burn? I don't think so, but… Was there bungee jumping? Maybe. As the novel closed, I grew panicky. How can what-has-to-happen happen in the eighth an inch of pages left?! In a sixteeth?!!

The answer is that Péju's prose didn't allow to happen my film-born what-has-to-happen. The filmmakers, while keeping and using nearly all Péju's dark elements, wrested from them a better feeling, even a heroic finish. Maybe it's just that I'm a smalltime climber, so felt almost as if I knew the snowy col the film's Vollard crosses at last, but as I traversed the whole novel I felt I was climbing to a sort of redemption.

The novel closes darkly against the light of the film that succeeds it. I tend to hate bogus film endings, movie endings. Why not this time, this one? Am I weakening?

Me and You and Everyone We Know
(2005)

No Trailing Vowels After All
(I have nothing much to say, but feel the urge anyway, so watch out.)

If nothing else here, I love a complex title. Me, You, and Them: three more or less equal units. Us and them: two. Me, and You Guys: differently two. Me, You, Them, and (implied) Everyone We Don't Know: four. Me, You, Them, and Absolutely Every Everyone We Don't Know: tending to infinity. And then, "Me" of course may refer to director/actress July, to her character Christine Jeperson, to John Hawks' character, to either of the two sons, etc. July generously gives Hawkes at least equal weight in the tale. If somehow we could forget she wrote the thing, July the solo performance artist would be no solo protagonist.

At least a couple of Bay Area reviewers praised the film while taking exception with July as lead actress. Though I can't imagine her having used anyone else, going in I feared I'd know what they meant. Her I knew not at all, but some aspiring performance artists fall victim to what I call trailing vowel syndrome (TVS). TVS isn't primarily a performance issue. It's a poetry read-aloud fault that's bugged me for years. Readers, even of their own work, instead of conversing naturally with listeners, mercilessly draw out usually the final vowel in each line, thinking that they're adding I can't imagine quite what: sometimes, certainly, gravitas; other times drama or simply the cutes. This breathily unnatural, unnecessary punctuation destroys the melody of syntax. Unnatural pauses at the end of line after line wreak the same sort of damage. It's not at all a female thing. Men do it as well. (Whatever you think of Sally Potter, watch how seamlessly most of the rhymed verse in "Yes" goes down. I loved especially Potter's ingenious maids. Dylan's genius was (is?) for turning syntax into melody. "What was it you wanted, when you were kissing my cheek?") Poetry slammers can be especially grating, trailing vowels loudly instead of sheepishly. Inexperienced or dubiously talented performance artists trail vowels all over the place. They listen to themselves internally, instead through their audience's ears. Craving our empathy, they fail to empathize with us, their targets, their victims, their audience. Though we may sense now or then July's discomfort, even her discomfort with the dual roll of actress and orchestrator-on-the-set, I don't think she ever loses her hold of the audience's perspective. She just about never trails vowels. If she does at all, it's in her performance pieces within the film, and that's okay because they're fiction, they're self-parody. Like Stephen Daedelus' poetry, they don't have to be good. They're make-believe. Even if, outside the film they're successful pieces, within it they don't have to succeed, they're not real, they're less real.

John Hawkes' philosophical shoe salesman, the older of his sons, and a smug neighbor girl working quietly on her consumerist hope chest come across as the most grounded characters in the film, though not necessarily the sanest.

Hikaru no go
(2001)

Perfect Go
Elsewhere I've tried to define a perhaps personal subgenre, "club films" or "but I don't belong to the club" films, works so inexpertly imbued with an obsession, a politics, a specialty, a cause that image and language fail to communicate to the uninitiated: not-for-laughs flat-earth treatises, causes screamed too loudly to decipher, music to which ears must be trained. Hikaru no go (HNG) is a different sort of club film, a wonderfully intricate one that I could hardly stop watching through 26 or so hours spread over ten DVDs. I'm not sure how well total non-players will follow it. Maybe they can. But it's enough of an insiders' document that I feel I need to list credentials before speaking about it.

This, as slight as they are, is them: I learned Go using a pair of software programs, Many Faces of Go (MFG) and Go Nemesis, four or five years ago, but I've never played a human. Against the earliest versions I often won. Now, against MFG 11.0, I almost never do. Lately I don't play at all, just do "Problems" now and then. A very different gaming world, chess, I know a little bit better. There too, I've never played in clubs, but I've read volumes, occasionally played up to Expert-rated club players, and once a Master who've happened to work with me. I've seen players' personalities clash with some pretty wild fireworks over the years even in my rather low-class workplace.

Recently the Italian film La Meglio gioventù shocked audiences here, by being entertaining, coherent, a unified whole, and not at all "long" at six full hours. At twenty-six, HNG has a novelistic feel. With a couple of exceptions (that in the US would cry "network intervention" (a baseball episode!)) toward the finish, it's no more episodic than a three-year TV series can help being. A single thread, Hikaru's introduction, through the ephemeral Sai, to the game of Go, and Hikaru's slow germination as a rival to Sai, drives every episode. Hikaru grows at such a credible pace that at the conclusion, despite his certain future, he's still losing games that a more "Rocky"-like hero would win. Rare indications of his true strength -- an angry win over a young Korean -- a furiously quick and accurate game on a trip seeking Sai's grave -- the "white-on-white" game -- the deliberate tie games -- and once simply seeing what Touya Meijin might better have played against Sai -- incorporate his future into HNG's present. At the same time, of course, he begins to lose his childhood. Adult opponents and companions play a big role. Hikaru's and Touya Akira's Go abilities undermine the traditional hierarchy of age. The game often removes Hikaru from school literally, but it increasingly removes him also from his schoolmates' concerns.

The clearly low-budget animation works better than fans spoiled by Miyazaki might expect. Its virtuosity is in its montage, not in detail of motion or shading but in the virtuosity of what is shown and when. At best it has the simplicity of sumi-e. Just often enough, Go positions punctuate the tale. These are real. Freeze the frame, and examine. Even if they're over your head, a novice can intuit something. Even a non-player may see that a stone slammed down in a vast open area marks an event. Miraculously, positions never halt the narrative. The flying-hands business placing crucial stones seems a little hokey at first, but I got used to it.

Complimenting the animation is exquisite voice-acting (I know nothing of the dub indicated in IMDb's cast list and count myself fortunate). How many ways are there for Hikaru and others to utter "Sai"? I don't know, but somehow the actors have found dozens and just the right ones. The adults always are adults, the children's voices age subtly, and each character sounds wonderfully distinct. Some may be unique to anime. Voices match images. I think just hearing the husky nasality of the unlikely girl (rice-bowl haircut) who drives the school Go club after Hikaru has to abandon it, you could almost picture her. She reminds me a little of the heroine of Junji Sakamoto's Kao (2000). The breathy wistfulness of Sai's voice foretells constantly his fate in the series, yet at other times he's childlike and so is his voice, but with just enough adult timber. Maybe obsession with a game is childlike, or maybe very old ghosts become childlike as can very elderly living beings.

I can think of just one film touch point for HNG, Kentarô Ôtani's Travail (2002), a live-action romantic comedy in which Shinya Tsukamoto (director of Tetsuo Ironman, 1988) plays the meek husband of a driven Shoji player. HNG is light years better. It's also light years better than any of the attempts to portray chess in English or European language films.

Finally, one down point, though ultimately irrelevant. Beginning I think with the second DVD (overseas box set, not Viz), the subtitling goes totally bizarre: virtually every verb is given the wrong tense and sometime plurals and singulars confused. HNG is so strong, in its story and its voice-acting, that this hardly mattered. It annoys, but that's all. Despite thousands of screen hours I've sat through, I doubt if I recognize a hundred words of Japanese. This goes on for a few disks, during which you'll stop noticing, until a more knowledgeable subtitler takes over.

Un, deux, trois, soleil
(1993)

Cliché…Cliché...Cliché…Soleil!
I used to look forward to Blier, I think because he knew how to surprise. Then his two regulars moved on. Patrick Dewaere died. Depardieu, working constantly and still talented, became fat and rich. Blier continued to turn out idiosyncratic works, but eventually I was reading about them in the Cahiers more often I could see them in this country.

What I used to anticipate, was a single startling thought exercise transformed into an hour-and-a-half-long conversation between usually three, maybe four, at least slightly frantic individuals: Get Out Your Handkerchiefs; Buffet Froid; Beau Pere; My Best Friend's Girl; Too Beautiful for You. Un, Deux, Trois, Soleil, disappointed me a little because it lacks the earlier films' challenging premises. In it, Blier experiments with style. It's an exercise in form more than in thought. Though it surprises constantly, it poses nothing as intriguing as those older films' puzzles.

Nearly everything in this film, even adults playing themselves as children and the dead getting in their two cents and more long after they're cold, is some degree of cliché. That's not to fault Blier. His title announces as much: 1…2…3…Boo! Cliché...cliché...cliché...Soleil! Drunken Pa, domineering mother, boring husband, exiting past fling, hot school teacher(Where are the rest of the girls in the class?), incapable-of-guilt bar-keeper. The surprises, and nearly the only real pleasure, come from the clichés' arrangement, from distortions in narrative order.

Though it's set up mid-film, with references to the 722 door, Mastroianni's big scene at the finish struck me as a producer's move, not a director's. This wasn't Mastroianni's film. It was Anouk Grinberg's (Victorine). Any of many actors could have played his role. There was no need for the character to be Italian. Grinberg began and should have finished the film.

Mysterious Skin
(2004)

What It's Not
I used to define a broad range as but-I-don't-belong-to-the-club films. The issue wasn't so much subject matter as presentation. These films speak most successfully to viewers who share the filmmaker's world view, vocabulary, anger, joy, politics, or whatever. An extreme example might be an angrily pro-creationist film. But given films with identical subject matter, one will be a "club" film, while another fascinates. I know some feminist efforts have been "club," yet only memory prevents me rattling off dozens that were sublime (Citizen Ruth and Baise moi, both sublime, surface I'm not sure why). One whose name I should but can't recall, extremely well thought of, about generations of black women on an Atlantic coast island afforded me little entry though I think I tried a second time or third time on TV. On the other hand, the 2004 doc, A Doula Story, about a near saintly woman assisting births in dour West Chicago thrilled me beyond words. Mel Gibson's offer of righteous suffering I declined. Trailers for third-rate romantic comedies, African-American, gay, or whatever, make me cringe, not because of their subject matter but because they're third rate or not even third rate, because their makers fail to achieve universality. Others, African-American, gay, religious, feminist, whatever, start the very same places, but do achieve it.

Mysterious Skin surfaced as the third and final entry in a "Sneaks" program at this year's SFIFF. Festival goers took their seats to discover each film's title only after the lights went down. Before the second Sneak, a slightly goofy journalist passing up and down the aisle telling people "It's Star Wars!" had another woman so disappointed she was ready to bolt. That sneak turned out to be Carroll Ballard's beautiful Dula, so order returned.

I don't know whether Araki's ever made a "club" film. Haven't seen the others. But when the lights went down on Mysterious skin, his name and reputation had me thinking it an oddly un-middle-of-the-road selection for a blind sneak. I've been so naive that I left high school without knowing what the routine homophobic playground taunts actually meant. Mishima's Confessions of Mask had the same science-fictiony value as Kobo Abe's novels (perhaps most significantly here "Face of Another"). Proust's Marcel, at least my first time through in Moncrieff's English, seemed such a homophobe in his descriptions of Charlus, and his experiences of Albertine, Gilberte, and the "jeunes filles en fleurs" were so comprehensible to me, that I still balk at gay-lit Proust.

But no way is Mysterious Skin a "club" film. It's graphic, in the sense of what is portrayed but not what is shown. It's maybe a little alien to someone like me, but alien in a way that makes its science fiction analogy ingenious and sublime. Joseph Gordon-Levitt comes across with such acuity that it took me a good while to remember he was, relatively speaking, the comic straight man of the Third Rock family.

Maybe that's enough, the message that it's not a "club" film but one that as many as can bear it should see.

FLCL
(2000)

Humble Advice
Here's a tip relevant especially to FLCL. Ordinarily I despise anime dubbing, but as I watched the final two hours of FLCL words flew so fast and furious that I had to experiment. First thing I found was FLCL's dubbing isn't awful: no twenty-year-old voices from forty-year-old mouths. Even so, something was missing.

My solution went like this. (1) Turn on both English subtitles and English audio. The two never match, and FLCL is no exception. A maximum information, more than from either alone, comes from both played against each other. (2) Make a point of switching back to Japanese at regular intervals so as not to lose important rhythms.

Other than that, FLCL is superb, wildly Freudian (or something along that line), and, for its electric guitars, one of three great musically based anime I can think of at the moment. The others, of course, are Cowboy Bebop (but not its awful movie) and Samurai Champloo.

Tout va bien
(1972)

So Full It Explodes
For a film by Godard to be as devoid of beauty, in either sound or image, as is Tout va bien, is extremely rare. The Dziga Verov Group video stuff, if I'm grabbing the right memories, back at the time at the PFA had extraordinary moments. I've always considered him a director who, along with, in particular, Rohmer, knows how to shoot women. Fonda projects a searching integrity, yet sounds arch and looks mawkish, somehow unworthy of Montand. Montand for the most part acts his lines, while she "reads" or, worse, declaims hers. Did she think the politics of the film prohibited a natural tone? Did one or the other of the directors prohibit one? Would anyone today have rendered the film's workers so strident, so atonal, though clearly the directors did it on purpose and with a purpose

Those are just gut reactions, my spoiled-by-the-present knee-jerk attempt to glean cinema from a work with aims that may supersede. I thought I'd seen all the Godard that's been available here, and know I saw Godard here in the Bay Area in person, then Godard with Gorin at least twice, and Gorin alone once or twice more. Why then hadn't I seen this? Or how did I manage to forget it?

Images likely to stay with me: The check-signings of the opening credits (which made me fantasize some blockbuster director beginning a film the same way); the boss frantic to find a toilet (Has anyone not dreamed this nightmare at least once?); the unending roar of cash registers in the super supermarket at the end. The last sent me on an odd fantasy -- customers reversing the tide, bringing unnecessary possessions into a super supermarket, filling the shelves, then the aisles, and all the airspace until the place is so full it explodes.

Though not quite the same thing, but see the not too long ago South Park episode aimed at megastores.

L'intrus
(2004)

Comfortably Comforting
My take on this, at our local festival where people would see me so often they thought me a better source than I may actually have been, began with a head shake: "Well, I can't summarize the plot, but it's a really superb character study of an extremely scary man." Then, slight embarrassment, I ran into someone who actually knew what had gone down, that is, from whom Trebor unwittingly gets his new heart. It'd been my last film in a long, long day halfway through the festival. Maybe I'd dozed. The better a film is the more likely it triggers daydreams that send me really dreaming. Don't know. Did know there was an O'Henry twist achingly just beyond my ken as things finished. And knew it had to do with the heart, hence the quietly hilarious talent search. My plot-loss remark had more to do with intricacies of Trebor's connections in France, his relation to the dog woman and so on, stuff I'd been wide awake for. Denis barely glances at details that might have anchored another director's treatment.

But I write these things too often from memory, especially festival films, films whose DVD I don't have at hand (Le Lait de la tendresse humaine is one of many examples.), and plot kinks fade much more quickly than broader impressions. Still, or already, L'Inrus in my memory is beyond all else a character study of a sort of dark-side superman, a super fiend not ensconced in genre or historical trappings but active and plausible, relatively soft-spoken, driven but patient, right among us. The scar, once he attains it, makes him, just visually I mean, in image, a sort of hybrid Frankenstein monster, mad doctor and creation all in one. The actual doctors are his tools. If he doesn't extract and install the heart himself, it's only because it's not possible. He's the force, always, the parasite consuming everyone he touches and finally himself. What else is he? To suggest that he's us, the First World versus the Third, seems too simple since he feeds no less on his fellow First Worlders, on all of us.

Denis's camera's eye - when it looks at things I know - goes usually where mine would, so I tend to trust her when she looks at things I don't know. Snow trekking, too-fast bicycling, and forest darkness I've known in small ways, but the South Seas not at all, so I made better entry into L'Intrus, both France and the crystalline isles of its finish, than into Beau Travail. L'Intrus is, for me, a very comfortable discomforting film. It's a sequence of places portrayed familiarly, with a intimacy that allows us to know them whether we've seen the reality or not. A single image, Trebor cycling, his massive weight on the thin racing frame, the sounds of violated air and shrieking tires, the asphalt ribbon, the dark-in-bright-sun evergreens, cued me that the film would be linear, a road trip, a single will-driven thrust.

Despite Trebor's personal power, he's a human failure. No matter who he's with, he's alone, though apparently he hasn't always been. His body aborts life twice, first to need the new heart, then despite it. L'Intrus is tragedy. Trebor is hubris.

I'm navigating perilously the thread of what I remember. Let's leave it at that.

Nagai yume
(2000)

A Reasonable Stretch
Way back don't know when, I realized what death might entail. I became really unhappy about what I called the "cessation of conscious being." In other words: "not existing," not finding out what happens next, and next, and next, and… Things like the sun going red, or the Big Crunch that used to be going to follow the Big Bang, bothered the hell out of me. How was I going to know what happens next if everywhere and everything mashes down to a singularity? When I tried to image not existing, I'd never quite get there. The last moment just went on and on. I was a runner running ever tinier halves of the distance remaining. Comforting, if irrational, infinity, what Rudy Rucker might call a small infinity, an infinity inside of other infinites, spared me forever the dreaded finish line.

Nagai yume plays off this nonsense that I wish wasn't nonsense. First one, then another, patient in a psychiatric clinic falls into a succession of small infinities. Dreams last longer than sleep that contains them, longer and longer until eventually there's no return.

Anyway, this is a pretty cool film, better than Higuchinsky's Uzumaki (Spiral) thing, if only because it's shorter with a much smaller world to create. I didn't exactly mind the single special effect, the bodily transformations, but I can see how Nagai yume might have been even better, and ironically even cheaper, without them. Without the crutch, what infinities might the camera have achieved? Think I would have shot this in black and white, for an ambiance like that of A Snake in June or La Jetée. Secondhand images, both video and still, have such import in Nagai yume that La Jetée is a reasonable stretch.

Rain Is Falling
(2004)

Simplicity
I've always loved documentary portrayal, in fiction films, of craft: the papermaking in Inugami, the embroidery in Sequins (Brodeuses), Maki's print work in Turn (Taan), the book preservation lore that creeps into Lie Lie Lie and La Meglio gioventù, even the studiously intricate binding in Undo. So simple a thing as sweeping, or raking, will do, if a mind is shown at work. I don't sit watching how-to channels, this-old-house kind of thing. It's not that. Fiction is absolutely necessary to whatever I mean. Not craft, but the portrayal of craft gets to me. The sweet spot's on a fringe, a netherworld of fiction, a place where fiction's just heightened reality but where reality, unassisted, would appear insignificant or insufficient.

Rain Is Falling portrays no particular craft. It begins with a young girl's brief journey, a winding workaday path home. Just as she steps inside to check her ailing, perhaps unconscious mother, serious rain begins to fall. The map of her path home gives way to the map of a room. As water threads along interior beams, she rushes to and fro placing bowls under drips. When one stream threatens to pool and fall right onto her mother's face, she grabs a glass and manages to catch the first drop, but the rain goes on. Drips come too fast. The glass is going to fill and spill. There's no way to switch it for another.

With poetic simplicity, she solves the problem.

Ooru naito ronga 3: Sanji
(1996)

A Long I Don't Know
I'm no slouch at finding "redeeming social value." Whatever book or film people want to suppress, from Huck Finn/Heart of Darkness to, I don't know, Deep Throat or the latest hostage beheading, I sincerely wish they wouldn't. I'm not a lover of porn or of violence-as-entertainment, but what of them I chance upon I tend to see camera angles, cuts, pans, lighting, rhythms, nearly to the exclusion of fear or titillation, sometimes even missing filmmakers' or actors' intent. Even from footage that reasonable people may argue should never have existed, I always imagine there's something to learn. I wonder more at how a film does than about what it does. Maybe that's wrong of me. Wiser but harder than deconstructing unpleasant cinema, might be to see cuts, pans, etc., at one with and inseparable from no matter what content. I ask myself what horror filmmakers and church architects have in common. Add in political filmmakers, fascist and not. All manipulate with light, space, and sound in order to alter perception and mood. How different are their goals? How different are the goals of those who film real atrocities for use as propaganda?

When the original All Night Long (ANL) trilogy appeared on my shelf, I left it unwatched for nearly year. Curiosity had made me buy it. I sampled a few minutes of "1" the day it arrived, up to the awkwardly sound-effected street corner stabbing that seems really an attack on film viewers' sensibility, found it inept but effective. I'd have to come back to it, certainly, but didn't relish the prospect. Clearly this wasn't the sublime horror of Kairo, Cure, Angel Dust, Lain, the rawer but still traditionally framed horror of the first Evil Dead Trap, the overtly political work of Koji Wakamatsu, or even the brilliant crudity of early Cronenberg.

Maybe that word "attack" is key. Matsumura attacks not his characters, but his viewers. I can't watch these at this point in history without thinking of both Abu Garib (some of which I think I recall was evidenced on video) and the hostage videos, but also about Godard's torturers (in Le Petit soldat?) to whom atrocity is just a job, a fraction of a person's workday. And then there's the prolonged Northern California news story whose details I barely remember but can't entirely forget because it too entails "cinema," a duo of serial killers notorious, if suggestion isn't playing games with my memory, for having videotaped themselves torturing victims.

All three ANL entries are revenge cinema, vigilante exercises, but I'm attaching these notes ANL3 because it's the most ambitious and may constitute a turning point for director Matsumura. (I haven't seen the entries that followed ANL3.) Through the first two offerings, I imagined a camera fallen into the hands of one of those fringe kids from middle or grammar school who obsessively draw war scenes or other atrocities. (Or as if one of Matsumura's revenge-crazed characters had turned writer-director. Anyone watching these who hasn't seen Michael Powell's Peeping Tom would do well to see it.) But ANL3 seems to aspire to mainstream. Matsumura's protagonist grows carnivorous plants, allowing for some typically Japanese cool close-up nature shots. There's also, for the first time a Matsumura film, a traditionally erotic sequence: Kikuo's female boss sneaks up and begins to caress him while he's peeping at the love hotel's customers. Kikou finds himself unhappily sandwiched between. He's a middleman voyeur. The brief thrill comes from the layers of voyeurism. There's even a philosophical/poetic garbage sifter, a garbage voyeur who somehow makes me think of the poem repeated in Wakamatsu's not-at-all-what-it-sounds-like Go, Go, Secondtime Virgin.

I'm getting nowhere with this, and it's getting in the way of my commenting other films. Can't escape the suspicion that a few years on I'll walk into a Matsumura retrospective at my local film archive, maybe hosted by some learned character who's caught onto something I'm missing.

How much does it matter whether the director is or simply "gets" his lethally muddled protagonists? Does he even have to understand them? Maybe a director's job is just to spew it out, then let critics, sociologists, and the rest of us hash things out. Maybe directorial or artistic responsibility is a bogus notion.

My final struggle with this thing had me wondering what on earth a woman thinks watching these overwhelmingly male exercises. We put women through this over and over, from Star Wars to et cetera and et cetera and on and on and on and on, but is anything quite as male-skewed as the All Night Longs?

The Ballad of Jack and Rose
(2005)

Still Alive
One thing about The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and it's no small thing: Whoever made the trailer seems to have actually cared. All or nearly all its "catch" shots and dialog come from the film's first several minutes. The trailer isn't good. Virtually no trailer is that. But, if I recall, as every trailer should be, it's a puzzle, an unnarrated montage, whose answers can be found by seeing the film.

Just got home from this, so have random notes only.

Miller's camera seldom rests, curves constantly round one face or another in extreme close-up. Now and then the giant screen faces overlap. Toward the end the camera will rest longer and longer. Motion becomes less necessary.

Day Lewis's lethal purr of an accent may have been worth the admission price. Don't know that much of Keener's work, but have come to expect her in suits and dark short "suit" type hair (Death to Smoochy, The Interpreter, etc.), usually without children. So here she's a slight revelation. Though I've always appreciated her, without the credits I might not have known her. A greater revelation is Ryan McDonald as the quieter of the two sons, the overweight one, who's picked up somewhere a piercing honesty and insight. How many of this guy have we all known, and maybe carelessly dismissed, ourselves? I'm not sure about the gay hints; it seems unnecessary to the character. Kids use the fag tag on anyone the least bit strange. That he turns Rose down from utter disinterest seems facile. He looks genuinely frightened. That she doesn't realize that by "choosing" him she risks seriously hurting him, shows just how naïve Rose is. The charity with which he turns her down shows his wisdom, yet what he does to her hair is dangerous. His failing to realize the danger, or his going ahead even though he does realize, shows his own naivety. Does Day Lewis ever speak with him?

Why exactly did Miller choose to make Rose the most dangerous of these characters, the only one to risk doing serious, even lethal harm? Yes, she's Jack's "fault." We can blame him, but do we? Yes, she survives, but does she really? That "two years later" coda I didn't need. It tells me nothing, or too little. I like her. I prefer her to Keener and sons, but what the coda tries to tell me I don't know whether to believe. She doesn't necessarily look "better" there. She's still alive is all.

Lakposhtha parvaz mikonand
(2004)

Like Metal Shavings
What impressed me most about this war movie in which there mostly is no war, is the way Satellite's throngs of children move from one place to another. They embody at once both order and chaos, morph continuously yet in accordance with minute indecipherable rules, like a sky-blackening flock of small birds, like a school of fish, an animal herd, or shavings deflected by a magnet. Satellite's their magnet. (Not long ago I read a review of a book, called "Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another," whose scientists purport that, though individuals act randomly, masses of humans behave like molecules in liquids, flow in similar, maybe similarly-predictable, patterns.) The few adults in the film also come in flocks, or at least twos or threes, though more traditionally ordered. One exception is the teacher. The nighttime group who, in flashback, violate Riga is, notably, a pack. I absolutely don't mean to excuse them at all, but in their brief dark explosive scenes they look as in control as leaves in a river. Rarely does anyone except the three principals, Satellite, Riga, and the one-armed boy, stand alone.

What of Riga? Is she -- don't misunderstand -- I mean her no blame – an eddy at stream's edge, in which her violators' single offspring circles downward with no escape?

When one child announces he'll go away with his father, to the city, we know the film's ending, that forces stronger than Satellite have come into play, or that they always were in play.

Les yeux sans visage
(1960)

White
Les Yeux sans visage is yet another case of a film re-seen after along time, of firsthand experience pitted against images remembered. (I've begun so many reviews with that thought that if I were somebody there'd have to a parody.) First in memory has always been the clinky -- reminds yet doesn't of the pianos in Shoot the Piano Player -- theme music, especially behind the dark nervous camera, the swaying near-white on black trees and white road highlights of the opening sequence. Once, thanks to careless planning, I spent a night near freezing in a groove atop Death Valley's Telescope Peak in wind so strong I couldn't stand at all. In a couple of my photos, the flash rendered the swaying trees as eerie as those caught by Franju's swaying camera.

Besides the opening, I remembered Christiane's white mask and little else. The mask hovered in my memory alone, like those highlights caught by Louise's headlights. So I used this viewing to note just how much light, white, and brightness there is in this dark film. The film is nearly all light: the mask; Christiane's dress; Louise's pearl choker; the hospital walls brighter even at night than ordinary bulbs ever make an interior, as bright as sunlit; the daytime cemetery that blends at the top of the screen into a white sky; the sunlit town streets and plaza where Louis stalks her prey; the white medical garb; the operating room; the operating masks. The victims begin clothed in the black-and-white equivalent of earth tones and end clad in white.

But memory's tricking me again already. I watch again on fast-forward, and see less white. Or, this may mean little. I see less driving a road than when walking it.

Random notes: Early on I forget which character -- the doctor or a colleague -- announces the films tragic end: "The future is something we should have started long ago." Because the hospital's so unnaturally white inside, its stained glass looks grayed. Christiane's mask is like one half of the comedy/tragedy duo. Or is it those two merged, canceling each other? What of Christiane's familiarity with the dogs? Her identification with them as victims is too obvious. Does her passive complicity make her as vicious as they sound? Despite the beauty of Chistiane's final walk midst freed dogs and white birds, what happens to her beyond the film's end is almost certainly not good.

An obvious touch point, of course, is Teshigahara's Face of Another (Tanin no kao), almost impossible to see just now. But Kobo Abe's novel, same name, is nearly identical to its offspring.

Hakuchi
(1951)

Taeko's Laughter
My first and only previous viewing of Hakuchi came while our local yet world famous Pacific Film Archive was relatively new. I'd been working my way through George Sadoul's Dictionary of Film, naively fantasizing catching everything in it, checking off items I did manage to see, and lucking into complete (or nearly) retrospectives of a number of directors including Renoir, Ray, Mizoguchi, and Kurosawa. The Idiot may have been for me as a reader the most special of the translated Russians and Sadoul's running-time entry for Hakuchi -- "265 mins. (original version); 166 minutes (general release version)" – broke my heart. In the years since, though I haven't actively looked, I've encountered no clue as to the content of the destroyed footage, no hint as to whether anything at all, even memory or hearsay, may remain. Can there be anyone still living who saw the full version? Are there accounts in untranslated Japanese film literature?

The film as it stands strikes me as Kurosawa's most imperfectly realized. Whether he or someone else did the criminal reedit, it begins with disparate scenes linked by narrative intertitles. These intrusions so closely resemble the apologetic substitutions for unrecoverable scenes in recent film restorations that I imagine they represent the cuts. Background and setup seem the most obvious place to have cut. The explosive scene around the fireplace and wad of money, now just bizarre, unsupported, seems precisely where an airhead producer might have begun the film. As the film nears its end, scenes flow into one another with increasing ease. But, really, who knows? What have we lost, if even those delicate later convolutions suffered the knife? Donald Richie, in The Films of Akira Kurosawa, nods at the controversy over the film's length and Kurosawa's failed defense, yet whines about the early intertitles as if they were part of the original design.

Despite all that, the casting of Setsuko Hara as Taeko (Nastasya Filippovna) makes me wonder if the film was doomed anyway. Her beauty, as least in this film, is a cold thing. I recall Nastasya as a flighty, sometimes generous woman able, with varying success, to hide her feelings behind good-natured laughter. Men's verbal ploys and attacks often ratcheted upward her gaiety. As much as beauty, unpredictability drew men to her. We -- I mean men -- both desire and fear beauty, and we both desire and fear women's unpredictability. Taeko's so deliberate nearly always that there's too little explanation left in the film for the other two men's entrancement with her, and too little for Myshkin's. She's so dark and so darkly clothed, almost as if in mourning, so sedate, so prone to miming each thought before she speaks it that she appears fifteen years older than her rival Ayako. No small part of The Idiot is the spontaneity of Nastasya, the irony with which the fight over her turns a fluid creature into an achingly deliberative one. Taeko's silence should resound while the two men mourn her. It doesn't because she never lived anyway in Hakuchi. Did cut scenes destroy Taeko's mirth, imbue in its place this haggard wisdom? Did somebody cut Taeko's laughter?

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