Alexandar

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Reviews

12 Angry Men
(1957)

One angry woman vs. "12 Angry Men"?
12 Angry Men (1957)****

In 1957. following five films were in the competition for the Best Picture Academy Award: David Lean's "Bridge on the River Kwai", Joshua Lagan's "Sayonara", Mark Robson's "Peyton Place", Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men" and Billy Wilder's "Witness for the Prosecution". Pretty impressive list. Not surprisingly, Oscar went to Bridge…

The last two (12 Angry Men and Witness for the Prosecution) were both exciting and intense courtroom dramas. 12 Angry Men, written by Reginald Rose, was about 12 jurors with not an easy task – to decide whether a young man is guilty or innocent on the charge of murder. Their decision must be unanimous. Witness for the Prosecution was a complex, unpredictable and full-of-surprises mystery from the novel written by famous Agatha Christie. Both excellent movies.

Somewhere I read that Agatha Christie once said something like:12 Angry Men is an awfully stupid movie because it is not operating with the facts but only with the jurors' presumptions. I don't know whether she really said that (she'll excuse me if not) but this is rather pseudo-argument.

Although it is true that the jurors are operating rather with "ideas" than "facts" in this film this is certainly not a flaw or weakness.

Almost everything seems clear after the trial and jurors vote 11:1 for "guilty". Only, juror #8 (Henry Fonda) votes "innocent" not because he think he is but because he think that the boy deserves some discussion. Slowly, toward the end, one by one, all judges change their votes as a result of a long, intense discussions and quarrels.

These discussions are the battle of nerves, personal observations, prejudices, moralities – in a word – characters. Because there is a little fact, jurors are forced to project their own perspectives. This is very significant, since it is happening in all courts and among all judges.

While all the judges, one by one, reveal their thoughts, there is absolutely brilliant, detailed and consistent character development in this film. Also, since the judges are from the various backgrounds there's a superb representation of American society. In addition with the great directorial effort from Lumet (in his debut!), who made great atmosphere using special lenses, long cadres and extracting the maximum from the actors, we have a truly unforgettable film.

Agatha Christie maybe created the great plot (also clever dialog) in Witness for the Prosecution, but "12 Angry Men" is digging much deeper.

L'eclisse
(1962)

More than decent conclusion of a great trilogy
L'Eclisse (1962)***1/2

Third film in Antonioni's trilogy of alienation following L'Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961) about a young woman (Monica Vitti) and her brief affair with handsome Alain Delon.

Like in his other movies, Antonioni uses specific techniques not to tell the story but rather to express the lack of communication among the characters, their alienation and incapableness to make a strong and meaningful relation. May this be because of their shallow characters or as a result of living in a modern society marked with the superficial values like prestigious and run-for-the-money – it's up to the viewer to decide. Anyway, long cadres, real time events, visual metaphors and visual contrasts between the characters on the one side and landscapes and/or modern day creations like buildings, streets (usually empty) on the other is what makes this rather experience than a plot-movie (intentionally) but nevertheless effective in their purpose (which is to express and transmit this same feelings of alienation to the viewer). So, if you're looking for an entertainment, you better skip this one. Final scene is great in concluding the movie. A bit weaker of great L'Avventura.

L'avventura
(1960)

Innovative study on alienation
L'Avventura (1960)****

Young woman (Lea Massari) suddenly disappears during a boating trip on an inhabited island. Shortly afterward, her boyfriend (Gabriele Ferzetti) and her best friend (Monica Vitti) became attracted to each other.

However, don't expect the mystery. This is a study of emotional isolation, moral decay, lack of the communication and emptiness of rich people in contemporary (then) society. You can easily be bored by the slow pace and the lack of dramatics of this movie unless you capture its true purpose. This is "state of mind" or experience film rather than conventional plot film. Antonioni practically discovered the new movie language in L'Avventura. By using formal instruments he is expressing emotions of the characters (loneliness, boredom, emptiness and emotional detachment) and the viewer is forced rather to feel this same emotions himself than to be involved in the story and its events. These formal instruments are: slow rhythm, real-time events, long takes, visual metaphors like inhabited island(s), fog, extreme long shots (small characters in panorama) and putting protagonists on inhabited streets or large buildings and landscapes.

Great cinematography. Forms trilogy with La Notte (1961) and L'Eclisse (1962).

Andrey Rublev
(1966)

Demanding but highly rewarding
Andrei Rublev (1969)****

After the successful debut with Ivan's Childhood (1962) very talented Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky decided to shot a picture about the XV Century famous icon painter.

This is not a typical biography film since there are little facts about Rublev. Instead, Tarkovsky used this historic figure to tell some universal truths about mankind in general and Russians in particular.

However, he made a masterpiece. This is very demanding movie that requires multiple viewings to fully grasp its amazing content enriched by extraordinary shots. It's like reading a heavy Dostoyevsky novel – sometimes you must repeat some parts. But, if you are open-minded and concentrated the whole way through you'll be richly rewarded with some brilliantly clever, revealing and meaningful content about human vanity, responsibility and spirituality. Tarkovsky's skill is tremendous, pace is deliberate (in good sense), photography and sounds are breathtaking and acting is superb. You won't find entertainment in this one unless entertainment is profound meditation on human nature. So, if your favorite movie is something like Harry Potter... don't bother with this one.

In weiter Ferne, so nah!
(1993)

Head and shoulders bellow its predecessor
Faraway, so close (1993)

In this lesser follow up to great classic Wings of Desire (Der Himmel uber Berlin) the second Angel, Cassiel (Otto Sander) decides to sacrifice his immortality.

Movie is heavily flawed. Overlong for its content, inconclusively mixing various genres and losing central point. Meditation on Time, Life and its true values is much less revealing and Cassiel's path fuzzy, with hard-to-buy elements. His transitions from ''zero point'' down and back are dramatically and emotionally uncovered. Sander is not nearly good in this role as Bruno Ganz was.

Unnecessary Williem Dafoe's character adds much to the dispersion of the film and the touches of banality. You'll get a very few clever and ''to think'' observations in 2 and a half hours of mostly uninspiring, less ethereal and much less original ''version of'' its predecessor. Pay attention to Henri Alekan, brilliant cinematographer from Wings of Desire in the role of the Captain of the ship.

Der Himmel über Berlin
(1987)

Lyrical, haunting, poetic
Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)****

After working in USA and after winning the Golden Palm in 1984. with "Paris, Texas" Wenders decided to make a movie in his native Germany. Result was more than a brilliant work of Art, very unique and highly poetic modern masterpiece – Wings of Desire (original title is Der Himmel über Berlin).

It is following two angels –Damiel (brilliantly played by Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) wandering through the streets of modern day Berlin and helping its citizens. One day Damiel, aware of his detachment from the material world and in love with a mortal girl, decides to sacrifice his immortality.

This film is a testimony to the little things we (humans) take for granted like a touch of a close friend or having a cup of coffee in a cold day. It explores various forms of divisions (isolation, alienation) in a modern society (Heaven-Earth, Man-Woman, East Germany-West Germany; Berlin Wall was still on in 1987).

Beauty of Wenders' visual poetry is beyond explanation. Very few films have this possibility to take the viewer into hypnosis thanks to the skillful mixture of striking cinematography, evocative sounds and deliberate pace. This film is capable to produce the unique felling you won't soon forget. It has my vote for the best cinematography ever in motion pictures (by then 78-year-old Henri Alekan!)

Overall, Wings of Desire is a movie like no other – lyrical, haunting, poetic. It's a beautiful and moving journey into the spiritual, emotional and political dualism. Most important of all, it reminds us how valuable is to be a human.

Remade in USA in 1998 as City of Angels. Sequel: Faraway, So Close!

Horí, má panenko
(1967)

Avoid it if you must
The Firemen's Ball (1967) **** Watching Forman's acclaimed comedy ''The Firemen's Ball'' was a very unique movie-going experience. It is filled with the extraordinary subtle humor, compassion for its characters, very realistic setting, acting & feeling and some brief satire. It got various reviews upon releasing. Some critics hailed it as a minimalistic masterpiece (Roger Ebert) others just was ''resistant'' to it's so-called charm (Leonard Maltin). I just know I wasn't. Judge for yourself. I can't, however, recall so sharp and intelligent script and so believable performances packed in mere 70 minutes. I find it superior to acclaimed Oscar winning Czech comedy filmed a year before by Jiri Menzel – ''Closely Watched Trains''. By the way, interesting note: Czechoslovakian movies were nominated four years in a row for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960ies. ('65, '66, '67, '68). Two of them won it (''Shop on a main street'' in 1965 and ''Closely Watched Trains'' in 1967) and two didn't (''Loves of a Blonde'' in 1966 and ''The Firemen's Ball'' in 1968).

Nattvardsgästerna
(1963)

"God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?"
"I think I have made just one picture that I really like, and that is Winter Light…Everything is exactly as I wanted to have it, in every second of this picture." – Ingmar Bergman

"Winter Light" concentrates around the middle-aged priest named Thomas (extraordinarilly played by Gunnar Björnstrand) of a small Swedish church and his spiritual and emotional struggles during the one winter afternoon.

Tomas founds himself as a non-believer. He realized that he actually became a priest because he was weak, anxious and neurotic and not because of his faith. As a young man, not knowing the REAL world and its TRUE nature, Tomas became a priest. His wife was everything to him, yes. She encouraged his "believes". With her, his believes (or self-deceptions) were stable, steady. After her death, they were shaken (so were his whole life and its purposes) because he encountered the "real world".

After his wife's death he met Marta, schoolteacher – simple and realistic woman (played by brilliant Ingrid Thulin). Marta is in love with him. But he is bored with her and avoids her. Reasons for that are not very clear to the viewer or Tomas himself. He feels isolated and detached from the rest of the world. All the meanings and purposes of his life suddenly disappeared. Whole his life was one big – LIE.

So, why is he avoiding Marta? She is the real representation of the ''real world'' since being an atheist. Marta is the symbol of his failure, she ''reminds'' him that he dedicated whole his life to – nothing.

This is not, however, a religious film. It's a lot more exploring the real human nature and its possible ''faults''. It raises some universal issues like: ''Am I doing good things because I am a good person (because I have a good character) or because I am afraid of the consequences (because I am weak, fearful)''?

"Winter Light" is also masterfully crafted movie with formal elements absolutely supporting (and adding to) the issues of the script. It is a very cold movie with no music (intentionally). Sven Nykvist, Bergman's cinematographer did excellent job with his contrasted black and white photography, focuses and mise-en-scene conjuring up the emotional isolation and distances between the characters.

Der Untergang
(2004)

-''What's the point of that''? Eva Braun -''It's my wish''! Adolf Hitler
Downfall (2004) **** This powerful and thought provoking drama with great performances just confirmed my delightedness towards German cinema. Now I can surely say that is my favorite of all European cinemas. Starting with brilliant silent pictures such as ''The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari'' (1919), ''Nosferatu''(1922) Fritz Lang's ''Metropolis''(1927), through masterpieces in early talky era (''M'' and ''Dr. Mabuse''), then ''The Thin Drum'', ''Das Boot'' or ''Wings of Desire'' in 1970s and 1980s and finally with superb modern movies such as ''Nowhere in Africa'', ''Goodbye, Lenin!'', ''Head-On'' and, of course, this gem. All great movies from various directors in various periods. Excuse me for noting all that in this comment, but I was enchanted after I saw this grim and moving picture... Well, it's said enough. ''Downfall'' is refreshing, dialog – driven, beautifully told movie with some absolutely amazing characterizations and performances. Paralax – perspective gave it an extra credit and profoundness in portraying this highly-controversial subject. Bravo!

Un homme et une femme
(1966)

What the real Art is
A Man and a Woman (1966)**** Simple and brilliant love story about one week in lives of a french widow and a widower is enriched by inventive cinematography and directing (by Lelouch), great performances (Aimee and Trintignant) and amazing score (by Francis Lai). Very unique and subtle script (by Lelouch and Uytterhoeven) was worth an Oscar. This movie also deservedly won Cannes Golden Palm and Foreign Language Oscar. Music score was, however, neglected by Academy but remains memorable today (after 40 years) and is often used in similar (would-be) movies. It also inspired a sequel – A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later - in 1986. also directed by Lelouch. However, it was a major disappointment with lack of any real sense and various unnecessary subplots. Except of stunning opening car race sequence. (I would recommend a sequel only because of this).

Stalker
(1979)

Mesmerizing, intelligent and haunting …yet overlong and inconsistent
Stalker (1979)***½ Stalker is rich, spiritual and contemplative journey through the fantastic inner world of human's hope, desire, disillusions and believes. Main characters, Writer (as incarnation of irrational, imaginative and emotional aspects of our nature or subconsciousness) and Scientist (rational, logic forces or consciousness) are guided by Stalker (symbolizing our desire, will and everlasting search of meaning) to the mysterious Zone (which may represent all our spiritual goals, meanings, struggles to achieve them and barriers in our path). Breathtaking and mesmerizing images and sounds, witty dialog and strong concept are the major virtues of this feature. Writer's monologues are among the most meaningful, thought-provoking and spiritual moments I ever experienced in any art. But the movie is overlong losing its powerful initial momentum and becoming inconsistent in it's final message (by final I don't mean last in chronology but overall). Tarkovsky's earlier SF drama "Solaris" is more structured and fully developed. Nevertheless, Stalker is an outstanding piece of art movie that puts its director among the few true cinema masters. Rating: 8.5/10

A Streetcar Named Desire
(1951)

Intense, talky drama with some great performances and characterizations
Tennessee Williams' great play finds equally good adaptation in this poignant feature. May be too talky for some (theatrical equivalent) by nevertheless extremely colorful, intense, emotionally correct, coherent and, above all, an effective drama. Leigh is awesome as a main female character with the mysterious past. So is Malden in supporting role as a decent man with the sick mother and in love with Leigh. They deservedly won Oscars. So did Kim Hunter for her fine performance as a women crucified between love for her sister and her husband. Brando is nothing less as a ruthless, primitive Kowalski. Director Kazan shows great skill here in developing a proper atmosphere and tension. American Film Institute included this movie in 100 Greatest American Movies of all times (#45). A real knockout

(1963)

8½: An Inner-Space Odyssey
(excuse me for my bad English)

Thoughts on Fellini's carrier can be divided on people who think his peak was early neorealist phase (Vitelloni, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria) (do you remember the guy in the line from Woody Allen's Annie Hall?) and on the ones that praised his fantasy phase starting with La Dolce Vita and followed by 8 1/2, Roma etc.

They are both wrong. Both periods and its films are very important, cinematically rich and skillful in directing. The fact that there are many followers of both periods and equal artistic success shows that the only real difference is among their aesthetics. And isn't that what makes a great director?

This film is considered one of the best movies of all time among critics and directors. Many people have complaints of how this movie is difficult to understand. It is. When I first saw it, it was a rather very frustrating experience. But once you capture it fully its amazing. In fact, I fully captured it after the third viewing (and after that, every time I see it I can find something new or different). That's because this movie works differently. It works out of standard movie patterns and conventions we use to see in everyday cinema. Above, and most important of all, it speaks with the different movie language. And that is a real cinematic language, because 8 1/2 uses specific movie instruments to transmit it's content. It cannot be transferred in any other form, including literal. That's why it is so hard to put the plot into the words and that's the major merit of this film.

After the tremendous commercial and artistic success in 1960. with his previous film La Dolce Vita, Fellini decided to make a film (8 1/2) about the movie director (played by Marcello Mastroianni as Guido) fresh from recent success who is not sure what to film next! And this egocentric director, under the pressure of his producer, actors, friends, fans and journalists, is escaping into the memories of his childhood, wishful fantasies and dreams.

At the beginning of the film, there's a stunning famous dream sequence. Guido is trapped in a traffic jam. He loses his breath while unsuccessfully trying to escape from his car. People around (in their vehicles) are starring at him. The whole scene is mute (except the constant monotonous sound) and, from time to time, it freezes. Suddenly, he is free, and flying towards sky. Then, one of his assistants pulls him down to earth. And, he is awake. I think it's unnecessary to explain the meaning of this brilliant scene.

There is also a scene where he is persuaded to ask a catholic priest for an advice about the content of his next film (since his films are widely released there is a moral issue). But he apparently has an aversion towards Church. And then, during a conversation with this priest, Guido suddenly associates his early childhood event (watching a dance of a prostitute Saraghina, and the subsequent punishment by one priest). So, the current event forces its cause to come out of his subconsciousness.

Then, there is a scene – quarrel between Guido and his wife (played by Anuk Aimee) while sitting outdoors. She is complaining about his mistress(es) and he is denying everything. Then, his mistress (Sandra Milo) suddenly arrives and, after she saw Guido with his wife, sits to one table not so close. Guido's wife noticed that and realized that woman is his mistress. So, she is continuing her quarrel with him. And then comes one of the most visceral and fascinating scenes in the Movie History. Suddenly, wishful fantasy starts… Guido's wife stands up, coming towards mistress. They are kissing each other like longtime friends and making a nice conversation. Then, Guido enters his house from the childhood (which is shown before) with some presents in his hands. And, there are like 20 women around him fighting for his attention. He is whipping them (dominate them). And there is his wife – peaceful, calm, conservative, loving… So, under the pressure of all-around-him messes he is fantasying. This is psychologically known as the regression to the pleasure principle and is very common. This scene is known as "The Harem Scene" and like others is followed by brilliant, very suitable music score.

From time to time, Guido is fantasying a beautiful young woman (Claudia Cardinale). She is another projection of his narcissism – an ideal woman to please all of his wishes not making a single complaint.

Rosella represents (symbolizes) his super-ego. Pay attention to their phone conversation. Also in Harem scene (harem is actually his Id, fulfilling all his infantile fantasies) she is ABOVE him making complaints.

His producer is "paternal figure". All his father's wishes, demands to Guido are now "reactivated" with producer. Pay attention to very interesting first "fantasy" scene in the movie (on the grave). Father asks a man something like:" How is my boy doing"? and the man makes face like: "Well...". Later we discover that the man is his producer.

Guido's wife and his mother, the same thing. And we discover this in the same scene when his mother turns into his wife.

Critical writer may represent his raw intellect but also artistic vanity while Conocchia is his neglected emotional aspect.

At the end of the movie, he eventually becomes aware of the causes of his confusion and self-deceptions (this sudden awareness is symbolized by "shooting himself", shooting his confusion that is) and having a final monologue: "...Accept me as I am. Only then can we discover each other..."

Le locataire
(1976)

Hitchcockesque by suspense, unique by eeriness
The Tenant (1976)***½ After 'Repulsion' and 'Rosemary's Baby' Romanski successfully completes his horror – suspense trilogy with this fine work in 1976. His 'Fearless Vampire Killers' are also memorable with its delightful humorous distance. In 'Tenant', Polanski once again displays great skill in developing appropriate atmosphere and building cumulative suspense through the story. This ability equals great suspense master Hitchcock in his thrillers. Although, story lacks real plot and practically goes nowhere – very few directors can be praised for having such skill. Overall, extraordinary suspense, appropriate cinematography (by master Nykvist) and good acting made this feature very good despite of its script flaws. 8/10

The Shawshank Redemption
(1994)

Very well but far from a masterpiece
Strong, meaningful and everlasting message is what makes this movie such powerful. The Hope, the Life and the Friendship are elements of Great Impact and are well incorporated in this feature. But, lots of flaws also. This movie lacks originality. Approach, characters and dialogues are rather cliched and mold. Portraying of characters is loose and poor. Dialogues are pretty ordinary and too conventional. Overall approach is just Routine and the whole movie is based on the Final Impact of the story. In short, its actually not surprising no Oscar winning and no including into the 100 Greatest Movies by American Film Institute. Greater Effort in developing characters to be multidimensional and story to be less conventional would produce One of the Best. Pity. 7,5/10

Otac na sluzbenom putu
(1985)

Brilliant
When Father was away on Business (1985)**** This great feature is the combination of a genuine story, emotionally charged, authentic expression, supreme inner movie energy and director's ability (mastery) to transmit all of this into the perfectly balanced, aesthetically elegant, touching and effective form. Some people (I know) think this is pretty boring and ordinary story about young boy's maturing in a specific society. There is a BIG difference between this movie and others with the same topic. Difference = cogency, dimension of the used movie elements, involving ability, characterization, leitmotif, milieu richness, inward thrust, story heartbeat, delicacy, depth, implicit sense, specific movie efficiency...

Balkanski spijun
(1984)

Great classic
Film adaptation of a great Dusan Kovacevic's novel - equally good. Recognizable a la Kovacevic humor, full of absurdness, self-irony, sharp and spiritual. Great critic of a dead ideology and authoritarian character translated into a black-humor paranoia of a small man - ideology slave. Brilliant, unforgettable Bata Stojkovic's acting gave this feature strength and rare authentic movie-expression.

Ko to tamo peva
(1980)

Serbian "Stagecoach"
Superbly developed characters into the lots of funny situations full of spirit, absurdness and Serbian mentality. Movie is a great comedy, enjoyable, interesting, unpredictable. Best point in a film: characters, then humor itself, story and dialogs. Humor has 'inner development' , rare in Serbian movies. So, it is consequence of characterization, is well motivated, spontaneous and cogent. Also it is sharp, intelligent and lucid. Most of the movies, unfortunately, had constructed humor (devise a joke and put it into a characters's mouth) or ordinary situation comedy, burlesque, farce. Some of the 'art immortality' are incorporated in this movie. Little masterpiece, hardly reachable.

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