lreynaert

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Reviews

El ángel exterminador
(1962)

No revolution
Some movies by Luis Buñuel are at first sight an incongruous mixture of realistic, surrealistic, (anti)religious, sexual and dream elements. However, in his carefully concocted screenplays, no text, no image, no character, no sequence doesn't have a meaning, not always a logical one, but at least an associative one.

Hereafter, a modest contribution to the many interpretations already published about 'The Exterminating Angel'. We should not forget that the screenplay of this movie is based on an unfinished play by José Bergamin, a catholic and Marxist.

In 'Providence street' a group of upper class people (pars pro toto) gets trapped in a house after a dinner party given by the soprano Lucia after her performance as 'Lucia', the main role in the opera 'Lucia di Lammermoor' by G. Donizetti. The libretto of the opera, based on a novel by Walter Scott, contains a bad (forced) marriage, a mad scene, a ghost and a suicide, all elements used in the movie. Before the dinner party began, all members of the underclass (the servants) had left the house for all kinds of reasons, except the majordomo ('a clown'). At night, the guests don't want to leave the house and prefer to stay inside it during the whole night. In the morning, they find out that they are trapped inside. A journey into 'the disintegration of human dignity' begins. Without their servants, the upper class members are not capable of organizing a normal way of life. Their mansion doesn't become a paradise, despite the playing of a piano piece by Pietro Domenico 'Paradisi' and despite a cabalistic ritual, amulets (chicken feet) or even a Masonic cry. The inhabitants are confronted with other living 'symbols' inside the house: a bear (violence) and sheep (victims). The latter will be slaughtered in order to save the party members from starvation.

The spell is broken when a party member can reconstruct the past, the beginning of the ordeal. They can turn the time back and leave their prison. Their liberation is celebrated with a 'Te Deum' mass. When they come out of the church, they see another spectacle: common people are shot down by their long arm, the police. The plebs is offering itself up to the existing powers like sheep, of which a long row enters the church in a holy procession. The opportunity of a power grab has been missed. The angel is still exterminating the underclasses.

Il bell'Antonio
(1960)

A betrayal
Vitaliano Brancati's masterpiece, 'Beautiful Antonio', is a persiflage of the Italian society in the first half of the 20th century with its family honor, macho culture, mixture of fortune / marriage / brothel affairs, the omnipresent influence of the Catholic Church and its political arm (fascism). For L. Sciascia, the book depicts the 'misfortune of living under a despotism' ('To sleep only with one eye' - Introduction to the Complete Works of V. Brancati).

The scriptwriters of the movie (M. Bolognini, P. Pasolini, G. Visentini) betrayed the meaning of Brancati's book. They wanted to show that not the Italian society as a whole is sterile and hypocritical, but only its bourgeoisie. Only the working class (the proletariat), in the person of a maid, can ensure the future of the country.

The movie doesn't have the same high standard of the book. V. Brancati's text is much more explicit in describing the political, social and religious context as well as the sexual affairs. The supporting characters are much more developed. The tirades, especially those by the father, are much more outspoken and incisive. In contrast, the movie is too meek and too linear, while the actors, Marcelo Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, only shine through their photogenic appeal.

Yari no Gonza
(1986)

A Japanese Bel- Ami
Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), a bunraku (puppet theater) and kabuki playwright is rightly called the Japanese Shakespeare. This movie 'Yari no Gonza' by Masahiro Shinoda is based on a bunraku play by him. However, the main character here is rather more a well-known French one than a Shakepearean one. Chikamatsu Monzaemon painted a remarkable portrait of a ruthlessly ambitious and amoral character: a young samurai, who through his good looks tries to force his way up into the Edo hierarchy. During the Edo period (17th - 19th century), Japan was controlled by a shogun, a chief military commander, and his vassals, the diamiōs (feudal lords). Gonza is the alter ego of Julien Sorel, the (anti)hero in the novel 'The Red and The Black' by Stendhal and of the perfidious 'Bel- Ami' in Guy de Maupassant's book, both blinded by career prospects. Taeko Tomioka transcribed the 'puppet' story for the screen into a very appealing realistic and twisted thriller. Hiromi Gô in the main role and the exquisitely glamorous Shima Iwashita as Osai (the 'adulteress') shine in an outstanding cast . A masterpiece.

Omocha
(1998)

Mizu shōbai (The water trade)
Both Kinji Fukasaku's movie and 'Street of Shame' by Kenji Mizoguchi deal with the same theme: the discussion about the legal 'abolition of prostitution in Japan' in the years 1956-1958. While Mizoguchi's movie backs sharply the abolition, Fukasaku's movie is against it (e. g., its music is rather a glorification of the geisha trade). His work is a more or less objective analysis of the 'water trade' (the house rules, its financial aspects, the girls, the clients, the mamasan, the patronage), in the same vein as the Japanese writer Nagai Kafû did in his novels and short stories. Both movies explain clearly the social background and the causes of the choice of the girls to enter the water trade: poverty and family problems (ill health of family members).

Sayo Masuda (Autobiography of a geisha) as well as Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a geisha) confirm in their books that the important financial investment in the training of a girl to become a geisha is for a major part immediately recovered by the 'sale' of her sexual initiation. This fact was completely 'forgotten' in the movie 'Memoirs of a geisha' by Rob Marshall based on Arthur Golden's novel. Not a masterpiece, but well worth seeing.

Mouchette
(1967)

The humiliation of the innocents
This film, based on the novel by G. Bernanos, is a moving portrait of an outcast. Mouchette is a member of a poor family. Her mother is sick and her father survives only by poaching and smuggling. She is badly dressed and has no genuine footwear (a painted bird). She is continuously humiliated and insulted by other kids and by those who wield a certain power in the village, like her teacher or the 'Christian' bourgeoisie. Yet, she is the embodiment of real Christian virtues such as poverty and innocence. The purity of her feelings is beautifully illustrated in the sequence of the fair with its bumper cars. In her story 'That particular Summer', Marie Cardinal (who plays the mother in this movie) paints a far from hagiographic portrait of Bresson: an awkward, insufferable and callous man. Nevertheless, with his sober style, (apparently) without any passion and a far cry from big theatrical gestures, Robert Bresson created a really disturbing masterpiece. He stigmatizes in a fierce way the human community, which tramples mercilessly on the underprivileged. A must see.

Le diable probablement
(1977)

Self-destruction
The main character in this movie, who is 'more intelligent than the other ones' is confronted with political, psychoanalytical and religious gibberish, the misuse of scientific discoveries for the fabrication of deadly weapons (atomic bombs), economic (unrestrained growth, drugs) and environmental (pesticides) catastrophes, ridiculous police interventions and relational difficulties (real love is impossible).

Faced with a devastating human habitat, the 'hero' of the film can only choose the ultimate solution, in the ancient way. This movie (a formidable uppercut) should not only be characterized as a masterpiece, but above all, as a very serious wake-up call for all human beings, and, in the first place, for its fundamentally diabolic masters. For Robert Bresson, man himself is the devil, and not probably. His destructive actions are nothing less than a global planetary suicide. A must see.

Le fantôme de la liberté
(1974)

Specter and illusion
Much ink has already been spilled on this seemingly enigmatic film by Luis Buñuel. Hereafter, an attempt to analyze some of the obvious and hidden aspects of this masterpiece. The film uses two notions of the word 'phantom': specter (menace) and illusion. The film also plays on many levels: political, religious, social, mental / physical, symbolical, psychoanalytical.

Political The slogan 'Down with liberty' is heard at the beginning and at the end of the film. Its message is clear. First, we witness a staging of the famous Goya painting 'The Third of May, 1808' where Spanish prisoners, shouting this slogan, are shot by the French Republican army. 'Down with liberty' means here 'Down with the French Republic' and its sans-culottes, the defenders of the progressive motto 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'. At the end of the film, the spectator vaguely hears a crowd (apparently a manifestation) which shouts the same slogan. The film was shot during a period when the Communist Party in France still had important political and social clout, especially through its trade union. This party was at that time heavily influenced by a totalitarian state, which was fundamentally opposed to certain freedoms, including political ones. 'Down with liberty' means here also 'Down with the French Republic'.

Religion, Justice Religion (Catholicism) was (is) also threatened by liberty and the sans-culottes. The viewer assists at a desecration of a church and of holy bread by the French Republican army. In addition, for L. Buñuel, representatives of the Church are corrupt: in the film, monks play cards and drink alcohol. A sniper kills people indiscriminately in the street, apparently to sow panic among the population; so, it's a provocation (an utmost topical issue). He is condemned, but the sentences of the judges are not respected. To the contrary, the sniper is set free and congratulated by the judicial administration and by part of the population: down with liberty of justice.

Physical and mental life A challenging aspect of the movies by L. Buñuel is the dissociation between the physical (time, space) and mental (sentiments) reality. One can see a perfect example of this dissociation in another film by L. Buñuel (An Andalusian Dog), where a father slaps his son, followed by the text 'thirteen years later' and the action continues. In other words, in a split of a second (the slap) the son becomes thirteen years older (psychological time). This dissociation is (perhaps) an explanation of the sequence of the film where a girl disappears while being present. She is physically present, but not mentally for her parents.

Illusion Freedom is an illusion in matter of instincts (like for the animals of the zoo). In this regard, scenes of sexual deviances are constants in the films of L. Buñuel as are dream sequences. Other psychoanalytic elements in this movie are anal fixation (a dinner where the guests are sitting on a toilet) or a split personality (the two prefects at the end of the film). Liberty as an illusion is the basic outline of the screenplay: the journey of the characters is all the time disrupted by unforeseen encounters, accidents or bad weather.

The end of the film is a shot of an ostrich head, as if L. Buñuel exhorts the spectator: don't put your head in the sand like an ostrich, but do face head-on the (hidden) reality as the bird on the screen.

Se non è vero, è molto ben trovato ?

Goya - oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis
(1971)

No Inquisition, no torture
In their movies about Francisco Goya, Konrad Wolf and Miloš Forman give the Spanish Court painter a totally different role. Also, those movies were shot in two different political regimes. But, still they have the same utmost relevant human message. As Oscar Wilde said in his 'The Critic as Artist': 'For when a work is finished, it has an independent life of its own, and may deliver a message far other than that which was put into its lips'. This is absolutely true for Konrad Wolf's movie, which attacked censorship in a totalitarian State.

In the movie by Konrad Wolf 'Goya or the tortuous road to understanding', based on the novel by Lion Feuchtwanger (centered on Goya's private life), the artist is the direct target of the Holy Office's Inquisition, because of his paintings and diabolic etchings. In 'Goya's Ghosts' by Miloš Forman, the painter is a kind of neutral observer or helpful middleman between the Holy Office and the family of an innocent victim of the Inquisition and its bestial 'question'. However, the message of both movies is crystal clear and highly relevant today; first of all, no inquisitional powers with armies of spies and laws propagating denouncements; and, secondly, no torture, because unbearable pain forces totally innocent people to confess anything asked for, which is then considered as the ultimate proof of their guilt by their barbaric interrogators.

The play of the whole cast in Miloš Forman's movie is simply fascinating, but it is not fully convincing in Konrad Wolf's film.

All men and women of good will should view these remarkably courageous masterpieces.

Goya's Ghosts
(2006)

No Inquisition, no torture
In their movies about Francisco Goya, Konrad Wolf and Miloš Forman give the Spanish Court painter a totally different role. Also, those movies were shot in two different political regimes. But, still they have the same utmost relevant human message. As Oscar Wilde said in his 'The Critic as Artist': 'For when a work is finished, it has an independent life of its own, and may deliver a message far other than that which was put into its lips'. This is absolutely true for Konrad Wolf's movie, which attacked censorship in a totalitarian State.

In the movie by Konrad Wolf 'Goya or the tortuous road to understanding', based on the novel by Lion Feuchtwanger (centered on Goya's private life), the artist is the direct target of the Holy Office's Inquisition, because of his paintings and diabolic etchings. In 'Goya's Ghosts' by Miloš Forman, the painter is a kind of neutral observer or helpful middleman between the Holy Office and the family of an innocent victim of the Inquisition and its bestial 'question'. However, the message of both movies is crystal clear and highly relevant today; first of all, no inquisitional powers with armies of spies and laws propagating denouncements; and, secondly, no torture, because unbearable pain forces totally innocent people to confess anything asked for, which is then considered as the ultimate proof of their guilt by their barbaric interrogators.

The play of the whole cast in Miloš Forman's movie is simply fascinating, but it is not fully convincing in Konrad Wolf's film.

All men and women of good will should view these remarkably courageous masterpieces.

The Portrait of a Lady
(1996)

Money, true affections, Puritanism and deceit
Jane Campion transposed one of Henry James' best novels into a formidable masterpiece. She captured luminously the author's main themes: money and love, Puritanism, innocence and survival.

A gift of a fortune by an uncle to a young lady turns into a nightmare: money doesn't buy happiness. She becomes the target of those who need the money for their own 'standing' and the survival of their offspring (daughter). Another main theme of Henry James is Puritanism: the rejection of the 'physical' body. The innocent lady is captured through the discovery of physical contact, here, a tongue kiss. It overwhelms her completely and she gets entangled in a web of lies, hard plays of domination and subtle intrigues in order to keep her former admirers at bay. She stays blind for the 'real' world of true affections until she is confronted with naked and shattering facts.

The performance of the cast (Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey and others) is simply sublime. Rarely have difficult expressions in harsh and deeply pure or malignant emotional confrontations so intensely been interpreted. A must see.

Les mercredis de l'histoire: 1929, La crise
(2009)

Not explicit enough
This movie gives a good general impression of the biggest socio- economic catastrophe of modern times. But it does not explain the true causes and actions which provoked the Great Depression.

We can find them in a book by Eustace Mullins 'The Secrets of the Federal Reserve' (a key book for the understanding of the economic and financial environment in which we still live today). The stock market crash in 1929 was caused by a small group of insiders, who controlled the major banks and the Federal Reserve (this institution is still today a private company, controlled by private banks and thus by the shareholders of these banks). Insiders had sold all their 'speculative' shares, because they had been warned that the Federal Reserve would increase the interest rate on call money overnight to 20%. This rate would suffocate 'small' speculators who had bought their shares with borrowed money. With their margin calls the banks forced these 'small' stockholders to liquidate (all at once) their shares paid on credit. What the insiders had not anticipated was that the prices of 'good' shares would also tumble into the ravine. What followed after the collapse is well explained in a book by Peter Temin ('Did Monetary Forces Cause the Great Depression?'): consumers lost confidence and the economy entered into a vicious downward spiral. This decline was further aggravated by the deflationary monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. The result was a staggering unemployment rate worldwide. Because of this huge crisis, a Democrat (F.D. Roosevelt) was elected as President of the United States. He forged a 'New Deal' and with the Glass-Steagall Act imposed a split of the mixed banking system into deposit and investment banks. This legislation was repealed in 1999, with all the consequences we know now.

This film is a good documentary about a tragic period in the history of mankind, when a large part of the population was turned into a heap of real beggars. Highly recommended.

Mephisto
(1981)

Art and politics
István Szabó's movie is based on the novel with the same title by Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann. There is, however, an essential difference between the treatment in the book and in the movie of the same material: the character and behavior of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, the (ex-) husband of Klaus' sister Erika. Gustaf Gründgens had only one obsession: acting, to become the best actor and that at all costs. For the literary critic M. Reich- Ranicki, Gustaf Gründgens was indeed the best German actor of the 20th century. He excelled in the role of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust (see the movie 'Faust' shot by his adopted son Peter Gorski – one caveat: no subtitles).

The novel and the movie Klaus Mann's novel is basically a sharply defined portrait (and an attack on) of his brother-in-law, the overambitious theater man. In order to fulfill his ambitions, G. Gründgens plays the role of the humble collaborator/servant of all those in power, be they from the left or from the (extreme) right, so also of the Nazis. But, the movie goes one step further. The actor, Gustaf Gründgens, serves as a means to dissect a cardinal human problem: the relationship between art and power (politics). The movie illustrates eminently that an artist (art) should not play the role of an innocent human being in a society full of bloodshed. As André Gide said, 'there is no art without liberty'. An artist (actor) should not collaborate naively with culture barbarians ('When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver'). In any case, for those culture barbarians artists (actors) should only play the part of their negligible foot soldiers, which can be 'crushed like beetles' ('Get out, actor!').

Klaus Maria Brandauer plays perfectly the 'two' Mephistopheles, the 'immoral' character in Goethe's Faust and the 'innocent' political collaborator. He is surrounded by a splendidly directed great cast. This movie, which tackles head on the role of art (movies) itself, is a must see for all lovers of world cinema.

Detstvo Gorkogo
(1938)

Stand firm and be strong!
In his moving autobiographical novel 'My Childhood', Maxim Gorky saw his childhood as 'a beehive to which various single obscure people brought the honey of their knowledge and thoughts on life; often their honey was dirty and bitter, but every scrap of knowledge was honey all the same.'

Mark Donskoy recreated forcefully this 'beehive' full of loves, like the one between a grandmother and her grandchild, full of fighting or camaraderie among the children, but also, full of brutal violence between wife and husband or between parents and adult children, full of superstition, of alcoholism, of poverty and of revolutionary actions against the czarist State. His directing of a memorable cast (with a marvelous babushka), and in the first place of the children, is simply sublime. The street, kermis and sea scenery is brilliantly shot by his cinematographer, Pyotr Yermolov. The movie's prime message is that 'if we are ordered to do something wrong, our duty is to stand firm and be strong.' This impressive human portrait of life in the 19th century should be a reminder for all spectators of where we all come from. A real masterpiece.

Au hasard Balthazar
(1966)

A saint in an evil world
The main character in this harsh movie is an animal, a donkey (Balthazar), whose fate lies in the hands of his masters. In a world full of naked violence, economical exploitation, cheating, sadism and rape, only one family treats Balthazar correctly. Its members will pay the price for it. The donkey is the only really innocent living being in this world; indeed, a saint.

Robert Bresson's main obsession was not to shoot 'theatre' scenes. The element 'actor' in his movies was turned into a kind of set piece. All sorts of emotion had to be suppressed, because being 'theatrical'. But, his view was too rigid. Slightly more emotion, more lively dialogues or more passionate gesticulation would have made his movies 'warmer', more human, more moving. Notwithstanding this, his film is still an astonishing masterpiece. A must see for all movie buffs.

Visages d'enfants
(1925)

Revolutionary
'Faces of children' is an astonishing picture, based on an original screenplay by J. Feyder and his wife, F. Rosay. It is a major masterpiece in the history of the 7th art. Its main theme is the bond between a mother and her child even after the mother's death. The editing is fascinating: one frame cuts (a technique later used by D. Vertov and A. Resnais) to evoke an obsessive dream, and the cutting and mixing of two scenes in order to enhance the dramatic tension. Other elements are fetishism (see L. Buñuel) and the bringing to life of a portrait in order to stress the unconscious emotional bond between mother and child. The directing of the children is simply superb. Akira Kurosawa explained it later so wonderfully: art is not the expression of (the artist's) personal emotions, but the engendering of emotions in the heart of the spectator.The latter should really share the joys and pains of the characters on the screen. Therefore, the directing must be focused on doing things 'naturally'. Jacques Feyder knew this all important message instinctively. He was a real master of Art.

This all important masterpiece is a must see for all movie buffs.

Crainquebille
(1922)

Realism
'Crainquebille', based on a short story by Anatole France, is a tale that comes straight out of the 'Belly of Paris'. Its main theme is friendship (here between two street vendors: an old peddler and a newsboy) and its opposite, exclusion and hate. The movie exposes the brutal power of the law (the police and the judges), the coldness and cynicism of the bourgeoisie and social ostracism of 'stained' people (even when a trial is rigged and an accused wrongly condemned). The movie excels by its realism (the street and market scenes), by the acting of its main characters and by its emotional impact on the spectator. Akira Kurosawa explained it later so wonderfully: art is not the expression of (the artist's) personal emotions, but the engendering of emotions in the heart of the spectator. In other words, the spectator should really share the joys and pains of the characters on the screen. Therefore, the directing must be focused on 'natural' acting, on doing things 'naturally'. Jacques Feyder knew this all important message instinctively. He was a real master of Art. This movie is a must see for all movie buffs.

Er shi si cheng ji
(2008)

Social relevance
The dismantling of an old military factory and its replacement by the immense '24 City complex' of luxury flats and shopping malls in Chengdu is a perfect image of the socio-economic upheaval in China. It is the old communist credo - first the heavy industry and then consumption – on its head.

As a great admirer of Bertolt Brecht ('Still Life' was inspired by the 'Good Person of Szechwan'), Jia Zhang Ke analyzes brilliantly the impact of socio-economic policies on individual lives. He never forgets the human touch, here in the reactions of three different generations linked to the factory.

This factory was in fact a State secret, a hidden military plant for repairing airplanes. Mao had ordered that all military factories had to be hidden in the mountains in Central China. Their workforce had a privileged status for food, drinks, housing or entertainment. It formed a village of its own, nearly totally cut from the rest of the population of the city. This tightly knit group had its own histories of love, jealousy, family splits and losses, of camaraderie and solidarity. Jia Zhang Ke used professional actors, like Joan Chen, and amateurs in his movie in order to illustrate forcefully the human impact of the demolition of a landscape. The interviews revive reminiscences of crucial incidents that marked people for the rest of their lives. The demolition means sorrow and nostalgia for the old labor force, but also new opportunities for the new generation. The movie illustrates the monumental gap between the living conditions of the old generation (absolutely no waste of food, clothes or spare parts) and the new one (buying expensive gadgets in Hong Kong).

Of course, the interview technique has been used in many movies (probably one of the first was 'Hitler, never heard of him' by Bertrand Blier), but rarely this technique has created a docu-drama of such gripping intensity as here. Jia Zhang Ke made a very original and highly emotional and moving masterpiece. A must see for all movie buffs.

Jesse James
(1939)

The Octopus
This brilliant movie illustrates eminently a brutal chapter in Western socio-economic history: the creation of the iron horse, the transcontinental railroad. One of America's greatest novelists called it 'The Octopus'. It strangled without mercy the farmers with its multiple sucker-bearing arms. In Frank Norris' novel, the strangulation happened through highly exaggerated prices for the transportation of farm products; in other words, an extortion by a monopoly. In this movie, the railroad owners try to force the farmers to sell their land for a pittance by lying ('the government will give you nothing') or by naked violence. They need new land for extensions of their railroad grid. One of the families which resist the violent extortion is the James household (Frank, Jesse and their mother). When their house is destroyed by arson and their mother is killed, the brothers take the law in their own hands and seek revenge by robbing the railroad clients, the passengers.

This movie shows a lawless and corrupt country, where the power lies in the hands of the money men, who have friends in high places and who control the decision makers (the lawmakers and the judges). On the other hand, at the end of the 19th century, the press (the media), here the 'Liberty Weekly Gazette', was still independent, and supported the farmers against blatant arbitrariness.

This is a superb movie, not only for its perfect depiction of a not so distant past, but also, for its still highly relevant themes, like social and economic power, corrupt politics and freedom (of speech). Excellent direction by Henry King with an outstanding cast (T. Power, H. Fonda, R. Scott). A must see.

Heroes for Sale
(1933)

Real wars, military and social
William H. Wellman is a realist. His war scenes are real brutal battles, not 'star wars'. His 'heroes' are real human beings, not creatures who after being riddled with bullets, rise from the dead unscathed physically and mentally. His social conflicts are really biting: no job means no food. The main character of this movie is a real war hero, but his heroic deed is 'stolen' by a companion. He leaves the war with steel splinters in his spinal column and needs morphine to suppress the constant pain. After the crippling military war, he has now to confront the crippling social war between employers and employees, the world of 'hire and fire', the world of constant technical improvements. He amasses a small fortune with a patent. But, what will he do with his fortune? Can he survive the crippling effect of the economic depression of the 1930s? This impressive movie shines through its social relevance, its totally unexpected psychological and relational twists and turns, its outright veracity and its true 'humanity'. A must see.

Wild Boys of the Road
(1933)

Social relevance
William Wellman's movie gives a formidable impression of the human dramas provoked by the economic depression in the 1930s. Fathers lose their job. Families cannot feed their children anymore: 'our folks are poor. They can't get jobs and there is not enough to eat.' Children leave the family house for 'the road' (freight trains) looking for a glimmer of hope: a job. They survive through panhandling and petty theft. They are continuously harassed by the police for they are considered as 'enemies of society' by those who have money or who still have a job. One of the main characters of the movie translates the grim mentality against the outcasts perfectly: 'You send us to jail, because you don't want to see us.' Of course, to create a happy end, ONE of the millions on welfare or 'on the road' finds a job. But, can he find the money to by the uniform he needs? So, no happy end?

William H. Wellman shot one of the best US movies ever made (The Ox-Bow Incident). His themes are a far cry from the 'star' and other 'wars' of today with their apologies of pure violence for the sole purpose of domination. His movies excel through their realism, their 'human' psychology and, like here, through their social relevance (the naked struggle for survival of the have-nots in a world dominated by the haves). A must see.

Genbaku no ko
(1952)

Personal responsibility
Kaneto Shindo's movie is without any doubt one of the best ever made. It deals head-on with one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of mankind: the dropping for pure geopolitical reasons of a nuclear bomb on a city thereby killing thousands of innocents citizens in the twinkling of an eye and wreaking havoc for centuries to come on a country (and also very slightly on the whole living world) because the human genetic basic material has been damaged.

Kaneto Shindo's movie shows preeminently that the fate of the world and the human species depends solely on the responsible or irresponsible behavior of every single person on earth. In this movie, a teacher is looking for survivors among the children of her kindergarten class. There are only three. On her own initiative, she tries to secure a more hopeful future for one of those.

This impeccably played movie (also by the children) is simply unforgettable. A must see. For a geopolitical interpretation of the dropping of the atomic bomb I highly recommend the book 'The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb' by Gar Alperovitz.

Kurosawa Akira kara no messêji: Utsukushii eiga o
(2000)

Movies worthy of viewing
Akira Kurosawa understood wonderfully well one of the crucial aspects of art: art is not the expression of (the artist's) personal emotions, but the engendering of emotions in the heart of the spectator (listener, reader); in other words, the spectator should really share the joys and pains of the characters on the screen. In order to 'arouse' emotions in the viewer, the movie story has to reflect 'real' life. Movies have to be 'humanistic'. Therefore also, the directing must be focused on 'natural' acting, on doing things 'naturally'. With his whole heart, a director has to mold the different elements of a movie into a 'beautiful' (worthy of viewing) final product of art.

In this documentary, Akira Kurosawa comments on all aspects of the movie making process, from the seeds of a story (a novel or a dialog heard in a train station), over the shooting itself (using sometimes simultaneously up to 8 different cameras), to the confection of the soundtrack (music should not be a distraction, but can be used as a counterpoint of the action or the editing). His shooting contains some very characteristic camera movements, like the panning with a telephoto lens which gives the impression of a moving camera, or the combination of panning and focusing. Akira Kurosawa relied also on key members in his crews, like Sano Takeji for light and colors, Takeo Sato for camera work or Fumio Hayasaka for music. His movies have the highest remake rate in the movie history.

This documentary is a must see for all movie buffs, and certainly for all Akira Kurosawa fans.

Ikimono no kiroku
(1955)

Survival in a nuclear age
Akira Kurosawa tackled cardinal problems in all his films: the struggle for survival of men, women and children in a country devastated by war, terrorized by a corrupt government, ravaged by bandits and by yakusa extortions or torn asunder by clan fights. But, he almost always put human dignity at the center of the debate; although, also for him, the nature of human beings and their motives remain questionable ('Rashomon').

One of these cardinal questions is nuclear safety, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons in a new worldwide conflict (see also 'Dreams - Mount Fuji in red, The weeping demon' and 'Rhapsody in August'). This threat was still strongly felt in Japan long after the Second World War. For the Japanese, the 'anxiety about the bomb that we all share' is still very real. In this film, the threat becomes an obsession for a Japanese entrepreneur. He invested already heavily in underground dwellings. But now, he wants to sell outright the family assets (his foundry) and immigrate to Brazil. With all means available he tries to convince and force all his family members to leave Japan with him. But, those members reject completely his proposal and introduce a complaint in a court specialized in family conflicts. They try to block the sale of the family fortune and ask the tribunal to declare the patriarch insane.

The film plays on three levels: the individual and his anxiety, the family (and, of course, the inheritance) and the Japanese society in general through the court of justice. At the end of the film, one of the judges raises the crucial question: 'Are those who remain unperturbed by the threat of a nuclear war, not the real fools? ' The film exposes the harsh confrontation between the cynical and ungrateful family members and a 'sick' father. Only one family member (born out of wedlock!) continues to respect the patriarch.

With a wonderful Toshiro Mifune in the role of the family don, this movie is a must see, and most certainly by all Akira Kurosawa fans.

La passion de Jeanne d'Arc
(1928)

Revolutionary
'Joan of Arc' is stylistically a key work in the history of cinema, through its combination of close-ups, camera angles, framing and movements of the characters and of the camera on this characters. Dreyer created a masterful visual sequencing with the movements of the heads inside the screen and of camera panning and tilting on these same heads (of the judges of Joan of Arc). This sequencing suggests an inescapable iron encircling of Joan of Arc (whose close-ups were filmed with a fixed camera) by her vicious judges. All these shots created the same effect as that of the painting 'Christ Carrying the Cross' by Jheronimus Bosch, where the serene face of Christ contrasts sharply with the ferocity of the visages in the crowd around him. The camera angles and the decentered and canted framing further accentuate the contrast between Jeanne's face full of grace and the grim facial expressions of her corrupt judges, a bunch of perfidious theologians and dishonest lawyers.

The film exposes blatantly the corruption of the Catholic Church, which slavishly defends the English crown and its interests. Instead of trying to stay above the political fray, it prefers to play an active role in a war of succession thereby choosing the interests of the foreign forces instead of those of the native population.

The character of Joan of Arc is interpreted sublimely by Maria (Renée Jeanne) Falconetti. Ongoing rumors of Carl Th. Dreyer's misogyny and sadism towards his actresses are contradicted by the testimony of the daughter of M. Falconetti in Torben Skjødt Jensen's documentary 'Carl Th. Dreyer: Min metier'. However, Carl Th. Dreyer put without a shadow of a doubt the quality of his shots and of the final product (his movie) above the fate of his actors and actresses (see the testimony of Preben Lerdorff Rye in the same documentary).

With 'Joan of Arc' Carl Th. Dreyer shot an eternal masterpiece. A must see.

Jigokumon
(1953)

Loyalty
'Gate of Hell' is a story about loyalties. All those who transgress their loyalties, and are beaten or unmasked, are sent to 'Hell' through its 'Gate'. In this movie, the loyalty operates at the social (clan) as well as at the personal level. Rival subjects of the emperor break loyalties by fighting each other for a privileged position at the court. On the other hand, unrestrained passion and sexual harassment of wives of other clan members are also considered as an unacceptable conduct. One of the participants of the yearly 'ceremony of conciliation' among the clans is simply thrown out of the ceremony for his aggressive behavior. Finally, there is also the loyalty of a wife to her husband.

Teinosuke Kinugasa's movie shines through its magical mix of color and light, with dark scenes for unrestrained passion and light ones for beauty and self-sacrifice: every frame of every shot is simply a formidable Japanese print. It shines also through the masterful directing and the restraint acting of its main female character. Ultimately, it shines through its treatment of such almighty important themes as the battle between 'good and evil' / 'war and peace' resulting in 'life or death' for its protagonists.

While Carl Theodor Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was a pioneering feature film because of its camera movements and bold focalizing, while Dziga Vertov's 'Man with a Movie Camera' was a pioneering movie because of its brilliant shooting angles, its split screens and its rhythmic 'one by one frame' editing, Teinosuke Kinugasa's 'Gate of Hell' is a pioneering movie because of his magnificent play with light and color, turning it into a grandiose spectacle. He shot an eternal masterpiece. A must see.

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