Monday, July 28, 2008

Histoires extraordinaires (1969)

Also known as Spirits of The Dead or Tre Passi Nel Delirio, Histoires extraordinaires is a Franco-Italian production consists of 3 movies based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

1. Metzengerstein (directed by Roger Vadim)
Frédérique Metzengerstein (Jane Fonda - very beautiful here), a rich comtesse who does anything for her pleasure, until she meets her modest cousin Baron Wilhelm. Angry because Wilhelm ignores her, Frédérique has his stable burnt and he dies in the attempt to free his horses. Soon after, a beautiful black horse appears, but none knows whose his master. This wild creature can only be ridden by Frédérique. She is getting more obsessed by the horse and in the end she perishes with it like Wilhelm.

2. William Wilson (directed by Louis Malle)
William Wilson hates his mother and becomes a sadist. As a young boy at school, he becomes the leader of naughty boys and punishes every one he doesn't like. At the medical school, he almost does an autopsy to a living person. In his army days he cheats at cards. During all this, he has some kind of guardian angel, his double, who reminds him when he does wrong. Wilson finally runs out of his patience and kills his demon in a duel, and that means his life is also over. To see Alain Delon playing both Wilson and his twin was a nice treat.

3. Toby Dammit (directed by Federico Fellini)
From Never Bet The Devil Your Head, this is about a successful actor Toby Dammit (Terence Stamp), despite his drinking problem. Toby comes to Rome for a movie project, agrees to do it because his producer has promised to give him a Ferrari. This is a bizarre movie where the Devil is depicted as a little girl playing a ball. Very creepy. Toby is to appear on an awards show, but he leaves in the middle of the show, jumps on his brand new Ferrari, gets lost on the way and loose his head in the end. What I like best from this section is Nino Rota's musical score. The movie itself is too scary for me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Swann in Love (1984)

Volker Schlöndorff's Un Amour de Swann is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. The set is breathtakingly wonderful. Jeremy Irons who plays Charles Swann, often played in period drama movies and he looks like he truly belongs to that time. Ornella Muti looks a bit plump here that those who have never seen her before will think she is ugly, like Swann himself who thought Odette was ugly when he first saw her, until he realizes her resemblance to Botticelli's Zephora, Jetro's daughter, seen in the Sistine Chapel.

This movie is not easy to follow for there are lots of flashbacks and I found myself wondering whether the scene I was seeing was the past or the present. I was glad that several months ago I read one part of Marcel Proust's Swann in Love as retold by Stéphane Heuet. Interesting to see various characters in the story, like Swann's driver, Remi, who grunts under his breath when he is irritated by his master. Swann's circle of friends, although rich, many of them don't care how to behave, like Mme Verdurin who laughs so hard that she dislocates her jaw. It was fun, though, to see them. Some of them worry too much about appearance, that wearing red shoes with black gown is equal to a disaster. Jews aren't liked, like shown in the scenes where a young Jew is refused in his preferred part of a restaurant and Baron de Charlus touches a servant's nose.

My favourite part is Swann's despair after Odette refuses his offer to take her home and goes with Swann's rival, Forcheville, instead. Swann is angry to himself because of his great love to Odette comes too late and of the humiliation. When Swann tells Charlus that his love for Odette is over, Charlus asks him when he will marry her. It's not easy to marry a woman with a dark past, that you can hear many men say when they see her walking by, "That is Madame Swann. I have slept with her once."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fabio Montale (2001)

Before watching this, I read a review which said that Alain Delon played a cop who fought corruption at every turn. I wondered if this would be something like Central Nuit, where one of the cops (Viking) was rather violent. Fabio Montale turns to be a very enjoyable show and as I was watching it, I didn't want it to end.

Alain Delon plays Fabio Montale, a police inspector in Marseille who is near his day of retirement in the beginning the the series. Once a criminal, he is respected by enemies and loved by colleagues. In all 3 episodes he has to solve mysteries around the death of his friends (note: most of the people in the town know him). He has a comfortable life after work, in a little villa by the sea, next to Norine's, an old lady who often comes to give him decent food. Despite his old age, Delon is still delightful to watch. He handles the role convincingly and I believe he is an ex-criminal who later becomes a cop and all the women and his friends are charmed by him. In other movies, I see the enemies don't kill the hero when they have the chance because he is the hero and the movie needs him at least until the end of the movie, but in Fabio Montale, his enemies don't want to kill him because he is so loved by many that killing him will give them bad name (and bad luck, perhaps). One thing that came to my mind after watching this was: I hoped Marseille was not that dangerous. The people who lived there seemed familiar with gunshots. It's also nice to see his little boy who plays Thomas, Inspector Pessayre's son.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Le Septième juré (1962)

This Georges Lautner movie stars Bernard Blier as Grégoire Duval, a respectable pharmacist, who kills a young woman called Catherine because she refuses to made love with him. The police believe that her lover Sylvain Sautral is the killer, while Duval is afraid to tell the truth. For the trial, Duval is chosen as one of the jury, and he does what he can to acquit Sautral. But is it enough?
The trial is one of the rare moments ever. Duval, the 7th jury, cross examines the witnesses better than both the prosecutor and the lawyer. Sautral himself feels very grateful to Duval. Before the trial, Duval goes to a priest and tell the truth. The priest later writes to the police, but they don't believe him. Daily, Duval uses to play poker with the judge, prosecutor, jury, major,... in short he is a respectable citizen. When at last Duval finally can't take it anymore and tells the truth, none believes him, not even Sautral. For although Sautral is acquitted, people still believe he is the killer and Sautral can't rest until the real killer reveal himself. Sautral also refuses to leave the town.

La Prophetié d’Avignon (2007)

Prophetié d’Avignon is one of the movies made echoing the success of The Da Vinci Code. This series consists of 8 episodes. Episode 7 – 8 were broadcasted by TV5 on July 15, but suddenly my TV screen freezed only 15 minutes before the ending. I waited for about 10 minutes, nothing happened, turned off the TV (for it was after midnight), hoped that it would be re-broadcasted again on Monday night like before, but when I check the programme, it wouldn't. Fortunately a few days later, there was a change in the programme and I finally could see the final episode.

The heroine is Estelle Esperanza, a young curator at Pope Palace in Avignon, whose destiny is to find the prophecy hid since the time of Pope John XXII. Her enemy is the Brothers of Judas who also want the prophecy. It is said that those who have the prophecy will be able to control the future and have absolute power of humanity. At first Estelle herself doesn’t believe in the legend, until dead bodies fall like rain, including her grandfather and boyfriend, and her own life is in great danger.

Watching Louise Monot’s pretty face is a treat for the eyes. I enjoyed how she tried to find both cylinders needed to crack the code, although in the end I didn’t understand what the prophecy was about. There was a bright light came from the well/fountain and inside there were images of Jesus, Pharaoh, and some characters I can’t recall. It stopped soon after the enemy was shot to death by Oliver, who had been protecting Estelle. At first I didn’t like Commisaire Renard, thought she was noisy and irritating, but after she wept for Trihn, whom she often abused, I realized that her character had a heart after all. I am still not sure if Nadine has really been that old and if she has drunk the elixir of youth.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cassandra's Dream

This Woody Allen movie is about two brothers: Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell). Ian is the clever one, so he has higher dreams than his brother. Daily, he helps his father in his restaurant and sometimes has a date with one of the maids. One of his friends speaks to him about opening hotels in California and Ian is interested. Terry is a mechanic who likes to gamble, and usually wins, and often lets Ian borrow luxury cars he is fixing. Problems starts when Ian falls in love with Angela Stark, an actress, and needs money to impress her; for from the start he lies about his situation. Terry, on the other hand, has lost a lot money in a poker game. Both brothers put their hope on their Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) who is very rich and has often helped them in the past. Only this time, Uncle Howard wants something in return: the two bothers commit a murder for him.

This movie is very interesting in its psychological term. Ian reminds me of McGregor's character in Shallow Grave, Alex, who takes the problem lightly - at least more lightly than Terry - and looks like he succeeds in forgetting the whole thing. Terry, on the other hand, is so much troubled, and it is so obvious that his wife can see it. And what Uncle Howard do? He suggests to Ian another horrible thing to save them both, for Terry threatens to go to the police and confess everything. These two bothers, in fact, love each other so much, and they are so close that Ian goes to Terry if he has any problem and vice versa - and it's tragic how a need of money can destroy the tie. Their dreams are ruined on the ship they have bought together: Cassandra's Dream.

The Tudors season 2

Season 2 starts when King Henry VIII appoints himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England and ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn. It seems that there is no treason in this period, and the king's mind is preoccupied in how to get a male heir. Perhaps it is true that he is bewitched by Anne Boleyn, for he sacrifices so much in order to please her, including ordering the beheading of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More, and suffering the excommunication from the Pope - and in the end all she can give him is only another daughter.

Queen Anne here is quite an ambitious woman and often meddles with politics, even makes enemies with the king's oldest friend, Charles Brandon, and Thomas Cromwell. Here Cromwell's part is not as big as in other movies I've seen, and he is not so evil - or it's because of James Frain's interpretation. The king later meets and falls in love with Jane Seymour, and as if to smooth the way, Anne losses her unborn baby boy; makes the king dislikes her even more and he uses every possible way to get rid of her. 'The child is deformed, it cannot be mine,' says he and asks Cromwell to confirm the rumour from Brandon that the queen has many lovers. Cromwell uses one of lady-in-waitings's story and arrests every male that ever enters the queen's chambers, including her own brother. Only Thomas Wyatt is released, and he is the only one who is really guilty. But that is politics. A daughter can be a legitimate heir and next time a bastard, and then back to be an heir again. Having watched The Other Boleyn Girl, it seems ridiculous that Mary Boleyn can marry without his father and sister's knowledge. At the execution of Anne, it looks that the people love her, which is very opposite to her coronation day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Judas, My Brother

"Whom shall I release to you? Yeshu'a bar Amma or Yeshu'a bar Abbas? Iesus son of his mother? Or Iesus son of his father?" (Pontius Pilatus)

Frank Yerby's Judas, My Brother The Story of the Thirteenth Disciple was published in 1968. A result of thirty years of research in Italy, Greece, Egypt, Jordan and Israel, Yerby himself believed that his work would be controversial. The hero is Nathan, son of the richest and most powerful man in Jerusalem, who befriends Yeshu'a (Jesus of Nazareth), a son of a poor carpenter. They have the same age and physical resemblance.

With his research, Yerby tried to tell a story about Yeshu'a based from the facts he had collected. In this book Nathan points out the flaws in the 4 gospels. He doesn't believe the story around Yeshu'a's miraculous birth and explains that Yeshu'a is an ordinary man, but very unique. Yeshu'a likes to be alone and pray, while other children are playing or helping their parents. Nathan said the miracles performed by Yeshu'a are not really miracles and how he has his share in them, like when water is turned to wine, feeding 5000 people, and the walking on water. Unless I miss something, Nathan doesn't explain how Yeshu'a gets his extra-ordinary knowledge about the Bible and his wonderful wisdom; and as for his healing power, it's because of love from both sides: the healer and the sick person. "He smiled, and the world reeled, drunk with joy. He touched you, and your flesh quivered. He told you you weren't blind anymore, and, for as long as he was there, you saw, though the torturers had put the irons to your eyes the day before. He told you you could lift your withered arm, and lift it you did despite all the laws of probability. He forgave you your sins, and they were gone. [..] And upon that act of love, all your faith is built."

The book itself is enjoyable, with notes from Yerby here and there. According to Nathan, Yeshu'a is guilty. He stirs all the people up against their rulers, both Jewish and Roman, from Galilee to Jerusalem. Mostly the Pharisees hate him because he profanes the Shabbat, which culminates in cleasing the Temple. Different from recent popular story about Jesus's descendants, here Yeshu'a dies because of the crucifixion and that he maintains his celibacy until death. To experience a miracle, one has to believe in it. It's our choice: whether we look at good things happen to us as a miracle or a coincidence; or worse: with ignorance. In the ending, while the disciples witness the rise, Nathan "could not join them." "I realized I was in the presence of a miracle. [..] The world without him was too empty, too desolate. So they - who loved him more than life - brought him back." As for the title of this book, here is what Nathan says to Yehudah ish Kriyoth (Judas) in his despair after Yeshu'a's death, after he failed to save him, failed to make Pontius Pilatus free him, "All the damned are brothers, Yehudah. You, because you betrayed him; I, because I failed him."