Saturday, November 29, 2008

Malèna (2000)

Malèna is a beautiful movie, sad and tragic. It's directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, who made Cinema Paradiso. I think Malèna is beautiful because it's played the beautiful Monica Belluci. Both two main actors are very good.

In a town in Sicily in World War 2, beautiful Malèna is left by her husband who goes to war. She is brought by her husband to this town with his deaf father, a professor who teaches in a local school. I think the director exaggerates the jealousy of the townspeople. I cannot believe that none of them can be nice to her. The men are too afraid of their wives to come near her, and the women are filled with jealousy. None hires her, and with a malicious letter they makes her father leaves his job at the school. Malèna becomes a prostitute and serves the German soldiers. Only Amoroso Renato, a 12 year old boy who likes Malèna knows the truth: Malèna is always faithful to her husband, even when he is reported to be death.

It is better for Malèna if she leaves the town immediately after her husband starts for war. They are cruel to her. Her life will be better if she goes back to her hometown because without her husband, a beautiful stranger there is treated very unfairly. After Malèna cut his hair and dyed it red, she looks more beautiful. She is not happy, though. There is a tear in her eye when men around her offer a light for her cigarette. The men in the town are too afraid of their wives, even to help her when she is being beaten on the street. None comes forward to cover her nakedness.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Les diaboliques (1955)

This thriller movie is one of the best I have seen. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who beats Alfred Hitchcock only in a matter of hours to buy the book's copyright, this is about a wife and a mistress of a cruel headmaster who unite to kill him. They dump his body in the institution's swimming pool, but when the pool is drained, the body disappears.

I would have thought Véra Clouzot is younger than Simone Signoret, which made me wonder why Signoret is cast as the mistress and not vice versa; but after checking IMDb, I found I was wrong. It must be Clouzot's little fragile body which made her look younger than her actual age. Near the end, the suspense is almost unbearable, the tense is too high, that I feel my heart is as weak as the sick wife. The inspector is rather annoying, for he seems to appear anywhere, including in Christina's (the wife) room; and we see the concierge complains how people can get in and out without his knowledge.

The scariest thing for me is when Nicole (the mistress) shows Christina a mysterious face who appears in the window on the photograph. At this point, I hoped I was watching not a horror movie, but only a thriller. The ending is also eerie: the boy says Christina gives him back the slingshot... and he looks serious.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lagardère (2003)

This movie is very entertaining. Divided into 2 parts, this is an enjoyable swashbuckling story about loyalty, friendship, revenge, and hope. Philippe de Gonzague wants to marry the beautiful Inès, daughter of Caylus. Unfortunately, Inès has secretly been married to the Duke de Nevers, Gonzague's cousin, and they have a baby. Gonzague murders Nevers after trapping him in an ambush. Henri de Lagardère, although arrives in time to help him, fails to prevent the cowardly murder which is done by attacking the Duke from the back. Lagardère saves the baby and raises her like his own in exile. In the span of 17 years Lagardère travels all around the country to revenge Nevers and kills the men who trapped him one by one, but the real murderer, whose left hand is marked by Lagardère's dagger, is still mysterious. Meanwhile Gonzague tells everyone that it is old Caylus who sent Lagardère to murder Nevers.

Bruno Wolkowitch is great as Lagardère and I also like Florence Pernel as Inès, who looks more beautiful in close-up. Based on Paul Féval novel entitled 'Le Bossu' (The Hunchback) because Lagardère disguises himself as one to enter Gonzague's residence. He gets the idea after meeting again an ex-farmer who once received his help. When Lagardère still services the Duke of Nevers, a farmer asks the Duke for more time to pay his tax. Lagardère persuades the Duke to return the farmer's cattle. After the death of Nevers, Gonzague takes the Duke's land and his people beats the poor farmer when he cannot pay his tax. They breaks so many bones in his body that he becomes a hunchback. I hear there are lots of changes, from the book to this version. I haven't read the book, but find this movie very enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Around mid 1940's - 1950, neorealistic style is popular in Italian cinema. The stories are set among the working class, usually with non-professional actors, and filmed on location. After watching Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers, I am interested to watch more neorealistic film, and I read that Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di Biciclette) is one of the best, so I am glad to be able to watch this. This movie has won many awards, incl. BAFTA's Best Film, Academy Awards's Best Foreign Film, and Golden Globe's Best Foreign Language Film.

Set in Rome after the WW2, where jobs are hard to get. Ricci feels so lucky when he gets a job as a bill poster. However, as a condition of employment, he must have a bike. Unfortunately, he has pawned his only bike. His wife finds a solution: pawn the sheets so they can get the bike back. On his first day working, the bike is stolen. Reporting the theft to the police doesn't much help and Ricci and his son Bruno must try to find the bike themselves all around the city.

In his despair, for the loss of the bike means the loss of the good job, Ricci even visits a fortune teller. In earlier scene we see he reproves his wife for doing so. The fortune teller doesn't give him a solution anyway, for she cannot tell him where to find the stolen bike, as he expected. Later, Ricci almost thinks that he has lost Bruno when he hears someone is drowning. Knowing that his son is okay, he celebrates by taking Bruno to a restaurant. Ricci buys for them expensive meals, because he realizes Bruno is more precious to him than money. The ending is very moving. Again, driven by despair, Ricci only know that he must have a bicycle at any cost. On the other hand, Bruno's eyes are opened, and he sees that the father he adores is only human as well.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Cinema Paradiso tells about the magic of cinema. Set in a small village in Sicily in late 40's, 5-year-old Toto is interested by the work of the projectionist of the local cinema, called Cinema Paradiso. At that time, cinema is the only entertainment the villagers have. They even have to fight to get into the cinema and bring their own chairs. The reaction of the movie-goers when they are watching movies are wonderfully portrayed.

This movie begins with adult Toto, played by Jacques Perrin, now a successful film director, receives a phone call from his mother telling him that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the old projectionist, has died, and that the funeral will be held the next day. It's been 30 years since Toto left Sicily. We then see the flashbacks,: friendship between little Toto and Alfredo, and Toto's affair in 1955 with the beautiful Elena. The characters in this movie seem so real and convincing. Here and there we can see daily life of the Sicilians. After watching the documentary 'Giuseppe Tornatore: A Dream of Sicily', it's no wonder; the director is an observant man, and for years he has been watching and filming what Sicilians do. It's true what he says: Cinema is a time machine and a spaceship that can take you travel through time and space.

I love watching the old movie clips and try to identify them, as many as possible: The Gold Rush, La Terra Trema, Ulysses, Les bas-fonds, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, ... and beautiful actress Silvana Mangano singing and dancing. Also very moving is the last scene, where Toto watches a movie given by late Alfredo: a montage of kissing scenes censored on the demand of the local priest who always watches the movies before they are presented to the villagers. I like the continuous scene where Alfredo replaces the 50 lire 'lost' by little Toto, Toto and his mother leave, and suddenly appears this homeless man from the corner of the screen and yells that the square is his. Ennio Morricone did the soundtrack, what more can you ask? I'm also impressed by little actor Salvatore Cascio who plays little Toto.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Madame de... (1953)

Many people that I know assume that old movies -black and white movies - are slow and boring. That is not what I think. True, old movies, if they used special effects, can be out-of-date; but there are movies with strong script and dialogues, and these kinds are not much affected by time. Techniques used by directors and the crews are also not much different from today. Now I especially like European movies, French & Italian to be exact, made between 1950 - 1965.

Max Ophüls's Madame de... starts with Louise, wife of a general, who sells her earrings, which her husband gave her after their wedding, because she needs money. She tells the general that she has lost them at the opera. The next day the news about the theft appears on newspaper. The jeweler who bought them reads it and tells the general the truth. The general buys the earrings back, but gives them to his mistress, who soon will have to sell them for money. Time goes on, and Louise meets Baron Donati who gives her the very earrings as a token of love. In the beginning, we see Louise chooses among her belongings, and the earrings are the ones she loves the less. However, after Donati gives them to her, we see that they have become her most precious possession, that she persuades the jeweler to hold them for her until she gets the money to buy them back by selling some of her furs.

The development of the relationship among the general, Donati and Louise is well depicted. Both Donati and Louise only flirt at first, but as they meet regularly in parties and always dance together, something starts to grow and Louise decides to go away. The general still means a lot to her. The music, sets, and costumes are wonderful.

The DVD contains an interview with director Alain Jessua, who at that time worked as one of the director's assistants in Madame de... He keeps the placard bearing the sign "Don de Madame de" which appears in the end of the movie.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Navigator

The story looked promising, but my enjoyment was a bit ruined by some mistakes in the translation. [The book I read has been translated to Indonesian.] They are not 100% mistakes, only that the choice of words and phrases sometimes are not right. The synopsis on the back sleeve is a sort of spoiler as well, as it gives away the name of the bad guy. So from the start, I had already known who the main villain was.

This book by Clive Cussler & Paul Kemprecos is an adventure story, about the search of Queen Seba's tomb and the treasure of King Solomon. The ending is not what you think, but the searching process is a real challenge, complete with conspiracy and a dangerous hitman.

Thief of Bagdad (1940)

I wondered how good special effect in a movie made in 1940 was. I read many reviews about this, though, so I wanted to take a look.

The restoration of the DVD (region 2) was well done. John Justin who played King Ahmad was also good looking. Started from these 2 points, I could enjoy the movie until the end. In the 40's this must be one of the biggest adventure movies ever made.

Different from Disney's Aladdin which stars Aladdin and his monkey Abu; the story of Thief of Bagdad begins with King Ahmad who is usurped by his grand vizier Jaffar. Ahmad meets the little thief Abu, who will help him to meet the beautiful princess. Jaffar wants the princess as well and kills her father. With the help of the Djinn, Abu will fulfil the prophecy: deliver the kingdom from the evil king.

Nowadays the special effects, which in 1941 won an Oscar, looks very simple and old; but apart from that, the movie is enjoyable to watch. I like very much how the dog can tell a false coin from others. Also interesting is the scene where the Sultan riding the magic horse, for I've seen the similar picture of Sinbad riding the same horse in one of the Doraemon books. The movie came out first, it must be Doraemon's writer/illustrator who drew the inspiration from this film.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Set in Nuremberg, 1948, this movie is about an American court, led by Judge Haywood (Spencer Tracy), tries four Nazi judges. The American prosecutor (Richard Widmark) tries very hard to get the defendants maximum punishment, but their lawyer, Rolfe, is also very good. Through the trial, Rolfe, who admires Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster), one of the defendants, will try to explain to the court that the 4 judges only did their duty for their beloved country.

The movie is about 3 hours long, but from start to finish it's very emotional. Judge Haywood tries his best to understand why the 4 judges, especially Janning, did what they did. I like Haywood. In Deux hommes dans la ville, Cazeneuve says something like, "Justice must understand the man it judges." The standard of justice can be different to every man, so one must really understand the reason first. Haywood spends his time to read Janning's books and later he befriends a widow of a late high ranked officer in military, Mrs Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich), who tells him that Hitler hated her husband and Janning.

Among the solid cast, I'm really impressed with Maximilian Schell (Rolfe) and Montgomery Clift, who plays one of the witnesses, a mental retarded man. This movie is very good and I hope in the future writers can create dialogues as excellent as in this movie. Sometimes I think movies based on real facts have better plots than fictional stories.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

I think to be able to fully enjoy this movie, one has to have watched Casino Royale first. Quantum of Solace is the sequel of the prior Bond movie. Until this time, each movie stands on its own. True, villains like Blofeld and Jaws appear in several Bond movies, but usually one can watch any of the movie without having to watch the previous. This time, if one hasn't watched Casino Royale, it will be rather hard to fully understand why Bond is so angry, who Vesper is, what the personal revenge M is talking about, and why the movie has been given this title. The gun barrel sequence only appears in the end (unless I have missed it when it appears in the beginning!).

The movie is so fast, especially on action scenes, that it was hard to see what was going on. Daniel Craig's Bond is a cold blooded killer, or it is the pace of the movie which makes him that way. I feel the movie is so full of actions that there is not much space left for the drama (Made me enjoy every time Judi Dench appeared on screen). The scene in the burning hotel is unbelievable, how can they survive? The fire is everywhere - not to mention the smoke. Also unbelievable is how Greene can hide a river from the people. So the villagers never go that way? There must have at least been a rumor. Plus, the geologists can't work there alone, there are usually a few locals to guide them. It's ironic, though. Greene makes the land dry and he dies of thirst. I wonder who has killed him. I don't remember if he carries a gun when he is left in the desert.
I was disappointed on how they murdered Fields. It was perhaps a nod to Goldfinger, but I was hoping for something more original.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Les fragments d'Antonin (2006)

"How long does it take to make a man? How long does it take to destroy him?"

This is a haunting movie about the victims of war. The main character is Antonin, a pigeon post trainer. In 1919, he becomes one of the interesting cases in the psychiatrist ward in a hospital for Professor Labrousse, a pioneer in the treatment of war trauma. Antonin doesn't suffer amnesia, but he can only mutters five names, each with different obsessive movements. He also never looks anyone in the eye.

The opening credit shows the victims of WW1 - those who was still living, but their conditions were no better than the deads. In the movie there is a moving scene where the doctor examines the injured soldiers and chooses which ones he will try to save and which ones will be left to die. "He has a letter from his wife. She has just born a baby." The doctor answers, "I need four hours to save his life. Leave him. I need 1 hour to operate this one, 1 hour for that one, and 2 hours for that one. I can save three instead of one."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

À bout de souffle (1960)

I heard so much about this Jean-Luc Godard movie and wondered what it would be like. Apart from the jump cuts style, which looks like watching an old copy of a movie (because of several frames are missing - and in this case deliberately by the director), I see nothing else significant. Perhaps I was tired when I watched this. I think the long scene between Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and Patricia (Jean Seberg) in the bedroom is interesting in a way; the dialogues are poetic. Director Jean-Pierre Melville appears in front of the camera as writer Parvulesco.

Michel Poiccard steals a car and shoots a police who follows him. Hunted, he stays with his American girlfriend, Patricia, while looking for his friend who owes him money so that they can escape to Italy.

So far, from all movies with Belmondo I have seen, I like Léon Morin, prêtre the best.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

In early 1990 I read about this movie and how beautiful it was in a magazine, but I never caught it in theatre. I didn't know if it even came on nearby theatres. In late 90's - or perhaps early 2000 (I really can't remember) I and my sister finally watched this on CCF cinema and we both liked it very much and thought it was very beautiful. Yesterday I saw this again and it was still very beautiful.

Normally I don't like movies where the characters speak their dialogues in poetry, like Shakespeare's, for example. However, Cyrano is different. First, the cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful. Second, the main character is a truly a poet and in this case, he has to win Roxane's heart with beautiful words. That makes sense, then, and that poetry is a must in this movie. It's also fun to watch Gérard Depardieu. My sister always laughs when she sees him on screen; she always identifies him as Obélix.

Cyrano is admired by many, but he despises himself because of his enormous nose. He loves his beautiful cousin Roxane, but when he is about to tell her about his feeling, Roxane tells him that she falls in love with the handsome Christian, a new cadet in his regiment. Roxane asks him to take care of Christian and say to Christian to write to her. The problem is, Christian is too stupid to write. Cyrano then writes on behalf of Christian and in that way, what Roxane reads is actually Cyrano's feeling for her. Roxane and Christian are later married, but on the wedding night the regiment must go to a war against the Spain (Battle of Arras). During the war, Cyrano never fails to cross the dangerous border twice a day to mail his letters to Roxane. Christian dies in the war, broken hearted, because he realizes that Roxane falls in love to whoever writes the love letters, and it is obviously not him. Fourteen years later, Roxane still mourns for Christian and lives in a convent. Every Saturday faithful Cyrano visits her and brings her news and gossips. On a fatal Saturday, a beam falls onto Cyrano's head and he is badly injured, but he still can keep his promise to visit Roxane as usual, and it is then when Roxane finally learns the truth that Cyrano is the one she really loves.

Interesting what the screenwriter/director (I can't remember which one, but it was in the DVD's Special Features) said, that Roxane finds the perfect man: intelligent, handsome, strong... but the problem is: he is of 2 men.

Tess (1979)

Based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, this movie is a Franco-English production. I already have the version with Justine Waddell, but wanted to see this one because of 1) Roman Polanski 2) Philippe Sarde 3)Thomas Hardy. I think Tess is Hardy's most tragic character and he was too cruel on her.

17-year-old Nastassja Kinski as Tess is perfect. To underline the fact that Tess is pure, simple, and ignorant, she is dressed mostly in white. Although a farmer's daughter, she has an elegance about her. Her pride and vanity are rather out-of place; but she is a d'Urberville and her ancestor had fought with William the conqueror.

The life of Tess Durbeyfield changes when her father is told by the local vicar that their family is the direct descendant of a noble family called d'Urbervilles. Tess's mother suggests that Tess is to be sent to one rich d'Urbervilles family. This rich family turns out to be not the real d'Urbervilles, because they, a blind old woman and her son Alec, have bought the title and their real name is Stoke. Tess is hired to work for them and seduced by Alec. She returns home, bears a baby who soon will die, and works again in a dairy where she meets her true love: Angel Clare. They are married, but on the wedding night, Angel can't accept the fact that Tess has been with another man - an unjust fact for he just confessed to her that he had been with an older woman in the same periode when Tess was with Alec. Tess returns to her parents, but Angel says if she is in any trouble she can write to him. The troubles do come, but Tess's letters are not answered. In despair, the only way out is to go back to Alec. Despite his flaws, I actually believe that Alec does love her. And being a priest's son, I am not surprised that Angel can say to Tess: "How can we live together while that man exists? He is your natural husband, not I." - which explains Tess's action when Angel comes back to her from Brazil.

This Roman Polanski movie is very beautiful (especially the locations and cinematography) that I prefer this one than the 1998 version. In this 1979 version the importance of a horse to the Durbeyfields is not much shown, but only mentioned in several dialogues. One scene in the 1979 version which doesn't appear in the 1998 version (and I think it's one of the saddest things in the book) is when Tess visits the Clares and her boots are taken away. She has to return home with her new shoes, which are not suitable for long distance, and if I am not mistaken, it is said in the book that the new shoes are ruined after the fruitless trip. In the movie there is also a lovely scene where Tess can see the tombs of her ancestors.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales

I wanted this book after watching Chris Noonan's Miss Potter. The book itself is very beautiful, that when it arrived my boss also wanted a copy, which I ordered for her right away. The pages are of excellent quality's paper, and there is a cartoon box to protect the book. I love the beautiful illustrations by Beatrix Potter, and the best of all in my opinion is in The Rabbits' Christmas Party. From all the stories, my most favourite is The Tale of The Pie and The Patty-Pan. The idea to accept someone's invitation to eat a pie, although you don't like her pie and then have a plan to swap it with your own, is very amusing to me. I also like the illustrations of the mayor's waistcoat in The Tailor of Gloucester.

From her works, we can see how much Beatrix Potter loved animals and nature. This book contains all of her 23 tales and 4 additional works. Each work is accompanied by a note to explain the background of the story. The language is not very easy to read, but I can understand the meaning by looking at the illustrations.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Empress Orchid

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min tells about the fight a poor young girl, from the day she and her family can't even afford to eat, until she becomes one of the powerful woman in history. This Manchu girl, called Orchid, is chosen by the Emperor as one of his seven wives and begins to live in the Forbidden City. She gives him a son and becomes his favourite wife. The life is not easy, but she is not a woman who gives up easily. The book is very enjoyable, with lots of details about the life in the 19th century, especially in the Forbidden City. The British and French people are described as savages, who sells opium to the Chinese and with their treaties demand lots of money from the Emperor. They also rob and burn palaces in the Forbidden City. Emperor Hsien Feng, who is not a very strong man to begin with, dies broken hearted. Little Tung Chih, Orchid's son, succeeds him. This book ends with the burial of Emperor Hsien Feng. There is a sequel, entitled The Last Empress.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Boulevard (1960)

This was on TV last night. I read that Julien Duvivier was one of the most underrated French director. The movie was enjoyable, although sometimes the look in the lead actor seemed scary (and wrong, in my opinion). Perhaps he was tired of doing the same scene again and again.

Georges (Jean-Pierre Léaud) lives in an attic room in Pigalle. He leaves his father, who owns a bar, because he doesn't like his new step-mother. His happiest time is perhaps when he is on the roof, for he can see all over Pigalle, and for a while he can pretend to be the king of the world. In the same building, lives a striptease dancer, Jenny Dorr (Magali Noël), whom he is trying to attract; and an Italian family who has a nice daughter (Monique Brienne) who likes him. Another important character is Dicky the boxer (Pierre Mondy), who later will win the heart of Jenny. The movie centers in the struggle of Georges to survive. He is too proud to ask his own father some food, but when he drops by, he eats all the croissants. There is a strong scene when her step mother asks her father to choose between her and his son. Georges works anything available: selling newspapers for the young, posing as Narcissus, he can have money to take his girlfriend to a movie and buy ice cream. The clock is ticking, it's time to take her to cinema, and he hasn't got the money. Maybe he would have, if he were a little kinder to Dicky. He has to swallow his pride and goes to his father for the money, but his girlfriend betrays him. In his attempt to commit suicide, Georges begins to see that actually the world is not as cruel as he thought it to be.

My favourite scene is the boxing match. Very funny. It's obvious he must beat Dicky at any cost. And the old woman whose courage is as strong as the young, shouts "Commencez!"