Thursday, January 29, 2009

Il Postino (1994)

Il Postino (=The Postman) tells about the friendship between a humble postman and a celebrated poet. The story is set in Sicily, in the early 50's.

It was the first time I saw Massimo Troisi, who plays Mario, the postman. Mario is not a bright man, but he wants a better future. All around him, everyone is a fisherman. However, Mario doesn't want to be a fisherman. When a local post office looks for a new postman to deliver mails to Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who is in exile (played by the wonderful Philippe Noiret), Mario grabs the chance. At first he only wants his signature, but when Neruda is good enough to explain to him what metaphor means, Mario then begins to learn how to use metaphors to win the heart of the village's beauty: Beatrice Russo.

The movie is rather slow, but the music and dialogues are beautiful. I am a bit disappointed with the quality of the DVD because I saw some scratches and black spots here and there, and this movie was only made in 1994! I heard that Massimo Troisi died soon after finishing the shooting. He was so convincing as Mario that I thought they must have cast a real simple Sicilian man.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Dutchess (2008)

The story is simple: Georgiana, who is not yet 18, goes to marry the rich Duke of Devonshire, who is much older than her. The Duke wants a male heir. As time goes by, Georgiana learns that her husband loves his dogs more than her. All Londoners love her and the clothes she wears become quickly popular, but the duke never pays attention to her because she only can give him two daughters. The Duke also brings home his other daughter (with a servant) and asks his wife to raise her. [This daughter, Charlotte, never grows old in the movie.] When Georgiana finds out that the Duke has slept with her best friend Bess, she asks his permission to see his lover Charles Grey, which is refused (of course. At least the Duke is sane.). Georgiana finally can give the Duke a son, and even has a daughter with Grey. The Duke asks her to leave Grey, if not, he will prevent Georgiana from seeing her children and sabotage Grey's political career. The Duke, Georgiana, and Bess live together under the same roof until Georgiana's death.

There is nothing new in the story, which is based on a true story happened in the late 18th century. However, the locations, set designs and costumes are wonderful. This movie is beautiful. Ralph Fiennes is very good as the Duke: a man who has a strange way to express his love. He does whatever he wants to do and doesn't care about what others may think - except that he doesn't want to be a cuckold. The only actor/actress I like among the cast is Charlotte Rampling, though, who plays Georgiana's mother. 'Never mind what your husband do. He is very influencial and rich. I'm proud that he is my son-in-law. We women are destined to suffer.' -that must be the way she thinks.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shoeshine (1946)

I was disappointed to know that Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine was not included in the Neo-Realist Collection Boxset, because to buy individually the DVDs are expensive. Then I saw that Shoeshine was from The Masters of Cinema (the Neo-realist boxset was from Arrow Films). That was comforting to know that at least the quality of Shoeshine DVD would be excellent. I was not wrong. The restoration is very well done and the movie is one of the best I have seen. A very moving story.

The setting is Rome after WW2. Pasquale and Giuseppe are best friends. Pasquale is an orphan, while Giuseppe still has his family. They earn money by shining American soldiers's shoes. "Shoeshine, Joe?" asks Pasquale to a passing GI. In their spare time, they goes to Villa Borghese to ride a horse. They dream to be able to buy the horse. One day, Giuseppe's older brother asks them to deliver stolen blankets to a fortuneteller's house, where a robbery soon happens, and the two boys are sent to jail, accused to be an accessory to the robbery.

Most of the movie takes place in the juvenile prison. The food is horrible, but once they get used to it, it's eatable. My eyes were wet when Pasquale betrayed Giuseppe (the beating sack scene is perhaps very funny, but the circumstance is so tragic), the misunderstanding afterwards, and how Giuseppe was corrupted by his cell-mate. I am also sorry to see what happens to the horse. The boys love him, but as they are in jail, the stable owner uses him to draws a cart. Three of them have lost their freedom. It's sad to see a friendship broken by the social system, especially when the two boys are innocent.

The two young actors are wonderful. Franco Interlenghi becomes a successful actor and has done many films since. Many boys went to see Vittorio De Sica for the role of Pasquale, and Interlenghi said how he queued twice (like Dopey when he wants to be kissed again by Snow White) so that he could answer De Sica's question properly about whether he could box. Finally the producer saw him and asked if he had been seen by De Sica. It was then he was asked to do some screen tests. Rinaldo Smordoni, who played Giuseppe, was cast at once, and everybody thought he would be a great actor, but no. He only did a couple of movies after Shoeshine, and that was all.

If I have to choose between Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief, I will choose Shoeshine. Both movies are strong, tragic, and powerful; but we can learn more things from Shoeshine and I like movies about friendship, even if it ends badly.

Elizabeth R (1971)

After watching three movies about Queen Elizabeth I : Elizabeth (1998), The Golden Age (2007), and Elizabeth I (2005), where The Virgin Queen was played by Cate Blanchett and Helen Mirren, at least I had learned a bit about her. Although this Elizabeth R TV series was made earlier, I realized one thing immediately, that this was made by the BBC for the British people, who must have learnt about her at school. So, to be able to enjoy this series, one must have read about her first, if doesn't want to be lost. Also, because it was made by the BBC, although the dialogues were brilliant, I noticed the sets and the quality of the sound were poor. Here, actress Glenda Jackson plays Queen Elizabeth. She also plays this role in Mary Queen of Scots (1971) where Vanessa Redgrave plays Queen Mary.

The series is divided into 6 episodes, starts when young King Edward, son of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, dies and is replaced by Mary, the daughter of Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, is sent to the tower, but after Queen Mary's death, she becomes the Queen. The life of Elizabeth is always interesting: her fondness of the Earl of Leicester, her rivalry with Mary Queen of Scots, how the parliament tries to make her to marry, but when she finds the right man (perhaps), they tries to prevent her.

My favourite episode is 'Horrible Conspiracies' because in my opinion, no fiction's writer can create complicated intrigues like those really happened, especially when it involved a master spy like Francis Walsingham! I am also fascinated by the story of Mary Stuart: how friends betrayed her and how traitors became double-traitors, including her own husband Henry Lord Darnley.

Death du jour

A few days before Christmas, I and a friend went to a new branch of Gramedia (=a book store name) in Grand Indonesia Mall. For the grand opening, they were having a 30% discount. After a while, I said to my friend that I didn't want anything because the place was too crowded, but then I saw she was carrying a book in her hand and to be able to use the BCA card to pay (for additional 5% discount), we had to buy more books. At least I would have to accompany her to the long queue before the cashier, so I searched again and picked up 2 books which were near: Death du jour by Kathy Reichs and Sign of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski.

Today I finished Death du jour. The center character is a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan, who is based on 2 countries: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, where she teaches in a university; and in Montreal, Canada, where she works in a laboratory. She has been separated from her husband, and has a daughter (who studies in a university) and a cat. In this book we can read details about the examination on the bones of victims, the areas she visits, and even a thorough discussion about larvae.

The book begins with how Brennan tries to find an old tomb of a santa in a convent. One of the nuns there will later ask her to help in finding her niece, who happens to be an assistant of a professor who has examined the era when the santa once lived. Meanwhile, the police finds five bodies in a burnt house, two of them babies. The investigation will lead to a sect which its members are live in isolated farm in St Helena.

The book is not bad, but I am not interested in a story about sects, and I am disappointed that there is no connection between the murders and the santa.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Goat Song

Goat song - A Novel of Ancient Greece by Frank Yerby is set in the Peloponnesian War (5th century BC). Goat song means tragedy = song at the sacrifice of a goat. This book is rich with details of life at that time [ancient Greece]. Most of the men seem to be homosexuals.

The hero is Ariston, a handsome Spartiate (they say he is as beautiful as Dionysus) , who is only 17 when the novel begins. As hinted by the title, his life is a tragedy. He is caught by the Perioeci (the Dwellers Round, who are freemen, but the Spartans treat them almost like slaves.). A girl helps him to run away. The girl will later die horribly. Ariston cannot stop blaming himself and since then it seems he will never be happy. He also believes he is the cause of his father and mother's deaths. He then goes to the war against the Athenians, gets caught, and is sold to a bathhouse as a slave. Ariston is only free from the bathhouse when one of the richest men in Athens adopts him to replace his dead son. To be able to keep his promise to marry an Athenian citizeness, Ariston will go again to a war against the Spartans.

There are also ancient Greece real characters like: Socrates, Euripides, Plato (not much mentioned here), Critias, Sophocles, Alcibiades...

Ariston's love story with Cleothera, a slave from Massalia (=Marseille) is very moving. He has bought her for his friend without seeing her first, so when he does, it is too late. Plus, he has a promise to marry another girl, who in fact doesn't love him and vice versa. When he can keep Cleothera as her mistress, his wife drives her away. When he meets her again four years later, she has been with another man.

Interesting to note that when Ariston goes to war against the Spartans in order to gain his Athenian citizenship, it is mentioned that in that time King Darius the Great rules Persia. I believe this is the same King Darius mentioned in the Book of Daniel.

From all Frank Yerby I've read, Goat Song is one of the bests. My other favourites are: The Saracen Blade and The Odor of Sanctity.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

L'aile ou la cuisse (1976)

The title means 'The wing or the drumstick". Louis de Funès is perhaps the funniest French actor ever. In this movie he plays Charles Duchemin, the brain behind the famous Duchemin Guide, a gastronomy guide book which rates restaurants in France. Duchemin can give to or take out stars from a restaurant. Only a few knows what he looks like. His son Gérard unfortunately is more interested in his circus business, where he plays a clown. Meanhile, Duchemin has to deal with Tricatel, who owns a big canned food factory. Tricatel tries to steal the draft for the this year's guide, so he knows which restaurants to buy. Soon, Duchemin will opposse Tricatel in "Anything Goes" - a popular talk show, and in the meantime they are trying to find each other's weakness. Duchemin finally finds that Tricatel produces fake meat, fish and vegetable in his factory. Interesting, for lately I received 'spam' about fake food made in China. Perhaps they've got their idea after watching this movie.

This is one of the best Funés works I've seen.

Le sanglot des anges (2008)

This series is divided into 4 episodes. The first episode is boring, but as usual the characters are being introduced. The 2nd gets more interesting, that I finally could finish all 4.

The center character is Carlo di Vanelli (Ruggero Raimondi), a successful opera singer. His personal life is not too successful like his career. His wife wants to leave him because she has had enough - his current mistress, a music teacher, is living under the same roof: the foundation belongs to di Vanelli. His eldest son hasn't spoken to him for a long time. An old acquaintance, François Dubreuil, a businessman, wants to take di Vanelli's most precious thing: his foundation. In the past, di Vanelli won the heart of the woman they both loved: Esther Manet, a soprano. Di Vanelli writes an opera for Esther, called Le sanglot des anges (=The Sob of Angels). He dreams to be able to have it performed one day. The problem is, half of the work is in Dubreil's hand, late Esther's husband.

As soon as di Vanelli's wife, Eléonore, has an affair with a man she just met, the plot gets more interesting. Side characters are quite good, like: Angelo (di Vanelli's son who paints the same mysterious woman's face, a woman whom he has never met), Marlène (di Vanelli's agent who flirts with the inspector who takes the murder case, which at first di Vanelli is a suspect - this inspector always grins all the time, gives an impression that he is not serious with his job.), Gilou (the faithful barman), Diane (a soprano who has the same voice as Esther and has been looking for a chance to meet di Vanelli for an audition).

The ending is predictable, nevertheless this is an enjoyable show.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Mission (1986)

This Roland Joffé movie is one of the best I have seen. A few days ago I watched this for the 2nd time and the tragic ending again made me eyes wet. The music by Ennio Morricone is one of the most beautiful scores ever written. I love Gabriel's Oboe, which is now perhaps more known as Nella Fantasia, after given lyrics by Chiara Ferraù, and sung by famous singers such as Sarah Brightman, Russell Watson, Amici Forever, Il Divo, Katherine Jenkins, etc.

Set in 18th century, the Jesuit missionaries, lead by Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) christianize the Guarani Indians in the South America jungle, which at that time is the teritory of the Spain. He is helped by Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro), an ex-mercenary, who is seeking redemption after murdering his own brother. With the Treaty of Madrid in 1750, the missionary is now handed over to the Portuguese colonial, who want to enslave the Indians. The Jesuits are ordered to leave by the Vatican, but refuse. The Cardinal visits the place and sees with his own eyes that the mission actually has an excellent progress. However, he cannot do anything to defend them against the greedy colonialists. The mission is finally destroyed by the Spanish and Portuguese forces.

La Terra Trema (1948)

In 1947, Luchino Visconti went to Sicily to make a short documentary. However, after staying there for several months, the project turned into something much bigger. La Terra Trema (=The Earth Trembles) was to consists of 3 episodes: about the fishermen, the peasants, and the sulphur-mine workers. Only the episode about the fishermen was finished (thus the subtitle: Episodio del mare), probably because of the financial trouble. As the project was going, Visconti had run out of the initial budget and continued with his own money.

Starring by the real Sicilian fishermen, this movie focused on the Valestro family in the Aci Trezza village. The fishermen work hard, but the money they bring home is hardly enough. Last night's work is for today's food, and tonight's is for tomorrow's. The wholesalers force them to sell their fish cheap. A young man, Ntoni Valestro, believes that they can get out of this poor life. "He has serviced military in the mainland and learnt about injustice," says his brother Cola, when the old generation wonders why the young just can't accept the life as it is: "The poor is always poor". Ntoni mortgages the family house, buys the boat, and plan to sell the fish to Catania directly. It sounds easy, but in one stormy night, the boat is destroyed. With the loss of the boat, the Valestro family lost every thing and in hunger they must place themselves back into the merciful hand of the wholesalers.

I somehow scratched my head when the Valestros think they are rich after the mortgage of the house. The heap of cash has made them forget that they have to pay the bank back. People around them also think the same. Nicola, the house-builder, knows that he is now too poor to marry Ntoni's sister Mara whom he loves.

After the loss of the boat, the Valestros are out of job. It seems never-ending troubles come to them then. None will hire Ntoni (probably afraid of the wholesalers), his girlfriend is gone, Cola runs away (probably to America), the grandfather falls ill, her sister Lucia becomes an officer's mistress, Mara has lost her better opportunity to marry, and the family house is confiscated. The movie ends with sort-of happy ending, as Ntoni has to swallow his pride and asks the wholesalers to hire him again.

The language used in this movie is the Sicilian dialect, which underlines the sense of poverty.

Ossessione (1942)

Luchino Visconti's first film, Ossessione, is based on James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. I haven't read the book or watched the 1946 movie version by Tay Garnett, so I can't compare.

The beautiful Giovanna is unhappy with her marriage with the fat, dirty, but rich Bragana in Ferrara. Enters Gino, a handsome tramp, who works temporarily for Bragana. Giovanna and Gino fall in love to each other and plan to murder the husband. The police have their suspicion, and the guilt after makes both Gino and Giovanna realize that life is not as beautiful as they have dreamed.

Giovanna marries Bragana because she wants a home. Gino is a tramp who cannot easily stay in one place for a long time. She refuses when he asks her to go away with him, to leave the husband she hates. Love is one thing, but Giovanna sees the reality of life. She cannot leave her comfortable home. She cannot live like Gino. After the murder, Gino has to stay with her and this makes him miserable. When she tells him that Bragana has a life insurance, Gino thinks that she has drawn him into the mess, and now he has blood in his hands. [This is very interesting, especially after watching new movies where people seem to kill without blinking.] He reconciles with her, after she told him that she is pregnant his child. With the police in tail, she finally agrees to leave with Gino, but they have a car accident.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bellissima (1951)

Last year, I watched an excerpt from Bellissima in a documentary about Luchino Visconti from RAI. It showed a little girl crying, while men laughed at her. That seemed not interesting enough. However, recently I watched a couple of Cesare Zavattini's works and liked them, and found out that this movie was also based on his story, only this time he worked with Visconti instead of Vittorio De Sica.

Compared with Visconti's other works, Bellissima seems to be a little movie. Stella Film is looking for a little girl between 6 and 8 years old. Maddalena, a mother who gains money by injecting diabetic people and is crazy about cinema [Their house is near to an outdoor cinema. She can even tell Burt Lancaster by his voice! I actually think that at that time, Burt Lancaster's voice must have been dubbed by an Italian. She must have known all of the lines in the movie.], wants her daughter Maria to get the part. She does her best to achieve this dream. Although she has a strong personality, means no one can tell her what to do, in her anxiety, she polishes Maria with an acting lesson, a ballet practice, a new hair cut and a new gown - because other people say this and that. She spends her last lira to buy presents for the director's wife, the cameraman... but she soon knows that the man whom she gives the money to uses it to buy a new scooter for himself.

Anna Magnani as Maddalena is excellent. I like her here better than in Rome, Open City (1945). Maddalena is so real and reminds me of obsessive mothers who want their kids to be the best, get the first rank in class, etc. The little girl is also very good. She is very cute and I prefer her with long plaits. She looks innocent in the beginning of the movie, and very polished in the end with the curls and the ballet gown. Gastone Renzelli, who plays Maddalena's husband Spartaco, was not a professional actor and discovered at a slaughterhouse in Rome. There is also Walter Chiari, who was the most sought after actor in Italy at that time.

Visconti has made changes from Zavattini's story. In the original, after all Maddalena's efforts, Maria is not accepted. In this film, Maria gets the contract, but only after a humiliation and tears. Maddalena's anger has turned into a bitterness. Her little girl is not an object to laugh at. The studio cannot wipe away the humiliation with two million liras. Maddalena decides that Maria will stay at home.