Monday, April 27, 2009

Death in Venice (1971)

Death in Venice tells about composer Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) who comes to Venice for a holiday, in the Lido island. He is a very reserved person, very unhappy because of the death of his dear daughter, and seems the hotel manager (Romolo Valli) is the only person he talks to. His life is changed when he sees a young Polish boy in a sailor suit, Tadzio (Björn Andresen), who, in his opinion, possesses the ideal beauty. He falls in love with Tadzio, but doesn't have any courage to talk to him. At first they only exchange glances, then Tadzio seems to come nearer. Later, Aschenbach stalks him, and finally: he caresses Tadzio's hair. Aschenbach tries to find out the truth about the health notices posted in the city so he can warn Tadzio's mother (Silvana Mangano), even though it means the family has to leave Venice and he cannot see the boy anymore. The movie ends with the death of the composer on the beach, straight after seeing perhaps the most beautiful vision in his life: Tadzio, his legs in the sea, pointing to the sun.

Based on a novel by Thomas Mann, Death in Venice is a beautiful movie. Luchino Visconti recreated Venice in 1911. If you have seen any work of Visconti, you know how he paid attention to details - and this movie is no exception. The character of Aschenbach is based on Austrian composer/conductor Gustav Mahler, so Visconti used Mahler music for the movie. [In the novel, Aschenbach is a writer.] Like Aschenbach, Visconti himself was obsessed by beauty. The movie itself is very very slow and perhaps only can be enjoyed if one is not in a hurry.

The face of Tadzio reminds me of Shinobu Ijuin from Haikara-san ga Tōru (published here under the title of 'Miss Modern' in the early 90's) by Waki Yamato, originally published in 1975-1977. The hairstyle is also similar. Ijuin is so beautiful that 'it pains me when I look at him', says his fiancée Benio.

Cranford (2007)

Adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell's 3 novels: Cranford, Mr Harrison's Confessions and My Lady Ludlow, this TV series is set in Cranford (near Manchester) in summer 1842 to summer1843, begins with the arrival of Mary Smith and Dr Harrison.

Cranford is a lovely, warm place to live, especially in the first 2 of the 5 episodes - when the troubles have not begun. The main characters are spinsters and widows (not many young people around), but they help each other (gathering candles so Dr Harrison can operate, collecting money secretly for Mathilda). Some are old fashioned (Lady Ludlow, Deborah) and for them the progress is like the end of the world - at that time, a railway is coming to Cranford; some are always think of others (Mathilda, Jessie) even though it means they have to lose the loves of their lives.

There are funny times (Mrs Forrester's precious lace gets into the cat's stomach or the pyjamas for the cow), worrying times (the misunderstanding which makes Dr Harrison almost lose Sophie), good times (party at Hanbury) and bad times (death of Deborah, Walter, and Mr Carter; Harry must work at the stables) - the stories from the 3 novels are woven well.

There are 2 things which are not explained in the movie: how Mary Smith could get the 2 Valentines cards sent to the Hutton girls? And who attacked and robbed Mr Johnson - was it one of railway workers or an acquaintance of the gypsy who came to Miss Pole's house?

Beautifully written and well directed, with an impressive cast: Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Francesca Annis, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Julia McKenzie, Barbara Flynn, Greg Wise, Alex Etel, ... Ideal to watch when we need something light to relax.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I bambini ci guardano (1944)

Vittorio De Sica's I bambini ci guardano (=The Children Are Watching Us) tells about a little boy who is torn between his love to his mother and her infidelity to his father. Like the title suggests, little Pricò (wonderfully played by Luciano De Ambrosis) watches his mother as she meets her lover. Although very young, Pricò is not stupid. He knows what is going on and refuses to salute Roberto (his mother's lover).

That night, Pricò asks his mother to kiss him goodnight after tucking him into bed. When the next morning she is gone, Pricò falls ill and is very happy when she returns. The family seems all right again. Then the father takes them to a holiday in Alassio and leaves them there because he has to work. This time, when Pricò sees her mother with Roberto, he tries to come back to Rome to see his father. It seems Pricò is hurt very much this time to see this betrayal. When they refuse to sell him a train ticket - because he is a little boy traveling alone - he tries to walk by foot to Rome; but two gendarmes catch him and bring him back to his mother. When Pricò and his mother return to Rome, only Pricò arrives at his father's home because she is running away again with Roberto.

Perhaps the father can bear this problem if the gossiping neighbours don't make it worse. It's the shame he cannot take. The father commits suicide after sending Pricò to a dormitory. When Pricò is given the terrible news, he won't come to his mother who comes to be at his side. He chooses to hold the maid and leaves the room. In his heart, he knows it is she who has caused his father's death.

Like in The Bicycle Thieves and Sunshine, Vittorio De Sica knew how to make dramatic movies with quality, yet easy to understand and enjoyable. We can feel Pricò's suffering. He is a good boy, although his grandma doesn't think so and say bad things about him.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pour la peau d'un flic (1981)

Pour la peau d'un flic is the first movie which Alain Delon officially signed his name as a director. Dedicated to JPM (most likely Jean-Pierre Melville), this movie is very entertaining and I like this much better than his next effort Le battant.

Ex-police Choucas (Delon), is now a private investigator with his friend Tarpon (Michel Auclair). Mme Pigot asks him to investigate the missing of her blind daughter, Marthe. Inspector Coccioli (Daniel Ceccaldi) tells him to accept the case, pocket the money, and stop there. A young man named Pradier brings a letter from Marthe which explains that she goes away with her boyfriend. At the same time, a pharmacist hires Choucas because he suspects his employee Pérez steals money from the cash register. Choucas follows Pérez to a casino and sees how he wins easily. Mme Pigot and Inspector Madrier are killed [the latter in his attempt to kill Choucas], and Choucas is now wanted by the police.

The movie is fast paced and funny at times. The scene when Choucas is leaving the police headquarters is similar to Le samouraï. Like Costello, Choucas looks at his watch, waves his right hand (left hand in the pocket) to call a taxi - the only vehicle which runs on the street [I think it's even the same location]. Only this time the taxi doesn't stop for Choucas.

There is a scene which reminds me of Plein Soleil: when Choucas and Haymann visits the Spaniard. They climbs the stairs and enter a big room with a beautiful ceiling, where a woman is playing a piano. While in Plein Soleil Elvire Popesco has stopped playing when Delon and Maurice Ronet enter the room, this woman keeps doing it - giving a lovely background music while the two detectives interview the Spaniard.

The ending is hilarious. Choucas the hero enter The Green Hill, a weight loss clinic which is used as a place to produce heroin. The Hydrotherapy room gives a strange feeling like the setting in the James Bond movies and we expect our hero to finish his enemies to the end. However, Choucas is different from such superheroes: soon he is caught, his gun is taken, his nose is broken - also his hand, while another hand is tied to a pipe - and in the attempt to break free his head is spurted with hot steam, and after that his knee is shot. The next scene shows him lying on a hospital bed with a bandage all over his head - only shows one eye and his mouth, one arm and one foot in cast, sipping a bowl of porridge with a straw. Rarely I see such a miserable hero. In the scene where his secretary Charlotte (Anne Parillaud) attends his wound, he cries in pain and she comments that Belmondo would have never made such an unmanly gesture.

Mireille Darc, la grande sauterelle, also makes a brief appearance here. We should not miss her, for she is blatantly addressed by Delon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Un crime au paradis (2001)

I watched this because after watching the trailer, I saw this was a remake of Sacha Guitry's La poison (1951) - which is one of the best movies I've seen.

Jojo (Jacques Villeret) is a hard-working farmer in Le paradis (the name of the farm), which belongs to his wife Lulu (Josiane Balasko). They can't stand each other. The movie begins with Lulu makes holes on the bottom of Jojo's milk buckets, so that his goats' milk are wasted. She cooks food he doesn't like and put lots of salt in his soup. He cannot divorces her because that means he will sleep on the street. After Lulu burned his stamp collection, Jojo is at his wit's end. He happens to see on TV a brilliant lawyer who always succeeds in acquitting his clients. Jojo goes to see this lawyer and tells him that he has killed his wife. The lawyer supplies him with the details and Jojo goes home, accidentally kills his wife, who has put mole poison in his drink, exactly in the way described by the lawyer. The prosecutor who comes to the murder scene is given the poisonous drink, but his life is safe. [If I am not mistaken, in La poison, the poison is drunk by the pharmacist and he dies.]

The lawyer has to take Jojo's case, of course. The trial is funny, with a very long philatelic discussion between Jojo and the judge, who happens to be an avid stamp collector, too. There is also a question from the 7th juror (from George Lautner's Le septième juré). Jojo spends less than 2 years in prison and goes home to his dear farm, which has been taken care of the villagers while he is in prison.

I like La poison much better than this Un crime au paradis. In La poison, I like very much the scene where the children play 'husband and wife'. The case is so popular that the villagers' children pretend to kill each other when they play husband and wife. Horrible, but hilarious.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Casque d'or (1952)

Casque d'or (=Golden Helmet) refers to Marie's hair style and colour. Casque d'or is Marie. Played brilliantly by Simone Signoret, Marie is the girlfriend of Roland, a gang member lead by Leca (Claude Dauphin). The movie begins with the gang and their ladies spend a happy time rowing in the Marne river and then go into a dance hall, where Marie meets carpenter Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani), an old friend of Raymond, also a member of the gang. Marie and Manda fall in love with each other. The angry Roland challenge Manda for a duel where Rolland is killed. Leca, who wants Marie for himself, grasses to the police that Raymond is the killer, despite the fact that it was Leca who suggested that the duel used a knife. Seeing his best friend in jail, Manda gives himself up to the police. However, the police don't release Raymond, accusing him as an accessory to murder, because he carries a pocket-watch belonged to the victim - again, it was Leca who suggested that Raymond kept the watch for souvenir. Raymond learns that Leca is the grass. [Perhaps the police inspector writes the grass's name deliberately, in hope that Raymond will see it and tell his friends - that means less problem for the police. Why such an important thing he writes? It's much better if he only whispers the name to the other police's ear. I don't think Raymond will hear.] Marie helps both Manda and Raymond to flee, but Raymond is shot and later dies. Manda, who knows he will be guillotined anyway for Roland's murder, kills Leca to revenge Raymond.

The black & white images are beautiful. Jacques Becker, the director, transferred this story of passion to screen very well. The movie ends with Marie watching her lover's death by guillotine, from a room located opposite the prison, which she rents for that night.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

La Maison Tellier (2008)

This movie is based on one of Guy de Maupassant's stories. Madame Odile runs a brothel with four beautiful girls. One day she receives a letter from her brother whom she hasn't seen for many years (we know the reason why) that her niece Félicie is going to have the first communion and she wants her godmother to attend. Odile buys a diamond necklace for her niece, close the brothel for 2 days (with a notice: Closed due to a First Communion), and take her girls along for she cannot leave them unattended. Her sister-in-law and niece don't know her real job is, so she says she owns a clothing business and that the 4 girls are her sales girls. Things are going well, even the priest is impressed for they weep in the church during the sermon. [He speaks about the angels in heaven who rejoice over one sinner who repents, and there are five prostitutes in the church that time.] One of girls, Loulou, has even got an offer of marriage.

However, in the feast, when they are merry after eating and drinking, the girls dance on the table and show their legs and one of the guests makes a comment that it's like being in a brothel. Interesting to note that Odile's sister-in-law and her brother don't have any suspicion at all. It's only Jean, Odile's brother, whose shame for having a sister like her, who ruins the party and his own daughter's prospect to get Odile's money. Jean reveals Odile's secret and tells her to go back to town.

What we learn from this story, is that Odile and her girls are basically good people and kind hearted (even though I think they giggle too much); but the society don't like how they make their money and treat them like pest. Loulou says, "I don't want to be a prostitute anymore." but can she go into the dirt and beg?

Mort d'un pourri (1977)

I had wanted to watch this for a long time and when the time came, I was not disappointed. The movie was very good. The English title is "Death of A Corrupt Man", which I think the corrupt man in question is called Serrano, like the German title suggests (Der Fall Serrano); because there are many dead corrupt men in this.

The movie begins with a parliament member, Philippe Dubaye (Maurice Ronet), visits his best friend Xavier Maréchal (Alain Delon) at 5 in the morning, and tells him that he killed Serrano last night. Serrano is a fellow deputy and a blackmailer. Xavier gives Philippe an alibi, but it doesn't save Philippe's life, because everybody knows Philippe is the killer and more important: he has taken Serrano's documents, proofs that important people are not clean. Philippe hides the documents in his mistress's apartment and tells Xavier to pick them up. Xavier does the job well, but returns to find that Philippe has been murdered. Now it's Xavier's turn to be in danger, especially after the death of Philippe's wife, because it's clear that the documents are in his possession. It's easy for Xavier to give them up to the police, but he wants one thing in return: the name of Philippe's murderer.

Directed by George Lautner, this thriller has a wonderful cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Mireille Darc, Stéphane Audran, Ornella Muti, Michel Aumont, Jean Bouise (his face reminds me of some police inspector drawn by Herge), Klaus Kinski. Stan Getz plays the theme song with saxophone. The music is composed by Philippe Sarde.

Casting Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet as the two best friends was a great idea. They played together in Plein Soleil, Lost Command and La Piscine (the photographs from 3 movies are displayed in Xav's living room) - so it helps the audience to understand why Xavier risks so many things for Philippe, including restraining himself not to sleep with Philippe's mistress. I have to say, though, that after Plein Soleil and La Piscine, I suspected at first that it was Xavier himself who killed Philippe.

I like the scene where cars falling from the truck onto Xav's car.

The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)

This movie consists of three stories, linked with the yellow Rolls Royce. Terence Rattigan wrote the story. I had seen The Winslow Boy so I knew what to except. I found some of the dialogues were clever. They made me giggle at times.

The yellow Rolls Royce is new at the beginning of the movie. The Marquess of Frinton buys it in London as a gift to his wife for their 10th anniversary. He may not care much of political things and only wants to win the Gold Cup, but in the end we see that his infidel wife (Jeanne Moreau) means so much to him. Rex Harrison plays the Marquess and I think he's got all the best lines. He sells the car because it is where his wife betrayed him.

The 2nd story takes place in Italy, about a gangster's moll (wonderfully played by Shirley MacLaine) who is blonde and dumb. The famous gangster, Maltese, (George C. Scott - have you heard him singing O Sole Mio?) takes her to beautiful places in Italy and she is bored to death, until she meets an amoral photographer (Alain Delon) who needs a ride to Rome. Maltese has to leave for several days and she has the best time with the photographer. The happiness changes her and she now realizes how beautiful Napoli is. Maltese's sidekick (Art Carney) tells her to end the affair if she wants to see her dear photographer live. Maltese sells the car and return to Miami with his moll. This 2nd story is the one I like best among the three. Not only because of the actors, but also because of the magnificent views in Pisa and Naples. There is also lovely scene where Shirley MacLaine and Alain Delon dance, with the song 'Forget Domani' (=Forget Tomorrow) by Riz Ortolani.

The3d story is the weakest, in my opinion, although not bad. The beautiful Ingrid Bergman plays Mrs Millet, a rich American widow who has important connections. She plans to go to Yugoslavia, despite the warning that there is a revolution there and that the Nazis are about to attack. She meets Davich (Omar Sharif), who needs her help to cross the border. Not only she helps him to cross the border, but also helps in recruiting guerrillas by taking them in her yellow Rolls Royce. It's quite typical, that Americans must do good. Like in the 2 previous stories, again the back seat of the yellow Rolls Royce is used to you-know-what. The movie ends with the car goes to America.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Les enfants terribles (1950)

This was on TV last night. I wonder if TV5 is doing a Melville marathon, because next week it will be Bob le flambeur.

Based on Jean Cocteau's famous novel (he also did the screenplay, narrated the movie and imposed Melville to cast his protegé Edouard Dermithe to play Paul) , Les enfants terribles is about two siblings, Elisabeth and Paul, who live in their own world. The relation between them is like incest. They play games with their own rules and often force their friend Gérard to join, like when they force him to steal a big water-pot. In the beginning of the movie, we see Paul still goes to school until the incident when his friend Dargelos, whom he secretly admires, throws a snowball which contains a stone to him. The weak Paul is injured and has to stay at home. Elisabeth now has to take care of Paul and their sick mother. After the death of their mother, Elisabeth finds work in haute-coutueur where she meets Agathe. She brings Agathe home and Paul is amazed with her resemblance to Dargelos (they were played by the same actress: Renée Cosima). Elisabeth is married, but her husband soon dies. Agathe and Paul falls in love with another and both confide in Elisabeth, but Elisabeth tells Agathe and Paul opposite things. Broken hearted, Paul kills himself with poison from Dargelos, and soon after, Elisabeth shoots herself; although the slogan "suicide is a mortal sin" is written on their mirror. The last scene when Elisabeth falls onto the floor after shooting herself is like the death of the man who wants to kill Silien in Le Doulos.

Even though people say Dermithe didn't play well, but his resemblance to Nicole Stéphane (Elisabeth) is amazing. See the poster. There are lots of close-ups on Stéphane and we can see that her Roman profile is similar to the marble bust (without the moustache). Apart from Elisabeth's death scene, my 2 other favourite shots are: 1) when Paul drags his blanket on the chequered tiles 2) The opening credit which shows Elisabeth's dream : a silhouette of hers standing on the right, a tree of the left, and Paul lying on the billiard table covered with a blanket. This image from the opening credit is, in my opinion, the most beautiful thing in the movie.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Australia (2008)

The plot of Australia is, like Moulin Rouge, very simple, in my opinion: On the brink of WW2, Lady Ashley (Nicole Kidman) from England goes to North Australia because she thinks her husband is having an affair with one or two locals. She finds he has told her the truth, but when she arrives he is already dead, murdered. She fires her administrator Fletcher (David Wenham) for stealing, and sells her livestock to the army, beating the cattle baron Carney. She falls in love with the drover (Hugh Jackman) and adopts Nullah (Brandon Walters), a half-breed boy. Their love is put to a test when the Japanese planes start to drop bombs.

Not many director can make a wonderful movie from a simple story. You can trust Baz Luhrmann to polish it maximally. Visual effects are used very well, helped by the wonderful editing.

The story is narrated by Nullah, who would be one of the stolen generation, if not for his mother and Mrs Boss/Lady Ashley. Well, he is stolen for a while and brought to the Mission Island. The character Fletcher is described as a very evil man. First he murdered Lord Ashley, then we see him as a thief, threatens his own son and his mistress, almost kills Lady Ashley and her group when they are delivering the livestock to Darwin, murders Carney, and in the end, tries to kill his own son again. I thought that after the ball when Lady Ashley is reunited with the drover the movie ends, but it doesn't. I don't like the argument between Lady Ashley and the drover about Nullah.

The Reader (2008)

In Neustadt, 1958, 15 year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) is on his way home from school when he feels sick and vomits on the street. A woman (Kate Winslet) helps him to get home. Three months later, after recovering from the scarlet fever, Michael returns to her to say thank you. They starts to have an affair. The woman, Hanna, makes Michael read books to her. One day Hanna is gone.

A couple of years later, Michael is studying law and he, his professor, and a couple of students visit the trial where 6 female ex-camp guards are accused of murdering 300 Jews during WW2. One of them is Hanna. At least Hanna is honest in the trial and we feel sympathy towards her. When the judge asks her why she did that, she asks him back what would he do if he were in her shoes. I bet he would do the same thing. To Hanna, admitting that she is illiterate is more embarrassing than telling the judge that the murders was not on her order. For her, it's better to be sent to prison for a lifetime. And Michael is too ashamed to come by her side. His coldness towards Hanna 20 years later becomes a trigger to her suicide.

Ralph Fiennes plays older Michael Berg, but I think David Kross is more look like young Val Kilmer.

Changeling (2008)

I didn't know what to expect from this movie and the synopsis sounded boring, but it turns out very gripping from start to finish. Clint Eastwood did his job very well. This is based on Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) lives in Los Angeles with her 9 year-old-son, Walter. In March 10, 1928, she returns from work and cannot find Walter. After searching in the neighbourhood, she reports that her son is missing to the police, who say she must wait for 24 hours and that Walter will have been home by the morning. Five months later, Christine is told that his son has been found. Her happiness soon is cut short, for the boy is not Walter. She tells the police, who tell her to give it a try. The police say that after 5 months, Walter has changed. However, Christine finds that the new Walter is 3 inches shorter. His teacher and the dentist also agree with her that the boy is not Walter. The police won't listen to her, because it will look bad to their image. On the other hand, Christine is upset because it means the police has stopped searching for her real son. At this point, she is helped by a priest (John Malkovich) - who is more like a politician to me. On the evening when she is supposed to tell her story on the priest's radio, she is taken by the police and 'escorted' to the psychiatric ward, where she meets many women who share her fate: they are locked up because they are dangerous to the police's reputation. Meanwhile, in a juvenile case, the police has caught a boy who has illegally entered the country from Canada. This boy has a terrible story for them, that his cousin has kidnapped and murdered 20 boys, and that one of the victims is Walter Collins.

It was annoying to see how the police handled this case. Not for once they confront the boy who claims to be Walter. They believe it's the mother who is wrong. However, it will be ridiculous to admit they have made a mistake. In the train station, where they brings Walter home, there are many journalists. When Christine tells them that it is not her son, if they admits their mistake, what will happen?

I like how the two trials are depicted: Christine Collins vs LAPD and the state vs Gordon Stewart Northcott. A wonderful editing, in my opinion. Also like the part when Arthur Hutchins, the little impostor, claims that it's actually the police's idea that he becomes Walter Collins. What a trouble he has caused, only because he wants to go to Hollywood and meets his favourite actor!