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Moving pictures 2017, #26

Another six films and another six countries. Sadly, one of them is the US, and it wasn’t a film I would have watched otherwise – but it was on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list, although I’ve no idea why…

Rushmore*, Wes Anderson (1998, USA). I’ve seen a bunch of Anderson’s films and I’m not a fan. I hate whimsy. But Rushmore was on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list, so I watched it. And while it wasn’t as gratuitously whimsical as some of his later films, it was just as annoying. The title refers to the posh private school at which the lead character, Max Fischer, is a pupil. And he’s hugely unlikeable and annoying. He’s a poor student, but they can’t get rid of him because he’s far too good at defending himself. Then he meets a bored industrialist, the father of two meathead pupils at Rushmore, and the two become unlikely friends. Fischer persuades the industrialist, played by Bill Murray, in what was apparently a career-revitialising role, to fund an aquarium at Rushmore, an idea he’s conceived in order to win the affections of new teacher, Olivia Williams. Rushmore is entirely about Fischer, and he pissed me off from the moment he first appeared on-screen. I get that this is deliberate, but I don’t see the point of it.Why would I want to watch a film about an annoying little shit? Why would anyone? Why would they even think that was a good idea? Oh well, at least I can cross it off the list.

Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos (2009, Greece). I forget why I put this on my rental list, someone must have recommended it to me but I can’t think who. It was probably David Tallerman; he recommends weird films. A husband and wife have three grown-up children they’ve kept completely isolated from the outside world, even giving them fake meanings to words they stumble across, like “zombie”. The father pays for a security guard at his plant to come and have sex with his son, but the security guard is more interested in cunnilingus with the two daughters. It’s hard to describe quite how odd this film is. It works really well – the three children are cruel and naive, the parents’ motives for the deception are by turns both understandable and completely insane. Lanthimos filmed Dogtooth very simply, with static scenes and realistic dialogue, and it works really well. It’s not a film that bears rewatching – it’s just too damn unsettling – but it’s certainly a film worth seeing. There’s something very Haneke-ish about the story, and I’m a huge Haneke fan. Recommended.

Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski (1962, Poland). I hadn’t known Polanski – or Polański, as he’s given here – was in these box sets, although I suspect I’d have bought them anyway despite his presence. Because, let’s be fair, his is a career that should not be supported – he’s still wanted in the US for a sex crime, after all. Knife in the Water is actually his first feature film, and was the first Polish film nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Sadly, it’s a technically impressive film, but narratively feels like it owes far too many debts to far too many other films. Much of the action takes place aboard a sail boat on a lake, and the fact Polanski managed to film his cast of three out on the water is impressive. The story is less impressive. A well-off couple on their way to their boat for a weekend on the water, nearly run over a hitchhiker. They offer him a lift, and later invite him onboard their boat. It’s a chance for the husband to show off in front of his wife, because the young hitchhiker knows nothing about sailing. Later, the hitch-hiker jumps overboard and hides behind a buoy, faking his drowning. The husband swims to shore to fetch help. The hitchhiker then climbs aboard the yacht, witnesses the wife naked, seduces her… and when the boat returns to the dock and the waiting husband, the hitchhiker is long gone. On the drive home, the wife admits she had sex with the hitchhiker. The story is fairly humdrum, but the way the film is made is technically clever.

5 Centimetres per Second, Makoto Shinkai (2007, Japan). I borrowed this from David Tallerman after watching Shinkai’s The Garden of Words and wanting to see more by him. The title refers to, as the film helpfully explains early on, the speed at which cherry blossom falls to the ground. I’m not sure that’s true, but never mind. The film consists of three linked stories. In the first, a boy and a girl at school become friends, but their families move away from each other. In the second, a classmate becomes enamoured of the boy from the first part, but his heart still belongs to the girl of the first part. In the final section, the two characters lead unconnected lives, but still dream of each other. And then they seem to meet one another but do not connect. Like every Shinkai film I’ve seen, the animation is gorgeous, either photo-realistic or wonderfully painterly. There’s some particularly lovely animation when the two main characters witness a rocket launch, but it’s hard to pick a favourite moment as it all looks so fantastic. And yes, the story is low-key and not a fat lot happens in it – there are no mecha, no kaiju, no science fiction or fantasy elements… but that’s one of the reasons why I like Shinkai’s films so much. I’m tempted to get my own copies, in fact.

No, Pablo Larraín (2012, Chile). This is the third film in Larraín’s trilogy about Pinochet, and I’m guessing the two earlier films are Tony Manero and Post Mortem, as Wikipedia doesn’t make it clear that the films are linked. I guess I’ll have to watch them now as I thought this very good. Gael García Bernal plays an advertising man who is hired by the “No” side in the 1988 referendum in Chile over whether Pinochet should remain in power. Happily, the Chileans voted for an open election and not for more military dictatorship (see, Britain, it is possible to vote intelligently in a referendum). According to Wikipedia, “the “No” campaign, created by the majority of Chile’s artistic community, proved effective with a series of entertaining and insightful presentations that had an irresistible cross-demographic appeal. By contrast, the “Yes” campaign’s advertising, with only dry positive economic data in its favor” – which sounds uncomfortably familiar, although the No campaign didn’t resort to outright lies as both the Leave.eu and Vote Leave campaigns did here (but then racism always has “cross-demographic appeal”). No presents the campaign, and the government’s response to it, as dry drama – quite talky drama, in fact. Bernal is good in the lead role, unsurprisingly; but it did feel a little like the focus on the adverts used by either side in the referenderum undercut the importance of the vote and the horror of Pinochet’s regime. But perhaps the latter point is covered better in Tony Manero and Post Mortem. Happily, there is a box set of all three films – No to Pinochet: The Pablo Larraín Collection – and I’ve already stuck it on my wishlist.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir Khan (2015, India). I’m not sure which has surprised the Indian guys I work with the most – the fact I don’t like cricket, or that I watch Bollywood movies. Anyway, I’d put Bajrangi Bhaijaan on my rental list after seeing it on some list of good Bollywood movies, and they all approved it. And while I’ve enjoyed a number of Bollywood films I’ve seen, I thought this one was really quite good. A six-year-old girl born in Pakistani Kashmir is mute. Her mother takes her to Delhi to a shrine where all promises are realised, but on the train journey home the girl gets off the train and is left behind in India. She comes ascross Salman Khan, a simple but pathologically honest young man, who vows to reunite her with her family, even if it jeopardises his relationship with his fiancée. So he finds a way to sneak into Pakistan, via smuggler’s tunnel – but even then, he asks for permission from the Pakistani border patrol to enter the country… and when they refuse, he tries again until they accept. There’s an amusing scene where all three are performing ablutions in a river, and they ask the young girl if she had done a number one or two and she replies two… Khan is good as the well-intentioned but somewhat dim-witted title character, and while you know the film is going to end happily, it takes its time getting there. It’s worth the trip, though. The production values are astonishingly high, and there’s some excellent landscape photography. Although it didn’t follow the usual boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl plot of your typical Bollywood film, this is probably one of the best ones I’ve seen. Oh, and this is the first film I’ve ever seen which lists the production company’s tax counsel among the opening credits.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 864


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Moving pictures 2017, #25

My first Vietnamese film is in this post. I was sure I’d seen a movie from that country, but if I have I’d never recorded it. So The Lady Assassin earns the dubious distinction of being my first film from Vietnam. Otherwise, six films equals six countries.

The Last Day of Summer, Tadeusz Konwicki (1958, Poland). Despite having seen a number of Polish films, and being a fan of several Polish directors – although not so much Kieślowski these days, who I recently decided is somewhat middle-brow – I don’t know all that much about the cinema of the country. Konwicki’s name, for example, is completely new to me. And the place he occupies, and the place this film occupies, in Polish cinema is also unknown to me. So I’ve no real idea why it’s in the second box set of Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, which is not something I could have said of several of the films in the set. Anyway, A MiG fighter dives on a beach, a man and a woman meet on a beach, and, er, that’s pretty much it. I didn’t really get this film, to be honest. It felt experimental, in the way many Polish films of the 1950s and 1960s were experimental (and in a way the resolutely commercial cinemas of the US, UK and France, for example, of the time – other than in their independent or avant garde cinema traditions – were not). The Last Day of Summer bears rewatching, perhaps even demands it, so the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema sets have proven smart purchases in that respect – and these days, my main criterion when purchasing films on DVD or Blu-ray is whether I will want to, or need to, watch it a number of times. The Last Day of Summer is perhaps in the bottom half of the eight films in this box set, but it’s a strong box set so that’s no bad thing.

Cosmos, Andrzej, Żuławski (2015, France). This was Żuławski’s last film – he died in February 2016 – and while it’s clearly a film only he could have made, it doesn’t seem quite as intensely bonkers as some of his others. It’s still OTT, at least in comparison to other films of its type, but that’s hardly unexpected. It just seems tame as a Żuławski film… Which does not mean it’s not worth watching. To be fair, Żuławski was a singular talent who made singular films, most of which are probably not to everyone’s taste. I find him a bit hit and miss, but I appreciate his misses as much as I adore his hits. I think, for example, that Na srebrnym globie is actually improved by the random footage of shopping centres, added to cover the gaps Żuławski never managed to film a decade before. And L’amour bracque is the most 1980s film ever made, which makes your eyes water, but that has to earn respect. Cosmos doesn’t feel like a film to end a career on, n0t that it was ever intended to be, but sadly that’s what we must take it as. Żuławski was always technically excellent, and it shows here – more so, in fact, because the technology allows him to better realise his vision. The story has the vague shape of a French cinema standard, but Żuławski makes of it something that is uniquely his own, and does it in a way that is both technically superior to his other films but not quite as emblematic of his career as those earlier films were. Worth seeing, although Żuławski fans will get more mileage from it. I’m a fan.

The Lady Assassin, Quang Dung Nguyen (2013, Vietnam). I’m not sure why I bunged this on the rental list – perhaps after watching Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin, its title persuaded me it might be similar. It isn’t. But neither was it as bad as it could have been. Which feels a bit like damning it with faint praise, or at least a faint insult… when it actual fact it proved quite entertaining. The film opens with a funeral party in mediaeval Vietnam coming across a remote inn staffed by four young women. The women initially refuse them hospitality, but eventually agree to let them stay. Midway through their meal, the women attack and prove to be accomplished assassins (who do tricks with a ball on a long ribbon, which they kick). It turns out the inn is a trap, and the women kill all those who stay there. But this time, they discover a woman hiding in the funeral party. She is fleeing a plot against her family, of which sh’es the only survivor. She is offered the opportunity to stay on at the inn, train as an assassin and thus have revenge on her family’s killers. She accepts the offer. And, er, that’s about it. There’s a strange sort of volleyball game, where they have to kick the ball not punch it. There are lessons on cleaning the inn by rolling up and down ropes. It’s all hugely implausible but still entertaining. The pulpy cover art doesn’t do the film any favours, but it’s worth seeing nonetheless.

Track 29, Nicolas Roeg (1988, UK). Having watched the three Roeg films ninety-nine percent of film-watchers can name – ie, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Walkabout – I decided to explore his oeuvre a little more. (Yes, okay, some people might also know of Roeg’s debut, Performance, but I’ve not actually watched that yet.) Anyway, the first Roeg rental off the list was this one, Track 29, and… it’s an odd piece. It’s like a cross between David Lynch and Ken Russell. Which is just as unpalatable as it sounds. Gary Oldman plays a young Brit looking for his birth mother, Theresa Russell, an American, who turns out to be married to Christopher Lloyd, a doctor who spends more time with his train set than his wife. Except perhaps Gary Oldman is not real, and Russell’s relationship with him is just a fantasy of hers… Whatever ambivalence Roeg might have initially tried for he quickly drops in favour of Russell-seque (Ken, that is) excess. So we see Lloyd’s train set, and home, destroyed in a number of impressive ways, but none of them are real. It’s all a bit hyper-dramatic. I remember the performances in Walkabout being quite laid back, but everyone in Track 29 gurns like a Carry On star. Oldman’s OTT performance in this is matched only by his performance in Besson’s The Fifth Element. After seeing Roeg’s three best-known films, I ‘d expected more of him. I’ll try some more of his films, but I’ve no idea what happened here, that the man who directed The Man Who Fell to Earth could produce a piece of sub-Russell-esque nonsense. Um, I see his film just prior to this was Castaway, which I seem to remember didn’t do very well…

Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg (2016, USA). My fascination with deep sea exploration, such as using saturation diving (which is, to be fair, almost entirely commercial these days), has extended a little to the design of offshore structures. I find oil rigs and their like interesting – although I didn’t especially enjoy my one visit to an offshore supercomplex back in 2001, as I’m not fond of heights… Anyway, Deepwater Horizon is a dramatisation of the events of April 2010, when the titular rig exploded and caused a massive oil spill that posioned much of the Gulf  of Mexico and cost BP billions of dollars in fines. The film pretty much recounts the events leading up to the explosion, and ignores all the political shenanigans which followed. The thing to remember about BP is that it was originally called Anglo-Iranian Oil and is reponsible for two regime changes in that country. So this is a company with a history of putting profit before people. As it is, Deepwater Horizon the film is populated by gruff everyman oil riggers who try to do their jobs to the best of their abilities in a solwly-worsening situation that management seems to content to ignore. This is neither unique to the oil industry, nor uncommon. But for the oil industry, the consequences of failure are much higher. And much more expensive. Not that the film makes much of this aspect. It’s a workmanlike piece – it stars Mark Wahlberg, so of course it is – and the special effects are done well (Berg is usually good with sfx), but making a hero out of John Q Public during a preventable disaster is a good way of deflecting criticism from those who could have prevented it. Deepwater Horizon makes a show of finger-pointing, but it’s feeble at best. I enjoyed the film because I’m interested in oil rigs, but that’s about all it has going for it. After all, this is a director whose most interesting film to date has been Battleship, a piece of sf nonsense based on a boardgame, but which managed to do more interesting things genre-wise than Michael Bay’s entire output…

Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie, Kunihiko Ikuhara (1999, Japan). I’d asked David Tallerman if I could borrow a couple of his anime DVDs, particularly the Makoto Shinkai ones, and for reasons best known to himself he threw in Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie (or Adolescence of Utena, as Wikipedia has it). After I’d finished the film, I texted him: “WTF have I just watched?” There’s a line in Wikipedia’s plot summary for the movie which perfectly sums it up: “Utena is then inexplicably swallowed by a sporadic car wash, and, inside, she is metamorphosed into a pink car”. Um, yes. It started well enough, although I wasn’t too keen on the stylised art – pointy noses, big eyes, long writhing hair in a variety of implausible colours, tiny torsos and long skinny legs – but hey, that’s like such a popular style it’s become part of the iconography. And the story too throws you straight in at the deep-end, with princes and fencing and a Rose Bride, and just enough not-exactly-subtle exposition to further confuse… But just when the pieces start slotting together, it goes completely batshit insane. Not just the aforementioned “sporadic [sic] car wash” and the ensuing Death Race, but the castle on wheels which tries to crush the pink car, and all of it enfolded in the sort of metaphysical/philosophical framework that you dare not think about too hard in case it comes crashing down about your ears. And yet… the film lingers. It’s not only dramatic, or even melodramatic, it’s two-dimensional animated characters actually chewing the scenery like the shark in Jaws, Jaws 2 and even Jaws 3D. Just when the story starts to add up… it veers away into babble. It makes for an interesting, and memorable, viewing experience. I don’t think I’ll ever become a fan of this sort of anime – sorry, David; I prefer my anime more like Only Yesterday – but I’m still glad I got to see Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie.

1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die count: 863


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Moving pictures 2017, #24

I’m continuing to watch a varied selection of films, which does make me wonder why people limit themselves to the latest Hollywood blockbusters…

The Case of Hana and Alice, Shunji Iwai (2015, Japan). David Tallerman has recommended a number of films to me, both anime and live action, and they’ve generally been good calls – more so for the latter than the former, as he’s a big anime fan and I’m not. But… I really liked this. (It’s anime, incidentally,) Perhaps because I like anime that isn’t overtly fantastic or about mecha – well, except for the Neon Evangelion films, that is – as witnessed by the fact my favourite Ghibli films are Only Yesterday, Ocean Waves and From Up On Poppy Hill. But I do also own a copy of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, so who knows, one day I might sign on fully  to it… A teenage girl moves to a new town and is bullied by the her new classmates as they claim she is the “Judas”, a girl in the class who was murdered the prevous year. The only person who can shed light on this mystery is Hana, Alice’s next-door neighbour, who no longer attends school. The art is very clean-line, without some of the exaggerations normally found in anime, and I liked it for that. It’s not entirely mainstream, however, as there some low-key fantastical elements which appear. But the whole thing is so stylishly done that it’s hard not to like it. David has recommended  several films I’ve considered adding to my collection, but I think this is the first anime film he’s suggested that I’d like to own a copy of (I think it was Jonathan McCalmont who recommended Neon Genesis Evangelion). Looking on a certain online retailer, there appears to a Blu-ray edition of The Case of Hana and Alice (but not cheap!) – I might well add it to my next basket…

The Harder They Come*, Perry Henzell (1972 Jamaica). I had somehow got this linked in my mind with Superfly from the same year, possibly because both were films about the black experience in the US, except it turns out The Harder They Come is a actually Jamaican film about reggae and any connection between it and Superfly were a product of my imagination (and, let’s be fair, a small amount of racism, which I try at all times to educate myself out of, but I’m white so it’s a 24/7 task). It doesn’t matter to me in what cultural milieu a film is set – I love Chinese films, I love Indian films, I love films from various African nations… among  many others – but The Harder They Come wrongfooted me because it wasn’t what I had mistakenly expected, and so I found it much more interesting than I’d anticipated. I am not, I must admit, a fan of reggae music, but I am a fan of cultural expressions that are deeply embedded in a nation’s culture – a consequence, I suspect, of growing up in Islamic countries – and reggae one hundred percent informs the story and style of The Harder They Come. It did not appeal to me so much, in the way, say, Easy Rider, another film very much tied to its music, did that I put it on my wishlist – but I came away from watching The Harder They Come considering it a film I’d be happy to recommend. Worth seeing.

Boccaccio ‘70, Mario Monicello, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti & Vittorio De Sica (1962, Italy). Those Italians and their anthology films. I’ve seen a few of them now, and all seem to have featured names known pretty well internationally, even at the time the anthology film was made. I mean, Monicollo might be a bit of an unknown, but in 1972 Fellini, Visconti and De Sica must have been household names around the world among cineastes. Boccaccio was apparently “an important Renaissance humanist”, although there is likely a subtlety to the Italian use of the word I am missing here completely. I mean, I don’t even understand why they called it Boccaccio ’70 when it was released in 1962… Anyway, there are four segments, of varying degrees of success. The opening one by Monicello is actually a pretty good realist drama, in which a company clerk hides her marriage because her boss disapproves of married women in his department and so she must put up with his flirting. Fellini’s segment is less subtle – a prude campaigns against a giant billboard of Anita Ekberg advertising milk and then finds himself terrorised by a giant Ekberg, and while it has all the implausibility of Fellini’s work it has none of the excess and so feels lacking; Visconti provides an extended vignette about an aristocratic couple whose marriage hits a rocky patch, and while Romy Schieder is a joy to watch, it’s hard to know what to make of the piece; and finally, De Sica has Sophia Loren as a carnival worker in so need of money she auctions off her body but then has second thoughts about what she promised, and it all seems predicated on some aspect of Italian male character that quite frankly passed me by. I’m all for having this film available to watch, and at least two of the segments are definitely worth watching… But then I have to wonder what better films did not get a UK release because this one did… and I’m less charitable toward it.

The Girl on the Train, Tate Taylor (2016, USA). You know when someone writes a novel set in the UK and it’s a bit unbelieveable but sort of plausible, but then they make a movie of it and transplant the story to the US and it’s totally implausible? That. The railways in London are so stitched into the urban landscape, and travel so slowly, that it’s eminently believable someone could see something odd from a train in an area they know and so seek to investigate… But in the US? Do posh houses even overlook railways? Do trains travel that slowly? The rest of the plot is something about a drunkard’s memory loss actually being gaslighting rather than true drunkeness, which is way more a British plot than a US one, so much so I’m frankly astonished someone in the US thought this might even fly with a US audience. But then I guess there’s no underestimating Hollywood’s underestimation of its audience’s capacity to swallow anything. The Girl on the Train is a dull and over-long thriller peopled with unlikeable characters that feels like it would have worked much better in its native country. One to avoid.

Illumination, Krzysztof Zanussi (1973, Poland). It took me three goes to watch this, and not just because I typically put it on late while a bottle of wine down. But it’s an experimental film in terms of narrative – indeed, it feels like it has none – and though it’s well-shot and has a well-drawn cast of characters, it’s hard to work out, even after a totally sober viewing, what to make of it. It’s a sort of’slice-0f-life of the central character, who is a physicist. He’s searching for meaning, while the film tries to avoid anything as bourgeois as a plot. I think it works, but chiefly because it does that thing Polish cinema of the 1970s does so well: ie, come across as highly intelligent television drama. It’s certainly a film to rewatch, and perhaps one day I’ll figure out what Zanussi was trying to achieve. Fortunately, it’s one of the Blu-rays in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema box sets I bought, so I can watch it again whenever I want. On the one hand, it would be nice to “de-clutter” and get rid of the DVDs and Blu-rays I have piled everywhere; on the other hand, can I seriously expect a film like Illumination to be available to stream whenever I might want to rewatch it?

The Rainbow (BBC, 1988). One of the joys of Lawrence is that he’s there, straddling his works, very much a presence in the prose. One of the frustrations is that every sod and their progeny feels they have the “adapt” his work. True, his prose is open to interpretation – inasmuch as he’s so much better at some things than others – and also true, many of his works could not be adapted’for film or television given the lengths expected of similar material. But The Rainbow is not a complicated book, and for all its documenting of the Brangwen family history, the adaptor of the novel for this BBC version ended up with something very different to the novel. It has a good cast – Imogen Stubbs as Ursula Brangwen, Clare Holman as a badly under-written Gudrun Brangwen, Tom Bell as their father, and Jon Finch as the uncle Ursula goes to stay with. The major scenes from the novel are there, but the through-line is not the one I took away from the book, nor the one that Russell’s adaptation, released the following year, apparently took. Lawrence’s prose is never less than colourful, and this version of The Rainbow seemed to lose that. Lawrence also has a great sense of place, and I could not honestly say where this BBC adaptation was supposed to be set. I  suspect there’s no such thing as an ideal Lawrence adaptation, since everyone finds their own Lawrence in the books. But it’s telling that the best one I’ve found so far has been Pascale Ferran’s French-language film, Lady Chatterley

1001 Movies you Must Watch Before You Die count: 863


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Moving pictures 2017, #23

A few more US films than usual in this post, although one was a Disney, one an independent film, and the last a silent movie from the 1920s.

Peter Pan, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske (1953, USA). Look at that face on the DVD cover – doesn’t he look, well, a bit evil? I thought all the way through this Disney adaptation that Peter Pan looked impish, but more in the sense of a small devil than a prankster kid. I get that he’s completely immature and thoughtless – it’s there in every word he says and everything he does – but I’d never thought of him as a villain, or even an antihero. And yet, that’s how he’s characterised in Disney’s adaptation – not as a boy who didn’t grow up, though I suspect that’s a characterisation beyond Disney’s writers, and I say that as a boy who never grew up in some senses myself – hey, I read science fiction! – but Peter Pan as an evil force is a complete misrepresentation of the character. Although not altogether uninteresting, and the fact the Darlings are so ordinary and drawn so much like other ordinary families in Disney – comical dad, doting mother, responsible older sister – the whole thing feels like a bad mishmash of two or more movies. Peter Pan is, like many Disney classics, also a pantomime, with the title character played by a woman. As too is Tinkerbell (I forget who the dames are in pantomime Peter Pan), and who has become something of a Disney icon herself, with people cosplaying her just as much as they do all the Disney princess characters and, I think (although I’m not about to investigate), a whole line of Tinkerbell straight-to-DVD animated adventures. And yet Wendy Darling is clearly the most important, and best-drawn, character in the film, and probably the source text too – her invented name did, after all, become popular enough to be considered an ordinary name these days – but then Pan and Tinkerbell are all about the fantasy and Wendy is about making sense of it and who would be interested in that? I’d expected more of Disney’s Peter Pan. I certainly hadn’t expected to take against Pan himself because he looked so bloody evil. I don’t think this one will make my top ten of Disney films…

Springtime in a Small Town, Tian Zhuangzhuang (2002, China). This is a remake of the 1948 classic by Mu Fei, which is a film I very much like. And it’s always odd watching a remake of a film you admire because it makes you wonder why you admire the original film. And in this case… I’ve no idea. This remake is pretty close to the original, but what I like about Mu Fei’s version doesn’t really seem to exist here. I think the reason the original works is because it’s an historical film, made and set during the 1940s, whereas Springtime in a Small Town is set during an historical period but is a contemporary film. The story is the same –  a woman’s old boyfriend, now a doctor, comes to visit and to succour to the woman’s ailing husband, and their old love is rekindled, but never quite requited. The mannered nature of Mu Fei’s version fits brilliantly with the material – not for nothing is it considered one of China’s greatest films – but the same approach feels somewhat artificial in Tian’s remake. It’s a valiant effort, and certainly should have been attempted – it’s only when we attempt to recreate great works of the past that we come to truly appreciate them – but I suspect Springtime in a Small Town was always going to be an also-ran. That’s not always the case, of course: there have been remakes which eclipsed the original, such as Hitchcock’s remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much. Mu Fei’s original is a bona fide classic of Chinese cinema, but Tian’s remake is a bold attempt at recapturing it, which doesn’t quite make the grade. It’s a good film despite that, and had I seen it first I might well hold it in higher esteem. Worth seeing, but watch the original first.

David Holzman’s Diary*, Jim McBride (1967, USA). After making this film, McBride went on to make a raft of commercially-successful films for studios. In other words, he totally sold out. You have to wonder why. Because while David Holzman’s Diary has its faults – it’s pretty boring, for a start – it also has a great deal of originality. A young New Yorker decides to film his life, and is very forthright about how, and with what equipment, he plans to do so. But his girlfriend is none too happy with his decision, and throughout the film their relationship deteriorates quite badly. For most of its length, David Holzman’s Diary manages to convince with its premise, but there are times when its staged nature is a little too obvious – and it is, perversely, when it’s at its most cinema verité that it feels most fake. There’s a scene with a “goddess of the street” that feels both very real and also really staged, more because it feels like “Holzman” is forcing an encounter for the sake of his film where none would normally exist. I can see why David Holzman’s Diary made it onto the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list, but I suspect history has been less than kind to it, and will continue to be less kind to it as the years pass, than the list has supposed.

It’s All About Love, Thomas Vinterberg (2003, Denmark). Vinterberg’s Festen is the first official Dogme film and it is a bona fide classic. Which makes It’s All About Love, with its incredibly bland and uninteresting title, even more of a mystery. It has huge ambition, and I admire it for that. But it fails at pretty much everything, which is not totally a deal-breaker… but its interesting bits don’t quite add up to an interesting whole, which is a deal-breaker. Joaquin Phoenux and Claire Danes play a pair of Poles – she is a world-famous figure skater, he is married to her but their relationship has long since soured and now he’s stopping off in New York on the way to a new job in Canada in order to get her to sign divorce papers. But Danes is surrounded by a group of frankly creepy hangers-on and managers… Phoenix is given the run-around, but he’s not sure why – and it doesn’t help when his elder brother, played by Sean Penn, phones in randomly from several other scenes. It transpires Danes’s managers have hired four Russian ice skaters, and had them surgically altered to resemble Danes so they can take over her career, allowing her to retire, with, it’s proposed, Phoenix, as their relationship seems to have rekindled. But then there’s a slaughter on the ice, but the real Danes escapes, and she and Phoenix fly off to Russia and end up somewhere really cold where she dies of exposure. As I said before, It’s All About Love is all about ambition. The world is not our own, and there are thunking great clues dropped throughout the film – the resolution, in part, depends on the world Vinterberg has created. Sadly, none of it really convinces. The small details ought to, but the whole edifice teeters so much on the edge of disbelief that none of it helps. Festen is a great film, and I wanted to like It’s All About Love but, to be honest, it doesn’t even qualify as a noble failure, it’s just a failure.

El Desenlace, Juan Pinzás (2005, Spain). The Spanish do erotic thrillers really well, but I’m not convinced this falls into that description, despite being pretty much exclusively about sex. A director of a film, his producer (who is also his mistress), and the writer of the source novel, along with a prying journalist, all meet in Galicia to discuss the upcoming adaptation. El Desenlace has been promoted as a Dogme film, and it’s certainly shot on digital video with unflattering lighting, although it’s no Festen. Much of the film consists of the director character winding up the writer character over his choice of sexual partner – specifically a transgender cabaret artist who appears at a local nightclub. Which is where things get complicated – because the director’s producer  promises the cabaret artist a major career, while the cabaret artist has also decided it’s time to drop the writer sugar daddy. I can certainly understand why El Desenlace is touted as a Dogme film, but it’s also a very talky film – the entire plot is carried in dialogue – and for all its arguments, and its reliance of a central cast of four – five, including the cabaret artist – it doesn’t do a great deal with the material it has. Disappointing.

The Big Parade*, King Vidor (1925, USA). There’s always something slighlt risible about US films set during WWI. It was called the Great War, and The War to End All Wars, at the time, and World War 1 later, but the US calls it the 1917-18 War and likes to pretend it contributed – when it was only there for the last year and suffered only a tiny fraction of the damage suffered by European nations. So a film about the 1917-18 War from a major Hollywood studio, less than a decade after the war finished, is just adding fucking insult to injury. John Gilbert plays the playboy son a of a mill owner who signs up and discovers the horrors of war for himself. There is so much that is wrong with this film – it glorifies the US’s piss-poor contribution ot WW1, and it legitimises the existence of over-privileged nitwits like Gilbert’s character. Yet it all makes for top-notch Hollywood drama of its time. Vidor was no amateur, he knew his stuff. This is a silent film, and it had the full resources of Hollywood behind it. Some of the long shots, with the casts of hundreds, if not thousands, are impressive. But, please, stop valourising the rich, stop pretending the US won all the world wars, and stop fucking pretending you’re anything but a socially backward nation with access to relatively high technology. The Big Parade‘s position on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list is dubious at best, although on balance I’m currently tempted to let it remain.

1001 Movies You Musrt See Before You Die count: 862


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Moving pictures 2017, #22

Two from the US in this post, although one is an independent film and the other Disney. I’m trying to work my way through the classic Disney films, for reasons that seemed to make sense at the time. To be honest, it’s been quite entertaining – and I’ve been surprised by what I’ve enjoyed…

The Sword in the Stone, Wolfgang Reitherman (1963, USA). I’m pretty sure I read TH White’s novel of the same name when I was a kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Disney adaptation of it. Until now. And it was… serviceable. Disney was still flying high back in 1963, but I expected more of The Sword in the Stone than it actually delivered. It didn’t help that all the supporting roles were played with a variety of British accents but the role of Arthur sounded like your typical petulant American teenager. Which is, I guess, their target audience. The animation was pretty good, without being flashy, and there were one or two moments which reminded me of Sleeping Beauty (still my favourite Disney)… But it all felt a bit like a bad adaptation – and I’m going on distant memories of the book and, er, being British and the Matter of Britain being a, er, British thing, so that may be totally unfair – and for all the nice bits in the film it kind of ruined it a bit for me. It didn’t feel timeless, in the way Sleeping Beauty or Snow White do, and instead felt like a 1960s adaptation of the source material. That also took liberties with the legend. The animation was mostly lovely, the jokes based on Merlin’s character and crockery handled well… But… It never really quite shone for me. I’m tempted to put it in my top ten of Disney films, but maybe around number seven or eight, although I’m having trouble filling the rest of the ten…

Madeinusa, Claudia Llosa (2006, Peru). I didn’t actually pick this for my rental list, but it’s the second disc in The Milk of Sorrow DVD release and, for whatever reason, LoveFilm sent it me the week after The Milk of Sorrow. I’m still trying to decide if it’s the better film of the two. I certainly liked it more. The title is the name of a young woman in the village of Manayaycuna (which apparently means “the town no one can enter”) and her experiences during the Holy Time festival. During that period – Good Friday to Easter Monday – the villagers believe God cannot see sins. A traveller from Lima arrives and is locked away, but Madeinusa helps him escape in return for taking her to the capital. It doesn’t go as planned, of course. Everyone is using everyone else, and though the villagers of Manayaycuna live miles from anywhere, they’re not the simple yokels they appear to be. Madeinusa’s sister hates her, and actively scuppers her plan to escape. And it all ends badly for everyone concerned. The lives depicted are totally convincing, despite being set in an invented village, and some of the idiocyncracies of the village are so mad they feel like they can only be real. I’m a big fan of dramas that have a documentary feel, and both of Llosa’s films are good at that. After seeing The Milk of Sorrow I wanted to see more by Llosa; after watching Madeinusa, I’m defnitely going to watch more by Llosa. Recommended.

Samaritan Girl, Kim Ki-duk (2004, South Korea). It was David Tallerman who turned me onto Kim Ki-duk, although looking at Ki-duk’s filmography I don’t think all of his films are going to appeal. I certainly thought 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring very good, but was less taken with The Bow. He’s probably a director whose oeuvre is still worth exploring, however. Samaritan Girl was much like those other films, while at the same time completely different. It matched their seeming lack of narrative, while still following a clear plot. But then Hollywood really doesn’t get narrative, and its stupidly slavish devotion to the three-act structure, or is it the one about rescuing the cat, I forget which story guru is current, is a clear indication of creative bankruptcy. Fortunately, Hollywood is not the be-all and end-all of cinema. The title of Samaritan Girl refers to one of two schoolgirls, who acts as ponce for her friend. The two want to visit Europe and one of the two girls is prostituting herself to pay for the trip. But during a police raid, she jumps from a hotel-room window and later dies from the fall. So the titular girl decides to meet up with all of her friend’s sexual partners and refund their money – after having sex with them. But her father is a police detective, and he accidentally discovers what she is up to, and ends up killing one of her clients… The cover art to the DVD is amongst the most misleading of any DVD cover art I’ve seen. Samaritan Girl is a well-drawn drama about two teenage girls and the desperate lengths they go to… which then turns into a tense thriller as the father of one commits murder. There’s nothing salacious in it. And, er, no nuns. Ki-duk was a good call. I’m not convinced every film Ki-duk will appeal, but the ones I’ve seen so far have been very good.

Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt (2008, USA). I came across Reichardt’s name on Alternate Ending, an excellent film blog, and though US indie cinema is not my thing, I added some of Reichardt’s films to my rental list because I really need to watch more films by female directors. The title refers to a young woman who is drifting about the US, and her dog. And when she is arrested for vagrancy, her dog is sent to the local pound. And then adopted by a family before Wendy can get herself released. And that’s about it. The film stars Michelle Williams, who has been flavour of the month in US cinema for a year or two now, and to be honest there’s little in the film that really stands out. It’s a well-played drama, and Williams is good without actually shining in the role – but the story is so low-key the film seems sadly lacking in drama for much of its length. I’ll be watching Reichardt because I think her importance to US cinema is under-estimated, but there’s not much in Wendy and Lucy that suggests any promise of greatness. It’s an enjoyable and subtle drama, but not especially memorable.

Austeria, Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1983, Poland). The title is apparently a term used by Polish Jews to refer to an inn. And in this case, it’s toward the end of the WWI, and is chiefly concerned with the Germans fleeing through the area, pursued by the Cossacks. The Jews have already left, but the innkeeper insists on staying on. And… The Hateful Eight, this is not. In a good way. For a start, there’s more than eight people staying in the inn. And there are also lots of Jewish rituals – to such an extant, they actually break the world of the film by presenting a service so much better subscribed, and better resourced, than could possibly be the case. Bits of Austeria had a Tarkovskian feel, in that way Tarkovsky dramatised inevitability, and its acceptance, so well. In other respects, Austeria felt like a typical Polish historical drama – it is, it must be said, easier to judge the verismilitude of UK historical dramas because it is the history I grew up in (well, actually, I didn’t; as I grew up in the Middle East), unlike US historical dramas, because the US doesn’t have a history… which is a long-winded way of saying that Polish history, indeed Middle European history, is mostly a blank to me. Which means I’m going to find a film in such a setting more convincing than someone who is a product of that history. I thought Austeria  made a good fist of its period, but my judgement means little. Kawalerowicz was a name new to me, and I’ve explored Polish cinema, until I watched Pharoah (see here), but he looks to have an interesting oeuvre. Austeria was one of the better films from the Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema box sets…

Night Train, Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1959, Poland). I’ve no idea how I ended up watching two Kawalerowicz mvoies in a row, I guess it was just the way they came out of the box. And this was a much earlier film too – black-and-white, as well. It’s set entirely aboard a train, as a man argues asbout his compartment and then finds himself involved in a murder. Given the British approach to trains – we invented them, we are now apparently incapable of operating them in a way that works for their passengers – I’m always somewhat bemused by films set on trains in other countries. Yes, we had sleepers in the UK, but that was long before I was born, while many European countries still operate them. But much as I’d like to complain about British trains, and the Tories who created the current railway situation, and the people stupid or racist enough to vote for the Tories, because, let’s face it, if you vote for a party and they get into power and start doing really shit things, and the Tories certainly have, then you are responsible for that, but I’m supposed to be writing about Night Train. Which was Hitchcockian in the sense that De Palma’s film are Hitchcockian – ie, they emulate the master. But Kawalerowicz was clearly frying other fish, and though Night Train has the appearance of a Hitchcockian thriller, and is too straightforward to be any kind of  allegory for Poland’s political situation of the time, it still manages a flavour all its own. Night Train is not a film I’d have sought out on its own merits, but it’s one of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema so I watched it and I’m glad I did.

1001 Movies You Must See  Before you Die count: 860


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Moving pictures 2017, #21

Six films from six different countries, which is quite good… and even the US one is not that embarrassing. Honestly.

Dances with Wolves*, Kevin Costner (1990, USA), Yes, unbelievably, I’d never seen Dances with Wolves. Since it’s on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, I’d always planned to watch it, but I had it as low priority on one of my rental lists. But then I found a copy for a quid in a charity shop… I’d been expecting a revisionist Western and, yes, that’s very much what it is… but not precisely in the way I’d expected. Costner plays a monomaniacal Cavalry officer who insists on being assigned to the furthest outpost in US territory. Shortly after settling alone there, he encounters his neighbours, a village of Lakota Indians. He visits them in the interest of peaceful relations, and gradually learns their language. He also marries a Lakota widow. But then the US Army turns up, and decides Costner is a traitor because he has gone “native”. Unfortunately, there is such a mass of cultural material generated by the US in which the Native Americans are painted as villainous savages, and the white Americans as noble pioneers, that it’ll be centuries before the US truly accepts it committed racial genocide on all the cultures which shared the North American continent prior to their arrival. So, really, we shouldn’t be calling these films “revisionist” because they depict the Lakota as actual human beings and the occupying white Americans as vicious scumbags, because that’s probably much closer to the truth than the genre usually reckons. It is also fucking shameful that science fiction bases so many of its narratives on stories of Western pioneers and their so-called courage and fortitude in colonising distant territory, when it was usually their advanced weaponry and duplicity that won the day. Dances with Wolves was not a great film, although it won a huge raft of awards, but it was a lot better than I’d expected it to be. I actually quite enjoyed it.

Ivan’s Childhood, Andrei Tarkovsky (1962, Russia). This was a rewatch, prompted by me upgrading my Tarkovsky DVDs (which went to a good home) to Blu-rays. Ivan’s Childhood was Tarkovsky’s first feature film for a studio. The title refers to a boy who becomes a runner for the Red Army on the Eastern Front during WWII. There’s a scene in the film which captures me every time: Ivan has just arrived at an outpost, and the commanding lieutenant is not sure what to make of him, despite the boy’s claim to importance. At Ivan’s insistence, the officer rings headquarters and is properly humbled. He then offers the boy a hot bath. Evereyone who meets Ivan wants to do right by him, which by their lights means sending him to school and officer training. But he wants to stay at the front, directly contributing to the war effort. To be honest, there’s not much on this Blu-ray release which justifies the upgrade – it’s a bloody good film, if not Tarkovsky’s best, there’s the rest of his oeuvre to compete for that, and to be honest I can’t say it looks better on Blu-ray than on DVD because it’s a fifty-five-year-old film. Upgrading was a no-brainer – Tarkovsky is one of the best directors ever – and if it’s prompted me to rewatch his films (again), then it’s done more than intended. In fact, I now want to watch them again again.

The Milk of Sorrow, Claudia Llosa (2009, Peru). My first film from Peru. And a female director too. (Incidentally, I’ve started tracking the gender of the directors whose films I watch now, but it’s embarrassingly male-heavy at present.) The Milk of Sorrow takes place in an area occupied by indigenous people – Quechua is spoken during the film more than Spanish, in fact – and the title refers to a belief that women who were abused or raped transmit their feelings through their milk to their female children. The film follows a young woman who is accused of suffering from this as she tries to avoid her mother’s fate. I had not come across Llosa before encountering this film – which was pretty much a random Peruvian film picked because I’d never seen a film from that country – but on the strength of The Milk of Sorrow I want to see more by Llosa. (And so I did, as it turns out The Milk of Sorrow was a two-disc set with Llosa’s Madeinusa, which will be covered in a later Moving pictures post). Some films are just good; some films are good and you want other people to watch them. Many of the recent Chinese films I’ve seen fall into that later category. As does The Milk of Sorrow. Highly recommended.

Innocent Sorcerers, Andrzej Wajda (1960, Poland). Another from the second Masterpieces of Polish Cinema box set. I’ve yet to get a handle on Wajda’s output – I really like Man of Marble and Man of Iron, although the latter feels more like a teleplay than a feature film; and the latter is also in the first box set of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, which is good as it’s apparently not available in the UK, to go with the Second Run DVD release I have of Man of Marble; but I was not all that taken with his best-known film, Ashes and Diamonds. In other words, I pretty much have to take each Wajda film as I find them. And this one was… fun, in a sort of 1960s black-and-white-jazz-soundtrack sort of way. A bit like a John Cassavetes film but more to my taste. There’s a young doctor with improbably blond hair, and a young man in sunglasses who looks like the protagonist of Ashes and Diamonds, and it’s all very New Wave, but filtered through a very Polish lens. As previously mentioned it’s a lot like Cassavetes’s films but also completely unlike them – it feels more polished for a start, less reliant on ensemble acting, with a bit more Godard in its DNA than Cassavetes was wont to show. The films suffers from unsympathetic characters – but then so do Cassavetes’s films – and very little happens during its 87 minutes. It’s considered an oddity in Wajda’s oeuvre, and it’s easy to understand why. Worth watching, but lacking something that might make it a film worth remembering.

Day for Night*, François Truffaut (1973, France). I had to buy a copy of this as it’s apparently not available for rental from either LoveFilm or Cinema Paradiso. But it turned out to be an excellent film, so never mind. (It was also very cheap.) Truffaut plays a director making a film in the south of France starring a British movie star, played by Jacqueline Bisset. The entire movie is a series of in-jokes about movie-making, and the personalities involved, and it works really well. My attitude to Truffaut’s films is definitely improving. There are some great set-pieces in Day for Night, especially the one with the cat, and the cast are thoroughly convincing in their roles. The alcoholic dowager actress is fun, and the various relationships which develop among the cast and crew are amusing. Apparently, Graham Greene was an admirer of Truffaut and scored himself a walk-on part as an insurance agent. Truffaut, who admired Greene’s writing, only found out later that one of the insurance agents was Greene. As meta-cinema goes, it’s all a bit obvious – and was obvious in 1973, Vertov did it fifty years earlier with Man with a Movie Camera, for example – and some of the jokes were clearly at Hollywood’s expense, but it all seemed so genial, rather than than génial, and Bisset’s depiction of a fragile actress seemed just right for her role in the film and the “film”. My third favourite Truffaut so far.

Suzhou River, Lou Ye (2000, China). Yet more Chinese cinema. I’ve yet to see any evidence to contradict my claim that China currently has one of the strongest cinemas of any nation. Admittedly, I’m seeing the films which get international releases, and not the purely domestic stuff, but China has a stable of amazing directors, active from the mid-1990s onwards, who have produced some of the best films of the past ten or so years. Which is not to say there are not some excellent historical films – I’m a big fan of Spring in a Small Town (1948), and The Goddess (1934) is also very good. Suzhou River is an earlier work, inasmuch as it was released at the turn of the century, and it shows a bit in its MTV-style cutting, but it’s still an excellent film. It also takes an interesting approach to narrative, opening with a voiceover in which the narrator explains how he came to love a young woman who plays a mermaid in a Shanghai bar. It then tells the story of Mardar and Moudan, a courier who ferries a rich man’s daughter about town, before being forced to kidnap her… Years later, Mardar returns to Shanghai, and stumbles across the mermaid, who he thinks is Moudan. There is, as previously mentioned, a few too many MTV-style jump-cuts, but in all other respects this is a very good Sixth Generation movie. I’ve found myself buying several of the Chinese films I’ve watched on rental after seeing them, and I think I’ll be looking for a copy of this one too. (Damn, I just went and bought one on eBay for a tenner.)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 860


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Moving pictures 2017, #20

Another good mix of films, and no Hollywood shitbusters to spoil it either.

Pauline at the Beach, Éric Rohmer (1983, France). I think the first Rohmer I ever watched was Triple Agent, and I forget why I’d added it to my rental list. But as I learnt more about his career, so I wanted to watch more of his films. I’ve been steadily working my way through them and have seen a dozen to date – rentals… although I’ve been tempted on occasion to pick up a box set of his various series… but never quite tempted enough. Rohmer’s shtick is to present moral dilemmas as well-observed drama, and then let the viewer make their own call on what went down. It’s a curiously cowardly way of presenting a story, as if Rohmer doesn’t have the courage to comment on the situations he dramatises. But I don’t think that’s actually the case – indeed, it takes courage to present a scenario that is not plainly black or white. Pauline at the Beach, the third of Rohmer’s “Comedies & Proverbs” sextet, is a good example, although I’ve no idea what proverb it’s intended to illustrate. The titular character, a young teenager, is staying with an older cousin at a beach resort. She is present as her cousin bumps into a male friend from a previous summer, and a repeat holiday romance is mooted… but the cousin instead ends up sleeping with an older man who befriends them. Meanwhile, Pauline finds a boyfriend of her own. But one day, while the cousin has had to return to Paris on business, the older man beds a young woman who sells sweets on the beach; and when the cousin returns unexpectedly early, he makes out it was Pauline’s boyfriend who was shagging the sweet-seller. So Pauline falls out with her boyfriend. Later, she learns the truth, but her cousin refuses to believe it, preferring to accept her lover’s version of events. It’s a story that’s told in a deceptively simple way. It’s likely the most emblematic of Rohmer’s oeuvre I’ve seen. As in all his films, the direction is straightforward but effective, but it’s the cast who shine. I plan to eventually work my way through all of Rohmer’s films, and Pauline at the Beach only encouraged me to do so.

Veer Zaara, Yash Chopra (2004, India). To be honest, I’m starting to wonder why Bollywood films are not a routine part of most people’s film-viewing. Especially Brits. Our links with the country go back to Elizabethan times, when we first started exploiting it… and we’ve never really stopped. Exploiting it, that is. But the only people with whom I have conversations about Bollywood films are Indians (although pretty much all of them seem unaware of Bengal’s “parallel cinema”, which I personally have much more time for…). Veer Zaara was a Bollywood film I’d stuck on my rental list because I’d seen it on another list somewhere and… it was fun. It rang a few changes on the story – this time, it was: boy meets girl, boy is imprisoned on trumped-up charge for 22 years, human rights lawyer brings boy and girl back together again… So, not your average rom com plot. A young Pakistani woman takes her grandmother’s ashes back to India to scatter them in the village of her birth, but is involved in a bus accident en route… where she is resuced by an Indian air force helicopter pilot. They fall in love. He goes back with her to Pakistan to meet her family. But her marriage has already been arranged, and her impending husband has powerful contacts in the Paskistani establishment. He arranges for the Indian pilot to be arrested as a spy… Twenty-two years later, a human rights lawyer takes on the pilot’s case. Since he had originally refused to name the woman he loves back then, and still refuses to do so, it makes things difficult. But the lawyer figures it out, and discovers the woman called off the wedding on being told the pilot was dead, and has since devoted her life to running an orphange in his home village back in India. Obviously, this is not the most cheerful of stories, but this is Bollywood so there is singing and dancing. More than that, Veer Zaara is a very nice-looking film, with some excellent, if somewhat enhanced, photography. The plot is pure cheese from start to finish, but that’s hardly unexpected. I can see why it’s counted a classic Bollywood movie. Worth seeing.

The Night of the Shooting Stars*, Paolo & Vittorio Taviani (1982, Italy). So confusing. Although the only UK DVD art I could find calls this The Night of San Lorenzo, it’s best known as The Night of the Shooting Stars, except when it’s known as just Night of the Shooting Stars. And it’s under that last title that it’s mentioned on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and it’s because it’s on the list that I watched it. And… In WWII, a village in Italy is on the retreating Germans’ route, and since they have stated they will destroy everything, the villagers hide in the church. Except some don’t. Instead, they go looking for the liberating US army… I’m not entirely sure what The Night of the Shooting Stars was intended to convey. Bertolucci’s 1900 did a better job of showing the war’s impact on Italian society, Pasolini’s Sálo did a better job of expressing the Germans’ impact on Italian society, and there are no end of war films which show how it all happened, including really bad ones starring Rock Hudson in a 1970s haircut… Taken on its own, The Night of the Shooting Stars is a good film and perfectly watchable. I couldn’t get invested in it, possibly because it seemed to cover well-trod ground – it was not Neorealist, but it was about WWII, for example – and nothing in it seemed to stand out especially. There is a good scene in which one of the characters is killed by a mythical figure, but it was too few and too little to rescue the film. I can understand why some people rate it highly, but for me it didn’t quite make the grade to justify its place on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. I’d sooner put another Fellini in its place.

Hélas pour moi, Jean-Luc Godard (1993, France). The more Godard I see, the more Godard I want to own. Truffaut was, I think, a better director, but Godard was the better film-maker. If that makes sense. I mean, I love both Fahrenheit 451 and Mississippi Mermaid, both of which use the language of commercial cinema to present non-commercial films (and neither of which are in collections of his work; bloody typical). And then there’s Tirez le pianiste, which is likely the most definitively New Wave of all the New Wave films… And those are just Truffaut’s films. (Without even mentioning the excellent interview he did with Hitchcock, a director I greatly admire.) But then you look at Godard’s oeuvre and, quite frankly, it’s a mess… Of his films I’ve seen, some are works of genius – Le mépris, 2 or 3 things I know About Her – while others push the boundaries of cinema in interesting new directions – Week End, Détective, Hélas pour moi, Film Socialisme, Goodbye to Language… But he could be enormously self-indulgent – sometimes it worked, as in Film Socialisme – but other times he seemed to let his stars get in the way of his film: both 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and Made in USA were filmed at the same time (one in the morning, the other in the afternoon), yet I find the former much more successful than the latter. Sadly, as is always the case, little of Godard’s oeuvre is available on DVD in the UK. Hélas pour moi is late Godard, like Film Socialisme, and so is about cinema as much as it is about its story. Which, to be honest, I have no clue what it was. Gerard Depardieu and Laurence Masliah play a married couple, who are involved in some sort of incident in a Swiss village, but other than that, no idea… And yet, I enjoyed this film. It was clearly meta-cinema, something Godard has played with to varying degrees,  but not only was Godard playing with the conventions of cinema but also with the narrative conventions of the story he was telling. I want to watch this again… The only problem is finding a Godard box set that has more films I don’t own than ones I do own… and I don’t own that many. His entire oeuvre should be available, to be honest. Bfi, do your thing, please.

Walkover, Jerzy Skolimowski (1965, Poland). The Masterpieces of Polish Cinema box sets have proven somewhat variable. Some of the films are bona fide classics, and I’m hugely glad I now own decent copies of them. Others I wouldn’t describe as classics but I’m glad I have well-restored copies to rewatch. Some, however, have proven unremarkable and you have to wonder why they were selected for inclusion. Walkover is… a borderline case. It’s a solid drama of the type the Polish do so well, told against a backdrop of socialist industry – another thing the Poles were very good at: presenting socialism in a positive light while also highlighting its failings… The USSR’s version of socialism, that is of course. An unreasoning fear of communism can be blamed for a huge number of really bad, and very damaging, political decisions made between 1950 and 1990… although JFK’s decision to put a human being on the moon by 1969 was not obviously not one of them. Ahem. In Walkover, a young man joins the staff of an industrial plant. and finds himself dragged back into boxing, a sport at which he excelled but which he no longer participates, and this is contrasted with the rise of a female engineer within the plant’s staff. It’s… solid drama. The shiftlessness of the boxer’s life, a result of his academic failures, is contrasted with that of the female engineer. This is socialist propaganda as feature film, and I see nothing wrong with it as it takes the facts of a socialist society and sets a drama in them, unlike Hollywood, which continues to push the American Dream like it weas real thing and actually acheivable. FFS.

Morgan, Luke Scott (2016, UK). I saw mention of this somewhere and stuck it on my rental list, and lo, it arrived, so I watched it one weekend with a bottle of wine at hand. Dynastic film-making at its, er, best: Luke is the son of Ridley. The title refers to a genetically-engineered person – played by a woman but implied to be neuter – who had viciously attacked one of her handlers. A risk assessment consultant is brought in to decide if the project should be canned. There are many references to an earlier project in Stockholm, which resulted in the deaths of several researchers. Morgan tries to keep its cards close to its chest, but the hand it holds is so bloody obvious the effort is totally wasted. Morgan is a genetically-engineered soldier. They built a sociopath and seem surprised when it acts like one. The consultant brought in proves to have expert unarmed combat skills… because it too is a genetically-engineered soldier. That’s like the most obvious reveal ever in sf film. Morgan looks good, and its cast do quite well with a script that clearly recognises it’s one long string of clichés and tries to disguise what it’s actually about. Like Ex Machina, Morgan is Hollywood’s idea of a clever treatment of a difficult sf topic, in which nice visuals can’t hide an entirely trope-bound exploration that illustrates nothing. I seriously do not understand the point in doing that.

1001 Movies You Must see Before You Die count: 858