sâmbătă, 31 martie 2018

Mona Lisa Smile, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal

Mona Lisa Smile, written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal

For some reason, Mona Lisa Smile has failed to awe, mesmerize critics, members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and of the Foreign Press in Hollywood.

Nevertheless, this is a brilliant film, with a phenomenal, stellar cast of radiant women; indeed, it may look like such a gathering of female talent has seldom been put together in such a memorable film:
Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin and Marcia Gay Harden.

In a few ways, this motion picture reminds one of the stupendous Dead Poets Society – the note on this masterpiece is here: http://notesaboutfilms.blogspot.ro/2018/03/dead-poets-society-by-tom-schulman.html
Julia Roberts plays Katherine Ann Watson in Mona Lisa Smile, who is the woman equivalent of John Keating, both genius teachers, trying to help their students to Think, free themselves of the shackles of retrograde, conservative, stifling dogmas, understand what they want from the world and shape their future, find their calling and Flow in their future, happy existences.

Psychology studies demonstrate how important it is for one’s happiness to find the calling, which is at the intersection of liking, what one is good at and what has meaning, an equation that, once solved would mean that you are free to do what you love and provide for the family at the same time.
Flow or “Being in the Zone” is a state of near bliss, described by the quintessential thinker and professor Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi and which is most often obtained at the most demanding moments in a profession, when time changes significance, concentration is at a maximum and challenges are met by skills.

Only the college where the action takes place is a bastion of conservatism, leaders of Wellesley demand that the program of teaching are obeyed religiously, in the same manner in which in Dead Poets Society, rules and regulations were paramount and tradition was much more important that creativity, free thinking and liberty.
Katherine Ann Watson becomes a teacher at this prestigious, if fundamental, college and she will teach Art under very hostile circumstances, given the attitude of the administration of the school, but more importantly, given the opaqueness of the girls attending the class.

They have intelligence, skills, curiosity, love of learning, courage to some extent, perspective- if a flawed one in certain departments, persistence, hardworking attitude and plenty of other skills, with some strange flaws, including a lack of open –mindedness, before this exceptional teacher arrives.
When she has her first lesson, the new teacher seems to be defeated by a class that had already looked in the manual and the extra curriculum material specified, is very well aware of all the slides, they know what the ancient paintings on the walls of the famous French cave of Lascaux mean, statues from Babylon and everything there is to know and that is mentioned in the textbook.

The girls are evidently talented, love to read and do their homework- and not just that, but they go above and beyond their duty, willing to prove their intelligence, abilities and understanding- however, they present all their impressive knowledge with arrogance, self- sufficiency in some cases, a child’s spoiled attitude and finally with the request that they continue with independent studies, if the new instructor has nothing new to bring to the table…
This is the 1950s and perhaps the most important subject here is the position of women in society, their achieved equality in some –maybe mainly juridical- terms (?)- while in the psyche of the population- many segments anyway- the woman’s role was still to work at home, wait for the husband to come from work- he was the only provider for most families- with a cooked meal and take care of children and housework.

After all, America has elected- incredibly- a womanizer, philanderer who has been cheating not just on his wife, but on his lover and who is recorded on tape as manifesting a middle age attitude towards the opposite sex – from his outrageous rants on the infamous bus- grabbing genitals and the rest- to the interview in which he says that if he comes home and the food is not ready he jumps to the roof…
The heroine brings provocation and new challenge into the life of her pupils, and not just in the form of new, different, nontraditional, shocking art, but also nudging the girls in the direction of independent thinking, of the famous “Know Thyself, understanding themselves, finding their own values, systems of beliefs and getting out of a kitchen that was so much a prison.

Alas, the school system in this college and others at that time- and in large parts of the Islamic and other fundamentalist parts of the world today- insisted on creating housewives, women whose fundamental- if not only reason to learn- role was to be good wives, mothers and house workers, without any consideration- indeed, disdain was more like it- for a career, this last word was anathema.

There are conflicts and even some of the girls still think- or maybe better said they don’t- in the old, antiquated manner, dreaming of a husband and children, they get engaged and then married to abusive, cheating husbands or just allow their partner to think of him as the provider and the only one whose career, professional life matters- the wife cannot have any notion of working out of her home, can she?
The film is endearing, worthwhile, clever, engaging, compassionate, provoking , educating – large parts of the audience will learn something about Soutine, meat with worms as art, Pollock and essentially:

What is art? What makes the difference between meat on canvas and an artwork?

Shaft, based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman

Shaft, based on the novel by Ernest Tidyman

Shaft was surely a cornerstone, one of the first films to promote and celebrate an African American hero, an actor in a leading role that was nominated for a Golden globe for Most Promising Newcomer- Male.

The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made list has included this appreciated, groundbreaking film:

Yet, even if Samuel L. Jackson has started in a re-make and seems to be intent on making another soon, one may wonder what is so special about this detective, crime thriller.
Maybe this should be repeated: it certainly opened some roads- even today, minorities are not well represented: African Americans and other groups are seldom given preeminence, the actors are not awarded, sometimes even nominated; women are paid much less than men- the recent case of All the Money in the World and the huge gap between the co-stars, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, made headlines.

It is also very possible that Shaft was one of the first to present what is now such a familiar story, audiences having seen so many similar narratives that looking at this they would be tempted to say that they know this, they have seen this before, only this déjà vu feeling is experienced because others have travelled on the road opened by Shaft.
For whatever reason, one could wonder why this is among the best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.

John Shaft is different and part in that he is an African American private investigator and we do not really see many- if any (?)- of those on the big screen, or in literature for that matter, given the aforementioned scarcity of black heroes in general and the now destroyed prejudice- actually it seems a racist statement- that productions with black stars do not sell well- Black Panther broke records and annihilated that premise.
The hero is smart, socially intelligent, brave, honest, kind, persistent, wise, curios, creative, has perspective and he is engaged in a difficult and challenging task, to try and save a young woman.

Bumpy Jonas is one of the leaders of the underworld, involved in all sorts of illegal activities that bring not just the antipathy, but the hatred and the wrath of competitors who want to eliminate him or, at the very least, kill his business and take over territory and profits.
This gangster is looking for Shaft in a vicious manner, sending two hatchet men after him, when a fight breaks out; one of the bandits is going through the window of the higher floor and lands on the pavement, killed.

The police are taking Shaft at the station to interrogate him and press the witness and the suspect into confessing or at least testifying and informing the law about who the other man was and what happened.
The private detective is not a “rat” and he knows the law very well, the details that are needed for a case to stand in court, evidence that he did something wrong and that he can sue, if they take away his license and livelihood in the process.

When Shaft meets with Bumpy, there is a confrontation with the thugs that are keeping the gate and have to search all those entering to see the Big Man, to make sure that they carry no weapons.
Bumpy has a first version, in which he says that his daughter had been kidnapped, he has multiple enemies and they should come to confront him, not the innocent child who had had no role in the wars over territory and illegal business developments and the gang leader wants the African American investigator to search for and find his daughter.

In order to do that, Shaft is asking his connections and has to trace Ben Buford- when they finally face each other, a shooting spree erupts and they all have to run for cover, while five of Buford’s men are killed and this leader of Black Nationals has to find refuge- that he at first refuses vehemently- with the detective.
Shaft finds that Bumpy was behind this attack and furthermore, his client had lied- that is he did not give the investigator the information he dad, deceiving by omission-and actually knew who was behind the kidnapping- the mafia, which wanted to push him out and force his hand.

In order to defeat the powerful white criminal organization, John Shaft arranges for Bumpy and Ben Buford to work together in what looks like a race war, on the one side the Italian organized crime and on the other an outré alliance between otherwise antagonistic African American groups.

It is not at all easy, the operation requires wisdom, courage, brilliance, self-sacrifice, dedication, tactical thinking, astuteness and a good deal of good luck, as shootings and firearm use are not just likely, but only to be expected- indeed, they do happen.
What is different in all this?

The race of the protagonists- very rarely do we see this prominence of Black Power, the arrangement of the various clashing groups, amusing elements and yet, the final production still lacks some sophistication, refined achievement.

Le Brio by Yvan Attal

Le Brio by Yvan Attal

Daniel Auteuil is one of the sacred monsters of French and International Cinema, with historical roles like Ugolin in the incredible, astounding, mesmerizing, radiant and glorious Jean de Florette.

Alas, the role he has in Le Brio, that of professor Pierre Mazzard, although difficult, is far from the thick, backward, greedy, and amusing and in love peasant from one of the classics of world cinema and the other part in the series:
Manon of the Springs

Pierre Mazzard seems to be the antihero of the film, at least for good parts, starting with the…beginning, where he confronts a late student, who is somewhat to blame for her initial lack of reaction, when instead of excusing herself she shows a rather crass rudeness answering with “what?” when the proper response would have been an apology for disturbing a few hundred people.
The heroine is Neila Salah portrayed by Camelia Jordana and to begin with, she is not too endearing- perhaps for some segments of the audience- for on your first day at university, one could expect you to arrive on time, especially when not doing it means interrupting learning for so many students, many if not most of who would surely be more interested than you are in the studies.

Therefore, the professor has a point when challenging this late apparition, especially given her apparent lack of comprehension and remorse for being a nuisance- if not an extraordinarily serious one-and the teacher laments this lack of interest and starts on a controversial path.
Immediately, other students express their solidarity with Neila, for this is meant to be a challenging, provocative, intelligent script, which one the one hand would stigmatize racism, but also raise some issues for the “other side” and perhaps insinuate that we could at the very least talk about “political correctness” and the effects of positive discrimination and clichés.

Besides, the professor of the Assas University is very good at winning arguments, loves to speak his mind and frequently, if not always, revels in creating controversy and is a master at debating, even if this time he is facing serious accusations and…at least four Facebook pages asking that he would be demoted or fired even.

The dean of the University has to take action and asks the accused to act in order to re-establish a clean reputation, which in this case means to take the young woman into training and prove he is not a racist, a misogynist or both, but a talented educator who has so much to give.
It is not easy and there are many moments when one could understand that complexity of characters is what makes a film worth watching, we all have dark sides, make mistakes and yet, the personages become at various times rather obnoxious and finally the motion picture loses in value and likeability.

Mazzard is good as a trainer and has a lot to teach, but his outbursts, character, provocations and potential misanthropist behavior- he may well be not a racist, but a man who dislikes other people in equal manner- make hi unlikable and the public may choose to lose interest in his shenanigans.
When compared with other famous teachers – Michael Caine in the charming, pleasant, amusing Educating Rita or Rex Harrison in the resplendent, radiant My Fair Lady- based on the ancient myth of Pygmalion, of the Greek sculptor who became enamored with the statue he had created and asked the Gods to give it life- Pierre Mazzard seems to lack compassion, a more endearing type of humor.

As for Neila Salah, she may represent the epitome of a new, liberated generation, more interested in plain truth and less in convoluted, false but polite conversation and respect for rules – here one could think of William Golding, who spoke about his chef d’oeuvre Lord of the Flies and said that the crucial, paramount message of the classic is that “if you have no rules, you have Nothing”
Alas, some in the audience may find this other main character just as unpleasant- for many scenes- and anyway not likeable enough when she shows courage, perseverance, perspective, social intelligence, kindness, gratitude, determination, prudence, wisdom, for all these are shadowed by bouts of reckless attitudes, too much aggresivity, and lack of sensitivity.

Plus, there are moments which are supposed to be both funny and interesting- and maybe they are for some viewers- but they can also appear bizarre, out of place and even somewhat embarrassing- for instance, when the professor takes his private pupil to the French Metro and she has to address a public of strangers with lines from a famous historical speech, dated to the Roman times.
This exercise is repeated, and when the woman starts laughing because the second time she has to compete with a duo of musicians, trying to use their talent to make some money, the professor takes over, climbs a chair and gets the attention of the passengers and the completion, instead of getting angry and vocal at losing their subsistence, they offer musical background.

It does not look credible

There are merits and the film starts with a very sophisticated, provocative, admirable philosophical conversation, there are many vital issues- some of them mentioned in passing: racism, bigotry, honesty, and freedom of speech, maybe mysoginism, education and more.
In addition, the lessons offered by Professor Mazzard can indeed be very useful, based as they are on Schopenhauer and his 38 Stratagems to Win an Argument:

“The Extension (Dana's Law)
Interrupt, Break, Divert the Dispute
Generalize Your Opponent's Specific Statements
Conceal Your Game
False Propositions
Become Personal, Insulting, Rude
Yield Admissions Through Questions and more”

vineri, 30 martie 2018

Ana, mon amour, screenplay by Calin Peter Netzer, Iulia Lumanare and Cezar Paul-Badescu, based on the book written by the latter: Luminita, mon amour

Ana, mon amour, screenplay by Calin Peter Netzer, Iulia Lumanare and Cezar Paul-Badescu, based on the book written by the latter: Luminita, mon amour

Calin Peter Netzer has already achieved acclaim, notoriety and prestigious prizes, among them The Berlin Film Festival top award- The Golden Bear- for his excellent Child’s Pose, and Ana, mon amour has won the Silver Berlin Bear, which means that the writer-director has joined the other masters: Cristian Mungiu, Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu on the sacred Olympus of Romanian and International Cinema.

Ana, mon amour is a challenging, interesting, provocative, intelligent, perhaps somewhat salacious, innovative- indeed, some scenes are probably a first in mainstream cinema.
Ana and Toma are the main characters of this out of the ordinary narrative and they meet while they study Literature in the capital of Romania, Bucharest, while he is from about one hundred and twenty kilometers North- West, the town called Pitesti, and she is from Botosani, in Moldavia.

The young woman has some traumas haunting her from the past, some of which we have to guess and others are revealed slowly, as she talks to her boyfriend, but further details are given to an analyst that helps her recover.
Toma and Ana become a couple, but they face adversity and opposition from both his and her parents, the biological father of the woman having left for Germany when she was just a baby, the man her mother later married becoming a sort of a child molester, or on the fringe, touching her inappropriately while giving her a bath, at the age of twelve (?!) and sleeping in the same bed.

When they visit her parents, after the initial interrogatory regarding what Toma does, what about the parents, his plans and more details like that, a big fight erupts and vicious dialogue transforms into a clash, with serious insults- “if you leave now, you whore, you are never to return here again…”
There are humorous elements throughout, like the pajamas of the adoptive father that Toma is offered, when he is supposed to spend the night in the same room with the parent who has some serious trouble at the legs that he is massaging intensely with some medicinal ointment.

Toma’s parents have their own issues and the visit to their home is just as difficult, with different insults, accusations and threats flying, the father calling the “Moldavian” partner various terrible appellatives and invectives, stating that he would give money to the son who wants to “keep” this creature…

So far, the complications, tensions, rejections are familiar territory, even if there are dense references to philosophy, oneiric and surrealist literature, religion- with a visit to the priest played by the best local actor today- Vlad Ivanov- and one of the best actors in the world- a man we can see in the subway, walking on Victory Avenue.
In another scene, the young couple and his parents are waiting in one of the huge crowds that form regularly, whenever there is a “special” saint’s day and men and women gather from afar to enjoy the miracles supposed to be performed on that day, and Ana gets sick, curses are not in sync with the occasion, but this is not the only moment when various beliefs clash- one friend is very liberal, talks with admiration about the liberal Nordics and their limited contracts that are in contrast with the local insistence on old style marriages and frequent religious fanaticism.

This family friend is mocking his wife and her exaggerated fundamentalism, the attacks that priests launch on masturbation- that he thinks would help his son as he grows- and the hypocrisy surrounding many taboo subjects, in the end teasing and confronting Ana, who is conservative, maybe even retrograde.
There some elements that are unique, not in the least “déjà vu”, in fact, it is “du Jamais Vu”, for we tend to see in the film sex scenes more and more nudity, both male and female, it is more and more explicit and yet this motion picture introduces a scene where, after they have intercourse, the hero ejaculates and this is…on the screen.

Aside from movies with the American President’s girlfriend- well, one of a multitude- Stormy Daniels, this was not something you could see in a non-rated film and we can understand that boundaries have to be pushed- after all, most of the last century was so prudish and censors banned anything that looked remotely like sex.
Furthermore, there is also a scene where the man is pleasuring his lover in ways that are provocative and they also seem to represent novelty and they push the envelope, introducing what some would applaud as being fresh, expanding the horizon and exploring new territory, while others will surely be horrified, appalled and terrorized by the novelties.

Finally, there is a rather long scene which deals with another aspect of humanity, the decadence, vulnerability of sick men and women- Toma comes home, to what looks like a room in a students' ‘dormitory, only to find Ana unconscious, with some bottles of pills near her and with…faeces all over her behind, which the incredibly devoted man cleans, with her underwear- takes time to do this, while some in audience may feel sick- and then takes the loved one in his arms, takes her to the showers which are used in common and again takes pain, long, long moments to clean the bottom of the woman he definitely feels for…


After what looks like a nadir, Ana recovers and she is not only functional again, but she has a baby and it is Toma who takes care of him, while they are supported by the mother, whereas in the past it was the man of the house providing the income, one of the reasons why they fight, Toma being very jealous, following his wife through the city and imagining she is betraying him.
Ana, mon amour is an intriguing, at times somewhat hard to watch film, creative, out of the box, destined for an elite and not for a huge box office, available on HBO on some latitudes, meaningful, intelligent, philosophical, demanding – maybe in the same category with the Palme d’Or Winner The Square- courageous and thought provoking.

joi, 29 martie 2018

Louis CK: Oh My God by Louis C.K.

Louis CK: Oh My God by Louis C.K.

One may be tempted to listen to the comedy of Louis CK and use hindsight, arguing that the various jokes stated the fact that the artist would get in trouble.

It is also true that the public does not expect that the humor connected with private parts, the old lady that would better die before her dog, the attitude versus the neighbor and so many other people spells to the philosophy, the perspective on life and we should not be so outraged to hear that inappropriate things happened in private between the comedian and women in his life.
Which does not mean that he is absolved from guilt and the punishment he is getting, the ostracism imposed on him are not deserved.

One could read an excellent book, The Intellectuals by Paul Johnson and learn that geniuses- Tolstoy, Rousseau, Ibsen, Hemingway and others have been very mean to various people in their life, close relatives even.
If we compare Jean-Jacques Rousseau - who has abandoned his children at the door of the orphanage, at a time when nine out of ten died in this situation- with Louis CK, the latter is an archangel in comparison, for he did not kill anyone or placed a human being at death's door, not that we know about it yet.

The comedian is very honest about many of his failures, short comings and flaws, like the swearing that he uses when a driver annoys him - and that we all use alas - and he puts it into perspective, emphasizing that we could not do that in an elevator and all this anger and fury is just about half a second of one's life, imposed on by a careless driver.

In a sense, CK seems to invite you to laugh at him, his idiosyncratic ways, flaws, but it also feels like we should have expected the revelations, considering many of the subjects taken on the stage.
The comedian laughs at the issue of murder and how important it is that we have laws against murder, for otherwise, nice people would just murder a few, but nobody would talk to someone who hasn't killed anyone.

Parents would murder their kids- in other scenes he mentions the ambivalence of parenthood, parents being in love with their kids, like Louis CK, but at the same time entertaining angry, vicious thoughts when children act in crazy ways- they wake him up at six in the morning.

In the chapter "yes, but maybe" CK takes the question of allergies- let us care for those affected and take the nuts out, of course...but maybe you're supposed to die if you only touch some nuts...
On war, if you are shooting at others, it is a tiny bit your fault, even when fighting for your country.

When he moves to slavery and there is reluctance in the audience, the performer emphasizes that the public has been with him at the dead kids with the nuts, so there in this together.
The point of slavery is that many masterpieces- the pyramids for instance- have been made by abusing slaves, multitudes sent to die for their creation.

In the opening, Louis CK says that this is the nicest place for many miles in every direction- "and this is how you compliment a building and shit on the town in the same sentence.”
The performer likes to tease people or invent stories in which he does, like the one with the neighbor in his building who thought the comedian is a stranger and has nothing to do at the fountain in the courtyard.

By the way, CK says that all those who design fountains are pedophiles, with the omnipresent statues of boys urinating- well, actually throwing out water, of course.
The neighbor comes over to Louis CK who claims he does not live there and the man underlines that this private property, in which CK says that he does not really believe...

"Look, if you do not leave, I will call the doorman...
Can I just stay here for five hours?"

Evidently, when the doorman was called, he explained that the "stranger" actually lives in the building and the comedian enjoyed the cocktail of surprise and anger.

Some points are excellent, like the invitation to enjoy being out of the food chain, which implies for all those in it a death in pain.
Then there is life, which is such a gift, even when it is not especially a lucky one, even a very healthy one, it is still such a wonderful, glorious, radiant, resplendent gift, when we consider that for "trillions of miles" there is such a bad circumstance that eyes pop out and you die.

Counterintuitively, CK appears very fond of women, respectful and appreciative of their of their sensibility, vulnerability- he states that the number one cause of death for men is the heart attack, but for women it is men and it is extraordinary how these fragile, vulnerable beings take the huge risk of dating us, driving at night:

"Where are we going?
To your death, statistically"

Deux Hommes Dans la Ville aka Two Men in Town, written and directed by Jose Giovanni

Deux Hommes Dans la Ville aka Two Men in Town, written and directed by Jose Giovanni

Jean Gabin and Alain Delon come as close to Cinema Deities as it is possible and they face each other in this very good drama that also has a very young Gerard Depardieu in one of the roles of the beginning of his career, before he was consecrated as another French God of the Arts- and his eventual downfall and emigration to…Russia, of all places, under a real monster, Putin.

Jean Gabin plays Germain Cazeneuve, a gentle, decent, humane, honest, kind, compassionate former police officer who works with convicts, in and out of prison, helping them to re-integrate and pushing authorities to change their view that the correction facilities are there only to torture those who had failed and make them suffer a punishment for their wrongs.
Alain Delon has the complex role of Gino Strabliggi who, as a very young man, has committed a mistake, took part in the robbery of a bank and was sentenced to ten years for his crime, facing a few more years of his term, but benefiting from the intervention of Cazeneuve, who had observed the young prisoner inside the penitentiary and is sure of his rehabilitation.

Indeed, when the older, wise man intervenes, the leaders of the prison facility are very skeptical, to say the least and there is a dispute, in which the brighter individual tries to make the point that only being harsh could be counterproductive, aside from being inhumane and finally unjust.
Germain Cazeneuve is willing to support the prisoner and insists that he should be released- he only has to serve a short time left anyway- and he is willing to take a serious risk and guarantee for his protégée- when the others insist, the compassionate older man says that he will put his support in writing and face the consequences if anything goes wrong and the released prisoner commits other crimes.

Sophie is the wife of Strabliggi and a very handsome, loyal, decent, devoted woman, who comes to see her husband with his favorite record that he has listened to for more than a thousand times- indeed, she has had to replace the record, but the man loves to hear this song repeatedly.
As Gino is released, he is invited by his “parole officer”- who is really more of a friend that a person doing a job- by the way, this is what they call “calling”- in every job, there would be three groups of people: first- those who are there just for the paycheck; second- the men and women who are interested in a career; last and most important- those who have a calling have found a way to do what they love and be paid for it.

Germain Cazeneuve is facing a crisis just as he is waited at home by his friend and his wife, for a riot has broken out in prison and the authorities, instead of trying to negotiate, use peaceful tactics, at least to begin with, those in charge bring in the heavy handed units and they pull out the guns and say that they will shoot, if inmates do not get back to their cells and behave.
This is happening many decades ago, in the 1960s, when they had the death penalty in place, by guillotine and methods were different, more barbarous and medieval, cutting a man’s throat sounds worse even than administering poison with narcotics or morphine, whatever they do today in the few places that still execute people.

The film reminds one of Straight Time, another film with a liberated prisoner and his parole officer, only in the American feature, the character played by Dustin Hoffman- a very difficult artist to work with, according to the quintessential Adventures in the Screen Trade- has an impossible time trying to accommodate the man who is supposed to control, but also support him.
This obnoxious role is taken by Chief Inspector Goitreau, who recognizes Gino Strabliggi, for the then Inspector was part of the team that has caught the young felon and his gang and he is now sure that “old habits die hard” and therefore the free hero is sure to rob a bank again.

Traumatized by the death of his beloved wife, in a terrible car accident and pressed, haunted, tormented by Goitreau, Gino Strabliggi has a hard time keeping straight, staying out of trouble, even if he is determined to, circumstances, maybe fate seem to be against him.
When he is released, he is visited by criminals that know him, one of them is played by the yet unknown and soon to be towering over French Cinema- Gerard Depardieu, who has the role of a bully, who tries to convince the reformed former jailbird to help them in their criminal activities.

When Gino refuses and says that he has had enough of jail, he wants to keep his steady job in a printing shop, be close to his loving wife and never have to spend ten years in jail, the hoodlum starts insulting and abusing him, accusing the former comrade of being with the police.
A second group of bandits arrives in the town where the hero is detached and they try to get his expertise and back them when they will take money from the bank, which they initially had suspected Gino of intending to hit for himself, alone.

Alas, the obsessed inspector is following every move the protagonist makes, sees him talking to the felons and illegally enters the apartment where he finds the address written by the leader of the gang, in case Strabliggi has a change of perspective and the crooked policeman wants to use this proof to arrest the innocent man.
Goitreau is using every possible means, blackmail, extortion, pressure, breaking in the house and becomes in fact the guilty party, the one who repeatedly breaks the law, just because he wants to arrest someone he thinks is a felon, but who is actually innocent…until a certain point that is.

The film becomes ever more interesting at the end, for instead of a Hollywood type of conclusion, there is a different evolution, with the hero showing his weak side, even if abused by the vicious inspector, in a different screenplay, he would have resisted as a Superman…

miercuri, 28 martie 2018

Hotel Terminus, written and directed by Marcel Ophuls

Hotel Terminus, written and directed by Marcel Ophuls

Hotel Terminus is the compelling story of the war criminal Klaus Barbie, but it is such a complex narrative that it also involves the CIA, Bolivian and other officials, newspapermen, associates of the Nazi killer, members of the French Resistance and hunters of war criminals.

This film is included for good reason on the New York Times'  Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made List, as one of the few documentaries included.
Klaus Barbie has been a war criminal, responsible for crimes against humanity and various atrocities that have been well documented and yet it has taken so long to get him and there have been so many interviewed in this rather long film, at about four hours, that refused to be outraged.

Indeed, quite a few ordinary Germans and some who had been convicted for their role in World War II have insisted on the long time that has passed, forty years is a long time and let bygones be bygones...
As if it is not worse that this vicious, heinous brute had been free for so long, but since he has managed this abominable escape from justice, why not let him pay nothing for the children, women, Jews and gipsies that he had sent to the gas chambers.

There is an experiment called Milgram wherein participants are willing to go to incredible extremes when a figure of authority is asking, by applying deadly shocks to other participants in tests for instance.
This explains to some extent the position, obedience of common Germans in the World War II, but the attitude that those present in the documentary have is loathsome, with its insistence on forgetting about so many murders.

It must be said that it is not only Germans, but one of the leaders of the National Front in France- Jean Marie Le Pen is inserted with his horrible position on the holocaust, which he dismissed as an unimportant detail of the war - and various Bolivians, some of them important leaders in the army, others simple citizens.
Some people did not know about the real identity of Klaus Barbie, but others have been willing to cooperate with the Butcher of Lyon, with the full knowledge of his past and terrible crimes, engaging with him in manipulation of currencies, illegal transactions and offering him protection, instead of a place in jail.

Journalists from The New York Times have tried to take photographs near the residence of the monster and the Bolivian army sent soldiers to take them in custody and arrest them for some hours.
Barbie was the first visitor who one of the army generals was anointed the new president of the country, providing that his protection was of the highest possible level.

After the war, the Americans engaged in a confrontation with the new enemy, the Soviet Union, and in that conflict, the saying the enemy of my enemy is my friend was applied and it included Klaus Barbie and other such brutes.
Several operatives of the American Services- which were not yet the CIA - have been approached for this well researched and documented film and they explain that they did not know about his past, this individual brought a lot of valuable information and human assets in the game, furthermore, it seems that various parts of the American Goverment acted in a rather conflicting, confusing way.

It was the American services that helped the Butcher escape to South America and this is explained in part by the fact that at the time of his flight to another continent, the monster was in possession of too much valuable information, lists of agents for instance, to risk letting him fall into the hands of others.
Indeed, one of the operatives states that, if the French agencies would have had Klaus Barbie, they would first ask about intelligence details and seeing as first the French Resistance and then the services had been infiltrated by the communists, these invaluable lists could end up in the hands of the Evil Empire- The Soviets.

The Americans used the Vatican as intermediaries for this escape, important clergy figures have been very willing to help Nazi war criminals find refuge in South America.
One of those interviewed comes across as anti- Semitic and not in the least a "man of God", insisting on the time passed instead of the multiple murders committed.

When they finally learn that the Butcher is in Bolivia, the rulers do not wish to give him away, on the contrary, as aforementioned they were in cahoots with the criminal that so many of them really liked - since they obviously shared the same "values".
One of the many Jewish people that have suffered at the hands of Klaus Barbie decides to travel to La Paz and help find this serial killer who has taken from this woman almost all her family, husband and children.

There are other touching, heart wrenching testimonies, including one from a woman who was a child when Barbie took her family away, asked her parents for the address of other children and when these did not provide it, for they did not know where the children were, he used the most terrible torture, accusing the mother for being responsible for the fate of her daughter.
Luckily, this child escaped the gas chambers but she was the only one from her family, returns to the old house and mentions the vicious collaboration of neighbors, with the exception of one woman, who ever tried to hide the poor girl, only to be found and slapped by the fascists.

Barbie was not just giving orders, which is bad enough since one does not have to pull the trigger, on the contrary, the one giving the orders is guilty and sometimes the executioner is only obeying superior officers.
The Butcher of Lyon looked at the tortured men and women lying on the floor and when he thought he saw Jewish people he kicked and abused them.

Hotel Terminus follows through all the narrative, with witnesses, accomplices, the neighbor in La Paz who had been initially rejected by Klaus Barbie because the monster thought him Jewish, jailers and captors.

marți, 27 martie 2018

Salyut- 7 by Klim Shipenko

Salyut- 7 by Klim Shipenko

This is a very good Russian film that reminds one of other "Space Odysseys"- Apollo 13, Gravity and other dramas that took place in the cosmos, or would take place in an imagined future.

These motion pictures about near catastrophes that happened in the orbit of the Earth, near the moon, or somewhere in between, are very informative, aside from being tense, gripping and dramatic.
For the world knows about " One small step for man, a great leap for mankind" and not so much about problems, failed missions wherein astronauts died, space vehicles crushed and the like.

It is a commercial and maybe an artistic decision to avoid putting on the big screen stories that end up with everybody dying and a scientific collapse of some kind.
The Russians though can do it, they do not care too much about what the world thinks, as long as they are scared, terrified and sure that this country is serious about business, territories, Crimea, Skribal and his daughter- if that is their name.

Exaggeration apart, there is a bias, a subjectivity with which audiences may approach this and any other work of art coming from the Third Rome, especially after what they did to a former spy and his child, attacked with a chemical weapon no less and in a city in Great Britain.
Yesterday, twenty four countries (!), including my own- and I am so proud of that- have made an united front expelling about one hundred and forty Russian diplomats to protest against what is an attack on Britain.

Alas, this is the background for Soyuz 7 and if we are to joke, as things happen on that damn Soviet ship, one may start shouting

Die you mother fucking Soviets

Considering that these awful communists have ruined territories and countries -this one too, alas- and we still have to pay a heavy price in terms of the mentality of the population, their brains washing, the inability to adapt for decades to democracy, mark t forces and capitalism, one may understand this deep rooted prejudice.
Having said that, there are many Russian films, of course the geniuses Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Gogol, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Bulgakov and so many more.

Burnt by the Sun, Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano, Andrei Rublev, the more recent Loveless aka Nelyubov are just a few of the masterpieces of the Russian cinema.
Leviafan aka Leviathan is one of the best motion pictures ever.

One of the actors in Soyuz 7 is the lawyer from Leviafan and a fantastic artist.
His character is banned from space missions, after he states that he saw something like angels or some angelic light, figures...

But when faced with a crisis, the authorities have no good people to send and they offer him the difficult, next to impossible task of repairing the Soviet space station.
This is not just daunting, extremely difficult, it seems impossible.

Indeed, for a good while, it feels like the two cosmonauts will definitely die, given the Russian melancholy, different from Hollywood in a good sense here take on events, one can give a one chance in a a thousand for the protagonists to survive.
When they get to Soyuz, the conditions are terrifying and they may not even be able to connect with their destination, so out of control is the spinning and difficult the coupling.

Once inside, they are faced with a vessel that has everything inside frozen and like in The Martian, ground control is worried that the two men will die of starvation.
Furthermore, when they fix the freezing problem, they have water all over the walls and the ship, compromising the functioning of the installations.

As if all those wee not enough crisis and overwhelming challenges,mother are left with too little oxygen.
The commander is told from the ground control that he - in the tradition of the captain as the last on board the ship - has to send his comrade on the unit that will take at least one down to earth, seeing as they don't have air to breathe for both.

However, his friend and companion refuses to travel to earth alone, saying that he would not be able to tell his child or his friend's daughter for that matter that he had abandoned his soul mate.
So they have to desperately try to solve an impossible problem, out of the station, with a...hammer.

Will they succeed?
It looks unlikely, but who knows...

luni, 26 martie 2018

All the Money in the World based on the book by John Pearson

All the Money in the World based on the book by John Pearson

This motion picture has probably had more buzz surrounding the postproduction, re- shooting and financial aspects, than discussion over the merits or lack thereof of a feature that has a nomination for an Academy Award.

Christopher Plummer, at the age of 88 (!) has played the role of the obnoxious, despicable, greedy, and psychopathic to a certain degree, richest man of his time and for all history up to 1973- John Paul Getty.
Nevertheless, the excellent, veteran Oscar winner and nominated for this part for another Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting role and the oldest to get this nod, was not the first choice, but came after director Ridley Scott had decided to replace the original star, Kevin Spacey, in the aftermath of scandals surrounding his alleged abuse of teenage boys.

The production has taken to re-shoot the scenes involving John Paul Getty and called the other actors involved- Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, the daughter in law of the villainous, heartless tycoon and Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase, the man who tries to help the mother recuperate her son.
However, the new scenes were paid with over one million- was it one point seven million dollars- in the case of the male star and only with something like eighty dollars per day for Michele Williams, a huge discrepancy that has highlighted yet again the discriminations that women still have to face, even in highly paid positions.

Alas, some may feel that neither Ms. Williams, nor Mark Wahlberg have had their best performances in this motion picture about greed, love, hope, courage, vitality, recklessness, indifference and humanity.
Early on, a group of criminals in Italy abducts John Paul Getty III –portrayed by a promising artist called Charlie Plummer- a coincidence, since he is not related to Christopher Plummer-.

One of the most important villains, the one who will both assist the felons and try to help poor young John to survive the ordeal and come out with as little trauma and physical damage as possible, is played by one of the best actors in the world, Romain Duris aka Cinquanta.
John Paul Getty is not just the richest man in the world, but also a billionaire who has invested vast sums in works of art- that have finally adorned the museum Getty, but only after his demise-and he has a reputation as a savvy, well versed, knowledgeable collector, who offers a gift to his favorite grandson.

This man is The Miser from the paly by Moliere and it is surprising to see him tell the story of a statuette, which he has found in the market, where a man was asking for $ 20 –was it? - and it took the billionaire one hour to take the price down to $ 10 for a work of art that he estimates at over one million.
If this looks like an outrageous, cheap game played by the richest man of the planet, it must also be said that a classic of positive psychology, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, author of the archetypal Flow, mentions the example of an Italian art dealer who would refuse a client who does not negotiate, because he is “in the zone” when haggling, without this negotiation there is no Flow.

Nevertheless, when pressed by the demands of the kidnappers, Gail Harris decides to sell the valuable gift and travels to the Sotheby’s auction house to try to obtain the million dollars or more for the expensive possession, only to be told that the object is actually worth only $ 15.
One lesson from this incident and the whole story might be to think twice or more about rejecting a share of the fortune, which is what Ms. Harris had done, when she divorced her husband, she specified that she wants no part of the Getty wealth; she only wants custody of her children.

When the criminals ask for seventeen million dollars, the richest man’s response is that he will not pay, when further asked, he insists he has no money to spare, it is a difficult time and when Fletcher Chase mentions the oil crisis which brings Getty so much more, the latter still refuses to do anything for his unfortunate relative.
Meanwhile, as the gangsters saw that the mother has nothing and the wealthy old man does not play ball- he even speaks to the press and refers to his many relatives claiming that there is no way he would give in, because after that he would have to pay millions every day- they mutilate the poor boy.

Cinquanta plays a double game, calling the mother and warning her about the intentions of the other members of the gang, but as part of this complicated position, he is the one who holds young Paul down, when a doctor comes to cut one ear off, to be presented to the family and convince them that other anatomical parts would follow if the millions do not materialize.
A newspaper offers $ fifty thousand for the right to print the gory images, insisting that they know that the mother has no money and therefore this sum could help- Gail Harris rejects the notion of trading with the suffering and trauma of her beloved son, but has a brilliant idea, asking for one thousand copies of the newspaper in return for the copyright.

She sends the big packages to the residence- palace actually- of the wealthiest but also poorest man on earth- destitute not financially, but emotionally- and this appears to work as the heinous Getty pays more attention to the issue and finds that there is a way to deduct some tax from this kidnapping.
Loathsome as he is, he wants to offer a loan to his son, for tax purposes, since there is not legal benefit from paying ransom, and he wants in exchange that his daughter in law would give away the custody of the children.

Most critics have been happy with this motion picture, but you may find it less rewarding that expected, unless you consider Hamlet:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

duminică, 25 martie 2018

Les Quatre Cents Coups aka The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut

Les Quatre Cents Coups aka The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut

This is one of the best motion pictures of all time, included on both The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made and the All-TIME 100 Movies lists, which you can find here:

Furthermore, audiences have appreciated this film, which is also included on the Top Rated Movies list at number 202, to which we can add the nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, BAFTA in the same category and Best Film from any Source and the Cannes Film Festival prize for Best Director.

The hero is a fourteen year old boy, Antoine Doinel portrayed with incredible, phenomenal talent by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who gets into a series of trouble, for which he takes often undeserved punishment- anyway exce4ssive and inappropriate, given the background.
He runs away from school, but that is what so many teenagers, pupils do and considering the violence, the abuse and use of corporal disciplining applied by professors it can seem only natural, to try and find an escape from such exploitation.

At one point, when his father, Julien Doinel, talks to a policeman, the latter encourages more “traditional” means of education, when the parent complains that he could not make his son behave and by old means, the commissioner understands beatings.
Besides, one day, when he is absent from school and walking the streets with his friend, Rene, Antoine comes across his mother, Gilberte Doinel, who is kissing another man and therefore offers an example of libertinism, contempt for rules, lack of discipline, breaking of barriers, offence to morality which she cannot later reproach in her son, who is after all much younger and much more prone to mistakes than an adult, who does not do what he or she preaches.

This immoral attitude of the mother surely explains in part the excuse used by the naughty Julien when he is interrogated on the reasons why he is so frequently missing from school by a teacher who, when hearing that the boy’s mother is dead, becomes compassionate.

However, this false pretense is soon exposed, the parents come to school and in their fury, they ask the teachers and the principal to impose serious consequences upon the insensitive boy, who is not only running from school, but also lying and saying his parent has departed forever…
Since coming home has never been a happy experience, with his parents fighting, the knowledge of his mother’s infidelities and their absurd demands on the child, especially in light of their own serious shortcomings and flaws, Antoine decides to run away from home and find a job eventually.

On the first night, he finds some refuge in a printing shop, amid all the disorder and the very loud noises made by the printing presses, but he makes a temporary armistice with his mother, who promises to give him a one thousand francs prize –probably about $ 30- if at the next test he will be among the best five students.
The hero reads from La Recherche de L’Absolu by Honore de Balzac, he would include the ending- Eureka, and the sentences about death- in his own paper regarding the death of his grandfather, a theme selected when the teacher asked them to write about an important event in their lives.

The morbid predilection for the excuse when he was absent and then as a subject for his test emphasizes the depression, disabuse, lack of affection, need for attention and acceptance experienced by the teenage boy, who is again banished from class, because of the accusation of plagiarism.
Furthermore, at home, while enthused, exhilarated by the magnificent author, Julien lights a candle in what looks like a small shrine dedicated to the deity- Honore de Balzac- and while he is eating with his parents, the father smells smoke and the small altar is in flames.

After this incendiary incident, the family is going to the motion pictures but it is alas a short-lived peace, followed by another escape and this time, the protagonist finds temporary shelter at the home of his friend, who also has family issues, his mother is a drunkard and his father is strange.
There is a life size horse in this house, evaluated by the father at about one million francs and even if the boys, trying to find ways to get some money think about selling the horse, they try with a typewriter and their effort to sell it in the black market, through a crook fail.

Antoine’s mother and father give up their obligations and take him to the authorities, stating that they have tried everything and it does not work, so they just feel he should be educated in other environments- even his mother makes a rather ridiculous, feeble attempt to ask the judge to send him in a home near the sea…
The official replies that the State Correction Facility is not a travel firm and it is not in the business of providing pleasure and comfort for its clients and the hero has to face a sentence for the attempted theft of the typewriter and the ten thousand francs he had stolen from his grandmother, in spite or because of his explanation that he knew where the money were and his old relative does not need it anyway- she will die soon.

Antoine Doinel has some sessions with an analyst, but it seems that the psychologist does not respect the quintessential rule of keeping the discussions secret and he talks to the police and probably the parents about what he learns from the discussions.
The 400 Blows is a historic, memorable, mesmerizing chef d’oeuvre.