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Le moine (2011)
Meanwhile back in the 70s
Yes, we get it, it's the sixties/seventies all over again. Did we need 101 minutes predictable bore to remind us how films were (poorly) shot?
So we get it all in one dose: bad special effects, a papier mâché Madrid with thunder and lightning, overexposed sun-blanched exteriors . And of course the erotic and religious ecstasy in the convent, the self-flagellation, sacrilege, incest, murder soft porn shot in soft lights, a pact with the devil, a novice in an iron mask.
It would have been great if shot by Roger Corman or Mario Bava 40-50 years ago (think The Whip and the Body). Unfortunately, I have seen this movie already multiple times back then, Did we need a reminder? I'll give it 3 stars for the nostalgia effect and the sparse erotic scenes.
If you don't care about that, stay away from this waste of time.
Pusher II (2004)
Gritty, bleak and unforgettable
Dedicated to Hubert Selby Jr., Pusher II moves in the familiar territory of the New York writer, night scenes populated by strippers, drug addicts and hopeless petty criminals. Unlike Last Stop Brooklyn, and the first movie in the trilogy, Pusher ends on a high, pun not intended, with a glimmer of hope to illuminate the Scandinavian night that most of this movie seems to embrace.
Eight years have gone by since Frank from Pusher broke Tonny's head with a baseball bat. Frank is now gone, and Tonny, the eternal screwup, seeks criminal success working for the big boss himself: his father. What he finds of course is deceit, empty violence, cocaine-fueled failures of all kinds.
Even when seeking redemption in a loveless world Nicolas Winding Refn's characters are still unable to talk except that with fists or knives, unable to act or to stop acting if not by chemically quelling one's fears. This movie is less violence, but perhaps even scarier than Pusher II. It is because of the absolute absence of human empathy or maybe just because is a little bit of Tonny in all of us.
Pas mal, but so what? There seem to be a novel French cultural obsession with male love for hire. Last year gave us the total fluff of "Hors de Prix," but at least that had Gad Elameh, Audrey Tatou, Nice and Biarritz as a stunning backdrop. Cliente does a little better on the fluff side, with director (and excellent support actress) Josiane Balasko injecting some social concern in an otherwise lightweight comedy. Viewers are however left wondering if the setup was really necessary.
The story revolves around Marco, aka Patrick, escort for hire for older rich ladies in search of lunchtime company in Paris. Marco is pushed to the oldest profession by the need to support his wife's budding business, and therefore escape from a difficult cohabitation. When the wife Fanny finds out about the moonlighting, like the say, things will never be the same.
In any case Cliente delivers good fun, almost never misses a beat and has a couple of truly hilarious moments.
K-20: Kaijin nijû mensô den (2008)
Teslapunk superhero movie done right
K-20 was the most fun I had in a movie theater in a long time. Yes, there are deeper movies, and definitely more expensive ones, especially on this side of the ocean. But K-20 kicks Spiderman's butt (or any other recent costumed hero movie) any day of the week. Special effects are there, but this is first of all a movie about people.
Set in an alternate 1949, where Word War II never happened, K-20 takes place in a poorer Japan, that bears many signs of the alliance with the Reich. The sets are very well done, imagine a steampunk Blade Runner mixed with post-Dickens, post-Industrial revolution London. This is Teito, the capital of Japan, where orphans roams the streets and the Imperial aristocracy rules with fear and armed men. One ruthless vigilante roams the streets (well, perhaps the roofs): K-20, who in spite of his professed Robin Hoodism is less than loved by the population, who'd rather root for his arch-enemy, the aristocrat Inspector Akechi. Yet K-20 is not the main character here: the hero is Heikichi Endo, who is framed for the crimes of K-20, beaten and imprisoned. How he will be able to escape, clear his name (and save the world, in passing) keeps you glued to your seat for the over two hours and fifteen minutes of the movie.
The retro atmosphere reminded me a little of Chabon's Kavalier & Clay, if a movie could ever do it justice. Parkour lovers will definitely enjoy the antics of the hero in training. Everyone else, manga fan or not, will have fun.
Dare mo mamotte kurenai (2008)
Excellent drama, cultural shock
I caught this at the US premiere in Santa Barbara, with the Director and the female lead, Mirai Shida. Strong social ties in Japan have an ugly flip-side: when somebody commits a crime, their family is automatically guilty by association, and all the relatives persecuted by absurd demands of apology. When Saori's brother is arrested for a double homicide, the whole family is subject to a media feeding frenzy that force police to provide protection for the family of the perpetrator.
One lonely cop is forced to take on the role of guardian to young Saori, and attempting to escape from attention and from the pervasive reach of media and internet, they will both come to terms with their personal demons. Well shot, and competently paced, the film is quite the cultural shock. Kimizuka's portrayal of the potential for web-fueled persecution is also downright scary, and reminiscent of the "Human Search Engine" tactics recently used by Chinese nationalists to locate and harass anti-Olympics demonstrators.
The role of the police, often presented as toothless facing criminals but ruthless in the treatment of witnesses, will also seem quite unusual to anyone used to US (or European) police work portrayals.
Mirai Shida gives an excellent, heartbreaking performance, showing a maturity in her portrayal of the Saori character well beyond her years.
"Friends say it's fine, friends say it's good..."
Could 20th Century Boys be the Japanese Watchmen? Like in the case of Alan Moore's masterpiece, Urasawa's sprawling story covers the cultural myths and obsessions of the past century: from the nuclear catastrophe following the war to the western cultural influences, conformism and totalitarian tendencies, the demilitarized, defenseless Japan, the economic boom of the sixties . Even a touch of mecha and the pervasiveness of media in society.
Judging the movie, however, can be more difficult: its competently shot and acted, but like most transpositions, it makes its manga origin very clear, which can be appalling for the manga-illiterate in the audience, which at the projections I was sighed, left early or giggled in all the wrong places. Sound editing was awful, but it might be a result of the copy I saw.
Where the film could use some help is in the editing. Fans will appreciate the attempt to be faithful to the original source, but movies simply work in a different way: act II is too long, and the final climax and resolution is reduced to a few choppy scenes. It might definitely look better when parts 2 and 3 are released.
A prison guard seeks happiness and redemption from his duty on death row
Faceless bureaucrats shuffle paperwork posing innumerable hanko stamps that mark the moment a life will be terminated. The life is that of illustrator Shinichi Kaneda. We don't and we won't know what crime he committed, and it does not matter. The eye of the camera compares him to a little ant crawling on the tatami, whose life is casually snatched away by a well-meaning hotel maid.
From a novel by Akira Yoshimura, "Vacation" will surprise anyone familiar with American prison dramas (or perhaps with the prison system itself) to the point of looking almost alien. Toru Hirai, is one of the prison guards, imprisoned by his job, who volunteers unsavory duty of assisting in the death of a man in exchange a one week vacation for his honeymoon, and above all to connect to an adoptive son that rejects him as his new father.
We are with Kaneda even when he is not present. Time ticks towards his execution, and the film moves nervously back and forth in time leaving pauses and silences that make the confrontation with what is happening on the screen inevitable. Kaneda cries and drinks his last glass of water. Toru , the prison guard, looks on as powerless and resigned as the spectator. The result is a poetic, but tale of redemption, and an outstanding movie about the death penalty with surprisingly little melodrama.
Arsène Lupin (2004)
Fast and furious, and this is the real Lupin
Salomé's "Arsène Lupin" is a great divertissement. Definitely an update of the LeBlanc Lupin, with an eye on Monkey Punch's "Rupan San Se" (and Miyazaki's too, as Cagliostro's grand daughter is one of the characters. Salomé's (and Roman Duris') Lupin is _definitely_ the XXI century Lupin 1st, and in many ways it portrays the character as it should have been, rather than the Casanova softie of the seventies TV show interpreted by George Descrières.
Yes, plenty of suspension of disbelief is needed, and there was enough material here to make at least two slower paced movies, which I would have personally preferred, and which would probably have happened with overseas budgets. And the plot does makes sense (well, most of the time) but it's not for everybody: some attention needs to be paid to the details. Of course this movie won't work in the US: the director does not remind all the time who the characters are with flashbacks and voice overs, so this practice excludes pretty much that 90% of US movie audience which seems to suffer from ADD. Oh, and the bad guy sets a disabled individual on fire and tosses him out of a window, which pretty much guarantees PC police censorship too.
For all the Lupin aficionados, or for people who have just known the manga/anime interpretation of the (grandson) character, this is highly recommended (but you need to be able at least to read French, as that's the only language in the subtitles, which are also a little incomplete). Over 2 hours just packed with action and romance, and good music too.
La moustache (2005)
"The Moustache" is a comedy that, starting from the most trivial of pretexts, quickly turns into a true Kafkian nightmare. A man shaves his mustache. No one seems to notice, and in a surrealistic parody of male mid-life crisis this causes conflict, pain and uncertainty. But more and more threads come undone in the fabric of his reality.
Excellent self-adaptation of a short novel by Emmanuel Carrère, La Moustache delivers the spectator with much more than it promises, in these days a rare occurrence indeed. Vincent Lindon as the troubled protagonist is good and measured, and the movie has an excellent pace and nothing is overdone. Even the theme, a Philip Glass "Concerto pour violon et orchestre" could not be more effective. Will we ever see this movie in the USA? Maybe in a parallel reality.
Under the skin
Definitely not a movie for everyone. I looked for this movie immediately after seeing the most recent Garrone feature, Primo Amore (First Love) currently in the Festival circuit.
The structure of the movies is non surprisingly very similar: a love story that transcends understanding and plays with common notions of relationship and sexuality, eventually trespassing into obsession. Again Garrone starts from a true story, but tries to make something universal, abstracting it from time (no modern technology) and space. The geography of the action is clear (well, at least to Italian) but the beautiful photography transforms the landscape into chiaroscuro paintings of foggy uncertainty. Ernesto Mahieux is the perfect choice for the central character-- a strong although somewhat physically stunted, madly in love protagonist.
This is one movie that is difficult to classify: it's not a thriller, and very few will consider this a love story, although it borrows elements from both genres to construct something unique that gets under the skin of the spectator. Think Fellini and Lynch, but without the gratuitous weirdness. A little gem, for the few who will get it.
In 5x2 Ozon focuses on 5 episodes on the making of a failed relationship. Scene opens on the divorce and follows up in a bitter (former) spousal rape, following some sexual agreement which is bound to remain unexplained. And that is good: the one thing I loved about the movie is the way Ozon refrains from over-explaining, leaving the filling of the gaps between the episodes to the imagination of the spectator.
But what is left? It's not like nuance or subtlety is completely missing in the multi-faceted portrait à deux, but quite unexpectedly the director almost exclusively focuses on the mundane, the "quotidien". The viewer is left with the doubt: why showing just the banality and hiding the possibly interesting exchanges, the quirky characters which are just shown superficially or hinted at throughout the movie? All we are left with is a big "so what?" Yes, the montage in reverse was "très cool" just a couple of years ago, when Gaspar Noé did it, in Irréversible, where it was used to a much more interesting effect. In 5x2 it allows the director to show the younger characters walk away towards the sunset at their first meeting, in a scene as kitsch as any old Gainsbourg's record cover. Again, so what? But that might not be random: the fun soundtrack is almost exclusively tailored from 60s Italian pop "beach songs" which define and comment each episode, similarly to what Almòdovar does in a particularly campy scene of "La Mala Educacion". Again in this case I think we were the only people in the US theater understanding that level of narrative, the memorable banality of the lyrics describing the ideal banality of all love stories. But once more, so what?
Le chiavi di casa (2004)
Life is not easy
This is the first Amelio movie to be released in the US, at least in a Film Festival setting, in over ten years since Lamerica. But the director's style is still memorable. The camera scans slowly the lost faces of the actors without pity or shame. There is no plastic, no trinkets, no nudging at the spectator. We are there watching and not, it's not really as straightforward as we'd want it.
As in "Stolen Children" or "Lamerica", the main character ambles on scene, uncertain of his role in the life of others or just very mistaken. It learns--maybe, the hard way, one feeling at the time. Kim Rossi Stuart takes the place of Enrico Lo Verso, with a similar style, eyes lost and the silence prevailing over revelatory dialog, but the star is his son in the movie, Andrea Rossi There are no cheap shot. There is no need to. Piety, compassion come from something deeper, and Amelio definitely gets to the grittier level of human emotion. Charlotte Rampling has an amazing role, as the mother of young handicapped woman and the symbolic chorus for the interior dialog of the protagonist. And the dialog is pure and scary as it can be.
It's refreshing to see such moving work that skillfully avoids all the traps of classic Hollywood tearjerkers. The movie reminded me rather of Kenzaburo Oe's "Teach Us to Outgrow our Madness", but it's actually inspired to Giuseppe Pontiggia's "Nati due Volte" (Born Twice), and Amelio pays homage both to the writer and the book in the course of the movie.
La mala educación (2004)
Dark, twisted and fun
La Mala Educación could easily be Almodóvar's best movie ever. Yes the movie is darker than usual, but the plot is masterfully rendered in a mind-boggling game of morbid role-reversals. The best metaphor I can find is a distorted mirror: the story is broken down in pieces, a movie into a movie, characters shifting unexpectedly in even darker areas, stealing each other's lines and turning the table over and over. Gael García Bernal is at his best, finally playing on ambiguity rather than relying on his good looks.
The soundtrack is odd, and funny, with a clever use of old songs that perfectly fit the plot ("Cuore Matto", a Spanish version of "Moon River") and an amusingly obscene version of "Torna a Sorrento", which I am afraid most will miss. Aside from the mind boggling twists of the campy "noir" plot, the real mystery is the NC-17 rating. Pretty amazing in a movie with virtually no nudity and it speaks volumes about what we are going to see-- and not see in the future.
Comic books done right
Gritty, ambiguous, painted in strong inks ant sharp contrasting colors. Gone is the classic spandex costume for a vaguely BDSM leather outfit. Daredevil takes more of a page from Frank Miller's interpretation of the man without fear. And the result is perhaps the best superhero adaptation to date. While that might sound vaguely like an oxymoron, especially in a sub-genre where "good" is a proxy for "budget for special effects", the reason for it should actually be pretty obvious. People like Miller have heavily contributed in the 80s and 9os to renew a genre that had been stagnant since the sixties. And they did that by introducing more realism and more cinematic elements in the action.
Alan Moore's The Watchmen and Miller's Dark Knight are prime examples of this renewal. Unfortunately, at the same time the introduction of computer- generated effect has allowed one too many directors to recreate their favorite Silver Age character as they remembered it, jumping over 20 or so years of comic book evolution. And too often the result is just another expensive cartoon. Daredevil, by no means a good movie, views however like a step in the right direction.
Of course to enjoy all this one has to stomach the Affleck's "Matt Murdock has something to prove" woody interpretation, and Jennifer Garner's version of Elektra (who looks everything but Greek) in all her protruding silicon special effects. Kudos however to Colin Farrell for bringing to life Bullseye, definitely one of the best villains in the genre.
But the script ls fresh and funny, and the gallery of secondary roles and cameos is really impressive. Stan "the man" Lee is briefly seen during Matt Murdock's childhood, Sopranos' Robert Iler, Wayne Knight through a cloud of smoke, and more.
Now, if only we could get comic scripts by Moore, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis produced the way they meant to be...
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
It's not by chance that the credits give this the honor of being the '4Th Tarantino Film', 4 being the number associated in some parts of Asia with death. But it's not the abundance of gory executions the ominous number should be referred to, but rather the final demise of any creativity that this bold icon of shoddy plagiarism represents.
Kill Bill is the ultimate exploitation movie, and reflects all too well the complete lack of ideas of this era of Hollywood globalization that which until now we thought was best portrayed by the Matrix trilogy. Kill Bill takes the omnivorous homogenizing machine one step further the 'tribute' into 'cut and paste' land. At its worst, the movie is a repetitive cartoon.
At its best, this is a clever pastiche of spectacular scenes all of which give the viewer an uncomfortable feeling of 'déjà vu'. But indeed, that's what many film viewers like to pay for anyway, as the 'tell all' movie trailers of late seem to indicate. No surprises, lavish special effects. The problem is that Tarantino never gets even close to the spontaneity of the many low-budget flicks he tries to imitate. Sure, it's possible that the protectionist US movie and cartoon market has saved many viewers from experiencing the original versions of Quentin's 'tributes'. And the product is definitely sleek and polished, but who wouldn't have achieve such shine with the power of the then almighty dollar?
Like Stone in 'Natural Born Killers' Tarantino switches back and forth between 'real' and cartoon reality. Unlike Stone's stylish MTV era animation, here we have only apparently more appropriate anime-style gore-fests. The graphic style is reminiscent of early seventies anime, but the action is all 'Okuto No Ken'. The use of sharp, overexposed black and white for the grisliest scenes is excellent, but wait, where did I see that?
The Japanese scenes are pathetic at best. They really look like the product of a fanboy, who oh-so-desperately tries to recreate the texture of his wet dreams, failing miserably at giving it a life of its own. The icon for this effort is Lucy Liu's casting as O-Ishii 'cottonmouth', as clumsy on the set as she is desperately trying to utter Japanese that doesn't sound completely inadequate to any minimally proficient viewer. Here the director loses a great opportunity to dub the less-than-capable actress with a Japanese voice actor, maybe with intentionally poor lip-sync. Now, that would have been clever, and would have also spared my ears. The 'best of worst' performance is however the 'table speech' at the Yakuza conference (I suspect the only research done for Kill Bill was adding Black Rain to the movies-to-copy pile). Thankfully Liu delivers the speech in English. Too bad she is lousy at that, and, in any case, we heard that stuff from Honey Bunny, in a better movie. Ironically Tarantino is at his best when staying away from Asian-themed schlock and indulging instead in sharply exposing the Ugly American. The Texas scenes are memorable, as the ugliness of the hospital comatose rape word. Unfortunately even that's where self indulgence and self referencing abound. The Pussy Wagon reminds nostalgic viewers of Zed's chopper, and the hospital ward his dungeon. Unfortunately, in show business you can pull that kind of trick once: the second time, sorry, you are repeating yourself, albeit stylishly.
I resisted watching this embarrassing excuse for movie until both DVD editions where in the cheap movie rack. Now I wish I waited a little longer.
Confidences trop intimes (2004)
Intriguing, minimalist, and yet uplifting
It is sometimes difficult to walk the fine line between comedy and banality, as well as hiding all the wire and papier mâché that form the construct known as thriller. "Confidences trop intimes" cunningly avoids the traps of both genres by simply shaking the constructs off, layer by layer.
The movie belongs to a genre, "comédie dramatique" ("dromedy"?) which usually in US movies is reserved for romance "chick flicks". Yet these intimate strangers bring quite a bit more to the screen. It's a pleasant relief to see them saying so much with so little, avoiding those deep memorable lines that are so out of place in the mouth of the common people movies of these kind are supposed to represent.
It's by juxtaposition that Leconte achieves the best effect, by not saying too much and underplaying it, always. In one memorable scene the lonely célibataire glances at the stages of life through his window. Through the glass of the opposite building he sees passion, argument and old age as the seemingly inevitable stages of life. His life seems codified, chosen by others and kept and controlled, in the good and in the bad: add the secret ingredient, an excellent Sandrine Bonnaire, and stir.
The film amusingly deconstructs the myth of psychoanalysis, and thanks to the great empathy of the Luchini character, succeeds in expressing the inexpressible, the desire, the longing sometimes solitary and hopeless. 9/10!
Les choristes (2004)
Nice little gem of a movie
Somber but entertaining "Les Choristes" is the perfect European product for the American market, and I hope it will be distributed here in the US as well. It is just straightforward enough, the Good and the Bad wearing their correct color-coded hats. But even if not an art movie, Les Choristes' uplifting story of a teacher arriving at a remote reform school in Auvergne is moving and engaging.
The new teacher, taken aback by the rigid disciplinary measures implemented by the director, finds a different way to engage the kids and keep them out of trouble. As it is easy to imagine from the title, the device is the creation of a successful chorale to harvest the undiscovered musical qualities of the troubled youths. Gerard Junot, usually confined to comedy roles is surprisingly very effective in the role of Clément Mathieu, and the Lyon chorale does an excellent job with the soundtrack.
Les invasions barbares (2003)
Don't be afraid to think, for a change
This viewer would like to live in the illusion that crossing the border brings into another world where reality is simply not perceived in black and white, good and evil, with me or against me. Imdb.com comments tend to reinforce this impression, with a legion of US commentators flabbergasted by a movie where apparently no one gets shot.
In "Les Invasions barbares" Denys Arcand comes back to some favorite settings. Although on the surface the theme of the movie is quite different, the gathering at the lake house ties in directly with the "Déclin de l'empire américain" , while the wandering of one of the characters in the dungeons of the Montreal Cathedral seems shot using the props from "Jésus de Montréal". Yet, in spite of some self-complacency, it's difficult not to love this the Big Chill sense of reunion, where every line of dialogue clicks in place magically.
Only on the surface the movie is about death: there is no death at all to be seen, in fact dying and even sickness are very abstract, mediated by religion, drugs, money and technology, possibly the key elements of our century. Like a painter using all the black from the palette to frame a group portrait, Arcand uses the death of the main character to focus on the hues of life in the rest of the cast. But this is no naive feel-good trick: life is not all is idealized to be, and all of the characters are exquisitely pathetic in their own unique way. The continuum that goes from the desperate junkie Nathalie to the "perfect son" Sébastien is like a snake biting its own tail.
Life is apparently about the clash of ideal and reality or the dialectic of theory and practice. The sensual socialist Rémy lives his last days castrated by cancer, shielded from the coldness of death by family and other things he thought he could do without. His son Sébastien buys his way though his world of wired perfection to love and closure from where is least expecting them. It's the same dilemma of the apparent health care disaster portrayed in the movie, where access for all might even mean sharing with the less fortunate and other similar indignities.
It's just a test, stupid
What's wrong with America is what's right with America. In the words of one of the most driven spelling dads "you can't fail if you work hard enough". But work hard enough at what? Only in the US culture could have been translated into a competition and baseball-like statistics. True, Anglo-Saxons have been forever handicapped by a language that only loosely correlates the way a word is written with its pronunciation. But the flaws of this concept run deeper than that.
This wonderfully scary documentary narrates the uplifting story of sometimes underprivileged kids rising to success through hard work. But the story just goes far enough to demonstrates the cultural vacuum of the whole experience. None of the kids is shown to have any interest for the printed word besides memorizing the dictionary and contest-related materials.
Yes, they are truly wonderful kids working at accomplishing amazing feats. Yet, they are never portrayed but as one-trick wonders, and that greatly increases the feeling of futility, of competition for competition's sake. They might as well be auditioning for American Idol or practicing freestyle skateboard shenanigans. It would not make any difference.
I might be wrong of course: this documentary, impeccably filmed and produced PBS-style could actually be a mockumentary of our national shallowness, a "Best in Spell". And maybe that's how it should be watched.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
What happened? Compared to the original Matrix, the second movie really sucked: boring, wasteful, pretentious, beating around the bushes and recycling concepts from the first movie trying in vane to make them fresh and interesting again.
With the third installation of the cycle the Wachowski bros. give up any pretension of sophistication and trendyness. Except for some quick oracle mumbo-jumbo, all questions on the nature of reality raised in the second movie are now ignored and left unresolved. Controversy among the Zion rebels disappears, and even don't look here for steamy rave scenes or the sexual innuendos of chapter 2.
All is left is the massive computer animated scenes of the battle for Zion, and the worst feel-good speeches and dialogues since ID4, which resonate too much with the dumb 9/11 rhetoric of late. Scary empty movie from and for a scary culture.
Bon voyage (2003)
Raiders of the Lost Arc (de Triomphe)
`Bon Voyage' is a light-hearted and light-headed action adventure slash romance set in quite a dramatic time: French surrendering to the Nazis and the cowardly collaboration of the Vichy government.
But this is no `pianist': Rappenau plays with the genre and the period, making a film about the forties shot in campy, sometimes funny 40s style. Great concept, except it has been done, and better, and more than 20 years ago. Bon Voyage tries the romance, the adventure and the period references and fails every step of the way.
Gerard Depardieux delivers a colorless interpretation as the Minister of the Interiors that loses his head for an actress (Isabella Adjani) involved in what makes the plot twist and turn. Thankfully Grégori Derangère's character tells us at some point that the old Gerard is supposed to represent an opportunistic man always ready to switch alliance. By that time, however, Depardieux's time on the screen is mostly gone, and hopefully soon forgotten. It was fun to see Peter Coyote back as a Nazi spy. I had not seem him doing somebody so devious since Lune de Fiel.
But it's just not enough: what is left is a fun script, and a great plot that comes together more or less in the second part of the movie, making the mandatory coincidences seem not completely forced and artificial, and some action Rappenau is pretty good at, as in L'Hussard sur le toit). The man is ready for Hollywood, and believe moi, this is not a compliment.
La meglio gioventù (2003)
The history is within
In "La miglior Gioventu'" Marco Tullio Giordana attempts something quite ambitious: a "Novecento part 3" covering nearly 40 years of Italian history from 1966 to the present day. And that's the controversial, current history that will never make the books, the 40 years that dramatically changed Italy from the rural, ravaged, divided post war country through the illusory economic boom, the equally delusional insurgent years 1968 to 1977, and the more recent events.
Summarizing so much in raises more than one structural problem even for such a long movie: how to confine the action in some post-Aristotelian unit of extended family and friends? Giordana chooses an "intimate" perspective, starting the story from quite an unexpected angle of ordinary bourgeoisie and mental illness, and using it later as the key to his whole work.
Like in the "Hundred Steps" the first shots are of hope, with a great imitation of the Technicolor years and the skies of Rome with the "House of the Rising Sun" in the background. The unique events of one summer, 1966, bring two brothers and their friends inevitably and forever apart, each one of them stealing away a piece of the collective soul of that Italy that is about to change.
But in the Hundred Steps, Luigi Lo Cascio dies as Peppino Impastato, a martyr of the open rebellion to the "muro di gomma" of the invisible mafia control outside of Palermo. How vain is that sacrifice appears clearer in the first part of the Best of Youth, where Nicola gradually diverges from her partner Giulia, soon to disappear in the clandestine world of terrorist subversions of the "lead years." About that he writes of the idea of transforming the institutions from within. A necessary, painful transformation that often sees the brothers on the opposite ends of the spectrum, and the law.
LoCascio is excellent, as usual, a young De Niro with extra depth. Less effective is Alessio Boni, a TV actor in the admittedly difficult role of the brother Matteo, while Jasmine Trinca (Irene in The Son's Room) is unbelievably good as Giorgia, the mentally disturbed young woman whose sudden appearance in the life of Nicola and Matteo rolls the dice of history and guides each one of them on a different and possibly irreconcilable path. Trinca as Giorgia plays with silences and the averted gaze, a mute witness to the interior tragedy of Matteo: in an unforgettable scene matteo talks by himself about Giorgia's absence and inability to communicate, and we all realize he is really talking about himself, "matto" Matteo as she reveals with her first words after the long silence of forced confinement.
It reminds you how painful it is to THINK
L'ora di religione is not a beautiful movie in any sense of the word. It is dark, the shadows and lights of Rome are matched by the moody vision of the director. Bellocchio plays with images Fellini style, but doesn't focus so much on the caricature in 8 & 1/2 style, but tries to convey the ambiguity of contemporary religious life. It's the ambiguity of modernity; cell phones versus pictures of the saints, the feared "immaginette" Italian kids grew up with. Nothing can change, but so much has changed. Bellocchio's movie style is ripe with symbols: a fat Jesus crosses the road with a plastic cross. Priests in the Vatican force african kids to climb stairs on their knees: the church is portrayed to exploit the same old mother load: the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the child. At some point Ernesto, the main character masterfully played by Castellitto finds himself involved in an incongruous duel with a symbol of a past so remote it appears comical: he loses the duel instantly as the swords cross. Nothing can change. Yet we can maybe hope to keep our identity, and even if god's pervasive presence deprives us of freedom, as Ernesto's son is taught, falling in love, shouting a blasphemous curse can be an act of individuality. Or maybe not.
Amores perros (2000)
Powerful and engaging --A Mexican Pulp Fiction
Amores Perros is an amazing movie. As in Pulp Fiction the whole movie is centered around a few minutes the story keeps coming back to, filling the gaps in the characters' lives with every stroke of the camera brush. But there is no irony, and definitely no hip-kitsch. This is the real world, with hand-held cameras showing the blood in saturated video colors. Yet it contains enough tense nearly surreal moments to make us stop and think: the dog under the floor, the two brothers chained trying to reach a gun first to take each other out, the moon-like landscape of the urban periphery. Great cinema talking about the violence and desolation of everyday life.
I cento passi (2000)
Great movie, and it's no godfather, thankfully
The Hundred Steps is a GREAT movie, not to be missed by anybody who has grown up swallowing the godfather saccharine. Yes, the Sopranos might be entertaining, but this is real. It does not take more than an ounce of violence to create an incredible dramatic tension. The never changing Sicilian Landscape, the stone faced mafiosi and the fear that you breathe during all the movie make this much more than the unfortunate story of a one-man rebellion.