Harakiri

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When there is peace in Japan during feudal times, most samurai became ronin or masterless samurai. They wandered around trying to pick up odd jobs in order to put food in their mouths. Some were lucky and were employed in samurai schools or their masters still had money to support them. Others were not and lived in abject poverty in a world that no longer needed the strength of their sword skills. Harakiri deals with the consequences of so many war like people unemployed. It is a harrowing commentary on our lust for genre pictures and the history of war.

An old samurai shows up at a samurai compound to see if he could commit harakiri, or ritual suicide, there. In order to scare him off from going through with this important ritual, the leader of the samurai clan tells this ronin a story. A couple of months back, a young samurai approached the compound wanting to commit harakiri. But he didn’t actually want to do it. Rather he had heard that these clans usually felt sorry for these impoverished ronin and gave them some money and maybe some employment. The leader had gotten wise to the ruse and forced the ronin to continue with his plan. The ronin kept asking for a leniency of a couple a days so that he could get his affairs in order, but the leader refused. Appealing to the ronin’s sense of honor, he forced him to perform the ritual. However the ronin had been so impoverished that he no longer had an actual blade. He had sold it for the money and therefore must commit suicide by bamboo stick, a very rough way to go about it. The old samurai who hears this story is unfazed and wishes to still commit harakiri. But first the old samurai wants to tell the leader a story. You see that young and desperate ronin with the bamboo swords was his son-in-law. Things had gotten so desperate at his house, because both his wife and his child was deathly sick that he turned to a last-ditch effort to get some money in order to pay for their medicine. Instead of charity, he found nothing but cold-hearted authority. The old samurai has come to their place in order to seek revenge for his dead daughter, son-in-law and grandchild. He has nothing left to lose, so he fights and destroys this long-standing compound.

There is always two sides to every story. When we first meet the young samurai, he seems to be weak and trembling. We know nothing of his plight and think of him just as a oppurtunist. However when the story shifts and we watch the old samurai tell the history of this ronin, the audiences sees a family man desperate to guard them and protect them from unnecessary evils. If the leader of the compound had chosen to not be so hard-headed and had actually asked why this young ronin had come to the place, his life and the lives of his family might have been spared. Not only is the director calling out the single-mindedness of military officials, but he is also showing that harakiri is far from dignified. It is a silly way to leave this world and should not be as revered as it is in most samurai films, books and histories. It has no honor. It is just a waste of a human life. A life that is needed in order to make Japan a better place.

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My First Time

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I was wasting another night in the dark, moldy basement of my parents’ house. My parents had recently purchased an expanded cable package because I threw a fit that they took away my Fuse. (Before you judge me, let me just say that Fuse used to be a really cool channel that played music videos from all sorts of different styles of music and it taught me a lot about the history of punk, no wave and various other music movements that I was too young to experience for myself. Fuse is no longer like this unfortunately, which annoys me to no end.) So we got all of these channels that we never had before. Things like the Military Channel (something my father watched, not me), TCM, and Bravo. But most importantly we also got a little channel called IFC. IFC is probably pretty familiar to you now, but this was back when the channel had recently launched and there was still no commercials. I flipped to this channel and saw something that immediately caught my eye. A beautiful Asian woman in a form fitting Chinese inspired dress was leaning against a wall with her head bent down. A man in a sharp suit stands next to her and is wordlessly comforting her. A song floats through the air of this scene as if it was interpreting their thoughts. My breath was lost because of this truly gorgeous scene that I was watching. After a minute or two, the man and the woman began to move and talk like a normal film. But for that one moment, they were still and that was all it took to change my life forever. Despite me coming into the movie about halfway through and not really understanding what the concrete plot points were, I knew that I loved this film. What’s more is I knew that this film had changed something inside me.

I watched as the man and woman expressed uncontrollable passion for each other, as the director created images that seemed to be painted onto the screen, as the smoke from a cigarette curled into a fluorescent light as the man sat at his typewriter. All of these images triggered a fascination for the moving image that hadn’t been there before I turned the television to this channel. I knew that what I was watching was more than entertainment, it was art. Art that truly moved someone to tears as they separated from each other one last time. Art that could explore what it felt like to be truly loved, to have conflicting feelings and the need to suppress your passion for fear that the other one did not share the feelings that you had.

This movie was all it took to stimulate a passion for the moving image in me. After watching In the Mood for Love, I began to seek out foreign, independent and classic movies with such a fervor that my parents worried about me always being inside. I began to research and learn about the history of film, about how to make a movie and how to effectively tell a story. I even started writing little stories of my own that I hope will one day make it to the big screen. My passion for film started with a single image, but blossomed into an all encompassing path that gives my life meaning. You may be reading this and think that I am truly crazy and weird and you are probably right. But I would rather be crazy and weird and have a passion in my life, then to go through life without anything for me to hold onto. I love film and I hope I always will.

New Indie Thursday: The Broken Circle Breakdown

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When a filmmaker makes a religion versus reason movie, it is usually clear from the onset where the filmmaker’s philosophical leanings lie. The film is either a testament to how God can see someone through the worst tragedies of their lives or a look at how random life can be. It is hard to take an impartial look at both sides of the issue. It is even harder to stay neutral when your characters go through monumental breakdowns in order to arrive at what they believe (or don’t believe). However The Broken Circle Breakdown achieves this impartiality and gives us a modern study of just how easy it is to get bogged down in your beliefs (or non-beliefs).

Didier is a Belgium singer who is obsessed with old America. He sings bluegrass and plays banjo in a band. One day he meets Elise, a tattoo artist with her past literally written all over her. It is love at first sight. They soon move in together and Elise joins Didier’s bluegrass band. A little bit into their relationship, Elise finds out she is pregnant. What might seem like a shock at first, becomes a link to hold them together and keep their love strong. The girl is born as Maybelle and she is the light of their lives. But as she is turning six, she develops cancer. Maybelle is seriously sick. The doctors try everything, but nothing seems to work. Maybelle just gets sicker and sicker. Didier retreats to his atheist ideals, explaining one time to his sick daughter that the bird she found dead in the yard is just garbage now. Whereas Elise gropes around for a spiritual awakening, holding on fast to the cross that she gave Maybelle and has been passed down for generations. This friction and stress tests their relationship to an almost unbearable amount. It comes out when Didier explodes on stage and gives a long rant about the hypocritical nature of being a believer.

The presence of bluegrass standards in this film punctuate the emotions and the feelings of each character. Being on stage and singing these great songs of the past is able give these characters catharsis and find a way to express their rollercoaster emotions. The music is seen as a given in both of their lives, but becomes a crutch for both of them to lean on once things start to get hard. Even more so than each other. This is what makes Didier’s final rant against religion on stage even more shocking and poignant. He is decimating a ritual for Elise that keeps her sane and whole by inserting his thoughts and ideals. Each character has a great voice and an inherent emotional feel for the music that is surprising given their non-American (or even Appalachian Mountainian) status.

I think part of what makes this film so effective and heart wrenching is the slow revealing of the plot points of the film. The movie circles around itself, jumping forward and backward in time as the scenes relate to each other. So we don’t quite understand just how sick Maybelle is until about halfway through the film and we don’t see how Didier and Elise for first met until almost towards the end. Because we learn something new about the characters in each scene, the film comes off as a subtle study of this couple instead of an obvious and melodramatic rendering that it could so easily become. So I would recommend this movie if you are willing to cry and willing to listen to some great bluegrass music.

Netflix Graveyard: Infernal Affairs 3

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Why oh why must I insist on being a completist? It wasn’t enough that I really liked Infernal Affairs but didn’t care for Infernal Affairs 2. I had to continue to torture myself with Infernal Affairs 3. I hovered over that x on the Netflix queue several times only to have it come to my house and me actually waste almost two hours on this terrible movie. I regretted every moment of my life that led up to that dumb decision. That includes me being born.

The guys who were making this trilogy must have realized the reason that the first movie succeeded was because they had two great stars in the lead roles. Andy Lau and Tony Leung was able to take a good script and turn it into a great one. (Because let’s be honest, some of the dialogue was a little clunky) So instead of having the young actors that just sort of stood there with their mouths slightly agape come back for the third installment, they contrived it so that these stars could revitalize the series and inhabit their old roles. This brings an interesting challenge to the table since Tony Leung’s character died at the end of the movie. So they decided they will tell two different stories: one that takes place after Yan (Leung) was killed and involves Inspector Lau (Lau) and one that takes place while Yan was still alive but after the second movie. The first plot line has Inspector Lau trying to become a good guy completely after covering up his tracks by shooting Yan. Lau discovers that there might be another gang mole in the force and he goes after him to ensure his safety in his position. But his mental state is slowly unraveling and he ends up chasing himself as much as he is chasing his enemy. Meanwhile (and by meanwhile I mean several years before), Yan is brought in on a mission for the gangs to hook up allegiance with China (or the Mainland) and combine their drug trades. But the boss has different plans for the deal and essentially sends Yan to his death after he gives him a short shipment. But what Yan doesn’t know is that these men are actually cops (the ones that Lau is now chasing and determined to find out are rats) who are hell-bent on helping Yan instead of hurting him. Other things happen, but they do not matter in the grand scheme of things.

This movie is a convoluted mess. You are never quite sure where you are at in either story, or even if the things that are happening on-screen are actual events or delusions in the characters’ minds. Lau’s mental awareness is slowly unraveling so the filmmakers choose to shoot scenes that don’t actually take place in the actual world of the movie but in his mind thus making the plot even murkier. Plus they put in this whole long subplot of the psychiatrist whose office was seen in the first installment as the only place Yan can relax and sleep. She gets caught up in helping Lau reconcile his mental awareness while also remembering her and Yan’s relationship. This is completely unnecessary and only helped me hate this movie even more. There is no anchor. There is no reason why these events needed to be told. Lau’s slowly becoming crazy could have been interesting if only they had supplied him with enough reason to think that he should be going crazy.

This movie falls into almost every trap that a sub par thriller lies for itself. It takes everything way to seriously, by giving us an intrusive score and shackling the actors to whispery lines in monotone. It chases an abstract idea (someone going crazy) without manifesting it interesting visually. It then stuff way too many subplots in the movie to divert you away from the main action.

Instead of torturing yourself, just watch the first Infernal Affairs. Trust me, you will thank me for not submitting you to this torture.

Classic Cinema Tuesday: Charulata

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It is hard to capture the inner life of a reserved person. The viewer must be content with their physical actions that might not make sense since we do not know what they are thinking. Charulata is about a reserved Bengali house wife in the late 1880s who discovers her talent for writing after she falls in love with her husband’s cousin. It is easily one of most fascinating portraits of a woman trying desperately to hide her feelings.

Charulata is married to a well off Bengali. He is intellectual, sensitive and always willing to help his family out. He is also distracted by putting out his English language political newspaper that he runs out of the house. He devotes almost all of his time to this venture, writing, editing and printing the news for the unwashed masses. This leaves Charulata with a lot of free time. She is incredibly smart, loves books and has a talent for writing very good letters. In order to provide her with some entertainment, her husband invites her brother and his wife to come live with them, putting the brother in charge of the finances of the newspaper. The wife turns out to be dull company, with little to stimulate Charulata out of her perpetual boredom. One day, the husband receives a visit from his cousin, Amal. Amal asks to live with them for a little bit and the husband eagerly agrees. He also charges Amal with a task in exchange for free room and board. He must stimulate Charulata’s literary leanings. This is especially fitting because Amal is a poet. Charulata and Amal start to have these long and winding talks about books and about writing. When Amal gets published in a magazine, Charulata takes it as a dare and decides to submit a piece to a magazine of her own. She gets into the magazine with seemingly little effort. Through songs, swinging, and talking, these two people grow closer and closer. Meanwhile Charulata’s brother and his wife leave suddenly for a vacation. While he is gone, Charulata’s husband realizes that the brother has been stealing from him and from the company. His baby is now finished. No more paper. Charulata floats an idea past him asking for a split down the middle. Half news and half literary journal. As they hurry back to flesh out this amazing idea, they find that Amal has gone. This breaks Charulata’s heart and she cannot control her reaction. Her husband understands instantly and leaves. Eventually he comes back and they stare at each other over the threshold of their doorway.

This film isn’t just about one woman’s temptation, but about the life of a woman in general during this time. A respectable Indian wife isn’t able to go out in public alone. Idleness is a status symbol but it can also be a heavy burden to bear. There must be some outlet of creativity or the mind slowly dies. Charulata may have packaged her feelings for her cousin in law in with her writing abilities, but she was never taught how to feel like a mature woman. For example look at her sister-in-law that comes and stays with them. She shamelessly flirts with Amal in the hallway for all to hear, she can’t seem to focus on anything and is more interested in exposing Charulata’s secret than tending to her own husband. In other words, she acts like a teenager. And I am sure that she is the more typical example of an Indian wife during this time. But Charulata has grown up thoughts and feelings. She has a mature sense of compassion for her husband that extends beyond that flitting crush she has on Amal.

I loved this movie because it is the classic example of understatement being key in gripping drama. There is no penultimate love scene between Charulata and Amal and there is no out right exclamation of feeling. Instead nonverbal tell it all. Charulata choosing to make Amal his paan over her sister-in-law or switching from embroidering a pair of slippers for her husband to Amal shows her feelings shifting towards Amal. Ray was the master at hinting and juxtaposing images to one another to suggest a more complex relationship. The best example of this juxtaposition would be the iconic scene where Charulata is swinging in the background while Amal is composing a poem. She seems to be swinging right above his head in the shot. In this one shot you understand that Amal is getting inspiration from their relationship and Charulata is invigorated with possibility. It is a great shot in an amazing movie.

Escape from L.A.

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I really enjoyed Big Trouble in Little China when I watched it randomly a month ago. Kurt Russell was a charming reciter of silly one liners, the action was awesome, and the plot rushed along with enough interesting plot points along the way to keep my whiskey soaked brain entertained. Since my initial viewing of that film, I have watched it three more times. My boyfriend and I wanted to branch out into exploring more of Kurt Russell’s filmography and see if he was just as cool in other films as he was in Big Trouble in Little China. We picked Escape from L.A. at random on Netflix, without ever watching the first installment, Escape from New York. We were in the mood for some insane action sequences, questionable plot complications and awesome one liners. Boy did we get it.

Snake Plissken is a famous outlaw in a dystopia America. This dystopia includes a dictator who moved the nation’s capital to Lynchburg, VA. A prison island (located on L.A.) where radicals and misfits are transported to. And holograms. Lots of holograms. Snake is recruited by the dictator (or Forever President as he is called in the movie) to retrieve a black box that was stolen by his daughter. The Forever President wants Snake to enter the L.A. prison island, get the black box back from this wayward daughter, kill her and get back in time for him to get the antidote to a disease he was injected with. Snake navigates this trash L.A. with a revolving cast of characters based on L.A. stereotypes. He meets Pipeline (played by Peter Fonda) who is a surfer thrill seeker, Map to the Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi) who claims to know everything about the island he is on, the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell) who wants to steal his body parts to graph onto plastic surgery junkies, Cuervo Jones who is the Che Guevera of the rebellion against the Forever President and who stole the black box to use for evil purposes, and Hershe Las Palmas (Pam Grier) who is a foxy transvestite with a penchant for helping Snake out of jams. As he journeys toward his destination, crazy action and incidents ensue that call into question what side he should be fighting for. Should he be on the side of the dictatorship that holds his antidote in their hands? Or should he be on the side of Cuervo Jones who wants to free the world from domination of the Forever President only to become dictator himself? Or should he just look out for himself and to hell with the rest of the world? I guess you can guess just where Snake lands.

This movie rests on the fact that you have a sense of humor. It would not work any other way. As I was researching this movie, I was amazed at just how much of a bomb it was and how much the critics just didn’t understand the point of the film. Apparently nobody understood what satire meant. Having a basketball match determine whether or not you can get in to see a gang leader is ridiculous. Having Snake surf on a massive wave until he is able to jump on a convertible and beat someone up is insane. You need to be able to laugh in order to understand it. If somehow your funny bone was surgically removed (Hopefully not by the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills) then this movie is not for you and it never will be.

The Year Project: 2008 Part Two

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2008 was a great year movie wise. It was also a year that I started to ramp up my movie watching since I had just cut out cable (thus not as much Housewives of Orange County marathons…) and had access to an amazing library of movies at my university. I began to be much more deliberate in my movie watching and paid a lot more attention to what critics had to say about certain movies. None of this stopped me from seeing some terrible movies, I just was more aware that they were terrible. This list is evenly divided between movies my friends made me watch at one time or another, thinking that I would like it and movies I actively sought out to hate. There were very few that I expected to like and was severely disappointed in them.

Without further ado, here is the worst of 2008 in my amazing opinion.

10. Smart People (dir. Murro)

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After watching Juno when it first came out, I was obsessed with everything Ellen Page put out. This led me to Hard Candy, but it also led me to this snooze fest. This movie filled with upper class privilege problems that no one can get a perspective on, even when the adopted brother who is from a lower class existence moves in. Their pretension is intentional but that doesn’t mean that it makes the movie any less annoying. Skip this movie just like everyone else did.

9. The Duchess (dir. Dibb)

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This movie was nothing more than a long parade of beautiful dresses and horribly ornate hairstyles. It wasn’t even good enough to watch on an international flight. Boring.

8. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (dir. Hurwitz)

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Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was a mediocre stoner comedy that is watchable if it comes on cable and you have nothing better to do. The sequel however is atrocious. The terrible thing about stoners is that they will watch anything marketed to them and featuring pot as a motif. Thus I have been forced to sit through Half Baked, How High, and this piece of garbage. The only redeeming aspect of it is the George Bush impersonation at the end of the film, though how they got there is utterly ridiculous and not in a good way.

7. Religulous (dir. Charles)

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I am a card-carrying atheist. This atheism was a result of years upon years of studying different religions and realizing that I didn’t need anybody to tell me what to do. Just because I found out that I am atheist doesn’t mean that I hate religious people. For Bill Maher that is what it means for him. This movie is a mean-spirited look at the folly of people who don’t know any better. It seems that Maher is so insecure about his atheism, he has to prove to the world that he is right by shooting a documentary where he makes fun of devoutly religious people. I no longer care what Maher has to say or do.

6. The Other Boleyn Girl (dir. Chadwick)

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I love the story of King Henry VIII and his many wives. I even enjoyed reading the book that this movie was based on when I was a less sophisticated reader. But this movie is insufferable. Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana are crushed underneath the weight of this story. They make compelling characters nothing of the sort. I guess the story is best played out in novel form.

5. Four Christmases (dir. Gordon)

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Why do studios insist on releasing Christmas themed movies each year? None of them are good. None of them care about “what really matters about Christmas.” They are just designed to inflict pain on indulgent daughters of mothers who want to find the true meaning of Christmas through movies. Kill me now in anticipation for next Christmas.

4. 21 (dir. Luketic)

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I am so happy that studios have stopped trying to make Jim Sturgess a star. He is nothing more than a stuffed paper bag forced to talk and move around. He is atrocious in Across the Universe, Upside Down and this terrible movie about broke MIT students recruited to break the odds of betting in Las Vegas. It is overwrought and telephoned in mess. I am so glad that I was forced to pay twelve dollars to watch this on the big screen in order to help make a sad friend happy. What I do for friendship.

3. The Women (dir. English)

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Even half paying attention to this on an airplane was enough to make me absolutely hate this movie. Just watch the original. The stars are more glamorous, the melodrama is better situated for that time, and you won’t be distracted by the terrible plastic surgery of Meg Ryan.

2. Bloodline (dir. Burgess)

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This documentary about the bloodline of Jesus is just plain garbage. I watched it because I thought it  was going to be so laughably bad that I would actually enjoy it. Instead it was just bad. This is nothing more than a conspiracy theory with little to back it up other than implied research of some crazy people.

1. Expelled (dir. Frankowski)

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Speaking of terrible, one-sided documentaries, this movie is offensive on so many levels. Ben Stein interviews the very few scientists that believe in intelligent design because of their religion and not because of their research and make them martyrs for his own cause. At least Religulous had some true facts in it. Absolutely one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

 

New Indie Thursday: Drinking Buddies

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Southern Illinois (where I hail from) is a land not full of idols or mentors for a movie loving person like myself. We have Roger Ebert and that is about it. That is until a couple of years ago. A guy who graduated from a sister college that I went to moved up to Chicago and started to make little web series that caught on with the ultra indie crowd. They were full of improvisation and frank talk about relationships and sex. I loved them not just because these web series seemed to know just how I was feeling but also because this man came from the same region I did. That man was and still is Joe Swanberg. Since those web series he has gone on to become something of an indie darling, producing and directing movies with slightly higher budgets and name stars in them, but is still able to get to the core of young human experience. One of his more recent films is Drinking Buddies.

Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a PR person for a brewery in Chicago. She is best friends with Luke, played by Jake Johnson, who works as a brewer at the same brewery. She spends her nights getting drunk with the guys and riding around on her bike. Kate and her boyfriend, Chris (played by Ron Livingston), invite Luke and his girlfriend, Jill (played by Anna Kendrick), to a cabin in Michigan for a weekend getaway. Kate and Luke become closer as friends as they joke around together and get drunk together. Things are different for Chris and Jill. Chris invites everyone on a hike but only Jill goes with him. After a long talk while hiking and a picnic, Chris kisses Jill. This results in Chris breaking up with Kate. Kate spirals into a drunken haze while Luke tries to play big brother and doting boyfriend to her. Jill doesn’t tell Luke what happens but instead runs off to Costa Rica for a conference. While she is gone, Kate asks Luke to help her move. What turns out to be an idyllic weekend of packing and buddying around turns into tension filled shit show because the attraction is too much for them to handle. Finally things take their toll and they get into a big fight. Luke hurries home to his empty apartment to find Jill crying in the kitchen. Jill tells Luke what happened at the cabin that weekend. In typical Swanberg fashion, he goes for the truth of the relationship between them instead of the bombastic catharsis.

Due to the nature of how Swanberg shoots his movies, this movie felt lived in. Each character (with the possible exception of Chris just because he has a smaller role in the film) feels like they could be your co-workers, neighbors or friends. They are feel both typical of Chicago twentysomethings and yet universal to all human experience. Swanberg doesn’t short change anyone, especially Jill who would have been a monster in a typical romantic comedy. Jill is likable and considerate. She is overwhelmed by what she does, but doesn’t want it to hamper her great relationship with Luke. Each actor plays well off one another and is able to ramp up the tension by not saying how they really feel. In a typical movie that relies so heavily on improvisation, you sometimes will get a statement of emotion from the character because the actor doesn’t know how to express it any other way. But we are watching four really great actors living in their characters to the point that nothing (until the end) is expressed without four layers of meaning piled on top of it. This is how real people interact and how they talk to each other. Swanberg has an uncanny knack for depicting realism in this non-real time.

 

Netflix Graveyard: Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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I think it is most people’s biggest fear to one day wake up and realize that you can no longer communicate or move your body, but your mental awareness is still present. In the mid-nineties this happened to a prominent editor and author, Jean-Dominique Bauby. Through his ability to rally and learn how to communicate using only the blinking of one eye, he was able to write his memoir which was published only a couple of days before his death. His accomplishment through extremely difficult circumstances is enough to inspire a biography movie of his life. Or does it?

For the first half of the movie, we see everything from Bauby’s perspective. We acclimate ourselves to his condition and seeing this disease from inside of the brain instead of just its physical manifestations. This is fascinating stuff. We watch one of his eyes getting sown up, we hear his frustration over his inability to communicate simple things like leaving the television on as the nurse is taking her leave and we see the world in only a cocked eyed way. Unfortunately the perspective shifts and we go outside of his body and into his hospital room for the rest of the film. This is where the movie starts to get a little dull. It is shot incredibly and full of gorgeous yet showy images and the story is solid, but the characters surrounding Bauby just lie there flat on the screen. These characters are almost universally women. He has a woman physical and speech therapist, he has his ex-wife, and he pines after a lover that doesn’t show her face in the hospital but lives in his dreams. These women are uniformly beautiful and eager to please this Bauby that everyone has been talking about. This leads to women sort of posing in the way the model flashback did for the first movie. I got really hung up on the fact that everyone but Bauby in the movie looks like a supermodel instead of a therapist. However once I started researching this film and I googled the director’s name, I can see why only the most drop dead yet vacant super models populate this movie. In every image of himself, Julian Schnabel is seen holding on for dear life onto a super model. Who that super model is not important, but the fact that an old man like Schnabel (He is 62.) is obsessed with having his picture with a supermodel is. Instead of gathering hopefuls from the wealth of amazing French actresses, he chose to use this movie as a convenient excuse to choose from a bunch of models to date. So these supporting performances are nothing more than a parade of exceptionally hot women with little personality. It is frustrating that these women would be such cardboard cut outs.

While the women who surround him are infinitely dull, we are not universally shafted by the supporting players. Max von Sydow plays Bauby’s father who is stuck in his apartment because of his mobility. He is in a total of two scenes and they are the most touching and best acted scenes in the whole movie. He is able to bring such a frailty and vulnerability that it stands out as the best performance in the film by far. (That includes Matheiu Amalric who plays Bauby. His performance is impressive from a technical point of view but there is no emotions attached to his choices because he is either seen in flashback where he is playing an idealized version of himself and is therefore boring or he is a vegetable.)

This movie is an interesting hodgepodge of obvious choices and surprising moments that take your breath away. I still don’t know if I liked the movie or I hated it.

Classic Cinema Tuesday: Lola Montes

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There is a small treasure trove of women throughout history that were known as being independent lovers. These women are famous for bouncing from one love to another as often as they bucked convention and traveled the world. I look up to these women because they were able to not let the crushing world of societal expectations get them down. One famous woman who lived a very public life and had a multitude of lovers was Lola Montes. In 1955, Max Ophuls turned her story into a whirling dervish of a movie. It would end up being both his last film and his most spectacular failure. Audiences rejected such a frank portrayal of a mistress’ life. Audiences rejected it so much that the distribution company for the film seized the print and re-edited it without Ophuls’ approval in order to show in America. That didn’t really work out for them either. It wasn’t until 1968 did a group of intrepid film scholars rediscover and re-edit Lola Montes to its former power. Lola Montes finally got the treatment she deserved… or did she? duh duh duh!!!!

By the time we join Lola Montes all of her former escapades are behind her. She is stuck in a circus sideshow about her life and guided by a ringmaster. She sits placidly in front of the camera as fervent activity surrounds her. She takes the audience back to the real story behind the bravura provided by the ringmaster. The first affair we see is the end of the relationship she had with Franz Liszt. There is this sense of finality to everything they are doing even though each one is unsure on why they should end it. As a part of their final goodbyes, Lola describes future trysts they will have together. It is almost like she has the exact same relationship with several other men. As the circus act progresses, we learn more about Lola’s life including her being handed off to an older man by her mother, running away with her mother’s lover only to be beaten and harassed by his alcoholic nature, and finally her travels to Bavaria where she became mistress to the king and received a mansion and title for her efforts. Each scene seems to be one of Lola in mid-flight. She never slows down and never looks back. At least until it is too late to fix anything.

Ophuls has a knack for portraying women as

self-possessed and fully capable individuals. Her affairs are commented on a couple of times, but her ways are treated as a natural progression of who she is. She isn’t afraid to be an awful dancer or to smoke cigars in public. It doesn’t seem to matter what the angry mob outside her door is saying about her, because she will never give in. She is fiercely independent and that is most exciting and refreshing. Ophuls compliments this freshness of character with wonderfully complex shots and a swirling camera. The circus scenes in particular showcase Ophuls predication for grandiose yet detailed shots. There is constant activity in the circus, no matter how still our protagonist is. Ophuls was able to take a concept that has been photographed numerous times and make it feel refreshing and new.

As I was researching this movie, I came across an article that discusses Max Ophuls dislike for his female lead. He felt she was a beautiful mannequin forced to pose and act because its master made it. (Ok so nobody ever said this exact phrase, but I thought of such a great metaphor I couldn’t help but include it.) The actress, Martine Carol, was forced on him from the studios because she was a young sex pot looking for a prestige movie. While I do agree with Ophuls that Carol never showed a range of emotion befitting such a lively character, I also think that Ophuls used this challenge to his advantage. Her wooden acting showcases the character’s need to detach from the events around her and pursue happiness even if it is just at a circus.

This film is an interesting artifact of a career and a time and place where things depicted here could be thought of as scandalous. I would definitely suggest watching this movie and reading everything you can find on it. It has a great history and really enhances your viewing of the movie.