Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Mill and the Cross

"......the camera pulls back, blending scores of actors and animals with computer-generated restage Bruegel’s 1564 canvas, “The Way to Calvary.”.....peddlers sell their wares; musicians play crude instruments; woodsmen chop down trees.....a young couple take their calf to market, only for the man to be set upon by soldiers, then strapped to a wheel ....".....NY Times

Quote from Ebert
" is a film before which words fall silent....."The Mill and the Cross" contains little dialogue.......if you see no more than the opening shots, you will never forget opens on a famous painting, and within the painting, figures move and walk.....towering above is an extraordinary sight: a craggy pinnacle, topped by a huge grain mill, its sails the bottom a helter-skelter stairway that zigzags into the shadows above.....its massive wheels grind."


Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Death of Ivan Illyich

Leo Tolstoi, 1886
Ivan Illyich is a 45 year old magistrate; an ordinary person enjoying his family and social life. He is struck by an unknown disease, and confronted with the agonizing reality of impending demise. The latter half of the novella minutely describes his mental state in the four months when he is hurtled from oblivious normalcy to unceasing suffering. As Tolstoi says, his troubles build up like "a stone accelerating as it falls towards the earth", or in "inverse square to his distance from death". Tolstoi was in his fifties, undergoing a spiritual crisis, but hail and hearty, and the book cannot be based on his own experience. The most intriguing aspect of the story is the sheer ordinariness of Ivan. There is a radical transformation as he confronts the mystery and fear associated with death. Death is a leveler not only subsequently but also in the antecedent experience. To quote a contemporary philosopher;
"Learning, genius, power, wealth, reputation, science, technology --- all become nothing when one is confronted by death. Faced with his end, man finds himself hopelessly overpowered, and there is nothing able to salve his conscience."


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cleo from 5 to 7

Agnes Varda, 90m, 1962
Cleo is a young, beautiful, upcoming singer. She awaits an biopsy result at 6.30. Moving in the environs of Paris, everything is tinged with sadness and thoughts of mortality. A beautiful city is sensitively captured through the moving camera as the film races towards its denouement. This is a gentle and humane film, a movie about friendship, dialog among strangers, reassurance and compassion. Surely a gem, it's among the last in the late Roger Ebert's Great Films. It must have held a personal message for him. He notes perceptively:
"When you fear your death is near, you become aware of other people in a new way. Yes, you think of the others, you think 'your life is going on its merry way, but think of me--I have to die'.....Cléo's awareness of her mortality vibrates like a soft bass drum beneath the surface."

The full movie is on Youtube HERE

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Merchant of Venice

2004, 2 hours, director: Michael Radford
For a contemporary version the film is viciously anti semitic, though this very ferocity condemns itself. Al Pacino makes a masterly Shylock, who evokes sympathy in his isolation, more than revulsion for his grim desire for revenge. However these are not the issues in the ever graceful drama, and the beauty of the lines and words comes across, as the camera wafts us through the ancient aromatic ambiance of Venice, with subdued, tinctured, painterly hues. Excellent.

To quote A O Scott allow its uglier qualities to continue to complicate its brilliant inquiries into law, loyalty, the ethics of making promises and the quality of mercy......a gallery of Renaissance paintings come to life...imagine the people envisioned and captured by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio and Titian performing Shakespeare.....the radiant authority Ms Collins brings to the role of of the great courtroom scenes in recent movies, a dense, emotionally volatile tableau of cruelty and beauty....


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oliver Twist

1948, David Lean
This is that other, younger, leaner, Lean, that  painter in black and white before noire was invented. Here we are immersed in 19th century London, with smoking chimneys, labyrinthine buildings, squalor, crime, fellowship, music--all in all, bursting with human energy--a quintessence of Dickens and Lean. A marvelous film, to be nursed and turned over in one's soul.
Quoting Bosley Crowther:
"And it is this extraordinary canvas, this vast picture of the poverty and greed which oppressed nineteenth-century England, that has been magnificently reproduced in this film....its striking photography have the rare characteristics of fine the scenes of London, to which the youngster flees, and in the whole visual elaboration of the underworld in which he is caught—there is an extraordinary richness of flavor, suggestion and atmosphere."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Veronika Voss

Fassbinder, 1982
The film is built around the disintegrating mind of an ex star now an addict. It has a sad, nostalgic flavor, captured in alluring b&w. It is among the last few films in Roger Ebert's Great Movies collection.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Passage to India

David Lean (last film)
Returning to this film with a certain bias, it was enjoyable in its reconstruction of the colonial period, its unflattering caricaturization of Indians notwithstanding. Visually lavish and exhilarating, as might be expected of Lean. The Britishers roles, specially the two female leading roles, are well done, though Alec Guinness is at his least impressive as an Indian professor. Of the Indians, only Roshan Seth, as the defense lawyer, is dignified.
CLICK here.

Saving Private Ryan

What remains impressed is the cinematography and the sound effects, which draw you into the sensuals aspects of the war experience, as well as the fear, loneliness, homesickness, grief, bonds of brotherhood, the inurement of feeling as men fall like skittles. A profoundly aesthetic film, like a surrealistic painting set in motion. Spielberg is heir to Lean, who is said to have inspired him into film making.

To quote from Janet Jaslin:
"The film's immense dignity is its signal characteristic, and some of it is achieved though deliberate elision..... Imagine Hieronymus Bosch with a Steadicam (instead of the immensely talented Janusz Kaminski) and you have some idea of the tableaux to emerge here, as the film explodes into panoramic yet intimate visions of bloodshed..... the tranquil pause in a bombed-out French village, to the strains of Edith Piaf...."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

King Lear

RSC, 2009, Trevor Nunn, Ian McKellan
This is a nuanced Lear, with no cinematic frills, and it was a delight to encounter many lines and moments as if for the first time.
For more CLICK

David Copperfield

1999, BBC, 3 hours
 A competent presentation of Dickens semi autobiographical novel. The period and the landscape is nicely recreated and we have the crowd of comical, sentimental but all too human portraitures. Some parts are moving, some drag on, others suffer from over compression.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ballad of Narayama

1983, 130m, Palme d'Or

This is a much watered down version of the austere 1958 drama film of the same name. Instead of the stage props which were the background of the earlier film, we have eye catching photography of picture post card mountains and verdant nature. The elemental drama reduces to an anthropological study of a primitive people and their predominantly revolting ways. Unimpressive.