Monday, January 31, 2011


Gertrud, 1964
Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer

So I've now seen all of the features that Dreyer did after he made The Passion of Jean of Arc (1928), and this probably affected me the most besides that one. Vampyr (1932) is sort of in it's own little world, a moody, atmospheric slice of horror that you couldn't really really group with other Dreyer except maybe in a visual way. Day of Wrath (1943) and Ordet (1955) are both chiefly invested in Dreyer's humanistic interests, but are too hung up in their religious trappings (witch hunts in the former, conflict of faith and "miracles" in the latter) to really get all the way through to me. Dreyer let's all that stuff fall away and deals with the most complex of human emotions: love. While the film doesn't fall victim to easy pleasures of sentimentality, it can wear on you in its earnestness. There are certainly worse things that a film can be though.

The love life of Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is basically all we have to deal with in the film, but that can be asking a lot at points. She is married to a politician, Gustav Kanning (Bendt Rothe) but is no longer in love with him (and she even hints that she may never have been in love with him). She has instead fallen for the charms of famous young musician Erland Jansson (Baard Owe), who feigns love but is actually, in terms of relationships, just a typical young man. The wild card is Gabriel (Ebbe Rode), a past love of Gertrud's who's comes back to Denmark to receive an award for his poetry, but it is most definitely more about seeing Gertrud again (and getting her to see the pain of his lonely life).

There is no real big deviation in Dreyer's style from previous films, and in keeping with it, he basically does nothing to hide the fact that the film is based on a play. In the case of this film, that's not necessarily a bad thing unless you have no attention span. The monumentally epic takes, a trademark in his sound films, adds to austere atmosphere. You would think that this would be a detriment to a film about love, but you may have already guessed that no one is going to go away happy. And of course, the lighting, as always, is amazing.

The films overall thesis is moving, and many of its most poignant moments are discomforting in their elongation. Watching a wretchedly depressed man break down in rejection is practically unbearable, and that the rejection itself is far from malicious makes it that much more difficult. It's a bit over the top, but if anyone can get away with it, it's Dreyer. But in the end, at least for me, things need to be pushed at a more that glacial pace and I got tired of the endless chat that the lovers subjected themselves to. It's a nice character-driven film, and as a swan-song, it might even be Dreyer's most "Dreyer-like" film, if that even makes any sense, but not enough for the personal canon. Certainly not for casual viewers, that's for sure, but remarkable in its own way.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Last Year in Marienbad

L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad), 1961
Dir: Alain Resnais

After watching this all the way through while trying take it seriously, I must admit that I failed miserably. It's not that this film made me angry (though it pushed my limits a lot), it's just that nothing in this film captivated me in any way. For a movie that is only about two people being in love, you can't really care can you? The only interaction between them is just "remembering" and frankly it's either way over my head or its main points are driving at things I could care less about.

So there's this guy (Giorgio Albertazzi), and he's 100% positive that he met and fell in love with a woman (Delphine Seyrig) at some chateau the year before (possibly not the one they meet at again in the film, or is that a memory as well?). The woman is 100% sure that the dude is a creep and a stalker who has never met her, until she isn't (or is that even her?) Her (possible) husband (Sacha Pitoëff) is semi-interested in her well-being, but mostly likes to house people in Nim (which is probably some grand gesture about memory and dreams).

In Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) we actually get interaction and, at the very least, we begin to understand the characters and their motivations. Here, we don't and because of this there is absolutely no room to care. If you want to say that anything is truly frustrating about this, it's that Resnais nails the mood and look of a film that should be interesting, but breaks it apart so that it isn't. Maybe I just get really turned off by metafiction (which granted works a lot better in film than literature, but still...). I wouldn't be surprised if some interpretations led to some grand realization about life. It is a puzzle I guess, and Resnais deliberately only gives us some of the pieces. The film has all of the answers or it has none of them (look at the photo below: the people have shadows but the trees don't), but either way, it's just not a film for me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Brighter Summer Day

牯嶺街少年殺人事件 (A Brighter Summer Day), 1991
Dir: Edward Yang

You can watch film after film after film, and even at points become fed up with how mundane everything you watch is, but then you watch something that makes you want create something just as great and poignant, that hints at something deeper than just the story you are presenting. A Brighter Summer Day is one of those films. A film about community, family and a failure to connect on many levels, it resonates clearly in every aspect of its production. That the film has fallen into obscurity is ridiculous, and makes the experience of watching the film all the more powerful.

At its core, the film is about Xao S'ir, a teenage kid who is trying to get along in Taipei, Taiwan in 1960. But in building the sense of community that dominates the film, the overall feeling of uncertainty that permeates with every character belies the sense of unease that was Taiwan after the departure of the Kuomintang and the Republic of China to the island, especially under the iron fist of Chang Kai-shek. Parents try to teach their kids values for posterity when they themselves have no idea what the future holds, and the same kids fall in to street gangs to try to build a sense of security for themselves. That's what the first half of this film is about: the world that Xao S'ir is growing up in. Xao S'ir seems to be a fringe member of the Little Park Boys, and only at times feels like he is interested in being part of the mayhem. They are always bumping heads with other gangs over turf and girls, and the leadership is being tested because their leader, Honey, is on the lam after killing another street tough. Two lieutenants, Deuce and Sly, begin to jockey for the top. To make things worse for Xao S'ir, he gets on Sly's bad side (over a girl), who then begins a run of passive aggressive bullying. Honey's fate is crucial to that of Xao S'ir's, who becomes friendly with his girlfriend Ming, and their relationship starts to weigh on him. Xao S'ir's inability to communicate his dilemma begins to show in his overall attitude, and he eventually gets expelled from school, and decides to take actions into his own hands.

Tawain in 1960 is like bizarro China meets the USA. All the kids are into rock'n'roll and gangs, and the parents are worried about the culture change, but everything is totally exaggerated because although they love American culture, no one really gets its and barely any of the kids speak English. There is a romantic, melancholy tone that Yang build up through the film attached to all of this, and it is one of its biggest strengths. Given that the director's cut is almost 4 hours long, you definitely need those things, but once you are in to the film, you really forget about everything else, which is the greatest compliment I can give it.

Yang is sort of like a modern day Ozu, who clearly influenced his style. Lots of long, master shots that don't cut in close; lingering portraits also in long shot that make you study a character fully; deliberate tracking shots, and no camera shake. The gang chases and beatings are some of the most frightening things I've ever seen because he doesn't cut away and because of the lighting, which is as elaborate as it is simple (kind of like Yang's overall style). He also uses ellipsis to great effect. His still, long takes allow for masterful mis-en-scene, which is impossible to miss. In the end though, it's a film that's about everything because it has everything. While telling its story, it lingers in the details, and sometimes that's where you find answers. The answers of this film aren't necessarily obvious, if there are any. Maybe it's just the truth you get from listening to a song, and really feeling it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Fighter

The Fighter, 2010
Dir: David O. Russell

I know there is a certain amount of predictability to the fight genre that makes it so appealing to so many. Maybe I'm being unreasonable to want something different, but I think David O. Russell presented this as something different but still made a regular Hollywood movie. Or was it a David O. Russell film that he "eased" up a bit on, that he compromised with Whalberg to make a commercially viable film? Personally I really didn't care for Russell run amok in I (Heart) Huckabees (2004), and thought this felt more like Three Kings (1999), which is a good thing. I'm guessing it might have had something to do with him having nothing to do with the script.

I might not be giving Russell enough credit though because I thought there was some really funny incidental comedy bits in this, those moments that weren't deliberately meant to be funny. There were plenty of those in this film that got the crowd guffawing but that was typical stuff. I mean, I don't even think I can remember what they are. That's how seemingly unimportant the moments were. It may have to do with the idiosyncratic Method (particularly Christian Bale) acting taking place throughout, but it also says something that Russell was able to capture them.

The dedication to 90s visual graphics and the strange video grain notorious to that time actually made me think about Tim and Eric in a strange way. All of this was involved with the HBO broadcasts of the fight and the "Crack House" documentary, which certainly gave the film a different vibe from other "Bahston" films that have come out in recent times. The boxing wasn't too gratuitous, and there weren't any lame motivational speeches either. Whalberg had his "It's my life/It's now or never" Bon Jovi moment, but it could have been way worse. The Micky Ward story has the Arturo Gotti trilogy (where Ward lost the last two fights), but it wasn't told here. I think that could have given the ending a bittersweet taste, but who cares about that, right? Cue WE ARE THE MUTHAFUNKIN CHAMPIONS.