Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

  'The Ballad of Narayama' (Narayama Bushiko) is a 1958 Japanese film directed by Keisuke Kinoshita. It was remade by Shohei Imamura in 1983.

  The film tells the sad story of a village, set hundreds of years ago. Tradition dictates before an elder's 70th birthday, they must travel to the top of the local 'Mount Narayama' on the back of their sons and daughters, to be left up there to die. We are introduced to a Japanese family: Orin the 69 year old Granmother, Tatsuhei the widowed son and the arrogant grandson, who's girlfriend is pregnant. Before Orin becomes a great grandmother, she is adament to follow her family tradition and be left ontop of the mountain. Meanwhile, Tatsuhei is introduced to Tamayan, who is also 45 and lives in the next village. There is no time for celebration, as the new year is approaching and the mother-son relationship is getting increasingly emotional.

  Everyone knows that remakes are worse than the originals. There are a few exceptions (The Fly, The Thing) where the remake is better than the original. Never have I seen a film which is so equally as good as the sequel. There are plenty of differences between the two, firstly this version is told in Kabuki Style, so the many speech-less moments are filled with clinging guitars and an old man singing. This may be a hindrance to some, but I feel it adds to the film, making it more distinctively Japanese. The second difference is that the original is filmed entirely on human created sets. The artistic style of this film is astounding, especially the autumn scenes with the crisp brown leaves. The colour of the sky changes between purple, red and blue, similar to Kurosawa's later works (Ran, Kagemusha, Madadayo, Dodes'Ka-Den).

  As every film made now seems to be love-orientated, films made by Japan (Pre-New Wave), were always about honour(Seven Samurai), community (Ikiru), and society (Akensen Chitai). This film breaks from the mould and is orientated about family, and family bonds as well as the mother-son relationship. Even Freud would cry at this film, but I warning you not to watch it if you have recently experienced loss, as the film is a total tear-jerker.

The atmosphere the setting has created combined with the sad family-orientated subject matter makes this a film unlike any other.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Profound Desires of the Gods (1968)

  "Profound Desires of the Gods" is a 1968 Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura.

  The film tells the story of a family on the remote Kurage Island. The family is completely inbred, making storyline a bit confusing with sisters being daughters. Set in the 1960s (or present day as it's known back then), an engineer from Tokyo arrives to create an airport. The Futori family is incredibly superstitious and spiritual, with a crazy old granddad, a father who is sentenced to dig a hole until a boulder falls down it, an even more crazy daughter and a strange but dedicated son. You thought your family had problems...

  Imamura is known for his primitive, revealing and violent directing, and this film fits all three. The family is primitive and almost cavemen like with their beliefs and how they live. The violence comes towards the end, with some startling scenes likely to linger in the memory.

  The astounding cinematography oozes out colour from all surroundings, and the setting is gorgeous. I had no idea the Okinawa islands existed, but it turns out they are a holiday destination for the Japanese. Yes, the island of Kurage is purely fictitious, but I find it strange I haven't even heard of these islands. Some of them are closer to Taiwan, creating a bizarre mix of cultures.

  This is one of those films where you could take a snapshot at any second during the duration, and it would be a great photograph. I must warn you the short musical numbers are quite painful,

Approaching 3 hours long, this film isn't an easy sit. However, if you are a fan of the Japanese New Wave, and/or lush landscapes and cinematography, you should enjoy it to the end.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Before the Rain (1994)

  'Before the Rain' is a 1994 Macedonian film, directed by Milcho Manchevski.

  The film is split into three unchronological parts. The first in named 'Words', where a monk who has taken a vow of silence, lets an Albanian girl hide inside his bed chambers. He learns she is escaping, because she is accused of killing a man. As a macedonian gang approach the monestary, he tries to keep her secret. The second part 'faces' is set in London, England. Anne is an English photographer who must choose between her boyfriend Nick, or her adventurous lover Aleksander, although she didn't need to as fate takes the helm. The third part is named 'Pictures' and is set in Macedonia, where Aleksander visits his home village after 16 years. Tensions between the Macedonians and the Bosnians are rising, and everyone carries a gun with them.

  The quote at the beginning of the film states: "Time never dies, the circle is not round". Easy to ignore and forget about, but as the film approaches it's end, you realise the chapters aren't random, but tell a narrative which starts and finishes 40 minutes into the film. You do not realise this until the finale, resulting in a massive bone tingling surprise at the end.

   The acting is powerful, particularly Alexsander, or 'Boris the Blade' from 'Snatch'. The London storyline suffers from a 'Twilight' plot, but apart from that, there is very little wrong with this film. Sure it doesn't match up to those 70s-80s Ex-Yugoslavian comedies, but it is the most visually stunning film to come from Eastern Europe excluding 'Bela Tarr'.

Powerful and beautiful. Another reason why 1994 is considered the best year in film history.


Friday, 24 January 2014

The Bird with a Crystal Plumage (1970)

  'The Bird with a Crystal Plumage' (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 horror-mystery directed by Dario Argento.

  One night, Sam Dalmas is walking home, when he sees an attempted murder in an art museum. He scares off the attacker, only for him to track Sam down. Sam gets curious about the murderer, which has killed innocent women before this incident, and tries to hunt him down. As he gets closer, more and more attempts at his life occur. Working with the police, they attempt to find this crazed serial killer, before there are more victims.

  If you have never seen an Argento film before, you would like this more. He has certain tropes and ideas which carry through the majority of his work, and frankly, get boring after the third film. What makes this horror-mystery, unique is that it was one of the first. It introduced the world to a genre he created. During the 70s, lots of his, and other Italian horror directors's films contain a murderer, a guy looking for the murderer, and many women being stabbed. If you do not approve of women being stabbed, this film is not for you. There are 3-5 women being violently stabbed or murdered, but only one man, who gets thrown out of a window. Argento is a firm believer in the monstrous feminine.

  Y'know how Fellini's later films were gross and weird, Pasolini's later films were camp and creepy and Antonioni has a thing for divorce? Well, Argento likes as many stabbed women as possible in his movies (see Suspiria, Deep Red).

  This is an OK place to start with Italian Horror. Not horribly disturbing or wildly inventive. The final twist redeemed the film partially, but other than that, this is pretty missable.

I know this is remarkable for Argento's first film, the problem is, it's not scary, clever or entertaining. Only for horror die-hards. Watch Suspiria or Deep Red instead.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Under the Flag of the Red Sun (1972)

  'Under the Flag of the Red Sun' (unki hatameku motoni) is a 1972 Japanese film, directed by Kinji Fukasaku.

  Sergeant Katsuo Togashi is killed in the Second World War. Sakie, his widow cannot claim the survivor benefits as he is labelled a deserter. Not knowing why, she sets on a quest to find out what really happened to him by tracking down his fellow troops. Each have a different and grisly story to tell, but they each seem to be different from one another. It isn't until she returns to the first guy she visited, that the truth is revealed.

  The main reason for watching this was I wanted to see his early work, as Battle Royale is one of my favourite films. Between numerous Yakuza films he made, he made this anti-war film. Similar to Ichikawa's Fires on the Plains and Kobayashi's The Human Condition: Part 3, it shows the, absolute worst side of the Japanese-American war. Featuring, hunger, depression, and cannibalism in the many flashbacks this film takes us on. Each flashback being worse than the last, the film's primary goal is to tell us how terrible war is. The worst part of this anti-war film is the execution of an American Pilot. As he is about to get beheaded, the film switches to colour, and as the execution goes horribly wrong, he is left there squirming on the floor of the jungle.

  As cinematography goes, it doesn't match the peak of 'Fires on the Plains' or 'The Human Condition' but it is still very beautiful to look at, particularly the final scene. The camera-work appears crazy in some places, rotating during the shot, changing from colour to monochrome, tilted shots, but this adds to the 'auterniss' (not a word but should be) of the film, making it distinct and especially stand-out.

Accessible, realist and very dark. A mysterious anti-war film that not only focuses on the horrors of war but also the future impact on the survivors.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

Dear Diary (1993)

  'Dear Diary' (Caro Diario) is a 1993 Italian film directed by and starring Nanni Moretti. As the title suggests, it is autobiographical and its structure is set up like a diary.

  The film is split up into three distinct separate parts: 'On my Vespa', 'Islands' and 'Doctors'. 'On my Vespa' follows Nanni as he rides around Rome on his Vespa. In 'Islands' Nanni visits some Mediteranian islands where he meets some friends: Gerardo- A scholar who doesn't watch TV, A couple with a spoilt and overly indulged child and the mayor of Stromboli. Lastly 'Doctors' shows Nanni travelling to different doctors and medical experts to cure an itch. Strange story huh? I bet you are thinking the dreaded 'P word' (pretentious) but it isn't... that much...

  The dialogue feels similar to a Woody Allen film, and is very random. In many scenes, Nanni talks to random strangers about bizarre topics (like the TV soap "The Bold and the Beautiful"), but the strangest thing is they talk back to him, normally, as if they don't think he is insane. Maybe because the film is what he is thinking about when writing the diary? As the title suggests, Nanni narrates his diary over the film.

  The scenery is perfect. Some of the areas in Rome Nanni was travelling through in the first third, were rough and worn down. They would have looked terrible in most other films, but there is something wonderfully hypnotising about the cinematography during this part. The camera literally follows him, as he rides his Vespa in front. I don't know how, but this combined with the inane stories and vignettes create a rather enjoyable experience. The second third is set on the very exotic and beautiful 'Aeolian Islands', 'Stromboli' and the desolate 'Alicudi'. Nanni tries to find peace and quiet on these islands but other things get in the way. The final third is surprisingly depressing. The film is very enjoyable and beautiful up to that point, but the constant doctors appointments is darkly satirical and quite sad. Due to every movie, you think Nanni is invincible as he is the hero of the story. When it turns out something is seriously wrong, it makes the film so bitter and painful. It hits back the harsh realities of life, which the earlier parts of the film seems to be in an almost fantasy world.

  Normally I am against films being mentioned in films as it breaks the fourth wall and it feels like the scriptwriter doesn't know what normal people talk about, so he just lets them talk about films as that is the only conversation starter he knows. But it is acceptable here, as it is, firstly, kind of like an autobiography and, secondly, the films he talks about are quite interesting. Especially travelling to the place Pasolini was assassinated.

A profound, scenic and rather strange film. A distinctive and autobiographical perspective on life.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

I Know Where I'm Going (1945)

  'I Know Where I'm Going' is a 1945 British film directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

  Set on The Isle of Mull, the story follows Joan Webster stuck on the island for numerous days due to gales and harsh tides stopping her from getting to another island 'Kiloran'. As she is stuck, she meets Torquil MacNeil and they slowly fall in love. Through her whole life she thinks she knows where she is going, but turns out her life is more unexpected than planned.

  The 1940s was a golden era for British films, thanks to the efforts of 'The Archers' and 'Ealing Studios'. Preceding 'A Matter of Life and Death', this is a smaller, quainter film. Filmed partly on The Isle of Mull, this is a true taste of rural Scotland. I went to the Isle of Mull for a week, last year on holiday, and it still feels like the film: full of friendly Scots and not many tourists. Also on the island is Tobermory, where they filmed Balamory with the colourful houses. I Know Where I'm Going was made in black and white (pre-Jack Cardiff) and has many similarities with 'A Canterbury Tale', which features many reminiscent sites around the Canterbury area, where Powell was born. Canterbury Christ Church University (where I study) even has a building named after him.

  The only thing which could get on your nerves is the British accents. This being the 1940s, the English accents have a posh and slightly annoying vibe, but the Scottish accents are fine.

The film isn't anything breathtaking or astonishing, but a peaceful, relaxing film (par the storm scenes).


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Great Beauty (2013)

  The Great Beauty is a 2013 Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino. It is a Felliniesque biopic with a grande cinematic scope.

  Jep Gambardella is a 65 year old writer living in Rome. On his 65th birthday, he reflects upon his life, which normally consists of rich nightclubs and expensive parties. His first love, who eloped with him at age 18, is married to one of his friends, and dies. There are numerous strands of stories involving funerals, nuns, newspapers, giraffes, but all involve Jep.

  This is a wonderful film, and can easily make you fall asleep. Not in a bad way, it's just incredibly relaxing. The film tries too much to be profound, but it will have some deep effect on whoever sees it. The camera drifts around, through fountains, nightclubs, Ancient Roman monuments. The final credit sequence is one of the most picturesque I have seen.

  The acting is superb, Toni Servillo performs a fantastic mid-life crises. The cast is about as Italian as they can get. The main problem is the film is way too long. At 2 hours 20 minutes, it impresses, but can also hypnotise you. You can miss incredible shots, just because your mind drifted off.

An excellent advertisement for Italy, The Great Beauty is beautiful and profound.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

Il Grido (1957)

  'Il Grido' is a 1957 film directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni. The film precedes L'Avventura and I believe it is superior. 

  Aldo splits up from his mistress Irma, and wanders around the desolate flats of the Italian countryside, meeting new and old lovers, trying to fill the hole in his lovelife. This being an Antonioni film, you know this won't have a happy ending...

  'Red Desert' and 'L'Eclisse' did not appeal to me, so I went in with low expectations, only for them to be passed immediately. As I am used to his style and themes, I just sat back and admired the camera movements (mostly pans) and the desolate countryside. This could be considered a road movie, but if it is, it's the most depressing I have seen. Steve Cochran plays an amazing portrayal of the main character. His emotions and actions are absolutely perfect.

  Something which made me laugh was the partially spoilered BBFC Classification states "moderate domestic violence, suicide and smoking". So beware kids, of moderate smoking!!!


Not as good as 'The Passenger' but still a beautifully tragic film.



Saturday, 11 January 2014

Diva (1981)

  'Diva' is a 1981 French thriller directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix. The film is about two cassette tapes. One has information about a prostitution ring, the other has a bootlegged copy of a diva's last concert. A postman called Jules switches the tapes and trouble ensues.

I was expecting a biopic of a soul singer, but instead got a moody, tense thriller. The stand-out for me is the cinematography. It feels a bit Melvillian, but at the same time feels unique. You can see the influences on modern directors, especially Nicolas Winding Refn, as this film has many similarities to 'Drive' and 'Only God Forgives'. In 'Diva' the colour pallet is mostly red, whether it is the bike, blood, jacket or lights. Red is a strong colour used to represent love, anger, warning and death, all of which are clearly present in this film.

I would say the weakest part of the film is the story, although feel free to disagree. The acting and visuals are top notch, with a fast pace 'Italian Job' style chase scene being the high point.


In a decade which was almost vacant for World Cinema, Diva is a great, moody and stylish film.



Providence (1977)

  'Providence' is a 1977 film, directed by Alain Resnais.

  The story is an old man (Dirk Bogarde) dreaming and making a story about his relatives in a decaying country house. What the audience thinks they are seeing is what the characters are like, when in actual fact they are completely different and the old man is putting a vindictive slant on things. It bends a line between reality and dreams.

  The films I have seen in the last few days have been pretty weird and average, so this is a review of a film I saw a couple of weeks ago. Everything about this film is excellent from the acting (Ellen Burstyn stars as the daughter and John Gielgud as the son) to the music, to the overall concept is fantastic. It is easily accessible and is far better than Resnais's other films 'Hiroshima mon Amour' and 'Last Year at Marienbad' by a long shot.

  I don't want to give anything away as this film is a tough one to find. It has no DVD release in the UK or US, so video or illegal methods are the only way of obtaining it. You won't find it on any 'illegal' streaming websites either, and YouTube does not even have a clip or trailer of the film. It's officially the rarest film ever, so good luck finding it!!!


Alain Resnais's English debut is a constantly astounding work, which will stay in your mind, weeks after viewing.



Black Moon (1975)

  'Black Moon' is a 1975 surreal film directed by Louis Malle. It stands out in a near perfect filmography as his worst film. I am not going to describe the plot, as if it has one, it is stupid.

  I was working my way down a "weirdest films" list when I got to this one. After seeing the trailer (the one where the badger gets run over by a car), I decided to watch. was this a good idea... I don't even know. What on earth did I watch? It's like a surrealist Bunuel movie, but more empty, with bad acting and literally nothing making sense. After watching this, I found out it was a Malle film, which I was very surprised at.

  Here is a conversation I found with Billy Wilder and Louis Malle: "Allegedly, the story goes like this. Billy Wilder runs into Louis Malle, this is in the late 50′s, early 60′s. And Louis Malle had just made his most expensive film, which has cost 2 1/2 million dollars. And Billy Wilder asks him what the film is about. And Louis Malle says "Well, it's sort of a dream within a dream." And Billy Wilder says "You just lost 2 1/2 million dollars"


 Apparently there are deep meanings to the images shown on film, but all I see is a random mess. Ignore the fact it has a talking unicorn in, avoid at all possible costs, no matter how tempting this film looks. It is a poop. FLUSH IT QUICK!!!



Memories of Matsuko (2006)

  'Memories of Matsuko' is a 2006, Japanese film directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. It is unique as it can be described as a crime, biopic, comedy, fantasy, musical, adventure.

  The plot is quite hard to describe. An old woman is found dead in a field by a river. A young man is told by his father that this is his aunt, and he must find what happened to her and who killed her. Through interviews with associates of his aunt (Matsuko), a series of flashbacks is shown spanning her life.

  The sad thing is I found 'Confessions' a lot superior. In both, Nakashima had really good idea for the film but lasts way too long and runs out of juice before the end. I found some of the cinematography beautiful, but it mostly made me feel sick. effects are good. I liked how crazy it was, despite the odd bad song (Michael Buble has to be the worst choice for a backing song ever). What I respect most is the inspirations from classic Japanese cinema. I spotted '24 eyes', 'Ikiru', 'The Life of Oharu' and the face moon is an obvious sendback to the 'Teletubbies'. or 'A Trip to the Moon' (1902). It promises more than it can give, but I am still going to watch Nakashima's films in the future.


Nakashima has created a fantasy world, which it's hard no to grin at. With good performances from the lead actress, this is a film loved by the masses. 



Blissfully Yours (2002)

  'Blissfully Yours' (Sud sanaeha) is a 2002 Thai film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Apichiatpong has the best name of any director I know, with second and third place going to 'Michaelangelo Antonioni' and 'Theo Angelapolous'. 

  This is the second 'Second Run' DVD (the first being 'Daisies'), so it might be a bit wary of getting one again. They aren't bad films, just very strange ones.

  The film is the story of a love affair on the Thai-Burmese border. Min is an immigrant with a skin infection, and falls in love with Roong, a factory worker in the jungle by the border. Before they get to the jungle they must drive there, and this is the most tedious part of the film. The first 20 minutes are spent in the hospital talking to nurses and so on. The second 20-30 minutes is spent in a car driving to the border. During the whole journey they do not say a single word and at the 40 minute mark, the opening credits roll. This would repel the inpatient viewer, and is a pointless addition. However it does build up to the jungle scenes quite nicely.

  The jungle scenes are visually beautiful, but again, nothing much happens. Holding hands here, a blow job there, you get the idea. The strange thing is, that time does not drag. The film lasts over 2 hours, and keeps you engaged for the whole thing. Similar to 'Uncle Boonme' the film is filled with long, shots and has a very spiritualistic feel to it.

  I was baffled by the 18 certificate given to this film, until the last five minutes, where there is an incredibly dodgy shot. It is completely unnecissary, but I like that about Weerasethakul. He does not care about certification, which I respect.


Weerasethakul has made a peaceful and meditative masterpiece, with a unique spiritual auteristic feel. I am sure most people won't find this too great, so check out some of his other work before this one.