Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Week in Review

Another busy week of films, to the extent I took a day off work for some advance screenings from the Goethe-Institut Australien Festival of German Films and Paris, je'taime. The shorts at Sam Fuller screenings were at Melbourne Cinémathèque, and most of the rest were part of the Alliance Française French Film Festival, finishing on Tuesday.

FILMS:
  • Copying Beethoven (Agnieszka Holland, 2006)
  • The Naked Kiss (Sam Fuller, 1964)
  • Park Row (Sam Fuller, 1952)
  • Wut (Can - His World Has Its Own Rules, Züli Aladag, 2006)
  • Wer früher stirbt, ist länger tot (Grave Decisions, Marcus H. Rosenmüller, 2006)
  • Paris, je t'aime (Various, 2006)
  • Scoop (Woody Allen, 2006)
  • Nue Propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, 2006)
  • OSS 117 Le Caire nid d'espions (OSS 117: Cairo - Nest of Spies, Michel Hazanavicius, 2006)
  • L’ivresse du pouvoir (A Comedy of Power, Claude Chabrol, 2006)
  • Mauvaise foi (Bad Faith, Roschdy Zem, 2006)
SHORTS:
  • Refren (Refrain, 10 min, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1972)
  • Fabryka (Factory, 17 min, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1970)
  • In the Street (15 min, James Agee & Helen Levitt, 1953)
BOOKS I'M READING:
  • Almodovóvar on Almodovóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)

Copying Beethoven

Copying Beethoven is an imagining of the final year of Beethoven's life, when he was putting the final touches to the 9th Symphony. As someone completely ignorant of this truly inspirational composer, there is some educational value to a film like this. I must admit, though, to having a problem with the biopic genre. While I can enjoy a film on its own merits, I find it a little disconcerting that a fictionalisation of someone's life can over time become considered factual, or more factual than it is.

Ed Harris is a compelling actor, and someone I'm always keen to see, especially after his magnificent performance in Pollock. With his transformation as Ludwig van Beethoven he completely inhabits the role and was at first virtually unrecognisable. His portrayal reminded me of Daniel Day Lewis (another excellent actor) in Scorsese's Gangs of New York. In other words, the performances didn't really match the respective films.

The cinematography, lighting and period reproduction in Copying Beethoven are visually stunning. But the story and direction were lacking. I think the biggest problem for me was the role of Beethoven's copyist, Anna Holtz, played by Diane Kruger. There was nothing wrong with her acting, but she was too 20th century beautiful with modern sensibilities, and her role seemed largely window-dressing to the detriment of the narrative. I found it distracting.

Another element I found distracting was the repetitive camera tracking inside Beethoven's apartment, with out-of-focus objects (like candles or pictures) in the foreground. Once was enough, and it was used way too many times.

Overall, the film is enjoyable. There is a ten minute segment of the 9th Symphony which sounds terrific and inspires me to buy a recording of this famous composition.

The Naked Kiss
This is my first Sam Fuller film and I feel inadequate to comment in detail. I also feel I don't have a good historical perspective on it. But that's what film is all about: discovery and learning. From what I could appreciate, this both noirish and melodramatic film was quite bold for it's day: dealing with generally taboo subjects like prostitution, official corruption and paedophilia.

The film felt somewhat dated, though the performances were good and the story remains engaging.

Park Row
I found this a more satisfying film than the previous, and reminded me of Welles' Citizen Kane for its depiction of corporate ruthlessness. Set in the 1800s and made in the 1950s, it is a timeless story that is just as relevant today, if not moreso. Basically it is a moral tale about the pursuit of truth in journalism and how vested interests will stop at nothing to prevent the same.

Historically it was interesting to see how labour-intensive the process of producing newspapers once was. Fuller employs an interesting cast that highlights New York's ethnic diversity, and some of the social issues that implies.

Scoop
This was my second screening, and this time I went with others, including my six year old son who loved it. I'm not familiar with Allen's earlier classics, having only recently become acquainted through films like Melinda Melinda and Match Point (both of which I enjoyed, particularly the latter). I don't bring any baggage or expectations as to how an Allen comedy should be nor can I compare it to his earlier work.

I found this film good old-fashioned family comedy. The performances were nothing special (I hope Johannson doesn't do too many of these types of roles), but the film didn't demand it. The humour was sharp and witty - I like Allen's self-deprecating style.

I intend writing separately for the films from the Festival of German Films and the
French Film Festival.

3 comments:

marty said...

Paul, you MUST see Woody Allen's previous films. His best, in order of my preferred films are:

Manhattan
Annie Hall
Hannah and Her Sisters
Crimes and Misdemeanours
Husbands and Wives
Sleeper
Bullets Over Broadway
Stardust Memories
Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex...
Love and Death

Marina said...

I was also surprised by Scoop. I have seen a number of Allen's previous films but I've never been much of a huge fan though I will say he's good for a laugh.

Copying Beethoven is one I'm anxious to see though I'm not sure it will make a trip out here - I may have to settle for a DVD rental. I'm happy to hear that someone else feels the same way about Harris. I also thought he was brilliant in Pollock and I think it's an excellent underrated performance (and even movie).

Paul Martin said...

Marty, I'll catch up on old Woody Allen films as they appear at The Astor Theatre. It seems his style of film-making polarises audiences, and I can understand that. I appreciate the Jewish neuroticism, something I'm not unfamiliar with.

Then there's others who liked his earlier works but say he's lost it. Maybe if I'd seen his earlier films, I'd say the same (like I do with Scorsese).

Marina, I wouldn't go out of my way for Copying Beethoven. Pollock was one of my top three films of 2002 (when it was released in Australia). I thought the scenes of Harris recreating the Pollock paintings in long takes was nothing short of remarkable. That's dedication to your art (pun not intended).