Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Week in Review

  • Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Luis Buñuel, 1972)
  • Le fantôme de la liberté (The Phantom of Liberty, Luis Buñuel, 1974)
  • Offset (Didi Danquart, 2006)
  • Hui Buh – das Schlossgespenst (Hui Buh - The Goofy Ghost, Sebastian Niemann, 2006)
  • Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
  • Die Bluthochzeit (The Wedding Party, Dominique Deruddere, 2005)
  • Klimt (Raúl Ruiz, 2006)
  • Crime Story - "Top of the World" (60min, Michael Mann, 1987)
  • Almodovóvar on Almodovóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)

Luis Buñuel double

These screenings at the Astor were my first exposure to this prolific Spanish director whose output was produced mostly in Mexico and France as a result of his exile from fascist Spain. He first came to my attention when I read that David Lynch's favourite film was his Un chien andalou (1929), a short silent film that I have yet to see in its entirety. I noticed from Buñuel's biography on IMDB that many of the quotes attributed to him sound very similar to the view of Lynch. They seem to share a similar world view, at least artistically, and especially in terms of surrealism.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty are considered part of Buñuel's trilogy (the other being That Obscure Object of Desire, 1977) which parody the middle-class. Being new to Buñuel, I didn't know what to expect and it took me a while to acclimatise to his style. Consequently, I think I didn't appreciate them fully, especially Discreet Charm, though I think Phantom is a more engaging film.

In retrospect, I feel I tried to hold on to too much of what Buñuel projected onto the screen, as if there were some necessity to, rather than just go with the flow. There were so many interesting characters, that went off on so many tangents, and I couldn't absorb everything - which we are often tempted to do. Buñuel is a very observant and intelligent individual and he tells unusual stories. I think I'll be more qualified to write about him in better detail after further viewings. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Crime Story - "Top of the World"
Michael Mann produced the Crime Story series for NBC television, but Top of the World was the only episode (21 of 44) directed by him. It depicts a Chicago police detective's determination to thwart a gangster's ruthless ambitions and bring him to justice. Scorsese's Casino seems to have borrowed heavily from the narrative of this episode, though the plot was hardly original.

In the same way that Melbourne Cinémathèque's season of Kieslowski brought together a selection of varied works by one artist that demonstrated a common theme and evolution of style, the screening of Top of the World gave an insight into an auteur's contribution to a different medium (television). Despite the episode's being full of clichés, there was still had a freshness and vitality about it, in much the same way as under Don Siegel's direction, Clint Eastwood brought pizazz to his hackneyed character of Inspector Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971).

There was a darkness (both visually and narratively) to the episode, and was more gutsy than the average television police show. I found it highly enjoyable.

The Festival of German Films finished today, and this was my last viewing there. I don't have much to say about it, so I'm not going to do a separate FoGF posting. According to Peter Krausz, who introduced the film, the literal meaning of the title is The Bloody Wedding, and it really was the wedding from hell. As Peter describes it: "this is a film with escalating tension as a dispute is presented between the owner/chef at the reception centre and the father of the [groom] at the wedding reception. What ensues seems like a combination of Assault on Precinct 13 and Robert Altman’s A Wedding, with no prisoners being taken".

The film is a comedy and well-made for middle-of-the-road audiences. The characterisations are good all around, especially the father and the chef. The film looks good but is maybe a little long. It would probably do well at the box-office if it got a distribution.

I saw the film at the Como and once again I sat close to a couple of Toorak matrons who treat the cinema like they're sitting in a Toorak Rd. cafe, chatting the whole film through and giving a running commentary about what's on screen. At one stage I turned around and suggested they go home and watch TV, and at the end, another woman chastised them saying "you should watch DVDs at home if you're going to talk all the way through".

It's hard to know where to start describing this film. It's a Raúl Ruiz film, and I suppose if you've seen his films previously, you might have some idea what I mean by this. I haven't (seen any previously), and he clearly takes some getting used to. Like Buñuel's films, there is a strong surrealist bent and the film is not delivered with a standard linear narrative.

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (John Malkovich) is lying in a hospital bed and the film represents his memories of his life as he approaches death. I've always felt that Malkovich was a stunning actor, but often he accepts hackneyed or caricatured characters that don't do him justice. His performance in Klimt is almost understated and perfect for him. It is well-measured and nuanced. It was also interesting to see Saffron Burrows after her performance in Reign Over Me.

I didn't know who Klimt was, but his art is so recognisable, so now I know. The film looked terrific with beautifully authentic cinematography and great use of lighting and shadows. I am confused about much of the film, and I go away feeling a need to learn more about the artist, more about the film, and keen to see it again (as well as anything else by Ruiz). This can be either very satisfying or very frustrating, depending on what you look for from a film.

Klimt is probably not the kind of film to go to if you like everything explained and in a linear manner. But if you like subtlety, ambiguity, mystery and coming out of a film not fully understanding what you've seen, don't miss it. It really is unconventional, daring and original film-making that is visually stunning.


marty said...

Luis Bunuel is great and I have seen most of his films althougn many years ago while I was studying Surrealist Cinema at uni. Those two films you saw are a great start but I would also make an effort to watch his earlier films like Los Olvidados, The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour, Viridiana and Nazarin. Some of these are available on DVD here through Madman. I found I appreciated Bunuel more after studying him at uni and reading a few books on him starting with Bunuel's own book, My Last Sigh, which is terrific reading and a grat insight into the man and his work.

Raul Ruiz is definitely an aqcuired taste. His films can be very tough viewing and impenetrable although Time Regained is a minor masterpiece.

I saw Jacques Rivette's latest film, Don't Touch the Axe, on the weekend. Again, his films can wear the patience of some viewers and this film was very slow French period piece based on a Balzac novel. Not his best and nowhere near the perfection he achieved with his previous film, Story of Marie & Julien, which is one of the greatest films this decade. Again, available on DVD here through Accent and a must-see.

Paul Martin said...

I have heard of some of those Buñuel titles, Marty and I intend catching any others by him that screen at the Astor, ACMI or elsewhere. I don't go out of my way for DVDs. Like books, I tend to buy them but then they sit on the shelf untouched for a long time. I must have about 30 DVDs at home still in the plastic wrap.

I wouldn't describe Klimt as 'tough' viewing, but impenetrable is a fair comment. I found the film intriguing and it inspires me to learn more about Ruiz, his films and the subjects of his films.

The Rivette season starts soon at Melbourne Cinémathèque, so I'll be getting a reasonable intro to him then. Did you see the Claire Denis doco about Rivette a couple of weeks ago? That was interesting, as it gave some insight into the mind of the maker of the films we're about to see at ACMI.

LenKa said...

Thanks for the review. I'll definitely try to find "Klimt" - sorry to say but I don't know the director, but I do love Malkovich.