Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Week in Review

Everything I saw this week was at ACMI, namely the Melbourne Cinémathèque and Focus on Guillermo del Toro screenings. There's a few films* on theatrical release I'd like to catch, but I'm in no particular hurry.

* Currently on my list of 'to see' are: Sunshine, Death of a President, The Good German and The Lives of Others (which I've already seen, but would like to take the missus).


  • Beau travail (Good Work, Claire Denis, 1999)
  • Jacques Rivette - Le veilleur (Jacques Rivette - the Night Watchman, Claire Denis & Serge Daney, 1990)
  • Cronos (Guillermo del Toro, 1993)
  • Martin (George A. Romero, 1977)
  • La maschera del demonio (Black Sunday: The Mask of Satan, Mario Bava, 1960)
  • Almodovóvar on Almodovóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)
Beau travail
Sensational cinema. The tension is so well measured, the cinematography and music are stunning, the plot is so elusive and the end is amazing. Looked fantastic on the big screen. This short appraisal doesn't really do the film justice. The person sitting next to me was seeing it for the sixth time and I can understand why. Possibly the best film I've seen this year, and probably makes it into my all-time top 20 or so.

The focus on masculinity was intense, erotic and poetic. Denis Lavant is such an amazing performer. The physical performance under the conditions was remarkable. The use of music gave the feel of some kind of Roman or Greek epic or opera.

Apparently the film is based on Herman Melville's Billy Budd, which I'm not familiar with. Beau travail depicts a company of the French Foreign Legion in Africa. The outcome reminded me of a scene in a very different film, Fight Club (I'm deliberately not giving details away). The salt plain reminded me of Gus Van Sant's Gerry. The austerity of the film recalls Van Sant, but the overall style was quite different.

Jacques Rivette - The Night Watchman
I'm not familiar with Rivette's films - I only know him by name. This two-part made-for-television documentary gives an interesting perspective on the director who is clearly an austere and modest man, dedicated to his craft. It includes mostly a conversational-style of interviews with Rivette, as well as interviews with others who have worked with him.

Claire Denis was an assistant to Rivette before becoming a director. The interviewer is film critic Serge Daney. I'll be sure to check out the Rivette films screening at Melbourne Cinémathèque over three weeks from May 23 to June 6.

This is quite an impressive first feature, screening as part of the focus on Guillermo del Toro at ACMI as I previously reported. Despite a bit of heavy handling of music, it turns out to be a well-measured piece that doesn't overdo gore like modern horror flicks, and the humour is also relatively subdued. The film uses an older style of horror, good characterisation, nice attention to detail and special effects that are generally quite good but aren't always completely successful.

Ron Perlman has a face that looks good for the role, plays the dope, and is basically there for comic relief. Like some of his later films, there is a child, but she plays a small but critical role.

It's interesting to see this after The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. There is a real consistency to his vision of horror film-making which appears to borrow from the genre, but avoids many of the peurile traps that Hollywood insists on repeating. Neither I nor my partner are fans of the genre but both enjoyed this film.

Obviously, Pan's Labyrinth is a major step forward for del Toro in terms of visuals, but I don't think the writing has progressed much further, which is a little disappointing for me, but then most fans of the genre don't expect anything too deep.

A creepy cult film that del Toro selected as one of his inspirations, though del Toro's work is far superior. The music and sound is often over the top, the acting is pretty mediocre. Martin may or may not be a vampire, sharing a common theme with Cronos (ie, not a genre stereotype). While clearly a B-grade film, it's to the credit of Romero that he pursued his vision on limited resources. I found it only of interest in respect to del Toro.

Black Sunday
Another cult horror film selected by del Toro. It will be appreciated by fans of the genre and is once again interesting mostly from the GdT perspective. Because the film has dated so much, it can't really be taken seriously, and garnered much laughter from the audience when not intended. Very camp and melodramatic, and labours a little with the typical (for Italians) dubbed voices. It does look nice in black and white, though the shooting in mostly studio sets adds to the overly theatrical performances.

As a point of interest, the film is based on a short story written by Nikolaj Gogol, the namesake of the protagonist in the current release The Namesake by Mira Nair.


trent said...

I see that del Toro has selected Night of the Hunter as well. I recommend you see that one.

Paul Martin said...

Trent, I've got it in my film diary for next weekend. I'm told it's the best of the three and is must-see. Thanks for the additional confirmation.

Maya said...

Is Del Toro there to introduce the films? That would be cool.

I've not yet seen Cronos. I keep waiting for it to show up at a retrospective somewhere but might have to break down and rent it on dvd.

Bava, I think, requires an acquired taste for artificiality. I never think of his films as real or even relevant, and his ouevre is spotty; but, do check out Profondo Rosso, my favorite of his.

Paul Martin said...

No Michael, he's not. He just made his selection; I imagine he's too busy to come this far for such an event. I read your interview with him some time ago (before I saw the film), which I found interesting and insightful.

I'll keep an eye out for Profondo Rosso, but I rarely watch DVDs, so it'd have to wait for a special screening somewhere.

Maya said...

Agreed. Catch it on a big screen whenever possible. That's what I did and its palette and sound design were maximized that way.

Marina said...

I must warn you, Death of a President is really underwhelming. I was sorely disappointed.

Paul Martin said...

Marina, I saw Death of a President just yesterday, and thought it was OK. It's a good companion piece to United 93. Both are depicting fiction, but only one is honest enough to say that. Both show the power of the image and how the government and media can construct and stage a false truth.