Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Week in Review

This Week in Review is not for this week, it's for last week. I started writing this post as usual, but circumstances prevented me from completing it. I usually post my weekly review on a Sunday evening, for everything I've seen from Monday to Sunday. Alas, it's now Saturday evening so I'm nearly a week late. C'est la vie.

The high point of this week was 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which I intend seeing again before I post a review. I saw the first screening of a brand new print that had arrived the previous day. All I will say for now is it is excellent, social realist film-making that has much in common with the Dardenne brothers' L'enfant or even Tsilimidos' Em 4 Jay. It is a worthy winner of this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes that just has to be seen by serious cinephiles.

  • Sedmikrásky (Daisies, Vera Chytilová, Czechoslovakia, 1966)
  • Valerie a týden divů (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Jaromil Jires, Czechoslovakia, 1970)
  • A Nocturne (Bill Masoulis, Australia, 2007)
  • 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
  • Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, USA, 1973)
  • Otrantský zámek (Castle of Ostranto, Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia, 1977)
  • Zánik domu Usheru (The Fall of the House of Usher, Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia, 1981)
  • Kyvadlo, jáma a nadeje (The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope, Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia, 1983)
I really like this unusual Czech New Wave film, though I know some of my fellow Melbourne Cinémathèque members thought less of it. It's experimental nature demonstrates some of the psychedelic devices of the period, and contextually I had no problems with it, though it has dated. It was banned by the Czechoslovakian authorities for a time, largely (if not entirely) out of ignorance. They feared the avant garde.

Daisies is about two young women (both named Marie), self-indulgent to the extreme. I call this type 'Princess Bitches' and was recently amused to find a book by Melbourne child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg about the same condition (and it's called The Princess Bitchface Syndrome). I have a daughter around this age who, it must be said, has caused much grief, and Daisies satirises the mayhem such girls can cause by pushing it to the max.

The film is an anti-war statement, a connection made clear at the start with imagery of destruction wrought by bombing. The director's intent is to show how obnoxious behaviour manifested on an individual level correlates to obnoxious behaviour on an international level. The two Maries plot to hoodwink older men to pay for their meals and other favours, in exchange for pleasure which is never delivered. What I find particularly fascinating is how such behaviour has proliferated especially in contemporary times.

The film comes to a climax when these two terrors discover an unattended banquet in a hall. There was a terrific long take capturing the carefree destruction by the girls. Once again, thanks to the Czech embassy, we had excellent prints on the night. Check out this site for more info, including links to Deputy Pruzinec's speech to the Czech National Assembly condemning Daisies and director Vera Chytilova's letter to President Gustav Husak, pleading to be allowed to resume work with film.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
This was a fantasy/horror film, the least engaging of all the Czech season. It's a fairly camp vampire story which tries to tantalise with a little nudity and hints of incestuous relationships. While it has some beautiful imagery, the plot was fairly puerile.

Other than as a curio, the film did little for me. As it's been over a week since I saw it, I find I have nothing more to say about it, though Chris Hyde has written an interesting piece.

A Nocturne
I struggled with this film, partly due to sleep-deprivation, partly due to the quality of the screening (at Toff of the Town, a non-cinema venue with a small poor quality screen) and partly due to the content. It's a vampire flick set in Melbourne, made by local film-maker Bill Masoulis. This was the opening night film for MUFF 2007, and as the festival finishes tonight, it will be the only film I got to see at the festival. It's just not humanly possible to fit everything in.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
I'm not a big fan of the Western genre and consequently have had little exposure to Sam Peckinpah. Maybe it's the "over-abundance" of manliness (as it's referred to in Sunshine) that doesn't appeal. Or maybe it's the guns and violence. So this film, while it has some redeeming features (like James Coburn's depiction of Pat Garrett), this film also did little for me. The director assumes the audience has knowledge of the characters. It was only by reading about the film afterwards that I learnt what was the significance of the opening scene (repeated at the end).

Kris Kristofferson's role as Billy the Kid was reasonable but somewhat tame, and Bob Dylan's cameo was amusing, entertaining if not gratuitous. He provided the music to the film, which worked quite well. Like most westerns, the role of women was relegated to mostly window dressing. Perhaps that's another reasons why I don't generally like the genre - there's no balance of the real-life day-to-day, the drama of real people interacting.

I find it fascinating that the film depicts events that are scarcely more than a century ago - times that can surely be considered modern. Yet, the 'wild-west' nature of the times, with the proliferation of firearms and cavalier manner in which they were used (at least as depicted in the film) surely gives some hint as to why the US has so many problems connected to violence and firearms to this day.

Short Films by Jan Svankmajer
I presume this name means something to those a bit more educated in Eastern European cinema than myself. I found each of these films of little interest and didn't engage me at all.


Anonymous said...

Jan Svankmajer is a god. But you do have to contextualise him historically, since the space he evolved has been so enthusiastically colonised.

Glad you like 'Tom White', which I keep on hearing denigrated with a bit of a sniff by my middle class friends. To me it is a film about what happens when you start to fall, and the fear that you will never stop. And I know that is why I hang on to what I have. 'Em 4 Jay' didn't play for me at all.

I say "Pat Garrett' when it first came out, and was disappointed this time. I suspect the pervasive melancholy of aging is something you can contemplate when you are young and robust. Not so when you are actually aging.

Odd that the 'Knock, knock... ' song was not on the print. Was it simply snipped out for private satisfaction, as projectionists have an evil reputation of doing? Or is there some horrible contractual issue about reverting rights?

This website

provides another explanation. Peckinpah kept a director's cut, since he was so angry about the final studio version. This director's cut doesn't have the song, but only the backing vocals, and does have the murder scene as bookends. So the print we saw is based on the director's cut, which I guess is the version prepared for the Turner re-issue on DVD.

I was wondering why on earth the bookends were different from my memory, and cursing myself for losing my marbles. It turns out the version is different.

There is a strange moment when Garrett goes to the gate of his house but never goes in. In the original release, he does.

Weird that Peckinpah didn't like the song. Then again, he allegedly didn't know who Dylan was.

- barista

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving your considered comments, Barista.

I don't know if those three Svankmajer shorts are a good introduction to the director's work, so knowing the guy's reputation, I've reserved my opinion until I see something more substantial.

I thought Tom White was a relatively accessible film (at least for Alkinos Tsilimidos), and I think you have grasped its meaning. I recently interviewed the director and he explained that he felt the film was misunderstood by many because of the way it was marketed. It and Somersault were pretty much the only local films with reasonable distribution that year (2004) and the film was seen as some kind of potential saviour for the box office blues for local films. Consequently, it got marketed and placed in a way not intended, when it should have just had the small arthouse release and grown by word of mouth.

Tom White is an easier film to relate to, because it describes a potential journey of the everyman, one you or I could take. Em 4 Jay depicts people most of us would never want to meet and have no interest in.

Tsilimidos' intent was to depict a couple of characters that Tom White may have met and to go down the rabbit hole with them, so to speak. We are not meant to identify them but try to get into their world and see why we're seeing stories on the news about people holding up 7-11s and petrol stations. He infused a sense of humanity without taking a moral stand - that's hard for audiences, and Tsilimidos acknowledges it. He has told me about his next project, which I will post about when I complete and publish the interview.

That Peckinpah link is quite informative, though it's a pity the links to the images for each scene are dead. I'm not familiar with the other version but in general, I'd rather see a director's cut than one he or she felt was butchered by the studio.

The ACMI blurb for the film mentioned Dylan's song, but I was surprised to only hear the musical version. I kept expecting the vocalised version to pop up somewhere, but I don't have a problem with it as it screened. To me, it signifies that the director wasn't interested in overusing pop-culture devices. That's also evident in the lack of drama in the death of Billy.

Phillip Kelly said...


I have very little knowledge of the Czech film landscape, but you are tweaking my curiosity here. I'll have to netflix some things.

Marina said...

Completely agree with your take on "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days". Saw it yesterday and am still trying to digest the entire thing. An excellent film but, at least for me, difficult to digest.

Paul Martin said...

Phil, the Czech films in this post were not as strong as the week before and after. At the start of the season, the Czech ambassador mentioned that prior to the crackdown (1968 or 1969, I believe), Czechoslovakia was producing around 40 films a year, funded by the state. Interestingly, many of the films criticised the state. After the crackdown, an average of 3 films per year were produced, and they had to be deemed to be non-avant garde and non-political. There's a decade there of brilliant New Wave that has little recognition and is worth hunting down. We were very fortunate to see them on the big screen, and with the support of the Embassy of the Czech Republic, we secured excellent prints.

Marina, I'm seeing 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days again on Thursday before I write up on it in detail.