Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Several Weeks in Review

It's been a while since I recorded my weekly film viewing. My last post was up to the end of March. Here's what I've seen since, though I'm not going to summarise them all.

31 March - 6 April
  • Muere de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist, Juan Antonio Bardem, Spain/Italy, 1955)
  • Los Tarantos (Francisco Rovira Beleta, Spain, 1963)
  • La leyenda del tiempo (The Legend of Time, Isaki Lacuesta, Spain, 2006) + Q&A with the director
This weeks was all La Mirada - Jewels of Spanish Cinema. My focus was on the classics, though I snuck in The Legend of Time, an extraordinary film and talking with the director was great. All three of these films was well worth seeing.

7 - 13 April
  • El desencanto (Disenchantment, Jaime Chávarri, Spain, 1976)
  • Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, Mexico/Spain, 1961)
  • Placido (Luis García Berlanga, Spain, 1961)
  • El pisito (The Little Flat, Marco Ferreri & Isidoro M. Ferry, Spain, 1959)
  • La vida por delante (Life Ahead, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Spain, 1958)
  • Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, USA, 2008)
I liked Viridiana, which was a surprise film, but most of the other films at La Mirada were so-so. Viridiana was selected by Paul Auster and the other classics were selected by Pedro Almodóvar. Many of the classics watched this week were fairly insipid dramas or melodramas with the qualities of Almodóvar's films that I don't like. Note to myself: be more selective with Almodóvar's picks next year.

14 - 20 April
  • La nuit américaine (Day For Night, François Truffaut, France/Italy, 1973)
  • La mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black, François Truffaut, France/Italy, 1968)
  • Vesyolye rebyata (Jolly Fellows, Grigori Aleksandrov, USSR, 1934)
  • Alexander Nevsky (Sergei M. Eisenstein & Dmitri Vasilyev, USSR, 1938)
  • Letyat zhuravli (The Cranes Are Flying, Mikhail Kalatozov, USSR, 1957)
  • Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979)
  • Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven, Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey/Italy, 2007)
Day For Night is great, and joins Catherine Breillat's Sex is Comedy among others (that I can't think of) that is a great behind the scenes of film-making. ACMI had its Focus on a Century of Russian Cinema; it was great to see Stalker, which I liked a lot. The other highlight was The Edge of Heaven, a film I found flawed but with such strengths that overshadowed them that it didn't matter. The film ends at Trabizon, the ancestral home of my partner.

21 - 27 April
  • Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, François Truffaut, France, 1961)
  • La sirène du Mississipi (Mississipi Mermaid, François Truffaut, Italy/France, 1960)
  • Transylvania (Tony Gatif, France/Romania/UK/Hungary/Italy, 2006)
  • Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya, Andrei Konchalovsky, USSR, 1970)
  • Molière (Laurent Tirard, France, 2007)
  • Voskhozhdeniye (The Ascent, Larisa Shepitko, USSR, 1976)
  • Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin, Sergei M. Eisenstein, USSR, 1925)
More of Truffaut at Melbourne Cinémathèque, but not as impressive this week. Transylvania is absolutely sensational and I've since ordered the DVD from Europe. With Paranoid Park, it is my favourite film of the year so far. The music, dance, story and visuals are all mind-boggling moving.

28 April - 4 May
  • Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, François Truffaut, France, 1959)
  • Les deux anglaises et le continent (Two English Girls, François Truffaut, France, 1971)
  • Nine Lives (Rodrigo Garciá, USA, 2005)
  • Dekalog: 6 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
Truffaut was good and I think I need to see 400 Blows again. I started watching Dekalog late last year and decided it was time to finish it.

5 - 11 May
  • Kanal (Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1957)
  • Czlowiek z marmuru (only watched 90 mins) (Man of Marble, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1977)
  • Iron Man (Jon Favreau, USA, 2008)
  • Demonstrator (Warwick Freeman, Australia, 1971) +Q&A
  • Dekalog: 7 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
I was very sick this week and shouldn't have gone to Cinémathèque, but did. Kanal was gripping and I wanted to see a few minutes of Man of Marble to get a sense of what it was like. I had to get home to bed but couldn't pull myself away, staying for 90 minutes. I have to see it in full.

12 - 18 May
  • Wesele (The Wedding, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1973)
  • Panny z Wilka (The Maids of Wilko, Andrzej Wajda, Poland/France, 1979)
  • Shadows (John Cassavetes, USA, 1959)
  • Faces (John Cassavetes, USA, 1968)
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, USA, 1976)
  • A Constant Forge - The Life and Art of John Cassavetes (Charles Kiselyak, USA, 2000)
  • Streetsweeper (Neil Mansfield, Australia, 2007)
ACMI had its Focus on John Cassavetes and all the above films were sensational. Shadows is a remarkable debut and an extraordinary film for its day. Faces has amazing performances and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was a great vehicle for Ben Gazzara, putting his charismatic performance centre-stage. Mansfield's Streetsweeper hasn't been distributed yet - I received a DVD screener. I loved it and hope to write on it. It has many elements that resonate with me, particularly its observational nature and its ambiguity. The cinematography and sound are great, though it's hard to describe its unconventional narrative.

19 - 25 May
  • Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1958)
  • Krajobraz po bitwie (Landscape After Battle, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1970)
  • A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, USA, 1974)
  • Love Streams (John Cassavetes, USA, 1984)
  • Dekalog: 8 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
Dekalog is arguably the best cinema made for television. It is technically amazing, but more importantly it is full of depth, profound, and explores all kinds of moral dilemmas with various subtle subtexts in the background. #8 is perhaps my favourite of the ten, and for me it is clearly revelatory of Kieslowski's personal philosophy. The elderly female lecturer enunciates a belief system that I had presumed to be Kieslowski's. Both Cassavetes films are fantastic.

26 May - 1 June
  • Man bo nu lang (Mambo Girl, Yi Wen, Hong Kong, 1957)
  • Flight of the Red Balloon (La voyage du ballon rouge, Hou Hsiao-hsien , France, 2007)
  • Dekalog: 9 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
  • Dekalog: 10 (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
Thank god for DVD and thanks also for Kieslowski, possibly my favourite film-maker. Flight of the Red Balloon totally fails. How can you have a tribute to the original by using a red balloon that is barely seen and has none of the original's personality? Bland, bland, bland and all the more so because both Nova and Como cinemas are screening from a digiBeta. Apparently Sydney got 35mm, but even that wouldn't save it for me. I usually love Binoche, but she was also bland.

2 - 8 June
  • Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK, 2008)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Andrew Adamson, UK/USA, 2008)
  • Blizna (The Scar, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1976)
  • Przypadek (Blind Chance, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1981)
  • Bez końca (No End, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1984)
  • Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So… (Krzysztof Wierzbicki, Poland/Denmark, 1995)
  • Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Story About Killing, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)
Mike Leigh has crafted a magnificent film, a comedy that really works, and I intend to write more on this shortly. It opens at the end of the month and hopefully word will get out how funny, moving and intelligent this film is. It's as good as anything I've seen by Leigh (starting with Secrets and Lies up to Vera Drake). The thought of Leigh making a film about an impossibly happy woman sounds almost unbelievable. This is my third favourite cinema release of the year. And more Kieslowski - a great week. I picked up many subtle details I missed in my first viewing of Blind Chance and I think all his films deserve multiple viewings. No End and A Short Story About Killing are both extraordinary.

I've had health issues lately. I have a condition - I've forgotten it's name - and I've had to give more priority to getting sufficient sleep and exercise, something I've neglected of late. My current job is also more demanding than previous contracts I've had. I'm still doing French classes at Alliance Française and that's coming along slowly but steadily. I also have conversation classes on the weekend with a French national staying here until the end of the year.

I've taken up bike-riding as a means of forcing myself to include exercise into my (near) daily routine. It's half an hour in the morning and evening and I'm loving it. I started just before Easter, which was just after that really late heat wave in Autumn when the weather reached the mid-high 30's. I've lost about 4 kilograms of weight so far, though I'm more interested in losing flab than weight. And more important than both is getting fit and strong. I'm slowly getting there. I'm hoping to lose another 10kg over the next year, then I should be my optimum weight.

I've had something like ten close shaves with death in my life, though none for about 12 years or so. I've been involved in four car accidents where the vehicle rolled over, 3 of them at high speed. I emerged from each seemingly unscratched, yet a dozen or so years later it came out that I had a neck injury that hadn't been detected. That's also causing me some problems that have forced me to make more effort to get fit.

As the year has progressed, there's been a number of cinema releases that I wouldn't mind seeing, but haven't been big priorities. Consequently, a number of films have come and gone before I got the chance to see them. I suppose I'm becoming more selective about which films I go to. I do get invites to media screenings, but as many of these are during business hours, I haven't been able to get to as many as I'd like to.

I'm planning to take two and a half weeks off work for MIFF again this year. I expect to average 2 films a day with a focus on writing on everything I see (as I did last year).

That pretty much brings me up-to-date, though there's a zillion details that I don't care to go into. My film-going has been regular if my writing hasn't. C'est la vie !

One last thing: I have a number of film titles that are on my list to see. Any feedback on what to see and what to avoid is appreciated. They are:
  • A Secret
  • The Orphanage
  • Gone Baby Gone
  • Heya Fawda
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Rats and Cats


Marina said...

Oh soooo nice to have you back! Hope you're feeling a bit better!

I'm happy to see " Happy-Go-Lucky" is really good and not simply something fanboys have latched on to for some obscure reason - will have to keep that one on the watch list.

As for the few films on your to be seen list, just a few minor thoughts on the ones I've seen:

The Orphanage - Very good. Great tension and mood and an excellent central performance from Belén Rueda.

Gone Baby Gone - I didn't like it quite as much as others but it is a good film which poses an interesting question at the end. Definitely one that will keep you thinking.

Love in the Time of Cholera - I was very, very disappointed by this overall. Bardem's performance, which is good, is overshadowed by the music, the costumes, the cinematography, the set design - everything is a little too loud and it drowns the performances. It's a bit of an editing mess as well and as a whole, I didn't think it worked though it is a very pretty film.

Again, nice to have you back!

Paul Martin said...

Thanks Marina. I'm fine but, you know, it's interesting to see how one's health gradually declines over time. It can be so gradual that you don't notice it until you wake up and realise "I need to do something". I reckon it'll take a year or more for me to get to where I want.

Thanks for the film feedback.

Kicking and Screaming said...

The Orphanage was very good, suspenseful films are a marvel when done well - I won't be surprised if it gets an American remake next year with Sarah Michelle Gellar

Stephen Hill said...

Don't know how much the MIFF programming is similar to the Sydney Film Festival, but one of the highlights was a screening of a 1920s Japanese silent film "A Page of Madness" (screenplay by the famed novelist Kawabata) with a live accompaniment from members of the Necks (score by Phillip Johnston).

It's a fascinating discovery, which despite pre-dating German expressionism and being in ignorance of the works of montage in Russian cinema, really was stretching the bounds of cinematic convention well before some of the more famous landmark feature silent films.

John said...

Hi Paul good to catch up on all your news and hope you're feeling better. Wow cycling in the Melbourne winter... careful you don't push yourself too hard.

Just reading your biog on the side and I have good news. Just back from Europe (about 15 days in France) and went to a few VO (version originale) movies while there. Sex and the City in Strasborg which is a really great city (lovely old sandstone buildings like the old parts of Collins Street), lots of cinemas. We had dinner at a great little cafe next door to a cinema. Saw Sex and the CIty with french subtitles. Now that's the way to brush up on your French.

Down in Provence later that week found a little cinema in Apt about 80km nth Marseilles screening the new Indiana Jones movie and rushed down tea to get there for the 9pm session. But out in the country less English speakers I guess so their version was totally dubbed.
In Paris however it was back to VO and another short French lesson with the sub titles.

The day we left was the opening of the new movie "Skate or Die" which I hope we get a release on here.

Also bought back a couple of my favourite French movies on DVD. Odette Toulemonde (Catherine Frot) and Couers des Hommes 2 which takes up the story from the original movie 4 years later. Not sure if Couers Des Hommes had a commercial release or whether it was just in one of the earlier Palace French Film festivals. We saw it at the Balwyn.

Cinema is truly alive and well in France. I would have liked to have gotten down to the Bercy in Paris where they play some of the really old French movies.

I'm hoping that somehow I can sub title the 2 movies mentioned above. Not sure if this is possible but would be interesting to explore.