The highlight of last week's screenings was For a Few Dollars More, which screened as part of the Melbourne Italian Festival's retrospective of Sergio Leone. It's a lot of fun, but then I'm probably the last person around to have seen it, and you all probably knew that already. Unfortunately I missed out on Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (which I have on Blu-ray, but was hoping to see on the big screen first).
There doesn't seem to be much out there on theatrical release, and was once again disappointed by the only new release I saw, Two Lovers. Melbourne Cinémathèque can always be counted on for something at least half decent. While I didn't find the Japanese noir screenings anything special, they're a welcome part of my film self-education. It's certainly fascinating to see this curated season, to discover a common aesthetic and themes of films of the post-war era.
- Kuroi kawa (Black River, Masaki Kobayashi, Japan, 1957)
- Taiyo no hakaba (Sun's Burial, Nagisa Oshima, Japan, 1960)
- Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More, Sergio Leone, Italy/Spain/West Germany/Monaco, 1965)
- Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things (Giulio Reale, Italy, 2006)
- Giù la testa (A Fistful of Dynamite, Sergio Leone, Italy, 1971)
- Two Lovers (James Gray, USA, 2008)
I don't intend to analyse these two Japanese films in any particular detail. However, what struck me most about these is firstly, the frankness of the sex and violence - something you generally wouldn't see in films from most countries of the day - and secondly, how squalid and depressing life was depicted in post-war Japan.
For a Few Dollars More
This film is a helluva lot of fun. The lack of dialogue and the almost total reliance on visuals and sound (including a magnificent score by the great Ennio Morricone) reinvents and rejuvenates the Western genre. The film crosses the boundaries, or perhaps fuses, the classifications of film as entertainment or art. I doubt that there's any deep meaning to the film, but I'm open to being corrected. Clint Eastwood is at his charismatic best, together with Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach making for an awesome triumvirate.
Sergio Leone: The Way I See Things
This is not a particularly expository documentary but, interviewing those who worked with Leone, offers some good behind-the-scenes insights into what made him tick and the ideas behind his film-making.
A Fistful of Dynamite
I actually found this tedious after For a Few Dollars More. Perhaps it was too ambitious - it obviously had a much bigger budget than the earlier film. For me, it tries too hard, trying to cover too many bases with too many special effects and action sequences. The music is nowhere near as good either.
I found Two Lovers quite a let-down and having heard conflicting reviews, I went in with an open mind but low expectations. I didn't think much of the dance sequence at all; it doesn't really add anything to the film. The opening scene, with Joaquin Phoenix's Leonard jumping from a pier is my favourite, but the film does nothing with it. It had so much potential but then falls flat.
Is the director Australian? I'm joking, of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking so, because the film has the unfortunate structure of a long line of Australian films that tackle some worthy issues, look OK, contain reasonable performances but fail to take off dramatically. Like I said about My Year Without Sex (a film I found myself comparing it to), it's just dramatically flat. It doesn't make me want to care about anyone in it or what happens to them. Leonard can jump in the sea, or hook up with either the blond or the pretty girl and I wouldn't give a toss either way.
BTW, the Nova session I went to was packed. I spoke to a couple of respectable middle-aged women afterwards, confident they would have loved it. They had a similar reaction to the film as myself. I even found myself nodding off from time to time.