Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie [Subtitled]

One of Luis Buquel's masterpieces, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is in beautiful form in this Criterion Collection two-disc DVD edition. The movie has never looked better outside the theater than it does in the pristine 1.66:1 print transferred here; it's as though it were filmed yesterday rather than in 1972. The Dolby Digital Sound is equally excellent, giving bold power to Buquel's disturbing visions and scenarios. The subtitles appear in white text at the bottom of the movie's image, not in the black bar, and can be turned off. Bonus features are spread over an additional DVD. Disc one includes the movie and a 24-minute documentary titled "The Castaway on the Street of Providence," dating back to 1970. The documentary is more voyeuristic than enlightening, as too much time is spent on the personal life of Buquel and his efforts to make the perfect martini rather than his great career. The three-minute theatrical trailer is redundant, and it gives away far too many of the movie's wicked surprises. Disc two features a second, more interesting documentary, "Speaking of Buquel"; running 98 minutes, it encompasses reminiscences by cast and crew from many of Buquel's films, as well as clips of those films. Disc two also includes a Buquel filmography with country of origin and release date information as well. Both the movie on disc one and the documentary on disc two can be navigated by scene access menus that give instant access to the feature's 21 and 28 respective chapters via chapter titles. Given the great supplemental material, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie goes from being a great movie to an essential DVD title. ~ Tim DiGravina, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 101 mins
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie [Subtitled]

That pretty much summed up what features I got from the library's version. This must be the only movie critique that went into so much detail about the contents of the DVD features, but clearly something that is needed on more movies. A film is either enhanced or seems a let down on certain films when there obviously is a lot of background material to work with. "The Castaway" was not very informative as the critique states. I did not bother to watch "Speaking of Buquel" as this just seems to be too much at around 100 minutes. From “The Discreet Charm of Luis Buñuel” by Carlos Fuentes was part of the pamphlet that came with the discs also.
Every now and then, he gazes at the trees and murmurs: “I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of dying alone in a hotel room, with my bags open and a shooting script on the night table. I must know whose fingers will close my eyes.”

Strangely, they are rated differently from the other version that gets a 5 rating at:
In typical Luis Buñuel fashion, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie surrealistically skewers the conventions of society. Buñuel applies his surrealist touch to a mundane event: a dinner party that may never come to pass. A group of well-to-do friends attempt to gather for a social evening, but are thwarted at every turn. The initial problem seems to be a simple scheduling mistake, but the obstacles become more and more bizarre. At one point, the guests are interrupted at the table by an army on maneuvers. Later they learn that they are merely characters in a stage play and so cannot have dinner together. These misadventures are combined with symbolic dreams of the various characters, some of which also involve interrupted dinners. Wicked social satire and one of Buñuel's funniest films. Winner of the Academy Award for "Best Foreign Film" in 1972. ~ John Voorhees, All Movie Guide
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

But some of the "dinner events" are actual dream sequences and thus the reviewer misses that point {I think}. For example one where all the guests die is clearly another case of reset button technique as the film would end if they all died.

Overall, another disappointing film, especially given that they used the reset button on a movie film. Supposedly it helps build character but on a limited length film then wasting such footage seems odd at best and wasteful at worst.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Widely regarded as a masterpiece of Spanish cinema, this allegorical tale is set in a remote village in the 1940s. The life in the village is calm and uneventful -- an allegory of Spanish life after General Franco's victory in the Spanish Civil War. While their father (Fernando Fernán Gómez) studies bees in his beehive and their mother (Teresa Gimpera) writes letters to a non-existent correspondent, two young girls, Ana (Ana Torrent) and Isabel (Isabel Telleria), go to see James Whale's Frankenstein at a local cinema. Though they can hardly understand the concept, both girls are deeply impressed with the moment when a little girl gives a flower to the monster. Isabel, the older sister, tells Ana that the monster actually exists as a spirit that you can't see unless you know how to approach him. Ana starts wandering around the countryside in search of the kind creature. The film received critical accolades for its subtle and masterful use of cinematic language and the expressive performance of the young Ana Torrent. ~ Yuri German, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 99 mins
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Maybe it was just too subtle for me but I was deeply disappointed with the film as the title alone held my imagination to such lofty levels. This was not to say the two young stars were not excellent in their roles, it was more like the there was no "spirit" and very little of the actions of the beehive. The only beehive actions I could see was the viewing of the film but the participants were not "busy as bees" but just passive viewers, and also when the towns people found the fugitive and shot him with a hail of gun fire. We never do find out why he was running away or what his crime was.

It is worth remembering the scene taken from Frankenstein (1931 film), and part of the scene description:
It {the monster} then has a short encounter with a farmer's young daughter, Maria, who asks him to play a game with her in which they playfully toss flowers into a lake and watch them float. The monster enjoys the game, but when they run out of flowers, tragedy occurs. Because of his defective brain, the monster thinks the little girl will float, so he picks her up and throws her into the lake, and the girl drowns. Realizing he has made a terrible mistake, the monster walks away feeling troubled and remorseful. This drowning scene is one of the most controversial in the film, with a long history of censorship.

The older of the two daughters tells the other one that the young girl in Frankenstein and the monster were not really killed. It was just fake, but this does little to reduce the fear and anxiety in them.

Even though this was highly rated, I just can't give it more than an average rating. Nothing to really peak my interest. The version I watched had the same jacket cover as Blockbuster shows. It included 2 disks and a small pamphlet. The second disk was for special features including long interviews.
From the pamphlet with link:
The Spirit of the Beehive: Spanish Lessons By Paul Julian Smith
Released in 1973, in the dying days of General Franco’s forty-year dictatorship, The Spirit of the Beehive soon established itself as the consummate masterpiece of Spanish cinema. Yet, strangely, many of the gifted artists who collaborated on Víctor Erice’s first feature, an atmospheric exploration of a child’s experience in a bleak village just after the civil war, have had troubled afterlives. Erice himself, acclaimed by critics as Spain’s greatest auteur, has completed only two features since (The South, another period drama, in 1982, and Quince Tree of the Sun/Dream of Light, a documentary on a painter, in 1983). The career of Luís Cuadrado, the creator of the luminous cinematography, was tragically cut short by blindness. Ana Torrent, the six-year-old star, remains haunted by the role that made her a Spanish icon. In 2003, on the thirtieth anniver­sary of The Spirit of the Beehive’s release, she posed for the poster for the San Sebastián Film Festival. Re-creating a scene she had shot so many years before, she stood solemn faced on the railway tracks. Erice has said, "When I’ve finished a film, it’s no longer mine—it belongs to the people." Surely few films have had such an enduring effect on both their makers and their audience.

The picture reminded me that the father spent a great deal of time with the two daughters in the fields talking about poisonous mushrooms. Many of the actions seem to portent possible fateful endings for the movie. Ana also goes back and finds one of the mushrooms and looks at it for a while.

On the more close to home aspects, a woman in our complex supposedly killed her daughter yesterday. Ventura mother arrested for allegedly killing 8-year-old daughter | L.A. NOW | Los Angeles Times

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Housekeeper (2002)

One of France's most respected filmmakers, Claude Berri here brings viewers the story of Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) a middle-aged sound engineer whose wife has just left him. Living on his own for the first time in years, Jacques decides it's high time to clean up his life, literally and figuratively. In short order he hires Laura (Emilie Dequenne, a bright, vivacious young housekeeper, to bring order to his apartment. Laura's presence makes Jacques realize what has been missing from his life, and as their relationship evolves over the subsequent months, both Jacques and Laura gain uncomfortable knowledge of one another, and of themselves. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, All Movie Guide
Theatrical Feature Running Time: 86 mins
The Housekeeper (2002)
It might be more appropriately called "No Rest for the Wicked". It is classic case of girl is the first to fall in love but it becomes transitory and the new love feel is lost by the next good looking thing to come along. In the end Jacques is surrounded by countless people on a French beach but utterly alone, except for maybe his new friend that also recently was divorced which is the mother of the boy that is courting Laura. But the French do love their intermingling complicated relations. A sequel would be just as funny along those lines. The ex-wife does also try to complicate his life in constantly calling and not talking and then finally showing up after Jacques and Laura had made love.

A shallow but funny movie on several levels. Just average at 2.5

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

One of Luis Buñuel's most episodic films, The Phantom of Liberty focuses on no one particular narrative. In the beginning, a man sells postcards of French tourist attractions, calling them "pornographic." A sniper in Montparnasse is hailed as a hero for killing passersby. A "missing" child helps the police fill out the report on her. A group of monks play poker, using religious medallions as chips, and in the most infamous sequence, a formally dressed social group gathers at toilets around a table, occasionally excusing themselves to go into little stalls in a private room to eat. ~ John Voorhees, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 104 mins
The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

Technically it seems it should be episodic or not and thus "most" is inappropriate as a adjective in this case. I missed the parts on the "pornographic" postcards, but at one time the small girl gets some pictures of buildings and the parents go through them tearing up the ones they consider in bad taste, i.e. pornographic. Dirty minds find dirty things.

I also missed the monks poker chips, but it was already obvious that the director was having fun with their immodest behavior. As they already were drinking and smoking like chimneys while gambling. But the funny aspect was that they suddenly were offended when one couple in the bed and breakfast got out a whip and the male was being whipped on the bare butt. They both went into the restroom to change-private bath where others shared a common one.

So in one way it was funny that defecating in public was acceptable but eating required a separate room that could be locked. But this was a far cry from the jacket cover as to how funny this film could have been. Some of the "jokes" could have been told in a lot less time. Like the child that was missing in school but then on roll call she says here and then they still proceed to do an investigation for like 18 months.
Bourgeois convention is demolished in Luis Bunuel's surrealist gem The Phantom of Liberty. Featuring an elegant soiree with guests seated at toilet bowls, poker-playing monks using religious medals as chips, and police officers looking for a missing girl who is right under their noses, this perverse, playfully absurd comedy of non sequiturs deftly compiles many of the themes that preoccupied Bunuel throughout his career-from the hypocrisy of conventional morality to the arbitrariness of social arrangements.

Not really demolished and not really bourgeois as do any culture consider excrement as a form of social interaction and eating as something to shun in public?

In hind sight maybe many of the social arrangements are indeed arbitrary but then the analysis would be apolitical and ahistorical. Basically the film had some funny moments including the very perverse nephew that wants to see his aunt naked and at one time tells someone else she is his mother. After much coaxing we get to see the aunt and that was funny enough to see the movie. But overall I could not rate it more than a 2.

When I think back today, The Milky Way, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, and The Phantom of Liberty, which were three original screenplays, seem to form a kind of trilogy, or rather a triptych, as in the Middle Ages. All three have the same themes, sometimes even the same lines; all evoke the search for truth, and the need to flee that truth once we think we’ve found it, and the implacable nature of social rituals. And all deal with the indispensable quest for chance, personal ethics, and the sense of mystery which must be respected.

That was from the introduction to the interview entitled: BUÑUEL ON “THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY”. The library version had a pamphlet which included the interview and also a longer review of the film at The Phantom of Liberty: The Serpentine Movements of Chance By Gary Indiana. Still keeping my rating low for this film but with the variety of information about the ideas behind the film, I will schedule to watch the other two. The purpose more of a thought experiment and research.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ram Lakhan (1989)

Director Subhash Ghai also dreamed up the story of the Indian Ram Lakhan. Raakhee plays a widowed mother who lives for revenge. She raises her sons Ram (Jacki Shroff) and Lakhan (Anil Kapoor) with hatred in their hearts. It is her wish that her sons avenge the murder of their father. To that end, both boys become police officers, though one is far more committed to honesty than the other. Like most Indian films, Ram Lakhan is something of an endurance test for western audiences, unfolding its simple tale in an epic 186 minutes. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 175 mins
Ram Lakhan (1989)

Only got to see the first hour or so of the movie as the disc did not go past a certain portion of the disc and no matter which new tract I tried it did not play. Maybe rent it again as it was a traditional family on revenge and the effects it has on its members. The self entitled song Lakhan sings is funny and whimsical. A little like Ram Jaane but more humorous.

15 Park Avenue (2005)

It was most definitely not worth a 5 rating that Seema S. gave the film at Blockbuster: 15 Park Avenue (2005).

15 Park Avenue - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The film is the story of the relationship between a woman, Meethi, (Konkona Sen Sharma) who suffers from schizophrenia, and her sister Anjali (Shabana Azmi).

Meethi (short for Mitali) hails from an upper middle class family, fraught with a complex relationship structure. She is the child through the second marriage of her mother, and this is not explored in much detail in the movie since it focuses on other issues. Anu, her older sister, is a professor of physics at a university, who is shown to be intellectual and practical; however, the paradox in her character becomes obvious when she decides to forsake her personal life for her ailing younger sister. This shows her in a different light, and the viewer sees the contradiction throughout the movie.

Meethi is shown to have dormant schizophrenic traits since childhood, as depicted in the scene where Anu tells her doctor Kunal Barva (Dhritiman Chatterjee) that Meethi had always been a loner. Meethi felt everyone could hear her swallowing or gulping and so was embarrassed to go to school. Anu believes that a traumatic gang rape by political goons during Meethi's work assignment has pushed her over the edge and has led to the onset of full-blown schizophrenia.

Meethi lapses into incoherent delusions about a happy family and children which have been her erstwhile dreams. (In reality, her fiance Jojo (Rahul Bose) backed out from the relationship.) Clutching on to these straws, she desperately looks for her home 15 Park Avenue, where she feels she will be at peace. A chance meeting with her Jojo, 11 years after they broke up, gives Meethi a further impetus into her delusional world, as she touchingly trusts him to look for her home since now he is an outsider whom she does not recognise. For Meethi, the world is divided into her imaginary home and the outsiders, who keep her from going to her "family."

Guilt is a predominant colour in the landscape of this movie, depicted in the persona of every character, be it Anu, Joydeep or Mrs. Mathur (Waheeda Rehman). Iit is in the background of this tale of reality, illusion and the thin line between the two.

Very little subtitles as English was the primary language. Strong accents but was acceptable in understanding the cast. But it just did not do anything for us. I rated it as a miserable 1 as this seemed to have little value. The ending seemed weird and in a way, the real world we were exposed to could have actually been the dream and that she returned to the real world after finding her home. The director did not seem to give us enough clues for either conclusion. This makes it a perfect example of reset button technique again, which I consider not a very good technique in films.

The scenes were slow moving and the dialogue tedious at best. Some films work good at building suspense but this was just dead air space...