Archive for May, 2010

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The 100 Best Films I’ve Not Seen Update #2

May 21, 2010

Another ten films down, that’s 20% of the full list for those playing at home. Certainly not as strong a bunch as last time. I blame whoever put this list together. I mean, Sam Peckinpah? Eww. As usual, best to worst: Olmi’s Il Posto is just sublime. Stripped back completely of possible melodrama, the film is slight and dull in any conventional sense, but for one who thrives on an attention to human nuance and compassion in his cinema, it’s about as good as it gets for me. Little moments like the two youths hesitating after having coffee together for an ignorance of café etiquette (they look to another table to know to leave the cups on the table), display a sweet innocence made poignant (and rather heartbreaking) come the film’s end. Also must be mentioned are the mature use of natural sound (no score) rare at the time, rich atmosphere, and a slight comic air that reminds of Tati but without exaggeration. I knocked out one of the ten bolded biggies with Abraham’s Valley, which surely contains all of Oliveira’s preoccupations and obsessions in its 3+ hours. Not a film to know with one viewing, no doubt requiring many to tackle it properly. Regardless, I loved its pace, poetry, mise-en-scène, and music. A thorough and complex beast of a film. The Japanese masters continue to move and impress me, this time Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. As with his excellent Floating Clouds (also starring Hideko Takamine), the people’s relationships are largely based on, if not at least strained by, survival in a cut-throat capitalist society. Naruse dissects with great sympathy a modern Japan in which women’s freedom to choose a lifestyle is nonetheless still dictated by men.

Beyond the undeniable worth of Germany Year Zero as a document of Berlin’s actual ravaged physical state following the war, Rossellini communicates the people’s far-from-relieved emotional and economic state by way of a fictional family’s struggles, microcosmic in the smaller details but decidedly melodramatic at other times. Though harrowing, the latter’s moments aren’t inappropriate or heavy-handed for they condemn and grieve for a world in which such tragedies are allowed to occur, specifically involving the young. In other words, anything extreme is founded and not just sensationalism, and beyond that, leaves an impression. On the opposite end of the cinema spectrum lies the next film. Though not on the level of the last update’s Renoir, French Cancan is a very charming candy-coloured celebration of people and the stage in which, in typical Renoir fashion, a number of characters are tied together in a web of attraction and jealousy and machinations treated with a light nonchalance. I tend to forget Chabrol’s films soon after viewing them, and Violette isn’t really an exception despite my liking it. However, it is a sophisticated yet inelegant slow-burning black comedy that is undeniably frustrating but not necessarily to a fault. Isabelle Huppert’s shrewd performance, along with its satirical case against the destructive power of class ideology meeting pettiness, place this alongside La Cérémonie as top-tier Chabrol and as a sort-of companion piece.

Another Oliveira gone with Inquietude, which I had not known was a three-parter until watching it. What’s interesting is how the three together consolidate a number of his usual themes not unlike Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times, only without the consistency between stories. The first is the best, a very stagey comedy that contemplates work, immortality…and suicide. Its staginess turns out to be less of a fault than a cheeky pulling of the rug from under the viewer, which oddly enough had also occured in two other films I’d viewed around the same time: The Asthenic Syndrome and the very fine Tale of Cinema. Unfortunately it segues into a second act I’ve already forgotten, and that into a third, rather bizarre little fable. Having completely forgotten Wajda’s A Generation, I didn’t expect to respond much to Kanal either, and I didn’t. It’s decent enough; after some standard war film stuff we’re taken into the sewers where the traversing is blind and endless. While not particularly potent or interesting, it’s not exactly a feature of every other war film. Another filmmaker I just don’t respond to as others do, Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito came and went. I prefer his previous Pather Panchali but neither are as much my cup of tea as Charulata. Finally, and easily the worst film of the list at this point, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. As genre film sensation it’s unsensational; a lot of bang bang and no tension. It plods on forever, and Peckinpah’s form is feeble. As anything else…it’s just tired “tragic romanticism” that I guess many find profound but I got nothing out of.

Roughly ordered list of films viewed:

Il Posto
The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir
The Asthenic Syndrome
Damnation
Abraham’s Valley
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
Tabu
Germany Year Zero
The Gang of Four
French Cancan
Violette
They Were Expendable
Fort Apache
Stromboli
Dust in the Wind
Inquietude
Kanal
Pakeezah
Aparajito
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia