воскресенье, 5 мая 2019 г.

"Betty" (1992)

Pauvre Betty

Claude Chabrol had one problem – he made too much films and, because of that, somehow quantity began to dominate over quality. Claude Chabrol made masterpieces («Violette Noziere»), good films («Poulet au vinaigre») and mediocrities («La fleur du mal»). In what category you could place «Betty» - the last film of Chabrol with Stephane Audran?

In some Paris bar, a girl called Betty, who is wearing a rumpled Chanel suit, is drinking herself to death with whiskey. Some strange man, who calls himself a doctor, offers Betty a ride to a restaurant called Le Trou (The Hole). In this bar, Betty drinks even more, and meets a proprietor Mario and his lover Laure. Betty tells Laura that she was divorced with a son of a very rich and influential family.

At first, the film starts as a typical story about a poor peasant girl, who is thrown out by the spoiled prince. Claude Chabrol shows us a sad alcoholic and abandoned girl with harsh psychological childhood traumas – an ideal candidate for the couch at psychoanalyst’s office. And this family of rich bastards, who made Betty to waive her parental rights, is out to be guillotined as in the late XVIIIth century France.

There is a banal saying about incompatibility of people from the different parts of the society (classes, groups and etc.), that is why a dream of «marrying the prince» doesn’t always realized as wanted. Betty was able to jump above her head, but she an intruder in the world of aristocracy. She cannot live on the rules of the high society, family doesn’t quite accept Betty and she is even basically separated from the children, who are given to the maid.

Disorderly Betty is suffocated in such sterile atmosphere and she is thrown out as an alien element. After Betty enters Le Trou, full of desolate people, the Director starts adding extra colors to her portrait. Because of that, the viewer could get a quite different opinion about a poor peasant girl.

What could you say about real qualities of Betty? In order to answer that, you ought to watch «Betty» and break the cliché that the nature relaxes on the children of the talented (on example of Marie Trintignant). Because of the duo of Marie Trintignant and Stephane Audran, Claude Chabrol was able to shoot a great film with unpredictable ending, which is quite a match to «Violette Noziere».

суббота, 4 мая 2019 г.

"Paths of Glory" (1957)

France cannot afford to have fools guiding her military destiny

Stanley Kubrick was an anti-war person and he found a right way to express his views. He didn’t shoot films with boring explanations of war horrors, he made films about the real war – with filth, cruelty, blood, destruction, suffering and death. All those elements were present in the fourth Stanley Kubrick’s film – «Paths of Glory».

After a German’s army defeat in the First Battle of Marne, the Western Front became entrenched all the way from the Swiss border to the English Channel. There were a lot of battles, where tens and hundreds of lives were sacrificed for a few hundred yards. In 1916, the both sides were looking for a way to get out of this trench warfare.

In the beginning of the film, General Georges Broulard, a member of the French General Staff, orders General Mireau to capture a well-defended German position called the «Anthill». At first, General Mireau, understanding the high casualty rate of his regiment and the suicide character of the attack, refuses, but changes his mind after General Broulard promises him promotion. Colonel Dax is ordered to execute the attack, who also understands it’s suicide character, but order is an order. The attack is a bloody disaster and furious generals are setting up a court-martial in order to execute three soldiers for cowardice.

 During the Battle of Passchendaele (1917) there was a tale about a furious colonel of the British General Staff, who arrived at the field in order to understand, why soldiers are not eager to execute his plans. After witnessing the horrible battle conditions, the colonel… cried. Despite such sentiments, the Allied casualty rate for this battle was about 508 800.

The film depicts staff officers, who are living in the chateaus, drinking cognac and preparing plans for the glorious final battles. For them front-line soldiers and officers are just merely units, who could be sacrificed for the sake of plans. From the other side, the front-line troops are suffering from typhoid, hunger, dehydration and enemy artillery, but they forced to execute suicidal attacks and tolerate the allegation of cowardice from clean-shaven aides of generals.

When new suicidal attack becomes a bloody disaster, the staff officers will never take the blame, they would shift it to executors. In order to punish, they would court-martial three random soldiers. The staff officers don’t care about past accomplishments of the executed soldiers, they just to show their resolve to politicians, newsmen and the French nation in general.

The war is an ideal plant for all low, cruel and mean. Especially for low-lives, who become commanders with ability for death sentences. The incoming trial gives certain officers an opportunity to get rid of the soldiers, who saw their cowardice. Nevertheless, the officer corps includes officers, who care about their soldiers, including Colonel Dax.

Colonel Dax lives in trenches and leads his soldiers in a battle. An ex-criminal attorney Dax is willing to do anything in order to save his soldiers from injustice. He becomes a defender in court martial, but this court is not legal. This court is not fair and it doesn’t have the presumption of innocence; those judges have already sentenced those three soldiers to death.

The real world is not very rich with justice, and there is no justice during the wartime. The determined loner cannot break the military-political system; he could just break one little interchangeable element. After such pyrrhic victory, he, along with the troops, would be sent back to the front lines, where, in the best case, they would be killed, or, in the worst case, they would by gravely injured.

The refrain of «La Marseillaise» urges citizens to arms, to form battalions, and water the furrows with impure blood. In the XVIIIth century, France was invaded by the neighbors, so that war was, at least at the beginning, just. Most of the other wars are made for other people’s interest and the wasted soldiers are forgotten as old cars. If more directors made such films as «Paths of Glory», than the viewers wouldn’t be too receptive for military propaganda.

пятница, 3 мая 2019 г.

"Naked" (1993)


When I was 18, I have watched «Naked» for the first time and it didn’t impress me much. Back then, I was just not experienced enough. For the last 9 years, I have gained some life experience, and I have decided to give the film the second chance. This time, I have understood more, and we could call «Naked» «A Tale About a Real Asshole».

The world is full of assholes, some of them are quite dangerous and some of them are not. Johnny is also an asshole, but it is supplemented by a huge education. Because of the education, this bum-looking asshole, who is still psychologically a teenager, have a good tongue and ability for short-term seduce. In the beginning of the film, Johnny almost rapes a woman and flees to London in a stolen car.

After hitting London, John breaks into his old girlfriend house, who shares a house in a desolate area of London with two flat mates. Louisa is not too delighted by her ex, but Sophie develops a crush on John. An intruder won’t dodge an ability to sleep with a cute girl, but John doesn’t want to hear anything about serious relationships, so, he walks away to night London.

Reaching night London, Fake Diogenes meets the inhabitants of the city’s gutter: a homeless Scot Archie and his girlfriend; an intelligent night security guard Brian; a lonely poor drinking woman, who is desperate for a lay and other colorful characters. Nevertheless, Johnny still have certain brakes.

Those brakes are made not out of goodness, but of elementary caution. Johnny understands that he could do rough sex, but if he rapes a woman, he won’t escape justice easily. Also, if Johnny would impose himself on a girl and she would kick him out after tiring from his intellectually offending speeches, he would have to go, because police won’t to be too kind to a smelly bum. That is why, he is cruising for helpless victims with low self-esteem.

Despite that, the night London streets are cruised by other Johnnies with Porsche and gold credit cards. Jeremy-Sebastian is Johnny, who is wearing Saville Row-tailored clothes and who is drinking Veuve Cliquot. His good looks enable him to seduce almost every girl and his money enables him to «be himself» and feel the complete impunity.

Who is an asshole? It is a man, who have complete disregard for public morale, politeness, who treats others scornfully and spits on all other rules. Almost every teenager toys with asshole behavior and it is excusable at the age of 15. Nevertheless, after reaching the age of 20, you need to use your brain and learn to live, or pretend to live, by the rules of society. But because of the different circumstances, the certain people, in the best case, are becoming eternal teenagers and others, in the worst cases, are becoming parasites as Johnny and Jeremy.

Such Johnnies and Jeremys are inhabiting every city and everyone, who watched «Naked», will recall an acquaintance with such man. Mike Leigh was able to shoot a film, which would be understood in every country, and David Thewlis was able to pull off the almost impossible – to play without any fake a real-life pseudointellectual asshole.

четверг, 2 мая 2019 г.

"Avengers: Endgame" (2019)


I am fond of a few superhero films, including «Batman» of Tim Burton. I also have a high opinion of Sam Raimi’s «Spider-Man». As we remember, in the late 2000s, Marvel started producing quite a high number of superhero films, including cool «Iron Man» with Robert Downey Jr. Also Marvel produced good «Thor».

Any moneymaking theme is milked until the full dry and the same words could be applied to Marvel movies. The producers started financing films about all superheroes and after some time quantity began to dominate over quality. In opinion, the first failure was a reboot of «Spider-Man» with Andrew Garfield, but then Marvel produced funny «Venom».

When I saw, that the last «Avengers» is a three-hour film, I began experiencing doubt, because it is quite hard to make an interesting 3-hour superhero film. The last «Avengers» were an exception, or not?

Well, not exactly. The film was slightly boring because of the three-hour duration. I am not against long films, but in this case the directors are making unnecessary long scenes and not packing them with enough action, and the real action kicks in only in the third hour. Of course, the second hour also have some action, but it was not entertaining enough and you might feel a need for a few yawns.

The film’s atmosphere is also a bit fake. Thanos have killed a lot of people and the mood is quite mourny, but it is a bit farcical. The quotes from famous films, so well used in the previous parts, are also resemble not-so-good self-repetition, especially the quotes from «Back to the Future, Part II».

Nevertheless, the film has strong sides. I enjoyed a few humorous moments, including the line of Thor the depressive alcoholic. Also, on the third hour the real action starts kicking in and the end is quite good and catchy, but you have to wait for it.

In closing, the authors haven’t finished «Avengers» on a high note. I hope, that the authors would understand, that the superhero theme is burned out, and they would take a few years break.  

суббота, 27 апреля 2019 г.

"Le Crabe-Tambour" (1977)

Honneur et Patrie

In 1940, France was occupied by the Third Reich. After that, the country was plagued by civil war, which was, mainly, in French consciousness. The French officer corps was also affected. Some officers swore allegiance to Marshal Petain; some joined the Free French. After the war, the French was labelled as cowards (which was spread by Americans and not by Germans).

In the 1950-1960s France took part in brutal war in Indochina and Algiers. The fighting officers had to deal with new plague – hostility. The newspapers were full of articles that «The French Female Union is with Vietcong» , the officers were treated as criminals. Despite that, the French Armed Forces almost succeeded in destroying the insurgency. On the 1st of June, 1958, Charles de Gaulle was appointed as the Prime Minister and the French officers were overjoyed.

After taking office, on the 4th of June, Charles de Gaulle went to Algiers. The joyous crowd applauded the General and de Gaulle said the following words to the crowd «I understood it» (Je vous ai compris). A lot of French thought that de Gaulle would save the French Algiers. When officers found out, that de Gaulle started negotiations, the officers, along with the population, were divided once more.

Fighting officers, including such illustrious men, as the most decorated General Raoul Salan and the youngest Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry joined the mutiny, and proudly faced prison or execution. Other officers stayed away and continued to serve in the military, but some of them were plagued for the rest of the life by their weakness.

Captain of destroyer Jauréguiberry found out that he got lung cancer and he understands, that he is days are counted. Before death, he wants to sail for the last time and he encounters an old acquaintance – military doctor Pierre. Destroyer escorts the fishing flotilla to Newfoundland, but the Captain wants to meet for the last time one of the «lost soldiers» - Navy Lieutenant Willsdorff, more knows as «Le Crabe-Tambour».

Who could be considered an officer. Officer is a man, who always acts with his honor, integrity and loyalty (quoting the Code of the French Soldier). If an officer gives his words, no circumstances could force him to break it. And the important of all – the real officer would always be remembered by soldiers and people alike, even if the life would force him to poverty.

Navy Lieutenant Willsdorff is the real officer. He perfectly knows the military science, he is respected by officers and soldiers and he is «consciousness» - black cat – became legendary. In any situation, including Vietcong prison camp and African slavery, Lieutenant Willsdorff always saves his face. And the most important of all – he is loyal to the French nation, not to the French politicians. When his brother is killed in Algiers, he transfers to the parachute regiment and joins the mutiny.

During most of the film, we will see Lieutenant Willsdorff as a memory but, despite that, it seems that he is on the ship. Even after he became an ex-jailbird fisherman, Lieutenant Willsdorff maintains his officer’s honor and stays internally young, compared to exhausted and worn-out active duty officers.

All of the battleships are decommissioned and sold for scrap or used for target practice. Almost all decommissioned ships are forgotten and left to rot near naval bases. But some ships are remembered in books and films. The same words could be applied to retired officers, some of which will always be remembered.

Pierre Schoendoerffer made an honest film about honor, courage and loyalty. Those words would resonate with anyone. I recommend to watch this film along with «La 317e Section».

воскресенье, 21 апреля 2019 г.

"The Hitcher" (1986)


Rutger Hauer, how could you act in second-rate films? You could have won all major film award; you could have acted with the best directors! Remember Roy Batti, Eric and Martin – in all those roles he was 146% authentic. Instead of following this path, Rutger Hauer torpedoed himself with second-rate films. Despite that, if a great actor takes his job seriously, he could make a second rate film shine like a diamond.

Jim Halsey got an easy job – to deliver a brand new Cadillac from Chicago to San Diego. The ride a rather joyful, until Jim picks in West Texas a hitchhiker, who goes under a name of John Rider.  For a first few minutes, everything goes smoothly, but then the hitcher starts acting strangely and threatening Jim with knife. The hitcher tries to make Jim say «I want to die», but Jim is able to dump him on the road. On the next day, Jim again spots the hitcher and he realizes, that it won’t be an easy trip…

The 1980s were an age of supernatural creeps, as Freddie Kruger and Jason Voorhees.  Those film paid a lot of attention to explanation of the creep’s past and modus operandi. The American folk, especially the Southern, is full of stories about maniacs and maniacs families. Such folk was a ground for some rather creepy films. Remember the original low budget «Texas Chainsaw Massacre», which was scarier, than both Freddie and Jason.

In real life, you wouldn’t know a damn thing about a creep and no nun would tell you about his Achilles heel. In real life you would be left alone again a scary maniac and you would be left only to decide, whether he would be merciful enough to kill you instantly or he would like to play. The best thrillers and horror movies won’t spend much time on pseudo-psychological side (quoting Stanley Kubrick), they would leave all fantasies to the scared viewer.

A Rutger Hauer’s creep – is a creature without past and name. He doesn’t belong to no database and he perfectly spots weak-spirited victims. From the beginning, the man with a strange accent radiates an aura of ruthlessness and disregard for any constraints. He perfectly feels the impotence of John and he wants to play. He is like a street smart big cat, who is bored with merely eating a mouse, instead of that he would play and even let the mouse ran, but he would jump and catch the mouse again.

The mouse is trapped on the cat’s territory, who perfectly know the terrain of West Texas. The cat would all Texas against the mouse, and from every corner mouse is in constant danger. But this mouse belongs to the cat and if someone else would get close to the mouse, the cat would slaughter him and continue his sadistic and unpredictable game. Only in «Tom and Jerry» mouse is able to beat the shit out of a cat, but in real life mouse have almost no chances. Or naïve viewer is an optimist?

Coolness of «Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man» was a result of Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson, and following their lead, Rutger Hauer turns «The Hitcher» into a creepy thriller, which keep you tense until the last second. After watching this films, I am willing to beg Rutger Hauer on my knees to show us again his capabilities. Come on, Rutger, show us what you are capable of!

суббота, 13 апреля 2019 г.

"The Sheltering Sky" (1990)

Tunner, we're not tourists. We're travelers

In foreword to 1998 rerelease of «The Sheltering Sky» Paul Bowles wrote not-so-praising words about screen adaption of this book, done by Bernardo Bertolucci, summarizing them by those words: «But the less said about the film now, the better». Bernardo Bertolucci, recalling the experience of making «The Conformist» - an adaptation of the same titled novel by Alberto Moravia, said, that sometimes necessary to «betray» the book in order to make the film faithful to it. «The Conformist» was such good betrayal, that it even surpassed the book. Could we say the same words about «The Sheltering Sky»?

In the early 1980s, Bernardo Bertolucci was in a state of the great artistic crisis and in order to overcome it, he went to LA in order to fulfill his old dream – to make an adaptation of «Red Harvest» by Dashiell Hammett. After spending four fruitless years in LA, Bertolucci went to, back then the most unusual place, China. In this country, he regained inspiration and made «The Last Emperor». And the most important of all, after visiting China Bertolucci started again to love the West. So, the story about a couple, which travels to Sahara, in order to repair the marriage, seemed interesting to the Director.

Paul Bowles book is quite hard to adapt as a standard two-hour film. «The Sheltering Sky» is full of stories and important dialogues, which all should be adapted in the film. And, finally, the director must picture the alienation of two Americans in alien and hostile Sahara, which destroy any intruder. Before watching, I thought, that Bertolucci would be able to pull it off.

In the beginning of the novel, an Arab Smail tells Port Moresby a parable about three Arab girls, who are desiring to drink tea on the highest dune of Sahara (which were not, strangely, integrated in the film). They were able to get to the highest dune of Sahara and have decided to get a little sleep before tea. A few weeks later, a passing caravan found three dead girls and their cups were full of sand.

Port and Kit Moresby are the representatives of NYC intellectual bohemians. Port is a composer; Kit is a playwright. Their feelings have ceded and Port, hoping to breathe new life into dying marriage, convinces Kit to take a trip to the Northern Africa. Tunner forces himself as a companion on the trip, and they start their trip. After getting rid of Tunner, Port takes Kit to the heart of Sahara, but he gets a typhoid fever.

In the beginning of «Lawrence of Arabia», Diplomat Dryden tell to Lieutenant Lawrence the following words: « Lawrence, only two kinds of creatures get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you're neither». Port thinks that the desert would purify him, and after crossing it with Kit, they would emerge as new people, who love each other. In order to achieve this, Port even agrees to forfeit his identity. In reality, the desert would do anything to destroy the aliens.

Sadly, Bernardo Bertolucci was not able to completely portray the ideas of Paul Bowles. While watching, you constantly feel, that the film lacks something, which makes it great, compared to «The Last Emperor». The Director focuses on a theme of combatting the family crisis and basically kept out such themes, as the said «three sisters» parable, clash between European, American and Arab culture and threw away a certain amount of secondary characters.

Another substantial weakness of «The Sheltering Sky» is a choice of an actress for the role of Kit. While Debra Winger is assisted by John Malkovich, she is quite OK. But in the third part of novel, Kit steps out and Debra Winger is not too convincing.  That is why, the process of Kit’s spiritual degradation is not portrayed good enough. Despite that, the other actors filled their roles quite convincingly.

Despite the flaws of meaning, the form is beyond all praise. Bernardo Bertolucci was able to capture a very beautiful shots of desert , which is ruthless and hostile for strangers, and views of shabby Arab towns, full of flies and beggars. Ryuichi Sakamoto soundtrack deserves a separate mention. His music tunes a viewer to a right wave, which is never quite fully emerges.

The best films of Bertolucci are visually and intellectually stunning. Sadly, this time, the visual thing has prevailed over the intellectual one, and that is why the film is weaker than the best films of Bertolucci. Despite that, I don’t agree with Paul Bowles critique and I consider this film as worthy of watching, but I recommend you to read the book before that.