- The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
- Where is the Friend’s House? (Abbas Kiarostami)
- And Life Goes On (Abbas Kiarostami)
- Through The Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami)
- Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiradie)
- Sincere Heart (Masaki Kobayashi)
- Gate of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
- A Walk in the Clouds (Alfonso Arau)
- Ever Since Eve (Lloyd Bacon)
- Fountainhead (Masaki Kobayashi)
1- I love the way the films of the Dardenne brothers deal with moral dilemmas. Evil is identified clearly, but those swept up in it are considered compassionately, and through this compassion often get another chance at setting their lives back in order. The Kid with a Bike is a gorgeous example of the heart of these filmmakers, a heart completely devoid of saccharine or moralizing, but full of understanding for the troubles people (mostly kids) get into.
2- I had a chance to rewatch the entire Koker Trilogy by Abbas Kiarostami. I am a lucky man.
3-It was interesting to watch Stranger by the Lake, Gate of Hell and A Walk in the Clouds in quick succession. All three were bad films with great reputations, and they made for very dissatisfying viewing:
a- Stranger by the Lake was hailed as a Hitchcockian Gay thriller. Is there any term that is more incorrectly used than ‘Hitchcockian’? Just what are people saying when they describe a movie in this way? That it is suspenseful? Then it is clearly the wrong adjective for Stranger by the Lake. A bunch of mostly Gay men cruise a lovely lake all summer long, going off into the nearby woods to have sex. Then there is a murder which our ‘hero’ witnesses but does not report because he is currently sexually obsessed and involved with the murderer. Why does this film have such a great reputation? Is it because the Gay sex is (very) explicitly portrayed? Is it because it is from a Gay viewpoint? I don’t get it. Isn’t it a terrible Gay stereotype that Gay men are just sex machines putting themselves in danger to get the next thrill? Is this still how we want to be portrayed? The storytelling and character development are flaccid (pardon the pun). The pace became monotonous. Even the copious nudity of very handsome men grew tiresome. On top of it all, it has a non-ending. So after almost two hours of dull exposition, you don’t get a payoff.
b- Gate of Hell was the first Japanese film to win a best foreign film Oscar. That was still an honorary award and not a proper category until a few years after. The thing that is most often mentioned about it is that the color photography, by Eastman, is stunning. Well, yeah. But at this point it just looks garish. The storytelling is sloppy, the acting amateurish. It was directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, who in the 1920s created what is probably the most experimental (read : insane) film ever to come out of Japan: A Page of Madness. That film, with its narrative innovations, stylized action and general nuttiness make Gate of Hell even more disappointing because you know that the director had a unique vision at one time, and it is nowhere evident here.
c- My friend Donna called me and begged me to watch A Walk In The Clouds. She wanted confirmation that it was as horrible as she thought it was. Well, it kind of was. Discussing it with her after I watched it, I suggested it was like a Hallmark Channel movie that had greater ambitions, and I think that is basically what the problem is: tonal ambiguity. A Hallmark Channel film knows what it is: superficial story telling with happy endings, formulaic to the max, with no pretentions to depth. A Walk In the Clouds has all the shallowness of a Hallmark Channel film, but every once in a while it strikes a note of seriousness – and it never succeeds. The acting is hopelessly bad. The fact that Keanu Reeves is the star should set your mind at rest that nothing remotely resembling good acting will be encountered. I was amazed to see that Giancarlo Giannini played the heroine’s Napa Valley Vineyard-owning, extremely short-fused father. He was the Art House Cinema darling in the 70s and 80s. Here, he does nothing but rant about lost values and family honor. To call the character a cartoon would be kind. Anthony Quinn is also on hand as the more down-to-earth grandfather/patriarch, but even he can’t escape cartoonism. There is a grape-stomping ceremony that has to be seen to be believed. How did this film ever get released?
It is a remake of 1940s Italian film which I have never seen.
4- It was fun to see Ever Since Eve after watching the disappointing Mank. This was Marion Davies’ last film, and it’s not great but it is fun in a frantic screwball way. The common rubric about Davies is that she should have stuck to comedy. True.
5- I am continuing to work my way through the films of Masaki Kobayashi on the Criterion Channel. His late great films are yet to come in my viewing. Sincere Heart was a workaday studio production made in the style of his mentor, but it was sweet enough. Fountainhead is more in keeping with his later, greater films but it still feels a little rough.