- Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan/Carl Froelich)
- Come and See (Elem Klimov)
- Three Colors : Blue (Krysztof Kieślowski)
- Three Colors : White (Krysztof Kieślowski)
- Three Colors : Red (Krysztof Kieślowski)
- Seduced and Abandoned (Pietro Germi)
- The Nun (Jacques Rivette)
- But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit)
- All or Nothing (Mike Leigh)
- Yotsuya Kaidan (Keisuke Kinoshita)
1- I had little interest in watching Mädchen in Uniform. I had the feeling it would be a campy pre-Nazi Lesbian exploitation film that we were supposed to watch and feel superior to, the way we were supposed to watch and feel superior to Reefer Madness. I humbly submit my apologies to all responsible for this masterpiece. This early sound film shows a German film style that still had some of its roots in Expressionism but unlike The Blue Angel of the same year, I feel that it is pointing to a new direction. A blend of super-realism combined with not-too-excessive touches of Expressionism. What would we have seen if that Nazis and their stifling hold on creativity did not come to power two years later? This film gives a good hint at what it would have been like. What I also find so astounding is that the Prussian dictatorship of the school is shown up for what it is. Something that would never have happened two years later.
2- Back when everyone was congratulating themselves for making or going to see films like Schindler’s List and Life Is Beautiful, I realized the fatal flaw here: Unless you were going to follow the hero or heroine into the gas chamber and actually watch them die, you are trivializing war and the Holocaust. Of course, I realize no one would go to see such a film and I doubted that one would ever be made. Therefore, I was stunned by Elem Klimov’s 1985 film Come And See. The title is a refrain from the Book of Revelations as one horror after the other of the Apocalypse is introduced. We follow a 16 year old boy Flyora as he becomes a partisan fighter against the Nazi invaders in Belarus. His idealism leaves him totally unprepared for what he (and we) encounter. I feel it would be an injustice to describe what transpires here in any kind of detail. It is the hardest film I ever sat through. Remarkably, it was the only film Klimov made. It may be one of the greatest films I have ever seen.
3- See my review of Three Colors Trilogy And, of course, see the Three Colors Trilogy
4- Seduced and Abandoned dates from a time when post-Neorealism in Italian film was gradually being replaced by ‘lusty’ domestic sex comedies like this one and Divorce Italian Style. At the time they were seen as sophisticated and more liberated than comparable movies being made in the US. They make me cringe. This movie, which I read was supposed to be made as a satire on Italian laws that allowed a man who impregnates and abandons a woman to be exonerated, if he comes back and marries her. Sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. It is hard to imagine what women of the time were feeling, if they were not feeling outrage.
5- If you know me personally, doubtless I have foisted on you one of my favorite films, Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. Despite all the happiness this film has given me (and hopefully others!), I have never been able to penetrate any of Rivette’s other films. I am glad to say that I found The Nun mesmerizing. It is an adaptation of (of all things!) La Religieuse by Denis Diderot. It was serendipitous to watch it in the same week as Mädchen in Uniform. The two depictions of the brutalization of women play off each other powerfully. It is completely consonant with the anger and outrage of the #metoo movement. Unfortunately, Soeur Saint-Suzanne, the nun of the title, doesn’t make out as well as the Prussian school girls. Her story is horrifying The lead role is taken by the luminous Anna Karina, muse of Jean-Luc Godard. I am actually looking forward to watching this again very soon.
6- I am sure that the creators of But I am a Cheerleader were very proud of themselves in the late 90s for making a wacky teen comedy about a gay conversion camp. Unfortunately it is little more than a cartoon about a topic that just isn’t funny. Not only is the topic not funny, and the film’s handling of it ham-handed, but it is so poorly and sloppily researched and executing. Here is a case in point (go ahead and accuse me of picking nits). There is a young Jewish man in the group to be converted. Both he and his father are shown throughout the film wearing that classic Jewish signifier, the yarmulke. BUT! These Jews are wearing wearing the ones on the right, not the left:
If anyone making the film had bothered to do any research and talk to an actual Jew, they would have found out that for day-to-day wear, the ones on the right are worn and the ones on the left are for special occasion, often given out as souvenirs of wedding or bar/bat mitzvahs. You would never see an observant Jew wearing them during their day-to-day life. It is as if someone said, “We’ll make these guys Jewish and we’ll let everyone know by putting one of those beanies on their heads”. Look, I know this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but it just shows you how sloppy this movie is. To see a film that treats this topic with the gravity it deserves, please see Boy Erased
7- I don’t have any idea how to write about Mike Leigh’s movies. He is a master. He is Michelangelo, Beethoven and Springsteen all rolled into one. His films are rich, profoundly moving, deeply resonant. All Or Nothing is as good a place to start as any.
8- So many of Japanese films from the golden era take their stories from Kabuki and Bunraku. I had seen a later version of The Yotsuya Ghost story, but that was more like slasher-porn Kabuki. Yotsuya Kaidan is the real deal. Not sure why it is in two parts.