Friday, November 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Crows Zero II, Takashi Miike, 2009

Grungier than the first, at times almost infused with a Late Western vibe. The rage and energy doesn't quite come naturally anymore, so the guys start questioning oneself, some of them retreating into private games and overly exclusive in-groups. To pit these world-weary, prematurely aged young men against a new enemy that basically feels and looks like a fascist cult is a quite effective move, even though the Housen Academy stuff feels a bit underdeveloped.

In the end the Crows world is rich enough for me to not regret spending two more hours in it, but at the same time this one is too much of a touching all the bases kind of sequel to arrive at something truly memorable.

Ein Mann gehört ins Haus, Hbert Marischka, 1948

Released in 1948, but made in 1944/45, so it's still all about defending the surplus value of alpine beauty against the threat of the "international" marriage impostor / tourism complex. Keep the cattle, ditch your dreams of a "swiss style" luxury hotel (and the sophisticated romance that goes along with it) and succumb to the natural authority of the alpha guy who just happens to represent the interests of state, capital and police. Ugly and mostly boring stuff only once in a while enlivened by some beautiful location work. I truly hate that Magda Schneider is in this, and I hate even more that she's, of course, very good in this.

October, Shoojit Sircar, 2018

What this speaks of, I think, is the unknowability at the heart of romance. Love is always intimate and personal, a private language for which there never can be an outside reference. Therefore what is needed is an act of faith and in the end we always are left reading each other's eyes. OCTOBER just takes this to its logical and emotional extreme.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Takashi Miike, 2011

Life as an unequal game of death, played out straight and with an eye for melodrama. Stereoscopic classicism. Blood-read leaves covering the screen like a blanket.

Sukiyaki Western Django, Takashi Miike, 2007

On the one hand a rather strange artifact of a historical mode of transcontinental cult cinephilia that never quite managed to transcend the Tanrantino worship of signifiers stage (and has since largely vanished from view). On the other hand one of Miike's most rounded and (especially) visually beautiful productions.

At the end of the day, the Tarantino flavor (to which I'm not necessarily opposed to anyway) fades away and pure beauty remains. The colors and the smooth, silken light, of course, but the excellent, varied action scenes, too, especially the gun fights - the pronounced interval between shot fired and impact, for example, works very well. Miike also knows that the western is always (maybe first and foremost) a physiognomic genre and makes excellent use of faces.

Last but not least one of his sexiest films, with lots of fetishistic imagery and a wonderfully unhinged Yoshino Kimura performance.

Rendezvous in Wien, Helmut Weiss, 1959

Helmut Weiss tries to insert the Schlagerfilm with a modicum of relevance by pitting the romcom fluff against cold-war politics; and expectedly only manages to suck out all off the little pleasures the genre normally provides not despite but because of its modest ambitions.

I also hate all the men here and with the exception of Susi Nicoletti all the women, too. Aside from the somewhat pleasant production design this is as stale as it gets, anti-cinema, run for your lives kind of stuff.

I really think there aren't many things out there as reliably shitty as German / Austrian made political satire.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Jason Woliner, 2020

I probably even like this a bit more than I thought I would after reading that this time most of it is conventionally staged. The main storyline mostly works and Maria Bakalova has enough energy to carry the film over some of the more random stretches - although I indeed think that scenes like the one in the bakery with the "jews will not replace us" cake lose all meaning once it's obvious they're scripted (and I also don't understand why they use multiple camera setups to begin with; if you want to fake it, at least make an effort).

Also, some rather obvious problems remain. The attempts at the end to kind of apologize for the first film by way of turning Borat woke feel especially misguided. Cohen's punkish edge might've never been quite as effective as people thought, but without it, there's not much more left than an overeager fool trying to please his public at all cost.

And, of course, who needs the Giuliani hotel room embarrassment when there's Four Seasons Total Landscaping? (A cheap shot, I know, but then again this is a Borat film.)

Bodyguard Kiba, Takashi Miike, 1993

Would've needed a slightly more coherent script and a better male lead to truly fly, but generally gets a lot out of a (very) limited budget. Rather kinky at times, too, with a vintage exploitation feel quite different from later Miike mayhem.

Die Privatsekretärin, Wilhelm Thiele, 1931

A tavern performance of a male choral society performance leading to extensive social drinking rituals leading to Felix Bressart's slurred hymn to his aunt leading to (dreams of) erotic fulfillment: a prime example of the freewheeling, hedonistic approach to filmmaking German cinema lost access to, for the most part forever, after 1933. In this case, the secret ingredient might be Renate Müller's infectious giggling.

Müller's chemistry with Thimig, on the other hand, isn't nearly on the same level as two years later in VIKTOR UND VIKTORIA; in fact, he's pretty dull, and the film, while pleasant enough, never quite approaches the heights of, say, the Joe May comedies of the same period. Nevertheless, Müller and an extremely cheerful Felix Bressart alone make this more than worth the watch.

Japanese Summer: Double Suicide, Nagisa Oshima, 1967

Some of the shots and even whole sequences are to die for, but to me, this kind of retreat into claustrophobic ultra-leftist paranoia just feels depressing more than anything else. Also, I guess pulpy minimalism just isn't a good style for Oshima.

The Hangman of the Fiji Island, Said Manafi, 1980

"I am not a happy man". The fingers remember piano melodies, but the head is filled with darker kinds of memories. The protagonist - Bill Reeves, a British loner who, after giving up a life in England and a job as piano tuner, served as a hangman in Fiji for more than 30 years, all the while privately negotiating a strange mixture of racism, misanthropy, melancholia and, above all, loneliness - is so fascinating that the film has trouble living up to him. I guess I would've preferred a straight-up 60 minutes interview with Reeves, but in the absent of that, this remains an important document.

L'osceno desiderio, Giulio Petroni, 1978

Drifting through the night, or rather the greenish fog of a mushy vhs rip that lends this fever-dream of an unspecific erotic haunting another layer of horny inertia.

A Trap, Yoji Yamada, 1965

A decent potboiler script executed with style and all the studio trappings. Still, a bit dull, way too slow and far removed from Yamada's strengths.

Der Traum des Sandino, Margareta Heinrich, Rudi Palla, 1981

Austrian produced de facto image film for the Sandinista movement. Hardly possible to not side with them in general (without necessarily having to buy wholesale into their ideological framework), and the images can't help being richer than the paternalistic voice-over rhetoric suggests, especially when it comes to group dynamics... but still, why travel halfway around the world if you always already exactly know what you'll find there anyway?

Pigs and Battleships, Shohei Imamura, 1961

Imamura's late work was extremely important to me when I started getting into Japanese cinema about 20 years ago, but since then I have mostly sidestepped him, without exactly knowing why myself and while I certainly admire PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS, it indeed still keeps me at a distance. I guess I just might not be fully comfortable / compatible with the sprawling maximalist, vitalist force of his style, with the blunt, positivist approach to bodies and biology that always seems to carry with it at least some ideological baggage: It's not just about diving into the world head-on, celebrating the unruly nature of desire (although it certainly is about that, too), but always also about the insistence that biology is, indeed, destiny. The pig-feeders will become pig feed.

Still, in the end the objection has less to do with ideology than with aesthetics. What bugs me most is the acting, especially Nagato's constant twitching and turning. It's not so much acting than a constant acting up, an absorption of energy followed by a series of convulsive releases (the machine gun in the end) - with the result that the body ends up being transformed into a mere vessel for Imamura's worldview. A selfsame energy flow innervating every scene, every frame, a total vision beating everything into submission...

What makes all of this so conflicting is that Imamura gets his best effects by focusing on the very stuff that irritates me. The very seamlessness of the constant back and forth between the panoramic, carnivalesque approach of the street mayhem and the intimate scenes with Kinta and Haruko; the way the quivering of Yoshimura's lips in close-up and the fluid tracking shots of the pig stampede mirror and innervate each other...

La casa dalle finestre che ridono, Pupi Avati, 1976

Just fucking terrifying, one of the most effective pure horror films I've seen in a while. The giallo goes to the countryside and while the sex stays under the blanket this time, fantasy production is running all the wilder. Both reality and perception are splintered beyond repair, with no safe haven of spatio-temporal firstness in sight, so unlike in DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING it's not about unearthing an evil lurking under the tranquil rural surface, but about navigating a fundamentally unstable space, about making the derangements that are already there from the start a little bit more palpable, while falling prey to them.

Mit meinen Händen, mit meinem Kopf, Nikolaus Leytner, 1982

Watching an artisan building an arm-chair, matter being formed by embodied memory: this is something I'll never grow tired of. In the end, though, I admire his patience with wool, springs and fabric less than his family's patience with him, Heideggerian hobgoblin that he is. Technically pre-Heideggerian, I guess, but the Seyn, the Sein and the Seiendes are probably just lurking around the corner.

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