Routine and not all that exciting gangland picture. Okamoto's knack for stylish pulp framings (the colors are often very good, too) and the cute youth culture setting can't quite overcome a clumsy script and co-lead Takarada's blandness. Really, it's all Takarada's fault: he plays a failing gangster trying to become the Japanese Elvis but feels lost in both roles without Godzilla around.
Flowers of Shanghai, Hou Hsiao Hsien, 1998
Rewatch after reading Han Bangqing's "The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai", the (magnificent) 19th century novel this is based on. Indeed a completely different experience because only now I realize just how dense and conflicted every single scene is beneath the surface level of dead opium time. A film not organized as but all the more trenched in narrative. In the end this probably is the key to Hou's success here, too: staying away from Han's panoramic approach (the "natural" but also inevitably weaker mode of adaptation would've been a "sprawling" tv epic, HBO style), skipping, safe for the failed double suicide in the end, most of the more dramatic episodes and evoking the depth of experience and history through gesture and camera movement instead.
Tausend Augen, Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, 1984
Armin Müller-Stahl: the name is program, like we say in Germany.
You really got a problem when Wim Wenders snatching VHS tapes "to free them" isn't the low-point of your film.
Don't want to make too much fun of this because I like Blumenberg's writing a lot, but this really almost feels like a parody of a film critic's debut feature. The nice nighttime colors and a good, if over-eager soundtrack only get you so far, and aside from that it's just one half-assed smartassery after the other. Plus even Karin Baal is bad in this.
Straub's lecture on marine biology contains the word "Trübungszone".
Der Prinz von Arkadien, Karl Hart, 1932
Willi Forst at the piano jingling away, Liane Haid sprawled out on the bed, pining: what else does a film need? Nothing, like we know already from DAS LIED IST AUS. This time around there´s a twist, though: turns out the piano can do fine by itself, freeing Forst for other endeavours. No need for musical self-denial, this time.
Not quite as smooth and inventive a production as the von Bolvary films made two years earlier by almost the same team, but still: A wonderful Reisch script, some of the best, most free-wheeling Robert Stolz songs, Forst at his smoothest, Haid at her most glamourous, a general air of romantic extravaganza... A film I feel at home in.
Kirschen in Nachbars Garten, Erich Engels, 1956
Deadly dull, hopelessly repressed, painfully unfunny, with both the actors and the direction constantly finding new ways of completely fucking up even the easiest setups ... really bottom of the barrel material, but you can't deny that Engels has at least some feel for small-town pettiness. A film that sees completely eye to eye with its asshole characters, an uncanny if also thoroughly unpleasant fit of form and content. And Oskar Sima, I hate so admit it, sometimes actually IS rather funny.
Deliria, Michele Soavi, 1987
Like a streamlined and cynical knock-off of OPERA that somehow managed to get released a few months before the Argento. I agree with blahr that it often feels kind of empty, a purely mechanical genre exercise, but to me the fact that a lot of it is just dressed up hack work somehow only adds to the charm. Or rather: The fact that 80 percent of this plays like a dumb but effective slasher - with all the more esoteric concerns of earlier gialli stripped away, this really is all about entrapping and then penetrating a number of helpless bodies and nothing else - makes the remaining 20 percent shine all the brighter. Those 20 percent (basically the final girl act) mostly play like a dumb slasher, too, but with an added dose of shrill craziness that makes all the difference.
A very 80s film and also very much a film from an industry in rapid decline. By now everyone's faking it, and what's worse, everyone knows that everyone's faking it, but there might still be enough energy left to willfully forget just that once in a while.
North Sea Dragon, Kinji Fukasaku, 1966
The showdown, a multi-person, multi-weapon action scene with a magnificent forward drive and a pitch-perfect seaside backdrop is just about as good as liquid montage movement images get. Aside from that this feels a bit like a LA TERRA TREMA trapped inside a yakuza programmer body, with some John Ford imagery thrown in, too (like the shots of the women when the men leave for the final fight). The biggest drawback is probably some less than perfect casting, especially when it comes to some of the bad guys, but there's always enough going on to keep the interest up.
Lots of wet tattooed male skin.
Un gatto nel cervello, Lucio Fulci, 1990
I guess I love the fact that this exist a bit more than the thing itself, but on the other hand I'd gladly watch a whole slow-burn tv show just about Fulci sullenly shuffling around through the junkyard of his obsessions. He never should've taken off that checkered cap, though.
Final Justice, Parkman Wong, 1988
If I get this right, the plan of the bad guys mainly hinges on or even consists of them having lots of big weapons, although sometimes they hang out in whorehouses, too. Danny Lee drives a motorbike (Yamaha) wears sunglasses (Ray Ban) and smokes cigarettes dispensed by a plastic figure of a naked guy in a barrel with a boner (Marlboro). Stephen Chow is very emotional and wears a shirt with a glittery Hong Kong skyline stitched onto it. At one time he takes it off to show off his bruises.
Paradise Hills, Alice Waddington, 1999
Lost me rather early, although on first sight it does feel much less pre-packaged than most Young Adult, if only because it's, for once, based on an original screenplay. Waddington invests a lot in world building, but constantly gets lost between a rather stupid high concept plot and the also only occasionally thrilling girl power mechanics (Awkwafina and Roberts do their best to sell it). Doesn't help that the big twist is by far the clumsiest part.
Tatort: Schussfahrt, Wolfgang Staudte, 1980
Great late Staudte film. A murder hidden behind several layers of performative masculinity, Doris Kunstmann as a frustrated housewife trying to figure out with just how many levels of bullshit she's dealing with, true lowlifes have better sex but not much of a future. Essen looks quiet in its eternal green-brown (assisted by a faded tv print) - only in the very end a few factories and smokestacks show up. Inspector Haferkamp is quiet, precise and determined in a detached way, just like Staudte's direction. Willy Semmelrogge is the only element that really feels tatorty here. He has almost nothing to do but remains a constant source of irritation.
The Beachcomber, Muriel Box, 1954
Well made for what it is, especially the animal scenes - almost as if the protagonists are pushed by the beasts onto their path and into narrative. Somehow Box's careful direction only reinforces the paternalistic colonial attitude everything in here is built on, though. The film looks as if he should be smart enough to see through at least some of its own preconditions. However, it clearly isn't. White Man's Burden really is the beginning and the end, here.
Kitty und die große Welt, Alfred Weidenmann, 1956
Making fun of the theatrical dimension of politics in 1956 meant something completely different than doing the same in 1939, when Käutner shot the first film version of the play. In 39 the plot was completely in line with Führerprinzip state ideology, and Käutner's was mainly concerned with sidestepping the anti-diplomacy polemics at least a little bit in favor of screwball fun. By 1956, the kind of backroom diplomacy the play ridicules already felt ancient so Weidenmann actually would've needed to move in the opposite direction and reintroduce at least some notions of politics for the film to feel relevant. Not really surprisingly he doesn't, with the result that the stakes of the conference everyone talks about constantly are never even remotely made clear.
Instead this seems to be modelled after ROMAN HOLIDAY and exclusively hinges on Schneider's charm - which is, of course, completely sufficient for just about any film. There's a shot of her lying stretched out over the grass while two men light their cigarettes over her face. In the end, this is the moment the film was made for.
This Ain't No Heartland, Andreas Horvath, 2004
Third film I've seen from Horvath, and he really seems to to rub me the wrong way. I guess it might be the combination of polemics and pathos evident in all of his work. This one at least isn't so damn arty. Some of the low-fi-techniques, probably meant to emulate American trash culture, are actually quite funny, and both his empathy and his sense of humor clearly reach beyond the confines of his ideology. For the most part, to be sure, this really is antiamericanism 101: lots of cheap shots at the heartland state of mind, one ill-informed country hick at the time. Compared to this, the new BORAT is a nuanced piece of dialectical criticism. But in between, we see an old man telling the story of his brother who fell in love with cigarettes during World War 2, and another man remembering the one time in his life women all over the world wanted to marry him because of a newspaper ad. It's kind of interesting, in fact, how Horvath seems to drift naturally towards these two and a few more rather opaque, complicated people; they indeed get more screentime than anyone else... but still, have to cut back to that boring GOP asshole belittling the death of Iraqi civilians once in a while to remind everyone why we're all here.
Rebecca, Ben Wheatley, 2020
Been way too long since I've seen the Hitchcock, but this kind of dull competence can stand on its own perfectly well. Ben Wheatley is a nice enough window dresser and this actually goes quite a long way with a project like this. Also, although he has no feel for the darker aspects of the source(s) at all, he can't quite get rid of all the perversity inherent in this tale of two women, one who can trap men, horses and probably also women between her thighs; and one who can't. Still, the decision to basically turn Mrs. de Winter into a "proactive" action-adventure-heroine is very disappointing; and both leads are terribly bland, James even more so than Hammer.
Aus einem nahen Land, Manfred Neuwirth, 2015
24 sequence shots of rural textures (plants, animals, humans, machinery) taken in a village close to but seemingly worlds apart from Vienna. All of them dynamized by a slight, almost imperceptible lateral tracking movement, that seems to delineate a small part of a (very) wide circle (but what might be its center? Most of the time, this isn't clear at all, and the circling might be just in my mind, anyway). After a while, the direction of the movement is reversed and the camera returns to its point of origin.
Might not quite hit, at least on first sight, the Benning sweet spot of structural intelligence and zen-like immersion... but then again it's probably a beast all of its own anyway and I'll probably have to think about it some more.
Tatort: Schönes Wochenende, Wolfgang Staudte, 1980
Not as tight and precise as SCHUSSFAHRT and way too much cringy Felmy / Semmelrogge banter (getting rid of all the annoying sidekicks generally would make TATORT much more bearable). Still, once things move away from the not all that interesting kitchen sink gangsters, this finds its own, much more meandering flow, thanks mostly to Birke Bruck as the owner of a provincial hotel, a woman looking for love in all the wrong places. There's a magnificent party scene (starting with a pretty harsh carnival speech: "... and we also beat our wives, but otherwise we're good folk") in which Felmy and Bruck almost lose themselves in each other. Of course, sooner or later duty calls, and the price everyone has to pay for this is condensed in a pitch-perfect final scene.
Stoff der Heimat, Othmar Schmiderer, 2011
Starts with a series of scenes depicting, matter-of-fact-like, processions and festivals celebrating traditional culture in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, and I guess the film would've been stronger if it had stayed on this course. The main paradox inherent in the notion of "Traditionspflege" (maintenance of tradition) comes across quite clearly: if tradition indeed is a root anchoring us, why the need for all that elaborate maintenance? The more discursive parts later in the film touch on this, too, as well as on many other, often quite interesting topics, but the film loses its shape in the process.
Es geschah am hellichten Tag, Ladislao Vajda, 1958
Rühmann / Fröbe: one of the most terrifying double binds in German (ok, Swiss, technically, but still) film history.
Vents de sable, femmes de roc, Nathalie Borgers, 2009
Not sure about the strong biographical focus. i guess it works well to counter certain kinds of prejudices, but in the end we just don't know enough about the life of the women aside from their annual trip through the desert. Still, as a record of material conditions this is impressive enough.
Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi, Kurt Hoffmann, 1961
Kurt Hoffmann trying to find a worthwile perspective on a rather strained Dürrenmatt script, and mostly failing. The more playful parts work a bit better (always a bad sign when the "funny voice-over" actually IS the funniest part of a film), once the genre mechanics take over, boredom reigns. Camera by Nykvist, and indeed this looks at times like Bergman light.
Farben einer langen Nacht, Judith Zdesar, 2011
Light only becomes truly visible when viewed from the vantage point of its absence. Modest and beautiful, a film about polar bears, ghosts and maybe ghosts of polar bears. Would've loved to see this in a theater.
Der Richter und sein Henker, Maximilian Schell, 1975
A decent Morricone score in search of a better film. In fact it's often very bad, Jon Voight is almost bizarrely miscast and Schell has no idea what to do with the highly cynical but also very interesting source material. He actually manages to wreck even the surface suspense effects. What's left is a very 70s slow burn that doesn't make much sense and doesn't go anywhere. For a while I was actually rather fond of it anyway. Forget about the literary meta crime ambitions and you get a quite genuine film about a couple of lost souls fucking each other up.
Good News: Von Kolporteuren, toten Hunden und anderen Wienern, Ulrich Seidl, 1990
Seidl cinema before it calcified into its own trademark. Form as an act of poetic self-defense against an unshriven world: it's just not possible to film exploited migrant newspaper sellers in the same way as the people they sell their newspapers to. So the fluid, open-ended scenes with the migrants must be confronted with both the control dispositiv it is in fact subjected to, and the unreachable, closed-off world of petit bourgeoise respectability.
The authoritarian gaze is already there, to be sure, but it's still clearly distinct from Seidl's own, especially since this often is about the tension between a fixed frame and a not yet quite fixed object inside the frame, especially during the long, painful scene filmed from the perspective of an inspection car.
Das indische Tuch, Alfred Vohrer, 1963
A very tongue in cheek entry that knows that even time-worn jokes can be funny again with the right kind of reaction shot attached to them. The closed-off setting doesn't allow for quite as many stylistic flights of fancy as usually and I guess in 1963 Vohrer still had to contain himself when it comes to the more perverse elements of the plot. So we get some nice voyeuristic setups but not much to look at. Flickenschildt and Clarin are pretty impressive, everyone else is just doing his or her thing.
Safari, Ulrich Seidl, 2016
More interesting as I thought it would be to the degree that it deviates from the expected world as dollhouse style. The observational handheld scenes during the actual hunt are the true center of the film, because only here it transcends those tropes of universalized Seidl misanthropy that I just don't care much about. It's not so much about the objective obscenity of hunting tourism than about the processes of internalization it presupposes in its subjects, the rituals, the deflated mimicry of older social values like sportsmanship, the awkward comradeship; and also about the way this process is being assisted by the safari guides (=hunter-whisperers) who are not so much there in order to help with the kill, but to produce a seamless sense of hyperreality, to make sure that you feel what you think you are supposed to be feeling.
Least interesting when viewed as ideological critique. Politically, there's nothing in here that Kubelka's UNSERE AFRIKAREISE (I haven't seen AFRICA ADDIO but I don't doubt for a moment it's a more interesting film, too) doesn't accomplish with much more imagination.
Workingman's Death, Michael Glawogger, 2005
Work only looks like work, Glawogger proposes, when the image, the act of looking, is affected by it, sharing, if only symbolically, its hardships and restrictions. So the camera really needs to be crammed into those tight, airless Ukrainian mine shafts, it needs to breath sulfur fumes in Indonesia, it needs to almost drown in gushing animal blood in Nigeria, it needs to risk getting crushed by metal planks in Pakistan. There must be an initial act of identification, a conscious (if only aesthetic) act of doing away with distancing devises, in order to gain at least some sort of access to the world, the colors, the rhythm, the rituals, the stories these people live in.
This kind of experiental, subjective epistomology, Glawogger also proposes, is possible only at the margins of what today's global economy considers as work. Mining after the mines have closed, gutting of rusty ships that no longer have any use in the system of intercontinental commerce, raw material extraction done by hand instead of machine (like a parody of agriculture: harvesting poisonous chemicals instead of crops), a preindustrial open-air slaughterhouse that basically feels like a battleground.
On the margins of his own film, Glawogger shows us what happens when depictions of work are no longer tainted by experience and direct involvement. For the party crowd ad the closed mine in Duisburg, but also the tourists strolling around next to the workers in Indonesia, work is transformed into ornament, while the state propaganda both in present day China and in Stalinist Russia forces it to vanish into ideology.
The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock, 1956
Might not be one of Hitchcock's most exciting films, but I remain very much intrigued by it. There's a constant tension (evident in many of his films, probably, but seldom as clearly defined as here) between the extremely precise, mechanical, almost academic techniques of suspense and the mundane, kind of messy, almost soapy family drama. Hitchcock makes it clear that, while the mechanisms of the thriller plot always need to be airtight, with every part of the machine working perfectly in synch (like the instruments in an orchestra performance), the depiction of private life must allow for some areas of looseness and ambivalence. In the end we only get hints of the reality of Stewart's and Day's marriage - people will fill in the blanks anyway, and always according to their own experience and ideological predisposition.
Today almost no one seems to allow for the possibility of them leading basically a happy, if a bit boring life, or at least one that is very much worth saving. And the film's problem, for today's audiences, might be that the ending only really works when one is able to buy into this anyway. Because, of course, both strands, the public adventure and the private drama, only come together in the final "Que sera sera" scene, and they only do so because Day consciously chooses to transform a public performance into a private one. To sing for her son in order to never having to sing for any other audience ever again.
Letterboxd reviewers, even the ones very dear to me, never cease to amaze me. Hating on "Que sera sera"? On Doris Day? Is there nothing sacred anymore?
Witness, Peter Weir, 1985
A rather basic high-concept script turned into also rather basic quality cinema, but elevated by attention to detail, lack of self-serving irony and a magnificent central performance by the perhaps most underrated actor of his generation.
Always tempting to say: they don't make 'em like that anymore... in this case it might be possible to date it much more precisely. Maybe this kind of film only was possible (at least in the absence of a major auteur like Eastwood) in the mid 80s, in the short period between New Hollywood exaltations and Tarantino postmodernism. I would put it next to films like TENDER MERCIES, STARMAN, RUNNNING ON EMPTY, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, MIDNIGHT RUN, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, AT CLOSE RANGE, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, MASK and CROSSROADS. Not necessarily the most interesting cluster of American 80s cinema (although I love all of them, especially the first three), but maybe the last time that films for the "general public", were made without any kind of condescension (=target group optimization).
Palast Hotel, Leonard Steckel and Emil Berna, 1952 (originally an Ophüls project, alas...)
The owner of the hotel is away so his wife takes over, meaning power becomes soft, maternal, and all the more effective, because its subjects start internalizing it in order to please madam. In the end this is a story about a workforce policing itself, in order to make sure that not only business, but the whole of society will go on as usual.
On the surface this might look like one of those fluffy, episodic hotel comedies that were basically everywhere in the 50s, but it turns out to be an extremely swiss turn on the genre: claustrophobic rather than expansive and breezy, tightly controlled rather than anarchic, and with an eye for petit bourgeoise pettiness, like when the foppish, handsome male lead repeatedly checks the fit of his clothes.
Tatort: Freiwild, Wolfgang Staudte, 1984
I guess I need to make amends to Müller-Stahl. I often can't stand him, but he really is magnificent in Staudte's swan song, a multi-layered Brechtian parable camouflaging as a slow-moving Berlin Tatort, pitting a dysfunctional upper-class family unit against the in the end much more dynamic community of the desitute. It also harks back to the beginning of Staudte's career, his involvement with, and then taking account of nazi ideology, with Müller-Stahl and the also very good Hallswach basically acting out a very German variation of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fantasy (with the clear implication that Dr. Jekyll / Dr. Mengele is the true villain of the pair). Meanwhile the cops are reduced to mere catalysts, and once again there's a killer ending.
Arab Attraction, Andreas Horvath, 2010
I don't know, Horvath's cinema just remains very much not my thing... This one mostly is a filmic portrait of Barbara Wally, a former Austrian curator / part of the international art scene jet set who married a Yemenite man and now lives a part of her life according to the rules of (very) orthodox Islam. And as far as Horvath confines himself to exploring both Wally's daily life and her almost constant reflections on it, this is actually quite engaging: while she clearly doesn't think of her new existence as a piece of conceptual art, there's always a level of performance and experiment present - as there probably is in everyone's daily life, it's just a bit more obvious from her point of view.
Unfortunately, Horvath once again seems to be unable to resist his polemical impulses. In this case, this manifests itself in long-winding theological justifications of polygamy / institutionalized sexism (not uninteresting in themselves, but completely out of place here), and especially in the almost constant cross-cutting: inside vs ouside, Europe vs Yemen, men vs women etc, ad nauseam. These cuts are not at all interested in contrasting, and thereby making sense of the lived-in conditions of a variety of people; it's about pointing put, again and again, difference as such, not even to make a political point (Horvath remains sympathetic to both Wally and her husband throughout), but just because this is the only way the film seems to be able to make aesthetic sense of the material.
Maximum Risk, Ringo Lam, 1996
Van Damme is once again not quite identical with himself. This time he is retracing the steps of his former / other self: No matter where he goes he already has been there, his body has left a mark, and also a gap, but one it cannot quite fill when it returns. World and body aren't in tune, so we must go forward and do something about it. The pop psychology might be on the nose, but Van Damme is a guy who only looks into a broken mirror after beating up a bad guy with it. In the end he accepts the fact of his secondness, his lack of identity, without too much trouble. Maybe he knows that melancholy makes him look even more handsome, plus there's Natasha Henstridge who's a downright goddess in this. If this woman chooses to kiss you, she already has made all the important decisions for you.
There's a certain tension in the film between the more quirky, almost phantasmagorical parts (that Julius Ceasar bathhouse fight scene) and the rather prosaic procedural elements. Unfortunately the more poetic stuff often gets the short end of the stick, like when the taxi driver / novelist, after being introduced as Van Damme's main side-kick, is killed rather abruptly.
At the same time this is about a director finding his groove on foreign soil. Except for some weird, but also charming casting choices (Frank Senger might be Wong Jing's but certainly not Hollywood's idea of a corrupt cop) Lam seems to be well-adjusted to American mid 90s studio filmmaking. The first car chase in Nizza (a much better location for Hong Kong style action than anything in North America) plays it safe and rather clean, but when the film returns to France in the end, all hell breaks loose in classic, chaotic Ringo Lam fashion. The short bursts of mayhem in between are handled very well, too, especially the train scene, there's smoke and painterly big city lighting everywhere and there also are some nice physical bits like Van Damme getting thrown off his feet by a rather tame car crash. In the end, though, it's all about preparing for the chainsaw slaughterhouse finale. Capped off by a perfect, metaphorical one-two punch: shoot a pig to shoot a pig, become a pig to shoot another pig.
Kiru, Kenji Misumi, 1962
A 70 minute epic, spanning decades and generations, structured like an episodic adventure tale but shot through with an almost surreal sense of predestination. It's basically an interrogation of a worldview, a way of placing oneself in history by way of style; the framing is incredibly inventive throughout, and there's a tournament scene rather early in the film that seems to invent a new language of cinema on the spot, shot by shot, camera movement by camera movement, resulting in the rather radical discovery of the motionless fight scene.
A perfectly stylized piece of genre art and still not easy to pin down. At times it plays out like a minimalist fascist fever-dream (if there ever could be such a thing; fascism always goes for pomp, of course) of beauty and death, but then again there's the lively, almost exuberant presence of Mayumi Nagisa as the hero's sister. She has to die too, yes, but as long as she's alive she's completely untouched by the game of self-annihilation everyone else is busy playing.
Zaho Zay, Georg Tiller, Maéva Ranaïvojaona, 2020
Don't know, bored the hell out of me. Two stars only because it might very well profit quite a bit from a bigger screen. Still doesn't even begin to free itself from its overbearing docu-fiction hybrid concept. All those sub Pedro Costa inserts of enigmatic black bodies doing enigmatic things only rob the documentary footage of its specifity. It also features the exact kind of voice-over I am allergic too (detached elocution + a script that combines faux-personal musings with adacemic-adjacent jargon, but in the end commits to neither theory nor autobiography/fiction), so maybe I'm just the wrong audience here.
The Skin of the South, Ishiro Honda, 1952
Early Honda before his turn towards the fantastic, although even here he manages to sneak in some lovely, if still rather basic miniature work. Generally the whole will the mountain come down and bury us storyline works quite well - it starts like a nation building narrative, kind of a Japanese New Deal film, but takes some surprisingly downbeat, pessimistic turns later on. Unfortunately there's quite a bit of dead air, too, especially when the romance subplot takes over in the second half. There's a scene with a man encountering a woman bathing nude in the forest that plays out incredibly clumsy - as if those two, and Honda, too, discover the scandal of human sexuality at this very moment, and don't know at all how to deal with it.
Yasuko Fujita is an interesting actress but doesn't seem to have been in much.
Himmel und Erde, Michael Pilz, 1982
It is possible to put something small into something big. But it also might get lost there. A film of sad, at times devastating beauty, a film about historical change and its relationship to imagemaking, or, more precisely, about a point of no return: modernity as the precise moment when a return to the world means a return to images and nothing else.
The Madness of Youth, Seijun Suzuki, 1960
Running in madness, dying in love. Or the other way around. One of Suzuki's most memorable early films, thanks mostly to a number of electrifying performances (Tamio Kawaji might be the most unstable of all Japanese New Wave heroes) and Suzuki's total commitment to them. Really amazing how close this comes to being a Japanese A BOUT DE SOUFFLE while at the same time never really leaving behind the constrictions of a formulaic script based on the kind of melodramatic entanglements that only work because of the stupidity of everyone involved. It's a game of push and pull throughout: Suzuki's free-form image-making lures the characters out into a world of utopian, anarchic self-expression, and the script lassoes them back into society.
Babooska, Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, 2005
I remember really despising this back in 2006 (one among many victims of Berlinale overkill, I guess; I really enjoy not going to film festivals anymore). Which is weird because not only did I like it quite a bit this time around, I also found out that i had surprisingly clear memories of it (ie: that there's a part of my brain I didn't really know existed); above all memories of Babooska herself, especially her posture, a defiant casualness, meeting the world head-on, but at the same time holding something back. A tall lanky woman perfectly in control of herself but declining to be statuesque (I remember girls like her standing at the edge of the schoolyard, always smoking). You're just a bit more flexible if you don't stand completely upright. Her sister and her mother have a similar disposition, it's probably a family trait, but in her it finds the purest expression and maybe this is why the film centers around her. There's no other obvious reason (for its whole existence, in fact), and I guess it took me two viewings to realize that this is exactly what makes it interesting.
A Lustful Man, Yasuzo Masumura, 1961
A relentlessly dark panorama of Japanese feudal society, transformed into a breezy sex comedy about a guy, Yonosuke, who lives to adore women without actually paying the tiniest bit of attention to them. Ignoring everything but the sensual immediacy of female flesh, he at one point doesn't even realize that one of his goddesses is already dead.
In no way is Yonosuke a stand-in for all masculinity, though. In fact, he's the only one in the film, male or female, who completely opposes the Samurai approach to sexuality, which comes down to men pressing women into servitude and women hustling men for at least some reparations. In the end, Yonosuke's one-track-mind is first and foremost a narrative device: Structurally, the film is completely in tune with Raizo Ichikawa's giddy all you can eat libido, forgetting each episode just as easily as the hero does, ecstatically jumping back and forth on a map of a Japan ruled by excess erotic desire. This way, Masumura manages to sidestep moralism in favor of a series of shocks that are always both political and sensual.
Heidenlöcher, Wolfram Paulus, 1986
Seems to insist that there is some potential for resistance against tyranny inherent in the fabrics of everyday life, in the habituality of rural life especially, in embodied routines that manage to deceive city bred nazis, in structures of repetition dictated by nature and thereby seemingly innocuous, in the spatial organization of mountain villages which don't lend themselves to surveillance tactics. This kind of organic resistance, however, is threatened at every turn by all those petty grievances that also develop quite naturally in the very same surroundings.
In the end, both movements cancel each other out and what is left is a formalist surplus, a yearning for the transcendental that always only manifests itself in isolated images, images out of nowhere, neither integrated in everday life nor in the Nazi apparatus.
If I get this right, most of the cast are amateurs - except for the Nazis, among them, a rather brilliant move, Rolf Zacher.
Die Ministranten, Wolfram Paulus, 1990
"We don't have a gang yet, but we already have a leader." A film that knows about the categorical seriousness and also fundamental awkwardness of child's play. The rather inhibited line-delivery of the boys actually adds to this, because in a way they know that they are speaking someone else's (be it the bigger guys a few years older or Karl May) script. Often, we see groups of them in long shots, with the dialogue running alongside the image almost like a separate, somewhat detached layer.
Kaiba, Masaaki Yuasa, 2008
Can't say I was able to make this completely my own, especially after the travelogue episodes ended (maybe I'll have to go through the latter half with an episode guide at some point); still uses limited animation in ways I've never seen before.
Nachsaison, Wolfram Paulus, 1988
Fascinating film, more ambitious than Paulus' previous ones, basically a dystopian-modernist take on the Grand Hotel films of the 1950s. The social significance of the hotels and their bourgeoise patronage has vanished, what's left is profit motive without much substance. Just a few lonely individuals trying to keep the hotel imaginary afloat. The loneliest of them all is Albert Paulus, an awesome, soft-faced actor who should've been big, just like Mercedes Echerer (with a beauty spot above her eyebrow). She grants him intimacy for a while, but that turns out to be just another kind of hustle.
Fahrt in die Hauptstadt, Wolfram Paulus, 1991
Not quite the beware of the big city (Salzburg, in this case, that alone might give one pause) tale it appears to be at the start, when three people with leave their village to pursue very different ambitions there. Especially one of the three tales takes some unexpected turns: a woman who starts working at a travel agency indeed makes good on her promise to never return to the countryside, "no matter what". She finds a way of inserting herself, as a female, desired body, in the dense mise en scene of mirrors and gazes Paulus at times transforms Salzburg into. Most of the time this stays in its lane, though, as a well-made but unadventurous tv movie that grants us a glimpse of mainstream sensibilities regarding sex and gender, city and country, art and eros (the latter clearly is the worst of the three plotlines) in early 90s Austria; but not much more.
Blutsbrüder teilen alles, Wolfram Paulus, 2012
Pretty ridiculous. Paulus trying to reintroduce the communicative density of his tv work into cinematic terms and ending up with a slapdash, flashy dimestore JULES ET JIM. To be sure, the latter is my least favorite Truffaut film to begin with and I might hate its bloated self-seriousness even more like this naive, at times disarmingly vitalistic piece of ahistoric-adolescent wish fulfillment. Still, how is it even possible to go from HEIDENLÖCHER to this?
Die Verzauberung, Wolfram Paulus, 2007
Tv romcom that gets a bit of unearned attention because of Christoph Waltz, when in fact it's Katharina Abt, playing his unfaithful wife, who is the only standout. She plays an enthusiastic, middle-aged blonde who knows a bit more about the people around her and also about her own desires than everyone else here: the warm, open-minded, reflexive and slightly vulgar center of a film that otherwise is perfectly content with the empty rattling of bourgeois family dynamics and the touristic gaze that goes along with it.
Der Schatz, der vom Himmel fiel, Wolfram Paulus, 2012
Always nice to see Rolf Zacher, and here he gets to wear extremely garish clothes almost constantly, too. There's also an energetic, stylish turkish female rock singer who probably hoped that the film would help her career (didn't look like it worked out). Aside from that not much going on.
Zug um Zug, Wolfram Paulus, 1993
The two-part ZUG UM ZUG turns out to be one of the strongest Paulus films. It's the first one he didn't write himself, and still it plays almost like a catalogue of everything he had done so far (while nothing at all points towards the stuff he has done since): a community centered around lumbering and catholicism, the threat of history and what can (not) be done about it, the lonely individual despising all gestures of solidarity, an undercurrent of sexual frustration, precise imagery and an excellent ambient-style soundtrack.
While the first part focused mostly on an individual struggling against (and thereby destroying) community, the second part is more about group dynamics; or rather, different ways of being a fellow traveller during the Nazi era. Even if the film mostly omits direct representation of violence (with a single and very important exception), this is pretty dark, uncompromising stuff.
Du bringst mich noch um, Wolfram Paulus, 1994
First one of Paulus's relationship dramedies and from the start I just can't stand the world all of them are set in: the world of bourgeoise modernity, no longer ruled by the terror of the patriarchy, ok, patchwork families are not even a scandal anymore but rather the new normal... and still, everything is so damn dense, those people leave and breathe work and family and nothing else, every ounce of energy bound up by social connectivity of one kind or other.
Quite correctly, Paulus identifies unfaithfulness and sexual jealousy as a potential breaking point of neo-bourgeoise living arrangements - but then his films are only concerned with the question of how this scandal might be reframed in terms of family dynamics.
I might be a bit harsh... This isn't a worthless film, and I guess I have to think about the hidden insecurities of Katja Flint some day. The ending, too, is surprisingly ambitious, an unexpected turn toward a very dark place - a place a film like this clearly isn't prepared to map out, though.
Jeder Mensch braucht ein Geheimnis, Wolfram Paulus, 2010
This is the one that almost broke me. Grandpa exchanging benevolent matriarchy for a manufactum version of a boheme lifestyle. A film to make one wish for a planet without any kind of blood relationships, without Italy (!) and especially without single-family homes. Also, not quite as big of a loss, without the Green Party. In fact, every local chapter of it should be required to screen this film, and to organize a discussion afterwards on the topic: how the fuck did we become this?
Regentage, Wolfram Paulus, 2002
Might be the best, or rather most bearable among the Paulus adultery / patchwork family romcoms. There's still a conformist streak present that has nothing to do with the plot and everything with the way the film looks at his world, but at least this one is a bit more anarchic (might be the Glawogger influence; he's listed as co-author): pissing children, teens with bad hair, ridiculous yoga teachers. Plus Udo Wachtveitl is the rare Tatort inspector I truly like.
Heldenzeitreise, Wolfram Paulus, 2017
Such a strange and wonderful film. A low budget metahistorical epic shot in mixed woodland and decidedly modest sets about, I guess, the eternal struggle between ambition and horniness throughout the ages??? Featuring, among other things, incestuous desire among the Gauls, "the Eminem of the 13th century", anti European Union agitprop and a female alien invasion???
Somehow Paulus, after more than two decades of distancing himself from the timely, cutting-edge aesthetics of his early work, comes full circle and turns into an accidental avant-gardist. There's really nothing quite like it and while I tentatively content myself to 3 1/2 stars for now, this could move up much higher in the future.
Mathilde liebt, Wolfram Paulus, 2005
Can't say that it provides much pleasure, but it's still interesting to make it through not only one, but a couple of those mainstream tv films from the 2000s. These films certainly get hold of and wrestle with sensibilities the festival films (and also the blockbusters) of the time have no idea of. Anyway, enough for me for now. I like Christiane Hörbiger. Good for her that she finds not one but two lovers after her boring in bed husband dies. But why those two of all people?
Rennlauf, Wolfram Paulus, 1998
One of Paulus's better tv films. While "Cinematic" skiing usually borders on the ridiculous, real, professional Alpine skiing just isn't very cinematic. It's all about "interpreting" the movements of the athletes in order to find out if they "make good speed" or not - but a few seconds later, the timekeeping will tell you anyway, so what's the use. Therefore, it makes sense to concetrate not on what meager external spectacle there is, but rather on a dramaturgy of gazes - longing, jealous, disappointed, eager. Then there's a lesbian encounter with Franka Potente and a rather bitchy blonde, too. The whole thing plays out like a modest but also charming and lowkey sexy fantasy triggered by lazy winter sport watching on a Sunday afternoon.
Augenleuchten, Wolfram Paulus, 2005
Nothing all too suprising going on here, but what a difference a bit of youthful negativity makes. Someone doesn't give a fuck and suddenly we see the world in a new light. Also: What a different an actress makes. Nadja Vogel is a force of nature here, and I have no idea why her career - so far - doesn't seem to have held what this debut promised. She's playing a teenage sexpot and Paulus isn't afraid to shoot through her legs when framing the men lusting after her. She isn't really a man eater, though; while pretty much all the men want the same thing from her, she wants different things from different men, and usually, because she wants things more forcefully and precisely than everyone else in the film, she gets them, too.
Next to her everything pales, but Dominik Leeb as the star-eyed boy is very good, too, and also important for the film. His quiet, forceful performance is the only thing not controlled by Vogel, and this provides enough tension to let a rather basic script come alive.
Half Human, Ishiro Honda, 1955
Solid people walking through snow film with the occasional monster appearance. Phantasmagoric imagery shining through a sub-par digital transfer has its charms, to be sure, but I'd like to see this in a better version some day.
Die Wirtin zur goldenen Krone, Theo Lingen, 1955
Lingen tries hard to enliven a terrible script with the occasional sight gag and some metafilmic shenanigans, but in the end there just isn't much he can do. Paula Wessely's double role is enough to sink the film: As a resolute innkeeper she is somewhat believable, but her princess turned scientist character is as cringy as it gets. Also, the fictional princedom is a strange compromise between Austria's eternal and eternally outdated nostalgia for the k.u.k. monarchy and a particularly dull vision of post-war European mass culture. As far as political fantasies go, this one is particularly unappealing.
Lingen, as a director, probably never made his Tashlin film, but I still like to think he could've.
The H-Man, Ishiro Honda, 1958
Humanity liquified, the world cleansed by flames. Paranoia fighting paranoia until there's nothing left.
Is' was, Kanzler?, Gerhard Schmidt, 1984
I notice that the STUC is already on the case, and rightly so, although one has to concede that a film willing to explore the erotic potential of model railroads can't be all bad. And even aside from that, on the more basic levels of filmmaking this isn't half as terrible (or maybe: pretty much exactly half as terrible; two stars instead of one) as I expected. The acting especially is comparatively unobtrusive, far from the political cabaret hell I was afraid of - although we have to make it through a few minutes of Didi mugging. And while Tommi Piper certainly is an acquired taste, especially when playing an alleged womanizer, his scenes with Constanze Engelbrecht are quite sweet.
All of this doesn't mean that the film in any way manages to justify its own existence. Its "critique" boils down to parliament is a corrupt pigsty and, don't forget, CDU sucks even worse and the Americans control everything. If I want something like that, I can just scroll through the lesser parts of my twitter timeline. Most of the runtime, though, is, for whatever reason, filled with an extremely bland espionage plot completely removed from any sense of real-life politics.
The directed on autopilot genre mechanics lead to an extremely non-thrilling finale on top of the CDU headquarters that may or may not be stolen from the fireworks scene from BLOW OUT - and well, this might just be the depressing truth: while the American Reagan Eighties were ushered in by De Palma's cynical extravaganza, the German Kohl Eighties were introduced by.... this.
Original Gangstas, Larry Cohen, 1996
A good deal of fun in the getting the old gang back together stage: an exploration of community driven by energetic acting and very effective musical cues. That synth bounce when Williamson deals out the goods for the first time... The more this turns into an action movie, the more tedious it gets, though.
Cohen's edge only really shines through in some of the scenes with the mayor and the reverend.
Captive's Island, Masahiro Shinoda, 1966
A closed-off system, like I guess most Shinoda films are in some ways, but here it is especially obvious: two islands, a bigger and a smaller one, on the bigger one the smaller is used as backdrop, and on the smaller the bigger. Past actions determine the present and present actions open up the past. The streaks on Akira Nitta's back from past punishments are the clear, perfectly defined bodily link that holds everything together.
On the outside, on the lush and very green islands, space is dynamic and fragmented. The interiors, though, often crystallize in static long shots centered around iconic imagery: a portrait of Lincoln, a picture of a suffering woman, the Japanese flag. Markers of historical conflict doubling as interchangeable graphical elements.
Battle in Outer Space, Ishiro Honda, 1959
Hardly possible to overstate just how beautiful this is, every single frame, the close-up of the woman helplessly waiting in the control room for news from the astronauts just at much as the ultraromantic moon vistas and the picture-book two-dimensionality of the interstellar battle scenes. A reminder that film sometimes indeed is a visual medium.
De De Pyaar De, Akiv Ali, 2019
A hard film to love, if only because both leads constantly behave like assholes (he on the macro level of being an opportunistic, lying prick in general, she on the micro level of demanding macho violence as proof of commitment). Also, almost every scene leads towards an "awkward moment", which is almost played out way too long and also, every single time, accompanied by overeager sound cues that seem to be designed to drown the whole world in noisy obviousness.
On the other hand, like most romance films, this is mostly about faces; in this case, Devgn's burning eyes behind a laid-back façade and Singh's transformative smile taking over her detached face are almost enough to make one forget everything else.
Deliha 2, Gupse Ozay, 2018
The direction might be a bit more uneven than in the first one, but the heart-warming community feel is once again very pronounced. Great supporting cast, too.
Our Brand Is Crisis, David Gordon Green, 2015
I guess on some level this could be defended as Green taking on a work for hire and enriching it with at least some level of warmth and detail. At times, he almost manages to make it his own, especially in the pretty excellent partying with the disenfranchised scene, which also serves as the centerpiece for Bullock's committed performance.
I can't get over the rote bullshit script, however. It almost plays out like a Ross Thomas setup, but stripped of all intelligence by introducing another, "authentic" layer of grassroot activism (as something you can just choose to tap into, no matter your background) beneath the outer layer of politics as power play, enacting structural pressure on all agents. To go back to the party scene: while Green's direction treats it as the necessary, but also necessarily inconsequential escape that it is (or at least should be), the film retroactively transforms it into a "moment of truth", that singlehandedly changes not only political but also psychological reality.
Abortion, Masao Adachi, 1966
Separating sex from reproduction... supposedly to free the former, yes, but then again Adachi's film is almost exclusively interested in the latter, to the point of this hardly being a pinku at all. It's all about controlling the inner, biological workings of women, and to go there means negating not only the body as an erotic object, but the outward, visible world in toto; so we get lots of paranoid interiors, a detached voice over, close-ups of indifferent, unreadable faces looming large and white on the screen, and - maybe most importantly - quite a few diagrams which are treated like mystical treasure maps: scientific discourse collapsing into full-scale fantasmagoria.
Shinsengumi Chronicles, Kenji Misumi, 1963
The will to fight, violence anchored not in the society, but in the individual. A reddish-brownish world of honor cut off from history and family. Not tight and action-centered enough to really involve me, but supremely stylish on a scene by scene basis.
Hummingbird, Steven Knight, 2013
Well... mostly annoying, I guess. Statham is often very good at implying a rich, repressed inner life behind his smooth exterior, here he is supposed to "really open up" and the result is just another trite redemption tale, drowning in piano triads and sub-Michael-Mann digital nighttime crispness. Not one surprising beat in the whole thing, of course Agata Buzek has do wear the red dress and of course she looks hot in it. What's missing most in this kind of gentrified genre cinema is a notion of vulgar insolence or anything else that would register as a genuine reaction to the fuckedupness of the world the film is set in. Made me want to watch AVENGEMENT again.
Mr. Deeds, Steven Brill, 2003
There seems to be some kind of short circuit at the basis of this: Adam Sandler has been Mr. Deeds all along, so when finally really playing Mr. Deeds it is enough for him to just continue being Adam Sandler. Meaning that this film's version of Mr. Deeds does not need to be explained, constructed, questioned, vindicated - he's just doing his stuff, like he always has. One rather surprising outcome of this is that Mr. Deeds's propensity for violence is much more pronounced in the remake. While Cooper-Deeds's aggressiveness was part of a complex, fetish-like psychological structure, Sandler-Deeds is just a moderately benign bully.
So is this about Sandler beating up hipsters? Unfortunately no. One thing that doesn't work at all is the city-country discourse. The film's idea of "big city life" stems directly from Capra who himself seems to have not been all that up to date back in 1936. So what we get is a quasi-feudalistic power structure coupled with what basically look like updated renaissance streetscapes. All of this doesn't matter much because in the end this is set first and foremost in Happy Madison County, land of moveable kneecap.
The Human Vapor, Ishiro Honda, 1960
Burning down the world for love, for one big show, one final act of becoming-visible. I love this one so much, it starts out as a standard mystery, and by way of introducing "scientific discourse" is turned into a deeply romantic approach to image-making and the fantastic.
Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963
Raizo Ichikawa is really growing on me, those brattish charms always ready to be transformed into pure nihilism. Also always nice to have actors with truly distinctive hair. The Nemuri Kyoshiro films seem to explore the lighter, breezier side of his persona, but coupled with more than a dash of a very sixties kind of machismo.
While this sure looks good throughout, Tanaka seems to be a bit unsure about what to do with the material, mostly downplaying the action scenes while trying for a more poetic approach, like the archaic beach scenery that pops up out of nowhere several times throughout the film.
Herbstromanze, Jürgen Enz, 1980
Imitation of life.
(This really was a surprising and rather sudden discovery: that HERBSTROMANZE, much more than the krypto-Fassbinder exercise I thought it to be, really is a Sirkian film through and through, with all meaning bound up and controlled within Mise en scene.)
Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure, Kenji Misumi, 1964
Just about perfect for what it is. A dynamic comic-book-type visual style, a versatile script, perfect eye for physiognomy (every single close-up of Yoshi Kato's face provides joy), perfect deployment of style for style's sake, for example when it comes to Shiho Fujimura's wardrobe... One of the many clever things Misumi does here is shifting the burden of characterisation: This time, Nemuri Kyoshiro is much more defined by the way people look at him rather than by his own words and actions.
Still hard to argue that misogyny isn't an important part of the recipe here ("And now princess pig wants to grope this purer-than-snow body of mine..."); but Misumi at least manages to include interesting female characters anyway.
Der Formel Eins Film, Wolfgang Büld, 1985
Unlike Büld's superior GIB GAS - ICH WILL SPASS, this one isn't set in the real world but in the immanence of Germany's music industry. Therefore, the love story, which once again is very much its center, doesn't have much room to breathe. There really is no place to go. No matter if you're trying to run away and start a new life together or if you're just looking for a place to fuck: sooner or later grinning Ingolf Lück shows up and the party is over. Plus the male lead is dull as dishwater and the music selection is even worse than one would imagine - a decidedly third-rate Meat Loaf song is the closest thing available to a showstopper, here.
Still a lot of fun because it's all so unfiltered: the clothes, the cluttered Mise en scene, all those non- and barely-jokes cancelling each other out. A film of the world.
(Another discovery: Take away Campino and the Hosen might just be a rather fun collection of dudes.)