JVCD, Mabrouk El-Mechri, 2008
Good idea, terrible execution. All those unhinged, unfiltered jcvd soul searching, coupled with the also very pleasant small scope may be enough to make me cope with some of the most annoying villains in recent genre filmmaking; but it's not enough, unfortunately, to overcome the beyond ugly color grading that tries its best to suck the life out of every single frame.
Hard Target, John Woo, 1993
Total immersion: Woo comes to America and tries to film a city's atmosphere as if it were a material entity - and Van Damme its natural, organic offspring, not at all a historical, biographical being, and also not just a creature of myth; but a body rhythmically attuned to its surroundings. To me the film loses quite a bit of its punch once everyone heads for the swamps, although I'll probably have to see it again soon, anyway.
No Retreat, No Surrender, Corey Yuen, 1986
I know I should finally start watching the right kind of Corey Yuen films, but I had quite a bit of fun with this one, too. The first half has a good eye for teenage awkwardness and colorful 80s fashion (there's a cute rabbit in it, too), and the second half basically is a single, epic training montage, culminating in a decent final brawl.
Double Impact,Sheldon Lettich, 1991
Van Damme in his prime is always worth a watch and I guess the introduction of the how many Van Dammes are there, really, and why? theme so important in later years earns it its place in the canon ... but this unfortunately really is an almost formless drag for the most part.
The Last Mercenary, David Charhon, 2021
More a french mainstream ensemble comedy than a Van Damme vehicle, which I guess is both a bad thing (because the non JCVD parts often are bland and almost always way too long) and a good thing (because the script completely sidesteps cheap nostalgia and at least tries to engage with the present moment). Also makes one wish the in theory much more engaging JCVD would have been directed by at least a competent hack.
Universal Soldier, Roland Emmerich, 1992
Surprisingly well-made, if a bit impersonal. I don't think Emmerich's heart was in this one, except maybe for the road-trip Americana feel of some of the scenes and probably a few of the more out there musclescapes (although this kind of crass display of sexuality never quite sits right with his filmmaking), but he really does an expert job in elevating, for better or worse, throwaway pulp material to blockbuster proportions.
Fucking Berlin, Florian Gottschick, 2016
I wish this wasn't quite as inept on the most basic level of script and dialogue, because who even tries something like this any more? Engaging with a city and its sexual imaginary head-on, milking those iconic locations for all they got, synching streetscapes with beats and bodies, baiting with explicit debauchery and delivering the latest brand of big city ennui instead ...
Could've been an ICH - EIN GROUPIE for the new millenium, but in the end it's all just a bit too ridiculous, like donning Christiane F.'s Bowie coat on the way to a cozy Zentrum Kreuzberg bordello that seems to be born from an uneasy combination of woke sex work fantasies and ARD daytime television dramas. An exploitation film about the impossibility of exploitation cinema in the present historical moment.
Tomorrow's Dining Table, Takahisa Zeze, 2021
The drama of motherhood, first multiplied and then slowly stripped down to its raw emotional core, which turns out to be closely connected to a taboo so strict it just can't be confronted head-on. Not everything works equally well: the middle-class storyline, despite being the most straight-forward, is the weakest - strangely enough, the somewhat over the top plots of the other two archs pull more punch. On the other hand, Miho Kanno has the most intense scream of them all.
Kressin und der Mann mit dem gelben Koffer, Michael Verhoeven, 1972
Doesn't really feel like a Tatort, but more like an abstract, wannabe-modernist take on the Eurospy formula that just happens to be stuck in Bonn and surroundings instead of branching out into more photogenic locations. Overall pretty boring, unfortunately, applaudable as Verhoeven's cinematic aspirations (including long stretches without any dialogue - unthinkable in today's German television crime fiction) may be in theory.
It's Tough Being a Man, Yoji Yamada, 1969
The beginning of a journey. Mostly about an outsider trying, and failing to find the right distance (or the right kind of distance) from society. Yamada's direction is, of course, smooth and relaxed throughout. A welcoming film.
Der rote Schatten, Dominik Graf, 2017
At its best a mellow nighttime Stuttgart blues about lost souls emerging from a utopian leftist, though still thoroughly Swabian 8mm past to haunt the urban periphery of present day southern German prosperity. Some excellent musical cues coupled with a more relaxed than usual cutting pattern; underlit, tired faces still trying to escape their own historical obsolescence; a mudhole on the way to the garden hut...
But this time there's just way too much plot, and not a very interesting one either. When "grappling with the legacy of the radical left" only comes down to once again asking what really happened that one night in that Stammheim prison cell - then maybe it might make more sense to just let matters rest for now? And as much as I love Richy Müller, his trip down memory lane is quite a bit annoying, and only makes me want to watch DIE INNERE SICHERHEIT again.
Un jeans e una maglietta, Mariano Laurenti, 1983
Who's that guy, throwing pebbles into the water, causing small, pathetic ripples, lost in the cruel beauty of the sea? It's Nino, the world's loneliest ice-cream vendor ... soon to become the world's happiest ice-cream vendor, because l'amore is l'amore and we all remember a moment of grace or two. A film completely in tune with the shameless sentimentality and dreamlike bluntness of a good pop song. In a way the film might even be superior to the song, because cinema is not only about dream images, but about their perpetual actualisation and perfecting.
Also, Neapolitan dialect is extremely beautiful, and the most heartbreaking image of the whole film does belong to neither Nino nor Annemaria, but the other girl, the brunette one (Luisa?), when a single tear starts running down her silent face.
Tutte lo vogliono, Alessio Maria Federici
Dire, complacent "post-romantic" romcom that can't even be saved by wraparound sequences of Enrico Brignano travelling the countryside with a chimp on the passenger seat. I'm afraid Italian cinema has lost its way with comedy just as much as with every other genre. Where's all that high-strung sexual sensitivity gone? How can a country, in less than two generations, go from Alberto Sordi to ... this?
3096 Tage, Sherry Hormann, 2013
A film so thoroughly conflicted, it's just not possible to confront it head-on. Paradoxically, it is cursed by the inherent cinematicality of the Kampusch case - which basically amounts to a real-life exploration of Plato's Allegory of the cave, and therefore film theory. So in a way, both the film and its failure probably were inevitable. Cinema just couldn't resist to return, after the story had already played out both in reality and in the yellow press, to the cave / cellar, and to retrace every step towards liberation - a liberation that also is a liberation from cinema, because it is clear from the start that the film will lose its raison d'etre once the prison is not only broken open but thoroughly disempowered. The order of the visible demands a frame.
This complicity between cinema and the kidnapper is so pronounced, that the film constantly has to sabotage its most direct impulses in order to not delve into crass exploitation. The only thing that escapes this (once again: not only excusable, but necessary and inevitable) watering down is the casting, especially when it comes to Antonia Campbell-Hughes: a radical act of embodiment that makes clear that the art of acting in some ways is always tainted by a fundamental obscenity, the ultimate transgression.
German post-millenial film maudit fantasy double feature:
Daniel, der Zauberer (Ulli Lommel, 2004)
3096 Tage (Sherry Hromann, 2013)
Half-Way to Shanghai, John Rawlins, 1942
Another interesting wartime b-movie, a train-set mystery with J. Edward Bromberg as yet another "ethnic" detective. He's not the main attraction here, though, since the politics involved demand more in terms of characterization and motivation than the traditional whodunit formula provides. The cast is pretty great, which usually is enough to make programmers like this a success ... but here, I was constantly put off by the film's lack of effort to render the train sets halfway realistically - they're just way too wide, and people move through them without showing any awareness for the specific directedness of train travel. Weirdly enough, this is the kind of detail that completely inhibits my suspension of disbelief.
The Tiger Woman, Philip Ford, 1945
First film of John's nephew Philip Ford (who went on to direct 42 movies in 7 years) and already a gem, a bone-dry, soft-spoken noir with smooth Kane Richmond falling, more or less knowingly, for Adele Mara's blonde poison, only to, in the end, turn the tables on her by catching her in his own sensual trap. Romance as the necessary lie, only heartbroken we will approach truth. Seamless, intimate filmmaking, a dark, ironic tale spoken in a steady inflection that makes each small emphasis count.
Sightless, Cooper Karl, 2020
Nothing makes sense here but I don't care, I'm just glad that there are still films out there which use genre not as a formula but as a laboratory. Plus, Cheryl Blossom from Riverdale is in it and she's just as good a horror film actress as I already know she would be.
Mio figlio Nerone, Steno, 1956
From the golden days of Italian cinema, when you could just dress up Sordi, Swanson, Bardot and De Sica in wonderful, silly costumes, place them in colorful sets probably left over from some earlier epic, build a few loosely connected vignettes of psychosexual mayhem around them, let a dp called Mario Bava add a few ornamental flourishes here and there, and call it a movie, knowing fully well that this way of making them is easily superior to almost any other.
L'ombrellone, Dino Risi, 1965
Magnificent beach movie by Risi, pitting small gestures of despair against the oppressive force of the humming machine of modern society, a constant buzzle intensified by the erotic claims of the holiday setting. Comedy and melancholia are truly inseparable here, because often enough they're attached to the same object, like the door of a hotel room.
A distant relative of both LA DOLCE VITA and LA NOTTE, but by tackling sex-based alienation and class-based anxiety on a more life-size scale, Risi manages to get so much more out of his actors. Sandra Milo's power laugh will haunt me.
W le donne, Aldo Grimaldi, 1970
Somehow manages to be dull as dishwater despite being both a musicarello and a military farce, two genres that normally must not do much besides being themselves to bring me joy. This one really is as lifeless as cinema outside of the festival circuit possibly can be, even the Franco and Ciccio routines feel zombified, mere reflexes, performed in a no-man's-land cut off from any sources of meaning.
Perdono, Ettore Maria Fizzarotti, 1966
Caterina Casselli's warm, slightly raspy voice alone - for good reason almost all of the songs are sung by her - would make this worthwhile, but it has so much more going for it. Casselli's hairdo for once, and also the clash between broad community theater acting and painfully protracted comedy routines clash on one side, and the marvelous set design as well as the at times surprisingly sophisticated wide-screen mise-en-scene on the other.
The whole Casselli-Moroni-Efrikian love triangle plays out like an accidentally modernist exploration of love, affect and subjectivity. Especially the scenes with Moroni and Casselli - his stiffness and her excessive, slightly awkward expressivity, the way she tries to open up a new world for him with each song, to no much effect ... Efrikian is interesting, too, although the script unfortunately treats her rather terribly. When the much taller Moroni kisses her, concentrated and laborious, we don't see two people engaging in genuine affect, but two machines, involved in a complicated process that probably takes a long time (a lifetime?) to properly evolve.
I guess this is once again the kind of film not many people will love as much as me ... but I genuinely believe that there's something intersting going on here.
Die Einsteiger, Sigi Rothemund, 1985
Maybe the logical final destination of west German post-war filmmaking: the tommyfication of everything. Luckily, Mike Krüger tags along, too. I grew rather fond of him while watching this. Of course, the parodies are terribly lazy and basically every single one of them wears out its welcome after about half a minute ... but on the other hand there's no denying that this one is far more inventive than basically anything else coming out of Germany in the 1980s.
La discoteca, Mariano Laurenti, 1983
Yes, mostly a tired, conceptually underdeveloped rehash of UN JEANS E UNA MAGLIETTA that tries to exchange the beach setting for a ski resort, only to revert back to the seaside once it becomes clear that the new setting doesn't work at all ... also, even some of the music gets recycled and while I of course greatly appreciate an idea as silly as turning a German hotel owner into a Hitler revenant ("Ghitler"), even stupid jokes need a bit of care.
On the other hand, though, the dancing scenes are absolutely marvelous ... finally, the utter, alienesque strangeness of Nino D'Angelo's physique emerges into full view.
Danger: Diabolik, Mario Bava, 1968
Indeed a film that cancels out all others for the time of its projection. Not aggressively so, though, more like a mellow, friendly sun melting away all the strained ugliness out there, in cinema and elsewhere.
Poveri ma belli, Dino Risi, 1957
The mechanics of desire: Is desire something that captures your sense of taste, or something that whispers sweet melodies in your ear? Anyway, when the orchestra starts to play, only one gets to dance with her, the other one holds the broom. Even if the body is ready to commit, the eye is always wandering, looking for an escape. Anyway, how many kisses for one true love?
(To be sure, Risi's films are set in a deeply sexist time and place and it shows. How could it not?)
So so great, even the two somewhat dull male leads make sense: taken one at a time there's not much to them, therefore it really is necessary to have both of them.
Risi's direction is so fluid and perceptive, always completely in the moment, ever ready to take any detour the richness of his world demands, that the intricate structure of the story only ever registers after the fact.
The Babysitter, McG, 2017
I guess remixing a number of Spielberg / Zemeckis / Columbus style coming of age staples while turning both the sadism and the dorkiness to eleven might even count as originality; and this at least feels much more alive than something like SALVATION or 3 DAYS TO KILL. Alive in the most juvenile way possible, of course, but well, deal with it, repressed teenage horniness just is inherently cinematic.
Still, McG remains an astonishingly bad director when it comes to, say, setting up a basic jump scare or selecting a needle drop that doesn't make you want to jump out of the nearest window. What really breaks this is the attempt to set up "ominous" objects early in the film that will later on, one by one, reappear in the payoff. A structure like this demands a minimum of restraint and structural effort the perpetually overexcited McG clearly isn't prepared to muster.
Come perdere una moglie e trovare un'amante, Pasquale Festa Campanile
Wonderful slapstick sex farce about a guy who doesn't know what he wants, but who is fully immersed in his own insufficiencies. In a way, he is nothing more than the sum of his inefficiencies - the few attempts to psychoanalyze him only lead to the most basic of mother complexes. When cinema decides to tackle his fundamentally damaged libido, it's not about reaching some deeper plane, but to revel in the surface pleasure of sex as parapraxis. And, crazy enough, this very commitment to insufficiency might even lead to happiness.
Love on Delivery, Steven Chow, Li Lik-Chi, 1994
Stephen Chow films challenge my belief that sound comedies, even those of the visceral variety, are almost always best served by unobtrusive camera / lighting schemes that let performers, comedic objects and language do the heavy lifting. With him, though, the camera is always an integral part of the equation, the gag inseparable from its giddy presentation, with the world being turned into an endlessly malleable repository of comedic attractions, that is navigable only by a decidedly unsteady gaze.
Anyway, the comparatively lower stakes serve Chow's style well, so this one flows along just perfectly. I'm pretty sure that on some higher plane of existence this film is the only reason Garfield was ever invented.
Flickan i frack, Karen Swanström,1926
Gentle if not exactly fast-moving comedy of manners interrogating the way we dress and what that might mean. Much more a conversation than a sermon, it comes from a place of genuine curiosity and is filled with great, understated performances.
Cafe Chantant,Camillo Mastrocinque, 1955
A pastel dream of radioactive 1950s pop, firmly chained to petit-bourgeoise sensibilities which translate into a cultural inferiority complex: We know that we should've gone to the opera instead of to the cinema / cabaret, but well, that's where we ended up anyway, so let's make the best of it. The wraparound segments are sleazy miniatures of patriarchy running wild, still mostly untouched by any knowledge of its own historical obsolescence, while most of the variety numbers come down on the decorative and pleasantly superficial side, with a dull nostalgia song about a visit to the Scala marking the lowest, and a prolonged absurdist Fabrizi sketch the highest point on a mostly level scale.
I always enjoy the "unfiltered" / "uncurated" access to bygone popular culture films like this one provide, and this one has the added benefit of looking absolutely awesome and also of not overstaying its welcome (like Borzage's STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, for example).
Manta, Manta, Wolfgang Büld, 1991
The eternally underrated Büld delivers what might just be his masterpiece (give or take the more loosely constructed, Schlagerfilm-inspired GIB GAS, ICH WILL SPASS): a perfectly calibrated piece of tongue-in-cheek zeitgeist filmmaking, the cinematic equivalent of making out on top of a pinball machine. From the perspective of the market (aka Eichinger), this might not be much more than the adaptation of an especially stale genre of schoolyard jokes; pop-savvy Büld, though, not only adds an exquisite soundtrack, but also succeeds in transforming post-industrial social wasteland of the 1990s ruhr area into a complex moral universe - even the most tired klischees like the token migrant (a wonderfully relaxed Ömer Simsek) and the ugly duckling sidekick (anarchic camp goddess Beatrice Manowski) make lasting impressions.
And right in the center of it what might just be the best performance in all German 90s cinema: Till Schweiger in full tank-top glory as majestically petty, passive-aggressive Berti, always ready to blow his fuse over the smallest of insults, lashing out against a world he doesn't understand and nevertheless is convinced he was born to rule.
Limbo, Soi Cheang, 2021
Again enthralled by how well this works on the level of pure genre filmmaking. Especially that double chase scene right in the middle of it: two movements continually intersecting and diverting each other. And it is this very set piece that leads everyone straight into the phantasmagorical hellscape of the last 40 minutes.
Its lessons will surely be lost on the A24 crowd, but nevertheless: this might be the only film in recent memory that could sensibly described as elevated horror.
Chi si ferma e perduto, Sergio Corbucci, 1960
Toto the magnificent. One aspect of his greatness is that, even while easily dominating every single scene he's in, he manages to enhance the presence of everyone around him, too. A social comedian, attentive to everything going on around him, the smallest change of energy in the frame.
Harte Jungs, MarcRothemund, 2000
When bumbling sidekick Axel Stein is the liveliest actor in your talking dick movie you most definitely got a problem. Really nothing but a listless application of American teen movie formulas here. Seriously, the cringy rap song the two leads perform over the credits is more fun than anything preceeding it. Also, the homophobia really is off the charts in this.
Belle ma povere, Dino Risi, 1957
More on the soapy side and clearly minor Risi. Still, so much beauty and joy in every single scene. I'm so glad I finally got around to watching his films.
Mädchen Mädchen!, Dennis Gansel, 2001
Maybe it's just because I watched this almost back to back with the terrible HARTE JUNGS, but I enjoyed this quite a bit. The script is almost as rote, so it's all the more amazing what a difference a few inspired performances and some well-observed teenage hangout vibes make. Especially some of the minor characters like Dirk evince a genuine weirdness that easily transcends the function the script assigns to them. Also, this is one of the few teenage films I know that acknowledges - casually, without any moralistic overreach - the importance of alcohol for juvenile socializing.
So there's at least some kind of freedom on display here, an open horizon of possibilities, and in the end this may be all that counts. On the other hand, though, one thing that kept bugging me was the omnipresence of markers of middle-class affluency, coupled with the utter unwillingness to engage or even recognize it. Not that I long for self-righteous condemnations of privilege - but this is a film that really seems to be completely blind to its own social prerequisits.
Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell, 2020
I guess there's an argument to be made that a film willing to deal with gender politics and structural violence in the present day just has to take the dynamics and discursive frameworks of social media into account - not in order to be popular on twitter, but because social media necessarily is one of the decisive frameworks all kinds of power relations, especially those as highly charged as sexual ones, evolve in these days.
That's clearly what PYW does; a thoroughly and for better or worse contemporary film that clearly has no intention of revisiting the kind of rape-revenge tropes that participate, sometimes more sometimes less gleefully, in the violent acts depicted. And still, I can't help myself, to me the whole thing feels both emotionally stunted and aesthetically corrupt, mainly because it takes as its starting point not rape culture, but outrage over rape culture - the kind of outrage, more precisely, that might not exactly be just as "ritualized" and "performative" as some of its detractors claim, but that still has already (=long before the film starts) been codified into a stable discourse that tends to function as a way too strict moral compass, complete with self-righteous platitudes signifying nothing in the vein of "imagine how tired we are".
It's just a bit dubious that the closest the film comes to directly representing rape culture (ie the very thing basically every single action in the film is supposed to be a reaction to) is the short barroom conversation of Adam Brody and his two drinking pals in the beginning. Everything that follows is already a few steps removed from the immediacy of violence. In other words: we're always already in the realm of language. Which doesn't mean that the pain isn't real, of course ... but after a while it becomes pretty obvious that the guiding intention is not so much to lay bare the fabrics of a "toxic" society (arguably the inclusion of the Britney cover, while not really convincing musically, is one of the smarter moments of the film) than to call out a few choice boogey/wo/men that already have been dragged times and again through social media. Just like the never-ending moral twitter outrage that more often than not boils down to a policing of communication that usually is as blind to its own tendency towards authoritarianism as it is selective in its targets.
Candyman, Bernard Rose, 1992
So pitch-perfect a blueprint for epistemological horror in the beginning - the desire to immerse oneself into the urban fabric, to open up the curtains onto the social real one always suspected must be out there somewhere collapsing back onto the self, one's own body and organs of perception, with the fragility of the world projected onto Virginia Madsen's face - that it really is a shame that at some point the script just starts piling one bullshit plot point onto the other. Anyway, as long as it works it truly sparkles.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Bill Condon, 1995
Even more tedious than I imagined a Bill Condon Candyman film to be. No energy whatsoever, Kelly Rowan especially can't muster any excitement and the only thing that breaks through the tedium is th radio voice - because it's so damn annoying. Only the New Orleans setting and the somewhat atmospheric last half hour save it from being a complete bust.
Candyman:Day of the Dead, Turi Meyer, 1999
Normally I'd say give me cheap exploitation over "tasteful" boredom any day, but this somehow ended up being even worse than FAREWELL TO THE FLESH. Gratuitous nudity and trashy effect work ain't worth much when most of the film consists of your lead sleepwalking through the blandest of sets. (Ok, I know, there are quite a few D'Amato five star masterpieces that could be described using the exact same words ... well, cinema is a complex art form.)
There Is No Evil, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2020
Not so much about the death penalty than about a much more specific moral problem connected to it. This results in a degree of denseness and almost geometrical rigor episodic films seldom have, which is both a good and a bad thing I guess: the film never loses tension but also tends to be a bit too much in love with its own structure. Rasoulof does succeeds in crafting a distinctive tone for each episode - with my favorite clearly being the desperate, straightforward second one. Even there he insists on capping things of with a terribly neat twist, though.
Pura Vida Ibiza, Gernot Roll, 2004
Didn't expect the sight of the Air Berlin logo to trigger nostalgia, but here we go ... this really is a film from a world past. Bozo booz'n'boobs tourism clearly still exists though I guess an affirmation of its aesthetics as naive as this one just wouldn't fly in multiplexes anymore (especially that one particularly rapey scene towards the end with the garbage can - hard to imagine how something like this ever could've gotten a pass, let alone a mere 17 years ago). To be sure, it didn't exactly set the box office on fire back then, unsurprisingly so: a BALLERMANN 6 rip-off that replaces Tom Gerhard's star power and relaxed proletarian charme with the blandest of sex comedy tropes and a thinly disguised appeal to protestant work ethics - turns out partying is hard work, too, and even the one scene that dares to leave behind the safe grounds of penis pump humor to venture into more primal, scatological territory is revealed to be part of a mass tourism boot-camp.
Anyway, appreciate the effort, guys.
Kein Bund für's Leben, Granz Henman, 2007
Apparently the 2000s were the decade Constantin decided to more or less systematically work its way through the main modes of low-brow-comedy, by way of thoroughly Germanizing time-proven tropes coined in Hollywood (and elsewhere, of course). I guess it makes some kind of sense that after tackling the high-school sex comedy of both the male (HARTE JUNGS) and the female (MÄDCHEN MÄDCHEN) persuasion, as well as the holiday gross-out comedy (PURA VIDA IBIZA), the military farce had to be next. In theory the anarchic crown jewel of the genre ... but probably not the best fit for the German condition.
After working as production assistant on KIDS, Granz Henman had already proven himself to be German cinema's answer to Larry Clark by writing HARTE JUNGS, and as a director he generally seems to be better attuned to comedy than most of his Constantin peers, this one feels pretty dynamic at times and he even knows how to make use of Axel Stein (by not giving him lines, mostly). Still, it's all so joyless and dire. Forging, with quite a bit of discursive effort, a community of bozos united solely by their deficiencies only to let them score a make-believe victory against - who else - the Americans ... such a fainthearted, petty wish-fulfilment fantasy, enough to make me fall in hate with Germany all over again.
Der letzte Lude, Stephen Manuel, 2003
Can't say that I thought about him much in the last 20 years, but Lotto King Karl seems to be an all-around pleasant dude. Not necessarily a natural film actor, though, and DER LETZTE LUDE makes good use of his constant flippant fourth-wall-breaking only some of the time. Still, I guess under different circumstances I might've enjoyed this kind of meandering, irreverent, throw shit on the wall and see what sticks kind of filmmaking quite a bit. As long as Lotto and his director opt for hangout miniatures and gleeful obscenities, I happily go with the flow. I just wasn't all that willing, this time, to put up with the much less inspired genre parody parts.
Once again: a world past. Here, my madeleine turned out to be a Schlecker branch used as background scenery.
Ein Tag ist schöner als der andere, Kurt Hoffmann, 1969
We are family. If this isn't cinema verite, the term has no meaning whatsoever.
Deadly Breed, Charles T. Kanganis, 1989
What's not to love: a solid, pro-minority b-movie procedural that doesn't start from self-serving leftist outrage or vapid liberal aspirational rhetorics, but from a realist assessment about the difficulties of "making it" in an imperfect world that is ruled, all too often, by racist cops who spend their leisure time maniacally playing the piano in their underwear.
The J&B product placement took me a bit by surprise, though come to think of it this might share some DNA with all those meat and potatoes poliziotti made a decade earlier. The tone is more somber and the attempts at sleaze (using Michelle Berger's body as a seductive framing device, mostly) feel a bit awkward, but this one has its heart in the right place.
Ausgerechnet Bananen, Ulli Lommel, 1978
So it turns out that besides shooting the most lethargic Hitler film ever and immersing himself into Warhol's factory, Lommel in the late 1970s also managed to direct his lover at the time, Anna Karina, in a sex comedy that plays out, almost point for point, like a pre-emption of Oshima's MAX, MON AMOUR.
Only that here not the chimp, but Lommel himself is called Max. In an early scene, we see him and Karina clowning around in bed, and the following film never quite looses the feel of a sexual game two lovers invent both together and for each other. A game that mostly plays out as a relaxed, irreverent farce (with the butt of the joke mostly being not Max, but the paranoid, controlling horniness of his father) and still might not be completely devoid of consequences.
Like the Oshima film, this is much less about a woman (and not just any woman, a bona fide film star) getting it on with an ape, than about the male fantasy production even the hint at such an act sets in motion. And also like in Oshima, what really makes the film special is not its satiric poignancy, but a general air of generosity swalling up, over time, the phallic desire to know.
Always bet on Lommel, I guess.
Uno scugnizzo a New York, Mariano Laurenti, 1984
While I enjoyed both UN JEANS E UNA MAGLIETTA and LA DISCOTECA quite a bit, this one obviously is a different kind of beast and finally the pure-hearted masterpiece of pop cinema its predecessors only hinted at. Gone is the musicarello / Schlagerfilm heritage, the last remnants of traditional genre realism, the bumbling sidekick, the always a bit stuffy social mechanics of romance.
This mostly is just Nino and a black guy hanging out in the streets of NY, two creatures of pure pop, floating into and out of storylines that seem to be made up on the spot and never coalesce into something as solid as a hero's journey, let alone a biography. A job is just a job: this is the truth-value of the American dream, and in the realm of pop capitalism one just might just find oneself fighting the fight of one's life mere minutes after entertaining even the possibility of becoming a professional boxer this time.
Nino once again dances like a god from another galaxy and even seemingly botched scenes like the ending might just lead to the most elevating airport affect ever.
This, or my brain has been melted by watching way too much italo-trash lately. (And more to come!) Seriously, I'm open to that possibility, too.
Serendipity, Peter Chelsom, 2001
Cusack's and Beckinsale's immense charm, as well as the truly clever script make it easy, at least most of the time, to forget that this isn't exactly free of some of the problems plaguing modern romantic comedies, for example when it comes to the misuse of pop music. Just amazing how well everything flows together, how directly the fortune cookie talk about "fate" and "contingency" reveals a social truth about the historical moment the genre is confronted with: This basically boils down to a remarriage comedy that replaces the lover's conversation with an enhanced awareness - the only thing shared by the otherwise separated lovers - of the endless ornamental contingencies of capitalist (dys)functionality always already surrounding and determining any notion of love and romance in the present day. When we love, we no longer teach each other about the world; instead, we let the world place us in a position of dubious and temporary, yet never less than exhilarating knowledge.
Arrividerci Roma, Roy Rowland, 1957
First film of the festival and already an ending to die for: Poor Beppo finding out that being a "true musician" and an "artist", the very thing he longed for all his life, for him first and foremost means not being a tenor - and therefore losing the girl. He has to stay behind, in art, in music, while Mario Lanza and Marisa Allasio walk off, into romance, into the spectacular.
That wonderful scene with Lanza and the street girl, her pressed, squeaky voice, and especially her awkward, lanky posture. The sudden, unexpected emergence of a body still resilient to cinema.
Il gatto a nove code, Dario Argento, 1971
Still a bit too leveled for my Argento taste (surprisingly slow at times too), still a well-oiled, lowkey-wacky nighttime delight nonetheless.
Sette pistole per i MacGregor, Franco Giraldi, 1966
Proof that Scotland is farther away from Italy than the American West ... such a well-oiled and self-assured take on the genre, and in a way it is quite unusual, because in most westerns, aging is related with getting out of touch with one's times, struggling to keep up etc, while here, growing old is shown to be a natural, benign process. The elderly actually manage to keep the self-destructive tendencies of the younger generation in check. In fact, the older generation, comfortably settled in a farm house, acts as a narrative framing devise, too. The first, very funny action scene completely belongs to them, and in the end, after the younger guys almost managed to fuck everything up (while casually mistreating poor, sensual Agata Flori in the process), they, and not the cavalry, ride to the rescue.
Addio zio Tom, Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi, 1971
Well, fuck this, and also: how fucking dull is this. While I can't distance myself from these images, they pretty soon start cancelling each other out (the same can't be said of the soundtrack, to be sure) and then what's left is just two clumsy Italian edgelords trying to pull one over on me. Not all that different actually from the likes of von Trier, Östlund etc, and there's just a certain kind of self-important asshole (almost always European, btw) I'm not willing to have held up a mirror to by or whatever.
Un killer per sua maesta, Federico Chentrens, Maurice Cloche, 1968
A straight-forward eurospy flic, which might sound like an oxymoron, but that's probably what made me fall in love with this one pretty much from the start: this is played out as a series of solid, relaxed riffs with all the wackiness, all the stylistic surplus strictly relegated to the details. One action scene plays out like an essay on the color red, another one is set between genitalia and orifices made of stone, and a third one is basically pure music reverberating through functional architecture. Also, while I've already forgotten how the protagonist looks like I'm still kind of hypnotized by the theatrics of Marilu Tolo's beauty spots.
La casa 4, Fabrizio Laurenti, 1988
A bit disappointing given the line-up (and also the poster on here), but still quite endeering in its mixture of rather prosaic genre thrills and a steady, almost somnambulistic beat.
...hanno cambiato faccia, Corrado Farina, 1971
Ideological criticism dressed in genre tropes and ocher tones. I don't think it is particularly smart as a political text; like with quite a few films from the Italian left I have the nagging suspicion that what really bugs its director isn't capitalist exploitation of nature and humankind, but rather modernity itself - a modernity the description of which is always in danger of tipping over into fullscale misogyny, homophobia and antisemitism. And which is pitted against a rather juvenile anarchist fantasy world filled with free men and willing, topless women.
Doesn't help either that Esperati is a decidedly dull lead ... and still, I ended up kind of enjoying this, thanks to a constant level of lowkey wackiness and a magnificent performance by consumerism ice queen Geraline Hooper. I don't care at all that she is supposed to be the "wrong woman" here - I, too, would've gladly followed her into corruption.
+ half a star for the Fellini parody.
Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, Vittorio Cottavafi, 1961
Need to see this again soon, this time in color. Already confident that this is pretty much exactly my thing, though, a conception of popular cinema as a truly democratic art form, open to all levels of access, responsive to each and every desire.
Bonnie e Clyde all'italiana, Steno, 1983
My first visit to the Paolo Villaggio universe, and already I'm hooked. The most natural turd salesman ever.
Brigione di donne, Brunello Rondi, 1974
One of the stranger beast's of the festival - a film at the same time mostly uninterested in its own genre / narrative / diegesis, and completely committed to its protagonists. It's really all about closing in on the faces and subjectivities of these women, who are transformed, by Rondi's insistent, inquisitive, but not at all voyeuristic gaze, into glamour goddesses, fallen angels strangely detached from the women in prison tropes unfolding around them, and sometimes through their very bodies.
They are, I reckon, the chosen ones. A community united not by their tragic fate, but by an inner glow which only they themselves and the camera can see. Several times throughout the film, they start to dance, without much outer reason. So there just has to be an inner one.
Per salvarti ho peccato, Mario Costa, 1953
Yet another proof that the discursive division in Italian post-war cinema separating a few iconic neo-realist classics from the vast, featureless sea of popular genre cinema is completely artificial, or rather, based on nothing but laziness and arrogance. This is as generic a weepie as it gets, filmed in a bare-bones, mechanical melo-style, trenched in stereotypes and dramatic shorthand - that nevertheless speaks, quite directly, of the historical reality of a young democracy trying to break away from a totalitarian past; a past that still holds some appeal thanks to an air of seductive heroism largely absent in the strictly petit-bourgeois present day, but a past that ultimately has to be sacrificed nonetheless, rejected once again, this time symbolically: a milkman's child from fascist times being redeemed by bloody smears on a construction site.
Flashback,Raffaele Andreassi, 1969
I like so much where the film is in the first half that I can't help being disappointed once I find out where it insists on going to in the second.
(I wonder if Albert Serra has seen this.)
Roma come Chicago, Alberto De Martino, 1968
Probably the one film of the festival that just met me at the wrong time. To me this played like the very definition of dull competence for most of the runtime - until the magnificent ending suggested a weight that just had to have been there all along. So then, another try, some day.
Ultimo mondo cannibale, Ruggeror Deodato, 1977
"Am Ende des Fortschritts der sich selbst aufhebenden Vernunft bleibt ihr nichts mehr übrig, als der Rückfall in Barbarei oder der Anfang der Geschichte."
Oceano, Folco Quilici, 1971
A film made for the widest and wildest of screens, starting out in the north and in the present day, a modernist ice-cold opening that leads into what only seems to be flashbacks - in fact, when the hero, a young, brown-skinned man with an open, inquisitive gaze escapes from the institutions of the north and starts drifting south, the film switches over into another mode of imagemaking altogether, another dimension, another temporality.
We enter the image-world of the south, of the sea, of open horizons and a continuous presence of land, sea and air. Quilici, auteur of the south seas, wants to abandon not only the textures of the north, but also the associated principles of imagemaking, he wants to abandon european notions of auteurship while handing his film over to native myth-making ... and what really makes THE WIND BLOWS FREE fascinating is that he does and doesn't succeed at the same time.
On the one hand his film indeed isn't a mere intellectual exercise, one of those dull, academic attempts to ease a guilty western conscience by "empowering" an other who is at the same time always kept at arm's length. Instead, the focus on the native guy travelling and sometimes transcending his own version of the world leads to the mythic collapsing into the anecdotal. The overarching narration recedes into the background, because what we really learn here is that each island requires its own conception of cinema.
At the other hand, though, the film can't escape the desires written into its own gaze. In a way, Quilici's film is the bright flipside to the dark world of mondo and exploitation invading cinema since the 1960s. Or, more directly, the bright flipside to Deodato's MONDO CANNIBALE screened just half a day earlier. In fact, not only has this more on camera animal carnage than the Deodato's film, it also prefigures one of the latter's key scenes, the one with the sexy native girl approaching a doomed captive through a wooden gutter almost shot for shot.
Pointing this out doesn't mean criticising Quilici. Rather, it becomes clear (at least to me, in the context of this very special constellation), that rejecting or indicting an invasive gaze (see ADDIO ZIO TOM) is almost always less inspiring than working through it, surrendering to it in order to find out where it may lead me.
L'amore difficili, diverse, 1962
Four atmospheric, well photographed miniatures about desire missing its object. The by far best one (number four) also is the most minimalist, while the worst one (number three) also is the most interesting in a way, because it is the only one that doesn't boil down to a theater of male narcissism. By shifting the focus from the husband to the wife, all kinds of awkward sexual and also cultural fantasies start creeping in - and in a way, the more ordered setups of the other three episodes suddenly feel a bit like cop-outs.
I paladini. Storia d'armi e d'amori, Giacomo Battiato, 1983
Lay down your armor, 'cause this one goes straight for the heart.
(Films have to sustain there own world only within their own spatiotemporal extension, meaning the illusion they create does not need to reach one inch beyond the frame, one second beyond the final credits. In fact, there's always an unfathomable abyss located just beyond the actual image, and it absolutely is part of the beauty of a film like HEARTS AND ARMOUR that they render this prime negativity almost palpable. There's really no substance to any of this, it's all just light and shadow and music and crazy fantasy helmets, fever dreams of honor and liebestod enacted on the flimsiest of sets making way for the spectacle of swishing leaves on the grounds of the forest.)
...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà, Lucio Fulci, 1982
In the end we're all made of nothing but bubbling foam and psychedelic colors.