Film Thought: The Elasticity of Film

Occasionally on Twitter I’ll post a random epiphany-like encapsulation of a belief I have about film in general and hashtag it #filmthought. I have decided to write this one out here because it needs more explanation than Twitter can bear.

Today, I was sitting through my third screening of Hugo (Reviews of some sort on many of the films I’ve seen will come- apologies for being behind on new content) and the theatre I was at had some issues with the polarizer on the 3D projector. The polarizer is essentially what adds the additional D in layman’s terms. If you’re one who is physically or morally averse to 3D you do not want to see it with a polarizer on the fritz. Anyway, that got me thinking, once the issue was resolved, about 3D in very general terms. I will avoid a film if it’s post-converted or slam really poor 3D. However, when there’s an artfulness to it as there is in Hugo and Avatar the technical aspect can wow me personally. For the record, Hugo is an infinitely finer narrative than Avatar.

In watching this tale about the true birth of cinema, at least in part, and seeing such proficiency at the “latest and greatest” innovation I came to a realization. There have been an abundance of articles about how since film is younger than the other arts it always seems to be in peril in the eyes of those who love it most. Whereas 3D, alternate distribution paths and piracy are the big threats once upon a time sound and color threatened to end the seventh art and didn’t.

In a manner of speaking film has gotten somewhat experimental at least in terms of technique. Many techniques are being rolled out before they’re necessarily perfected but solely to innovate. I think a part of the fear of film critics, historians and enthusiasts in general is that they feel history repeats itself and have found cinematic trends to be cannibalistic rather than symbiotic.

That is to say new alternatives present themselves and become dominant rather than an additional option. In the annals of film history, taking all of it into account, it’s becoming one of the more well-rounded arts in terms of media employed. However, what I’d love is for such choices as 2D or 3D, color or black & white, sound or silent to be actual choices.

Think of all the options a filmmaker has in his arsenal if with the potential success of films like Hugo and The Artist.

There are more media than one realizes:

Short

Feature

Color

Black and White

Silent

Animation (Various techniques of animation as well)

3D is medium when there is thought given to it.

Motion capture

And there are even more rare instances for example: The French filmmaker Chris Marker took the still photograph montage, a wrinkle for an editorial change of pace brought in by the New Wave and created an entire film, La jetée, from it.

It is imperative that film keep its elasticity of form. That the evolution of the art creates more creatures with which this art can be expressed rather than killing them off entirely. Some of these creatures may become increasingly rare but survival of the fittest need not apply to an art especially when there are many artists out there who do not want to conform or be mainstream.

In summation, I will always welcome well done 3D and loathe it when it’s lazy and exploitative. There’s always room for more; in film the ways in which visual narratives can be constructed should not be limited. There are as many ways to tell stories as there are to tell them as long as there is an audience. In an ever diversifying world the artform needs to continue to push aesthetic boundaries not hide away in a CG 3D impermeable shell.

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Hero Whipped: From Film to Comics (Part 2)

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in Tarzan and His Mate (MGM)

Think of my last few statements in cinematic terms. Something like Tarzan has been remade countless times and while rebooting clearly is a cinematic trend one never renumbers films without a purpose, without first having wiped the slate clean. Similarly, rarely is the question asked in film can I watch part 16 and get it. As I’ve stated prior if you can it’s probably a bad film.

There’s two ways it would seem to become a comics fan: one you’re born into it and are reading them from when you’re very young or two you find it later on in life and ask a butt-load of questions.

Cebolinha, Magali, Mônica and her rabbit Sansão, Cascão and Chico Bento (PMDS)

Now, in a way I could’ve been the former. As I mentioned I loved strips and still do. However, for all intents and purposes comics taught me to speak Portuguese. Now granted I always knew it considering my parents came to the US from Brazil, however, my mother would frequently read to me from Mauricio de Sousa’s Turma da Mônica books and it taught me to read in Portuguese and improved my vocabulary (and it does to this day). I also like many American “All Ages” titles. I grew up in an America that still had Harvey’s comics and one of the heartbreaks of my being “born again” was discovering they went under and that I’d only find those character in collections and sometimes costly back issues.

The revamped Gloria, Richie and Dollar (Ape Comics)

However, much to my delight less than a year later two of Harvey’s biggest starts, Richie Rich and Casper, have found a new home at Ape Comics and in my estimation they are thriving but I digress. The superhero realm was aside from being a majority always a daunting prospect and I never quite graduated there.

Growing up on Staten Island I took quite a few classes at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center as a kid and looking through the course offerings one day I decided I’d switch things up and I think the course was labeled Comic Book Drawing or something. I forget if there was a description but what I recall vividly was the course title was misleading. It seemed to be a lot freer than what we got. Essentially, it was a superhero drawing class. Now, I was inexperienced dealing with the human form as an artist in general at the time much less being asked to draw the overly-perfect, and let’s face it, exaggerated superhero bodies. It was a frustrating exercise in futility. While I can’t say I didn’t learn or get anything out of it (namely a character of my creation, a monster named Potroast, who was the hero fighting the evil Loumanna, based on the teacher) I did sense a bit of disdain and frustration from my instructor as well. It wasn’t my aesthetic, he knew it and resented me for it and it was a painful first encounter with comic book elitism.

Thankfully, in my sojourn as a born again thus far I have not met a Loumanna or Comic Book Guy. Allow me to state for the record: I am fine with nerdiness. I am a proud nerd on many subjects what I’m put off by is militant nerds who own the truth and can’t converse civilly or scoff at those who either don’t know or God forbid make a mistake.

So there was another comics trauma. Now one band-aid to the accessibility issue would be the return of some form of editor’s notes. Now I know what you’re thinking: they’re an eye-sore and they take you out of the moment of the story. However, much as the aesthetics of page layouts have changed so too can the dissemination of relevant back issues. It can be included on the front backstory page or at the end. Even with a simple URL. The fact of the matter is this is the Internet Age. I can look up a back issue and buy it off of New Kadia or some other site or go to Comixology or the publisher’s themselves for a digital copy. Specific back issues in most cases can be found if you want to find them.

ALF (Alien Productions)

A perfect example also comes from my journey from one who had disavowed comics to being a born again. When I was a kid, OK and to this day, I loved ALF to no end. I watched the show. I had the lunchbox (Plastic, this was the 80s after all) and I read the comics that Marvel published under its Star imprint (I’ve come to read many of these titles in my rebirth and have liked all of them- REBOOT it at least!). Anyway, whether it was me or my mother on one of her “Your closet’s too full” campaigns, I got rid of them. All of them. I regretted it many times. Suddenly, as I was getting back into comics this came back to me so I started searching the web. Sure enough they were mostly there but people were gouging you for single issues. However, that’s a common Amazon practice so I try E-Bay. Jackpot. A California comic book shop put up the whole series. Numbered and specials for what amounted to LESS than the cover price on each issue. Buy it now I said and that mistake was rectified and I am relishing the overly long re-read process.

So, yes, the internet can provide those valuable back issues. It’s the great equalizer. Similarly with films if you ask me, in college I learned that there was this 7-hour feature, Satantango, that has nothing but rave reviews from all who sat through it all. It had hit E-Bay and I saw it before it hit DVD and wouldn’t have known about it without the web. Granted this makes me sound like a geriatric fool who dances a jig at the marvel of the telephone but the fact remains it’s an incredible tool and one the film industry at the moment is utilizing to far greater effect.

Hero Whipped: From Film to Comics (Part 1)

Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class

This has been a year in films which has been replete, or perhaps over-saturated (depending on your stance), with comic book films. Now for all you fans of semantics (and believe me I am one) I won’t get into the whole “Is that really a genre in and of itself?” discussion as what I am seeking to discuss will be much broader than that one sub-topic. Never the less films based on comics have been plentiful and that is not the only way in which the two art forms have become linked.

In spite of the symbiosis that exists the two industries face very disparate overriding issues at current. While in film one of the many concerns are echoed in the recent statements of Universal Studios chief Ronald Mayer. To be stated succinctly: He said we’ve made a lot of “bad” movies. That statement is rather obvious and questions like what lead you to make project X over project Y and do you plan to change that mechanism any time soon are being largely ignored because we kind of know what that answer is.

Even with a purer decision making process film, like all the arts, is a sort of alchemy wherein the results and impact of a piece can not be guaranteed.

So that’s one of the big bugaboos the film industry is currently contending with, comics has a rather big one also and its underscored by the overwhelming (thus far) success of the New DC Universe, they’ve said don’t call it a reboot so many times they’re starting to sound like a poor excuse for LL Cool J.

While DC has just regained the market share for the first time since 2002 many, more knowledgeable than I, know that the market itself can and needs to grow and initiatives such as this one are what will do it. However, it’s not merely enough to slap a new number on the front of a book and alter the chronology somewhat to appeal to the masses.

I say that speaking as one who in comic book parlance am much closer to being the masses than I am to being an insider.

Due to the fact that I like to think I will be doubted and that I, at times, enjoy explaining things, let me tell you a little story to illustrate my noobness:

I consider myself a comics born again of sorts. It’s been a little more than a year since I started reading them anew and as such I’ve gotten more into them than I ever had before. However, it’s been a little slow. First, I do have many interests that consume time and money that I can’t necessarily dedicate all to comics.

That’s true of most and not that unique. Even avid fans need to prioritize which books to buy at a cost $3-$4 a month each, which to drop, which to trade-wait, etc. I stopped reading before the interwebs really became a part of everyday life. Had I held out I would’ve found more titles of all styles that I like much sooner. However, that was not the case so I’d peg the end of my serious reading round about 1994. Of course, there was the occasional exception but that’s a good a year as any to pick.

Part of the reason was at the time I was getting much more into film and other arts but there was also an intimidation factor with comic books. They were all, in my mind at the time, superhero books. Each book had its own history, a knowledge base was necessary to read one and it was impossible to jump in cold and if you did hard to navigate (I still struggle some there but I digress for now).

Calvin & Hobbes (Universal Press Syndicate)

Whereas a comic strip has a basic premise, some detailed knowledge of the world contained therein was a boon but not essential. They were also there all the time; daily in newspapers. However, I was reaching that age where I knew them all and all but a few fatigued me so they lost some of their luster for a time.

So in comes the hiatus and while being young and not necessarily that well-informed I wasn’t that far off from being right. You needed, and in some case still need, a lot more information going into a comic than you did an episode of a TV series and most definitely a film. There I tenuously linked this back to the point of my whole blog for a sentence, happy?

Anyway, just to give you a sense of where I started I knew there was a DC and Marvel as the two major names. I knew who the characters that pertained to each were. I had no concept of the Universes that each created.

Now before I go on I am not about to belittle the universe concept. I love it. As a long-time Constant Reader of Stephen King I love dovetailing and crossovers. However, the greatness of how King does it is that the intersections in his tales are more like Easter Eggs than vital information. You will be able to comprehend the Dark Tower series even if the revelation that The Man in Black has been referred to as Randall Flagg in other worlds and times means nothing to you. Whereas in comics at times your appreciation rests on the fact that you are familiar with previous Events or continuities or retcons.

That is friggin’ daunting for a newcomer. Putting it another way: I grew up with two very different perceptions of Batman. There was the Adam West Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman. Both I still enjoy for what they are. So I always had an understanding that different interpretations of the same character and/or stories can exist and it’s no big deal. Even with a bad experience with a Batman graphic novel as a kid (The Untold Legend of the Batman) that would seem like one of the perfect crossover titles right? Pick up Batman, get back into comics.

Only it didn’t happen that way. In the end I had to do research. Homework in essence just to find out what the hell was going on with Batman. Batman is one of the handful of origins that almost anyone can tell you. Knowing that there were several titles I figured just get plain old Batman that’s easiest, right? Only then I found that Bruce Wayne wasn’t Batman anymore and Dick Grayson wasn’t Robin. Finding that out after being away for so long, and never being entrenched to begin with, is like learning that two and two aren’t four anymore. It’s like New Math.

But I learned the New Math and now with a grasp of the current “Bat World” I can enjoy and appreciate it, however it took a while to get there.

And here’s where some of the disconnect will lie for the average fan. I did a lot of legwork to be able to pick up the kind of comic I never did in the past. I was literally just reading the occasional review Joey Esposito would post on Crave Online for months before I decided to take advantage of Free Comic Book Day and start reading again.

Granted there are issues with moviegoing these days: price, etiquette and so on but even people who walk into a theatre knowing nothing will have the gist of what they’re watching in a few minutes, no homework necessary. Of course, film can be a very different artform and at times being a blank slate is the best way to watch a film, however, the accessibility that exists in most films is what makes it such a force to be reckoned with and its that accessibility that comics at times struggles with.

I now have read enough that I get and appreciate the nuance and the interconnectivity of certain events and say nine times out of 10 can pick up any issue, of a series I know, and read it no problem. Ah, but there’s the rub again. A series I know. It takes some time to get to know a series.

Power Pack (Marvel)

And that statement while true seems so odd. For me to say “Only if I really know a movie…” usually only applies to writing a paper about it or doing some other kind of in depth analysis. Picking up a random issue shouldn’t be that involved. Since I started reading again two of the series I’ve gotten familiar with are the now defunct (but hopefully born-again someday [wink, wink, nudge, nudge] hey, Marvel this one’s for you) Power Pack and The Fantastic Four. As fate would have it I found Power Pack and many of the single issues stood on their own so I could read them randomly before getting trades and discovering the link they have to The Fantastic Four. Links again a double-edged sword interesting but I may not get both. I’m pondering if I should get the FF/X-Men issues when they trade it.

Yet even reading several issues of both I did do a little web-research to augment my knowledge. A prime example of how precarious the jumping off point would be my most recent trip to my local comic book shop. I decided I’d scour the imminently more affordable bargain bins of back issues. I was able to pick up quite a few such that I decided to search through them A to Z. Certain letters, such as Q will make you wonder what’s even in there besides the one you know, others while not littered with titles will have the one stand out. Take the letter X for example. What comes to mind first? X-Men. I attested in my review of First Class that I love the X-Men and I do. However, that was love that was built in through television and the films. I knew enough follow each of the first three films to know who the characters were on sight and in many cases gauge the casting choices made. However, in the lead up to the release of First Class I picked up an issue of Uncanny X-Men and was lost. Now while that is slightly hyperbolic it’s not far off. I eventually more of less figured the issue out but I was unimpressed and still at a loss for context.

Now do not confuse what I’m saying here with a desire for complete and total synergy. What I’m talking about is complete and total accessibility. I’m talking being able to pick out any back issue and follow along. Granted there are arcs and tie-ins and events but there also has to be some level of a hook that can draw any and all comers in. I have since found out that the X-Men family is going through quite a bit of changes which would be fascinating to examine in a trade but people newer to them than I am would likely be confused. In the end I chose an X-Men issue from a series that was a tie-in to the TV show.

Whether one arc can be read independently from all others is a series-by-series kind of a question but the fact of the matter remains there’s no renumbering in trades. Volume one of a series will collect issues 1 thru X and you can start at the very begging.

On Twitter you see writers and other creators answer questions to fans quite regularly about a “Jumping on point.” Meaning clearly that the person posing the question has yet to read the series but has always been curious to, so he wonders could I start on this issue and figure out what’s going on?

Thankful for World Cinema- La Cage aux Folles

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

La Cage aux folles

It is impossible for me, having been exposed to The Birdcage first, to not compare the original and the remake. Almost from the word go I sensed a great disparity between the two films even though the remake ended up being and uninspired copy and paste writing job. The first thing that lends itself to creating a different tone is the music composed by Ennio Morricone. The music in The Birdcage by Mark Mothersbaugh and Jonathan Tunick is forgettable seeing as I’ve seen the remake three or four times and can’t remember a single note while I’ve seen the original once and can still remember Morricone’s score.

Ennio Morricone’s gentle music takes us into a world that we shouldn’t be afraid of. The key word to thinking about his music is sensitive. It exudes softness, tenderness which is aped by the action and the actors who are not ridiculous characterizations but with real people and real emotions. Due to the fact that all scenes include practically the same dialogue it is a huge complement to Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault that they made their characters more three-dimensional and real than Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

The American interpretation of this film is also vastly different than the French. Due to the fact that this film deals with homosexuality, which is a topic that still is tinged with taboo here Americans have to turn the film into a farce of a farce. In other words the movie has to be ridiculously over-the-top to be accepted. The pathetic part of the remake is that it perpetuates stereotypes and while the stereotypes do exist (for how do stereotypes come into being?) by merely making them more human we can see beyond a stereotype to the person portrayed. A perfect example of this is the opening scene. They are the same in both films. Renato (Armand in the American version) tries to get Albin (Albert) onto the stage to perform his act. In the American version Nathan Lane makes his character seem like a whining melodramatic pain-in-the-you-know-what because of this the scene is very funny but emotionally superficial. In the French version practically the same dialogue is spoken but because of the way Michel Serrault delivers his lines and because of the more subdued expression he has on his face the words take on weight. They have meaning they come across as real concerns for the relationship as opposed to a paranoid delusion and an excuse not to go on stage. It made me believe the affair was a possibility all over again and made me forget about the son and his impending marriage.

The deception of the possibility that Renato is having an affair is aided by the son’s appearance. In the American version he was clean-cut and Ivy League here the son in full 1970s look, long hair included.

 La Cage aux folles in 1978, even in France, was a more progressive film depicting a gay relationship, a gay couple who had raised a son and how the couple still had to pretend in certain social situations while longing to be completely honest. By 1996 in the United States homosexuality was not such a hot topic of controversy yet a slapstick-esque context is the only way the mainstream will be able to accept gay characters. Dramas about homosexuals are sole dominion of the art houses.

This is a film that does something very difficult to do. It takes a situation that is rich with comedy and imbues it with humanity and warmth. Making this a layered comedy which is something rare regardless of the country the film is made in. La Cage aux folles is a really fun film which takes a serious look at human relationships and society’s perception of people’s lifestyles without putting any one down or getting preachy. It’s a lot of fun.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Vanishing

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Vanishing

Johanna ter Steege and Gene Bervoets in The Vanishing (Meteor Film Productions)

This film exemplifies many things I like to see in films but rarely get enough of. Often times in Hollywood films we get interesting concepts that never live up to their full potential. In The Vanishing we get a film that forgoes cheap thrills and pace to examine the characters involved in a very thought-provoking way and it manages to achieve a greater level of creepiness than most American films would. After having first watched this film I was looking around in all directions as I walked around and here’s why: One of the first things that strikes you is the music. There’s a deep bass and it doesn’t overly-anticipate the moment but still highlights the film with an overtone of foreboding which is just magnificent. And as this word could apply to the film as a whole it is especially significant in the antagonist; subtlety. Played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Raymond Lemorne is a great villain because he’s believable, well defined and most frighteningly in the end we even understand him and worse yet he seems real.

Another thing this film has going for it is the way the film isn’t told chronologically. We first see the vanishing and the desperate search in the first few hours, then we are introduced to Lemorne, peg him as the man, see his routine and see that three years have gone by. All throughout the film we will skip through time for large periods. The disappearance of Saskia will be filled in over and over again until the actual events are seen through their entirety. And the last piece only falls into place at the very end.

Amazingly, with this unusual structure the film is not hard to follow in the least and certainly much more intriguing then the conventional linear plot we’re used to seeing in the United States. The ‘reality’ of these events are set up in many way by director George Sluizer. Firstly, there was great used of subjective camera and the ‘Zero Degree Style’ common in the States is completely abandoned.

The other touches of reality come as we delve into the two main characters: Rex and Raymond. Raymond, the criminal, is first only seen in a very one-dimensional manner. We see him as a fraud who seems to be scoping out the store for possible victims. Then later in the story we see him begin to formulate his plan, to perfect it over and over again. The one scene where we see him as a biology teacher is just enough to show us that these people could be anyone and can fool you so easily. There is also the scene where Rex is waiting for him at the restaurant. Rex says he’s waiting for Mr. Montmejan and that happens to the waiter’s name. The commonness of the name adds profound statement about the plausibility of the plot.

The tension of the film is also aided by McGuffins, or botched attempts by the professor. In one scene we see him pick up a young girl, we know already that him locking the door is where he makes his move and poisons the girl but it’s his daughter. He also runs into a former student of his and tried to get her in his car and we see a chilling example of how he may have escaped justice for so long for even when someone calls him on it their content to just get away. There’s also the scene where Raymond is out of focus in the background as Rex looks around for him. This is also another great scene of anticipation.

Rex’s relationship with Lieneke and also his quest are also quite believable. He reaches a point where all he seeks to know is the truth. The Vanishing is also greatly helped by some really good dialogue. The image of the Golden Egg as related by Saskia through her dream sort of predestines the film in a way as we’ll see they both have the same fate, however, that is not a fault of the film. I firmly believe that there are only so many ways a story can end and it’s not how it ends that always matters but how you get there. The Vanishing is a toned down psychological thriller that’ll get under your skin. It’s a film that’s had my imagination captive for a week. It’s not only a prime example of a psycho-thriller but also of well-structured and executed character studies. It’s a great achievement.

8/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Bicycle Thieves

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Bicycle Thieves

Enzo Staiola and Lamberto Maggiorani in Bicycle Thieves (Produzioni de Sica)

Firstly, it must be said that as simple as it is a test of the greatness of Bicycle Thieves is how much can and has been written about it. This piece, however, is meant as an introductory piece to the film in hopes that more people will discover this cinematic gem. This is not an in depth examination or an in depth film theory piece. For that kind of examination I could not do better than to direct you to the companion booklet that comes with the Criterion release.

 Bicycle Thieves is all that is good about Neorealist cinema in one tidy story. It is naturalistic acting, practical locations and a simple yet utterly compelling storyline.

The film sets up its dramatic problem instantly. Antonio is assigned work but needs a bicycle or he won’t get the job. He does manage to get it out of hock but his troubles aren’t nearly over.

What is most effective in this film is that in following Antonio on his quest we become fully immersed in it. We identify with him because we know the significance of the bike and why he needs it.

What’s more is that we can see the extremes he goes through and can relate when he is pushed past his breaking point. In his failing we can see why he has reached his last resort.

In this way Bicycle Thieves becomes the perfect tragedy because our protagonist can see how far he fell and can wonder what he could’ve been thinking without ruining his entire life.

The tragedy is ultimately left for us to examine. As we know there are many more stories like it playing themselves out everyday. By making the tale small and not grandiose it’s easier to see how it could be you.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Green Room

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Green Room

François Truffaut in The Green Room (Le Films du Carrosse)

Truffaut’s The Green Room may be his great over-looked gem. It is a film that I think still deserves the Criterion treatment even though it was saved from the Land of the Out of Print by the wonderful new On Demand services.

It is a film that sees Francois Truffaut make a rare trip in front of camera, not only as an actor but one playing a character unlike himself to a large extent. Unlike his turn in Day for Night in this film he is not a director but a journalist who after World War I starts to detach himself from the world lamenting all those he has lost.

The film is a fascinating examination of how to reconcile the fact that even as we live we are amidst death. It examines a character who is overly-preoccupied with those who have passed such that he forgets how to live. Perhaps what is most impressive is that it takes an noble and relatable premise, respecting and honoring the dead, and takes it to an extreme such that we se how detached from reality one can become.

It is also a refreshingly intimate piece. There aren’t many players concerned in the drama here. There is the home nucleus: Julien, Georges and Mme Rambaud. Then Julien also interacts with his boss on a few occasions and Cecilia most of all. This allows the drama to be very focused on the protagonist and his obsession.

This film is a sparkling example of Truffaut’s simplicity shining through. It’s an examination of character and theme where all is very apparent and he wants you to delve deeper and search for more within the film. It is often hypnotic, always fascinating and a must see no matter how you manage to obtain it.

9/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Annunciation

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Annunciation

Péter Bocsor and Júlia Mérö in The Annunciation (Hungarofilm)

If you’re ready for a mind-bending account that is likely to be one of the most bizarre film-watching experiences you’ve ever had then The Annunciation is for you. One thing that shows you almost off the bat that this is a challenging film is that as the story changes location the subtitles include location cards, which are not dictated by the film itself.

However, owing that the shift in locations and time period are due to the fact that it is a dream should make it an easier watch. This existential tale of Adam and Eve is still ripe with multiple meanings and answers that can be gleaned from the text of it.

Another thing that should be noted that all the characters, save for circus performers near the end, are played by children. If you have a problem with child actors I feel sorry for you but I also then do not recommend this film to you because they are dealing with very real material, extraordinarily challenging material that they dive headlong into and perform spectacularly.

The things that can be observed as Lucifer sends Adam and Eve through time in similarly dystopian plots are truly fascinating. However, though the film may seem like it’s hellbent on nihilism it ends on a wondrous of hope and sardonic comedy.

It’s a classic of absurdism and dreamlike cinema, cinema in general, which deserves a wider audience.

10/10

Thankful for World Cinema- Son Frère

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Son Frère

Bruno Todeschini and Eric Caravaca in Son Frère

This is quite an interesting French drama about the difficult relationship that two brothers have. One of whom is gay and receives his brother one night as learns he is fighting a mysterious and seemingly incurable disease.

One thing that is interesting about this film is that while it does deal a lot with treatment of this illness it goes out of its way to say that the disease even has a name but never says what it is. It insists on being about the patient and the care-taking brother and not the disease itself.

Aside from being a relationship film that doesn’t take the traditional route of dealing incessantly with whatever relationship it addresses. It also deals with death obviously, but moreover with being a patient. In examining those with chronic illnesses it casts an eye on the hopelessness of it all and the fear of surgery.

In that vain there is an amazing one-scene performance by Robinson Stévenin in which the brother witnesses the fear very sharply by seeing someone else in pain.

The film works very sure-handedly and keeps its pace steady but don’t let it fool you in that regard because there is a climax coming and it might even fool you in that regard. You may miss it or its impact immediately but it is one that leaves you thinking.

It is a very intimate and taut drama that is worth looking up.

8/10

Thankful for World Cinema- The Passion of Joan of Arc

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (Gaumont)

The first thing that needs to be said about The Passion of Joan of Arc in the state it currently exists is that it’s a miracle we have it at all. Several cuts vanished through the years and this one suddenly surfaces in a Norwegian mental hospital 25 years ago. Truly, the salvaging of some of these older films is at times miraculous and lends even more credence to the importance of film preservation. These works of art shouldn’t be lost and we can’t leave it to chance to find wonderful cuts such as these.

Second, is if you’re watching the Criterion collection version of this film opt for the Voices of Light soundtrack. Again an interesting note is that even though music clearly, according to all the records, was played when this film was screened Dreyer has nothing in his notes to indicate what that music should be, which is odd if you see his other work you know how exacting and precise he could be. So this is as close to an “official” score as you get and it is truly wonderfully done and moving and while it claims not to be a score it syncs beautifully with the images and story.

This film should be viewed for the performance of Maria Falconetti alone. It is often cited as one of the greatest in the history of film a fact which is also unique to this film considering how infrequently Falconetti acted on camera, however, this is no rote repetition of consensus. She is marvelous. It can truly be said this performance is well ahead of its time and reads like one of the greats of the 40s who had the benefit of sound. Falconetti needed no sound, no words and carries this film single-handedly in the rare performance that can be called a tour-de-force.

Lastly, there is the story itself and how it unfolds. I think it is likely one that transcends religion. Whether you’re inclined to believe Joan or Arc’s claims or not you see someone being horribly mistreated, you see one of the judges hurting because he believes her and you witness the tragic outcome of the tale.

This film is a masterpiece of silent film. You’ll note as you watch very few titles are actually needed. It manages through it’s unique visual style to communicate its tale very effectively. It is a must see.

10/10