Mini-Review: I Saw The Devil (2010)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

I Saw the Devil

This is a tale of a man who seeks to avenge his girlfriend’s death at the hands of a ruthless serial killer.

There is a lot to this film that is done well in terms of cinematic technique and in terms of structure as well, however, there is a moment when my suspension of disbelief explodes and it turned my opinion on its ear. That happens about one hour in and there’s 90 minutes of film to follow and my sympathies don’t change they dissipate entirely and I’m left just watching the carnage and at the end I’m supposed to feel gutted but I don’t. Sorry.

5/10

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TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 2

This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.

This is part two of a series which started here.

B.V.: Whether or not you were misquoted people believe you once said “Actors are cattle.” Can you tell me what you feel an actor’s role is?

A.H.: When a film is properly staged, it isn’t necessary to rely upon the player’s virtuosity or personality for tension and dramatic effects. […] He should be willing to be utilized and wholly integrated into the picture by the director and the camera (111).

Rope (1948, Warner Bros.)

I then inquired about one of my favorite Hitchcock films:

B.V.: In Rope you experiment with the unity of space and time. It sets up 105 minutes of suspense because you have the knowledge of the crime and the discovery of it as a constant threat. I feel it’s one of your best films what do you think?

A.H.: I undertook Rope as a stunt; that’s the only way I can describe it […] And I got this crazy idea to do it in a single. When I look back, I realize I was breaking with my own theories about the importance of cutting and montage for the visual narration of the story […] films must be cut (180).

The Kuleshov Experiment

B.V.: Yet, the lack of cutting is what makes it such a powerful situation. I think it is a testament to the power of setting and time in cinema and that there are more effective examples of the importance of editing, didn’t Pudvokin relate of some experiment?

A.H.: Yes, in one of his (Pudvokin’s) books on the art of montage he describes an experiment by his teacher, Kuleshov. You see a close up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby. Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face. Then you take away the dead baby and you show a plate of soup, and now, when you go back to Mosjoukine, he looks hungry. Yet, in both cases they used the same shot of the actor; his face was exactly the same (214-216).

B.V.: That demonstrates how editing can displace acting and how a performance can be created in film through artificial means. You’ve discussed the importance of space as a physical entity, any thoughts about “space in the frame” as opposed to mise-en-scène?

A.H.: The size of the image is used for dramatic purposes only and not merely to establish the background (218). Space should not be wasted, because it can be used for dramatic effect (263). The placing of images on the screen, in terms of what you’re expressing, should never be dealt with in a factual manner. Never! You can get anything you want through proper use of cinematic techniques, which enable you to work out the image you need. The size of the image is very important to the emotion, particularly when you’re using that image to have the audience identify with it (290).

Hitchcock and Lehman working on a script (All Rights Reserved)

B.V.: One problem I’ve always had is that I always have various ideas vying for my attention which makes the decision of which idea to develop next quite a difficult one. Any thoughts on how you approach the development stage?

A.H.: Whenever you feel yourself entering an area of doubt or vagueness, whether it be in respect to the writer, the subject matter or whatever it is, you’ve got to run for cover. When you’re at a loss, you must go for the tried and true! (186). When you’re involved in a project and you see it isn’t going to work out, the wisest thing to do is to simply throw the whole thing away (248).

B.V.: Am I correct in assuming that this philosophy is part of why you have such a low shooting ratio? Preproduction had been the experiment so you knew what you wanted?

A.H.: Yes, I’ve always boasted that I never look at the script while I’m shooting. I know the whole film by heart. I’ve always been afraid of improvising on the set because, although one might have the time to get a new idea, there isn’t sufficient time in the studio to examine the value of such an idea (289). I used to shoot the film in such a way that no one else could put the pieces together properly; the only way they could be edited was to follow exactly what I had in mind in the shooting stages (195).

F.T.: It seems to me that once you get a cinematic idea, you never let go of it until you’re entirely satisfied — even if it takes several pictures to work it out successfully (314).

A.H.: I agree (314).

To Be Continued

Review: Bicycling with Molière

It’s interesting, on an ancillary note, to consider the English and French titles of this film. The English title is, of course, the above referenced Bicycling with Molière. The French title is Alceste à bicyclette, which translates literally to Alceste on Bicycle. What this speaks to the relativistic nature that Molière and The Misanthrope has to English-speaking cultures, as opposed to in his native France. In France a mere mention of the name Alceste is already an allusion to Molière, such is his influence in French literature. Here it’s better to merely mention Molière to have a better chance of and audience to know what this film’s driving at based on its title. An analogy would be that if a similar concept would be attempted here a Shakespearean character’s name would be more recognizable such that the Bard’s name need not be in the title.

Yet, even admitting to a bit of cultural myopia on our part this is a film that can connect with audiences regardless of their familiarity with Molière and The Misanthrope in general. Furthermore, you get to see quite a bit of it rehearsed in scenes such that it can definitely intrigue one and whet their appetite for more.

The set-up for the film is that now-famous TV actor Gauthier Valence (Lambert Wilson) travels to Île de Ré to recruit his friend, now-retired reclusive actor, Serge Tanneur (Fabrice Luchini) to be in a revival of The Misanthrope that he is producing.

Naturally this concept is one that is very conducive to playing with the line that divides theater and film. There isn’t anything very revolutionary done but there are subtle touches. One of which deals with the characters they read and how they mirror Gauthier and Serge in their interactions. While the concept of an alexandrine may be something new to the viewers of this film the way this dramatic/poetic device highlights personality differences between the two not only in their approach to their profession but their overall philosophy. The would-be unprecedented trick of having Serge and Gauthier alternate between Alceste and Philinte it allows even more aspects to be examined and more acting muscle to be flexed organically.

Bicycling with Molière (2013, Strand Releasing)

There is much muscle to be flexed indeed for the actors and both Wilson and Luchini are both fantastic. They have definitive approaches to the roles that have to tackle in reads, but also convey the complexity and humanity of their characters outside the framework of the play. Furthermore, with scenes of Valence’s medical drama on display Wilson shows a third acting style in just one film.

Yet with all that symbiosis and the tackling of a classical work it’s not merely an intellectual exercise. It is billed as a comedy and the humor does translate and comes from the characters and not out of knowledge requisite to follow it. Therefore, there’s a universal commonality that allows the audience comfort, and, should they be interested enough they can look into Molière and his works later.

Due to the fact that it’s the people and not the situations so much that make the film funny, on the flip side because you can understand the characters and they are well-defined the drama makes sense is appealing. This perhaps shows itself best as Francesca (Maya Sansa) is fleshed out. With the presumed performance coming it seems prudent for Gauthier to buy a getaway house. At first Francesca is a brusque, abrasive b-word. Then she opens herself up and connects to each of them on an individual basis and contributes well to the whole.

From the outside Bicycling with Molière may seem like and ivory tower dweller’s delight, but there is an approachability and relatability to the humor that make it a welcome treat for all. The theatrical tricks, TV Drama jokes and the like are just icing on the cake.

8/10

Mini-Review: The Human Resources Manager

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Human Resources Manager

This was a film I was fortunate enough to win from Film Movement in a Facebook contest. Film Movement is akin to a book-of-the-month club for films. They send you award-winning foreign/indies usually before they’re released and that you can’t find near you. If you want to get a sampling of their films they stream many of their titles. The discs include a short as well.

This is an Israeli film about an HR man who faces a bit of a firestorm after one of his employees has been killed in a car bombing and he through a bureaucratic mix-up was unaware of her employment status at the time. Much of the film deals with how he tries to make amends for it and then becomes a journey as he returns her to her native Romania and struggles to get her buried.

The story is rather well told and moves along at a good clip. There are some surprises in store. A lot of the acting is quite good, however, the character and performance of the journalist very annoying.

8/10

Mini-Review: Black Death

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Black Death

This is a tale of knights in England during the outbreak of the Bubonic plague seeking a village in which the plague has not come yet and there are rumors of necromancy.

The time of the Black Death always has been and I believe always will be an era which is rife with story possibilities and has to this date been under utilized. This film not only features stellar performances but takes even-handed swipes at all religions and uses their precepts very astutely in building this tale. It’s very intelligently done.

9/10

TruffautHitchcockVillela: Part 1

This article is a partially fictitious account wherein I imagine myself in conversation with two of the greatest minds in cinema: Truffaut and Hitchcock. This work was inspired by the series of interviews the two conducted which was later turned into a book. The quotes from the two are real though the context isn’t always. If you are interested in the book it can be purchased here. If this alternate history premise insults your sensitivities please move on.

Film is: Eternal yet momentary, Enormous but has no space, Minuscule yet takes its place, Inflexible yet elastic, Sincere and sarcastic, Confined to a frame, which expands in your brain. When a showing ends, The Journey begins. You close your eyes and travel within. Never has it ever been so warm to be frozen in form.
-Bernardo Villela

Francois Truffaut on the set of Confidentially Yours (1983, Le Films du Carrosse)

I’m a lot older than I look. I was in Paris in 1968 trying to get Nino Rota to score my latest film and ultimately I failed and managed only to gain six pounds eating Crepes Suzette. While there, however, I did run into Francois Truffaut. After I asked him how L’enfant Sage was going he told me he was going to meet with Hitchcock and asked me if I’d like to come along. Of course, I agreed. On the way there I asked him:

Bernardo Villela.: What do you believe is the art of suspense?

Francois Truffaut: The art of creating suspense is [!] the art of involving the audience, so that the viewer is a participant in the film. (Truffaut, 16).

We arrived a few minutes later in a very plush room at the Georges V. Francois introduced me and afterward Hitchcock said he’d like my last film very much, to which I got very embarrassed as I felt I didn’t deserve such phrase. We sat down had some Sauternes as apparently Hitch had just finished a meal. It wasn’t the best lead in but I then asked.

B.V.: What did you think of The Wizard of Oz?

Alfred Hitchcock: It was a very bad movie (39)

I was reading a newspaper and saw that Julie Andrews had just signed to make Darling Lili and this prompted me to ask:

B.V.: Can you tell me what you thought of the Star System?

A.H.: These are the problems we face with the star system. Very often the storyline is jeopardized because a star cannot be a villain (43). Cary Grant could not be a murderer (44).

B.V.: Yet you always seemed inclined to work with stars, why?

A.H.: I’ve learned from experience that whenever the protagonist isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers, you see, because the audience is a lot less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know. (145)

B.V.: The comment you made about Cary Grant brings us to the trouble with Suspicion. The film is constructed and leading us to think Cary Grant is guilty and then in the last 5 minutes you jump the rails.

A.H. Well I’m not too pleased with the way Suspicion ends. I had something else in mind. The scene I wanted, but it was never shot was for Cary Grant to was to bring her a glass of milk that’s been poisoned and Joan Fontaine has just finished a letter to her mother – “Dear Mother, I’m desperately in love with him, but I don’t want to live because he’s a killer. Though I’d rather die, I think society should be protected from him.” Then, Cary Grant comes in with the fatal glass and she says Will you mail this letter to mother for me, dear?” She drinks the milk and dies. Fade out and fade in on one short shot: Cary Grant, whistling cheerfully, walks over to the mailbox and pops the letter in. (142)

I felt quite embarrassed by dominating the questioning but I think Francois gave me free reign owing to the fact that this was a unique experience for me.

B.V.: Many directors including Robert Altman make films only for themselves and don’t care what the people or the studios think of them, what is your reaction to this kind of thinking?

A.H.: I always take the audience into account. (48)

Citizen Kane (1941, RKO)

Our exhaustive discussion of Citizen Kane led me to ask:

B.V.: How do you define as a masterpiece?

A.H.: Theoretically, a masterpiece is something that has already found its perfection of form, its definitive form. (72)

B.V.: Many people find your films very implausible. I love The Lady Vanishes but even I find the third act a little hard to swallow, what’s your response to that?

A.H.: I’m not concerned with plausibility; that’s the easiest part, so why bother? (99) In a documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is god; he must create life. (102)

B.V.: Can you comment on why your films so often deal with the extraordinary?

A.H.: I don’t want to do a “slice of life film” because people can get that at home, in the street or even in front of the movie theatre [!] And I avoid out-and-out fantasy because people should be able to identify with the characters. [!] What is drama, after all, but life with the dull parts cut out.(103)

B.V.: My two favorite British Hitchcock films are The Lady Vanishes and Sabotage. While I feel the Lady Vanishes is more sophisticated in its structure , bravery is something I greatly admire in filmmaking and that’s part of why I like Sabotage so much.

A.H.: I made a serious mistake in having the little boy carry the bomb (109).

F.T.: Making a child die in a picture is a rather ticklish matter; it comes close to an abuse of cinematic power (109).

A.H.: I agree with that; it was a grave error on my part. (109)

B.V.: But I feel that’s part of what made it such a compelling film, the fact that a man has to pay for his sins through the loss of his son.

This is the first part of a series that will post on Thursdays. This is the first time this series has appeared on my new home.

Mini-Review: Hobo with a Shotgun

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Hobo with a Shotgun

I can’t say it better than a newspaper headline in the film does: Hobo stops asking, demands change.

There’s a lot to love in this film and the first thing you have to realize going in is that it’s outlandish grindhouse to the nth degree. If that redundancy didn’t make it sink in nothing will. The dialogue is frequently absurd and well-delivered. The cinematography is fantastic and the images are brilliant and saturated. There’s just one major story element which just didn’t work for me at all but I’ll leave it at that. Standout performances by Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith and Jeremy Akerman, who will always be Mr. Frawley from Pit Pony to me.

9/10

Mini-Review: Heartbeats

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Heartbeats

Director Xavier Dolan’s sophomore effort about a love triangle where a young man is the prize for a gay man and his girlfriend is a rumination on unrequited love and love in general.

I can see why this didn’t get the fanfare that his first film, J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), did but in it Dolan proves himself to be a flat-out artist. He not only acts in it but directs it with a steady hand. The only things that hold it back is a conceptual/intellectual disconnect with how the material is rendered but there is an absolute certainty to how he does things. The cinematography is brilliant and vibrant throughout; the framing precise, the edit is good. The use of slow-motion is at times inspired and his affinity to source music rivals Tarantino. It’s not the greatest script but it is perhaps the best treatment that script could’ve gotten.

7/10

Mini-Review: Even the Rain

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Even the Rain

This is an interesting tale about a Spanish film about Columbus in the New World being shot in Bolivia during civil unrest regarding price gouging for public water.

The film-within-the-film does fade into the background but there is a fantastic moment of symbiosis. There are some fantastic performances in this film and when the most notable one isn’t by Gael Garcia Bernal you’ve got a pretty good film on your hands.

Political sentiment pervades this film in a way that are not detrimental to enjoying it but rather necessary.

9/10