March 01, 2006

Last Five Films

Um, dunno why the other "last five" thing is saying 28th Feb when it was actually posted 2 weeks ago? Anyway, quick comments on the most recent quintet:

  • EDIT: I should mention that I viewed Brokeback Mountain for a second time during this period, and unsurprisingly found it an even richer (and heartbreaking) experience this time around. Brilliant film, I'll delve into my thoughts about it at some point soon.

THE NEW WORLD (Terrence Malick; 2005)
3½ stars (out of 5)

Colin Farrell and Q

The Thin Red Line is one of my favourite films, and by far and away the best war film ever made. So I can't really be blamed for highly anticipating The New World – I persisted through my suffering from a complete lack of sleep the night before in order to see it.
I think it lived up to expectations. I certainly wasn't anticipating a conventional love story and/or retelling of the conquest of America from a director like Malick. The film works as a moody meditation, establishing a sensuous rhythm that deftly explores the delicate nature of colonialism and cultural identity. Even the supposedly central romance is a means by which Malick exposes the conflicts between man and his other, as well as man and nature.
As seems characteristic of Malick films, the environment is as active a part of the narrative as the characters themselves. Note how the Westerners – when faced with a paradise – feel the need to construct, mould and shape it instead of revelling in it. This idea is reinforced when Pocahontas/Rebecca visits her own "New World" (England) and finds herself in an expansive garden – beautiful yes, but essentially artificial.
The New World is by no means flawless, however. I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet, and it certainly requires a second viewing. The initial portrayal of Jamestown and its settlers was too exaggerated for my tastes, and Colin Farrell is as wooden as ever (contrastingly, newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher gives what might be the best female performance that I've seen all year). Furthermore, the consistent use of voiceover occasionally grates - something that never occurred in The Thin Red Line which used it to far greater excess.
Anyway, I'm starting to ramble. Like I say, The New World is a movie that needs to be seen again to truly come to terms with all its themes and ideas. My incoherent thoughts do it no justice, and perhaps one day I'll write a proper review on it. But either way, it's definitely worth a viewing, for a taste of something a little different. Regardless of what you think about the staples of acting/directing/writing, you won't be able to deny that it's one heck of a pretty movie.

NASHVILLE (Robert Altman; 1975)
4½ stars (out of 5)

So I attended a Robert Altman talk at the Arts Centre on Saturday, led by David Thompson (head of BBC Films, no less). The talk itself wasn't THAT informative, and didn't tell me anything that I didn't know already about Altman's directorial style. There were some cool tidbits of information though – e.g. Altman's favourite film is apparently Persona , which shows that the guy has fucking AWESOME taste. Also, Thompson succeeded in making me like him in spite of the fact that he's responsible for Billy Elliot , so I guess that's a positive?
Anyway, what WAS interesting was the film screening that followed the talk – Altman's Nashville. I had the chance to see this 4/5 years ago, but fell asleep after 30 minutes. I now realise that I was an IDIOT for doing so.
Nashville is marvellous. Altman seamlessly navigates his way through various (there are 24 'main' characters) intersecting strands of Nashville life, never once losing his audience's interest amidst all this chaos. His freewheelin' approach to the film suits it perfectly, as he skillfully manages to criticise various aspects of Americana (most significantly: politics and showbiz) with a truly adroit touch.
Moreover, I found the film VERY entertaining. Its satirical streak worked a charm and there were several moments of inspired comedy interlaced within the text. What surprised me the most, however, were the moments of unexpected poignancy. The use of song particularly helped out here – the performances of "I'm Easy" and "It Don't Worry Me" led to some genuinely touching moments.
Throughout all this, Altman's direction of his actors remains top-notch and he extracts uniformly brilliant performances from his superb ensemble. I particularly loved Lily Tomlin, Keenan Wynn, Geraldine Chaplin and Gwen Welles.
Nashville really lives up to its reputation as one of the finest films of its decade, and I'm mighty pissed off that I didn't relish the first opportunity that I had to view it.

STALKER (Andrei Tarkovsky; 1979)
5 stars (out of 5)

Ok, so this might have been my most amazing film experience since I saw Dogville at the cinema a couple of years ago. I don't want to descend into hyperboles, because Tarkovsky deserves a lot better. One day, I'll write an essay detailing my thoughts on this. Seriously, this has caused me to reassess my views on cinema. It's astonishing. See it if you ever have the opportunity to do so…

CACHÉ (Michael Haneke; 2005)
4 stars (out of 5)

Marketed as a typical thriller, Haneke's brilliant Caché is anything but. It loosely hides behind the thin veil of the thriller genre – and it most definitely succeeds in creating tension – but the reason it works so brilliantly arises from the multiplicity of its subtexts, which together form a series of scathing observations on contemporary French society.
Haneke COMPLETELY confounds his audience's expectations with this. There's brutality, but it's lost in a sea of ambiguity. The concept of the "gaze" is masterfully played with throughout the film, leaving us in a constant state of bewilderment and unease regarding the perspective that we're viewing the film from. Indeed, I'd argue that the fundamental element of the film's success in creating suspense is due to the transposition of the audience into the realm of the real unknown. Attempts to rationalise the text are continually thwarted, eventually leading to suspicions regarding the film's central characters – and you KNOW something's wrong when you're questioning the motivations of your leads.
Underneath all this there's a commentary on race relations within France (particularly resonant considering recent events). Moreover, there's an assessment of the role of the media and celebrity, and there might even be a far-fetched parallel to the Bush administration.
I don't want to give too much away in what's meant to be a quick summary, but seriously, this is a terrific film – watch it and love it.

LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (Jean-Pierre Melville; 1950)
4 stars (out of 5)

This was my first experience of Melville – and it's kind of cheating, for it's a world away from his typical crime thrillers, and it was Jean Cocteau (creator of the masterwork that is La Belle et la bête , and the great Orphée ) who proved the "lure" for me anyway.
Nonetheless, I'm glad that I watched it. The film fascinatingly investigates the nature of a particularly obsessive sibling relationship that verges on the incestuous. Our two leads are deplorable, but the vicious psychological games that they play on both each other and innocent bystanders makes for magnetic viewing. The film boasts some great shotmaking too, and thus makes me optimistic about Melville's other films.

I would write more but I'm tired. Ah well! These "quick thoughts" really need to be… well, quicker.


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  1. Interesting selection of films. I'm a big Tarkovsky fan, and I'd be interested to read what you have to say about Stalker, which I found quite mysterious. But… Dogville? Unwatchable pretentious nonsense, surely?

    01 Mar 2006, 02:42

  2. Hey, how refreshing to find someone who seems genuinely cineliterate. I attempted to articulate a few thoughts on Stalker for a film discussion earlier. I'll copy and paste them in a second?

    I'm intrigued by your knowledge of Tarkovsky. Stalker was genuinely one of the most brilliant cinematic experiences that I've ever enjoyed, where the Hell do I go from here? Nostalgia is the only Tarkovsky held in the library, so I'll get to that soon I guess. Solaris seems like an interesting companion piece to Stalker, although I could be wrong here? The enormous critical regard for Andrei Rublev puts that high on my list too, and the personal nature of Mirror seems fascinating? I just wanna see everything I guess, but is there anything in particular you'd recommend?

    With regards to Dogville - I understand (and love) the fact that it's so divisive, but it's just one of those films that genuinely spoke to me? I have a ridiculous soft spot for von Trier anyway (although I'm not too excited about Manderlay), and Dogville was such a terrific experience for a 16 year old who was rapidly losing faith in modern cinema. I'd never seen anything like it.
    I love the Brecht-inspired aesthetics and the way the film completely absorbs you in its artificial reality in spite of itself. I adore the way the mise-en-scene contributes towards the overall allegorical nature of the film. I love the numerous questions that the film raises, and I'm basically a colossal sucker for any "humanity=bad" argument so I bought in. Perhaps most of all, I love the way that von Trier manipulated my own inherent beliefs so that I initially supported Grace's final actions, something which horrified me upon reflection. He forced me to question my own beliefs, and there are few films capable of causing real introspection IMO.

    Anyway, I WILL write an essay about Dogville one day, that will communicate my thoughts a lot better than I'm doing right now. But for the moment, I'll respectfully disagree with your assessment of the film? :p

    01 Mar 2006, 03:01

  3. Hey, I had noticed your blog a little while ago when I read your list of a hundred top films but I didn't post anything about it because it was just too much information.

    I haven't seen all the Tarkovsky yet either, although I'd love to. Solaris is great. Funnily enough, the remake with George Clooney in it is actually pretty good too, and reasonably faithful to the original (although much shorter). Andrei Rublev is just stunningly amazing. In all honesty, it took me about 3 attempts before I finally watched it all the way through (it starts VERY SLOWLY). I gave in the first 2 times after about 30 minutes, but the third time I was totally engrossed. I haven't got a top 100 list, but probably Andrei Rublev would be in the top 5 or 10 if I did. Highly recommended.

    Right, going to go and see what you wrote about Stalker now. Incidentally, I think we're going to have to disagree about American Beauty and Dr Strangelove too. Didn't much like the former, loved the latter – I think it's probably the funniest film ever made, and completely enduring too (it's still funny for almost the same reasons it was funny then).

    No David Lynch on your list?

    01 Mar 2006, 04:29

  4. I think you'll be pleased to know that I've now ordered "Andrei Rublev" off the Net. I have to do a presentation on a Russian film for my Eastern Europe module, and I figured I'd take an alternative route from the traditional obsession with Soviet montage (that, and someone else had already picked an Eisenstein). I'm doubling it up with Sokurov's "Russian Ark"! Hoping that "Andrei Rublev" has some historical value? If not, I'll create some. ;)

    Re: "American Beauty"/"Dr. Strangelove…" – AB was the 'film that got me into film' and as such it has enormous sentimental value. Plus it's possibly the only film that I can actually say I'm IN love with. Sad, that, isn't it? It resonates with me. But to each their own, I'm all for a plurality of opinions… :cough: :splutter: Anyway, I DO really like "Dr. Strangelove", must make that clear. I just don't like it AS much as others (like yourself).

    01 Mar 2006, 13:01

  5. Oh, and re: David Lynch… I've seen "The Elephant Man" (liked), "Blue Velvet" (indifferent) and "Dune" (hated). I want to like him but so far I've been unenthused. In spite of this, I DESPERATELY want to see "Mulholland Dr." – it's a film that I've been wanting to watch since it first came out, but somehow I have never got around to it. And the library don't have a DVD copy! :anger:

    He's a filmmaker that inspires intrigue more than admiration with me, I guess. I'll wait until I (eventually) get to "Mulholland Dr." before I pass an official verdict, though. A Lynch film is always an 'event' though, and "Inland Empire" is one that I'm looking forward to muchly.

    01 Mar 2006, 13:09

  6. Oh I think Andrei Rublev probably has plenty of historical value. I just watched Russian Ark last week, I haven't decided how I feel about it yet.

    I still haven't seen The Elephant Man, but I think I've seen all his other films. Blue Velvet and Dune are not his best (IMO). Dune is great if you've read and loved the books, but absolutely hopeless and awful if you haven't. You should definitely see Mulholland Drive and also The Lost Highway, which I think is his best film and possibly the number one film on my hypothetical top 100 list.

    01 Mar 2006, 15:10

  7. sebil

    i just need help about the novel les enfants terribles. i read the novel but it just made me so confuse because you cannot understand the distinction betwix real and fantasy. and i am not sure which event really happened or which event belongs to the fantasy world of the children. i have a project about that for next monday. so, please send me an analysis which is detailed.
    and i may approach the novel from the perspective of feminism because of the dominance of Elisabeth. or i may show the differences or similarities betwix the children's fantasy and our (human beings) real (ideological) world from Louis Althusser's point.
    or from the psychological problems that they (elisabeth and paul) have; may be incest relationship or may be the stress of the transition to the adolescence.
    these are my possible topics for analysing this novel.
    please help me. and send me an e-mail as soon as possible.

    20 Apr 2006, 08:04


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