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)
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.