Sunday 19 April 2009

Random Notes #10

Blindness (2008 - Fernando Meirelles) - One of the more visually amazing films I've seen in some time...No, it's not like an eye-popping, colour-filled, Bava-lensed romp, but I found it extraordinarily inventive in its representation of how blindness set in on several characters. As well, throughout the film doubling occurs via repeated patterns, colours and mirrored images in many scenes and I liked how this tied in with the good and bad aspects of the characters. The often drab palette drew some criticism, but I found it perfect for the story and the unflattering look at how our society might respond to such an outbreak.

Having said all that, the film loses its way in some spots. It takes the pessimistic view of the situation down several notches below something that Von Trier might conceive on a really bad migraine day and it also takes some clunky short cuts (e.g. as the camera wanders through a group of people you hear individuals say very awkward things simply in order to get across the basic status of a situation to the audience). I can handle some of the stage-y dialog, but it gets a bit too much at times.

A terrific use of visual story telling though.

A Matter Of Life And Death (1946 - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) - I've long wanted to see this entry in the Archers catalog, so when it was released recently in a double disc set with Powell's lesser know 1969 "The Age Of Consent", I picked it up blind. Damn, I'm smart sometimes...

OK, I suppose there was little risk in picking up one of their most praised and beloved films, but it truly is lovely. A sweet tale of the redeeming power of love that's slightly corny and without a trace of irony would likely get labelled as a "chick flick" these days - which would be a shame since a large portion of the audience would bypass it (a goofy thing to do by the way - like any "genre", the dreaded label of chick flick applies to some great, some good and some abysmal films). David Niven and Kim Hunter bring to life the couple who fall in love at first hearing (via radio contact) while Niven's plane is about to crash into the sea. Because of an error up in the great gig in the sky though, Niven is given a chance to live and the couple get to meet. It all ends up in what amounts to a big trial in heaven to decide if he should live or die and it's all so much more believable than you might think. In typical Powell and Pressberger fashion, the film is also stunning - whether it's the rich colours of the real world or the black and white of the spiffy architecture up in the clouds.

Road House (1948 - Jean Negulesco) - Released as part of the Fox Noir line, Negulesco's film is more melodrama than noir, but it doesn't matter - when it's entertaining, the specific genre doesn't matter. Ida Lupino is front and centre here and though some have argued that she's too old for the love-stricken Cornel Wilde (who plays Pete), she's 1) only a year older than him in real life and 2) sexy as hell. Lupino plays Lily, a bar room singer who lands a gig in Pete's road house / bowling alley and uses her deep, almost gravel-like voice to win over the patrons. Wilde doesn't actually own the joint though - it belongs to Jefty (Richard Widmark) who brought in Lily in the first place and has plans to marry her. So when Lily and Pete fall for each other, Jefty tries to turn things back in his favour with some devious tricks. During all of this, Celeste Holm gives a great, quiet performance as Susie, the long suffering bar maid at the alley who has always loved Pete. It has many of the noir characteristics of course (just the lighting alone is enough to qualify), but enjoy it for the story and for Widmark's obvious delight in playing the jealous Jefty.

The Demon (1978 - Yoshitaro Nomura) - "The Demon" isn't filled with fire-breathing winged creatures or appearances from Satan's messengers, but it doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of extremely disturbing moments in this tragic tale. You may even wish for a couple of actual demons to suddenly appear surrounded by flames - just to liven up the mood a bit.

A harried young woman brings her three young children - one year old Shoji, three year old Yoshiko and Riichi, the eldest at six - into the city to track down the location of the children's father. We find out he is actually married to another woman and has been supporting her all these years. But as his business has faltered and her children begin to grow, there just isn't enough money coming in - so she decides she wants to settle this once and for all. The affair is now out in the open and the mistress demands to be supported while his wife wants nothing to do with the children. The arguing continues in heightened melodramatic fashion until in the middle of the night, she runs off and abandons her kids with their father. As he meekly tries to figure out what to do, his wife ignores the kids unless it is to hit, punish, slap or otherwise physically abuse them. The disturbing nature of the film settles in at this point - through many scenes of ominous music, you know that something has to give and that something, likely nothing good, is going to happen.

Several scenes jump out: little Shoji playing with dishes and food around the table until the wife grabs him and begins stuffing his mouth with balls of rice; Yoshiko being dragged to her father by the wife who then dumps laundry detergent all over her stating she is dirty and smelly; the father's attempts to desert Yoshiko at Tokyo Tower. As things begin to cave in on them, the couple start to lose sense of right and wrong. She's previously mentioned that he should just strangle the brats, but she becomes more intent on "resolving" their situation. Her casual suggestions of how to get rid of the children individually - particularly when she describes how they should poison Riichi or push him off a cliff - are quite terrifying.

Yoshitaro Nomura's film is by no means a fun time, nor is it really an entertaining one. It does a terrific job though of painting a picture of a nightmarish scenario and the corners into which an individual can paint themselves - especially with society's help.


Peter Nellhaus said...

If you haven't seem them yet, I recommend Nomura's Zero Focus, and especially Castle of Sand.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Peter...I've had "Zero Focus" on my list for awhile and just haven't got around to it. I've added "Castle Of Sand" and I'm gonna bump both of these titles up my list.