Crime and Punishment (1983, Aki Kaurismäki)

“I killed a louse and became one myself. The number of lice remained constant … I wanted to kill a principle, not a man. Killing a man may have been a mistake.”

Aki’s debut feature, restored in HD to look good as new. And an excellent start to his career it was, setting the pace and tone for so many of his later pictures. It feels nice to get back to his grim deadpan work after recent sidetracks into the Leningrad Cowboys series.

It’s also hard to reconcile this Crime and Punishment with the Sternberg version I just watched. This one seems to depart radically and inexplicably from the story, keeping the title. Raskolnikov is Antti Rahikainen, who is not a student with crime theories but a meat factory worker, and who doesn’t kill a pawnbroker because of profit or some napoleonic vision, but shoots the man who killed his wife in a car accident years earlier. The relationship with the police inspector (Esko Nikkari: Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business) is different here too, but still interesting.

Inspector Polonius:

Antti and his coworker friend:

Antti acts differently all the time according to his conscience: often he’s not just resigned to being caught, but actively self-sabotaging by introducing himself as the killer to a near-witness (caterer Eeva) and handing evidence and his name to workers at the crime scene. Other times he’s ambivalent, starting a semi-romance with Eeva, deceiving the inspector or challenging him to prove Antti’s guilt. And sometimes he’s working towards escape, planting stolen goods on a homeless man (in both movies a poor innocent is taken to the police station and coerced into confessing), procuring a fake passport and plotting with his friend to leave the country.

Arrested homeless man:

There’s no sister in this one, but Eeva has a boss with designs on her who fulfills the Grilov role, and who gets drunkenly killed in traffic towards the end. No complicated theories on the murder or aftermath: “I just found him disgusting. That’s why I killed him.” But Antti’s swings of conscience and reckless behavior keep the tension high. Kaurismaki of course throws in a couple musical numbers, local rock bands doing English-language songs.

The Lobster (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos)

I love when an absurd movie by a foreign filmmaker starring a pile of my favorite current international actors opens in town… and plays the multiplex. Judging from the turnout, they won’t be making that mistake again.

We open with the situation I knew from the trailer: Colin Farrell and acquaintance-turned-rival John C. Reilly are at a hotel where they are given thirty days to find a compatible mate or else they’ll be turned into an animal of their choosing. They go for daily treks in the woods to shoot escaped loners – for each one they bag, they’re given an extension of their hotel stay. In desperation, each man tries to fake compatibility with a woman – Reilly gives himself nosebleeds to get paired with pretty young nosebleed-prone Jessica Barden (because these are the kinds of surface similarities that make successful couples) and Farrell acts heartless to get matched with champion hunter Angeliki Papoulia. After this fails catastrophically and she murders his brother (a dog), he escapes into the woods, later returning to forcibly turn her into an animal (he also murders double-agent maid Ariane Labed, which means he dispatches both stars of Alps).

It’s no better in the woods, as leader Lea Seydoux has even stricter rules against coupling. Unfortunately, during their covert trips to the city (where Seydoux is pretend-paired with Michael Smiley of Kill List), he and his travel companion Rachel Weisz fall in love, and she is blinded as punishment, which leads to a hilarious/horrifying finale (remember the nosebleeds).

Also at the hotel: Peep Show star Olivia Colman as the manager, Ashley Jensen (Extras) as a sad woman who fails to get Farrell to like her, and Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) as the “limping man”. I’ll have to watch again – when listing islands, did someone say “Chevalier”?

M. Singer:

Combined, [the film’s segments] add up to this cautionary tale about the way rigid governments impose their values on their citizens, and how close-minded people try to convince others (and often themselves) that their beliefs are not only the correct ones but the only ones. In the end, that sort of thinking can leave you blind to the truth that happiness can’t be regimented or regulated. And right now, that feels like a pretty timely message.

Crime and Punishment (1935, Josef von Sternberg)

I’m trying to decide which Sokurov movie(s) to watch in preparation for Francofonia opening in theaters, and this description of Whispering Pages catches my eye:

With this film, Alexander Sokurov “leafs through the pages” of a classic work of Russian prose. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment supplies this work with its ideological theme and the historical setting, but [not] its plot. The novel’s events and familiar characters are simply not mentioned. If anything, they are represented in an “inverse perspective,” where proximity is united with remoteness, beginning with end, the present with the absent.

At the same time I’m watching animated shorts, this week by Piotr Dumala, leading up to his half-hour Crime & Punishment, which the IMDB reviewers agree has beautiful illustration with no discernible story. I don’t even know the story of Crime & Punishment myself, so rather than read the book, or even its wikipedia entry, I thought I’d start with a more narrative movie version, holding a small Crime & Punishment Marathon. But I forgot, one shouldn’t count on 1935 Production Code Hollywood for stories of moral ambiguity.

Lorre, the moment after the crime:

Some Sternbergian-lit close-ups and nice shadow play, but overall it’s a talky studio picture with clunky dialogue, not what I would’ve figured the great Sternberg made between The Scarlet Empress and The Devil is a Woman. I think his heart wasn’t in it.

Peter Lorre’s Raskolnikov graduates with top honors, and writes an acclaimed article about criminal psychology, but then as now, writing acclaimed articles doesn’t pay the bills. Nearly destitute, he knocks off a pawnbroker and steals some stuff, but flees the scene before getting anything of real value. Rask decides since he’s a crime expert he can’t get caught, so he puffs himself up and offers help solving the crime to chief inspector Edward Arnold (a Capra regular who’s very good here, given the time and space to do his own thing). Emboldened, Rask marches into a publishing house and demands a large advance to write new work, which he receives, and begins throwing money around. Though Rask is becoming megalomanic, he’s still pretty incompetent in the real world, and his growing guilt plus the poor religious girl Sonya who he met at the pawn shop the day of the crime set him straight, and he turns himself in with a look of humble enlightenment.

All in English with a few odd references to Russia (rubles, Siberian prisons) to remind viewers of the story’s global-lit origins. Also a whole side plot about Rask’s sister Antonya, who’s going to marry a rich buffoon (Gene Lockhart, Crachit in the Reginald Owen A Christmas Carol) until Rask gets wealthy and chases the man off – and a nosy fellow named Grilov who knows the sister and overhears Rask, who is generally bad at covering his tracks, speaking about the crime.

Lockhart at center, with the while Rask family:

I assumed the Bible-carrying Sonya convincing Rask to turn himself in was a Hollywood addition, but after the major discrepancies between this and the Kaurismaki version I finally read the novel’s wikipedia plot summary and the Christian repentance comes from the book. Some other interesting wiki tidbits: “His motivation [to kill] comes from the overwhelming sense that he is predetermined to kill the old woman by some power outside of himself.” In this film, the motivation seems like pure desperation, and his delusions of outside powers begin afterward. “He also kills [the pawnbroker’s] half-sister, Lizaveta, who happens to stumble upon the scene of the crime.” Here it’s a couple of dudes, and Rask runs from them in a panic. Lorre (“the celebrated European star,” as he’s introduced in the opening titles) was between appearances in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and Secret Agent, and this movie could’ve used more Hitchcock – or even more Sternberg.

Imprint (2006, Takashi Miike)

I started watching Masters of Horror shortly before starting the movie blog, so in my season one round-up, three episodes are mentioned but got no writeup. Well it turns out MoH blu-rays are cheap, so now I own those three episodes, and am gonna rewatch the two good ones – Mick Garris’s Chocolate is doomed to be the odd man out.

Imprint was the episode I remembered the least. I wanted Miike’s English-language debut to be better than it was, and now that I can enable subtitles I didn’t miss any part of the story, but it seems like he and writer Shimako Iwai were trying to impress by throwing in every shocking thing they could come up with: pregnant prostitute murder, sibling incest, parental rape, aborted babies tossed casually into the river, a syphilitic dwarf (actor familiar from Zebraman 2), birth defects, Audition-reminiscent needle torture, madness, hanging and strangling and… this:

But there’s great color and some arresting images – more than any other MoH episode, I’d guess.

And the actors all acquit themselves well enough with the English dialogue, even native speaker Billy Drago (Papa Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes Remake). Drago has made his fortune and returned to Prostitute Island to rescue his lovely Komomo (Michié of R100) but is told that she’s dead by a facially-deformed woman (Mystery Train star Yûki Kudô), who proceeds to tell him why, changing the story multiple times making herself more and more guilty of Komomo’s torture (at the hands of an evil needle woman played by the author Iwai) for supposedly stealing a ring from the house madam (Toshie Negishi of Over Your Dead Body and Audition), until Drago has heard enough stories, murders the woman and goes to jail.

The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman)

Elliott Gould plays a disheveled Philip Marlowe who mutters to himself like Popeye. Altman called him “Rip Van Marlowe,” imagining him as a man out of time, waking up in the 1970’s after twenty years with his old-fashioned detective business (billing 1950’s rates). Marlowe doesn’t mind the modern era – “It’s okay with me” is his catchphrase. He solves the case of a missing drunken husband, meanwhile being investigated for his old friend Terry’s disappearance with a suitcase full of money and turning up dead a few days later. Marlowe is lied to and pushed around by everyone in the movie, but persistently puts together the real story of what happened to his friend – a true detective after all, and one who finally discovers some truths he can’t abide.

Sterling Hayden:

Marlowe’s customer is Eileen Wade (folk singer Nina van Pallandt) whose drunken, abusive husband Roger (a beardy, rambling Sterling Hayden) is found at a scammy treatment center run by Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson of The ‘Burbs and Innerspace). It’s not clear what exactly Verringer is up to, but he gets his bill paid by showing up in the middle of a party and appearing to hypnotise Roger into cutting him a check, then Roger drowns himself walking into the ocean that night.

Great scene of Marlowe talking to Eileen while Roger is walking into the surf below:

Marlowe’s investigation of his dead friend hinges on his belief that Terry (MLB pitcher Jim Bouton) couldn’t have murdered his wife as has been claimed by the police. But it turns out he did, and has taken the money stolen from Mr. Augustine (The Rose director Mark Rydell) to Mexico. His newly widowed neighbor Eileen is coming to meet him but Marlowe gets there first and shoots Terry.

Sometimes I had to activate subtitles for the muttering… this was a favorite:

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett, who wrote a bunch of Howard Hawks movies including Philip Marlowe mystery The Big Sleep. Altman got Mad Magazine artists to do the movie poster to convey that this ain’t a dark and humorless Humphrey Bogart movie. One of many great things about the movie is its John Williams theme song, which shows up everywhere in different versions. More movies need theme songs. How hard can it be to call up a talented indie musician and say “I’m making a movie, here’s a title and plot summary and general mood, write me a theme song”? This might make the original-song oscar category worthwhile again.

Gould improv-Jolsoning with fingerprint ink:

Altman on working with actors: “I can’t tell them what I want to see, when what I want to see is something I’ve never seen before.” Something audiences at the time had never seen before: when Marlowe is being intimidated by Mr. Augustine, I couldn’t focus on the dialogue at all because one of Mr. A’s henchmen is a pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger, four years before Pumping Iron, even.

Rein Raamat animated shorts

I watched Raamat’s Lend a couple months ago, just getting to the rest of the disc.

Kutt / Hunter (1976)

More cross-fading animation. Whale-hunters dodge icebergs while tracking their prey. The whale wins. Nice water and Northern Lights effects.


Pold / Field (1978)

A black/white world, slow heavy labor, each frame crossfaded into next. Work horse dreams of a better life, escapes. I think he returns to the farm after getting hungry.


Varvilind / Colorful Bird (1974)

Bored future society starts to come alive with the addition of primary colors, as their world gradually becomes a groovy hippy paradise. A black cat threatens to make everything square and gray again, but the cool kids intervene, ending in a psychotic color trip. Maybe Estonia didn’t have the color green – the movie shows yellow and blue combining to make… blue. I like the silent-film opening titles, and how each of the Raamat shorts is so different-looking than the last.


Kilplased / Simpletons (1974)

White-suited loggers discover that logs roll downhill. A farmer tries to befriend some birds while his horse is eaten by wolves (he doesn’t see the wolves, so a cat is blamed). The men burn down their structure (silo?) and destroy their own fields while chasing a pig. At least they get to eat the pig. The cartooniest Raamat I’ve seen.

I like the way he draws bird feet:


Tyll the Giant (1980)

Tyll helps the puny humans rebuild after their towns are destroyed by demons, rescues them when rough seas overturn their boat and participates in brutal battles against their enemies. This doesn’t go over well with the devil lord who shoots boulders from his eyeballs, so he destroys Tyll’s home and murders his wife. In a final horrific battle (this is the most bloodshed I’ve seen in a cartoon since Metalocalypse), Tyll is beheaded, then a voiceover I didn’t understand (because I lack subtitles) gives an epilogue. A tremendous end to the Raamat party.

Scabbard Samurai (2010, Hitoshi Matsumoto)

My main thought after watching this and Sokurov’s The Sun, more than any thoughts about the films themselves and their content, is that SD video is dingy and blurry and should be abolished. I know I don’t have the persistence to actually do this, but I should just limit myself to HD from now on, since (a) there are already more movies available in HD than I have time to watch and (b) if I’ve seen something in SD and it comes out in HD I always tell myself I have to see it again anyway.

Another fun Matsumoto movie, but unlike R100 and Symbol, which start out weird then go in crazy new directions, this one has a clear structure. Swordless samurai Nomi Kanjuro (Takaaki Nomi, per Hollywood Reporter “a near-toothless, goblin-like sixtysomething with zero acting experience”) is caught and sentenced to death, but he’ll be pardoned if he can make the young prince, in a funk since his mother died, laugh. Nomi’s not very funny, so every night he and his daughter Tae and his two sympathetic guards try to come up with something more ridiculous than yesterday in order to amuse the sullen prince, eventually involving stunts and giant props. Ultimately he’s forced to commit seppuku, but the prince starts to lighten up around Tae – they bond over the deaths of their mothers (and now her father) and become friends. Hardly a masterpiece, but cute enough, and builds very effectively towards its unexpected ending.

In the early days, his daughter’s pained expressions are funnier than Nomi’s attempts at humor:

L-R below: Would-be assassins Pakyun (Rolly, death cult leader of Suicide Circle), Oryu (Ryô of Tsukamoto’s Gemini) and Gori Gori (Fukkin Zen-Nosuke of the Kamen Rider saga), who end up rooting for Nomi once the palace starts selling tickets to watch his daily gags.

Thanks to J. Mobarak at The Film Stage – no other site wanted to translate this movie’s credits. Nomi’s guards are the more serious Itsuji Itao (evil cyborg leader of Tokyo Gore Police) and Tokio Emoto (in Outrage and Norwegian Wood the same year), who I found unaccountably hilarious with his mouth always hanging open. The lord was played by the prolific Jun Kunimura (Takeshi’s boss in Outrage), and the guy who yells “I sentence you to commit seppuku!” after each failed attempt is Masato Ibu (of Shield of Straw and Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected).

Matsumoto in Cinema Scope:

I wanted to make a film that in the beginning is not at all like a film, not filmic. Only towards the end it becomes more and more like a movie. This was one of my central intentions.

C. Huber:

As for the samurai, he breaks free of the ritual cycle when he finally rejects protocol and, pointedly, refuses to read his arduously prepared “death note.” Instead he proves that, like all of Matsumoto’s protagonists, he is, curiously, a man of action.

The Sun (2005, Aleksandr Sokurov)

A fascinating historical portrayal of Emperor Hirohito on the (fictionalized) day Japan surrendered WWII to the Allies. Hirohito is portrayed as knowledgable but distracted, pontificating on the war, next steps and the causes of defeat, but choosing to focus primarily on marine biology and poetry instead of letting the war get him down.

Watching The Sun (and Whispering Pages) to be more Sokurov-literate when Francofonia opens later this month. Two features earlier, his Russian Ark had been a major milestone of digital cinema, but here the underlit interiors are paid no favors by digital video. It’s not very engaging as a film – two hours of an extremely out-of-touch ruler talking to himself in dim rooms. I did enjoy the dream sequence, the Emperor imagining fiery devastation with fishes as warplanes.

A. Gilbert has another take on the film’s look:

Sokurov shot The Sun himself — on digital video, which was then transferred to film. The resulting grainy, nebulously-lit sepia-toned images mark an exquisite canvas on which he has expressionistically displayed his visual panache (Sokurov has stated that the crepuscular look was inspired by the work of Rembrandt).

Cranes outside the compound:

Lighting off General MacArthur’s cigar:

The Emperor (Gilbert again: “His facial tics, including constant mouthing of inaudible words, are meant to relay the strain of the divine monarchy, which Hirohito’s actions altered forever.”) was Issei Ogata of Yi Yi and the next Scorsese movie. Plenty more credited actors but they hardly seem worth mentioning, though the briefly-appearing Empress was Kaori Momoi (the young kid’s badass grandma in Sukiyaki Western Django). So, a one-man show of a haunted, mumbling ruler – I wonder if Sokurov had seen Secret Honor.

Taking time to flip through some movie star promo stills:

Part of Sokurov’s “tetralogy of power” including Taurus (Lenin), Moloch (Hitler) and Faust (Faust). WWII capitulation was in the air: Downfall opened just five months before The Sun. One of Cinema Scope’s top films of 2005, and one of Rosenbaum’s top films of 2009 – apparently it took some time to come out in the USA. Rosenbaum called it “an almost unanimous critical smash” and said it’s “the first film by Aleksander Sokurov that ever made me laugh, and its subtle, whimsical curiosity about the Japanese emperor Hirohito at the end of World War II reminded me of Roberto Rossellini’s curiosity about the title hero of The Rise of Louis XIV.” Considering that everything I’ve read about the movie mentions its visual beauty, maybe my DVD just wasn’t great.

Hyènes (1992, Djibril Diop Mambety)

“The reign of the hyenas has begun.”

The famously wealthy (“richer than the World Bank”) Linguère Ramatou is returning to her village of Colobane after 30 years away. The village has fallen on hard times lately, so is doing everything it can to impress her so she’ll leave a generous gift, including promise the upcoming mayoral “election” to shop-owner Dramaan Drameh, a former flame of Linguère’s.

Turns out she has returned to take revenge on Dramaan, who got her pregnant 30 years ago but wouldn’t marry her, leaving her exiled from town to become a prostitute. We don’t know how she became rich and renowned after this, but it doesn’t matter – she offers the town more money than they can spend if they’ll just agree to kill Dramaan for her. Everyone says aloud that this is absurd, that lives aren’t for sale and they’ll never agree to sacrifice the beloved Dramaan, but everyone starts stealing from his store, denying him privileges, following him around and not allowing him to leave town. The women, including Dramaan’s wife, stockpile modern appliances on credit and won’t answer when Dramaan asks them how they plan to pay the bill.

Dramaan leading the welcome party:

In the end, the townspeople tell themselves they’re enacting delayed justice, carrying out a sentence on Dramaan for his unfair treatment of 17-year-old Linguère Ramatou. Though they’re cynically murdering him for the money, at the behest of a bitter woman who tells her servants “The world turned me into a whore. I’ll make the world a whorehouse.”

Ramatou and her entourage:

Played Cannes in competition with The Long Day Closes, Fire Walk With Me and Simple Men. I guess I’ve seen all available Mambéty films… nothing more to look forward to. Based on a popular Swiss play also adapted by Bernhard Wicki (with Ingrid Bergman) and about ten others.

California Newsreel:

Hyènes was conceived as the second installment, following on Touki Bouki, of a trilogy on power and insanity. The grand theme, once again, is human greed. As Mambety himself observed, the story shows how neocolonial relations in Africa are “betraying the hopes of independence for the false promises of Western materialism,” and how Africans have been corrupted by that materialism … After unleashing this pessimistic vision of humanity and society, Mambety began a trilogy of short films about “little people,” whom he called “the only true, consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves.”

The director, playing an ex-judge now working for Ramatou:

Mambety:

The hyena comes out only at night … He is a liar, the hyena. The hyena is a permanent presence in humans, and that is why man will never be perfect. The hyena has no sense of shame, but it represents nudity, which is the shame of human beings.