At great personal risk, the director of this doc embedded himself with a jihadist family, allowing us to see how these people really live, to feel their personal struggles. Unfortunately, my feeling was “fuck this family” (the opposite of an empathy machine) as we watch the creepy-doll-faced oldest son Osama go from beheading and flaying little birds to military camp. His dad gets blown up by a mine and loses a leg, and it’s alarming to see him so quiet and dazed after getting used to him as a blowhard strongman. I guess this comes down on the side of “documentary that might be useful to someone,” not “movie I actually liked.”

First-person movie with barely-seen narrator/protagonist. It’s kind of an essay film about revisiting the city where he grew up after being gone thirty years, noting the changes. But it’s also an interesting new thing – a noirish murder/mystery played out mostly in audio, with the visuals in the same style as the essay-documentary sections, almost as if the footage was shot and then the filmmakers belatedly decided to make a completely different kind of movie.

Guerra da Mata:

We do have several references, like from Josef von Sternberg’s film Macao … One of the first shots of our film is a travelling shot by boat, like in the beginning of the Sternberg film. We liked the idea of having documentary images introducing a plot that was actually shot in a Hollywood studio.

Rodrigues: “And we decided to do the opposite: inventing a plot mostly shot with documentary images.”

A couple of lipsync musical performances (one in the opening, presumably performed by noir-figure Candy, another in the middle by a canal boater) help tie the threads together. Unexpectedly, the noir story ends up involving a bird cage containing a Kiss Me Deadly-style glowing secret (it turns people into animals). So I followed the movie with pleasure, though after the fact I think I admire it more than love it.

Things I didn’t get because I don’t know my film history: Candy was performing Jane Russell’s song from the movie Macao in the introduction. This gets discussed in the film itself for us clueless types, as does some Macao history – it was occupied by the Portuguese for centuries then handed over to China in 1999.

Second appearance of Astro Boy today, after spotting him in Yi Yi. First movie I’ve seen by either of these Joãos, who also made To Die Like a Man and The Ornithologist together.

Great interview in Cinema Scope. They got funding for a Macao documentary then decided to make something else based on Guerra da Mata’s memories of living there, but they still only had the budget of a documentary.

Rodrigues:
“We wanted our film to be playful, and I think that this is a really wide range: Chris Marker, James Bond, film noir … sci-fi.”


Alvorada Vermelha / Red Dawn (2011)

I think the directors mentioned that making this short led to Macao, so I had the bright idea of watching them together. No spoken words, opens with a shot of a high-heeled shoe on the road, which could easily be from the other film (which also opens with a shoe close-up), and both movies share a glimpsed mermaid character… but for the most part, this is a documentary set inside a slaughterhouse where lots of fishes and chickens are killed and cut up, thus it’s kinda no fun to watch.

A straightforward journey film. Vargas is released from prison, then rides and walks and canoes to deliver a letter to his friend’s wife and to find his own daughter, slaughtering a goat on-camera along the way.

Final moments alive for this goat:

I’d read that Alonso’s first three features were more realistic than the crazy-looking Jauja (also a journey movie where a solitary man looks for his daughter) and was afraid they’d be a drag to watch, but I needn’t have worried. Wish the DVD had looked better, though.

Quintín on the opening:

Alonso went on location with a cameraman and shot a scene – actually, one long take – of the main character holding a knife in his hand, leaving behind the bodies of his dead brothers: a mysterious, intriguing sequence with sophisticated camera movements and a sense of tragedy. The blood theme was there, as were the dead of the title. It was a highly remarkable, virtuoso shot. And a shot that made money. Shown to foundations, producers, sales agents and TV buyers, this homeopathic sample allowed the movie to be finished.

Deserved winner of the Palm Dog at Cannes. Truly, the dogs were great. However I was frustrated and confused by the rest of the movie, which was relentless misery until the climactic explosion of dog vengeance. The movie has been compared to Au Hasard Balthasar, but it’s maybe closer to I Spit On Your Grave.

Girl is abandoned by her mom to live with her shitty dad for the summer. She is devoted to her dog Hagen, gets kicked out of her orchestra by the asshole band leader because of Hagen, but after pressure from horrid neighbors, Dad kicks the dog out on the street. Horrible people + handheld camera = no fun. Dog catchers, dog fighters, etc. The fighter trains Hagen to be hateful and violent, a la this movie’s great namesake. The girl’s bike is stolen, woman at dog shelter is a liar and dog murderer, and so on. Then: a well orchestrated bloodbath of revenge, with a picturesque but mysterious ending.

M. D’Angelo:

This movie’s stupid. I suppose it’s slightly less stupid if one views it allegorically — that is, if the dogs are supposed to represent minorities — but that barely seems tenable, especially w/r/t the laughable ending. Otherwise, its sole point of interest is its use of real dogs at the climax, which isn’t remotely scary (Mundruzcó has no feel whatsoever for horror) but does at least represent an impressive feat of screw-you-CGI logistics. And then he goes and ruins that by using said climax, which should arise out of nowhere, as a surreal flash-forward “grabber” at the outset, a ploy that smacks of bad television. At best, this might have worked as a segment of Amores perros (which it explicitly apes for a while); two hours is beyond laborious, and every cut away from Hagen to the little girl and her dad feels like Mundruzcó deliberately wasting your time.

Mouchette has a crappy home life and actively hates everyone at school, throwing clumps of mud at them every day after classes. Her dad shoves her around, prevents her from having any fun, and her mom is dying, leaving Mouchette to take care of the baby. Meanwhile trapper Arsene and groundskeeper Mathieu have a Rules of the Game rivalry going on, also a romantic rivalry for the local barkeep. Mouchette sulks silently, preoccupied with sex and death, is raped by Arsene during a rainstorm, has a series of unsympathetic encounters with the townspeople after her mother dies, then drowns herself.

Bresson: “It can’t be summarized. If it could, it’d be awful.”

Pay close attention to the words of a song sung at Mouchette’s school and you can detect references to the overall theme of the film:

Opens pre-credits on Mouchette’s mom crying alone, before we know who she is, “What will become of them without me?” Tony Rayns in the commentary says the movie is about the disappearance of a person from human society. Sound effects from footsteps and futzing about with props are prominent, like in Rivette movies, although sometimes looped audio (and even visuals in the final shot) is noticeable. Camera focuses on hands and bodies, moving away from downturned faces. It’s a short movie, setting up all the players and conflicts efficiently in its first ten minutes with spare dialogue. Adapted from the same novelist as Diary of a Country Priest.

Godard made the trailer, in which a voiceover says it’s “about the rape of a young girl – in short, a film that is christian and sadistic.”

Repetition:

RB: “Adolescents are more flexible than adults. They’re interesting because of their mystery, their inner force. What I find interesting is thrusting a child, a young girl, into a situation that’s terribly mean, even nasty, and seeing how she reacts.”

R. Polito:

Shooting on Mouchette started soon after Bresson finished Au hasard Balthazar, and Mouchette seems a combination of the suffering Marie and the donkey, Balthazar, much as the hunting (rabbits) and poaching (partridges) episodes once again analogue human and animal misfortunes.

This is the second obscure 1977 film on Rosenbaum’s top-1000 list that I thought I might not get to ever see until it showed up at a theater in my town with the director in attendance. The Ross sprang a whole Jon Jost retrospective on us with less than a week’s notice, and this was opening night. But after watching Last Chants, a whole week’s worth of similar movies didn’t sound like a party. Maybe if they played one per month I could summon the energy, or maybe if someone promised the others would be less bleak. It was an experience, though, and Jost was full of stories and game to tell them to the too-few attendees.

First surprise: the movie is shot in a series of very long takes, all of which Jost says were first/only takes except the finale (and only because the battery ran out). Second surprise: it’s a musical! Nobody bills it as a musical, but it’s full of original country songs (which comment on the story/themes) co-performed by Jost himself, and the narrative stops or slows down to let each song play in full. That’s pretty much my definition of a musical.

Light Industry summarizes: “Bates journeys with a young hitchhiker, then tosses him out of his pickup, argues with his wife, visits a local diner, hits a bar, has a one-night stand, and then finally encounters a roadside stranger,” whom he robs and kills. Rosenbaum calls it a “chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana.” There’s a weird tension, because you buy lead actor Blair as Bates, but you don’t like or trust Bates, and the movie patiently follows him without really getting into his head. Definite highlight was a scene in a bar, Bates picking up some girl, another county song playing as the camera spins drunkenly around the room.

Happy SHOCKtober! The ol’ blog is running months behind right now, and I’ve posting things out of order, but here’s a vampire flick to kick things off. More to come… eventually.

It’s something like this: rich guy asks mortuary master for help reburying his father. But father is a vampire, kills the rich guy and puts everyone else in danger. Master is arrested for the rich guy’s death and his two assistants try to save the day: attractive young Chor, haunted by a female ghost, and comic buffoon Man, bitten by a vampire and trying to keep from becoming one himself. At the end, no lessons are learned, but the movie is much fun, so it got sequels. Even Master stopped caring about the plot early on.

I spent most of the runtime piecing together Hong Kong’s rules about vampires. They hop, I knew that much from Seven Golden Vampires. You can freeze them and make them obey orders by taping yellow paper with a phrase written in chicken blood to their forehead. You create a barrier/trap or injure the vampire by snapping straight ink lines with a string. Sticky rice (only a certain kind!) draws out vampire poison from bitten people, and damages full vampires. They have long hard fingernails, and standard vampire teeth, but their bite marks come in threes. Fire and certain wooden swords can kill them. My favorite: if you hold your breath, vampires can’t find you.

L-R: Man (Ricky Hui), Master (Ching-Ying Lam), Chor (Siu-hou Chin, later in Fist of Legend)

There’s also a local government baddie, Wai, the nephew of the slain rich man, who is hot for his cousin Ting Ting, but Chor and Man keep making him look ridiculous (including a weird voodoo mind-control scene) so he’ll have no chance. I’m not sure whether the movie kills a baby goat and a chicken or if those are effects/editing, but I’m sure it kills a snake.

“The rules have grown stronger than those who made them.”

Bob Dylan’s fabled hero Anthony Quinn is a mexican eskimo (MEXIMO). Eskimo culture in the far north is apparently a whole racial melting pot, with eskimos from Japan and China and Singapore and Guyana, and even white eskimos with skin makeup.

Peter O’Toole, in his first year in the movies, already knew how to behave like a star, insisting his name be stricken from the credits upon learning that he’d been dubbed.

Opens unpleasantly with a swimming polar bear getting speared. Later we’ll see more hurt or killed animals, not always sure which are real. A narrator condescendingly fills us in on eskimo culture: “in the age of the atom bomb they still hunt with bow and arrow … they are so crude they don’t know how to lie.” Then Quinn shows up, a giggling simpleton with a short temper, a strong hunter without a wife. At first he’s too cartoonish, overplaying the cultural differences, but it’s a charismatic film and you get used to the movie version of the eskimo way of life, so that halfway through when guns and white men first appear, it’s startling. And then the movie gets to its point, or at least what I assume Ray felt was its point since he loves to hide bunches of social commentary in his action-packed dramas, which is best represented by Quinn’s great line: “When you come to a strange land, you should bring your wives and not your laws.”

Narrator plays it like a Nanook educational film at times. Quinn has a friendly fight with a buddy, smashing his head through an igloo wall, but while returning home after an uncomfortable encounter with modern civilization (guns and swing music) he busts the skull of a white missionary because he refuses to eat their old wormy marrow. “One did not intend to kill … his head was too soft.” Peter O’Toole and some guy who freezes to death after falling into water chase Quinn, arresting him for the murder, but finally O’Toole lets Quinn go, using exactly the same method as John Lithgow did in Harry and the Hendersons.

Hits from the DVD commentary by Krohn and Ehrenstein:
Technically an Italian movie (hence the dubbing). Opens with plain white nothingness, a little bit of Antonioni creeping into Ray’s work already. “Swingin’ and swappin’ in the great white north.” Ray was in the arctic for a long time getting all these shots. Released in 70mm. Marie Yang plays the mother of Quinn’s bride, is not Anna May Wong as frequently miscredited, but another actress calling herself Anna May Wong (not the famous one) also appears. Refusing to sleep with someone’s wife can get you killed, just as [sleeping with someone’s wife] can here. All of ray’s movies are about “the impossibility of communication.” Quinn is a rare Ray hero who is not neurotic. Ray’s trademark anguish is missing. The Four Saints song “Don’t Be an Iceberg” plus second song “Sexy Rock” heard in the distance then over closing credits, because movies had to have theme songs back then. And Krohn recommends the John Landis movie The Stupids.

This post has been released under the Movie Journal Amnesty Act of March 2011, which states that blog entries may be posted in an unfinished state, since I am too busy to write them up properly.

Based on the works of 1700’s poet Sayat Nova, and in fact Sayat Nova was the film’s original title before the censors changed it.

Doesn’t look or play very similar to Parajanov’s also-amazing Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors.

My screenshots are all from the first six minutes. After that the laptop wouldn’t read the disc so I watched the rest on TV. EDIT: nope, all screenshots now replaced with 2018 versions.

Divided into sections, with the poet at different stages of his life. Little spoken dialogue.

In the middle section, both Sayat Nova and his girl are played by the same actress:

Just a first viewing. Will watch again (and hopefully again).

2018 UPDATE: This finally came out in a beautiful HD restoration, so now’s the time. I’d forgotten just how completely non-narrative this is. There are scenes from the poet’s life, but you wouldn’t know it without further research. Instead of a story, we get dioramas in front of an unmoving camera. The blu-ray includes a text commentary, since he wants to discuss the audio without obscuring it. He has access to the script and outtakes, so discusses what’s actually happening, in addition to the symbolism and shooting locations and historical context. It’s very helpful to know what’s going on, but I don’t feel like understanding the story makes me love the movie more.