Responsible Lai Yiu-Fai (Wong fave Tony Leung) and impulsive, promiscuous Ho Po-Wing (Ashes of Time star Leslie Cheung) took a trip to Argentina, ran out of money and got stuck there. Now they’re trying to make money to get home, while the pressure of being together so long has destroyed their relationship. Ho disappears for long periods, returning dramatically without warning, while Lai persistently works menial jobs at a nightclub, a kitchen and a slaughterhouse. Lai meets Chang (young Chen Chang, lately The Razor in The Grandmaster) in the kitchen, but Chang isn’t sticking around Buenos Aires long, is on his way around the world (with ITMFL-like mention of a remote place people go to leave their troubles behind). Lai finally gets the money to leave, can’t find Ho so he returns to Hong Kong, where he can’t find Chang either (only finds his family’s restaurant).

Mostly great, eclectic music choices, including my favorite Caetano Veloso song from Talk To Her. But, well, my love for Frank Zappa is eternal, and I complain that his music isn’t played enough, and I appreciate the connection between him and the Turtles song of the film’s ironic title, but “I Have Been In You” did not fit the wistful mood of the city montage after Chang left.

Lai at the waterfall:

Chang at the end of the world:

A sustained mood piece, where nothing really happens and Christopher Doyle’s brilliant cinematography heighten the emotions of everyday life – just like In The Mood For Love. But ITMFL was about the possibility of an ultimately doomed romance, and this one’s about the lingering feelings after romance has ended. It’s a much more bitter movie, and though I enjoyed seeing it in HD for the first time, it doesn’t seem like one to revisit regularly.

M. D’Angelo:

Happy Together features all of the elements that have consistently impressed me in his other pictures: elegantly moody characters; stunning cinematography (courtesy Christopher Doyle, as ever); a loose-limbed narrative that careens from shot to shot without deliberation; a general air of cinema as possibility. All that’s missing is the powerful romantic yearning that suffused Chungking Express, Fallen Angels … and even parts of Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. In its place, to my irritation, is endless squabbling.

“I would destroy myself to take you down with me”

Glenn Ford (this is the anonymous-looking 1940’s Glenn Ford, not the superior 1950’s version from the Fritz Lang movies) is a grifter turned semi-respectable once hired by illegal casino owner George Macready (Paths of Glory, The Big Clock) with the unlikely character name of Ballin Mundson. Buncha noir-lite character development and plot setup ensues, while I’m on seat’s edge waiting for someone – anyone – to ask Gilda if she’s decent, then finally it happens and the movie comes to life.

So I guess Glenn and Gilda dated for years before it all fell apart, and now Glenn’s hiding out in Buenos Aires and his boss goes on vacation and comes back married to Gilda. Because of this movie’s noir reputation I assumed there’d be some femme fatale reveal in which she’s plotting a convoluted revenge scenario, but nope, just a massive movie coincidence – not to say the movie isn’t still convoluted. Glenn and George take turns toying with Gilda and she marries Glenn after George fakes his own death via plane crash. George briefly returns, only to be dispatched by bathroom attendant “Uncle Pio” (actor Steven Geray was Hungarian but hey, any foreigner will do), and we get an anti-Casablanca ending as Glenn belatedly decides he still likes Gilda.

Gilda serenades Uncle Pio:

All this plot is diverting, but Rita Hayworth’s beauty and attitude are the main attraction. I wonder if Gilda’s the only 1940’s female character to marry two men, cheat on both of them repeatedly, and still get a happy ending. Her hit song from the movie “Put the Blame on Mame” (which was pried into the tagline for this movie, confusing those of us who’d never heard the song and thought it a stupid catchphrase) is about a hot-kissin’ hard-dancin’ woman, and Dave Kehr notes it “has been known to provoke impure thoughts”. Maybe Rita even charmed the censors… or maybe they demanded different kinds of changes. Buenos Aires is crowded with corrupt officials, murderous businessmen and sinister Germans – I can’t tell if the fact that nazis and their collaborators hid out in Argentina after WWII was well-known when this film was written. Of course nazis are never mentioned, and in typical Hollywood style, Mundson controls a “tungsten cartel” instead of anything unsavory.

Played the first Cannes Film Festival alongside Brief Encounter, Rome Open City, Notorious, The Lost Weekend and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I mainly knew this film as the inspiration for Laura Harring’s character’s name in Mulholland Dr and the excerpt in Shawshank Redemption. Vidor had recently made the not-as-good Rita movie Cover Girl. Shot by Rudoplh Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Foreign Correspondent), one of his last before retiring.

Devil is a Woman masked carnival:

S. O’Malley:

Gilda is a pawn between two men who seem more interested in each other than her … There’s Ballin’s phallic cane/sword named his “little friend”; at one point, Ballin says, “Wait for me here, Johnny. I’ll need both my little friends tonight” … The ending, with Johnny and Gilda exiting together, is a holdover from the days of the cathartic “The End” of musicals, but it leaves an uneasy impression, similar to the final scene in Notorious. In neither ending does it feel like “love has triumphed.” It’s more like a criminal getaway.

Five stories of People Driven To The Brink: a great opening segment set on a plane, then four mediocre, pointless segments. Kinda fun to watch for a while, but I can’t believe the acclaim this thing got. Went up against Leviathan, Timbuktu and the winner Ida for the foreign oscar. I guess its defenders hoped the artistically-serious vote would cancel itself out and the goofball candidate would take the prize.

First episode has a flight full of people who gradually realize that they all know the same guy – and they’ve each wronged him in some way – and he’s the pilot. Then comes the best part of the movie: the opening titles.

Part 2: a diner waitress realizes the sole customer one night is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. The chef poisons the guy’s son then stabs the gangster. Part 3: rich guy vs. normal guy road rage incident goes out of control, ends with explosive deaths. Fourth: an explosives expert’s car keeps getting towed, ruining his family life. Guess what he does? Next, rich family’s son drunkenly kills pregnant woman, family pays their gardener to take the blame, bribes are negotiated then gardener is murdered by dead woman’s husband. Finally, a bride discovers at wedding that her husband has been cheating, makes a scene.

Editing to music: something more movies should do. It’s fun and easy.

After portraying the producers as wolves, vultures and lions:

A massive hit in Argentina. “Every story in Wild Tales has to do with the clash between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed” – Quintín writes about how the movie cautiously addresses the problems facing Argentina, convincingly calls it an important film despite its light-violent-entertainment appearance to outsiders like myself.

A Danish engineer (Viggo Mortensen) and his teen daughter Ingeborg are in 1880’s Argentina. The locals spread rumors about Zuluaga, a savage desert killer with supernatural powers. Ingeborg runs off with young soldier Corto, Viggo gives chase and finds Corto has been killed. Now he seeks to rescue his daughter from Zuluaga.

Whaaaat that sky:

Sounds like a fine Western, but this is one unusual and beautiful movie. Picture is windowboxed with rounded corners, and the colors are extremely vivid (I think blues or greens were boosted), shot by Kaurismaki’s DP Timo Salminen. The story moves slowly when it moves at all, but the film isn’t its story – it’s more a moving postcard of a barely understood past.

Viggo is injured, his gun and horse stolen, and continues on foot armed with his sword. A dog leads him up a mountain (“what a shit country,” he complains of the rocky ascent) to a cave inhabited by a woman (Ghita Norby, narrator of Babette’s Feast) who may be his daughter many years older.

Cave Woman:

Young Ingeborg wakes up in a massive house in modern-day Denmark, is told by a guy in the yard that her dad’s out, and her dogs are developing nervous rashes because she leaves them alone for so long. Then a shot of sea lions on the rocks of Argentina.

Future Ingeborg:

Viggo also made an Albert Camus movie last year, is clearly in a different headspace these days than during his Lord of the Rings and David Cronenberg eras. Ingeborg’s parents are actors, both on Borgen and The Killing.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

Needless to say, [the ending] turns the entire film upside down, in an even more radical way than the original last scene from La Libertad, where Misael laughs with the film crew and the whole ethnological dispositif is erased, revealing the entire enterprise as only a film with an actor, as artificial as any other film (perhaps more artificial, in fact). That scene, however, isn’t in the final cut of the film: it was edited out under pressure from Cannes, who requested its removal as a condition to program the film in Un Certain Regard. Thirteen years later, Alonso—whose films have always screened in Cannes, but never in the Competition—was able to retain his intended ending for Jauja, though once again there was pressure from the festival to remove it. Cannes, like many major festivals, prefers to screen films where content and style are clear, distinguishable, uniform, rather than deal with a film where not even the filmmaker knows what exactly is going on. And Alonso is one of those few filmmakers—I can only think of Kiarostami or Monte Hellman as other examples—who understand cinema as the sole medium where there’s no real divide between true and false, dream and reality, film and filmmaking.

I haven’t read all the articles online, but it looks like this was rapturously received by my favorite critics back in March. Won a prize at Cannes, too.

Viggo with Lt. Pittaluga

Alonso:

In the beginning, it was a little bit linear but then after the girl disappeared … the film breaks itself a little bit and starts to have distortions in time, space, and reality. I mean, there’s no way to keep on in the film after he realizes that he’s not going to see the girl again. He has no horse, and he has not even a hat to protect him from the sun. He’s a man in a desert, and he loses all that he has, his daughter.

A. Martin:

Ingeborg speaks of her desire to own a dog – one that will follow her everywhere, that will live only for her. And what does Dinesen become, 30 minutes into the film, but precisely that, abandoning his mission in a heartbeat and blindly following her every trace … Alonso takes Jauja more in the direction of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, or Miguel Gomes’s celebrated Tabu – a type of cinema in which the materiality of landscapes and political histories is melded with the magical, transformative elements of fairytale and myth.

B. Ebiri: “Alonso has a lot on his mind, but he’s interested in casting a spell more than sending a message, in texture, sound, and image more than narrative.”

Alonso again:

We composed the film in 1.85:1, which is more panoramic, a little bit more modern. But then, when I asked for the transfer from the lab, I just asked them to give me a full frame, and I started editing in 4:3 … I was thinking that if I go with a more ’scope film, people maybe would get the wrong idea about Viggo, the swords, and the horse, and they’ll look more for action. Is he going to kill the Indians? And that is not the film. So if I put it in an old frame, they will start seeing the film another way, not waiting for more action. It’s a better perspective to have.

Funny, that’s the opposite of what Serra did with Story of My Death, shooting 4:3 then reframing in ‘scope.

Zuluaga in Jauja:

Zuluaga in Letter for Serra:

Alonso is one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50 – a quest I’d put on the back burner, then considered abandoning after suffering through Story of My Death this summer. Serra came to mind while watching Jauja, and probably not coincidentally, the two filmmakers know each other, and I’ve found an hour-long 2008 discussion between the two of them. Serra seems more lively and interesting than his films do. Alonso on the difficulty of creating a film: “Perhaps the scene in question was easy to film … the difficult thing is putting one shot after another and adding sound and creating an atmosphere around it.” Serra is focused on Honor de Cavalleria, Alonso on his “Lonely Men Trilogy” of La Libertad, Los Muertos and Liverpool. I abandoned the interview after a half hour and watched something else: there was a 2011 project called Correspondences where filmmakers made video “letters” to each other, and Alonso and Serra participated. Skipping Serra’s section for now because it’s two and a half hours long.

Letter for Serra (2011)

Long takes, just a few shots in 20+ minutes. Among tall grasses and twisted trees, we follow a nervous rifleman taking a shot in the woods. Then an axe man walking with his dogs. We watch the dogs in the woods, then a narrator takes out some notes and tells the story of the axe man Zuluaga – a backstory for Jauja, it would seem.

The one where a rich guy (Adolphe Menjou of Morocco and The Tall Target) writes love letters to his daughter Rita Hayworth, intending for her to get into a romantic mood then when he finds someone she can marry, he’ll pin the letters on that guy. It pulls off the could’ve-been-icky premise pretty well. Anyway, self-important dancer Fred Astaire (with a big Omaha shout-out) comes along, Rita thinks he wrote the letters, bam.

Nominated for some sound & music oscars but lost to the more patriotic Holiday Inn and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Everyone was supposed to be Argentine but we weren’t convinced.

Delicate drama mostly shot in shallow-focus close-ups – so delicate that it has pretty much flown right out of my head. I remember some actors rehearsing Shakespeare, a girl with a pirate video delivery service, chance meetings and a dream sequence. And I remember really, really liking it. Katy did not.

Quintin has a great Cinema Scope article about the Argentinean writer/director:

The films take Shakesperean promiscuity to the limit: in the end any actor can play any character—including sex changes—as if all the bodies, the names, and all of Shakespeare’s and Piñeiro’s characters are impossible to distinguish. In Viola, María Villar plays a character named Viola who—in principle—has nothing to do with theatre. But then she meets a girl who is acting in a production of Twelfth Night who asks Viola to be her replacement. In the second act of Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man called Cesario, but in the play within the film he is called Bassanio, a character from The Merchant of Venice. Any multi-talented member of this magic sect can act, write, or even play music, as is clearly shown at the end of Viola. These endless confusions and exchanges continue on and on in the film. Piñeiro has declared that he doesn’t want to make the kind of film where characters’ paths intersect due to the cleverness of the script, but rather one that allows people to live as they want or as they can. But, in that way, all of these individualists living like monads, trying to succeed in love and art, end up mixing into a symbolic orgy, where film and theatre, men and women, music and literature, work and leisure, dating and talking, are molded into a single entity.

Ver(onica) hits something then continues on. She checks in and out of a hospital and a hotel, has an affair with a guy she seems to know, visits family, all in a daze, following the leads of others. She gets to work at her dental office and sits in the waiting room by mistake. Finally recovers herself enough to get a few words out, and tells her brother that she hit someone. He flies into cover-up mode, and tries to convince her it was a dog – meanwhile a boy’s body is found in a canal near the accident but the papers are saying he drowned.

The camera stays close with Ver (Maria Onetto, amazing, though beaten out by a Brazilian for best actress at Cannes), as she recovers from her shock more and more, starts acting out her life again. She is surrounded in every scene by symbols and reminders: children, cars, her own car with its dented front, Indians (it was a native whom she hit), her phone (she was reaching for it during the accident), the canal, and water – the one time she breaks down it’s when a sink won’t work. Her trauma is effectively conveyed by the filmmaking without going all Eureka-depressive.

image

Martel is pointing to class differences (the killed child isn’t important except when his body inconveniences the city by blocking the canal), but isn’t going out of her way to make Ver a villain – she’s in shock, then confesses, then as she recovers and the event seems more ghostly and unsure, she’s not made out to be a horrible person. I wouldn’t say the viewer is meant to be on her side, exactly, but the filmmaker’s sympathies and intentions are hard to pin down. I have watched a bunch of acclaimed depression flicks in a row with Eureka, Songs from the Second Floor and Battle In Heaven and was afraid this would be another feel-bad mopefest, but I thought it was excellent, and it fit my weary, headachy state without losing interest.

Interesting tidbit from Martel, courtesy Salon:

Today in Argentina there’s a very particular situation because our government is in favor of clarifying things in the past, what happened during the dictatorship [of the 1970s]. But the government is completely blind about current times, what’s going on now. So I thought it was interesting to link that blindness about the past to blindness about the present time. That’s why I made some aesthetic decisions. I chose music from the ’70s, and the men have long hair, sideburns. Everything else is from today, the mobile phones and the cars. … It’s not so much to talk about what happened in the ’70s, or a conflict between that time and this time. The movie as a whole is a process of thinking. For me, that’s what cinema is about.

G. Kenny says that after the accident we see a dog behind her car (the same dog the brother finds when he takes her to investigate). I didn’t realize that because of the DVD’s limitations – assumed that the collapsed figure on the road was a kid. The movie opens with a group of kids playing, and later we learn that one of them, who works at a garden equipment store, has gone missing. So whether we see a dog or a boy behind her car, it’s never explicitly shown whether she hit a person or not. No wonder the movie gets comparisons to Cache.

image

I risk over-quoting D. Kasman:

While it initially seems that The Headless Woman is after a conventional art-house expressionism, where Vero’s shock renders her mind dull and out of sync with her environment—soft-focus, tight close-ups with fuzzy, unclear backgrounds, and people melting into shadows and off-camera—this ho-hum alienation gradually reveals itself as something else. As Vero goes about her life, regaining a little bit of her mind, the moral and social threat of the potential crime—did she kill a boy and will she be caught—disperses from a threat of action—one of plot—to a threat of tone, a tactile but unidentifiable sense that an unglimpsed, terrifying world has cracked open, if only with the smallest, subtlest of cracks. Something is wrong, and it is hauntingly wrong, but we are never quite sure what. … That Vero feels guilty is clear, but as we gradually pick up out-of-focus children playing in the background of shots it never becomes apparent whether Vero is being haunted by someone’s death or by a possibility for death everywhere. When she gets back in a car, we do not think about the child she killed; all we can think of is that a child could die again. And then Martel layers, casually, suggestions of insanity and incest in Vero’s family.

Everyone talks about the sound design. Must watch with headphones next time.

Martel again, on the “fear of not having a trace…of not existing” after her hotel and hospital records have disappeared: “This is maybe the most political part of my film. I believe that hiding, not just hiding to protect somebody—it’s not so simple—also entails the idea that you are also hiding a part of yourself. That you are actually erasing a part of yourself. You are creating black holes in your life.”

E. Hynes:

With regal calm beneath a nest of dyed blonde hair (a playful nod to Vertigo), Vero carries her beauty and class with comfort and easy entitlement. She’s a dentist, wife and mother, but considering how long it takes for her co-workers and family to notice her altered state, not a particularly engaged one. … Now that she’s mentally, if only temporarily, compromised, Vero’s husband and cousin (another of Martel’s ambiguously amorous family relations) are eager to take charge and whisk the accident away, as well as whatever autonomy she knew before or since. They deny the truth of her experience but give her a cover. She’s the fainter who’s caught, coddled, and controlled; she’s kept safe, but at a cost. “Nothing happened,” they assure her, and the horror is watching Vero accept the easy, life-negating lie as truth.

Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.

It’s been a month since I saw this, so I should finally rouse myself into writing something down.

All I knew about the director going in was that his last movie, Nine Queens, was remade as the underrated Criminal, and that after El Aura (only his second feature as director) he died of a heart attack.

This was a fine little genre film (crime/suspense being the genre) but really nothing special. Starting out with the lead character waking up from an epileptic seizure, then in the next scene showing him to be interested in planning “the perfect crime”… you don’t suppose he’ll plan the perfect crime then have a seizure in the middle of it, do ya? So the movie doesn’t strive for unpredictability, but instead it follows this nobody of a character (a not-socially-brilliant taxidermist) as he gets in over his head. The standout parts for me were the setup (our guy accidentally kills the man who was planning a heist, then assumes his identity, in a town where nobody knows who he really is) and ending (taxidermist is back in his normal life, the lone and unsuspected survivor of the totally botched robbery, and all he brought back with him is the original dead man’s dog). Side plots include the seizure thing and our guy’s never-acted-upon desire to save all the abused women he meets. Movie has a really good atmosphere, planting us in a peaceful, wooded hunting town. Was a pleasant viewing experience then. Whatever.