Holy intense movie, gave me a major headache. Or maybe that was dehydration. Very good cast (IMDB links them all to the other 3-4 Romanian movies I’ve heard of). Some nice looong takes. Awesome dinner table scene plays out in a single take with just a ton of dialogue, mounting tension from both onscreen and off. An impressive movie for sure, glad I saw it.

NPR gives some background:

In 1966, Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu sought to boost his nation’s population by criminalizing abortion, declaring, “The fetus is the property of the entire society… anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity.” 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a new film by director Cristian Mungiu, explores the ramifications of Ceausescu’s ban two decades later. … Mungiu won’t go into personal details but says his film is based on the experience of someone he knows. He says half a million women died getting illegal abortions during the reign of [Ceausescu].

Practically a horror movie, in fact it builds tension and suspense better than almost any horror movie I’ve seen. Almost lands in the Lars Von Trier / Gaspar Noe camp of terrifying movies that you feel worse for having watched and never want to watch again… but not quite. Stays on the Michael Haneke side of the fence with the movies that make you feel upset but interested. I mean, it has a happy ending, I’m not saying it’s Last House on the Left. The horror isn’t from having evil characters (the abortionist is the worst of the bunch), and their behavior (unlike most by Haneke, Noe, Trier) isn’t just movie-believable, it’s completely convincing. These are real people in a tense situation in a totalitarian state, in the same situation that many Americans would be in if abortion was illegalized.

A rarity in this movie: a weapon (the switchblade) picked up but never used.

Reverse Shot makes the point that this is not simply “the Romanian abortion movie,” in part because “Otilia [the blonde woman] — and not Gabita — occupies the film’s narrative and moral center.” Instead they call it “a tense, riveting thriller (of a sort) that subtly evokes the experiences of women in a society that fiercely regulates their lives and bodies, often reducing them to commodities to be bought, sold, and bartered, no different at the extreme from the Kent cigarettes and orange Tic Tacs traded on the Bucharest black market.”

From an interview with the director:

Whenever you have to live in a period that is complicated, you have to learn your way. Nothing is very clear or simple or on the surface. You have to understand how things [work]. This kind of generates the feeling of negotiation. It’s difficult to say, by the end of the film, which of these two girls is better served by this society: the girl who apparently makes the decisions and negotiates with everybody, or the girl who doesn’t seem to do much, but will have her problem solved by the end of the day. It was a way of talking about compromise. When you live in a closed society and don’t expect this society will come to an end — people never thought the communist system would end — you tend to compromise more. They don’t anticipate any kind of judgment. They naturally think, “This system is abusing all the time, so I can be abusing with some other people because of this.”

The beginning of the film [is about] the ability to find your way over there by compromising and negotiating your way out of things. There’s another scene which is related to this — the dinner scene where you see a different generation of people who are not guilty of anything else but adapting to the system. They had to survive, they had to raise children. They are people who adapt to that society. For me it’s the meaning of all these objects. It’s about what it meant [to have] that symbol of a free world: bar soap, a pack of cigarettes. They represented much more than you can see.

Kind of ruins the Atlanta Film Festival to take a break from their offerings and watch a movie this good.

I don’t know much about Ireland vs. England but it looks like a bad scene. Bros Cillian and Teddy turn to rebellion after being terrorized by brits, then when their guy signs a peace agreement, Teddy joins the new government while Cillian keeps fighting. ‘ventually Ted kills his own brother.

Family vs. country / neighbor vs. neighbor thing plays out very effectively. Movie leaves me with my stomach burning. All shots of countryside are heartbreakingly wonderful. No death is taken lightly. Loach takes his “socialist realism” to a Serious Historical Topic and succeeds hilariously. Best picture at Cannes no duh. I’m only writing so little because I waited too long and have lost some details.

Here’s my email to Jimmy the next day.
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Time vs. The Leopard (or Burt’s Eyebrows: The Movie)

So it completely slipped my mind that I hate Italian movies, and I went to see The Leopard last night.

An IMDB reviewer says “To anyone interested in serious concerns, cinematically expressed with grace and intelligence, I would urge you to see this splendid film.”

Serious concerns? Concerns about what? About being serious? The movie is serious about being serious. It seems serious about the people of Sicily, about its sense of history and its future, and about our lead man Burt and his serious eyebrows and sideburns.

In the past few weeks I’ve watched movies by Bela Tarr, Wong Kar-Wai, and Luis Bunuel, plus The Double Life of Veronique and The Fountain. Been using all of those to think about how the movies present time, how they stretch time and contract time and enhance it and make it stop and start. It’s one of the main things movies do that other art forms don’t. It’s hard to change your sense of time with a play, with a painting.

The clock in White Hall to the left of the movie screen is stopped dead, and I liked to look over at it during The Leopard as if to confirm that the movie was frozen in a moment, that it was not progressing, that it had barely started and it was nowhere near the end. A great movie seems to fly by… I want to start it right up again after it ends, but then I notice the real time on the VCR clock, and remember that in real time, in my real day, two hours have gone by and I can’t play it again and I probably should be cleaning the office or going to bed. The Leopard left me with no such illusions. I felt the full force of all one hundred and eighty minutes… plus more minutes! The movie was even longer than it actually was! I feared that Visconti was filming new scenes while we watched, that the movie was looping itself, that the elderly couple behind me would not live to see the credits!

Nice restored print with very strong color. Good low-light and natural-light photography. The movie is a painting, with a painting’s sense of time. It wants to be looked at, but it does not propel you forward. Maybe people want this, to be slowed down, frozen in time focusing deeply on Burt Lancaster’s eyebrows and sideburns (an obsession of mine while the film was in progress), but I’m not so sure. I heard heavy sighs from the crowd, a few people left, at least one fell asleep, and some started talking and wandering around when one of them got a leg cramp. On my way out I walked past a couple discussing how the final dance sequence seemed way too long.

Was this done on purpose? As Prince Burt Fabrizio Lancaster is aging, thinking back on his life, thinking about the changes in Italy, watching the old power structure of which he is a part slowly decline, are we supposed to feel his sense of the moment stretching to the breaking point? Did the director know that the final dance sequence is way too long? Was he rudely extending the scene to force us into Burt’s mindset, to show us that from Burt’s age and position, this dressy ball is tiring and meaningless?

Sometimes when I notice that a movie is using longer-than-usual shots, I try counting shots to see just how long they are. At one point in The Leopard, I think they were running around five to six seconds on average, but it’s actually hard to count seconds in Leopard-time, which is more agonizingly slow than real time. When watching Werckmeister Harmonies (which I haven’t finished yet), I counted only eleven shots (plus or minus a couple) in the first forty minutes. And those forty minutes fly by! Bela Tarr expresses time in a mysterious and alluring way. Luchino Visconti (and Fellini, and Pasolini, and possibly Rossellini but probably not De Sica or Leone) expresses time in the most leaden way possible. I’m surprised that Visconti ever built up the energy to start filming. I’m sure, though, that he never stopped filming The Leopard, that the studio took what he’d shot so far and edited it into a movie. IMDB says he died 13 years after the movie’s release. There must be 13 years worth of deleted scenes, of sequel, of continuing ballroom dances and palaces in disrepair and golden harvest fields by moonlight, of candlelit interiors and Sicilian cityscapes at dusk, all sitting in a chest in Casa Visconti, waiting to be discovered by anyone bored enough to venture there. The ten thousand minute director’s cut!

Other notable things about the movie: Frenchman Alain Delon (of Le Samourai and L’Eclisse) as young rebel Tancredi… a DeNiro-looking priest who is omnipresent in the first half of the movie and strangely missing from the second half… all the young soldiers look like Cary Elwes… some pretty women (the prettiest of whom starred in Fellini’s 8 1/2 the same year)… and of course the lousy dubbing and sound design and the interruptive, full-of-itself Nino Rota score (Italians don’t seem to think that sound is an important part of a movie).

At the end of the movie, Burt Lancaster is old, he’s tired and he’s crying. And so am I. I drove straight home and trimmed my eyebrows.

Bunuel’s brief return to Franco-era Spain before escaping back to Mexico and then heading to France. Viridiana (Silvia Pinal, Simon of the Desert‘s devil) is about to be a nun, but her superiors say that first she must visit her benefactor, her widower uncle Don Jaime. The trip seems to be going fine so far.

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But Viridiana is a crappy nun and gets tricked into wearing her aunt’s wedding gown, then gets drugged and put to bed. Don Jaime (Fernando Rey of That Obscure Object and Discreet Charm) tells her she was raped and now can’t return to the convent, but then confesses the truth… she flees and he kills himself.

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Viridiana gets to split the estate with her handsome cousin Jorge (Francisco Rabal of L’Eclisse and Nazarin). She leaves the convent and attempts to make a home for a bunch of beggars. But she’s no good at that either… they take over the house and attack her.

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Viridiana finally accepts her fate and sits down with Jorge and the housekeeper in a menage-a-trois-suggestive final scene.

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Very interesting movie. Glad I played with all the DVD extras and read up a little on it. Not much to say about it, myself, except to repeat unimportant trivia I’ve learned (Sylvia and Juan Luis smuggled the film out of the country to Cannes, where it unexpectedly won).

Watched on the night Imamura died. Thought it was the right time to expose myself to a great new filmmaker. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t like the movie.

Dude kills wife. Eight years later, out of prison, opens barber shop. Has pet eel. Girl works for him. Bunch of obvious stuff happens, but not so obvious that I can remember the details two weeks later. That’s why I write in this thing… to write about movies I didn’t like right after I see them, so later I’ll remember why I didn’t like them. Too late now. Oh wait, I remember complaining about a dream sequence when someone jumps out of the water and grabs the dude’s boat and says… something…

Typically depressing movie about poor people, but this time with a goofy “childlike” criminal lead. Funny how he stays likeable even when abandoning his young buddy and selling his baby. Must be the hat and the stylin’ jacket. Redemptive ending in jail. His wife isn’t the focus of the movie… and good, cuz she’d ground it too much in sad reality. Liked it for sure, breezily watchable, but wouldn’t give it the top honors that’ve been floating around (palme d’or, etc). Kinda put me in a low mood and made me not wanna go see the promise. But figured it was my only chance, and went anyway.