Local crime boss Bob Hoskins gets back into town, and quickly has to figure out what’s going on when some of his top men start getting killed right when Bob was gonna go legit by signing with real estate developer Eddie Constantine and profit off the 1988 olympics. Turns out some of his guys took a side deal from the IRA, stole from them, and now his whole organization is under attack.

Eddie, Helen, Bob:

Bob’s in his first starring role, Helen Mirren is his unamused sister, their curlhaired partner Jeff is Derek Thompson (just off the rock musical Breaking Glass) and Paul Freeman (villain of next year’s Raiders of the Lost Ark) is Bob’s buddy who gets stabbed to death by none other than Pierce Brosnan (twelve years before his performance in The Lawnmower Man landed him the James Bond role). Bob won’t accept defeat, takes on the IRA at a demolition derby, and it almost looks like his plan’s gonna work. Decent 1980’s movie, does not live up to expectations of being an early Criterion release that I’ve been wanting to watch since it came out… in fact, the DVD release was late 1998, which is closer to the release of the original film than it is to the month I finally watched it.

Opens with Wallace Shawn in voiceover – he’s a playwright taking acting gigs, doing odd errands, going to dinner tonight with a man he’s been avoiding for years, once a friend and colleague and a celebrated theater director before he disappeared. The voiceover comes back to interrupt even after they start talking, but mostly Andre’s stories begin to take over the film.

“It has something to do with living.” Andre isn’t new age or hippie exactly, but very all-things-are-connected, seeing signs, everything is beautiful, living life for the first time, unusual coincidences, etc. He went to a forest in Poland to teach forty musical women about theater, compares the group’s trance activity to Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, after which Wallace gives him a great look. Andre had a bad trip to the desert with a Japanese monk, was buried alive in India, compares himself to Albert Speer. When Wallace finally gets a whole line in, Andre mentions nazi death camps, what is it with this guy?

After Andre dominates for the first half, Wallace gets to tell a story of his own, which is about not being able to express himself. Andre says we’re all bored because of capitalism, and volunteers that New York is a concentration camp. References to Brecht, Sense & Sensibility, The Little Prince, Autumn Sonata. This is all leading to a blow-out fight, when Wallace can’t take his friend’s nonsense anymore – but it doesn’t, it leads to a good-natured disagreement. I can’t say I thought this movie was all that special for most of its runtime, or could figure out what it was getting at, but I can say it was a shock to experience good-natured disagreement in the climax of a film, and this should happen more often.

Very promising, opening titles over an auto assembly line, “with the participation of Bert Haanstra,” the factory work bringing to mind his great short Glas. Alas, Tati fell out with Haanstra (and his funders, and somehow Lasse Hallström), and this ended up a fitfully amusing, semi-improvised road-trip film that incidentally features Mr. Hulot as an auto designer helping transport his creation to a trade show.

The joke is that delays and misfortune make them miss the show completely – they get a flat tire, the truck’s clutch goes out, etc. But it’s hard to feel sorry for them (not that the movie asks us to) when they also run out of gas, get arrested for speeding through a border crossing, cause a ten-car rube goldberg car crash, and don’t seem to know what day the show starts – this is all professional incompetence. Anyway they’re a likable crew except for the grating American PR rep Maria.

Besides Hulot’s presence, you can catch glimpses of the style of the guy who made Playtime only a few years earlier, and can also catch his influence on Roy Andersson. Some cute bits: after the second garage stop Tati makes a rock music video out of traffic lines and road marking patterns. Montage of people’s windshield wipers matching their personalities, some good sight gags in the police station, Maria’s constant stylish wardrobe changes. But there’s also this disastrous bit:

Learned from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s article that Haanstra shot the nose-picking montage, and at least some of it is unstaged.

Jonathan Romney for Criterion:

Tati certainly appears less in control than in the vast coordinated ballet of Playtime. For the most part, the jokes in Trafic drum up a sense of languid, almost apathetic chaos, without there always being conventional payoffs to give the comic business a sense of purpose. Notwithstanding the painstakingly synchronized pileup scene, the film is characterized by slow-burn gags that create an overall comic atmosphere rather than work toward a clearly defined goal … Without a doubt, Trafic contains a hovering tone of despair that makes it a somewhat melancholic pendant to Playtime.

Happy to see that much of the motion in these motion-paintings involves snow or animals – in fact, when there are humans in a scene, they’re the only things that don’t come alive. The visuals sometimes remind of The Mill and the Cross, and sometimes you can’t tell they’re based on still photos at all.

Here’s me, pointlessly taking stills of motion versions of stills:

Crows are prominent. Rare is the scene without any birds in it. The movie is as attuned to outdoor bird behavior as I am, always wondering what the crows and ducks and sandpipers are up to. Whenever there are birds seen through a window we hear opera. Not all the animals survive… tense music in frame 5 before a deer gets shot, and there are more bird fatalities in this than in The Lighthouse. In the most narrative scene, a seagull gets shot and another mourns him. Great ending: a Disney-sounding song, a sleeping motion designer, a classic film on an iMac rendering at about 1fps, the wind in the trees outside.

Too many closeups for a movie with such horrid dubbing. I listened to the English version for a few minutes, which seems to have a more balanced sound mix, but reluctantly returned to the Italian. I bought the Criterion box set of this trilogy, and in the extras you hear all about the difficulty in making these, the world travel adventures, filming on an active volcano, and the artistic work, recreating Bosch paintings with live actors, designing compositions and colors inspired by Dürer and Paolo Uccello… but while watching them, you can’t shake the feeling that they’re hastily-dubbed, silly-ass sex comedies.

You know the setup: a diverse bunch of weirdos gather around, their guide says that on the way to Canterbury they should each tell a story. Firstly, old rich dude (wicked-eyebrowed Hugh Griffith of the Dr. Phibes movies) seeks a wife, finds hot young Josephine Chaplin (Shadowman), but she falls for hip young Damiano and cucks her blind husband. Buncha stuff happened in the second chapter – a dude is burned to death, the devil (Accattone star Franco Citti) tricks another dude into hell – then ol’ Chaucer, played of course by our Pasolini, gets the idea to start writing these down.

From one Chaplin to another – highlight of the movie is Ninetto Davoli, the messenger from Teorema, doing a Chaplin parody as a cheerful tramp who is easily distracted by gambling and prostitutes. More silliness follows, overlong episodes lacking the sped-up film effect of the Ninetto. Two young dudes fight over Michael Balfour’s wife Jenny Runacre (star of Jubilee and The Final Programme). Laura Betti of (A Bay of Blood) marries a dull anti-feminist and so bites his nose off. More wife-stealing, and multiple fart jokes – I liked the section where some stupid young men go on a quest to kill Death, and almost immediately get distracted and murder each other.

Also featuring Welsh wrestler and Jon Langford subject Adrian Street – I think this is him?

Three balding middle-aged dudes wearing overcoats assemble at a tiny bar – The Writer, The Professor (of physics) and the Stalker, who will lead them to The Room inside The Zone, where… something will happen, possibly.

The Stalker is nervous, hired as a guide but seems unsure of everything. The Writer is drunk and arrogant, argues with the Stalker at every juncture. The Professor came as a saboteur, meaning to destroy the Room, but doesn’t go through with it. And the movie conjures its entire sense of mystery and horror through dialogue and behavior, with no special visual effects, just fields and damp rooms.

What exactly the Zone/Room does is mysterious – it provides enlightenment or fulfills unconscious desires – and the Stalker is cagey and possibly deceptive, revealing stories of other stalkers and their sorry fates. After an argument, the men presumably don’t even enter the room, meeting the Stalker’s wife back at the bar. Epilogue with their daughter, poetry and telekinesis, feeling like a scene from Mirror.

Wife of Stalker: Alisa Freyndlikh of Elem Klimov’s Rasputin

Daughter of Stalker:

The film’s writers also did the source novels for Hard to be a God and Sokurov’s Days of Eclipse. The Prof (in the hat) was Nikolay Grinko, at least his fifth Tarkovsky film, also in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The Writer was Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Andrey Rublev himself.

Indie-drama story of loss, as widow decides to live in hometown of her deceased husband. But then after rumors spread of her buying valuable property, her son is kidnapped for real estate money she doesn’t have, then he’s killed and we get a more traumatic story of loss and the indie-drama template goes off the rails. I wasn’t crazy about it but I appreciate its unique message – religion is crap and major trauma can’t be overcome in the span of a movie.

Do-yeon Jeon of the recent Housemaid remake won best actress at Cannes, and the great Kang-ho Song (the year after starring in The Host) plays a subdued local guy who’s interested in her, becomes a Christian when she starts attending church meetings and stays with the church even after it’s clear that she won’t be dating him and she turns against the church. It’s a good portrayal of despair, if that’s what you’re after.

D. Lim:

He has said that before he starts a movie, he always asks himself, “What is cinema for?” Secret Sunshine is a work of visceral emotions and abstract notions; a study of faith in all its power, strangeness, and cruelty; a look at the particularities of human nature and experience that account for the existence, perhaps even the inevitability, of religion — all of which is to say that it’s an attempt to depict the invisible in what is foremost a visual medium … Put simply, Secret Sunshine shows how religion uses us and how we use religion. A film about the lies we tell ourselves in order to live, it suggests that there may be no bigger lie than religion — but also acknowledges that sometimes lies are necessary.

I’ve watched this before, and both times I knew the general idea (documentary footage is being faked, people involved in real events are restaging them for the camera), but I was noticing this time how in some movies Kiarostami never tips his metafictional hand. We know from interviews and DVD extras that the movie theater (and the movie) never existed in Shirin, that the drivers and riders of Ten were never in the car at the same time, and that everyone in Close-Up is performing the role of themselves, but you can’t necessarily tell these things when watching the films.

Farazmand is a reporter who hears about a man (Sabzian) impersonating Mohsen Makhmalbaf, receiving money from a middle-class family while acting like he’s prepping a film shoot. He arranges to get Zabzian arrested for this, after which AK visits the man in jail and records his court date, discussing his intentions in pretending to be a filmmaker.

When Sabzian is interviewed by Kiarostami, realizing AK knows the real Makhmalbaf:

In the commentary, Rosenbaum calls it “a film about impersonation” right as Farazmand is telling the taxi driver and policemen that he aspires to be a famous journalist while he’s clearly unprepared (can’t find the house, not enough cash for the cab, didn’t bring a tape recorder). They discuss how the film is called Close-Up when Kiarostami loves to film in long-shot.

Asking directions from turkey man while looking for the Ahankhah house:

They also discuss the dead time and story distractions, how the film spends time in turn with almost every character.

JR: “Most people would agree that the members of the family come off overall less sympathetically than Sabzian does … they’re more defensive.” His co-commentarian Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa says the rumor is the family originally did not withdraw their complaint against Sabzian, but later agreed to do so for the film. She also says that Sabzian points out that because of Close-Up, the family did in fact get to be in a film as he promised them. Even these experts don’t know whether the filmed trial is real or staged.

The Complainants:

I get the two sons confused, but can you blame me?

JR: Many of Kiarostami’s films from here on are “about the unequal relationship between filmmakers and the people they’re filming who are much poorer and are relatively powerless”.

Two Makhmalbafs:

JR: “I think the real subject of this film … is not impersonation or fraud, it’s the social importance of cinema and how it affects everything – how it affects things socially, how it affects people’s sense of power, their sense of ethics, their sense of identity … and their sense of truth, and perhaps truth is the thing that gets the most severe unpacking in this film.”

Mesmerising footage using slow-motion and time-lapse to make ordinary things (clouds, a night drive, video games, stock exchange) look wonderous.

Glass:

Several generations have grown up looking at those images, but in ’78 they were extremely startling and it was like looking at the world for the first time.

Reggio: “It’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”

Rebaixes!

I knew what Reggio was going for with the images, but was pondering how, until the final title cards (defining the title as life in turmoil / disintegrating / out of balance), it’d be possible to see most of the movie as a positive celebration of technological progress. Reggio apparently meant it to be ambiguous in this way.

Set to a rightly celebrated Philip Glass score (reminded me at times of the latest Tortoise album), shot by Ron Fricke (Baraka, Chronos), played in competition in Berlin (with La Belle Captive and Pauline at the Beach). But most importantly, someone at IMDB has figured out how many frames of this film contain topless footage of Marilyn Chambers (four).

Pruitt-Igoe:

From the extras it looks like the movie could’ve become a hippie happening, with staged art events and an Allen Ginsberg spoken-word response soundtrack, before the concept was reworked. Reggio was inspired to filmmaking by Los Olvidados and there’s a good segment on his ACLU-sponsored anti-surveillance campaign.