A Gentle Spirit (1985)

Morphy, smeary animation beneath a crosshatched texture overlay. Time is ticking away and people appear still and sad, a slow-motion human drama with insect cameos, until music ramps up to a climactic chase scene. I couldn’t figure out the story, but I think Dumala assumed no viewer would be so uncultured as to be unfamiliar with the source Dostoevsky novel. Will have to watch this again after seeing the Bresson version (Une Femme Douce, “a young woman kills herself, leaving no explanation to her grief-stricken pawnbroker husband”), which sounds like a barrel of laughs. Some very cool effects in this, including a table transforming into a bed.


Walls (1988)

A man is trapped within some walls. Sometimes things (drawers, insects) appear on their featureless surfaces. I guess he goes mad from sensory deprivation, since his senses start freaking out, his eyes and ears transforming. I liked it better than the previous movie.

This would seem to be an inspiration for both Tool’s Prison Sex video and the movie Symbol. Dumala would further explore his interest in insects with Franz Kafka before returning to Dostoevsky for his half-hour opus.


Crime and Punishment (2000)

I don’t think it’s all drawing, looks like there are layers of filmed objects in there, though in standard-def it’s hard to tell. Of course there are insects – buzzing flies in every scene – and I recognize the basic Crime (with an axe, killing the pawnbroker and a witness), but the crime is finished with only seven minutes to go in the film, so there’s little Punishment. The killer sits at home feeling bad for a minute before Dumala goes outside to play with animals in the rain. Perhaps a mute witness to the crime kills himself at the end? There are some cool effects – I liked the liquid glimmer of nervous eyes in extreme close-up – but it’s so static it loses my attention repeatedly over the thirty minutes.

Raptor in the rain, a drop falling from its beak:

“If you’re doing a revolution, you should have the guts to kill a person.”

Theoretically, this kind of thing is right up my alley: four-hour, long-take, wide-shot foreign film-fest fare with an elliptical ending. But I dunno, I feel like it made its point in a few dialogue scenes scattered throughout, and the rest of the movie was either waiting around, or following a relentlessly grim plot to its lack of conclusion.

Crime and Punishment, but Fabian (Sid Lucero of Independencia) is our Raskolnikov who does the crime, and Joaquin is his neighbor who receives the punishment. It’s hard to know if Fabian is tormented by his crime, or if he’s just an asshole – after all, he seems equally tormented in the first hour of the movie before killing the moneylender woman and her daughter as he does at the end. After the homicide, the middle half of the movie follows imprisoned Joaquin, locked up with a bunch of not-bad guys and one violent psychopath named Wakwak, and Joaquin’s family led by Eliza (Angeli Bayani of Ilo Ilo and Lav’s Melancholia).

Prison visit:

I think Eliza’s sister Ading isn’t too bright, so Eliza is caring for her two kids and the sister, barely making ends meet by selling vegetables. We think a turning point has come when washed-up Fabian finally confronts Eliza after four years, guiltily giving her the cash he got from selling his murder-scene loot, then coercing his former law professors to take up her husband’s case. We assume the movie’s heading towards Fabian turning himself in (as did Peter Lorre and Markku Toikka). Instead he takes his war on society to a new level, visiting his family home only to rape his sister and kill his dog. Meanwhile Eliza visits her imprisoned husband for the first time in years then dies in a bus crash on the way home. Then Fabian goes for a boat ride, the end.

Played Cannes UCR with Stranger by the Lake and Bastards and Manuscripts Don’t Burn – semi-comprehensible stories with unpleasant characters were in vogue that year.

Fabian sleeping with his best friend’s girl:

Eliza fails to find sympathy from the doomed moneylender:

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope:

An angry narrative by any definition, Norte portrays a country accursed, whose curse, by extension, spills over onto its people; around this curse, furthermore, the backstories of two families weave a subplot of marked importance. In order to prove that their family was doomed to fail from the start, Fabian torments his sister at the end of the movie (the girl is also in a cult, which seems to be a common practice among Filipinos: see Century of Birthing). Their parents, as it turns out, had moved to the US, leaving the kids in the care of hired help. Joaquin’s wife blames his subsequent misfortunes on herself for not letting him work abroad. Rejecting those who have left, the country is twice as harsh on those who have stayed, a theme Diaz has developed before, particularly in Butterflies Have No Memories.

M. D’Angelo:

If Fabian and Joaquin are meant to be distinct individuals, the film is “merely” endless and pointless; I very much fear, alas, that Diaz intends them as class representatives, in which case it’s insultingly schematic verging on outright stupid.

V. Rizov:

Diaz is a formidable talent, eliciting flawlessly naturalistic performances and exhibiting casual visual panache. At 250 minutes, Norte is extremely watchable, and there’s the rub: it’s reasonable to expect transcendence at that sustained length, but instead we get a relatively straightforward tract on political abuses, Christian dogma and social inequity in Filipino society.


The Day Before The End (2016, Lav Diaz)

Also watched this short I found online. Not sure that Norte justified its apocalyptic subtitle, and this short is no Last Night either. Nice b/w photography but not too fun – I think I prefer narrative Lav to experimental. People are rehearsing Shakespeare in public, then wading through torrential rain. This has an IMDB entry, and its description is better than the actual movie: “In the year 2050, the Philippines braces for the coming of the fiercest storm ever to hit the country. And as wind and waters start to rage, poets wander the streets.”

yelling Shakespeare in unison:

My preparatory viewings of various Crime and Punishment adaptations didn’t end up preparing me at all for Whispering Pages, which uses none of the main events from the novel, instead taking minor scenes and mashing them up with other novels, creating a general tone of miserablist 19th century Russian literature without bothering itself with a story.

Extreme Slow Cinema here, but Sokurov keeps it short, under 80 minutes. He seems to love paintings and long takes. Motion shots turn to stills. The color temperature of shots changes. The picture sometimes looks blurred or stretched or warped, but given the stills I’ve seen of Mother and Son, this is probably intentional. Film grain and rolling mist are more main characters than our lead actor A. Cherednik, who speaks with a breathy Peter Lorre voice and seems to have killed someone offscreen.

Overall I wasn’t a fan, but it does have some mesmerising moments. There’s the main dialogue scene with E. Koroleva, in which he tells her that he’s killed someone and they debate him turning himself in and the existence of God, and she reacts like this:

There’s an obscure bureaucracy scene with this weirdo:

And there’s an inexplicable (dream sequence?) where everyone around our hero is leaping in slow-motion into unknown depths. Stills can’t do that shot justice, so instead here is some mist.

Definitely more in tune with the mopey Kaurismaki Crime and Punishment than the talky, overbaked Sternberg version. In fact, Student out-mopes Kaurismaki, with an unnamed lead character who lives in a constant state of anger and shame, walking head-down and barely speaking a word during the movie.

Get used to this expression – it’s the only one you’ll get:

There’s much explicit talk in the movie (in his philosophy classes, on TV, at his job slating shots on a film production) about wealth disparity and the modern condition. We witness rich guys punishing people and killing animals with impunity, but the Student still murders and robs a local shopkeeper, and in his late confession to a girl he likes, he says he didn’t do it for the money but “to see if I’m capable of real action, or a coward who just talks, like most people.” Differences from the other movies: he doesn’t toss or hide the stolen money, the crime investigation doesn’t enter the film, and he has no contact with the police until the final few minutes when he turns himself in – although he shows up at the scene of the crime and talks with workmen renovating the place, a familiar scene from the other versions.

The poet’s daughter, to whom he eventually confesses:

Online it’s being called Bressonian – I can see that, with the pacing, and some might see the Student as blank-faced, but I saw simmering rage in his expressions. Bresson wouldn’t have injected so many dream sequences – there are at least three, very effectively staged so that you only realize they were dreams moments after he wakes up (so the same time he’s realizing it).

M. Sicinski (who makes a good case for the movie being Bressonian besides just the lead performace):

Omirbayev could hardly be more pointed in his exploration of what these now-classical ur-texts — Dostoyevsky and Bresson — have to tell us about the contemporary situation in Kazakhstan and, arguably, the former Soviet states more generally … the Student is finding himself stranded in a society where unchecked power rules the day, and yet he is expected to stick to his studies, gain knowledge, evaluate ethical quandaries that no one in the urban jungle of Astana even remotely cares about.

B. Nelepo in Cinema Scope has been following Omirbaev’s career, refers to “his trilogy of adaptations of Russian classics after 2007’s Shuga (based on Anna Karenina) and his short film of Chekhov’s About Love for the Jeonju Digital Project in 2006″:

And yet I’m progressively less enthusiastic about each new Omirbayev feature, because he’s caught up in a pattern he invented a long time ago. Student is his most explicitly political film: the director juxtaposes the protagonist’s crime to the assassination of JFK, the final monologue is a lashing-out against the bombings of civilians, and a visit by George W. Bush is broadcast on TV as a reference to Napoleon, who is mentioned in Crime and Punishment. One would hardly expect the author of the stunning Kaïrat (1992) and Cardiogram (1995) to reduce Dostoyevsky to a simple anti-capitalist poster.

“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.

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.