Nights of Cabiria (1957, Federico Fellini)

Opens with prostitute Cabiria being robbed and pushed into the river by her boyfriend Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi, shitty husband Fausto in I Vitelloni). She takes comfort in her friend Wanda then goes to work. Severe-looking blond Marisa’s pimp tries to hire her, but Cabiria prefers independence. Most awesome character moment: she grabs a chicken for comfort then quickly regains her composure and tosses it in the air. Cabiria is sorta awful to everyone around her, and there’s much shrill, trebley yelling in the movie, but you warm up to her pretty quickly, especially in the next sequence. . .

After she sees film star Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari, heh, dreamy lead of Matarazzo’s Chains) getting dumped by his girl Jessie, he picks up Cabiria and takes her to a fancy nightclub with African dancing. When she cuts loose on the dance floor everyone watches her drearily, her enthusiasm not contagious among the stuffy rich club denizens. Then it’s back to his place (he has a toucan!). They start talking and she gets starstruck, then he hides her in the bathroom when Jessie comes back, and she stays there quietly all night – admirable restraint shown by the loudmouthed Cabiria.

The next night her compadres are teasing about her supposed run-in with a famous actor. She sees a passing religious procession, and follows a man (played by the film’s editor Leo Cattozzo) who provides food to people who live in holes in the ground, including a former coworker, now toothless and destitute. This is the scene I remember best from when I watched this years ago, so it’s surprising to read that it was missing from the film’s original release, cut by demand of producer Dino De Laurentiis, and only restored years later.

Cabiria and Wanda go to some garish candle-lighting Virgin Mary festival that reminds me of the quasi-religious commercialized camp in Tommy. “Madonna, help me to change my life,” she says tearfully, then the next day, “We’re all the same as before.”

At a magic show she’s hypnotised by Aldo Silvani (La Strada), acts out a youthful love scene in front of the crowd then feels humiliated when she awakens, but a man named Oscar (Francois Perier, the princess’s companion in Orpheus, also in Le Samourai) insists on talking to her afterwards. They go on a few dates, and he proposes. Cabiria sells her house, gathers all the money she has in the world, and meets him – but he’s a scam artist, intending to take the money and throw her in the river, back where we started.

But he doesn’t go through with the murder, and she walks sadly home, until cheered by some roaming musicians, smiling into the camera, one of the best film endings (and characters/performances) I’ve ever seen.

Film Quarterly: “All the Fellini virtues are here: the fluent camera, the wit, the elegant composition, the theme-and-variations style, the melange of theatrical and religious symbol, the parabolic eloquence, the vocabulary of private motifs.”

Won an oscar for foreign film (beating Mother India) and Giulietta Masina won best actress at Cannes. Pasolini, a few years before his directorial debut, has a co-writing credit. The disc also includes Cabiria’s scene trying to pick up the new husband in The White Sheik. Remade by Bob Fosse as a Shirley MacLaine musical before shit like that was typical (see also: Rob Marshall’s Nine).

Whores’ Glory (2011, Michael Glawogger)

Right after I read about his trilogy, a Glawogger film opens in my neighborhood, so the wife and I went on a date to see his whore movie. There are interviews with the participants, but mostly it’s an immersive thing, you figure out how the whoring works in each region by fly-on-the-walling it. But M.G.’s great innovation is to produce a verite/interview doc with killer camerawork and sound design. You sometimes get curious framing or a decent music score in a doc, but usually the serious documentarian’s stylistic presence is felt through editing. Not anymore, as the weird vibes of CocoRosie swirl through a surprisingly elegant movie about prostitutes in increasingly desperate conditions.

First Thailand: the girls have home lives and ideas about what they’d like to do post-prostitution. Their brothel advertises, accepts credit cards and employs a woman who acts like a den mother. Then Bangladesh, a sharp step down in living conditions, as kids are sold to live and work in a complex they’ll never afford to leave. Finally Mexico, where it’s every girl for herself, with no supervision, a desperate, dangerous-seeming atmosphere, and enough of a who-gives-a-fuck attitude that the filmmaker is allowed inside to watch some whoring in action: sadness for everyone involved.

Katy and I discussed the movie for like ninety minutes, but that was a month ago, so I cannot provide a summary.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Thriving on contradiction and observational curiosity as usual, Glawogger still resolutely rejects social cause-pandering, but scratches for something deeper by contrasting the rituals of love (for sale) in three different cultures, religions and economies: a look not just at prostitution, but the relationships between men and women in contemporary society that yields telling and ambivalent insights.

Gate of Flesh (1964, Seijun Suzuki)

Super colorful and energetic movie – I probably liked this more than his acclaimed Branded To Kill. Very good music, all bendy strings and gunshot percussion.

Green Maya (the typecast Yumiko Nogawa of Story of a Prostitute and Pleasures of the Flesh) joins a group of color-coded prostitutes in postwar Japan – purple Mino (Kayo Matsuo of Tattooed Life), yellow Roku, and red leader Sen. Ofuku wears white so you know she’s not gonna last, then black Machiko is the next to go, each accused of the crime of giving it away for free.

Maya:

Sen:

Machiko with Jo:

The four have a good thing going, living together in a delapidated building and scaring away all competition – until puffy-cheeked fugitive Jo Shishido (returning from Youth of the Beast) arrives to shake things up, barging in and joining the group. He sleeps with Machiko, then Maya (causing discord and some whipping), but he also steals and slaughters a cow (providing much food and cash) and amuses them with his post-traumatic stress war anecdodes, so he’s allowed to stay.

Mino:

Roku:

Chico:

Maya seduces a priest (Chico Roland, the jazz-hating fugitive soldier in Black Sun) driving him mad. But ultimately she falls hard for Jo. “You’re the first man I’ve ever loved. For the first time, I’ve felt human, but now I’ll get kicked out of here. The moment I become a real woman, I’m an outcast.” But when they try to run away together, he’s killed and she’s left roaming.

Remade in ’77. The same writer did Story of a Prostitute, unsurprisingly.

When Maya is stripped of her green clothes and whipped, the whole image is shrouded in green:

Buy from Amazon:
Gate of Flesh (Criterion DVD)

Vivre Sa Vie (1962, Jean-Luc Godard)

Subtitled “a film in twelve tableaux,” it’s broken up by numbered chapter title cards.

Chapter One:

A Warholian credits open, long-held shots of a self-conscious-looking Anna, each take with music at first then dying off. Sets a mournful tone for the movie, which plays like a hard-luck tragedy, even if Anna herself rarely seems disappointed. It also sets up the viewer for the playfully offbeat formal choices that will be made for the next 80 minutes, as if the “film by Godard” credit didn’t already prepare for that. JLG must’ve taken a page from Fellini – just because you’re making a depressing movie about the downward spiral of a prostitute doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way.

Chapter Two:

Karina, in her second film with husband Godard (not counting the silent short in Cleo from 5 to 7), is our star. Hardly anyone else appears in the movie for more than a few minutes, but she’s stylish and vivacious enough to carry the picture. Her co-star would be the camera, always doing something interesting, but in a showy, look-at-me way, Godard in the phase when he was pointedly giving the finger to convention while still trying to make a viable movie with a story and character.

Chapter Three:

This cop is questioning Anna about a minor crime, if picking up money that someone else dropped is a crime at all. Highlights include this reaction shot of the cop, and Anna’s concluding line, “I… is someone else.”

Chapter Four:

Film references: in an early scene she repeats a line a few times, saying “I just wanted to deliver that line a specific way.” She watches The Passion of Joan of Arc, her reactions shot in Dreyerian close-ups, then goes to a diner that has posters for Un Femme est un femme and L’Amérique insolite (and something in Japanese). A prostitute (below) stands under a giant torn poster for Spartacus, and later Anna stands before The Hustler (ha) and Danny Kaye in On The Double. More than once, Anna tells people she was in a movie with Eddie Constantine some months ago (technically true – Eddie appeared in the silent Varda short). And on the final car ride, they pass a nice big poster for Jules and Jim.

Chapter Five:

The fourth feature Godard made, the third to be released to theaters, the eleventh that I’ve watched. The fifth Godard feature that I’ve written about here, and probably my favorite of these five. Scored an 8/10 from IMDB user ratings, which is good – like Avatar good.

Chapter Six:

M. Atkinson:

You can’t miss his self-awareness here—the movie’s signature move is a “close-up” of the back of Karina’s head as she chats with offscreen men … Godard’s shots were always about how he felt about what he saw, and this composition is the equivalent of looking but not seeing, of turning your star’s expressive power into offscreen space, of admitting to the world that, though you love this woman, you do not know her.

Chapter Seven:

One episode is like a educational film on prostitutes. I don’t remember which one. Maybe this one.

Chapter Eight:

Nice music by Michel Legrand, a short theme repeated endlessly, but not to annoyance, and of course the sharp cinematography by Raoul Coutard.

Chapter Nine:

Won a couple prizes in Venice, nominated alongside Lolita and Knife in the Water and Mamma Roma and Therese, while Tarkovsky and Zurlini shared the top prize.

Chapter Ten:

In the second-to-last chapter she sits down for a chat, “a philosophical café discussion about the difficulty of truth telling with Brice Parain, a famous French philosopher who paved the way for the poststructuralists by maintaining that language begat humanity, not the other way around.” I’ll bet Parain would get a kick out of Pontypool.

Chapter Eleven:

Of course she dies suddenly at the end. This was before screenwriters had figured out how to end a movie without killing a main character. I can’t figure exactly who was responsible for her death, or what went on in the final scene. It’s not important.

Chapter Twelve:

Buy from Amazon:
Vivre Sa Vie: Criterion Blu-ray

La Chienne (1931, Jean Renoir)

Based on the same novel and play as Lang’s superb Scarlet Street. Middle-aged man “rescues” sexy girl on the street, sets her up in an apartment as his mistress, starts stealing from his workplace in order to pay her, as she funnels all her money to her boyfriend/pimp, who gambles it away then starts selling the Middle-Aged Man’s paintings for extra cash. The Man is despised by his wife, who still worships her deceased first husband – who later turns out to be alive, showing up in search of money. Man sees his chance, reveals the dead husband, nullifying his own marriage, also kills the girl (for which her boyfriend is blamed, and executed), ends up a bum on the street in front of the art gallery that is reselling his paintings for record amounts.

In the Lang film, architecture in the frame is as important as the performers, and Edward G. Robinson is a sap, destroyed by cruel, cruel fate in a cold, cold world. In this version, everything takes a back seat to the performances, and despite his misfortune, the man leaves the movie laughing, going for a drink with his wife’s first husband, now also homeless and destitute. Renoir has always infused his films with a life-affirming energy, so it’s weird that he took on such negative stories as this one, The Lower Depths and The Little Match Girl, only to defy their negative tones with his benevolent humanity.

Simon and his scowling wife, watched over by her (ex?)-husband:

Characters speak more frankly about sex than anyone would in a movie for the next forty years. Camera movement is somewhat rough, which makes sense for a 1931 sound film. It tries, though – when the girl and her boyfriend dance at a party, the camera dances with them. You can see the Moulin Rouge windmill (see also: French Cancan) out the window of the girl’s apartment. But the Moulin Rouge sighting is nothing compared to the connection to Renoir’s final feature, Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir, which features a second husband treated coldly by his wife, always confronted with the gaze of his predecessor from a picture frame. That film also opens and closes, as does this one, with puppet-show curtains, Renoir telling us that life is theater.

Flamant and Marèse, looking briefly like they’re in a musical:

Michel Simon stars – is this only the second movie I’ve seen of his after L’Atalante? After that one, I never assumed he could play meek and sober, but he does a great job, and looks like Trotsky. Upcoming starlet Janie Marèse died in a car accident on the way to the film’s premiere. Georges Flamant survived the same crash – his final film was The 400 Blows. Roger Gaillard, the resurrected first husband, returned in Night at the Crossroads as a butcher.

Ruined, but not down:

My Son The Fanatic (1997, Udayan Prasad)

Written by Hanif Kureishi, which I know is a Big Deal in the academic world but I’m not entirely sure why. Katy points out the complex characters and the offbeat ending (the father alone & lonely in his house). Cab-driving father is a lapsed muslim who has sex with prostitutes and does other non-muslim things, and his son decides to go hard-line and hang out with clerics and protest whore houses (and burn them down). Argument ensues, father does not win, son buzzes off and wife leaves father. I am having trouble with the details, unfortunately. When I think back two weeks to when I watched this, a sort of generic movie-of-the-week feeling comes to mind. I do remember the actors alright – Om Puri (Gandhi, Code 46) and Akbar Kurtha (Syriana) were good as father and son, respectively. Rachel Griffiths (Blow, Jude) I suppose was the prostitute, and we were treated to a phoned-in performance from Stellan Skarsgard in the midst of his breakout year in Hollywood (from Breaking the Waves and Insomnia to Amistad and Good Will Hunting). Stellan is a rich immoral businessman who pays Om Puri to drive him around and supply prostitutes – I keep thinking Stellan’s parties in empty warehouses will go all Hostel but they never do. Katy thought it was alright.

Guelwaar (1992, Ousmane Sembene)

Sembene’s third-to-final film, the one before Faat Kiné. His usual feminism is in effect here, but it’s mostly pushed to the background because he has more pressing issues to worry about.

Guelwaar (Thierno Ndiaye, below, also in Karmen Gei) has just died when the movie begins but we meet him in flashback. He has been killed because of his outspoken political beliefs, that it is better for a person or a nation to live poor than to accept handouts. He and his family are Catholic, and when his expatriate son Barthelemy goes to retrieve the body for the funeral, he finds that there has been a mix-up and Guelwaar was buried in a Muslim cemetery. A cop somewhat-assists, but when he finds out Bart lives in France he suggests that Bart appeal to his ambassador instead of asking the local police for help.

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Meanwhile at Guelwaar’s house, the funeral party drags on longer than anyone had anticipated. His widow Nogoy, younger crippled son Aloys, and prostitute daughter (the prime breadwinner of the family) socialize with the guests (who include the daughter’s coworker, actress who played Rama in Xala). When word gets out about the fate of Guelwaar’s body, the Catholic priest and Muslim imam have a showdown, each craving peace but backed by an angry and armed mob of their people. The Muslims only back down when a government man (on whom they depend for food) drives up and convinces them of their burial error. Guelwaar is returned to the Catholics for his funeral, Bart has a newfound patriotism, and on the way out, the Catholics, in solidarity with Guelwaar’s climactic flashback speech (and as an outlet for their pent-up rage) destroy the shipment of food headed for the Muslim town in a passing wagon.

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Interesting that Guelwaar defends the fact that his family lives off the daughter’s prostitution trade, over his wife’s protests. At least it is work, he argues, and they are not relying on handouts from others. This scene cuts down his noble martyr status by a couple notches. Nobody’s perfect. Also I like that the imam (above) is portrayed as a good man who listens to reason and tries to sway his angry followers to do the same. The only group that is portrayed as irredeemable is the corrupt government officials who silence Guelwaar’s voice that decries the handout system, since they skim a large share from foreign aid money before distributing it to their people, and they’d like to keep it that way.

Street of Shame (1956, Kenji Mizoguchi)

Portrait of a whorehouse at a certain point in time when politicians were discussing whether to outlaw the profession (voted the ban down at the end of the movie, but it eventually passed, some say as a result of the movie). Six or seven prostitutes all with different desperate situations. One has a suicidally depressing home life with sick husband and infant they can’t afford, one is trying to support her son who disowns her when he finds out what she does at work, one is a rich bitch escaping her controlling father, one is aiming to escape through marriage but her husband mistreats her and she comes crawling back, and one is bilking her clients out of extra money so she can quit and start her own business (the only happy ending here).

The same sort of feminine miserablism that I’ve come to expect from Mizoguchi after Life Of Oharu. This one has a more impressive look to it (the main house and the street outside, the costumes, the acting, all exquisite) but still a depressing movie that I didn’t enjoy very much. I may have liked it better than Ugetsu though… have to see that one again, and check out Sansho The Bailiff sometime.

A turning-point year for Japanese cinema: Mizoguchi’s final film, the beginning of the Japanese New Wave, and (according to Reverse Shot) the beginning of “more socially critical efforts” by Yasujiro Ozu. It’s also the year of The Burmese Harp, but I haven’t seen that yet.

Saw this one with Pia from work.

Belle de jour (1967, Luis Bunuel)

Severine is the wife of Pierre (Jean Sorel), but is unhappy with him sexually. She’s got a rich fantasy life, though. Sleigh bells and cats and a horse-drawn carriage lead her into rape-fantasies with coachmen, dreams of being tied up and humiliated and made to play dead. Family friend Michel Piccoli (of The Milky Way, Contempt and Diabolik) tells Severine about a brothel, which she hesitantly joins. Hilarity ensues when a customer (Marcel) becomes dangerously infatuated with her, and Piccoli eventually visits the place again, sees Severine there and threatens to tell her husband. In a jealous fit, Marcel shoots Pierre then is killed by the cops. Piccoli sits alone with Pierre, now confined to a wheelchair (and blind?) and presumably tells him Severine’s secret. The coachmen float us away into fantasy once more.

Terrific looking movie and really great performances. It’s got that Bunuel-dream-crawl pacing. Maybe best watched very late at night. Doesn’t make me weary like most Bunuel movies… probably one of my faves. Not as sexy as I’d maybe promised, more bizarre… sense of danger over sensuality, mostly a tense movie. Katy sorta liked it I guess.