“Men were vulgar. They wanted to forget their history. Only funerals seemed true, as they passed streets of dirty houses, like tombs for the living.”

Almost an anthology film – three stories with no overlapping characters, set maybe in the 1920’s or 30’s. An adaptation of three separate works – a fact I didn’t catch in the opening credits. Very strange, but as magnetic and thrilling as Non.

The Immortals

A burst of music over the opening, then the first line, from a father to his son, is “Kill yourself.” Both father (Jose Pinto of Abraham’s Valley) and son (Luis Miguel Cintra, star of Non) are the most famous scientists of their respective generation. But the father is feeling washed-up and forgotten, and urges his son to die at the height of his fame.

Time out for a picnic with Marta (Isabel Ruth of The Uncertainty Principle), an old student/flame of the father’s, then back to the apartment. The son won’t be convinced, refuses to swallow cyanide, but agrees to fix his father’s curtain rod over the back door, at which time his dad pushes him over the balcony, then jumps after, yelling about immortality.

I’d noted that the movie felt like theater, the old man playing towards an imagined crowd instead of his son, in a single location except for the cutaways to the picnic and a downstairs neighbor’s place as the men fell to their deaths – and it was theater after all. A half hour into the movie, a curtain raises, and we begin to follow a couple groups of friends who have been watching the play, never to return to the scientist family.

Suzy

Square-jawed Diogo Doria of Non and his friend David Cardoso are paying as much attention to a pair of courtesans/prostitutes in another box as to the play. Cardoso meets the girls and reports back, having claimed Gabi (Rita Blanco) as his own, and later, Doria starts spending much time with Suzy (the ever-present Leonor Silveira), though he remains rational when he sees her out with other men.

All along, I’m suspicious that this will be another play, even though the atmosphere has changed – it’s more realistic, mostly shot in long takes (as was the first episode), but still held at a strange remove, with ellipses of undetermined lengths between scenes.

Suzy: “I have wealthy lovers, dresses by the best seamstresses, everything, except happiness.” Eventually she’s seeing Doria less often, though they exchange letters. In the end, Suzy has died in hospital during an operation (“she said: it’s a small thing”), but he keeps writing the letters. Cardoso stops by to visit his pathetic friend, and tells him a story.

Mother of the River

Young Fisalina (Leonor Baldaque, star of The Portuguese Nun) is in love with Ricardo Trepa (who played her husband in Christopher Columbus, The Enigma). But it’s not that simple: there are customs, rules, meddling parents and a small, stifling village. So she sneaks off to see the Mother of the River (Irene Papas, greek singer in A Talking Picture, also star of Z). “I love a boy with pretty teeth. I do not know how to marry him… curse me, but set me free.” So the mother takes Fisalina through a candlelit cavern to the edge of the water.

The next day Fisalina notices her fingertips are golden. She hides them from everyone, but no longer feels urgent towards her boy, and seems at peace with the village. During a candlelight festival, the light shines off her fingers and she is discovered, a witch! “Fisalina, reckless, fated, has chosen to live beside the deep water, where she will wait a thousand years before swapping lives with someone else.”

Goldfinger:

Trepa, despondent:

Oliveira has returned to these writers: his A Caixa was a play by Prista Monteiro (The Immortals), and he’s done at least four major films based on stories by Agustina Bessa-Luis (Mother of the River).

D. Kehr says the segments are “all centered on themes of death and eternity and presented sequentially as social comedy, existential tragedy and lyrical epic,” but Rosenbaum, more correctly I think, says it’s “the theme of existential identity” that unites the stories.

Surprisingly lightweight after the spectacle of Nausicaa, part two of my afternoon at the Belcourt. Again, the dubbed version, with a recognizable Phil Hartman as the cat (his final voice role), Kirsten Dunst as Kiki, Tress MacNeille (returning from Nausicaa) as the baker, Janeane Garofalo as the painter and Debbie Reynolds as the old woman with a broken oven.

Kiki is an apprentice witch, off to spend a year in an unfamiliar city to finish her studies. She doesn’t seem to refine her witch-skills much upon arrival, instead using the fact that she’s the only person in town who can fly to start a delivery service. She has maybe three delivery jobs in the whole movie (there isn’t even a delivery montage implying others), also helps out at the bakery where she stays and poses for a painter who lives in a cabin in the woods. My favorite part was actually the saddest scene: a customer hired her to deliver a baked dish but upon Kiki’s arrival the dish wasn’t ready because the oven had broken. So Kiki helps with the woman’s old brick oven, then makes the delivery, getting sick in the rain and missing her first date with a nerdy boy, only to find the recipient a spoiled rich girl who doesn’t appreciate the gift.

Anyway the nerdy boy forgives Kiki, but she begins to doubt herself and loses her powers (exit Phil Hartman). She hangs out with the painter for a while, but finally gets herself flying again when the nerdy boy has a life-threatening blimp emergency and only Kiki can save him.

I told Katy I wanted to call this “post-feminist cinema” but she said “anti-feminist” would fit better. I’m gonna read what everyone wrote about this later on, but for now my first impression was that it’s a beautiful film of a less-beautiful story. Charlotte and Willem lose their young son and since he’s a psychologist he tries to help her through it using dodgy methods like taking her to the place she’s most afraid of. So he’s either doing a good job, or he’s misguided but still trying to help the best he knows how, or he’s an awful person who hopes to further incite his wife’s trauma so he can write an exciting book about it. I go back and forth, but what I’m sure about is that Charlotte turns out to be an evil witch. She watched her son die and did nothing to stop him, she drilled a metal rod through Willem’s leg, and she acts generally psycho until he stops her and is confronted by the ghosts of a hundred dead forest witches. Or something. Gotta say I actually liked it a whole lot, found it an effective and gorgeous horror movie, despite any political or character misgivings.

Finally it is SHOCKtober and I can watch Stuart Gordon movies again. This one is prep for Stuck, which should come out on video next week. It’s similar to Dagon in many ways: pretty good classic-lit-inspired story, foreign/period setting with cheap-but-good production values, spots of humor, sexual transgression… They’re fun movies to watch with some great characters, but our leads are bland, straightforward, naive dopes. It’s not like I’m rooting for Lance Henriksen, but I can’t bring myself to root for the baker and his wife either.

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Set during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), Lance stars as an evil monk who claims to be extremely religious but tosses the church aside when it interferes with his plan, a man who tortures people for confessions and insists what he’s doing is right. If the movie was released today, it’d be attacked for all the heavy-handed GW Bush comparisons. Lance is surrounded by his cronies: Stephen Lee (the toy-loving dude in Dolls), crazed torturer Mark Margolis (a Darren Aronofsky regular) and by-the-books Jeffrey Combs, and together they torture and kill a woman whose character name sounds like Contessa Alfred Molina (played by the director’s wife Carolyn) and one who claims to be an actual witch (played by the creeeepy hotel woman from In the Mouth of Madness).

Jeffrey Combs:
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Thrust into this lunacy are a baker and his wife. The baker (also in Gordon’s Castle Freak) is a regular boring dude who can inexplicably take out three knights in full armor using only a spoon, and the wife (her only other role is in a rarely-seen Raul Julia movie) is honest and religious and doesn’t trust the Inquisition. She’s arrested and accused of witchery after she protests a public execution scene, but evil Lance falls for her and tries to get her by alternately threatening to torture her/her husband and offering to release her/her husband. He cuts her tongue out, she escapes by faking death (with help of the real witch – who swallows gunpowder so her body will explode and her bones impale the crowd during her burning at the stake, which I don’t think would really work), the couple escape and Lance dies (torture-free) in his own spike pit beneath the pendulum. Oh, and in the middle there’s a visit from a cardinal (Oliver Reed from The Brood, The Devils and Burnt Offerings!), but Lance locks him up inside a wall a la Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”

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Lance is fun to watch as the monstrous monk. Lots of loving care is paid to torture equipment. Movie’s action scenes are weak, but overall I liked the thing. Happy Shocktober, everyone!

A novel plot (and supposedly based on a Lovecraft story, so no wonder). Ezra Godden (of Stuart Gordon’s Dagon) is a poor physics student who rents a room in a very crappy boarding house. After some fun about studying the angles of his walls, a hot nude witch appears with her rat-creature pet to take over his mind and make him do weird things like sleepwalk to the university library and kill his next door neighbor’s baby. After he’s arrested for the baby-killing, the cops find the remains of all the other babies that past residents of the room have killed, and the rat-creature sneaks into prison to bite our hero to death. Oh and the crazy old man downstairs kills himself.

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A lot better than the plot description sounds. Ezra is pretty convincing and the weirdness and atmosphere and pacing are all well held.

MOH trademarks: naked women, eye gouging (the witch’s eyes / ezra’s fingers), and our hero looks like Edward Norton most of the time (and Ben Affleck the other times).

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Katy didn’t watch this one. Katy wouldn’t have liked it.