Friday, 28 January 2011


In the tradition of films such as Of Time and the City and My Winnipeg, Helsinki, Forever is a sedate mood piece paying tribute to the Finnish capital through fragments of the country’s visual arts. More than just a bricolage piece, the film takes on the structure of a metaphysical journey, links being made between shots, locations, time periods – trams enter screen in the 1930s and leave it in the 1960s. Commentary from a man and a woman (the man’s voice is director Peter von Bagh) propel the visual essay through its twists and turns, only interrupted by smatterings of Finnish pop music.

Peter von Bagh is better known by some as a film historian, and this project displays as deep a love for cinema as it does for Helsinki. Many of the films shown share superficial elements in common – long shadows, minimal movement – and while technical aspects of the film are never brought up, the film functions as a history of Finnish cinema. The one issue here is in the editing – given von Bagh’s access to previously unfamiliar films, one wonders if we’re seeing the clips that best fulfil the film’s intent or if the visual connections are too enjoyable to pass up. In this sense, Helsinki, Forever falls short of the likes of Sans Soleil in creating a compelling film essay, but it nonetheless manages to hold one’s attention. Wistful at times, joyful at others, Helsinki, Forever manages to brim with vivacity through a reconnection with the past.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Freshly returned from a stint in the French Foreign Legion, Hans takes on a lowlier job as a fruit merchant, working under the constant henpecking of his sensible wife Irmgard. An incident involving a past love spurs Hans into a sad routine of nostalgia and self-destruction, punctuated by frequent trips to the bar where he tells anyone who will listen about his former career as a policeman. When Irmgard pushes him too far one night, Hans flips and attacks her with a chair, and the subsequent argument leads to Hans suffering a violent heart attack. The relationship is turned on its head as Irmgard has an affair during Hans’ hospitalisation, raising the ugly issue of trust once again.

The Merchant of Four Seasons marks an evolution in Fassbinder’s style, although vestiges of his sarcastic sense of humour are still palpable. Neither Hans nor Irmgard is a particularly sympathetic character, but their tempestuous relationship is what holds the film together. On the surface the film could be Fassbinder’s twist on the fairy tale, Hans playing a stubby ogre to Irmgard’s svelte princess – at one point Irmgard amuses herself by telling Hans she only really fell for him because of him comical appearance. Indeed the film itself works best as an awkward comedy, despite its serious themes and depressing dénouements. The Merchant of Four Seasons is somewhat reminiscent of Fassbinder’s earlier Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? in its impatient editing, but occasional flashbacks and stronger characterisation allow the viewer enough access.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Isaac works as a photographer whose role it is to take the ‘final’ pictures of people’s loved ones. Having been hired by a particularly wealthy family to photograph the body of the recently married Angélica, Isaac finds himself inappropriately fixated on the resultant images. As he attempts to return to normality, heading to vineyards to photograph the local workers, Isaac is constantly haunted by the image of this beautiful woman he never knew. His behaviour grows more erratic, and an unfortunate episode during one of his photography expeditions confirms the extent of his manic infatuation.

This being the latest film of many by prolific 102-year-old director Manoel de Oliveira, The Strange Case of Angelica is evidence of a well-lived career in film. De Oliveira establishes mood magnificently, the first ten minutes of the film dominated by the sound and presence of nighttime rain, and a plot about photography gives a great excuse for some superb images of the Douro countryside. With the collaboration of cinematographer Sabine Lancelin, who has lensed several of his productions, de Oliveira composes each scene like a tableau, restricting movement to maintain the illusion of a painting come to life. Disappointingly, as with several of the director’s most recent pictures, Angelica is too stoical to convince emotionally, especially in the film’s fantastical moments – for example, Isaac’s imagined meeting with Angélica comes off more farcical than magical. Though not totally devoid of enjoyment, Angelica requires considerable patience, and the third act is likely to leave one wanting.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


Based on the Camil Petrescu novel of the same name, Bed of Procust concerns a romantic relationship in 1920s Bucharest. Fred pursues a liaison with the vivacious Emilia, but an eventful night together has them lying together in bed, reminiscing about past loves and hidden truths. Fred, reading through love letters, recalls his romance with a young socialite named Madame T, an archetype of femininity, and through flashbacks we see what he gave up for love. Emilia looks back on her time with the deceased Ladima, an old friend of Fred’s, and remembers their incompatibility, and we also learn of her tendency towards promiscuity. In trying to recapture the past, Fred and Emilia are forced to reflect on the future of their current relationship.

With a premise that keeps its two protagonists in a bed for the present time, relating the story through vignettes, Bed of Procust expects a lot from its cast. Thankfully Petru Vutcarau and Tania Popa fulfil their roles as the protagonists, but it is Maia Morgenstern as the seductive Madame T who steals the show, her performance and image channelling the actresses of yesteryear. With the theme of love and romance repeating through the film, it gets a bit cloying at times, sentimental even, but there is a straightness to the whole product that keeps each memory relevant. Full credit must go to husband-and-wife directing team Viorica Mesina and Sergiu Prodan who, in their only film project, do a great job of bringing literature to screen.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


Set in the unforgiving landscape of an impoverished barrio in Mexico City, Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados places focus on the lives of children forgotten by society, and the interpersonal relationships they form in order to survive. Jaibo, a teenager well respected by many of the younger local kids, escapes from a correctional facility and enlists the assistance of his friend Pedro to get revenge on those who wronged him. Feeling that his involvement has sent him in the wrong direction, he elects to repair his relationship with his mother, but his connection to Jaibo threatens to draw him permanently into the life of a downtrodden street urchin.

Though an uncharacteristic film for Buñuel, Los Olvidados manages to balance a serious portrayal of real life with warming moments of surrealism, manifest in a dream that Pedro has of the boy that he and Jaibo kill. In setting the scene, Buñuel strongly gets across the idea that these children have had to band together out of circumstance, and Pedro’s active desire to leave this life behind make him seem more mature than even the oldest of the street urchins. Buñuel’s psychological investment in his characters allows the film to serve as an ethnological document as well as a gripping twist on the crime genre without trivialising the subject matter. With its focus on the precocious development of children, Los Olvidados is a remarkably timeless feature (the relevance of which will scarcely diminish), and would make a brilliant double feature with Forbidden Games.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


In an instance of comic self-reflexivity, prolific director Rainer Werner Fassbinder uses Beware of a Holy Whore to lampoon his career as a filmmaker, specifically reflecting on his time making surreal western Whity. Lou Castel plays the director of a project set in Spain which appears to be stuck at the point of no return. We first join the crew as they congregate in the lobby of a hotel, chain drinking and flirting as they wait for the director to turn up so the shoot can start. When he finally arrives (escorted from a helicopter no less), he is less than impressed with the location and proceeds to shout down to anyone who dares challenge him, revealing a whole network of relationships between cast and crew members, emotional and sexual.

Beware of a Holy Whore is said to have been the film Fassbinder regarded as his best, and if one knows the rest of his work, its importance is obvious. Casting himself as the short-fused production manager Sascha, rather than the despotic director, is perhaps for cathartic purposes, allowing him to experience his own megalomania from the perspective of one of his ‘subjects’. The film references several of Fassbinder’s earlier films – the overwhelming sexual tensions and discussion of community living come straight from Katzelmacher – but there’s enough in this film to keep the uninitiated entertained. With its sarcastic exaggeration of film relationships and awkward theatrical flare, Beware of a Holy Whore is a perfect introduction to the work of Fassbinder.

Friday, 7 January 2011


It’s a futuristic 1994, and the Worldvision Song Festival is underway. Alphie and Bibi travel from their native Canada to participate for their country with a spirited ballad, only to be met with consternation from the sizeable audience, who have had their expectations raised by the glitzy stage histrionics of the BIM, a heartless music corporation which will stop at nothing to win. Alphie and Bibi soon find themselves subsumed by BIM’s record label, and for a while Bibi rides the crest of celebrity. Learning the sinister truth about BIM, Alphie tries his hardest to liberate Bibi from the clutches of BIM’s leader Mr. Boogalow.

With a central concept based on a Eurovision Song Contest of the future, one has to expect an overdose of camp from The Apple, and by golly it delivers. From the glittery triangle appliqués to the abundance of gold, The Apple appears to be picking up on the extravagances missed out on by previous musicals, even outkitsching Rocky Horror Picture Show in its caricatures of the entertainment business. The allegory of sin is obvious but restrained, the apple motif only whipped out for a particularly saucy number, although the film’s conclusion takes on an overtly religious angle which almost substracts from the fun. Regardless of one’s susceptibility to this sort of film, The Apple is very impressive for its sheer scale and design, and it’s a shame it still hasn’t quite had its day. Look out for blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos from Miriam Margolyes and Yma Sumac.