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.
Friday, 28 January 2011
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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.