Tag Archive for 'Foreign'

In the Realm of the Senses

In the Realm of the Senses (4/5/14) Netflix (1976 ***1/2) Written and directed by Nagisa Ôshima, starring Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda. A woman becomes obsessed with her married lover, and soon they run away and take refuge in a hotel and in each other. It would be easy to dismiss this NC-17 film as Japanese porn, and in fact I believe I may have made a few comments to that effect before putting the disc into the player. The sex scenes (which constituted about 75% of the film) were a tad more explicit than any R or NC-17 film I’ve seen. The story is a tribute to sexual obsession to a degree that’s eye-opening, and I didn’t realize until a text graphic at the end of the film that it was based on a true story that took place in 1936. There is no doubt of the film’s artistic merit, and it is a beautiful film to watch. The Criterian Collection disc included some additional material, including an absolutely fascinating interview with the film’s male star, Tatsuya Fuji. He described the shooting schedule and how the only ones present for the filming of the sex scenes were the two leads and the director. There were a few times during the film when I was reminded of certain scenes in David Lynch projects, notably Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. It’s apparent to me that this film (which was released the year before Eraserhead) had some kind of influence on Lynch, though a Google search yielded no confirmation of that theory. Because of its explicit content, I can’t recommend this film to everyone, but if you’ve got an open mind and are willing to take a cinematic journey into a beautiful, overtly sexual world, then by all means, dive right in.

Priceless (Hors de prix)

Priceless (Hors de prix) (11/19/13) Netflix (2006 ***) Directed by Pierre Salvadori, starring Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christine Adam and Vernon Dobtcheff. A hotel waiter is mistaken for a rich man and beds a gorgeous gold-digger. I absolutely loved Audrey Tautou in Amelie (2001), but there was a point in Priceless when I absolutely hated her character, and the film by association. However, from that dark, unsympathetic hole, the utterly unsympathetic character evolved and changed my feelings about her and the film by its satisfying conclusion. One bonus for some viewers is the fact that the entire film is set in the French Riviera, featuring a decadent, luxurious lifestyle that — as the film makes very clear — few can afford.

Mongol

Mongol (10/17/13) Netflix (2007 ***1/4) Directed by Sergey Bodrov, starring Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun and Khulan Chuluun. Long before he founded the Mongol Empire and conquered much of the known world, Genghis Khan was a nine-year-old boy betrothed to a little girl. This was another one of those films from my wife’s Netflix queue that I had little interest in watching, but it was surprisingly good and was in fact nominated for the best foreign language Oscar. Beautiful to watch, it told a gripping tale about a historical figure I knew almost nothing about. To be honest, my understanding of Genghis Khan prior to watching Mongol was based primarily on an episode of I Dream of Jeannie (or was it Bewitched?). Certainly I had no knowledge of his fascinating origin story, which played out like a historically-based, Mongolian version of Batman Begins.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (7/15/13) TCM (1956 **) Directed by Ishiro Honda and Terry O. Morse, starring Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura and Momoko Kochi. An American journalist finds himself smack dab in the middle of the destruction of Tokyo by a radioactive 300-foot monster. The backstory of this film warrants a film of its own: The rights to the original Japanese version were acquired by an American company who realized their audience would be limited by Godzilla‘s all-Asian cast. And so they snapped into action, retrofitting the film to include an American hook by bringing in Raymond Burr to play a journalist named… Steve Martin! That seemingly innocuous 1956 name choice actually provided a great deal of enjoyment, in that every time his name was mentioned in the film (and it was mentioned a surprising number of times), I found myself grinning. As for the retrofitted scenes, some worked better than others, though the majority were “reaction shots” inserts of Burr standing in a variety of locations, usually alongside four or five Japanese extras. Seriously, somebody has got to make a movie based on the making of this film.

Bride and Prejudice

Bride and Prejudice (6/28/13) IFC (2004 ***) Directed by Gurinder Chadha, based on the novel by Jane Austen, starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Nadira Babbar, Chaman Bakshi and Naveen Andrews. Lalita’s prejudice gets in her way of appreciating a wealthy American arrival to her small town, the prideful William Darcy. Though I’ve watched Indian films before (including Chadha’s 2002 Bend It Like Beckham), it’s quite possible that this was the first “Bollywood musical” I’ve ever seen. I’ve been meaning to watch one for some time, but had just never gotten around to it. With Bride and Prejudice, I’m still unconvinced I’ve seen one, actually. My sense is that this film didn’t really qualify as authentic, considering its source material, several scenes set in America and England and the fact that the male lead was an American. Though it started out a bit clunky, this little film grew on me as it went along, and I’m not sure if that’s because I gradually grew to like the characters or because the film’s quality actually improved. I suspect it was a combination of both. Of course I was well-acquainted with the original classic story, which I’d most recently experienced in the form of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The Little Vampire

The Little Vampire (6/7/13) Comics (2008 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Joann Sfar. A mortal orphan named Michael befriends a vampire who’s also a little kid, even though he’s hundreds of years old. This volume contains three stories, which were originally published separately in 2003. Thanks to a friend, I’ve become a fan of Sfar’s, while still recognizing his idiosyncrasies as a storyteller. Every indication is that he prefers not to work from a preconceived plot, but instead allows his stories to unfold in an organic fashion. All in all, I think I enjoyed his Vampire Loves stories more, mainly because they were more age-appropriate for me. It’s hard to pinpoint what Sfar’s target audience was for his Little Vampire series of stories. It was perhaps a little too weird for little kids, but not quite weird enough for adults.

Water

Water (5/27/13) Netflix (2005 ***1/4) Directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Sarala Kariyawasam, Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas and John Abraham. Set in 1938 India, Chuyia is a seven year-old widow forced by the teachings of Krishna to live in a widows’ ashram. This is one of those movies I had very little interest in watching, yet I was hooked within the first five minutes. The film was incredibly well made, the characters and their situations were interesting and the cinematography was fantastic. However, as much as I appreciated its filmmaking, and as sympathetic as I was to the plight of the various characters, Water falls soundly into the category of “awesome films I never need to see again.” This is due primarily to its subject matter and many of its plot elements. I know that makes me a small person, but for what it’s worth, it also puts Water into the same category with a lot of other terrific films. And who knows? There’s always a chance I’ll grow up some day…

The Machine That Kills Bad People (La macchina ammazzacattivi)

The Machine That Kills Bad People (La macchina ammazzacattivi) (3/23/13) TCM (1952 **) Directed by Roberto Rossellini, starring Gennaro Pisano, Giovanni Amato and William Tubbs. In a small, corrupt Italian seaside town, a photographer is granted the power to kill with his camera. This film was nominally a comedy, and certainly it was frequently apparent that its goal was a darkish humor, but I didn’t find it especially funny. I must confess there were cultural aspects of the story I didn’t really “get,” like a running gag about a visiting American and his family having to change their accomodations over and over due to sudden and unexpected deaths. This movie has apparently gained something of a cult following due to its auspicious director, its audacious title and the fact that it was considered “lost” for so many years. Part of the story behind this film is that Rossellini more or less lost interest in the production and so it was finished by another filmmaker before originally distributing it to lukewarm reviews and box office.

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena)

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) (2/21/13) TCM (1973 **) Directed by Victor Erice, starring Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent and Isabel Tellería. Ana, the seven-year-old daughter of a beekeeper, is profoundly moved by the movie Frankenstein and subsequently discovers a mystery hidden in a barn. This film was introduced by TCM’s guest programmer Bill Paxton as a masterpiece of Spanish filmmaking. Well, intrigued by the Frankenstein angle, I gave it a shot, but I must reluctantly admit that I just didn’t get it. The Spirit of the Beehive was quite beautiful at times, but had incredibly sluggish pacing and it contained several story elements and character actions that never actually came together before the film’s end. Or perhaps they connected in ways too subtle for me to understand. Call me a thickheaded dunce, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out what meaning I was supposed to take away from it.

Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits (2/8/13) TCM (1965 ***) Directed by Federico Fellini, starring Giulietta Masina, Mario Pisu, Sandra Milo and Valentina Cortese. Middle-aged Italian housewife Juliet is told by a psychic that her happiness lies in sexual liberation. Meanwhile, Juliet’s husband Giorgio is cheating on her with a gorgeous model named Gabriella. While it would be easy to dismiss this film as just a cinematic “mindf*ck,” that would be selling it short. To be fair, though, the film does incorporate a great deal of dream and surrealistic imagery. Fellini’s use of that technique built slowly from the beginning of the film and its intensity was a reflection of Juliet’s increasingly agitated mental state. According to the film’s introduction on TCM, this was Fellini’s first film in color, and he used it to great effect. Giulietta Masina did a wonderful job in the title role, though much of her acting throughout was reactive, as Juliet responded to the situations, personalities and frequently bizarre imagery around her. Masina was, by the way, Fellini’s wife.