Roberto Gavaldón – Macario (1960)

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The enigmatic B. Traven is certainly one of the most amazing figures in modern literature, as to this date his true identity remains an unsolved mystery. Better known for having written the novel “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (the basis for John Huston’s film), the mysterious writer who claimed to be American (although clues point out to he being German) traveled to Mexico where he became fascinated with the country’s rich culture and difficult social situations. “Macario” (or “Der Dritte Gast”, literally, “The Third Guest”) is probably one of his best known works (after the afore mentioned “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”), and the source novel of one of Mexico’s most fascinating and beautiful films. Continue reading

Jacques Becker – Touchez pas au grisbi [+Extras] (1954)

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Synopsis
Jean Gabin is at his most wearily romantic as aging gangster Max le Menteur in the Jacques Becker gem Touchez pas au grisbi (Hands Off the Loot!). Having pulled off the heist of a lifetime, Max looks forward to spending his remaining days relaxing with his beautiful young girlfriend. But when Riton (René Dary), Max’s hapless partner and best friend, lets word of the loot slip to loose-lipped, two-timing Josy (Jeanne Moreau), Max is reluctantly drawn back into the underworld. A touchstone of the gangster-film genre, Touchez pas au grisbi is also pure Becker—understated, elegant, evocative. Continue reading

Kon Ichikawa – Bonchi (1960)

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Where Ichikawa skewered patriarchal family values in Her Brother, in this savage satire he hoists the matriarchal system on its own apron strings. Raizo Ichikawa (“in his best role yet”-Variety) is the scion of an Osaka merchant family whose traditional power is matrilineal. Instructed by his overbearing mother and grandmother to give them an heiress for the family business, he stands by helplessly as wife after wife is thrown out of the house for producing sons. Driven to a life of dissipation-his mistresses also fail to produce daughters-in the end he is just too tired to care. Ichikawa’s frighteningly funny picture of the matriarchy’s efforts to perpetuate itself was received as antifeminist, if not downright misogynistic, but Joan Mellon suggests that the target once again is “the institution of the family [which] places its own survival ahead of the needs and feelings of individuals.” If this looks forward to The Makioka Sisters, so does Donald Richie’s comment, “We find this cruel matriarchal story…told in terms of the most transcendental beauty.” Continue reading

Henri-Georges Clouzot – La Vérité AKA The Truth (1960)

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Plot summary from IMDB:
Dominique Marceau is on trial for the murder of Gilbert Tellier. The counsels duel relentlessly, elaborating explanations for why the pretty, idle and fickle girl killed the talented and ambitious conductor freshly graduated from the conservatory. Was it passion, vengeance, desperation, an accident? The acquaintances of Gilbert testify, as well as Dominique’s former lovers, and her sister, Annie, the studious violin player engaged to Gilbert. The evidence they give progressively paints a more finely-shaded picture of the personalities of Dominique and Gilbert, and of their relationship, than the eloquent and convincing justifications of the counsels. Continue reading

Jirí Weiss – Vlcí jáma AKA The Wolf Trap (1957)

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Synopsis:
The childless family of the veterinarian and mayor of a small town, Robert Rýdl, and his much older wife, Klára, is joined by an orphaned girl, Jana. The girl is grateful for her new home but she slowly begins to feel a strange atmosphere that reigns in the house. Klára brought her property into the marriage and loves her husband with a possessive and stifling love. The emotionally suffering Robert falls in love with Jana. When he realizes that the girl returns his love, he uses the offer for a business trip to Opava to run away from the insoluble problem. Jana is unhappy, she is afraid of the two spiteful maids and discovers the bad side of Klára’s outwardly kind nature. The two women pay a visit to Robert in Opava. They are walking in the town and something unpleasant happens. Rýdl’s acquaintances think that Jana is his wife and Klára his mother-in-law. Robert Rýdl runs away again, this time to Prague. He leaves Jana alone with Klára who has fallen seriously ill and finally dies. Robert is free but his previous cowardly behaviour destroyed Jana’s love. The girl leaves Robert right after the funeral. Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Tsuma no kokoro aka A Wife’s Heart (1956)

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The best moments of A Wife’s Heart involve things not said or seen and this is most explicit in the interactions between Kiyoko (Hideko Takamine) and her bank clerk bachelor confidant Kenkichi (Toshiro Mifune). Kiyoko, along with her husband Shinji (Keiju Kobayashi), wants to open a coffee shop and so goes to Kenkichi to ask for a loan. Director Mikio Naruse never focuses on the duo’s talk of money; as filmed, their entire relationship is a series of beginnings and endings with the middles cut out. It is at first purely a business association, though after Shinji (at the manipulative behest of his matchmaker mother) gives a majority of the loan to his deadbeat brother Zenichi, Kiyoko starts to think that her feelings for Kenkichi may be more then platonic. Following through on his setup, Naruse never lets either character nakedly confess their heart’s desire. The closest they come is during a sequence, set against the backdrop of a torrential downpour, where Kenkichi utters the first few words of a thought that he will never finish. In other hands this scene might have played as masochistic repression, but Naruse allows the rainstorm to act as an expressive emotional outlet—nature thus concludes what Kenkichi cannot. Continue reading

Orson Welles – The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952)

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Want to be daring? Try watching Othello without the sound. The assembly of magnificent compositions that Welles has put together for his Othello is nothing short of astounding. Welles finds angles where they never existed before and extracts from the text, so elegant in word, a visual power unmatched by other Shakespearean movies. The heritage from Citizen Kane to Touch of Evil is evident in this stylistic tour-de-force.

Welles is an imposing Othello. Painted with shadows and light, Welles moves regally through the castle sets and strides powerfully along the beach or atop the ramparts. As Iago, Michael Mac Liammoir, the Irish stage actor, is quite creepy. His vast stage experience perhaps affects his performance in front of the camera too much, but the result is highly effective under Welles’ guiding camera and brilliant editing. Continue reading