Michelangelo Antonioni – Le amiche AKA The Girlfriends (1955)

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Michelangelo Antonioni’s Le Amiche opens with an aerial shot of Turin, Italy that, in the moment, could easily be mistaken as simply a cheery, picturesque backdrop for the credits sequence. Retroactively, though, the image proves deceptive and even misleading in its suggestion of peace and tranquility. Antonioni’s 1955 film interrogates the detrimental socio-economic dimensions of modernity in Turin by moving an assortment of characters through confrontations and conversations in drawing rooms and cafés, and outside on beaches and in alleyways, so that a character’s elation or devastation must be understood in relation to the place where it occurs. Le Amiche is filled with characters asking one another “why” something is happening, but for the director, “where” is always the most optimal question. Continue reading

Ingmar Bergman – Ingmar Bergman Bris Soap Commercials (1951)

In 1951 there was a conflict in the Swedish film industry. The production companies had declared a ban on filming in protest against the high rate of tax on entertainment. Recently remarried, Ingmar Bergman, found himself with three families to support, and his contract with the Gothenburg City Theatre had expired. In order to earn any income whatsoever that year, he agreed to direct nine commercial for Bris soap on behalf of Swedish Unilever. It seems more than a coincidence that Sweden’s most famous film director should be the one to take the country’s advertising to a higher plane: the Bris films were the most lavishly funded that the country had ever seen. Continue reading

Robert Drew – Primary (1960)

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It’s the tail end of winter in 1960. U.S. Senators Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Wisconsin’s primary – one of the few direct primaries at the time – is on April 5. We see both candidates on the road; it’s retail politics, shaking hands, signing autographs, smiling. We hear part of a standard stump speech from Kennedy; we watch Humphrey talk to farmers in a rural hall. Kennedy is favored. We see his wife, his brother Robert briefly, and on election night his sisters Pat and Eunice. Jacqueline speaks a few words of Polish at a Milwaukee rally. The returns come in; it’s on to Indiana and West Virginia. Continue reading

Albert Lamorisse – Le ballon rouge AKA The Red Balloon (1956)

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The story of a boy and his toy, The Red Balloon is widely praised for its narrative and visual “purity,” but not enough is said about the movie’s delightful manipulation. A quasi-silent comedy with musical cues straight out of the Charlie Chaplin tradition, Albert Lamorisse’s film plays a game with its audience, just as the little boy (Pascal Lamorisse) and his glowing red orb cling to, fall away from, and chase each other throughout the 34-minute running time. With its many stairs and sloping alleyways, the blue-gray Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris is like a maze, constantly threatening to come in between the boy and his new pal, but like a magnet or a dog starved for attention, the balloon always comes back to him. He lets go of it on his apartment balcony and watches it fall to him downstairs. He directs it to “wait here” while he buys a treat at the local bakery. A group of neighborhood bullies chase the balloon through a perilously narrow corridor, throwing rocks as it tries to escape. The honeymoon is short-lived, but Lamorisse suggests that kids are always keenly attuned to the objects of the world around them: After the boy loses his red friend, a montage of balloons across the city shows them flying to his side and, in the final shot, launching him into the sky. For Lamorisse, then, the pleasures of childhood are as fleeting as they are ecstatic. Continue reading

Aage Wiltrup – Lyntoget AKA Bullet Train (1951)

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Synopsis:
‘A dangerous prison escapee, a young Jutland woman and a bank clerk, who has just deprived his employer of some cash and is now headed abroad, meet on a lyntog (literally “lightning train”) from Arhus to Copenhagen. The prison escaper tries to deprive the bank clerk of what he’s carrying.’
– penseur Continue reading

Georg Wilhelm Pabst – Das Bekenntnis der Ina Kahr AKA The Confession of Ina Kahr (1954)

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Synopsis:
‘Told in flashback, the film recounts the events leading up to the killing of good-for-nothing Curt Jurgens. Warned by her friends and relatives that Jurgens is a bad job, impulsive Ina Kahr marries him anyway. His ceaseless philandering and abuse wears away at Ina to the point that she contemplates poisoning her husband…’
– MRQE Continue reading

Roberto Rossellini – Era notte a Roma AKA It Was Night in Rome [Long ver.] (1960)

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In keeping with his previous film Il generale Della Rovere, filmmaker Roberto Rossellini pursues a wartime theme in this “personal epic” Era notte a Roma.
The film is set in Rome during the German occupation after the armistice on 8 September 1943.
The story concerns three Allied POWS, who escape from their camp and hide out in Rome. The trio is given shelter and aid by a beautiful young woman who deals with black market disguised as a nun, her partisan boyfriend and several other people.
The three prisoners (one is Russian, one English, one American) display a genuine warmth towards each other that probably is meant to reflect the three countries’ joint effort against Nazi Germany.
Just as the variety of Italians involved in their protection as well as in their pursuit seems to be meant to reflect the chaos and mistrust reigning in those dark days. Acts of courage alternate with acts of treachery.
For reasons that remain obscure, Era Notte a Roma was never initially given a widespread American release. Continue reading