Manoel de Oliveira – Francisca (1981)

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Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira made this amazing film in 1981, at the age of 72; as powerful as it is stark, it suggests a blending of the modernist, minimalist techniques of Jean-Marie Straub with the elusive spiritual subject matter of Max Ophuls. In 19th-century Portugal, a rising young novelist falls in love with the daughter of an English army officer, provoking the obscure envy of an aristocratic friend, who resolves to marry the girl himself and make her suffer for her betrayal. The baroque plot is presented in a series of single-take tableaux, which do not attempt to embody the drama as much as allude to it, leaving the dense and passionate feelings to take shape entirely in the spectator’s mind. Oliveira limits himself to showing only what can truly be shown: not the story but a representation of the story, not the emotions but their material manifestations as they have crossed the decades. A masterpiece of the modern cinema, difficult but extremely rewarding.

Review by Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader: Continue reading

Jean-Pierre Lajournade – Les Souffrances du jeune Werther (1968)

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Free adaptation of Goethe. 68’s spleen and rebellion with Garrel Brothers…

Adaptation libre du roman épistolaire éponyme et premier roman de Goethe qui fut publié anonymement et parut en 1774. Il met en scène le suicide de son héros. Il est ici transposé à l’époque contemporaine et mêle interprétations et images d’archives (d’origine non identifiée), dans une narration qui bouscule les codes classique du genre. Ce téléfilm offre une relecture critique de l’oeuvre de Goethe à travers une remise en cause de la société bourgeoise. Le film montre la révolte hors de toute dimension spectaculaire. La présentation de Werther répond à un mouvement de libération ambiant et exprime une volonté de soulèvement, par tous les canaux que propose l’art, face à une morale vieillissante et un système pesant. Ce Werther fut réalisé en 1968, année de révolte. Continue reading

Govindan Aravindan – Kummatty AKA The Bogeyman (1979)

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Kummatty is adapted from a Central Kerala folk tale about a partly mythic and partly real magician called Kummatty. Kummatty travels from place to place and entertain children with dancing, singing and performing magic. At one such performance at a village, Kummatty turns a group of children into animals. But one boy, who was changed into a dog, is chased away and misses the moment Kummatty changed the children back to their human form. The dog-boy has to wait a year until Kummatty returns to the village to get back his human form. Aravindan claimed Kummatty to be his personal favourite film. Kummatty won the State award for best children’s film. Continue reading

Ingmar Bergman – Vargtimmen AKA Hour of the Wolf [+Extras] (1968)

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Madness and demonism, present in many of Bergman’s films, are made the explicit themes of Hour of the Wolf. Here they are associated with artistic creativity. Alma (Liv Ullmann) tells of her life with her artist husband, who disappeared, leaving only his diary. “The first of three films featuring Max von Sydow as Bergman’s alter ego, the artist in retreat to an island (Fårö, the director’s own home) where all his demons and imagined monsters can come out to play, threatening to possess their creator and ‘disappear’ him into the darkness behind the brain. A strikingly Gothic tale of horror, Hour of the Wolf owes much to Bram Stoker’s Dracula in its evocation of the artist’s admirers and tormentors as vampires, flocks of flesh-eating birds and insects.” –Kathleen Murphy, Film Society of Lincoln Center Continue reading

Eiichi Yamamoto – Kanashimi no Beradonna AKA Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

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Belladonna of Sadness was the third and final animated feature film produced by Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Pro studio. The studio went bankrupt two months after the film came out. The film is loosely based on French historian Jules Michelet’s La Sorcière about witchcraft and Joan of Arc. Jeanne and Jean have just been married, but Jean can’t afford to pay the marriage tax demanded by the king. As a result, Jeanne is raped by the king. To save her husband and marriage, Jeanne sells her body and soul to the devil. In return she obtains the power to save the villagers from the black death, whip them up into an orgy, and turn them against the king while he is away at war. Continue reading

Jayro Bustamante – Ixcanul (2015)

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María, a 17-year-old Kaqchikel Maya, lives with her parents on a coffee plantation at the foot of an active volcano. She is set to be married to the farm’s foreman. But María longs to discover the world on the other side of the mountain, a place she cannot even imagine. And so she seduces a coffee-harvester who wants to escape to the USA. When this man leaves her behind, María discovers her own world and culture anew. Continue reading