Ermanno Olmi – Torneranno i prati AKA Greenery Will Bloom Again (2014)

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The winter of 1917, the North-East front, the final clashes of the Great War. An Italian stronghold situated at 1800 metres above sea level, on the Asiago plateau, described in the novels of Mario Rigoni Stern. It’s snowing everywhere; the Austrian trenches are so close that you can hear the enemy soldiers breathing.

A hundred years since the outbreak of World War I, maestro Ermanno Olmi describes with Torneranno i prati his vision of a conflict that cost the lives of 16 million human beings, just as it was brought back to him by the memory of his father, called to arms at 19 years of age, to find himself within the bloodbath of Carso and Piave. A drama that scarred his youth and the rest of his life, just like millions of others. Continue reading

Mariano Llinás – Historias extraordinarias AKA Extraordinary Stories (2008)

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Historias extraordinarias tells the adventures of three men known only as H (Agustin Mendilaharzu, doubling as cinematographer), X (director Mariano Llinás) and Z (Walter Jakob). These adventures come across as self-conscious constructions and journeys happening in the here and now. But though the strongest literary influences on Llinás’ fascinating screenplay are fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges and disciple Adolfo Bioy-Casares, it would be wrong to label Historias extraordinarias as literary per se: Instead, a viewer would have to stretch back to the grand serial silents of Louis Feuillade for something as ambitious as Llinás’ detailed telling of the three separate, intertwined tales, all involving men on quests in situations that force them to question who they really are. Llinás jumps between the storylines over 18 episodes, usually devoting no more than about 15 minutes at a time to any single one. The governing concept uniting the tales is how each man begins with a specific task, and then veers away from the straight-and-narrow, bringing the job’s purpose into question. Continue reading

François Truffaut – Tirez sur le pianiste AKA Shoot the Pianist (1960)

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A hapless pianist at a jazz club gets caught up with the mob, when his older brother who owes money to them comes to him for help. Eventually, the piano player and his girlfriend become pawns in middle of a dangerous game.

Truffaut first read David Goodis’s novel in the mid-1950s while shooting Les Mistons when his wife Madeleine Morgenstern read it and recommended it to him. He immediately loved the book’s dialogue and poetic tone and showed it to producer Pierre Braunberger, who bought the rights. Truffaut later met Goodis in New York City, where the novelist gave Truffaut a vintage viewfinder from his brief experience as a 2nd Unit Director on a U.S. film. Continue reading

Cheyenne Carron – Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation AKA Lead Us Not Into Temptation (2011)

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The best movie that I’ve seen so far at Cinequest is the French thriller Lead Us Not Into Temptation. A middle-aged married man does a good deed for a beautiful young woman and finds himself the pawn in a dangerous game. Inventively constructed, we see the story from the perspective of the guy, then from the young woman’s point of view and finally through the prism of another character. Unlike in Rashomon, we don’t see different realities, but, as secrets are revealed, we finally understand the whole picture. It’s a brilliant screenplay by writer-director-producer Cheyenne Carron. In the young woman, Carron has created a character who is both predatory and damaged but who can act charming, vulnerable and sexy. The story hinges on actress Agnes Delachair’s ability to play that complex role – and she delivers a captivating performance. Continue reading

Syllas Tzoumerkas – I Ekrixi AKA A Blast (2014)

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In a striking and courageous lead performance, Angeliki Papoulia plays Maria – a woman who started her adult life with the best of intentions but, ten years later, feels her world falling out from under her.
Unwilling to reconcile with a reality of unreturned care, lost dignity and a broken-down desire to live, Maria attacks. She attacks herself, her past, the people she loves, her country and the perception of her sex in a relentless battle to find truth.
Only a day before, she was a caring mother, a loving wife and a responsible daughter. Today, she has gone rogue… Continue reading

François Truffaut – Domicile conjugal AKA Bed and Board (1970)

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So here he is for the last time, Antoine Doinel, who has grown up like the rest of us and has finally, apparently, found conjugal peace. He has changed a lot along the way. Francois Truffaut first introduced Antoine in “The 400 Blows” (1959), his first feature. The character was roughly based on Truffaut’s own youth and adolescence, when he was the next thing to a juvenile delinquent and prowled the streets of Paris.

“The 400 Blows,” with Godard’s “Breathless” (1960) and Chabrol’s “Le Beau Serge,” inaugurated the French New Wave and changed the face and style of filmmaking almost overnight. But we don’t remember “The 400 Blows” for historical reasons; we remember it because, for many of us, it was our first taste of personal, almost intimate, filmmaking. Continue reading

Nicholas Ray – Born to Be Bad [+Extra] (1950)

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One of the most oft-revived of the pre-Technicolor Nicholas Ray efforts, Born to Be Bad offers us the spectacle of Joan Fontaine portraying a character described as “a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O’ My Heart”. For the benefit of her wealthy husband Zachary Scott and his family, Fontaine adopts a facade of wide-eyed sweetness. Bored with her hubby, she inaugurates a romance with novelist Robert Ryan. All her carefully crafted calculations come acropper when both men discover that she’s a bitch among bitches. She might have gotten away with all her machinations, but the censors said uh-uh. Originally slated for filming in 1946, with Henry Fonda scheduled to play the Robert Ryan part, Born to Bad was cancelled, then resurfaced as Bed as Roses in 1948, this time with Barbara Bel Geddes in the Fontaine role. RKO head Howard Hughes’ decision to replace Bel Geddes with the more bankable Fontaine was one of the reasons that producer Dore Schary left RKO in favor of MGM. Based on Anne Parrish’s novel All Kneeling, Born to be Bad is so overheated at times that it threatens to lapse into self-parody; though this never happens, the film was the basis for one of TV star Carol Burnett’s funniest and most devastating movie takeoffs, Raised to be Rotten Continue reading