Elio Petri – La classe operaia va in paradiso AKA The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971)

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“Lulu the Tool” is no more descriptive a title for Elio Petri’s Italian social drama that opened yesterday at the D. W. Griffith Cinema than “La Classe Operaia Va in Paradiso” (“The Working Class Goes to Heaven”), the title under which it shared (with “The Mattei Affair”) the grand prize of the 1972 Cannes Film Festival. But if neither tag is memorable, there is little doubt that the director-writer, whose convictions are Communist, has projected a cynical view of the worker’s lot that is both fascinating and sobering.

Mr. Petri, who scored with his 1970 dissection of police authority in “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” has again joined Ugo Pirro in writing the script. With Gian Maria Volonte, the top cop in “Investigation,” he points up the Kafkalike condition of “Lulu.” Continue reading

Mu Fei – Xiao cheng zhi chun AKA Spring in a Small Town (1948)

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Taking place in a ruined family compound after the war, the film tells the story of the once prosperous Dai family. The husband and patriarch, Dai Liyan is an invalid, and spends his days in the courtyard nostalgic for the past. His marriage to Zhou Yuwen has long been rendered loveless, though both still feel concern for the other. Liyan’s young teenage sister Dai Xiu, meanwhile, is too young to remember the past, and stays cheerful and playful in the ruins of her home. Into this dreary but unchanging existence comes Liyan’s childhood friend Zhang Zhichen, a doctor from Shanghai and a former flame of Zhou Yuwen before she ever met her husband. The rest of the film details Zhou Yuwen’s conflicting emotions between her love for Zhang, and her loyalty to her husband and his family. Continue reading

Abbas Kiarostami – Nema-ye Nazdik AKA Close-Up (1990)

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In 1989 in Tehran, a movie mad unemployed printer named Ali Sabzian was arrested for impersonating the famous film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The family he had fooled was deep in rehearsals for his next “film” when they alerted authorities of their suspicions. “I loved playing that part,” confesses Sabzian in his trial. When the judge asks the Ahankah family if they will drop the charges in light of Sabzian’s apologies and explanations, one of the sons replies “I get the impression he’s still playing a role.” 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

Max Ophüls – Divine (1935)

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Synopsis:
Ludivine Jarisse is a young woman who lives a contented but unexciting life in the country. One day, she is visited by Roberte, an old friend who has made a career for herself as an actress at a Paris music hall, L’Empyrée. Roberte intends to take a break and invites her friend to take her place. Ludivine readily accepts, and soon becomes a musical hall diva under the name Divine, although she is at first reluctant to expose herself in the revealing costumes she is given. One of her colleagues attempts to take advantage of her naivety, but when she resists, he implicates her in a drugs trafficking affair. Divine remains untainted by all this vice and falls in love with an honest milkman, Antonin. He offers to marry her and she is finally able to leave the music hall to start a new life, back in the country. Continue reading

Lino Brocka – Insiang (1976)

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“Insiang” is Lino Brocka’s tale of one girl’s coming of age in the slums of Manila. The title character, played by Hilda Koronel, is a young girl who lives in a small crowded shanty with her mother, Tonia (Mona Lisa). Her boyfriend Danny (Rez Cortez) treats her little better than a sex object and her mother’s lover Dado (Ruel Vernal), overcome by desire for young Insiang, rapes her in her own home. She runs to her mother for sympathy but gets rejected instead. Disillusioned and worn out, Insiang decides on revenge.

“Insiang” has the distinction of being the first Filipino film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978, where both Lino Brocka and Hilda Koronel garnered much attention and acclaim from the international film community. The film also earned a number of important awards and nominations including the Manila Film Festival Best Actress Award for Koronel. Continue reading

Nima Javidi – Melbourne (2014)

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The film recounts the story of a young couple on their way to Melbourne to continue their studies. However, just a few hours before the departure of their flight, they are unintentionally involved in a tragic event.

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This remarkable debut feature by Nima Javidi naturally reminds one of Asghar Farhadi’s films, with its strong sense of drama, tremendous actor interpretations and mature writing that does not compromise the integrity of any of the characters. But there is also something particularly “new generational” about it in the way it harnesses the choice in front of affluent young Tehranians: to stay in Iran and own up its problems or to leave the country to start life anew. The inciting event in the film that dramatizes this choice stops the train of life dead in its tracks, exposing its protagonists to the unbearable “nowness” of the present. It is a terribly universal predicament in which time freezes around the material reality before you and all plans for the future and memories of the past seem like a remote, inaccessible country, a crisis that makes you want to either regress in time (“wish mother were here”) or to jump to a future day when the clouds have cleared, a moment where husband and wife see each other’s innermost character in all its stark nakedness. Though the couple might physically arrive at the eponymous neverland, the utopia it once represented is irrevocably lost. – The Seventh Art Continue reading