As exciting as any Hollywood epic, Chronicles of the Years of Embers follows a poor peasant from his drought-stricken village through his first encounters with colonialism, his service in the French army in World War II and finally his participation in the nascent Algerian resistance movement. Rich and inventive, this wide-screen epic is an ambitious historical fresco of the years leading to the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence. A rare treat this gem of world cinema has not been previously released commercially and has not been made available on video in the United States.
Mamay draws on traditional Ukranian and Tatar folktales for its Romeo and Juliet-like love story and parable about chivalry and the struggle for freedom. Hundreds of years ago, in the wild steppes of Crimea that form an uneasy border between East and West, Europe and Asia, nomad and farmer, the proud Cossack Mamay falls in love with the Tatar beauty Omai. The title, like the storyline, holds a variety of different meanings taken from different cultures. In Turkic languages, it means “no one,” but it was also the name of a famous Mongol conqueror, the great grandson of Ghengis-Khan. In Persian legends, mamay literally means “the spirit of the steppes”. Continue reading
Leader of a traveling gypsy band from the steppes of Bessarabia (now Moldova), Toma Alistar is a skilled violinist whose fame takes him on tours around European capitals and royal courts. He remains obsessed with his first love, beautiful Leanca who was married elsewhere while Toma was traveling, and spends his life and fortune trying to find her. Written by Markku Kuoppamäki Continue reading
Entertaining fantasy-based peplum, starring American actor Roger Browne as the God of War.
The king of Telbia defeats an African army through the intervention of the war god Mars. Remaining on Earth, Mars falls in love with the human girl Daphne, but she is forced to become a priestess in the temple of Venus. Mars tries to free her, but falls under the spell of Venus, who keeps him prisoner. Daphne, meanwhile, having violated the sanctity of the temple, is condemned to be devoured by a monster.
Director Marcello Baldi composes his shots to make full use of the Totalscope image, making this picture a must in widescreen. Highlights include the opening battle between the Greek and African armies and a Little Shoppe of Horrors-type plant monster to whom maidens are sacrificed. Continue reading
Italian film’s early master of the historical spectacle, Enrico Guazzoni, was responsible for the second of (at least) three film adaptations of Nicholas Patrick Wiseman’s classic novel about Christianity’s rise in ancient Rome. Aside from the usual great production values of these silent epics, what surprises here is perhaps the rather graphic violence. And, the film is further notable for being Elena Sangro’s debut (when she was still going by the name Maria Antonietta Bartoli-Avveduti) in the title role no less. Continue reading
18th century Kazakhstan, a vast, pitiless region of austere and terrible beauty, bordered by China, Russia and Tibet. Here the proud and warlike Kazakh tribes have survived and fought for centuries – against invaders, against their formidable Jungar enemies and amongst themselves.
Oraz, a mystic and warrior possessed of great powers, foretells the birth of a new star, a hero. This boy -Mansur – is destined to unite the Kazakhs, and lead them to glorious victory against their enemies. Fearful of Oraz’ prediction, the Jungar ruler Galdan orders his General, Sharish, to find the child and slay him. However, Oraz saves Mansur and delivers him to his father, Sultan Wali. Continue reading
Roger Ebert wrote:
Every review of “Russian Ark” begins by discussing its method. The movie consists of one unbroken shot lasting the entire length of the film, as a camera glides through the Hermitage, the repository of Russian art and history in St. Petersburg. The cinematographer Tillman Buttner, using a Steadicam and high-def digital technology, joined with some 2,000 actors in an tight-wire act in which every mark and cue had to be hit without fail; there were two broken takes before the third time was the charm.
The subject of the film, which is written, directed and (in a sense) hosted by Alexander Sokurov, is no less than three centuries of Russian history. The camera doesn’t merely take us on a guided tour of the art on the walls and in the corridors, but witnesses many visitors who came to the Hermitage over the years. Apart from anything else, this is one of the best-sustained ideas I have ever seen on the screen. Sokurov reportedly rehearsed his all-important camera move again and again with the cinematographer, the actors and the invisible sound and lighting technicians, knowing that the Hermitage would be given to him for only one precious day. Continue reading