Maurice Tourneur – La Main du Diable aka Carnival of Sinners (1943)

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A man arrives at an isolated mountain inn clutching a small box. The man is panic-struck when, during a sudden blackout, the box disappears. To the assembled guests at the inn he tells his tragic story. The man, Roland Brissot, was once a penniless artist who, one day, bought a talisman from the owner of a restaurant for one franc. The talisman, a severed hand in a box, immediately transformed Brissot’s life and he became a hugely successful artist. Then, one day, he receives a visit from a small man in a suit who tells him that in buying the talisman, he has sold his soul to the Devil… Continue reading

Aleksandr Rou – Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki AKA The Night Before Christmas (1961)

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The whimsical combination of Christmas phantasmagoria and an eccentric fairy tale makes this film an unforgettable spectacle. The action takes place both in a village of Dikanka in the Ukraine and at the palace of a Russian Empress. Blacksmith Vacula has enraged the devil himself: in a church he painted the devil’s figure in such a way that even the hell’s inhabitants could not help laughing. Solokha, Vacula’s mother, is known to be a witch, not averse to flying on a besom. Vacula’s sweetheart, Oksana, demands for a Christmas present a pair of tcherevichki (shoes) that the Empress wears. Only then she will agree to marry Vacula. And the devil promises to help the blacksmith get the Empress’ shoes, on condition that Vacula sells him his soul. Meanwhile, Christmas is almost here. Based on Gogol’s story. Continue reading

Jean Cocteau & René Clément – La belle et la bête AKA Beauty and the Beast (1946)

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Quote:
While some other mid-20th-century directors were pursuing the chimera of “total cinema,” Jean Cocteau was chasing down the dream of a “total art.” But if “total cinema” meant capturing on screen the actual world as it really was, Cocteau’s “total art” meant giving form, instead, to the otherwise impalpable worlds of desire and dream. Both quests were fundamentally unrealistic, but Cocteau embraced this truth in ways both joyously inventive and technically rigorous. The most ambitious and talented fabulist since E.T.A. Hoffmann, Cocteau not only produced a vast and diverse corpus of poems, drawings, plays, sculptures, novels, and libretti, he also wrote and directed a small but astonishing group of films. Beauty and the Beast is the best of his five feature films and the greatest fable of his entire oeuvre—a vulnerable-beast-in-love tale to end all others, from King Kong to Edward Scissorhands. Continue reading

Nacer Khemir – Tawk al Hamama al Mafkoud AKA Le collier perdu de la colombe AKA The Dove’s Lost Necklace (1991)

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Synopsis:
The story revolves around Hassan, who is studying Arabic calligraphy from a grand master. Coming across a fragment of manuscript, Hassan goes in search of the missing pieces, believing that once he finds them, he will learn the secrets of love. With the help of Zin, a lovers’ go-between, he meets the beautiful Aziz, Princess of Samarkand. After encountering wars, a battle between false prophets and an ancient curse, he learns that an entire lifetime would not suffice for him to learn the many dimensions of love. Continue reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer – Der var engang AKA Once Upon a Time (1922)

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Quote:
Once upon a Time (a.k.a. Der var engang) is an atypical film for the Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, a departure from his more usual realistic dramas into the realm of fantasy and fairytale. It was the only film that Dreyer made for the independent film producer Sophus Madsen, a Danish film enthusiast whose only other production was Laurids Skands’s all but forgotten Livets Karneval (1923). The film was adapted from a play by Holger Drachmann, written in 1885, that was itself based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale Svinedrengen and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the
Shrew. From the outset, this was conceived as a lavish production, but it soon ran into financial difficulties. Even though some scenes were cut – including an extravagant market sequence – the film still ended up with a 150 per cent overspend on its 90,000
kroner budget. Continue reading