Like Someone in Love

likesomoene

もったいない (mottanai) in Japanese basically means “what a waste!” and that’s how I felt once I was 70% through Like Somone in Love. I’d seen the film on the shelf at the library and was intrigued. When I watched the trailer on YouTube I was duped. I thought the film would be interesting. ちがいます(chigaimasu). Translation: wrong.

Directed by the Iranian director who made Certified Copy, which I did enjoy, though I have to say that film has an unusual and at times mystifying or weird narrative, Like Someone in Love deliberately leaves the audience in the dark about what’s going on or who the characters actually are. The director likes to string people along or make them wonder. We first hear, but don’t see Akiko, a young prostitute, lie to her fiancée. Then her fatherly boss advises her to drop the boyfriend before he insists she go to a new client’s apartment. Akiko is pouty and stupid and that never changes.

Her new client Prof. Watanabe is old enough to be her grandpa and is very kind. It seems he just wants a companion rather than a sex partner. At first Akiko is withdrawn, but soon flips the switch and is talkative and bubbly. She knows how to do her job, how to create interest and warmth, which seems to have se rved her well. She chatters on about her youth and how various people have praised her looks. I thought she was very sly in adopting this “little girl” persona. It’s common in Japan for women to adopt a baby-ish voice to flirt.

Before we know it Akiko pulls poor Watanabe into her violent relationship with a mechanic. At one point, after seeing the mechanic man-handle Akiko, the retired professor tries to advise the fiancé on marriage, but this kid’s a know-it-all.

The best thing about the film is the actor who played Watanabe. Evidently, Tanashi Okuno has been an extra for 30+ years and this is the first film in which he speaks.

I feared that Akiko and the mechanic were total liars and would beat up the old man at the end, but that’s not exactly what happens. In fact, the end is left to viewers’ imagination, which I felt was cheating.

This slice of life film wasn’t worth the time. It’s the mirror opposite of a Doris Day film like Lucky Me. The director aims to avoid Hollywood clichés and as far as that goes, he succeeds. If you want to see a film set in Japan, try Kurosawa, Naruse or Ozu. Skip Like Someone in Love.

Advertisements

Death by Hanging

Oshima’s Death by Hanging has masterful cinematography and great acting. Loosely based on a real crime, Death by Hanging attempts to argue against capital punishment and prejudice against Koreans.

The director directly states statistics of Japanese approval of capital punishment, before introducing the story. Oshima believes if he shows his audience an execution they’ll come to oppose punishing murderers with death. The story begins with all the protocol of an execution. The criminal named R has been convicted of raping and murdering two school girls. R has a champlain, gets a last meal as the officials in charge go through the usual procedures.

However, when R is hanged, he doesn’t die. Now what?

The doctor finds that R is still alive and soon he comes too. But R insists he isn’t R, which means they can’t hang him again. (Evidently, in Japan if there’s a botched execution, they could try again.) Now begins the long process, mainly led by the Education Chief (not sure why someone with this title is part of this process — it seems he has to make sure the felon has understood why he’s getting punished and agrees that he’s guilty). The black farce is turned up to “high” as the film proceeds. It’s full of dark humor as well as the logic behind ending capital punishment or it’s meant to be.

The film goes down some bizarre rabbit holes, which are pulled off by an outstanding cast. The Korean-Japanese actor who played R should have won an award. It’s amazing how he maintains this impassive presence amidst madness.The story drifts back and forth between fantasy and reality and the plot twists and turns and is full of surprises till the last second. I sure did not expect the ending.

I applaud Oshima for presenting the injustice against Koreans living in Japan so directly and thoroughly. Usually such cultural faults are well hidden.

However, the film felt long and was confusing at time. When R’s sister appears from no where and her relationship with her brother takes an incestuous turn, Oshima lost me. The arguments that followed against capital punishment weren’t convincing and in fact made me think, perhaps execution is acceptable since these arguments are the weakest I’ve heard. So in that respect Death by Hanging, while an example of dark humor and powerful imagery, fails. Because it’s incredibly original, I do recommend the film, but I imagine some people will have problems with some of the foolishness of the officials, the sister or the logic. It is a film you’d want to discuss afterwards.

 

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

r4F4tsU0Ajeh9ZYUkWOJSYmioj7

After watching Jacques Tati’s comedic classic Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, I was surprised to find out it was made in 1956. I’d have guessed during the 1930s. The film uses little sound, but the sound  is used to maximum effect. The sublime, recurring tune keeps playing in my head. Since it’s a happy melody, that’s just fine.

Awkward and unlucky, but well-meaning and kind, Mr. Hulot goes on vacation to a seaside French town. Wherever Mr. Hulot goes, minor disaster follows upsetting the quiet card players or the well-dressed ladies. More often than not, Mr. Hulot is his own worst enemy, but the consequence is usually small–some bruises, embarrassment or car trouble. It’s cool to see an old style vacation

The film is big on gags and short on plot. The characters are nameless stereotypes, but they do make an impression and each one is bound to remind you of someone you know or love.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a delight, but probably isn’t for everyone. The film is slow-paced, a trip to the old days. It’s the first Tati film I’ve seen and folks like Roger Ebert assert it’s his best. I’m glad I saw it because Tati is a master in French film, but I can’t recommend it highly because I think a lot of people want more plot, which they can get from Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.

Blow Up

Blow-Up 12

About as exciting as it gets, i.e. not very

Michelangelo Antonoini’s Blow Up has an intriguing end, but the almost two hours leading up to it were painfully boring. It’s the story of a jaded, nihilistic, rich photographer who happens to photograph what appears to be a couple of lovers in a park. After blowing up the photos he sees what looks like a shooter lurking in the bushes. What’s really going on? The photographer returns to the spot and finds the man’s dead body.

So far that sounds like an intriguing plot. My concise description leaves out the scenes of vapid, sexy girls whose characters are no more developed than a mannequin’s and the occasional dull conversations the photographer has with his agent or the woman in the photos who tries to get them back once and then never follows up when she doesn’t get them.

Everyone in the film is tired. The young people, whether they’re at a concert or having sex appear dead bored with life. A couple of girls practically stalk the photographer hoping to do a shoot and get famous. None of that pans out.

Don’t waste your time. There’s a clip on YouTube of the film’s end which includes a bunch of mimes who play tennis and it’s a clever mini-film on our perceptions. That’s worth a couple minutes. Otherwise, the film is too esoteric for me. I don’t want to spend two hours watching a bored, passive lost generation.

SPOILER

Continue reading

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

A compelling drama that looks at modern Irish history, I started The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which was on a special Irish display at my library. While the film has great production values and acting, I had to stop watching because it was too violent for me. In the first half hour there was more blood, shooting and torture that I wanted to see.

Irish history with its British oppression is often tragic and violent. The Wind that Shakes the Barley shows a bloody chapter of this history, i.e. the Irish War of Independence (1919-1922) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). The acting and storytelling were good in the first 30 minutes, but I decided to turn off the film because I just didn’t want to watch more violence. There were three violent scenes to that point and it was too much for me. I believe we should know World History, but I’m sensitive to violence and think for me it’s better to learn about Irish history through reading or less graphic films or documentaries.

If you can stomach blood and shooting, which was part of this and other wars, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which won the 2006 Palm d’Or at Cannes is probably a wonderful film.

Le Poison

poison.jpg
The comedy in Sacha Guitry’s La Poison (1951) is trés noir. In fact, I’m unsure if I should like it. In this guilty pleasure, La Poison gives us Paul Bracconier, a husband who can’t take his wife. Generally, I can’t stand jokes that put wives or husbands in a bad light, or that are just a series of complaints. But Blandaire Bracconier, the wife in question, is such a mean-spirited drunk with no redeeming qualities and it does seem that with a nicer woman, Paul would be a-okay, so I made an exception.

Also, since the wife has purchased rat poison to do her husband in, it seems they’re on equal footing.

36426540

Played by Michel Simon (Two of a Kind , Port of Shadows and many other classics), Paul has a redeemable side. He doesn’t rush to murder his wife. At the start of the film he visits the local priest for sympathy, mercy and perhaps some advice.

When he hears a radio interview with a lawyer honored for getting murderers off, he goes to meet the lawyer. The conversation with the unethical lawyer convinces Paul that, yes, he can get away with murder so he is emboldened to try.

Scenes with the neighbors and their children add to the humor. One of my favorite scenes involves Paul’s neighbor visiting him in jail and recounting how grateful the neighbors are to Paul because his crime has increased tourism and business in the hamlet.

An entertaining film, La Poison is a dark, old-fashioned comedy that does show the problems in the legal system. According to the background commentary, Guitry made it as a commentary on his own incarceration when he was wrongly accused of collaborating with the Vichy government during WWII.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

crit kind hearts
Starring Dennis Price and Alex Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is a black comedy of revenge. Louis Mazzini’s mother’s upper class family disowned her when she married an Italian musician. After she dies, Louis seeks revenge. Using a different weapon or means for each subject, Louis plots to kill all eight of the relatives ahead of him in line for the family fortune.

Louis falls in love with his childhood sweetheart, but she throws him over for a rich man, whom she finds as dull as dishwater. She’s clearly mercenary, but then so is Louis as he’s reptilian in his ability to murder relatives one after another without feeling any remorse.

One quirk of the film is that Alec Guinness plays each of the eight relatives that kills. He plays young and old, male and female. It’s a clever technique.

The Criterion Collection DVD includes the American ending. The Hays Code prohibited films from showing a situation where crime paid.

Before I saw it thought it would be a much weaker ending, but they just added a few seconds with an action that I imagined would follow the end of the film. The British version led me to expect that action to occur. Nonetheless it’s interesting to see how the Hays Code influenced filmmaking.