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It’s Not the Time of My Life

It’s Not the Time of My Life focuses on a married Hungarian couple whose son, Bruno is a little devil and not in a cute Dennis-the-Menace sort of way. Young Bruno’s obnoxious, anti-social and at times violent behavior is dividing the couple. As the wife E observes, they were able to be a good twosome, but as a family of three, they’re failing. Eszter is lenient and loving believing that employing the right contemporary child psychology is best for Bruno. Farkas, her husband, is going nuts with Bruno and believes some old school discipline is needed before Bruno grows into a teen who’s spending time in and out of jail. (I tended to agree with the dad.)

As if this weren’t enough, late one night,Eszter’s sister, Ernella, and brother in law Albert and their daughter Laura surprise them with an open-ended stay. They’d been living in Scotland and left so now they need a place to stay. E and Albert are unsuccessful and nomadic. They seem to go from failure to failure and often need money.

Both couples are questioning where their marriages are going and reflecting on how life has changed them.

The film is smart, emotional and at times intense at times depicting realistic couples questioning and confronting their problems. A lot is packed into the film, which makes for a steady pace. I also appreciated seeing a film set in modern Hungary. I’m afraid when I think of Hungry I think of the Cold War and poverty rather than yuppies barely coping with a boy who’d think nothing of burning the house down or one that’s discovered their sullen 10 year-old daughter has stolen as an attempt to help with the family’s money problems. The tone and look of the film is very natural and real making it very compelling.

What’s even more surprising is that the director stars as Farkas, he used his own apartment and family members for the film.

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Army of Shadows

An amazingly powerful film, Army of Shadows shows the ordinary people joined the French Resistance and courageously opposed the Germans during WWII.

From the solemn beginning with German soldiers goose-stepping in front of the Arc de Triomphe to the bitter end, when . . . oh, I won’t say, Army of Shadows grabbed me.

After the opening sequence, we meet Gerbier, who’s sitting in the back of a German truck getting transported to a prison camp. Scenes of ordinariness follow. The truck driver makes a stop to pick up provisions from a farmer. Gerbier’s guard makes small talk to let Gerbier know he’s going to a “good” prison camp. At the camp, Gerbier is housed with two groups of prisoners, the first three amuse themselves with dominos and chit chat and seem to be and to have been men who just go with the flow. The other two prisoners are a young communist and a dying Catholic teacher. The division reflects French society, two groups, one that’s earnest and sickly and the other that’s lively, but superficial. Neither one gets much accomplished. Thus Gerbier sets his own course and doesn’t join either “side.” He’s the lone, strong, sensible man.

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Gerbier is transported to the Nazi headquarters and manages to escape. Then as he meets the other members of the Resistance, we watch as Gerbier leads a plot to abduct and kill the young man, who betrayed the Resistance. ordinary people plan and organize what would be criminal acts they’d never undertake in ordinary circumstances.

All the actors deliver compelling performances. The story presents a fascinating look at history and was quite controversial when it was released in France in 1969. Critics were divided on the film because of its controversial portrayal of the Resistance fighters, who sometimes act like very intelligent gangsters.

What’s amazing about the film is how little action it contains. In certain instances there are chases and attacks, but that’s subordinate to the characters’ thinking, sacrifice and courage.

This film was so compelling that after I finished watching I started watching again, this time with the commentary running.

I Will Buy You

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Kishimoto and the player’s girlfriend

A social critique of post WWII Japan, I Will Buy You shows how baseball became corrupted and how athletes became commodities in the 1950s. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, I Will Buy You shows the machinations surrounding a college baseball superstar’s entry to pro sports. The story focuses on Kishimoto, a driven scout who’s hellbent on signing Kurita, a hot college hitter. To do this he needs to woo Kurita’s greedy family, his girlfriend who’s leery of the materialism that’s taken over Japan and finally his deceptive, self-centered mentor.

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Kishimoto (right) with his boss

I Will Buy You is in the shomin-geki genre, which consists of dramas about the problems of ordinary society. Here Kobayashi takes on the world of Japan’s most cherished sport, baseball. (I had a student who insisted that the Japanese invented baseball.) Kobayashi brilliantly challenges viewers to see how calculating, conniving and avaricious it’s become.

People think the Japanese are oblique and indirect, but in I Will Buy You characters are explicit in what they want and how they feel about Kurita, who’s rarely on screen and he’s objectified like no other film character I can think of.

The film had a compelling story and covered sports in a way an American film wouldn’t. The end surprised me. With so many characters standing in the shadows, the masterful cinematography reminded me of film noir minus the murder or crime.

The Soft Skin

Truffaut offers a realistic look at infidelity in The Soft Skin (1964) where Pierre Lachenay, a publisher and scholar known from his TV appearances, gets obsessed with Nicole, a flight attendant, and starts an affair with her. Pierre has a sort of budding butterball look. He could be the Pillsbury Doughboy’s French father. He is smart, yet bland. He’s married to an attractive woman and they have a young daughter whom he dotes on. He doesn’t hate his life, but when he sees Nicole on a flight, he becomes smitten.

He later sees her at a hotel and follows her to find out her room. It’s a bit stalker-ish, but not quite. Nicole who’s probably half Pierre’s age is interested. She hasn’t experience romantic love and is in awe of Pierre’s success.

Throughout the film Pierre and Nicole have difficulty meeting up. Their rendezvous always go awry. Perhaps an old friend meets Pierre and asks to go for a drink. He’ll respond that he must drive back to Paris and the friend will say that’s where he wants to go and figures they can drive together. All the while Nicole’s twiddling her fingers back at the hotel where they’re staying. Such obstacles crop up again and again. Ever nervous, Pierre bungles along with his poor plans and lies. Yes, Nicole is young, beautiful and energetic, but having the affair is offset by the stress of lies and running around only to be thwarted.

Eventually Franca Pierre’s wife realizes something’s off. After awhile Franca gives up on the marriage and asks for a divorce. Freed, Pierre agrees, but he soon finds that breaking with Franca does not lead to bliss in a new posh apartment with Nicole.

The film is beautiful and Truffaut’s direction is sophisticated and engaging. He films intimacy in such a classy, real way. He shows affairs as they really are, not all romance, not all due to a horrible spouse. Infidelity certainly doesn’t lead to a blissful new romance and a break with past problems.

The Black River

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Mask Kobayashi paints a bleak picture of Tokyo during the 1950s in The Black River. Set in a neighborhood beside a U.S. Army base, Kobayashi shows how Japan’s become corrupt. When Nishida, an upright student/bookseller, moves into a decrepit apartment building that’s more of a shanty than a building, we meet a motley crew consisting of parasites, prostitutes and a couple good guys who don’t stand a chance of fighting city hall given that most of their neighbors would sell out their own mother given the chance.

Soon both Nishida and Killer Joe, a Japanese low level gangster, fall for Shizuko, a lovely, innocent young woman. Joe shows his colors early on by ordering his hoodlum pals to attack Shizuko. It seems they’re going to rape her, but Joe happens by and fights them off. He professes his love and while Shizuko is briefly wooed, Joe then forces himself on her and she’s reviled. The next day Shizuko visits Joe to tell him she was going to report him to the police, but decided she’d be willing to marry him to salvage her reputation. What a sacrifice! It’s hard to believe that a woman would even have to consider such an option, but in some times and places that’s how people thought.

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Meanwhile Joe’s plotting with the greedy landlady to evict the residents of the shanty. Both will make out like bandits if they can get the not-so-beautiful losers out of the place.

The film then criticizes the greed, pettiness and lack of morality in society without blaming the problems on the American Army.The Black River shows how the characters contribute to their own troubles. Certainly, Shizuko was a victim in many ways, but she winds up but her choices also lead to an end where I saw no happily ever after for her.

Salesman

I was mesmerized by the Iranian film Salesman. I saw it on my flight to Chicago and it was the first Iranian film I’d seen. In Salesman, a young married couple must flee their apartment which is collapsing due to some structural problems. The couple are currently starring in a production of Death of a Salesman and another actor offers to let them stay in an apartment he owns.

From the time they move in they’re inconvenienced by the former tenant, who’s left a lot of her things there. She’s a pain because she breaks promises to get her belongings and she won’t pick up her phone, etc.

This woman brings much more trouble when Rana, the young wife, buzzes in a person who she thinks is her husband. She opens the door and goes to take a shower. Little does she know that she’s just let a man who will brutally attack and rape her. It turns out that the previous tenant was a prostitute.

The film does not show the attack. We see Rana open the door and go to the shower and then we cut to Emad, her husband, arriving and seeing blood on the steps. Then he finds his wife beaten and bruised cared for by the new neighbors.

The film continues to deal with the aftermath. Rana doesn’t want to go to the police. She doesn’t believe any good will come from it. But Emad, who feels he’s failed to protect his wife, wants justice. He seeks the attacker, but not in a Hollywood way. As Rana tries to get on with life and as Emad seeks justice, the story is interspersed with scenes where Emad plays Willy Loman and Rana plays his wife. The film is poignant and emotional is a realistic way. The acting was superb and convinced me to find more films by this director or with these actors.

I found this a captivating look at the lives of Iranians, a people, I confess I know little about.

Fr. Laurence, Why?

For my online book club we read Romeo and Juliet, which my students are now reading as well. Once I get to Act 4, I want to just ask Friar Laurence why on earth he thought this plan with Juliet taking a sleeping drug would work. Why not tell her parents, Friar? Since she’s already consummated her marriage to Romeo, wouldn’t the Capulets and the Montagues have to make the best of things?

The Friar even tells Paris he doesn’t like the hasty marriage to Juliet. That’s a great start. Just tell the truth or if he’s such a coward, tell the parents they have to wait a certain amount of time after Tybalt’s death to marry. Then have them tell the truth. One of them would get the courage to.

I realize Shakespeare took the story from another source, a poem by Arthur Brooke and he saw that it had a lot of powerful elements, but there are some glaring mistakes in the plot.

You’re Ugly Too

Like Paper Moon and Zazie dan le Métro, You’re Ugly Too pairs a young girl, who isn’t so innocent, with a criminal who’s not used to children, forcing them both to connect. An Irish film, You’re Ugly Too follows Stacy who’s 11 and whose mother has recently died. Her Uncle Will gets released from prison to care for Stacy, his niece. Stacey’s wary and cynical. Uncle Will tries to cure her of her cursing and spitting. He takes her to live in a caravan her mother owned where they meet Emilie, a neighbor who comes pounding on their door seeking protection from her husband’s abusive friends.

Will soon discovers that due to her trauma and grief, Stacey has narcolepsy. A doctor prescribes stimulants, which Will is soon downing on the sly. A bureaucratic issue prevents Stacey from going to the local school. Since she was a teacher in Belgium, Emilie offers to tutor Stacey. The girl sees this just as a ploy to get near her uncle and tries some matchmaking. Oddly enough Emilie’s husband doesn’t care whom his wife sleeps with as that gives him permission to do as he pleases. Yet in the end Emilie turns out to be less reliable than any of the characters.

Stacey, played by Lauren Kinsella, and Aiden Gillen’s Will are both emotional porcupines, but I was drawn to them because they were so real, so scarred. By the end of the film they aren’t hugging and healed, but you could see they did love each other and did belong with each other.

The cinematography is terrific as it takes a bland, stark landscape and makes it dramatic. The film’s haunting and different, definitely worth your time.

 

 

 

Certified Copy

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Starring Juliette Binoche and William Schimell Certified Copy intrigues and perplexes as it shows us a man, who’s a writer, and a woman, who’s an art dealer, who look at life and marriage in very different ways. I can’t say it tells a story because the film breaks with the fundamental conventions of storytelling. By the end, you’re unsure whether the characters are married or not, what’s real and what is an act. Most of what you’re told about them, about what they say about themselves, proves to be untrue or questionable.

Yet because the director switches things up as the woman, who’s unnamed, and James Miller, the hero, spend a day flirting and testing each other. Throughout the film I was intrigued and its one that still makes me think about life and films.

This trailer is misleading. It promises a flirtatious romance, but Certified Copy is a challenging look at expectations and relationships. It’s completely unlike any drama or romance you’ve seen as it portrays distance and pain so powerfully.

If you can’t take a film that plays with your mind, that gets curiouser and curiouser or deviates from the well worn path of story structure as set in stone by Hollywood, Certified Copy isn’t for you. But if you like to be intrigued or enjoy compelling performances and want to explore marriage, it just may be.

The Distinguished Citizen

The Distinguished Citizen is one bold movie that answer the question “Can you go home again?” as well as the question “Should you?” From Argentina, it’s the story of a Nobel Prize winning writer, Daniel Mantovani who’s been turning down invitations to speak left and right. He’s dropped out of the literary circle and he hasn’t returned to his home town in decades.

For some reason, he does accept an invitation from the mayor of his hometown to participate in a series of cultural events. It’s not for nostalgia or to see family since both his parents have died long ago. He’s been questioning fame, literary awards, writing and culture for some time. His ideas are unique and not easy to take so you expect trouble when he gets back home, and you’re right to do so.

Mantovani lives in a sleek, ultra modern home in Barcelona. While he’s not lavish in his tastes, it’s clear that he’s sophisticated and used to his travels going smoothly. From the time he arrives at the airport, a six hours drive from his town, things are off. The mayor sent an irresponsible driver whose car is a beater to pick Montovani up. The rust bucket does break down in the middle of nowhere on a “short cut” and the driver doesn’t have a cell phone. We’re set to expect a terrible time for this trip.

Though his assistant has secretly written the town and hotel with a list of his usual requests, e.g. a latex mattress, taboo questions, special food, he seems embarrassed and doesn’t care or want such things. So we figure Montovani won’t be a bad guest who needs to learn something from his former neighbors and friends, which is the usual way such films move.

Montovani is no angel and in fact can be hard to like. He brings a lot of problems on himself like when a teenage groupie throws herself at him in his hotel room. He soon learns she’s the daughter of his former girlfriend who’s married one of his childhood friends.

The film’s full of bold, controversial lines about culture, i.e. how it’s not necessarily a fragile, feeble thing that needs our protection. I didn’t necessarily agree with Montovani all the time, but he made me think and The Distinguished Citizen kept me interested from the start.

 

 

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