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From Young Mr. Lincoln

A taste of Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln.

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Weeping for Morwenna

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This week Morwenna was a pawn in George Warleggan’s cruel machinations. At first he was clueless and thought His cousin-in-law Morwenna must be bored in Nampara. Far with from it. She was having the time of her life with Dwight and their young chaperone, Geoffrey Charles.

George goes nuts when he hears toads on his property. We later learn that as a boy, Ross terrorized George by putting toads down his trousers. (A tad contrived, but okay.) He makes his servant Tom get rid of every toad in his pond. It’s an impossible task since Dwight and Geoffrey Charles have such fun filling the pond with toads as Morwenna looks on forgetting that she may be wed to an odious toad. The writing was such that I continually thought I was watching a train wreck.

Ross received a letter from Aunt Agatha and raced to see her. Unaware that George and Elizabeth came back to Cornwall and were upstairs in bed eating strawberries, Ross snuck in Trenwith and checked in on Aunt Agatha who’s looking forward to her birthday. She will soon be the Poldark to live the longest . . . if George doesn’t kill her.

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Such a favorite, Aunt Agatha

Dwight suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after his time imprisoned in France. It’s no wonder after all the suffering and violence he’s seen. Yet Caroline expects him to be as happy to be back as she’s happy to have him. So there’s a growing divide. Hugh Armitage seems to be coping much better and Ross brought him to talk to Dwight. It seems that Ross could have talked to Dwight, but I suppose Hugh needed to be introduced into the story. By the end of the episode, Dwight opened up to Caroline so hopefully they’ll be fine.

Tom, George’s servant, spies Morwenna swooning around Dwight when he tries to apprehend Dwight, but fails. Afraid to report back to George, Tom tattles on Morwenna so she can take the heat. George, who’s married up, won’t hear of his in-law marrying down or even fraternizing down. Just by spending time with Drake, Morwenna seems to have become “damaged goods.” She acts like she’s upset, but we can tell she’s relieved not to have to marry sleazy Osborne, whom Ross and Demelza saw exiting a brothel in the Red Light District of town.

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Morwenna

George is all about vengeance and spite. A pettier character, I’ve never seen. He wants to punish Geoffrey Charles, for his wise remarks and even more for his part in the toad episode, so he’s sending him off to Harrow, a boarding school. Then they won’t need Morwenna, whom they’re going to send back home.

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Carrot Top (Poil de Carrote) 1932

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Written and directed by Julian Duvivier, Poil de Carrote or Carrotop (1932) will grab your heart. It’s the story of a boy whose mother has no love for him, while she spoils and adores his older siblings Felix and Ernestine, Carrot Top is the family’s Cinderella, who has to do all the chores and is the only person in the home, including the maid, who wears rags.

When the film opens, Carrot Top is getting scolded for writing a school essay stating, “A family is a group of people forced to live together under one roof who cannot stand each other.” His teacher tells him that all mothers and fathers love their children. The teacher clearly hasn’t met Mr. and Mrs. Lepic. Carrot Top has to call his parents Mr. and Mrs. Lepic and he’s absolutely right when he tries to convince his teacher that not all families are like Norman Rockwell paintings. Throughout this debate we see how smart and witty Carrot Top is.

Just as predicted, when Carrot Top arrives in his home town from boarding school, no one’s there to pick him up from the train station. When he gets home, the abuse and trouble begin. At every chance the stern Mrs. Lepic ridicules and overworks her son, who it’s well know was an “accident.” Mr. Lepic has withdrawn from home life and just doesn’t see what’s going on. He lives in his own world surviving by ignoring everything around him.

Only the new maid, Annette sees the injustice and hardship Carrot Top faces. His only other allies are the little girl he plans to marry and his good natured godfather who offers solace, but doesn’t intervene till the very end.

As the story progresses, Carrot Top’s upbeat attitude erodes. His shrew of a mother who looks for every chance to make life hard for Carrot Top is just too much. It breaks his spirit to see children his age in town who’re in nice clothes and are allowed to play.

Robert Lynen gives a realistic, sincere performance that shows amazing emotional range. Poil de Carrote was his first film. I learned from Criterion Collection’s essay, that Lynen joined the French Resistance in his 20s and was caught and executed by the Nazi’s.

I chose this film because I saw that Harry Baur of Les Misérables played the father. Again he provides an excellent, sensitive performance.

While I’d never heard of this story, Poil de Carrote began as a novel, then was a play, a silent film directed by Julian Duvivier, who made this film. Through the years, Poil de Carrote has been adapted numerous times into TV programs, cartoons and other films.

Wings

bulgakova_wings_movieReleased in 1966 Wings, a story of a Russian female heroic fighter pilot long after she’s been able to fly sounded like an intriguing film. As a Criterion Collection film I had not sky-high, but high hopes. It’s the story of an unmarried woman who’s isolated from those around her. Though she’s a mother (of a daughter who doesn’t know she’s adopted), a high school principal who’s dedicated to her school and students, and the lover of a museum director, the main character is emotionally distant from everyone around her.

Her life isn’t bad, but she’s very isolated. She talks with her lover about her estrangement with her daughter and she talks in passing with people at work about a boy who got in trouble and has now run away, but the conversation is superficial.

While I gave the movie a chance and wouldn’t call it bad, because the heroine was so removed from everyone else and we never saw the main problems like the boy’s flight from his dormitory, I never got caught up in the story. So the artistry escaped me.

I can’t recommend Wings, but perhaps I’ve missed something.

Poldark Returns!

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Drama lovers, history buffs and anglophiles, Poldark has returned to Sunday nights for its third season. Sunday brought what in the UK would be episode 3, but here is episode 2. Demelza and Ross are still in love, but Ross’ headstrong ways still make life hard for Demelza. I’m glad to see she’s got the strength to carry on no matter how obstinate Ross gets. And I’m thankful that at least occasionally, Ross tells her that he’s over Elizabeth and praises Demelza as she’s due.

George Warleggan has grown more prosperous and more pompous as he now is a Justice of the Peace. Woe, to the poor person brought before his court. Unless you’re rich, you don’t stand a chance at justice.

Elizabeth has had a new child, Valentine, whom George believes is his, but Elizabeth knows is Ross’ from another instance of Ross’ foolishness at the end of last season. Elizabeth staged a premature birth by pretending to fall down a staircase. At first she doesn’t want to bond with the baby, but as she comes to align herself more with George  she also accepts Valentine.

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Drake, Morwenna, and Sam

We’ve got a few new characters already. Elizabeth’s young cousin Morwenna is brought to the house to mind Geoffrey Charles, who’s probably about 10 and has gotten quite perceptive and witty in a way George doesn’t appreciate. If George has his way Geoffrey will soon be off to boarding school.

Also after Demelza’s father dies, her two brothers Sam and Drake come to town. Drake soon develops feelings for Morwenna, who at first is tentative because Drake is clearly low born. Sam’s a very pious Methodist and that causes trouble. George insists that Sam and his followers are kicked out of the nearby church. How Christian of you, George! Soon Demelza finds an unused farm building and since Ross is away lets Sam use it for his church.

Where is Ross? He’s gone to France to look for Dwight who’s ship has been captured or lost, no one knows at first. France is in the throws of Jacobin violence. As Caroline and Dwight eloped as her uncle lay on his death bed, Caroline is, of course, beside herself with worry all the while worrying about her love. Rightly so, as in France, they’re killing first and asking questions . . . well, never.

The drama has been true to the original book series and offers romance and drama with complex characters and exquisite scenery and costumes. I do miss Jud’s whinging ways, but with three new characters and more to come, I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

Sole, Cuore, Amore

Sole, Cuero, Amore or Sun, Heart Love is an Italian movie about Eli, a woman who’s burdened with supporting her husband and four children with a job in a café that requires a 4 hour commute each way. Eli is bright and engaging. She’s great at her job, as a mother and a wife. Her husband’s unemployed but says he’ll probably get a job as a nightwatchman this month, or next. Meanwhile Eli wakes up at 4:30 am every morning and has to placate a boss when she’s late because the bus broke down or she missed a station since she’s so exhausted.

Another key character is Vale, a single woman, who’s Eli’s neighbor and friend. Vale’s a dancer and has her share of troubles, but they really don’t compare to Eli’s. The two are strong, smart, beautiful women, facing hardship.

I admired how though she got angry, Eli was always fair towards her boss and kids. She was more than fair towards her husband, whom we don’t see getting new work skills or pounding the pavement rather than waiting for this job to materialize.

The film could certainly be depressing, but Isabella Ragonese’s performance was so magnetic, that she saved the film. I want to run out and watch every film she’s in.

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.

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.

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