Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
Startling is all I can say about The Young Girls of Rochefort, Jacques Demy’s 1967 follow-up (on DVD) to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). This musical, which also stars Gene Kelly in a French role (!), features the exquisite Françoise Dorléac, who plays Catherine Deneuve’s “twin” sister. Like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg this picture is almost entirely in song. What’s remarkable is that the now-forgotten and slightly older Dorléac was a star before the estimable Deneuve – France’s greatest living actress – was. In fact had it not been for Dorléac it’s questionable if Deneuve ever would have got a break in movies. Tragically, Dorléac was killed in an auto accident. It must have been very shortly after this movie was made, since her death occurred in June 1967.
Mostly Martha (Sandra Nettelbeck, Germany 2001), on DVD, is the kind of film that rarely gets made on this side of the Atlantic – a romantic movie that isn’t cutesy and is for adults. Martha is played by Martina Gedeck, one of Germany’s most versatile actresses who has had roles in such high profile films as The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2007) and The Baadar Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, 2008). In this role Martha is an exacting gourmet chef cooking in one of Hamburg’s chicest restaurants. But she is so self-absorbed in her singleness and career she has no time for others, such as her pre-teen niece, who comes to live with her after her mother dies tragically. Martha must reconcile her attitude towards the child. Meanwhile she’s challenged at work when the resto hires a new chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto). She is both threatened and resentful of his appearance. Fair-minded that he is, Mario offers to leave. But Martha comes around. And his eventual romancing opens her to a world beyond herself. Castellitto is great and it’s a shame he’s not in more pictures (I could find only three).
The Salt of Life, recently at the DFT, is directed by and stars Gianni Di Gregorio, a 60-something would-be lothario if his character, Giovanni, wasn’t stuck in a long-boring marriage. You’ve got to wonder whether this movie was simply Di Gregorio’s own fantasy about making love to any number of young nubile women. The movie is a disappointment because the theme - yawn! - has been done many times before. Di Gregorio has added nothing new to the perspective of late middle aged lust, or angst, for that matter. Disappointing that the DFT brought this in and you’ve to wonder what artistic importance it saw in it.
And, finally, Gilda (on DVD), Charles Vidor’s 1946 noirish crime classic about a nightclub girl Gilda played by the 1940’s uber-bombshell Rita Hayworth (above). She and Glenn Ford (Johnny Farrell) are magnificent together (Hayworth preferred to act opposite him compared to any other actor). I had to laugh because the movie is set in Argentina against the backdrop of local corruption. And the day before I watched it Argentina’s current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had just nationalized a Spanish oil company.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Lasse Hallström) at Landmark’s Main is what you might expect – an offbeat romantic comedy that not surprisingly comes from the British, who specialize in absurd humour. It has a stellar cast in Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott Thomas (or KST as I like to call her). The story is exactly what the title says it is: about an attempt to export thousands upon thousands of salmon from the wilds of northern Britain to the Yemen, the desert country in the Middle East and, let’s face it, a highly unlikely place to fish, well, salmon. McGregor plays Dr. Alfred Jones, a straight-laced fisheries expert who is recruited by Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, a high-powered investment banker whose client is a rich Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) and who also happens to be an obsessed salmon fly fisherman (he has a mansion in Scotland, natch). Sheikh Muhammad wants not only to introduce the sport to his fellow Yemenis but sees this as an effort at cross-cultural understanding. Needless to say British authorities think the project absurd, and that’s not counting the country’s legions of fly fishermen. Or as Patricia Maxwell (KST), the prime minister’s press secretary says, the “gentle fishing folk aren’t so fucking gentle after all.” The PM gets involved when the British government sees the idea as a way to promote British-Arab cooperation at a time of bad news from the war in Afghanistan. With natural salmon no longer a possibility our heroes turn to farmed salmon. But Dr. Jones doesn’t think they’ll run uphill and spawn. One of the best parts of this movie, intentional or not, is the spin-doctoring that goes on in the PM’s office, trying to put the best possible light on events by playing close attention to opinion polls, and making sure photo ops wring out the most emotional content for the folks back home. It’s enough to make you never look at any government’s actions in the same way again. But KST, now solidly middle aged, is starting to become slightly typecast as the bitchy control freak boss (as per Christine in the movie Love Crime (Alain Courneau 2010). However, in the process she does get some fantastic zingers in as per the line above. Needless to say Dr. Jones and Chetwode-Talbot fall in love, as in the case of opposites attracting. Despite the subject of the Middle East there’s really no comment on the state of current day politics. If anything, the moviegoer comes away feeling a little warm and fuzzy after watching this good-natured attempt to bridge two cultures.
Friday, April 6, 2012
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies) at Landmark's Main in Royal Oak, is a studied, highly character-driven drama about unrequited love. But the twist (based on a novel by Terence Rattigan) is that unrequited love is happening on two fronts and in kind of boomerang fashion. Hester (Rachel Weisz) is cheating on her husband William (Simon Russell Beale), a prominent judge, with former RAF pilot Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). The setting is dreary post-war London, the streets still torn apart from bombing during the Blitz. When her affair is found out Rachel makes no apologies to "Bill" who angrily says he will refuse a divorce. It's hard to understand what Hester finds so attractive in the rather commonplace Freddie, who drinks, replays the war over and over including making airplane sounds in a pub, and who's apparently happiest when he defeats a friend at golf, meanwhile forgetting Hester's birthday. Perhaps it's that old animal attraction. One thing's for sure: Rachel Weisz is one beautiful woman. And, while cultured, her character in the end is not even good enough for the Philistine Freddie. Meanwhile William apologizes for his earlier behaviour - "anger fades and is replaced by regret" - and very much wants her back. But Hester's heart is not in it. The movie is full of close-ups usually of just one or two characters in scenes permeated with rich dark often grainy tones. This could be a stage play. I'm always suspect of close-up shots in period movies because it means the director couldn't be bothered (or didn't have the money) to create larger realistic scenes. The acting is adequate and Weisz is particularly good. But the best scenes, or scene, is an elongated shot, when Hester, waiting at a tube station, fantasizes about what the station was like as a bomb shelter during the war. The camera tracks along the Aldwych station (now closed but long used in films, I've learned) platform and shows dozens of Londoners from every social class standing, sitting, singing, or playing cards, as they wait out the bombing. Hester, emotionally-fragile from the whole sordid arrangement, is the ultimate loser. Her cynical mother-in-law's advice seems to sum up the theme: "Beware of passion," the older woman says, since it always leads to tragedy. The film isn't a barrel of laughs and seems even claustrophobic for those who like probing the subtleties of relationships. It perhaps works best for keeners, like those who would be absorbed by the self-destruction of Sylvia Plath.