I first watched this some years ago and recently had the chance to watch it again, and Agnès Varda’s CLÉO FROM 5 TO 7 is just as good, if not better, as I remembered. As the title suggests, the film follows its protagonist in real-time, from the hours of 5 to 7 o’clock. She tries on hats, meets with a lover, sings some songs, drives around with a friend. But her activities are just distractions as she waits to hear possibly devastating news from a doctor. It’s this duality between her exterior and interior experiences that creates the conflict of the story. On the surface, Cléo is shallow and girlish, and to be fair she’s a bit shallow under the surface as well. But only the audience is privy to the very real fears that manifest as superstitions and upsets, and get dismissed by the other characters as mood swings. It’s a nuanced exploration of the kind of person—frivolous for one, female for another—who is rarely taken seriously, let alone laid bare in all her flaws and strengths and contradictions. Character study aside, the film is also steeped in French New Wave style, but the kind of playful camera rule-breaking that’s fun and surprising, and never tedious. With all of that being said, in case you can’t tell, I love this film. I feel pretty confident in calling it my favorite New Wave film, full stop.

cleofrom5to7


Akira Kurosawa’s first color film is a collection of stories set in a slum. Bookended by a young man who thinks he drives a trolley through the squalor, it’s full of characters who find ways of getting by. The stories range from light and humorous (I adored the two color-coded couples who swap husbands) to the macabre. The most memorable, and certainly most grotesquely theatrical, imagery comes from a homeless father and son who dream of their ideal home while things fall apart. Some of the plots are more engaging than others, but most of it I enjoyed. And though the stylistic combination of realism and fantasy can be disorienting, it mirrors the duality of the characters’ lives. Sometimes they live in grime and decay. Sometimes they live in exuberantly painted backdrops that are like the bright children’s drawings in the “trolley” conductor’s home. Kurosawa’s first use of color may be over the top at times, but you won’t hear me complain.

dodeskaden


519. Close-Up

21Feb14

Documentaries aren’t always my cup of tea, but then, there aren’t many documentaries like Abbas Kiarostami’s CLOSE-UP. Combining real events and fiction, the film chronicles the trial of Hossain Sabzian, who has been charged with impersonating the popular director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. But why? The family that invites him into their home, thinking they will star in his next film, assumes he intended to rob them. Yet it soon becomes clear that the reasons for his deception are much more complex, and speak to themes of identity, creativity, self-worth, and the transcendent power of film. At one point, I found myself identifying so strongly with Sabzian, that I had to step back and make sure I wasn’t projecting my own motives. The most fascinating scenes are when the film’s subjects actually reenact their own events, adding another layer of cinematic distance that somehow manages to reveal more truth. Moving and engrossing, I really can’t recommend it enough.

close-up


First of all, a shout out to my dad for buying this one for me. Thanks, Dad!

Harold Lloyd, the other-other silent comedy film star, plays an everyman trying to make it in the big city so he can marry his sweetheart. The first half of the movie pokes fun at his low-wage retail job, his snooty boss, his trusting girlfriend, and other such clichés. But the film doesn’t come alive until the second half, when Harold Lloyd (for reasons that don’t really matter) must scale a building. I don’t think I’ve ever been so anxious during a stunt sequence. I could literally feel my heart pounding as he encounters every obstacle one can fathom meeting on the side of a building, with the distant ground level frequently in frame. The highlight, of course, is the iconic hanging-from-a-clock scene, which has been copied and referenced in countless other films and—I swear I didn’t imagine this—a recent makeup commercial. It’s a memorable image that deserves its legendary status, but it’s the entire nail-biting climb from sidewalk to rooftop that makes SAFETY LAST! such an enjoyable classic.

safetylast


314. Pickpocket

26Dec13

Robert Bresson’s PICKPOCKET tells the story of a young petty thief who believes himself above the law. He tries to live outside of society and away from the law’s grasp, and doesn’t realize that what he actually seeks is redemption. If that premise sounds familiar to you, then perhaps you’ve also recently read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It happens that I finished the novel only months before seeing this film, and was not expecting the two to be related. But Bresson’s film unfolds like a loose adaptation, working with a very different setup but trading in the same themes of isolation, sin, and eventual grace. The style is sparse and unsentimental, almost as disconnected as the protagonist himself. But the shining moments are the actual scenes of pickpocketing, beautifully filmed and choreographed like a particularly suspenseful ballet.

pickpocket


Years after the war, concentration camp survivor Lucia happens upon the hotel where former Nazi officer Max is now working and hiding. They are launched into memories of their prior sadomasochistic relationship, then rekindle it over themes of repression, passion, shame, and shamelessness. Liliana Cavani’s THE NIGHT PORTER refuses to meet expectation—I spent most of the film trying to understand the characters and being wrong. That’s partially due to the writing, which gives very little background to the two lovers or insight into what they’re feeling at any given moment. But it’s also the innate complexity of sexual power dynamics intersecting with historical power dynamics, and a film that’s more interested in provoking than analyzing. Weeks later, I’m still not sure I’ve formed any definite opinions on it. But the story is absorbing, the performances are electric, and the iconic half-nude-half-SS-uniform cabaret scene is worth it alone.

nightporter


Halloween really is the perfect holiday for a film blog. Last year I paid tribute with ROSEMARY’S BABY, and this year I sat down with Andy Warhol’s BLOOD FOR DRACULA, a film by Paul Morrissey that has nothing to do with Andy Warhol beyond his name. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen its sister film, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, and I don’t remember much about it other than disliking it. So it’s difficult for me to make comparisons. But either BLOOD FOR DRACULA is the much better film, or my expectations have changed over the years. Possibly the latter. I went into this ready for something painfully bad, and was surprised to discover a cohesive narrative and passable acting, with some beautiful sets and lighting, and of course a lot of delightful gore, nudity, and humor. Udo Kier makes for an otherworldly and oddly sympathetic Dracula, who needs virgin blood to stay alive but can’t seem to find any virgins. His rival, played by Joe Dallesandro, is a working class and sexually liberated upstart, which would make him the protagonist in any other film except that he’s also an asshole (and can’t really act). The result is some convoluted and heavy-handed political themes, but that only adds to the camp, which finds its fullest expression in the never-ending sequences of projectile-vomited blood.

So, what do you think I should watch next year?

bloodfordracula


LE CERCLE ROUGE is the second Melville film I’ve seen, and like LE SAMOURAÏ, it’s a stylish crime drama with ultra-cool antiheroes and very little dialog. It follows the paths of a recently released thief, an escaped criminal, and a tortured ex-cop who team up to execute a carefully crafted jewelry heist. At their heels is an equally adept and determined detective. The progression of chance events that bring the four characters together slowly unfold with a strong sense of fatalism. And the mood is set with dreary colors, simple and effective camerawork, and understated acting. It all culminates in an extended robbery scene, definitely the highlight of the film, carried out in dead silence and completely absorbing. Oh, and special mention goes to the star of the film, Alain Delon’s mustache.

lecerclerouge


Although it’s a film about the legal system and the social climate of the 1950s, there is nothing about 12 ANGRY MEN that feels dated. Sidney Lumet’s directorial debut takes place entirely in one afternoon and one jury room, where twelve men must decide the fate of a teenager who has allegedly murdered his father. Eleven are certain of his guilt; one is unsure. It’s that small uncertainty that sets up the simple conflict of the story, and plays out in the most riveting, nuanced manner. In different hands, such a straightforward film could easily turn stale. But clever camerawork, intelligent dialogue, and the slow reveal of information makes the entire journey as entertaining as it is provoking, and easily one of the best courtroom dramas I’ve seen.

12angrymen


635. Weekend

30Jun13

Weekends are two days long. And so, here is part two of my special WEEKEND double feature!

I’m not even going to try saying anything too insightful about Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 film WEEKEND, the film that declares itself to be “the end of cinema.” It’s a sprawling, violent, scathing, traffic-jam of a film, following a loathsome bourgeois couple as they cross the French countryside to claim a dying father’s inheritance. The world, as Godard envisions it, is an endless road to nowhere, littered with flaming car wrecks, corpses, and cultural debris. Mixed into this are long Marxist tirades and revolutionary manifestos, which may possibly be the most heartfelt segments of the film, but I wouldn’t know because they’re so tedious they’re nearly unwatchable. Other scenes are much more entertaining, and many of them are darkly hilarious, and it probably says something that the most enjoyable bits are also the most violent and satirical. But as I said, on this one, I’m leaving the analysis to others.

weekend1967




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers