Movie Roundup, End of Year Edition
Hard to believe it was back in June when I did the last one of these. I see by our Netflix history that we’ve had 27 rentals since then, and there have been a few from other sources, so I’m not going to mention all of them, just the ones that made a strong impression one way or the other. I’m also leaving out a few, like Wild Strawberries, that I’ve written about separately.
The Queen. As good as people have said.
The Passenger. I’ve now exhausted most of the Antonioni available at Netflix. This one is not in a class with his best (e.g. L’Avventura), but it’s very good. As always with Antonioni, there are some wonderful images. I’ll want to see it again sometime.
Band of Outsiders (French Bande à Part). Except for a barely-remembered viewing of Weekend in the late ‘60s, this is my first exposure to Godard. I really can’t justify it, but something about this movie got under my skin, some kind of early ‘60s sense of possibility. Considering it objectively, I don’t think it’s really that great, but there’s something wistfully charming about it. Or maybe I just fell for Anna Karina. Anyway, I think this was the first Netflix rental that I couldn’t send back without watching it a second time. There is a dance scene which I thought was wonderful—and I’m not one to admire dance scenes—and which I’ve learned since is quite famous.
Invaders from Mars. Yet another instance of my fascination with early ‘50s sci-fi. Pretty awful. Somewhat similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but not nearly as good.
The Leopard. Visconti’s version of Lampedusa’s highly regarded novel, which I have not read. Lavishly well done, but I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for it. Interesting performance by Burt Lancaster as the Prince; I was disappointed to learn that his Italian was dubbed.
Loves of a Blonde (Czech Lásky Jedné Plavovlásky). The seduction and abandonment of a naïve factory girl set in the dreary world of socialist industrialism. The pathos is almost unbearable. It’s very good but so painful that I don’t think I’ll want to see it again.
White Nights (Italian Le Notte Bianche). Visconti again; very beautiful imagery, and an opera-like melodramatic romance. Worth seeing for anyone who likes black-and-white photography, but basically rather slight.
The Fast Runner. This was another one of my wife’s selections which I probably would never have picked, but which I ended up liking. It’s a drama set among the Inuit people and is almost three hours long. I can’t stay awake for a three-hour movie unless it’s really good, or at least really exciting, and I didn’t think I was going to make it through the long slow opening of this one. But it sort of picks up after the first hour and a half or so. The window onto Inuit culture and the Arctic environment alone make it worth watching, and the plot is good, though a bit frustrating for me (and my wife had the same opinion): I found the opening setup—past events which are going to be worked out in the rest of the story—extremely confusing, which meant that some of the later parts were also confusing. And, although it’s embarrassing to admit this, I had trouble telling some of the characters apart. I know, that sounds bad, but it wasn’t just that they all have the same eye, hair, and skin color—they’re also wearing very similar heavy parkas almost all the time, except for when they’re wearing almost nothing.
But it’s worth seeing in spite of all that. Really. I guess I should note, for those with young children who might wonder if theirs would find the exotic subject matter interesting: no, it’s not for children. Inuit culture is not cuddly.
Down by Law. Even relatively casual American film buffs are very well aware of this one, I’m sure, but I had never seen it. It’s a good story, but what’s unforgettable about it to me, and what I’d like to watch over and over, are the opening scenes of New Orleans. As I’ve probably said (and is anyway probably obvious) I love black-and-white photography/filmography, and it doesn’t get any better. Those scenes really capture something about New Orleans, too.
The Star Maker (Italian L'Uomo Delle Stelle). Another wife pick. This one really took me by surprise. For the first half or so I thought I was watching one of those charming bittersweet stories about life in rustic Italy (actually Sicily, I think), maybe a little like Il Postino or Christ Stopped at Eboli or maybe even The Tree of Wooden Clogs. But this takes a darker turn. A con man wanders through the villages claiming to be a talent scout and charging people to photograph them for what he claims is a screen test, but of course they never hear from him again. Without revealing anything essential, I’ll just give you two hints: there is a beautiful girl named Beata, and at a crucial point one of the con-man’s victims, a police official, insists on a screen test for which he chooses to recite Dante (I think). Whether intentional or not—and the quoting from Dante makes me think it is intentional—there are some definite religious implications here.
I’m a little hesitant to recommend this, partly because of two over-explicit sex scenes, but more importantly because the events become very painful. If you haven’t seen it, consider it, but also consider yourself warned. I slept very badly after watching it.
Metropolitan. As with Down by Law, most people who have an interest in American films outside the usual Hollywood run are familiar with this. I’d been wanting to see it for a while. It’s been compared to Jane Austen in its ability to use the rather small doings of well-to-do people as a way of pointing to something more substantial, and that seems accurate. But just as a matter of personal taste it isn’t something I’d be in a hurry to see again.
10 Items or Less. This one was borrowed from my daughter Ellen and her husband. It’s in every way a small film, but one of those which is far more appealing than any description could communicate. It’s the sort of thing that might be called a feel-good movie, but not in any sappy or sentimental way. Morgan Freeman plays a semi-retired actor considering a semi-comeback role in a small film very much like this one and is doing a bit of on-site research at a supermarket in a heavily Latin area of Los Angeles. A delightful Spanish actress, Paz Vega, plays a checkout girl who is hilariously venomous about being stuck in the express lane. They spend the day together. They go home, each feeling a bit more encouraged about facing the next phase of his or her life. That’s it. But it’s great. There is a certain amount of very crude language, most of which is very justifiable in context. If you’re willing to put up with that, it’s a marvelous experience. Hint: if you like Napoleon Dynamite (I do) you may like this; not that it’s in any direct way similar, but it has a similar sort of charm (and I’m really trying hard not to use the word “quirky”). However, if you don’t laugh out loud the first time Paz Vega’s character speaks this may not be the movie for you.
Intervista and Juliet of the Spirits. These are both by Fellini, of course, and they’ve caused me to consider seriously the possibility that I don’t much like him. I saw 8½ years ago, in a dark print with murky sound, and it didn’t make much impression on me one way or the other. I saw Amarcord sometime in the ‘70s and remember liking it, although I don’t remember anything specific about it. I actively disliked most of Intervista. My wife didn’t even sit through it; she went off to do something else before it was even half over. I persevered, determined that there must be something worthwhile beyond the chaotic activity and manic people chattering incessantly but uninterestingly at high speed. In the end I liked two scenes: a very affecting one where the aged Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, playing themselves, watch themselves in the famous fountain scene from La Dolce Vita, and the ending sequence where…well, let’s just say some really weird stuff happens.
But Intervista is described as being eccentric even for Fellini, a sort of semi-autobiographical comment on life as a filmmaker. I was expecting more from Juliet. But here was the same incessant fluttering and chattering, and in addition a clumsy and somewhat dated Be Yourself sort of message. The best I can say for it is that it has some really arresting imagery. But as a complete work of art: thumbs down.
Winter Light. I was startled to learn that the Swedish title is The Communicants, which is probably better, although “winter light” certainly has its applicability and resonance. I saw this back in the ‘70s without really understanding it. I just finished watching our Netflix copy for the second time, and it’s magnificent. From the Christian point of view there is obviously a great deal to be said about this portrait of a Lutheran clergyman admitting to himself that he has lost his faith—far, far too much for me to try to go into here. So I’ll just say that almost every image and every line of dialog is pregnant with meaning. And that while Bergman was not a believer he understands what faith is about, what the implications of having or not having it are. The film seems to me very ambivalent on the subject, and certainly gives no comfort to atheists.Pre-TypePad