#97 - Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont)

note: article contains spoilers


 A Mirror

“Hors Satan” made enough of an impression on me that I had to look up more films of Bruno Dumont, and by no real logic I picked “Hadewijch” to watch next  - I think the only real reasoning for picking this one was that I kind of liked the poster. But also the odd title spiked my curiosity a little, and after watching the film last night I still didn’t know what it exactly meant. I noticed that both a major location and the protagonist where sometimes referred to by the name of Hadewijch in the film, but after the film was over a quick Google search revealed more.
It seems that Hadewijch is a name of a female medieval poet who probably came from wealth, was not a nun but had an obsessive love of God that she displayed in her poetry. All this is also very descriptive of Celine, the young protagonist of this film, only that Celine seems to be the contemporary incarnation of this character. And we meet Celine as she is living in the cloister with nuns who soon expel her because of her obsessive devotion to God that goes beyond the convent’s rulings, as she was endangering her own well being with religious penance. And as the film goes along we learn the nature and the extent of her religious fanaticism.

So even very early on it is obvious that Celine’s faith has a fanatical side to it but her struggle (something that every fanatic needs) seems to be purely psychological and primarily in the form of sexual repression. Celine meets a young Muslim boy named Yassine, who she likes quite a bit but refuses his more intimate advances. She proudly says that she is a virgin and plans to remain as such, declaring her love only for Christ and that she’s here for him. However Christ never comes.
I am very tempted here to go on a tangent about the film’s ending and what I think it all means, but as it’s the case with “Hors Satan” it is a very contemplative ending that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, both serving religious and atheist views. And for me the most fun part, and to a certain degree the point of a film like this, is to find your own interpretation of what it all means. But then again the fun part is also to discuss the meaning and hear what other people think of it. So in the spirit of discussion I will say what I got from this film, but I stress that this is by no means a definitive answer. I actually think that there is no such thing as a definitive answer that will serve all comers and that everyone will take away something else from a film like this. Anyway, what follows are of course heavy spoilers.

So my interpretation of the film is that Celine finds kinship in the religious zeal of Nassir (Yassine’s more radical brother) and interprets a sunny patch in the sky as a sign of God to help him. But there was no real sign of God and even when she does perform the terrorist act she is still lacking the closeness to God and (sexual) fulfillment that she thought she’d miraculously get, so Celine decides to kill herself. The blunt point here being that there is no God. However once she drowns she is rescued by David, meaning that you can’t have faith in God but can have faith in humanity. Because David did not only rescues her, which her God failed to do despite heavy duty prayers, but he can also give her what she actually needs (wink wink, nudge nudge).
Of course David’s last minute rescue could be interpreted as an act of God, but I guess that my more religiously skeptical convictions lead me towards this kind of interpretation. It is also worth noting that the only music that plays in this film is during these end scenes, giving them a more spiritual and a more emotional texture, which stylistically removes them ever so subtly from the bare realism of the rest of the film.

But as I said that was only my interpretation of a film that is by design meant to be like a mirror that reflects the values of the person that is watching it. And this means that just like “Hors Satan” this is a film that demands to be met halfway, you need to engage it and think about what’s going on, otherwise it will all seem pointless and frustrating. Personally I am loving these films, and my appetite for films like “Hadewijch” is only growing the more I am exposed to them.


Julie Sokolowski - Hadewijch / Celine
Yassine Salime - Yassine Chikh
Karl Sarafidis - Nassir Chikh
David Dewaele - David

Original language: French


#96 - Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini)

The Vital Growth

Even though all of Fellini's films that I've seen so far carry very similar subtextual values they seem to stylistically fall in to two camps. There’s the more stylistically exuberant approach like in “Amarcord” and “8½” and the more restrained and realism oriented style from his earlier films, like this film and “La Strada” (“La Dolce Vita” seems to fall somewhere in between these two camps). However all these films have roots in the Italian neo-realist movement, and upon closer inspection it is obvious the further Fellini’s career went along he diverged more and more from the limitations of this style.
And although I love every movie of his that I’ve seen so far, I find that restrictions of this kind on the imagination of any artist are somewhat ridiculous, unless they're self imposed. So in my eyes it is quite thrilling to see a director’s growth in the abilities of his artistic expression, and the five films of Fellini portray real stylistic growth and maturing. This is why I was so critical of Wes Anderson’s work in “Moonrise Kingdom” and more recently (and to a much more limited extent) of Inarritu as well in my “Biutiful” write-up. They simply seem to be in a rut with their films when compared to this - although Inarritu has made a clear step away from his prior films with “Biutiful”. However this is a somewhat unfair comparison because I am comparing them with a master director whose career spanned decades and they’re still very much in the middle of it.

But even in Fellini’s more stylistically similar films (and films that he made in close proximity) like “La Strada” and “Nights of Cabiria” there is obvious stylistic growth. Because when one compares “Nights of Cabria” to “La Strada” from a stylistic perspective it is clear that Fellini makes his first real steps towards that stylistic transition away from Italian neo-realism. It is still very much a film that is heavily influenced by the neo-realist sensibilities but the episodic narrative format of “La Dolce Vita” is already present here, although the episodes are much more tied together. But the most obvious divergence from any stylistic limitations is of course the unforgettable final shot of this film, which he reused in “La Dolce Vita” but in a completely different context and for a different impact.
However “Nights of Cabiria” is not just a vital film in the grand framework of Fellini’s oeuvre, it’s a film that more than ably stands on its own terms. It follows Cabiria, a lively prostitute on the streets Rome, through a series of episodes that lead to a masterfully built up and subtly telegraphed climax. It’s a climax that is crushing in the most somber neo-realist way but also, characteristically for Fellini, absolutely life-affirming.

Like “La Strada” this film also features another bravura performance by Giulietta Masina in the title role of Cabiria. Her performance is again a balancing act between the dramatic and the comedic, but the humor of her role in “Nights of Cabiria” is much more farcical and dialogue driven. Her energy is the lifeblood of this film and she’s an absolute joy to watch, which makes the hardships she goes through so much more involving.
Anyway, I don’t know what else to write for now but fellatio my way out of this write-up. So “Night of Cabiria” is another amazing film by Fellini that features an amazing central performance and a gripping story. Warmest recommendations.

Original title: Le notti di Cabiria


Giulietta Masina - Maria "Cabiria" Ceccarelli
Francois Perier - Oscar D'Onofrio
Franca Marzi - Wanda
Amedeo Nazzari - Alberto Lazzari
Dorian Gray - Jessy

Original language: Italian


#95 - My Name is Nobody (Tonino Valerii)

Nobody’s Genre

As the 70’s came along the spaghetti westerns became somewhat self-parodying and the popularity of films like “They Call Me Trinity” marked a new, more comedic, direction for the genre. This also brought new faces to the forefront of the genre, the most notable being the dynamic duo of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. So of course Sergio Leone, the man who made the genre so popular in the first place, had to have a say in this new direction of the genre, which brings us to “My Name is Trinity”, a film directed by Tonino Valerii based on an idea by Leone.
But many still consider this to be 7th “unofficial” Sergio Leone film, as the core idea for the story was his, and he served as a producer and even directed a few scenes in the film. For instance the opening sequence of this film is obviously Leone’s. This is also to a fault of the marketing that followed the release of the film, which presented it as Leone’s. I personally find that very disrespectful towards the man who did most of the work, but it is what it is and it kind of adds to the themes of the new replacing the old that the film plays with.

Anyway, “My name is Nobody” is a light and funny western that follows Jack Beauregard, an old gunfighter that is looking to avenge his brother. But Jack is being trailed by a young gun only known as “Nobody”, who is basically a more comedic spin on the nameless gunfighter that is now so commonly associated with Italian westerns. However Nobody is a big fan of Jacks and all he wants to do is see Jack go out in style, facing the infamous, 150 men strong gang known as The Wild Bunch.
In a lot of ways this plot is like a parable for those changing trends in the western genre as well. Henry Fonda plays the old gunfighter that is being sent off with honors while Terence Hill plays his successor, and this theme is also reflected in the world of the film because it starts with dusty towns and ends in a city. It marks the end of an era, and even though it passes the torch to a new generation, it is very telling that this torch is passed to nobody. So the inevitability of change is a core concept in the film, and the film even gives a few shout outs to the man who portrayed the struggle with the changing times the best, Sam Peckinpah.
Still, the main quality of this film is the humor and there are many great and bizarre gags that elate this potentially mournful story in to something that is uplifting. This lighthearted tone is further accentuated by Ennio Morricone’s amazing score that’s halfway a parody of his old western scores and on the other half some of the most joyful stuff he’s ever written – “Nobody’s Theme” being an obvious highlight of the soundtrack.

And then there’s the absolutely fantastic Terrence Hill, who may not be much of a dramatic actor but he has this effortlessly playful and naïve aura about him that he can turn to cool in a heartbeat. On the other side is Henry Fonda who is in his icon mode and fully lives up to his status, and “My Name is Nobody” proves to be a competent send off for him as well, since it was the last western he’s ever done. Together with the theme of old vs. new this gives the film much weight in the genre, a weight that seems to be unfortunately ignored because of the film’s more humorous tone. However even if this film is a bit marginalized nothing can deny its quality and the entertainment value it provides so effortlessly.

Original title: Il mio nome è Nessuno 


Henry Fonda -  Jack Beauregard
Terence Hill - Nobody
Jean Martin - Sullivan
R.G. Armstrong - Honest John
Geoffrey Lewis - Leader of the Wild Bunch

Original language: Italian

My Name is Nobody on IMDb


#94 - Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

The Beauty of Dying

The films of Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu all have certain commonalities. So far they’re all contemporary films dealing with contemporary issues like globalization, immigration and poverty, and all have obvious aesthetic similarities. But as anyone knows their biggest commonality is that they’re all, well, kind of downers. Of course this does not mean that they’re bad film, in fact I am very fond of all his films so far (including this one) but this is starting to worry me simply because it is becoming a bit predictable what kind of film one can expect from this obviously gifted filmmaker.
But with that said he did change up things enough with his last film, “Biutiful”, to make all those familiar interests seem fresh enough. Now instead of a fractured narrative with multiple protagonists we have a single protagonist in a linear narrative, and even the overbearing realism of his style is penetrated for the first time with the glimpses of the fantastical, as our protagonist seems to posses supernatural powers (he can see recently deceased people). And this element has been handled in the best possible way in my opinion because it is completely secondary to the story and only serves a thematic and character driven purpose, allowing the human drama to take the front and center of the film.

The film takes place in the poor neighborhoods of present-day Barcelone and follows Uxbal (Javier Barden) a small time street entrepreneur that’s trying to organize immigrants and provide them with black-market work like peddling goods on the streets and hard labor work in a Chinese handbag and DVD piracy shop. It’s the best he can do and it’s the best they can get. So despite the grimness of all this business it is clear that he is a good guy that’s struggling to make a life for himself and his kids, while dealing with the problems of these immigrants, his bi-polar ex-wife and the news that he has terminal cancer.
So it’s totally an Inarritu film in that it’s a downer, but it’s somehow also his most hopeful film in that Uxbal meets his struggles head on and does his very best to do right and leave this place the best he can. And death is a major theme of the film and the message that is coming across through all its pores is that, first of all, we all die. It’s a simple thing that everyone knows but very few people seem willing to face, and the stance of this film is that the sooner we face the limits of our existence on this earth the sooner we will start really living. And second, that no matter how bad life can get there’s always beauty to be found. Yes it’s a downer but it’s presented with a sense of absolute sincerity and honesty.

But if there was one thing to be criticized is the film’s certainty in an afterlife, in which to a large degree our protagonist finds strength to carry on because it is also reaffirmed by his supernatural touch. It is my opinion that the film’s power would be amplified if he managed to find this reaffirmation of life in an exclusively earthly form - but this is a reflection of the director’s beliefs, and a criticism by a person that doesn’t have the same convictions. In any way it did not prevent me from enjoying the film or the message it carries which is universal no matter of one’s beliefs.
On a technical level we get pretty much what we’ve come to expect from an Inarritu film, the great handheld camera work brings out the realism and the colorful lighting gives the film a poetic and modern touch of cinematic style. Beyond that “Biutiful” may be even my favorite film of Inarritu’s, in part because the whole is not artificially made complex by editing wizardry and trusts the power of the story and the characters and the actors to carry it. It’s not that the other films were hampered by their exuberant editing but it did in my opinion call too much attention to itself (especially in “21 Grams”) even to the point where it was distracting from the story and the characters. However there is a certain power in that kind of filmmaking as well, but that is not this film anyway. “Biutiful” does feel more personal to me and it has a central performance that is a wonder in its own right.


Javier Bardem - Uxbal
Maricel Alvarez - Marambra
Diaryatou Daff - Ige
Taishen Chen -  Hai
Eduard Fernandez - Tito

Original language - Spanish


#93 - Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau)

Childlike Wonder

The source story of “Beauty and the Beast” is probably the best knows French fable of all time. As such it has found its way many times on the screen, and most popular is probably the animated film from 1991 by the Walt Disney studio. However that is hardly the definitive cinematic adaptation of the story - this title would easily go to the 1946 masterpiece by Jean Cocteau as his film is a perfectly presented cinematic fairytale.
Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast” opens with a request for sympathy, for the audience to try and find some childlike wonder in the magical concepts of this story. However if anything this request proves to be absolutely unnecessary because the film portrays those magical concepts with such visual finesse that the wonder comes naturally. If anything the film inspires childlike wonder. And the effects work in this film may be simple by today’s standards but the execution of the camera trickery like reverse motion shots and fade ins and repeat exposures is impeccable and completely mesmerizing.

These effects together with the amazing make-up work, costume design and production design give the film a sublime and dream-like, almost hypnotic, quality. Apart from the make-up work the best effect of the film is the magical castle of the Beast. It’s both fantastical and foreboding, as statues seem to be following Belle’s every move and hands sticking out of the walls are lighting her way in the corridors. There is a strong surrealist touch to all the scenes in the castle, a touch that is just further reinforced by the Beast that inhabits these chambers.
And as in any other incarnation of the story the Beast is the star of the show, as he is not only the most visually astounding character but also the best defined one. He is actually the only truly complex character, a character that changes throughout the story and that uncovers new and surprisingly layers of personality. Other characters are mere caricatures, like Belle’s sisters, or even mythic symbols - Belle being an incarnation of goodness and beauty. But Cocteau’s film gives the Beast a magical aura as well, not only in the form of powers but also visually. He can conjure up jewels for Belle, and when he does bad deeds he is covered by fumes of smoke. Thankfully these magical elements are never blatantly explained which gives the film a consistent layer of the unknowable, and that is exactly what magic needs to be.
Apart from being a superb romantic fable with truly wondrous effects there is also a layered subtext underneath the visual and aural dazzle. The most obvious is the moralistic tale of not judging by appearances, but if we dig a little deeper there is also a cautionary tale about greed. However the most interesting thematic thread may be the disparity between the two settings of the film and how these two worlds relate to one another. These two worlds are of course the household from which Belle comes from and the Beasts fantastical castle. They almost seem to be mirrored as there are many overlaps. For instance Belle is imprisoned in both worlds, in one serving to her needy and cruel sisters and in the other being a literal prisoner to Beast but also having no real responsibilities. Both existences are solitary and often do relate to one another as a dream would relate to the waking world - in small increments and glimpses of convergence.

Furthermore the film is filled with numerous symbols associated with the Roman Goddess of the hunt, Diana (often represented by dears and hunt dogs – images that litter the screen of this film). She is also associated with the moon and birth, and is herself a symbol of feminine strength. This just further reinforces the dream thematic and certainly relates to Beasts more predatory instincts, even when he’s interacting with Belle. But as we all know the tables turn eventually and the Beast fulfills his role in that mythological pattern, becoming the prey himself and dying, only to be saved by Belle and rise again in a new form.
“The Beauty and the Beast” is one of those films that has a spellbinding quality that just sucks me in. It’s a film that demands nothing but a little childlike wonder, and in return it is happy to provide a tale as fantastic and complex as you want it to be, which in turn makes it one of my favorite cinematic fantasies.

Original title: La belle et la bête


Jean Marias - The Beast / the prince / Avenant
Josette Day - Belle
Marcel Andre - Belle's father
Mila Parely - Felicie
Nane Germon - Adelaide
Michel Auclair - Ludovic

Original language - French


#92 - The Woodmans (Scott Willis)

An Introduction

This is a documentary film about the Woodmans, the family of one of the most renowned avant-garde photographers - Francesca Woodman. But even though the film is called “The Woodmans” its primary focus is of course Francesca, it is about her life, her work and of course her suicide at the age of 22, and its told primarily through interviews with her family and friends.

First thing to note is that it seems that this film falls in to the same trap as every other piece about Francesca. What the film does is that it almost mystifies Francesca to the point where she seems beyond human, but then again the only thing that Francesca has left behind is her work and her family – which just further fuels this image. Her work is of course the hauntingly eerie and fascinating photographs that are usually self-portraits and nudes. If anything they really show that Francesca was indeed a great and unique talent and had a wonderful eye for composition, texture and light. I should note that it’s her work that brought me to this film in the first place. Then there are also her journals and video recordings, which I can only describe as poetic insights in to her mind and together with the photographs they suggest a personality that seems very self-absorbed and attention craving. Maybe even narcissistic.

This notion is somewhat supported in the interviews with her friends and family. We learn that Francesca was the neglected child, as her brother suffered from diabetes as a kid and got most of the attention from his parents. We learn also that Francesca had a very flirtatious and provocative nature, if that was not obvious from her work. But who knows really? This film doesn’t, as I said it does its utmost to mystify Francesca and it kind of fails to humanize her as it shows only the testimony that elates her as an artist and mystifies her inner workings. It even avoids asking some obvious questions like if Francesca would ever even have been noticed and celebrated if it was not for her tragic end? It’s a question that is barely touched upon by this film because of its obviously insensitive nature. And I’m not sure how right it was to avoid asking it.

But it’s not all about Francesca as we are also introduced to her parents and brother, all of whom are artists themselves. However I found it a very telling fact that they all work in different fields. The mother is a sculptor, the father a painter and the brother a video artist. Only after Francesca’s suicide and her posthumous rise to fame did her father, George, pick up photography. The film does note the resemblance of George’s photographs to Francesca’s work but it also avoids asking the tough questions here as well. What we do find out is that there indeed was a certain sense of competition within the family, and that living in the shadow of someone as big and enigmatic as Francesca can carry its burdens as well.

As documentaries go “The Woodmans” is a serviceable outing only saved by its fascinating subjects. But it’s a bit tragic how a film that deals with such distinct art and has such a fascinating artist at its core is just so bland and uninspired visually. However it does serve as a competent guide and introduction to the life and works and family of Francesca Woodman, even if it barely reveals anything new.


George Woodman
Betty Woodman
Charles Woodman
Francesca Woodman (archive footage)


#91 - The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola)

Of Guilt and Paranoia

Coming off the first two “Godfather” movies it seemed that Francis Ford Coppola could do no wrong. He further reinforced this sentiment when he delivered “The Conversation”, a small character focused paranoia thriller. So this is a film that is nothing like Coppola’s great crime saga and apart from the first person character narrative and presentation it is a film that primarily plays with tension and suspense, and a bit with the audience’s head.
The film follows Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) who is a surveillance expert, a bug man. He is basically hired by corporations or whoever to listen in on other people and record their private conversations. And that’s where we meet him for the first time, on a job where he and his team are tracking and recording a couple as they have what seems to be the most mundane of conversations. However when Harry goes to deliver the tape to his client things start going wrong, the client’s assistant is there to pick up the tapes, and as Harry was specified to deliver the tapes to the client only he refuses to deliver.

But the trouble for Harry started well before this failed exchange because it is clear from the first minute of the film that Harry is a strange guy. He is secretive and paranoid and throughout the film we discover that Harry was on a similar job before and the people he was listening to turned out dead. So Harry doubts if he should even deliver these tapes.
This all sounds like an excellent setup for a fantastic genre thriller but “The Conversation” is more than that. Like I said it’s about this central character first and foremost and about his state of mind. As he is a surveillance expert he is very well aware that no conversation is safe, that anyone can be listening anytime, and this starts playing with Harry’s head as well as the head of the audience. His paranoia becomes infectious. This makes “The Conversation” a sublime exercise in tension and suspense cinema, but the interesting thing about the design of this film is that it builds up tension throughout only to be released at a single point, the climax of the film.
And that climax is unforgettable and haunting because at that point the whole film feels like it’s converging in on itself, the plot that was seems reversed, and the reasoning that leads to this point seems doubtful. Even Harry’s sanity becomes doubtful as well as what he bears witness to.

“The Conversation” is like a Swiss watch, it’s precise, it has a singular purpose and it executes it with perfection. Gene Hackman is maybe in his best outing in this film, which is a high praise indeed and he is joined by a wonderful cast that includes the great John Cazale and a young Harrison Ford. And this sense of excellence only further extends on the breathtaking cinematography of the film as well as the great score and sound design. I always loved the works of Francis Ford Coppola, both his great films as well as most of his misses, and I think that with “The Conversation” he came closest to perfection, because there doesn’t seem to be a false or questionable note about this film.


Gene Hackman - Harry Caul
John Cazale - Stan
Harrison Ford - Martin Stett
Frederick Forrest - Mark
Cindy Williams - Amy

The Conversation on IMDb


#90 - Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)

The Specter of Capitalism

When I started writing this blog I knew this would happen sooner or later. A movie will come along that is impossible to penetrate after a single watch and competently write about the very day after seeing it. It seems that “Cosmopolis” is that film. So of course my first thought when I sat down to write this article was that maybe a cryptic movie deserves a somewhat cryptic write up?
Sure I could describe the plot or go on a tangent about the actors, about the technical aspects of the film or whatever other superficial observations I may have. And this is sometimes the only thing you can write about a movie, but movies like that are usually very shallow experiences for me. However this is not a shallow movie. There is not a shallow bone in its body.

The thing is that the very nature of “Cosmopolis” demands that this film is engaged on a deeper level, and yet that deeper level seems somewhat impenetrable under these circumstances. It is obvious that this film on a certain level is an examination of modern society, and it feels like the film points out the major flaw of this system that we are all living in, but what is it? I can’t tell. There is something important within its clinical, distanced, psychological and philosophical observations. Or maybe there isn’t and it just feels like that.
What gives “Cosmopolis” this sense of weight is in the very design of the film. It does not only tell a story of a billionaire on his way to get a haircut, but it also portrays the self induced deterioration of his world through a series of episodes with different personalities along the way. They all show a different facet of him and present a different observation of our money driven society.

There’s the brilliant young analyst who can’t take his eyes off the screen, and the language in this scene is as cryptic as the data that these guys are wrangling. Their talk, as our billionaire risks his fortune, seems to penetrate outside the fabric of the film itself to the point where it breaks the 4th wall – a line from this scene: “Any assault on the borders of perception is gonna seem rash at first.” How very self-aware. Then there’s an art-dealer from which our billionaire demands to buy an unsellable work of art – which seems to be nothing but three large black panels set up side by side. Then his Oracle-like philosophical adviser visits him as his limo drives through a riot, a man sets himself on fire outside and the only comment that they seem to have is how unoriginal such act is. They mention the Vietnamese monks setting themselves on fire, just to be heard. But this limo is sound proof.

The film points out the disparity between the super rich of our times and, well, everyone else. Our billionaire hardly even seems human, especially in his interactions with his uninterested young bride that are as cold as they are absurd. Every other line said is a comment on how regular people behave and they’re trying to copy normal human behavior. He is trying to make contact in the most ordinary ways, but he doesn’t know how. This gives the film a sublime sense of strange and absurd humor. However he has an asymmetrical prostate.

And that seems to be at the core of it all, the answer to why he is destroying everything he’s built. Why he has daily medical check-ups. Why he wants to be tazed and goes towards his would-be assassin. Because despite his removal from anything human he discovers that he is human after all and all the rational and logical talk and reasoning and all the money in the world cannot deny that single fact. Because he didn’t read the “Yuan” correctly. Because he has an asymmetrical prostate, and that is the only thing he shares with the man who represents all the disgruntled people who became his victims. The man that is his final judgment. The man who knows how to solve the “Yuan” issue. The man who he hides from in his stretch limousine.
There is a moral weight in here that looks in to something that affects us all in some way, and I don’t know if I’ll ever fully see it in “Cosmopolis”.  One thing is for sure, this is the kind of film that I obsess over and it is a film that will most certainly provide me with many rewarding viewings. Its closest relation to me is “Crash” - that other Cronenberg obsession of mine. However just like “Crash” this is a most divisive film, a film that could prove to be as frustrating as it is smart, and a film that cannot leave anyone ambivalent. 


Robert Pattinson - Eric Packer
Sarah Gadon - Elise Shifrin
Kevin Durand - Torval
Paul Giamatti - Benno Levin
Samantha Morton - Vija Kinsky
Juliette Binoche - Didi Francher

Cosmopolis on IMDb


#89 - Junior Bonner (Sam Peckinpah)

Rodeo Man

The year 1972 brought two films by Sam Peckinpah and both of those films starred Steve McQueen. The better known film of those two is certainly “The Getaway”, a superb crime/chase film that has over the time grown in to one of my favorite Steve McQueen pictures. The other film is “Junior Bonner”, and although it doesn’t have the thrills of “The Getaway” it strikes me as a much more personal film for both the director and the star.

This film is a character study and a family drama that follows Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen), the titular rodeo cowboy, who returns to his hometown of Prescott Arizona for the 4th of July festivities. Of course there’s a rodeo in town and while “JR” reconnects with his colorful family all he really wants to do is to ride “Sunshine” again, a ferocious bull that threw him off at the start of the film. It’s a very real and tame film when compared to the other works of both McQueen and Peckinpah but that only makes this film more fascinating for me, and in this framework McQueen dos his probably best acting work as an unchanging man that barely manages to live in these modern times.

So yes the classic Peckinpah existentialist themes are still prevalent but because of that realistic framework they are brought out in new ways, and even coincide with what he’s shown in “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”, which is a glimpse of an acceptance of the change and its inevitability. Another interesting aspect of the film is also that concept of a dysfunctional family that also shows up in his work often, and in this film it is the dramatic and comedic backbone.

However the more thrilling aspect of “Junior Bonner” comes in the form of rodeo shows, and if the rest of the film may seem very classicist and careful in its execution here is where that Sam Peckinpah style comes in. And there is a repeated old cowboy saying in this film that would let you believe that all rodeos are the same, however it’s proven very untrue because you’ve never seen a rodeo like this, captured through the lens of Sam Peckinpah. They’re spectacular and the stunt and camera work are oftentimes breathtaking.

And these rodeos are also a central piece of in the puzzle of the character of Junior Bonner, and after seeing them through his eyes it’s easy to understand what eight seconds can mean to a man like that. Because maybe “JR” can’t master the technological bulls and the change of time outside the rodeo ring, but when he’s on that bull he can be in control - even if only for those precious eight seconds.

“Junior Bonner” is a much more restrained film from Peckinpah and features a wonderfully cool and stoic performance from McQueen. It’s certainly not the loudest film that these guys have worked on but it has an old-fashioned charm in a neo-western setting, and plenty of heart. It's one of the finest films of both of these Holywood renegades.


Steve McQueen - Junior "JR" Bonner
Robert Preston - Ace Bonner
Ida Lupino - Elvira Bonner
Joe Don Baker - Curly Bonner
Barbara Leigh - Charmagne


#88 - Brick (Rian Johnson)

High School Noir

“Brick” is the feature film debut of Rian Johnson, and just like “Looper” it takes a familiar genre and gives it a fresh spin. Only that in the case of “Brick” the genre in question is film noir and the fresh spin is the fact that it is completely set in a high school environment.

At first this may seem like an odd fit but “Brick” actually makes it look quite seamless, and upon closer inspection it is not hard to understand why. Noir in many ways requires an outsider that investigates a crime within a certain social sphere. And what is a high school but a social sphere where all kinds of different types are represented through their little cliques. That microcosm even has its own outsiders and rejects that operate on its fringes.

That is what the Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe character of “Brick” is - he’s that mysterious loner that every high school has, his name is Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his investigation revolves around the murder of his ex girlfriend Emily. And in classic noir fashion that investigation will face Brendan with the highest social strata of this microcosm, the jocks and the popular girl, as well as the seediest aspects of it, which is an underground drug trafficking ring.

However this story is not presented as your average high school film as it takes on a very stylized neo-noir aesthetic that heightens the seriousness of these events and the intricacies. In fact this is the only point where the film might disengage you as an audience member because if you can’t buy in to the idea of this heightened and stylized high school reality then the film will deflate dramatically.

And it is not hard to disengage with the film on this level because these teenagers talk in “noir talk”, which makes them the most brooding and the most intelligent and the least excitable teenagers ever. It has that same quality like “Juno” where the teenagers on the screen are almost not plausible. Because we all know what teenagers are like, and we all went to high school, so it’s very easy to disengage on that level because our personal experiences just simply do not relate to this. However if you buy in to this heightened and super stylized reality of “Brick” then you may be surprised by how well the damn thing works as a whole.

The plotting of “Brick” is not as complex or surprising as is the case with the great films of the genre, but it does provide a solid and engaging mystery and a set of characters that serve the film’s purpose fantastically. The visual style is also great but mostly in how restrained it is because, although “Brick” has a unique aesthetic, it is not a very intrusive one, even though it does have stylistic touches like jump cuts and some cool transitions.

The film also owes a lot to its young cast that really delivers and never overplays or undermines the material that they’re working with. They are actually what makes this high school noir spin on the genre work first and foremost, and this spin is by far the film’s most fascinating quality. But as I said it also hast the potential to be its most damning.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Brendan
Nora Zehetner - Laura
Lukas Haas - The Pin
Noah Fleiss - Tugger
Emilie de Ravin - Emily


#87 - Amarcord (Federico Fellini)

Nostalgia Encapsulated

In my “La Dolce Vita” post I mentioned that my very first exposure to a Fellini film was with this movie, “Amarcord”, and that it did not go too well. So after really enjoying everything from Fellini that I’ve seen so far I decided to give this film another shot, and to very little surprise I loved the film. I still think it’s probably the most difficult Fellini film to get in to from the four that I’ve seen but that does not stain this film’s undeniable charms.
The simple reason for why I’d even suggest that this is a difficult film to get in to is because Fellini takes a while to present his characters to be more than caricatures, which in turn gives his film a lack of an intrinsic emotional pull. What we get instead is a collage of humorous snippets from the lives of the citizens of a small Italian coastal town, but as the film progresses these snippets start adding up to a vivid portrayal of the town itself. A portrayal that seems to perfectly capture the time and the place and the personalities. Its nostalgia encapsulated.

However while the film may lack that initial hook it didn’t struggle to entertain and captivate me with boatloads of humor and just an amazingly lively atmosphere. In its very design the film tries to portray pretty much every aspect of life in this town, so we get to see the highlights like the burning of the bonfire at winter’s end, the Mile Miglia race that goes through the town and even a visit by “Il Duce” himself. And then we also get to see more mundane daily routines like a glimpse of school life, or the average family household and even how the dandies of the town seduce tourist girls. But even these vignettes are presented with an irresistibly charming and humorous touch.
The film is simply bustling with life and even the more somber moments in the film oftentimes have an absurdist charm about them. And the guides through the film are the townsfolk themselves, who sometimes have a liking to speak directly to the camera, to tell us a dirty joke or give out some history of the town. But scenes like this never turn in to a lecture and are always interrupted by a humorous disturbance of the lecture. It’s almost like the director himself is schooling these characters in how not to be boring by hurling a snowball to their face. And to Fellini’s great credit, as fractured as “Amarcord” is, it is never boring.

And many of the films themes are consistent with Fellini’s other works. The love for women is obvious here again, but he never deifies them either. He loves them for what they are and this is nowhere more apparent than in the character of Gradisca (Magali Noel) who is as flawed a character as she is appealing to the eye. But also this celebration of life is what “La Dolce Vita” is all about and the sense of nostalgia that this film oozes crept up also in “8½“. However those themes are here presented in a mosaic of characters and events that does not tell their personal stories but their unified and unavoidably intertwined story. And that is what nostalgia is all about, remembering a place and a time, and most of all the people that shaped one’s life.


Magali Noel - Gradisca
Bruno Zanin - Titta Biondi
Armando Brancia - Aurelio Biondi
Pupella Maggio - Miranda Biondi
Josiane Tanzilli - Volpina
Luigi Rossi - Lawyer

Original language - Italian


#86 - Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

A Social Mask

The films of David Cronenberg, as diverse as they are, seem to all have a common aesthetic and thematic thread running through them. There is a certain clinical precision and even remoteness that they seem to share, and a penchant for psychological reasoning of the more bizarre human behavior as well as grotesque body horror. That’s something you’ll hear often associated with the man, body horror. This is even evident in a film like “Eastern Promises”, which some would say is uncharacteristic for the director because on the surface it is a pretty straightforward crime thriller. Some would even say that this genre implication makes it a lesser Cronenberg film.

This is of course silly because this man has actually made his name by making genre films. Sure, those are very intellectual and extreme films, but they are also on the surface pretty straightforward genre films. So if Cronenberg for you is only grotesque “body horror” then yeah, this might be a lesser Cronenberg film. But for me this crime genre examination and more restrained approach to violence make it not only one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films but also one of my favorite.

Anyway, what keeps me coming back to “Eastern Promises” is first and foremost the amazing exploration of the Russian mob culture. The rigid honor system is quite fascinating as are the tattoos and the underlining iconography and what it represents. Then there’s also the social mask of this organization in the fact that the mob in this film is primarily portrayed through the prism of family and a family business. The juxtaposition of the two is amazing to say the least. The film even pushes this image system constantly as we see in one scene a happy family gathering and in the very next the most heinous crimes are being discussed.

This juxtaposition mostly reflects through the character of Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who in person projects the calm warmth of the perfect grandfather figure while on the other side we hear of him as this ruthless monster. Mind you we never see this monster fully exposed; we only see glimpses and even those are quite frightening. It’s a great character played by a great actor. But Mueller-Stahl’s performance is matched by Viggo Mortensen’s unforgettable turn as Nikolai, the mob’s driver. He is a walking mystery from the second he is on the screen and his journey almost commands for at least two viewings of this film. He is our protagonist and in many ways our guide through this exotic world of a Russian mob that operates in London, and with him we see all the facets of it.

As the film’s main story revolves around the prostitution ring employed by Semyon we also see the darkest corners of that world as well. This is where that shock of Cronenberg comes in, but it comes in the clinical portrayal of reality. This does not mean that there is no violence in this film, after all this is a crime film and a Cronenberg film to boot. Of course there is violence and it’s characteristically cold and graphic and in many ways real – it’s sharp, fast and painful, there is no stylization or exaggeration. So these scenes are mostly short and shocking - they are scenes of murder and the film doesn’t really have prolonged action scenes. Well there is that now infamous fight scene in the bathhouse, but apart from that this film is surprisingly restrained for the most part, which again perfectly reflects this unforgiving and violent world and its social mask.

But beyond just being this fantastic expose “Eastern Promises” is a great crime thriller. The characters are superbly constructed and just studying them is a rewarding exercise in its own because they all have psychological footing to stand on, and all their actions are drawn from that. And like I said this genre framework makes this probably the most accessible film of Cronenberg, but I also think that in many ways it is a great representation of his work without being esoteric. It’s clinical, it’s psychological, it’s violent and it’s genre.


Viggo Mortensen - Nikolai
Naomi Watts - Anna
Vincent Cassel - Kirill
Armin Mueller-Stahl - Semyon