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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Copa America 2024 Film Spotlight Results

A feisty Copa America 2024 ended with Argentina winning their 16th Copa America title. Argentina’s win wasn’t much of a surprise as they were easily the favourites but there were a few pleasant surprises along the way such as the re-emergence of Colombia (reached final and narrowly lost to Argentina in extra-time) and the continuing strength of Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay (finished in 3rd place). However, the biggest surprise was Jesse Marsch’s influence on the Canadian Men’s National Team. Canada were very impressive in their run to the semi-finals and unfortunately faced Argentina twice and lost both games. Still, Canada put on a positive attack-minded display even in the games against Argentina and created many chances but their biggest achilles heel in the tournament was their inability to make those chances count.

On the other hand, Canada had a much more of a favourable outcome in the Copa America 2024 Film Spotlight. When it came to films, Argentina and Brazil did much worse than their soccer counterparts. The points system is similar to that used in the Euro 2024 Film Spotlight: match-ups decided by 5 categories of Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography and Production Values. The only exception
was that 4 categories of Story, Direction, Cinematography and Production Values were used (Acting was dropped) in the case of a match-up between a documentary (Chilean film) vs fictional film. In the group phases, a win for a film was worth 3 points while a tie was 1 point.

Group film results: top 2 films advanced out of group (in green)

Group A

Argentina: Trenque Lauquen (2022, Laura Citarella)
Peru: The Milk of Sorrow (2009, Claudia Llosa)
Chile: My Imaginary Country (2022, Patricio Guzmán)
Canada:The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019, Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers)


Canada (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open): 9
Chile (My Imaginary Country): 4

Argentina (Trenque Lauquen): 4
Peru (The Milk of Sorrow): 0

The length of the Argentine film worked against it when compared to the Canadian and Chilean films. Trenque Lanquen is multiple films within a single film. If I could have taken a slice of 90 minutes from that film and put it against the other films in this group, then the Argentine film would have come out on top. As it turned out, the tight focus of the Canadian and Chilean films ensured progress out of this group.

Group B

Mexico: New Order (2020, Michel Franco)
Ecuador: Cronicas (2004, Sebastián Cordero)
Venezuela:  The Box (2021, Lorenzo Vigas)
Jamaica: The Harder They Come (1972, Perry Henzell)


Mexico (New Order): 7
Venezuela (The Box): 7

Ecuador (Cronicas): 1
Jamaica (The Harder They Come): 1

Unlike the soccer tournament, Mexico advanced easily out of the film competition.

Group C


USA: Showing Up (2022, Kelly Reichardt)
Uruguay: Window Boy Would also Like to Have a Submarine (2020, Alex Piperno)
Panama: The Fists of a Nation (2007, Pituka Ortega-Heilbron)
Bolivia: Viejo calavera/Dark Skull (2016, Kiro Russo)

Bolivia (Dark Skull): 7
Uruguay (Window Boy Would also Like to Have a Submarine): 5

USA (Showing Up): 4
Panama (The Fists of a Nation): 0

Group D

Brazil:  Rule 34 (2022, Júlia Murat)
Colombia: Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra)
Paraguay: EAMI (2022, Paz Encina)
Costa Rica: The Awakening of the Ants (2019, Antonella Sudasassi)

Colombia (Embrace of the Serpent): 9
Costa Rica (The Awakening of the Ants): 6

Brazil (Rule 34): 3
Paraguay (EAMI): 0

This was easily the toughest film group of the four with Group D being a Group of Death.

Quarter-Finals:

Canada (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) vs Venezuela (The Box)

Canada won 4-2 over Venezuela.

Chile (My Imaginary Country) vs Mexico (New Order)

Chile won 3-2 and advanced to Semi-finals.
 

Note: Since the Chilean film is a documentary, only 4 categories were used to judge the films.

Bolivia (Dark Skull) vs Costa Rica (The Awakening of the Ants)


The Costa Rican film won on an emotional penalty shoot-out after both films were tied 4-4.

Colombia (Embrace of the Serpent) vs Uruguay (Window Boy Would also Like to Have a Submarine)

Colombia won 5-1 over Uruguay.

Semi-Finals:


Canada (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) vs Chile (My Imaginary Country)

Canada won 4-3 over Chile in a very tight encounter.

Colombia (Embrace of the Serpent) vs Costa Rica (The Awakening of the Ants)

Colombia edged out Costa Rica 4-3 in another close match-up.

Final:

Canada (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) vs Colombia (Embrace of the Serpent)

Match of two former #1 End of year films. The Canadian film placed first in my Best Films of 2020 while the Colombian entry was first in 2015.

In the end, Canada won 4-3 over Colombia to take the 2024 Copa America Film title. Incredibly, Colombia finished 2nd in both the soccer tournament and film spotlight.

Copa America 2024 Film Winner
: The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019, Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers)

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Euro 2024 Film Spotlight Results

Now that the football version of Euro 2024 is in the books, it is time to unveil results of the film version of Euro 2024. Like previous film spotlight tournaments, match-ups between films in Group and Knock-out phases are decided by the 5 categories of Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography and Production Values. In the group phases, the difference is that a win for a film is worth 3 points while a tie is 1 point. In the Knock-out rounds, the winner is decided by the maximum score in the 5 categories of Acting, Story, Direction, Cinematography and Production.

16 films advance to the Knock-out rounds, with the top two films from each group plus top 4 third-placed films. The top 2 advancing out of the 8 Groups are shown in green.

Group A

Germany: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)
Switzerland: The Boat is Full (1981, Markus Imhoof)
Hungary: Satantango (1994, Béla Tarr)
Scotland: Gregory’s girl (1980, Bill Forsyth)


Hungary (Satantango): 9
Germany (Aguirre: The Wrath of God): 6

Scotland (Gregory’s girl): 3
Switzerland (The Boat is Full): 0

Group B

Spain: Death of a Cyclist (1955, Juan Antonio Bardem)
Italy: The Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo)
Albania: Daybreak (2017, Gentian Koçi)
Croatia: Buick Riviera (2008, Goran Rusinovic)


Italy (The Battle of Algiers): 9
Spain (Death of a Cyclist): 6

Croatia (Buick Riviera): 3
Albania (Daybreak): 0

Group C

Slovenia: Spare Parts (2003, Damjan Kozole)
Denmark: Babette’s Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel)
Serbia: Underground (1995, Emir Kusturica)
England: The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)


Serbia (Underground): 7
England (The Third Man): 5

Denmark (Babette’s Feast):  2
Slovenia (Spare Parts): 1

Group D

Poland: Dekalog (1989/90, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Holland: The Vanishing (1988, George Sluizer)
Austria: Homo Sapiens (2016, Nikolaus Geyrhalter)
France: Pickpocket (1959, Robert Bresson)


France (Pickpocket): 9
Poland (Dekalog): 4

Austria (Homo Sapiens): 2
Holland (The Vanishing): 1

Group E

Belgium: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman)
Slovakia: Orbis Pictus (1997, Martin Sulík)
Romania:  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Cristi Puiu)
Ukraine:  My Joy (2010, Sergey Loznitsa)

Romania (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu): 9
Ukraine (My Joy): 4

Belgium (Jeanne Dielman): 4
Slovakia (Orbis Pictus): 0

Ukraine edges out Belgium to win second place by the slightest margin.

Group F

Turkey: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Georgia: What Do We See When We Look At the Sky? (2021, Aleksandre Koberidze)
Portugal:  Mudar de Vida (Change of Life, 1966, Paulo Rocha)
Czech Republic: Closely Watched Trains (1966, Jirí Menzel)


Turkey (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia): 9
Portugal (Change of Life): 6

Georgia (What Do We See When We Look At the Sky?): 3
Czech Republic (Closely Watched Trains): 0

Top 4 third placed films:

1st: Belgium (Group E)
2nd: Croatia (Group B)
3rd: Georgia (Group F)
4th: Scotland (Group A)

Round of 16 Draw and Results:

Hungary (Satantango) vs England (The Third Man)


Hungary wins 3-2 on the basis of Direction, Cinematography and Production while England scores on Acting and Story.

Germany (Aguirre: The Wrath of God) vs Spain (Death of a Cyclist)

Germany wins 5-2 over Spain.

Italy (The Battle of Algiers) vs Belgium (Jeanne Dielman)

Italy wins 5-2 over Belgium.

Serbia (Underground) vs Georgia (What Do We See When We Look At the Sky?)

Serbia wins 5-1.

Turkey (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) vs Scotland (Gregory’s Girl)


Turkey wins 4-1.

Poland (Dekalog) vs Ukraine (My Joy)

In a very close encounter, Poland edges out Ukraine 4-3.

Romania (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) vs Croatia (Buick Riviera)


Romania narrowly wins out 4-3 over Croatia.

France (Pickpocket) vs Portugal (Change of Life)

In a match-up of two stellar films, France wins out 5-2.

Quarter-Finals: 8 films that are part of canons and best of lists

Italy (The Battle of Algiers) vs Hungary (Satantango)

Italy wins 5-2 over Hungary.

Turkey (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) vs Poland (Dekalog)


In another hard fought close match-up, the Polish film edges out the Turkish entry 4-3.

Romania (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) vs France (Pickpocket)

The French film wins 5-3 over the Romanian film.

Serbia (Underground) vs Germany (Aguirre: The Wrath of God)

Germany wins 5-4 over Serbia.

Semi-Finals: 4 giant films battle it out

Italy (The Battle of Algiers) vs Poland (Dekalog)

Italy wins 5-4 over Poland, with the stellar cinematography of Gillo Pontecorvo’s film being the edge.

France (Pickpocket)  vs Germany (Aguirre: The Wrath of God)

France wins 4-3 over Germany.

Euro 2024 Film Final: Two classic films

Italy (The Battle of Algiers) vs France (Pickpocket)

Italy wins 5-4, with a tiny edge in the overall Production category. That is understandable given the larger scope of The Battle of Algiers over Pickpocket.

Euro 2024 Film Winner: The Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo)

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Ranking Godzilla movies

Ranking the best Gojira/Godzilla films isn’t an easy task, both from a quantity and quality perspective. There are 38 films noted in the Godzilla franchise with the original film released in 1954 and the latest edition in 2024, a span of 70 years. If one excludes the 3 Animation films, then that total drops to 35. The production quality varies a lot among these films not only due to differences in production between Japanese and American studios but also due to multiple reboot/reset of the franchise. There are some films that stand-out while others have substandard production quality and are just derivative, reheated attempts of the original film. It is not a series that one can binge watch as some films in the franchise are unwatchable and after a while, many of them start appearing to be the same. There are some exceptions and it is those films that linger long in the memory.

There are 33 Gojira films from Japan divided in the Shōwa era (1954–1975), Heisei era (1984–1995), Millennium era (1999–2004), Reiwa era (2016–present) and 5 that are part of the American series. This total doesn’t include four films released in US that were re-edited versions of the original Japanese films. In addition, there is a recent spin-off series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters which is part of the American Monsterverse, a series that includes the Hollywood films from 2014 onwards.

Listing of all 38 films

Shōwa era (1954–1975)
 

1. Godzilla (1954, Ishirō Honda)
2. Godzilla Raids Again (1955, Motoyoshi Oda)
3. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962, Ishirō Honda)
4. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964, Ishirō Honda)
5. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964, Ishirō Honda)
6. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965, Ishirō Honda)
7. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966, Jun Fukuda)
8. Son of Godzilla (1967, Jun Fukuda)
9. Destroy All Monsters (1968, Ishirō Honda)
10. All Monsters Attack (1969, Ishirō Honda)
11. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971, Yoshimitsu Ban)
12. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972, Jun Fukuda)
13. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973, Jun Fukuda)
14. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974, Jun Fukuda)
15. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975, Ishirō Honda)


Heisei era (1989–1995) 

16. The Return of Godzilla (1984, Kōji Hashimoto)
17. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989, Kazuki Ōmori)
18. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991, Kazuki Ōmori)
19. Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992, Takao Ōkawara)
20. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993, Takao Ōkawara)
21. Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994, Kenshō Yamashita)
22. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995, Takao Ōkawara)


Millennium era (1999–2004) 

23. Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999, Takao Ōkawara)
24. Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000, Masaaki Tezuka)
25. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001, Shūsuke Kaneko)
26. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002, Masaaki Tezuka)
27. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003, Masaaki Tezuka)
28. Godzilla: Final Wars (2004, Ryūhei Kitamura)


Reiwa era (2016–present) 

29. Shin Godzilla (2016, Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi)
30. Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017, Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita)
31. Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (2018, Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita)
32. Godzilla: The Planet Eater (2018, Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita)
33. Godzilla Minus One (2023, Takashi Yamazaki)


Note: films 30, 31, 32 are all animation films.

Hollywood films 

1. Godzilla (1998, Roland Emmerich)
2. Godzilla (2014, Gareth Edwards)
3. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019, Michael Dougherty)   
4. Godzilla vs. Kong (2021, Adam Wingard)
5. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024, Adam Wingard)


Re-edited films for US market, not included in the 38 film total 

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963)
Godzilla (1977)
Godzilla 1985 (1985)

Top 5 Godzilla Films

1. Godzilla (1954)

The original is still the template for all subsequent Godzilla films as elements in Ishirō Honda’s films are revisited, updated and even slightly improved in other films.
 
2. Shin Godzilla (2016)

An absolutely brilliant reboot that cleverly uses Gojira as a lens to demonstrate human logistics and problem solving.


3. Godzilla Minus One (2023)

If Shin Godzilla was about logistics and problem solving, Godzilla Minus One is using engineering to solve the very large Godzilla problem. In addition, the film also highlights the human impact on post WWII Japan in the aftermath of America’s atomic bomb drops.

4. Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)

Mothra is a key kaiju in Godzilla movies and her first appearance in the series also happens to be one of the most worthy films in the franchise.

5. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)

Combines many components of the franchise with aliens, Ghidorah, Rodan.

Most family friendly Godzilla: Son of Godzilla

The franchise clearly was trying to make Godzilla appealing for younger kids by introducing a very cute young Baby Godzilla.

Most environmentally conscious film: Godzilla vs. Hedorah 

Godzilla films contain political and social messaging but nowhere is that hit on the head as much as Godzilla vs Hedorah where Hedorah is a monster who grows by feeding off the industrial waste dumped in oceans. Only Godzilla can save us from our destructive polluting ways! If dumping of chemicals and industrial waste in oceans led to the creation of a monster, then perhaps humans may have done more to protect our environment. Unfortunately, life isn’t a Godzilla movie!

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Hong Sang-soo watch

This is a follow-up to the earlier March post when I had managed to see 24 out of 31 Hong Sang-soo features to date. I am happy to say that total has now increased to 27 / 31. The films in red are the ones left for me to see. This is the smallest gap I have had and while neither of the 4 films are available on any streaming platform, two are on DVD/Blu-Ray (Our Sunhi, The Woman Who Ran). So there is a chance that I can narrow the gap even further.

1. The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996)
2. The Power of Kangwon Province (1998)
3. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000)
4. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002)
5. Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)
6. Tale of Cinema (2005)
7. Woman on the Beach (2006)
8. Night and Day (2008)
9. Like You Know It All (2009)
10. Hahaha (2010)
11. Oki’s Movie (2010)
12. The Day He Arrives (2011)
13. In Another Country (2012)
14. Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013)
15. Our Sunhi (2013)
16. Hill of Freedom (2014)
17. Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
18. Yourself and Yours (2016)
19. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
20. Claire’s Camera (2017)
21. The Day After (2017)
22. Grass (2018)
23. Hotel by the River (2018)
24. The Woman Who Ran (2020)
25. Introduction (2021)
26. In Front of Your Face (2021)
27. The Novelist’s Film (2022)
28. Walk Up (2022)
29. In Water (2023)
30. In Our Day (2023)
31. A Traveler’s Needs (2024)


The Top 10 Hong Sang-soo films list still stays the same

1. Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
2. The Day He Arrives (2011)
3. Tale of Cinema (2005)
4. Like You Know It All (2009)
5. The Day After (2017)
6. In Front of Your Face (2021)
7. Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)
8. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
9. Night and Day (2008)
10. In Another Country (2012)

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Copa America 2024 Film Spotlight

Two games of Copa America 2024 are already in the books with Argentina kicking off their title defense with a 2-0 win over Canada while Peru and Chile drew 0-0. Prior to start of the next fixtures, I want to unveil the selections for the Copa America 2024 Film Spotlight. Similar to Euro 2024 Film Spotlight, I have taken the approach of selecting previously seen films to give each nation the best chance of doing well. The one change from Euro 2024 selections is that I have tried to select as many recent films as possible. I only went for older films if a nation didn’t have a worthy recent contender.

15/16 films are within last 20 years (2004-24) with 12 out of 16 films within last 10 years and 5 films from 2022. The only exception is that the Jamaican film is from 1972. In addition, half of the films (8/16) are directed by women.

Group A


Argentina: Trenque Lauquen (2022, Laura Citarella)
Peru: The Milk of Sorrow (2009, Claudia Llosa)
Chile: My Imaginary Country (2022, Patricio Guzmán)
Canada: The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019, Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers)


Group B

Mexico: New Order (2020, Michel Franco)
Ecuador: Cronicas (2004, Sebastián Cordero)
Venezuela:  The Box (2021, Lorenzo Vigas)
Jamaica: The Harder they come (1972, Perry Henzell)


Group C

USA: Showing Up (2022, Kelly Reichardt)
Uruguay: Window Boy Would also Like to Have a Submarine (2020, Alex Piperno)
Panama: The Fists of a Nation (2007, Pituka Ortega-Heilbron)
Bolivia: Dark Skull (2016, Kiro Russo)


Group D

Brazil:  Rule 34 (2022, Júlia Murat)
Colombia: Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra)
Paraguay: EAMI (2022, Paz Encina)
Costa Rica: The Awakening of the Ants (2019, Antonella Sudasassi)


Group and Knock-out round results will be posted in next few weeks.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Euro 2024 Film Spotlight

A criteria for previous Euro Film spotlights (Euro 2008, Euro 2012, Euro 2016) was to select previously unseen films or films from unknown directors. This led to some exciting discoveries and many months of viewing or hunting the film down. This time around, I have kept things a bit simpler. The main criteria for this Euro 2024 Film spotlight is to select some of the best films previously seen from each country. As a result, this will allow for a much more richer cinematic head-to-head competition. 9 decades are represented by these films with the earliest from 1949 and the newest from one from 2021.

Here are the 24 Top European films:

Group A
Germany: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)
Switzerland: The Boat is Full (1981, Markus Imhoof)
Hungary: Satantango (1994, Béla Tarr)
Scotland: Gregory’s girl (1980, Bill Forsyth)

Group B
Spain: Death of a Cyclist (1955, Juan Antonio Bardem)
Italy: The Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo)
Albania: Daybreak (2017, Gentian Koçi)
Croatia: Buick Riviera (2008, Goran Rusinovic)

Group C
Slovenia: Spare Parts (2003, Damjan Kozole)

Denmark: Babette’s Feast (1987, Gabriel Axel)
Serbia: Underground (1995, Emir Kusturica)
England: The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)


Group D
Poland: Dekalog (1989/90, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Holland: The Vanishing (1988, George Sluizer)
Austria: Homo Sapiens (2016, Nikolaus Geyrhalter)
France: Pickpocket (1959, Robert Bresson)


Group E
Belgium: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman)
Slovakia: Orbis Pictus (1997, Martin Sulík)
Romania:  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005, Cristi Puiu)
Ukraine:  My Joy (2010, Sergey Loznitsa)


Group F
Turkey: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Georgia: What Do We See When We Look At the Sky? (2021, Aleksandre Koberidze)
Portugal:  Mudar de Vida (Change of Life, 1966, Paulo Rocha)
Czech Republic: Closely Watched Trains (1966, Jirí Menzel)


Results of the Group matches, knockout phases will be posted in a few weeks.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Top Argentine Films of All Time

As Argentina and Messi prepare to defend their Copa America, I wanted to do a Top Argentine film list. This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means since majority of the Argentine films I have seen start from the late 1990s with the onset of New Argentine Cinema. Three decades (1990-2023) isn’t enough to cover proper ground but over the last year, I have started to fill in the gaps by trying to watch Argentine films from the 1940s-60s. Therefore, this list will change over the next year.

For now, going into Copa America 2024, here are my starting 11 films with 5 honourable mentions looking to sub in if needed.

Top 11 Argentine Films of all time:


1. Zama (2017, Lucrecia Martel)
2. The Official Story (1985, Luis Puenzo)
3. Extraordinary Stories (2008, Mariano Llinás)
4. Invasion (1969, Hugo Santiago)
5. Liverpool (2008, Lisandro Alonso)
6. Bolivia (1999, Israel Adrián Caetano)
7. Mundo grúa / Crane World (1999, Pablo Trapero)
8. Apenas un delincuente / Hardly a Criminal (1949, Hugo Fregonese)
9. The Hour of the Furnaces (1968, Octavio Getino, Fernando E. Solanas)
10. Nueve reinas / Nine Queens (2000, Fabián Bielinsky)
11. Prisioneros de la tierra / Prisoners of the Earth (1939, Mario Soffici)

5 Honourable Mentions (in no order):
Bombón: El Perro (2004, Carlos Sorín)
Son of the Bride (2001, Juan José Campanella)
Pizza, birra, faso / Pizza, Beer and Cigarettes (1998, Israel Adrián Caetano/Bruno Stagnaro)
Silvia Prieto (1999, Martín Rejtman)
Trenque Lauquen (2022, Laura Citarella)


Friday, June 07, 2024

Top Iranian Films of All Time

There are a wealth of legal viewing options for Iranian Cinema unlike that for many other nations. Such a high number of entries made it an ordeal to narrow down a Top 10 list. It was also difficult to not make the entire top 10 list of films just by Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, two of the best film directors in the world. However, the recent rediscovery of Chess of the Wind (1976, Mohammad Reza Aslani) is a reminder there could still be many worthy Iranian films hidden from view. Therefore, I do expect this list will change over time as I get to rediscover and even revisit Iranian films.

Top 10 Iranian Films of All Time:

1. Taste of Cherry (1997, Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Crimson Gold (2003, Jafar Panahi)
3. The House is Black (1963, Forugh Farrokhzad)
4. Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami)
5. A Man of Integrity (2017, Mohammad Rasoulof)
6. A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi)
7. The Cow (1969, Dariush Mehrjui)
8. The Wind Will Carry Us (1999,  Abbas Kiarostami)
9. Turtles can Fly (2004, Bahman Ghobadi)
10. It’s Winter (2006, Rafi Pitts)

Honourable Mentions (alphabetical order):

Be Calm and Count to Seven (2008, Ramtin Lavafipour)
Downpour (1972, Bahram Beyzaie)
Iron Island (2005, Mohammad Rasoulof)
Salam Cinema (1995, Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
This is not a Film (2011, Jafar Panahi)
A Time for Drunken Horses (2000, Bahman Ghobadi)
Where is the Friend’s House? (1987, Abbas Kiarostami)
The White Balloon (1995, Jafar Panahi)

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Hugo Fregonese's Apenas un Delincuente

Apenas un Delincuente / Hardly a Criminal (1949, Argentina, directed by Hugo Fregonese)

This year’s AFOFF selection of the stellar 1949 Argentine noir Apenas un Delincuente was inspired by Allan’s ‘The Fish Obscuro’ column although the film isn’t as much in the shadows now as it was prior to 2022. That is because Apenas un Delincuente / Hardly a Criminal (1949) was part of a 2022 Hugo Fregonese retrospective that premiered at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and then later that year at MoMA. In addition, Apenas un Delincuente was the inspiration behind Rodrigo Moreno’s 2023 thoughtful film The Delinquents. In fact, both Apenas un Delincuente and The Delinquents share the same core story of a bank fraud but both films diverge in different directions.

The bank fraud in Apenas un Delincuente was inspired by a real-life incident and is one of those stories that emphasizes that reality is stranger than fiction. In the film, José Moran  (Jorge Salcedo) is a bank employee who fancies the rich nightlife and his day job is only a means for him to pay off his nightlife which also includes a gambling habit. José has run up a huge debt due to gambling losses and subsequent borrowed sums from loan sharks. His salary can’t cover off his debts and he is constantly trying to avoid the loan sharks who are looking to collect their payment. One day, the loan sharks arrive at the bank and demand their money. With no place to run, José gives them another customer’s deposit. Seeing how easy it was for him to use someone else’s money, José starts drawing up a plan to steal even more money from the bank. His ideas are strengthened when he learns that the maximum jail sentence for bank fraud is six years regardless of the amount stolen. José calculates that he can steal enough money, hide his loot, serve 6 years in jail, come out and comfortably live the rest of his life. His rationale is that this one time fraud followed by 6 years of jail time will yield him more money than working an entire life at the bank. José thinks his plan is perfect but like all film noirs, there are elements that José doesn’t factor in such as his family’s vulnerability or street smart gangsters. These unseen factors turn his plans upside down leading to a pulsating action packed finale.

Hugo Fregonese packs in a lot in just under 90 minutes. The first half of the film not only sets up the plan and execution but also gives enough of a family backstory which helps explain José’s decisions. The second half depicts fascinating prison power dynamics before the film incorporates car chases and a good old fashioned shoot-out. I hadn’t seen any of Hugo Fregonese’s films prior to Hardly a Criminal. The impressive execution of the film means that was a huge cinematic blindspot on my end. In reality, Fregonese wasn’t that much in the shadows if I had only looked in the right spots. He was a global film director who started his career in his native Argentina in 1940s before moving to direct films in Hollywood in 1950s such as Apache Drums (1951), Man in the Attic (1953), Black Tuesday (1954). He then moved around Europe to direct a string of films (The Beasts of Marseilles, The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse) before returning to Argentina. If others haven’t seen a film by him, then Hardly a Criminal is a great starting point.

On another note, the running time of Moreno’s The Delinquents (3 hours 9 min) is double in length to Apenas un Delincuente (88 min) and doesn’t have any car chases, bullets or a backstory. Yet, both films are precious in their own right. In fact, the difference in treatment highlights how creativity can ensure that we will never run of worthy films to view.

Cross-published at Wonders in the Dark.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Best Films of 2023

As Cannes 2024 is wrapping up, I still have to catch up with a few worthy Cannes 2023 films (Lisandro Alonso, Victor Erice) but I have seen enough 2023 films now to put together a list. I have previously mentioned the challenges of legally seeing newer 2023 films so won’t reiterate that here.

Without further ado, here are my best films of 2023:

1. Past Lives (USA/South Korea, Celine Song)


A tender emotionally beautiful film. Like a soothing piece of music.

2. La Chimera (Italy/France/Switzerland/Turkey, Alice Rohrwacher)

A warm shape shifting film that tugs at both the mind and heart.

3. Laapataa Ladies (India, Kiran Rao)


Kiran Rao and writers Biplab Goswami, Divyanidhi Sharma, Sneha Desai have done an outstanding job by seamlessly stitching socially relevant topics within the fabric of a humorous comedic film.

4. The Delinquents (Argentina/Luxembourg/Brazil/Chile, Rodrigo Moreno)

Takes the bank fraud at core of the 1949 Argentine film Apenas un delincuente and transforms it into a languid stroll through the countryside.

5. How to have Sex (UK/Greece/France/Belgium, Molly Manning Walker)

At first, this appears to be cut from the same cloth as Spring Breakers but the film digs deeper into how men can still circumvent consent in a post #MeToo world.

6. 12th Fail (India, Vidhu Vinod Chopra)

It is hard to believe that Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a major name in Indian Cinema, has made one of the best films of his career at the age of 70 (he is 71 now). 12th Fail is a film stripped of any fat and with a singular focus. The struggles of exams and getting a job in India have been documented in cinema before but Chopra has infused the film with plenty of hope.  Part of the reason for that could be that the film is based on the real life story of Manoj Kumar Sharma and Shraddha Joshi and highlights how that there was always a ray of hope around the corner for the main character despite many pitfalls.

7. Kho Gaye Hum Kahan (India, Arjun Varain Singh)

A highly relevant contemporary film that depicts impact of social media on current generation. The film is set in Mumbai but the scenarios and characters can be found in most internet-connected nations around the world.

8. Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Vietnam/Singapore/France/Spain, Thien An Pham)

An earthy interpretation of Apichatpong’s spiritual cinema.

9. La Cancha (Canada, Mustafa Uzuner)

Mustafa Uzuner lovingly depicts how a community basketball court in Montreal can be a meditation on life and social connections. Pure cinema.

10. Io Capitano (Italy/Belgium/France, Matteo Garrone)

A film that goes beyond the headlines and depicts the perilous journey of its two characters from Senegal to Italy. Garrone also shows how communities spring up and sustain characters in cities/nations that find themselves at centre of migration.

11. Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World (Romania co-production, /Luxembourg/France/Croatia/Switzerland/UK, Radu Jude)


One of the funniest films of the year that manages to take a dig at lengths corporations go to manufacture/sustain their social image. The constant social media attention of main character means she wouldn’t be out of place with the characters in Kho Gaye Hum Kahan.

Honourable Mentions (in order of preference):

Mast Mein Rehne Ka (India, Vijay Maurya)

Samsara (Spain,  Lois Patiño) 

Blackberry (Canada, Matt Johnson)

The Settlers (Chile/Argentina/UK/Taiwan/Germany/Sweden/France/Denmark, Felipe Gálvez Haberle)

About Dry Grasses (Turkey/France/Germany/Sweden, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Worthy 2022 films seen in 2024:
 

Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (India, Lijo Jose Pellissery)

Trenque Lauquen (Argentina/Germany, Laura Citarella)

The Beasts (Spain/France, Rodrigo Sorogoyen)

Showing Up (USA, Kelly Reichardt)

Sunday, May 19, 2024

20th Anniversary of Scribbles and Ramblings

The first entry on this blog was on May 10, 2004. Safe to say, it was a very different world 20 years ago. It wasn't a simpler time or crisis free world but lack of smart phones certainly helped in keeping the insanity down a few notches. However, instead of focusing on the political, social or economic differences over the last 2 decades, I want to focus on soccer differences because the first 4 points in this blog were about football/soccer:

1) Valencia crowned Liga Champions after an astonishing collapse by Real. Nothing fake about the win there -- pure hardwork.
2) Arsenal remained unbeaten after 37 games. Thanks to Reyes -- the Spanish connection.
3) Werder Bremen won the Bundesliga in the best possible manner, a 3-1 win away to defending champs, Bayern Munich. The result left no doubt about the best team in Germany.
4) Milan & Roma take dives. But will it be enough for Perugia?

La Liga / Spanish League

In 2004, Valencia won the Spanish League title, their last of 6 overall titles. Since 2004, only 3 teams have won La Liga:

Barcelona: 11
Real Madrid: 7
Atlético Madrid: 2

It is hard to see any team other than these 3 capable of winning the league although Girona gave it a go this year.

Premier League

Arsenal went through the entire 2004 Premier League season unbeaten, a feat that has not been repeated since then. Although, Arsenal have not won the League title since then either but tried their best in 2023 and 2024 and finished second against the financially doped Man City team. The influx of money that started with Chelsea in 2003 has only increased exponentially over last two decades and Man City are swimming in endless money. Safe to say, it is hard to imagine any other team winning the title again.

Over the last 20 years, title has been won by these teams:

Man City: 8
Chelsea: 5
Man Utd: 5
Liverpool: 1
Leicester City: 1

Bundesliga / German League

Werder Bremen won the Bundesliga in 2004, their last of 4 total titles. It is hard to imagine that given how Bayern Munich have dominated the last two decades including winning 11 straight titles. Bayern were finally stopped in 2024 after a historic unbeaten season by Bayer Leverkusen who finally won their first ever Bundesliga title.

Over last 20 years, Bayern have dominated the league:

Bayern Munich: 15
Borussia Dortmund: 2
VfB Stuttgart: 1
VfL Wolfsburg: 1
Bayer Leverkusen: 1

Serie A / Italian League

AC Milan won Serie A in 2004 and Roma finished second but Italian football went through major changes in 2006 with Calciopoli. The results of the investigations meant Juventus got relegated and there were points deduction for AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina. As a result, Inter Milan dominated initially by winning 5 straight titles from 2006-2010. Once Juventus were back to their old self, they won 9 straight Serie A titles from 2012-2020. The last few years have seen an actual title race even though Napoli dominated 2023 and Inter did the same in 2024.

Titles won by teams between 2004 - 2024:

Juventus: 9
Inter Milan: 7
AC Milan: 2
Napoli: 1
No title awarded in 2004-05 as Juventus had their title taken away due to Calciopoli.

20 Years on 

The last two decades of European football have been dominated by just a few teams winning their domestic league titles. This was covered in two earlier posts, one around the failed European Super League while the other post looked at how just fewer teams can actually win the Champions League. The actual on-field game has sped up and become exciting in some leagues but the lack of different winners means most competitions are predictable affairs.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Not Best Films of 2023 List

With each passing year, the theatrical and film distribution machinery gets even more broken and can only sustain, promote and release fewer films from the previous year. This results in the same few films named over and over again in majority of end-of-the-year best film lists. Such lists consist of few decent American studio films with some foreign films that won top prizes at A-list film festivals from the current or past year and an occasional Independent film. I am forced to depend on this broken machinery as I am unable to travel to film festivals like in the past. As a result, my end of the year film list is getting pushed further into the next year. Last year, I was able to make a list on April 1 2023 for my Top 2022 films. This year on April 1, I haven’t gotten close to making such a list as a lot of the films I want to see are out of reach.

Instead, I am doing something different. I am making a list of films that will not be making my best films of the year list.

Here are some films that will not be in my best films of 2023 list (in alphabetical order):

Afire (Germany, Christian Petzold)
American Fiction (USA, Cord Jefferson)
Anatomy of a Fall (France, Justine Triet)
Asteroid City (Germany/USA, Wes Anderson)
Barbie (USA/UK, Greta Gerwig)
Fallen leaves (Finland/Germany, Aki Kaurismäki)
The Holdovers (USA,  Alexander Payne)
Killers of the Flower Moon (USA, Martin Scorsese)
May December (USA, Todd Haynes)
Monster (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Napolean (USA/UK, Ridley Scott)
Oppenheimer (US/UK, Christopher Nolan)
Passages (France/Germany, Ira Sachs)
Perfect Days (Japan/Germany, Wim Wenders)
Poor Things (Ireland/UK/USA/Hungary, Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Zone of Interest (USA/UK/Poland, Jonathan Glazer)

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Ranking the Films of Hong Sang-soo

In 2011, I was foolish enough to think I could catch-up to all of Hong Sang-soo's films. I had that crazy belief after I saw 3 of his newest films in cinemas in 2010. However, I didn’t anticipate the prolific output of Hong Sang-soo where he went from a single film per year to as many as 3 in 2017 and multiple 2 films per year outputs (2018, 2021, 2022, 2023). As of Mar 2024, these are the 31 directed features to his name (not including shorts):

1. The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well (1996)
2. The Power of Kangwon Province (1998)
3. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000)
4. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002)
5. Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)
6. Tale of Cinema (2005)
7. Woman on the Beach (2006)
8. Night and Day (2008)
9. Like You Know It All (2009)
10. Hahaha (2010)
11. Oki’s Movie (2010)
12. The Day He Arrives (2011)
13. In Another Country (2012)
14. Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013)
15. Our Sunhi (2013)
16. Hill of Freedom (2014)
17. Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
18. Yourself and Yours (2016)
19. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
20. Claire’s Camera (2017)
21. The Day After (2017)
22. Grass (2018)
23. Hotel by the River (2018)
24. The Woman Who Ran (2020)
25. Introduction (2021)
26. In Front of Your Face (2021)
27. The Novelist’s Film (2022)
28. Walk Up (2022)
29. In Water (2023)
30. In Our Day (2023)
31. A Traveler’s Needs (2024)

In 2011, I had seen 5 of his 12 features to-date so I was 7 films behind. Now, I have seen 24/31 of his features so the gap is still amazingly at 7. One reason why this gap exists is because his films are not easily available via legal means. No single streaming service or traditional Blu-Ray/DVD distributor holds all the rights to his movies. Not attending film festivals also restricts my ability to view his new films. So in a sense, I will always be a few years behind in seeing his films and if his output remains at 2-3 films per year, chances are that gap will always stay at 5-7 films if not more.

Still, I am determined to close the gap after drawing inspiration from reading Dennis Lim’s excellent book on Hong Sang-soo’s Tale of Cinema. Lim uses that singular film as a basis to examine the various themes and styles found in Hong’s cinema. I will expand on some of these aspects in a future entry but for now, I want to list my Top 10 Hong Sang-soo films to place a marker to examine his future films against.

Top 10 Hong Sang-soo films

1. Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
2. The Day He Arrives (2011)
3. Tale of Cinema (2005)
4. Like You Know It All (2009)
5. The Day After (2017)
6. In Front of Your Face (2021)
7. Woman Is the Future of Man (2004)
8. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)
9. Night and Day (2008)
10. In Another Country (2012)

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Top Brazilian Films of All Time

The inspiration to make this list came after reading Filipe Furtado’s list of 10 Great Brazilian films.

These words by Filipe ring true with a slight change that UK can be replaced by majority of countries in the world: “Like many important filmographies of the global south, Brazilian cinema doesn’t circulate much in the UK, which can make the prospect of discovering it even more daunting.”

I have only seen 6 of 10 films in Filipe’s list but more telling is that I haven’t even heard of the remaining 4 films or seen any references to them in any film articles or books previously. Beyond these 4 films, there are numerous more worthy Brazilian films to be seen. That being said, I have decided to list my Top 10 knowing full well that this list will change over the years once I am able to see more vital Brazilian films.

Top 10 Brazilian Films

1. Black God, White Devil (1964, Glauber Rocha)
2. Limite (1931, Mario Peixoto)
3. Cabra Marcado para Morrer / Twenty Years Later (1984, Eduardo Coutinho)
4. Vidas Secas / Barren Lives (1963, Nelson Pereira dos Santos)
5. Pixote (1980, Hector Babenco)
6. Terra em Transe / Entranced Earth (1967, Glauber Rocha)
7. Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005, Marcelo Gomes)
8. Neigboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
9. A Febre / The Fever (2019, Maya Da-Rin)
10. Noite Vazia / Men and Women (1964, Walter Hugo Khouri)


Honourable Mentions (10 more films):

Barravento (1962, Glauber Rocha)
The House of Sand (2005, Andrucha Waddington)
O Padre e a Moça / The Priest and the Girl (1965, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade)
Central Station (1998, Walter Salles)
City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles/Kátia Lund)
Carandiru (2003, Hector Babenco)
The Middle of the World (2003, Vicente Amorim)
Avenida Brasília Formosa (2010, Gabriel Mascaro)
O Pagador de Promessas / The Given Word (1962, Anselmo Duarte)
The Conspirators (1972, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade)

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Pemini Organisation

I hadn’t heard about the Pemini Organisation until I came across Powerhouse Films/Indicator Series Box-set of these 3 movies:

HUNTED (1972, Peter Crane)
ASSASSIN (1973, Peter Crane)
MOMENTS (1974, Peter Crane)


The name Pemini comes from the first 2 letters of the three friends: Peter Crane, Michael Sloan and Nigel Hodgson. Peter Crane directed all 3 films written by Michael Sloan. Incredibly, all 3 were very young when the organisation started making the films as Peter was 21 years, Nigel 22 and
Michael 24 years old.

Lone Wolf, Gun for hire

Assassin movies are now part of the global film landscape and every year we get a new harvest of films which depict solitary male or female characters going about killing their enemies. Majority of such contemporary assassin films focus on body count and gruesome manner characters are killed in. However, Pemini Organisation’s first 2 films get at the core of who an assassin is and what makes them tick.

At the start of Hunted, we don’t know the main character John Drummond (Edward Woodward) is looking to kill. Instead, he is looking to rent out an apartment. During the course of a conversation between Edward and the realtor Margaret (June Ritchie), it dawns on Margaret that he is looking to commit a crime. When she confronts him with this, John admits his intentions and make it sound like he randomly intends to shoot people down on the street. But as the two continue to talk, she realises that his killing act may not be as random as he made it out to be. The engaging and taut Hunted is powered by a very smart screenplay and lively performances of
Edward Woodward and June Ritchie.

While no killing is shown in the Hunted, Assassin takes that lone gun character and brings him to life in the form of a character (played perfectly by Ian Hendry) hired by organisations to kill select targets. The film shows the daily mechanics, preparation and process an assassin goes through to stalk and hunt their victim for money. Yet, the film isn’t confined to the solitary character but shows the people who pull the strings behind the killing. The film shows how a target is selected, a killer or a team is hired and how loose ends are tied up. Assassin lays out the template that so many films have used over the decades most notably Anton Corbijn’s The American (2010).

Ghosts in the hotel halls


Moments is a change of topic and pace from the previous two Pemini films. Peter Samuelson (Keith Michell) goes to a hotel in Eastbourne (South Coast of England) and reminiscences of his childhood when he spent time in the hotel. Peter visits during the offseason when majority of the hotel is empty. However, he is isn’t there for any fun trip but instead plans to end his life by turning his gun inwards. In this regard, the film is still tied to Hunted, albeit in a different manner of gun usage. But a knock on the door by a young woman Chrissy (Angharad Rees) gives him pause.

The depiction of the vast empty hotel with its empty halls bring to mind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. However, Moments was released 6 years before The Shining (1980). Given the difference in tone of the films, it is hard to know if the hotel and its hallway shots inspired Kubrick’s film. The last shots in Moments show the Grand hotel in
Eastbourne from an aerial distance with the hotel getting further away as the credits roll. This finale and many other moments end up making the hotel a character in itself, something echoed by The Shining as well.

The Pemini Organisation (1972-74)


In an essay accompanying the boxset, Peter Crane mentions the financial difficulties of making and distributing these films. The organisation ended in 1974 and didn’t make any more films. That is a pity given the impressive quality of these films. Assassin is the brilliant standout film from the trio but all 3 films are far superior than majority of the Hollywood studio films that take over cinemas on a weekly basis.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Pablo Trapero's Cinema

This spotlight came about due to the discovery that Netflix Canada has several of Pablo Trapero’s films. Last year there were 5 Trapero films but as of current writing, there are now 7 films. That is an impressive number considering that Trapero has directed 9 features to date. The only 2 films from these 9 that are not on Netflix yet are his last 2 features: The Quietude and The Clan. 

Mundo Grúa / Crane World (1999)
El bonaerense (2002)
Rolling Family (2004)
Born and Bred (2006)
Leonera / Lion’s Den (2008)
Carancho (2010)
Elefante blanco / White Elephant (2012)
The Clan (2015)
The Quietude (2018)


New Argentine Cinema

Pablo Trapero was a key part of the New Argentine Cinema that started to emerge in the late 1990s, not only in terms of style but also in terms of recognition. In Demetrios Matheou’s The Faber Book of New South American Cinema, Matheou mentions the following:

“It was Trapero’s debut, Mundo Grúa (Crane World, 1999), completed when he was twenty-seven, that won the best director prize at the inaugural Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI), a festival that quickly became a champion of New Argentine Cinema. It was Mundo Grúa, with further prizes in Rotterdam and Venice, that alerted the wider film community that Argentina might have something to offer the Latin American party that was only then turning up the amps.” page 259, The Faber Book of New South American Cinema, Demetrios Matheou

The unique perspective of these New Argentine films such as Trapero’s Mundo Grúa (Crane World, 1999) broke away from the conventional cinematic mould that existed previously. Crane World was filmed in grainy black and white, had extended takes, used non-professional actors and depicted events in a vérité manner. This style echoed Italian neo-realist cinema and also incorporated Argentina’s social and economic realities. The economic crisis of 1998-02 impacted Argentine society drastically and these New Argentine films, including Trapero’s debut, embraced the harsh reality and stitched it within their framework to depict youth and workers struggling to make ends meet.

Crane World follows the life and travels of Rulo (Luis Margani) as he attempts to earn a living by taking up whatever jobs he can find. Rulo tries his luck as a crane operator but he is let go from his job after his boss has concerns about Rulo’s health. Rulo drifts to the Argentine countryside to find a job in the construction industry but things don’t work out there because of other workers' dispute with the owners over a missing lunch. Rulo’s charming and easy going personality certainly help him overcome any hardships, be it with his job or with his son. Over the course of the film, it is uncovered that Rulo was once in a band and this revelation helps open some new doors for him.

Trapero continues this vérité style in his second feature El bonaerense which builds on the themes of employment and tough social/economic conditions depicted in his first film. El bonaerense expands its scope to depict corruption in the police force which is made worse by the tightening financial situation each character finds himself in. The dog-eat-dog world means that everyone is trying to get their share by whatever means possible.

Social Realism and Family

“Poet of the everyday: Pablo Trapero”, Demetrios Matheou, The Faber Book of New South American Cinema

Demetrios Matheou perfectly highlights Trapero's cinematic style with just these four words "Poet of the everyday".

All of Trapero’s 9 features to date shed light on topics that impact citizens in their day-to-day lives. The social, political, economic and political topics that his films cover are those that keep people up at night, be it finding a job, keeping a family/relationship together or holding on to a house. Trapero’s usage of non-actors also adds to this realistic portrayal of an everyday citizen. Trapero has illustrated different topics and film genres but all these 9 films are united in their aspect of family, be it a real family or a family born out of community/association/circumstances.

Rolling Family (2004) is a variation of a road family movie and balances keen observations of family dynamics with a pinch of comedy. Born and Bred (2006) examines the impact of guilt on a father (Santiago played by Guillermo Pfening) as he leaves his city life to work in the rugged cold Patagonian landscape. The Patagonian landscape and the isolated life echoes Carlos Sorin’s movies and can be considered a precursor to Lisandro Alonso’s Liverpool (2008) albeit with a difference as Alonso’s film dove further south into Tierra del Fuego.

Leonera / Lion’s Den (2008) shows a family dissolving before it can even materialize. In the film, Julia (Martina Gusmán) is framed for her boyfriend’s murder even though she discovers his dead body. In prison, she learns of her pregnancy and that discovery lands her in a ward for pregnant and young mothers. As per the film, a child born in prison has to be given away to a relative or a destination chosen by the court at the age of 4. Julia fights to secure a better life for her son. The Indian film Jawan (2023) shows an imprisoned woman giving birth in prison and raising her son but this topic was covered by Trapero much earlier.

Carancho (2010) switches gears and highlights the fraudulent injury insurance practises some people undertake to make some money. The film underscores the desperate economic plight of people that they are willing to put their bones on the line for some cash. White Elephant (2012) is a fascinating intersection of socialism, capitalism and the role of religion in brokering a deal between social good vs private property development.

On the surface, The Clan (2015) deals with extortion and mafia like tactic of a family who seek to profit from kidnapping children of rich people. But underneath the surface is the structure and framework of The Dirty War and disappearances that took place in Argentina. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that for his next film, Trapero addresses the Argentina dictatorship. The Quietude (2018) starts off as a film about complicated family relationships and sibling rivalry. However, it is clear early on that the large estate the family lives in played a part in the death of the family patriarch. The whispers and hushed talks finally surface in the film’s final third when harsh truths about the dictatorship are addressed head-on.

Overall sentiment

Pablo Trapero has built an insightful and worthy body of work with just 9 features. He has examined different social, cultural, economic and political aspects of Argentine society with unflinching honesty. He is aided by a collection of talented actors and film crew. One notable mention goes to Martina Gusmán, married to Trapero since 2000, since she has stared in 5 of these films. Gusmán has a small role in Born and Bred (2006) but is the main force in Lion’s Den (2008). Her character is an excellent foil to Ricardo Darín’s character in Carancho and her character in White Elephant (2012) is the calm voice in the middle of the two opposing views of Jérémie Renier's and Ricardo Darín’s characters. Martina Gusmán truly steals the spotlight in The Quietude (2018) as her expressions and body language perfectly depict the tense rivalry and relationship of her character Mia with her sister Eugenia (played excellently by Bérénice Bejo). Both Martina Gusmán and Bérénice Bejo appear like twins and their appearance and expressions nicely layer the film’s tension.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Films of Roy Andersson

This is a combination of two previous posts related to the following four films from Roy Andersson:

Songs from the Second Floor (2000)
You, The Living (2007)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)
About Endlessness (2019)


The first three films in the above list are part of his “Living Trilogy” while About Endlessness feels like an epilogue to the trilogy. All four films contain similar style and themes such as usage of deadpan humour and an existentialist theme.

Singing songs en route to Godot

Songs from the Second Floor is a cinematic twist on Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. In the famous play, two characters quietly wait for Godot because they believe Godot will make everything better and provide happiness. In Songs from the Second Floor, characters are always in motion looking for happiness but since they move ever so slowly, their motion can be considered as a painful never ending waiting period. For example, the lives of some characters are taken up by an almost never ending traffic jam which leads them to complain about spending 8 hours stuck in traffic, while on other occasions, the traffic gridlock is shown to exist across multiple days. There are empty streets all around the one gridlocked main street but no one seems to be driving on the other side streets. Instead, everyone just stays trapped in one street, moving a few yards, every few minutes and never arriving to their destination on time. An officer on the way to a millionaire general’s 100th birthday comes up with this wisdom:

“Life is Time and time is a stretch of road. That makes life a journey, a trip.” He goes on to add that heritage, tradition and history are maps and compasses that accompany a person on their journey. As the cars inch their way slowly down the never ending road, people have the illusion of getting closer to their end goal.

Another line that is often repeated in the film is “Beloved be the one who sits down.” Since everyone is always in motion, sitting down to rest appears to be a dream, a goal.

The persistent sentiment in Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living feature characters who are exhausted and tired of their lives. In Songs from the Second Floor, Kalle (Lars Nordh) repeatedly shouts that he cannot take it anymore and in his desperation to better his life, he burns his own shop down hoping to collect the insurance money. In You, the Living, a psychologist admits he cannot continue in his job because he cannot stand listening to people complain. Characters in the film come off as carrying a huge burden on their shoulders. This extra baggage is demonstrated near the end of Songs.. when characters are shown pulling tons of luggage en route to possibly heaven where their souls will get the rest they failed to get on earth.

They, the dead


Death is a persistent element present in the “Living Trilogy” either in the form of the walking dead (zombies, ghosts) or characters on verge of dying or those that actually pass away in
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. There are many characters who have had enough of their lives and are contemplating suicide. In many cases, it appears that death is walking side by side with these people seeking to collect the worn out and tired physical body of the living beings.

Songs from the Second Floor depicts an end of the world scenario where inhabitants are on the verge of extinction, so it is not surprising to see death hovering over the inhabitants. And just to make sure that death does not miss a single person, a fleet of bombers heads towards the city at the end of You, the Living so that no person is forced to continue living their miserable life. As depressing as the topic of death sounds, Andersson’s films are anything but a downer. In fact, they are packed with plenty of dry/dark humour and absurd situations which may not induce a full out laugh but a disbelieving smile and a shake of the head. Each frame contains enough fascinating action in both the foreground and background which ensures no misery is taken too seriously. In one scene in Songs from the Second Floor, Kalle is upset about his burned down shop but in the background, a procession of office employees walk flagellating themselves. The same employees are then found walking in the background when in the foreground an officer is philosophizing about the meaning of life. In You, the Living an elderly man narrates how he lost a huge chunk of his money but his sad story does not garner too much attention as the man is being humped by a woman in a viking hat who is moaning with pleasure.

Jokes completed 7 years later

Each film in the “Living Trilogy” is spaced out by 7 years and stand as separate films but they are tied together with the same dry humour style and are a study of miserable characters in a city on the verge of extinction. In the first two films of the trilogy, some jokes that start off in the first film are visually depicted in the second film. For example, in Songs from the Second Floor a business meeting is interrupted when an employee points to a neighboring building that is moving. The moving building is never shown but in You, the Living a moving house is shown, which may have been mistaken for the moving building in the first film.

The traffic congestion from the first film is still found in the second film You, the Living.

In Songs.. characters are shown to be escaping the city with their luggage. One interpretation of that escape is that it refers to people carrying their baggage as they head to heaven. Another explanation is provided by the ending of You, the Living when fighter airplanes are seen heading towards the city. The aerial shot of the planes indicate they are going to bomb the city into destruction, which would mean that the luggage scene in Songs.. is an attempt by the residents to escape their city before it is destroyed.

The misery of the characters in the first film continues in the second film as well.

Epilogue

About Endlessness, released 5 years after A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, appears to be an epilogue to the “Living Trilogy” but has a more bleaker look due to the greyish palette complete with overcast skies.

The opening sequence stands out as two characters fly over a city in ruins. That is just one of a series of vignettes in the film which doesn’t interleave characters like the “Living Trilogy”. Instead, some segments are linked together by an unseen female narrator’s voice-over such as “I saw a man…”. There is the expected deadpan, some gags, inclusion of religious elements and some attempts to tackle contemporary issues. Although, one of the contemporary segments about honour killing doesn’t have the intended impact and stands out as tone-deaf.

The “Living Trilogy” and About Endlessness were released over a long duration of 19 years. The world changed significantly over these two decades yet Andersson has largely maintained a similar style over this duration with a few tweaks. Unfortunately, I find the last two films weaker in comparison to Songs from the Second Floor and You, The Living. That could be more due to the high bar by those two earlier films or perhaps my changing perspective.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

The Films of Elio Petri

Elio Petri’s name doesn’t come up when the top names of Italian cinema are mentioned. Such a roll call often features titles by Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Visconti, Rossellini and Ermanno Olmi, directors whose films are often canonized. These other directors may not feature on many lists but a few of their uncompromising political titles are often cited: Pontecorvo, Francesco Rosi, Pasolini, Bellocchio, Bertolucci and Elio Petri. Until recently, I had only seen just two of Petri’s films: Inspection of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The 10th Victim. A closer look at Petri’s films was long overdue so grouping the previously seen Inspection of a Citizen Above Suspicion with 5 other films to form the following mini-spotlight:

I giorni contati / His Days Are Numbered (1962)
A ciascuno il suo / We Still Kill the Old Way (1967)
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)
The Working Class Goes to Heaven / Lulu the Tool (1971)
Property Is No Longer a Theft (1973)
Todo Modo / One Way or Another (1976)


Corruption

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is the best known of all of Petri’s film due to its Oscar win. It feels highly relevant today given the topic of corruption and abuse of power. Dottore (Gian Maria Volontè) is a corrupt police officer who commits murder. He starts to leave clues pointing towards his crimes yet he evades getting arrested. This is due to the corrupt system of power that exists around and above him in the hierarchy. No matter how brazen he gets, no matter how open his crimes are, he won’t be charged until those in power decide he is no longer of use to them. The topic rings true in our current times as we have a plethora of politicians who lie (take your pick) and are guilty, yet they continue to get away with it.

Mafia

Corruption and power in the police are at the core of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion but in We Still Kill the Old Way, the focus of these topics is instead on the mafia and how their methods of intimidation, fear and power impact ordinary citizens. We Still Kill the Old Way is a fascinating film that shows a professor (a subtle contemplative Gian Maria Volontè) succumbing to a femme fatale and blindly walking into a trap laid by the mafia. The professor ignores all the signs around him and doesn't fathom the mafia's hold on society.

Socialism vs Capitalism


The Working Class Goes to Heaven (or Lulu the Tool) perfectly highlights differences between Socialism and Capitalism. In the film, as the workers go to the factory, union members/leaders with megaphones shout at them to rise up against the system. The union members highlight that the workers go to work in darkness and emerge in darkness, wasting precious hours of sunlight working at the assembly lines of the factory. The main worker in the film, Lulu (a brilliant Gian Maria Volontè), is known for his fast production rates which others can’t meet. Lulu works and works, ignoring the words of the union outside. However, his views change when he hurts himself on the same machines he worked tirelessly on. Now, he becomes an advocate for worker rights.

The words spoken in this 1971 film ring even more true in our current times when there are reports of people working themselves into the ground on assembly lines of Amazon and other big box stores. The gap between rich and poor has increased in the 5 decades since this film and capitalism is literally burning up the planet. Safe to say, until the planet is destroyed, Petri’s film will always be relevant.

Private property is a core tenant of capitalism and that is the topic of Property is No Longer Theft, a film buzzing with ideas about wealth, property, theft, ownership. Total (Flavio Bucci) targets the Butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) in a cat-mouse game of theft, but Total doesn't steal major items of financial value but instead targets smaller items of sentimental value. To complicate matters, Total has an allergic reaction to money even though he works at a bank. His character’s depiction and actions add another layer of debate around the entire capitalist nature of society. The film is modelled in a similar manner to Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion but lacks the latter’s dramatic power.

Meaning of life

His Days Are Numbered is centered around Cesare (Salvo Randone) who has an existential crisis when he observes a death on his way home. Cesare ponders to think what it means to live and work. He quits his job and wanders around town, seeking answers to meaning of life and happiness. This film covers similar ground as that of Kurosawa’s Ikiru and also forms an extension piece to The Working Class Goes to Heaven. Any of the characters in The Working Class Goes to Heaven could easily find themselves in Cesare’s shoes.

Power Structure of a Society


Up until 1976’s Todo Modo, Elio Petri examined a variety of topics ranging from corruption, crime, political and financials systems, working rights but the films zeroed in on individual characters or a few characters who are cogs in the system. In Todo Modo, Petri casts his net wider and examines the entire power structure of a nation and people who pull the strings from the top political party, church, banks down to individuals carrying out the will of the system. This brilliant examination is based on Leonardo Sciascia’s novel of the same name which in turn was inspired by Italy’s ruling party at the time.

Todo Modo’s premise feels apocalyptic, sci-fi and shows a society where an epidemic is killing people. In order to avoid sickness, prominent members of society gather in an underground bunker to save themselves while working out a plan to restructure society. The film’s open political depiction clearly means this isn’t a film for everyone and also it isn’t surprising that it caused controversy upon its release in Italy. The film builds on themes and topics Petri covered in his career and feels like a cinematic culmination for Petri. The film has notable performances by Gian Maria Volonté and Marcello Mastroianni.

Other Reading

Larry Portis’ detailed examined of Elio Petri’s films is a must-read.
Part 1
and Part 2.

Michael Pattison on Investigation at Mubi.

Paul Costianes on Petri.