Directed by Bela Tarr and released on television in its home country of Hungary in 1982.
An early effort from Bela Tarr in which he gives us his rendition of one of William Shakespeare’s most well known pieces, Macbeth. As to be expected from the genius that is Bela Tarr, we are given two shots. That’s it. For the entire film. The first of which lasts around five minutes, and the second wobs, weaves and lingers for an incredible sixty or so minutes. Of course this technical aspect was to become a staple of Tarr’s work to come (for an example see… well, any of his films post-Damnation).
Beyond the sheer brilliance of the technical side of this piece, we have an absolutely fantastic performance from György Cserhalmi as the titular Macbeth. I might usually complain about the theatricalness of a film like this, but considering the fact that the way in which it is presented is more akin to the stage play where the source material for this was designed for and perfected to, I can do nothing more than marvel at it.
All in all, beyond the technical aspects which Tarr has since come to be known for, we have a master class in how to adapt a play for a film. Another beautiful aspect of most of Tarr’s work is that it feels like it could well have been filmed in the seventeenth century and the fact that this is one of his few pieces which isn’t in black and white gives Tarr fans all the more reason to seek it out.
Directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and released in its home country of Thailand in 2003.
“Many books say ‘Death is relaxing.’ Did you know that?”
Why is it that films about death always seem to be so beautiful? As bleak as it remains throughout its entire running film I think you’d be hard pressed to find another film in the entire bastion of cinema that remains as true to its ideas as this.
Kenji is a man seemingly obsessed with death, and when the Grim Reaper throws itself into his life it isn’t a singular event, it comes again and again and again. Thrust into his life through a miraculous chain of events that always seems to occur when he is on the brink of fulfilling his aforementioned obsession, is Noi. Noi is the opposite of everything Kenji is, and as an age old saying goes, “Opposites attract.” She is incredibly untidy, chain smokes like a chimney and brushes off any and all events as they happen (only for them to creep back in later); he is obsessed with cleanliness in a way that challenges even Howard Hughes, and attempts to find meaning in almost everything that happens. Fortunately this mismatch makes for the most compelling viewing.
The sheer audacity of the screenplay is one thing but the way in which everything falls into place makes it seem so real as if it could never have been written; by the end of the film you have no idea what is going to happen next, just like if you were one of the very characters in the film. To me, that is what cinema should be, the utmost representation of what life is; not an over-exaggeration made simply for the purpose of entertaining those who watch it.
Despite the incredible bleakness of it, Last Life In The Universe. is one of the most beautiful love stories ever made and I’m almost kicking myself for not having seen it until this moment but something tells me I was right to wait.
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto and released in its home country of Japan in 1966.
Another great samurai film, this time from Kihachi Okamoto and with the great Toshiro Mifune in a fantastic supporting role, leaving ample space for Tatsuya Nakadai as Ryunosuke Tsukue; the samurai with only one partner, his sword: thanks to this he has an endless line of enemies. The question you ask yourself when you watch him take another cup of sake is if he will do himself in or if his demise will be at the hands of another.
The film builds up tension like a rocket awaiting to be fired and at its most incredible features an atmosphere unlike any other to be found in the cinema that I’ve seen from this genre, but then again maybe I need to see a few more films before I make that assessment. Nevertheless, we are treated to a vast array of plot points to keep us entertained as Ryunosuke strolls nonchalantly to his impending doom.
The final freeze frame shot is typical but I’d have liked to see a more intimate final showdown between two. But I suppose once you take into consideration the absolute depravity of Ryunosuke’s character you realise the only way for him to really go out is in a blaze of glory. Toshiro Mifune’s character, Toranosuke Shimada, says this quote midway through the picture: “The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. Evil mind, evil sword.” This relates perfectly to Ryunosuke’s mindstate throughout the entire film. The performance is no doubt a feat but I owe the greatness of The Sword of Doom to the atmosphere which director Okamoto creates along with the simultaneously stunning choreography of the battles.
Definitely worth a watch more than once.
Directed by Luis Bunuel and released in its home country of Mexico in 1965.
Another of Bunuel’s ambitious films about virtue (and from a pretentious critics point of view: one might label it pretentious) – this time focusing on a man who is literally put up on a pedestal in the desert. Hilarious at times – a man with no hands is healed, given back both of his hands, and the first thing he does is his smack his child with one of them – and downright outrageous at others – a coffin is dragged through the desert in front of Simon’s podium and out pops the Devil – Bunuel’s even stranger surrealist beginnings truly pay off for him here as it contains some of his most ambitious editing.
As with all his films though, it’s the screenplay that impresses most beyond anything – unfortunately for this film though it is let down by a less than satisfying ending and the fact that it was supposed to be followed by another film or two on the end of it in a portmanteau style that starred Silvia Pinal. That plan never came into fruition and this film suffers from it. It does work by itself though – just not as well as it may’ve if there were other films bookending it.
There is something about cinema that attracts people from all walks of life. Whether it is merely as a form of self-expression I think the societal effects a film can have; has played a vital part in the attraction of new filmmakers from all across the world. Films like The Act of Killing (2012) which showcase an entire generation from 1960’s Indonesia to the rest of the world who are likely oblivious to their existence let alone the events show in the film.
The real test, however, is how the nation itself reacts. I can’t say how everyday Indonesians have reacted to the film of course–that is even if the government of Indonesia have even allowed the film to be shown inside the country, another thing I can’t say–but I can give another example: in 1971 youths decided to recreate scenes they had seen or heard about in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). These stories, naturally, sparked an outrage across the United Kingdom with people completely denouncing the film as blasphemous and evil without even having seen the film. Upon hearing this, Kubrick was as shocked as the rest of the country but he also felt ashamed. It wasn’t his intention to influence already-violent teens into expressing rage in such a way. Due to his shame, Kubrick withdrew the film from UK cinemas with the request that it only be shown again after his death. By 1999 when Kubrick had passed away, despite urban legends that now surrounded the film, the national opinion on violence in cinema hadn’t changed so much as learnt to be much more tolerant. The video nasty age of the 1980’s surely played a huge part in the swaying of public opinion regards to violence in cinema. Within years of its re-release the film was labelled a cult classic and, by critics alike, as one of Kubrick’s most visionary masterpieces. While the film itself was not a direct catapult for the turnaround of national opinion with regards to violence in cinema, it was among a host of films from the era that caused a stir. Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) was also labelled evil and blasphemous thanks to incredible orgy scenes that featured dildo-wielding nuns swinging from chandeliers–enough to make even the most lax Christian squeal “BLASPHEMY!” through the screens as if their voice even made a difference.
Unfortunately there are some countries that are still to make a worthwhile addition to the world cinema. North Korea’s impositions on the cinema are the only reason the country has produced under 20 films in over 120 years since the art form being established. Even oppressed countries and states such as the Philippines and Vietnam have produced vast amounts of film as their contribution to the art form even throughout times of occupation and war being thrust upon them by oppressive countries and dictatorships. The hypocrisy of North Korea’s lack of cinema is exemplified by the fact that the neighbouring country South Korea produces thousands of films and televisions shows yearly as well as the vast archive of films that former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il held and treasured. His personal adoration of Elvis Presley alone should have been a clear indicator to any and all Koreans born in the North that have even a passing interest in cinema that there is more to this art form than the propaganda pumped through the airwaves for as long as they have existed on this planet.
The cinema of South Korea, much to the chagrin of their neighbours in the north, is absolutely astonishing. Out of all of the Asian countries, when you compare each of their best films and filmmakers South Korea undeniably stands on a pedestal above them. Of course, this is only with regards to the last three decades of cinema. If we were to take the 100 years prior into consideration Japan would definitely take the cake. So it seems that the versatility and brutal honesty of Japanese cinema that was so prevalent up until the 1970s (and that transformed into the horrific gore-fest films of the ‘80s and ‘90s the country produced that were as gory, bloody and rape-filled much more than they were honest or versatile) had been transferred to the South Korean cinema during the late 1990s. Directors like LEE Chang-dong, PARK Chan-wook and HONG Sang-soo would take the cinema of their country to brand new heights that it would not detract from, even at the point in time of writing this.
Despite this countries epic contribution to the cinematic art form, their neighbours to the north still insist on adding zero films to their repertoire–this is even with the passing of KIM Jong-il. The cinema of any other countries that neighbour each other do not compare with the difference in the Korean cinemas. Not even the cinemas of Great Britain can compare. Regardless of the fact that England has always been the stand-out country with regards to cinema. Wales, Scotland and Ireland have never really attempted to challenge this status quo. Trainspotting (1996), for example, is a great Scottish film but an Englishman was at the helm–Danny Boyle. The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), is a great Irish film but an Englishman was at the helm–Ken Loach. This is a trend that runs through almost all films from this region that has gained mainstream recognition. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing each country or state on this planet to participate in the cinematic art form–but at the end of the day; it just isn’t as simple as the want of one man.
Directed by Luis Bunuel and released in its home country of Spain in 1961.
Probably the best portrayal of virtue and piety gobbled up into 90 minutes that there ever has been. No matter how nice, Godly, or whatever, you profess to be or which others may think of you, there will always be someone to take advantage of it.
Unfortunately Silvia Pinal’s character, like most, couldn’t hack it and decided to throw herself into the loving embraces which she desperately craved throughout the entire picture. It’s not surprising though, really, considering how self-centred those homeless people were. Fortunately for us though, these predicaments provide a slick ending that, despite however thrown together it may have been, leaves one more perplexed than one could’ve been at any other point during the film.
The more of Bunuel’s films I see the more I absolutely adore his work. Not that I didn’t adore his work before, but now that I’ve truly begun to look deeper into his soul via his work I think it’s safe to say that it’s only now that I truly have appreciated the work.
Director of Satan’s Tango, Werckmeister Harmonies, The Turin Horse and others.
“You have to know that a movie is the most simple thing in the world. If you are a writer and you have an ashtray like the one I have in front of me now, you can write 20 pages about this ashtray, with metaphors and symbols, you can say a lot of theoretical things, because everything depends on the imagination of the reader. But I am a filmmaker; I have just the concrete, definitive ashtray. And the question is; how am I able to show you the ashtray? In this case, I’m able to develop emotions from you, but it’s always physical, concrete, and clear. I cannot use any metaphors. I cannot use any symbols. What I have are just some lenses, which are objective. I tell you and show you real things. Of course, if I am able to create a real, good situation that is human, and if I have good actors who are being in this situation, if I am able to develop some real human emotions before your eyes… in this case you can feel something that is a little bit more than the physical concrete reality.”