Wednesday, September 20, 2017

'Swept Away' and other films by Lina Wertmüller at the Castro Sept 23

By Moira Sullivan
Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini

In the annals of women and film history, Italian director Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Seven Beauties made in 1975. Four of her films and a documentary made about her will be screened at the Castro Theater on Sept 23, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute– in a tribute to this prolific director who made over 20 feature films. The films to be screened are the ones most known outside of Italy - “Love and Anarchy” (1973), “Swept Away” (1974) "Seven Beauties” (1975) and "The Seduction of Mimi” (1972).

All feature Giancarlo Giannini who today appears in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as a rogue cop –and as Inspector Pazzi in Hannibal.

“Behind the White Glasses”, made in 2015, will also be screened in the program, a documentary by Valerio Ruiz featuring interviews on Wertmüller with Martin Scorsese, Sophia Loren, Nastassja Kinski, Rutger Hauer, and Harvey Keitel.

Swept Away - its original title Swept away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August was a controversial film when it was released in the early 70s at the beginning of the second wave of the women’s movement. It is the story of a boat trip with upper-class Italians who are serviced by a crew of Southern Italian proletariats. Looking back at the film today many of the beliefs of the lead character Raffaella (played by the late Mariangela Melato) are important today – free abortion, divorce sanctioned by the Catholic Church and concern for overpopulation and pollution. However, in her frequent and chaotic outbursts she makes fun of working class Italians. In particular, she stirs up the wrath of Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini) who bides his time and endures her insults since the boating party will pay him and his colleagues a good wage when the yacht trip is over.

During the journey, Rafaella and Gennarino set out in a small dinghy at dusk so that she can find the rest of her party, but the boat breaks down and her friends do not look for them. They manage to get to a deserted island. Despite being marooned, Rafaella continues to lash out at Gennarino who finally snaps and refuses to share food with her that he catches from the sea. In order to "housetrain" Rafaella he has her wash his dirty underwear. The entire time on the island is a lesson in Italian Communism. He teaches her that many Italians are on a"strict diet called poverty". In between political lessons, he hits her. Eventually his domination results in her becoming so dependent on him that she eventually falls in love with him. The circumstances are typical of the "Stockholm Syndrome" where the abducted find alliances with their captors. When the marooned couple finally see a ship, they are reluctant to be rescued but eventually resume their places in the class society of Italy. For Gennarino he must resume his life as a poor fisherman in a loveless marriage; Rafaella returns to her privilege.

The screening in San Francisco when the film was first released was met by protests from feminist groups reacting to the treatment of Rafaella. Wertmüller's  preoccupation in the film is with class differences but it was a miss on her part to not understand the inequality of gender. It is for this reason that her films have not been popular with women.

Wertmüller's  style is audacious and colorful. Her characters are emboldened caricatures of Italian society that tradeoff between sexual politics and political engagement. In The Seduction of Mimi, a Sicilian miner loses his job because he refuses to back a Mafia politician. He leaves his wife to start a new life in Turin and abandons his political beliefs in the Communist Party much to the chagrin of his colleagues who despise him for being a coward. In Seven Beauties, Giancarlo Giannini plays a soldier who deserts the army and is sent to prison, a man with seven unattractive sisters who are forced into prostitution while he is incarcerated. To save himself he provides sexual favors to the female prison camp director. In Love and Anarchy Giancarlo Giannini plays an anarchist who lives in a brothel as he plans to assassinate Benito Mussolini.

Wertmüller's films are interesting today because of the political themes raised at the time, but also for her interesting and provocative film style.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 09/20/17
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Orrizonti (Horizons) Awards at 74th Venice Film Festival

By Moira Sullivan
The special jury prize in the Orrizonti section of the 74th Venice Film Festival (Aug 30 -  Sept 9) was awarded to Caniba directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. 
The filmmakers allege that they employ “a decentered, nonanthropocentric approach to the visual practice of the moving image" and that "their camera does not focus on humans as privileged actors”. Though this sounds impressive, their subject matter is one that has been medialized and fetishized since the 1980’s in numerous films and interviews, and hundreds of photographs, articles and publications.
In 1981, a Japanese graduate student was rejected by a Dutch woman who was his colleague. He then murdered and cannibalized her body. After a brief incarceration, Issei Sagawa signed himself out of the mental ward of a French hospital and returned home to Japan where he supported himself by writing manga and acting in cooking shows and pornographic films. 
The filmmakers approach involves an extensive use of close-ups of Issei and his brother Jun, often out of focus, often obscured by unknown objects in front of the camera. There are no questions, at least on camera, to the Sagawas.
The filmmakers display a celebrity, his brother, his playmate and found footage of his family through blurry close-ups and skewed camera angles and tracking shots. In the end, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel have succeeded in making a "spectacle" of a man by going against the grain of their ambitions.

The award for Best screenplay in the Horizons section went to the Iranian director Alireza Khatami for Oblivion Verses (Los versos del Olvido). It is Khatami’s first feature film, a film with no traditional plot or storyline and only 20% dialogue. 
Oblivion Verses (Los versos del Olvido)
Oblivion Verses, according to Khatami, is an art film about a man “who resists forgetting”. The film opens as a grave is being dug –The digger tells the story of the man he is burying to the morgue caretaker (Juan Margallo). He explains that the story of the dead is what gives them dignity as humans. Without a story, the living are not honored.  
The caretaker remembers everything but names and can recall the number of days he has worked or the number of days the visitors come to look for their missing relatives.  
Each shot and every scene of the film is calculated precisely but it is not movement in the sense of constant action, which Khatami equates with “capitalism”.
Alireza Khatami
The Orizzonti Award for Best Director went to Vahid Jalilvand for No Date, No Signature from Iranthe story of a government coroner. On his way home one night, Dr. Kaveh Nariman (Amir Agha’ee), is overtaken by a car that wants to pass. Nariman swerves his car in order to not be hit on the left even though a man on a motorbike with an eleven-year-old boy, a woman and a child are on the right and are knocked off the road. Narimen offers to drive them to the hospital but the father Moosa (Navid Mohammadzadeh) refuses and drives off with his wife and children.
The accident later comes to haunt Nariman. His colleague and intimate friend Dr. Sayeh Behbahani (Hediyeh Tehrani) later performs an autopsy on the same boy from the roadside accident who has apparently died of botulism. His parents are questioned about serving tainted food and deny any wrong doing.The Orizzonti Award for Best Actor went to Navid Mohammadzadeh for his portrayal of Moosa. 

Jalilvand is excellent in creating suspense through character studies by excellent actors. Everyone looks suspicious and seems to have something to hide. Given the political situation in Iran, the uncertainty of the characters reflects a society that treats offenders of the state harshly. 
  

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/01/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water wins Golden Lion at 74th Venice Film Festival

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer measure The Shape of Water


By Moira Sullivan


Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Wateris not one of his best films but it is a story that includes many of his themes. Tyranny over nature , inventions and technology that represent the future of man, and mutants that defy these standards. The Shape of Water is a time capsule of the American/Russian cold war government laboratory much like the setting of Hellboy(2004) and Hellboy: The Golden Army(2008). The sadistic, predatory and racist head of operations at the facility, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has control of a mutant that he captured in South America, resembling The Creature from the Black Lagoon(1954). He is called “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) and is not able to speak nor is as benevolent as Abe Sapien in both Hellboys (played also by Doug Jones) and is known to attack when pushed too far. The Russian scientist Dimitri is the only official at the plant looking out for Amphibian man. Later one of the cleaning ladies (Sally Hawkins) at the plant takes an interest.

Del Toro has written and directed several interesting films besides the two Hellboys:  Pan Labyrinth (2006) and the unique television production The Strain. The largess of the budget for The Shape of Water went to set design,  which consists of a laboratory and an apartment over a movie theater and parts of the town that surround the government complex.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning woman and the victim of an unknown criminal assault that left her scarred. She works together with Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spenser) at the government lab.  Elisa lives alone and has an interesting gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is a commercial artist out of regular work.  In their adjoining apartments, she looks out for him while Zelda looks out for her. Zelda’s commitment to Elisa is at times stronger than to her lazy ungrateful husband and definitely her racist boss.

Amphibian Man is kept in one of the laboratory tanks and Elisa seeks him out with eggs and music. The interiors of the lab are exceptionally created as well as Elisa and Giles’ apartment, a diner with a homophobic and racist owner, and Richard’s home with his dutiful high heeled wife. All environments are filled with artefacts from the 1960’s – finned Cadillacs, trinkets and bric a brac, clothing and furniture. Television programs and film excerpts are displayed on TV consoles:  a variety of musicals, newsreel footage of police brutality against blacks, Henry Koster’s The Story of Ruth, Shirley Temple, Mr Ed the talking horse and speeches by JFK. At Venice, the film received the Golden Lion for best film, and its visual effects, mise en scène and stunning cinematography have been praised ever since. 

Amphibian Man is worshipped in the Amazons just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Both humanoids are of interest to science and more importantly form an attachment to a woman. In The Shape of Water, the romance accompanied to French love songs eventally consumes the narrative. Elisa is adamant about getting to know Amphibian man who does not see her imperfection,  whereas the perfect Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon was horrified at the prospect of the match. The scientists in The Shape of Water are antagonistic whereas in The Creature from the Black Lagoon, they are cautious but intrigued. Eventually the creature is in the care of the military who control him with brute force, and the employees of the lab with racist, misogynist and xenophobic language. Strickland knows how to harass Eliza and her past as a survivor and makes references to Samson and Delilah to humiliate Zelda.

The weakness of The Shape of Water is its narrative evolution past the magic of discovery of this new environment, this time period, and the characters that live during this time. All defer to the Creature and Elisa and their passion directs the film towards its end . The magic of the story gives way to romance and dance numbers from Golden age Hollywood movies eclipsing the misogyny , homosexuality, race relations, the brutality of the military industrial complex, the space race, class differences, and the vapid consumerism. Brushing this all aside for romance is not unique, since there is nothing new about Amphibian Man other than a woman who is willing to follow him. However in such a dark period of history,  romantic love is a potent force, and as intoxicating as the dreams of Hollywood.


© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/09/17
Movie Magazine International

Romance in the Cold War, against insurmountable odds - The Shape of Water

By Moira Sullivan

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is not one of his best films but it is a story that includes many of his themes. Tyranny over nature , inventions and technology that represent the future of man, and mutants that defy these standards. The Shape of Water is a time capsule from the American/Russian Cold War set in a US government laboratory much like the setting of Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy:The Golden Army (2008). The sadistic, predatory, misogynist and racist head of operations at the facility, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), has control of a mutant that he captured in South America, resembling The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). He is called “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) and is not able to speak nor is as benevolent as Abe Sapien in both 'Hellboys' (played also by Doug Jones) and attacks in self-defense. The Russian scientist Dimitri is the only official at the plant looking out for Amphibian man. Later one of the cleaning ladies at the lab takes an interest.

Del Toro has written and directed several magical films besides the two 'Hellboys' including Pan Labyrinth (2006) and the bizarre television production The Strain. The largesse of the budget for The Shape of Water went to set design, which consists of a laboratory and an apartment over a movie theater and parts of the town that surround the government complex.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning woman and the victim of an unknown criminal assault that left her scarred. She works together with Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spenser) at the government lab. Elisa lives alone and has an interesting gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is a commercial artist out of regular work. In their adjoining apartments, she looks out for him while Zelda looks out for her. Zelda’s commitment to Elisa is stronger than to her lazy ungrateful husband.

'Amphibian Man' is kept in one of the laboratory tanks and Elisa entices him out with eggs and music. The interiors of the lab are exceptionally created as well as Elisa and Giles’ apartments, a diner with a homophobic and racist owner, and Richard’s home with his dutiful high-heeled hairsprayed wife. All environments are filled with artefacts from the 1960’s – finned Cadillacs, trinkets and bric a brac, and clothing and vintage furniture. Television programs and film excerpts are displayed on TV consoles: a variety of Hollywood musicals, newsreel footage of police brutality against blacks, Henry Koster’s The Story of Ruth, Shirley Temple, Mr Ed - the talking horse and speeches by JFK. At Venice, the film received the Golden Lion for best film, and its visual effects, mise en scène and stunning cinematography have been praised ever since.

'Amphibian Man' is worshipped in the Amazons just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Both humanoids are of interest to science and more importantly form an attachment to a woman. In The Shape of Water, the romance accompanied to French love songs eventually consumes the narrative. Elisa is crazy about Amphibian man who does not see her imperfection, whereas the perfect Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon was horrified at the prospect of the match.

Richard Strickland is antagonistic and cruel towards the creature who is in the care of the military. The employees of the lab are harassed with racist, misogynist and xenophobic comments. Strickland knows how to badger Eliza and her past as a survivor and makes references to 'Samson and Delilah' to humiliate Zelda.

The weakness and strength of The Shape of Water is its narrative evolution through the magic of discovery of this new environment, this time period, and the characters that live during this time. "The Creature"and Elisa and their passion ultimately guide the film towards its end . Romance and dance numbers from Golden age Hollywood movies eclipse the misogyny, homosexuality, racial discrimination , the brutality of the military industrial complex, the space race, class differences, and the vapid consumerism. Brushing this all aside for romance is not unique to film, since there is nothing new about 'Amphibian Man' since The Creature in the Black Lagoon other than a woman who is willing to follow him. However, in such a dark period of history, romantic love is a potent force, and as intoxicating as the dreams of Hollywood.

* Was Guillermo Del Toro's  Shape of Water influenced by the bathroom scene flooded with water in Paddington (2014) featuring Sally Hawkins?

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/05/17
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, September 3, 2017

“Dead on Arrival” - modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

By Moira Sullivan
Billy Flynn as Sam Collins 

“Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.

“Dead on Arrival” (US 2017)  is a neo-noir thriller by Stephen C. Sepher. The opening scene is ripe with irritating events you should never have to experience– listening to bad news on your cell phone voice mail on a deserted Louisiana road, crippling stomach pains, and a “by the book” local sheriff that arrives on the scene who would rather see proof of identity than call an ambulance. Traveling sales executive Sam Collins (Billy Flynn) may have to wait before he makes it to the ER,  however, there are degrees of local law enforcement incompetence as is later shown with wayward cop Deputy Walker, played by Tyson Sullivan.

After this intriguing introduction, director Stephen C. Sepher launches into a “12-hour earlier”  flashback, the scene of a lavish New Year’s Eve party at a private mansion with single white women hired for the event to fraternize with the guests. We learn a couple of details in the flashback. The party bottoms out with a murder, and Sam is mysteriously poisoned.

Earlier that evening Sam meets the party host, Dr. Richard Alexander (Billy Slaughter), 30-ish with dyed white hair who works in the pharmaceuticals industry.  Party waiter Thomas (Travis Farris), later referred to as a “sexual weasel” and Richard have an obvious erotic connection. Bonnie, the party fixer (Scottie Thompson) and Richard note the bottle of champagne Sam brings to the event, certainly welcome at a small dinner party but not one with a local African-American brass band, black jack table and expensive cigars. Despite excessive spending, the interior of Richard’s house has a cheapness to it like the collection of unimpressive vases of various colors and size on a book shelf.  Richard freely dispenses alcohol to his high class low life guests including perv swinger and insurance agent Hans Dunkel (Chris Mulky). Almost everyone in the film seems to be unhappily married with lovers on the side. The 'party girls' work at a place called “The Fun House” as erotic dancers. 

Richard is harshly reprimand by one of his investors Vince (played by director Sepher) because of his slow turnout of cash return, and Sam Collins is signed to change his luck. Vince's home is better decorated apart from the hand sewn pillows with Santa and his reindeer.

Sepher packs noir ingredients with fall guy Sam Collins, and femme fatale Bonnie. New York mobster Zancer dressed in plaid (Soprano regular Lillo Brancato) and Conte (Anthony Sinopoli) sporting a heavy gold chain around his knit sweaters provide comic relief but the power structure that hires them to be "cleaners" keep them in check.  The momentum of the film is relentless and Sepher serves up one atrocity after another, particularly to women who have little agency and ability to influence the narrative. The entire spectacle transpires under the watchful blue eyes of Sam who is like a rag doll in the rough, a lost soul off his grid, far from his wife and children.

Denise Milfort and Christa B Allen

Part of the underbelly of the intricate crime tale is cryptically revealed by Jessy (Christa B Allen) , one of the hired party girls” – referred to as “a stripper with a heart of gold”: “Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.  It is also true that some of the sex workers are bisexual or lesbian. Jessy offers to help Sam by bringing him to a Vodou priestess Agrona (played by Haitian born Denise Milfort, former vocalist for “The Fragile” written and produced in New Orleans in 1999 by Trent Reznor of “Nine Inch Nails”). Both Jessy and Agrona are given limited agency to work through the excesses of the men they serve but like Thomas and others at the "Fun House" their existence is brutal.

“Dead on Arrival” is inspired by the 1950's classic film "D.O.A". starring Edmond O'Brien and stars Edmond’s daughter Maria in a bit part as a suspicious neighbor who lives in Dr. Richard Alexander’s neighborhood. Maria's character has good reason to be on the lookout.  In his weakened physically deteriorating condition, Sam scuffles through the village in a blood stained white shirt looking like the undead.

Cinematographer John Garrett (Man of Steel, Thor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) captures the decadent night life and beautiful shots of Blood River east of the Mississippi in New Orleans. His color palette includes striking dominant colors for interiors contrasted with boat life and water routes. Creole and multicultural roots – including a lesson on famous Armenians, blend with local mobsters, hangouts, decadent clubs and shady characters – a modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/06/17
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Golden Lifetime achievement award to Jane Fonda and Robert Redford at 74th Venice Film Festival

By Moira Sullivan

Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford have not acted together since they made Barefoot in the Park in 1967—that is until this year when the two side by side worked on Our Souls at Night directed by Ritesh Batra.The film was presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in September and both actors received a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award. The president of the film festival Alberto Barbera presented their awards and Fonda had not been in Venice she said for over 50 years. Not only are the two veteran actors but they have contributed to the film industry with their activism – Redford for the wonderful Sundance Festival and Institute and Fonda for her activism as a feminist and politically aware figure. 

In Barefoot in the Park written by Neil Simon, Paul played by Redford marries Corrie, Fonda. Actually their characters are somewhat similar in Our Souls at Night. Like Paul, Redford as Louis in  is fussy and standoffish, whereas Fonda as Addie like her character Corrie is gushing and bubbly and trying to open up Louis.  Surprisingly the film is an endearing one and the script by Kent HarufScott Neustadter  and Batra with quiet but effective direction makes it an enjoyable film. 

Both Addie and Louis are widow and widowers and live closeby. Both have grown children and memories from their former partners. As both approach 80 Addie decides to call on Louis and suggest that they sleep side by side to take away the loneliness of the nights. It is an amicable relationship between two people who barely know each other and become friends. The small town they live in Colorado find out as does Addie’s son Gene (Matthias Schoenaerts)and they all have more to say on the subject than the couple in their twilight years. Shortly after they make a pact for sleepovers, Gene arrives with his son Jamie (Iain Armitage) who he is raising alone and after going through a divorce. He asks Addie if she will take care of Jamie while he works.  The inclusion of Jamie in their daily life adds to the growing bond Paul and Addie is developing.

Redford and Fonda are veteran actors and bring to their film there sharp and seasoned skills, but what stands out about the film is the timing of narrative development and believable dialogue. Redford produced the film and there are many scenic scenes in the beautiful Colorado landscape.



© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/02/17
Movie Magazine International