strange_complex: (Twiggy)
Seen this afternoon at the Hyde Park Picture House with [ profile] ms_siobhan. In one sense, it is another Monsieur Hulot film, and thus follows on from Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, which we saw at the Cottage Road almost (I am shocked to discover) five years ago now. Certainly, it includes M. Hulot as a character. But he is less prominent this time, and the feel of this film as a whole is quite different.

Les Vacances was already in part about vignettes of everyday life and capturing the character of the location, but Playtime is noticeably more concerned with both of those, and less so with M. Hulot himself and his antics. The farce and comedy also often require a pretty sharp eye to spot. In Les Vacances it would usually be the main focus of the shot, but in Playtime you are often looking at an extensive scenario with a lot of different things going on at once, and while things like chairs coming apart, people using a lamp-stand as a pole on a bus, people sneaking contraband glugs of alcohol etc. are there to see and are intended for comic effect, they aren't as in your face in this film.

In fact, it reminded me this time rather of Fellini's Roma (1972), which is definitely not a comparison Les Vacances would invite. It's the way both lack a traditional plot and instead just follow people around the city, documenting their strange little ways both individually and collectively. And, as I said to [ profile] ms_siobhan, the way Playtime has a brief little scene of nuns with wimples that bounce as they walk, which took me right back to the clerical fashion parade in Roma, where the wimples do just the same - only more so. Now that I know about the similarity, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Fellini was deliberately referencing Tati there, in fact. This certainly seems much the sort of film I can see Fellini liking.

The big difference between Roma and Playtime, though, is that Roma is very much about Rome's many strange juxtapositions, and especially the contrast between different layers of time in the city. But Playtime is all about an ultramodernist Paris, in which the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Coeur appear only as reflections in plate-glass windows, and which doesn't actually exist. The Wikipedia article explains all about this - the locations are almost exclusively purpose-built sets full of plate-glass and tower-blocks, including photographic images for some of the buildings and cardboard cut-outs for some of the people (which I certainly noticed, and which adds to the surreal, inhuman feel). So it is not a biography of a real, living city like Roma, but an exploration of a particular kind of urbanism, and what it means to try to be a human being in the midst of it all.

As such, a lot of it feels quite muted, regimented and claustrophobic, because that is what Tati is basically trying to say about ultramodernism. But things become more exuberant towards the end of the film, when we spend a good half hour or more following the goings-on of the opening night at a new restaurant called the Royal Garden. This is full of disasters (lights shorting out, décor falling down, waiters' clothes getting ripped on chair-backs), but it doesn't stop the patrons having a rip-roaring time as the band plays and the alcohol flows. This was lots of fun to watch, and [ profile] ms_siobhan and I agreed that there were some fantastic frocks on the lady patrons, too.

Earlier on, I also absolutely loved the man who is selling doors which close "in golden silence", gets really angry with M. Hulot, and launches into an extensive rant at him which includes several dramatic door-slams - but of course finds that his treasured product does not make the required noise. And, in a different way, the shots of an American tourist, Barbara, looking around at the posters in a tourist agency, and finding that every single one shows a nearly-identical tower-block with a small token image of an actual local feature or landmark shoved into one corner.

All in all, an interesting, enjoyable and often poignant film which is certainly beautifully shot, but is sometimes also a little slow, and definitely wouldn't make a good first introduction to M. Hulot. Stick with Les Vacances for that.

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strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
This film was directed by Federico Fellini, which is reason enough to watch a film in my book. But that wasn't why I watched it.

It's also set in Rome, which is reason enough too. But again, that wasn't why I watched it.

I watched it because it features the one and only screen appearance by a certain Giulio Moreschi: nephew and adopted son of my beloved Alessandro Moreschi )

As for the actual film, the plot revolves around a small-town newly-wed couple, Ivan and Wanda, who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. He is conventional, fastidious, and obsessed with honour, status and prestige. He has come to Rome mainly to show off his new wife to his well-connected uncle, who has an important position at the Vatican and can get them in to meet the Pope. She is sensitive, idealistic and innocent, and has come to Rome hoping to meet the star of a photo-strip which she follows: the dashingly handsome White Sheikh.

At the first opportunity, while he thinks she is taking a bath, she sneaks out to the office from which the photo-strip is produced, where she ends up accidentally getting swept off to the day's location shooting on a beach outside Rome. There she meets her hero - but discovers that he is nothing like the dashing romantic figure she had imagined, and ends up disillusioned and stuck miles away from Rome with no way of getting back to the city. Meanwhile, the husband is desperately trying to hide the fact that his wife has gone missing from his uncle's family, and pretend that she is simply ill in bed.

It's a gentle social comedy with a healthy dose of farce, but some sombre notes as well. For Fellini, it is an early effort - his first time as sole director, in fact. But his later signature touches are definitely recognisable - the caricaturing of ordinary everyday eccentricity, the ribbing of the pompous and the bureaucratic, the interest in sexual hypocrisy, Catholicism and the process of cinematic production. For me, the funniest scene was one set in a police office, where the husband had come to report his wife missing, but was terrified of the whole story ending up in the papers and bringing his name into disgrace. As one policeman questioned him, and he gradually and reluctantly divulged the details of the whole torrid affair, another sat close by with a typewriter, thundering out every name and sensitive personal disclosure in stark black and white, as the husband writhed with discomfort.

Obviously there won't be that many people out there who will be as excited as me by Giulio Moreschi's role in the film. But I know there are a few Fellini fans on my flist - and I would definitely recommend this film to them.

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strange_complex: (La Dolce Vita Trevi)
Seen at the weekend on DVD. I've watched quite a few Fellini films before, but not since I've got into the habit of recording everything systematically here. So, for my own reference, the other ones I've seen are La Dolce Vita (1960), Fellini - Satyricon (1969) and Roma (1972) - amongst which the latter is probably my favourite.

This one is very much in the now-familiar vein. The story is impressionistic and open-ended, full of dream sequences, fantasies and childhood flashbacks, and it is of course also strongly autobiographical - the main character, played by Marcello Mastroianni, is a director trying to plan his latest film while grappling with his own personal lack of direction. The line between art and life was clearly very blurry for Fellini - which is part of why his films are so good, of course. The cinematography is also very beautiful, with lots of shots from interesting angles, compositions which speak volumes about the emotional space the characters are inhabiting and so forth. Also, it does not hurt to have Claudia Cardinale about the place, looking all doe-eyed and beautiful.

Perhaps most striking, though, was the in-story meta-commentary. Throughout the film, Mastroianni converses with a cinema critic: ostensibly about the film his character is planning, but in fact it is clear from the content of their conversations that they are actually discussing the film we are watching. Arguably this is a bit self-indulgent, since it allows Fellini to pre-empt the real critics before they can speak by showing that he is quite aware of their narrow-minded little views, thank you, knows what he's doing and has an answer for them. But it's also bold and self-assured, and helps to guide the viewer through what is otherwise quite a fragmented narrative, so on balance I rather liked it.

Overall, not quite on the same level as Roma for me, but a very accomplished piece of pure Fellini all the same.

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strange_complex: (Vampira)
IMDb page here, official page here. Seen at the Light with [ profile] gillywoo, [ profile] nigelmouse, [ profile] glennkenobi and [ profile] sturmed.

Totally spoilerific - read at own risk! )

I agreed very much with [ profile] mr_flay when we saw the first one that it should have just ended when the taxi crashed into the gates of the military compound, so that the last few human beings alive in Britain have actually killed each other with their aggressive, macho behaviour rather than help each other against a common enemy. And having recently come across the following words from Federico Fellini, I now know why a bleak or unresolved ending is so much more intellectually satisfying than a happy one:
"My pictures never end. They never have a simple solution...Because there are no 'solutions' in [the audience's] lives...By giving happy endings to films, you goad your audience into going on living in a trite, bland manner, because they are now sure that sometime, somewhere, something happy is going to happen to them, too, and without their having to do anything about it. Conversely, by not serving them the happy ending on a platter, you can make them think, you can remove some of the smug security. Then they'll have to find their own answers."
I'm not saying a Zombie movie is going to chance the face of world politics as we know it. But in the current climate, we certainly need to be doing some thinking.

strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
IMDb page here; Wikipedia page here. Watched at home on a video borrowed from the Edward Boyle library, as practice for my Italian listening exam next Friday.

I picked this up fairly randomly in the Edward Boyle library, on the basis that it had that seductive word - Roma - in the title, and looked from the testimonials on the box as though it was probably quite hard-hitting, cinematically important and historically interesting. It's a portrait of Rome and its people under Nazi occupation in 1944, and was shot on a shoe-string budget with only two professional actors and four sets just six months after the city had been liberated. That soon after the events it portrays, and in such impoverished circumstances, you'd think it wouldn't be up to much. Surely it would be sensationalist, sickeningly patriotic or maybe just not very good? But no. That would be English war films.

Instead, what we have here is a subtle and compelling view into the lives of a small group of very human characters. The genre is (apparently) neorealism - and certainly the feeling was of simply being shown the unfolding of events, rather than being told a story. Notably, one thing which this meant was that although there were some seriously awful things going on (a man being tortured to death; a woman being shot in front of her child while the man she was about to marry is carted away), there were also moments of humour placed alongside them (where to hide the bombs while the Germans are coming?! under the table? under the sick man's bed? in the sick man's bed!). This, of course, gives a heightened sense of realism by presenting a life-like balance, and makes the horror of what's also happening to these people - in itself never over-played; just shown - all the more profound.

OK, so there are some clichés. Like the predatory-lesbian!Nazi (srsly!), or the kind, mild-mannered priest who tells the Nazis that God is on the side of those who fight for truth and justice, and closes the film by dying in front of a firing squad while actually saying 'Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do'. The ageing Nazi Captain who'd been an executioner in the First World War, and was so jaded he was openly questioning German supremacy in front of his rather more enthusiastic colleagues also looked too much like a piece of wishful thinking to fit in with the realism of the rest of the film. But hey - I was expecting nothing but that kind of thing, and to find a little of it here and there is entirely understandable given the context.

The IMDb suggests that if viewers enjoyed this film, they might also like Casablanca. And well they might - I do. But now I've seen both, I honestly believe this to be the superior film. It's no surprise to me to find that it won Best Film at Cannes in 1946. And it was no surprise, as the final credits rolled, to see the name "F. Fellini" amongst the writing credits. What a formative experience for him! And well done, Roberto Rossellini.


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