Deer Hunter

Deer Hunter

Thursday, September 29, 2016

CAPTURING MARY


CAPTURING MARY




” My past is everything I failed to be” Fernando Pessoa in the book of disquiet.


Mary Gilbert (played by Maggie Smith in the present time and Ruth Wilson in her youth) arrives unannounced in a luxurious London house where a young man, joe, works as a caretaker. The house is not lived in but kept clean, shiny and beautiful with fresh flowers.
Joe, who isn’t supposed to let strangers in, breaks his rule for the first time, by letting Mary in, not really knowing why.  



As in all of Poliakoff’s stories, the past is of extreme importance, and in Capturing Mary, we are given hints of deep underlying secrets and haunting memories about to unfold as Mary starts to recall her past.
Joe offers Mary some tea and Mary starts telling him about a time when she was young and frequented soirees in this house, where a very selective few gathered, industrialists, politicians, novelists and actors such as E.M Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Ava Gardner or Alfred Hitchcock, amongst others. Mary, was invited because, as she recounts, she had become rather well known in her own right, having written a lot of journalism at oxford and having one of her own pieces picked up by a Sunday newspaper. 




Mary recalls how she got her own newspaper column and was able to express the feeling that it was important that audiences were treated as adults and that sexual love should therefore be a proper subject for cinema and that audiences might ultimately be allowed to see some representation of the actual sexual act. This of course caused a stir in a time where a conservative elite still ruled over Britain. Through her writing, Mary seemed to embody (Quite unwillingly) the voice of youth, but also the voice of radical and imminent change, women’s emancipation at the foreground of the sixties, swiftly announcing the crumbling of an old establishment. It’s in this setting, in one of these soirees, that she meets Greville White, a mysterious man of social influence, who seems to know everyone and everything, while remaining absolutely discreet and anonymous. He was, as Mary recalls, one of those persons who seemed to do both everything and nothing. People seemed nervous around him as if under some spell, some powerful web that Greville inconspicuously weaved around them. 



One of these soirees, Mary and Greville meet in the kitchen and he offers to show her the wine cellar. This is when Greville reveals some of his secrets. Horrific stories he knows of or has even witnessed firsthand. Stories relating to child abuse, antisemitism and slavery amongst other unnamable acts, stories involving famous public figures, politicians, archbishops etc..  Greville reveals all these sordid details in a very calm, detailed and specific manner, recalling the year, the exact location and all the real names. Mary is of course shaken, taken aback, but she believes every word, she knows he is telling the truth.

All these things Greville tells her, (Things that Poliakoff only lets us sense, since so little is actually said), are only a slice of an utterly horrid reality that runs deep underneath a world glazed with flamboyant glamour, richness and sophistication.



Later on, left with her thoughts, Mary realizes that having told her all these things, Greville won’t let go of her so easily, as if by telling her all these details he cast the first web of power over her.



Fearing and rejecting Greville’s advances, Mary keeps her distance and as a consequence and most likely due to Greville’s influence amongst editors and publishers, she slowly sees her chances of pursuing a brilliant career as a writer vanish.






Unlike so many contemporary TV dramas, the relationship between Mary and Greville doesn’t fall into any clichés around sexual attraction, passion or unrequited love. Though there is an obvious sexual charge, the two never even touch each other. The whole dynamic is subtle yet unsettling, and this is something that Poliakoff does very well in his films. He shows us how the smallest events can dictate years to come and how absence, silence and questions left unanswered are powerful forces that lie dormant, but have the power to come back decades later to haunt us.

The filming is stunning, the acting is of the highest caliber (Maggie Smith delivers as is expected a flawless acting), but the big surprise was really David Walliams who turns over an exceptional image of creep and mystery, no-one expected I’m sure. Ruth Wilson is equally startling and delightful in her role as “young Mary”.

In Capturing Mary we are given the sense that things in life happen before our eyes and before we can actually assimilate and react as we later think we should have. 

 As in all Poliakoff’s films, Life is always an individual journey that happens far beyond our control, a journey we only really experience in retrospective and not in the present.  

This is a film that does not rely on action or big events yet it stayed in my memory and grew with time. It made me want to revisit it, and each time I did, I rediscovered one or another intricate secret.

Highly recommended.


RELEASED: November 2007
Director: Stephen Poliakoff
Running Time: 105 mn
Cast: Maggie Smith, Ruth Wilson, David Walliams
Rating: 4 stars



Sunday, January 3, 2016

SENZA PAROLE

SENZA PAROLE  **Short taken from “I Nuovo Mostri” ITALY 1977

Love so distant and obscure




Spoilers: Watch the film before reading

1977 “I nuovo Mostri” is a sort of sequel to “I mostri” released in 1963. This time Dino Risi joins forces with Mario Monicelli and Ettore Scola to create another set of satirical short stories exposing the dark side of society and human nature. One of these is Risi’s magnificent “Senza Parole”. 
Ornella Mutti in the role of a flight attendant, arrives at a hotel swimming pool for her day off and almost immediately meets a mysterious man who, without uttering a single word, manages to seduce her. They spend this day and night together, and in the morning, before her departure, he brings her a tape recorder with the song they heard the previous day, which is “All by myself” by Eric Carmen.

This moment is extremely moving but it’s followed by an unexpected twist that shatters everything, the film’s last scene which I won’t reveal here.


The film:





“Ti Amo” by Umberto Tozzi and “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen are very well chosen, as these songs represent a time of innocence and transition very unique to the late 70’s and early 80’s (Dreams are my reality in “La boum” and “Endless Love” are good examples), Ti Amo had just been released and Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself”  (inspired by Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto number 2) had been released 2 years before this. The time frame is relevant because Italy was going through a period of constant social unrest and acts of terrorism by far left organizations such as Prima Linea and Red brigades.





All by Myself might very well be seen as the pinnacle of kitsch by many (especially after Celine Dion’s utter and complete destruction of the song), but to me this is one of the best songs ever written (Even if it borrows from Rachmaninoff). The orchestration is sublime, the guitar in the background reminds me of John Lees from Barclay James Harvest, and Eric’s voice carries this sense of despair without ever slipping into any form of exaggeration. In All by myself as in this short film, we are born alone, and we die alone, and in the midst of this confusing affair that is life, we seek this special human connection, this sense of comfort that is always fleeting and often an illusion.


The song:






RELEASED: 1977
Director: Dino Risi
Running Time: 7'44 mn
Cast: Ornella Mutti; Yorgo Voyagis

Rating: 4 stars





Sunday, January 25, 2015

SHADOWS AND FOG 

Everybody loves his illusions. They need them, like they need the air



1991 Woody Allen’s Shadows and fog has often been quoted as a minor film in Allen’s extensive career. It didn’t strike me as brilliant the first time I saw it, but watching it again, I have to say that this film really is a hidden “minor” masterpiece.

The story centers around the events that take place in one night on an unnamed jewish community somewhere in eastern Europe. A maniac killer is on the loose and a vigilante group forms in order to catch the killer. Kleinman (Played by Woody Allen) is a bookkeeper who is awakened in the middle of the night to reluctantly join the vigilante group. Irmy (Played by Mia Farrow) is a travelling circus artist who, after a fight with her partner (John Malkovich) starts dangerously wandering the streets. The two meet and events unfold amidst shadows and fog.




The plot (and the role of Magic)-
Magic, famously known as the art of deception, is actually more than just “deception”. In Shadows and Fog, as in life, magic is our ultimate savior, not logic, not faith nor physical strength, but magic. In the end it’s the circus Magician who captures the maniac killer. The reference to magic and magicians is present in several Woody Allen films, perhaps because fairy tales and magic are deeply rooted in childhood, and childhood in many ways, is a star we always look for in adulthood. In a world that is evidently grim to the real thinker, it is only through these early experiences that one really manages to sustain a sense of wonder, much needed to survive the fogginess of life. A key element in Woody Allen films that is also often found in Bergman (Think of Fanny & Alexander). 



Just like Visconti’s Notti Bianche, the setting has an eerie feeling to it. The camera work (Carlo di Palma) is elegant and intriguing, and the black & white shots are in perfect equilibrium between the fairy tale textures of Visconti and the dramatic and unsettling coldness of Fritz Lang’s “M” or even Orson Welles “Third Man”. However, it’s the burlesque of the circus (embellished by Kurt Weil’s fantastic music) and the escapism of the brothel that stands out. The brothel seems to be the only place where people are happy and oblivious. It’s in effect the ultimate deception, and ironically the only safe place to be.



I have to mention Juliet Taylor who is an absolute master at casting actors. She has done casting for every Woody Allen film since 1975 and the truth is that time and time again, actors who star in Woody Allen films seem to be at their very best (Think Scarlett Johansson in Match Point or Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris for example). 
Donald pleasance’s appearance as the town doctor’s is another fantastic cast. Know for films such as Halloween, Prince of darkness and Phenomena (where he plays a professor on the trail of the killer). His role on Shadows and fog is very similar. He’s the person who questions things and thinks deeply. He’s an outsider with the meticulous eye, he’s always on the brink of understanding something that escapes everyone else.

Fog, commonly associated with danger and the unknown, represents in this story the confusion of our existence, false beliefs and short horizons. Fog is in fact the veil that stands between us (shadows) and truth. Fog is the thin line between what we want to see and what really is (or not). It’s the centerpiece of this act.




The key scene in the film is the one when Kleinman and Irmy are sitting quietly looking at the stars and Irmy Tells Kleinman that the light of the stars may take millions of years to reach us, meaning that what we see might be the lights of stars that no longer exist. Whereas Kleinman perceives this as a very disquieting thought, (the notion that we cannot rely on what we see with our own eyes), Irmy marvels at the perfection that such small moments entail. A clearing in the fog and we can see right up there to the stars. Doesn’t this moment seem perfect? This is a fantastic allegory to what makes life worth it. For all the confusion and lack of sense in which we are all immersed, there’s always the possibility of small clearings in the fog if only we can “catch the moment”.. 
The scene ends with Irmy’s comment: We’re all happy if we only knew it.



In the final scene of the film, the magician delivers this very significant message:
Everybody loves his illusions. They need them, like they need the air.

Shadows & Fog is ultimately a reflection on life and death, on religious belief, faithfulness and honesty (also towards oneself). It shows how we, as individuals, have small windows of opportunities that appear out of the fog and how in a way we may stay afloat and even shine as a magician does, if only we keep loving our illusions.


Trailer:





RELEASED: 1991
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 85 mn
Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich

Rating: 3,5 stars





Saturday, March 15, 2014

BLUE JASMINE



BLUE JASMINE 
Without a dream in my heart





Tonight, a glorious and warm Spring-like Saturday night, I decided to confine myself at home with a thin crispy French baguette with crab spread followed by some prime Belgian chocolate and coffee, while watching Woody Allen’s latest film: Blue Jasmine. 

I didn’t expect much, especially after hearing from various sources that the high point of the film is Cate Blanchet’s performance. That, in itself, suggests that the film may be at best “enjoyable”.

This is indeed the impression one has at the beginning, especially with the constant alternate flashbacks (Something I never enjoyed in story-telling), until, quite unexpectedly but firmly so, we start getting more and more involved and drawn in to the story.  Obviously, this is a film directed by Woody Allen, which amounts to unusual levels of intelligence for Hollywood Standards, coupled with a deep understanding of human psychology and an uncanny talent for story-telling, and when these ingredients come together and the story works, the result is always a step higher than the best around.

Cate Blanchet plays Jasmine French (What a delightfully chosen name for her character), a delusional Park Avenue socialite married to successful multi-business owner and millionaire Hal, played by Alec Baldwin.  




When Hal is arrested on serious tax evasion and fraud charges, all assets are frozen and Jasmine, left with nothing, travels to San Francisco to be with her sister Sally, who has two hyperactive kids, and gets by with a simple supermarket job. Sally’s boyfriend Chili (played by Bobby Cannavale) and in fact her whole world represent the antithesis of Jasmine’s vanished privileged world.  In this set of circumstances, Jasmine struggles to find herself again, by making herself believe that she can craft a new reality, working and getting up the ladder from ground zero, but instead she quickly falls prey to her own delusions of grandeur, from which there is no escape.



The film is clever in that it shows life and human beings as they are, as they think and as they act in our modern western society.   I am often positively surprised with Woody Allen’s insight into human psychology and how easy he makes it for us to relate to the characters portrayed.  Cate Blanchet is indeed fantastic in her role but it’s the screenplay and directing genius that put it all in place for her. The dialogues are pure Allen and the tone of the film is neither that of a drama nor that of a comedy, it doesn’t rely on the usual emotion triggers we are used to, it handles serious emotions all the same with some naturally subtle comic scenes, something very few directors are able to pull off, especially these days..

Jasmine is the portrait of a woman who lived by an acquired idea of herself, in a world where not only fortunes are volatile, but also a whole set of circumstances and ultimately identity.  

In all Woody Allen films I can think of, characters are plagued with flaws from which they cannot escape, much like characters in Dostoyevsky’s tales. Flaws that determine behavior, ascension and fall. Flaws that are characteristic of our own human nature. Some of us accept these flaws and opt for forgiveness and acceptance, whereas others choose to mask and manipulate, which, as in all good Greek Tragedies, (another ever present element of Allen’s stories) always ends up in self-demise.   
Jasmine’s story is that of a downfall and the song “blue moon” to which she clings to the very end, is extremely well chosen as a song that seems to tempt and escape us at the same time.

Blue Jasmine is an intricate, intelligent film, delivered with an ease that characterizes one of our best contemporary directors. Highly enjoyable and highly recommended. 





Trailer:






RELEASED: August 2013
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 98 mn
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin

Rating: 3,5 stars



Thursday, March 13, 2014

SOMEWHERE IN TIME



SOMEWHERE IN TIME 
“Time travel IS possible”




THE PLOT:

Richard Collier is a successful playwright who lives in Chicago and seems to have everything going for him except for the fact that he never found the “right one”. The film starts with an odd moment when, during a reception, an old woman approaches Collier and gives him an old and beautiful pocket watch. She whispers “come back to me” and then turns and walks away.

Eight years later, faced with writer’s block, Collier spontaneously decides to take a weekend trip. He drives aimlessly and eventually winds up on Mackinac Island, in Michigan, where he enters the sumptuous Victorian-era Grand Hotel.
While waiting for the dining room to open, he wanders into the Hall of History, a room where some artifacts from the hotels past are exhibited. There, and in a scene of rare beauty, he is captivated by an old photograph of a beautiful woman. 


After some enquiries he finds out that her name is Elise MacKinnon, a turn-of the century famous actress who once appeared in a play in the hotel’s theater. 
Collier becomes obsessed with her and soon discovers that an old caretaker of Elise still lives nearby. He visits her and that’s how he understands that the old woman who handed him the pocket watch, (on what would turn out to be the night she died), was in fact Elise, the same one as in the photograph that mesmerized him.
While there, Collier notices a book on time travel written by an old colleague professor of his, a book that according to Elise's caretaker, she had read over and over again.
Upon meeting the professor and discussing the possibility of time travel, Collier decides to try a self induced hypnosis in order to travel back in time and meet Elyse. He succeeds and travels back to the year 1912, the day prior to Elise’s performance at the grand hotel. 




Thoughts on Somewhere in time:

I sometimes wonder to which degree my own perception of events defines and may alter these same events. It does sound offbeat I grant you this, but something in me seems to sense that we only truly live in the world we are able to see and perceive, and somehow, in an intricate and elaborate plan, this world only truly exists through our own perception of it. There probably isn’t a definite objectivity we can ever grasp, and if there is one, it’s most certainly always out of our reach. Character, personality and perception seem to be the forging force at the setting of our own circumstances. The primordial utensil we rely on, is at the same time that from which we must naturally escape in search of a true essence of being (or non-being).The world we envision is there only to the extent of our desire..

Richard Collier wanted so much, and so passionately, to meet Elise, that he did in fact travel to a reality where they both could co-exist. How he did it defies logic, but then again logic is a process of thought within a limited system computed to our own limited understanding of things. It doesn’t quite matter to understand how this was possible in practical terms, and I praise the scriptwriter for giving us as little insight as possible on this matter, because what actually prevails in this story, is the overwhelming genuine essence of passion, which enables the impossible to happen.

Those who will question the why’s and how’s of the story, will miss the point entirely. The first step to enjoy this film, is quite simply to believe in it, become Collier..  Once we take this step, and if there is an inkling of passion in us, we will, as Collier, wish to never wake up again. “Somewhere in time” is a story of passion and dreams, a story of defying logic, if only for a brief moment. It’s this “leap of faith” often talked about and rarely taken, it embodies long forgotten dreams most commonly found in early childhood memories. “Somewhere in time” is devoid of the artistry of Erice or Tarkovsky, yet it reaches the same plateau in that it claims a life of its own once you allow its magic to unfold.





Trailer:






RELEASED: October 1980
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Running Time: 103 mn
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour

Rating: 4 stars



Sunday, December 15, 2013



UNTAMED HEART 



The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return




Bear with me for a minute: This isn’t Louis Malle, yet Untamed Heart touches at the same core, provided that you are familiar with feelings of passion and not too much of an intellectual to dismiss this film on the grounds that it looks like your typical Hollywood romantic drama recipe with a more or less predictable twist. No. Untamed Heart is in many ways flawed, in many ways naïve, in many ways inconsistent, but the real enchantment it contains easily throws away all these flaws, and removes any type of prejudice if only we let ourselves be enchanted.

Untamed heart is a modern fairy-tale about Love, Passion and Sincerity (all written with capital letters) that takes place in a working class setting in Minneapolis.

The film begins by showing us an event that occurred in the past at an orphanage. Adam is a small boy who lives at the orphanage. He has a serious heart condition that makes him faint and puts his life at risk, so much so that he needs heart surgery. A nun tells him a fairy-tale-like story about him having the heart of a baboon, possibly in view of encouraging him to feel stronger, more confident and less fearful of his faith.

The story moves to the present time, and now in his mid 20’s, Adam, (played by Christian Slater), is shy and mysterious, he never speaks to anyone, works as a dishwasher in a diner and lives alone with his dog.



Caroline, (played by Marisa Tomei), works at the same diner as a waitress. One night Adam saves Caroline from an attempted rape on her way home after work. Caroline is grateful and curious, and Adam slowly breaks his self-imposed silence and distance. Caroline is the first person he truly opens up to. Slowly, they find themselves inevitably drawn to each other.  




There is a wonderful sense of chemistry between them, and Christian Slater plays Adam with the right measure of mystery and innocence. Until the day he met her, all he had was his records and particularly a beautiful haunting theme he refers to as “magic”, Roger Williams version of nature boy, which I feel compelled to share here:

video


Untamed heart reminds us all that it’s Love that creates princes and princesses and not the other way around. The film is simply moving, and will make sense to anyone with a heart.


Untamed heart ends with the classic Nat King Cole rendering, and these hauntingly beautiful lyrics:


There was a boy


A very strange enchanted boy.

They say he wandered very far, very far,

Over land and sea.

A little shy

And sad of eye,

But very wise, very wise was he...


Until one day,
One lucky day he passed my way,
And while we talked of many things
Fools and kings,
This he said to me:
"The greatest thing
You’ll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
In return."




What I love about Untamed Heart is that it doesn’t try to aim higher than it actually gets. It doesn’t try to be an epic and shattering love drama. It’s just there, quietly and innocently illustrating how simple and how beautiful life can be if only we believe in enchantment. 

Well deserving of a solid 3,5 stars rating. Watch it.


RELEASED: February 1993
Director: Tony Bill
Running Time: 102 mn
Cast: Christian Slater, Marisa Tomei
Rating: 3,5 stars