You don’t have to believe in climate change to experience and understand the devastating effects of a drought. The northeastern part of Brazil is no stranger to this condition which has plagued the region for decades yet people continue to live there. If you are a wealthy landowner, you can survive the seasonal hardships but if you are a poor migrant worker, life is a constant struggle. Vidas Secas (English title: Barren Lives, 1963), directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, is the portrait of a family of four and their dog as they wander the arid deserts and sun-baked landscapes of northwestern Brazil in search of work, water and food. Set in 1941 and covering a two-year period in their lives, the film is considered a landmark work in the Cinema Novo movement, which emerged in the late fifties and focused on marginalized communities and people, often using non-professional actors, real settings and black and white cinematography in the manner of Italian Neorealism.Continue reading
Tag Archives: Cannes Film Festival
No Man’s Land
Imagine a life during wartime where your country is invaded by foreign forces and your friends and neighbors have either joined the resistance or sided with the enemy in order to save their own skins. The lines were more clearly drawn during the American Civil War where geography, uniforms and flags were the distinguishing physical differences but in Europe, wars and revolutions were much more complicated and confusing for the opposing sides. Consider, for example, The Red and the White (Hungarian title: Csillagosok, Katonak, 1967), directed by Miklos Jancso, in which Hungary collapses into chaos in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. As depicted by Jansco, the landscape becomes a no man’s land where the roles of the oppressors and the oppressed are constantly switching and non-partisan peasants are caught in the middle with no control over their fates. The result is a visually mesmerizing, almost absurdist view of power changing hands almost as rapidly as gamers in an interactive duel.Continue reading
…And You Thought Donald Pleasence Was Creepy?
Angela Pleasence, like her father, has a face made for the cinema though not in the realm of conventional leading ladies. Even as a young actress appearing in bit parts in movies like Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush (1968) and The Love Ban (1973), she was never a winsome ingénue or the lovable girl next store. Her uniquely peculiar beauty – especially those hungry eyes that bore holes right through you – must have somehow hindered her movie career because her film roles have been few and far between. She is mostly remembered for her television work, particularly her role as Catherine Howard in the 1970 TV mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but she should have had the film career her father had on the basis of Symptoms (1974) alone.Continue reading
Almost everyone has attended a dinner party at some point in their lives that was mandatory as well as a memorably bad experience. Maybe it was a communal meal with the boss and co-workers or a formal affair with an annoying in-law or relative. Just be glad you were able to leave the event when it became convenient. The assembled guests in Luis Bunuel’s surreal satire, The Exterminating Angel (1962), don’t have that option but the reasons for their entrapment are never clear.Continue reading
Happiness is a Thing Called Little Joe
Austrian director Jessica Hausner has been a favorite of the Cannes Film Festival ever since her 45 minute short Inter-View won a Special Mention in 1999. Since then her subsequent feature films, Lovely Rita (2001), Hotel (2004) and Amour fou (2014) have all been nominated for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award. And her new feature Little Joe was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or award and won the Best Actress award for Emily Beecham. It is also worth noting that all of Hausner’s previous features with the exception of Lourdes (a French language production) have been in German. Little Joe, not to be confused with the 2008 documentary about Warhol star Joe Dallesandro also entitled Little Joe, marks Hausner’s English language debut and it is a remarkably self-assured and hypnotic work that displays none of the usual drawbacks that detract from a director’s first foray into a non-native language production. Continue reading
A Childhood on the Run
Although released in 2001 and greatly admired by many prominent film critics, Delbaran, directed by Iranian filmmaker Abolfazl Jalili, is not nearly as well known as other Iranian prize winners such as Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar (2001) but deserves to be. The story focuses on Kaim, a fourteen-year-old war orphan trying to survive in a desolate Iranian village near the Afghanistan border. And the film is in the grand tradition of other renowned classics that feature child protagonists caught up in the madness of war such as Rene Clement’s Forbidden Games (1952), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) and Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985). The difference is that Delbaran is much more austere and understated than those better known masterworks.
The Naked Lens of Philippe Garrel
In 1974 very few people outside of France knew anything about Philippe Garrel, an experimental filmmaker who had first attracted attention in Parisian film circles with his 1964 fifteen minute short, Les Enfants Desaccordes (1964). Decidedly non-commercial, Garrel’s abstract, often autobiographical ruminations on disenfranchised youth and the vagaries of romantic love appealed to a fringe group of European cinephiles. But Les Hautes Solitudes, which was first screened in Paris in December 1974, raised Garrel’s profile considerably due to the film’s cast which included model/actress/singer Nico (formerly of The Velvet Underground) and current companion of Garrel, French stage and screen star Laurent Terzieff, the stunning Tina Aumont (daughter of Maria Montez and Jean-Pierre Aumont and, most notably, American actress Jean Seberg, who had reinvented her screen career in France with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). Continue reading