Nights of Cabiria (1957)- Federico Fellini



My Hall of Fame


There are some people who want to be loved so badly, they’ll tell themselves anything just to keep going. Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is one of those people. Nights of Cabiria (1957)In the opening moments of Federico Fellini’s moving, and at times, heartbreaking masterpiece “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), we witness from afar, as Cabiria laughs and runs with her boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi). Frolicking together, they wind up standing, side by side, next to a fast-moving river, staring into its beauty and mystery. It is during this moment of peacefulness that Giorgio grabs Cabiria’s purse and pushes her into the water, knowing full well that she can’t swim, and leaving her to die, all for a handful of cash. After being saved by some children nearby, Cabiria returns to her home and argues with her friend (Franca Marzi), that somehow it was just a mistake- she fell, and being scared, he fled with her purse, but surely he will return to her soon. Nights of Cabiria (1957)Her desperation, and the desire to be loved by someone- anyone, is almost too much to endure.

If this opening five minutes seems a bit painful, brace yourself. It’s going to get worse. You see, Cabiria is a prostitute, and not a high-class one at that. She earns her living by having sex with people, any of which she would stay with forever, if only they’d show her any real affection (or for that matter, even some fake affection would suffice). Unfortunately for Cabiria, each one of her encounters is as meaningless as the last, fulfilling their needs, while leaving her empty. She is, quite possibly, the saddest character ever to grace the screen. Seriously, somebody just hug the poor girl! What is surprising is that despite her past, she continues to hope that love is waiting just around the corner.

Nights of Cabiria (1957)

“Nights of Cabiria” is one of the best films of all time for many reasons. It’s crafted perfectly by one of the world’s greatest directors, shot on location around one of the greatest cities in the world, and has a story that manages to touch its viewers in a way that is both comforting, and oddly unsettling at the same time.Nights of Cabiria (1957) The greatest thing about this picture, however, has nothing to do with any of that. “Nights of Cabiria” is great because of Giulietta Masina and her intense, no holds bar, tour de force performance. Everything lives and dies with her, and how she manages herself on-screen. And it’s not just her character’s sadness that makes this performance incredible. It actually has more to do with her ability as an actress to move, in a very real way, between emotions. Sadness, anger, frustration, passion, and joy. She jumps between them all, keeping the audience enthralled, crying with her as she prays for a better life, and then laughing as she walks directly into a glass door. It is a performance that includes a bit of everything, and is one of the greatest Nights of Cabiria (1957)of all time. It embodies a similarity in its heartbreaking effect to Kenji Mizoguchi’s “The Life of Oharu” (1952), but Cabiria’s upbeat outlook leave this film with an optimistic feeling that is a stark opposite to Mizoguchi’s harrowing tale.

I believe that “Nights of Cabiria”, even with all of it’s popularity, gets overlooked because Fellini made so many monumental films in his career. It’s stuck in between “La Strada” (1954) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), with “8 1/2” (1963) coming just a few years later. When any artist creates that many “masterpieces” in such a short span of time, it’s easy for one (or some) of them to become overlooked (even if just slightly). “Nights of Cabiria” isn’t as flashy and obvious as these other classics, yet somehow it is my favorite. Perhaps it’s because it’s the most relatable. Or maybe it’s Masina’s performance. More than likely, however, it’s the simple fact that there are few things as touching and poignant as a lost soul looking for love, and having the upbeat attitude to believe that she will one day find it…somewhere.

Hulu Tuesday- Madame de… ‘aka’ The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)- Max Ophuls



My Hall of Fame


Much can be said about the glorious career of filmmaker Max Ophuls, although I prefer to call him by his given name, Maximillian Oppenheimer, because it just sounds awesome. His films aren’t abundant in number, but their quality is undeniable. Between 1931 and his death in 1958, he made 23 full length film, plus was in the process of filming number 24. Madame de... (1953)Throughout those years, he made films in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. But he spent his last few years back in France, making the most memorable and widely seen movies of his career, including “Lola Montes” (1955) and “Madame de…”, known to American audiences as “The Earrings of Madame de…” (1953).

The plot of “Madame de…” centers around Louise, masterly portrayed by Danielle Darrieux. She is married to a wealthy General (Charles Boyer) who gives her everything that she desires in life, except of course, happiness. Because of her lavish lifestyle, Louise has accrued substantial debts, and decides to sell a pair of diamond earrings that her husband gave her on their weddings day. Madame de... (1953)Although she had no way of knowing, this decision to sell the earrings begins a chain of events that will forever alter her life, as well as the lives of those around her.

From the opening shot of this magnificent film, the audience knows it’s in for something special. Ophuls masterfully shows us what is important in the life of Louise: her room, her coats, her clothes and her jewelry. She searches for something that she can sell, and Ophuls carefully has her scour her extensive room for something valuable, without ever showing her face. Why? Because her face doesn’t matter, just as her name doesn’t matter. She, as a woman, is unimportant. It’s what she represents as a spoiled, aristocratic, bourgeois woman, without love in her life, that really matters.

Once she discovers love with the more than willing baron (Vittorio De Sica), she changes as a person and as a character. Louise is no longer spoiled of self pretentious because she is in love, and her entire world revolves around this love. Madame de... (1953)The hopeless romantic is one with which it is easy to identify, even though we see her inevitable downfall. She doesn’t care what her husband thinks, what the world thinks, or even about the same possessions with which she couldn’t part at the beginning of the film. Now she only cares about her love,  her baron, and of course, her earrings.

“Madame de…” is a wondrous picture because although there is nothing flashy or overly intense involved, it still manages to deliver on every possible level. The most memorable aspect of this film is the camera, and the way it moves throughout our story. Cinematographer Christian Matras always seems to be connected with magnificent pictures, and perhaps that is no coincidence. The camera in this film doesn’t just move around the room, showing the audience what is happening. Madame de... (1953)It transports us into the world of Louise, and makes us her most trusted maid servant. We, as the audience, experience her desires, her confusion, her obsession and at long last, her heartbreak.

Early into the picture, we don’t seem to care. The audience is just observing, smiling at the coincidences that unfold, Somehow, as the film continues, Ophuls finds a way to creep into our minds and our hearts, resulting in a personal investment that we didn’t even make intentionally. We care without even realizing why.

I would like to call special attention to the scene of this film where Louise and the baron fall in love, because this scene, above all others in the film, shows the genius that is Max Ophuls. Madame de... (1953)The two characters begin dancing together at a party. They have only just meet, and although there is an undeniable attraction, they are quite cordial with each other. As the scene continues, we see them dancing, but we are transported to the next party that they have attended, and then the next, and then the next. Each party shows how their infatuation and desire for one another has grown, but it is all through the course of one dance for us, the audience. This scene is extremely reminiscent of the “breakfast table” scene in “Citizen Kane” (1941), and it serves as an homage, as well as the perfect way to transport through time without diminishing our interest in the story.

One could go on for hours discussing and dissecting the beauty of “Madame de…”, but the truth is that it isn’t a film that needs my endorsement. All it needs (and deserves) is a chance to prove that it is an extraordinary film, and that Max Ophuls, the artist behind it, was one of the greatest of all time.

Hulu Tuesday- The Life of Oharu (1952)- Kenji Mizoguchi



Not known for being an upbeat filmmaker, Kenji Mizoguchi instead focused on telling harrowing and often times heartbreaking tales about the women of Japan. Oddly enough, his brilliant film “The Life of Oharu” (1952) is not his most popular, or even his best film, as that distinction belongs to “Ugetsu” (1953); yet to overlook this incredible tale would only be doing an injustice to yourself.

“The Life of Oharu” is appropriately titled, as most of the film is shown in flashback, recounting the events of Oharu’s (magnificently played by Kinuyo Tanaka) devastating life. The Life of Oharu (1952)When we first see her, Oharu is a 50-year-old prostitute just trying to find enough work to continue living. “A woman of 50 can’t make herself look 20,” she says. She gathers with a group of “co-workers” around a fire to keep warm. One young girl asks how Oharu ended up living this way. Oharu refuses to discuss her past with the other girls, but thankfully she is willing to share her story with us.

As a young girl, Oharu was a lady in waiting of sorts in a respectable upper class home. She falls in love with a young page (Toshiro Mifune), but because their love is forbidden, she and her family are banished, and her lover is beheaded. Disgraced, her father (Ichiro Sugai) is unable to forgive his daughter and ends up selling her as a concubine to the highly respected Lord Matsudaira (Toshiaki Konoe). Her sole purpose is to give him a son and heir. After her son is born, she is discarded from the household and sent back to her father without proper compensation.

The Life of Oharu (1952)While she was away, Oharu’s father accrued a large debt that he assumed he would be able to pay after Oharu returned with her new-found riches. He blames her, even though she has done nothing wrong, and once again Oharu is sold, this time as a courtesan.

You can see where this story is going, of course. Things don’t improve for Oharu. Every time she makes a decision to better herself and her life, things go badly, leaving her older and more alone. What can she do to stop this awful chain of events? How can she improve her own life when everyone keeps selling off her body to the highest bidder? In her youth she is admired for her sexual beauty, but with the passing years, the selling of her flesh becomes less accepted by society. She ends up just an average elderly whore, despite the fact that she is performing the same functions that she did respectably for Lord Matsudaira as a teenager.

“The Life of Oharu” is about as sad and depressing of a film as you will find.The Life of Oharu (1952) Towards the beginning of the film, after her young lover has been executed, Oharu attempts to end her own life, but she is told, “This isn’t the end of the world. If you kill yourself, that’s the end!” If Oharu could have seen how her life would continue from this point, nothing would have stopped her from dying that day. Every moment seems to be filled with more dread and despair than the last, but it is when she resigns to her own situation that we (as the observers) really lose hope.

Kenji Mizoguchi did not have a life filled with joy. Human suffering is where his films excel, but it’s because he endured so much of this same suffering in his own life. As a young boy, Mizoguchi witnessed the mistreatment of his mother and sister by his own father, as well as seeing his other sister sold away into geishdom. It’s these events that would stay with him throughout his life, as well as shape his most poignant (and personal) films.

Artistically, “The Life of Oharu” is perfect. Every technical aspect is handled with the precision and skill of a master at work. The Life of Oharu (1952)Mizoguchi is able to seamlessly blend everything together without interfering with the story that is unfolding before its viewer. There is nothing flashy or unique about his style of filmmaking. His story is the driving force, and because of his superior skills and intelligence, he knows how to convey a message without distracting his audience.

There are few films in existence as somber and mournful as “The Life of Oharu”. From beginning to end, it is filled with an overwhelming sense of doom. Although not an easy film to watch, it is an important film to see, if only to understand the difficult and tragic life of one woman representing thousands.

“The Life of Oharu” is currently available for streaming through Hulu. It is also available for pre-order on both blu-ray and DVD through The Criterion Collection, due to be released on July 9th, 2013.

Hulu Tuesday- Voyage in Italy or Viaggio in Italia (1954)- Roberto Rossellini



Hulu Tuesday is a new event here at Lasso the Movies, but hopefully it will be something that is enjoyed enough to stick around. Each Tuesday, I will get a review up from a film that I streamed through Hulu. They have a wide selection of films from The Criterion Collection, which makes this idea even more appealing.Voyage in Italy (1954) If you’re interested in seeing some of these wonderful films, you can obtain more information through either The Criterion Collection or from Hulu.

For this weeks Hulu Tuesday pick, I have chosen legendary director Roberto Rossellini’s intoxicating examination of a marriage, “Voyage in Italy” (1954). This film has also been know at times as “Journey to Italy”, but for this review I think I will just stick with “Voyage in Italy”.

An English couple, Alex and Katherine Joyce (George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman), have been married eight years, but they no longer feel connected. As the film opens, the Joyces are traveling to Naples, in order to sell a villa that was acquired through an inheritance. Voyage in Italy (1954)The distanced couple has driven, instead of flying, in hopes of rekindling some forgotten spark in their relationship.

The Joyces certainly have their work cut out for them, as Alex in constantly plagued by his wandering eyes, and Katherine is desperately searching for someone with whom she can share the personal experiences of her life. The two are hopeless as they stumble over every obstacle that confronts them, but when neither becomes fulfilled, each is forced to stop looking at the faults of their spouse, and begin looking within themselves.

What I love most about “Voyage in Italy” is how different it is from Rossellini’s earlier film, especially his  “War Trilogy”. As brilliant as they are, “Rome: Open City” (1945), “Paisan” (1946) and “Germany Year Zero” (1948), and even his later “Stromboli” (1950) and “Europa ’51” (1952), are not happy go lucky, feel good movies. They are devastating to experience, as the harshness of the world that encompassed Rossellini at that time, is brought to the screen. “Voyage to Italy” is the completeVoyage in Italy (1954) opposite type of film. There is hope and love and tenderness at the foreground of the picture, and one can’t help but wish that these two love searching characters can find there way back to one another.

Bergman and Sanders are a wonderful pair in this film. They are both such extreme talents anyway, but together, their acting is enhanced even further. These roles really come alive because of the talent of their acting and their chemistry together. In a funny way, I always expect this kind of performance from Bergman, and am therefore less inclined to take notice of how tremendously she performers. (She truly is phenomenal, though.) Sanders, on the other hand, always seems to stand out the most in roles that are supporting, and usually villainous in some way. It is inspiring to see Voyage in Italy (1954)him expand out of that stereotypical role, and surprise us with such a different and marvelous performance.

Besides the love story between the Joyces, there is also another love story that takes place throughout “Voyage in Italy”– that is the love between Roberto Rossellini and Italy. It’s like watching a documentary on the beauty of a country that Rossellini so obviously adores. The landscapes are magnificent, and the different settings, such as the Acropolis, the Solfatara, the Fontanelle and Pompeii, are a wonder to behold. Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders and Roberto Rossellini stand out for their accomplishments, but it is the country of Italy that steals this film.

“Voyage in Italy”  hasn’t always been easy to find, despite the fact that the film is a masterpiece in its ownVoyage in Italy (1954) right. Its appearance on Hulu is a wonderful opportunity to see a film, that despite its lack of a typical plot, still finds a way to be touching, emotional and down right beautiful to experience.

I have also discovered today that “Voyage in Italy” has been restored through Janus Films, and is being sent to a few select theaters. The best part of the restoration is that it is the English language version, which obviously will be both Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders’ own voices. You can obtain more information through Janus Films, and we can all hope that this same version will one day be available on blu-ray and DVD.

Pandora’s Box (1929) aka Die Buchse der Pandora- Georg Wilhelm Pabst



“Pandora’s Box” (1929) is a German silent film from director G. W. Pabst. The film is credited as being based on “the variation on the theme of Frank Wedekind’s Lulu“, with a screenplay written by Ladislaus Vajda. The story revolves around a dancer/prostitute named Lulu (LouisePandora's Box (1929) Brooks). Filled with an overwhelming sexual prowess, Lulu seems to entice men (and women for that matter) to obey her every whim, just by smiling at them. (Alright, sometimes she uses more than just her smile.) Her latest conquest is the well respect newspaperman, Dr. Ludwig Schon (Fritz Kortner); that is, until Schon decides to give up his fun with Lulu, and marry a “respectable” girl (Daisy D’ora).

Lulu is not so easily cast aside, and sets to making things better for herself, while keeping a leash on Schon at the same time. As she continues, Lulu can’t help but attract attention at every turn. All of Lulu’s friends become entranced by her charms, including, but not limited to, Schon’s son, Alwa (Francis Lederer), her longtime friend, Quast (Krafft-Raschig), her lesbian lover, Countess Augusta Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), and even Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl). Although she provides each with a momentary satisfaction, Lulu Pandora's Box (1929)also serves as an inspiration for fear, deceit, greed and murder. The title of the film comes from a prosecutor during a courtroom scene, who compares Lulu to Pandora of Greek mythology because she seems to release evil upon the innocent of the world.

Typically I am not a huge fan of melodrama, but in the case of “Pandora’s Box”, I can’t help but be swept away by the film’s beauty. Separated into eight acts, the film builds slowly, gaining more and more interest into the different characters as their various desires (and urges) come into light. G.W. Pabst, along with cinematographer Gunther Krampf, have created a masterfully crafted piece of beauty.

The film, however, is most interesting because of Lulu, or more specifically Louise Brooks’ performance of Lulu. In the opening two acts, it is easy to laugh her off as just another Pandora's Box (1929)“destructive woman”, as we have seen commonly throughout film history. As the acts continue, however, it is harder to judge those who have fallen under Lulu’s spell, because like all these misguided humans, we too have become entranced by her beauty and charm, and would also be willing to put ourselves in harms way; if only she were to ask.

In 1929, it was difficult for many to accept the idea of an American actress in the role of Lulu, which was considered to be a “German” role. It has even been said that Marlene Dietrich was sitting in G.W. Pabst’s office, trying to sign a contract when a telegram arrived stating that Brooks would take the role. His choice ended up being the right one, as “Pandora’s Box” can attribute most of its success and historical remembrances to Brooks’ performance. She was only 23 at the time of this films release, but her talents far exceeded Pandora's Box (1929)her age or previous experiences. Brooks seemed to bring her own personal experiences to the role, and she obviously poured all of herself into this character. In a career that didn’t last as long as it should have, “Pandora’s Box” will always be remembered, even if only because of her.

“Pandora’s Box” has been released on DVD through The Criterion Collection, as well as being available for viewing through Hulu. My one complaint while watching the film is also one that is easy to remedy. The musical track felt awful, and couldn’t have been more frustrating to listen to throughout the film. The DVD includes four different musical tracks, and I wish Hulu would have allowed me thePandora's Box (1929) other three options, as the track they choose filled me with the desire to join a marching band. Needless to say, I turned my volume down for this one.

Letter Never Sent (1959)- Mikhail Kalatozov



Director Mikhail Kalatozov is one the most revered Soviet directors in film history. Undoubtably his final four films, “The Cranes Are Flying” Letter Never Sent (1959)(1957), “Letter Never Sent” (1959), (aka “The Unsent Letter”),  “I Am Cuba” (1964), and “The Red Tent” (1971) are his most prestigious credits. In fact, “The Cranes Are Flying” is often considered one of the top Soviet films of all time, but it is the simpler, lesser seen film, “Letter Never Sent”, that has burned a lasting image into my own cinematic mind. It’s one of those stories that appears to be so simple on the surface, but the further into the encompassing complexities that one travels, the more amazing it is to dissect the film, in an attempt to understand the characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings, and their Letter Never Sent (1959) unfailing driven pursuit of success for the sake of the country.

“Letter Never Sent” is the story of four geologists who are sent to central Siberia, in order to locate diamonds. The title of the film comes from the leader of the group, Sabinine (Innokenti Smoktunovsky), who was supposed to send a letter home to his wife (Galina Kozhakina) prior to being released into the wilds of the Siberian forest. Since he forgot to leave the letter on the departing helicopter, he continues to add to the ever growing script throughout his unbelievably exhausting and emotional journey. (Of course it also serves as a timeline of the upcoming events.) The rest of his geological team is comprised of Tanya (Tatyana Samojlova), her boyfriend Andrei (Vasili Livanov) and Sergei (YevgeniLetter Never Sent (1959) Urbansky), who also happens to have fallen in love with Tanya.

Although the early stages of their expedition seem to continue with a normalcy that could be expected, or at the very least hoped for, they have no success in finding any diamonds. As the summer draws to a close, the team decides they cannot return before a discovery has been made, and they request permission to remain on their quest even longer. Tensions begin to run higher amongst the group as everyone begins to wear down, and Sergei’s affections for Tanya are uncovered through the finding of a love letter that was written and accidentally discovered by both Tanya and Andrei. Despite Sabinine’s letter serving as a sparkling narrative for this film, Letter Never Sent (1959)it is this second “unsent letter” that delivers the passion and touching sacrifice to the story.

Finally, at the moment of culminating frustration, the team at last discovers diamonds. They send news back home to have the helicopter meet them the following day at some predetermined point downriver. They load up their supplies, and after a final night of gleeful celebration, the are emotionally prepared for the journey home; and a heroes welcome. There are, however, other obstacles that must be faced by our band of discovers before success is theirs, as a fire has burst around their base camp during the night. The team gathers what little supplies they can and head for the river. The supply boats haveLetter Never Sent (1959) drifted in the night and only a few essentials are retrieved, and only then at the ultimate sacrifice of one of the team members.

The remainder of the film shifts drastically from a relational film to one of survival. With no means to contact their rescuers, and too much smoke filling the air to be discovered from above, the remaining three geologists begin the treacherous journey on foot, despite the ferocious weather and depressingly bleak outlook.

Every aspect of “Letter Never Sent” is amazing to experience. Throughout the first 30 or 40 minutes the direction of this movie is a bit unclear, but after the fire, things change drastically. In the years since the release of “Letter Never Sent”, there have been plenty of survival films taking place in any number of perilous locations, but somehow this film, with the vast, uninhabitable Siberian landscape, remains the most horrific feeling. When the characters stumble through the snow, aimlessly hoping to find Letter Never Sent (!959)a river to point them in the right direction, pain is the least of their worries, as they encounter ever obstacle imaginable in their current predicament.

Mikhail Kalatozov worked with cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky on four different films. Urusevsky’s work is remembered by those who have seen his films to be among some of the greatest examples of brilliant ingenuity and innovative creativity for his time. His accomplishments on “Letter Never Sent” can’t even be described in words. Because Urusevsky excelled at illustrating his thoughts visually, it seems only fair that those who have come to appreciate his work should do so without trying to put into words that which he tirelessly worked to create through lasting images.

Despite the overall beauty of “Letter Never Sent”, it would be impossible to insinuate that there is a more memorable sequence in this film than that of the fire escape scene. The direction is completely thought out, down to the last detail, and Kalatozov couldn’t have done better if he had tried for the rest of his career. JustLetter Never Sent (1959) think in terms of Martin Scorsese’s shot through the back of the diner in “Goodfellas” (1990), only instead of a diner, the character in question is walking through a river, in the middle of a fire, while tree limbs and branches are falling from above. It is the very definition of unforgettable.

“Letter Never Sent” is  a film that spent years in obscurity before being reintroduced t0 the world (at least here in America) in 1995, thanks to the financial support of Francis Ford Coppola. Then, in early 2012, it was released through The Criterion Collection on both blu-ray and DVD. Since its release I have heard much criticism due to the lack of bonus features included on the disc. In truth there are no bonus features at all, but that shouldn’t keep anyone from giving this film a much deserved opportunity. In fact, perhaps it should Letter Never Sent (1959)even help inspire people to give it a chance, due to the significantly lowered price. The next time The Criterion Collection has one of their semi-regular 50% off sales, remember to look up “Letter Never Sent” and experience a truly magnificent piece of cinematic beauty.

Pina (2011)- Wim Wenders



“dance, dance, otherwise we are lost”


I know nothing about contemporary dance. I just want to clear that up right from the start on this one. I do, however, claim to be a lover andPina (2011) admirer of ALL kinds of films, and therefore, I would be remiss to avoid any film simply because its subject matter didn’t appeal to me. “Pina” (2011) is a documentary film about famed contemporary dance choreographer, Pina Bausch. Film director, and long time friend of Bausch, Wim Wenders had always talked about collaborating with her on a project. Just days before they began filming in June of 2009, Bausch died of cancer. At first the project was set aside, but after some time Bausch’s company of dancers and Wim Wenders Pina (2011)decided to make the film as a tribute to her and her life’s work.

The film itself was made in 3D, and I am sorry that I didn’t get to see it that way. Luckily, this release from The Criterion Collection includes a 3D disc for those with the capabilities to enjoy this film the way Wim Wenders intended. Without 3D it is still an amazing sight to behold. Like I said before, I know nothing about contemporary dance, but what I did learn while watching “Pina” is that even if this isn’t your idea of entertainment, by giving this extremely personal film a chance you a sure to find something interesting, redeeming and in the end, quite thought provoking.

The film is broken up into different sections, each highlighting a performance of one of Pina Bausch’s more famous pieces. Where not all of Pina (2011)these segments will necessarily appeal to everyone (including myself), by having such a wide selection to see, it is easy to find something interesting, and even moving for everyone. In between each performance, different members of Pina’s troupe talk briefly about their experiences working with her throughout their lives. It is these short segments that make up the most personal part of the film. All of the dancers are used to expressing themselves through their art, and I assume that it must have been more difficult for them on a personal level to sit down and share their thoughts through words.

Now the real reason I was intrigued by this film was because Wim Wenders has always fascinated me with his extremely moving and insightful films in the past. He not only has Pina (2011)made insightful documentaries such as “The Buena Vista Social Club” (1999) and “Tokyo-Ga” (1985), but he has also made some extremely stirring and down right breathtaking feature films like “Paris, Texas” (1984), “Wings of Desire” (1987) and “Land of Plenty” (2004). His unique approach to storytelling is unparalleled today, and he has become one of just a handful of directors who consistently leaves his audience in a semi-catatonic state of mind-numbing thought provocation.

I don’t know how these dance sequences were performed in the past, but in the film some of the dances take place in the Tanztheater Wuppertal, where Pina Bausch worked throughout her career, and other sequences were done on location in the city of Wuppertal, Germany. The location shooting in this film is extraordinary and I would guess that the Pina (2011)same excitement and beauty would be more difficult to achieve if I was watching these same dancers live in their normal performing environment.

“Pina” was a much more intense film than I was expecting. Wenders has taken this opportunity to examine and share the art of his friend with those of us who rarely go out to see contemporary dance. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and it is easy to see why. It is a miraculous cinematic achievement, and something that I am glad I took the time to experience.

The Ballad of Narayama (1958)



“The Ballad of Narayama” is a kabuki-style Japanese film from director Keisue Kinoshita. It tells a fable about a deteriorating community that has adopted the tradition of “ubasute”, which basically means abandoning the elderly or infirm on a mountain or desolate place to die.(This practice most commonly takes place in times of famine.) This film centers on 69 year old, Granny Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka in an emotionally charged performance), who understands that come her 70th birthday she will be expected to take the journey to the top of mount Narayama. The Ballad of Narayama (1958)Although Orin has accepted her fate, her 48-year-old widowed son, Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi), is heartbroken at that very though of losing his mother and is unsure if he will be able to carry her on the journey. “The Ballad of Narayama” is an intimate look into both the inner workings of this one family as everyone comes to terms (in one way or another) with losing a member of their family, and a society that has no use for their elders.

Having never seen a kabuki-style film before, I found myself watching as an uneducated outsider. The entire movie was made on a soundstage, The Ballad of Narayama (1958)with no attempt to mascaraed as a location. The transitions from day to night occur when the lights are turned off. A transition from one scene to another happens as if you were watching a stage play; there is a darkness in the distance where extras are frozen in time until the main character reaches them and everyone comes to life, as they are illuminated from above. The artistry of the film is intoxicating. “The Ballad of Narayama” is unlike the other post war Japanese films that I have seen, and the effects of WWII are clearly visible not only in the production, but also in the characters and their story.

The practice of ubasute was also something that I knew very little about. There are some folk legends about ideas such as this, but I had never seen a story where everyone’s lives were so focused on waiting for their own death. I had a hard time getting into this plot, not due to a lack of interest, but rather because the concept is so appalling and unsettling. Then an amazing thing happened. By the time “The Ballad of Narayama” reached its climax I realized that not only had I become extremely attached to the film on an emotional level, but I was also literally sitting on the edge of my seat, watching as the events unfolded before me. The powerful story creeps into you slowly and somewhat unnoticeably. Kinoshita filmed with the skilled hand of a professional, leaving the audience restless and unsettled.The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

“The Ballad of Narayama” has recently been released as part of The Criterion Collection, and without their recommendation, I doubt that I would have ever given this film a chance. The visual style, combined with an unusual story, form to create a truly unique experience for anyone willing to take the journey.

The Kid with a Bike (2011)



The brother filmmaking team of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have a unique and unequalled style and quality to their films. Their most recent movie, “The Kid with a Bike” (2011), is a quiet but intense drama centering on a young boy and his desperate attempt to find his place in a world where he has constantly been rejected. As the film opens, eleven-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) is trying to find the father (JereminThe Kid with a Bike (2011) Renier) that has abandoned him. While searching for him, Cyril meets a hairdresser named Samantha (Cecile de France), who then goes and locates Cyril’s missing bicycle, buying it back for Cyril. Forming a connection to Samantha, Cyril asks if she will act as a foster parent to him on the weekends, and she agrees. The two form a friendship based on Samantha’s patience, kindness and her seemingly profound understanding about Cyril’s already disrupted life.

Having begun their career in documentary and “real life” filmmaking, the Dardenne brothers have a unique and unprecedented ability to make their films feel more realistic than most other being made today. It’s an experience for the viewers just as much as a source of entertainment. By writing, producing and directing their films, the Darrdenne brothers’ vision The Kid with a Bike (2011)doesn’t get filtered through other members of the filmmaking team. It is just their creative idea being brought to life by themselves, with little outside interference. Cinematographer Alain Marcoen is one of the few outsiders allowed into the Dardennes’ creative vision, and his enhancements to this film are memorizing. The camera moves through “The Kid with a Bike” like poetry.  Who would’ve thought a long take of a boy riding his bike would ever be so freeing and beautiful?

Typically their films also have little or no music, which some would say takes away from the dramatic effect, but others (like myself) would argue that it only enhances the realism. In “The Kid with a Bike”, instead of using score music, they allowed Beethoven and moments from his Adagio movement of “Emperor Concerto” to aid them in adding just a touch of un-acted and unscripted drama to their film.The Kid with a Bike (2011) The final result is phenomenal.

An oddity in this film is the background of the Samantha character. There are so many unanswered questions like, “Who is she?”, “What are her motivations?” and “Why is this woman so completely selfless and caring?”. Don’t think for a minute that our lack of understanding is an accident or mistake. She is kind, loving, patient, sincere and even a bit angelic. She appears without a fanfare and doesn’t even seem to have the ability to do anything unkind. Cecile de France is a wonderful actress who isn’t given memorable dialogue here, but her physical acting transcends her character, thus propelling her performance.

The Kid with a Bike (2011)Thomas Doret has proven to be an extremely talented young man, as he is in almost every moment of the film, but never appears to be anything other than a consummate professional. Doret has an exceptional ability to project his character in a new and fascinating way, despite the fact that the general idea of this film is neither new or original. We have seen other characters similar to young Cyril in films like “Kes” (1970) or “The 400 Blows” (1959), but unlike those classics of world cinema, “The Kid with a Bike” even goes further by showing a glimpse into Cyril’s future, filled with the possibility of hope, forgiveness and love.

“The Kid with a Bike” has recently been released into the Criterion Collection, and just like many of their other films, is loaded with some wonderful and insightful bonus features, as well as a new 2K digital transfer that has been supervised by the film’s director of photography, Alain Marcoen. As a result, it is a visually breathtaking film, filled with fluid The Kid with a Bike (2011)camera movements, startling colors and an assortment of mind-numbing and unforgettable images.

Joyeux Noel (2005)



Earlier this month, I was somewhat critical of the Christmas movies that have been released in recent years. These days many Christmas movies are filled with humor and lack the warmth of holiday films from the 1930’s and 40’s. With that Joyeux Noel (2005)being said, I want to recommend a more recent Christmas film, that shows the power and heart of the holiday season, Joyeux Noel (2005). This Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film is based on true events that took place during World War I, although the individual characters and their personal situations seem to be primarily fictional.

The majority of this film takes place on the western front during the winter of 1914. The French, German and Scottish trenches have been fighting endlessly, but in the hours before Christmas, all three groups agree upon an unofficial cease-fire. Although a holiday spent sharing stories with the enemy is far from what these men were expecting, they find that their humanity takes over as they are all swept away by the peacefulness of this one dayJoyeux Noel (2005), despite the differences of these countries. Even the German, Leutnant Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl), who is Jewish, understands the importance of what is being done here.

Since the idea of a Christmas truce seems illogical today, it is hard to think that these events could have really taken place. Can the spirit of Christmas really mean so much to these men that they would be willing to lay down their weapons and join each other in no man’s land for a drink, a conversation or even a game of football? For a brief time, these men who were in the midst of the most horrific events of their lives, found a way to stop being soldiersJoyeux Noel (2005) and become human once again.

Anyone having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit can benefit from a film like Joyeux Noel because it celebrates this holiday from the point of view of men who have had this joyous season taken away. In order to prove its importance, they are willing to go against their superiors and remember everything that they have been trained to forget.

I won’t sit here and pretend that Joyeux Noel doesn’t play to the Joyeux Noel (2005)sentimentality of its story in order to pull at the heartstrings of the audience. Being a true, and almost unbelievable story, it was easy to manipulate the film to be as powerful as possible. One of the main characters of the film is a German named Nikolaus Sprink (Benno Furmann), who before the war was a famous opera tenor. On Christmas Eve, he is taken to Berlin to perform for some officers, along with his previous stage performer (and lover), Anna Sorensen (Diane Kruger). After the performance, Sprink feels compelled to return to the trenches, and against Sprink’s wishes, Anna stays with him. Once in the trenches and singing to his fellow soldiers, a Scottish priest working as a stretcher-bearer begins playing the bagpipes in unison with Sprink’s singing.Joyeux Noel (2005) Obviously music has an overwhelming emotional response for people, and when Sprink walks out of his trench singing and carrying a Christmas tree in his hand, the powerfulness of the scene is undeniable.

The singing in the film is actually done by Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazon, and along with the hauntingly beautiful score by Philippe Rombi, the film will fill your home with joyous music. The music itself actually plays a character of its own. It is what brings these men together, and it is the one thing that can’t be taken away from them.

In order to focus the film on the truce and not on the war, director Christian Carion tones down the violence, and refrains Joyeux Noel (2005)from making any one side seem more righteous. This is not a war movie, or even an anti-war movie; it is a film about the kindness and humanity of all men. Wars are always easier to fight when your enemy doesn’t have a face, and these soldiers’ lives are forever changed by spending a few hours seeing their battlefield from a different perspective.

I find that Joyeux Noel reminds me of the people in the world that would like to be enjoying Christmas, but for whatever reason, it has been taken away from them. The Christmas season is not something that should be taken for granted, but Joyeux Noel (2005)rather embraced because we are fortunate enough to experience the splendor that comes with this one single day of the year.