Polisse tells the story of the daily lives of a tight-knit team of police who make the Child Protection Unit of Parisian police. With a tight, well written script, the film explores the relationships of the team both at work and in their personal lives. The film is shot in a Cinéma vérité style really helping the viewer submerge themselves into the characters and the their jobs in the Child Protection Unit. Given what the film is about it can be a hard to film to watch at parts, considering the characters routinely question and interview pedophiles, which in itself can be cringe-inducing. That being said, the film is actually pretty damn funny, with some nice witty dialogue that helps keep the film from becoming too heavy. The strongest aspect of this film without a doubt though is how immersive it is into these character's lives as they attempt to preserve their sanity. We see how this tough, yet rewarding job influences the characters in their daily lives and the film really gives us a lot of detail about almost every character in the unit. There are a few scenes, particularly towards the end of the film, where characters lash-out or explode out of rage, frustration, etc, no doubt showing the frustration and wear and tear it has on these men and woman's souls. There is also this small undercurrent of corruption and the need for change which slowly slithers to the surface of the narrative raising some questions about how the system works. I personally found some of the characters, particularly Fred, an emotional man who is continually pushed to the limits, to be very compelling. This is a really well done film and I understand the comparisons to 'The Wire' but I did feel that this film could have been a little more restrained at times, particularly a major scuffle towards the end, which felt forced, and I'm not entirely sure how I felt about the very end.. maybe a little too much?!
Taking place at the turn of the 20th century, House of Pleasures is a immersive look an elegant, upper-class brothel in it's final few weeks/days leading up to it's closure. The film is a unexploitative, genuine look into the life of a whore, where we are shown their daily lives essentially forcing the viewer to think and feel about these individual, understanding their struggles and viewing their humanity. There is no central character, rather an ensemble of these woman who make up the brothel. Far more of the film is spent examining these characters "off duty" where we get a very detailed understanding of the type of people they are. We see the conversations these woman have over dinner, as well as discussions on their profession, with many of the woman dreaming of paying off their debt and being free from the Brother. While each character is well-developed, two characters in this film stood out to me. One being a prostitute who becomes a side-show freak for sorts whom they refer to as "the woman who laughs". Her character would be the closest thing to a central performance, given the narrative essentially lives and dies around her circumstances, but it certainty never feels like her story. I also found Lea's character, 'The Tall One" to be compelling because of the great dichotomy her character inhabits as a person who is two completey different people while with her customers and while away. The bitterness and disdain she has is relatively apparent in her performance, yet she has this calm, sad demeanor that she knows nothing will ever change. This is a story about all the woman, and how the Madam of the brothel in reality cares more about appeasing her clientele than worrying about the woman she employs.
John Water's Desperate Living is a trashy, sleazy fairy-tale about an insane housewife who kill's her husband and goes on the run with her 300 lb maid. They arrive in Mortville, a crappy town on the outskirts where fugitives and criminals of sort take shelter. They are ruled over by kinky Queen Carlotta, and her minions, leather-clad men-the type that would wear ass-chaps. Yea, so this is a John Water's film and if that means anything to you, then you know what to expect. This is a very lewd, often hysterical, film that is a lot of fun. There are ton's of great random moments and dialogue that kept me well entertained though I don't think the "social commentary" aspect of the film comes through as much as Waters was hoping. It clearly seems to be a commentary on the empowerment of woman, in some capacity, I just think it's a little too grim, though fun, to achieve it completely. Waters is an enigma for me; he's definitely a lot of fun and I enjoy almost everything of his I have seen, yet I always am left wishing the film had more to say. Still full of interesting, bizarre and unique ideas which is always appreciated.
Opening with some fantastic imagery, 'Moonrise' introduces us to Danny Hawkins, a young boy who is consistently mistreated and taunted because his father was a murderer, who subsequently was hung at the gallows. Using some great silhouettes, editing, and projection backgrounds, it's a pretty frightening sequence for a young boy to experience, with Borzage setting a tone and mood from the very beginning of a man who is constantly haunted by his terrible childhood and perceived inadequacies. Part Noir, part Melodrama, 'Moonrise' is really an expertly crafted film exploring the moral repercussions for Danny Hawkins after being involved in an accident, which leaves a man dead. Danny is such a tormented character, his father's wrongs weighting him down to the degree that he himself questions whether he is in fact a rotten person at heart. Fearing the worst, he tells no one about the accidental death, leading to even more torment, re-living the event over and over, torturing himself. The relationship he begins to form with Gilly Johnson, a schoolteacher, perfectly weaves around the Noir elements, creating a film that is both tough, yet ultimately redemptive. As amazing as the intro of the film is, the rest of it manages to keep this visual standard, with stylized cinematography, great shadows, and some solid use of sound. One prime example of this being the Carousel sequence, where Danny's paranoia hits a fever pitch when he dives off the carousel because he believes he is being followed. In the end, Moonrise essentially crushes all the Noir genre conventions with a story of redemption and ultimately a rather happy ending for Danny and Gilly. So, I've only seen 4 of Frank Borzage's films but I am totally convinced that he was one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
Set in post-apocalyptic Japan, 'Burst City' revolves a group of punk rockers who clash with yakuza and police over the construction of a nuclear powerplant being built. The story is rather in-sequential aside from the simple fact that this is a absurd punk rock sci-fi film set in Japan. There is no doubt that both Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto were greatly influenced by the look and feel of this film, as it shares the frantic style particularly apparent in Tsukamoto's work. Burst City is bursting with energy, featuring hyper editing, chaotic camera-work and loud, thumping music throughout. The problem with the film is that it's 2 hours long, and after about 30 minutes, the film grew quite tired to me, even with the ridiculous style. Essentially this Sogo Ishii film is a prime example of "style over substance". While it has some great imagery that does fit this punk rock fever-dream well, I really wish the film had something to say; maybe it does, and I just completely missed the point but I have a feeling whatever message that did exist was rather simplistic- the conflict between youth and authority? It's kinda odd to me that the same guy made "Labyrinth of Dreams', a much more masterful film.
'The Devil Probably' is the story of Charles, a student, whose research into political action has left him with little hope of anything actually getting better. His investigation into religion isn't much more fruitful as Charles life around him becomes more and more empty. Charles disgust for the moral and physical decline of society has grown so large that he decides that suicide is for the best. This has got to be Robert Bresson's most bleak film. Charles is a person who looks around at our world and sees nothing of merit or actually change, rather is large circular cycle where nothing ultimately changes. He's a very intellectual character, and while this film doesnt' support any specific politics, he's a character who you would be more likely to find in a Godard film. I think this is exactly why this film works so well for me. This story never supports or denies Charles' ideals but rather, through visual storytelling, presents a world that is uncontrollable, suggesting that there are mysterious forces, unbeknownst to ourselves, which drive us to do certain things. Bresson isn't interested in lecturing us on what he thinks is right, *cough* Godard *cough*, but instead offers up the notion that we are all at the will of this mysterious force- God, Luck, Karma, Coincidence, whatever the individual want's to call it which ultimately leaves the individual with little contorl over his fate.
"Squirm', Jeff Lieberman's debut feature is a fun, little horror film about a small southern town that is terrorized by aggressive, blood-thirsty worms who've become hostile becomes of downed power lines disrupting them, after a massive storm. Being a film about Killer worms, the story builds very slowly, details about the worms being a real threat to the town are discovered by Geri and her out of town New-Yorker boyfriend, Mick. The film uses this outsider-trope to it's advantage as the two are quite isolated in their discoveries about the worms, mostly because of the town's folks unwillingness to/distrust towards Mick because of he's from the big city. This is a pretty fun little undercurrent of the film-the differences/prejudices which exist between the Southerners and Northerners. This is definitely Lieberman's least interesting film, but being his first, there are still a lot of nice indicators of the director he was capable of becoming, particularly with Blue Sunshine. For once, Lieberman's use of music and sound to instill horror and fear in the image is used to good effect throughout this film, with music often being instrumental in adding to the horror of the imagery. The very beginning of this film is a great example-an opening montage of lightning, strong winds and insects becoming increasingly hostile is a really strong merging of sight and sound. It's not a particularly scary film but considering what it's about, it could be considering how many extreme close-ups of slimey worms exist. I particularly was a fan of the boat sequence and the stuff towards the end where Lieberman shoots some sequences essentially from the worm's POV.
Michael Almereyda's 'Another Girl, Another Planet' is a very low budget production that is essentially a examination of romance in an urban setting. Shot in a very pixelated, low-budget style, the film follows the central character's essential lack of clarity over the relationships he inhabits. It's a very soulful, genuine feeling piece that uses over-pixelated image perfectly to capture the main character's lack of vision when it comes to his love life. This lack of clarity/sense of confusion among him and his feelings iis captured well. Almereyda really does everything he can to make this ultra-low budget film come to life, using juxtaposition of image such as cartoons on the television, music and other devices to help capture this vast, confusing wasteland which is the main protagonists love life. It's a film that I have a lot of trouble putting into words- it's definitely interesting, just not as eye opening or emotionally resonant as I was hoping for.
Albert Nobbs is the story of a woman, who is forced to live as a man in 19th century Ireland in order to achieve the things in life a woman could not. Working as a butler at a upper-class hotel, she dreams of opening up her own store. This is a character study through and through, with Glenn Close giving a strong performances as the title character. Nobbs is a rather tragic character- a woman with true wants and desires that has been living a lie her entire life. Through her friendship with a painter, Nobbs slowly begins to come out of her emotional shell, and falling in love with one of the fellow nurses-though her naive approach and timid nature is hard to watch. This is a good film, that is no doubt elevated by Close's performance. That being said, I wish the film would have had a little more to say as at times it feels like it's not entirely sure how it wants to be, stuck between telling this intimate portrait and the major social issue taking place at the time. It's solid but nothing about this film's aesthetic or story is all that riveting and/or interesting.
From the very beginning of Catherine Breillat's controversial film "Anatomy of Hell' it's quite clear that this is going to be an explicit film examining the fear of female sexuality in society as well as feminism's unfair treatment in a male-centric world. We are introduced to our main protagonist, a woman, who stands alone in a gay club. The lightening and camera work really help capture this lonely female in a male dominated setting. She goes to the bathroom where she begins to slit her wrist, only to be saved by a gay man, who can't comprehend why she would do this to herself. Her reasoning essentially being: "because I am a Woman, setting up a quazi-bet between the two of them, where the man agrees to spend four consecutive nights at her secluded estate, exploring their sexuality. Breillat's film is VERY explicit and most people will definitely have trouble with this film because of it, but what ensues is a very interesting, thought-provoking study of male and female sexuality. This is not a film simply about the double standards that exist in our society, rather it's a much intellectual look at the nature of masculinity and femininity, and how they interact-clash with our society's predetermined "gender roles"-particularly the male's fear of female sexuality. This is a very cerebral, cold film-making where almost the entire film takes place in this one bedroom between the two people. As much as I liked a LOT about this piece I do think it becomes a little too pandering and didactic in it's approach. Would love to read some more in-depth critique of this film, as a lot of critics seemed to write this film off as "pornographic", it is, but I would argue that was kinda essential for this searing film.
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