Colin Smith, a rebellious teenager, has just been sentenced to a boy's reformatory for robbing a bakery. Sent to Borstal, an institution specializing in juvenile offenders, Colin quickly draws the eye of the governor of the institution, thanks to his prowess as a long distance runner, something he gained a talent for due to running from the police so much as a youth. Chosen to represent Borstal in a cross country race against a public school, Colin is promised special treatment by the Governor if he wins, sending Colin in a psychological struggle where his resentment for 'the man", 'the system", and the privileged make him re-evaluate his current star status at Borstal. Featuring some very imaginative direction from Tony Richardson, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a visceral portrait of teenage angst, being one of the better films about "angry young men" and youthful expression. Using a narrative that routinely jumps between the past and present, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner creates a vivid portrait of a young man whose grown increasingly angry at a system that turns its back on the less privileged. Throughout the narrative, the film uses the past to educate the viewer on the present psyche of Colin Smith, a young man who lost his father, a day laborer, at a very young age, showing how his sad and often tragic experiences as a youth have shaped his present angst at a system that has portrayed him. Tony Richardson's portrait of youthful aggression is very much an allegory of the faults of consumerism and class, bringing urgency and energy to his story through editing and direction that elevates the whole experience. The camera movements, editing decisions, framing, everything in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is imaginative and takes chances, and while some are sure to find it a little "pretentious" or distracting, what Tony Richardson has created in my eyes a film that's frantic visual style perfectly compliments its main protagonists angst. Even the long distance running itself is a symbolic representation of Colin's faults, a character whose always runaway from his problems, though it ultimately proves the key to his salvation as well.
Santa Clause Has Blue Eyes is certainly a minor effort among the criminally short filmography of director Jean Eustache, but considering his other two efforts (The Mother and The Whore & The Little Loves) are masterpieces, Santa Clause Has Blue Eyes is a 50 minute long feature that still has plenty to offer. The story is centered around Daniel, a young man who is desperate to buy a new, stylish duffle coat, but unfortunately he doesn't have the money necessary to do so. When not cruising the scene from young woman with his four friends, Daniel takes up a job as a street-corner Santa Clause to earn income, grabbing the attention of a host of woman in the process, thanks to the familiar costume. Jean Eustache film is a meandering effort, where there is not much of a struggled plot as the filmaking aims more at capturing the daily reality of young Daniel. A slice of life film would be an appropriate description, and while the naturalism of the film is far from inconsequential, what Santa Clause Has Blue Eyes seems to capture about capitalism and the male gaze makes the film more interesting. While Eustache's main focus isn't on societies monetization of culture, the film shows through the eyes of young Daniel have money is a force that drives everything - defining class, defining success, and even in Daniel's eyes it is an instrumental and necessary step to find love and affection. His whole intent on getting this coat feels somewhat related to his inability to pick up a woman, but when he finally as able to acquire the coat society has already moved on, with his friends downplaying his purchase, already having moved on to the next style. By and large, Santa Clause Has Blue Eyes is a film that captures the mischievous spirit of male youth, following their exploits through the city as they try and meet woman, offering an earthy, naturalistic experience which signaled Eustache's first main work.
Nicholas Ray's Party Girl is a beautiful, technicolor dream, chronicling the life of Lawyer Thomas Farrell, a criminal lawyer whose made a career defending the worst-of-the-worst. Being the primary lawyer for Chicago crime Rico Angelo, Thomas has successfully managed to keep his high profile defendants out of prison, being a man who is hated and respected by politicians while feared by the judges and prosecutors. When Thomas meets Vicki Gayle, a dancer who doesn't approve of his shady professional decisions, he becomes convinced that he is a better man than his reputation, which leads to trouble with mob boss Rico Angelo, a man who insists he finishes his services. Given the dark, gritty nature of Party Girl's storyline, Nicholas Ray's use of technicolor stands out as a brave and fascinating decision. While many films dealing with the subject matter use shadows and shades of gray to evoke a sense of danger, Ray juxtaposes this treacherous setting with a bright color palette, almost as if he is trying to visually represent the world of Thomas Farrell, where danger that lurks underneath the surface of success, respect, and fortune that exists. Nicholas Ray's ability to express emotion through direction and striking visuals is very much a part of what makes Party Girl so compelling, with my favorite sequence being when Vicki Gayle has a brief encounter with Thomas' wife, a woman whom he wants nothing to do with. A minor sequence to the casual viewer, Ray frames the sequence, using mirrors, in such a way that Vicki's body is completely encompassed by the wife's physical presence, visually expressing Vicki's vulnerability in this situation, regardless of the fact that she really has nothing to fear. It's extremely tough to wash your hands of corruption and escape unharmed, and with Party Girl Nichols Ray has created a film with two characters who have unique vulnerabilities, each being very much in love with one and other, each fearing the worst in a situation where they find themselves surrounded by not the most upstanding individuals. While Vicki's character can at times fall victim to some rather out-dated gender stereotypes, I particularly loved the characterization of Thomas, a man suffering from a debilitating hip, which finds him having trouble walking upright at times. Ray uses this character anecdote to great effect, painting a portrait of a man whose physical shortcomings could be interpreted as another aspect as to why he values the respect and power he has garnered, and why, at first, he is so reluctant to escape his role as lawyer for powerful crime boss Rico Angelo. While both Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse's performances are great, Lee J. Cobb's performance as crime boss Rico Angelo really steals the show, delivering a calm, menacing presence that is truly memorable. Beautifully photographed, acted, and directed, Party Girl is just another great film by Nicholas Ray, one of the best american filmmakers of all time.
Roberto Minervini's Stop The Pounding Heart is a quiet, contemplative study of personal conviction, adolescence, faith, and family, which blends aspects of minimalism and neorealism to create a naturalistic study of a young woman raised in a fundamentalist christian home. The story is centered around Sarah, a teenage girl being raised in South Texas by a family of goat farmers. One of twelve children, Sarah and her brothers and sisters were homeschooled, raised to follow the mandate of the Bible down to ever letter. In this household, woman are raised to be subservient to men, remaining of pure mind and body until they can marry and bestow a child to their husband. When Sara meets Colby, a fellow teenager and amateur bull rider, she begins to question the very fundamentals she was raised on. Stop the Pounding Heart is a film that is bound to frustrate some viewers due to its tepid, minimalist qualities, but what Robert Minervini has created is a film of that delivers an observant study of adolescence, capturing the quite contemplation of a young woman who is attempting to understand her own ideas and feelings in the world around her. Using mostly non-actors, Roberto Minervini's film feels very much like a documentary at times, making sure to capture the setting of this rural southern environment, showing the culture and environment which Sarah grew up in and allowing it to soak in with the viewer. While the chemistry between the two non-actors, Sarah and Colby, is practically non-existent, no question being a bi-product of the film's authenticity, it makes little difference in the long run, as the understated power of the film's true story arch centered around the awakening of a young woman from her fundamentalist upbringing is the real meat of this story. There have been a lot of films about similar subject matter, but I've seen very few that are capable of showing such respect and restraint as Roberto Minervini, who beautifully captures the dangers of such fundamentalist beliefs and the damage it can cause in adolescence, while never judging them and making sure to remind the viewer that Sarah's parents views, though perceived as misguided by the majority, only come from a place of love and compassion. Many filmmakers couldn't resist the urge to have these characters come off as stereotypical nutjobs, but in showing restraint, i'd argue Roberto Minervini's film is one of the most powerful of the bunch. One of my favorite sequences of the film comes near the end, where Sarah expresses her confusion and doubt about her subservient role their faith dictates. Through a simple, naturalistic sequence, the film beautifully exposes how Sarah can't even truly confide in her own parents for answers, showing how with faith and religion her mother can simply rattle off a bible verse, giving a simplistic explanation to justify pretty much anything, exposing the lack of intellectual though religion can bread and how this can leave a child even more confused about their emotions. Incredibly restrained and quietly contemplative, Roberto Minervini's Stop the Pounding Heart is a fascinating study of faith, family, and personal belief, capturing the relationships between these three concepts and how complicated it can be during adolescence to find oneself.
Lyric R. Cabral & David Felix Sutcliffe's (T)ERROR is an in-depth documentary which takes the viewer directly into the world of an active FBI counter-terrorism investigation. Following the informant, 'Shariff', a 60-something former member of the Black Panthers, the film exposes the government's counter-terrorism tactics that have grown increasingly more aggressive in the post 9/11 landscape of the United States. While (T)ERROR is an impressive documentary for its ability to provide a behind the scenes look at counter-terrorism informants, what makes the film truly fascinating is how it captures the complexities of a system built to try and stop something that is essentially unstoppable, which breeds a dangerous mix where civilian rights can be trampled on for the sake of the perceived greater good. Many FBI informants aren't exactly the most upstanding citizens, as they need to be people which terrorists and other shady individuals can trust. What (T)ERROR exposes is how these men are simply pawns in a game of cat and mouse, used to essentially perform a complex game of entrapment, with this story in particular showing Shariff attempt to bait his target, a man whose views on American aren't exactly positive but also don't seem particularly incendiary. (T)ERROR explains how in the Post 9/11 world FBI informants went from 1,500 to 15,000, capturing an aggressive and unregulated growth of power that is dangerous to civil liberties, even contrasting these events with the events centered around the civil rights movement which saw FBI informants infiltrating the Black Panther party. What (T)ERROR does extremely well is capture the importance of checks and balances in our government, where like the NSA, the FBI needs to have more government over-site into what these security and crime organizations. (T)ERROR shows how in attempting to stop terrorist attacks before they happened we've created an aggressive and dangerous system that pushes and prods relentlessly until it gets what it wants, sometimes convicting innocent men of terrorism. The film's stark questions related around who is watching the watchers in this surveillance state of modern America is compelling, but the character study aspect centered around Shariff, may actually be the most compelling aspect of the film. Shariff is a fascinating character in himself, a former black panther who committed to being an FBI informant many years ago. The way the film exposes how Shariff is essentially at the mercy of his employers is downright fascinating, as (T)ERROR slowly reveals a man who is mentally tortured and hurt by the type of job that sees him befriend someone simply to betray them later, sometimes doing so to individuals who may be completely innocent. Lyric R. Cabral & David Felix Sutcliffe's (T)ERROR is a stark and compelling documentary about the current state of America counterterroism, raising fascinating questions about the relationship between public safety, liberty, and privacy.
Riding the success of his film Battleship Potemkim, Sergei Eisenstein arrives in Hollywood looking to work on his next new project. Eisenstein's perspective doesn't gel with the anti-communist movement that is bubbling up in America, which leads to him traveling to Mexico in 1931, intent on shooting his next film thanks to privately funded Americans. Chronicling Eisenstein's experiences while in Mexico, Peter Greenaway's Eisenstein in Guanajuato is a film about the filmmaker's sexual awakening, exploring the sensual relationship he develops with his Mexican guide, something that would prove as a significant step in shaping his later work. Eisenstein in Guanajuato is a very kinetic, energetic experience that features an electric central performance from Elmer Back. In the beginning, the film feels a lot like Greenaway's response to Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, a stylish descent into the mind of an extremely talented and unique mind who finds himself in a culture and environment very different than his own. From a technical standpoint, Eisenstein in Guanajuato is another impressive effort from Peter Greenaway, who embraces the older techniques and style of filmmaking customary of Sergei Eisenstein's time, with heavy use of orchestral music, three-panel visuals, and a healthy dose of frantic editing. The set designs and craft involved are so impressive Eisenstein in Guanajuato could be appreciated for its visual aesthetic alone, but what makes the film really stand out is how emotionally resonant is it able to become regardless of its eccentric, free-spirited nature. While very much an absurdest, surrealist comedy on the surface, Eisenstein in Guanajuato has a deeper core, being a film about sexual awakening and the importance to discover oneself, regardless of what outside influence try and dictate. In a way in which Peter Greenaway seems only capable, Eisenstein in Guanajuato reveals a man who begins to accept his sexual identity, using a creative blend of surrealism, absurdism, and realism. One of my favorite sequences takes place directly after Sergei Eisenstein first shows attraction to his Mexican guide, a scene that finds him on the phone with his wife while in the shower, a symbolic represenation of a man who is trying to wash away this homophobic feelings towards the guide, not yet accepting where his sexual desires lie. While I have no idea how historically accurate of factual based Peter Greenaway's Eisenstein in Guanajuato is another expressive piece of art.
Ulrich Seidl's In The Basement is the latest documentary from the divisive filmmaker that turns his attention to a place where insecurities are quickly erased away in the comfort of its familiar glow, the basement. Offering a portrait of people and their basements, Seidl has created another hypnotic, transfixing experience, that touches on the obsessions, wants, desires, and comforts of a host of individuals, each being more fascinating than the last. From sex slaves to nazi obsessed tuba enthusiasts, Seidl penchant for finding beauty in the strange or grotesque is certainly a major aspect of In The Bedroom, as the film meticulously explores the basements and cellars of middle class Austrians. Ulrich Seidl's desire to expose the strange, surreal, and absurd that exists in everyday life has always been something I appreciate about the filmmakers films, and with In The Bedroom he finds a host of new fascinating characters. I particularly found myself drawn to this woman who is obsessed wth life-like baby dolls - a character who treats them like real babies, as if Seidl is capturing an underlying truth of tragedy, where this woman's sole emotional attachment is to an inanimate object. There are a few different characters with fetishistic sexual desires, from a sex slaves to those who find pleasure in sadomasochistic, and In the Basement does a good job at never judging these characters in the slightest, offering the viewer a glimpse into their world as it attempts to understand where they are coming from. With Seidl's beautiful symmetrical compositions that effectively create a hypnotic feel, In the Bedroom is a documentary that defies conventional description, being a transfixing exploration of people and their wants and desires that is equally comedic and tragic at all once.
Yuri Bykov's The Fool paints a grim portrait of a country that has completely descended into the dog-eat-dog mentality, where desperation has led to morality being thrown out the window, where if you don't lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead you are at a major disadvantage. The story of The Fool is centered around a Dima Nikitin, a simple plumber and honest man, who ends up going up against an entire system of corruption, where bureaucrats use public money to pad their wallets instead of serving their community. On a routine repair job at one of his districts more notorious housing projects, one that is mostly inhabited by drunkards, drug abusers, and outcasts, Nikitin discovers that the structure is in serious peril. The housing project has severe structural damage and is teetering on the edge of collapse, but as Niklitin sets out to warn the authorities of the damage and urge them to evacuate the building, he begins to realize their interests don't align. The Fool is a film that would be sure to make Frank Capra proud, a one man against the system story that beautiful captures how systematic corruption is toxic force on social morality. Throughout this film it becomes clear that Niklitin's morality sets him apart from everyone else, being a man of integrity and honesty that doesn't exist in a world of such systematic corruption. Even his own loved ones, including his wife and parents, see Niklitin's integrity as a dangerous problem, viewing it as an unrealistic option in such an environment. While the Fool doesn't quite have the beautiful aesthetic of some of Russia's more praised filmmakers, the bleak, kaftka-esque nature of the story is incredibly riveting and painfully bleak, as we follow Niklitin's seemingly futile attempt to stand up for the people in a system that simply places very little value on human life. Engrossing, compelling, and ultimately quite bleak, Yuri Bykov's The Fool is a powerful tale of corruption and greed, being a sobering reminder of how quickly integrity and morality can be stripped away from society when its leaders and bureaucrats show little interest in having it themselves.
Joshua Safdie's The Pleasure of Being Robbed is a micro-budget piece of filmmaking which follows the exploits of Eleonore, a petty thief who commits small crimes of theft wherever she finds herself in New York City. The Pleasure of Being Robbed has the meandering quality of filmmaking that is sure to frustrate some viewers, but I can appreciate the approach when done well, as Eleonore's journey feels grounded in realism, even if aspects of her journey at times teeter on the fringes of believably. This is a raw piece of filmmaking that has a slice of life type approach, and at only 70 minutes it never overstays its welcome either. While Eleonore is a character who causes a lot of harm for the victims she steals from, Joshua Safdie has a delivered a film itself that shows no judgment, simply showing a character whose curiosity seems to lead her into trouble. Nothing Eleanor does is mean-spirited or intended to do any harm to the victims, and the performance by Eleonore Hendricks perfectly captures this, with her giggling and mannerisms exuding that of a innocence, someone who clearly doesn't mean harm. The Pleasure of Being Robbed is adrift for most of its running time but towards the end of the film the filmmakers' intentions come a little more into focus, juxtaposing Eleonore's behavior with that of little children on a playground, illustrating her innocence and how her compulsive curiosity is what gets her into trouble. Featuring a very memorable dream sequence that entails Eleonore playing with a bear at the zoo, Joshua Safdie shows an ability to make smart creative directorial choices throughout The Pleasure of Being Robbed, singling him out as a filmmaker to keep ones eyes on.
After the unexpected death of her father, Elena, a transgender woman, returns home for the first time in years. Her arrival creates shockwaves through the seemingly well-adjusted household, with many, including Elena's own mother, not knowing how to respond to Elena,someone that they last knew as a young, quiet boy. Mauricio Lopez Fernandez's The Guest is a powerful and extremely well-made film about the stupidity of judgement and importance of finding acceptance from the ones you love. While The Guest is undoubtedly a melodrama in terms of story, the film's craft makes the film feel more like a horror film, as the filmmaker injects the whole story with a quiet, brooding sense of dread. The photography is very similar to how a horror film would be shot, evoking tension throughout, an idea that works beautifully at capturing the inner psyche of Elena, a woman who feels like a complete stranger around her own family. While Elena's sex change is never acknowledged by any of the family out-loud it's clear that Elena's mother and others are physically and emotionally keeping themselves at a distance, viewing Elena as something strange. At one point an character even tells one of the maids to make sure the kids don't spend much time with Elena, one of the more blunt moments in The Guest that speaks to this perception that Elena as a transgender is some type of sideshow in which the family chooses not to address nor except. While the story of Elena eventually gaining acceptance from her mother is the emotional core of the film, what stood out to me about The Guest is how the filmmakers slowly reveal the fractured, damaged character dynamics that exist in the household, doing so in a way that reminded me somewhat of Lucrecia Martel's La Cienaga. From the head man and woman of the household, to the maid who seems to harbor some old feelings for Elena's old self, The Guest revels how everybody in the household has struggles and issues, serving as a beautiful juxtaposition that speaks to the stupidity of judging someone just because they are different, as many characters viewed Elena as different due solely to her gender change. Extremely well crafted, understated, unsettling, and emotionally resonant, Mauricio Lopez Fernandez's The Guest is an impressive first feature.
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