Monday, April 27, 2009

Short Cuts 3

Lately I've seen more films to avoid than to recommend. Here are the latest ones, all by major directors as well.

Persona (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden) - the kind of Bergman film that Woody Allen and others parodied or copied, consists largely of facial close-ups (beautiful b&w cinematography by Sven Nykvist as usual) of two actresses he was involved with romantically: Bibi Andersson, who plays a nurse to Liv Ullman's actress having a mental breakdown. (Bergman and Ullman became involved after this, her first film with him.) Not much happens except a lot of angst, and a few shots of arc lights or film which critics claim is "Bergman deconstructing cinema as we knew it then" - Whoopee, I always love a good artistic deconstruction. Thankfully a short film at 90 minutes; the best thing here are Liv Ullman's lips. She was 25 at the time and admits, "I didn't understand Bergman, but he was an icon". Example of Bergman's excess: one 5-8 minute scene is shown entirely twice, once showing the speaker, Bibi, once showing the listener, Ullman. Wow, how radical (zzz..) You could do a whole movie that way; and the viewer sits through everything twice, but its 'art'. 5* (of 10)
Note: Bergman's highest ranked film critically, at #40, with Seventh Seal (My pick) just behind at #52 (a knight plays chess with death during the plague in the middle ages; what could be more fun?)

The Star Maker (Guiseppe Tornatore, Italy) - another Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, Malena) directed film, and like these Malena, was filmed in Sicily. This is about a talent scout for a Rome film studio, who travels about the countryside taking screen tests for locals to submit to agents in Rome. The story starts very well, as we're shown local Sicilians with faces of great character and life, and it feels like Tornatore himself was duplicating the story's narrative. Somewhere midway however, he picks up a teenage virgin who is dying to escape her boring life working in a convent, and the story goes downhill from there. As a film and Tornatore fan, I eventually felt ripped off by the plot development and conclusion. What began as a warm-hearted romantic comedy filled with hope became serious and unrewarding. One expects better from Tornatore relative to the story itself. Beautifully shot scenes of Sicily (a beautiful ancient amphitheater in one scene) and its inhabitants however. 5* (of 10)
Note: the dvd cover is inaccurate; the girl did not resemble Lolita, but was a dark-haired, black-eyed Italian beauty; she never once wore sunglasses either. "Shoot the Poster Maker"


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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