Monday, 29 January 2007

Spalovac mrtvol (1968) - Juraj Herz

Juraj Herz started his career in filmmaking as a pupeteer and animator, much like his well-loved countryman Jan Svankmajer but whereas Jan spent most of his career in stop-motion animation, Herz chose early to delve into making films with real people. Perhaps a mistake in hindsight, as a lot of his films have now been lost - and the ones that survive are screened rarely, but if he has achived nothing else he has at least produced the unmitigated surreal masterpiece that is The Cremator.

The Cremator of the title (Kopfrkingl played by Rudolf Hrusínský) works, surprisingly enough in a crematorium. Day in ay out he burns dead bodies, returning the flesh to dust and, in his opinion - returning the soul to the ether, cleansing it of the decadence inherent in flesh. Kopfrkingl lives and works in 1930s Czechoslovakia, he has an intelligent if slightly effeminate son and a daughter with a talent for music; his doting wife (played by Vlasta Chramostová) remains quiet yet respectful. Some Nazi-sympathising friends come round for tea, over which they explain the benefits of an Anschluss with the Reich (citing Austria as an example) - and from hereon Kopfrkingl begins his slippery slope. Imperceptibly at first, but with more obviousness as the film progreses Kopfrkingl's mantras and slogans that he repeats to others start to take on distinct political overtones as he becomes closer to the Nazis, embracing their decadence and hedonism - soon he is spying on Jews in the community and informing on his closest friends. I wont spoil the ending, but a perverse collection of scenes culminates in Kopfrkingl finding his ideals realised at the centre of fascist ideology, set against the background of Hieronymus Bosch's epic, The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Kopfrkingl is the film, the film is about him, about his beliefs and misguidances and is shot entirely from his warped point of view. From the film's opening montage of caged predators at the zoo intercut with close-ups of his and his wife's face it is clear this film is anything but normal. Fish-eye lenses are all the rage now in warping a cinematic image, but the way in which Herz uses wide angled lenses to convey a pervers view of the world is both breathtaking and appalling at the same time. Coupled with Hrusínský's incredibly understated performance, ice cold to the last, we get a bizarre juxtaposition of his demented view of life, and the outward normality of his character that everyone around him sees. It would not be overstating just how chilling Kopfrkingl is to say that in many ways, he is a far more daunting prospect than Hannibal Lecter. The warped frame however, is just one aspect of Herz's complete control of the mise-en-scene a control that even at it's most audatious comes across simply as brilliant. One 'trick' he specifically uses to confuse and confound the audience is to cut to a close-up and, with the same music still playing, cuts to a wider shot to suddenly reveal we are in a completely different setting to 2 seconds ago. The repetition of this this technique - taking our beliefs on what we are seeing ad playing with them slightly works incredibly well at disorientating the viewer by the end of the film leaving the audience seriously questioning the reliability of the subjective viewpoint, from whcih the film is given. Futhermore, Kopfrkingl has an interest that becomes a preoccupation with Lhasa - the buddhist city of the Dalai Lama - and this preoccupation becomes obsession before in the final reel we see that he is in fact trying to attain his own form of enlightenment. For most directors merely stating this with actions would be enough but Herz uses a rising wide-angled lens to distort the appearance of the protagonist into buddha-like proportions with a larger head than body, viewed often from above as if in meditation.

Herz could have made the film powerful enough as it is with his visual tricks, with the way images are repeated in startlingly different contexts (one poster is used three times - once for the Crematorium, once for boxing, and once for the Nazis) but something would still be missing. The film sounds as creepy as it looks. The measure of cool calm collectedness in Hrusínský's voice really makes his character something else entirely. Whether he is delivering a eulogy (one of which he turns into a fascist political speech mid-ceremony), informing on friends, or describing the working of the furnaces - it is all said without emotion. In a matter-of-fact style that lacks the relish of Lecter's elocution, but is all the more provocative for it's total dissassociation with the events being described, Hrusínský's domineering voice lingers long after the film has finished. And so does the wonderful music from Zdenek Liska which not only sets the location, but also adds to the disorientating effect of the cinematography through stark juxtaposition and finally, creates that touch of coldness that makes Kopfrkingl seem somehow inhuman. Interestingly enough there are also references to European classical musicians littered through the film - most notably characters called Dvorak, Strauss and Janacek though there are visual metaphors and references too.

Political allegory or surreal drama, it's easy to see why the Quay Brothers (respected surreal filmmakers in their own right) are such big fans of this work. The first 40 minutes does drag slightly, but in the film's finalé almost everything that has gone before - from the big things to the minutae of the characters' daily lives suddenly takes on an until-then unimaginable significance. one should have seen the ending coming, but for me the shock of how predictable yet unseen it was was as powerful as any element of the filmmaking process. Without doubt one of the great productions of the Czech new wave. 9/10

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Santa Sangre (1989) - Alejandro Jodorowsky

This film has been my introduction to the cinema of Chilean-born director, Alejandro Jodorowski - and what a cinema it is! A cornucopia of the fantastically surreal, horrific halucinations and littered with moments of touching poignancy - indeed, something for every fan of film.

Fenix (played by the director's son) is in some kind of hospital. In flashback we are shown how, being brought up in a travelling circus, he was traumatised by the sight of his womanising father (caught in flagrante) chopping off his mother's arms before committing suicide slitting his own throat. After a night out on the town with a collection of other disabled patients Fenix escapes the hospital to reform a travelling troupe with his deformed mother. Gathering together the old crew the show takes off but, as a deaf mute from his past seeks him out having escaped her whore captor, Fenix finds himself murdering the women around him on behalf of his mother. With the entrance of the mute in the film's climax and the realisation of his love for her the symbiosis between mother and son faces its toughest challenge, a challenge that one or both of them might not survive.

The filming started when Alejandro was commissioned to make a film based on real-life Mexican criminal Gregorio Cárdenas; yet from this inauspicious beginning, under the director's guidance a truly resplendent surreal horror feature referencing a broad scope of Mexican cinema has been sculpted. Personally speaking, I am practically ignorant of the direct references to Mexican cinema in this film as i have seen very few films from that country, however that is not to say other cinematic comparisons cannot be drawn; in many ways this film struck me as very European (perhaps it is also worthy to note here that a large amount of funding came from Italy).

Fenix's relationship with his mother, letting his hands become hers doing her bidding, evokes memories of the twins in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers where one of the brothers sleeps with the women of the other. Then there's the vengeance itself stemming it would seem from some sort of perverse incestual feeling between the mother and her son, using her son's limbs to enact her jealousy against those young licentious women whose bodies entice her precious son away from her - much in the same way The Birds attack Tippi Hedren's character in Hitchock's thriller. The cinematography within the film is of the consistent aesthetic vibrancy you'd expect from Luciano Tovoli in a Dario Argento horror (for example Suspiria) and the music, well it's glorious but in a way like i've found in no other movie so far. Combining all these ingredients [and more] in the hands of Jodorowsky has produced something akin to a Felliniesque horror, a Mexican Satyricon with lashings of gore if you will. Unique in it's vision, extraordinary in execution the film comes across like Passolini on acid.

Don't get me wrong though - this acidic virtuosity, grandiose as it is, remains underpinned by a seriously well-writen screenplay with solid, real characters you can care for and believe in. The startling imagery, sometimes prone to flights of exotic fancy, is not the heart and soul of the film - rather an awesome dressing that tops off a sumptuous cinematic feast that deftly [and at times shockingly] combines compelling performances with heightened moments of melodrama and surrealism. When the violently ecstatic gore comes it's in floods, but not distractingly so - if anything these extreme death scenes display a certain quality of endearment towards the films [i assume] it is homaging. And then, to tie the dizzying narrative together we have religious iconography, such as Fenix grappling with a snake, a Jesus-figure surrounded by chickens and various animals lapping up human blood.

Totally absorbing from start to finish, Alejandro still has one card left to play - challenging the viewer's perception of almost everything he has just witnessed - that he deals right at the last moment in the film's final scene. Did we really just see what we thought we saw? This is not some lame clichéd plot twist that will aggrieve, rather it's a challenge on the audience, an avenue via which one can re-examine the film from a new perspective gaining perhaps a fresh insight into the movie's characters that now maintain a wholy different resonance the second time round.

The film, in short, is a must-see. 9/10

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Amator (1979) - Krzysztof Kieslowski

Camera Buff is in many ways one of Kieslowski's most insular films in the way it portrays a Polish worker with Polish issues living and filming in Poland, none of which non-Polish viewers could seriously hope to associate with. However, Kieslowski is a master, and this film is a masterpiece, a uniquely fascinating exposition of the tribulations of artistry - to rank alongside Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse and Jarman's Caravaggio.

Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr) is a quiet, content man living a lovely family life with his wife (Malgorzata Zabkowska), working a decent-if-menial job buying for a local factory... until that is his daughter is born. With the arrival of his daughter friends of the fmaily buy Mr Mosz a Russian film camera, with which he can film his daughter growing up. But in the small Polish community word spreads quickly - before long he is being funded by his employers to film a documentary of the factory's jubilee celebrations, although it soon becomes clear that no everyone is happy with Filip filming absolutely everything (particularly when he films actors being paid after the celebrations). The film is cut and re-edited by his employers but Filip gets an uncut copy to a film festival where it wins second prize. With the prize money he gains more popularity and, with the help of the expanding film club he created, begins making a documentary about a cripple that works in the factory. Though he is told not to he submits the film to a tv station contact who airs the film on national tv making Filip a local icon yet proving the final straw for his employers - a close friend is sacked and Filip is warned off future similar projects. By the film's climax, with conflicting information getting to him from a variety of sources, Filip finally realise there is only one way he can make an honest film...

The acting from the leads is superb - particularly from the leading pair, yet it is the superb screenplay that really forms the basis of this masterpiece. The story focuses on Filip's artistic battle between his own sense of artistic freedom conveying the truth to the people, and the opinions of the state/employer who wish to censor his work oout of recognition to convey a rather different message. This battel however is offset against th battles of his personal life. As Filip's interest in cinematography becomes an obsession his wife becomes ever more desperate, firstly for his affections, then simply to see her husband who has all-but left her for his artistry. Krzysztof Zanussi appears as himself part of the way through the film adding significant weight to the importance of Filip's work, yet the ultimate cynicism of the narrative leaves the artists seeming naïve in their youthful idealism. They want to portray the truth but without really understanding the underlying social, political and economic reasons for the degredation they wish to portray. The documentaries are shown, in the end, to be little more than anti-state propoganda guilty of as much short-sightedness as those official propoganda tapes, and it is this shockingly harsh realisation that leads Filip to his amazing conclusion, a conclusion in which he is not just a character; clearly it is Kieslowski we see starting his confession (thus alluding to the quasi-religious nature of art) straight to camera.

Oscillating between bitterly cynical social commentary and poignant personal dilemmas, filmed in the iconic handheld documentary style of the Pole's early work this film, in my mind, is undoubtedly a timeless masterpiece. It's events may be confined to a specific location and chronology, but what it has to say about art and censorship, about honesty and perceived motives in film - these are timelessly universal in scope. 9/10

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Bez Konca (1985) - Krzysztof Kieslowski

Kieslowski, probably Poland's most important filmmaker alongside Andrzej Wajda, started his career fresh out of film school making shot documentaries and industrial information films. From the early criticial (at leats in the film school he graduated from) success of Urzad (1966) through to the late 70s Krxystof had een content making these films for money (so in the future he could risk investment in unprofitable but more artistic feature films). However, in the late 70s/early 80s, around the time Talking Heads and Camera Buff were released grander artistic ambitions started displaying themselves in the Pole's work. Thus, in 1985 Kieslowski took one further step away from his early documentary style into the realm of metaphysical cinema with the critically acclaimed No End.

Filmed by his long time collaborator (and fellow film school graduate) Jacek Petrycki with haunting music from the great Zbigniew Preisner, No End is a family drama wrapped in political tension wrapped in melancholy. In the opening scene we find out that the man who we initially believe to be the protagonist, Antek (played calmly by Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is in fact already dead. He's dead yet he stays to watch over his widow Urszula (played by Grazyna Szapolowska who had recently appeared as Livia in Károly Makk's Hungarian success, Egymásra nézve [1982]) and his son Jacek (Krzysztof Krzeminski). In the wake of the recent death of her husband Urszula has trouble coping, a fact not hepled when the wife of one of her husband's clients comes forward looking for a file. Urszula can't give the woman the file but suggests the soon-to-be retired lawyer Mieczyslaw Labrador (Aleksander Bardini), who was her husband's mentor, should take the case - he agrees as it is to be his final swan song. As the case progresses the corruptability of Polish justice [as it then was] and the presures of living under the socialist system in which strikes are banned come to the fore; meanwhile Urzula tries everything from sleeping with an Englishman to hypnotism (by a dubious practitioner who may or may not have taken advantage of her) in order to overcome her relentless grief. In the end, through the bleakness there is a ray of hope for the mother and her son although in many respects it is not a happy one.

The film has as many strengths as it does weaknesses. Critics have said, much to the disdain of the director, that the film is actually two separate movies. Firstly the story of the widow dealing with her grief, and secondly the political prisoner fighting an injust sytem with the help of corrupt officials, a battle which will shatter many youthful ideals of those involved. For me however, the film is a conflagratio of these issues, it exists at the point where the personal meets the national - where man (or in this case, woman) meets society. Urzula's problems can be seen as a metaphor for Polish society struggling to move on under the weight of socialism to a new future leaving the pre-war past behind. But this in itself is an oversimplification of matters, Kieslowski is dealing here with real people with real emotions, with deep souls who do not always make the best judgements available and it is this complexity of juxtaposition between the people and the metaphor that makes this work so enthralling; complexity which reaches a dramatic pinnacle in the scene between Urzula and the Englishman that comes across as perversly erotic, both utterly fascinating and morally reprehensible at the same time. Testament indeed to the acting talents of Grazyna Szapolowska.

This narrative complexity is just one ingredient though, in a far greater whole. Preisner's deceptively simplistic music, utilising simple chord patterns and melodies in a minor key to produce a truly sadening ambience, combines effervescently with Petrycki's sublime camerawork to produce some truly unforgettable, poweful cinematic moments that indellibly etch themselves into the viwer's brain forever. From an aesthetic point of view the film is a true feast of technique and artistry. With a heavy fly-on-the-wall documentary style we, the audience, become totally and irreversibly enmeshed in the lives of the characters until it is impossible to resist the sorrow and joy they feel. Sitting comfortably in Kieslowski's early oevre there are many times however when the true transitional quality of this picture fills the frame, when it is clear that a grander ambition lies behind it to portray something not only human but in many ways metacinemtic, not least in the uplifting metaphysical denoument that has left so may viewers inexplicably unhappy. Maybe this ending leaves them unhappy precisely because it is so close to truth, refusing to pander to archetype and cliché there is only one way out for the protagonist n matter how much you will another solution to surface. It is true to say that not everything is tied up by the end, yet again though this shows the documentary routes of the filmmaker - that despite its more fanciful moments this films foundation lie firmly and irrevocably in beautiful, if melancholic reality.

A truly wonderful film, 8/10

Friday, 12 January 2007

The Dreamers (2003) - Bernardo Bertolucci

One of Bertolucci's most well-known, and most controversial films was Ultimo tango a Parigi starring Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in a tense erotic drama set in Paris. With The Dreamers Bertolucci returns again to the French capital and again to sexual escapism, only this time with a younger cast setting the film in the middle of the 1968 student riots - one of Paris's most explosive periods of the 20th century.

Michael Pitt (who would go on to play the lead in Gus Van Sant's Last Days) leads here as a young American cinema buff, studying French in Paris for a year. In the midst of the closure of the Parisian cinematheque, Matthew (Pitt) meets brother and sister Isabelle and Theo (Louis Garrel and Eva Green respectively) forming a close-nit film-loving based menage á trois, a threesome that would like to think of themselves as the trio in Godard's Bande à part. Their walls adorned with nouvelle vague posters, playing improvisation games in which they take turns to guess which classic film is being reinacted, the three young students find themselves ever alienated from the outside world - retreating further and further into their mutual bond before they forget what is happening in the streets outside.

The most memorable feature of the film is probably the game they play, picking at random films to reenact froma variety of periods - everything from Scarface to Tophat are homaged. The affection of the characters, and indeed Bertolucci, towards cinema is not in question at all here but this affinity masks other problems. The three characters, overtly sexualised are not in touch with the outside world at all (so much so their phone gets cut off). They espouse socialist and Maoist dogma but dont understand the repercussions of what they say preferring to adopt an idealistic image of Communism as a film and Mao as the director. They quote various post-modern philosphers and poets out of misguided pretentious arrogance, evolving their own sense of self-important pseudo-intellectual idolatry. But all this talking, talking of films and reading of poetry masks the fact that they have nothing to say of their own. The brother and sister appear outwardly intimate but actually are never as close as we might suspect, an effect no doubt caused by the lack of affection they are shown (and we assume have been shown) by their bourgoise parents.

What does Bertolucci think however, of these 2 dimensional characters drifting from social strife into intellectual escapism? Not much would seemt he answer, or at least he doesn't seem particularly interested in their downfalls. The director, through sumptuous dreamlike camera movements tries to ellicit an ethos of childish hopefulness, an ignorance that perhaps masks some hope - yet he seems to forget that the protagonists' overwhelming sense of self-importance immediately makes them unlikeable. The actors are gorgeous to look at, and look beautiful in Fabio Cianchetti's orange lighting but i found myself unable to care about their petty issues. The sentiment seems empty and thus, the film as whole, has little to say about either new wave cinema or about the students that championed it. If it has anything at all to proffer in judgement then it is that the students were misguided, but this is a cruel hindsight leaning towards archetype rather than pragmatic revisionism. You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't judeg a mass-movement by only 3 of its members with their own unique psychological problems; and it was ultimately the film's broad brush approach that turned me off in the film's explosive denoument.

Bertolucci has made a visual erotic feast in the shape of The Dreamers yet it remains nonetheless a hollow enterprise, once seen immediately forgotten. A film that more often than not, has a tendency to bask in its own glorious cinematography. 7/10

Thursday, 11 January 2007

The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophüls

This film, based on a short story by Elisabeth Holding depicting American values and patriotism could have been a very different product indeed. Columbia wanted to make the picture with Walter Wanger emerging early as a producer, next came the casting of James Mason and Joan Bennett (cast against type in this film), but as to who would direct the film - this was a question ultimately of money: the studio wanted a European director with Renoir being recomended by both Wanger and Mason but he was asking $50,000; Max Ophüls came relatively cheap then at the $25,000 he cost the studio.

The new young writing team of Mel Dinelli and Robert Kent adapted the screenplay into a fantastic story of "maternal overdrive". Bea (Geraldine Brooks) dates an art dealer against her mother's (Joan Bennett) wishes leading to a falling out; the 'reckless moment' of the title comes during one of these resulting arguments when Bea strikes Ted (Shepperd Strudwick) over the head leading him to stumble and fall to his death on an anchor. With maternity kicking into overdrive and no amount of stress due to the dissaray this throws her life into, Bea's mum Lucia (Bennett) firstly gets rid of the body and anchor before having to deal with a crafty blackmailer in the form of James Mason. The opportunity for blackmail arises because Mason has letter Bea wrote to Ted that would make her a suspect in the subsequent police investigation, an investigation which throughout the film gradually gets closer and closer to Lucia's family. Then, to top things off as Mason has a change of heart his partner (a real bad egg) insists on the money being paid immediately leading to a final violent boathouse showdown between James Mason and Roy Roberts.

Ophüls shows his usual virtuosity in terms of camera movement and framing of characters throughout the film, whilst Burnett Guffey's wonderful noir cinematography captures each crisp monochromatic image as brilliantly as the next. The drama and tension are consistently notched up by the sublimely orchestrated score from Hans Salter whose work in the film, although sometimes seeming generic of the period, is a vital ingredient in the film's effectiveness and power. As far as the acting is concerned it is Mason's film, it is his transcendence from archetypical bad guy to the passionate hero that makes this work so intriguing, whilst Bennett's powerhouse performance of stident defiance and almost masculin matriarchy provides the solid backbone to this solid drama.

This is not to say the film is by any means a perfect conception. Indeed, there are many elements that could be improved - not least the secondary and sometimes superfluous characters that often come across as more superfluous fodder than real people. Gene Havlick's editing is crisp, although slightly uninspired for my tastes and thus an easily overlooked aspect of the filmmaking process. Overall however, this underseen last American film from Ophüls is solid enough to be worthy viewing for fans of classic studio cinema fitting snugly into the director's distinctive [and highly influential] cinematic oevre. 8/10

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Three Colours: Blue (1993) - Krzysztof Kieslowski

The first installment of Kieslowski's Trois Coleurs trilogy opens with a fatal car crash, and from there the drama rarely lets up. Julie (Binoche) surviving the car crash clams up completely. She ignores the advances of others shutting herself away into her own little world, shunning almost evry chance of attention or affection. She sells off all the property she owned with her now-deceased husband. But somewhere, somehow, love starts to creep back into her life - in between going to a peep show and discovering her husband had a mistress she finds something that allows some form of intimacy once again: music. Before he died her husband had been composing a unique piece to be played by 12 European symphonic orchestras simultaneously and it is this work, this pièce de résistance that provides some glimmer of hope in the bleakness of Julie's melancholic existence. Oh, she also gets a cat in to kill a family of mice too.

That's the story, but where to start with this films almost unrivalled brilliance? Slawomir Idziak's virtuosic cinematography - from framing to lens selction, from effects to camera movement provides the solid foundations of the masterpiece. The pinnacle comes perhaps early in the movie when we see one character reflected in their entirety in the pupil of Julie's eye - an astounding shot, but one that is matched throughout the film again and again in other ways (for instance a shot of a sugar cube soaking up coffee). The combination of wide deep-set shots with extreme close-ups in a way that feels perfectly natural for capturing our heroines perception of her world is simply breathtaking.

Then on top of all that aesthetic grandstanding you have Zbigniew Preisner. His Song For The Unification Of Europe surpasses many of the works of Morricone or Rota; the lyrical simplicity combining in intoxicating harmony with each new melodic chorus and crescendo. The weight, the sheer visceral power this aural assault adds to the image really cannot be overstated; even if you never see the film you should... indeed i say must by the soundtrack.

Finally there're the actors. Impassioned performances are given by all with Binoche never looking strained by the pressures on her role selling every tear, every glimmer of despair or hope with utmost honesty and conviction. Benoît Régent also deserves applauding for his turn as the long-suffering lover, rejected throughout by Julie yet he still puts his all into completing the unfinished composition - we believe his love, and that is all one can ask from an actor: to believe their character.

I could go on, the screenplay's deceptively simplicity masking a rare emotional depth the likes of which few European filmmakers could hope to achieve. The editing that produces in the film's climax an unforgettable symphony of sound and vision that will indelibly ingrain itself on your brain once you've seen it. The lighting never once misjudged. The sets and locations, minimal but often aptly mirroring and conveying what is going on inside the characters - it's not expressionist; it's just right.

But suffice to say i am thoroughly in love with this movie.


I've set up a film messageboard, BTW

The Film Forum

Querelle (1982) - Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The last film Rainer Werner Fassbinder directed before his tragic death from drugs - a film drenched in self-loathing, and homoeroticism.

The titular Querelle is a sailor who comes ashore in Brest, France to find his brother living a hedonistic lifestyle as the lover of the local bbrothel's madam. Through the film, through murder and capitulation Querelle questions himself constantly, searching for love and an identity. Tensest of all perhaps is his battle with his own homosexuality and the allure/power he has over other men as a result of his cherubic features.

The scorching oranges and reds of the photography imbue the film from start to finish with a raw, pasisonate erotic fervour matched only by the theatrical melodramatics of the cast given their bizarre rules, all taking place on some very shoddy sets. The aesthetic intensity of the film also carries over into the reflective pseudo-philosphical narration that lends the film a poetically lyrical feel, and a flowing structure that otherwise would be sorely missed - not least because of the sporadic use of title cards.

A visually striking film whose curiously hedonistic atmosphere seems to hide something more sentimental, something softer just beneath the surface that occasionally surfaces through rare glimpses of modest poignancy. Not Fassbinder's best film by any stretch of the imagination, but nonetheless an important one that lays bare many of his own personal daemons through the personae and events onscreen.


The Merchant Of Four Seasons (1972) - Rainer Werner Fassbinder

A director full of contradictions and tensions, and a film to match.

Hans leads a troubled life, stuck in a job that he dislikes, scorned upon by his family, confined to a loveless marriage. His wife prostitutes herself off to a guy on the street. In order to improve things Hans enlists some help, twist would have it that the "help" is the guy who recently slept with his wife. His wife, being the deviant cow she is soon sees to his career in pear-peddling before Hans's mate from the Foreign Legion, Harry, moves in. From there on things dont improve much for poor old Hans (though he does have a hot sister if you ask me - played by Hanna Schygulla).

The women in this film aren't nice, but dont mistake it for mysoginism - because it is far from it. Fassbinder paints a complex frescoe of humanity, one steeped in the complexities and jostling tensions of reality, one where there are no easy motivations or solutions, where everything remains a mystery. The bit i like the most however about Fassbinder's films is the way he shoots them. The aesthetic vibrancy combined with his unique staging schema produce an effect that juxtaposes clinical precision with raw erotic emotion in a way i haven't seen from any other director.

Fassbinder is a genius, and this film is great. 8/10

Mr Hulot's Holiday (1953) - Jacques Tati

Shot in his own purebrand style of visual comedy, Tati's quirky little film follows Mr Hulot on a beachside holiday, complete with noisy car and cane. He uspets the hotel residents with his music, he scares the tourists off the beach after an unfortunate incident involvinga wooden boat, and nearly destroys the town in the film's explosive finalé.

Charming and witty without becoming pretentious or flamboyent. Tati's modest sense of understated comedy hits the right note every time amongst it's real characters, gorgeous photography from the Jean Mousselle/Jacques Mercanton partnership and sublime musical accompaniments courtesy of Alain Romans.

Big thumbs up from me 7/10

Audition (1963) - Milos Forman

Firstly, this isn't exactly one film; it's two short films that were wedged together because someone figured they shared a few things in common.

The first film, If There Was No Music shows some young men messing about on motorbikes to impress some hot young Czech women. The it cuts to two rival orchestras/bands practising playing Czech music, inlcuding that of Janacek. The film, shot in faux documentary style using mainly close medium shots and extreme close-ups works well at illiciting some affinity towards the characters and their different approaches to their chosen profession. With light whimsical touches and an underlying current of irony the film gets across the main point - that is, the passion music excites in participants and audiences alike.

In the second short - Audition, Miroslav Ondricek's photography really comes to the fore, as does the editing; whereas it was Ivan Passer's (director of "Intimate Lighting") writing contributions that solidify the first film. In this we see a range of people auditioning for a talent show, some have lied to get away from jobs to be at the audition and others have just seemingly walked in off the street. Many are bad singers, but some are pretty good yet the film seems to focus on two women in particular. One of whom constantly sings flat, and the other has pinned everything on getting through the initial audition stage. As a picture of Czech life in monochosm the flick works fine, aided undoubtedly by the quiant lyrics and upbeat temp of the music that flows throughout.

This film has been cited as kickstarting the Czech new wave; i'm not sure how true it is but the visual style is very symptomatic of both that particular movement and other eastern european films from the 60s and 70s (specifically i noticed elements similar to films from Poland and Hungary). The film also contains many narrative elements that Forman would continue to explore throughout his career, the most obvous of which being his overwhelming passion for music, the contagiousness of which is intoxicating.

Overall: 7/10 - big thumbs up