falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for January, 2010

Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing) ; 1988

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Post by Neko

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Actors: Mirosłav Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz
Country: Poland

Guiltily, I shall admit that I haven’t watched a serious, good movie in a l-o-n-g time, and I don’t feel right devoting my time to writing reviews of the sort of tripe I see often at the movies, not here anyway. I associate this film blog with… elegance, and hence, I bring you a short review of A Short Film About Killing.

This short by one of Poland’s most important and internationally-renowned directors has been on my to-watch list for years, and not just because Kieślowski is a personal favourite. Widely accredited as one of the last straws that pushed to Poland’s abolition of the death penalty, this film, as the title implies, is simply a short film about killing – not death, but killing – and the fine distinction between murder and capital punishment, or whether such distinction exists at all.

Running at 81 minutes, the film revolves around the lives of a drifter (Baka), the taxi driver he randomly murders (Tesarz) and the advocate who so passionately argues his case (Globisz). I watched the film with the original Polish audio-track as well as English subtitles which I glanced to now and then, for comparison’s sake. I do have to admit that something is, as almost always, lost in the translation. This isn’t a particular criticism of whoever provided the subtitles, as they are relatively true to the spoken word and translated neatly for the English-speaking viewer… however, the Polish audio isn’t always neat itself, purposely so. The Polish language is a complex one in terms of structure, and the English subtitles let it down a bit.

With that out of the way, I haven’t a lot to nitpick. I have a special fondness for Kieślowski as a director too because I always find myself mesmerized by his depiction of the Polish people – not individual characters, but a wider setting. They are marked by a subtle sadness, a slow but persistent coldness signature to the era of one war after another. Kieślowski interferes with the observations of the three interwoven lives here very little – indeed, a bit too little for my liking at times, almost clinically so.

The taxi driver has a small role, but it suggests him to be a spiteful, weak man. The drifter, and Baka playing him, is forceful and calm and cold even as he wavers – he appears to have no reason for killing the taxi driver, nor is he particularly regretful of the act itself. Although there is some tragedy in his past, which accounts for his terrible detachment, his life up to then had not been especially unfortunate considering the times and the location. He is a curious figure, not differentiating at all between his act of killing and himself as a man, an ironic perspective considering the implied comparison between individual and state killings. His back-story, however, does slant the viewer towards him more so than to either his victim or his killer – the taxi driver, and the state – perhaps unfairly, as neither of these have revealed stories of their own.

Globisz (who I inappropriately keep referring to in my head as a sort of older, Polish version of Gael García Bernal) is something else entirely. His conflict with his profession makes him the most important character, in my opinion. When the verdict of the death penalty is handed down, he agonizes of what he could have done differently, whether an older, more experienced and prestigious lawyer could have gotten a lesser sentence.

As I said above, Kieślowski does not necessarily disseminate a particular view point, as seen in the ‘observer’ approach of the camera –the two murders, state and individual, are just placed next to each other for comparison. The best example is that the court case is not shown, and vitally so, because the judge sadly praises the lawyer for one of the most persuasive and eloquent anti-death-penalty speeches he had heard in years – this would have heavily biased the viewer, or so it is implied. Globisz’s character takes little comfort in hearing that he made no mistakes, as a lawyer or as a human. In the words of the judge, Globisz’s character is too delicate for this job. He stays with the drifter and watches his death and agonizes over it some more once the deed is done. He isn’t especially amicable to the drifter because he killed, he doesn’t condone the killing itself, but he treats the drifter simply like a man.

The death penalty has since been abolished in Poland, and now exists in far fewer countries than once, long ago – but it does still exist, and this film is a must-see for anyone with a passionate opinion on either side of the debate; not because it is likely to sway your opinion, but because it is juxtaposed so harshly with something we all ‘know’ is wrong. What does that leave it as?

Of course, if you aren’t convinced for my moral fangirling of the film, see it for the visuals, because biased as I am, the cinematography is undeniably beautiful as always. The light muted at the edges and the colours, perhaps not appropriate for the message, are strangely brilliant through a green filter, a constant, comforting reminder that the horror we see is not real. This combination creates a stark picture of incredible depth complimented by rich, bitter piano and orchestra, scored by Zbigniew Preisner, another favourite of my own and a frequent collaborator with Kieślowski.

Ok, I think I’ve verbally fellated Mr. Kieślowski enough for one day, but seriously, go see this film, it is a terrifying wonder.

IMDb link:
Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing)
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Morocco ; 1930

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Actors: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou
Country: U.S.A.

I was a bit disappointed after I finished Morocco but in retrospect, I am impressed that this melodrama didn’t come off as overly dramatic and cheesy. Instead, the ending made me only think of one word: classy. I don’t know why but I’m assuming it’s the cinematography because everything in this film was beautiful and Marlene Dietrich looked as gorgeous as ever. I didn’t really care much for the story but the images were all so perfect for it. My first Sternberg film was Der blaue Engel and I can see traces of that film in this. The way he uses objects to frame the subject of the scene and bring focus to certain areas were reminiscent of Der blaue Engel. Although each scene was a sight to see, the ending was the most beautiful of all. It almost reminded me of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura, cinematography-wise, except the film didn’t feel drawn out. The film wrapped up so well, starting with the remark about “suicide passengers”, somewhere in the mid-section talking about the women who follow the men and sometimes dying, and then showing Amy Jolly (Dietrich) following Légionnaire Tom Brown (Cooper) into the desert with no belongings. I usually despise open-ended films (I’m just not pretentious intelligent enough for them), but this film left me with a sense of satisfaction most likely due to the way it was filmed.

Dietrich’s performance was impressive for her first film in Hollywood (also hooray to pre-code Dietrich!). Although she did star in an all English film before (The Blue Angel), it was Morocco that impressed me. She didn’t know much English yet I couldn’t even tell because she spoke her lines so well and naturally. When she first appears on the scene, I gasped at her beauty and was blown away by how much presence she has whenever she is in a scene. The scene when she performs at the club for the first time exemplifies how much of a presence she has in a scene. She commands all of one’s attention and her attitude, her strut, and face expression is all so perfect. No movie star has the same effect that Dietrich has on me and I’ve never seen an actress that drew me in. Well, there is Asta Nielsen, but that is a different story. Her character when she first performs reminds me of Dietrich in real life: seducing people of both genders with her looks and charisma. Dietrich smoking and in a suit has got to be one of the sexiest images that one could look at and in Morocco, Sternberg takes full advantage of Dietrich’s sex appeal for both genders. I couldn’t help but thing, “Boy, she sure is a gentleman!” when she kissed the lady as thanks for the flower. Gary Cooper was nothing too exciting as Tom Brown, but I never really liked Cooper so it’s nothing new that I didn’t care much for him in Morocco. He always seems the same to me and bland so I don’t get what the big deal is with Gary Cooper. Adolphe Menjou’s character is nothing exciting in itself and doesn’t allow him to show off his acting, but nonetheless, I thought he did the best he could.

Stephany’s immature anecdote: I TOTALLY ENVY THE WOMAN THAT MARLENE DIETRICH KISSED! If I was that woman, I would have done more than just look shy, I would have fainted on the spot. I JUST LOVE THE WAY THIS WOMAN MOVES, SINGS, AND TALKS!!! I thought that the kissing scene was the cutest thing ever so I had to bring it up. The way the lady giggles and looks at Amy Jolly before the kiss and then covers her face afterwards is so adorable. And Dietrich’s reaction! That is cuteness overload because she has a silly grin on her face and smells the flower as if she was a little boy being mischievous. If anyone did what Dietrich did and reacted that way, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Ok, I need to stop being so immature, but it’s such a cute scene and well, everyone knows that Dietrich is one of my favourite actresses and also numero uno on my “Most Beautiful People” list, so I guess it’s expected that I would rave about her.

This film has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing films that I have ever seen. The lush visuals, Marlene Dietrich, and beautiful lighting… what more can you ask for?

IMDb Link:
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Marlene Dietrich – The Glamour Collection DVD set) ; Amazon.com (VHS)

Suspicion ; 1941

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty
Country: U.S.A.

First of all, happy new year! I hope that everyone had a lovely 2009 and that 2010 will be even better.

Although I am always scared and have a sense of dread before watching a Hitchcock film, I never regret it afterwards. Suspicion is definitely not an exception to this rule and I was at the edge of my seat throughout the whole film. Underneath all the suspense, there were also moments of warm-fuzziness and humour, which I enjoyed immensely. My only problem with it is the rushed feeling at the end, but it sort of makes sense since Hitchcock didn’t want the ending that it is in the final cut. The plot is great, hands down, but what makes this film great in my opinion is the lighting and how that effects the mood of the scene. This may seem trivial but I loved how the milk glowed in the scene where Johnny (Grant) takes it up to give it to Lina (Fontaine) and even when he first enters into the scene, it makes Johnny’s entrance terrifying, thus the audience relates to the fear that Lina feels. I heard in a documentary that Hitchcock actually put a little light in there to make it glow. Although Hitchcock did not want the ending that ended up in the final cut, I thought that because of it, it had the little twist that I always look forward to in Hitchcock films

Even though Joan Fontaine won the Oscar for her performance in this film, I thought that it should have been Cary Grant who got the recognition for his acting. I always saw Grant in romantic comedies so when I saw him in this role, I was surprised by how well he was suited for the part. I never really saw Cary Grant as an amazing actor, but when I saw him in this film, I couldn’t help but think that he was splendid.

I am astounded by how Hitchcock films never fails to disappoint me and I hope that everyone else who watches this film enjoys it as much as I did.

IMDb Link: Suspicion
Where to buy: Amazon.com