kkl10 mini-reviews collection

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Red Desert
(1964) - 9

Grey melancholic days coat an industrial landscape where the blaze of nature has been superseded by the artificial. Backdrop for an exploration of images, sounds, contrasts, feelings, tensions, sexual liberation and social games. Giuliana is the main character; a traumatized woman unable to fit into the artificial and chaotic world around her. A very unstable and capricious personality, prone to awkward gestures and behavior. The unnatural landscape of the industrial world where Giuliana wanders, seemingly influences her strange ways. The movie exerts a dichotomy between the natural ways of humans and the corruption of the machine in our habits and environment; an aspect that reminds me Tati's Playtime. In the Italian movie, the main premise is not so much to dissect the influence of the artificial and unnatural world in our social construct, but rather to essay about the cosmetic effects of our action in the surrounding environment and about the way we deal with it. The comical stance of Tati's film is also replaced by the contemplative atmosphere of Antonioni's singular cinema, while the mental imbalance of the main character sets the pace.

The dramatic component of the movie revolves mostly around the romantic mechanics between Giuliana and engineer Corrado Zeller, close friend of Giuliana's husband, Ugo, who runs a petrochemical plant. Michelangelo Antonioni employs brutal and unapologetic honesty to portray the affair. What initially appears to be mutual interest propelled by genuine empathy and affection eventually unravels somber contours as it becomes obvious that the love plot is fueled by nothing more than Giuliana's "insanity". But the truly sinister insight is the fact that Giuliana is perfectly aware of this all the time; she is not as na´ve or absent-minded as she seems. In Red Desert, we watch a perverse exploitation of feelings and expectations orchestrated, deliberately or not, by Giuliana with almost all the characters who interact with her, especially Corrado. The only character who is immune to Giuliana's web is her own son, little Valerio, who in turn appears to have inherited the Machiavellian talent of his mother and, to her dismay, subjects her to his own cunning.

All of this, wraped in the alienated and very particular cinematic style of Antonioni, leaves me with a perplexing impression of unapologetic egocentrism. Red Desert is a thoroughly egocentric construction, perhaps an inherent characteristic of Antonioni's cinematic language. This is reflected not only in the human relations as it can be extrapolated to the relationship between the characters (or us humans) and the natural environment. At a certain moment in the movie, Corrado expresses what could very well be the European Zeitgeist in the 60s or simply Antonioni's personal beliefs: "After all what does one believe in? In Humanity... in a way, in justice a little less, in progress a little more." Dead nature is omnipresent in the whole movie, except in the short fantasy segment that Giuliana chronicles to her son; the magnificent view of a nature inviolate by Men's actions has, therefore, become nothing more than mirage or utopia in the postmodern age. No one seems disturbed with the consequences of progress in the natural landscape, other than Giuliana. Maybe the character played by Monica Vitti acts as a reactive element against such thought doctrine. Thematically and ideologically loaded movie, although slightly ambiguous. Red Desert is a beautiful and fascinating cinematic essay gifted with great visual enchantment. Excellent camera work and deliberated use of colour. No technical remarks and I very much enjoyed the acting despite the dubbed voices. Red Desert goes into my favorite list. This is a wonderful masterpiece that puzzles as much as it marvels, and it's as simple as it is complex. Masterful filmmaking all around. Mandatory watch for any cinephile!

Ivan's Childhood
(1962) - 8,5

Tarkovsky could hardly come up with a better debut. Ivan's Childhood is yet another wonderful work from the Russian master. Moving and heart-breaking movie where a 12-year-old orphan risks himself on the front lines of the Second World War. For Ivan's young and corrupted mind, there is no worthwhile purpose except fighting the enemy of war, and the vengeance of his dead loved ones is a first order priority. Early love and happy childhood with his mother were ephemeral miracles now conserved in his memory; the war has become the only reality for Ivan. Similarly to The Bridge (1959), directed by Bernhard Wicki, Ivan's Childhood exerts a contrast between those two distinct realities to underline the absurdity of warfare and its costs. The Russian movie is a more intelligent, original and emotional cinematic experience, and is no less powerful in its anti-war message--if one chooses to see it that way--despite the fleeting combat sequences and not being as raw or graphic as The Bridge. Ivan's Childhood is, ultimately, more absurd and painful by throwing into the scene a 12-year-old child who has to duck the enemy practically alone. We fear and feel for him just like his adult comrades. Great acting by a very young Nikolai Burlyayev who later appears in Andrei Rublev. Very good acting overall, beautiful cinematography and inventive camera work. Based on a short story written by Vladimir Bogomolov, Ivan's Childhood is a powerful movie that deserves classic status. Even though this is Tarkovsky's first feature film and a few rough edges making itself noticed, it engages me in a poetic dream almost as effortlessly as the other masterpieces from the Russian genius. Highly recommended!

Pandora's Box
(1929) - 8

German silent classic directed by Georg Whilhelm Plabst. The libertine and na´ve spirit of seductive Lulu is a potentially fatal trap to any man or woman who crosses paths with the young dancer. Seemingly unaware of the consequences of her actions, Lulu drifts at the mercy of events in a melodramatic adventure marked by strong sexuality and deviltry. Lulu's treacherous spell will be her doom; she will fall into misery and despair, and will meet a tragic fate at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Lulu personifies the Greek myth of Pandora on which the movie is thematically based. Pandora's Box is notable for lifting Louise Brooks into stardom, and for, presumably, being the first movie in the history of cinema to deal with the lesbian theme. This is a must-see for fans of Louise Brooks, fans of silent cinema and to whomever wants to see how homosexuality was treated on the screen in a period where it was still a taboo subject. The ludicrous pathos lends a funnier quality to the movie than it is supposed to be, but this doesn't hinder the cinematic experience. Wonderful cinematography and camera work. Supremely fun and naughty movie. Recommended.

Imaginary Landscapes (1989) - 7,5

Rare documentary about Brian Eno, prominent figure in the history of electronic ambient music. Eno was one of the greatest pioneers of the genre during the 70s; his work was crucial to bring the forefront soundscapes to the ears of the general public. Today he is a multifaceted artist working in several fields of multimedia and audiovisual expression. In this 1989 documentary, Eno dissertates about his work and his vision of the world; about what inspires and disturbs him. His words are interesting and, sometimes, even fascinating to hear. And his beautiful musical creations illustrate the points of his abstract speech - from this dynamic emerges the real experience of the film. In my opinion, Imaginary Landscapes could be restricted only to the audio because the main focus is not what is seen but what is heard. It's in the dynamics between Eno's words and his sonic landscapes that lies the essence of this documentary. For lack of a better word, Imaginary Landscapes seems to be a remotely successful attempt to illustrate the interior and creative world of Brian Eno.

The picture is a secondary factor dangling between casual formality and decorative artifice. My general impression of audiovisual works whose focus lie in the sound, is that the image does not seem to support the 'action' as well as the sound does the vice versa. Therefore, the image is disposable, especially when it contributes little to no substance to enrich the work. Instead, we ought to close our eyes and let the soundscapes fill in our visual imaginations for a more pleasurable and eloquent experience. This isn't necessarily the absolute case with this documentary. That shall be decided by each one's subjective judgement; for me, the image has scarce redeeming qualities to justify its presence. It's an interesting aesthetic exploration that may please many other viewers, nonetheless. Quite honestly, this 'stoned' style of documentary has been very much in vogue, and it quickly leaves me jaded if not perfectly executed. Imaginary Landscapes was directed by Duncan Ward and Gabriella Cardazzo. Ambient music lovers will find in this film a beautiful and eloquent soundscape that can be appreciated with closed eyes to almost full extent. Recommended!

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas
(1931) - 7,5

Last work from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Just like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, this is a love archetype promoting a universal message. The story unravels within the seed of a tribal community inhabiting Bora Bora, a remote island in French Polinesia. Matahi and Reri ride against forces of higher order within the tribe to preserve their love bond. The resistance is stretched to the limits of what is humanly possible hereby sentencing their tale to a tragic fate. This movie is so engaging that it's easy forget that one is seeing a docufiction. As is hallmark of this genre, it's not possible to separate reality from fiction in what is partly a documentation of the people of Bora Bora and their culture. All the characters are the real tribal natives and chinese living in the region. By virtue of which Tabu invokes a different kind of allure from Sunrise. The idyllic landscape, the tribal rituals and the close contact with nature contrast with the modern world of Sunrise, and craft a rawer and even more nostalgic experience. But ultimately, Tabu doesn't have the impact of a timeless masterpiece like Sunrise. That monumental dreamlike enchantment of Sunrise is missing from Tabu; this is a slightly more earthy and dry experience in my opinion. In any case, Tabu has great poetic beauty and emotional power. The camera work and cinematography are top-notch and earned Floyd Crosby an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, while the archetypal performance as Reri launched Anne Chevalier's acting career for the following years. This beautiful work of silent cinema was honored by Miguel Gomes in 2012 with his homonymous film which I highly enjoyed and also reviewed. Recommended!

King Kong (1933) - 8,5

Filmmaker Carl Denham and his film crew prepare to embark on an expedition to inhospitable and virtually unknown location. Legend has it that somewhere in the Indian Ocean lies an uncharted island inhabited by a primitive civilization. This civilization has remained isolated from the rest of the world hereby creating a mysterious and unique culture of adoration centered around a monstrous and prehistoric creature - Kong. This is the story that motivates Denham to set forward the expedition. He keeps the rest of the crew ignorant of the motivations until they are close enough of their destination. Denham intends to verify the facts behind the legend and aspires to be the first person to capture the so-called creature in film. But his ambition cannot match the epic proportions of the ordeal ahead of them. The explorer and his team will be treated with the experience of a lifetime.

The context in which King Kong emerged is quite interesting. Scientific and technological breakthroughs in the early 20th century had drastically affected the lives of many Americans. With the Great Depression hitting hard, thirst for progress and financial empowerment became top priorities for the population. The cinematic industry took upon itself the route of escapism for a public that was jaded by the hardships of real life.

King Kong was crafted when the ability of fantastic cinema to bewilder and haunt the audience was probably at its greatest. In the 30s, one of the public's most prominent cinematic whims was to submit the bizarre, the unfathomable, the dangerous or the excentric to the scrutiny of scientific exploration. This caprice was capitalized in exotic adventures that sharply contrasted with the lameness of real life, and that, by virtue of their populist nature, reinforced certain ideological agendas and even social prejudices largely extinguished today. This movie descends from a long tradition of jungle movies in America, specifically, a subgenre that explored pseudo-romantic relationships between apes and women.

Notwithstanding its ludicrous premise, King Kong is symbolic of the American aspirations during the Great Depression. The ability of the individual to confront and conquer any hardships of life no matter how magnificent those hardships may be, was the sort of message that many Americans sought after in cinemas. The characters of the movie also display an ethos that seems representative of, at least, the male mindset in the 30s.

King Kong is a wholly competent movie. It employs a formula of populist cinema still kept in use today, but here it was shaped with a visionary ambition that can hardly be matched by contemporary filmmaking. This is not a subtle flick. We are promptly engulfed in the 'action' without much ceremony and only a sketch of suspense. Romance, fantasy, humor, adventure and terror are all intertwined in a wholly coherent work that still entertains today. King Kong must have been an immense technical challenge. I'm intrigued about the method used to merge the stop motion animation and live action into coherent scenes. It still looks amazingly believable today. It looks so good that it invokes in me a feeling of surreal enchantment that I can't get in any other film. This is a technically brilliant work.

Given the social context when the potential of cinematic expression was still being explored, King Kong was probably an archetype of the ultimate experience in cinematic entertainment. Therefore, it deserves a distinguished place in the history of cinema. The original impact may be lost, but King Kong has the grace of a prehistoric relic, and immerses me in a dreamlike experience of epic scale. It's also a very fun movie. I greatly enjoyed this classic. Highly recommended!
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Seven Samurai
(1954) - 8,5

Japan, Sengoku period.

Theft of values, theft of life, theft of happiness and pride. Oppressive suffering haunts a small village of farmers. Suffering perpetrated by vultures of greed whose next attack, the farmers profess, will sentence the village extinct. What can be done? Everything that follows stems from the instinct of survival. Instinct camouflaged in delusions of honor, justice, altruism and bravery. Instinct fed by fear, despair and love. Thus begins the existential crusade to preserve the dearest and most precious human virtues in a cruel and amoral world.

Appeals for the samurai conduct warrant provisions for the battle ahead. But the only distinction between a samurai and a non-samurai is one's mask: the world we invent for ourselves is only a disguise for our fears and denials. A farce that falls apart when heroism meets life's ungratefulness and the harsh truth becomes inescapable: all men are slaves of their mortality in the struggle for survival, samurai or not. Death is oblivious to our titles and dilemmas. But when death strikes, only those who seek to outlive fate are caught off guard. They will never know ephemeral happiness, for life is unforgiving of one's mistakes. Living it humbly is the only way to die undefeated.

A single negative remark: considerable length and slow progression may lead to boredom and distraction. Particularly during the first half where all main characters are slowly introduced. This is heightened by the fact that Kurosawa's cinema may not be particularly easy to chew for some: rewards aren't immediately apparent to viewers, and his movies may even appear aesthetically insipid or plain. Digging below the surface, however, reveals a very different truth. Seven Samurai overflows with beauty and genius subverted between the lines of the cinematic composition. The ability to effortlessly engage and entertain speaks volumes about the amount of thought invested in each take. Almost every sequence was crafted with sculptor's fastidiousness, and the result is near perfect symbiosis between form and function - one of Kurosawa's greatest gifts. Highly recommended!