Incompresa [2014)

This is the longest movie I’ve ever watched.

Not really.

But at one hour and 46 minutes, that’s not a good thing.

To feel like it’s taking forever.

Which is not to say this is a bad film.

It’s not.

It’s a very good film.

With a very disturbing ending.

Yes, I’m warning you.

Don’t (like me) get sucked in by all the cuteness and expect our still-mediocre filmmaker to give you a good ending.

But maybe I’m wrong…

Let’s investigate.

First, Asia Argento is a very talented filmmaker.

But she’s still mediocre.

There are two main problems with this film.

The editing (as in cut some of this superfluous shit out) and the ending.

My guess is that Argento could not bear to see any of her precious footage cut (to any significant degree).

So I am not complaining about the découpage (editor Filippo Barbieri does a fantastic job…especially in the palimpsest intro), but rather the montage (in the French sense).

The ending is a cheap stunt.

David Bowie predicted such excess on Ziggy Stardust…

I will leave it at that.

But suffice it to say that Asia Argento put her heart and soul into this film.

And much of it (most of it) is magical.

This was in spite of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s overwrought, tacky performance.

Charlotte is a wonderful musician.

One of the best alive.

I adore her music.

But she is a terrible actress.

Even so, Argento should have reined in Gainsbourg’s diva performance considerably.

Yet nothing can take away from the true magic contained in Misunderstood (this film’s title on Netflix).

Maybe it’s not Gainsbourg’s fault.

Maybe the role called for a soulless bitch.

But we’ve seen Charlotte in other dire films (like Melancholia).

For all of Asia Argento’s imperfections as a filmmaker (and there are a few), she is like Orson Welles compared to the utter shite that Lars von Trier churns out.

Not to mince words, but “von” Trier has to be one of the worst filmmakers working today.

And so let’s get to why Argento marginally succeeds with this film.

The answer is so very simple:  Giulia Salerno.

Salerno must have been about 13 (or younger) when this film was shot [though she is ostensibly nine years old…in the context of the story].

Her acting, really, is a revelation.

The entire movie revolves around her.

She and her cat Dac.

It’s a sad story.

But Aria [Salerno] makes everything joyful.

Ah, the resilience of kids!

I was blessed with wonderful parents growing up.

Aria’s parents in this film are reprehensible in just about every way imaginable.

There is something of a Les Quatre Cents Coups to this tale.

Aria wanders back and forth.

With her little pet carrier (for the cat).

She has no stability.

Indeed, she ultimately has very little love at all.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you.

But here are the takeaways.

Asia Argento has the talent to become a world-class filmmaker.

This was an admirable and artful first effort.

It is a very special film.

Now it’s time for her to stop surrounding herself with ass kissers.

She’s not an auteur yet.

[I don’t care who her father was!]

Giulia Salerno has the brigtest future imaginable as an actress.

She is now about 15 years old.

And she’s already put a performance like this under her belt.

I hope that Hollywood and the cinema of her home country Italy take notice of her incredible thespian gift.

And I will give Argento one more compliment:  she sure shocked the shit out of me with that ending.

And though it was trite and tasteless, it didn’t completely ruin what was a very fine film.

Indeed, the editor needed for the bulk of this film would have lopped it off forthwith (if they were at all worth their salt).

-PD

L’Atalante [1934)

The world is one big heartbreak.

This film reminds me of that.

I had seen it before.

But I hadn’t lived enough.

Life had never been that hard.

As it is now.

I don’t know what poetry is.

Maybe heightened language.  Anguish.

Languid.

God’s pace through the heavens.

This was one of the few Jean Vigo films.

The auteur of auteurs.

Because he directed little.

A bit like Anton Webern.

In that regard.

Vingt regards.

You know the story.

I shan’t count down from twenty.

I’m sorry.

But at least I can relate to Michel Simon.

We’ve been all around the world.

Not really.

But not bad.

And in our cabins with our trinkets.

On this ghost ship.

We ply the harbor.

To have such sad conversations.

And such optimism.

Yeah…

Michel Simon with his monkeys.

Meenkeys.

A bit like Nerval and the lobster.

But here he has cats.

And that is all too appropriate.

Yes, even Élie Faure saw (and appreciated) this film.

James Agee admired the work of Jean Vigo.

You can only get as sad as Jean Dasté when you’ve loved (and lost) someone as beautiful as Dita Parlo.

I’m not alone in feeling that way (apparently).

But it doesn’t make it any easier.

To be among one’s own leafless trees.

Floating down the Seine.

Never allowed to dock.

Nothing but tragedy.

 

-PD

The Cat in the Hat [1971)

TV special…

“We interrupt your regularly-scheduled program to bring you a flight of fancy free.”

Dr. Seuss.  SS.  Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If the PhD proves too difficult–too stultifying, then just drop out.  Right?

David H. DePatie.  Friz [sic] Freleng.

Allan Sherman is great as the voice of the title character.  The eponymous feline.

But most interesting is the fish:  Karlos K. Krinklebein.

(!)

You can’t make this shit up.

Krinkelbein?

Perhaps it’s Carlos…

In any case, it’s Daws Butler voicing the goldfish.

Directed by Hawley Pratt (who graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn).

Again with the not making of the shit up.

But most important are the readymade, pre-reified Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Woe unto Thurl Ravenscroft for voicing merely one Thing (Thing 1, mind you!).

He was Tony the Tiger.

(!)

“They’re grrreat!”

The dumbest, most genius tagline ever.

Thou canst not maketh up such as this…on the 400th year of our laird.

The Grinch stole Christmas in 1966.  Right there on CBS.

Thurl crooned “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and became doubly immortal.

Never underestimate Tony the Tiger.

Or the Tourette’s Guy.

Danny.

Anthony L. Six.

A weird last name.

Brilliant!

And Jared.

YouTube diamond.

Back to the cat…our composer Dean Elliott.

Eleven years after composing the score for Sex Kittens Go to College, he was in the animation business (more or less).

To go from Mijanou Bardot (Brigitte’s sister) to the moss-covered three-handled family credenza.

Credenza…altar for food of the elite.  Most elite.  Papal.

With faith (belief), the food taster.  Not discriminating flavor.  Checking poison.

Mamie Van Doren and Tuesday Weld.  Back to the (sex) kittens.

It’s the real deal.  Chuck Jones.  Producer.

Indeed, Siberia.

Indeed.

Sympathy.  And Yerself is Steam.

It’s mania.  It’s depression.

Are you experienced?  (¿With backmasking)

That’s the sombrero psychedelia.

chapka in a shlyapa.

Cat matryoshka.

EmrNyisIdtdGelrMeyA

 

-PD

 

Au Hasard Balthazar [1966)

If life has no meaning, then do not continue to the next sentence.

Thank you.

For those of you still reading.

You must excuse my reliance on 1/3rd of the trivium (to the detriment of the remainder).

It must be rhetoric which I employ.

Like a donkey.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

But for those of us in poverty and misery.

How do we express our futile existences?

By affirming their meanings.

Their meaningfulness.

You have not worked your whole life for nothing.

You worked to survive.

But you survived for others.

You loved.  You cared.

You were curious.

Too curious to let the human race go.

And so, slow and easy does it goes [sic]…the autumn of your years.

Perhaps.

Another spring.

Hope.  Eternal.

Robert Bresson slips a note under our door.

A key.

At first viewing it is dull.  Ugly.

Like a donkey.

Yes.

But Bresson knew Beethoven.  Concision of expression.

Economy of means.

It is no wonder that we hear Schubert throughout this film.

And no wonder that Schubert is Philip Glass’ favorite composer.

Those ostinati.  Figured bass.

Even simpler than Alberti.

More like a rail fence transposition.

Or a Caesar shift cipher.

Ostinato.  Obstinate.

Like the donkey.

But I have patiently borne the humiliation.

I am still a youthful beast of burden.

And yet I know my hooves.

I am a genius.

A four-legged mathematician.

Give me three digits…and a single digit.

And I multiply.

I fecundate the field with feathery flowers.

Four digits.

Do I hear five?

With a memory like an elephant.

A stare like a tiger.

And a harangue like a polar bear.

But look how he shivers.

The donkey.

So humble as to not say a word.

Perhaps it was the wisdom of salt.

Salt of the earth.

A wise ass.

Yes, forever in trouble.  With my pride.

Getting kicked in the rump.

But these are really nasty assaults.

The other side of James Dean.

François Lafarge as Gérard is a real asshole.

Not enough love at home.

Feels a need to punch donkeys.

[pause]

Quite literally…the world comes to life through Bresson’s filmmaking.

Prostitutes pop up.

Pimps prance and preen.

But here we have “merely” sexual assault.

A first step in losing the ability to feel anything.

Numb.

And we have rape (through allusion, of course).

Gérard toots his horn.

Literally.

The other side of the James Dean coin.

The underside of Jean-Paul Belmondo.

A disproportionate riposte courtesy of the one filmmaker with the balls to be simple.

So simple.

On first glance it is nothing.

A donkey.

But live a few years.

And then revisit.

It is a novel.

It contains everything.

We can’t catch it because it doesn’t pop out at us in color.

One way would be to say that no one has ever looked more sad on screen than Anne Wiazemsky here.

Before Godard.

Perhaps a first conversation.

A nervousness.

It was through Wiazemsky that Bresson told this tale.

To teach the New Wave.

They hadn’t learned all the lessons yet.

He wasn’t done speaking.

The quiet tone of an old man…

I want to tell you more more more.

But this is best secret.

To appreciate the simple things.

Before they are gone.

The patient animals.

So gentle in their existence.

Not presuming.

Not running.  Not hustling.

The pack-animals.

We know this look.

In cats.  In dogs.

This wisdom.

We laugh at their carefree insolence.

But they have shown the way.

Such resilience!

Such love…

And we are taken in.

Our hearts are melted.

Yes.

Few moments in cinema feel more lonely than the end of Au Hasard Balthazar.

It is almost unbearable.

The quiet dignity of humanity being shamed.

How could we ever forget our love.

For even a second.

When we rub two sticks together at such an eyelevel perspective, the meaning of life is very clear.

But unutterable.

 

-PD

Umberto D. [1952)

Unglamorous stories.

That is what Italy brought us in the post-war years.

And every “new wave” which has followed owes a debt to the masters like De Sica.

Perhaps you know Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves).

Don’t stop there, dear friend.

Because here we have the precursor to Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Sure.  There is some humor in Umberto D.  A very, very dark humor.

As with Moartea domnului Lăzărescu.

But mostly there is beauty.

Sadness.

Reality.

Cinema.

There is the little dog Flike.  Not Flicka, but Flike (rhymes with psych).  Or bike.

Flike.  Like Céline’s cat Bebert.

And then there is the stunning (STUNNING) acting of Carlo Battisti as Umberto.

There are few performances which can equal it.

Ioan Fiscuteanu did it as Lazarescu.

And that’s about it.

Rarefied air…these two actors.

Let me put it another way.  Umberto D. was Ingmar Bergman’s favorite film.  Do you know what I mean?

The director of Smultronstället and Sommaren med Monika.

Picked one film.  And this was it.

Appropriately, this was Carlo Battisti’s only film role ever.

As the star of Umberto D.

He wasn’t an actor.  He was a linguist.

God damn…

It’s just unreal how good this film is!

But we must also give credit to the indispensable Maria-Pia Casilio.

It is through her eyes that we see the ants…formica in Italian.

In English, we think of a hard composite material.  Formica.  A table top.

But a sort of false cognate brings us back to the archetype which Dalí and Buñuel so evocatively exploited in Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  A film.  The famous eyeball which gets “edited”.  And then the ants were back in La persistència de la memòria.  A painting.  Soft clocks.  You know the one.  And the only differences between Spanish and Catalan in this case are the diacritical marks.

But she burns paper.  To chase the ants.  And the stray cat prowls the roof at night soft as a snowflake.  And the grated skylight is her canvas to dream stretched out in her bed.  And nothing is more morose than a contemplative face at the window looking out on a dingy world.

We sense it did not go easily for Italy.  After the war.  Because when you choose the wrong side you will be punished.

And though Germany was divided and Berlin was the most surreal example of this (being wholly within East Germany…like a Teutonic Swaziland–a Lesotho leitmotiv), Italy still suffered.  We see it in Rossellini.  And we see it here.

Neorealism.  A update on the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  A continuation of Zola.  A nod to Dostoyevsky.

Verismo.

The star is an old man.  He is not really a hero.  He doesn’t save the world.  There aren’t explosions.

But (BUT)

he does something most extraordinary.  He survives…for a time.  What a miracle!

Ah!  The miracle of everyday life.  We have survived another year.  Another day!

Do you think there will be a war?

[Shame.  The shame of having to ask for help.  Begging for the first time.]

When your bed is a joke.  Newspapers and dust.  And there is a goddamned hole in your wall.  Perhaps.

A missile.  Or The Landlord’s Game (which became Monopoly).

When you are cold with a fever.  As an elderly person.  All your glamorous days have passed.

And you need your coat just to provide a little more warmth.  On top of the blanket.  To make it through the night.

As long.

As long as this film survives, humanity has a chance.

Really.

-PD

To Write Love on Her Arms [2012)

This film goes beyond film.  Which is not to say it doesn’t have its problems.  Like the protagonist, it does.  But let me tell you why this film is worth it.  No…you know what?  This is fucking bullshit!  That’s not the way to review a film.  This is.

It’s gotta come from the heart and mind.  Depend too much on the mind and you miss the beauty.  Secrets make you sick.  Must be a whole lot of sick people in Langley, Virginia and Fort Meade, Maryland.  Go on, look it up.  It’ll do you good.  But for you lazy bums, that’s the CIA and NSA.

I read about the CIA all the time.  Why?  I’m only answering limited questions today.  But suffice it to say that both of these spy agencies are pretty interesting.  Don’t you think?

Well, so that’s one of my secrets.  It’s not really a secret.  It’s pretty transparent.  But maybe not.  So, there.  Like Robert Creeley said.  There you have it.

It’s very hard to not drop into John Berryman testimonial mode when talking about this film (oh yeah, this is a film review…duh!).

First things first:  you gotta love a film that premieres at the Omaha Film Festival (!)  Just knowing that Omaha has a film festival makes me feel a little less depressed about my life and the shitty town I live in (San Antonio).

And so…our setting:  Orlando.  It’s like an outtake from Mister Lonely–Cinderella smoking a cigarette at the bus stop.  Headed to the theme park presumably…  It’s certainly begging for a Harmony Korine touch, though director Nathan Frankowski does a nice job handling this priceless aside in more of a Terry Zwigoff way.

Wow.  Somebody needs to give the Wikipedia page for TWLOHA (the movie) some love.  I mean, Jesus!  A three-sentence plot summary???  There’s lost silent films which have more detailed synopses on Wiki than this!

So I guess my first inclination was correct:  speak from the heart.

Well God damnit!  There are some priceless moments in this film.  The secret weapon is Rupert Friend.  I’ll be damned if he doesn’t strike a stake right to my heart…fondling that pocket watch…  It’s no jive-ass MC5 John Sinclair rave-up testifyin’ going on.  This is some real shit.

For all of the snobs (like me) in the audience:  you gotta give this film time.  Clear from your mind the unpleasant parallels to the CGI of What Dreams May Come and The Lovely Bones.  IT GETS BETTER.

That said.  How?  Well, once again Ms. Kat Dennings hits a home run. This is no easy role.  It’s a tough, tough, TAXING role to embody with anything even approaching Method Acting.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that Dennings felt this role naturally (to a certain extent).

How does this film go beyond film?  Because.  Ghost World was a masterpiece.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was perfection for its genre (young adult comedy romance).  Charlie Bartlett was a mini-masterpiece…a damn good film.  Hell!  Daydream Nation was pretty fucking good too.  But TWLOHA moves into the social realm…because it touches on depression and substance abuse (not to mention the cutting words of the haiku title) in a real, sobering way.  No pun intended.  At least not the sober one.

Yeah.  What does this mean for you, dear WordPress blogger…or for someone who stumbled across this article?  It means you are powerful beyond your wildest belief.

Every time you commit your precious thoughts to the page and share them with people (comma) you are saying the only stuff that people believe anymore.

It doesn’t mean you can talk about reptilians and be taken seriously (no offence to my reptilian theorist brothers…and sisters).  No, it means that the only people who have CAPITAL in SINCERITY are everyday people like me…and YOU.

We don’t believe the lies anymore.  We’ve swallowed so many damned secrets that we’re sick to death.  We can’t sleep.  But we are fucking powerful!  Hillary Clinton knows it.  Zbigniew Brzezinski knows it.  I’m not sure if David Rockefeller knows it.  Nor George H.W. Bush.

That’s ok.  They came from a different generation.  Hell…I’m not even a “digital native”…  Not a Millennial.  I guess I am part of that lamentable flannel fuzzed Generation X.  I hyphenate when I damn well please.

I make inside jokes that only I get.  I don’t have any friends.  Not anymore.  But I have family.  I have cats.  Some days I think my best friend is an extraterrestrial in Turkey.  Or a classmate from Iran.  But most days my best friend is an actor or an actress.

So to Kat Dennings (and Renee Yohe)…wherever you are.  Thank you.  It makes a big fucking difference.  That you exist.  My sentence fragments and idiosyncratic punctuation are yours.  Mi casa es su casa.

-PD