Borat [2006)

This may be the funniest film ever made.

🙂

Really!

An erudite film critic shouldn’t admit such, should they?

But I learned long ago that I must have my own voice.

I can scour the Earth for every film to which Jean-Luc Godard made reference in Histories(s) du cinéma, but I still must contend with my own personal predilections.

We like stuff because it resonates with us.

For me, the realization was with the Romanian New Wave…and ’80s American comedies 🙂

The serious, austere, heartrending, bleak works of the Romanian New Wave have not been canonized by Godard.

Godard, the man, will (sadly) pass away.

Which is a terrible thought to me.

Because he has made his best films [sic] in his “later” years.

But the Romanian New Wave was “mine”.

I discovered it by accident.

And I dug a little deeper.

I would say about 90% of Romanian film resonates with me in a powerful way.

Almost as much as French film resonates with me.

But then I had to come to term with ’80s American comedies.

These were the things on which I grew up 🙂

And there is no greater joy in my film-viewing experience than to see a film which elicits hyperventilating belly laughs 🙂

And so, Borat [directed brilliantly by Larry Charles].

If Sacha Baron Cohen never again makes a good film, he’s still a genius in my book…based solely on this one masterpiece.

No, it is not Citizen Kane.

But it is something.

Something closer to Cohen’s hero Peter Sellers.

And to the bent mind of Andy Kaufman.

Borat Sagdiyev is the epitome of awkward…once he is placed within American society.

He is from the “backwards” land of Kazakhstan.

[of course, there is a great deal of exaggeration in this film…because such caricature can be quite funny]

The special thing about Borat (and Cohen, working through Borat) is that HE INSULTS EVERYBODY 🙂

Borat very much prefigures the Trump Presidency.

Not to mention the young Trump supporters fond of Pepe the Frog 😉

The idea is, “Lighten the fuck up!”

Laugh a little.

Laugh at yourself.

And, naughty naughty, laugh at what you’re not SUPPOSED to laugh at.

The forbidden subjects of laughter make us laugh the heartiest.

Our conscience kicks in.

We feel BAD about making light of such and such.

But it is a reflex:  it just simply is fucking funny 🙂

Nothing is going to take the fun out of this world quicker than those who scrub history, those who censor films, those who impose sensitivity training liberally…

Let’s get nitty-gritty.

Ken Davitian is excellent as Borat’s assistant Azamat Bagatov.

Nothing like having to hairdry the balls of your boss 🙂

[not to mention “back pussy”]

Yes, the humor is SO WRONG.

So bad!

But, as I overheard two days ago at the video story, white guys still reminisce fondly about Eddie Murphy standup routines.

Not exactly my bag, but I get it.

[and black guys, hispanic guys…Eddie Murphy was very much a “taboo” comedian]

Which brings us to Lenny Bruce.

I love Lenny Bruce.

Guy was messed up.

But he was brave.

So the point is, crude humor is maybe not the smartest…maybe not the best influence on society…but we need a little of it, it seems.

Maybe it’s because we’re all sinners?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to get too theological.

If I was a better Christian, perhaps I would repudiate Borat.

But I simply cannot do that.

And so I’ll keep it brief:

God works in mysterious ways.

I may be wrong.

But this film helps my heart with a laughter unlike any other.

 

-PD

What About Bob? [1991)

We all need a little therapy.

Laughter 🙂

And sometimes we need a story that hits real close to home.

For me, this one does the trick.

Multiple phobias would be an understatement.

And I can relate.

You know, it’s sometimes these types of movies which make me the most weepy-eyed.

But only temporarily.

Bill Murray really knocks it out of the park on this one.

But Richard Dreyfuss is equally essential to the “trading places” dynamic at work here.

And not least, Frank Oz directed a sort of masterpiece with this film.

Bob, the protagonist, would make an excellent spy (in some regards).

His stalking skills are world-class (bar none).

But Bob has no malice in his heart.

He just needs help.

But woe unto the genius who becomes the apple of Bob’s eye.

Yes folks, Richard Dreyfuss’ patience is tested as much as Herbert Lom’s (as Chief Inspector Dreyfus…one “s”) ever was by Peter Sellers as Clouseau.

That is very much the dynamic which is at work in our film.

Leo Marvin (Dreyfuss…”ss”) is a very bright psychiatrist.

He prominently displays his bust of Freud in his office and, while on vacation, at his lakeside home.

His son is named Sigmund.

His daughter, Anna.

And his wife looks much Jung-er than in her picture.

[I couldn’t resist]

But Bob is the kind of guy for whom the “block caller” function on your iPhone was invented.

As I said, however, Bob would make an excellent member of the intelligence community if he were not a practically-paralyzed nutbag.

Bob has problems “moving”.

But, to be frank, Bob has problems with everything.

Each and every activity which most people take for granted presents a unique hurdle for the perpetually-nervous Bob.

And I can relate.

Boy, can I!

Yet, what Bob lacks in conventional “people skills”, he makes up for with an endearing, warmhearted ease that he imparts to everyone he meets.

People love this guy.

If they take a second to get to know him.

And so we start with a patient (Bob) and a doctor (Leo).

But the lines blur early and often.

And so what director Frank Oz seems to be pointing out is something which Harvard professor Clay Christensen pointed out in his book How Will You Measure Your Life? not so long ago.

While Dr. Christensen makes clear that his former classmates at the Harvard Business School all seem to share a certain dissatisfaction with their lives (regardless of their tony jobs at McKinsey & Co., etc.), his thoughts on “disruptive innovation” occasioned an invitation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to speak on this latter phenomenon.

So what I mean to say is this:  yes, this is self-help, but it’s serious, serious stuff!

Funny enough, that seems to describe Bob quite well.

Operation Nifty Package could have been shortened by nine days (and spared the royalties to ASCAP and BMI) had a Bob Wiley merely been sent in to chat with Manuel Noriega 1989/1990.

Which is to say, Bob Wiley represents that person we all think we know:  the most annoying person in the world.

They don’t come along often.

But when they do (and we are their captive audience), it makes psychological warfare look like child’s play.

So indeed, from the perspective of Dr. Leo Marvin, Bob Wiley must have seemed like a human weapon intent on wrecking his life.

The problem was that Dr. Marvin had become more focused on accolades (Good Morning America) and money than on the excellence of his caregiving.

Dr. Leo’s kids see this quite clearly.

Kathryn Erbe is excellent as Anna.  She shows true generosity to Bob and an open heart.

Charlie Korsmo is wonderful as Sigmund.  He does the same.  He treats Bob as a person, not a patient.

But this film is therapeutic for me in that it shows (albeit in caricature) some of the very problems I go through on a daily basis.

Fear of the edge.  Ok, let’s just make this the edge.  No no, I can’t see what you’re doing from back there.

Bob has a certain bit of Forrest Gump in him.

Dumb luck.  Or serendipity.

But really, Bob is an expert on psychological problems…because he has lived them.

Mind as battlefield.  You might see it on the endcap of your local book store.

But for Bob, that’s not just a catchy title.

It’s life.

You’re in a lake…for the first time ever…because someone has just pushed you in…and you are kicking your legs, trying to get back to the pier…but you swim under the pier, because you’re nervous…and all you can say is, “Am I gonna die?”

It’s funny.  Unless you’ve lived a situation which maps neatly onto that microcosmic display.

So slowly we see Dr. Leo deteriorate.  It’s partly because Bob is so bonkers, but it’s also because Bob is succeeding where Leo is failing.

Saying a kind word.

A compliment.

A smile.

A joke.

Laughter.

Fun!

We don’t any of us hold all of the cards.

You might be beautiful, but you might be a moron.

You might be rather homely, but simultaneously brilliant.

Human talents and intelligence(s) operate on an infinite number of intersecting planes.

For each of our talents or attributes, we are weighed by the “market” of human opinion.

Illustrating that great scientific query:  “In relation to what?”

One human in the lonely crowd.

And one attribute in a body and mind full of vast potential.

Bob looks pathetic in a rain slicker at 1 a.m.

With his knee-jerk reactions to thunderclaps.

And Bob looks thoroughly bizarre with his goldfish in a jar around his neck.

But these are the humans we need.

These are the spice of life.

Some would condescend and venture “salt of the earth”.

But I am sticking with spice of life.

What really gets it is when Bob pulls a sort of witless Al Kooper and ends up on live national television via Joan Lunden.

And so we return to patience.

That virtue.

It’s a test.

And patience is its own reward.

You will find the value society places on this most essential human attribute.

Yet, this patience must be tested.  Stress tested.  Like a bank.

Over years of potentially infuriating situations.

If you make it through, relatively unscathed, there’s a good chance you picked up the tools necessary for significant patience.

But we cultivate our own patience when we recognize its priceless effect upon our own lives.

How many times would you have been up shit creek had there not been a patient person there to pull you in to shore?

If we are smart (and lovers of humanity), we emulate this patience we’ve seen in action.

We make it part of our persona.

But it will be tested!

As in a crucible!!

And so what about Bob?

Bob is the oddity which places us in just the right perspective.

A bit like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Yes friends, Dr. Leo has some issues which he is not working through.

He never saw a Bob coming.

He had no contingency for this sort of personage.

And so he is off-guard.  Mean.  Ugly.  Nasty.  Snotty.  Vile.

Dark humor doesn’t have to be that dark.

How do you deal with your fear of death?

Consider developing a fear of Tourette’s syndrome.

Et voilá!

The great Paul Laurence Dunbar understood this concept…that in helping others, we magically forget about our own pain.

One more possibility about Bob as an intel employee.  If he found a superior whom he highly respected, there would be a bond of trust which would be invaluable.

This has been Death Therapy, with your host:  Pauly Deathwish. 🙂

-PD

Burn After Reading [2008)

This film just goes to show that intelligence work might best be described in the terms of humor.

A very dark humor.

Half of U.S. intelligence agencies fall under the purview of the Department of Defense:

-Twenty-Fifth Air Force (25 AF) [Air Force intelligence]

-Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) [Army intelligence]

-Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

-Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)

-Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

and

-National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service (CSS)

Then there are those executive departments which oversee two intel services apiece:

-Department of Homeland Security (Coast Guard Intelligence [CGI] and Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A])

and

-Department of Justice (Intelligence Branch [IB] of the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI] and Office of National Security Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA])

In addition to these 12 agencies, there are four “peacocks”:

-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA [an independent entity])

-Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI [of the Department of Energy])

-Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR [of the Department of State])

and finally George Clooney’s armory in Burn After Reading:

-Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) [of the Department of Treasury]).

But we must remember that the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) was, until 2003, also part of the Department of Treasury.  Clooney’s character Harry Pfarrar speaks of his previous work protecting diplomats as a “PP”.  Personal protection?  Personnel protection?

Nevertheless, we learn something of which even the other D.C. “natives” in our film seem unaware:  that certain Treasury Department employees carry guns.

This, of course, ends up being a big detail in Burn After Reading.

And so the main thing is to understand the CIA analyst played adeptly here by John Malkovich.

The Balkans Desk.

-Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Suitland, Maryland

-Suitland, Maryland?  Or Quantico, Virginia?

-Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face, Virginia (oh baby that’s 9/11!)

-and Fort Meade, Maryland

[continuing]

-Anacostia? [D.C.]

-DHS Nebraska Avenue Complex, Washington, D.C.

-J. Edgar Hoover Building [D.C.]

-Arlington County, Virginia? [DEA]

-Langley, Virginia

-James V. Forrestal Building (D.C.) [DoE]

-Foggy Bottom (Harry S. Truman Building) [D.C.]

and

-1500 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue (USA)

All of this is to say that Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is “a damned good analyst”.

But forget the “PP”.

Georege Clooney is a U.S. Marshal.  And thus under the Department of Justice umbrella.

Right?

All of this makes me sympathize with the witless Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt).

But the funniest part is the repartee between David Rasche and J.K. Simmons over at Langley.

The implication is that a couple of athletic trainers and an alcoholic former analyst (plus a U.S. Marshal) have spun a web of inexplicable disaster even more boneheaded than the Bay of Pigs invasion.

And so it is priceless to hear these two gentlemen speak in tones of which Leo G. Carroll would no doubt have approved.

“We do nothing.”

When in doubt.

Ah, but Zugzwang?

Nein.

Nichts.

Nothing is scarier than a know-nothing.

Completely transparent.

Like water.

The most terrifying mask.

Princeton pulls the trigger in full-on mental illness.

And with a healthy buzz.

Maybe a bathrobe.

Can’t recall.

But felt very Harry Nilsson (if not Brian Wilson) sartorially speaking.

But the best thing is the CIA in the plastic surgery/philanthropy business.

Slushing the funds.  A little churn.

If only.

The absurdity of it all (for the CIA) most accurately can be explained by the Situationism of Guy Debord.

Like snowflakes.  Overlaid onto life views courtesy NRO.

Photo interpretation.

NGA.  Or even an NGO.

Who knows?

Clap on, clap off, the Clapper.  X X

 

-PD

 

Perličky na dně [1966)

I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.

Several directors.

One product.

But this one serves a very interesting purpose.

So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).

So now we will get to branch out a bit.

A sampler of sorts.

Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.

Start with your best speaker, they say.

Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.

It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains

Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.

But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).

If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.

As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.

We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.

The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.

The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).

It’s baroque, but just slightly off.  Anachronistic.  Neobaroque.  Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).

But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec.  Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.

In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital.  It is a very touching piece of cinema.

They try to keep each other’s spirits up.

We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing:  lies.

Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.

In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.

What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen):  organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.

We are presented with outsider art in its purest form.  A painter who paints every wall in his house.  It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.

Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.

Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout.  Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.

Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.

A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.

Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature.  Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.

And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave:  Pearls of the Deep.

And little by little we learn a new culture.

 

-PD

C’est arrivé près de chez vous [1992)

Writing is a healing exercise.

We try.

We do the best we can.

Sometimes we have to laugh at how bad things are.

Nietzsche would say we’ve lost something.

And he’s right.

But still we must laugh.

Because nobody knows the troubles we’ve seen.

Jesus wept.

Jesu swept.

We must laugh because the walls are closing in on us.

Our lives should have turned out so much better.

But let’s be optimistic.

Let us remember the good times.

Times when we sang.

Cinema…CINEMA!!!

Times when we shat and sang.

And shits yet to come.

Future shits.

It is not wrong to count life in such base terms.

When we venture out in the world, we only hope that a pretty girl smiles at us.

It’s like a bunch of flowers.

And so we must smile.

With all the bravery we have.

If you drink, drink.

If you smoke, smoke.

If you do nothing, do nothing.

Life is too very sad.  Doesn’t make.

So very sad.  Oui!

In Belgium, perhaps, they can laugh.

As in my heart song Aaltra.

Always a dark song.  Like Jeanne Dielman.

And here is Tarantino back through the French.

Au contraire!  This film predates all Quentin-directed features.

But not by much.

However, QT had the distribution advantage by a few months.

Seems Man Bites Dog (our film “in English”) beat Reservoir Dogs to market by way of film festivals.

In particular TIFF.

But really this is like a Belgian Pulp Fiction (and so much better than that hunk of shite which was still two years away).

As you might know.

Two directors I can’t stand:

Spielberg and Tarantino.

In that order.

Quentin has some redeeming qualities.

Spielberg very few (if any).

But you might want to know about the film I’m reviewing.

Ultraviolence meets Spinal Tap.

Yes, I know that’s not the full title.

But you probably know what I mean.

Kubrick of A Clockwork Orange meets mockumentary.

If someone had described this film (or any other) on such terms, I wouldn’t have watched it.

So I’m glad I didn’t encounter my own review.

Because C’est arrivé près de chez vous is brilliant.

The camaraderie chez Malou…

Rémy Belvaux supposedly committed suicide in 2006.

But it’s probably just as likely that Bill Gates had him whacked.

God damn it…

André Bonzel hasn’t died (according to English Wikipedia), but neither has he been born.

A precarious situation, that.

But Benoît Poelvoorde is gloriously alive!

Damn it!!!

Is it strip-tease or stripe-ties?

Une Femme est une femme.

We are learning the language.

French speakers English.

And English speakers French.

And Turkish.

And Romanian.

And Farsi.

Allors…

Tarantino has acknowledged his debt.

And so I too apologize to Mr. T.

It’s a sad life.  When you’re 39.

Rest in peace, dear Rémy.

 

-PD

Ted Bundy [2002)

I have long noticed the phenomenon of people being obsessed with serial killers.

In my experience, those who obsess over these troubled murderers are (perhaps surprisingly) women.

And so I am bucking that trend and delving into the serial killer biopic genre with 2002’s Ted Bundy.

I must say up front, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this film.

Everything about it was more-or-less half-assed.

I did, however, make it through the entire thing.

And there’s something to be said for that.

What I am interested in is a question which Godard has applied to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.  More or less.

Did the film under consideration do justice to the memory of the slain by way of depiction?

A key point should be, “Did this film faithfully evoke the horror of its subject?”

I would have to answer with a resounding “No!”.

Michael Reilly Burke (as Bundy) doesn’t even get the charm right.

Yes, remember ladies:  serial killers can be quite charming.

We might think of serial killers as “shady looking”.

So a real (successful) serial killer might attempt to appear blameless.

Nice clothes, nice hair, a clean shave…

Burke gets close to this charm.  But it’s too subtle.

Boti Bliss (as Bundy’s girlfriend) is probably the best thing about this film.

It’s hard to have scenario and mise-en-scène work together to dramatically show the psychological break which must have happened when Bundy was about 27 years old.

What is most problematic is that Ted Bundy isn’t really a horror movie.  It’s a drama.  Perhaps in order to reach a wider audience, the blood was toned down.

There’s even a camp aspect to this film which really undercuts its aspiration for greatness.

Literally, the film delves into a sort of dark humor.  It is an odd, out-of-place element every time it pops up.

Ted Bundy is a low-budget film.  Ted Bundy the personage was of such complex psychic energy that he (and his victims) deserved a more dedicated production.

I would therefore have to describe Matthew Bright’s directorial effort as uninspired.

At least they could have gotten the color of Bundy’s VW Beetle right.

The call center was brilliant (yes, Ted Bundy was an operator for a suicide hotline), but even more artful (if one is looking for such cinematic threads) is that he worked for a government agency in the state of Washington while said agency was looking for girls that (unbeknownst to them) HE had kidnapped.

In an interesting twist of fate, Bundy appears to have murdered a girl with the last name of Manson (although her remains were never recovered).  Donna Gail Manson was a 19-year-old student at The Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington.  She left her dorm to attend a jazz concert on campus and was never seen again.

Bundy was an extremely-failed law school student.  This was very troubling for him.

Bundy worked his way from Washington and Oregon down through Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.

Ted Bundy is not clear in delineating that Bundy was stringing along two women (in relationships) at once [all while killing and raping other young women].

The scenario or metteur en scène failed to exploit this subplot.  It was, rather, inserted hesitatingly as a sort of afterthought.

The film misses another crucial detail.  While Bundy was in Utah, he was baptized as a Mormon.  [The church later excommunicated him.]

I must credit the filmmakers for getting the “rape kit” right (in comparison to a photo of Bundy’s own such collection of items).

But I must protest again.  Bundy was a photographer.  Sure, they were Polaroids…of people he’d killed.  But how does that detail escape a creation in a field bound up with the ontology of the image for so long?

The failure, then, was that our director could not imagine himself as Ted Bundy.  In all other areas of life (perhaps besides criminology), that would be a blessing.  But as a filmmaker framing history, it’s a curse.

Plaster of Paris.  Monmartre.  Bundy’s fake casts.

Arm in a sling.  Crutches.

“All warfare is based on deception.”

 

-PD

 

 

#6 Mr. Bean Rides Again [1992)

This one is darn near perfect.

And I needed it.

After an all-nighter devoted to a Power Point presentation, this got a hearty laugh from me throughout.

We really see Bean’s dark humour start coming to the fore here.

Likewise, we start to realize by now that Bean’s middle name must certainly be “Ingenuity”.

But his genius is a sort of Rube Goldberg variety.

For Bean, it’s all about the process…the journey.

It must be:  he seems to miss his destination an overwhelming majority of the time.

Whether he makes it to the beach or not is immaterial.

It’s that he starts off by packing six cans of Heinz Baked Beans.

No can opener.

Just the beans, thank you very much.

For those of us in America, this makes less sense without a bit of experience.

My one and only trip to Great Britain was an eye-opener.

The English eat beans for breakfast!

Not only that, but some sautéed mushrooms and maybe a boiled tomato.

Sausage and a rasher of bacon.

And eggs:  runny as Usain Bolt.

It all mixes together into a mélange of heartiness.

THAT is a true English breakfast!

A working-man’s meal.

Ahh, I miss those days.

So short and fleeting.

But with Mr. Bean, I am back in the magical mundane of English society.

The Royal Mail.

The politeness.

The grasp of my mother tongue.

Feeling rather “poorly”…

Yes, a glorious grasp on the language.

Of course, I could listen to the lads in Oasis talk all day long.

High and low.

And the Midlands.

God save the Queen!

We mean it, man 😉

 

-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

A fost sau n-a fost? [2006)

It took me a long time.  To come back to Romania.  Country I’ve never visited.  But in film.

I do not know which Romanian film I saw first.  It may have been 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

It may have been The Way I Spent the End of the World.

You can read my praise for those two perfect films here on my site.

But let me just say that I am honored to finally review what I consider the third perfect Romanian film:

12:08 East of Bucharest.

The Romanian title translates directly as “It was or was not?”

Perhaps a little massaging would render the phrase more like “Was it or wasn’t it?”

And so what is this Hamletesque sentence driving at?

That is the question!

The revolution.  The Romanian Revolution.

In a particular town (Vaslui) was there a revolution or wasn’t there?

While this may sound like a rather dry premise, let me assure you that director Corneliu Porumboiu proves himself to be a master on the order of his countrymen Cristian Mungiu and Cătălin Mitulescu.

Porumboiu is helped by the fantastic acting of three stellar performers.

Mircea Andreescu plays the character Emanoil Piscoci.  Andreescu’s comic timing as the awkward Mr. Piscoci is one of the defining elements of this film.

Also indispensable is Ion Sapdaru as Professor Manescu.  Sapdaru’s desperation and body language also make this film the timeless gem that it is.

Though we may not completely sympathize with his brusque character, Teodor Corban does an admirable job portraying the unifying (and polarizing) Virgil Jderescu.

Finally, I cannot leave out the small-but-pithy contribution of the excellent George Guoqingyun.

[we now interrupt this horribly boring review to bring you the point]

The point?

Black humor.  Bleak humor.  Dark humor.

The town…looks as shitty as my town.  My neighborhood.

There aren’t any explosions.  No CGI.

No superheroes.  In fact, there’s not even a pretty girl with whom to fall in love.

That’s reality right there.  Verismo.

As the snow falls on Vaslui I feel the same desperation I feel on a daily basis.

The cracked concrete of the apartment buildings.  The sad roofs.  From above.

The band is a little out of tune.  Desafinado.  I love them.

This film isn’t like the oblivion of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.  It doesn’t have a blooming flower of hope in its heart like The Way I Spent the End of the World.

But it shares with those films a country and a particular way of looking at the world.  Show the bad stuff.

The difference here is, “Show the bad stuff…and then laugh a little.”

A little.

It will still make you cry.

No, it’s not a calculated Italian confection.

This is a beautifully sloppy film.

It’s films such as this which make me push on–which make me keep writing.  I keep hoping.

Porumboiu…your crappy world gives me hope in my crappy world.  Thank you.

-PD