Brooklyn [2015)

I do believe my tear ducts are sore on account of this film.

Some writing will be meaningful, and some meaningless (depending on the audience).

Don’t you keep anything for yourself?

Very little…

Because I believe in the beauty of people…out there…in the vast world…the goodness of people…in heart and in soul.

It’s like Titanic without the shipwreck.

((lachrymal vases))

Ireland should be very proud of Saoirse Ronan.

And so should The Bronx.

From Howth and environs to Jerzy Kosiński’s 1982 masterpiece novel Pinball.

I have written a great deal about Saoirse in the past.

She is my favorite actress working in film.

[Thora Birch needs some gigs.  Kat Dennings needs to ditch 2 Broke Girls or CBS needs to enter the Hulu joint venture.  Anamaria Marinca and Dorotheea Petre need gigs.  Myriem Roussel:  where are you?  And finally Adèle Exarchopoulos:  you are on the right track!]

But Saoirse Ronan is unique among my favorite actresses for a variety of reasons.

Brooklyn gives her a chance to employ her Irish accent–to accentuate rather than mask it.

Quite frankly, this is a brilliant film!

John Crowley did a masterful job as director.

Emory Cohen is really good herein.

Julie Walters is hilarious!

Fiona Glascott is darn-near perfect.

But this whole thing is really about Saoirse Ronan.

John Crowley surrounded her with an older style of filmmaking.

It fits the story snugly.

Saoirse shines through like no other actress.

She is a ruby with the hardness of a diamond.

Etching her name into film history at the young age of 22.

Hollywood is not dead as long as she continues to get the starring roles she deserves.

 

-PD

Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. [1967)

Something draws me to Eastern Europe.  I blame Romania.  Thank you Romania!  Yes, there was something about the ambiance which director Cristian Mungiu conjured up in 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile) which has stayed with me for a long time.

Really, it’s a rather mundane part.  Near the top of the film.  The goddess Anamaria Marinca traipses down the hall to find some soap…and cigarettes.  The scene is a college dormitory in communist Romania (pre-December 1989).  Girls in one room chat about beauty products.  There seems to be a good bit of bartering going on.  Marinca is mainly uninterested.  Looking for a certain kind of soap (if I remember correctly).  On the way back to her room she stops off at the room of a foreign student (non-Romanian) who sells cigarettes and gum and stuff.  The whole film she is searching for Kent cigarettes (a few mentions of this brand).  Not surprisingly, there are no Kents to be had in the dorm.  She settles for something else.  Perhaps.  I don’t know.

She stops and admires some kittens which someone has taken in.

It is astonishingly real.  On par with Roberto Rossellini.

Indeed, it might be said that all New Waves (from the nouvelle vague to the Romanian New Wave) have their birth in the neorealist films of Rossellini.

But Mungiu added a new wrinkle.

Marinca.  [The goddess of whom I spoke.]

Marinca is unglamorous.  No one is glamorous in 4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile.  We get the impression that it is the waning days of Ceaușescu’s reign.

Times are tough.  The policies of the state haven’t worked out so well.  It bears some resemblance to a prison.  Material items take the place of money (reminiscent of cigarettes as currency in jails).

What I have yet to define in this article is “goddess”.  What do I mean by that?

Well, I’m glad you asked!  Marinca (particularly in this film) is a goddess to me because she represents the opposite of the typical American woman in the year 2015.  Her beauty is her soul.  Her beauty is her loyalty to her roommate and friend Găbița.  Her beauty is her dedication to acting.  She is completely immersed in her unglamorous role…and it is eye-watering.

I have mentioned a similar impression (which further solidified my admiration for Romanian films) I got from watching Dorotheea Petre in The Way I Spent the End of the World (Cum mi-am petrecut sfârşitul lumii).  This masterpiece by director Cătălin Mitulescu preceded Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning film by about a year (2006).  I was again struck by another goddess of film (Petre) who, with the help of her auteur, created a character also in direct opposition to the meretricious, vacuous ideal of American womanhood in the 21st century.

And so it is that we finally come to the film under consideration:  Душан Макавејев‘s Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator.  Dušan Makavejev is Serbian.  Out of deference to his country I have listed his name in Cyrillic script.  Likewise, the title of the film (at the top) is in Serbo-Croatian.  It is a grey area about which I am not completely informed.  Suffice it to say that Croatia seems to generally use Roman letters (as opposed to the Serbian usage of Cyrillic).  It is a bit like the distinction (and writing differences) between Urdu and Hindi [which I have heard described as essentially the same language, but with two different writing systems].

I prefaced this article on Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. with my own backstory concerning Eastern European cinema because it is relevant to my approach going forward.

Before coming to this, my first Yugoslav (1967) film, I opened up the can of worms which is Czech cinema by reviewing Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky).  Jiří Menzel’s sexually-charged film poem from the previous year (1966) was a major revelation for me.  And so it is that Dušan Makavejev’s bittersweet confection shares more than just a communist framing with Menzel’s aforementioned erotic portrait.

Yes, Ljubavni slučaj ili tragedija službenice P.T.T. is about our old film-school standbys:  sex and death.  I can never combine those two words (in the context of film) without remembering the ridiculously funny scene of Jim Morrison at UCLA screening his student film in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991). 

The fictional Morrison, then, would be trying to hop on a nonfictional bandwagon represented by the likes of Menzel and Makavejev.  Morrison’s time at UCLA (1964-1965) not only coincided with the staggered births of “new waves” around the world (particularly in Europe), but also occurred while Morrison’s father (US Navy Rear Admiral [RADM] George Stephen Morrison) was the commanding officer of a carrier division involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Jim Morrison lived fast.  Entered UCLA in 1964.  Graduated with an undergraduate degree in film in 1965.  Was dead by 1971.  But those years in between…  It’s no wonder Jim had an Oedipal complex (evident in the song “The End” [1966/1967]) when considering his father was involved in false-flagging the U.S. into a suicidal war against communism.  What a disgrace…

No, the real hero in the family was not RADM Morrison, but rather Jim.  He turned on the dream-switches of so many kids.  To put it quite bluntly, he was part of the counterculture in America which caused kids to start giving a fuck about the world and politics and geopolitics and confirmed charades (frauds, shams, etc.) like the Gulf of Tonkin “incident”.  Such a sanitary and slippery word:  incident.

It fits perfectly, in that there was no incident.

But while Morrison the Younger had gone off into Brechtian pop-rock, Serbian director Makavejev was busy making Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator.  It is equally stunning, for its medium, as “The End”.

Sex needs beauty.  A really luscious film like this needed Ева Рас (Eva Ras).  She is a bit like Jitka Zelenohorská’s character in Closely Watched Trains…mischievous, bewitching…  But there is one great difference between Ras and Zelenohorska:  Ras is a blond.

Though our film is in black and white, it is clear that Ras’ silky hair is rather fair (a detail which would not have escaped Hitchcock).  It must be said, however, that Makavejev did not give in to the easy femme fatale portrayal when it came to filming Ras.  Izabela (Ras) is a complex individual.  The film tells us that she is Hungarian.  She is different…other.  She needs sex.  She is passionate.

All the same, her portrayal by Ras is poetic and tender.  Really, what we are seeing here is a tentative feminism expressed by Makavejev which would become a thundering symphony of women’s liberation in Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. 

And it is good.  It is good for men to see these types of films.  We men idolize and reify women in the West, but we don’t often enough stop to really observe the trials of womankind.

In the best spirit of socialism, this film has something for everyone…men, women…ok, maybe not children.

Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator is really an intense film.  If you have seen (and made it through) Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (a film I, incidentally, once made the mistake of showing at a party), then you’ll be alright.  For those faint of heart (I generally fall into that category), there are a couple of rough moments in this film (in the context of criminology).

In all, I am very proud and happy to have seen my first Serbian movie.  As a resident of San Antonio (and fan of the San Antonio Spurs), I feel it gives me a better glimpse into the life of one of my favorite basketball players Бобан Марјановић (Boban Marjanović).  I highly recommend this film…and Go Spurs Go 🙂

 

-PD

Je vous salue, Marie [1985)

Jean-Luc Godard has, in my opinion, made five perfect films.  Chronologically, this is the second of those five.

The first was 23 years earlier.  In 1962, Vivre sa vie let a 22-year-old Anna Karina shine as never before.  After a proverbial 40 days in the deserts of Varèse-like experimentation, Godard emerged to string together a series of films which paved the way for the style in which he continues to direct till this day.  Nevertheless, Je vous salue, Marie towers above the “middle quartets” which precede it.  Truly, this is one of the finest films ever to be made.

It is also a particularly difficult film to review as its history is laden with controversy.  Godard, ever the rebel, chose to retell the story of the Virgin Mary in a modern setting.  No doubt the sincerity of Godard was misinterpreted by many Catholics as blasphemy.

The key to understanding this film is watching the whole thing.  If you are offended, try to make it to the end.  Perhaps the method of storytelling will then make more sense.

It must, however, be admitted that Godard’s take on the Annunciation and birth of Jesus is highly mystical.  It is like the music of Olivier Messiaen.  Dissonance is a gift from God.  To hear the works of Messiaen is to hear devotion expressed in a highly unique way.  My guess is that the great French Catholic composer might have appreciated Godard’s timeless creation under review.  Perhaps even the current Pope Francis might sympathize with the heartfelt offering of Godard.

In 1985, this film was positively scandalous.  What a shame…

Continuing with our musical history lesson, one must only consider the great Handel (composer of Messiah).  Handel was reputedly able to curse proficiently in German, Italian, and English.  Handel was not a saint, yet he composed a tremendous amount of sublime religious music (including the aforementioned oratorio).

It makes me wonder about the great artists like Michelangelo (whose Creation of Adam graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).  Was Michelangelo a particularly pious man?  I have no clue.  But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was colorful in ways other than with his palette.

But Godard committed the greatest sin.  He let life enter his art.  God forbid that life and praise for the divine coexist in a single creation!

But let us return.  This was Myriem Roussel’s film.  It is the finest performance by an actress not named Anamaria Marinca or Dorotheea Petre ever committed to film.  Saoirse Ronan is still waiting for the right vehicle.  Hanna was frighteningly close.  Going back further I would nominate Lauren Bacall, but her range was curtailed somewhat by typecasting.

And so Myriem Roussel.  Godard.  The sublime.  Every shot in this film is perfect.  Every element is precisely placed.  It is intelligent design embodied.

I cannot begin to scratch the surface of this gem.  My lead is no match for this diamond.  No matter how much I scribble, it will not be enough.

This film will endure long after everything is gone.  Je vous salue, Jean-Luc.

-PD

4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile [2007)

This is “the big one” of the Romanian New Wave.  Winner of the Palme d’Or, it was director Cristian Mungiu’s second feature film.  The overriding perspective is radically and beautifully feminist (I say that as a man not well-versed in feminist literature or theory).  Over the course of 113 minutes we see the lengths to which friends go for one another.  In this case, the generosity is mostly one-way.

Anamaria Marinca gives one of the finest performances in cinematic history as Otilia.  It is a much pithier version of Dorotheea Petre’s role in The Way I Spent the End of the World.  What these two actresses bring to the screen is a representation of the female in diametric opposition to the typical young American woman.  These characters are not stylish, nor selfish.  They are not shallow.  Their lives are hard and I can relate to that.  These actresses make me fall in love with their characters.

Marinca embodies her role to a degree which is beyond extraordinary.  Mungiu’s direction is fantastic, but Marinca makes the whole thing possible through her onscreen dedication.  This is certainly one of the finest films ever made and it thankfully sheds light not only on the little-known Romanian film industry, but also on the harrowing tribulations of being female.

This is a pinnacle of synergy…where acting perfection and directorial excellence come together.  I simply cannot do this film justice…no matter how many words I throw at the page.

-PD

Cum mi-am petrecut sfârşitul lumii [2006)

I learned early on to care for the little guys.  Or:  this film destroys me.  How I spent the end of the world…  I remember seeing this in a dingy room spending my last five dollars to have it on demand.  It is as good as I remember.  If they ever send another one of those time capsules into space…you know, the ones with music by Bach and such…they should reconsider this film as one of the most touching pieces of art humanity has ever produced.

Sometimes the little guy is a long, lanky guy…and so it is in this movie.  Andrei (Cristian Văraru) is like a Romanian Napoleon Dynamite.  But this is no comedy.  Imagine living in a country where emigration is forbidden.  That’s a big way of saying, “you can’t leave.”  No exit.

Văraru is so good in this that it is unreal.  Imagine the dorkiest kid you ever went to school with…picked on, beaten, made fun of…  Well, Andrei is determined to get out of Romania.  This is communist Romania…in the year(s) leading up to the fall of Ceaușescu.  Andrei is the new kid in town as well.  He shows up with a police escort.  The military police dump his family’s stuff onto the unpaved, rainy road and he starts life anew as the neighbor of Eva (Dorotheea Petre). 

[At this point I must pause and catch my breath, because Petre’s acting is one of the most remarkable phenomena I have ever seen.  Thank you.]

Dorotheea starts off as an average girl…in fact, literally the girl next door…soon enough.  She has a sort of jock, soldier boyfriend.  They go to the communist school.  The idiot guy sneaks her out of class like a luckless James Dean.  As they are halfway making out, he kicks over a statue (bust) of Ceaușescu .  Dorotheea ends up taking the blame.  She doesn’t squeal, but the dude is a cop’s son.

And thus life changes for Dorotheea.  She is removed from the communist youth party by her comrades; her colleagues.  Keep in mind, there is no choice in the matter as far as being a member or not.  As she won’t admit to a crime she didn’t commit, she is moved to a school for rejects and losers…a little reeducation.

There she meets her new neighbor Andrei.  He’s not like the other dudes.  He’s thin as a rail and has gigantic lips.  He’s weird.

They become friends and she learns that Andrei is planning to escape from Romania.  He is going to cross the Danube.  There’s no waltzes of Viennese blue in these waters…this is the icy Danube of totalitarian government.  He agrees to take Dorotheea along.  They train.  In perhaps the most touching (and certainly the most visceral) scene, the two practice acclimating to freezing waters by immersing themselves in an old bathtub filled with floating ice.  Andrei even rigs up flotation vests using old coffee cans.

And so one night the militia (secret service) show up at Andrei’s house.  He’s one step ahead.  He will have to leave now if he’s going to leave at all.  The two set off and hop a train.  It is an amazing story of the desire to be free.  They finally arrive at the crossing point.  Armed guards watch the river with automatic weapons…ready to shoot any who try to escape from this utopia.

As they are halfway across the river, Dorotheea turns back.  Fear?  No.  She remembers her adorable little brother…one of the ones too young to have this chance.

Timotei Duma plays Lalalilu (Lilu for short).  It is for him that Dorotheea returns to the grey monotony of Eastern European socialism.  Andrei makes it to Italy and sends pictures, a denim jacket and Toblerone.  I’ve never seen a girl look so sad while eating chocolate in all my life.  As you might notice, I’m not too worried about dangling modifiers at this point either.

And so Dorotheea soldiers on.  She even gets back together (somewhat) with the cop’s son because he is supplying medicine for her sick little brother.  Poor kid is always getting fevers…  But the sadness is in her eyes…and her first sexual experience turns out to be just a momentary diversion from her horribly drab, drab life.

And then it happens.  It happens in more than a few Romanian New Wave films…because it is the moment:  the fall of communism.  Dorotheea and Lilu and the parents hug and dance around like a Matisse painting while verbalizing the moment…”we’re free!!!”

This is darn near a perfect film.  This is a film for the little guys.  This is a film for the forgotten corners of the world.  This is a film for people with drab, drab lives who feel like prisoners–who have no dream other than the hope of managing a smile once in a while.  Cătălin Mitulescu made a piece of art to be cherished and hidden and shared and preserved.  This is why I love cinema.

 

-PD