Rozmarné léto [1968)

I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass.

This one starts out slowly.

Too long at the first location.

The river bathhouse.

The dread of boredom begins to creep in.

No girl.  No gun.

Until Jana Preissová makes her first appearance.

It was unbearable.

A rainy summer.

Every day the same as the last.

In a small town.

A closed circle.

But like Fellini, the circus comes to town.

Thank God for the circus.

Cotton candy.  شعر البنات

Is it girl’s hair?  Pink.  A one-piece pajama.

Or a pig.

It is like the sweet words of the beautiful Haneen Elhaj in Bethlehem.

Girl’s hair.

Running on the electricity of a car battery.

Spinning sugary magic.

Sandy stone (when the mirror of translate is turned upon itself).

We want to know literally what Heidegger Derrida was talking about.

And so it only took director Jiří Menzel two years to lose his voice.

It was perfection in ’66.

Ostře sledované vlaky.

That is the cynical view.

But we must realize that Menzel was literally walking a tightrope.

It’s not funny.

It’s not engaging.

It’s slow.

It’s effective.

By the end you see that Fellini is the right reference.

Capricious Summer (our film) bridges the gap between the antics of La Strada and the lovable freak show of local color that would be Amarcord (1973).

But this was 1968.

A very serious year.

The Czech and Slovak (respectively) socialist republics came into being the following year.

We know the legend.

Mai ’68.

All hell broke luce.

Even Cannes was cancelled.

[Cannescelled]

But what is a film festival compared to an invasion?

Before our Capricious Summer was the Prague Spring of 1968.

Lasting well into the summer.

And blooming well before winter had ended.

January 5 – August 21.

Then the invasion.  The Warsaw Pact countries.

Operation Danube.

Romania (and Albania), to their credit, refused to participate.

108 Czechoslovak civilians killed.

Liberalization.  Decentralization.  Democratization.

Like the beautiful Anna.  Fleeting.

Because the circus always has to pack up and leave town.

Our film.

Released May 24.  During the Prague Spring.

Pražské jaro (or jar).

Czech.  Slovak.

The only difference between my bank balance and Bill Gates’.

More zeros at the end.

Infinitely more.

Later these “Springs” would become manufactured (if they weren’t already).

Libya…

We all know about color revolutions…but the Czechs would have a textured revolution in 1989.

From velvet…we could have had the corduroy revolution (ribbed, for her pleasure), silk revolution, cotton (the revolution of our lives)…etc.

The “nonviolent” Prague Spring resulted in the deaths of 96 Soviet soldiers.

84 of them by “accident” (friendly fire?)

and the accidental/”suicide” deaths of 10 Poles.

Apparently none of the Poles died conventionally.

At least the two Bulgar soldiers killed perished from intent.

The four Hungarians all slipped on banana peels in front of Škodas.

This is the tone.

Lola Montès.

Plucking the feathers from chickens.

The chubby wife returns.

Drench the nubile.

Menzel, then, was many months ahead.

Knowing that summer would really begin when autumn usually fell.

Another 20 years before the circus returned.

 

-PD

Amarcord [1973)

This film contains everything.

As in, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

It is truly vast like the sky full of pebble stars.

There is no translation for Federico Fellini’s masterpiece Amarcord other than “I remember”.

Ah, good God:  memory!

I immediately think of George Stevens’ paean to family I Remember Mama (1948) and, of course, the king of memory Marcel Proust.

But this is Italy, not France.  And Remembrance of Things Past is a “bad” translation.  More accurate is In Search of Lost Time.

And that is exactly what Fellini is doing here.

Trying to reclaim the past.

Remember this?  Remember that?

It is, I am guessing, a conversation with himself.

A rumination.

It is a small town (or at least it feels that way).

And we have everything.

A blind accordionist straight out of Tom Waits’ dreams.

A femme fatale by the name of Gradisca (“take what you want”).  [Played by Magali Noël.]

We miss the translation now and then.  Perhaps the Romagnol dialect?

That explains our title Amarcord.

I remember.

“Jadis, si je me souviens bien…”

A season in hell.

From hell.

And yet a season of beauty as well.

Uncle Teo (Uncle Uncle) says it best…up a tree…over and over and over and over again:

Voglio una donna!

Voglio una donna!

[like John Lennon writhing in pain on “Mother” or “Cold Turkey”]

Voglio una donna!

“I want a woman!”

Each incantation different.

The 42-year-old Teo up a tree…on a day out in the country…on leave from the asylum.

And a dwarf nun makes it all better.

It’s not what you think.

When you look at the cover for the film, is says SEX SEX SEX.

Sure, there’s sex.

But it’s very matter-of-fact.

This isn’t a film with gratuitous nudity (only one brief nude scene).

Sex is woven into the film.

It’s alright to talk about sex.  1973.  Italy.

Fellini is a big shot by now.

It is art.  It is life.  It is artistic expression.

Everyone is portrayed lovingly.  Everyone is subjected to the same pimple-precise criticism.

Films don’t get any more real than this.

HOWEVER…

Fellini introduces an element of magical realism here and there.  [The magic is due in no small part to Nino Rota’s shimmering soundtrack.]

Sure, it serves as a bit of a distancing technique (Brecht?)…a defense mechanism, perhaps.

This material is too raw; too personal.

It is TOO sad!  One has to laugh because of how sad it is.

And that is the tragicomedy which lived on in the great Roberto Benigni’s comedies and the grand-slam of naïveté:  Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.

And so, to understand these latter-day…saints(?)…we must examine the old masters.  We must get used to saying Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (the real title)…because cinema is barely a hundred years old, really.  And so, we must look to Fellini as akin to Giotto.

Pros-pet-ti-va!

We get so many perspectives here…

It’s one of the few times AMPAS has gotten something right.  This film.  Oscar for Best Foreign Language.  1974.  Look at the list.  Lots of misses.

Back to Amarcord.

Beauty goes away.  The big fish in the small pond.

But the blind accordion player endures.

Vulpina (Josiane Tanzilli) the nymphomaniac fleshes out the family portrait.

Ah ah ah…

It’s no use.

This film is all about detail.

There is no use recounting the endless assortment of fascinating characters who make this thing go.

You will just have to see it for yourself.

For all of its pithy naturalism, it is really a touching film.

Fellini gets every little detail right.  Such a formidable picture!

 

-PD

 

 

Deutschland im Jahre Null [1948)

The first thing film critics have to get right is the title.

Let me explain a bit.

On my site, I always list a film in its original language (to the best of my ability).

In my opinion, that is the best way of honoring the film.

So far, I have encountered the mild idiosyncrasies of Romanian, Serbo-Croat, Czech, and Polish in addition to the mind-blowing intricacy of Farsi and Japanese.

But with Deutschland im Jahre Null we are seeing a German-language film by an Italian director…sort of.

Italy has a very peculiar tradition concerning voiceovers and direct (or, conversely, indirect) sound.  It is an oddity which caught the attention of Godard in his role as film historian.

I cannot give you as erudite an explanation as my hero Jean-Luc, but suffice it to say that foreign (non-Italian) films in Italy have traditionally been overdubbed into Italian.  So, in other words, no subtitles.

This is distinct from an American viewer watching a Fellini film.  The “American” version (whether on DVD or as a film print in a theater) will be in Italian with subtitles in English.  This goes for almost all foreign-language (non-English) films marketed in the United States.

But getting back to Deutschland im Jahre Null…  It is similar to the Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer directing the French film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc…with one major difference.  Dreyer’s film was a silent one (the only French being the intertitles).  Rossellini’s Deutschland im Jahre Null is very much in German.  We are hearing German actors speak (exclusively) German dialogue.

What is most interesting is the linguistic lineage of this film.  In English, this film is known as:

Germany, Year Zero

Which is quite similar to Rossellini’s preceding masterpiece (in linguistic parallel):

Rome, Open City

To be fair, let’s consider the Italian name (the real name) of Rome, Open CityRoma città aperta.  Fine.  That is the way I recognize the film.  The true name is (in my mind) Roma città aperta.

But with Deutschland im Jahre Null we come to a very strange case.  If we do not recognize the primacy of its English title (Germany, Year Zero), and I do not, then we are directed by that great arbiter of cultural legitimacy Wikipedia to consider our options exhausted by being cognizant of the Italian title (Germania anno zero).

What is the message of this omission by English Wikipedia?  I believe the message is that Germany was (and continues to be) a null.  A zero.  A conquered culture.

We see a similar thing in the kowtowing stereotype of conquered Japan.  And though Japan might be experiencing some moderate-to-light financial troubles in recent years, Germany is by all accounts the economic powerhouse of continental Europe.  Why do I bring economics into the discussion?  Because wealthy nations are able to assert themselves.

But let us step back a bit.  Wikipedia does have some tasty morsels of information concerning this film.  If the source can be trusted, this 1948 film was not shown in Germany (the country from whence the language of the film takes its name) until 1952.  After its single screening in München (Munich), it was not heard from again within those borders until it ran on German television in 1978. 

Wow…26 years.  Either this film was grossly misunderstood, or it was understood all too well.  From my reading, this is a very pro-German document.

Rossellini was not George Stevens making concentration camp propaganda.  Roberto was making art.  The sign of art is the admission of possibilities.  Art seduces us because it is subtle.  Art does not proclaim in blanket statements.  Art does not underestimate the intelligence of the viewer.

Roberto Rossellini did something with his “war films trilogy” which seems to have been unprecedented.  The desire of neorealism was to film fiction as if it were documentary.  This fiction would be, likewise, based on reality.

But why is it, then, that we have very different views of Roberto Rossellini and Robert Flaherty?

I will tell you my guess.  Flaherty’s sin was in the framing of his presentation.  To wit, he presented his staged documentaries (take the oil industry propaganda piece Louisiana Story for instance) as if they were naturally-occurring, spontaneous documentaries. The sin, then, was his duplicitous relationship with his subjects.  He actively made his human subjects into actors.

Rossellini takes a different tack.  There is no pretense that Deutschland im Jahre Null is an ACTUAL documentary.  It merely has the feel of that medium.  Likewise, Rossellini’s use of nonprofessional actors was likely more of a precursor to Robert Bresson than a twist on Flaherty’s bizarre formula (which predated Roberto in both Nanook of the North [1922] and Man of Aran [1934]).  No, Rossellini had created something new. 

It’s not so much the films of Flaherty to which I object as it is the idea of them.  At least one of his concoctions (perhaps thanks to director F.W. Murnau) is very fine indeed:  Tabu [1931].  Flaherty and Murnau co-wrote this ostensible documentary.  Indeed, with Flaherty we come into contact with inchoate, obscure film genres such as docudrama, docufiction, fictional documentary (ethnofiction), etc. etc. etc.

Most importantly, none of what I have written here has even scratched the surface of Deutschland im Jahre Null.   What ever became of the heartrending main child actor Edmund Moeschke?  I do not know.

One thing is certain to me:  no film before Rossellini’s “war trilogy” (Roma città aperta, Paisà, and Deutschland im Jahre Null) [1945/1946/1948] takes on such politically sensitive and important topics in such a raw way.  The closest would be the socialism of Eisenstein or the humanism of Chaplin. 

It is, therefore, no wonder at all that Rossellini spawned a million “new waves” the world over.

 

-PD

 

La Strada [1954)

I must admit, dear friends, I am not feeling well.

It is probably nothing.  I tell myself.

But yet I am miserable.

And so I relate to Giulietta Masina who plays the little clown Gelsomina.

If I was not feeling so ill I would have started by saying that this is one of the finest films I have ever seen.

Truly, it is a work of art.

I cannot recount to you all of the best parts.

That is not my mission.

I don’t want to spoil the surprises.

But let me tell you a story.

It is about an “ugly” girl (or boy, as the case may be).

It is about a very poor child.  Hunger.  Misery.

But somehow the outcast has kept a smile on her face…like Harpo Marx.

And she has a hitch in her gait…like Charlie Chaplin.

And though the world is filled with sadness, she only reflects wonder.

With those big eyes.

It’s a big world.

Out here.

And so I hope I find a girl with an artichoke head like Gelsomina.

Her heart is pure.

She’s not dumb.

She just hasn’t the opportunities.

When you come from the farthest reaches of the planet.

Furthest from “civilization”…

What is your highest dream?

You only start dreaming when you hear of the outside.

The outside world.

Dancing and singing and learning a trade.

Good god, this film is brilliant…

 

-PD

Per un pugno di dollari [1964)

They say the pen is mightier than the sword.

And so we place into a single room

the greatest writer of all time

and a schmuck with a sword.

The writer has his pen…for self-defense.

But we feel the Yojimbo trappings are too antiquated (1961)

so we give the bard a typewriter…no, a laptop

and the schmuck…a gun.

Who will draw first?

For speed, it is the gun which wins (assuming the schmuck knows how to fire it).

It is a big assumption.

So, let us add some lag time…

as the schmuck experiments with the mechanics of his weapon.

And then we stop the test and replace the schmuck with a professional assassin.

By now the poet is sweating blood.

Will he hit “send” in time?

Ah, but now we have overshot the mark with our rhetoric.

So let us back up to the computing of the 1960s.

Computation #1:  Westerns are no longer in vogue.  American Westerns are the subject of ridicule in Italy.  Laughable.

Enter Sergio Leone into the equation.

A smart guy.  Sees a gap in the market.  How would Rossellini direct a Western?  Or Fellini?

Do they make revolvers that hold 8 1/2 bullets?

And who gets the half-a-bullet?

I had intended to talk about Guantanamo Bay.  Moral disgust.

But the sands of time in the Tabernas Desert are pouring away…a steady stream of grains.

And so the faceoff makes imperative that I get the most bang for my click.

Eastwood.  Leone.  Savio.  Savio?  Morricone.  Ah, that’s better.

Gian Maria Volonté (the bad guy) would go on to play in the first (and one would assume only) Marxist Western.  A subgenre which never really caught on.  The film Vent d’est (1970)–director Godard–filming location Mozambique.

Sounds too weird to be true, right?  Just don’t be fooled by Robert Enrico’s Vent d’est from 1993.

Just because a film is Franco-Swiss (like Godard, Franco-Swiss)…uh-uh, not the same thing.

But the assassin schmuck is getting the lay of the land.  I digress, I die.

I am not the worst writer to ever live.  Give me time.  I may yet claim that title.

We cannot, however, forget Marianne Koch.  So long…

Never forget a woman from Munich.  The beautiful Renate Knaup, for instance.

A double umlaut for your trouble.  Amon Düül II.  Zwei.

But time is unkind to me…merciless.

Will we reach José Calvo in time?  With our heart of iron?

Well hello Joe, what do you know?  The “Man with No Name” and Une Femme est une femme.

I’ve hardly talked about the film.  That’s what some call “no spoilers”…

But I can make no such guarantee.

Only brilliance.  Leone.  Eastwood.  As good a Western as could possibly be made.

A triumph.

If you feel your heart in your throat…your tears well up

then maybe you think of Guantanamo Bay.

Inmates list.

One by one.

No charges.

No charges.

Suicide.

No charges.

Certainly it would help to know that Abdul so-and-so knocked off an Army Ranger medic.

The medic part is no superfluous detail.

But the rest?

No charges.

No charges.

Held for three years.

No charges.

It seems, from the outside, that the war has been run by the CIA.

There are no armies to battle.

No high-value targets.  I’m not the first to comment on the ludicrous situation of a $200,000 bomb being dropped on a mud hut.

Bad guys torture.

Idiots torture.

And so Clint Eastwood does not torture.  Here.  In 1964.

If you jump down the rabbit hole you will be disgusted.

How does this in any way have to do with a Spaghetti Western?

It is the message.

We might not have a hell of a lot of time.

Find the quote by the general…about the detainees at Guantanamo who arrived with mental problems and left with “none.”

That’s rich.

I also have a bridge to sell you in Arizona.  And I’ll throw in the Seven Dwarfs as maintenance crew.

You see, it’s a hell of a lot easier to just write a film review and not worry about all this stuff.

That’s what happens in totalitarian countries.

Hang on, someone’s knocking at my door…

-PD