Comoara [2015)

It’s such a joy to return to Romania.

Not that I’ve ever been there.

Except in films.

But so you understand, no national cinema has moved me quite so much as the Romanian.

[With exception to the French.]

Iran is close.

But oh so far.

Because we don’t see Iranian movies.

Not real ones.

And on Netflix, we don’t see the history of history.

Just a recent interpretation.

And that is so often fool’s gold.

Netflix, like its dire counterpart Hulu, is heavy on Holocaust films.

This would be appropriate.

If the films were any good.

Because the Holocaust is the most important event of the past hundred years.

But the films aren’t any good.

By and large.

However, fear not:  this film does not try to take on what cannot be documented.

[see Histoire(s) du cinéma for the only good Holocaust film ever made]

No, we are after buried treasure.

Indeed, this film is listed as The Treasure on Netflix.

And I commend that streaming service for its ostensible dedication to quality foreign films.

[even if the same company has no concept of history]

If you look at the “classics” section of Netflix, you will find a paucity of titles.

This is problematic.

Last I checked Hulu (before I quit it), their “classics” section was just as bad (if not worse).

But Hulu had, for awhile, a distinct competitive advantage over Netflix (while it lasted).

The Criterion Collection.

Sure, it was not the collection in its entirety, but it was a treasure (pardon the extended metaphor) of classic films…many from countries other than the U.S. and U.K..

As I have reported previously, Hulu began to surreptitiously phase out its lost licensing (apparently) of the Criterion catalog.

Once I realized what had really happened, the damage was done.

I was out of there.

Nothing, I imagined, could be worse than the current laughable joint venture (and anemic selection) of Hulu.

And I was right.

Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

I had previously seen Netflix’ hopper.

Years ago.

It seemed very light on classic films.

And it still is.

But what Netflix lacks in historical perspective, it makes up for (marginally) with its plentiful “international” category.

And thus we come to this fine Romanian film: Comorara.

It may be incredibly naive for me to postulate thusly, but Romanian cinema is the future.

No national cinema rivals the French.

Yes, Germany has had its share of important films (especially in the silent era and soon thereafter).

But the French-language library of films which has been passed down through the “ages” is nonpareil.

Of that tradition, nothing comes even close (for me) to equaling Jean-Luc Godard’s output.

[though he was, and always will be, gloriously Swiss]

Thus, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

But there are others.

Especially those with whom Godard would have been nothing.

Jacques Becker.  Robert Bresson!  Marcel Carné.  Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Jean Cocteau.  Jean-Pierre Melville.  Jean Renoir!  Jean Rouch.  Jacques Tati.

And then there are those foreigners who worked in French (to varying extents) such as Luis Buñuel and Max Ophüls.

But the French cinema has given us other visionaries contemporaneous to Godard.

Alain Resnais.  Eric Rohmer.  François Truffaut.  These are just a few that come to mind.

And until Netflix (and even the Criterion Collection itself) gets beyond to utter genius of Abbas Kiarostami, we will know little of the Iranian cinema beyond its undisputed master.

[Indeed, Netflix has not even broached the true cinema of Iran by featuring Kiarostami…as far as I know.  It is solely the Criterion Collection which is to thank for exposing people to films like Taste of Cherry and Close-Up.]

But I must give Netflix their due.

They have made available the very fine Romanian film under review.

Yet, before we delve into that…I would like to delineate exactly what makes Romania different as far as being “the future” of cinema (in relation to, say, Iran…for instance).

The simple answer is that there are multiple genius (genius!) directors working in Romania.

They may not (certainly not) get the budgets they deserve, but their output is of the highest, most sublime quality.

And, sadly, Abbas Kiarostami is no longer among the living.

But it bears mentioning the auteurs of Romanian “new wave” cinema.

Cristi Puiu. Cătălin Mitulescu.  Cristian Mungiu.

And the director of Comoara:  Corneliu Porumboiu.

The Treasure must not have been an easy film to make.

Indeed, the very end of the film evinces a directorial sigh of relief (if I am interpreting it correctly).

Let me just say this:  nothing much happens in this film.

Indeed, this might be the type of film which illustrates the different way in which film critics view films (as opposed to most moviegoers).

Not to mince words, my guess is that most people (98%?) would find The Treasure boring.

But I loved it!

The defining characteristic of this film is tension.

But it is not the type of tension which strings us along in a film such as Rear Window.

No.

The tension here is far more mundane in comparison.

And yet, there is real inspiration at work in Porumboiu’s mise-en-scène here.

Toma Cuzin is our brooding “star”.

And he is very, very good.

But his “foil” is the Dudley-Moore-lookalike Adrian Purcărescu.

Cuzin is calm.  And yet, the dreamer…

One might even think “gullible”.

Purcărescu is frazzled.  Cynical.  Either a conman of a saint.  Hard to tell…

But the fellow who pulls it all together is Corneliu Cozmei.

He’s the man with the metal detectors.

Yes, two…

[this is a treasure hunt, after all!]

Cozmei is caught between the personalities of Cuzin and Purcărescu.

And yet he’s not just an innocent bystander (so to speak).

He may be the independent party in this whole treasure hunt, but he’s smack dab in the middle of a very tense situation.

Bogart fans will not be far off if they faintly recall the Sturm und Drang of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But most of all…it’s just good to be back in Romania.

To see a half-lit, grey day.

To see the funny looking cars.

To notice all the details of a culture I truly love.

-PD

Le Procès de Jeanne d’Arc [1962)

For the weary traveller.

Travailleur.

I commit myself like Joan Miró.

With fourteen flutes.

It is well that you wrote it out.

Bass clarinet.

Sparkles in the sidewalk.

Like Tesla signature red.

Real blood, real tears.

No more falcon wing doors.

But merely the holy crucifix.

From Alan Vega to Nick Cave.

Robert Bresson’s masterpiece The Trial of Joan of Arc.

Can’t say I didn’t tell you.

Saxophones.

Glockenspiel.

It was a proud day.

And the prodigal has returned.

I am no genius.

It is not for me to say.

French horns.

Oh…Mélisande.

Why did you forsake me?

No, it was to be God’s will.

That I should suffer more.

And again.

And double.

Triple.

To see the radiant face which looks through me invisibly.

I cannot be hurt anymore.

I am like the autumn leaves.

The tugboat.

I sleep in the parking lot of the church.

Forever.

 

-PD

Riso Amaro [1949)

Robert Bresson said, “I believe in cinema.”

In English?  Like that?  I don’t know.

But it is truly the thought which counts here.

Because I believe in cinema.

Cinema.

Maybe it’s my favorite word.

My religion.

The great omnist hymn of all lands.

Of all the hands which have pitched in to turn the wheels of the mind.

And so this film, Bitter Rice, is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Not because it is flowery and seductive. [It’s not flowery.]

Not because there are perfumed stars in diamonds. [There’s no perfume.]

But because it is real.

As real as cinema gets.

Not the hyperreal of Harmony Korine’s Gummo.

Not even the transparent real of documentary footage.

But a real which is uniquely Italian.

To say neorealism is to cheapen the whole creation.

This is a masterpiece by director Giuseppe De Santis.

You must live through the rain to understand it.

You must have had no hope to fathom the slop.

You must wade in de water.

Because you are seeing Italian opera.

There’s no speech in the field.

No talking.

Workers are in the prison of labor.

Same kinds of rules.

But if you sing, that’s tolerated.

And so it all must be sung.  In the fields.

Puccini famously bragged about his facility.

Give him a grocery list, he said.

And Willie Sutton had his hygiene and motivators covered.

Even if he never uttered the famous phrase.

He ENJOYED robbing banks.

And, yes, that was where the money was.

And so the field workers not only display humanism.

Not only embody feminism.

But engage in a little triage worthy of Sutton’s law.

Taking the poor girl to the embankment.

[They’re all poor.  This is 1949 Italy.]

It’s not psychotic fugue, but psychogenic fugue.

Fugue state.

Thuringia.

The Axis Powers played a very bad game of chess.

Stretto was the shit hitting the fan.

“Ride of the Valkyries” mixed with heavy artillery mixed with vocalizations of agony.

Ristretto is what you get at Starbucks.

But, dear friends, don’t stop after the first half.

Let it finish.

Let it bleed.

Shine a light.

For Silvana Mangano.

Sylvania.  Someone has etched the word “hope” into the light bulb’s socket.

In the Schwarzwald.

The deep eerie mystery of the woods.  And Hitler’s aerie.

[Godwin golden mean]

34 21 13 8

almost Fibonacci but ending

aND nothing more Italian that an actress named Doris Dowling.

But that’s the way it went.

Direct descendent of opera verismo.

Our old favorites Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

But Netflix hasn’t gotten at the heart of what this means.

“Strong female lead” or some such rubbish.

Nice try…

But Riso Amaro blows all those venal pigeonholing strategies out of the water.

Cinema is not my God.

Cinema is my religion.

 

-PD

Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut [1956)

I wanted to write last night, but the Internet fell asleep.

This is one of my favorite films ever.

But I needed to rewatch it.  As I always do.  Every movie.

Real fear.

Real danger.

A long project.

Extracting yourself from the superjail.  The prison planet.

A Man Escaped.  We have it easy in English.

But witness the fullness of the French title.

It speaks to care.  Rope.  Hooks.  Months.  Of planning.

And it all started with a spoon.

Tin nor aluminum will do.  Neither.

We must wait for iron.

Steel?

Iron.  Hardness.

It’s World War II.

Today.  World War III.

And for the CIA, World War IV.

Chemists.  Physicists.  And now mathematicians.

Computer scientists.  Statisticians.

No, that’s post-War.  Japan.

But for now we are locked in a room of our own making.

If we can only get through the door.

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

Which isn’t to say, taps.

We must succeed at this chess game.

Playing against an adversary with few weaknesses.

Multiple layers of defense and surveillance.

Doors and locks and gates and bars.

And silence.

It is the silence which will betray us.

And so, Dr. No, we must slip our shoes off for a little putting practice.

It is a real battle.

CIA vs. FBI.  Refereed by the NSA.

NGA vs. NRO.  Chantilly lace vs. a pretty face.

A girl and a gun.

ASIS vs. DIGO.  Or dingo.

Rich.

ASCAP vs. BM.I

But let me back up to the kebab organization known as SHISH.

Apologies to Belgium.

But it is worth noting SV/SE vs. CSIS/SCRS.

Scissors.  Suckers.  A scissor.

A pair of scissors.

He would need more leverage.  The most overused word in business.

And as meaningless as “innovation”.

What they mean is “interesting”…that’s innovation.

And by false flag, “not what it seems”.

Dear NEADS in Rome (NY) uttered collectively the phrase of Baudrillard’s lifetime:

“Is this real-world or exercise?”

But we have remembered it as simulation.

Going over his escape a million times in his head.

With poor reconnaissance.

Except the dead would-be escapee.

“He’s practically free.”

“No one’s practically free.”

Jessica Lange, incredulous.

But she’s not in this movie.

She’s headed to Roswell.

Named after Yale graduate Roswell Rudd.

A little town in New Mexico.

Out of time.  Mind.

CSE vs. GCHQ.  Or CSEC.

An animal with five eyes has no competition.

Within himself.  The owls are not what they seem.

Fifth wheel.  Hokey pokey.

Valuable antipodes.

And RCMP vs. FBI.  Horses.  Or moose.

Hippopotamus.  POTUS.  Not amused.

DND seems incorrect.

What was Fontaine in for?

And Jost?

DIPOLCAR.  Position.

MSS vs. RSS.  Seems so simple.  Really simple!  And so complex.

Pledged ΚΥΠ.

But the division.

ÚZSI vs. UZI.  Sounds dangerous.

With PET we get to canned milk or breaking wind.

A lovable Lego intelligence agency.

Of one.

Just one?

KaPo vs. capo.  Vs. ligatura.

Hitchcock’s rope vs. Bresson’s rope.

For this is Robert Bresson.  The movie.  Under consideration.

SUPO vs. sumo.

But we really get fired up by DGSE.

And it’s only appropriate.

DGSE vs. BND.

The only war which has ever been fought.

Das Fenster vs. la fenêtre.

The most delicate element of escape.

A crack in the breeze.

SIN vs. voodoo of all sorts.

GRLS.  Girls?  Gorillas?  Scalded ape?

When you need headache relief quick.  Choose BAINTELKAM!

A Buddhist temple with a surrounding population 95% Muslim.

Amazing.  Elton John.

MOIS.  Ooh…  Now we are getting serious.

Putting the me in month.

And of course “the Institute” (moving alphabethically).

Lisping along.

How will you project your escape.  Like Desargues.

And Poncelet.

The movie camera.

Go directly to jail.

Whale song matryoshka.

AISE.  Must be the coolest.  Standard issue Ferraris.  And meals in Modena.

Like Matthew Broderick’s brief moment of cool in Election.

Gid Tanner and his Skillet-Lickers…coming to the Kingdom of Jordan…real soon.

SREL.  Sreally?  That’s SRAL.  Like SalvaDali.

CISEN as sí señor.

Not quite hermeneutics.

FIB vs. SIN.

PST.  Masters of recruitment.

And FOST vs. SIE.

The big daddy ISI vs. ailleurs.

The canal of SENIS.  Central American zipper.

Could have been Lake Nicaragua.

AW 🙂 Georges Sand approaching Chopin with flowers.

He was a woman.  Mr. Sandman.

SIRP vs. usurp.

SVR vs. GRU. [now we’re making some sense]

And DEVGRU vs. GRU.

GIP is priceless.  One letter from perfection.

VOA vs. VOA.

NISA vs. NASA.  And the incomparable skills of PIS.

In joint operations with SENIS.

CITCO vs. Citgo.

Must it be?  It must be.  It MUST be.

And back to our MI6 and DIA and ONI.

These are the thoughts of a man in jail.

Where having a pencil is punishable by firing squad.

And so he builds his hope on escape.

From the mundane.

He is a true soldier.

Though he be stripped of any recognition.

Wisdom is that final step.  On a journey which started with mere data.

 

-PD

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne [1945)

Bresson has been slaying me recently.

First Balthazar, and now this.

They are similar.

Films which seem boring.

You watch them once.  They wash over you.  Very little effect.

And then you are stranded at the end of the world.

Just you and Górecki’s third symphony.

Yes, you pack away some life beneath your belt.

You ingest the poison trickery of the world.

Et voila!

The film comes to life.

All the Frenchies start out looking the same in black and white.

You furiously follow the subtitles.

But the film presents meaning the second time around.

First were the forms.

A donkey.  Some sluts.  Bad memory.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is so forgettable the first time around.

All we remember is the Bois.

Conflated with some lines of Céline’s Voyage…

But this is the real deal.

Maria Casarès was like the Alida Valli of The Paradine Case here.

Indeed, it just may be that Hitchcock lifted the essence of his criminally underrated film (no pun intended) from Bresson’s minor masterpiece of two years previous.

Whatever the case may be, Casarès is absolutely diabolical as Hélène.

Revenge is a dish best served.

Simmer, reduce, garnish, and serve.

Revenge revenge revenge.

And yet we feel for Hélène.

And so in the grand mystery of the spheres we wonder, “What is God if not an impossible camera angle?”

A crumpled note.

Our hearts torn to shreds.

And always raining.

Like some goddamned B-movie with a thunder sheet in the wings.

If I didn’t hook you at first, then you’re not still with me.

HOW TO BLOG:

brevity.

The oppression of Twitter.

So we must think of the greatest tricks of all time.

The recent Microsoft Tay psyop.  To make Trump and his followers look stupid.

As if he needs any help.

But a very real conspiracy none the less.

For some events are so transparent.

And some pure whores like  Agnès (Elina Labourdette) have that bullshit detection meter straight out of The Shining.

Preternatural, if not supernatural.

We might think we’re being tricked.

Too good to be true IS.

“Deceit deceives itself.”  Guy Debord.  D.N. Smith.

It is a very delicate story.

The crystallization of immense pain.

Vanity, yes.

But also human nature.  Survival of the ego.

A hurt so deep as to propel plans.  Special plans.  Operations.

Some countries blow up their own cities.

The old “self-inflicted wound” ploy…as Clouseau would call it.

Orwell was very clear about this in 1984.  The government is firing rockets at its own people.

Because it is only natural to assume an outside enemy as culpable, the true authors slip by.

And as the narrative becomes codified and accepted…and everyone has come back to the NFL, and hockey, and soccer…then the beast can’t be disturbed.

The beast which knows not its own power.

The beast whose abuse rises from below.

The Lilliputians in charge condescend upwards.

All bark and no bite.

And the beast bites the wrong lands.

Afghanistan.  Iraq.

With each passing year the creation myth (9/11) requires inference upon inference upon inference to justify the next humanitarian bombing.

Libya.  Syria.

Very few understand the importance of replacing due process with death by Hellfire missile.

Yemen.

No wonder the video game makers consult with the Pentagon.

A seamless transition from energy drinks in mom’s basement to the joysticks of drone strikes.

Far afield.

From those ladies.

Those ladies who have been used.

Sold a false bill of goods.

A very sloppy expression.  Arcane.

Left dangling like a modifier.

And so we want to go back to a simpler time.

Before we gave up on our dreams (in the blink of an eye).

I call out to cold regions.  Cold rooms.

I call out to cold hearts.  Mixed response.

But the one true miracle is to push onwards.

No more sugar-coating the shite she dished out.

She was a real bitch.

And I was as mad as any painterly glass of absinthe ever existed.

I can’t forget.

No, never.

But I can forgive.

Not much here to steal or ruin.

A very marginal existence.

I can sleep because of a girl.

A dream of a girl.

A girl I don’t even know.

She is hope.

A sort of personification of liberty.

And when will we revolt from this life and bolt?

One step at a time.

Not hasty.

So many years piled on my shoulders.

This is, by the way, a film review.

Not caring how ridiculous I look.

Take your best shot.

World, shut your mouth.

I was no trick.

I’ve been desperate.  Money troubles.  My ethics in the gutter.

But given a second chance by the universe I made an important decision.

To be boring.

A few days longer.

Some dreams worth chasing, others are a disease.

People over profit.

Sign me up, Chomsky!

Better get right with the lord.

Or git hit in yer soul.

It’s easy.  Chomsky won’t touch 9/11.

And Alex Jones won’t touch Israel.

It’s easy.

Why?  Same team, different squads.

I don’t care.

Not being run down by no third-rate psyop.

Fuck your Godwin’s law.

This was 1945.

An odd year to be jilted.

 

-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

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

 

Pickpocket [1959)

Writing about film makes you appreciate the film.

You think.

What will I say about this picture?

This succession of pictures.

Sounds.

And so silently you ponder the ways to express true genius.

And how lucky we are to witness true genius.

It’s true.

The Criterion Collection has brought us many films which otherwise might have been forgotten.

Film didn’t begin with The Godfather.

It doesn’t end with Citizen Kane.

And so we need to see the other stuff.

We need to hear voices from outside of America.

Hollywood is international, to be sure, yet everything which enters there leaves marked.

It is a sentiment which Godard expressed in his magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema.

And this is the other stuff.

Robert Bresson.

You might only know Henri-Cartier Bresson.  Don’t stop there.

Robert Bresson was the master of taking non-actors and capturing their vitality on film.

Pickpocket does justice to Uruguay as much as did Isidore Ducasse (which is to say, completely).

Martin LaSalle, a young Urugayan-French actor in his film debut, plays the lead role here of the pickpocket Michel.

LaSalle’s eggshell acting is essential to this masterpiece.

Yet, it is director Bresson who brings the ballet of crime to life.

Yes, it is like Orson Wells doing his magic tricks in F for Fake (his magnum opus).

Indeed, everything has an art.  Even crime.

And as paper currency disappears from the industrialized world we see the migration of subway thieves to the ether in an attempt to pilfer Apple Pay “money”.

Yes, I’m afraid that soon everything will need quotes around it.

Perhaps I just don’t understand.

But, there is an art to everything.

Take accounting, for instance:  the most boring subject invented by human beings.

And yet, there is an “art” to it…I’m sure…somewhere…deep, deep down inside.

But Pickpocket is of a different era.

Perhaps computer hacking and financial calculator operations require a certain finger dexterity, but nothing like the prestidigitation which Bresson brings to life in this film.

It is a noiseless ballet of lifts, drops, catches, exchanges, etc.  Buttons flicked.  Buckles finessed in one motion.

It reminds me of the one true line in Goldfinger…perhaps the only genuinely cinematic moment in that film (though I love the other 99% pulp)…

Delivered by the title character, as played by Gert Fröbe, it goes a little something like this:

“Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor… except crime!”

Ahhh…the rolled Rrrrs of that final word.  Like H.W.’s brief year at Langley.  Like Kissinger at Iron Mountain.  Ah!  But here we run into a problem.

Hoaxes.  Like Sandy Hook.  Like Hani Hanjour.

And will Donald Trump have the balls to read a book?  Perhaps Webster Griffin Tarpley’s 9/11 Synthetic Terror:  Made in USA?

I doubt it.

Is Trump a provocateur or merely provocative?

Because if he shot his mouth off a little more pointedly he’d have my vote.

And I would stand with my immigrant brothers and sisters every day to see Dick Cheney take the stand.  Under oath.

And Philip Zelikow.  Under oath.

And Donald Rumsfeld.  Under oath.

And Larry Silverstein.  And Rudy Giuliani.  And Richard Myers.

Somebody else did it?  Then you got nothing to worry about.

Unravel unravel unravel.

Because Trump is wrong about immigration.

And Bernie Sanders is right about Snowden.

And I don’t like Trump or Sanders.

But Trump is the only one even tangentially touching on the real issue:  truth.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Off the rails. Film review.

C’est la vie.

Conspiracy.

Don’t mind me.

I will just go back to watching films.

Go back to sleep.

Nothing to see here.

-PD

Napoleon Dynamite [2004)

If this film makes you cry, then you have problems.  Welcome to my world.  Hopefully this will be the best thing I have ever written.

There are a couple of times.  Laugh out loud.  But those parts which pass by like strange quirks.  The space in between laughs.  That is the pathos of marginalia.

People.  Marginalized.  What the hell am I talking about?

There’s awkward and aw-kward.  It is the latter with which we are concerned.  A whole new level of pariah.

But also mundane.  And not to be forgotten…endearingly strange.

Preston, Idaho.  It’s real.  Really exists.

Napoleon and his brother Kip.  Lots of weird mustaches here.  But Napoleon is just the geeky gawky gangly guy growing up.

As Kip shows, some of us never grow up.  And Uncle Rico…whoa mama.  All regrets and what-ifs.

Grandmother was at the dunes and broke her coccyx.  Tailbone.

Riding the four-wheeler.

Grandma’s got a boyfriend.  Or a girlfriend.  Or something.

This is one time when some Wikipedia contributor has actually done a loving portrait of a film.

Perusing.

Rico is our campervan Beethoven.  A real jerk.  But not without his humorous (humerus?) moments.  Funny bone.

Fortunately LaFawnduh’s cousin is apparently Jamiroquai (they being a band and not a person).

Whoa…aw-kward.  Writing.

Jon Heder approaches the greatness of Peter Sellers in this film.  Heder is our lead…our anti-Bond (James).  Not cool.  Never was cool.  Painfully existing.

Tina Majorino brings an indispensable side ponytail grace to this story.  Such a beautiful girl.  A real person.  This film succeeds by employing a sort of Robert Bresson technique.  It also is the laughing equivalent of the Romanian New Wave.  To wit, Jared Hess made one of the most important American movies of recent decades.  Kudos to Fox Searchlight Pictures for giving this the distribution it deserved.  We know they later picked up Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Nice job Fox Searchlight!

And why do we cry?  Part of it is Efren Ramirez as Pedro.  Down here in San Antonio.  People living for their Spurs.  I know.  Me too.  Small victories seem so big.  El Presidente.  He builds her a cake.  The vacuous Summer.  No!!!  (little hearts beneath the exclamation points)

It’s hot.  Pedro doesn’t have air conditioning.  Napoleon’s top-loading VCR comes in handy after he scores a sweet Kid ‘n’ Play video at the thrift store.  Kip backs over the Tupperware in a failed Ginsu demonstration.  “Dang it!”

Pedro from Juarez.  In Idaho.  That’s like a Martian in Indiana or Iowa.  It’s real.  We all end up someplace.  For some reason.  And the cousins with the sweet low-rider.  The cousins with the hookups.  A short segment about banding together.  People with odds stacked against them helping other people with odds stacked against them.

A very humble project.

And someday Napoleon’s ligers will hang in the MoMA…and his portrait of Trisha (with the deftly-shaded upper lip) will fetch $100 million at Sotheby’s.

And LaFawnduh from Detroit.  Definitely AOL-era.  No cellphones in this movie.  Deb (Majorino) has to go to a payphone to tactfully reprimand Napoleon.  But it was all Rico’s fault.  Uncle Rico.  Hell, Napoleon even got a job moving chickens…for $1 an hour.  And they had big talons!  Just drink the raw eggs and mingle with the farmers.  The old people have good stories.  About Shoshone arrowheads in the creek bed.  White-bread sandwiches.  I don’t understand a word I just said.

It’s that I don’t have any skills.  Nunchuk skills.  Computer hacking skills.  Cage fighting skills.  Rex kwon do skills.

Oops.  Yeah, I dress like Peter Pan.  Forever the butt of a joke.

Napoleon runs like Forrest Gump…with Trisha’s corsage.  But it’s lonelier.  It’s stranger.  Like Peter Sellers doing Camus.  Chaplin and Sartre.  Les Temps modernes.

So when the antihero finally succeeds it elicits an honest firestorm of support.  Lots of people with nothing to live for. A little saint for the hallway.  A prayer has been answered.  They already tore down my high school.  Same name, different building.  I pass it everyday.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Some might say.  I know there’s a place for me somewhere.

It’s not all about tetherball.  It’s the determination.  A solitary game.  A clueless dork.  Thanks be to god.  THis movie.

-PD

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD