Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

SUMMER WITH MONIKA (1952)
Ingmar Bergman film about two young people trapped in dead end jobs who fall in love and try to drop out of society, spending a summer sailing around Stockholm. I guess this was cut down in America and sold as a softcore flick, due to its nudity and frankness, but seeing the uncut version is a lot different than its reputation. This is no summer of love and fantasy; it's a summer of closeness but also a summer in which Monika and her lover Harry begin to deteriorate, compromising their morals and watching civilization ebb away in the face of hardship and necessity. It's a fascinating film, surprisingly sensitive, naturalistic and sad. Harriet Andersson is compelling in the title role. ***1/2

SALAAM BOMBAY! (1988)
Mira Nair's directorial debut, a look at merely one of a thousand stories about the children living in poverty on the streets of Bombay. It's an engrossing, alive film, one of the best of its time. It centers on a young boy named Chaipau who delivers tea outside of a tenement that is also a whorehouse; his best friend is a drug dealer; the girl he loves is a 16 year-old whose virginity will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Nair's film doesn't manufacture big dramatic moments, but simply observes as Chaipau pushes himself to save enough money to return to a home whose location he can't even remember. There's a point being made here that people can't exist without forming a community, even in a place as hopeless as the streets of Bombay; there's also, interestingly, a point being made here that perhaps children are actually better off there than processed into a system that can do nothing for them. Nair doesn't try to answer that; an easy answer would probably be false. ****

JEAN DE FLORETTE/MANON OF THE SPRING (1986)
Two films by Claude Berri, based on a book by Marcel Pagnol (that was originally two films by Pagnol), released a few months apart and that really belong together as one four-hour film. It's a story that spans three generations and sees the slow patience of greed and poetic justice. The story begins with a farmer in Provence in the 1920s (Yves Montand, who is excellent) and his nephew (Daniel Auteuil) who want to buy an adjacent farm. But that farm has been inherited by Jean (Gerard Depardieu), a hunchback from the city, a nice man with big plans to breed rabbits and raise vegetables. Water is problematic, but there is a spring on his land, and Montand and Auteuil stop up the spring in the hopes of driving him from the land, patiently waiting for him to be driven out by his failure, acting perfectly neighborly but all the while waiting years for the land to fail so they can snap it up cheaply. That's the first film; the second involves the grown daughter of Jean, Manon (Emmanuelle Beart, luminous as she always is), who has become a shepherdess and who learns the truth of the scheme and takes a slow revenge. Watching these two films together is an excellent experience, a well-paced epic of patience. Human greed will wait for its reward, but justice also comes eventually. It has a historical sweep, and we see these mortals in the scope of the history of the land itself, in the continuity of family lines and fortunes, and the mundanity of cruelty. **** for both films (as one film).

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