Yep, after nearly a month of cinematic hibernation, I emerged and saw five films at the theater this weekend. Some short thoughts on those films:
Katka’s Reinette Apples
and House in the Snow Drifts
The Cinematheque kicked off it’s series “Black and White...and Red All Over: Soviet Entertainment Under Stalin” with a pair of middling films directed by Friedrich Ermler (born Vladimir Markovich Breslav; during WWI, he adopted the name while working as a spy in the German-occupied territories). Filmed respectively in 1926 and 1927, both films are examples of bytovoi, or Soviet contemporary social problem films, a genre that proved more popular with Soviet audiences than the more heralded, and radical, Soviet Montage films of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, hewing more closely to the classical Hollywood tradition. Unfortunately, they were both pretty much as dull as dishwater (and kind of hard to follow due to their rather crude narratives); Katka’s Reinette Apples
, a story of Russian street people, being primarily interesting for it’s unvarnished, documentary-like view of Soviet urban life, while House in the Snow Drifts
, a story of class repression during the Russian Civil War, was interesting for, er, um...well there’s this one scene where a little girl mourns the death and cooking of her pet cockatoo, and then starts nibbling on the meat. Yeah, that was kind of funny. Next week’s film, The New Babylon
, a story of the French Commune, is supposed to be a masterpiece and a highlight of the series. Hopefully, the film will at least be more interesting than the jazz trio that provided musical accompaniment to the films (liked the wah-wah funk riff during the comical seduction scene in Katka’s Reinette Apples
I went back and read Phyrephox’s earlier comments, as well as Joker’s review from his own website
, so I guess I have to say that I liked the film a lot more than both of them. The deplorable conditions of Brazilian prisons and the plight of the Rio street children, not to mention the police death squads, are not exactly news to me, but I found myself interested throughout. I can see why Padhila and Lacerda used the Bus 174 incident as a jumping off point for their examination of Brazilian street kids (apparently, it was one of the highest rated TV events in Brazilian history; reading up on the film, there seems to be some context that would not be readily apparent to the average American viewer); even if his explanation is admittedly trite, the sociologist is correct in saying that these kids only make themselves visible when something like the Bus 174 incident occurs, not when they kill themselves in the favelas or when the police massacre them at night. That said, the moments when the film opened itself up to the larger picture were far less interesting then the film’s examination of the hostage standoff and Sandro’s violent backstory (for an “anonymous” street kid, there sure was a lot of footage and documentation of him, as well as testimonials from more than just his estranged family, his social worker, former street kids, his capoeira teacher, a former jailer, a masked drug dealer, etc.) Personally, while I thought that the film clearly blamed the government and police for what happened, as much as it did Sandro, it was not totally unsympathetic to members of the police (for example the SWAT negotiator, and the masked SWAT team member who was professionally correct in saying that a sniper could have ended it all, if it wasn’t for governmental, bureaucratic interference, which seems the norm in all of Sandro’s tale).
You know a film about the repression of ultra-Orthodox women is not going to end well, and this one didn’t. The film, by noted Israeli director Amos Gitai, concerns a pair of sisters: Rivka, a woman who has been married to her husband for 10 years, but has yet to produce any children for the staunchly patriarchal, theocratic society (it gets to a point where Rivka’s loving husband, Meir, believes that they live in sin because they enjoy sex but don’t procreate). Her younger sister, Mavka, resists her arranged marriage to prized yeshiva student Yossef, instead preferring her old lover Yakov (who became estranged from the ultra-Orthodox community when he joined the IDF). Whereas Rivka silent acquiesces to the rather insane mandates of her community (I, for one, enjoyed the discussion of how to, and if you should, make tea on the Sabbath), Mavka openly rebels. Yep, this one ends real well...
In My Skin
My god, while compelling to watch, I just wanted this to end, because the pathology of the main character (played by writer-director Marina de Van with a feral intensity) wasn’t going to get any better. An advancement in her love life and career coincides with a disfiguring leg wound, which leads to, er, alienation, which is pretty French, which then leads to self-mutilation and self-cannibalism. Another entry into the New French extremism, the film kind of makes me wish I was more familiar with certain strands of French philosophy where the body is paramount (possibly not in this way). Still, In My Skin
does weave a spell of horrid fascination, as well as absurdist streak that slightly, and I do mean, slightly leavens the entire endeavor (a trait that nobody really talks about when it comes to the extreme lenghts of recent French auteur cinema).