Simon le mage

[Screenshot]Simon le mage (or Simon mágus as it is sometimes called; international collaborations often seem to have two titles in different languages) is a difficult movie, and one that feels a bit like it belongs in a different age. Were it not for the peculiarly modern opening soundtrack (Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, incongruously enough), I would quite reasonably have presumed this film was contemporary with, say,Tarkovsky’s Solaris, which it rather resembles aesthetically. It plays some of the same tricks of pacing and cinematography as Solaris, with wide grand panoramas with an underlying feeling of staticity, and also an unusually long and dull view from the window of a vehicle. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually care for Solaris that much, and Simon possesses its aesthetic without its feeling of mystery. Enyedi tries to infuse the story with a sense of the mysterious, but somehow it all seems nonsensical instead. The resurrection contest is of course the center of the plot, making the other elements seem entirely irrelevant, and more like loose ends than mysteries. As one example, we learn in one scene that Simon’s interpreter has been in disguise, but the fact that she was, and her reasons for being so, are never again mentioned. Most of the story is like this, leaving me to my impression that the entire film may be at a level that I am simply not getting. It is beautifully composed, as mentioned above: even as a deliberate homage, imitating Tarkovsky’s cinematography is no mean feat. Some of the effect is spoiled by the rather imperfect transfer, but that I expect from Hungarian cinematic releases in the US (even when in collaboration with a more prosperous mation, alas). On the subject of the two participating natons, a point of some dissatisfaction: it’s fairly significant when people are speaking Hungarian and when they’re speaking French (particularly in the absurd café scene, conducted entirely in French despite Simon’s complete ignorance of the language), but the subtitles don’t differentiate. Anyone with an ear for European languages can figure it out, but I’d still have liked to see a typeface or color distinction made.

See also: IMDB.

Giulia non esce la sera

[Screenshot]I’m not entirely certain how this ended up in my queue. I have a lot of films like that. But I did my best to get into it, and partially succeeded. This is rather a film that keeps the viewer at arm’s length: Guido’s motivation and character are rather opaque, in spite of the glimpses of his psyche we get through his story-writing. On account of his somewhat inscrutable character, it’s hard to get much of a read on his wife either: it’s clear there’s no chemistry any more, but I never got a feel for the cause and effect between Guido’s infidelity and the cooling of his marriage (or, indeed, whether I was supposed to view his infidelity as particularly a character flaw). Some of this may be cultural: Eurpoeans have historically, and to a certain extent still do, take a different attitude towards the nature of a household which makes something like, say, Guido refusing to move at the same time as the rest of his family, seem a bit less bizarre.

There are definitely some tender moments in the story, particularly involving Guido’s attitudes towards his daughter and her boyfriend, which I found appealing. I liked the interplay between Guido’s creative endeavors and his real-world interactions, and the satirical look at the literary world as a whole was a nice sidelight. Unfortunately in the end almost all these interesting elements are dwarfed by Giulia’s drama, and the last half of the story, in spite of its dramatic tension, never quite felt as engaging as the earlier section where Guido felt more human and more involved with his world as a whole (on the other hand, maybe his withdrawal from his former interests was the whole point, and I missed it completely.

Technically the film was competent, making use of cinematically motivated shot framing and lighting; it’s a bit too fond of blue-tones but is clearly trying to keep the camerawork and lighting fundamentally aesthetic. I always have trouble assessing the expressiveness of actors not speaking English, so I’m not too clear on the acting potential.

See also: IMDB.

Iron Man 2

[Screenshot]I liked the first Iron Man movie. It had a reasonable amount of style and built in an interesting way on the established characters, making Tony Stark a thoroughly horrible human being in a way that was fundamentally likable.

Iron Man 2, by way of contrast, is 125 minutes of every single male character in the film systematically being a raging asshole to every other character. The female characters are occasionally catty but mostly sensible. Seriously, Tony Stark was so unsympathetic that I found it hard to be even remotely invested in the fact that he was secretly dying of palladium poisoning, which was probably just as well since the whole dying-of-palladium-poisoning subplot actually ended up not making a whole lot of sense, either narratively or physically. On the other hand, without that subplot all we really have is Iron Man pissing off his best buddy and then defeating the villain with The Power of Friendship. Woo.

I like Tony Stark and think he can be an interesting character; it kind of burns me to see the franchise torpedo like this. I’d like to blame it on the fact that these recent superhero films are apparently all supposed to build up towards some big blockbuster Avengers team film, but surely they could write a good film that leads up to a plausible Avengers team-up, no? It’s not like most of the sound and fury in this one was actually relevant to the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. subplot, and, at that, Nick Fury’s role here seemed completely random and he could’ve been slotted in any of a dozen different places if necessary. As far as I can tell the only real effect of the Avengers connection on this film was to make the role of the Black Widow far larger than it really needed to be.

On technical issues: Iron Man 2 is very whooshy and shiny and full of things crashing into and destroying other things. These are kind of par for the course for a big-budget superhero film and it gets no points for them (not that they’re bad, as such, but it’s no more and no less than I expect).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Inception

[Screenshot]I am largely impressed with Christopher Nolan; his films usually have some element of the puzzle-box and some element of the thriller in a pleasant combination (OK, I’ll admit The Dark Knight was devoid of puzzle-box elements but still was a nice ride). In many ways, Inception was more of the same, with mostly straight-up action thriller and a certain element of the cerebral. I can’t help but feel a little cheated by the sheer arbitrariness of some of the rules of the central plot contrivance (I shall dub this now-all-too-common plot element “Harry Potter syndrome” although there are plenty of prior examples of it). The relative time rules are pretty bizarre, the internal gravity rules are really rather capricious, and the whole “dying wakes you up, except when it doesn’t” thing didn’t quite work from my point of view. Cobb’s motivation confuses me too: given that his children are in the care of a sympathetic character, spiriting them out of the US should not be rocket science.

Despite my reservations about its central conceit, though, I actually quite enjoyed this film, although with so many films nowadays, the sheer sprawl of the thing rather drove down the enjoyment-per-minute-of-running-time ratio. There was a great deal I liked: the acting was mostly excellent, the visual effects appropriately fantastic, and the conceit of hostile manifestations of the subconscious was well-integrated and thematically appropriate. Leonardo DiCaprio’s done much to redeem himself as an actor, and both Gordon-Levitt and Page acquit themselves well; most of the other acting is not particualrly inspiring but doesn’t really need to be; the core characters create the psychodrama effectively and they steer clear, to my relief, of the most obvious pitfall of casting the new inquisitive female team member as a romantic interest for the lead, althoguh having her plumb his psyche skirts the edge of this problem. The visual effects provide a similar restraint: there’s no lack of fantastic and impossible shots to point up the unreality of the worlds explored, but they’re used sparingly enough for the gimmickiness of it not to ever become problematic. In short, I’d qualify Inception as an intelligent and dense work that largely avoids the self-indulgent pitfalls so common of directors who have been found to be clever. I’m not sure if it’s my very favorite work of Nolan’s — I actually very much enjoyed the structuring and design of Memento — but it’s certainly a film I can respect.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.