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.

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פעם הייתי/The Matchmaker

I saw this film this evening as part of the Louisville Jewish Film Festival. It’s a largely sweet and nostalgic comedy with some surprising teeth. Like so many films that I find interesting, it’s also a picture of a time, a place, and a culture: there is a specific intergenerational and intercultural dynamic which is perhaps uniquely 60s-Israel, which suffuses the film: even among the young people, there are clear distinctions on a piety/nationalism/radicalism spectrum, with different young people subscribing to different views of what being Israeli really means. Of course that pales in comparison to the distinction between and among the older generation: the Holocaust survivors are a breed apart, and soberingly presented as not pitied but rather shunned. It’s easy to see how people get Survivor’s Guilt, when they’re in a culture full of Survivor Blame, and this film is merciless in presenting the basic rift in communication and understanding between those who survived and those who wonder just how they survived. This is quite possibly the coyest Holocaust film I’ve ever seen: the Holocaust itself is barely mentioned, but the spectre of its legacy hangs pretty heavy, and in unconventional ways.

While this intercultural drama is part of the experience delivery, and a very intriguing part, the film is, on the whole, a comedy, with likable characters bouncing off of each other in clever ways. There are recurring gags, such at Yankele’s overreliance on the exact same lines for every customer, and a tremendous amount of situational absurdity, and it is, for the most part, quite funny enough to keep the film moving in between the dramatic bits. The acting is generally solid: the entire cast is competent, and Adir Miller puts on an inspired performance which is believably sentimental. The only element of the story that really fell flat for me was the Arik-Benny-Tamara love triangle: Benny was fleshed out so sparsely, and even Tamara was fairly one-note, and that particular aspect of the plot felt flat and in large part irrelevant.

On technical notes it was mostly satisfactory, although some of the editing decisions seemed questionable: on more than one occasion a scene cut out without fanfare after a rather non-final-seeming line of dialogue. It didn’t seem that this technique was used with any deliberate purpose in mind; I assume that either the script or the editing was unintentionally abrupt, which doesn’t speak well to the technical aspects.

A word of warning, which may be an issue only of pre-releases and not of the actual stateside DVD: the subtitles are rendered in white (without the usual black border on subtitle script), which makes them very difficult to see when anything white is on the bottom of the shot. On the subject of the subtitles, they are sometimes haltingly ungrammatical or unidiomatic, but only when one of the Holocaust survivors is speaking, so I’d tend to put this one in the “faithful reproduction of aslightly mangled Hebrew” box (unless someone who speaks Hebrew tells me otherwise).

See also: IMDB.

The Lightkeepers

[Screenshot]This one tries so hard to be sweet and romantic and never really seems to get there; the underlying drama and reconciliation feels limp, and the characters feel largely unconvincing in their various roles. The sense of peiod never seems to come alive, either: it felt like this film wanted to very strongly be defined in both time and place, and while the place was excellently brought to life (Cape Cod, with on-site well-chosen scenes and competent cinematography), the time could’ve been pretty much anything before, oh, 1940.

Basically, it left me with very little actual impression, which is a bad thing. Excellent films I can usually come up with something to say about, even if better critics than me have seen it before. Bad films I usually have fun tearing apart. This one didn’t really give me anything in particular to say. It marches through a number of requisite plot elements to the end and never once really engages the mind.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Rindu kami padamu

[Screenshot]I may have missed something about this one that made me unable to appreciate it, or something. There are vignette storylines that center around a market and the claustrophobic, low-rent housing nearby, but it’s very difficult to make sense of the characters’ motivations or the extern to which their actions serve to progress the plot. I think some slipshod design on the subtitles may have also created problems: the lines were sometimes oddly flat, and when multiple actors were speaking at once, the mapping between subtitle lines and voices wasn’t very clear. All in all, I’m afraid it fell completely flat for me, in spite of my usual enthusiasm for settings and characters outside my range of experience. Not all of these experiments can be winners!

See also: IMDB.

Cyrano de Bergerac

[Screenshot]I rather like the text of Cyrano de Bergerac, although I’ve never seen a stage performance of it, so this will have to do. It even uses the same translation I read (Brian Hooker’s). There are bits, particularly wordplay-intensive bits, whose omission I missed, but that’s ever the curse of an adaptation. Mostly this worked; there’s significant hamminess in a lot of the scenes, but, hey, it’s a hammy play, and Jose Ferrer is particularly well-placed, full of swagger and bravado and just the right amount of tragedy. Mala Powers’s Roxanne is a bit indifferent and unconvincing, but they can’t all be winners.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Internet Archive (free download).

Cú và chim se sẻ

[Screenshot]This was a first for me: I found a technical decision in a film to be irksome enough to drag me out of my usual tepid indifference to technical matters. It’s an issue a lot of indie and quasi-indie stuff has these days, but it really only became intolerably distracting in this one. I refer to the modern “shaky-cam”, not in the action-movie Michael-Bay/Star-Trek sense, but the bobs and weaves of a handheld camera, as if the action is being recorded by an invisible videographer. I don’t want to imagine my Saigon residents being followed by a documentary crew; I want to see their story delivered with competence, which is usually best served by a steady camera. I’m sure there’s some dodgy verisimillitude-related justification for this poor (and not unique) decision, but I call bullshit.

Maybe one of the reasons I felt the technical aspects so keenly was the thinness of the story. The basic plot is of a plucky little girl’s machinations to get a man and a woman she likes together. It’s a sweet little romance but rather cliched. The only places where I felt much at all was when Hai was philosophizing (he had good lines and good delivery), or when we were seeing life among the flower-selling girls and noodle-selling boys, which was presented convincingly and with a realistic restraint of tone (cold insecurity, but not, say, Dickensanian nightmare)

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“What kind of crap are you reading these days?” my father asked incredulously, as I set down Anne of Green Gables on top of Pirates of Venus, having brought both along on my trip. Anne is not bad the way Pirates of Venus is bad, but evidently it is not thought meet that a 29-year-old male reads them (nonsense: if I can watch shoujo anime and hold my head high, I think my masculine pride will survive a novel targeted at 19th-century Canadian schoolgirls).

Anyways, on to Anne. I’m afraid the story never engaged me too much. As a child I might’ve loved the first three-quarters, with Anne charming the socks off everyone around her with her whimsical, innocent garrulity, but being an old, joyless fart these days, her imaginative-chatterbox routine mostly made me want to lie in a dark room with cold compresses on my eyes. There seemed to be generous timeskips near the end to get everyone where they needed to be, and Anne grew a lot less interesting (as you might have determined from above, I found young Anne wearying. But older responsible Anne just felt kinda dull. There may be some verisimillitude there, and/or an aanalogy to my own life. I’m going to stop talking now). Even the death of a major character couldn’t really rescue my interest much.

Evidently there are sequels. Lots and lots of sequels. I don’t think I’ll read them, since I find it hard to imagine this story proceeding in a direction I find terribly interesting.

See also: Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia.