I Am Love. This movie recalls many films from the past. The presence of Gabriele Ferzetti and the setting of rich people being rich made me think of L’Avventura, Tilda Swinton says in an interview on the Blu-ray that she and director Luca Guadagnino thought it was Visconti on acid, and many reviewers mentioned Douglas Sirk. I’d say the critics came closest … it soon became clear that I Am Love was nothing like Antonioni’s classic, and while I can see the Visconti reference, I’m not sure Swinton needed the “on acid” qualifier. But the lushness of the photography, the ripeness of the music, and the submerged sexuality are all reminiscent of Sirk. If, like me, you think Tilda Swinton can do no wrong, you’ll admire her work here (she plays a Russian who marries into an Italian family, and apparently, she didn’t speak either Italian or Russian before making the film, so she learned them both, and then spoke Italian with a Russian accent). She’s an outsider, because she’s Russian, because the family into which she marries is insular, but really, all you have to do is cast Tilda Swinton and you have your outsider … her ethereal looks are something more than human. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design. #231 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century, which is stretching it a bit. 7/10.
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. A lot of firsts for this movie. It was the first movie to use the Fox Movietone sound system … it isn’t a talkie, but there is a synchronized soundtrack and the occasional sound effect. Janet Gaynor’s work here and in two other movies earned her the very first Academy Award for Best Actress. The film itself won the Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production award … there were two Best Picture awards that first year, the only year that this particular award was given, making Sunrise the once and forever King of Best Uniquely Artistic Film. Even now, it gets “firsts” … it was the first silent film to be released on Blu-ray. But is it any good? It’s a hard film to evaluate on one viewing, since there are a lot of touches that can be appreciated once you seen it once and get the basic “plot.” There are some stunning sequences, and it’s fascinating to see Murnau’s vision set free in Hollywood with a sizable budget. The plot is Bunyanesque (John, not Paul), with characters named The Man and The Wife and The Woman from the City, and that’s not a good thing. And many of the trend-setting Murnau touches are ordinary to us, more than 80 years later. Ah, but those touches! 8/10, with a feeling that the rating will be higher if/when I watch it again. #12 on the TSPDT list of the 1000 best films of all time, and while my rating doesn’t reflect such a high ranking, I can see the point.
Hunger. A remarkable, ambitious film that I can’t recommend to everyone, Hunger is brutal and graphic, artful and unique, with at least one scene destined to become a classic. It is a film about the hunger strike of Bobby Sands, but this is definitely a case where the simple description leads you nowhere. Sands doesn’t show up until a third of the way through, and the hunger strike itself takes place only in the final third. Some of the artistic decisions don’t seem to have a point to them, but the overall feel of director Steve McQueen’s work here suggests he got exactly what he wanted from Hunger. Since he succeeds wildly on most levels, he earns the benefit of the doubt. The camerawork throughout is fascinating … perhaps too much, it may draw our attention to itself … with a mostly static camera. The showpiece is a long, medium-shot, one-take conversation between Sands and a priest that goes on for about 15 minutes. In that scene, Sands presents his case for a hunger strike, and the priest tries to dissuade the prisoner. Much of the film is presented in a rather dispassionate way … what we see inspires deep emotions from the audience, to be sure, but somehow McQueen maintains a certain distance from the material. #129 on the TSPDT list of the 250 best films of the 21st century. 9/10.
Imitation of Life. The Douglas Sirk version from 1959. I’m not as excited about Sirk as are his aficionados, but I’ve enjoyed some of his pictures. This one, though, isn’t really one of them. It’s recognizably his, the way that Man’s Favorite Sport? is recognizably Howard Hawks. That wasn’t enough for me. The best thing about the movie is Susan Kohner as the African-American trying to pass as white. There is an edge to her work that plays well off the icy beauty of Lana Turner and the too-perfect mom played by Juanita Moore. #233 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.