film fatales #164: one sings, the other doesn't (agnès varda, 1977)

This is my seventh Agnès Varda movie, and she hasn't failed me yet. She is my favorite woman director, and I'm a bit embarrassed that I never even saw one of her movies until a dozen or so years ago. I've never given a Varda film less than an 8/10 rating, and One Sings, the Other Doesn't continues that streak. I do think, though, that this is my least-favorite so far, which is kind of silly considering I find it better than the vast majority of other movies.

One Sings, the Other Doesn't combines moments of whimsy with pointed political statements, tied to actual events. There is a recreation of a 1972 trial that was key to the process that resulted in legalized abortions in France. One of the primary lawyers in the case, Gisèle Halimi, makes a brief appearance as herself in the movie:

It is easy to imagine that the ambience during the making of One Sings was congenial, and everything we know about the filming reinforces this feeling. It has a collaborative sensibility. While the narrative, which covers roughly 15 years beginning in 1962, is usefully "real", the atmosphere is always positive, looking forward to liberation. These characters have experienced life and death ... there are echoes of historical moments like Paris 1968, or the 1972 abortion trial, and Varda is explicitly presenting a feminist vision that imagines that liberation is coming or is already here. There is a pleasure in the presentation. One Sings, the Other Doesn't suggests the hippie era of the late 60s, with its traveling musicians and its experimental life styles. I wouldn't say it's naïve, but the at times goofy feel of the movie buries the more serious political ideas. Which is what Varda was going for, I'm sure ... she wrote the lyrics to the songs, and while it's been said that they don't translate well into English, nonetheless as they appear in the subtitles, those lyrics are the worst thing about the movie.

One Sings, the Other Doesn't is rooted in feminist politics, but Varda makes sure to have her cake and eat it, too. It's a delight that to an extent buries politics in joy, which is where the delight comes from. You may find yourself thinking after the fact about the political implications of the film, but while you are watching it, you are mostly just enjoying what you see.

triangle of sadness (ruben östlund, 2022)

With Triangle of Sadness, I have now seen 9 of the 10 movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year (sorry, Avatar). I think Everything Everywhere All at Once and Women Talking are the cream of the crop (I'd include RRR, but it didn't get a nomination). I'd put Triangle of Sadness in the middle of the pack.

My guess is by next Monday no one will even remember that Triangle of Sadness got three Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay) and won none. Which isn't a knock on the movie ... there are more worthy/likely winners in those categories, and if the three nominations are a stretch, they aren't egregious. But Triangle of Sadness will eventually stand on its own, regardless of Oscar nominations, and based on what I've seen, it's a pretty typical Ruben Östlund picture. I've seen Force Majeure and The Square, and like Triangle of Sadness, those are odd movies, decent but not great, with just enough bizarreness to stick in your mind. I wrote about The Square, "You might call The Square smug ... at the least, it is quite proud of itself." I added, "None of the characters come off well, although they are pleasant enough on the surface and not exactly evil underneath." I'd say something similar about Triangle of Sadness. It's supposed to be an attack on class structure, it is an attack on class structure, but the rich people aren't mean enough. Which I can see as a good thing, but Östlund sets things up so we can enjoy the comeuppance of the rich, and then makes it less enjoyable because they aren't that awful despite their wealth. I may be asking for the wrong thing.

Force Majeure had an impressive avalanche, and The Square had some kind of monkey man who was also a work of art or something. The impressive avalanche in Triangle of Sadness is a colossal classy dinner served on a cruise ship during a storm that has some of the most ... what word am I looking for, "entertaining"? ... scenes of vomiting. It's not easily forgotten, for better or worse. It's even part of the publicity for the movie:

Triangle of sadness

Triangle of Sadness is too long ... it has three parts, and for me, the entire first part could have been cut without doing any damage to the film. (The Square was also too long.) It's another Ruben Östlund film that you'll remember with a combination of fondness and something less positive. With Harris Dickinson, Dolly de Leon, and Charlbi Dean (who died unexpectedly at 32 just after the film's release).

sign of the gladiator (guido brignone, 1959)

This is the eighteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 18 is called "Sword and Sandals Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen Peplum film.

As I have said many times, when it comes to bad movies, the most interesting things are usually the ones that aren't actually on the screen. Sign of the Gladiator (I've seen multiple titles for this one ... Nel segno di Roma is the original title, and in the U.S. it's also known as Sheba and the Gladiator ... did I mention there are no gladiators in this movie?) has Sergio Leone's name among many listed as writers. Director Guido Brignone got sick during the making of the film, and Michelangelo Antonioni did some uncredited work while Brignone was unable to be on set. I stumbled onto the film by accident ... the challenge was to watch a Peplum film, but the one I originally chose turned out to only be available in a Spanish dub, which seemed wrong considering the genre. So, Sign of the Gladiator.

"Peplum" is another way of saying "sword-and-sandal", and you know the genre even if you've never seen one. Hercules is the main character in many, and in others, Hercules has a different name because the film makers didn't own the rights to "Hercules". In truth, Sign of the Gladiator is a bit of an anomaly ... the only big battle scene comes at the end, and most of the movie consists of backroom skullduggery between Rome and Palmrya. And there's romance, which leads to the female lead, who played Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. She was Anita Ekberg, and I guess the studio decided if Anita Ekberg was in their movie, there better be some romance. Ekberg is an interesting person on her own, famous for splashing in a fountain in La Dolce Vita. As much as anything, she is the reason to watch the movie. But don't take that as a recommendation. If you are dying to see Ekberg, watch La Dolce Vita or Boccaccio '70.

Here's a brief clip from the English dub:

platform (jia shangke, 2000)

This is my first film from director Jia Shangke, another entry in the It's About Time department. Platform was Jia's second feature, made when he was 30 ... he is considered a leading light in the Chinese "Sixth Generation" school of films.

While there was much to appreciate in Platform, I felt like I was only scratching the surface. Clearly, Jia is commenting both on the 1980s, when the film mostly takes place, and 2000, when the film was released, but I don't have enough context to pick up on subtleties. What is left is a good, if long, look at 20-somethings as they interact with each other and experience the changes in Chinese society. The focus is on a theater troupe whose repertoire seems to focus on things The Party would approve of. As time progresses, the troupe becomes more pop, but again, my lack of context means I noticed this without being able to know the implications of much of the situation.

The main characters are played by Wang Hongwei and Zhao Tao, both of whom have worked frequently with Jia. (Zhao is married to Jia.) Jia often uses stationary camerawork, but the compositions are effective, and there is enough movement to prevent a static look.

I liked Platform; I just wanted to get it enough to love it. #376 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, #36 on the 21st-century list.

Here is the opening scene:

a few 2022 movie lists

I'll probably watch a few more movies this year, but unless one is an all-time classic, these will likely remain the best movies I watched in 2022 for the first time. I gave all of them a rating of 9 on a scale of 10. Sorted by release year:

Best movies I re-watched this year (all 10/10):

  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964)
  • Jaws (1975)
  • The Last Waltz (1978)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The ongoing Geezer Cinema list. We watched 48 Geezer movies this year, beginning with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse back on January 4:

[Letterboxd list of Geezer Cinema movies]

And this list of everything I watched this year:

[Letterboxd list of movies I watched in 2022]

film fatales #153: titane (julia ducournau, 2021)

This is the sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 6 is called "Top 250 Horror Week":

Recommended by kubrikonthefist.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Letterboxd’s Top 250 Horror Films list.

The headline writer for the San Francisco Chronicle had the proper amount of hyperbole in that paper's review of this movie: "‘Titane’ is really, really, really crazy — but it strikes a chord".

The less you know in advance, the better, although the basic plot is loony enough that it may not matter what you know. (An early pre-release blurb said only that "Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years.") Titane is an example of body horror (Wikipedia: "a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body"). David Cronenberg is the name that usually comes to mind when the subject of body horror films comes up, but especially relevant to Titane, the movie I think of is Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which I really, really, really hated. That film deserves a second viewing, I'm sure ... I'd never seen anything like it at the time, and I think that threw me off. Tetsuo tells of a man whose flesh gradually turns into metal. Something similar happens to the lead character in Titane, but something about it seemed more delightfully outrageous than in Tetsuo.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau seems to have put her vision of the film onto the screen, which doesn't always happen, and which suggests producers who trusted her. This may account for the "really really really" aspects of the film ... Titane is only 108 minutes long, but it feels like if Ducournau thought something belonged, she filmed it, leaving us with a movie that is packed with more than I admittedly could take in. That obscure tagline turns out to be quite accurate, pointing us in the direction of the relationship between father and son, while hinting at those unexplained crimes (they are explained in the movie, but I'm not spoiling it here). Ducournau dares the audience to look past the horror to the basic theme of unconditional love. She piles on the horrors, she makes it very difficult to look past those horrors, but without those horrors, unconditional love would hardly have been tested. The acting of Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon makes that acceptance more believable.

Titane won the Palme d'Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

sweet hours (carlos saura, 1982)

It seemed appropriate that I watch a Spanish film while I'm in Spain, so I chose this one. It's hard to believe I'd never seen a Carlos Saura movie before, but apparently it's true. It seems that Sweet Hours is a lesser-known work ... the IMDB only lists two critics reviews, although Kael wrote about it ("Another graceful, measured Freudian-fantasy game").

I found the film hard to follow until about halfway through, when the structure became more apparent. There are essentially three different situations. A writer is making an autobiographical play, which is in rehearsals; flashbacks show us how he experienced his childhood; and the writer falls in love with one of the actors in his play. Part of my initial confusion comes from the fact that the same actress (Assumpta Serna) plays both the mother in flashback and the actress playing the mother in the play. The similaries are intentional ... it's suggested that she is cast in the play because she reminds the writer of his mother. And they fall in love, which relates to what Kael called the "Freudian-fantasy game", for the writer's relationship when he was a young boy to his mother is always just short of sexual.

The incest angle could be creepy, but Saura doesn't play it that way, and no matter how obvious it seems to the viewer, the sexual nature of the mother/son relationship is always suggested, never explicit. The cinematography by Teo Escamilla is always elegant; the film looks lovely. Sweet Hours is insightful in a gentle kind of way, with implications that return to you after you've seen the movie. Not a classic, but a worthy movie that encourages me to finally check out more Saura.

fascination (jean rollin, 1979)

Another entry in the Criterion Spooktacular scary movies for October. Fascination is in the "vampires" category, but it is only marginally part of that tradition, dealing more with blood drinking than with more traditional blood sucking. Writer/director Jean Rollin may have used some historical evidence that drinking ox blood was considered a legitimate therapy for anemia. In any event, that's where he starts, with well-to-do women taking the "cure". Of course, some patients get a bit carried away, but beyond that, I'll stay mostly spoiler free.

Fascination is yet another movie where the backstory is more interesting than what is on the screen. I admit I knew nothing of Rollin, who had a busy career. His first feature in 1968 was a vampire movie, which became an early specialty for him. The title of the followup suggested where Rollin's career might head: The Nude Vampire. His films apparently did not make a lot of money, and he resorted to directing hardcore porn under pseudonyms. As Fascination is the only one of his films I have seen, I can't really comment on his overall style, but it is a lush, low-budget film and that seems to match with what I have read about his work. I will say that Fascination did have a certain style, but I'm not all that interested in seeing more of his movies,

There is a lot of sex in Fascination, but that's not unusual in vampire movies, even ones like this that exist on the outskirts of the genre. The best thing about the movie is Brigitte Lahaie, who also had a unique career. She started her film work in hardcore porn. Rollin directed her in one of those films and found her charismatic, so he cast her in a subsequent mainstream movie, after which he made her the co-lead of Fascination. She does indeed capture the screen ... it's hard to take your eyes off of her, clothed or unclothed. While continuing to make exploitation films, Lahaie expanded into more mainstream work. She even had a talk radio show that ran for more than 15 years.

Fascination is a step above middling, but once again, I find myself shrugging my shoulders over a cult classic.

our mothers (césar díaz, 2019)

This is the first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 1 is called "Central American Independence Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa RicaNicaraguaHondurasEl Salvador, or Guatemala.

Our Mothers comes from Guatemala, and tells the story of the trials of the soldiers who committed atrocities against the people during the Civil War. While the trials are always in the background (and eventually come to the front), the central story is of a young forensic anthropologist who thinks he has found his long-lost father who fought for the guerillas.

There in an inherent drama in this story, and the acting has an honesty that deepens the audience's involvement. But César Díaz, who also wrote the screenplay, seems intent on making a movie devoid of sensationalism. An honorable intent, letting the actors and the narrative convey the seriousness of what we are seeing. But the film is too often flat ... it could have used a little sensationalism. Events unfold slowly, and at only 78 minutes, there isn't much time to get to the core of things. The final scenes feel rushed, and we haven't been properly prepared for them. Again, Díaz is to be praised for treating his characters as human beings who have already been exploited too much. But the impact of Our Mothers is dampened.

jean-luc godard (1930-2022)

I long considered myself a big fan of the work of Jean-Luc Godard, ever since the first time I saw Breathless and was so taken with it I stayed in my seat for a second straight showing. I never saw a Godard movie I didn't like, with the possible exception of A Woman Is a Woman, and even there, as I once wrote, "I’d still rather watch it than Captain Phillips." Breathless is the standout for me, but I was equally taken with Vivre Sa Vie, and so many others. But I can't really claim to be a big fan in the end, for while I've seen ten of Godard's movies, I never saw any that came after Weekend in 1967. And Godard made more than 100 films after that. I guess I have some catching up to do.

Here is a Letterboxd list of my 6 favorite Godard movies. And a few quotes from some of my writing on his films:

In the middle of the film, Breathless stops for about 20 minutes while Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg talk in her apartment. (I use the actors’ names intentionally … Godard has said the film could be seen as a documentary about the two.) It’s like seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in a prequel to the “Before” movies, if those two played amoral, self-absorbed icons instead of something resembling real people.

Vivre Sa Vie has a documentary sheen, but you can’t say we are encouraged to see it as a form of fictional cinéma vérité, because Godard interrupts our viewing experience in a Brechtian fashion, so we are always aware that the documentary sheen is constructed, not real. I appreciate that the above might suggest a dry film you wouldn’t watch if not forced to do so, but it is nothing of the sort. Anna Karina is as good as she has ever been.

Pierrot le Fou gives us an idea of what Bonnie and Clyde might have been like if that film’s producers had followed through on their attempt to get Godard to direct.

Masculin Féminin is the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola” one. Godard has a love/hate relationship with these young people; the pop singer seems shallow, the pop revolutionary seems, well, shallow, but then there’s the legendary interview with Miss 19, a young woman who makes the other people in the movie seem like Sartre and de Beauvoir. She is treated like the “consumer product” the intertitle calls her, and Godard is not in favor of consumer products. She is verbally destroyed in the scene, so much so that we start to feel sorry for her, which may not have been Godard’s intent. The movie in general is harder on the women than on the men, but they are all children of Coke. It’s not a cheery movie.

Weekend is infuriating, and you might think it doesn’t matter that Godard intends to infuriate. His command of the medium is immense, yet he seems intent on using that mastery solely to break our concentration, to frustrate us, daring us to not like his film.