eo (jerzy skolimowski, 2022)

The "Kuloshov effect" is described on Wikipedia as follows:
Kuleshov edited a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mosjoukine was alternated with various other shots (a bowl of soup, a girl in a coffin, a woman on a divan). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mosjoukine's face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was "looking at" the bowl of soup, the girl in the coffin, or the woman on the divan, showing an expression of hunger, grief, or desire, respectively. The footage of Mosjoukine was actually the same shot each time.
I thought about Kuloshov while watching EO, a rather picaresque film about the life of a donkey named Eo.
 
In Rolling Stone, K. Austin Collins wrote that EO "inarguably qualifies as an animal’s-eye view of all that’s warm and cruel, comical and arbitrary about human nature." He says that "The movie is always subjective," adding "the expressive, open, alert face that we encounter throughout the film feels singular. We get to know this animal, or feel like we do. We start to feel that we understand its emotions". I'd argue that the key phrase here is "feel like we do", for Jerzy Skolimowski and co-writer Ewa Piaskowska artfully convince us that we understand Eo's point of view. It's a slight of hand worthy of a superhero movie, except where those films use CGI to make marvelous things happen, Skolimowski uses Eo like Kuleshov used Mosjoukine. Full of close ups of Eo's eyes, deep and (as presented) meaningful, the film is edited (Agnieszka Glińska is the editor) to maximum effect to make us believe that, just as Superman can fly, Eo communicates to us in some fantastic, nearly indescribable way.
 
But, of course, EO is not seen through the eyes of the donkey, it's seen through the eyes of the film makers. Soulful as Eo's eyes are, his expression is unchanging. Skolimowski convinces us otherwise, and that is key to what makes his movie so affecting to so many people.

There is more to EO than those donkey eyes. The soundtrack is unique ... at times, aided by unusual work by cinematographer Michal Dymek, EO turns almost avant-garde in its presentation. And even if I am skeptical of the way we are supposed to read Eo's thoughts, the events that happen around the donkey are varied, at times funny, at times tragic, and always interesting. I think it's a better movie than its clear inspiration, Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar.


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:


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]


miracle in milan (vittorio de sica, 1951)

This is the third 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 3 is called "Italian Neorealism Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the Italian Neorealism movement.

With Miracle in Milan, I have now seen 6 of the 32 movies on the above-mentioned list of Italian Neorealist films. I should probably branch out a bit more ... this is the third I've seen directed by Vittorio de Sica, including my favorite, Umberto D, while Roberto Rossellini directed the other three. Miracle in Milan had several components associated with Neorealism: filmed on location, with a blend of professional and non-professional actors, playing characters fighting poverty. What sets Miracle in Milan apart is de Sica's embrace of fantasy. The title is literally true: the film tells of a miracle that occurs in Milan.

Totò is a young man who lives in a squatter's community on the edge of Milan. Totò, an orphan originally taken in by a kindly old woman, has such an abundant exuberance about life that he helps bring the community together, with most of the people seeing the bright side of their situation. When oil is discovered on the land, the landowner uses police to force them out of their homes. And it's then that de Sica gives us something different. The old woman, who had long ago died, appears to Totò as an angel and gives him a dove that allows Totò to grant wishes. He proceeds to grant those wishes to pretty much everyone, changing the entire social order. Except then two other angels appear and take the dove back to heaven, the greedy landowner regains the upper hand, and all appears lost.

But de Sica finds one last magic trick to place in Totò's hands, and at the end, the squatters fly away on broomsticks, heading towards heaven. Which does seem to be quite a distance away from the settings of many neorealist films.

The atmosphere is overwhelmingly happy, and I admit that I soon tired of Totò (and the actor who plays him, Francesco Golisano). I found his endless optimism more annoying than transcendent. That could just be me, of course, and many have called Miracle in Milan a classic (it is #490 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the greatest films of all time). There is an intriguing trivia item on the IMDB: "The original planned ending for the film was to have the poor flying around the entire planet on broomsticks but being unable to land as everywhere had 'Private Property' signs. This was jettisoned as being too expensive and ambitious." If true, this is ironic indeed: an ending that further condemns the rich is bypassed because the filmmakers couldn't afford it.


revisiting the 9s: hotel rwanda (terry george, 2004)

[This is the eleventh in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

I saw Hotel Rwanda back in 2006, liked it so much I gave it a rating of 9, but never wrote about it for some reason. Watching it again after all these years, it's clear why I was impressed. The based-on-fact heart wrenching story of the Rwandan genocide is effectively presented ... we hate the people behind the slaughter, and we root for Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a hotel manager who protects some thousand refugees while deflecting the efforts of those committing genocide. It's all fairly straightforward ... Rusesabagina does not ask to be a hero, but he rises to the crisis.

Cheadle's brilliant performance further embeds his character into the hearts of the audience. If that was all there was to Hotel Rwanda, it would be easy to say "9/10". But there has been controversy over the film's presentation of Rusesabagina, with some claiming he wasn't as selfless as the movie suggests. For me, this doesn't detract from the power of the film, but it does give pause when evaluating the movie after the fact.

The film was nominated for three Oscars, including Cheadle for Best Actor (he lost to Jamie Foxx for Ray). #696 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.


"the telephone" (mario bava, 1963)

Many years ago, I wrote about a favorite horror movie from my youth, Black Sabbath. It was a 3-part anthology, hosted by Boris Karloff, who also appeared in one of the stories. I'm going to quote myself at length here:

One of the stories, “The Telephone,” is about a bisexual call-girl, Rosy, who keeps getting phone calls from her ex-pimp Frank, who has escaped from jail. Frightened, she calls her lesbian former lover Mary … they’re estranged, but Rosy has no one else to turn to, so her ex comes to her apartment. She gives Rosy a tranquilizer to help her sleep, then sits at a desk and writes a confession. She was the one making the calls, impersonating Frank … she heard Frank had broken out of jail and thought to scare Rosy, knowing Rosy would call her and she could come to her aid, bringing them together again. While she is writing her confession, Frank sneaks in, strangles her, then tries to kill Rosy. But Rosy has a knife under her pillow, and she kills Frank instead.

If you saw Black Sabbath when you were young, you might not remember this one in quite the same way. Turns out the entire episode was reworked for the American market. The lesbianism was removed … the estrangement now comes because Mary was with Frank and Rosy took him from her. Rosy was no longer a call-girl. Mary doesn’t impersonate Frank … Frank is the one calling Rosy, which is scary, because Frank died some time before this. The letter Mary writes, her “confession,” is now an admission that she will be calling a shrink for her friend, who is clearly deluded since she thinks she’s getting phone calls from a dead man. Frank shows up, kills Mary, Rosy kills Frank … and we get one last phone call, as Frank tells Rosy she can’t kill him because he’s already dead, and he’ll be calling her every night.

I go into such detail because the changes were so huge, yet were pretty seamless, i.e. I had no idea all of these years that I was seeing a different film entirely. Since the American version was dubbed, it was easy to change the dialogue to fit the new version. What was originally a noirish tale of love and revenge became a horror story about a ghost. As luck would have it, the version I saw was on MGM HD … and guess which version they have the rights to? Yep … I still haven’t seen the original.

Well, it turns out Kanopy has the original, called I tre volti della paura ("The Three Faces of Fear"). And I had recently recorded the film, and it was sitting on our DVR taking up space. So I decided to watch "The Telephone" in the original, and then again in the doctored American version. The above explanation is quite accurate. The American version also had a different soundtrack, provided by Les Baxter, that was more intrusive. Both versions had elements of suspense, but it was nice to finally see the original, with subtitles and its different plot.


le cercle rouge (jean-pierre melville, 1970)

Gradually, I am catching up to the work of Jean-Pierre Melville. Of course, he's been dead for almost 50 years, but better late than never. Le Cercle Rouge is my fourth Melville movie, and it's not just that I liked them all, it's that they are all very good indeed. Bob le Flambeur, Le Samouraï, Army of Shadows ... hard to pick a favorite amongst them. Le Samouraï in particular was a big influence on John Woo.

Le Cercle Rouge is another strong film. It was Melville's penultimate film ... he died in 1973. He wasn't well-served in the U.S. Le Samouraï, made in 1967, didn't make it to the U.S. until 1972, in a poorly-dubbed version titled The Godson (guess what hit movie had recently been released). Army of Shadows won multiple awards on its release in the USA ... almost 40 years after its initial release. Le Cercle Rouge, which runs 140 minutes, was released in America in a truncated version missing more than 40 minutes.

Le Cercle Rouge is a heist movie, and the actual heist is almost half-an-hour long and features no dialogue. (It's very tense, as you can imagine, but I also confess that at one point, what seemed to be a stationary camera focused on ... well, I don't know what. It took me about a minute to realize the Blu-ray was stuck.) I've seen a lot of Alain Delon's movies and they are all good-to-great. As I wrote about Purple Noon, "Alain Delon seems to intuitively know what makes a movie actor. It is rare that you see Delon doing anything ostentatious, and in those rare occasions, he is serving the script. For the most part, he watches others, learning how to become them in the manner of a chameleon, while his physical beauty grabs our attention no matter who or what else is on the screen."

I might start with Le Samouraï or Army of Shadows, but Le Cercle Rouge is equally worth your attention. #580 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


paisan (roberto rossellini, 1946)

Paisan was the middle film in a trilogy Rossellini released just after WWII, after Rome, Open City and before Germany Year Zero. I am not alone in thinking Open City was the best, but all three are important films. Rossellini combined documentary techniques and mostly amateur actors to create a neo-realistic approach to his fictions. He was a major figure in Italian neo-realism, with this trilogy being perhaps the foremost example.

Paisan is broken into six episodes that roughly tell a chronological account of Italy from the moment when the Allies invaded Sicily. A common thread throughout is the difficulties the various characters have communicating with each other, since they speak different languages. In the first episode, a local Italian woman helps an American patrol where only one of them speaks Italian. In a later episode, some American chaplains stay at a monastery. The language isn't the only source of communication difficulties, because only one of the chaplains is Catholic (the others being Protestant and Jewish).

While the episodes have a certain flow, they also serve to break up the continuity in a way that reflects life during wartime. It's hard to predict what will happen next, both for the audience and for the characters in the war. This adds to the special version of realism the film embodies.

The music, by Rossellini's brother Renzo, is unfortunate. Renzo was an accomplished composer, and the quieter scenes in Paisan are effective. But whenever the action becomes rousing, the music overstates things, overwhelming the visuals, sounding like nothing more than canned background music. #205 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


the great beauty (paolo sorrentino, 2013)

Some times I watch a movie and a few days later I realize I haven't written anything about it because I have nothing to say. This isn't the case with The Great Beauty, which I watched a few days ago but haven't made any comments on it yet. The Great Beauty is lovely in ways that I find hard to articulate. It reminds me of other films, but it's very much its own movie.

This is the second Paolo Sorrentino film I have watched recently, the other being The Hand of God (I also liked Il Divo). The films look beautiful (the cinematographer here is Luca Bigazzi, who also did Il Divo). To my untrained eye (I've never been to Italy), Sorrentino's movies feel authentic to what I imagine is Italy, as a country, as a culture, and even as something affected by geography (north and south are not the same). I read many comments comparing The Great Beauty to Fellini's work, and I can see that. There is a cross-section of humanity, albeit more interested in the upper-and-upper-middle classes. I often find Fellini too absorbed in what comes across in his films as freakish people, but Sorrentino doesn't fall victim to that. At some level, he likes most of his characters here, and the one time someone is dressed down, it's because they don't accept the bemused fatalism of the main character, Jep, and his friends:

You're 53, with a life in tatters, like the rest of us. Instead of acting superior and treating us with contempt, you should look at us with affection. We're all on the brink of despair, all we can do is look each other in the face, keep each other company, joke a little.

Sorrentino has affection. There are some similarities to La Dolce Vita, and The Great Beauty would make a good, if long, double-bill with Fellini's classic. Of course, The Great Beauty comes later ... it's partly a commentary of the earlier film. I imagine Sorrentino has affection for Fellini's characters, too. For me, The Great Beauty is kind but unsparing, as the above quote suggests ... on the brink of despair, always with a little joke.

Toni Servillo is Jep, and without him, the movie would suffer greatly. I'm liking him more every time I see him. With The Hand of God, I noted the wonderful performance by Luisa Ranieri as middle-aged woman who carries an intense aura of sexuality and a troubled emotional background. Sorrentino repeats this with The Great Beauty, this time with Sabrina Ferilli, new to me but not to the world of Italian cinema. She isn't as troubled as Ranieri's characters ... she seems to be in something of the same place with Jep. She is a well-drawn character, and Ferilli does her justice. #151 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


the hand of god (paolo sorrentino, 2021)

Autobiographical film from Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo) about a young boy in a town, Naples, that loves Diego Maradona. While we only see Diego on television (and some distant shots played by an actor who is pretty good at free kicks), he is a central character in the movie. The primary local soccer team, Napoli, had struggled for some time while teams from Northern Italy were enjoying success. Napoli paid a record fee to bring Maradona to Napoli. He was the greatest player of his era, perhaps the greatest of all time, and with him, Napoli returned to the heights of Italian soccer. The Argentine became an icon to the people of Naples ... late in his life he was named an honorary citizen of the city.

The young boy, Fabietto (Filippo Scotti), decides to become a film director as he becomes a young man. Much of this follows the real life of Sorrentino. The first half of the film draws an insightful panorama of life in Naples through the eyes of Fabietto. Family and community are paramount, and the people are lovely, each in their own way. Also, the importance of Maradona to the community is made clear. But then something tragic happens in the life of Fabietto, and the film loses its flow. While the earlier half of the movie covers a period of a couple of years, it's all of a piece. After that, what we get is more a series of vignettes, many of them interesting (and many of them based on the "real"), but the flow is gone. The first half of the film is a classic; the second half is promising but ultimately unfulfilling.

Scotti is very good as Fabietto, and the rest of the cast fits right into their characters. Special kudos to Luisa Ranieri, who plays Fabietto's aunt ... she exudes an aura of sexuality that burns off of the screen, but she also conveys the troubled psyche of a woman who is troubled, emotionally and mentally.

The Oscars are in a few days, and I may not see any more of the nominated films before then, so here is a quick look at those films. I've seen 9 of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture ... here they are, with links to my posts:

My #1 film of 2021, Summer of Soul, is nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

As for the rest, I think Drive My Car deserves every award for which it is nominated, and I'd like to see Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas win Best Song.

For the acting awards, my only opinions are that Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) is easily the best of the supporting actress nominees, and Andrew Garfield (tick, tick ... BOOM!) is the worst of the best actor nominees. I've seen 17 of the 20 acting nominees.

Finally, here is a work-in-progress ... a Letterboxd list of my Top Movies of 2021.