Film

Film Review: Cousin Jules

The last time I set foot in a movie theater was in February of 2020 and with Omicron currently raging, it will likely be longer. I just subscribed to Mubi, and it is one of the best things I have ever done. In the week and half since I subscribed, I have seen quite a few interesting films and documentaries. Just last week I reviewed Red Moon Tide. Today, I wanted to share my thoughts on the 1973 documentary Cousin Jules, which was directed by Dominique Benicheti.

Dominique Benicheti (1943-2011) was a French film director and producer known for documentaries as well as innovative work on 3D film and animation. Starting in 1968 and for five years intermittently, he filmed his second cousin, Jules Guiteaux, who was a blacksmith, and his wife Félicie (who died midway through the shoot), on a small farm in the French Burgundy countryside. According to Moving Image Archive News, when it was released at the Locarno Film Festival in 1973, it was awarded a Special Jury Prize and hailed as a milestone in documentary filmmaking. It was later screened at the New Directors/New Films festival in New York, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Moscow International Film Festival. And that was it. It wasn’t seen again until a restored version was screened in 2013 at the New York Film Festival at the Film Forum. According to the New York Times, Cousin Jules, unlike most documentary films of the time, was filmed in a larger format (CinemaScope with stereo sound) that was not suitable for most art film houses of the time.

The film opens to the sounds of a rooster. We then see Jules wearing worn out wooden clogs and walking from his house to the large shed that contains his anvil, grindstone, and furnace. We see Jules at work, heating the iron bars that he bends and shapes on the anvil. Benicheti beautifully captures all these details in real time. Worn farming tools and kitchen wares are seen throughout the film, which captures life at the turn of the 20th century—it is a record of pre-industrial domestic and rural artistries. An ode to the handmade. The New York Times review, with a hint of snark, notes that the film “may also resonate among 21st-century devotees of the agrarian and the artisanal.”

Some may find the film a little frustrating in that there is no apparent narrative or dramatic progression (there isn’t even any music). It is just a slice of life. However, it is beautifully photographed, and the sound is nothing short of remarkable. Yes, I had questions about Jules and Félicie, and I wanted to know more about their lives (both were born in 1891 and lived through two world wars) but I was remarkably satisfied with it. It was a welcome break from this modern, mechanical world.

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Film Review: Red Moon Tide

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

The concept of pure cinema has roots in silent film, when filmmakers had to tell a story visually without spoken dialogue. Red Moon Tide is indeed pure cinema for the 21st century: it was filmed on a digital camera and does have dialogue, sound, and music but employs it parsimoniously. It is a feast for the eyes. My lone regret is that I did not see it in a movie theater, but via the streaming service Mubi (but I am thankful for that).

The film is set in the Galicia region of Spain and revolves around the disappearance of Rubio, a fisherman who believed a sea monster was responsible for diminished fishing (as opposed to overfishing or pollution) and hunts it down. Rubio is a local legend in his own right, known for recovering the corpses of shipwrecked sailors. In his absence, the town literally comes to a standstill. Most people in this film essentially stand still (except for three witches), while life around them goes on: horses run, birds sing, water trickles and crashes. Rubio’s story is recounted poetically in voiceover by the residents of the Galician village.

“The sky at night is a black sea.

The stars, bright fish.

The moon, a monster.”

“The monster is the sea.

It has been sleeping for centuries.

We are its dream.”

The film gives you a lot of consider, exploring the power of mythology, nature, the illusion of nature being tamed and humanity’s place in a world that will go on whether we are here or not. A recurring motif in the film is a whale shark and it forced me to consider all of the sharks fished out of the water each year, their fins cut off, and then cruelly thrown back into the water to die a truly painful and slow death. Perhaps humans are the real monsters?

“That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.” – Martin Scorsese*

Camille Paglia, in Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, noted in the introduction how the modern eye is constantly exposed to flashing images everywhere via mass media (she wrote that even when one is pumping gasoline, there is often a television screen on top of the pump). Paglia states that we must relearn how to see and find focus: “…The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception—best supplied by the contemplation of art.” I want to applaud the director, Lois Patiño, for fostering pure cinema in a digital world ruled via smartphones by embracing and incorporating elements of still photography. In today’s movie market, too many films are made for those with short attention spans using cutting and camera work does not allow one to consider composition, scenery, and the actors. This film allows you to do all that and more. I feel fulfilled and will always remember this film as a masterpiece in my personal history of cinema. I hope that somehow, someway, this film is released in American theaters. We need less smartphones and more slow looking, focus and the grandeur of the movie screen.

edwinroman.com

* P.S. If you have previously read my blog, you know I also love all things comic books and superheroes, but that is not all I consume. I concurrently love popular culture and high art. They can and should co-exist in your world of entertainment and education.

Halloween Movie Picks 2017

I love Halloween. One of my favorite things to do is to load up on the horror and thriller films. Below are my 2017 recommendations currently available on various streaming services. Let me know if you have seen any of these. Let me know if see any based on my recommendations. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Netflix

Train to Busan: If you only see one film for Halloween, this should be it. Train to Busan shines in the Zombie genre. Superbly acted, directed and produced, the film tells the story of a father and daughter’s harrowing train journey to reach the only city that has not been affected by a massive zombie outbreak. A real nail biter.

Korean with English subtitles.

What Happened to Monday: This is my second must-see after Train to Busan. What Happened to Monday is a dystopian thriller where overpopulation and famine have forced governments to undertake a draconian one child policy. The film follows the story of seven identical sisters living a hide-and-seek existence. Brilliantly directed and produced, Noomi Rapace is superb playing the part of seven distinct sisters. I feel this film is a severely overlooked gem.

Hush: If you loved Wait Until Dark, then you are going to love this one. Hush tells the story of a deaf woman who lives a near solitary life in the woods and fights for her life when a masked killer suddenly appears. Supremely suspenseful.

The Void: If you loved John Carpenter’s The Thing, then this one is for you. After a police officer rushes an injured man to an understaffed hospital, mysterious figures surround the building’s exterior as strange things begin to happen inside. The plot can be confusing at times, but this film made my list for its texture, visuals and throwback feel.

Death Note: Many did not like this American, live-action remake of the popular Japanese manga series because it deviated from the original. I liked it for that very reason. Why re-enact the original? I think this version has excellent texture and tone. Death Note follows Light, a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook from a demon named Ryuk (played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe) that grants its user the ability to kill anyone whose name and face he knows. Both the American live-action remake and the animated original are available on Netflix.

The Windmill: A young woman on the run attempts to evade authorities by joining a tour of Holland’s windmills. When the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, she and the other tourists, who, like her, have a dark secret, are forced to seek shelter in a windmill where a legendary Devil-worshiping miller once grounded the bones of locals. They start dropping one by one in rather gruesome ways. Definitely the goriest film on this list.

Notable classics on Netflix: Children of the Corn, The Legend of Hell House, Hellraiser, Sleepy Hollow and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

 

Amazon Prime

Sleep Tight: A concierge who believes he was born without the ability to be happy decides to make everyone in his building miserable. While most of his tenants are easy to upset, one young and very cheerful woman proves herself to be a challenge in his quest to spread misery. He goes to the extremes to make this woman lose it.

Spanish with English subtitles.

Pan’s Labyrinth: Set a few years after the end of the Spanish Civil War and during World War II, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of young girl named Ophelia and her mother who arrive at the post of her mother’s new husband, a merciless military captain (played by Sergi López, who brilliantly embodies Franco’s fascism) who is working to suppress a revolt in the area. In the middle of this, Ophelia explores an ancient maze where she encounters a faun named Pan (based on the ancient Greek deity of shepherds and flocks) who tells her that she must complete three tasks in order to become immortal. This film is beautiful, dark and seems apposite to what is currently going on in Spain and Catalan.

Spanish with English subtitles.

Notable classics on Amazon Prime: The Oblong Box, The Blob and Pumpkinhead.

 

Hulu

The Babadook: A child’s recurrent tantrums become ominous when a creepy children’s book mysteriously appears in his room and he asks his widowed mother, “Do you want to die?” The Babadook is a snaggletoothed, black-hatted monster with the ability to inflict harm and just scare the hell out of you!

Room 237: Okay, this is technically not a horror film, but a documentary about the horror classic, The Shining (a favorite film of mine). It is so good that I had to include it on this list. Interestingly, Hulu has placed it in the “Stephen King” category, which is kind of funny because the film notes how much Stephen King disliked the film version of his novel.

Click here to read last year’s picks.

 

edwinroman.com

The cast of Julieta.

Film Review: Almodóvar’s “Julieta”

Julieta is Pedro Almodóvar’s twentieth film and joins the pantheon of his best works. It was inspired by three short stories from the book by Alice Munro, Runaway, as well as the female-centric films of the 1940’s with hints of Hitchcock as well as Almodóvar’s own earlier works, most notably, his masterpiece, All About My Mother. One might even consider Julieta to be the 21st century All About My Mother.

The film traces three decades of the title character’s life. It starts with a middle-aged Julieta living in Madrid, with her boyfriend Lorenzo, and they are planning to move to Portugal. One day she runs into Bea, former best friend of her daughter Antia, who reveals that Antia, whom Julieta has not seen or spoken with in twelve years, is living in Switzerland and is married with three children. Julieta abruptly cancels the move, breaks up with Lorenzo, and moves to her former building, hoping that Antia someday communicates with her. Julieta, alone with her thoughts, starts to write her memories and her story is told in a series of flashbacks.

One of the most interesting things about Julieta is the double casting: Julieta in her twenties and early thirties is played by Adriana Ugarte, while in middle age is played by Emma Suárez. We witness what heartache and time can do to a person through Emma Suárez. Both actresses did amazing work, but I don’t think they were able to fully realize a powerhouse performance—they shared one. Had either actress solely portrayed the title character, the performance would have likely emerged as comparable to Cecilia Roth’s in All About My Mother. Speaking of performances, I want to note Rossy de Palma’s performance in this film: she amazingly “frumped” it up!

Clothes, wallpaper and furniture continue to play an integral part in Almodóvar’s films. Starting with Live Flesh, architecture has also played a major part in Almodóvar’s storytelling and is most evident in Julieta. The contrasts between urban and rural, wealthy and lower middle class are greatly explored though architecture.

Most notably, the film explored several thought-provoking questions:

  • Are we doomed to make the same mistakes our parents made?
  • Can we break the cycle of mistakes?
  • When is it okay to move on from a relationship that has ended because of a death or illness?
  • Does the physical proximity of family contribute to your mental health in a positive or negative way?

The final moments of Julieta actually address many of these questions in terms of the title character, but you may find yourself asking these of your own life. I think this is what makes the film great: it forces introspection and that is what stays with you.