Movies - Foreign postsMonday May 18, 2009
Where Have You Gone, Vladimir Visotsky?
Last week I watched a film called "Ivan Vasilevich: menyaet professiyu" (translated, in attention-getting fashion, to "Ivan Vasilevich: Back to the Future"), which I rented from Netflix as much for the description as anything:
When his time machine malfunctions, scatterbrained inventor Shurik (Aleksandr Demyanenko) accidentally transports Ivan the Terrible to 1973 Moscow and simultaneously sends small-time crook and apartment manager Ivan Bunsha -- a ringer for the despot -- to the 16th century. Wackiness ensues as Shurik attempts to set things right in this Soviet sci-fi comedy of errors featuring Yuri Yakovlev in dual roles as Bunsha and the czar.
A wacky Soviet-era comedy? Who would've thought? And it is that, although, in the end, more curiosity than laugh-out-loud comedy. It's one part "Les Visiteurs," one part Bollywood, one part "Benny Hill" without the girls. One imagines if the film had gotten out in 1973 it would've gone a long way toward dispensing the notion of the stoic Soviet empire. Yes, even in the middle of detente. But of course "getting out" was always the problem.
Halfway through the film, in modern-day (1973-era) Moscow, Ivan the Terrible, who isn't so terrible, turns on a tape recorder, hears music, and smiles. The singer was familiar. I'm pretty sure it was Vladimir Visotsky, whose angry song Baryshnikov danced to in his tennis shoes in "White Nights"— and about which I wrote for an MSN "Top 10 Dance Scenes" piece way back when.
The difference between the time I wrote that piece (2004) and now? It's easy as hell, now, to find footage of the singer. Here he is, for example, on a Soviet-era TV show, singing in his gravelly, impassioned voice. Check it out.
Worst Netflix Summary Ever
The following is Netflix's description (both onsite and on their DVD sleeve) of Akira Kurosawa's “The Bad Sleep Well” (1060):
Koichi Nishi (Toshiro Mifune) is distraught after his father's demise, which he blames on the cutthroat corporate environment in which he worked. Desperate to avenge his father's senseless death, Koichi begins to tamper with the sanity of each person who ever wronged the man. He starts with the cake at his very own wedding; per Koichi's instructions, the confection has been specially crafted to remind the attendees of their darkest secrets. …
In case you haven't seen the film (and are still shamefully reading this): The movie opens with the wedding of the daughter of a high-ranking public official, at which reporters gather in anticipation of the arrest of this official and several of his right-hand men. We follow the initial police investigation into the scandal — apparently the government accepted a high bid on a construction project for kickbacks — but government and corporate officials remain tightlipped and no one's prosecuted. Then two of the right-hand men kill themselves. No, just one. Koichi Nishi (Mifune), the groom at the wedding, prevents the other from doing so. Why? We find out an hour and twenty minutes in: He's the son of an official who killed himself five years earlier — in another scandal, protecting these same guys — and he's been plotting revenge ever snce.
In other words, in their first sentence, Netflix gives away the goods. As for their last sentence? The description reminded me of that early “Star Trek” episode in which people act out their darkest secrets (Sulu turns into a barechested swashbuckler, etc.), but, in the Kurosawa film, there's nothing in the cake in question. It was simply baked in a way to remind the men of a shared dark secret. Singular.
Oh well. IMDb.com gives away the plot, too. No tight lips here anyway.
A shame because the first half of the movie is the best. It loses itself in the second.
The nominees for the Cesars are out, and “Public Enemy No. 1,” about French gangster Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), set a record with 10 nominations. It was also the third-highest grossing film in France last year. Respect and box office? Is the Academy listening? Are the studios?
Here's the list of nominees for best picture:
- Entre le murs (The Class)
- Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I've Loved You So Long)
- L'Ennemi public no. 1 (Public Enemy Number One)
- Le Premier jour du reste de ta vie (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life)
- Un conte de Noel (Christmas Tale)
The Cesars will take place on Feb. 27 in Paris.
My Year of Watching French Cinema
A quick word on some of the new images cycling to our left.
Late last year I was getting sick of that first image you’d see every time you navigated to this site: me, in the summer of 2007, slouched over and writing in my notebook on a bridge in le Somail in southern France. It made sense — here’s my writing, so here’s me writing — but it was getting old. We needed something new.
The images now cycling through are hardly new — most are old movie posters — but they’re new to me. I watched most of them for the first time in 2008. Excluding movies I watched for research (the Batman films, the Tyler Perry films), and films seen in the theater, I rented and watched, according to Netflix, 84 films in 2008. It seems like a huge timesuck but most of them were worthwhile. I’ve divided them into categories below.
We all arrive in our culture in medias res and spend most of our lives trying to catch up, and this was the year I tried to catch up with French cinema. Infinitely more difficult than catching up with pre-1963 U.S. cinema. How many Bogart and Cagney references — from Woody Allen to Frank Gorshin — did I see before I saw a Bogart or Cagney film? Hundreds. I knew these guys before I knew them. But no one referenced Jean Gabin when I was growing up. It wasn’t until this year, at the embarrassing age of 45, while watching Max Ophuls’ Le Plaisir, that I went: “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Touchez Pas Au Grisbi? And Port of Shadows? And La Grande Illusion?” Which lead to Can Can and Pepe Le Moko and La Bete Humain and Les Bas-Fonds. For those unfamiliar: Imagine Spencer Tracy with Humphrey Bogart’s roles and Katherine Hepburn’s longevity. Voila.
Thoughts, for what they’re worth, crystallized. Love Max Ophuls and Henri-Georges Clouzot. Jean-Pierre Melville strikes me a little cold. The French New Wave is beginning to annoy. The humor in Les Visiteurs doesn’t travel well but the humor in Le Diner de Cons does. La Faute au Fidel!, about a girl growing up in Paris, feels like me growing up in Minnesota.
As for American films? Boy, Gone Baby Gone was good. God, Brando was powerful in Julius Caesar. Jesus, how come Red Belt didn’t get better reviews?
This was also the year “catching up” felt more and more like a losing proposition. The more you know, the less you know, and I definitely don't know much about world cinema. How do you catch up with entire cultures? But you keep at it. You begin to plan. How much time do I have left? What’s worth that time?
The movies in bold were worth my time.
Boudu Sauve des Eaux (1932)
Les Miserables (1934)
Pepe le Moko (1936)
Le Quai de Brumes (1939)
Le Corbeau (1943)
La Ronde (1950)
Casque d'Or (1952)
Le Plaisir (1952)
The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)
French Cancan (1954)
Les Diaboliques (1955)
Nuit et Brouillard (1955)
Bob Le Flambeur (1956)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1959)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Le Vieil Homme et L’Enfant (1967)
Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
La Souffle au coeur (1971)
Cet Obscur Objet du Desir (1977)
Coup de Torchon (1981)
Au Revoir Les Enfants (1988)
La Gloire de Ma Pere (1990)
Le Chateau de Ma Mere (1990)
Les Visiteurs (1993)
Trois Couleurs: Bleu (1993)
Trois Couleurs: Blanc (1994)
Trois Couleurs: Rouge (1994)
Le Diner de Cons (1997)
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Biogrpahie eines Blicks (2003)
Le Placard (2001)
Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles (2004)
La Faute au Fidel! (2006)
Avenue Montaigne (2006)
Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007)
OTHER FOREIGN FILMS
The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)
Sansho Dayu (1954)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Gegen die Wand (2004)
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Om Shanti Om (2007)
El Orfanato (2007)
Lust, Caution (2007)
RECENT U.S. FILMS
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Grindhouse: Death Proof (2007)
The Kingdom (2007)
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The Savages (2007)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
The Bank Job (2008)
In Bruges (2008)
Harold and Kumar...Guantanamo Bay (2008)
Baby Mama (2008)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Get Smart (2008)
You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008)
OLDER U.S. FILMS
Ace in the Hole (1950)
The Band Wagon (1953)
Julius Caesar (1953)
The Longest Day (1961)
Silent Movie (1976)
All That Jazz (1979)
I, Claudius: The Epic That Never Was (1965)
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001)
Imaginary Witness (2004)
Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007)
Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007)
Standard Operating Procedure (2008)
Encounters at the End of the World (2008)
Now Playing: 678 Miles Away
Yesterday I mentioned the nine films currently in the running for the best foreign-language-film Oscar and then added, almost apologetically, that I hadn't seen any of them and had only heard of two: "Waltz with Bashir" and "The Class."
There's a reason. I tried to Netflix the films (on the off chance) but of course none are available yet, and they don't even know when they'll be available. That's of the films Netflix recognizes. Five of the nine.
So I looked them up on boxofficemojo on the off-chance they came through Seattle without my knowledge. Appears not. In fact, only one of the films ("Bashir," from Israel, which the National Society of Film Critics considered the best movie of 2008) is even playing in the U.S. If I got off my high-horse I could see it. In Vancouver B.C. The nearest showing in this country is at the Clay theater in San Francisco: 678 miles away.
I know, I know. Once these films get nom'ed, or when one wins, we'll have a better chance to see them, or it, but this is part of the problem. Increasingly, the industry relies on the Oscars to garner attention for good films ("Bashir," "Milk"), and thus hold off on distributing the good films until the Oscars are announced. Which means the Oscars are increasingly full of films moviegoers have never heard of. Which means we pay less attention to the the Oscars. And on and on.
If I were the Academy I'd tell studios and distributors to get the hell off my back already and lend a hand. Things'll go farther faster if the studios start pushing, too.
ADDENDUM: John Hartl, who should know, confirms that none of the nine have made it through the Puget Sound area. The good news: "Bashir" will be here Jan. 30; "The Class" soon after.