Tuesday 28 October 2014

All About Eve (1950)

Alt Om Eva
Among the meager extra material for my ”All About Eve” DVD there is a trailer for the movie. In this trailer, which is more confusing than normal, it is claimed that this is a movie “About women – and their men”. Few things are further from the truth. This is not a traditional story of relationships and love interests. No dear, this is about ruthless ambition among actresses on Broadway. Funny that a movie with so unusual and interesting story had to be sold as an old school cliché drama.

Cinema has always loved movies about cinema or at least about show business. I suppose people usually know their own métier better than anything else so it should come as no surprise that those of the entertainment business would love to make movies about the entertainment business. The classic story is about putting on a show, but there is another thread that is more concerned with the microcosm in which show business people live in. It is not a coincidence, the lives of particularly actors and actresses is just a lot more colorful than the lives of just about anybody else. The List has two such movies back to back, “All about Eve” and “Sunset Boulevard”.

In “All about Eve” we start out at an award ceremony for theater. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) has won the big award and within the few seconds it takes for her to receive the statue those who know her reflect on her story, all looking very gloomy. Obviously they are no fans of hers.

Eve was a starstruck nobody who managed to ingratiate her way into the life of stage mega star, Margo Channing, played by no other than Bette Davis. Margo is every bit the prima donna. Magnanimous when it suits her, bitchy when she has her moods and totally obsessed with herself and how she is perceived. Eve on the other hand appear humble and gracious, every bit the good girl who is pleased to just be in the shadow of the idol.

At least that is what she leads everybody to think. Beneath that good-girl exterior is an unscrupulous woman of pure ambition who intends to take over Margo Channings life, boyfriend and career. At first we see just small signs that all is not right, she starts arranging things without consulting Margo first, but her winning personality helps her get away with it. Everybody are dazzled by her and Margo finds little support among her friends. This is largely because Margo always throws a tantrum and loudly obsesses about everything and everybody. Who would not prefer to believe the self-effacing and modest girls to the paranoid and obsessive prima donna?

Part of the story is told by Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), a common sense woman who has access to the theater circles through her husband Lloyd, a famous playwright. She is the one who found Eve in the beginning and called her friend, but also one of those who got exploited by Eve and finally came under direct attack when Eve went for her husband.

Another notable character in this almost ensemble movie is George Sanders as Addison DeWitt, a famous critic and columnist who also movies in the theater circles, observing and remarking on anything. It is difficult to see his purpose, though we always see him with one or another young actress as if he is looking for a protégé. At one point it is a girl played by Marilyn Monroe. George Sanders plays his role with perfect suave and arrogance, the epitome of upper class English disdain. In Eve his finds the protégé he has been looking for and while Eve uses him, he also uses her and so he becomes both Eve’s ladder and her doom.

Bette Davis was a perfect choice as Margo Channing. It would seem the role was written with her in mind and the thought is close that Davis may not even be acting that much, that this could really be her. I was therefore surprised to learn that she was not even close to first pick, but only got the part because Claudette Colbert had to turn the part down. I doubt any other than Bette Davis could have given Margo the vitriol and paranoia her character possesses and still not make her entirely unlikable.

There is very little filter in this movie. Few of the characters and character types are protected from disgrace and so the film feels a lot more like an open door into the world of theater than any earlier movie. The fact that the location is the theater and not Hollywood is likely because it would hurt too much. Then better to distance yourself a bit from it by letting it be theater. That also makes the arrogance of these stage folk towards the movie industry self-deceived and just a bit ridiculous.

Anne Baxter’s succubus of a character, may not be as colorful as Bette Davis, but that is intentional. She has to be likeable and blend in till you almost forget her. Even when she steps into action and makes her moves she tries to keep up the façade and only in glimpses do we see the cold and cunning woman beneath the entreating and apologetic demeanor. But in those moments we seem to see a monster. Not because of her ambition, but because of the coldness with which she exploits her surrounding and people who calls her friend, to get what she wants.

“All about Eve” ended up getting 6 Oscars and 14 nominations, but although Anne Baxter got a nomination she did not get one of the prices. Too bad, it would have been interesting to compare her two speeches. An award winning movie about striving for and getting an award… Yup, there is something to think about.

Friday 24 October 2014

Winchester '73 (1950)

Winchester '73
With Winchester ’73 we are in solid western territory. In fact I doubt it gets more archetypical than this. We got a very clear division between the good and the bad guys. There are cowboys and Indians, cavalry and barmaid(s). There is a duel, man against man, bank robbery, saloons with whiskey, real men and wimps and lots and lots of sweat, dust and horse dung. From the top of my head I cannot think of a movie more heavily entrenched in all the western tropes. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it works out just right and this is one of those cases.

James Stewart is not a small factor to that end. Nobody does the honest, but determined, everyman as he does. You are not for a second in doubt that he is the good guy and you just want to root for him. It is always like that and this is no exception. He says all the right things and have all the right opinions and despite that he does not come out as a one-dimensional, boring hero cliché. I guess that was his special skill that won him his fame and adoration over the years. We always can and want to relate to him.

The James Stewart character, Lin McAdam, is on a quest to find the man who murdered his father together with his friend, the even more down to Earth High Spade (Millard Mitchell). The murderer is the disreputable outlaw Dutch Henry Brown, who besides evading Lin is putting together a band to rob a bank in Tascosa (a two-horse town in the middle of nowhere).

Their first encounter is in legendary Dodge City. I guess the screenwriters just could not miss the chance to throw in Dodge City and the equally legendary Wyatt Earp (Will Geer). He is hosting a rifle shooting competition and the two finalists are no other than Lin and Dutch. In this elegant way we get the characters introduced and established that both are exceptional marksmen, the ultimate skill on the frontier. This is also the introduction of a rifle extraordinaire, the eponymous Winchester ’73. It is the grand price of the shooting competition and apparently an item that will give any gun fetishist a solid hard-on.

The rifle changes hands a number of times through the movie as the holder always seems to get himself killed of loose the gun in a fight almost as if this is an item of bad luck. I am not entirely sure what the function of the rifle is except as an object of greed and to introduce a number of characters including a gun runner, and Indian chief (a young Rock Hudson!), the “wimp”, Steve Miller (Charles Drake) and a crazed out bandit named Waco Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea).

Dutch leaves Dodge City with Lin in hot pursuit and so does the barmaid Lola Manners (Shelley Winters). Her travels is the third thread. She soon finds her fiancé, Steve, but events will soon conspire to reveal who are real men and who are not. Steve, the wimp, is not while Lin is as real as it gets. The challenge is an Indian attack and although this may seem, and probably is, extremely cliché it is also an action sequence of very high quality.

All threads meet in Tascosa. Steve has met a disgraceful death, Lola is captured by the monster Waco and Dutch is about to rob a bank when Lin rides into town.

The ensuing shootout and the final duel in the mountains is again action on a high level and another clear example of good versus bad, honour versus dishonor and virtue versus vice. In the process we learn that Dutch and Lin are brothers and so their fight takes a far more personal and bitter edge.

The more I think about it there more I think there is a straight line from Winchester ’73 to the story of Star Wars. It is commonly known that Star Wars is essentially a Western in outer space (yup Chip, I did read your review), but I think it may be this western in particular. Lin and Dutch are almost like the two personalities of a schizophrenic person fighting himself. It is a hopeless match because it is essentially a person fighting himself like Luke and Darth Vader. Lin runs the risk of being overtaken by “the dark side” as his hunt and hatred threatens to transform him into what he is fighting and we are aware that the very same skills and qualities that makes Lin a hero can make a man a monster. Their shooting skill is like “the force” and their rifles are their light sabers.

Of course the comparison is not perfect, there may not be a Han Solo here or two droids and Lin is not exactly going through a transformation, but he is facing a number of challenges on the way and rises above them.

Westerns are not exactly my favorite genre, but when they are well made with a storyline that moves forward at a good pace they can be quite entertaining and this is a good example. Back to back with “Rio Grande” I would say “Winchester ‘73” is the better one. It is a lot more focused and keeps an eye on its objective and so feels a lot more satisfying. If I should pick a single movie to exemplify what a western is I would pick this movie. It hits the mark bull’s eye.

Saturday 18 October 2014

The Hunt (Jagten) (2012)

This week I finally got around to see ”Jagten” or ”The Hunt” as it is probably more commonly known as. It is a matter of some embarrassment that I only see it now, and I cannot even excuse myself by living in Israel, since the movie was running in cinemas here as well for some time after the Academy nomination. My only excuse is that the heavy and serious theme has scared me from making an active effort to go see it. What changed now is simply that I pulled myself together and bought the bloody thing and forced myself to see it.

I did not regret that for a second. I only regret that I did not go to the cinema to see it while I had the chance.

On my quest to watch the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die I am far away from a modern movie like “Jagten”, but I fear it will after all not be included on the List and so there is really no point in waiting. I will simply have to make a new group for “Honorable Mentions”. Hereby done. In any case this is a movie that cry out for a review so here goes nothing.

“Jagten” is not so much a movie about pedophilia as the stigmata of false accusations. How slander, deserved or undeserved can ruin a persons life. In the movie we follow Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who has already met his share of challenges. He is divorced and we get the impression that it was a bad divorce, at least there is some sort of agreement that he is not allowed to call his ex-wife. Why we do not know. She got their teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) and is preventing Lucas to see his son beyond every second weekend. Apparently against the wishes of Marcus. Lucas also lost his job as a teacher at the local school when it was closed and is therefore now working in a kindergarten.

It is odd to see Mads Mikkelsen in this role. Usually his haggard looks has earned him roles as tough guy, like in “Casino Royale” and at first he seems oddly out of place in a kindergarten. His glasses helps to soften up his demeanor but he still looks like a guy whom life has dealt some brutal cards. It is only when we see him together with the children that it starts to makes sense. There is a good connection between Lucas and the children. Obviously the boys in the kindergarten are enjoying the rough games that most female nursery staff would hesitate from participating in, but more importantly he cares for the children and is willing to reach out for them. This we see in relation to Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), who is feeling left over in her family and desperate needs an adult to care for her. His relationship with Klara is warm, but with the professional restraint that is expected of a kindergarten teacher.

This turns out to be crucial. Klara is so desperate for an adult that she decides to adopt Lucas. She seeks any opportunity to be around him, kisses him and gives him a present. When Lucas kindly but firmly refuses these advances Klara is crushed. Not only is her family ignoring her, her favorite kindergarten teacher is also pushing her away. She react in the way of any child, with anger and perfidity. Had it been any of the children she was angry on this would just have been business as usual, but when a child throws accusations on a male adult it is a whole different matter.

Now we get to the whole point of the story. The head of the kindergarten (Susse Wold as Grethe) hears Klara’s accusations and is deeply troubled by them. The shadow of pedophilia hangs heavy over any kindergarten. She calls in a colleague from another kindergarten who interviews Klara and seems to get the answers he wants and they convince each other that Klara has been sexually abused. That colleague is such a pig. Looking at him and listening to him he gets so excited that I feel confident he has some perverse tendencies in that direction and certainly this is the direction his mind goes. Klara just want to get out of the interview and agrees to anything that can get her off the hook. She is hardly five years old, what do you want from her?

Susse Wold is excellent as Grethe. She is totally pathetic both in her reactions in general and how she squirms under the responsibility and is in such a rush to pass it on. To the police, the staff and in particular to the parents who hears about this long before Lucas does. Lucas of course is royally pissed, but when he confronts Grethe with the accusations she just runs away instead of facing him in a scene of tragic comedy. The real tragedy of course is that this is not some cinematic exaggeration. There are lots of people like this out there and also in positions of leadership. On a side note it is funny to think that Susse Wold earned her spurs in naughty movies in the seventies usually wearing very little. Her Grethe character could not be further from those roles.

The story takes place in a small, provincial town. The kind of place where everybody knows everybody. I know this kind of place as I grew up in a small town just like this one. Once the word it is out Lucas is doomed. Everybody turns against him. Friends he has known since childhood suddenly wants to beat him up and everybody seems intent on freezing him out. Klara’s parents most of all. Her caveman of a father, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) is as frozen. He was Lucas best friend, but with this between them he seems not to recognize Lucas. The sad thing is that I understand them. Anybody with small children would. The children are the most precious we have and a person who abuses children is a monster.

The question of guilt is almost irrelevant. It is the suspicion that matters. To the mob you need no more than that and when people start talking Lucas does not stand a chance. Even when Klara admits that she was lying the adults are too stuck in their conviction of guilt that they ignore her. I cannot help being reminded of “The Oxbow Incident”. That may be horse rustling and not pedophilia, but I suspect that in that time and place that offense was just as bad. How easy it is for regular people to turn into a mindless mob and how futile it is to defend yourself.

Lucas goes through hell. His son comes to stay with him and he feels it too. Even when it turns out that the stories that goes around are totally absurd and the court releases him as innocent he is just as alone as before. A normal person would at that point have given up and moved away to a different town, but not a fighter like Lucas and therein lies the appeal of the movie. We want him to fight. We know he is the good guy and deserves a life and his resistance lends him integrity although it starts to look pathetic. He is lucky that he has a single friend, Bruun (Lars Ranthe). I am not sure what his actual relation is to Lucas or if there is some meaning in him being the lord of a manor and so placed above the mob, but without his support he would not have made it. What offends Lucas so badly is that even people who should know him well believes that he could be this monster without a shred of evidence, even his best mate Theo and his new girlfriend Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport). Only his son and this guardian angel do not believe he would do such a thing.

I have been thinking if there are some religious references. We have a Lucas and a Marcus as victims and only lack a Matthæus and Johannes in having the four gospels and the lord on the manor that is the only one to recognize the heart and innocence of Lucas could be a God character. In that case you might say that the message is that only divine intervention can save a guy from false accusations of pedophilia, but even God cannot save him from the mob. Maybe. I am not sure of this interpretation.

The real turning point is when Theo realizes that deep down he does not believe that Lucas has done harm to his daughter and is ashamed of what has happened to Lucas. The act of mutual forgiveness happens of all nights on Christmas Eve and is a scene of true heartbreak between two men with very few words.

Then we get a rather unsatisfying jump to one year later where apparently everybody has forgotten about the incidents and everybody are happy. It feels truly odd and hypocrite and may be a reference to Thomas Vinterbergs earlier movie “Festen”, but this is in fact a typical Danish reaction. Now all is well and let us forget the ugly past as if it never happened. But it did and it is not forgotten as Lucas soon finds out when somebody tries to arrange a hunting accident and nearly makes it. The suspicion of the mob is still there and may never go away. Nothing can ever clear you of suspicion of pedophilia.

I liked this movies a lot more than I expected. This may be Thomas Vinterberg’s best film since “Festen” and the nomination as Best Foreign Language Movie at the Academy Awards was well deserved. What works here is the realism. As terrible as it sounds I could easily imagine it played out in reality. Certainly the actions and reactions are very realistic. Following the release of the movie there was some criticism that the kindergarten in the movie did not follow official policies in the matter and that the story would never have gotten out in public in a real situation, but that kindergarten leader is not an unusual character type and the reaction of the parents is not unusual. I have seen it played on less serious charges. A united front of parents is a force to be reckoned with and they do not need proof, but can, in their mindless fury, make a big show out of small things.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Rio Grande (1950)

Rio Grande
There is a certain genre of films that centers on a military outfit: Daily life, new recruits, dangerous assignments and the dynamics between officers and enlisted men. I have seen tons of these movies because they have a certain appeal on boys. Such movies are brimful of all the testosterone qualities and values that you admire and long for growing up as a boy and they never really loose that appeal although as you get older you realize that this is not all fun and maybe even at some fundamental level wrong.

Rio Grande is such a movie. No more and no less.

In this case the setting is the Texan frontier in the late 1870’ies (based on this being 15 years after Shenandoah, an event during the civil war). The military outfit is a regiment of the US Cavalry and the baddies are Indians on the rampage.

John Wayne is Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, the commander of this outfit. He is almost unrecognizable with his moustache and trimmed hair. Only his talk and stance give him away and out course his trademark stubbornness. The outfit has, of course, an older uncle of a sergeant who is part tough, part a lovable teddy (Victor McLaglen), a bunch of merry men, who also happen to be very skilled horsemen and a number minor side characters to give the outfit flavor. I mention all this because this lineup is so classic it is almost cliché. I do not know if it originates from this movie (hardly), but it certainly follows the recipe. We get all the usual camaraderie and some shenanigans before things start getting serious.

The drama follows two tracks. The internal drama is a domestic one. One of the new recruits in the regiment in Jeff Yorke (Claude Jarman, Jr.). He failed math and dropped out of West Point, but immediately enlisted as a private and ended up in the very regiment of his father. He has something to prove and the Colonel recognizes that and treat him like a soldier rather than a son out of respect for him.

Then Trooper Yorke’s mother and Colonel Yorke’s wife shows up (Maureen O'Hara as Kathleen Yorke). It is pretty clear that this is not a social visit. She want to take Jeff home as it is clearly a mistake to enlist in the army, but when she realizes that both father and son need to give their consent and neither is of a mind to do so she just stays around. Kirby and Kathleen has not seen a lot of each other lately and there is a standing disagreement between them going back 15 years when Kirby as an officer of the Union army was ordered to burn down Kathleens family plantation in Shenandoah. She has never forgiven him that and I suppose it did not help that Kirby is also, and probably foremost, married to the US Cavalry.

The stage is set for a little bit of family drama.

The second track is the fighting between cavalry and Injuns. We never really get a good insight into the conflict. The why’s and how’s are neatly skipped over and what is left is a ragged but deadly band of Injuns who hide out in Mexico and strike deep into Texas wreaking havoc, killing women and kidnapping children. This of course is what the cavalry is for so we get some battle glory with a good chance for young Trooper Yorke to distinguish himself and prove himself a man.

It does sound pretty lame presented like that and plot-wise this is not a very original movie. The execution however is good. Very good even. John Ford loved the frontier and nobody, with the sole exception of John Huston, was able to incorporate the rugged, but beautiful landscape of the south-west like him. This is a movie that needs to be blown up on a big screen. Also John Ford had a thing going with John Wayne that brought out the best in him. Even when the movie sinks hopelessly into syrupy nostalgia they give the Kirby character enough grit to balance the movie. But most of all the movie is entertaining like hell. This is such an easy watch that you hardly notice that a hundred minutes has passed. That does count for something.

On the negative side this is a movie that cannot decide in which direction it wants to go. Is it a comedy or a domestic drama or a military action movie or, most problematic of all, a musical?

For some obscure reason musical intermezzos are peppered across the movie. Usually it breaks the illusion in that annoying musical fashion that just would never happen in reality and that is unfortunately a big annoyance, at least for me. If you want the audience to swallow the story you just cannot do that. It corresponds to having the characters stop up and talk directly to the audience. In that sense I do not really care if the music is good, it is just stupid. Especially since this movie is otherwise decidedly not a musical.

Unfortunately this is all part of the template. Follow a military outfit, throw in a bit of this and a bit of that and garnish with a few songs and the audience is happy.

I also think that, like the quite similar Gunga Din, it has some problems with the parties in the conflict it describes. Things are so much easier when it is simply the good guys versus the bad guys. I am quite sure there are some, Indians of both kinds, who would object to the presentation of them here.

Overall however I cannot deny that I was entertained and that this was a lot of fun and great movie to blow up on a big wall. Sometimes you need a bit of pulp.

Oh, and the family conflict? That becomes a metaphor for the restoration and reconciliation of north and south after the civil war. Pretty neat.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Café Paradis (1950)

Café Paradis
I am not a big fan of substance abuse films. Even the best of them can be something of a trial to watch since they always include a substantial amount of human ruin and thus heartbreak for us viewers. Do not get me wrong, movies like “The Lost Weekend” or “Trainspotting” are excellent movies and very much recommended, but it does tear me to pieces to watch people falling apart like that.

“Café Paradis” is very much a substance abuse film and it is not anywhere in the league of the above mentioned movies. That makes it a difficult watch with few of the alleviating elements to help me through it.

This is the fourth special entry on the Danish edition of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” and replaces “Winchester ‘73”. Some of the previous special entries have been really good and at least one of them I could imagine finding on the general List, but this one will never get there and that is just as well.

The film presents the destructive power of alcoholism through the fates of two of its victims. One is a worker, Carlo Jensen (Poul Reichhardt), who has just returned from some alcoholism treatment to his old job and his wife, Ester Jensen (Ingeborg Brams), and infant son. The other is Carlo’s superior at the shoe factory, the procurement manager Christian Birger (Ib Schønberg). He is the man on top with a flashy job, a flashy lifestyle and a very expensive wife. He is also a man with a considerable daily consumption of alcohol.

These two men are fast-tracking their lives into the gutter and (spoiler!) one will make it the other not.

Carlo has a lovely wife who really tries to help and understand Carlo. Unfortunately he also has a sister-in-law who has condemned him already and tries to get him out of her sister life. Her intrigant ways and Carlo’s low self-esteem (and self-control) sends him invariably to his local waterhole, Café Paradis to resume his drinking with his buddies there. He loses his job and almost loses his wife before he is saved by a friend who sends him to a doctor. The doctor changes his life with antabus and support from his wife and in a few years this wreck of a man, who would be shouting and crying and drinking and shouting some more, has turned himself into our favorite father, playing model railway with his son while smoking a pipe. Yup, happy ending.

Christian Birger’s story is the same and different. He is pressured by his wife, their friends and his boss to perform. His lifestyle is far too expensive and he is receiving absolutely no support from his bitch of a wife, Rita Birger (Karin Nellemose). His life hinges on him getting a crucial promotion, but at the all-important dinner with the board of directors he drinks far too much and in the most notable scene of the entire movie Christian manages to give the speech from hell and effectively kill his career. Notable for the sheer excruciating pain of watching this man screw up big time. From then on it is a one way street. The wife leaves him and her tours first the expensive bars, then the poorer ones and finally we find him, washed out on Café Paradis. He also gets treatment from a doctor, an old school friend even, but with only his old mother as support and nothing to live for he is doomed and indeed we knew that from the outset because the film opens with the police investigating the death of a drunkard found frozen stiff in the park.

This is not exactly the most inventive of plots and especially the story of Carlo is so cliché that it is even dull. Add to that a very moralizing tone and this start to look like an information campaign against alcoholism. Clearly a movie with a mission.

Ib Schønberg is the redeeming element as The Book also states. His story is the more interesting of the two and as a character Christian is more developed than Carlo. He is a pitiful character and despite his arrogance in the beginning it is difficult not to feel sorry for him. It is easy to say that he should control his drinking or stand up against his nightmare of a wife, but he just tries to cope as he best can and is betrayed by his crutch, the drink. I mentioned the infamous board dinner, but almost every scene with Birger is painful and in the end I am almost relieved to see him end his misery in the park.

The second redeeming factor is to watch life as it played out in Copenhagen in 1950. The cars, the homes, the cloth and all the things that are the same. You can still go to an average size town and find places like Café Paradis, even exact clones, and a bottle of Tuborg is exactly the same today as it was in 1950. Dammit, I even recognize the drunkards from my old town Aalborg. They would go to Boulevardcaféen, Centralcaféen, Torvebaren, Kontiki Bar or the worst of them all Fedtebrød and they look exactly like the washed up characters on Café Paradis. Yeah, we have come a long way…

I suppose a movie like “Café Paradis” get picked for the List because of its social message, that it is somehow considered an important film. I am just wondering if this is really the best Danish film could manage in this period. If that is so then that is a real tragedy.    

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Rashomon (1950)

”Rashomon” is one of those movies that keep buzzing around in your head for a long time after you have seen it. I am still trying to make sense of it and I cannot say that I fully understand the movie. Well, that seems indeed to be the intention of the movie, to make us doubt what we see and suspend our judgment, yet it still feels as if I am missing something towards the end of the movie.

“Rashomon” is a concept movie in the sense that it explores and idea rather than an actual plot. The idea here being that truth is subjective and that each person has his own interpretation on reality. Today we are not unfamiliar with this angle. There are a number of films that has used it as part of the plot or as way to tell a story. Most famous is probably “The Usual Suspects”, but it has been done so often that it has a name. It is called the Rashomon-effect (it is true, try Google it!).

The story is simply enough. Three men, a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura), a priest (Minoru Chiaki) and a… hobo, I suppose, (Kichijiro Ueda) are taking shelter from the rain in an old, dilapidated gate building. The woodcutter and the priest has just witnessed an inquest in the court and are in a state of shock. They tell the story to the hobo. A samurai (Masayuki Mori) was murdered in the forest. Present was a bandit, Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune) and the samurai’s wife (Machiko Kyō).

But now it starts getting complicated. We are told the story in four different ways. From the bandit, the wife, the samurai (through a medium) and through the woodcutter, who, it turned out, watched the whole thing from hiding. Each person has his or her own take on the story. You would think that they all plead not guilty, but it is not so. In fact all of them except the woodcutter claims to have done the killing, but in a manner where killing the samurai was the honorable thing to do.

Tajomaru wanted the wife who after a bit of resistance gave in and kissed him back. Then he fought the samurai in worthy and honorable battle and bested him in the end.  

The wife claims that Tajomaro raped her and that her husband, tied up as he was, looked at her with such coldness and disdain that it freaked here out, she fainted and must have killed the samurai in the fall.

The samurai claims that he saw his wife being raped, but that she after the rape asked the bandit to kill the samurai because she could not belong to two men. The bandit however did not kill him so the samurai killed himself in shame.

The woodcutters story however is different. In that one all three are pitiful creatures. The wife is pathetic, the fighting between the bandit and the samurai is more a brawl than a fight and nobody acts with any sense of honor.

Which of these stories are correct? We do not know and we are not told. Instead these are the stories that fit the persona. This is how they see themselves and want the world to perceive them. The bandit is a badass, the wife is unfairly judged by men, the samurai is shamed, but takes the honorable way out after being deceived by both wife and bandit and the woodcutter is a coward and a simple person who see other people in the same light.

In a sense it does not matter what really happened there in the forest. The point is to show how subjective truth is.

Then comes the end of the story and this I do not entirely understand. The three men in the gate finds a crying infant left alone there. The hobo immediately steals the kimono used as wrapping while the woodcutter is infuriated at the hobo for doing that. The hobo calls him a hypocrite because he has guessed that the woodcutter stole the dagger in the woods. The priest meanwhile holds the child and when the woodcutter asks to take the baby he refuses. Then the woodcutter tells him that he has six children already and a seventh will not make much difference to which the priest replies that now he has regained his faith in humanity.

Clearly I am missing something here. Is it that despite the woodcutter is a coward and a thief he is willing to help and save an infant in need, an extra expense when he is clearly poor and has already six children depending on him? Maybe. This is as far as I got, but it seems there should be something more to it.

Despite this confusion in the end this is a very impressive film. Not just for founding a concept that has become so popular, but to make a movie so radically different from anything else in its time and do it so convincingly. The closest thing I can think of is “Citizen Kane” where a story is told in retrospect by different people, each giving their own angle. But in “Rashomon” it is the same story that each person is telling. The issue of subjective truth is boiled down so this is at the core of the story.

Much have been said about the exaggerated acting style that seems to hark back to the silent era, but it does not disturb me. That kind of acting, as well as minimalist acting, is integral to Japanese culture (kabuki) so it seems quite appropriate. This is also the first movie in what seems to be quite a series with Toshiro Mifune and that is certainly an interesting acquaintance.

All in all Akira Kurosawa makes quite an entry on the List. I can hardly wait for the next one to show up.