Wednesday 31 October 2018

Repulsion (1965)

Roman Polanski’s first movie on the List, yay!

While most of the directors on the List so far are gone by now, Roman Polanski is still around, well, in Europe at least, and for me that marks the beginning of the current era. Which of course is a lot of bull because Polanski has been around so long that his career spans a whole series of eras. Yet, it still feels special to me.

I tend to like Roman Polanski’s movies and being presented with one I had never seen nor even heard of made me very excited. I was looking forward to this movie like a child for Christmas. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

That was not apparent from the opening of the movie, though. Pretty Catherine Deneuve as Carol Ledoux walks around the streets of London, goes to work in a beauty parlor and sits around at home with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Pretty boring. Slowly, though, we start to feel something is wrong. Carol is suited by a guy called Colin (John Fraser) who is hitting quite hard on her, but Carol pushes him off. In fact, she seems to be repulsed by men in general, especially Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). That is actually understandable, all the men in the movie are dicks, or at least acts like it. So, at this point I do understand why she abhors these guys.

Then Helen and Michael leave for a holiday in Italy and things start to go downhill fast for Carol. Her weirdness becomes more than just a quirk. At times she is catatonic, then she hallucinates, walls are cracking, there is an imagined man raping her in her bed and arms from the walls are grapping for her. She isolates herself in her apartment, which becomes a metaphor for her mental prison as are the rotting rabbit and the vegetables in the kitchen. By the time her boyfriend and the landlord show up she has gone completely bananas.

This works beautifully. Carols decent into madness is very convincing. We get a view in on her hallucinations and they are frightening. There are very effective jump scares (hey, I was jumping in my seat, but I am also an easy victim) and Carol’s nightmare gets as rotten and revolting as the dead rabbit in the kitchen. It is a simple story, but it is done extremely effectively.

Catherine Deneuve is miles away from the happy girl in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and is every bit the insane girl. She is sweet and innocent in the beginning, catatonic with a completely empty look and wild berserker at times. Her eyes scream fear or vacancy and she seems to have become a model for a girl-doll-turned-lunatic-murderess. I am sure this will influence my impression of Deneuve in the movies to come.

The cinematography is also outstanding. It is black and white, yes, but it actually works to the advantage here. Madness apparently requires these black and white tones. The London Carol walks around in is so natural and realistic and completely offsets the mad visions in the apartment, where the special effects department has been busy.

There is in fact very little negative I can say about this movie. Do we need to know more about Carol and her background, why she is ill? Not really. It is impressionistic. We learn a lot about her just from looking at her and listening to her. An actual explanation would just be in the way. Is it too sensational, a pretty girl turned crazy? Maybe, but does that matter? Is it not because she is a pretty little thing that it seems even more powerful. The men never see her fragile mind, they only see a pretty face and sexy legs and so her isolation is complete.

I can only recommend “Repulsion”. It may be the best movie in 1965 for me. Certainly the most effective. Go watch it! Now!


Saturday 27 October 2018

Chimes at Midnight (Campanadas a Medianoche) (1965)


I am on a roll with odd film experiences. Seriously, the mid-sixties are awash with them. “Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)” is no exception.

It is a period piece in a medieval setting around some English king and his son and as such should be quite watchable, but as this story is based on a Shakespeare play or two, the actors are all speaking in that particular Shakespearian, declamatory and antiquated manner. Add to that that the sound was absolutely horrible, and the DVD came without subtitles and I have not clue what anybody was saying. It was like watching a silent movie without title cards. I tried to read up on the plot summary as the movie progressed, but it is not the same thing at all and large chunks of the movie is just incomprehensible to me.

This is of course a failure on my side and I have no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who gets a lot more out of this movie than I did. For one I have never been into the whole Shakespeare thing and secondly a native speaker would likely have less trouble than me catching the gist of what the characters were saying.

In any case the story is more or less this: King Henry IV of England (John Gielgud) has supposedly usurped the throne of England from the true heir, triggering an uprising from the followers of that heir. Meanwhile his son, Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) is having a splendid time hanging out in bars with the corpulent and useless knight Falstaff (Orson Welles). There is a big battle between the rebels and the loyalists in which Hal defeats the leader of the uprising in single combat. Later on, at the deathbed of the King Henry IV, Hal and the king makes friend and when the king soon after dies, Hal takes the throne as Henry V. Suddenly Hal is too good for Falstaff who feels betrayed and dies.

That was about as much as I got out of it. Obviously the material of this movie is in the details, in the dialogue and the banter of Welles’ Falstaff, but as mentioned, this was largely wasted on me, so I cannot say if it was fun or deep or hit the right Shakespearian heights. This could be absolutely brilliant, and I would not know. 

Orson Welles is very corpulent and seems to be the joke of the movie. He does seem to have an inflated opinion on himself and held in disrepute by everybody else. As such he was likely very entertaining. For me he was just a fat guy rambling around in oversize armor.

Speaking of armor, the battle at the center of the movie is quite spectacular. It is a bloody mess involving a lot of knights in heavy armor and soldiers of all sorts milling around and as it does not require any dialogue I was able to fully appreciate it. Too bad that men killing each other does not hold the same allure to me as it used to.

Besides being partially the reason to me losing out on the dialogue, the sound is an annoyance all on its own. Technically it is very poorly done and some of the voices are so annoying that I felt physical pain listening to it. Just terrible.

I do not feel I am able to judge this movie. There seems to be a consensus appreciation of this movie and I am barred from that club on a mostly technical basis. I will therefore leave it to others to say if this is a good or a bad movie. Let me just say that these were two very long hours of my life.


Thursday 25 October 2018

The Man Who had his Hair Cut Short (De Man die Zijin Haar Kort Liet Knippen) (1965)

The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short

“The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short” (De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen) is a weird experience. I know, these weird experiences seem to be piling up, that is the sixties in movies. But, yeah, this is pretty strange.

It actually does not start out that way. This Belgian movie starts out with Govert Miereveld (Senne Rouffaer) going through his morning rituals in order to prepare for a big day: graduation day for the girls at his school and his appointment as the new headmaster of the school. It is very naturalistic except for one detail, we are listening in to Goverts thoughts and they are… disturbing. Turns out this married man with children is having a secret crush on one of the school girls (yuck!) and this is driving him, literally, mad.

At the school ceremony all Govert can think of is that this is the last time he will see Fran (Beata Tyszkiewicz) and he is desperate to tell her, but he does not manage. Instead he watches her sing.

Change of scene. Govert Miereveld is now picked up by Professor Mato (Hector Camerlynck) and his assistant to drive out to an obduction of a decayed corpse at a cemetery. It is pretty gross and Govert does not feel too well. They stay overnight in a local hotel where Miereveld has an encounter with Fran who is now a famous singer. Late at night he seeks her out in her room and they have a very weird dialogue ending with her asking him to kill her. He shoots her and is devastated at what he has done.

Change of scene. It seems to be ten years later and Miereveld is an inmate at… not sure, a prison or a mental institute. He sees a newsreel of Fran singing and, realizing it is a recent film, he learns that apparently he did not kill her and he is mightily relieved.

At face value this makes very little sense. Especially that dialogue in the hotel room seems more like Govert putting his own words in her mouth and the fact that he fell asleep in a chair just before could indicate that he is dreaming it all. Somehow the corpse the examined earlier is supposed to be her father and the gun is the same that shot him. Seriously I did not understand half of that conversation. 

I tried to look up a summary of the movie but all I could find was very brief and indicated that Govert Miereveld is getting deeper and deeper into a psychosis that makes him create his own reality and as we see his version of reality we have no idea what is true and what is not. Normally we are helped by some obscurity but the naturalistic filming convinces us that what we see is reality. Only the sounds take on an ominous hollow texture when his touch on reality is slipping. That and his prolific sweating.

There is of course a deeper story than a man going nuts, I am just not smart enough to unravel it. It could be as simple as an obsession gone wrong, but it could also be him judging and failing himself, needing an outside agent to condemn him. Or it could simply be: teacher, leave them school girls alone. 

As much as this was a weird movie it was also strangely fascinating. I liked the crisp pictures and the acting that both made this very real and the soundscape is just right to throw us off balance. It could be a movie I would want to watch again in an attempt to understand it better, but mental illness always scares me, so I may take a rain check on that. Still, for that obscure, unique experience I think I would dare to recommend this movie.

The title is about as obscure as the rest of the movie. No idea what it is supposed to mean.

Saturday 13 October 2018

The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekpis Znaleziony w Saragossie) (1965)

The Saragossa Manuscript
Okay, that was weird.

I have no idea what the point was with this movie. Given that I spent 3 hours with it and really tried to figure it out, that is pretty bad. Not that this is actually a bad movie per se. The production value is high enough, it has some good laughs and interesting characters, but the bigger picture eludes me. 

Some soldiers in one of the Napoleonic wars find a book in a Spanish town that makes them forget the battle around them. First flashback: the story in the book is about a captain in the Spanish army, Alfonso van Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski), who is travelling through a wild mountain range on his way to Madrid. He stops at an inn, which is supposed to be haunted. Soon he is invited into a cave where two pretty Tunesian princesses, Emina (Iga Cembrzyńska) and Zibelda (Joanna Jędryka) claim to be his cousins and want to give themselves to him if he will convert to their faith and drink from a chalice. Whoom, Alfonso wakes up under a gallows. He meets a hermit and his crazy patient who tells his story, second flashback. Soon Alfonso is back in the cave, drinks from the chalice and is out under the gallows again. He is caught by the Spanish inquisition, saved somehow by dead bandits, eventually taken to the castle of a cabalist, who together with a girl has some secret purpose for Alfonso. Here they listen to a story by a gypsy and this is where it gets really complicated.

The gypsy’s tale (second level flashback) includes a tale by the merchant son, Don Suarez, (third level flashback) of how he has befriended a noble called Busqueros to help him find a girl. Busqueros tells him (fourth level flashback) about his affair with a girl who in turn tells Busqueros why her husband is afraid of ghosts (fifth level flashback). By the time these stories resolve in some interlinked mess I have completely lost my sense of direction and the point of the story is lost on me. 

And then I have not even mentioned the many other stand-alone flashbacks.

Alfonso leaves the castle and has some more interactions with the princesses. He gets a book which apparently tells his story, for him to finish. This he tries to do at the inn of the beginning of the movie, before he throws the book away and seems to go crazy.

There are so many stories here and many of them are actually funny. There are some silly characters and odd, humorous entanglements. They work very well. The women are universally beautiful and would have impressed Russ Meyer and despite the obvious reuse of the same sets in various scenes they are all very well made, especially the costumes. This is a grand movie and quite impressive for what I figured a Polish movie would be like in the mid-sixties.

Yet, this movie is so surreal that it is completely at odds with the production. It has lot more in common with a David Lynch movie than Dr. Zhivago and I suppose that opacity is both the charm and the curse of “The Saragossa Manuscript”. Add the fact that all these Spanish characters speak Polish and we land way out there in the left field.

What bothers me is that I have not figured out the point of this story. I do not understand what I have been watching and what all these tales within tales have been leading up to.  I do not even know where to start in understanding what I have been watching. I could use some help here, please.

I am not sure whether or not to recommend this movie. I believe I should, but the confusion I am in tells me not to. I suppose it is not for everybody.

Sunday 7 October 2018

The Girl and the Millionaire (Pigen og millionæren) (1965)

Off-List: Pigen og millionæren

A few ”years” ago I decided to select three additional movie to watch for each year. From 1965 and henceforth I am adding another criteria: One of those movies must be a Danish movie. 

Not because Danish movies are phenomenally great, nor because of some nationalistic imperative, but because these movies are a part of my heritage and my childhood and, well, they sort of drown out among the big international movies. So, I think it is fitting to allocate a spot for a select specimen for each year.

For 1965 that movie is “Pigen og millionæren”, which translates to “The Girl and the Millionaire”. It is in fact a remake of a Swedish movie called something like “With you in my arms”. However it is the Danish version I have been watching… for the hundredth time or so. In my childhood home this movie was something of a favorite. We would quote it and imitate it and watch it again and again. Not because it is great, but because it is hilariously funny.

Jens Møller (Dirch Passer) is the owner and manager of a trading company and very wealthy. One day while shooting clay pigeons he is knocked in the head and looses his memory. Waking up he must rediscover his life. After some confusion where he thinks he is some other guy with five children involved in a divorce and then a psychopathic prisoner on the lam, he learns that he is a rich playboy with a lot of girlfriends and a wasteful life. He lives in a penthouse apartment with his butler Morris (Poul Hagen) and his company is a mess. Jens is not very happy with what he finds and sets out to change this.

First of all he has met a pianist, Malene Brandt (Birgitte Price), who seems to know him, and he is instantly in love with her. Secondly, he sets out to recover his company from the lethargy his slacking has caused. But how do you pursue these two targets when everybody thinks you are a dick? Especially when it turns out Malene is married, apparently to a very confused impresario, Max, (Axel Strøbye) who knows a big, bad guy called Børge, or is it the other way round…?

It is silly, very silly. It is not great acting or technically advanced, but it is fantastically funny. Axel Strøbye’s Max is so ridiculously confused and on a tangent to everything around him that you cannot but laugh. For years we would use the term “Børge” for anything and all. “Lets have a little Børge”, “Do you have a writing Børge” etc. He is my favorite Danish actor of all time (closely followed by Ole Thestrup) and it probably started with this movie.

Dirch Passer was one of the most loved Danish comedians, but probably completely unknown to a foreign audience. If you were ever interested in old school Danish comedy, he would be a good place to start. He is the Danish version of Jim Carey; exaggerated, ridiculous and hilarious. The interesting thing with his role in this movie is that he is also a romantic lead, a part for which he was a fish out of water. The crazy thing is that he pulls it off, which would seem rather unlikely.

This is one of those movies where everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Where every mix up and misunderstanding will be exploited for all it is worth and no joke is too low. That means of course that there are misses, but most of the time it does work and for that it has become a classic that I enjoy just as much today as I did in my childhood.

Comedy translates very poorly and a movie like “The Girl and the Millionaire” is probably wasted on a wider audience, but it is a good representative of a subgenre called “lystspil” that was exceedingly popular in Denmark in the sixties and seventies and which won a faithful audience in some neighboring countries. For this alone I would recommend this movie.