Tag Archives: Italian

CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

AKA:  Kiss Me Kill Me

DIRECTED BY:  Corrado Farina

FEATURING: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funès,

PLOT: A fashion photographer is beguiled by a lesbian witch who seeks to dominate, seduce and consume her.

Still from Baba Yaga (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTBab Yaga is straight Euro-thriller.  While such films have an unconventional feel by US standards, the style is characteristic of this distinctive 1960’s-’70’s genre, and therefore very conventional on its own terms.

COMMENTSBaba Yaga is a very stylish Italian occult film in the Euro horror tradition of Suspiria.  It is based on artist Guido Crepax’s highly stylized graphic novel about a sorceress who tries to bewitch a fashion photographer.  Crepax adapted the novel from his risqué S&M comic .

Valentina (De Funès) is an up and coming fashion photographer with a knack for controversial shoots.  After she has a chance encounter with the fashionable and alluring society matron Baba Yaga, her life takes strange and eerie turns.  Yaga discovers Valentina on a darkened street, becomes attracted to her and begins to inject herself into the young shutterbug’s life in odd ways.  Yaga develops a strange fixation on Valentina, one that is more than platonic.

Yaga lives in a striking Gothic Revival mansion, it’s interiors bedecked with layers of satin, red velvet –and heavy leather in the boudoir.  While the house is very luxurious, it is in need of a few repairs.  There is a nasty hole under the oriental rug in the drawing room—the opening of a bottomless pit to Hell.  It is only fitting to have an eccentric home, because the owner isn’t exactly mainstream.  Babs is taken with keeping vipers and Australian fruit bats for pets, has some creepy taxidermy a la Norman Bates, and owns a collection of cursed curios.

In a gesture of benevolence, Baba Yaga gives Valentina a large Victorian doll “to protect” her.  Valentina counters that she doesn’t need any protection.  Well, she does now!  The Continue reading CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

PLEASE HELP, NON-AMERICAN FRIENDS: A LIST OF OBSURE, FOREIGN (TO US) FILMS

The Internet Movie Database is a wonderful and a terrible thing.  Wonderful, because it allows you to create impressively thorough lists of potentially weird movies.  Terrible, because it may tease you with the names of intriguing movies you may never be able to see.

Below is a list of dozens of highly-rated movies that have been tagged with “surrealism” or similar keywords, broken down by country.  To my knowledge, none of these movies is currently available on DVD, and I suspect that several of them may never have been translated into English.  Any information on these titles by people who are familiar with them would be of enormous value to us in deciding whether or not we should invest time in trying to track them down.  So, my non-American friends, please have at it!  If you leave a comment with some information on any of these titles, I’ll update the body of the text to reflect it.  (Information supplied by readers is added in bold).

Argentinian

  • Razón de mi vida, La (20??) [The Reason for My Life].  This showed up on the IMDB as a highly rated 2008 release a while back.  Now, the link goes to a movie of the same name, but it has no rating and is listed as a 2010 release.  OFFICIAL UPDATE: Per Kino Red: “completed in this month. Release soon (Buenos Aires, Paris and Tokyo). Trailer and teaser (in Spanish) in youtube: NOTE: The film is not based on the Eva Perón autobiography. The title of the film is ironic or parodic about the Eva Perón’s book.” I will add that the trailer looks very promising!
  • Rosaura a las 10 (1958) [Rosaura at 10 o’clock].  Alon thinks it’s only borderline weird at best.

Brazilian

  • Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (1964) [God and the Devil in the Land of the SunPer Alon: “interesting, beautifully filmed and edited, movie about the drama of the Brazilian dispossessed… but I wouldn’t consider it weird by any measure.”
  • O Anjo Nasceu (1969) [The Angel Was Born]
  • Per Alon: “…seems to be famous for its unconventional camerawork and editing. The film tells the story of two murderers, one of whom has mystic visions, and was regarded as quite gory for its time.”

  • Terra em Transe.  No English translation of the title.  Per Alon, Entranced Land or Land in Anguish. Has read it’s more “daring” than Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol by the same director.

Czech/Czechoslovakian

  • Adéla jeste nevecerela (1978).  Per LRobHubbard: translates to Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet. From the director of Lemonade Joe (which we do plan to review).  “Spoofs the ‘Nick Carter’ detective stories, featuring Carter investigating strange disappearances, which involve a carnivorous plant, the ‘Adele’ of the title.”  No Region 1 release.  Worth seeing, but not necessarily weird.
  • Akumulátor 1 (1994).
  • Jak utopit doktora Mrácka aneb Konec vodniku v Cechách (1974) [How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer]
  • Kytice (2000) [Wild Flowers]
  • Lepsie byt bohaty a zdravy ako chudobny a chory (1993) [It’s Better to Be Wealthy and Healthy Than Poor and Ill]
  • Nejasná zpráva o konci sveta (1997) [An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World]
  • Nevesta (1970).
  • Pane, vy jste vdova! (1970) [You Are a Widow, Sir]
  • Postav dom, zasad strom (1980) [Build a House, Plant a Tree]
  • Sedím na konári a je mi dobre (1989). No English translation of the title. Probably never translated into English.
  • Tajemství hradu v Karpatech (1981) [The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians].  Per LRobHubbard: from the director of and similar to Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet (above) but a pastiche/parody. The idea may be from a story by Jules Verne.
  • Tisícrocná vcela (1983) [The Millennial Bee]
  • Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem (1977).  No English translation of the title.

French

  • La Cicatrice intérieure (1972).  Written by and featuring glacial chanteuse Nico (best known here for her work with The Velvet Underground).
  • La Dernière femme (1976) [The Last Woman].  Despite the presence of a young Gerard Depardieu, I am not sure this was ever translated into English for home video.  Controversial on release due to its sexual content.  Per Irene, not a weird film.

Greek

  • Souvliste tous! Etsi tha paroume to kouradokastro (1981) [Barbecue them!].  A Greek correspondent tells me this is basically unknown even in Greece and no DVDs are available.  It is on Google video, with no English subtitles.

Italian

  • Capricci (1969).  By Carmelo Bene.
  • Don Giovanni (1970).  Also by Carmelo Bene.
  • Fantozzi (1975) and Il Secondo tragico Fantozzi (1976).  These popular Italian comedies seem to have never been released in America.  I gather Fantozzi is something like the Italian Monsieur Hulot?
  • La Rabbia (2008).  With Faye Dunaway and Franco Nero in the cast, I would assume this might see the light of day soon.

Indian

  • Poi (2006).

Japanese

  • Den-en ni shisu (1974) [Pastoral Hide and Seek]
  • Tokyo senso sengo hiwa (1970) [He Died After the War]

Mexican

  • Pafnucio Santo (1977).  Per Alon: “…seems promising… directed by Jodorowsky’s cinematographer… the trailer on YouTube is rather terse.”

Polish

  • Ewa chce spac (1958).  No English translation of the title.  Per Irene Goncharova, “a mere comedy… I didn’t find it weird.”
  • Jak daleko stad, jak blisko (1972) [How Far, How Near]
  • Walkower (1965) [Walkover]. Per Irene Goncharova, “A Polish movie, just drama, nothing weird.”

Russian/Soviet

  • Den vyborov (2007) [Election Day].  Per Irene Goranchova: “…absolute trash, a really BAD Russian movie. I sometimes laugh watching it. Bad, bad, bad! Nothing weird…”
  • Posetitel muzeya (1989). [Visitor of a Museum]?
  • Sobachye serdtse (1988). Literally, Heart of a Dog. Based on a Mikhail Bulgakov novel that was also adapted by the Italians into a film called Cuore di cane.  Produced for television?  Per Irene Goncharova: It was a television production, although there may also be another filmed version.  “…a good movie, quite weird.”
  • Zhena kerosinshchika (1988) [Kerosene Salesman’s Wife]?  Per Irene Goncharova: hasn’t seen it, but looks weird from the description.

Spanish

  • Amanece, que no es poco (1989). No English translation of the title.  Per Alon, English translation may be Isn’t dawn enough? “…a masterpiece of surreal humour. You have a serious candidate for The List.”
  • Don Juan Tenorio (1952).  Alon thinks it’s unlikely to be weird, mentions that its notoriety may come from the fact that Salvador Dalí served as the costume designer.

In the interest of thoroughness, we’re potentially saving a spot on the List for all these movies, so any help as to whether they are must-sees or duds will be greatly appreciated!

LIST CANDIDATE: WHAT? [CHE?] (1972)

NOTE: In our December 2010 poll, readers decided we too hasty to dismiss What?, and voted to make it a candidate for the List.

AKA Diary of Forbidden Dreams

DIRECTED BY: Roman Polanski

FEATURING: Sydne Rome, ,

PLOT: An American hitchhiker in Italy loses her clothes and finds a Mediterranean villa full of oddball characters.

Still from What? (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: What? is an absurdist sex comedy that’s highly absurd, mildly sexy, and not one bit comic.  It’s weird, all right, but also slapdash and frequently insufferable; in short, not good enough to make a List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

COMMENTS:  Some films are ahead of their times, misunderstood on release, and are ripe for reappraisal years later.  And sometimes, the critics get it right the first time, as when they ran screaming from early showings of What?.  Sandwiched in between Roman Polanski’s intricately constructed classics Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), What? seems like the improvised work of an overconfident director who believes he can do no wrong.  Polanski may be a genius, but light tone and full-out surrealism are a poor match to his talent for creating tension through subtly weird atmospheres.  The overarching concept is great, the assembled talent is impeccable, the Mediterranean setting is sublimely elegant, Sydne Rome is a perfect specimen of femininity… yet the script sucks all the life and fun out of the movie, delivering one scene after another that lands with a dull thud.  Heroine Rome, a hippie-esque ingenue, escapes a gang rape and flees to a villa inhabited by a cadre of eccentrics.  Foremost among them is Marcello Mastroianni, uncomfortably playing a dirty old man and ex-pimp.  Despite rumors of homosexuality and venereal diseases, Rome inexplicably falls for the lecher, and their trysts involve Mastroianni dressing in a tiger skin while she beats him or dressing like Napoleon while he beats her.  It’s a novelty to see an actor of Mastroianni’s status willingly degrade himself this way, but it’s neither as fun or as funny as it sounds.  Other poorly-sketched weirdos populating the mansion include a scuba diver (portrayed by Polanski) nicknamed Mosquito, a piano playing doctor, a dying patriarch who also turns out to be a dirty old man, a priest, and a naked woman wandering about the grounds.  Absurd gags fall flat: in one of the earliest, a housemaid sprays shaving cream in the air in an attempt to kill a fly.  Later, a workman will paint the back of Sydne’s appealing thigh blue, a rather uninteresting incident that the script insists on reminding us of over and over.  The biggest running gag is that someone keeps stealing Sydne’s clothes, although the thief doesn’t pilfer quite enough of them; there are long stretches of the movie where Rome runs around clothed. Not coincidentally, the movie then starts to drag.  A few clever ideas emerge, such as when certain scenes start to repeat themselves with slight variations, but in general the movie misses several golden opportunities to ratchet the absurdity up to truly entertaining levels.  Particularly disappointing is the dialogue; the potential for clever nonsense interplay between the innocent American and the depraved Europeans devolves into crude, uninteresting jokes.  A classical music score, references to Heraclitus, and paintings by Francis Bacon and Théodore Géricault in the background are deployed in an attempt to dress up the sleazy material in the clothes of high art.  What? isn’t recommended, but it can be viewed, and even enjoyed, as a novelty.  It’s unhinged, unpredictable, and full of that slightly naive and innocent late 1960s/early 1970s experimentalism that can be refreshing in this cynical age.  But it’s clearly a product of its time, not a work that transcends it.

The film that What? most resembles is the star-studded (Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Ringo Starr) 1968 erotic misfire Candy, a doomed attempt to translate Terry Southern’s satirical porn novel to the screen.  The concept of an erotic version of “Alice in Wonderland,” with a wide-eyed innocent encountering a cast of sexual deviants, has great promise, but has never been executed properly on screen.   Alex de Renzy’s XXX feature Pretty Peaches (1978) is probably the movie that runs the farthest with that particular ball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Polanski seems to be enjoying a weird, borderline-nonsensical joke at our expense, one without a punchline or a setup… a self-indulgent mess masquerading as a trippy free-for-all.”–Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club (DVD)

25. NOSTALGHIA (1983)

“I wanted the film to be about the fatal attachment of Russians to their national roots, an attachment which they will carry with them for their entire lives, regardless of where destiny may fling them.  How could I have imagined as I was making Nostalghia that the stifling sense of longing that fills the screen space of that film was to become my lot for the rest of my life; that from now until the end of my days I would bear the painful malady within myself?” –Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Andrei Tarkovsky

FEATURING: Oleg Yankovskiy, Domiziana Giordano, Erland Josephson

PLOT: Andrei is a Russian poet is traveling around Italy in the company of a fetching translator, researching a biography of a Russian composer who studied in Italy before returning to Russia only to drink and kill himself.  Andrei becomes homesick and bored with the project, and with life in general, until he becomes fascinated by a insane man living in a small town famous for its natural mineral baths.  The madman gives him a simple symbolic task to perform—which Andrei procrastinates in completing— then leaves for Rome on a mission of his own.

Still from Nostalghia (1983)
BACKGROUND:

  • Tarkovsky was considered one of the finest filmmakers in the Soviet Union; he frequently ran into difficulty with the Soviet censors, however, particularly for his Christian viewpoints.  Although his films won acclaim at international film festivals, they were often shown to limited audiences in edited versions in his own country.  Work on the historical epic Tarkovsky was helming prior to Nostalghia had been halted by the Soviet censorship board because of scenes seen as critical of the state’s policy of official atheism.
  • Nostalghia was the first film Tarkovsky made outside the Soviet Union.  Originally intended to be a Soviet/Italian co-production, the state-owned USSR film production Mosfilm withdrew financial support for the project without comment after filming had already begun.
  • The film competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but was awarded a special jury prize instead.  Tarkovsky claimed that the Soviet contingent applied pressure to assure that the film would not be awarded the grand prize.
  • Tarkovsky defected to the West soon after Nostalghia was completed, leaving his wife and son behind.  They were eventually allowed to leave the country when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986.  Rumors persist that Tarkovsky did not die of natural causes, but was actually poisoned by the KGB in retaliation for his defection.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  There are many fine candidates.  The scene of Andrei attempting to carry a lit candle cupped in his hand across a drained spa may stick with the viewer, if not for its symbolism, then because it audaciously continues for over eight minutes.  But the final, static, picture postcard-like composition of a Russian homestead nestled inside an Italian cathedral perhaps captures Tarkovsky’s theme the best, and is shockingly beautiful, as well.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The fluidity between the conscious and subconscious worlds. Although it’s almost always clear whether the events depicted actually occur or are imagined, Tarkovsky is much more interested in what is going on inside the heads of his alienated Russian poet and the Italian madman than in what is happening in the “real” world. He uses strong, sometimes obscure visual symbolism and dreams to convey an affecting mood of existential loneliness.


Trailer for Nostalghia

COMMENTSNostalghia can’t be approached without a word of warning: this movie is Continue reading 25. NOSTALGHIA (1983)