Tag Archives: Jeanne Moreau

CAPSULE: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Rüdiger Vogler, ,

PLOT: A disillusioned young woman follows a mysterious stranger across the globe, only to become transfixed by a device which allows the user to record and replay their own dreams.

COMMENTS: Usually the term “Director’s Cut” suggests that a film was extended by 10 minutes, or even an hour, from its initial form by restoring footage left on the cutting floor due to studio pressure. But in the case of Until the End of the World, it meant doubling the film’s original running time from two and a half hours to almost five. With this film, German auteur Wim Wenders intended to make “the ultimate road movie,” building on a career of road movies such as Kings of the Road and Paris, Texas. In other words, he set out to make his magnum opus. Now, thanks to the Criterion Collection, his vision can finally be seen as originally intended.

So how does it hold up? Well, it’s an improvement on the original truncated version, which felt rushed and confusing, but it might not be the masterpiece that Wenders intended. Where the original version was two incomplete films haphazardly cobbled together, the five-hour version is essentially two films in one. The film no longer feels incomplete, but it remains uneven. The first half is a breakneck journey through eight countries. This is the ostensible “road movie” portion of the film, although it feels a bit rushed even stretched out to two hours instead of one.

In this section, we follow a beautiful woman named Claire (Solveig Dommartin) who becomes obsessed with an elusive man (William Hurt) and chases him from one country to another. There are a lot of side characters, most notably Claire’s writer husband Eugene (Sam Neill) and Mr. Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), an inept but poetically inclined private detective who Claire meets in Berlin. In the five-hour version, we get to know the characters a lot better. Eugene’s pensive narration gives the viewer considerable insight into Claire’s psychological state, illuminating the reasons behind her tireless search for a man that she doesn’t know anything about.

But while the character development may be improved in the long version, Until the End of the World still doesn’t feel like much of a road movie. The characters seem to beam from one place to another. There are brief scenes on airplanes, trains and boats, but very little driving—the thing that defined Wenders’ classic road movies from earlier in his career. Very little seems to happen between destinations; almost all of the characters’ crucial conversations and revelations happen when their paths align for a brief moment in a fixed location.

However, the characters’ journeys do lead to a particular final destination which brings them all together: Central Australia. Just like Continue reading CAPSULE: UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD

RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT – POSTSCRIPT – DIAMONDS AND ANNA KARAMAZOFF

Four years has passed since we published “Rustam Khamdamov: Impossible to Be Great…” What has happened to  since then? A new short film has appeared, Brilianty (Diamonds) [AKA Diamonds. Theft], the first film in a proposed “Jewelry” trilogy. It was presented at the 67th Venice International Film Festival in September 2010. The festival program describes the movie:

“This is a poetic film set in the times of Lenin’s NEP. A ballet dancer steals a brooch and gives it as a present to another dancer. This is a crime of passion. A mysterious black ball is after the heroine. She runs away from it and manages to give the brooch in an exquisite pirouette movement, as shiny as diamond facets. What gives a stone its dazzling luster are its polished facets. But the real gem is love, and it’s much harder to get than any diamond in the world.” ((http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/archive/67th-festival/lineup/off-sel/orizzonti/brilianty.html))

The Russian premiere of Diamonds was held on 15 July 2011 at the International Film Festival in St. Petersburg.

Still from Diamonds. Theft.  (2010)The film is inspired by the ballet La Bayadère by Marius Petipa. This picture is intended as part of a series of three shorts with the common title “The Jewels,” which the director wants to shoot with Anna Mikhalkov (“Emeralds. Murder”) and Tatiana Doronina (“Rubies. No Price”) ((http://renatalitvinova.ru/%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B-2011/ [in Russian])).

In one of his interviews, Khamdamov said that the third movie will be dedicated to Russian piano genius Maria Yudina: “There was a woman named Yudina, a completely crazy woman, a great pianist who did not have either a piano or an apartment. She lived with cats and dogs on the street. She was homeless, a clochard.” Tatiana Doronina is to play the  role. The action takes place in Tashkent, the director’s native city.

Here are Diamonds’ art director Dmitri Alekseev thoughts on the movie: “In general, the film consists of the personal experiences of Rustam about all that he has ever seen in his life. In the episode with Renata Litvinova, which opens the film, the decoration consists entirely of angles: a rectangular table covered with a white cloth, and on it the radio set, resembling the Empire State Building. Renata makes a nose out of a paper cup, it pierces the radio set, and ‘La Bayadere’ plays. Litvinova is immersed in the music, and the story with [actress Diana] Vishnevaya, the ballet dancer, begins. Renata brings together the entire movie, but she will have her own story. Hers we will also shoot in St. Petersburg, but it’s unclear when.”

Ballet critic Julia Yakovleva points out numerous ballet references ((http://seance.ru/blog/dance/ [in Russian])): for example, the name “Diamonds” is also the name of George Balanchine’s homage to Tchaikovsky, the third part of his triptych “Jewels,” and Vishnevaya’s character is reminiscent of Olga Spesivtseva – “a hungry diva of Petrograd, dilapidated, dangerous city of the 1920s, from which Balanchine fled to Europe.”

Lidia Maslova (from the journal “Kommersant”) described the film as “very mannered and drenched with symbolism,” in which “all members of the Continue reading RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT – POSTSCRIPT – DIAMONDS AND ANNA KARAMAZOFF

143. THE TRIAL (1962)

Le procès

“It has been said that the logic of this story is the logic of a dream—of a nightmare.”–Orson Welles’ prologue to The Trial

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Orson Welles, , , Elsa Martinelli, Akim Tamiroff, William Chappell

PLOT: Josef K. awakes one day to find two investigators in his apartment, who inform him he is under arrest and will have to stand trial. When he asks what the charges are, the police tell him it’s not their place to talk about that. The authorities release Josef on his own recognizance, and he spends the rest of the movie navigating a legal labyrinth, trying to find a way to absolve himself of a charge no one will specify.

Still from The Trial (1962)

BACKGROUND:

  • Franz Kafka wrote “The Trial” in 1914 or 1915; it was never completed and was only published after his death.
  • Feeling that studio interference had ruined Touch of Evil (1958), by the 1960s Orson Welles had sworn off directing for Hollywood studios for good (he continued to accept acting jobs). From 1958-1962 he worked on a never-completed adaptation of “Don Quixote,” then was approached by French backers about making a film in Europe; he would be given complete creative control. He was given a list of public domain titles to adapt and chose “The Trial.” (Unfortunately for the financiers, their research was faulty; it turned out that Kafka’s book was still under copyright at that time, and they were forced to negotiate licensing fees).
  • The movie was filmed in Yugoslavia, Italy and France. Welles shot the courtroom scenes and many of the interiors at the abandoned Gare d’Orsay train station in Paris.
  • Welles dubbed dialogue for eleven of the actors, and reportedly even overdubbed some of Perkins’ lines.
  • In interviews with Peter Bogdanovich for his biography This Is Orson Welles, the director said that he suffered from recurring nightmares of being put on trial without knowing why and stated that this film was “the most autobiographical movie that I’ve ever made, the only one that’s really close to me… It’s much closer to my own feelings about everything than any other picture I’ve ever made.” The director of Citizen Kane also said that The Trial was “the best film I ever made.”
  • The production company never registered a copyright on The Trial in the United States and for many years it was in the public domain, until the copyright was restored under the GATT treaty.
  • The negative of the movie was thought to be lost, but a copy was discovered and restored in 2000.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Welles begins the movie by narrating Kafka’s mysterious parable “Before the Law,” about a man who withers and dies while waiting his entire life to pass through a doorway blocked by a guard. The fable is illustrated by elegantly grotesque slides created through “pinscreen” animation (the images are created by shadows cast by thousands of individual pins) by Alexandre Alexeïeff. Near the end of the movie Welles, now in character as the advocate Hastler, retells the fable, this time projecting the slides directly onto the face of Josef K. (Anthony Perkins) as he stands before a screen. Welles’ hulking shadow, invisible to K as he faces Hastler, lurks over Perkins’ shoulder like the impassable guard of the tale—or like an angel of death.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Written at the dawn of the twentieth century, before the horrors of World War I, Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” is a masterpiece of nightmare literature and a harbinger of the angst that would come to define modernism. Orson Welles, the great grayscale poet, proves the perfect adapter of Kafka, imprisoning the beleaguered Josef K. in bars of light and shadow. Kafka’s story was a picaresque journey through abstract interactions with a sequence of bureaucrats and seductresses that, frustratingly, never brings him any closer to answering the central riddle of his indictment. Rather than elucidating Kafka’s text, Welles’ narrative decisions further muddy it, stringing poor Josef K along with a promise of an answer that never comes. I imagine Kafka applauding in his grave.


Original U.S. trailer for The Trial

COMMENTS: After the dreamlike prologue telling of the man who fruitlessly waits an entire lifetime for admittance to the Law, The Trial proper Continue reading 143. THE TRIAL (1962)

CAPSULE: CARMEL (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Amos Gitai

FEATURING: Amos Gitai,  (voice)

PLOT: A series of autobiographical reflections mix with impressionistic recreations of a battle between Romans and Jews and poetry read by Jean Moreau.

Still from Carmel (2009)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although there are a few moments of effective weirdness, most of Carmel is too personal to convey much meaning to anyone other than its director.  Far too much of the movie is misty flashbacks of characters we can’t place fondly reading letters from relatives we don’t know.

COMMENTSCarmel is a confusing movie, and its lack of urgency about telling a story combined with disinterest in avoiding dull patches doesn’t serve it well.  To give it its due, it does announce itself as a “poem”—one supposedly “about people, what they think and what they want and what they think they want”—providing ample warning that, if you don’t like to read poetry, you’re probably not going to like this movie.  Of course, that’s a very different proposition from saying that if you do like to read poetry, you will like this film.  Scattered interesting images and turns of phrase aren’t enough to make great verse; good poetry, after all, exhibits focus, discipline, and communication, which are Carmel‘s weak points.  That said, Carmel does turn a few fine film phrases, which save it from being a complete, solipsistic waste of time.  The first of these phrases happens early on, when Gitai evokes an ancient battle between Romans and Jews.  Moreau narrates the battle over Hebrew dialogue, and, further in the sonic background, an English-speaking voice (could it be Sam Fuller, who makes it into the credits?) chronicles the exact same events, but out of phase with the primary narration.  Visually, two (sometimes three) overlapping images play onscreen at the same time, all featuring centurions in horsehair helmets battling robed Jews by torchlight.  The effect is dreamy and abstract, rather than chaotic; this montage would be successful if were extracted and presented as a short film all its own.  We fast-forward in history for the film’s second meaningful moment, which also utilizes the overlapping dialogue motif.  A father (Gitai himself) is searching for his recently-deployed soldier son at a gas station.  He shares coffee with the attendant, but their attempt at conversation, while taking the outward form of a dialogue, drifts into the two men delivering two completely unrelated monologues.  A metaphor for Israeli-Palestinian relations?  Both those bits occur in the movie’s first third, and (besides an unexpected re-occurrence of the battle scene at the movie’s midpoint) we have to wait almost to the end before encountering the movie’s third interesting interlude, a bizarre bit involving a young couple who wander into an old woman’s home during a terrorist attack, borrow gas masks, recite prophecies and poems, briefly make out, and leave when the air sirens fade out (promising to return for a chat if they’re ever in the neighborhood).  The vast valleys between Carmel‘s high points, however, are filled with autobiographical boredom.  There are pretty establishing shots that establish nothing, and lots of readings of old family letters that lead to pastoral flashbacks.  Characters are shown, but not introduced.  Who is the red-haired boy who writes letters home from boarding school?  One of Gitai’s sons, maybe the one who later becomes a soldier, or Gitai himself as a kid?  (It doesn’t help that the lad looks like no one else in Carmel, not even the kid Gitai is shown auditioning to play the role of his son in [another?] movie).  Who is the pretty brunette woman shown endlessly looking at herself in the mirror while an opera aria plays—a younger version of Gitai’s mother?  Of his wife?  A daughter?  The familial relationships, along with the symbolism, can probably be untangled, but the author gives you little inducement to want to figure out who is who or what they really want, as opposed to what they think they want.  It’s all important to Gitai, but he never makes it important to us—the film seems aimed at an audience of one.

The “Carmel” of the title may refer to Mount Carmel, which is associated with the Old Testament prophet Elijah. There are several other towns and settlements in Israel called “Carmel,” including one that was involved in the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans in the second century A.D.—could this be the site of the battle shown in the film?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gitai seems to care little about what the audience will glean from this oddity, which is its strength and weakness… fuses documentary, narrative and stream of conscious forms in creating a singular, occasionally exasperating, work.”–Mark Keizer, Box Office Magazine (contemporaneous)

RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT…

Ed. note:  The movies of Rustam Khamdamov are impossible to find in the West, and for the most part in his native Russia as well. Read this article (to our knowledge the most extensive retrospective of Khamdamov to be found on the Internet in English) to discover how this legendary, and very weird, director has managed to fall through the cracks in world culture.

By Irina Goncharova, edited and additional material by Greg Smalley.  Original research and Russian translations by Irina Goncharova.

Rustam Khamdamov– What is your father’s occupation?

– My father writes poetry. That’s all he does. He is one of the greatest unknown poets of the world.

– And when does he get money?

– Never. It’s impossible to be great and be paid for it.

The quote above is an exchange from Rustam Khamdamov’s V gorakh moyo serdtse [My Heart’s in the Highlands] (1967).  When he was a third year student of the All-Union Institute for Cinematography (VGIK in Moscow, USSR) Khamdamov shot this movie that was called “the work of a master” and was included in lists of the best Soviet movies. The film swept the VGIK internal festivals. Although Khamdamov is mentioned in the credits only once, along with other students, everybody knew he was the one and only author of the movie—not just its director, but the one who wrote the original screenplay (after William Saroyan’s play), who penned the absurd dialogue, who made all streamers and costumes with his own hands, who selected the best actors when doing the casting. The response to the film was polarized and conflicting. The VGIK Communist Party Committee—just imagine, at that time the Communists decided the destiny of everything and everyone in the country—introduced ideological censorship on the works of the VGIK students straight away.

Really, it’s not easy to write for an American audience about a director such as Rustam Khamdamov.  I believe there are very few people in the USA who have ever heard his name, although it may be found by Googling or searching the Internet Movie Database.  Still, this search would hardly clarify the situation.  The list of his movies is incredibly short, and practically each one has a very sad production history, but those critics who mention his name do so with much respect and even a kind of devotion, often calling him “legendary.”

What makes this director so legendary?

Rustam Khamdamov is of Uzbek descent and took his film production course from the renown Russian film director Grigori Chukhrai 1.  As mentioned above, his first movie was the student work (some critics say it was his graduate project) My Heart’s in the Highlands (1967), a short, approximately 30 minute black and white film. This was the first film where viewers saw the beautiful Elena Solovey, a future Soviet movie star.

Elena Solovey

Elena Solovey in Raba Lyubvi, 1975.

My Heart’s In The Highlands (1939), initially a play by William Saroyan, was a comedy Continue reading RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT…