This sweet stop-motion animation from the Soviet Union titled The Mitten (“Варежка“) was directed by Roman Kachanov (director of The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), but who also worked on such animations as The Snow Maiden (1952) and The Scarlet Flower (1952)). The 10-minute silent animation is about a girl who longs to have a puppy or a dog but whose family is against the idea. Although sad, she does not despair and in her childish make-believe world starts to pretend that her mitten is a little puppy, feeding it and participating in a dog competition. The girl’s touching devotion to her new pet is not lost on her mother.
The Academy Awards have always had a very difficult relationship with experimental and artistic films or with films d‘auteur, but, nevertheless, below are five films that should have received at least a Best Foreign Film nomination by the Academy (if not a win) and were unjustly ignored. I am listing only the films that were officially submitted by their respective countries for consideration.
I. Wings of Desire 
The Academy ignoring of Wim Wenders’s masterpiece Wings of Desire in 1988 now sounds like a crime. Was this film really worse than for example Course Completed (Spain) or The Family (Italy) that were nominated in that year? No, it was probably simply too artistic and complex to understand for the Academy. A philosophically entrancing cinematic experience, Wings of Desire tells of two angels in Berlin who observe the behaviour of people around them and things take a more complicating turn when they slowly realise that they can no longer be just impartial observers.
II. Ivan’s Childhood 
This cinematic debut by Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky must be one of the greatest film debuts ever. Thematically significant, visually poetic and unbelievably touching, it tells the story of a twelve-year old boy during the World War II whose zeal to be part of the Red Army fighting the Nazis gains him the admiration of all men around him. The Soviet Union submitted this film for consideration for the 36th Academy Awards and it was unjustly ignored, with the Academy, surprisingly – if not shockingly, nominating such films as Los Tarantos (Spain) and Twin Sisters of Kyoto (Japan) over Ivan’s Childhood. Incidentally, the country’s anti-war masterpiece Come and See  was also later bypassed by the Academy.Continue reading “5 Foreign Films That Should Have Been Nominated for an Academy Award (Part I)”
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The Power of the Dog (2021)
“Deliver my soul from the sword/My darling from the power of the dog” (Psalms, Preface to Thomas Savage’s novel The Power of the Dog (1967)).
The biggest mistake I probably made is reading the book ahead of the film. I read Thomas Savage’s novel The Power of the Dog awhile ago now and this reading experience definitely tampered with my experiencing Jane Campion’s film. The Power of the Dog centres on two very different brothers Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) living on a big ranch in Montana in 1925. If Phil is the very definition of a brutal force and “no-nonsense” attitude, his brother George is more subdued and caring. When George takes notice of a lonely widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), falls in love her, and moves her and her alienated teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into Burbanks’ property, the gap between the brothers only grows and soon full psychological warfare is raging. Through the film’s atmosphere alone (including production, camerawork, score and setting), as well as Cumberbatch’s mesmerising-in-its-zealousness performance, The Power of the Dog is a film of uncanny beauty and subtle power, whose biggest asset is the curious interplay of contrasts of all kinds: physical power vs. powers of intellect, kindness vs. ruthlessness, refinement vs. roughness, innocence vs. corruption, hypocrisy vs. honesty, and love vs. hate.Continue reading “BFI London Film Festival 2021: Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog”
Today, 17 October 2021, marks 101 years since the birth of American actor Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). This supremely talented actor was a four-times Academy Award-nominee and is known for such films as The Search (1948), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961). He often played smooth-talking, melancholy and mysterious men who rebelled against the establishment. Despite the immensity of Clift’s talent and charisma, however, Hollywood never seemed to know what to think of him and he was often portrayed “a black sheep” of the cinema business, a perpetually tortured soul who privately fought many mental and physical battles. Though never openly gay or bisexual, Clift always had his private life under wraps and struggled to fit into the image that Hollywood wanted him to fit into: the image of the Golden Boy who is after money, financial success and women. Though now often overshadowed by, and even compared unfavourably to, such cinematic icons as James Dean and Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift deserved and still deserves much more, especially since both of these actors looked up to Clift and was inspired by his image to forge theirs. Clift was one of the most talented American actors and, unfortunately, one of the most misunderstood ones, who valued the craft of acting above financial success or even critical/public opinion, who wanted desperately to retain his unassuming, independent and original inner core despite the environment that constantly wanted to mould him into something else, a Hollywood environment that favoured flashy displays of wealth, stereotypes and double-dealings. Clift’s story is as much a tale of one talented and intelligent actor following a tragic path as a story of Hollywood’s callousness and complacency.Continue reading “Actor Spotlight: Montgomery Clift”
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
“There is no place like home”. Housing is an important but often overlooked topic in films (see my discussion of two notable films about housing here). The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, tells the story of Jimmie Fails (actor playing “himself”), a young man stuck in a series of menial jobs, but dreaming of a better life and still attached to his old childhood home, which is now an expensive Victorian house in an affluent area of San Francisco. His loyal friend and aspiring playwright Montgomery Allen is always ready to offer Jimmie his own place or rather the place of his parents to sleep in, but Jimmy is set only on one thing – to get one particular house which he believes his father built in 1943 and is prepared to do anything to reclaim it. This cinematic debut from Joe Talbot may be an imperfect film, but it has so many distinguishable characteristics and particular eccentricities that it becomes quite impossible to compare it to anything else. Visually-entrancing, The Last Black Man in San Francisco puts the concept of nostalgia, the spirit of ordinary, under-privileged people, their hopes, dreams and rights, as well as one touching friendship, at the very centre of its low-key drama.Continue reading ““The Last Black Man in San Francisco” Review”
Designing film posters is an art in its own right and some films come up with rather ingenious ways to entice the public to watch their films. Cinematic fan art is also making some amazing contributions, and below I present ten film posters that have captured my attention recently; see also my posts Alternative Film Posters and “Minimalist” Film Posters, and for those who want to explore poster art in greater detail, I recommend this ten-minute lecture by James Verdesoto, film poster expert who designed that one famous poster for Pulp Fiction.
(i) I simply love how this clever poster to Michael Almereyda’s film Tesla (2020) both captures the character portrayed by Ethan Hawke and his distinguishable characteristics and says something about the main theme: electricity/electric power; (ii) I think the colour red suits this Amelie (2001) poster from Japan, hinting to us that the story will be all about eccentricities and passions, and we can’t wait to know more about adventures of this unusual character in the centre; (iii) I’m Thinking of Endings Things (2020) may have a story which suffers from lots of awkwardness and pretentiousness, but all of its posters is a thing of beauty. The poster to the very right designed by Akiko Stehrenberger is trying to bring out the psychological and otherworldly aspects of the film.Continue reading “When Film Posters Mean Art: 10 Eye-Catching Alternative Designs”
Larisa Shepitko was a Soviet film-maker who made only four full-length films (her film Ascent won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 1977) before her untimely death in a car accident at the age of 41 in 1979. Shepitko’s film Wings tells the story of a decorated ex-pilot of the Red Army during the WWII – Nadezhda Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova) who tries to re-build her life after the war period and faces a number of obstacles. Often day-dreaming about flying, Nadezhda finds it hard to find common ground with her only daughter Tanya, who has recently got engaged, and Nadezhda’s self-sacrificing and domineering approach to schooling means that she is also at odds with the younger generation in a college where she directs, who appear in her eyes to be comparatively self-centered and lacking in meekness. Through the character of one female war veteran, Wings deals bravely with a number of sensitive topics, among which is hidden PTSD, possible loneliness and isolation in the post-war atmosphere and the problem of adjusting to the times of peace. Shot with nuance and balance, Wings is a largely forgotten masterpiece that needs to be seen.Continue reading ““Wings” Review”
Destino is a Salvador Dali-Disney (John Hench)’s collaboration on an animation that first started in 1945 and only finished in 2003 when Walt Disney’s nephew Roy E. Disney found the unfinished project materials in 1999. The surrealist animation was eventually directed by Dominique Monféry, and the music was written by Armando Domínguez and performed by Dora Luz. The animation is one incredible beauty that mixes Dali’s artistic vision with Disney’s hand-drawn techniques, presenting such themes as the pains of lost love, dream-following and memories. Even if narratively difficult to grasp, the viewing experience is still more of a “deliciously enigmatic”, “soul-searching” one, rather than frustrating or unnecessarily confusing. Besides, Dora Luz’s soulful voice adds to it being rather touching and simply unforgettable.
I. The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981)
Based on a book Alice’s Travel by Kir Bulychev, The Mystery of the Third Planet was directed by Roman Kachanov and tells of the interplanetary travel of one spacecraft on board of which there are: a ten year-old girl Alice, her father biologist Professor Seleznev and their friend mechanic-pilot Captain Green. Their goal is to collect some rare animals from other planets to take them back to Earth, but they become unwittingly entangled in the web of machinations perpetuated by one evil person who randomly kills off rare birds-chatterboxes on other planets. At the heart of this mystery is also the disappearance of two legendary Captains, Kim and Buran.
The trio of adventurers in this story seem to complement each other perfectly: young and carefree Alice can be said to represent optimism, hope and “the future”; her father Professor stands for objectivity and neutrality, as well as “the present”; and the mechanic Green is the very definition of pessimism, and, arguably, “the past” (i.e. he is the most cautious person from the trio of friends and, undoubtedly, learnt that cautiousness from past mistakes). In their journey to collect rare animals and solve the mystery of the Captains, our heroes also tour the Two Captains planet and save a colony of robots from “an epidemic”. Humour and wit abound in this animation that has plenty of eccentric characters, the most memorable of whom is probably Gromozeka, whose forms were allegedly inspired by a tin can. French animation Fantastic Planet (1973) and Yellow Submarine (1968) may have provided a starting point or some influence on the Russian animators too who came up with some vivid lifeforms existing on other planets. Thus, apart from birds-chatterboxes that constantly repeat what they have heard before, we are also introduced to invisible fish, flying cows, flowers-mirrors and entities that take the form of the very last thing they “saw”. In sum, there is an Alice in Wonderland wonder permeating this film, and the memorable soundtrack only enhances the viewing experience.Continue reading “Soviet Animations: The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), The Golden Antelope (1954) & Brothers Lu (1953)”
The Mauritanian (2020)
Based on the memoir Guantamano Diary (2015), this film tells the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (played by Tahar Rahim), a man from Mauritania who was arrested on heresy some time after the 9/11 terrorist attack and then spent in total 14 years (from 2002 to 2016) in the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba without charge or trial. Jodie Foster plays his lawyer Nancy Hollander who is determined to see that her client gets a fair trial despite the extremely serious allegations against him, and Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave (2013)) plays military prosecutor Stuart Couch who is more than determined to avenge the attack on America, especially since he knows one of its direct victims personally. Despite its slightly uneven narrative, this film by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void (2003)) is an intelligent legal drama bolstered by the powerful performances from both Tahar Rahim (A Prophet (2009)) and Jodie Foster (Money Monster (2016)). The film, which undoubtedly will make many people uncomfortable, clearly shows the Guantanamo Bay abuses through the eyes of one innocent and sympathetic man.Continue reading ““The Mauritanian” Review”
Directed by Jane Campion (The Piano (1993)) and based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog also stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst.
I. Tim Burton’s “Notre Dame de Paris“
What is it all about?
In 2011, it was announced that Tim Burton is working on his version of Notre-Dame de Paris with Josh Brolin, but the project never moved beyond the early stages. This film was supposed to be an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris, which tells the story of three characters’ lives entangling against the backdrop of medieval Paris. Esmeralda, a beautiful girl who often dances in the square in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral, has become the object of ardent passion on the part of three distinct men: severe Archdeacon Claude Frollo, the hunchback and bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, Quasimodo and dashing Captain Phoebus.
Why this project had the potential to be great?
As far back as 2013, I wrote a post where I talked about 10 classics I would love to see made into major films and Victor Hugo’s novel was at the very top of my list. Tim Burton’s penchant for the unusual and the grotesque would have made this adaptation a dark, intriguing “feast for the eyes”, especially given all the recent advances in special effects technology which could render Quasimodo vividly and bring his world of old Paris and Cathedral-climbing to one magnificent spectacle. Tim Burton is great in establishing that “creepy fairy-tale” atmosphere (Sleepy Hollow (1999)) is one such example) that the film needs and he could have done the book justice. True, there were at least three other well-known cinematic adaptations of the book (in 1923, 1939 and in 1956), but, an “update” or a “remake” is desperately needed since the story is timeless and moving and, at least in my humble opinion, has such a big cinematic potential.Continue reading “5 Great Films Never Made”
Today is 14th July and it is Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale in France, which means it is time to celebrate French films and French directors. Below I present a number of French films I reviewed on this blog, and this includes films from Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Julia Ducournau and François Ozon, as well as three French-produced animations:
There are so many great French films out there, including the works of René Clément (Jeux interdits), Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins), Jean Cocteau (La Belle et la Bête), Louis Malle (Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud), Agnes Varda (Cléo de 5 à 7), Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai), Jean-Luc Godard (À bout de souffle), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) and Claire Denis (Beau Travail). Do you have a favourite French movie?
I. Ivan’s Childhood 
Andrei Tarkovsky‘s film is a a beautiful, powerful story set during the World War II. At its centre is a twelve-year old boy Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) who has taken on the job of an adult, the dangerous job of spying on the Nazi forces that are invading his country. Tarkovsky was able to convey his own particular poetic vision of one fragile childhood that meets the horrors of war. Ivan’s tasks for the Red Army intermingle with his dreams of happiness as Tarkovsky shows the sheer impact of war barbarities on a young mind. This movie is both moving and unforgettable, and remains the best cinematic debut I have ever seen.
II. The Spirit of the Beehive 
The Spirit of the Beehive or El espíritu de la colmena comes from Spanish director Víctor Erice and stars young Ana Torrent in the lead role, giving the most exceptional performance. As so many other films on this list, this beautifully-filmed story portrays children coming to terms with the darker side of life. The story centres on two small girls in a Castilian village in 1940 during the Franco regime. Their fascination with Frankenstein leads to their imaginary world colliding with the harsh realities around them, especially when Ana encounters an escaped prisoner. Atmospheric and rich in symbolism, The Spirit of the Beehive is rightly considered to be one of the foremost cinematic achievements from Spain.Continue reading “Childhood in Cinema: 10 Unforgettable Films”
I. Vertigo (1958)
Vertigo is probably the most “philosophical” of all Hitchcock films. Whatever angle you take (the detailed “stalking” scenes, the acting, the object symbolism, etc.), the beauty of Vertigo comes through, overwhelming the viewer. Set and shot on location in San Francisco, Vertigo is a story of obsession that focuses on Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart (Anatomy of Murder (1959)), a former detective suffering from acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) who is tasked with following one woman by her husband – Madeleine (Kim Novak), because she might be a danger to herself. This film about mistaken identities, grief and seeking love at all costs is also a nuanced psychological thriller. I can’t say I enjoy the very slow pace of Vertigo, but it is an entrancing cinematic experience nevertheless and for a multitude of reasons deserves its number one spot.
II. Psycho (1960)
Psycho is my confident number two choice. This is a quintessential Hitchcock film with some unbelievable twists and deep psychology. Suspense is the word here. In this story, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals quite a lot of money from her employer’s client and hits the road. However, she needs to rest somewhere on her way to her “financial freedom” and chooses the Bates’ Motel. You need to watch the film to know what happens there. In my review, I talked about how “Hitchcock plays expertly with its audience’s imagination and formed beliefs” in this film, that was also ground-breaking in many ways upon its release. Psycho is a the film that stood the test of time.Continue reading “Top 10 Films from Alfred Hitchcock”
Disney-Pixar’s Luca is an Italian Riviera set animation that tells a story of a merman Luca and his family living underwater and having a hostile relationship with the people living on land. Luca is a boy curious about the outside world, though, and soon becomes very interested in the “land” people. He meets a fellow merman, an “expert” in people, Alberto, and together they venture to discover “the unknown” or the “land” things, already having a goal in mind – to get their hands on an Italian scooter Vespa. The duo soon encounters a local bully, Ercole, and an eccentric tomboy, Giulia, as well as try to win a local race. Luca is gentle and sweet, who can deny this? It also has its share of laugh-out-loud sequences and beautiful images of a small picturesque village. Apart from that, the animation is painfully generic and even forgettable. Its narrative is almost too insignificant, and if it were not for all the wonderful visuals and the Pixar/Disney name behind this “cartoon”, Luca would have qualified perfectly to be just yet another daytime television animation geared towards very young children.Continue reading ““Luca” Review”
Inspired by my previous post where I recommended 16 films based on the 16 finalists of the UEFA European Championship, I decided to write a similar post but based on Copa América, the South American Football Championship and the oldest still-running international football competition. It started on 11 June and the finale will be held on 10 July 2021. Below I am recommending 8 films based on the 8 South American countries that reached the quarter-finals.
ARGENTINA: The Secret in their Eyes (2009) (dir. Juan José Campanella)
This Argentinian masterpiece is a must-watch film. In this both clever and emotional story, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), once a criminal investigator, looks back on one puzzling rape-and-murder case in his career, the officially unresolved case of Morales. This case once touched him deeply, especially since he was trying to catch the murderer with his beautiful and intelligent co-worker, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman he has always secretly loved. Now, looking back and piecing together all the evidence, including the one gathered by his imperfect co-worker Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), Esposito thinks he has finally found the clues he missed twenty-five years ago. Ricardo Darín (Everybody Knows (2018)) is one of the finest Argentinian actors and his film Nine Queens (2000), directed by the late Fabián Bielinsky, is also a tense crime drama to watch, detailing the story of two petty thieves who “try to swindle a stamp collector by selling him a sheet of counterfeit rare stamps (the “nine queens”)”.Continue reading “Film Recommendations based on 8 Finalists of the Copa América”
This year’s Cannes Film Festival has got to be very different from the others, not least because of the pandemic and its consequence for the film industry. This year, the festival is held from 6 to 17 July 2021, and the Jury of the Main Competition are: Spike Lee, Mylène Farmer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Mélanie Laurent, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Tahar Rahim and Song Kang-ho. It is hard to talk intelligently about individual films (since so few details are yet known about them), let alone try to guess winners, but I have decided to single out just five films out of twenty-four competing entries in the Official Selection and talk about them:
I. The French Dispatch by Wes Anderson
From the director of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) comes The French Dispatch, “a love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine” (IMDb). As you read this post further you will notice that this is not the only film in the Official Selection that blurs reality and fiction, and the cast here is to die for: Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Benicio del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Timothée Chalamet, Willem Dafoe, Elisabeth Moss and Edward Norton, to name just a few. It promises to be a fun and aesthetically-pleasing cinematic experience that also apparently pays tribute to such French films as Mon Oncle (1958) and Le Cercle rouge (1970) (the trailer).Continue reading “Cannes Film Festival 2021: Official Competition Selection”
The UEFA European Football Championship 2020 is underway and we now have 16 country finalists who will compete for the coveted trophy. That led me to the idea to recommend 16 films from each of the 16 European countries currently remaining in the competition:
AUSTRIA : The Counterfeiters (2007) (dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)
Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher (2001), The White Ribbon (2009), Amour (2012)) is the greatest Austrian film director, but the country also has other talent to boast about. Stefan Ruzowitzky, born in Vienna in 1961, is known as director and writer of The Counterfeiters, an Academy Award-winning film based on a memoir by Adolf Burger, a man who was imprisoned by the Nazis for forging baptismal certificates to save Jewish people and who was later forced to work on the Nazi Operation Bernhard designed to destabilise UK economy.Continue reading “Film Recommendations based on 16 Finalists of the UEFA European Championship”