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Melbourne Cinematheque- The Power of Desire: The Decadent Visions of Josef von Sternberg (week III)

5 Jun

The Blue Angel (1930) was the film that introduced Marlene Dietrich to the world. It was also one of the last films silent star Emil Jannings completed. Filmed simultaneously in German and English- and being considered the first fully sound German film- the plot follows Professor Immanuel Rath (Jannings) who, after confiscating a photograph of a cabaret dancer from his students, goes to the bar later that evening to meet her. Upon catching sight of the notorious Lola (Dietrich) Rath’s life spirals out of control, forcing him to leave his teaching position and become a clown in the troupe. Rath is now nothing more than a man driven insane with humiliation, poverty and Lola’s infidelity.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who we all know and love from previous Cinematheque experiences (BRD Trilogy, anyone?), based his feature Lola (1981) on von Stenberg’s work. He didn’t remake it as such, rather he played homage to von Stenberg’s vision. Also, Antony Hegarty has a song entitled ‘Blue Angel’. I’m not sure if it is related but it is a good song, so you should all get on to that too.

The Last Command (1928) again features Emil Jannings, this time in a role that won him the first every Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. He plays Sergius Alexander- a poverty-struck extra in Hollywood who is cast as a Russian general in a film about the fall of the Tsarist regime by director Leo Andreyev. Unknown to others, Alexander and Andreyev share a history causing Andreyev to humiliate him. Ten years previous Alexander had indeed been a Tsarist general who sent the revolutionist actor Andreyev to prison, who now commands the exiled man who relive the past he would rather forget.

To end the Josef von Sternberg retrospective is the short The Town (1943), a documentary on the effect war has had on life in Madison, Indiana.


MIFF – The Solitude of Prime Numbers

5 Aug

The beauty of character defined stories, lie usually within the portrayal of one personal journey.  As viewers or readers we find identification to their uncertainties, fears, melancholies and achievements, playing their choices against ours and perceiving, perhaps, chances lost or possibilities gained.  ‘The Solitude of Prime Numbers’ (directed by Saverio Costanzo) gives us more, let’s us look at the other side, the unknown perception of the person other, both sides of love and loss, both sides of opportunity and chance.  Layered through delightful imagery so cleverly appropriate to the time and feeling of the place the character is currently journeying through.

This is the story of Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) and Mattia (Luca Marinelli), two lost souls that should have been destined to reign their lives alone.  But who meet by chance when young, and through her persistence remain seemingly distant friends.  Both suffer disillusionment from their families, through guilt and neglect, presenting scars that haunt them throughout their lives.  Mattia (young: Vittorio Lomartire) presents himself an isolated being, filled with guilt for the loss of his sister, he scars his body in punishment; perhaps for the lack of association from his over protective, yet distant parents.  Alice (young: Arianna Nastro) suffers a similar fate, a lone child, her father pushes her to grow to fast, using her as trophy display for his uninterested friends.  While his wife fills her body with alcohol and silence, leaving Alice with no true affection or guidance.  Alice is scared also, physically by an accident caused through neglect, and in her heart by a lack of acknowledgement and affection.  She craves these, and seeks out Mattia, almost through an instant identification of their pains.

It is through their friendship and quiet understanding that they begin to accept that forgiveness is possible.  That there is a chance of belonging and happiness, no matter how distant it may seem, as long as you allow another into your past.

‘Prime Numbers can Only be Divided by Themselves and One’

Based on a book by Paolo Giordano

Score:  9/10

MIFF 2011: Three

23 Jul

German film Three presents the viewer with Hanna and Simon; middle aged, middle class, bored, and in for a whole lot of changes. Independently to each other they each start an affair with the same man- Adam. Hanna knows him through work (both are scientists though Hanna also has an art program on television, why? Who knows) and art engineer Simon meets him at a pool and later installs a sculpture at his work.

After Simon’s mother dies of pancreatic cancer and he himself goes through chemotherapy for testicular cancer, he and Hanna decide to marry on their 20th anniversary and in the midst of each of their affairs. Naturally things get complicated, very complicated, and as their lives become more and more intertwined all learn that some things cannot be reversed.

Honestly, I was expecting a little more. Tykwer’s previous films (Run Lola Run, Perfume and The International) all seem to have more to them which is odd because Three has a lot of unnecessary sub-plots and general ‘stuff’. It also passes into moments of mental fantasy that is never fully explored or evaluated, disappointing for this is done well in Run Lola Run.

The directing is fine, so is the acting and the music. The use of a split screen throughout works, though it does introduce more clutter into the film. Essentially; whilst the premise is good the execution is lacking.

Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Fassbinder (Week 3)

21 Jun

In a Year of 13 Moons

Sadly, just as Fassbinder ended too early, as does cinematheque’s retrospect of him. To send us out we have The Third Generation (1979) and In A Year of 13 Moons (1978); quite the stark contrast to each other.

Coming off the success of The Marriage of Maria Braun, Fassbinder’s The Third Generation continued to cause both commercial success and controversy. Featuring a cast of Fassbinder regulars and some of Europe’s most well-known screen icons at the time (Hanna Shygulla, Bulle Ogier, Eddie Constantine…) Fassbinder wrote, directed and shot the film himself.

Here, Fassbinder departs from his WWII films, instead focusing on the current political, social and economic conditions of Germany in the late 1970s. It is carnival season and we follow a group of bourgeois intellectual terrorists who have kidnapped an industrialist and plan on spreading revolution, seemingly to drawing on the teachings from German philosopher Arthur Shopenhauer. But not all is as it seems, as mistaken identities, double-crossings, capitalist tendencies, and second-thoughts abound – it is only a matter of time before it all starts to unravel.

The Third Generation

Within Germany The Third Generation caused great unease among cinema goers and disdain from critics, all of whom felt unease with Fassbinder making a farce of the post-war succeeding generations. At the Cannes festival that year it was upheld for its accomplishments, and is now viewed as one of Fassbinder’s best films.

To finish: In A Year of 13 Moons, a film as personal as ever. It follows Erwin Weishaupt who had undergone a sex change in the hope of winning the heart of his heterosexual business partner, Anton after he once remarked, “too bad you aren’t a woman”. Now known as Elvira, the film follows her final days as she seems to drift through life trying to find the happiness she was sure would follow her transition. A mix of tainted memories and joyous flashbacks – along with a slaughter-house scene that leaves nothing to the imagination – Fassbinder was able to find a way of beautifully paying respect to his recently deceased lover, the actor Armin Meier.

Melbourne Cinematheque plays every Wednesday at the Australian Cinematheque. Read Last weeks Fassbinder, and all Eleanor’s other Cteq posts here.

Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Fassbinder (week two)

13 Jun

The Marriage of Maria Braun

By Eleanor Colla

This week at cinematheque two of Fassbinders’ three ‘BRD trilogy’ (Bundesrepublik Deutschland or West German) films will be showing.

The trilogy consists of The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), Lola (1981), and Veronika Voss (1982); all of which focus on narratives involving women, with Fassbinder drawing strong links with the Classical Hollywood women’s film and melodramas of the 1940s. These women’s lives can also be seen as a metaphor for Germany’s great economic success post WWII and the subsequent financial, social, and national pressures and failures that are now occurring.

The Marriage of Maria Braun is the first of Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy and was his most commercially successful film, both in and out of Germany. Maria (Hannah Schygulla) marries the soldier Herman Braun in 1943. After the war, she is told that he has been killed and thus starts working as a bar hostess and begins various relationships as a way of survival, and later, materialism.

Continuing, and ending, the BRD trilogy is Veronika Voss in which Fassbinder once again pays homage to the cinema of Old with the title character loosely being based on the life of German actress Sybille Schmitz, and the plot on Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. The film is set in 1955 (and filmed in a striking black and white) and follows the last years of faded Nazi starlet Veronika Voss (Rosel Zech) who begins an affair with a young report. Becoming suspicious of Veronika’s erratic behaviour, the reporter investigates and finds Dr. Katz, a physician supply Veronika with opiates in order to steal away her fortune.

Veronica Voss

Often taken as a commentary on not only Germany but also the German film industry, Veronika Voss signalled the first critical recognition for Fassbinder by the German people with the film winning the Golden Bear at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival.

Melbourne Cinematheque plays every wednesday at the Australian Cinematheque. Read Last weeks Fassbinder, and all Eleanor’s other Cteq posts here.