The Chess Players (1977) aka Shatranj Ke Khilari, Satyajit Ray
Persona (1966), Ingmar Bergman
The Ballad of Narayama (1984), Shohei Imamura
The Kid with a Bike (2011), Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Movie of the week: Persona.
The Kid with a Bike. Each of the Dardenne brother’s films never disappoint. A couple of actors recognized from his previous films; Jérémie Renier – Lorna’s Silence, and Fabrizio Rongione – Rosetta. As with their other films I’ve seen, a young person negotiates life in and around adults.
The Ballad of Narayama. I remember this film being the first one listed when you call up Roger Ebert’s [Great Movies]( http://www.rogerebert.com/great-movies) site. So after seeing Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine (1979), I thought I’d check this out next. It seems Imamura is the only Japanese director to win two Palme d’Or the Cannes; this film and The Eel (1997). Here’s to hoping that Netflix dvd eventually gets The Eel. I like the modern Japanese films depicting ancient times. Yôji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai (2002), Koreeda Hirokazu’s Hana – the Tale of a Reluctant Samurai (2006), and Beat Takeshi’s (Takeshi Kitano) The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003), to name a few (Ballad of Narayama is not a samurai film). They seem totally authentic to historical living, dress, shelter, food. The Ballad of Narayama is truly a modern film, with its birds eye view tracking shots of the village. One scene reminded me of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes (1964), with its group mentality acting out against the isolated. Next Imamura film up and working its way up the queue: Pigs and Battleships (1961).
Persona. I may have to purchase the Criterion Collection release for a better view, as Netflix has the MGM disc. For some reason, I thought of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, with the duality of characters, and of course, [the spider](/spoiler). Watched it the second time with Marc Gervais’ commentary. There’s a scene with Liv Ullmann where she’s reading a book with what looks like a compact letter opener, or pen knife. She seems to read a page after cutting it free – like the pages are folded over, and instead of needing a bookmark, you keep track of what you’ve read by the cut, separated pages. Pretty neat. I’m curious to know what kind of book binding this actually is, as I couldn’t find anything on it from a search. I would love to see this on the big screen. Regardless of how you interpret this Bergman masterpiece, you can’t help but sit in awe as you watch his beautiful images.
The Chess Players. Stars Richard Richard Attenborough as General Outram, Saeed Jaffrey (The Man Who Would Be King, Gandhi, A Passage to India), Victor Banerjee (also in A Passage to India). The inevitable question – which solo dance by an Indian girl – Jean Renoir’s The River, or The Chess Players? Both are so beautifully done it’s too close a call for me. I’m still brand new to Satyajit Ray’s filmography – only his Apu trilogy before this film. I can see his maturity and mastery at story telling with The Chess Players’ parallel storyline. In one scene, when Victor Banerjee (Prime Minister) is meeting with General Outram, instead of a simple cut, he does a slow pan from Richard Attenborough to the Prime Minister, who is obviously distraut. He pays equal attention to each story – especially apparent during one of the players row with his wife, since he pays more attention to the game than to her. The echos between each player and their wives were expertly done, leading to the neutral location. While the players are described as Gentry, they smoke their hookahs and their snacks are too interesting. One is in a covered container, folded into what looks like an origami like loose square, small as a bottle cap, and each attached by what looks like a gold chain with equal lengths. Like the pointy eared one would say: fascinating.
The Grandmaster (2013), Kar Wai Wong
Amores Perros (2000), Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Tokyo-Ga (1985), Wim Wenders
Citizenfour (2014), Laura Poitras
Sunshine (2007), Danny Boyle
Mother (2009), Bong Joon-ho
Movie of the week: Mother
Mother. Makes my 2009 top 10 – #7. The opening scene with Kim Hye-ja trundling along an open field reveals nothing that lead up to that moment, though you can tell whatever it was was shell shocking. It’s her post-traumatic moment, and you can see her dedication – though you have no idea to what, or to whom. Like The Host, Bong Joon-ho focuses on the family, their relationships, sacrifices, and day to day life. Bong Joon-ho’s builds suspense like Hitchcock did – you know what is going to happen, and you almost cringe when it finally does. When the mystery is revealed, I thought to myself – what the expletive deleted?
Sunshine. These cgi space movies can be a dime a dozen, and Sunshine breaks away with its cast and performances. Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider, Once Were Warriors), Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy. You also get a chance at a locked room mystery. I like how Danny Boyle gives you shades of horror with his almost subliminal edits.
Citizenfour. Out of habit, I still type in a new film’s title plus Ebert and get star ratings from the critics that work at rogerebert.com. Citizenfour showed 4 stars. Then I find out from Laura Poitras’ opening narration that this is the third in her post-9/11 America trilogy, the first two being My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010). They look good, so onto the queue they go – #326, and 327. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen this year.
Tokyo-Ga. For some reason, I thought I was listening to Werner Herzog narrating – they sound so alike. He must have been in my subconscious after I saw the actors in this film as they do meet at the top of the Tokyo Tower. Werner talks for a few minutes – in German – with no translation or explanation as to what he’s saying. The same with Chishu Ryu’s interview – no subtitles, but Wim Wenders does explain what he says. The meat of this Ozu documentary is when Yuharu Atsuta, who worked with Ozu for 15 years first as assistant cameraman, then cameraman, walks into a tatami room with a triangular wooden tripod base, then a very low tripod, then an sets up an old Mitchel camera used in Ozu’s last film. His explanation of working with Ozu, the real nuts and bolts, is fascinating, through, and instructive. You even see an even lower metal tripod, designed by Ozu, for exterior shots.
Amores Perros. The second best film from Iñárritu that I’ve seen (Birdman, Babel). I’ll see 21 grams next, just to complete the trilogy. In Ebert’s review, he says there is a disclaimer about animals at the beginning of the film – the dvd does not show this. I’m glad I sought more of his films, as I’m getting a better understanding on where he’s coming from.
The Grandmaster. I would rank this slightly above In the Mood for Love (2001), which was easily above 8/10. Both star Tony Leung, and The Grandmaster has Ziyi Zhang. The Grandmaster has the smoothness and feel of ItMfL, and adds a historically based storyline with a surprising tie in to a famous American martial artist. I’m ready for Kar Wai Wong’s next film already.
Foxcatcher (2014), Coming Soon to a Theater Near You, sonyclassics.com/
20 Signature Shots and Techniques of the World’s Greatest Directors, grolschfilmworks.com/, By David Katz And Oliver Lunn