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Filmzapoppin'

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Hunziker
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Location: Mexico City, Mexico
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Filmzapoppin'

#1

Post by Hunziker » July 7th, 2017, 4:54 pm

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Lately I've neglected both my movie watching and my movie reviewing. I hope by starting a film log I'll feel morally bound to get back to iCM Forum-worthy levels.
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Hunziker
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Posts: 1180
Joined: Nov 03, 2014
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
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#2

Post by Hunziker » August 3rd, 2017, 4:01 am

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JULY

July was an interesting month. I came to Mexico City a couple of weeks ago (I start film school this month) and I've made the most of the fantastic Cineteca Nacional's programming. I managed to catch the last films of the Atom Ergoyan retrospective, almost every movie of the Mikio Naruse retrospective, and a couple of classic films projections. I don't have much to do besides looking for an apartment, so I've been catching up with recent releases, specially the ones from 2016, one of the best years for cinema of the decade, in my opinion.
Last edited by Hunziker on August 3rd, 2017, 4:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Hunziker
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#3

Post by Hunziker » August 3rd, 2017, 4:02 am

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JULY: Mikio Naruse

I'd like to start with the Mikio Naruse retrospective. I've never been much of a fan of japanese cinema, to be honest. Seven Samurai is one of my favorite movies (my father showed it to me when I was little, so there's some nostalgia attached), but I've yet to see anything directed by Ozu, so my knowledge was pretty much limited to the big Kurosawa and Studio Ghibli's movies. From watching a couple of FotW picks, I'd formed the mistaken opinion of japanese cinema as one of snooze-inducing dramas, dealing with the daily struggles that lacked any "important" stakes (although this is not completely untrue, it shows my deep misunderstanding of those dramas intentions). The retrospective started with Meshi, a fortunate first approach to Naruse. I instantly fell in love with Setsuko Hara, and her character's struggles with married life resonated strongly with me. All the actors were outstanding in an understated and powerfully authentic fashion, a characteristic that I've found surprisingly consistent in all of Naruse's movies. There were no big scenes, no shouting matches, no tour-de-force performances. The real power lied, I found, in subtle smiles that betrayed insecurity, in lines of dialogue left unsaid, in honest and subdued representations of sadness, happiness or inebriation. In a similar fashion, the shots that tended to stay with me were the brief establishing tableaux, generally of a street or a train arriving. Naruse shows a hability to set the mood of the picture from those first seconds: lighthearted yet tragic, domestic yet revealing of profound truths hidden in our daily lives. One has a feeling of exhilarating victory when Hara's character
Spoiler: click to toggleShow
is finally reunited with his husband
, a rush perfectly comparable to the one we feel at the climax of any epic war drama. We know their struggle is real,we know that their problems, as little as they may seem from afar, mean the world to them, and sitting with them in their barren, small rooms, their pains and joys are as big to us as they are for them. Okaasan, the story of a widowed mother struggling to maintain her children, presents the heart wrenching economical preoccupations of the mother, who's willing to make any sacrifice necessary for her children happiness, while also infecting us with the careless and joyful perspective of the children: they all become aware, at some point or other in the movie, of their mother's sorrows, but they find solace in play, brotherhood and young love, in such a way that one can but feel an overwhelming sense of hope in this utterly hopeless world. The lack of that hope, in movies such as Bangiku and Nagareru, or rather the lack of ultimate (possibility of) happiness makes them much less enjoyable experiences, if not more powerful, raw interpretations of the human condition. The characters of these movies (in one, aged geishas trying to make a living, in the other, women in a geisha house in the brink of bankruptcy) never show the true signs of friendship and selflessness mentioned before: life has been difficult for them, and it has not offered them the comfort of family love and values. A less enjoyable experience does not mean, however, a less rewarding one: In these movies Naruse achieves his more intricate and profound portraits, creating tragically unforgettable and beautiful human beings.

Of this first (true) approach to japanese dramas, two movies stood out to me much more than the others: Yama no oto and Ukigumo.

Ukigumo, sadly, stood out as the only movie I've disliked since the retrospective started. Making use of numerous flashbacks and flashforwards, the movie spans through a long period, starting in the midst of WWII and ending with
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the ultimate death
of Hideko Takamine's character. The story, for all effects and purposes, could be defined as an epic drama. It is, in fact, much longer than the rest of Naruse's filmography. It's full of melodramatic twists and turns, one more unbelievable than the other, which makes Naruse's talent to show truths from slices-of-life irrelevant. The characters' flaws stop being simply revealing of their nature and become enfuriating as they make again and again the same mistakes over the years, and by the end I found myself wishing for the death of one of them so that their stupid misfortunes would finally end. In a sense, this movie shares the same weakness of the otherwise silent masterpiece Pandora's Box: the movie starts telling the story of this tragic urbanite femme fatale, torned between her new and former "protectors", and inexplicably ends with
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her murder by Jack the Ripper in the streets of London
. Ukigumo covers so many years, so many locations, so many moods and changes in its characters relationships that when exiting the screening I had the feeling of having watched not one, but three or four unrelated movies. Despite all this, I will say one thing for the movie: the costumes designs are one of the more visually intriguing I've seen in a long time.

Now, to end on a high note what has been a very positive experience, I'd like to write a few words about Yama no oto. The setting is not the usual puzzle of pedestrians streets and narrow rooms, but rather a beautiful house on the mountainous countryside of Tokyo. Kikuko (yet again the gorgeous, smiling, timid Setsuko Hara) lives with his husband Suichi's (Ken Uehara) parents. Suichi is having an affair, and doesn't seem too eager to hide it: he often comes late and drunk, he's cruel to his wife, who he accuses of being too childish and openly criticizes for not having bore him any children. Suichi's father, Shingo (a brilliantly quiet Sô Yamamura) seems to be the only one to understand and care for Kikuko, and worries about her unhappiness in their desperately loveless marriage. Yet, he can't bring himself to act: he knows well of his son's affair, but keeps the secret from her daughter-in-law. He knows she suffers stoically, "as any good wife should do". When Shingo complains once again about her wife being but a child, Shingo explodes: "Even a child can cry whenever he wants!". He loves Kikuko, and Kikuko loves him. Early in the movie, Kikuko is coming back from the city, and finds Shingo absent-mindedly contemplating a sunflower. It reminds him of his own old age, he confesses. How he wished he could be again as fresh and bright as the sunflower. Kikuko laughs. It's their friendship that keeps them both going through the motions of an unhappy life. And yet, could this relationship be precisely what paralyzes them to act? In Yama no oto, Mikio Naruse constructs an endearing tale of sacrifice and unspoken friendship. To be truly happy, to accept that their husband and son will never change, they have to let go of each other. I can't think of the words to express the sheer power of this movie. Probably for the first time since I saw David Lean's Brief Encounter, I left the movie theater literally shaking, and I couldn't stop sobbing for a good half hour after the movie had ended. The soundtrack, which usually goes unnoticed in Naruse's movies, resonates here with a deep unterstanding of the movie's themes and intentions. The first movie to crack my top 50 in a long time, Yama no oto is a drama that will forever remain engraved in my mind.
Last edited by Hunziker on August 3rd, 2017, 4:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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