May has been a terrific month,one of the most important months for me as a cinephile,I would call it a breakthrough.In the past month I’ve discovered and re-discovered some of the greatest film artists the world has ever had,if you have watched all these genius work in a single month,I bet you must be as excited as I am now.So what exactly have I watched? Here is the list:
See? One highlight after another,it’s gonna be a long post,so I will try to break it down:
Two Historical Drama by Roberto Rossellini from Criterion
Roberto Rossellini is best known for his Italian Neo-realism classic Rome,Open City,but few people know that his career can be actually divided into 3 phases:Italian Neo-realism,European dramas mainly features his wife Ingrid Bergman and period dramas.The two films I saw – Il Generale Della Rovere and The Taking of Power by Louis XIV belong to the last phase.One thing I really loved about those dramas is the humane approach when the director tries to re-construct the history.Rossellini’s passionate concern about humanity in the protagonists is invaluable for those who came after him,no matter it’s a general or a king,Rosellini treated them as human-beings,vulnerable to the environment they are in.Only in this way,audience can feel more about the characters,thus find the truth in history through them.These two films totally changed my impression of him as a director and made me eager to find more layers in his body of works,I need to see the three Eclipse films he shot for the French TV first.
Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales
Watching Six Moral Tales gave me two profound feelings:First,it made me comfortable,just like those characters who are on vacations.Second,they left me moral afterthoughts,I was stuck in the tangled relations just like those poor vulnerable men in the series.I have tried hard to think a word or phrase to summarize the six stories,I finally came up with a brilliant idea,how about “spiritual 3P”? One thing really fascinating about these films are the men and women are always on the limbo between intimacy and sex, it’s kind of like Bunuel films,they are on the verge of making love,but it never happens,there is always something inside them prevent them doing so,yes,it’s moral,but it is not clear moral but ambiguous moral,damn,it is always so close to something happening.My Night at Maud’s and Love in the Afternoon are my two faves,I love Maud because they discussed the relations between Christianity and sex in a profound way,and what they talk also interests and makes sense to me,I love Afternoon because it examines a man’s fidelity like a microscope and surprises me because it finally does not happen.This has been a great start of my discovery to the Nouvelle Vague master,I need to check out his The Sign of Leo and Tales of the Four Seasons.
Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy
I don’t watch Korean films often because I consider their soap dramas as cheap and corny.But the wowed experience of last month’s Oldboy leads me to the rest two films in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy which I never regret seeing,after watching it I have no appetite for any other revenge films,I do think those three films already cover every element that can happen in a revenge film and pushed them to the extreme in a stunning way.If you want to see something cult yet shot in beautiful cinematography,the trilogy is my recommendation.Next on my watchlist,the NO.1 film in South Korean history,Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder.
The Artificial Eye Kenji Mizoguchi Collection
Watching Mizoguchi’s film is always a first class visual treat,the first shot in my first film Utamaro and His Five Women already killed me,it looks like a tale of a legendary artist but it still falls in the traditional Mizoguchi theme:women.It is a quite unique film because the director sings praise through an artist who paints them,the whole film is a man’s learning curve of women,his concept of female beauty transcends from external beauty to internal beauty towards the end of the film,his eagerness of painting those women he met in his life after being set free in one of the greatest praise songs on women ever on the silver screen.The other two in the set,Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion,which are also included in the Criterion Mizoguchi’s Fallen Women Eclipse set,can be best summarized as the title itself.They are the most typical Mizoguchi,women try everything they can to survive in chaotic Pre-war Japanese society,all end up being refused and abandoned by the environment.You have to give Mizoguchi for bringing major concerns to women subject matter so early in 1930s,he is one of the pioneers of it and has been consistent through his career.I was to finish the box set with the last but not the least,the story of the last chrysanthemums,but my wife asked me to wait for her with this one,so no reviews here.
Francis Ford Coppola in 1970s
Many people criticized him for being stuck in the glory of his 1970 films in my director matchup post,it’s true,he made no progress after that,but his 4 works in the decade are some of the finest American films ever made.Apocalypse Now,oh,best war film from my POV,one only needs this one film to get the whole idea of Vietnam War,at the same time,it is more than a war film,it showed us the conflict between barbarism and civilization in the Marlon Brando character Col. Curtz,it is a memorable self destructive character like Zampano in La Strada and Jack La Motta in Raging Bull.The Conversation is definitely an auteur piece,it puts us in a world of distrusts and disconnections,the ending totally blew me away.I tried to write a piece of “Top 10 great scenes in Godfather part 1 and 2”,but I gave it up,because there is no THE SCENE,only THE SCENES,every scene is option,and it gave me headaches to choose just 10.
Four Films by Abbas Kiarostami
Abbas Kiarostami is the biggest discovery this month,after watching his Koker Trilogy and the essential The Wind Will Carry Us,I dare say he is one of the most important filmmakers alive.I love the idea of making Koker Trilogy because it is purely improvisational,the last two films are not planned but as the earthquake happens,they happen.His documentary style of filmmaking is so daring,he has the courage to face the terrible truth and record everything truthfully with his camera.His films are social-responsible and full of humane concerns,it is simple yet it is profound.He goes a step further in The Wind Will Carry Us,a film full of symbols and gorgeous landscapes,it asks the question “what’s the meaning of life?” but never answers it,it is filmmaking at its best,using simple images to convey deep meanings.Another thing I really loved his works is he is one of the few directors who is a naturalist,just like Terrence Malick,the subject matter of life and death made his films timeless.You must watch these films simply for the strong endings,they are incredible.I still need to see his Ten and Certified Copy which are in my MK2 dvd collections.
Two Student Films by Jia Zhangke
Jia Zhangke is the only director whose films made me want to shoot my own pictures,he made the films I always dream to make.Rewatching his Xiaoshan huijia and Xiaowu is like re-visiting China back in the mid-1990s.The only thing I want to say here about Xiaowu is Jia nails it,everything,the history background,the story,the characters,this is the most “realistic” Chinese film I’ve ever seen,it’s the film I would say to myself after watching:”yes,this is exactly how a Chinese small town look like back in 1997″.I will compose a long post about Xiaowu in my Classic Chinese FIlms series,believe me,anyone who wants to learn something about modern Chinese films,this one is the one you shouldn’t miss.
The UEFA European Soccer Cup begins on 9th June,so June would be a soccer month for me.The nights I used to spend watching films might be occupied to get some sleep.So it probably won’t be an exciting month for films,I will make the best of it by “cleaning up my Criterion and Second Run inventory”.Here is the screencap from Letterboxd,you can see from it that films from Robert Bresson,Michael Powell,Orson Wells,Akira Kurosawa,Chris Marker,Jean Renoir,Tarkovski,De sica and some SR titles will be running in my Blu-ray player next month.I need to finish them before buying new ones!!
What’s going on with your May film viewings? I wish it’s as good as mine.