Film Reviews by Genre: LUSTFUL
Cecile de France, Patrick Bruel, Ludivine Sangnier, Julie Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric
A coven of Jews keeps the dark secret of the past from a son who is haunted by dreams of a brother he never had. Sounds like a good programmer for Jewish film festivals but is actually a study in desire and lust that is so original it has to be true.
“Based on a true story” is carried in the main titles. How could you make this up? At Maxime’s (Patrick Bruel) marriage to Hannah (Ludivine Sangnier) he is introduced to his wife’s brother’s wife, Tania (Cecile de France). Cecile is a Belgian beauty who would stir anyone’s loins, and indeed, Maxime goes through his wedding night watching her ass across the dance floor.
If you want to see where this actress came from and the range of what she can do, watch L’Auberge Espagnole also on MovieWithMe. She’s an actress with a range far beyond mere seduction.
But in A Secret, that is her role and she’s up for it. Maxime and Tania waltz around each other for several years while Maxime and Hannah produce a perfect son who has all the personality of his mother and all the athletic skill of his father. But Hannah catches on to the heat she’s not part of, and, in suicidal despair, delivers herself and her son into the arms of the Nazis who have conquered France.
Meanwhile Tania’s husband is killed in the war. The last barrier is down and the lovers buzz towards each other like moths to a flame. Their passion produced another son. This one has neither the charm of his mother or the physic of his father. Everybody in the little circle of Jews, that includes neighbor Louise clams up about what happened during the war.
Finally the little boy pieces it all together. The story has the feel of grand opera. Indeed, it would be a good subject. And the movie is less satisfying carrying about the little boy learning of his secret brother than watching the pas de deux of the two lovers circling each other, denying then eyeing, then panting and finally arriving at that luscious moment of sex that would be the opera’s second act curtain. Forget the anemic kid, the lovers are movie enough.
Petra Morze, Andreas Patton
AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE (L'AUBERGE)
Audrey Tautou, Keilly Reilly, Romain Duris
CRIMES OF PASSION
Kathleen Turner, Bruce Davison
Federico Luppi, Elena Basslesteros, Paulina Galvez, Gaston Pauls
A Spanish production by a Chilean novel might not qualify as a Chilean film, but is it Spanish? I'm calling it Chilean here for the setting and sensibility. Bad trailers that feature nothing but nudity and violence, and mindless title translations into English-are no surprise. But you would think someone would have found a better English language title for this very good movie. In Spanish it is called El Lugar Donde Estuvo el Paraiso. Translation: The Place that Was Paradise.
That’s how it is listed in the IMDb database. What moron decided the English language DVD title should be Dictadura? Couldn’t anyone at Venevision come up with an English word for the title? Luckily, the story is a lot less confusing than the title.
The dictator refers to a Consul stationed somewhere in the Amazonian jungle. His daughter, Ana, who he hasn’t seen in many years, flies in for an unexpected visit and gets a taste of the politics, dirty dealing and bribes that keep her father afloat. Then she meets Julia, her father’s young mistress, and watches them make love.
This show is interrupted by Enrico, a bush pilot who has settled in as a houseguest. He’s terribly sexy, and very dangerous. As Julia warns Ana at breakfast the next morning, “stay away from Enrico, believe me, it is a bad idea.” (We later learn he deals drugs). Ana retorts, “Maybe one man in bed isn’t enough for you.”
The women are almost the same age, allowing the story turn on the conflict between them. Julia, whom the Consul picked up in a chorus line, is a survivor protecting her own turf. “Look Ana, I was raised in misery. I’m not educated like you and I’ve never traveled.” Ana is the protected city girl afraid to eat a piranha for breakfast. The film is her coming of age through seeing her father as he is, not as she imagined.
This could easily be a telenovela. But good casting and the humid lushness of the Amazon make it a woman’s adventure into another world, another life. Too bad it’s lost between two titles. IMDb should change its search to show both.
DON'T TEMPT ME
Augustin Diaz Yanes
Penelope Cruz, Victoria Abril
EN LA CAMA
Blanca Lewin, Gonzalo Valenzuela
Two strangers meet at a party and spend the night in a cheap motel room, but what happens is anything but cheap. This amazing film never goes flaccid while exploring the deepening relationship between Daniela (Blanca Lewin) and Bruno (Gonzalo Valenzuela).
Movies like this are not new. Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow did it in John and Mary (1969). What is new is Julio Rojas always surprising screenplay that keeps changes topics in an every deepening quest. Two people go from causal sex to true need and understanding. They carry secrets in their wallets that each, in turn, sneaks a look at, but never admits to the other. It is what must be confessed between hotter and hotter sex and frantic pillow fights.
Blanca Lewin comes from a long history of soap operas and television series. Gonzalo Valenzuela comes from telenovelas; the TV serials that are a staple of Latin countries. In a country like Chile, without much movie production, TV is the way to work as an actor. It carries none of the stigma attached to TV roles in the United Sates.
If either of these actors were part of a bigger culture, they would be international stars. Blanca would vie for the Paz Vega roles, and Gonzalo might be a rival of Gael Bernal Garcia. (Gonzalo’s sister Luz Francisca Valenzuela was Miss Chile in the Miss Universe contest in 1996 but she lost to Miss Venezuela).
If you want to see what a director, writer, and two good actors can do with one set, hot sex, nudity, and penetrating character portraits: this is for you. It also makes you wonder why the porn industry never thought of hiring good directors, writers, and actors to elevate their product. If they had, they would have survived the onslaught of online amateurs that killed their biz. It’s all about haste versus taste: or porn versus art.
Giovanna Mezzogiomo, Massimo Girotti, Raoul Bova, Flippo Nigro, Serra Yimaz
Most of us are secret voyeurs when it comes to watching the action in the window across the street, but do we ever think they are watching us just as intensely? A dull marriage is the best reason to take a look at the hunk in the apartment across the way while peeling onions. When Giovanna finally meets him and sees the view from his apartment, she understands his fascination for her too.
Let’s backtrack. Giovanna is played by Giovanna Mezzogiomo, daughter of the famous Italian director Vittorio Mezzogiomo and the actress, Cecilia Sacchi. She’s beautiful, luscious, sexy, and totally not working class. So you’ve got to separate this film into parts to appreciate it. The lustful part about a woman fantasizing about an affair with the neighbor across the courtyard, and his fantasy of her: is imaginative an titillating. The rest is problematic (that’s a nice way of saying not quite believable).
Feeling overwhelmed and stuck in a dull marriage, Giovanna begins refocusing her attention (or repressing her emotions) by caring for the Jewish Holocaust survivor her husband brings home one day. As Giovanna reflects on her life, she turns to the man who lives across from her and whose window faces hers.
Giovanna is married to Flippo, a truck driver on the night shift. She hates her life as an accountant in a chicken killing plant, and she has no passion for her husband. This is even more true after he picks up an old man (Massimo Girotti) wandering in the street one day who claims he can not remember who he is. Later we learn he is a famous pastry chef, and a holocaust survivor who lost his only true love (male) to the Nazis.
Why he keeps up the ruse of not remembering and how it leads into Giovanna trusting him as a substitute for the parent she never had is a mystery the screenwriter has not solved. Mr. Pastry also gives her guidance in her marriage (she is about to have an affair with Lorenzo, the man who lives across from her kitchen window and she is obsessed with watching), and her career (he shows her how to make great pastry and urges her to find herself.)
She makes pastry and plans the affair with Lorenzo. All goes well until she sees the view of her life from HIS window, where he has been obsessed with watching her too. Now she must choose between the lover (who is conveniently about to move away and invites her along) and the life of a chicken plucker accountant. I won’t give away the ending.
Amazingly, you forgive the inconsistencies and conveniences in the plot because Giovanna is so interesting to watch and her story, a woman’s story, seems to resonate so universally.
Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson
Ji Woo Chung
Do Yeon Chun, Min-sik Choi, Jin-mo Ju
Husband kills wife out of concern for their child. Like many of the reverses that make Korean films so delicious, the concept of wife murder for child welfare is kind of endearing. Or at least it is well justified as the ending in Happy End.
Bora (Do Yeon Chun) is having a torrid affair with a young guy, Il-beam (Jin-mo Ju). He lives in the same super giant apartment complex where she lives with her husband Ki Min (Min-sik Choi) and their baby. It’s tough enough to take the train to work with everyone she knows, but sneaking into her neighbor’s apartment for nightly trysts (she says she is working late) gives the affair a flash of daring.
And it is quite an affair. The sex is hot and hotter, and she can never get enough. Her lover wants her so much he gives her a key to his apartment. But Bora wants nothing of him but his penis, it seems. She tosses the key in her purse and forgets it. When he takes the big step of buying her a toothbrush of her own: she says enough. Any sign of permanency freaks her out. Her real life is down the hall and up the elevator with her husband and baby. She’s carefully to take only pictures, leave only footprints.
What she forgets is the Polaroid pictures Il-beam has been snapping of them in just about every position. Her husband finds the key, finds the apartment, finds the pictures.
Husband Ki Min carefully plots his wife’s murder down to the smallest detail of human hair. This crime of passion is accompanied by a sound track swelling with classical music using the sucking sound of steal penetrating flesh as a counter rhythm. (Min-sik Choi is the same actor who channels blood so well in Old Boy and Lady Vengeance (MovieWIthMe).What is so delicious about Korean cinema is its perfect mixture of art and gore. We’re led down a path festooned with rich characters and images only to find ourselves at the doorstep of depravity. How much more wonderful could movies be than this?
Steve Buscemi, Sienna Miller
LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM
Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Amanda Danohoe
Ronit Elkabetz, Lior Louie Ashkenazi
Two enormously fat Georgian (Soviet) Jews invade the love nest of their son in Tel Aviv and demand he leave his lover for is wife. He’s not married yet, but they have plans and love shouldn’t get in the way. We normally think of Israelis as shrewd men and tough women. But in an immigrant nation, there’s no such thing as normal.
It’s a melting pot where nothing melts. There’s an old joke about a Jew marooned alone on a deserted island who builds two synagogues. When he is rescued they ask why two? He says, “one to worship in and the other one I wouldn’t set foot in.”
Zaza is 31. He’s in love with a 34 year-old divorcee with a young daughter. He is blissfully happy, especially in the very sensual bedroom scenes with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz). She’s pretty amazing, in bed and out, and has gone on to many more movies, mostly in France. But in Late Marriage she’s content to take of her clothes and jump on Zaza, making him the happiest Georgian in town.
But she’s divorced, and she’s not of his Georgian tribe. When his parents storm her apartment she’s sure he’ll chose love over tradition. Ha! You can accuse director Dover Kosashvili of short-handing a lot in the parents’ characters, but he precisely asks the right questions of conviction versus convenience. Zaza tries to slink back, but you don’t slink with Judith.
Judith’s had enough of him, and Ronit, seems to have had enough of Israel. She moved to France and continued her career with Origine Controlee, an intriguing little movie that was brought to American as Made in France. (This takes the all-time prize as the worse title translation ever).
Meanwhile at home, the Israelis are still battling one another to prove ethnic and moral superiority. Tradition battles commerce, religion battles secularity. It makes one of the most fertile cultures for filmmaking even if it is the worst for peace and politics. I’m reminded of the old Kingston Trio song, “They’re Rioting in Africa,” that goes:
“The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles. The Italians hate Yugoslavs, the South African’s hate the Dutch. And I don’t like anybody very much.”
Ayelet Zurer, Alon Elkabeth, Shmil Ben Ari
Young Nadav lusts after his sexy Aunt Nina by peeping in her window and writing lustful stories in his diary about her. When Nina’s husband dies in a bomb incident while in the Army reserves, Nadav’s mother sends him temporarily to live with Aunt Nina so she won’t be alone. From the spare room he gets to observe all the twists and tragedies of her love life.
Soon Annon installs himself as her perfect lover. Actually he was part of the Army detail who came to inform her of her husband’s death (in a great bit of humor, they soldiers on the detail get the wrong apartment and inform the wrong widow. She faints, but manages to scream out “You want Entrance B” as she recovers. (the unit next door-see the clip).
Annon is everything Nina wants. He is sensitive to the point of crying, he is poetic, and he is dedicated. He also has a girl friend. What make Nina’s Tragedies so watchable are the little twists between tragedy and humor. Like the naked man Nina sees in the street who resembles her husband. He turns out to be the boyfriend of a Russian woman who is a buddy of Nadav’s peeping Tom accomplice. So it goes.
The film would not have worked if not for Shmil Ben Ari (Annon), who seduces not by sweeping Nina off her feet, but by crying over her tragedies. What an original twist on a guy trying to prove he is sensitive. Meanwhile Nadav is coming of age in this cozy world of lust and irony.
Some movies work so much better on the small screen, and I think this is one of them. In a theater Annon’s crying would be unsettling. We would think, “Get over it.” On an intimate screen his over-the-top emotions are just perfect.
Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, Ursula Strauss.
Alex (Johannes Krisch) changes sheets in a brothel where he falls in love with a hooker named Tamara and plots their escape from the pimp who owns her. He robs a bank to get enough money but Tamara is shot and killed by a cop during the getaway. If someone pitched this idea you’d suggest jumping off a bridge just to end depression.
That is, until you understood the shooting is only a preamble to the real story. The man who killed the prostitute, Robert (Andreas Lust), is a cop. His wife Susanne (Ursula Strauss), is trying to get pregnant but knows her problem is his impotence. Meanwhile she’s taking care of an old farmer who is the grandfather of bank robber Alex. And Alex, mourning his girl friend Tamara’s (Irina Potapenko’s) death and needing a place to escape, comes to the farm. Are you with me?
What starts out as ordinary tale (except for Irina Potapenko’s body, which nobody can describe as ordinary) becomes a tale of revenge (revanche in French) that skims over the predictable and always finds an original direction.
Robert (Andreas Lust) is the cop overcome with guilt at what he has done, even through it was an honest mistake in the line of duty. His wife is so faithful to him she is unfaithful when she meets Alex chopping wood at the farm because sees him as the sperm stud who can be the answer to her pregnancy problem.
It may all sound complicated and a bit contrived, but the result is captivating because of the players. Much in the style of another Austrian, Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, The White Ribbon), Gotz Spielmann is wonderful at implied relationships and penetrating character studies. See his masterful film of three urban character studies, Antares, also on MovieWithMe. See especially part one of that movie which is one of the most erotic chapters to come out of staid old Austria.
Hiam Abbass, Hend El Fahem, Maher Kammoun
SEX AND LUCIA
Paz Vega, Najwa Nimri
Sex shows everything and disguises plot. Julio Medem is a pure visualist whose stories are usually ridiculous. Here he gets away with it. But Strip away the gorgeous bodies, lingering looks, steamy nights and torrid landscapes: what is left is Lucia falling madly in love with a gifted poet and becoming his constant companion until memories drive him to the brink of suicide.
Thinking him dead, Lucia flees to a sun filled island to heal in the care of her best friend, Elena, who is healing from her own tragedy: the death of her daughter. They both have affairs with a scuba diver before discovering that the daughter's father was the Lucia's poet lover. Miraculously at this point, the poet comes out of his suicide-induced coma.
Try telling that one in an elevator pitch. What is remarkable is that Medem's film works. Paz Vega vies with Najwa Nimri for the most beautiful body and the most writhingly sensual love scene. Their lovers are perfect Spanish archetypes. The poet is soft and doe-eyed. The scuba diver is big, hirsute, with a big cock. The clothing budget on this film was minimal.
Score by Ivan Aledo underscores the dreamlike quality. Altogether Sex and Lucia is an amazing tone poem that needs to be appreciated slowly, deeply, lanquidly; like sucking a fruit ice on a bright hot white beach before plunging quickly into the in cool blue ocean beyond.
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED
Romain Duris, Aure Atika
remake of Fingers (USA 1978, 90 min, dir: James Toback, cast: Harvey Keitel, Tissa Farrow, James Brown)
Rarely is an American movie remade as a French one. Usually it is the reverse. What's clear is our style is brute confrontation and theirs is subtle manipulation. These two films, both excellent, are a Rosetta stone of Anglo-French cultural understanding.
James Toback made Fingers in 1978 with a young Harvey Keitel. You have to forgive him carrying a boom box everywhere on his shoulder: not even Sony Walkmans had been invented yet. Jacques Audiard made Romain Duris a Belmondo-like thug who hides his musical ambition as a concert pianist by playing imaginary keyboards on cafe tables.
Audiard also adds characters and levels of plot absent from Fingers. It would be easy to say the French version has more depth and polish. But it is easier to improve than create from nothing. I think the American version is actually subtler for what it leaves out, and more electric for emotions that are not stated.
Witness the two love scenes. Harvey Keitel is crude and forceful. Romain Duris is expressive, romantic, yearning and wanting. One is a trashing animal ready to climb on his conquest. The other is opening himself up to feelings long simmering. But which has more heat, and what is more honest in human passion? I think Toback takes the prize and his film, though less sophisticated and less of a successful character study; finally has more raw power. See them both together and acknowledge them both as excellent. See them for Tissa Farrow and Aure Atika adding very sexual interpretations to the same part. Then go on see Toback's Tyson and Audiard's The Prophet to understand the extent of their cinema art.
Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim
Wood Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton
The true historians of war are gravediggers. By the time their battle begins the others have all ended. The smoke has cleared. All that is left is a lot of questions without answers. Shakespeare employed a couple of these shovelers in Hamlet.
Modern times demand a more psychological approach. The Messenger is about Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), just retuned from Iraq and assigned to be an army Casualty Notification Officer. He works in a two-man team with hard ass Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson). Their job is to drive around notifying dead soldier’s wives and parents that their lovers and sons have bought the big one.
Owen Moverman directs from his own script; and the film has a writerly feel. It’s not so much the drama of war’s nihilism, like Hurt Locker, as it is a mindful reflection.
If you ever want a downer evening try double billing The Messenger with Gardens of Stone. The latter is Francis Coppola’s 1987 film about men assigned to the ceremonial burial details at Arlington Nation Cemetery (during the Viet Nam War).
The first movie notifies the next of kin, the second movie blows the trumpet and folds the flag as the coffins slide into the ground. Both are very good films. Together they offer a requiem for America’s recent war adventures.
We can hope The Messenger is not damage Moverman’s career the way Gardens of Stone was for Coppola’s. In Coppola’s case it was not the movie, it was the making of the movie. During the filming, Francis’s son Gio (Gian Carlo) was killed in a gruesome accident. The speeding motorboat in which he was a passenger passed under a towline and he was beheaded.
Coppola retreated into his Silverfish video command trailer and never came out. He directed the rest of the picture in seclusion. Each day word came from the unseen director for set ups and shots of military burials.
An experience like that is ample reason to lose your love of making films. Gardens of Stone was (in my opinion) the last great chancy subject for Coppola. Afterward he settled into another Godfather sequel and a lot of executive producer credits. The few films he has actually directed since are minor works that smell of easy money.
Owen Moverman is luckier. Or is he? There was no personal tragedy we know of while making his death trip film. But the writer-director’s worldview is a tad mawkish. His Casualty Notification Officers must offer emotional justification as they act out the futility of war. To make them emotionally interesting, Will has to have a love affair with a soldier’s widow, Jena (Samantha Morton).
Coppola was felled by a bizarre personal tragedy. Moverman seems to hunt bizarre emotional situations on screen.
Look at his past writing credits like Jesus’ Son, Face, Married Life, and The Big Blow you feel he’s a kinky dude. Where he goes next is going to be interesting. Where he has been with The Messenger is certainly worth experiencing as long as you’re not feeling suicidal.
Luiz Carlos Lacerda
Marcello Antony, Paula Burlamaqui
WOMEN IN LOVE
Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden
Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna
Is this a coming of age movie for two teenage boys or a loss of innocence movie for a whole country? Sex is a big part of it (and Maribel Verdu does it so well). But there is one scene, never commented upon by the characters. The two teenage boys driving Luisa to the beach in hopes of fucking her pass police rounding up Mexican peasants. As the car passes, the police roughly line up the peasants in a scene where we fear the next image will be their execution. It is chilling, but the car drives on without comment. We want to say, “Stop so we can see what happens?”
Many films, like many songs, wear disguises. “Puff the Magic Dragon” has been a favorite children’s song but is really about the pleasures of smoking dope. “Ring Around the Rosie” is about death from the bubonic plague in 14th Century Europe. High Noon is about the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950’s. Bound for Glory argues for socialism in America. The creators of these works knew one thing: if you want to send a message, you are better wrapping it in entertainment.
The mystery of what lies beneath Y Tu Mama Tambien was answered by a film professor and historian, Ernesto R. Acevedo-Munoz. He saw references throughout the movie to class struggles between rich and poor in Mexico. Luisa (from Madrid) has the last name Cortes. Julio, the working class kid, is named Zapata. The rich boy’s first name is Tenoch. Cortes was the Spanish conqueror of Mexico. Zapata was the peasant who started a revolution. Tenoch is from Tenochtitlan; the Aztec name for Mexico City. Professor Acevedo-Munoz explains that rich politicians of the ruling PRI party often named their children Aztec names as a way of conveying upper class patriotism.
Once you catch on, you can find several more instances of class conflict in this sweet and sexy film. Julio’s sister studies sociology and supports the revolution in Chiapas. The boys are stopped in a Mexico City traffic jam caused by a political demonstration.
The Mexico of Y Tu Mama Tambien was going through a debt crisis, an uprising on its southern border, and a bloody attempt to unseat the corrupt right wing ruling party. Sometimes the only way to tell a serious story is to pretend it is something else that will prove popular enough for wide distribution. Those who understand will push farther to find the real message.
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