Happiness (1998), Todd Solondz

Awkwardly funny for some but definitively uncomfortable viewing for most, Todd Solondz’s 1998 Happiness – this haunting Freudian movie – deals with difficult subjects such as masturbation and paedophilia by cracking open American suburban angst in a non-judgemental way.

happiness-2The themes explored in Solondz’s Happiness are so extremely hard to swallow that these might distract viewers from an obvious thread permeating the entire movie: those seeking happiness will forget about living and thus end up miserable. All the main characters in the film seem to be going through emotional rollercoasters; all of them, deeply unhappy, even the ones faking some sort of normality. It is inevitable that at the core of these characters’ problems sits your typical family, for as Philip Larkin knew well, ‘they fuck you up, your mum and dad.’

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Tabu (2012), Miguel Gomes

Evasive, suggestive and yet visually stunning, Miguel Gomes’ 2012 Tabu, this haunting dream of a movie dealing with memory and loss, inserts itself deep into the human soul, forcing us to ask: When is a person really seen for who they are and not for who they are perceived to be?

tabuThe weird beauty of young Aurora’s pet crocodile on the movie’s poster sets a hypnotic and yet appropriate mood for Tabu, Miguel Gomes’ beautiful film. For the story points to our pasts – perhaps, even beyond ourselves – and reaches the essence of what it means to remember. Where is the core of Aurora to be found? In the slightly paranoid old woman or the young and adventurous beauty? Time – inexorable and ruthless – transforms certainties. Traits that once seemed charming in youth acquire a sinister nature later in life. What in the past seemed cowardice, now might seem reasonable prudence. Continue reading

Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

A timeless classic and a love letter to the cinema, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s 1952 Singin’ in the Rain manages to be simultaneously hilarious and profound; a thought-provoking film that entertains and educates through wonderfully choreographed set-pieces.

singin-in-the-rain-2A little piece of film magic was created when in Singin’ in the Rain a soaked Gene Kelly dances under torrential rain, splashes on puddles and is spotted by a police officer – no other episode in the history of cinema is as iconic as it is idiosyncratic. Although as unforgettable as any edgy, suspenseful scene – perhaps the Russian roulette from The Deer Hunter (1978, Michael Cimino) or the coin toss from No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen) – taken out of context, the singing is utterly odd. Watched in isolation, we are entitled to ask: What is this guy blabbing about under such a downpour? Well… no reason is necessary for a demonstration of pure joy. Continue reading

Rashomon (1950), Akira Kurosawa

Philosophically profound as well as thematically challenging, Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon touches not only on cinematic history and the confluence of Eastern and Western traditions, but also on the age-old and important matter of the nature of truth and its elusiveness.

rashomon-2Forget for a moment that this film revealed to the world one of the greatest masters of cinema, or that its title became a common term to describe contradictory interpretations of a single event. For now, just give a passing thought about truth, its nature and how elusive it really is. Kurosawa’s choice to tell lies reinforced by images that suggest the truth already elevates the movie to a different level of philosophical depth. Rashomon [Rashômon] is indeed a true masterpiece. Continue reading

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Frank Capra

As the film negative of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life is a fantastical parable that goes straight to the core of the individualistic ethos and challenges everything that is dear to western societies and their ideas about self-realisation.

its-a-wonderful-life-2How does one reconcile the two contradictory aspects attached to this classic film, i.e. the long tradition of playing the movie as a Christmas staple with the fact that the story can be taken as a communist yarn? The whole tale of George Bailey and the obstacles he encounters in his pursuit of happiness could be summarised as the story of someone’s frustrated dreams. By the end, with a little help from an aural friend, he is convinced that his altruistic attitude has all been for the best. If such posture does not show America’s approval of the common good and the collective well-being, then I don’t know what does. Continue reading

Volver (2006), Pedro Almodóvar

A magical realist fable in the guise of a crime story, Pedro Almodóvar’s 2006 Volver packs three generations of resilient Spanish women – who happen to be vulnerable and delicate as well – in a poignant and mysterious tale of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

volver-2The melodramatic tone of Volver (which means to return) and the labyrinthine nature of the plot do not subtract from the impact the film leaves on the audience. This world populated almost exclusively by women, who while harming other women, also take comfort in the affection of other strong women, is rich in symbolism, metaphors and subtle meanings. Because the story is played out as a mystery tale, the full significance of things, hinted at the start, will be revealed only at its operatic end. Continue reading

Gone with the Wind (1939), Victor Fleming

Thematically controversial and visually arresting, Victor Fleming’s 1939 Gone with the Wind, isn’t exactly the most accurate of motion pictures, but the scope of its storytelling, and the psychological insights it displays about a flawed but compelling heroine, are admirable indeed.

gone-with-the-wind-2How does one defend a 75-year-old movie that sugarcoats aspects of a nasty legacy in American history? Obviously, one doesn’t – one can’t! In fact, the film does not need defending – unless one, not only has a chip on their shoulder, but lives and sleeps with one at all times. Well-educated people will know that slavery was actually brutal (12 Years a Slave, anyone?). Why does a work of art must agree to certain degrees of accuracy? What kinds of responsibility does a picture bear towards the truth? Is it really so insensitive to love the film for those dresses, those vistas and those characters dazzling in Technicolor? Continue reading

The Godfather (1972) / The Godfather – Part II (1974), Francis Ford Coppola

Two superb masterpieces, comparable to the first sequence of films made by Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 The Godfather & 1974 The Godfather – Part II are real landmarks in the history of American cinema and turning points in the country’s image of itself.

the-godfather-2In 1945, on his daughter’s wedding day, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), who is the boss of a New York criminal clan, hears requests from selected guests. Some want justice; some want a role in an upcoming movie; some just want to pay their respect. As the Don’s third son, Michael (Al Pacino) returns from serving his country in World War II and brings his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to meet the family, we get acquainted with all the family members. These are: first and second sons, hot-headed Sonny (James Caan) and weak-minded Fredo (John Cazale), daughter Connie (Talia Shire) and adopted son, trusted lawyer and consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). ooooo ooo godfather-diane-keatongodfather-talia-shiregodfather-john-cazalegodfather-vito-childgodfather-marlon-brandogodfather-robert-de-nirogodfather-al-pacinogodfather-james-caangodfather-robert-duvallWhen a crime lord invites Don Corleone to join him in the emergent drug market and he refuses, an attempted murder fails to kill him. Michael, thus far an openly outsider and the only college-educated of the children, suggests the assassination of the two men responsible for their troubles. After killing the drug baron and the crooked, ‘on his pay roll’ police officer, Michael flees to Sicily, in Italy. When Sonny is killed in retaliation for the previous murders, the Godfather arranges a meeting with the other crime families of New York to establish a cease-fire. As Michael is allowed to return to the USA, he becomes the new Don. Soon after Vito Corleone dies, on the day of his sister Connie’s baby’s baptism, Michael Corleone orders the death of every single of his enemies, the bosses of the other criminal families. Continue reading

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), Juan José Campanella

A thriller bathed in melodramatic undertones, Juan José Campanella’s 2009 The Secret in Their Eyes – which somehow attempts to depict the emasculation of modern man – cleverly constructs a puzzle that deals with the personal intertwined with the political in Argentina’s past.

the-secret-in-their-eyes-2It is obvious that The Secret in Their Eyes [El Secreto de sus Ojos] wants its audience to feel split between two different worlds. Both main characters are linked to a dichotomy – Benjamín in his contrasting attitude towards his homeland and Irene (the missing ‘A’ in the old typewriter and the wordplay between temo (I fear) and te amo (I love you)); and she in her Anglo-Spanish name. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that this ambiguous relationship is ubiquitous in South America. As Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans et al display a Latin passion for their culture, they also feel a great contempt towards their politics. Continue reading