Friday, April 20, 2018

SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN (1948, CHINA), SPRINGTIME IN A SMALL TOWN (2002, CHINA)

Spring in a Small Town

The post-war setting for Spring in a Small Town is as important an element to this film as the story itself. The rubble and decimated house is a character onto itself, though rarely referred to directly.

The plot is about a formerly prosperous man that now lives in a ruined shell of his former house with his wife in a marriage that has mutual caring, but is lacking in passion. A doctor and friend of the man comes to town after a long absence. What the man doesn't know is that the doctor has had a previous relationship with the man's wife and their feelings for each other are repressed but still very much alive. To complicate matters, the woman's sister develops a crush on the doctor and the patriarch has escalating health problems which the doctor is called upon to assist with.

It sounds like a bit of a soap opera when you describe it, but the black and white cinematography and the great shots of these characters experienceing their personal passions among the wreckage of their surroundings make for a subtle but captivating film.

Springtime in a Small Town

The remake of  Spring in a Small Town, with the slightly altered title Springtime in a Small Town. has a couple of strikes against it right off the bat. First, it is a remake of a beloved movie (at least in China) that doesn't have a lot of action elements for the film to update to begin with. It also has to balance the line between being faithful to the original while being distinctive enough to justify a reason for remaking it. Color photography also seems like a drawback here.

I watched the second film right after the first and think the remake certainly has merit in its own right.  It is interesting to note the similarities between this film and the original and note where director Tian Zhuangzhuang decided to make some changes. Springtime in a Small Town is worth seeing, but the original alone may be enough for some viewers who may not want to make a second trip into the rubble.  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

THE YOUNG AND THE DAMNED (1950, MEXICO)

The Young and the Damned (Los Olviados):
Even the title gives them no chance

Although made with meticulous realism and unquestioned fidelity to the facts, The Young and the Damned's (Los Olviados) qualifications as dramatic entertainments-or even social reportage-are dim...(The film) director Luis Bunel has assembled had no focus or point of reference for the squalid depressing tale he tells. He simply has assembled an assortment of poverty stricken folks-and has mixed them all together in a vicious and shocking melange of violence, melodrama, coincidence and irony.-Bosley Crowther, New York Times, March 25, 1952

I think Bosley Crowther is being more than a bit hard on Los Olviados. Mixing a film into a vicious and shocking melange of violence, melodrama, coincidence and irony successfully seems like no easy task to pull off to me. Life on the street for the poor is not an easy thing to watch as entertainment in any venue, be it in Mexico City (Los Olviados), Morrocco (Ali Zaoua, Prince of the Streets) or Rio de Janerio (City of God)-C. Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

DAYBREAK (1939, FRANCE)

Jean Gabin and Jules Berry display varying degrees of masculinity
in Daybreak


"This prototype of film noir, from 1939, is both a grim feast of prewar French acting and a catalogue of French moods on the eve of disaster." –Richard Brody, The New Yorker, November 10, 2014

Prototype of film noir is pretty much my impression of this film too. It tells the story of a man who commits a crime which we see the events leading up to it told in flashback. Seeing the story told unfold this way adds an element of style to the film, even if one can argue that it might take away some of the suspense. Directed by Marcel Carne (Director of the wonderful Children of Paradise) and stars French film legend Jean Gabin (Pepe Le Moko, Le Grande Illusion).-C. Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey

Thursday, April 5, 2018

TABU (1931, BRAZIL)

Tabu: The natives aren't restless...yet

"It is an enchanting piece of photography synchronized with a most pleasing musical score."-Mourdant Hall, The New York TimesMarch 19, 1931

"Murnau fused locations and the finest studio lighting to make a reinvention of reality. Tabu and Sunrise are both masterworks. We are lucky that both of them survive."-David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film

As any good film student knows, The two major films in the CV of German director F. W. Murnau are the horror film Nosferatu (1922) and the tragic drama The Last Laugh (1924). Murnau's Tabu was not one I was even aware of until it popped up in an updated 1001 book edition. This story of love, island rituals and the abuse of power in the South Seas is pretty interesting in its on right. Murnau made the film with Nanook of the North's Joseph Flaherty and it's a little hard to tell at times during the island scenes with the natives whether we are watching a documentary or a work of fiction..But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The story is intriguing and the look of the film is distinctive. Looks like one more for the Murnau CV.-C. Cox, 1001: A Film Odyssey