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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Iosif Kheifits

Хейфиц Иосиф Ефимович
1905 - 1995
no copyright infringement intended

remained in the memory of cinema lovers with his 1960 adaptation of Chekhov's Дама с собачкой, but his artistic output was much larger: thirty-two movies in all, spanning from 1928 to 1990.

(Russian and Soviet Cinema)


Monday, January 26, 2015

Victory in Greece

(source: Las 2 Orillas)
no copyright infringement intended

the moussaka roared - for good this time - I want them all the best

(Zoon Politikon)


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anna Seghers

Anna Seghers
(Roger Meils Fotografien)
no copyright infringement intended

born in 1900, died in 1983, best remembered for her novels about moral experiences during WWII; actually her name was Netty Radványi, née Reiling and her pseudonym was taken from the Dutch painter and etcher Hercules Seghers (whose works she admired); this speaks a lot for her life interest in Beaux Arts; studied the history of art at the university, along with general history and philosophy (and also Chinese, interesting detail, adding a touch to her portrait); her doctoral thesis treated aspects of Jews and Jewishness in the work of Rembrandt; coming to maturity during WWI, joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1928; during the Nazi period lived in exile (France, then Mexico); returned to Germany in 1947, settled in East Berlin in 1950, to become an emblematic figure of the GDR letters; Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara (1928) was her first novel, describing a grassroots revolt of Breton fishermen for better wages and larger share of their catch - the tone of the novel is kept cool, avoiding polemical excesses, while much attention is given to the details, reflecting the ideas of Neue Sachlichkeit - Erwin Piscator adapted the book for the screen (Восстание рыбаков, 1934); Das siebte Kreuz (1942) had a rather simple plot -a group of seven prisoners in a Nazi camp making a collaborative escape attempt - it was also adapted for the screen, this time by Fred Zinnemann, starring Spencer Tracy (The Seventh Cross, 1944); in Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen (1943) a woman living in exile is haunted by the ghostly visits of old schoolmates who had died in the Nazi camps and prisons - a horrific landscape of a Germany going mad and sending its madness far away on Earth; Transit Visa (1944), considered by Heinrich Böll as the most beautiful novel Seghers has written, was a thriller mixing politics, philosophy and literature, calling the reader back every couple of years to see how it evolved their relationship (Christa Wolf); and these titles are but a few of her bibliography.

(German and Nordic Literature)


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jerusalem, 1917, and then 1896

Jerusalem, 1917
fair use

The image above comes from 1917. Jerusalem, the Holy City for three great religions.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets

The dew which descends upon Jerusalem is a remedy from every sickness because it is from the gardens of Paradise.

The Psalms, the Gospel, and the Hadith, three sister books. To whom should the Holly City belong? I think the correct question should be, When Will the Fighting Stop?

The film footage below comes from 1896. Cameramen from the studio of Frères Lumière came to Jerusalem to discover the uniqueness of the place. And they found a city where Arabs, Jews and Christians were living and praying together.

(Early Movies)

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Mariana Rondón: Postales de Leningrado (2007)

Postales de Leningrado, 2007
(Kino Pod Baranami)
no copyright infringement intended

A movie putting in parallel several representations of the same reality. Which one is faithful to the facts?

The background is the civil war that ravaged Venezuela in the 1960's. The two enemies were former allies: several years earlier the left wing forces had come to power in the country, and soon the radicals split and started a ruthless guerrilla. The moderate left that were now alone at power responded with political terror. From each side, moderates and radicals, the recourse to the method (the title of a novel by Alejo Carpentier coming in mind, El Recurso del método). Like a fatality. For the moderates, the recourse to political terror, for reasons of state (again Carpentier coming in mind, with the English title of his novel, Reasons of State). For the radicals, the recourse to revolutionary struggle, as a matter of principle (here I disagree maybe with Carpentier, I'd say that I'm much more skeptical when it comes to politics; on the other hand, who am I to disagree with Carpentier? Just speculating). Well, that's what happens sometimes between moderates and radicals.  In the 1960's Venezuela the two forces were the regime of Presidents Rómulo Betancourt and Raúl Leoni, against the partisans from FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional).

A detachment of guerrilleros  in the mountains, hunted by the military; one by one the partisans are caught and tortured to betray the other comrades. Meanwhile life and love follow the laws set by nature; a girl is procreated just in these dramatic moments. Girl of guerrilleros. Her birth happens to come when the country celebrates the Mother's Day. Girl and mother are photographed and the photo is published in the newspapers. The secret police compares the photo with its archive and traces the mother. The girl will be raised by the grandparents, like all other kids of guerrilleros. From time to time, very rarely, a postal card comes and makes sensation. It is announced in a codified language: card from Leningrad! and the kid knows that actually it comes from the parents. It's an illustrated postcard, the image of a beautiful city from afar. The kid starts dreaming, maybe one day I will go in the mountains to find them, my parents, and maybe if I keep going I will arrive in that big city, in Leningrad. As the kid has been told that his parents must hide, then this trick should be learned, how to become an invisible man. The reality of the civil war in all its brutality and ugliness, and the reality imagined by these kids, in all its purity and innocence, a universe of fairy-tales mixed with the postales de Leningrado. I was thinking while watching this film at another great movie, Guillermo del Torro's El laberinto del fauno.

This movie operates on multiple plans: the guerrilleros; their kids (the girl and her cousin Teo); the villagers (grandparents and other relatives and friends).  Which plan is more faithful to the facts? For the kids, the imagination creates a parallel universe with invisible men and enchanted adventures. For the villagers, the perception of the partisans is also slipping toward myth (se fueron a salvar al mundo y los seguimos esperando). For the guerrilleros themselves, their perceived self-image is also getting toward a parallel reality: a mysterious American TV cameraman seems to record them all the time, making us to question the authenticity of everything; is it real guerrilla or a movie in the making?

And over all these levels, the off-voice of the girl presenting all the stories about herself, about the other kids, villagers and partisans, with innocence and childish humor.

A wonderful movie about reality and representation, about the relativity of what we perceive about others and about ourselves.

A few links to movie reviews:

(Mariana Rondón)


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Teodora, imperatrice di Bisanzio (1954)

The biographical sources about Byzantine Empress Theodora (Θεοδώρα), wife of Justinian, are highly contradictory. Sometimes the same author gives in different books opposite descriptions (the most striking example being of Procopius, the ultimate historical source for the 6th century: in the Wars of Justinian she appears as courageous and influential; in the Secret History she comes as vulgar and insatiably lusty, while shrewd and mean; in the Buildings of Justinian she is a pious and beautiful dame). One thing is clear: any of these hypostasis we choose, she remains in the Byzantine history for better or worse as a very strong and influential personality.

L'Imperatrice Theodora au Colisée
by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant
oil on canvas, private collection
no copyright infringement intended

No wonder she raised the interest of writers, and painters, and filmmakers. In 1938 Robert Graves featured her in Count Belisarius. In 2010 Stella Duffy published Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore. The same Stella Duffy came back on the Byzantine Empress in 2012: The Purple Shroud. Stephanie Thornton came in 2013 with The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora. And there are some other books as well.

Sarah Bernhardt in Victorien Sardou's Théodora
photographiée par Félix Nadar, 1882
no copyright infringement intended

The first movie dedicated to Theodora came in 1909: the 242 minute Teodora imperatrice di Bisanzio, directed by Ernesto Maria Pasquali. It was followed in 1921 by Leopoldo Carlucci's Theodora, with a screenplay written by Victorien Sardou: after the former courtesan and slave girl, marries the emperor, a love affair with a handsome Greek leads to revolution in both Byzantium and Rome (Jim Beaver). Rita Jolivet was in the role of the Empress. Ferruccio Biancini played Justinian.

Rita Jolivet and Ferruccio Biancini in Theodora, 1921
(11 East 14th Street)
no copyright infringement intended

Another Theodora, the most recent so far, was made in 1954: Teodora, imperatrice di Bisanzio, with Gianna Maria Canale, Georges Marchal, and Irene Papas, directed by Riccardo Freda. This time the twist was rather political: the divide between nobility and slave is too great and Theodora seeks justice for her people; revolution erupt in both Byzantium and Rome (Jim Beaver)

The 1954 movie came also in Bucharest theaters, I was a kid by then and didn't watch it. I found right now the movie on a youTube video.And I had a discussion with a friend my age just today: he was convinced that the main role had been played by another Italian actress. No, it was played by Gianna Maria Canale.

(Italian Movies)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Il Gattopardo (1963)

Il Gattopardo, 1963
(Cine Blog)
no copyright infringement intended

I had yesterday the unexpected surprise to watch this movie again, after many decades. It was aired on a TV channel, and I came upon it by pure chance.

I was a teenager in 1963, I was in love for Claudia Cardinale, and I was admiring Alain Delon. Thus I followed the two with juvenile enchantment. In the same time I knew one or two things about Visconti. And I discovered in this movie the admirable scenic presence of Burt Lancaster. Also Paolo Stoppa, whom I knew from Casa Ricordi, and not only.

After two or three years I had the chance to read the novel of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and I realized the full universe and the full refinement. The universe of both author and hero, Prince Lampedusa, and Prince Salina; and the refinement of their inner universes, of the author and of his hero.

Prince Salina, too lucid to not understand that his world was fading, too aristocrat to not understand that any adaptation to the new world would have been disgracious.

(Italian Movies)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

El Manzano Azul

El Manzano Azul, 2012
(El Condef Blog)
no copyright infringement intended

A boy of about ten or eleven must spend the summer at his grandfather (the boy barely knows his grandpa). The boy comes from a big city  where the universe has smartphone, cable TV, and Internet as natural coordinates. The grandpa lives in a remote village in the mountains, where the universe is deprived even of electricity and bathroom. People in the village look like from another planet, and boys of his age are overtly hostile. Generally everything seems to be charged with an incomprehensible level of brutality. Add to this the traumas the boy carries with him from the city: the father has left the family to come back only in very short flashbacks in the boy's nightly dreams.

All this makes the little boy very reluctant towards his grandpa and towards everybody and everything there. Well, the grandpa is patient and tactful, and little by little he succeeds to communicate his own balance to the boy.

And so the boy starts progressively to open himself to the new universe and get more and more fascinated by the knowns and unknowns there. There is something beyond the incomprehensible brutality: a genuine collective solidarity against the potential evil coming from outside. Once you are accepted, you'll bee protected.

This grandpa seems to carry wonderful mysteries, the same as the blue apple tree near the house. It's for the boy  the beginning of a lifelong fascination for the place, and he will come back in the years that follow, and will marry the girl he met here in the village during that summer of long time ago.

A simple and beautiful story that is recomposed through the memories of the adult who once was a boy of about ten or eleven, and who has inherited from his grandpa that wonderful balance in approaching the knowns and unknowns in life.

That is El Manzano Azul (The Blue Apple Tree), the 2012 movie of Venezuelan director Olegario Barrera. The grandpa is played by an unforgettable actor, Miguel Ángel Landa.

Watching this movie, my own story from long time ago came to my mind; my father that abandoned his family; his image coming in quick stupid flashbacks to me, now and then; me, born in France, at three years old coming to Romania; not knowing any Romanian word; as for my Grandma, she did not know French; now I am close to my seventies; I hope I learned from my Grandma one or two lessons.

(Olegario Barrera)


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Olegario Barrera

Olegario Barrera
(el Monstruo de un Millión de Cabezas)
no copyright infringement intended

Movie director and writer born in 1947 in Spain (in the Canary Islands), living in Venezuela since childhood. His first movie, Pequeña Revancha (1984) got more than 30 awards, in Venezuela and abroad (Germany, France, Italy, Colombia, and Cuba). It was based on a story by Antonio Skármeta: a 12 years old boy has been asked to write an essay about What does your family do at nights; he lives in a right wing dictatorship regime in Venezuela that has begun eliminating Union leaders and leftist Venezuelans; while the story develops the boy deals with the first kiss experience, the dead of his dog and the fact that asking too many questions may be very dangerous (imdbuser). His next movie was Operación billete (1987): an old employee in the credit department of a large commercial bank finds serious financial irregularities implying his superiors; he starts a hard struggle to discover everything and to demonstrate the corruption (Film in het Nederlands). Fin de Round (1992) was based on a 1976 play by Rodolfo Santana: a boy leaves his village in Venezuela, and along with his sister and brother travels to the city trying to break through; there he discovers his talent for boxing and through it the opportunity to be someone (ViiozMoviesOnline). Una Abuela Virgen (2007) was also based on a play by Rodolfo Santana (Rock para una abuela Virgen, 1982): a grandmother who passed away nearly two decades ago returns to the world of the living as a twenty year old beauty who sends her granddaughter's life spiraling into chaos (Barnes and Noble). El Manzano Azul (2012): a young boy sets out on a vacation with his grandfather, and has a transformative experience while visiting a village surrounding a mysterious blue apple tree (Rotten Tomatoes).

(Iberic and Iberic-American Cinema)


Friday, January 09, 2015

El Hakim

El Hakim, 1957
(Benito Movie Poster)
no copyright infringement intended

What would tell some movie from 1957 to a today's viewer? You'd be surprised, it still has a lot to say.

The destiny of a very smart boy from a poor family in a poor country. Normally it should become a failure from the very beginning. The name of a story written by the Romanian author Ioan Alexandru Brătescu-Voinești comes to my mind (the story is Niculăiţă Minciună, let's say Nick the Liar or Nick the Lie). All the others, mediocre and jealous to preserve their mediocrity, will declare the smart boy just a liar, and his imagination, just a ridiculous manufacture of lies.

Only a few succeed to get further. After years of hard work and privations, they finish their studies and start professing in the specialty they love, be it medicine or engineering, science or teaching, or anything else.They have to face often the potential hostility of the environment, the corruption and abuses, the lack of understanding.

Sometimes the only reasonable solution remains to emigrate. Then it becomes possible to enjoy the deserved success. Only it's far away from your natural habitat, and nostalgia will start to work, painful memories, of your places, of your youth, of things you could have done and you haven't, focused as you were on your work. Memories will start to visit you, the memory of that girl who loved you, and you had been too shy, or too undecided, or simply too preoccupied with building your career. And you will realize what would have mattered most, and what is lost.

And you will start to dream of returning, to die peacefully in your country, or maybe to find there the time and serenity to write about all this.

That is what El Hakim tells us. A German movie from 1957.

The film is based on a novel (Dr. Ibrahim) from 1935 by John Knittel (a Swiss author born in India, who lived mostly in England and Switzerland, traveled intensely in the North African countries, and wrote all his books in English - then all of them were translated in German). Otto Wilhelm Fischer in the role of Dr. Ibrahim, the man struggling for all his life to get accomplished, meeting the long-sought success in London, and finally coming back to Egypt to find there his balance and become El Hakim - The Sage. Among many other roles, Fischer created also a beautiful Augustin Saint-Claire, in a German adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin (1965). In the role of his life love, lost in his young years and retrieved in the end, an actress of subtle talent and unforgettable beauty, Nadja Tiller.

(German and Nordic Cinema)