Monday, January 15, 2007

Watched January 8 - 14, 2007

Subida al cielo / Mexican Bus Ride / Ascent to Heaven (Luis Buñuel, 1952)
Nazarín (Luis Buñuel, 1959)

Mexican Bus Ride is the first Bunuel film I've seen that can (arguably) be called minor. Entertaining, with a few bits of amusing weirdness mixed in -- but minor. Like Hiroshi Shimizu in Arigato-san (Mr. Thank You), this mainly involves a rural bus trip -- but Shimizu's film (from the early 40s) is a much more remarkable affair (paradoxically because Shimizu found no need to spice the proceedings up with "dramatic" events).

Nazarin is in a whole other class -- clearly in Bunuel's top tier (and, thus, in the top tier of all movies ever made). Francisco Rabal is superb as the well-intentioned, but stubborn Father Nazario -- who insists on trying to live and behave like Jesus (rather than like a "proper" Mexican Catholic priest). His virtuous intentions sometimes lead to positive results, but often precipitate disaster instead. A complex film about an ostensibly "simple" character. Wonderful performances -- and superb cinematography.

Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976)
Noroît (Jacques Rivette, 1976)

Rivette's neo-pirate movie Noroît is certainhly one of his most visually stunning (along with Hurlevent / Wuthering Heights). This starts out as a loose adaptation of the blood and thunder Jacobean era Revenger's Tale -- and moves into a cosmological battle for its finale. Looking for conventional story logic is probably pointless here. Simply enjoying the sights and sounds (an excellent -- if intermittent -- score, performed by musicians on the set, who are nonetheless rarely if ever seen by the rest of the cast).

Paradoxically, while cosmological dueling is more central to the story of Duelle, this is a much smaller-scaled film. Juliet Berto and Bulle Ogier are suitably enigmatic (and wonderful) as the dueling goddesses -- as is Hermine Karagheuz, who gets embroiled in their struggle. In some respects, this film anticipates later Rivette films like Haut bas fragile and Marie and Julien -- both in its visual look and its mostly intimate scale. Shot in a Paris that is often surprisingly empty-looking (like that found in Rivette's own Pont du Nord -- and Feuillades Les vampires).

Osaka monogatari / Osaka Story (Jun Ichikawa, 1999)

Teen-aged Chizuru Ikewaki is excellent here -- as a girl from a lower working-class Osaka family. Her parents are, at their height of success, a moderately successful standup comedy duo (an Osaka specialty known as manzai). But the father's drinking and womanizing take a toll on the family (and the parents' success as entertainers). When her father disappears, our heroine sets after him (into the underside of urban Osaka).

Jun Ichikawa is one of Japan's least well known great contemporary directors. This is a more exuberant film overall than Ichikawa's typically restrained norm (as seen in his more recent Tony Takitani). Some of the most charming scenes show our heroine and her little brother enacting their own manzai performances for friends (and passers-by) at school and on the playground. Unfortunately, no subtitled version is available (the unsubbed version I watched was taped off Japanese TV).

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