Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Watched January 22 - 28, 2007

Susana (Luis Bunuel, 1951)

A lovely but very naughty young woman (Rosita Quintana) escapes from a reformatory and insinuates her way into the bosom of a well-to-do family (owners of a ranch and farm). She entices the ranch's overseer, the rancher's son and then the rancher himself. Only the family's elderly housekeeper distrusts her -- and even the rancher's wife disregards her warnings. Nothing extraordinary plot-wise, but Quintana sizzles. A good looking and entertaining, but surprisingly conventional Bunuel film.

Les trois couronnes du matelot / Three Crowns of the Sailor (Raoul Ruiz, 1983)

Another very strange film by Ruiz. A somewhat scary student intent on fleeing the rather sinister town he is in, encounters a sailor who promises to help him escape if he listens to the sailor's long and rambling story thoughout the night -- and gives him three Danish crowns in the morning. Sort of a wandering dutchman tale, involving a rather unusual freighter that travels the world. The current portion is filmed in black and white, the reminiscences in color. Jean-Bernard Guillard is quite good as the mysterious sailor.

Laitakaupungin valot / Lights in the Dusk (Aki Kaurismaki, 2006)

Even in the lowly job of security guard, Koistinen (Janne Hyytiäinen) doesn't seem to fit in. He accidentally catches the attention of mobsters, who delegate Mirja (Maria Järvenhelmi) to win his affection and lure him to destruction, by stealing his keys and codes -- so they can burglarize a jewelry store on his nightly route. The only person who seems to care about Koistinen is Aila (Maria Heiskanen), a plain and reticent food stand operator -- and he barely notices her. Once again, Kaurismaki observes the bottom of the Finnish social order -- but for once his trademark flip humor is almost entirely absent. The tone here is gentler and sadder than Kaurismaki's norm. Visually very beautiful, with wonderful, understated performances by the principles. It is possible that this will ultimately become my favorite film by this director.

Gwoemul / The Host (BONG Joon-ho, 2006)

Seen three times in about 10 days -- on DVD, screened (with a reception by the Korean Consul-General afterwards) and on DVD (on a screen capping rampage). Curiously, while seeing this screened had its virtues, I think I like this neo-moster/family drama more seen at home.

The Park family (father Hee-bong -- Byeon Hee-bong / son Kang-du -- SONG Kang-ho) runs a tiny convenience food stand on the banks of the Han River in Seoul. On the same day that Hee-bong's daughter (BAE Doo-na) is competing in an Olympic archery competition, his grand-daughter Hyeon-seo (14 year old KO Ah-sung) is carried off by a giant mutated salamander (?) on a rampage (that kills many other folks). While the family (including another son, a perpetually-unemployed and often soused college graduate) is in quarantine (American military doctors have decided that the monster might be the carrier of some deadly disease), a fleeting cell phone call from Hyeon-seo indicates she is not dead yet (the monster keeps a sort of "pantry" for between rampage snacks). The family's task -- escape and rescue Hyeon-seo themselves (as the authorities are disbelieving -- and unconcerned).

Bong bent (and broke) genre lines in his two preceding (and very fine films -- Barking Dogs Never Bite and Memories of Murder. He does it again here. While much of the mass audience focus is on the monster, the real core of the film is on the kidnapped girl's rather dysfunctional family -- and their coming together to try to help her -- in the face of daunting odds. Bong also tosses a large dose of black political satire into the pot (aimed at Korean governmental stupidity at least as much as American governmental arrogance). It sometimes seems that Bong has thrown a few too many balls in the air for him to juggle successfully --- but, in the end, (almost) everything seems to work. The performances are all fine -- but those of the old codger (BYEON Hee-bong) and schoolgirl (KO Ah-sung) are the ones that make the strongest impression. My biggest problem with the film (as with Memories of Murder), the lingering (and hard to shake) sense of sadness it leaves me with.

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