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Los Angeles Film Festival 2010

The Los Angeles Film Festival is taking place at this very moment, running concurently with our very own Edinburgh International Film Festival. We’re lucky enough to have a review for a film screening there, one which is news to me and certainly looks worth a watch, particularly as it’s an adaptation of one of my favourite authors works, the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez. For more similar reviews take a look at:

Of Love and Other Demons
Directed by Hilda Hidalgo
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

The characters in Hilda Hidalgo’s adaptation of the classic novel Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez inhabit a world of striking boundaries. Located on the tiny island of Costa Rica, there is a sharp distinction between that which is right and modern and that which is ancient and evil. The most beautiful building on the island is the seat of the Catholic Church, headed by a plump bishop who bemoans how the natives reject the Church for their old pagan religions. He presides over a land where the only white people are the nobility and the upper echelons of the faith. The natives are forced to live in poorer quarters where they can easily escape the view of the Cross and practice their old traditions. In this land, the tenuous balance between the two ways of life is fragile. Therefore, it is made even more devastating when two lovers find themselves trapped between the two parts of society. It all begins when 13 year old Sierva María, a child of high nobility, is bitten by a rabid dog one morning in the marketplace. Terrified for her health, her father enlists the help of the Church who claim that she does not harbor an infection, but instead is possessed by demons. So she is locked away in the basement of a small convent where she is tied down to her bed as she wastes away. Convinced that she is not sick but possessed by Satan, the local bishop sends his assistant, 36 year old Cayetano Delaura, to be in charge of her welfare. A man of letters, Cayetano realizes that she is not possessed but merely sick. But the bishop will hear nothing of it, so he continues his watch over Sierva until she begins to invade his dreams. As a man of faith, he cannot touch her. But as a man of science, he cannot abandon her. Herein lies the great conflict within the film. As Cayetano realizes that he is falling in love with Sierva, he has to make a choice between his faith and his heart. The story may sound like a rehash of the classic Romeo and Juliet story archetype wherein two people fall in love only to be separated by some controlling force. But it is much more. Instead of blind love, each lover is confronted with challenges that redefine how they see the world and each other. Sierva finds herself trapped between two opposite worlds. Her “caretakers” represent blind faith as the nuns who attend her merely cross themselves when she throws up instead of trying to heal her. But one day a fellow captive sneaks into her cell to keep her company. This woman represents a complete lack of faith as she expounds humanist sayings such as how when we die, we cease to exist and how there is no God. Cayetano represents a median between the two extremes. A devout Catholic, he believes in possessions and the devil, but is hesitant to diagnose her as possessed. Constantly with his nose in a book, Cayetano dreams of one day working in the Vatican library. So he surrounds himself with knowledge that the Church finds questionable. But Cayetano also finds himself in a state of confliction. His master is brunt and unreasonable, but he cannot challenge his authority. He needs to be with Sierva, but realizes that doing so may damn his soul. So we watch how the two lovers develop and how their feelings grow. In the furtive moments that they spend together in her cell, their passions are revealed, but suppressed. Watching their body language is a sensual delight, as a single caress becomes symbolic of a full consummation of love. And really, Of Love and Other Demons is a film obsessed with such caresses. The cinematography constructs a world of evocative pastels and subdued hues. The brightest colors come in the form of the small insects and lizards that Sierva plays with. The soundtrack is filled with soft, gentle melodies that echo the lullabies that nannies croon to cranky, tired children. The director, Hilda Hidalgo, controls the pacing with a smooth, gentle touch. The film is consumed by striking close-ups that seem to regard Sierva’s face and long crimson hair and Cayetano’s constantly worried profile as a kind of fetish. It is a slow moving, delicately streaming film that plays like a poem or a passage of Márquez’s prose.

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Retro Review – two sides of the same coin

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Six of the Best – Revenge

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Article – Cinema Below the 39th Parallel

The phrase ‘golden era’ was originally coined in relation to film as a label for 1930’s Hollywood, a time when anything seemed possible and megalomaniac producers mobilised their harems of stars to appear in some of cinema’s all time classics.

Since then many countries film industries have experienced their own mini eras of success and creativity. Post war Japan was a reflective time for the country and developed true masters such as Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and of course Ozu. The French new wave of the 60’s was a particularly strong period for a consistent producer of quality artistic films, before the baton was returned to the USA in the 1970’s, as the film school generation of Coppola, Scorsese and Lucas stretched their wings. In my book, Hong Kong cinema reached a cultural peak in the 90’s, an opinion I’m happy to bore people with on a daily basis. Yet a different Asian location has been growing in confidence and now has bragging rights as home to some of the most interesting, inventive and shocking cinema of the last decade. That country is South Korea.

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Retro Review – Requiem for a Dream

Addiction is a theme often explored in cinema. Sinatra rolled up his sleeve for The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955, a courageous move for both filmmaker and actor to cook up (pun intended, sorry) such a movie, taken of course from the brave and beautiful book of the same name by Nelson Algren. Algren’s poetic prose was unflinching in its depiction of degenerates, drunkards and dope heads as he waded valiantly through the scummy waters of drug use and addiction. In 1978 However Hubert Selby immersed himself completely and slipped right under. Requiem for a Dream was born, a novel which took America, the land of dreams and twisted it into something dark and unseemly. It took over 20 years for somebody to take up the reigns and project this living nightmare onto the silver screen. That man was the young visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.

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Article – The Sacking of Seijun Suzuki

Let’s start this story at the end. In April 1968 the 45 year old movie director Seijun Suzuki was fired by Kyusaku Hori, President of Japanese film studio Nikkatsu. This was a period when directors were contractually tied to studios and worked on a movie factory line. In a fiercely competitive marketplace Nikkatsu were struggling financially and drastically required genre action films; economic bankers which could lead them out of their precarious position. Oblivious to previous warnings over his outragous back catalogue and always one to be contrary, Suzuki delivered them Branded to Kill.

Suzuki’s crime’s which resulted in his P45? Too numerous to mention. ‘Nikkatsu Action’ had basically become a trademark during the late 50’s and early 60’s, a brand all of its own and specific to the studio. An alluring cocktail of Hollywood glamour, film noir and western, Nikkatsu Action was devoid of the reality of mid-century Japan. This made it the ideal tool of escapism for a disenfranchised youth. Often described as borderless due to the international stylings and settings, Nikkatsu Action was in fact clearly enclosed by well defined genre guidelines. When the studio asked Suzuki to direct a hit man action flick they probably expected something closer to the 1977 Sonny Chiba classic Golgo 13. What they were delivered was a baffling, incoherent mess of surreal imagery and distorted narrative; an absurd genre defying bag of nonsense. A masterpiece.

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Red Corner/Blue Corner – Infernal Affairs v The Departed

This regular feature puts original films in the ring against their remakes and lets them slug it out over 5 rounds. Feel free to disagree and leave your comments at the end.

As I explained in the introduction to cinematheque, I feel that film feeds itself. Cross pollination should occur between cinematic regions for it to develop and there’s nothing wrong with directors wearing influences firmly on their sleeves. However there is a big difference between dining on new ideas and eating your own tail. Authenticity is a subject to be debated in-depth and at a future moment. For now let’s just have a little fun.

Remakes are part of silver screen heritage, the classic 39 Steps a prime example, reaching audiences in 1935, 59 and 78. Theatre gives us numerous productions of the same story so why should cinema not chronicle its tales with multiple interpretations? Is the stage more worthy than the screen? What is not up for discussion is the fact that remakes divide opinion like politics. Certain films hold specific meaning with fans and to tamper with them can only be met with cries of blasphemy. But should we always be so precious?

In this new regular feature I plan to hold a versus match between an original production and its remake. Has an opportunistic director bled the spirit from a sacred cow or blown life into it? In this first instance let’s bring out the big guns and pit Infernal Affairs against The Departed.

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Article – Coulda Been Contenders

When Brando turns to Rod Steiger in the famous scene from On the Waterfront and desperately cries “I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender!” it mines a deep seam of emotion for almost all who watch it. There are reasons why it’s among the most quoted lines in cinematic history. Most people have discarded a dream, wasted a talent. Even those living successful existences have at least one opportunity missed. That is why the scene resonates so strongly on a universal level. Personally, whenever I hear those words I think of two individuals who lived in the same cinema universe but worlds and years apart.

Charles Laughton and Saul Bass have sadly now passed away, but both plied their trade in the film industry. Laughton, amongst other talents was an actor of note. His high cultural water mark was the role of Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty and Quasimodo, the famous Hunchback of Notre dame. Bass is relatively unknown but most will have unwittingly viewed his work. His title design for films such as Psycho, Spartacus (a touching stone with Laughton who also starred here) and Vertigo is legendary. Spartacus apart, these men had very little in common, besides one key link. Both directed one full length feature each, both were instantly derided; both now garner cult classic status and universal praise.

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Six of the best – Heists

For this first occurrence of a regular feature let’s look at the best movie scenes involving heists.  I’ve picked my top six, please take a look then add your comments and suggestions below.  So, please help me in staking out the internet and stealing the crown jewels of robbery and heist clips.

Financial depression is often the forbearer of crime.  In the 1930’s it created a new breed of criminal, forced by greed or necessity to grab what they could from the monolithic banking corporations.  In this modern recession the tables are reversed and the bankers have turned out our pockets.  Both deeds are morally questionable but when it comes to excitement and romance the robbers win hands down.  Fred Goodwin finding an extra few million in his pay packet cannot compare to the panache of a carefully planned and executed jewel heist.   Will the Shred ever be immortalised on screen like the great thieves of the past, Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger?  I doubt it very much and certainly hope not. 

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