Criterion Sunday 637: Plein soleil (Purple Noon, 1960)

Alain Delon in the early-1960s was a gorgeous man, and this film certainly shows that off. Being adapted from the same source material as the English language The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) means that watching it now inevitably is to compare it with the more recent film. It’s therefore difficult for me to get the more recent casting out of my mind (Hoffman in particular is perfect as the louche Freddy) but Jude Law shares a lot of similarities with Maurice Ronet here in the entitled Dicky/Philippe Greenleaf character around whom Tom Ripley’s machinations revolve. Plein soleil skips straight to the heart of Tom and Philippe’s relationship without the backstory that the more recent film indulges in; by the end they’ve got to much the same place, albeit with the addition here of an (entirely detachable) moralistic ending, which may have drawn the ire of Highsmith but which could be excised from the film without creating any internal inconsistencies, so can be viewed as a sop to the more sensitive viewers of the era. The use of the Mediterranean Italian settings is beautiful and apropos to the work, and there’s a great atmosphere which is surely down to the Highsmith source, although Delon excels in conveying Ripley’s enigmatic core.

(Written on 7 December 2015.)


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director René Clément; Writers Clément and Paul Gégauff (based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith); Cinematographer Henri Decaë; Starring Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt, Maurice Ronet; Length 115 minutes.

Seen at ICA, London, Sunday 29 November 2015.

Criterion Sunday 633: I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales, 1972)

The second film in Pasolini’s so-called “Trilogy of Life” is another film based on an episodic text of classic literature, in this case Geoffrey Chaucer’s Middle English stories of pilgrims, in which once again Pasolini himself plays a key artistic figure (in this case, Chaucer himself). Like The Decameron, there is no shortage of bawdiness and tawdry sexuality, shitting and farting too. Here of course the setting is England, and while the primary language on the film is Italian, there’s also an English dub that makes more sense given the film itself is populated by English actors speaking in that language, which is why I watched it with that setting. Certainly you get to see a lot more of the fourth Doctor than perhaps you were hoping, but many of the key figures are the same Italian actors who were in Pasolini’s film of the year before, like Franco Citti as The Devil and his partner Ninetto Davoli as a foolish Chaplin-like figure. It’s all put together with a broad comic energy that is a bit wearying after a while, but there’s certainly plenty to enjoy in the film, in a series of tales largely drawn from Chaucer, but also with a bit of extra content to suggest the contemporary era of Pasolini’s production, and to heighten the hypocrisy and repressiveness of the era.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Pier Paolo Pasolini (based on the collection of short stories by Geoffrey Chaucer); Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli; Starring Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli, Hugh Griffith, Josephine Chaplin; Length 111 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Melbourne, Sunday 9 April 2023.

Criterion Sunday 632: Il Decameron (The Decameron, 1971)

I can’t really fault Pasolini’s adaptation of the 14th century work of Giovanni Boccaccio (not that I’ve read it). It feels like a lusty, bawdy, carnivalesque vision of the era that matches Pasolini’s view of his contemporary society, with thieves, murderers, religious men and ne’er-do-wells of all sorts matched alongside naifs and simpletons, all out to try and do the best they can in their short lives, often squalid and living in poverty but with a sort of primal pleasure-seeking instinct. Through it all there’s Pasolini himself as the painter Giotto, as a sort of guide to these various characters, who show up in a dream for an unpainted third triptych portion to a scene he’s painting in a church while these variously unsavoury characters scheme and cavort. Still, for all that, it’s perhaps not a mode of filmmaking that I feel most at ease with, though there’s plenty of beauty captured by the camera, there’s also an underlying ugliness in the stories, which revolve around cynical and slightly nasty resolutions to his little vignettes — these presumably are drawn from the text, but they are also commentaries perhaps on modern life, and if so it’s not much of a vision. Still, as a film it’s not without its diversions.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Pier Paolo Pasolini (based on the collection of short stories by Giovanni Boccaccio); Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli; Starring Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli; Length 111 minutes.

Seen at the Paramount, Wellington, Friday 15 May 1998 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, Melbourne, Saturday 8 April 2023).

Criterion Sunday 631: “Trilogy of Life”

This box set collects the three films that make up Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ribald and lusty vision of the Middle Ages (and older periods) he made during the early-1970s. The first is the Italian-set The Decameron (1971), adapted from Giovanni Boccaccio’s short stories and with a frankly scatological and venally sexual view of the world. Then there’s Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1972) — still in Italian, even if not set there — while rounding out the three films is Arabian Nights (1974), which is from a set of tales with a rather older origin. There’s a great visual  beauty to Pasolini’s films even as his subjects are corporeal and obsessed with sin, suffering and sex.

Amanda (2022)

Another excellent film I saw at the Europa! Europa Film Festival was this film about a young woman who doesn’t care to take part in society (which is a good and convenient characteristic to have when you’re presumably filming during a pandemic, but I think says a bit more generationally and as a response to the world).


The thing I’ve found in tending to go only to films by women directors in any given selection of film festival films (for want of any other way of narrowing down a list of films I’ve never heard of and may never see again), is that you get to see a range of responses to familiar genres. The subgenre of films about young women who just don’t give a f*ck, often deploying deadpan humour and absurdist premises, is thankfully expanding, and this film reminded me a little of the Spanish film El Planeta or the Korean film Heart, both with “unlikeable” protagonists who are actually compelling in their resistance to narrative expectations. Perhaps there’s also a slight hint of Wes Anderson too in the frontal shooting style and shot-reverse shot dialogue sequences that are so striking and can’t help but imbue a certain humour just in their style, even if the characters are undemonstrative. It makes a nice change, too, from a lot of Italian cinema that I’ve seen that tends towards operatic melodrama, and while there’s certainly a fair bit of shouting and bad behaviour here, I’m left with the sense of disconnectedness from society, a sadness or depression even that its title character is trying to resist. It’s an ongoing process for her, so the film just sort of stops mid-shot, which makes some sense; I hope Amanda is doing well, though it probably doesn’t hurt that she looks a bit like Alison Brie (everyone is rich and glamorous here, and her friend’s home is a terrifying palace to brutalist modernity).

CREDITSAmanda (2022) poster
Director/Writer Carolina Cavalli; Cinematographer Lorenzo Levrini; Starring Benedetta Porcaroli, Galatéa Bellugi; Length 94 minutes.
Seen at the Lido, Melbourne, Friday 17 February 2022.

Criterion Sunday 595: Il momento della verità (The Moment of Truth, 1965)

This mid-60s film from the Italian director of such politically-engaged Italian classics as Salvatore Giuliano and Hands Over the City went to Spain for his next film, although his characters continue to speak in Italian because this is, still, an Italian film. Despite that, I think it does capture something of what makes bullfighting appealing alongside plenty of what makes it utterly objectionable. It’s fair to say it’s a film that really immures you in the blood and corporeality of this sport, and there’s no shortage of shots featuring bleeding, dying bulls, bulls being killed, all for the name of the elegance and machismo of this contest. Yet at its heart, it’s a story of a poor young man with very few opportunities in life, seizing on something that he is good at, as a means of dragging himself out of poverty. The drama in the ring, as he starts to master his vocation, adds to the texture of the film, which I think captures well this kind of existence, a transient life on the road chasing the money from bullfights in small towns, fights for money but not the glory of the huge arenas in Barcelona and especially Madrid. The bulls aren’t the only ones brutalised by this life, and theirs is not the only blood you see, but the film doesn’t look away from the horrifying reality of this sport and that’s probably enough to put off some viewers (as it should).

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • This is one of the thinnest packages of extras for any modern Criterion film released on Blu-ray, with just a single 13-minute interview with Rosi, conducted many decades later, as he reflects on the making of the film. His recollections aren’t uninteresting, but you expect more from Criterion.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Francesco Rosi; Writers Pedro Beltrán, Ricardo Muñoz Suay, Pere Portabella and Rosi; Cinematographers Pasqualino De Santis, Gianni Di Venanzo and Aiace Parolin; Starring Miguel Mateo “Miguelín”; Length 107 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Friday 2 December 2022.

Criterion Sunday 556: Senso (1954)

This film is, undoubtedly, full-blooded. If you have any kind of aversion to melodrama, you would be well-advised to be aware of that going in, because Visconti and his lead actor Alida Valli do not, in any way, hold back. She plays the Countess Serpieri, an Italian noblewoman in 1866 just as Italy is seeking its independence, whose cousin (Massimo Girotti) is deeply embedded in the resistance fight, but yet she dramatically, deeply, impossibly falls in love with a young Austrian officer Franz (played rather less memorably by Farley Granger, and truly the lip-synching is, as you’d expect from Italian films, very far off). The further she is sucked into passionate love for this pathetic preening jerk, the further she betrays her country and her ideals, until both are thrown explosively against one another in a final showdown that really undoes them both. The title is apt: this is a film of the senses, taking its cue (as VIsconti often does) from opera, which is where it literally begins, until the entire film is suffused with an operatic sensibility and the denouement can’t help but be bold. So if you like your films melodramatic and operatic, then this is exactly the kind of cinema you will love.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Luchino Visconti; Writers Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Visconti, Giorgio Bassani, Carlo Alianello, Giorgio Prosperi, Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles; Cinematographers G.R. Aldo and Robert Krasker; Starring Alida Valli, Farley Granger, Massimo Girotti; Length 123 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Sunday 24 July 2022.

Criterion Sunday 522: Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964)

This may be Antonioni’s most inscrutable film for me, and watching it again I get the feeling that it may be one I need to see on the big screen to get into. Certainly I am always in awe of Antonioni’s control over framing and the way he places people within landscapes, moving through and weaving into and out of the frame, dominated often by buildings, here enormous crumbling industrial edifices belching smoke into the sky. Monica Vitti is suitably totemic herself, entering and exiting in a green coat, these block colours (green, red, blue, yellow) setting themselves off from the dull grey of the rest of the landscapes we see. It’s a film about industry in a sense, and about the modern world, but it’s never so straightforward as to have a plot exactly. There’s Vitti and then there’s Richard Harris’s character Corrado, and there’s a relationship of sorts between them, but quite what it all means is never discussed, quite where it’s all going is never clear, if there’s a start and an end these feel fairly arbitrary, because what we mostly have here is the movement and the deserted atmosphere evoked by the title.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Michelangelo Antonioni; Writers Antonioni and Tonino Guerra; Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma; Starring Monica Vitti, Richard Harris, Carlo Chionetti; Length 117 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Wellington, Saturday 2 April 2022 (and earlier on VHS at home, Wellington, April 1998).

Criterion Sunday 506: Dillinger è morto (Dillinger Is Dead, 1969)

I watched this a week ago and it’s lucky that it stays with me because I completely forgot to write it up at the time. In a way it’s like a movie perfectly suited to our pandemic times, albeit made decades ago. Our lead character is, of all things, a designer of gas masks (Michel Piccoli) — and certainly the question of living our lives in masks comes up, along with a sense of alienation that grows from that. He comes home to his wife (Anita Pallenberg), but his dissatisfaction is evident in both her and the meal that’s waiting for him, so he starts to cook another. Things move on from there, but the film is an accretion of details in a vaguely absurdist style that heightens his sense of disconnectedness from the world, and the revolver he finds wrapped up in newspaper clippings about the titular Chicago gangster only fuels that sense of disappointment with life. I suppose it could be said to satirically represent a man’s desire for a new life, even if it ultimately feels very masculine in the way he believes he can move out of his present circumstances (there’s a lot of performatively macho swaggering, and Piccoli bears his hairy chest once again after Le Mépris a few years earlier). There are certainly some ideas here that feel prescient, and a claustrophobic sense of space and time as he moves around his apartment, though I found it stylistically very much of its era in a way that was difficult to fully embrace.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Marco Ferreri; Writers Ferreri and Sergio Bazzini; Cinematographer Mario Vulpiani; Starring Michel Piccoli, Anita Pallenberg, Annie Girardot; Length 95 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), Wellington, Thursday 10 February 2022.

Criterion Sunday 500: “Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy”

Unlike earlier Criterion box sets, the spine numbering for this one is rather contorted, as it follows the three films it collects. One suspects this was so that it could get the lovely even round number of 500. These three films are very much the ones that made Rossellini’s reputation, even if they weren’t his first. Rome Open City (1945) was filmed during the tail end of World War II, while Paisan (1946) was filmed in the aftermath with a series of shorter stories dealing with characters facing great moral quandaries. Yet for all these two films’ bleakness, they still can’t touch the final of the three, filmed in German amongst the fresh rubble of Berlin. Germany Year Zero (1948) is hardly a story of rebirth though and feels like something final and utterly bleak instead. Still, all three are beautiful, necessary works of cinema that remain among the finest to come out of Italy.