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The Flick Chick Raves
About Her Foreign Film Faves
Yeah, yeah, the artsy stuff, but Hollywood's not the only place they make the flickers. Fine films are created all over the world, and much of the best new film and many brilliant oldies are widely available on video. You don't have to be an oldie yourself to be electrified by the genius of Fellini and Bergman, and numerous more recent films are adorable, or charming, or thrilling . . . or all of the above!
Okay? Let's cruise the foreign film shelves at the video store.
Special Faves: Foreign Films on Video
(In French, with subtitles)
Yes, I admit to a weakness for foreign film. And that I'm partial to films directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (even, dare I say it, the little-known but ghoulishly hilarious Delicatessen). And I do love to laugh. Despite all these admissions, you may trust the Chick's word that this is a thoroughly delightful film. Audrey Tatou, as the title character, is just as winsome as one hopes, never descending into kitsch, yet enlisting our full sympathy with her do-gooding and her mischief-making alike.
One the strengths of Jeunet's film-making is that, although there are many small parts in this film, there are no minor characters. Each persona is fully rounded out, brilliantly cast and brilliantly played. (One such part is acted by the clown-faced protagonist of the above-mentioned Delicatessen. Surely the other two living U.S. members of that film's cult-fan-club will be glad to see him again.)
Although Amelie won beaucoup prizes at last year's Cannes festival, it is still hitting theaters here in the heartland. Lucky us anyway. We need not travel to Metropolis or wait for a long-delayed tape. Now's your chance. Ignore the words "warm," "heart-warming," and "charming" See it anyway. You'll be glad. (2/6/02)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Okay: so it was a ninja movie.
It was also gorgeous to look at. The characters were gorgeous, the costumes, the landscape, the closeups, the staging, the wirework, the props everything: A feast for the eyes. There was more subtlety and character development than I have ever seen in any film of this kind. (Although remember, it is a ninja movie.
Stars, Chow Yun Fat (the only member of the cast really familiar to me), Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, and Cheng Pei Pei were all effective. Example: the scene in which the ninja master and the powerful-young-woman-ninja-student are standing in the treetops, supported only by leaves, air, and their powerful wills. She snarls at him, "What do you want of me!" Chow Yun Fat reaches softly forward and answers, "To teach you," and touches her forehead the moment was so beautiful, and he was so beautiful that I actually caught my breath! And when the woman-ninja-master forgives the young-woman-ninja-student, it was as gentle and moving a moment as anyone could ask for in any film of any kind. The character of the woman was especially well-rounded. She comes across as a real human person.
Nevertheless, and Oscars notwithstanding, it was a ninja movie from front to back, and you have to be able to tolerate that in order to love this perfectly beautiful film! (2/01)
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
A splendid film: Each of the characters is clearly drawn and strongly portrayed. There is a strong overstory with three subplots, all of which are closely interwoven with the main narrative, plus several switchbacks, and a good deal of humor. But the Chick must admit that all her analysis fell by the wayside, as she was completely caught up in the film from the outset through its unexpectedly touching conclusion. If you have not seen this one, you have a banquet awaiting you.
The Emperor and the Assassin,
Chinese, with English subtitles
If you like Oriental flicks, let me mention this visually stimulating film, which is now on tape. Not at all a kung-fu picture, it deals with political murder and betrayal in ancient times, plot and counterplot, secret within secret. Although its pace is a little slow at times, the acting and filming are excellent, and there are several deeply interesting minor characters. At one point, I was so taken with the play of expression on the face of one actor that I had to re-run that segment because I had forgotten to read the subtitles! One of the stars, the very beautiful Gong Li, was also in Farewell My Concubine. (10/00)
Farewell My Concubine.
For some reason, it took a long time for this lovely film to appear on video. There are touching performances by the principals and by the charming children who played their younger selves, but the real power of the story lies in the contrast between the narrowly political world of theater and the frightening violence of Red-Guard China's outer world. A fascinating aspect of the film is its glimpse into the rigorous (not to say cruel) training that groomed performers for Chinese opera. An unexpected side benefit was that, although my ear is completely untrained in the very different tonalities of the Oriental music and singing in the film, by the end of the narrative, I could actually distinguish between the protagonist's voice and the less pleasing singing of the Communist Party patriot who eventually replaced him!
The other night, two great classic films directed by Federico Fellini (1920-1933) ran back-to-back on Turner Classic Movies: 8-1/2 and his brilliant La Strada. They are arguably among Fellini's greatest, and he was the top of the tops. Both were shot in B&W, very grainy & w/bad production values by today's high standards, but they are immensely powerful.
Marcello Mastroianni had already made La Dolce Vita and become a constellation. 8-1/2 made him a legend. In La Strada, Tony Quinn did the best work of his career he was a half-baked Mexican actor when he walked on the set & he came away an international star. Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife, who carried the other starring role, was a great actress and an icon of Italian film.
What happened once could happen again, so keep your eyes open for another sighting. Over the years, Fellini won four Oscars for Best Foreign Film, so even if you're not a film nut like me, be assured these are flicks worth seeing.
Some Fellini films to look for: Masina in Juliet of the Spirits, the very moving Amarcord, and the little-known, but brilliant Casanova, which starred Donald Sutherland (Keifers's father, and a big star long before his son was born). Also, if you can find them, try: The White Knight, which was one of his earliest films and one I found very funny; and Roma, which may now be X rated for nudity. Many of these films are on VCR, and at least some should be on CD by now. Any time you have a chance to see any Fellini film except perhaps Satyricon which can be one-too-many for some tastes be aware that they exist, and that they're strange, surreal, cynical, exciting . . . worth watching!
It was extremely beautiful, what I saw of it. But the plot kept putting me to sleep, so I may have missed some ugly parts. (2/05)
Jackie Chan and . . .
Well, of course Jackie Chan is the best thing since fireworks! Lots of silly action, superb stunts (and he does all his own) and marvelous running around, with the hero usually cast as the fall guy who wins in the end. The more recent films are mostly in English (earlier ones were subtitled only) and the action is smoother, and the plots usually are better. The best of the best, in the Chick's opinion, was the first buddy picture with Owen Wilson . . . but whatever you do, don't leave before the last credits roll. The goofball out-takes are the very best part of these films.
King of Masks
Ahhhh! The splendid King of Masks is available on video! It did not have much play in U.S. theaters when it was here, but I thought it as fine a film as Farewell My Concubine, and more approachable to most audiences. Although it's quite different in subject, the storyline also involves characters who work in Chinese opera, and it includes another winning performance by a child. I recently saw it again on video and was as moved and impressed this second time as I had been the first. And that's saying a lot!
Three Kieslowski films, in French
They are: RED; WHITE; and BLUE Subtitles
Wikipedia says of these films: Three Colours: Red (French: Trois Couleurs: Rouge, Polish: Trzy kolory. Czerwony) is a 1994 French-Polish-Swiss co-production, co-written, produced, and directed by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof . It is the final film of the Three Colors trilogy, which examines the French Revolutionary ideals; it is preceded by [the films] Blue and White.
RED is my fave, It is the most accessible of the three films, and the happiest (nice that he saved the best until last). It is about . . . hmm . . . about a retired judge who is very depressed and has unusual habits, a beautiful young woman whose boyfriend neglects her and treats her coldly, a young man whose girlfriend treats him badly, and a large dog that has puppies. Despite the puppies, it is a beautiful and strange film, with many twists and turns, but even if you are not a foreign film buff (or even a film buff) you may love it. For one things, the visuals are lovely; the color red reappears again and again in this film -- or maybe I just thought it did, because of the title. I have seen it three times now, and it really holds up keeps your attention you notice nice touches you had forgotten, and your sympathies rises once more to meet the action. As I said, my Fave.
BLUE is equally lovely and complicated, but it is so sad that I hesitate to recommend it. Only the hard-hearted need apply.
I found WHITE to be disagreeable and depressing. You could probably skip that one.
One more thing: most of the mystical French symbolism in the Wikipedia review went completely over my head. (Not a surprise.) But maybe you should not read the Wiki article until you have seen RED.
A modified King Lear, in Japanese. Both the similarities and the differences are interesting, and the staging is really powerful. It's more stunningly violent than Shakespeare, but with the same moral: Old man, don't be too ready to step down!
Here is a wonderful film. Exciting, touching, tragic, it is structurally a classic "western," although the Heroes are wielding swords rather than six-shooters. (Even a street-duel between a master and a brash challenger. One of my fave scenes.) And it's neat to learn that the relatively inferior The Magnificent Seven was based on this classic black-and-white Japanese film.
I love to laugh. and if you say the same, then scour the universe for this obscure Japanese film. (Also for Taxing Woman Returns) What does the title mean? Is she hard to get along with? Not especially; just that the diminuitive star is, well, okay, a Japanese tax collector.
Yep, there she goes, off on her motorcycle, racing around Tokyo, keeping her bright eyes tenaciously peeled for nefarious cheats, unprincipled scoundrels, and whatever other wicked evaders she can get her brains on! A little short on plot, but long on jolly good excitement and great fun!
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