Movies reviewed this week: Germany Year Zero, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Shaolin Soccer, and Clearcut.
1/16/2023: Germany Year Zero (1948): ****1/2
Perhaps I should have watched Rossellini first. The sheer bleakness of this film sheds a certain light on later neorealist influenced cinema; this has no affectation about it. The camera fully falls into a role as an observer, albeit one that drifts through events and chooses what we need to see.
I can see Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy in a new light too, particularly The Marriage of Maria Braun. Germany Year Zero‘s wreckage and desperation is Fassbinder’s launch pad.
Rossellini was so clear about what we were seeing. I knew what the final shot would be the first time Edmund was wandering around on those upper floors. The world was precisely delineated and the characters were true to themselves; the conclusion was thus preordained.
1/16/2023: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974): ****
It starts with a shot that’s almost a Renaissance painting: a woman at a river, light streaming through trees, dipping her feet into the water to soothe them. That’s about the last thing about this movie that’s beautiful. From there on in, it’s a slow descent into Warren Oates’ self-loathing and regret.
You can feel the grease coming off the screen, and most of it is coming from Americans. I liked that. Kris Kristofferson supplied a remarkable amount of it during his brief scene; Peckinpah was perhaps in a better position to critique the dream of dropping out than most. Good counterpoint to Hunter S. Thompson’s essentially romantic view of bikers.
It’s a movie about men. The two women in this have plenty to do, and I admire both of their performances, but they’re the people who things happen to. The one exception, at the very end, is interesting. I think that’s the only choice either of them get to make, and it’s still just telling a man what to do.
Definitely one of those movies where it’s clearly the director’s vision, unfiltered and unrestrained.
1/17/2023: Shaolin Soccer (2001): ***1/2
Broad as bell, dated, but my old 3.5 star rating is correct. The slapstick is unabashedly unrestrained and in the third act, when we finally transition into an underdog sports movie, the CGI is ridiculous beyond all reason.
1/19/2023: Clearcut (1991): ****
Graham Greene is fiercely excellent in this: a little insanity, a lot of rage, a fair bit of dark humor, all balanced behind that dark gaze of his. He’s capable of carrying Ryszard Bugajski’s vision, which is good, because he’s the one who has to do the heavy lifting — Ron Lea is just a paper cutout in the face of Greene’s intensity. I’d have rated this higher if Lea had been better.
Michael Hogan is pretty good as the logger CEO who could be mistaken for the villain of the movie, but the part isn’t quite as demanding. Tell you what, though, the scene where he and Greene are both praying, that worked out fine.
Lovely setting, photographed competently. Not a ton of violence but the brutality is legitimately disturbing. When Greene makes promises, he keeps them, It looked like it was filmed at a real clear-cutting operation; I’d love to read an oral history of this one.
There’s a great article on the restoration of this film here. Spoilers.
Boofest 2023: connected to The White Reindeer by indigenous horror. This isn’t exactly horror, but it’s horrific.