Shorts #26

Today’s Shorts: Feast Of Love (2014), Yellow Earth (1984), Lessons of Darkness (1992), Alexander Nevsky (1938), Hotel Transylvania (2012), King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017), Spring In A Small Town (1948), The Housemaid (1960)

A highly enjoyable, despite being imperfect in many ways, romance. What makes Daawat-e-Ishq, or, Feast of Love, work are the light touches of comedy, the chemistry between the major characters and the brilliant, rounded tone.

The downfalls are plentiful, but not too damaging. This is a highly contrived movie that sticks to the romantic formula quite strictly – all the way down to the final scene being in a train station or airport. Added to this, the musical numbers, whilst fun, aren’t impressive. And the snippets of action…. not good at all. There is also an attempt to construct this romance around the social issue of dowry exchange – which is illegal, but still prevalent in India. There is further commentary on materialism and love in this narrative, but it is held together rather loosely by the heavy demands of the genre which push much of the social commentary to the side.

All in all, imperfect, but highly enjoyable. I had a great time with this one. Maybe you will too.

Yellow Earth is a conflicting film that reflects on the impact of communist revolution in rural northern China. In such, whilst the communist movement is praised through song and dialogue throughout, the desolate and arid imagery of this narrative suggests antithetical political ideas. It’s this highly visual and cinematic approach to story that not only implies a critique on communist revolution through depicting its failures to adapt and being adopted by people, but also makes this film a significant piece of Chinese film history. In such, this is considered one of the first Fifth Generation films that emerged after the fall of the communist state in China. It’s Kaige’s approach to visuals, in turn, story, that played a part in reinvigorating Chinese filmmaking after it had been neglected (outside of propaganda filmmaking) during the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s.

For its complexity, on this first watch Yellow Earth struck me most as a visual piece whilst its narrative fell subservient. Maybe with a re-watch I’d see things differently.

An audio-visual masterpiece, Herzog’s Lessons Of Darkness is shot after shot after shot after shot of devastatingly beautiful imagery, so awe-inspiring that they seem to transcend earthly description as to silently depict the alien and the ethereal.

Capturing the aftermath of the First Gulf War and the Kuwaiti oil fires, this film embodies the concept of ‘apocalyptic’ with sheer grace and no context. Less a documentary and more a fantasy, there is then little that can be easily articulated about this movie. We are invited to step into a new and monstrous world and are soon left stumbling away without comprehension, just a slack jaw and an obliterated imagination.

A historical epic from Sergei Eisenstein, Alexander Nevsky follows the rise of 13th century Russian people, lead by Prince Nevsky, against the German Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.

Whilst the scope of the battle sequences in this film’s final act are pretty astonishing – not to mention influential – there is a clear weight on this film; Eisenstein is very clearly been suppressed. And this is not just an observation, but the truth. Following blunders and failures with previous films that, in fact, got producers murdered by Stalin, Eisenstein was given a final chance to make a film in 1938 under the supervision of Dmitri Vasilyev who would keep him in budget, on schedule and operating within traditional means of filmmaking. This meant no formalism and no montage. So, though Eisenstein works closely with the sound of this film, which is intricately designed, this film is somewhat disheartening.

Ultimately a piece of cinema meant to rouse the Russians against the Nazi Germans with on-coming WWII, Alexander Nevsky is quite brilliant, but clearly the subject of artistic suppression.

Hotel Transylvania is… I suppose you could say that it’s a passable kids’ movie. Somewhat enjoyable, but very dumb, this isn’t hard to sit through. However, if you chose to judge this film harshly… well, you’d have a lot to say.

I’m fairly certain that if we resurrected Bram Stoker and made him sit through all of the films that have been made over the decades that involve Dracula, by the time he got to this, he’d have died of heart failure. The height of bastardisation and an exhausted piece of cinema, Hotel Transylvania is just a highly cliched, not at all smart, throw away movie. What stands out most to me is Sandler’s shameless performance. When I imagine him recording this nonsense I can only bow my head and think of one word: fool.

Without much more to say, this movie does quite well in keeping kids quiet for a while, but, I’m not sure how great of an achievement that is.

A modern masterpiece. Ritchie consciously incorporates classical symbols with powerful archetypes and a traditional tale into the modern blockbuster, which is given flair by a unique style. This ticks all the boxes that I could ever deem important: character, subtext, entertainment, style, etc. I cannot fault this movie; it takes advantage of great stories of the past and re-contextualises them in one of the greatest expressions of contemporary digital cinema I’ve seen.

Yes, this was a flop. Yes, a lot of people disliked it. Yes, very few people saw this. Such is to be expected, and such says very little about the quality and depths of this film. Without a doubt, this is a masterpiece and an inspiring expression of the state of modern cinema. With all cynicism and pretence melting away, I can assure you I will be writing about this in greater depth sometime soon.

Without melodrama, spite or simplicity, Spring In A Small Town is a film centred on a love triangle. Rooting out a profoundly deep conflict between morality, romance, desire and duty in all of the characters engulfed by this mesh of social ties, this narrative left me speechless in a way that was reminiscent of my first viewing of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.

Shot with precise classical cinematic language with clear inspirations from Hollywood, Spring In A Small Town intricately constructs a confined space, dense with emotion and heavy with confounded thoughts. Contemplatively paced and predominantly very quiet, the mise en scene and atmosphere open up avenues of empathy that lead right into the hearts of characters. It is very clear why this is considered one of the greatest Chinese films of all time.

The Housemaid should end after about 70 minutes with a mutilated and decapitated housemaid – and so is, in many ways, the complete reverse of certain contemporary South Korean films such as the infamous Oldboy – but this narrative sustains its confined dramatic horror tropes into satirical oblivion. This leaves this film a slightly confounding one that, on one level, critiques men, on another, depicts an utterly failed family, and on another, is a frothing tirade about conflicts between classes and cultures (western and Asian). I cannot say that I derived anything substantial from this film’s critique, instead was infuriated by the impossibly evil antagonist and over-civilised family (which says both good and bad things about this film’s script). This is nonetheless an intriguing look into South Korean film history as this is considered one of the best film’s ever produced from the nation.

All in all, The Housemaid is an incredibly well-designed movie that shocks and manipulates the emotions more than it communicates.

 

 

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