Anatole Dauman

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Empire Of Passion Review


Weak
Love does funny things to men. Logic and reason go out the window to satisfy an emotional craving -- up is down, together is apart, and death is life. To quench Toyoji and Seki's lustful thirst in Empire of Passion, it means killing Seki's alcoholic, rickshaw-pulling husband and then barely seeing each other for three years. If that weren't bad enough, the locals are starting to talk, and the ghost of Seki's husband begins showing up in dreams. Set in a small Japanese village in the late 1800s, Empire of Passion's bizarre passion is thinly veiled by its kaidan story. Western eyes would likely equate the pale-faced, dark-hair apparition to the ghouls of popular J-horror, but traditional kaidan play more on a character's writhing guilt than on typical cinematic scares -- Seki's husband, Gisaburo, doesn't crawl out of any TVs or screech like a cat (he does, however, escape the well that Toyoji and Seki used to dispose of him). Before horror fans start lapping at the freshly spilled blood, Empire of Passion's ghost story is a diversion from Toyoji and Seki's shocking and, at times, brutal sexual relationship.

Gisaburo was always in the way of Toyoji and Seki, but murder wasn't an option until Toyoji decided to restrain Seki and shave her. Of course, Gisaburo would eventually see Seki's smoothness and know that she's been with another man. And that just won't do. The interesting thing isn't that the two commit the murder together, but that Toyoji's single, selfish desire of the flesh motivates it. When he's with Seki, he's only concerned with dominating her submissiveness. His lustful passion blinds him to the consequences of his actions. And the trouble for the two lovers, and the film alike, begins with Gisaburo's death.

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Paris, Texas Review


Extraordinary
There is a mysticism that enshrouds Paris. The grand cityscape of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe situated on the River Seine gives the city of lights its romanticism. But in Paris, Texas, there is only a desolate plot of land that holds the dreams of Travis Henderson. And though the earth is scorched and he has never seen the lot, except in a picture he carries with him, it is no less important. It's this dichotomy between the universal, romantic reminiscence of Paris, France, and Travis' Paris that drives him to reconnect with his 10-year-old son and estranged girlfriend.

Wim Wender's film opens with Travis wandering in a Texas desert. Lost for four years, Travis' brother, Walt, travels to Texas to claim him and takes him back to Los Angeles where Walt lives with his wife and Travis' son. Given Travis' absence, his son has all but forgotten about him -- causing Travis to clean up his act and get his life back in order. Given that Travis doesn't say a word for the first 20 minutes of the film, it's a little bizarre when the film focuses solely on him in the second and third acts -- turning a blind eye to Walt and his wife, who have been moving the story along for the first half.

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Masculine Feminine Review


Excellent
By 1966, Jean-Luc Godard was the New Wave's premier prankster-ideologue and pop-culture deconstructionist. After sharpening his teeth on Contempt, Band of Outsiders, and Alphaville among a coruscating burst of titles that began with 1960's Breathless, Godard rapidly found his voice in the form of the guerilla-style cinema manifesto. Masculine Feminine, about the dysfunctional romance between a young would-be militant and a budding pop star whose blithe pursuit of fame represents everything he hates about capitalism, comes together in a series of 15 loosely-connected vignettes--or "precise chapters" as Godard calls them. Intertitles, often accompanied by gunshots, read like politically-charged maxims and divide these "chapters" and lend the movie an aura of immediacy at once jarring and hilarious, because they raise what is, at heart, the story of a doomed romance into the realm of Marxist allegory. That sounds incredibly pretentious, but this is Godard -- an artist with a knack for exposing intellectual pretense for the vain tomfoolery that it is, and where the most intimate exchanges are booby-trapped by self-parody and non-sequiturs. In Godard's world, human relationships are negotiations for political power and fertile ground for his brand of deadpan formal antics.

Plot-wise, this is refreshingly simple stuff. Paul (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a spray can-toting socialist in 1960s Paris, spends his time rallying against all things American, when he falls head-over-heals for Madeleine (played by real-life yé yé singer Chantal Goya), a pretty but clueless brunette on the verge of commercial breakthrough (she's already burning up the charts in Japan). Broke and evicted, Paul moves in with Madeleine and her roommates, Elizabeth and Catherine (Marléne Jobert and Catherine-Isabelle Duport), where he continues his attempts to reconcile his disapproval of Madeleine's money-driven dreams with his deep-seated hankering to get it on with her.

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The Tin Drum Review


Extraordinary
The Tin Drum is one of cinema's greatest coming of age stories -- probably because its star, Oskar, never comes of age, literally.

Oskar (David Bennett) is a young lad in 1920s Germany, and at the age of three he realizes that as he gets older, the attention he's given will rapidly wane. He decides to quit growing and hurls himself down the cellar. He achieves his goal. Ten years later, Hitler is on the rise, and Oskar is still romping around with his precious tin drum, physically unchanged since that day but deeply affected by life experience nonetheless.

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Night and Fog Review


Excellent
When it comes to Holocaust documentaries, there is simply no further word than Alain Resnais's Night and Fog.

Barely 30 minutes in length, the short film comprises a current (for 1955) tour of the various concentration camps intercut with archival video from them. Modern-day documentaries (why they keep making new ones I'll never figure out) show the crumbling facades of Auschwitz and its brethren, but in '55 things were still relatively intact. Although the architecture was already decaying -- a testament to how hastily the camps were constructed -- you can still sense the presence of the victims who resided in the dormitories and gave up their lives in the furnaces. Surprisingly it's not this footage that is the most powerful; rather, when Resnais shows us the present day, with its disintigrating mortar between the bricks and not a soul to be found, we get a real sense of history and how quickly it can create a new identity.

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In the Realm of the Senses Review


Grim
This watershed Japanese film is -- make no mistake -- borderline porn, with endless and explicit shots of male genitalia, insertions galore, and bodily fluids. The story is a simple one of lust and love (you decide which), with a couple (a man and his servant) falling hopelessly in love and experimenting with numerous sexual varieties, from domination to asphixiation and more. Typical moment: The dude inserts a hard-boiled egg into his girlfriend's privates, and she later asks him to eat it. But I don't know what's weirder: That an elderly geisha plays a stringed lute of some kind during most of their trysts, or that the girl later asks the guy to screw her. Creepy.

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Wings of Desire Review


Excellent
Wim Wenders' 1987 opus Wings of Desire, opens on gloomy Berlin, still crumbling into disrepair after its destruction by the bombing of 1945 and decades of neglect. On the soundtrack we hear the poem that will reverberate throughout: "Als das kind kind war," (or "When the child was still a child") and see the angels. Dressed in dark overcoats and wearing expressions of quiet benevolence, they watch the city and its inhabitants (to whom they are invisible, except for the occasional child, who will point up into the sky at a figure only it can see) and listen. Their purpose isn't clear, as shown in the two angels whom Wenders focuses on - Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) - they seem to be caretakers of memory, jotting down notes of random ephemera, listening to people's thoughts (one of the film's more amazing, and often-mimicked, tracking shots takes us through autobahn traffic, hearing the interior monologues of each driver). In one of the film's stranger notes, Peter Falk shows up playing himself(?!), in Berlin to shoot a movie. On the street, he turns out to be able to notice the presence of Damiel standing nearby and starts speaking to him about the amazing little things in life like smoking and drinking coffee: "And if you do it together, it's fantastic." Cadaverous goth rocker Nick Cave shows up as himself, too, but that makes a little more sense, the guy was just meant to be shot in black and white.

The rambling story takes on a semblance of shape when Damiel decides to literally fall from grace and become mortal after falling in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a trapeze artist. Plopped onto the streets of Berlin (shot in color now that he's human), Damiel strides around the city searching for his love, with a look of transfixed delight on his face as he takes in every detail that he was only able to study before, and can now experience; while Cassiel watches with a mournful expression in his black-and-white world.

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Hiroshima mon amour Review


Extraordinary
Made in 1959 by Alain Resnais, Hiroshima mon amour -- along with The 400 Blows and Breathless -- is one of the most significant films of what become known as the French New Wave.

On the surface the film has a straightforward plot. A French actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva) is staying in Hiroshima for a few days shooting a movie about peace. There she meets a Japanese architect named Lui (Eiji Okada) with whom she has a one night stand. Despite the fact that both of them are married they find themselves falling love with one another.

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