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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
Bunuel's marvellously surreal satire pokes lacerating fun at the snobby, unflappable French middle class. Shot like a sitcom, it's a snappy look at the ridiculous inequity of Western society, peeling back the veneer of civilisation in a way that's even more timely now than it was in 1972.

Ambassador Acosta (Rey) and three friends (Frankenur, Seyrig and Ogier) arrive at a country house for dinner, but discover that they're a day early. And rescheduling the meal proves rather complicated, as the men are secretly involved in an illicit drug deal, and hosts Alice and Henri (Audran and Cassel) would rather sneak off for sex. The interruptions to their rescheduled meal become increasingly surreal, including a tea room that runs out of tea, a group of soldiers on manoeuvres and a gang of armed thugs.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

French Connection II Review


OK
Popeye Doyle is back -- seriously, what else could 20th Century Fox choose to do after the box-office bonanza of The French Connection and an Oscar win? -- and he's still on the case.

In a lot of ways, French Connection II -- that's right, no "the" -- makes sense. The abrupt ending of the original French Connection had French bad guy Alain Charnier(Fernando Rey) escaping the cops despite dozens surrounding him in a New York warehouse, never to be found. Not a very satisfying ending to have our hero come up emptyhanded -- and not just that, we're merely told about it via title card right before the credits roll!

Continue reading: French Connection II Review

Seven Beauties Review


Extraordinary
Lina Wertmüller's most complex film is also one of her funniest and most touching. While it's a Holocaust film at heart, Seven Beauties sprawls across a decade or so in the history of Italy. The hero -- if you can call him that -- is Pasqualino Frafuso (Giancarlo Giannini), the sole boy in a family of eight kids, a fact that has clearly caused him some stress as a youth.

Pasqualino ends up killing one of his sisters' (the beauties) boyfriends, winds up in prison, transfers to the loony bin, and finally escapes by agreeing to enlist in Mussolini's rising Italian army. He's shipped off the the front and quickly captured by the Germans (yeah, they're allies, don't ask) and sentenced to a concentration camp. And yet Pasqualino survives it all, never really succumbing to the horrors that surround him at every turn. Most of the film plays out during his time in the camp, with flashbacks telling us how he got to where he is now. The effect is something like Slaughterhouse-Five.

Continue reading: Seven Beauties Review

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
From the moment his 16-minute Surrealist dirty bomb Un Chien andalou was dropped on an unsuspecting Paris in 1929 until the time of his death in Mexico in 1983, director Luis Buñuel patiently and gleefully held court as cinema's most steadfast, outspoken, and off-handedly inflammatory enemy of "polite" society. He built a career on his contempt for unexamined social mores and the gluttonous, self-righteous civic and religious leaders who perpetuated them, and he wasn't just fooling around. As a representative attack, consider this sequence from his 1930 feature L'Âge d'or: We're informed by intertitle that over the course of a long weekend in a locked mountain chateau, a group of depraved rapists and murderers have been having their way with a bevy of adolescent male and female virgins, whom they then torture and kill. The scene is based on the same Marquis de Sade material that served as the basis for Pier Paolo Pasolini's unconscionable Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, the difference being that here Buñuel has thoughtfully included Jesus Christ among the deviants. He is even seen to drag an injured, escaping girl off screen, the assumption being, when she doesn't return, that He has finished her off. Was Paris burning? No, but once word of L'Âge d'or got around, you may rest assured that some of her theaters were.

Buñuel's cheerful blasphemy was, as you can imagine, shocking, but his commitment to relaying narrative through free-associative, non-linear images - his commitment, that is, to the Surrealist creed that raged among Parisian artists - was seen by many to be as grave an affront. Audiences grew hostile, it seems, when, in Buñuel's films, livestock lounged about in the beds of debutantes or miffed gamekeepers shot and killed children to blow off steam. Buñuel, who was a Spaniard, suffered a more concrete hardship when Fascists took power in Madrid in 1938; he eventually settled in Mexico in 1946, returning to Spain in 1961 where General Franco banned his first new film, Viridiana, just as hurriedly as the jury at Cannes awarded it the Palme d'or. And so Buñuel relocated to France, now in his 60s, and at an age when most directors have retired or have long since begun recycling their own material, he entered one of the most fertile periods enjoyed by any filmmaker anywhere. There are masterpieces scattered among Buñuel's French films like confetti, but in his 1972 comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of cinema's most brilliant directors made the most brilliant film of his career.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

Viridiana Review


Extraordinary
"I don't have ideas," Luis Buñuel once stated in an interview for the French television show, Cinéastes de Notre Temps. "It's all instinct." That 1964 interview is included among the supplements in Criterion's just-released DVD of Viridiana, Buñuel's 1961 morality tale turned inside-out. Indeed, interpreting Buñuel's stories as a system of "ideas," as intellectually articulated attacks against church, class, and state, seems off the mark. Buñuel's movies are not manifestos; they don't function on an intellectual level as, say, Godard's cinema does, but at a more subliminal, and, thus, more deeply affecting one. Sure, Buñuel mistrusted social institutions, but who among us doesn't (unless you're on the board of Exxon or Halliburton)? Buñuel isn't interested in social institutions themselves, but in those human beings corralled by such institutions into large, unruly groups, and how quickly their conduct devolves into spasms of primal behavior. His movies wear the veil of social decorum, but it's not long before his characters' basest, most visceral appetites tear through and take over, along with Buñuel's comic-absurdist instincts that comprise the hallmark of his cinema.

With his steady, deadpan gaze, Buñuel follows his titular protagonist (Sylvia Pinal), a plainly beautiful nun on a visit to her lonely, estranged uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), thus beginning her descent into disillusionment. She learns not only that Don Jaime's wife died on their wedding night, but, weirdly enough, she reminds him of her. In a Buñuelian mind-trip, we watch as Don Jaime lingers privately over his long-departed's bridal gown and veil, tries on her satin slippers, and models her corset in the mirror. Is this guy kinky, or just morbidly grieving? We're not sure, even after he gets Viridiana to dress up like her, and proposes to his niece. When Viridiana, aghast, refuses, Jaime drugs her coffee and attempts to rape her before he's wracked with shame and backs away. His shame ultimately sends the lust-crazed, lovelorn Don Jaime up a tree and down a rope, but it also sends Viridiana into a tailspin of guilt. She decides to remain at the estate, to take in the village poor and tend to their comforts. Meanwhile, Don Jamie's illegitimate son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal) -- the product of the rake's one-time union with a peasant woman -- shows up, having inherited the property.

Continue reading: Viridiana Review

Viridiana Review


Extraordinary
"I don't have ideas," Luis Buñuel once stated in an interview for the French television show, Cinéastes de Notre Temps. "It's all instinct." That 1964 interview is included among the supplements in Criterion's just-released DVD of Viridiana, Buñuel's 1961 morality tale turned inside-out. Indeed, interpreting Buñuel's stories as a system of "ideas," as intellectually articulated attacks against church, class, and state, seems off the mark. Buñuel's movies are not manifestos; they don't function on an intellectual level as, say, Godard's cinema does, but at a more subliminal, and, thus, more deeply affecting one. Sure, Buñuel mistrusted social institutions, but who among us doesn't (unless you're on the board of Exxon or Halliburton)? Buñuel isn't interested in social institutions themselves, but in those human beings corralled by such institutions into large, unruly groups, and how quickly their conduct devolves into spasms of primal behavior. His movies wear the veil of social decorum, but it's not long before his characters' basest, most visceral appetites tear through and take over, along with Buñuel's comic-absurdist instincts that comprise the hallmark of his cinema.

With his steady, deadpan gaze, Buñuel follows his titular protagonist (Sylvia Pinal), a plainly beautiful nun on a visit to her lonely, estranged uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), thus beginning her descent into disillusionment. She learns not only that Don Jaime's wife died on their wedding night, but, weirdly enough, she reminds him of her. In a Buñuelian mind-trip, we watch as Don Jaime lingers privately over his long-departed's bridal gown and veil, tries on her satin slippers, and models her corset in the mirror. Is this guy kinky, or just morbidly grieving? We're not sure, even after he gets Viridiana to dress up like her, and proposes to his niece. When Viridiana, aghast, refuses, Jaime drugs her coffee and attempts to rape her before he's wracked with shame and backs away. His shame ultimately sends the lust-crazed, lovelorn Don Jaime up a tree and down a rope, but it also sends Viridiana into a tailspin of guilt. She decides to remain at the estate, to take in the village poor and tend to their comforts. Meanwhile, Don Jamie's illegitimate son, Jorge (Francisco Rabal) -- the product of the rake's one-time union with a peasant woman -- shows up, having inherited the property.

Continue reading: Viridiana Review

Quintet Review


Terrible
Wow. If you've ever wanted proof that goiod filmmakers are capable of turning out junk from time to time, look no further than Quintet, Robert Altman's existentialist story about a game that the remaining survivors of an unspecified holocaust are forced to play. It's like Chinese Checkers, sort of, only it features real people who lose their lives when their piece is eliminated.

Alas, if you're expecting a taut thriller of who'll-survive-the-madness, think again. This is messy, roundabout filmmaking, full of cryptic dialogue, pregnant pauses, and symbolic imagery, all of which end up signifying absolutely nothing.

Continue reading: Quintet Review

The French Connection Review


Essential
The French Connection puts the majority of contemporary action movies to shame. It proves how potentially smart this genre can be, and how dumb recent action films really are. Unlike many modern-day thrillers, this film is an exciting, taut, and realistic portrayal of urban police life, but it does not fill its running time with gratuitous violence, nonstop profanity, and copious amounts of sex. Character motivation and story drive the film forward--not a needless excess of violent, antisocial behavior. It's a standout cinematic achievement that won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Film Editing, and Best Writing.

Ernest Tidyman's story follows the adventures of two New York narcotics cops, "Popeye" Doyle (Hackman), and his partner, Russo (Roy Scheider). They track a lead about a large drug delivery that develops into a plan that could entirely destroy the marijuana trade between Paris and New York.

Continue reading: The French Connection Review

Seven Beauties Review


Extraordinary
Lina Wertmüller's most complex film is also one of her funniest and most touching. While it's a Holocaust film at heart, Seven Beauties sprawls across a decade or so in the history of Italy. The hero -- if you can call him that -- is Pasqualino Frafuso (Giancarlo Giannini), the sole boy in a family of eight kids, a fact that has clearly caused him some stress as a youth.

Pasqualino ends up killing one of his sisters' (the beauties) boyfriends, winds up in prison, transfers to the loony bin, and finally escapes by agreeing to enlist in Mussolini's rising Italian army. He's shipped off the the front and quickly captured by the Germans (yeah, they're allies, don't ask) and sentenced to a concentration camp. And yet Pasqualino survives it all, never really succumbing to the horrors that surround him at every turn. Most of the film plays out during his time in the camp, with flashbacks telling us how he got to where he is now. The effect is something like Slaughterhouse-Five.

Continue reading: Seven Beauties Review

That Obscure Object of Desire Review


Excellent
Pain is a pretty personal thing. Some people avoid it at all costs, while others are inexplicably drawn to it. In Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, the surrealist master's final film, pain becomes the currency of life and love.

The film begins as Matieu, a wealthy widower, boards the express from Seville to Paris and, as the train is pulling from the station, dumps a bucket over the head of a woman who is running after him. His fellow passengers being understandably baffled, Matieu proceeds to explain what led to his action.

Continue reading: That Obscure Object of Desire Review

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review


Essential
From the moment his 16-minute Surrealist dirty bomb Un Chien andalou was dropped on an unsuspecting Paris in 1929 until the time of his death in Mexico in 1983, director Luis Buñuel patiently and gleefully held court as cinema's most steadfast, outspoken, and off-handedly inflammatory enemy of "polite" society. He built a career on his contempt for unexamined social mores and the gluttonous, self-righteous civic and religious leaders who perpetuated them, and he wasn't just fooling around. As a representative attack, consider this sequence from his 1930 feature L'Âge d'or: We're informed by intertitle that over the course of a long weekend in a locked mountain chateau, a group of depraved rapists and murderers have been having their way with a bevy of adolescent male and female virgins, whom they then torture and kill. The scene is based on the same Marquis de Sade material that served as the basis for Pier Paolo Pasolini's unconscionable Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom, the difference being that here Buñuel has thoughtfully included Jesus Christ among the deviants. He is even seen to drag an injured, escaping girl off screen, the assumption being, when she doesn't return, that He has finished her off. Was Paris burning? No, but once word of L'Âge d'or got around, you may rest assured that some of her theaters were.

Buñuel's cheerful blasphemy was, as you can imagine, shocking, but his commitment to relaying narrative through free-associative, non-linear images - his commitment, that is, to the Surrealist creed that raged among Parisian artists - was seen by many to be as grave an affront. Audiences grew hostile, it seems, when, in Buñuel's films, livestock lounged about in the beds of debutantes or miffed gamekeepers shot and killed children to blow off steam. Buñuel, who was a Spaniard, suffered a more concrete hardship when Fascists took power in Madrid in 1938; he eventually settled in Mexico in 1946, returning to Spain in 1961 where General Franco banned his first new film, Viridiana, just as hurriedly as the jury at Cannes awarded it the Palme d'or. And so Buñuel relocated to France, now in his 60s, and at an age when most directors have retired or have long since begun recycling their own material, he entered one of the most fertile periods enjoyed by any filmmaker anywhere. There are masterpieces scattered among Buñuel's French films like confetti, but in his 1972 comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one of cinema's most brilliant directors made the most brilliant film of his career.

Continue reading: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Review

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