“Wings” Review

Wings [1966]★★★★★

Larisa Shepitko was a Soviet film-maker who made only four full-length films (her film Ascent won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 1977) before her untimely death in a car accident at the age of 41 in 1979. Shepitko’s film Wings tells the story of a decorated ex-pilot of the Red Army during the WWII – Nadezhda Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova) who tries to re-build her life after the war period and faces a number of obstacles. Often day-dreaming about flying, Nadezhda finds it hard to find common ground with her only daughter Tanya, who has recently got engaged, and Nadezhda’s self-sacrificing and domineering approach to schooling means that she is also at odds with the younger generation in a college where she directs, who appear in her eyes to be comparatively self-centered and lacking in meekness. Through the character of one female war veteran, Wings deals bravely with a number of sensitive topics, among which is hidden PTSD, loneliness and isolation in the post-war atmosphere, and the problem of adjusting to the times of peace. Shot with nuance and balance, Wings is a largely forgotten masterpiece that needs to be seen.

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Classic Courtroom Dramas: Witness for the Prosecution (1957), & Anatomy of A Murder (1959)

I am continuing the celebration of classic films this month with this double film review post. American legal dramas of the 1950s were in the league of their own, and, apart from the two films I will discuss below, there were also such films as Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny (1954) & Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Witness for the Prosecution [1957]★★★★1/2

This is a mystery legal drama directed by Billy Wilder (The Apartment (1960)) and based on Agatha Christie’s theatrical play. Charles Laughton plays eminent British barrister Sir Wilfrid Roberts, whose declining health prevents him from participating in major criminal trials, but who, nevertheless, reluctantly agrees to take on a very strange murder case. Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) is accused of murdering his female acquaintance who, quite unexpectedly, left him a large inheritance. But, did Vole actually murder her or was her tragic death the result of a burglary gone wrong? Vole’s enigmatic German wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, and the murdered woman’s housekeeper give evidence in court, as Sir Wilfrid, acting for the defence, soon finds that his hands are more than full as a result of all confusing details emerging in this case. Although initially rather “slow-burn”, this film finally has so many “mind-blowing” twists it can put to shame many modern productions. Moreover, its use of humour, brilliant acting and intriguing flashbacks all mean that the story is as engrossing as its characters are mesmerising to watch.

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Recently Watched: The Red Shoes (1948), West Side Story (1961), & Black Narcissus (1947)

220px-The_Red_Shoes_(1948_movie_poster)I. The Red Shoes [1948] – ★★★★1/2

The Red Shoes is about the rise to stardom of a dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) who falls under the strict control of one charismatic, but elusive and mysterious company director Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). Page becomes truly famous after appearing in Lermontov’s ballet “The Red Shoes”, but soon finds herself torn between her new love – composer of “The Red Shoes” – Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and her professional life. The film is brilliant in terms of cinematography, camera-movements and visual impact. The beautifully-designed production and the ballet, that incorporates a story of one girl whose red shoes take control over her life, are memorable. The film also makes certain observations on the creative process of a theatre/ballet production, and on art and artistic input. It asks – what price a person will be willing to pay for the sake of artistic glory and full professional realisation in theatre/ballet? The story of one girl whose red shoes control her (a Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale) mirrors the story of Victoria Page who, ultimately, has to choose between her romantic interest and her blind devotion to the demands of the man behind the “The Red Shoes” genius – Boris Lermontov. 

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The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)

greatest1Debbie at Moon in Gemini is hosting The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon, which is a fabulous idea since it is an opportunity for everyone to discover or re-discover classic and “must-see” films, or even find hidden gems. I have chosen to write on Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket because it is considered one of the greatest of films (at least in some circles). It is a definite achievement of Robert Bresson, an acclaimed film director, and the film is ranked as one of the greatest films by the Sight & Sound magazine (the 2012 poll). Moreover, Roger Ebert, the late popular film critic, once included it in his “Great Movies” list. And, Pickpocket is great, just not in a conventional way. Bresson is a French director who practices some form of austerity in his films, and his films do have a minimalistic quality, even though all the philosophical observations in his films more than make up for the understated presentation or plot. 

Pickpocket Poster Pickpocket [1959] – ★★★★1/2

This film is Bresson’s debut as a scriptwriter, but it is also fair to say that he was in some way adapting Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment (1866) to make this film as Pickpocket more or less follows the stages of Dostoevsky’s novel and has similar characters. Like in the classic novel, Bresson is preoccupied with fear, guilt and redemption in his story as we follow Michel (Martin LaSalle), a recently released thief, who struggles to get back to his “job”. Michel is reclusive and apathetic, but he does make friends with Jeanne (Marika Green), a young woman and his mother’s neighbour, and has a friend called Jacques. Bresson conveys to the screen the intrigue of the trade which is called pick-pocketing, as well as its dangerous, claustrophobic and lonely nature. What works best in the film is the portrayal of Michel as a societal outsider who tries inwardly to come to light and good. The main character becomes quite sympathetic, maybe even more sympathetic than in Crime Punishment, because the crimes of Michel are less horrendous than the murders of Raskolnikov.  Continue reading “The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon: Pickpocket (1959)”

Jean Renoir: “La Règle du Jeu” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937)

Yesterday was Jean Renoir’s 124th birthday, and, to pay tribute, I am reviewing two of this eminent French director’s most famous cinematic creations, which both influenced numerous films made after them and are now considered cinema classics – The Rules of the Game (1939) and La Grande Illusion (1937).   

The Rules of the Game PosterLa Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) [1939] – ★★★★★

This film is, arguably, Jean Renoir’s greatest achievement. In the story, a circle of rich socialites meets up in a country house of Christine and her husband Robert de la Cheyniest. The complications then follow as it becomes apparent that aviator André Jurieux is deeply in love with Christine, and Christine’s own husband, Robert, is entangled in a love affair of his own. Coupled with this, Christine’s personal maid Lisette becomes interested in the recent addition to the servant staff – a poacher Marceau, despite having a husband. An intermediary between the couples is Octave, Christine’s trusted friend, played by Jean Renoir himself. La Regle du Jeu is very much an “upstairs/downstairs” film where the director satirises the life of the bourgeois on the eve of the war, often contrasting them with their servants. The socialites’ frivolousness, including the fleetness of their passions, are exposed and ridiculed, and, in the end, the characters’ paths and motivations collide, and the ultimate sacrifice is made on the societal altar to self-absorption and complacency.

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The Horrorathon: Les Diaboliques (1955)

1820Maddy at Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting the Horrorathon, celebrating horror movies in the light of the forthcoming Halloween, and I have decided to contribute with a review of one intelligent and highly influential film which some view to be one of the precursors to the modern psychological horror/thriller genre.

Les Diaboliques [1955] – ★★★★1/2

🛀 A true classic in the suspenseful thriller/horror genre, with a twist “to die for”.

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s French-language film Les Diaboliques is the film which Alfred Hitchcock was dying to make, but never did. The film is not a strictly horror film, but, rather, a psychological thriller with suspense and horror elements combined. In this story, two women, Christina and Nicole, the wife and the mistress of the oppressing director of a boarding school respectively, decide to kill their man and then dispose of his body. Everything goes according to plan, but does it, really? After the murder, the two women realise that the corpse of their victim is nowhere to be found and the mystery seems to deepen with each passing day.

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The Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, honouring the classic duo from the Hollywood’s brightest times, and my contribution is a short review of one of Hepburn’s most distinguished films:

The Philadelphia Story [1940] – ★★★★★

George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story is based on a Broadway play of the same name also starring Katharine Hepburn. In this film, Hepburn plays a rich socialite Tracy Lord, who is about to be married to George Kittredge (John Howard), after her previous marriage to a yacht designer C.K. Dexter Haven, played by Cary Grant, fell apart. Meanwhile, two reporters Mike Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) are secretly “planted” in the house of Tracy to spy on her and to try to cover the big wedding. Surely, they are helped in their endeavour by Tracy’s ex-husband Dexter, who still secretly hopes that Tracy will realise that their love was genuine and true. The gist of the comedy here is that Tracy knows about the true purpose of Connor and Imbrie, and her family puts on the show to impress and mislead the reporters. As Tracy flirts with Connor, the realisation of her mistake in the decision to marry Kittredge becomes more apparent. The great thing about this film, apart from its cast and performances, is the way it cleverly combines a witty story, involving a theatre of “appearances deceiving”, and the reflective character study.

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“The Lost Weekend” Review

the-lost-weekend-posterThe Lost Weekend [1945] – ★★★★★

“One drink’s too many, and a hundred’s not enough.”

The Lost Weekend is a 1945 film directed by Billy Wilder, and telling a story of a failed writer Don Birnam (Ray Milland) who struggles to combat his chronic alcohol addiction in the course of a weekend. The winner of an Academy Award in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, The Lost Weekend is now deemed so significant both culturally and historically, it has been recently added in that category to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Indeed, more than 70 years after its initial release, the movie still mesmerises the audience with its performances, and paints probably the most heartfelt and realistic picture of someone combating their alcohol addiction.  Continue reading ““The Lost Weekend” Review”

“Leave Her to Heaven” Review

posterLeave Her to Heaven [1945] – ★★★★★

In this noir drama, a successful fiction writer, Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), meets a young beautiful socialite, Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on a train. After a short introduction, the pair fall in love. However, Ellen’s obsessive streak soon becomes evident when she unceremoniously ditches her politically successful fiancée Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) and makes a proposal of marriage to Richard. After their marriage, Ellen’s obsession with Richard mounts to the point where she becomes jealous of her pretty innocent sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and even of Richard’s disabled teen brother, Danny. Soon, Ellen finds herself capable of the most malicious and darkest deeds to re-gain the undivided attention of her beloved.

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