Category: Foreign Romance


Blue1

Life is as much defined by loss as it is by growth and experience. We lose relationships, our youth, our hair, and, if we get old enough, our memories which are the very nature of our existence begin to fade. Learning to deal with these losses is a defining element of the life experience, and the most successful lives are charted by facing these troubles and persevering. But there are the losses that we can move past: losing a girlfriend, the death of an elderly parent, getting fired from a job; and then there are the losses that create black holes at the center of our very being. The emptiness consumes our entirety and we are broken possibly for the rest of our lives. No film has explored that type of loss with such raw precision as 1993’s Blue from Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski as part of his French “Three Colors” trilogy.

There are few fears more intense than the death of a child. Even for the childless, the safety and well-being of children is paramount, and when children die of cancer or in school shootings or at the hands of a serial predator, it sparks our deepest existential fears. If children, particularly those too young to yet be corrupted by the world, can suffer the pains and cruelties of this world, then the idea of a benign and caring creator seems laughably unlikely. And if you lose both your child and your husband at once, what reason could you have for continuing in a world intent on taking those things which matter above all else? By the end of Blue, it’s impossible to avoid that question ever again.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Amour1

A few years back, comedian Louis C.K. released a stand-up special for HBO, and one of the first bits of his set was an extended rant about the inherent misery of life. His initial metaphor was that anytime you buy a child a dog, you’re actually setting everyone up for misery sooner or later when said dog dies. He then took it further by saying that all human relationships are predicated on inevitable tragedy. Either you date and you break up, you date and you get married, or you date, get married, and then one of you dies. Louis C.K. was taking human mortality for somewhat deep comedic laughs, but the newest film from Austrian director Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) is an extended dramatic meditation on the untold tragedy and suffering of what happens if you’re a married couple that’s “fortunate” enough to make it to old age together. And, Amour, the 2012 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language film is nearly as emotional an experience as it gets.

Considering the film’s subject matter (an elderly couple’s battle with Alzheimer’s), it was somewhat ironic that this was the film I watched right now for this blog because my best friend and I had a fairly in-depth conversation on the topic just the other day. Amour wrestles with the question “Is it worth keeping someone alive who is no longer themselves in any sense of the word?” It would be easy to misinterpret this film as a chronicle of one husband’s almost selfless devotion to his wife, but that would be the wrong way to look at the film. The film wonders (in a vein more similar to The Road than one might think) whether the notion that human existence is sacrosanct is really true and if there are, in fact, moments when it would just be better if we were dead. And, if my interpretation of Haneke’s thesis is correct, I would be hard-pressed to name a film that handles these topics with more care or brutal insight.

Amour2

An elderly French couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne Laurent (Academy Award nominee Emmanuelle Riva), wile away their few remaining years in their well-kept but antiquated Paris apartment. Anne is in her 80s but in her youth, she was a much-respected piano instructor and one of her star pupils, Alexandre, is now a famous concert pianist, and the film opens on Georges and Anne at one of his concerts. Sadly, for this otherwise happily married pair of octogenarians, this will be their last night resembling happiness as Anne is on the verge of manifesting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (though it’s never stated as such in the film) and she’s not long away from the first of a series of strokes. And though, Anne is somewhat functional at first, it isn’t long before she loses any semblance of her former self and Georges, with occasional help from his daughter Eva (La Ceremonie‘s Isabella Huppert), is forced to spend every waking moment caring for the shell of a person that used to be his wife.

If you couldn’t tell from that description, Amour is a sad film. It reaches Synecdoche, New York/Rachel, Rachel levels of misery. In fact, it’s safe to say that it exceeds both of those films in terms of brutal heart-ache. Yet, it accomplishes all of this without falling into the trappings of melodrama. There were a million ways that writer and director Michael Haneke could have spun this tale, but he went for horrific honesty. There are few possibles fates in life more terrifying than to succumb to a degenerative mental illness like Alzheimer’s and Haneke captures it without sentiment or embellishment or any possible silver-lining. For those who have seen The Notebook, this film comes off as the antithesis of the big reveal of that film. With haunting realism, Amour stares suffering at its purest in the face and doesn’t blink.

Amour3

Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards this year for her performance in this film, and now, I honestly don’t know whether or not she or Jennifer Lawrence should have won. I can’t begin to fathom the amount of research Riva put in to nailing all of the physical symptoms of not just Alzheimer’s but also the multiple strokes her character suffered. It is a commitment to a realistic portrayal of a type of mental illness that’s nearly on par with Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. My family had a close friend when I was a child who ultimately succumbed to Alzheimer’s so I’ve seen the torment the illness wreaks on a human being. And Emmanuelle Riva channeled the bewilderment and constant terror that Anne was feeling any second she wasn’t in a state of merciful lucidity.

However, in a vein similar to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (though at least Anne has an arc, but it’s an arc towards stasis), the real emotional core of Amour was carried by Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges. One can not belittle the suffering that Anne goes through. By the end of the film, she exists as a barely conscious being. But, it is through Georges’s eyes that we experience Anne’s suffering. And slowly throughout the film, Jean-Louis transforms what appears to be a selfless devotion to his wife into an entirely selfish desire to keep her alive because he couldn’t bear to be alone. And Georges is cognizant of his own suffering and has to deal with knowing every day and every night that the woman he’s been with decades is gone and he’s clinging to mere memories and her corporeal existence. And, as a portrait of the malignant reality of getting old and facing the end of everything you’ve ever cared about, Jean-Louis Trintignant is just as good as Emmanuelle Riva. He (along with several other performers) impressed me more than the theatrics of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and Day-Lewis is my favorite living actor.

Amour4

The cinematography from Darius Khondji paired with Haneke’s direction is uniformly excellent. The camera captures in rich detail every inch of Georges and Anne’s apartment and the quiet life that Georges wants to live versus the tribulations that have been forced upon him and his wife. And, Haneke’s decision to consistently incorporate lengthy takes only adds to the heightened realism of the picture. The takes in Amour become uncomfortably long, but by refusing to turn away from a brutal moment with cuts that alleviate the tension, Haneke forces the viewer directly into the suffering of Amour‘s world. There’s a moment towards the end of the film that I don’t want to spoil for anyone that involves Georges reciting a tale from his childhood to his essentially catatonic wife that ranks among the most effectively shot, written, and acted sequences of modern memory.

Amour is so singular in its dedication to heartbreak that by the end of the film, one may (though it seems mostly doubtful) find themselves inured to the misery. I am a crier. It does not take much to make me cry in a film. And, although Amour is without question one of the most distressing and gut-wrenching films I’ve ever sat through, it did not make me cry. And, I think that was intentional on Haneke’s part. Eventually, Amour begins to leave the realm of sad and enters existentialist horror. You become too overwhelmed with the notion that this could easily happen to you or someone you care about to be able to process the film in typical emotional ways. Or at least, that was my response. By Amour‘s end, I began to experience a physical sense of dread. The misery of this film manifested itself in me as a sense of being physically ill. That’s powerful film-making.

Amour5

Watching Amour is a commitment. It’s not entertaining in any traditional sense, and there were moments where the film’s unwavering artistic vision bordered on torturous (in the good sense). You are volunteering yourself to two hours of heart-ache and suffering without any hope of a gilded edge to soften the pain. But, Amour is an edifying experience of truly exceptional power and uncompromising respect for the viewer’s intelligence as well as the plight of its protagonists. For those with an interest in powerful cinema and for film-making that has something to say, Amour was easily one of the best films of last year. However, if you are already depressed or sad about something, hold off on watching Amour until you can come in with a more even-keel because, otherwise, I fear that this film could ruin you.

Final Score: A

(One final note. I have now finally seen all of last year’s Best Picture nominees. This was the last one to come out on DVD/Blu-Ray. And, boy did the Academy really FUBAR what won. For those curious, this is my list of the order of the films nominated for Best Picture [This disqualifies my top two films of the year which weren’t nominated, The Master and To the Wonder]:

1. Life of Pi

2. Amour

3. Silver Linings Playbook

4. Django Unchained

5. Zero Dark Thirty

6. Lincoln

7. Argo

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild

9. Les Miserables

 

ARoomWithAView1

(A quick aside before this review begins. I watched this movie last night before I went to bed. I worked from 8:30-4:30 and took a 2 hour nap when I got home cause I have to work again from 10 PM to 2 AM. And there’s a reasonable chance that I won’t be able to finish this review before I have to go back to work in an hour and a half. We’ll see. Hopefully, that’s not the case.)

I have a soft spot for classic romances. It’s a theme that’s been explored on here from films as diverse as Giant to Penny Serenade to Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. Despite my jaded, world-weary cynicism, I’m a romantic at heart, and I like watching a well-crafted romance. Merchant Ivory films (the movies of producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory) have a reputation as being lavish, meticulously constructed period romances, and while 1986’s A Room with a View is a beautifully acted and gorgeously shot film, I can’t ignore the fact that it was unequivocally one of the most boring films I’ve watched in ages.

ARoomWithAView2

In the Edwardian era, young Lucy Honeychurch (Conversations With Other Women‘s Helena Bonham Carter) visits Florence with her aunt, Charlotte Bartlett (Gosford Park‘s Maggie Smith), in tow as her chaperone. A slightly rebellious girl, Lucy wanders Florence on her own and plays Beethoven passionately as the curious Vicar Beebe (Four Weddings and a Funeral‘s Simon Callow). Among the fellow Brits in the hotel Lucy and her aunt are staying at are the Emersons. Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) is a loud but well-meaning journalist while his son George (Julian Sands) is moody and brooding, a perfect match for the stormy Lucy.

It isn’t long before Lucy begins to fall for the handsome but aloof George, but when her aunt discovers the two kissing in the Italian countryside, Charlotte ends their Italian sojourn early and they return to England. Not long after, Lucy finds herself engaged to the foppish but well-moneyed Cecil Vyse (Gangs of New York‘s Daniel Day-Lewis). She cares for him although, it’s not the passionate, all-consuming romance she felt towards George. Lucy begins to resign herself towards her life with Cecil though when out of the blue, the Emersons move into a villa in her town and throw her entire life out of whack.

ARoomWithAView3

Despite the nearly constant soporific effect that I felt during the entirety of this film, one would have to be insane to say that A Room with a View isn’t a gorgeously constructed film. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy back in the summer of 2009 and it was a life-changing experience. I could see Il Duomo from my apartment and every day on my way to class I walked by more history and art and culture than I saw in my entire life in the United States. Much like how David Lean’s Summertime captured Venice or Woody Allen’s Manhattan captured…. you know, every single frame set in Florence is a glorious ode to one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, and the scenes in England aren’t too shabby either.

And, A Room with a View is flush with brilliant performances from a truly deep well of great British actors. Denholm Elliott and Maggie Smith received Oscar nods for their turns in the film, and though they were great, they weren’t even the most impressive members of the cast to me. Dame Judi Dench (Skyfall) shines as an almost masculine and vivacious author looking for inspiration in Florence. Helena Bonham Carter shows why she would go on to be one of England’s most consistently under-appreciated stars with this early and mature performance. And Daniel Day-Lewis loses himself (as usual) in the role of the oblivious and possibly homosexual Cecil.

ARoomWithAView4

But despite how well-crafted the film is from a technical perspective and an acting perspective, nothing it did could make me care about the dated comedy of manners on display and the tired/stale romance that sat at the film’s core. Longtime readers know that I have a fairly deep well of patience for deliberate pacing and slower storytelling. But, A Room with a View‘s pacing is absolutely turgid and the characters never seem to go anywhere. I can only recommend this film to the most die-hard fans of period drama and costume fanciness. Everybody else can stay at home and understand that this score is based almost entirely on the technical merits of this snooze of a film.

Final Score: B-

 

SundayBloodySunday1

I once had a professor in college that I love and respect very much who once presented the argument (I’m unsure if she actually believed it or was just simply stating it out loud) that because cinema was such an originally proletarian form of artistic expression, it was pretentious to assume that cinema should aspire to be a higher art. Because it was originally created for mass consumption, the argument goes that the greatest films are those which can be enjoyed by the most people. True “art” was left for literature and the classical visual arts. Clearly, if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know I disagree (in fact, my review of The Master makes the exact opposite point), and films like 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday are the perfect example of why. A film that was light years ahead of its time in terms of LGBT content, Sunday Bloody Sunday is a slow-moving character study whose grasp of loneliness and desperation is nearly unparalleled.

I bring this all up not to sound pretentious or like the snobby cinephile all my readers know I am, but because Sunday Bloody Sunday (abbreviated to SBS from this point forward in review) is a film that is as far away from mass appeal as humanly possible, but it has the quiet power and raw emotional energy of the great pieces of American literature of the 20th century. The film, directed by John Schlesinger of Midnight Cowboy fame, has such a clarity of vision and honest understanding of its characters that the film doesn’t have to rely on emotional fireworks and explosive confrontations to achieve a near total devastation. In the same vein of A Single ManSBS takes a subtle and sexy approach (40 years before that would enter the mainstream of LGBT cinematic storytelling) to exploring love, bisexuality, polyamory, and the overwhelming hopelessness of loneliness.

SundayBloodySunday2

The film is often referred to as a romantic drama involving a “love triangle” although I think that’s ultimately inaccurate (for reasons I’ll expound on later). Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) is an exiting middle-age homosexual Jewish doctor with a successful private practice. Alexandra Greville (Glenda Jackson) is a middle-aged woman with an unfulfilling career at an employment referral agency. The only thing the two have in common (besides a sense of emptiness in their lives) is that they both love the young, bisexual artist Robert Elkin (Murray Head). Taking place more or less over the course of one week, Sunday Bloody Sunday sketches an intimate portrait of the affection and meaning Alex and Daniel both seek from Robert while the always restless Robert hops from partner to partner always in search of the next new and exciting experience in his own life.

If the film sounds dull by that synopsis, it is surely not the most exciting film ever made, and SBS moves at its own consistently deliberate pace. And while the film does find itself at somewhat of a resolution by the movie’s end, it is not a “happy ending” that will leave many satisfied, and, in fact, I would argue that Sunday Bloody Sunday sets up this type of dissatisfaction intentionally because it’s an honest portrayal of the complex romantic entanglements that have formed in these people’s lives as well as a commentary on the way that we look for meaning in romance at the cost of actual self-improvement (more on that shortly). SBS is barely a story in the traditional sense of the word and it lacks any singular scene begging for the audience’s attention. However, the sheer strength of the film’s writing, characters, and performances kept me entranced until the end credits rolled.

SundayBloodySunday3

Sunday Bloody Sunday won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and the two leads won Best Actor and Actress. I’m not intimately familiar with all of the other nominees that year but Glenda Jackson’s win was well-deserved and Peter Finch was no slouch himself. It would not be an understatement to say that Glenda Jackson gives one of the most powerfully subtle and restrained performances that I’ve seen for this blog (it’s really a shame she’s up against the firebrand, crazy turn from Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction for this 50 film block). Alex’s loneliness and sense that her life is going nowhere and doesn’t have much of a chance of changing is soul-crushing, and in every line of Alex’s aging face (just realized Glenn Close was an Alex as well), you see how she feels the world and fate closing in around her. It’s the type of emotionally naked (and physically naked occasionally) performance that you rarely saw from female actresses at the time. Apparently, Glenda Jackson also went on to be a member of Parliament after she retired from acting if you’re interested in random trivia.

And Peter Finch’s Dan has to be one of the most compelling LGBT characters to appear in a mainstream film (in so far as John Schlesinger has now entered the cinematic mainstream thanks to Midnight Cowboy). Anyone who’s seen The Celluloid Closet (a documentary chronicling the portrayal of LGBT characters in mainstream cinema) knows that well into the 1990s, it was an unwritten rule (except when it was written thanks to the Hays Code) that gay characters had to be in some type of psychic turmoil and they all suffered throughout the film. Certainly Dan has problems, but they are tame compared to Alex, and he’s an otherwise well-adjusted man. The simple fact that Peter Finch played against period homosexual stereotypes at every turn (he wasn’t foppish in the slightest) would be enough to cement this character’s legacy, but Finch also shows the quiet loneliness and repression that eat away at Dan’s soul. Murray head also makes an impact as the sensitive and androgynous beatnik that captures both Alex’s and Dan’s passions.

SundayBloodySunday4

It’s a gorgeously shot film although Schlesinger’s famous tendency towards slipping in fantasies and flashbacks without any of the traditional visual transitions confused me slightly at first (although I immediately remembered my high school experience with Midnight Cowboy). Although once again, the film is gorgeous in a different way than, say, an Andrew Dominik film or Terrence Malick film. It doesn’t forcibly grab your attention. Instead, quiet lighting or a lingering shot on a sculpture of Bob’s (a strange but enchanting contraption involving what appears to be mercury and a reaction to music), Sunday Bloody Sunday underscores the need Alex and Dan need for beauty and pleasure in their desperate lives. Dan’s home is gorgeous and full of art, but the film never fails to hint at the emptiness seeping inside as well.

Sunday Bloody Sunday jumped to the top of my Netflix queue (The Crying Game was supposed to be the next film for me to watch according to my “master list” for this blog [which I’m also in the process of re-writing but that takes forever]) because it’s leaving Netflix Instant shortly. There are also like 9 other films in my instant queue that are leaving and I have to find time to watch as many of them as possible before they leave. One of these films is six hours long… and it’s the next one up. So, I’ll draw this review to a close although I hope you can tell that I have a lot more that I’d like to say about this movie. If you have any interest in quiet and powerful character studies as well as a film that is a hallmark of classic LGBT cinema, Sunday Bloody Sunday deserves your time and may very well be a true masterpiece of 1970s cinema period.

Final Score: A

(A quick aside before the real review. Somehow, even though I’ve reviewed well over 250 films so far, I haven’t reviewed a Mexican film yet. That’s craziness. This will be my first. It was pretty good so it was a great way to inaugurate Mexico into Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safari)

As a picky eater and a romantic skeptic, a foreign romance hyped as a richly combined pastiche of sumptuous feasts and sexual symbolism didn’t really seem up my alley. Like several of the films I’ve covered on this blog, this was one of those instances where I’m happy to report my preconceptions couldn’t have been more wrong. A highly erotic and sensual tale of forbidden love fused with the literary school of magic realism as well as high tragedy turned Like Water for Chocolate into a fantastical peek into the cultural mores of early 20th century Mexico and a tale of star-crossed lovers that would make the Bard proud. While it may not rank among the greatest of cinematic romances, it is a constantly charming and heart-warming tale that can melt the heart of even the most jaded in the audience (though it’s heroes aren’t always incredibly likeable).

Like many foreign films, Like Water for Chocolate may pose something of a challenge to audiences who aren’t accustomed to the cultural and historical context of the film. Where I found some strange cultural actions in the German film The White Ribbon incomprehensible (and the class warfare in the French La Ceremonie indecipherable), I can easily see how people will be off-put by the often ethereal and supernatural nature of Like Water for Chocolate which spends most of its time in a basically realistic mode only to shift in and out of fantasy without warning. Deeply rooted in Mexican folklore as well as the very essence of Mexican storytelling, the mix of the spiritual and the mundane elevates the tragic romance at the core of the film into something timeless and magical.

In the early 1900s, Tita de la Garza (Lumi Cavazos) is the youngest daughter of the domineering and abusive Mama Elena (Regina Torne), whose husband died days after Tita was born. It has long been a family tradition that the youngest daughter in the family never marries and cares for the mother for the rest of her life. Mostly raised in the kitchen by the family cook, Tita has never had to question her lot in life until she falls in love with the dashing Pedro (Marco Leonardi). When Pedro asks for Tita’s hand in marriage, Mama Elena refuses and instead marries Pedro to her eldest daughter Rosaura, who Pedro only marries to stay near to Tita. With the love of her life taken away and the rest of her life spelled out for her by her controlling mother, Tita throws herself into her cooking until the help of a local doctor, who loves Tita although she still yearns for Pedro, teaches her to stand up for and live for herself.

The hermosa (beautiful for non-Spanish speakers) Lumi Cavazos was a genuine delight as the constantly put-upon Tita. Her journey from a scared young girl to a sexually aware and developed woman was a constantly shifting affair. With a warm and innocent smile (which never vanished even after her sexual desires began to take hold), Tita was a woman of intense passions. Whether she was taking the emotional and physical abuse of her mother, the resentful stares of his sister Rosaura, or repressing her own amorous desires, Lumi Cavazos guides Tita through the emotional maelstrom that is her life. It is a rare gift for actresses to shift in and out of wounded vulnerability and feminist outrage, but Lumi Cavazos possesses it nonetheless.

For a film with only a handful of actual sex scenes (and perhaps one of the most shocking/tragic sex scenes that I can think of at the film’s end), Like Water for Chocolate is as steamy as the kitchen where much of the action takes place. It’s been said before but it bears repeating. The difference between eroticism/sensuality and pornography is the lack of gratuitous titillation in the former. There’s nudity in the film but it’s never there so skeevy people in the audience can get their kicks. Instead, it underscores the sexual repression the women in this film faces and celebrates the human beauty of pure sexuality which is either shamed by religion or corrupted by pornographic excess. There’s something indefinably freeing about the sexual awakening on display in the film, and for those who can celebrate the beauty of our bodies and the ways we are intimate with others, it’s a beautiful sentiment.

The film’s issues arise in the man that Tita has her sights set on (and the otherwise sympathetic characters who get caught in the crossfire). Although Pedro marries Rosaura with the express intent of being closer to Tita, he still has sex with Rosaura, and as a married man, it’s not easy to sympathize with his regular attempts (and occasional successes) to rendezvous with Tita. He becomes increasingly open about his feelings for Tita even though he and Rosaura have two children together (though admittedly one dies). Rosaura isn’t very likable, what with marrying her sister’s soul mate and showing no remorse, but you still have to feel bad for a wife whose husband constantly disrespects her like that. Similarly, the doctor that falls in love with Tita wins her heart momentarily only to constantly play second fiddle to her true love to Pedro. Even Tita isn’t entirely innocent in all this (especially since she cheats with her sister’s husband).

It has been surprisingly difficult to find decent pictures of this movie on the internet so I’ll draw this to a close (a phrase I haven’t really been using much in reviews because I realized I was using it like overkill in the past). Although Like Water for Chocolate may sound like a chick flick (and it certainly is to an extent), it’s an exceptionally intelligent one. A grown-up fairy tale, the film will fill your heart with love and your stomach with hunger as you get drawn into this nearly mythical world of Mexican lovers and the bonds (and perils) of family. Magical realism has kind of gone out of vogue the last 15 years or so, and it’s a shame because Like Water for Chocolate shows you the beauty you can find when you mix the everyday with the extraordinary.

Final Score: B+

I’ve gone through a phase over the life cycle of this blog’s existence (which is to say since February of 2011) where I’ve been really into art-house movies. Specifically, I’ve found myself enamored with the films that put a premium on utilizing the visual possibilities of the cinematic medium. Whether they’re going for a near sensory overload in natural beauty (Tree of Life), jamming the film chock-full of psycho-sexual Freudian symbolism (Persona), or turning the camera inward on the illusions of cinema itself (8 1/2), the best films that I’ve watched this last year and a half worked as much as visual poems as they did as stories (and if your name is Terrence Malick, nothing will ever match the sheer visual beauty of your films). So, when I watch a movie that I consider to be one of the most gorgeously shot films I’ve ever seen but I can’t generate the same kind of excitement I can for a Fellini or Malick feature, there’s possibly a problem here. The 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan is simply put, a gorgeous amalgamation of stunning color cinematography alongside brilliant implementation of classical music. Yet, the tragic love story at the heart of the film feels so slight and hurried that I can’t find it in my heart to give this film a full-hearted recommendation.

ElviraMadigan is the true story of two tragic lovers on the run in Sweden. The film begins with text explaining that this is the story of two young adults in love who commit suicide in the woods, and the film is the story of their flight and their ultimate decision to take their own lives (since the movie starts off telling you they’re going to die, it can’t really be a spoiler revealing it). Count Sixten Sparre (Thommy Berggren) is a lieutenant in the Swedish army who goes AWOL and abandons his wife and two children to run away with Elvira Madigan (the hauntingly beautiful Pia Degermark), a tightrope walker from the circus. Hunted by the authorities and unable to stay in one place for very long, Elvira and Sixten’s romance is doomed from its inception. Sixten is unable to work at all (for fear of being recognized) and tragedy strikes every job that Elvira tries to hold. It isn’t very long before Elivra and Sixten realize that taking their own lives is the only way out of their miserable situation.

As I said, the film’s biggest selling point is its astounding cinematography (especially by the standards of the mid-1960s). Whether it’s the endless shots of the stunning Swedish (and also at times Danish I believe) countryside or the way that director Bo Widerberg is able to perfectly frame Pia Degermark’s angelic face, this film might not quite be at a “Malick”-ian level of beauty, but it comes pretty god damn close. Perhaps I have to give credit to the film’s clever implementation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and some Mozart, but this film is just a striking visual poem (even if the substance of the poem is less than substantive but more on that later). It’s easy to forget just how sad and devastated Sixten and Elvira’s lives have become over the course of the film. This movie can make scavenging through the underbrush of a forest for any roots or mushrooms you can eat look like a beautiful ode to life. The film might actually be to beautiful for its own good because the story itself is just so heartbreaking. One last note about the film’s cinematography. The movie’s color palette is astounding. Seriously, for a film from the 1960s, the colors in this film are almost absurdly vibrant and saturated. Okay, that wasn’t the last note. There were also serious elements of the French New Wave where Elvira Madigan was ahead of the pack (alongside its French peers) in the use of handheld shots.

However, the film itself doesn’t have the post-modernist magic (in terms of plot) that describes the works of Lynch, Fellini, or Bergman who marry their fanciful images and symbolism with engaging stories. Elvira Madigan is certainly a tragic love story, but to say that I didn’t find myself invested in the romance between Elvira and Sixten would be the understatement of the century. You never see any of the romance that led up to their decision to risk everything to be together (not even in flashback) so there’s little to no context to why these two are so madly in love with each other. Their romance simply is, and while that has its own beauty, the entire film hinges on their being so desperately in love with each other that they were willing to die for one another. I couldn’t buy it. I bought the romantic chemistry between Pia Degermark and Thommy Berggren and so I was able to believe their characters were in love with each other, but I couldn’t buy the giant leap of faith their tragic fates required. It also didn’t help that the film almost moved at a dreamlike pace (and not especially in a good way) where these two lovers would be whisked away from one predicament or another without an especially large amount of closure being given to any one action they undertake (although they never undertake the intelligent action). I love a great romance done well, and unfortunately, I couldn’t invest myself emotionally in their love story.

Despite those complaints, the sheer beauty of Elvira Madigan makes it worth watching for all real cinema fans. As I understand it (and is obvious from the oft-copied imagery of the film), this is one of the more influential romances of all time. However, it’s simply been lost to the ages because of all of the films that took it as influence and then added an actual compelling story to the mix. I may not have cared about the fates of our heroes (though the film’s final moments were truly haunting), but I think I’m always going to look back on this film fondly simply because of how engrossing its imagery was. If you’re not the kind of cinema nerd that doesn’t geek out over cinematography and the visual arts aspect of cinema, you should avoid Elvira Madigan like the plague. You will find nothing of value here. However, I, for one, am glad that this beautiful film has survived the ages.

Final Score: B-

 

Two German films in a row? That’s slightly unusual, but when they’re both excellent movies, I’m not going to complain. I just finished the emotional roller-coaster that was 2004’s Head-On, an unconventional love story in every sense of the word, and if it failed to match the magic and power of Wings of Desire, it should take comfort in the fact that Wings of Desire was a genuine masterwork of a film. Tomorrow (provided I get around to it), I should be watching Fellini’s 8 1/2 so apparently, it’s just a foreign film type of weekend, and aren’t those the best kinds of weekends? Perhaps it’s appropriate that the lead female of the film portrays Shae on HBO’s Game of Thrones because this was the German answer to the Sid and Nancy “mutual destruction” subgenre of the romantic drama field. Head-On is not for the faint of heart, but if you want a bloody and subversive romance, Head-On is what would happen if you took most (but not all) of the graphic violence out of True Romance and replaced it with social commentary about the Turkish immigrant experience in Germany as well as fundamental religious beliefs.

Lonely, alcoholic, and rage-fueled Turkish widower Cahit Tomruk (Birol Unel) decides to end his miserable existence collecting empty bottles at a Berlin concert hall by crashing his car full-speed into a brick wall. When he survives his suicide attempt, he’s committed to a clinic where he meets the beautiful but equally broken Sibel Guner (Game of Thrones‘ Sibel Kekilli), a young Turkish woman who also tried to kill herself to escape her life under the thumb of her strictly fundamentalist family. Almost immediately upon meeting Cahit, Sibel asks him to marry him as a way to get out of her father’s house (where her brother broke her nose as a child just for holding hands with a boy). She doesn’t love him or want to be loved. She just wants an excuse to escape and be on her own so she can finally live her own life. Cahit initially rejects her offer but when Sibel slices her wrist open in a crowded bar to prove how seriously damaged her home life is, Cahit finally gives in. Sibel wasn’t kidding when she said she wanted to live her own life though, and although she and Cahit share a home, they both have sex with other people, and even when they finally begin developing feelings for one another, it only spirals them further into inevitable tragedy.

If there’s one word that I would use to describe this film, it’s “intense.” Sweet lord. Based on its premise, you think it’s going to be an “odd couple” romantic drama where an initially incompatible couple learn to love each other by living together. They certainly become attracted to one another over the course of the film, but it only leads to tragedy and heartbreak. There’s a dark sexuality dripping in every frame of the film and Birol Unel brings a Brando-esque machismo and intensity to the role. He reminded me of a more sympathetic (but equally violent) version of Ray Winstone’s character in Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth. He is a force of almost pure destructive energy, and when he’s drawn into the uncontrollable hedonism of Sibel’s life, explosions are practically guaranteed. I’ve never seen Birol Unel in a film before and he immediately made an impression as a foreign talent to watch. However, the real star was Sibel Kekilli. Her performance recalls (but actually predates) both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It was the type of raw, naked performance that makes a star and since she won several European industry awards for her performance, others obviously agreed. Her transformation over the course of the film is simply an astounding feat both in the way she physically presents herself but also the subtleties of her emotion and performance. I wish she was this engaging as Shae on Game of Thrones.

While I think this was one of the ugliest shot films that I’ve watched in a while (shaky, unprofessional hand-held footage that did little to immerse me more in the world which is the entire point of shooting a movie handheld), I’m able to forgive it’s technical shortcomings because of how brutal its story was. The movie’s pacing could feel slightly sluggish at time but there were lots of great moments where the film compelled you to keep watching even when you desperately wanted to turn away. There might not have been a single moment which etched itself into my brain quite as deeply as Ray Winstone nearly beating his wife to death in Nil by Mouth (for some reason that was the film that kept springing to mind during Head-On), but there were a ton of moments that came close. Whether it was Sibel’s multiple suicide attempts, a scene in a bar which continually ups the sense of dread and impending apocalypse til the terrible, tragic moment finally arrives, or the small moments of Cahit alone exploding against a world that has done him so much harm, the film paints a tale of violence, lust, and tragic love. The way that it explores how sexual repression by religious families leads to acting out and potentially catastrophic rebellion only hammers home this film’s mission to subvert traditional notions of romance and the traditional romantic film.

If you’re sick and tired of Hollywood fairy-tale romances, Head-On will punch you in the gut and leave you asking for it do it one more time. With a premise that consistently struck me as the building blocks of a Shakespearean tragedy (without the Bard’s subtlety or humor), Head-On‘s wonderful story which more often subverts romantic cliches and tropes than plays them straight is a modern romance for the modern cynic. It’s heavy material and unflinching eye for the brutality of its subjects may turn some off but if you can sit through the most masochistic moments of our “heroes,” you’ll be reward with a stark look at love gone terribly wrong. In a world where schlock like The Lucky One makes reams of money in the box office, you need films like Head-On to remind you that not every story is stale, and that we don’t always need to have a happy ending.

Final Score: B+

Out of the over 200 films I’ve reviewed for this blog in the last year, there have been a handful of films that I would immediately describe more as visual poetry/tone poems than as conventionally structured cinema. Stroszek (one of the only films whose score I want to retroactively increase because my respect/appreciation for it has grown infinitely since I first viewed it), La Strada, and The Tree of Life made the conscious decision to forsake complex narrative for unyielding emotion and mood. Imagery and atmosphere took precedence over plot and for that, they’ve always stood out. When I’m watching a film like that, I get the same kind of intellectual engagement that I associate more with reading a book than with watching a movie. It’s ironic since films like this emphasize the visual aspect of cinema (particularly in the way that images can create emotional reactions) but they stimulate my mind more than the wordiest “Award-bait” dramas. Directors like Herzog, Fellini, and Malick realize that form can follow function and the power you can wrest away from the visual story. I love what a new friend of mine called “verbal volleyball” films but sometimes you just need to have your mind and heart overwhelmed with a visually arresting experiencing and 1987’s Wings of Desire from German director Wim Wenders is sure to sate that yearning.

In Cold War Berlin, two immortal angels, Damiel (Downfall’s Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), invisibly observe the comings-and-goings of the world. With a mission to study and testify to the human experience, they float around the city hearing the thoughts of the citizens and providing unknown spiritual comfort to those in need. Both angels joke about discovering what it would be like to cease their eternal existence and take on the mantle of personhood to experience the ups and downs of human life. They long to see color, to be able to touch the world around them, to experience the wonders of life when time finally has meaning. When Damiel’s wanderings draw him to a circus on the eve of its final performance, he espies a young trapeze artist, Marion (Solveig Dommartin), and instantly falls in love with her. Deciding to renounce his immortality once and for all, Damiel becomes a person and experiences the beauty in life that so many of us take for granted while Cassiel is forced to remain an observer of the tragedies of mankind.

When told through the point of view of the angels, the film is shot in such a rich and striking black-and-white that you’d think you stumbled across a long-lost classic from the black and white era. It is only the moments when the film is told through humanity’s point of view that the world is jolted back into color (and the color palette is heavily saturated). Perhaps its because of the wonderful Blu-Ray transfer, but the shadows and contrast in the black and white scenes are among the most sharp and crisp I’ve ever seen. The cinematographer, Henri Alekan, was making films in the early days of Jean Cocteau, and in its Fellini-esque magic, the visual deluge of the film enveloped me in a way that no film has since I watched The Tree of Life. The film has its share of extended scenes (which provide the emotional glue holding the film together) but the heart of the physical disconnect and urban loneliness that the film spends so much time meditating on arises in the loosely connected and disjointed moments where Damiel and Cassiel flitter through the town helping to bear the burden of other’s suffering and in the film’s minimalist script, the beautifully shot scenes surrounding these moments raises the film to a masterwork of cinematic art.

Two months ago, I made it through two-thirds of Bruno Ganz’s historical drama Downfall (covering the last days of Hitler’s life) before I decided to take a nap and I never finished it. His performance as Hitler was one of the most ferocious and ultimately brave (by both humanizing Hitler while still showing how monstrous he could be) performances of any film that’s name isn’t There Will Be Blood. For what I hope are obvious reasons, Damiel is a much more subtle and low-key role than the Fuhrer, yet somehow Ganz manages to make this one nearly as interesting (if not as incendiary). Damiel has very little in the way of lines despite being the main character. In fact, most of his lines are voiced-over inner monologues. Yet, with an expressive face (that forces me to make another Fellini comparison) that seems right out of Fellini Satyricon, his performance moved me to complete heartbreak for a longing for that childlike sense of innocence and wonder. Otto Sander had the even more difficult task as the more taciturn and reserved Cassiel, but in a scene where he fails to prevent a man’s suicide, he tore my heart out with his anguish. Peter Falk also managed to be a scene-stealer essentially playing a fictionalized version of himself (in some really weird meta-commentary that I didn’t really understand).

It’s at moments like these where I truly wish I had a partner for this great experiment in examining the history of cinema. While I would never wish having to sit through garbage like War Horse on another living being, movies that ask such grand questions and paint such a poetic picture practically demand someone else to discuss them with. I have ideas on the themes of this film but as someone who’s read too much Nietzsche, I know my interpretations of something this ambiguous may ultimately only be a reflection of my personality. The film is at times an ode to the transitory. It’s a celebration of life and all its wonders even in its most tragic. These angels aren’t solely guardian angels. As said by Cassiel, their duty is to testify to the history of life (and even what predated life). They are the eternal observers of the human condition. So, in some ways, the film also acts as a commentary of the way we interact with what we observe and the voyeurism of the visual arts (i.e. the film you’re watching). It explores the ripple of memory and the desire to latch onto the past when life is meant to be lived in the now. It’s power is undeniable and I honestly at this point just want a fresh commentary on the film besides my own so if you’ve seen it feel free to leave comments in the comment section below.

I would argue that the only barriers to entry for this film are for those with no patience for foreign films and for those who don’t like more “art-house” cinema (though I would argue that despite its stylistic presentation, Wings of Desire is very accessible as compared to say a David Lynch film). Other than those types of people (who are automatically qualified from being real movie fans in my book), I highly recommend that all of my readers give Wings of Desire a go. It’s a haunting and meditative film whose message has both inspired and moved me. It’s also one of those films that I know I’m going to still be chewing on in the weeks to come. It can be a little slow (when I discovered that I had only been watching the film for an hour and not two like I thought, I was incredibly shocked), but it’s poetic value can’t be diminished even by pacing that may scare off the average movie-goer. As a cynic, you occasionally grow to be distrustful of things that are truly beautiful, but the way that Wings of Desire mixes up melancholy, beauty, innocence, and unbridled joy make it a must-watch film.

Final Score: A

 

It’s been almost exactly one month since I’ve written a movie review for this blog (and it was likely nearly a month before that review). I saw The Hunger Games with a friend here in NYC, but for the last month and a half, the movies I’ve had at home from Netflix have been gathering dust in my living room. That changes today. I’ve got three films at home (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Butcher Boy, and 1776). By this evening’s end, I will have watched all of them. I’m going to get work done tonight. If the initial film in the series is any indication, it should be a great night. The 1990 adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s play,Cyrano de Bergerac, starring French film icon Gerard Depardieu was an enchanting and faithful adaptation of its source material with a mesmerizing performance from Depardieu as the legendary warrior/poet/philosopher/lover. While the film certainly dragged at moments, the lavish production values kept their hooks in me from start to finish and as my formal introduction to the story, I couldn’t have asked for a better way too see this tragic tale for the first time.

In 17th century France, Cyrano de Bergerac (Gerard Depardieu) longs for the love of his beautiful cousin Roxane (Anne Brochet). Cyrano is more intelligent and eloquent than any man in France, and at the beginning of the film, he fights off nearly a hundred men all by himself. He can afford to throw his money away to appease a theatre when he threatens to disembowel a play’s star for ruining the good name of thespians everywhere. But Cyrano’s enormous nose (which makes Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours look relatively modest) has crippled his self-esteem and he believes that he will never be able to win the heart of his beloved cousin. When Cyrano has finally worked up the courage to tell Roxane how he feels, she confesses her love for a local soldier, Christian (Vincent Perez), and because Cyrano wishes to put the happiness of hisamour ahead of his own desires, he secretly helps the dim-witted Christian woo Roxanne. Ghost-writing all of Christian’s letters to Roxanne, Cyrano helps his cousin fall in love with his words but another man all as our star-crossed trio hurtle towards a tragic end.

I’m not generally a huge fan of period costume dramas. They tend to put too much focus on the “costume” and “period” parts of that equation rather than the actual drama, and while Cyrano de Bergerac might suffer from this a little bit, it’s only because of how exquisitely detailed the period material is. The film is gorgeously shot. It wasn’t until half-way through that I realized this film was made in the 1990s because it had an ephemeral air of classical film technique that I would have placed in the 1970s. While I realize I just complained about people paying too much attention to the period production, it was so engrossing in this film that you couldn’t help but revel in it. Whether it was the seemingly endless array of expertly constructed costumes which represented the diverse beauty of 17th century French fashion or the elaborately orchestrated action sequences, it was obvious that this film was given the budget to truly be a spectacle, but it used these moments to enhance the tragic love story at the center of the film rather than distract. My only complaint about the film’s technical aspects is that Cyrano’s nose might have in fact been too large because it was almost at the point of parody when Depardieu’s naturally large nose could have nearly done the trick.

I’ve only reviewed one other Gerard Depardieu film for this blog (La Chevre), and I’ve only seen one other Depardieu film outside of the context of this blog (The Man in the Iron Mask). After watching Cyrano de Bergerac, I finally understand why he’s one of the premier stars of the French screen. His performance was incendiary, deeply funny, surprisingly vulnerable, and ultimately human. There’s a lot of talking in this movie. It’s based off a play so that shouldn’t be shocking, but even by drama standards, the people in this film never shut up. Yet, I could listen to Depardieu sputter line after line of Cyrano’s triumphant wit if he’s going to make it all seem so fun while doing it. With the exception of his vanity over his looks, Cyrano is such a powerhouse of a character that it would be easy for an actor to overplay his wit, valor, or charisma or on the other hand to make him too much of a pitiable figure. Depardieu tapped right into the perfect balance of all of Cyrano’s characteristics to make a hero that you wanto root for but at the same time, he plays him with just the right amount of being a jack-ass that is so clearly written into the character. The beautiful Anne Brochet was also a gem as Roxane who was the only person mentally equipped to go toe-to-toe with Cyrano.

If I have a major complaint with the film, it ultimately goes back to the source material. For a play written in the late 1800s, the story seems to beholden to the tragic drama archetype of Shakespearean plays like Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet. It’s not that I’m not a fan of tragedies (King Lear is probably my favorite story of all time), but drama was finally starting to become a little more complicated and ambitious by the time that Rostand wrote the play. I was able to foresee virtually every single plot point from the moment that Roxane attempted to beguile Comte DeGuiche with her womanly ways in order to keep Cyrano and Christian from being sent away to war. Being predictable isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but all in all, there was a considerable feeling of having seen some variation of the tragic romance at the core of the story many, many times before. There were certainly plenty of great scenes though. When Cyrano tries to feed lines to Christian to woo Roxane from her terrace and he suddenly has to speak to her himself under the cover of darkness, my heart was legitimately moved at the heartbreak of Cyrano’s unrequited love and the doom I knew was going to fall before long. However, the film’s (and the play’s) biggest problem is its ending which drags on at least ten minutes longer than it should have and robs the otherwise touching moment of any meaning because it ends up so absurd and unbelievable.

I was telling a friend of mine from work about my movie blog last night a concert I was covering and that fact along with the simple truth that I hadn’t watched one of my movies from Netflix in two months has inspired this little resurgence of the movies in my blog. Considering the fact that the first 5o posts or so were only movies, it’s kind of absurd that I ever go long stretches like this without reviewing a film. Yet it manages to happen every so often. The next two movies are a musical (starring Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World) and a very, very dark Irish comedy (directed by Neil Jordan so I hope it’s as good as Michael Collins). I’m just hoping that this little spurt of inspiration will get me back on track to start reviewing all of the films that were nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. I was halfway done when my initiative and drive died on me. Let’s hope I get back on that wagon again.

Final Score: B+

Since the blog was originally dedicated solely to movies (before it expanded to include other fields0, it should hopefully come as no shock that movies are a fairly integral part of my life. I always loved movies as a youth, but my status as a movie aficionado didn’t really set in until my first trip to Disney World the summer after my 9th grade. While I love virtually every inch of Disney World, MGM Studios remains my undisputed favorite of all of the parks (after three separate visits over the last decade), and even though it’s essentially a glorified tour, MGM Studio’s Great Movie Ride is also my favorite ride at the whole of Disney World. Sitting through that (and to a lesser extent, the Backlot tour) opened up a love of classic and modern cinema that has only gotten stronger with each passing year. During that initial trip, I bought a trivia book about AFI’s Top 100 American movies and tried to devour as many of the films on the list as I could, and when I returned as a freshman in college, I bought not one, not two, but three books on movies, including a comprehensive Oscar history book, a massive coffee table book that is an illustrated history of cinema from the late 1800’s to the early 2000’s, and the NY Times 1000 greatest movies ever made.

When all of the other pleasures of my youth (politics, poker, and countless other hobbies) lost their flavor, movies only grew in stature. I don’t think I could ever participate in the production of the film (though I’ve started on several unfinished screenplays), but watching and writing about the movies I love gives me more pleasure than anything else out there. The first time I was bowled over the gorgeous cinematography of Ran or had my mind blown by a David Lynch film or stood amazed when I saw Daniel Day Lewis act for the first time, those are all memories as tangible and important as anything in “real life”. Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 1988, and for anyone with a deep and heartfelt love of cinema and whose heart has been touched by those fleeting images on screen, this is your story brought to life in as haunting and beautiful a way possible. The film drags at times and I occasionally felt lost in cultural references I didn’t fully comprehend, but for all movie lovers everywhere, this is for you.

Cinema Paradiso is the heavily autobiographical and personal tale of director Giuseppe Tornatore’s childhood in Sicily. A successful director, Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita (Jacques Perrin), has lived in Rome for the last 30 years without once returning to his childhood home of Giancardo, Sicily. One night, he comes home to find a message from his mostly estranged mother saying that his childhood mentor, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), has passed away. The movie then flashes back to Toto’s childhood (played as a child by Salvatore Cascio) in post World War II Sicily with his impoverished mother and a father who in all likelihood died fighting the Russians. Toto befriends Alfredo, the middle-aged projectionist for the local theater, where Toto instantly falls in love with the world of movies (and it seems the town spends most of its time in the theater). As Toto grows up, he eventually takes over the projectionist duties into his teenage years (Marco Leonardi) where he falls in love, spends his time in the army, and eventually grows beyond Giancardo. Alfredo encourages Toto to leave his hometown and pursue his dreams, and Toto doesn’t come back until 30 years later to pay respect to the memory of his departed friend and witness the way his town has changed.

If that sounds like I described essentially the entire story of the film there, I did, but it’s not the plot here that matters. It’s the gorgeous, minute details (which are on rare occasions, excessive). Before I looked up to see whether this film was based on the director’s real life, I could already tell simply because of how honest and genuine this story felt. There are plenty of films out there about making movies (Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Inland Empire spring immediately to mind), but I’ve never seen such a beautiful tribute to movies themselves. The film is abound with footage from classic films, and every detail of the lighting and the framing of the shots reminds you simply of how much Giuseppe Tornatore loves classic cinema. It shows the way films brought communities together before they were a million ways to entertain yourself cut off from the rest of the world (a fact that is already being bemoaned in this film made in the 80’s). It shows how a passion for art and entertainment can transform not only your own life but of everyone else around you. It does all this and manages to avoid maudlin sentimentality and cheap emotional tricks for the entire running time which is a feat in and of itself.

With the possible exception of the youngest incarnation of Toto who goes back and forth between an astonishingly natural performance for a child actor and then a more common state of more obvious child acting, the performances here are simply spectacular. Despite being an uneducated and unsuccessful man, Alfredo is turned into an eloquent and emotionally complex individual through Philippe Noiret’s rich characterization. He quickly became one of the best adopted father figures in cinema history that I have seen and I was even more impressed here than I was with Omar Sharif in a similar role for Monsieur Ibrahim. Marco Leonardi nailed the angst, ennui, and frustration that was eating away at the Toto who was becoming increasingly trapped in his small little world when he was clearly meant for so much more. Jacques Perrin however was the real scene-stealer. He had the fewest lines of all of the incarnations of Toto, but his effortlessly emotive face and marvelously subtle renderings of Toto’s grief and nostalgia upon returning to his hometown made the final thirty minutes of the movie the truly legendary scenes they’ve become.

That isn’t to say that this movie is perfect. Unfortunately, the film can occasionally be scattershot in its approach, and it’s spend a significant portion of its time developing the character of the town Giancardo and its various eccentric figures, such as the priest who bans any scenes of kissing in the theatre (which is originally in his church) or the homeless man who believes the town square to be his or the rich man who spits on the socialists in the theatre when they boo bourgeois characters; however, there doesn’t seem to be much pay-off for any of these characters expect for perhaps one whose details I won’t go into for fear of spoiling one of the few parts of the plot I haven’t explained. The film is only a little over two hours but you often feel like it’s much longer (and I hear the director’s cut adds another hour which would just ruin the film for me), and while it’s ending is perfect and turned me into a sobbing mess of emotion, the rest of the film could have used some steadier editing so that the story could have stayed focus on Toto and his relationship with the loveable curmudgeon Alfredo.

Cinema Paradiso is simply a film made by a movie fan for movie fans. It captures the lost innocence of childhood better than any film I’ve seen in ages, but it gives hope to so many of us out there who may be afraid to pursue our passions. Beautiful acting, beautiful filmmaking equate to an unforgettable cinematic experience. It is a foreign film and therefore subtitled in Italian as a warning to those who find this review compelling enough that you would wish to watch this. Though at this point, I give up on people that can’t watch foreign movies. If you’re at least in high school and can’t sit through subtitles, you are making a conscious (and poor) decision to eliminate the possibility of seeing so many classic foreign films that often make our trite American productions seem embarrassingly amateur-ish in comparison. For anyone with even the slightest interest in deeply emotional storytelling and the great selection of movies from overseas, I have no reservations in recommending Cinema Paradiso to you.

Final Score: A