Jean-Luc Godard, Dante’s Inferno, Maya Deren and More: My Films of the Week #16

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week. (Also, Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!)

 

La Chinoise
dir. Jean-Luc Godard
France, 1967

Trendy, intellectual Jean-Luc Goadrd film about the rise of revolutionary ideas in the lead-up to the events of 1968. It occurs to me, watching this film, that the structure of some of Godard’s more politically engaged narrative flicks is not so unlike that of sketch comedy shows. Scenes are held together more by an overarching theme rather than a concern for narrative cohesion and character development. This structure allows Godard more spontaneity and creativity, particularly in La Chinoise, the joy of which is also reflected in its vibrant colors and absurdist sets.

 

Dante’s Inferno
dir. Giuseppe de Liguoro, Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan
Italy, 1911

This early version of Dante’s fabled work is also still arguably its best. Sure, its structure – at least in the version that has survived to this day – is confusing and not faithful to the original source. Also, the scenes are a little too static and long. But as far as the effects are concerned, the impact of the nightmarish visuals of this feature still stands and one can certainly admire it as a majorly ambitious work of its time. A couple of moments in the film feel particularly daring even by today’s standards.

 

No Regrets for Our Youth
dir. Akira Kurosawa
Japan, 1946

Postwar Akira Kurosawa, perhaps also driven to clarify his political stance after making pro-Fascist features around WWII, represents Japan’s redemption via the story of a young woman who is given purpose in life by her man’s sacrifice for a greater good. While it replicates some traditional narrative tropes, the metaphor is effective and there is legitimate poetry to be found within it.

 

The Curse of Frankenstein
dir. Terence Fisher
UK, 1957

Thankfully, the once-maligned Hammer horrors of the ’50s and ’60s are now critically praised. And well they should be. They tend to be quite visually stimulating. The Curse of Frankenstein is surely among the best of them, appearing to be both inspired by and playful with the familiar elements of Mary Shelley’s famous story, which it revitalizes quite well. The elegant build-up of tension and suspense is praiseworthy.

 

49th Parallel
dir. Michael Powell
Canada/UK, 1941

The Archers follow a group of Nazi soldiers, stranded, making their way across Canada to the U.S. border just before the latter country’s entrance into the war. Indeed, a driving motivation for Powell and Pressburger making this film was to prompt the States into fighting for democracy. Aside from being quite adventurous, it is particularly compelling here that the villains, whose representation is not exaggerated and whose evil ways are not over-played, are the lead characters. This solicits a more sophisticated psychological response from the viewers – although there’s no mistaking what side of the ideological debate the directors want you to be on!

 

At Land
dir. Maya Deren
USA, 1944

Along with Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land is probably Maya Deren’s most famous film. Surrealist and absurdist, even erotic and influenced more by the language of dreams than that of traditional filmmaking. The idea it represents is that who we are and how we behave is controlled more by outside universal forces than our own selves. Aside from its hypnotic vibes, At Land has a modern feel to it that permeates from Deren herself; her presence radiates a kind of femininity that was quite rare in cinema at the time, more real and even more empowered. Which is interesting, considering how it opposes the driving idea of the movie itself.

 

Secret Sunshine
dir. Lee Chang-dong
South Korea, 2007

A subdued but highly effective exploration of how lonely we tend to be in our pain. The concept is portrayed by Lee Chang-dong through the travails of a woman whose son is kidnapped and the mental anguish she experiences in the aftermath of this traumatic event. Also driven by a masterful performance by lead actress Jeon Do-yeon.

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