Archive for December 1st, 2009

Charlotte Gainsbourg (above) and Willem Dafoe (below) in woods scenes in Lars Von Trier's 'Antichrist'

by Sam Juliano

     One of opera’s most beautiful arias, Handel’s mournful “Lascia Ch’io pianga” from Act II of Rinaldo, provides the aural accompaniment to one of the most ravishing opening sequences in the history of cinema.  Yet it’s a sequence that ends in unconscionable tragedy, after the infant son of a young couple “doing it” climbs up to a window and drops to his death during a snowfall.  It’s a shocking event that will hover over the remainder of the film, and dictate the level of depravity and despair that unleashes the worst behavioral possibilities can that possibly be engineered by man. Of course the grief experienced is so intense that the mental state of the characters is fragile at best.  The man and woman, referred to as “He” and “She” (the young son Nicholas is the only character in the film with a name) retreat to a cabin in the woods, as the suggestion of the male, who is a psychotherapist.  The forest surrounding the shanty is known as Eden, and its clear that Von Trier isn’t masking some pretty standard Biblical imagery.  But this Eden is closer to the garden of Satan, and when the wife screams out “the cry of all the things that are to die” are one with the real sounds of nature, it’s clear that there’s a proclamation here that everything must die.  As acorns rain down on the roof of the cabin, “She” completely breaks down mentally and the film decends into such revolting barbarism, that’s it’s clear that there’s a pervading sense of hopelessness and crushing despair in the existence of these characters, indeed of all mankind.  It’s an uncompromising view of a dream-turned nightmare and it’s execution is both carnal and surreal. (more…)

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Actress (no 5)


(Hong Kong 154m) DVD0 (Hong Kong only)

Aka. Ruan Lingyu; Centre Stage; Yuen Ling-yuk

Actors are madmen.  I am one of them. 

p  Leonard Ho Koon-Cheung  d  Stanley Kwan  w  Yau Tai On-Ping  ph  Poon Hang-Sang  ed  Peter Cheung  m  Siu Chung  art  Pok York Mok

Maggie Cheung (Ruan Lingyu/herself), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Cai Chusheng), Cecilia Yip (Lin Chu-chu), Carina Lau (Li Lili), Lawrence Ng (Chang Ta-min), Han Chin (Tang Chi-shan), Lee Waise (Li Min-wei), Paul Chang (Boss of Lianhua),

She’s a legend” Maggie Cheung says of Ruan Lingyu, and it’s hard to argue.  Stanley Kwan’s dissection of the life and death of the great Ruan Lingyu is not only one of the most complex biopics ever made, it is also one of the most complex films of its decade.  Actress is not a film for everyone for it challenges us in ways that may not be appreciable on initial viewing.  Your average biopic goes about simply telling the story of its protagonist’s life.  As Jonathan Rosenbaum observed, “any historical movie worth its salt historicises the present day along with the past, and this movie explicitly juxtaposes our own inadequacy with those potent clips of Lingyu herself.”  What we have here is a dramatisation of the life of Lingyu inter-cut with not only clips of the surviving films of the great actress but also, most tellingly, interviews with the cast and crew behind the scenes making the film, and even interviews with surviving figures from the thirties, including Li Lili and a very frail and close to death Sun Yu. (more…)

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