Wednesday, August 31, 2011

La piel que habito/The Skin I Live In

The most interesting thing about Almodóvar's new film is how polarizing the reviews I read on IMDB are. It's his best film. His worst film. It's horror. It's definitely not horror. The only thing most people can agree on is the fluidity of the camerawork by Jose Luis Alcaine. In one scene, Marilia (Marisa Paredes) runs through the room at a sideways angle that confirms the urgency of the scene, in addition to being innovative and beautiful.

Perhaps this is Almodóvar's most unusual film. Oddly enough, the film takes place in the not so distant future (2012) and the not so far off past (six years ago). The comparisons to Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face are not unjustified. Both girls, La piel's Vera and Eyes' Christiane, both wear strange and practically identical masks. Also, each film features a father that over obsesses about the well-being of his daughter who has been damaged.

However, never once did I feel that this was a horror film. It has tension and suspense; at times it is hard to watch because of the subject matter. I wouldn't be perplexed if someone thought this was a horror film, but I would describe it more along the lines of thriller and drama. The music set the mood, which wasn't as scary or kitschy as something you would expect from a horror film. It also did not go for cheap thrills.

Similarities to Almodóvar's other work pervade his film. Like in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Talk to Her, Broken Embraces, Bad Education, and Volver, there is rape. There are so many rape scenes and replayings of the rape of Norma in La piel, that one almost loses count. Yet it is strange how Vicente's rape of Norma (Blanca Suárez) could be interpreted. Her faulty last-minute "no" almost leaves you wondering if the audience is meant to sympathize with the rapist and if the victim should have protested sooner. All of this is very delicate subject matter that Almodóvar tears wide open.

The movie will be discussed in detail and there might be spoilers below:

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) plays a scientist that decides to take revenge on Vicente. He abducts him and with the help of his associates (who are none the wiser), Ledgard performs a sex-change operation on Vicente, who becomes Vera.

Vera defies her captors and tries to escape at the first chance she gets. Eventually, she becomes domiciled, almost tame. Perhaps the audience might believe she has been struck with Stockholm Syndrome when she begs to share Dr. Ledgard's room with him. But perhaps this is the reverse of Stockholm Syndrome: Dr. Ledgard hated Vicente for what he did to his daughter and kept him in a locked room. Instead of Vicente now Vera, falling in love with him, the actual captor, Dr. Ledgard, seems to be the one falling for his captive.

By the end of the film, we are faced once again with sympathizing with Vicente, the rapist, the original offender. His life has been unjustifiably transformed and he is now Vera. The audience might be left feeling uncomfortable. Dr. Ledgard took irreversible measures and now Vicente must regain his life back as Vera. Can she? Will she? Vera was as emotionally strong as Norma was not. It seems as if Vera will make a new start and move on with her life, because she has the survival instinct and refuses to let this traumatic stint in her life keep her from living.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Top Five Films of July, 2011
Secrets (1933)
Frank Borzage has done it again. It starts out with John (Leslie Howard) and Mary (Mary Pickford), a young couple in love. John comes from nothing and Mary's snotty rich parents do not approve. Over time and hardship, they prove their love. They escape their snooty home back east and head for the west and face off with outlaws. Many years pass and John is back in the east running for governor. Unfortunately, he had a fling and the other woman threatens to ruin his reputation. However, Mary stands by him and they are stronger than ever. Then, like they barricaded themselves from the outlaws, they barricade themselves from their children about 50 years later. They are about to retire and want to spend more time with just each other, but the children do not approve. A charming and heart-warming tale, it really got to me. Frank Borzage gives us an incredibly skilled and mature story of love (he was around 40 when this film was released). You won't find a movie like this in today's theaters, so thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies.
Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926)
This feature-length animated film by Lotte Reiniger was a revelation. Again, despite the fact that technology wasn't as advanced in the twenties as it is today and that this film was produced during the silent film period, it is an astounding feat. You can watch the video HERE.
Les dimanches de Ville d'Avray (1962)
This is definitely a wonderful, but creepy film which words almost cannot describe. It is about an abandoned girl who takes solace in the friendship of an adult man. Their relationship is extremely inappropriate, and it is judged so by people who encounter them. Like the film below, we almost do not see enough evidence to make an educated decision on what happened at the end. I would have liked to believe that the people responsible for the final decision were wrong. However, the man in question was seriously disturbed. It's possible that despite the fact he was pretending to be her father and that they were able to provide for each other the kind of social connection that was missing from their lives, that the relationship was still very wrong and they should have never ever met more than once.
They Won't Forget (1937)
TCM showed this film right after the Casey Anthony verdict, a choice that I found interesting. In the movie, the viewer is never shown who the actual killer is and yet, everyone seems to "know" who it is. (SPOILER) Eventually, even a lynch mob demands satisfaction.
Mon oncle d'Amérique (1980)
Despite Alain Resnais having so many masterworks, this film is extremely important and groundbreaking. I'll admit that the first time I tried watching this, the intro seemed very slow and I couldn't take it. But the second time, the film was mesmerizing. It takes into account the modern dilemma of having to behave human and civilized in a world that chips away at our souls every day. The film gave an intricate profile of all three of the main characters (played by Gérard Depardieu, Nicole Garcia, and Roger Pierre). It was beautiful to see how they all related to one another. The movie probably requires two or more viewings to get all out of it that Resnais intended. It is layered and carefully constructed. Definitely recommended for those who might be interested in a psychological study of humans trapped in the confines of modernity.

Honorable Mention (two additional shorts that are worth watching):
Kurt Kren's 31/75: Asyl (1975)
Marie Menken's Go! Go! Go! (1964)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

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