Murmur of the Heart (1971)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Louis Malle (“Au revoir les enfants”), this unconventional coming-of-age picture (also known as “Murmur of the Heart”) was about an intelligent fifteen-year-old named Laurent (Benoît Ferreux) and his quest to lose his virginity. He has a difficult time achieving his goal because his family watches each other’s moves very closely: two brothers who act like spoiled rich brats, a father (Daniel Gélin) who is a gynecologist, and a free-spirited mother (Lea Massari). He finally gets away from his family (except his mother) when he gets ill and has to go to a medical spa in hopes of getting better. I mentioned that this was an atypical coming-of-age tale because, in a way, it kind of excuses or glosses over the issues of childhood molestation and incest. Scenes that would normally or supposed to bother people, such as a religious leader inappropriately touching a boy and a mother who is way too involved with her son (emotionally and physically; taking “European” kind of closeness into consideration), are an integral part of the story, the director decided to not judge and simply show what was happening. In many ways, I admired this technique because most films that I’ve seen that tackled the same topics could not help but pass judgment. This film reminded me of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” not because of of its subject matter itself but because of the many scenes that were shot indoors, the political backdrop of the story (in this case, the IndoChina War), and that feeling of freedom to explore any kind of topic and emotion that could easily be labeled as taboo. In the end, I really got to know Laurent: what kinds of books he likes to read; his tastes in music and girls; what he thinks about the people around him; and his own capabilities as a blossoming adolescent facing pressures exerted by himself and other people. Perhaps if I knew more about the authors and books that Laurent referenced to, I may have had a better understanding regarding some of his motivations to do certain things. This was a daring film but, in my opinion, did not cross any line but merely straddled it. I must also note that this was not just about a person who wanted to have sex for the first time. It was much more complex than that. But another one of the many layers of this movie was the dynamics among the family members, whether or not in its core, they were truly happy.
★★ / ★★★★
Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” was about a manicurist (Catherine Deneuvre) and her steep descent into paranoia and eventual madness when her older sister (Yvonne Furneaux) and her married boyfriend go away for vacation. Deneuvre’s characters is interested in sex but at the same time repulsed by the idea of men touching her (hence the title). Hearing her sister and her boyfriend having sex in the next room (the sisters share an apartment), being pursued by a charming bachelor (John Fraser), and her lack of outlet for her negative feelings all contribute to her deteriorating mental state. I admired the movie, there’s no doubt about it, but I simply liked it for its style–the lack of special effects, the effective silent moments, and the haunting black and white images as the audiences were able to see what the lead character was seeing. I thought the story was pretty weak because it did not spend a solid amount of time to convince the audiences why we should care for the main character. I thought she was weak and had attachment issues. Why should I root for a character with barely a flickering ember inside of her? I also did not like the fact that a person with a mental illness was shown as someone who was violent and readily capable of killing (in reality, most aren’t). Lastly, I hated Polanski’s soundtrack, especially those horrid drums. Whenever I heard such loud bangings, it immediately took me out of the mood and left me frustrated. Instead, I would have loved to see more of Deneuvre and Fraser on screen together because I thought they had some sort of chemistry worth exploring. I understand that this had a small budget but that is far from the issue because I liked its realistic images of horror (hands coming out of walls and all). I definitely saw some parallels between this film and the masterful “Rosemary’s Baby” (also written and directed by Polanski). It’s just that this picture is not as fully realized because it needed more time in the editing room to cut off some unnecessary minutes.
Full Speed (1998)
★★ / ★★★★
“À toute vitesse” (also known as “Full Speed”), directed by Gaël Morel (“Three Dancing Slaves”), had an interesting premise but the journey to the finish was too all over the place to earn a recommendation. Quentin (Pascal Cervo) decided to return to his hometown along with his girlfriend Julie (Élodie Bouchez) after his first book was published. He quickly reconnected with one of his best friends from childhood named Jimmy (Stéphane Rideau) but Julie was slowly falling for him. During a night at a club, Quentin spotted Samir (Mezziane Bardadi) and the two decided to be friends despite their awareness of the attraction that they had for each other. However, Quentin was still in the closet and tried to resist every move Samir made which sometimes ended up in violence. At first I thought I could relate with Quentin the most because he was sort of like a brooding artist as he tried to make a life for himself, while at the same time kept others at a distance by building a wall around his true self. I could relate to that because I felt like I was like that once upon a time. However, throughout the picture, I did not see any evolution in his character, no attempt from his angle to realize and change that he was hurting the three people who really cared for him. As arguably the lead character, I felt that he was very selfish with no redeeming qualities so I felt disconnected from him half-way through. Thankfully, what saved this film was the strained relationship between Julie and Jimmy. Even though they were very different, there shared a certain passion for each other that was sometimes very romantic. As for Samir’s obsession toward Quentin, I felt that it was too shallow to ultimately be believable. Samir talked as if he loved Quentin even though that longing was one-sided. To me, his obsession was purely for the sake of a physical relationship because he was lonely and was missing his boyfriend who passed away. I don’t think “Full Speed” was a bad film. It just did not completely work for me because the writing needed more focus and substance. I got a little tired watching the characters doing drugs, having sex, and engaging in meaningless conversations. The characters were in their 20s but they offered no insight that made me stop and think, “Hey, this is actually worth my time.”
The Big Feast (1973)
★ / ★★★★
“La Grande Bouffe,” or “The Big Feast,” directed by Marco Ferreri, was such a huge disappointment for me because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, especially from critics and bloggers that I look up to for recommendations. Since my expectations were a bit hyped up, while actually watching it, it was such a letdown because the characters that came from different backgrounds–a pilot (Marcello Mastroianni), a chef (Ugo Tognazzi), a judge (Philippe Noiret) and a television star (Michel Piccoli)–were so uninteresting for such an interesting premise. The four friends hired prostitutes and had orgies in a massive getaway mansion as they ate more food than they could digest in one sitting. Just when I thought that the story would evolve into something more, I felt like it actually tried to stay in one place and featured more images of sex and gluttony. Admittedly, I’m the kind of person that can endure watching pretty much all kinds of sexual acts but this film made me wince repeatedly. I’m not quite sure if that was the kind of reaction that the director had it mind or if it was supposed to be genuinely sensual or erotic. But since it’s a dark comedy, I’m guessing it’s the former so perhaps, in a way, it succeeded on that level. Morever, for having such a group of supposedly smart gentlemen, they sure acted like adolescent morons for most of the picture. I didn’t see any scenes where any of them offered some sort of insight that made me think of their situation (or any situation for that matter) any differently. I felt like writers just had this one idea of excess but never quite broken from that in order to reach the next level. (And for a picture that ran for more than two hours, there was absolutely no excuse for that.) I also did not appreciate the slapstick that involved scenes with flatulence and excrement. I’m not a big fan of slapstick in the first place because they tend to rub me the wrong way so this film became that much worse in my book. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the final scenes that revealed the fate of the four main characters felt completely forced and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It was a complete waste of my time and I almost wished I never saw it.
★ / ★★★★
I think the reason why this film gained a cult following is because of the controversy it garnered when it was released in the mid 1970’s. Depiction of homosexuality in films may have been a bigger deal back then but from today’s standards, I think this is a very weak experimental directoral feature by Derek Jarman. Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio), a Roman soldier, was exiled by the Emperor to a place where homoeroticism is abound. Since he refuses all sexual advances, especially from a superior officer named Severus (Barney James), most of the men torture and humiliate him in multiple ways to “encourage” him to surrender his Christian ideals and personal preferences. Despite its interesting premise, too bad the execution was lackadaisical. Throughout the entire picture, the audiences are asked to observe the lives of the exiled people as live like pigs. Although aesthetically the men may look beautiful (seductive music, slow motion and all) but I found it difficult to care for any of them. I really despised it when the camera would linger for literally about five minutes just to admire someone’s body. It’s just as bad as objectifying women and I did not like taking any part of it. Moreover, while I do give this film for being entirely in Latin, I couldn’t forgive its bad acting. I couldn’t see any passion in the actors eyes whenever they’re angry, passionate or sad. I also failed to see tension in their bodies whenever they’re supposed to be “fighting” one another. I literally caught myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Wow, that’s so lame.” I read a review from Netflix that “this film will not appeal to everyone, especially homophobics and conservatives, but [he or she] would recommend it to those that like art house or queer cinema.” Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy LGBT films and art house pictures once in a while but this is just one of those movies that I will (most likely) never watch again. I expected some sort of a social and cultural thesis with regards to homosexuality or the feeling of alienation where something natural is treated as abnormal but I didn’t get either. With its complete lack of depth, I’m going to say to not even bother with this supposed cult classic.
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
★★★ / ★★★★
Writer and director Nagisa Oshima tells the story of a former-prostitute-turned-maid’s (Eiko Matsuda) and her employer’s (Tatsuya Fuji) sexual obsession with each other. After Matsuda sees Fuji making love with his wife, something inside her changes–it is as if she has to have him no matter what the cost. When the two eventually sleep together, they begin to spend pretty much every minute in bed together as they experiment with their sexuality, sometimes in front of other people. I liked that this film really tried to push the boundary between art and pornography. While it did show certain body parts that a “normal” picture would not normally show, it was different from pornography because it had a story to tell: the repercussions of surrendering to one’s desires without ever having to think of the consequences. To me, even though this was released in 1976, it is still very relevant today, especially in college campuses, due to the high rate of casual hook-ups or one night stands. One can never really know what one is getting into by inviting another person into one’s life–may it be for sexual purposes or otherwise. Disease is one of the first things that comes to mind (or should come to mind) when one engages in random hook-up, but psychology should also come into the equation. I’m not saying that people with mental disorders are always violent (they are not). I’m referring to people’s fetishisms and what they are willing to do to maximize their pleasure. In this film, the two lovers eventually tried to suffocate each other for one reason: it felt good. Other issues that were explored include excess, sadism, masochism, traditional gender roles and transgressions of societal norms. While most people may get lost in its graphic portrayal of sex, one should really try to look at what’s underneath because it’s that much more rewarding. “In the Realm of the Senses” is indeed a classic and should be seen and remembered by film-lovers because it’s one of the first motion pictures that tried to tread the fine line between art and pornography and was successful at it.
sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
★★★ / ★★★★
I really enjoyed “sex, lies, and videotape,” written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, because it was able to deliver intimacy among characters that are extremely flawed and at times downright unlikable. Andie MacDowell (as the wife who is so uncomfortable about sex, she stops having sex with her husband), Peter Gallagher (as the husband who does not get any sex from his wife so he decides to get it from his wife’s sister), Laura San Giacomo (as the extroverted sister who is driven by jealousy to the point where she will get herself in situations that can potentially hurt her sister), and James Spader (as the husband’s college friend who videotapes women and their sexual secrets) all did an amazing job trying to measure each other up–what they know, what they don’t know and how they can untangle themselves from each other. This is a prime example of achieving a lot without a big budget. Instead of flashy special and visual effects, it focuses on the script and the role of psychology in these characters’ lives. The conversations felt real because what the characters say out loud are sometimes lies and we have to constantly figure out what they really mean by looking at their body languages. This film is not only about human relationships. It’s also about voyeurism, how one’s alienation with oneself can sometimes infect others, and how one can share more information when facing a camera instead of facing another individual. I think that’s very relevant today now that YouTube vlogging is such a phenomena. Some of the most popular YouTube bloggers are very soft-spoken in real life but when they get in front of the camera, it’s like they become a completely different person. This film reflected that and I was very, very impressed. This is the kind of picture that I wouldn’t mind watching multiple times because of the complex dynamics between the characters. It’s just that good and I highly recommend everyone to watch it especially those who are into character studies.