Tag: vanessa redgrave

The Devils

The Devils (1971)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Ken Russell’s “The Devils” is based on a true story that begins almost like a farce and then the farcical elements are taken to such an extreme that the work becomes a horror film. It is a fascinating movie: bizarre, daring, oddly paced, colorful in terms of images and performances, and certainly pointed with what it wishes to communicate about our society, specifically how indoctrinated we have become that more often than not many of us still fail to acknowledge facts even when they are slapping us around and spitting on our faces.

But what I loved most about the film is that it is filled with seething anger against those who take religion and use it as a weapon of manipulation in order to achieve one’s (or an establishment’s) own ends. Although the story takes place 1634, the messages it hopes to impart remain relevant today—and I believe will remain pertinent for another five hundred years.

It tells the story of a priest named Urbain Grandier who was burned at the stake at Loudun, France for supposed witchcraft, bewitching a convent, and making deals with the Devil. During the first part of the picture, we are shown that although Grandier is a soldier of God, he is very much human and therefore flawed: he sleeps with women, he is guilty of vanity, is prideful, and takes pleasure in having power. Grandier is portrayed by Oliver Reed and he injects the character with such machismo and charisma that when his character walks around the city, we can believe why women—even nuns—lust after him; Grandier is a walking movie star, a sex symbol. Although a man of cloth, the writer-director makes a point that the priest is an object to be possessed.

But it is not enough that we follow him around from the perspective of an adoring member of the public. I appreciated intimate and silent moments when it is Grandier by himself—or with a person whom he truly loves and values (Gemma Jones)—and we get to appreciate the respect he has for his faith regardless of his proclivity for self-indulgence. We feel his loneliness as he sits alone in his quarters, frustrations when he wants to do his job during confession but the people who come up to him simply want to bathe in his celebrity, and determination to keep some of Loudun’s independence from the French government. Even though Grandier can be understood superficially, the more perspicacious viewers will recognize that he is a person of substance, too—critical in order to completely appreciate the outrageous events that occur in the latter half.

The film could have easily been derailed. There is exaggerated clothing and cosmetics, the tone during the exposition is quite schizophrenic, some of the acting can be quite hyperbolic, and there is even a musical number. Instead, it is focused in the story it wishes to tell. Consider that we spend ample time within the famed walls of Loudun. But when the film steps outside of the city, especially when the attention turns toward Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) and Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) and they discuss, in amusing and terrifying ways, how else to gain more power within France, pieces begin to fall into place. There is political intrigue: Although Louis XIII is king, Richelieu is the rattlesnake in the grass. The contrast between these two men quickly stands out. Just look at how they’re clothed, the way their hair is worn, or if they don makeup. One man may have the power to instruct, but power lies in action. Richelieu enacts.

Another curious piece of the puzzle is Sister Jeanne des Anges (Vanessa Redgrave—so terrific in creating both a despicable and a tragic figure) who claims to love Father Grandier even though they have never met. The most striking moments in the film are when viewers are shoved into her sick fantasies—which almost always involve twisting a recorded event in the Bible—like caressing the body of Christ (Grandier), bowing to his feet, and licking his wounds. Cue the moaning, moments of ecstasy and orgasm. It is paramount that we be aware of what about the priest that excites her, that turns her on, that compels her to take action so that he would pay the slightest bit of attention to her: she who is a nun, who is a hunchback, who is considered to be ugly or unwanted—even in her own eyes.

This woman’s incendiary desires—lust—will lead the city into mass hysteria.

“The Devils” is one of those films that make you smile right in the middle of it because it feels like a miracle that it was made. There is plenty to bite into and explore here. I have not even gone into, for instance, the role of the public in amplifying drama which then gives otherwise preposterous claims—claims without a shred evidence—some weight or false substance. False rape accusations quickly come to mind. Here is a multifaceted biographical drama/horror film; what a unique combination. Do yourself a favor and choose to see this if you ever get a chance.


Coriolanus (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

In the midst of a food crisis in Rome, Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), a general assigned by the government to protect a grain storage, is branded by the people as the enemy. With the way he comes off as cold and detached to the plight of the common people, his face easily becomes a symbol of corruption.

Meanwhile, enemies of the Romans, the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), threaten to invade Rome while the citizens turn against themselves. Martius is called upon to eliminate Aufidius, the two having worked together five times prior, and his armed men before they gain the upper hand.

“Coriolanus,” based on William Shakespeare’s play, is difficult to enjoy on the level of entertainment but the performances are so strong, I could not help but wonder what might happen next. The picture’s dialogue is essentially taken from the play and, in my experience, fully understanding it is like pulling teeth.

I have read a couple of the Bard’s plays and it had always been challenge. Constantly I found myself having to reread lines of dialogue in order to grasp the meaning behind the veiled poetic lyricism as well as the implications and emotions simmering between the lines. I encountered a similar task here. It is less work in some ways and more in others.

Since everything is visual, nothing much was left to the imagination in terms of space, where one character is relative to another and which characters are relevant to each scene. But since I was not able to read the dialogue on my own pace, the aural experience is a bit of a challenge because the actors speak very quickly—necessarily so—in order to invoke specific feelings like shame, rage, and passion. As much as I tried to keep up, at times with great frustration, there were times when I was confused in what is being said in one scene which inevitably affects another and why certain events inevitably transpire.

Hence I relied on watching the actors. I had fun observing Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, Martius’ mother, so obsessed with her son bringing honor to his country and family, I wondered if she really cared about her son as a person, capable of being vulnerable and getting hurt, rather than a mere tool to be disposed once its done its job. In some ways, I found her to be a scarier figure than Martius. With the son, as mercurial as he is at his best and a bellicose beast at his worst, at least he has an outlet for his negative emotions. Volumnia, on the other hand, has very little reason to be tempestuous and yet there is a danger about her bubbling underneath.

I found the relationship between Martius and Aufidius interesting. Although they are enemies at the time, it is easy to feel a certain level of respect and admiration between them. When I can feel that there is already a history between the characters without much discussion of it, that is when I know that I am watching something good—that the filmmakers are successful in creating a believable universe.

Based on the screenplay by John Logan and directed by Ralph Fiennes, I recommend the film to those interested in Shakespeare’s work and people who have little to no trouble decrypting early modern English because the project does have artistry as a film and offers good human drama. However, I did not enjoy it as a whole because of my limitations but I would not mind sitting through it for a second viewing.

Prick Up Your Ears

Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
★★★ / ★★★★

John Lahr (Wallace Shawn) wished to write a book about British playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) so he set up an appointment with Orton’s friend and agent Peggy Ramsay (Vanessa Redgrave). Initially, Peggy hid Orton’s diary, which consisted of important details about his life as a homosexual and relationship with a lover, Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina), but the theater critic eventually won her over. As John and Peggy discussed Orton’s life and accomplishments, we were allowed to observe the elements that led up to his brutal murder. Based on a the book by John Lahr and written for the screen by Alan Bennett, “Prick Up Your Ears” captured the painful reality of the past in having to hide one’s nature from society that deemed homosexuality was not only immoral and a sin but a disease that had to be purged. I noticed that a lot of the characters hid their fears and failure/unwillingness to understand homosexuality by not wanting to talk about it or, if the issue came up, rerouting the conversation into a more “acceptable” topic. The adults certainly didn’t want children to hear what being gay meant just in case the word itself could “turn” kids into degenerates. It was interesting that the physical act of gay bashing wasn’t there but the words and intonations in the characters’ voices when sharing how they felt about homosexuality didn’t make the experience any less maddening. For me, although the film was a biography, the tone inspired me to focus on feelings such as anger and rebellion with occasional humor right around the corner. These feelings were personified in scenes when Joe and Kenneth shared their first sexual moment while watching the Queen being officially given power to lead her country on television. To rebel was to be free and Orton knew this well. Despite being in a committed relationship, he felt the need to seek excitement in men’s restrooms. Orton, so focused on his needs as a man and who relished in being constantly under the spotlight, ignored the fact that his lover was deeply unhappy. Orton’s lack of perceptiveness provided a rich human drama without relying on too much sentimentality. As the picture went on, it became obvious that their issues could be applied to all couples. Molina was very convincing as a troubled man who didn’t feel appreciated. His neediness got on my nerves and I think that was the point. Kenneth knew that Joe thought he was, essentially, a joke. For example, when Kenneth decided to buy a wig due to an early onset of baldness, Joe mocked him. They were cruel to one another and, for most of the time, it seemed like they only needed each other for sex. So it begged the question why they were in a relationship in the first place. The answer was embedded when they would laugh together, when they both were on the same level of happiness in a specific moment in time. I was convinced that they shared a history, that when they met they were a good fit for each other, and despite their rotting relationship, they still loved each other in the most rudimentary way. Directed by Stephen Frears, “Prick Up Your Ears” offered multilayered performances from Molina and Oldman. In a way, it showcased potential problems that could arise in all relationships. In the end, I couldn’t help but wonder why some couples who used to look into each other’s eyes with nothing but love and adoration could turn into a couple with nothing but disdain for one another.

Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Aspiring writer and current fact checker Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her chef fiancé (Gael García Bernal) went to Italy for their pre-honeymoon. Sophie thought that the two of them would have a great time and set aside their work for a couple of days, but her soon-to-be-husband seemed like he was more excited about the opening of his restaurant than the prospect of marriage and settling down. This led Sophie to go sightseeing on her own and she eventually found a fifty-year-old letter that was unanswered by Juliet, a person who made it her legacy to answer letters written by many people from different cultures who visited Verona’s courtyard. Even though I found the picture to be completely predictable, I ended up really enjoying it mainly because of Seyfried. I find that every time I watch her, I feel a certain warmth and charm that she radiates without even trying. With somewhat of a slow start, the story started to pick up when Sophie finally met the owner (the elegant Vanessa Redgrave) of the one letter she answered along with her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Since the owner wanted to find her long lost lover named Lorenzo, the three went on a road trip which wasn’t always fun. In fact, it was full of disappointments because with each incorrect Lorenzo they found, I felt the grandmother’s hope to considerably diminish. I thought the best part of the film was the road trip because the three had a commonality. That is, they knew how it was like to lose someone important to them and that was often at the forefront. On top of that, Sophie and the sarcastic and somewhat uptight grandson began to feel a little spark for each other so then they had to deal with that tension even though they initially didn’t want to. However, I wished the last fifteen minutes hadn’t dropped the ball. I thought the reunion could have been handled with more intelligence (maybe even a spice of boldness) and not result to the whole will-she-or-won’t-she formula because we knew what would eventually happen. “Letters to Juliet,” directed by Gary Winick, without a doubt, is syrupy and has a highly idealistic vision of romance. Sometimes it made me roll my eyes because I kept thinking of obvious questions like the grandmother not changing her place of residence for the last fifty years or why did all of the women in the film believed in “true love.” However, most of the time, I was just happy watching it because the storytelling felt effortless and it made me wish for a moment that true love really existed.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on Agatha Christie’s novel, “Murder on the Orient Express” stars Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective with great logic and acumen. In 1930, a little girl was kidnapped and later murdered in cold blood. Five years later, the murderer boarded a train and was later found dead. Since the train was stuck due to weather, the police couldn’t get to the train. It was then up to detective Poirot to figure out who killed the murderer. (I love the irony.) Aboard the train with him and the murderer were twelve other people (Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, Wendy Hiller, John Gielgud, Jacqueline Bisset, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Michael York) who came from different backgrounds and had unique personalities. The question is, which one or which ones of them did it? I had a lot of fun with this movie even though I found it quite difficult to keep track of the characters. The dialogue was electric; I loved the way Finney used different tactics of interrogation that matched a character’s type of personality. For the longest time, I had no idea who to suspect but even after the mystery was revealed, I still found myself shocked with who committed the crime. However, I have to say that this movie is not for everyone. Although it is essentially a mystery picture, it is very heavy on the dialogue (the main reason why I loved it) and the whole movie consisted of characters being stuck on a train. The movie also started off pretty slow because it took about thirty minutes to introduce all of the important characters. But I think with a little bit of patience and really paying attention to what was happening, people would find this movie worth their time. “Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by the masterful Sidney Lumet, has a wonderful supporting cast that fascinated me from beginning to end. The big names involved in this project really lived up to their reputation because they were able to inject complexity and dimension to their characters even though they didn’t get much screen time as opposed to, say, when they were asked to carry an entire film. This film had nice twists dispersed throughout so it was never boring once the viewer gets accustomed to its style. For a two-hour film and having more than a dozen crucial characters, the pacing was efficient. I wish there are more modern whodunit films are being released in cinemas these days because I’m just a sucker for them (it probably explains why obsession with board games like “Clue”).