Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stella (Greece 1955)

Eleftheria i Thanatos

Michael Cacoyannis' earthy re-imagining of neo-realism as rebetika melodrama. Melina Mercouri's exuberant Stella is free to love and to suffer, but when bourgeois hypocrisy and patriarchy conspire to imprison her in a conventional marriage, she must decide her fate. Solid performances all-round with the gorgeous Mercouri an erotic whirlwind - the woman men dream about but meet only once. For real rebetika songs underpin the torrid passions on display, while the stark streets of 50s Athens bring true pathos to a simple story. Great cinema.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Of Gods and Men (France 2010)

Based on a true story. Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay.

A significant film, but flawed.  The fatal shortcoming is the treatment of the Islamists as the dark other -  a real failure to deal with the complexities of Jihadism and the historical legacy of colonialism.  The actions of the insurgent leader Ali Fayattia are left hanging and this underdevelopment reinforces an exclusivist perspective.  Great performances by a wonderful cast though.

The film failed to connect with me emotionally. I found myself observing rather than participating. The spirituality is there, but Beauvois keeps you at a distance. The widescreen works well for the scenic images, but his long focus shots of the protagonists distance us from the drama and are too diffuse in their impact. The ‘last supper’ scene goes on too long and the sudden use of close-ups with the ‘alien’ music jar - the use of Tchaikovsky is a mis-step - it is imposed and unnecessary.