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2007 New Year's Resolution #1: Watch "Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films"
Essential Art House

This year (2007) I am going to watch the entire Essential Art House box set -- one film per week in the order presented in the box, alphabetical chronological order. I'll try to write one paragraph reviews of each film as I watch them. You should pick up a set as well (or rent them each week) and we can watch them together, virtually. Watch this space for the weekly updates...

NOTE: The headings are TITLE, (release year), Director -- Criterion Catalog #

WARNING: Each of these reviews may contain spoilers!

HÄXAN (1922), Benjamin Christensen -- #134

Today I learned the Devil always sticks his tongue out and wiggles it around (like any good heavy metal guitarist might) and in order to show your devotion to the Evil One you must kiss his behind (thus the phrase "Kiss my ass"?). Throw in some clever pre-cgi tricks (pay attention to the witches flying over the city on brooms and the coins being mysteriously spirited away, both pretty amazing for 1922) and you have a very interesting, yet at times tongue in cheek, look at witchcraft through the ages.



PANDORA'S BOX (1929), G.W. Pabst -- #358

In my book (and this is my book), Louise Brooks might possibly be the prettiest woman ever to grace the big screen -- and she can pull it off without flash, make-up or work of any kind. "Pandora's Box" is the film that made this Kansas born girl an international super-star. It tells the story of greed, lust and betrayal and how when you put all those elements together chances are things will not turn out too well -- even for the pretty girl. Everyone wants something, everyone is looking out for themselves, and everyone loses in the end. Not uplifting by any stretch but a great film with an amazing performance by Louise Brooks.

"Just one thing my boy: Beware of that woman."


Pandora's Box

M (1931), Fritz Lang -- #30

From the opening scene of children singing their own creepy version of "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" ("Just you wait a little while, the nasty man in black will come, with his little chopper, he will chop you up! You're out!") to the now well-worn scene of the lone child's ball rolling out of the bushes, Fritz Lang sets us up perfectly for a story of the good (the police), the bad (the criminals) and the evil (Peter Lorre) -- and how they may not really be that far apart from each other. "M" has been on my Top 10 list for as long as I have been making Top 10 lists quite simply because it's one of the greatest thrillers ever made -- guaranteed to grab you and hold your attention to the very end.

"We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children."



THE 39 STEPS (1935), Alfred Hitchcock (aka: "The Thirty-Nine Steps") -- #56

Before Alfred Hitchcock became The Alfred Hitchock he made a number of interesting but not so stunning films in the UK (The Ring, Manxman, Murder!, etc). 1935's "The 39 Steps" is the first film to really reveal his brilliance (if you don't count his first take on "The Man Who Knew Too Much" from 1934) and launch Hitchcock into the limelight. The movie follows a very familiar Hitchcock pattern -- man falsely accused of crime he didn't commit, man meets girl, man defies all odds to clear his name (and, ultimately, win over the girl). Except, in this case, the man is running for his life through the moors of Scotland (beautiful) and ends up handcuffed to the girl (nice). "The 39 Steps" is an excellent primer for the vast legacy of Alfred Hitchcock films -- I would recommend starting here and working through them all in both directions.

"Am I right, Sir?"


The 39 Steps

GRAND ILLUSION (1937), Jean Renoir -- #1

When Jean Renoir made "Grand Illusion" he paved the way for such classics in the prison escape movie genre as "The Great Escape" and "Stalag 17" (and yes, even the TV series "Hogan's Heroes"). This is a war movie that shows neither battlefield nor blood but rather shows us camaraderie between inmates, across different social classes, and even between captives and captors. "Grand Illusion" is an anti-war film that focuses on the people, their lives before the war, and where they will be when the war ultimately ends. If not one of the best films ever made, "Grand Illusion" is certainly the greatest prison escape film ever made, as it is, of course, much more than just that.

"The theater's too deep for me. I prefer bicycling."


Grand Illusion

PÉPÉ LE MOKO (1937), Julien Duvivier -- #172

Jean Gabin, also seen in last week's "Grand Illusion", stars in this classic film noir (although it technically pre-dates the genre). The story centers around Pépé, a notorious Parisian thief, amazingly and coolly portrayed by Gabin. Pépé has been hiding from the police for two years in the catacomb like Casbah in Algiers. Wary of the repercussions of arresting him in this edgy tangled world, where Pépé is surrounded by his friends and supporters, the police lurk on the outside hoping he will sometime leave its safety. Only his love for Inés, the beautiful Parisian girl, can draw Pépé out. Most amazing to me was the juxtoposition of the sweeping panoramic rooftop shots of the Casbah with those of the narrow, crowded corridors within the Casbah -- giving the viewer a real sense of both the beauty and the tension within the area.

In 1938, Hollywood remade "Pépé le Moko" practically frame-for-frame as the less than stellar "Algiers" (starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr). Another spinoff: Looney Tune's Pepé le Pew was fashioned after Pepe le Moko and appears in his own Casbah short, The Cat's Bah (1954).

"Blame it on the Casbah."


Pepe le Moko

ALEXANDER NEVSKY (1938), Sergei Eisenstein -- #86

The highlight of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky is certainly the epic thirty minute battle on ice -- at times intense and powerful, other times almost comical with its keystone cop-ish music. We get shots of hundreds (if not thousands) of soldiers flailing about and smashing each other's armor with swords, battle axes and clubs. Then of the organist who accompanied the German Teutonic Knights (along with the make-shift tent church complete with cross bearing monks) followed by the carnival like band the Russians brought along. The tight shots of the battle are incredibly forceful and the sweeping long shots show the stark beauty of the land. A harbinger of dark days to come (World War II) and the propagandistic overtones make the film just that much more interesting to watch.

"Those who come with a sword to us will die from that sword!"


Alexander Nevsky

THE LADY VANISHES (1938), Alfred Hitchcock -- #3

Two British fellows obsessed with their cricket, a very proper and exceedingly charming governess, and a strange old Baroness with her... well, her Baronessness -- such are a few of the many near clichéd characters in Alfred Hitchcock's wonderful "The Lady Vanishes". The story, ridiculously absurd and simple, revolves around Iris, an American socialite (the fetching Margaret Lockwood). Heading home to settle down, Iris meets Miss Floy, a sweet older woman (played by perfectly Dame May Whitty) who vanishes in the middle of a train trip. No one on the train believes Iris's story but she sets off to find Miss Floy anyway. Along the way we meet the loveable musicologist, the mysterious doctor, the very odd magician and the love-birds with a secret. "The Lady Vanishes" is a fun romp that if over analyzed falls apart but who cares -- watch the movie and have some fun!

"It'll be safer to protest down here"


The Lady Vanishes

PYGMALION (1938), Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard -- #85

George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" was most famously used as the basis for George Cukor's "My Fair Lady", but has also been remade under the title "Pygmalion" at least five times and as "Perhaps a Gentleman" in Sweden and "The Greatest Lover" in Korea. One could even argue that Eddie Murphy's "Trading Places" knowingly nods in its direction. The story is simple -- a bet is made between two gentlemen that one can transform a common person (cockney guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle in this case) into a "proper lady" in just six months. The scenario leaves plenty of room for non-stop hilarious dialog juxtaposing Eliza Doolittle's extreme slang with Prof Henry Higgins' very "proper" English and then Eliza's "proper" English against everyone else's. Both leads play their roles perfectly making "Pygmalion" very enjoyable from beginning to end. (Note: No need to pick sides in a comparison between "Pygmalion" or "My Fair Lady" -- the story has proven timeless and both are great interpretations. Enjoy each for what it is.)

"If you can't appreciate what you've got, you'd better get what you can appreciate."



JOUR SE LÉVE (aka Daybreak) (1939), Marcel Carné -- na

How could one not love a movie that features totally cool French bicycles from the '30s in just about every other scene? And, the bicycle racing photos in the apartment were obviously not missed by the folks who made Triplettes of Belleville. Today's film, Jour se Lève, opens with Francois (the über cool Jean Gabin) shooting and killing Valentin. The rest of the film is a series of flashbacks explaining how he got to this desperate place in his life. As is often the case, it involves a woman (or two, in this case) and a slimeball (Valentin). The shots in Francois' stairwell are fantastic and the use of shadows throughout the film seems to enhance the sense of sadness felt by our hero. Film Noir? Love story gone awry? Another great film starring Jean Gabin!

"I find a good kick in the ass works with rude people."


Jour se Leve

RULES OF THE GAME (1939), Jean Renoir -- #216

Simultaneously tragic and hilarious, Jean Renoir's "Rules of the Game" manages to both poke fun at and make relevant commentary about social classes and their behavior (although, Renoir has said this is not commentary, but "an exact description of the bourgeoisie of our time."). In this case, the very wealthy are seemingly carefree and seem to envision no consequences or responsibilities for their actions (endless and apparently very public affairs with each others husbands and wives). But, before we can look down our noses at the rich, we are introduced to the servants who are acting in a very similar fashion -- same rules, same games. The assumption is that as long as you follow the rules everything will turn out alright. Of course, that is rarely the case but by the end of the fantastic "Rules of the Game" we are left believing that despite all that has happened, nothing has changed.

"Sincere people are such bores."


Rules of the Game

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger -- #173

One spends ones life doing something one loves, and doing it very well, only to have some young whippersnapper try to upstage you in your later years. Such is the story of General Clive Candy (Roger Livesey), a career soldier in the British army, in the comical yet poignant "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp." He discover that wars are not fought the way they used to be fought, soldiers do not act the way they used to act and elders are not treated the way they used to be treated. Through it all, Candy maintains his staunch British values (especially good sportsmanship) -- even in the face of great adversity. The bond between two old soldiers (from both sides of the war), the love of a woman (here played three times by Deborah Kerr) and the treatment of basic human values (even in war) makes "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" an entertaining, yet thought provoking, war film.

"Nobody starts to fight foul until he sees he can't win any other way."


Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945), David Lean -- #76

An innocent meeting at a cafe leads to a powerful romantic affair for Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) in David Lean's Brief Encounter. The story begins at the end, in a train station (and here, the opening shot of the train station rivals any train station shot in film). We recognize the affair is ending and Alec is leaving for South Africa. A flashback enables us to watch the entire affair through the eyes and thoughts of Laura. Although we learn very little about any of the other characters in the film (and there are very few), we are witness to all of Laura's emotional conflicts: happiness and sadness, her excitement and how terrified she is by the knowledge that none of it, as wonderful and carefree as it is, can last forever. And, beautifully weaving its way in and out of the scenes throughout the entire film we hear Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2. Incredible.

"The stars can change their courses, the universe can go up in flames and the world crash around us but there will always be Donald Duck."


Brief Encounter

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946), Jean Cocteau -- #6

Always at the top of my Top 10 list, Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" is beautiful in so many ways. The story is standard fairytale fare (which Disney proves by taking it and destroying it as it does so many other wonderful fairytales). But, the subtleties Cocteau introduces and the way the characters are rounded out make it so much more. The cinematography is incredible and Cocteau does not waste a single shot. One can freeze-frame the movie at any point and have a beautiful picture suitable for framing. The special effects are brilliant (especially for 1946) and add even more to the fairytale-like quality of the film. The entranceway in the Beast's castle features self-lighting wall sconces, which are extended from the walls by human arms. Belle magically floats down a hallway of the castle as curtains billow around her. And, sorry to ruin it for you, but in the end the good guys win and the bad guys get punished (although apparently not as badly as they do in the original story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont). "Beauty and the Beast" is a must see for everyone, regardless of age. In fact, I recommend watching it at least once a year.

"and now, we begin our story with a phrase that is like a time machine for children: Once Upon a Time..."


Beauty and the Beast

THE FALLEN IDOL (1948), Carol Reed -- #357

Secrets and lies. That pretty much sums up Carol Reed's "The Fallen Idol". Secrets and lies. The story unfolds primarily from the perspective of Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), a young boy living in a foreign embassy in England. With his father regularly away on business, his primary caregiver and best friend is the butler, Baines (Ralph Richardson), who is also busy having an affair with the secretary, Julie (Michele Morgan). Baines' wife, referred to only as Mrs Baines (Sonia Dresdel), is presented as an evil, conniving, shrew of a woman whom Phillipe does not like at all. Through the movie, each of the grownups entrusts Phillipe with their secrets ("Do you want to know a secret?"). The web of lies that is spun in order to keep all of the secrets in check only produces more and more problems, until it seems like telling the truth might be the only way out. Lying about the truth or telling the truth about lies. Can anything solve this convoluted scenario? "The Fallen Idol" is a fantastic film about a child who tries, in vain, to make sense of the total picture of lies and truths to which he alone is privy.

"Some lies are just kindness ."


Fallen Idol

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949), Robert Hamer -- #325

In the forties, Ealing Studios of England released some of the greatest British comedies ever to be seen on the big screen. These included four starring the always amazing Sir Alec Guiness: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and The Ladykillers (1955). In "Kind Hearts and Coronets", Guiness is cast in the roles of eight characters, the entire D'Ascoyne family (including the Lady Agatha), each of whom stands in the way of Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) becoming the ninth Duke of Chalfont. The story opens with Louis in prison on the eve of his hanging. While he is writing his memoirs we relive the events that brought him to this cell, and are introduced to three key ladies in his life: his mother (Audrey Fildes), his lost love Sibella (Joan Greenwood), and the widow Edith D'Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson). "Kind Hearts and Coronets" was perfectly cast, written and filmed. If it is not the greatest British comedy ever made it certainly was the stepping stone for the films we now embrace for their quintessential British humour.

"I do not consider he has the right to make livelihood by exploiting the weaknesses of his fellow men."


Kind Hearts and Coronets

THE THIRD MAN (1949), Carol Reed -- #64

Never quite knowing who your friends are or who can you trust are central themes in Carol Reed's "The Third Man". Although not the greatest movie ever made, "The Third Man" certainly is the greatest British film noir of all time. It's got all the basic elements: a crime being investigated by a lone character who is working against all odds, dark shadows, voice-overs, a real downbeat tone, unreciprocated love, skewed morality, etc. But, the dead on performances by Joseph Cotten (as Holly Martins) and Orson Welles (as Holly's friend Harry Lime) and Graham Greene's writing are what makes this noir a true standout. Add to that the remarkably poignant shots of a war-damaged Vienna and Anton Karras' unusual zither soundtrack and we've got a movie that is riveting from start to finish. Watch it with a friend so as to revel in the surreal aura of it all, rather than being lured into an entirely gloomy space.

" Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."


The Third Man

RASHÔMON (1950), Akira Kurosawa -- #138

This story of a man's murder, the rape of his wife and the involvement of a bandit (played brilliantly by Kurosawa regular Toshirô Mifune) is told from the perspective of four different people (the woman, the bandit, the dead husband [via a medium], and a woodcutter), each of whom has their own version of the "truth". The film unfolds in three locations: the Rashômon gate (where the rain is coming down in what can only be described as sheets), the forest where the crimes occured, and the empty concrete courtyard in which the conflicting testimonies are vividly rendered. This seemingly simple story becomes complicated very quickly, with "Rashômon", in these eyes and those of Robert Altman, as one of the most captivating films ever made by Kurosawa. How each character sees the events, interprets the "truth" and relates it to the "truths" of others is the basic premise of "Rashômon". With all of the twisted truths and lies, Kurosawa still manages, in the film's final seconds, to offer a glimmer of hope for the future of the human race.

"Well, men are only men. That's why they lie. They can't tell the truth, even to themselves."



MISS JULIE (1951), Alf Sjöberg -- #416

There is plenty of hiding going on in Alf Sjöberg's Miss Julie. In the opening scene we see Julie hiding behind a curtain while the credits role (which serve to obscure her even more). A young Julie is seen hiding under her father's piano. The servants are hiding behind trees before appearing suddenly. Julie hides with Jean, from Christine (Jean's fiance), in the kitchen. It seems everywhere the camera looks someone is hiding. Miss Julie (Anita Bjork), the daughter of a count, seduces Jean (Ulf Palme), a servant of the house, during the annual, drunken Midsummer Eve festival. While hiding from the other servants, they talk about their current situation, what the future could hold and the past that shaped them. Sjöberg's style of seamlessly integrating flashbacks with the present is amazing. At one point the past and the present are even seen to be intersecting on the screen. Julie's mother, Berta (played to creepy perfection by Lissi Alandh), seems to be omnipresent, most interestingly so when we see Julie in her dressing room looking in what at first appears to be a mirror but is in fact a picture of her mother. Alf Sjöberg's bitter social commentary, lightened up by some festive drunk servants and the occasional glimmer of hopefulness all filmed beautifully by Goran Strindberg makes "Miss Julie" a film not only worthy of placement in this box but also of top shelf placement among the great films from Sweden.


Miss Julie

FORBIDDEN GAMES (1952), René Clement -- #318

The opening scene of René Clement's "Forbidden Games" is as terrifying and heart wrenching as any I've seen -- thousands of people fleeing Paris by car, wagon, bicycle and on foot. From the sky it looks like a long line of ants. A squadron of Nazi fighter planes appears, dropping bombs and gunning down the refugees. Young Paulette's (Brigitte Fossey) parents and little dog are killed on the bridge leaving her all alone in the world. She wanders off into the fields (with her little dog draped over her arms) eventually running into a young boy, Michele (Georges Poujouley), who takes her home to his family farm. At this point we aren't even fifteen minutes into the film and have been steeped in symbolism and hard truths about the world, in addition to absolutely amazing acting by the two child stars. The movie could end here and still be brilliant. The rest of the movie is a roller-coaster of emotions as we watch the children trying to cope with the world they live in and the adults that populate it. War is a grim subject. With the perspective and reality of these children, and Clement's loving attention to a sense of beauty, this war film is unique.

Note: If you watch the Criterion DVD of this film be sure to watch the extras -- specifically the alternate beginning and ending which change the tone of this film considerably.


Forbidden Games

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (1952), Anthony Asquith -- #158

The opening of Anthony Asquith's film version of Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest" shows a red velvet curtain rising on stage, a nod in the direction of the theater. The premise of the story is simple, but things quickly become convoluted. Jack, who is from the country, changes his name (and persona) to Earnest while in the city. Algernon, who is from the city, changes his name to Earnest while in the country. Jack (as Earnest) and Algernon (as Earnest) chase the hearts of Gwendolen and Cicily, respectively. As in all such situations, the deceptions of the Earnests are exposed in the end, but this time in comedic situations that are quintessentially Wildean. The whole cast is wonderful but the standout is Edith Evans as the very proper Lady Augusta Bracknell (Gwendolen's aunt), whose over-the-top delivery of her perfectly-written and hilarious lines brought tears to my eyes. When the curtain falls in the final scene we know we have just seen the definitive production of Oscar Wilde's play.

"I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we still had a few fools left."


Importance of Being Earnest

IKIRU (1952), Akira Kurosawa -- #221

Akira Kurosawa's film heroes (whether they are samurai, detectives or just the man on the street) are, in some sense, striving to make right some wrong. In "Ikiru" ("to live"), his hero is a relatively uninteresting and uninterested government worker, Takashi Shimura (played by Kurosawa regular Kanji Watanabe), who, diagnosed with stomach cancer, is desperate to find purpose and meaning in his existence -- suddenly aware that he has little time to live, he tries to correct what he perceives as a wasted life. Kurosawa, through a series of flashbacks that gives the film a wonderfully odd sense of pacing, shows us Shimura's life before he was all alone and, in a very interesting way, fills in the six-month gap between the first and second halves of the film through another series of flashbacks. From bored-to-death to almost maniacally driven, we see our hero come to life and attain something admirable before his death. The flashbacks enable us to see how this transformation touches the lives of those around him. "Ikiru" is such a beautiful and insightful film with more than enough character development and such wonderful performances that it bears repeated viewings. Perfect!

"We only realize how beautiful life is when we chance upon death."



UMBERTO D. (1952), Vittorio De Sica -- #201

If ever there was a film that requires us to re-examine the way we, individually, and as a society, treat our elderly citizens, Vittorio De Sica's "Umberto D." is that film. Umberto Domenico Ferrari (played brilliantly by non-professional actor Carlo Battisti, in his only film role) is a sad and lonely retired civil servant in post-war Rome. Buried in debt and facing eviction from his single room, he tries to make ends meet on his small government stipend. His only companion seems to be his dog Flike, whom we can see he loves dearly. In prior years he had a number of friends but when he now runs into them they make excuses to leave in a hurry. He has befriended the young, unwed and pregnant maid in his apartment (Maria-Pia Casilio) and, in a caring fatherly way, he tries to steer her away from making some bad decisions in her life. Umberto is an honest man who has worked hard all of his life. Now, when he should be able to sit and enjoy the benefits of his hard work, he is lonely, sad and broke -- worst of all, nobody seems to care. This tragic portrayal of humanity plays out beautifully in Umberto D., the most recent addition to my ever-changing top "10 films of all Time" list.

"I'm tired."


Umberto D

THE WHITE SHEIK (1952), Federico Fellini -- #189

Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste) is very organized, punctual and talks in such a way that his new bride, Wanda, cannot get a word in edgewise. Wanda (Brunella Bovo), on the other hand, is very shy, naive, and quiet. When they arrive in Rome for their honeymoon, Ivan has carefully planned out every minute of the entire visit with lunches, sightseeing and even an audience with the Pope -- all in an effort to impress his relatives. Wanda, however, dreams only of meeting Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi), who plays the White Sheik in her favorite photo-comic. While her husband naps, she pretends to take a bath while instead sneaking off to meet her dream man. The rest of the movie must have in part inspired Martin Scorsese's "After Hours", Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild" and even Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo". Federico Fellini's directorial debut, The White Sheik, is a charming film with elements that hint at many of the things that made subsequent Fellini films so memorable.

"Our real lives are in our dreams, but sometimes dreams are a fatal abyss."


The White Sheik

M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY (1953), Jacques Tati -- #110

In "M Hulot's Holiday", Jacques Tati (writer, director and star) introduces us for the first time to his charming yet awkward character, Monsieur Hulot (who turns up again in four more Tati films: Mon Oncle, Cours du Soir, Play Time, and Traffic). Tati's Hulot owes a great debt to Charlie Chaplin's tramp; Jerry Lewis' characters can all be found in Tati's Hulot; and Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean owes it all to these men and their wonderful characters. In "M Hulot's Holiday" we see the hustle and bustle of ocean-side vacationers in the south of France. Monsieur Hulot is in the middle of it all, seemingly floating among his fellow vacationers, clueless about even the most simple things and causing chaos wherever he goes. But, for the most part, he is completely oblivious to it all. With very little dialog (and what little there is can be considered incidental) and no plot to speak of, Tati relies solely on sight gags and physical comedy to move the film along. He does a masterful job of working his way through the crowd of characters pausing just long enough to get a laugh before moving on to his next subject. Tati's Hulot is as funny as movie characters come. So, be sure to watch all five of Tati's Hulot films, but start with "M Hulot's Holiday".


Monsieur Hulot's Holiday

UGETSU (1953), Kenji Mizoguchi -- #309

Made three years before his death, Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu" is an enchanting morally-oriented ghost story based on two of Akinari Ueda's nine supernatural stories from "Tales of Moonlight and Rain" ("Ugetsu Monogatari"; 1776). The two stories are woven together yet each make separate and powerful statements on family, deceit and wealth while complementing the principles of the other tale. Greed, both for money and for social stature, drives two peasants in war torn 16th-century Japan to make unwise and selfish decisions that affect not only themselves, but also their families. Genjuro, a potter seeking quick profits at any cost, and Tobei, a simpleton who strives beyond all hope to become a samurai, leave their wives and each other to go on tragic journeys that ultimately lead them back home. They are thus reborn as stronger men with a genuine appreciation for what they do have -- be it physical or spiritual. Mizoguchi's constantly moving story (and camera) and vital moral statements certainly make "Ugetsu" one of the most powerful of his 90 films.

"Quick profits made in chaotic times never last... Success comes with a price in suffering."



THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953), Henri-Georges Clouzot -- #36

Almost a classic buddy road movie, Henri-Georges Clouzot's "Wages of Fear" follows four men who take on the suicidal task of driving two trucks loaded with tons of highly volatile nitroglycerin across 300 kilometers of extremely rough road to a blazing oil field fire. The film opens in a very remote, desolate South American town. With no money, no job and nothing to do, the men seem trapped forever. They embark on this journey as a way of escaping, either through wealth or death, their current fate. Along the way, the men run into numerous seemingly insurmountable obstacles testing their nerves, friendships and compassion. "Wages of Fear" is a tense, edge-of-the-seat, white knuckle journey that can be placed along side any of the best driving films out there.

"It's like prison. Easy to get in, but escape is impossible."

Note: "The Wages of Fear" was re-made in 1977 by William Friedkin as "Sorcerer" (starring Roy Scheider) -- maybe not as good as Clouzot's film but still an interesting take on the same story (both are based on Georges Arnaud's novel "Le Salaire de la Peur").


The Wages of Fear

SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), Akira Kurosawa -- #2

It's hard to believe one of the greatest westerns of all time was filmed and took place in Japan years before Sergio Leone and his Spaghetti Westerns revived the genre in the late 1960s and early 70s. Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" follows (or sets?) a basic traditional western scenario: a group poor defenseless people (in the case of the "Seven Samurai", farmers) are saved from some evil person or group of people (bandits) by a stranger or strangers (samurai) who efficiently accomplish their task and silently go off into the sunset (usually with no more than they arrived with). We meet the samurai heroes one by one as they are chosen for this task. Each has a distinctive personality and reason for signing up for this essentially payless job. The bulk of the film is concerned with their character development (and, to a lesser degree, the villagers), how they interact with each other and their feelings towards the villagers. It is worth noting that the bandits remain undeveloped throughout. In the end, however, the stunningly shot climatic battle scenes cannot help but steal the show, especially once the rain starts. Put "Seven Samurai" in the pile of films that should be watched annually -- you'll see more and more each time...

"Danger always strikes when everything seems fine."

Note #1: Local Cinema Studies professor, David Desser, is featured on one of the commentary tracks of the new Criterion version of "Seven Samurai".
Note #2:
John Sturges re-made "Seven Samurai" as "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960.


Seven Samurai

LA STRADA (1954), Federico Fellini -- #219

I can remember, some 20 years ago, driving through the desert listening to the Beatles first album for the hundredth time wondering what it must have been like to have heard it for the very first time when it came out in 1963 -- how amazing that must have been. I had a similar feeling watching Federico Fellini's "La Strada" -- how amazing it must have been to watch this film when it first came out, without pre-conceptions, perhaps not even knowing much about Fellini (this was certainly the film that put him on the international map). Fellini's handling of the characters is quite simply masterful: Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife) as Gelsomina, the simple(ton) country girl, Anthony Quinn as the heartless and cruel Zampano who purchases Gelsomina to be his side-show, and Richard Basehart as "The Fool" who seems to have the firmest grasp on life with all of its ins and outs. "La Strada" is a beautiful but ultimately tragic love story that set the stage for numerous classic Fellini films and for Italian cinema as a whole.

"Everything is useful."


La Strada

RICHARD III (1955), Laurence Olivier -- #213

Directed, produced, and co-written by (uncredited) and starring Laurence Olivier, and based on the play by William Shakespeare, "Richard III" is the story of Richard of Gloucester, a man who is pure evil and will stop at nothing to become King of England. Olivier's Richard is a perfect blend of Machiavellian evil with a touch of humor. He leaves nothing of his evil plan to the imagination -- especially as he breaks the fourth wall by telling the audience outright what he is about to do. The supporting cast is one of the greatest ever assembled: John Gielgud (as George, Duke of Clarence), Cedric Hardwicke (as King Edward IV of England), Ralph Richardson (as the Duke of Buckingham) and, of course, Claire Bloom as the recently widowed Lady Anne (care to guess at whose hand?). "Richard III" is one of the finest translations of Shakespear to film and certainly one of Olivier's very best roles.

"Conscience is a word that cowards use."


Richard III

SUMMERTIME (1955), David Lean -- #22

Venice. Katharine Hepburn. Summertime. How could one not love this film? David Lean has captured a very lovely, carefree and romantic Venice in "Summertime" (made soon after the excellent Hobson's Choice and just before his famous epics Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Greatest Story Ever Told and Doctor Zhivago). As if having Venice star in the film wasn't enough, "Summertime" is made it even more beautiful by the presence of Katharine Hepburn, who plays the lonely yet lovely spinster Jane Hudson, on her first trip to the City of Water. While there she falls in love with the perfectly charming Rossano Brazzi (Renato de Rossi) who shows her that Venice is truly made for lovers. Of course, all is not perfect, but that does spoil the movie. Rather, while the credits roll we are happy in knowing that Venice might possibly be the most beautiful city in the world, that Jane Hudson can fall in love (and certainly will again), and that Katherine Hepburn is hands-down one of the greatest actresses of all time.

"These miracles, they can happen. But, you must give a little push."



THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), Ingmar Bergman -- #11

Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" is explicitly referenced in "Excalibur", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and "A Prairie Home Companion". It is parodied in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", Woody Allen's "Love and Death", and "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey", an you can even see clips of it in "Last Action Hero" and "Dot the I". In this Faustian scenario, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a 14th-century knight returning home from the crusades, is visited by Death and challenges him to a game of chess. The wager: his life. Antonius and Death have several in-depth conversations concerning the existence of God, the meaning of life, and the reality of death -- all heavy subjects and yet they do not burden the film. In the end, however, the irony of Antonius attempting to cheat Death and the inevitable outcome of the game makes one question many of the same things that Antonius questioned when the film began. And so we break the seventh seal all over again...

"Which ever way we turn, our backside is behind us."


Seventh Seal

WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957), Ingmar Bergman -- #139

Isolated and lonely in his later years, Dr. Isak Borg (brilliantly played by the octogenarian Swedish director Victor Sjöström) examines his life and confronts his mortality in Ingmar Bergman's most humane work, "Wild Strawberries". Borg travels to Lund to receive an honorary award for his 50 years of work as a physician. Through his dreams, flashbacks, and visions we see the walls he built around himself throughout his life. They begin to crack as he tries to make amends with his son, Evald (Gunnar Björnstrand) and befriend his daughter-in-law, Marianne (the beautiful Bergman regular,Ingrid Thulin). He also develops the capicity to respect his housekeeper, Agda (Jullan Kindah). In a biting flashback, we see Borg lose his childhood sweetheart Sara (played by another beautiful Bergman regular, Bibi Andersson) to his brother. Later in the film, however, a college-aged hitchhiker (also played by Bibi) befriends Borg and, in a very touching scene, tells him that she has and will always love him: "Can't you see you're the one I love? Today, tomorrow and forever." In the end, we sense that Borg's wall has been dismantled, and that he is finally at ease with himself, and with his life as a whole. "Wild Strawberries" is a beautifully filmed and touching moral tale. Deeply stirring.

"When your were little you believed in Santa Claus, now you believe in God."


Wild Strwaberries

ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958), Andrzej Wajda -- #285

Considered to be one of the most important (if not the most important) film in Polish cinema, Ashes and Diamonds is the story of conflict between doing your duty for your government or doing something for yourself. Set in Poland on the last day of WWII, Maciek (a professional assassin) is assigned the task of killing the new Communist leader in a Polish city. In the 24 hours that follow, he falls in love, re-evaluates his life and looks for a change. I was most amazed by the framing of the scene in the bombed out church, with the crucifix dangling from the ceiling, front and center, with our star beginning to confess his life to his new love. The final ballroom scene, reminiscent of a crazy Fellini party, intercut with the chaos that is going on outside the walls of the hotel, is equally spellbinding. I look forward to watching the other two parts of Wajda's trilogy (A Generation and Kanal).

"It seems innocent people died needlessly"


Ashes and Diamonds

IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II (1958), Sergei Eisenstein -- #88

Meant to be the second part of a trilogy, Sergie Eisentein's "Ivan the Terrible, Part II" (The Boyar’s Plot)is a fantastic finale to a long and fruitful career. Upon its completion, the film was suppressed by Stalin on account of Eisentein's portrayal of Ivan (the 16th-century tsar who united Russia), who was seen as having too many similarities to Stalin himself (including highlighting Ivan's creation of the Oprichniki, his own version of the secret police). Shot primarily in black and white (with just two scenes filmed in color), "Ivan the Terrible" has the signature starkness and sharp contrast we have grown to expect from Eisenstein (and Russian cinema from that period as a whole). Scenes go from extreme close-ups of expressive faces to shots of crowds of people to individuals all alone in cavernous rooms. The collision of such contrasting scenes enhances the film's claustrophobic feeling while conveying to the viewer a sense of the complete control that Ivan had over the Russian people. Although either part can stand on its own, I would recommend watching both together to get a feel for the full story Eisenstein intended.


Ivan the Terrible

BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (1959), Grigori Chukhrai -- #148

A war film, a road movie, a love story -- Grigori Chukhrai's "Ballad of a Soldier" is not easily categorized. Although the lead, Pvt. Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov), is a Russian soldier and the film takes place during WWII, it is not your typical Soviet war film (or anyone else's for that matter). No propaganda, no tyrants, nor any parallels to Stalinism. "Ballad of a Soldier" is definitely a road movie. While on leave, Alyosha spends a harried two days racing across war-torn Russia on foot, train, truck, and ultimately a raft to see his mother before turning around and going back to the front line. And, even though the central characters are a boy and a girl, it's not your typical love story -- more of a best friends forever story. Alyosha meets Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko) while on the train. Together, they experience more in two days than most people do in a lifetime. Rather than trying to categorize the film, it is perhaps better to say "Ballad of a Soldier" is simply a wonderful film about how war, travel and love affect one man and the many people with whom he come into contact.

"Do you believe in friendship?"


Ballad of a Soldier

BLACK ORPHEUS (1959), Marcel Camus -- #48

In "Black Orpheus", director Marcel Camus offers a different spin on the classic Greek myth of Orpheus (boy likes girl, girl dies two deaths, the boy having won and then lost the chance to bring her back to life, and he subsequently loses in his way in life). Set amidst the ever-present music, dancing and bright colors of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, this modern version of the classic Greek myth has Orpheus (Breno Mello) as the local heart-throb, a dancing and singing trolley conductor and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) as a neighbor's beautiful visiting cousin. New to the familiar story is that Orpheus is initially engaged to a woman named Mira. Eurydice enters as an alluring alternative and the taboo nature of their liaison supercharges their bond. Regardless, Orpheus is unable to withstand the temptation of looking at the woman who serves as a medium for the dead Eurydice, in a vivid Voodoo ritual scene. The constant motion and darker sides of Carnival life, together with the pulsing Bossa Nova rythyms by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa, make for a spellbinding re-telling of this absorbing tale. "Black Orpheus" is a film that can and should be seen again and again -- the bigger and louder the better.

"I will protect you forever... against everything."


Black Orpheus

FIRES ON THE PLAIN (1959), Kon Ichikawa -- #378

Banished from his Japanese military unit for being too sick yet not sick enough to be admitted into the hospital, Pvt Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) is left to wander the war-torn Philippines countryside in search of food and shelter. He carries nothing but a gun, a bag for any food he might pick up, and a grenade in case he cannot go on anymore. Anti-war sentiments abound with images of the physical and psychological deterioration that war inflicts on everyone involved. Soldiers so weary that they give up all hope of life simply fall over and die. Man's ever-present greed still rears its ugly head despite no one really having anything. There are very few uplifting moments in "Fires on the Plain," but you are riveted to the screen nonetheless because the portrayal seems so very realistic, although so genuinely foreign to many of us. Kon Ichikawa's fantastic portrayal of the hardships and misery that war creates elicits a powerfully strong feeling of sympathy. "Fires on the Plain" may be difficult to watch but is equally rewarding.

"Isn't the war over yet?"


Fires on the Plain

FLOATING WEEDS (1959), Yasujiro Ozu -- #232

Like Hitchcock and "The Man Who Knew too Much" (1934 and 1956), Yasujiro Ozu remade his 1934 silent film "The Story of Floating Weeds" as "Floating Weeds" in 1959. He moved the locale from a small rural town to a small seaside town, but otherwise didn't really alter the original simple plot. Komajuro Arashi (Ganjirô Nakamura), the master of a traveling troupe of actors, visits an old girlfriend while they are performing their play in a small town. He also sees their son, who has grown up believing him to be his uncle. Things become precarious when Sumiko, Arashi's leading lady and current love interest, becomes jealous and plots to ruin him. The camera is steadily fixed on its subjects and the simple sets are virtually colorless, with the exception at least one bright red item in each scene. Ozu thus forces us to focus on the individual characters, what they are doing and what they are feeling. The result is stark human reality, no matter if it's 1934, 1956 or today.

"Everything changes. It's the way of the world."


Floating Weeds

THE 400 BLOWS (1959), François Truffaut -- #5

Two scenes neatly summarize François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows": the eyes of children at a puppet show filled with youthful innocence and expressions of pure excitement, and a scene featuring Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) all alone, curled up in the corner of his tiny jail cell. In the former, the children are engaged and lost in a fantasy land in their imaginations. In the latter, there is a child who grew up largely on his own and, left to his own devices, has made a tragic life-altering mistake. Antoine is a good kid, with aspirations and dreams, but he is not well nurtured and his needs are largely ignored by the character-shaping people in his life (his parents, teachers, etc). The result, his somewhat distorted and naive perception of reality, informs his ability to make decisions. This intimate and tragic retrospective of a young person's life is part one of the five-part "Adventures of Antoine Doinel" box set from Criterion (which also includes "Love at Twenty", "Stolen Kisses", "Bed and Board", and "Love on the Run"). The subsequent films continue following Antoine through his early life.

"You must be aggressive to go forward in life or else you won't make it to the finish line"


The 400 Blows

L'AVVENTURA (1960), Michelangelo Antonioni -- #98

While making a stop on a small barren island during a yachting weekend with her idle rich friends, Anna (Lea Massari) mysteriously disappears. Her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti), boyfriend Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and other companions search briefly in vain for her. Soon, everyone returns home and back to their regular lives, seemingly spent primarily socializing, with Anna all but forgotten. Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'Avventura" illuminates the shallowness and loneliness of these characters as they float through their lives and occasionally interact with one another. Whether on the barren rocks, or in the hustle and bustle of the city, everyone, Anna included, seems to blend into the scenery. The primacy of this magnificent canvas is more than slightly disturbing, but surely we are supposed to feel that way and react against it. "L'Avventura" is part one of Antonioni's unofficial trilogy that also includes "La Notte" (1961) and "L'Eclisse" (1962).

"Everything is becoming so hideously simple."



THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), Ingmar Bergman -- #321

A devoutly religious couple's only daughter, Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), is savagely raped and beaten to death by two brothers while a third, not even a teenager, watches unable to help. The nomadic herdsman unknowingly seek refuge in the home of Karin's parents. After gleaning the dark truth, the father (Max von Sydow) avenges his daughter's death by killing the brothers, including the young boy. When the father finds the body of his daughter, he first questions God's goodness and then vows to build a Church "of brick and mortar" for Him on the spot where his daughter died. In "The Virgin Spring", Ingmar Bergman's signature tight shots of characters' ever-changing expressive faces and masterful pacing takes the viewer through a roller coaster of emotions. Many questions are posed but ultimately one feels compelled to examine for oneself the one most often asked: "How could a just God allow these things to happen?"

"Live out your wretched little life, the way God allows all of us to live."


The Virgin Spring

IL POSTO (1961), Ermanno Olmi -- #194

In Ermanno Olmi's "Il Posto", young Domenico (Sandro Panseri) heads from his small town of Meda to Milan in search of his first job -- one that could make him "set for life". He quickly becomes very fond of the charming Antonietta (Loredana Detto) who is also interviewing at the same company. The film follows the shy couple through their job interviews, their adventures in the big city and their growing relationship. We never really learn what is done in the office (and it seems many of the employees don't know either) but the formality, boredom, and pettiness of it all is evident. Olmi does a fantastic job of contrasting the chaos, hustle and bustle, and sounds of the big city with the rigidity and stillness of the office. In the city, the young couple seem to have much fun. Sadly, once in the office they barely even run into each other. "Il Posto" is a very sweet movie in many ways while also touching on the unfortunate realities of a nine-to-five job in a large, faceless corporation.

"Go in one direction only and don't move backwards. Try to stay in line."


Il Posto

VIRIDIANA (1961), Luis Buñuel -- #332

Prior to taking her final vows, the young nun Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) reluctantly visits her estranged and ailing uncle. An arresting similarity to his dead wife triggers his obsessive interest in Viridiana. He goes so far as to ask her to wear his wife's wedding dress and then drugs her in order to sleep with her. Upon becoming aware of this, she insists on leaving. His final maneuver to keep her there is to commit suicide. In this oddly pressured scenario she decides she cannot return to the convent. She stays in the house, sharing it with her worldly cousin, Jorge (Francisco Rabal). Unsure what to do, but certain that it should have a higher purpose, she opens her house to the neighborhood homeless, feeding, clothing and offering them work. While she represents everything good and wholesome, the people around her are not and quickly take advantage of her and her kindness. Ultimately, her faith in people, and in God, dwindles until she seemingly yields to it all. Luis Buñuel's "Viridiana" is a demoralizing tale of the inherent evil in people and how it can destroy even the purest of heart.

"I know my weakness, and I intend to work humbly."



JULES AND JIM (1962), François Truffaut -- #281

François Truffaut's "Jules and Jim" explores the relationship between two friends: an Austrian, Jules (Oskar Werner), and a Frenchman, Jim (Henri Serre). As best friends, they share and do everything together. Day after day is spent walking or sitting in bars, cafes and restaurants talking about books, philosophy, life and the world around them. They eat, drink and bathe together. However, when Jules falls for playful and intriguing Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), he asks his friend: "But not this one, Jim. Okay?" However, falling for Catherine is unavoidable. From this point the relationship begins to crumble as does the idyllic world around them: jealousy gnaws at their friendship, while a world war erupts and physically separates them. What was once a care-free existence becomes much laden with serious concerns. The individual links between Jules, Jim and Catherine change -- sometimes for the better, but mostly not. In their own ways, Jules and Jim each try to maintain some stability in their lives, but are both drawn back to ultimately destructive relationship with Catherine. Truffaut poignantly captures how the strains and hardships of the real world can challenge the most intimate of friendships.

"Hearts yearning for each other... O God, O God, the pain they cause."


Jules and Jim

KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962), Roman Polanski -- #215

With only three characters and the bulk of the story taking place on a small boat, Roman Polanski's "Knife in the Water" is a deliberately slow-moving psychological thriller; it will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. While driving to a lake, the couple Andrzej and Krystyna pick up a young hitchhiker (whose name we never learn). They end up inviting him along for an overnight boat trip. It's unsure how stable Andrzej and Krystyna's relationship is from the outset, and the tension between Andrzej and the hitchhiker is evident. They are in a constant battle of chest-thumping one-upmanship and Andrzej is un-relentless in his slinging of insults at the hitchhiker. The camera also catches the subtle but growing sexual tension between Krystyna and the hitchhiker. If all that tension wasn't enough on its own, Polanski squeezes it all tightly into the close quarters of the small boat. When the inevitable storm hits, we know something has got to give. Polanski's minimalist direction, Jerzy Lipman's constantly probing camera, and Kris Komeda's eclectic jazz score slowly but surely leads us through the story to its amazing and unexpected finale.

"You want to go on with the Game?
You aren't in my class, kid..."


Knife in the Water


This disc collects three documentaries made by Saul J Turell (who, along with William Becker, took over Janus Films in 1965):
1) "Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist" is a fascinating look at the career of America's first African-American superstar actor and singer. Footage from his movies and live performances is used to tell his story from the early days to his eventual blacklisting for his outspoken political ideas.
2) In "The Love Goddesses", Turell leads us through the history of on-screen sex and sexyness from the silent era to the present. Featuring over forty of the silver screens most beautiful women, "Love Goddesses" is a sensuous and sensual survey of films' leading ladies.
3) From "The Great Train Robbery" to Douglas Fairbanks' "The Mark of Zorro" to the Buster Keaton's "The General", "The Great Chase" shows us what made early films exciting and how the art of the chase evolved through the ages. Most impressive to me were Lillian Gish's gravity defying ice chunk jumping scene in "Way Down East" and Buster Keaton's train track clearing sequence in "The General" -- and they didn't use doubles!

Note: Currently, only "Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist" is available on DVD (in Criterion's Paul Robeson box set). The other two were originally released by Janus so I imagine they will become available in Criterion editions eventually.


Love Godesses

FISTS IN THE POCKET (1965), Marco Bellocchio -- #333

In "Fists in the Pocket", Marco Bellocchio's first feature length film, we watch helplessly as the last strands of what was once a wealthy and socially important family disintegrates before our eyes. The mother, blind and barely mobile, dies leaving her four grown children and what's left of the grand family estate behind. Three of the four children, Allessandro, Giulia and Leone, are incapable of taking care of themselves much less the estate. The fourth, Augusto, just wants to get out, marry, and move to the city taking whatever he can with him. The film moves from subdued to manic and back again, never hinting at what may happen next. Through it all, Bellocchio tears open all of the then current day social values (love of God, family and country) profiled in other films with increasing intensity. Superb acting, spot-on camera-work, and Ennio Morricone's brilliant score all contribute to the incredible impact of "Fists in the Pocket". It is an amazing, yet uncomfortable film, whose climatic finale will leave you with your mouth agape. As it sinks in, you will want to watch it again immediately.

"I'm a volcano of ideas."


Fists in the Pocket

LOVES OF A BLONDE (1965), Milos Forman -- #144

A beautiful young girl, Andula (Hana Brejchová), lives in a small Czechoslovakian factory town. At a community dance, she falls for Milda (Vladimír Pucholt), the womanizing pianist of a traveling band from the big city, Prague. After sleeping together, she believes she has found true love but, as it turns out, he was only looking for a one night stand. Milos Forman's "Loves of a Blonde" profiles the loneliness and boredom of Andula's every day and probably dead-end life: the tediousness of working on the shoe factory's predominantly female assembly line and sitting around with her girlfriends. The shyness, anticipation, and hesitation that accompanies Andula and Milda's first encounter is presented in a beautiful, touching, and sometimes comedic scene. In stark contrast, Andula's visit to Prague to see Milda is a very awkward, uncomfortable and ultimately heart breaking one. In the end, "Loves of a Blonde" is a wonderfully created slice-of-life portrayal of a young girl's crushing first brush with love.

"I trust you."


Loves of a Blonde

THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973), Víctor Erice

Set in the 1940s in a small village in post civil war Spain, Victor Erice's "The Spirit of the Beehive" is a haunting story seen primarily through the eyes of a young girl, Ana (Ana Torrent). After watching "Frankenstein" at the community theater, Ana becomes obsessed with the monster, and her sister, Isabel (Isabel Tellería), convinces her he is living in an abandoned building in the field by their house. One day she discovers a wounded soldier holing up there. Thinking he is the Spirit (as Isabel named the monster), she brings him food and clothing. When the soldier is discovered and killed, Ana's life and view of the world around her changes drastically. One one level, "The Spirit of the Beehive" is a probing account of a little girl and her dreams, imagination and the space she inhabits. The scenes with the two sisters interacting are priceless. However, on another level, one is aware of allusions to Franco, the political turmoil in Spain, and a country torn apart by civil war. The world of youth is never free from these darker allusions. Vast stretches of empty land and a village that appears to be inhabited primarily by children are haunted by their presence more than relieved by their innocence. Seen numeroud times, "The Spirit of the Beehive" will reveal different, yet always compelling, interpretations of how children are part of this complex larger world.

"You are about to see a monster. "


Spirit of the Beehive

The 50 Essential Art House Films... (in chronological order)
• HÄXAN (1922), Benjamin Christensen
• PANDORA'S BOX (1929), G.W. Pabst
• M (1931), Fritz Lang
• THE 39 STEPS (1935), Alfred Hitchcock
• GRAND ILLUSION (1937), Jean Renoir
• PÉPÉ LE MOKO (1937), Jean Duvivier
• ALEXANDER NEVSKY (1938), Sergei Eisenstein
• THE LADY VANISHES (1938), Alfred Hitchcock
• PYGMALION (1938), Anthony Asquith
• LE JOUR SE LÈVE (1939), Marcel Carné
• THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939), Jean Renoir
• THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943), Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
• BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945), David Lean
• BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946), Jean Cocteau
• THE FALLEN IDOL (1948), Carol Reed
• KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949), Robert Hamer
• THE THIRD MAN (1949), Carol Reed
• RASHOMON (1950), Akira Kurosawa
• MISS JULIE (1951), Alf Sjöberg
• FORBIDDEN GAMES (1952), René Clement
• IKIRU (1952), Akira Kurosawa
• UMBERTO D. (1952), Vittorio De Sica
• THE WHITE SHEIK (1952), Federico Fellini
• M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY (1953), Jacques Tati
• UGETSU (1953), Kenji Mizoguchi
• THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953), Henri-Georges Clouzot
• SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), Akira Kurosawa
• LA STRADA (1954), Federico Fellini
• RICHARD III (1955), Laurence Olivier
• SUMMERTIME (1955), David Lean
• THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), Ingmar Bergman
• WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957), Ingmar Bergman
• ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958), Andrzej Wajda
• IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART II (1958), Sergei Eisenstein
• BALLAD OF A SOLDIER (1959), Grigori Chukhrai
• BLACK ORPHEUS (1959), Marcel Camus
• FIRES ON THE PLAIN (1959), Kon Ichikawa
• FLOATING WEEDS (1959), Yasujiro Ozu
• THE 400 BLOWS (1959), François Truffaut
• L'AVVENTURA (1960), Michelangelo Antonioni
• THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), Ingmar Bergman
• IL POSTO (1961), Ermanno Olmi
• VIRIDIANA (1961), Luis Buñuel
• JULES AND JIM (1962), François Truffaut
• KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962), Roman Polanski
      GREAT CHASE (1962)
      LOVE GODDESSES (1965)
• FISTS IN THE POCKET (1965), Marco Bellocchio
• LOVES OF A BLONDE (1965), Milos Forman
• THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973), Víctor Erice

(click here for an alphabetical list)
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