A Bittersweet Life (Korea, 2005)

Beautifully shot and performed by the lead (Yu-mi Jeong) with some stunning scenes (the return from the grave – but it is a gangster and not a horror movie). South Korea continues to produce the most interesting movies; does it constitute a ‘new wave’ yet? The western influences are clear but are made interesting by an indigenous slant. If you’re into bloody gangster films then don’t miss it (DVD) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0456912

Slow Motion (France-Switzerland, 1980)

Twenty years after Breathless this movie was heralded as Godard’s return to form. 26 years after that this still looks good but I remember been baffled and enchanted in equal measure. It’s probably me that’s changed so I don’t find this movie difficult now; still has some fabulous composition’s and its wit is mordant. If you love arthouse movies then watch this. (DVD, 3). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079854/

Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, Mexico-Spain-US, 2006)

261029-pans_labyrinth_image_2A brilliant fantasy combining the brutal realism of the Spanish Civil War with a young girl’s escapist (after a fashion) fantasies. There’s a brilliant line describing fascism (accepting orders unthinkingly) and Sergio Lopez plays evil brilliantly. Visually stunning (all on E15m apparently) and emotionally gripping. One of the movies of the year. (Pictureville) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/


I’ve just seen the film for the fourth time and it gets better with viewing (and age). The protagonist, Ofelia, is ‘coming of age’ during the dying embers of the Civil War which, we know, Franco has not only won but will rule for another 30 years. Her escape into her fantasy world is entirely rational. I thought, when I first saw it, that the film might be dallying in the ‘fantastic’, where the fantasy may or may not be true; however, subsequently I’m convinced it’s not. In addition it becomes clearer that the story is as much about Cpt Vidal as Ofelia. The psychopathology of fascism is engraved in his pained expression and inability to relate to others, other than through violence. It is painful that such pathologies are starting to thrive in Europe, in Greece in particular, in response to economic austerity. Of course the response of the oppressed would better being of the ‘left’ than the ‘right’ but the Establishment prefers to deal with the latter, knowing it so well.

Ofelia’s is about becoming an adult, she has to complete the faun’s (or Pan’s) tasks before the full moon (of her first period). She is an active protagonist, unusual for a female, particularly a pre-pubscent one (unless we are in Miyazaki Hayao’s universe). Mercedes, who becomes a surrogate mother to her because her own is incapacitated by pregnancy, is also a dynamic character; particularly in the scene when she confronts Vidal. However I do wonder about the film’s sexual politics when we find Ofelia in the fairy tale world told to sit beside her father, who’s positioned highest in the mise en scene. Fairy tales are, of course, patriarchal; maybe that’s del Toro’s point.

Add a beautiful mise en scene, thrilling battle sequences, a villain to viscerally hate and an ending that… well just in case you haven’t seen it… you have a magnificent film.

2018 update: I’ve published a guide to the film, available here.

Duck Soup (US, 1933)

This has one of the funniest sequences in cinema and so has to be seen. Much of the Marx bros. appears dated but it was a piss-take then so probably isn’t. Zizek apparently labels them id/ego/super ego in his Pervert’s Guide to Cinema; he’s probably right. (DVD, 3). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023969/

Last Year in Marienbad (France, 1961)

I remembered being mesmerised by this (25 years ago), on a 16mm print, and then not enjoying it so much on TV a few years later. With widescreen TV and DVD this film gets near enough to cinema’s visual experience to enrapture again. I also remember it being enigmatic but now it seems less so (I’m older or more used to unconventional narrative?) which is not to say that most won’t find it heavy going.

Cinema is primarily a visual form and Marienbad excels in this. Its photography and mise en scene are stunning. And as a portrayal of the vacuity of the bourgeoisie it’s not to be beaten. (DVD, 3) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054632/

The Hitch-Hiker (US, 1953)

A rare example of a female director (Ida Lupino) in classical Hollywood. A B movie that uses it locations well. Dated. (OAR) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045877/

The Beat That Skipped My Heart (France, 2005)

Very interesting and beautifully played by Romain Duris. Unlikely scenario, hard man takes up classical piano, but done with total conviction. An antidote the French cinema’s (from a UK perspective at least) reliance on frothy middle class middle aged angst. (OAR) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0411270/