A mellow drama following the moral decline of a housewife turned bank employee who embezzles a fortune from her customers and indulges in an affair with a younger man. Set in 1994, shortly after the burst of Japan’s economic bubble.
Rika Umezawa (Rie Miyazawa), the heroine of Daihachi Yoshida’s powerfully told immorality tale “Kami no Tsuki (Pale Moon),” is a different sort of thief. Instead of a hardened criminal, plotting a holdup or a bank vault break-in, she is a housewife turned bank employee who slips, ever so reluctantly, into embezzlement.
Aged 41 when the story starts in 1994 — after Japan’s economic bubble has burst but before Internet use was widespread — she seems to be the soul of propriety as she visits her elderly clients in their homes to collect their deposits or advise them on investments. Soon, though, she is using her insider knowledge of forms and procedures to siphon some of that money into her own pocket.
The poster, with ¥10,000 notes wafting about Rika’s pale, strikingly beautiful face, promises a blackly comic spin similar to that of Yoshida’s 2007 breakthrough “Funuke Domo, Kanashimi no Ai wo Misero (Funuke, Show Some Love you Losers!).” Based on Mitsuyo Kakuta’s eponymous novel, the film is instead closer in tone to “Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo (The Kirishima Thing),” Yoshida’s critically acclaimed 2012 high school drama that was more about illuminating inner lives than scoring laughs.
Not to say that “Pale Moon” (Yoshida chose the title since the direct translation of “Kami no Tsuki” is “Paper Moon,” which might cause confusion with the 1973 Peter Bogdanovich classic) is devoid of humor, but its view of Rika’s choices and crimes is serious — the risks she is taking and the lines she is crossing have life- and character-altering consequences.
Rika’s fall begins the moment she lays eyes on Kota (Sosuke Ikematsu), the louche grandson of a miserly old client (Renji ishibashi). Without even a dog to care for and a distant, often-absent husband offering only token companionship, Rika feels lonely and unloved, so when Kota’s insistent wooing lights a spark, it quickly bursts into a full-blown affair, age difference be damned.
Kota, it turns out, is falling behind on his school tuition payments (yes, fellow Americans, they are high here, too), while his rich grandfather refuses to lend him a single yen. When Rika hears her young lover’s sad tale, which just may be true, she decides to run an ingenious scam on Grandpa that may have a noble motive — help a young man complete his education — but is also her first step down the rosy path to being arrested and eventually, disaster.
First, though, the roses. Kota’s passionate sexual healing not only awakens Rika as a woman, but makes her realize all she has been missing as a dutiful helpmate to an indifferent corporate warrior. She and Kota begin to live large, courtesy of her unwitting, undeserving clients.
Of course, in the eyes of society, as represented by a stern senior clerk (Satomi Kobayashi) and Rika’s smarmy, womanizing boss (Yoshimasa Kondo), she is criminally in the wrong. Meanwhile, a young junior (former AKB48 star Yuko Oshima) distresses Rika with her winking talk of embezzling — has this young woman no morals?
Has Rika? In flashbacks to her younger self — an idealistic student at a Catholic girls’ school — we see that the answer is not so simple. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but to young Rika, the hypocrisy of those who preach charity while practicing indifference teaches only that their moral/religious game is a con.
Can you blame her for drawing her own conclusions and acting on them? Not if you are caught in the spell of the many-sided, finally mysterious brilliance of “Pale Moon.”
After a bombing raid destroys the family store and her husband, Reiko rebuilds and runs the shop out of love stopped short by destruction.
The quiet, underplayed, “invisible” style of Naruse’s films of the fifties and sixties has often been remarked on—the late, great Edward Yang has even described him, in contrast to Ozu and Kurosawa, as a director without style. All the more dramatic then is Naruse’s one assertive stylistic feature of the period, the exterior tracking sequences where the camera accompanies (often in reverse) a man and a woman as they walk and talk. In Yearning there are two such sequences between widow Reiko and her much younger brother-in-law Koji, but these two “dolly-walks” lack the sense of fluidity and integration that you get from similar scenes in other Naruse films—in Floating Clouds, for example, regardless of the vicissitudes of their relationship, such scenes underline the fact that Yukiko and Tomioka are a couple.
In these two scenes in Yearning, on the other hand, Naruse repeatedly disrupts and breaks up the unity of this potential couple, having one character leave the frame or shifting to classic shot-reverse shot editing to stress the separateness of Reiko and Koji. The two sequences are bridged by Yearning’s central emotional scene, Koji’s declaration of his love for Reiko that literally rocks her world. But whether the sequences where Reiko and Koji walk and talk together occur before Reiko’s awareness of this love or after, the effect is the same.
The first sequence takes place after Reiko has bailed Koji out of a stint in a police cell for instigating a brawl in a bar. As they walk together down the street, the dynamics of the scene, the to-and-fro between the tracking shots that follow them together and the movement of one or the other in and out of the frame, point to the dislocation between the two of them now—Reiko, for example, first breaks up the tracking in reaction to Koji’s boasting of the number of fights he’s been in—and point to the wider sense of emotional and social disturbance that is the theme of the film. The same dynamic returns with the second tracking sequence between Reiko and Koji, when they have their secret meeting at the temple. The initial reverse tracking as the walk forward together is halted by shots that separate them at the same time as Reiko insists on their age difference and that she cannot—or rather, will not (“No more argument. Or you’ll beat me with your logic”)—accept his love.
The film’s English title Yearning is something of a misnomer, summoning up an image of romantic melodrama, which, while present in some form, is hardly at the centre of the film’s concerns. The Japanese Midareru means something like “disorder”, and in fact the French and Italians with their titles of Tourments and Tormento (torment, agony, pain, suffering) get closer to the feeling of the film. Reiko’s ordered life up to the point at which the film opens is to be overturned on both a private and a public level. She’s a war widow with no children who has stayed on with her husband’s family. After the family grocery store was destroyed in a wartime bombing she rebuilt it, and since her father-in-law’s death she has essentially run it herself while her brother-in-law Koji and her two sisters-in-law Hisako and Takako have got on with their own lives.
As with many Naruse films, the background to Yearning marks a significant point of social change, in this case the arrival of modern supermarkets with their inevitable effect of driving local family grocery stores out of business. Indeed, the film opens with a cheery jingle broadcast from a supermarket advertising van and draws us into the world of the film through it, as the van travels from the outskirts of town into its narrow streets, and then past Reiko’s grocery store into which we now enter.
The economic challenges at issue are swiftly sketched in a second grocery whose owners are not identified here and will play a very minor role in the film. (In fact, we later learn that the owner Mr Kaya is a mahjong buddy of Koji’s and he will end up killing himself from the economic pressures he’s under. It’s with sardonic realism that Naruse will later cut from Kaya’s weeping widow to the cheery tune of the advertising van.) The simple grocery item eggs provide the link that leads us further into the story. First, they demonstrate the price undercutting and the threat to their economic viability that the supermarket poses to the family grocery store (5 yen for eggs as opposed to the standard 11 yen). Then, we cut to a grotesque scene in a bar where a group of drunken businessman pressure a group of bar girls into a race to eat the pile of eggs bought up so cheaply. This will then lead to the introduction of the drunken Koji, initially seen mostly from behind, whose outrage (clearly a mixture of the disgust he feels at the grotesque spectacle and a sensitivity to the threat to his family’s livelihood that it symbolises) will drive him into a drunken brawl with the men.
In fact, plans are afoot in the family to respond to the supermarket threat—but they don’t involve Reiko, who to a certain extent (as she herself sees) is an obstacle to them. This is clearly how her sisters-in-law view her, with little gratitude more than a few insincere words for the years Reiko has given to the family store. Instead, they’re keen to marry her off (Reiko declines the offer) as Hisako’s husband has organised a scheme for the family to build a supermarket in its own right. Hisako sourly notes here that by tearing down the old building their supermarket will have no connection with Reiko, her own answer to an earlier scene where Reiko told Hisako, “This is my house.”
Koji’s mother certainly feels a moral obligation to Reiko: “It sounds like we’re driving her out,” she says. “We owe her very much for the shop.” But at the same time she understands her own daughters and the claims of blood family, so that she joins in the pressure on Reiko to remarry and she tells Koji not to inform Reiko about the family conference the sisters have organised with their brother and mother. It’s significant that at this conference the two sisters are wearing Western clothes in contrast to the traditional kimonos Reiko almost invariably wears, for the film bears a bias against modern Westernised women to the point of caricaturing them in the form of the gum-chewing girl that Koji regularly sleeps with and who Reiko accuses of having “no honesty in her heart.” (Compare this to the sympathy with which Mizoguchi invests the similar kind of character Mickey, played by Machiko Kyo, in Street of Shame.)
There is something demure and traditionalist about Reiko, something that ties her to past ways of thinking and behaving that are being overtaken by the turmoil of the social changes around her. These are changes, symbolised at the microcosmic, personal level by Koji’s declaration of love, which Reiko’s upbringing and past behaviour leave her unequipped to deal with. Her instinctive reaction to all that is new and challenging is to push back, to push away. She has spent her life in the socially accepted traditional way, tending to the memory of her husband, literally praying to him in the form of his photo-shrine (but note how, as a symbol of her own unconscious desires, her turning-off of the lights in the house after her explicit rejection of Koji’s love plunges her husband’s photo into darkness). She has subsumed her life into that of her late husband’s family in a process that has also denied her any emotional/sexual outlet.
Koji doesn’t only challenge her as a woman – very late in the film she concedes this to him, how “when you said you loved me, I felt glad” and “I’ve been a different woman since that day” – but he also calls into question the whole basis for her existence up to now when he tells her she has wasted her life for his family. Reiko resists that assessment, but it’s still seems that Koji has undermined her sense of fulfilment and purpose in the life she has led so far. As in the first of their walks together at the start of the film, there is a constant to-and-fro movement with Reiko. She first rejects Koji’s love and, after he mends his ways for her sake and starts working in the grocery store, avoids with a certain embarrassment being in his presence. But at the same time she’s clearly attracted to him. (In fact, in retrospect we can interpret earlier scenes – such as the sad look she gives him when he goes off to bed – as intimations of this.) At night she lies awake, sitting up to the sounds of his coming downstairs for a beer, and there’s a fond playfulness to the way she starts to treat him. Yet right after this she swings away again, arranging the meeting at the temple whose purpose is to underline their separateness and distance.
All these pressures – the personal ones from Koji, the changing economic environment, her difficult position in relation to her in-laws – lead her to make a break with the life she has led till now, to leave her husband’s family and return to her own. There is a question of what we are to make of her comments to her in-law family of how she has made a wasteful sacrifice of her life. To what degree does she believe this? Certainly she tells Koji afterwards that the opposite is the case: “I didn’t waste my life. I lived it.” Yet this could just as well be wishful thinking, an assertive effort to convince herself to give a lie to the evidence before her eyes.
In Reiko, yet another remarkable performance from Hideko Takamine (Floating Clouds, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs), there’s often an opaqueness and mystery to her thoughts and intentions. The meaning behind the sad looks she casts on the world around her often only becomes clear with subsequent dialogue, but initially can be almost unfathomable. Such is the case with the way she observes the sleeping Koji on board the train that is taking her home to her family. In this final section of the film Reiko, after bidding farewell to her in-laws including Koji, undertakes the long train journey back to her own home. The whole mood of the film changes here and there’s an almost mesmerising quality to the onward rushing progress of the train as it races on into Reiko’s future life. And the change here is with Reiko too as yet again her receptiveness towards Koji changes, for he has followed her onto the crowded train. In the short scenes that structure this train trip there’s a real charm to the way Koji slowly positions himself ever closer to Reiko’s seat and she correspondingly responds to him, her initial lowering of her gaze to avoid his replaced by exchanges of looks and smiles until finally she is deeply affected through the simple observation of his sleeping form.
As so often through the film, Naruse holds on Reiko’s face but what she may be thinking at this precise moment is withheld from us. We’re free to come to our own interpretation but there’s no certainty, there’s a certain ambiguity and confusion even, a confusion – or, in terms of the film’s Japanese title, disorder – which is at the crux of Reiko’s thoughts, desires, and actions, and which is the source of the quiet, underplayed tragedy that Naruse layers under his calm depiction of this everyday life.
But here on the train the only words she gives to Koji when he awakens and finds her weeping are “Let’s get off the train.” There’s a profound sadness to her whose source is not made clear: a tenderness or love for Koji perhaps, or feelings of loss about the course her life has taken and her missed opportunities. As if to make up for that, she now takes the lead as they board a local rural bus which takes them further and further away from their home environment, up into the moody, mist-shrouded mountains of a spa town. It’s here that Reiko reveals to Koji (and to us) the appeal he has for her as a woman, but in the end she again reverts to her old pattern of pushing him away.
This ends up being a direct replay of Koji’s mid-film declaration of love, with Koji off on a drinking binge and a tearful Reiko pleading with him over the phone to return. But this time the outcome is a tragic one. Just as he does so often with Reiko, here Naruse leaves the precise nature of Koji’s death unclear—we guess it was an accident, but suicide isn’t ruled out either. But the focus here is on Reiko and her discovery of the news in the final few minutes of the film. Ultimately I don’t think Yearning is really at the level of Naruse’s greatest films but this final sequence is absolutely one of the best things he ever did
Awakening alone in the morning, Reiko notices a commotion outside, sees a group of men carrying a body covered with straw matting, and recognises it is Koji from her glimpse of the paper ring she playfully gave him the night before. Rushing outside, she tries to catch up with the men trotting ahead. Naruse first tracks back in front of Reiko, in an almost cruel way as the sense of her desperation and her faltering inability to keep up is palpable. Then, in a static long shot Reiko runs slowly up to stop in middle-distance while we now are shown what she sees: the men with Koji’s body vanishing out of view in the distance. Now the film ends with a close-up on Reiko’s face as she slowly calms from the exertion of the run and at the same time on her face the shock, pain, and loss settle to a deadened glaze. Here now is her realisation of the mistakes she has made, the wrong life she has led, and her inability to break out of the patterns of that old life, premised on her self-denial, to create her own happiness. No words are offered here, for Reiko’s silence is the only form appropriate to Yearning’s devastating ending.
In his first lesson the young mathematics teacher Root (Hidetaka Yoshioka) tells his class the story about how he fell in love with math. His single mother Kyoko (Eri Fukatsu) worked as a housekeeper and had been hired by the sister-in-law (Ruriko Asaoka) of a math professor. The professor (Akira Terao) was a difficult case as he could only remember things for about 80 minutes since he had an accident. After that amount of time he forgot everything that happened after the accident again. However, he still pursued his beloved passion of mathematics. Even though Kyoko had to introduce herself to him every day anew she slowly growed fond of the man and he even insisted that she brought her son (Takanari Saito), whom he named Root, to work. As time went by ties of friendship between Kyoko as well as her son and the professor started to grow. The three are connected by their love for baseball and Kyoko and her son start to understand the beauty of math, too.
Mathematics is steeped in a kind of clarity and universality that can in fact be put on a level with beauty. Those who don’t want to believe that will find proof in “The Professor and His Beloved Equation”. This quiet drama about a sick professor who is forced to live solely in the here and now stands out with some wonderfully touching moments, believable emotions and a life-affirming atmosphere that doesn’t lack a certain kind of magic. The magic of numbers. However, you certainly don’t need to be a math student or have been good in school in order to get enthusiastic about some of the featured numbers games and about the wonderful world of numbers. First and foremost the film is a heartwarming drama, though, which always manages to strike the right notes.
What’s refreshing is that there is no unnecessarily tearjearking story woven around the professor’s illness. Of course it is the groundwork for some more dramatic moments, but they aren’t put to the foreground by force as it is constantly the case with many bad tearjerkers up to this day. The professor also isn’t such an old fogey as one would think after the first meeting between him and Kyoko. On the contrary, he proves to be outstandingly likeable and fond of children. Moreover, he has a talent to make others get interested in him and his field of work. After all, mathematics also serves as a means of self-discovery and thus is made use of by the screenplay effectively to draw the emotional development of the characters.
The fantastic script is based on a novel by Yoko Ogawa and shows math as a concept that can be applied to life in order to get closer to the deeper invisible truths hidden in it. At the same time it is acknowledged that certain relations that have been found in math have no practical use whatsoever. Still, it is fascinating to watch the professor explain to us what amicable and perfect numbers are. It is as if secret truths of the universe are revealed to us, as if we found out about relations that are of extreme importance, but couldn’t yet be integrated into the big picture of the world. These magical moments are brought to us thanks to credible characters that we soon start to grow fond of.
Director Takashi Koizumi – assisstant director of no other than Akira Kurosawa – who eventually made his own debut with “After the Rain” tells his tale in perfectly composed, serence pictures. His roots can be made out in a slightly out of place Noh-performance or in the wonderful shots of the professor’s front garden at night. A nice soundtrack by Takashi Kako completes the good overall impression.
Akira Terao (“Ran”) plays his part brilliantly, at times confused and quiet at others full of lust for life and excitement for his passion of math and baseball. He is connected to his sister-in-law, a woman who at all times has something noble and graceful about her, by a background story he shares with her which is subtly woven into the movie. Yet, despite this subtlety there is no question left unanswered at the end.
Eri Fukatsu (“Villain”) plays the goodhearted single mother who makes friends with the professor without making the impression that she might search for a father figure in him. This unusual friendship which is conveyed believable at any time is also the centerpiece of the film and is capable of overcoming any kind of test. The story is sometimes minimalistic but enchanting and full of heart. The nice cinematography and the great actors send shivers down your spine, when the circle to self-discovery and problem solving has been closed through mathematics, as it is typical for dramas that do everything right by treating the viewer honestly. No manipulative drama, but a slice of life that will make you rejoice is what you will get here!
Yukihiko Nishino is very popular with women, but, in the end, he is always dumped by a woman. Yukihiko seeks out his true love.
Nishino (cognome) Yukihiko (nome), è decisamente un bell’uomo. La sua aria raffinatamente trasandata, il suo ritmo leggermente allentato, la sua disponibilità agli eventi che oscilla tra gentilezza e lascivia, ne fanno automaticamente un oggetto di desiderio per signore di tutte le età. E lui, anche se pare sempre un po’ svogliato, non si tira mai indietro. La sua serendipity è tale che, in più di un’occasione, si ritrova con due delle sue amanti, non a letto ma intorno al tavolo di un bar o a casa di qualcuna. Le donne schiumano, tentano la rissa ma lui, olimpico, lascia fare, tanto sa che torneranno e che se non torneranno loro, ne verranno delle altre. Un talento naturale o, in termini, un po’ dispregiativi, un farfallone.
Il suo vero problema, però, è che lui vorrebbe trovare il grande amore, sposarsi, fare una famiglia. Nessuna però gli crede. Anzi, sotto questo punto di vista è molto meno attraente. Condannato a questa incomprensione, passa di donna in donna, leggiadro e disincantato, senza mai desistere dal proporsi in matrimonio. Ma il destino ha altro in serbo per lui …
Iguchi Nami ha esordito nel 2001 con Inuneko, un film in 8 mm. che le valse un premio al PIA Film Festival. Nel 2004 ne fa una nuova versione in 35 mm., sempre con il titolo Inuneko (The Cat Leaves Home) che le fa vincere il Torino Film Festival. Un film intelligente e sensibile, dagli espliciti omaggi a Ozu, a cominciare dallo stile dei titoli di testa. Tre anni di silenzio e nel 2007, realizza Hito no sex wo warauna (Don’t Laugh at My Romance), altro film toccante con una Aoi Yū in piena forma.
Ora, dopo un episodio nell’omnibus Hikarie eiga (2013), si ripresenta con questo Nishino Yukihiko no ai to bōken (la cui traduzione letterale è “Amori e avventure di Yukihiko Nishino”), tratto dal romanzo omonimo del 2006 di Kawakami Hiromi, una scrittrice che si potrebbe dire sintonica con la Iguchi per delicatezza e espressività subliminale e che sta cominciando a essere conosciuta anche in Italia con le traduzioni di Antonietta Pastore per Einaudi.
Lo stile “alla Ozu” c’è sempre – la camera sempre abbastanza bassa, anche se non ad altezza tatami, la maggior parte delle inquadrature fisse, l’uso di “transizioni”, cioè immagini fisse di esterni per segnare il passaggio da una scena all’altra, un uso moderato dei primi piani – così come ci sono sempre una sensibilità notevole alle movenze e alle psicologie delle persone e uno stile complessivo non gridato ma fatto di sfumature che si compongono in significato. Al di là di questi meriti indiscussi, però, l’impressione è che in questo film la creatività ristagni un po’. Da un lato perché di figure come quella del protagonista nel cinema europeo, in particolare francese (non solo Truffaut), ce ne sono già tante. Dall’altro perché la “solitudine” del protagonista, anziché essere mostrata, viene dichiarata dai personaggi e addirittura da una voce fuori campo, svuotandone così l’afflato esistenziale. Forse la Iguchi con questo film voleva giocare, seppur in senso propositivo, ma mi ha fatto un effetto meno toccante dei due film precedenti. Anche il ricorso a una per quanto intelligente forma di racconto nel racconto con l’intervento persino di un fantasma, è sì divertente nell’assunto ma non aggiunge nulla all’economia della storia. Speriamo di non dover aspettare altri tre o quattro anni prima di vedere il prossimo film di quella che comunque è una regista da tenere sempre d’occhio.
Takenouchi Yutaka nel ruolo di Yukihiko è bravo e piacente nel giocare la parte; rispetto a suoi possibili predecessori francesi e italiani, può mancare di grinta e strafottenza ma compensa con morbidità e fatalismo. Fra le varie donne che gli ruotano intorno, Asō Kumiko compare poco, fredda e suggestiva come sempre, mentre la parte del leone come espressività la fa Ono Machiko, vista di recente in Like Father, Like Son di Koreeda. Narumi Riko, deliziosamente un po’ meno massiccia e un poì più donna, è la vicina di casa che passa dal balcone per cercare il gatto in casa di Yukihiko e poi lo aspetta dormendo sul divano. Il sogno di ogni uomo.
In her mid-twenties, Jeong-hae is a postal worker who lives a monotonous daily routine. She is kind, detached, and delicate, and accepts being cut off from the outside world as natural. When she takes in a stray cat she happens to remember things about her mother, and when an aspiring writer who comes to the post office expresses interest in her, her unexplained peacefulness is shaken, and hidden trauma begins to make its way to the surface of her emotions.
“This Charming Girl” is most likely of all the movies I’ve seen so far the movie in which seemingly happens the least. Accordingly, it was quite difficult to write a story summary. What is there to tell?
Director Lee Yoon-ki takes us with his debut into the normal and monotonous life of Jeong-hae. We get to see her everyday life in which nothing happens at all. Those without patience should stop reading at once and look for another movie to watch, as patience is a must in order to appreciate this movie. Nearly for minutes in every scene we watch her doing so absurd-normal things as watering her plants, driving in the bus or just eating a meal. Nonetheless, the director and above all actress Kim Ji-soo manage to keep up our interest in the life of this ordinary person.
In “This Charming Girl” there seem to be happening only a few things. Those who are willing to see under the surface will find out that the movie is in fact very multilayered and provides us with a lot of things that set us thinking.
The movie works because of its small and irrelevant details, which make the life of Jeong-hae so credible. For example there is her place of work at the postoffice where we get to see her sometimes hectic workday. Different persons go in and out every day and the colleagues of Jeong-hae aren’t that uninteresting neither. Even though they get only little screen time. This is of course, because we get to see the whole movie out of the eyes of the main protagonist and she isn’t one to spend lots of time with other people. So it’s also no wonder that there is not much of dialogue to be found here. As a matter of fact, there is also no need for it to understand certain things. Nearly every action and event has a deeper meaning to it, e.g. Jeong-hae taking care of a stray cat or wanting to buy some new shoes. There is a lot of thinking and analysis left to be done by the viewer, but those who are willing to do so will get rewarded.
With time we are told why Jeong-hae is prefering a secluded life, not wanting any changes in her everyday life. In some very well inserted flashbacks, which perfectly blend Jeong-hae’s memories into the present, we finally get to know what strokes of fate she had do endure and what she has to suffer from. She tries to heal her inner wounds in seclusion and on her own, and she suddenly gets aware, that the time has come to go on.
Kim Ji-soo’s performance isn’t just convincing and credible, but she also manages to be very charming under her cold and rejecting surface. With just a few gestures she brings to life a variety of different emotions, charming the viewer. Apart from her the other characters in their short time on screen also have individualities and seem to be taken right out of real life.
“This Charming Girl” is a character study of a postoffice employee, who wants to muster up her courage to go on with her life, letting bygones be bygones. Because of the many small details the director did place value on, the oftentimes artistic use of unsteady cameras, despite the sharp picture, and the great performance of Kim Ji-soo, it’s just fascinating to dive into the life of this person for 100 minutes. In order to fully appreciate the movie it’s a must to actively think and reflect.
A petty thief pretends he is Mussolini’s personal physician, wins the confidence of a family and succeeds in stealing their gold cutlery.
Sua eccellenza si fermò a mangiare (1961) di Mario Mattòli è una commedia ricca di elementi sexy interpretata da Totò, Ugo Tognazzi, Raimondo Vianello, Francesco Mulè, Virna Lisi, Lauretta Masiero e Lia Zoppelli. Si tratta dell’ultimo film girato da Mattòli con Totò interprete principale, la fine di un sodalizio molto fruttuoso.
Totò è un ladro che si introduce in un appartamento e cerca di approfittare di una bugia che Tognazzi racconta alla moglie Virna Lisi per nascondere una scappatella extraconiugale. Commedia degli equivoci allo stato puro, ambientata nel periodo fascista, con Totò che si traveste da dottore e viene scambiato per il medico privato di Mussolini. Alla fine il ladro, che veste i panni del dottor Tanzarella, dopo molte vicissitudini si appropria delle posate d’oro cesellate da Benvenuto Cellini, fingendo di telefonare al Duce. Il furto delle posate mette in primo piano la grande ambizione di tutti i presenti, che vorrebbero far carriera grazie alla conoscenza di Mussolini da parte del ministro e del medico.
Sua Eccellenza si fermò a mangiare viene rieditato – per problemi politici – nel 1967 con il titolo Il dottor Tanzarella, medico personale del… fondatore dell’Impero. La critica più illuminata ricorda l’importanza di questo lavoro come precursore di molti stereotipi della commedia all’italiana e della commedia sexy: scambio di coppie, malintesi, doppi sensi, scambi di camere, donne nascoste negli armadi, qui pro quo in camera da letto. L’ambientazione anni Trenta contribuisce a realizzare una velata critica al regime, una satira degli uomini politici senza personalità che sostengono Mussolini.
Girato in Umbria, nelle campagne di Montefalco, nella finzione Castelletto, villa di una contessa che attende la visita di un gerarca fascista. Memorabile il discorso commemorativo del ministro – un formidabile Raimondo Vianello – ignaro del campione sportivo da celebrare, che improvvisa una comica orazione basata sui suggerimenti di Ugo Tognazzi. Ottimo il rapporto comico Totò – Mulè, il primo nei panni di un furbo ladruncolo che riesce a farla franca e il secondo come imbranato commissario di polizia. Erotismo blando tra Tognazzi e Lisi, marito e moglie insoddisfatti che, dopo il tradimento di lui, comprendono l’importanza del rapporto erotico per rinsaldare il matrimonio. Lauretta Masiero è l’amante di Tognazzi, presentata come finta moglie del ladro, ma che in passato ha avuto un breve incontro con il ministro, purtroppo andato in bianco. Pure qui l’erotismo abbonda, sia quando la Masiero viene nascosta in camera, che quando ricorda i particolari di un rapporto non concluso. Totò si lancia nei doppi sensi sui finocchi (“In paese ce ne sono tanti”) e lo spettatore comprende che non sta parlando di verdura. Ma anche quando loda l’opulenza di una ragazza formosa non è da meno e rischia un taglio da parte della censura.
Sua Eccellenza si fermò a mangiare è una pochade ben costruita da un regista esperto in comicità, moderna e piccante, sin troppo audace per il 1961. L’erotismo sta conquistando il cinema italiano.
Rassegna critica. Paolo Mereghetti (una stella e mezzo): “L’ultimo film di Totò con Mattòli si inserisce senza molta originalità nel filone che rievoca il ventennio con toni burleschi: si salva solo Totò nei panni di un ladro incorreggibile”. Morando Morandini (due stelle per la critica – tre stelle per il pubblico): “Pochade inoffensiva sotto ogni aspetto, ma che, anche per pressioni dall’alto, fu rititolata Dott. Tantazella, medico personale del… fondatore dell’impero. Ultimo film di Totò con Mattòli, e non tra i più riusciti anche perché deve cedere il posto all’invadente coppia Tognazzi – Vianello”.
Non condivido le due impostazioni critiche. Mi schiero dalla parte del pubblico e di Pino Farinotti, che assegnano tre stelle. La coppia Tognazzi – Vianello si amalgama bene alla vis comica di Totò e costruisce alcune parentesi da antologia come il discorso commemorativo dello sportivo. Totò è debordante, incontenibile come sempre, questa volta alle prese con soggetto e sceneggiatura di tutto rispetto, scritte da Gianviti e Metz. Ottimo il commento musicale di Gianni Ferrio
A jealous husband out of control, his sexy actress wife, a sleazy Hollywood director, a reckless drug messenger, a disoriented young woman, an ex-con hot dog vendor, a troubled student on a mysterious mission, a high-rise window cleaner on an illicit break, an elderly sketch artist, a hectic paramedics team and a group of hungry nuns. A cross-section of contemporary urbanites whose lives and loves intertwine. They live in an unsure world where anything could happen at any time. An unexpected chain of events can seal many fates in a mere 11 minutes.
There are no truly sympathetic characters in “11 Minutes,” a new thriller directed by Polish New Wave master Jerzy Skolimowski (“Deep End,” “Essential Killing”). Don’t even try to remember these people by name; this isn’t that kind of movie. Just watch “11 Minutes” like you’re channel-surfing, only you don’t have the remote and the roar of static between stations is steadily growing louder as the channels switch back-and-forth, faster and faster. There’s the hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra) who shamelessly flirts with any woman who passes his cart. And the young actress (Paulina Chapko) who submits to a sleazy audition with a small-time wannabe producer (Richard Dormer). And the actress’s husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski). And a drug runner (Dawid Ogrodnik). And a group of paramedics. And a new divorcee (Ifi Ude). And more. And more. And more.
You might not be impressed by “11 Minutes” if you reduce the film to its thematic hardline: we cannot glean capital-T Truth from surveillance technology—whether camera-phones or CCTVs—designed to unite our subjective realities’ disparate fragments. You might also be disappointed if you read the film looking for a Big Idea from a master filmmaker. But “11 Minutes” should not be pigeonholed by its explosive climax, though everything in the film seems to depend on how you read the conclusion. Skolimowski masterfully disorients viewers with a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes that ultimately meet up, but not in the way you might expect based on everything-is-connected dramas like “Babel” and “Crash.” “11 Minutes” is the work of an older filmmaker, but it’s not an old man’s film. He’s angry and alienated by technology, but his film is playful in the same way that the best thrillers by Hitchcock students John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, and Dario Argento perversely mess with your expectations. You have to submit to the filmmakers’ cantankerous whims, and be willing to be led around by the nose to get the most out of “11 Minutes.”
Skolimowski ties these characters’ stories so close together that you’re never really sure who they are. And that’s OK. “11 Minutes” is a modernist testament to the chaos created by the sheer ubiquity of digital cameras. Consider how much emphasis Skolimowski places on coincidence. Everything can be explained by chance, making the film’s introductory sequence—most of the film’s principal characters talk into digital cameras of various shapes and sizes—a barbed indictment of technology and the un-interrogative images that they frequently create. So Ude is stalked by her ex-husband, who has covertly placed a camera on her dog’s collar. And Dormer’s camera is strictly for show: it’s an intimidation tactic, one whose footage, placement, and perspective are ultimately pointless. There is, in other words, a big question at play here: why should everybody have a camera if not everybody is an artist?
That may sound like a haughty question, but it’s a fascinating one as it’s expressed throughout “11 Minutes.” Take this film’s ticking clock plot—you don’t know what will happen, but a metronome-like chime periodically reminds viewers that a distended 11 minute time-frame is leading us somewhere—at face value. Skolimowski jokes about the self-centered nature of people and artists, like the little old painter who watches an actor dive off a bridge, and then get fished out by a crew of divers. The painter remains unconcerned as the actor is retrieved. The painter doesn’t know or care that a film is being shot near him, and that the man who just jumped off of a nearby bridge is just performing a dangerous stunt. The only thing the painter knows is that there is a splotch of ink on his canvas, and it’s not where it should be. Is this the kind of myopia that laypeople, armed only with a camera and the desire to use it to document themselves, want to introduce into their quotidian lives? Or is there a short-sighted-ness inherent in all people, the kind that prevents us from seeing/empathizing/understanding all things at all times? It’s a bit of both, really, and that’s what makes “11 Minutes” such a deceptively simple thriller. Turn on, tune in, burn out.
Writer: Ryker Chan, Ka-Fai Wai, Nai-Hoi Yau, Xi Yu Producer: Peter Lam, Dai Song, Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai, Albert Yeung Studio: China Film Co. Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller Awards: 2 wins & 6 nominations
A cop is forced into early retirement due to retinal damage. But after witnessing a bank robbery along with a female inspector – who believes he has acute senses – they team up in hope to solve the case.
This is the seventh collaboration overall between the versatile Lau and sparky Cheng, and their fourth with To — the last time that the so-called “box office golden team” worked together was 2004’s Yesterday Once More. And while multi-award-winning singer/actor Lau has maintained his usual Stakhanovite work-rate in the interim, ‘Queen of Pop’ Cheng’s big-screen appearances have been more intermittent — To’s Romancing in Thin Air was touted last year as a ‘comeback’ role.”
And once more, the duo make for an appealing double act: Lau as former cop Chong (Anglicized as ‘Johnston’ in the Cannes subtitles) and Cheng as serving-officer ‘Goldie’ Ho. Chong/Johnston lost his sight four years ago. Since then, he’s made a living from the bounties on long-abandoned cold cases. Chong/Johnston’s heightened remaining senses are less of a factor in his success than his remarkable, quasi-supernatural powers of deduction, which involve projecting himself mentally into crime scenes to understand the thought processes of the perpetrators.
He schools Ho, who has lightning-quick reactions and bull’s-eye aim, in his unorthodox approach — which sees the pair dressing up in all manner of zany costumes as they immerse themselves in their “roles” like overzealous method actors. The actual crimes under investigation, which include a morgue murder and a serial killer targeting lovelorn young women, are primarily an excuse for elaborate, spookily-lit flashbacks and incongruous bloody violence, especially in a third-act sequence in a psychopath’s charnel-house lair.
At such junctures, To relies heavily on Lau’s and Cheng’s well-established screen presence, though even this expert duo are sometimes allowed to go too far over the top, just as some of the supporting performances cross from the broad to the embarrassingly amateurish. It doesn’t help that two actors, including Zi Yi in the quite important role of Johnston/Chong’s ex-partner ‘Szeto Fatbo,’ have had their lines awkwardly post-dubbed by other performers.
This quaint relic of old-style East Asian cinema stands in contrast to the widescreen slickness of Siu Keung Cheng’s widescreen cinematography, which exerts appeal throughout this punishingly overlong, overcooked confection. Stir in frequent helpings of larkish blind-man slapstick and what results is a misshapen and unsatisfying stew of different genres.
At the beginning of the film the father-in-law of the protagonist dies unexpectedly of a heart attack. The remainder of the film is episodic, moving from one incident to another over the course of the three-day funeral, which is held (as is customary) in the home. These incidents contrast old ways and new ways, young and old, ritual ceremony and true feelings, often comically, but sometimes with real poignancy.
“The Funeral” is the debut film from actor and director Juzo Itami, who is perhaps best known for his ‘noodle western’ “Tampopo” (as of this writing, still a hard-to-find title for North Americans). In his first work, he creates a warm and multi-layered comedy that embraces the very human quirks and traits of its characters as they gather together and support each other in the shadow of tragedy.
Tsutomu Yamazaki, who often collaborated with Itami and recently appeared in the Academy Award-winning “Departures” (which contains a healthy number of similarities to “The Funeral”), stars as Wabisuke Inoue, who, along with his wife, makes his living as a television actor. In the opening scene, his wife’s father suffers from a heart attack and soon afterward dies. After deciding to hold the funeral at the deceased’s home in Izu, Inoue and his wife gather with a multitude of friends and family members to plan and carry out the funeral. This turns out to be quite a formidable task, as the film chronicles the many stages of the long, complicated and emotionally trying three-day process of properly sending off the departed loved one.
The premise of “The Funeral” fully enables Itami to show how ill-prepared the younger generation is when suddenly faced with the traditional practices and protocol of a Buddhist ceremony. The process involves such challenges as deciding what kind of coffin to buy and how much to pay the Jodo priest (the fee is politely referred to as a ‘donation’). Potential trouble crops up early in the form of the dead man’s older brother, who nit-picks and debates such points as the placement of the body (he wants it placed in bed upon arrival while the other family members want it kept in the coffin) and its position in the room in relation to the cardinal directions. Inoue and his wife manage as best they can during the proceedings, at one point picking up tips from an instructional video entitled “The ABCs of a Funeral”. Yet, even though the characters aren’t always as confident in following the ways of tradition, they are at least brought closer together in the jumble of events and emotions brought about by the ceremony.
The film is chock full of great little scenes and moments. A nighttime road trip through a rainstorm to retrieve the body leads to a high speed food exchange between two vehicles. During the priest’s prayers, the camera freely wanders and captures a slew of details: several family members cross and adjust their feet, two kids grapple with each other and, finally, a telephone rings at exactly the wrong moment. At one point, Yamazaki’s protagonist enjoys a quickie in the forest surrounding the house with a lover in the film’s most outrageous scene, which is edited to perfection as it cuts between their moment of passion and a young woman swinging back and forth on a hanging bench in a steady, all-too-suggestive rhythm. Another wonderfully composed scene depicts the women’s desperate efforts to dissolve the increasingly rowdy group of men as they drink sake into the night.
Between the many comical moments, Itami also makes sure to slow down and acknowledge the deeply felt emotional effects of the funeral on the gathered people. There are many point-of-view shots from the deceased’s perspective as the family members gather around him and regard the man they knew (someone affectionately places his glasses back on his face, “so he can see where he’s going”). A home movie sequence candidly shows the family enjoying some light moments together as they see to their assorted duties. Itami also uses many long takes that show the gathered guests as they patiently see each part of the ceremony through to the end. The scene most likely to draw tears from viewers is the one in which the new widow speaks about her husband’s last moments and the fear of being lonely in the time of one’s death.
“The Funeral” is a commendable achievement simply because of the way in which it accurately reflects the many emotions, pressures and necessary details that arise during an event such as a funeral. With its humanistic tone and observance of the fate of cultural values in the contemporary world, it seamlessly merges honesty and humor in an insightful and heart-felt package.