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Archive for December, 2010

An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn`t exist, for the artist doesn`t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn`t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.

Every now and then, I’m going to take a break from my random film watching and review the film career of Andrei Tarkovsky. This is one of those posts. Tarkovsky was once called the greatest director who ever lived by Ingmar Bergman. That’s is and will always be a high honor. I am and will continue to review and give thoughts about his work.

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Ivan’s Childhood (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)

I thought I would start out with his first since all his films were released online. This film was equally exhilarating, beautiful, and haunting. The performances Nickolay Burlyaev gives as the titular character is among the best child performances of all time. His naturalism draws you in and his big scenes floor you without ever going overboard with sentiment. Whenever the kid is onscreen, Ivan’s Childhood sores. However, he’s not onscreen all the time. The film includes a kind of hackneyed subplot involving a love triangle among two soldiers and a nurse named Masha. It’s a bit lame in the way that it adds essentially nothing to Ivan’s character, but offers a nice break from his heart wrenching story. Ultimately, though, I’d much rather have Ivan’s character than Masha’s character. The conclusion of the subplot doesn’t add much layer to the film in it’s entirety, other than just showing us the other soldiers in the Army. But no matter what, the direction and cinematography are always appropriately moody, concise, and imaginative. I can’t wait until I have enough time to see Tarkovsky’s next, Andrei Rublev. B+

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Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)

I loved this. My initial thoughts – This is a total 180 from Ivan’s Childhood – plot wise. For starters, it’s balanced. There’s practically no fat whatsoever to be found on this film, where as Childhood had a entire subplot that didn’t tie back into the film’s main character at all. The story in Andrei Rublev is incredibly complex and expansive. It’s story follows the titular painter, yet it evolves, quite unexpectedly, into a tale of Medieval Russia. The first part of the film largely deals with the life before the overthrow the Tatars. The second part deals with the death of the land and the (somewhat) rebirth of itself. The direction of Rublev is captivating in the way that it feels completely nonexistent. I’m finding some difficulty even typing out my initial thoughts! What was that?! I have seen a limited amount of film directors, so the only one that I could compare Tarkovsky to would probably be Malick. They both have this terrific talent of capturing the beauty and ugliness of nature and they do it without self consciousness or over exaggeration. They are truly two of a kind. Another thing – there’s a lot of animal cruelty in this film? My idea of the intention was to paint the Tatars as villains because whenever they were on screen a animal would get killed or fight. It goes deeper than that, though, of course – if we humans have some sort of transcendental thoughts and if we kill a animal over a principle, than we have become lesser than animals, we have become truly evil. To be honest, I was not comfortable with the torture and death of animals on screen. I hope it’s fake, but I’m not sure. There was such harsh brutality in the second act, that, even though the entirety of the raid was shorter, it nearly outweighs the peace of the first part. Yet the film transforms, towards the end, to a story about the building of a bell. I felt this part sort of wraps up all the feelings of the film pretty well. Community, personal sacrifice, and fear of authority all find their way in. Which reminds of the very beginning – the flight of the man in the balloon. I still have absolutely no idea what that had to do with or how it ties into the story. Perhaps I didn’t pay attention? I need to watch the film again. It’s probably the most dense film I’ve ever seen. I did enjoy the break into the past with the crucifixion of Christ. I have never seen a more accurate or beautiful way of showing that. I don’t think I will ever stop thinking about this film. A+

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Bonus Thoughts on Ivan’s Childhood (There may be spoilers)


There are three scenes I love in that film.

1. The sequence that opens the film that ends with that delicious zoom in/slant angle with the horrifying music. Tarkovsky sets up the scene as a lovely childhood dream with mother and son, but at the end he throws this violent short twist that transforms this “dream” into a nightmare. It’s pretty chilling.

2. Ivan’s enactment of what he would do if he came across a Nazi general is absolutely heartbreaking. There is no fancy fantasies, it’s all done by a child’s view and the scene suggests a certain sadness to his character that isn’t fully explored earlier in the film. His family was murdered by the Nazis and this is why he’s so determined to fight them. Burlyaev totally sells it. Best performance by a child actor ever? I think so.

3. Power of suggestion. If one thing of Tarkovsky’s first film hints at his later realized genius, it’s the ending where one of the soldiers travels to the torture chambers used by the Nazis after the war has ended. With the knowledge that Ivan was never found, the images accompanied with sounds of children and adults screaming is one of the most powerful scenes put on film I’ve ever seen. The ending with Ivan running on the beach is a beautiful parallel to the beginning of the film. Ivan is in heaven and is enjoying his childhood once again.

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Bonus Thoughts on Andrei Rublev (There may be spoilers)

You know, there’s all of this thought and symbolism in the film… but I didn’t catch any of it because, as many film critics have put it before, it’s just so damned mesmerizing to think about during or even after the film. But this word used struck me: searching. For what? For God in a God less world? I’m not saying God is not existent, but that human beings have killed the idea and the feeling of God or even transcendence.

It’s almost as if the audience is a protagonist along with Rublev. It’s slow moving nature gives us, the audience, to explore the world and make our own observations. It’s very non manipulative and a bit ambiguous, I can see why Tarkovsky’s films can often be debated over. The film is about a painter and yet the film is like a painting: you really get lost in the expansive world that Tarkovsky creates. The close ups of the painting(s?) at the end was very powerful. All of his life amounted to his art. What more could be said?

Thanks for reading! I hope to view Tarkovsky’s Solaris and The Mirror in the next month.

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The King’s Speech is a very formulaic film.  It’s the classic struggle story – a otherwise brilliant person has to confront his own problems in order to succeed for the betterment of society. If the film was in lesser hands, the film’s plot cliches would make the film completely forgettable. But with Tom Hooper and a excellent cast, The King’s Speech soars. Speech tells the story of Prince Albert also known as The Duke of York also known as the future King George VI of England after his brother abdicated from the crown. He’s a great man, a naval officer, who suffers from a very rare problem that most normal men do not: he has a stutter. As the film opens, we watch Albert struggle through a speech to open a horse race. It’s such a shift-in-your-seat awkwardly painful scene to watch. Hooper gives us the POV of Albert, allowing us to look at all of the sighing and head shaking citizens that are waiting for Albert to continue his speech from a long pause. Everyone has a fear of public speaking, but when it’s part of your life to inspire and rally, the fear is maximized. Prince Albert has little choice. He needs to fix his speech. Luckily, he has a loving wife (played subtly by Helena Bonham Carter) who isn’t going to give up on him. After several failed attempts, she hires Lionel Logue, a credential-less failed actor turned speech therapist, who uses his unconventional methods to probe into the mind of Albert (whom he calls Berty) and find the psychological reason behind his stammer.

The King’s Speech was a big winner at Toronto International Film Festival and now I can see why. While the story is fairly predictable, the situation and characters that inhabit the film takes back whatever lack of emotional resonance that the film’s cliches tries to displace. The backdrop of a encroaching World War II and the firm set magnifying glass on the inner politics of the Royal family make for a interesting film in itself. The addition of the wonderful character of Lionel Logue and the treatment sessions between him and Albert make for comedic interludes of vocal exercises and thrilling scenes of dramatic back and forth. It’s here that Albert becomes a fully formed character and where a unlikely friendship blooms between him and Lionel. This film, at heart, is a true bromance film. It’s like a British period piece version of I Love You, Man. The chemistry between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush is among the best I’ve seen this year. They hit all the right notes in every scene. They’re both prime scene stealers in past films they’ve done supporting work for. Here, they constantly battle to upstage each other. The result is electrifying. These two are at the top of their game and their sessions together are among the best scenes I’ve seen in film this year. They are complemented well with a excellent cast – as I mentioned, Helena Bonham Carter plays the subtle role as Mother Superior. It’s a nice break to watch her do something else than playing a over-the-top villain as she has done in recent past (most notably, the Harry Potter films). She’s a brilliantly underrated actress. This understated performance she has in The King’s Speech ranks among her best. Then there’s Guy Pearce, a actor who always seems to be around, but hasn’t yet expanded on his potential once demonstrated in Memento. Here he shows that he can still steal a scene, particularly in a confrontation scene where he demeans his brother’s stutter. He chews into the cruelty of his character as he insults Albert by calling him, “B-B-B-B-B-B-Berty”. Finally, there’s Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, and Michael Gambon. They all play important roles such as Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Winston Churchill, and King George V, respectively, but with their natural characterization, they chew deep into the characters, delivering fine performances with their limited screen time.

While The King’s Speech offers imaginative camera movement, it also displays a rather dull set design. I don’t find the film uninspired, but it’s a bit flat and uninteresting. The same brownish, grayish color scheme dominates the majority of the film making it look as boring as possible. If it weren’t for the brilliant plot and acting, this film would probably be the most boring British period piece film of the last decade and a half. Luckily, the costumes are appropriately period while the make up doesn’t is used just enough to realize the actors aren’t wearing any. Not only does the cinematography have wonderful tracking shots, it also fills the screen with meticulous compositions. I fell in love with practically every shot in the film because of the powerful and confident way the scenes were shot. The editing is so brisk that you hardly notice it. Alexandre Desplat’s score, while powerful at times, is nothing extraordinary, but solid. The film is a technical powerhouse. As a director, veteran TV director Tom Hooper has crafted what I think shall be known as his breakthrough film. He has arrived.

For history buffs like me, this is the best kind of film. It’s funny, heartbreaking, and filled with excellent acting. Sure, it may be rather dull to look at times and the film’s beats are about as predictable as a horror film, but the lively characters, brilliant script, and excellent cinematography more than make up for it. The King’s Speech is easily one of the best films of the year. Bravo. B+

For Your Consideration:

  • Best Picture of the Year
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role – Colin Firth
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Geoffrey Rush
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Helena Bonham Carter
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume
  • Best Make Up
  • Best Original Score

Thanks for reading my inaugural post! Hope you enjoyed it.

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