Roberto Succo (2001)

You can’t predict crazy

The film Roberto Succo from director Cédric Kahn, based on a true story, takes a hard cold look at the crime spree of an escaped Italian mental patient. Roberto Succo slaughtered his parents and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for a ten year sentence. He escaped, traveled to France and then embarked on a life of crime: stealing cars, and committing rape and murder along the way.

When the film opens a wild-eyed Roberto (Stefano Cassetti) who calls himself ‘Kurt,’ meets 16-year-old schoolgirl Léa (Isild le Besco), who’s on holiday in Southern France, at a seaside disco. He drives a flashy car, has wads of cash, is full of glamorous tales of his exploits, and Lea gets caught up in the drama of their romance. Kurt claims to be English, yet his accent seems Italian to Léa. There’s no sex between them-just some groping and the odd dry hump,  and when she returns home to the Savoy Mountains, he promises to see her again.

roberto succo

The film is largely episodic, and at times the narrative picks up as Roberto commits another crime or drops back into Léa’s life. In one scene, the police respond to a missing person’s report, and it’s at this point that police detective Thomas, (Patrick Dell’Isola) begins to piece together that a series of seemingly random crimes have been committed by the same individual who’s running amok across France.

After speaking to a few witnesses and putting together a crime spree map, Thomas concludes, correctly as it turns out, that they are dealing with a madman. Unfortunately Thomas’s superior doesn’t think the case is that serious….

While some of the film follows the dogged investigation, when scenes switch to Roberto, the tempo changes dramatically.  His victims will be leading their normal routines when suddenly Roberto bursts into their lives with his erratic, manic behaviour. Whether he’s ranting about endocrinology, Stendhal or Marxism, he’s clearly terrifying insane. Some of his victims are able to play cool while others aren’t so fortunate. In terms of violence, we see a post slaughter scene and photos of a slaughter scene. Not too gruesome in its distance but certainly dire enough to place a heavy weight on the narrative. The most terrifying aspect of the story has to be the sheer randomness of his attacks.

Meanwhile as the police dig for clues, Robert visits Léa. They have a relationship of sorts with him spinning various versions of himself and Léa either largely swallowing or deciding to ignore the glaring inconsistencies in his tales.

Roberto is clearly a fantasist and the film shows that well. At times he brags he’s a terrorist, a Marxist, and when given attention he’s caught in the moment as he spews out various elaborate, grandiose versions of his life. Stefano Cassetti delivers a convincing performance as the mercurial madman who doesn’t seem to have a goal other than ‘freedom.’ His victims exist to help him achieve that careening, elusive ideal. Towards the end of the film, he rants his insane version of the fate of one of his victims, and while we know his version is twisted, the horrifying fate of the victim haunts the scene.

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Luz Casal

High Heels

 

Luz Casal sings two of my favourite songs from High Heels, an Almodovar film

 

Luz Casal

Piensa en Mí

 

WOW!

 Un año De Amor. (with scenes from the film)

(Sorry about the ads on the videos)

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The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)

I can think of quite a few films that deal with the subject of leading a secret homosexual life, but not so many that deal with the problems facing lesbians. BBC’s The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is based on a real life woman (1791-1840), a young Yorkshire woman living with her uncle and aunt at Shibden Hall when the film begins. Anne (Maxine Peake) is often in the company of lovers and friends Mariana (Anna Madeley) and Isabella ‘Tib” (Susan Lynch) and the three young women enjoy a great deal of freedom in each other’s company. This all comes to a screeching halt when Mariana is married off to elderly widower Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin). Up to this point, Mr Lawton’s presence, and his obvious hunt for the next Mrs Lawton, have provided the raw material for jokes.

Anne is heart broken and begs her lover Mariana to call off the marriage, but Mariana, who clearly knows what society expects of her, refuses. Anne wears black to the wedding, and afterwards tries to move on to a new love. Tib tries to console Anne, but the spark isn’t there.

Years pass and a few communications pass between Anne and Mariana. They swear a solemn vow to be true to each other, and Mariana assures Anne that her elderly husband is inching, daily, towards the grave. Meanwhile Anne, capable of great sexual passion, records her loneliness in coded diaries. She longs to share her life with the woman she loves and seeing Mariana under various pretenses just isn’t enough.

Set against the beautiful countryside of Anne’s home, we see how Anne progresses through her life. While Mariana calls Anne, “Freddy,” she also has the nickname of “Gentleman Jack,” and after Anne refuses to marry a local landowner, his spite makes sure that the rumours spread.

Anne, Tib and Mariana are allowed quite a bit of freedom, which included sharing beds with one another. But all this was approved of in the context that these young ladies were doing exactly what society expected them to do–and that included taking the husbands arranged for them and ‘doing their duty.’ (Sex and children). There are clues that some people were quite aware of Anne’s sexual orientation, but either chose to ignore it or else they imagined that it would pass once she found a suitable husband.

It’s interesting to note that no-one is suspicious of the sexual orientation of Anne’s aunt and uncle. The uncle is a substantial landowner, but there’s no mention of a wife, and of course the sister acts as a housekeeper. But they are passed the age of sexual queries. They may both be gay for all we know, but it no longer seems to matter to society. Also of note in that while the mingling of the single sexes was monitored and scrutinized by polite society, two or three girls alone together was …. well no big deal until one of them refused to marry a suitable husband.

As the film, which cut out some of the most interesting parts of Anne’s life, continues, we see Anne become increasingly masculine in dress and behaviour. There’s one scene when her hair has been curled and it looks god-awful, yet still the femininity garners compliments.

A lot more could have been done with the subject matter, but it’s well casted, well acted and pretty to look at. Sally Wainwright’s Gentleman Jack is currently posted preproduction on IMDB

Director James Kent

Writer Jane English

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Vasiliy Stalin (Son of the People’s Father or The Son of the Leader of the People) Syn Ottsa Narodov (2013)

There never was a Vasiliy Stalin.”

Vasiliy Stalin (Son of the People’s Father or The Son of the Leader of the People) Syn Ottsa Narodov is a riveting and ultimately compassionate look at the life of Stalin’s troubled son, Vasiliy. This 2013 12-episode biopic, made for Russian television, covers the years of Vasiliy’s childhood, his first marriage to Galina, WWII, his second marriage to the daughter of Marshal Timoshenko, Stalin’s death and concludes in the 1960s. With each episode running approximately 55 minutes, this excellent, immersive biopic with a memorable musical score, takes its time detailing the life of Vasiliy, and even at a couple of points takes a few digressions and follows another story thread. At one point, for example, the plot follows Vasiliy’s sister, Svetlana’s romance with a journalist sent to Stalingrad. These digressions do not detract from the main storyline, but instead flesh out the complicated nuances of Soviet life under Stalin.

We see red-headed Vasiliy growing up in a remote home under the care of Sergei Efimov. Vasiliy is a bold, courageous boy who longs to fly, and so as a youth he trains as a pilot and rapidly rises in the Soviet Air Forces. Vasiliy presents many problems for his superiors who quake at the idea of disciplining this exuberant young man, but it’s through Vasiliy’s stellar military career that we see that while being the son of Stalin brings fast tracked rank (he made General in his 20s), Stalin is loathe to place Vasiliy in any danger as he would make a high-profile POW. In one scene, Stalin struggles with the German propaganda generated about POW Yakov, Stalin’s son from his first marriage.

Vasiliy StalinIt’s during the flight training and WWII  scenes that Vasiliy really seems to hit his peak. He’s a great leader of men, and this is defined through a couple of scenes involving fellow pilots. In one scene, a trainee steals Vasiliy’s watch, and while the other pilots want to see the thief punished, Vasiliy’s judgement shows compassion, generosity, and wisdom. In another scene, Vasiliy goes unpunished by his fearful commanders who are terrified to punish the son of Stalin, but Vasiliy insists on joining his peers in lock-up. In yet another WWII scene, we see a dear friend of Vasiliy’s make an enemy of the wrong man and after a petty incident, the friend (Alexey Vertkov) is arbitrarily carted off to the convict brigade where the convicts/pilots fly damaged planes. Vasiliy throws caution aside and challenges authority and yet this is an instance in which his name cannot save his friend. Through this episode we see the chilling randomness of Stalin’s punishments–even of those who make a major contribution to the war effort. Repeatedly, we see Stalin pick up his phone to relay orders to Beria, and Beria (sexual predator and Chief of NKVD) always seems to already have the intel on everyone in the entire country.

The WWII scenes include some fantastic dogfights, and there’s no doubt that Vasiliy Stalin was a Soviet hero, and yet at the same time we see his marriage falling apart and his drinking escalating which hint at the idea that Vasiliy may not fare well in peacetime. In fact as we follow Vasiliy into his 30s, he loses that youthful enthusiasm and instead seems weary and yet still keen to find an active role in post WWII Soviet society. Whoever did the make-up for the film did a great job of aging Vasiliy.

While the film depicts Vasiliy’s three major relationships with women: Galina, the daughter of Marshal Timoshenko, and Kapitalina, an athlete, there are generous hints that Vasiliy was a womanizer. At one point his minders cannot find him, and when the question arises regarding whether or not he has a mistress, one minder answers that there are addresses of women all over Moscow. It’s through his relationships with women that Vasily is cruel and at his worst, while he is at his best in his relationships with men.

The film argues that Vasiliy was seen as a threat by both Beria (a very creepy performance) and Khrushchev (portrayed as an indecisive, insecure idiot), and the film explores Vasiliy’s years in prison and ends with him sent into exile. Vasiliy was ultimately his father’s son, and since Khrushchev was busy repudiating Stalin’s rule, his Cult of Personality and secret murders, it was probably inevitable that Vasiliy would be silenced.

Vasiliy and Svetlana were the product of Stalin’s second marriage to Nadezhda Alliluyeva. While official sources state that Nadezhada died of peritonitis, she was reportedly found dead of a gunshot wound following a public fight with Stalin. The film shows a brief flashback moment seen through Vasiliy’s memory with the gun laying on the ground next to Nadezhda’s left hand, and we may draw our own conclusions regarding the controversy of Nadezhda’s death. There are a couple of other controversial moments in Vasiliy’s life: an aviation accident is mentioned briefly and then the plane disaster involving the USSR ice hockey team is presented in an entirely different manner than the Wikipedia version of events. Similarly the film hints that Stalin’s death may not have been from natural causes, but this comes only from a doubt expressed by Vasiliy, and again, we are left to speculate about the truth for ourselves.

Vasiliy is ultimately a tragic figure whose connection to Stalin was a double-edged sword. While being Stalin’s son gave untold privilege and status,Vasiliy paid dearly for the connection after his father’s death, and the film makes it quite clear that being the son of Stalin was a role that bore tremendous baggage. In his youth, Vasiliy just had to mention his famous surname in order to reverse consequences, and one of the film’s two great ironies is that in the last decade of his life, Vasiliy Stalin became, to all purposes, an unknown man of no importance. The second great irony underscored by the film is the way Vasiliy leaves his children to be brought up by minders–a repetition of his own tragic history.

Russian actor Gela Meskhi as Vasiliy hammers out a terrific, sensitive performance as a troubled man haunted by his own demons. While the rest of the country was able to move on with the new post Stalin paradigm, Vasiliy could not– as to deny his name and his relationship with his father was too big a price to pay. Highly recommended for fans of Russian cinema. And Russian film fans, keep your eyes open for Gela Meskhi; this is a talent to watch.

Directed by Sergei Shcherbin

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Love Has Many Faces (1965)

There are no secrets in this sandpile.”

Love Has Many Faces (1965), directed by Alexander Singer, is a tawdry look at Acapulco  “beach bums,” a polite euphemism for gigolos, and their wealthy prey–lonely, middle-aged American divorcees. The film shows the culture clash between the native Mexicans and the jaded Americans in the first scene when a gang of happy Mexican children, running along the beach stumble upon a body washed ashore. The body is of a young American named Billy whose last known relationship was with wealthy, aging playgirl Kit (Lana Turner). She’s since married and moved on to former gigolo Pete  (Cliff Robertson) who helped her pick up the pieces in hospital after yet another drunken car wreck. Billy, left only with an ID bracelet from Kit inscribed “Love is thin ice,” is possibly the victim of foul play. Hot on the case is local cop, Lt. Andrade (Enrique Lucero), the moral centre of the film, who doesn’t bother to hide his contempt for the hedonistic lifestyle of the male American gigolos who crowd the Acapulco beaches looking for fresh meat.

posterKit happens to be the biggest catch around, but she’s stopped playing the field since Pete moved in, and the couple spend their time on the beach in a cabana, lounging on her yacht, or in her gorgeous beach home. This leaves envious Hank Walker, a hunky, tanned and well-oiled Hugh O’Brien, strutting around in skimpy trunks, waiting like a dog for a dropped bone for the day Kit tires of Pete, or Pete tires of Kit. Either scenario is fine with Hank, and he makes sure that both Kit and Pete know that he’s ready for the job.

But in the meantime, a gigolo has to make a living… enter Margo (Ruth Roman) and Irene (Virginia Grey), two lonely women who arrive in Acapulco right in time to catch the attention of Hank and his protégé of sorts, Chuck (Ron Husman). There are no illusions as to the relationship between these young men and their middle-aged prey, and Hank notes as he moves in for the kill:

“A new shipment. A little over ripe, but choice. Lesson number 1, that’s the best.”

It’s through his relationships with Margo and his training lessons with Chuck that we see just what a lowlife Hank really is.

Into this sandy Peyton Place, arrives one of Billy’s former girlfriends, Carol (Stephanie Powers). Initially, she has no idea that she’s stepped into a male flesh market, but she soon sniffs that everyone’s for sale. But since she still has some integrity, Pete feels an attraction and a desire to protect her from the ugly truth about Billy’s death. Opportunist Hank, however, sees Carol as a way to bag the big catch, by prying Kit away from Pete.

hunky hankWhile Pete and Kit are mired in self-loathing by the things they’ve done in the past, in complete contrast Hank clearly has no scruples or conscience whatsoever; he’s as oily as his suntan lotion, and that makes him a joy to watch as he smooches worldly divorcee Margo, a woman who’s onto Hank’s game but still hopes that he’s not as sleazy as she thinks he is. But Hank knows himself well and doesn’t bother to hide his unscrupulousness: from his shabby shack walls covered with polaroids of former conquests, his strategic posing in skimpy trunks on the beach, to his statement: “It’s too bad I’m not illegal. Just immoral.” Hugh O’Brien as Hank steals the film, and if Lt. Andrada is the film’s moral centre, the  hunky Hank is the polar opposite. Even Chuck, the gigolo-in-training is disgusted by Hank and he asks:

“Is there anything you wouldn’t do for a buck?”

Smirking, Hank replies: “There must be something but I’ve yet to find it.”

Love Has Many Faces is surprisingly suggestive at times. At one point, for example, a woman asks Hank to help her with her swimming stroke. He tells her “go ahead and get wet. If I’m not there in 5 minutes, you start without me.”

Lana Turner’s clothes are designed by Edith Head, and you’ll notice a similarity to some of them, the cut in particular. Lana Turner, who was married 8 times to 7 different husbands, looks wonderful here, and she throws her heart into the role of the neurotic aging playgirl who’s afraid to show any weakness. This is a glossy soapy, drama, and while this viewer hoped, in vain, for everyone to go a little wilder on the beaches of Acapulco, nonetheless this is an interesting film for fans of Lana, and the well-acted support performances from Ruth Roman and Hugh O’Brien make this film and its tacky tale of a world in which (almost) everything is for sale well-worth watching.

Here’s a clip

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Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent) 2007

Given the delicacy of the subject matter, Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent), a 2007 film from writer/director Anne Le Ny (Les Invités de Mon Père, The Chameleon) potentially could have been a three-hanky film, but instead of tears, this is a quality, thought-provoking film that soars above cheap clichés and easy solutions.

Teacher Bertrand (Vincent Lindon), appears to be coping with all the demands placed on him while his wife, terminally ill with breast cancer, is back in hospital. He manages to juggle his job, his domestic responsibilities, and frequent visits to the hospital with some ugly scenes with his uncooperative 16-year-old step-daughter, Valentine (Yeleem Jappain) who illogically and emotionally blames him for her mother’s illness.  During one of his visits he meets a young, attractive woman, named Lorraine (Emmanuelle Devos) who’s visiting her boyfriend about to have surgery for colon cancer.

those who remainSince neither Bertrand’s wife or Lorraine’s boyfriend are released from hospital, Bertrand and Lorraine continue to run into each other. The occasional cup of coffee morphs into a relationship that’s fraught with difficulties.

Obviously the subject matter places the characters in the middle of an emotional minefield. Both Bertrand and Lorraine meet due to the serious, life-threatening illnesses of their spouses, and they are drawn together by a strong mutual attraction. But is that the only element that pulls them together? One of the issues explored by the film is that when we support and nurse a dying spouse/loved one, we are essentially in a very lonely place. Relatives and friends can drop by to offer help, but they are able to leave. Both Bertrand and Lorraine are on a journey to the end of the road. At one point, Lorraine, who states that she’s no Mother Theresa, questions whether or not she’ll be ‘good’ or strong enough to be the person that she’s expected to be–after all, everyone expects her to stick with her boyfriend and it would seem extremely callous to dump him while he’s recovering from surgery. 

There’s also a supportive visit from Bertrand’s sister, Nathalie (played by writer/director Anne le Ny) who arrives with her husband and child in tow. It’s obvious that Nathalie has problems of her own, and the film does a wonderful job of showing how awkward it is to discuss one’s own problems in light of the impending death of another family member. It’s clear that the pall of illness and death is upon the household–no matter how much everyone tries to pretend otherwise. And it’s also clear that while Nathalie and her family are free (and relieved) to leave, Bertrand must remain until the end–whenever that may be.

If this sounds like a depressing film, it’s really not, and that’s largely due to the delicate, sensitive script which doesn’t wallow in the death aspects of the film or milk the obvious emtion of the drama, but instead includes little details such as the magazines bought by the visitors and the relationships carved with hospital personnel in the gift shop. And of course the film includes superb acting. Vincent Lindon excels at these wounded stag roles, and he’s sympathetic and admirable–always keeping his voice in a mellow reasonable tone–even as his world collapses around him. Emmanuelle Devos  as Lorriane is a bit of a dark horse here, and there are many unanswered questions about her attraction to Bertrand. Is their mutual attraction just an attempt to escape from the realities of looming death, or would their attraction extend beyond the hospital? They are both in that same lonely place, and so they understand each other’s concerns, but whereas Bertrand has been coping with his wife’s illness and battle with cancer for over 5 years, Lorriane’s journey is just beginning.

An excellent film about loss, grief and survival, Those Who Remain is highly recommended for anyone in the mood for serious French drama.

This is an entry into Richard and Caroline’s World Cinema Series 2013

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Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? (1993)

“My only family are the animals, and they’re very liberal.”

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? (Por Qué Lo Llaman Amor Cuando Quieren Decir Sexo?), a 1993 film from director Manuel Gómez Pereira, slots, somewhat uneasily into the Rom-Com genre–although the film’s setting is not quite the usual backdrop for the boy-meets-girl scenario.

Gloria (Veróica Forqué) has a solid reputation in the porn star world. Perhaps it’s because she loves her job, or perhaps it’s because she’s good at it, but whatever the reasons are, Gloria puts in a number of nightly live sex peep shows with her long-term partner, gay Karim, and together they are known as Carnal Fire. She’s saving money in her refrigerator for her dream of opening her very own “artistic porn” club: Nights of Glory. Gloria’s plans come to a screeching halt when Karim comes down with the mumps and announces that he’ll be unable to work for months.

Karim, however, produces a replacement–the studley young Manu (Jorge Sanz), a compulsive gambler who’s heavily in debt to a couple of thugs and who’s willing to do anything to get the money he needs.

Neither Gloria nor Manu are sure he’s going to be able to perform sex, live and in public, and there are lots of behind-the-scenes gags with the other performers. After a few practice moves, soon it becomes clear that Gloria has a great new partner, and it seems possible that with Manu she’ll be able to save the money she needs. Enter Manu’s well-to-do parents Sole (Rosa Maria Sardá) and Enrique (Fernando Guillén)….

While this is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, there are some very funny moments–especially so in Gloria and Manu’s live performances. Gloria provides fantasy settings for her audience–and so we see some funny shots of a half-naked fireman with a hose, a leather-clad biker dude, and a half-dressed Roman. Manu is initially very awkward and wants to apply logic to Gloria’s fantasy scenarios while she claims she can no longer have sex “unless there’s applause at the end.” My favourite scene takes place in the TV studio with Gloria and Manu hired as S&M performers. This scene captures Gloria’s naivete as she gushes over her silver wig, and black leather S&M wear, saying how she loves Nazi clothing.

As a fan of the delightful Verónica Forqué, I had to watch this film, and she’s cast perfectly in the role of Gloria. To Gloria, who is very comfortable in her own skin, sex is natural and nothing to be ashamed of, and she seems happy to share her sexual experiences with the heavy-breathers in the peep-show cubicles. Gloria is a perfectly created character–in spite of the fact that she’s a major porn star, she exudes innocence, and even though she’s paid to perform sex, she’s ultimately playful and doesn’t see sex as dirty. Only Forqué could play a naive porn star with such infinite finesse.

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex? is also about the role of fantasy in our lives. Just as Manu and Gloria provide a number of fantasies for their audience, they are also ultimately swept up in Manu’s parents’ fantasy of a tight-knit nuclear family, complete with respectable jobs and a grandchild. Gloria, who is a kind, very natural people-pleaser, has no problem moving from pleasing the peep-show crowd to indulging Manu’s parents’ fantasy of a happy family. The question is: how long can it last?

Why Do They Call It Love When They Mean Sex?, a very typically post-Franco sexually frank Spanish film which should attract fans of Almodovar, is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s foreign film festival.

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