Tag Archives: fathers & sons

Extasis (1996)

“Love and Need, I get them confused sometimes, don’t you?”

I always enjoy watching Javier Bardem on screen. Whether he’s a robotic psycho No Country For Old Men or the beleaguered telephone sex operator in Mouth to Mouth, he’s always interesting. Perhaps it’s because he looks brutish but really isn’t or perhaps it’s because he was an Almodovar star. No matter.

When I saw Extasis (aka Ecstasy)–an early Bardem film from director Mariano Barroso on netflix, well I knew I had to watch it. The fact that it also stars veteran Argentinean star Frederico Luppi made Extasis an even more attractive proposition. extasis

The film concerns three young friends: Ona (Leire Berrocal), Max (Daniel Guzman) and Rober (Javier Bardem). The three have a wildly impractical idea of opening a bar on the beach, and of course, the only thing inhibiting their plans for the Good Life is the lack of money. The three friends decide to solve this little problem by stealing from their families. Ona helps hold up her family’s shop, and Rober plans to rob an uncle, but Max is estranged from his wealthy play-director father, Daniel (Frederico Luppi).

A chain of events–which I am not going to detail–leads Rober to impersonate Max and then approach Daniel as his long-lost father.

Now the thing is that Daniel is phenomenally wealthy. I don’t mean just well-off, he’s rolling in dough. His home is loaded with antiques and valuables, but it goes beyond that. Daniel is also a celebrity, bedding a much younger actress, Lola (Silvia Bunt), and the star guest at swanky parties. Rober, posing as Max, discovers that being the son of a famous man opens doors to a life he never thought possible. There’s one scene when Daniel takes Rober to the jewelers and tells him to pick out anything he wants. Rober’s face lights up, and he stares at the window before selecting a watch. Rober looks like a kid at Xmas, and that means Daniel must be Santa. Once Rober is ensconced in the sumptuous home of his ‘father’ Daniel, he takes to the good life with gusto, and meanwhile Daniel, enjoying his son’s more unpleasant characteristics,  thinks his hunky new son is a chip off the old block. Which direction will Rober’s loyalties ultimately take? Such wealth and such a glittering life would be a seductive proposition for anyone. The question is: will Rober be seduced?

Extasis starts as a crime caper film but then very quickly morphs into a much more interesting film. While Ona and Max are prepared to rob their families to get the bankroll for their fantasy bar, Rober’s parents are noticeably absent. All we see is an uncle. Robbing the families has a practical goal (getting money), but it goes deeper than that. By robbing their families, Ona, and Max are declaring their loyalties to each other while they sever their blood ties. But what of Rober? He apparently doesn’t have parents to betray. Does this lack of immediate family make him more vulnerable to a generous new daddy?

Extasis for about 90% of the film is excellent drama, but the plot takes a dive once Max appears back on the scene. The ending could have taken so many directions, and unfortunately the script takes the worst direction, the one I had the hardest time believing. I had already had to ask myself if Daniel, who isn’t a particularly nice person, would have accepted an adult son (the real one or the pretend one) so easily. Would Daniel take on a son he’s ignored into his life? Well I accepted that Daniel does invite Rober into his life, but then the film strains credibility with the silly direction the plot takes towards the end of the film. Daniel is not an idiot, and there are times when he seems to be playing a double game, but the film unfortunately doesn’t explore this thread and takes the silly way out. Visually, the film includes some gorgeous scenes–in particular, there’s one scene at night with a car driving and the street lights are reflected in the rain. Gorgeous shot.

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Filed under Javier Bardem, Spain

Le Grand Voyage (2004)

 “Do you think we’re tourists?”

Reda (Nicolas Cazale) is a Moroccan living in France and attending university when his father (Mohamed Majd) decides that he wants to undertake his Hajj. Reda protests strongly–missing classes will mean that he fails (again). Reda’s older brother was supposed to be the driver for this arduous trip, but since he lost his license, Reda is volunteered for the job. Reda doesn’t understand why they can’t fly to their destination, and he doesn’t look forward to the close confinement with his father. They have little in common any more, and they are strangers to one another.

grand-voyageAs Reda and his father travel to Mecca, they have many misadventures along the way. Reda’s father clearly wants no distractions to his concentration, and very quickly throws away his son’s cell phone. Gradually, their rocky relationship undergoes changes as Reda gains a grudging respect for his father.

Le Grand Voyage is a fairly standard ‘road’ film, and it depicts the journey undertaken often in reluctance that changes the lives of the travelers and their relationships forever. Most of the adversity Reda and his father encounter is predictable. However, the journey in Le Grand Voyage highlights the vast gulf created by the cultural differences between westernized Reda and his traditional Muslim father. One scene depicts Reda whooping it up with an exotic belly dancer he meets in a club, and this act sparks disgust from his father. Reda asks, “Don’t you practice forgiveness in your religion?” The goal of their journey–the gathering of the pilgrims to Mecca is also the culmination of the film, and it’s an event that my western eyes have never observed. Written and directed by Ismael Ferroukhi, the film is in Bulgarian, French, Arabic, Italian, English, and Turkish-with English subtitles.

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Filed under France, Moroccan

Don’t Tell Anyone (1998)

 “Imagine you’re aiming at baby Jesus.”

dont-tell anyoneIn the Peruvian film, Don’t Tell Anyone Joaquin Camino (Santiago Magill) doesn’t exactly fit his father’s notions of masculinity, so his father drags the teenager off on a day trip designed to bring out his son’s inner brute. It’s a sad commentary that being a man is supposed to be about shooting, killing and brutalizing, but that’s exactly what Joaquin’s dad thinks. The trip is a disaster–Joaquin is paired off with a handyman’s Indian son, and while they’re supposed to be hunting, Joaquin’s advances towards the other man are rebuffed in horror. But all this escapes the notice of Joaquin’s father; they return to the city, and in his father’s eyes at least, Joaquin’s day somehow serves as a rite of passage into manhood.

Joaquin then goes to university where he meets fellow student Alejandra (Lucia Jimenez). While Joaquin’s religious, protective mother is delighted to see her son involved with a girl from a good family, the relationship is fraught with problems. He meets Gonzalo (Christian Meier), the fiance of Alejandra’s best friend, and they begin a secret relationship. Gonzalo argues that he loves his fiancee and intends to get married, and he seems to find it perfectly normal to live this double life with Joaquin on the side.

Joaquin tries to come to terms with Peruvian society’s attitude towards homosexuality. His male friends accept these secret relationships between males that are coupled with marriage to acceptable, desirable woman and also contrasted to violent, public homophobia. Joaquin, unable to juggle all these opposing moralities, finally leaves Peru and dives into Miami’s seamy side.

The film addresses many of the hypocrisies associated with Peruvian society’s attitude towards homosexuality, and also ties in this attitude with prevalent racist attitudes towards the Indian population. However, Joaquin is not a particularly sympathetic character, and ultimately the film’s conclusion seems ambiguous. From director Francisco J. Lombardi, the film Don’t Tell Anyone is in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Steptoe and Son/Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1972 & 1973)

 “If anyone ever tries to sell you a talking parrot, you’d better look for a tape recorder stuffed up its khyber. “

steptoe1Steptoe and Son was an extremely popular comedy programme that aired on British television from 1962-1974. Its immense popularity led to the creation of the American version–Sanford and Son. In the original British version, Harold Steptoe (Harry H. Corbett) and his elderly father Alfred (Wilfred Campbell) are London rag-and-bone men. The films Steptoe and Son and Steptoe and Son Ride Again are both full-length films created thanks to the popularity of the television series. This double-sided DVD from Anchor Bay is decent quality–with the sort of picture you’d expect from films made in the 1970s.

The series revolves mainly around the Steptoes’ decrepit, filthy rubbish-filled home where conflict continually rages between father and son. Harold feels trapped by his father’s attempts to control his life, and he talks about breaking away. According to Harold, he’s ‘held back’ by his commitment to his father, so he blames his father for his lack of opportunities and bachelorhood. Albert, on the other hand, is much more intelligent and crafty than his hapless son who can be pathetically guileless at times. A great deal of the comedy–which is crude rather than bawdy–focuses on Albert’s filthy habits. So the father and son pair–who at times seem more like an old married couple–need each other to survive–but strenuously deny it. If it ever seems likely that Harold may break his familial ties, then Albert plays the pathetic old man card, and this brings Harold to heel.

These themes are also dominant in the Steptoe and Son/Steptoe and Son Ride Again films. In Steptoe and Son, Harold meets a stripper and falls in love. The result is a hasty marriage with a subsequent honeymoon in a partially completed hotel in Spain. And of course, Albert goes along for the honeymoon. In Steptoe and Son Ride Again, after their horse retires, Harold and Albert scrape together every last penny they have to buy a new one. Harold, however, out of his father’s clutches for a few hours uses his independence to buy a racing greyhound. Without a horse to pull their cart, the Steptoes face financial ruin–a state they’re never very far from anyway.

Yootha Joyce, and Diana Dors (a very lonely widow) both appear in small roles, and Milo O’Shea stars as a doctor whose house calls begin only when the pub closes. Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, the scriptwriters for the television series, also wrote the screenplays for the films. Unfortunately, both films lack the consistently biting humour of the television series and slide into the occasional sentimentality. Nonetheless it’s wonderful to see these two comedians once again.

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Martin (Hache) 1997

 “You are as immoral as I am, but you don’t practice it.”

martinMartin (Hache) is a splendid character-driven drama from Argentinean director Adolfo Aristarain. The film focuses on the relationships between four diverse characters–Hache also known as ‘Jay’ (Juan Diego Botto), his emotionally remote, wealthy father Martin (Federico Luppi), actor Dante (Eusebio Poncela), and Martin’s girlfriend Alicia (Cecilia Roth). The film begins in Argentina with an upset Jay spending an evening in a club and carelessly taking a drug overdose. Martin flies to Argentina to see his son, and Jay’s mother, who is remarried and is expecting another child orders Martin to take Jay back to Spain. Martin agrees reluctantly. He’s busy working on a new screenplay, and he doesn’t try to hide his lack of interest in his son.

Martin seems to have little in common with his two main people in his life. There’s the bubbly, extrovert Alicia, who’s so outspoken, Martin seems embarrassed to be seen in her company. And actor Dante, is a self-professed Epicurean, and that basically seems to mean that he leads a no holds barred life of considerable excess. In contrast, Martin is quiet, withdrawn, cold and serious. He makes a study out of avoiding commitment, and when the confrontational Alicia drives a point of truth home to Martin, he simply backs her off with demeaning comments. Both Alicia and Dante don’t seem to expect much from their relationship with Martin, and that’s just as well because he’s cold and unapproachable.

Dante and Alicia befriend Jay, and even though they are both terminally irresponsible people, they are appalled by how Martin handles his son. Dante loves the anonymity of living in a hotel, but he makes room in his life for Jay, and Alicia, who has a drug habit that increases in proportion to her unhappiness, is ready to form some sort of unit together with Martin and Jay. While both Dante and Alicia chide Martin for his lack of emotional involvement towards his son, Martin remains stubbornly resistant to help and suggestions.

It’s the phenomenal acting from Roth and Poncela that make this film so memorable, and some of the best scenes occur in the discussions that take place between the four characters. The conversations reveal a great deal about the dynamics of the relationships (think Eric Rohmer–but not as cerebral), and the film’s focus is on acceptance of individuality–especially the acceptance necessary for a parent-child relationship. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Filed under Argentinean, Cecilia Roth

The Clockmaker (1974)

“He didn’t talk to me.”

In The Clockmaker (L’Horloger de Saint-Paul) middle-aged Michel Descombes (Philippe Noiret) is a clockmaker who owns a small shop in Lyon. He’s a quiet, modest man, whose life is composed of his work and spending a few evenings with friends. At one time he was married, but his wife left him and later died–so he’s unsure whether to describe himself as a bachelor or a widower. There’s no woman in his life now, and he shares his home (at the back of his shop) with his only son Bernard (Sylvain Rougerie). Michel is not a particularly political person, and he gives the impression that his emotions aren’t so much controlled as deeply submerged and almost forgotten.

Although Michel’s primary relationship is with his son, he begins to discover just how little he knows him when Bernard is accused of murdering a brutal right-wing factory employee. According to Inspector Guilbond (Jean Rochefort) Bernard and his girlfriend Liliane committed the murder, made no attempt to hide their crime, and in fact left clumsy clues that revealed their identities. Bernard and Liliane are now on the run, and the police turn to Michel for help capturing Bernard.

The murder occurs in politically tumultuous times , and both the media and the police try to make the murder a politically motivated crime. The victim–an Algerian war veteran–exploited his position at the factory, and according to other female employees he may have tried to coerce Liliane into exchanging sexual favours in return for keeping quiet about fabricated charges of theft. The idea that the murder is politically motivated gathers momentum while the finer details of the crime are buried. Motivation is often the most difficult element to pinpoint, and indeed the political motive of this otherwise puzzling crime seems to satisfy all parties involved. Michel is outraged, however, as this objectifies his son and removes the possible motive to another level. He feels particularly betrayed by the Left’s response and their abandonment of Bernard who they label as a “terrorist.”

The Clockmaker, based on a novel by Simenon is not a film about solving an apparently motiveless murder–it’s a character study that examines the relationship between Michel and Bernard, and a quasi-relationship that forms between Michel and Guilbond. Michel gradually accepts that there are some things about his son that he will never understand. As for Michel’s relationship with Guilbond…well it’s difficult and temporal. At first Guilbond’s approach to Michel is bureaucratic and suspicious. Over time, Guilbond sees Michel as a father wounded by doubt–a man who always tried his best in his relationship with his son–but often failed. Guilbond’s initial depersonalized approach to Michel can be extrapolated to the larger issue of the state’s depersonalized, political approach toward Bernard. The judicial system and the media find it far easier to categorize and label Bernard than to investigate why two young people committed a clumsy, senseless, and seemingly motiveless crime. Both Michel and Bernard lose their individuality in the state’s need to politicize a crime that was inherently personal. The Clockmaker is arguably one of director Bernard Tavernier’s best films. In French with English subtitles.

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