Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962)

Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962) movie poster

director Andrzej Wajda
viewed: 07/04/2018

Siberian Lady Macbeth is a grim little film from Andrzej Wajda. This Polish-Yugoslav adaptation of a Russian property seems to bring viewers to mind more of The Postman Always Rings Twice than the Barf of Avon.

Shot in black-and-white CinemaScope, it also feels as if it could be easily transposed into feudal Japan.

Olivera Marković plays the ambitious and bloodthirsty Katerina, who is also beautiful and severely oppressed in her home life by her coarse father-in-law. When in walks a handsome peasant stranger, and Film Noir ensues.

The levels of bleak rise higher as the film wears on to its dark conclusion.

I actually thought it was pretty interesting.

Aenigma (1987)

Aenigma (1987) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/16/2018

“How does a young girl who is brain dead experience a violent emotion?”

Well, she’s brain dead but controlling a human avatar and seeking vengeance on schoolmates who pranked her into a coma in Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma.

Revenge is a dish best served … weird … and is meted out in dollops of reflections, snails, and living statuary.

Aenigma is derivative of a number of films and directors, coming in what would become the autumn of Fulci’s career. But it’s not not fun. It’s still Fulci.

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) movie poster

director Dušan Makavejev
viewed: 08/18/2014

What was the last truly radical feature film made?  I don’t mean this rhetorically, I mean it really.

Okay, I guess it’s all perspective.  If I had to cast a vote at the moment, I would say the most radical film that I have seen that was a recent production was Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing (2012).  I would say that it is indeed a radical work of art and a tremendous one at that.

But it’s quite different from the radical films of the 1960’s and 1970’s that were getting made.  The 1960’s and 1970’s were more radical times, from the perspective of people and rights and outrage.  It’s not that we lack for these issues in our times, but we don’t have the art, at least the cinema of outrage, protest, social critique.

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism, by Serbian/Yugoslav filmmaker Dušan Makavejev is pretty far out there.  It’s hard to imagine this film being made at any other time in history.  It is complex, addressing all sorts of ideas and concepts, but is also very much an element of its era.

Makavejev made the film in both New York City and in Yugoslavia, and it has more than one focal element.  The title refers to Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst who migrated to the United States after WWII, carrying on some really strange experiments and therapies, writing books about the way that sexual repression was in many ways the core of psychological issues.  Part of the film is documentary in the way it covers his later life in the US, people who he treated, footage of said treatments, and commentary on his own treatment by the US.

His books were burned and he was imprisoned for lewdness.

His work, though, was also tied to ideas of more pure Communism and Makavejev spends time with these ideas, of Stalin’s Communism and its failure to truly free the people, people who should be freed as well by “free love”, if you will.  The film also features some unsimulated sex.  Its provocations not so much provocations as more embedded sense of what is natural and should be normal.

It’s pretty far out.  It reminded me passingly of other films I’ve seen from Eastern Europe around this time: Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), and to some extent as well,  Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger Is Dead (1969).  The Czech films share W.R.‘s tone of play and politics, though these are very different things creations.

I would be curious what other feature films in recent years begin to reach this level of political engagement and avant-garde breaks from standard style, production, and intent.

Underground

 

Underground (1995) movie poster

(1995) dir. Emir Kusturica
viewed: 10/24/08

Epic, grand, funny, and rich, Underground is a fascinating and highly entertaining perspective on the experience and history of Yugoslavia going into and out of WWII, via Communist Party resistance, and into the Cold War and after.  From the opening sequence, the character of this rollicking, almost Surrealist comic film plays a portrait of WWII quite unlike any other that I can think of.

The opening sequence, set in 1941, is a pair of drunken roustabouts, celebrating the character Blacky’s having joined the Communist Party, firing pistols randomly, and trailed by a nearly ever-present brass band, playing rousing Eastern European-themed marches, dances, and Polka-like tunes.  I wish I had better words to describe it, but the nearly incessant brass band follows the characters throughout the movie, playing in all kinds of sequences from parties to funeral marches, also representing several running jokes.  They add to the bouncy, comic atmosphere, one mixing only aspects of realism, or following a true history with a story that is highly metaphorical.

Blacky is a philaderer, a macho, womanizing electrician, a plebian, brought in by his best friend, Marko, into the resistance against the Nazis, building and operating a literally underground system of goods, a black market.  But beyond that, Marko induces an entire community to operate in this underground cavern, building weapons for the resistance.

Marko is a resistance leader, also a wildman, but an intellectual, an organizer, the one who stays above ground, relaying between the two worlds.

Natalija is an actress, the desire of both Blacky and Marko, a flitting, amoral character, sleeping with the Germans, with the resistance leaders, pretty much whoever seems to be in power.  These three characters seem to represent different ideologies and actions throughout the history of the War and the Cold War.  Not so much Yugoslavia’s split personality, but the homogenity of the raging chaos and national spirit of the country besieged and under the control of the Communists.

Marko never tells the underground community that the War ended, keeping them “underground” while he climbed the ladder of the establishment, becoming Tito’s right hand man, evolving into the face of the Cold War life.  Kusturica utilizes some Zelig (1983) or Forrest Gump (1994)-like techniques of editing Marko into historical footage as he rides the morally bankrupt establishment to his height in comfort and recognition.

The metaphor of the people living “underground” during the Cold War is obvious.  Marko evolves from a philandering wild man into a passionate nationalist and militant.  The ending, culminating near the Bosnian War, breaks up a bit, I would say, but the whole film has such an epic and fantastical wit and vision, it’s also quite poignant.

The comedy and the music and the characters, the social and historical critique…it’s rich, fun material.  An excellent film.  I am glad that it somehow stayed on my radar all these years and I am glad that I finally saw it.