Le chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, France, 1971)

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A film that makes one re-think notions of good and bad in cinema: On the one hand, Pierre Granier-Deferre is such a heavy-handy director,  with the conceptual and symbolic dimensions of Le chat so underlined and over-signalled: birds fluttering outside windows, sirens circling, golden youth of long ago seen through hazy irises in flashback; the little house surrounded by wrecking crews turning the old world to dust; garbage trucks regularly reappearing at their front door, perhaps to pick up the wreckage of the protagonist’s lives: there are times where one can’t control the giggling (see the trailer posted below). On the other hand, any director who can get actors to do what Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret do here, alone and together, deserves all the praise there is. They are so gobsmackingly good — so electric – and the roles they play so great — offering such scope and variety of human character and emotion, and changing through time to boot — that one can only offer admiration and gratitude.

Julien Bouin, a retired typesetter, has been married to his wife Clémence (Simone Signoret) a former circus worker for over 25 years. He now can’t stand her. Everything she does irritates him. Why, she asks? Is it cause she got old and fat, cause she drinks? He doesn’t know. All he knows is that one day he stopped loving her. Because of that, she now hates him too. They shop separately at the same shops, keep their food under lock and key in separate cupboards, cook different dishes in the same kitchen, sleep in the same room but in different beds, do little mean and spiteful things to each other. Every day.

 

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Gabin’s Julien on the left; Signoret’s Clémence shut out of his life and thus a reflection on the lower right hand side of the screen.

Gabin plays  Julien as quiet, all closed-in; neat, carefully dressed. A mild-mannered man who does things carefully, systematically but who won’t be pushed to do what he doesn’t wants to He’s a man who takes pride in doing things carefully and well. Also, he still needs to love; and not the kind of physical love that one can get anywhere either but an outlet for real feeling. He finds it in his cat. It drives Clémence mad that a cat who neither needs it nor appreciates it becomes the recipient of the love Julien should be bestowing on her. She tries to shoo the cat away, attempts to lose him in the supermarket. But no, he returns to steal the attention, the caresses, the love that rightfully belongs to her. So, one day, she kills the cat….

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Julien spying on Clémence

We know Signoret was a great beauty. She’s someone who did speak many languages, and we can believe she plays the seven instruments Clémence claims to be able to. And we can understand the bewilderment, anger, fury that this little typesetter not loving her incites. We see the defiance in every glug of whisky, the determination in the speed with which she manouvers her bad leg through the shops, no limp is going to hold this woman back: the Chinese silk robe in the loud red of someone who demands being noticed. The cigarillo on the side of a mouth. Only the loss a her husband’s love could lead her to crocheting with the fury of someone who wants to commit murder. But the film underlines one can’t hate that much without it being overlaid by love: Signoret communicates the tenderness beautifully. Gabin also.

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Clémence once had an exciting life she gave up for Julien

Le chat beautifully conveys a gamut of human emotion – characters who feel that much is Simenon’s gift to the filmmakers; it is fitting that he is billed alongside the ‘monstres sacrées’ of french cinema and above the title of the film . The director’s gift to the actors is to give them the space to be these people and to showcase them properly for us. Then the actors…well. Watching Gabin and Signoret together play this couple is like watching two great opera singers duet in a Verdi aria: raw, vivid, fine, delicate, explosive…. And watching them seems to me to be essential to anyone who wants to know what great acting in the cinema can be; they bring out areas of human feeling, emotion and experience that lesser actors don’t even known exist.

In the interview that accompanies the Studiocanal DVD, Granier-Deferre speaks about how the producers had not wanted Signoret. Jean-Pierre Melville’s L’armée des ombres, her previous film, had been a failure, and she was (most unjustly) being blamed for it. They went through all the other names of fancy actresses and finally Gabin asked Granier-Deferre: ‘you’ve really got your heart set on that Signoret?’ ‘Yes’. He calls the producer and says ‘If Signoret is not in it, I don’t do the film’. ‘Six hours later I got Signoret,’ remembers Granier-Deferre. Good thing he did too. Because Signoret and and Gabin are the only reasons to watch the film; they make one feel it’s essential viewing; and it certainly is to fans of Gabin, Signoret, Georges Simenon or anyone who’s interested in seeing great acting in the cinema.

 

José Arroyo

 

 

Le bonheur (Agnès Varda, France, 1965)

  What is happiness to Varda in Le Bonheur? Family, nature, children, eating together, a job well done – be it joining a piece of wood or sewing a dress — good sex, different kinds of sex, dancing, pop culture, cinema, Mozart, a house thoughtfully arranged with flowers, plates and pots; all of which evoke … Continue reading Le bonheur (Agnès Varda, France, 1965)

In Conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet

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In conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet, in Spanish. Everyone will want to know more about this young Peruvian director once his debut feature, Todos somos marineros/ We´re All Sailors gets more and better seen. It´s currently doing the festival rounds and has already picked up an enviable array of  prizes, including the FICPRESI, the International Federation of Film Critics prize at the Toulouse Latin Amerincan Film Festival.

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For those of you who don´t speak the language, the gist of the conversation is as follows. The film arose out of a class on adaptation: He wasn´t too sure what to do and then he went to an inspiring class by Manfred Pfister who gave a two-week workshop on Shakespeare´s The Merchant of Venice. The first day, about eight hours or so, was spent discussing the first line, which is Antonio saying:´ In sooth, I know not why I am so sad´. From that starting point, time passed. He then developed a story that happened in two places, a boat and a port. Then he saw a news story on TV where three Russian sailors were stranded in a boat in the port when the company they worked for went bankrupt. They were left without  water and electricity and went into the market in town every few weeks where they were gifted enough detergent and vegetables to get by. When asked what they did to avoid boredom, they said nothing, they already knew each other well enough to make chat unnecessary. When asked if they wanted to return, they said yes, but without enthusiasm. They were just as happy to stay. So he set a relationship between two brothers stranded in a boat in a provincial port town of Chimbote, which is about five hours from Lima.

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It´s a very beautiful film visually, with extraordinary cinematography by Camilo Soratti, exploring very current themes: the Rotterdam Film Festival catalogue included this suggestive sentence: “Without any heavy-handed comparisons, we can clearly make out the contours of a global diaspora: the rootless army wandering the world in search of a place to survive.” The film also treats the many kinds of love, sexual, romantic, but also fraternal through which we they try to break through an isolation that nonetheless can only be momentarily pierced and which overhangs the film as a kind of sadness made bittersweet by a love that is nonetheless heartfelt. There´s a dramatisation of internalised homophobia also, the results of which have unintended consequences. It´s a moving film, that well conveys not just people and a story but entire structures of feeling of a particular place in a particular time. This conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet is very much an initial and exploratory one of how the film came to be. We tried to not be too specific on the film so as to not spoil people´s pleasure once they see it. As an aside, the town of Chimbote, where some of the film was shot, should offer thanks to the filmmakers: the images of the town, and particularly of the light, are enough to make anyone want to visit. The podcast can be listened to here:

A podcast review from Eavesdropping at the Movies will follow shortly, as will a more extended review from myself,

José Arroyo

 

A note on Cléo de 5 à 7

There has already been much written on Agnès Varda´s Cleo de 5 à 7, perhaps too much on the sequences featuring Michel Legrand and the silent film within a film with Jean-Luc Godard, Ana Karina, Sami Frey, Eddie Constantine and others. Upon her death earlier this year, I thought it a kind of sexism that … Continue reading A note on Cléo de 5 à 7

Female (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1933)

The president of the Drake Motor Company — rich, smart, ruthless, successful – is female. But is she a woman? She acts like a man: ‘I treat men the same way they’ve always treated women.’ ‘Love takes too much time. A woman in love is a pathetic spectacle.’ But she does love men: ‘Lots of … Continue reading Female (Michael Curtiz, USA, 1933)

Martin Roumagnac (George Lacombe, 1946)

        Friends have been grumbling about this year´s programme at Ritrovatto. Did Musidora warrant so much attention? Did Henry King? Personally, I didn´t have any problem with any of that but I do have questions. The two images that represented the festival this year were those of Musidora, which was on the … Continue reading Martin Roumagnac (George Lacombe, 1946)

Maigret et l’affaire St. Fiacre (Jean Delannoy, France, 1959)

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Gabin returns as Maigret, this time in a nostalgic vein. The countess of St. Fiacre (Valentine Tessier) has received a death threats stating she will die on Ash Wednesday. She calls upon Maigret to return to the village where he grew up and help her with the case. Maigret had a crush on the Countess as a young boy, and the Countess, a warm-hearted woman, enjoyed being the object of it. Maigret ´s father had once managed the Chateau where he will now be a guest and indeed he´s got the Countess to thank for his education. There´s a real fondness and complicity on the ride from the train station to the Chateau between the characters and indeed the actors playing them. It´s lovely.

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The gathering of the suspects à la Poirot

The Countess dies as advertised, in Church, and during Mass no less. But who did it and how? There are lots of suspects: Lucien Sabatier ( Robert Hirsch), a young secretary and confidante gave her an injection the night before and he´s been trying to buy a flat in order to get married and needs money, the young Count (Michel Auclair) has been buying yachts and horses in Paris with money he doesn´t have and he´s being hounded for writing false checks; the village Doctor (Paul Frankeur) hasn´t been taking very good care of her. Many people have their reasons. At the end Maigret does a Poirot, gathers all the suspects for dinner at the Chateau, and reveals who the culprit is.

A slight but very satisfying film, well if unexcitingly directed by Delannoy. Much of the beginning is infused with nostalgia. We get a lovely feel for village life and how it´s changed. Structurally this is developed through a homology between the altar boy and Maigret who used to fulfil the same function in the same place when young. This is also developed by Maigret recognising all the villagers he once new and who tend to recognise him only once they clock his blue eyes (see below). The screenplay is very tightly structured so for example his visit to the Caretaker who has replaced his father in post takes place almost exactly half-way through the film. He also learns that the education of this caretaker´s son has been provided by the Countess, just as she had done for Maigret himself when he was young, and this other homology rhymes and differs with that of the altarboy. We will see that this young bank clerk is no angel. This is a tightly and well-structured film.

It is also a gently paced one, but the pace well seasoned by a sprinkling of suspicion over practically everyone. Everything is seen through corners, doorways and passageways (see above),  through the corner of an eye, generally Miagret´s. Thus the film shows clues as partial whilst making everything suspiciously interesting, particularly when the corpse is still upstairs, and parts of it remain visible in the corner of the shot during questioning.

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Maigret´s eye of course is observant. And Gabin´s eyes are not only blue, but completely transparent. A look, a shrug, a curt coded phrase. He doesn´t say much but he communicates everything. Perhaps Gabin is at his very greatest in these slight genre pieces where it´s his presence alone that warrants reasons for viewing.

Delannoy doesn´t dazzle visually. He tend towards triangular compositions and, with a few exceptions, one of which you can see below, keeps the symbolism largely at bay.

As you can see from the clip below, Delannoy does know how to film dynamically to keep the image interesting. Here Maigret moves through the newspaper printing presses though to the offices. It´s quite a lot of time to devote to the scene in terms of its import to the plotas a whole. And it´s clear that Delannoy is merely taking pleasure in showing us the workings of the newspaper. And I´m reproducing it here because it induced nostalgia in me. This is how many people even a village paper employed. Look at all the jobs in soldering, laying out the print, typesetting, printing and distribution. Not so long ago all papers functioned this way, and the larger ones, like the Montreal Star I visited as a child,  were an industrial marvel to behold.  Ahhh. It´s a minor, well-made film that incites all kinds of nostalgia. Gabin is perfect

 

I have written on two other Maigret/ Gabin films here:

-the previous one with Delannoy:

Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

And a later one directed by Gilles Grangier:

Maigret voit rouge (Gilles Grangier, France/Italy, 1963)

José Arroyo

Montreal in Warners films

In Warners films of the 1930s, Montreal seems to be the place rich women send their discarded lovers to. In Female (Michael Curtiz, 1933) when rich Ruth Chatterton’s boytoys ‘get love-sick and start demanding more, she buys them off; and if that doesn’t work, she ships them out to Montreal, which in this film is like outer Siberia’. Poor gangsters take advantage of Montreal’s reputation as both a ‘free city’ where women, jazz, and booze abound but one that also has a lot of woods to hide in: as you can see in the clip below from  Lady Killer (Roy Del Ruth, 1933), Montreal’s a good a place to go on the lam to when escaping the heat in the States:

A note on Michael Curtiz’ direction of ‘Irving Berlin’s This is the Army’ (1943)

 

According to Thomas Schatz in Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s, ‘While musicals made up a fairly limited proportion of Hollywood’s overall output, they generated a sizeable share of its income. Twenty-five of the Seventy wartime releases earning $3 million or more at the box office were musicals, including three of the top ten (This Is The Army, Meet Me in St. Louis and Yankee Doodle Dandy)’(p.225).
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Of these Michael Curtiz directed the first and the third. Indeed Curtiz directed many musicals,  several with Doris Day, including her first, Romance on the High Seas (1948), huge hits such as White Christmas (1954, and arguably Elvis Presley’s best film, King Creole (1958).  But he is not considered one of the great directors of the genre and seeing Irving Berlin’s This is the Army one easily understands why.
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Irving Berlin’s This is the Army (1943) was the highest-grossing musical of WWII. It was part of a cycle of all-star musicals — Thank Your Lucky Stars (David Butler, 1943); Hollywood Canteen (Delmer Daves, 1944) are other examples from Warner Brothers — designed to raise morale and aid the war effort. Seen today, its popularity is understandable: It’s propaganda everyone at the time must have supported and with a cause — propping-up the war effort –most everyone would have wanted to contribute to. But it’s a dreary musical. Even the hit numbers, such as Kate Smith singing ‘God Bless America,’ seem drab and insipid, particularly if one isn’t an American. The flag-waving fervour of others rarely comes across as anything but scary or dull and distancing. This falls into the latter category.

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My favourite number is Irving Berlin himself singing ‘Oh how I hate to get up in the morning’ with that weak but engaging voice of his. It’s supposed to be all-star but none of the stars are known to us today except Ronald Reagan and perhaps George Murphy. Certainly all the stage stars imitated in one of the drag number — Jane Cowl, Lynn Fontanne — will be remembered only by Broadway enthusiasts. There are in fact many numbers in drag which are meant to be funny but now come across as the equivalent of blackface, a combination of desire for and condescension to that which they are imitating. Straight drag — unlike most gay drag –seems to poke fun and laugh at femininity. The film does have a pleasing inclusiveness of ethnicity and race; the former one of the most recurrent and attractive traits of American cinema; the latter relatively rare, indeed almost a structuring absence,  a stain and limit to the much-vaunted claims of democracy in America.  I found it all a bore, underlining how emotionally crude Curtiz could be — note how mothers pack off their sons to war — but also once again demonstrating his eye for visuals and his skill with a camera.

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As you can see in the clip above in the short clip, which is just an announcement that the President and high officials are arriving to see the show. There are 19 shots, each with a different and striking composition, shot from a variety of angles but with a certain rhyming quality: if a the characters in a shot look to the right for example, in the next cut they will look to the left (the four images above after the clip are from consecutive shots). There are high angles looking down and low angles looking up. There are crowd shots and there’s individual inserts with bits of dialogue from the audience. The shots are put together rhythmically, in line with the music, but also with cuts on action. It all culminates with the camera dollying in to the character announcing the President’s in the audience. The technique on display is dazzling; the use it’s put to is not. This seems a recurring curse for Curtiz.

 

José Arroyo

In Conversation with …Ian Francis

A wide-ranging conversation with Ian Francis, founder and director of Flatpack, about cinema, community, building audiences, and developing the festival from a pop-up in a pub 12 years ago to one of the leading festivals in the UK and a cornerstone of film culture in the West Midlands. We talk about cinephilia in Birmingham, about showing films in canal boats, churches, warehouses; about programming mixed-media, animation, shorts, experimental and expanded cinema and how international art-house might now be amongst the biggest challenges; we talk about funding and about ‘Heritage’ projects, from the recent ‘Birmingham 68’ to a forthcoming project on South Asian film from the region. It was a great opportunity to discuss key aspects of culture in general and film culture in particular that, because they often take place behind the scenes, don’t often get the public airing they merit. You can listen to the podcast below.

José Arroyo

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The billboard Ian refers to in the chat

Eavesdropping at the Movies 45 – Black Panther

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Unlike with most of our podcasts — in which Mike and I usually go blind to a movie, rush home, make a cup of coffee, and then just chat about our responses to the film and try to get each other to better articulate what we think and feel about it — Mike and I had already seen Black Panther before, separately, and we’d also read quite a bit about the film before hand. It was unavoidable, as so many of our friends had already begun discussing it, passionately and vociferously. I found Jelani Cobb’s piece in The New Yorker; Christopher Lebron’s article for the Boston Review; Kenan Malik’s op-ed for The Guardian; and Adam Serwer’s analysis of the character of Killmonger in The Atlantic to be particularly thought provoking.

Thus this is, unusually, a first discussion after our second screening. My first took place in Stockholm and it was fascinating to see it with a young, Swedish, mainly but not exclusively male audience, that responded avidly to all the jokes.  The audience in Birmingham was worse behaved and rowdier, with many people confrontationally turning on their phones, texting, taking pictures — like they’d never been in a cinema before. A fight broke out at the back in the middle of all of it, though it seemed to be mainly verbal. It’s a film that seems to be bringing in a lot of people who don’t usually go to the cinema, probably because most of it doesn’t have much to offer them. In spite of the irritations, it felt great to be a part of it.

So this podcasts finds us in the midst of an already feverish conversation taking place online and amongst friends. So much to discuss! How does the film build compelling conflict between the characters, what are the nuances of its commentary on racism, colonialism and masculinity, what were our shared experiences with the audiences, what did we draw out of its costume and character design – and is really really really obviously the best Marvel film?

 

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

 

 

 

In Conversation with Pamela Hutchinson on Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst, Germany, 1929)

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The second of a series of conversations about books on cinema with their authors. The intention is to expand and disseminate our understanding of cinema and its diverse histories and various cultures by bringing attention to recently published books in the field in order to enhance understanding of and access to the knowledge the books provide.

 

This one is with Pamela Hutchinson, founder of the great Silent London website and a regular correspondent for Sight and Sound, The Guardian and many other outlets on various aspect of Silent Cinema. The occasion for the chat is the publication of her wonderful new book on G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, a BFI Film Classic, so recent that it’s literally hot off the press, and as witty as it is informative.

What you hear in the background is the bubbles in a glass of champagne and one can only hope that our chat is as fizzy. The conversation ranges from the film’s aesthetic achievements to its continued influence, the appeal of Louise Brooks, what Marlene Dietrich might have done with the part and what the film has to tell us on sexual desire, the options open to women and the prevalence of rape culture then and now. Pandora’s Box seems more pertinent than ever and just as powerful and hypnotic as it always was. Pamela Hutchinson’s book is not just a beautifully written introduction to the film but one which provides new information and enhances our understanding in various ways and does so with great charm and wit.

I hope that the  quality of the chat compensates for that of the editing and recording. It can be accessed above.

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José Arroyo

The Hitman’s Bodyguard – Eavesdropping at the Movies – Ep 2 – 23rd August 2017

https://soundcloud.com/michael-glass-782430335/the-hitmans-bodyguard-eavesdropping-at-the-movies-ep-2-23rd-august-2017/s-cJv5y

 

The second instalment of the Eavesdropping at the Movies podcast with Michael Glass of Writing About Film,  where we hope to offer the experience of eavesdropping on friends chatting informally about a movie after just watching it.

This week the focus is on The Hitman’s Bodyguard and the topics under discussion include: Can an action film that goes through Coventry be any good? Is it important that action scenes are funny? Is Gary Oldman a whore? All valuable questions. All answered in our chat about The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I think.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass.

Eavesdropping at the Movies — The Dark Tower

https://soundcloud.com/michael-glass-782430335/the-dark-tower-eavesdropping-on-the-movies-21st-august-2017?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=facebook

 

The second instalment of the ‘Eavesdropping on Mike and José after a movie’ podcast with Michael Glass of Writing About Film,  where we hope to offer the experience of eavesdropping on friends chatting informally about a movie after just watching it. The focus this week is on The Dark Tower and topics under discussion this week include whether Idris Elba has it in him to be a film star, the excellence of Matthew McConaughey’s performance, the value of watching a film in 3-4DX, and whether Mike has better eyebrows than Carla Delevingne.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping on Mike and José After a Movie

mikeandjose3.jpgEpisode 1 (Girls Trip, Malcolm D. Lee, USA, 2017)

This is a trial episode of a possible podcast that Michael Glass of ‘Writing About Film’ and I are posting primarily to get feedback. It’s done as an mp4 so you can play it on your computer’s usual player, like a video. I have this romantic idea of the movies as a conjunction of place, people and experiences, all different for each of us, a context in which individual and separate beings try to commune, where the individual experience overlaps with the communal and where that overlapping is demarcated by how we measure the differing responses between ourselves and the rest of the audience: do they laugh when we don’t (and what does that mean?); are they moved when we feel like laughing (and what does that say about me or the others) etc. The idea behind this podcast is to satiate the urge I sometimes have when I see a movie alone – but that I also hope is shared by at least some of you — to eavesdrop on what others say. What do they think? How does their experience compare to mine? Snippets are overhead as one leaves the cinema and are often food for thought. A longer snippet of such an experience is what this podcast hopes to provide: it’s two friends chatting immediately after a movie. It’s unrehearsed, meandering, slightly convoluted, certainly enthusiastic, and well informed, if not necessarily on all aspects a particular work gives rise to, certainly in terms of knowledge of cinema in general and considerable experience of watching different types of movies and watching movies in different types of ways. It’s not a review. It’s a conversation. One roughly transmuted into another format so that you may overhear. We know the design of the image is lousy; and that the transitions between snippets are roughly cut. But what do you think of the idea, the title, the format?  Feedback and suggestions most gratefully received.

 

José Arroyo

(also on behalf of Michael Glass)

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Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

    I love the Maigret films; they offer the double satisfaction of thrilling you with some of the worst humanity has to offer – though usefully shown tastefully – and then restoring order; moreover, that rebalancing is itself done in an orderly and systematic manner; one we’ve learned to know and enjoy playing along … Continue reading Maigret tend un piège/ Inspector Maigret (Jean Delannoy, France/Italy 1958)

Seeing Films in Athens

A lovely byproducts of visiting Athens was its open air cinemas. I now see that it’s famous for them, with over sixty still remaining. But I had not known. I’d gone to Athens for the Parthenon, classical sculpture, Melina Mercouri and sunshine. Once made aware, however, I had to go, and we went every night … Continue reading Seeing Films in Athens

I Don’t Want to be a Man/ Icht möchte kein Mann sein A Comedy in Three Acts by Ernst Lubitsch (Ernst Lubitsch, Germany, 1918)

I Don’t Want to be  a Man/ Icht möchte kein Mann sein is a delightful sex comedy, a movie about teenage rebellion from a hundred years ago, funny and amiable but not without edge. Ossie (Ossie Oswalda) is a young woman who enjoys eating, drinking, smoking, playing poker and flirting with the boys. What’s not to … Continue reading I Don’t Want to be a Man/ Icht möchte kein Mann sein A Comedy in Three Acts by Ernst Lubitsch (Ernst Lubitsch, Germany, 1918)

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2010)

This is about a Hollywood film star, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), kind of lost, marriage failed, all his wishes are met but they’re not really desires because all he’s got to do is look and he gets offered it. He doesn’t even need to ask. Girls flash their tits at him everywhere he turns and, … Continue reading Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2010)

The Lonely Wife/ Charulata (Satyajit Ray, India, 1964)

The Lonely Wife/ Charulata (Satyajit Ray, India, 1964) If you cannot have faith, trust; if you do not know what is true, how can you make sense of the world and how can you live? These are some of the questions asked by Satyajit Ray’s great film, The Lonely Wife/ Charulata. The setting is an … Continue reading The Lonely Wife/ Charulata (Satyajit Ray, India, 1964)