Tag Archives: world cinema

Around The World In 100 Films – Latvia

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 52/100

Title: Away
Director: Gints Zilbalodis
Year: 2019
Country: Latvia

So, for the first time in three years I have added a new country to my ‘world cinema’ challenge that did not appear as part of the 1001 movie list. The last time this happened was for Singapore and that was for another animated movie. However, the unique selling point of this film is that is a complete one man show in terms of writing, animating, directing and music.

It’s amazing that we’re in a position now where there are enough tools available to talented young filmmakers that they are able to completely make an animated movie. Then again, you get games like Stardew Valley and Return of the Obra Dinn where everything has been created by one person, so it makes sense that eventually we would be able to get the same thing happen for animated movies.

As films go, the best word to describe Away would be ‘dreamy’, thanks a lot to it being a silent movie with a very stylish basic style of computer animation. The whole thing feels like you are watching a Let’s Play video of a walking simulator – and I’m not mad at that.

However, as impressive as it is that he created the whole thing, I feel this would have worked better as a series of shorts. The film itself is divided into a few episodes which all contain a number of similar themes – the character encounters animals that he bonds with, we have some questions about how he arrived on the mysterious island and there is usually the threat of a shadowy figure.

This really would have worked so well as a number of shorts, but I admire the ambition and will be really interested to see where he goes from here.

Around The World In 100 Films – Chile

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 51/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 884/1009Title: Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light)
Director: Patricio Guzmán
Year: 2010
Country: Chile

I do not remember if I have ever watched a film from the 2010s after it has been put on the 1001 list. Sure, I’ve seen plenty before their inclusion, but once they are on there I tend to give them a wide berth as their position on the list is precarious and it is time I could spend crossing off another film with a more sturdy foothold.

However, for a decade now, Nostalgia for the Light has remained in place. Given this, and that I’ve been putting off watching this for so long thanks to list insecurity, I figured it was about time I just put it on. After all, it would remain relevant for my Around The World In 100 Films challenge and this is a great film to see in order to cross off Chile.

Astronomy, archaeology and history unite in this brilliant documentary directed by  Patricio Guzmán, whose The Battle of Chile trilogy has been on my watchlist for ages. All three fields are tied together by Chile’s Atacama Desert. Astronomers are drawn there by the lack of humidity in order to gaze into the origins of the universe, archaeologists come here to look at the lives of Chile’s indigenous peoples and historians of more recent history will be interested in how it became the staging of concentration camps and mass burials under the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Nostalgia for the Light finds a way to weave these different fields of study that look into the past – at varying degrees of distance. It also makes a point of how it is the most recent history that is the hardest to study because of cover-ups and information lost by the dead. It’s one of those documentaries that is fascinating, beautiful and then harrowing. Stories of woman spending decades scouring the desert for the bones of their loved ones feature in between stunning shots of galaxies and nebulae.

All these are topics that interest me greatly and to have them all put together in such a brilliant way leaves me with high hopes that despite being a recent entry on the list, there are not many films out there like Nostalgia for the Light. Especially one that tells the story of a nation that lays out of the mostly US-European centric view of the 1001 list.

Around The World In 100 Films – Phillippines

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 50/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 846/1007Title: Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Light)
Director: Lino Brocka
Year: 1975
Country: Philippines

Well I am finally halfway through the watching around the world challenge. Doesn’t really help that I have been so focussed on getting through the 1001 list that new countries are more down to coincidence than anything more active. This is the last new country to be found outside the ‘danger zone’ of films released in the last 15 years. So if I want to keep this challenge going, looks like I’m going to need to start searching.

Manila in the Claws of Light is one of the more depressing films that I have seen on the 1001 list for a very long time. Depressing because it feels so much like a story that will have happened numerous times before and after the release. Also, it begins in a black-and-white documentary style before focussing in on the central story of exploitation, poverty and corruption – which firmly grounds everything in the real world.

In a nutshell, a man leaves his rural area in search of his girlfriend who has moved to Manila for work. He loses all his money in the search, has to work as a labourer at a severely reduced rate to make ends meet – only to find she has been effectively tricked into prostitution. It’s grim stuff.

One thing I really did not expect to appear in this film, which I should have considering this is the Philippines, are references to gay and transgender individuals. In fact, call boys and male prostitution is a significant portion of the film which, given the awkwardness and the heterosexuality of the lead, is a very odd bit.

Don’t watch this if you’re not prepared for something close to light-hearted. Do watch if you want to see more about how Manila as a city was failing its citizens in terms of income disparity and overall poverty.

Around The World In 100 Films – Jamaica

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 49/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 803/1007Title: The Harder They Come
Director: Perry Henzell
Year: 1972
Country: Jamaica

A benefit of being in the final 20% of the film list, other than the obvious, is being able to notice when there are new countries as the noise of other films clears. A big thanks to my husband today who spotted his new country and suggested that we watched it today. I hadn’t quite banked on seeing a Jamaican film as part of this 100, but it’s really cool to be able to add a second Caribbean nation to what is a slowly increasing list of nations. Hopefully more countries from this region will be added before I finish this particular challenge.

The Harder They Come is an interesting film on this list given that, on the songs list, I have seen the rise of reggae music outside of Jamaica. The spread of that genre was accelerated thanks to this film, which was a smash in its home country as well as a relatively big success. Reggae music is everywhere in this film, with the titular song being played a few times too often. Seriously though, if you end up having the same songs playing multiple times then you either need more songs or just have less sequences that relies on musical backing.

The film itself was fine. Just fine. If this was made in the U.S. I would say this was another blaxploitation film, but with a reggae music backing rather than funk or soul. However, being not of the U.S., this is a Jamaican crime film that contains some of the familiar tropes. The problem with that being that the central character of Cliff becomes such an overblown and psychotic stereotype by the end that I just stopped caring.

In the end, this worked best when it was a vehicle for reggae music and kinda became a semi-musical. Then it becomes some sort of crime spree film where any social commentary it was building up in the beginning is completely left by the wayside for shoot outs. There is a grain of a really good film, but it just ends up not delivering in what was an intriguining initial promise.

Around The World In 100 Films – Egypt

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 48/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 801/1007Title: Bab el hadid (Cairo Station)
Director: Youssef Chahine
Year: 1958
Country: Egypt

And now time to re-visit the challenge that I only appear to do once a year. I swear, once I am done with the 1001 movies list, I will focus more on this and start watching my way through countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Chile. Still though, at least the 1001 could give me Egypt for now.

In this period of film history you had some interesting changes in the style of movie making. In Italy and France, you had the rise of neorealism and new wave cinema whereas the U.S. was coming out of its noir phase whilst clinging to something a bit more melodramatic. In Cairo Station, you can see a film that is a halfway house between realism and noir.

This makes for an unusual combination as you have something that is focussed on the poorer denizens of Cairo scraping a living whilst also having a noir atmosphere and a very dramatic climax on the rail lines of the titular station. Honestly, the ending scene is spectacular and whilst there are sections beforehand that caused me to lose some focus at times, the ending more than made up for it.

For me the most interesting thing to see in this film, other than how the film movements from other nations were interpreted, was how a different culture was represented on screen. Albeit one that has changed dramatically in the 60 years since the film was made. If you ignore the Arabic writing, you could be well excused that you were watching an Italian or Spanish film from this era – which took me a bit by surprise.

I expect that it will be another year or so before I get to the final new country from the 1001 list – Phillipines. That is unless I have the sudden urge to watch The Missing Picture. Possible, but quite unlikely. I’ll get around to it eventually though.

Around The World In 100 Films – Serbia

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 47/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 737/1007Title: W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism (W.R. – Misterije organizma)
Director: Dušan Makavejev
Year: 1971
Country: Yugoslavia

Note: Wikipedia and other sources have classed this as a Serbian film, so I’m going with that to help me add another country to this list.

It’s been nearly a year since I added a country to this list and the one today wasn’t exactly planned. My husband said that he fancied seeing a film from Eastern Europe, so I picked something that I thought was a comedy from the Soviet Union. Turns out I was wrong on a whole heap of levels as this was made in Yugoslavia (not the USSR) and rather than being a comedy… this may be one of those films that defies genre.

When you read descriptions online, you’ll see W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism described as a satire. It’s these elements, and some of the director’s comments when interviewed about this film, that lead to his being forced into exile and this film being banned by the state. This satire, however, is a small part of this movie and is probably the least interesting to a modern audience.

The film itself is a mishmash of documentary, satirical narrative and some more arty pieces. The general theme of the piece is one surrounding communism and sexuality with the W.R. of the title coming from the pseudo-scientist Wilhelm Reich (the man that Kate Bush based her song ‘Cloudbusting’ on). It’s like one of those mixed media art pieces you may find in modern art galleries, but with unsimulated sex and a lot of people engaging in some disturbing scream therapy.

It’s actually quite hard to write about W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism as, like Disney’s Make Mine Musicthere are parts I responded well to and others that bored me. If this had ended up staying as a documentary about Wilhelm Reich, I would have enjoyed it so much more as was a weird and interesting figure. Similarly, if this had been an documentary abut sex in art (as some of the interviews would have learnt themselves to) it would have been good enough.

The mixture, however, keeps you on your toes but can be a bit too disorientating at times. This being the film that got a man exiled from his country until the fall of the communist government does lend this a special piece of street cred in cinema history – but it’s so inconsistent that I’m still not entirely sure what I watched.

Around The World In 100 Films – Turkey

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 46/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 675/1007Title: Yol
Director: Yılmaz Güney
Year: 1982
Country: Turkey

This is one of those happy occasions where the stars align and I am able to further multiple goals at the same time. I believe, if I have my facts straight, that there are two more countries for me to cross off which have films on the 1001 list. Why don’t I just do those next and get further into my goal? Because I just found out what Ace in the Hole is about and I am intrigued to watch that as my next movie.

So yes, this is my first foray into Turkish films. I have been put off of watching one of films from this country for YEARS because of how many of their films have inflated values on IMDB – thanks to a rather dedicated fanbase. Since Yol won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and is on the 1001 list, there is a promise of some form of quality or importance here.

With Yol the placement, at least for me, leans more towards the (historical) importance. In fact the story behind the making of this film (whereby the director had to direct by proxy because he was a political prisoner at the time) and the fact that the unedited version is still not shown in it’s native Turkey (because of the depiction of Kurds) makes this a weirdly controversial and historically interesting film.

The basic summary of this film is that we follow a group of prisoners who have been granted a week’s leave to go home and visit their families… with a whole series of tragic consequences befalling them. This is one of those films where everything feels relentlessly bleak as when horses aren’t freezing to death, families are setting up an honour killing.

If this film is an honest depiction of life in 1980s Turkey, then you can see why  film like this would be banned regardless of their opinions of the Kurds. The thing that ruined this film for me, however, was that it didn’t feel like you were watching a truly connect and holistic film. You keep veering between stories of woe that are acted out by people whose acting abilities are pretty much average. Then again, it took a lot of effort and secrecy to even get this filmed, so I probably should cur this film some slack. Probably.

In the end, I didn’t find this film engaging and that really is a non-negotiable.

I know that my films by 100 countries quest is not going as fast as it could… but at least it’s moving faster than the Shakespeare challenge that I keep forgetting about. It’ll probably pick up speed when I, eventually, finish off the 1001 film list and I can focus on filling up the countries that are left behind… most likely starting with Thailand.

Around The World In 100 Films – Singapore

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 45/100

Title: Tatsumi
Director: Eric Khoo
Year: 2011
Country: Singapore

I’m going to Singapore in a few months! I haven’t been this excited about a holiday destination since booking my honeymoon to Japan. We got a great deal on flights and a hotel, so we figured why not just go for it. As part of my preparations for this (and to keep some of this excitement in check because the trip isn’t for another 3 months) I thought it would be a good idea to become better acquainted with Singaporean culture.

Tatsumi came up as a film to watch because it’s one of Singapore’s submissions to the Foreign Language film section of the Academy Awards. I’ve only just come to realise that these submission lists are a fantastic resource to help me find films for this challenge… so watch out Tajikistan because you’ve made the list.

However, with Tatsumi I managed to find a Singaporean film that is in Japanese, set in Japan and about a Japanese man. It’s also another animated film. Still, the remit of this it to see films from 100 different countries so Tatsumi is a very welcome addition to the list.

So, who is the titular Tatsumi? Well (and I would have been able to answer this myself if I had gotten further with the comics list) he is major name in the manga scene and is credited with starting the more adult gekiga genre of manga (of which Lady Snowblood would be an example). The film itself takes on two roles, a brief autobiography of Tatsumi and a cinematic interpretation of five stories written by Tatsumi.

It is these stories that make up the bulk of the film and, ultimately contain the bulk of the emotional impact (other the sadness that Tatsumi died 4 years after making this film and he was still so full of ideas for the future). All the adapted stories are pretty much disturbing with endings that would make writers for The Twilight Zone proud. I’m not entirely sure what was worse – the ending of ‘Beloved Monkey’ or the ending of ‘Good-bye’. It’s a close run thing and I don’t want to dwell on it too much.

Tatsumi is an excellent exploration of an alternative creative mind. It’s not got the weirdness factor of Crumb. No, this film has heart and it cannot help but help you to appreciate people who are so driven by their creativity that they are able to make something different out of it that has made a lasting legacy.

Around The World In 100 Films – Ukraine

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 43/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 582/1007
Title: Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)
Director: Sergei Parajanov
Year: 1965
Country: Ukraine (Former USSR)

I know that this is the third film from the USSR that I have linked to a different country for the sake of my Movies from 100 Nations thing. Bit of a cheat really. Then again UNESCO refer to this film as being Ukrainian so who am I to argue?

Honestly, this film is very much a Ukrainian film other than the Tblisi-born director. The language is Ukrainian, it’s set in Ukraine, a seemingly large majority of the cast and crew are from Ukraine and it is filmed in Ukraine. So yes, this is very much a Ukrainian affair.

As with the other Sergei Parajanov film that I have seen (Sayat-Nova) the cinematic language on offer in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors feels incredibly alien. This is where the problem is for me – in between horn blares and mobile camerawork there were time where I found it hard to hard to make head or tails of the film. In that way it was also rather similar to Red Psalm

The basic storyline (thanks Wikipedia) is interesting enough; especially that ending where Ivan is killed by the phantom of his lost love as conjured by a sorcerer (not the weirdest sentence I’ve written today).  However, even with Wikipedia and subtitles this was hard to follow. Now pair this up with camerawork that made me feel a bit seasick and those blasted horns… well let’s just say I didn’t like this film much at all.

That’s the way it goes with these lists, you can’t get a home run every time.

Around The World In 100 Films – Senegal & Cuba

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 42/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
moolaadeTitle: Moolaadé
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Year: 2004
Country: Senegal

For this pair of films I figured it was high time I tried to put more countries on the map. It means that, for the first film, I’m having to take a risk on a later film that may be removed from the next edition of the list. Then again, seeing how this list is meant to embody the great variety of cinema this may end up being a fairly safe bet. There are very few African films on the 1001 list. The reason behind this is fairly obvious: compared to the rest the world Africa does not have such a strong canon of cinema as they tend to have bigger fish to fry.

There are of course some exceptions, and I’m not talking about Nollywood which are generally seen as low quality despite a massive output. Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene has made many acclaimed films and Moolaadé is the only one of his oeuvre to make it on the list. I am surprised that his equally acclaimed film Xala did not made the cut, but I venture that this is a far more important film.

Moolaadé is set in an isolated African village. The filming took place in Burkina Faso, but as far as I’m aware it is never mentioned where this town actually is. They have chosen to be isolated for they fear the encroach of the modern world on their traditions. This is a village that still believe the story of a king being turned into an anthill after going against moolaadé (a type of magical protection) even though they converted to Islam many generations ago. This is also a village that still engages in ritualistic female genital mutilation in the name of Allah (a practice that Islam has actually denounced) and this is where the story begins.

Whilst the film is didactic in tone there’s so much life and colour that this does not feel like an exploitative Nanook of the North style film. These are real people. Okay fine they are actors playing a role, I wager a significant number of the women involved have been through this act of barbarism. I know it is easy for someone in the west to call it an act of barbarism, but what else is there to call it? If even their own religion has a ban on it then why does it go ahead?

This is the point of the film. It takes on the ideas of both equality and outside influence. When the girls come to Collé for protection they do so out of their own choice. The two girls of the six that do not go to Collé end up drowning themselves out of fear of the “purification”. It’s so easy for the men of the village, who do not have to perform the ceremony themselves, to blame Collé and outside influences (aka the radio). Despite demanding that this ceremony goes ahead they have no part in it instead they rely on bullying tactics and the few medicine women on their side to keep this tradition going. Never mind that these men have lost daughters to this ceremony (as it kills 15 per cent of women and those that survive may be in constant pain for the rest of their lives), this doesn’t seem to factor in as going against tradition will cause them to lose face.

I did not have high hopes going into this movie despite the fact that my hero Roger Ebert listed this as one of his Great Movies. It just felt like one of those films that have all the subtlety of a drunk rhino and how wrong was I. This movie is important. We in the west cannot make this film because it looks like us imposing our view of the world onto others. What Ousmane Sembene has done is to give us the window where we can view the land he grew up in. I just hope that the brave women, the mercenary and the son of the chieftain are indicative of a rising swell of opinion and action in these areas. No girl should ever have to deal with this. And I think every man should be made to confront what they’re doing should they champion this act.

Title: Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias del Subdesarrollo)
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Year: 1968
Country: Cuba

Memories of Underdevelopment is arguably the most critically acclaimed film to come out of Cuba… I did not get it. Now, it is not that I don’t appreciate the film that breaks with general structure. In fact watching films that do things in different ways is the reason that completing the 1001 book is on my bucket list.

The idea is very promising. You have a film which tells the story with a mixture of documentary film and drama. I don’t know if it’s me, but this is an idea I feel a lot of recently (i.e. Close-Up) so I know this can be done very well. With the setting of this film being Cuba during its turbulent time in the 1960s there should have really been interesting. Now there are interesting parts where he looks a bit more into the history and goes along the moor documentary road. It’s when the main character starts thinking about women he slept with the other things of lesser consequence that I start to phase out.

One thing to note is how the storytelling happens. It is all fairly train of thought so as to mimic memory retrieval. Think Memento but instead of going backwards it’s a bit more scattershot. Since this is how humans work it’s an interesting way to present the narrative threads. However, in this instance it just did not work for me.

The afterthoughts I have been confronted with is the knowledge that I know next to nothing about Cuba other than what I learnt about Cold War in GCSE history. Maybe I need to find an actual documentary to learn more as that would be interesting.

Progress: 502/1007