Archive for November, 2012

The concept of a Muslim woman balancing her religious beliefs with her day job as a professional dominatrix is an intriguing one indeed and will one day serve as the basis for a wonderful film.

Unfortunately, Usama Alshaibi’s PROFANE is not this film.

Despite its pretenses of deconstructing the delicate balance of growing up religiously in an ever-growing secular world, PROFANE is merely another pathetic exercise in pretentious filmmaking where sloppy camerawork, empty religious symbolism and use of excessive drones masquerade as “deep philosophic inquiries” into the mind of a woman on the verge of a metaphysical breakdown.

Now, I should state for the record that I have no problems with experimental filmmaking. Heck, there are many who would consider me to be something of an experimental filmmaker myself. However, what I think separates directors like David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky from their hordes of imitators is the fact that while the former may take unconventional approaches to their storytelling, they’re still telling stories. There’s cause and effect. Say what you will about narrative filmmaking, but narrative is the defining quality of Film as an art form. It’s how we as audiences relate to it and to completely disregard it in the name of whatever self-indulgent crusade against “the norm” you may be going on is a delusional one indeed.

I was actually really looking forward to watching PROFANE as I think the concept of the film is truly an ingenious one and as previously mentioned, will hopefully one day be explored by a filmmaker who’s interested in finding a way to convey the complexities of the material in a manner that will both engage the viewer intellectually and entertain them with a story that has the emotional depth of a SECRETARY. But unfortunately what I got was an extended director’s cut of a bad student film.

Thanks to Exploitation Retrospect.

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L’AUTOMOBILE is the third and final entry in a made-for-TV trilogy by Italian director Alfredo Giannetti. While the prospect of going into this film having never seen or even been aware that there were two previous entries in this series may seem daunting, fret not as the only thing linking these series of stories is legendary star Anna Magnani.

In this particular picture, Magnani stars as Anna, an ex-prostitute who’s entering a phase of her life where she longs for true freedom and has apparently defined this concept as owning her own car. While she’s saved more than enough money over the years to buy the vehicle, she’s never driven before in her life and as such she enlists the services of Giggetto (Vittorio Caprioli), an old friend of hers, to show her the ropes. Suffice it to say, hilarity ensues.

While Anna Magnani gives a very charming performance, there’s no getting around the fact that ultimately, L’AUTOMOBILE is a film that has no real conflict. Granted, we can debate that there’s a raging inner turmoil boiling within the psyche of Anna where she feels trapped by age, loneliness and a great feeling of helplessness that comes with both. But as far as story goes, there’s nothing much of interest here. Any semblance of conflict such as whether Anna will get her driver’s license is mere lip service and nothing that won’t obviously be resolved. Ironically enough, it’s only within the last 10 minutes of the film that we finally get to see Anna’s character in any real danger but by then we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing Anna come out on top that we don’t think for a moment that any harm will come to her. I was actually hoping that they were going for a NIGHTS OF CABIRIA type ending which might’ve ended the film on a real tragic note. But seeing as this is a comedy, they obviously tried to make light of her situation and have it end on a punch line.

On the subject of comedy, there is something to be said about how humor can be very local and not the easiest thing to translate into different languages. There’s a reason why we’ve never seen Dario Argento’s comedic Western. It’s a comedy very much rooted in Italian culture and unless you have a strong or native understanding of local politics and customs, a lot of this will just go over your head. In the case of L’AUTOMOBILE, I can’t help but feel my appreciation for the humor would have been enhanced even more if I understood Italian. As it stands, comedy can be difficult to appreciate if you’re reading subtitles.

While the film may be mediocre, the DVD is outstanding. RaroVideo is quickly becoming the Criterion Collection of rare and obscure European genre films. The treatment they’ve bestowed upon this film is both astounding and frustrating. Astounding in that the extras and quality of the video and audio are dazzling;  frustrating in the sense that I wish they picked a better film to release under their banner.

Thanks to Exploitation Retrospect.

One of the highlights of the Fantasia International Film Festival is unquestionably the selection of Hong Kong genre films. Hong Kong is at the forefront of what can only be called a resurgence in high-quality, challenging and engaging Asian cinema that looks and sounds just as, if not better, than their American counterparts. And one of the directors leading the pack is Pang Ho-Cheung.

As much as I hate to refer to filmmakers as “the next” this or “the Asian” that, for people who may not be aware of Pang’s work, it does offer a comfortable reference point for those looking to get into his filmography. With his witty yet profane dialogue, street-smart approach to exploring the dynamics between men and women and his rather open-minded look at contemporary relationships, Pang Ho-Cheung can best be described as the Hong Kong “Kevin Smith” of his generation. That’s Kevin Smith, circa “Chasing Amy,” mind you.

On the heels of his masterful “Love in a Puff” and the sequel that followed, Pang Ho-Cheung brings us, “Vulgaria,” a vulgar, but sweet look at the life of a Category III film producer who regales a film class with a tale of how he made love to a mule in order to convince a mob boss to finance his latest project. The project in question being a remake of the classic adult film “Confessions of a Concubine.” The mob boss not only wants this film remade but he also wants its original star Yin Yin Shaw to reprise her role, despite the fact that she’s now in her 60s. What follows is a series of hilarious set-pieces in which our intrepid film producer must not only appease his mob boss financier, but the demands of his high-maintenance cast, the emotional needs of his daughter, the financial needs of his ex-wife not to mention his own sexual needs, though he’s got that covered courtesy of Popping Candy, a beautiful young would-be movie star who’s claim to fame is chewing on a bag of popping candy while performing certain activities of the “oral variety.”

Much like the best work of Kevin Smith, Pang Ho-Cheung is able to balance some of the more gross-out, “dick and fart” jokes with a genuine sense of humanity with “Vulgaria.” As funny and shocking as watching a scene in which a mule gets ploughed six ways to Sunday, some of the film’s stronger sequences involve the film producer’s relationship with his daughter. One scene in particular where his ex-wife attempts to bribe the producer by offering to forego a year’s worth of alimony payment as well as an additional check of $300,000 if he agrees to no longer see his daughter for a year is particularly poignant as on one hand, you can see how desperation on his part would allow him to sink so low as to seriously consider such a proposal yet on the other hand, his undeniable love for his daughter rises above such petty concerns as money.

Another thing that really struck me about “Vulgaria” is how beautiful it looks. Cinematographer Jason Kwan incorporates a very colorful palette that echoes the early works of Wong Kar-Wai, circa “Fallen Angels.” It’s also indicative of how far Asian cinema has come to the point where aside from obvious factors such as language and cast members, you almost couldn’t tell whether this was made in Hollywood.

As far as I can tell, “Vulgaria” isn’t currently released on Blu-Ray or DVD, though with the positive buzz it’s been receiving on the festival circuit, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be able to dig this one up. And dig it up you should, because this one’s a winner.