#344- Days of Heaven

Quick recap: Bill, a laborer, convinces his not-girlfriend to marry their hopefully-dying-soon rich boss. When he doesn’t kick the bucket as promised, it gets awkward quickly.

I’d have a difficult time choosing between Richard Gere and Sam Shepard, although I’m willing to bet neither of them smelled very good

Fun (?) fact: The locusts were really peanut shells (thank god). The film was then reversed to make it seem like they were ascending into the sky. I’m still traumatized.

 

My thoughts: Terrence Malick, during a discussion of an upcoming film: ‘You know what would really knock this film out of the park? poetry!’

Days of Heaven looks similar to other Malick films in that the words and symbolism can be confusing but the scenes are gorgeous so I don’t mind. In a Malick film, don’t ever take anything at face value. Not war, not criminals on the lam, and now, not migrant workers looking for some quick cash. Days of Heaven was a bit easier to digest than the other two I mention, I think because there was a lot of religious symbolism I recognized. The film doesn’t have much dialogue between characters, which my 1001 movie book deemed ‘silent movie-esque’. I tend to agree with that statement, although there is plenty of narration to explain the plot. Despite getting the theme of the movie rather quickly, I still had some lingering questions after it was over:

  1. Why couldn’t Bill and Abby pretend like they were married instead of brother and sister? Watching them make out would’ve made everyone much less uncomfortable
  2. How expensive was soap in the early 1900s? Because it seemed like no one bothered to use it and if that’s true, how could you attract anyone?
  3. Were locusts that big of a deal back then? What a nightmare.

Overall, though, I was entirely invested in the characters from the beginning. Bill was kind of a jerk but also really young and in charge of his sister. Then again, it was his idea to marry off the love of his life so I don’t really think he thought things through. I loved the tense showdown at the end between Bill and the The Farmer, even though I never could reconcile who should’ve ‘won’. Honestly, even if this movie had no build up or resolution, I still would’ve loved it because it is beautiful.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Blue

 

 

 

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#343- The Cranes Are Flying

Quick recap: Boris and Veronica are young lovers torn apart by war in Soviet Russia.

Fun (?) fact: This was one of the first movies to come out from the USSR that didn’t involve propaganda.

The 3rd line in this movie is about the cranes flying so I appreciate not having too think to heavily of the title

My thoughts: Am I bad person for wanting this to be chockfull of propaganda? I find those films fascinating because I like to see if I actually come around to the idea.

Salt of the Earth and All Quiet on the Western Front: YES

Storm Over Asia and Sergeant York: big fat NO

Alas, this was not one of those films, but instead another depressing one about war and its consequences. War is hell, y’all.

Right off the bat, I totally bought into Boris and Veronica’s relationship. They weren’t just cute together, but their playful banter felt genuine and not too over the top gloopy. I especially loved his nickname for her: squirrel. What I didn’t love was that he volunteered to go to war and literally left the next day. And even more than that, I was crushed that the two didn’t see each other before he shipped out. Like I said, I was all the way invested in this relationship. Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about Russian history so I’m not even going to try and sum up went on the war. All I know is that it was rough and not just for the soldiers. Even with a victory, I knew that the characters faced a long road ahead of them. And boy did they ever! For starters, Veronica’s parents are killed in an air raid. And then when she moves in with Boris’ family, his cousin Mark rapes her during another air raid and the two have to get married. AND THEN BORIS DIES. This movie was on a whole other level of drama I was not prepared for. As sad as it is, apparently Russian audiences really identified with the plot at the time. This movie was the first time many of them felt like it was ok to grieve for their suffering and hardships. It really made me think about all the bullshit governments put the common people through for the ‘greater good’.

Aside from the stellar acting and plot, there were many scenes and close ups that were gorgeous. The camerawork felt modern and had it not been in black and white, I might think this movie was a recent addition. Cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky used hand held cameras for much of the movie, and is one of the first to do so. The result isn’t shaky, thank god, but instead, seems like a more intimate look into the lives of a family going through a horrible time.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Days of Heaven

 

#342- 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

Quick recap: No idea. I think it’s about commercialism? Or maybe prostitution. Or possibly pinball.

That lady in the background playing pinball was just about the only thing that made sense

Fun (?) fact: The ‘her’ in the title refers to Paris, not the main character, like I thought while watching the entire movie. It only goes downhill from here, folks.

This scene, where a guy whispers philosophy into his coffee lasted FAR too long.

My thoughts: The movie opens with a creepy guy whispering off camera about a woman on screen. He describes her as an actress and also details what she is wearing. Then the camera switches to another woman who looks exactly like the actress, except she is facing the other way. The whisper guy describes this woman as the main character and details what she is wearing. I spent the entire movie confused because I thought the plot was about two friends who looked exactly alike, but only one kept popping up in the narrative. It wasn’t until I read the basic plot outline that I realized the whisper guy was talking about the same woman. I think it’s time to take a break from French films for a bit.

So, you may ask, what are things I know about Paris after watching this film? Well…..

  1. There was a lot of construction going on in the late 60s.

2. And the construction mostly led to ugly, expensive apartments.

3. The ugly apartments led to housewives turning to prostitution to continue their lifestyle.

4. And prostitution mostly led to affording products that have similarities to ones we have in the US.

Considering I came up with 4 things instead of 2 or 3, I think that makes me smarter than the movie. Who’s laughing now, Jean-Luc Godard??

Final review: 1/5

Up next: The Cranes are Flying

 

#341- The 400 Blows

Quick recap: A young boy in France gets into a little trouble, which leads to big trouble down the road.

Once you go Balzac you never……something something

Fun (?) fact: The 400 Blows is a bad translation of the French phrase ‘Faire les quatre cents coups’. It’s actually an idiom that roughly means ‘to raise hell’. The 400 Blows has a better ring to it, even if it doesn’t really make sense.

My thoughts: Here we have yet another coming of age story set in France. By the end of the list I think I’ll have more memories of being a male youth in the 50s and 60s in France than my own actual childhood. That’s not to say that this movie was bad, of course. Far from it, in fact. The problem is that I watched The 400 Blows after watching other subpar coming of age French films so what seems a tired addition is actually the opposite. The 400 Blows is the gold standard other films should try to be.

The character of Antoine Doinel is as close to a realistic kid as I have probably ever seen in a movie. He’s a scoundrel for sure, but only in the way a kid with a rough home life turns out to be sometimes. I felt so much sympathy watching Antoine get into more and more trouble but it thankfully never turned into pity, an emotion I hate experiencing during a movie. It broke my heart when he finally got caught stealing the typewriter and had to spend the night in jail. At the same time, though, here is a relatively smart kid who could’ve made a different choice so many times but didn’t. Going to the observation place seems like the best place for a kid like him but a part of me was also thrilled when he escaped a little while later.

Like Jules and Jim, the other Francois Truffaut directed film I’ve seen, The 400 Blows is filled with gorgeous panoramic shots of France. My favorite shot happened as the two boys decided to run around town since they had been suspended for the rest of the term. They run down several flights of steps and through a neighborhood, ending up at a children’s puppet program. I felt the same emotions as the boys probably had- freedom and a bit of apprehension that this can’t go on forever. The 400 Blows is a beautiful film, not just for the visuals but for the humanity of the characters.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her