#360- The Young and the Damned

Quick recap: A group of boys from the slums of Mexico City resort to crime in order to survive.

Jaibo’s ill-fitting overalls are all you need to know he is up to no good

Fun (?) fact: The movie was very poorly received when it first came out but after people had a chance to calm down, they realized that it held a lot of truth. The Young and the Damned is now considered one of the greatest Mexican films of all time.

My thoughts: I’ve seemingly been caught in a ‘wayward youths’ movie vortex as of late and it’s hard to tell whether I can escape any time soon. I’ve lucked out up until now because almost all of the films have a glimmer of hope attached, even though most of the movie is very grim. (I’m looking at you, City of God)

The Young and the Damned, as I should’ve gleaned from the title, is a different beast altogether. It lured me in at first, making me think this was just a cute cautionary tale about bad boys who drink and smoke but who are just little scamps in the big picture of things. And actually, that part might be true until the Ultimate Wayward Youth, Jaibo, shows up, after breaking out of reform school. The boys immediately take to him as he shows them how to rob a blind man of his money. It’s a cruel scene, but nothing I haven’t seen before. They take it to a new level however when they chase the man and throw stones at him. That’s when I realized no one was playing around. Every actor in the film is believable as a corrupted youth. I was blown away with how complicated they showed their characters to be. As mean as some of the boys are (including a scene where Jaibo straight up murders a kid), it’s very obvious that the director fully believed poverty was to be blamed for all this hard lives.

Pedro, the main character, is about as real a kid as you can get. He tags along with the gang but never really does the bad stuff. He befriends a lost boy and gets him food to eat and he does his best to listen to his mother, even though they both know she can’t really take care of him. He gets caught up with Jaibo, however, and thus starts his downward spiral that ultimately ends in his tragic death. His murder really broke me in a way that is hard to convey because I wasn’t expecting that kind of ending at all. I kept thinking something good would eventually turn up but it didn’t. The final scene of the farmer throwing his body down a hill is so sickening but really hit home the point that Mexico City was in a crisis with poverty at the time. And it’s a reminder that we haven’t moved forward as much as we think we have.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Trouble in Paradise

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#356- Diabolique

Quick recap: A wife and her husband’s mistress team up to kill the husband, who’s really a jerk. After murdering him and dumping his body in a pool, things start to get weird. Weirder than a wife and mistress teaming up, even.

My partner teacher and I when we are supposed to be watching the kids at recess

 

Fun (?) fact: Director Henri-Georges Clouzot beat Alfred Hitchcock to the rights to the film within a few hours. Don’t feel bad for ‘ol Hitchcock though, he later bought the film rights to another novel by the same author and called that film Vertigo.

Just a couple of teachers unwinding after a long semester

My thoughts: Before I start my review, let me just point out that two teachers having time to pull off a murder such as this one is ridiculous. Real teachers are so tired at the end of term that all we do is drink and sleep. Not carry out heavily detailed plots to murder loved ones.

You’d think I’d also point out the absurdity of a mistress and wife teaming up but that’s where you are wrong because I loved it. If you take out the murder this becomes a buddy movie that writes itself. The wife, Christina got on my nerves with her ‘delicate heart condition’ and wearing pigtails even though she’s like 30. But Nicole, the mistress, balances her out perfectly. The movie can be slow at times but the acting is so good that I didn’t really notice the lull. I’d love to add more about Nicole and Christina’s relationship but I can’t because there is a crazy twist that I just don’t have the heart to spoil right now.

seriously, the movie made me promise not to tell anyone

The entire movie is a slow build to something wonderful and actually terrifying so the pay off is worth it. After Michel’s murder, he keeps popping up everywhere, even though the women dumped him into a pool. The creepiest part for me was when the clothes he wore when he died were brought back to the school via a dry cleaners errand boy. It was such a tiny detail but all the possibilities as to how it happened made everything all the more spookier. That’s all I can say for now, except to go search this movie out for yourself and DON’T SPOIL IT!

Final review: 4/5

Up next: back to normal with La Dolce Vita

#349- A Man Escaped

Quick recap: Based on a true story from World War II, a man escapes from prison.

Fun (?) fact: A Man Escaped is based on the story of Andre Devigny who served as a consultant because the director wanted everything as authentic as possible. Devigny even let the cast borrow the hooks and and ropes he made to escape. Oh, and SPOILER ALERT the man does actually escape.

 

My thoughts: Never have I felt so inadequate about myself than last night when I watched this movie. Math and Physics were never my strongest subjects in school and now I realize that if I’m ever locked up for a war crime I didn’t commit, I’m toast. This guy had the most complicated plan, most of which involved making everything on his own and it WORKED. I, on the other hand, would spend months tying knots in my bedsheets only to have them break apart in my hands once I tried to use them. And making my own hook? Forget it! I can’t even handle a pair of scissors without cutting myself. The fact that this story is all true makes it even more amazing.

Judging just on cinematography features and sound alone, this film has rightfully earned its place on this list. The shots are beautiful and capture the suspense and loneliness prisoner Fontaine felt throughout his internment. Throughout most of the film Fontaine is dressed in a simple white shirt and pants that have been splattered in his own blood. No torture scenes are ever shown as that shirt is the only reminder one needs. The same goes for the firing squad who are never shown but their gunshot echoes are some of the most chilling sounds I have heard in a film.

Normally in a blog post about war I’ll say ‘war is hell’ and although this is very definitely a war film, it is also very definitely not. It’s a story of survival and optimism and creativity and it’s also one of the most suspenseful movies I have seen on this list. Many scenes involve Fontaine using a spoon to slowly strip away wooden molding on the door and every single shaving dropped on the floor caused my anxiety level to go up. Even though I just watched the film it’s so hard to imagine that this actually happened to a real person and he survived. The character Fontaine faced the firing squad if he didn’t escape so the stakes were high either way. Still, most people wouldn’t have the courage he did or the perseverance to pull it off.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: A special surprise for #350!

 

 

#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 too 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