Human Condition, Part I

HUMAN CONDITION

Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji

Human Condition, Part 1 is probably the most movie film I’ve ever seen. Directed by Masaki Koyabashi, Human Condition, Part 1 shows places idealistic hero Kaji-san in a Manchurian mine that’s managed with an iron fist. Young Kaji-san believes if the workers are treated humanly, they’ll produce more. Even if they didn’t, he believes it’s the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t agree?

The answer is plenty of the other managers and administrators. The head honcho will indulge Kaji-san, but only so far. That man’s main preoccupation seems to be living the easy life. Okishima-san is a veteran at the mind, who think’s Kaji-san’s ideas are too humanistic, but he’s open to giving them a try. He’s one of the few friends Kaji has.

Soon the mine is given 600 Chinese war prisoners. At the same time the higher ups have increased the quota by 20%. Kaji-san wants to see them treated well. He’s certainly alone on that.

When the train comes with the Chinese, the workers are emaciated. Fifteen died en route. Kaji-san campaigns for humane treatment for the Chinese. By  giving them more food, by no means a lot, they are able to work. Trouble comes when some of these prisoners start to escape. Kaji-san’s Chinese assistant Chen gets talked into convincing his pal who mans the electricity to shut it off after 1 am. When the third group tries to escape, Kaji-san’s nemesis accuses Kaji-san, who was totally in the dark, of allowing the prisoners to escape.

The acting, particularly Nakadai’s, is outstanding. I’ve never been so moved. While the camera is used masterfully, the film manages to blend naturalism and art.

Three and a half hours is a long time for a film, but the time speeds by. That’s quite a feat.

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Jules and Jim

Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is rightly considered a classic. Based on an autobiographical  novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the story focuses on two young men, with a deep friendship. Jules is Austrian and lives in Paris, while Jim is French. They share a way of looking at the world. Both are looking for love in 1912. When they meet Catherine, who resembles a sculpture which they view as the paragon of female beauty, they’re both struck by her spirit and openness. Jim agrees to let Jules court and marry her.

The three make a carefree group, but you just know that this arrangement won’t last forever. Catherine is capricious but didn’t fascinate me the way she did all the men who fall for her. She has no job and no interests. She’s pretty and open to life. Her spirit can be summed up when after viewing a play, they’re discussing the heroine, as Jules and Jim debate, Catherine illustrates her view of the role of women by jumping in the Seine. Fully clothed, Jim jumps in and fishes her out.

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Soon WWI breaks out and Jules and Jim fight on opposing sides, both fearing that they may shoot the other. Catherine is back at home in Germany caring for her daughter and receiving beautiful love letters from Jules. In addition to being enigmatic, Catherine struck me as a taker. There’s no mention of her writing great letters to Jules to support him while he’s fighting for his country.

After the war, the men return and soon Jim is on his way to see Jules and Catherine and their daughter Sabine. Jules confides to Jim that Catherine’s taken lovers including a man named Albert, who appears from time to time. In true European form, Jules excuses Catherine since this is her nature. He is right, but it’s exasperating watching this woman escape all responsibility and never be held to account, which would help her grow up. Perhaps if Jules, or Jim, were stronger and more of leader, though that’s not his nature, Catherine might not test him so much or get bored. It’s doubtful, but possible.

Whenever you’ve got a trio, you can bet a friend is going to start something with his pal’s wife and with Jules’ permission, Jim begins an intimate relationship with Catherine. She still has sex with Jules and Albert and probably other men we don’t see.

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It was interesting to see how Truffaut portrayed a sexy couple, or a few such relationships without a lot of nudity. I think his films are sexier with their fully dressed characters than those where the actors are buck naked.

Though I didn’t like Catherine, I did like the movie, which was masterfully paced and full of emotional surprises. Jeanne Moreau gives an outstanding performance. As I write historical drama, I found it interesting how Truffaut didn’t spend money on exquisite period costumes or settings. There are hints of the eras, but the costumes weren’t as accurate or elaborate as you see in period pieces made now.

The Criterion Collection’s DVD come with terrific bonus features including interviews with the sons of the men the story is based on and with the original “Catherine” who lived to be 96 and saw the movie before she died.

The Life of Émile Zola

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The film character doesn’t look like this

As I’ve recently finished Germinal, when I saw the film The Life of Émile Zola (1937) displayed with Oscar Best Picture winners, I had to watch it. Starring Paul Muni, The Life of Émile Zola begins with Zola sharing a cold garret apartment with Cezanne. Both are struggling to launch their creative careers, while trying not to freeze to death. Soon Zola meets a prostitute in a café, hears her life story, writes a novel based on it. When it’s published it’s criticized for its immorality and it flies off the bookstore shelves. Still poor, Zola goes to the book seller who published the book to beg for a small advance. Instead he gets a check for 30,000 francs. He’s rich!

Zola continues to write popular books and lives in comfort and luxury with his wife in Paris. One day his still struggling friend Cezanne drops by to announce that he’s off to the South of France to paint. Paris is no longer the place for him. Before leaving, he feels compelled to point out that Zola has become materialistic and complacent. He’s lost his ideals. This opens Zola’s eyes.

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The story shifts to the army office where treasonous letters are found and the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus is soon arrested and sent to prison. The Dreyfus Affair is a dark corner of French history, showing how quick the army leaders were to allow their Anti-Semitism to condemn an innocent man with out fair due process. The very odd aspect of this Warner Bros. film is that the anti-semitism is never mentioned. If you didn’t know about the history, you wouldn’t realize that Dreyfus was Jewish and that was a factor in his arrest and imprisonment. A 2013 New York Times article stated that studio head  Jack Warner, who was Jewish himself, insisted that any mention of Jewish heritage be removed from the film.

When Dreyfus’ wife pleads with the comfortable bourgeois Zola, she convinces him that the right thing to do is to take up Dreyfus’ cause. The famous article “J’accuse!” results and Zola’s soon arrested for libel. A fierce courtroom battle ensues where Zola is the David to the powerful government’s Goliath. (This time David loses though.)

While this chapter of history is worthy of a film, this production is outdated. To whitewash the events by editing out anti-semitism makes no sense. Muni’s Zola hops around the scenes and is so almost comical in his vibrancy, that it’s hard to take him seriously. Other characters like his wife, Cezanne and the military leaders are one dimensional. The film was the Best Picture of 1937 and won other awards, but it doesn’t stand up to the test of time.

Poldark Season 3 Finale

Poldark Season 3 went out with a bang making viewers wish for September 2018, which can’t come soon enough for me. From start to finish his episode was amazing.

George returned from London and when he saw that Drake had set up his smithy near his land, he hit the ceiling. Elizabeth tried to make him see reason and not interpret this as a provocation from Ross. As usual, George ignored sense and set his yeoman to vandalize Drake’s blacksmith shop.

Meanwhile the unctuous vicar has taken to drugging his young wife Morwenna while he indulges his foot fetish and whatever else with her even younger sister Rowenna. Rowenna’s hard to figure out. Of course, she’s manipulating Ossie, but where did she learn to be so conniving. How can she stand Ossie, who makes most viewers skin crawl if tweets are to be believed? Rowenna announces she’s with child and Ossie’s expression was priceless. Call it schadenfreude, but seeing Ossie, who’s ruined Morwenna’s life, getting taken down was so satisfying.

Since three French ships were spotted on the horizon, Ross and others are instructed to prepare local men for a possible attack. This is right around the time of the French Revolution, which was so violent and the English of the day were very nervous.

George’s henchman sets fire to Drake’s smithy, totally destroying his work, which compels Drake to humbly tell Elizabeth all about this. Finally, Elizabeth is getting to a point where she takes action rather than just staying in the background letting everyone around her, like Morwenna, suffer.

When George interrupts Drake and rudely sends him packing, Elizabeth realized Drake was right and she stands up to George. Finally! This episode Elizabeth wasn’t imbibing her “little helper” and seemed to have waken up. She tries to make him see reason and stop speculating and obsessing over what Ross was doing.

But Elizabeth’s action was too little, too late. Tom Harry with two thugs found Drake leaving Trenwith and beat him till he was near death. Tom kicked him into the edge of a river and left him for dead. Such humanity. Demelza happened to find him and got Dwight.

Dwight prescribed abstinence for Morwenna for another few weeks and Ossie would have nothing of it. Why he’s not content with one sister is beyond me. Rowella has told Ossie she’s pregnant and offers a solution to the problem by bringing a very wimpy librarian in as a possible husband. The librarian, no doubt coached by Rowella, asks Ossie for £1000, which makes Ossie the Slime-bag turn beet red. Rowella’s probably 16 and she’s got this middle-aged lecherous hypocrite tied up in knots. Morwenna overheard the conversation and acts. When Ossie creeps into her room, she draws a line in the sand and tells him he’s never to touch her. Shocked that the once mousy Morwenna is forceful, he demands she do her wifely duties. She responds that if he takes one more step she’ll kill their son, which makes Ossie back off. He now thinks she’s crazy.

The townspeople hear of George’s thug’s attack on Drake. This on top of George’s increasing the price of grain and doing nothing in Parliament to help the poor makes people’s blood boil. They’d lay siege to Trenwith if it weren’t for Ross’ rousing speech. As we all know, he should be in Parliament.

Hugh’s poetry and attentive ways melt Demelza’s heart. Ross has taken her for granted and gives everyone else in his life more attention. Hugh reveals to Demelza that he’s going blind. Though she struggles with the choice, Demelza grants Hugh’s wish to give themselves to each other before he goes blind. (He put that more poetically.)

Meanwhile Ross leads the militia to Trenwith where the peasants are about to lay siege to George’s property. It’s a tense scene interspersed with flashbacks of the French Revolution.  In the end, Ross gets the people to lay down their arms by promising to take a seat in Parliament when asked.

There were a few scenes not in the 1970s series that I don’t think worked or seeing the DVDs of the 1970s series made me not like this series’ treatment of those parts as much. When Elizabeth turns the tables on George making him swear on the Bible that he wouldn’t suspect her of loving Ross or question Valentine’s lineage, George well apart emotionally. It humanized him as much as anything could, but I felt he was too weak. Also, the melancholy in Demelza’s return and the end of the episode showed more doubt in the marriage’s future. It was sadder and I think that’s partly because while both are fine, this Demelza isn’t as spunky or humorous. She’s got spirit, but of a different sort. I did wish the peasants had burned down Trenwith.

I’ll add that I miss Jud’s character and I think casting went overboard with stereotyping the librarian as a complete wet noodle. He wasn’t so weak and pasty in 1976.

But all in all, the show was gripping. I admit I watched it twice since we’re in for a Masterpiece drought till Victoria returns.

The Nights of Cabiria

I just loved this film! Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) begins with a man who shoves Cabiria into a river and grabs her purse and runs off never to return. Cabiria’s furious, but this attack, like all the other misfortune that Cabiria encounters won’t stop her.

Played by Giulietta Masina, who’s clearly inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp, Cabiria is a streetwalker, usually picks up business in a park where her pals gather. On the surface, the gang seems happy-go-lucky, just as Cabiria is, but all of them lead vulnerable lives and have great needs.

Proud and unstoppable, Cabiria winds up in the upper crust’s part of town, where she’s invited into a movie star’s apartment. He’s just argued with his platinum blonde girlfriend. This is the first of several unexpected encounters Cabiria experiences. It’s not all fun and games. Time and again we see Cabiria getting ditched or used and brushing herself off time after time winning us over.

Cabiria’s Odyssey takes us from upscale night clubs with exotic dancers, to religious shrines where miracle cures are purported to occur, to a Vaudeville like theater where a hypnotist shows Cabrira’s sweetest side, to the edge of a cliff.

Yet the end surprises and makes us wonder what will happen to Cabiria. Is she really unsinkable? I’ve thought about this film every day for a week and this character is one who’ll always stick with me.

Poldark, Season 3, Ep. 4

clowranceSunday’s Poldark episode began by showing the villagers poorer and starving. Yet, and this should come as no surprise, George had no mercy or compassion for them. He rounded up those he could and sentenced them to 15 years in prison.Also, the program included the fastest, no fuss, birth I’ve ever seen on television. In one scene Demelza’s digging potatoes and a bit later she’s got her new daughter Clowance  in her hands.  I didn’t actually mind the abbreviated birth because the episode was packed with other events.Dwight is stuck in a dank, dark, decrepit prison which rivaled the Les Misérables Paris sewers for hygiene. Yet despite the starvation and mental anguish of his imprisonment, heroic Dwight manages to perform surgery in his cell.

Salesman

I was mesmerized by the Iranian film Salesman. I saw it on my flight to Chicago and it was the first Iranian film I’d seen. In Salesman, a young married couple must flee their apartment which is collapsing due to some structural problems. The couple are currently starring in a production of Death of a Salesman and another actor offers to let them stay in an apartment he owns.

From the time they move in they’re inconvenienced by the former tenant, who’s left a lot of her things there. She’s a pain because she breaks promises to get her belongings and she won’t pick up her phone, etc.

This woman brings much more trouble when Rana, the young wife, buzzes in a person who she thinks is her husband. She opens the door and goes to take a shower. Little does she know that she’s just let a man who will brutally attack and rape her. It turns out that the previous tenant was a prostitute.

The film does not show the attack. We see Rana open the door and go to the shower and then we cut to Emad, her husband, arriving and seeing blood on the steps. Then he finds his wife beaten and bruised cared for by the new neighbors.

The film continues to deal with the aftermath. Rana doesn’t want to go to the police. She doesn’t believe any good will come from it. But Emad, who feels he’s failed to protect his wife, wants justice. He seeks the attacker, but not in a Hollywood way. As Rana tries to get on with life and as Emad seeks justice, the story is interspersed with scenes where Emad plays Willy Loman and Rana plays his wife. The film is poignant and emotional is a realistic way. The acting was superb and convinced me to find more films by this director or with these actors.

I found this a captivating look at the lives of Iranians, a people, I confess I know little about.