The Spirit of the Bee Hive

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Perhaps I missed something, but The Spirit of the Bee Hive confounded me. A story about Anna, a young girl living in a village in Spain, who sees a Frankenstein film and gets obsessed with figuring out why Frankenstein killed a girl who had tried to play with him.  She asks her older sister, who’s probably 7 or 8 years old, and gets a fanciful response which sends her on a mission to find Frankenstein in a local field.

Because I don’t know much about Spanish history and couldn’t understand the context a lot of the film was beyond me. Moreover, the family was so alienated. The parents spent little time with each other or with their children. There were some touching scenes, but as a whole the parents seemed distant and lived in their own heads. The kids were allowed to wander wherever including along and on railroad tracks. They’d put their ears to the tracks to determine if a train was approaching. That made me tense, but on the suspense scale, I wanted something more.

At one point a man who’s been shot jumps off the train and makes his way to the abandoned barn in the desolate field where Ana seeks her Frankenstein. We never learn his story. Ana innocently cares for him and brings him food and tends as best she can to his wound. He never says much. One day after she leaves him some food and starts for home gunfire takes the man out. We never learn the source of the bullets. Since Ana’s given the victim her father’s jacket with his watch in the pocket, her father is questioned by police. We never hear what’s said and never does the father talk to Ana about her actions. So much is left to the imagination and without understanding of Spanish modern history and its impact on the culture, I couldn’t appreciate this film.

The father was a beekeeper and scholar and there’s plenty of bee hive patterns, like the windows shown above. Still I really never got the significance of the title. I was going to watch some of the extras on Disc 2, but I figured I didn’t want to spend the time digging deeper in the hope of possibly understanding an opaque film.

Ana is blessed with the most beautiful, arresting eyes and they’re well photographed. Her sister is pretty as well. Seeing how they’re captured on film was the best part of this movie. For the most part, the emotionally distant characters left me cold.

Seven Samurai

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Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a film that left me stunned. So much action! Bam! What bold characters! Wow!

During a period of political instability in the 16th century, samurai were cut loose from their masters. Bandits roamed Japan pillaging and farmers lived in fear. In Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, a small, farming village is attacked by bandits. The bandits leave since the farmers don’t have much to steal. The bandits took most everything before. However, they do plan to return when the crops come in.

The elder of the village suggests the peasants hire some samurai to protect them. The peasants aren’t sure, but “Grandpa” is revered and no one has a better idea. So a few scouts go to town to recruit.

They luck out and find wise Kanbei, played by Kurosawa regular Takeshi Shimura, who leads the motley crew. Other samurai includes trained swordsmen, a master samurai who’s head and shoulders above the others, and the bull in a china shop, Kikuchiyo, played by another acting powerhouse Toshirô Mifune. Kikuchiyo is an outsider even in the midst of this motley crew. He’s crude and has a sense of humor that has no idea what’s appropriate when. Kikuchiyo is so fun to watch because he’s incredibly physical able to move and fight like no one I’ve seen on film.

The film is dramatic, but also funny. No character is put on a pedestal. Most defy the idealized social roles most stories confer upon them. One of the high points of the film is a speech Kikuchiyo gives deriding farmers. He tells the other samurai that they’re fools to think these people are simple and honest. He calls them out as greedy, timid and secretive. After his heated speech, Kanbei says, “So you’re from a farming family?” Yep. You called it.

By the end of the film we see that Kikuchiyo was exactly right. The farmers show their true natures. It takes nearly 3 and a half hours to see the team assembled, watch them prepare and then fight in a couple of the most compelling battles I’ve ever seen on film.

From David Ehrensteins’ essay on the film from Criterion.com:

“Japanese films all tend to be rather bland in flavor, like green tea over rice,” Kurosawa remarked in an interview, making a knowing dig at his staid rival, Yasujiro Ozu (one of whose films was actually called The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice). “I think we ought to have richer foods, and richer films. So I thought I would make this kind of film entertaining enough to eat.”

The dish Kurosawa set before audiences was certainly different from what they had tasted up until then—particularly as far as period filmmaking was concerned. Instead of the slow, ritualistic, and highly theatrical style of the typical sixteenth-century saga, Seven Samurai moved with the sure swiftness of a Hollywood action epic, like Gunga Din or Stagecoach. The characters may inhabit historical settings, but their manner and bearing were, often as not, strikingly contemporary—particularly in the case of the buffoonish Kikuchiyo, the high-spirited would-be samurai played with great gusto by Toshiro Mifune. Most important of all was the visual style of the film which, thanks to Kurosawa’s use of multiple cameras, lent itself to many unusual editing techniques.

Seven Samurai is a classic that all film lovers should see.

Hobson’s Choice

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Staring Charles Laughton and directed by David Lean, Hobson’s Choice (1954) takes viewers back to Victorian England, to Henry Hobson’s home and boot shop. Hobson has three daughters, sensible Mary who at 30 is considered an old maid no man will marry and two sillier, more marriageable daughters, Alice and Vicky. Hobson’s a drinker and though successful, very much a cheapskate. From the start we see that Hobson drinks way too much and bickers constantly with his daughters. He admits he’s not good with females.

Alice and Vicky plead with Hobson to provide dowries as their beau’s, like any self-respecting men, wouldn’t marry without one. Maggie, the brains of the shop, is put off when Hobson assumes his eldest daughter will never marry. She takes action and informs the mind-mannered Will Mossop, the best book maker in town, that he must marry her. She gives him no choice and even takes him to inform his overbearing landlady that Will will not be marrying her daughter.

Hobson, Maggie & Will

Hobson, Maggie & Will

The movie delights from start to finish and provides a look more realistic look at the era than we usually get. It’s an interesting contrast to The Paradise or Mr Selfridge as it shows the world of a small shop in a small town. In his way Hobson’s as weak as Harry Selfridge, but thankfully he has a strong daughter who reins him in.

The Flowers of St. Francis

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I thought this would be a biopic, but it isn’t, or not traditionally so. Get <em>Brother Sun, Sister Moon</em> if you want to see how Francis became a Saint. Watch this to get a feel for his life, for his approach to prayer and spirituality. Directed by Robrito Rossellini, written by Federico Fellini, this gentle film about a great saint, The Flowers of St. Francis shows 12 vignettes of Francis and his followers. It’s gentle, serene, humbling and at times funny. Francis’ humility, and connection to God come through clearly. He’s so patient with his men, some of whom would make me tear my hair out like Br. Ginepro, who creates trouble by stealing a pig’s foot from a live pig. Ginepro was my second favorite character as he’s funny, but also so sincere. Ginepro just lacked wisdom at first, but his capture by barbaric rebels was probably the pinnacle of the film.

<em>The Flowers of St. Francis</em> is well worth anyone’s time.

The Exam

The Exam

A Hungarian film, that’s won some festival awards, The Exam (A Visgva in Hungarian) is a terrific thriller that’s hard to find. I saw it on my flight home from China. It’s not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. However, it’s captivating and well worth seeing.

Directed by Péter Bergendy and written by Hungary’s prolific, accomplished Norbert Köbli, The Exam is a spy thriller that shows the secret police spying on themselves, testing agent’s loyalty in 1957.

As Christmas approaches, Jung, an exemplary spy who interviews citizens from all walks of life to ferret out the counter revolutionaries, doesn’t realize that his mentor Marko is spying on him, recording his every move as part of a program to spy on the spies.

The film recreates Communist Hungary and all the distrust and suspicion inherent in that regime. It’s tense and keeps the audience guessing, much like The Lives of Others did. The acting is masterful and the plot keeps viewers riveted.  The juxtaposition of Christmas images, the tree, ornaments, and an angel with spy tools, tape recorders and guns in the opening credits captivates. I wish this “must-see” wasn’t so hard to find.