Sunday, November 27, 2011

November: Quick Reviews and Ratings (Part 2)

I don't have the time and energy to review every film I watch, so I'll give a quick review and rating of some first viewings I have not looked at in a feature length review throughout the second half of November:

Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932) - Along with F. W Murnau's Nosferatu Carl Theodor Dreyer's (The Passion of Joan of Arc) atmospheric horror masterpiece is one of the best vampire films I have ever seen. The film follows a young traveller (played by the film's producer under a pseudonym) obsessed with the supernatural, who stops in at a small town in search of lodgings for the night. When he is visited in the night by an elderly gentleman (who leaves him a mysterious package), he becomes embroiled in a series of strange events which suggest that a supernatural presence lurks in the town and might be involved in several local killings. The film's suffocating fogs and misty cinematography seem to trap the lead character within the confines of the small town, builds a dreamlike mood, and it is full of hypnotic and haunting imagery and genuine tension. There are several memorable sequences - the remarkable perspective shot of the protagonist (who dreams he is being buried alive) from within the transported coffin, and the evil doctor's suffocation in a flour mill are just two examples. The remarkable score, for more, was one of the most memorable features. It's unbelievable. This is Dreyer's first venture into sound - and he utilises the close-up just as effectively as his earlier work and rather than utilise spoken dialogue, he relies on text to help explain the story. Aesthetically, it is lusciously photographed, and the suspense well staged. It's brilliant. ★★★★★

Ivan the Terrible - Part 1 (Sergei Eisenstein, 1944) - Centred on one of the Russia's most famous Czars, Ivan IV, the film tracks his rise and fall. Part 1 opens with his coronation and marriage - for which he receives immediate opposition from Moscow's boyars. It tracks his establishment of power and his intention to unite and protect Russia against the foreign armies outside her borders and the enemies (the boyars) within. He faces conflict with Kazan, nearly dies of an illness and then faces mutiny on all sides. Much like Eisenstein's earlier masterpieces (The Battleship Potemkin and Strike), he makes great use of the close-up and the reaction shot here - this time also incorporating spoken dialogue. The bizarre architecture in Ivan's castle (extremely low doors, large open rooms and complex staircases) is used effectively, as are the shadows cast by the actors. The light magnifies the Tsar to make him seem like a giant in stature. The story is compelling, and the thrilling battle sequence early in the film has no doubt proven influential. All this is accompanied by a magnificent score that adequately conveys the tension and consistent intrigue present. Every time I see a new film from Eisenstein I feel even more convinced that he was one of the greatest directors to have lived. Part 2 was met with controversy and not released until after Stalin and Eisenstein's deaths, because of government censorship. I'll watch it next month. ★★★★1/2

The Seventh Continent (Michael Haneke, 1989) - Michael Haneke's debut feature, like his other works that I had seen prior (including Funny Games and Hidden), has this way of getting under my skin, resulting in an anxious and unsettled sleep following the experience. I don't know how to describe why this happens, but it's a blend of the films crawling pace, the Bressonian influence in Haneke's direct interest in objects and specific body parts (and not necessarily the face, though they become important too) and the ever-present feeling of unease. The shocking acts of psychological violence depicted (especially in the desensitising second half) add to the trauma. The film chronicles the break down of a middle class Austrian family as a result of growing discomfort with the sterile routines of modern society - leading to their self-motivated decision to 'leave'. It is never explained what brings the family to do what they do but we are given intimate insight into several days of their lives (over the course of a couple of years), and several character attributes, which suggests their growing social alienation and their isolation due to their monotonous daily routine. The film also addresses themes of discontentedness with livelihood and complete rejection of material value. Haneke utilises a method of narration at the beginning of each part, which involves the wife reading a letter to her husband's parents informing them (and us) about the state of their lives. It's bleak, strangely transfixing, and ultimately horrifying. ★★★★


  1. The only one of these I have seen is THE SEVENTH CONTINENT. The other two are both on my list as I love Dreyer and Eisenstein.

    But seriously, CONTINENT is a masterpiece. I couldn't sleep after seeing it. I highly, highly, highly recommend you watch more Haneke, especially the ones you're likely not to have seen. One really great one that's terribly underrated but is one of my top 50 favourite film's ever is CODE UNKNOWN. Watch that one.

  2. Vampyr is incredible stuff. Haven't seen Ivan in what must be nearly 20 years, but I recently picked up the Criterion DVD so I'll remedy that. Haneke just makes me suspicious.

  3. @ Tyler - I couldn't sleep after it either - I couldn't get the images out of my head. One of the few Haneke films I haven't seen is CODE UNKNOWN, but it is available to me, so I'll get on it soon.

    @ James - His films are very unsettling that's for sure. Haneke I mean. If you're game, they do possess some profound themes. Vampyr continued to surprise me. I was hooked long before the casket POV shot, but that was just incredible. Thanks for reading!

  4. I like Ivan the Terrible a lot. Glad you checked it out. Crazy to think it came out the same year as Citizen Kane.

    Eisenstein is one of my favorite directors. his films are fantastic and I think he has a unique technique that no one ever tried to expand upon or explore after his death.

  5. I love Eisenstein. Strike and The Battleship Potemkin are really good. Yeah, his montage style was revolutionary in the early silent eras - completely rejected Griffith's parallel convergence style. His films are full of images that seem unrelated in the narrative, but in the political or thematic scheme, serve a purpose. I think his films are relentlessly exciting. Ivan The Terrible felt different, but it was still evidently an Eisenstein film - with his focus on the close-up and the reactions. I need to check out Part 2 still.