Goya - or The Hard Way to Enlightenment (Ger) (info)
A rare film from the days of a divided Germany which unfortunately only had French subtitles, so my interpretation of it might be a bit sketchy. Goya the man was a royal painter for the beautiful and opulent palaces and residences around Madrid. Growing increasingly away from the culture and omnipresent beliefs at the time, galvanised by the ever present Spanish Inquisition and the then all-powerful Catholic Church, his paintings begin to show signs of his heresy, and he must go into exile for fear of the judgements of the grand inquisitor.
There's no doubt my enjoyment of the film was dented by my rusty French parsing of the sometimes quite quick-fire dialogue, but the film itself was a product of it's age. Set beautifully in some of the most historical and picturesque areas of Spain, the crew had only rudimentary sound and picture editing skills, meaning a jarring knock from one scene to the next. The 2+ hour film did go quicker than I thought it might though, if that's any indication. 6/10
Dersu Uzala (USSR/Jpn) (wiki)
Akira Kurosawa bounced back after a suicide attempt (due at least in part to a string of badly-received films and a tarnished film reputation) in an unusual way, by working with the Russians, creating his only film produced outside of Japan. Set in the early 1900's, Captain Arseneiv is on a topographic survey of some of the more remote parts of Siberia with a small band of foot soldiers to carry his things and scare off anything that might try and eat him, but it's clear from the off that they aren't very good. In fact, they're little more than a pack of giggling teens who can't take anything seriously. By chance they happen to cross paths with a squat and wrinkled little man. He is Dersu Uzala, a Goldi hunter looking for a bit of extra cash for his services. Seeing a lifeline with his knowledge of the workings of the forest, they join forces. Although the other men are standoffish to begin with, his tracking skills and dead eye with a rifle earn their respect. Surviving largely on Dersu's knowledge, they make it through a number of scrapes before civilisation is encountered again and they can make their way unaided to Vladivostok.
Five years later, Arseniev is in the same area, and hopes to meet up again, but when he does, Dersu is older and more infirm, and it is clear he cannot survive much longer alone. The man of the forest must come to the city, but coping with the change will not be easy.
The print quality was as if they had found a virgin 70mm reel and played it for the first time; the picture was as sharp as you could expect for the time and the unusual format. At well over 2 hours (including an interval in the middle), the film does like to indulge itself with the beautiful wilderness and a selection of now scarce wildlife, but this could be too much for some. I enjoyed the friendship dynamic between the two principal characters, and the inevitable touching conclusion put a lump in the throat, but going to great efforts to see this film should be reserved for Kurosawa addicts only. 7/10
Heim (Austria) - A young teen happens upon a derelict and vandalised house when escaping from some bullies. Somehow drawn to a feeling of security within, he uses it initially as a place to train for the next encounter, and then as a rudimentary squatting as he grows distant from his mother. A surprisingly film that puts in the mind: what was your house, before it was yours? 7.5/10
Meek's Cutoff (US) (site)
Supposedly an amalgam of several tales from the outback, condensed into a single story, the title is a reference to a road through Oregon. Meek is a big, beardy gruff-voiced arrogant pig, who has been hired by a travelling group comprising three families, heading from the east to the west in search of a better place to live. A temporary nomadic existence, the little group has now been travelling for several weeks longer than Meek said it would take.
A new element is added into the stifled mix when a lone Native Indian starts to trail them. When Meek comes back one day with the man trussed up and beaten, it comes down to Solomon as the voice of reason to use his knowledge to find some much needed water. Meek, used to seeing the devil around every corner uses every excuse he can find to put a gun to his head. Since they don't speak a word of common language with each other, suspicions about the man's true motives start to dwell in peoples' minds anyway without much help from Meek, especially when the path becomes increasingly strewn with rock formations and drawings with messages on they don't understand.
The power of faith to bring communities together, and also isolate them from those who are different are explored quietly and without being in your face about it, the mood of the film reminded me a lot of True Grit, with it's barren spaces and saturated colours. This however is a quieter and more considered film, exploring the first experiences of a people with another that they only know about through rumour. 7.5/10
13 Assassins (Jpn/UK) (site)
Takashi Miike goes behind the camera once more with a British-backed film remake about samurai battling it out at the end of the Edo period, the most bloody in the history of ancient, feudal Japan. Honour and tradition ensure that Lord Doi cannot simply block the violent an sadistic Lord Naritsugu from achieving his place on the senior samurai council. Only one thing can stop him, and that's being killed to death.
Naritsugu has proved himself able to stay alive more than once, so in a time when the quality and quantity of decent samurai are thin on the ground, Samurai Shinzaemon is ordered to gather together the best men he can find and take him out. There are a lot of men who back the traditional line unquestioningly in the way though.
Plenty of stylised violence and blood-soaked robes take up most of the second half of the film, the first half almost teasing us for the bloodlust ahead. Miike doesn't disappoint in this regard, and there is a half-decent storyline behind it to warrant the massive battle at the end, which although unrelenting and leaving the audience with barely a second to breathe, it sometimes gets a bit too ambitious for it's own good and overreaches in places. Nevertheless, it's a fine example of the flying limbs genre and if it's your bag, it'll not disappoint. 7.5/10