Category Archives: Film

Contempt

Riccardo and Emilia are happily married for two years in post-war Rome. While Riccardo, the intelligent and likeable, though slightly narcissistic and delusional narrator, works as a journalist writing film critics to make a living, his dream is to become a serious writer and novelist. His beautiful wife Emilia, coming from an impoverished family, dreams on the other hand of living in their own house and of creating a comfortable nest for them, something much better than the rented room in which the financially struggling couple lives. When Riccardo is offered work as a screenwriter by the film producer Battista, he decides to accept despite serious reservations. He considers this kind of work as a waste of time and talent, but since it is comparatively well paid, he can fulfil his wife’s dream and buy a small flat; at a later stage, also a car, another sign of his growing success in the eyes of society. But on his way upward in the social hierarchy, something happens to the relationship between Emilia and Riccardo: Emilia becomes reserved and grows cold toward her husband, love turns into indifference and even into hatred and contempt. Contempt is also the title of the novel by Alberto Moravia that I am reviewing here.

Moravia has been praised for his elegant prose, and I can see why, even when I read the book in German translation. The prose is flowing effortlessly, the dialogues of the tormented Riccardo who wants to find out the reason for the growing alienation between him and his wife, and Emilia sound very real and convincing. Another thing I admire especially in this book is his talent to keep the reader’s interest in a seemingly rather trivial story of alienation and estrangement between husband and wife by adding some other interesting aspects. 

One of the issues that play a major role in the novel, are the relationship between success and money, and the real needs and wishes of people; the characters are forced to do things that are in contrast with what they really want in order to make a living, or to satisfy the (vain) dreams of their partners, or to be perceived as successful and dynamic in a capitalist society. That’s not only true for Riccardo and Emilia, but also for the other two major characters of the novel, Battista and Rheingold, a German film director who is commissioned by Battista to make a monumental movie adaptation of The Odyssey. (In Jean-Luc Godard’s film adaptation of the novel, this character is played by Fritz Lang!)

Battista and Rheingold have strongly opposing approaches to the movie and Homer’s epic. While Battista wants to produce a monumental adventure movie, Rheingold on the other hand is only interested in the psychological conflict that he sees as the reason for Odysseus (Ulysses) participation in the War of Troy, and his delayed return to Penelope. According to his Freudian reading, Odysseus participates in the war because he wants to escape an unhappy relationship: he feels not loved by his wife. For the same reason, it takes him many years to come home. While Riccardo rejects Rheingold’s in his eyes simplistic psychoanalytic approach to Homer’s work, he understands reluctantly that what Rheingold says for the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope is like a mirror regarding his own and Emilia’s relationship and the reason for the obvious alienation between the partners may be a very similar one.

While Moravia is showing us a rather bleak picture of the modern Western world, where money, success, and sex serve as substitutes for a more meaningful existence, his reference to Homer seems to say that it has in principle been always like this. Emilio’s (and Moravia’s) membership in the Communist Party may be more inspired by a vague Utopian hope of a better future than by a real wish for a social revolution or dictatorship of the proletariat. In the meantime, it is best to acknowledge the mechanisms of the inherent contradictions of capitalist society. If Riccardo would have had more time to resolve the basic conflict and predicament of his life with Emilia, it would have been best to divorce and focus his future life on what he really aspires to be, a novelist and serious author. A sudden blow of fate spares him from actively taking this decision on his own.

Moravia knew the film business well; he worked also as a script writer and met probably people very similar as those described in his novel. Contempt describes an at that time thriving film industry in Italy as he experienced it, and the picture he is painting is not a particularly flattering one. Moravia had also a house on Capri similar as the one owned by Battista in the novel, where the final crisis takes place (the Godard movie was shot partly at the Casa Malaparte, another rather famous villa on Capri). And it is also known that at the time he published Contempt, his own marriage with novelist Elsa Morante was in a crisis that ended in divorce a few years later. So, while the novel is not a strictly autobiographic one, Moravia knew about what he was writing and was able to transform this into a rather short, fascinating novel. While some other so-called “existentialist” novels have not aged very well, Contempt was a surprisingly fresh book to me, and I guess I will soon read more by this author.

A word about the movie Le Mépris by Godard, which I have mentioned above: overall a good movie in my opinion, and the fact that Godard made a few major changes compared to the novel doesn’t distract from the quality of the film. The setting, particularly the scenes at the Casa Malaparte, is next to perfect for this movie. However, I had the impression that Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance were not really the right choices for two of the major roles (while Michel Piccoli is brilliant); therefore, it is for me a good movie, but not the masterpiece it could have been with a more adequate cast of characters.

Contempt was also published in English as A Ghost at Noon.

Alberto Moravia: Contempt, translated by Angus Davidson; with an introduction by Tim Parks. New York Review Books, New York 2004

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


The Sinking of Sozopol – film

A man is drinking ten bottles of vodka and it is raining a lot in Sozopol.

The sinking of Sozopol
http://programata.bg/img/gallery/multy_2943/mid_1.jpg

Bulgaria, 2014, 100′
Director: Kostadin Bonev
Writing credits: Ina Valchanova, Kostadin Bonev
Cast: Deian Donkov, Snejina Petrova, Svetlana Iancheva, Stefan Valdobrev, Vasil Gurov, Leonid Iovchev, Veselin Mezekliev, Miroslava Gogovska, Petia Silianova, Biliana Kazakova

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Lost Opportunity

Once again The Luzhin Defense – this time it’s about the film based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel.

There are thousands of movies based on books; some of them are great artworks in their own right; many are quite ok; and a very big number is simply disappointing. Unfortunately, the feature film The Luzhin Defense (UK/France 2000; Director: Marleen Gorris; Screenplay: Peter Berry; Actors: John Turturro, Emily Watson, Stuart Wilson et al.) belongs to the last category in my opinion.

That the short and fat Luzhin of the novel is played by the haggard John Turturro: granted, because he is a good actor. That the story was transposed from Berlin to an Italian hotel: granted, because it means the film focuses even more on chess than the novel. That the role of Valentinov is expanded in the film compared to the novel: granted, because this ambigous character creates additional interest. That the main female character has now a name: granted, because her having no first name works well in the book but wouldn’t work in a movie.

With other decisions of the film crew I am not at all d’accord. To introduce a major character (Jean de Stassard) that is not in the book and that doesn’t fit at all in this story makes me like this film already much less. 

But the worst are the two major chess scenes in the film that make a real disaster of this attempt to visualize Nabokov’s book.

In the semifinale of the tournament in which Luzhin participates in the movie he seems to be in a hopeless position. But thanks to a hidden brilliant combination he can defeat his opponent and qualify for the final game against his main rival Turati. And here, in showing this supposedly brilliant combination – which is based on a real tournament game Dr. Vidmar-Dr.Euwe, Karlsbad 1929 – the movie lost me completely:

vidmar-euwe

This is the real position in the historical game in which Vidmar is threatened to be checkmated in the next move. But he found a spectacular rescue and played in cold blood 1.Re8+ Bf8 (1.-Kh7 is answered by 2.Qd3+ and black loses its Rook on c2), and now 2.Rxf8+! Kxf8 3.Nf5+

vidmar-euwe2

In the real game, Euwe resigned here already. 3.-Ke8 is followed by 4.Qe7#, and 3.-Kg8 is answered of course by 4.Qf8+!! Kxf8 (4.-Kh7 5.Qg7# doesn’t help) 5.Rd8# – really a brilliant end and a clever choice for the movie.

However, someone in the film crew placed the black rook on c1 and not on c2, and since Luzhin’s opponent plays until the end, we see – under frenetic applause from the tournament kibitzers in the movie the following key position on screen:

vidmar-euwe3

The Film-Luzhin plays exactly like Vidmar, but the last move is illegal with the black rook on c1! To make things worse, in the movie position White is not threatened at all by mate on h2 and the simple 1.Rxc1 wins in the most trivial way.

For anyone familiar with the rules of the game, this scene is ruining the whole movie. As if this was not enough the film provides us with a kitschy and completely unrealistic ending that is not only violating the content and spirit of Nabokov’s book but that would make even each B-movie screenwriter in Hollywood look like a great artist.

A lost opportunity. 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or 
duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Judgement

A few days ago, during my last visit in Sofia, I had an opportunity to watch an interesting Bulgarian feature film (co-produced by Germany, Croatia and Macedonia); therefore today a film, not a book review.

Borders are a sad reality for many people; especially for those who want to cross them and can’t – but frequently also for those who protect them or live near a border. It is one of the twisted ironies of recent European history that just when we all thought that with the fall of the Iron Curtain barriers that prevent people from traveling freely (and where you are shot at or even killed just because you want to exercise an elementary human right) are a thing of the past, new obstacles are being erected and sometimes even in the same places where the old borders were.

But now, the direction from which people want to cross to another country is frequently reverse: while the Southern border of Bulgaria to Greece and Turkey was heavily protected in the time of communism in order to prevent people from leaving the Eastern block via the Rhodopi mountains, the same area is now guarded and fenced against refugees from Syria and other Mediterranean and African countries who desperately try to come to Bulgaria and the European Union.

Stephan Komandarev, a Bulgarian film director best known for his adaptation of Ilija Trojanow’s novel Die Welt ist gross und Rettung lauert überall (The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner) tells in his new movie The Judgement (Съдилището) the story of a man whose life is virtually destroyed by the border.

Mityo (Assen Blatechki), a widower in his 40s, lives alone with his son, 18-year old Vasko (Ovanes Torosian) in a small village in the Bulgarian Rhodopes, near the Greek and Turkish border. Fanka, Mityo’s wife died after years of illness, and the relationship between father and son is strained for various reasons which become clear while the story unfolds.

The film takes its time to show Mityo, Vesko, and the other villagers in their daily life. The village is poor, and when the local dairy factory for which Mityo is collecting the milk from the local farmers with his cistern truck is closing and leaving him jobless, the situation becomes pretty desperate for him. That the electricity is switched off because of his unpaid bills is a very small problem – but how he is supposed to pay back the mortgage on the small house where he is living with his son which he took years ago to pay for Fanka’s unsuccessful medical treatment is something about which he has no idea. An attempt to sell his truck fails and when someone turns up to prepare the house to be auctioned off in a few weeks for the bank, it is obvious that Mityo is in dire straits. Finally he gives in reluctantly to work for a man that everyone knows as The Captain (Miki Manojlovic), since he is a former commanding officer of the border troops in that area during the time of Communism.

The work Mityo has to do is to help to bring illegal immigrants over the mountains to Bulgaria, a work for which he is paid well because it is rather dangerous. Not only because of the danger to be spotted by the border guards, but also because the path through the mountains is rather challenging, especially the area near by a dangerous cliff that is also known as The Judgement.

As the story advances, Vesko finds out that his father was as a young man not only serving in the border troop unit of the Captain, but that he is hiding a dark secret. Once, in 1988, he killed a young East German couple that tried to flee over the mountains, exactly at the spot called The Judgement.

The movie focuses strongly on the father-son conflict and I found it psychologically very interesting how Mityo tries to get to terms with his past. The Captain forced him to shoot at the refugees and to toss the bodies over the cliff (while the girl was probably still alive). After this traumatic experience, Mityo had a mental breakdown but was saved as he describes it by his future wife Fanka.

Finally, when his son presents him the evidence of his involvement in the killing of the young couple, Mityo reveals everything to his son and it seems a kind of relief for him. When going on a last dangerous assignment, things go terribly wrong when the group (this time with the Captain and Vesko who was called for help by his father) arrives at The Judgement cliff.

I liked about the movie that it starts comparatively slow-paced. Although the father-son conflict and later the conflict between Mityo and the Captain are the most important lines of the story, there are also some other credible and interesting characters that add to the flavor of this movie. Vesko develops a close relationship with Maria, a girl in his class. There is also the old doctor, a friend of Mityo who plays a small but somehow important role. There is Kera, a lonely woman living next door to Mityo and his son who tries to get closer to the very distanced Mityo. And there is Zhoro, another mountain guide, who provides the refugees with tea and wafers and who is smart enough to get out of this dangerous business with the Captain in time.

The Captain, Mityo’s nemesis, is a typical product of the times: he was a fanatic in the time of communism who took pride in “defending” his country by shooting those who tried to flee, and now he is a businessman with a big brand new car and an impressive fortress of a house. For him, the refugees that he is smuggling across the border are a source of income only. He is without respect for these people he calls contemptously “garbage” (боклуци) and when the last group reaches The Judgement while fleeing from the border guards, he asks Mityo to throw a sick child down the cliff because it slows down the group too much. But times have changed now, Mityo is not the same person he used to be as a young recruit…

Shooting Stefan Komandarev’s the Judgment Photo BGNES

Actors and dialogues in this movie are excellent (I hope also the translation/dubbing will be very good). You will see also breathtaking panoramas of the Rhodopi mountains, a truly magical place.

The movie asks very interesting questions about – not only – Bulgaria’s past and shows how ordinary people are burdened by it (even the generation that was born after the changes); how to come to terms with personal guilt and how to learn to talk about the most haunting experiences in life with those who are closest to you. A deeply human story that you shouldn’t miss when you have the opportunity to watch it. I can strongly recommend it without reservations.

The Judgement starts in 60 movie theaters in Germany (the biggest number of copies ever for a Bulgarian movie in Germany) under the title The Judgement – Grenze der Hoffnung on April 23. The film will be distributed hopefully also in your country. It was recently also screened on many international film festivals, so chances you can watch it soon are probably not so bad.

I watched the movie in Bulgarian without subtitles – and I had the whole cinema for myself, there were no other people. Quite an interesting experience.

The official website of the film: http://www.thejudgementmovie.bg

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. © photo BGNES





The most disgusting photo of the week

gavra1-565x319

Ultra-nationalist businessman Nemanja Kusturica (formerly known as filmmaker Emir K.) kissing the statue of a killer who triggered WWI with millions of victims.

Well, since Slobodan Milošević‘s xxx is not available any longer, this is at least consequent.

What a miserable creature…

 

photo source:    http://www.balkaneu.com/kusturica-reveals-monument-gavrilo-princip/

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.