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dave jenkins
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"One banana, two banana, three banana, four...."

« : May 29, 2017, 01:59:16 PM »

Now that I've been through the Scorsese collection (most of it, anyway) it's time to burn away the dross and reduce everything down to a top 10 list (of course). I ignore international co-productions (like those of Kieslowski's later films).

1. The Saragossa Manuscript (1965). 11/10. The greatest Polish film ever made. Easily.

2. Man of Marble (1977) – 10/10. The Polish Citizen Kane. But in a good way.

3. Iluminacja / The Illumination (1973) 10/10. A young man enters a university physics program but is unable to decide what to specialize in. He has a love affair that ends unhappily and so goes mountain climbing. He meets another girl: they get married and start a family. To support his family the young man puts his studies on hold and gets a series of dead-end jobs. After a friend dies he goes in search of the meaning of life. He visits a monastery. He returns to his wife, then to the university and gets his diploma. He is accepted into a doctoral program that includes a decent stipend. Just when things are looking up he has a health scare.

The recitation of the plot doesn’t do the film justice. Nothing is presented as it would be in a regular feature. Melodrama is minimized; instead, story points are provided to allow ideas to come to the fore. Polish intellectuals make cameos to spout provocations and/or truisms. It is as though an essay film had been combined with a feature. There’s even a talking head who shows up at the beginning to define the meaning of the title. The best thing about the movie is its pace—no dawdling allowed! Everything is accomplished in 90 minutes. A film unlike any other.

4. Walkover (1965) - 9/10. Tereza arrives in town to assume her duties as an engineer in a factory; Andrzej has come for a boxing match. Are the two together? They are together in most scenes, and they talk like they know one another. But are they actually together together? I guess that's what the film wants the audience to ask, and it eventually provides an answer, sort of.

The camera never stops moving. The most impressive work comes at the film's climax: Andrzej has won his first match, and is scheduled to fight again the next day, against a powerful boxer to whom he is certain to lose. So Andrzej is inclined to skip the match (and provide his opponent with the "walkover" of the title). He goes with Tereza to the train station, where he's spotted by one of the boxing match participants. What's up, Andrzej, you leaving? What about the match? There is no match, Andrzej says and hops on the train. The other guy steals a motorcycle and chases the train. We cut to a shot on board the train, facing away from the engine, toward the back of the train. In the foreground is an open portion of a train car; Andrzej and Tereza are standing on it. The camera tilts up: the train is passing under a bridge, and above the guy on the motorcycle is crossing the frame, calling out to Andrzej. No cut: the camera reframes to the side of the train car; the guy on the motorcycle is in the upper left-hand side of the frame, on an elevated road paralleling the train track; the guy is still crying out: "Come back, you coward!" Still no cut: the camera pans over to the right side of the train, then moves back to the left. A woman comes out of the train car and asks Andrzej and Tereza for a light. Still no cut. The motorcycle guy is now in the bottom left of the frame, still paralleling the train, still imploring Andrzej to come back. Suddenly Andrzej hurls his suitcase off the train, and still without a cut, hops down himself, propelled by the train's motion, leaps over a barrier, scrambles onto the back of the motorcycle; cycle and riders then speed away in the opposite direction. The actor (who is also the director) did the stunt and again, there was no cut. One of the most amazing long takes I've ever seen. It was so fantastic I had to go back and watch it a second time. Jerzy Skolimowski has got to be one of the greatest writer-directors ever. Nice jazz score. The film is pretty funny, and has a particularly hilarious ending.

5. Night Train (1959) - 8/10. Grand Hotel on rails. Technical excellence throughout, especially with regard to the train’s interiors, which were filmed on a set but don't look it.

6. Niewinni czarodzieje / Innocent Sorcerers (1960) – 8/10. A Polish John and Mary, which is pretty good considering John and Mary wouldn’t be made for another 9 years. The picture includes a great jazz score and a cameo by Roman Polanski. Could the American film actually be a remake of the Polish? Hmm, now that I think of it, the casting of Mia Farrow as Mary may have come about because of her resemblance to the pixyish Krystyna Stypulkowska (a real charmer).

7. Ida (2013) -8/10. A pastiche of the other films on this list, but with subject matter that was impossible to present at the time.

8. Man of Iron (1981) 7/10. Interesting sequel that makes use of real events and a semi-documentary approach to put over its fictitious story.

9. Austeria (1982) - 7/10. More singing and dancing than Fiddler on the Roof--and this isn't even a musical! What it is is a drama about Jews running for dear life on the first day of WWI and holing up in a Jewish tavern (which is what the "austeria" is, I believe). All manner of Judaism is represented, but the Hasidim are the nuttiest. Told not to make any noise that might attract bands of roving Cossacks, they immediately burst into song. Well, I guess if you gotta go, one way is in a state of religious ecstasy. This film is nicely photographed and edited: it uses brief flashbacks to provide backstory, but sparingly. One such begins with a desaturation effect and closes, to great dramatic effect, by bringing the full colors back in. Very nice.

10. Knife in the Water (1962) - 7/10. A Roman Polanski film, before he went international.

That's what you get, Drink, for not appreciating the genius of When You Read This Letter.
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« #1 : June 13, 2017, 11:11:24 PM »

The only Polish film which I've seen is Night Train, and I really enjoyed that movie. It's a thriller, but the emphasis is on the relationship between the characters. The mystery itself is de-emphasized.

When I first saw this movie, I thought of Gosford Park, in which the murder mystery plays second fiddle to the subplots involving various characters. I wonder if Robert Altman (Gosford Park director) saw Night Train and that it inspired him to direct a film where the mystery-thriller storyline plays a small part compared to the drama?

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