CITY OF WOMEN / FEDERICO FELLINI / 1980

City of Women is Fellini’s dream/nightmare odyssey into the female world of nineteen-eighty.

Fellini (through alter ego Snaporaz, played by Marcello Mastrioanni) explores his fear and awe of the new woman, trying to grapple with a brave new world dominated by Feminism. Although Fellini himself was not a subscriber to the Feminist ideology -he preferred to separate himself from any form of ideologies- he nevertheless had a deeply entrenched feminine sympathy, he adored women, having the utmost respect for the female of the species, always regarding them as subtly superior to men.

Mastrioanni is probably most famous for his character in Fellini’s 8 1/2 made some 20 years earlier, where he also plays a kind of alter ego. In life Mastrioanni and Fellini were quite different. The latter being something of an ascetic except for his singular vice of women, while the former smoked and drank wine habitually. Yet they had an understanding in the context of the films they made, lasting decades. Fellini apparently allowed Mastrioanni to smoke on set, which he did pretty much continuously between takes.

In City of Women Snaporaz drifts off into a daydream while aboard a train facing a beautiful but evasive woman in his compartment. She wears an intimidating grey business suit, hiding behind large amber-tinted sunglasses and make-up. His dream in fact lasts the entire duration of the film.

In the dream Snaporaz follows the mysterious woman into the trains bathroom closet, after some flirtatious exchanges, where he awkwardly tries to fondle her. She holds him at a distance keeping her suit on; he barely manages to kiss her. She disembarks the train at an unplanned stop and walks across a field into woodland. Snaporaz does the same, trailing her, terribly infatuated by this mysterious creature. They play a game of cat and mouse between trees and bushes; she continues to dodge his advances, leading him to the entrance of a strange conference center with a bright carnivalesque sign, deeper in the woods. Inside the building a massive feminist gathering is in progress, not a man in sight.

The moment Snaporaz enters, he does not seem welcome. He is surrounded by hundreds of women, who see him as a slimy imposing male chauvinist journalist. He wanders through various shadowy chambers with flickering light full of women jeering at him, involved in enigmatic communal activities. A crowd of laughing woman watches a series of slide-projected illustrations of giant phalluses. They single Snaporaz out as some kind of monster; he ducks behind a pillar shamed and is led away by a beautiful woman deeper into the labyrinthine complex down an elevator to a basement gymnasium. He sees a punch bag puppet of himself being kicked and boxed. Snaporaz is now at the epicenter of a roller rink; myriad roller-skating girls encircle him in an endless dizzying daisy chain. He grows faint.

City of Women is exquisitely stylized, consisting almost entirely of a series of impeccably lighted, elaborate ‘dream’ set pieces often shrouded in the artificial mists of smoke machines and penetrated by strobing lights, scoured by dramatic mechanical winds. These are the product of the marvelous collaboration between Fellini, a new production designer Dante Ferretti and director of photography Guiseppe Rotunno (who lensed Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ and Fellini masterpieces ‘Satyricon’ and ‘Amacord’).

Fellini rejected the limitations of the script, often making spontaneous additions to the film on the following day of shooting based on a dream he had had the night before, an entirely appropriate way of working in this case, as the film is in essence one long dream sequence. Far from improvised these were guided by a lucid vision. Luckily Ferretti was receptive to these challenges and was able to economically construct elaborate pieces of set architecture within hours. Apparently Fellini had conversations with Feretti, where he encouraged him to recall his dreams. Not being able to, Ferretti would just make up things on the spot to please Fellini. He reveals in an interview that a few scenes at the end of the film were drawn from these ‘daydreams’, unchanged by Fellini.

After tumbling down a staircase pursued by bloodthirsty roller skaters, Snaporaz finds himself in the basement of the building, with a large unattractive middle aged handmaiden hanging up laundry. She turns out to be his ticket out of there. They exit on her motorcycle as he clings onto her waist. She stops the motorcycle at a cabbage field, beckoning Snaporaz to follow her inside a greenhouse where she throws her weight onto him, entangling him with her giant thighs, attempting to force him into copulation, saying ‘Feed the cat! Feed the cat!’

Snaporaz manages to brake free from her clutches still fully clothed and wonders back onto the farm road where he recognizes a dark haired woman from the feminist conference.

He follows this woman down the road and through a field. Sees a bouncing beach buggy full of teenage girls, punk music blaring from the stereo, parked under a huge billboard with a surreal collage. He gets in the buggy and drives off with them. He’s trapped in a surreal mobile backseat disco, bouncing down a dirt road at night with another car of partying teenagers in tow. Snaporaz feels overwhelmed and jumps out the car, the punk girls follow teasingly behind him with menacing headlights, music blaring. He dives into the underbrush off the roadside trying to escape the pursuing buggy, headlights beaming ominously through the branches as it continues to follow him.

He stumbles onto an eccentric property with palm trees, shrouded in mists. An alarm goes off, searchlights come on reflecting off the vapour, as the owner appears at the front entrance in a gilded robe, with a gun and two Doberman’s at his side. The man introduces himself and invites Snaporaz inside his futuristic looking house. He seems to be some kind of aging movie star, darkly tanned and overweight with a shock of bright red hair going grey, he’s called ‘Katzone’ (translating as ‘Big Dick’). In reality, actual retired Italian sex symbol Ettore Manni, from a bygone era of 1950s big screen epics.

Katzone takes Snaporaz upstairs and offers him a drink, showing him all manner of strange artifacts, a electronic vibrating dildo apparatus, a glowing Chinese mask on the wall, whose tongue extends to lick you, as you come close to it.

Tragically Manni (Katzone) killed himself in an accidental shooting during filming, blowing off his penis with a revolver, which was in his belt. Apparently there had been some tensions between Fellini and Manni on the set. He believed Fellini was making fun of him. The entire last chapter of the film was allegedly reinvented to deal with his absence.

Shorty after guests arrive at Katzone’s for what seems to be his birthday party. There’s a giant tiered cake and a female performer who makes coins disappear into her vagina. Snaporaz discovers a strange high ceilinged passage with light box images of women lining the walls, possibly Katzone’s past sexual conquests. There is a button next to each image, when pressed the image lights up and the recorded voice of the woman is heard through a little speakerphone below the image. The walls are marble. It almost looks like some kind of memorial or mausoleum. Sex and death intertwined. At the end of the passage he discovers his wife seated on a settee, in a red velvet dress. They move back to the party, having an argument about Snaporaz’s infidelity, against the backdrop of activity.

An all female secret police squad raid the party, charging Katzone with various crimes and shooting one of his beloved dogs. Two voluptuous dancing girls on a stairwell lead Snaporaz upstairs into one of Katzone’s guest rooms, with a pearly bed resembling a massive upholstered clamshell. He undresses and puts on a nightgown. The half naked dancing girls in spindly lingerie are teasing him, kneeling on the bed, leaning over him with hanging breasts in his face, as he lies on the bed in silk pajamas. Outside the plate glass windows a storm is raging, his wife is outside singing opera amongst the waving palm trees. The girls disappear through the door and his wife enters in a nightgown made from the same fabric as the bed. She performs a curious ritual ‘geisha’ dance on the bed straddling him, her nightgown hanging open teasing him with her breasts, with night make-up on her face, while a storm rages outside, the palm trees lashing in darkness, illuminated by lightning. She then rolls over on her side on the opposite side of the bed, her back to him, and goes to sleep.

Snaporaz crawls under the bed, he emerges out the other side on a red slide winding down a massive scaffolding structure decorated in carnival lights. As he slides down, he enters various childhood memories of women he was infatuated with. A nurse. A fishmonger. Memories of a brothel during the war. A strange scene in a graveyard with a maid in black stockings on her knees on top of a horizontal black marble tombstone, wagging her behind towards the camera while she polishes it. Snaporaz shoots off the end of the slide into a lion’s cage. The gate slams shut and a tarpaulin is draped over it and he is carted off. When it is pulled off, he is in the lair of a female terrorist group of some kind. He is charged with various offences against women, while two drag queens fondle him, his embarrassment mounting. Abruptly all the women leave the chamber.

Snaporaz rounds a corner and finds himself in an auditorium before an audience of women, rocking from side to side playfully watching various spectacles. There’s an all girl punk band on a go-cart. Masked women torch a mannequin in bridal dress. Snaporaz weaves amongst all of this, still in his nightgown and socks. The crowd jeers at him, pointing him in the direction of a ladder on a tall structure rising up at the centre of the auditorium. He climbs this emerging at the top in a boxing ring with an old woman in the one corner. There is a hole in the ceiling of the building; a ladder leads up to a balloon basket. He climbs up into the basket to find he is looking up at a giant blue skinned balloon of one of the girls, in lingerie with a halo of lights around her head, which has been taunting him throughout film. He floats off into the night sky, happy as a child, gazing up at the huge naked balloon woman above him. A woman below on the ground –the same woman caricatured as the balloon- raises a machine gun at him. She showers the balloon with bullets, Snaporaz watching the deflating blue body above him, as he clings to the netting for dear life.

Snaporaz awakens in his seat in the train compartment; apparently it was all a dream. In the seat facing him sits his wife, still in the same red dress. She says he’s been mumbling for the last two hours. In the seat next to him sits the other woman who he met on the train at the beginning of the film. He smiles to himself. Two other women enter and sit on the seats next to his wife. He cheerfully recognizes them too. He drifts off to sleep again smiling, as the train enters a tunnel.

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Kuroneko / Kaneto Shindo / 1968

kuroneko-smKuroneko has strong echoes of Shindo’s previous film, the seminal J-Horror Onibaba, in which a mothers jealousy over her daughter and lover, leads to dire consequences for her as she tries to take her revenge on them in the guise of a demon. At the heart of Kuroneko is a similar triangle, as the central drama plays out between a mother (the same actress as the mother in Onibaba, Shindo’s wife in real life), her son and daughter-in-law. The difference here being that the mother and daughter-in-law have become real demons, returned to earth for a period after making a pact with the devil.

The film opens with a band of samurai pillaging the modest thatch roofed farmhouse of the mother (Yone) and daughter-in-law (Shige). They proceed to eat all their food, gang rape and kill them, then exit the house setting it alight leaving it to burn. Curiously in Onibaba, the mother and daughter survived by stealing the armour of wounded and dying samurai -sometimes murdering them in the process- selling it to buy food. Seems there’s some kind of redemption at work here.

Lying side by side at the centre of the smouldering ruins we see mother and daughter-in-law. A black cat creeps through the ruin to one of the women and laps at the blood oozing from her charred neck.

Samurai in the prefecture begin to disappear. Their corpses are discovered in a bamboo grove. Necks shredded as if bitten by a vampire. The samurai lord Raiko sends more samurai into the grove to try destroying the ‘monster’ behind the killings. We soon see the method behind these. A samurai sees a beautiful woman (Shige) as he passes Rajomon gate. Shige says it is late and she is afraid to walk alone through the bamboo grove at night to her home, she asks if he will he accompany her? She leads him deeper into the grove through a veil of mist and into a mysterious wooden house between the bamboos. She invites him inside, where they both sit on the wooden floor either side of a low table. Yone comes in and serves them sake. She leaves them alone. The samurai gets drunker and drunker. He starts to make sexual advances on Shige. She rips his neck open as they embrace. Everything disappears as if a mirage leaving the body of the samurai behind in the grove to be discovered by peasants. It is revealed that Yone and Shige have made an agreement with the devil. They are allowed to return from the dead at night for a limited period of time in return for killing all samurai who pass through the grove.

A samurai Hachi returns from the battlefields to find his house burnt down and his mother and wife missing. The samurai lord Raiko hires him to try to find the monster killing the samurai in the grove beyond Rajomon Gate. Like the samurai before him Hatchi is lead into the grove by Shige. Yone serves them sake in the long low ceilinged traditional Japanese house. It’s as if they are on a stage. Hachi says they remind him so much of his missing wife and mother. Of course they know whom he is and are left with a dilemma. They cannot kill him. In the background ground we hear the creepy creaking of the bamboos mingling with the wonderful minimalist soundtrack by Hikaru Hayashi, largely silence punctuated by random percussion. An exterior shot. The house seems to float surreally in the grove, superimposed as in a montage. The amazing chiaroscuro photography here and throughout the film by Kiyomi Kuroda is one of the real stars of the film. Both composer and cinematographer also collaborated previously on Onibaba to equally startling effect.

Hachi returns to the grove the following nights. He and Shige make desperate love, the scene dripping with charged eroticism, behind drapes in the phantom house.

Raiko is not happy that Hachi has made little progress with monster in the grove. The next time Hachi returns to the grove Shige is nowhere to be found. Hachi eventually succeeds in getting an explanation of Yone, whom he now suspects is his mother. Shige has broken her pact with the evil one by not killing Hachi and has returned to eternal damnation. A conflict ensues between Yone and Hachi, as he desperately tries to get her to admit that she’s his mother. Her arm is severed off in the confusion. The disembodied limb metamorphoses into a cat’s arm and paw. Hachi returns this to Raiko as a trophy, saying he has slayed the monster.

Later Yone visits Hachi in the night while he meditates in his chamber. She has come to reclaim her arm, which sits on a pedestal before him.

 

 

 

 

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Mulholland Drive / David Lynch / 2001

mulholland drMulholland Drive is David Lynch’s homage to Los Angeles. A love affair that began when he moved there in the early 1970s, and one that endures to the present. He stays just around the corner from the actual Mulholland Drive road. In an interview he reveals it’s a road that has fascinated him for many years.

The film began as a failed pilot for a TV series, rejected outright by ABC television, who were allegedly bewildered by what they considered the seemingly endless stream of redundant footage of the dailies, not understanding Lynch’s process of working. In the tradition of other visionary filmmakers before him, he largely creates his films in the editing room, working from many takes to find what he considers to be the perfect shots.

After the project had been shelved for over a year and all hopes of it being salvaged lost; French Studio Canal’s Canal+ (producers Pierre Edelman and Alain Sarde), who had backed some of David Lynch’s other films including Lost Highway, contacted him enthusiastic about producing Mulholland Drive as a feature film. Lynch was still not convinced according to Twin Peaks producer Tony Krantz. The film almost didn’t happen. Krantz apparently had a hard time convincing him to return to the project.

Miraculously over a period of months in the first year of the new millennium he managed to rewrite it, taking what was supposed to be an entire TV series and effectively condensing it into a two and a half hour feature. After reviving the entire cast and crew, he shot an extra fifty minutes of footage, which he combined with the re-edited original pilot to create the film as we see it today. Lynch apparently prefers to believe the pilot never existed. He does not talk about it in interviews. In his world there has always only been this film.

Betty has just arrived in sunny Los Angeles, when her life abruptly intersects with that of a stranger Rita, when she is discovered in Betty’s aunt’s apartment. Rita took refuge there the night before after fleeing the scene of a head on collision, of which she was the sole survivor, on Mulholland Drive. Naively Betty assumes Rita is a friend of her aunts staying there, after discovering her in the shower. Betty discovers that Rita is not her real name; in fact she can’t remember it as she has amnesia. She took it from a poster of Rita Hayworth she saw in the bathroom.

The mystery deepens as Betty and Rita play amateur detectives, trying to discover what happened the night of the accident and her real identity. She thinks her name could be Diane Selwyn. After finding an address under ‘Diane Selwyn’ in the phone book, they investigate the apartment only to discover the putrefying corpse of a woman.

Betty has a successful audition for a part in a film being directed by Adam Kesher, whose films production is mysteriously shut down after a disagreement with the producers over the lead actress and a bad espresso. They hand Adam a mug shot of a girl called Camilla Rhodes saying, “This is the girl.” It’s a recurring phrase that is heard again leaving the lips of other characters. Adam retaliates shouting, “There are six of the top actresses who want this thing. No way! No way! This girl is not in my movie!”

In a corresponding vignette a man emerges from an elevator into an antechamber behind plate glass looking into a strange red draped subterranean room. He says to a strange looking dwarf in a suit seated in a large chair in the centre of the room, “So you want us to shut everything down?” The dwarf gutturally replies, “Yes.” The other man replies, “Then we’ll shut everything down.”

Adam after finding out his credit card is inexplicably maxed out has to meet a man called ‘The Cowboy’ at a cattle corral at the edge of town. Other subplots deepen the mystery. A hired hit man kills a man for mysterious phonebook. Before he shoots the man he says, “So that’s it huh, Ed’s famous black book! The history of the world in phone numbers…” The same hit man also meets a woman who looks like she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown at ‘Winkies Diner’ to talk business. He is handed a mug shot of ‘Camilla Rhodes’, but it’s a different girl. She says, “This is the girl.” We will see other characters meet at Winkies, including a terrified man who says “I had a dream about the place” to another man seated across the table, only to find out to his mortal terror that its real when they investigate.

Uncannily the multiple narrative threads of the film somehow manage to converge with the aid of some kind of unsettling dream logic.

Betty and Rita attend an unusual performance at a downtown theatre called ‘Club Silencio’, involving a mysterious MC in a red suit who introduces the show saying, “No hay banda! There is no band.” A beautiful Singer, Rebekah Del Rio, sings a haunting and intense rendition of a Roy Orbison song in Spanish, and then appears to drop dead on the stage. After the performance Betty and Rita discover a mysterious blue box that ushers in the films other side of the mirror. The dream? The reality? A dishevelled Diane Selwyn awakens in the apartment in place of the dead woman.

Mulholland Drive is hewn out of radical oppositions; the facade of the bright sunny L.A. of the daytime contrasted with its shadowy underworld dimension of unfathomable conspiracies. Betty’s bubbly naïve happy go lucky persona and her dark alter ego Diane, tormented and riddled with jealously. The dream world versus the real or should I say a nightmare reality versus a dream one. By the end of the film one is never quite sure which is which. They could be as interchangeable as other details in the film, like the characters names.

As a film it’s a formidable work of art. A consistently brilliant marriage of spellbinding sound and images that refuses to provide answers to any of its mysteries. Lynch typically impressively plays an enormous role in just about every aspect including the films amazing sound design. A strong case could be made for Mulholland Drive being the apex of his preceding cycle of films, which although exploring very similar ideas, never quite fell together so perfectly as this one.

In a recent international critics poll, Mulholland Drive has been voted the greatest film of the Twenty First Century so far. Even if I thought that might be a bit too exclusive, as there are a few other great films that come to mind, it could quite possibly be in my personal top ten films of the new millennium.

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A Snake Of June / Shinya Tsukamoto / 2002

juneA Snake Of June is Shinya Tsukamoto’s fifth feature. Although it may initially seem to be a low budget film shot with a hand held camera; the viewer rapidly becomes conscious of its incredible design.

The idea of the film, according to the director, actually began to take shape around the time he was making his first feature Tetsuo: Iron Man a decade earlier. But unlike that film and some of his preceding work, which was almost entirely made by him in all facets this was the coordinated effort -due partly to a larger budget- of a small team of dedicated associates, working under Tsukamoto’s direction. Yet it nevertheless looks entirely the product of his skewed imagination due to his rigorous control of the project, retaining the makeshift yet highly refined aesthetic and frenetic pacing of his independently made work.

Tsukamoto imposes a series of stringent limitations on his film. The open 4:3 frame –talking about the film he reveals he initially conceptualized it as a square frame but discarded this idea due to technical difficulties – using grainy sixteen millimetre black and white (given a blue tint for the final print) film stock shot on a small Sony hand-held camera, recurring circular apertures enclosing the point of view and also a dominant motif in the Mise-en-scene in structures and objects, rain falling the entire film.

He proudly states in an interview that he regards A Snake Of June as the culmination of his explorations of erotic tension within confined urban claustrophobic spaces, a theme he had been exploring since Tetsuo. A theme he professes to have been obsessed with since early childhood, reading the trapped chamber horror stories of Edogawa Ranpo. In addition he mentions a pornographic sadomasochist magazine he purchased in his teens as something of a revelation. Apparently at that point he was already making his own eight millimetre films.

A Snake Of June was conceived during Japans rainy season during the month of June. The constant rain which I initially thought was real -marvelling at the endless torrential downpour- was actually artificially created, as much a struggle for the production crew to create as the incredible backlighting etching it out in sharp graphic relief in the night scenes. Tsukamoto explains the ‘Snake’ in the films title, as embodied by the central female character (Rinko) and her hidden desires desperate to find release.

Tsukamoto states at the time of the interview that he felt A Snake Of June to be his most mature picture. He was forty-two at the time the film was made. His sympathies and focus are with the female character Rinko rather than the male characters, as opposed to his previous work where the opposite is true. He explains this change of perspective through the experience of having been married and having had a daughter.

In the film Rinko is married to a novelist Shigehiko. They make an awkward couple. He is overweight and balding. She is slender and attractive. When we see them together in the house Shigehiko is normally cleaning something obsessively with a scrubbing brush or working at his laptop. She occupies herself in another corner of the house. There is always a distance between them, even when they talk.

Rinko receives an anonymous letter in the post. It contains a series of photographs of her masturbating. The sender (played by Tsukamoto) threatens to expose these pictures to her husband unless she submits herself to a series of assignments created by himself the voyeur. He promises to return her all the negatives and prints to her on condition she completes these.

These assignments, in which pleasure borders on humiliation, become increasingly more risky as the film progresses. She is asked to perform them in public places. She receives further packages of photos in the post from the voyeur, documenting her recent activities; all the while terrified that Shigehiko will discover them.

The culmination of these is a final assignment where she has stripped naked and is totally exposed outside in the pouring rain in some industrial back alley, while we see the voyeur snapping away photos with a Nikon with zoom lens from a parked car. With each mounting click of the shutter and accompanying flash bulb flare, it seems she is moving nearer to a climax. Shigehiko has followed her and is watching from behind a barrier, extremely aroused by what he sees. The final purpose of the voyeur’s games is becoming apparent.

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La Grande Bouffe / Marco Fererri / 1973

chop This is a film that rivals Pasolini’s Salo Or The 120 Days Of Sodom in terms of its sheer lunatic depravity. If it weren’t for its moments of comic relief -and believe me there are plenty, even if one cringes after laughing at each instance- it would probably have disintegrated into oblivion half way into it’s two plus hours.

La Grande Bouffe starts promisingly. The central protagonists, introduced via a series of economically edited vignettes, are none other than some of the finest -and their performances here are very fine indeed- actors in Europe of the period. Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi. Interestingly they all use their actual first names in the film.

The lives of these four men, who seem to be respected professionals – a cook, a pilot, a TV producer and a judge – intersect as they meet up for two days of ritual excess at a neglected mansion (belonging to the cook Ugo) with a large garden, walled in by various buildings including a school, presumably in some central urban area of a French town.

The first thing we notice is the unusually well equipped kitchen, with multiple gas stoves, sinks and a large walk in fridge. It looks like the owner caters for some extensive soirees. The remainder of the house is filled with fascinating artifacts. Strange taxidermy displays, abundant fish tanks and all manner of exotic and oriental furniture, statues and bric-a-brac.

A white van arrives -not the last trip it will make to the house in the next 48 hours- and two men in butcher’s aprons get out and open the back doors to reveal it is filled with hanging meat. They bring carcass after carcass into the house. Chickens, pigs and lambs pile up on the stainless steel counters tops of the kitchen. It looks like they are catering for a large party. We learn that the party will consist in essence solely of the four men, and that they intend to eat themselves to death.

Ugo directs his accomplices in the kitchen, as they prepare a series of extravagant dishes keeping all supplied with an endless stream of morsels as they lounge around the house on plush antique furniture -never without a mouthful of food- listening to a particular popular jazz record on the gramophone player. This tune becomes a curious motif throughout the film. We hear Michel (the TV producer), at various stages humming it, casually playing it by ear on the piano.

A party of school children and their teacher from the neighboring school drop in on the proceedings and the cook demonstrates to all his culinary genius. The teacher (Andrea Ferreol) so enraptured with all the delicious food decides she must return later that evening. As this is their last shot at supreme decadence, they also call up three prostitutes to join them. So the party of four is now extended to eight, four of which will survive the ordeal.

True to form, the men do indeed eventually eat themselves to death, with the exception of the pilot who dies under stranger circumstances.

A series of Bunuel-like surrealistic tableaux vivants play out amidst the gaudy surroundings. Michel does warm up exercises in a leotard –later on we see him here fully dressed and bloated trying the same exercises with decidedly less ease- in the mirrored dance gym upstairs before beginning his next culinary deluge. He puts the finishing touches on a giant cake, which one of the naked blond prostitutes embraces, smearing her torso with chocolate icing looking like feces. This prompts a chapter of unspeakable food games. In the kitchen, an uncooked chicken is gleefully tossed in a fish tank. Marcello serves up a bizarre bunch of baby cocktail chickens on skewers terminating with tiny cast skulls.

The plump schoolteacher Andrea returns that evening in a rather lascivious blue see-through dress. She and Philippe (the judge) become infatuated with each other in-between mouthfuls, frequently retiring to the bedchamber upstairs. Rounds of extreme sex follow rounds of extreme eating. It’s becoming an orgy of food and sex. Marcello (the pilot) has his way with Andrea -minutes after Philippe- while watching their frantic naked bodies reflected in a large gilded mirror in-front of them. He also molests the prostitutes in various uncompromising positions, including in the seat of his hobby sports car- his other fetish besides eating and sex.

From their veritable food factory in the kitchen, they continue to turn out an endless variety of decadent meat dishes, desserts and mountainous platters of solid sculpted mashed potato. Michel is starting to have severe stomach problems. He farts uncontrollably and at great length. He farts continuously as one of the prostitutes straddles him on a bed upstairs, amidst plates of partially eaten food, squeezing the gas out of his bowels.

The proceedings become so preposterous that they start to take on the logic of a bad dream. One of the toilets literally explodes and a tide of shit floods the room as Marcello, rapt by fits of uncontrollable laughter, wades through the muck.

The prostitutes have left the party, but Andrea remains. With glacial slowness, the four men meet their protracted demises over the course of the next day. Michel is the first one to go, basically perishing in a giant shit-splattering fart after one too many platters of mashed potato. The survivors put the dead in the walk in fridge. Marcello -discovered frozen to death in his sports car the next morning after a snowfall- and Michel’s corpses stare at us through the frosted glass in the background, as the remaining three protagonists make a toast with champagne over their newly prepared cake looking like a chocolate mosque.

Their numbers are down to Andrea and Philippe after the excruciating death of Ugo. Philippe dies in an unspectacular way, sitting on a bench in the garden, after finishing his half of a final dessert prepared by Andrea looking like two large gelatinous breasts. The sole survivor (or maybe not) she wanders back into the house, seen in full from a distance, navigating a pack of neighborhood mongrel dogs looking for scraps.

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L’Eclisse / Michelangelo Antonioni / 1962

fineL’Eclisse reminds me of another film released that same year, Herk Harvey’s ‘Carnival Of Souls’. In both, we see an alienated woman wandering through a vacant urban landscape. Architecture plays a key role in the films, although perhaps more overtly in L’ Eclisse. The central female characters are unable to form emotional connections with infatuated men that pursue them. Both are ghost stories of a sort, playing out against the backgrounds of their haunted avant garde minimalist soundtracks punctuated by long stretches of silence and ambient sound. There their similarities end.

While the latter feels somewhat dated, the former doesn’t seem to have aged at all. Its actually quite disquieting just how fresh L’Eclisse seems, considering it was made over fifty years ago. It may have been completely out of place in the decade of ‘free love’, but it’s at home in this new millennium.

The discord in the opening credits music –a nineteen-sixties pop song veers abruptly in atonal music- of L’Eclisse gives us a hint of what is to come.

Vittoria (played by Monica Vitti who was also in Antonioni’s Red Desert and L’Avventura) leaves the scene of a love affair that has just ended. Uncomfortable looks are exchanged across the room before she exits the apartment. She wanders the empty streets of a suburb of Rome.

At the Stock Exchange amongst throngs of competing stockbrokers she begins another doomed love affair. She meets a handsome and ambitious young stockbroker (Alain Delon).

The new lovers indulge a series of aimless adventures together. Starting with a meeting in the stockbrokers baroque family townhouse. Then wandering amongst the structures of the virgin nineteen-sixties modernist suburb, parts of it still under construction. The camera returns to one particular building in construction throughout the film. It seems to be moving further towards completion over the One-Hundred and Twenty-Five minutes of its running time.

The two lovers remain emotionally disconnected. They play a series of childlike games. Kissing without feeling. Vittoria shies away from him. At one point she says, “I wish that I didn’t love you. I wish that I loved you more.”

The most profound element of L’Eclisse is it’s sublime black and white cinematography. Empty gestures of the lovers are framed by architectural details, sometimes becoming barriers between them. In a scene they kiss each other through the glass pane of a window, their lips comically flattened on its cold surface. The widescreen frame becomes steadily emptier towards the end of the film. The camera has an increasing tendency to roam the larger exterior landscape and details of buildings, neglecting the actors.

Disturbingly, about fifteen minutes before the end, the lovers abruptly part and disappear altogether without explanation. Over the next quarter of an hour the camera continues to  scan the sterile landscape, save the wind blowing through newly planted rows of trees on the perimeters of construction in progress. Occasionally a lone stranger passes through the shot. A woman pushes a pram through the empty street. It’s as if the apocalypse has arrived. Vittoria and her lover are nowhere to be seen. There is no resolution for the viewer as the word ‘FINE’ enters the frame, growing larger to the left of a blinding overexposed streetlight resembling an eclipse.

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The Naked Prey / Cornel Wilde / 1966

The Naked PreyIn ‘The Naked Prey’ the hunter becomes the hunted after politics between a party of visiting big game hunters on safari in Southern Africa and a local tribe turn sour. Made by Cornel Wilde, a Hungarian American actor turned director the film has over time matured into a respected cult classic. Certain critics seem to regard Wilde as something of an auteur, a director with a unique personal film-making language. I cannot comment, this being the only film of his I have seen.

Set sometime in the mid to late nineteenth century, this impeccably crafted ‘boys’ adventure film follows a party of three hunters into darkest untamed Africa. An American (Cornel Wilde), a Dutchman and an Englishman.

On an elephant hunt, we see the hunting party in their safari suits, mercilessly killing a herd of elephants with rifles. The Dutchman, despite the American (Wilde) cautioning him against it, tries to force some kind of unsavory arrangement with the natives, deeply offending a higher member of the tribe.

After the hunt Wilde and the Dutchman are seated around a folding table at the campsite. The Dutchman is boasting about his fourteen kills. Wilde points out that five of his kills were senseless, as they were elephants without Ivory. In the background we see a band of natives armed with spears and bows, closing in on the campsite. They pillage the campsite, slaughtering most of the party except for the three foreign hunters whom they take hostage.

The natives take the three hostages back to their kraal, along with numerous possessions they have stolen from the campsite. The hostages are presented before their king who conducts the proceedings. They are tortured in various horrifying ways. The Englishman is tied up in a bundle, attached to a skewer and coated in a thick cocoon of mud. They turn him over a fire, roasting him in his jacket of mud. The Dutchman is tormented by a group of native woman who poke him with sticks. He is then restrained in a harness and put before a spitting Cobra, which bites him in the face.

Finally they come to the American. They strip Wilde naked and tell him to run out into the feld. They intend to hunt him. Now unclothed, we see Wilde’s tanned glistening muscles as he runs off into the bush, his privates tactfully obscured by foliage. To top it off he is actually wearing a tan coloured thong made to look like his flesh. Luckily this doesn’t go on too long, as Wilde kills one of the native hunters, taking his sandals, loincloth and weapons. Armed with a spear and a bush knife, he now resembles a veritable blueprint for Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo.

Wilde eludes his pursuers. Scrambling through the under brush. Traversing harsh semi-desert landscapes. Eating whatever he can find. In one scene he comically eats a large snail. He kills more of his pursuers along the way, as he fights for survival in the wilderness, his tan growing deeper under the brutal African sun. We see little inserted vignettes of reptiles and mammals fighting it out on the plains. Magnificent cinematography. Wilde spears in hand, a small vulnerable figure, in wide panoramic shots of the African bush.

After setting the bushfeld ablaze, nearly drowning in a river but rescued by a cute little African girl who he befriends, at one point putting a pink flower behind her ear, Wilde finally makes it back to the safety of the colonial fortress with the remaining natives in hot pursuit. Wilde kills one more as the remainder of the party retreat as the colonial forces advance from the castle firing guns. He collapses on the ground, waving a salute to the leader of the hunters as they retreat into the bush; he smiles back at Wilde before disappearing into the undergrowth.

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