Thursday, February 27, 2014

World's Greatest Dad

World's Greatest Dad; black comedy, USA, 2009; D: Bobcat Goldthwait, S: Robin Williams, Alexie Gilmore, Geoff Pierson, Daryl Sabara

Lance tried to be a writer all his life, but each and every one of his novels were rejected by publishers. Working as an English teacher, he feels alienated from his son Kyle, a mean, rude and unpopular teenager, and even senses that his secret relationship with teacher Claire is about to fall apart. One evening, Lance is shocked to find his son dead, who accidentally strangled himself while masturbating. In order to cover that up, Lance makes it look like Kyle committed suicide and writes a fake suicide note. But when the note is leaked on the internet, the whole class suddenly think Kyle was a misunderstood genius and poet, so Lance uses the hype to sell his book as Kyle's writing. Still, uneasy with using his dead son as a ploy to gain fame, he admits everything.

"World's Greatest Dad" is a rare black comedy with taste and measure, which gives a few good satirical jabs at the nature of hype and herd mentality. The opening shots describe Lance (very good Robin Williams) as one of those artists who feel like they are living 'below their potential', since he cannot sell a single novel no matter how good he is, and even his private life suffers because of it (his love interest Claire seems to be more and more attracted to Mike who announced how his story was published in the New Yorker). The main tangle, in which Lance is exploiting his son's death to climb up in the hierarchy and publish his own novels under Kyle's name, gives the movie spark and is engaging. It is a tiny bit inconclusive (for instance, would Heather really become such a fan of Kyle's after his death since he once told her she is a whore?) yet the main theme works in several directions, commercial, psychological (Lance knows he can now publish anything disguising it as Kyle's due to the sympathy of the people, similar as certain books that can never get a bad review, such as the Holocaust literature or biographies of victims) and even religious (nobody knew Kyle's real personality except Lance, his "messenger"). The message is that people need ideals, even fake ones, in order to function, which makes this a very unusual retelling of "Being There", and also has quite a good choice of music, especially the very impressive Bruce Hornsby's song "Shadow Hand". The story could have been executed in an even more comical fashion, yet overall, it is one of Williams most underrated films in the second phase of his career.

Grade;++

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life; drama, USA, 2011; D: Terrence Malick, S: Hunter McCracken, Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Laramie Eppler, Fiona Shaw

In the modern day, Jack O'Brien works in a big city, but remembers his childhood in the rural area in the 60s. As a kid, he and his two brothers had a very good mother who was full of understanding, but their father was strict and would pick on them for the smallest incident. Jack became rebellious, while his father lost his job and the family had to relocate for a new job. At the age of 19, Jack's brother was found dead. Back in present, Jack contemplates about the world and walks on a beach, where he meets his family again.

Even though it won the Golden Palm in Cannes, the long awaited fifth film by Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life" is an uneven art-film and a fake masterwork. After three excellent films in a row - "Badlands", "Days of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line" - Malick, carried away by the beauty of nature, started to loose his tight grip and wondered off in too many random directions in "The New World", but in "The Tree of Life" he almost reached the level of attention deficit disorder: there is no clear storyline, this is thousands of pictures in search for a film. In one scene, the boys are playing on the street, in the next they are eating lunch, in the next there are scenes of boys washing their feet on the sprinklers, then a tree is shown, and then grass...There are simply too many random scenes that do not connect and seem all over the place. The cinematography is fantastic, the actors are fantastic, but a more clear narrative would have been more welcomed than the too abstract (and overlong) shape of the film which aggravates the viewers' access to it - even from an emotional perspective, it is strangely vague and scattered. This is basically a simple story - a young boy and his relationship with his strict father - and there was no need to turn it into over two hours of artistic 'showing off' (the interesting, but overall thin inclusion of a ponderous 15-minute regression of the history of life on Earth, from the creation of microorganisms to the scenes of four dinosaurs). One could argue that the theme is that there were always troubles for living beings on Earth, from dinosaurs up to humans, yet overall, they all do not amount to a (better) point.

Grade;++

Encounter at the Elbe

Vstrecha na Elbe; propaganda film, Russia, 1949; D: Grigori Aleksandrov, Aleksei Utkin, S: Vladlen Davydov, Konstantin Nassonov, Boris Andreyev, Mikhail Nazvanov

The Soviet Red Army and the American army meet at the Elbe, in Germany, thereby ending World War II with a victory. Still, there are new challenges in the Soviet occupied territory in peace, too, namely rebuilding the cities and winning over the sympathies of German civilians. The Soviet commander in charge of the area, Kuzmin, creates a friendship with German scientist Dietrich and persuades him to become the mayor of Altenstadt. However, when Dietrich's patents are stolen, he suspects the Soviets and flees to the American zone. There, he is shocked by the US mismanagement of Germany, and returns humbly back to the Soviet zone. A Nazi spy, Schrank, tries to flee to the American zone to give them the patents and escape with a double spy, Mrs. Sherwood, but is arrested.

"Encounter on the Elbe" is one of those propaganda films that have been run over by time, from a state that doesn't exist anymore, yet it is interesting to watch it purely for the early days of cinema and some 'good-old-school' filmmaking that manages to pierce through the dictated storyline. The story about the Soviet rule of East Germany after World War II gives rarely seen insights on trying to win over the hearts and minds of a nation under occupation, yet it is undermined by naive attempts at propaganda that seem unintentionally comical today. For instance, when the US and Soviet army meet at the Elbe, one American commander takes some binoculars and praises their precision and optical quality, concluding they must be from Zeiss, until the Soviet counterpart points out how those binoculars are actually Soviet. In another scene, when an American commander expresses his concern that Moscow just wants to put the area under Soviet rule, Kuzmin denies it and says: "Soviet rule...must be earned!" Some scenes fair better, such as the one where the Soviets release all prisoners from a former Nazi jail, but overall, directors Aleksandrov and Utkin show the Soviet rule practically as a Utopia, whereas the American occupation zone is presented as shameful, with scenes of US soldiers decadent drinking in bars, fighting and selling German cultural heritage for cigarettes. Such one-sided approach and pompous speeches by the Soviets really seem dated. As such, despite good moments, "Encounter" seems less like a film, and more like a tailor made gimmick intended only to inflate Stalin's endless ego.

Grade;+

Monday, February 24, 2014

Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus; drama, UK, 1947; D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, S: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Flora Robson, Jean Simmons

The young nun Clodagh is appointed the new Sister Superior in a soon to be built convent, situated on a mountain in Himalayas. Clodagh often argues with the cynical British man Dean, who looks down on religion, but also has a big task of educating the peasants' children and a grown up Indian, the son of the Old General who gave the location to nun's disposal. One nun resigns, while another, Sister Ruth, quits her profession and admits her love to Dean. After he rejects her, Ruth tries to throw Clodagh from the convent, but dies herself from the fall. Clodagh disbands her mission and leaves the location.

Extravagant directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger always seemed modern thanks to their very refined and vivid style, and when they took a conventional story about nuns trying to build a convent in the Himalayas, in the movie "Black Narcissus", the expectations were far greater than the given result - a good, but conventional story. Untypically 'ordinary' for them, "Black Narcissus" is still a quality achievement, and two virtues stand out - the great color cinematography that gives a rich sense of nature and panoramas, that seems as if it is from the 70s; and the great performance by Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, who, it is hinted, has a small crush on the secular British guide Dean - they have chemistry, enough for a good film, yet too little of a spectrum for a true calibre of a greater film - whereas Powell and Pressburger at least demonstrated their true 'director's power' in two sequences: one is the flashback that shows how Sister Clodagh remembers her pre-nun days, when she was a girl in love with a man who left her; and the other is quite a 'shrill' moment of Christmas mood in Himalayas. The viewers get a good expression of bonding with the nuns trying to tame the suspicious peasants and build a convent from scratch, yet, just like the abrupt and incomplete ending, "Black Narcissus" feels as if it did not even aim at any greater heights than 'just' a fine film.

Grade;++

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Osmosis Jones

Osmosis Jones; live action-animated comedy, USA, 2001; D: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Tom Sito, Piet Kroon, S: Bill Murray, Chris Rock (voice), Laurence Fishburne (voice), David Hyde Pierce (voice), Brandy Norwood (voice), Elena Franklin, Chris Elliott, Molly Shannon, William Shatner (voice), Ron Howard (voice)

Frank, an employee in a Zoo, is a real anti-hypochondriac who only eats fast food. When his daughter Shane tells him that monkeys at least eat healthy vegetables, unlike him, Frank replies with: "They only eat vegetables because they are too dumb to slaughter a cow." One day, after eating a dirty egg from the floor, Frank is contracted with virus Thrax. White blood cell Osmosis Jones and cold pill Drax try to capture Thrax, even though nobody believes them that the virus even exists and the mayor of the body is only interested in elections. When Thrax steals the DNA from the hypothalamus gland, Frank falls into a coma. Still, Thrax falls into alcohol and is destroyed, whereas Osmosis and the DNA returns in Shane's tear back to Frank abd saves him.

A very unique retelling of the French animated TV show "Il etait une fois...la vie" on acid - showed here in a satirical version - unusual comedy "Osmosis Jones" was not a box office hit, yet gained cult status for its sheer originality that depicts the human body as a small, complex country inhabited by microorganisms who try to protect it, a world of its own. The story revolves around the animated world of the white blood cell from the title in the body of his "master" Frank (Bill Murray in a role full of sardonic stoicism) which gives a whole double context to that deceivingly light looking, yet in reality quite creative comedy and intelligent vulgarity, whereas one of the animation directors is Tom Sito (the director of the '83 "He-Man"). The originality sprouts on numerous places that depict the structure of the body, and are even (abstractly) educational at times: the subtitles "Mouth, 12:30 PM" are spelt like one of those crime films; Frank's body resembles a giant spherical town and is called "Downtown Frank. Population: 78,889,293,834,872,302,829,297,438"; on a poster, his butt is called a land "Down Under"; a monument to a sperm has a plaque saying: "Our founder"; the police stations are, of course, the lymphatic system, whereas there are even a few metaphysical touches here, such as when the mayor holds a session in the brain while Frank is sleeping or when Osmosis Jones goes to the cinema to watch Frank's dreams from the subconscious. The live action part of the film is indeed not half as fun or inspiring as the animated part (the zit sequence is the weakest link), but as a whole, despite a few failed moments, this is a contagious fun and is simply clever - and a big warning of what unhealthy fast food does to the body.

Grade;+++

The Reflecting Skin

The Reflecting Skin; thriller-drama, UK, 1990; D: Philip Ridley, S: Jeremy Cooper, Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan

Idaho during the 50s. Seth (8) inflates a frog with friends and then uses a sling to make it explode in front of his bizarre neighbor, a woman called Dolphin. Due to that excess, his mother forces Seth to go to Dolphin's house and apologize. There, Dolphin says that her husband died and that she still has his hair and teeth in a box, which frightens Seth so much he runs away and concludes she must be a vampire. When a boy is found murdered, the Sheriff accuses Seth's father who, insecure about his gay preferences, burns himself with gasoline. Seth's big brother Cameron returns from the war and falls in love with Dolphin. However, Cameron suffers from radioactive contamination and is anaemic, which causes Seth to conclude that Dolphine is sucking out his blood. Dolphine enters the car of a criminal and is found dead, which devastates Cameron.

In the movie "The Reflecting Skin", nothing is normal. That anti-coming-of-age tragedy is an ode to sad childhood, directed by Philip Ridley in a depressive and demanding way, and the story as a whole seems slightly pointless. Already the sole opening sequence is creepy: kids inflate a frog like a balloon and then use a sling to make her intestine explode in front of a blond woman Dolphin - who is mistaken by the main protagonist Seth as a vampire because she always wears sunglasses. Other sequences are equally as insensitive and cruel: Seth (appropriately weird performance by Jeremy Cooper) is punished by his mother who forces him to drink so much water until he becomes sick, causing urine to flow down his pants. Ridley managed to conjure up a very palpable nihilism of the world, but the question is if that alone is enough, or for whom, since the story is unfocused, the characters cold and emotionless whereas the various symbols are banal. "The reflecting Skin" could very well go in a double bill with other bizarre films that show the path of growing up as a very rough ride, such as Jordan's "The Butcher Boy" or Lauzon's "Leolo", but all of them are equally uneven. The only indisputably great ingredient here is the early appearance of excellent Viggo Mortensen, later the star of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Grade;++

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Uchu Kaizoku Kyputen Harokku; animated science-fiction action series, Japan, 1978; S: Rintaro, S: Makio Inoue, Akira Kamiya, Chiyoko Kawashima, Haruko Kitahama, Hidekatsu Shibata

In the year 2978, the human civilization is advanced, but humans became very lazy. When an alien race, made out exclusively of women, Mazone, led by Queen Rafflesia, decides to invade Earth since it considers it a second home, the people do not pay much attention, except self-exiled pirate Captain Harlock, who decides to save Earth with his spaceship Arcadia and a crew of 40 people, including Kei, Miime, Yattaran and the new member, Daiba, whose father was killed by the Mazone because he discovered what they are up to. The Mazone kidnap Maayu, a little girl who is friends with Harlock, in order to divert the pirate from Earth. However, Harlock manages to break to the mothership and defeat Rafflesia, who orders a retreat. The crew is disbanded and stay on Earth to rebuild it, while Harlock leaves for outer space.

Even though it enjoys a cult reputation, anime series "Space Pirate Captain Harlock" is today a rather dated and trippy extravaganza. For one, the story - even though it follows Leiji Matsomoto's success formula of an alien invasion of Earth - is poorly designed and filled with inconsistencies and irregularities: for instance, in episode 28, there is a neat tropical planet where hundreds of people live on. After the Mazone kill almost everyone, only two kids, aged about 10, are left alive at the beach. Instead of taking them with him, Harlock has the disasterous judgement to simply leave those two kids all alone on an isolated planet (!) because he trusts they will manage by themselves. In episode 31, one crucial character, engineer Tochiro, dies on the spaceship Arcadia and leaves his wife and baby behind. All is well and plausible, until Harlock's crew launches him into outer space - and all of a sudden his wife decides to follow the coffin with a spaceship (!), because she would rather be "by the side" of her dead husband in the depths of space than by her alive baby who is now without parents. The characters are also scarcely developed: Daiban is fleshed out in the opening 8 episodes when he wants revenge because the Mazone killed his father, only to spend the next 34 episodes just as an extra on the dock; the blond Kei is not given a better treatment, either; we do not find anything about Yattaran except that he likes to build models of ships or that Maji was once in a fake marriage with a Mazone woman...

Matsumoto's prediction of a sterile civilization is actually one of the stronger points - just replace the people's obsession with horse races in the story with the modern addiction to the Internet of social networks and you get a pretty good hint - but unfortunately, it was not elaborated as much as it could have been. Harlock is thus a symbol for the last remains of old tradion and the human spirit that survived from that apathy on Earth. It is difficult to build suspense when Harlock, using only one spaceship (!), fights with millions of Mazone soldiers on tens of thousands of spaceships and, of course, the enemies are all destroyed while his ship is left unscratched. Even the similar "Space Battleship Yamato" was much more even in handling such ploys. Likewise, it was a bad decision to make the Mazone exclusively an all woman species - thin, white skin and long green hair - since when Harlock's almost all man crew fights them, it trips clumsily into misogyny. As such, women are simply not worthy of opponents to the main hero. However, the story has that specific Japanese pathos - an honorable hero who is willing to sacrifice his life to save the world, no matter how much everyone despise him - which gives it certain charm and flair. A boy whose father was killed for knowing "too much", an alien threat to Earth, long, blond woman...All these elements were later assembled better in Matsumoto's magnum opus "Queen Millennia", where he spared us the cliches of Japanese invincibility and ponderous digressions and showed a more mature presentation of the story where the good and the bad guys were in a far more grey area and have no simple answers.

Grade;+

Bloodsuckers

Krvopijci; horror/ comedy, Croatia, 1989; D: Dejan Šorak, S: Danilo Lazović, Ksenija Marinković, Maro Martinović, Zvonimir Torjanac

Psychiatrist Dr. Franz Golgowecz is very surprised when a stranger, Teobold Majer, visits his home at 1 AM and claims to be a vampire who cannot drop by his office during day. Before Teobold leaves, he says that Franz's last name comes from a family who used hawthornes to kill vampires. Franz at first thinks the man is crazy, but after researching in the library, he finds out that a certain Teobold Majer indeed existed in the 16th century. Franz is visited by his uncle and his son, Jambrek and Jurek, while Teobold shows up during night to try to seduce his wife, Barbara. A woman pays Franz 2,000 DEM to stab her relative, Drakulić, in the graveyard, supposedly a vampire, and Franz is arrested and sent to a mental asylum, but released when the police themselves start questioning if Drakulić is a vampire.

In the Yugoslav cinema, where the fantasy and Sci-fi genres were very neglected, even a cliched vampire story seems like a refreshing and welcomed surprise, if anything, then at least by pure default. Dejan Sorak tries to keep the storyline together in "Bloodsuckers", but it collapses fairly quickly since it is never clear what the story is about, where it is headed or what it wants to say - obvious in the abrupt ending that leaves the viewers feeling as if the real ending was suddenly "stolen" - and even in the genre definition, it flip-flops between a pure horror and a parody. Such a blend of genres worked in "An American Werewolf in London" and "Evil Dead II", since it was a welcome shift between moods - from pure scares to relaxing humor - but here, those two seem to be in a collision. The locations in the Upper Zagreb are aesthetic and the neat lighting during night scenes gives the story a certain charm, yet that is pretty much it. Maybe the film would have worked better as a short, or if it revolved around the two comical supporting characters, Jambrek and Jurek, who act almost as Abbot and Costello at a couple of moments and tip the film into a parody ("Hi, I am your uncle." - "Sorry, but my father did not have a brother." - "Of course he didn't." - "I don't understand." - "He was ashamed of me, so he never mentioned me. Nice to meet you!"), especially since they just want to catch Teobold sneaking at the window of Franz's wife at night to "keep him during the day, to show that he is not a vampire, but just an ordinary fucker".

Grade;+

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Working Girl

Working Girl; romantic comedy, USA, 1988; D: Mike Nichols, S: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Cusack, Alec Baldwin, Philip Bosco, Oliver Platt, Kevin Spacey, Olympia Dukakis

Working girl Tess McGill finds a new job as a secretary of a powerful New York business woman, Katherine Parker. One day, Tess has an excellent business idea, about how a client, Trask, could covertly slip into the media by first acquiring a popular radio network, and Katherine accepts it, but in order to gain fame, she decides to steal it and present it as her own idea. When Katherine breaks a leg during a ski incident, Tess takes charge of her office for a few weeks and decides to execute her idea herself. She meets executive Jack and they fall in love while trying to convince Trask to do the deal. When Katherine returns, she tries to convince Trask that Tess stole her idea, but in the end, Tess prevails.

Even though it was popular at the Golden Globes and Oscars, by today, romantic comedy "Working Girl" failed to reach the status of a classic, but it is one of those charmingly dated films from the 80s. That amusing business comedy made in the vein of American films of 30s and 40s, but with a very palpable touch to the modern society and several small erotic moments, is well made, and thanks to it, Melanie Griffith became a star: casting her might have seemed like an untypical choice at first, but she really made Tess a realistic, fragile and sweet character, a one who conveys the sense of living under her possibilities. The highlight of the film are refreshing feminist touches (Tess is blond, yet clever; her boss is also a woman...), but the flaws are apparent: kitsch, several forced or staged scenes, occasional banal humor and too simplistic approach at times. "Working Girl" has some brilliant bits (mostly involving Joan Cusack's character Cynthia, who says: "I sometimes sing in underwear, but that doesn't make me Madonna, and it never will" and in another scene pretends to be Tess' secretary, thus suddenly smiling for a quick second behind Jack's back before he turns away to look at her), yet they are isolated and never quite form a unified feel for the movie as a whole. However, one should not criticize too much, since the movie has a soul. It is too light to rival Wilder's "The Apartment", except on one field that surpasses it, Carly Simon's magical song "Let the River Run" that really has to be heard for its sheer harmony and pathos.

Grade;++

Ocean's Eleven

Ocean's Eleven; crime comedy, USA, 2001; D: Steven Soderbergh, S: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Bernie Mac

Danny Ocean leaves the prison after a conversation with the commission, but already has a new plan for a heist: to rob the rich Benedict, owner of three casinos in Las Vegas, the new husband of his ex-wife Tess. Ocean thus recruits ten friends, including Linus, Rusty, Reuben and Basher. Following their plan, they shut down electricity in the whole city for a minute in order for Ocean and Linus to pass by the lasers. They inform Benedict that they planted a bomb in the vault and will destroy all his money if he doesn't give them half of the sum. After the money is transferred to the van, it is intercepted, but it turns out that it is empty, and that Ocean's team, disguised as SWAT team, snatched Benedict's money in the meantime. Tess returns back to Ocean.

Steven Soderbergh made a remake that is better than the original from the 60s: his "Ocean's 11" succeeds thanks to elegant directing, a refined heist story, charm, wit and fine actors. Soderbergh managed to rally half of Hollywood of play even the smallest parts, and even though not every role is given enough time to shine, they all contribute to a well thought out plan. Julia Roberts got a one-dimensional role as Tess, but some of her dialogues with Clooney's character Ocean are truly crisp and original ("I always mix up Monet and Manet. One married his mistress, and the other had syphilis." - "They also occasionally painted, you know"; "Tess, I'm not joking." - "Danny, I'm not laughing."). The movie has more than enough comical ideas that carry the story before the actual heist - one of the the best is the anecdote about how the most successful robbery of the casino involved a robber who managed to get just ten yards away from the building with the stolen money - and the second half of the film, when the robbery finally sets in, is more-or-less plausible and works. Maybe it is a gimmick that works only on the first viewing, but that's all the movie needs, anyway. "Ocean's 11" is a light fun without any pretentious grasp towards more ambitious themes, yet is directed with a lot of style that gives it energy, and is simply a fun story with a sly romantic subtext at the end.

Grade;++

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive; fantasy drama, USA/ UK/ Germany, 2013; D: Jim Jarmusch, S: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, John Hurt

Adam and Eve are centuries old vampires living in the modern world. Adam is in Detroit, trying to write underground songs, but increasingly feeling empty and depressed with his life. His wife Eve arrives from Tangier to visit and cheer him up. Her sister, Ava, drops by uninvited and kills Adam's assistant, supplier Ian. Adam and Eve thus banish her from his home, dispose of the corpse and flee to Tangier. However, Eve's friend, vampire Marlowe, dies because the blood there is contaminated. Adam and Eve thus have no choice but to attack a random couple to survive.

Anti-"Twlight" - Jim Jarmusch takes the stereotype plot of vampires and twists the cliches - similarly like he did in twisting the western cliches in "Dead Man" and the lone assassin cliches in "Ghost Dog" - thus delivering an unorthodox film where the vampire couple is presented in a "washed out" edition, bored with their existence, which also gives a quiet layer of existentialism. However, that twisting of the cliches was not exploited to the fullest and lacks inspiration or energy to develop into something more. As always, Jarmusch presents his minimalist style reminiscent of Ozu as well as a few welcomed, fresh jokes (Eve uses the refrigerator to make a blood popsicle (!); the triple montage of Adam, Eve and Marlowe experiencing a drug hallucination state after drinking blood) and a few subversive jabs at society by setting the story in Detroit, devastate economically and empty, thus a fine symbol for the protagonists' sense of lack of any perspective. The actors are also fine, especially Tilda Swinton and the always brilliant John Hurt. "Only Lovers Left Alive" is an interesting vampire film, yet, despite numerous interesting scenes, it is somehow anaemic at times.

Grade;++

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Diabolique

Les diaboliques; thriller-drama, France, 1955; D: Henri-Georges Clouzot, S: Vera Clouzot, Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel

Christine is a rich, timid woman married to a mean-spirited principal of a boy's school, Michel, who humiliates her when ever he can. He has an affair with one of the teachers there, blond Nicole, who is Christine's friend. The religious Christine refuses to divorce, but accepts Nicole's plan to lure Michel to a vacation resort, tranquillize and then drown him in the bathtub. The next day, the two women put his corpse in a luggage and drive off back to school, throwing Michel into the pool. However, his corpse sinks and won't float up again. When the pool is drained, the corpse is gone. Christine is in panic, while an inspector questions her since Michel is gone for a week now. Finally, Michel shows up one night and Christine dies from a heart attack: he double-crossed her with Nicole. Still, the inspector arrests Michel and Nicole.

Excellent thriller "Diabolique" once again demonstrated how director Henri-Georges Clouzot is able to reach Hitchcockian levels of suspense drained from everyday citizens. The story starts slow, almost as a typical French social drama in school, but slowly yet surely takes a different tour to the crime area in the main tangle where the two women decide to kill the husband of one of them, Michel. The sole murder, drowning in the bathtub, is deceivingly smooth and simple, since the real 'juice' of the story is what follows next, a puzzling, intriguing second half where the corpse is missing and the two (anti)heroines try to figure out what happened. Clouzot uses the typical formula of anticipation and prolonging of a tight event to enhance the suspense, as he did in the splendid sequence where Christine cannot wait until the corpse finally resurfaces in the pool, yet is shocked when the school kids accidentally drop their ball in the water and cannot reach it. The film doesn't reach the intensity of Clouzot's magnum opus, "Wages of Fear", and is slightly overstretched, yet when the staggering twist ending sets in - one of the most virtuoso ones in the cinema of the 20th century - all the scenes and events that seemed questionable before, suddenly align into a harmonious whole and fit "just right", and the puzzle is completed down to a T, in a simply brilliant payoff. Truly a great classic, and one of the finest thrillers of the 50s. It won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best foreign film.

Grade;+++

Backbone

Kičma; drama, Serbia, 1975; D: Vlatko Gilić, S: Dragan Nikolić, Predrag Laković, Mira Banjac, Miroljub Lešo, Stanislava Janjić

New Belgrade. Microbiologist Pavle leads a solitary life in a sterile, grey apartment building. He is trying to discover the source of a bad scent around the building, while at the same time a series of inexplicable suicides is hitting the area. He discovers that the source of bad scent is coming from the nearby crematorium, where a local older employee tells him stories about traditional burning of corpses through history. When a girl he loved passes away, he phones the ambulance and informs them that he is donating his organs before committing suicide by bleeding to death.

Upon its premiere, Vlatko Gilic's dark psychological drama that ponders about existentialism, "Backbone", went entirely unnoticed in the Yugoslav cinema. Depressive and ambitious, "Backbone" is a study about human isolation in the modern society that leads to depression and suicide, and its biggest virtue is the strong mood originating from the long, expressionistic takes without dialogues that are reminiscent of Antonioni. Unfortunately, the storyline is vague and - appropriately - lifeless, which is the reason why it leaves a very bizarre and incomplete impression as a whole, despite an effective tragic ending. A subplot involving fog that shows up one night is sadly underused, whereas numerous explicit scenes (a surgeon slicing up the brain of a deceased person; a man strangling a black dog) just exacerbate the depressive tone that becomes an overkill with time. Not for everyone's taste, yet director Gilic showed his repulsion towards the modern urban isolation strongly, which gives the film an ambitious seal.

Grade;++