Wednesday, November 24, 2021

2021 Blind Spot Series: Veronika Voss


Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and written by Fassbinder, Pea Frolich, and Peter Marthesheimer, Veronika Voss is the story of a once-revered starlet who has faded in obscurity in 1955 Munich as she begins a relationship with a sportswriter while dealing with events that lead to her declining career. The second film (third film chronologically) of a trilogy of films about women and their identities in postwar Germany as it is partially based on the life of actress Sybille Schmitz who was a popular actress though her association with the Third Reich lead to the end of her own acting career as the titular character is played by Rosel Zech. Also starring Hilmar Thate, Cornelia Froboess, Annemarie Duringer, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Veronika Voss is an intoxicating yet eerie film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

The film revolves around a once-famous actress during the days of Nazism as she has faded into obscurity where she meets a sports reporter as she deals with an escalating morphine addiction and delusions about returning to her film career. It is a film that is about a woman who is eager to return to the world of film but is unable to deal with reality as she also dependent on a neurologist who is feeding her morphine addiction. The film’s screenplay has a narrative that is largely straightforward but also bits of flashbacks as it play into the life that the titular character once had but also a life she wants to be part of. The film opens with her at a screening at one of her older films as she remembers the time she was filming it as she was this big star whose films were funded by the Nazis until the end of the war as she had faded into obscurity. Upon meeting the sports reporter Robert Krohn (Hilmar Thate) at a bus during a rainy night, she is surprised that he has no idea who she is or was as they become friends where Krohn learns more about her.

Yet, he is also wondering if some of the things she says are true where he learns that she frequently visits a neurologist in Dr. Marianne Katz (Annemarie Duringer) who is treating her. Still, Krohn is unsure about Dr. Katz’s methods including the fact that she’s supplying Veronika’s morphine addiction where his concerns for her begins an affair. The affair would be tumultuous where Krohn’s girlfriend Henriette (Cornelia Froboess) becomes suspicious about Voss yet is fascinated by her lifestyle and life while is also becoming aware that another of Dr. Katz’s patients are involved with opiates. The addiction would only increase Veronika’s own delusions including claims she is to come back though the reality is far more troubling as her ex-husband in screenwriter Max Rehbein (Armin Mueller-Stahl) warns Robert to not to get too close.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s direction definitely has style as it evokes elements of classical old Hollywood films with its stylish lighting and presentation while playing up this world of postwar West Germany as it is shot on location in and around Munich. There is an element of style in Fassbinder’s compositions in the way he would frame his actors in a shot as well as the presentation of a room or a restaurant where he would use a lot of wide and medium shots to capture the scope of the locations but also the world that Voss lives in. There are close-ups in the film that do play into the melodrama while there are also some stylish shots including a few slanted camera angles as it add to this warped reality that Voss is in. Even as there’s flashbacks of the life she once had as there’s a scene at her apartment as it’s full of posh antiques and such while it then cuts to the apartment without all of those things as she’s spending time with Robert who gets a closer look into her troubled mental state.

Fassbinder also evokes elements of suspense as it relates to Robert trying to find out about Voss’s mental state, her past as an actress supported by the Nazis, and her time with Dr. Katz. Notably as there are these offbeat elements as Dr. Katz’s office as it feels like this posh hospital which includes an American GI (Gunther Kaufmann) helping her out as he barely says anything. It’s among these quirks that Fassbinder puts in as well as the fact that Robert is somewhat out of his element since he’s a sports reporter but he’s determined to seek out the truth. Even in the third act where there is this absurdity as it relates to Dr. Katz’s methods and this sense of an end for Voss who is forced to accept reality about her fleeting fame. Overall, Fassbinder crafts a majestic yet haunting film about an actress’ descent into madness in her attempt to return to the world of films.

Cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger does incredible work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its dazzling usage of interior lights for some of the flashbacks and interior settings including Dr. Katz’s office as well as some stylish exterior shading for some of the scenes at night. Editor Juliane Lorenz does brilliant work with the editing as its stylish usage of transition wipes help play into the film’s stylistic presentation along with some rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and drama. Production designer Rolf Zehetbauer and art director Walter Richarz do excellent work with the look of the places the characters go to including the stylish apartment office that Dr. Katz lives in as well as Voss’ home in its glory days and ruined state. Costume designer Barbara Baum does fantastic work with the costumes as it features a lot of the stylish and expensive clothing Voss wears as well as the ragged look of Robert in his ordinary suit and such.

The makeup work of Anni Nobauer and Gerd Nemetz is terrific as it play into the beauty of Voss but also moments where she becomes mad where the makeup starts to fade away. The sound work of Vladimir Vizner is superb for the way some of the sparse moments sound at Dr. Katz’s office as well as the volume of the music as well as maintaining a natural approach to the sound. The film’s music by Peer Raben is amazing for its offbeat score that is this mixture of country and the pop music of the times with some eerie piano-based pieces while the soundtrack features elements of American country and standards music that often plays on the radio or sung by Voss.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Rainer Werner Fassbinder as a man at a movie theater sitting behind Voss, editor Juliane Lorenz as a secretary, Volker Spengler and Peter Zadek as a couple of film directors Voss would work with as the former during her prime and the latter in her comeback attempt, Hans Wyprachtiger as Robert’s editor-in-chief, Elisabeth Volkmann as a co-worker of Robert in Grete, Sonja Neudorfer as a saleswoman at a posh restaurant, Lilo Pempeit as a manager of the restaurant who recognizes Voss, Gunther Kauffman as an American GI who works for Dr. Katz, Johanna Hofer and Rudolf Platte as an old couple who are patients of Dr. Katz, Peter Berling as a film producer who wants to help Voss in finding the right role for her comeback, and Erik Schumann as Dr. Edel who is an associate of Dr. Katz.

Doris Schade is fantastic as Dr. Katz’s assistant Josefa who does a lot to lie and help out Dr. Katz as well as also do a lot of the cleaning up. Armin Mueller-Stahl is superb as Voss’ ex-husband/screenwriter Max Rehbein as a man who used to bring the best in her as he would warn Robert about getting too close to her knowing a lot about her madness up close. Annemarie Duringer is excellent as Dr. Marianne Katz as a neurologist who is treating Voss in order to deal with her madness though she has ulterior motives of her own while her own methods including supplying morphine to Voss makes her a chilling figure in the film. Cornelia Froboess is brilliant as Robert’s girlfriend Henriette as a woman who is fascinated by Voss though is troubled by her drug abuse, association with the Nazis, and the methods of Dr. Katz where she tries to get proof of her abuse.

Hilmar Thate is amazing as Robert Krohn as a sports writer who meets Voss though has no clue of who she is as he gets to know her only to put himself in trouble as it relates to Dr. Katz where he also deals with her troubling methods. Finally, there’s Rosel Zech in a tremendous performance as the titular character as this once-famous actress during the era of Nazism who deals with her fading celebrity and growing dependency on morphine as she meets this man hoping he would help her where Zech displays that aura around her as someone who is this great yet controversial figure but is one step away from just losing it.

Veronika Voss is a phenomenal film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features a spectacular performance from Rosel Zech in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling presentation, study of fading stardom and madness, and its offbeat yet riveting music score and soundtrack. The film is a ravishing film that explores a woman dealing with her own madness as well as trying to get a writer to help her only to bring more trouble. In the end, Veronika Voss is a sensational film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder Than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - (The Merchant of Four Seasons) - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - (Jailbait) - World on a Wire - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) – (I Only Want You to Love Me) – Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) – The Marriage of Maria Braun - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - (Lola (1981 film)) - Querelle

© thevoid99 2021

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

2021 Blind Spot Series: The Marriage of Maria Braun


Directed and co-edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and screenplay by Peter Marthesheimer and Pea Frohlich with additional dialogue and story by Fassbinder, Die ehe der Maria Braun (The Marriage of Maria Braun) is the story of a woman whose marriage to a soldier during the final days of World War II leaves her lost as she tries to reinvent herself following the post-war years while being devoted to the man she is married to. The first film in a trilogy of films set during the post-war years of West Germany and how it would affect the life of a woman in her new surroundings. Starring Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Lowitsch, Ivan Desny, and Gisela Uhlen. Die ehe der Maria Braun is a majestic yet evocative film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Set from the final days of World War II to the early 1950s, the film follows the journeys and evolution of a woman who would marry a soldier in those final days only for him to disappear where she would take part in other ventures during his disappearance as a way to be part of this new economic miracle in postwar Germany. The film is an exploration of a woman in the course of her life from her wedding day to the culmination of everything she has worked for while maintaining her loyalty to her husband. The film’s screenplay that features additional work from Kurt Raab as it begins in 1943 Berlin during a battle where the titular character (Hanna Schygulla) and Hermann Braun (Klaus Lowitsch) are getting married while all of this chaos happens around them as he would leave the next day and then disappear as Germany would lose the war. During the course of the next eight years, Maria would do things to survive following news that claimed that Hermann has died where she engages in a brief romance with an African-American soldier in Bill (George Byrd) and then meet a wealthy industrialist in Karl Oswald (Ivan Desny) whom she would become his personal assistant.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s direction definitely has an air of style in terms of the way he moves his camera for a shot or in a location as well as play into this world of an old Germany during the final days of the war and the economic re-birth it would be a part of after the war. Shot largely on location in Coburg in then-West Germany and parts of West Berlin, Fassbinder plays into this period of World War II where it begins with Maria and Hermann being married while air raids are happening as it sets the chaotic tone of what is to come from the film. While there are some wide and medium shots to get a scope of the locations and places that Maria and other characters go to, there is a sense of style in the way Fassbinder would shoot a scene where he would use dolly-tracking shots to move the camera from one area and into another for a single take as it play into some of the drama.

There are some close-ups in the way Fassbinder reacts not just towards a character but also an object whether it’s a carton of cigarettes or an appliance as it would play into something that would foreshadow a lot of what it to come. Sex is a major proponent of the film in how Maria would use her sex appeal to get what she wants but it also plays from a woman that wanted to be love only to then use sex to get what she wants. The direction also play into her evolution where Fassbinder would slowly play into the changing times though not revealing when these events happen as it’s more about this woman being part of the times and finding herself although it would come at some major costs of her own sense of morals. Even towards the end as she becomes successful on her own yet there is still the matter of Hermann whom she is still married to as it play into his own existence and role in their marriage. Overall, Fassbinder crafts a captivating and mesmerizing film about a married woman trying to find her identity during the postwar years of Germany.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus does amazing work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward for many of the daytime exterior scenes along with some stylish lighting for a few of the interior scenes at night. Editors Rainer Werner Fassbinder (in his Franz Walsch pseudonym) and Juliane Lorenz do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward as it allow shots to linger for a bit as well as cutting to play into some of the dramatic moments. Production designer Norbert Scherer, with set decorators Arno Mathes, Hans-Peter Sandmeir, and Andreas Wilms, does fantastic work with the look of the home where Maria lived with her mother as well as the home of Oswald and the house that Maria would buy late in the film. Costume designer Barbara Baum does brilliant work with the costumes in the dresses that Maria wore as it play into her evolving style from being a woman who wore ragged dresses to high fashion towards the end.

The makeup work of Anni Nobauer is terrific as it play to the look of the characters including Maria early in the film during her attempt to get a job. The sound work of Jim Willis and Milan Bor is superb for the natural approach to sound including some of the sparse moments as well as how music is presented. The film’s music by Peer Raben is wonderful for its low-key piano-based music as it help play into the drama along with some orchestral pieces while the soundtrack feature a lot of the big band and swing music of the times as well as some classical pieces.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Rainer Werner Fassbinder as black markets dealer, Peter Berling as a club owner for American GIs to attend to, Hannes Kaetner as the justice of the peace in the film’s opening scene, Kristine de Loup as the notary in the opening scene, Gunther Kaufmann as a drunken American soldier on a train, Volker Spengler as a train conductor, Bruce Low as an American prosecutor in a trial that involved Maria, Karl-Heinz von Hassel as the German prosecutor, Sonja Neudorfer as a Red Cross nurse, Lilo Pempeit as Maria’s secretary in the third act, Isolde Barth as a woman who accompanies Senkenberg late in the film over business matters, Claus Holm as a doctor that Maria frequently visits, Anton Schiersner as Maria’s grandfather who lives at the apartment with her mother, and Gunter Lamprecht as Hans Wetzel whom Maria’s mother begins to have a relationship with in the film’s second half. George Byrd is superb as an African-American GI named Bill whom Maria would have an affair with early in the film until a major revelation would change everything while Hark Bohm is terrific as Oswald’s bookkeeper Senkenberg as someone who isn’t entirely fond of Maria but realizes her worth in terms of influence as well as admire her ambition.

Gottfried John and Elisabeth Trissenaar are fantastic in their respective roles as longtime friends in Willi and Betti Klenze as a married couple who joins Maria’s ascent with the latter being someone who wants more while the former is someone who just wants simple things as he was also close to Hermann. Gisela Uhlen is excellent as Maria’s mother as a woman who encourages Maria to succeed but then feels alienated by what success has turned Maria into. Ivan Desny is brilliant as Karl Oswald as a textile industrialist who befriends Maria in a train as they later engage in their own affairs while he deals with his own mortality knowing he doesn’t have much time to live.

Klaus Lowitsch is amazing as Hermann Braun as a soldier that Maria would marry as he would be seen briefly for a bit as someone who is a man that is devoted to Maria as he would be this symbolic figure of love whom Maria is often attached to. Finally, there’s Hanna Schygulla in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this woman who gets married only for her husband to disappear where she tries to find her identity where Schygulla displays a radiance to her role as well as this air of evolution from being a prostitute to a woman of power who still clings to her love for Hermann while coping with the affairs she engages in.

Die ehe der Maria Braun is a tremendous film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features an incredible leading performance from Hanna Schygulla. Along with its ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, a lively music soundtrack, and its theme of a woman trying to find her own identity during the postwar era. It is a film that explores this journey a woman takes where she becomes part of this economic rebirth while dealing with the fact that she is a married woman whose husband is lost with his own uncertain fate. In the end, Die ehe der Maria Braun is a spectacular film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - (The Merchant of Four Seasons) - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - (Jailbait) - World on a Wire - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) – (I Only Want You to Love Me) – Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) - (Lola (1981 film)) - Veronika VossQuerelle

© thevoid99 2021

Monday, November 22, 2021

Girl Week 2021: Shiva Baby


Written and directed by Emma Seligman that is based on her 2018 short film, Shiva Baby is the story of a young Jewish bisexual woman who attends a Shiva as she deals with family and others where she copes with her lack of direction in life as well as everyone else around her. The film is a coming-of-age story of sorts set almost in one entire location where a young woman is still trying to figure herself out while attending college and uncertain about her own relationship status. Starring Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Danny Deferrari, Jackie Hoffman, Sondra James, Deborah Offner, and Dianna Agron. Shiva Baby is a riveting yet chaotic film from Emma Seligman.

The film revolves around a young college student who attends a Shiva with her parents as the guests include not just relatives but also a former girlfriend and a man, who is her sugar daddy, who is also married and has a baby. It’s a film that takes place almost in real time where a young woman attends this Jewish funeral observance known as a Shiva for a relative where she deals with people around her as they question about what she’s doing as well as her lack of direction with her former girlfriend already going to law school. Emma Seligman’s screenplay is straightforward as it opens with the protagonist Danielle (Rachel Sennott) having sex with an older man as she is a sex worker of sorts where she gets the call to attend a Shiva with her parents in Joel (Fred Melamed) and Debbie (Polly Draper).

Much of the story is set at a house where there is a lot happening with Danielle having to talk with relatives and family friends where they ask her a lot of questions about her future as she is finishing college. Yet, a lot is happening with the presence of her former girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) and the man she had sex with earlier that day in Max (Danny Deferrari) who is revealed to be married to a successful entrepreneur in the non-Jewish Kim (Dianna Agron) and with an 18-month old baby.

Seligman’s direction is largely straightforward but also claustrophobic in its setting as it is shot largely on location in Brooklyn inside an actual house. While there are a few wide shots including the film’s opening shot of Danielle having sex with Max as it goes on for a few minutes. Much of Seligman’s direction relies on close-ups and medium shots to not just play into this air of claustrophobia that Danielle is dealing with but also the number of people inside this small house. The usage of hand-held cameras and Steadicams add to the sense of movement within the house as there are a few moments where Danielle and other go outside as much of the action at the house takes place in real time. Notably as there is a lot of talking and overlapping dialogue where there’s one scene of Danielle eating while two women talk in front of her as she’s looking at someone else.

These moments occur often while there are also these moments of tension between Danielle and Maya as it is clear there is still feelings but the latter is still upset over some things and acts out quietly which only adds to the anxieties that Danielle is dealing with. Even as an hour at the event goes by where she thinks about having a moment with Max but also has to deal with Kim and their baby who constantly cries throughout the film where Seligman uses it to create some tension and chaos that looms throughout the film. Overall, Seligman crafts an evocative and compelling film about a young woman’s attendance at a Shiva and how it confronts the lack of direction in her life.

Cinematographer Maria Rusche does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely low-key for much of the film’s interior settings as the film takes place during the day with some natural lighting for a few of the film’s exterior shots. Editor Hanna A. Park does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts and a slow-motion sequence of sorts that play into Danielle’s anxieties. Production designer Cheyenne Ford and art director Jack Dobens do fantastic work with the interiors of the house in how small the rooms are as well as some of the small details in the rooms the characters go into.

Costume designer Michelle J. Li does nice work with the costumes with everyone wearing black as part of this religious gathering with some of the dresses to be fashionable while much of it is just a bit casual. Sound editor Hunter Berk does superb work with the sound in the way a group of people can sound inside a small room or in a kitchen as it adds to the film’s claustrophobic tone. The film’s music by Ariel Marx is incredible for its disconcerting string-based score that play into the dramatic tension with pieces that are haunting as it is a major highlight of the film.

The casting by Kate Gellar is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Deborah Offner as the family friend Ellie, Ariel Eliaz as the rabbi for the Shiva, Cilda Shaur and Glynis Bell as a couple of chatty relatives, Edgar Harmanci as Max and Kim’s wailing baby Rose, Sondra James as an elder relative in Maureen whom Danielle and Maya are fond of, and Jackie Hoffman as Maya’s mother Susan. Dianna Agron is fantastic as Kim as the non-Jewish entrepreneur who attends the Shiva as she talks about her own accomplishments while offering to give Danielle some advice in a well-meaning way. Danny Deferrari is excellent as Kim’s husband Max who is also Danielle’s sugar daddy as someone who isn’t this great man that Danielle thought he is despite his own minimal success which is small compared to what his wife does.

Fred Melamed and Polly Draper are brilliant in their respective roles as Danielle’s parents in Joel and Debbie with the former being the father who is often forgetting things and often rambles while the latter is a control freak while trying to help Danielle where she becomes concerned over what Danielle is doing with her life. Molly Gordon is amazing as Maya as a former girlfriend of Danielle who is about to enter law school as she has managed to get her life together yet has a lot of bitterness towards Danielle over the fall-out of their relationship though she still cares about her. Finally, there’s Rachel Sennott in a phenomenal performance as Danielle as a college senior, who is also an escort of sorts, who is dealing with her own lack of direction as her time at a Shiva just adds to this anxiety as there’s a bit of wit but also a lot of anguish into a young woman that has little control about her life as well as the many revelations she is dealing with at the Shiva.

Shiva Baby is a sensational film from Emma Seligman. Featuring a great leading performance from Rachel Sennott as well as an incredible ensemble cast, a simple yet effective presentation, Ariel Marx’s eerie music score, and its exploration of a young woman dealing with a lot at a Shiva. It is a film that has a lot of wit but also compelling moments that play into this Jewish funeral ritual with a young woman being surrounded by relatives, an ex-girlfriend, and others that just bring up a lot of anxiety. In the end, Shiva Baby is a phenomenal film rom Emma Seligman.

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Book Adaptations


For the 46th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of book adaptations where novels become films as it’s often difficult to match the spirit of a book where some are too faithful or others are quite different. Here are my three picks as it all relates to Frank Herbert’s novel Dune:

1. Dune
David Lynch’s 1984 film version came in following nearly 20 years since the book’s release for the film to be adapted through many attempts as Lynch and producer Dino de Laurentiis were the first ones to try. While it does have some interesting art direction and its attempt to condense a vast story into a 137-minute film. It is an adaptation that felt like it didn’t dwell too much into the source material and left too many things out while some of the presentation in the characters such as the Harkkonens come off as cartoonish. It is Lynch’s worst film and he has opened up about the fact that he fucked it up and the extended cuts of the film made without his input only added to his disdain for the film.

2. Jodorowsky's Dune
Frank Pavich’s documentary about cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt the film in the mid-1970s definitely belongs in that list of greatest films that never got made along with Tim Burton’s Superman Lives in the late 1990s and Fred Zimmerman’s Man's Fate in the early 1970s. The film showcases a lot of the insane ideas that Jodorowsky wanted to do for his own adaptation features the design work of Moebius, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Dan O’Bannon with Magma and Pink Floyd to provide the music. The film also revealed why it fell apart but how a lot of the work that Jodorowsky and his collaborators created would lay the ground work for many future films to come in the sci-fi genre.

3. Dune-Part One
37 years since David Lynch’s botched version as well as a divisive miniseries in the 2000s and other attempts by other filmmakers that never got off the ground, Denis Villeneuve finally creates a film that isn’t just worthy of Herbert’s novel but also makes the wise decision to only tell half of the story so far. Featuring a diverse cast that include some inspired changes in the characters as well as delving into many themes in the novel. The film is a visual marvel but also does a lot in not just world building and developing the characters but also set up the stakes as it’s just the first half of a bigger story as a sequel is definitely coming in 2023.

© thevoid99 2021

Friday, November 12, 2021

Sunset (2018 film)


Directed by Laszlo Nemes and written by Nemes, Clara Royer, and Matthieu Taponier, Napszallta (Sunset) is the story of a young woman who arrives in Budapest to work at a milliner which used to be a legendary hat store owned by her parents as she deals with the past and her family just one year before World War I. The film is a drama set during a time when the city was considered the heart of Europe as a woman arrives to find out what happened to her family when she was only 2 years old and why the man who killed her family did it. Starring Juli Jakab, Vlad Ivanov, Marcin Czarnik, Evelin Dobos, and Judit Bardos. Napszallta is a riveting yet evocative film from Laszlo Nemes.

Set in 1913 in Budapest during the final years of the Austrian-Hungary empire, the film revolves around a young woman who goes to the city during an upcoming celebration where she goes to a legendary hat store that was once owned by her parents until it was burned down where they claimed her parents when she was only 2 years old. It is a film about this young woman whose surname meant a lot to Budapest as it is known for its elaborate hat designs that posh women wear as she wants to know what happened to her parents as those she meet often turn her away from the truth amidst this growing social turmoil that is set to come. The film’s screenplay is straightforward in its narrative as it follows its protagonist of Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab) who has been living in France for a few years as she arrives to the city where her family’s hat shop is at the center of the city which is considered to be the heart of Europe.

Owning the Leiter hat shop is an old family friend in Oszkar Brill (Vlad Ivanov) who is trying to get Irisz to leave the city with many claiming that her older brother was the one who killed her parents. One aspect of the script that is unique revolves around Irisz trying to get answers but either someone doesn’t reveal anything to her or often gives her something cagey along the way she treks throughout the city and areas outside to find out what happened to her parents. Irisz arrives during a moment where the Leiter shop is about to embark on a major event as a prince is set to arrive with his wife to see the new hats but also something much more. Notably as Irisz also notices this air of social turmoil lurking around as she visits an ailing countess and people who follow her brother where there is so much that is happening as she is confused by her surroundings and what is going on as well as this major event that is happening as if this idea of what Europe is finally starting to unravel.

Laszlo Nemes’ direction is definitely entrancing as it play into a period in time where old Europe is thriving and entering into this modern world of high fashion and high culture that is disconnected from what is happening in the lower class as well as those disenfranchised from high society. Shot on location in areas in and around Budapest, Nemes maintains this gaze as it is largely shot from Irisz’s perspective where the camera is often behind her and following her at times with its usage of close-ups and medium shots. Even as there are tracking shots throughout the film where Nemes would follow Irisz as she goes into the town square where there is so much happening as if the city is enjoying this air of decadence unaware that there are dark forces that are lurking. There are some wide shots in Nemes’ direction yet he maintains this air of intimacy but also a sense of claustrophobia in the crowd shots with the shop being a character in the film where it does have this air of beauty as the milliners are largely women as many of them have to have a certain look and wear white.

There is also this air of suspense and tension that looms throughout the film as it relates to the visit from the prince (Tom Pilath) and the princess (Susanne Wuest) where it’s not just about hats but something more that makes even Brill and the shop’s manager Zelma (Evelin Dobos) uneasy. Adding to this tension is what is happening outside of the city in the slums where Irisz gets a closer look into the world of the poor who feel slighted by the royals and the posh people in society as this hat shop as the symbol of this oppression. Even as the hats themselves represent this air of importance in its social status but also as a shield of the dark realities of the world where Irisz is forced to understand about everything Brill, her brother, and others are trying to shield her from. Amidst all of these revelations, Irisz gets a much closer look of a world that is coming to an end as the shop represents this modern idea of old Europe just as the continent is about to fall into chaos. Overall, Nemes crafts a ravishing yet unsettling film about a young woman uncovering the secrets of her family’s hat shop.

Cinematographer Matyas Erdely does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of sunlight is key to the film along with emphasis on natural and available light for many of the scenes at night as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Matthieu Taponier does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense as a lot of it has a lot of long shots to play into the drama. Production designer Laszlo Rajk, along with art directors Dorka Kiss and Attila Digi Kovari, does amazing work with the look of the shop in its interiors and rooms as well as some of the places behind the shop as it play into this air of secrecy where everything is trying to be concealed.

Costume designer Gyorgyi Szakacs does fantastic work with the design of the dresses of those times along with the suits the men wore while the hats that are created is a major highlight of the film as do play into some of the metaphorical elements of the film. Sound designer Tamas Zanyi does superb work with the sound as it plays into the natural locations and settings as well as scenes involving crowds and some eerie quiet moments in the film. The film’s music by Laszlo Melis is incredible for its serene yet haunting score with its emphasis on discordant string arrangements as well as elements of folk as it adds to the film’s suspense.

The casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Enrique Keil as a royal figure wearing a monocle, Susanne Wuest as the princess, Tom Pilath as the prince, Urs Rechn as an anarchist figure in Ismael, Sandor Zsoter as a doctor late in the film who warns Irisz about what is happening, Judit Bardos and Dorottya Moldovan in their respective roles as hat girls in Szerena and Lili who both hope they go to Vienna, Christian Harting as a prominent social figure in Otto von Konig, Julia Jakubowska as the grief-stricken and ailing Countess Redey who had a past with Irisz’s brother, Benjamin Dino as a worker at the store in Andor who knew Irisz’s brother whom he is not fond of, and Levente Molnar as a mad coachman in Gaspar who knew Irisz’s brother.

Marcin Czarnik is excellent in his small role as a mysterious man called Sandor as he is often seen looking at Irisz as if he knows who she is while his motives are ambiguous. Evelin Dobo is brilliant as Zelma as the supervisor at the hat shop as a woman who is trying to conceal things from Irisz but also leave her clues as she also has to deal with a much bigger role she has to play for this upcoming event. Vlad Ivanov is amazing as Oszkar Brill as the owner of the Leiter hat shop who knew Irisz’s parents but also what happened as he is reluctant to divulge any details while he is part of something bigger that he doesn’t want Irisz to know about. Finally, there’s Juli Jakab in a phenomenal performance as Irisz Leiter as a young woman, whose parents once owned a hat shop that is now the center of Budapest’s town square, as she deals with the many secrets about her family as well as the secrets relating to this big event as it would lead to chaos where Jakab maintains this air of calm but also a haunting quality into a woman that is just trying to find answers about herself and her family as it is an unsettlingly eerie performance from Jakab.

Napszallta is a spectacular film from Laszlo Nemes that features an incredibly chilling performance from Juli Jakab. Along with its ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, its disconcerting tone, somber music soundtrack, and its exploration of a world not knowing it’s coming to its end. The film is an intoxicating yet densely-written film that explores a young woman’s search for her identity only to be front and center at an event that would set the stage for what is to come in the history of the world. In the end, Napszallta is a sensational film from Laszlo Nemes.

Related: Son of Saul

© thevoid99 2021

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks: Dream Sequences


For the 45th week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the subject of dream sequences as they are moments in film that either played for laughs or to bring misery for someone. Here are my three picks:

1. Dumb and Dumber
Remember when the Farrelly Brothers used to be funny and made watchable films? Yeah, that was a long time ago and they hadn’t done anything noteworthy in 20 years as this is a reminder of what they were then in a film that is about two stupid guys going on a road trip to return a briefcase. There, one of them imagines about fulfilling his duty in a dream sequence where he gets the girl, become part of her social circle, and getting to have sex with her. That is the dream. Plus, what straight man back in the 1990s wouldn’t want to see if Lauren Holly was wearing underwear or not?

2. Happy Gilmore
The golfer comedy about a wannabe hockey player who becomes a golfer so he can save his grandmother’s house is one of the finest comedies of the 1990s. Yet, the titular character played by Adam Sandler is an emotional mess as he turns to his mentor Chubbs to help with his short game. What Happy needed was to go to his happy place to defeat the evil veteran Shooter McGavin for the gold jacket but following an incident from a crazy man. Happy struggles as he tries to go to his happy place in a dream sequence only for it to become a nightmare because of Shooter. It is a hilarious moment where Christopher McDonald really gets to own the moment making Shooter one of cinema’s greatest villains.

3. The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers’ 1998 low-brow masterpiece is really about two things. A dude and his rug. Two assholes who mistake him for another asshole by pissing on his rug that really tied the room together and then the rug gets stolen. All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back and thus leads to one of the greatest dream sequences in film all to the tune of the First Edition’s Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) where the Dude is getting new bowling shoes and teaching the woman of his dreams how to bowl. It all then becomes a nightmare involving a bunch of nihilists and all sorts of crazy shit. What a film and what a hell of a dream sequence. Man, fuck Orange County and fuck the Eagles. Not the Philadephia Eagles. The Eagles, fuck ‘em.

© thevoid99 2021

Monday, November 08, 2021

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael


Written, edited, and directed by Rob Garver, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a documentary about the life and career of controversial film critic Pauline Kael whose film criticism was considered influential yet her opinions towards some of the finest films of the times often created discussion. The film explore the woman’s impact on film culture with interviews from filmmakers as well as Kael’s only daughter in Gina James with Sarah Jessica Parker providing the voice of Kael. The result is a witty and fascinating film about one of the most polarizing figures in the world of cinema.

From 1968 to 1991 at The New Yorker magazine, there was one film critic who many filmmakers, actors, and film buffs read and that was Pauline Kael. Through her film criticism, she championed filmmakers like Paul Schrader, Robert Altman, and Steven Spielberg as she also had a fondness for commercial cinema yet would also be vicious in her writing as she would be dismissive about widely-revered films including the works of Stanley Kubrick. Rob Garver’s film interviews filmmakers, critics, and others about Kael’s influence but also go into details about the fact that she was a polarizing figure as there were some filmmakers who hated her because of what she wrote. Even as some took it personally or felt that her opinions were a bunch of bullshit though there’s some truth to what she said.

Paul Schrader, Quentin Tarantino, and David O. Russell are among the small group of filmmakers who are interviewed along with actor Alec Baldwin and film critics in David Edelstein, Molly Haskell, Stephanie Zacherek, and music critic Greil Marcus as they all talk about Kael’s legend but also the fact that she was uncompromising in what she believed in as a film critic. Even as her work in The New Yorker showcased her influence as she would champion controversial films like Last Tango in Paris while also acknowledging the contribution of Herman J. Mankiewicz for writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane where some felt Kael was taking away much of the work that Orson Welles did which wasn’t what Kael was doing.

Much of Garver’s direction is straightforward in his interviews with Sarah Jessica Parker providing the role as Kael’s voice through her work and comments while Garver would also include archival footage of the interviews that Kael has done in the 1970s and 1980s. With the help of visual effects artist Gary Schwerzler, Garver would use collages of Kael’s written work and pictures to create imagery that play into her legend as well as some of the controversy she created that includes a dissenting review of Claude Lanzmann’s documentary film Shoah that was widely praised as many had issues with her review. There was also this controversy from one of her colleagues in Renata Adler who wrote a review of a book by Kael that was seen as a personal attack on Kael who would never respond to Adler.

With the help of cinematographer Vincent C. Ellis in filming the interviews, Garver also showcase her impact on film culture though her influence as eroded in the age of the internet with sensationalized film criticism with some actually acknowledging Kael as an influence. Sound editor Randy Matuszewski does nice work in capturing some of the sound clips from radio interviews that Kael did as well as comments from others on Kael as it adds to some of the historical importance of her work. The film’s music by Rick Baitz does wonderful work with the music as it is largely low-key with its mixture of somber orchestral with bits of upbeat jazz as it adds to the world of Kael and her interaction with New York City.

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a remarkable film from Rob Garver. It is a fascinating and riveting documentary film about one of the most influential figures in film culture as well as someone who wasn’t afraid to be a dissenting voice while championing films that she considers to be important as well as artists that needed a voice. In the end, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a marvelous film from Rob Garver.

© thevoid99 2021