Saturday, April 30, 2011

All About My Mother

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/4/06.

Considered to be Spain's most celebrated director after the late Luis Bunuel, Pedro Almodovar is among one of cinema's most revered and controversial directors. Early films like Matador and La Ley del Deseo (Laws of Desire) reveals Almodovar's love of camp and melodrama. 1988's Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) gained him international attention for its mix of comedy and drama. While subsequent Almodovar films like Kika, Atame!, and Tacones Lejanos weren't up to par despite their campy irreverence, Almodovar was considered a fine director but not one many could take seriously. Then in 1999, the openly-gay director went on a more radical approach by going into a full-on drama about a mother trying to understand her son's death through other people in 1999's Todo Sobre mi Madre (All About My Mother).

Written and directed by Almodovar, Todo Sobre mi Madre is about a mother grieving for the death of her sons as she meets several people who are connected to her late son. Considered to be Almodovar's most mature and complex film at the time, it proved that Almodovar can tackle anything as he goes further into character and issues. Starring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Candela Pena, Antonia San Juan, Eloy Azorin, Toni Canto, Rosa Maria Sarda, and Penelope Cruz. Todo Sobre mi Madre is an entrancing, heartfelt masterpiece from Spain's most prolific and celebrated directors.

While working as a nurse in a hospital in Madrid, Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is searching for donors by day. At night, she's a heartwarming mother to her son Esteban (Eloy Azorin) who is about to turn 17 the next day. On the night before his birthday, the two watched All About Eve starring Bette Davis where Esteban noticed the wrong translation of the title where it was called Eve Unveiled when it's correct Spanish translation is Todo Sobre Eve. Esteban is an aspiring writer who learned that his mother used to act when she was young in theater programs where she met his father whom he's never saw and wants to know about. After trying to get some information about her ex-husband in the hospital, Manuela decides to take her son to see the play A Streetcar Named Desire starring Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes) who plays Blanche. Hoping to have her autograph, Esteban and Manuela wait on a rainy night as they watch Huma and another actress go to a taxi where Esteban runs to the taxi hoping to get an autograph but the taxi leaves as Esteban runs to catch up only to be hit by a car.

Esteban is dead as Manuela is in grief only to be accompanied by a friend as she decides to give Esteban's heart to someone who needs it. Weeks after his death, Manuela decides to go travel to Barcelona to find Esteban's father who is now a drag queen named Lola (Toni Canto). Hoping to find her in the seedy, prostitution world of Barcelona, she finds a transsexual hooker she knows in Agrado whom she knows several ago. After saving Agrado (Antonia San Juan) from an assault, she is brought to her home in hoping to find Lola. Agrado reveals that Lola has made her broke by using the money to go to Argentina. Hoping to get a job, Manuela and Agrado turn to a young, charming nun named Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz) who knows Lola. Rosa hopes to go to El Salvador to help people while she tries to get Manuela a job as a cook for her artist mother (Rosa Maria Sadra) and dementia father (Fernando Fernan Gomez) whom Rosa rarely sees. Manuela learns that a production of Streetcar is in Barcelona as she hopes to meet Huma only to find a haggard-looking Nina (Candela Pena), who plays Stella, walking away.

Huma wants to look for Nina as Manuela helps her where they find the drug-addicted Nina. The meeting with Huma gives Manuela a job as her personal assistant while Manuela learns that Rosa is pregnant with Lola's child. Taking her to the hospital, Rosa is three months pregnant and learns weeks later from a test, she is HIV-positive. Rosa wants to hide her pregnancy and disease from her mother, whom she often has tension with as Manuela lets her move into her apartment. When Nina is ill, Manuela takes over as Manuela makes a confession to Huma who remembers Esteban from that night. Huma makes a visit to Manuela's apartment where Manuela invites Agrado who takes over Manuela's assistance duties. Agrado's winning and charming personality wins Huma over as she watches out over Nina. With Rosa's child ready to come out, Rosa makes peace with her mother as Manuela finally meets Lola who now learns that he had a son. Manuela is forced to make decisions about her own life and who she wants to be in the life of Rosa's son.

Melodrama is often done with a lot of over-the-top theatrics in waves of emotions where sometimes they work and sometimes, they don't. While Almodovar brings a European restraint to that, he channels more towards American cinema. Notably the films of the 1950s like All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire while dedicating the film to Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, French actress Romy Schneider, and his own mother, who died in the fall of 1999. The film is really about a woman in grief over her son's death and how she finds solace in other women she barely knows yet are connected in some ways to her son. It's really a film about motherhood considering that Rosa has tension with her own mother while Cecilia is in mourning while being a mother of sorts to Rosa and Agrado along with Huma who is trying to care of Nina. Almodovar's genius isn't just in his writing that sets up intricate points of the plot and multi-dimensional characters but also his observant yet theatrical approach to directing.

Almodovar as a writer is more concerned at what his characters are feeling and what they're going through rather than put them into some absurd situation. That's where his strength as a director is shown. His presentation is theatrical since he uses locations and settings for the characters to come together and talk to each other. While each character have their own individual moments for the audience to get to know them, it's when they're together that really let the audience be a part of whatever they're talking about. The way Almodovar moves his camera to observe what's going on while using the locations of Madrid and Barcelona to reveal the difference in the cities and culture. Even in the way Almodovar conveys melodrama, he's aware that he knows what the audience will expect yet the way he approaches the ending is something that is more hopeful and realistic that audiences can relate to.

Showcasing the colors of Spain with its vibrant colors is cinematographer Affonso Beato whose color schemes of red and yellow highlight the look of Madrid while showing more vibrant yet intimate settings in the film's interior sequences. Art director Antxon Gomez with set decorator Federico G. Cambero do wonderful work in the look of the stage with a blue background wall along with the Barcelona home of Manuela that is filled with color to complement Beato's camera work. Costume designers Sabine Daigeler and Jose Maria De Cossio also play to the film's vibrant colors by making great clothes in the casual look for Rosa, the red power-suits of Huma, the vibrancy of Agrado, and the casual yet classy wardrobe of Manuela. Longtime editor Jose Salcedo does some wonderful, tight editing to convey the energy of Manuela's journey while giving the long takes a rhythm and style to Almodovar's observant directing. Sound designer Miguel Rejas also does great work to convey the atmosphere of both Madrid and Barcelona to reveal the difference of culture.

Longtime composer Alberto Iglesias brings a wonderfully traditional, acoustic performance to the film with melodic, Spanish guitar music along with elements of orchestral arrangements to play the film's melodrama. Featuring songs from Dino Saluzzi, the soundtrack is rich in playing the emotions and sisterhood of the film.

The film's cast is indeed superb since Almodovar is great when working with ensembles. Smaller performances from Fernando Fernan Gomez as Rosa's father and Carlos Lozano as an actor named Mario who plays the Kowalski character in the Streetcar play are very memorable. Eloy Azorin is excellent as the ambitious yet heartwarming Esteban who brings a lot of talent into writing while being a good son to Manuela as his brief performance is memorable. Toni Canto is also great as Lola who only shows up late in the film in a couple of crucial scenes yet the performance that is filled with grief and regret is done with great compassion as Canto does some amazing work. Rosa Maria Sadra is wonderful as Rosa's strict, arty mother who is often concerned about her daughter's adventurous attitude as Sadra brings realism and compassion to the role. Candela Pena is really good as the haggard, diva-like Nina who prefers her own addiction to the motherly warmth of Huma as Pena brings an energetic performance.

Antonia San Juan is a real delight as the charming Agrado with her musings on her body, homosexuality, and existentialism while bringing a sense of comfort to Huma, Rosa, and Manuela. San Juan brings a lot of humor while having her own moment where her personality is something that the audience an enjoy. Marisa Paredes is great as the working actress Huma whose understanding of grief brings a sense of maternal compassion to the people around her while trying to take care of Nina. Paredes brings the right sense of warmth and wisdom of a working actress playing characters going through the same struggle. Penelope Cruz also brings a lot of warmth and spirit as the naive Rosa who believes that helping people would bring her fulfillment until she learns of her own cruel fate. Cruz brings the joy and optimism of a character whose fate is grim as Cruz warms every scene with a smile, even in some of the film's heartbreaking scenes.

Cecilia Roth gives one of the best performances of the 1990s as the grief-stricken Manuela. A longtime collaborator of Almodovar, Roth brings all of the emotions and sadness of a woman who has lost her son while trying to find her own footing without him. Roth has great chemistry with her fellow co-stars while proving her range as an actress in intimate settings with her co-stars while proving her theatrical range in the scenes when she acts in the theater. It’s a great performance from the multi-talented Roth who won the Best Actress prize at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival as well as several prizes in Europe.

When Todo Sobre mi Madre was released at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, the film proved to be a big hit as Almodovar won the Best Director prize though many thought he would win the Palme D'or but lost to the Dardenne Brothers' film Rosetta. Still, the international success of Almodovar's film brought him a bigger audience, especially in the U.S. where Almodovar won several critics prizes as well as Best Foreign Film prizes in the Golden Globes and the Oscar which he and brother Augustin received. Recently, with the upcoming release of Volver in 2006, Todo Sobre mi Madre was re-released along with seven other Almodovar films in a 2-week retrospective festival called Viva Pedro in the U.S.

While not as funny or extravagant as early Almodovar films, Todo Sobre mi Madre remains one of his best films. Thanks to a great cast led by Cecilia Roth with great support from Antonia San Juan, Marisa Paredes, and Penelope Cruz. This is a film that isn't just a film that women can enjoy but a film that is very accessible to a wide audience once they get pass some of the homosexual and transsexual content. In the end, not only is this film a great tribute to women and actress but also the cinema worldwide as Pedro Almodovar takes a great big step into greatness with the wonderful Todo Sobre mi Madre.

© thevoid99 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Live Flesh

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/28/08.

Following the release of 1995's La Flor de mi Secreto (The Flower of My Secret), Pedro Almodovar was moving away from the extravagant, irreverent, and shock-value films in order to explore mature, dramatic territory. For his next project, Almodovar decided to take his first chance to adapt a novel into a film. The book entitled Live Flesh by acclaimed English novelist Ruth Rendell about a man who is released from prison after ten years for crippling a police officer following an attempted rape. Hoping to start a new life, the man is haunted by his actions as he meets the woman he tried to rape years ago while her husband is the man he crippled. For Almodovar, he takes Rendell's crime novel and adds a personal touch to his own adaptation as it's translated to the film Carne Tremula.

Directed by Pedro Almodovar with an adapted script he co-wrote with Jorge Guerricaechevarria and Ray Loriga. The film takes place in Spain 1970 during the Franco era only to move forward to 1996 in the post-Franco era. Taking Rendell's story and translating it into a dark, character-driven story set in Spain and in Spanish. The film also takes Almodovar to new levels of maturity as he delves into new dramatic territory that would allow him to explore dark themes that he never been to in previous films. Starring Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, Jose Sancho, Angela Molina, and in her first film for Almodovar, Penelope Cruz. Carne Tremula is a brilliant, unique, and spellbinding adaptation from Pedro Almodovar.

It's 1970 as a state of emergency is happening in Spain during the Franco era as a young woman named Isabel (Penelope Cruz) is in labor as her friend Dona Centro de Mesa (Pilar Bardem) is trying to find transportation to take Isabel to the hospital. After getting a bus driver (Alex Angulo) to stop the bus, the driver reluctantly takes Centro and Isabel to the hospital. Instead, Isabel gives birth to a baby boy named Victor as she and Victor were part of a news story as they were given lifetime passes to ride the city bus. Twenty years later, Victor works a pizza boy as he hopes to go out with a woman named Elena (Francesca Neri) whom he met a week earlier at a club. Yet, the heroin-addicted Elena doesn't seem to remember that she has a date and tells Victor that she has other plans.

Meanwhile, two cops are driving around Madrid as a detective named Sancho (Jose Sancho) is drunk and angry about the idea that his wife Clara (Angela Molina) is cheating on him. Yet, his partner David (Javier Bardem) is claiming that Sancho is paranoid. When Victor is riding on the bus and realizes that Elena isn't going anywhere, he gets into her apartment and ask why she won't go out with him tonight. Yet, a gunshot happens but no one is hurt as Sancho and David are called to investigate. When the two cops enter Elena's door, they see that Elena has a cut on her head as Sancho thinks Victor is a criminal. Yet, the by-the-book David tries to maintain control as a struggle between Sancho and Victor over Elena's gun happens leading to David being paralyzed and Victor in jail.

Six years later, Victor is released as he already knew four years prior, David has become a national basketball star in the paraplegic games and is married to Elena, who has cleaned up. Victor attends the gravestone of his mother, who had died two years earlier, as he learns that Elena is in the cemetery for her father's funeral. Victor offers his condolences as he meets with Clara, who has become loopy and often forgetful. Victor befriends Clara, who is trying to separate from Sancho, where she helps become a better lover due to his lack of sexual experience. When David learns that Victor was at Elena's father's funeral, he confronts Victor as he tells her to stay away from Elena. Though Victor doesn't want to do any harm, Victor spies on him as he learns that he volunteered at Elena's children center though Elena is unsure due to their history.

Still, Victor has managed to be good with kids while he continues his affair with Clara as her own relationship with Sancho is rockier than ever despite Sancho's insistence to keep the relationship going. When David decides to have another confrontation with Victor at the center, Victor reveals what happened that night and what he revealed into why David got shot. David is forced to confront some secrets as his own as Elena is disgusted where she meets Victor at the center as he reveals his old feelings of hatred and revenge. Victor's affair with Clara starts to take a crazy turn as she becomes desperate while David becomes paranoid as he turns to Sancho. With Elena forced to confront her own possible feelings for Victor, things begin to collide as all five individuals come into play.

In Almodovar's only film adaptation, so far, the director translates Ruth Rendell's dramatic crime novel into a suspenseful drama that has the makings of a classic suspense film but set it in both 1970 Franco-era Spain and contemporary, modern post-Franco Spain. What the film is about thematically is guilt, a man who feels guilty for paralyzing a good man despite being in love with that man's wife. Another man guilty for his own sins that might've caused him to be paralyzed. A woman guilty for putting a man in jail and another man becoming paralyzed. What Almodovar and his co-screenwriters create is a study of guilt and five people that are involved in the incident.

While Almodovar's approach to the adaptation is definitely unique and takes him to newer, dramatic territory that would follow through the films that he would make after Carne Tremula. Not everything in the adaptation is perfect, which is often expected. Probably because of the character of Clara, who isn't as developed as the four other main characters. Though what she reveals for the film's plot to advance is important, her character is essentially a loopy woman who has an affair with Victor and trying to get out of her relationship with Sancho. The rest of the characters go through their own struggles as they deal with their own guilt and demons as Almodovar carefully explores what the characters are feeling and such.

Almodovar's direction is taken to new heights with interesting compositions and shots of Madrid. Almodovar also creates stylized shots and approach to things such as sex scenes and confrontation to newer yet restrained territory. Though Almodovar admits to not being a technical director, the scenes he stages and creates are filled with traditional drama as the approach is more restrained than his earlier work. There's times that shots are slanted to create a mood while a very hot sex scene is done with slow motion and interesting compositions to show the passion between two characters. The result is that Almodovar is becoming not just a becoming director at this point, he becomes more confident and knows what his audience can expect and unexpect. What Carne Tremula does for him is take the transition he had previously in La Flor de mi Secreto from extravagant films to dramatic territory more smoothly where he would explore universal themes that would give him international prestige.

Cinematographer Affonso Beato does some great work in the colorful palettes he create for some of the film's exterior nighttime settings of Madrid with wonderful use of city lights. With a lot shades and brightness, the film has a very distinct, Spanish look that is magical and beautiful while the interiors also work as Beato's camera work is very superb. Longtime editor Jose Salcedo brings a lot of style to the film's editing as his use of transitions, jump-cuts, and slow-motion cutting. Salcedo's work is just brilliant to create a style that works for the film's suspense and drama.

Art director Antxon Gomez does a great job with the look of contemporary Spain with the drab, ruined look of Victor's home that later becomes a cleaner, livelier place while David and Elena's place is a great, contemporary apartment that includes a mini basketball court that David practices in. Costume designer Jose Maria De Cossio does wonderful work with the clothes whether it's the gym clothes that David and Victor wears to the slender, casual dress that Elena wears or the more exotic clothing that Carla wears. Sound designer Bernardo Menz does great work in the sound to create a mood and sense of tension with the film's violence and sex scenes as well as the great location work for the basketball scenes. Longtime music composer Alberto Iglesias creates an amazing score that is purely orchestral with dramatic arrangements that range from suspenseful to the dramatic. The music of the film also includes songs that play to the film's narrative and the feelings of those characters.

The casting by Katrina Bayonas is great for its assembly of the cast with notable small performances from Alex Angulo as the bus driver in the opening sequence, Mariola Fuentes and Josep Molins as a couple of volunteers from the children's center, and Javier Bardem's real-life mother Pilar as Isabel's midwife. Though Penelope Cruz is only in the film for the first ten minutes, her appearance as Isabel, Victor's mother, is excellent as a woman about to give birth as she hopes for a bright future for her son. Angela Molina is good as Carla, Sancho's loopy, abused, and melodramatic wife who becomes Victor's lover. Though her character is underwritten and lacks character development, Molina is good in what she had to work with. Jose Sancho is excellent as Sancho, a jealous husband who is desperate to be with Carla while also trying to sober up.

Liberto Rabal is excellent as Victor, a young man whose promising life is taken away by a misunderstanding yet his motives are to try and live his life. Yet, when he runs into Elena, he tries to see her despite David's warnings as his intentions are honorable while admitting that he wanted a bit of revenge. Rabal's performance works to convey the sense of youth in the 1990 sequence and then having a more subtle, mature approach to his performance that works for his character development. Italian actress Francesca Neri is great as Elena, a former drug addict who would become a children's center organizer. Neri's performance is great as she start out with poofy, blonde hair in the 1990 sequence to a more straight-laced, brunette-look that is more casual as Neri's performance is great in her development as a woman ravaged with guilt over what happened years ago and what she's feeling now.

Finally, there's Javier Bardem in a great performance as David, a by-the-book cop turned paraplegic basketball superstar. Bardem brings a sense of subtlety to his character as a cop who is more about rules and order yet when Victor re-enters his life after the accident. Bardem brings a lot of great, dramatic tension as man uneasy as he confronts him only to be dealt with the guilt of his role into Victor's jail sentence. It's a great performance from Bardem, who at the time was a rising star in his native Spain. Especially for the fact that throughout the entire film, he is on a wheelchair that shows his commitment to playing great characters. Whether it's a celebrated gay novelist, an aspiring bullfighter, or an eerie hitman in his Oscar-winning performance in 2007's No Country for Old Men by the Coen Brothers. Bardem's performance in Carne Tremula shows his range and versatility that he displays as an actor.

While it's not a masterpiece in comparison to latter-day films that would follow like Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Hable con Ella, and Volver. Carne Tremula is still a brilliant film from Pedro Almodovar and company with great performances from Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, and a small one from Penelope Cruz. Fans of Almodovar definitely consider this film as one of his essential as well as another transitional film that would lead him into great dramatic territory. The film also bears the hallmarks of Almodovar's latter-day work with flourishing colors, restrained yet staged drama, subtle sensuality, and smooth melodrama. In the end, Carne Tremula is superb, suspense-drama from Pedro Almodovar and company.

© thevoid99 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Flower of My Secret

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/24/08.

After his international breakthrough with 1988's Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Pedro Almodovar became the leading Spanish filmmaker of his generation. Then as he entered the 1990s, his follow-up films !Atame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), Tacones Lejanos (High Heels), and Kika that all starred Victoria Abril received mixed reviews with critics complaining for its sense of extravagance and sensationalism. Yet, the films Almodovar made in the early 90s along with some of his early work in the 80s were what audiences thought they expected from Almodovar. Yet, the openly-gay Spanish auteur felt it was time to move forward as he made a film that was considered semi-biographical about his struggles as an artist for 1995's La Flor de mi Secreto (The Flowers of My Secret).

Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, La Flor de mi Secreto tells the story of a very successful romance novelist who reaches a crossroads in both her professional and personal life. Unhappy in her marriage to a military officer and compromised by publishers who wants her to write more sentimental-driven, happy-ending romances. The writer starts to take on darker themes through her writing as she also begins to question her life choices. A far more personal film than Almodovar's previous affairs, the film would mark a transition for the director that would lead to some of more recent, latter day dramas that would give him international prestige. Starring Almodovar regulars Marisa Paredes, Rossy de Palma, and Chus Lampreave along with Juan Echanove and Joaquin Cortes. La Flor de mi Secreto is an engrossing yet studious film from Pedro Almodovar.

For 20 years, the novels of Amanda Gris have been very popular as they're known for their sentimental, happy endings, and idealization of romance. Yet, the identity of Amanda Gris has been unknown except to publishers and a few people as the true identity of the famed novelist is Leo Macias (Marisa Paredes). Macias' life however, is reflecting nothing like her novels or her love life. Instead, she’s alone as her husband Paco (Imanol Arias) is currently working for NATO on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. Macias' writing has become darker to reflect her mood as she is also tiring of writing the novels of Amanda Gris. Turning to her best friend Betty (Carmen Elias), Betty suggests to write for a newspaper under the supervision of a colleague named Angel (Juan Echanove).

Angel is a self-professed fan of Amanda Gris as Leo shows him a work-in-progress novel as she is hired. Only surrounded by her maid Blanca (Manuela Vargas), Leo's life is also troubled by a bickering relationship between her sister Rosa (Rossy de Palma) and mother (Chus Lampreave) as the mother wants to return to the village of La Mancha. Things get worse when Leo meets with her publishers Tomas (Juan Jose Otegui) and Alicia (Gloria Munoz) who remind Leo of her contract to continue to write "pink" novels in the style of Amanda Gris as they rejected the draft of her dark story. Despite her loneliness and feeling compromised in her work, she finds satisfaction in taking another pseudonym in working for Angel's paper about her own criticisms of Amanda Gris with Angel, under a pseudonym revealing why he loves Gris.

Then one day as she visits Betty, she gets a call from Paco who is set to return only for 24 hours. Leo is very excited as Blanca's son Antonio (Joaquin Cortes) visits wanting to talk to his mother about a project that he’s trying to produce. Blanca and Antonio leave as Leo waits for Paco to arrive. Paco does but with news that leaves Leo in a huge, melodramatic state. Distraught, she receives a message from her mother who has decided to leave Madrid for good after another fight with Rosa. Leo has hit rock bottom where during a protest, she runs into Angel as she reveals her secret. Tired, Angel accompanies Leo and her mother to La Mancha as Leo needs a break. With Angel deciding to help out, Leo comes to term with her professional life and her failing marriage while trying to figure out how her dark story is now becoming a film.

The film in many ways, in comparison to what Almodovar was doing prior to this film, is a transitional film not just figuratively but also literally. It's a film about a novelist tired of writing "pink" novels to try and write stories that are extremely different to reflect her own life that's practically in trouble. Around the same time, her husband, who had been a muse of sorts, refuses to be with her as their marriage falls apart as Leo is feeling like she isn't just losing her husband but her muse. In response, she writes a dark story whose plot is similar to another story that Almodovar would eventually tell in his 2006 film Volver. Almodovar also uses literary references where during the scene between Leo and Paco breaking up, he uses a storyline that is similar yet a homage to Dorothy Parker's The Lovely Leave.

The script that Almodovar creates begins with a meeting between a mother (Kiti Manver) and two doctors (Jordi Molla & Nancho Novo) that at first seems like part of the movie when really, it's a video watched on a seminar performed by three actors. Yet, its melodramatic tone would set the stage for Leo's own melodramatic downward spiral as she copes with betrayal, loss, and feeling trapped in her own success. The film is largely semi-biographical in some ways because Almodovar is making a film that's really about himself in transition. Here is a director who has been known for creating colorful, high-octane melodrama, grand humor, and moments of decadence. Yet, at the stage when he made this film, he feels tired of making these kinds of films.

Almodovar's direction is still colorful yet becomes more intimate and stagy. At the same time, he's challenging his audience. Almodovar definitely takes more risk in his direction in not just the technical work but also allow himself to open up more. While the melodrama might be overbearing for some, Almodovar is telling the audience to be patient as they watch the drama unfold. Particularly little scenes that involves Antonio's visits with his mother, the dialogue with references to classic Hollywood films, and Leo's relationship with her family and friend Betty. Though the audience probably have an idea of what's coming, Almodovar is smart enough to know they know will happen yet how he stages it through his script and momentum-building direction. Though the film isn't perfect, what Almodovar achieves through the film is a director taking the right step into mature territory that would follow through in the next series of films to come.

Cinematographer Affonso Beato creates some wonderful, color scenes for some of the film's interior settings while exterior shots of daytime and nighttime Madrid are excellent with great compositions created by Almodovar's direction. Beato's work is truly exquisite in capturing a vibrancy as well as a mood for some of the film's nighttime interior scenes to reflect the state of mind of Leo. Almodovar's longtime editor Jose Salcedo does excellent work in the use of transitions and fade-outs to convey the sense of emotion and drama that unfolds. Art directors Wolfgang Burmann and Miguel Lopez Pelegrin do great work in the look of the apartments from Leo and Betty's posh apartment looks to the more comfort, old-world look that Leo's mother lives in her Madrid apartment and the village home that she lives in.

Costume designers Max Mara, Hugo Mezcua, and Ermeneglido Zegna create some excellent work in the look of the clothes that often acts as film references or to convey a sense of emotion of where the characters are. The sound work of Bernardo Menz with recordist Antonio Illan is excellent for its location settings and the sound of flamenco steps for one of the film's theatrical moments. The music of Alberto Iglesias, another Almodovar collaborator, is great for its mix of symphonic melodrama as well as traditional, flamenco-style music for a subplot that involves Antonio's desire to create a play with his mother.

The cast is definitely superb with notable small performances from Kiti Manver, Jordi Molla, and Nancho Novo as actors in a video seminar, Gloria Munoz and Juan Jose Otegui as Leo's publishers, and Imanol Arias as Paco, Leo's estranged husband who feels trapped in his marriage as he could no longer stand to be with her. Manuela Vargas is great as Blanca, Leo's longtime yet loyal maid who is trying to deal with her son Antonio while unsure if she wants to do theater again. Joaquin Cortes is excellent as Antonio, Blanca's son who wonders why his mother is loyal to Leo as he does things that he's not proud of in order to fund his project yet a meeting he would have with Leo prove that he's a complex individual.

Almodovar regular Chus Lampreave is great as Leo's mother who is dealing with her increasing blindness as well as her cantankerous daughter Rosa whom she calls "crabface". Rossy de Palma, another Almodovar regular, is also great as Rosa, Leo's tired, insulting sister who is dealing with her mother while trying not to accept money from Leo as she some scene-stealing moments. Carmen Elias is excellent as Leo's best friend Betty who tries to help her deal with her marital issues while trying to deal with her own professional problems as she plays both psychiatrist and friend. Juan Echanove is brilliant as the charming, lively Angel, a man who doesn't have great physical features but his love for Amanda Gris' writing and classic Hollywood films manages to win over Leo. Echanove's performance is definitely a standout as he provides both a comedic charm and dramatic sensitivity as his scenes with Paredes are fun to watch.

Marisa Paredes, a frequent collaborator of Almodovar, is amazing in her role as Leo. In today's more youth-oriented world of Hollywood, there's not many roles for actresses over 40 which is why Pedro Almodovar is here in the world of cinema. For Paredes, she takes on a lead role where she gets the chance to carry a film as she brings a lot of drama, experience, and struggle to a character who is dealing with a failing marriage and ambitions that don't live up to its promises. Though her character is melodramatic and Paredes can do that, her performance keeps it from being overbearing despite the film's tone as she creates a sympathetic character who is trying to figure out the next phase in her life. It's a brilliant performance from the veteran Spanish actress.

When it was released in 1995, the film received mixed reviews from critics. Yet, many were aware that the film was Almodovar in transition. Particularly in his approach into creating character-driven drama that would later follow two years later with Carne Tremula (Live Flesh). An adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel that showed Almodovar delving into broader, darker material that finally culminated with 1999's Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) that would give him huge international acclaim. Since the release of La Flor de mi Secreto, the film has been considered by Almodovar fans as one of his finest.

Though not a perfect film nor as good as some of his recent, latter-day masterpieces like Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Hable con Ella, and Volver, La Flor de mi Secreto is still an excellent film by Pedro Almodovar. Thanks to the brilliant performance of Marisa Paredes and a great supporting that includes Almodovar regulars Rossy de Palma and Chus Lampreave along with Juan Echanove. It's a film that is full of life and melodrama while showing the struggles of what a writer goes through when being compromised. While its considered as one of Almodovar's finest films, it's a film that has to be seen after his latter-day masterpieces to understand how he got into the dramatic territory that's been giving him international acclaim. In the end, La Flor de mi Secreto is an excellent, engrossing drama from Pedro Almodovar.

© thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Originally Written & Posted at on 6/14/07 w/ Additional Edits.

After 1988's international breakthrough for Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar has finally achieved the international attention he had sought for. After the film's success, Almodovar moved forward where he fell-out with longtime collaborator and actress Carmen Maura and worked with another up-and-coming young actress in Victoria Abril. Their first collaboration was 1990's highly controversial !Atame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) that also starred Antonio Banderas in his last collaboration with the director for more than 20 years. The film received mixed reviews as his 1991 follow-up Tacones Lejanos (High Heels) with Abril that showed Almodovar experimenting with genres. In 1993, Almodovar teamed Abril again for their third and final collaboration with a media satire entitled Kika.

Written and directed by Almodovar, Kika tells the story of a makeup artist whose misadventures are followed by a TV news reporter for sensationalism. One of those misadventures involves the young woman's relationship with an expatriated American writer and his step-son as controversy arises. A critique over media sensationalism and such, Almodovar reveals his unique brand of humor and satire. Also starring Peter Coyote, Alex Casanovas, Rossy de Palma, Almodovar's mother Francisca Caballero, and Veronica Forque as the title character. Kika is a funny, whimsical comedy from Pedro Almodovar.

Ramon (Alex Casanovas) is a lingerie photographer who is moody at times, while would have near-fatal heart attacks in moments of shock. Upon returning home, Ramon has learned his mother (Charo Lopez) has killed herself with his American stepfather Nicholas (Peter Coyote) wounded by a gunshot in his arm. A year later, despondent over his mother's death, Ramon dies as Nicholas calls an aloof, naive make-up artist named Kika to help with the makeup on Ramon. All of a sudden, Ramon is woken up as he falls for Kika. Two years later, Ramon and Kika are officially a couple as Ramon hopes to sell his late mother's home with the help of Nicholas who had just arrived from a trip. Living with Kika's maid Juana (Rossy de Palma), Nicholas lived upstairs in the apartment building that the two live while Ramon moves downstairs with Kika.

Ramon's former psychiatrist Andrea (Victoria Abril) is now a TV host for a sensational show on violence and other acts while she wears extravagant clothing by Jean-Paul Gaultier. One of the reports involved a porno star named Paul Bazzo (Santiago Lajusticia), who is mentally ill and has just escaped from jail. Learning that Ramon is learning is selling his mother's home, Andrea talks to Nicholas about renting it for her show as Ramon learns of Andrea's appearance and is upset about it. Andrea sets Nicholas up on a date with a Mexican woman (Bibi Andersen) while he's having a secret affair with Kika and her friend Amparo (Anabel Alonso). Though Kika loves Ramon, she is struggling with the failing affair with Nicholas. Even as suspicion arises over the death of his wife and such. Nicholas' blind date hasn't gone well as Andrea wonders what happened.

Juana, who watches Andreas' show, receives an unlikely visit from Paul Bazzo who is hoping to steal things from Kika's home. After tying up Juana and knocking her unconscious, he finds Kika asleep. Suddenly, a rape ensues as it's caught by a voyeur who calls a couple of clumsy policemen. The policemen don't really help things out as they try to pull Paul away from Kika. Arriving onto the scene wearing her camera-costume is Andrea as all hell breaks loose. Andrea wants to do an interview with Kika over what happened as she is publicly humiliated. Even when Andrea shows footage of the rape from the anonymous voyeur. Ramon learned what happened as more revelations over the incident happened. Angry over Ramon's lack of usefulness and Nicholas' philandering, Kika and Juana leave the apartment.

Andrea meanwhile, wants to contact Nicholas as she learns something about him with footage uncovered from his date with the Mexican woman. Truths come out in which, Kika finds herself in the middle of mystery gone horribly wrong.

Given the idea of media sensationalism in the early 90s, Almodovar definitely revealed a lot of the exploitive nature of sensationalism from the hand-held cameras that show incidents and such in order to gain ratings. Yet, that's not what the film is about. What Almodovar is saying is that the film is about a woman who finds herself in the middle of sensational world of media whether it's TV in the form of Andrea or literature in the form of Nicholas. There's these two people in Andrea and Nicholas who are willing to do anything to create some attention whether to gain ratings or sell books, respectively. There's definitely a cynicism and anger Almodovar has towards these types of media while the person who is always the victim is the one who is used for any type of creativity.

While Almodovar's script and direction is filled with a lot of humor and whimsical scenes, even the rape scene is done with a lot of humor. Yet, shock is what Almodovar goes for. What doesn't work is that the script does feel uneven in its bending of genres whether it's comedy, drama, or mystery. The film, towards the end, even goes to the point where it acts like a crime film. The script plus, Almodovar's direction kind of fails in what type of film it wants to be. Still, it's humor and shock does make it the type of film that is expected from Almodovar.

Cinematographer Alfredo Mayo creates some wonderfully, colorful images in the film. Especially on the location of Madrid and parts of Spain while the video-camera work is pretty grainy to emphasis the look of sensationalism. Set decorators Alain Bainee and Javier Fernandez create wonderful look to the film's colorful sets like the apartment of Ramon and some of the night sets of Madrid. Costume designer Jose Maria De Cossio creates some wonderful, elaborate costumes for some of the film's cast that includes some additional work from the late Gianni Versace. One of the greatest highlights of the costumes are the clothes Jean-Paul Gaultier made for Victoria Abril that are extravagant and over-the-top. Longtime editor Jose Salcedo does some fine editing although it falters at first in the film's first act due to pacing issues.

Sound editor Jean-Paul Miguel does great work on the film's sound to create the suspense and such. The film's soundtrack features a wide mix of pop music and a lot of score music from Bernard Herrmann to create the suspense of mystery along with its dashes of humor. Along with a cut by Kurt Weill, the film's soundtrack is memorable for its whimsical tone.

The cast features some memorable small performances from Bibi Andersen, Charo Lopez, Anabel Alonso, and Pedro Almodovar's mother Francisca Caballero as a TV host whose failed eyesight causes problems during an interview with Nicholas. Jesus Bonilla and Karra Elejade are good as the clumsy, lazy policeman who find themselves a bit overwhelmed during an act of crime. Santiago Lajusticia is excellent as the mentally-ill, porno star Paul Bazzo who hides a secret while committing an act of rape due to his time in jail. Rossy de Palma is good as Kika's loyal maid Juana who hides her own secrets and reasons into why she's a lesbian. Alex Casanovas is wonderful as the melancholic Ramon, who still mourns the death of his mother, while having a strange thing for photographing himself and Kika having sex. It's a fine performance from the young actor.

American actor Peter Coyote is good in his role as Nicholas though his voice is largely dubbed by another Spanish actor. Coyote definitely brings a complex, shady performance as a writer who finds himself short on money and having to do TV writing work for Andrea. It's a fine yet flawed performance from the actor. Victoria Abril gives a hilarious performance as Andrea Scarface, a TV reporter who is willing to go into any lengths to get her story. Even if she has to wear a robotic-like equipment with lights for a bra and a camera on her head. It's a hilarious performance from the Spanish superstar. Veronica Forque is pretty funny as the naive, aloof titular character of Kika. Forque's performance is winning with a charming, kooky personality that is a joy to watch though she is dumb. Yet, Forque makes the audience care for her in the struggles she goes through.

While it's nowhere near the brilliance of earlier films like Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios or recent classics like Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Hable con Ella, and 2006's Volver. Kika is still an entertaining and fun film from Pedro Almodovar. Despite a wonderful cast, colorful images and sets, flashy costumes, and a great soundtrack. It's a film that represents Almodovar in style over substance. Fans of the director will might consider this as minor work though it does have it's moment. The film is still Almodovar in his extravagance. In the end, Kika despite its flaws is a joy to watch.

© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

thevoid99's Cinematic A-Z

Something that’s been going on around the blogosphere and I’d figure, why not. Here’s my A-Z Cinematic Alphabet. Enjoy.

#-24 Hour Party People



C-Chungking Express

D-Days of Heaven



G-Ghost World

H-Hellboy II: The Golden Army



K-Kill Bill

L-Lost in Translation


N-The New World

O-Once Upon a Time in the West


Q-The Queen



T-Toy Story


V-The Virgin Suicides


X-X2: X-Men United

Y-Y Tu Mama Tambien


© thevoid99 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 5/19/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Michael Haneke is one of the most controversial yet provocative directors from Europe. The Austrian filmmaker often touches on subjects ranging from death, the fallacy of humanity, and often in a bleak tone. After debuting with 1989's Der Siebente Kontinent, Haneke would create films including 1997's Funny Games (that was recently remade shot-by-shot for a 2007 version by Haneke himself), 2001's La Pianiste, and 2002's Le Temps du Loup that often shown harrowing outlooks on violence, sexuality, and anarchy. In 2005, Haneke returned with a film where he experimented with high-definition video cameras while exploring the fragility of humanity in the film entitled Cache` (Hidden).

Written and directed by Michael Haneke, Cache` is the story of a TV host, his book publisher wife, and son who learn they're being videotaped as their lives are changed. An exploration into voyeurism and secrecy, the film studies the world of a family who seems close and happy only to be undone by the secrets that surround them as their being filmed by outsiders. Starring Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Lester Makedonsky, and Nathalie Richard. Cache` is a haunting, provocative masterpiece by Michael Haneke and company.

TV host Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) and his book publisher wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) live a nice, quiet life in Paris with their 12-year old son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). Then one day, Georges and Anne learn that they're being watched as they receive numerous videotapes of them being filmed in front of their house. At first, everything seems harmless until drawings featuring a face with blood dripping from its mouth. The tapes and drawings begin to appear more in Georges' office and at a dinner party with friends as Anne considers calling the police. With the tapes emerging more and more. Georges begins to have disturbing flashbacks of a young Algerian boy named Majid (Malik Nait Djoudi). Georges decides to visit his mother (Anne Giradot) as they talk about what's going on with him as they lead into a conversation about Majid, whom he had forgotten about after all these years.

Upon his return, another tape has arrived where it revealed a road and then a door. Georges suddenly becomes convinced that the person sending the tape is Majid (Maurice Benichou) but doesn't tell Anne who wants to know. Georges' lack of openness causes a rift as Georges decides to go to the apartment door he sees and learns it's Majid. Majid denies everything about what Georges is saying about videotapes as Georges is unsure whether to believe him or not. A tape of their conversation is shown where she talks to her friend Pierre (Daniel Duval) about what's happening. Then one day, Pierrot doesn’t return home from school as Anne and Georges become worried as he reports to the police where Majid and his son (Walid Afkir) had been arrested.

When Pierrot returns home revealing he spent the night at a friend's house, the close relationship between mother and son is becoming fractured. When Majid and his son are freed, Majid calls George for a meeting that becomes troubling. In its aftermath, Georges reveals to Anne what had happened many years ago as he later has a confrontation with Majid's son as he tries to figure out what has been going on.

The film is essentially about voyeurism. Take an image and you'll see something for what it is. Yet, when you look much closer, there are things that you never see. Michael Haneke is an auteur who is willing to challenge any audience into what they see. The film's first shot is instilled in everyone's mind as people just see the image of a house with the opening credits being typed in. Plus, it makes the audience aware that they're behind the camera watching all of this. With the exception of a close-up shot of the Laurents walking out in the front, that first image is still there and then suddenly, the audience is aware that they're watching a video tape.

The film's voyeuristic tone with a script that moves very deep into dark secrets doesn't stop, even after the film ends. While Haneke's script is more about characters and the sins that delve into their situations. It's Haneke's eerie direction that is mesmerizing where he keeps the audience guessing whether they're seeing a flashback or a videotape. Haneke allows the audience to bring a perspective and interpretation of what they're seeing. Yet, it doesn't stop, even in the film's last scene where it brings an openness to the ending. Credit is given to Haneke for creating a film that eerie and engrossing where it's all about an image or a scene as he reveals a close-knit family being fractured by the secrets and lies that surround them.

While the film's pacing might feel a bit slow for some, the fact that Haneke's direction really sucks the audience into believing in what they see. It should be also noted that the film has no music score. That's because it adds a level of suspense to the film as if it's being played in real life as the audience are sucked in into this world. It also reveals into why Haneke is one of cinema's finest auteurs. That's because Haneke is willing to confront the audience with the darkest truths while leaving things open right to the end.

Cinematographer Christian Berger brings a soothing yet intimate quality to the film's camera work where everything feels a bit claustrophobic from the first to last shot. With exteriors shot wonderfully, it's the interior scenes at the home of the Laurents that are really intriguing with very little light that conveys the film's eerie tone. The editing by Michael Hudecek and Nadine Muse is truly superb in how it maintains its eerie, elliptical pacing while acting like a video tape that shows true power to the skill of editing. Hudecek and Muse's editing is really powerful in playing to the film's suspense while knowing when not to cut or to keep the film moving without resorting to fast-cut techniques.

Production designers Emmanuel de Chauvigny and Christoph Kanter do a wonderful job in showing the contrasting world of the bourgeoisie world that the Laurents live in to the home that Majid lives in providing some tension into the film's characters. The costume design by Lisy Christl is excellent in creating that same tension in the contrast of class and culture as it emphasizes the idea of those characters. Sound editor Jean-Pierre Laforce and mixer Jean-Paul Mugel help create a unique sound that plays up to that difference of the Laurents world and the Algerian Majid as well as their own surroundings in Paris.

The casting of Kris Portier de Bellair is amazing for its choice in casting with young actors Malik Nait Djoudi as the young Majid and Hugo Flamigni as the young Georges. Other small roles including Nathalie Richard as Anne's friend Mathilde, Daniel Duval as Pierre, Bernard le Coq as Georges’ boss, and Dioucounda Korna as a cyclist Georges confronts.

Walid Afkir is good as Majid's son who confronts Georges after an arrest trying to claim he didn't do anything as he plays mind games with Georges. Lester Makedonsky is also good as Pierrot, the Laurents' son who is dealing with growing up while becoming convinced his mother is having an affair fueling his growing angst. Anne Giradot, who also starred in Haneke's La Pianiste, is excellent as Georges' mother who talks about Majid and how she cared for the boy that leads to one of the film's key plot-points.

Maurice Benichou is powerful in his role as Majid, a weary man who is caught by surprise in the appearance of Georges as he denies the idea of him taping. Whether he did it or not, the fact that is that here's a man, nearly destroyed by a lie being forced to be confronted by someone in his past. Benichou's understated performance is truly powerful in playing someone who might or might not be the villain. Juliette Binoche is great in her role as Anne Laurent, a woman whose own family life is falling apart as her husband is not being open and her son becoming more evasive as she tries to deal with everything that's happening to her. Binoche's subtle yet touching performance is amazing to watch as a woman being caught in a horrible web of lies as she is just trying to deal with everything thrown at her.

Daniel Auteuil is brilliant in his role as Georges Laurent, a man who seems to have everything only to be haunted by a video and the man who might be filming them. Auteuil's subtle yet haunting performance shows a man who is trying to hold himself together yet his body language will reveal something else. Auteuil's performance is very mesmerizing as he tries to figure out what's going on only to reveal that he might be at fault while denying his actions at the same time. It's that complexity in his performance that makes his character sympathetic but also a bit evil at the same time because of his actions.

The film premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival where it was the frontrunner for the Palme d'Or. Yet at the ceremony, it lost the Dardenne Brothers' L'Enfant while Michael Haneke did win the Best Director prize. When it was released in the U.S. in late 2005 and early 2006 for a shot at an Oscar nomination, it didn't receive a nomination though did get a lot of critical attention as well as being seen by art house audiences. While several critics did praise the film, others hated it for its lack of resolution.

Cache` is a harrowing, provocative, and eerie film from Michael Haneke that includes brilliant performances from Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. Fans of Haneke will no doubt consider this film one of his best while those new to the director after discovering his recent shot-by-shot remake of Funny Games should check out this film. While it's the kind of film mainstream audiences might not enjoy for its lack of resolution and action, those who like suspense films and art-house/foreign films will no doubt consider this a true masterpiece. In the end, Cache` is a powerful and engrossing film from Michael Haneke.

Michael Haneke Films: (The Seventh Continent) - (Benny's Video) - (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) - Funny Games (1997) - Code Unknown - The Piano Teacher - (Time of the Wolf) - Funny Games (2007 film) - The White Ribbon - Amour - Happy End

© thevoid99 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Piano Teacher

Originally Written and Posted at on 8/6/04 w/ Additional Edits.

One of France’s most gifted and premier actresses, Isabelle Huppert is an actress whose versatility and fearlessness has won her awards and acclaim from peers worldwide. Since her breakthrough in the 1977 film La Dentelliere (The Lacemaker) where a year later, she won her first Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Violette Noziere, Huppert has been an actress that has played many type of film roles with great directors that included Jean-Luc Godard and notably, Claude Charbol whose been her frequent collaborator. Despite being a known figure in Europe and the world, Huppert struggled with gaining fame in the U.S. where she appeared in the notorious 1980 film Heaven’s Gate. Though she would do two more American films including Hal Hartley’s Amateur in 1994, Huppert remained in France. In 2001, Huppert would prove herself once again in playing a troubled piano teacher in Michael Haneke’s La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher).

Directed by Michael Haneke that he wrote based on the novel by Elfriede Jelinek, La Pianiste is a harrowing, intense sexual drama about a gifted piano teacher in Vienna, whose combative relationship with her mother takes a toll on her as she lashes out on her students. Then a young, brash student comes to her who is intrigued by her cold demeanor only to learn about her broken view on love. Playing the title role of Erika Kohut is Huppert in a role that isn’t just demanding but also an eerie, frustrating view on character study. Also starring Benoit Magimel and Annie Girardot, La Pianiste is an ominous, scary film of sadomasochism and dominance through the mind of a woman on the verge of collapse.

For the 40-something Erika Kohut, her devotion to teach students in a Vienna music conservatory about the joy of music has been a frustrating one. Her devotion to the likes of Franz Schubert and the way she plays his music shows her brilliance, even when she wants her students to feel the coldness and pain of what he’s playing, even the same way towards Beethoven. In the daytime, she works to guide her students into playing right but as a harsh taskmaster who uses words in a restrained way to torture them, notably her most demanding student Anna Schober (Anna Sigalevitch). Whenever she comes home, Erika is forced to endure the criticism and cruelty of her mother (Annie Girardot). Especially one night when Erika returns three hours late where the two fight and Erika is forced to tears after her mother tells her about the hole in her head. At night, Erika is forced to sleep in the same bed with her mother who often asks about her day.

Then one night during a dinner party, Erika meets a young engineering student named Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel) who plays Schubert for her. Erika is somewhat intrigued though she’s put off by Walter’s cocky attitude. Then during a class with Anna, Walter comes who wants to join her class. Erika isn’t keen on it since she doesn’t want to be upstaged or seduced by Walter while she’s tending more time to her other students. One day after criticizing another who she saw earlier at a magazine store when he was looking at porno, she becomes more and more sinister towards Anna whose mother (Susanne Lothar) is frustrated at her lack of confidence. Then when Walter does an audition for the music conservatory, he impresses most of the teachers but to Erika’s reluctance, she officially puts him in her class.

Then one night, Erika decides to go to a porno shop where she watches a film and goes through odd moments and then on another night at a drive-in, she watches a couple having sex where her repressed sexual feelings come to place. Unfortunately, her mother doesn’t enjoy the fact that Erika comes home late where one night, she tells Erika that her father, who has been in an asylum for most of her life, has died leaving her more and more desperate. Then one day during a rehearsal with Anna and a baritone singer (Thomas Weinhappel) for an upcoming recital, she finds Anna in a nervous state and her criticism isn’t even helping. Coming to Anna’s aid was Walter that leaves Erika furious where she responds to her cruelness and later, locks herself in a bathroom where Walter finds her and begins to kiss her. She is put off only then to have her sexual feelings to come out more when she asks that he expose himself.

Eventually, the two would have a strange, sadomasochistic relationship where the role of submissive and masochist becomes confusing with Walter’s cocky charm and Erika’s cold, disciplined tone. Then one night when Walter follows her home, he wants to talk to her but Erika isn’t sure, especially in front of her mother where the two would lock themselves in Erika’s room. Erika demands for Walter to read her letter and as he read it, he is repulsed by what she wants from him in their relationship. Erika then becomes more and more desperate as she tries to engage him sexually only to feel sick and the mind games she plays on him finally takes his toll where he would engage her to his own sick ways. The result would force Erika to see the damage she has suffered from herself and from her own mother along with an exploration of her own madness.

The film’s restrained, melancholic tone led by Michael Haneke’s mesmerizing direction gives the film a dramatic tone where the intensity and climax of the film is only used from an emotional standpoint and not in the way it would be approached in American films. The film’s European sense shows how stilted the film’s tone is where there’s no real sense of action, only words. This approach would create a slow pace for the film but its deliberate to examine Erika's behavior. In its screenplay, Haneke really examines the mind of a broken woman who is likely to fall apart as we see her really searching for the one thing she really needed. The film is a very intense drama but without any kind of over-the-top theatrics or any heightened emotions.

Complementing Haneke’s stilted; ominous direction is cinematographer Christian Berger whose evocative look of Vienna in its day, exterior scenes are captured beautifully while in night scenes, interior and exterior, there’s a darkness to it. With Christian Kanter’s wonderful production design detailing a wonderful look to the apartments of Vienna and the conservatory, the film has a wonderful look. Another wonderful element of the film is the music with most of the compositions comes from Franz Schubert with all the piano performances coming from its actors as the music plays to give the idea of what Erika Kohut is thinking. It’s one of the best pieces of music used.

While the film has a nice, small supporting cast with wonderful performances from Udo Samel as Dr. Blonskji, who annoys Erika’s mother with his collection of instruments while Anna Sigalevitch and Susanne Lothar are brilliant in their small roles. Annie Girardot gives a chilling performance as Erika’s mother with her mean, domineering tone as she abuses her daughter mentally and emotionally. Girardot also does well in being a manipulative woman who is trying to make her daughter break down, notably in that first scene, as she wants her to be better than everyone. Benoit Magimel brings an amazing performance as the brash, charming Walter with his vibrant energy that would later develop into something much darker. Magimel, who would win the Best Actor prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for his performance, brings a complex role of a man who gets into more than he’s bargained for as he tries to see into his own dark side through this broken woman who he felt manipulated by.

The film’s most intriguing performance goes to Isabelle Huppert who brings out her best performance to date. With a restrained, cold presentation, Huppert brings a complex performance as a woman who is mean by day but at night, she is desperate. In her scenes with Girardot, we see Huppert trying to stand up to herself only to be defeated mentally by her mother and being controlled in every way. With Magimel, we see Huppert trying to explore herself sexually while acting in some ways like a child. In that role, Erika Kohut is a woman barely growing out of her childhood who is only damaged more where in the film’s ending, we’re left wondering what just happened and where will she go. Particularly in her sexual exploration where she doesn’t seem to fit in, including to onlookers at the porno shop scene and her behavior towards Walter and mother on a sexual matter is very strange yet there’s sadness to it.

In the 2002 DVD release, Huppert gives an interview where she explains Erika’s behavior and the film itself where she sees that Erika is a woman who just wants to be loved, pure and simple. From watching it, we can see what she wants but then, there comes that sadomasochistic side of her that is impossible for her to love her. Huppert brings in a performance that is powerful and at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, she would win her second Best Actress prize along with several awards internationally.

La Pianiste is a wonderful yet daring film from Michael Haneke with a tour-de-force performance from Isabelle Huppert. While it’s not exactly an S&M film, especially in comparison to the more playful 2002 film Secretary, it’s a film that really looks at sadomasochism in a very dark way. La Pianiste isn’t a film for everyone, especially those unfamiliar with the way Europeans approach drama since the film’s pacing will annoy some along with its questionable ending. Still, it’s a wonderfully harrowing film that relies on character study and emotionally intense melancholia. In the end, La Pianiste succeeds through Haneke’s subtle direction and Huppert’s engaging performance.

Michael Haneke Films:  (The Seventh Continent) - (Benny's Video) - (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) - Funny Games (1997) - Code Unknown - (Time of the Wolf) - Cache` - Funny Games (2007 film) - The White Ribbon - Amour - Happy End

© thevoid99 2011