Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Not in the English language...

For someone who thinks she has seen or will soon see nearly every English-speaking movie ever made (I'm aware that this is probably a gross exaggeration), I do enjoy delving into foreign-language films as a leavening.  (There is also the factor that as my hearing worsens with age, I can often follow these films more easily with their subtitles, rather than trying to fathom the mumbly, mumbly vocal skills of some modern actors).  We have recently just ploughed through a collection of five Brigitte Bardot movies which has been gathering dust on the ' DVDs waiting to be viewed' shelf.  Ploughed is the operative verb as these movies made between 1955 and 1969 ranged between the tolerably coy and the extremely yawnful -- "Two Weeks in September" felt more like two months.   Fortunately many of the foreign films we watch are far more rewarding; here are two from the last few days:

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009):  This Argentinian movie was the surprise foreign film winner at last year's Oscars, beating the more highly fancied " The White Ribbon" and "A Prophet".  Having only seen the former of those two at the time, I would have predicted that it was unbeatable; however it is not the first time (nor the last I wager) that my preferences were at odds with the Academy voters'. Having finally caught up with this film I am still not convinced that it is the more deserving of the two, but I can confirm that it is a smart, well-written and well-acted movie for an adult audience -- which in itself is refreshing nowadays.  I am familiar with its lead actor, Ricardo Darin, from a number of recent gems like "Nine Queens" and "Son of the Bride" and know him to be a solid actor.  Here he portrays a retired prosecuting attorney, still haunted by an unresolved case of rape and murder from some twenty years previous.  The movie dips back and forward between the mid 70s and the mid 90s, following the story and its consequences on a number of the players touched by this violent crime.  It mixes a detective film with more than one long-running love story with a not so subtle exposure of the miscarriages of justice blotting Argentina's past.  All in all, this is a movie for grown-ups and in the end a worthy Oscar winner.

Love Exposure (2008): This Japanese movie could never have been nominated for many foreign language awards in the West, although it did well on the Far East festival circuit, largely because of its extreme length and offbeat (to say the least) subject matter.  It is more than a little hard to justify any movie that is nearly four hours long and even more so when it is not a complicated historical saga like "Gone with the Wind" or a martial epic, but which spends its time on the perverse lives of three young misfits.  Yet my attention was held throughout -- although I wisely chose to view it in two dollops to pacify the ants in my pants!!  I have not seen any of the director Shion Sono's earlier films other than the strangely weird "Exte" about killer hair, but I now think that his back catalogue is worth investigating.

How to briefly summarise this odd movie?  Our main hero Yu is the young son of a religious Catholic family; when his mother is dying, she gives him a statue of the Virgin Mary and makes him promise to let her know when he has found his own 'Mary' as an adult.  Devastated by his wife's death, his father trains for the priesthood but moves from being a caring pastor to his flock to an unhinged martinet to his son, forcing him to confess daily to crimes he has not committed.  (It does not help that the priest has become venally involved with a ditzy woman who has come to his service).  In order to please his father with real sins, schoolboy Yu takes up with a group of street hoodlums involved in shoplifting and other petty crimes.  He is introduced to a local mobster whose speciality is up-skirt knicker snaps, which Yu masters through grace, cunning, and his growing martial skills, and he trains his gang in this 'art'.  I never cease to be amazed by new Japanese sexual perversions that I stumble across at the movies; I understand that there is as big a market there for this particular fetish as there is for tying up naked ladies in a series of artistically complicated knots. Despite the plethora of arousing photos that he has delivered, Yu is still a virgin and unable to achieve an erection, since he has not yet met 'his Mary'.  All this changes when he lays eyes on schoolgirl Yoko's undies after her skirt blows up in the wind and the front of his trousers bulges up beyond reasonable belief.  I did say upfront that this movie is a strange one...

However at the time of their meeting (when he is incidentally protecting her from being attacked by a gang of yobbos), he is in drag-- the result of losing a bet with his mates as to which of them has recently captured the best up-skirt shot.  With his long black wig and sexy slouch hat, he introduces himself as Miss Scorpion (a homage to the four vigilante 'Scorpion' flicks from the l970s) and Yoko fancies herself in love with her 'female' saviour.  To make matters worse she has become the would-be ward of the same very promiscuous woman who previously tempted Yu's father and who is now back in his life; Yu and Yoko are expected to live as brother and sister while he is besotted with her and she desires her would-be lesbian lover.  (There is also Yoko's backstory of having severed her own father's member after years of abuse, but I won't go into that now).  Into the tale comes our third main character, an immoral young woman who has been following Yu's photographic activities and who works as a temptress for a cult religion.  She is looking for a nice Catholic family to bring into their fold for propaganda purposes and Yu, Yoko, the priest and his floozy fill the bill nicely.

And so it goes on for the best part of four hours...  You don't quite need the patience of a saint to  sit through these shenanigans (it is hardly Bela Tarr slow deadliness), since the movie manages to be amusing as well as outrageous.  However a good dose of tolerance for the perversities of the world and a somewhat off-kilter sense of humour would serve you well.  And do give yourself your own intermission halfway through!
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