Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #48


End Of The Week Shorts #48

Today's shorts: The Skin I Live In (2011), The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (1976), Ramayana: The Legend Of Prince Rama (1992), The Space Between Us (2015), A Special Day (1977), Mongol: The Rise Of Genghis Khan (2007), La Haine (1995)

Pretty incredible. Questionable, but pretty incredible. 
With The Skin I Live In Almodóvar explores male reactions to the loss of women that are important to them (a wife, daughter, mother, friend). With a tangle of Oedipal complexes that get so convoluted that they turn homosexual, this is a film about the fragility of men without women, but simultaneously, the corruption of the masculine due to the degradation and manipulation of the feminine. The ultimate question this asks its male characters pertains to an identity of their own that is not entirely embedded in other women, an identity that will free both themselves and the women they are bound to. 
Whilst I think there is a lot to be said about this absurd allegory, Almodóvar alleviates blame from his male/female character, letting us forget too easily his evils. Lacking the coherence of a Greek tragedy, the ending of The Skin I Live In is then a very weak one.

You're at the bottom of the pile. A social reject and a spectacle all at once. You want pride? You want dignity? You want comfort? Why? What do you think you're going to do with it? 
In a way that only Cassavetes can manage, this is simultaneously confusing and anxiety-inducing, and to a degree that is nearly unbearable. Feelings to cherish. With all drama on the constant brink of chaos, it's hard to know whether to cringe, scream or walk away. Sat before the screen staring, not really knowing how to react, so many embarrassing memories (too specific, mundane and embarrassing to detail) were drawn up from within me. These mapped onto the existentialist world of gangsters created by Cassavetes, and such speaks to the incredibly personal nature of the narrative. Like a mirror made of liquid, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is an embodiment of subjectivity that you fear you'll trip into and drown in as your reflection stares back at you.

Ramayana is pretty awesome. However, I wish I saw this when I was a kid - as this is certainly a film for younger audiences. 
Seeing at this for the first time now, I can more than appreciate the effort put into bringing the ancient epic to the screen. Equally so, I can see just how clunky this is. Very much so a standard Japanese anime fusing with Sanskrit mythology, Ramayana feels very familiar and out of place as a feature-length film. This begs to be on a small screen, seen in the early morning with some sugar-infused cereal. Seen out of this context, Ramayana lacks dimension. Without supportive nostalgia or a child's eyes, I can say this fascinated me - but that's about it.

Watching this briefly and somewhat controversial/famous/infamous short after The Shape Of Water is a weird and uncanny experience. 
Notions of Del Toro plagiarising this film have been shot down by all involved. So, though watching this makes you feel like pulling your foil helmet over your ears, this isn't necessary. Nonetheless, there remains the uncanny similarity. Most explain this away with coincidence by focusing on the stories and their archetypal nature. I have no qualms with such a viewpoint as, watching Del Toro's film alone, you can instantly feel mythological and archetypal undertones. I was completely surprised at how similar the direction and camera work are, however. I'm not suggesting that this is evidence for plagiarism, instead, evidence for how... let's say, not entirely new, imaginative and original, The Shape Of Water actually is. That said, why not check this out:

A Special Day is a fascinating Italian film that looks back upon Mussolini's fascist reign, focusing on a gay man and a housewife who stay home on the day in which Hitler visits his ally country. 
So much of A Special Day is centred on the idea of family that Mussolini enforced with both his bachelor tax and large family bonus, which discouraged men from remaining single and encouraged women to have at least 7 children. This was meant to strengthen the country - but it seems Mussolini only wanted a greater population to build an empire and so that he could throw bodies at the front lines during potential wars of the coming decades. (This - the bachelor tax in particular - is a historically common phenomena). Reflecting upon what the consequences of enforcing these hyper masculine and feminine roles are, A Special Day is a confined story about discovering ones own, and another's, humanity quite brilliantly. Highly recommended.

Pretty spectacular. Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, as the title suggests, is not about the triumphs of one of the greatest conquerors ever to walk this earth. Rather, this is about the many great failures that preempted the birth of a great ruler. The story is then undeniably powerful - despite the fact that this is not a technical or artistic masterpiece - and so it lies at the heart of this film. 
What Mongol does particularly well is humanise Temudgen (the to-be Great Khan) through his relationship with his wife and children. Moreover, Bodrov shows great understanding of momentous force as he directs his best battle sequences, integrating horse riding perfectly into the narrative. The direction and writing aren't consistently functioning as best as they can with one or two action scenes that don't work and an ending that is maybe a little more subdued than it could have been. Nonetheless, Mongol was a great watch. I highly recommend it.

I've always liked La Haine, though not necessarily for its social commentary. There is power and punch in the final image that leaves this a film resolutely bound to a sense of the inevitable. But, this is not what draws me to this. 
What really makes La Haine work are the characters, the style and the moments of comedy. In fact, for how individual and distinguished our three main characters become, it can be hard to map this narrative onto a wider idea of the French banlieue-city conflicts as you're so immersed in the three characters' personal journeys. With all else subservient to character in my view, Kassovitz (who I struggle to disassociate with Amélie) uses his black and white cinematography and sharp mise en scène to great effect in capturing the inner fear, violence and energy that is always about to explode from characters. A brilliant film.

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