Showing posts with label Russian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian. Show all posts

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera is a 1929 experimental documentary film by Dziga Vertov which upon watching for the first time earlier this week, instantly entered into my top ten films of all time. The film contains no plot, characters or actors and its only discernible arc is the depiction of the passing of a day in Soviet Russia. It captures the essence of life in 1920s Russia thanks to over 1,700 shots and scenes of everyday life as well as the life of machines and industry. The film is famed now, as it was on its initial release, for its revolutionary and still bold editing and filming style. It’s difficult to put into words the wonders contained within this hour and seven minute avant-garde piece but I hope that my brief description will attract new people to it.

The film opens on one of the more surreal shots which pepper the film in amongst the more traditional fare. We see a cameraman setting up his tripod on top of a giant camera which forms the ground upon which he stands. This is the first of many examples of double exposure used in the film and the camera trickery extends to the boundaries of what was possible in the late 1920s over the next hour. I remember watching Buster Keaton’s 1924 movie Sherlock, Jr recently and being enamoured with his mastery of camera slight of hand but Keaton’s noble efforts look like potato prints to Vertov’s Mona Lisa.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Room in Rome

WARNING : Adult Content

Room in Rome is a Spanish (albeit with English dialogue) erotic/romantic drama starring Elena Anaya and Natasha Yarovenko. Anaya plays Alba who meets and seduces Natasha (Yarovenko) in a club in Rome and persuades her to accompany her back to her hotel room. Despite protesting that she is not gay, Natasha agrees. What follows is a whirlwind affair which takes place over the course of a single night, within the walls of Alba’s hotel room.

While at its heart the film has a very good romantic story, this takes a back seat because of the characters sex and the amount of sex within the film. Although loosely based on a Chilean film about a mixed sex couple, Room in Rome’s protagonists are both female and that brings a whole new audience to the film. I think people who wanted porn would feel disappointed and people who wanted a good romantic drama would feel equally as disappointed. The film unfortunately falls between the two. Both actresses spend almost the entire film naked. While I didn’t mind this on an aesthetic level (they are both incredibly beautiful) it is slightly off-putting. There are whole swathes of the film in which the characters have sex but while this is titillating to watch, the story itself suffers. The last third of the film deals with what will happen in the morning; will they go back to their separate lives? Could they be together? Do they want to? By the time it gets interesting you have already sat through 90 minutes of soft core lesbian porn interspersed with poignant romance by which time you have forgotten about the plot.

It isn't easy to find suitable photos of this film!

Much of the dialogue feels fake and forced. Both the actresses and the director are working in their second or third language and I think that being a Spanish film, it may have worked better in Spanish with the Russian character speaking Spanish. This wouldn’t be a stretch. As it is she speaks Russian, English and Italian during the film. Why not try Russian, Italian and Spanish? Both actresses are fine in their roles. They play the emotional scenes well and the sex scenes ‘convincingly’. If I had to pick then I’d say Anaya comes out on top (if you excuse the pun). Elena Anaya is an actress who I shall always be interested to see after she gave a wonderful performance in The Skin I Live In.

Although their relationship became interesting towards the end of the film, for the first two thirds the two women tell each other lie after lie in order to hide their true identities from one another and I found this very tiresome after a while. The film keeps the audience waiting too long to discover who the women really are, by which time they have lost interest.

An example of the beautiful cinematography

I really feel that the film would have been improved had it not contained so much explicit sex. While these scenes are great for showing the passion and heat between the two women, they detract from the story as a whole. The most intense scenes in the film aren’t those which are overtly sexual in tone. The film is at its best when the two are talking quietly, maybe stroking a thigh or back or looking into each others souls.

The ending is fairly ambiguous and for once I actually wished for a ‘Hollywood Ending’. I suppose this shows how invested in the love story I was and how well the film showed the passion and love between the characters.  It also has to be said that as well as the beautiful naked women, the film also has some beautiful cinematography but in the end the sex got in the way of the story.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Battleship Potemkin

Released in 1925 as Communist Propaganda, Battleship Potemkin went on to become one of the most famous and most loved films of the silent era. The film is ranked at Number three on Empire’s ‘100 Best films of world cinema’ and was named ‘The greatest film of all time’ at the 1958 World Fair.

The film is an account of a mutiny which occurred in 1905 aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin. We find the crew to be poorly treated by their Tsarist officers and are about ready to snap when all they are offered to eat is rotten meat. The crew, upon hearing of workers rising up on land commit the act of mutiny and set sail for Odessa. When they reach the port they are supported by the people who are then brutally murdered by the Tsarist authorities. Back out to sea the Potemkin is set upon by a number of Tsarist ships who seem ready to engage the mutineers. The question is, will they join with the mutineers or fight?

As a piece of propaganda, the film is unmatched. The Tsarist’s are seen as cruel, unjust and bloodthirsty. Even Joseph Goebbels claimed anyone without firm political conviction could become a Bolshevik after watching it.  The most famous scene is still shocking today. The army is bought in to quell the rebellion and we watch as children are stamped to death by a fearful crowd, a mother is shot while holding up her dying son to the soldiers and the most famous image of all, a baby in a pram, falling down the Odessa steps. This scene in particular has become iconic and has been copied by numerous artists and film makers. Nearly 90 years on, it is still a shocking scene to witness.

The Odessa Steps sequence
The film seems ahead of its time with its use of close ups and quick cutting. Though common today, the editing seen in Potemkin was revolutionary in its day. Multiple cross cuts were also used to show the hustle and bustle of ship life.

Shocking even today
While I believe the film is a masterpiece of silent cinema and propaganda, I couldn’t help feeling bored at times, especially during the first third of the film. The boredom paled in comparison however to the frenetic pace and shock of the Odessa steps scene. At only 72 minutes long, Battleship Potemkin is a must see for fans of early cinema or political propaganda but even for those without an interest I would still recommend seeking out the Odessa Steps scene online.