Sunday, 24 February 2013

Films This Week

The station set in Liliom

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)
Watched Lucky Star. It would seem third time's the charm for Borzage and me. It's perhaps it's a little languid, but it felt much more emotionally involving (believable?) than the others, and it won me over. The images and the performances are beautiful: a nice little story about perception and prejudice.  
Started the day with The Iron Horse, which I enjoyed, if without any sense of awe (it's a good solid film, but nothing exceptional). It felt novelisitc in its scope – at once epic and intimate. Consummate filmmaking. Later, I sat down for a Borzage double bill: The River (or what's left of it) and Liliom. It would seem that my enjoyment of Lucky Star wasn't a one off. Borzage was a great pictorialist – that's clear even from the films I wasn't taken with – and in The River the charm from the first half of 7th Heaven is back. Sure, it may be a little slight, but it's a genuinely lovely film. Liliom, meanwhile, is even better. Farrell (the source of much of Borzage's charm) is good in the silents, but even better here. Borzage, meanwhile, directs with the same visual prowess, but manages to draw a much greater complexity to his characters. The tone is also different: there's less schmaltz. It's effective dramatic storytelling of the first order. The design and shadows of the train station set in which Liliom awaits his victim are superb, conspiring as they do to heighten the scene's dramatic impact. There's even something almost Dreyeresque about Liliom's death scene: its sparsity, the use of double exposure. (Actually, the imagery here might not be the only link between Borzage and Dreyer – the idea of love as transcendent of death, illness and disability which recurs in Borzage can surely be seen as a precursor to the resurrection in Ordet. Interestingly, by drawing a comparison with Ordet, it becomes clear that what some viewers, myself included, have interpreted as pious religiosity in Borzage can just as easily be seen as carnal love – 'Yes, but I loved her body too'. Whatever the truth of these two interpretations, here the religious elements are used in a much more interesting way, and reflect much more meaningfully on life and death). In fact, the only thing that undermines this beautifully realised piece is what appears to be an advocation of the dangerous sentiment that it's okay to beat up your wife and kid if you do it as an expression of your love. In his commentary on Lucky Star, Tom Gunning comments that violence is often necessary for the forming of relationships in Borzage… I think there's something quite disturbing about this trend in his work.
Went to see Mama. I thought it was an interesting take on the Wild Child / Kasper Hauser story, and very effective as a chiller, but the scares felt a little cheap (clichéd?) at times and, unless I missed something, it didn't seem to quite all add up. I thought the design of Mama herself was pretty haunting, if undermined slightly by too much CGI in the realisation (I can also see something of del Toro's love for monsters in her character – there was something (almost) sympathetic in her plight). Ultimately, though, the film lacked any real weight. I think added ambiguity as to Mama's existence would have made for a more interesting film. Enjoyable as it was, I suspect it will prove to be quite forgettable.
A wider shot of the station set in Liliom

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