Friday, April 30, 2010

Jeff Lieberman's Blue Sunshine (1976)

Jeff Lieberman's Blue Sunshine (1976) merits a lot of praise: its script, written by Liberman, is literate and genuine with its dialogue easy and real and its drama engrossing and well-paced; the performances by the actors are all professional, competent, and well-done; and as for entertainment, few films so unabashedly deliver. To use overused adjectives (of which I am abashedly guilty), Blue Sunshine is a unique film from a unique film maker.

Beautiful Wendy (Ann Cooper) is babysitting the next-door neighbor's children and reading them a story. She's slightly on edge and easily prone to getting a headache. Wendy split from her husband, Ed Flemming (Mark Goddard), whose face litters the street from posters and from the television: Ed's running for Congress. One of the children who Wendy is babysitting takes a cue from the Rapunzel fairy tale to which she is listening and tugs Wendy's hair. Quite a handful comes out of Wendy's head from the little child's fingers.

John O'Malley (Bill Cameron) is a beat cop looking to promote to detective. His wife Barbara is seeking consolation from a neighbor: John has been absent from the home a lot, and when he returns, he has often been drinking. Guess what? He has been losing his hair too.
At a party, Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) is cooling out with his lady, Alicia (Deborah Winters). Actor Brion James is at the party, also, and pretends to be a bird and caws and flaps his arms like wings. James's bird performance is not the weirdest thing to happen at the party. This is: Frannie (Richard Crystal), presumably the host, comes downstairs and happily thanks everyone for coming. He decides to sing a song and as he is really getting in a groove, Frannie grabs one of his guest's dates and gives her a friendly tussle. Her date is a little jealous and grabs Frannie's hair. Pop goes the weasel and off comes Frannie's wig. He is totally bald and his eyes bulge to the size of golf balls. He rushes out the door, and save three female party guests, everyone leaves to search for Frannie in town. Jerry, alone, searches the immediate surroundings for Frannie. To reveal anymore of Blue Sunshine would be a sin, but Jerry keeps searching throughout the film for answers stemming from this night.Hair: every one wants it, cannot keep it, and does not know why they are losing it. While paranoia and conspiracies were major themes of 1970s American cinema, Blue Sunshine is centered around a quasi-conspiracy and its lead, Zalman King's Jerry Zipkin is not fueled by paranoia: there are real people out to get him, and as he investigates and as the intricate mystery unfolds, the root of the hair problem (rim shot) lies with a circle of friends who all attended Stanford University ten years prior. Most conspiracies are ludicrous and incredulous, and Lieberman with his script, instead of shading over this aspect, indulges it in Blue Sunshine. His narrative is so well-paced with the drama so absorbing that when clues to the quasi-conspiracy are revealed, they do not take the viewer out of the action. Yes, the revelations are ridiculous, but these diverse characters do not think so, especially Jerry. Liberman creates such an intimacy and familiarity with his characters that they drive the narrative. One of the best crafted relationships is between Jerry and his friend, Dr. David Blume (Robert Walden). Despite the fact that after an absence of years the two reunite over a gunshot wound and discuss the efficacy of tranquilizers on psychotic human subjects, these two appear as close friends. Super-cute Alicia is Jerry's accomplice, and in a pivotal moment during the wonderfully over-the-top final act, it appears as if she has had too much to drink at the bar and is a little tipsy: a little human touch to the script that is quite endearing. Another well-done and quirky sequence involves Jerry, who by this point in the film is desperate for information, and his first meeting with beautiful Wendy. Considering the ludicrous nature of the subject matter, subtlety and tact would be Jerry's best method for questioning Wendy. Nope. Jerry stumbles embarrassingly over his words and scares Wendy tremendously. This scene really accentuates how desperate Jerry is but also shows a lot of humility from his character. Like every one else, with perhaps the exception of Big Number Thirty Two, Wayne Mulligan (Ray Young), these are down-to-earth, familiar characters caught up in totally absurd circumstances.Zalman King really gets into his role as Jerry Zipkin. At times, it would seem that he is overacting but more often than not, it just appears this actor is a really big fan of James Dean and Marlon Brando and following suit. Cooper as Wendy and Winters as Alicia are terrific. Cooper has a fantastic sequence following Jerry's exit from her apartment (It's also one of Lieberman's best and most exciting set-pieces). Like Cooper, Winters shines from the beginning, and as her character develops, she gives a depth to her character instead of simply becoming a plot device. Walden and Young, as Blume and Mulligan, respectively, round out a very good cast of actors.Certainly, Blue Sunshine is appropriate for the drive-in, yet there's so much quirky fun that it is fun even in the digital format. (There is an excellent special edition DVD from Synapse, and it's also part of an Elvira two-feature DVD which makes a for a late-nite, VHS experience.) Nearly all of Lieberman's cinema takes outlandish premises with a real focus on character and depth: Squirm (1978), Just Before Dawn (1981), Remote Control (1988), and Satan's Little Helper (2004). The premises are not taken seriously, but the films certainly are. Likewise, as with Blue Sunshine, so much fun is to be had, let your hair go loose and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Riccardo Freda's A doppia faccia (Liz and Helen) (1969)

Klaus Kinski is John Alexander who is initially seen in Riccardo Freda's A doppia faccia (Liz and Helen) (1969) as a meek, quiet and ineffectual husband to Helen (Margaret Lee). The two met while skiing in Switzerland and immediately fell in love. Upon return to London, the two married, and John took a position in Helen's business organization that her father controls as chief executive officer while Helen holds the majority ownership interest. Okey-doke and goodbye love. John and Helen's home life is riddled in strife: Kinski's John broods in the hallways, parlors, and foyers, wondering why his wife is so cold to him; and cool Helen has no time for John as she spends more time with equally cool and equally beautiful, Liz (Annabella Incontrera). Helen decides to take a solo trip in her Jaguar, and her car crashes, causing her death. Scotland Yard determines Helen's death an accident yet when John takes a three-week vacation in St. Tropez, following his father-in-law's suggestion, the police become suspicious and open an investigation. John comes home to a dark house and finds a beautiful blonde showering. Her name is Christine (Christiane Kruger) who didn't think John would mind.
Huh? What? Christine parades around the boudoir nude and asks for a drink and a cigarette to a perturbed John. Christine is successful in only securing a ride from him. He takes her to Soho where she flees from the car with his car keys in hand. John finds her in a flat where a private film screening is taking place. The film appears to be a loop where Christine walks into frame nude in front of a veiled woman on a four-post bed. Very provocative. The veiled woman has a scar on her neck and is wearing an unusual ring. John recognizes this jewelry and the woman's scar as belonging to his dead wife, Helen. Did Helen have a shady cinematic past or is this the new Helen, not really dead. John broods to begin his investigation.At this point, like Lucio Fulci with Una sull'altra of the same year (Fulci shares a story credit on Liz and Helen incidentally), Riccardo Freda can take his story in three directions: a deductive murder mystery with John as prime suspect; an amateur giallo-esque mystery with John as sleuth with the mysterious veiled woman as the object of his investigation; or John can plumb the provocative depths, tumbling further into the looking-glass, opened by sultry sprite, Christine. Freda chooses all three, creating an uneven and unsuccessful film with A doppia faccia. To begin with, as a deductive mystery, A doppia faccia clearly fails. The only expository clue left by Freda is an insert shot of a black-gloved hand tampering with the brakes on Helen's Jaguar. Beyond the obvious fact that Helen's crash was intentional, little is shown to the viewer to begin an investigation. As to whom has the strongest motive for murder, none of the first-act's participants, John, Liz, or Helen's father, have one. Therefore, Freda and Scotland Yard have to manufacture one. With nothing at the crash scene in the way of direct evidence to implicate a suspect, the police focus on a wisp of circumstantial evidence: John's three-week vacation in St. Tropez. Other circumstantial evidence is presented in Liz and Helen, yet what the police choose to focus upon is far from the obvious. Since Freda only conveniently drops clues for his viewer, the viewer is playing catch-up with the mystery, and virtually no suspense plays out from this thread of the film.Kinski's John is immediately taken with discovering the identity of the veiled woman in the film. As to why is unknown. This aspect of the story becomes Freda's strongest. For example, Kinski's John is shown as quiet, brooding, and ineffectual at the beginning towards Helen; yet when Christine enters his life, Kinski violently changes his personality. He has no problem getting physical with Christine: he grabs her and shakes her; yells at her; and even beats her in order to gain information about the veiled woman's identity. This juxtaposition of John's character makes the viewer wonder as to if this is the real John, and Freda was cleverly masking this aspect of his personality during the first act. The link is both characters of Helen and Christine: each is, in a very traditional, superficial, and stereotypical sense, a deviant in society and from a traditional moral perspective. Although Freda is never overt, there is the overwhelming sense from the first act that Helen's lack of affection towards John and her strong kinship with Liz are more than they seem. Helen's real affection and love are for Liz; and her marriage was a sham for polite society with John as a victim of unrequited love. Kinski's signature brooding with his performance as John hid a simmering anger towards Helen (and possibly women). When he meets Christine, who is engaged in both prostitution and pornography, his anger towards Helen comes to the surface, and John acts out towards Christine as he wished he would have towards Helen. Or, perhaps within the shadows of the domestic scenes of the first act, Kinski's John was violent towards Helen (where she got that scar on her neck is wholly unknown). Unintentionally- or intentionally-crafted, these scenes from Freda are his strongest and most engaging. The two traditional "deviants" are seen in a different perspective while Kinski's character becomes, at times quite effectively, more sinister. These themes are signature giallo, especially the misogynistic aspect; yet Freda moves little beyond themes within A doppia faccia, as Kinski's John does little in the way of investigation. Like the viewer, John stumbles through his investigation with whatever Freda gives him, instead of picking up clues and deducing what to do next.Finally, Freda can just let go in A doppia faccia (as the Italian title suggests) with his main character, John (and all of his other characters, for that matter). Liz and Helen is shot cleanly and focused with totally uninteresting shot designs. This mechanical conservatism with Freda's compositions carries over into the substance of A doppia faccia. Virtually no eroticism is present throughout, despite the fact that Freda and company want to be provocative with the Soho subculture and Helen, Liz, and Christine's characters. The depiction of Helen's character is just cold. Some insight into her character with dialogue or a confrontational scene (really anything) would have been welcomed. Arguably Incontrera's Liz is not a character at all: Freda gives the viewer almost nothing behind Liz. She is a plot device for a later revelation and becomes a potentially provocative character wasted. Kruger's Christine gives A doppia faccia a lot of energy, but Freda uses her also as mostly a plot device. The brilliant set-ups, of which there are very few, like Helen and Liz alone or Christine's first fortuitous meeting with John are undercut and poorly handled. Overall, too much thought went into mechanics in making A doppia faccia, and too little thought went into creating emotion, energy, or artistic flare. The set design, however, is beautiful, and Kinski gives another excellent, yet perfunctory, performance.

The fact within the first sentence of the third paragraph about Fulci's contribution to A doppia faccia is from Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci by Stephen Thrower, FAB Press, Surrey, England, U.K., 1999.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jean-Claude Roy's L'insolent (1973)

Henry Silva stars in this French crime flick as Ristack aka The Insolent, an American criminal, in Jean-Claude Roy's L'insolent (1973). Silva's character personifies the word with an accompanying performance by the actor well-known for portraying some of the nastiest criminals in eurocrime cinema of the 1970s.
Silva is in a prison cell but not for long. With inhuman strength, he begins to disassemble the steel from the cell's furniture and mold it in his hands. Bending the bars and descending a wet-sheet rope, Silva's Ristack escapes. After a quick police elusion, Ristack holes up with his homie, Marco (Georges Géret), who owns a small cafe. Less than twenty-four hours after busting out of the joint, Ristack is ready to work. He arrives at gentleman's club, The Hippodrome, to see its owner, Milan (André Pousse), and his shady colleagues. The Insolent has a proposition for Milan: a daylight heist of an armored truck with its cargo several hundred pounds of gold. Would Milan be interesting in fronting this perfectly-planned heist, asks Ristack, and providing a fence to move the gold after? Milan agrees and offers to rendez-vous with Ristack and his crew at an isolated villa to trade the gold for hard currency. Ristack with Marco's help assembles a crew of desperate conmen and thieves. At around the halfway mark of L'insolent, the heist is executed and Ristack and company meet Milan for payment. As with most crime cinema in the 1970s, there were only a handful of plots, and with the rare exception (for example, Le cercle rouge (1970), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville) the plots were often the least interesting aspect of the cinema, usually perfunctory and predictable. L'insolent belongs in this majority class; but the devil is in the details; and Roy's flourishes give L'insolent its charm: while the film is set in present day, the overall feel of L'insolent puts it in some other reality. To begin with, the wonderfully ridiculous: while the police detectives later make an appearance in L'insolent, the beat cops take to the scene first after Ristack's escape. While executing an immediate area search from the prison, two cops encounter Silva's character, garbed in mechanic's overalls behind the counter of a gas station. Tersely, Silva resists a shakedown: "I'm only paid to work behind this counter." He hasn't seen anyone come by. When the cops command Ristack to lower the car on the mechanic's lift to have a look inside, they might as well as made a sweet polite request: Silva just gives a stare and says he ain't the mechanic and doesn't have the key to the lift. So much for thorough investigation, as the cops leave without Silva breaking a sweat. The police ineptitude rises to the level of buffoonery in a later scene after Silva's Ristack sets off a chain of explosions in the parked cars in front of The Hippodrome. "Hey, need some help?" asks one of the police officers. "No," says a Hippodrome henchman, "it was just a short circuit. All in hand." "Okay, then. Bye." The inclusion of these beat-cop scenes are somewhat baffling: as plot devices as tension builders, they clearly fail, as it's quite immediate that they're not catching Silva's Ristack or really going to make any progress in an investigation. Perhaps their ineffectuality is a joke on Roy's part, channeling the spirit of his film's title; but their inclusion is too labored to merit just a chuckle. Whatever reason, these scenes aren't grounded in any reality.The Hippodrome, the gentleman's club run by Pousse's Milan, is L'insolent's most indulgent set-piece. Patrons play board games, by rolling ridiculously large dice, with the club's female dancers as game pieces while each of the ladies is scantily-clad in fetish/futuristic garb. The club sequences are too meticulous to be sloughed off as just a gangster's front. Again, perhaps Roy is channeling the spirit of his title, as these scenes are wilfully provocative, providing most of the flesh in the film and the flash. Likewise, these scenes aren't grounded in any reality.

Henry Silva has often portrayed intense characters while giving performances so charged with intensity, the viewer often wonders how he is able to manufacture such. Ristack is plain mean, and Silva is such a badass that when he delivers lines such as, "Tell Milan that last night's events were just an appetizer. The main course is coming," the theatrical, pulpy quality fades away. What's left is Silva being so cool that the viewer wants Ristack to indulge his insolence, grab a machine gun, and create havoc. Unsurprisingly, the heist and the exchange doesn't go as planned, so a bit of revenge on Ristack's part plays out. With no stealth or scheming, Ristack is fueled by anger and determination. Front-door hits and open-and-hostile robberies ensue: not only is Silva's character taking the action to Milan and company, he's throwing it in their faces.
Veteran Pousse as Milan is pretty terrific, as well. His character also has a charming insolent demeanor, totally different from Silva's and unique to him. Director Jean-Claude Roy will more than likely be remembered for his subsequent adult cinema in which actress Brigitte Lahaie delivered some of her most memorable performances (for example in Couple cherche esclave sexuel (1979)). Instead of delivering a perfunctory, gritty, violent crime flick, Roy delivers a perfunctory, playful and weird, violent crime flick with L'insolent. As 70s European crime cinema continues to gain a cult following, certainly Silva fans and eurocrime fans will pull this one out of obscurity.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Max Pécas's Cinq filles en furie (1963)

Despite the familiar score by Georges Garvarentz, the expansive and isolated wilderness setting, and the eponymous en furie, Cinq filles en furie (1963), directed by Max Pécas, is oh-so barely a Western. The cinq filles are the centerpiece of the diverse French director's feature; and would his viewer like to spend ninety-or-so minutes with them?
Isabel (Jacqueline Wolff) roams the countryside with a bandoleer around her hips and a double-barrelled shotgun in hand. It does not appear that she has killed anyone yet, despite the fact she almost kills her sister, Jenny (Felicia Andrews), before Sylvia (Jeannie Peterson) stops her. "I thought that I saw a fox," Isabel tells Sylvia, and as Jenny emerges from behind a bush, it would appear that Isabel's observation was correct. The three women are combing the countryside, looking for a hidden cache of treasure, dropped during WWII by the allies and hidden by Isabel and Jenny's father (before he became a war prisoner). Isabel, Jenny, and Sylvia live in a cottage with Aunt Marthe (Colette Régis), an embittered woman with a fondness for drink. Viola (Susann Flynn) and Agnes (Ann Marie Shaw), cousins to Isabel and Jenny, arrive at the cottage for a visit, after being dropped off by handsome engineer, Georges (Michael Jameson). Their arrival angers Isabel as she immediately knows that she has two rivals in her quest for the hidden cache of treasure.

Now that the cinq filles are introduced and an established genre has provided the framework for the narrative, enter sordid and sensational elements. Jenny thinks that the hidden cache is a lot of crap: under the auspice of searching for the cache, Jenny is strolling and sunbathing, listening to her radio or driving her convertible, or making time with her wilderness fella, Blackie (Fred Thompson). Truth be told, Blackie really has eyes for Sylvia, as does engineer Georges. Sylvia is currently holding hands with Georges which induces jealousy in Blackie and in Isabel. Isabel met Sylvia while she was an art student in Paris and became mysteriously taken with her. Isabel, however, is saddled with carrying the en furie within Cinq filles en furie and shows little in the way of love. Isabel once had a child whose care she entrusted to Aunt Marthe while Isabel went to Paris. The child died in tragic circumstances, and Isabel resents her Aunt, not only for her apparent lack of child care but her continued reluctance to share any information towards the location of the hidden cache. Aunt Marthe knows the location but is steadfast in keeping it secret. "It's cursed," she says, and should remain hidden. When Viola learns that Georges is smitten with Sylvia, she decides to stir the pot by pitting Blackie against Georges in order to gain an advantage over Isabel. Agnes becomes Viola's spy within Cinq filles or, like the viewer, often a voyeur.
A lackadaisical style and a laissez-faire attitude towards its genre are the true hidden treasures of Cinq filles en furie. Infused more with innuendo than bullets, Cinq filles is early Pécas erotica, allowing his imagination to think of various scenarios for short shorts and skirt flashes and charged emotions. Its narrative is true pulp fiction and can only be transcended by being provocative and playful. Pécas is not wholly successful with Cinq filles, but there's such a rebellious spirit to the whole film for its veiled disdain for strict adherence to genre conventions. For example, Isabel fires her rifle at seemingly everything and kills nothing. Her rifle makes a lot of noise and appears more annoying than intimidating to most. In the sole sequence where Isabel dons her dress and arms herself with a beautiful smile (once revealed), she is far more successful in capturing what she wants. Although Andrews's Jenny doesn't drive the narrative, she often stands out above all, not just for her beauty but her attitude towards life: what's the point in chasing something, if you do not want its object? When looking for the cache under Isabel's orders, Jenny is truly strolling--whatever adventures appear before her are far more exciting than this ridiculous pursuit.

Max Pécas would subsequently make more influential and provocative cinema than Cinq filles en furie. His imagery within Cinq filles appears haphazard and these compositions wonderfully carry it. This is cinema looking to capture a beautiful smile or taking a stolen glimpse. Meandering and lithe. Available on DVD-R from Something Weird Video.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shinya Tsukamoto's Akumu Tantei 2 (Nightmare Detective 2) (2008)

Fear is a powerful human emotion that many are reticent to embrace. Most artists seemingly would rather induce fear in his/her audience by exposing his/her own fears. Few would take fear as the subject matter of her/his art. Shinya Tsukamoto follows up Akumu Tantei (Nightmare Detective) (2006) with Akumu Tantei 2 (Nightmare Detective 2) (2008) with fear as his focus. From the director whose influential Tetsuo (1989) pushed the extremes of corporeal horror, one of Tsukamoto's latest films sees him returning to the ethereal to deliver one of his most human films.
Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda) is again alone and having a recurring dream of his childhood involving his mother Itsuko (Miwako Ichikawa), who killed herself when Kagenuma was a little boy. Kagenuma upon waking is prompted to visit his father, Takio (Ken Mitsuishi), from whom he has grown distant, to ask him about his mother about whom he presumably knows little. She was afraid of everything, his father tells Kagenuma. "She was afraid of life." As his dreams recur and gain intensity, a little more is revealed to Kagenuma of his memories of his mother. Kagenuma is visited at his home by Yukie (Yui Miura), a high-school student, who is being haunted in her dreams by a missing classmate, Kikugawa (Hanae Kan) on whom Yukie and her two friends played a cruel joke. Yukie begins to describe Kikugawa--she was an extremely sensitive young woman who was often fearful. "Once, at the cinema," says Yukie, "during a normal scene, she became terrified and tried to stab someone with a pencil." Kagenuma is reticent is to help Yukie, as he has his own problems, and pushes her away. Yukie does not give up on seeking Kagenuma's help as people around her begin dying. Kagenuma's dreams of his mother do not cease, and he believes confronting Kikugawa in a dream will help him understand his dead mother and help Yukie.

Kagenuma's withdrawal from life is tied closely to one of his two special abilities, hearing the thoughts of others. It is quite easy to imagine the affirmative aspect of this attribute--one could gain immense power by learning information, often secret, from others. However, one possessing a darker and more sensitive imagination, like Tsukamoto, is able to embrace how scary having this ability would be. At least three times from three different characters' perspective, a child or an adolescent is able to hear his/her parent's thoughts. These scenes are powerfully insightful and tragic as the parent's thoughts reveal things that most parents would shudder to say to his/her child. Tsukamoto imagines and renders the reactions of a small child or the adolescent hearing a parent's shame of a child or fear of the child's presence. Tsukamoto astutely is aware of the profound effect such thoughts would have upon a child or an adolescent, and what kind of person that child would become possessing such knowledge.
Tsukamoto presumes in Akumu Tantei 2 that each child innately loves his/her parent, and when a child witnesses or is the recipient of behavior from the parent seemingly not motivated by love, then the child becomes very torn emotionally: the child's love for the parent may or may not change but almost certainly, the desire to understand his/her parent greatly increases from the child's standpoint. Herein lies Kagenuma's dilemma and perhaps his complete withdrawal from life stems from his misunderstanding of his mother. In scenes of very real domestic life, whether rendered by Tsukamoto in characters' dreams or without, these emotions are felt by the viewer. Kagenuma, Yukie, and Kikugawa are all exposed, and it becomes very difficult not to grow closer to these three characters. Tsukamoto's handling of his characters is so organic that to not understand and sym/empthasize with these characters is impossible.
While this review has taken a trip into the heights of pontification, Akumu Tantei 2 does not. Tsukamoto prefers a sombre background for his canvas, as most scenes are natural light seeping through windows or open doors: whatever is revealed by this light is shown and whatever is covered in shadows is hidden. This style of cinema is currently the dominant one for most film makers, and Tsukamoto, like any other style he attempts to conquer, he makes it seem easy, organic, and seamless. His compositions are appropriate, as if the veteran film maker knows exactly when to capture a close-up shot of a character's expression, for example. While the narrative and characters are extremely strong (with equally strong performances by all), Tsukamoto does not hold back his visuals when Akumu Tantei 2 visits dreamland. The final act is characterized by almost a complete disorientation: it is wholly unknown when a particular sequence begins if its a dream or not; and if its a dream, then whose dream is it? Tsukamoto dispenses with easy scares: he's going for the uneasy feelings and exploring fear. The end result, totally satisfying, is a human film about fear stemming from the misunderstanding of others.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aleksey Balabanov's Zhmurki (Dead Man's Bluff) (2005)

Start-up capital and small business. An economics classroom and a business file. The Butcher. The Doctor. The Boar. Brain. The Cop. Comic books. Fast food. The sign of the cross three times. Vinyl records. The early-90s in Russia in the provinces.
Zhmurki (Dead Man's Bluff) is a film directed by Alexsey Balabanov and released in 2005. Sergei (Aleksei Panin) and Simon (Dmitriy Dyuzhev) work for Mikhajlovich (Nikita Mikhalkov), the local crime boss, and are effing up their first two jobs of the morning--one, collecting money from The Doctor; and two, delivering a case to a lawyer and picking up a case in return. Mikhajlovich, after their two eff-ups, gives the pair one more chance to perform a successful task for him--clean up the mess created by their two previous eff-ups. Time to visit The Cop.Balabanov's Dead Man's Bluff chooses as its setting recent history in Russia which, undoubtedly, speaks more to its culture. It is unknown as to whether Balabanov wants to transcend his culture with his story and his visual depiction of his story. Like a joke, the more familiar the listener is with the joke's set-up and details, then the potential for the punchline to be funnier is greatly increased. However, scenes like the initial one, set in 2005 in a university classroom where an economics lecture is given, give Dead Man's Bluff the feeling that perhaps the film is intended for a wider audience, like giving a set-up to a set-up to a joke for unfamiliar viewers. Despite any familiarity with the history of the setting or the setting and its culture, Balabanov's Dead Man's Bluff plays out like a playful joke, fluctuating in seriousness and disturbing, like giving a hearty laugh and then giving an uncomfortable sigh upon reflection at the joke's subject matter. Comedy is extremely difficult to craft but highly successful and entertaining when done well. More challenging is to infuse comedy with dark and disturbing material, and when that comedy is successful, the result is Dead Man's Bluff.Set in a world of small business whose business is crime, The Butcher stands over his bound captive with his syringe in hand and myriad dead corpses littered around his shop. Balabanov's composition (like most within Dead Man's Bluff, it is static and meticulously-framed) is far too disturbing to induce a chuckle alone, so he allows The Butcher to pontificate on his impressive attributes and abilities. It's unsurprising that he is so successful. Three hooded gunmen make a surprise entrance and contribute to the corpses. How about The Doctor? Balabanov's composition of The Doctor is far too ridiculous, looking like a mad scientist behind his Bunsen burner and beakers, to be taken seriously. Sergei and Simon try shaking him down for protection money, but The Doctor doesn't need to pay outsiders for protection: he has two hulking bodyguards on his payroll, and they make a fortuitous entrance into The Doctor's laboratory. Corpses and their blood end up spilling everywhere. The Boar has a driver in a slick Mercedes and has become successful in the Center. The Boar hands his business card to Sergei in front of the McDonald's restaurant where inside Simon purchases an extra-value meal for seventy-three thousand roubles.From its opening, Dead Man's Bluff presents the early days of the generation of start-up capital for future business entrepreneurs, where the overhead are corpses and the collateral is violence. Beyond the very cleverly rendered humor, like the business file that Sergei carries everywhere, Balabanov portrays his brutal violence in a business-like manner: the victims will cry for help and scream, but their executioners are without emotion, like workers suffering from the banality of routine. Balabanov embraces his executioners' (lack of) emotion and tone with his visual style. If his killers have no qualms with the amount of blood that they are shedding and corpses literally piling up, then neither does Balabanov. This seeming detachment from its director makes Dead Man's Bluff, like the game referenced in its English-language title, kind of dangerous. Often viewers, like joke listeners, want to be on the inside as to what is going on. Being on the outside of a joke or a movie, often the listener or viewer, respectively, feels as if the joke is on him/her or at his/her expense. With often static compositions and sombre colors, Balabanov frames his images like still-life paintings with its subject matter far from the familiar. The humor pulls the viewer in closer to the action while its disturbing matter attempts to push the viewer back out.Zhmurki (Dead Man's Bluff) is fun. Balabanov appears in his position to feel totally comfortable being under no obligation to tell his viewer how to feel. This is true court-jester cinema: being playful and creative, making the jokes at every one's expense, including his own, while his subject matter is undoubtedly important and relevant. All the performances are tops. Truly unique.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake of June (2002)

"I always felt that if I were to make an erotic film, I would use the image of skin covered with water drops. When it gets humid and hot in Japan a lot of girls start wearing miniskirts, which provokes some men to start stalking them. There is this kind of erotic atmosphere in the air around that time of year."

"During the rainy season, sexuality is stimulated by the environment. You can sense this oozing feeling inside, which is like the movements of a snake."
The two above quotes are from Shinya Tsukamoto in reference to his 2002 film, A Snake of June. If his film were nothing but images evoked from within his first quote, then Snake would still be devastating. If it were only a film of two sequences--of Rinko, portrayed by Asuka Kurosawa, taking two public walks, each in her miniskirt, both charged with two radically different emotions, then Snake would still tell its story. Finally, if the film were nothing but a series of animated still images, with their style monochromatic and shot in 1:1.33 aspect ratio, where Tsukamoto found inspiration in Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and Bruce Weber, then Tsukamoto's rendition of images would still surpass many of his contemporaries working in the visual medium.Rinko works at a crisis center as a telephone counselor and receives anonymous calls from the public of tales of suicide and the like. She lives in quiet comfort with her salaryman husband, Shigehiko (Yuji Kohtari), who is often distant from Rinko and prefers to be alone reading or scrubbing the sink or the bathtub. Despite the lack of emotional intimacy in their relationship, each shares a comfort in its predictability and normalcy. One day Rinko receives in the mail an envelope containing a series of still photographs of her in repose or walking the streets; and as she flips through the numerous photographs (to be noted, not incidentally, artistically and professionally captured), the final series at the end of the stack reveals Rinko in quite an intimate moment and alone. Rinko feels understandably violated by this intrusion and overcome with fear of the photographer. When a cellular phone arrives via mail and its caller, a familiar voice to Rinko from her crisis center work, demands that Rinko reproduce her behavior evoked from the still photographic images, Rinko consents--seemingly only in exchange to receive the original negatives to the photos and to hopefully hide them away, not just from her husband but from the world.A Snake of June makes the heart beat fast: fear, excitement, and eroticism. The film's closest and most sensitive portrayal is in Rinko, not just with the camera's treatment but with her emotion. As she reluctantly begins her first display for the caller, who commands her from time to time to change her outfit, walk in a particular area, or perform some task, the fear and discomfort which radiates from Rinko is overwhelming. The caller attempts to coax Rinko into revealing her true sexual desires, as if the caller, by capturing Rinko alone and in an intimate moment, now possesses knowledge of her secrets. What the caller painfully and powerfully fails to recognize is those secrets and desires belong Rinko alone. The irony, of course, is what the caller desires most from Rinko, she later displays willingly and perhaps not solely for him. When Rinko uncoils, so to speak, the desire to do so does not come from the pitiful voice on the phone. Any excitement comes for the viewer at Rinko's expense and it's uncomfortable watching Rinko the subject to many a prying eye. Kurosawa gives a stellar performance, completely vulnerable, as Rinko.One of Tsukamoto's favorite motifs is the triangle, and the characters behind the caller and Kohtari's Shigehiko are revealed, in true Tsukamoto fashion, as not vehicles but well-drawn people. Their characters become the most revelatory during Rinko's second display in A Snake of June, which by this point is in Tsukamoto's world, opened, perhaps by a Pandora-ish Rinko.The bluish tint to the monochromatic images within A Snake of June are unique coming from a unique film maker. Tsukamoto is wholly successful in creating animated images which are evocative of his still-photographic inspiration. Most of the settings are clean and clinical, like the crisis center, Rinko and Shigehiko's home, and the myriad public places where Rinko walks. These are wonderfully and powerfully offset by Tsukamoto's subjective and artistic shots with especially the use of water in the scenery. The compositions are fantastic, and as always, Tsukamoto tells two stories always, one with his visuals and another with his narrative. A Snake of June is a strong mix of naturalistic scenes, scenes of man-made structures, and the beautifully imagined sequences where Tsukamoto journeys into dreamland. The atmosphere which Tsukamoto feels when "it gets humid and hot in Japan" is, finally, also successfully translated to his film.

All quotes from Tsukamoto and objective facts about the production are from Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto by Tom Mes, FAB Press, Surrey, England, U.K., 2005.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

I don't know anything about the specs of any firearm. Aspects such as fire rate, firepower, recoil rate, magazine capacity, etc. are all beyond my knowledge. I do know that a gun is a machine, and like other machines, it can be prone to a degree of malfunction--bullets can get lodged in the chamber, for example, and since guns are made of metal and produce heat, metal can expand and subsequently affect the firing rate, recoil, and accuracy of the machine with continuous use. If I ever went to a gun dealer and had the need to purchase and use a firearm, this is all the bullshit that I would ask the gun dealer about (and of course, how much is this thing going to cost?). I do not, however, ever anticipate the need to purchase a firearm and hope I never purchase or own one. I also do not arm myself with this degree of critical analysis when I go into a cinema to watch a movie. From years of movie watching, I know the general rule: the bigger the gun, the more damage it produces and the bigger the explosion on the screen. If, for example, Lee Van Cleef rode up on his horse in front of three or four bandits, and then shot twenty to thirty bullets out of his six-shooter without reloading and turned the bandits into piecemeal, I'm cheering. Lee Van Cleef was a bad mofo on screen--period. I'll forgive the fact that I know in the real world, a gun which holds six bullets cannot shoot twenty or thirty. When I watch a film which deals with, again for example, characters who engage in my own profession, I will often forgive the fact that the depiction of my profession on screen often differs from the reality from my experience in the profession. Cinema has its own unspoken rules and is in itself, its own reality. However, when cinema wants to shoot for some credibility and adhere to the rules of the world of its viewers, then I'll take note. Not only will I take note, I will judge what's on screen by its rules.
Take, for example, the film under review here, Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), specifically, for example, one scene. Geena Davis plays the heroine/anti-heroine, who has a personality schism resulting from amnesia, where in her previous life she was a government agent engaged in "counter assassination" to her new life where she's a Donna Reed-ish loving wife and mother, baking cookies and hosting Christmas parties, and Samuel Jackson plays a shady, wise-cracking private eye who is helping Davis's character discover her previous identity. The two arrive at a train station to meet Dr. Nathan Waldman (Brian Cox) who demands to meet Davis's character there. He knows her true identity and knows that she's in danger. Jackson's character has this habit of singing a song detailing what he is doing, so he sings aloud that he is putting his car keys in his left pocket and his gun, which he pulls from the trunk, into his right pocket upon the two's arrival. Hint, hint. Davis's character looks to the right of the train station where in the background is a sign which reads "Danger. Thin Ice." Hint, hint, again. The two enter the train station, and whoops, a shootout occurs when the bad guys arrive. Davis and Jackson's characters flee to an upper level of the train station and are pinned in a hallway between the bad guys below and an incoming grenade. Jackson's character emphasizes this point by yelling aloud that there is no way out. He tells Davis's character that he only has three shots left in his revolver (which I presume only holds six) and hands her a machine gun. Davis's character grabs his revolver and fires the remaining shots at a window at the end of the hallway, and the two run towards it and jump out of the now cracked glass (which gives away). During their fall, Davis's character sprays a bunch of bullets on the thin ice, cracking it and creating a safe landing for her and Jackson's character. Did I need to know that Jackson had a revolver before going into the train station? If he pulled the revolver and began shooting, would I, the viewer, be surprised? The Long Kiss Goodnight already established that Jackson's character was a private eye and shady. Is it so far-fetched that he would hold a firearm? Did I need to know that the ice was thin? How thin was it? Obviously thin enough that machine gun bullets could crack it but supposedly not thin enough that two grown adults could not crack the ice with their own body weight. Aren't signs detailing "dangerous thin ice" for skaters or for unsuspecting folks who might simply walk across the ice and fall in? Why did I need to know that Jackson's revolver had only three bullets? Three bullets, I suppose, is enough to crack the glass of the window pane, but it would not leave enough ammunition for Davis' character to crack the ice below. Did Jackson's character have to yell "no way out," when it was clearly established that the bad guys were below and the shot of the hallway was tight, clearly delineating no other exits?
I wanted to have fun while watching Harlin's follow-up to his flop, Cutthroat Island (1995). The Long Kiss Goodnight boasts two very talented actors as its leads and is also the only collaboration between director Harlin and screenwriter, Shane Black. Of all the props and gadgets and technicians and stunt people paid for and paid by, respectively, the budget, the three biggest assets were Davis, Jackson, and Black. Black's previous action scripts such as Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout (1991) contained uneven dialogue and formulaic plots, yet both were successful: while some of his dialogue sounded tinny and/or trite, the overwhelming majority of it was extremely witty and quick. The two leads of both films, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover and Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans, respectively, possessed an immediate chemistry, and Black's dialogue fueled their chemistry, instead of sounding simply hip or self-referential. (Black's best script has subsequently come with his sole directorial credit, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005).) Davis and Jackson possess a very strong chemistry, as well, and while Black's dialogue feels at times a retread of his previous work, overall in The Long Kiss Goodnight, the majority of it is in his signature quick-witted style. Prior to her role in Long Kiss, Geena Davis had proven herself an actress who could play extremely diverse roles. She was super sweet and funny in Beetlejuice (1988) and was absolutely fantastic in her dramatic roles such as Thelma and Louise (1991). Samuel Jackson was appearing in almost every film subsequent to his breakout role in Pulp Fiction (1994), and audiences could not get enough of his charisma: leave a camera static on Jackson, feed him some over-the-top dialogue, and he delivered. Black penned a good role for Davis, since she easily handled her "dual" role: she's sweet and sugary in her motherly role and acid-tongued and defiant (and quite credible) in her badass role. Likewise, Black must have had a field day writing for Jackson: his comedic timing and delivery are almost pitch-perfect. It's too fun watching Jackson.Remember what I said previously about rules? Eff 'em. As soon as I make a rule for myself I want to break it. (Normally, I attempt to leave the pronoun "I" as much as possible out of my reviews, but with this entry, I've blown that rule to bits.) Likewise in the second half of The Long Kiss Goodnight, Harlin and company abandoned their quest for verisimilitude and credibility. During the first hour of the film, I felt as a viewer in an adversarial position with the film makers: there was such a labored over-exposition in the film, as if the film makers were trying to prove their case for real-world credibility. The action set-ups were grounded to appear in logic yet wanting also to be gloriously over-the-top and exciting. During the second hour of Long Kiss, (in my best Maude Lebowski impression) the plot becomes ludicrous and the intensity and frequency of the action scenes becomes the focus. When the participants of Long Kiss loosen up, surprise, surprise, the film becomes infectious fun. Watching a platinum-blonde Davis skate across an iced-over pond while firing two guns at a moving car; or watching her pull a gun from a dead man's crotch while underwater in a medieval act of torture; or watching her dispense fuel from a baby doll in order to create an explosion for a daring escape are scenes of Hollywood Action Movie bliss. No one is having as much fun as Davis: when she recalls her previous identity of being a government assassin, she's devilishly good, always sexy, and really intense at times. She also reserves quite a few tender moments (although some are strained) in the final act. Davis's character and actions provide the fuel for Jackson's character, and he feeds off her character by always providing an engaging foil. He never loses a beat in his timing. Throughout the whole film, Jackson, like Davis, is completely charming and often sympathetic.At two hours, The Long Kiss Goodnight could dispense with a lot in the first act. However, I've truly softened towards it during the years (and to director Renny Harlin who received a lot of harsh criticism over those same years). When it wants to be, it's a phenomenal Hollywood action movie. When it goes for something else, it 1.) induces a rant by a blowhard blogger and 2.) really polarizes the problems of big-budget Hollywood films. Anyway, staying in the world of cinema is a lot more fun for the folks on both sides of the screen.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shinya Tsukamoto's Akumu Tantei (Nightmare Detective) (2006)

Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda) has two special abilities: he is able to enter into others' dreams and interact with the dream's characters and setting. He is also able to read others' minds and hear their thoughts and secrets. He is able to hear these thoughts from whomever, awake and on a crowded street, for example, or within a dream. One important character tells Kagenuma late into Shinya Tsukamoto's Akumu Tantei (Nightmare Detective) (2006) that he has a gift and he is not doing anything with it. This observation is mostly accurate: Kagenuma lives in squalor, dressed in tattered clothing, has unkempt hair, and above all, lives alone. He doesn't believe his abilities are a gift but more akin to a curse. The thoughts that he hears from others reveal often hidden beliefs and darker aspects of their being. When Kagenuma is near someone, their thoughts reveal greed, hatred, or anger, for example, while most people walk quietly on the street projecting another face and living life perhaps contrary to their innermost spirit. Kagenuma is reluctant to enter into others' dreams: it is an intensely emotional experience for him and it exacts a heavy toll on his psyche. As for the dreamer, his entrance is often dangerous, as his interactions could result in a nightmare upon waking for the dreamer from a dream.
As for Kagenuma's character and background, it is shrouded in mystery in Akumu Tantei. As for the plot of Akumu Tantei, Tsukamoto crafts a mystery, a thriller involving a killer who is murdering others who are on the brink of suicide. The police encounter two deaths, one of a twenty-year old woman and the other, a married salaryman with a fondness for junk food. Both deaths appear to be suicides: case closed. However, the link between the two deaths is a phone number on both victims' cell phones, noted only as the number "0." Believing that it is prudent to investigate this odd and suspicious link between the two victims, the police plan on calling the number to identify the holder of the "0" phone number. Maybe the two deaths were not suicides at all and perhaps the voice on the phone induced his victims into killing themselves. Or maybe something sicker and more sinister is occurring. Keiko (hitomi) has just become a police detective and the caller "0" case is her first. Keiko is put in charge of investigating whether dreams had anything to do with the killings and she is led to an encounter with Kagenuma.For a film maker who possesses a unique and powerful imagination, Akumu Tantei, at first blush, appears traditional and conventional, coming from a director whose previous works could rarely be labeled as such. This observation would be mostly correct. However, upon closer inspection (and perhaps subsequent viewings), this observation is proved wholly false as Akumu Tantei is much deeper and richer than its surface narrative would have its viewer believe. The film's creativity lies within its characters, primarily three, caller "0," Keiko, and of course, Kagenuma. As these three are drawn together in Tsukamoto's web, the complexity to their characters is revealed as the narrative mystery is also seamlessly revealed. The modus operandi of caller "0" is slick and creatively rendered: one who allegedly murders his victims on the brink of suicide. The interesting question is why: murder as an action, in these circumstances, would be redundant. Tsukamoto's imagination provides a very compelling and offbeat answer to this question. Keiko is not a typical newbie to the police force: she's not a rookie out of the academy, bright-eyed and green; but rather, Keiko has sought a demotion to detective from an elite position within the government's ministry. Again the most compelling question is why: what drives hitomi's Keiko to leave a prestigious job, with presumably more comfort, to engage in police investigation where the hours are long, the cases intense and bloody, and the prestige is almost non-existent. "You might not want to wear high heels," a colleague tells Keiko during her first crime scene investigation. "You might have to run." "Is that an order?" asks Keiko, not even looking at her colleague as she strolls up the stairs.The titular character of the film with a somewhat deceiving English-language title, Kagenuma, has the most mystery and is a completely torn character, reluctantly drawn into the action by the film's narrative. (A viewing of Akumu Tantei's sequel, Akumu Tantei 2 (2009), also directed by Tsukamoto, goes much deeper into his character. The two films richly play to each other, and the sequel seriously informs a viewing of the original. However, discussion of the sequel is for another day.) Tsukamoto does not give any exposition or overt background to his character: everything about Kagenuma is revealed through his character's interactions or through Tsukamoto's compositions. Both are very well done. The opening of the film is very creative and Kagenuma's appearance is effective. To describe it would be to ruin it, as the opening is so subtly crafted. Keiko's first meeting with Kagenuma is memorable: watching how Tsukamoto blocks his characters and frames them speaks louder than the characters' dialogue. Within the final act of Akumu Tantei, Tsukamoto blends both the imagery and what is hidden in his three primary characters powerfully.Visually, Akumu Tantei prefers the dark, and the "nightmare" alluded to in the English-language title is appropriate. Whenever Tsukamoto has the opportunity to paint his characters in the dark, he does. To say that light is used judiciously is an understatement and when light is used, it is effective. Some familiar and signature Tsukamoto visuals are present, such as the p.o.v. shot flying down corridors or alleys and shaking accompanying camerawork. When Tsukamoto's films take a turn into dreamland, the mise-en-scene rapidly changes: the odd close-up on something innocuous, the hyper-odd special effect or gore scene coming totally unexpected, and cross-cuts from the present into somewhere else, either the past or a time that doesn't exist. With Akumu Tantei, Tsukamoto delivers again with his visuals.Gorgeous hitomi as Keiko is electric, as it is hard for anyone to take their eyes off of her. Her performance is an excellent mix of mystery and defiance. The performer of the character, caller "0," is a familiar one and this performer is over-the-top, dark, and sinister. Matsuda as Kagenuma is appropriately quirky and eccentric, sympathetic and understandable, and scared and heroic. A film which has possibly flown under the radar or passed everyone by, Akumu Tantei is seriously good Tsukamoto cinema, always worth watching.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Roger Vadim's La jeune fille assassinée (1974)

La jeune fille assassinée (1974) involves the investigation of the death of a young woman, Charlotte (Sirpa Lane), by a journalist, Georges Viguier (Roger Vadim). Her death was quite scandalous as gossip pointed to international playboy, Eric von Schellenberg (Mathieu Carriere), as being a strong suspect as to her murderer. However, von Schellenberg was able to avoid prosecution because of family political ties (so says the gossip groups). When Georges learns of Charlotte's death, his mind hearkens back to his first meeting with the young woman. Georges calls his publisher and says that he wants off of his current project: he wants to write a book about Charlotte and the circumstances leading to her death. At a fashion show, Georges meets von Schellenberg who openly admits to Georges that he killed Charlotte. Slightly incredulous or curious to seek deeper into Charlotte's later life, Georges begins an investigation by visiting people who claim to have known her from recent times and listens to their stories. La jeune fille assassinee becomes a portrait Lane's Charlotte.
Director Roger Vadim "is now best known as the husband, or lover, of various famous women--Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Catherine Deneuve etc--an image he has fostered in books and interviews in recent years. A shame, as it puts into the shade his real achievements as a film-maker of some style and originality...He was always interested in decor and pictorial images as much as in action and character, and for that reason his best films--Blood and Roses, Barbarella, Charlotte--are like glossy, animated photo albums." (from Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984 by Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs, St. Martin's Griffin Press, New York, 1995)The initial memory, or more specifically, the initial image of Charlotte is perhaps what motivates Vadim's Georges to take upon his investigation. From presumably Georges's point of view, the camera reveals Sirpa Lane sitting peacefully in a strikingly arty composition; and as she looks up into the camera, Lane's Charlotte captures Georges's eye, much like Lane, the actress, captures the viewer's eye. Ms. Sirpa Lane is undeniably a beautiful woman, unlike the classical beauties, for example, of Vadim's relationships and previous works. She possesses quite the sensuous aura and charisma and Lane often becomes more seductive, like Charlotte, with every subsequent frame. Likewise, as the above quote accurately alludes, Vadim's portrait of Charlotte is a series of episodes, shot with an obsessive eye to detail and his female lead. Interestingly, at the end of La jeune fille assassinee, Vadim's Georges tells his publisher a very pinpoint and accurate statement--reflecting what he learned about Charlotte through his investigation. The film, as a whole, also corroborates Georges's statement (or conclusion) as to whom Charlotte really is. However, the overall sense of La jeune fille almost belies its conclusion: that is to say, it's a sympathetic portrait of misunderstood woman whose sympathy is engendered because she is misunderstood.In one scene, Charlotte is sitting at dinner with her family and she is animated and full of life, speaking about her evening plans, while her father sits across from her with labored breathing. Apparently, as he is involved in politics, his situation has become stressful and his work (or the political situation as a whole) is taking a toll on him. In an overt and obvious gesture, he places his palms on his adult daughter's face and gently kisses her forehead like a child. "Charlotte, you're an idiot," he says. Much like most of the scenes in La jeune fille, an objective rendering of this scene is impossible. Why are Charlotte's beliefs and outlook on life subordinate to her father's? Is she an "idiot," because she could care less about politics? Are politics a realm free from their own childlike facets? This dinner scene can be juxtaposed with another which depicts Charlotte in a very childlike manner. Charlotte becomes jealous that her brother, Phillipe, has romantic feelings towards a woman. Charlotte and her sister bound the young woman and begin some nasty hazing upon her. Charlotte's sister is less interested and only tells Charlotte to stop teasing when it gets unbearable both for her victim and herself. Charlotte's teasing and hazing is of a sexual nature (arguably engaging in sexual abuse). However, there is nothing sexy about the scene despite some graphic nudity, and Vadim's camera shoots the scene like a kinky sex sequence with the victim's screams substituting for moans of pleasure and close-up shots of hands bound and clothes being removed. In turn, this scene can be juxtaposed with Charlotte fighting with Phillipe after confronting him with her jealousy. Charlotte is visibly angry and takes to Phillipe with her fists. Vadim, interestingly, steals the occasional close-up shot of Charlotte's nightgown slipping and her exposed crotch and legs. Undeniably, these scenes are for titillation. Whereas the previous scene was clearly a scene of violence with an uncomfortable voyeuristic, sexual take on the depiction, Charlotte's fight with Phillipe is a scene of violence where Vadim doesn't hide his voyeuristic sexual depiction. As each flashback sequence plays against each other, more of Charlotte is revealed. Arguably, none of the flashback sequences are angelic or demonic depictions of Charlotte, and also arguably, none are really objective (stories told from others) or really subjective (Vadim's camera and compositions tell a different story of Charlotte visually).Obviously, Vadim has creatively rendered La jeune fille assassinee, mixing both the sensational and the intellectual. It's a film about perspectives and how judgemental and less sym/empathetic others often are. Likewise, regardless of what one thinks of Charlotte as a character, Vadim goes to great lengths to depict his female lead as quite sensuous and seductive. Lane does little to hamper him. In one scene, Charlotte and a friend dress up for a private dance and striptease. Vadim dresses his actress like a soldier from the Nutcracker Suite with a ridiculously large top hat and accompanying outfit with a mustache, only to then make his camera static with the soft light while Lane and her charisma and sensuality take over. Watching Charlotte in soft red light confronting Eric in the hallway of a club is also erotic as her character is charged with both undefinable emotion towards Eric and a strong attraction. Eric gives chase to Charlotte to embrace her in the crowded street. Her loose dress falls open, and Lane takes command of the scene. Hauntingly beautiful and sometimes dangerous, always seductive and too complex to pin down.La jeune fille assassinee feels like a dangerous game of Russian roulette--very serious subject matter with a very playful and creative (yet very serious) storytelling style with sensational and arty scenes side by side or blended together.