Friday, November 27, 2015

Un silencio de tumba (1972)

I probably like Un silencio de tumba more than I should.  I watch a lot (read a shitload) of low-budget movies but rarely as I am impressed with Jess Franco.  During my second viewing of Silencio, I had an epiphany, which should seem obvious after viewing a hundred plus Franco flicks, that the man had such a creative talent that Franco could take so little materially and make provocative and entertaining cinema.  Silencio is a murder mystery.
On a remote island, a film crew takes a long weekend vacation.  Upon the island is a villa, owned by famous actress, Annette (Glenda Allen), and is occupied by her sister, Valerie (Montserrat Prous), her child, Christian, and few servants, among whom is Laura (Kali Hansa).  Annette and her guests, which include Juan (Alberto Dalbes), a detective and friend and Jerome (Luis Induni), her producer, among others, arrive via a chartered boat (the only way to reach the island).  Valerie stoically greets her guests, and they are not welcome:  Valerie harbors a deep resentment towards her sister and her lackadaisical attitude towards rearing her child.  Valerie believes that Annette lives a selfish life and will be damned if her sister takes her child away from Valerie.  During the first evening, after a revelry has ended, the child is kidnapped and a large ransom is demanded.  When the money is acquired and placed at the agreed-upon location, the child is still not returned.  Paranoia turns the guests against each other whom all begin to die in short order.
Two performances stand out in Un silencio de tumba:  Montserrat Prous and Alberto Dalbes.  Even after seeing her in Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973) and Le journal intime d’une nymphomane (Sinner) (1973), I have failed to realize how truly beautiful and talented an actress Prous is.  There is an easy sexiness about her, as she is strumming a guitar upon the veranda (the music by Franco and Fernando García Morcillo is a favorite).  There is also a vulnerability to her character despite her hatred towards her sister and her guests and her obsession to keep the child at any cost.  This vulnerability engenders quite a bit of sympathy with her character.  Likewise, if Prous is the sail of Un silencio de tumba, the Dalbes is the anchor.  A recognizable face from Spanish genre cinema, I often fail to recognize his talent, often because he is consistently so good that I have grown accustomed to him.  While the rest of the ensemble of Silencio is fueled by emotion, it is Dalbes’s Juan who keeps a level head and drives the story.  The story of Silencio is familiar and not of particular mention.  Franco, wisely, tells his story through Prous and Dalbes:  as Valerie loses her grip on reality because of her obsession, is Juan trying to keep her leveled or is he manipulating her, driving her further into paranoia for his own gain?  Never was I, even during repeated viewings of Silencio, looking for clues in the story or trying to determine who was a suspect. Rather I was fixated upon Prous and Dalbes and more interested in how their characters were evolving.  Perhaps the irony of Un silencio de tumba and why it occupies a second-tier among Franco fans is that while he should have been crafting a murder mystery, Franco, either intentionally or negligently, crafted a fine dual-character study.
As Franco tells Un silencio de tumba through the eyes of Prous and Dalbes, his visual style focuses upon close-ups of his actors.  Prous’s Valerie is the lone character to be afforded monologues, and despite their antiquated feel, they work towards heightening her obsession.  Silencio is not a poor murder mystery.  Franco actually handles its atmosphere remarkably well.  Past the midpoint of the film, the power goes out in the villa, and the few remaining characters reach the breaking point.  In shadowy corridors and rooms, conversations, once mundane in the daytime, take on a sinister edge in this darkness.  Prous and Dalbes alternate between possible allies to would-be lovers to combatants by the end of the film.  The ending of the film has a twist, but whatever—the rest of the film leading up to it more than satisfies.  Un silencio de tumba deserves more praise than its title will allow.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Hugo Stiglitz Chronicles, Volume Three

“Who’s in the house? Stiglitz’s in the house.”

Repeat four times.
This is a song that I wrote.  Enjoy.
El vibora (2002)
In El vibora (2002) (the IMdB lists the film possibly as Matar para vivir (2002)), Stiglitz gets second billing with his named spelled correctly in the credits with “Stieglitz” on the DVD cover.  It has been well over a week since I have seen the film, but I remember the simple plot as such:  in Mexico, an anti-terrorist police force nabs a terrorist who runs the nerve center of the terrorist cell.  They hold him indefinitely and use various methods to extract information from him with little gain.  Stiglitz is the head of the terrorist cell and lives in Houston, Texas.  When he learns that his compadre has been captured, he arrives in Mexico to either free him or kill him.  Both sides attempt to gain information about the other with little success.  Stiglitz has a meeting with one of his partners at a bar, and the two have a conversation, relating important information, in front of a shoeshine boy.  This boy has a fortuitous run-in with the lead officer of the anti-terrorist squad which leads to a fateful confrontation with Stiglitz.  Three scenes stand out:
1.       Upon arrival in Mexico, Stiglitz meets his compatriots at a bar, and they discuss their plan.  Each is served a cold bottle of Corona beer.  The meeting is short, so when it concludes, each leaves a bottle of beer in front of him, half- to three-quarters full.  Stiglitz takes his beer with him.
2.       Two police officers raid a karate dojo and nab a potential suspect.  After some questioning, the police realize that he is not a suspect and attempt to apologize and leave.  The sensei of the dojo challenges the two officers with his best two students.  One of the police officers wins his competition with martial arts.  The other ends his sparring match by pulling his gun.  Definitely not “the way of the empty fist.”

3.       Before the fateful confrontation with the anti-terrorist squad, one of Stiglitz’s henchmen gets cold feet and attempts to flee.  Stiglitz guns him down.  About to put a gun down the front of his pants with a hot barrel, Stiglitz opts not to.  Instead he smells the barrel and shows no emotion.

El vibora is average.  I have never been too fond of political thrillers, so I am really not this film’s proper audience.  The film is a game of one-upsmanship with a lot of talky bits.  Its Stiglitz-tude is lacking.
Un hombre salvaje (1993)
In Un hombre salvaje (1993), a large, good-looking man is engaged in martial arts sparring at a local gym.  He goes too far and attacks his opponent violently.  His good-looking girlfriend appears at the gym (she is a dancer) and chides him for his violent behavior.  Back at their apartment, their rent-to-own furniture is about to be seized.  The large, good-looking man, who is later revealed to be a cop, borrows some money from his homey who runs an appliance repair shop.  When negotiations fail with the repo men outside of his apartment, the cop takes to violent action and starts beating the men.  His girlfriend steps in and stops them.  They take away their color television.  The cop returns to his homey to give him the money that he borrowed, but Stiglitz shows up as a crime boss.  (He is dressed with an overcoat around his shoulders with a cigar in his mouth.  This is the attire of a crime boss.)  One of Stiglitz’s cronies subdues the cop, and Stiglitz ices the appliance repair shop owner.  Stiglitz’s character is engaged in shaking people down and drug trafficking.  He is fourth billed in this picture.  The cop takes to the streets, determined to bring Stiglitz down for icing his homey.  Unfortunately, his aggressive, violent actions may be his own undoing.
Average, Un hombre salvaje is.  The final confrontation in a warehouse with Stiglitz is the highlight.  The weirdest scene entails a small party where three men are drinking with three women.  One of the men beats upon his date and drags her into the bedroom where he intends to rape the woman.  The two remaining men in the living room remain cool, but one of the other ladies excuses herself to the bathroom where she calls the police.  The violent cop arrives with two partners.  While agonizing screams are heard inside, they take the time to form a plan.  The lead cop, going against the plan, busts through the front door.  He has a fight with the would-be rapist and kills him.  Problem solved?  No.  He apparently is not supposed to kill suspects in the act of rape whom attack him.  The cop does not ask to see the manual.  Stiglitz wears a fedora and a vest for the majority of the film and chews a cigar.  He becomes animated during the final-act gunfight.
Cabaret mortal (1998)
Cabaret mortal (1998) is by far the weirdest film of this three.  Stiglitz is top-billed with his name spelled “Stiglits” in the opening credits.  A dude owns a bar.  It is a happening place:  live music, dancing, an occasional erotic dance, and general comradery.  He employs some extraordinarily gorgeous women to work as hostesses.  He sleeps with them, too, and showers them with flatteries but one at a time.  In the opening sequence of the film, a hooligan accosts the bar owner and makes moves towards his hostess.  He challenges the bar owner to a fight, whereupon the hooligan kicks his ass, pretty bad.  He kidnaps the hostess.  The following morning, the bar owner finds his hostess and the hooligan.  The bar owner kills the hooligan in a knife fight.  He takes the hostess home and sleeps with her.  The following evening, the bar owner picks a new girl upon whom to shower flatteries and with whom to sleep.  Apparently, the ladies are quite competitive as to whom is going to be “top girl.”  One day, a good-looking transient appears at the bar and asks for a job.  The bar owner gives him a job as a doorman.  Enter Stiglitz.  He is a douchebag who is forcing the bar owner to use his club as a front for drug trafficking.  Now let us let go of conventional reality for the remainder of this synopsis.  The doorman convinces the bar owner at the next drug exchange in which he is involved to turn the tables against Stiglitz and company.  They engage in a gunfight whereupon all the thugs are killed.  The bar owner is most impressed, and the doorman and bar owner form a strong bond.  In the subsequent scene, the two engage in the most homoerotic knife-fight sparring scene that I have ever seen.  Granted, this is the only knife-fight sparring scene that I have seen, but I feel all future ones will be judged against it.  The doorman is given nice clothes and money and is no longer forced to serve as doorman.  Remember the original lady who was kidnapped by the hooligan and later rebuffed by the bar owner?  Now, jealous that the bar owner is engaged with another lady, she begins a fight on the dance floor.  The bar owner smacks her around, and the former doorman steps in to rescue her.  The bar owner is pissed, and the former doorman escorts the lady home.  They sleep together.  In the final scene of Cabaret mortal, the bar owner and the former doorman have a slow-motion knife fight which ends with one or both dying.  On the dance floor.  Remember Stiglitz?  His plotline ends unresolved.
Cabaret mortal takes a while to get cooking but once it does, its weirdness overshadows the lack of Stiglitz.  There is a wholesomeness to the live music/dancing scenes, as if everyone is having fun in a family-friendly manner.  It is almost as if I could ask out the pretty girl at church for a date there, for dancing and to drink soda.  However, if I were to take her on the night that the exotic dancer occupied the dance floor, then she might be offended and get the wrong idea while the exotic dancer gyrated and caused all of the blood to rush into men’s crotches.  What if we showed up on the night of the slow-motion knife fight?  Stiglitz, finally, for the record, misses all of these scenes.