The Priest and the Girl (1965)

8 03 2008

Despite being a decent enough film, this was sort of a disappointment. For whatever reason, it looked even better than São Paulo S/A but it actually ended up feeling sort of empty. Again, this is a pretty good film but in terms of establishing it’s characters and, for lack of a better term, amounting to anything emotionally, it doesn’t really do much. From a technical standpoint, it’s a bit more firm but still nothing completely original. It has it’s moments, definitely, and I actually enjoyed it a great deal more than this review implies but still, I was expecting something monumentally great.

A young priest moves in to a small town to take the place of an elder priest following his inevitable death. The town has become quite attached to the previous priest and the change is quite unwelcomed. Eventually, the priest begins to understand the awkwardness that surrounds the villagers. An old man hopes to marry his younger adoptive daughter, but seemingly everyone has fallen for the girl and they all have their own stories. Confused and tired of being manipulated, the priest and the girl decide to run off together but even alone, they have trouble articulating their feelings.

In all honesty, the first is basically just a reworking of Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, which is fine by me. Halfway in, the priest and the girl run away and the film takes a detour through Antonioni and/or Fires on the Plain territory. The problem is, this all just feels like stylization. When the two lovers are alone, they act odd, which does make sense on paper. Human relationships are always confusing in one way or another but in this case, they both come off as slightly stupid. I guess the characterization is too lazy to create any sort of interest in these people. They ultimately become nothing more than part of the frame, but again, that’s sort of okay with me considering how the film adds a lot of nice poetic touches. Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on this film, but I really did like it overall but it’s lack of character depth is far too noticeable when juxtaposed with all the other stuff I tend to watch. Visually speaking, it couldn’t be better.

The Beekeeper (1986)

8 03 2008

Some have probably noticed that I’ve become quite enraptured by Kenji Mizoguchi’s filmography as of late, and as a result, I’ve been hungry (so to speak) for more long sequence shoots. In all honesty, I’ve been putting off Angelopolous for far too long and unlike his slow tracking shot peers, Béla Tarr and Miklós Jancsó, I find his films not guarded by pretentious excuses. Instead, his films are immediately accessible in an emotional context and this is even with the occasional silly surrealism thrown in. The Beekeeper represents everything great about him condensed into it’s essence. The intrusive orchestral cues are now replaced by the musical buzzing of bees. Any arguments for symbolism and allegories feel useless: this is two lost souls finding each other and the result is one of the best movies ever.

Following his daughter’s dramatic marriage reception and resignation as a teacher, Spyros begins his seemingly bland job as a beekeeper. He drives long distances going nowhere and in the process accidentally picks up a drifting young women. Her outgoing, carefree spirit clashes with Spyros’ deadpan personality. They part multiple times throughout the film but one always seems to stumble on the other.

To describe the plot of the film is a completely useless process. Like all great films, it’s story lies in more nuanced details. The expressions of the characters or lack there of, the compositions, the mood, and other abstract concepts that can’t factually be pointed out. Angelopolous always crafts his films with a standard of visual beauty, but I can honestly say there is not a wasted frame in this film. More often than not, I prefer long static takes to the slow tracking shots found in this film but in this case, it seems like the slightest camera movement creates a whole new frame. It’s almost as though Angelopolous is only slightly modifying images to create another image equal in visual power.

The avoidance of a “heavy” ponderous feeling often established in films such as this, is most likely a result of two really great performances. Marcello Mastroianni has always been a pretty good actor in my eyes. Even in silly Fellini movies, he seems quite reserved but here, he looks more like a character from a Tsai Ming-Liang film. The lack of dialogue also is key, as it seems in other Angelopolous efforts that the characters articulate their thoughts too well, almost as though everyone is a philosopher. The case couldn’t be more different in this film, Spyros hardly says a word and the girl, understandably, is content with superficial chit-chat. The tension created between this two characters is built upon constant awkward sequences and it seems to be broken when, in one of the film’s greatest sequences, Spyros drives his truck through a cafe to pick up the girl (who remains nameless, by the way) but unfortunately it seems she isn’t quite “ready” when the next sequence on the boat arrives. It’s such psychological confusion that makes this film so great. Human relationships and all the complexities they entail are and will always be more interesting than a allegory on some obscure historical event.