Mafioso (1962)

15 03 2008

A good-natured and easy going commedia all’italiana for a solid fourty-five minutes or so, and then it takes a really random mafia twist and ultimately, tries way too hard to be more than what it is capable of. What Alberto Lattuda is trying to say in the final scenes is indeed good, but it’s executed in the most obvious way with heavy-handed symbolism being thrown from all directions. This is a nice effort, but I guess it sort of magnifies the problem I have with a lot of Italian comedies from this period. It’s undeniably funny, but there’s no people, no feelings – just exaggerated character types stuck in awkward situations. Still, it really is a lot of fun as long as you don’t expect much.

Nino now working at a white-collar job in Milan, travels back to his blue-collar roots of Sicily, along with his wife and two daughters. While he is over-joyed, his wife is slow to accept the Sicilian culture which results in some very alienating meeting between herself and Nino’s parents. Eventually, Nino catches up with everyone in town (or so it seems) and his old friend, Don Vincenzo who is secretly recruiting someone to do a “favor.”

The early sequences of Nino’s family mingling with each other are fantastic, filmed with excitement on Lattuda parts. I don’t know his own history, but I’m guessing he had to experience some of this stuff. The scene in the outdoor living room, for example, is a perfect representation of what I mean. It seems to get all the specifics right: the awkward pauses, the two families getting “use” to each other. Nino accidentally bringing up the topic of old friends who are now “evil” politicians. I suppose this film confirms that I’m not a huge fan of these Italian comedies (give me Antonioni or Olmi any day, please) but I will admit, they are really really funny at times.

Still, the minor strengths breed the eventual downfalls of all these type of films and that is: I hate everybody here. Nino is annoying and completely unlikable and every time he’s at a point of disagreement with another character, I like that other character more. This perfectly explains why his wife is by far the most interesting person in the movie: she’s given the least amount of conventional development, ridden off merely a “snobby” character and is treated as a pet by Nino. When the film finally takes its (admittedly smooth) turn towards the serious side of things, my interest just completely drops out. A very admirable effort, though, and I certainly wouldn’t mind watching it again if only for the wonderfully awkward family interaction that occurs early on.

Forget Love for Now (1937)

15 03 2008

Despite the poor condition of the film’s print, this still shows just why Shimizu is often remembered as the most technically advanced director to come out of Japan in the 1930s. I’ll have to explore more of his filmography to make a more general statement, but with this, one of his earliest talkies, he has made a film that looks and feels more directly influential to the minimalists of modern-day east Asia. Certainly, Naruse and Ozu are more written about and they deserve it (after all, they are probably my two favorite directors) but Shimizu manages to create a style that is just as observant, yet unlike the aesthetic of his peers.

Yuki is a young, single mother supporting herself and her son, Haru, with a job as a bar hostess. Haru’s group of friends (which includes the always good Tomio Aoki) are told by their parents to avoid playing with Haru because of his mother’s shady job. Meanwhile, at the bar, Yuki asks for increased pay but her bosses’ refusal makes her morale lower. In addition, Yuki discovers that Haru is skipping school. She is understandably angry but her son’s reasons are logical: no one will play with him. She enrolls him at a different school the very next day where he is accepted by a group of Chinese immigrants. In a playful juxtaposition, Yuki tells her manager that she will never entertain immigrants. Haru’s new group eventually collides with his old group and he’s left to defend his mother’s honor.

Now, I say Shimizu is the most advanced of his peers because his style is so easily identifiable with many of my favorite modern-day minimalistic directors from east Asia. There’s a more direct connection, in an aesthetic sense, than in an Ozu or Naruse film. Again, I’m not downplaying the greatness of those two but it’s mostly just that time has (unintentionally) chosen to preserve Shimizu’s technique. It’s quite important to note that I’m merely talking about Shimizu’s aesthetic because obviously there are some deeper connection between Hou and Ozu, for instance. It’s not like I don’t love the style of Ozu/Naruse either, but it’s just that Shimizu’s style is different.

I suppose Mizoguchi was also doing stuff as innovative around the same time, but his films do get a little too tragic. On paper, this story is completely tragic and yet, the performance are all downbeat and for my money, fantastic. Even the kids, despite playing in roles that border on being antagonistic, deliver subdued performances. Michiko Kuwano is really fantastic here too so it’s a bit of a bummer to know that her career was cut so short. In all honesty, this is pretty much a perfect movie in the most objective level but it’s short running time (72 minutes) and the print’s condition (not to mention the timecode!) deny any overwhelming emotional involvement. It’s still great to finally experience a Shimizu film, but I certainly hope he went on to craft films that were more emotionally fulfilling. Otherwise, a wonderful movie.