Saturday, October 13, 2012


Contrary to common belief, this film actually portrays three consecutive eras of Hungarian historical reality using visually shocking symbolism. The film starts with the final days of fascism where one oppressive extreme gives birth to an other directly opposite on the political scale. Communism was the bastard child of fascism, however there was a few years of discontinuity, hence the man of the flaming penis getting executed after laying his seed in the pig-woman. Why the flaming penis? Great 'balls' of fire, literally, enflaming the globe resulting in war of a global scale. The great jizz in the sky and paedophile fairytale setting-A self delusion thinking you can 'F' the world and manipulating your own population to further grotesque goals...Here little girl, put your hand over my heart. In all reality, it was a system that gave the big 'F' to its own people.
The second generation is the era of pig-boy, eating with both hands, consuming all he can and more. In historical terms it is what was once labeled as "Goulash Communism". After the '56 Hungarian uprising, communist leaders made the country the 'Happiest barrack', to avoid more trouble with the ever restless Hungarians. It was a communist style "Let the Hungarian eat cake". A nice touch in the film when the eating champion is told ahead that the Soviet will be the first and he himself can be second. Reality was, that as long as there is no '56 style open challenge to the system, you can have your private Hungarian world,within the barrack, as you like it.
The third generation is the taxidermist making a living out of prepping/propping up the decaying system. In all reality, there was no real political change in Hungary following the downfall of communism. Yes, communism ended in nominal terms, but the same leaders and their cronies stayed and held onto power. Working together with multinational companies, the World Bank and IMF, they successfully stuffed their own pockets while wrecking the local economy and enslaving the population. If you notice, the taxidermist is pale, almost bloodless with a fragile, sickly body. He lives alone among the stuffed animals-relics of the past. He is unable to attract the woman he likes-society of alienated individuals. He works out, almost fanatical, like a hamster locked in a ferris-wheel-expand all your energy, you will still never get ahead way. He still labours on and feeds his ungrateful father-the ever present oligarchs, the corrupt system that never ended, just got worse with the passage of time. The father fattens up cats kept behind bars, but when the gate is left open in a careless moment, the cats consume his gut. The symbol of fat cats: Bankers are often depicted as fat cats. Here the film comes full circle. It starts with Fascism and ironically the true definition of Fascism is the marriage of state and industry, business;in modern terms-Globalism: Fascism on a global scale. Political systems on the extreme are ultimately self-destructing, but not before they destroy their host society. At the end, the father is prepped with the cats displayed protruding from his gut-the system that literally ate itself. The doctor with the foetus is an abortionist. The tiny foetus, still in its embryonic state sports a pig tail. Pigboy and the system he represents is nothing more than a kitschy key-chain...the Hungarian population is also one of the fastest declining. The taxidermist preps himself in a 'Statue of David' style and his remains are admired in a futuristic setting by an artsy crowd-no future. It is self-sacrifice at the altar of utter helplessness. The missing head and arm-His knowledge alone was not enough to save him and his right hand-hand of righteousness, justice, itself. All that is left is a stuffed torso in the style of 'David', yet eerily reminiscent of the stuffed scarecrow of OZ. No heart, no brain, but all the knowledge and feelings of the world. A once great nation, a once great people, like so many before them, are reduced to a sideshow. Hungarians are not alone in this process. We can see the same unfolding in many countries the world over. Western societies are on a long decline as the ebb and tide of expansion and prolonged contraction of societies carries on.
Simply put, perfection is a figment of imagination. Here is the long version: I feel, most of the meaning-symbolism gets lost on people raised on a steady diet of Hollywood and most see the sensationalistic, the grotesque, the demented and the fantastic without being able to put everything into context. Such people are not able to process the story presented the way it was meant to be. This film is filled with grotesque and disgusting scenes which is both culturally and historically specific. It was the only possible way to depict the full depth of the horror of past eras culminating in the present. Hungarians are disgusted and do think, all that is going on is a grotesque freak-show and this is what this film is all about. There are also discreet hungarianisms, puns and references that those not living in the culture would have difficulty noticing. At the end, such viewers see attention grubbing sensationalism only and either they love it purely for its visual effects or hate it, because they find it simply disgusting.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Best of Youth

Long runtimes seem to irk people for some reason; to this day people still seem to complain about how long The Godfather was for its time. What is it about the length of a film that gets under peoples skin? It’s something I’ve been wondering ever since I got this movie, is how long you have to dedicate to the film really that much of a deciding factor that goes in to if you ever plan to watch it or not? You see the reason that question has been in my head is The Best of Youth carries a six hour story. Time is never a thing that worries me about a movie, it’s if the story is worth watching that gets me to see it or skip it.
The movie is spread over two discs just as the film itself was split in half for its theatrical release. Now with six hours The Best of Youth is able to capitalize on giving the film room to breath and the one downside of that is the first hour purposely is paced the way it is in order for us to get to know the characters. And by the time the first disc is over you’ll feel like one of the family as if they’ve welcomed you with open arms.
The Best of Youth is worth every second. I can’t recall the last time a movie has drawn me in the way this one did, simply put it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in the new millennium, granted that’s only six years but you get my point. You grow such a bond with the characters that when they have tears of joy you do to, and the same is to be said about their sorrow. How many other films can you honestly say that you grew such an emotional attachment to its characters you felt their gripping emotions? This is one of the many positive aspects of the films length, instead of rushing story and character development the slow pace builds a bond that no other movie could compare to.
The movie follows a Roman family over the coarse of nearly forty years (thirty seven if you want to get technical) with the main focus on two brothers, Nicola and Matteo Carati. Both are college students who after finals plan to go on a trip to Norway with two fellow classmates where they would see the world along the way. Matteo who works part time at a local mental hospital takes care of Giorgia, a girl no older than him and when he finds out the hospital is performing electric shock therapy on her he plans to sneak her out and help relocate her with her father.
With Matteo now planning to take Giorgia to her fathers he asks Nicola to help him bring her, basically breaking off the trip the four were going to have. When the three are at the train station waiting for the next train Giorgia is picked up by the police leaving Matteo shattered that he couldn’t help give her the freedom she deserved. Realizing he’s let her down he gives up and turns around, while leaving Nicola at the train station.
After this one event everything that happens after has indirectly happened because of it. The two brothers go their separate ways and lead lives in opposite directions. Nicola after touring the beauty of the world joins in the revolution of the people of Rome. Later he settles down with a family and has a profession as a psychiatrist helping people like Giorgia get better without the use of electric shock therapy. Even bringing fellow doctors down for practicing the barbaric treatment.
Matteo on the other hand enlists in the Army for order and rules fighting against the resistance. He later becomes a photographer for the police. Matteo spends his life fighting his internal struggle to make decision. From the moment he realizes he failed Georgia from setting her free he second-guesses every choice he makes there after. When asked why a guy like him with the upbringing he had would want to sign up he replies simply that he wants someone to make choices for him, he wants rules and guidelines. Where there is no possible way for him to give the wrong answer.
During their youthful days they’re focused on changing the world for the better, to take down the oppressors and look towards the future. As they grow older the more they want to be grounded and find one place they’re comfortable in both a political and physically sense. Only the more they try to get a hold of their future the more it starts to change never giving them a sense of comfort or stability. The key point to the movie is that every choice we make in life effects our future, small or big every decision we make can lead to good or bad and that life is simply dealing with each situation that comes next. And at times through the fog it’s clear that life is beautiful, for all the bad moments it’s worth it to ravish in the good ones.
At it’s core the film is about the family and their journey, not once does the film detract from this but at the same time it instills from time to time key events that shook Italian culture. Things such as the flood in Florence to the Red Brigades movement, the attempted assassinations on judges and even the restructuring of the nations key factories. And unlike films like Forrest Gump where at times it feels like the character is being used as a vessel to make a cultural reference possible, The Best of Youth instead stays front and center on the brothers and their way through life only bringing up the cultural upswing as pure background.
The Best of Youth is one of those films you come by that will leave you in awe days after watching it. It’s that good, director Marco Tullio Giordana has created a masterpiece there’s no doubt about it. When the credits roll and then the six-hour runtime pops in to your head you realize that each moment had reason, everything had a purpose in the film. It’s not six hours long; it’s six hours short because I personally could go another forty years with these characters and the experiences they encounter along the way.

Sunday, October 07, 2012


One of the bigger movie surprises of my life. Aside from three scenes: a fart joke near the start of the film, a poorly-done montage of the characters getting ready for a party, and a striptease at the aforementioned party, Sean Ellis' debut feature "Cashback" is almost entirely excellent. A lot of the criticisms are totally off-base as accusations of pretension and half-assed college student philosophy don't make much sense when the movie is from the perspective of, and narrated by, a first year art college student obsessed with the female form.
Accusations of chauvinism or sexism make even less sense. In the film, Ben can 'freeze time', allowing him to literally undress women without their consent and gaze at their bodies, draw them. We see the origins of his obsession with naked women in his youth. Standard male fantasy stuff, yeah? True enough, I suppose, but I think the film is smarter than that. The film is a portrayal of the male tendency to objectify women, think of them as their bodies and not as personalities, if the person doesn't know them. I worried a while ago if this was sexism on my part, that I was undressing women in my head and involving them in my fantasies, and was assured by more than one person that nothing could be more natural (indeed, I agree now, and the suggestion that women don't shallowly look at guys without an iota of thought for their personality is absurd, not to mention sexist in a way). It doesn't surprise me that accusations of sexism against this movie seem to come mostly from extra-sensitive men.
The director here depicts that exact tendency in the most literal fashion possible, then subtly suggests that Ben literally doing so is a transgression. There's a great scene which is never touched on again where Ben is walking around in his frozen world and then sees a moving figure which runs away. He's been caught looking. It's a fleeting moment but it is also probably the most important in the whole film. Ben's words right after he sees the figure are "it never occurred to me that there might be others who could stop time", or something to that general effect. That figure being where Ben was at that moment seems like a striking coincidence, I'd like to think the idea there is to suggest that maybe the figure (which was attempting to hide itself) had its own voyeuristic obsession with the other inhabitants of the frozen world. We encroach on each others' privacy so often without even thinking about it, and without thinking of what others do with our image in their heads, if they're even looking.
Ellis does this throughout the movie- it's not a particularly sophisticated piece of writing in that it's crass more often than not and that most of it is terribly blunt and literal- largely on purpose- but what's nice about this film is that while the ideas are unsophisticated and unsubtle, the actual conveyance of them is frequently quite subtle, or at least subtle enough that a staggering number of politically correct chumps manage to miss the point of the whole thing. What does bother me just a little bit is that the women Ben is actually involved with are never seen undressed. That is accurate to a degree with regard to how a man's way of thinking about a woman can change with getting to know them, but also seems to suggest the idea of a disconnect between love and sex in terms of 'purity' and such, an idea I'm somewhat uncomfortable with.
While my fiancée was ever so slightly offended by the writer/director waxing poetic through the narration about the incredible beauty of the female body, the truth is that the film is a true portrayal of the mindset of most (if not all) straight guys around that age, and if the man is an artist, as history shows, they will often work their sexual obsessions into their art. The film is a subjective, not objective portrayal of the character, which makes me appreciate more the small, thoughtful ways in which the director conveys the character's flaws. Actually, come to think of it, one of the scenes I disliked, the farting fat nude guy in the art class at the start of the film, doesn't seem so much like just a cheap laugh anymore, but seems totally in sync with the film's attitude. We never see his face, just his fat. He is a literal portrayal of the sort of person nobody wants to look at or think about, and his presence in the film, and the presence of satisfied smirks on the attractive young female students' faces (the only part of the film where the shallowness of the female psyche is explicitly portrayed) as soon as they set their eyes on him, is probably for a reason. Or maybe it's just a dumb fart joke I'm reading too much into? At its heart "Cashback" is just another romance/workplace comedy hybrid, but what sets it apart is the pure unflinching honesty with which it looks at the male psyche, the human psyche really, the bravura visual execution of the ideas with stunning photography and some superbly-staged scenes (the football match stands out), and the general confidence with which the whole thing is carried out by the excellent cast and crew. I'm definitely not giving it too much credit, but I'm almost certainly making it sound like a more demanding viewing than it actually is. It's also just funny and enjoyable, with well-drawn and entertaining characters and a good story. Loses its way a bit towards the end, but remains tremendously worthwhile.