Movies I Saw this Month: March 2016

This month I’ve seen:

El Espíritu de la Colmena // The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Swept Away (1974)
The Matrix (1999)
Natural Born Killers (1994)

El Espíritu de la Colmena // The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

I watched this film during one of my courses, Spanish, Italian, and French Cinema, and I was assigned to lead a class discussion on it (our class is designed as a ciné-club of sorts, and I love it).

My interest in filmmaking largely derives from a passion of politics/social issues, and a recognition of how media molds our perceptions. Therefore this film, which addresses what life is like living in a regime, though not in an entirely obvious way as to make it past censorship, really piqued my interest.

Erice’s craftsmanship in portraying the intrigue, and seduction, of a regime through the story of Ana and her obsession with Frankenstein and spirits, but also in his aesthetic approach to spinning a web (or, more aptly, building a hive) is the stuff of genius.

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The role of film watching itself plays an interesting role in this film. The movie acts as a way for the characters to escape from the boredom/poverty that they live in, and yet reflects that reality (which we see through the cut scene from Frankenstein, and the scene involving the soldier’s body in the same room the film was screened in) and for me, I felt as if the film was making the argument that you can’t kill an idea. Ana’s sister, Isabel, tells her that spirits don’t die, and Frankenstein is the spirit she is referencing. No matter what happens to Ana she can’t stop thinking of Frankenstein, and when her Father’s insistence that the girls don’t eat the small mushrooms (which are more dangerous than the fully grown ones, like children) is reimagined through Ana’s actions of eating mushrooms while on the run, we can see that Ana as a character is acting in strong contrast to the regime. Children, like small mushrooms, are dangerous in the film, they allow ideas to consume them, and not always the ‘right’ ones. Children are the building blocks of regimes, but just as they can be easily convinced of the nationalistic propaganda, they can attach themselves to other ideas fully, as well. I mentioned this idea in my class, and I am still struggling with how to describe it (though I was struggling more then), but I’m sure there’s enough evidence to prove it.

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Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As a film student, sometimes I’m embarrassed that I haven’t seen a film (more below). This is one that I’d been meaning to get to for awhile. I had built up my expectations for the film, and let me say, I was not disappointed.

I loved the film, (and if you’ve begun to catch on I like more films than I dislike, blame the optimist in me), but for very particular reasons. The aesthetic approach to this film is largely something I’d expect from a large budget Hollywood film, but interwoven in the predictability are shots set up in a way that is so delicious, like fava beans….(hahahahahahahahahaha I’M SO FUNNY)In particular, awhile after my viewing, what stands out to me most is the beautiful use of close ups, focusing on Clarice, and Dr. Lector.

Immediately after watching the film, I didn’t know how to feel about the way women were depicted. Is it empowering? Can it be, while creating a diegesis in which men are given authority and women have to act outside of it? How are we to understand Buffalo Bill? Is he (she) meant to be a transgendered character? If so, what does that signify?

I loved Clarice as a character and her treatment by Hannibal was refreshing, meaning her lack of sexualization. I also found it interesting that the only other woman we see at the academy is a woman of color, with regards to the lack of representation of people of color in film historically, and today.

I still have no idea how to respond to the transgendered nature of Buffalo Bill, though I know there are several academic sources that discuss it. Perhaps I’ll find time to dissect those in the coming weeks, but if you have thoughts on it, let me know.

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Swept Away (1974)

Jeepers, mister.

Swept Away was not at all what I was expecting. My French, Italian, and Spanish Cinema class also screened this film, and as such we had a discussion afterwards to break the film down (thank GOD). (Also, female director alert, aaaay)

This film was a struggle for me, after the beginning, in which Raffaella and a man are fighting – quite humorously though their boisterous actions, I found it difficult to laugh or find humor in the film. I sensed where the plot was going, but that didn’t make any of the events of the film any less startling. I foresaw Gennarino hitting her, even raping her (which did he?), but I didn’t expect the Stockholm syndrome that Raffaella had after these events. I thought the film was interesting as a commentary on class, and how society is structured to keep classes apart, but I think it goes even further of that. I don’t think either communism or capitalism goes unscathed by Wurtmüller’s creation. In the past I have taken a Russian and Soviet Cinema class, and what I always found interesting was Soviet communism’s commitment to destroying a class based system, while it ignored gender roles and how those influence society as a whole, but also labor. This film also makes that criticism, as Gennarino is granted abilities that make him naturally more able to complete tasks that Raffaella cannot. While we are made to believe that this is characteristic of their class, there is an implication that their genders play a large role in their abilities. The male character, who espouses views of equality, also subscribes the heaviest to constructs of gender, and what is deemed suitable for the roles of each gender (gender being treated as a binary in the film).

The film appears to be criticizing the realistic nature of thinking that were all structures of society

removed, woman and man would return to their ‘purest’ forms, with men being the dominent of the two. In it’s use of saturation, and narratively the absurdity of the events, I’m lead to believe that Wurtmüller is criticizing the way class in general works to support gender structures, which in turn hinders women.

But, perhaps I am mislead. Comments are welcome.

Aesthetically, I loved the saturation (I’m a sucker for colors), and the costuming was wonderful. In fact, if you’ve seen this film, does Raffaella remind you of Lady GaGa? Or, more appropriately, vice versa, but still I definitely thought that on more than one occasion while watching the film.

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The Matrix (1999)

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This semester, I felt a new kind of shame (okay, an old shame in a new way) in that I was the only person in my film class who hadn’t seen The Matrix. THE ONLY PERSON, and as such my professor asked me what I thought about it, after we screened it. Now, dear reader, I didn’t grow up in a bubble. So, while I hadn’t seen The Matrix I knew what it was about, enough to not be surprised by the film.

My response to my professor was, “It’s definitely a product of it’s time.”

Wow, much eloquent. Such wise. Many smart.

Anyway, when I said the film was a product of it’s time, I actually meant that in a loving way. There’s a certain reverence for the 90’s that I think everyone in my generation has, and watching The Matrix was like  revisiting that time in the least embarrassing way possible. Instead of shuddering at the aesthetic choices, The Matrix was like a showcase of the best of 90’s punk/cyberpunk aesthetic. The entire time we were watching the film, projected on a large screen, I was living for the overall misc-en-scene, more than just appreciating the visuals, but also seeing how they reflected the narrative of the film. For instance, the way the walls are decorated in the interrogation room Neo is in with the Agents, the lines on the wall mirror a kind of digital reality.

Narrative wise, as I stated before I am not a complete baboon (yes, I meant baboon, not buffoon, thank you, thank you), and I had some idea what this film was going to be about, but I found the arch of the story to be pleasant overall. Given my exposure to the films plot by friends (who also ruined Shutter Island for me, jerks) I wasn’t as mesmerized by the concept as I would imagine one would be given a ‘clean slate’ to start the screening with. Writing this after some time has passed since I’ve viewed it, I don’t really feel overwhelmed by anything other than the aesthetic of the film, which, to me, was reminiscent of the Blade movies —which I adore. All in all, it was  a good film, I see why people like it, but I probably won’t return to it for awhile, not out of dislike but out of a lack of wonder.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

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Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson bring brilliant performances in this film. The film itself works as the beginnings of a dialog on the connection between sex and violence, and even more so the ways in which media influences our conceptions of these ideas. In the way that I don’t really care to see The Matrix any time soon, this film acts in stark contrast, I find it to be intriguing in the way that there’s so much to digest, too much for one viewing. Questions I still have about the film pertain to the way race is constructed within it, is it good that the only time we see people of color are when we’re inside a prison? Knowing that people of color, predominantly black people, are more likely to be incarcerated in the United States. What exactly is the criticism that is being made about sitcom television at the beginning of the film? How are we to understand the ways that law enforcement are depicted in the movie, with respect to Det. Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore) turning out to be just as violent, if not more so, than our murderous couple.

I think a good film asks the viewer to recognize structures of society that they accept, but aren’t necessarily acceptable, and a great film leaves the viewer with questions about that society, the way it functions, and how we grow to accept it.  By those guidelines I found this film to be fairly astonishing. In the way that I am confused by Tarantino’s films (he wrote this one), this film was concise and clear to me. Yeah, there were problematic areas where I was unsure if the director was making a commentary or playing to stereotypes, but as a whole the film acts to serve a larger purpose than to just be entertaining. I will definitely be watching this one again.

Thanks for reading! As always, comments are welcome, and discussion is encouraged! Until next month 🎬

(Pro-tip, the titles are linked to IMDb pages for quick reference, you’re welcome, boo bear)

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One thought on “Movies I Saw this Month: March 2016

  1. Pingback: Movies I Saw this Month: April 2016 | A Life in Review

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