Tag Archives: black and white

Illusion Travels by Streetcar

Delightfully wicked movie “La ilusión viaja en tranvía” or “Illusion Travels by Streetcar” (1954) directed by the legendary Luis Bunuel and starring Lilia Prado, Carlos Navarro, Fernando Soto among others. 

Juan Godinez (Carlos Navarro) and Tarrajas (Fernando Soto) are workers in a tram company in Mexico. They have been able to repair tram no. 133 in less than the projected time. However the tram management decide to send tram no. 133 for dismantling and scrap yard. 

Both Godinez and Tarrajas are upset at that. Tarrajas’s sister Lupita (Lilia Prado) is a fiesty young woman and the love interest of Godinez. After a theatre show, both Godinez and Tarrajas decide to take tram no. 133 out for a final spin. 

Before they know it, the tram is running all over Mexico and taking in passengers but not charging them the fare. The management comes to know when one of the their ex employees spots the tram but they refuse to believe that a tram can be stolen. 

Luis Bunuel has surpassed again in a superb story with all its comic elements, deft direction as usual, and awesome production for a 1954 movie. As neo realistic as he can get, this black and white movie is a timeless classic for the ages. IMDB 8/10

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El Gran Calavera

What a wickedly brilliant movie “El Gran Calavera” (1949) directed by the legendary Luis Bunuel and starring Fernando Soler, Rosario Granados, Ruben Rojo, Francisco Jambrina among others.

Ramiro (Fernando Soler) is a rich businessman who has just lost his wife of many years. His children, son Eduardo (Gustavo Roja) and daughter Virginia (Rosario Granados) are all indulgent and lazy and living off his riches.

His servants don’t work nor his employees in his office. His lawyer Don Alfonso (Antonio Bravo) is worried as his is brother Gregorio (Francisco Jambrina). Gregorio hatches a wicked scheme which makes Ramiro a poor man living in a poor colony. That makes all people around him to work harder than before.

Virginia has a boyfriend but he is a moron and not liked by her father. In the poor colony she falls in love with Pablo (Ruben Rojo). Initially Ramiro is confused and dazed but soon realizes the worth and prompts his family members to work harder in order to earn a living.

Brilliantly wicked humourous script by Janet Alcoriza and Luis Alcoriza and superbly directed by Luis Bunuel. Never a dull moment this timeless classic from the black and white era. I am surprised nobody has tried to copy this beautiful script and make movies out of it. IMDB 9/10

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Nazarin

Avant garde surrealistic award winning Mexican film “Nazarin” (1959) directed by the legendary Luis Bunuel and starring Francisco Rabal, Marga Lopez, Rita Macedo among others. 

The story is told of an upright priest Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal) staying in a poor neighbourhood and depending upon the alms given by people. He is so forgiving that he does not mind his possessions being robbed from his house including his money. 

Andarra (Rita Macedo) a prostitute comes to his dwelling to escape from a crime that she has committed and Beatriz (Marga Lopez) is being rejected by her boyfriend. 

They escape from there after Andarra sets fire to the house to destroy all evidence of her being in that place and Father Nazario goes looking for work and not finding that starts begging for alms. 

In the meanwhile he comes across Beatriz in another village and she beseeches him to save her sister’s child who is suffering and about to die. He does not believe in miracles he says and prays with them. The girl miraculously recovers and Nazario is considered as a saint. Shades of RK Narayan’s Guide, here, i thought .

Nazario is then arrested by the local police after accusing him of being with two women. They are made to walk through the town belonging to Beatriz. The head priest comes to Nazario and tells him that he will be made to walk separately from the other prisoners in order to hide the church’s discomfort at a priest being paraded like this. 

Bunuel has made a stark statement on the Church’s inability to recognize goodness in a priest. Nazario himself gets disillusioned until the last scene when a fruit seller offers him a pineapple to eat. Nazario’s naivete is in stark contrast to the brutality of the times they were in, when his co-prisoners rain fists on him and it takes another co-prisoner to save him from further punishment. 

Shot in black and white in beautifully neo realistic style, the camera work and direction are deft as suited a master of the genre. This one is a cult classic for the movie connoisseurs. IMDB 9/10 

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Cairo 30

Excellent political tragi comedy drama Egyptian movie “Cairo 30” (1966), directed by Salah Abu Seif and starring Soad Hosny, Hamdy Ahmed, Ahmed Mazhar among others.

The story is based on a novel by Naguib Mahfouz, the famous Egyptian writer. The story is based in the 1930s Egypt, when there is a corrupt government, rich are getting richer, poor not any better, young educated people are not getting employment and poverty is rampant. The young college going guys are basing their hope on socialism.

The story takes two strands and then connects them beautifully towards the end. Ihsan (soad Hosny) is in love with Ali Taha (Abdelaziz Mikewy) who is idealistic but not practical towards living. Ihsan is a poor girl struggling with her family’s dire poverty.

On another strand Mahgoub (Hamdy Ahmed) who is a friend of Ali Taha, but his family is also poor. His father has an accident and is thrown off his job with meagre pension. Mahgoub has to complete his graduation and he also needs money for rent and food.

Mahgoub gets a job as an Assistant to a Secretary to the Minister. The Minister is wooing Ihsan for a long time. They create a devious plan whereby Mahgoub will marry Ihsan but she she will be the keep of the Minister who comes once a week. Both Mahgoub and Ihsan come to riches, but still Mahgoub does not send any money to his poor grieving parents.

In the meantime Ali Taha is brewing an underground secret movement to bring the corrupt government by printing secret pamphlets and circulating them to the masses. The plot goes off quite beautifully and it all comes down spectacularly in the end. The screenplay is quite good. There is a hint of comic element throughout the plot with a sarcastic bent towards capitalism and tragi comedy towards the end when Mahgoub and Ihsan become hapless spectators in which they are not playing any part.

Shot in black and white, Soad Hosny and Hamdy Ahmed have done quite good roles and others also. It was Egypt’s entry to the Oscars that year, but was not accepted by the Academy. IMDB 5/10

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L’Atalante

Iconic French film “L’Atalante” (1934) directed by Jean Vigo and starring Jean Daste, Dita Parlo, among others.

Its a simple story of a captain of a barge Jean (Jean Daste) marrying his sweetheart Juliette (Dita Parlo) a simple village girl who has not seen the world. They decide to live aboard the cargo with crazy and cantankerous Pere Jules (Michel Simon) and the cabin boy. They decide to forego their honeymoon and go along with river on the barge.

They reach Paris and Juliette wants to see the city, but Pere Jules jumps them and goes aboard to see a fortune teller and later he gets drunk and comes in late. But Juliette still goes off to see the nightlife in Paris alone and upon knowing that Jean departs with the barge leaving her stranded.

She goes to the train station to buy a ticket to the next stop where the barge is headed but somebody steals her wallet. Without money, Juliette is forced to earn some money in order to meet the barge at its next destination. All’s well that ends well with Juliette getting onboard the barge and Jean welcoming her lovingly.

What we are seeing on you tube is a restored version. This movie is considered as one of the greatest movies in the history of cinema. Its a nice clean story with good camera work belonging to that era. Michel Simon is some character of sorts. IMDB 5/10

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Late Spring

Beautiful heart warming Japanese movie “Late Spring” (1949) directed by Yasujiro Ozu and starring Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara among others.

Its a beautiful moving story of a young girl who does not want to leave her father alone. She is 27 and unmarried and she and her father stay together after her mother has died. She is also financially dependent upon him, but Noriko Somiya (Setsuko Hara) loves her father Shukichi Somiya (Chishu Ryu) so dearly that she does not want to get married.

She has a friend Aya Kitagawa (Yumeji Tsukioka) who is married and undergoing a divorce and her father’s friend Onodera (Yoshiko Tsubouchi) who has remarried. Noriko has traditional views of family and honour and frowns upon Onodera remarrying and called it as evil. She gets irked by Aya and her aunt who proposes one marriage after another to her.

But her father says he is already old and she is young so she has to consider her future and give all her love which she is giving to the father to her husband. The marriage may time to fructify, say one year, two years or even five years, but faithfulness and love will see the marriage to the end. Noriko finally agrees to the marriage to Satake (whom we don’t meet in the movie) and goes resplendent in her marriage gown.

Her father convinces her to marry saying that even he is proposing to remarry another widow. They go to Kyoto where Onodera stays and Noriko changes her opinion about Onodera’s second wife.

Setsuko Hara as Noriko has acted so beautifully with her radiant smile almost throughout the movie, it was a pleasure watching her. She also acted in Tokyo Story which is another landmark movie in Japanese cinema and in fact the third part of the Noriko trilogy of Yasujiro Ozu. Late Spring is such a lovely slow moving but absorbing movie, typical of the Japanese movies of old which does not have any violence even in the dialogues.

Chishu Ryu has acted quite well as the smiling and benevolent father in the movie. The camera work and cinematography are quite splendid for a 1949 production, it was world class. That Yasujiro Ozu made a movie about a single woman way back in 1949 shows his genius just like Satyajit Ray who made so many good subtle woman centric movies in a later period. IMDB 8/10

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Sansho the Bailiff

Award winning Japanese movie “Sansho the Bailiff” (1954), directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and starring Kyoko Kagawa, Yoshiaki Hanayagi among others.

Its a period movie set in the 11th century, when Japan still had a feudal system and slavery was abundant. Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) and Anju (Kyoko Kagawa) are the children of a righteous governor who has been sent to govern a far off place because he is kind to the peasants.

Zushio and Anju are kidnapped by bandits belonging to Sansho the bailiff who is having his own private manor with many slaves, beaten and tortured by people there. Governors apparently had no powers over private manors in those times.

Their mother is also kidnapped and made to work in a brothel. Time passes and after 10 years, somehow Zushio manages to escape and find his way to reclaiming his family honour. He had a statuette which his father had given him before leaving so that comes handy. Zushio then becomes governor of a province which has the place where Sansho the bailiff has his private manor with the slaves.

Zushio immediately issues a decree forbidding slavery in any part of his province including private manors. He has Sansho arrested for defying his orders. In the meanwhile he comes to know that his sister Anju had committed suicide immediately after he escaped in order to save herself from the torture.

Zushio then sets about finding his long lost mother. Despite being a period movie, it is beautifully made with lot of emotions in it. The script is world class and also camera work, cinematography are all breath taking despite it being a black and white movie. Kenji has scored a master class in this movie.

Both the main characters Yoshiaki Hanayagi and Kyoko Kagawa have acted beautifully in the movie. IMDB 8/10.

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Touki Bouki

Award winning Senegalese film “Touki Bouki” (1973) directed by Djibril Diop Mambety and starring Magaye Niang and Mareme Niang among others.

Touki Bouki is a story of dreams – dreams of having a better livelihood in a first world country and love for one’s country. Mory (Magaye Niang) goes around his village and town in a motorcycle fitted with a bull horn handle. Anta (Mareme Niang) is his girlfriend equally keen on leaving the hard life.

They try various schemes to make some quick money all illegal of course but could not succeed until Mory befriends a homo sexual and steals money and his clothes and his car. They make arrangements to leave for Paris in a cruise and go the port for that purpose. Anta boards the ship but at the last minute Mory is unable to climb aboard as he suddenly feels nostalgic towards his own country and the rural life of rearing cows and buffaloes etc.

Not much by way of a story there, and the narration is also not very linear. But the camera work and direction are all pretty good. Both Magaye Niang and Mareme Niang have done good roles. You get a glimpse of Senegalese culture in the film. Its also a kind of a subtle satire at the rich vs poor kind of life – rich meaning stinking ultra rich and poor meaning those who cannot afford even two square meals a day. IMDB 4/10

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Spring in a small town

Award winning melancholic Chinese film “Spring in a Small Town” (1948), directed by Fei Mu and starring Wei Wei, Yu Shi, Li Wei, Zhang Hongmei among others.

The film is set in the backdrop of the post Japan China war when there was much destruction and melancholia around. Dai Liyan (Yu Shi) was once a prosperous person with a lot of wealth but has seen all that riches go away and his family estate reduced to a pauper. Yuwen (Wei Wei) is his long suffering wife taking care of his health issues which is tuberculosis and heart problem.

He has no interest in life or worldly matters. In comes his childhood friend Zhang Zichen (Li Wei) who is a doctor now meeting him after 10 long years. Zhang was also romantically involved with Yuwen in the past, so his arrival has rekindled some love interest in her otherwise dull life. Dai Xiu (Zhang Hongmei) is the little sister of Liyan and she is only sixteen but seen as a prospect for Zhang.

Zhang and Yuwen have their meetings again and in time everybody in the household comes to know of their affection to each other. Zhang wants her to come with him immediately but she is not ready to leave Liyan yet. Its a slow moving movie with most of the shooting taking place inside their dull house. The only outside shots are near a broken wall which also signifies the broken Chinese society following the brutal Sino Japan war.

The script is good but slow, though the camera work is quite good for a 1948 production. IMDB 3/10

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Ugetsu Monogatari

Award winning Japanese movie “Ugetsu Monogatari” (1953) directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and starring Masayuki Mori, Kinuyo Tanaka, Eltaro Ozawa, Mitsuko Mito among others.

In a village called Nakanogo, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) is a potter having his own kiln. He has a wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and kid to take care of. They live with his sister Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) and her husband Tobei (Eltaro Ozawa) who is a good for nothing guy always dreaming of becoming a samurai. Even Genjuro has dreams way beyond his means. His wife Miyagi tries to temper his dreams of becoming rich, but to no avail.

Their village is attacked and plundered by King Shibata’s soldiers and they are forced to be on the run. Genjuro finally manages to retrieve his latest pots and tries to sell them in the market. On the way he is forced to let his wife return to their village because of fear of pirates in the water.

In the village market Genjuro is accosted by a lady and her servant, who wants to buy lots of his wares and asks him to come to their mansion to deliver it and collect his money. In the mansion, he is seduced by the lady and forced to marry her.

In the meanwhile, Ohama is separated from Tobei and she is raped by soldiers and forced into prostitution. Both these stories are running parallel, but one is a ghost story which Genjuro does not know yet.

Genjuro finally realises the brutal truth and Tobei also realises his folly of pursuing the samurai dream while he finds his wife in a brothel house. The underlying theme is greed of man which he tries to pursue beyond his means and loses more than gains. The interspersing of the ghost story with the real story is beautifully done in the sense that viewers don’t realise it is an apparition until much later. IMDB 6/10

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La Notte

Second movie of Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy “La Notte” (1961) starring Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti among others.

It is not a trilogy on the basis of continuation of a story from the first movie but on a theme of visual composition at the altar of traditional story telling. Giovanni Pontano (Marcello Mastroianni) is a successful author having just published his book. His wife Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) feels the absence of love and spark in the marriage.

She goes around aimlessly in Milan enjoying small things while Giovanni is fretting for her absence. They attend a party in a business man house where Giovanni spots the gorgeous looking Valentina (Monica Vitti in a smashing role). Everybody’s life seems to be decadent. While Giovanni woes Valentina, Lidia goes off with another guy, but stops short at kissing him.

Giovanni is desperate to clutch Valentina into his hands, which she avoids after knowing that he is married. In the hospital where they go to meet a dying friend, Giovanni is accosted by a sex crazy patient who seduces him and he goes along with it, despite knowing she is not okay.

Towards the end Lidia says “I feel like dying as i don’t love you anymore”. Michelangelo continues with his lamentation towards lack of love between couples as we have seen in a different situation in the first movie “L’Avventura” also starring Monica Vitti. Men are portrayed as wandering about here and there whereas women are shown as anguished for lack of love from their partners.

Both Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau have done good roles, but once again it is Monica Vitti who walks away with the honours in the movie. Smashing, glamorous, beautiful, sensuous, from the first frame to the last scene, she gives everything to the character she plays of a young heiress to a vast business fortune, with playfulness, intelligence yet understanding of the role of women in love life. IMDB 6/10

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L’Avventura

Award winning Italian movie, “D’Avventura” (1960), first part of a trilogy by director Michelangelo Antonioni, starring Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti, Lea Massari, Dominique Blanchar, Esmeralda Ruspoli among others.

Its a story about the disappearance of Anna (Lea Massari) the fiancée of Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), whom her father does not approve. Her father is a diplomat and retired from service after 30 years. Anna, Sandro alongwith Claudia (Monica Vitti) and two other couples decide to go on a yacht cruise trip.

While they go ashore on a small deserted rocky island, Anna confronts Sandro about their relationship. Shortly thereafter she is found missing from the island. They make a desperate search on the island and other islands where the current would have taken her off. But they do not find Anna.

In the meanwhile, Sandro is attracted to Claudia and starts making advances to her. Initially she repulses him thinking of her best friend Anna’s loss but later as the film goes deeper into the search from one small town to another, she starts responding to his love.

Claudia is ambivalent – she loves him, but not so sure that she is getting that same kind of vibes from Sandro. By this time, everybody is sort of forgotten about Anna. The film shows the characters in a very languid pace and the search for Anna is also very unhurried and not desperate. There is a kind of undercurrent throughout the movie that Anna will surface somewhere unannounced. Not exactly a Hitchcockian kind of suspense but there is that feeling that something is bound to happen sometime somewhere.

Claudia’s character is interesting in the sense that she is very fond of her best friend Anna, is anguished at her disappearance, realizes that Sandro is wooing her with a kind of alarm, but as time goes and Anna is not to be found, she starts reciprocating his advances and later gets insecure that Anna will come back and Sandro will go back to her and then finds out that Sandro is cheating on her with a prostitute and in the last scene touches his shoulder – not sure what that meant but there is an underlying theme of insecurities in the characters played. Sandro’s character is kind of ambivalent, not really loving either Anna or Claudia but looking for amorous adventure more than deep commitment.

Monica Vitti as Claudia has done a brilliant role, Gabriele Ferzetti as Sandro is stiff throughout the movie. Of the other characters Dominique Blanchar as Giulia, the disappointed and neglected young wife has acted quite well.

What is remarkable is the slow, languid pace of the movie, despite which the plot stands its ground due to an uneasiness over the disappearance of Anna and the characterization of other players. What is breathtaking is the camera work and cinematography which is visually stunning despite it being a black and white movie. IMDB 6/10

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Los Olvidados

Luis Bunuel’s stunning masterpiece on poverty in Mexico, Los Olvidados (1951) starring Alfonso Mejia, Roberto Cobo, Alma Delia Fuentes among others.

Staying close to the non realist style of film making, Luis Bunuel crafts an absolute masterpiece. Its about a group of destitute children eking out a living in Mexico. El Jaibo (Roberto Cobo) has escaped a juvenile jail and is back with his group of friends, one of which is Pedro (Alfonso Mejia). Pedro is one of many children of his mother and he always feels his mother does not love him enough. There’s a scene where he pityingly asks his mother to love him and she repels him with brute force. 

Jaibo is out to take revenge on Julien who he feels ratted on him to be sent to the juvenule jail. In the fracas that ensues, Julien is killed and Pedro becomes an accomplice. Pedro is shit scared and immediately sets about doing the right things like taking up a job as an apprentice with a blacksmith. There Jaibo confronts him again and asks him to keep quiet and coolly steals a costly silver knife from the workplace. 

The blacksmith sends police to Pedro’s house to arrest him for stealing a knife. His mom confronts him but he says he did not steal anything. They visit a police headquarters which sends Pedro to a reform school called the Farm. Again Jaibo confronts him there and steals 50 pesos from Pedro. 

The movie stays close to a new realist cinema that you can expect from Luis Bunuel. Its an old black and white print but enough to see the raw poverty of the village in Mexico. Everybody is struggling to make money there, Pedro’s mom does washing for a dozen houses, a blind singer makes money by singing, life is tough, life is hard, there is crime, grinding poverty. 

Most of the characters are kids and they have all acted very well.  IMDB 8/10

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Umberto D

Beautifully poignant Italian neo realist movie “Umberto D”, made by the famous Vittorio de Sica and starring Carlo Battisti, Maria-Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari among others.

Carlo is Umberto Dominico Ferrari, a retired civil servant desperately trying to hang onto his rented flat from which his landlady Antonio Belloni (Lina Gennari) is trying to evict him. There is a maid employed by the land lady Maria (Maria-Pia Casilio) a cute little girl who helps Umberto in all his needs.

She herself has problems of her as she is three months pregnant and she does not know who the father is. She is also fearing that if the landlady comes to know she is pregnant, she will be thrown out of job. Umberto tries desperately to raise the money to pay his back rent, by selling his watch and some books, but comes up short of the required amount.

The landlady insists on full payment or he will be evicted. Umberto develops fever and gets himself admitted to a hospital. During the absence, his dog Flite to whom he is deeply attached is let loose from the house and Umberto fearfully goes to the dog pound to get his dog back. Meanwhile the landlady is planning to get married so she carries out renovation in the house, leaving Umberto’s room in shambles.

Desperate from all angles, Umberto sets off from the house with a plan in mind but some things do not happen the way he wants it. He tries to push the dog under an onrushing train, but the dog jumps out in fear and goes away from him. The last bit is very poignant as Umberto tries to woo Flite again into his arms.

Simple story, with beautiful script, very clean lines, superb camera work, cinematography and direction and magnificent acting by Carlo Battisti and Maria-Pia Casilio. Its a cult classic for all times to come. IMDB 9/10

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Aparajito

Satyajit Ray’s ode to women in his second instalment of the Apu trilogy “Aparajito”, made by him in 1956.

When he made Pather Panchali in 1951 he did not think of a trilogy at that time. Pather Panchali was an ode to the mother, to Durga, the daughter who dies so tragically in that film. Pather Panchali is a tale of love and anguish of a mother towards her children.

Ray carries it forward in Aparajito where the mother, played again brilliantly by Karuna Banerjee, is the central character in the movie, although it is called as an Apu trilogy. Its all about the love of a mother for her son, after she loses her husband in Varanasi.

Apu is a bright kid and he has to decide whether to stay back in the village and become a priest or go to Calcutta for further studies. Mother has to sacrifice everything including all her savings in order to give comfort to the son.

Karuna Banerjee once again shines immensely in this hauntingly beautiful movie. Smaran Ghosal as the teenage Apu also performs quite well. Ray’s camera work, direction, script, cinematography works quite beautifully in this second instalment. Magnificent movie from the Satyajit Ray stable.

Picture above taken from the internet, not with an intention to violation of copyright.

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