The Cannibalistic Councillor – La concejala antropofaga

The Cannibalistic Councillor - La concejala antropofaga

There is nothing more democratic than pleasure

I used to be quite anal about DVD Movie extras – for some enough to watch the film itself, not I. For me I would plough my way through every deleted scene, every interview of cast and crew – from director through lead actors through writers through costumers all the way through to the key-grips – what is a key-grip anyway?! – the box office theatre trailers, and on. Before I realized it was a kind of madness. These extras combined would outlast the length of the film itself – and then some.

Now I am weaned off DVD extras – not to the extent though that I won’t even see what is on offer. Sometimes they will provide an extra that is a work in and of itself. One such DVD was Pedro Almodóvar’s 2009 film Broken Embraces. On it was an eight-minute film ‘The Cannibalistic Councillor’, a short based on one of Broken Embrace’s incidental characters. He had liked the performance of the actor Carmen Machi so much that he decided to develop a new self-contained scene around her.

The Cannibalistic Councillor - table sceneThis short is a cast of three. The main star of Broken Embraces, Penelope Cruz herself, and Marta Aledo being the other two. However since we only see the Cruz character, Pina, briefly, pretty much just to say good-bye  and the Aledo character, Maribel, is seated, head slumped down on the kitchen-table for the majority of the short, it is really all about Machi. And Machi’s performance is a stream-of-consciousness monologue to camera of her character Chon on sex with a bit of politics thrown in. This short is 18 Certificate. The only quote that the IMDB give is the one that starts this post because most of the reason for the 18 Certificate is the film’s language, well leaving aside moments where she is snorting cocaine between bouts of digesting flan!

As said the Aledo character is slumping – we are not quite sure why – this is Almodóvar so she could actually be dead despite the obvious unconcern of Chon. She could also be asleep or passed out drunk or wasted. This gives Chon full-reign to expound her philosophy of sexual and political liberation to we the audience.

I had been looking for a script for this film on the web but could not find one. I am about therefore to include some of the lines and quotes featured. There is no 18 Certificate on the web – yet – but if you are easily offended by sexual language then reader move along now, nothing more to see here!

Chon is a Councillor of Social Affairs – hence half the title. The other half of the title will become all too apparent very shortly.

We have to recognize desire as the main driving force of a better society – when you desire someone you don’t usually wish them harm – unless they reject you that is

So she exclaims. And so far so political. Disappointed? Shame! You won’t have to wait long.

She then goes on to tell us how she plans to take a year’s sabbatical to write a book elaborating on her theories – “a book in which I describe the fantasies I have during council meetings, the opening of parks…opening masses to the Patron Saint of Madrid! On those as on all occasions all I think about is sex!”

I’m only interested in looking at the men’s asses, their feet, their packets

I could have placed an exclamation mark after each of those anatomy parts so described but resisted! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Shame for you! – but if you are not familiar with the euphemism ‘packets’ – they are due north of the men’s asses – if they are lying down and staring at the sky or ceiling that is!

Going on to explain

that’s why I wear dark glasses, not from photophobia (!) …but to look wherever the fuck I want

She then goes on to explain to us that her interest started young, very young.

‘I started being interested in packets when I was four years old…I could grab them just by raising my hand…like someone picking fruit’ (! – the exclamation marks are always mine and I am having to suppress my use of them too!). Going on to explain that at first she was a great success before the men in her family and circle of friends began to become wary of her ‘unfortunately there was no paedophile and they started to move away as soon as they saw me coming!’ Is that funny? It was one of those moments when I instantly laughed then another voice almost the next instant reprimanded me in chiding tone as if to say ‘Did you just laugh at that?’! Yes I did oh finger-pointing voice in my head! We can laugh at horror and its monsters as well as being appalled and condemnatory of them…she finished by saying

I was marginalized at an early age – it’s very hard to be judged and rejected when you’re only three

…she’s now lost a year too!

But out of asses, packets and feet it is the latter that drive her most crazy – you may know that the Latin for feet is Ped and the Greek for love is Phillia – I am not going to make the obvious pun – Almodóvar does not make it either, perhaps because it does not translate in the Spanish tongue or because it is bad taste or worst that it is a bad pun?! Her love for feet – podophilia actually! – is more than merely smelling, touching, kissing them – she fantasizes about eating them – and hence the second half of the film’s title reveals itself!

She first digresses that the Councillor for Health told her that she prefers ‘big dicks and being hit by one before she puts it in her mouth’ – a sort of eating cock without the cannibalism! She replies to this Councillor that that is the problem with their political party

that we give the image of an old fashioned party rooted in the past – I like having my pharynx fucked too – like everyone!

Her party incidentally being a right wing Conservative party not that that is relevant in anyway other than to explain the following remark of hers that they could ‘win a lot of votes from bored socialists if they were aware that when I am eating dick I like to put – and I am paraphrasing here! – the man’s big toe in my cunt…’ and well let us just say she is only just getting warmed up…and I am not exactly clear why socialists knowing that of conservatives would be more inclined to vote for them either. I guess it humanises them!

She then goes on to explain to the unconscious woman and to us, the by now very conscious audience, (and very likely self-conscious too if we are not watching this alone!) that one of her fantasies is ‘to eat a whole man’ – a man mind not a woman – it must be the taste of those packets!…she shares that she has a a title for her book ‘Pig in the P.A.P’.  – PAP being the acronym for her political party but I must confess that in amongst her full-throated discourse I did not catch what it stood for – somehow I got distracted!

This was the climax of her vocal outpourings as she then toned it down – a tad – with reflections on fidelity and monogamy.

It is at about this point that the hitherto unconscious Maribel lifts her head up off the table – she had been sleeping afterall. The then waken woman reveals that she had been ‘out like a log’ and had a dream, strangely an erotic one at that! – about eating a man! She then expressed aloud that she thought that weird to which Chon replied

I think cannibalism is good for you – you look radiant – despite that print

She was referring to Maribel’s dress!. And so the story ends.

If only Almodóvar would extend this spin off conceit and see Cron’s book published!

The Cannibalistic Councillor - closing credits

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)Gainsbourg the singer-songwriter, or minstrel-poet. The wise-fool. The twin of Liliane. The serial monogamist. The man-boy. The boy-man.

Gainsbourg - as young boy

Gainsbourg The Heroic Life the 2010 French bio-pic by director Joann Sfar, his comic-strip creation made cinema-flesh. An unsentimental tale but no dry résumé either – the history of the spirit of Serge Gainsbourg, no less.

Gainsbourg starts with him as a pre-teen boy on a beach with a pre-teen girl innocently playing until he asks pre-Beatles ‘Can I hold your hand?’. To which his first jilted response

No, you’re too ugly!

After a few seconds pause he stands up and takes an illicit drag on his cigarette – prequel his life and cue the opening credits to the sound of his Vaise de Melody. He is in love with woman, the idea of woman, the ideal of woman, but also the skin-and-bones, blood, sweat and tears woman, but believes himself too ugly for them. In spite of this he is at ease in their company even though haunted hitherto of his physical appearance.

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) - Cartoon SergeTo that end the film presents us an alter-ego of him – a grotesque yet also comical caricature of his body, particularly unflattering his face, even more so his nose and ears. His low esteem in this respect sharply contrasted by the women he courted and loved and sometime married – most notably Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and Juliette Gréco. He of course being loved not (only) for his looks but for his spirit, his huge easy talent  and his common humanity.

As his infatuated relationship with women started young so did his infatuation with art and music, his life-long love triangle.

The young Lucien (for Serge was an adopted stage name) Gainsbourg is played by Kacey Mottet Klein a memorable an acting performance as Eric Elmosnino who plays the adult Serge. Both captured not just the appearance of Gainsbourg but his very essence.

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

First muse?…

And the film’s time-line is at least chronologically conventional starting with the young Lucien in 1940’s Paris under Nazi occupation. And he is Jewish (his parents Russian emigrants) but for him the most significant encounter with Germany is with its music, with Beethoven. He seated at the family upright piano, his father, his dissatisfied teacher, chastising his faltering youthful play, causing the young Lucien to exclaim that he hates the piano and is not interested in music – like Pablo Picasso saying he is not interested in art or Coco Chanel in fashion! Music is certainly interested in him and soon the mutual interest will be all-consuming.

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

Klimtesque drawings

Gainsbourg was not just a precocious musician but a painter, his favoured subjects were women, romance, sex, as it would be with his music too. His precocious gift making him an indispensable friend to his class-mates – a young purveyor of porn that he was. His male-teachers did not exactly disapprove of his work either!

Next we see the first appearance of the Eric Elmosnino adult-Gainsbourg – and painting still competing with women for his passions, music not yet fully established in his affections, now though no longer struggling on his family upright piano but comfortable on a bar-room grand-piano, if still providing that bar its background music.

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

Alter-ego…

Then comes a music lesson, this time no piano but an acoustic guitar. His teacher inciting the spirit of Django Reinhardt – that he did not know notes but could play and feel them by heart and by spirit.

His advice as music teacher was somewhat more philosophical as we see him with young French pop-star France Gall passing on to her the words of a former music-teacher of his.

If your parent’s like your work it’s shit!

There is of course a soundtrack to this film but it is the music as performed in the film itself – it is Eric Elmosnino singing La Javanaise with Greco for example not Serge. I think he would have approved.

The film briefly passes over an eternal dilemma of the artist – how to court popularity and pay the bills and keep integrity intact – in their words

to sell three copies for himself and his parents or write for Johnny Halliday

His encounter with fame was inevitably with infamy too.

I go and come

Between your loins

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

With Jane Birkin…Je t’aime…

This is ‘Je t’aime…moi non plus’ his 1969 hit with future English wife Jane Birkin. And we see them present the song to their manager and can see his response to it from his eyes alone. For most of us Brits this is how most of us know Gainsbourg. Despite a sometime censorious attitude toward pop music the song was not banned as much because we Brit’s do not do French (speak it that is), or indeed any foreign languages, we expect the world to all speak English like we do. And so Je t’aime despite its overt eroticism did not burn our British ears as we could only hear ‘I love you’ (the universal language of pre-orgasmic panting not-withstanding!) and enough of us liking it to send it all the way to the top of what would now be a Top 10 Download chart, and what was then number one spot in the hit-parade of forty.

The French manager understanding very well the full-meaning of its words responded

I’m willing to risk prison but not for one song

Afterwards Gainsbourg declares to Jane Birkin that he ‘wants to move on to more serious things’. Jane Birkin replies ‘like an album or that symphonic project of yours?’ He replies ‘No like marrying a British lady.’

It is still a love-triangle but woman is it seems the favoured of the three.

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

Gainsbourg and Birkin

This film is no prosaic biography as you could go to Wikipedia for nor is it a poem to him as with the book A Fistful of Gitanes by Sylvie Simmons rather it is his attitude and angst distilled in his art, in his music, in his love, in his life.

Towards the end of the film we see the death of his father. ‘My rendezvous is you’ he sings on the upright that Serge was first taught to play on before hunching forward over the keyboard. A poignant swan-song.

No hagiography is this film of Sfar’s – Gainsbourg when not being revered was being reviled.

When he looks in the mirror Serge Gainsbourg must dream of a society with his face. When I see Serge Gainsbourg I become an ecologist fighting the pollution his person and work gives off.

So writes one newspaper critic regarding his public parody of the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise!

His life ends in a drunken golden haze – yet most certainly Gainsbourg did not go quietly in to that dark night.

I look forward more films from its director Joann Sfar – a recent release ‘The Rabbi’s Cat’ is based on a cat who having swallowed a parrot can now speak and wishes to convert to Judaism!

Serge Gainsbourg’s love life was well known (the good and the ill) but his art and his music were greatly overlooked.

Gainsbourg the film provides a poetic memorial of him toward making him, and his music in particular, better known.

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

A Good Woman – every saint has a past, every sinner has a future

A Good Woman - The Windermeres - Scarlett Johannson

A Good Woman – The Windermeres

Some women bring happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.

And so this marital tale proceeds.

The dialogue crackling from start to finish with one-liners dispatching crisply and smartly and as movie script-writers are not usually this aphoristic I beginning to wonder if this was in fact a literary adaptation eventually cottoning on a little too belatedly that this is indeed being from the cup runneth over creative pen of Oscar Wilde, his ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan, a Play about a Good Woman‘. And it is quite clear who the good woman is and as notable that the bad woman gets far more of the best lines.

Scarlett Johansson is playing Meg Windermere but even then I did not make the immediate connection! In slight defence to myself the film is shifted in time and place – from its 1890’s original time-frame to 1930, their titles republicanized to Mr and Mrs Windermere and their origins Americanized to New York and their locations shifted from London to the Amalfi coast in Italy. Still a more die-hard Wildean than me would not have been I am sure deceived by these temporal and spacial liberties.

A Good Woman - Mother and Daughter

Mother and Daughter

Despite having read much of his works ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ I confess is not a play I have seen or read in its entirety instead familiar with it from oft told quipped quotes from the mouths of many others.

A Good Woman the 2004 Mike Barker film follows then as you would expect a similar trajectory as Lady Windermere’s Fan if taking its own celluloid contoured detours along its way. An apparently orphaned child who several decades later upon her twentieth birthday is visited upon again by her mother – and will the maternal secret be shared? – just how much of this tale can I spoil, just what are the chances that this tale is unknown to you anyway?! Likewise whether her masked motivation is maternal or material? She meets often and in private with her daughter’s husband Robert and we like the rest of the cast are left to buy in to the gossip and think the worst. (‘You’re so fond of gossip you don’t give the truth a chance to put its pants on’).

A Good Woman - Opera scene

Gossip is alright. It’s the moralizing that is in poor taste

They have been parted and nurture has overcome nature perhaps – like mother, like daughter does not appear to be so – daughter orthodox and moralistic, mother a law unto herself her own scruples fast and loose. And the bond between them too long rent asunder?

This Wildean tale explores a number of themes if primarily marriage and other romantic human relationships – can marriage endure, can men and women ever be friends. ‘Bigamy is having one wife too many.’ explains a character ‘So’s monogamy’ is the instant rejoinder from another, Lord Darlington. And following on ‘A man can be happy with any woman – so long as he does not love her’.

On love itself  ‘Undying love is like a ghost in a villa – everyone talks about it but no-one has seen it’ – you really cannot go wrong with Wilde!

On friendship ‘If everyone knew what everyone said about each other there would not be four friends in the world’. And I should add even less if we knew the thoughts of our friends!

A Good Woman

You know what I find worse than being talked about? Not being talked about at all.

The Wilde quotes are so good that I am trying very hard to resist shoe-horning them into this post!

So many humorous lines and no less insightful for their levity. Contrast the gravity of Nietzsche who warned to be careful looking into the abyss less the abyss looks back upon us – and which advice is why I do not read The Daily Mail – against Wilde who varies this equivocal aphorism to comment that we all straddle the abyss and if we never look down we can never know who we are. Mmm – do I really have to follow Sarah Palin on Twitter to get the measure of myself!

This 2004 film adaptation of this play stars Helen Hunt as The Lady Windermere absentee mother Mrs Erlynne and Scarlett Johansson the aforementioned Lady Windermere. Other notable performances are Lord Darlington played by Stephen Campbell Moore and Tuppy played by Tom Wilkinson – each romantically engaging and entangling with the mother and daughter Windermeres. Helen Hunt runs Stephen Campbell Moore close in being blessed with the character with the best lines but no character outshines the other I feel rather an ensemble acting performance prevails.

A Good Woman - Mrs Erlynne

Women don’t want to be understood. They want to be loved.

The difficult if enjoyable task of adapting the script was given to screenwriter Howard Himelstein, a new name to me. There are plenty laughs to be had but the film is not solely played to amuse us – it engages us cerebrally and viscerally too. Clearly the witty quick-fire exchanges are Wilde’s, the more prosaic slow-burn exchanges Himelstein’s. And this works taking the script off the stage and making it live and breathe on screen.

Many that are familiar with the play have disparaged the film. I though am not as familiar with the play and taking it on its own terms wonder at the purism and snobbery of such critics – most unWilde like.

It is sumptuously set and shot – it has the look and feel of a costume period drama but none of the sentimentality often associated with that genteel genre. The fashions and interior and exterior décor are a pleasure in themselves.

The film ends with a maternal exchange and a revelation, not to the daughter that she had a living mother standing there before her, but to the mother that her daughter had always been guided by her – if by an ideal of her. And the mother decides to leave the daughter with that ideal intact.

A sad if admirable choice. A satisfying literary ending perhaps but realistically believable too. A grown-up Hollywood ending.

A Good Woman - Mrs Erlynne and Tuppy

I like America. Name me another society that’s gone from barbarism to decadence without bothering to create a civilization in between.

Atonement

Saoirse Ronan Briony Tallis Atonement

The Young Briony

A butterfly flaps its wings…a tell-tale is told and the lives of those concerned are inexorably and irrevocably altered. As is the Tallis tittle-tattler who has to live with the consequences in a way those told on do not due to reasons later to be revealed – in the 2007 film and in my review.

Atonement shifts in place and time like Tarantino but in a more hazy and unpredictable way – a number of times I got caught out believing a new scene was being played out only to find it was an old scene relived from another’s perspective.

The film starts to the clatter of type-writer keys in rural Shropshire, England in the late 1930’s soon to be engulfed by World War II – though for the key characters engulfed by something else seemingly far more trivial yet of a far more fatal outcome.

Robbie and Cecilia Atonement Keira Knightley James McAvoy

Robbie and Cecilia

The precocious young writer completes her play. In another scene the object of her childhood affection types another piece this time a briefer but far more deadly and significant prose – two letters – one an innocent  explanation of his behaviour and request for forgiveness and one more blunt in jest not intended to be shared – ‘In my dreams I kiss your cunt. Your sweet wet cunt’ all typed out to the delirious ardour of Jussi Bjoerling’s version of ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ from Puccini’s La Boheme playing on the record player in his room – but it is that one that is to get shared and its messenger the aforementioned young writer who first reads it – and espies the C word in duplicate. And for that word all this trouble unfolds?

Robbie & Cecilia Atonement

Robbie and Cecilia caught in the act

He is imprisoned but is allowed his freedom if he becomes a British solider in the second World War to be stationed in France – he regains his liberty at the cost of his life.

His beloved estranged from her family because of this accusation becomes a nurse to care for the wounded victims of this War. We believe they are ultimately reunited in her Balham flat only to belatedly discover this was a fabrication of the younger sister whose story this film is. Instead the elder sister is herself a victim of the war – of a bomb and gas explosion killing the sheltering inhabitants of the Balham underground station.

Briony Tallis Romola Garai Atonement

The Teenage Briony

The younger sister wants to atone for her lie to her sister and her now husband by retracting her statement. And she knows and remembers now the culprit only to discover that he has married the victim of his crime making her testimony null and void.

At the end of her life we discover she has finally written and confessed all in her 21st novel – Atonement – but why wait until her twenty-first we wonder – until we discover that the two lovers had never been atoned in real-life as their life had in fact ended in the War and only she had to live with her shameful secret the rest of her life. Only now she decides she must reveal and unburden herself also made more keen by the discovery that she is dying – her brain is diseased and her memory and words will begin to desert her.

Her elder sister is Cecilia Tallis played by Keira Knightley and the object of both sisters affections and love is Robbie Turner played by James McAvoy.

Briony Tallis Vanessa Redgrave Atonement

The older Briony

The younger sister on the other hand is played by three actors because unlike the doomed couple she gets to live out the full span of her life – the youthful Briony Tallis who makes the accusation is played by Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai takes on the coming of age period of her life and the end of her long life is finished off by Vanessa Redgrave who finally writes the book and shares the secret, in effect with all as the interview is on live TV. All and sundry that is but the two most needing to hear it the victims of her tale Cecilia and Robbie.

All Briony’s give striking performances – Saoirse Ronan a very convincing and compelling performance as the younger and Vanessa Redgrave a typically memorable and charismatic finale to the life of the younger Tallis. Captivating too again is Romola Garai in yet another impressive literary adaptation (on TV as Jane Austen’s eponymous Emma and as Sugar in Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White) as the coming of age, innocence-ending Briony.

Dunkirk Atonement

Dunkirk

The war scenes both in the hospital wards and on the fields of battle around Dunkirk were very moving, visually striking and unsentimental.

There were a number of other good cast performances if mostly supporting and fleeting – Olivia Grant played a probationary nurse but blink and you may well miss her! Gina McKee playing the head nurse Sister Drummond you would not miss but still a fleeting performance. As also Robbie’s mother played by Brenda Blethyn. Fans of the recent BBC Sherlock Holmes adaptation Sherlock get to see Benedict Cumberbatch in an early role – with a name destined not to be forgotten!

I am not familiar with English author Ian McEwan‘s novel on which this film was based and certainly now want to become so. I cannot comment then on how the narrative treatment by English director Joe Wright compares to the novel – whether it is faithful to it or strays in any notable ways. Joe Wright himself the longest in a line sure to get ever longer of those bringing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to our screens – his version also starring Keira Knightley and indeed Brenda Blethyn. He has begun work on another literary adaptation this time Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – and guess who plays Anna – yes you guessed it Keira! The youthful Briony Saoirse Ronan also gets a recall too. A film director who is developing a reliable pedigree of intelligent and worthwhile book to film adaptations.

Atonement is a romantic tale with as much high sense as deep sensibility, a moving doomed romance told and recalled without sentiment.

A romantic tale which remains lodged as much in my mind as my heart.

Cecilia Tallis Kiera Knightley Atonement

Cecilia in the Balham Underground

Debbie Reynolds – The Auction – Hollywood History For Sale

You will probably know by now that Hollywood Actor Debbie Reynolds is selling off her private collection of dresses and other film memorabilia.

She has stated she is selling due to a ‘difficult economic situation’ – sounds euphemistic to me! The collection is expected to fetch more than $7 million, an amount I would have thought to overcome most personal economic misfortunes!

This collection is extensive and extraordinary. Not just the Marilyn Monroe white halter-neck subway ‘Seven Year Itch’ dress or the Audrey Hepburn Givenchy black cocktail ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ dress that the media – and fashion media in particular – have understandably focused on, but an endless Hollywood treasure trove of costumes and artefacts – artefacts such as Motion Picture cameras and set beds and for example you are not just getting Julie Andrews’ brown workday jumper and blouse in The Sound of Music but the guitar she played on the Do-re-mi sequence too!

Debbie Reynolds had wanted the collection to remain intact ideally in a museum but could find no willing private or public institution so is now selling them piece by piece at a Beverley Hills, California auction June 18 held by Profiles in History.

This is a shame – I am sure the collection will be a sell-out with wealthy bidders aplenty – but this will then mean that such pieces as Claudette Colbert’s Travis Banton designed gold Cleopatra gown will end up in a closet in some wealthy apartment or mansion unseen thereafter beyond the buyers, their family and close friends, and some fortunate house-staffers. It is not like paintings which at least can have a mass-production print to remind us of their beauty and skill – high fashion can be made Ready To Wear too but good luck to anyone mass-producing the Barbra Streisand $100,000 Hello Dolly gold gown!

I should add that should you live near to Beverley Hills the collection is now open to you right up to the day before the auction itself. I hope that some one will film it for posterity.

For this blogger of modest means I will have to content myself with window-shopping the catalog!

Evan Rachel Wood – If I Fell in Love with You

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you would love me more than her

So sang the Beatles in this 1964 John Lennon penned song – that song was beautiful.

As sung by Evan Rachel Wood in Julie Taymor’s Across The Universe film from 2007 it is spell-binding.

The electric guitars and drums of the original replaced by a spare string arrangement backing her voice to haunting effect.

But this song transforms even more when you see Evan singing it – transfixing.

Finally for greatest impact of all see and feel it in context in the divine narrative of the film.