L’Eclisse (1962)

All relationships in nature have an arc – a beginning, middle, and end. The length of time in said union may vary, and the stories entangling and contributing to each component make them unique. The finality of a relationship may expose a wide discrepancy of emotions based on its journey, including sadness, joy, and indifference. The subsequent avenues of exploration taken after a breakup can therefore be endless. Unlike La Notte, “L’Eclisse”, the final film of Antonioni’s trilogy of love and loss, begins with the end of a relationship and explores the course taken by the lead actress in its aftermath.

Vittoria (Monica Vitti) is a young literary translator who used her knowledge to aid her boyfriend, Riccardo (Francisco Rabal), in his work. The silent tension between them at the beginning of the film indicates impending dissolution, and that happens in the form of Vittoria ending her relationship with him due to lack of happiness. While he continues to occasionally pursue her, Vittoria dabbles in spending time with equally emotionally confused female friends. She also attempts to reconnect with her distant mother (Lilla Brignone), who is a frequent flyer of the Rome Stock Exchange. It is there that she meets Piero (Alain Delon), a young stockbroker obsessed with increasing his monetary wealth. Vittoria and Piero begin to spend time with one another, battling reservations in this budding courtship and surrounding threats, including loss, fear, greed, and anger. However, they are fuelled by the promise of a fresh start and hope.

A solar eclipse is often viewed as an extremely rare phenomenon in outer space, whereby the Moon’s view is temporarily blocked. Contrarily, eclipses occur on a daily basis in terms of human interactions. Certain internal and external events may prevent us from experiencing life at its supreme. One such event is an affair and its impact on a current relationship, both explored in L’Avventura and La Notte. While many are absorbed in the details of ensuring a properly functioning bond with their partner, another eclipse that occurs is the loss of individuality and personal identity. I feel that this is the true common thread linking this beautifully expressed trilogy. As well, the stunning composition and editing of the revered end scene highlights the memories of physical spaces and lost promises of former optimism. “L’Eclisse” is therefore a fitting title to the final chapter.

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Ugetsu (1953)

The spirit world has been a source of polarizing contention throughout human history. The concepts of “spirits” and “ghosts” evoke multiple emotions, including fear, solace, apprehension, and peace. Certain drastic events in history may be associated with spirits, such as the Salem Witch Trials. Depending upon our beliefs, spirits’ presence and aura may serve to aid us in understanding and solidifying our own individual sense of self, as well as our connections with others and our surrounding environment. The Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life explores this idea, as well as the stunning 1953 Japanese medieval fantasy film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi named “Ugetsu Monogatari”.

The black-and-white film is set in the humble village of Nakanogo, where we follow the story of two couples. Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) create and sell beautiful pottery, supporting themselves and their adorable young son, Genichi (Ikio Sawamura). Tobei (Sakae Ozawa) and Ohama (Mitsuko Mito) operate a farm, whereby Tobei has immeasurable dreams of becoming a samurai. Amidst their perceived tranquility, there is impending and inevitable chaos in their village created by the army of Shibata Katsuie. This consequentially leads to separation, displacement, and abandonment of responsibilities. Tobei becomes relentless on his quest to become that of an oxymoronic figure who damaged his home and relationship, while Genjuro encounters a beautiful, wealthy woman of seeming nobility in the form of Lady Wasaka (Machiko Kyo).

The English translation of the title is “Tales of Moonlight and Rain”, as the ancient East Asian tales from which the story is based revolves around natural elements forewarning humans of the uncontrollable spiritual forces. The film has a splendid mystical quality reflecting the original tales, supported by smooth transitioning between fantasy and reality and occasional hazy cinematography. Furthermore, fairy tales are often disguised cautionary tales to their readers about indulgence, patriarchy, dishonesty, greed, and inevitable destruction if we become highly swept into an imaginary world at the expense of others’ well-beings. This film effortlessly exemplifies and reinforces these themes, additionally resonating with audiences post-WWII in the aftermath of worldwide exploitation of power. “Ugetsu” is a pertinent reminder that our commitment to family, friends, and our communities is the glue which allows us to remain steadfast in the face of outside challenges which threaten our unique essence.

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The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

Respect and dignity of all human life, regardless of age, is paramount in society. Care of the elderly is a burgeoning topic due to the increasing number of baby boomers entering senior citizenry. Advanced health care directives, power of attorney, and deprescribing medications are some of the initiatives taken to improve the quality of life of our elders and to also endorse their autonomy. They have lived and breathed through a mountain of experiences, and it is essential that we value their contributions to youths’ and young adults’ knowledge bases. Unfortunately, their worth may sometimes not be esteemed by younger generations, and their future may be dictated by predilections beyond their control. Also explored in Make Way for Tomorrow, the heartbreaking “The Ballad of Narayama” (1958) directed by Keisuke Kinoshita addresses these widespread concerns.

Orin, played by Kinuyo Tanaka, is a 69-year-old female living in a tiny Japanese village. She has resigned to and embraced her fate as travelling to the mountain Narayama at age 70. According to ancient Japanese custom, elders at this age in a community facing famine would succumb to Narayama’s harsh environment in an effort to indirectly supply a greater quantity of food to youth and young adults in the village. The conflicting attitudes of her various family members as well as complex village dynamics surrounding her impending journey are examined. In addition, the stunning colour cinematography, set design, and theatrical staging serve to create distance between the ultimate joys and sadness in the community, inadvertently highlighting the disregard and complacency of the village towards elders. Overall, famine, theft, and inevitable greed are commonalities throughout the villagers’ lives, whereby Orin’s fate may be a relief from the jarring discordance of her world.

A great deal of the film’s narrative is told through traditional Japanese music, which is reflected in its title. However, a ballad often consists of mournful content. It is quite evident that Orin’s son, Tatsuhei (Teiji Takahashi), is grieving for his mother’s fate as well as that of all of the elders who took the fatal expedition to this location. Submissiveness, abandonment, guilt, and fear are emotions often uncovered in ballads. These feelings are entangled within Tatsuhei, and are highly represented throughout this gorgeous film. The differences in opinion between family members can often create such a magnitude of tension that ‘black and white thinking’ can be overpowering, severing ties. It is imperative that humans and all creatures cherish the role of family members of all ages. While they can be highly critical of our perceived weaknesses, their support develops and fosters our strengths.

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The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)

Many inanimate objects have a particular monetary value. Materials used in an item’s development, its demand, or certain components of the market for which it is usually targeted and sold may determine its worth. They may also have a strong sentimental significance, representing a pivotal life changes or nostalgia. A compelling bond with this treasure may also reveal specific yet unexpected aspects of our personal values. In the exquisite French film “The Earrings of Madame de…”, directed by Max Ophuls in 1953, the main characters’ secrets and frustrations evolve through the changing distribution and ties with a pair of earrings.

Louise (Danielle Derreux) and Andre (Charles Boyer) are a seemingly loving, wealthy couple living in late 1800’s Paris. However, there is not an ounce of passion in their marriage, and Louise has accumulated a great deal of debt due to her supreme extravagance. She therefore decides to sell a heart-shaped pair of earrings given to her by her husband for a past wedding anniversary to the original seller and local jeweler, Monsieur Remy (Jean Debucourt). At this point, the earrings have no emotional worth to Louise as they symbolize a reminder of her more hopeful marital past. It is from this point that the earrings begin their geographic and emotional journey, travelling between continents and through the hands of lovers associated with the unhappily married couple. One such admirer is portrayed by acclaimed Italian director and actor, Vittorio de Sica.

The earrings play a crucial role in the plot as indicated in the film’s title. However, the anonymity and ambiguity of Louise’s surname is also essential in understanding her life circumstances. Women always adopted their husbands’ surnames during that era, and the viewer can assume that is Louise’s case. This longstanding custom has often signified an enmeshment of patriarch of the household into the female, melding the more dominant male role into her own identity. As well, the viewer never hears her surname due to clever editing techniques. I feel as if all of these elements convey Louise’s lost individuality, emptiness, and daily guilt. As the main character, many live a life whereby they conceal their true self for fear of persecution, abandonment, and change. This stifling can create extreme tension, snowballing into a constant sense of dread. The context and environment of one’s trepidation may undergo a transformation such that relief and freedom of originality can spur creativity and pure joy, but it may remain such that the least desired outcomes continue to be entrenched in reality.

 

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La Notte (1961)

Relationships are constantly in a fluid state, and follow no prescribed formula. They are strengthened and weakened by monumental life events, small gestures, as well as geographical and emotional distance among a multitude of other variables. In turn, our self-worth and personal value is shaped by our sense of belonging. Marriage is the ultimate creation of partnership and potential enmeshment between two individuals, and its dissolution can create empowerment, disdain, or a void in the lives involved. “La Notte” (1961), the middle film in Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy of loneliness and emotional detachment, examines the decomposition of a marriage quite astutely.

Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lidia Pontano (Jeanne Moreau) are an upper middle class Italian couple, with the former being a successful writer and the latter being a housewife originating from wealth. The palliative illness of their dear friend and writer Tommaso (Bernhard Wicki) distresses Lidia greatly, detaching herself physically from her famous husband for a brief period of time to pay homage to areas of Milan they knew when they were in love, optimistic, and naive. The film later tracks the course of their empty marriage throughout a party hosted by a highly materialistic businessman, Mr. Gherardini (Vincenzo Corbella). The value of fidelity, honesty, connection, purpose, and sense of identity are questioned by the main as well as some supporting cast. As in L’Avventura (1960), it becomes evident that monetary wealth facades the essence of individuality.

The party referred to in the previous paragraph took place during “the night”. Life-altering events or revelations can evolve slowly or occur instantaneously during a short period of time, such as over the course of an evening. The blackness and finality of night itself can signify bleakness, reflection, and absolution. It is thus no coincidence that many characters’ awareness of self and interpretation of the present in the film, especially that of Lidia, occurs over this time frame. Cognizance of the limitations of self-indulgence and vanity can also lead to comprehension of our shortcomings, sensitizing humans to the reality of the twists and turns that occur daily in our lives. Although not fully explored in this challenging and rewarding film, I feel that this strength can create resiliency, allowing us to tackle and cope with an assembly of puzzles and problems.

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Walkabout (1971)

“Survival of the fittest” is a term referring to those who best adapt to harsh environmental conditions, surviving and flourishing in spite of them. The ability to earn a large income may best befit individuals raised in a culture of technology. However, those living completely engulfed in nature must be able to gain life’s essential needs as a means for survival. In doing so, they have an immense respect for nature and its gifts towards their endurance. In “Walkabout”, a 1971 Australian-British coming-of-age film directed by Nicolas Roeg, the complex journey of survival is explored through the eyes of children from each of these worlds in the Australian outback.

Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg play two wealthy suburban children living an industrialized, routine life. On what seems to be a harmless picnic in the stunning Australian Outback, their father (John Meillon) attempted to shoot his children and then took his life. His sheltered children were thus forced to persevere in an extremely rugged environment with limited survival skills suitable for this location. They crossed paths shortly thereafter with an Indigenous teenager (David Gulpilil) on his “walkabout”, a traditional yet obligatory rite of passage into manhood. It involves young Australian Indigenous males spending six months alone in the wilderness forced to fend for themselves but, in turn, reflecting on their own life circumstances and paths. While from vastly different cultural backgrounds, the siblings and the Indigenous male weave an interlaced web of shared survival, abandonment, innocence, joy, actuality, and disappointment. They relish in the glory of nature and youth yet feel repulsed by an uncompromising truth of the real world.

A wild, gorgeous, and vast setting tends to expose the full breadth of human emotions. Lack of availability to amenities or possessions may create frustration but eventually lead to a spiritual freedom. This film’s beautiful, raw cinematography amplifies these sentiments, as the viewers feel engulfed in the exciting, haunting world of the characters. I feel as if an experience such as a walkabout would allow teens to take the imperative time for personal growth, self-discovery, as well as reveal a harsh recognition of the impending realities of adulthood. Regardless of the setting and allotted timeline, each person questions the true meaning of their existence. This act can allow us to reflect and plan towards achieving our ideal essence as humans while simultaneously gaining the tools needed to sustain life.

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Floating Weeds (1959)

Traveling is required in a large number of professions – flight attendants, workers on oil rigs, and potentially for those working in large corporations. Some employees may feel unappreciated and overworked, moving aimlessly from place to place in hopes to find purpose. They may feel as if they are “floating weeds”. However, the phrase and title of this outstanding Ozu film from 1959 can be applicable to our desire to belong in a multitude of life scenarios. In a remake of his 1934 film, Ozu carefully explores several precarious and tense situations through the eyes and heart of a “floating” theatre troupe.

Komajuro (Ganjiro Nakamura) is the lead actor of an unpolished group of actors who travel to various coastal towns in Japan. Their style of acting is quite tacky, and their plays have not fared well financially. However, they continue to optimistically perform to increase their financial and emotional stability. It becomes quite evident that achieving these goals, especially the latter, would deem extremely difficult. Early in the film, the protagonist visits his former mistress, Oyoshi (Haruko Sigimura) as well as his son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), who believes him to be his uncle. The development of Komajuro’s and his son’s relationship evokes reward, hazard, curiosity, and indirect divisiveness. As the norm in small towns, private occurrences become public knowledge.

Ozu’s characteristic still yet balanced cinematography as well as attentive storytelling aid in beautifully capturing human joy and struggle in all of his masterful films. This is definitely no exception, with the added use of glorious colour saturating the film surroundings. Dishonesty, hypocrisy, jealousy, conformity, and need for appreciation are all themes investigated in the film. Venturing outside of the realm of uniformity within a group can create suspicion among others. There are unspoken nuances of familiarity, and there is a fear of group cohesion becoming dismantled. This creates a ripple effect of fear, coercion, and intrusion, which can ultimately destroy a ‘garden of blooming flowers’ into a field of weeds. While Komajuro is one discussed who experienced these dilemmas in the film, all individuals fear complete isolation. It is important to treasure the connections we make, and to encourage delving into the unknown. This helps to solidify and anchor roots, so that we can flourish and grow into well-rounded human beings.

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A Day in the Country (1936)

Vacations are meant to be utilized as necessary escapes from the realities and struggles of everyday life. There is often a balance between great preparation and spontaneity in the construction of this elaborate repose, whereby individuals may meet locals quite familiar with the area being visited. A sense of wonderment experienced by those vacationing may not be apparent to residents due to extreme familiarity. There may be a discrepancy between lifestyle and surroundings between the two groups, creating a sense of awe and congeniality. This dynamic is explored in Jean Renoir’s understated unfinished 1936 film entitled “A Day in the Country” or “Partie de campagne”.

A wealthy shop owner, Monsieur Dufour (Andre Gabriello), and his family from Paris opt to travel to the beautiful, natural countryside along the Seine River one summer day in 1860. They are treated to great local hospitality, and are given a great meal as well as fishing rods! However, two men set their sights on wooing Dufour’s wife (Jane Marken) and daughter Henriette (Sylvia Bataille). Henri (Georges D’Arnoux) creates delightful chemistry with Henriette, who is unfortunately engaged to her father’s clumsy apprentice, Anatole (Paul Temps). Her planned future may thus unhinge, as her heart’s new feelings may not align with the romance that has been conveniently prescribed. The gorgeous scenery and somewhat remote location aid in amplifying these sentiments.

The events and emotions that one encounters during one particular day may change the course of one’s life. Pivotal moments can happen when least expected, such as an employment opportunity, or may be in our awareness for quite a while, like the birth of a child. “A Day in the Country” effortlessly demonstrates this concept, with an innocent trip leading Henriette to question the course of her destiny as a partner and wife. Events such as these have a ripple effect, whereby choices made stemming from these occurrences can alter our life’s passage. These decisions may have positive or negative effects, further guiding us on our journey. Thus, the struggle of weighing passion versus practicality is very genuine.

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La Belle et la Bete (1946)

Fairy tales have been dazzling young children for centuries. They relish in the imaginative worlds conveyed in these creations during storytime at school as well as prior to drifting asleep. Beneath the exterior fantasy of these narratives are themes relevant in the day-to-day lives of adults – jealousy, betrayal, and conflict. Children are subliminally exposed to these truths through these elaborate plots only to realize as adults the harsh actualities of the stories. “La Belle et la Bete” (1946) is one such tale, magnificently directed by Jean Cocteau in movie format while Nazis occupied Paris.

Belle (Josette Day) and her family are in extreme debt. After travelling to a nearby town with failed hopes of inheriting a fortune, her dearly loved father (Marcel Andre) stumbles upon obtaining a rose for Belle as per her request. This leads him into an inconceivably beautiful garden and castle, where inanimate objects are anything but. He also meets the Beast (Jean Marais) who condemns him to death for picking a highly coveted rose, but his death will be absconded if a daughter can go in his place. Belle takes this role without hesitation, and her journey into the Beast’s world begin. Enmeshment, anger, disgust, and questions of possession unravel as their relationship develops with familial worries and conflict playing a major role in Belle’s future.

The title of the film can have a multitude of interpretations relevant to the fairy tale as well as means by which this film came to fruition. All individuals have positive and negative qualities, with some outshining others as integral components of our personality and coping strategies. While Belle copes with poverty through selflessness, her sisters Adelaide (Nane Germon) and Felicie (Mila Parely) adapt through selfishness and manipulation, especially towards Belle. The Beast grows to love Belle and cannot imagine a life without her, but excessively dominates her freedom. Thus, themes of jealousy, guilt, oppression, trust, and revenge all emerge from a story “most appropriate for children”. The medium of this particular film expresses these themes with the aid of careful and innovative editing and set design. Extravagant budgets and sets were not possible in this war-torn area of Europe, and thus a claustrophobic yet mystical aura materializes from the direction. Thus, there is a simultaneous “beauty” and “beast” in all individuals and in circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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Pickpocket (1959)

The orchestration of an unlawful event requires a great deal of planning and co-ordination. Those involved are quite aware of law enforcement’s potential interception of their illegal activities. However, they venture regardless for the sake of greed, power, bravado, and the ultimate thrill of successfully tiptoeing around danger. These activities are quite varied, with shoplifting being one such pursuit. The theft conveyed in the 1959 Robert Bresson film “Pickpocket” mirrors such pristine organization, as well as carefully examining the central character’s motives and growing desire to become an “expert” in this field of crime.

Michel, played by Martin LaSalle, is a young male living in poverty in Paris. He is also quite obstinate in job propositions. As an amateur pickpocket, his successes are initially limited. Upon meeting more seasoned members of this trade, he is taught a multitude of means to obtain money and valuable items. The fruits of their labour are later displayed in highly crisp, choreographed sequences, whereby a variety of wallets and other prized items vanish from their proprietors. Michel’s personal relationships with close family, friends, and the police are also explored in this film. It is no surprise that initial query necessity turned obsession with theft has an influence on the integrity of these bonds.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on “Au Hasard Balthazar”, Bresson’s magic ingredient is simplicity. A plethora of themes emerge from this quietly acted film, which delve into all emotions associated with any act for which society has great disdain. Suspicion, deception, addiction, and exploitation are all components of Michel’s facade and contrasting inner turmoil while navigating through his newly minted escapade. Furthermore, dialogue commenting on spirituality unfolds during the film, with one’s degree of adequacy and acceptance within the eyes of God taking centre stage. It is interesting to view Michel’s cold exterior yet internalization of this question contrast to the more demure and concerned Jeanne (Marika Green). He is aware of his potential future as well as current reality based on his choices. However, others may deride feelings associated with deceiving acts, either avoiding or highly engaging in spirituality or good deeds as a means of redemption. Overall, I feel that this film subtly reminds us of the possibilities that humans can embark on in their life journey, and the means by which they come to terms with the impact of their decisions on the lives of others.

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