Trouble in Paradise (1932)

The concealment of deceit has been a longstanding tradition in society. The maintenance of facades grants this continued perception while allowing one to experiment and examine various interests outside of these so-called constraints. This exploration may allow one to transition into another chapter in their life, such as a career. However, traversing this course in the realm of any kind of relationship can create confusion, hurt, and future mistrust branching into subsequent bond formation. These taxing situations have nonetheless been highly mimicked and lauded in film, generating suspense, concern, and sometimes comedy depending on the plot. The concept of relationship deceit is one such theme that produces a lot of “trouble in paradise”. The master of subtleness Ernst Lubitsch directed the delightful 1932 Pre-Code romantic comedy with the title of the aforementioned quoted phrase, crisply navigating the previously discussed theme with great wit and intelligence.

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The film begins with thief extraordinaire Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) putting forth multiple illusions of himself. One is as a doctor, robbing the wealthy Francois Filiba (1930s screwball staple Edward Everett Horton). The other is as a wealthy baron in the city of Venice. He meets with Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins), who is impossibly the most social socialite among royalty. Unbeknownst to them both, they are highly professional thieves. This discovery launches a seeming whirlwind of fraudulence and dishonesty. After Monescu robbed a peace conference and “took everything except the peace”, we are introduced to the wealthy Parisian cosmetics maven Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). Through a myriad of circumstance, the two crooks begin working for Colet with Monescu turned Gaston Lavalle at the helm of her finances! Multiple love triangles, derailed plans, clever lines, glamour, possession, jealousy, and most of all sexual tension blend together to develop an utterly and daringly original film.

Lubitsch employed many innovative techniques in the film’s portrayal of sexuality. The Hays Code was definitely impending on Hollywood at the time that this film was created, as much nudity and seduction were increasingly prevalent in studio pictures. While many films were amplifying overt sexuality, Lubitsch slyly inserted multiple ploys to scandalously include sexual encounters between unmarried individuals. A wine bottle, shadows on a mattress, a clock, innuendo, and yet sometimes complete silence are some examples allowing the audience to make insinuations and draw conclusions. The light atmosphere and comedy help to mask this film as a nearly innocent, oxymoronic portrayal of layered deception. While the film was not reissued during the Code era, the act and craft of masquerading ultimately lends the film itself added charm, depth, timelessness, and a rewarding stamp in cinema.

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I do not own the photos in this post. As well, this is part of the SEX! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog! Please have a look at the other great entries over this weekend contributing to this blogathon discussing sexuality and film.

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Hoop Dreams (1994)

The social determinants of health are a group of factors which influence the health and well-being of populations. They include education, literacy, income, housing, food security, culture, and genetics among others. These elements collectively impact and determine health outcomes of a population, but can also be applied to an individual’s life trajectory. If there are certain determinants inadequately present in a person’s surrounding environment, the ability to live comfortably and/or to achieve daily or highly sought after goals becomes increasingly difficult. “Hoop Dreams” is a 1994 documentary film directed by Steve James highlighting the multiple elements shaping the courses of two promising basketball players’ futures.

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William Gates and Arthur Agee are two fourteen-year-olds living in inner city Chicago in the late 1980s. Insurance agent Earl Smith acts as a basketball recruiter for the prestigious private St. Joseph’s High School, priding themselves on their eye for talent and crafting of basketball stars. Both teens begin attending this school, making a long trek daily to advance their education and sportsman skills. The viewers are bystanders to their challenging and sometimes arduous journey from freshmen to the end of high school. Both face incredible uphill battles, from financial to familial to physical struggles. We yearn and cheer for their success and achievements as do their families and friends, and we greatly empathize with them in their trials and tribulations. The community of team sports is quite evident in the film, and that spirit is tangible through the screen.

The concept of “dreams” is present throughout the documentary. The two teens at the film’s epicentre undoubtedly have aspirations to finish high school, go to college, and to ultimately play for the NBA. However, their triumphs and ambitions extend beyond their individual selves and infiltrate into many other systems. Family members may live vicariously through them to relive their lost hopes, but family may also view their ambitions to chase and pursue their own goals. The talent of one may be preyed upon by a recruiting organization, fulfilling their “dreams” of winning competitions, grooming their novices into polished players. Behind the interrelated web of those beneficiaries, supports, and challenges lies a fire. This fuels drive within us all to pursue our passions and purposes. Roadblocks may be insurmountable at times in even thinking about those aspirations. However, I feel that it is crucial to remember and continue to follow these wishes and intentions no matter the speed. These passions and interests are a core aspect of our identity, and our participation in related activities whether large or small allows us to inhabit our true selves and to blossom more fully.

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I do not own any of the photos in this post. As well, this post is part of the Play to the Whistle Blogathon hosted by Film and TV 101 and Reffing Movies. Please check out posts regarding sports-related films associated with this blogathon between June 3 – July 8 (I am putting up my post early)!

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Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Ingmar Bergman is one director who I feel has left a body of work that represents the complicated and sometimes disappointing reality of human nature. The intricacies of human relationships are on full display in his films, delving into associated stressors and supports. A great deal of time is devoted to essential character development, enhancing viewers’ understanding of said relationships. The cinematography is carefully composed with a haunting tone under the direction of frequent collaborator Sven Nykvist. These are all hallmark components to a Bergman film. However, I feel that the openness of the stories allows for much introspection and meaning applicable to one’s own life circumstances. Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish Academy Award-winning drama directed by Bergman embodying these qualities in spades.

The film is set on a secluded island during the hot summer months, and events gradually unfold over a period of twenty-four hours amongst four principal characters. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is the central character, fragile in nature. She was recently discharged from a psychiatric facility, having been treated with electroconvulsive therapy and diagnosed presumably with a psychotic illness. She has an overarching delusion with religious overtones infused with auditory hallucinations, dictating and controlling a large amount of her decision-making and behaviour. Her husband, physician Martin (the legendary Max von Sydow), is extremely devoted to Karin and concerned for her well-being. Her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is an ailing, self-serving writer who sometimes uses others’ suffering as subject matter for his novels. Her brother Minus (Lars Passgard) has an unhealthy, immature, and extremely close attachment to Karin, yearning for attention and approval from his father. It can be deduced from descriptions of these close-knit yet diverse group of characters that confusion, conflict, and lament fill their existence and interactions. Overall, I feel that the film challenges our thoughts on familial relationships, mental illness, death, culminating into a surprising yet inevitable finale.

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The title “Through a Glass Darkly” is derived from the following Corinthians verse:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Verses from the Bible or any manuscript based in religion can have a variety of interpretations by modern readers. In my humble opinion, this verse refers to our own self-image and beliefs. They may be distorted by multiple environmental and internal factors, casting a dark shadow on our true abilities and goals. As Karin states, “it’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it”. Recognition of illness and/or suppression by concerned and caring strangers, friends, and family can elevate our self-esteem and self-awareness. Our evolution into genuineness may be supported by them or shunned based on outside expectations. Regardless, a wealth of knowledge and soul-searching in our “face to face” meeting with either a higher power or ourselves stimulates pause for reflection on struggles and joys in our past.

As with many Bergman films, glimpses and explorations into human connectedness are in action. Minus wonders whether “if everyone is caged in. You in your cage, I in mine”. We all experience this sentiment in life at times, some more frequently than others. The truth is that we never act in isolation or in microcosms. Human nature and relationships are dynamic, changing, and influence our very being and direction on planet Earth.

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I do not own the pictures in this post. As well, this post is part of the “Favourite Director Blogathon” hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In! Please check out other posts about excellent directors in cinema that are a part of this blogathon!

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A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Family is an integral aspect and concept inhabiting human existence. Conflicts among those closest to us are inevitable, and their eventual resolutions may be civil or volatile. We also depend on familial relations for support, love, and resiliency. Joyous occasions, such as a birth, can facilitate immense celebration and happiness. An illness in a family member can create fear, panic, reflection, yet enhanced connectivity. Thus, it is quite evident that the idea of medicine extends beyond physical and mental illness to encompass the vital component of familial coping and interaction with their loved ones. “A Woman Under the Influence” is a brilliant 1974 drama film directed by John Cassavetes, demonstrating the wide array of familial emotions in the midst of a loved one’s illness.

Nick Longhetti (Peter Falk) is a hard-working construction worker married to Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and father to three children. He is quite preoccupied with others’ perceptions of Mabel’s eccentricities, and serves to exert a great deal of control over her decision-making and her behaviour. Mabel is acutely aware of this power dynamic, and puts a great deal of effort in trying to be a great “hostess”. She is greatly disturbed and confused by others’ expectations of her behaviour, manifesting into odd mannerisms and occasional outbursts. A variety of events over the course of a day including questionable conduct at a children’s party to a heated confrontation with her mother-in-law Margaret (Katherine Cassavetes) led to Mabel’s certification and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for six months. Upon her return home, the familial expectation was complete cure (i.e. acting within the norms of society). It quickly became apparent that illness in any shape or form involves recovery – experiencing life in the present and using healthy coping strategies to deal with daily challenges.

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This film has multiple assets which effectively conveys the stressors involved in living with mental illness. The acting is absolutely sublime. Peter Falk palpably harbours anger, confusion, and discontent with the reality of his ideal vision of family. The supporting cast’s emotions greatly increase the intensity and concern of their loved ones. However, I feel that it is Gena Rowlands’ acting talent and complete engulfment into Mabel’s world which makes this film a classic. She epitomizes the central struggle of a fragile individual living with a strained marriage and mental illness. As well, the long scenes feel improvised, allowing the viewers to watch an encounter where individuals’ behaviours evolve. Emotions heighten, and behaviours may become more unhinged and disintegrative in realtime. This enhances the fidelity of the film to many real-life circumstances, whereby the snowball effect leads to a potential familial crisis and an eventual intervention.

I believe that the title of the film lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Specifically, how was Mabel under the influence? Were her behaviours a manifestation of alcohol use, true mental illness, her personality, her reality, or her family’s expectations? In truth, a multifaceted lens needs to be adopted in understanding anyone’s behaviour. Psychiatry as well as other areas of medicine operates under a biopsychosocial model, in which biology, psychology, and social factors contribute to wellness or illness. Culture is another component influencing health care professionals’ and the public’s opinions on the manifestations of mental illness. Mabel’s behaviours and eventual hospitalization were not solely from an organic basis. They culminated from many aspects and ideas of our Western societal and cultural perception of illness, norms, and wellness.

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I do not own any of the images in this post. This post is also a part of a blogathon I am hosting between May 26 – 28 related to Medicine in the Movies! Please check out other related posts over the next few days as we discuss the impact of the medical field on cinema!

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3 Women (1977)

The value of individuality in many cultures is immeasurable. Some feel as if humans cannot actualize or achieve their full potential until they have reached a consensus of inner solitude and clarity in understanding their true identity. The pressure and temptation to idolize and acclimate with supposedly “greater versions” of ourselves can prevent or hinder that valued pursuit of unique identity discovery. Some may subsequently become illusionary with their position in the social sphere as well as their untouched persona.  3 Women is a 1977 avant-garde drama directed by one of the gurus of ensemble cinema, Robert Altman, which explores the extreme benefits and costs of collectivism versus individuality in a Western society.

Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) is an impressionable, clingy teenage girl from Texas who begins working at a California health spa for senior citizens. Millie Lammoreaux (Shelly Duvall) is a highly valued employee of the spa who orients Pinky to her new work environment. Pinky is infatuated with Millie, viewing her as an inspiring, mature, majestic human being who is loved by all. When the opportunity for becoming Millie’s roommate appears, Pinky is only too thrilled to oblige. The third woman, Willie Hart (Janice Rule), is pregnant and paints ancient, mythical, human-like creatures as a means of expressing her perception of reality in the midst of loneliness, suppression, and exceptional introversion. Willie’s obnoxious, womanizing husband Edgar (Robert Fortier) co-owns the apartment complex in which Pinky and Millie live. His presence and distastefulness create great divides and power struggles amongst the three women. Each woman faces and deals with alienation, frustration, and restlessness via distinct and various means which transitions through roads of unity, seclusion, and eventual resolution.

 

The themes in this convoluted, at times dreamlike film hones understandably into its complexity. Mimicry, reclusiveness, fear, guilt, unison, facades, and personality are some of the notions investigated which emerge from each woman’s evolving sense of relating to their world. There is no hero or villain as is the case in reality. There is an aura of vanity, shame, and uneasiness in many actions executed in the film, which is highly relatable to humankind. The actors, especially Spacek and Duvall, embody this concept remarkably well with great chemistry, thus enhancing the viewer’s discomfort with recognition of their own past sometimes regretful actions. Further through incredible direction, cinematography, and fantasy, this intricate film taps into the raw curiosity, shame, guilt, conflict, and concordance of the human experience.

 

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I do not own the pictures in this post. As well, this post is a part of the Decades Blogathon hosted by Thomas J and Three Rows Back! Please check out their blogs over the next couple of weeks to read about films from years ending in the number ‘7’!

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The American Friend (1977)

The art and mastery of deception have been approached by many and accomplished by few. Distinguishing features discerning individuals’ capabilities in this realm include narcissism, antisocial traits, and overall lack of empathy. Those with these aforementioned traits may slide into the world of fraudulence with great ease while those with higher levels of compassion and appreciation of others’ needs undoubtedly experience guilt. However, particular needs, desires, and goals may create drive to bypass emotions associated with guilt to fulfill immoral acts. Wim Winders’ 1977 neo-noir “The American Friend” based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1974 novel “Ripley’s Game” wholeheartedly explores this concept with a humble frame-maker at the epicentre of this dilemma.

Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) is, as already mentioned, an owner of a frame-making shop in Hamburg with an extremely rare hematological malady. He has an initial icy encounter with wealthy American “cowboy” and art forgery extraordinaire Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) at an art auction. French gangster Raoul Minot (Gerard Blain) subsequently asks Ripley to kill members of a rival crime syndicate. Displeased by this interaction with the frame-maker, Ripley indirectly rights this disdainful encounter by setting up Zimmermann as a lowly assassin for this purpose. Unsuspecting and honest Zimmermann is thus carefully manipulated and deeply thrust into the once unknown crime underworld with financial coercion.

Many elements of this film create synergy in its effective delivery of suspense and urgency. The slow buildup of knowingly future tense scenes produces a sense of dread, desperation, and bewilderment. I feel that this necessary technique pays homage to the film noir aura, and especially the style of Hitchcock. The dissimilar and plot-enhancing fast-paced train sequence pays homage to “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train”, the latter which is based on a novel of the same name written by Highsmith. I also believe that he contrasting vast scenery of Hamburg and claustrophobic images within rooms amplify the conflicted and tormented inner selves of the main characters.

Ultimately, Ripley and Zimmermann establish a mutual agreement. Some may even call it a friendship, with Ripley being “the American friend”. However, there is a lack of genuineness and sense of hypocrisy in the contextual use of the word. This amicability was built on lies, murder, initial disrespect, and exploitation. I believe that both used each other as means to an end in their pursuits, which is unfortunately how some so-called “friendships” operate in the real world. Roots of jealousy and conspiracy can grow from either acquaintances or perceivably strong friendships, leading to a destructive snowball effect. It is therefore imperative that honesty, humility, respect, and true care serve as the foundation for any relationship.

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I do not own the above image.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

The expedition that individuals take throughout the course of their time on Earth can be quite diverse, and is dependent on a conglomerate of factors. Some roads travelled are directly under our authority whereas others are powered by elements beyond our control. The ratio between the level of autonomy versus dominance in a life journey is also influenced by many components, with gender, employment, family dynamics, and socioeconomic status being examples. The life course of pets and animals in service are almost completely controlled by humans. This may paradoxically lead them to travel haphazardly through life from one owner to the next, blindly following commands. The beautifully constructed 1966 Robert Bresson film “Au Hasard Balthazar” explores the random yet stifling journey of an innocent donkey with the aforementioned name.

As a young colt, Balthazar is treasured by two young children in the local village with a cute, budding romance named Jacques and Marie. Jacques’ family moves abruptly during his childhood, and their farm is entrusted to Marie’s family, including the care of sweet Balthazar. The film then flash forwards years later, and we begin following the donkey throughout his life course under multiple ownerships. The affection and bond both he and Marie share anchors the film’s trajectory, but the darker aspects of human nature weave through the narrative.

Bresson’s understated style involved the creation of richness in stories through simplicity in the film’s surroundings as well as through acting. It is through this approach that themes of innocence and exploitation emerge, paralleling the lives of Marie and her beloved Balthazar. Both are quite naive about the surrounding world, being manipulated by ignorant and arrogant humans for their own benefit. It is an important reminder that oppression of many creatures, including humans, in seemingly lower positions of power occurs quite regularly. All natural environments and those living within them deserve to be treated with care and respect, and it is an injustice to our true potential as citizens of the Earth when this responsibility is abused. 1421445154-auhasard

I do not own the above image.

Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Discussing the weather is one of the most common topics of conversation, especially when threats towards infrastructure and personal safety emerge. All citizens whose lives could transiently or permanently be altered by a ‘special weather statement’ are on high alert. Ice storms have caused massive power outages, and the devastating 2004 tsunami claimed the lives of thousands while destroying the homes and businesses of millions. Although grim, these major weather events create a sense of community between all involved. It would be quite a different story if dangers in the natural environment solely affect one person, further isolating them from others. This particular scenario and fear of isolation is explored in the haunting 1964 Oscar-nominated Japanese film, “Woman in the Dunes”, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara.

The film begins with an entomologist, played by Eiji Okada, exploring the desert in search of insects for his students and for his collection. Upon missing the bus to return to the city, seemingly well-meaning villagers offer him a place to stay. It would be with a lonely woman (Kyoko Kishida) living among sand dunes who recently lost her child and husband in a sandstorm. A ladder lowers him to her home, but is removed the following day. This is a trap set by the locals for her to find a husband to help her continue with the extremely dismal yet necessary operation of shovelling sand to be used for concrete. The visitor is now in “fight or flight” mode, pondering his ability to escape from this claustrophobic and desolate fate. The shrill chords in the film, gorgeous sand imagery, and hazy black-and-white cinematography amplify the conflict of man vs. nature but also man vs. a village.

The repressed and essentially quarantined main characters ironically face multiple societal challenges. Their future is predestined by a patriarchy, and their sexual tension, privacy, and daily struggles against nature are mocked by those in power. This is an unfortunate scenario plaguing many who are enveloped in controlling relationships. A spouse, employer, or the two conflicts previously mentioned are all examples. Some may decide to combat the stifling existence while others resign to this destiny. As demonstrated in this film, social supports are huge contributors to health and well-being. Thus, the resolution made in this setting is frequently based on this factor. As John Donne coined, “no man is an island”.

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I do not own the above image.