Sunday, October 23, 2016

Film review: LA VOIE LACTÉE [THE MILKY WAY] (Luis Buñuel, 1969)

Luis Buñuel'a irreverent send-up of Christianity sees Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff) embarking on a religious pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Along the way, they come a series of unexpected events, from walking in on a ritual from a secret sect, being asked to moderate a duel, and a chance meeting with the Grim Reaper.

La Voie lactée's surrealist elements and indictment of Catholicism render it classic Luis Buñuel, but  neither of these two components were employed terribly effectively. As in Tristana, I found the dream sequences distractingly low-quality, and because the whole file had a trippy vibe, it was difficult to delineate the fantasy sequences from the actual storytelling. The cutaways didn't add anything to the narrative, and, perhaps because I'm treated due to shows like Family GuyI usually expect my cut-aways to be, you know, funny. Here, they were met with a *tumbleweed*-style reaction.

The Catholic Church offers ample material for mockery, and having their teachings torn apart, something that Pedro Almodóvar does effectively in several of his films. He achieves it by writing characters such as a shady priests into various stories (e.g. La mala educación), and then allowing the plot to unravel as the hypocrisy and corruption of said characters are exposed. That way, the audience sees these people for the monsters they are, whilst recognising their religious background played a formative role in this. We have been shown, rather than told.

But in La Voie lactée, the speeches delivered by characters in this film by preachers and brainwashed kids, written in such an brazen way so as to make the deliverers look stupid, felt like the audience was being spoon-fed to laugh at these characters and ridicule their beliefs. The contradictory things they were spouting were too out there and nonsensical for it to be plausible that the character believed in what they were saying.

The closing titles of the film, which laid out all the problems with religious dogmas, epitomises Buñuel's heavy-handed approach:  if the film had done its job properly, the audience should already know this. They wouldn't need it rammed down their throat. This complete lack of nuance meant I was, lamentably, not able to enjoy this film as much as I would have liked to. (I like ridiculing religion as much as the next person!)

However, as with previous Buñuel titles, I was still amused by the film, and scenes which were darkly comic and the audience unsure whether or not to laugh meant we were kept on their toes. One vignette, where a woman lies on the cross and has her hands pinned to it like Jesus Christ, was visually discreet but made an arresting impression. And the benefit of having so many short scenes, pieced together in a sketch-like way, meant that the viewer was at least, never bored.

I wouldn't classify La Voie lactée as Buñuel's best work. But it's a curious entry into his filmography that his aficionados might derive more enjoyment from than I did. 



If you enjoyed this review, the rest of my reviews are here!

Cooking Stuff that Looks Bad But Tastes Delicious #2: The Veggie Supreme.

Since this dish doesn't feature any meat or fish, I will call it 'The Veggie Supreme'.

As pictured, the ingredients were:
- cheddar cheese
- chips
- red onions
- peppers
- oil (drizzled a little too liberally over the chips and peppers)

I cut pieces of cheddar cheese and onions and bunged them into the yellow peppers, then topped it up with oil. I probably put too much oil in, because as you can see on the oven dish, there's a fair bit of spillage. I also poured salt in the peppers pre-putting it in the oven, but that's up to you.

And, as with The Nemo, I had tomato ketchup to enjoy the chips with! Nomnomnom.


Here's a photo of my dad's incredible authentic Chinese cooking!


The Wowcher website claims that these three earrings collectively retail at £119.97, which I'm cynical about. They were selling at £12 on the Wowcher website, so £4 per pair of earrings, which I thought was reasonable enough.

I really like these dainty little earrings. The option of gold, silver or rose-gold means I can always find a pair that will go with the colour scheme of my outfit, and the ergonomic design means that the earring fits elegantly on one's ear, without the fit being too snug or too loose. I would perhaps have liked the jewels to look a bit 'sparklier', but, for the price I paid, can't complain too much!

Grade: A-/B+

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Film review: TRISTANA (Luis Buñuel, 1970)

Tristana (Catherine Deneuve), a recently orphaned God-fearing beauty, is given sanctuary by her new legal guardian Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a crusty old womaniser who hates religion, sympathises with the underbelly of society, and likes to backpat himself for being so anti-establishment. Much like the character Rey played in That Obscure Object of Desire, he develops an infatuation with the female lead, and it’s not long before he’s thrown caution to his wind regarding taking Tristana under his wing, choosing to take her under him instead.

From some of the other Buñuel titles I’ve reviewed, it’s evident that the man has got sex on the mind, but his depiction of Don Lope’s carnal instincts and Tristana’s grudging acquiescence to them in this film are surprisingly PG-rated (although, given the mature themes and disturbing imagery in this film, I thought the MPAA awarding this film a PG-13, made more sense) and visually restrained. The unsettling, Woody Allen-esque relationship is portrayed with a few fleeting shots of Tristana impassively getting undressed, before the scene ends. Surprisingly subtle for Buñuel, but it suits the atonal style of the film, and its messages about the double-standards of religious Spanish society.

Deneuve and Rey, two of Brunel’s favourite collaborators, prosper under his direction. As the eponymous lead, Deneuve alchemizes Tristana’s spirit effortlessly. At the beginning, she is a carefree, wide-eyed young girl who just wishes to honour her mother's love of pray. By the end, and not altogether surprisingly given what she has been through,  as her character develops, she is a resolute and cold-hearted, and absolutely God-less.

It’s evident that she’s repulsed by her legal guardian’s grabby hands (not the first time a Guardian's been handsy, amirite?), but she grins and bears it in a disquietingly silent manner. As in Belle de Jour, Deneuve portrays her character taking everything just accepting what comes to her under a façade of equanimity, which only leaves the audience more tantalised about what she’s really thinking.

Fernando Rey portrays a monster with more than a small touch of Humbert Humbert. Tristana is an unusual story because it’s not so much a case of Stockholm Syndrome, as the woman coming back to take revenge – revenge by mistreatment – on the man who so impulsively, selfishly, debased her. And her interpretation of the best kind of justice is to simultaneously be with him (in legal union) and not be with him (in emotion and physically).

The central dynamic between Tristana and Don Lope is fascinating. Despite the fact that he defiled her and she rightly resents him for taking her innocence, this is juxtaposed hatred is with her inherent Christian grace towards him, which consists of gratitude for taking her in when she was destitute, as well as a giddy sense of triumph later when he gets older and more pathetic, and she, more beautiful. These emotions come together to create a cocktail of power that she lauds over him.

Buñuel is known for his surrealist elements, but that was the component I liked least about Tristana - Don Lope’s decapitated head swinging from a bell was off-beat but now looks dated. Tristana also lacks the moments of playful levity that The Diary of a Chambermaid and That Obscure Object of Desire had, rendering it a more straightforward piece of storytelling, although in doing so, it doesn't quite reach the peaks of those two titles. Finally, the fact that the film was shot and set in Toledo, Spain, yet the characters speak French, is a tad jarring.

It’s not the best spin on Lolita in a film I’ve seen - that would be Sam Mendes’ incredible American Beauty, but, like That Obscure Object of Desire, survives the test of time well in its astute dissection of gender politics and the blurred, and often confusing, line between love and hate. 

Buñuel  for all his seedy voyeursim, understands that sex is just as much about emotional control as it is about physical lust, and his detached, capable direction, Deneuve’s suitably frosty performance (quite literally, given the film's aloof coda) and the compelling story make for a bizarre, but thoroughly watchable experience.



If you enjoyed this, all my film reviews are collated here.

Cooking Stuff that Looks Bad But Tastes Delicious #1: The Nemo.

I've been making the most of my mum being in China and having the kitchen to myself recently (I don't like cooking when surrounded by people, haha). 

My concoctions don't look too appetising, but as I bung in ingredients I like and ingredients I like only, I'm usually very pleased with the end product!

So in this haphazard invention, which I will call 'The Nemo' (because there's fish fingers in it), I put:
- 4 baby potatoes
- one red onion
- one tomato
- cheddar cheese
- oil
- 4 fish fingers

And after it was all cooked, I dipped the fish fingers in tomato ketchup.

Next time I cook it, I would increase the number of baby potatoes to about 6 or 7, as they reduce in size when fried due to it being on the pan for the longest period of time. But apart from that, I really liked The Nemo!


In other, completely unrelated-to-cooking news, I saw that Damien Chazelle's upcoming La La Land, hotly tipped to rack up multiple Oscar nominations, got a PG in Ireland despite getting a 12A over here.

I find this very interesting because I think it illustrates the Irish are a bit more flexible about single uses of the f-word depending on context, whereas for the BBFC (and the MPAA), it leads to an automatic 12A/PG-13.

A subtle point, but illustrates the nuances in different countries' attitudes towards swearing!

I wonder who hollers the solitary f-bomb in the movie, Emma or Ryan? (Or maybe, given his character's colourful language in Whiplash, J.K. Simmons gets that honour...)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Film review: I, DANIEL BLAKE (Ken Loach, 2016)

Geordie Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a lifelong carpenter who's recently suffered a stroke, is signed off work by his doctors and physios. He's a determined chap, who's unafraid of graft and unfazed when his neighbour tells him that many before him have given up due to the countless hoops they have to jump through to get Job Seekers' Allowance. But Dan soon finds that the behemoth bureaucracy facing him as he tries to sign onto JSA proves to be a more arduous task than any physical challenge he's ever been given.

He meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two who has been relocated from London as Newcastle is the only area that can house her family in a fracas at the Job Centre. The two form a bond and Daniel's easygoing personality wins the affection of Katie's two young children. Katie tentatively tells Dan of her plans to get a part-time job and pursue an Open University degree. For the briefest of moments, the film hints at deliverance.

But sadly life isn't like that. Katie forgoes dinner in order to feed her kids and has to resort to less than ideal methods just so she can buy necessities like deodorant. Meanwhile, the Job Center continue to make Daniel jump through unfeasible hoops in order to procure his allowance. He tries to tackle every task, such as learning to use the computer, in a workmanlike fashion, but his efforts are slammed for not being good enough.

Wry laughs pepper the film. Dan's straight-talking bluntness and his endearing attempts to tackle technology are amusing, but even these funny scenes are underscored with sadness. After days of trying to sign up to JSA on the computer to no avail, his friend prints out a form the Job Centre could have easily handed to him. Ken Loach's point about the nebulous directions of those In Charge could not be clearer. 

I, Daniel Blake is a tremendously affecting, and illustrates the power of narrative cinema, when effectively handled. After all, reading an account of how some families live below the breadline in the newspaper may evoke an 'ah' from the reader, or in some cases, aversion at being preached at. But watching Daniel and Katie's daily struggles is harrowing; the sight of Katie eating baked beans from the tin out of sheer hunger says more than any amount of column inches could.

I, Daniel Blake illustrates what real problems are and makes the audience grateful for their lot. Dave Johns, Hayley Squires and the rest of the (unheard of) cast all give authentic, natural performances, and the dialogue between characters feel organic. You come to really feel for the central characters: Daniel just wants to be treated with respect, something the Job Centre who regard him as currency, don't afford him, and Katie, who's stoic parent would endure anything to provide for her kids. The level of pathos she incurs as she tries to fulfil this is almost unbearable.

There are a few minor missteps-- Daniel's neighbours' attempts to flog imitation trainers was an amusing sidenote, but added nothing to the film other than giving it some temporal grounding (a character refers to Charlie Adam's goal from the halfway line against Chelsea, setting the year in 2015. Stupid Courtois) The hagiography of the entire working class and depiction of everyone in management as pedantic fools obsessed with keeping Daniel trapped in the Kafka-esque web of 'The Decision Maker' was anything but subtle. Life isn't quite as black and white as that. I also felt the film ended a little abruptly, although this must have been a conscious decision on Loach's part to deprive the audience of closure, which would have been dishonest.

To its credit, the film avoids the temptation to sensationalise poverty, spoon-feeding the audience sanctimonious platitudes that might turn them off such a film and have them rolling their eyes at the contrivances on screen. Plenty of films have been guilty of going overboard in depicting the descent to hell to the point that it felt like the director was taking sadistic relish from piling on the misery. Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream immediately comes to mind.

But Ken Loach's unfussy, raw directorial approach lets the unflinching gaze of real hardship the characters are put through do the talking. A sobering, heartbreaking watch, but a topical one.



Check out the rest of my reviews here!