It’s been over a week since seeing two Russian animated Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid (Rusalocha) and John Dies at the End, so I won’t really write about them. The Snow Queen was appropriately fragile but too flat. The thirty-minute The Little Mermaid (Rusalocha) brings you into its hair-flowing, cross-netted arms. The animation is memorably illustrative , using a cardboard-like effect to emphasize its stand-out artistry. The honeycomb netting used on top of the water creates a nice touch of  prison-like connotations. Beautiful stuff. John Dies at the End was stoner-cult overkill. Intermittently creative and completely obnoxious. Not my cup of tea even with its few inspired bits.

Gate of Hell
#106. Gate of Hell (1953, Kinugasa)

Samurai goes Sirk. That’s what Gate of Hell is at its core. The title fools you into expecting lots of samurai slashing and pillaging. In fact, it gets all that out of the way in the first 20 minutes, which are used to set up common themes like duty and loyalty to be seen through a melodramatic kaleidoscope of vibrant rainbows. As the film proceeds, its pacing gradually halts and hiccups along. Shifting perspective onto Machiko Kyō’s Lady Kesa nicely spotlights her domestic dilemma. This is a Japanese film, meaning the ladies have it the worst. She gets put in an impossible situation, one where stoicism, dignity and loyalty are simply not enough, not when a man has decided what he wants. Though her husband Wataru is probably one of the kindest men I’ve ever seen in a historical Japanese film, even he has never bothered to really see Kesa as a human being, instead choosing to see her as a vision of idealistic piety. His comfort, though well-intentioned, is rendered meaningless for his own obliviousness of the situation’s validity. Only after it’s too late do you have both men regretting and contemplating their actions, recognizing that maybe this woman had a heart and an inner conflict all her own.

Daiei Film’s first color production, the first Japanese color film released outside Japan, winner of the 1954 Palme D’Or at Cannes and Best Foreign Language Film at the 1954 Oscars. Despite all its praise, Gate of Hell isn’t nearly as well known as other Golden Era ‘masterworks’. Director Teinosuke Kinugasa (director of silent masterpiece A Page of Madness), wasn’t thrilled with the film, citing pacing issues, an underdeveloped script and rushed production. I have to agree with his misgivings though they by no means ruin the picture, but it standardizes it on a level far below its visual worth.

Gate of Hell is, point blank, one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous Technicolor films ever made. Think all the period flair and color of Adventures of Robin Hood having a child with the texture and intricacy of Jack Cardiff’s work on Black Narcissus. It’s a spoil of riches; truly and the restoration job must be seen to be believed.

Under Capricorn
#107. Under Capricorn (1949, Hitchcock)

Forever praised by the French, pretty much dismissed by everyone else, Under Capricorn is a Hitchcock film nobody talks about or even acknowledges as existing. Shrugged off as a last mishap before embarking on his winning streak that would come of the fifties, Under Capricorn takes the experimentation of the long take further, this time in a historical love triangle set in New South Wales.

Under Capricorn is absolutely worth seeing, even if it’s brought down by Hitchcock’s inability to shed the intentionally static stuffiness of the first act or to feel any sense of investment on his end as a filmmaker. His problem is that his penchant for technical wizardry and innovation never quite corroborates with the story itself; it’s flair for flair’s sake.

That being said, I liked the film for its undeniably bizarre qualities, its triumphant victory over the past and for Jack Cardiff’s game camerawork. That shot when Michael Wilding arrives at the Flusky’s for dinner still feels magical. Before we know it, we’re newly transported, the short journey from room to room somehow truncated before our eyes. With Ingrid Bergman as an alcoholic half-mad Irish noblewoman (!), clearly Under Capricorn shouldn’t be as easily dismissed as it has in the past.

#108. The Great Gatsby (2013, Luhrmann)
Full Review:

The Snow Queen
109. The Snow Queen (1957, Atamanov, Fyodorov)

rusalochka 1968
110. The Little Mermaid (Rusalocha) (1968, Aksenchuk)

John Dies at the End
#111. John Dies at the End (2013, Coscarelli)


One thought on “Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #106-111

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