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Highbrow destape: “La muchacha de las bragas de oro” [1980 Spain]

Victoria Abril and Lautaro Murúa in "La muchacha de las bragas de oro"If Vicente Aranda’s groundbreaking exploration of sexual identity in “Cambio de sexo” made destape (a Spanish ‘Glasnost’ of sorts during and after Dictator Franco’s final years, when censorship was relaxed) purposeful, his next feature, “La muchacha de las bragas de oro” [Eng. Title: Girl with the Golden Panties] with a nuanced articulation of the need for women’s individual freedoms, made destape almost respectable. Films associated with this period were normally seen as little more than skin-flicks keener in disrobing rather than understanding women, not that either of these were entirely a bad thing, of course. It will, ironically, also propel the star of both the films, Victoria Abril, into becoming a household name and international sex symbol for well over a decade.

Lautaro Murúa in "La muchacha de las bragas de oro"The film is set in Barcelona, where Luis (Lautaro Murúa), a retired member of the previous Franco regime, is writing his memoirs in the splendid isolation of his spacious villa, with a dog and housekeeper as his only company. He isn’t overly perturbed when his niece Mariana (Victoria Abril) arrives with her photographer friend Elmir (Perla Vonasek) – Mariana after all, is here only to write an article about his forthcoming autobiography for a magazine she works in, and also to help out in typing his manuscript.

Victoria Abril in "La muchacha de las bragas de oro"But it does turn Luis’s life inside out, because with her visit, his real past – not the one he’d been concocting in his memoirs, returns to haunt him and his conscience. Mariana, who wears no undergarments save the body-painted gold panties that Elmir meticulously paints on her person, is a wild and carefree young woman, openly indulging in drugs and taking lovers from both sexes as she pleases. Before long, Luis also discovers that Elmir is actually a woman, and that she and Mariana are lovers. For a former Falangist, he displays remarkable restraint even when Elmir brazenly gropes Mariana in his presence.

Victoria Abril and Lautaro Murúa in "La muchacha de las bragas de oro"Years ago, Luis used to love and date Mariana’s mother, Mari (Raquel Evans), before a mix-up in a darkened room forced him to marry Mari’s sister Soledad (Isabel Mestres) instead. Mari also went on to marry his best friend José María (Josep M. Lana), but not before a one-night stand with Luis. After pealing away the layers of lies he had hidden behind, Mariana finds the vulnerable Luis desirable, and even succeeds in seducing him. But a secret about Mariana’s real father will come out in the open when an older Mari (Hilda Vera) visits Luis to check up on her daughter. But will the truth really matter to Luis or Mariana any longer..?

Hilda Vera and Lautaro Murúa in "La muchacha de las bragas de oro"The story, based on an award winning novel by fellow Catalan author Juan Marsé, touches upon hitherto taboo topics such as lesbianism and incest, and questions the validity of a conventional family unit in the modern age. They were shocking subjects for their time, and Aranda always excelled in shocking his audience (sometimes I wonder if this is also a Catalan quirk). In the technical department, there is a marked departure for the better from his earlier films despite the tight budget, and the soundtrack is also appealing. The film can be considered a milestone for Vicente Aranda, emerging from a genre-film maker into a mainstream dramatist, and for Victoria Abril, from a talented actress with tomboyish looks to a sex symbol of the eighties; at twenty years old, Ms. Abril was in the prime of her youth in this film. At least for these reasons, the film should be of interest for both the fans and those interested in Spanish culture, even more so after it has been released on Blu-ray.

Amazon Blu-ray Link

 

The Nudity: Victoria Abril, Perla Vonasek, and Raquel Evans
Victoria Abril’s Mariana comes out as a hedonistic, naturist and exhibitionist, and perhaps appears nude onscreen for longer than in any other film in her illustrious filmography – obviously all good reasons to cheer about. Perla Vonasek plays the bisexual and frequently whistle-blowing Elmir/Elmira. South American beauty and destape-queen Raquel Evans appears only briefly nude on a couple of occasions in Mariana’s fertile imagination when Luis opens up about his past.

Victoria Abril and Perla Vonasek in "La muchacha de las bragas de oro" aka "Girl with the Golden Panties" (1980 Spain).

Victoria Abril and Perla Vonasek in “La muchacha de las bragas de oro”
aka “Girl with the Golden Panties” (1980 Spain).

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A film review: “My Hindu Friend” [2015 Brazil]

Willem Dafoe and Maria Fernanda Cândido in "My Hindu Friend" (2015)After a gap of nearly eight years, Hector Babenco makes a full-length feature with a personal film “My Hindu Friend” [Bra. Title: Meu Amigo Hindu]. Confessing that this was something that he always wanted to make but never got around to, Babenco’s film isn’t biographical, but certainly draws some material from personal life. In his own words, “What you are about to watch is a story that happened to me and I present it in the way I know best.” Cinematic, it certainly is.

Willem Dafoe and Maria Fernanda Cândido in "My Hindu Friend" (Meu Amigo Hindu).Diego (Willem Dafoe), a successful film writer-director, had been living with cancer for a number of years, and during this time, had also met and been living with Livia (Maria Fernanda Cândido). When his doctor suggests that he requires a bone marrow transplant in the US, and also warns him of the low probability of his survival, he proposes and weds Livia.

Selton Mello in My Hindu Friend (2015, Brazil)His brother reluctantly agrees to be the donor, but Diego’s surgery and its subsequent complications make his road to recovery harder; laying sedated during the day and having after-hour visitations from Death himself (Selton Mello), along with his suspender belt and stockings clad sidekick and wife. Their casual conversations, interspersed with games of chess, are among the more refreshing and amusing parts of the film.

Willem Dafoe and Rio Adlakha in "My Hindu Friend" (Meu Amogo Hindu), Brazil.Diego does however, manage to strike a new friendship with someone living – a young Hindu boy and fellow patient (Rio Adlakha), with whom he shares his stories and dreams. After returning home following his recovery, Diego realises that his marriage with Livia is nevertheless finished, with the illness being just one of the contributing factors. With an almost wiped-clean slate, Diego meets Sofia (Bárbara Paz), an actress and ardent fan of his work. Perhaps, there might now be a new story waiting to be written on it…

Bárbara Paz and Willem Dafoe in "My Hindu Friend" aka "Meu Amigo Hindu" (2015, Brazil)Babenco’s film makes frequent nods to the golden age of Hollywood, and in a way, is an ode to cinema itself. It’s a story about cheating death, a story about rebirth. Portions of the film, particularly those relating to Death, is reminiscent of a film by another Argentinian-born director Eliseo Subiela. Having said that, Mello and Dafoe take it to a far higher, engaging level. While the fact of Brazilian characters conversing in English takes a little bit of getting used to, the script is nevertheless coherent and mindfully avoids using local idioms that might not work quite so well in translation. Different in tone and intensity to his better known works such as Pixote and Carandiru, Babenco’s latest film comes out as something deeply personal, and the cast and crew appear to have done a commendable job in bringing it to life. Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Purchase Link (NTSC)

 

The Nudity: Ana Clara Fischer, Ondina Clais Castilho, Vera Barreto Leite, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Clara Choveaux, and Bárbara Paz

  • Ana Clara Fischer appears briefly nude playing a woman that Diego follows one day, hears her chant Buddhist mantras, and they end up having sex (naturally!).
  • Ondina Clais Castilho plays an understandably elderly Mrs Death.
  • Vera Barreto Leite flashes her breasts during Diego’s after-wedding party.
  • Maria Fernanda Cândido, as Livia, is briefly shown nude in the bathroom, and after Diego had seen her masturbating.
  • Clara Choveaux plays a woman thrown out of a club and, surprisingly, has a no-holds-barred encounter with Diego. Finding him unable to satisfy her, she settles for something battery-powered – it’s an explicit scene verging on hardcore.
  • Actress and possible future director Bárbara Paz plays Sofia and gives a delightful interpretation, almost in the nude, of a Gene Kelly from the golden era of Hollywood musicals. It’s made all the more endearing in that she starts the dance, as if to give us a hint, much earlier than the music kicks in. There is also a brief performance on stage, a sex scene, and a conversation in the nude preceding this memorable scene.
Bárbara Paz, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Clara Choveaux, and others nude in the Brazilian drama "My Hindu Friend" aka "Meu Amigo Hindu" (2015).

Bárbara Paz, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Clara Choveaux, and others from the Brazilian drama
“My Hindu Friend” aka “Meu Amigo Hindu” (2015).

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A brief review: “Kray” [2010 Russia]

Yuliya Peresild and Vladimir Mashkov in "The Edge" (2010).Aleksey Uchitel’s action-packed adventure drama “Kray” [Eng. Title: the Edge] is set in a Siberian labour camp (gulag) immediately after the end of the Second World War.

 

 

A still from "Kray" aka "The Edge" (2010, Russia)Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov) – a decorated War hero, is sent to work as a locomotive mechanic in the labour camp, despite carrying symptoms associated with PTSD, like frequent blackouts. He wasn’t supposed to operate those metal beasts either, but in the unusually lenient camp where safety regulations are nothing more than recommendations that can be set aside due to necessity, Ignat manages to do just that.

A still from "The Edge" (2010, Russia)The greater (and more interesting) part of the film is about Ignat’s resourcefulness in not only reviving and taking possession of an abandoned old locomotive, but also retrieving it through a “little bit broken” bridge so that it could be put back in use. He is helped along the way by feisty young German Elza (Anjorka Strechel), who’d made the locomotive her home for a number of years. She’d been hiding in the island to escape the clutches of a murdering sergeant, and locked out from the outside world, wasn’t even aware that there was a war. Nor was she aware that all Germans in Russia were henceforth seen as the enemy.

Sergey Garmash in "Kray" (2010, Russia)Friction arises when Ignat brings Elza to live in the camp, especially with inmate and young mother Sofiya (Yuliya Peresild) who’d been sharing her bed with him. Local jealousies come to a head when Ignat defends Elza against the open hostility shown towards her, that they soon had to leave, but not before an eventful locomotive chase to rescue Elza from the deranged sergeant Major Fishman (Sergey Garmash), who recognised her as the girl who escaped years ago.

A still from "The Edge" (2010, Russia)Despite the film’s apparently mainstream appeal, it is technically well produced with appealing cinematography, set design and sound engineering. It gives us a vivid account of ordinary life inside a gulag and its internal economy. But for a foreign audience, the stars will naturally be the plain yet magnificent Soviet-era steam locomotives bellowing across the snowy landscape. Rail enthusiast or not, the audience will easily find the film entertaining. Recommended Viewing!

Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Yuliya Peresild, Anjorka Strechel, and others
Apart from a sex scene with Sofiya and Ignat, there is a bathing scene where Sofiya gets into an argument with Elza and things get a bit physical.

Yuliya Peresild, Anjorka Strechel, and others nude in "Kray" aka "The Edge" (2010, Russia)

Yuliya Peresild, Anjorka Strechel, and others from the film “Kray” aka “The Edge” (2010, Russia).

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A film review: “La pelle” [1981 Italy]

Liliana Cavani:
Veteran Italian director Liliana Cavani’s films aren’t always easy to love because they tend to tackle subjects that are often skirted around during mainstream discourse, and because they make for uncomfortable viewing and also leave behind a bitter aftertaste. Perhaps best known outside her native Italy for the controversial The Night Porter and the more recent Ripley’s Game, Cavani’s films nevertheless form a unique strand within the broader tradition of commedia all’italiana.

A scene from "La pelle" (1981)“La pelle” [Eng. Title: The Skin], based on a novel of the same name by writer, journalist, and diplomat Curzio Malaparte (whose villa was also famously featured in Jean-Luc Godard’s unforgettable Le Mépris), is Cavani’s attempt at a narrative of the Second World War from the losing side, particularly those women and children who not only became a commodity for sexual exploitation in wartime Naples, but also an essential engine of the local economy.

A scene from "La pelle" (1981), ItalySet towards the end of Italy’s active participation in the war, an American regiment has recently arrived to firstly liberate the city before marching on to Rome. The film follows Malaparte himself (Marcello Mastroianni), hired by the US General Mark Clark (Burt Lancaster) as his chief interpreter and liaison officer. He is also helping out with the logistics, and befriends young US officer Jimmy (Ken Marshall) in the process.

Liliana Tari and Ken Marshall in "La pelle" (1981)Events are woven around three central female characters in the film, each of contrasting circumstances and standing, to compare and analyse the consequences for women during the time of war; Principessa Consuelo Caracciolo (Claudia Cardinale), a woman of independent means and occasional lover of Malaparte, Deborah Wyatt (Alexandra King), a pioneering American aviator and powerful US senator’s wife who insists upon joining the war effort and gets her way, and young working class lass Maria Concetta (Liliana Tari) that Jimmy befriends and falls in love with.

Alexandra King and Marcello Mastroianni in "La pelle" (1981)Part of Gen. Clark’s brief to Malaparte is to accompany, entertain, and somehow persuade Ms. Wyatt to return back to the US. Malaparte does show her, to little effect, the seedier side to Naples, the suffering, and the chaos in the city, but it will take an apocalyptic event to finally make her change her mind. For Caracciolo and Concetta however, the same event will nevertheless be liberating, albeit in slightly different ways.

Burt Lancaster and Alexandra King in "La pelle" aka "The Skin" (1981)Cavani’s film is not as much a political statement as a well-reasoned argument against generalisations in history and the need to examine the sociological impact on all sides during conflict; it opines that war is messy, extreme situations change people’s values and allow them to do the otherwise unthinkable, and that trauma of war isn’t merely restricted to the combatants. Cavani doesn’t flinch from using shock when necessary to make her point. Some scenes verge on the graphic, like the unsuspecting final sequence when the audience are mostly waiting for the end credits to roll, where the director uses a shocking accident to make a plea against ‘whitewashing’ history for whatever it is worth. A difficult film in typical Cavani-style, but Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link

 

The Nudity: Rosaria della Femmina, Liliana Tari, and others
Apart from one scene where poverty forces the father of Maria Concetta to exhibit his daughter to American soldiers as the ‘virgin of Naples’ (an outraged Jimmy effectively succeeds in stopping the show from happening again), nudity in the film is largely fleeting and nonsexual. Alexandra King (Ms. Wyatt) has her dress torn while making an emergency landing on her plane. Rosaria della Femmina, in a scene tame when compared to her other film, plays a onetime society girl looking for a meal ticket. It is humorously illustrated when she compliments Jimmy’s ‘rump’ in bed while eyeing the leg of ham he’d brought for her. Blonde merkins, apparently worn to attract black US soldiers, are randomly flashed by ‘working women’ in the streets. So, there’s something frequently happening in this department throughout the film. 🙂

Rosaria della Femmina, Liliana Tari, and others in Liliana Cavani's Italian drama "La pelle" aka "The Skin" (1981).

Scenes of Rosaria della Femmina, Liliana Tari, and others in
Liliana Cavani’s Italian drama “La pelle” aka “The Skin” (1981).

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A short holiday: “Isla Bonita” [2015 Spain]

Veteran Spanish filmmaker Fernando Colomo not only writes and directs, but also plays one of the central characters in his latest romantic comedy, “Isla Bonita” [Eng. Title: Pretty Island].

Olivia Delcán, Tim Bettermann, and Lluís Marqués from "Isla Bonita"The film is set in the island of Menorca, where sculptor Nuria (Nuria Roman) lives with her teenage daughter Olivia (Olivia Delcán). Olivia had invited her Swiss boyfriend Tim (Tim Bettermann) for a holiday and the couple were having a great time together, until Lluís (Lluís Marqués) – her ex boyfriend, bumps into them in the market. Unmindful of Tim’s presence, Lluís briefly gets touchy-feely with Olivia like the good old days. He pulls back after being introduced to Tim, but Tim is already upset. When Olivia confesses that she ended her affair with Lluís only after she was certain of Tim’s visit, Tim packs up his bag and leaves in a hurry, even when there were no flights available.

Fernando Colomo, Miguel Ángel Furones, and Nuria Román in "Isla Bonita"Around the same time, film maker Fernando (Fernando Colomo) had been invited by his old friend Miguel (Miguel Ángel Furones) to shoot a documentary about the island. Miguel had hoped to host Fernando at his place, but had to change plans and convinces friend Nuria to put him at her place for a few days. Miguel wants to help the down-and-out Fernando who’s just been through his third divorce and is having a tough time finding work. The documentary was hence Miguel’s idea.

Fernando Colomo and Olivia Delcán in "Isla Bonita" (2015)Olivia is distraught and wants Tim back, but he couldn’t be found despite Lluís helping her search for him. When her mother had to go away on business, Olivia strikes up an unlikely friendship with Fernando. They share their stories, and go sightseeing and swimming together. Fernando soon becomes fascinated with both Nuria and her work, and decides to feature her too in his upcoming documentary film.

Olivia Delcán, Nuria Román, and Fernando Colomo in "Isla Bonita"Having had an opportunity to study Fernando, Olivia tries to pair him up with her mother and even sets-up a dinner date between the two, but it backfires, because Nuria felt he was taking things ‘too fast’ for her liking – after all, “poc a poc” is the way of the island. Olivia gets a shock too when she discovers that Tim was not only in town, but to add insult to injury, was in an intimate relationship with Lluís all this time. They patch things up in a thoroughly modern way of course, by becoming a threesome..! 🙂

Olivia Delcán, Tim Bettermann and Lluís Marqués in "Isla Bonita" (2015)Colomo is known for his gentle comedy arising from awkward situations and improvised dialogues, and he loves the beach too, and the skinny-dipping that comes with it (naturally), as evident from his earlier films such as Al sur de Granada, and Los años bárbaros. He is one of those rare veteran filmmakers who’s not only moving with the times, but also carrying the spirit of the seventies and eighties wherever he goes, and at least for that reason, “Isla Bonita” is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.es DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Olivia Delcán, Tim Bettermann, and Lluís Marqués
The main film features nudity, mostly from the charming young débutante Olivia Delcán who plays Olivia, along with Tim Bettermann and Lluís Marqués. The DVD however includes an alternative ending shot in full-frame, which feature additional nude scenes from the same trio. One scene has a particularly awkward moment when mum Nuria sees Olivia, Tim, and Lluís sleeping in the nude after sex with the door wide open, and she quietly slips out of the house to avoid embarrassing them.

Olivia Delcán, Tim Bettermann, and Lluís Marqués from "Isla Bonita" (2015 Spain)

Olivia Delcán, Tim Bettermann, and Lluís Marqués from the romantic comedy
“Isla Bonita” (2015 Spain).

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