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A leftover life to kill: “Eureka” [1983 United Kingdom, USA]

For a long time, it had been fashionable for critics to trash every Nicolas Roeg film made after “Bad Timing”. Thankfully, we now have a whole new generation that’s not only rediscovering his later films, but also reevaluating them within the context of his entire body of work. “Eureka” (1983), partly inspired by a true story, was the first of his ‘later’ films to be routinely overlooked due to the changing expectations of a fickle audience.

Gene Hackman in "Eureka"The film follows the fortunes of Jack McCann (Gene Hackman), a perseverant gold prospector made good after striking it rich in the frozen wilderness of Canada. Split into three distinct parts, the first part of the film is dedicated to McCann’s heroic quest amongst the debris of broken hearts and shattered spirits that came seeking fortune before him. The surreal journey he undertakes takes on a mythic proportion as elements of magic and providence are woven into the narrative.

Gene Hackman and Theresa Russell in "Eureka"The film fast forwards twenty years into the future immediately after, where McCann is the wealthiest man in the world, watching helplessly as his daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell) falls madly in love and marries a handsome idler named Claude (Rutger Hauer) – he suspects that Claude might have married her only for the money.

Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, and Mickey Rourke in "Eureka"Around the same time, Miami businessman Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci) wants to convince McCann into selling his Caribbean island named Eureka to set-up a Vegas-style casino town, with the help of McCann’s close associate Charlie Perkins (Ed Lauter), and using his lawyer-sidekick Aurelio D’Amato (Mickey Rourke) as the go-between. He devices dubious methods to obtain the property, but McCann isn’t interested in selling it.

Theresa Russell and Rutger Hauer in "Eureka"The final part of the film deals with the aftermath of McCann’s horrific murder and the shoddy trial that ensues when Claude is accused of murdering his father-in-law. Claude argues his own defence by calling in Tracy as a witness, but will learn to his discomfort that Tracy, far from being his ‘trophy’ wife, was the one to initiate the seduction – it was she who chose him, rather than the other way around.

Tracy defends his innocence by proclaiming his incapacity to hold any true convictions in life, let alone love. Through her courtroom testimony, she also summarises her slain father’s life with a surprising insight that will go some distance in completing the portrait of the real McCann behind the adventurer and doting father of the first two parts of the film…

 

Defending “Eureka”:
If this event-rich film would’ve started off as an action adventure, and progressed into a tragedy-filled family melodrama, some critics would’ve probably been satisfied with its outcome, and perhaps even an Oscar red-carpet would have beckoned if a ‘final justice’ of sorts for the tragedy had been served.

Gene Hackman in "Eureka"But this is a Nicolas Roeg film – whose stylised film narrative and surreal moments, briefly interspersed with tantalising, but brilliant glimpses into the psychological, philosophical, and mystical aspects of the human psyche – into reasons behind motives, are as adored and appreciated in films like Walkabout and Don’t Look Now. “Eureka” is no different in its approach from his other better appreciated films, and it is baffling to come across arguments that suggest that Roeg could’ve gone about it differently.

Gene Hackman in "Eureka"For Roeg, finer details, or even the plausibility of a plot had always been secondary; instead he was more interested in the effect that events have on the characters concerned. McCann is a man of action and very few words, and once his destiny of finding gold was complete, there was nothing left for him to achieve – in his own words, “Once I had it all. Now I just have everything”. Hence there was need for a mouthpiece – Tracy in this instance, to elucidate McCann’s reasons for struggling to negotiate his remaining days.

Gene Hackman in "Eureka"There’s a reason why twenty years of his life following the gold discovery is not shown. The film is essentially about the leftover part of McCann’s life; it is not about seeing him accumulate wealth, get married and purchase whole islands. Also, without going into the details, the cryptic final scene with ‘unanswered questions’ is indeed typical of Roeg. You’re free to interpret and judge the characters appearing in the final scene in your own way; all that Roeg wants to convey is that Eureka “will be given away”. Considering the problems the film faced during its distribution, we don’t know if the final cut that we see is also the way Roeg intended, but even as it stands, this is an exceptional (and woefully underrated) film by Nicolas Roeg that’s Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray + DVD Link
I’m thankful for this excellent Blu-ray release – the copy I had so far was a poorly transferred letterboxed NTSC DVD. It is about time the rest of Nicolas Roeg’s films are also remastered and brought back to life for a new audience.

 

The Nudity: Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Emma Relph, and Ann Thornton
Theresa Russell is at her most elegant and sensual self in this film, and also appears nude or partially nude in at least five scenes. For a Dutchman, Rutger Hauer’s diction is impressive, and he too appears nude in one scene. Emma Relph and Ann Thornton play wives of colonial British officers who get more than they bargained for after Claude takes them to an outlandish ‘voodoo orgy’, if ever there was one, where an uncredited actress is also seen trying to swallow or do some harm to a hapless python – bloody expats! 🙂

Theresa Russell and Rutger Hauer in Nicolas Roeg's "Eureka" [1983]

Theresa Russell and Rutger Hauer in Nicolas Roeg’s “Eureka” [1983, UK/USA].

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Rich filth: “Suburra” [2015 Italy]

Stefano Sollima, already successful in Italian television, impresses an international audience for the first time, and in no uncertain terms in his second feature film, the gritty crime drama “Suburra”.

Pierfrancesco Favino in SuburraThe title metaphorically alludes to a seedy quarter of classical Rome where powerful and criminal elements once congregated to conduct shady deals. The film however, is set more recently in 2011 and focuses on an unholy alliance between corrupt politicians, cardinals, and various mafia outfits, setting off a chain reaction of events following an accident, just as the government pulls out all stops for a financial bailout during the economic crisis. It also advances the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI by a couple of years to add impact to an already complex plot involving these disparate characters.

Giulia Elettra Gorietti in SuburraWhen Filippo Malgradi (Pierfransisco Favino), a prominent minister of the crisis-ridden government ‘unwinds’ with a couple of prostitutes in a hotel room, the youngest of the two – fifteen year old Ilena (Yuliia Kolomiiets) drops dead due to a drug overdose. A reluctant Malgradi, with his career, reputation, and family life on the line, doesn’t want to deal with the consequences, and dismissively asks the other prostitute Sabrina (Giulia Elettra Gorietti) to get rid of the body by any means, which she does with the help of Dagger (Giacomo Ferrara).

Alessandro Borghi and Giacomo Ferrara in SuburraDagger is from the Anacleti clan, and brother of the terrifying Manfredi (Adamo Dionisi), whose criminal interests range from money lending to drug pushing and prostitution. He begins to blackmail Malgradi over the underage prostitute’s death, who in turn approaches a fellow politician for help. The politician asks Number 8 (Alessandro Borghi), a hit man and mafia don who controls Ostia, to ‘have a word’ with Dagger.

Greta Scarano and Alessandro Borghi in SuburraWhen Dagger is murdered, a war ensues between Manfredi and Number 8 against a backdrop of other big-time mafia interests vying for a piece of the pie surrounding a huge real estate redevelopment programme proposed for Ostia, a hitherto backwater port town. They are represented by a veteran mafia negotiator named Samurai (Claudio Amendola), who wants to defuse the war to ensure the smooth passing of the redevelopment bill in parliament. But the chain reaction has a mind of its own…

Claudio Amendola in SuburraAny film about my favourite European city would inevitably end up in my watching list, but after La grande bellezza had set a new bar in depicting Rome in film, “Suburra” came as a pleasant surprise – and it is plain to see that the film had also drawn a bit of inspiration from the former. The taut thriller however paints a different picture – of a city seething with corruption and irredeemable characters – a Rome running a bit short of her heroes at present.

Adamo Dionisi and Elio Germano in SuburraWhile a lot can be written in glowing terms about the film’s impressive technical merits, I’ll restrict myself to the production design that stands out, particularly Manfredi’s villa filled with wholly incongruous artefacts that hint at the dubious ways in which they might have been accumulated, the owner’s attempt – being of gypsy heritage, at trying to gain respectability in a society that fears and shuns him. True, these are clichés that only reinforce stereotypes, but it is also a reminder of the prejudice and racism that still exists today. The scenes in the villa, teeming with urchins from Manfredi’s ‘extended family’, are also the only comedic moments in an otherwise brooding film.

By extracting strong performances from the main actors and keeping the tension going for the best part of the film, Sollima has crafted a gritty and memorable film along the lines of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Il camorrista. It is heartening to see that Italian cinema can still produce the odd gem now and again – we only wish it was more frequent. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link

The Nudity: Pierfrancesco Favino, Yuliia Kolomiiets, Giulia Elettra Gorietti,
and Greta Scarano
There is an extended sex scene involving characters played by Pierfrancesco Favino, Yuliia Kolomiiets, and Giulia Elettra Gorietti, interspersed with other events happening at the same time. Greta Scarano who plays Viola, the love-interest of Number 8, appears nude in a couple of scenes, first when her knickers are pulled down at a night club by Number 8, and later when she lay uncovered in bed and Number 8′s associate comes barging in.

Pierfrancesco Favino, Yuliia Kolomiiets, Giulia Elettra Gorietti, and Greta Scarano nude in Suburra (2015)

Pierfrancesco Favino, Yuliia Kolomiiets, Giulia Elettra Gorietti, and Greta Scarano,
from “Suburra” [2015 Italy].

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Detached, but rooted: “Sedím na konári a je mi dobre” [1989, Czechoslovakia]

Juraj Jakubisko, like many of his contemporaries of the Czechoslovak New Wave, had an uncanny ability to weave elements of local myth, legend, and fantasy into a uniquely Slavic narrative that spoke directly to its audience. Often bordering on the absurd and the surreal, his films depict ordinary people coping with exceptional circumstances using little more than wit and humour. Creatively, his works are reminiscent of an early Vera Chytilová, only a bit more ‘colourful’ and audience-friendly. After initial success, he couldn’t be as productive as he wanted to be after the crushing of the Prague Spring, and had to rely on various well wishers to finish his projects. He has however managed to produce some remarkable gems that this site hopes to uncover for a different audience.

Ondrej Pavelka in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre".I start his filmography, not with one of his more famous works, but something more simple and accessible, but haunting nevertheless in the way it spins comedy against the backdrop of great tragedy and misery, “Sedím na konári a je mi dobre” [Eng. Title: I’m Sitting on a Branch and Feel Fine], with events unfolding as Europe’s fighting war finally came to an end during World War II.

Ondrej Pavelka and Bolek Polivka in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre"It begins at a refugee camp somewhere in Slovakia, where Prengel (Ondrej Pavelka), a young local soldier returning from war duties, and Pepe (Bolek Polívka), a likeable scoundrel and an out-of-work circus clown, bump into each other – Pepe is hungry and has a stolen bicycle to offer, and Prengel has some airdropped tins of pork at his disposal. They settle on exchanging food for a ride to wherever Prengel wanted to go, but are interrupted by a military policeman who recognises his missing bicycle with them.

Bolek Polivka in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre"They escape into the woods along with the stolen bicycle, and only after one of their frequent arguments do they discover the reason why the gun-totting officer was determinedly pursuing them for what was essentially petty theft – the bike’s tubing was stuffed with jewels originally confiscated by the Nazis from fleeing Jewish families. While Prengel wanted them returned to the authorities, Pepe, with ambitions to set up his own circus company back in Italy, refuses and offers a share in the spoils instead.

Bolek Polivka and Deana Horvathova in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre"When Prengel discovers that his home has been destroyed and family members killed, Pepe consoles him and decides to stay. They take formal possession of a Jewish family’s abandoned bakery and mansion with the help of Prengel’s former school teacher, now an influential local official, and are suggested to become bakers in their own right so that supplies to the devastated town could resume. They manage to get by with their mediocre baking skills because the townspeople weren’t too fussed about the quality of their bread.

Marketa Hrubesova in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre"One day they notice a wandering young woman with a striking resemblance to Ester, the daughter of the Jewish family who owned the mansion. Both men fall in love and take her home. The girl (Markéta Hrubesová), apparently traumatised, rarely utters a word, and the men agree to behave like gentlemen and wait for her to choose one among them as her lover, despite the temptation arising every time she sheds her clothes to stay in the nude, which was often. Their love for her doesn’t diminish even after she returns to something akin to normal and admits that she wasn’t Ester after all, and that she only knew Ester as a schoolmate. Before long, they discover that she is also pregnant, and not because of them…

Bolek Polivka in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre"While the film draws its comedy using tragic events happening around the protagonists as a backdrop, it doesn’t trivialise the events themselves – instead it makes us feel for the fallen characters and, in the typical style of Emir Kusturica, keep them in picture as a constant reminder of the real world outside, and the urgent need to adapt and move on. It also, aided by some fine production design and cinematography, injects a level of authenticity rarely seen in films from Western Europe and Hollywood – it is about ‘real’ people who rebuilt a continent to the best of their abilities, from the ashes of war. The people are worth remembering, if only to delay the next cycle of history repeating itself. If there is anything allegorical in this film, it isn’t as apparent as in one of his earlier films with a similar topic, but even at face value, it stands out as great cinema and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.it DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Markéta Hrubesová, Ondrej Pavelka, Bolek Polívka, and Deana Horváthová
Having watched the film years ago, the scenes I couldn’t forget were those of a pretty and wholesome Markéta Hrubesová, prowling the house in the nude with her pet black feline, and perched atop a tree while beckoning a randy and hapless Pepe. There is also a scene of Prengel and Pepe scrubbing themselves when Ester barges in to offer a helping hand. There is brief nudity from actress, producer, and director’s wife Deana Horváthová, who plays a relatively minor role in the film as an overenthusiastic communist ideologue – her character is initially pursued by Pepe, but the tables are turned upon conquest, after he realises that her sexual appetite is greater than what he could handle.

Markéta Hrubesová and Ondrej Pavelka nude in "Sedím na konári a je mi dobre" [1989, Czechoslovakia].

Markéta Hrubesová and Ondrej Pavelka in “Sedím na konári a je mi dobre” [1989, Czechoslovakia].

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A film review: “Palmeras en la nieve” [2015 Spain]

A scene from "Palmeras en la nieve" (2015)Fernando González Molina has made a commendable effort in recreating colonial Africa for his latest film, “Palmeras en la nieve” [Eng. Title: Palm trees in the Snow], a saga encompassing the final years of Spain’s tiny toehold in sub-Saharan Africa (Spanish, now Equatorial Guinea).

Adriana Ugarte in "Palmeras en la nieve" (2015)The story centers around Kilian (Mario Casas), a young man from Huesca who in 1953, joins his father and brother Jacobo (Alain Hernández) working for a cocoa plantation in a small tropical island named Fernando Poo (Bioko). It is during Jacobo’s funeral in 2003, that his daughter Clarence (Adriana Ugarte) discovers a stash of letters and photographs pointing to a beneficiary still living in the erstwhile colony, and decides to visit the island of Bioko to investigate.

Berta Vazquez in "Palmeras en la nieve" (2015)Clarence stumbles upon details of a long-term relationship that her uncle Kilian had with Bisila (Berta Vázquez), an already married native woman. Much of the film dwells on the couple’s passionate affair against the backdrop of the colonisers’ strained relationship with the locals, and their tenuous grip on sections of a populace simmering with discontent and nationalist sentiments.

Adriana Ugarte in "Palmeras en la nieve"It wasn’t to be easy for Clarence in Baiko, not helped by the fact that most of the local population have reverted to using African names after Spain vacated (her clues pointed to locals with Spanish names). She befriends local man Iniko (Djedje Apali), falls in love, and will eventually learn to her surprise that he is a rather important relative of Bisila

Mario Casas in "Palmeras en la nieve" (2015)The tone of the narrative is vaguely reminiscent of, but not nearly as poetic as La puta y la bellena, with the nesting turtles in place of the whale as the film’s metaphor. It tries to steer clear of controversy, as is often the case in films dealing with colonialism, by depicting its protagonist as just another Spanish employee in the plantation, albeit with perks not available to natives. But there’s no getting away from the fact that they were still part of the colonial system – and I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the fact that the film was shot in various locations except Equatorial Guinea itself. Despite its minor shortcomings, the film nevertheless scores well in its production values, even bagging a couple of Goya Awards this year – altogether, a much better film from director Molina.

Amazon.de Blu-ray Link

 

The Nudity: Berta Vázquez, and Adriana Ugarte
A stunning and athletic Berta Vázquez – as Bisila, appears nude in at least three scenes with Mario Casas as Kilian (apparently they are off-screen partners too). There is also a scene featuring an as-ever lovely Adriana Ugarte when her character joins Iniko under a waterfall, and they proceed to make love in a secluded beach.

Berta Vázquez, and Adriana Ugarte in the Spanish melodrama, "Palmeras en la nieve" (2015).

Berta Vázquez, and Adriana Ugarte in the Spanish melodrama, “Palmeras en la nieve” (2015).

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A review: “Territoriya” [2015 Russia]

Aleksandr Melnik’s “Territoriya” [Eng. Title: Territory] is a remake of an earlier Soviet film about the Siberian Gold Rush of the late fifties and early sixties. Of course, the term needs to be applied rather selectively, because it was only the Soviet state involved in this particular ‘rush’.

A scene from "Territory" [2015 Russia]The film’s intended focus is a celebrated geologist’s attempts to persuade teams of geologists working on various assignments in the rugged Siberian tundra to get involved in prospecting for gold. He succeeds to some extent, thanks to the pioneering and adventure spirit of those involved.

A scene from "Territoriya" [2015 Russia]We see tenacious men endure extreme conditions in the northeastern corner of Siberia – this is no place for the faint-hearted; some set out on foot, even unaccompanied, on treks to desolate barren lands, where they have to overcome ice, rapids, and other inaccessible terrain to reach their destination. Some of them don’t quite succeed despite their valiant efforts, while some persevere, and discover gold.

A scene from "Territory" [2015 Russia]The film’s strengths: Firstly, it’s the location, location, location; its the abundance of breathtaking and awe inspiring landscapes – and one will simply run out of superlatives in describing the unspoilt, untamed, and unforgiving form of nature that’s so lovingly captured in film. It also puts into perspective the insignificance of man, and yet his heroic effort in battling himself in ‘taming’ it. The other strength is its main cast, who perform reasonably well.

A scene from "Territoriya" [2015 Russia]The film’s weaknesses: Unfortunately, there are several, and they’re mainly to do with the narrative, like the totally unnecessary voice-over narration. It distracts from a film that could so easily have been contemplative and poetic. I had to turn off my subtitles for a slightly different reason though; it prevented me from appreciating the sheer majesty of the visuals we’re seeing. And I knew I won’t be missing anything important, because the droll female voice narrating the film was, for the most part, explaining what the persons on screen were thinking or feeling, like in a comic strip.

A scene from "Territory" [2015 Russia]Another problem with the film, surprisingly and against the grain of what was commented above, is its rather ‘mainstream’ cinematography. Geology is an important focus for the film, and yet we barely find an appreciation for it in the way these landscapes, which are also geologically interesting, are depicted – it’s all seen with a commoner’s eye. Even if one allows for the fact that this is a feature film as opposed to a documentary, it wasn’t aiding the narrative. But if you enjoy natural landscapes, especially anything above and beyond the Arctic circle, you’ll love this film – only, remember to switch off the subtitles!

 

The Nudity: Grigoriy Dobrygin (?), and Tamara Obutova
The film starts with a brief yet funny sequence, when the dogs bolt along with the sleigh when their master slept. He wakes up and runs after them in the nude. There is also a scene featuring an Eskimo girl (Tamara Obutova) going about her chores half-nude, apparently in accordance to tradition. She puts on a shirt only after noticing that the stranger that they rescued had woken up.

Tamara Obutova nude in "Territoriya" [2015 Russia]

Tamara Obutova in the Russian adventure drama, “Territoriya” [2015].

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