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An ode to Sarajevo: “Sjecas li se, Dolly Bell” [1981, Yugoslavia]

Emir Kusturica declares his genius in no uncertain terms with his memorable feature-film début titled, “Sjecas li se, Dolly Bell” [Eng. Title: Do You Remember Dolly Bell?]. While it might not be as loaded with nuanced symbolism as some of his later films, it is nevertheless an exquisitely crafted gem of unadulterated cinema that every young film maker could draw inspiration from.

Slavko Stimac and Slobodan Aligrudic in "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?"Set during the school summer holidays of 1960’s Sarajevo, the film follows the coming-of-age of Dino (Slavko Stimac), growing up in a caring working class family under the watchful eye of patriarch and ardent communist Maho (Slobodan Aligrudic). They live in a run-down tenement awaiting their turn to move into government allocated quarters that are newly being constructed. Much of Dino’s time is spent loitering with delinquent kids in the neighbourhood, and experimenting his auto suggestion and hypnosis skills upon himself and his pet rabbit – a hobby frowned upon by Maho who believes that Marxism had already supplanted the German Idealism that Dino’s interests represent.

Ljiljana Blagojevic and Slavko Stimac in "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?"Dino tries his best to fit in with his neighbourhood pals, even while privy to some of their illegal activities. But for all his little digressions and keeping in bad company, Dino truly wants to better himself. It will also remain the crux of the film’s focus, as illustrated in Dino’s frequent mutterings, “Every day in every way, I’m getting a little better”. The ring leader of sorts within his group of friends is a pimp and human trafficker named Pog who sometimes went by the name of Sonny. As a favour, he asks Dino to hide one of his girls in his attic while he went away on business.

Ljiljana Blagojevic in "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?"The girl, going by the name of Dolly Bell (Ljiljana Blagojevic) after a Parisian burlesque performer made popular through film shows at the local culture club, happens to be one of the girls that Pog intends to traffic to Italy. Dino would find himself drawn to her beauty and in the process, is also initiated into sex.

Ljiljana Blagojevic and Slavko Stimac in "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?"Dino will encounter his first experience of love and loss, after Dolly Bell is taken away and forced into prostitution. His hitherto critical father Maho, after learning about Dino’s affair and his valiant attempts to win back the girl that he loves, will come around to accepting Dino’s interests in auto suggestion and hypnosis, even encouraging him to keep at it – to get better in every way, through each passing day…

The film provides a unique perspective of Sarajevo and Socialist Yugoslavia that many in the West simply wouldn’t be aware of, but it would be hard to resist not searching for possible tell-tale signs or ‘premonitions’ of what would come later. There is a ‘telling’ scene in the film where Dino and his elder brother tussle in the background during a family get-together, and juxtaposed with the topic the family members are discussing, it is impossible not to make a connection with what we are seeing and what will be beamed into our television sets in twenty odd years time. The final parting shot in the film is also particularly poignant, in that it gives a birds-eye view of a half-built block of flats undergoing construction – full of promise and hope for the future. A similar scene would haunt us later – only they’d be half destroyed. In many ways, the film is an ode to Sarajevo, an upwardly mobile city that the director loved and grew up in, and which also embodied the aspirations of a young nation during the 60’s and 70’s.

Ljiljana Blagojevic and Slavko Stimac in "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?"While comparisons can be made to Fellini’s “Amarcord” in terms of its subject matter, in its style and treatment, the film can broadly be compared to Italian neorealism. It is gritty and has an all too ‘human’ touch which we can instantly relate to, and which also makes it accessible to a global audience. The film can be considered ‘complete’ even as it stands, to the extent that there is very little that anyone could possibly add to enhance or improve upon the film’s message. While “Underground” still remains my favourite Kusturica film, ‘Dolly Bell’ comes in a pretty close second, making it without a doubt, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Ljiljana Blagojevic
There is brief nudity from Ljiljana Blagojevic who plays the titular character of Dolly Bell while bathing and preparing to make love to Dino. But the film also features numerous scenes of a sensual nature that doesn’t feature nudity.

Ljiljana Blagojevic and Slavko Stimac in Emir Kusturica's "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?" [1981]

Ljiljana Blagojevic and Slavko Stimac in Emir Kusturica’s
“Do You Remember Dolly Bell?” [1981]


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Posted in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Emir Kusturica | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

A brief film review: “Ma che bella sorpresa” [2015 Italy]

Alessandro Genovesi’s comedy-fantasy “Ma che bella sorpresa” [Eng. Title: What a Lovely Surprise!] is one among the many escapist fantasies frequently aimed at a mainstream audience, but for what it is worth, the film does it well.

Chiara Baschetti in "Ma che bella sorpresa" (2015)Set in Naples, the film starts with Guido (Claudio Bisio), a forty-something school teacher, returning home to find his girlfriend Anna (Anna Ammirati) packing up her bags to leave him for a Belgian sailor. Guido shuts himself from the world and settles for quiet evenings at home in the hope of overcoming his grief. One evening, a pretty young woman half his age knocks at his door and introduces herself as Silvia (Chiara Baschetti), his newly moved-in neighbour.

Claudio Bisio and Valentina Lodovini in Ma che bella sorpresa (2015)An excuse for borrowing sugar for tea quickly turns into an improvised dinner-date between the two, followed by sex, and before long, Guido had fallen head-over-heels in love with Silvia. All’s fine and dandy for a while between the couple, and Giada (Valentina Lodovini), a widow living next door with a penchant for eavesdropping on him, listens worriedly to the all-too-frequent sounds of passion coming from Guido’s apartment. After all, she fancies Guido too.

Claudio Bisio and Valentina Lodovini in "Ma che bella sorpresa" (2015)There’s however a problem in the couple’s relationship, in that no one apart from Guido could actually see or hear the undoubtedly charming Silvia, quite possibly because she’s just a figment (albeit a wholesome and attractive one) of Guido’s imagination. Once he realises that, he wastes little time in ‘breaking up’ with Silvia, which Giada next door also overhears, and sensing an opening, makes her presence felt to Guido.

Chiara Baschetti, Claudio Bisio, and Valentina Lodovini in "Ma che bella sorpresa" (2015)But Silvia wouldn’t let go and keeps appearing in Guido’s path whenever ‘she’ wished, even after becoming aware that he had now hooked up with another woman. Giada, who can’t see Silvia either, nevertheless makes it clear to Guido that she wouldn’t want to be in a three-way relationship even if her rival’s claim over him are at best, illusory. She leaves Guido momentarily, allowing him to make that ‘difficult’ choice…

Ma che bella sorpresa (2015)I doubt if the film has pretensions (or grand illusions) of being anything other than escapist entertainment – it is not really a commentary on modern relationships or the mid-life crisis, and that’s a relief. There are mild comedic moments in the film however, but not as much as to bring the house down. Newcomer Chiara Baschetti doesn’t disappoint, and Valentina Lodovini – the reason for me picking up the film, is rather underused. Claudio Bisio’s gentle comedy doesn’t succeed all the time, but it is not all doom and gloom either – some of the best scenes are those capturing life and colour from the off-the-tourist-trail streets of Naples. One wishes there were more of these though.

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Chiara Baschetti and Valentina Lodovini
Two brief scenes feature topless nudity from the main female characters.

Chiara Baschetti and Valentina Lodovini from the Italian comedy "Ma che bella sorpresa" (2015)

Chiara Baschetti, Valentina Lodovini, and Galatea Ranzi from the Italian comedy,
“Ma che bella sorpresa” [2015].


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Sometimes, subtitles can be a hindrance: “Plemya” [2014, Ukraine]

Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy makes an assured feature film début with his astonishing film, “Plemya” [Eng. Title: the Tribe]. With dialogues entirely in Ukrainian sign-language (which the director himself is not fluent in) and presented without subtitles, voice-overs, or even background music, it forces the viewer to approach the film in the form in which it was originally invented – as a motion picture rather than a talking picture. All the film’s main cast are deaf, and use sign language in their day-to-day lives.

Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)Thankfully for us, the storyline isn’t complicated, and anyone who’d seen Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and Larry Clark’s “Kids” would readily try and identify connections with the film. It begins with young Sergey (Grygoriy Fesenko) arriving to join a boarding school for the deaf. On the very same day, he is also introduced to the school’s own violent crime gang who call themselves ‘The Tribe’.

Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)After passing through his initiation rituals, Sergey will begin participating in the gang’s assorted acts of thuggery and drug-dealing. He will also become the replacement pimp for two of his fellow students from school, Anya (Yana Novikova) and Svetka (Roza Babiy), and help ply their prostitution trade at a night-time truck-stop.

Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)His troubles begin when Sergey falls in love with Anya despite knowing that she’s also the boss’s girlfriend. He pays for having sex with her initially, but after Anya reciprocates his feelings, their love affair becomes earnest. When she discovers that she’s become pregnant however, she wastes little time in having it terminated through an off-duty midwife. Unaware of this, a showdown with the ‘boss’ will loom large for Sergey who finds out that preparations are being made for Anya to be trafficked to Italy. More brutality ensues after Sergey is forced into conflict with the entire tribe in his quest to protect his love interest…

Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)What marks the film apart is not just the detail that all cast members in the film happen to be deaf in real life as well, but also because it challenges the viewer at many levels; in bringing a generally ‘marginalised’ community into sharp ‘mainstream’ focus, in stating that people with disabilities are just as capable of adapting, behaving, and forming violent gangs as anyone else in wider society, and in demonstrating that what people with disabilities require is not sympathy, but empathy.

Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)The film was in my must-watch list at last year’s London Film festival after it deservedly swept through many awards at Cannes earlier that year. Watching it again more recently on DVD, I realise that there is not a single close-up shot used in the film – most scenes are shot from a distance in a ‘detached’ Antonioni style. Regardless, we are still privy to characters’ thoughts and feelings at any given moment. The frantic gestures that they use in their sign language, whilst baffling at the beginning, start making sense as we delve into the way they communicate, which while remaining notionally silent, nevertheless convey their feelings in as clear and precise a manner as possible. Characters display the attitude of typical teenagers; they could be sarcastic, silly, and use swear ‘words’. They could also be argumentative, reflective, and moving.

Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)The film is equally challenging in its artistic and technical fronts. Most of the scenes are shot using long takes that require a great degree of coordination and direction to pull off, using what’s essentially a non-professional cast. Having said that, the actors are totally convincing in their respective roles, and it is hard to believe that they’ve never acted in film before. Yana Novikova in particular shines in a role that is demanding not just physically, but also emotionally. This is the first seriously artistic film I’ve seen made in Ukraine, and was pleasantly surprised to know that the Ukrainian State Film Agency had partly funded a film that’s more thought-provoking than uplifting. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko
The film features extensive nudity and sex from the main protagonists. All of these scenes were accomplished with long takes using a single camera. There is also a disturbing scene where Yana Novikova’s character is partially nude as she undergoes, in real-time, an abortion procedure.

Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko nude in the film "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)

Scenes of Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko from the crime drama, “Plemya” aka “The Tribe” (2015).


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Twilight nirvana: “Anochece en la India” [2014 Spain, Romania, India]

Acclaimed documentary film-maker Chema Rodríguez makes his foray into feature films with the quirky and meditative drama, “Anochece en la India” [Eng. Title: Nightfall in India].

Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (2014)Ricardo (Juan Diego) is an ageing paraplegic hippie suffering from a degenerative decease. His grumpy attitude, and generally obnoxious behaviour is nevertheless tolerated by his quietly spoken live-in Romanian carer Dana (Clara Voda). For obvious reasons, Dana is also the longest have lasted in her job.

Juan Diego in "Anochece en la India" (2014)When Ricardo breaks the news that he will no longer require her services since he will be travelling to India, Dana isn’t particularly overjoyed, not least because of the fact that he shouldn’t be travelling in his present state of health. As if travelling the normal way wasn’t enough, he also wants to make his final trip in style, just the way he used to all those years ago, by following the hippie trail through Eurasia.

Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (Anochece en la India, 2014)Dana too decides to return to Romania, and accepts a lift from Ricardo because it is also on his way, but as destiny would have it, she will end up accompanying him all the way to India. We learn that Dana doesn’t really need to work for a living, but does so in order to escape a cruel hand that fate has dealt her earlier. To compensate for her inabilities, she had decided to take on the role of Ricardo’s angel, and has also fallen in love with him.

Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (2014)For his part, Ricardo had tried to shield himself from potential heartache through his grouchy demeanour. His real reason for travelling to India will not remain a secret for long; rather than his stated claim of reconnecting with his sweetheart from years ago, his trip to India is for taking his life, and he had made all the necessary arrangements to that effect. In his misery and suffering, he had found precious little will to live.

Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (2014)But Ricardo’s cocksure ideas about life and death are put to test under unexpected circumstances, after they find themselves trapped in a desolate ravine following an accident. With little else to do while waiting for help that might probably never even arrive, they have a proper chat for the very first time. Will the two, who have been refusing to face up to some bitter truths in their respective lives, finally have the courage to seek enlightenment…

Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" aka "Anochece en la India" (2014)The film isn’t your everyday road movie, because the journey that the protagonists undertake is not only physical but also metaphorical. Ricardo and Dana both have issues that require addressing despite them doggedly pursuing their own objectives. Rodríguez doesn’t judge their decisions but merely places them in context, allowing viewers a glimpse into the overall picture. The principal actors give a convincing performance, but the star of the film has to be the quirky, yet nuanced screenplay that is engaging through both its humorous and introspective moments. The film dedicates considerable attention to the little details that significantly enhance the ‘bigger picture’. If I have to express an opinion about this little gem in Ricardo’s inimitable style, it’ll be “de puta madre!” – in other words, Highly Recommended Viewing..! :-)

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Clara Voda and Vanessa Castro
Vanessa Castro, as Ricardo’s old flame from the past, appears nude in a brief black and white collage. In another scene, Clara Voda attempts to make Ricardo change his plans in India, but fails.

Clara Voda and Vanessa Castro nude in "Anochece en la India" aka "Nightfall in India" (2014)

Clara Voda and Vanessa Castro in “Anochece en la India” aka “Nightfall in India” (2014)


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The difference between looking and seeing: “Central Bazaar” [1976, United Kingdom]

Once in a while, it helps to digress from a topic under discussion, if only to return to it and refocus with a fresh ‘eye’. Since this site discusses what might essentially be seen as a voyeuristic pursuit, namely nudity and their context in film, what better way to re-validate its purpose than refer back to Stephen Dwoskin – a US-born British film maker whose lifetime of camera-gaze had sought to articulate everything that can be associated with seeing and feeling, and voyeurism is pretty much on that list.

Stephen Dwoskin copyright bfi.org.uk

Stephen Dwoskin. © bfi.org.uk

Artist, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and film-maker, Dwoskin was an important part of the avant-garde and experimental film scene of the sixties and seventies, a truly ‘free’ artist who had no qualms about departing from established form and structure. His cinema in particular is renowned for asking pertinent questions to audience concerning what we see and what we fail to see.

"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]Among his works that explore voyeurism and sexuality is “Central Bazaar”, also one of his longest features. The film has neither a premise nor a narrative; Dwoskin assembled a group of free-spirited strangers in his place, only expecting from them a willingness to express their emotions and fantasies freely. Dwoskin and his camera would be there to capture them over a period of four weeks.

Central Bazaar [1976, UK]Among the group, the only one with any discernible acting background was German actress Carola Regnier. Dwoskin’s final cut, whittled down from fifteen hours of material to around two and half, might as well be seen as a compilation made from found footage, chopped and reinserted elsewhere as he saw fit. It is one reason the film cannot be compared to “Big Brother” style reality television. Besides, Dwoskin’s film is arguably a wee bit more sinister.

"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]We won’t know details of what transpired among group members during their four-week commune; how well they got along, the number of break-ups and breakdowns, the darkest and deepest fantasies laid out bare, or their personal history. Barring a couple of scenes, Dwoskin had completely replaced whatever conversation there is in the film with various music soundtracks in accordance with the scene’s mood.

"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]Nevertheless, we can safely assume that the group would’ve got to know each other quite intimately, probably even better than people in their personal lives. Many in the film are frequently seen in a state of undress or under-dress, desperately seeking either acceptance or sexual excitement, and on the verge of stepping into an orgy at any moment. Face masks are in place, and lines are blurred between what they are and what they want to be.

"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]All the time, actors are fully aware that they are being filmed. In scenes where they don’t break ‘the fourth wall’ themselves, the camera itself tries to start a bizarre conversation between the watcher and the being-watched. One where the camera (Dwoskin) persistently tries to capture more than the groups actions by piercing through their tear-stained make-up, pimples, and peer into their very self.

"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]Dwoskin, after enticing the voyeur in us with the rising sexual tensions within the group, takes away our ability to dictate proceedings by empowering his subjects to perform on their own terms. The camera moves, not necessarily to offer a ‘better view’ of what we like to see, but to what the director thinks we might probably be overlooking. Towards the end of a testing two and a half hours that occasionally take on proportions of an endurance, we not only feel awkward for entering into someone’s personal space, we are also left emotionally drained. It’s plain that we were not merely looking at them passively all this time.

In a way, the film can be seen as an extension of themes that Dwoskin had been working in shorts such as ‘Girl’ and ‘Trixi’, that in turn vaguely remind us of Chantal Akerman’s earlier ‘New York’ series of films. A more articulate write-up on Stephen Dwoskin’s life and work can be found in the BFI magazine archives. “Central Bazaar” is highly experimental and raw for mainstream tastes – it requires one to forego many preconceptions about cinema before sitting to watch it, but if you’re curious about the subject of voyeurism, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Maggie Corey, Marc Chaimowicz, Carolyn Rogers, Libby Spry, Eddie Doyle, Mike Flower, Iggy Evelyn Joyce, and others
The actors – both male and female, are frequently seen in the nude, and some of the scenes are also fairly explicit. Flashy reds, painted bodies, generous body hair, and oriental chicks – now that’s as Seventies as London gets..! :-)

Maggie Corey, Marc Chaimowicz, Carolyn Rogers, Libby Spry, Eddie Doyle, Mike Flower, Iggy Evelyn Joyce, and others nude in "Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]

Maggie Corey, Marc Chaimowicz, Carolyn Rogers, Libby Spry, Iggy Evelyn Joyce, and others in
Stephen Dwoskin’s “Central Bazaar” [1976, UK]


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Posted in Stephen Dwoskin, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments