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A film review: “Le milieu du monde” [Switzerland, France 1974]

With his romantic drama “Le milieu du monde” [Eng. Title: The Middle of the World], Alain Tanner signals a marked shift in the style and content of his film-making, one that’ll also usher-in the most productive and creative phase of his career, featuring cinematic gems such as Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, Light Years Away, In the White City, and A Flame in My Heart, among many others.

Olimpia Carlisi in "Le milieu du monde".Set in an idyllic Swiss village, Tanner’s film examines the intense but short-lived life of a romantic love affair – between married businessman Paul (Philippe Léotard) and Adriana (Olimpia Carlisi) – a recently arrived Venetian widow who works as a waitress at the local railway café. The film is presented like a video diary with a straightforward narrative, and uses the Swiss landscape as its backdrop.

Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in "Le milieu du monde".Paul has everything going for him – he’s successful, charming, and has just been chosen as an electoral candidate to represent a conservative party. He falls for Adriana from the moment he sets eyes on her, and wastes little time in asking her out on a date that she too will accept. After a few dates, he will profess his love for her, and claim that he is now at the centre of the world.
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Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde".Adriana appreciates his affections, but is nevertheless also happy on her own – about herself, her job, and also the modest room that she lives in, while Paul tries to persuade her into quitting her ‘crummy’ job, and move in with him into a more luxurious apartment. Paul brazenly embarks upon the affair despite remaining in public gaze during his electioneering – it’s as if he wants his affair to be known to everyone.

Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in "Le milieu du monde".The party bosses aren’t too happy when they find out about his affair, and even his close childhood friends take a wager on him loosing in elections. Paul indeed looses – perhaps he wanted it this way all along, so that he could regain his privacy and divorce his wife without the press kicking too much of fuss. He asks Adriana to accompany him in his globe-trotting plans, assuming that it is something she too would enjoy – but she turns down his offer.

Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard in "Le milieu du monde".There in lies Paul’s problem – the business-like manner in which he approaches relationships, renders him incapable of truly getting to know the woman that he thinks he’s in love with. He readily admits seeing himself at the centre of the world (hence the film’s title) around whom others interact, and is consequently at odds with Adriana in one crucial respect – while Paul talks a lot and says very little, Adriana is verbal economy personified, but what little she does say is as insightful as it is telling. Paul might have nonchalantly dismissed and changed the topic after hearing Adriana say, “If a man sees a woman naked, he thinks he knows her already – and starts defining her so and so. That’s why I want this room to be dark”, but her words succinctly points out why their relationship will also fail. Adriana may seem just as unfathomable to the viewer as the director, but that doesn’t stop us from being drawn to her enigmatic character.

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A scene from Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde" A scene from Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde"

The fascinating character study is set against the desolate beauty and magnificence of the Swiss landscape, frequently juxtaposed with the mood and state of the couple’s relationship. Some of cinematographer and Tanner-regular Renato Berta’s stunning compositions – shot in aesthetically pleasing full-frame, impart an abstract, ‘architectural’ quality to scenes that would’ve easily won the approval of an Antonioni or Angelopoulos. Ms. Carlisi was nominated for BAFTA for her magnetic performance in the film, but Berta too ought to have been in the list for his evocative cinematography. Alain Tanner, of course, is in fine form in this masterfully put-together drama. I, for one, could sit and watch gems like these all day long – Highly Recommended Viewing..!

 

Amazon 2-Disc DVD Link [PAL]
As with most Tanner films, this DVD too is difficult to get hold of, and it is about time that this changes. For the moment, I add a title to my wishlist and wait for an alert mail when they become available. The DVD is otherwise immaculately restored with rich colours, whilst retaining their grain texture. The other disc contains another of Tanner’s classics - Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l’an 2000.

 

The Nudity: Olimpia Carlisi
The classy Italian actress appears nude or partially nude in a handful of scenes that are just as beautiful as they’re tasteful, and as a bonus, her Italian-accented French is charming even for a foreigner like me. Most of the nude scenes happen when her character is shown in the comfort of her own room, whether alone or with her lover. There’s just one scene when she’s nude while not in her preferred surroundings – in a room at a tourists’ hotel – and she refuses to sleep in the bed or have sex with Paul there.

Olimpia Carlisi nude in Alain Tanner's "Le milieu du monde" (1974)

Some scenes of Olimpia Carlisi and Philippe Léotard from Alain Tanner’s “Le milieu du monde”
aka “The Middle of the World” (1974).

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A film review: “Volchok” [2009 Russia]

A scene from Volchok (Wolfy)The title for Vasiliy Sigarev’s début feature “Volchok” [Eng. Title: Wolfy] refers to a spinning top, but it can also mean a wolf cub, and a way of describing a feral child. The depressing film is about the relationship between a mother not fit for purpose and her neglected daughter.

Yana Troyanova and Polina Pluchek in Volchok aka WolfyThe film is told in flashback through a woman’s voice, narrating the relationship she had with her mother (Yana Troyanova) from the age of seven (Polina Pluchek) – the time when she first met her, arriving with her arms around a drunk ‘uncle’. The girl knocks the man down with a jar of milk the following morning after he starts a fight with her mum. The mother was arrested when she was pregnant (for killing a love rival), and is presumed to have served a sentence before getting to meet her daughter for the first time, but she has no maternal feelings for her even if the girl instantly starts pining for her affection.

Yana Troyanova and Polina Pluchek in Volchok aka Wolfy (2009)Many more ‘uncles’ turn up and leave, and the mother also often disappears for days, leaving the little girl looking through the window and yearning for her return. During one of her fleeting returns, the mother brings her a spinning top as present, which she’ll cherish. The only person who cares for the girl is her grandma, and she keeps encouraging her to make up with her mum, even if it was the girl who’s repeatedly put down and stamped upon by a woman who believes she’s too young to be mother and deserves to have more fun than she could manage.

Polina Pluchek in Volchok aka Wolfy (2009, Russia)One of their frequent painful-to-watch parleys takes an evil turn when the mother tells the child that she didn’t give birth to her, instead, she was picked up as a wolf cub, wrapped inside a bag that was left abandoned in woods near the cemetery (and apparently she plucked out the fur to make her look more human). From then on, the girl starts frequenting the cemetery, believing that is where she belonged, and starts having conversations with surrounding graves. She even develops puppy love for a boy buried there, for whom she will sing, dance, and decorate his grave with candy bars, leaves, and flowers.

Yana Troyanova and Polina Pluchek in Volchok aka Wolfy (2009)When the grandmother dies, what little semblance of family there was, disappears. The mother runs away after abandoning the child at a railway station, and even the police would be unable to track her down. They give the girl to her disabled aunt, where she’ll grow to become a shy and withdrawn teenager, but at least attending school which she didn’t manage earlier. One day, a bedraggled and wasted mother walks back into their lives…

Yana Troyanova and Polina Pluchek in Volchok aka Wolfy (2009)Beautifully filmed, it is visually as sumptuous as watching a Tarkovsky – of course, without nearly trying to be as poetic. The production design and formal compositions focus on visual details that may or may not have been necessary to propel the film, but it is very pretty to look at. They stand in stark contrast to the bleak coldness of proceedings – emotionless rather than heartless, of a selfish mother who finds her daughter a bore, whose presence a burden, and whose hugs a nuisance. We however see an attempt at presenting the mother-daughter relationship – impressively performed by Yana Troyanova and Polina Pluchek – as an allegory for an ‘uncaring’ present day Russia, just as the surreal ‘relationship’ that the girl has with a dead boy can be seen as a critique of some modern day relationships. Thoroughly depressing stuff, and I wouldn’t seriously recommend this film to everyone – it’s perhaps only for those who have a bit of a masochistic streak in them (like me).

Netflix DVD Link

 

The Nudity: Yana Troyanova
There’s a lengthy scene when Yana Troyanova’s character, lying naked in bed after she’d been sleeping with a woman she’d newly brought home, is decidedly being mean towards the little girl – telling her daughter that she was born a wolf. In a later scene, she pushes the child away for unbuttoning her shirt and begging for a hug.

Yana Troyanova in Volchok aka Wolfy (2009 Russia)

Some scenes of Yana Troyanova from the Russian film “Volchok” aka “Wolfy” [2009].

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Alberto Lattuada’s “Oh, Serafina!” [1976 Italy]

If it’s time to indulge in some guilty-pleasure, what better way than revisiting the seventies. The decade – in Europe, America, and almost certainly worldwide, had a pop-culture that is now officially described as ‘classy’, where artists began to express themselves freely without worrying too much about consequences, and when women demanded their rights returned after millennia of misogyny. These new found freedoms, perhaps, may have also allowed people to momentarily escape from and forget their daily grind, alongside the various atrocities committed around the world at the time by despots and democrats alike. But that’s a different topic altogether and let’s not go there.

The seventies was also ‘the golden age’ for nudity in cinema, when even the most conservative of societies made the odd film that dared to reveal a few more centimetres of skin above the allowed norm. However, none of them quite matched the Italians – theirs was after all a ‘Roman’ thing that has been carried through renaissance and everything else in between. And at a time when its film industry happened to employ actresses with some of the most exquisitely sculpted features ever to appear before camera, it was no wonder that Italian cinema was in a league of its own. Dalila Di Lazzaro (of gems like La ragazza dal pigiama giallo) was one such beauty.

Dalila Di Lazzaro in Oh, Serafina!The reason for the waffling about the seventies is because there’s really very little to talk about veteran film maker Alberto Lattuada’s mundane sex comedy “Oh, Serafina!” – he settled into this ends-meeting genre after commendable experiments in Italian neo-realism. And Dalila Di Lazzaro (alongside the redoubtable Renato Pozzetto) is co-star of the film, where she’s also seen at her stunning best.

Angelica Ippolito in Oh, Serafina!The film is about Augusto (Renato Pozzetto), a kind-hearted and ass-obsessed young industrialist, who also loves chatting with birds (real birds) in his garden. After he takes over the business from his father, he falls for the derriere of the ever-knickerless Palmira Radice (Angelica Ippolito), a woman working in his packing department. After several attempts at fondling and (implied) sex, she becomes pregnant, and he decides to make her his wife.

Angelica Ippolito in Oh, Serafina!Troubles for Augusto start after he discovers that his wife is also a practising ‘slut’, who wouldn’t hesitate sleeping with anyone (anyone heterosexual) to get whatever takes her fancy. She now wants to take control of Augusto’s business, and after his fallout with some of the executives at the company, she colludes with staff and the local mayor to get him confined to a mental institution.

Dalila Di Lazzaro in Oh, Serafina!That’s when he meets wild looking, designer-haired Serafina (Dalila Di Lazzaro) – daughter of a mafioso, who like himself has been consigned to asylum under false accusations. And you guessed it – Serafina’s just as allergic to panties as his wife Palmira. He falls in love with her not only for this detail, but also because she’s prettier, and equally in love with him!

Dalila Di Lazzaro in Oh, Serafina!As suggested, this film is typical escapist fare – it’s like a generous helping of deep fried chicken – sickening if eaten too often, but a great little treat once in a while. Dalila may be a delicious treat to watch, but the ingredients that make up the film is certainly not for the health-conscious.

Amazon.it DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Angelica Ippolito, Dalila Di Lazzaro, and others
The film’s choice of shots and editing throws into question the authenticity of the nude scenes, and one is not sure if some of these may have used a body-double. The film’s credits don’t mention the complete cast, but there is plenty of female nudity, including some close-up shots, relating to Angelica Ippolito (she’s also a talented actress), and the stunning Dalila Di Lazzaro. Two other uncredited actresses appear nude – as a lesbian lover, and nurse of Serafina. Dalila Di Lazzaro nevertheless, appears frontally nude in at least one scene.

Angelica Ippolito, Dalila Di Lazzaro, and others nude in "Oh, Serafina!" (1976, Italy).

Angelica Ippolito, Dalila Di Lazzaro, and others in “Oh, Serafina!” (1976, Italy).

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“Mujeres infieles” [2004 Chile]: “Orgasm is a fundamental human right!”

So declares psychologist Eva Soler (María Izquierdo) during a TV talk show in Rodrigo Ortuzar Lynch’s début feature “Mujeres infieles” [Eng. Title: Unfaithful Women]. Her statement is aimed at furthering the film’s intentions, which is to open up a mainstream discussion on why 62.5% of Chilean women, according to a recent study, are unfaithful to their partner.

María Izquierdo in Mujeres InfielesWhilst Eva Soler is the film’s voice of reason, it is the characters that interact with her at various levels who build the loosely interconnected comedy drama. By juggling timelines and filling in details when needed, the film keeps us engaged and entertained for the most part.

María José Prieto and Cristián Campos in Mujeres InfielesThe film begins with Cecilia (María José Prieto), the host of the aforementioned talk show, telling her husband over phone that she’s having a late ‘production meeting’, only to enter a hotel suite with her lover Alberto (Cristián Campos), also her boss. Their conversations will reveal the dynamics of their relationship.

Daniel Alcaíno in Mujeres InfielesA terrible accident occurs in their suite that night, which will draw Cecilia’s colleague and rival Mario (Daniel Alcaíno) to the scene of the tragedy whilst reporting live for TV with camera and crew. While Cecilia survives with minor injuries, she’s left to face the music alone on her way to recovery, from husband and the wider public.

Viviana Rodríguez and Benjamin Vicuña in Mujeres InfielesWe watch a parallel story unfold in the affairs of Cecilia’s confidante Carola (Viviana Rodríguez). She’d been secretly having sexual relations with her grown-up stepson Cristián (Benjamín Vicuña). They’re in love, but don’t know how to break it to the person who’ll be the most concerned about it, husband Alvaro (Mateo Iribarren).

Remigio Remedy and Gabriela Aguilera in Mujeres Infieles Indifference from clichéd stereotype of a husband Pedro (Remigio Remedy) will encourage Virginia’s (Gabriela Aguilera) to develop sexual fantasies involving a hunky gardener, that’ll also usher in her very first orgasm. After a chat with her psychologist (Eva Soler), she’ll learn to live out her orgasmic fantasies whilst remaining ‘faithful’ to Pedro, using a ‘responsive’ sex toy that happily never watches football.

Sigrid Alegria and Lucía Jiménez in Mujeres InfielesCristina (Sifrid Alegria), a friend of Virginia, first meets Spanish-return Roberta (Lucia Jiménez) at the airport and is instantly smitten by her charm and sexual charisma, leading her to experiment with something she’d never considered before. Thrown amongst these characters are a pair of sleazy detectives whose antics are mainly there to make the film’s taboo topic more palatable to a mainstream audience.

The film, whilst hinting at a changing society, stops short of making any in-depth analysis – it’s essentially nuggets of wisdom that’s sugar-coated with layers of entertainment. But you won’t be disappointed if like me, it’s mainly the sugar rush that you were after, like this funny scene of Virginia and her briefly exhausted ‘friend’ – well, they can go on and on, but batteries do expire after a while (subtitles included).

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Amazon.com DVD Link [NTSC]

 

The Nudity: Viviana Rodríguez, Benjamín Vicuña, María José Prieto, and Cristián Campos
The highlight is the ‘smoking’ hotel sex scene that also features frontal nudity from the delectable María José Prieto and a rather athletic Cristián Campos – Cecilia undresses whilst delivering a weather report loaded with double endentre, while Alberto pays dearly for a bad habit afterwards (sorry about the mild spoiler, guys). There is also a long-ish but rather awkward sex scene between Viviana Rodríguez and Benjamín Vicuña (the latter – bless him, can’t act if his next meal depended on it).

Viviana Rodríguez, Benjamín Vicuña, María José Prieto, and Cristián Campos nude in Mujeres infieles

Viviana Rodríguez, Benjamín Vicuña, María José Prieto, and Cristián Campos
in “Mujeres infieles” (2004, Chile).

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A film review: “Le chant des mariées” [2008 France, Tunisia]

In her second film, “Le chant des mariées” [Eng. Title: The Wedding Song], writer-director Karin Albou elaborates on themes that she’d also explored earlier in her début feature (La petite Jérusalem) – about love, friendship, and the communal flux between Jewish and Muslim communities.

Scene from Le chant des mariéesSet in Nazi-occupied Tunis during the height of the second World War, against the backdrop of Allied air raids, and Nazi propaganda aimed at dismantling amity between the Jewish and majority-Muslim communities that existed for centuries, the film focuses on the special friendship between two teenagers – Muslim Naur (Olympe Borval) and Jewish-French Myriam (Lizzi Brocheré) – neighbours since childhood, and whose homes even shared a common courtyard.

Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, in Le chant des mariéesNaur is engaged to her unemployed cousin Khaled (Najib Oudghiri), but their wedding will only be allowed to go ahead after he finds himself a job. It is partly due to this reason, and partly for also having been taken in by Nazi assurances that they’d give Tunisia its freedom once the French and Jews are eliminated from the country, that Khaled starts working for the Nazis.

Lizzie Brocheré and Karin Albou in Le chant des mariéesMyriam lives with her widowed mother Tita (played by director Karin Albou herself), who makes a living as a seamstress. When all Jews in the country are instructed to pay a hefty fine for the destruction caused by the Allied bombing raids, poverty-stricken Tita urges Myriam to marry the rich doctor Raul (Simon Abkarian), so that he could help the family pay the demanded ransom. But Myriam doesn’t want to marry him because he’s much older than her.

Lizzie Brocheré and Olympe Borval in Le chant des mariéesAs the Nazi pogrom against the Jews in Tunisia, as elsewhere, intensifies, Khaled forbids Naur from continuing her friendship with Myriam on account of her own safety, and strains develop in the already complex relationship between Naur and Myriam, especially since their friendship is repeatedly tested due to matters beyond their control. But as events dictate, this will also be the time when they will require each other’s emotional support the most…

Lizzie Brocheré and Simon Abkarian in Le chant des mariéesWhile the film’s central theme is friendship and loyalty, it also touches on war, intricacies in relationships, cultural idiosyncrasies, religious restrictions, and a woman’s place within different communities – all seen from a woman’s point of view. It transports us to a world that’s seldom seen by men; into the women’s section of hammams (bathhouses), women’s engagement parties, and their other rituals associated with matrimony, while giving us an intimate glimpse of the extraordinary friendship and bonding between the young protagonists.

Lizzie Brocheré and Olympe Borval in Le chant des mariéesThe rich tones, rustic textures, and exquisite close-ups give the film a sensual quality that is as exotic as it is feminine. Exceptionally well-performed by Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval and all the ensemble cast, and alluringly captured by cinematographer Laurent Brunet, Albou’s simple-looking yet intricate film succeeds in articulating a feminist interpretation of war, and the prevailing communal, social, and sexual politics in an engaging manner. The film is naturally Highly Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, Najib Oudghiri, and others
Most of the film’s nude scenes – and there are many – are non-erotic; whether it is the casual and matter-of-fact nudity in the female bathhouse, or the surprisingly frank depiction, in close-up, of the waxing of a vagina – as part of preparing the bride the ‘Oriental’ way – it is shown with an admixture of brute force and tenderness. No body-doubles were used for the scene, and the sight of beautiful Lizzie Brocheré (as Myriam) personally undergoing the pubic hair removal procedure could even make a few queasy. She appears nude in additional scenes. Olympe Borval, apart from the one in the bathhouse, is seen partially nude during two sex scenes. Director Karin Albou, who plays Myriam’s mum in the film, also appears nude during a hammam scene.

Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, Najib Oudghiri, and others nude in Le chant des mariées aka the Wedding Song

Lizzie Brocheré, Olympe Borval, Karin Albou, Najib Oudghiri, and others in “Le chant des mariées”
aka “The Wedding Song” (2008).

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