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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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Sublime cinema: “Angely revolyutsii” [2014 Russia]

Angels of Revolution (2014, Russia)There’s now plenty of proof that Aleksey Fedorchenko has a deep reverence and fascination for the customs of ethnic tribes that cohabit his motherland. While his moving Silent Souls (2010) touched on the funerary rituals of the Merya, and his richly exotic anthology Celestial Wives of Meadow Mari (2012) boisterously celebrated Mari womanhood, his more recent “Angely revolyutsii” [Eng. Title: Angels of Revolution] is an unfettered re-imagining of a factual Soviet suppression of the Siberian Nentsy and Khanty people during the Kazym Rebellion.

Darya Ekamasova in "Angels of Revolution" (2014, Russia)But Fedorchenko, being who he is, doesn’t present the film with a conventional historical narrative, but rather like a poetic retelling of a myth; exercising generous artistic license while presenting his facts. There are true-life characters nevertheless in the film, like Polina (Darya Ekamasova), a noted revolutionary and performance artist, who is assigned the task of ‘civilising’ the aforementioned tribes; by encouraging them to embrace Soviet ideology, join mainstream society, and give up their pastoral lifestyle and move into permanent homes in their newly built town.

Darya Ekamasova in "Angels of Revolution" (2014, Russia)To this effect, she enlists the help of four fellow avant-gardists; film maker Pyotr (Pavel Basov), photographer and sculptor Zakhar (Georghi Iobadze), architect and coffin-maker Nikolay (Konstantin Balakirev), and theatre director Smirnov (Aleksey Solonchev). Together, they set off to the Taiga on a mission that Polina hopes would intellectually enlighten the tribes and make them appreciate modern art.

"Angels of Revolution" (2014, Russia)But the Khanty are aloof to this enforced ‘meeting of civilisations’, and at times barely tolerate their uninvited presence. While they might have been mildly bemused watching their works and antics at the beginning, they soon grow tired of them and refuse to ‘join the collective’, and events take an inevitably tragic turn once their respective irreconcilable positions are established, and the State decides to have the last say…

Darya Ekamasova in "Angels of Revolution" (2014, Russia)There is more to the film than meets the casual eye – be it artistic, political, or philosophical. Federchenko doesn’t make it any easier for us by refusing to feed us the historical pretext for the conflict. In my case, one had to score through festival interviews and the wiki to get acquainted with collectivisation during the early days of Soviet Union. It is ironic that the avant-garde artists, themselves a minority who’ll soon to be ‘collectivised’ by the state, were press-ganged into persuading other minorities. It is also worrying to see that states; red, blue, or whatever their hue, have found it irresistible to homogenise their entire population to control them better – it shows how incredibly fragile human civilisation has always been.

"Angels of Revolution" (2014, Russia)Fedorchenko’s film provokes debate on ethics, ideology, and humanism itself. And after the final scene in an apartment in present-day Kazym, in which we see an elderly Khanty woman singing a tribal song while looking into the camera, we are left wondering who the angels of revolution indeed were – were they the avant-garde artists who were sacrificed for a now defunct Soviet state, or are they the disparate tribal cultures that still survive, albeit by the skin of their teeth, a quarter of a century after the revolution itself has ended.

"Angels of Revolution" (2014, Russia)To say that the cinematography and production design is exceptional would be stating the bleeding obvious – one can hold a photographic exhibition by simply blowing up some of the film’s key frames and mounting them on a wall. They would need neither titles nor descriptions – quirky, surreal, humorous, and tragic, they’d be probing artworks on their own. Of course, good photography doesn’t equate to good cinematography, but films with a master like Fedorchenko at the helm make a pleasant exception. A particularly mesmerising scene is still haunting – where Pyotr projects his film on a cloud of smoke bellowing from a wintry night’s campfire. I could go on – but will end by stating that this gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Polina Aug
Polina Aug plays Anna, Zakhar’s model and muse, and briefly appears topless during one of the photo shoots.

Polina Aug in "Angels of Revolution" (Angely revolyutsii), Russia, 2014.

Polina Aug in “Angels of Revolution” (Angely revolyutsii), Russia, 2014.


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Vasilis Georgiadis: From the ‘Golden age’ of Greek cinema

Vasilis Georgiadis can arguably represent the ‘golden age’ of Greek cinema between the mid-fifties and the late-sixties, during which film makers were generally allowed a degree of creative freedom never seen before. This is mainly because his films were decidedly ‘mainstream’ in their attempt to connect to ‘common people’, and were also executed with a great degree of craftsmanship and care. Two of his films from the period that are relevant to this site are “Ta kokkina fanaria” [Eng. Title: The Red Lanterns], and “To homa vaftike kokkino” [Eng. Title: Blood on the Land]. Incidentally, these are also among the very few Greek films that were nominated for Oscar during its ‘Golden age’.


1. Ta kokkina fanaria [1963]

Mairi Hronopoulou in "Ta kokkina fanaria" (1963)Set in the southern port of Pereas, the film delves into the lives and fortunes of prostitutes in one of the brothels of the town’s red light district – one that has been marked for demolition by civic authorities in order to make way for new development.



Jenny Karezi and Dimitris Papamichael in "Ta kokkina fanaria" (1963)We follow Eleni (Jenny Karezi), Mary (Mairi Hronopoulou), Anna (Alexandra Ladikou) and others who are managed under the watchful eye of Madam Pari (Despo Diamantidou) and pimp Doris (Kostas Kourtis). Eleni is a Romanian immigrant who was abandoned by her lover at the hotel next door, and has eventually been forced into the profession to survive. But she occasionally manages to escape her routine to meet up with a man (Dimitris Papamichael) she’s in love with, but who’s totally unaware of what she does for a living.

Mairi Hronopoulou and Faidon Georgitsis in "Ta kokkina fanaria" [1963]Mary takes a shine to a young lad (Faidon Georgitsis) who first visits her as a client. He falls in love with her and also proposes marriage, but Mary, whilst also in love, is only too aware that it wont be that easy, either for his family to accept a prostitute for a bride, or for her to give up the relative independence she presently possesses in charting her own life.


Manos Katrakis and Alexandra Ladikou in "Ta kokkina fanaria" aka "The Red Lanterns" [1963]Anna’s elderly client (Manos Katrakis) is captain of a merchant vessel who’s about to retire. When he proposes marriage, and also evinces a desire to help raise a family, Anna had to disclose a closely held secret that she is already mother to a twelve year old, and would consider marriage only if he’s willing to accept them both. Whilst the captain is happy to accommodate the two, things don’t turn out as intended.

Iro Kyriakaki in "Ta kokkina fanaria" (1963)The film is notable for its star cast – almost everyone in the film were household names when the film was made. Apart from the plot, the film makes some pertinent observations of a changing society and the hopes of the poor, represented by the brothel’s middle aged live-in maid (Iro Kyriakaki) who now needs to make a new start of her own. Her character is probably the least developed among the rest, but the Italian neorealism inspired film is nevertheless honest in its intentions and makes a concerted attempt at addressing some of the social issues of the time. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Eleni Anousaki
Eleni Anousaki plays Myrsini, a young teenager who takes to her new profession like a duck to water. She’s topless in a scene, and teases the pimp after he barges into her room while changing.

Eleni Anousaki in the Greek drama, "The Red Lanterns" aka "Ta kokkina fanaria" [1963].

Eleni Anousaki in the Greek drama, “The Red Lanterns” aka “Ta kokkina fanaria” [1963].


2. To homa vaftike kokkino [1966]

Mairi Hronopoulou in "To homa vaftike kokkino" [1966]Set in the rugged hinterland of Thessaly in early twentieth century, “To homa vaftike kokkino” [Blood on the Land] paints an astonishing portrait of a rural Greece that has yet to enter the modern era save the solitary railway line connecting it to the outside world. The film is essentially about a feud among siblings within a noble family.


Nikos Kourkoulos and Manos Katrakis in "Blood on the Land" [1966]The film begins with a youthful Odysseas (Nikos Kourkoulos) returning home after a stint in prison for abetting a revolt among peasants working in the family land. After the revolt was put down by force and several peasants killed, the patriarch (Manos Katrakis) had fired the entire workforce and taken on labourers from outside their territory with the help of his elder son Rigas.

Giannis Voglis in "To homa vaftike kokkino" [1966]Rigas (Giannis Voglis) is the polar opposite of Odysseas – brutal, predatory, and dictatorial, who actually believes he owns the people working in the land. He detests Odysseas for wanting to distribute their ancestral land among the peasants, and refuses to reconcile with him despite their father’s pleas.


Mairi Hronopoulou and Nikos Kourkoulos in "To homa vaftike kokkino" [1966]When Odysseas convinces his father to allow the ousted peasants to return back to the land for work, Rigas resists and fails. The peasants have also found a new leader in Eirini (Mairi Hronopoulou), the daughter of a killed peasant leader, who is literate and can negotiate better working terms on their behalf. What starts off as ideological warfare between the brothers turns into rivalry over Eirini even though she only wants to be with Odysseas, and their feud will reach its anticipated denouement in a guns-blazing finale…

From "To homa vaftike kokkino" aka "Blood on the Land" [1966, Greece]One wouldn’t go as far as calling this Greece’s equivalent of “Gone With The Wind”, but as a pastiche of Socialist Realism, it is grand nonetheless, drawing on themes from Mexican Westerns and their own classical literature. Not only was it well received, as expected, in the Eastern Block countries, it also found favour among Greek audiences and film festivals. With major stars among the cast, the film was a Greek cinematic landmark of its time, and rarely would such an ambitious project – both in budget and scope, be undertaken by Georgiadis. The black and white cinematography, although excellent, doesn’t quite do the spectacular terrain enough justice, but for those interested, the same location can be seen majestically captured in colour in a more recent film (Metéora).

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Zeta Apostolou and Mairi Hronopoulou
Zeta Apostolou, already legendary for her racy roles when the film was made, plays an opportunistic vixen sleeping her way out of misery – she appears nude in two scenes. There is also very brief hint of nudity from major star Mairi Hronopoulou when her character is caught bathing in a pond during a scene shot from a distance.

Zeta Apostolou and Mairi Hronopoulou in "To homa vaftike kokkino" aka "Blood on the Land" (1966)

Zeta Apostolou and Mairi Hronopoulou from the Greek Western “Blood on the Land” [1966].


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A film review: “The Garden of Earthly Delights” [2004 Poland, UK]

Polish auteur Lech Majewski created a triptych (in film) by drawing inspiration from some of the well known medieval masterworks. The first – what he considers to be the ‘left panel’, is based on the fifteenth century Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch’s own famed triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights“, which also serves as the film’s title (the ‘central panel’ – The Mill and the Cross (2011), was based on Bruegel’s painting named The Procession to Calvary, and the ‘right panel’ Onirica – Field of Dogs (2014), was based on Dante’s Divine Comedy). He considers the trilogy as a personal spiritual quest to connect with the past and relate to the present world.

Claudine Spiteri in The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004)Based on Majewski’s novel “Metaphysics”, we are introduced to Claudine (Claudine Spitery) and Chris (Chris Nightingale) as Londoners who met and fell in love. While Claudine is an art historian with a passion for Bosch’s eponymous painting, Chris is a boat engineer obsessed with filming Claudine with his handheld camera – in the process, providing Majeswki with his working material.

Claudine Spiteri and Chris Nightingale in "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (2004)When Claudine confides in Chris about her terminal illness, and the fact that she had been given only a few months to live, they decide to move to Venice and spend their final days together. With the help of Chris and his camera, Claudine propounds her own understanding of Bosch’s painting, and hopes to leave behind a worthwhile record of her existence through the personal film.

Claudine Spiteri and Chris Nightingale in "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (2004)She offers a counterpoint to Dante’s journey through purgatory in his Divine Comedy, by meticulously enacting elements of Bosch’s much more uplifting vision of ‘heaven’ on earth, and aims to experience her own Utopia during the remaining days of her life. It is not as much the religious, but the metaphysical journey, that she hopes will make her life more meaningful…

Claudine Spiteri in "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (2004)The experimental film is shot like an intimate video diary – as Majewski puts it, like a “Black Box recording” of a tragic flight, capturing all the raw data regardless of significance. In order to add authenticity to the couple’s intimacy, it was also filmed for the most part using a touristy camera, often with actors themselves as the camera crew. This was a gamble on his part that might not have helped the film commercially despite respectable performances from the main actors, particularly Ms. Spiteri, who portrays her character with spontaneity and grace.

Claudine Spiteri in The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004)My main concern with the film is the mismatch between the amateur filming (by actors), and the professional editing (handled by Majewski himself) within the context of a formal narrative – it only makes the photography appear more amateurish. And considering the fact that almost the entire footage is shot in this manner, there are times when watching the film also becomes a bit of an endurance, like a host forcing upon guests his personal home video that they might not be so keen on watching. The same excellent subject could perhaps have been shot professionally without sacrificing any of the intimacy that Majewski intended to get across.

The Garden of Earthly DelightsRegardless of how the audience react to the film, they will certainly have to acknowledge the invigorating – almost scholarly, interpretation it offers on Bosch’s eponymous painting that continue to divide opinion among art historians today. At least in my case, I’ll be looking at this painting from an entirely new perspective when I revisit the Prado museum. For anyone even with a passing interest in art, the film should be Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.it DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon.com DVD Link [NTSC]
(Both have original English audio)


The Nudity: Claudine Spiteri and Chris Nightingale
The film features intermittent nudity, mostly from Claudine Spiteri, as her character goes about enacting themes from Bosch’s painting.

Claudine Spiteri and Chris Nightingale nude in The Garden of Earthly Delights 2004

Claudine Spiteri and Chris Nightingale in “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, (2004).


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