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For want of a leg up: “Eva Braun” [2015 Italy]

Simone Scafidi had stated that his latest feature “Eva Braun” was inspired by the Italian sex scandals of the Berlusconi years where political favours and business contracts could apparently be procured for a price.

Adele Raes and Andrea de Onestis in Eva Braun (2015)Scafidi’s not-too-subtle satire picks up a strand from Marquis de Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom” to propel the story. Pier (Andrea de Onestis) is a powerful media baron but his connections extend well beyond the media industry. And importantly for him, many people are also aware that he has these connections.

Giulia Faggioni in "Eva Braun" (2015)Romy (Susanna Giaroli), Pier’s secretary and lover, scouts, contacts, and encourages the young unemployed, struggling artists, and businessmen in financial trouble to come and meet her boss at his private villa to find a solution for their problem.

 

Gabriella Riva, Federica Fracassi, Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, and Nathan Macchioni in "Eva Braun" (2015)In exchange for Pier’s favour, they’ll have to perform any task that he asks them to do, no matter how outrageous or humiliating they might be. Romy assembles one such group for a week at Pier’s villa, and they include Elisa (Federica Fracassi), a former teacher hoping to set-up a spa business, her wannabe pop-star son Matteo (Nathan Macchioni), his girlfriend and faltering left-wing newspaper publisher Marta (Giulia Faggioni), naive graduate Bea (Adele Raes), and Sara (Gabriella Riva) – a budding film maker seeking finance for her film.

Susanna Giaroli and Andrea de Onestis in "Eva Braun" (2015, Italy)They have to entertain and role-play games that Pier comes up with, and if they do what he asks of them, they’ll get what they’ve come for. The twisted and often sick games that Pier devises will test the extent to which they’d debase themselves in order to please him. Pier’s vicarious pleasure-seeking and sadistic urges barely conceal his insecurities in forming meaningful relationships.

Gabriella Riva, Adele Raes, Andrea de Onestis, and Federica Fracassi in "Eva Braun" (2015)By forcing the group to breach their morals, Pier is questioning society the limits to which they’re willing to go in order to get what they want. To what extent is ambition a true virtue, and what depths are these people willing to descend in chasing it…

 

"Eva Braun" [2015, Italy]While the film isn’t nearly as shocking as Pasolini’s own adaptation of Marquis de Sade’s work, there’s still an air of decadence, menace, and decay that won’t go unnoticed. Like Pier, everything around him is fading away. It is a thought-provoking black comedy whose scope certainly extends beyond Italian politics. It is evident from the film’s title that Scafidi was also experimenting with additional themes, and mostly succeeds in Romy’s characterisation. The cast give an honest, uninhibited performance, and there’s nothing pretentious about their characters. Some scenes in the film are positively erotic, perhaps disturbingly. It is nevertheless Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Instant Video

 

The Nudity: Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, Federica Fracassi, Nathan Macchioni, Gabriella Riva, and Susanna Giaroli
The film features scenes of frontal nudity from most of the main characters, but none of them are explicit. There is also a montage of an ‘orgy’ set to classical music that some may find interesting.

Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, Federica Fracassi, Nathan Macchioni, Gabriella Riva, and Susanna Giaroli nude in "Eva Braun" [2015, Italy]

Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, Federica Fracassi, Nathan Macchioni, and Gabriella Riva from
“Eva Braun” [2015, Italy]

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A film with heart: “Nessuno si salva da solo” [2015, Italy]

Sergio Castellitto partners once again with his writer-wife Margaret Mazzantani to create an evocative portrait of modern marriage in his latest drama, “Nessuno si salva da solo” [Eng. Trans: You Can't Save Yourself Alone].

Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]Estranged couple Gaetano (Ricardo Scamarcio) and Delia (Jasmine Trinca) meet up at a restaurant to decide how to share the children’s summer holidays. Their ‘civil’ exchange of pleasantries nevertheless barely conceal mutual resentment and anger, borne through frustration and the obvious love they still feel for each other.

Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]What starts off as a potential mud-slinging match is quickly diverted thanks to their random trips down memory lane, and the mostly good things that they shared between them over the years. We see them when they first met, at a clinic where Delia, a nutritionist, diagnoses Gaetano. She’s taken aback by the gumption with which he asks her for a kiss straight after just making fun of her teeth. “Of course, you cannot”, she says, but before long they find themselves making passionate love after closing time.

Jasmine Trinca in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]So begins Delia and Gaetano’s stormy odyssey through love, marriage, parenthood, heartbreak, and break-up. Their twelve year journey, shown through a series of montages, is as much about their individual failings as a sign of the self-centred society that they live in, inspired by fashionable cliché and convention.

Jasmine Trinca, Riccardo Scamarcio, Angela Molina, and Roberto Vecchioni in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]Watching their animated exchanges a few tables away are a smooching elderly couple (Roberto Vechhioni and the inimitable Ángela Molina). Later, they briefly join Delia and Gaetano for a stroll down the streets of Rome recounting their own affair, with the hope of witnessing a miracle that evening…

Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]Miracles don’t always happen, but the film’s beautifully shot closing sequence will nevertheless linger in your memory long after the end credits start rolling. Make no mistake – this is as mainstream a film as you can expect, but it is made special, thanks to the organic character development and an intelligently original script. Castellitto creates his own magic in the way he brings out the explosive chemistry between his protagonists that even a cynic would find it hard not to root for the couple to get back together. The actors – both Riccardo Scamarcio and the talented and beautiful Jasmine Trinca, shine in the hands of this able director who has a keen eye for blocking and timing his scenes. The soundtrack complements the film’s message and tone, and the other technical aspects are clean and professional. This sentimental but amiable film will be ideal for couples to enjoy, and is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.it DVD Link [PAL] | G-Translated English Subtitles

 

The Nudity: Jasmine Trinca, Ricardo Scamarcio, and Marina Rocco
Ms. Trinca appears either nude or bottomless in at least four scenes. Some happen to be passionate lovemaking scenes alongside Ricardo Scamarcio. There’s also a scene where Gaetono interrupts Delia while breastfeeding and demands a bit of ‘bitti’ for himself. :-) Marina Rocco, as Gaetano’s lover, appears partially nude in a couple of scenes.

Jasmne Trinca, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Marina Rocco nude in scenes from "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015, Italy].

Jasmne Trinca, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Marina Rocco in scenes from
“Nessuno si salva da solo” [2015, Italy].

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Still Shining: “A zori zdes tikhie” [2015, Russia]

A scene from "A zori zdes tikhie..." [2015, Russia]Renat Davletyarov has faithfully recreated a shortened version of a famous Soviet film by the same name “A zori zdes tikhie” [Eng. Title: The Dawns Here Are Quiet]. The World War II drama is an adaptation of a novel partly based on an actual military engagement in a remote corner of 1942 Soviet Union.

Some of the best World War II films focus on relatively unknown ‘minor skirmishes’ that happened on the sidelines of main events, often featuring unevenly matched opponents, and this film is one such classic example. It begins with an army commander ordering the transfer of a unit of soldiers manning an anti-aircraft gun in a remote part of the Soviet Union, following complaints of their increasingly frequent and disruptive drunken brawls over local women.

A scene from "A zori zdes tikhie..." [2015, Russia]In their place, Vaskov (Pyotr Fyodorov), the Sergeant Major in-charge is resupplied with a group of young trainee female volunteers – they were chosen not only for their unlikely proclivity to either get drunk or fight over local women, but also because the remote area was considered relatively ‘safe’ since it hadn’t seen war so far. The bewildered and old-fashioned Major nevertheless accepts and builds new quarters for them keeping in mind their ‘feminine’ needs.

A scene from "A zori zdes tikhie..." [2015, Russia]One of the new volunteers, returning after a secret rendezvous with her mother and son living in the area, witnesses and reports seeing two German soldiers in the woods. Rightly guessing the likely reason for them being here, Vaskov takes five of the girl soldiers to intercept them using a little known short-cut through marshland. Upon catching up with the intruders, Vaskov realises that there are not just two, but sixteen elite German paratroopers in that group, armed to the teeth with machine guns and explosives; certainly too many to handle with his limited resources.

A scene from "A zori zdes tikhie..." [2015, Russia]He sends one of the girls back in order to alert the local headquarters, and decides to halt or delay the Germans’ progress until reinforcements arrived. But they don’t arrive, and Vaskov and the remaining four girls will stage a foolhardy but mightily heroic struggle to stop the highly trained and professional enemy. As they improvise and use unconventional tactics, Vaskov and his crew develop a bond that will strengthen their resolve to prevent the enemy from succeeding, at any cost…

A scene from "A zori zdes tikhie..." [2015, Russia]Stanislav Rostotskiy’s original 1972 version of this film, at nearly twice its length, is epic not only in its scope where the traditional role of men protecting women is frequently reversed, but also in its gripping human drama – of dreams shattered and families destroyed due to the war, shown using the women’s individual flashbacks, and of the high value they attach to pride and honour. The rookie girl-soldiers display extraordinary courage in the face of insurmountable odds, and reflect a Russian mindset that goes beyond what might be construed as communist propaganda.

A scene from "A zori zdes tikhie..." [2015, Russia]While the latest version respectfully follows the original, at times to the minutest detail such as casting and dialogue – after all the original had become part of local folklore not just in Russia but in former Soviet nations as well, it updates the same using modern cinema techniques and more experienced actors. The flashbacks and back-story are there in the new version too, but they’re relatively brief in order to fit the narrative within a shorter runtime. However, there are elements in the original that I wish were retained, like the grown up children of these women visiting the site of their mothers’ heroic struggle years later, as if to remind themselves of the price paid during the great patriotic war for their present (relative) liberty. My favourite will remain the original version, but for what it is, the latest version does a decent job of reinterpreting the original without reinventing the characters and storyline. While the original version is Highly Recommended Viewing, the latest interpretation should at least be Recommended Viewing..!

Original 1972 version: Amazon 2-Disc DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity:
2015 version: Evgeniya Malakhova, Anastasiya Mikulchina, Sofya Lebedeva, Agniya Kuznetsova, Kristina Asmus, Ekaterina Vilkova, and others
1972 version: Irina Dolganova, Yelena Drapeko, Yekaterina Markova, Olga Ostroumova, Irina Shevchuck, and others

The nude scene in both versions is about a rare bath offered to the girls as reward for successfully shooting down a German reconnaissance plane. There is an additional brief scene under a waterfall in the 2015 version. The best thing about both the scenes is that they feature the film’s five main female protagonists in the nude instead of merely relying on extras to fill up the frame, as is often the case these days.

Evgeniya Malakhova, Anastasiya Mikulchina, Sofya Lebedeva, Agniya Kuznetsova, Kristina Asmus, and Ekaterina Vilkova nude in "A zori zdes tikhie..." aka "The Dawns Here Are Quiet".

Evgeniya Malakhova, Anastasiya Mikulchina, Sofya Lebedeva, Agniya Kuznetsova, Kristina Asmus, Ekaterina Vilkova, and others from the Russian remake of a Soviet-era classic, “A zori zdes tikhie…”
aka “The Dawns Here Are Quiet”.

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Spanish cinema, the way it used to be: “Stella cadente” [2014, Spain]

Among the things that first drew me to Spanish cinema was its unconventional, imaginative, and almost irreverent approach to film-narrative. Directors from Arrabal to Almodóvar, and Buñuel to Luna, especially during their ‘underground’ years, have extended frontiers so successfully that many of their ground-breaking and often shocking narratives have even gained mainstream acceptance over the years. Lluís Miñarro is a reassuring reminder that there are still uninhibited film-makers around in today’s commercialised film scene, amidst all the spending cuts in the arts.

Àlex Brendemühl in Stella cadente (2014)His recent film, “Stella cadente” [Eng. Title: Falling Star] is a stylised account of the short reign of Amadeus I (from Italy’s House of Savoy), as King of late nineteenth century Spain, against the backdrop of a rising tide of republicanism within the country.

 

A scene from "Stella cadente" aka "Falling Star" [2014]The film begins with Amadeo (Àlex Brendemühl) arriving in Spain to take over the throne abdicated by his predecessor. His high-minded hopes of reforming and developing Spain are dashed in the very first meeting he has with his counsel, and he’ll soon discover that he could only stay king by remaining a puppet in the hands of the establishment.

Àlex Brendemühl in "Falling Star" (Stella cadente, 2914, Spain)When Queen Maria Victòria (Bárbara Lennie) joins him later, she’s dismayed and disappointed at Amadeo’s descent into disillusionment and boredom, occasionally manifesting in delusions, due to his inability to exercise regal mandate in a fractious country on the verge of revolution. The focus of the film will eventually switch to sexual shenanigans among Amadeo’s staff in the palace, and his rather peculiar relationship with them.

Àlex Brendemühl, Lorenzo Balducci, and Bárbara Lennie in "Stella cadente" aka "Falling Star"To say the film isn’t a straightforward biopic is understatement; Miñarro’s absurdist film is tinged with bizarre fantasies and deadpan humour, with scenes ranging from the sublimely surreal to the cheekily profane. Here a bejewelled tortoise and peacock stroll through palace grounds where the king’s assistant also masturbates with a watermelon and a female cook enjoys being watched while having sex; a king’s intellectual musings can apparently go hand-in-hand with his sexual anxieties.

Àlex Brendemühl and Lola Dueñas in "Stella cadente" [2014, Spain]Miñarro is obviously having a ball with this mischievous film by mixing up exquisite production design, thoughtful camera work, and fine performances with misplaced locations and anachronistic pop music. After all, here was a king, out of place, and lost in time, and the narrative aptly conveys the displacement. The film has a heart, but doesn’t open itself too readily. It is also a style of film-making that won’t appeal to impatient audiences – you really have to watch the film on the director’s own terms. If you’re up for it, it will be rewarding for sure. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Lola Dueñas, Lorenzo Balducci, and Àlex Batllori
In the role of the king’s cook, Lola Dueñas appears nude in three scenes; the first is simply for Amadeo’s viewing pleasure, the second while making love to him, and later while falteringly reading questions from a book wearing nothing but the king’s jacket. Oh, and watch out for her neat little trick with a party popper – even if it happens outside the main film. Lorenzo Balducci appears nude while performing sex in explicit detail with a watermelon, and in a later scene is shown alongside Àlex Batllori in what can only be assumed as prelude to sex.

Lola Dueñas, Lorenzo Balducci, and Àlex Batllori nude in Stella cadente aka Falling Star

Scenes of Lola Dueñas, Lorenzo Balducci, and Àlex Batllori in the film, “Stella cadente”
aka “Falling Star” [2014, Spain].

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A brief review: “El amor no es lo que era” [2013, Spain]

Blanca Romero from "El amor no es lo que era" (2013)Gabriel Ochoa’s début feature, “El amor no es lo que era” [Eng. Title: Love Is Not What It Used to Be] attempts to make a mathematical interpretation of modern romantic relationships using three couples of various ages as case studies; the thread connecting these otherwise unrelated couples is the fact that all three men are medical professionals working in the same hospital.

A scene from "El amor no es lo que era" (2013)Albert (Carlos Álvarez-Nóvoa), a recently retired Ophthalmologist meets old flame Irene (Petra Martínez) at a mutual friend’s funeral. Albert has yet to come to terms with retired life and lies to Paz that he’s still employed. Irene is similarly economical with the truth by hiding a recent medical diagnosis and upcoming surgery. Both obviously like to rekindle their past love, and set about courting each other in their own way.

Aida Folch from "El amor no es lo que era"A cycling-while-on-the-phone student Lucía (Aida Folch) ‘bumps’ into Álex (Nicolás Coronado), a newly qualified surgeon, and a tentative romance blossoms following a few ‘casual’ one-night stands. A feisty Lucía will soon have to come to terms with the fact that Álex would be leaving to France soon to intern at a prestigious institution.

Blanca Romero and Alberto San Juan in "El amor no es lo que era" [2013, Spain]Ophthalmic surgeon Jorge (Alberto San Juan) and school teacher Paz (Blanca Romero) are a thirty-something couple living apart due to their strained relationship. Paz returns home briefly to recuperate from an injury following an accident. They’re still on friendly terms, but while they still care about each other, it will require a lot more to give them a reason to get back together as before.

A scene from "El amor no es lo que era" (2013)The film makes mathematical comparisons for the varying degree of success within each relationship, but one couldn’t help wondering if these ideas are of any relevance to real life relationships, which if anything, are more likely to be associated with Chaos theory rather than parabolas. Besides, most of the film’s characters could’ve been fleshed out further than what we get to see. As a gentle drama with several known faces and decent production values, the film is entertaining, but sadly not so memorable.

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Aida Folch and Blanca Romero
As Lucía, Aida Folch appears briefly nude in a couple of post-coital scenes. In a scene, Blanca Romero’s Paz enters the bathroom in the nude to surprise (and hopefully interest) a self-absorbed Jorge, but fails. There’s more success later however when Jorge attends to Paz’s healing wound.

Blanca Romero and Aido Folch in "El amor no es lo que era" aka "Love Is Not What It Used to Be" [2013, Spain]

Aido Folch and Blanca Romero from the Spanish drama, “El amor no es lo que era”
aka “Love Is Not What It Used to Be” [2013].

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