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It’s an insane world! “Tag der idioten” [1981, West Germany]

Werner Schroeter’s films are pretty much like the man himself, less talked about but theatrical and larger than life in person. Among his last films acknowledged as part of the Neuer Deutscher Film canon, “Tag der Idioten” [Eng. Title: Day of the Idiots] is an exploration of people’s fear of accepting their own eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and imperfections in a conformist world.

Carole Bouquet in "Tag der Idioten" (1981)Carole (Carole Bouquet) snaps one day, unsure anymore of everything she had cared about thus far; her boyfriend, job, and standing in society. Frustrated with the real world, she leaves home, and after flushing the contents from her handbag down the toilet, orders three Viennese coffees for herself at a posh cafe, only to smear them all over her face and the table. “I need to breathe…”, an angst-ridden Carole mutters.

Carole Bouquet and Ingrid Caven in "Tag der Idioten" [1981]She gets herself declared clinically insane after accusing a neighbour of being a terrorist and leading police on a wild goose chase. In order to avoid prison, she voluntarily checks into Dr. Laura’s (Ingrid Caven) Victorian-era asylum; the doctor is aware that Carole isn’t insane in a conventional sense, but nevertheless accepts her as a patient. She’d been experimenting on patients ‘healing themselves’ through anti-psychiatry and hopes it might help Carole too.

Carole Bouquet in "Tag der Idioten" aka "Day of the Idiots" (1981)Carole finds the patients in the asylum simultaneously fascinating and repulsive, and notices among them the very woman she’d reported as being a terrorist. She ‘escapes’ the asylum more than once, but turns herself in each time, for she’s no longer sure if the world outside is any more saner than the asylum. Carole isn’t happy with either worlds and begins to find the very idea of living meaningless…

Carole Bouquet from "Tag der Idioten" [1981]The impressionistic melodrama however abandons any attempt at making a point and gets consumed by its own madness, by becoming a voyeur to the excess on screen. The film isn’t nearly as depraved as some of the exploitation films of the era, but will regardless shock viewers unaccustomed to seeing scenes of urophilia (golden showers) in mainstream cinema.

Christine Kaufmann and Ida Di Benedetto in "Tag der Idioten" (1981)The relative obscurity of the film, despite the director’s auteur-credentials and featuring a then current ‘Bond girl’ in a starring role, has prevented one of Carole Bouquet’s most memorable performances from being seen by a wider audience. The film also features an ensemble cast that include Schroeter’s long term muse and collaborator Magdalena Montezuma, the beautiful Christine Kaufmann, and Ida Di Benedetto. This might not be one of Shcroeter’s masterpieces, but his signature style and feminist message is written all over the film, and for that at least, it is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de 2-DVD Link
Willow Springs, Tag der Idioten [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Carole Bouquet, Mostefa Djadjam, Dana Medrická, Magdalena Montezuma, Ida Di Benedetto, and others
The film begins with a long scene of a stunning Carole Bouquet pacing up and down the room completely in the nude as her oblivious boyfriend (Mostefa Djadjam) sleeps. She appears nude in two other scenes later in the film. Czech actress Dana Medrická appears topless on a few occasions as a patient with an urge to flash in front of others. Magdalena Montezuma walks nude into a party, asking to be placed in prison for an imagined crime. Ida Di Benedetto, who plays a deeply religious nurse, is briefly seen topless while punishing herself. There is further nudity in a bathroom scene where for probably the first time in mainstream cinema, an actor is shown actually urinating on another (unlike ‘Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom’ where everything was simulated). The scene is nonsexual, but the shock value is in the banal manner of its presentation.

Carole Bouquet, Magdalena Montezuma and others from Werner Schroeter's drama, "Tag der Idioten" aka "Day of the Idiots", 1981, West Germany.

Carole Bouquet, Magdalena Montezuma and others from Werner Schroeter’s drama,
“Tag der Idioten” aka “Day of the Idiots”, 1981, West Germany.

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A brief review: “Vientos de la Habana” [Cuba, Spain 2016]

Vientos de la Habana (2016)Félix Viscarret’s crime thriller, “Vientos de la Habana” [Eng. Title: Four Seasons in Havana: The Winds of Lent] is a feature-length spin-off of a TV mini series that was rather well received in Spain. Since I’ve neither seen the TV series nor read the novel from which the film’s adapted, this one’s
gonna be brief.

Vientos de la Habana (2016)Set in Havana, the film begins with the murder of young school teacher Lissete (Mariam Hernández) in her apartment, and the arrival of detective Mario Conde (Jorge Perugorría) to investigate. A post-mortem indicates the presence of drugs, alcohol, and semen in Lissete’s body. Conde sets out to piece together events leading up to the fateful night, which will reveal hitherto unknown facets of Lissete and her dealings with some of her colleagues and students.

Juana Acosta in "Vientos de la Habana" (2016)Running parallel to the above storyline is Conde’s own story. A recovering alcoholic, he meets Karina (Juana Acosta) – his neighbour’s daughter and a city-based lawyer, and falls in love. They date for a while but Conde wants to take their relationship to the next level. His circle of loyal old friends will help Conde in different ways on both his endeavours…

Vientos de la Habana (2016)Of late, I’d become addicted to Scandi and Belgian crime thrillers and felt the need for a ‘healthy’ change, and a passionate Latin crime thriller could just be the ticket. But the film cannot be called a traditional noire; yes there are elements of noire in it, but the plot is straightforward and the characters are far too well-rounded with barely any conflicts and rough edges. It can more honestly be described as a grey-noire. I did however love the cinematography and editing that authentically captures the sultry and faded-glory of Havana, and the casting was great too. Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Mariam Hernández, Pilar Mayo, and Juana Acosta
Mariam Hernández who plays school teacher Lissete is nude or partially nude in most of her scenes in the apartment. A nude Pilar Mayo is briefly seen in the bed of a crime boss. As Lissete, an ageless Juana Acosta appears nude in at least three scenes in the company of veteran Cuban actor and protagonist Jorge Perugorría.

Mariam Hernández and Juana Acosta from the Cuban crime drama, "Vientos de la Habana" aka "Four Seasons of Havana: The Winds of Lent" (2016).

Mariam Hernández and Juana Acosta from the Cuban crime drama, “Vientos de la Habana”
aka “Four Seasons of Havana: The Winds of Lent” (2016).

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A brief review: “Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern” [Switzerland 2015]

Stina Werenfels’s film “Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern” [Eng. Title: Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents] is an unusual drama concerning a young woman growing up with a developmental disorder.

Victoria Schulz in Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern [2015]After Dora (Victoria Shulz) turns eighteen, mother Kristin (Jenny Schily) decides to discontinue her daughter’s medication after finding her in better spirits without them. The opening scenes are of Dora enjoying her birthday party among friends and relatives.

Victoria Schulz and Jenny Schily in Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern [2015]Stopping her medication also paves the way for Dora’s sexual awakening. Naturally inquisitive, she becomes increasingly interested in sex and apart from exploring her body, is also keen to experience sex, sometimes leading to awkward situations within the household.

Victoria Schulz and Lars Eidinger in Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern [2015]She sets her eyes on a dashing and sporty car driving Peter (Lars Eidinger), and one day follows him into a public toilet to befriend and offer him a fruit as gift. Before she could realise what was happening, Peter takes advantage of Dora and abuses her sexually in the toilet.

Jenny Schily, Victoria Schulz, and Urs Jucker in "Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern" [2015]But Dora enjoyed that experience and keenly pursues Peter for more such encounters, who willingly obliges despite Kristin objecting to his exploitation of a vulnerable Dora. Kirsten also pleads unsuccessfully with mental health authorities to stop Peter from approaching her daughter. Before long, things become more complicated when Dora becomes pregnant and a question arises over her ability to raise children normally. For Kristin, it couldn’t have come at a worse time when she was hoping to conceive another child of her own..!

Victoria Schulz in "Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern" [2015]It’s not very often that we get to see sexuality among people with disabilities depicted in film, even more so when it comes to those with mental disorder. It could also become a vexing topic when normal actors end up performing characters with disabilities, but to their credit, the director and Ms. Shulz have brought to life a convincing and sympathetic character in Dora. However, I felt the film was overreaching itself when it tried to add additional plot points that perhaps were not really necessary. But Dora does redeem the film, and at least for her soaring spirit, this film is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Victoria Schulz, Jenny Schily, and others
It is not often than we get to see mentally disabled characters depicted as sexual beings; something of an unspoken taboo in films, and that’s why I think the film’s nude scenes cover new ground. There are at least four scenes in which Victoria Shulz appears nude. Jenny Schily appears nude in one scene shot from a distance. Assorted characters also appear nude during a swingers’ sex session.

Victoria Schulz and Jenny Schily in scenes from Stina Werenfels's Swiss drama, "Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern" aka "Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents" [2015].

Victoria Schulz and Jenny Schily in scenes from the Swiss drama, “Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern” aka “Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents” [2015].

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A brief review: “Cambio de Sexo” [1977 Spain]

One of Vicente Aranda’s lesser known (and until recently, quite rare) films, “Cambio de sexo” [Eng. Title: Forbidden Love] was also the beginning of a collaboration with his life-long muse Victoria Abril. The film, about a hitherto taboo topic concerning gender identity and sex-change, remains a landmark in Spanish mainstream cinema despite any of its technical shortcomings.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo (1977)Seventeen year old José María (Victoria Abril) is a gawky effeminate lad who’s bullied and harassed at school for his looks and inability to fit-in, to the extent that the school even suggests moving him to a different school. Furious at the suggestion and determined to man up his son, José María’s father (Fernando Sancho) sends him away, boot-camp style, to his uncle in the countryside to get used to some hard manual labour. What the father fails, or refuses to understand is that José María actually sees himself as a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo [1977]Consequently, the father takes José María to a cabaret-brothel to initiate him in  heterosexual sex with the help of Fanny (Rosa Morata), the lead performer and also one of the father’s lovers. Things obviously don’t go as predicted for the father and before long, José María had left home unannounced to begin life anew as María José in glitzy downtown Barcelona.

Victoria Abril and Bibi Andersen in Cambio de sexo (1977)Working as a hairdresser, María José meets and gets acquainted with Bibi Andersen (Bibi Andersen), a star transsexual performer at the cabaret she visited with her father earlier. Bibi introduces María José to the cabaret owner and also becomes her mentor by giving her some much needed worldly advice and encouraging her to train as a cabaret dancer.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo (1977 Spain)As María José’s showbiz career blossoms and adulthood beckons, she goes through the familiar exhilarating, and at times painful journey through rejection, defiance, and camaraderie, and in the process discovers love. The film ends with María José successfully transitioning into a woman after gender reassignment surgery.

Even though the teenage Abril was already a well known name in Spain through TV when the film came out, she had yet to find her feet in cinema, and this film would mark the beginning of Victoria Abril’s stellar career. It goes without saying that apart from her exemplary performance, Victoria Abril is at her adorable best. I couldn’t resist sharing this rather subversive scene from a sequence that’s disturbingly reminiscent of a oh-so-innocent Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz. The scene is anything but, and is surprisingly also well choreographed.

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Bibi Andersen in Cambio de sexo (1977)A unique product of Spain’s destape, the film succinctly captures the spirit of openness, liberty, and optimism following the end of Spain’s fascist era. While the amazing Bibi Andersen – a transgender in real life, had been a regular in Almodóvar’s twisted classics, she often played the female even when there were transgender characters in the same film; those roles were typically played by women. This is one of the rare films where Bibi Andersen actually plays herself. For followers of Spanish cinema and its evolution, this film is essentially Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link [Region 2]

 

The Nudity: Rosa Morata, Maria Elias, Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others
As one would expect, the film features several scenes of nudity. Rosa Morata and others appear nude on stage during a cabaret. Maria Elias who plays María José’s sister is seen briefly nude while changing. Victoria Abril is nude often, including a couple a scenes on stage, and Bibi Andersen performs a memorable striptease.

Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others from Vicente Aranda's groundbreaking "Cambio de sexo" [1977, Spain]

Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others from Vicente Aranda’s groundbreaking
“Cambio de sexo” [1977, Spain]

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In search of Utopia: “Zheleznaya doroga” [2007 Russia]

I’d been working backward through the filmography of Aleksey Fedorchenko, and was pleased to see that his Fellini-esque surreal comedy from 2007, “Zheleznaya doroga” [Eng. Title: The Railway] was as much an allegory as a visual feast.

A scene from Zheleznaya doroga (2007)The hilarious premise posits a school headmaster hatching a rather unusual plot to make up for a shortfall in the school’s funding – by smuggling out coal from abandoned mines in the town’s vicinity, on a disused railway line that was heading south into the vast Russian Steppes. Thanks to a mistaken belief that coal was in high demand in that region, he sets about laying his plans in secret so that others wouldn’t catch wind.

Pyotr Zaychenko in Zheleznaya doroga (2007)He persuades a pal (Sergey Belyaev) with his kid Mishka (Daniil Shavkunov) to join the endeavour, and after dusting off a beast of a Soviet-era locomotive languishing in a museum, they enlist the services of an equally ancient driver (Pyotr Zaychenko) who’d apparently gone feral in the rusty overgrown railway yard. As the film progresses, the driver and his relationship with the locomotive become an important part of the narrative.

From Zheleznaya doroga (2007 Russia)After stocking the lone wagon in the train with sacks of coal collected by the school children, the foursome set-off on a surreal journey passing through disappeared stations, abandoned towns and meet some extraordinary characters along the way, including the remnants of a circus troupe that had gone missing in the Steppes many years ago.

A scene from Zheleznaya doroga (2007)By the time they reach their destination, they’d used up and bartered away the coal that they were transporting for largely worthless bric-a-brac, exchanged by desperate locals still surviving in middle-of-nowhere towns. Perhaps they were waiting for the trains to return, or perhaps they’d given up all hope of making it elsewhere. Much of the narrative is from the viewpoint of Mishka who observes goings on armed with a creative license.

A still from Zheleznaya doroga (2007, Russia)We meet giants, acrobats, and man-eating school children, and Luisa (Olga Degtyaryova), a sex-hungry redhead who boards the train after the headmaster proposes to her with a ring exchanged for coal by an old woman without fingers. Mishka listens to his father give varying accounts of his mother’s (Elena Veshkurtseva) gruesome/heroic death, and imagines each time saving her in a miraculous manner. Their journey, it turns out, is in fact a yearning for love…

Elena Veshkurtseva from Zheleznaya doroga (2007, Russia)Almost every aspect of the characterisation can be seen in an allegorical or literal sense, depending on your frame of mind. But they’re equally absurd, delightful, and moving either way, thanks to Fedorchenko’s genius and sense of humour. Steeped in irony and loaded with dry wit, the film is a prime example of Russian cinema at its creative best. Needless to say, this little gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

 

The Nudity: Olga Degtyaryova, Elena Veshkurtseva, and others
Olga Degtyaryova, as the redhead, appears nude in a couple of scenes, and there is brief nudity from other actors during the rest of the film.

Some scenes of Olga Degtyaryova from Aleksey Fedorchenko's surreal comedy "Zheleznaya doroga" aka "The Railway" [2007, Russia].

Some scenes of Olga Degtyaryova from Aleksey Fedorchenko’s surreal comedy “Zheleznaya doroga” aka “The Railway” [2007, Russia].

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