Sorry it’s late this week, I was kind of drowning in work.
- Le Confessional (Robert Lepage, 1995): This one was pretty interesting. It’s set in Quebec City in 1989 (during the Tiananmen Square massacre and the aftermath), with flashbacks to the late 1950s, when Alfred Hitchcock was in town shooting I Confess (which is about a priest who’s accused of a murder but he can’t clear himself because the guy who did it confessed the crime to him). There are tons of cinematic references to Hitchcock (blood circling in drains and so forth), but I really loved the great masculine melodrama. The hero? He spends most of the movie trying to paint over the shadows left on the wall in his childhood home. It’s great.
- Once (John Carney, 2007): Aw, this movie’s so sweet. I was surprised by how affecting it was, given that it’s basically a low-budget gloss on the traditional musical rom-com. They meet cute, they bond over their mutual talents, and then they make beautiful music together. Of course, it’s all low-key acting and shot in real city streets, with a charming indifference to things like lighting quality, like in this scene. I thought I was more cynical than that, but I guess not.
- The Butcher Boy (Neil Jordan, 1997): I really enjoyed this movie. It’s told from the very unreliable but fabulous perspective of a crazy Irish boy around the Cuban missile crisis; the actor who plays the boy, Eamonn Owens, is fantastic. There were so many awesome things in this movie, starting with the fact that it makes you laugh at the most horrible things, colouring all this misery in bright reds and having glowing Sinead O’Connor be the Holy Virgin, and ending with the people all walking around with pigs’ heads after a nuclear attack.
And then I spent some time getting to know gay Marxist Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia, who really embraces the penis in his films.
- Los placeres ocultos (“Hidden Pleasures”, 1977): Okay, so this movie is all about how gay guys really aren’t that threatening and it’s just their nature and it’s so sad that society won’t accept them. I’d make fun of it except that this was two years after Franco died, when being gay was still totally illegal in Spain. I really like the way de la Iglesia links sexual power to financial power by implying that the hero Eduardo’s influence as a bank manager allowed him to “corrupt” boys. There is also the greatly Marxist sentiment when the straight boy Eduardo’s in love with (who eventually learns to accept him) tells someone that he won’t let anyone take advantage of him, and the activist responds that he basically has more things to worry about than the gays, in that case: “Maybe you’ve been selling more important things and don’t even know it.” I didn’t quite know what to do with the “first season finale of Veronica Mars” ending though.
- El Diputado (“Confessions of a Congressman”, 1978): This covers a lot of the same ground as Los placeres ocultos, but is much more explicitly political. The hero is a closeted socialist politician who is being set up for exposure by his fascist rivals (this is transition-era Spain, remember).
The only thing that strains credibility is the fact that a Marxist in the ’70s would never have smoked (or even seen) a joint before. It’s really great though, with the gay love scene intercut with paintings of Marx and Lenin, linking the marginality of Leftists under Franco to the continued marginality of the gays. It ends with a single tear rolling down his face as he prepares to face the judgement of his supposedly liberal peers.
- Navajeros (I’m not sure of the actual translation — the direct is “knife users,” but I think it’s more like “petty criminals who employ pocketknives,” 1980): Apparently after doing the melodramas about how gay is okay, de la Iglesia moved on to sweet-ass crime stories. Set in Madrid’s depressing housing projects, this is about the greatest most famous juvenile delinquent evar. But that makes it sound lame, when it’s actually awesome. An imdb commenter (usually pretty dumb) compares it to blaxploitation, which is pretty accurate. There’s not a racial element, but it’s a very similar vibe: set in a gritty criminal underworld, high on brutality and political sentiment, made with great skill but not a lot of polish. The last sequence crosscuts between a baby being born (in ridiculously graphic detail) and the hero being gunned down in a senseless and preventable crime. Really impressive.
- Bulgarian Lovers (2003): This was de la Iglesia’s last movie — it marked his return to movies after a long hiatus precipitated by a heroin addiction — before he died of cancer. It returned to the somewhat homosexual man-man-woman love triangle “family” that we saw in Placeres ocultos and El diputado, but with a much more cynical edge, I guess because he didn’t need to push the gay rights agenda so hard now. I read a bunch of reviews for research and I was surprised that no one really made the film noir connection — Kyril, the hot but poor Bulgarian immigrant is clearly a femme fatale, and he gets the hero Daniel embroiled in this whole dirty nuclear business, and the scene where he realizes what’s up is a total Kiss Me Deadly reference with the whole glowing suitcase. They even dress Daniel up as a 40s film heroine for a short fantasy sequence. Come on, people. (It obviously retains the Marxist concerns of de la Iglesia’s earlier work with its emphasis on the fact that Daniel is totally paying for Kyril’s love.)
- El Sacerdote (“The priest,” 1978): You can imagine how easy it was to find information in Spanish on a movie called “the priest” directed by a guy whose last name means “of the church,” but this movie was amazing. It directly takes on the repressive nature of the Catholic Church — it’s set in 1960s Spain, when culture was changing but the Church still retained its links to the fascist Franco government — and it’s about a priest who’s driven so crazy by his forbidden desires that he actually castrates himself. It kind of combines all my favourite movie things: melodrama as moral and emotional exploration, weird sex stuff, pretty graphic violence, and penises. (I’m sorry I keep talking about penises, but it’s so rare to see penis in American movies and so common in Spanish movies, it’s hard not to focus on.)
In other news, have my Canadian friends heard about Bill C-10? I was talking to a prof at school who knows Canadian film policy pretty well about what it would mean. Basically, because filmmakers currently assume tax credits when they’re making their movies, the proposed amendment could get money taken away from productions after it’s been spent. The quote in the article is all like “We wouldn’t take tax credit money from something like Eastern Promises, just to really inappropriate movies.” (Note: it’s already illegal to get tax credits for pornography, so that’s not what’s going here.) But if this had happened in the 1970s, I bet they wouldn’t have funded Shivers (whose funding was pretty controversial at the time, what with the sex parasites) or Scanners, and who knows if Cronenberg would be an internationally beloved auteur today. Apparently the real danger isn’t so much the government actively censoring movies, but more that it would put a chill on investment, especially in risky productions, because then investors could get screwed over if the Ministry of Heritage conservative bureaucrats decides a movie’s content isn’t worthwhile. Facebook Group is here, it has more information.
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