UGETSU MONOGATARI. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953. 94min.
A beautiful film that details the trials and travails of two potters lured away from their homes and wives by greed and their eventual realization of their errant ways. While the story of Ugetsu is in the end much more interesting, the formal balance seems to require the story of his friend (who aspires to be a samurai) as counterpoint to his own passion for his pottery. The movie builds wonderfully, as war encroaches upon their homes and the promise of fortune looms in the near distance, leading our heroes away from their village and families and into further temptations, culminating in a brilliantly fantastic climax as the hero finally makes his way home. Deft cinematography only serves to heighten the overall feel of the film, and the end sequence is one of the most lovingly rendered I have seen, including a surprising pan that I will not reveal for fear of spoiling parts of the conclusion.
UTAMARO AND HIS FIVE WOMEN. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1946. 106min.
As much a rumination on what makes an artist as much as the role of women in Japanese society, this film follows the said women of the title, using the wood block artist Utamaro as the center through which they intersect. Bringing the street to the screen, the story also involves the family of a prosperous and prominent artist into the mix, calling into question how true art is achieved. Carefully composed, the film is made visually arresting through the restraint of the very formal camera placement and movement. To date, probably my second favourite Mizoguchi after The Life of Oharu (1952).
UNDER THE SAND (Sous le Sable). Francois Ozon, 2000. 95min.
A middle aged couple drive to southwestern France on vacation. One morning they decide to go to the beach. The husband tells his wife that he's going to go swimming. When the wife wakes from her nap her husband has disappeared. From an opening that references L'Avventura (Antonionin, 1960), Ozon sidesteps the existential rumination of that film, instead focusing on the psyche of his main character. The spectre of her husband haunts her as she attempts to cope with his absence and understand what his absence signifies about their past. Charlotte Rampling's fascinating portrayal of the wife who knows her husband is gone but refuses to wholly give up hope drives the film, and Antoine Heberle and Jeanne Lapoirie's cinematography charts her journey, from bright color, to more and more desaturated tones as the film progresses. A beautiful portrait, carefully observed, and finely nuanced. 01.28.04
UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME. Jean-Luc Godard, 1961. 84min.
Godard's first color film, this somewhat subversive musical-comedy stars Anna Karina as what could be Amelie's great-grandmother. Raoul Coutard's cinematography and color experiments are beautiful, telling the story of a stripper who wants a baby. Throughout, Godard winks at the audience (the stars literally wink at the audience) as he playfully guides his characters through a deceptively simple plot, masking the sadness inherent in the central relationships under Michel Legrand's score and his own visual wit.