Every month, A Place for Film brings you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jack Miller, contributor | The Naked Kiss (1964)
The most astonishingly creative movie I watched this month was Samuel Fuller’s 1964 masterpiece The Naked Kiss, which reunites the lead actress (Constance Towers) and cinematographer (Stanley Cortez) from Fuller’s great Shock Corridor of the previous year. The film is often remembered as a sleazy, pulpy work of neo-noir, and certainly Fuller has a taste for a kind of racking violence: the justly famous opening sequence – of a sex worker beating a drunken man with her purse – is a moment of trauma. But soon after this opening scene, Fuller thrusts us into a weirdly moralistic melodrama of sorts, the kind of sensitive and disturbing “women’s picture” one might associate with Douglas Sirk.
I think what impresses me most about The Naked Kiss is its audacity: Fuller seems to transgress the limits of what we find acceptable, and this is true not only in his scenes of violence, but also in his grotesque, almost morbid treatment of sentimentality. There is a beautiful scene in the middle of the film with a group of disabled children singing in a hospital. It’s the kind of material that most viewers would find cloyingly maudlin, but the scene made me cry because of the sincerity and conviction Fuller brings to it. That Fuller conjures such a fully-formed world out of the threadbare backlot streets of this Allied Artists production is a testament to the density of his vision.
Michaela Owens, Editor | Casablanca (1942)
Weirdly enough, despite being in quarantine, I haven’t had much time for movies, mainly because I’m finishing grad school and my life revolves around writing never-ending papers. That being said, when TCM held its at-home festival this month, I figured it was time to revisit a little film called Casablanca.
I’ve loved this film ever since I first laid eyes on it. With unbelievably clever quips, palpable heartbreak, incredible cinematography (the work with shadows here is sublime), and one of the best ensembles ever gathered in cinema, this is a film that more than lives up to its hype. Ingrid Bergman is luminous, literally and figuratively. Claude Rains is beyond compare. Paul Henreid does wonders with such a difficult role (you try giving dimension to a man as saintly as Victor Lazlo!). Dooley Wilson is just delightful. And then there’s Humphrey Bogart. No other actor could have embodied Rick Blaine like Bogie did. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite performances I’ve ever seen. I practically hold my breath every time he is onscreen.
While Casablanca truly is one of Hollywood’s great romances, it is also such a beautiful film about humanity, morality, and sacrifice. “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble,” Rick says in that infamous finale, “but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” With the state the world is in right now, I’d say that the problems of those three little people means an awful lot.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Yi Yi (2000)
I have always adored watching the movies that have inspired filmmakers I respect. It makes me feel closer to them, and exposes me to things that I might not have seen otherwise. This desire led me to seek out Edward Yang’s last film Yi Yi because it is a key touchstone for Alan Yang, a writer/director who recently moved from television to feature filmmaking to create Tigertail, which is now on Netflix. I’m glad that I watched Yi Yi, because it is a magnificent and surprisingly funny film whose warm humanity is especially needed at this historical moment.
Yi Yi follows three generations of the Jian family as they go about their lives in Taipei (which is the capital of Taiwan). N.J. deals with his mother slipping into a coma as he re-encounters an old flame. At the same time, his teenage daughter Ting-Ting pursues a relationship with a troubled young man while his 8-year-old son Yang-Yang begins to show an artistic side by taking avant-garde pictures. All three generations of this family suffer greatly at one point or another, but they endure.
While there are interesting stories in Yi Yi, the main pleasure of watching this movie doesn’t lie in following the twists and turns of its narratives. Instead, you find joy in losing yourself to watching the members of this family go about their everyday lives. Even when director Yang distances the audience from the intense emotions of a scene — whether by shooting them in long shots or using unusual angles — that simply serves to make you watch said scene more closely. Yang builds a moving tapestry of daily life over the course of his film’s 173-minute running time.
That’s not to say that Yi Yi exists merely to lull you into a serene contemplation of life, however. It is often funny, and one scene that depicts a party honoring N.J.’s brother-in-law’s newborn child features an insult so funny and profane that it had me laughing out loud (you’ll know it when you see it). There are pranks that verge on slapstick. This movie even contains what might be the best scene ever set in a McDonald’s.
Yi Yi is an especially good film to watch during our current historical moment. It is easier than ever to watch long films when you are practicing physical distancing. More importantly, at a time when a pandemic-induced wave of racism has caused harassment and violence against Asian Americans, everything about this film’s view of the world — namely its warmth and empathy for all of its characters — throws the abominable nature of hatred into sharper relief. Ideally this film’s worldview will encourage you to take action, whether it is by donating and/or volunteering to organizations such as the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund that are helping to fight this wave of hatred, or doing something as simple as checking in on a friend.
I am so glad that Alan Yang has championed this film. Its length makes it less of a slice of life and more like a whole cake. But it is a cake that you will be more than happy to have eaten if you seek it out.