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.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | DekaDonen 7: Dekalog: Seven (1988) / It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)
(Once a month, Jesse watches a double feature he calls the DekaDonen, which consists of an episode of Krzystztof Kieslowski’s miniseries Dekalog and a film by Stanley Donen. He’ll be watching and writing about these double features until November.)
Dekalog: Seven and It’s Always Fair Weather are about reunions. Kieslowski and Donen use their unique thematic and technical styles to examine the need for them, the mixture of joy and frustration which reunions bring, and the sadness that comes when they ultimately come to an end.
The reunion at the center of Dekalog: Seven has all of the complexity of the ethical tales that Kieslowski has told earlier in Dekalog. Majka (Maja Barelkowska), a 22-year-old university student, kidnaps her “sister” Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk) from a theater before revealing to Ania that she is her biological mother. Majka plans to take her to Canada, but first, she reunites Ania with her biological father Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda), who used to be Majka’s Polish teacher when she was a teenager.
Kieslowski uses the reunion between these three characters as an effective way to explore themes of parenting, nurture vs. nature, and how we navigate the consequences of our actions. He and his co-writer Krzystztof Piesiewicz expertly convey the points of view of each character in this episode so that you understand and empathize with all of them. From a technical perspective, Kiewslowski’s relatively no-frills technical style (with the exception of a few tracking shots) and fantastic use of close-ups do a wonderful job at depicting the complicated emotions which make this reunion so memorable. By the time this reunion has ended abruptly, you are left as dumbfounded as the film’s characters.
It’s Always Fair Weather is the last film that Donen would make with Gene Kelly. It tells the story of three American soldiers — Ted Riley (Kelly), Doug Hallerton (Dan Dailey), and Angie Valentine (Michael Kidd) — who are best friends during World War II. After V-E Day, they make a bet that they will reunite in a decade. They do, and confront how their lives have not turned out the way they had hoped. It’s a melancholy premise, and easily the darkest film that Donen made with Kelly. He is unafraid to look at how reunions can remind people of all the things that they wished they had accomplished, or how heartbreak and self-hatred can lead to blighted lives.
At the same time, Donen offsets his story’s thematic sadness through some entertainingly innovative filmmaking. One montage, which uses everything from split-screens to freeze-frames to depict a decade in the life of its three main characters, features some of the best filmmaking of his career. One musical number consists entirely of voice-over as the film’s three main characters sing about how exasperated they have become with each other. This film even contains one of Donen’s most memorable musical numbers, in which Riley sings about how love has enabled him to finally like himself again while tap dancing on roller skates. That wonderful musical number prefigures the three main characters reconciling and fixing their lives before they part for an uncertain future.
This was an especially emotional edition of the DekaDonen for me. I watched it after reuniting with my parents after spending over a year away from them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My reunion with them lacked the complexity of those in Dekalog: Seven and It’s Always Fair Weather, and was instead joyous. But much like the characters at the end of Kieslowski’s episode and Donen’s film, I experienced the sadness of our reunion coming to a close. Millions of Americans have experienced similar emotions as they have reunited with their families after quarantining due to COVID-19. Let us hope that there will be many more reunions to come as people get vaccinated in greater numbers.
You can view a trailer for Dekalog here.
Michaela Owens, Editor | The Hot Rock (1972)
Until George Segal’s sad passing this year, I had never heard of The Hot Rock. Which seems insane considering it is a heist film directed by Peter Yates, scored by Quincy Jones, and co-starring two men I wholeheartedly love, Segal and Robert Redford. After reading so many rave reviews for the film, though, it immediately went to the top of my watchlist and after seeing it this month not once but twice, I’m happy to say I’ve found a new favorite.
Based on a Donald Westlake novel, The Hot Rock begins with Redford’s character, a clever thief, being released from prison and getting immediately pulled into another job by his brother-in-law (Segal) when an African diplomat hires the men to steal the Sahara Stone from the Brooklyn Museum in order to return it to his people. After recruiting Paul Sand’s explosives expert and Ron Leibman’s getaway driver, the plan goes swimmingly — until Sand is caught and can only hide the stone by swallowing it. Forced to break Sand out of prison, the thieves enter a vicious (but hilarious) cycle of chasing after the stone as more complications ensue, including the arrival of Sand’s conniving father, played brilliantly by Zero Mostel.
Superbly directed by Yates with a witty, original script, The Hot Rock is a terrifically fun slice of ’70s cinema. It leaves the Criterion Channel today, but if you have TCM it will be airing in September. Or you can do what I did and blind-buy it on DVD — you won’t be sorry!
Jack Miller, contributor | The Woman Who Ran (2020)
This month, I’d like to call attention to the best new release that I’ve seen this year. (Though it’s technically a film from last year, most of us here in the States didn’t have a chance to see it until 2021.) South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo, the deadpan trickster of contemporary cinema, has made one of his most complex films with The Woman Who Ran, which relays a deceptively straightforward narrative about a woman who leaves Seoul to visit three friends in a mountainous region outside the city.
In somewhat older Hong films like Hill of Freedom (2010) or The Day He Arrives (2011), Hong liked to use spooky doublings of characters and surrealist games with his narratives; the classical filmmaker he most resembled during this period was Luis Buñuel, especially the later, more implicitly surrealist Buñuel of the ’60s and ’70s. The “high concept” being applied to the narrative would fruitfully scrape up against the more naturalistic characters and exchanges, creating a break between two different modes of realism or portraiture.
In Hong’s more recent works, like On the Beach at Night Alone (2017) and this new film, The Woman Who Ran, Hong has pivoted his experimentation to a more micro level, playing with undercurrents in individual scenes, effectively multiplying the discrepancies between these different strains of realism in his cinema. His work seems to become more idiosyncratic and puzzling with each new film, even as his direction of actors remains naturalistic, and his form, which is characterized by simple two-shots and zooms, remains distinctively (and wonderfully) primitive. I think what I love most about this movie is its respect for the ultimate mystery of people. In an era marked by so much message-driven media, it’s refreshing to watch something that raises more questions than it answers about its world and its characters.