8/14/2019

Blu-ray Review: Ash is Purest White (2018)


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If Michelangelo Antonioni had directed a Chinese gangster movie, it might've looked something like Jia Zhangke's Ash is Purest White, in which a romance between a jianghu underworld boss and his loyal girlfriend plays out against the desolate backdrop of 7,700 km of mainland China over a seventeen year period.

Conceived by the filmmaker after looking at deleted scenes from two of his previous pictures which featured his wife and filmic muse Zhao Tao, Zhangke blended together the unconditional love of Tao's Unknown Pleasures character and the complexity of her Still Life alter ego to create a whole new woman he envisioned coming from his coal mining hometown in northwestern China.


Fittingly, for a film that was crafted from two others, Ash wears its cinematic influences proudly and none more so than through its prominent use of Sally Yeh's theme song from John Woo's 1989 Hong Kong crime classic, The Killer.

Whereas Woo's film focused on a hitman's devotion to Yeh's beautiful singer, whom he accidentally blinded during a job, Ash turns the premise inside out as we watch the protective Qiao (a phenomenal Tao) risk everything for her love, even after their relationship has ended.

So committed to the handsome, charismatic jianghu boss Bin (Liao Fan) that she fires a gun in public in order to save his life when they're attacked by a rival gang, Qiao emerges from jail half a decade later determined to pick things up exactly where they left off.


With architectural metaphors a la Antonioni, Zhangke tells a second story about the way that time changes not only people but their overall environment. Whether in brief scenes that highlight the collapse of rural towns or by way of a loudspeaker on a ship in the middle of the Three Gorges where we're told that everything we're looking at will be underwater in the same amount of time that Qiao was behind bars, Zhangke cleverly links the plight of his leads to their homeland.

Knowing this, with his usual cinematographer unavailable, Zhangke found the ideal candidate to step in via Eric Gautier, whose breathtaking work with Olivier Assayas, Alain Resnais, Sean Penn, Ang Lee, and especially Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries perfectly illustrates his talent for making the most of the environment. Captured with five different cameras to bring different textures and moods to its seventeen year span from 2001 to 2018, Ash is as much a bittersweet reverie for the land as well as a love gone by and Gautier's visuals convey as much meaning as Zhangke's sparse dialogue throughout.


Anchoring the film whenever it starts to meander, Tao's mesmerizing chemistry with Fan brings their scenes heartbreakingly to life but none more so than when she realizes once again that she has to be strong for them both and face that their relationship is over . . . even if we know that that's just what they're telling themselves before the film echoes The Killer once again.

As beautiful as it is soulful, best paired not only with Woo but also Antonioni's L'eclisse and Wenders' Paris, Texas, in Zhangke's enigmatic existential romance, two lovers journey towards and away from one another out of the underworld on an unforgettable seventeen year opus home.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review: Girls of the Sun (2018)


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Named for the all-female battalion of Yazidi captives turned fighters striving to liberate their Iraqi home from ISIS control at the heart of its fact-based storyline, Eva Husson's Girls of the Sun is a film full of flashbacks.

Relying heavily upon expositional dialogue to bring us up to speed on the background of the French journalist played by Emmanuelle Bercot who arrives on the scene to cover the women with a Marie Colvin inspired eye-patch, Husson opts for a much more cinematic approach when it comes to Bercot's co-star.


Transporting us out of the contemporary battleground to just before ISIS invaded the mountains of Sinjar in Northern Iraq to kidnap 7,000 women and children after killing the men on a mission of genocide, Husson paints a picture of squad leader Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani) back when she was a wife, mother, and lawyer in ways that simple words could not convey.

Following Bahar's harrowing journey first as a captive in an environment of rape and degradation up through her daring escape before she found herself in a position to fight back, it doesn't take long for us to realize that the film's gripping flashbacks are far more compelling than the thinly plotted, disappointingly predictable action of present day.


Giving Farahani ample opportunity to shine, despite a genre required exciting finale, the rest of the film serves as little more than a weak framing device to Bahar's riveting backstory which should've taken center stage.

Not knowing what to do with Bercot's character, while the decision to offer a different perspective on the war by including a European journalist to serve as somewhat of an audience member surrogate was a good one overall, Husson and her co-writer Jacques Akchoti seem unsure of how to adequately insert her into the goings on.


An undeniably muddled yet noble attempt to share these women's experiences with the world, while it's obvious that Bercot's Mathilde has her own tragic story to tell, just like Bahar is shortchanged by hopscotching back and forth in time with varying degrees of success, our journalist is often pushed to the sidelines as she alternates from participant to spectator throughout.

Elevated by Mattias Troelstrup's soul-stirring cinematography that brings unexpected beauty to the gritty world of Sun, although we're unable to feel consistently connected to any particular heroine due to its awkward structure, the film is at its best when Husson brings us back to the past in order to shed new light on these fiery Girls of the Sun.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

8/05/2019

Blu-ray Review: Hold Back the Dawn (1941)



Stuck in a small Mexican stopover town where the one thing that sets it apart is the fact that it shares a border with the United States, Romanian dancer turned gigolo Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) decides it's time to make a great escape.

Having mapped out a shortcut to the states, Georges opts to seduce his way into American citizenship through a green card marriage to the spinster teacher (played by Olivia de Havilland) he sets out to woo.


Sidelined by car trouble while chaperoning a group of rambunctious boys during a field trip on the fourth of July, the sweet if naive California teacher gets taken in by the smooth talking stranger when he delays her overnight and steers her into a whirlwind romance that ends in a rushed wedding at dawn.

Separated for a few weeks while the papers go through, Emmy Brown (de Havilland) surprises her new husband back in Mexico before he can legally cross the border to end the marriage he orchestrated by filing some papers of his own.

Setting off on a spontaneous road trip, Georges is proof that the fastest way to get to know someone is to travel together as, not too long after they've left, he's startled to find that he's developed a strong attraction to (gasp) his own wife.


Out of respect for perhaps the first woman he doesn't want to love and leave, Georges tries to tamp down his desire by feigning an injury to prevent him from consummating the marriage.

Cranking up the heat, first in a scene where he can't bear to look at Emma perfectly framed in the rear-view mirror, followed by another where — having stripped down and run into the waves — he discovers she's not the schoolmarm he initially thought, Georges realizes he can no longer ignore his heart in Hold Back the Dawn.

Beautifully photographed, the artistry of Oscar nominated cinematographer Leo Tover shines through not only in the aforementioned scenes but also when our leads exchange vows once again in a religious ceremony filled with candles and shadows.


Despite its requisite World War II era flag-waving, Dawn it seems is as romantically optimistic as it is filled with cynical wit. Of course, this tonally sophisticated blend was soon to become a trademark of screenwriter Billy Wilder, who penned the script with Charles Brackett.

Based on Ketti Frings' story, "Memo to a Movie Producer," which later became a novel, while the Hollywood set framing device feels like a bit of a self-serving rah-rah Tinseltown prologue, Wilder and Brackett counter Dawn's protracted artificiality with authenticity, canceling it out in a starkly realistic first act anchored by Boyer's world-weary narration.


A recurring Wilder device, after Boyer used his weight as a star to axe a few scenes helmed by Mitchell Leisen, Hold Back the Dawn became the last script Wilder wrote that he didn't direct. Still, obviously proud of the work, it was Dawn which Wilder shared with Raymond Chandler to give the hard-boiled crime novelist a crash course in crafting screenplays.

It's a timeless film that's timelier than ever today. Boasting an all too important speech about the vital role that new immigrants from all over play in shaping American culture, this border set melodrama takes on added gravitas in 2019 given the Trump administration's xenophobic war on immigrants who have dared to cross the border from Mexico in search of the American dream.


Featuring Paulette Goddard's scene-stealing performance as Georges' dance turned bedroom partner, now that the cover of night has begun to lift on Dawn thanks to Arrow's velvety rich Blu-ray restoration, Mitchell Leisen's overlooked six-time Oscar nominee won't stay hidden for long.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. https://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.